August 30, 2016

Peanut Butter Pretzel Chocolate Kiss Cookies

I was right in the middle of eating peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies with a side of pretzels when it hit me: this is a combination that needs to get itself into a cookie.

Sweet/salty? Creamy/crunchy? With the melty chocolate factor thrown on top for good measure? I'll take a dozen. (At least.)

Peanut Butter Pretzel Chocolate Kiss Cookies {print}

**Annoying but important fact: this dough needs to chill for an hour before baking.**

2 cups thin pretzels
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
chocolate kisses, unwrapped (approximately 24)
additional granulated sugar, for rolling cookie balls

Spread pretzels out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put the pretzels in a cold oven and turn it on to preheat to 350 degrees. You're crisping the pretzels up a bit more than they already are so they'll stay crisp in the finished cookies. Remove them after 10 minutes (it doesn't matter if the oven reached 350 or not) and let them cool slightly. Turn off the oven for now. (Sorry.) Put the cooled pretzels in a plastic bag and beat them up a bit with a rolling pin or skillet or meat this point, you want some fine crumbs but also some larger pieces. Set these aside for now. Since you've just had a workout, go eat a chocolate kiss (call it "quality assurance testing" if it makes you feel better).

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and both sugars. Add the egg, vanilla, and milk, and beat well. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add this dry mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and beat just until incorporated. Gently fold in about 1/2 to 1 cup of the pretzels you dealt with earlier. You can use more or less, depending on how pretzely you want your cookies. Cover and chill this dough for an hour or more.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven (for real this time) to 375 degrees. (Yes, 375 this time is right.)

Crush remaining pretzels until they're fairly fine crumbs and mix about 1 tablespoon of these with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar. You're going to roll your dough balls in this mixture. You can vary the ratio depending on if you want more sugar or more pretzel, and you might have to make more to coat all the dough balls.

Roll the dough (about 1 tablespoon per cookie) into balls and roll these in the pretzel-sugar mixture. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, until slightly cracked. Remove from oven and immediately press an unwrapped chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool 2 minutes on the sheet, then remove to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining dough. Cool baked cookies completely and store airtight if you're not eating them within a couple hours. Makes about 24 cookies.

Credit and gratitude to Food Fun Family for "The Best Peanut Butter Blossoms Cookies," which provided a starting point for these cookies.

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.

August 1, 2016

Teachers Know These Things: 10 Practical Tips for Parents

My girls head back to school in about a month, which means stores around here are stuffed with supplies.

Now when I'm shopping, the only thing more confusing than trying to decide which yogurt to buy--Greek? nonfat? full-fat? Icelandic? fruit-on-the-bottom? no fruit but with a sidecar of crunchies?--is trying to figure out what kind of glue stick will provide the most adhesive power before it dries up in the tube at the exact moment one of my children has some massive posterboard project due the next day.

Enter to the rescue my friend Julia, a stellar second-grade teacher and one of my former college roommates who's still speaking to me. (On account of my worshiping at the throne of the almighty 4.0, I was very difficult to live with during my college years. Sorry, roomies. Not that I'm all that easy to live with now. Sorry, family.) Julia shared a life-altering post on Facebook about what kind of pencils professional educators wish their students would bring to class. Buoyed by this bit of consumer clarification, I asked Julia what else parents need to know when they're staring down The Great Wall of School Supplies.

She graciously answered that question and, along with a few of her teacher friends, also offered a few hints for general school-year success. 

Parents, consider this your teacher-approved back-to-school cheat sheet.

1. Presharpened Ticonderoga pencils are IT in the leaded writing implement world. Julia says that when these do need sharpening, your little scholar won't end up shaving most of it off the way they will with cheaper pencils. Seems like this falls in the "you get what you pay for" category of life stuff.

2. Pass up paper folders for more durable, longer-lasting plastic versions. (See "you get what you pay for," above.)

3. Wide-ruled notebooks are the rule in elementary school. Wait on college-ruled until college itself is a little closer. 

4. Crayola crayons. Yes. 

5. On lunch supplies, from an actual student (thank you, Brock): "pack enough for lunch 'cause kids are used to eating snacks in the summer." 

6. Also in the food-and-beverage department: send no-spill drinks in lunches. (While I'm not a professional educator and am in complete awe of those who can be and are, I will say that my girls are still going strong with the Contigo AUTOSEAL water bottles we bought last summer. No leaks, no breakage, no weird taste, no snapping off of the one minuscule part essential to the operation of the whole deal. (Zipper pulls, I'm looking at you.)

7. Buy extra art supplies now while they're readily available. In December, all the seasonal shelf space currently allotted to glue sticks, markers, and crayons will be given over to Ghiradelli chocolate gift sets. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, only that you should buy those markers before the changeover happens. At which point, of course, you should buy the Ghiradelli.

8. If a specific brand of something is on a supply list from your child's teacher, it's probably there for a reason, and it's not because the teacher is getting a kick-back from the XYZ Staple Company. If possible, try to get the brand listed.

9. Just checked mechanical pencils off your list? Great. Did you get the refills? Of course you did. Good job.

10. Stock up on envelopes and zip-top baggies. Because these are what your child's teacher wants money you send to school to be contained in. WITH your child's name on it. AND labeled with what the money is for. Please. Also, thank you.

Extra credit:

Julia and her colleagues also chimed in with a few other suggestions for a successful school year. Between these and your killer school supplies (and prayer...lots of prayer), I think you've got this, mama.
  • Designate one area of your house for school "stuff"--packets, handbooks, notes from the teacher, etc. That way, when the question is "where in the world was that [insert specific school-related piece of paper]?" you'll already know the answer.
  • Drop off all medications to the school nurse; don't send them with your student. And inform the nurse and your child's teacher of any diagnoses.
  • Sign and return forms right away. Or sooner.
  • Don't be on the phone when you pick your kids up or when they get home. I love the why behind this advice from Diane, a first-grade teacher: "they have missed you!"
  • Check assignment notebooks or take-home folders nightly.
  • Charme, a K-2 Literacy Coach, says, "Be sure to share anything going on with your child or home life, as it affects their day and how [their] teacher may respond to certain things [your] child does."
  • Find out when your child has PE so you'll know when they need to take their gym shoes.
  • Backpack clean-out is best done once a week, not at the end of the year when entire new colonies of living things have taken up residence.
  • Notify the school ASAP if contact numbers or addresses change.
  • "If you have to report an absence or dismissal change, contact the office, not the teacher. Teachers are busy teaching and can't always get to their phone or computer. They may be absent or in a meeting and the sub doesn't have access to their email or voicemail box." (School secretaries like Cindy know these things.)
My thanks to Julia and her colleagues--Sandy, Loree (and Brock), Diane, Susan, Rachel, Ann, Charme, Stephanie, and Cindy--for giving parents this crash-course on all things school-related. Got anything to add? Please share it in a comment or over on Facebook, because among other things, The Great Binder Decision still awaits me.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**