1.11.2014

All Good Things

What could be worse than the post-Christmas, post-New Years, back-to-work-and-reality season? Everything red and green and glittering has been taken down. No party's to plan or people to cook for. It's true, what my mom says, that the anticipation is better than the thing itself. Man, this is starting to sound like a real bummer.

All good things must come to an end.
(But my little Christmas tree is still up and holiday Pandora stations are still streaming. Don't judge.)

The city of Chicago put a cap on the holidays and dove into several days of sub-zero temps and the most snow at one time that we've seen in a while. It was beautiful for a bit, then it was a burden, then it was dangerous, and then, in true Chicago form, it was filthy. By the end of the weekend, it will be a city of slop. Blech.

I learned something new this week: the city doesn't plow the streets in the 'hood. Regardless of how much snow we get. Just one of many of the injustices. I've been ever so grateful for a car with all wheel drive this week.

Since the end to party season is just too much to bear, my parents hosted an open house last weekend, showing off their new digs. And I made Chocolate Almond Sablés.

Part of my post-Christmas mourning has been my regret at all the recipes I didn't have a chance to make. I had dog-earred this Chocolate Pistachio Sablés recipe in my December issue of Bon Appetite. So I pulled it out for the open house dessert platter, swapping almonds for the pistachios. Easy, foolproof, and flavorful. Don't let the blahs of the times keep you from making them!

In an effort to fight the dim and the dreary, I've been on the search for bits of culture or creative news. When I asked a friend to "tell me something cool!", he suggested I check out the new Head and the Heart album "Let's be still". So I'm giving that a good listen today. Already loving the title.

I started the year off with this crazy new book from Marisha Pessl. And I mean crazy. I read her first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, last year purely based on a reliable bookstore recommendation. Special Topics blew my mind. And I haven’t forgotten it since, recommending it to any avid reader willing to take on 500+ pgs of pure genius. I expected nothing less of Pessl’s latest book Night Film. I just didn’t expect it to be so creepy.  It’s a story of suspense and mystery, about the death of the daughter of a renowned horror filmmaker.  Not my usual choice of reading. When I was 300 pages in, I was so creeped out that I couldn't read it before bed and started questioning my literary judgment. By page 600, I was glad I stuck with it, awed and amazed at such writing talent.

Also on my coffee table are Eric Wahl's Unthink, in an attempt to rediscover my creative genius, and Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, in hopes of further understanding the trajectory of my life.

Now here's a real gem for you to start the year off with: I recently discovered this food blog by Mimi Thorisson, Manger. I first learned about Mimi in a gorgeous spread in Bon Appetite a few months back. I was instantly envious of her French countryside life, photographer husband, heaps of children and dogs, and gorgeous dinner parties. For whatever reason, maybe because I was just so green with envy, I failed to look up her blog. I'm a little embarrassed that it's taken me 'til now to re-discover her. Now you can drool over her recipes and photos and perfect life too. You're welcome.

In other news, this week marked 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. It was really quite something for the president to make this kind of statement in the midst of his State of the Union address. A man who grew up in poverty himself, the issue of poverty in America was a personal one for LBJ.

“Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America... It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it."


That's quite a statement, from a man who left quite a legacy. So I wonder, what will we do with such a history?  We are not where we were 50 years ago, in many ways. LBJ called it an “unconditional“ war. Which means we have a responsibility to take part in the fight, regardless of political, economic, or social circumstance. Empathy, compassion, and human kindness should be without condition and unreservedly offered to our neighbors.

What are those words we remembered during Advent?

Peace on earth.
Good will toward men.

We started the year off gathering to pray for peace at Taizé. I had the honor of reading and remembering this passage from Philippians:

Let your gentleness be evident to all.
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Something I want to hold in the forefront of my mind and heart in the year ahead.


Chocolate Almond Sablés Recipe
Adapted from Bon Appetite's Chocolate Pistachio Sablés

2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg white
5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in egg white. Fold in chocolate and pistachios.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.)

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart.

Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

NOTE: This dough freezes really well; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.