Monday, June 08, 2009

Welcome Rosemary Harris!

I am so excited to welcome guest blogger Rosemary Harris today. Her wonderful mysteries, Pushing Up Daisies and The Big Dirt Nap, are nominated right and left for awards. Readers can easily see why - they are well crafted and filled with Rosemary's excellent sense of humor. Rosemary is a Master Gardener, and her character is as well. I've met this delightful author twice, and have introduced her books to many happy library patrons. Welcome Rosemary Harris!

My mother wasn’t much of a cook although I recently reconnected with an old roommate who rhapsodized about her spaghetti sauce and meatballs. Instead I remember her zeppole and struffoli made for the holidays and distributed to relatives throughout the borough of Brooklyn, New York. Her zeppole were better than those sold at the feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy and her struffoli, sprinkled with chopped walnuts and soaked in honey were better than Mario Batali’s (although I use his recipe now since hers is long gone.)

Cookies, on the other hand, were miserable tasteless discs sliced from a frozen log and heated. Or worse giant tins of supposedly Danish cookies that looked different but managed to all taste the same, even the chocolates ones. What can I say, she wasn’t into cookies. And neither was I until I got my first job at a bookstore. The manager, a robust German woman named Jo would give each of the employees a box of cookies for the holidays. A modest gift, you say? No way.

Jo’s cookies were minor works of art. Stacked in little pleated cups or nestled in colored tissue paper, each gift box contained 10 or 12 varieties and the employees would swap for their favorites like kids trading baseball cards.

Jo retired, I changed jobs, but one recipe survives from my days at that Waldenbooks in Brooklyn - her almond crescent cookies. I make them every year. They’re best when hand formed as Jo directed but one year I got a little lazy and tried using a cookie cutter. And thereby hangs another tale.

I started with Christmas cookie cutters – bells, trees, stars, just the basics. The following year, I added Thanksgiving cookie cutters – turkeys, pumpkins, leaves. Soon, every minor holiday required a new set of cutters –Easter? Of course. Fourth of July? Natch. Arbor Day, ‘fraid so. The one drawer in my kitchen that held the cookie cutters was replaced by a large wicker basket. Then an entire shelf in my linen closet.

My obsession reached a critical point just before the election of 2000. A friend was having an election night party. So boring to just bring a bottle of wine…my plan was to bring cookies in the shape of the swing states and to decorate some of them blue and some red based on the predictions of my favorite pundits. I already had a cutter in the shape of Alabama (my fondness for cookies was getting around..) so I felt sure they existed somewhere. I headed for ebay , famous for matching weird buyers and sellers and it didn’t disappoint. I sprung for all 5o states, just in case the election was closer than I thought..ha, who knew? They even threw in Guam as a little thank you.

Here’s the recipe that started it all…and Jo, wherever you are, danke schoen!
Jo’s Almond Crescent Cookies
1 c. butter
½ c. powdered sugar (more for dipping)
2/3 c. finely chopped almonds
1/4 tsp. salt
2 ¼ c. sifted flour
Yield four dozen.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add almonds, flour, salt, mixing thoroughly. Chill dough. Cut into pieces and handroll into 2”x1/4” lengths. Form into crescents on baking sheets. Bake until set, not brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on pan. While slightly warm dip cookies in powdered sugar. Cover on all sides. I do it on a cookie sheet filled with powdered sugar so that I can coat lots of them at the same time. Arrange as you would apple slices in a tarte tatin, in a swirl starting at the center of a decorative plate. Your friends will think you are a domestic goddess!

1 comment:

Norm Cowie said...

Heh, Guam, she said 'Guam.'