Raindrops on fir trees and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and…t-shirts and shorts? It was a warm Christmas this year, which, my fella reminds me, should be the only day of the year that it actually ever snows. Regardless, along with all the gifts and all the love we shared here in our Astoria apartment, we pretended that baby, it was cold outside, and ‘twas the morning of heartwarming and bone-warming breakfast treats: scrambled eggs with cheese, crispy bacon, mint mocha coffee swirled with cream, and, of course, homemade cinnamon rolls.
I was one of those kids who grew up eating Pillsbury, popped open from a wacky cardboard can, baked until puffed, and schmeared with a hearty glopping of sugary sweet goo. We didn’t have them often, but they were certainly a treat. I had the occasional Cinnabon, too, of course, probably as a teenager, at the mall. One time, on a roadtrip, probably more recently than I would like to admit, I even bought some cinnamon bun sticks that one would dip into said pre-made sugary sweet goo, making for a slightly less messy eating experience. Pretty clever. Eating such a thing in a car, however, when one is incredibly prone to motion sickness, is not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It’s more like one of those things that six-year-old Sarah would have done. In the car or on the couch, half a roll or a stick or two later and hello nausea and sugar headache. And have you seen the ingredient lists?? Partially hydrogenated soybean oil? Monoglycerides? Are you kidding? Continue reading →
I know for the last days of Hanukkah I should probably be making jelly doughnuts. Or a jelly doughnut cake. But sufganiyot, the traditional treat served during the Festival of Lights, was never high on my mother’s dessert agenda, and I’m not sure we ever tried convincing her otherwise. Once, as an adult, I fried up some apple cider doughnuts for our Hanukkah feast, but have since realized they’re much better baked. And although I’ve had no problem stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some chocolate honey glazed (which, I think in this day and age, is no longer glazed with honey, but rather some other sugary concoction) to share around the menorah, rugelach is more in line with my family tradition. And unlike fried doughnuts (but not fried cookies), they’ll last for more than one sitting. I’m also gearing up to try my hand at croissants, so I may as well work on my crescent-rolling technique now, right?
This year I set out to do something a bit different from the traditional. At least, traditional in my family. My mom’s recipe, which comes from my grandma’s Romanian side of the family, is filled with sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts. Actually pretty perfect for this time of year. But I must be stuck in some other dimension because my December treats have been suspiciously lacking in chocolate, and this must be amended immediately. This year we’re going to make rugelach of the babka variety: chocolate and cinnamon; tender and bittersweet. Sort of like 2014. But that’s a whole other story.
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When I was a kid, Christmas was never a thing in my house. That comes with the territory of being a Jewish family in the suburbs of New York City, I suppose, where we were never alone. We were surrounded by plenty of kids who celebrated Christmas, of course, and we even had our moments of jealousy, but Hanukkah was a-okay. Eight days of presents and candles and yummy fried foods? That should be great in anyone’s book. But Christmas did sneak in while we lived on Long Island, thanks to our neighbor Rosanna.
Every December, Rosanna would make her famous Christmas cookies: strips of dough, cut into diamonds, twisted, fried and doused with powdered sugar; a holiday staple in her native Italy and possibly the most perfect cookie ever made. And she made them not only for her own family, her kids returning from college, her husband returning from the merchant marines, but for her neighbors — her friends — as well. It was always a treat to stop by her house while she was cooking them — we would get a few warm, along with a story or two, and then a bowl of them to bring back to our families. She even made them for Halloween, tucked in those little treat bags with cartoon ghosts and witches on them and handed to the local kids who would ring her doorbell for trick or treat. Those were still the days when neighbors were loved and trusted. Everyone loved Rosanna. She was the epitome of generosity, of warmth.
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I love biscotti. Twice baked, it’s the adult version of our childhood nostalgia: crunchy sweetness best dipped before being devoured. Instead of a glass of milk, though, those little bars are beautiful with a latte, a cup of tea, a mug of hot chocolate. It’s breakfast, it’s dessert, it’s your sophisticated milk-and-cookies before bed.
The problem is, though, that too often, biscotti are a little too crunchy — or rather, uncrunchably hard. I once made a recipe that was so hard, I actually realigned my jaw trying to bite into one after years of it being nearly imperceptibly, but rather painfully misaligned. Though most of my friends refused to touch it, I claimed it a medical victory. But you never want friends to avoid your baking, no matter how it might accidentally give you some mandibular relief. I am no doctor — it’s not a method I would necessarily advise to anyone. Truth be told, I was lucky I didn’t break a tooth or five.
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It’s December. The tree is up, the menorah is candle-ready, and it’s cookie month. C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me — as long as they’re not those overly sweet, unbalanced confections that are so common at the Christmas cookie swap. If I’m going to eat my weight in cookies for a month, they’d better not give me a nauseating sugar headache. So let’s make some beautiful little treats that not only have the traditional heart of the holidays, but also have some balance. Who’s with me?
Two years ago, when we were going gluten-free out of fear that the fella may have inherited his mom’s celiac disease, we also happened to be staying here in NYC for the holidays. I tried to bring as much Christmas spirit into the apartment as I knew how — surprised him with a decked-out tree, bought some baubles, and tried my hand at gluten-free, dark chocolate peanut butter blossoms. Did you know you can make cookies without flour? Any flour at all? And that they will just melt in your mouth? It’s a thing, and they’re amazing. You could probably call these peanut butter meltaways. Two years later and with wheat flour once again a very prominent feature in our lives, I’m still making them. Continue reading →
Several weeks ago, after recovering from one of my last long runs, the fella came home from the bagel shop with a small container of mystery cream cheese, spooned some out, and asked me what I tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it — I was craving my salty everything bagel, and this was sweet and smoky, and not at all what I wanted. I asked him to just tell me what it was. After some more pleading, because I wouldn’t play the game, he told me: maple bacon. “OH!” My eyes widened, my palm went to my forehead, and once I knew, I immediately wanted more.
We schmeared it on freshly baked and toasted peasant bread later that afternoon and lamented its quick disappearance. We returned for more, but it was for naught. Everyone wanted the maple bacon cream cheese. It was gone. Continue reading →