[Winter beach, January 2012.]
In Maine, where my toes are chillier than usual and the clouds seem tangible (and puffy) enough to hold in your hands. The clouds here are different than anywhere else I’ve seen them: arranged across the horizon in great billows rather than wisps. The sky this week, clear for the most part, has been the purest, brightest blue, turning the river across the street into shifting shades of indigo and then grey when a storm comes on. I took a walk-run yesterday morning to the end of the street and back; the ice in the river whispered past creakily on its way out to the coast as I tucked my hands deeper into my pockets. The landscape is so different from what I’m accustomed to, but there is that same wildness, that same edge-of-the-land stillness I so love about California. If not for my truest love for the West I think I could see myself living here (well … maybe. There’s that whole deep-freeze thing.).
But: Maine. It snowed in the night and we woke today to sun pouring through the windows of the upstairs rooms; utterly gorgeous. A bluebird day* for real and especially special because I’ll never see one of those in San Francisco. We went for a swim at the Y (Kurt played basketball) and coffee in town and will cook and bake later — Emily, delicious appetizers and bread and drinks and icecream; Kurt the main meal; me a chocolate-hazelnut torte — a bit for my last night. I am leaving tomorrow and I … don’t … want … to go, though I miss my husband and it will be good to come home to rain and the 49ers game and my little comfortable things around me and not only in a suitcase.
We’ve eaten well this week as I predicted: sweet potato enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce, the best marinated and fried tofu and roasted cauliflower and carrots and some sort of scrumptious miso? dressing I must get the recipe for, beans from scratch and brown rice, mushroom risotto and an addictive brussels sprouts salad with grapefruit dressing, a decadent dinner at Trattoria Athena where we drank a bottle of the wine we so loved in Greece lo these many summers ago and I ate a piece of tiramisu that, yes, was probably the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve been inspired, as I knew I would with new cookery ideas, the impetus to step outside my comfort zone a little bit, to delve back into cookbooks more particularly to make such things as an easy and astonishingly delicious chard-kale gratin that tastes perfect alongside a fluffy pile of buttermilk-mashed potatoes or even a quick saute of garlic and chickpeas and greens …
[Along the Kennebec, January 2012.]
I like to do that choose-a-word-have-it-be-your-year’s-intention thing each year if I can. Sometimes it’s easier than others. Last year’s word was ‘peace’ but after getting engaged in February and planning a wedding in seven months there wasn’t a lot of ‘peace’ of mind for awhile. (Though, if I’m honest, there was peace in other areas; so, win some, lose some I guess.) Now it’s well in 2012 and around the first, when I decided to attempt to find a word, I couldn’t land on one. None felt right, nothing fit. Maybe 2012 will be the Year of No-Intention-Word, I thought, but still … I hoped something would come to me.
And then today! it did. From this old, lovely house in Bath where I type this, my toes just slightly on the side of freezing even wool socks, Fotis the grey-and-white cat asleep in a pile on the bed behind me, the San Francisco classical station streaming over the Internet to keep me company whilst I work, my hands warm in fingerless gloves, and a cup of tea steaming to my immediate left, I have found at last my word: make. It makes so much sense.
‘Make’ surely could’ve been last year’s word but I shall consciously apply it to this year instead. Always I am making: food, cookies, little cards, plans. But this will apply too to new friendships; books; others things I can’t think of at this moment but which probably are mostly food-related (of course). Like: make new dishes. Open up the cookbooks more. I can broaden my scope every night, make dinner less of a chore and more of a learning experience and then hopefully new things (dishes, ideas, a more cheerful attitude) will come out of that if nothing else. That gratin I made on Sunday in a riff from Alice Waters (‘The Art of Simple Food’) was so good and easy – why don’t I ever even open that one too much? I forget to make the time (get it?) to do that. I must make sure to open my mind up a bit more in casting about for new recipes. Cookbooks, even if I never strictly follow the recipe, serve to jumpstart the creative process for me. Remember this. And other things.
And then there is this, which I may just adopt for my 2012 motto: You have your whole life ahead of you. You will always have your whole life ahead of you. That never stops and you shouldn’t forget it. — Bill Bryson
(I love that.)
There also are almond butter cookies.
[Almond butter – + other stuff – cookies, January 2012.]
Thanks to Emily I’ve delved into the world of flourless baking and am finding it a new challenge and a pleasure. I’ve come up with a pretty decent recipe for gluten-free brownies as well as a decadent chocolate cake and ginger cookies, and am realizing there are many treats out there that are naturally flour-free (pots de creme, custards, rice puddings, milk chocolate puddings and the like). But the best, the best, recipe I’ve encountered and then developed a bit is for flourless peanut butter cookies.
What to say? These cookies are absolutely addictive. I made a batch a week ago and brought them on the plane with me, restraining myself from devouring them all. Of course, once here, they didn’t last long and so I made another round yesterday with special tweaks that I think made it the best version so far (and which I’m saving for an article, but I promise it’s worth the wait). I just devoured one, in fact, with my lunch. I will make some again very soon to send East to my grandma for her birthday, to make it special (OK, will stop now). From a spare ingredient list — 1 egg, almond butter, sugar, baking soda — comes a thing of beauty: chewy yet light at the same time, not-too-sweet, rich with nut nutter … these cookies are all good. Every single bite.
As is Maine, and my time here. I am so loathe to go but know real life beckons with its own particular goodness … back soon, for sure.
*Bluebird day: The most gorgeous day imaginable. A bluebird day is a bright, sunny day after a fresh snowfall the night before.
Flourless Almond Butter Cookies, adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
makes about two and a half dozen cookies
1 cup smooth almond butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside. With a whisk or a good wooden spoon (or with a mixer) combine almond butter and sugars until well combined. Add maple syrup, egg, and baking soda and mix well. Add the almonds and stir to incorporate. With a teaspoon, scoop out balls of dough and roll into balls, then and press lightly with a fork. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top of each cookie and bake for 10 minutes or so, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes.
To make vegan: omit the egg and add one teaspoon of cornstarch.