What is Zen? – Zen is Baking with your Grandchildren

Even up to thirty minutes ago, I did not know what Zen is. I was searching the Internet to find some inspiration for an appropriate title for this post when I came across an article that caught my eye. The title said: “What is the meaning of Zen?”. Ordinarily I would not stop to read something like that; I recall reading about Zen and Buddhism, Zen and the Monks and Zen and Japanese inspired cuisine and other similar type of articles that are of no interest to me. But this article was talking my language and although the theme of the article was about Zen, I looked at it with a totally different view. Perhaps finally I was learning about Zen and I liked what I was learning.

As I continued to read, the writer goes on to explain that “Zen is here and now” and how we need to differentiate among the various thought processes. To tell you the truth, I never thought to analyze my thoughts as either “verbal” or “emotional.” My brain is wandering around many times without control and especially as I am getting older, I am more and more looking back rather than planning for the future. Why? Because I see much more backward as compared to forward. The life experiences I enjoyed can only be found by looking back to the “good old days”.

On the other hand, I can certainly relate to a statement that claims that most of the time, our memories are distorted. I experienced not once, how I was dreaming about a wonderful time and place I visited in the past, but when I went back, it was a total disappointment. There was nothing there from my memories and everything that was there, was so ordinary, dull and unrecognizable. I can also relate to the thinking about the future – as the unknown. However, we cannot dream about the future, because we have not yet visited this unknown.

I paid attention that lately I do not want to think about anything that did not happen yet. I used to yearn for certain things to happen (like taking a cruise, or enjoying a beautiful beach somewhere exotic), I used to wish to be somewhere else, I used to plan for next year; no more. I may plan for next day, or next week, but that is as far as I will go with my planning.

As I continued with my reading, suddenly a brilliant light shined on me, and despite the fact that my eyes became so heavy from tiredness, that I could hardly keep them open, upon completing the article, I wanted more.

It occurred to me that I just realized the meaning of Zen and how much I love this notion of “here and now”. How important it is to stop and smell the roses; open up my eyes and see that beautiful evergreen tree in front of my window and take a deep breath and inhale the aroma coming from my oven, where I just placed an interesting cake to be baked for presenting it in my next post.

I just realized, that by thinking about the “good old days”, or planning activities on Monday for the upcoming weekend, life is passing by me.

And WOW! Yes! Baking with my grandsons on Sunday was a Zen. It was here and now – enjoying the moments of seeing the boys ‘ faces lightens up when they managed to cut out a cookie that looks exactly as their favorite character in Star Wars, or holding up a finished product in triumph, as if saying: “Look Grandma! I id it!” And that is how I came up with the right title for this post – because, yes, that was a true ZEN day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I am sure you can imagine that rolling out sticky dough can be anything but relaxing, yet I looked at the boys and they looked as if they were having the time of their lives. As the dough got stickier and soft and mushy due to working with it too long – no problem; they gather the sticky pieces, sprinkled some flour on the surface and rolled it out again. That was wonderful to see; without much experience, they knew what to do?

Ethan was concentrating on how to overcome these difficulties of working with this type of dough. And when finally he managed to roll out the dough into a nice rectangular shape, you could see the satisfaction on his face; but the first thing he did before starting to cut the dough with the cookie cutters is to walk over to Dylan, his younger brother to find out if he needs any help. If that picture is not a true ZEN, then I do not know what is.

As we progressed with the cutting, we all started to get a bit tired; which is perfect timing. We needed to let the cut-outs relax in the freezer and we needed to bake the cookies for a minimum of 12-15 minutes. So we definitely had about 30-minute resting time. As you can imagine not even five minutes passed, when the boys were concerned for the cut-outs to be too long in the freezer; or the oven to be too hot for the dough, etc., After my lengthy explanation about the reason for the dough to rest in a cool place, they decided to get occupied with a puzzle.

Future Pastry Chef at work

I almost forgot to tell you what lack of experience does. Although the boys were working very nicely together, they still wanted to have the cookies separated for showing who did what. But guess what this grandma did? As our “assembly line” was finishing, I placed the cookies with the icing to dry in a row, all together. We lost for the presentation time to show each one’s work.

Future Artisanal Pastry Chef at Work

 

Working diligently with the cutters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really felt bad and guilty – but, did I hear anyone complaining, or crying? Not these kids. What do you think about this discipline? I know plenty of kids that would throw tantrums, throw things and/or cry loudly, but not these boys. This actually demonstrated their wonderful up-bringing by their parents. They are doing a great job with these boys, but why I should be surprised; they were wonderful kids themselves, raised by caring parents (I am being very modest here).

So after careful consideration, the boys decided to share with you the recipe of the cookie dough (and now you know that it is sticky, so try to work it a minimum and you can place it back to the refrigerator for a few minutes if it becomes too soft). The Star War cookie cutters can be purchased at Williams-Sonoma; they were great, real easy to use. The only tip we want to give you is, that if the dough gets too sticky, place the cookie cutters’ edge into the flour and it will help you to get a clean-cut cookie. Happy baking!

Gingered Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) bakers sugar (granulated sugar with very fine crystals)
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) golden (light) brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups (13 oz) all purpose flour (sifted)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons crystallized ginger, finely ground
  • 1 tablespoons Light Corn syrup
  • zest, grated from one lemon

Frosting:

  • 2 pound powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Just Whites (pasteurized powdered egg whites)*
  • 12 tablespoons (or more) lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Assorted food colorings, preferably Wilton concentrated Icing color pastes in Golden Yellow, Ivory, Kelly Green, Burgundy, and Sky Blue
  • We used brushes for painting the cookies, but you can also use disposable pastry bags with plain round metal tips (1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter)

PREPARATION OF THE COOKIE DOUGH

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter (that is softened to room temperature) and both sugars in a large bowl until creamy and fluffy
  2. Beat in the egg and the egg yolk and mix it well
  3. Add the vanilla an the lemon zest.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt and stir to blend well.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three increments; mix well after each addition.
  6. Turn he dough onto lightly floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute.
  7. Shape the dough into two 1/2-inch-thick circle; wrap it in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Let the dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.
  8. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.
  9. Butter large baking sheet, or cover the baking sheet with parchment paper that is buttered. We used Silpats.
  10. Roll out one dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness, lifting and turning dough often and dusting the surface very lightly with flour to prevent sticking.
  1. Using floured cutters, cut out cookies.
  2. Pull away excess dough from around cookies.
  3. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart (the cookies will not spread). ; Gently re-roll the dough scraps and cut out more cookies.
  4. Bake cookies until light brown, about 10-12 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet half-way through. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them cookies to a rack to cool.
  5. Repeat with the remaining dough

 

 

Star War Cookie Cutters

Make the frosting:

1. Whisk the powdered sugar and powdered egg whites in large bowl to blend.

2. Whisk in 12 tablespoons lemon juice (and more if needed; add by increments of 1 tablespoon at a time ) and mix it until the frosting is medium-thick and very smooth.

3. Divide the frosting into small bowls and add to each bowl the colors as directed on the containers (Can be prepared 1 day ahead). 4. Cover the bowls withe the remaining frosting with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the frosting to keep it from drying out. 5. Store at room temperature. If the frosting becomes too thick, you can thin it by adding a 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello to all grandmas out there – if you decide to repeat this experience, we wish you good luck, but would like to hear from you, as well. Every on of us experiencing things differently; therefore, your story is of interest to us.

I’d like to add, that baking with kids is not limited to grandmas and their grandchildren – Moms and Dads can have just as much fun as we had. How about Aunts and Uncles? and so on…