What you don’t know about Girl Scout cookies

The Girl Scout cookies you know and love. Maybe. Photo by Addie Broyles.
The Girl Scout cookies you know and love. Maybe. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Girl Scout cookie sales start this week, but you already knew that.

These beloved cookies have taken on next-level status in the past decade — at least from the vantage point of this former Girl Scout who wishes she could have joined the Boy Scouts so she could go camping instead of make sit-upons.

Not that I’m bitter about it or anything.

In all honesty, I’ve tried to get over my own myopic view of Girl Scouts and, by extension, their cookies. I eat them now and then when someone opens a box at the office and will buy a box or two out of generosity to the young entrepreneurs, but I’m still not 100 percent sold that selling cookies is the best way to teach empowerment to young people, no matter the gender.

I was grateful this week to read Melanie Haupt’s piece in the Austin Chronicle that sorts out of these questions from the perspective of a feminist mom with a young daughter getting ready to make her first cookie sales. At the end of the article, Haupt starts to touch on other issues of class, race and public health, and to be honest, I’d like to read a whole lot more about what the Girl Scouts does make it easier or more accessible for all young people to participate. (I was delighted to read earlier this week that Girl Scouts organization does allow transgender girls to participate, but then disappointed to find out that they don’t support sex education, despite being an organization for adolescent girls and teens. *Insert perplexed emoji*)

Anyway, I’m getting off topic here. We’re supposed to be talking about cookies, right?

Cookie sales start this week and continue through Feb. 26, and this year, the Central Texas organization added online sales that benefit the local troops and allow them to expand marketing efforts and track some sales online.

The Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Savannah Smiles and Rah-Rah Raisins cost $4, and the gluten-free Toffee-Tastic cost $5. The shipping fee is pretty steep, but you can choose to have your favorite Scout deliver your cookies and skip the shipping charge. Find a booth near you by going to gsctx.org.

If you’ve ever been curious about why Thin Mints in California taste different than the ones in Texas, check out this surprisingly comprehensive story in the LA Times about the history of the cookies and the two (very different) bakeries. They also did a taste test of all the different varieties sold in the U.S.

Mushrooms, pecans are the secrets to this better tomorrow vegan chili

Justin Warner's Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili (right) uses pecans and mushrooms to mimic the flavor and texture of ground meat. Photo by Addie Broyles.
Justin Warner’s Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili (right) uses pecans and mushrooms to mimic the flavor and texture of ground meat. Photo by Addie Broyles.

In tomorrow’s food section, I’m running a pair of recipes from the #MyHomeTable cooking challenge I’m attempting this month. (Here’s the scoop behind 30 days of cooking at home.)

The first is for that killer cornbread recipe I blogged last week, and the second is for a vegan chili (recipe below) that I made for a food swap.

For better or worse, we’ve been eating a lot of chili this month. One reason — my 5-year-old decided that he finally loves my regular pot of chili made with beef, pork, sweet potatoes, black beans and has been asking for it every day — but I also wanted to try this vegan chili from Justin Warner’s cool new cookbook, “The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them” by Justin Warner (Flatiron Books, $35)

I was interested in the idea that pecans could mimic the mouthfeel of meat, as well as the idea that mushrooms would add what he calls the “forest-floor bass note” we expect from such a hearty dish. I was really impressed with the results. Several coworkers commented that it had too much cinnamon, so you might use less if you’re not a huge fan, but other than that, it’s definitely a dish I’d made again, even for non-vegan friends.

A note about Warner’s book: We’ve seen quite a few science-focused cookbooks this fall, including “The Food Lab” and the second edition of “Cooking for Geeks.” But what I liked about Warner’s was that it was nerdy, but not quite so encyclopedic as the others. Over the course of his career, he’s deconstructed why certain foods work on a very macro level and make the taste receptors in our brain go crazy.

The law of lemonade, for instance, is sour meets sweet, which explains the appeal of pickle-brined Chick-Fil-A chicken and honey mustard sauce. The law of bagel and lox is smoked meat plus acid and fat. Knowing that helps a vinegar sauce-smothered brisket (or a brisket sandwich with no sauce and pickles) make a whole lot more sense.

This vegan chili follows the guacamole law, which is that fresh sources of fats, such as avocados, coconuts, nuts, olives, kidney beans and legumes, can be just as creamy and satisfying as the animal-based ones.

Better Tomorrow Vegan Chili

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
16 oz. button mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean, and quartered
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups pecans (about 7 oz.), toasted, very finely chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon or garam masala (optional)
2 (15-oz.) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups vegetable stock (or vegetable broth, and cut the salt by half)
1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 oz. dried mushrooms, pulverized in a blender (optional)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
Ideas for garnish: Shredded cheese or vegan cheese sauce, sliced scallions, avocado slices, tortilla chips, pickled carrots, sour cream, scrambled eggs

In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring only once, until browned, about 6 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot and stir to incorporate. Simmer until the vegetables and nuts are soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight, and reheat before serving. Keep the chili in the fridge for up to four days. Serves 6 to 10.

— From “The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them” by Justin Warner (Flatiron Books, $35)


Love muffin tops? Check out this soft pecan cookie recipe

These date and pecan cookies have a surprisingly tender texture and softness. Photo by Addie Broyles.
These date and pecan cookies have a surprisingly tender texture and softness. Photo by Addie Broyles.

What a nice treat to come back to work from a long weekend and be handed a cookie.

My co-worker, Josefina Villicaña Casati, who runs the Ahora Si newspaper, loves to cook, and over the weekend, she made these date and pecan cookies that she first made last fall. It’s a recipe from the New York Times’ much-debated “United States of Thanksgiving” package in 2014. I’m not a huge fan of dates, but I’m definitely happy to eat a cookie for breakfast.

At first bite, I knew I wasn’t eating any old cookie. This super soft cookie reminded me of a muffin top — not *that* kind of muffin top, silly. I’m not sure if it was the dates, pecans or just-right chewy texture, but they tasted healthier than they probably are, which also made me think of muffins. Seriously, I just came off of a season of eating cookies, and I hadn’t had any cookies like this.

The original recipe called for walnuts, but I always pick pecans over walnuts. You could use raisins instead of dates, but, boy, the dates were tender and flavorful here.

Date and Pecan Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
tsp. salt
tsp. cinnamon
tsp. ground cloves
1 cup
soft unsalted butter
1 1/2
cups light brown sugar
large eggs, lightly beaten
Tbsp. baking soda
4 cups
chopped pitted dates
4 cups
chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line one or more baking sheets with parchment. Place flour in a bowl and whisk in the salt, cinnamon and cloves. Set aside.

Cream butter and brown sugar together by hand or in an electric mixer. Beat in eggs. The mixture will not be smooth. Dissolve the baking soda in 1 tablespoon hot water and stir it in. Stir in the dates and nuts. The batter will be heavy and not easy to mix. Work in the flour mixture, about a third at a time. If your electric mixer has a dough hook, use it for working in the flour.

Scoop heaping teaspoons of batter onto prepared baking sheet or sheets, making craggy mounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Space them about 1 1/2 inches apart; the cookies will not spread very much. (Alternatively, for neater cookies, you can roll the batter into balls between your palms, then lightly press them down with the back of a spoon or the tines of a fork.) Allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking. Depending on the size of your oven and your baking sheets, you can form the cookies ready to bake on sheets of parchment paper on your countertop, then transfer them to baking sheets in shifts.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool, then dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar. If you plan to freeze some of the cookies, do not dust them with confectioners’ sugar; wait until after they thaw. Makes about 5-6 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Treasured Recipes Old and New 1975,” a community cookbook by the Schuyler-Brown Homemakers Extension in Iowa Falls

Farmhouse Delivery acquires Greenling, expands food delivery business

Farmhouse Delivery announced to the news of the acquisition to all of its new and current customers Friday. Credit: Farmhouse Delivery, artist Sarah Presson
Farmhouse Delivery announced to the news of the acquisition to all of its new and current customers Friday. Credit: Farmhouse Delivery, artist Sarah Presson

Before Instacart, UberEats, Favor and just about every other food delivery business in Austin, there were two big players dropping off food at your house: Farmhouse Delivery and Greenling.

Greenling, founded in 2005, always seemed to have a wider customer base, and even though they worked with some local farms, had a more corporate business model. Farmhouse Delivery, on the other hand, started in 2009 and operated out of a farm in East Austin. The website wasn’t as slick and the focus was more niche on hyper local ingredients, including dairy and meat.

Both Greenling and Farmhouse expanded outside Austin by 2013, but by 2014, other delivery services started to nip at their heels. Favor, Postmates and then UberEats offered mostly restaurant delivery service, but when it came to getting groceries delivered, Instacart shot to the top, first by partnering with Whole Foods, then H-E-B, Costco and a number of other prominent retailers. Heck, even Greenling partnered with Instacart for a while.

But by last fall, Greenling was either ready to go under or be acquired. Over the weekend, Farmhouse Delivery announced that it had purchased its once-rival for an undisclosed sum.

Claudia Grisales’ story has all the details about what the acquisition means for employees and customers of both services (Urban Acres, a Dallas food delivery company, was also part of the deal), and I’m particularly interested to see how the now bigger Farmhouse can distinguish itself from Instacart, whose shoppers I see just about every time I’m in the grocery store.

How much bigger is grocery delivery going to get? Most of us thought that customers wouldn’t pay the extra cost to have someone else do their shopping for them, but the popularity of these delivery services is proving us wrong. Does that mean that Farmhouse has a better chance of survival than Greenling did when it first launches, a decade ahead of the curve?