Fail Forward: Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

These were an abject failure.

I was born to write.

I certainly have the temperament for it – I am an introvert, and I over think everything. At a minimum I think writers need to be comfortable alone, stuck in their head for substantial periods of time.

#Check

But for as long as I can remember I have been jotting words down on scraps of paper and hoarding them. Sometimes these words come together with periods and commas and semicolons (my favorite form of punctuation. #TotalDork), sometimes they are occasionally formed together on the wings of a poem, and sometimes they remain just fluttering scraps of thought that I save, maybe waiting for their chance.

I have always loved journals and pens and the accoutrement of writers, but bar napkins, receipts, and matchbooks (from back when there were such things readily available) are all a part of the flotsam of my writerly (if not always writer’s) life.

I even remember my first typewriter: an IBM Selectric. I didn’t write much on that beige beast except for papers and other undergraduate work, but I lugged it around with me for years before finally donating it to Goodwill where I am sure it languished on a dusty shelf until someone decided to recycle it.

My behaviors are those of a writer – seclusion, procrastination, and moment- and memory-hoarding.

That writing is tragically hard for me is an unfortunate irony of my chosen profession. Writers complaining of the pain of writing is not unusual and indeed seems to be part of the job description. Every word you put on the page is a reflection of yourself shining glaringly back at yourself, like a mirror that doesn’t really allow for whitewashing of flaws or highlighting of assets. Writing is radical honesty, only self-inflicted.

If I am honest with myself, which I always try to be, writing is the most painful and precious and cutting place I have ever visited because, as a writer, even if I don’t write it down it stays humming around in my brain, and even if I do write it down and never read it, I know it’s there. There are blogs from the early days of Dane’s death that I simply cannot read now. They are raw streams of emotion poured on the page, the very essence of grief distilled in  a paragraph or two when keeping it inside was not a viable option.

So there’s that physical pain of writing the truth as I see it.

And then there’s the intellectual pain. Not the mental struggle to choose the right word or really be honest with what I mean to say and not give in to the urge to have some sort of flourish that is not me. Although this can be excruciating, in many cases time, work, and careful attention to words and the craft of assembling them can help with this, as can copious amounts of reading and patience and careful editing.

I am talking about that odious bitch, the Anti-Cheerleader. The constant mental struggle against feelings of inadequacy and doubt.

The clear knowledge that millions of people are writing AT THIS VERY MOMENT, and most of them are doing it better than me. That someone has already said what I am saying, and way better. That somehow, everyone’s thoughts are better than mine, and I am foolish to believe that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.

Do you see the trend? The Anti-Cheerleader assures me that I am unworthy, that my work is not worth the price of the ink used to print it out, and that I will never be able to find any value – monetary or otherwise – as a writer. And, finally, that I should not even be calling myself “writer.”

It seems masochistic to willfully  undertake something that continually reminds you how bad you are at that thing. And then to tangle your identity (“I am a writer”) all up in that thing? Well, that is certainly madness.

As it is a well-known fact that many artists are batshit crazy, I suppose a tinge of madness comes with the territory. But still.

Every time I sit down to write or I avoid sitting down to write or I read about someone who has sat down to write I am forced to confront all of these feelings over and over again.

But I was born to write.

I was born to the struggle of shaving words onto the page. I was born to turn the things I experience into sentences that mean something, even if they only ever really mean something to me.

I love words. I love the way they look on the page. I love the way they sound when they are spoken. I love the way they connect to each other and disconnect from each other and connect the people who read them with an invisible thread.

I love trying to figure out which word is exactly the right one, even if the word is simple and small and not flowery and worth 50 cents on the SAT.

Language matters, and it happens to be the currency in which I traffic.

For me, food is like this, too.

Food connects people in ways that even language cannot. I have been fascinated by food since I was young, especially the ways in which it brings people together. Aside from having to eat to sustain life, special moments are marked with food, and that food becomes the shared experience upon which lives are built.

But, as with writing, there are millions of people cooking better than I am. And developing better recipes. And just in general knowing more that I do, latecomer as I am to the whole business of cooking and eating, and with no formal training or work in the back of the house.

Writing + Food = Food Writing, which also = Nearly Paralyzing Feelings Of Inadequacy

And then there is this:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Hell, YEAH, it is.

Because there is ALWAYS someone who is better. Who knows more. Is funnier. Has tighter abs. Better hair. Whatever. Name it. Someone is better.

Which can be, I suppose, a bit of relief. There is no such thing as “the best.” Maybe it might be “the best right at this moment..whoops…not anymore,” or “the best for you with what you had at the time.”

I say this “can be” a bit of relief because most days, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), that doesn’t really help. I still feel like a huckster and a fraud selling skills which, if I actually possess them, are ephemeral and difficult to regulate and duplicate.

Then some days, quite accidentally, there is a shining bit of joy, when the Sunshiney Rays Of Competence dart through the Clouds of Self-Doubt And Despair with a crepuscular golden light.

Today is not that day.

My particular friend Khristian works with a lovely woman, Linar, who you all just WISH would teach your kids someday. Seriously. Her classroom (and her manner with the children and pretty much every person who crosses her path) is so lovely and loving and supportive that every time I see her, even my introverted self leans a little closer. Linar gave Khristian a bottle of rosewater, and he turned it over to me. I promised her a recipe using that, so here it is. Pistachios and rosewater is a classic combination, and macarons have been my archnemesis.

Turns out, they remain my archnemesis.

While the macaron flavor was delicious, they did not rise on glorious feet. The filling tasted like a mouthful of flowers, even though I was very sparing. Some might like it; for me, it was overly perfumed and not pleasant.

This is not the end that I expected to have, but there it is. It is important, I think, to discuss the hard parts, the failure, in cooking. It’s easy enough to make something look delicious; that’s only so much smoke, mirrors, and microwaved tampons.

Failure isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. If you must fail – and rest assured, you must – fail forward.

For the curious, here’s the recipe. I would advise you make these at your own risk, and if you do, let me know how it goes.

Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

Ingredients

Macarons

1/2 cup finely ground pistachios

1/2 cup finely ground almond meal

1 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

Filling

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)

Method

Line two baking sheets with silpat mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift ground pistachios, almond flour, and powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg whites until they begin to gain volume and become bubbly. When this happens, slowly add sugar until fully incorporated and egg whites are thick and holding soft peaks.

Add egg white mixture to nuts mixture and fold in vigorously with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.

Place macaron batter in a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or use a large freezer bag with the end snipped off) and pipe into circles onto silpat (which may have guides on them already). Bang cookie sheet on the counter to settle the batter (just a couple good whacks) then let macarons sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The macarons need to dry and form a skin, of sorts, in order to get a good lift while baking and have visible “feet” (the frilly part on the bottom of the cookie).

When the top of the macarons are dry to the touch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for nine to 12 minutes or until they are crisp outside. Cool completely before removing from silpat and filling.

To make the filling, combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, beating with a hand mixer until it thickens and is hot to the touch. Remove bowl from water and, still mixing, add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated.

Continue to beat this mixture until it thickens and has the texture of light frosting. Add rosewater to taste and stir to combine.

Pipe a circle of frosting on the flat part of one macaron, and top with another.

Recipe Notes

I do not use food coloring, but if you do, the macarons can be colored with two drops of green, and the filling can be colored with one or two drops of red.

Macarons should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a day or two. They also freeze well.

How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Impossible Pie, Among Other Things

Less impossible than you might think – easy as pie!

This morning I had grand plans to get all sorts of things done. Normally I teach yoga mid-day on this day, but that was cancelled, freeing up a huge chunk of time between now and when I need to go teach small children to be the best version of themselves (kids’ yoga at an after-school program).

I even thought I’d get dressed instead of working in my jammies all day.

Instead, I spent two hours on the phone with the Maryland Health Exchange, trying to get them to understand that there is no way I would have scheduled a $1,200 physical for my healthy child when I could have gone to a clinic and had it done for less than $200 (or free, thanks to Planned Parenthood).

Full disclosure: I am a HUGE supporter of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). My insurance costs less, has a lower deductible, and covers more than the insurance I have had since 1998 (when I was a teacher in the Seattle Public School system and my entire pregnancy and delivery cost $10). I know it has issues, but let’s take a look at those, shall we?

The physical for my healthy child cost ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. That’s what the insurance company charged for a doctor to take temperature, feel pulse, ask some questions, and test reflexes. There was some blood drawn, and she had one shot (all of this was to study abroad).

Let me reiterate: the insurance company charged $1,200 for a routine physical that lasted less than 45 minutes.

Not to get all political, but the problem with ACA is NOT the bill or the color of the president’s skin. The problem is with the idea that a routine physical should cost as much as a scooter. Or a junky but functional used car. Or a mortgage payment.

The insurance company blamed the Maryland Health Exchange. The Maryland Health Exchange blamed the insurance company. I tried to get the guy on the phone to understand that as a single parent freelance writer and cook, there is no way in hell I would have taken my kid to a fancy-pants doctor without active insurance when I could walk down the street to a clinic and get the same end result (“Your kid is healthy.”) for a tenth of the cost.

There are some things that seem impossible:

  1. Convincing the insurance company that they made a mistake.
  2. Convincing MD Health Exchange that they made a mistake.
  3. Getting the two parties to work together without placing blame – just fix it.
  4. This pie.

Weird segue, I know, but guess what? Some days, most days these days, pie is necessary but a total PITA. Yes, I know some people feel that rolling crust is very therapeutic, but for me crust has never been easy or fun. I have a few excellent crust recipes, but some days (most days these days) easy and fast are key.

I found this pie online and thought that there was no way in hell it would work. Basically you stir everything together in one big bowl and then it all magically separates as it bakes into crust, custard, and topping. It makes no sense, and it sounds like it would turn out to be like a gross sweet egg mess.

But guess what? The Impossible Pie worked, and it was delicious.

Impossible Pie With Lime And Coconut

Mad props to the original recipe, but I made a few changes. I had no lemons, so I subbed lime and upped the zest. I also cut the sugar and used my gluten-free all-purpose flour. I can’t hardly believe it worked.

Ingredients

4 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups whole milk (NOT skim)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

zest of 2 limes

juice of one lime

1/2 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup coconut flakes

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan. I used cooking spray because I am lazy AF. Just make sure you butter/spray and flour well or the pie will stick.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until they become pale yellow. This may take five or so minutes. The mixture should flow off the beater in a pale ribbony stream.

Add melted butter and milk and mix, then add vanilla, lime juice, and lime zest. Mix to combine, then add flour and mix until combined (no lumps).

Add coconut and gently mix into batter.

Pour mixture into prepared pie pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the center is set but still wobbly.

Cool on the counter, then chill in the ‘fridge for at least two hours (better to cool overnight) before serving.

Recipe notes

  • You can use sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes. I used sweetened because I cut the sugar and it’s what I had, but you could use unsweetened with very little difference.
  • Regular flour works here, too.
  • The original recipe talks about eliminating the coconut, but I can’t get behind that. If you don’t like coconut, make another pie, ya feel me?

World’s Best Brownies

I can eat, and have eaten, my weight in these.

The past six months have felt like one of those days, haven’t they?

It seems like the world has gone utterly mad, leaving many of us standing around, clutching at our chests in shock and wondering what exactly the hell just happened.

Every day, things seem to get more intense. It’s a looming sense of dread, an unidentifiable malaise so that even if things are going okay in most ways, you still feel anxious and crazy and on edge.

If you are a follower of astrology, you might blame Mercury, which seems to always be in retrograde these days.

If you are a follower of psychotherapy, you might blame your parents.

Or maybe it’s the jerk in front of who Doesn’t. Know how. To drive.

Maybe you have turned the fucker off and then back on and it still doesn’t work.

Maybe your kids are assholes, or your spouse.

Or maybe it’s just you.

No matter.

Some days, for the love of all things (un)holy, you just want something to work, every day, all the time, without thinking about it.

For you, JUST FOR YOU, I present you with the world’s best brownies.

Don’t get me wrong: there are other plenty delicious brownies out there. But these brownies are utterly impossible to ruin. You can’t cook them too long. You can’t undercook them. You can add pretty much anything you want, and they will still be delicious. And they are done in 30 minutes, start to finish.

Two summers ago we had family in town, and I would make a pan of these every night. We are lucky enough to have a soft-serve ice cream man in the neighborhood; we would buy ice cream and eat it with these brownies every. Single. Night. Some nights the ice cream man was late and the brownies cooked longer; others he came a bit earlier and we were forced to eat them still warm and slightly oozy. All agreed that there was no one good way to make that magic happen – all ways were equally delightful.

Chances are good that you have everything you need in your pantry to make them RIGHT NOW.

If your day sucked, if you just need ONE THING TO GO RIGHT, here you go.

You’re welcome, and I love you.

World’s Best Brownies

Note: See recipe notes for adaptations.

Ingredients

½ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Method
Preheat the oven to 350⁰. Grease an 8”x8” glass baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl, mix together the wet ingredients, whisking until the egg and oil are both completely incorporated.

SIDE NOTE: There are those who would argue that the eggs should be beaten separately until they become pale yellow and drizzle off the whisk in a smooth yellow ribbon before adding the dry ingredients. If you have the patience for this, this beating results in a lighter brownie. If not, simply whisk until egg and oil are smoothly incorporated and proceed.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix completely until there are no lumps. Stir in any additions you choose, then pour into prepared baking dish. Bake at 350⁰ for 22-25 minutes. The center will still be fairly wet, but the edges may begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely before serving.

Recipe notes

  • You can also use regular AP flour. If you are GF and use other GF flour, I cannot guarantee the same results. For best results, please click the link for all-purpose gluten-free flour and check out my very easy recipe. Alternately, if you are in Baltimore city, you can order food from me and add on five pounds of my gluten-free flour, which I will then come deliver to you. I’m just saying.
  • Vegan? Sub 1/2 cup pumpkin or one mashed banana or 1/2 cup applesauce for the egg. Or get rid of the oil altogether and sub a similar amount of pumpkin, banana, or applesauce. Seriously. It’s really that easy.
  • Optional add-ins: ½ cup chopped nuts or ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or ½ cup peanut butter or butterscotch or mint chips (or any combination). Dried fruit is also delicious, like ½ cup dried cherries or blueberries.
  • Cutting back on sugar? Use 1/2 cup of sugar instead of 3/4 cup. Seriously.
  • I haven’t tried this yet because it seems a bit like gilding the lily, but the next time I make these I am going to throw in some toasted coconut and then frost the cooled brownies with vegan coconut frosting. That frosting, too, is easier than it ought to be: Chill a can of full-fat coconut milk overnight, then remove the solids (save the water for smoothies, or freeze it in cubes and use it to chill juice). Add a wee bit of powdered sugar and whip the hell out of the it with a hand mixer. Frost. #Boom

 

How To Care For Others: Biscotti And Golden Milk

On my 30th birthday, my father asked me to shave his head.

He had just started a round of chemo and was beginning to lose his hair, fine tufts of fine hair that were beginning to come out in clumps and clog the drain. He figured he would head the eventuality of baldness off at the pass and just shave his head to see what kind of egg he would be dealing with.

He carried the stool out to my parent’s deck in Peachtree City, Georgia. They lived at the very back of a wooded cul-de-sac, cut through with golf cart paths. It was March, and fairly warm. He had already sharpened and oiled the clippers and draped an old towel over his clothes.

He turned around to look expectantly at me as he walked through the screen door.

I told him no. I couldn’t do it.

So now, instead of my 30th birthday being the day that I shaved my father’s head, it’s the day I refused to shave his head. I can still see my stricken look reflected in his eyes. He was trying to make the best of a situation, and I was not quite able to ride shotgun for that.

For many people around me, the holidays seem like that this year. Like me with my dad and his shaved head, many people are trying to be cheery and go along for the ride, but cannot quite get there. Behind their eyes I can see the despair and anguish and quick darting glances, looking for an escape hatch. Literally. They have in their looks the knowing of a deeper, harder, longer road ahead, no matter how sparkly the tinsel or bright the lights.

All things being equal, and with my personal year of hell and death in 2013 being the high bar for awful, this year has not been terrible for me. I fell in love, worked hard enough and saved enough pennies to send my kid to France, and started a new business cooking for people. I have had a couple parties with really wonderful people, and I will ring in the new year with one of my oldest friends and his wonderful wife and kid(s). On an individual level, things have been okay.

Nationally and internationally, the world is folding in on itself. Implosion isn’t the right word for this descent into hell that humanity is experiencing. Hate crimes, genocide. Violence and fear.

Things feel desperate and washed out at the same time. If the water is rising but there are no boats and you can’t swim, what the hell are you supposed to do?

I think the only thing for me is to alternate between taking care of myself by turning off the internet and social media so that I can read, write, and engage with myself and welcoming people into my home (or, in the spirit of the crappy dinner party, popping in to theirs).

After the holidays, I have Galentine’s Day on the horizon in February, but in the meantime I have started to line my nest with comforting food-type things. I baked cookies and caught up with my friend Terri at her house last week, and this week I have been sipping Golden Milk and making biscotti.

I know, I know: the last thing people need is another holiday cookie. I prefer to think of this as Winter Breakfast.

This biscotti recipe has infinite variations and is very, very forgiving. It takes a little over an hour, most of which is baking, but the flavors just get better as they sit, so make a double or triple batch and let them sit on the counter for whenever you want a snack.

As I am overly fond of rosemary, I have used it liberally. Feel free to modify any and all amounts to your taste; suggestions are listed below the recipe.

Make sure and take good care of yourself and keep the connections to your people strong; ask for and offer help. Notice when someone isn’t doing well and make some sort of gesture to lighten their day.

And if all else fails, feed them biscotti.

Biscotti With Rosemary, Lemon, and Cherry

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 spring rosemary, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cherries chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, salt, and baking powder, rosemary, and lemon zest and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugars, olive oil, and eggs and mix thoroughly. Use a spatula to add flour, completely incorporating both mixtures.

Add cherries and mix.

Divide dough into two and place on parchment paper. Shape into six-inch logs that are about three inches wide.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log into one-inch slices. Place sliced side down on the parchment paper and bake again until fully crisped, turning over once, for a total of about 20 minutes.

Let cool thoroughly. Store in airtight container, or give away. You can’t really go wrong.

Recipe notes:

  • Add ginger, cinnamon, and chopped chocolate for gingerbread/chocolate biscotti.
  • Orange zest and cranberries (and maybe toasted chopped walnuts) are very festive.
  • Dried blueberry, lemon zest, and fresh chopped thyme are also ridiculously delicious.
  • No need to use best-quality olive oil.

Golden Milk

In the beginning, there were spices…

Note: Many claim that this will cure what ails you. Improved digestion, decreased inflammation, and improved sleep are just three of the many touted benefits. I find it warming and comforting and delicious. Whatever is good for me is a bonus.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

pinch black pepper

2 cups milk of your choice

agave, to taste

Method

For best results, place all ingredients (except agave) in a blender and blend until smooth. Place this mixture in a pot and heat, adding agave to taste.

Recipe notes

  • Coconut milk is often suggested for its benefits. Whatever you choose, use the unsweetened variety.
  • You can also use fresh ginger and turmeric instead, but powdered is a fine substitute.