[Caramels, December 2008.]
Last week the moon came out early — during the day, even, so I saw it as I walked to the bus in the late afternoon lingering light — and it was just a slim sliver, a perfect crescent. I wish I could have shown it to you it was so pretty (I tried to take a photograph but alas could not do it justice). As I left work each night I glanced up and almost wished for it to stay for always in that sweet, silvery shape because it was just so lovely — true winter, it seemed like. A winter moon.
I thought about one of my very favorite books by Diana Abu-Jaber — “Crescent” — because of its title, of course, as well as for other things, and then I got to thinking about the almond crescent cookies my dad used to make every Christmas and then I started thinking about home made gifties and how I do dearly love to bake stuff for people, especially around the holidays.
Clearly this making-and-giving has been on my mind lately. I’ve been baking and freezing a few things for weeks now in preparation (the holidays — gulp — are really and truly upon us), and I just wrote a story for npr on the subject.
[Soon-to-be-mailed, December 2008.]
Now, giving homemade food gifts is a rather personal thing — me, for example, I like to really think about the recipient and what he or she might like (for my dad, always low-fat or vegan cookies to cater to his high cholesterol; last year’s dried fruit-and-nut cookies were a big hit. Or for my grandmother: I can’t make anything with chocolate because she can’t eat it, and also I like to bake things that will keep for awhile since I must send them across the country to New Jersey. Or for my doggie friends: for them, I make my special vegetarian dog treats I hear get gobbled up pretty quickly). I definitely factor in dietary restrictions and personal preferences. I peruse the contents of my cupboards and pick and choose (or, errrrr, make the decision about what to make based on how much sugar remains in the container).
Then, too, it’s so personal simply because you’ve made it yourself.
Last year I gave out jars of applesauce; this year I’ll be handing round preserved lemons and walnut brittle if I can manage to get my act together. There will also be, of course, a great profusion of cakes, cookies, breads, and chocolate cream pies for various work and social functions though I don’t consider those gifts so much as necessary to daily life. I’m thinking about upping my mileage just so I can make it through the next few weeks without gaining 10 pounds but, as I may have mentioned, it actually feels like winter here which means when I get home after work I mostly just want to have a cup of tea, make soup, and curl up in my new sweater and read a book. But I persevere — and anyway, I can still do all that stuff after I’ve logged my cold miles (not to mention: being outside means more time for gazing starry-eyed at that very pretty moon). And dreamily swirling butter and sugar together on the stove for a few hours after the work day isn’t such a bad way to spend my time.
I’d planned to make these cookies for an upcoming “cookies and cocktails” party but when I looked at the recipe and realized they would take all of five minutes to throw together I decided, what the hell, to bake a batch last night. Maybe I was just looking for another excuse to indulge in a cup of my newest obsession — the rooibos tea — or to have a little sweet bite post-roasted vegetables dinner? but no matter. I was baking yet another cake (Guinness-chocolate this time) for a work birthday, the oven was already on, it was pretty cold out, and so … I like to think I was inspired by the moon rather than a chillier-than-usual evening but to be honest I mostly wanted to see if these cookies were as good as I remembered them to be when I was a kid.
Oh, yes they were. Buttery and not-too-sweet, these cookies are deceptively delicious. (By this I mean they are deceptive because they are incredibly quick to make yet are so delicious as to seem like they took hours.) They are light and buttery and melting and just everything you could ask for in a holiday cookie, dusted with enough powdered sugar to feel decadent but not overdone. Thank you, dad, for sending me the recipe so promptly when I asked for it yesterday afternoon, and thank you, moon, for reminding me of them in the first place. It’s amazing that so few ingredients can fold together to create such delicate, melting perfection but they can and it is. Perfect, I mean. Pretty and pretty perfect, both.
I wouldn’t pack up these cookies to send, because I fear your loved one would find himself gazing despairingly at a box full of crumbs and wondering if in fact you do love him after all (try instead a loaf of that poppy seed loaf I mentioned in the article, or any other sort of hardy sweet bread that will hold up in a package), but for your coworkers? Or your dad? Or your neighbor? Or anyone you happen to bump into on the street? I think these little sweets will spread the holiday cheer quite nicely. And if not, well, the much longed-for Solstice is just days away.
Giving never felt so good. I’ll give credit to the moon and the cool air — winter, at last.
I’m not sure where these originated, but this is the recipe my dad emailed me yesterday. I love its utter simplicity; from just a few ingredients comes pure delight.
1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground (unblanched) almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter and then add the sugar, flour, almonds, and vanilla. Mix well.
Shape with fingers in crescents about 3 inches by 1 inch and 1/2 inch thick. Roll in confectioner’s sugar.
Place on cookie sheets. Bake 35 minutes. Cool. Roll in sugar again.
Vegans: Swap margarine for the butter.