Over the last few years I’ve gotten in the habit of sending my grandparents cookie care packages about once a quarter. I don’t live very close to my grandparents in Long Island or my grandmother in Georgia, so sending them cookies is my way of telling them that I’m thinking about them and reminding them that I’m a fantastic baker.
I’ve probably sent somewhere between 50 and 100 baked good care packages through the mail over the past five years to my grandparents and other assorted friends and family, and I’ve developed somewhat of a formula. When it comes to packages for the grandparents I usually include three things:
- about a dozen of a seasonal cookie
- about a dozen of a heartier (perhaps more nutritious) cookie
- a couple mini loafs of a quick bread
The purpose of the seasonal cookies is obviously to make the package festive. In December it’s a Christmas cookie; in the spring it’s heart shaped shortbread, Hamentashen, or coconut macaroons; in the fall it’s something pumpkin oriented; and the summer is kind of a wild card. The heartier choice is sort of the same idea as putting vegetables in your kid’s mac and cheese. Cookies with oats, dried cranberries, nuts, or bananas add a couple little nutritional elements to my grandparent’s limited daily diet. I know that my cookies are better for them than any of the baked goods they buy at the grocery store. Lastly, I throw in one or two mini loaves of a quick bread. I usually do banana bread because it’s just so easy, but I’ll also do cranberry nut bread or zucchini bread. I just know my grandparents all love quick bread so I try to always include it.
This past weekend I baked for a care package for my Grandfather in Long Island. He’s turning 94 next week! Keeping that in mind, I made two of his favorites- Hamentashen (it’s Purim season) and banana bread. I also added chunky lola cookies (adding Craisons to the recipe) for a little extra something.
Here are a few pro tips to remember for mailing cookies:
- do bake as close to mailing as possible (I usually bake Sunday afternoon and mail first thing Monday morning)
- don’t be shy with the bubble wrap, peanuts, newspaper, etc.- cookies need cushioning
- do include a quick note that identifies the enclosed items
- don’t make anything too fancy, delicate, or perishable because it will not hold up in the mail- btw cookies covered in powdered sugar do not usually look great when they arrive, but they probably still taste good
- do allow everything to cool completely before you package them
I’ve been hatching a plan to replicate a KIND bar for a long time, and I finally followed through. I did a lot of snooping on the food blogs to find a feasible recipe. After looking at a few different versions, it was clear that there was a pretty consistent formula, which was a good sign.
KIND bars were a little bit of an investment because they’re basically all nuts. Also, they are mostly specialty ingredients that I don’t usually keep in my pantry. I found ground flax seed and millet pretty easily, but I had to hunt for the brown rice syrup. Is it a sugar? Is it a syrup? Is it a honey? Is it a gluten free or ethnic food? Turns out in Harris Teeter it’s none of the above. I had to go to Whole Foods and found it in the sugar and sugar alternative section.
I will caution you, the first time I made these they were a complete and expensive fail. I did not boil the syrup and honey mixture for long enough, it didn’t thicken properly, and the bars just fell apart. I can’t remember the last time I was that mad at everything in my kitchen. Even the second time around the bars were pretty sticky, so I recommend cutting them into bite size squares and storing them in your fridge for easy snacking. The taste, nutrition, and general texture are the redeeming factors.
Copy-Cat KIND Bars
Yields 10 bars, adapted from Eat Urself Skinny
- ½ cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped
- ½ cup unsalted cashews, chopped
- ½ cup roasted walnuts, chopped
- ⅓ cup puffed millet
- 1 Tbs flaxseed meal
- ¼ cup brown rice syrup
- 2 Tbs honey
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper.
- Coat a mixing bowl with non-stick spray. Combine nuts, millet, and flax in the bowl and set aside.
- Put a small pot on the stove on medium heat. Add brown rice syrup, honey, vanilla, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and wish constantly at a boil for two full minutes.
- Pour the liquid over the nut mixture. Mix until ingredients are evenly coated and pour into the parchment lined pan. Flatten mixture firmly into the pan with no gaps.
- Allow to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a cutting board and cut into 10 bars. Allow to cool completely.
- Melt chocolate chips in microwave (heat for 30 seconds at a time until melted). Drizzle over cooled bars.
- Store at room temp in sealed container, or skip the chocolate step and store in refrigerator (the chocolate might turn white in the fridge).
About once a quarter, I do a big baking day where I make 3-5 recipes in a day either for an event or a holiday. After doing this several times, it can be a very long afternoon, but I’ve gleaned a few best practices to make the day as efficient and manageable as possible. And believe me, when you’re baking for a crowd this holiday season, any time saved is a win!
Game plan. With several recipes on the to-do list, I take a look at baking times, temperatures, and any tricky details in the recipes. If I’m making a cake or quick bread, I usually throw that in the oven first because it takes longer, and then prepare the rest of the batters while it’s baking. I also check the baking temperatures to see what I can bake at the same time, and think about what needs a special pan or utensil (so I don’t use it for another recipe by accident).
Check your recipes. I always check the recipes the day before for two reasons: 1. to make sure I have all the ingredients or to write my grocery list, and 2. many cookie recipes require chilling the dough for 30 minutes up to overnight, so I better make the dough early if it needs to be chilled! Also, if you need anything like butter to be at room temperature, you know you’ll need to set it out early! Forgetting to read the recipes early has definitely screwed me over in the past.
Wash dishes as you go, but clean the kitchen after. The thing about baking is that there is always downtime when things are in the oven. My advice is to get started on the dishes as soon as you put the first batch in the oven. I find it a lot more manageable if you just keep doing dishes throughout. I’m sorry if I sound like your mother. There’s no point in trying to wipe down the counters and clean the floor, however, until everything is out of the oven and stored away. If you’re a Virgo like me, definitely summon the energy to clean up as soon as you’re done. I hate waking up the next morning to a kitchen full of crumbs!
Set up an extra garbage bag. Similar to how Rachel Ray keeps a garbage bowl on the counter to toss waste in while she’s prepping and cooking, I usually set up an extra plastic or paper bag for all of the empty ingredient wrappers and boxes. I don’t want to fill up my regular trash with all the packaging, so I just toss that down the trash chute when I’m done (perks of living in a high rise apartment!).
Got any good tips for me?