Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.

How good it is | Tara O'Brady

The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy. 

That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.  

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood. 

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.

Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the  more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget. 

 

(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK

I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice. 

The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
  •  3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  1 tablespoon curry powder
  •  1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  •  2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
  •  1 tablespoon maple syrup
  •  1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  •  1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
  •  Juicy wedges of lime, for serving

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top. 

NOTES:

  • When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week. 

When I sat down to give one last read to this post on Molly Wizenberg's new book, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, I did what one does when it's time to really focus. I checked Twitter.

At the top of the feed I found a friend's tweet announcing that Molly was on the radio, at that very moment, talking about Delancey, in an interview recorded at the wood-fired pizza restaurant of the same name (hers with her husband, Brandon Petit). So, I had Molly's voice as company for my edits, and current rewrite, while I snacked on a piece of shortbread made from a recipe found in the book.

It was an Escher drawing, come to life, with cookies. 

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

I've known Molly long enough that our emails go back to when I had a completely different job, and there's one in which she introduces one Mr. Brandon, still a student and waiter in NYC at the time. With that history, what follows here isn't meant to be an unbiased review. It is difficult to remove bias when speaking about a friend, and honestly, I don't want to. 

Molly's site introduced me to food blogs. Orangette was mentioned somewhere else, and I clicked the link; it took me to a warm chickpea salad. I didn't really know what a food blog was, or that they would become a thing, but I still knew what I was reading was good. 

(In searching for that particular piece just now, I fell back into step with Keaton, Jimmy's buttered brunches, and Rebecca's all-red straw collection. I lost an hour in the process, and ate a handful of salted pistachios, an apple, and two small squares of chocolate. That is the pull of Molly's writing. It makes you want to read more. It also makes you very hungry.) 

But really, you don't need me to tell you how good Molly's stories are. First at Orangette, then in her column in Bon Appetit, then elsewhere (including the Washington Post and her Spilled Milk podcast), then with her first book, A Handmade Life, Molly established herself not only as a talent, but as an exceptional one. Though superlatives are often ascribed willy-nilly, she is a benchmark of contemporary food writing, in the truest, realest sense of the word.

molly's rosemary + candied ginger shortbread | seven spoons

Sixteen Candles turned 30 two days ago. One anniversary tribute argued it as John Hughes's best work, not just for Jake Ryan and that dining table, but for how it showed difficulty to be more inclusive than exclusive; nobody is really spared from personal doubt, not even the popular kids.

(And there goes half an hour watching Sixteen Candles clips.)

In a culture that often manufactures glossed perfection, or uses hard times as a praise-courting kind of martyrdom, the story of Delancey is told in a frank plainness that saves it from being overly sentimental, while still keeping an acute sense of the all-too-real turmoil it accounts.

Some of the stories are familiar, having been hinted at on Orangette, but here there's the full look at how things went. Delancey picks up where A Homemade Life left off, with Brandon and Molly still settling into their new marriage, the decision to open a restaurant in Seattle, then chronicles its subsequent construction and early days.

The book isn't about the restaurant. Not really. The restaurant is of course what pushes the story along, but at the heart of it is what it takes to actively build the life you want; the commitment, the swallowing fear, the joy, and the toll. It is about building that life with someone, the support and faith that takes, and the uncomfortable realization that there can be distance and discord within the strongest of partnerships. It is about growing up, about claiming responsibility for our choices, and ownership of the people we become.

Delancey shows how one of the best can get even better. Molly's sharp-witted, playful voice still rings with authenticity, yet has matured. It reads as honest, at points painfully so, with a deep-set vulnerability. Parts are awkward, complicated, and messy.  Molly isn't always the hero. She shows her own bad-guy moments, and admits when she wished she could have acted differently than she did. She is self-aware, and hopeful. 

Delancey is like how we talk to friends about life, after opening a second bottle of wine.

molly's rosemary candied ginger shortbread | tara o'brady

Molly, you introduced us to French toast fried in oil, bouchons de thon, and Corentine's way with carrots. You showed us the potential of this medium, proved to an industry the value of new voices, and you are an essential part of this community. You have shared these years, shared Delancey, Essex, your friends, the dogs, your family, your mother, Burg, Brandon, and now sweet June.

Thank you for writing, M. Thanks for all of it. 

 

MOLLY'S SHORTBREAD WITH ROSEMARY + CANDIED GINGER 

Just like in A Homemade Life, Delancey has recipes to end chapters; while linked to the restaurant in many ways, they are not restaurant recipes per se. Instead they are those which represent a certain point in time (Vietnamese rice noodle salad, sautéed dates with sea salt, one heck of a cocktail called The Benjamin Wayne Smith) or, in the case of this shortbread, a roasted pork shoulder, and a trick with red wine vinaigrette, they're ones that came into their life because of the restaurant.

I won't excerpt the Molly's headnote, as the story behind this recipe is another reason to grab the book. But the cookies are inspired by ones served by the late Christina Choi at her restaurant, Nettletown.

The shortbread comes together in a flash, straightforward as shortbreads go, with the expected triumvirate of butter, sugar, and flour, then rosemary and candied ginger are invited to hang out. The combination is fiercely aromatic on the cutting board, but when baked, it unwinds. So, the lolling richness of the shortbread gets broadened by the thrumming warmth the ginger, and made slightly-more-savoury with the herb's resiny sharpness. I want to try them with a few, stingy drops of almond extract, and made slightly larger to serve as base for macerated strawberries. 

I did add a gilding roll of the dough in sugar before baking; the step added just enough texture to emphasize the edge of each cookie. I liked that.

Barely tweaked from Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2014), by Molly Wizenberg. The recipe is mostly in Molly's words.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (280 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (about 4 g) finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/3 cup (60 g) chopped candied ginger
  • Sugar, for rolling, see note

METHOD

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Add to the mixer bowl, and beat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the dough begins to form large clumps that pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add the candied ginger, and mix briefly to incorporate. Divide the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and shape it into roughly 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap, and refrigerate the dough logs for a few hours or overnight, until good and firm.  

When your'e ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Sprinkle sugar over work surface or in a wide, shallow dish large enough to accommodate the dough logs. Remove the logs from the refrigerator and while they're still very cold, roll them in the sugar to coat. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are pale golden, rotating and switching the pans midway through. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. 

These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week, if not longer. They can also be frozen.

Yield: about 60 cookies 

Note from Tara: This recipe used up the last of my candied ginger, but there was a lot of sugar left in the container. So, I sifted it for any larger clumps, then used that spiced sugar when rolling the cookies, making for an extra ginger kick. Lacking that, sanding sugar would be pretty, and granulated would work just fine.

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