It's pre-autumn and I'm sensing a sweet Indian summer is in the air. The combination of chilly nights and warm days makes it a challenge for baking cookies — my fantasy fare for the week. I've been craving peanut butter and dark chocolate — two superfoods with health perks — and decided it was time to hit the kitchen. After walking the Brittany duo on a trail Tuesday, I got a flashback of a past home I enjoyed in Santa Cruz Mountains, a place where I lived, studied, wrote and baked. The house was in Brookdale, off Highway 9, nestled amid towering redwood trees, situated above the San Lorenzo River. It boasted a panoramic view with an oversized deck, two fireplaces and a huge kitchen to love. One late fall day during a severe rainstorm I baked large old-fashioned peanut butter cookies. I let my two Labrador retrievers outside and they darted down to the river where we swam in the summer. As a grad student reading George Eliot's “The Mill on the Floss” (complete with a spooky river ending) I grew worried. I pondered,“What if my dogs were swallowed by the raging water?” and “Where are the dogs?” Getting soaked outside I called out their names: “Stony!” “Carmella!” I shouted again and again. No black and yellow labs. My two best friends were AWOL like in the novel of the past. Then, at last, two wet and smiling canines greeted me, their wet and thankful mom. After drying off two big dogs, I wolfed down warm peanut butter cookies and a hot cup of tea. I was in heaven. So, while I have bittersweet memories of that fall dog day, I recreated it this week (minus the rain) and gave my cookies an updated tweak.Petite Thumbprint Peanut Butter Cookies2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (use a bit more because of the altitude)1/2 cup butter (European style), softened1 cup creamy peanut butter3/4 cup light brown sugar3/4 cup white granulated sugar2 brown eggs, beaten2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 cup chocolate chips, 60 percent cacao content (or Hershey's chocolate kisses)Extra peanut butter (for filling)In a mixing bowl, combine flour and baking soda. In another smaller bowl, cream butters and sugars till fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Combine all ingredients. Roll dough into 1-inch circles. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Use your thumb and press into center of each cookie to make a well. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or till golden brown. Cool for less than one minute. Top with melted chocolate chips (microwave works) or peanut butter into the thumbprint of the cookies. You can also use a candy kiss. Makes about 40.These homemade cookies will give your kitchen a peanut buttery aroma like your favorite cookie shop. Mixing and matching the thumbprint with peanut butter and chocolate filling (or use Hershey's Chocolate Kisses) are easy on the eyes. This time around, I used old-fashioned ingredients (sugar versus honey) but I also incorporated whole wheat flour, brown eggs, peanut butter, and dark chocolate. In moderation teamed with tea or coffee, a couple of petite cookies can be a good thing. I froze dozens so I wouldn't be tempted to overindulge in the treat. And while I miss the river gem, a cabin by the lake, two smaller sporting dogs (walked on leashes), and writing books is proof that things change but stay the same.Motto: Treating yourself, friends and family to sweets like cookies can warm your spirit. There is no need to deny yourself of decadent goodies on occasion, especially if you don't go wild and overdo it. — Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include "The Healing Powers" series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. (The Healing Powers of Honey and Coffee are offered by the Good Cook Book Club.) “Animal Attraction: A Collection of Tales & Tails” will be released this fall. Her website is www.calorey.com.
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