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I haven't known how to come back here, or exactly what to write. I'll apologize first and foremost; I'd not intended to be gone so long. There really is no easy introduction to this explanation, as the reason I've been quiet is that we lost my grandmother. My Mum's mum.

She and I were close. She was sharp, and encouraging, and a talent in the kitchen. When my brother and I were growing up, she lived with us sometimes,  a steadfast influence always. We were fortunate to have had her as long as we did. I was granted the grace of sharing her last days.

She was a teacher who liked crossword puzzles, and apples in her salad. She would tell us not to drink our juice too fast at dinner, or we'd ruin our appetites. She made a habit of the library. I remember the day she took her hair, which was long and dark and worn in a low bun at the base of her neck, and had it cut into a short bob, set in curls. I thought she looked like Queen Elizabeth.

Still beautiful, only different.

A few days ago, caught up in the busy-mindedness that happens when we potter about with efficient industry, I was checking off items on the running to-do list in my head when I reminded myself; "It's Sunday, I should call Grandma." 

No. She's gone. And with the realization, the air left of the room.

It seems that close, that possible, that on the other end of the line she could pick up and I'd hear her voice again. At some point soon, I hope to be able to do her justice, to come close to explaining who she was, and how much she meant to us.

I'll tell you about the dinner we held in her honour; of all that was made, of those who celebrated together and the stories that were told. I'll be sure to describe the photographs and the music.

I'm not there yet. But I look forward to it.

Until then, here's some of what I said that afternoon:

When I think of Grandma, I think of someone who liked things done a certain way, who had particular tastes, and who wasn’t afraid to let her mind be known. I think of a woman with faith. I think of a woman with strong opinions and the conviction to stand by them. I think of someone who put up with me running to jump in her bed, every time I had a nightmare. I think of a woman who was stubborn, so much so that it feels surreal to stand here without her. I think of independence and strength, a strength that lasted all her days, a strength that serves as fine example for the times ahead.

I think of a woman to whom we are forever grateful, to whom we are forever indebted; one who we love dearly, and whose legacy continues in all those gathered.

She will be truly missed.

roly poly

During my grandmother's decline and passing, food was a tricky thing. It was full of complications and, paradoxically, spontaneous joys. I became prickly about the subject, finding it difficult to talk about cooking and meals and all those things she enjoyed, and we enjoyed together. Having children to feed kept me in the kitchen. The boys had begun to understand what was happening, and so I made her recipes. They called her Gigi.

A little while after we said goodbye to Grandma, we accepted an invitation from dear, darling Jason and Jeff to spend a weekend at their cottage with a bunch of pals. It felt strange, and almost heavy, to be packing up and getting excited again. Someone told me it was "just the thing to do. A change is what you need." They were right.

That group that descended upon Muskoka was one of the finest contingents of individuals we could ever be lucky enough to know; in the end, my stomach hurt from laughing. Goodbye hugs on the dock felt like the last day of camp. The next day, I wanted to go back.

At first the trip had felt half an adventure, half as though I was leaving things behind. But as time passed, it seemed less like moving away from recent days, and more that I was heading in a direction of this new normal, one I'm not wholly ready for, but where I need to go. To a place that's still beautiful, only different.

Those friends set me on my way.

Beyond the fun and games and meteor showers, we'd had meals together, shared in the making and the eating, family-style, tight around the table. It felt comfortable, good. I don't think I can ever fully repay them for the difference they made. I will try, though. 

so this was tasty.

I might begin with lifetime supply of ice cream sandwiches. If that's agreed, then these are most certainly the ones where I'll start. The cookie is crumbly, yet densely, unmistakably full of peanut butter, craggy with dark chocolate and gritty bits of oatmeal. They're alternately squishy and substantial, and make the ideal base for an a scoop of ice cream. What's even better is where I got the recipe.

My friend Sara wrote a book, and her husband Hugh took the pictures. It's called The Sprouted Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012), after the website they've built together over the last three years. You probably know all about them, since they've done a cracking good job of making a name for themselves already. Nonetheless, I'll say the collaboration between the two of them is one of the most striking I know; I remember the first time I saw their work, I asked myself "now, where did this come from?" It was too lovely, too fully-realized, a package of pretty, all tied up.

The book is the very much more of same, with 100 of Sara's best recipes, including Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto (zesty and punchy), Quinoa Collard Wraps with Miso-Carrot Spread (vibrant with colour), and Baked Artichoke Dip (addicting). 

In Sara you'll find an earnest cook who wants to feed people healthfully, with whole foods, conscientious choices, and meals full of personality. Her recipes are gorgeous, and Hugh captures them deftly; he's got an artful way with detail, that one. They should be proud.

As a bonus, the pair of them are too stinkin' cute for words. 

I'm glad to share their excitement, and for the opportunity to express my gratitude to those who have been keeping me company. I'm glad to be back here, too. 

Grandma, we know that you are home. I wore your earrings one day and my hair was up, and Mum said I looked like you. I can't imagine words that could have meant more. Thank you for everything.

 

OATMEAL ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

From The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods (Ten Speed Press, 2012).

Sara says: Making this recipe requires a little bit of time, since you'll have to wait for some of the ingredients to chill, but once they are made, they'll keep in the freezer for up to a month, so you'll have an ice cream sandwich whenever you please. It's such a special treat to have these waiting in the freezer when someone pops over. The cookies are pretty tender, so I freeze them before I put the ice cream between. They never get rock hard in the freezer, so even on the first bite you can enjoy them without hurting your teeth.

I find that a thinner, more fluid natural peanut butter, such as Laura Scudder's Organic Smooth Peanut Butter, works best. You can purchase oat flour, but I love the convenience of making it myself, and the texture of homemade oat flour is quite lovely. To yield the amount you need for this recipe, pulse about 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats in a food processor until it looks like a coarse flour.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/4 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1 1/3 cups oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
  • 2 quarts premium vanilla bean ice cream, see note
  • 1 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add the egg, honey, and peanut butter and mix until well combined. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on a baking sheet 2 inches apart, using a second baking sheet as necessary. You should have about 30 cookies. Bake, rotating the trays halfway through, until the outer edges turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Once cooled, transfer to plates and chill in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and let soften for a few minutes. Using and ice cream scoop, place one scoop of ice cream on the bottom of a cookie and top it with another cookie. Gently press down and smooth the outer edge. Roll the ice cream edge in the peanuts, pressing them to adhere, and place the sandwich back on one of the plates in the freezer. Repeat. Once fully frozen, after 20 to 30 minutes, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment paper. They will keep in the freezer for up to a month.

Notes:

  • I used a 2-inch scoop to portion the dough and ended up with 18 cookies, making 9 sandwiches. They baked for about 10 to 12 minutes. 
  • Instead of vanilla bean ice cream, I used the Crème Fraîche Ice Cream from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones(Ten Speed Press, 2012), the exceptional new book from Bi-Rite Creamery. I left the lemon out of the recipe, adding vanilla bean, and substituting half the granulated sugar for turbinado. We made brown sugar crème fraîche at the cottage to serve with crumbles, and I'm still thinking about it. The tangy finish of the ice cream works really well with the richness of the oatmeal cookies; I'm sure a sour cream or buttermilk ice cream would also be very nice.

*******

My wholehearted congratulations to Sara and Hugh on The Sprouted Kitchen, and its release on August 28, 2012. If you can't wait to see it for yourself, I've got some great news! Ten Speed Press has generously offered a peek into the book, with the complete table of contents and a 10-recipe sampler. You'll want to bookmark that page.

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When I first begin to get sick, I begin to clean. Ambitiously.

It's not just scrubbing dishes or sweeping the floors or folding the laundry. It's cleaning the windows and flipping the mattresses and vacuuming under the fridge. When my mind is fuzzy with sickness, I can't stand a similar feeling of clutter in my surroundings.

It drives me bonkers. But at least, in the best of circumstances, my fits of crazy result in cookies.

Last Tuesday I organized the closets. Most specifically, the Closet We Dare Not Open. That's the closet in our little den, a stash and dash repository, the closet that still had sealed boxes from when we moved to this house two years ago.

Yes, you heard me right. Sealed boxes. And yes, it has been two years.

Don't look at me like that. You try moving with a toddler when you're already expecting your next and let's see how well you do in getting all your boxes unpacked.

Ahem. Now that we've thrown open the quite literal door on my secret shame, back to the present. And those boxes. These were the boxes of nonessentials - the last boxes we'd packed from our previous house, thrown together as we made our way out the door.

In one I found a storage container (empty) for CDs, an unopened package of paper, a sketchpad and some dice. In another, pictureless fames and ice cube trays. And in another, I found my recipe notebooks.

The pair of books, pale slate with Prussian blue trim, date back even further than the move to this house. They are from A Time Before; the time before a ring had ever been put upon my finger and before my child had ever been placed in my arms. A time before I started writing here.

My Mum had recipe folders when I was growing up. She'd snip out and tack in recipes from magazines and newspapers, these interspersed with handwritten cards bearing the bosom-held secret recipes of family and friends. Hers were fat and full with both the memory and the promise of delicious meals.

When I decided I it was time to become an adult, I started my own recipe notebooks. It seemed the Thing to Do. I'm a gatherer by nature, and had a considerable stockpile of magazines and notepads full of material ready and waiting. I remember stacking the clippings into neat little piles, considering my methods of categorization. I had Breakfasts, Soups, Salads, Breads, Sides, Vegetarian Mains, Meat, Poultry, Cakes, Pies, Frozen Desserts and Sweets. (All of this compulsion fell neatly in line with my established addiction to stationery.)

I was ready, at least recipe-wise, for Sort of Life I was Going to Lead. My books were as much a compilation of tried recipes as it was of the recipes I wanted to try in that future. I was going to be prepared.

Prepared for everything except baking cookies. In curating these books, I overlooked cookies entirely. Filled anticipation for future dinner parties that would surely require an elegant sweets course, I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way past biscuits and wafers and biscotti. The closest I come to a cookie is the solitary mention of brownies.

I think I thought that cookies were dull. I know. I was young and stupid. Cookies were one of the first things I'd learned to bake, due in large part to Mrs. Wakefield and those bags of morsels, and I believe I had the fool idea that adulthood was the time to move on from such childish pursuits.

Thank goodness for being lazy. And in love. I started those books years ago, but I never finished them. They went into the back of a closet, moved from apartment to apartment to house to house, untouched. Instead of collecting, I started cooking, and the next thing I knew I was here.

And the person that is here is a mum who bakes cookies. Often.

A move to rectify the lapse in those books' the cookie section is long overdue, and I have already got my choice for the first one in. These Chocolate-chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries are sigh-inducing balance of sweet, salty and subtly sour. They are speckled and nubbly, with a crisp rim and a soft centre, and deep cracks that travel their surface. And oh my stars, they are perfectly delicious. So delicious that they deserve a fan club.

We can have the meetings at my place. Once I'm done cleaning.

CHOCOLATE-CHUNK OATMEAL COOKIES WITH PECANS AND DRIED CHERRIES

From Cooks Illustrated published May 2005.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries, chopped coarse
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces about the size of chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C), with racks on the top and bottom thirds. Use parchment paper to line several standard baking sheets and set aside.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl combine the oats, pecans, dried cherries and chocolate.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on medium-low, add the egg and beat until incorporated.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer down to low, and add the flour mixture to the bowl. Stir until just combined. Finally incorporate the oats, nuts, fruit and chocolate. Do not overmix. Turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to give the dough a final stir and make sure that all the ingredients are incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop to measure 1/4 cup portions of dough. Roll these portions lightly between your hands, then place 8 on each baking sheet, spaced evenly. Wet your hands and lightly press the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Bake the cookies, two trays at a time, in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Rotate the trays top to bottom and back to front and bake for another 8 minutes or until the cookies are uniformly golden, but still wet in the middle. You might think that they're undercooked, but you're wrong - resist the urge to overbake, they will set up further as they cool.

Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 16.

Notes:

• Although the original recipe specifies table salt, I used kosher salt instead; I enjoy the uneven saltiness of kosher in cookies, but that is only a personal preference.

• Continuing on the topic of salt, I sprinkled the pecans with some fine grained sea salt when they were toasted. This subtle salinity hummed steadily beneath the complexity of the chocolate and cherries.

• Wanting a slightly more modest cookie, I divided the dough into 24 and reduced my cooking time accordingly.

I am always struck by the generosity and kindness of those of you who read this site. Even with my recent absence (which will be explained in an upcoming post), I have still been the regular recipient of a host of comments, queries and stories from many of you. I cannot tell you how much this all means to me.

It was in one of these recent messages that Lillian, an enthusiastic and engaging reader from Louisiana, took the time to mention a recipe and entry for gaufrettes she'd come across. From the book French cooking for Americans by Louis Diat, here is the entry. My thanks to her.

Gaufres

Trace French cookery through the years and you will find certain specialties such as Gaufres, appearing century after century. These thin crisp, waffle-like tidbits have been sold on the streets of French cities ever since the twelfth century. In those early days the marchands de gaufres, that is, the vendors who sold them, always set up business in the streets near the doors of cathedrals and churches on days of great religious festivals. There they made and sold their wares to the throngs of people coming from the mass, people whose devotions must surely have been interrupted by the drifting fragrance of gaufres sizzling outside. Gaufres are still sold in French cities but today you will find them more often in the parks where the youngsters congregate.

Gaufres are cooked in an iron called a gaufrier which has two flat iron plates clamped and held together by long handles. The iron plates are decorated with designs which become imprinted on the cakes and very old gaufriers have beautiful and interesting designs, many of which have some definite religious significance.

My mother baked a kind of gaufre on a baking sheet and rolled them on a small stick. When cold she filled them with a cream filling or whipped cream. They are called gaufrettes, sometimes cigarettes.

My favorites are Gaufres with Cream, sometimes called Gaufres de Bruxelles, made in an oblong iron which puts deep indentations on the cakes, much like an American waffle iron. I think an American waffle iron could be used. Bur for a real gaufrier, if you have nostalgia for one, seek out an importer of French cooking equipment to supply you.

Gaufrettes or cigarettes

In giving the proportions of ingredients for gaufrettes it is almost impossible to indicate exact measurements because the size of the egg whites and the kind of flour will affect the consistency. It is best to bake a trial one. If the finished gaufrette is so thin it breaks and cannot be handled, the mixture needs a little more flour. If on the other hand the gaufrette is thick and clumsy to roll, a little more melted butter should be added.

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
vanilla extract (or seeds from bean)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup flour

Beat egg whites until stiff. Sprinkle sugar over them a little at a time and fold into egg whites slowly and carefully. Add flour the same way. Add butter, also folding it in carefully. Butter and flour a baking sheet and put into a hot oven of 450 to 475 degrees until pan is hot. Drop batter by tablespoons on the hot pan, spreading it as thinly as possible. Bake in a hot oven of 450 to 475 degrees a few minutes until golden brown. When done, roll while still hot around a stick about the size of a thick pencil. When cold serve plain or filled with cream filling of whipped cream.

Batter for Gaufres

1 1/3 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
milk (3/4 to 1 cup)
vanilla extract (or seeds from bean)

Sift together flour and sugar. Mix together egg and egg yolk, add to flour mixture and mix until smooth. Add butter, vanilla and milk to make a thin batter. (Batter should be about the thickness or a crepe batter.) Heat both sides of gaufrier on top of stove, then butter both sides. When butter is sizzling hot pour in a tablespoon of batter, spreading it thinly. Close gaufrier and cook a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. While still hot roll around the handle of a wooden spoon or stick of similar size. Or if preferred leave them flat.

Gaufrettes with cream

These gaufrettes are baked in a special iron, one that is square in shape, and made with deep indentations, as contrasted with the usual flat, round gaufrier. It is in fact very much like a waffle iron. The finished gaufrette is both soft and crisp, is very light and exceedingly tender and delicate. The advantage of these gaufrettes over waffles is that they are served cold and so can be made up ahead of time. They are a very choice dainty for afternoon tea when something rich is desired.

1 cup flour
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
pinch of salt
6 egg whites

Put all ingredients except egg whites in a bowl and mix together. Beat egg whites until stiff and carefully fold into batter. Pour into a square gaufrier with deep indentations (or a waffle iron) that has been heated and buttered. Cook on both sides until brown. Remove and cool. Fill each of the small holes with sweetened whipped cream or Creme Patissiere (recipe follows). Makes 6.

Crème patissiere

Pastry creams include all the cream fillings used in making various kinds of pastry desserts. Some of these creamy mixtures such as crème patissiere are also the foundations for many other desserts or, as we call them, entremets. Since most of these creams contain eggs it is important to know how to handle eggs when adding them to hot mixtures. You can't just stir them in as you do many other ingredients because when eggs are added directly to a hot liquid they will curdle. Nor can you allow the mixture to boil after eggs are added because that, too, will cause them to curdle. (If the mixture contains a thickening such as flour or cornstarch it can be boiled for minute or two.) The following simple procedure will insure the desired smooth, delicate texture: add some of the hot liquid to the beaten eggs, stirring vigorously all the time, in order to thin them out a little and heat them up at the same time. Then turn this back into the hot mixture and stir constantly until boiling point is reached. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and pour immediately into a cold bowl and cool quickly. The quicker a pastry cream cools the better, and an occasional stirring will prevent a thin crust from forming on top.

3/4 cup sugar
5-6 eggs
1/3 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 piece vanilla bean (or extract)
pinch salt

Mix together sugar and egg yolks and work up with a spoon until the mixture is creamy and light colored. Add flour and mix just enough to combine it but don't work it up. Scald milk and vanilla bean. Add to egg yolk mixture, little by little, and stir until well combined. Turn mixture back into saucepan and cook, stirring vigorously, until it comes back to boiling point. Boil about 2 minutes. Remove vanilla bean (or add extract to taste). Strain and let cool, stirring occasionally, to prevent a crust from forming on top.

Please see original post below for the backstory.

Some time ago, one of my dear readers requested a recipe for gaufrettes, the delicate French waffle cookie. I divided my attention between research and the demands of a toddler, trolling my cookbooks and searching online. Sadly, I was disappointed with my findings. None of my cookbooks garnered success; on the upside I shall be using this as an excuse to buy more. After all that, the delay only came up with the following links:

Category Mistake
Sweet C
Free Cooking Recipes
Recipe Link

However, never having tried any of them, I am wary to recommend these results. And so, I'm appealing to the rest of my readers - do any of you have an absolutely fantastic, full-proof and wonderful recipe you would be so kind to share? Or would those with more expertise comment on the links I have listed? Please contact me via my profile or post your thoughts in the comments section.

I have tried this recipe from Williams-Sonoma for gloriously tempting pizzelle. While not exactly a gaufrette, I am more than happy to vouch for their deliciousness.

And to the original reader, thank you for your patience!

Seven years ago Sean gave me one of my most treasured possessions. It was my birthday, and he had found a copy of the out-of-print, rather unknown, favourite book of my childhood.

Whereas my original copy had long ago lost whole sections out of overuse, this new copy was pristine perfection; the story intact and whole again.

Flipping through the pages, my enthusiasm for a tale of little mice and their adventures to a faraway land came rushing back. With the glee of a six-year-old, I pointed out the illustrations that had inspired me the most, explained to him the nuances of each character and hugged the book like the long-lost friend it was.

What made this gift all the more special, was that Sean and I had not known each other in childhood. It was only through my mentioning the book that he realized the importance to me. Having it now was a window to that youth, an opportunity for him to know the girl I had been.

Lucky for me, we have many ‘relics’ of Sean’s early years - our son Benjamin now plays with some of the same toys and is even measured on the same growth chart against which his father stood tall. But beyond all these, one of the most meaningful of legacies are the recipes I have been given by his family.

Whether it be the cheesy pasta salad that appears at every family gathering, or the apple cake that heralds fall, or Grandma's famous (and decadent) butter tarts, each of these recipes is inextricably tied to memories from the family I now call my own. Though unshared by me, I feel a part of those reminisces with each bite, and hopefully in the future, with each time I serve them.

Munching on a bakery-bought cookie a few days ago, I came to think of the recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies from my dear Mother-in-Law. Passed down from her mother, it was the recipe noted with the scribble “Sean’s favourite” in the margins of their church’s fundraising cookbook.

Chewy, fat and unapologetically old-fashioned, these are the stuff of cookie-jar glory. I have dressed them up a bit with shards of almond butter toffee and chocolate chips; but that was just my mood that day. These are the perfect canvas for whatever strikes your fancy - white chocolate and dried cherries, perhaps? It doesn't matter the specific flavours of your childhood, as long as you remember to visit them once in a while.

Almond toffee oatmeal cookies
My own variation, based upon a recipe by my husband's maternal grandmother. They may look like your typical oatmeal cookies, but the salted toffee adds and unexpected depth of buttery flavour. I prefer some of the toffee pieces on the smaller side, so they melt into the batter when baking.

Ingredients

For the almond butter toffee
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flaked almonds

For the cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup, golden syrup, honey or maple syrup
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 batch almond butter toffee, crushed into bits

To make the almond butter toffee

Grease a half sheet pan (13"x18") or cookie sheet.

Combine all ingredients, except the almonds, in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, stir until the butter is melted. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reaches 300ºF (150ºC). This will take about 25-30 minutes. If you do not have a candy thermometer, carefully drip a small amount of the sugar mixture into a cup of cold water; if it has reached the right temperature it will collect into a hard ball.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, spread the almonds in a single layer. Toss the nuts occasionally to prevent scorching. Once they are light toasted brown and aromatic, remove from pan and set aside.

Mix nuts into butter toffee mixture. Working quickly, spread the toffee over the prepared half sheet pan in a thin layer. It will not fill the entire pan. Set aside to cool completely.

When cooled, break the toffee into irregular bits. I find it easiest to put pieces into a large, loosely sealed food storage bag and pounding the toffee into submission with the bottom of a skillet. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of nubby gravel.

For the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, beating well. Mix in vanilla.

With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the oatmeal, chocolate chips and crushed toffee.

Drop 2 tablespoons of dough into mounds (I use a disher that is 1 1/2” across) onto parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets. Space mounds about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly golden around the edges, but not crisp, about 10-12 minutes.

Cool on sheets for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 2 dozen.

Notes:
• If anyone would like Sean’s Grandmother’s original recipe for Oatmeal Date Cookies, please leave a comment to that effect; I would be happy to oblige.
• Due to the buttery toffee, these cookies will melt and spread while baking. If you would like to reshape them, take a wide glass or bowl and swirl the slightly cooled (maybe after 10-15 seconds out of the oven) cookies in a circle. The edges will collect together neatly, as pictured.

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Recently at Seven Spoons:
Tara speaks from the depths of the couch, towers of magazines and cookbooks obscure her from view. Dear S is otherwise occupied with Ms. Billie, the feline mistress of the house, who is making quick work of the deconstruction of a bag of gift bows.

Tara: I’m torn. Florentines or tuiles? Both look lovely and would be perfect to package up for friends.
S: Uh huh, whatever you want, sweetie.
Tara: (opening another book, sending others flying) Take a look at these stunning cookies Martha’s made. Gingerbread snowflakes, piped with royal icing then dusted with sanding sugar. They sparkle so prettily - and you know I’m a sucker for anything with sparkles. I could do those, then some I saw in Gourmet ... I just need to find my copy ... (begins searching)
S: Do any of our friends like gingerbread? How about making the cookies from last year?
Tara: But that is boring.
S: But they were yummy. And I liked them.
Tara stops looking.

How can one not get excited to try new things come Holiday season? Bombarded with delectable images upon every magazine rack, bookshelf and television show, the season smacks of promise - there is always a new cookie to try, another way to roast a turkey, and this year’s penultimate side dish.

However, at least with my family, rarely do these new fangled recipes garner much praise. True they are well-received, but it is not often are they requested the year following. Not because they are not truly tasty, but because they are just not the tradition.

Take for example my father’s turkey. A few years ago he gallantly deboned an entire bird at our request, stuffed it with a savoury filling and then rolled into roulade - dark meat cradling the white meat inside. The turkey was perfect, moist throughout and utterly impressive.

Though it was, by far, the best bird I’ve ever eaten (and by my Mother’s command has been the only way we have celebrated the holidays for the last five seasons), there are still dissenters among the family. Since the turkey, no matter how beautifully tied, no longer resembles the classic image of a proper bronzed beast it is somehow considered inferior. My ever diplomatic Dad now roasts separate pieces of turkey to appease those souls.

It seems certain dishes are so firmly rooted in our sense of the season that we cannot be so foolhardy as to alter them. As we prepare the meal, going through the motions of making the brussels sprouts, stirring the gravy or getting out the same china we use every year - there is something inherent in these movements, in their ritual and rhythm that reminds us of years past and of memories shared. It is simply not Christmas without these tastes and smells and textures.

While I am all for innovation, I choose to spend this time looking forward and behind; taking note of now only where I am going but where I have been. There is comfort in the known, there is affection in tradition and there is pride in all that has stood up to the tests of time. Sometimes all that is needed are the tastes of home to assure us that there is still some right in the world.

These jam thumbprints are ridiculously easy and immediately invoke a sense of nostalgia, for a time we may or may not have known. Buttery shortbread, crowned with bronzed bits of coconut and gushing with a jam filling, you cannot get more classic than these.

Jam Thumbprints
Recipe published on Food TV.com courtesy of Ina Garten. Originally published in Barefoot Contessa Family Style. This recipe produces a fabulously rich shortbread base; experiment with different shapes and fillings to suit your tastes. I used Blackberry jam for my version, and upped the salt to 1/3 teaspoon.

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Authortara

We all do it. There is really no point in attempting denial. Pretty much everyone is guilty as charged.

I challenge anyone to pretend that they have not, at some time or another, shirked a bit of Holiday responsibility. Nothing serious I’m sure, but maybe it was a case of promising to bring a gift for a Secret Santa (less than $25, please), and in your last minute haste you spent a whopping $27.99 at the store on the way.

Or maybe you went so far as to reach back into the closet, pull out that untouched gift Aunt Meg and Uncle Stan gave you last year, snipned off the tag and presented it as your own contribution to the festivities. Regifting never hurt anyone, has it?

Or maybe you had promised to bring a home baked treat along for the annual neighbourhood open house, and somewhere in the purchasing, packing and pandemonium of pre-holiday prep, it completely slipped your mind. So you’re faced with a dilemma - head to the party empty handed or stop over at a local bakery on the way and hope nobody notices the price tag on the box.

I was in a similar predicament this morning. I had said, weeks ago, that I would be thrilled to participate in a cookie swap. I could already imagine the smell of baking butter and sugar wafting through the house; I envisioned cookie perfection, rows upon rows of gorgeous treats all waiting to be enjoyed. I poured over recipe books and magazines, scoured baking supply stores for sanding sugar and dried egg whites.

And then I got distracted. I’m not sure by what exactly, all I know is that it was suddenly the morning of the 27th, and my cookie jar had nary a crumb. Old Mother Hubbard has my sympathies.

Not willing to give up so easily (and with the bakery not opening for another three hours), I looked to my frequent saviour - the freezer. Armed with the last sheet of puff pastry, I improvised a holiday variation on an old classic, palmiers. Flaky and crisp, and glazed with a combination of reduced jam and cinnamon sugar, these cookies belie how easy they are to make. A quick roll and 12 minutes in the oven later, you are left with a tray worthy of any cookie-swap.

Happy holidays, indeed.

Holiday palmiers

Ingredients
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more, if desired)
1 inch piece of lemon zest (optional)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (or more, if desired)
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted as per package instructions

Preheat oven to 450º F (230º C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the jam, lemon juice and lemon zest (if using). Heat until the jam is melted but before it reaches a full boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 2 minutes. Using a small spoon, push the jam through a fine-meshed sieve, discarding any seeds and the lemon zest. I advise some care here, as the jam will still be rather warmå. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Spread one half of the mixture over your work surface and lay the puff pastry in the middle. Sprinkle the remaining sugar on top, and begin rolling. Turn and flip the pastry frequently, pushing the cinnamon sugar into the pastry - you want an even coating. Roll until you have a 13” by 13” square.

With a small offset spatula or butter knife and working quickly , spread the jam over the puff pastry. The jam should be in a thin layer, reaching all the way to the edges of the dough.

Fold the side of the dough halfway to the centre. Fold again, so that the two folded sides now meet in the centre. Fold one half over the other as though you are closing a book and the sides are now stacked on top of each other. Place pastry log on one of the prepared baking sheets and chill for 10 minutes in the freezer.

Remove from the freezer and slice the log into 3/4 inch slices. Place slices, cut side up back onto baking sheets and chill for an additional 5 minutes.

Bake cookies for approximately 6 minutes until the filling is bubbling and glazed and the pastry is starting to turn golden. Flip the cookies with a spatula and bake for additional 5 minutes, until caramelised and puffed. Wait a minute or so, then transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Notes:
• You can use whatever variety of jam or jelly you would like for this recipe. Reducing a clear juice (for example, cranberry) would also make a suitable filling. The jam may be omitted all together, and a coloured sanding sugar added instead for a colourful spiral design.
• The palmiers are quite delicate when they come out of the oven. For flipping and transferring to a wire rack, always use a spatula larger than the cookie to maintain its shape. A light spray of cooking oil on the spatula may also assist in transferring.
• The cut palmiers can be individually frozen on a cookie sheet, then transferred to a plastic freezer bag for storage. They should keep for approximately 2 weeks and do not need to be defrosted before baking. Cooking time may need adjustment, though.

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Authortara