Baba’s Pepper Cookies

Baba’s Pepper Cookies

In my current work in progress, Breaking Bread, my main character, Maya Kaminsky bakes a batch of her grandmother’s (Baba’s) pepper cookies. I thought it would be fun to share the recipe for them, since they are one of my favorite cookie varieties. This is a Russian, Eastern European cookie, so-named for the pepper and spices in the mix. It may sound like a strange combination, but trust me, these are amazing!

Pepper Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
4 cups flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
12 ounces chocolate chips

 

Melt butter in milk in small sauce pan.
Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs together with oil.
Make a ‘well’ in the center of the blended ingredients and add beaten eggs and oil, melted butter and milk and mix to form dough.
Knead in the chocolate chips.
Form dough into small balls, (golf ball sized or smaller) and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
Cool completely before icing.

Icing:

16 ounces confectioner’s sugar
milk (amount varies according to desired consistency of the icing)

dscn0238
Add milk to confectioner’s sugar a little at a time, to form icing. Icing consistency should be the similar to ketchup – pourable but not watery. You want it to coat the cookie and not run off but also not be creamy like cake icing.

Dip the tops of the cookies into the icing and let rest on cooling rack until icing sets completely. Enjoy!

img_1443

Novel Excerpt (32)

Novel Excerpt (32)

A scene from Breaking Bread, Book 5 in the Bucks County Series by Margaret Sorick. Find all the excerpts here.

It was my Sunday to work, so I would have to add one more thing to ask forgiveness for. As a peace offering, I made a batch of pepper cookies at the cafe to take with me. They were Baba’s recipe and a family favorite. And I planned ahead and brought a change of clothes so that if I was running late, I wouldn’t have to show up in my uniform.

As usual, I was the last one to arrive even though I was fifteen minutes early by my calculation. It seemed impossible to ever beat anyone else to the house and I was beginning to suspect a conspiracy. Mom waited at the door for me while I unloaded the tray of cookies from the Jeep. I pasted on what I hoped was a convincing smile and headed for the front porch.

“Hi, Mom,” I said kissing her offered cheek.

“Come on in, everyone is waiting for you.”

Feeling like the sacrificial lamb being led to slaughter, I followed my mother down the hallway to the kitchen. The rest of the family was gathered around the table with the exception of Tanya’s children who were being hypnotized by the images on the television.
I waved a hello and set the tray of cookies on the counter.

“Maya has something she wants to say to you all,” my mother announced.

I reddened. Talk about drama… I cleared my throat and looked around at everyone. My Dad and Zada seemed embarrassed and sympathetic, Tanya looked smug and my Baba had the same disapproving look she always wore. Michael wouldn’t even meet my gaze. “I want to say I’m sorry for how I acted a few weeks ago. I got angry and I lashed out and I said some things I shouldn’t have. I hope you can forgive me for the outburst.”

“Dad slapped his thigh. “Well, I’m just glad we’re all back together again. That’s the important thing.”

I gave him a half smile. “Thanks, Dad.”

My mother sniffed. “I suppose that will have to do. I only hope that’s the last time we have to put up with that kind of behavior.”

I swear I literally saw red. Just as I was about to make a retort, my Zada said, “Come on sweetheart, let’s go watch the football. Split a beer with me?”

My mother said, “Papa, I need Maya to help in the kitchen.”

“Ah, that’s a load. You never let anybody help you anyway,” he said. “I missed her. She can sit and visit with me.” He gave me a wink and began his shuffle down the hall to the living room.

“I’ll clean up after,” I said, getting a beer from the fridge. “Promise.”

After pouring the beer into two glasses, I made my escape from the kitchen. Michael and my father followed close on my heels. I breathed a sigh of relief as I settled next to my grandfather on the sofa. He gave my knee a pat. “Don’t you let your mother bring you down, my girl.”

“Thanks, Zada,” I replied and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “So everything ok with you?”

“Eh, good as can be expected for an old man.” He shrugged. “Got a clean bill of health at the doctor’s last week. That’s always a relief. My arthritis is acting up now that the weather is turning colder, but other than that, I can’t complain.”

“And Baba is good?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Ornery as ever. She’s got a bee in her bonnet over your Uncle Phil.”

I snorted. “What did he do?”

“He suggested that we sell the house and move into a retirement community,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea. We can’t keep up with it the way we used to. Your grandmother thinks your uncles and your mother and all the grandkids ought to be over there helping. But everybody’s busy with their own things. Philip said something to that effect and got your Baba all riled up.” He chuckled. “I guess you can see how the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with your mother.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Don’t let her get under your skin, sweetheart. If you do, she wins.” He patted my knee again. “Trust me. How do you think I managed all these years?”

“Your a saint, Zada,” I said with a smile.

My mother called us in to the table about a half an hour later. No doubt having rehashed my horrible behavior and my insincere apology for all that time. We took our places and passed the platters of food.

“So Tanya, how are you feeling?” I asked. She was already making a production of resting her hand prominently on her belly even though she was barely showing.

“Tired. I have so much to do. The addition has the whole back half of the house torn up. I can’t keep up with the dust and mess.” She frowned at Michael. “And I’m still working three days a week.”

“We gotta pay for the new addition somehow,” he said.

“Well, I definitely don’t think I’m going to be able to stay at work as long with this baby,” she said petulantly.

“Your health and the health of the baby are more important,” my mother declared.

“Tell me about the addition,” I said. “You hired Donovan Construction, right?”

“Um, well…” she stuttered. “No.”

My jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.” I looked from Tanya to Michael and back again. Neither met my gaze. “Why not?”

My mother snorted. “Why should they hire somebody like that? Leo Donovan doesn’t need the work. Not with Olivia’s money.”

I gaped at her. “Really? That’s why?” I turned to Tanya. “Did you even get an estimate? Leo would have beaten anyone’s price for you. Because you’re my sister.”

“We, uh… just thought it would be a good idea to support a contractor who really needed the job,” Tanya said, looking to Michael for backup. He nodded obediently.

I shook my head. “Ok, whatever you say… So how is work coming along?”

She described the changes they were making to their Colonial home. They were enlarging the family room on the first floor and adding another bedroom the second. “So we’re going to need to start from scratch. I got rid of all our stuff after Christopher went to his big boy bed. I figured we’d stop at two but here we are.”

“Right, so tell me about he shower,” I said. “When and where is it?”

“We’ve rented out the senior center in Hilltown for the last Saturday in January. I have the caterer lined up…”

“Whoa, hold on,” I said raising a hand. “Why don’t you let me cater it for you? It can be my gift.”

Tanya frowned. “You don’t do catering.”

“Well, no, but I can certainly do it for your shower.”

“I already have the menu planned…”

“Tanya, I can do whatever you want, you know that…”

“No. It’s too late. We’ve already paid the deposit,” my mother said. “We’re not going back on our word.”

I was stunned. Stunned and hurt. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t even thought to ask me about providing food for the event. I swallowed hard. “Would you like a cake, at least? I could do a custom baby cake….”

“Um, we… um… already ordered a cake. From Costco,” Tanya said, looking at her hands.

“Costco. Really.”

“Their cakes are wonderful,” my mother stated. “I’ve never had a bad thing from their bakery department.”

“Irena,” my father muttered.

“What? It’s true.”

“Mom,” I said quietly. “Why wouldn’t you think to let me make the cake? It’s my profession.”

“Your profession?” She repeated. “That’s rich.” Then sighing heavily, she said, “You always did think an awful lot of yourself didn’t you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snapped.

“Tsk. I don’t know where you got the idea that you’re so much better than the rest of us.”

“When did I ever say that?” I demanded.

“You didn’t have to. You show it by your actions.” She counted off on her fingers. “State college wasn’t good enough for you, you had to go out to Pittsburgh to that fancy culinary school. And then if that wasn’t enough, you insisted on spending that semester in Paris. Well, la de da. Then when you do finally come home and get a nice stable job, even that’s not good enough. You have to open that ridiculous, pretentious-sounding cafe…”

“That’s enough!” Zada bellowed, bringing his fist down on the table. “Irena, not one more word! You have been banging that drum for too long. I, for one, have had enough of it.” he turned to me. “I am proud of you my dear. Don’t listen to this garbage.”

Tears welled up and threatened to spill over. “Thank you Zada,” I rasped. No one else would look at me. “I… I’m going to go.”

“Maya, don’t leave,” my father said, grabbing my arm. He glared at my mother, who wouldn’t meet his gaze. “Irena, say something.”

“I was told to be quiet,” she snipped. “I have nothing to say.”

“It’s ok, Daddy,” I said, tears streaming down my face. “I don’t want to hear anything she has to say, anyway.”

As I turned for the door, my mother called, “Wait!”

She strode to the counter where my tray of cookies sat waiting. “Take these with you. We don’t want them.”

I snatched the tray from her hands and dumped the cookies all over the floor. Then with my tray in hand I ran for the door.

Something bigger

Something bigger

Standing on the precipice
Peering into the void
The ground beneath me crumbling
Grasping at thin air as I pitch
It feels like slow motion
As if somehow I have time
I do not scream
Tumble, pivot, spin
Stare up into the night sky
That vast expanse above
There must be something bigger
Than all this down below
And I conclude
This is a lovely way to die

Header Image – The Starry Night; Vincent Van Gogh

Novel Excerpt (31)

Novel Excerpt (31)

A scene from Breaking Bread, Book 5 in the Bucks County Series by Margaret Sorick. Find all the excerpts here.

I agreed to upgrade the security once again and had an additional camera installed over the cash register. It had a wide enough angle to catch the faces of everyone entering the front door, not just those paying at the counter. Whether it acted as a deterrent or not, I wasn’t sure. However, after that things quieted down at Le Boulangerie.

I finally got to talk to my father two weeks after the blow up over the wedding. I’d left three or four messages before finally giving up. I suspected that he never checked the phone or if he did, he was afraid to call me back. So when my phone rang late one afternoon and I saw his number on my caller ID, I did a double take.

“Daddy?”

“Hello, Maya,” he said. He coughed and cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “So… How you doing kid?”

“I’m good, Dad. How are you?”

“Oh, you know… Same old, same old.”

“Why aren’t you at work?”

“Ah. Finished up a job today. Start a new one tomorrow.”

My father was a union HVAC installer. Most of his work took him into Philadelphia. I asked, “Did you get my messages?”

“You call the house?”

“No, this phone,” I told him. “You have to start checking your voicemail, Dad.”

“Oh, right. I never remember. Heh. It’s a wonder the damn thing’s ever charged. Anyway… so you called?”

“Yeah, Daddy, about what happened…”

He gave a heavy sigh. “I know you didn’t mean to get your mother all fired up like that. But you know how she is.”

“So you think this is my fault?”

“No! No! I didn’t say that. I’m not saying she was right and you were wrong or you were right and she was wrong. I just think you two don’t see eye to eye on these things. Family is very important to your mother. She wants us all to be together for the holidays.”

“Then you don’t think family is important to me? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, not at all. Er, I mean yes, I think family is important to you… but your mother…”

“It’s less about family and more about mom keeping everyone under her thumb, if you ask me.”

He remained silent so I went on, “You see how things have worked out for poor Michael. Don’t you think he’d like to spend the holidays with his parents once in a while? Instead of having to take the kids up there the day after? I understand Tanya barely speaks to his parents anymore, after the baby shower fiasco.”

When Tanya was pregnant the first time, the Westons had offered to host the baby shower at their home in Bethlehem, since they had a big family all living in the area and plenty of room to fit a large gathering. My mother got upset over some perceived slight and made a big stink about it. It had caused bad feelings between Tanya and her in-laws when she took my mother’s side. The Westons had thus been forever vilified.

My father cleared his throat again. “Well, speaking of baby showers… Listen, you need to talk to your mother. Just tell her you’re sorry, will you? Because, well… you’re going to want to be in on your sister’s baby shower, aren’t you?”

“A baby shower? For Tanya?” I asked. “This is their third kid. What the hell does she need that she doesn’t already have?”

“Heh. See, that’s just it… she uh, figured they were all done having babies so she got rid of all their stuff.”

I groaned. “Oh fabulous.”

“Maya, that’s not nice,” he grumbled. “Don’t you want to help?”

“Help, how?”

“I don’t know. That’s what you’ll have to talk to your mother about. Call her. Come for dinner Sunday and you can get all the details then. Please?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. I’d have to grovel. Mom would force me to or else the issue would never be dropped. “I’m not changing my plans, Dad. If that’s what she’s hoping. I’m still going to miss Christmas at home. Just so you know.”

“I know. I know. Just try to act more sorry about it, ok?”

I sighed. “I’ll try.”

***

“You’re doing the right thing,” Brad said. We were curled up on the sofa in the apartment over the cafe. My new routine was to go up and see him every day after work. Sometimes I brought dinner up from the cafe, sometimes he cooked for me. Whatever the case, we were pretty much together everyday day. Just like he had wanted…

“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh. “It feels like I’m surrendering to the enemy.”

“But keeping the peace, at least,” he said. “Family stuff is complicated. They’re the only people you can love and hate at the exact same time.”

“I guess. Although that’s a pretty strong word.”

“Hate?”

“No, love…”

“Aw, babe,” said, kissing my forehead. “I’m sorry.”

“You know I can’t remember the last time either of my parents told me they loved me?”

“You’re kidding….”

“Nope. It might show a sign of weakness,” I said sarcastically. “Ha. I think I’ve heard it more from your mom than my own.”

“Oh, Maya… I…”

I waved a hand. “Forget it. I don’t want to wallow in self pity all afternoon. I just need to figure out my approach for when I call my mother later. Balancing my level of peacemaking with standing my ground. Usually with my mom it’s all or nothing. I don’t want to call her just to fight all over again.”

I kissed him goodbye with a promise to call later and tell him how it went. I left through the back door of the apartment and descended the rear steps to the courtyard. Even though I had none on my property, all the other stately old trees in the neighborhood were giving up their leaves fast. They were starting to pile up in the corners of the walled courtyard. I’d have to get the rake out soon and start bagging them up for collection.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the looming confrontation. The other issue I was beginning to worry about —and I hadn’t told Brad this part— was that word would be getting around that he and I were a couple. I was positive Cissy Landis had seen him coming and going a bunch of times over the last few weeks. My sister probably had a journal and photographic evidence. If I didn’t let the family know I was seeing someone, they would be insulted. Not only that, I was certain there would be insinuations about Brad’s inheritance, or worse, outright accusations that I had suddenly taken notice of him since he fell into all this money. I dreaded having to break this news and face their subsequent interrogation on Sunday.

When I got back to my apartment, I puttered around with household chores as a delaying tactic. However, when I finally ran out of things to do, my place was sparkling clean and all my laundry was washed, dried, folded and put away. I checked the clock — still plenty of time to call. I sighed. Might as well get it over with…

My mother answered after three rings. If it had got to five I was going to hang up…

“Hello?”

“Hi Mom,” I said.

“Maya,” she answered. “It’s good to hear from you.”

“Yeah, how’ve you been?”

“As good as can be expected,” she said with a sigh.

I rolled my eyes. ”Look, Ma, I’m sorry I blew up at you… I just wanted to say that… I’m sorry.”

“Well… I should hope so, Maya. You said some pretty terrible things.”

I dug my nails into my palm to help keep my composure. “I know, Ma. I was angry and I shouldn’t have said those things.”

“So disrespectful. You upset the entire family, your father, your grandparents, your sister… Tanya is under enough stress with the baby coming. You could have thought of her, at least.”

I counted to ten before I responded. “Ma. I said I was sorry.”

“Well, I really think you need to apologize to everyone, don’t you agree?”

“What do you want me to do, Ma? Make a speech? Wear a hair shirt? Self flagellate with a scourge?”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Maya. An apology will suffice.”

“Fine.”

“After all, you’re the one who ruined dinner. And our holidays this year.”

“Listen, about that…”

“Have you changed your mind?” she interrupted.

“No, Ma. I can’t. But… I don’t take it lightly. I want you to know that, too. This is a special circumstance and that’s the only thing that would keep me from spending the holiday with you all.”

She sighed heavily. “Well, as long as it doesn’t happen again…”

I thought about arguing that point, but I concluded that this was about the best I could hope for from my mother. I cleared my throat. “So dinner this Sunday?”

“Of course. Where else would we be?”

Silly question. ”Shall I bring dessert?”

“That will be fine.” She paused. “And just so you know, we’re planning a small shower for your sister. The unexpected pregnancy has left her unprepared. I imagine you’ll want to help.”

“Sure.”

“Good. We’ll tell you all about it on Sunday.”

“All right.”

“And Maya, while you’re apologizing? You might want to ask God’s forgiveness as well.”