I love this time of year. I love the colors, the fragrance, the baking, the crunch of leaves, the shift from one season to the next, and the beautiful backdrop this season offers in many of my books.
We're seeing a shift in color, but not quite as much at the lower elevations, which is why I ventured up to Glacier Park.
There is a slight twinge of guilt for enjoying such beauty and calm while so many have been ravaged and displaced by the storms in North Carolina. My editor lives out there (thankfully evacuated before it hit) and I became fond of the state during an extended stay. The guilt shifts to gratitude when I think of how no one goes untouched. We have suffered tremendous losses from fire in Montana, and when Hurricane Irene hit, my family and I were in Vermont, locked in by rising rivers and damaged roads. No one is immune from potential threats of nature's violence, which is why these moments are so precious.
After closing for much of August and September, Going-to-the-Sun road opened back up to vehicles. They'll close it in another month for the winter season, but until then, there is plenty to explore while brave men and women battle the remaining flames. I could smell the smoke, but saw no sign of it. With some of my favorite areas closed off and more people than I expected, I enjoyed a single, quiet spot for a spell before heading home in the rain. It's nice to see the changing colors all around. Still a little dull, but they're sure to brighten soon.
And I'll end picture time with the obligatory cute puppy photo.
This post wouldn't be complete without a new favorite autumn (actually, all the time) recipe. Cowboy Cookies! Yep, I've made a few variations before, but they were always uninspiring. Then I tried the recipe by Laura Bush (saw something in a magazine about them), put my own spin on it, and voila! The best darn cookie ever! They're filling and make great hiking, camping, picnic, or mid-day snack cookies.
Slightly modified from Cowboy Cookies by Laura Bush
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups packed light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toffee chips
2 cups McCann’s Irish old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup McCann’s Irish steel-cut oats
2 cups unsweetened flake coconut
2 cups chopped pecans
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.
3. In a very large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in sugars, and combine thoroughly.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla.
5. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, toffee oats, coconut, and pecans. During this step, I stir a bit after each addition; much easier.
6. For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
7. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.
I use as many organic ingredients as possible. This is a personal preference, but I do notice a difference in baking between using organic ingredients and using standard. They'll both work, but I prefer the richer, "fresher" taste of using the good stuff.
DO NOT OVERBAKE. Seriously, you will destroy these delicious cookies, unless you like crunchy cookies. I use a medium cookie scoop to measure the dough, which makes them large (hence only needing one). This also alters the bake time. For me, that's closer to 17 minutes. When I made them a little smaller, 15 minutes worked. If you're making small cookies, check them after 13 minutes. If making larger, check after 15, but you'll probably need the full 17 depending on your oven.
Room temperature butter is perfect, but I keep my house cool year round, so room temp doesn't quite cut it. I tend to warm the butter for 10-15 seconds in the microwave.
There is plenty of baking in my writing, though it's never been a single focus. In "McKensie's Christmas Gift" (McKenna), McKensie is a chef turned hotelier when she inherits a family hotel in Wyoming from her aunt. This is the only story I've written that connects both pen names. McKensie is the descendant and namesake of a character in "Teton Christmas," part of the Home for Christmas short story collection written under MK. As for baking, there's plenty of it in the Gallagher books (MK). Big ranch and lots of mouths to feed. At the end of An Angel Called Gallagher, you'll find a recipe for Elizabeth Hunter's Spiced Apple & Cranberry Cake.
Happy baking and autumn and wishes for lots of warm nights cuddled under a blanket, reading a good book.
Be well, be kind, and stay bookish!