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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It began with sunlight and ended up with shortbread.

Most mornings, the front room of our house is quiet. As a family we prefer to cluster around the kitchen in those first minutes of the day, in sock feet and pajamas, mulling around the coffee maker and the kitchen table. 

The other day I was drawn out of that comforting circle of domesticity by the wayward ramblings of our youngest, whose well-loved train set resides in the room closest to the front of our home. And upon our arrival to that room, it was evident I had been missing out.

The leaves on our trees are only coming into their foliage now; they're still a tangle of branch and lacy beginnings of leaf. The first light of the morning isn't blocked, but delicately filtered through this doily of green, shining golden against the wall opposite our windows - on now on that wall, three projected rectangles that flickered with the shadows of a thousand butterflies.

Later that same day, we were in the backyard when our eldest implored me to look up - something adults often forget to do, but children seem to do all the time - he was pointing out the white chalk line of an airplane as it travelled across the sky. If you face the sun like that, even through trees, your cheeks grow warm and when you close your eyes it's like you're looking at fireworks through a kaleidoscope.

Maybe it was all this time staring at the sun, but that day I was seeing the world through dandelion-coloured glasses. So when it came to an afternoon snack, shortbread fit the bill. Weeks ago, Shari had talked about a version she'd tried that was speckled with rosemary. I'd bookmarked a promising recipe from Gourmet that same day, but not gotten around to trying it yet.

And oh boy, was I missing out when it comes to shortbread, too.

Pale yellow from generous quantities of butter and a of squeeze ochre-hued honey, this is a cookie that yields to the tooth but lingers on the tongue. They look comparatively plain, slightly sandy and crumbly at their edge and with the only the suggestion of a puff at their centres. But never mind their looks, the simplest of shortbreads are often the best in my books.

To make these is to make most biscuity cookies, sugar and butter are creamed with the honey, then dry ingredients are added to that. It's not a dough that likes to be bothered; as soon as all the flour is dampened by the fat, it's all tipped out onto a board and kneaded together. Pat it gently into your desired shapes, dust them with sugar, then off to the oven for baking. 

They are fine and sweet and a little bit savoury with flakes of salt and that resiney, piney taste of rosemary that pairs so well with honey. I think some lemon zest might be a possibility to explore, but only out of curiosity and not necessity, as they are not in any way in want of improvement.

As far as I can tell, it is the cookie for a spring afternoon. One full of sunshine, if that can be arranged.

HONEYED ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, via Epicurious.

Notes

  • The recipe specifies a mild honey, however I used a more robust variety which resulted in a pronounced, honeyed flavour to the baked cookie.
  • I only had enough fresh rosemary on hand to amount to 2 chopped teaspoons rather than the required 1 tablespoon. I found the lesser quantity suited my taste.
  • For added texture and a satisfying salinity, I used sea salt.

* * * * * * * 

Today is the proper 5th anniversary of this site, although I did mention it a few days ago. In looking back through my archives it came to my attention that the comments from the first year or so of posts have not transferred with the redesign. (It broke my heart a little, I won't lie.)

I'm working on re-establishing those words, but in the interim, I wanted to say thanks. Really, I don't have a way to fully convey my gratitude - to all of you who have read, for all of you who wrote back then and who write now. My old stories seem so lonely without your presence, and it illustrates what makes this site mean so much to me. The conversation, that's the thing. And without you, it's gone. So, again, five years on, thank you.

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