Molasses Spice Cookies

A friend just asked me for my spice cookie recipe. I was surprised to find my current recipe wasn’t already up on the blog – the last time was in 2008! So, here it is …

King Arthur Flour provides weight equivalents for the volume measures in many of their recipes. I use a kitchen scale and weigh bulk ingredients like sugar and flour whenever possible. It’s much faster, more accurate, and leads to more consistent results. It also reduces cleanup, since fewer measuring cups are involved! This is especially convenient for liquid or sticky ingredients like the molasses in this recipe.

I used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, sifting it and leaving out the coarsest remaining bran to give it a finer texture. Since I had “robust” molasses, and I was using whole wheat flour, I increased the total amount of spices. I also added vanilla, allspice, and of course cardamom, none of which were in the original recipe. This created a complex taste, where none of the flavors overwhelm, but I think I would miss any I left out.


• 2 sticks (1 cup, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
• 7 ounces (1 cup) sugar
• 6-1/4 ounces (a little more than 1/2 cup) molasses, robust flavor. (6 ounces would have been 1/2 cup.; the extra 1/4 ounce was a mistake on my part, but I recorded it as what I did.)
• 2-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon cloves
• 1 teaspoon ginger
• 1 teaspoon allspice
• 1 teaspoon cardamom
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 extra large eggs (original called for large)
• 14 ounces whole wheat flour (not sure of the volume equivalent)
• sugar, for coating (This gives the outside of the cookies some crunch. The recipe calls for coarse or even pearl sugar, for more crunch. I’d use them instead if I had them.)


1. Let the butter come to room temperature, if possible, for easier creaming.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F. (Be sure you have an accurate oven thermometer! I had a devil of a time baking in our horrible kitchen until I bought a thermometer and discovered that the oven dial was off by 100F!)
3. Prepare a small bowl with some of the sugar for coating the cookies.


1. Cream together the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy.
2. Beat in the molasses, salt, and spices. (Here’s where you can taste-test to adjust if needed. I added the spices at 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon at a time to make sure I didn’t over do it. I ended up with 1 teaspoon of each, as listed above.)
3. Beat in the baking soda.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until they’re mixed well into the batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters and mix well.
5. Slowly stir in the flour. (Stirring the flour in at low speeds keeps the cookies tender. Beating the flour in at higher speeds makes the cookies tougher.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters and mix well.
6. This is a fairly soft, wet dough. Refrigerate the dough for a few hours, or even overnight, to set up before baking.


The recipe calls for greasing baking sheets or lining them with parchment.

1. Using a tablespoon cookie/ice-cream scoop, create a small ball of the dough. (A scoop is the fastest, easiest way to get a consistently sized, professional looking, batch of cookies. You could also just use two tablespoons.)
2. Drop the dough ball onto the coating sugar. Coat thoroughly.
3. Place the coated dough ball on the baking pan. Space them evenly, and leave plenty of space for them to spread. (The recipe says leave 2-1/2″ between them, which sounds about right.)
4. Bake for at least 10, at most 11, minutes at 350F. (With experience, your nose and eyes are the best guides here. When they smell like they’re just starting to burn, and the edges are visibly just darker than the center, they’re done.)
5. Remove the pan and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.
6. Move the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. (But try at least one with a glass of cold milk while it’s still warm!)

Grief and Gardening: Ashes (Remembrance Day for Lost Species)

Detail, label, "Our Lady of Abundance," inside lid

My alarm wakes me Saturday morning. I go downstairs to the kitchen, nuke myself a cup of coffee, and get a fresh batch going. I didn’t sleep well. Today is the Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

I start prepping my mother’s breakfast. I put some orange juice in her small cup, and add some thickener, probiotic, and her liquid medications. I start working on crushing her morning pills. Each of the half dozen takes a different approach. Some crush easily. Others need to be split first.

Their remains collect in the well of the crusher. The easier ones are reduced to dust. The harder ones leave grit, and small, sharp shards.

A black cat with one spot on her chest, like a priest’s collar, finds me in my garden. She adopts me immediately. I name her “Spot”. She dies in my arms as we try to find the veterinarian emergency room in a snowstorm.

We bring her home in a small tin. Inside the tin is a bag. We transfer it to a reliquary box, an artwork of hammered copper, beads, and glass.

She carries me through 15 years of recovery, reconnecting, and relationship. She comforts the man whom I would later marry through his mother’s dying, and death.

The bag doesn’t quite fit the box. I want to rearrange it. It’s my first time handling cremated remains. I open the bag. Its contents are not what I expect. They are not ash. They are crumbs, and grit, and shards of bone, chalky and white. It’s all that’s left of her.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. My partners, my lovers, my friends, my neighbors. I think of the photo one friend took of another, spreading his dead lover’s ashes from a plastic baggie – before he died – on their property in the Catskills. The images of ashes thrown over the White House fence. A sea of quilts, holding the names of my partners, my lovers, my friends, my neighbors, so scattered across the acres of battlefield, it takes hours to visit them all.

We are traveling upstate, our first real vacation together. Everywhere we go the mood is quiet, subdued. Whereever we go, people ask where we’re visiting from. When we tell them, their eyes well up.

I walk to and from work. The streets and gutters are filled with ash. It takes months for the rains to wash it all away.

We step out of the shop. I ask him to wait. I walk back inside. I return to where I saw the box. Its title is “Our Lady of Abundance”. I buy it for the meaning the word has for him. It goes to his apartment, then our apartment, then our home. Waiting.

I am standing in a mountain river, cold over my feet and legs. I am here for my father. I am here with my father. I take the small, ornate bronze container out of my pocket. I open it, and begin releasing its contents to the wind and water. It’s not what you expect: They are not ash. They are crumbs, grit, shards of bone. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. It’s all that’s left of him. I am here for my father.

It is Lost Species Day. We are burning the remains of countless organisms. Even long dead, we could not let them be. We are burning the world.

In the Catskills we watched the towers fall, again, and again, a hundred miles away. Where I bought a box of hammered copper, beads, and glass to give to a man to mark a relationship that arose out of deeply shared loss, like a phoenix, from ashes.

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Standing Still in 2018


Grief and Gardening: Remains of the Day

Walking from my bus stop to work in the morning takes me across Broadway in Downtown Manhattan, the site of some celebration or other yesterday morning. Still this morning, littering the sidewalks, and especially the gutters, was “ticker tape”. Of course, there are no tickers any more – it’s all electronic. So this was all long, thin shreds of paper, individually unrecognizable in its drifts.

And in that moment, crossing Broadway, walking in to work, I was taken back 18 years.

The gutters were thick with shreds of paper, and ash, for weeks and months after 9/11. There was so much of it, it took that long for all of it to finally be washed away.

The gray ash was the last to go. In sheltered spots, it lingered for years. Even if you didn’t want to know, certainly not think about it, you knew what it was.

Living and working in downtown after 9/11 was being in a crematorium. Every couple of years, you might hear about finding “remains”. This is what they’re talking about: some shards or shreds left behind, sheltered until uncovered by demolition or restoration of the ever-changing skin of the city.

And so did yesterday’s remains, of a celebration, remind me of those weeks and months a lifetime ago. I wondered how few of those celebrating would understand the connection. How few around me had the same association.

Did they, too, feel alone in this?

St. Paul's Enshrouded

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Written live in a series of tweets on Twitter, typos and all:

Grief & Gardening #2: Five Years After, “Ths Transetorey Life”


Sunday 6/23: Pollinator Safari: Urban Insect Gardening with Native Plants

Me hosting the NYCWW Pollinator Week Safari in my Front Yard. Photo: Alan Riback

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be hosting a pollinator-focused garden tour and citizen science workshop in my garden for Pollinator Week, in association with NYC Wildflower Week.

Event Details

Date: Sunday, June 23, 2019
Time: 1-4pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY, corner of Stratford Road and Matthews Place
Cost: FREE!
RSVP: Eventbrite

1-2pm: I’ll be focusing in using iNaturalist to observe and identify insects in the garden. Create a free account on iNaturalist, and install the app on your smart phone. I’ll show you how to make observations in the garden with your phone!
2-4pm: We’ll explore the garden, see examples of how to garden for insects and pollinators, look at insect-plant associations happening in the garden, and, optionally, make observations with iNaturalist.

These times are a rough guide. You can drop by any time.

What can you see?

With roughly 200 NYC-native species of trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, and wildflowers, my garden hosts scores of native insects that use these plants throughout the year.

I’ve been documenting these residents and visitors on iNaturalist. Here’s what I’ve seen in June over the years:

My garden is registered with several programs dedicated to creating and preserving habitat:

  • National Wildlife Federation: Backyard Wildlife Habitat # 141173, May 2011
  • Xerces Society: Pollinator Habitat, June 2012
  • North American Butterfly Association: Butterfly and Monarch Garden and Habitat, July 2017

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2014 Pollinator Safari

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Charismatic Mesofauna

Over the weekend I was inspired to write a little tweet storm. I thought it would make a good blog post.

Danaus plexippus, monarch butterfly (male), with @XercesSociety Pollinator Habitat sign behind, in my front yard, September 2016

It started with a blog post by entomologist Eric Eaton, who goes by @BugEric on his blog, Twitter and other social media. Benjamin Vogt, a native plants evangelist (my word, bestowed with respect) tweeted a link, which is how it came to my attention.

The Monarch is the Giant Panda of invertebrates. It has a lobby built of organizations that stand to lose money unless they can manufacture repeated crises. Well-intentioned as they are, they are siphoning funding away from efforts to conserve other invertebrate species that are at far greater risk. The Monarch is not going extinct.

– Bug Eric: Stop Saying the Monarch is a “Gateway Species” for an Appreciation of Other Insects

I grow milkweed in my garden – at least 3 different species. (I’m waiting to see if the other 3 species persist and return.) I’ve documented monarch butterflies visiting the past 2 years. Last year I got eggs, and caterpillars.

Caterpillar of Danaus plexippus, monarch butterfly, in my garden, August 2018.

But monarchs aren’t the only visitors to my milkweeds.

Strymon melinus, Gray Hairstreak, on Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, July 2013
Papilio polyxenes, Eastern black swallowtail butterfly, on Asclepias incarnata, swamp/rose milkweed, in my front yard, July 2018

A popular argument for making the Monarch an invertebrate icon is that “being such an icon has really helped us reach the average person about habitat and native plants and conservation, and by extension, the environment and climate change,” as one friend on social media put it. Well, if only that were true. If people who care about the Monarch had any understanding of ecology at all, they would not be complaining that “there are beetles eating the milkweed I planted for Monarchs!” They would not be devastated because one wasp killed one of the caterpillars.

As Eric noted in his article, gardeners who fret over “what’s eating my milkweed” are valuing their monarchs over the other invertebrates. Like these aphids.
Aphis nerii, oleander aphid (introduced), on Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, in my front yard, July 2018

Like the monarchs, their bright orange color is aposematic, warning potential predators of their milkweed-borrowed toxicity. No matter … They sustain other visitors, like this brown lacewing larva.
Larva, brown lacewing, Hemerobiidae, feeding on Aphis nerii, Oleander aphid, on Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, in my garden, June 2017

Or this Ocyptamus fuscipennis, syrphid/flower fly, showing great interest in the aphids on Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, in my front yard.
Ocyptamus fuscipennis, syrphid/flower fly, hunting aphids on Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, in my front yard, July 2017

And who knows what this Hymenoptera was hunting for.
NOID wasp - Pemphredoninae? Aphid Wasp? - on Asclepias syriaca, milkweed, in my garden, June 2018.

And there are other floral visitors besides the charismatic butterflies.

Bombus griseocollis, brown-belted bumblebee, on Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, in my garden, June 2018
Hylaeus modestus, modest masked bee, on Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, in my front yard, August 2018
Polistes dominula, Eropean paper wasp, on Asclepias incarnata, rose/swamp milkweed, in my front yard, August 2018
Aedes albopictus, Asian tiger mosquito, on Asclepias incarnata, swamp/rose milkweed, in my front yard, August 2018

There are many more I’ve yet to identify. All this on just three species of plants in my garden. Plants that some would grow only for the monarchs.

I’m growing over 200 species of plants native to New York City, and another 80 or so regional natives.
My Garden's Native Plant Species, by Year, 2005-2018

With all that botanical diversity has come insect diversity:

  • 31 species of bees.
  • 28 species of wasps.
  • 23 species of flies.
  • 20 species of beetles.

And, oh yeah, 24 species of butterflies, moths, and skippers. Including the charismatic monarchs.

Family Common Name # Species
Coleoptera Beetles 20
Diptera Flies 23
Hemiptera Bugs 9
Hymenoptera Bees 31
Hymenoptera Wasps 28
Lepidoptera Butterflies, Moths, and Skippers 24

Let’s plant milkweed, just not only for the monarchs.

And not just milkweeds.

Oh, and no pesticides.

Thank you.

Related Content

Blog Posts
Flickr photo sets

Danaus plexippus, monarch butterfly
Danaus plexippus, Monarch (Butterfly)

Milkweed species I’m growing in my garden. (Not all the photos are taken from my garden.)
Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed


Bug Eric: Stop Saying the Monarch is a “Gateway Species” for an Appreciation of Other Insects