Look, guys, you’re never going to see my living room on a design blog. As lovely as the walls in landlord-chosen sallow yellow-beige are, as handsome as this coffee table once was (before the finish chipped off the top and we decided to ignore it until it fixed itself), and as charming as the explosion of half-deflated balloons, overturned fire trucks and other toys (some not even wooden, organic, or in sync with our decorating scheme, which, by the way, doesn’t exist) might be, this is hardly the stuff of Pinners’ Envy. Our parties are equally uncoordinated. There are no Mason jar cocktails with homemade bitters, flour sack table runners, or dishes sprinkled with fresh herbs from our window box garden (which also, uh, doesn’t exist, although if you saw the grime that accumulates on our windowsills from the avenue below, you might thank us). We’ve never sent guests home with a party favor aside from a hangover and we usually forget to make coffee at brunch. Our poor toddler has been deprived of organized birthday parties thus far, as I secretly hoped to stick with family brunches and homemade cakes (of course) until he was capable of expressing even the slightest interest in a more elaborate affair. (Although this year, he’s already made his intentions clear: “Jacob turn three. With cake. And guitar. And cake.” Noted!)
Every year around this time, behind the scenes, I go through my annual Macaroon Marathon, in which I decimate bags and bags of coconut in an effort to find a variation on the lowly macaroon worth noting, publicly. As evidenced by the fact that my archives are virtually coconut macaroon-free, I hadn’t thus far succeeded. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
When I was in the 4th grade, my lunch table mates had a habit of taking the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that their mothers had lovingly prepared, (trimmed of crusts, devoid of frights like gloppy grape jelly) opening them up, arranging some potato chips over the filling and smooshing the sides back together again before eating them. I don’t have a single other school lunch memory to draw from. I don’t remember if I ever ate a Sloppy Joe, if my school district considered pizza a vegetable, or whether my mother packed apples or cheesy poofs (likely the former, drat) in my lunchbox; I also can’t remember the name of a single person at that table. But I have a have a crystalline impression, unmarred by time (and, frankly, the current brand of early senility that has caused me to need 20-odd minutes to recall the word “unmarred”), of the odd delight that was those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; I remember their crunch and I remember how they tasted.
Every December, I make you a promise in my head that this, this! will be the year that I share a recipe for classic sugar cookies, the kind that you can roll into any shape your heart desires and sprinkle, then ice, glitter and bauble merrily into the New Year and this year was no different. But then December arrives and my cooking dance card is absolutely bursting with offers to fill your internet quota with cocktails and party snacks and wrappable candies and so, so many cookies. Cookies with butter and chocolate, cookies with puddles of mint; cookies with hazelnuts and blackberries or white chocolate and ginger and butterscotch, people. Is it any wonder that I always lose sight of loftier baking goals each year when faced with the prospect of butterscotch-crunched cookies?
And then, just like that, I decided not to work anymore. It’s weird, I finished my manuscript and I was raring to go — reshoots! edits! let’s talk design! — for about two days and then, almost out of curiosity, I closed the elaborate spreadsheet that
owns me tracks all the recipes, photos, intros and progress in the manuscript, just to see if it could close, after being open for more than a year, and it did. And then, I didn’t reopen it. I pulled on my boots and wandered all over the city, eating roasted chestnuts from a street cart, buying glitter nail polish, delighting in the carpet of golden leaves underfoot and being fantastically schedule-free. So far today, I drank a latte — sitting down I might add, and not while rushing to the grocery store because I ran out of flour again — and I’m thinking about making some applesauce. Or trying again to convince my husband that we should paint the living room. Or maybe I’ll take a nap when the kid does? Clearly, I have some tough decision making ahead.
As far as reentry* points to on-a-whim cooking go, these cookies aren’t the most obvious choice. I might have gone with something from the market, or something from a new fall cookbook or maybe just something practical that would feed us for the next few days, like a hearty stew.
My track record with hamantaschen — those three-cornered filled cookies traditionally limited to Purim, but shouldn’t be, because did I mention that they’re cookies? And you can fill them with whatever you want? — is abysmal. I can’t seem to find a recipe that allows them to be as fragrant, buttery, delicate and delicious as I believe they were meant to be that does not completely fall apart once baked. I suspect my insistence on finding my hamantaschen nirvana in a cream cheese-based dough — cream cheese, although tangy and delicious, seems to just flop down and laze about like a kitten in the sun once it hits the oven — plays a part although, given, my sealing technique also “leaves a lot to be desired”. The first year I attempted a recipe on this site, they puffed and pancaked open in the oven. The second year was no better. The third and fourth year, I didn’t even bother.