on another note

during my move, i found a long-lost pair of slim silver hoop earrings.  they had slid between the wall and my nightstand at some point in life, and as i dragged my bedroom apart last weekend, there they were, clinging to the wall.  is it strange that amid all this bittersweetness, it’s a silly pair of earrings that brightens me up?  other things too, of course… but imagining wearing them with this dress i accidentally bought the other day


…i can picture myself being fun again.  cue sunshine and breeze through my hair.

moved

i didn’t know it then, but this is how i felt, closing it all up.

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i didn’t look over too many old things. i didn’t shuffle through many memories, or even think too many thoughts.

no, all that came later – comes now.

what i did was sit in my spot on the stairs and lean my head on the railing.
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as with so many endings, you can say to yourself this is not how it was supposed to be – but just the same you know it is time to go.

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i cannot say why my little place meant so much to me. not because i don’t know why. i know exactly why. i just cannot pin the meaning onto words.

but here i go trying.

the past six and a half years, and the life that has spilled beyond on both ends, have both wrung me out and sent me skipping.

and whether i was mourning the loss of nothing in particular, listening to songs in the half-dark light, sitting at the top of the stairs and casting my heart out the highest window…

or caught up in the thrum of laughter, of richest joy, over paper plates of hot food, of so many friends together at home…

that’s what my place had been.

for that lonely stretch of time – of hubris – when i believed the house i grew up in offered me nothing that i wanted – this little place was home.

so much of me happened there,
and i always thought the story would end differently.


i’m not sure what ending i had in my mind, really, but i was always standing on vague dreams of something different.  but if there comes a time when you realize your dreams have died under you, then someone has to call it.

i know that sounds dark: words too gaping for a time like this, when – really – i still have another home to go to. one that is warm, where the bed is soft, where the food is ready when i get there.

but still.
so much of me happened in that place,
and i always thought things would end differently.

earl grey tea cookies

before the almond cake came along, these were my favorite things to wrap up pretty and give away. because of the slice-and-bake method with which they’re made, the cookies bake up to be neat little discs that pack nicely into your desired container. a couple of years ago i stacked them inside cellophane bags, each tied off with a ribbon. this year i made a trip to the container store and bought a smart little canister to fill with them.

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these cookies are classic make-ahead fare. the log of dough can stay in the refrigerator or freezer until moments before you need them, at which time you can slice off a few or many – and before you know it, the scent of butter, vanilla, and tea is warming the air, and then toasty little rounds are sliding off the cookie sheet and onto a pretty plate (or into your mouth?…).

they’re a nice thing to have on hand for when plans change and you suddenly find yourself hostess – or perhaps when you pay a visit to an old friend and want to bring something sweet to go with the conversation. that was me just a couple of weeks ago, going to visit the art teacher who has known me pretty much my whole life. i am short on paintings to show her these days, but showing up with a plate of these cookies almost made up for it. (actually, it doesn’t come close. i miss the part of me that used to search to make beautiful things; i miss it dreadfully. but – i’m getting ahead of myself.)

and if you merely need an excuse to make some cookies, these ones cozy up quite nicely next to a steaming cup of simple black tea, which i find – regardless of the weather outside, which may or may not be winter-like – is a supremely comforting thing to come home to at the end of a night.

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Earl Grey Tea Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan, via smitten kitchen
inspired by Apartment Therapy’s the kitchn

Makes about 50 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves {I used the contents of 6 Bigelow tea bags}
2 cups all-purpose flour

  1. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ and the granulated sugar, and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the salt, vanilla, and tea leaves. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay; just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 ¼ inches thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)
  3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. While the oven is preheating, use a sharp slender knife to slice each log into cookies about 1/3 inch thick. (You can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about a ½-inch space between them.
  5. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are just browned around the edges. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature, or in the freezer for a month. Unbaked logs can be frozen for longer.

already procrastinating

i have had so much on my mind and not enough quiet café moments to put it all into prose.  for now, i will feed you recipes and hope better words will follow in time.

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almond cake

i cannot stop baking this cake.  it’s absolute perfection when you want something soft and dense (almost chewy) and elegant in the most unassuming way.  the warm almond perfume that wafts up from the oven as it bakes has become my new favorite scent.

Almond Cake

from Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
Makes one cake; serves 10

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, more for buttering pan
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (measured after sifting)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups sugar
7-ounce tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for sifting over cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Butter the sides and bottoms of one 9-inch springform pan; line sides and bottoms with parchment paper.  Butter the paper. (You may forego the parchment paper as long as you are generous with the butter on the pan itself.)  Mix together the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl. {The baking soda will make the sour cream expand, so use a bowl that has some extra room.} Sift the flour and salt into another bowl.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the almond paste, a little at a time, at medium speed, and beat for 8 minutes.  Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and mix until incorporated.  It will look curdled; don’t worry.  Blend in the almond extract and sour cream mixture.  Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, just until blended.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake about 1 hour.  It is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool in the pan.  When ready to serve, sift confectioners’ sugar on top and slice like a pie.

cinnamon-sugared nuts
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i meant to post this recipe in time for christmas, because loaded into a pretty glass jar, they make charming little gifts.

i at least thought i could post it in time for new year’s eve, when they would make a happy little home in a shallow bowl next to the bubbly and the little bites, should you find yourself at a dapper little house party.

but obviously we have now dug into the first week of january already…  so it’s a good thing these nuts also make a great snack to tote along, wherever it is this new year is taking you.

Cinnamon-Sugared Nuts

adapted from smitten kitchen, who adapted from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country
Makes one pound of candied nuts

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnut and pecan halves (I like about a 2:1 ratio in favor of the pecans)
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.