Why Spice Cookies may help your Screaming Toddler

We are going to get to a simple cookie recipe...but first I want to make the caregivers of toddlers feel seen for a moment. 

You know when your heart is just so heavy and so full and so overwhelmed that all you want to do is cry? And you mourn the tiny, sweet, smelly potato that used to love you and cuddle you and look at you like you were the only person in the world that mattered? They still look at you this way, but now it's not that they want to be with you it's that they need you and you aren't giving them what they need.

My baby looks at me, desperate, eyes filled with tears, screaming at why I won't pick him up. But, you see, I do pick him up, and then he screams and thrashes more as he did not want to be picked up. What's someone to do when this has been going on for hours?

I personally bounce on the yoga ball and try to remember that it's probably traumatic being a toddler. You have just enough agency to know what you want but the benevolent giants that care for you have little to no idea what you need, even though you're - in your mind - being very clear with your needs. I know it's not fair. You know it's not fair. Every logical part of your brain is telling you that this is just one of those amazing developmental steps it takes to become a person. 

But who gives a fat frog's behind? It's hard. 

I'm going to give you some advice, even though you likely didn't ask me: 

If you have a toddler, buy a mortar and pestle. 

Yes, they'll want to play with it, too, while you do your thing...but it feels so good to just pound something, especially nuts and spices! Even better, they'll want to help and it's something that they truly can do. Pounding something in a mortar and pestle is a simple movement that most toddlers can accomplish, and my own toddler enjoys it greatly.

Anyway, let's make some cookies and try to work through it. You can do this during naptime or they can help you. This dough is highly forgiving, quite pliable and has a texture similar to playdoh. Give your toddler a handful of it and let them play on the floor while you do something with your hands.

Easy Spice Cookies

  • 1 c or 7 oz dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c or 4 oz butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 2 allspice berries, ground, or 1/4 tsp allspice powder
  • the zest of 1 orange
  • 4 c or 1 lb 4 oz all-purpose flour
I do this by hand, starting with the almonds. 

I grind the almonds with the spices in my mortar and pestle. The sensation of crushing things is very relaxing. My toddler wanted to help. He doesn't understand I do this for therapy and will, of course, scream because he wants to be involved, too. This is his way of him telling me that he loves me and he wants to spend time with me by being involved in what I do. This is him telling me: I can help, mommy. So I let him.

He's slow and frustrated at this task, but he still does it. When my anger calms, I'm blown away by how quickly he's picked up how I am grinding everything together. This is obviously going to be more course than a fine ground almond meal that you'd find in the store, but I don't mind the texture of the finished cookie. This, letting him help me, is actually me giving myself permission to accept help, even if it's small. When this happens, I am more calm and more able to offer myself as a calm parent. 

I usually like to make this by hand with a wooden spoon, so I hand-beat the softened butter with the brown sugar until dissolved and a pretty brown color. I add the eggs, one at a time, and stir them in. Then, I add in my almond meal mixture with the spices, the salt, and the flour, all at once. Here's the fun part!

I love these cookies because I can treat them like pie dough, in that I stir it all together just so it's sort of together. Then, I dump out the floury mixture onto my marble countertop and knead it by hand. I simply am squeezing in the dough together with my hands, pushing it against the counter in a smearing motion until everything comes together in a single ball of dough. I separate the dough balls into three sections and set them in the bowl where they will cool for about 20 minutes. If your toddler is with you, take a handful of this dough and set it in the high chair to give it to them to play with. 

Yes, it's safe for them to eat a little bit. You don't want to let them eat the entire ball, but it won't hurt them if they chew on it and decide they do or don't like it. It's an excellent texture for them to squeeze and slap, and you can add things like sprinkles or gummy candies for them to play with while you take a moment to yourself. 

Have 20 minutes passed? It's time to decide on the shapes I'll use! 

Because I want to fill my cookie jar with this, I think I'll choose a small shape. I might go with little rings or little crescent moons or trees or leaves. I might do tiny bats. If you're like me, you've collected a lot of fun cutters over the years and you enjoy having them at your disposal. I might also make these into filled cookies since I have some buttercream left from my last project in the fridge.

My husband doesn't seem to understand that when he comes home from a long day at work and I've got a new baking project completed, it's not because I was bored during the day - it's because I needed something, anything, to be in my total control that day. Baking is therapy for me and it always has been. This is not because of fond memories of baking with my grandparents, me standing on a stool while grandma gently and lovingly guided my hands. My grandparents never let me into the kitchen with baking, in fact. This comfort comes from school, and from practice, years of experience in professional kitchens, and me being able to rely on my own skills.

I know I can succeed at baking because I know it well enough. I know that, when I bake, I am in total control and that gives me a great deal of inner peace. 

Is the dough rested? Great. Let's do it.

Like pie dough, I like to roll this dough out between sheets of parchment or on a clean tea towel brushed lightly with flour. This is a sort of gingerbread dough so don't roll it too thin, lest it'll burn. You can, however, roll it too thick and it'll be bready because it's not so sweet. I suggest dusting a little granulated sugar on top before you bake. Then again, this is the kind of cookie I like with some tea or coffee as a dunker. You can also dip half of it in melted chocolate to give it a little extra zing of something. up to you!

When you've decided on your shapes, simply cut them out and bake them at 325 for about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack and continue baking in batches until your dough runs out. You can also freeze your cookie dough in logs wrapped in plastic wrap until you need it for the holidays and therefore keep your life a little less stressful. 

And couldn't we all use that in our lives right now? 

I don't usually show the in-progress photos!

When the cookies are cool, you can finish them with icing or dunk them in some coffee or tea while your toddler continues to destroy your living room. At least you'll have cookies! If you want to do what I do, simply melt some chocolate chips and, with an offset spatula, I brush some chocolate on half of one cookie and add a few sprinkles on top. This is a fun and easy technique that I love for cookies that have more complex flavors. 

I hope you've found some respite with me here today. I've been having a rough time transitioning work spaces, navigating therapy, maintaining a home, trying to stay in shape, feeding a family, and trying my best to be a gentle parent to a child who is not trying to be a gentle child. I was inspired to get back to the roots of my blog and why I felt it was so special in the first place...because it was about authentic storytelling with some baking on the side. 

Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Happy cooking and happy eating!


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