“I don’t think chocolate and blueberries would be good, I think YOU and chocolate would be better.” -Oscar Torres
It rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Brown Butter Almond Brittle. A fresh pint from our local Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a most magical ice cream shop, with flavor pairings artfully mixed together, and ingredients from all over the world as well as locally sourced right here in “the buckeye state”. Brown Butter Almond Brittle is a balance of sweet and salty, smooth creamy layers buttoned with buttery crunchy bits. Even as the snow gathers outside, and the temperature drops, a scoop (or two) of Jeni’s ice cream was a perfect way to top off our Saturday.
As it nears the date of my grandmother’s death, I’m reposting this sweet memory she left with me forever…
Last year I went to a cookie party, and admittedly, I had never heard of such a gathering where you can bring several dozen home-made cookies and trade with partygoers until you leave with exactly as many cookies as you came with, only, the point is to leave with different cookies than what you came with. Easy enough, I set out to make a longtime family favorite: tea cakes. And as I prepared for the party that morning, sometime during that ritual of mixing and baking, I got more than just three dozen cookies…
I thought back to a time in the mid-nineties when my cousin and I traveled to Chicago to hang out and visit our grandmother. While we were there, I got the chance for an impromptu one on one baking lesson with her. Grandma was small in stature and had a soft voice, but her food was big on flavor, mystery, and sweet and savory southern traditions. I was especially curious about the sweet: the soft homemade ice-cream freshly churned, the sweet potato pies, and the tea cakes. She made these biscuit-like cookies she called tea cakes. They are simple cookies, not too sweet, but full of spice and flavor. They are a family favorite. The simple soft biscuits were a staple in the cookie jar while we were growing up and I wanted to learn this recipe and make them in my adulthood.
While in Chicago that summer, I asked her to teach me and she did. She walked me through each step in how to make them, a pinch of this and a dash of that….she didn’t need a recipe, but I thought…”grandma, I need you to write all that down, there’s no way I’ll remember the simple nuisances of this recipe.” I remember years later after that summer, how intimidated I felt by the thought of making these cookies that seemed to come out perfect every time grandma made them. No one else could make them like her. I can recall a couple of times my young mom (who is also an amazing cook) tried to make them when we were kids. They were pretty good, and had the right flavors, but somehow they just didn’t quite taste the same as grandmas. I thought to myself I wanted to learn how to make these cookies and I wanted to carry this recipe on and maybe one day make these cookies for my children (and one day grandchildren). After that weekend in Chicago, I put the recipe in one of my staple cookbooks and carried it from apartment to apartment, relationship after relationship. I tried a few times to make them, but much like my mom when we were young, I just couldn’t quite get it right.
Fast forward 15 years, as I received the news of my grandmother’s passing I immediately went rummaging through the cabinet, flipping through my collection of cookbooks desperately searching for the tea cake recipe scribbled in that original blue pen. I found it. It had yellowed over time but the memory of me baking in the kitchen with grandma that summer afternoon in Chicago was as clear as if it had just happened. The smell of the kitchen that day, 15 years ago, rushed right back from memory. It had been years since I attempted to make this recipe, but for some reason, even as we prepared to travel to Cleveland for the funeral, I felt immediately compelled to try again.
I preheated the oven and let the eggs and margarine sit out to get room temperature. I gathered all the ingredients from the pantry and scattered them on the table. I slowly added in the ingredients one by one (just as grandma had instructed over 15 years ago and reminded me in writing on the yellowed paper). There was flour everywhere as I worked with the batter and rolled it out. I loaded up the cookie sheet, slid the first dozen in the oven, and waited. I watched each dozen carefully. The cookies bake quickly, and I didn’t want to burn them as I had so many times in the past.
After the first dozen baked through, I was much too anxious, I had to taste them. We were leaving for my grandmother’s funeral the next day and I had little time to keep trying to get this recipe right. I wanted to bring them with me to Cleveland. I wanted to have them as comfort food during the drive. I wanted to share them with my cousin, who had been there that day with me in Chicago 15 years ago.
Before recently, when I made them for the cookie party, my last attempt was right before the funeral about a year ago. There was something that happened to me that weekend. I was mourning and the only fix I had for the moment was to bake, to keep myself busy, fixed on something else. Somehow this memory of baking with my grandmother that summer afternoon in Chicago had showed up in my stir, in my kneading of the dough, in my timing. Baking I’ve learned, is all about exaction of fresh ingredients and timing.
I also learned just nearly a year ago that my grandmother had left me more than just a simple cookie recipe she brought up north with her from Alabama, she left with me, with all of us, distinct, flavorful memories of cooking. I think about the tea cake recipe and how simple ingredients: eggs, flour, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, are not fancy or decadent in any way, but precious and comforting memories of childhood. I think about how these cookies have humbled me in the kitchen, but most of all how these cookies or rather memories of my grandmother’s cooking has shown up in my own sensibilities towards food and cooking.
That day nearly a year ago, as I prepared to travel to Cleveland for the funeral, and as my eyes glossed over with tears, I tasted that first dozen still warm out the oven. I thought to myself, “These came out pretty good, thank you grandma.” And even though it was now too late to physically share that moment of success with her, somehow I believe she already knew, even as she stood there teaching me in the kitchen 15 years ago, she knew that I had listened, that I would later try this recipe on my own, and that I would probably make many mistakes in doing so. But the one thing that I now realize that she also knew was that one day I would eventually get it right.
1 stick margarine, soft (you can add a little Crisco, mix well)
3 eggs (mix in one at a time)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup regular sugar
3 cups flour (work one cup in at a time)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
Mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, then roll out the dough and cut (for soft cookies do not roll dough too thin). Bake at 350 degrees.
(This is what happens when art museum educators have an office gift exchange)
A few years ago I wondered if love was just out of my reach. Then I looked up from my wonder and love was standing there in front of me smiling.
In the final days of summer, with cooler mornings and mild afternoons, when the sun is just high enough to wrap its warmth in our squinting eyes, my husband and I celebrated our love. On our special day, he dressed up for me in his crisp white shirt and decorated shoulders. I wore wine colored heels and a smile. There was a moment of pause as we honored the lives lost on this day and honored each other—love.
We sat on the patio so we could look at each other under the bending stems and flat green leaves, our table just inches from where we stood a few years ago and said, “I do.” We spoke under our breaths between the swirl of sourdough in tomato stained olive oil, and slow bites of farfalle and chicken, crab cake and slaw. I had forgotten we sometimes need reassurance, the sound of water rhythm running in the stream beside us. It reminded me of patience; something love and time are teaching me.
It was over dessert and a single flame that we leaned in towards each other, closed our eyes, and wished together first in silence, then gathered our hands and shared our hope out loud with each other and in gesture with those around us. I wish you love on this day, and our love together, every day thereafter.
Dinner at downtown’s De-Novo was a crisp bottle of Santa Margharita pinot, an exotic course of Kangaroo (I was skeptical, but it was delicious), a main course of Chilean sea bass and pomegranate-glazed salmon, and for dessert, tiramisu. Conversation was cautious and easy across the flickering globe centered at our table. Dining near the window was a view of the city’s green space commons, a cozy but lively patio during happy hour, and a random ride by a few dozen ladies cycling through the center of the city at dusk. We were whispering thoughtful words caught between our lips, our busy lives; and the warm glass glow.
Since the baby was born (nearly three months ago) and with the other two boys as busy as ever, my husband and I haven’t had much time with “just us”. So we put the boys to bed with a sitter, dressed up, and didn’t look back. I don’t believe in (mommy) guilt on a date night, especially while seated cozy in the window at nightfall accompanied by a bottle of wine and some real adult conversation, (the cute guy sitting next to me doesn’t hurt either). Friday or Saturday dining out would have been nice (but much more busy), so I’ll take a light crowd, good food and music on a Wednesday any time. When in doubt go on a midweek date night; sometimes waiting until Friday or Saturday just won’t do.
As the summer came to a sweeping end, I remembered that we’d had some cool adventures in those last warm days. And as the autumn leaves are falling in crimson and gold, I’m still writing about the last days of summer — maybe it will help keep the winter away for just a little while longer.
In teaching Mason about the fine art of chocolate, there was no better place to introduce him to than the Short North’s le Chocoholique. My entire family really loves chocolate, and I’ve managed to train my husband that this sweet boutique right at the corner of Poplar and High is the go to place for interesting and exotic chocolate finds. I’m a regular there and can’t leave that place spending less than $15 — yes, for candy.
Anyway, after dinner one day with my 6-year-old, we felt like something sweet, so hand in hand we strolled down High and found our way through the doors of this modern spin on a chocolate shop. I watched my son’s eyes busy savoring all of the choices. Incidentally, with all the choices, it’s too bad as a health conscious mom I only let him have just one piece. “Choose wisely,” I advised. And he did, a chunk of milk chocolate with a hint of peanut butter tucked inside, and for me — a few pieces of salted milk chocolate with caramel, and of course my staple — chocolate covered gummy bears…delicious.
Turning two seemed a non-event yesterday, but as the week goes on, the celebration gets more interesting…
In the Montessori classroom, each child has an opportunity to celebrate their special birth day by exploring how earth’s orbit around the sun takes a year. There is a globe kids are supposed to walk around with to symbolize the earth in orbit (Rafael tossed his globe like a baseball, oops!), a candle (which made me a little nervous with all those babies and toddlers), and the entire class of little ones gathered in a circle, singing, giving thanks (and hugs).
I know it sounds a little Kumbaya but it’s really special for the kids (and us big kids). And outside from hugging each other and tumbling to the floor in loud and dramatic laughter, it is a moment to celebrate each child’s year of growth through art (pictures and books), culture (each child has their own special ritual), science (earth’s orbit), and math (days, months, years). There’s no junk food and no drama—just a handful of little kids singing their song, oh, and I almost forgot, eating bowls of frozen yogurt and fresh strawberries (courtesy of Rafael). The kids work up quite an appetite after all that celebrating…
“Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do.” —Jean de la Bruyere
Falling out of touch with a friend is typical. We live such busy lives; it’s easy for friends to sway in and out. But what I appreciate about most of my friends (near and far) is our ability to pick right back up where we left off, as if I had talked to them yesterday. This seems to be a phenomenon. I really can’t explain it.
I’m sure others experience this sort of thing with their friends but I’m always left amazed at how easy it is to slip right back into the lives of those friends that I’ve known and loved for years. It’s really powerful. And what’s even more mysterious is the moment when you can sit down face to face with a dear friend to just catch up, it’s just so easy.
Just a few weeks ago a girlfriend of mine was in from Detroit. Together over dinner at my house, we sung in each other’s ears life’s crazy rhythms and celebrated motherhood, love. And just recently I had a quiet easy dinner at Black Olive in the Short North when a longtime dear friend of mine just happened to be in town that day for an event. We connected that morning, met for dinner early that evening, and caught up in giant steps and ease. In both cases, a phone call wasn’t enough, and a text only scratched the surface. Being in each other’s space was just right. Friends like that don’t come along often. I’ve been blessed with a few friends like this in my life—thank you—I’m lucky.
And so I think back to several months ago when I spotted her sitting in the back row of the movie theater, her serious gaze was unmistakable, her style, chic and fluid. I hadn’t seen her in so long. We smiled in greeting, hugged tightly, briefly exchanged emails, and promised to be in touch. Sometimes after seeing a longtime friend, even with the best intentions, it’s really difficult to plan around schedules and get together. You have every desire to, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
So I sent her an email. We played email tag for nearly three months, catching up in little bits and pieces, flickering humor and sincerity back and forth with short verse and “emoticons”. This gesturing created a brilliant tension; we were determined to get together, to see each other in person. Besides, she is local, we had no excuses. But between her move, her trip to Chicago, my trip to D.C., both our work and social schedules, getting together seemed impossible.
Until a few days ago, after several late night replies, and a handful of rescheduled dates, we met out on the patio at Mojoe in German Village. We sat down, ordered a few sweet and sparkly cocktails, some small tapas style bites, and finished off with rich (and warm) slices of German Chocolate cake (we both have a sweet tooth). Nothing was forced; we talked as if we had talked yesterday and the day before (we actually had over email). We picked up right where we left off, and left off, right where we’ll pick up sometime later or maybe sometime soon.
There are a few other friends I can think of that I do this with—sometimes over the phone but most often in person. I miss when getting together was easy, but I like the dance of staying together, even when it’s hard, it keeps longtime friendships only a conversation away.
To all you lovers of cake, have you tried one? I have a sweet tooth so I tried two—Birthday Cake and Rocky Road (but they also have Tiramisu). Yum. It’s really just a ball of sugar on a stick. You can eat it in a few bright beautiful bites. Its thick rich sugary goodness temporarily feels guilt free but it isn’t. Inspired by my friend Zulal, (who I might add also has a sweet tooth), I’ve learned to ask myself (before eating anything sweet) if it’s worth the calories.
A resounding yes for cake pops—definitely worth the 200 calories and the guilt.
She rarely meets a cupcake she doesn’t like (and for that matter, neither do I) and Golden Graham s’mores are hunks of chewy chocolate goodness. Goodbyes are difficult but the memories are sweet and lasting.