Thursday, April 19, 2012

Covert Robin Swap

In March I participated in the Covert Robin Swap It was a lot of fun to make (and receive) a gift. My gift came from the very talented Justine who rocked my world with some delicious baking and some other non-food goodies that smelled so good my kids tried to eat them. True story.  Here's Justine to share how this all came together.....

When Rachael over at ImagineGnats first proposed the Covert Robin, I was all over it. A while ago I’d written a syndicated post for BlogHer about buying handmade from talented bloggers for the holidays, participated in Audrey’s (from Planet Hausfrau) Sekret Exchange, and thought this would be another great opportunity to get to meet some more awesome bloggers who make beautiful things.
What I hadn't counted on was the complete panic that would set in when I realized what a talented group of people I'd stumbled upon, and the feelings of inadequacy that would begin to creep in.  What would I make?  I couldn't just send cookies, could I (I have a mostly-food blog)?  And even if I sent cookies, I couldn't send ones I've blogged about before, could I?  How could I compete with people who -- gasp -- sew?  (Yeah, I don't own a sewing machine, and I taught myself to knit and purl a few weeks ago ... let's just say it's slow going.)  Top this with the fact that I don't take very good "step-by-step" pictures in the kitchen, and I experienced major creative block.
And to make matters even MORE complicated, I realized as I was reading Katie’s blog that I was paired with a pastry chef AND someone who made fabulous things with fabric and thread.  Someone who was, I was sure, more talented than I was in the kitchen.  What to do?
I decided that maybe I’d go with a themed basket of cookie-inspired things reflecting my little corner of the world and Katie’s love of sweet things, so that I could make cookies, but also send some other treats.  My absolute favorite cookies are Fruit and Nut “Trail Mix” Cookies, which are a recipe adapted from my favorite local restaurant here in central NJ (they are great about using organic and locally-sourced ingredients, which is definitely something I’m passionate about).  I thought that maybe a honey-oatmeal soap (made with local honey) and a vanilla brown sugar scrub would be good companions for the cookies, and that I’d dress up the package in a springy basket.
The one thing I worried about a little bit was that the cookies would survive the long trip to BC, but Katie assured me that they arrived intact.  Katie, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that they’re even better the same day they come out of the oven!
One thing I’ve learned during my quest for the perfect gift is that if I'm going to give handmade, it’s nice to take risks, and that I can do so while staying true to my talents.  The second thing I learned is that even imperfect gifts from the heart are better than store bought.  And the third thing I learned is that everyone has different talents, and one of the wonderful things about the internet is that it allows us to appreciate each other’s creativity while getting new ideas and inspiration!  Thanks, Katie and Rachael!

Brown sugar scrubMeasure out equal parts vanilla (or plain white) sugar and brown sugar in a bowl, and mix. You will get a sandy looking mixture. Pack your container with the 50/50 brown and white sugar and slowly pour in olive oil. I poured in a tablespoon or two at a time and let it seep in. Once the oil had penetrated about half of the packed sugar, I added about a teaspoon of almond extract, let that seep in as well, and then dumped the entire contents out into a bowl to mix it up.  I also added the seeds from half a vanilla bean, which would make the scrub smell absolutely fabulous by the time it reached Katie.  *hi, Katie here for a sec, THIS is the stuff my kids tried to eat!! It smells THAT good! Ok, back to Justine :-)

 Oatmeal cookie soap: start with some glycerin.  Melt according to directions, and add 1 t. honey and 2 t. oatmeal for each soap.  I also sprinkled in about ¼ t. cinnamon so it would smell like an oatmeal cookie.  Cinnamon is also great for making you feel awake and alert!

Fruit and Nut “Trail Mix” Cookies

4 1/2 c. flour (I used half whole wheat pastry)
2 t. baking soda
2 t. salt
1 lb. butter (or unsalted margarine for the vegans among us)
2 c. light brown sugar
1 c. sugar (you could use 2/3 c. agave, but the dough will be more watery, and you'll need to reduce cooking temp by 25 degrees, and bake them for a bit longer)
4 eggs (vegans can use egg replacer or 1 T. ground flax seeds plus 3 T.water)
4 t. vanilla
3 c. shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3 c. chopped dried apricots (or other dried fruit)
2 1/2 c. dried cherries (or other dried fruit)
4 1/2 c. sliced natural almonds (or other nuts)

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, toss together dried fruit and nuts and set this aside, too.

With a stand mixer (or something that beats things into oblivion), cream butter and sugars until light, scraping the bowl several times as necessary.  Add eggs, two at a time, incorporating fully and scraping the bowl as necessary.  Add the vanilla and mix well.  In two to three additions, mix in the flour mixture, but be careful not to overbeat it!

Mix in fruit and nuts by hand until well distributed.  Using an ice cream scoop (I prefer the kind with the handle you can squeeze to release the ice cream), scoop cookies onto a cookie sheets, leaving at least three inches between cookies. Press down slightly to flatten and bake until lightly browned 12-16 minutes.  Ovens vary, so make sure that your cookies are set in the center; the centers really should be lightly browned.


  1. Thanks, Katie, for the sweet shout-out! :) Glad you (and your kids) enjoyed them.

  2. All those things sound so yummy! No wonder your kids tried to eat them! Thanks for sharing the methods =D

  3. I am drooling. And I would have trouble with the oatmeal cookie soap....not eating it. Man, I may have to go make oatmeal cookies now.

  4. Those look great!! :) What a great swap gift. Way to be brave Justine ;)

  5. Um..yum. Those look great! I could see those being sold at one of the little cottage stores in my hometown. Great job, Justine!