Archives for category: cookies
Painting of Christmas cookies on green and red tablecloth.

Christmas Eve. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and white gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

My mother will turn 85 on New Year’s Day 2015. She has begun announcing that this is our last traditional Christmas celebration, complete with tree, wrapped presents, homemade festive meal, assorted guests and family members, cookie-baking marathon, cut boughs of holly, etc. It is time for a change, she says.

I had always assumed that I would step in and take over the family Christmas traditions. For many years I have increased my contributions to the Christmas labor. But, this year, I had an unexpected number of music gigs in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and a wild week where I both attended concerts and played them. I went north to sing on the radio and to visit my best friend. I went to a local party. And amidst all that I stood by to receive shipment of my new “Clueless” CD.

Clueless  CD  CoverThe CD was shipped December 10 from Oasis Disc Manufacturing via UPS with two-day shipping. The first notification I got said it would be delivered on Monday December 15 (NOT two-day shipping). Many emails and phone calls later I got a notification today on December 19 that it was on a delivery truck. Lo and behold it got here this evening and is available for purchase at long last. here this evening. In the meantime, Oasis offered to re-manufacture the CDs at no cost to me and to ship them this coming Monday. This means that I will eventually receive 600 CDs instead of 300, but it also means that I cannot get them to anyone but locals by Christmas or Chanukah: Now that the CDs  have arrived I will carry a number of them around in my guitar case and backpack. I will also offer them for sale at Down Home Music and at CD Baby where you can get my 2009 release “Paris” and hear full-length versions of most songs, plus clips of the cover songs. Soon I will begin the process of getting full versions of the songs from “Clueless” up on CD Baby as well. For now you can hear a couple of the songs for free on Reverbnation.

What I have learned from this is that Oasis comes through for its customers, even in situations where they are not at fault and UPS — well, let’s just say that my brother who worked in shipping for a number of years recommends Fed Ex for deliveries.

Anyway, as Christmas approaches, my participation has been limited to buying a few gifts (in October and November), and making ginger cookie dough (yesterday). When I feel better I will be making my famous cocoa shortbread and possibly a new cookie. Mom beat me to making pfefferneusse, Russian tea cakes, dream bars, apricot bars and sugar cookie dough, but I might make up a batch of Smitten Kitchen’s maple butter cookies anyway because my brother and I fell in love with them the first time I made them. I will put some Christmas music on as I lounge about today, awaiting the arrival of the “Clueless” CDs and hoping to put in a brief appearance at a music party this evening.

painting of pomegranates, limes and December sunrise.

December Still Life. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Saturday morning I have one more gig at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, if it does not get rained out. Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning I will be assisting my friend Elaine in preparing for her annual Chanukah party. I will spend Christmas Eve Day with Johnny, eating salad and tamales from Trader Joes, after serenading the morning commuters with Christmas carols. I return home in the evening to rest before assisting Mom with the last Dimmick Christmas feast marathon the next morning. All traditions come to an end, changing in subtle ways before they become part of the ghostly past of memory. No one can remember what year I started buying Straus whipping cream or what year we stopped making homemade caramels or what year I put candied ginger in the pfefferneusse or what year I invented the shortbread.

Whatever you celebrate and wherever you are, I wish you the happiest of holidays. Happy Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa. Happy holidays I have never heard of or can’t keep straight in my head. May you know the joy of feasting, of companionship, of bright light in a dark time, of joyful music. Best wishes to all who read The Kale Chronicles, whether you have been here from the very beginning or whether you just popped in today. May you enjoy your winter festivities and the love of all beings dear to you. Love, Sharyn

Dear Kale Chronicles’ Readers and Friends,

It has been a long time since I sent you an update, much less a painting or a recipe. As Christmas Eve turned to Christmas Day I was standing in the kitchen at my mother’s house, baking a last batch of Russian teacakes, a traditional holiday cookie for us, consisting of butter, finely chopped walnuts, powdered sugar and enough flour to hold it all together. I had bought fresh walnuts in the shell from the Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning and shelled them earlier on Monday evening while listening to Christmas carols on public television. Unfortunately, I had not consulted the recipe for amounts and had shelled just 1/2 cup when I needed 3/4 cup: as soon as I looked at the cookbook I went back to shelling nuts and wielding my chef’s knife.

It was an all-cookie Christmas this year, supplemented only with batches of Betsy’s delicious Italian Glazed Almonds. I did not have funds available for purchasing gifts in 2012, so I made them, Cocoa Shortbread and Pfefferneusse, Smitten Kitchen’s maple butter cookies, thin Moravian ginger cookies. For several days I busked in the Berkeley BART station in the morning and baked in the afternoon and evening, preparing a silver tray of cookies for my friend Elaine’s Chanukah party, packing a waxed cardboard box with almonds for another. When I wasn’t baking I was borrowing a guitar from Fat Dog at Subway Guitars who kindly lent me a Johnson to play while my beloved Harmony went to the guitar doctor, who treated her for a couple of serious cracks, rehearsing with Johnny for a gig at Arlington Cafe in my home town or giving my annual Christmas music party for which I prepared butternut squash soup, Mexican corn soup, Swedish rye bread and Finnish cardamom bread.

I remember standing at the bread board chopping resinous walnuts, seeing the chopped nuts in the metal measuring cup, the knife blade against the wood, thinking “This is not so bad a way to spend the evening.” True, it was late and I was behind on Christmas preparations, but I focused on the pleasure that a fresh tin of powder-sugar dusted cookies would bring my mother, Johnny (they are his favorite) and my sister-in-law who threatened to kill Johnny on Christmas Day if he had eaten them all. As the knife flashed through the nut meats, as the butter and sugar whirled in the mixer, as I rolled the cookie dough into small balls in the quiet night kitchen I thought how lucky I am:

1) My mother and brother are healthy and here to celebrate Christmas with this year.

2) I have a pleasant and safe home to live in.

3) I have found someone to love who loves me back.

4) I, too, am healthy.

5) My lone guitar has been safely repaired

6) Johnny and I played a gig together in my hometown to generally favorable responses and both ended the evening in the black financially.

7) Friends came to hear us play.

8) My song about our courtship, “Clueless,” continues to be a runaway hit and fun to play.

Honestly, I can’t remember more of those midnight thoughts now. Suffice it to say that I thought of my patient readers who have put up with my long absence from the blogosphere.

Just in case anyone has not had enough cookies over the past month or has never made Russian teacakes at home, I’ll share the recipe with you, slightly modified from that presented in our Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

Russian Teacakes

Soften 1 cup (two sticks) of butter — I use one stick salted butter and one stick unsalted.

Shell and finely chop 3/4 cup fresh walnuts

Combine butter with 1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract in electric mixer until creamy.

Slowly add 2 and 1/4 cups sifted flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating flour completely before each addition.

Mix in chopped nuts.

Chill dough as necessary. If you work late at night in a cold kitchen you will not need this step (or want to wait for the dough to chill either). Before baking, preheat oven to 400.  Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes until some color shows on the bottom edges. Roll warm cookies carefully in powdered sugar — they are delicate and will develop mangy-looking spots where the butter comes through. Let cool and roll again, or sift or sprinkle more powdered sugar to cover each cookie. Store in airtight tins for up to a week or two. (Mom recommends providing other cookies for the family to eat if you want to keep Russian teacakes on hand very long).

Food notes: the fresher the walnuts, the better the cookie. ‘Nough said. If you live in the South you could try making them with local pecans. If you prefer to bake exclusively with unsalted butter you will want to add 1/4 tsp of salt to your sifted flour. I use unbleached flour in these. Mom likes all-purpose. I have never tried them with a whole-grain flour — part of their attraction is that they are snowy white and ethereal. We only eat them once a year….

Painting notes: The reign of the emperor’s new clothes is long. You’ll know I am painting again the day you see a new painting here. Also, it has been so long since I’ve taken a photo that I cannot find the charger for my camera battery. Oops.

Writing classes: I will be teaching a six-week writing practice group on Tuesday nights in the East Bay starting January 8, 2012. My teacher Natalie Goldberg developed writing practice as a way to help people get their real thoughts on paper. For more information, see my ad on craigslist.

Happy New Year to everybody! See you again in 2013. –Sharyn

Peace sign with cookie border, containing salmon, zucchini and lentils.

Peace Sign. 6″ x 6″ Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Friends,

Lauren and I promised we would announce the winners of The Lauren Project recipe contest in September. Without further ado, your winners are:

First Prize: To Babu Srinivasan for his salmon with turmeric

Second Prize: To Lynn for zucchini roasted with shallots.

Third Prize: To Suzanne for her lentil potage.

Honorable Mention to Will for his astounding cookies. Lauren will be sending him one of her chili pepper oven mitts.

At this writing, Babu has chosen the cookbook as his prize, Lynn has chosen a Paris CD and we have not heard from Suzanne yet.

Lauren says:

top three in order:
babu’s salmon
lynn’s zucchini
suzanne’s lentils
honorable mention:
will’s cookies
everything has been delicious, but these were not only delicious, they were deliciously easy to make and had only a few ingredients all of which i regularly have on hand. there are still a few i haven’t made yet mostly because i found them intimidating, but i plan to keep working through the list and get to the more complicated dishes when i have more time. thank you so much for doing this. i am so happy to have at least five dishes i will be adding to my regular food rotation

Sharyn says: Thank you to everyone who participated in the recipe contest. We appreciate everyone’s attempts to follow Lauren’s dietary guidelines. I know she has cooked several dishes from the recipes submitted and posted photos of them on Facebook. We are happy to be awarding the first prizes in the history of “The Kale Chronicles.”

Please remember that even if you did not win you will be eligible for free shipping of any Kale Chronicles’ painting should you choose to purchase one or more before midnight December 31st. In addition, if you purchase a painting before October 15th, I will take ten percent off the purchase price and if you purchase a painting before November 1st I will take five percent off the purchase price. These are the lowest prices ever offered for my paintings so take advantage of them while you can. You can also buy your own copy of my Paris CD, using this link: http://cdbaby.com/cd/SharynDimmick I appreciate each and every sale: they help me survive as an independent artist and also help fund new work (I have a second CD in progress).

To look at the winning recipes and other submissions, please visit The Lauren Project page. Please feel free to submit additional recipes for Lauren there any time: there is no deadline on generosity.

Painting shows lemon bars.

Lemon Bars. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Two of my mother’s favorite flavors are brown sugar and coconut: when she was a child she mixed up a big jar of coconut and brown sugar, planning to eat it. Not only did her mother punish her for “wasting food,” she also threw out the mixture. Now, I ask you, who wasted that particular food?

Anyway, I arrived home yesterday from several days in the foothills of Amador County. In my absence, Mom had made a pot pie and roasted a pork loin and some vegetables. As we ate the pot pie for lunch, Mom said, a little sadly, that there were no sweets except chocolate and that she might have to just eat oranges.

My Mom is a hard worker and she has a sweet tooth. Plus, she had been given some Meyer lemons by our next door neighbor. I offered to make something since it was blogging day. I had just seen a recipe for lemon bars from Sawsan at Chef in Disguise this morning, which had sent me running to my Alice Medrich Pure Dessert cookbook and my binder of recipes to compare ratios for lemon bar base ingredients. I like lemon bars and will eat anything that even looks like one, but Mom and I agree that the crust on lemon bars is often too thick, too rich and too sweet. I asked if there was pie crust left from the pot pie. Negative. That meant I would be starting from scratch. Mom asked if I would want to make a lemon pudding instead. I naturally thought she meant our favorite lemon pudding which has lemon filling trapped between two layers of a rich mixture of Wheaties, butter, coconut and brown sugar. And then I thought, “Why not combine them? What if I made a base of butter, brown sugar, crushed Wheaties, flour and coconut and then put lemon filling on top of that?”

Down to the kitchen I went, taking the Medrich cookbook with me: I would use her recipe as a guideline for my lemon filling because she likes a tart lemon bar. I dug out the recipe for lemon pudding from a file box in the cabinet and studied the crust ratios for three recipes. I decided I would use 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 cup crushed Wheaties and 1/3 cup flaked coconut, plus 1/4 cup brown sugar for the pastry base, which I combined with a pastry blender and baked for twenty minutes in a 350 degree oven. I then turned the oven down to 300.

I meant to use Medrich’s measurements for the lemon filling, but I couldn’t bear the thought of 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar, so I decided to use 1 scant cup instead. I was aiming for her 1/2 cup of lemon juice, but after I zested and squeezed five small Meyer lemons and one stray tangerine that some cat had batted under the sideboard (it resurfaced last week and had seen better days, looking a little battered), I had 1/3 cup juice plus a little and decided to go with that. I used 1 Tbsp of whole wheat pastry flour and 2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour, whisked that with the 1 cup sugar, whisked in three eggs, added the lemon juice and zest, and poured the result onto the hot crust.

I baked the bars at 300 for nearly half an hour until the filling no longer jiggled when I tapped the pan. I cooled the pan on a rack while I went to Berkeley to pick up my vegetables. It was a bad day for bus service: I returned three hours later, put the vegetables away and cut the first square from the pan. I cut it in half and brought half to Mom who was watching T.V. She approved of the strong lemon flavor, but wondered why there was no topping. I said that lemon bars usually don’t have a topping and if I had made crumb topping for the top it would have taken twice as much butter. She asked why I hadn’t dusted them with powdered sugar and I said I was afraid that they would be too sweet.

These lemon bars came out buttery and lemony with a delicious brown sugar and coconut crust. Despite the scant cup of sugar they were not too sweet. Many lemon bar recipes call for shortbread crusts that take an entire stick of butter: with 1/3 cup of butter, the flavor of butter comes through beautifully.

Food notes: To get a generous 1/3 cup of juice I used five small Meyer lemons and one small battered tangerine. If you use Eureka lemons, you may not need more than two. Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than ordinary lemons, so you may need to increase the sugar to a generous cup and add a dusting of powdered sugar. If you have access to Meyer lemons, you can follow my measurements exactly, if that is your style. I was afraid to use all whole wheat pastry flour in the filling, but it worked fine in the crust. If you do not have Wheaties, you can substitute ground oatmeal (put rolled oats or quick oats in a blender for a few seconds), crushed wheatmeal biscuits, or a dry cereal of your choice.

Painting of Christmas cookies on green and red tablecloth.

Christmas Eve. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and white gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

A few years back, Mom had a hankering to make pfefferneusse, a cookie she remembered buying in her childhood in Illinois. Pfefferneusse are small round spicy cookies frosted with royal icing flavored with anise. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like gingerbread or chai and you eat Good ‘N’ Plenty or black licorice, these are for you.

Mom had a basic recipe for pfefferneusse, typed on an index card. The only problem I saw with it is that it called for candied peel — can you say “yuck?” I pictured the multi-colored tubs of peels and fruit that Mom kept around for fruitcakes. And then I had an inspiration: what if we substituted candied ginger for the nasty candied fruit? It wasn’t hard to talk Mom into the recipe alteration.

The first year we made them, these cookies were okay, but Mom said there was something missing. Thinking about the name, she combed around through other cookbooks and found that pfefferneusse used to contain pepper, in addition to mace, cinnamon and allspice. The second time we made them we ground some fresh white pepper in the coffee grinder and added that to the cookie dough. Now you are talking. This year I added back just a touch of my home-candied non-yucky orange peel, picking the last orange peels from the jar of mixed lemon, orange and tangerine peels that I made last March.

I present to you our version of pfefferneusse, a non-rich, spicy cookie that is a good foil for butter cookies and shortbread on the holiday cookie buffet. Pfefferneusse are cookies that get better as they sit around: the flavors mellow and blend and the icing keeps them from getting too hard. Make them ahead of when you want to eat them: the dough benefits from chilling for at least a day before you bake the cookies. I made my first batch of the season on Wednesday morning, baked them on Thursday afternoon, frosted them Thursday night and served them to guests on Friday.

The first day:

Beat 4 eggs (I use an electric mixer for this job, but you can beat by hand if you are a hardy type)

Gradually incorporate 2 cups of white sugar.

Add

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp mace

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp  ground ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground white pepper

a dash of minced, candied orange peel OR a grating of fresh orange zest (optional)

Add 4 cups of flour — it will make a stiff dough.

Fold in 1/2 cup minced candied ginger.

Cover the mixing bowl with something (a tea towel, waxed paper, or plastic wrap) and set in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours, remove the dough from the refrigerator and knead it for awhile, in the bowl or on a board. If you use a board, try not to incorporate further flour. Return the dough to the refrigerator overnight.

On Day 2 (or 3 or 4):

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Lightly grease a couple of baking sheets.

Form dough into balls the size of a small walnut and place them on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake each tray for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Cookies should firm up but not brown much if at all.

Remove cookies from baking sheets and let cool completely before frosting with your royal icing

If you have a favorite recipe for royal icing, go ahead and use that except substitute anise flavoring for any vanilla, lemon extract or almond flavoring you usually use — if these don’t have anisette frosting they are not really pfefferneusse.

If you don’t have a recipe for royal icing, you can do what I do:

I separate 2 eggs, put the yolks in a jar covered with water in the refrigerator for another use, and beat the whites. When the whites are opaque, but not yet stiff, I start adding powdered sugar while continuing to beat them. When the icing is somewhat thick and glossy I stop and stir in some anise flavoring: you have to taste it to do this step — too much and it will remind you of toothpaste, not enough and what’s the point? If you are timid, you can add it drop by drop and stand there tasting it forever. I would recommend with beginning with 1/2 tsp and increasing the extract according to your tastes.

Frosting things is not my forte: I usually do it the quickest way, which is to pick up each cookie, dip it in the icing, twirl it to get rid of any drips and set it on brown paper. One further note: you need a dry day to frost them or your icing may turn tacky, even if it hardens initially. Let them dry fully before storing them in an air-tight container.

Halloween painting of cocoa shortbread cookies with bats.

Trick or Treat Cocoa Shortbread. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Trick or Treat. I’m not here, am I? Because I’ve gone to post on ArtEpicurean for pre-Halloween fun. Please follow me over there for a delicious treat, my beloved cocoa shortbread cookies tricked out in Halloween costumes. Usually, I don’t break out this recipe until Christmas, but I wanted to do something special for Jane, a woman after my own heart who posts recipes inspired by or accompanied by paintings.

I’ll give you a thumbnail of the cookie painting, but please go visit Jane’s blog for the recipe. You won’t be sorry. Just click on the link that says ArtEpicurean in the first paragraph if you haven’t done so already, or scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and click ArtEpicurean in my links section. We’ll save you some cookies.

P.S. I have to be away early this morning through late afternoon. If something goes wrong with the link, please  use your initiative and Google “Art Epicurean” to get your recipe. I’ll check in as soon as I can — before 6 PM PST. — Sharyn

P.P.S. The link in the first paragraph works now, thanks to Sally B. Sorry that it failed earlier.

Update: It is now approaching Christmas 2014 and the ArtEpicurean link no longer works so I have decided to re-post my cocoa shortbread recipe here as a service to all lovers of shortbread and chocolate. As always, using the best-quality ingredients you can find or afford will yield the most delicious shortbread.

Cocoa Shortbread

Break into small pieces, 2 sticks butter*. Soften for a few seconds in microwave. Measure 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons* Work sugar into butter — I like to use my hands, but you can use a spoon if you like. Whisk together 2 cups sifted unbleached flour and 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted. Add flour/cocoa mixture to sugar and butter and mix until blended. Add vanilla extract to taste.*

Chill dough for at least an hour. This step is important for both flavor and texture.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Shape cookies by into small balls with hands and then smush your thumb into the center to make thumbprint cookies. Or mix equal parts unsweetened cocoa powder and powdered sugar in a shaker and use that to “flour” a work surface. Work with half to a quarter of the chilled dough at a time, depending on your skill and the coldness of the day. Flatten dough into a pat (like pie crust). “Flour” your rolling pin, cookie cutters and board or counter with the cocoa/powdered sugar mixture (I like to use a marble slab and rolling pin for rolled cookies). Roll out dough to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thickness and cut with decorative cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheets and decorate with colored sugar.*

Bake for twenty minutes at 300. For best results, rotate baking trays from back to front and from bottom to top rack at the ten-minute mark. Use caution in removing cookies from baking sheets — they are tender when hot and can break easily if you touch an adjoining cookie while working your spatula under another.

Note on ingredients: You can use unsalted butter if you prefer. If you do, add just a pinch of kosher salt to the dough to avoid a flat taste. I like to use one stick of unsalted butter and one stick of salted butter and omit the salt. Use vanilla extract, rather than artificial vanilla — it costs more, but you don’t have to use a lot, the flavor is superior and it does not have dodgy chemicals in it. You can also make your own vanilla if you have vanilla beans and spirits lying around. You could also try infusing the butter with ground vanilla beans instead of using extract (I haven’t tried this option yet). Coarse colored sugar works better than fine sugar, which can end up being absorbed into the dough as it baks. Nevertheless, I have had some success with making my own colored sugar out of either turbinado or white sugar by shaking it in a jar with food coloring. Shake well and save money. Turquoise, purple, hot pink and light lime green look beautiful on the dark dough, as would a light orange yellow. Mocha enthusiasts could add a pinch of instant espresso powder to the dough.

Enjoy!

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