Yesterday I returned home from a weeklong road trip around the West to see two (!) National Parks. This trip came together just barely at the last minute as part of my scheme to make the most out of what could’ve been a disappointing situation if I had let it. I originally had grand plans for this trip, but life threw a curve ball* and the plans got scrapped. With two non-refundable round trip tickets to Spokane, Washington and scheduled time off work, a road trip was clearly the right thing to do.
So, in the wee hours of last Thursday morning, off we went to Wyoming for the first leg of the journey– Yellowstone National Park! We stayed in a hotel in Big Sky, Montana, wich is pretty far from all of the action in the Park, though close to the actual perimeter, and about as good as we were going to get for last minute plans made during high tourist season. We spent two days exploring Yellowstone, and as is always the case on vacation, it wasn’t even close to enough time. The first day we explored the bottom loop, where many of the geysers and hot springs – including two of the main attractions, the Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Basin – were located.**
The second day, we made our way around the top loop, which has fewer attractions and lots more wide open spaces. Starting at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we drove east across the park and out of the east entrance to cross Bear Tooth Pass. We stopped for lunch at the Beartooth Café in Cooke City before driving back west across the park and up to the north entrance. The vast, hilly terrain of the northeastern part of the park was breathtaking and filled me up with a renewed respect for this earth. Traveling through it we saw all kinds of wildlife – bison, elk, deer, more bison, and even one little black bear! As much as I did feel like a turkey-tourist viewing the splendors of nature from our Chrysler granny-mobile rental, it was a real treat to get so close to a bear without having to fear for my life.
At the end of the second day, we drove north through Paradise Valley, which is as beautiful as the valleys in the park, and stopped in Bozeman, MT for the night. My main squeeze, Cos, whom I suppose is due now for an official introduction,*** actually lived in Bozeman for a bit and completed his first year of undergrad (years ago) at Montana State University. We didn’t spend much time exploring Bozeman, as we were trying to make it up to Glacier National Park as quickly as possible. I’ll tell you about Glacier next time, because right now we need to talk about sprinkle cookies.
Cos and I had a good many conversation about these cookies during our trip. I had made a batch of the batter the week before, and I baked them off a few at a time as we counted down the days until we left. I thought they were superbly delicious and, more importantly, super cute all covered in sprinkles (cuteness is a bona fide basis for judging food, oh yes it is), but was pleasantly surprised to find that Cos had fallen for them twice as hard. Usually I’m the one who doesn’t have an off button when it comes to talk about things I’ve been eating or craving, or what I plan on making, but this time he was the one who just couldn’t stop talking about these cookies. It was a lovely scenario of role reversal, and I was pleased to hear that my web-editing and photography assistant was happy being paid in cookies. If you ask him, no cookie, cake, or anything passing as a treat that we tasted during our trip even came close these sprinkle cookies. Rest assured that this theory was well-tested too.
I completely agree, these little rainbow beauties are tough to top. The embodiment of the classic sugar cookie – they are crispy on the outside and chewy inside, sweet with a very faint tanginess. The ingredient that makes it all possible is a few ounces of cream cheese. I’ve had plenty of experience with how well cream cheese can treat a cookie thanks to this recipe, which we have to try hard not to make around here, so from the start I had a good feeling about these sprinkle cookies. The original recipe provides two methods, one using a food processor and the other a hand mixer. I used the food processor method and spent the precious time it saved me doing my happy dance because I was that much closer to eating cookies. If you don’t have a food processor, head on over to the original post where there are directions for making it with a hand mixer. I can’t attest to that method because I haven’t tried it myself. Either way, make sure to freeze any batter that you don’t use. We did and then baked the last couple batches once we arrived back home. The good life continues!
*Originally, my plan was to travel to Couer D’Alene, Idaho to participate in a half-ironman. That’s 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running. Not a small undertaking, and not one that I took on lightly. I had been working on getting to this start line since March, swim/bike/run-ing my butt off everyday after work and for the better part of most weekends. So, you can imagine how bummed I was when I got diagnosed with a food-borne bacterial infection (go figure!) a few weeks out from the race.
**Can I quickly rant on this? The concept of having “attractions” in National Parks and the whole commoditization of this country’s natural landscape is something I grapple with a lot. The mass-marketed aspect of it feels counter intuitive and doesn’t sit right with me. I generally resolve to let it go, though, in favor of having the privilege of being able to see these landscapes at all. But goodness, it’s such a challenge to live in the moment of the experience when you’re choking on the overwhelming stench of capitalism. Phew. Ok. Rant over.
*** An introduction: My main squeeze is known by many as Cos, which is a nickname from his last name, Cosgrove. He enjoys running, beer, anything made out of sugar, and hanging out with me. He is from New England and has lived in more badass cities than anyone else I know. He and I met serendipitously in Denver, where I lived for only 14 months and he for 16. Since meeting we have lived together in Queens, Manhattan, and San Francisco with our two ridiculous cats (Harold & Mo). In case you were wondering, we are absolutely tired of moving and plan to never leave California (unless for my beloved New Orleans). He is a worthy opponent in the game of “who can wait the longest to do the dishes,” and has come to be a very good sport about me rarely having dinner ready before 10pm. Now you know everything.
Rainbow Sprinkle Cookies, via Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from King Arthur
Yield: 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (1/4 of an 8-ounce brick) cream, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup rainbow sprinkles
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt directly into the bowl of your food processor and pulse the mixture a few times to blend. Add the butter and cream cheese, which have been cut into large chunks. Then add the sugar and blend until the mixture is powdery. Add the egg and vanilla extract and let the food processor run until a ball of dough starts to form; it should only take a few minutes. I scraped the sides down once towards the end, as the dough began to stick together. Remove the dough ball from to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. [Note: I didn’t let mine chill the first time and they spread quite a bit when I baked them.]
Using a cookie scoop or a spoon, measure out a ball of dough that is roughly 1.5 tablespoons (cookie scoops are great for precision). Roll the dough balls in the palm of your hand before dropping them into a bowl of rainbow sprinkles and gently rolling to coat them evenly.
Transfer the balls of sprinkle-coated dough to baking sheets about two inches apart. Use the bottom of a drinking glass or your fingers flattened into a plank to press down on the cookies until they are about 1/4 to 1/2-inch tall. If you see any bare spots in the sprinkles that bother you, you can sprinkle a few more on top, which I definitely did. I enjoy a nice thick layer of sprinkles. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until they look slightly underbaked on top but have firmed up around the sides. After you’ve removed them from the oven, let the cookies sit for a few more minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.