Puckering up for Hershey Kiss Cookies

In addition to being a year I began earnestly writing my own newspaper column, tearing my way through books and falling in love, something momentous happened: I finally earned an invite to my family’s annual cookie exchange.

It’s a ladies-only affair and features the baked goods of my mom, grandmother, aunts and family friends. Until this year, I’d been relegated to the dessert equivalent of the kids’ table: the oldest grandchild on my mom’s side, still a kid. And, you know — that’s okay. But when my grandma finally extended a formal invite to the exchange and let me pick a name for our family’s Secret Santa, another adults-only activity, I was stoked.

But that led to some pressure, of course. My Maw Maw, a master baker, recently sent me a hefty stack of recipes — and I’ve enjoyed looking through them all. And in addition to my obsession with several food and recipe sites, my friend Sandy frequently shares her trial-and-error recipes with me. (And I’m totally not complaining.) I was still waiting to find The One, though — that cookie that made me salivate just skimming the ingredients. Plus, it couldn’t be too tough to make.

After reading a guest post over at Book Journey, I fell in love with Kim’s family recipe (and tradition!) of Hershey Kiss Cookies. Since I’m still a little skittish about baking and cooking, the simplicity of the directions (and minimal ingredients) appealed to me. And I’m happy to report back that, according to friends and coworkers, they were a success!

Your basic ingredients here are flour, chocolate and Hershey Kisses. I’ll say this: I expected that, once in the oven, they would spread . . . much like other cookies do. But when baking, those babies stayed firmly in their original shape. So when you place them on a cookie sheet, make sure each little ball is as pretty as you’d like it to be when serving! After the first (ugly) batch, I learned that lesson the hard way. Also, I used way more than a teaspoon of dough to surround each Kiss . . . I was worried they would scorch if the chocolate was uncovered. I think there’s something to that. Plus, with my oven, each tray took about 17 minutes until finished. Just keep your eye on these little guys and pull them when the bottoms are brown.

Simple, delicious and very, very chocolatey, these are great treats to snack on while slurping some milk! And who knows — maybe they’ll be Santa’s new favorite variety. Give them a whirl.

Hershey Kiss Cookies

Recipe from Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness

1 cup butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup mini chocolate chip morsels
14 oz bag Hershey’s kisses

Cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Add vanilla. Add mini morsels. Stir in flour. Take approximately 1 tsp of dough and wrap around 1 kiss. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

The email that got me hungry — to help others

At work, I get a lot of email. Press releases (cars, medicine, summits, children’s products), email telling me I’m great, email telling me I’ve screwed up, email from friends and coworkers and forwards from all of the above. Microsoft Outlook is always up, always ready — and always streaming messages. They never end.

I read all of them, of course, even if I don’t respond right away — especially if I’m on deadline. But every now and then, I get a note that stops me completely and forces me to minimize the Internet (unfathomable). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a columnist. I write biweekly stories that run in three local newspapers in my hometown and neighboring counties, all in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Over the past year, the column has (wonderfully!) begun to grow — so I get more messages than ever before. Sometimes folks want me to cover things for them; sometimes they’re just being kind and sharing compliments. I like those.

But one email? Well, this Tuesday morning email got me. It got me good. A local woman and acquaintance forwarded information about a food drive her husband is conducting on behalf of a local food bank — and divulged that this year, donations are way down. With the recession and everyone tightening their purses, of course, that seems inevitable. But very disappointing.

I’m big on charity. It doesn’t take much for me to spring into action — a sad story; a personal outreach — and for some reason, Karen’s note had me spluttering at my desk. People hungry — and at Christmas. No one should have to go hungry in a country that is still so prosperous. One of our neighboring counties was recently recognized as the sixth wealthiest in the United States. You’re telling me we can’t all spare a few cans of food?

I went crazy. I went on a mission. I was so anxious sitting at my desk, reading about the disappointing turn-out for the food drive, I defaulted to one of my new favorite phrases: “Okay — I got this.”

My heart: it’s easily broken. And touched. When I hear something upsetting and I think that I can do something, I want to. Badly.

And, when I can, I do.

After perusing forums for the best foods to contribute to pantries, I wrote myself out a little list and drove to a grocery store on my lunch break. In twenty minutes, I had my cart loaded and brimming and looked quite the sight. In my dress slacks, pearls and heeled boots, I paid for my loot and drove straight to the site of the food drive. My entire backseat was loaded with bags — rice, canned meats and vegetables, jarred fruits, powdered milk, pudding snacks, tuna — and I ran in like a tornado, introducing myself and wielding my bags like trophies.

That poor man running the drive probably didn’t know what hit him.

My Friday column is about our local food banks and the importance of giving. Toys at the holidays are important, yes, and goodness knows I don’t want any kid waking up to a barren Christmas tree on Dec. 25. But more than that? I don’t want to think about any child going hungry — or any adult sitting with a grumbling stomach so their kids can eat. Eating is a necessity. It’s a basic right. It’s something I take for granted every day of my life, but as I told Karen by email earlier this week, her husband’s food drive already changed one person’s life: mine.

And I was so touched by the email, going to the food drive and the absolute high I got from helping that I’m organizing a canned goods contribution at work to benefit that food drive! So I’ll be rolling up in my Toyota bearing bags again once more.

It’s cliche, friends, but it’s true: if you’re having a bad day, assist someone else. Look at the smile and gratitude on someone’s face when you tell them that you’re going to help. The man organizing that food drive woke up Tuesday dejected that he wouldn’t be able to assist the food bank the way he had in years past, and you know what? I helped him — and realized I have a platform in which to reach the community. When I write things, people might listen. Maybe they take it to heart, maybe they don’t, but hey — they heard me.

And if that means Ray gets a few more cans to send over, I feel like I can rest easy tonight. On a job well done.

I hope this wasn’t a PSA. More than anything, this experience has brought me a few quick lessons:

A) Doing something “small” for someone else probably isn’t small to them.
B) Good writing has the power to change lives.

I don’t know if anyone will read my column or if, in reading that, people will feel moved to bring food to the drive. I hope they do. But even if they don’t, maybe I’ve planted a seed — the same seed Karen planted with her email to me. It pulled me out of the hustle-and-bustle of my everyday life, especially at the holidays, and got me thinking about how I can do more to help my fellow (wo)man.

If we’re not doing that, what are we doing?

Find a local food bank in your area and see if you can help out — even if you’re just dropping off a bag of food at the holidays. It probably won’t be “just one bag” to someone else.

We got this, y’all.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving

I’ve always kept busy. I like schedules, plans, lists; I enjoy regimenting out my day, even when I complain of being tired and stressing. Staying busy is my way of attempting to control life, I think. It’s my way of keeping the power. I control the calendar, you see — not the other way around. I make all the decisions. I dictate life.

That’s not true, of course. Life has a way of doing what it will and taking you down its own path, regardless of what you thought would happen or planned to happen. And on days like Thanksgiving — days filled with pies, green bean casserole, my extended family and awesome boyfriend — I’m reminded of how fortunate, and thankful, I am for the many things in my life. And that I need to slow down and stop structuring everything. That I can, in fact, relax. (. . . Sometimes!)

On Thanksgiving 2009, I was preparing for my first column to debut in our local newspapers and traipsing over to my grandparents’ home for Turkey Day. This year, we’ll be welcoming everyone to my family’s house for the first time ever. Spencer and his parents, in town from New York, will be joining us, too — and I’m so excited everyone will be together! I’ll be baking today and tomorrow with Ciara, my darling cousin, and my little sister, Kate; we’ll be watching the Thanksgiving Day parade while writing out Christmas cards (want one?), an annual tradition.

When Spencer gets here, I’ll be making goo-goo eyes at him and thinking about how lucky I am to have met someone so wonderful at a time when I wasn’t sure that would be possible. When I was smarting from rejection and hopeful, but wondering if that was foolish. It wasn’t. I am grateful.

I will be with my mom and dad, grandma and grandpa — my aunts, uncles and cousin. We’ll be talking and sharing, and I’ll be taking photos. Exhaustion will probably set in by 6 p.m., but I’ll keep moving — and soaking up every awesome minute.

For my friends in the U.S., here’s hoping this finds you all happy, well and enjoying the holiday with those closest to you! I’ll soon be noshing on pumpkin pie and Southern Maryland stuffed ham (the greatest!), and I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Get a holiday card from Meg!

As we’ve discussed before, I’m big on mail. I’ll give total credit for this to my grandmother, with whom I still write letters and pour through old handwritten notes. She recently shared with me letters my great-grandfather wrote to my great-grandmother when he was serving abroad in World War II, and do you think I was completely absorbed in those? I was. I love the written word: the personal nature of holding in my hands something another has touched; the vibrancy of ink on paper; even the mystery of deciphering someone else’s handwriting.

And even more than that? Well, I love sending mail, too. I’m hopelessly addicted to Postcrossing, an international postcard project, and take time almost daily to write notes to others around the world. I love selecting a postcard for a stranger, then describing why I chose it — and photographed a place or event in the first place. It’s exciting, personal and fun. It’s another way to form a connection.

In that vein, I’m proposing a project for myself this holiday season! In addition to sending cards for the Book Bloggers Holiday Card Exchange, I will be mailing holiday cards to anyone who requests one for themselves in the U.S. (one per household, please — and I’m sorry, my international friends! It would be too cost-prohibitive to send many notes overseas). No need to send me one back, unless you would like to . . . and in that case, just drop me an email for my snail mail address.

There’s no catch here — ask for a card and you’ll get one. I’ll do my best to honor each request and get it in the mail to you soon! Should I be crushed with recipients, this may turn into a New Year’s or Valentine’s project. Or St. Patrick’s Day . . . or Independence Day . . .

Kidding. Only kidding. (Maybe.)

Fill out this form by Friday, Dec. 10, and then check your mailbox! Of course, this information will be seen by my eyes only. I won’t be sending you anything other than a holiday card, and I definitely won’t be sharing your address with anyone else. This is just for fun and non-creepy — promise.

Comments on this post are most welcome, but please don’t include your address or any other sensitive information! Submit that to me privately by filling out this form.

Happy (early) holidays, my friends!