Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies


These are the most chocolatey chocolate cookies I've ever made. Small surprise given that they involve melted chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's latest book, Nigella Express. And she apparently got it from a book called Big Fat Cookies. If you make these original size they really are big fat cookies, and so rich you will struggle to eat a whole one. I've already made this recipe twice, due to spousal demand, and the second time halved the size to give 24 cookies instead of 12. This is better, I think, and less likely to result in big fat Whites.

I've tried to convert the recipe to dual-nationality units. The strange amount for chocolate chips is because here you get 11 oz packages which say they are 2 cups. so the first time I used a whole one of those. The second time I had a 12 oz package, and just used 4 oz to melt and the remaining 8 oz unmelted. It still seemed like plenty. In the UK choc chips come in teeny tiny packages and you may balk at buying four for just one recipe, so just throw in as many as looks right to you.

Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

4 oz / 1 stick soft butter
1/2 cup / 4 oz light brown sugar
1/4 cup / 2 oz granulated sugar
4 oz dark / semisweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, cold from the fridge
1 cup / 5 oz plain flour
1/4 cup / 1 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda / bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups / 8-11 oz dark choc chips
  1. Preheat oven to 325F / 160C.

  2. Cream butter and sugars in a mixing bowl.

  3. Add melted chocolate and mix in. Beat in vanilla and egg.

  4. Mix in flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Stir in chocolate chips.

  5. Scoop out 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) mounds for large cookies, placing 2 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Or use 2 tbsp amounts for medium cookies. This should give you 12 and 24 respectively, if it's easier just to divide the mixture into the right number of cookies.

  6. Bake 18 min for the large cookies or 12-15 min for the medium ones.

  7. Cool on baking sheet for 4-5 min, then move to a rack.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

I am now an Official Texan

Today I passed my driving test! Texas insists that you take its own personal driving test if you move from a different country, cheerfully disregarding the previous decade of driving experience you may have accumulated. Still, at least they don't take your UK drivers licence and shred it in front of you, as happens if you move from another state. I'm not sure I could have coped with the trauma.

The plus side of a decade of being behind a wheel is that this was considerably less nerve-wracking than my original test. It was also a lot easier, involving one parallel parking maneuver and a 10-minute drive around some almost empty streets. Unfortunately the Texas Department of Public Safety appears to be allergic to the appointment system. So you line up to be given some forms to fill out and a number. When your number is called you stand in another line to have your photo taken and do the computer-based test. You then get in your car and wait in a third line until a driving tester is ready for you. Assuming you pass, you then join the second line again to receive your temporary licence. It can take all day. We were lucky. We were done in three hours.

The major upshot of all this waiting around is that I now can buy an alcoholic drink without some puzzled bartender squinting at my strange pink British licence, trying to work out which random number is my date of birth. Businesses can be strangely pernickety about this ("I was only trained for Texas I.D") and I've heard stories about people presenting their passport in a supermarket only to be refused purchase. This is a passport. It entitles you to entry to entire countries, for goodness sake, and yet you can't use it to buy a bottle of wine in some two-bit grocery store? Nope, if you don't have a Texas licence, this here booze ain't going nowhere.

Don't drink and drive, folks!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Taking an exit

It seemed as if my previous post was out-of-date five minutes after I'd written it. We pretty much immediately made the decision to stay in Texas for a few more years - most likely about two more, depending on Graham's job (which will have a definite end point at some time) and how long we can cope with the heat. Graham's company still haven't made a firm decision about how they'll arrange everything, but it was easier to go ahead and decide. We aren't likely to be worse off than we would be in England, either way.

That decision out of the way, I felt like I could move forward with career ideas. Believe it or not, I'm applying for chemistry jobs. Or at least I am when I'm not procrastinating by writing blog entries. (I did four applications yesterday; I'm sure being run over by a steamroller is a less draining experience.) Whether anyone wants to hire a not-so-recent chemistry graduate with a lot of cake decorating experience remains to be seen - I'm sure they don't see many! But there seem to be a fair number of jobs around so I'm reasonably confident of finding something.

So, now you know we're staying a little longer, come on and book your Texas vacation! Our rates are very reasonable... plus you can buy yourself some genuine cowboy boots, get up close and personal with a giant cactus, and eat all the meat you ever wanted to stuff your face with! Just to assure you this isn't the complete back of beyond, here's a nice photo of Fort Worth downtown from the Trinity River.


See those clouds moving in from the left? That, my friends, is a cold front. We set out for that particular walk in T-shirts and beautiful warm sunshine, and finished up keeping our body heat up by an act of the will, as the sky clouded over and the air temperature dropped like a stone. I think I mentioned the dramatic effects of a cold front before, but it's even worse when you forgot to bring a jumper.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Decisions, decisions...

What are you doing right now? When are you coming back to the UK? Do you think you'll stay in Texas permanently? How long does Graham's contract last?

Sometimes you come to a crossroads in life. Sometimes you come to a mass of decisions which feels more like Swindon's magic roundabout.

Believe it or not, our initial three-year stay in Texas (two for me) will be up in August, and the pressure's on to decide what to do next. There's more than a possibility we can stay longer, and the idea is not unattractive. Fort Worth certainly has its good points:

  • That legendary Southern hospitality. People say hello when you're walking down the street. Families you barely know invite you for Thanksgiving. Shop assistants give you advice on making babies (OK, that was a bit over the top!)

  • Sunshine. Lots of it.

  • Spa-a-a-a-ce. Did you know England has a population density of about 990 people per square mile? It's the most crowded country in Europe, according to the Telegraph. By comparison, Texas has an average density of 87 people per square mile. Less than a tenth. In practical terms, that means a half-decent salary buys you the UK equivalent of a mansion, but you definitely need a car to get to the shops.

  • Restaurants that happily split the bill. Nine people and six separate checks? No problem! None of that tedious haggling over who had a starter and how much did the wine cost that you have to endure in a British establishment. Why do they find it so difficult?
In general, the quality of life is probably better. You can get more for your money and it's all that bit more relaxed. Besides, it's nice to see a new part of the world.

On the other hand, it's tough being so far from family and friends. And no place is without its disadvantages:
  • HEAT. Anything over about 95F is way too hot in my opinion, and here it stays like that for three months or more. Give me a nice temperate climate any day.

  • Lack of care for the environment. The USA is gradually catching up to Europe in this respect, but they still think 30 mpg is good fuel efficiency and recycling is something hippies do. Texas has one of the worst pollution records in the States, and is only just waking up to the fact that drilling gas wells in the middle of cities may not be a good idea.

  • No public footpaths. We've explored most of the state parks in the area, but it's just not the same as being let loose with an OS map and the entire countryside at your disposal. You get told how to walk, where to walk and exactly how long it will take you. Where's the fun in that?

  • Communications companies. This is the weird part - in most things customer service is much better over here. But anything to do with telephone or internet is expensive, inept and takes hours to resolve. Guaranteed to get you foaming at the mouth.

And I can think of a few more, like the drivers and the health care system and simply feeling like a foreigner, but I don't wish my pros/cons lists to get too skewed. At any rate, this is the BIG decision right now. Which itself is partly dependent on a few other factors. And then influences other major decisions, of which one of the largest is my next career move. So do I:
  • start my own cake business?
  • keep working low-paid baking-type jobs?
  • resurrect my chemistry degree?
  • re-train for a different career?
Any of these may be a possibility, yet it's not worth starting any of them if we're moving to the UK in August, and only some of them if we're only staying a couple more years. I seem to be over-qualified in some ways, but under-experienced in others. I feel like I'm driving round and round that magic roundabout, peering down each road and still not knowing which one to take. All I know is that I have to exit soon.