And then, this happened.
Monday morning. Inches and inches. Well over a week before Thanksgiving. For reals.
I've been thinking about the way we digest surprise. About the differential equations we apply, as we sort surprises into good and bad. About how we weight said surprises differently, awarding the bad a coefficient of 9, say, and the good .7, maybe, on a good day.
(By we, here, I of course mean I. And yes, I see life as algebra in disguise.)
About how I take issue, am offended, with the unexpected when it's unpleasant. How I get all miffed when a head cold/computing black hole/dead furnace has the gall to interrupt my well-crafted, itemized, bullet-pointed plans. Like, didn't it check with my secretary? See I couldn't fit in any chaos until Tuesday? And even then, I require advance notice, at least three days, ideally five. It's like someone messed with my stuff, without asking. The nerve.
(The warm cheeks! This is the trouble with words on a page. They're too at ease with the truth, if we let them. I ordinarily think these thoughts in that hazy gray zone of the gut-response. It's an unplanned, unexamined place. Nice and dark, too. They're not used to daylighting. Silly doesn't really stand up to scrutiny.)
And how, yet, when surprises are nice, how I gulp them, easily. Greedily. I'm so accepting, so gracious and welcoming. Darwin's wunderkind. Wonderfully adaptive. The happy surprise rarely ruffles my feathers, rarely stops me right in my tracks with the shock. It may get a nod, sure. If it's lucky. But it hardly rocks my world. The gravitas of its alter-ego? The track-stopping, text-generating huff-puffery that bad luck invariably brings? Yeah, no.
It's user bias, pure and simple. It would never stand up in a court of law. I judge the unplanned by a different measure, depending. When the network's down, I whip out my yard stick, assigning the impact a value in ginormous feet. When the morning is cold but clear and windless enough for a walk, despite it all, and the day somehow open enough to allow it, and friends forthcoming enough to join in, I turn to my wee metal sewing ruler, the 6" slender one that fits my hand, and tally in small silent centimeters. (yeah!) The first step, for sure, is the noticing. But the weighting comes in a close second. This whole thumb on the scales thing won't do. I think I need re-calibrating.
And since I tried and failed to find anyone with the right tools to do the job, I guess I'll have to DIY this one. Here, then, a tribute to some small surprises that glowed up my recent days:
:: Said snow!!! In mid-November, of all times. I don't know what I did to deserve it. So yes, my eyeballs have been burning, and it's too cold to, you know, breathe. But snow on Fall leaves? Christmas come early. No advance notice required.
:: KRINGLE!!!!!!!! I cut my teeth, I think, on Larsen's Bakery's Kringle (Helloooo, Ballard!). It was a staple at my Danish father's family's home, every Christmas. I've not seen it since we left Seattle. Six years is six years too long, without Kringle. But lookie what I found at Trader Joe's!!!!!!
:: The burnt-sugar beauty that was our backyard, just before the snow fell. Hello, November. How I love your caramelized self.
:: Ensorcelling. I read this word for the first time, last week. I've never read the word ensorcelling, before. Oh trust me, I would remember. Ensorcelling!!!!!! Whee!!!!!!!! Suddenly, I'm looking for ways to insert ensorcel into everyday conversation. My, those boots are ensorcelling. And, Thanks for coffee. I was ensorcelled by our conversation. Or, Indeed! Cafe Besalu's ginger biscuits are a source of great ensorcellment.
:: Actually, Cafe Besalu, period. The simple fact of it. That it exists in this world. And continues. And that we'll get to swing by, come December! Seattle tickets booked for Christmas!! Yes!!!!!!!
:: Serial. Gah. Who knew that Sarah Koenig, or anyone, could re-invent radio drama for the digital age? (She has. It's genius. And addictive. And I can't even begin to explain why. But apparently I'm not alone. You've been warned.)
:: This book.
"Life was filled with far too many grown-ups who did not know how to have a marvelous time."
I thought it would be a sweet, quaint re-telling of Julia Child's life, for the 8-and-under set. Nope. I mean, yes, in spirit, in soul. But in reality? Far and away better. A morality tale for all adults, everywhere. Were morality tales wrought of leavened art and tack-sharp girls and words so splendidly blended, you read and re-read the thing, long after the nightlights are off. (To wit, quotes above and below.)
"They cooked extra slowly to bring out the flavor of not hurrying. They used delicate spices so that worries would disappear and wonders would rise to the surface."
A gift to be given, to all ages, always. I personally want to buy twenty copies for gifting, with jars of Extract of Slow Down, and tins of Yippee!, and jar after jar of Wonder Seeds (Whole).
"All those big, busy people who were weighed down with worries, who couldn't remember the last time they climbed a tree or even rode a bicycle, who never watched cartoons and only read biographies -- well, they began to have a marvelous, rowdy, childlike time."
:: These crackers. Lesley Stowe puts the "crack" in crackers. Again. These are nothing like the brittle bejewelled Rain Coast Crisps. Besides being utterly excellent. Buttery and rich and melting and crisp with this groovy faint oxalic Kale edge, they're kind of like Veggie Booty, for grown-ups. (This is high praise.)
:: These cookies. These cookies, which came together on a whim, then were sent straight to the permanent files. Though only after hitting repeat. Repeatedly.
Like cakey cookies, I tend to steer clear of cookies packed with fruit and nuts. More bias. I love fruit. I love nuts. I don't love the "healthy! good-for-you!!" banner said cookies tend to march under. Cookies are boons to weary souls, sidekicks to coffee, unadulterated treats. No baggage, please. The job of a cookie is not to boost your daily fiber intake and overall health index, but to ensorcel.
Box seriously checked.
What makes these work is everything. A short dough, long on butter, low on egg, more shortbread than drop cookie. A mix of half flour, half old-fashioned oats, a light tender team I've long adored. A line-up of "bits" too long to cram into the title; indeed, almost too long to cram into the cookie. Almost. Not quite. Thank heavens. Apricots, intense and tart-sweet, snipped with scissors into gems. Cocoa nibs, those buttery, bitter addictive flicks of roasted cocoa bean. White chocolate, which I usually can't stand, but which appears here in restrained cameo, and which offsets the tart fruit and dark nibs like nobody's business. There are walnuts also, and unsweetened coconut, subtle devils, both, all tawny and neutral and unassuming. Until you take a bite.
It's a good bite. Crisp and melting, caramel-sweet and bright-tart, mellow, intense, oaty, walnutty, wonderful. They eat like every good adjective out there, bound up in an edible, humble golf ball. And despite the pesky fruit and nuts and oats in the title, these need no special treatment. Disregard past experience, avert your eyes from the ingredients, and know these need not be judged by a different measure. Pull out all your ordinary cookie yard sticks—delight, swoon, crave, come-hither—and measure away. They're a small surprise with a high co-efficient. As all good cookies should be.
Apricot Coconut Cocoa Nib Jumbles
yield: 3-4 dozen cookies
The combination of "bits", below, is what we've settled on, and is lovely. That said, feel free to switch it up, knowing that this dough accomodates roughly 4 cups of "stuff". I've tried tart cherries, and chopped bittersweet, and toasted pecans, and don't regret any of it.
A few ingredient notes: I can't recall ever calling out an ingredient by brand, but here I go. This one's mission-critical. Trader Joe's Blenheim apricots are our one and only. Most groceries stock California or Turkish apricots, which are flabby, one-dimensional, just sweet. TJ's Blenheims are like another species, intensely tart sweet, sticky-tender, and pulsing with flavor. They're priced at a premium, and for good reason. We treat and eat them like gold. If you can't track down TJ's Blenheims, skip the apricots altogether. Try instead tart dried cherries, or even good raisins. (Trader Joe's jumbo mixed multi-colored raisins are especially wonderful.)
I use toasted walnuts when I have them (10-12 minutes at 350 degrees, cooled), but don't sweat it when I don't. Raw are fine. Cocoa nibs are available at most well-stocked groceries, and here. I use unsweetened coconut, here, either fine-shred ("macaroon" coconut) or wide flakes. Most baking sections carry Bob's Red Mill, or order here. If using sweetened, cut the white sugar by 2 Tablespoons. Finally? You can cram a second white chocolate bar in, if you're so inclined. Trust me.
1 1/4 cups salted butter (2 1/2 cubes; 20 oz.)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup well-packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. pure vanilla
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats (not "instant")
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup Trader Joe's Blenheim apricots, diced (see notes)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3.5 oz. good white chocolate bar, chopped (I use Lindt)
1 cup cocoa nibs, unsweetened
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, slice butter, then add both sugars and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then scrape sides, and increase speed to medium. Cream butter and sugar 1-2 minutes, until fully incorporated but not yet fluffy. Scrape sides, add egg, and beat to combine fully. Scrape sides, add vanilla, and beat to incorporate.
Scrape sides once more, then add flour and oats, and democratically sprinkle the baking powder and baking soda over. (If you are a proper baker, whisk together flour, oats, and leaveners separately, then add. I am a lazy baker, and honest, as well. The preceeding is my method.) On low speed, mix until just beginning to combine but still streaky, 30 seconds. Add apricots, walnuts, chocolate, nibs and coconut, and on low, mix again to just incorporate, 30 seconds.
Remove bowl from mixer, and with a strong wooden spoon or clean hands (my preferred), gather dough and turn it a few times in the bowl, gathering up bits as you go. There is so much chunky goodness here, that nuts and fruit tend to accumulate at the bottom. Work them in briefly but well with your hands, for consistent cookies.
Scoop golf balls of dough onto your prepared sheets, using two tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop. These spread little; I fit four rows of four across. Flatten balls slightly to 3/4", then place in preheated oven. Bake 10 minutes, then reverse trays, front to back, top to bottom. Bake another 6-8 minutes, until cookies are no longer shiny, and edges are beginning to brown slightly. I like these slightly crisper than our average, soft-centered chocolate chip cookie, and so find a longer cooking time of 17 minutes in our oven spot-on.
These keep better than any drop cookie I've met, still pretty wonderful a week out. This makes a large batch, perfect for sharing. If you need fewer, dough freezes beautifully, balled and individually frozen, then bagged.