Cookie Traditions

Awarrd-winning author Lyn Miller-Lachmann has spent the past few months living in Portugal. She has posted such fascinating insights into her adventures that I asked her if she would write a cookie post. She graciously shared the following.

Pastel de Nata

I don’t bake and for the past four months have been living in Portugal, so my contribution contains neither a recipe nor a holiday-oriented treat. However, the “Pastel de Nata” is Portugal’s national pastry and enjoyed also by those living in former colonies of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Goa, and Macau and by the many Portuguese living outside their country. The first “Pastéis de Nata” were made by monks at the enormous Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, just outside Lisbon. As the story goes, the monks had a variety of uses for egg whites but were at a loss for using the yolks, so they started to make custards with the egg yolks, cream, sugar, cinnamon and other ingredients, and to bake the custards inside a flaky crust.

When the pastel de nata is ready, it has a slightly browned top. The pastries are best when eaten warm, right out of the oven, and with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

The oldest and best-known purveyor of the pastry to the general public is Pastéis de Belem, located across the


street from the monastery that is now a major tourist attraction in Lisbon. Pastéis de Belem is a magnet for locals as well as tourists, and most of the time there’s a line just to get into the door. However, there were torrential rains the day my husband and I went, along with our two adult children who were visiting, and we found a seat in the café right away.

Pastéis de Belem dates from 1837 and the café’s interior features the traditional blue tiles, or “azulejos.”

We ordered four pastéis de nata, one for each of us. They featured a smooth, sweet custard inside a slightly crunchy crust.

Pastéis de Belem is not the only notable purveyor of this sweet treat. Many pastelarias boast of having the best pastéis de nata, including this bakery with a stand at the Corte Inglês department store.

The pastel de nata at Corte Inglês had a denser custard and less crunchy crust but was also quite tasty. Did it deserve its accolades? Maybe, but my favorite pastel de nata comes from a place a short walk from where I live in Lisbon, on Rua Dom Pedro V. The little café is simply called Nata, and it is located at the back of a lovely clothing/furniture/book store, Babel, known for its translations of poets from around the world as well as its editions of poetry and essays by Portugal’s own Fernando Pessoa.

While Pastéis de Belem features a crunchy crust, Nata’s crust is light and flaky, a perfect compliment to the smoothly textured custard that is a bit less sweet and more aromatic than the others. While I appreciated the subtler flavor of the custard, it was really the crust that put Nata’s pastry over the top for me.

Until I moved to Lisbon, I’d never heard of the pastel de nata. But as soon as I return to New York, I’m going to look for Portuguese bakeries to see how the pastries have fared in their journey across the ocean. And as far as books for the new year, I intend to read the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, who, because he spent much of his youth in South Africa, wrote most of his work in English, though his final collection, Mensagem (Message) appeared first in Portuguese.

In summer 2013, Penguin will release Lyn’s middle grade novel Rogue, the story of a socially awkward eighth grade girl whose desire for a friend leads her to two neighbor boys in peril and some dangerous choices of her own.


Cookie Traditions

I’ve been posting about cookies for several years now. I think since my sister and I have gotten together to do our Cookies and Cocktails, we’ve thought about the cookies we’ve baked over the years and the special recipes we got from our mom. I can’t say I remember mom particularly baking cookies at Christmas, but I sure remember her baking cookies.

Today, I’m going to share a recipe that’s been a sheer delight to me and my children. I cam across this recipe in a cookbook my children’s elementary school put together and sold several years ago. I cannot bake these and leave them in my house as they are one of the few items I cannot stop myself from eating. I’ve recently took in a batch to work and my colleagues had pretty much the same complain. That simply means they’re delish! And, for just that reason, I’m sharing the recipe here. Whether or not you like to cook, you’ll enjoy the ease of this recipe and the joy and brings to those for whom you bake them.

saltine crackers
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
I bag chocolate semi-sweet chocolate chips
nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350.
Line cookie sheet with saltine crackers. Set aside.
In sauce pan, mix together brown sugar and butter. Heat to 126 degrees on candy thermometer. Pour hot mixture over crackers, smoothing with spatula as needed. place in oven for 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven when ingredients begin to bubble. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top, letting the warm mixture melt them. Smooth with spatula. Sprinkle with your favorite nuts. Refrigerate until cool. Remove, break into pieces and store in covered container.
I haven’t found many ways to improve this recipe but might in the future try graham crackers or Club crackers. Also, sprinkling in caramel chips or milk chocolate chips rather than semi sweet sounds interesting.
Happy Holidays!

Merry Eating!

I do have plans for my Cookie posts and I this year, I’m getting things started with a few books by author of color in which photo-3food plays a primary role. I remember salivating through Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon and the Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang but,today I’m looking at books in which food is central to the story.

photo-3 copyAct of Grace by Karen Simpson  Grace reluctantly embarks on the unlikeliest of journeys and into the magical world of the African-American traditions used by her ancestors to fight slavery and oppression, she undergoes a spiritual transformation that leads to the true nature of her calling: to lead Jonathan Gilmore, the town of Vigilant and her own soul on a path toward reconciliation, redemption and true grace. And, she eats to bury her pain. (Amazon)

A la Carte by Tanita Davis Seventeen year old Lainey of becoming a world famous chef one day and maybe even having her own cooking show. (Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren’t? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom!) But when her best friend—and secret crush—suddenly leaves town, Lainey finds herself alone in the kitchen. With a little help from Saint Julia (Child, of course), Lainey finds solace in her cooking as she comes to terms with the past and begins a new recipe for the future.
Peppered with recipes from Lainey’s notebooks, this delicious debut novel finishes the same way one feels finishing a good meal—satiated, content, and hopeful. (Amazon)

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin Pacy is back! The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story. This summer, Pacy’s family is going to Taiwan for an entire month to visit family and prepare for their grandmother’s 60th birthday celebration. Pacy’s parents have signed her up for a Chinese painting class, and at first she’s excited. This is a new way to explore her art talent! But everything about the trip is harder than she thought it would be–she looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, she has trouble following the art teacher’s instructions, and it’s difficult to make friends in her class. At least the dumplings are delicious… (GoodReads)

Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara When 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands. Stumbling through the countryside, Mariatu miraculously survived. The sweet taste of a mango, her first food after the attack, reaffirmed her desire to live, but the challenge of clutching the fruit in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown. In this gripping and heartbreaking true story, Mariatu shares with readers the details of the brutal attack, its aftermath and her eventual arrival in Toronto. There she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope. (Amazon)

Bestest.Ramadan.Ever. by Medeia Sharif  Okay, so during Ramadan, we’re not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset. For one whole month. My family does this every year, even though I’ve been to a mosque exactly twice in my life. And it’s true, I could stand to lose a few pounds. (Sadly, my mom’s hotness skipped a generation.) But is starvation really an acceptable method? I think not. (Amazon)

Stir it Up by Ramin Ganeshram Thirteen-year-old Anjali’s life is rich with the smell of curry from her parents’ roti shop and an absolute passion for food. More than anything, Anjali wants to be a chef who competes on a kids’ cooking reality TV show. But Anjali must keep her wish a secret from her family, who thinks Anjali’s passions are beneath her. Thank goodness for Deema, Anjali’s grandmother, whose insight and love can push past even the oldest family beliefs. Woven with recipes that cook up emotions and actual culinary recipes that make food, this novel is as delicious as it is satisfying. (Amazon)

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith  Ana Shen has what her social studies teacher calls a “marvelously biracial, multicultural family” but what Ana simply calls a Chinese American father and an African American mother. And on eighth-grade graduation day, that’s a recipe for disaster. Both sets of grandparents are in town to celebrate, and Ana’s best friend has convinced her to invite Jamie Tabata–the cutest boy in school–for a home-cooked meal. Now Ana and her family have four hours to prepare their favorite dishes for dinner, and Grandma White and Nai Nai can’t agree on anything. Ana is tired of feeling caught between her grandparents and wishes she knew whose side she was supposed to be on. But when they all sit down for their hot, sour, salty, and sweet meal, Ana comes to understand how each of these different flavors, like family, fit perfectly together. (GoodReads summary)

What other titles would you suggest?

Merry Christmas/Cookie Traditions

Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Joyeux Noel!

Bon Natale!

click here to read an excerpt

I wish each of you a joyful, safe, healthy and warm holiday season! And, I wish you delicious cookies to munch while you read a wonderful book!

This is my last cookie post! I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting authors and bloggers and finding recipes for new cookies! I know that the next time I’m in NYC I’ll be heading to Marche Madison. I’m not certain which of these recipes I’ll try next, but I’m glad to add to my recipe collection! The final one I’ll be adding is from Karen Simpson. Karen is the author of Acts of Grace. She’s a quilter, dog and horse lover, historian and food. She  blogs at Grace Notes . Thanks Karen, for sharing your cookie traditions!

Favorite holiday book

 The title of my favorite holiday book is the Velveteen Rabbit. The story starts on Christmas Day and the rabbit is given to the boy as a stocking stuffer. It’s a beautiful story of hope, miracles, love and faith.

 Names of holidays CDs I love listening to

 The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It On The Mountain

Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas

If On A Winter Night by Sting 

My Holiday Cookie: Spicy Ginger Bread

 Spicy Gingerbread has become my nieces and nephew favorite Christmas cookie. These cookies are easy to make and the addition of black pepper to the other spices adds a nice little fiery snap. I usually make them for our family’s Christmas Eve Dinner.

 Spicy Gingerbread Cookies 

6 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1-1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs slightly beaten

1 cup unsulfured molasses

 In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder set aside.

 In an eclectic mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in spices and salt then eggs and molasses.

 Add flour mixture; combine on low speed. Divide in thirds; wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for about 1 hour.

 Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick( or ¼ inch for a thicker softer cookie) between two pieces of waxed paper. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheets. If desired, decorate with raisins, dragées, and/or red hot candies. Refrigerate about 15 minutes. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until crisp but not dark. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If desired, decorate with icing.

Cookie Traditions

Neesha Meminger, author of Jazz in Love and Shine Coconut Moon is sharing today’s recipe. She’s also featured on The Book Smugglers today where she shares a rather unusual recent experience as well as an opportunity to win a copy of her new book, Into the Wise Dark. Reading that book and munching on some of these delicious cookies, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2012!

My favorite cookies, ever, are chocolate chip. I’m not a fan of chocolate chunk, white chocolate, peanut butter, or oatmeal. But give me some moist, warm chocolate chip cookies any time of the day and I am a happy, happy gal!
Here is the recipe I’ve used for years, and it’s the same one we use at our home for the night that Santa visits:
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper
3. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
4. beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each egg
5. Add vanilla and beat well
6. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl
7. Add to egg mixture and beat
8. Add chocolate chips!
9. If dough is very soft, cover and refrigerate about 30 minutes
10. Drop, using a tablespoon, onto cookie sheets and bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown around the edges.
11. ENJOY!!
These cookies always feel like home and comfort to me. They add a really special touch on Christmas eve when anticipation and excitement are high. Usually, the kitchen is warm from the oven being on all day and the house is full of yummy smells. We have lights up and lots of pine decorations, so the food smells are mixed with the smells of pine and candles. H and I have the gifts all hidden throughout the house, or loaded up in the trunk of the car and we know we’re going to be up ’til late, wrapping. Last year, we got parakeets — you can imagine the challenge in keeping those hidden from a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old!
I love *all* Holiday music. We play holiday CDs from Thanksgiving right through to the first few weeks of January. My favorite Christmas carol ever is “The Little Drummer Boy” sung by Whitney Huston. A close second is “Do You See What I See?” (don’t know who sings the version of that one that I love). I’m also quite partial to Celine Dion’s holiday songs — I love the way she belts out some of those notes.
The holidays are really magical to me. I moved to Canada from India when I was about five and I don’t think I ever got over the trauma of Winter, LOL. But three years or so later, when I was about eight-years-old (around the age I am in the pic, above), I started going to school early so I could sit in the gym and sing Christmas carols. Sitting there, in a gym full of kids, singing at the top of my lungs while outside snow blew in little tornadoes in the school yard, is one of my most cherished memories. That was when I connected with the magic of this time of year. It really felt like Hope, and I wished so fervently that my family celebrated Christmas like “everyone else.”
Maybe now I go a bit overboard now with my own kids as a result. But I truly believe this is a magical time of year — a time when hopes and dreams are sown deep into the sleeping earth, and are nurtured there until they wake and rise, and bloom, in the Spring. I love making magic happen for my kids. Maybe it’s another way to keep the magic that I discovered when I was eight, alive and vibrant.
Happy holidays, all, and may your most cherished wishes come true.

Cookie Traditions

I hope you’re enjoying all the’ recipes’, all the ways my special guests have for supplying holiday cookies! If I hadn’t already baked my cookies, I know I’d be making several of these recipes myself! Yes, I’d be baking because there just aren’t many bakeries here in Indianapolis where I could go to purchase a good cookie. I find that if I eat a really good, rich cookie I can be satisfied with just one or two, and not half the bag.

Today, my friend Sandy stopped by with cookies for me. Her visit made me remember that when I was in Taiwan, Sandy mailed me a package of her wonderful homemade cookies and they arrived exactly on Christmas!  I really needed that touch of Christmas and it arrived just in time! That’s a special memory for me.

Tanita Davis certainly knows how special cookies are when you’re in a foreign land! Tanita is the author of Mare’s War, A La Carte and the forthcoming Happy Families. If you’ve read A la Carte then you know Tanita is quite talented whether her recipe be for a good meal or fascinating story.  Today from across the pond, she shares her recipe for Faux Oreos. I love the idea of stamping cookies and am so glad Tanita shared this recipe. Thanks!

  • 1 1/4 cup plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • scant 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar (Seriously? You can get away with 3/4 c.)
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened (Seriously: you can get away with less.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. milk

Sift together your dry ingredients, except for the sugar. In a small bowl cream sugar with your margarine, vanilla and milk, then add dry ingredients, a little at a time, until you have a dark, fragrant and smooth blend. This may give your hand mixer a run for its money; it’s quite a sticky dough.

We rolled out our dough between two layers of plastic wrap, then scored them so that we had four rows of nine squares. With moistened hands, we took each small square and rolled it, placing it about an inch and a half apart on the Silpat. (Parchment paper or a plain pan will do, too.) When our pan was filled with little balls of cookie dough, we lay a plastic wrap over the lot of them, and flattened them with a bench scraper. (If you want to flatten your cookies to an individual thickness, a guide like a pair of chopsticks comes in handy. We used these for the large cookies.)

Because Oreos are stamped (actually they’re probably baked in a pan with concave lettering so it stands out on the cookie when it’s baked) with words, we thought we’d make our own cookies specific and Christmas related. From my box of rubber stamps we located (and thoroughly washed) a star stamp, and used it to mark each cookie. The stamp must be one with a simple pattern and a lot of deep grooves to work.

We baked these cookies at 350°F/175°C for nine minutes per batch.

The filling of the cookies is easy enough — but recently I cheated. We had leftover cream cheese frosting from Tech Boy’s workplace going-away-party cinnamon buns, so we added icing sugar to that and a bit of mint extract. For a from-scratch cookie filling, we’d suggest

2/3 c. of butter,

about a cup and a half of powdered or icing sugar,

a scant teaspoon of mint, orange, or almond extract. Or a high quality vanilla, if you must.

Cream the butter and add the sugar a little at a time, on a low speed, until you have a fluffy frosting.

We used a parchment paper bag and piped a half-inch circular schmear of frosting on a single cookie, and twisting on the cookie caps. We ended up with far more frosting than we needed, and tried to open the cookies and add more — be careful! The cookies want to stay together, once the frosting is set. A gentle twisting motion will reopen them as necessary, but it’s better to err on the side of adding too much filling instead of too little. Too much will at least squish out!

We photographed the steps:

The memories that come with these cookies are fairly recent. For the last four years I have  been That Girl Who Brings the Cookies because now that we’re in the UK without family close at hand, there’s no ravenous eighteen-year-old brother and chocoholic sixteen year old sister to scarf down everything in sight. I have to take cookies to my fellow chorus members, strangers at the pharmacy, people at Tech Boy’s job, and the neighbors… because I must bake! Especially this time of year, the house simply smells friendlier with the scent of chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon in the air.

That’s all from me right now. I’m going to grab a cup of tea, another book, and hunt around my cookie jar.

Cookie Traditions

On of my few online friends that I’ve been able to meet in person is author Medeia Sharif. We met at ALAN last month and had dinner one evening with Lyn Miller Lachmann. I think Medeia and I share a real passion for teaching teamed with frustration for the condition of public education. Unlike me, Medeia is an extremely talented writing! Her first book, Bestest.Ramadan.Ever. was released this year and I believe she is currently working on her next book. Here, Medeia shares thought of cookies and holidays!

I’m not a domestic person. I haven’t cooked or baked in ages. Normal holiday fare is a batch of cookies from the local supermarket. Here’s a picture of some cookies I recently purchased. My favorite is the one with the red jam or jelly in the middle. I’ve loved those since I was a kid. 
As for music…holiday songs get tiring when in rewind, but one song I’ll always listen to is U2’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. I listen almost exclusively to rock music and I adore U2. Here’s the song in case you don’t know it:
My favorite holiday book is Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. The book has a protagonist named Harvey who enters a magical house where time is endless and no one ever ages, therefore he experiences a whirlwind of seasons. It’s not a real Christmassy book, but there is more than one Christmas scene, although everything in the house is tinged with evil. It’s one of my “cozy” novels in that I like to read it over and over again, especially on cold nights in the heated indoors.