Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

A plate of ginger pecan balls

Today’s Musings:

My sister and I were debating the merits of holiday Eccles Cakes vs. Mince Pies last weekend.  I voted for the mince, since they’re easier to make.  Each year, Christmas cheer comes hesitantly for me.  When I tear off the second to last page on the calendar, I dread the work that lies ahead over the next 24 days.  2019 was a snap; we packed our bags on the 15th and headed to London, not returning until the holiday rush and festivities were over.  This year, I was even undecided about exchanging gifts with the family.  Then, perhaps with the help of some holiday magic (or spiked eggnog), my mood began to change.  In the first few days of December, I agreed to the gifts and the hosting (I’m the only one who can).  By mid-month, my Christmas spirit was beginning to stir. We trekked to Santiago Canyon to select our freshly-cut tree (no parking-lot version for us!), sang carols as we decorated, and drove about town to four different stores looking for lights (My new pro tip:  Not Target; your neighborhood Walgreens).  As I write this, I’ve devoured two panettone, baked mince pies and panforte, and have my recipes ready for Christmas morning stollen, Christmas Eve dinner, and mulled wine.  I’ve also volunteered to assemble luminaries to decorate our street on Christmas Eve and, last weekend, drove through the neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.  My house smells of pine and crackling logs (I ALMOST spent $30 for 4 Irish peat briquettes).  I’ve watched A Christmas Carol (although not my favorite version with George C. Scott) and invited some friends (within my bubble) for Christmas Day ham.  Today’s to-do list includes a trip to the butchers (not for a goose, Mrs. Cratchet, but a boneless lamb roast), gift wrapping, and these easy Ginger Pecan Rum Balls.  With less than one week to go, I’ve found my holiday spirit after all, as I always do.  So, Happy Holiday from my (hesitant) house to yours.  

Today’s Recipe:


Ginger Pecan Rum Balls

  • Servings: About 24 Balls
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Easy spicy ginger holiday treats spiked with a good dose of dark rum. Feel free to play with the ingredients – different crumbs, nuts, or spirits can provide an array of flavors.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups ginger snap crumbs
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
  • 3 Tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until pecans are finely ground and dough forms into a ball.
  2. Roll dough into small balls (about 13-15 grams each) and roll in powdered sugar
  3. Store in an airtight container. Let sit for at least one day to allow flavors to meld; they will get more flavorful with each day.

Almond Orange Mini Gateaux Bretons

A plate of mini gateaux bretons

I came across the following post today, written 12 years ago, on September 2, 2008. What surprises me is that very little, really, has changed.  My fundamental characteristics, it seems, remain…well…fundamental:

N said something at dinner tonight that surprised me.  He said that he didn’t know anything about my fundamental characteristics; my foundational principles.  N and I have known each other for almost 15 years.  Admittedly, we haven’t had a long growing season for our friendship – we’ve always been in and out of touch – mostly out.  It’s been seven years since our last dinner together.  Still, I thought that my life’s philosophy was evident to those around me.  I’m discovering that I was wrong.  So, here’s the five things my friends should know about me – in no particular order:

1. I am a sensualist. I delight in the sensations I experience in the world around me: super-saturated colors, the scent and patter of rain, the graininess of aged cheese, the creaminess of Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles, the smoky, crackling warmth of a fire, the sounds of the forest, the softness of cashmere, the simplicity and contrast of B&W photos, the tingle and bite of Fleur de Sel on my tongue, and the sweet scent of a narcissus blossoms, to name just a few.  My pleasure is found through the senses.

2. I’m fiercely loyal to those close to me and I expect it in return.  If you’ve betrayed me, it is difficult to regain my trust. Betrayal cuts me deeply. Trust, respect and loyalty are essential. [Editor’s note: Something I’ve been painfully reminded of recently.]

3. I strive for balance; I’m always looking for the Yin/Yang in my life, my work, my spirituality passions, my relationships.  When I’m balanced, I feel the most in tune with life’s pulse.  Yoga, meditation, cooking baking and playing in the dirt help me to balance.

4. I’m an introvert. I spend large chunks of my free time by myself and I like it – need it – that way.  I enjoy my time with others, but need down time alone to “recharge”.  I’m shy and usually uncomfortable around those I don’t know. [Editor’s note: This last year, I’ve been in a phase of more interpersonal connections, but I’m still an introvert at heart. This often surprises new friends.]

5. Contentment is not the same as complacency.  I detest complacency and seek contentment.

My Favorite quote right now:  “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” – Rumi  “You can’t change those around you, but you can change those around you.”

Only slightly updated, September 2020


Almond Orange Mini Gateaux Bretons


Ingredients

    Orange Cookies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup almond flour, toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon orange flower water
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Almond Cream
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • sliced almonds

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, toasted almond flour and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, combining between each addition.  Mix in orange flower water and zest.  With the mixer on low,  add flour mixture in 3 additions mixing just until blended (don’t over-mix).
  2. Scrape dough into a piece of plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. With floured hands, roll dough into 10 gram balls.  Press dough into the bottom of mini muffin tins.  Dollop with a rounded teaspoon of almond cream and sprinkle with 3 sliced almonds.  Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  3. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes until tops are golden. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then release from pan using the tip of a very sharp knife.

Raspberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

A platter of Raspeberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

The woman you seek does not exist, but someone more profound and exquisite (and real) would willingly stand beside you, clasping your hand. Place your impossible ideals of chaste Madonna by sunlight and sinful whore at nightfall aside and truly see us. We are angel and devil in equal measure and cannot hide one trait away depending on your desires or the time of day. Sometimes our licentious tongue yearns for daylight; sometimes our crooked halo still hovers above us in the night.

Our femininity is not determined by our willingness to compromise our light and dark selves for your sake. We are more complex, unpredictable,  and surprising than you could ever imagine. See us for who we are, love us for this dichotomy, and we will shower you with myriad delights.

Some of us will bear your children, some of us will dance naked in your moonlight, some of us will cradle you and gather up your tears, some of us with strive for heights greater than yours, and some of us will fill you belly with devilishly divine delicacies.

Raspberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

  • Servings: 32 Mini Tarts
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Is it a highly complex cookie or the smallest tart you've ever seen? Whatever you decide, the combination of tender crust, tart raspberry jam and rich almond filling are sure to delight.


Ingredients

    Raspberry Jam
  • 7 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 7 oz. sugar
  • Shortbread Crust
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Frangipane (Almond Crème)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 2 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • Glaze
  • 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon water
  • 32 sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 32 mini muffin cups. Make crust by beating together butter and sugar. Add vanilla, flour and salt and combine until fully blended. Divide dough into 32 equal pieces, pressing dough along bottom and up sides of each muffin cup. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just beginning to brown. If crust rises too much after baking, gently press back down into cups.
  3. While crusts are baking, make frangipane by whisking together butter, confectioner’s sugar, egg, almond flour and cornstarch. Spoon frangipane into a piping bag.
  4. Dollop about ½ teaspoon of raspberry jam in the bottom of each cup. Pipe frangipane over jam, covering jam completely. Bake tarts for an additional 20-25 minutes until tops are puffed and slightly golden brown. Cool completely
  5. To make glaze, mix confectioner’s sugar with water. Drizzle over cooled tarts. Garnish each with a sliced almond.

Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A stack of Lem Ginger Cornmeal Thins

A benefit of working from home during COVID-19 is the ability to move my office outdoors when the weather’s agreeable. The climate, this week, has been extremely fine and, today, I find myself perched at my patio table, under the sailcloth, bare feet propped on a nearby chair, listening to the mocking birds shout their heads off nearby. This time of year in LA is lovely.

The downside of this COVID-19 quarantine is that I’m baking madly through the pandemic – and gorging my way through the results. I’m lamentably watching the number creep up on my bathroom scale. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but it’s times like these that I really wish my culinary forte was low-cal, low-carb, healthy meals.

I managed to share these cookies with my guy so I didn’t eat the ENTIRE batch, but pretty darn near close to it. When you bite into these thin, crisp cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon (yes, 2 Tablespoons of zest is correct!) followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger. They’re so addictive, I’m ready to bake another batch!

*Recipe adapted from Lori Longbotham’s lemon-black pepper cornmeal cookies.


Lemon Ginger Cornmeal Thins

  • Servings: Approximately 3 dozen
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These cookies are best when pressed as thinly as possible to ensure maximum crispness. When you bite into these thin cornmeal cookies, your mouth is filled with fresh lemon followed by the spicy tingle from fresh ginger.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon (generous) finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Additional sugar for shaping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk the flour, cornmeal, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar, zest, and ginger in a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed just until blended; the dough will be crumbly.
  3. Scoop teaspoonfuls of dough and roll into balls. Place on silpat or parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and press each ball into a very thin disk – about ⅛” thick.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, switching sheets half-way through baking. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. I have no doubt these would be fabulous sandwiched with white chocolate ganache.

Coconut Brownie Buttons

A plate of Coconut Brownie Buttons

I’m only 15 days into California’s shelter-in-place mandate and I’m already tired of staring at the same living room each day and evening, which reminds me of a recent creative writing assignment I completed on just that subject – my living room. I apologize in advance for the length of this post – feel free to skip to the recipe. I won’t mind.

LIVING ROOM

Georgia O’Keeffe, a hero of mine, painted every wall of her beloved home in Abiquiu, NM creamy white. The effect was modern, calming, soothing, and the perfect counterbalance to her large, colorful canvases hung on the walls. I wonder what she’d think of my living room. The first thing she’d notice is the cacophony of colors. I’ve painted the walls a vivid brick red. The imposing mid-century fireplace pops from the corner thanks to a shade of golden wheat. The kitchen wall peeks from the opposite corner, a sagey green. Warm tones, in general, except for the daring teal velvet mid-century wing chair; its color repeating itself on a throw pillow, in a niche, in candles, on a decorative plate. I’ve read in decorating books that tertiary colors should be repeated at least three times to help your eye move about easily. In this painter’s box of color, I’ve taken that recommendation to heart. There are dabs of all these colors – and others – spattered throughout this rainbow palette.

The bare, wooden floors, in contrast, glow a dark Brazilian cherry, reminding me of a racehorse’s shiny coat. I believe breeders call that color “sorrel.” For a long time, I envisioned breaking up the expanse of dark floor and tempering the explosion of color with a large, white, fluffy flokati rug. I finally thought better of it, knowing a white rug would quickly turn a dingy gray underfoot, especially with two cats. The “boys”, the constant residents of this space, spend more of the day here than I do, lounging in the sun, determinedly grooming themselves, and wrestling each other into submission. Consequently, every surface, from floor to couch to coffee table, is covered in a layer of their hair. In fact, just before the cleaners are due for a visit, it’s common to watch cat-hair tumbleweeds slowly roll their way across the floor to accumulate in the room’s remote corners.

My sister, Susan, says my living room reminds her of Pablo Picasso’s apartment in the 1960’s. Since she’s never met Picasso – or seen his apartment, I’m dubious of her comparison, although she explained it to me once – it’s the juxtaposition of eras, of textures, of cultures, not unlike photos of his mid-century abode randomly scattered with mismatched sculptures, found items, and art. My sunken room and its furnishings are decidedly sleek mid-century modern, yet the step down is weathered Saltillo and glazed Spanish tiles. The menacing antique puppet in the corner is Balinese, the embroidered tapestry on the wall Oaxacan, and the ceramic vase hand-thrown by a Santa Ana Artwalk artist, a steal at $25. Another decorating rule I subscribe to is, “mismatched items you truly love will always go together.” These are my loved items – my collection. A less flattering comparison would be that the décor tends towards a Pier 1 sale aisle.

The entire west side of the room looks out on the backyard, thanks to a bank of ten wooden-framed windows original to the 1950’s house. There’s no blinds or curtains to obscure the view. I’ve left them bare so I can watch the morning squirrel and bird going-ons as I sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch. Just before sunset each evening, the room shimmers with direct afternoon light reflecting golden off the polished wooden floor, silver coffee table and flurry of ubiquitous swirling cat hair in the air. It’s often the motivation needed to grab the Swiffer, as the final light rays sink behind the garden wall.

The cookie recipe below is ideal during this time of self-quarantine because it requires minimal ingredients – and substitutions are encouraged. Out of walnuts? Any nut or combination of nuts will do. Don’t have coconut? Roll the cookies in powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Don’t want to go to the store for cocoa powder? Leave it out and let the flavor of the nuts shine! Plus, dare I say, with no flour, minimal sugar, and heart-healthy nuts, they are somewhat good for you – just like staying at home these days.


Coconut Brownie Buttons

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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Rich chocolate cookies with a crisp coconut outside and soft fudge-like middle.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place shredded coconut in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove coconut and set aside.
  2. Place walnuts in the bowl of food processor and process until well chopped. Add sugar and process until mixture looks like sand. Add cocoa powder and salt and process until combined. Add egg white and vanilla extract and process until dough comes together. Transfer bowl to refrigerator and refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Divide dough into 16 equal balls (about 13 grams each). Roll each ball in reserved coconut and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until coconut is lightly toasted and cookies are barely firm to the touch (you want the outside crisp, but the inside fudge-like). Cool for a few minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.