Marzipan Cookie Dough: three pro-tips and a caveat

My mom made these so perfectly, but I’ve had them dull or too hard or too crumbly. They require a light hand, mainly. This v. old Betty Crocker recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp almond extract. That’s all. Mix, shape, chill half an hour, bake at 300º for about half an hour.

First I double and slightly change the recipe; increasing flavoring and decreasing flour. I use four bowls and into each one I put a stick of softened butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp almond extract. It’s easier to do this than to divide the dough after adding the flour.
CameraZOOM-20141207144827214Then I color it before adding the flour. That’s tip #2. Tip #3 which my mom didn’t do because it would have been very pricey back then, is to use gel colors. CameraZOOM-20141207145247198
Then I add 1 1/8 cups of flour to each bowl, and stir just until it will all stick together. It does not look as weird as this photo. I don't have an explanation for this. CameraZOOM-20141207150424886
The caveat: I usually use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour for most cookies. But today I bought an organic variety, and it is darker. So two of the bowls got a darker flour which changed the color considerably. I’ll have to rethink how I shape the cookies, and then I’ll probably roll them in colored sugar, which I dyed myself because it’s easy and cheap and you can do whichever colors you like.

So why am I showing you dough and no cookies? I'll be honest here. I got the cramps. The dough will keep til morning.

Christmas, cookie misnomers, feeling internal

I've decorated a bit extra for Christmas this year. I even bought a second little tree for my front room where I read and listen to music. 20141206_105601

As the kids no longer ask for piles of toys each year, money for gifts is not a big concern. I'm trying to get the boys to just collude on something they'd like to enjoy together, as two of them tend to want very little, and the other one wants everything, yet is not at all greedy or grasping.

I'm lonely; the girls aren't around, and I can't spend any time outside these days. Even getting out to do things that need doing costs me so much energy, it defines the entire day. Today I'm going to Costco, so I need to know in my head every single moment of dinner preparation ahead of time, so that I'm on top of it later on. But inside I'm doing better; I can run up and down the stairs again, and make more of each day. 20141205_140303

So I'm making odd little crafts, doing some weekend baking, working to take pleasure in my surroundings. DSC_0439

It's tough on the boys, because they still all have only learner's driving permits. (It's a long story, and not interesting.) They need more practice than they're getting. Anyway. About cookies...

This morning I was looking at an old BHG cookbook called Cooking For Two, and a recipe mentioned rusks. I looked that up to learn they are twice-baked toasts. Thicker than Melba, more like what we'd call biscotti, only plainer. Apparently, people in the UK used to put them in baby bottles, which freaked me out a little, but most people did survive what parents used to do. A baby will learn to expect what it is given, so we try to do better with that these days.

Of course, what we call biscotti are not really what they call them in Italy (I'm not looking up the name, I think it starts with c) and not what my grandma called them, either. When my grandma, mom, and aunts made biscotti, they used 5 cups of flour and 6 eggs plus a few other things to create soft, round, barely sweet and very plain cookies that were then dipped in powdered sugar icing and sometimes had sprinkles added. They made pans and pans of them. And Grandma would shape some of that same dough into braids at Easter, and bake colored eggs right into them. (You just cook the eggs before dying so they are barely hard-cooked. Mom worried over this, but I have the internet to verify things.)

When we visited their house, we usually brought Stella D'oro Anisette Toasts for Grandpa, and these you'd recognize as biscotti, though actually, they have more of a spongey texture to them when dipped in coffee. The name has changed, I suppose because they aren't like what we are used to now. Or something.


I'm sure you know by now that the singular of biscotti is biscotto, which is actually just a cookie, after all. If you say you want a biscotti, it's kinda weird.

But today or tomorrow, I am going to make marzipan cookies. How can marzipan be a cookie, you ask? Well, it can't. They are called that because they are little almond-flavored cookies which are colored and shaped to look like marzipan. My mother labored lovingly over them every year. I do not. When I do make them now and then, I tend to cut them like shortbread. But this year, little fruits will be the order of the day.

I also like to make biscotti, by the way, our way in addition to the old way now and then. There's no point now in quibbling over the name; I just call the grandma kind "Easter cookies," but in fact, if you look them up online, you'll also see them referred to as anginetti.

CookiesClick on the photo to see a recipe. Below is the ingredient list I use:

For cookies:

6 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups confectioners' sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder 

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla (or anise or almond)

For glaze:

1/2 cup warm milk

1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
 (or lemon or vanilla)
1 (1-lb) box confectioners' sugar (about 4 cups, unsifted)

Colored sprinkles


Dreaming of olives, and some stuff

I'm in a cooking mood. I am making the olives today, first off. It's called olives scaciati, but when my mom made it, we called it the olives. Note: there are no carrots or vinegar in it. That would be weird, and not the olives. Also, it has to sit for two weeks before eating. I didn't buy enough olives to sneak-taste, either.

Because I got the big fat Sicilian olives at Jungle Jim's Eastgate, naturally I bought the small dark Greek ones. That is what Mom did when we went to Scimeca's, and no matter how many delicious olives JJ's and Abigail Street offer that touch me in special places, those are the ones I always go back to.

I'm also going to try this Baked Spanish-Style Chicken and Vegetables recipe Jungle Jim's posted the other day. Will report back on that. No, seriously, I really will. It's summer, and I am on this thing.

What I want to share now, though, is my birthday present to me, which arrived a couple days ago. It was meant to be twelve of these 1965 cookbooks with the index, but the eBay seller told me he couldn't find the bread one, which is sad, because I would have probably actually used that one. He gave me free shipping as a trade-off. It turns out, anyway, that there were eighteen volumes produced, so now I will hunt down the other seven. And share bits on my cooking page.


Simultaneously running through my head: "The Clapping Song" by Shirley Ellis, and the Speed Racer theme.


For lack of things to say, holiday dinner planning, miscellanea

Here's some stuff I wrote down just now, to organize my thoughts a bit.

Green BEAN Delivery: produce (they always have good seasonal lineups prepared)
Jungle Jim's: turkey, bread for stuffing, wine
Kroger (posh:) flowers

also to buy:
aluminum foil
cake flour
frozen bread dough
maple syrup
sour cream

to make ahead:
orange marmalade
pie crusts
chicken stock
banana or apple bread
pumpkin pie filling

to do:
organize refrigerator
clean dining room floor
check up on Christmas ornaments
call for dishwasher repair

Whenever we've had dishwasher trouble, it's been at Thanksgiving. When our freezer died, it was Christmas Eve. It's just like that in my life, so I just factor it into my whole "doing things the hard way" system.

Because like, I usually buy orange marmalade for the turkey. And then I made a couple kinds of marmalade a few weeks ago, realized how shockingly easy that is, and thought, "why on earth have I been buying it?" I'm kind of a condiment junky, anyway. It makes better sense to just make enough to use, instead of adding yet another little jar to the collection.

I glaze the turkey with orange marmalade, but it's also basted with a sherry-orange juice butter. I forget who I got the original ideas from, which I just got to combining over the years to suit my tastes.

And there's a bit of orange zest in the cranberry sauce and the mashed sweet potatoes, so I am having oranges sent with the produce delivery this week.

Certain flavors always to be expected if you eat my Thanksgiving dinner: maple, and orange and almond. The green beans (and sometimes Brussels sprouts, but not, I think, this year, as it's a tinier group than usual,) are sauteed with garlic. In this manner, I prepare traditional American holiday foods with a hint of the Mediterranean ancestral memory built into my brain. 

The boys voted on cherry pie with the pumpkin pie for this year. I have cherries in the freezer, so that's a happy thing. Probably I will do the sour cream crust recipe I got from Bon Appetit for blueberry pie around 20 years ago. SourcreamcrustCake flour is made with a softer wheat and is a good thing to add to pie crusts containing butter. This is baked at 400º for 50 minutes with a filling made from 2 lbs of fruit.

And then they prefer the flaky shortening crust for pumpkin pie, rather than the buttery tart-style ones I tend to use otherwise. The cherry pie is flavored with almond extract, in reminiscence of my mother. She bought canned cherries (not the pie filling,) and cooked them to a rich thickness with almond extract, sugar, and flour. The scent wafting through the house was magical.

So I do much the same thing, but with frozen cherries instead of canned.

I miss my faraway daughters a lot right now. However, I like to make things as great as I can for my sons. It would be crummy of me to put in only half effort for half the family. Thanksgiving dinner has always been my special gift for them, and hopefully they'll all always have good memories of that.

It's a basic menu, but all fully homemade except the dinner rolls, and the bread for the dressing.

Orange-glazed turkey with sherry cream gravy
Sage and onion dressing
Orange-spiced cranberry sauce
Sauteed green beans
Maple mashed sweet potatoes
Raised dinner rolls
Pumpkin pie
Cherry pie

Waving my cane at "holiday" candy

I've always had a problem controlling my sugar intake. When I was old enough in childhood to walk to the store, I'd spend all my dimes on paper dots, lollipops, whatever new oddities were being introduced at the time, and there were a plethora of them, or I'd buy a Butterfinger or Heath bar. I loved Heath; it was so much better back then before Hershey bought it. Anyway.

Some treats were available only at certain times or in certain places, so they were more valuable, rare treasures to be sought after or longed for. Like movie candy. My favorite movie candies were Junior Mints and Cherry Dots. I liked regular mixed flavor Dots, but getting a box of nothing but cherry felt amazing. Well, back then, you almost never saw movie candy outside of the movie theater, and we didn't go all that often. Once in a great while, we'd see a box of cherry Dots, and Mom would get them for me. It felt like winning a prize in a drawing. I savored the first few, though, then crammed them in until the box was empty.

I had no discretion with holiday candy at all. I would gobble it all up, no matter how much I told myself to let it stretch out for awhile. I am pretty sure no one really thought this was wrong, as it was a happy treat, I ate my dinners pretty well, and was always extremely thin.

But really, candy to me was like beer to my dad. If it was there, I ate all of it until there wasn't anymore. It has taken many years for me to partly conquer that problem. The worst thing is those gelled spearmint leaves. If we're at the grocery store, my son can hold up a bag of those and I will literally start shaking. Yes, I said literally. I am physiologically changed at the sight, almost at the mere mention of them. Right now as I type, I am experiencing the sugary coating, the way a piece looks and feels as you bite into it, and the strange leafy aftertaste. I can smell them, though I haven't opened a package in years. So, I don't eat them. Ever. I know I could just eat one or two now, if someone else was holding the bag, but it would never satisfy me.

When I was 13, I was told I had hypoglycemia, and was immediately put on a no sugar, low carb diet. You should know that was in 1978, long before people got really confused about low fat, low carb, low sugar diets and the fake foods they wrought. I couldn't even have ketchup, because it had sugar in it. And this was before every food had high fructose corn syrup in it, but my doctor was already convinced that stuff was a menace. I mean, you can easily say that it is, in the sense that all kinds of foods were sweetened with it starting around that time; foods that were always strictly savory before. Mom and I had to read labels and work to avoid everything that ended in -ose. There were compromises; I could drink milk, but not eat grapes.

I had to eat special peanut butter and learned to enjoy it on apples. I couldn't have jam, or most of the breakfast cereal I liked, or even the same bread. I ate a lot of sunflower seeds. It was a tough diet, but I didn't cheat, even at school, where my daily lunch had formerly consisted of a chocolate frosty and a basket of french fries. (To this day, I'm not much of a french fry fan, because they aren't like the ones I had in junior high.) The diet began right before Easter, and I wasn't allowed to have a candy basket. And the thing I missed most of all was Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.10.00 AM

They weren't sold individually yet; they came six to a package, and were available only at Easter. Also, they were always sold out, so if they weren't bought early, that was too bad. One year, my mom bought several packages and secreted them away, giving them to me for my birthday in early June. Those I did try very hard to spread out, and for me, they lasted awhile, at least a couple of weeks. Because I knew I wouldn't have any again until the following spring.

They were better than regular peanut butter cups because of the superior chocolate to peanut butter ratio. Peanut butter cups were in fact a disappointment by comparison. But of course, those were available year-round.

I avoid peanut butter eggs now like I avoid spearmint leaves. I will buy them for my kids at holidays but not eat any myself. Five of my six kids can eat candy like a normal person. One of them seems to have the same inherent problem as me, but was at least taught from the beginning to work at being mindful of it.

I felt much better on that very strict diet, but it was extremely difficult and ultimately unsatisfying, which meant I never sustained it for long periods of time. But I still have the problem. I have to limit myself in ways I can manage, because I react poorly to sugar just as I did when I was younger, and as I'm no longer underweight, am yet more susceptible to diabetes. I must now work to never be overweight. These days, I rarely eat candy, or ice cream, I never drink sweetened soft drinks, and I can refuse dessert after a good meal. Sugar has just got to be purely a treat for me, and not part of continual intake. I still have more than I should, but far, far less than I used to.

Before the past twenty years or so, we all looked upon desserts and other highly sweetened foods as treats, and only a few people like me took unholy advantage of them. Before syrup-laden lattes, before foods crammed with sweeteners to make up for the misguided desire for "low fat," before everything was available everywhere all the time, and people didn't have food at their desks, sugary treats were a rewarding pleasure at special times or after a special meal.

Alcohol converts to sugar in the blood; I take rich pleasure in a cocktail I've crafted, but keep to a strict weekly limit. And a piece of cake and an Aviation on the same night would drain my energy for the next day. It's one or the other, and not every day. For many people, though, sugar has become a part of every meal and every snack in a day. It does no good to claim you're okay because you eat only fake sugar. Why must everything you eat or drink be sweetened in the first place? This limits your flavor palate so that you seek out other ways to make your vegetables and grains taste satisfying, like topping it all with cheese...and I would be willing to lay down money that people who consume a lot of fake sugar are also consuming a lot of starchy foods like pasta, tortillas, hamburger buns...

This Halloween I gave out Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins. They were the big hit, the first candy we ran out of. But they were sold individually at the grocery store beginning in August. And look what I saw when I was at Kroger this morning. 20131111_083749
The moment Christmas is over, the eggs will appear, for a three month "Easter season." That special treat once available for a few weeks each spring is now in the stores at least six months out of the year.

I made sweetened treats from fresh fruit this weekend. But the great thing I've learned about making them for myself is that they feel so special, I have only a little, only occasionally, making the most of what I created. One of my best personal rules, not a rule but a general pattern, is to not eat any pre-made sweet that I could make myself. It all has a much higher degree of value that way, and I'm finally grown up enough to treasure that, not be a glutton about it. 

It isn't possible to set the clock back to a less convenient time in order to monitor our food intake better. And actually, most of us have far more access to truly healthful foods than we once did. But more and more people are becoming diabetic, not because of an inherited family trait, but because their diets were bungled nearly from the beginning. I read an article recently that admonished parents not to tell kids to eat their vegetables "because they're good for you," because a kid will think good for you means "tastes bad." That bothered me a lot. I preferred Sesame Street's idea of calling sweets "sometimes" foods. I told my kids that dessert is a special thing you have sometimes after your tummy is satisfied with what it needs. I don't know if that really stuck. I don't know what will. But being bombarded with holiday candy year round surely doesn't help matters. If there are peanut butter flags next year for July 4, I won't be surprised.

Tonight's martini

You might know I love Hendrick's gin. I would marry it. I also quite enjoy Junipero, Tanqueray Ten, and Martin Miller's. Can live without the rest that I've tried so far. But last week I was given a bottle of the exquisite Nolet's Silver gin. I cannot say enough good things about it. And I aim to drink most of it neat, or maybe on the rocks if I'm impatient for chilling. Yeah, I don't even have it in the freezer; it seemed too beautiful to not stand out on the liquor shelves. And it's floral. It requires no mixing, though I was daunted at first by its 46.5% abv. No need to be.

Tonight I decided to try it in a martini, just to see, you know. I used 3 ounces of the Nolet's and 1/2 ounce of Noilly Prat dry vermouth, and garnished with two cocktail onions, making it a Gibson rather than a martini. 

Well, it was perfect in one sense; tasting like class, and craftsmanship. But it was almost too much so, and I realized that its floral character too much matches the character of the vermouth. So I threw in a couple of Spanish olives and about 1/2 teaspoon of olive juice. It felt like sacrilege, but made a better martini. Which is to say, more perfect. 

I believe Hendrick's makes the better martini. But the Nolet's, to drink chilled, is such an unexpected treat I feel almost honored to taste it on my tongue...