The ULTIMATE Chocolate Chip Cookies and 3 MUST-DO Tips!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How about that title, eh?!

Now, I understand that that title alone is really building up expectations to the recipe I'm about to share with you.  I am a self-proclaimed cookie monster and have been baking them by myself since grade school.  I LOVE eating cookies, and I love making them.

Chocolate chip cookies will always be my favorite cookie.  I've made chocolate chip cookies at least once a week the past 10+ years, and often it's more like twice a week.  I know.....  I've gotten to the point where I know when my cookies are done by smell.  How's that for a weird talent?

Before you judge me, giving away cookies is a sign of love for me.  It's an easy service for me to do and I happen to love to bake.  Never mind, judge me!  But judge me for being awesome.

Everyone and their grandma has "the best" chocolate chip cookie recipe in their arsenal.  I think I've tried every single one the internet has to offer, including the New York Times' one, Neiman Marcus, and every revered food blogger and Pinterest-favorite.  I'm made some amazing cookies and some not so amazing cookies.  Some poor friends have had to accept my many "experiments."  But can I tell you a secret?  It's not so much about the exact measurements of what ingredients you use, it's more about these three things: 

1) Quality Chocolate: I honestly think most recipes out there will be amazing if you use top-notch chocolate.  I love dark chocolate, but for my cookies I like milk.  Regardless of your preference--milk, semi-sweet, or dark--do not skimp on the chocolate you use in your cookies.  Otherwise, you really won't ever reach Chocolate Chip Nirvana.  My absolutely favorite is the Guittard brand, housed in a beautiful silver bag.  I usually have five bags on hand at a time, tucked away on my chocolate shelf in my fridge.  (What?  You don't have one of those?!)  Also, I always add more chocolate chips than the recipes call for...

These are ready to go into the freezer.  
2) Chilled Dough: I admit, I'm not always the best at taking my own advice here.  But truly, if you take even an hour to chill the dough, your cookies will be so. much. better.  And my ultimate tip in this regard?  Use frozen dough balls!  When I make a batch of cookies, I usually cook a sheet-full, and then fill up another large pan with dough balls.  (Don't smash them down!) I put that in the freezer and once the balls are frozen, I put them in a ziplock bag and back in the freezer they go until I want to cook off a few, or 20.  Keep in mind, frozen cookie dough will need to be cooked just a touch longer than room-temperature dough.  And you might not have time to freeze your dough--so, just pop them in the fridge for an hour and scoop and cook!  Please take my word for this!  If you have chilled dough, the outside of your cookie will be just the tiniest bit golden and the inside still chewy and doughy, but cooked-doughy.  This leads me to my final, and favorite, tip!

3) "Underbake:" This is in quotation marks because you aren't actually underbaking your cookies so that they are completely raw in the middle.  But what I mean by "underbake" is you take your cookies out when they APPEAR to still be a touch underbaked.  For me, I look for a slightly matte top and bubbles that are starting to pop.  (Look closely!)  So many recipes say to take the cookies out when the edges are golden. In my experience, that is still too long.  You want the bottom of your cookies to be the tiniest bit golden.  This happens best when you take them out a minute or two before you think you should, then leave them on the pan for about five minutes to finish cooking.  Here are some cookies to help illustrate (I recommend clicking on these photos so you can see them better close-up):
This is right when it's out of the oven. See the matte top and bubbles just popping?  Since these were frozen, the inside will be nice and chewy.
Again, right out. They are slightly puffed up still.
Zoomed out: Right out of the oven, going to cook more while resting on the pan.
After resting on the pan for about five minutes.  See the difference?!
Extra Notes: 1) A silpat liner will change your life. (Here some on amazon that are cheap and well-reviewed: 1, 2, 3.)  I got three of them in a package for $20 at Costco and I'm never going back.  2) Know your oven!  Mine tends to cook faster, so change the minutes I advise accordingly, based off of your oven.  3) I prefer dark brown sugar over regular brown sugar.  4) Extra vanilla makes your cookies sing!  5) Always, always, always use unsalted butter.  That way you control the amount of salt in your recipe.  6) If you want to sprinkle a little sea salt over your cookies right when they get out of the oven, be my guest!

OK, drumroll please!  My favorite chocolate chip cookies are buttery, chewy, soft, and a teeny bit salty.  After YEARS of experimenting, this is my go-to recipe.  (For you high-altitude people, I'd recommend adding another tablespoon or two of flour!)

The ULTIMATE Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup of room-temperature unsalted butter (not too hard, not too soft!)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 TB vanilla
2 1/2 cups plus 2 TB of flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2-3 cups chocolate chips

(If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 350. I highly recommend chilling your dough though!)  Cream together butter and the sugars.  Mix until everything is well-whipped.  While mixing, in a separate bowl sift your dry ingredients, minus the chocolate.  Add the egg and egg yolk to the wet ingredients in the mixer, mixing well in between.  Scrape down.  Add vanilla.  Scrape down again.  Add your dry ingredients in three rounds, mixing it only barely enough between rounds.  Before your last round, add the chocolate chips and then the last bit of dry ingredients.  Mix until there's still some flour showing, then hand-fold the dough until the flour barely disappears.  Chill your dough (1 hour - 24 hours) OR freeze your dough into 1 1/2 - 2 TB balls on a cookie sheet (I use a #40 scoop).  When ready to cook, make sure your oven is properly pre-heated to 350 Fahrenheit.  Bake cookies for 7-9 minutes if dough is at room temperature.  Bake cookies for 8-10minutes, if frozen.  Please see notes above about when to know if your cookies are done!


Five Fingers: Our Key to Bedtime

Monday, October 24, 2016

I'm barely squeezing in my Mommy Style Monday post, but it still counts, right?  I blame me accidentally erasing my new iMac on Friday...  But let's not talk about that!

Let's talk about bedtime routines!

When you have your first baby, you are able to luxuriate over this time together.  But I have to hand it to first-time-mom Monica: I knew even then that I didn't want to set myself up for a looooong routine each night that my baby would then demand the rest of its life.  I'm glad for that, because now that we have three kids we really just want them to go the heck to sleep at bedtime, and fast.

Once the kids are in their pajamas and teeth are brushed, we try to keep our time with them short and sweet.  So we say prayers, read scriptures (trying to be better about this, but it's about 3 times a week lately), and then tuck them in and run out of their room and straight into the arms of Netflix.  (Just kidding, we usually have dishes to wash and a house to tidy.)  I read the kids plenty of books, sing lots of songs, etc. during the day, so I am just mentally DONE by bedtime.  Does that make me a bad mom?

When Brad is home, we usually divide and conquer: one takes the baby, the other takes the older two.  Once the baby is down, that person joins the other parent in helping the other two to finish getting ready and into bed.  

(Sidenote: I relish saying goodnight to the baby on his own.  He rarely gets just me and we both seem to mutually enjoy that little bit of time.  I like to turn off the lights and just rock him for a minute (I'm standing up though, because if I sit in the rocker he immediately sits up and wants to read books); then I say my own little prayer with him and set him down, and stroke his face for a little bit and tell him, "It's night-night time!" before sneaking out.  He holds so still when I do that!  I love it!)  

Our older two share a room so we have been through EVERYTHING to get them to sleep in the same room and at the same time.  We are finally there--they go down at the same time, and wake up at the same time.  Or at least, they stay quiet (usually) when they're put down and until they are allowed to wake up.  Who knows when they actually fall asleep and wake up in there!

Do I look like a nice mom here?  You haven't seen me when the kids are talking or fighting when they should be sleeping....

Here are three things that have really helped, regardless of our kids' ages:

1) Repetetive Phrases: For a while, that was, "Night night!  I love you!" or for one kid it HAD to be, "You're my little buddy!" right before we shut the door.  But having a little verbal signal like that has been a nice way for them to know once mom and dad says that, it's sleeping time....  

2) Sleep Rules: When our kids have struggled going to sleep (and they all go through those phases, so this has to be taught and then retaught again later), we've enforced "Sleep Rules" that they can easily understand and follow.  For those kids who are barely speaking, we did some hand motions to these rules: "Stay in your bed.  Stay very quiet.  Close your eyes.  Go to sleep."  Sticker charts and rewards were also used in tandem with them keeping the rules.  

Now that they're older, we are big fans of this clock.  Especially for wake-up time.  We are considering getting a second for the baby's room once daylight savings hits, as he's usually our earliest riser.

3) Five Fingers: The past few months, we've taken a few minutes to connect with the kids individually as they are laying down.  Brad takes one and I take the other, and we do something we call "Five Fingers."  My friend Shelley did something similar with her little kids and we stole her idea!
We take a child's hand, and touch one finger at a time.  For each finger we share, "I love you because..." and a reason we love them.  That usually includes listing positive things they did that day!  It also includes some brainwashing, which is why our three year old often gets, "I love you because you try to be so gentle with your little brother!"  

The smiles on their faces say it all!  The LOVE it.  And they often want to do it in return.  Want to know why a three year old loves his mom?  His usual endings to "I love you because," are: you play with me, you read to me, you give me hugs.

How cute is that?

What do you do for your children's bedtime routines?

If you need ideas, please check out these ladies' posts.  And if you'd like to participate in the next series, please sign up on Madeline and Kiana's blogs, also linked below!

Kiana at Glitter & Donuts // Madeline at CaseyLand // Sue at Sue's News // Juli at Journey of J^3 //Beverly at What a Day // Erica at Good Job Momma

Positive Things on the Internet

Friday, October 21, 2016

Here's another round of Positive Things on the Internet!

1) This interview with Whitney Lundeen is beautiful, raw, and empowering.  She is the designer behind those amazing play-dresses we've all see at Sonnet James.  Whitney escaped an abusive marriage, and if that alone weren't incredible to read about, I was especially inspired by how she spoke about learning to become a mother.  Whitney's parents weren't heavily involved in her life, so when she became a mom she felt ill-equipped to instantly how to have positive, involved relationships with her sons.  A lot of this really spoke to my heart and I admire her strength and her entrepreneurial spirit.

Also, this is the coolest new website I've run across--interview with real "normal" Mormons!

2) My friend, Ashlee, sent me a link to this BEAUTIFUL video of a mom recounting what it was like to give birth and discover that her son had down-syndrome.  Also, her blog is amazing; she's started a movement showing that kids with down syndrome are incredible, that there is nothing "down" about having their syndrome.  Please check these out!

3) My friend, Kim, has a great blog, and she didn't ask me to tell you about it.  I really loved her recent review and thoughts on the book, Present Over Perfect.  I love how she framed the word "perfect," calling it a swear word--that really cracked me up!  Kim is refreshing, and her thoughts on this important topic--being present in our own lives and not perfection-obsessed--really resonated with me.  It's something I'm thinking about a lot lately!

4) We all know that we are obsessed with Chip and Joanna Gaines, of Fixer Upper fame.  I mean, how can we not be?  This video of them makes that obsession only grow.  They talk about their relationship, and how they balance each other out in a beautiful way.  What a wonderful portrait of a marriage!  They also share how this relates to their beliefs on God, which I also found enlightening.

What positive things have you found on the internet lately?

Do Something Round Up

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hey all!

Remember how I want this blog to focus a little less on me and a lot more on you?  Well, I remember.  And I'm taking it seriously.

I would LOVE to feature as many people as I can in my weekly round-ups of people who are venturing into unchartered territory for them, taking risks however big or small, and being brave.  In short, doing something that scares them!  If you would be so kind to email me about yourself OR to nominate someone you know, I'd really appreciate that. (

Today's round-up will be a little short as it's one spotlight, but it's just as important! Brad's cousin, Becky, messaged me a while back a little about her story.  Three years ago, nine months after giving birth to her third child, she experienced chronic vertigo and extreme nausea.  Medication and holistic efforts both did little to cure either condition.  BUT, she had the impression to start running.  This idea was crazy to her because she never viewed herself as athletic.  To her surprise, running started helping her health issues.  Since then, Becky's nausea has resolved itself and her dizziness is no where as bad as it used to be.  In her words:

"I've never been athletic and this whole running thing had never been a thought, had it not been for my vertigo.  Now, I am able to DO and LIVE because of the running."

Becky has completed three 5Ks this year, two of which were PRs.  Her oldest son--14 years old--joined her in on the last 5K.  Her teenager had to work hard to keep up with her (isn't that cool!), but they finished the race and had a lot of fun!  Becky learned, "there are [so many] possibilities if we can break through and identify the barriers and fears holding us back."

Way to go Becky!  I love stories like this.  I am so impressed by your perseverance.  My mom also suffers from vertigo and it is really something to see someone almost running sideways.  What determination!  

Please email me your story or someone else's at

Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My college Freshman roommates and I all bonded over the best, easy-to-make muffins.  The ingredients: spice cake mix, one small can of pumpkin puree, and a bag of chocolate chips.  That's it!  To this day, I know we ALL make them year round, but especially in the fall.  

Now that my oldest has started Kindergarten and I need to pack her a snack each day, I'm finding myself making muffins waaaaaaay more than I ever have before.  The school is nut-free, so my normal granola bars are out.  Muffins are easy for little kids to transport, eat, and can be healthier than other easy-to-grab snacks.  I usually grab one from the fridge and add some carrots or baby tomatoes.  She loves them!

As much as I relish those pumpkin muffins from my college days, I don't want my daughter to crash and burn a half hour after eating her snack.  I've made a lot of different muffins the past two months (zucchini, banana, carrot, etc.), but this one has been the surprise favorite.

I altered a few recipes into one here, and this final product uses way less refined sugar than most recipes I've seen and more wheat, too.  They are just sweet enough, but fun enough to make them popular with all of my kids (and me, too!).  This makes a rather big batch.  I freeze most of them into two separate bags and put a bag in the fridge when we're ready to eat.

Get ready to love these!

Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Note: I have been using mini-chocolate chips more than big chips lately, but you can do normal-sized chocolate chips as well.  I always have old-fashioned oats on had, so that's what I use; but I'm sure quick-oats work great, too.  Additionally, I tend to use coconut oil (barely melted in the microwave), but you can also use grape seed or canola oil.  I love white-wheat flour as the flavor is less strong, but regular wheat is fine if that's what you have! Finally, I spray the muffins liners with cooking spray to ensure they don't stick, as chocolate chips tend to be pulled out otherwise.

1 small can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup oil (see notes)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups wheat flour (see notes)
1/2 cup white flour
1/3 cup oats (see notes)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 bag chocolate chips (see notes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix puree, oil, vanilla, honey, sugar, eggs, and milk.  In a separate bowl, sift the remaining ingredients, excluding the chocolate chips. Add almost all of the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until there are a few remaining streaks of flour.  Pour chocolate chips into the dry bowl with the little bit of flour and toss the chips.  Add the leftover flour and chocolate chips to the big bowl and fold them in until barely mixed, with no streaks remaining.

Divide batter into sprayed liners in muffin tins, filling up to 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 14-17 minutes.  Makes approximately three dozen muffins.

Positive Things on the Internet

Friday, October 14, 2016

I've been working on improving my relationship with the internet.  Isn't that weird?  It is related to me also trying to be more purposeful about what I personally post on social media.

I do believe there is a lot of goodness out there, things worth investing and spending our time reading and listening to.  However, it's too easy to fall down the useless rabbit hole of things like Facebook and Instagram; I'm still guilty of that.  However, when I do my best to be more selective of WHAT I'm taking in, I have found it easier to also manage the amount of TIME I'm spending doing it.  It's like a naturally get my fill in much faster because then quality is so much better.  I guess it's like food, that way!

In turn, I'd like to turn Friday's into a regular series where I share some positive things I found on the internet.  Turns out, I usually read the same blogs, and listen to the same podcasts, so there might be some repeat sources. You might see things from a while back too, things that I've finally gotten around to reading or listening!

The purpose behind this is to share some things that I saw/read that made me feel encouraged, inspired, connected, and pushed.

1) "Fuel" Series on the Munchies channel, Youtube.  I am fascinated by what athletes eat and how they view food as fuel.  My favorite so far was the ballerina one.

2) I really appreciated the honesty behind Emily Henderson's post on she and her husband's 10 year wedding anniversary, and what they've learned as a couple.  People really shy away from sharing some intimacies of the highs and lows of marriage, and for obvious reasons.  We're approaching our 9 year anniversary, so I think it's valuable what she had to say here and the hopeful view the post carried of a committed marriage.

3) My friend Whitney introduced me to a powerful site and podcast called On Being.  It produces very deep, thought-provoking articles and interviews on what it means to human, in all of its complexities.  There's an undertone of spirituality--in all forms--and its anchor to the majority of humans' lives.  My favorite podcast so far was this one, where a lot of runners share how their hobby--running!--has translated into a spiritual practice.  I must say, I TOTALLY relate to that--and it made me a little sad that I've had to stick to walking (dr.'s orders, blah!).  But, I can also add that walking outside has given me an almost comparable effect of meditation and a escape from the world.  I'm a deep thinker, and if you are too you will love all of this.

4) Also related to running, I've been a fan of Hungry Runner Girl for a few years.  I admit, I couldn't read her when she first started because of her apparent-to-me disordered relationship with food and exercise.  The past few years, though, she has really worked on improving that.  She wrote a recent post where she compares the difference behind running a marathon a few weeks ago to her first marathon, when she was 30 pounds lighter.  I love her refreshing honesty!  Reading that gave me a good boost to keep working on how I view my body.

5) This final one is my "I feel so connected to you!" share. Anne Cropper wrote a post on her struggle with depression, including Ante Partum Depression.  We so often hear about Post Partum depression, but I loved her honesty about the burden of depression while you are pregnant.  I read that and though, "Woah!  That was me, too."  I definitely feel that I struggled with, at very least, a lot of anxiety while pregnant with my last baby, including a lot of unshakeable sadness that just wasn't "me."  We all struggle though, and it's enlightening to see that others are battling similar things.  Connection is good, right?!

What positive things have you found on the internet lately?  I'd love to hear!

Do Something Guest Post: Facing Fears by Taking Our Family Abroad

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today for our Do Something Series, we get to hear from my good friend from high school, Jennifer Ostler Shields. She and her family recently lived abroad to Europe for six months! Wow. (Check them out!) Here's what she has to say about their experience.

I think most moms know the feeling of excitement, stress, anxiety, and general chaos it takes to get out the door in the morning.  How is it possible that no matter how prepared you think you are there’s always someone missing a shoe that only moms and their “super searching powers” can find? And yet, after all the planning and hustling and herding, it’s always a victory to make it out of the house!  This is the same kind of excitement--and stress--that I was able to enjoy this summer as we were living, working and traveling around Europe with our two young kids, ages 4 and 1. Our adventures out of the house were mostly in foreign countries that didn’t even speak English as a secondary language!  We had an incredible experience and really wanted to make the most of our time there.  To be able to do this, I quickly realized that I would need to face several fears, including my fear of getting around in a completely new place with my kids on my own.

My husband was given an expat assignment for six months where we were based out of Romania.  He would need to travel to different sites and different countries for business and we were incredibly blessed to be able to join him on the adventure.  In our six months in Europe, we visited 20 different countries!  Before we left, we sold our house, our car, and a lot of our belongings so that we could really simplify our life.  It was just a six month assignment and our housing in Romania was taken care of by his company so we didn’t need to sell.  However we felt it would be best so that we wouldn’t have to worry about anything breaking or any damage or anything related to home ownership while we were gone.  It was very liberating to just be able to get everything except our suitcases into a storage unit and fly out!

Overall, I felt like I was doing a good job keeping my fears at bay because my husband was able to be with us on most of our travels and outings during his lunch break.  However, I remember one of the very first moments where I had to put on my big girl pants and face my fear of going out alone with the kids.  My husband had a business trip to Prague in Czech Republic.  I had never been there so I definitely wanted to travel with him.  We arrived in Prague at the beginning of the weekend so we were able to explore some of the city all together which helped me become more familiar with the public transportation and general layout of the city which made the work days easier because it wasn’t too hard for me to go into the city and see a few sights with the kids while my husband was at work.  This worked well for a few days.  However, there was one day where I knew my husband would be gone most of the day in meetings and I felt we had seen most of the sites that I had wanted to see in the city.  The one thing I did want to see was a nearby castle.  It would be an all day tour that we would meet at a designated spot, have a bus drive us out the few hours, then hike up to the medieval castle and drive back.  

Here’s where my “big girl pants” came into play.  My kids don’t do super well on long drives and I was worried about getting to the meeting point on time, what the kids could eat, nap time, could they handle the hike, etc.  But what was my alternative? I could stay in our comfortable hotel room and have a netflix binge type of day.  Those are definitely nice days to have every once in awhile, but I was in Prague.  Did I really want to miss an opportunity because of my fears? Not this time! I booked the tour!
The hike up!
We all got out the door on time, we got to the meeting place on time and we got on the bus on time!  We even made it up the steep hill to get to the castle at the top!  There might have been moments where I had my son in the ergo in the front, my backpack with all our snacks and jackets and diapers on my back and my four year old on my shoulders while I was sweating a bit--but we made it to the top!   I also can’t tell you every single thing that was said on the tour thanks to my two enjoying the sounds of their voices more than the tour guide’s. The pieces I heard were fascinating though.  My daughter also took some great photos on my phone of the things she liked in the castle.  It turned out to be a pretty great day.  

I was also really happy to see another fear of mine be proven wrong on this tour.  I was afraid that the other people in our tour group would have seen two small children and not be too excited to be with them for the whole day.  This was not the case for me.  I was completely humbled by how many people offered to help me or my kids that day.  Their genuine smiles were endearing and their thoughtfulness in tough spots like steep stairs was relieving.  My daughter especially liked her new friend who was a mom of two boys from India.  She and her husband were on their first holiday without kids and yet there she was holding my little girl so I could hold my restless toddler.  What an amazing example and influence for good she was!
At the top!!

It is not easy to think about venturing out on your own with small children in a new city, or a new country with a new language too. And I’m sure I’m not the only mom who sees things that are happening in the world on the news/media and would really just like to lock my sweet, little family safely in our home and stay there! Forever! Thankfully, I had the chance to face some big fears of mine, and face them head on. Instead of hiding my children from the world, we had the opportunity to see and explore the beautiful world and truly be awestruck by the goodness and kindness that abounds.  

Thank you, Jennifer! I admit, that I would have sold my house and my kids... Just kidding! Honestly, that sounds like an incredible, stressful, but empowering time for you and your whole family. Cheers for just jumping right in and putting those fears to bed!

If you'd like to follow more of their adventures, follow Jennifer and her family on Instagram at @theshieldssuitcase.

I would love to hear from more of you, whether it be a simple example of something you are doing to face your fears that I can use in a round-up post, or a whole guest post! Please email me (or nominate someone) at There are more of these posts coming, and I'd love to highlight you!

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