I received a note in the mail recently. Addressed to me, obviously, but in my own handwriting. A strange sense of familiarity struck as I stared at it, trying to figure out when exactly I’d addressed it. In Boston? In San Francisco? Maybe it was a mistake, a card I’d meant to send to someone else but accidentally sent back to myself (stranger things have happened). I stared at the envelope turning it over and over in my hands–still nothing. I opened it to find a single card with my name printed at the top.
Have fun. Don’t be scared. Dare to love again.
The note was in my writing, and it was from practically two years ago. I vaguely remember how I felt when I wrote it: Small. Uncertain. Fragile. After moving to San Francisco and realizing pretty quickly that I’d be going it solo, I started doing yoga almost every day just to clear my head and, frankly, have an excuse to get out of the apartment. I remember New Years Day when everyone (including my own parents) was hung-over after too much partying the night before. The light was soft and yellow that morning and the streets were completely empty. I was up early, made a pot of coffee, sat in my little window nook overlooking the city, and decided yoga was a good way to escape all of the New Years Resolution-ness that was bound to start weighing down on the day. I strolled into class, rolled out my mat smack in the middle of the room and sat on down.
We did very little yoga during that class. Instead, we did this exercise that I felt pretty uncomfortable with at first; it seemed too touchy-feely yet everyone was participating and there was no way to sneak out of the room. The teacher had these little wispy papers that deteriorated when you lit them on fire. So we wrote three things we wanted to let go of in the coming year and took turns coming up to the front of the room and burning them. I remember it all being strangely emotional–emotional in a very public way. Usually I would’ve put my guard up and excused the activity as silly, but I let myself actually take it all in and feel that day. We talked a little about our hearts. Everyone had a story.
At the end of class we wrote a note to ourselves that listed three things we wanted to work on in the coming year, three bits of advice. The instructor collected them and promised she’d send them sometime in the future but wouldn’t say exactly when. So here we are, and it’s a very different kind of day, week, year, isn’t it? I hardly recognize or remember the Megan that, shakily and tearfully, wrote this note. And I keep staring at it in awe and gratitude that I’ve been so blessed with a family that encourages following your heart; friends that encourage laughter, cocktails, eating out, and ice cream cones; and, of course, Sam.
So what would today’s note read? I think my advice to myself would be a little less grand in scope. I recently quit my very part-time retail job at Heath Ceramics to make more space for writing and Marge. The discount at Heath is pretty hefty and generally when people quit they make a few large purchases to round out their collection. But on my last day I looked around the shop and couldn’t think of much that I needed. I ended up buying a small bottle of good olive oil and some coffee beans. Daily pleasures I’ll use often–nothing grand, nothing showy, nothing that takes up much space. Because my life is so full on this Saturday in late September.
This weekend I’m traveling up to see Sam for almost a week. When you have been counting down the days and hours until you’re back in each others’ arms, cookies are a darn fine distraction. And not just any cookies, but wonderfully chewy ginger cookies that are soft on the inside yet slightly crackled on top. They’re nothing like light, crisp gingersnaps; they’ve got a little more heft. They’ll make your kitchen smell like fall in one moments time and are perfect for slicing off little bits throughout the evening if you happen to be up working at your desk late at night. But tomorrow they travel to Seattle. Where I’ll be for the longest visit yet. I’ll take some photos and bring them back to you. Maybe in the meantime, you whip up a batch of cookies.
Like many good things, this cookie recipe is the result of an accident (well, really, two accidents) while I was studying at the San Francisco Baking Institute. The first time I miscalculated the amount of flour and the second time we misread the spice profile. Both mistakes have given me one of my favorite fall cookie recipes of all time. Do use bread flour here instead of all-purpose flour: the higher gluten-content is integral in achieving the nice heft and chewiness that these cookies are so good for. Make a double batch; they freeze beautifully.
Preheat the oven at 350 F.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer or in a separate bowl using electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar until well combined, about one minutes. Then add the egg and molasses and mix until just combined, 20-30 seconds. Add all of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated (don’t overmix here).
Using a large tablespoon or ice cream scoop (see note) portion out roughly 2 ounce balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until the tops and edges are golden brown and slightly crackled. The very center can remain slightly soft and even just a tad jiggly. When the cookies cool, they will firm up, leaving the inside and center wonderfully soft.
Note: I use a blue scoop (2 ounce, #16) for most cookies in the bakery and at home. It makes for a larger cookie.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.