Stirring the Pot: A Trio of Treats

The gang’s eyes light up when I approach the construction site. And it’s not because of my framing skills or prowess with a Sawzall. On the contrary. I’m afraid their joy is due to the simple fact that I bring cookies: soft, buttery, bursting with chocolate or nuts or toffee homemade cookies.

I am part of the midweek crew that volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. You can see us on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the new development along the northern end of the B-Line Trail. It’s quite remarkable, really. A house goes up, then another, and another, and before you know it, there’s a neighborhood. A family leaves a substandard trailer blighted by mold or broken windows for a bright, cheerful house that they themselves have helped build. Their children have a warm place to do their homework, to play, and to dream. Other families follow. Lives are transformed, a community thrives, and we are all the richer for it.

Ruthie Cohen on-site at a Habitat house. | Limestone Post

Ruthie Cohen on-site at a Habitat house. | Limestone Post

It has been my great fortune to find a home among the other Habitat workers while I help build houses. I am continually in awe of my fellow volunteers, the new homeowners, and the Habitat staff. It’s not often you come across people who possess equal measures of skill and patience. Dan showed me how to hold a hammer and was there to pull out the nails when I mangled them. I learned how to install doorknobs from Toren, hang siding from Marci, frame sheds from Doug. (For the record, I am mediocre, at best, at all of these tasks.)

Acquiring new abilities is empowering. When something needs to be fixed in my own home, I don’t immediately reach for the telephone. First, I consult my toolbox. Loose cabinet door? No problem. A room needs painting? The deck needs sealing? I’m on it.

But I am humbled by what I cannot do. Hail to the folks who can measure and cut, erect walls, and install ovens. Props to the insulation blowers and the landscapers, to the brave souls who climb on the roof and lay the shingles. And kudos to the new homeowners who are determined to better their lives and those of their children.

Working at the construction site reminds me that we are all in this together. No one makes it through life without help. “I am involved in mankind,” the poet John Donne wrote. “No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We have all been lifted by love and kindness. For some of us, it was the result of the fortunate accident of our birth; for others, it was from the stranger who helped build our house.   

So I keep at it. I try to make friends with power tools. I take a leap out of my comfort zone, and the rewards are both measurable and immeasurable. The frame goes up, the doors are hung. The walls get painted. Friendships are forged. Bonds are cemented. And cookies are eaten.

Toffee Bars

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 bag (12 ounces) mini chocolate chips
1 bag (8 ounces) toffee chips, such as Skor or Heath Bar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

Cream butter with sugar and flour (mix until you create a fluffy, light-yellow blend — an electric mixer can be helpful). Press batter into a thin layer in the pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and pour the can of condensed milk over the top to cover. Return pan to the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden. The milk will still be soft in places.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Return pan to oven for about a minute to allow chips to soften.

Remove pan from oven. Spread the softened chocolate chips over the condensed milk. Sprinkle toffee chips over the melted chocolate and press them in slightly.

Cool and refrigerate. When hardened, cut into bars.

Like houses, cookies come in different varieties but start with similar foundations. Don’t be afraid to add your own touches to the recipes that follow.

White Chocolate Macadamia Cherry Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries (dried cranberries work very well, too, if you prefer)
1/2 cup chopped, roasted macadamia nuts (salted are fine)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugars (mix until you create a fluffy, light-yellow blend) in an electric mixer or by hand. Add vanilla and eggs. And flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat until blended. Mix in chips, cherries, and nuts.

Use an ice cream scoop to make big mounds of batter and drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Let them sit for two minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.

Makes 18 large cookies or three dozen small ones.

Chocolate Chip Medley Cookies

This is your basic back-of-the-bag recipe, enhanced by an assortment of chips. Each bite is a new adventure!

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups assorted chocolate chips (such as mini, semisweet, butterscotch, white, or milk)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream butter and sugars (mix until you create a fluffy, light-yellow blend) in an electric mixer or by hand. Add vanilla and eggs. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat until blended. Mix in chips.

Drop teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 to 11 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and place them on a cooling rack.

Makes four dozen.

Ruthie Cohen
Ruthie Cohen moved from New Jersey to Bloomington in November 2011. Every day she marvels at her good fortune to be living in this gem of a town. When she is not devising recipes in her kitchen and feeding her friends, Ruthie practices and teaches yoga at Ekah and Bloomington Yoga Collective.