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.
White chocolate brownies have it tough. They share a name with a baked good that needs no improving on; their chocolate is rejected by self-titled “real” chocolate eaters for being a pale imitation of the rich, nutty and bittersweet awesomeness of darker chocolates; this same chocolate is so sweet that you must dial back the sugar in your brownies to adjust for it, removing moisture, risking leaving them cake-like and if it couldn’t get much worse, they’re barely white. More like, pale-yellowish-beige. Yum, right?
Because if I don’t mention this today I believe my husband will pop out of lurkdom and tsk-tsk me publicly for it, let me own up to one thing: I snore. Just kidding! I emphatically do not snore, not even when I have had wine with dinner and a lingering head cold and it would have been completely understandable. Not even then.