Friendship and food are a match made in heaven! This certainly proved true again for me this past Saturday. My dear friend, Fumiko Harada, a long-time Japanese teacher at St. John's School, turned 70. She invited 25 of her friends to celebrate her birthday with her at Jeff's Pirates Cove. Considering the pandemic situation, this was a perfect outdoor venue. Although it had been raining most of the day, the rain let up during the entire dinner. We all had a wonderful time.

Fumiko and my friendship dates back over 35 years. We were introduced by close friends. Our mutual love for travel, adventure and food sparked our friendship and has strengthened it over the decades. She and I, along with other friends and family members, have traveled together to Pohnpei, Chuuk, Palau, Japan, Bali, the U.S. mainland, New Zealand, Australia and Vietnam. For the past 25 years, she has been part of our Thirsty Thursday group. A number of us meet each Thursday evening to enjoy drinks and dinner together. In addition, she frequently joins us at our home on Sundays for dinner. She has a sweet tooth, and so she is always appreciative when I bake something for dessert.

So it was no surprise when she asked me to prepare dessert for her party. In addition to a birthday cake, she requested that I prepare take-home cookies for all her guests. I was only too happy to oblige! Fumiko loves chocolate, so I decided to bake a Triple Chocolate Layer Cake for her birthday cake. (See my Week 26 recipe). She also loves my Rum Cake, (Week 11) so I decided to bake her two birthday cakes. As for the cookies, again keeping her love for chocolate in mind, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. I used my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, entitled, "The Best Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies." This comes from my favorite baking website, Sally's Baking Addiction.

Remembering a dear friend

One person missing from the party was our dear friend, Catriona Melyan, a Thirsty Thursday regular. Although she had been battling cancer for nearly two years, she hardly ever missed one of our social gatherings. However, she was not able to attend Fumiko's birthday party. Shortly before the party ended, Catriona's daughter, Leila, called me. Sadly, she informed me that Catriona had just passed away. I shared the news with Fumiko. We reminisced about the many qualities we loved in Catriona.

She was one of the most positive persons we've ever known. She hardly ever had a bad thing to say about any person, place or thing. This was especially true of food! During our 15-year friendship, and countless meals together, Catriona had never complained about any food item. In fact, she always raved about everything she ate. For this reason, she was always a welcome guest when I wanted to try out a new recipe. I always knew that, no matter what others may have to say about the new dish, Catriona would tell me it was perfect. I will miss her company and her compliments!

As Fumiko's birthday celebration drew to an end, and the reality of Catriona's passing set in, I reflected on the fact that food plays such an important role in our personal relationships and shared experiences. Food heightens our enjoyment of special celebrations and soothes us during challenging times. Food and friendship truly are a match made in heaven.

Week 51: Bill's Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

(From Sally's Baking Addiction.)

Ingredients

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour. (Be sure to spoon and level the flour.)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 and 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Steps

1. In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and sugar together on medium speed until combined and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and bottom as needed.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then beat on low speed until combined. The cookie dough will be slightly thick. On low speed, beat in the chocolate chips. Cover dough lightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour up to 2 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough.

3. Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

4. Once chilled, the dough will be slightly crumbly, but will come together when you work the dough with your hands. Roll balls of dough, about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough each, into balls.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. The cookies will look extremely soft when you remove them from the oven – that's OK! They will slightly deflate as you let them cool. If desired, while the cookies are still warm, press a few extra chocolate chips into the tops. This is completely for looks!

6. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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