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2.22.2015

She knows

I first met Lecia a handful of years ago, and I can’t remember how. We saw each other around, and then one year, maybe 2011, she took a leap and invited us to her family’s New Year’s Day party. We stood on the deck and talked, and the sunlight was warm enough that I didn’t wear a coat. I guess that was the start of something, but for me, our friendship got its footing while I was pregnant and she, a former nurse, cheerfully withstood my cross-examinations about epidurals and other hot topics of the day, and it has grown in the months and years since, over many meals that June and I have eaten at her table. Lecia is the best home cook I know, and also the most thoughtful. Every few weeks, if not more often, she’ll text to ask if we’d like to come over for dinner, always on a night when she knows Brandon is working and we would otherwise be home on our own. Always, I say yes.

June ate lamb for the first time at Lecia’s, in a stew with cannellini beans, and it’s where she first had halibut, too. Lecia has cooked mussels for us, and linguine with clams, and another spaghetti that I keep meaning to recreate at home, with Spanish canned tuna, capers, and lemon zest. She also makes a deceptively simple thing, this broiled zucchini with basil, that I could eat every day. Lecia is the person who pointed me toward this total winner from Jerusalem, and she also gave me my first taste of this dark, sticky ginger cake with fresh cranberries, which is so good, so so good, that as I type tonight, I want to bash my forehead on the keyboard because I forgot, whywhywhyyyyy, to make it last Thanksgiving, when fresh cranberries were everywhere. But, most important for today’s purposes, Lecia is the reason why I can tell you about Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous.



Whenever I say the name of this recipe aloud, I hear it in my head in a monster-truck-rally-announcer voice - ULTIMATE! WINTER! COUSCOUS! IT'S AWESOME AWESOME AWESOME! But I’m going to stick with it, because it’s accurate. This couscous is ultimate. It’s spectacular, absolutely spectacular, golden and warming and bright, with layers of spice and a subtle heat that makes everything thrum. The technique is simple. First, you roast vegetables with olive oil and spices: turmeric (attention! it stains!), ginger, paprika, red pepper flakes, cinnamon sticks, star anise, and bay. Then you add water, chickpeas, and dried apricots. While it all braises and melds, you steam some couscous with saffron and butter. Then, just before serving, you stir harissa and preserved lemon into the vegetables, which are by now fudgy and soft, and you spoon it up, and you are glad.

Like a lot of us, I am easily put off by long lists of ingredients. There are exceptions, but most days, I would look at this recipe, sigh, turn the page, and never look back. I would have probably never eaten it, had Lecia not made it for me first. But! As it turns out, a good portion of the ingredients list is composed of spices, which require no prep work. The overall labor is minimal. I cut up the vegetables and measured out the spices one afternoon while June was napping, and the next evening, all I had to do was turn on the oven, stir it up in a baking dish, and set the timer. I even forgot to add the water with the chickpeas and apricots, and it was still spectacular. Keep that in mind when you make it: yours will look juicier, and will in fact be juicier, than mine in the photograph above. Also, you should put some cilantro on it. Details, blah blah blah.

Thank you, Lecia.

P.S. This is great, and it made me so sad.
P.P.S. Ashley lives around the corner from Delancey and has an office down the street, and a while back, she gave me a tube of her cookie mix. This afternoon I finally made it, and: Ashley. You are a genius. It’s perfect.


The Ultimate Winter Couscous
Adapted very slightly from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi

A few introductory side notes: for the stock, I used Better Than Bouillon, and for dried apricots, I like Trader Joe’s “California Slab Apricots.” For chickpeas, I used canned. For harissa, I stole some from the Delancey walk-in, wa ha haaaa, but you can make your own, or you can buy it. For preserved lemons, we make tons of them at Delancey – preserved Meyer lemons, actually! The best – and use them on pizzas and in starters, and if you’ve got time, hey, you can make some too. If not, they’re usually available at shops selling Mediterrean or Middle Eastern ingredients, and I’ll bet Whole Foods has them, too.

And really, I know: this ingredients list is long - long enough that, in my experience, it can be easy to get lost and forget to add something. I’ve tried to make it more foolproof here by dividing it up according to what is added when. Maybe it’ll help?

First:
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
8 shallots, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

Then:
2 ½ cups peeled, cubed pumpkin or butternut squash (from a 10-ounce / 285-gram squash)

Then:
½ cup (about 70 grams) dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 cup (about 200 grams) chickpeas, canned or freshly cooked
1 ½ cups (350 ml) water or chickpea cooking liquid

Couscous:
1 cup (200 grams) couscous
A large pinch of saffron
1 cup (240 ml) boiling vegetable or chicken stock
3 tablespoons (40 grams) unsalted butter, diced

Last:
1-2 tablespoons harissa
1 ounce (28 grams) preserved lemon or preserved Meyer lemon peel, finely chopped
Cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 375°F, and set a rack in the middle position. Put the carrots, parsnips, and shallots in a large ovenproof dish (a 9x13-inch is perfect). Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, and toss to coat. Add the spices, cinnamon sticks through pepper flakes, as well as ¾ teaspoon kosher salt. Mix well. Bake for 15 minutes. Then add the pumpkin or squash, and stir to mix. Return to the oven, and continue cooking for about 35 minutes more, by which time the vegetables should have softened while retaining a bite. Now, add the dried apricots, chickpeas, and water or chickpea cooking liquid. Stir to mix, then continue to bake for 10 minutes more, or until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the saffron, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous, and immediately cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid. Set aside for 10 minutes. Then add the butter, and fluff with a fork until the butter melts in. Cover again, and leave somewhere warm.

Just before serving, take the vegetables out of the oven, and stir the harissa and preserved lemon. Taste for salt.

Serve the vegetables over the couscous, with plenty of cilantro leaves on top.

Yield: 4 good-sized servings

2.14.2015

Et voila

Yesterday morning, on my way into the restaurant, I stopped at the studio where I'm taking a pottery class and found that a little slab mug I made for June was out of the kiln and ready. I had glazed it in what was supposed to be a matte turquoise but came out more like forest green, and the handle was crooked, because I had rushed it. But in my hand, the glaze felt as smooth as a washed silk button-down I remember my mom wearing in the eighties, so I decided to get over it. I surprised June with it when I got home in the afternoon, and she thanked me with this gasp-and-swoon thing she picked up somewhere, very Lucille Ball, and then insisted that we celebrate with hot cocoa. Okaaaaay.


I wrote about hot chocolate here a long time ago - over seven years ago, now that I look it up: before Delancey, Essex, or June, and back when we still lived in that duplex on 8th Avenue Northwest with the white enamel table in the kitchen window and the neighbor who liked to do yard work by flashlight - and I still make that version often. If you're up for chopping chocolate, it's the best hot chocolate you can make. But if you're not up for chopping chocolate, maybe because it's the end of the workday and someone is standing on a chair at the counter, chanting "Make hot chockit, I wanna make hot chockit" like she thinks the words themselves will manifest the stuff, then you should make hot cocoa instead, and this hot cocoa is the best hot cocoa you can make.


I cannot take any credit for it, because I learned the recipe from my friend and Spilled Milk co-host Matthew. It is Matthew's Hot Cocoa.


It has only three ingredients - milk, cocoa, and sugar - and barely requires a measuring spoon. It's my favorite kind of recipe, in that once you've made it, you'll probably never need to look at the recipe again. It will be Your Hot Cocoa. If you are a person of class, you can serve it from an elegant teapot with teacups and everyone will think you are a wizard, and if you're not, you can serve it from the measuring cup you mixed it in and pour it into a homemade mug and seriously, get on it, before somebody "loves" the mug too hard and breaks it.


Et voilà.


Happy Saturday.






Matthew's Hot Cocoa

Matthew says that this formula makes one serving, but I find that it's also a nice amount for one adult and one young child. Be sure to use a high-fat, natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder, like Penzey’s or Scharffen-Berger.

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces whole milk, heated to just bubbling on the stove or in the microwave

Whisk together the cocoa powder and sugar in a mug, if serving one, or, if serving two, just do this in the measuring cup that you measured the milk in. Add a splash of the hot milk, and continue whisking until a thick paste forms. Continue adding milk and whisking until the cocoa is rich and well-blended. Serve immediately.

Yield: 1 serving, or two moderate servings

2.06.2015

That itch

I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I've gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn't feel right if she wasn't writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn't really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. (I also wanted, uh, just a little bit, to reach out and strangle her with my bare hands; she made writing sound so easy.) I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer - or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I've been at it for a while, I sometimes get a sense, just the faintest nudge of a sense, of what my friend might have meant. I'm best when I'm writing, even if I sit down at my desk without a thing to say, with only that itch to go on.


I am coming off a spectacular run of cooking failures. I curdled a batch of chocolate pudding - and then fed it to my kid anyway, because two-year-olds don't care if their "chockit put-TING!" has the texture of hummus. I also made a braised zucchini side-dish recipe that involved a whole stick of butter and was totally, totally not worth that stick of butter. (We smashed it to a paste, however, and used it as pasta sauce; that was tasty.) One morning, I drank half a cup of coffee too many and, while flailing around to my Guy Picciotto playlist on Spotify, made an obscure type of French cookie that, as it turns out, should remain obscure. I also made a tomato-rice soup that promised a flavor akin to stuffed tomatoes, and frankly, you know, next time, I'll just make the stuffed tomatoes. Meanwhile, the dishwasher quietly died, and one side of the sink stopped draining well, and then, late one night, I rinsed the sludge from a one-pound can of salt-cured anchovies into that side of the sink, and my status as a genius was finally, once and for all, secured!

On the upside, Matthew and I taped a fennel episode of Spilled Milk, and in doing so, I was reminded of how good, and how easy, a shaved fennel salad is. I've made it twice since our taping. And on Wednesday night, less than 48 hours after Luisa posted it, I made Melissa Clark's braised beans with bacon and wine, which is as good as Luisa promised. (I didn't soak my beans, FYI.) June loves it, though I'm not sure if her opinion will mean anything to you anymore, now that I've told you about the chocolate pudding.



It often occurs to me that nothing is more satisfying than a well-made pot of beans. Except I should add that the other night, while the pot of beans was burbling away, doing its thing, I watched this wise snippet from Frances McDormand, and that was also satisfying in its way. And then I got out the sewing machine that Brandon bought me for Christmas - which I just learned how to use on Monday, thanks to a lesson with Keli of Drygoods Design - and sewed two doll-sized pillows and one mouse-sized reversible blanket from some fabric scraps. As my friend Andrea aptly observed, my quarter-life crisis is coming along well. I love Andrea.

Ah! I feel better already.

Have a great weekend, everybody. I'll see you next week.

1.17.2015

We adopted the habit

Oaxaca! As I said, I’m no expert, but I can tell you what I liked. I hear that some of you are hoping to travel there, and I hope what follows is helpful.


This was our second time going on vacation with our friends Brandi and John. If you can find two people you enjoy and won’t want to stab after ten days in close quarters, I highly recommend it. Traveling with friends has allowed us to feel more bold, for better or worse, about long drives on mountainous roads in foreign countries, and about traveling without making a lot of plans, doing exhaustive research, or knowing the local language. Also, at the beach, two of us invariably want to swim while two of us want to lie around and read, so there’s always someone to watch the towels and bags! And should one of us just haaaaaaappen to get food poisoning, there are not one but three able-bodied people available to hunt down Gatorade and saltines. Perfection!


I should also add that this was our second time going on vacation without June. She is lucky to have grandparents who are happy to look after her, and I am well aware of how lucky that makes us, too. (THANK YOU MOM AND KATHY AND BILL!!!) I like the person that being a mother makes me, but I’m also immensely grateful to get a chance every now and then to not be a parent, and to be only a spouse again. Also: I sleep so hard on these vacations, so peacefully relieved of my Bionic Mom Instincts, that when I wake up, it takes a while before I can see straight and my head feels properly screwed on, like I have some kind of sleep hangover.


I don’t remember, oddly, how we decided on Oaxaca, but we began preparations early last spring, and once we’d booked lodging, we got tired of making decisions and left the rest up to chance. We planned a week on the Pacific coast of the region, plus a couple of nights in Oaxaca City. In the city, we rented a handsome, modern apartment through Airbnb, and for the coastal portion, we rented an airy house just outside of Puerto Angel, roughly six hours by car from Oaxaca City, for 78 dollars per night. For a whole house! With multiple hammocks! HAMMOCKS!


Though the drive along Highway 175 from Oaxaca City was, shall we say, athletic, we were glad we sprung for a rental car over a flight, because along the way, we stopped in the mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico and ate lunch at a tiny roadside place that I think was called La Morelita, where the kindly woman manning the fire made us quesadillas of grilled beef and chewy quesillo Oaxaca served with bowl of a garlicky salsa the color of a Creamsicle, and, when we begged, a single spectacular hunk of the smoky, buttery chicken she was grilling out front for her own family, wrapped in a tortilla. A week later, we were still talking about that chicken.


We arrived at the coast at nightfall and woke up the next morning to the view below, of which I have no fewer than a dozen pictures, taken at varying times of day, over and over and over:


Puerto Angel is a working fishing town. The main road is not paved and the amenities are basic, but it was a good home base for our week. (The main grocery store was well stocked with Principe cookies, of which we ate approximately three family-size boxes. For produce, we hit the region’s largest market, which takes place on Mondays in the nearby town of Pochutla.) There was a beach near the house, Playa Estacahuite, at the foot of those cliffs up there, a seven-or-so-minute walk past a few driveways and down a series of stone steps that made our knees wobbly. It was beautiful, a chain of small aquamarine coves with a few palapa restaurants on the sand, all serving seafood, cold beer, and whole coconuts with a straw for drinking. Our favorite beach, though - because that’s what you do on vacation: you devote your brainpower to ranking beaches - was a fifteen-minute drive to the west, at San Agustinillo, where the beach was less rocky and the water slightly warmer.


Apparently, the local beach protocol is thus: upon arriving, you choose a palapa restaurant, stake out a table, and that’s your camp for the day. You can leave your belongings there while you swim, and so long as you order food and drinks at some point, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want. On our first day at San Agustinillo, we happened to choose Restaurant Alejandra, mostly because they had an available table in the shade. (NB: there is generally little to no signage on the beach side of these restaurants, only on the street side. Restaurant Alejandra is toward the westernmost end of the beach.) As it turned out, we liked Alejandra so much that we spent three more days there, once even arriving in time for a breakfast of chilaquiles and staying till after sundown.

For lunch, we ate a lot of camarones al mojo de ajo, head-on local shrimp cooked with garlic and chiles and served with rice and a salad, and I usually had a Corona alongside. At some point in the afternoon, I got crazy and switched to a margarita. We also got waaaaaay into their camarones al coco, shelled shrimp that had been butterflied, pounded, breaded in freshly shredded coconut, and fried until they resembled latkes, also served with rice and a salad. You can also order any number of ceviches or other freshly caught fish and seafood preparations, or even a hamburguesa, but most of the tables around us ordered shrimp, so we adopted the habit. The local shrimp were fat, sweet, always perfectly cooked. The four of us could spend an entire day at the beach, eating two meals each and drinking beer, fresh juices, and water, and the total bill would maybe top out at 700 pesos, or about fifty U.S. dollars. Then we would drag ourselves back to the car and up the road, clean up with a brisk shower - our house, like most in the area, did not have hot water - and meet in the kitchen to muster dinner, which sometimes consisted largely of Principes.



We ended the trip back in Oaxaca City, an incredibly charming and walkable city whose architecture made Brandon think of New Orleans. I cannot say enough about how charmed we were by Oaxaca City - its abundant good food, its mercado, the apartment we rented, the artisan craft fair that happened to be taking place in the center of town that weekend. But I am hoping to wrap up this post and take a shower before my child gets home from running errands with her dad and hey, you’re probably not even reading anymore, anyway, right, so I’m going to give you the highlights in bullet form:

- We treated ourselves to nice dinners each night we were in the city, and generally, they came out to less than $25 per person, including tip. Our favorite was El Catedral. It looks a little touristy, and there were lots of us tourists there, yes, but the food was spectacular: mole amarillo, gorgeous steak, succulent pork ribs in green mole. We also went to Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes (duck tacos!!! Thanks for the tip, Alex Van Buren!), and had breakfast at Itanoni. (Reservations recommended for all but Itanoni.)

- Brandon did tastings at Vago and Mezcaloteca and brought back some killer mezcals for Essex.

- For great coffee (and, should you be needing a dose of Americana, spectacular muffins and banana bread), don’t miss Cafe Brujula. We particularly liked the Alcala 104 location, with its shady courtyard seating (and bathroom that smelled intriguingly(?) of dill pickles).

- Monte Alban! A short drive from the center of town - and utterly mind-blowing. I shot an entire roll of film there and was so excited to show it to you, but sadly, I forgot it at home when I took the rest of my film to be developed.

- And last but not least, the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, an indoor food market-slash-madhouse most famous for its smoky, bustling hall of meats. Here’s how it works: at one end of the hall, there are two produce stalls selling chiles, onions that look like large scallions, and salsas. Start there. Get some chiles and onions. Then walk down the hall and choose one of the meat vendors. (If you speak Spanish or are skilled at mime, ask someone which vendor is best. That’s what Brandon did.) Order some meat, and they will grill it for you right there, placing your chiles and onions on the coals underneath so they come out smoky and tender. Then take your cooked stuff, go back to the produce stall for salsas, and buy some tortillas from one of the ladies who offer them to you. Then take your feast to one of the nearby tables, and enjoy. It sounds complicated, and it is, but do it anyway. (Don’t go in there grumpy and starving, though; it’s overwhelming at first and might take a little time to figure out.) As Rick Bayless says, this might be the best thing you eat in Oaxaca.

Happy weekend, everybody.

Note: Travelers to Oaxaca should not drink tap water. Even the locals drink only purified water. Ice is generally fine, though, because it’s made from purified water. And you should be fine to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in restaurants: they’ve been washed and sanitized in mild bleach water.

Also: As it turned out, all of the places we visited and stayed on this trip would have been great for children, FYI.

1.12.2015

January 12

We got home this past Tuesday night, after spending Christmas with my family and then ten days in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a couple of friends, and I’m so relaxed that I can hardly remember how to type. I’ve never been particularly good at relaxing, but in the past year, I’ve started to get the hang of it: how to do nothing but read for an entire day, how to be a fair-skinned person on a tropical beach and not die of sunburn, how to drink a beer at noon, and how to enjoy swimming in open water without thinking about Jaws or that giant sturgeon they found in Lake Washington. Having just spent more than a week practicing my new skills, I can report that I am ready to go pro.


I took my old Nikon film camera with me and shot three rolls, which I should get back from the lab tomorrow. I’ll share them with you in a few days. In the meantime, I bring you some snaps from my iPhone. I posted a few of them on Instagram, and some of you requested that I share tips and recommendations for eating in Oaxaca. I am not any sort of expert on the region, especially since my Spanish is mostly limited to Donde esta el baño?, but I’d be happy to share the spots that we enjoyed and a few helpful details we learned. For example: tarantulas! Won’t kill you! Cuter than expected!


I hope your 2015 is off to a smooth start. After being sick for part of November and more than half of December, we’re elated to be healthy and are settling back into home with a batch of Granola No. 5 and a roasted chicken from Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful new book Date Night In. Actually, I should also mention that I’ll be leading a discussion with Ashley this Thursday night at Book Larder. Please join us!


I’ve never been a New-Year’s-resolutions person, but I like to set a few modest goals. In 2015, I want to make pottery again, take a writing class at Hugo House, learn how to sew, and read more fiction - starting with this stunner, which I took on our trip and, after a slow start, wound up loving. I want to write more.


Be back shortly.

12.20.2014

A good reason

WE ARE WELL! And now that I have dared to type that, I will spend the rest of the day sanitizing my hands, taking swigs straight from the echinacea bottle, and knocking on every piece of wood within a one-mile radius of my person.


And it’s the holidays! Right! A couple of weeks ago, during a reprieve between viruses, my mother, June, and I managed to bake a double batch of Russian Tea Cakes, a cookie that my mother used to make every year when I was a kid, back when she and our family friend Barbara Fretwell would hole up together in the weeks before Christmas and churn out eight or ten kinds of cookies and candies to pack in decorative tins and distribute to lucky friends around town.

I’ve written before about some of the recipes that my mother and Barbara used, like Chocolate Rads, Espresso-Walnut Toffee, and Fruit-Nut Balls. There were also cranberry-pistachio biscotti, and chocolate-dipped pecan bars with shortbread crust, and a cookie called an Apricot Crescent, with cream cheese-enriched dough and apricot jam inside. They even made mendiants. Opening one of their tins was like looking inside my mother’s jewelry box, rows and piles of color and shine. Maybe next year, I’ll tell you about their Linzer Cookies, the best Linzer specimen I’ve had. But they’re fiddly, and though Mom and I did manage to make some last week, I didn’t take pictures and instead wound up taking a nap. Russian Tea Cakes are easier, even if you’re short on time, energy, and/or holiday spirit, and they’re something that even a two-year-old could help with, sort of, if she doesn’t eat all the dough first.


I imagine you’ve heard of Russian Tea Cakes. They also go by the name Mexican Wedding Cookies, and probably some other names, too. Sometimes, to be frank, when I run across them out in the world, I don’t think Russian Tea Cakes are all that great. Some taste mostly of sugar, or worse, of flour. This makes me cranky. A Russian Tea Cake should be rich, tender, melting almost instantly when you bite into it. As holiday cookie recipes go, this one is plain, bare-bones: just six ingredients, a mixer, maybe 15 minutes to mix up the dough, maybe 15 minutes to roll the cookies, maybe 10 minutes to roll them in powdered sugar. But the return on investment is impressive: these things are so delicate, so buttery, so nutty, that people get grabby in their presence. They’re nothing new, no, but there’s a good reason why we still make them.


The recipe my mother uses was given to her by someone named Nettie Maxwell, the wife of a physician who was once in practice with my dad, and I have a xerox of it, written in Nettie’s looping old-lady script. While I would like to think that Nettie’s version is unique, there are tons of recipes out there for Russian Tea Cakes, and most are very similar to hers. I don’t think any of us can take credit. Nettie used pecans, so Mom and I do, too; it feels like the Oklahoma thing to do. But you could try any other nut: hazelnuts, walnuts, even macadamias.


Happy holidays to you and yours! 2014 marked the tenth year of this site, and I’ve had more fun here, and felt more fired up, than I had in a long time. I hope you felt it, too. I’m looking forward to 2015. In the meantime, we’re closing Delancey and Essex for two weeks to give ourselves and our staff a good, solid vacation. I’m hoping to do some writing and brainstorming, though I may just, I don’t know, take a vacation. Maybe. In any case, thank you for another year! I’ll see you soon.


Russian Tea Cakes
From my mother, via Nettie Maxwell

My mother’s version doesn’t call for toasting the pecans, but I think the cookies would be best if you toasted them. And it would be easy to do: before chopping them, pop them in a 325°F oven for a few minutes, until they’re fragrant. Allow to cool, and then chop away.

2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (about 50 grams) powdered sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling the cookies
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ cup (about 85 grams) finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted (see above)

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with handheld beaters), combine the butter, ½ cup powdered sugar, and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating just to blend. Add the pecans, and mix just a little more, until the nuts are incorporated. Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball, pressing in any runaway nuts. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 375°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, and allow it to soften for about 10 minutes before handling it. Pinch off small lumps of dough, roll them into 1-inch balls, and space them evenly on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until they are set but not browning – though, yes, the undersides will brown slightly. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Put some powdered sugar in a pie plate or shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the sugar, and then set them on a cooling rack. The sugar will only coat them lightly, and they may feel a little sticky. Cool them completely, and then roll them a second time.

Yield: about 40 cookies

12.11.2014

Gifts 'n' stuff, yo ho ho

Hello again, approximately four days later than intended. Thank you for your well wishes and general kindness. I am happy to report that June, at least, is back to health, even if Brandon and I both still look and feel as though someone has crammed our sinuses full of cotton balls. Or no, scratchy wool blankets? Wet down comforters? Wet down comforters! Anyway, we’re tired of it.


Of course, the days march ever on, and the holidays creep ever closer, so I’m trying to focus on that. Every year, I’m surprised anew by how much I like the ritual of choosing presents, bringing them home, wrapping them, and sending them off. Both this year and last, I am wrapping everything in plain brown kraft paper from the drugstore, stamping a label on the front, and then asking June to draw or paint whatever she wants on them, which usually results in a gift that looks like it was wrapped by someone in the midst of a grand mal seizure. I like it, and so does she.

Maybe you’re done with the whole gift thing, given that it’s now almost the middle of the month. But on the off chance that you’re still on the hunt and would like some help, I want to share a few of my favorites:


Who wouldn’t like a gift card to Heidi's beautifully curated Quitokeeto?

Likewise, a More & Co. gift card. Yes, please.

June is getting a stocking full of Mrs. Grossman’s stickers. This may be the single greatest idea I have ever had. I had a sticker collection as a kid - the only collection I’ve had of anything, really - and it still makes me happy to think of it.

Also, for a kid, or for anyone: a sunprint kit. Easy fun.

Grandparents the world around love a good family photo calendar. Pinhole Press’s are the best.

I bought myself a subscription to The New Yorker four years ago, and it’s the smartest thing I’ve done for myself as a writer. My dad used to subscribe when I was a kid, and I always thought it was intimidating and pretentious Dad Stuff, but hey: turns out, it’s a fantastic education, every single week. Yes, the pace at which the issues arrive can feel relentless, but don’t let it get you down. Just read what jumps out at you. I love The New Yorker.

I think I first read about this lip (and general skin) moisturizer on A Cup of Jo, and though I initially choked a little on the price, I bought it, and I love it.

My friends Christophe and Gemma, the people behind Lawson’s Books in Edinburgh, have just published Anna et Salomé, a stunning collection of photographs by Adrià Cañameras. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Two years ago, I gave a handful of family members boxes of kishu mandarins from Churchill Orchard, and they went nuts. It’s not especially cheap, and it’s a little tricky as a Christmas gift, since kishus aren’t ready for shipping until January or so, but it’s well worth the effort. Here’s what I did: I signed up to be notified when kishus were available, and then, as the gift to be opened, I printed out information about Churchill Orchard and stuck it in an envelope with a note. Later, when I got an e-mail notification from the orchard, I ordered the fruit, and off it went. My cousins and my mom still talk about those mandarins. Churchill Orchard’s pixie tangerines are also wonderful.

And last but never least, bake cookies! Make candies! Give a jar of homemade granola! Get the whole family involved, if the chaos doesn’t make your hair fall out!


(This is my niece Mia from a few years ago, by the way, not June. June is still a little young for beater duty.)

Here are some of my edible gifts from years past, and I’ve put an asterisk by the ones I’m making this year:

Granola No. 5
Buckwheat Butter Cookies with Cocoa Nibs
Chocolate Rads
Chocolate-Dipped Fruit-Nut Balls
Meyer Lemon Sablés
Real Danish Butter Cookies
Whole Wheat Sablés with Cacao Nibs*
Apple Butter
Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts
Chocolate “Blocks” with Fruit and Nuts
Three-Layer Peppermint Bark*

I’ll be back shortly with a recipe for a cookie that my mom always made for Christmas giving when I was a kid. x