Oliver turned three a few weeks ago, and we had a birthday party for him at the local children’s museum with his closest friends. That morning we ate satsumas for breakfast as he helped me make the chocolate frosting for his cupcakes and put the sprinkles on each one. I told myself not to worry about the mess; three year olds aren’t known for neatness in the kitchen (or anywhere).
As with most kid birthday parties, it was exhausting and I barely had time to chat with any of the parents or even take many photos. You get home too overwhelmed to think about dinner and wonder why you went to the trouble in the first place. But then, of course, Oliver had a great time and was talking about it for days, and that’s really all that matters. We settled into the birthday weekend with a special lunch and O’s first haircut, and I baked up some of these Pecan Pie thumbprint cookies to test out for the holidays. They’re basically pecan pie in cookie form; what’s not to love?
In planning Oliver’s birthday, I made the mistake of not writing “no gifts, please” on the invitation, so he did get quite a few generous gifts from his friends and tore through them when we got home. Kind of mindlessly but joyfully, as three year olds are known to do. Grandparents also sent gifts, of course, as did Aunts. I tend to be a minimalist at home and hate clutter, so kid toys are a challenge for me and while we’ve started to think of smart ways to store everything, we’ve also started to think about really intentional gifting during the holidays and what we want that to look like for our kids.
At three years old, Oliver doesn’t have a concept really for what to expect from a holiday like Christmas. And I feel very conscious of the fact that now is the time to start setting a precedent. I read recently of a family who chooses a gift you “want, need, can wear and can read” and I LOVE this and want to adopt it. When our kids are a bit older, I’d love to plan a family trip instead of doing lots of gifts.
So as we sit here in the first week of December, we’ve got the tree up and the lights strung (with the yearly quarrel, errrr conversation, about white lights vs. colored lights – Sam being a champion for the latter) and are working to think of traditions we’ll continue and new ones we’ll make versus what big present we’ll get Oliver (or each other) this year. The zoo has a holiday lights celebration and we’re going to ride the Santa train to Snoqualmie to visit Santa (I may be as excited about this as Oliver). We’ll bake lots of cookies and visit the reindeer at Swansons. I’m hosting a ladies cookie exchange at the house with all the moms from our parents group, and hope to have at least one dinner party. All more memorable than the latest gadget or toy, for sure.
Those of you with kids: do you set any limits or constraints around gift giving in your house? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Truly. In the meantime, let’s bake!
A few tips for successful cookies: So these cookies are straight up delicious — or I wouldn’t share them with you. The actual cookie / thumbprint dough is perfect. You could fill these with your favorite jam if you’d rather. But if you’re going the pecan pie route, just take a few steps to make sure your filling doesn’t seep out of your cookie.
First, better to have a little too little filling than too much — don’t let it overflow when spooning it in. And thumbprint cookies always want to kind of crack a bit on the sides as you’re forming them — try to really minimize and smooth out the large cracks so the filling doesn’t seep out. Last, cookie scoops help speed things up here and make uniform cookies. I use a medium cookie scoop (about 1.5 tablespoons); it’s a great investment if you’re going to be doing much baking this season. Onward!
These cookies are a great one to pull off last minute as the dough doesn’t have to chill and there’s very little fuss. The number of cookies your recipe will yield will depend on the size of cookie scoop you use. If you use a smaller scoop than the one linked to above, you’ll yield more cookies (and, likewise, you could make larger thumbprints and only yield, say, ten cookies). It’s all good either way – just something to be mindful of if you’re baking for a crowd or aiming to get a very specific number of cookies.
A sidenote: I typically find recipes that call for 1/8 teaspoon fussy, but you’ll see that noted in the crumble topping below. Feel free to just use a generous pinch of each spice instead of digging for your 1/8 teaspoon, and you’ll come out just fine.
For the Filling:
For the Crumble Topping:
For the Cookies:
For the filling: In a small saucepan, combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the pecans and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool while you prepare the crumble and filling.
For the Crumble Topping: In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and salt. Add the butter and using your fingertips, work the mixture together until all of the ingredients are combined. Fold in the pecans (the mixture will be quite crumbly, but there shouldn’t be any floury bits). Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together both flours and salt and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using electric hand beaters), cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla and mix until just combined.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, continuing to mix only until all the dry bits are combined. Scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure there aren’t floury bits on the bottom.
Shape dough into even balls using a medium cookie scoop (or, if you don’t have one, use a heaping 1 tablespoon), placing them on prepared cookie sheet about 2-inches apart. Using your thumb, gently form an indentation in the middle of each cookie (start with a small indentation here. Be careful not to press all the way through to the pan and try to avoid deep cracks along the sides of the cookies as the filling can seep out).
Bake for 5 minutes then remove from the oven. If the indentations are starting to disappear, reinforce and widen just a bit with your thumb, again taking care not to cause cracks along the sides where the filling could seep out.
Spoon pecan filling just to the top of each cookie (don’t overflow!), and scatter a generous spoonful of crumble topping over the tops of each. Bake for an additional 5-8 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. The filling will firm up as it cools.
Cool on pan 5 minutes, then move to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies are best eaten within 3 days, and can be stored, covered, at room temperature.
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?)