Even though my grandmother never worked in town at an office, she seemed to understand the importance of coffee breaks as a time to check in for the day or a chance to restart a bad day. Every day at 10 a.m., my uncles and grandpa would make their way to the house for coffee and treats. Anyone else who happened to be in the neighborhood also found a cup and a spot at the table.
    As you entered the back porch, the smell of coffee and fresh baked sweets tickled at your nose. The aroma led you to the magical door, the door to Grandma’s kitchen. The moment you opened it, you were pulled inside by the warmth of the oven and Grandma’s surprise for coffee break. Even when we had an overflow crowd, we never moved into the dining room to stretch out. Everyone grabbed a spare chair and snuggled together around the kitchen table tucked in the corner to share in the warmth and security of family and friends.
    During these cold and snowy days, my memories have been pulling me back to Grandma’s kitchen. It has put me in the mood to bake up some special treats for my guys. We do not take the time to sit around the kitchen table for a coffee break. We are generally coming in for breakfast around break time. I have been trying to fill a tin with treats to keep in the barn, so the guys can grab something on the go. Here are three recipes that are great to have at coffee break or grab on the run.
    When I first moved to Minnesota, I baked my mom’s coffee cake recipe. Talk about confusing. Apparently coffee cake means different things in different areas. Kind of like the casserole/hotdish debate. Coffee cake in central Minnesota means a yeast bread with sweet fruit fillings. Illinois coffee cake is more like a bar. My sister Amy combined a couple of recipes to come up with her sea salt caramel pecan cookie. Such a treat. If you like dated filled cookies but hate all the hassle of sealing filling inside the dough, you will love the last recipe. You can say the dates and oatmeal make it a healthy and simple alternative to a favorite Christmas cookie.

Illinois coffee cake, by Becky Dowell
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 can of fruit pie filling or 1 ½ cups of favorite jam
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9- by 13-inch pan. Cream together cream cheese, butter and 3/4 cup sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients slowly to creamed mixture alternating with milk. Batter will be stiff. Layer bottom of prepared pan with half or two-thirds of batter. May need to use your fingers to push into corners. Add lemon juice to pie filling or jam topping. Spread over batter. With remaining batter, dot on top of filling. Mix brown sugar and nuts together and sprinkle on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

Salted caramel pecan oatmeal cookies, by Amy Thompson
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups quick oats
11-ounce bag caramel baking bits
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Coarse sea salt
    Cream butter, sugars and salt. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl. Add to creamed mixture. Stir in caramel and pecans. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper to keep caramel from sticking. Do not skip this step. The caramels will stick to your cookie sheet if you do not line it with parchment paper. Drop 1.5 inch mounds on sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-11 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool on sheet for 2 minutes before removing.

Double date delight oatmeal cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups quick oats
16 ounces chopped dates
    Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; combine well. In a bowl, mix flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Add to creamed mixture. Add quick oats and dates. Mix together. Drop teaspoonful of dough onto non-greased cookie sheet or on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes four dozen.