The Return of the Junkman

“You are so unsentimental,” my son told me, and then he let loose with a loud sneeze.

We were down in the dusty basement two days after Thanksgiving, organizing all of his boxed and stored belongings into “Keep” and “Junk” piles. He was the last to tackle his things. My pile, my husband’s pile, our daughter’s pile already waited in the garage for the Junk Wizard’s pick up on Monday. I was urging Ben to be ruthless, as ruthless as I had been going through several of my own boxes just a week or two before. Old books, home furnishings that had barely survived the onslaught of young children, clothes not worthy of donating, extraneous paper goods, building supplies, packing materials – all of these were going out the door in this round two of junk removal.

“Maybe,” I answered him. True, I don’t get too attached to things and I always enjoy a good purge, especially of the basement. The house and my mind both feel lighter and clearer after. And in this particular round of house clearing there was, to my way of thinking, hardly anything to be sentimental about. Not the musty paperbacks or the piles of environmentally unfriendly styrofoam that amassed after the kitchen renovation. Even giving up the old microwave my mother insisted she buy us when we moved into the house was easy. A dozen years later, we’d hardly gotten used to using it.

I told Ben as much, adding, “We just don’t have enough space to be sentimental.”

“You’re making me get rid of everything.” He sneezed again, louder than before. “Besides I’m allergic to something down here.”

I took an extra moment to explain that I didn’t want him to get rid of everything, just the things he had no more use or affection for. He could keep his own books and the product of his high school woodworking class and anything else that felt important to him. A framed picture. Old but functioning stereo speakers. Broken in leather boots. “I may not be sentimental for most things, but I’m not an ogre,” I added with a smile.

I do understand the impulse to hold on. In a catastrophe, I am pretty sure I will grab the painting my father took off his entryway wall and gave to me when I moved with my young family to Washington State, endangering personal safety for a few seconds in order to rescue it. I love the coastal saltmarsh scene and everywhere I have gone in the past twenty years it has gone with me, forever reminding me of the landscape of my home and my father’s selfless gesture. And I experienced several moments of doubt during the junkman’s June visit as I watched him carry the heavy cherry dining room table, along with its three leaves and four rickety legs, away. A former co-worker reclaimed the table from the streets of Somerville and sold it to me when I was most in need of a place to sit and eat. All these years later, though, the veneer on the skirt was peeling and the legs could barely hold the full weight of the table top. But as I watched the table disappear out the door I felt a pang when I realized that piece of furniture was the last physical tie I had to my bakery colleague and to the two years’ worth of Saturdays we spent talking as we either baked or decorated cakes.

But the table isn’t the relationship, just as the painting isn’t, just as the microwave really isn’t. Who needs an actual on-its-last-legs microwave close by in order to remember the circumstances of the gift? And to this day, in my mind’s eye I can still see my former co-worker driving up to my house with the cherry table, its sundry pieces lying flat on the trailer part of her tricked out trash collecting bike, and that really is enough for me. The clutter may be gone but what’s essential has a habit of staying behind.

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Unsentimental? Not me. Especially when it comes to Christmas cookies.

Gift cookie baking is in full swing. There’s been some of these

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and some of these

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and some of these.

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But this year’s favorite is my adaptation of a King Arthur Flour classic, the chocolate gingerbread cookie.    Molasses and cinnamon keep this cookie traditional enough for holiday sentimentalists, while the duo of cocoa and bittersweet chocolate offers a nice twist for all the holiday rebels out there. With my own tweak to the spice combination and the addition of an extra kick of ginger (of the finely chopped candied variety), this cookie is my new addictive treat.

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Double Ginger-Chocolate Drops

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose baking cocoa, or Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate from a bar (60-72%)
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons Swedish pearl sugar or sparkle sanding sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease lightly.

Combine the flour, baking soda, spices, salt, and cocoa.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until light and creamy. Add the molasses and beat until combined. Beat in the dry ingredients, then stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop the dough a tablespoon at a time; a tablespoon cookie scoop works well here. Roll the top portion of each dough ball in sugar. Place the unbaked cookies 1 1/2″ apart, sugar side up, onto the prepared baking sheets.

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Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until their surface begins to crack. Remove from the oven, cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

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Makes about 30-32 cookies.

©2013  Jane A. Ward