I recently attended Swan Lake performed by the National Russian Ballet at the Stavanger Konserthus. It was powerfully moving. Going in, I vaguely remembered the story. I’d seen the animated musical Swan Princess (1994) with John Cleese voicing the frog Jean-Bob. Something about a princess doomed to be a swan by day and human by night until she captured the heart of a prince. Close enough. The story didn’t matter as much as the graceful motion displayed on stage.
The dancers were strong, athletic, and elegant. I found myself sitting up straighter in my seat. During intermission, a friend and I discussed ballet moves we probably could do at home. Ordinary tasks and chores would be more fun with tutus on and if only we used more graceful jesters. We laughed and took a few more sips of our white wine at a bar height round table. And then we both arrived at a similar thought. We needed to do more Pilates. We needed to do Mary Helen Bowers’ Ballet Beautiful.
My friend and I had already joined a hiking group. She hits the gym a few days a week and I row. However, the ballet had inspired us. Their long, lean bodies were the result of years of hard work and dedication. Did we really think we could get there by laying on the floor, waving our legs and arms about in the privacy of our own living rooms?
How each of our relationships with Mary Helen Bowers and Ballet Beautiful came about is not really important. Mary Helen Bowers was now established as a mutual acquaintance. We both missed her and recognized how her videos were exactly what we were missing in our weekly workout routines.
I’ve done Ballet Beautiful Total Body Workout (2012) so many times I have it memorized. This is extremely handy when I want to watch a show but feel guilty for not being more productive with my time. There is a Ballet Beautiful channel on YouTube for quick access videos and several full length videos on Amazon.com.
I should disclose I don’t exercise to lose weight. I’m fine with my weight and size. I have lots of clothes I feel good in. I would like to be stronger. I would like to have a little less giggle under my arms. A firmer tooshie would be nice. Nothing radical here, just tone(r). Walking my dogs, hiking, and rowing help me balance my bad eating habits while helping me relax. I am happier if I’ve gone outside each day and moved around a bit. The sense of accomplishment one feels after a workout is gratifying. Pilates makes me feel good.
It also helps balance the sugar and coffee diet my husband is convinced sustains me. While not entirely true, I will admit to eating large amounts of sugar October to December. I just can’t help it. I’m baking, there are a lot of treats around and I graze.
Even after all of my baking, I bought some pepperkaken at my local market after Christmas. It was 50% off. I had to get it. These thin and crisp gingerbread cookies are delicious. There are great with coffee and tea and wonderful anytime of the day. I ate most of the pepperkaken I purchased. And now, I can no longer find them at the market and must recreate these delights in my kitchen.
My favorite gingerbread cookie recipe is by King Arthur Flour. I like them on the thick side so they are soft and chewy. Pepperkaken is crisp and thin. I found a pepparkaksdeg recipe in Sweden’s Hus & Hem Julspecial 2016 issue. The baked cookies looked thin and crisp in the photo. The ingredients looked almost right too.
I made some adjustments after comparing these two recipes. I chose to use molasses per King Arthur over the corn syrup called for by Hus & Hem. I deferred to Hus & Hem for larger amounts of cinnamon and ginger, but omitted the cardamon. And I excluded the egg King Arthur required.
Mix, chill, roll, cut, bake, eat.
The first batch was not quite right. There was a slight snap when I took a bite, but the cookie was still a little chewy. My kids will eat them, so not a total waste. Just not what I want.
Determined, I re-tweaked the recipe using less flour, lowering the oven temp, increasing the cook time, and replaced the brown sugar with white sugar. The result was a buttery, slightly gingery, crisp cookie. Exactly what I want!! It rivals my favorite store-bought pepperkaken.
Here’s the final recipe:
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter
- ½ cup (100 grams) white sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp ginger
- ¾ tsp cloves
- ½ cup (165 grams) molasses
- 2 cup (5 deciliter) flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- Melt butter in sauce pan over low heat. Stir in sugar, molasses, and spices until fully incorporated.
- Whisk baking soda and flour in a separate bowl, and then stir these dry ingredients into the molasses mixture.
- Divide the dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.
- Roll out dough to 1/8-inch (3mm) thickness on floured work surface and cut out shapes.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes at 325°F/160°C till dark amber. Leave cookies to cool on the cookie sheets. Makes 4-5 dozen cookies.
After a day in the kitchen, I felt compelled to do a little exercise. I took the dogs for a short walk after dinner. I even got out my yoga mat once the kids were in bed and ran through Ballet Beautiful Total Body Workout while watching Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016). Those girls drink a lot of champagne! I was champagne-less, but I did have my pepperkaken. I ate a few saving the rest for breakfast.
If you’ve never been to the ballet, I highly recommend it. If you’ve never done Pilates, I implore you to try. And if you think you’d like thin, crisp, ginger biscuits, stop what you are doing and make some pepperkaken.