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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.