So much better
You guys really are terrific. I dropped the ball last week, I know, with all this book nonsense and blah blah blah, but you were so nice. Your congratulations and good will cheered me right through to the end – to Thursday morning at approximately 11 am, when I said so long to our old friend Man U. Script. He’ll be back soon enough, I fear, but he’s gone for now, and that’s good enough for me. Darn good, in fact.
And hey, I wrote a book! Goodnight. How on earth did that happen? I didn’t know I had it in me, really, until it was done. Life o’ mine, you are full of surprises – and also dirty dishes, and dirty laundry, and dust bunnies. I spent Thursday afternoon scrubbing the kitchen sink, sweeping the bathroom floor, and going through mail that had been sitting next to my desk since October. October, people. Then I watched four episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (I have an itty bitty crush on Vincent D’Onofrio; don’t tell); ate two pains au chocolat; danced around to the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa for a couple of hours; and finally, yesterday, fell asleep curled around a pile of warm laundry and missed most of the afternoon, including a holiday party at the home of friends.
Oh yeah. I also made toffee, chocolate blocks, banana bread, and brown butter cookies spread with homemade strawberry jam.
Brown. Butter. Cookies.
I feel so much better. About everything.
I clipped the recipe for these little beauties two years ago, but it took me until now – my priorities have been totally out of line – to try them. But better late than never, I say, because they’re lovely. For one thing, they’re some of the prettiest cookies I’ve ever seen. Shaped in the well of a teaspoon – a tad tedious, yes, but therapeutic in a way, and totally worth it – they turn out smooth and curvy, the approximate size and shape of a flattened egg. They’re pale gold and flecked with toasted bits of butter, and you sandwich them with a festive sash of jam across the waistline. They’re sophisticated but still approachable, eminently edible. If they were human, you’d want to pinch their cheeks and buy them a drink.
Then, of course, there’s the flavor: intensely buttery, warm and rich, and ever-so-slightly nutty, with a sandy crumb that melts instantly on the tongue. They remind me a bit of Pecan Sandies® – only minus the pecans and plus jam. (If you grew up, as I did, with Pecan Sandies®, you’ll know that’s high praise.) Their creator, Celia Barbour, calls them “the best cookies in the world,” and while I’m not quite ready to go that far – they don’t, after all, contain chocolate – I think she’s onto something. I can’t imagine a better cookie for dunking in a mug of coffee on Christmas Day. They’re coming along in my carry-on tomorrow morning, when we fly to the East Coast for the holidays. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, with an empty cookie tin in tow.
Friends, I wish you the very happiest of holidays. It’s been quite a year, and I’ve loved spending it with you.
Brown Butter Spoon Cookies with Jam
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2005
I’m not going to tell you that these are the world’s easiest cookies, because they do take a bit of time and technique. But I will tell you that they’re outlandishly delicious, and that there’s something terrifically calming about shaping and assembling them, even if it does take a while. Plus, the dough is wonderfully simple – maybe the simplest I’ve ever made. You make it right in the saucepan! Neat-o.
As for shaping the dough, well, it’s a little tricky at first, but after the first 10 or 12, you’ll find yourself settling into it: instinctively knowing how much dough to use for each cookie, how to press it just so into the bowl of a teaspoon, how to slide it out. By the second pan, it was actually going pretty quickly. Oh, and don’t worry about little imperfections: the heat of the oven will soften and smooth them.
Lastly, about the preserves: Celia Barbour recommends using a mixture of half cherry and half strawberry, but I used only strawberry. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a jam you love. My strawberry jam was homemade, left over from a recipe project this fall, and its flavor was terrific with the brown butter cookie.
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt, slightly rounded
Heaping 1/3 cup fruit preserves
To make the dough:
Fill the kitchen sink with about 2 inches of very cold water.
In a medium heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter turns golden and smells nutty and flecks on the bottom of the pan turn a rich caramelly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam a bit, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before the butter begins to brown; stir more frequently once this occurs.) Remove the pan from the heat and place it in the sink to stop the butter from cooking further. Cool, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the sink, and stir in the sugar and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and stir until a dough forms. Shape the dough into two balls – or one, but it’s a little unwieldy – and wrap in plastic wrap. Set aside at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop. (Alternatively, chill dough balls until you’re ready to use them. Allow the chilled dough to soften at room temperature for at least one hour before shaping into cookies and baking.)
To shape and bake the cookies:
Set an oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Choose a teaspoon with a deep bowl. (I used an antique silver teaspoon; older spoons in general, I find, have nice deep bowls. Do not use a measuring spoon.) Pinch off a small bit of dough from one of the balls and press it into the bowl of the spoon, flattening the top. The dough will feel crumbly, but as you press and mold it, it will become cohesive. Pressing gently, slide the shaped dough out of the spoon and place it, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (I lined mine with a silicon liner for easy clean-up.) Continue forming cookies and arranging them on the sheet pan; you should be able to fit about 18 cookies. Bake the cookies until just pale golden, about 8 to 15 minutes. Cool them on the sheet pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes; then transfer them to the rack and cool completely. Meanwhile, continue shaping and baking more cookies until all the dough is gone. You should be able to make about 60 to 70 cookies in all.
To assemble the cookies:
While the cookies cool, heat the preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny. Pour and scrape through a sieve into a small bowl to remove seeds and solids. Cool completely. (I stuck mine in the fridge for a few minutes.)
Working with one cookie at a time, spread the flat side with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with the flat side of a second cookie. Continue with the remaining cookies and preserves. Let the finished cookies stand until the jam is set, about 45 minutes.
Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days – really! – before eating to allow the flavor to develop. (Or, if making them well in advance, freeze them.)
Yield: 30-35 sandwich cookies
Thursday, Thursday, Thursday.
Hi, friends. I had the best intentions. I did. I was going to tell you about another cookie today, and a really good one too. But a visitor has been staying with us lately, and he won’t let me into the kitchen. He’s big and burly, 90,000 words tall. His name is Man U. Script, and he’s a bruiser. He’s bossy and demanding, and he makes me sit at my desk for hours and hours and hours. But the good news is that, at long last, he’s leaving on Thursday. He’s getting into a FedEx box and going to New York to hang out with my editor. I can hardly believe it. I don’t know whether to open a bottle…Read more
The cookie-baking part
The rains, oh, the rains. They have come. Yesterday, while those of you on the East Coast were reveling in fresh snow on the windowsill, we woke to rain thumping on the roof. Despite what you might have heard about Seattle, this isn’t our usual kind of weather. Our rain is more of a fine mist, a la di da sort of rain – definitely not a thump-thump. We went out for croissants and grapefruit juice anyway, in spite of the downpour, but as we huddled uncomfortably under a single umbrella – we seem to have lost our second one; it’s going to be a long, wet season – Brandon turned to me and said, woefully, “Remind me – winter…Read more
Refilled and refueled
Oh my. That was nice. It may have swooped down suddenly upon me, but Thanksgiving landed with a gentle bump and the merest, softest sigh. It was quiet and slow, with plenty of time for cookies and wine and “Pass the Baby” (our favorite game when there’s an infant around, namely my niece Mia) and slices of pie for breakfast. Over the course of five days, some of us never even left the house, and those who did went only for important things like green beans, brownies, beer, and walks around the neighborhood. Brandon wore pajamas for two days straight. We slept on an egg crate mattress pad in the living room, and the flue in the fireplace wouldn’t shut,…Read more
Sudden, huge, gorgeous
Hi, guys. I can’t believe Thanksgiving is only three days away. I don’t know how the heck that happened. I had a dream last night that the ocean was in our backyard, and that I was standing at the window, looking out at it. Above the water, the sky was overcast, thick with clouds. As I stood there watching, all of a sudden, one of the clouds shook loose and fell, just like that, dropping fast and heavy, straight out of the sky. It landed in the water with a huge, gorgeous splash, like Paul Bunyan doing a cannonball in the neighborhood swimming pool, like some exotic flower breaking into bloom. This year, Thanksgiving feels a little like that, I…Read more
A great relief
Oh guys. It’s kind of hard for me to get my head in the game this fall – you know, for Thanksgiving and the holidays and all. I can hardly keep track of anything these days except the words on my computer screen, and even that’s touch-and-go. My brain is a wide-mesh sieve. The other day, I went out to breakfast with a friend, someone I’d lost touch with for a couple of years and ran into again only recently, and we were talking about my wedding. She wanted to know what time the ceremony took place, and – get this – I couldn’t remember. Could. Not. Remember. I was like, “Uhh, four? Or five? Or no, four-thirty?” The only…Read more
So warm, so fragrant
Oh November, November, November. What on earth am I supposed to do with you? You’re so confusing. I don’t know whether to cheer for you (Thanksgiving! Fuzzy slippers! Hot cider with cognac!) or hide under the bed (Chapped lips! Sunset at 4:46 pm! So! Much! Work! To! Do!). November, you’re a mess. You’re even worse than Brandon’s closet. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Oh, people. Can it be true? Is it really November 5? Only 17 days before Thanksgiving? And did I really see that terrible ad for Lowe’s last night, the Christmas one with the giant snow globe and the dancing holiday turkey? (Also, did I really admit, by saying that just now, that despite our having…Read more
You guys are so nice. Really. You let me rattle on about bratwurst, and butternut squash, and tomato sauce, and through it all, you just smile and nod. You’re so polite. Especially when I know that all you really want, deep down, is dessert. You heard me. D-e-s-s-e-r-t. You don’t have to hide it anymore. I know how it is, because I feel the same way. I mean, let’s be real: bratwurst is nice, and so are chickpeas, and so is tapenade, but for crying out loud, people, pass the damn cookies already. I have long held that a day without dessert is a day poorly lived. We all have different definitions of dessert, I’m sure, but whatever yours is,…Read more
Bigger and fuller and brighter
Today I want to tell you about a friend of mine. You’ve heard of her, I’ll bet, and if not from me, then because of her own site. Her name is Shauna, and people, the lady knows how to live. I first met Shauna a couple of years ago, in September, I think, when, after a series of long, chatty e-mail exchanges, we decided to sit down for some tea at Mr. Spots Chai House, a little hippie haven of sorts in Ballard, a neighborhood about halfway between our apartments at the time. I should tell you at this point that I have a terrible fear of chai, due to the fact that after having my first mug of the…Read more
Hi, everybody. A few of you asked, in the comments last week, if I might tell you a little more about my book, the project that’s been eating up a large portion – wait, did I say large? I meant all, or darn near all – of my thoughts for the past several months. I really haven’t told you much about it, have I? I guess I didn’t really think to until now. I’m so glad you gave me a nudge. I just got swept up in the wedding for a while there, and then, when it was over, I dove so deep into writing that it never really occurred to me to climb out, grab a dry towel, and…Read more
Lots of trouble
You already know by now, I’m sure, that I like the idea of a simple recipe. For whatever it’s worth, I like the notion that you can take a few well-chosen, high-quality ingredients, treat them kindly, and come out with a pretty nice meal. When I started this blog, I had no idea that this was a schtick of any sort, much less my schtick: it’s just sort of happened that way. It’s how I like to eat. It also, however, gets me into lots of trouble sometimes. I am constantly – I mean constantly, people; it’s pathological – falling prey to cookbook and magazine recipes that are way too simple, with too few ingredients to taste like much of…Read more
I tried to hold it off. Really, I did. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t buy a winter squash until at least October 1, if not later. I mean, there are still a few nectarines to be had, for crying out loud, and Romano beans, and cherry tomatoes, and fat, pristine eggplant, fruits as big and heavy as my head, begging to roasted and mashed. There’s plenty to eat. There’s no need for winter squash. Nor potatoes, nor pears. No need at all. But then, you know, there they were, the hard-shelled squash and the new potatoes and the Asian pears, at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, and it was cloudy and cold, and they just looked so…Read more
Start with tomato sauce
I don’t know if it’s good to admit this sort of thing, but until three days ago, I had never made tomato sauce. Oh, I’ve eaten plenty of it, of course – with garlic, with basil, with capers; on gnocchi, on pizza, on pappardelle; really, that part is easy – but until Friday, I had never made one. No marinara, no Amatriciana, no nothing. This is not the kind of information, I know, that one should offer freely in some circles. It doesn’t exactly build credibility, especially when matters of the oven and stove are supposed to be my bread and butter. But friends, because I like you a lot, and because I don’t want to lie, here I am,…Read more
The last hurrah, II
Alright, world. Today I have just three words for you, and I hope you’ll remember them, because it’s important. They are brown, and buttered, and corn. They’re what you’ll be having for dinner tonight, if you know what’s good for you. I certainly hope you do. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I should admit that I won’t be having any, I fear, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. It’s just that I’ve got some sort of stomach bug, the kind that feels best when I’m either a) in the bathtub, b) in the fetal position, or c) chewing Pepto Bismol tablets. But I couldn’t let that stop me from limping out here to tell you about this…Read more
The last hurrah
I love the idea of a last hurrah. I know it’s really just a fancy way of saying that something is about to end, but it sounds so much better than that. Really, think about it: last hurrah! I mean, if something’s got to end, it might as well go out like that, with a loud, rousing cheer. I like the idea of a big blow-out, a big to-do, a triumphant one-last-time before something is through. Most of the time, when we celebrate something, it’s a beginning – like a baby shower, or New Year’s Eve – or a milestone, like a birthday. I think endings deserve a little attention too, or some of them, anyway. I’ve been thinking a…Read more
The old switcheroo
Alright, people. That’s it. Enough of this wedding hoo-hah. Enough gushy, gloppy, lovey-dovey stuff. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s September. Like, end-of-summer September. Back-to-school September. Early-season-apples September. The calendar said it was coming, but still. It’s something we should talk about. As a kid, I always loved September. It meant a reprieve from the pounding heat, for one, and in Oklahoma, that was no small potatoes. It also happens that September is my birth month, which meant balloons and cake and a slumber party. It was also the time of year when my mother would take me out for school supplies, protractors and compasses and other crap that I would never really use, but that made me…Read more
What to do next
Well. After all the baby beets and fancy farro and salmon straight from the boat, I think you’ll be somehow pleased to know that our diet for the next ten days consisted of a lot of French fries, and beer, and Frosted Mini Wheats. I should also mention the Newman’s Own Arrowroot Alphabet Cookies, and the one night that we ate salt-and-vinegar potato chips, cornichons, and an oatmeal cookie for dinner, in our rental car, waiting for a ferry. After all the hullabaloo, it was really kind of nice. It’s hard, let me tell you, to plan a honeymoon. I mean, planning a wedding is hard, but planning a honeymoon is not much easier. Not for us, anyway. We felt…Read more
So we feasted.
When you care about food, and when you’re marrying someone who also cares about food, and when you met this someone because of a particular food, and when both of you spend your days – or the better part of them, anyway – cooking, scheming, and daydreaming about food, well, let’s just say this: there’s a lot of pressure to feed people well at your wedding. Which, quite honestly, is no easy feat. In most circles, the word “wedding” isn’t exactly synonymous with “delicious.” Usually, it’s just the opposite. Many venues equipped to host weddings – hotels, gardens, museums, and so on – require that you use their (often iffy) in-house caterer, or at least limit your choice to a…Read more
Dramatic and wonderful
So you go and get married, and you eat deviled eggs with herbed aioli and dance for three hours, and then you go on a honeymoon for ten days, and you take lots of naps and ferries and put your toes in the Pacific, and then, you know, it’s kind of hard to know what to say. Most of all, it was just really pretty. To start, I guess I should tell you a little something. When you get engaged, a few things happen. First, you agree to marry someone. Second, your head sort of explodes. Third, you are handed a ticket – rather sneakily, I should note, with no warnings at all – to an amusement-park ride known as…Read more
I have learned not to worry
The cakes are baked. The pickles are prepped. We’ve got nine cases of wine and 10 cases of beer lining the walls of our bedroom. (We had to store them somewhere, and we figure one room is as good as another, right?) My sister just arrived; my brother David lands tonight; and at least a dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins are already in town. It may still be six days away, but really, our wedding has already begun. It’s a funny feeling. I hardly know what to say. To tell you the truth, I can’t believe I’m actually old enough to be doing this. How on earth did that happen? I mean, it was only a few days ago, I…Read more
All so pretty
Hello, hello. I can’t stay for long, but I just had to pop in. I had to thank you for all your words of wedding wisdom last week. You’ll be happy, I think, to know that things are much better – much calmer – around here. It’s not that there’s any less going on, really. Our wedding is 12 days away, so there are plenty of things to do. It’s just that this week’s things are much better than last week’s. Then, it was phone calls and seating charts and numbers and floor plans. Now it’s cake and pickles and party favors. I’m up to my ears in brine and batter, but I’ve got to say, it’s pretty awesome. Really.…Read more
My lemonade fix
I’ve got to tell you something, guys. I don’t have much of an attention span at the moment. I’m so sorry. I can’t really write. I can’t really read. I can’t do much at all, save for clutch my cell phone and the folder containing our wedding plans. I sit down and try to write something, or maybe have a conversation with someone, but lo and behold, like it or not, my train of thought choo-choos straight to the wedding. I’m like a horse with blinders, only less obedient. All I can say is this: watch out. It’s best to keep your distance unless you’re prepared to discuss the following topics: a) veils [I decided last Wednesday not to wear…Read more
Every spare penny
I don’t think I’ll ever get over morels. Even when I’m old, with wrinkles and a cane and clothes that smell like moth balls, I’ll still squeal with glee at the sight of them. They remind me of something I used to say about the Golden Gate Bridge, back when I was in college in the Bay Area. I loved that bridge. I remember telling someone that I could live out the rest of my earthly days without ever feeling blasé about it: its rich shade of orange-red, somewhere between rust and brick; its fat cables climbing through the fog; the way I always felt when I drove across it, as though I were really going somewhere, somewhere important, somewhere…Read more
Rosier by the second
I swear, I just don’t know where the days go. I wake up one morning, and it’s Monday. Then, within what I know was only ten minutes, shazam!, it’s Sunday already. It makes me wish there were some sort of Bureau of Missing Days, or something like that. Wherever my time went, I’d like it back immediately. I had plans for it, and awfully good ones too, involving strawberries and waffles and soup and roasted pork, and the sweet, spindly carrots in the crisper drawer. Thank goodness for a new week. All ten minutes of it, anyway. I get to have another go. Which explains why, this morning, before I had so much as shrugged in the direction of the…Read more
Handy to have around
I’ve got to tell you, this wedding business is making me feel kind of quiet these days. It’s a good kind of quiet, so don’t worry. I’m just a little preoccupied. I feel like I’m lining up a set of dominoes. I’m concentrating, strategizing. I’m maneuvering the pieces into their proper order. My domino set, you see, has an exceptionally large number of pieces. Some of them are human. Some of them are edible. Some of them are strapless and made of three layers of lace, with a sweet little train that swishes when I walk. Not that I’ve ever owned a set of dominoes, mind you, but you get the idea. I’m a little preoccupied. I haven’t been doing…Read more
My kind of bridal
Goodness. It’s finally happening. The wedding is upon us, friends. Or rather, it will be, in just under seven weeks. Things are slowly picking up speed. Plans are taking shape. We’ve been engaged for over a year now, and this show is ready to hit the road. I can’t wait. When Brandon and I got engaged, we knew that we wanted a summer wedding, but that was about it. I’ve never felt like a real “bridal” type, to tell you the truth. I’m not the sort of girl who knows from the get-go what her wedding will look like and what she will wear. I’m not very girly, as these things go. I love dresses and fashion and little details,…Read more
How it works
I must have pleased the weather gods, or whoever controls rain and shine. Ever since my last post, it’s been lovely around here. There’s been sun, sun, and more sun, a whole week of hot days and cold beers and windows wide open. We had a picnic; we went rowing; we stuck our feet in the Sound; and on Saturday, we even cleaned the basement. (This last might not sound like fun, but I’ll let you in on a secret: when it’s hot outside, our basement is like heaven. It’s always a season cooler down there.) It’s been summer. It’s been the bee’s knees. I didn’t even mind the thunderstorm that rolled through last night. It was an especially hot…Read more
A better day
Others may argue, but I think May is the toughest month. It’s the biggest tease, the old bait-and-switch. Over most of North America, things are looking pretty nice. The flowers are in bloom; the weather is fine; bare feet and legs are back in fashion. But Seattle, however, isn’t quite on the bandwagon. It’s sort of hanging from the tailgate, and by only one hand. Sure, the trees are full and the flowers are open, and most of us are driving with the windows down. But this city is tricky. It blows hot and cold. One day, it’s 82 degrees and sunny, and the next, it’s 58 with flood warnings. You know, really, winter in Seattle is no sweat. It…Read more
You know, it’s been entirely too long since I thanked you, friends, for the comments you leave here. There have been so many of them lately, and I’m always floored by the sweet, smart things you say. I like to think that this site is a conversation of sorts, a place where we come to swap recipes and dinner plates, a kind of trading post where cakes and chickpeas are perfectly valid currency. In another era, we would have sat around a big table, I’m sure, with aprons and iced tea, shelling peas and gabbing. Instead we leave comments on the computer. It’s a little different – we’re missing out on that fresh, green peapod smell, for one – but…Read more
Safe to proceed
When I was a kid, I was always waiting for a sign. I was the cautious type, the kind who always asks for permission. I startled at loud noises and sucked a pacifier till age five. I wasn’t exactly a fun, lighthearted kid, the one who sticks her hand in the birthday cake and smears frosting all over her smocked dress. Before I did most anything, I watched, and I thought, and I waited for a sign. In the intervening years, I’m happy to report, I’ve gotten a little better in the boldness department. Heck, I ate blood sausage, people. And during college, I cut my hair short and dyed it calico. That’s got to count for something. For a…Read more