For the last seven Christmas Eves, I have made the gingerbread cake Claudia Fleming made famous during her time at Gramercy Tavern. The first year, I was so excited about it that I made it twice, first, for the holiday and then so I could tell you all about it because I think we all know that a Deb-fitted torture chamber would be me making some awesome cooking discovery and not being able to run to the internet to tell you about it immediately.
I have, for forever and a day, looked for a chocolate cookie I could crown with what I considered the highest honor one could bestow on it, declaring it the browniest cookie. I just didn’t expect it to take me so long to find what I was looking for. Along the way, I met cookies that suggest brownies; ones that are weakly chocolaty, better emulating mediocre brownies; those that promise soft but deliver chewy; and even versions that are a great chocolate cookie, but have little to do with the glorious puddles of square-baked halfway-between-cookie-and-cake batter I love to the point of distraction.
I’ve always been a little wary of commercialism here*; I don’t want to be yet another person telling you how to spend your hard-earned money or indicating in any way that there’s a correlation between buying fancy things and being a great cook. Nope, nope, nope. Because of this, we’ve only had one “gift” guide to date, a very basic one, a budget-minded kitchen starter kit populated with the stuff I find it hard to cook without; that was six years ago.
After coming to our senses about our dream of a Friendsgiving dinner party last month versus the reality of life with two kids, two full-time jobs, a small oven and a worrisomely low inventory of forks (seriously, where do they go?) we decided instead to have a Taco Dinner Party last weekend. Among our friends, in a tacos vs. turkey throwdown, tacos will always win. This might be why we get along so well.
The single most frequently asked (possibly rhetorical but I’ve never let that stop me before) question in regards to the sweet recipes on this site is “How do you not eat all of these?” And I finally have an answer: They’re not rugelach. I love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, I think snickerdoodles are wildly underrated, but rugelach — those impossibly flaky Central European crescent cookies — are the single item in the category of foods that are just not allowed to be here ever, because there’s something about the glorious harmony of it all (the salty cheese, the tart jam, the cinnamon aroma, the crunch, and if you love your people, the chocolate, gaaah) that it will not be safe with me. Or I will not be safe with it. Which is unfortunate, because I have an avalanche of rugelach in my apartment right now.
Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
This was my first summer having a garden and it coincided with the summer I hatched a new human and the themes of both keep blurring together: The goofy pride in growing things from seed. The occasionally overwhelming feeling that there are so many things and they’re all very hungry and counting on you to fix this. The twinge of sadness as they look less sprout-y and more robust. The urgency to not squander any of this.