I stood in line at the post office for well over an hour last week and Sam got his turn yesterday. We’re not even procrastinating this year, but the season sure has a way of sneaking up — full force — on us all at some point, doesn’t it? Many evenings over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching holiday cooking classes at The Pantry, and because of this I knew my own baking may end up taking the backseat, so I did a little advance planning and made and froze dough ahead of time so things would feel less harried right. about. now. Because soft, fragrant cocoa-kissed gingerbread cookies should be the fun part — waiting at the post office? That’s another story.
After my last post, I got a handful of emails about how some of you feel downright sad during the holiday season and you don’t know why, or you’re not sure how to find that joyous feeling that a lot of your coworkers seem to have. My sister Zoe shared a story with me last night that made me smile and think about the different ways the holiday spirit finds us. A girlfriend of Zoe’s from college recently had her car broken into and her bag stolen. In the bag were all of her holiday cards, ready to be mailed. Of course, calling and replacing credit cards and dealing with the immense hassle of a car break-in is one thing, but having worked on a personal card, knowing now that family and friends won’t get it this year is another.
Well just yesterday, friends in Zoe’s sorority started receiving the cards. Word started spreading from pockets around the country: the thief had sent the cards! The news is grim out there, it’s true. I give myself very controlled parts of the day in which to keep up with it so as not to bring down my time with family or interfere with my workday. But then every now and then, there are stories like this that show a tiny pocket of odd, unconventional holiday spirit – but holiday spirit none the less. Sure, this person is still very much a thief and nothing about what they did should be lauded… but they’re a thief that decided to help spread a little spirit this season, too. I’ve been doing my share with cookies this year. I worked on this recipe and got to say a few words about baking with kids in the kitchen for Garnet Hill (thus the reason I’m wearing lipstick and look so calm while decorating with Oliver). Much like sugar cookies, this is actually a great recipe to have kids help with the decorating: I piped the frosting and Oliver placed the little cinnamon hots or sprinkled on the colored sugar. He points at each of them and says “mine” as if he owns the whole cookie lot, when really we’ve been gifting and giving them away. But he’s very proud to have helped, and I’m happy to have begun the tradition with him.
I’ll see you back here in 2018, friends. It was a hard year in many ways collectively, and a wonderful year in other ways, too. Sometimes it feels like food is a funny, trite thing to focus on when there are so many other things to write about and photograph today — things that may do more good perhaps? But then I remind myself that feeding each other well is the start of it all, it’s where we begin and fuel our days and where we check in with one another. So let’s meet back up at the table in 2018. It’s a good place to start.
If you’re celebrating the holiday, I hope you have a wonderful, restful time with your people and are able to find (and spread) a little holiday spirit of your own this week. Happiest of holidays to you.
Gingerbread cookies during the holiday season are a tradition in our house, and this recipe isn’t shy with the warm spices or molasses. Orange zest and cocoa powder add another layer of flavor, and a simple vanilla icing makes them quick to decorate (even for small hands). One note on cookie preference: some people like soft chewy gingerbread cookies and others like them snappy and crisp. You can get exactly what you want here — for thinner, more crisp cookies, you’ll just want to roll your thinner men (1/8-inch). Remember, they’ll continue to firm up as they cool, so the fact that they feel soft to the touch right out of the oven doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll stay. A good rule of thumb, I find, is to pull them from the oven just before you think they’re really done.
For the Cookies:
For the Icing:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and allspice on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Add the molasses, egg and orange zest and beat until fully incorporated.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until just combined (be careful not to overmix here).
Divide the dough into two even pieces and place on separate sheets of plastic wrap. Form into a chubby disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough on a well- floured surface until about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thick (thinner if you like your cookies on the crispy/snappy side). Cut out as many cookies as you can get from each disk, and transfer the cut-out cookies onto the prepared baking sheets. Reroll the dough scraps and cut out additional cookies (you can re-roll one time; after that, I find the dough is too warm and it can become tough – in this case, simply refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and re-roll). Continue until you’ve used up your dough and cookie sheets are full.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are firm around the edges (they’ll be slightly puffed and a little soft in the middle). Allow them to cool for five minutes before transferring to cooling racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing: in a small bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. The icing should be thick but smooth enough to pour – if it’s too thick and would be too hard to pipe, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin and runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Transfer to a plastic bag and snip off a small corner to allow for piping (or, if you have a piping bag or squeeze bottle, those are great, too).
Pipe onto cookies, and set aside for at least two hours to allow the icing to firm up. If adding any sprinkles or candy decorations, do so while the frosting is still wet. Cookies are best enjoyed within five days of baking, but if kept airtight, should keep for 7-10 days.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.