Monthly Archive for December 2009
So, I’m going to keep this brief—I’ve got a sunshine-bound plane to catch. This year has been lovely, spectacular, even: full of lots of delicious things to eat, a good portion of my time spent in the kitchen, baking (below) and cooking (above). And it’s been fuller and richer because of this blog, the friends I’ve made it through it, the food I’ve cooked to keep it interesting, the well of creativity in me that’s been tapped because of it, the sense of constancy its instilled in me with every post, the time capsule its become as the weeks pass on. You’ve all been a big, huge, super significant part of that and, as the year comes to end, I’m really not sure how to thank you.
So, I’ll just say thank you. I hope it’s enough.
I’m still too full from the delicious Christmas weekend to talk about this pie. So let’s set it aside for the moment, shall we? I’ll come back to it. Honest. But only after I’ve worked up an appetite by regaling (lofty aspirations, no?) you with photos and stories from said delicious weekend.
It started and ended with a long drive. Unexpected long drives. Our flights were canceled, so we hopped in the car and cruised along the interstate that snakes its way from Chicago to Minneapolis. The change in scenery between Wednesday, when we drove to Minnesota through a landscape that was only lightly dusted with snow, and Sunday, when we rode home, was remarkable. During the days between our drives, a big storm left Sunday’s countryside looking sugar-dusted and still, as if someone had snapped open a thick white blanket and let it float silently to the ground, draping everything in sight with its sparkling whiteness. This all made for a beautiful drive home in the early morning hours:
It’s Christmas Eve. Finally, it’s here. I spent the day shoveling inches of heavy, white snow; making biscuits; wrapping gifts; walking through the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen. Now my parents’ kitchen is alive with activity as the Christmas Eve meal comes together—beef tenderloin, apple-sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, maple glazed carrots and the biscuits I made this morning.
After we eat, we’ll head to my parents’ church, where we’ll hold little candles and sing Christmas songs. I’m hoping for a spot in the pew near my grandpa, whose voice stops me dead in my tracks. Then we’ll be back around the tree, eating slices of pie and opening gifts. There might be a holiday drink or two, too.
Last night, after the sun dropped away leaving our windows blackened (at approximately 3:34 pm) and the quiet of a Sunday night settled in over us, I hung up my apron on the back of the pantry door after the last of these lemon poppy seed shortbread rounds were packaged up and stashed away. The apron was a birthday gift from my mom, white and crisp and even a little professional looking, and it has gotten quite a lot of use between my birthday in late November and last night.
True story. On the way into work yesterday morning, my high heels clicking against the sidewalk and my scarf wound right up under my chin and my shoulders hunched against the chill, my mind wandered to the two clementines I had tucked into my bag before I left home. Small, orange, juicy and perfect. They were my happy place—sad as that might be.
And this, friends, is what they call a tease. That pistachio brittle you see there—lightly salted and very nearly burnt—is absolutely, completely, through-and-through delicious. And I made it and I’ve got the recipe for you. I do.
After all that moping last week about my trouble getting into the holiday spirit, I discovered that the solution is actually incredibly easy. And it’s this: pour yourself a hot toddy. I also recommend throwing on some holiday music and adorning your home with metallic balls and fronds of pine and twinkling lights. But if you’ve tried these things to no avail—or if you’re just short on time, the toddy will suffice, I think. So, if you find yourself in the same boat as I was in last week, hop to it. It’s time to toddy.
And while we’re on the subject, I’ve concluded that the hot toddy is one of the most underappreciated fixtures on the holiday scene. Cookies take the spotlight, fruitcake gets all the fuss, and cooks can’t see past the Christmas dinner centerpiece, be it roasted goose, a crown roast, or rosy slices of prime rib. Meanwhile, the hot toddy slips quietly into the background. Today, though, I plan to give it it’s holiday due.
Imagine, if you will, a brownie gone Christmas. Surely it’s not such a difficult task—the whole world, it seems, has gone Christmas. The television commericals, the lobby of my building (which features, sporadically, a real live harpist strumming carols; I kid you not), my morning coffee cup, shrubbery everywhere. So why wouldn’t the brownie, standby treat that is, want to join in by going Christmas too?
And this recipe allows the brownie to do just that. And not by way of a dash of peppermint extract or a crushed candy cane topping—flavors, if I’m honest, that I find a bit cloying and, well, toothpastey.
Coffee cake and I go way back. It’s one of the first things I remember baking as a kid, which makes me realize that, when I first started out in the kitchen, I was much more the cook than the baker. In my single-digit years, I made a mean ham sandwich (extra pickles!) and I had the “spaghetti test” (the one where you fling a cooked noodle at the nearest wall; for the life of me, I can’t remember what result one hoped for) down pat. By the time I could drive, I had a bruschetta recipe that earned me adoring fans (family memebers all, but still.). When I finally moved into an apartment of my own in college, my talents lay mainly on the stovetop, rather than the oven—in the sizzle of a wok (stir fry), on the shining surface of a griddle (grilled cheese; pancakes), in the bubbling water of a sauce pot (pasta). Aside from an impromptu chocolate chip cookie bake or my mom’s annual Christmas cookie madness (with which I helped and, naturally, by “helped” I mean “sneaked bits of dough”), I just wasn’t much of a baker.
Which probably explains why the coffee cake stands out in my memory. It’s what I baked during a seventh grade home economics (was it really called that?) class and, I suppose, it’s quite possibly the first thing I baked all on my own (or rather with the help of a couple group members, if memory serves, but I have every confidence they functioned primarily as my sous chefs). Whatever the case, I was dazzled by that coffee cake experience—from the precise measurements to the thick batter to the final product, a puffed cake topped and bisected with a rippling layer of struesel. I even liked the process of cleaning up the mess—returning flour canisters to the cupboards, filling a sink with sudsy soap, upturning the washed measuring cups on a kitchen towel to dry—as the cake baked. I remember hardly anything else from home ec (I do have a vague recollection of a long row of sewing machines and a length of cloth stiched to the quarterback’s flannel (it was the 90′s, folks) shirt), but I do remember that cake.