Whenever I plan gatherings, I choose to invest more time in one (or at least I *try* to invest in only one) menu item. This winter, I had been craving the flavors and simple beauty of Whole Grain Linzer Cookies, or Helle Linzer Plaetzchen if you fancy the German title. Named for the Austrian Linzer Torte, a latticed pastry with jam filling, these buttery shortbread cookies and peeks of jam feel like little ornaments. In the vein of European traditions, I chose a Swedish lingonberry jam for a burst of red filling (and because I dream of participating in a St. Lucia celebration someday!).
You could think of this whole grain Gingerbread Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Gingerbread Twigs as too involved, or you could think of it as an excuse to spend a day in the kitchen, mull some wine, sip said wine, light the pine-scented candles and embrace the winter spirit.
I was beginning to think Christmas tree farms were a thing of Hallmark, Hallmark movies or quaint New England towns that feel like Hallmark come to life (or better yet, scenes from "Christmas Vacation"). But thanks to my friend Theresa, I discovered Christmas tree farms do in fact exist, and more importantly, one does in fact exist nearby(ish)!
The simplicity of these no-bake treats makes them an easy, sweet indulgence for a weekend away from a full kitchen arsenal. The simplicity also makes them a healthy option for those times when the ol' sweet tooth is calling. They're a near instant gratification without the guilt, and they're not a far cry from those raw cookie dough bites stolen when Mom wasn't looking.
Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.
Remember this wee little bean?
It feels like a mere minute ago that I was introducing my budding kitchen assistant, and yet, my fur baby is now a whopping three years old (still just as cute as ever though)!
In yoga they teach you how to push and stretch your lungs, inching closer and closer to breathing at full capacity. Bonding with a dog is a similar exercise for the heart- all my love for this gentle, faithful, happy creature fills my heart so as to burst the very seams. And that love for her somehow trained my heart to love even more and taught me to feel an empathy for dogs in general (i.e.: most dog videos can make me sob in a matter of seconds).
We’ve been through a lot in these three short years- an aggressive dog attack I thought would surely end her, an injured paw that melted my heart, a near brush with rush-hour traffic- all these incidents enforcing how important it is to cherish this playful, sweet, snuggly creature for every precious moment I have her.
As that Anatole fella said, Julep truly did awaken a part of my soul. She showed me a simplicity to life- friendship and play go a long way in bringing contentment to a day. Work hard, play hard and nap harder. She made me a better neighbor and taught me to expect the best from people. I’ve also watched her brighten the days of so many folks around us.
I showed my love and gratitude for my birthday girl as I often do, through baking. Whether baking for human birthdays or four-legged birthdays, I am always concerned about the quality of ingredients and if they are appropriate for the birthday boy or girl. Accordingly, this recipe is simple and completely pronounceable.
Reading the list of ingredients on dog foods and treats is just as confusing (if not more?) as navigating our human nutrition labels these days. With so many companies just trying to make a buck off our love for our four-legged pals, this homemade gesture goes a long way in treating our pets without unwanted fillers. Plus, you can eat them too!
Since sharing is caring, Julep shared her birthday bones with her new best friend- Lucy Lu. After Julep’s attack, she became very aggressive toward other dogs. When our very close friend brought home this curly new addition (an Aussie Doodle), we were hoping for a bond.
Words can’t even express how happy I was to see them connect when we first introduced them. The framily bond continues to grow even stronger and is helping to rehabilitate Julep. There goes that heart bursting again!
♥♥♥ Happy 3rd Birthday to Julep, my not-so little one! ♥♥♥
p.s: I would be remiss not to mention how The Urban Farmer adopted Julep as his own and how he added a whole new level of happiness to her sheepdog heart. Working as his farm “assistant” has made her the happiest lass on the planet!
p.p.s: As much as I love my dog and want others to feel that same joy, Julep is a BIG responsibility. Think very carefully before adding a dog to your life, especially a high-energy, intelligent sheepdog! Too many of them end up at shelters by no fault of their own.
“If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
“Sandwiches” he said with gumption, as if he had played the what-if game correctly.
My hand snapped to my hip bone, my head tilted, my eyes rolled, I leaned in, and each syllable I spoke dripped with sarcasm. “Oh, so you would choose to eat food for the rest of your life? Is that what you are telling me?”
I’m a stickler for rules when it comes to games, a weird fluke of my perfectionism that somehow doesn’t always manifest in real-life rule situations. No turning from 3pm-6pm, even if no other car is in sight? …optional…. “Narrow” down your one and only food source to “SANDWICHES?”
In this hypothetical game of sacrifices, my roommate Dan had not sacrificed a thing. While the rest of us would be chomping on french fries or cheese until the grease or lactose did us in, he’d be converting his every inkling of a craving into sandwich form- pizza sandwiches, egg roll sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, taco sandwiches, smoked salmon sandwiches… ice cream sandwiches.
Foul, I cried, FOUL!
Though Dan was a complete and utter cheater, he was onto something- sandwiches are awesome (I didn’t say he was onto anything profound, just something). Whoever decided to stack ingredients between layers of bread- so smart! Whoever decided to swap that bread for cookies, and fill the space with ice cream? Genius! In the spirit of my college roommate not sacrificing a damn thing in a game of sacrifice, I bring you a recipe for wholesome peanut butter cookies. They make delicious bookends for ice cream, so you can eat sandwiches for every meal!
Here’s to you Dan Cohen!
p.s: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Sprouted Spelt Peanut Butter Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches
About This Recipe: These cookies are soft and chewy- perfect for pairing with ice cream and withstanding a bit of freeze if you prepare the sammie ahead of time. However, the truly exciting element in this recipe is the flour. I just discovered One Degree Organic Foods’ Sprouted Spelt Flour, and so far I’m hooked! I couldn’t agree more with the company’s tagline “Every ingredient has a story.” It’s more than a tagline though. Each package includes a picture of the farmer responsible for that grain. Meet my farmer, (well, not my farmer, but my flour farmer) and maybe he’ll become your farmer too!
There is the French bakery, and then there is the French boulangerie with reflections of the Tour Eiffel in the display cases. There are tapas, and then there are tapas amidst a mob of fútbol fans. There are empanadas, and then there are empanadas made by the madres who fought for their sons’ freedom from government corruption. There are cachacas, and then there are sweet, refreshing cachaças after taking in the views of sugar loaves and an omipotent redeemer.
There are chai lattes, and then there are chais from earnest workers in slums, where school girls gather to practice their English and request their photos. The blurred lines of the globe fill us with glimpses and tastes, teasing and toying with the wanderlust stirring inside those of us who feel its tug. These foods and their customs, the way they lead us to expand ourselves and later revel in nostalgia, these are the connections I explore through mixing bowls, whisks and spices.
Spices…the colors, the textures, the scents…transport us, to places we have been and to places we have only imagined. The sealed, glass jar of turmeric at the grocery store pales in comparison to the freshly ground, bright sunflower gold of the turmeric of the market stall. The way the spices blend and transform onions, garlic, ginger and greens becomes a vehicle, and we go on a sensory journey. Proper spices are a powerful tool.
No matter how organized a trip may be, a traveler must always leave room for the unexpected, the serendipitous discoveries- the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the unlisted gallery, the street performer who strums better than the famed. RawSpiceBar channels surprises, journeys and flavors in one great idea: a monthly spice subscription consisting of three, global, authentic, freshly ground spice mixtures, from top chefs, along with recipes for their use.
It’s an idea I wish I had conceived myself. The monthly spice package unwraps like a friend returning from a trip abroad, regaling you with souvenirs and stories, complete with a layer of patterned paper representative of that region. My first spice package revealed glimpses of Punjabi India.
As I learned, traveling to India is a foodie’s contradiction- the most authentic recipes, and pungent plates await at the street level, but avoiding Delhi Belly requires keeping a safe distance. Most of my food associations entail an extreme consciousness of what I ate and drank, but despite the precautions, there were still plenty of immersive moments like sipping authentic chai tea and riding a beautifully adorned Indian elephant.
As a baker, I was drawn to the Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookie recipe. I used the cookies as a way to revisit my trip to India, through intense spices and elephant shapes. India is a trip I have yet to fully process in my head or organize photographically. There are still folders and folders of images waiting to be sorted and experiences to be recalled. In more ways than one, the spice package sent me wandering.
These cookies became an afternoon shared with friends, exploring the exotic that exists close to home and finding inspiration in the distant. More on that to come!
Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring RawSpiceBar
About This Recipe: RawSpiceBar updated this centuries-old Indian shortbreads cookies recipe by adding freshly ground rose buds & chai spices, yielding a peppery, sweet cookie that pairs perfectly with milky tea or coffee. Nankhatai comes from the Persian word “nan” (meaning bread) and the Afghan word “khatai” (meaning biscuit). These little shortbread cookies are said to have originated in Surat in the 16th century, when the Dutch were prominent spice trading partners with the Indians. An Iranian man ran a European style bakery here but, once the Dutch explorers left, had to adapt to low-cost sweet treats for locals. Traditional North Indian Nankhatai do not use any leavening agents but these days a small amount of baking powder and salt is added to give these cookies a lighter feel.
p.s: I received product from RawSpiceBar, but all opinions are my own!
There are times that call for impressively stacked cakes with fluffy frostings, meticulous preparation methods and elaborate settings. There are other times that call for something more spontaneous, something simple and sweet to cap off a night and satisfy a craving.
For those times, there are these cookies!
Cookies can be sweet, round reminders to appreciate the simplest of pleasures. When I need to refocus on these little joys, I find it’s worth putting pen to paper, making a list and reminding myself to be grateful and content.
Slow down. Calm down. Inhale. Exhale. Bake. Share. Repeat.
From pen to paper, from paper to web, from frenzies to thoughtful focus, these are the joys I jotted down recently:
Grape hyacinths and the first scents of spring.
The faded ink of aged journal entries.
The many places a camera can take you.
Discovering humility in the midsts of great talent.
Observing and appreciating the growth of a friendship through so many phases of life.
Loving someone so much, my heart bursts at the seams!
Staying up too late petting Julep because she curled next to me in the most precious wheel, and no matter how much I snuggle her, it’s never enough.
Baking my roundest, softest, gooiest cookies to date!
Dogs and cookies. Cookies and dogs. This may be my new mantra for savoring the simple things in life!
Here’s to the chocolatey, gooey, round reminders!
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookies
About this Recipe: Made with Bob’s Red Mill organic whole wheat pastry flour, these cookies are so soft and chewy with big bites of cashews. I recommend a high quality, dark chocolate chip such as Guittard, which I recommend for their use of all natural, non-gmo ingredients. For the cashews, either chop them coarsely, or simply use your fingers to break them in half.