Will Trade Cookies for Spring

Persian Chickpea Cookies (Nan-e Nokhodchi)

nokhodchi
Today, at 12:57 pm, the sun will do something too earth science-y for me to explain eloquently, and it will be spring.

This is my fourth post that mentions the Persian new year, Nowruz, which coincides with the first day of spring. A fourth post is probably excessive considering that only a few people (if any) who read this blog, besides my father (Hi, dad!), probably celebrate the holiday.

But this year, I need this holiday. I need the feeling and the brightness and the newness that it represents, at least, as my soul, body, and mind—mostly my mind—struggle to feel signs of life and to see green instead of grey.

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Dreamless

Crispy Grain, Seed, and Oat Granola

roasted pears
Like most who write a blog, I like to read. I love stories, and flipping pages, and bookmarking, and returning. But I’ll admit to always having been more partial to spoken word than to written word. The stories told by others, out loud, have an inflection, an emotion, a lack of censorship that only a select few writers can achieve (I certainly can’t, though I’m not a “writer”). I find the tangents, and the meandering, and the ineloquence endearing—more authentic than carefully planned sentences, punctuation marks, and astute usage of language and grammar.

I like being enveloped in others’ truth. It is likely for that reason that I am (or was) a vivid dreamer. I revel in those tales told by my unconscious—tales reflective of my life, and my secret desires, and my emotions that my waking self doesn’t have the capacity to know I hold. As The Stepkids sing in “Memoirs of Grey,” “Dreams make the waking life bearable.”

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Sweet, Salty, Spicy

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Aleppo Pepper

spicy peanut2
I don’t love to post recipes that are Valentine’s Day–themed. So I didn’t. Intentionally, anyway. But then I made these chewy, intensely flavorful cookies and thought, “Oh. God. Yes.”

Instead of lacing this post with innuendo, I’m just going to put it out there: These are sex cookies. A little sweet, a little salty, a little heat, and some chocolate—that’s all you need out of Valentine’s Day, right?

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Ice On Ice

Individual Sesame-Chocolate Ice Cream Cakes

ice cream sandwich2

(Tahini Ice Cream, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Ganache, Honey Sesame Clusters)

When I was about 8 months old, my mom innocently gave me a lick off her spoon of vanilla soft-serve. That was my first taste of ice cream. My then-blue eyes widened, my dimples poked through very chubby cheeks, and my little tongue, reportedly, flapped furiously for more—that was my way of communicating that “Hey, I like that. Can I have some more, Mommy?” With that lick of swirled, most likely artificially flavored confection, my mom had created the monster that I am today: a fine ice cream seeker, maker, junkie.

I’m not sure why so many pastry people seem to love—and I mean love ice cream. While I get lots of pleasure out of making my own ice cream, the process isn’t as beautifully tangible as working a dough is. Pastry works my mind, pastry is my crutch when I’m feeling off but, more often than not, what I crave is ice cream. I’d take a good scoop over cake, and if only allowed to eat one sweet for the rest of my life, I might even choose ice cream over my beloved pie. I crush on ice cream so hard, that I’ll eat it in abundance deep into a second “polar vortex.” In fact, while I may go out for ice cream more often in the summer, I make more of it in the winter when berries and stone fruit, which sometimes take on an unpleasant texture in frozen desserts, are off my radar. Ice on ice. There’s just as much warmness to ice cream as there is coldness: Sometimes you patiently infuse warm milk and cream with fragrant flavors and a burst of steam kisses your face when you open the pot’s lid. You dip a spoon into it and taste to see if it’s on point. You reheat and pour this steamy mixture, carefully and slowly, into egg yolks while whisking like mad. Then you pour all of this back into the pot, and you stand, whisking still, over this gradually thickening, hot pot of custard. Dribbles of custard inevitably trail down the side of the pot or the bowl to which you’re transferring this liquid gold and you wipe them up with your finger and lick off the warm mixture—that tiny drop contains so much flavor. No, ice cream isn’t just cold.

I love how chocolate swirls find their way to the corners of your mouth, how the lips become coated by an opalescent milky film, how a dot of cream adorns the tip of your nose if you’re licking off a double-scoop cone. I love how something can at once be childlike and sophisticated, no matter what herbs or alcohols your ice cream is infused with.

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Fries at the Garden

Chickpea Fries with Lemony Browned Butter Mayonnaise and Fried Sage

fried sage

We were welcomed by the coolest of cats. Smooth as a sax player, he had long, neat dreads that fell halfway down his back, and he wore a relaxed vibrant purple silk shirt, unbuttoned lower than another guy could get away with. We said that we had a 6 o’clock reservation, and we followed him slowly—he had a bum leg—to a two-seater. When we sat down, a woodsy scent drew our noses to the small potted thyme plant at the center of the table. Fun.

This was my and my mother’s first impression of a local restaurant, Garden at the Cellar when we met there maybe about 5 years ago. The restaurant is above and connected to another bar and it lives in an unnamed area on Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge, MA. We had planned to eat there because we knew that we could get a good but simple bite after a late lunch and before a trip to my apparently oft-mentioned favorite ice cream shop, Toscanini’s. And we did just that. The restaurant, a bit like a gastropub, was pretty well known for nibblies of the fried variety—tater tots, rosemary truffle fries, doughnuts…with fois gras. So we started with chicken and thyme croquettes, which were OK. My mom got hanger steak-frites (the fries were good), and I got a crock of tomato soup that came with a grilled cheese. The meal wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was certainly comforting and well executed. And that’s what we wanted. In lieu of dessert, a miniature square of Taza chocolate was served. We had a wonderful time catching up, and I left thinking that I wouldn’t make an effort to come back but that I could see myself frequenting it if I lived in intra-square Cambridge—it was a perfect neighborhood spot.

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Hello, Love

chocolate-almond pear tart with cinnamon whipped cream

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
It’s over. The experiment is over. Winter is here.

Remember this? You thought I was crazy. You were ready to revoke my dessert-lover’s license. I may be crazy but this year, like every year, I did not have a hard time avoiding chocolate from mid spring-December. (And I’m talking real chocolate; the use of white *cough*sweetened cocoa butter*cough* chocolate was totally acceptable.)

This certainly does not (as I tried and failed to explain in my farewell post) mean that I didn’t eat chocolate or chocolate-laced baked goods made by others. I was not following some sort of regime or cleanse. I eat chocolate everyday, and I definitely indulged in plenty of chocolate desserts and pastries while out and about.

But since I did not use my hands to manipulate it—chop a big block of it with all of my might or stir it ever so carefully as it melts into velvet in the bowl of a double boiler—I was still somewhat disconnected from it. Now I am craving something rich, dark, and maybe a bit gooey like I never have before. But the process was justified. I didn’t long to bake with chocolate. I was distracted for the reasons I outlined: The fruits and the flavors of late Spring, Summer, and Fall are too intriguing and too fleeting to put on the back burner. The yearly experiment is a way to broaden my baking horizons and stray from the obvious, from the universally loved.

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