Wednesday, October 20, 2010

‘tis autumn

October gave a party;
the leaves by hundreds came -
the chestnuts, oaks, and maples,
and leaves of every name.
the sunshine spread a carpet,
and everything was grand,
miss weather led the dancing,
professor wind the band.
~George Cooper


One fine fall day, we hopped in the family station wagon and headed 90 minutes east of Seattle, to sleepy Roslyn, WA, where friends transformed their sprawling backyard into a Rockwell-esque autumn wonderland.


Rows of jolly pumpkins, ripe tomatoes, and massive zucchini bowed before towering sunflowers with cheery faces turned skyward.  Fruit bearing trees sagged under the weight of frosted plums, speckled pears and rosy red apples.   In one corner of the yard, folks gathered around a wooden cider press while young and old alike turned the crank on a steady rotation.  Golden brown liquid tumbled into cast iron pots and pans as jug after jug was filled to the brim with sweet apple nectar. 


Fueled by cider and cookies, carefree children frolicked in the grass, carved spooky pumpkins, swayed in the hammock and were generally underfoot.  Dinner was a rustic affair with home cooked comfort food served alfresco amid the cotton candy glow of a setting sun.  Mismatched plates and vintage cloth napkins proved charming as well as environmentally friendly.  When at last the sun slid behind distant rooftops, guests donned jackets and sweaters to ward off the sudden chill while toasting marshmallows under the silvery light of a harvest moon.  Temperatures were expected to dip into the high twenties that night, our hosts told us.  With the first frost, their waning garden would soon give up the ghost. 


The following day, we made our weekly pilgrimage to the Ballard Farmers Market where news of the frost was widespread.  Produce vendors fervently touted the last local corn and tomatoes of the season.  Stands spilled over with an abundance of potatoes, kale, beets, squash, apples and onions.  The sun's distant warmth failed to elude penetrating cold as fall quietly crept into the market. 

It was perfect weather for a bowl of split pea soup.  Far from its watery counterparts, my version is a soup with a backbone- dense, nourishing and peppered with satisfying bits of sweet carrot, celery and smoky ham.  I have always loved a good pea soup and was thrilled when, during my first visit to Holland, I discovered that it is an integral part of Dutch cuisine, particularly during cooler months. 

As a young boy, my Dutch husband, veritable Hans Brinker that he was, brought along a thermos of pea soup whenever he skated the frozen canals of his childhood village.  Because Holland is flat and filled with canals, the wind can be particularly bone chilling.  A steaming thermos of hot soup was just the thing to ward off biting cold. 

The following recipe is my personal take on the perennial favorite.  According to Dutch tradition, you should be able to stand a spoon upright in a good pea soup. This one certainly fits the bill.  Wholesome and delicious, it is a meal unto itself when served alongside buttered brown bread or freshly baked whole wheat buttermilk yeast rolls

split pea soup with ham


serves 12


1 ham shank
1 tablespoon canola or extra light olive oil 
12 black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, chopped in 3 pieces
1-2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped in 3 pieces each
1 wedge of yellow onion
1/2 leek, split lengthwise 
10-12 cups water

mirepoix + ham + garlic 
6-8 carrots, 1/2-dice
6-8 celery stalks, 1/2-inch dice
10-12 ounces ham steak, 1/2-inch dice
2 medium onions, 1/2 inch dice
8-10 cloves minced garlic
2 pounds split peas
canola or extra light olive oil
1 –2 teaspoons sea salt



Heat the oil in a large pot, on medium high.  Brown the ham shank on all sides.  Create a bouquet garni by placing the remaining stock ingredients in a cheesecloth or soup sock.  Tie loose ends securely and place in the pot along with the ham shank.  Cover with water, and simmer for up to one hour.

mirepoix + ham + garlic
While the stock simmers, add a few glugs of canola or extra light olive oil to a large heavy bottom skillet, on medium heat.  Add the garlic, stirring until fragrant and lightly colored.  Next, add the onions, stirring for about 5 minutes.  Turn heat to medium high and add the ham.  Stir intermittently, allowing the ham to color a bit.  When the ham begins to brown, add in carrots and celery, stirring until vegetables begin to soften a bit but still hold their shape.


Remove bouquet garni and ham shank from the stock pot.  Skim or strain any foam or loose bits floating in the stock.  Bring stock to a boil.  Add peas, ham and vegetables and additional water to .  Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.  Season with salt to taste.  Soup keeps well, refrigerated, for up to three days and freezes well for up to three months.  Warm over low heat, adding additional water as needed.

whole wheat buttermilk yeast rolls


These were not originally intended as whole wheat rolls.  My mom makes them with white flour every Thanksgiving and they are as delicious as they are festive.  Nothing says ‘turkey day’ quite like freshly baked golden domes of airy, buttery goodness.

Because at our house, we  favor whole wheat bread and consider white flour an occasional indulgence, I wondered how these rolls would fare when a portion of the white flour was replaced with whole wheat pastry flour*.  I decided to give it a try and the resulting rolls were hearty and wholesome; a little denser than their paler siblings but still altogether delicious.   

On a side note, I want to take a moment to sing the praises of whole wheat pastry flour.  Its finer grind replaces white flour with ease and it possesses a subtler flavor and smoother texture than traditional whole wheat flour.  With all the benefits of whole wheat, the pastry flour adaptation regularly makes its way into our pancakes, waffles, crepes, pizza dough, pie crust, biscuits and quick breads. 

The best way to experiment when replacing white flour with whole wheat flour is to first attempt a 50/50 blend.  Over time, change the ratio as you deem appropriate.  These rolls need a bit of gluten so I don’t recommend substituting all of the white flour for whole wheat flour.

whole wheat buttermilk yeast rolls

yields approximately 24 rolls


1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups room temperature buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill)
2 cups unbleached white flour 


Put yeast and water in a mixing bowl.  Stir until dissolved.  Add room temp buttermilk and sugar.  Let the mixture stand (to proof) for 15 minutes.

Add the melted butter and beaten eggs to the buttermilk mixture.  Whisk to combine.  At this point, my mom prefers to use her KitchenAid.  I like to do it by hand.  If using a stand mixer, begin with the paddle attachment. 

In another bowl, sift the soda, salt and 4 cups of whole wheat pastry flour.  Add the flour mixture to the liquid until a smooth batter forms.  If you are using an electric mixer, switch out the paddle for the dough hook at this time.  Add the white flour, beating well until incorporated.  Add the remaining wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a fairly smooth dough begins to form.  It may not be necessary to use all of the flour.  Stop adding flour if the dough starts to lose its sheen.  Knead the dough with a dough hook or by hand for about 8 minutes, until smooth and satiny (dough made with wheat flour will be less satiny than dough made with white flour).

Place dough in a buttered bowl and butter the top of the dough, as well.  Cover with a towel and rise in a warm place for one hour.  Pinch off sections of dough roughly the size of golf balls.  Place balls of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Rise for an additional 30 minutes. 

Bake the rolls at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, until tops are light golden brown.  About 10 minutes into baking, I like to brush the tops with butter but this is optional. 

Unbaked, these rolls freeze quite well.  Place them in the freezer on a baking sheet, for about half an hour.  Once they are firm, transfer to sealable freezer bags.  Thaw frozen rolls at room temperature.  Remove  them from the freezer a few hours ahead of time and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet 30 minutes before baking.

* I use Bob’s Red Mill organically grown whole wheat pastry flour.  They also make a non-organic version.  Either is fine.  Note: White wheat flour is not the same as whole wheat pastry flour.  I have tried both and much prefer the pastry flour.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

a day at oxbow farm


A-l-l-i-g-a-t-o-r…. b-i-n-o-c-u-l-a-r-s…. C-a-r-n-a-t-i-o-n…., as in Carnation, Washington, our intended destination on a wet Saturday in October.  My husband drove intently, squinting through the rain soaked windshield while my daughter Annabelle and I  passed the time spelling words by seeking out letters on license plates and roadside signage.  Located a mere forty minutes east of Seattle, Carnation is home to more than a dozen local farms and we were headed to one of them. 


Our destination was Oxbow Farm’s 11th Annual Harvest Festival and we were eager to muddy our rain boots with a healthy dose of authentic farm culture.  Good food was a given: the organic farm provided plenty of roasted salmon and grilled vegetables, straight from the field, while two rows of tables adorned with brightly hued oilcloths were heavy under the weight of side dishes and desserts, presented potluck-style.  My own contribution was a twist on my standing pumpkin cookie recipe:  Instead of icing the tops, I sandwiched maple buttercream between two cake-like cookies in an autumnal take on whoopie pie. 

Nothing says ‘farm to table’ quite like platters heaped with roasted salmon filets, caramelized brussel sprouts, grilled squash, marinated carrots, pickled beets and local artisanal cheeses.  A large rectangular basket cradled just baked, dimpled foccacia while paper thin slices of rosy radishes and cool lemon cucumbers adorned an enormous bowl of mixed greens, straight from the garden.  Another massive bowl spilled over with luscious purple black concord grapes.  Every dish had been made from scratch or plucked from nearby fields in an impressive showing of late harvest bounty.  


With a wealth of delectable offerings to choose from, our plates were soon brimming with beautiful, delicious food, an edible still life in muted shades of green, orange, crimson and violet.  Just as we poised our forks for the first bite, someone called out, “Time for the pumpkin parade!” and in a testimony to her sorely lacking farm prowess, Annabelle opted to run through a mud slick with inevitable results.  The subsequent look of bewilderment was almost as amusing as her exceptionally muddy bum.  She quickly recovered and joined a group of children assembled near the pumpkin patch.  Many girls were dressed as fairies, their rubber boots peeking out beneath the hems of gossamer gowns and glittering wings sprouting from sensible rain jackets.  Just in time, a kind young woman handed Annabelle a posy of wildflowers and tucked a brown-eyed susan behind her ear. Then off the children marched, weaving through the pumpkin patch and on to a magical pumpkin fairy house.


Near the fairy house, a greased pole challenged thrill seekers to scale its lofty heights in pursuit of pats on the back and a chance at grabbing hold of envelopes fastened up top containing farm stand coupons.  Live music drifted out from a canvas tent where three toe tapping musicians performed a steady stream of lively bluegrass melodies.  Annabelle sagely bypassed apple bobbing from a deep tub of water teeming with the collective saliva of countless children before her.  We eluded pouring rain in the warmth of a greenhouse whose skeletal frame and diffused glow gave the distinct feeling of being cozily situated in the belly of a  beguiling whale.  Annabelle plopped down on the hay strewn floor where she found abundant supplies for fashioning a gourd adorned necklace and enchanting marigold crown.


Bedecked in her harvest accoutrements, Annabelle led the way to the children’s living garden, a lush wonderland replete with a nonsensical winding tunnel and dizzying sorghum maze.  Hushed silence filled the nearby bean teepee where a handful of children contentedly shelled and munched on edible beans plucked from walls comprised of trailing vines.  A tractor engine rumbled in the distance and moments later, both tractor and hay wagon came into view.  Passengers disembarked and as the driver hopped down, we anxiously inquired, “Are we too late for a hay ride?”

“Nah,” he replied.  We’ll keep running as long as people keep coming.

Relieved, we clambered onto the truck bed, bracing ourselves for a bumpy ride as the tractor lurched forward, pulling the wagon along a makeshift dirt road forged between two fields.  Steady rain proved no match for the fervor of our guide, Oxbow farmer Adam McCurdy.  His love of the land was deeply apparent as he impassionedly detailed the workings of the farm, from glories to pitfalls.  Caught up in the beauty of the moment, Annabelle whispered longingly, “I want to live here."  Before heading home, we trudged through tangled vines and mucky muck to pick our first ever pumpkin patch pumpkins, jubilantly emerging with three fat and jolly, mud-flecked specimens.

During the drive home, rain drenched and rosy cheeked, we cranked up the heat and relived memorable moments of our day at the farm.  My husband grew up surrounded by farmland in Northern Holland and relished in the opportunity to reconnect with his childhood and to share that connection with his daughter.  Annabelle was smitten with the children’s living garden and pleased as pie with her great orange pumpkin.  I came away with an empty dessert platter, a full belly and a profound respect for the farmers who grow our food. 


In recent years, our family has increasingly supported organic, local farming.  What began with small changes has grown into a greater sense of responsibility to both ourselves and our community at large.  The food tastes better, is better for you and benefits the local economy.  In addition, buying locally grown food benefits farmers and their families.  A day at the farm provided newfound understanding of the vital connection between the food on our plate and the farmers who grow it.

Special thanks to Katherine Anderson of Marigold and Mint for graciously inviting our family to this delightful event.  Katherine’s grandfather bought the land on which Oxbow farm is situated, back in the 50’s.  Her father now owns and operates the farm with the help of a talented and devoted farm crew.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

into the woods and onto my plate

Chanterelle mushrooms sing of autumn, of moss carpeted forests, damp soil and decaying leaves underfoot.  Their appearance on menus and in farmer’s markets is a sure sign summer will soon give up the ghost.  As peaches and tomatoes give way to pumpkins and potatoes, these earthy, meaty morsels are nature’s harbingers of good things to come. 

In early September, my husband’s parents flew to Seattle from Holland, for a weeklong visit.  On the sun-dappled eve of their departure, the five of us ambled up the street to our home away from home, Volunteer Park Cafe (VPC).  As I scanned a narrow chalkboard which acts as the fresh sheet, my pulse quickened at the mere mention of chanterelles.  Cozily gathered around a window table lined with plush benches, we shared a juicy bottle of Cote du Rhone, seasonal salads and plates heaped with melt in your mouth brisket over cheesy polenta and braised greens.  To finish, there was gooey chocolate toffee bread pudding, warm and satisfying under the weight of a generous scoop of ‘a la mode’. 

The worlds is right side up in the skilled hands of VPC’s chef and owner, Ericka Burke.  By day, the cafe menu is consistent, offering a satisfying array of comfort fare and irresistible baked goods.  Come dinnertime, diners gladly surrender their taste buds to Ericka’s nightly whims.  Her staunch commitment to local, organic ingredients is the backbone of inspired, rustic fare with emphasis on seasonality.  Dinner specials are thoughtfully balanced while tried and true favorites are deliciously reliable. 

Suffice it to say, the five of us walked away fat and happy.  Mouth-watering brisket fit the bill for my meat and potatoes loving in-laws and decadent bread pudding proved the icing on the cake; but the showstopper was without a doubt the chanterelle salad.  In their first appearance of the season, Ericka wisely paired the mushrooms with arugula, bacon, heirloom tomatoes and Estrella Creamery blue cheese.  Tossed with a creamy vinaigrette, the salad had all the trappings of a sophisticated BLT, sans bread.  Both familiar and unexpected, it was the sort of food which elicits contented faraway gazes and involuntary sighs.

A week later, while wandering the cobbled streets of the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market, I happened upon Foraged and Found Edibles, where shallow baskets overflowed with yellow and white chanterelles and larger than life porcinis alongside green mesh sacks filled with the last huckleberries of the season.  Before long, my canvas tote was brimming with earthy apricot-hued chanterelles, spicy arugula, Billy’s heirloom cherry tomatoes in reds, oranges, yellows and greens and Estrella Family Creamery’s Wynoochee River blue cheese.  On the way home, I swung by Rain Shadow Meats for thick slices of house cured bacon.  In an homage to my first taste of fall, I would recreate that memorable salad in all its autumnal glory. 

The salad is quite simple to assemble yet elegant when plated.  My interpretation is slightly different from the original but delicious just the same.  Sometimes, I serve it alongside pizza or roast chicken.  Other times, I pair the salad with generous wedges of dense, crusty bread and call it dinner.  The following recipe makes 4 dinner-size portions. 


arugula salad with chanterelles, bacon, heirloom tomatoes and bleu cheese

serves 4


10 ounces arugula or baby arugula
1 pint cherry tomatoes (heirloom, when available)
12 ounces chanterelle mushrooms
8 ounces thick bacon or lardons
4 oz. semi-firm bleu cheese (i.e. Rogue, or Little Boy Blue)
extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 – 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Prepare vinaigrette (see recipe below).  Rinse arugula well and pat dry.  If using standard arugula, it may be necessary to tear the leaves in half and remove the stems.  Set aside.  Rinse cherry tomatoes, halve with a serrated knife and set aside.  Slice bleu cheese into four slab-like pieces.  Place each slice, separately, on parchment or waxed paper to keep from sticking to one another.  Chill until needed.

Place chanterelles on a clean dish towel or paper towel.  Use the towel to brush off any bits of dirt or forest debris still clinging to the mushrooms.  Discard any that are discolored or overly soggy.  Keep small chanterelles whole and halve or quarter larger ones.  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss to coat.  Roast in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes.  Drain occasionally (reserving juices for stock, if desired).  

While the mushrooms are roasting, slice bacon into 1/4 inch pieces.  In a heavy bottom skillet, fry over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan and place over paper towels to drain.  Divide arugula between four dinner plates.  Scatter tomatoes, chanterelles and bacon evenly throughout the arugula.  Drizzle each salad with a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette and top each with a thin slab of bleu cheese. 

Whisk together balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, until sugar and salt are dissolved.  Add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.  Alternately, vinaigrette can be prepared by combining all ingredients in an airtight jar and shaking to emulsify.  Taste and adjust as desired.   

Saturday, October 2, 2010

when a door closes, a window opens


It was autumn of 1997 when I packed my bags and made a beeline for anywhere but Alaska.  I didn’t make it very far.  Seattle, Washington, or ‘down south’ as most Alaskans refer to it, was an obvious choice; close but not too close for comfort.   Under strict orders from my mother, dad tagged along, determined to get me settled before cutting the apron strings.  I had sense enough not to decline. 

No sooner than our plane had touched down, dad took the reigns, systematically guiding me through the steps necessary in navigating a new city.  For this I was grateful.  Our first order of business was finding me a place to live.  I didn’t own a car and hoped to reside within walking distance of downtown.   Dad was quick to extol the virtues of the 1920’s building where he had rented a studio in the early seventies.  He made a case for its vintage charms and proximity to the city.  I balked.  Surely the place had changed for the worse in the span of 25 years.

While dad waxed nostalgic, I glazed over, determined to loathe this proposed relic from his past.  He humored my request to view other apartments but soon found fault with each of them.  One was unsafe, another too expensive; a third showed promise but was afflicted with a seedy landlord.  After three strikes, I begrudgingly agreed to drive by his old building.  Secretly, I was intrigued but outwardly I remained intent upon my disagreeable stance. 

It was a beautiful fall day, the kind where a cool grey mist lingers over the morning and by noon gives way to brilliant autumn sunshine.  The apartment building loomed above us, nearly a dozen stories with gothic cornices adorning its upper floors.  Weathered brick popped against an endless blue sky.  As we approached the entry, I had a twinge of remorse for my childish behavior. 

On the sidewalk, a sandwich board announced ‘Studios for Rent’.  I could sense dad’s enthusiasm mounting and offered a conciliatory smile.  No sooner than I did, my hopeful expression turned to a look of absolute horror.  Straggling across the threshold, dragging useless back legs, was a massive poisoned rat.  Fuming, I turned on my heel and marched back to the car.  Dad followed close behind.  “That was pretty bad,” he relented, “I understand if you don’t want to stay but since we’re already here, can’t we take a look?  I wouldn’t mind seeing the place again after all these years.  I wonder if they still have Murphy beds like they did when I lived here.”

“All right,” I retorted,  “I’ll look.  But I’m not living here.”

Back at the entry, the doomed rodent was nowhere to be found.  Inside, we were greeted by a forlorn lobby, sparingly furnished with a sagging brocade sofa and standing brass lamp, its tattered shade askew.  We proceeded up a short flight of stairs to the rental office.  Behind a paper strewn desk sat Erik, a wiry fellow in his early 20’s who looked the part of a modern day beatnik complete with goatee and horn rimmed glasses. 

“Right this way,” Erik chirped, as he led us across the hall to an ancient elevator.  We crowded in just before the door slid shut with a reverberating thunk.  The tired old elevator car rumbled and churned its way up to the fifth floor.  I said a silent prayer of gratitude when it came to a lumbering halt and the door opened to reveal a dimly lit hallway with dingy mauve carpeting and flesh-toned walls.  “Here we are,” Erik’s sing-songy voice fell flat against the drab surroundings.  Tarnished brass numbers on the honey-stained door read ‘503’.

Sun streamed through two streaky windows, flooding the space with an abundance of light and a wall of heat.  Erik pointed out a postage stamp-sized bathroom and two absurdly large closets.  “This one,” he claimed, “once housed a Murphy bed.  You can still see hinges here on the wall.”  He showed us the kitchenette with French doors and a miniature linoleum floor measuring no more than 5 feet across and 1 foot deep.  “And this,” Erik announced with mock grandeur as he jiggled the stubborn window until it begrudgingly slid open, “is the air conditioning.”  I was not amused.  Of course, this self-deprecating take on the building’s lack of amenities elicited a hearty chortle from the parental unit.

Dad took on an authoritative air, inspecting faucets, doors and windows, basically giving everything the once over as if I might seriously rent the place.  Sure, the studio had its charms but I was not convinced.  “Say,” he called from the bathroom,  “the hinges on this toilet seat are loose and there’s a missing cupboard door in here.  Any chance you can see to these repairs before my daughter moves in?”  Yeah right, I thought to myself.  I came for the scenic tour, not the extended stay.

“I think that can be arranged,” Erik mused, pensively stroking his goatee.  “I’ll touch base with Scott, our maintenance man.  He should be able to take care of it.” 

We rode back down to the lobby in relative silence.  Dad followed Erik into the leasing office to look over the rental agreement.  I trailed behind, arms folded in silent opposition.  “About those repairs?” dad inquired.  Erik picked up the receiver and then abruptly set it down.  “Oh hey, I was just about to call,” he greeted.  We turned and followed his gaze to the doorway where the dreamiest man I had ever laid eyes was sauntering in to the room.  Wrench in hand, he stood before us, a Greek god in human form, with bronzed skin, sun-kissed cropped curls and piercing blue eyes like azure pools of water.

“This is Scott, our maintenance man,” Erik drew out this introduction and I sensed it wasn’t the first time he had lured a potential tenant by pulling out the hot handyman card.  Smiling demurely, I feigned indifference.  Scott graciously agreed to take care of the repairs should I decide to move in.  I nodded, averting my eyes in a lame attempt to conceal my newfound infatuation.

No sooner than Scott had departed, I was conjuring up legitimate repairs in need of his immediate attention.  Summoning all the nonchalance I could muster, I coolly inquired, “When can I move in?”

Because my studio was akin to a shoebox, I generally entertained no more than one or two guests at a time.  As my circle of friends grew and the holidays approached, I decided to host a festive gathering, fearlessly inviting ten guests to cram into my flat for cookies and cocoa.  No one declined.  Once the trio of chairs were claimed, people perched on window sills, along the edges of my bed and on the floor.  I doled out steaming cups of homemade cocoa with thick dollops of real whipped cream and ceremoniously placed the first sheet of cookies in the oven.  After setting the timer with a beep ba beep beep, I gaily announced, “Only 10 minutes until the cookies are ready!”

A few moments later, someone asked, “Is something burning?”

“That’s not possible,” I replied, “the cookies still have five minutes to go.”  It did smell smoky.  I nervously cracked open the oven door to discover the cookie sheet covered in pool of melted butter, bits of pecan like scattered stones.  My mind raced, as I tried to comprehend why my seemingly possessed oven was sabotaging the cookies.  To make matters worse, butter was now dripping over the edges of the pan and onto the heating element below.  The moment the butter touched the hot coils, a grease fire ensued.  I slammed the door shut and wailed, “What do I dooooo?!” 

My friend Lisa had the good sense to turn off the oven followed by a lapse in judgment as she proceeded to douse the flames with a glass of water, thus creating a ball of fire and singeing her eyelashes in the process.  Never throw water on a grease fire.  Guests opened windows and fanned the air.  Once the fire no longer posed a threat, the humor of the situation was lost on no one.  Everyone agreed we would be telling this story for many years to come.

What went wrong?  In my haste, I had omitted flour.  The mistake went undetected because the crisped rice cereal and chopped pecans bulked up the dough, giving the illusion that flour was present.  Needless to say, my oven was out of commission for the remainder of the evening.  For a long time, everything I cooked or baked was imparted with an unpalatable, smoky aroma.  When I shared this story with my great Aunt Vi, who had given me the recipe, she admitted that she, too, had forgotten the flour on one occasion.  “The good news,” she sagely opined, “is that you will never forget the flour again.”


The cookies I attempted to bake that fateful evening are called Wookie Cookies.   No one seems to know where the name originated but everyone loves these unusual and highly addictive cookies.  Tiny bits of pecan are suspended in frothy shortbread with a delicate crumb.  Once baked, crisped rice cereal is the wild card; undetectable as breakfast cereal, it imparts a slightly chewy, lighter than air texture and malty flavor.  I have found that people who typically decline treats with nuts are surprised to discover that they enjoyed them in these cookies. 

wookie cookies

yields approximately 24 cookies


1 cup unsalted butter, softened 
1 cup granulated sugar (I use ultrafine baker’s sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt*
1 cup crisped rice cereal (i.e. rice crispies)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in vanilla and mix well.  In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, soda and salt.  Stir in the crispies and pecans.  Using a wooden spoon or your hands, add the dry mixture to the butter mixture until well combined.  Chill for 1/2 hour. 

Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place an inch or so apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Press down firmly with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  Bake for 10 minutes.  The cookies should be pale but not doughy and must rest on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  These keep for several days in an airtight container.

*do not add salt if using salted butter