A good reason
WE ARE WELL! And now that I have dared to type that, I will spend the rest of the day sanitizing my hands, taking swigs straight from the echinacea bottle, and knocking on every piece of wood within a one-mile radius of my person.
And it’s the holidays! Right! A couple of weeks ago, during a reprieve between viruses, my mother, June, and I managed to bake a double batch of Russian Tea Cakes, a cookie that my mother used to make every year when I was a kid, back when she and our family friend Barbara Fretwell would hole up together in the weeks before Christmas and churn out eight or ten kinds of cookies and candies to pack in decorative tins and distribute to lucky friends around town.
I’ve written before about some of the recipes that my mother and Barbara used, like Chocolate Rads, Espresso-Walnut Toffee, and Fruit-Nut Balls. There were also cranberry-pistachio biscotti, and chocolate-dipped pecan bars with shortbread crust, and a cookie called an Apricot Crescent, with cream cheese-enriched dough and apricot jam inside. They even made mendiants. Opening one of their tins was like looking inside my mother’s jewelry box, rows and piles of color and shine. Maybe next year, I’ll tell you about their Linzer Cookies, the best Linzer specimen I’ve had. But they’re fiddly, and though Mom and I did manage to make some last week, I didn’t take pictures and instead wound up taking a nap. Russian Tea Cakes are easier, even if you’re short on time, energy, and/or holiday spirit, and they’re something that even a two-year-old could help with, sort of, if she doesn’t eat all the dough first.
I imagine you’ve heard of Russian Tea Cakes. They also go by the name Mexican Wedding Cookies, and probably some other names, too. Sometimes, to be frank, when I run across them out in the world, I don’t think Russian Tea Cakes are all that great. Some taste mostly of sugar, or worse, of flour. This makes me cranky. A Russian Tea Cake should be rich, tender, melting almost instantly when you bite into it. As holiday cookie recipes go, this one is plain, bare-bones: just six ingredients, a mixer, maybe 15 minutes to mix up the dough, maybe 15 minutes to roll the cookies, maybe 10 minutes to roll them in powdered sugar. But the return on investment is impressive: these things are so delicate, so buttery, so nutty, that people get grabby in their presence. They’re nothing new, no, but there’s a good reason why we still make them.
The recipe my mother uses was given to her by someone named Nettie Maxwell, the wife of a physician who was once in practice with my dad, and I have a xerox of it, written in Nettie’s looping old-lady script. While I would like to think that Nettie’s version is unique, there are tons of recipes out there for Russian Tea Cakes, and most are very similar to hers. I don’t think any of us can take credit. Nettie used pecans, so Mom and I do, too; it feels like the Oklahoma thing to do. But you could try any other nut: hazelnuts, walnuts, even macadamias.
Happy holidays to you and yours! 2014 marked the tenth year of this site, and I’ve had more fun here, and felt more fired up, than I had in a long time. I hope you felt it, too. I’m looking forward to 2015. In the meantime, we’re closing Delancey and Essex for two weeks to give ourselves and our staff a good, solid vacation. I’m hoping to do some writing and brainstorming, though I may just, I don’t know, take a vacation. Maybe. In any case, thank you for another year! I’ll see you soon.
Russian Tea Cakes
From my mother, via Nettie Maxwell
My mother’s version doesn’t call for toasting the pecans, but I think the cookies would be best if you toasted them. And it would be easy to do: before chopping them, pop them in a 325°F oven for a few minutes, until they’re fragrant. Allow to cool, and then chop away.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with handheld beaters), combine the butter, ½ cup powdered sugar, and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating just to blend. Add the pecans, and mix just a little more, until the nuts are incorporated. Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball, pressing in any runaway nuts. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 375°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, and allow it to soften for about 10 minutes before handling it. Pinch off small lumps of dough, roll them into 1-inch balls, and space them evenly on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until they are set but not browning – though, yes, the undersides will brown slightly. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Put some powdered sugar in a pie plate or shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the sugar, and then set them on a cooling rack. The sugar will only coat them lightly, and they may feel a little sticky. Cool them completely, and then roll them a second time.
Yield: about 40 cookies
Gifts ‘n’ stuff, yo ho ho
Hello again, approximately four days later than intended. Thank you for your well wishes and general kindness. I am happy to report that June, at least, is back to health, even if Brandon and I both still look and feel as though someone has crammed our sinuses full of cotton balls. Or no, scratchy wool blankets? Wet down comforters? Wet down comforters! Anyway, we’re tired of it. Of course, the days march ever on, and the holidays creep ever closer, so I’m trying to focus on that. Every year, I’m surprised anew by how much I like the ritual of choosing presents, bringing them home, wrapping them, and sending them off. Both this year and last, I am wrapping…Read more
Greetings from here, where the three of us are still sick. Brandon told me that he counted it up in the bathtub this morning, and he’s now been sick for 27 days. I keep wanting to sit down and write a new post, but all that comes out is blah blah blah mug of hot broth, blah blah blah homemade vap-o-rub that smells nice and feels good and maybe helps or maybe it’s just the placebo effect, blah blah blah sneeze sneeze cough. Illness makes me boring. Things that are more interesting than this post: The great Rachel Roddy was featured in a three-part “cook residency” over at The Guardian, and like everything she does, it’s very much worth your time. The best…Read more
Like he did
The three of us have that hanger-onner of a virus that’s going around. The past two nights, I’ve coughed myself to sleep in the basement guest room, and as anyone who’s ever coughed herself to sleep can tell you, it’s slow going. I use the time to think about pressing issues like how much I like the taste of original Ricola, or how it could be that Alice’s feet smell so exactly like buttered popcorn, or how much I prefer haunted, unsmiling, True Detective-era Matthew McConaughey over other Matthew McConaugheys, even with the long hair that makes him a ringer for my uncle. Or, if I’m really on my game, I use the time to write in my head. Two nights…Read more
I got to go back
The first time I went to the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain was in the summer of 1995, a few months after a fire destroyed the lodge, its rooms and dining hall and library. I was sixteen, one of about a dozen high school students from across the state who’d been accepted to the summer program in poetry. Quartz Mountain is beautiful, an isolated chain of red crags along a lake in the southwest part of the state, but my introduction wasn’t poetic: because the library was gone, our class met in a trailer, with a limping air conditioner, folding tables, and a couple of electric typewriters that we shared. But our teacher was the poet Peter Fortunato, brought…Read more
Even on a good day
My mother has been in town since early this month. We don’t often get this kind of extended time in the same place, and I’d forgotten what a good cooking collaborator she is. She makes sure our wine glasses are never empty. She cleans up as she goes. She doesn’t mind deveining shrimp! I could go on and on. I bow down. At my reading in Madison last week, someone asked me to talk about a few of my favorite cookbooks. The ones I mentioned were The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, All About Braising, various Nigel Slater titles, and Every Grain of Rice, and because I am long-winded, my answer wrapped up, blah dee blah blah, about twenty-five minutes later, on the topic of…Read more
I picked up a roll of film that I shot at Sam and Megan’s wedding last month, and maybe my friend at the lab did some wizardry with the negative scanner, but the whole roll has this glowy, ethereal light shining through it. It’s a decidedly end-of-summer light. I like the way it makes me feel. The past few mornings, our neighborhood has been white with fog, this dense fog that blows up the street in visible gusts, and it feels so familiar and so welcome, but it is a decidedly not-summer thing. I’m writing this from an airplane to Chicago. Brandon is with me (!), and having had a lot of long days lately (hosting a dinner at Delancey…Read more
In early September, a kind reader in north-central Idaho left me a comment. Her name was Michele, and her Italian prune plum tree was promising a bumper crop: did I want some? This kind of thing does not happen all the time, or ever, so I said (yelled) yes. That is how it came to pass that last week, a box showed up on our stoop, containing almost ten pounds of plums cushioned in bubble wrap. I hauled it to the table and let it sit there for a couple of days, admiring it like an expensive flower arrangement, patting it softly like June’s head, before getting down to work over the weekend, freezing a pound of halved plums for…Read more
Whoa. I got sucked into a black hole for a bit there, a (very pleasant, very festive) black hole of weddings and out-of-town visitors. Somehow it’s now September 26, and I’m glad to be alone tonight, in a quiet house, with a so-so brownie that I’ll probably eat anyway, rain falling outside and all the lamps lit. Hello! Or, OH–LO!, as June puts it. In the weeks since I was last here, Megan and Sam got married, and Gemma and Christophe came to help us celebrate, and after that, my in-laws arrived, and now we’ve got a cousin from New York and her boyfriend in the guest-room-slash-dungeon downstairs. And because there is no one who doesn’t like tacos, for the past three…Read more
From the summer of 2006 until the early spring of 2011, we lived in a nondescript duplex on 8th Avenue that shared the block with some other nondescript duplexes and one notably terrifying exception that we referred to as Boo Radley’s house. I didn’t love the neighborhood, but it was mostly fine, and after we adopted Jack, I got to know it well, because Jack, being a terrier, needed a lot of walking. We found our habits. If the sun was out, we’d walk up to the P-Patch at 60th and 3rd and ogle people’s tomatoes and dahlias; if it was raining, I’d drag him for a quick loop around the block; and if it was evening, dark already but…Read more
I have a child who is about to be two years old. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but one thing I do not have a lot of thoughts about is a second birthday party. I could take it or leave it. For one thing, June doesn’t understand birthdays yet, so it doesn’t matter to her either way. Also, I am lazier than I let on. When your kid turns one, a party feels mandatory, because you kept a small human alive for an entire year and you survived it and bells must be energetically rung. Cake must be baked! BEERS MUST BE DRUNK! I am here to report, however, that a second birthday party feels much less…Read more
A couple of weekends ago, we packed up the better part of the restaurant kitchen, crammed it in the back of a pick-up, and drove two and a half hours east to cook an all-day anniversary party for a pair of longtime Delancey regulars. We rented a big house along the Wenatchee River, about ten minutes from the property where the party was held, and we brought as many people as we could fit inside, including a set of 8-month-old twins and one almost-two-year-old June. If you’ve ever been to Leavenworth in the summertime, you will remember how hot it gets. It hit 100 that weekend, and no one had air conditioning. The flies were out and biting. But the…Read more
A month of summer gone already! I don’t want to think about it. I rediscovered my Fuji Instax over the weekend and have been firing off shots like I were made of money. That’s another thing I’ve decided not to think about. I want June to have photo albums from her childhood – proper, three-dimensional albums! With the requisite wonky Polaroids! Like the olden days! Next up: suspenders and a paper route! – so I’m not allowed to fuss over the cost of film or the stupid, stupid, stupid flash that goes off whether I want it or not. Babies: they get your priorities straight. I appreciate that. Though I wouldn’t mind sleeping past 6:30 again someday. It seems like…Read more
It hit 85 degrees in Seattle today, and here in our city of no air conditioning, that counts as a heat wave. I know: talking about the weather is boring, blah blah blah, but on a cloudless day in mid-July, the best one can hope for, I think, is to have nothing but the weather to talk about. I come this evening, however, to talk about sour cherry milkshakes. I promised. Most of us know sour cherries in their cooked form, as the kind of cherry that you bake into a pie. I didn’t know them at all until five summers ago, the summer of 2009, when we were about to open Delancey and I had no idea how to…Read more
We spent half of last week on Lopez Island, staying with friends at the home of friends-of-friends, breaking in our sun hats, making buildings out of driftwood, wearing ourselves out so well that we were in bed before the light was gone, getting reacquainted with summer. Despite the fact that I seem to have filled my life with a lot of work and obligations and businesses and whatnot, I am not someone who enjoys feeling busy. I do not like to feel busy at all. I also do not like to set goals. But my goal this summer is to have a lot of days like the ones we had on Lopez, summer days like the ones I had as…Read more
Friday! It’s rainy here in Seattle, as it often is in June. I don’t mind, but I also wouldn’t mind being in a car on the road between Rome and who knows where in Italy, as I was on this day three years ago, when I went over for Luisa’s wedding.* Let’s go there for a minute. Maybe to a beach on the Adriatic. Ah. Earlier this week, I drove to Spokane and back, which is absolutely nothing like a beach in Italy but is still beautiful in its way, and because I was driving alone, I listened to Girl Talk “All Day” very, very loud and did a lot of “dancing,” by which I mean flapping my elbows wildly while…Read more
Run with it
It is 12:26 pm on June 23. I’m sitting at my desk in the window, which, if you were considering it, is a bad place to put a desk. What a person needs behind a desk is something sturdy, galvanizing, like a wall. Otherwise you’ll wind up spending your time as I am today: watching the world’s most subtle breeze blow through the branches of the neighbors’ tulip magnolia, wishing I were eating a cheeseburger. I’m slowly emerging from New Book Insanity. I am so relieved, so glad to have this book behind me and out in the world, and also so, so, so tired. Elated! Tired! Dead! (But hey, Spokane: I’m going to be in your town tomorrow night,…Read more
Hello from a train en route to Portland, Oregon! I’ll be at Jim Dixon’s Real Good Food olive oil warehouse tomorrow, Monday, from 3 to 4, if you’d like to stop by for some olive oil and a book, and then I’ll be reading at Powell’s on Burnside tomorrow night at 7:30. And then, on the way home, because I am an unstoppable book-signing machine, I’ll be swinging by the Bayview School of Cooking, in Olympia, for an event at 6:00 pm. If you’re in the area(s), come on out. Now, in the meantime, I promised you the recipe for June’s new favorite thing, which, now that I think about it, may also be my new favorite thing. The thing in question…Read more
I’d been planning to put up a post tonight about some meatballs that June has been into lately (MEAT! MEAT! she yells; I think you can imagine it). They’re delicious, served in broth with peas and grated Parmesan, ugly but molto Italian. But then, possibly because it is June 1st, the sun came out and the day got hot, and meatballs felt very wrong. Instead, first thing this morning, I texted a friend to propose a late afternoon trip to the beach with a picnic dinner for our two babies, who are really now toddlers. And then Brandon and I ran into a couple of new friends and their two children at the farmers’ market, so I invited them, too.…Read more
Come on down
Hello from a plane somewhere between Minneapolis and San Francisco! I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of days now, on trains and planes and more trains and planes, but then I wind up staring out the window or admiring the spectacularly bedazzled manicure job on the woman next to me or reading an entire Us Weekly over someone’s shoulder before passing out and suddenly coming to three hours later in a new city. Today, I will persevere! I will only read half of an Us Weekly over someone’s shoulder. I’m eight days into nearly two consecutive weeks on the road for Delancey. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be on book tour, even now that I’ve been…Read more
I’m typing this post from my cousin’s kitchen table in Oakland, California, where June and I are visiting for a family baby shower and have stayed long enough to eat four slices of red velvet cake, get stuck twice in rush hour traffic on I-80, and sniff every single rose in Rockridge while out walking the neighborhood at 6:49 in the morning, killing time before the rest of the family wakes up. We fly home tomorrow, and then, on Tuesday, I leap into that heady, unnerving thing called Publication Day, otherwise known The Day Your Copy of Delancey Will Finally Ship, If You Pre-Ordered It, or, The Day You Can Find It In Your Local Bookstore, If You Didn’t. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!…Read more
Maybe he’s right
This is the fifth granola recipe I’ve posted on this blog. Five. Five! Four more than anyone needs! I cannot be stopped! I’ve turned into your annoying great-aunt, the one who tells the same boring story about Eisenhower every Thanksgiving, over and over and over and over and over. I even have the requisite small crotchety dog and a banana-yellow Formica kitchen, circa 1960. My transformation is complete. I’ve been making granola regularly, at least once or twice a month, for something like fifteen years. I’ve gone through several recipes and versions, from the lowish in fat – a tragic notion that, I now believe, goes against the whole concept of granola – to the intricately spiced, thoroughly nutted, and…Read more
In the time since you and I last spoke, I’ve been to New Jersey and back for my sister-in-law’s wedding and, in the name of research, have eaten a lot of New Jersey bagels and New Jersey pizza. It was hard. And while I continue to dig my way out of the giant to-do list that accumulated in my absence, I wanted to quickly remind you: tonight, a crew of musicians is performing original music inspired by my first book A Homemade Life. 8 pm! The Royal Room! 5000 Rainier Avenue South! Seattle! Come on out! The whole concept is one of the weirdest, best things I’ve ever heard of, and I can’t wait. I baked four Winning Hearts and…Read more
That word is eat
June has mastered a new word, and that word is eat. It’s one of many things I like about her. Because Brandon works most nights, I get up with June most mornings. I have developed a condition that my friend Andrea calls Bionic Mom Hearing, so I sleep with earplugs and a pillow over my head. It’s a sight I think you would enjoy. But she manages to wake me up anyway (MAAA! MAAA!), so I get a bottle of milk from the fridge (prepared the night before, a small gift to my future self), retrieve her from her crib (“UP! UP!”), carry her across the hall to our bed, lie down and listen to her little mouth working at the…Read more
Housekeeping, and you will now have Hole songs stuck in your head
My publisher tells me that finished copies of Delancey, hot off the presses, are due to arrive in their offices early next week. (!) I have a lot of feelings about this, both of the excited and terrified varieties, because it means that the book will finally be done, donedoneDONE, but also that it’s too late to change anything about it, make it better, or otherwise obsess over it. It means that it’s no longer mine, in a sense. But on the upside, it soon will be yours! It also means that you should grab a pencil and get out your calendar, because I’m taking this show on the road. I’ll be traveling around, doing readings and signings – regrettably, not karaoke’ing…Read more
Call it a meal
We have reached the point in winter, or spring, or whatever it is, when even I am tired of making, eating, and talking about soup. I’ve been meaning to make a batch of vegetable and pearl barley soup for the past week, and I even forced myself to chop up everything the other night before bed, thinking it would inspire me to get on it the next morning, but, eh. Eh. I’d rather do what I did twice last week: throw a cauliflower in the oven, eat the whole pan, and call it a meal. Roasted cauliflower! Old news! You know how to roast cauliflower. I know how to roast cauliflower. But here I am, talking up roasted cauliflower, because this particular…Read more
A short leap
Our friend Ben is in town for a visit, and this past Friday, while we waited in line for lunch at Il Corvo – always worth the wait, in case you ever walked by and wondered – I told him about some lamb meatballs that I wanted to write up, but that I had a problem: the only photo I have is of the raw meat and seasonings in a bowl. Ooh, Ben said sharply, sucking air between his teeth, which I took to mean, That’s going to hurt. And yet. AND YET. Maybe it will ease the blow to know that the reason why I have no meatball photo is that, by the time they’re done cooking, they smell so…Read more
Felt like it
HELLOOOOOOOO I’m just off the plane from a week in Oklahoma City with June and my mother, clearing out my teenage bedroom. Fun-wise, it was right up there with surgery in the pre-anesthesia era, especially my senior prom Party Pics. On the upside, Mom and I made a wonderful pea soup (only with half the amount of ham hock, and with dried herbs instead of fresh) and worked our way through approximately four bars of chocolate and an undisclosed amount of wine, and I determined (take note!!!) that the only way to handle letters from exes and otherwise is to shove them dutifully in a box and then pray it gets lost in the mail. We woke up too early every day,…Read more
Always to acclaim
Happy Two Days After Valentine’s Day! I hope you celebrated in style, which is more than we did. I typed most of this post on Valentine’s night, while Brandon worked at Delancey, slinging pizzas for all the lovers. I did, however, rally to bake a banana bread. Nothing says, I love you (or, You married your grandmother), like a banana bread on Valentine’s Day. This is not a post about banana bread, just to clarify. This is a post about lime curd. Not lemon curd, but lime: “the superlative citrus,” as our friend Niah, who is also the bar manager of Essex, likes to say. And if it seems like I only post sweets and baked goods anymore, I know, I know,…Read more
Book update, housekeeping, la la la
It is with pleasure, great relief, and even greater trepidation that I can FINALLY say that Delancey, my second book, will be published in three months and one day. Right! Three months and one day sounds like an eternity. An age. But we’re closer than we were a month ago! Look at it that way. That’s the way I look at it in my better moments, the ones when I’m not staring at the clock. In the meantime, I get to present to you the book trailer, or video, or whatever you call it, for Delancey. My publisher and the video team did a beautiful job! Granted, I am not exactly what one would call at ease in front of…Read more