[First ever grown up tree, December 2011.]
The end of the calendar year is so close I can hear it tip-toeing behind me as it gently (or not-so) hurries me along into 2012. 2012. I’m trying to remember December 2001, ten years ago, and what I was planning for the holidays that year. I think we were still walking around in a blind daze, pointed only toward the turning into a new year that was going to be better, would have to be. Or December 1991 — I was in eighth grade, right? Probably my afternoons were taken up with basketball practice and my nights with piano lessons and homework. (That was so very long ago. I never imagined the things that have happened in between then and now.)
Sometimes it seems life rushes by so quickly it leaves us hardly an extra moment to catch our breathes. The holiday season is a perfect illustration of such. Cards — do/mail. Cakes — make/bake. Presents — find/wrap. And on and on.
But a way to s-l-o-w down the days, or at least to create a space to savor them, is to throw a party. And so on Saturday afternoon, we invited a mix of old and new friends, relatives, and little kids over to eat, drink, and enjoy the sunshine that spilled irrepressibly into our apartment from the moment we woke up at 8a (or so) ’til dusk settled in for the night.
[Part of the spread, December 2011.]
We ate a lot of things, some of which included
an enormous cheese plate with gluten-free crackers and Acme breads
hummus and carrots
caramelized onion + mushroom pizza squares
chocolate + dried fruit + nut candies
cheesecakes with gingersnap crust
a nutmeg-spice cake (and an apple cake)
flourless chocolate cake bites
butter and jam cookies
gingerbread cookies (aptly decorated by the little girls)
I poured bubbly and sparkly lemon water in equal measure, accidentally stirred still water into the cranberry-orange punch (oooops! — said with a very Rick Perry-like smirk, except that actually I felt rather dumb) but it still tasted nice, and thrilled to see all the little treats I’d prepared be happily eaten … nay, devoured. How I like to feed people, it’s true.
Alas I was too busy putting out more smoked salmon and crackers and such to take any decent photos, though I did lug out my big camera to snap a few shots here and there. That seems to be my life lately — I want to capture everything around me but more often than not I have just a few moments in between pulling a tray of cookies out of the oven and dishing up a sort of ersatz risotto of long grain brown rice and a medley of vegetables and cheddar cheese (topped with a fried egg) before shoveling it into my mouth and starting on my holiday cards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank goodness for the iphone (and Instagram), even if the pictures aren’t quite as pretty as I might like them to be …
But anyway, the main thing is the recipes, no? And I have a lovely one today: for a buttery, tender, jammy cookie I made mostly to showcase that blackberry jam I canned this summer. The jam is delicious: not-too-sweet, nice and seedy the way I like it, full of whole and partly smashed-up berries. But the surprise was the cookie base, which, made with good-tasting butter, proved slightly addictive, especially when eaten Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea after the scrubbing the apartment within an inch of its formerly dusty baseboarded self.
So I know you might not have your own homemade jam for these cookies, and that’s just fine. Any berry jam will do (note: recipe for cranberry jam coming soon, as soon as I … err … take a proper photo of the jars I canned last week, and that would be wonderful here). These cookies, I will admit, did not turn out to be the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever baked, but man were they good. Lush with butter and plushy with sugar, they’re decadent little bites of holiday goodness with a hint of the summer’s long-harvested bounty. Sit down with one and you may even be transported back to August — remember August? It was warm and sunny, the perfect weather for lake-swimming –, and that glorious summer feeling, reminding us that indeed it’s possible to slow down for a moment even in these hectic days of baking, card-making, parties, and all else.
Tuck them into your cookie tins or bring a plate in to work for the office party and watch them work their magic. Or just keep them on your table at home, sneaking one or two in between stamping envelopes and swilling tea in an effort to stay awake. It’s the last push ’til the new year. These will help.
Butter and Jam Thumbprint Cookies, via the Food Network
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup berry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
In another bowl, whip the butter and the sugar with a hand-held mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing just until incorporated.
Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls with a cookie or ice cream scoop and roll in sugar. Place about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about 1/2-inch deep. Fill each indentation with about 3/4 teaspoon jam.
Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. (For even color, rotate the pans from top to bottom about halfway through baking.) Cool cookies on the baking sheets.