Yesterday, the skies lowered with grey clouds all day. Busy writing, I didn’t consciously look up for nearly an hour in the middle of the afternoon. When I did finally raise my head, I noticed that the window screen before me was flecked with raindrops. The trees across the street were tossing their heads and letting down their hair. The sun was only glimmering weakly behind the clouds, already starting to descend. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and starting to grow dark.
It’s that baking time of the year.
During the summers, I rarely want to turn on the oven. After hours at a farmers’ market, I want to eat food fresh, and whole. A chunk of creamy avocado on a slice of crusty, gluten-free bread, with a thick slice of tomato and green leaves of basil. Who needs anything more? This summer, when the evenings grow cool in Seattle fairly quickly, I had all my hot entrée needs met by going to the Chef’s restaurant. Braised baby short ribs with crispy polenta, a sour cream and cumin sauce. Prawns and scallions in an almond-garlic sauce. Seared lamb chops with garlic potatoes. Why would I turn on the oven when I could eat food like that? And when I didn’t eat at the restaurant, the Chef was the one to come home and turn on the oven. Why should I bake under those circumstances?
But these days, I have been seized by the need to bake. Peanut butter cookies. A roasted red pepper and goat cheese quiche with a millet-teff crust. Banana bread made with nutmeg and vanilla yogurt. Apple pie made with three different kinds of apple and an almond-meal crust. There is something about that cooling air and yellowing leaves, the gathering darkness and thoughts of the holiday, that make me turn to baking.
And besides, this year, I have the Chef to kept fed.
It’s daunting to cook for a professional chef. Even though this man would be blissfully happy if I made some hummus and gave it to him on crackers, I want to feed him more fully. And while I have happily let him cook us dinner every night for months on end —after cooking for ten hours straight at the restaurant — I can feel everything shifting, a bit. Maybe it’s that we have been with each other for long enough — and love each other so thoroughly — that I’ve stopped worrying that my food isn’t good enough for him. If everyone is afraid of cooking for a professional chef, then the poor chefs never eat.
And beyond that, I have simply missed the kitchen.
So, while he is feeding lucky people in the evenings, I take a break from writing and make us something simple. Lentil soup. Homemade corn tortillas with seared steak, fresh guacamole, and roasted tomatoes. Roast chicken with potatoes and gravy. He is happy and satisfied. And sometimes, nothing makes me happier than feeding this man.
Plus, I have been baking for him.
The man can bake. There’s no question. But so can I. And so lately, I have been inventing baked goods, left and right, for the good of the book, and for him.
When I first made him the peanut butter cookies, his eyes grew wide, and he jumped up and down. Then, he decided to make them at the restaurant, and improve on them.
[Here a side note: I am actually writing this at his restaurant, in the afternoon, before anyone comes in for dinner. He called me into the kitchen a minute ago and said, “Do you want a peanut butter cookie? They just came out of the oven.” I took one bite, and then my eyes grew wide, and I jumped up and down. We are well-suited for each other, obviously.]
A few weeks ago, I took a little jaunt to ChefShop, one of my favorite food resources in the world. A fabulous online store, ChefShop is physically located in Seattle, just five minutes from our home. That makes me one lucky girl. Among the other delectables and goodies I found on their shelves, I spotted a Sorrento lemon olive oil from Italy. When the knowledgeable staff member put it into my hands, and began to tell me the story of how the olives and lemons are crushed together, my brain snapped to attention.
Lemon olive oil cookies.
I had never seen a recipe. I had never baked with olive oil before. And yet, I just knew that I had to make them. The idea sprang forth from my head fully formed like Athena from Zeus. I ran home and threw ingredients into my Kitchen-Aid, trusting my instincts.
At the end of the evening, when the cookies had cooled, I drove to the restaurant, scurried in, and walked toward the Chef, the cookie in my hand headed right for his mouth. He took one bite, happily. I knew what they tasted like — chewy, tangy with lemon, rich in complexity of flavor because of the depth of that olive oil — because I always tast them before I give them to him. He looked at me in amazement, his eyes growing wider than the cookie in my hand, then said, “Yes please. More.”
Luckily, I had several more in the car.
I’m so happy it’s that baking time of the year.
LEMON OLIVE OIL COOKIES
I’m certain that some of the magic of these cookies comes from using that particular type of Sorrento lemon olive oil. It’s green and fruity, and it truly smells like lemons. I recommend that you order a bottle. If, however, you don’t have that type of oil, I think this would still work with a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Just bump up the lemon zest and juice.
I originally used plain, non-fat yogurt in this recipe, which is what this version calls for. This allows the cookies to crisp up a bit, and at least give the illusion of being healthy. However, in subsequent batches, I used sour cream instead. Yum, yum good. Those cookies are a bit chewier and far richer. If you are making this for a treat, I would use sour cream. That’s what the Chef recommends as well.
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt (make sure it’s gluten-free) or sour cream
1/4 cup lemon olive oil (or the best quality olive oil you can afford)
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/2 half cup white rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup fresh ground almond meal (fresh ground tastes best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350°.
First, combine the yogurt and olive oil well. Stir in the egg, then the lemon juice and zest, to make a coherent mixture.
Next, combine all the dry ingredients together. Slowly, fold the wet ingredients into the dry. The dough will be sticky. In fact, you might have dough all over your fingers by the time this process is done. Oh darn.
Form small balls with the sticky dough and roll each ball into sugar. This will make the finished cookies crunchy and shimmery. Place on a baking sheet covered with a silpat, or a layer of parchment paper.
Cook for twelve minutes, approximately. The cookies will be soft at this point, but they will feel fully formed. Let them sit on the baking sheet, on the top of the oven, for about five minutes.
Carefully, move the cookies to a cooling rack. Let them sit there for another five minutes, during which time they will harden in the air.
Now, try not to eat them all in one sitting.
Makes nine large cookies or twelve rather smaller ones.