Monday, November 21, 2011

M.F.K. Fisher's Ginger Hottendots (Grateful for The Love of A Good Book And of Baking)

If there is one thing that heals, it's baking. I cannot tell you the number of times I've worked through grief via my kitchen. It must be in the hundreds. It's a gravitational force that beckons me forth: Here. Come in here. Preheat. Mix. Bake. Taste. There. It's all much better now.

The shift in the house from one less member is going to take some time to "deal with". I deal better with it if I am kept busy. I sat in the corner of my kitchen yesterday afternoon (god it was an awful day outside--cold, dark, rainy--very Novemberish) my feet propped up under me on my favorite kitchen stool, next to the bookshelf of baking cookbooks, pouring over the "cookie" sections. Because we needed some cookies. Because it is cookie-baking season and because I know that the instant that oven preheats and the aroma of cinnamon and ginger begin co-mingling with the everyday smells of us living here--it will override everything else. The mind will focus on other matters evoking pleasure: cookies. 

Dr. Thyme's favorite cookie is ginger cookies. He asks me to bake them for him constantly. Every time I bake some, I experiment a little with recipes. (Which drives him a little nuts. He'll ask, Are these the ones? And I am always like, Yes! When point of fact, I change them up a bit every time.) So while I am more of a chocolate chipper/peanut butter cookie kind of gal, it is always the same for him: ginger. Though the tug of wanting to just throw together my go-to favorite chocolate chippers was strong, I thought it might be nice to do for him this time. After all, he was dealing with the loss, too. And I will eat the ginger cookies just as well as I might have eaten the other. And we did just that. Toasty warm next to the fireplace at nine last night after the kitchen had closed, I got up to make us tea, then put four cookies on a plate for him and two for me. And we sat there enjoying our last bites for the day. The cookies, another new recipe, were amazingly delish. So gingery. So perfect for a small bite right before bed. Perfect ending to a very long, dark day.   
  
Yesterday, I will admit, I spent much of the first half of the day in bed reading a lovely book by Joan Didion called, Blue Nights. This is a book about grief and tragedy. But grief on a much grander scale, that of losing a daughter. The book is a meditation of sorts on the milestones of her daughter's life, reminders of her and of Joan Didion trying to find meaning in those reminders, the history of her daughter growing up, and the relationship between mother and daughter. It is a profound piece of work. Reading this, I felt as if the book itself was a letter written to me on how this unimaginable loss has affected her in all manner of getting on, of living, of trying to work this out among all the left behind detritus--the book is very hard to put down. (She is also the author of: The Year of Magical Thinking--a book on the loss of her husband, which I was not able to finish, but only read the excerpt from in the New Yorker when the book first came out. I have this on my shelf. I am going to read this next--a total immersion in "moving on" if you will.)

  The recipe for these cookies was found in one of my cookbooks that I bought on a whim a while back when Border's was closing and I noticed they only had one copy of it on their shelves: Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. It had won the James Beard Award and an IACP. Well, then it needed to come home with me. But funny thing is, I had not even cracked the book open till this week. I must have found the book too cumbersome. It is 600 pages long and contains only a few photos scattered here and there. For some reason, here it was and there I was--in need of some baking therapy. 

I have a tremendous love for M.F.K Fisher. Her collections of writings take up a spot on my nightstand and I read her on and off whenever I want to be inspired. She was brilliant. And. . . so is this cookie of hers. Richard Sax, on a side bar in his cookbook writes that M.F.K. Fisher sent him this recipe along with a note saying she liked to bake these cookies "Not only because they're tasty, but because they contain about three times the normal amount of ginger and so serve as a cure-all for digestive disorders. Very good served at the end of a cocktail party." Well, I'd have to add, very good at the end of a very long, tiring and emotional day spent in bed also. The ginger in these is just enough to heal any heart or stomach ache one might have. Given that I have both right now, they were perfect. They bake up in a snap. I will caution you that the recipe makes a TON of cookies. But they are going fast here. Feel free to freeze some for later. That whole ginger-cinnamony smell will fill up the house as they bake. I played with the recipe a bit and decided to add nutmeg to the mix and upped the cinnamon she called for. And a surprising addition of balsamic vinegar! She said you might use apple cider vinegar as well. But I used the balsamic and loved the result. With regard to vegan changes, I used the Ener-G Egg Replacer in these. I find that with cookies--it is the best egg substitute. These are keepers for sure.

Vegan M.F.K. Fisher's Ginger Hottendots
*Adapted from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax 

3 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (measured in the scoop and scrape method--don't pack the flour down!)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used fresh ground nutmeg)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted vegetable margerine (3/4 cup)
2 cups of Florida Crystals Sugar (I used a little less than this amount, about 1 3/4 cup)
3 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 5 tablespoons water (2 eggs)
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the dry ingredients together: flour, baking soda and spices. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the margerine and sugar and beat until creamy and light. Stir in the egg replacer, molasses and vinegar. Next, remove bowl from mixer and with a spoon, stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over mix. Just feel the dough with your hands and if it stays together when you pick up a pinch full, then you are ready to shape the cookies into small balls and place on cookie sheet. (No bigger than 1/2" round). Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for five minutes on cookie sheet. Remove to cooling rack to allow to cool fully. Store in airtight container or freeze some for later.

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