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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)