It’s not the spark that caused the fire

Baking always makes me think of Candace Bushnell.

The Sex and the City creator spoke at my college senior year–before TBS syndicated and cleaned up the show, years before I saw it. My friend Apryl was assigned to escort Candace around campus. (That’s so Apryl.) As you would expect, talk turned to relationships.

As you would expect if you know Apryl, talk eventually turned to my relationships.

Let me give you a little background: Although I am certainly not the world’s most active dater now, I was even less so in college. But for some reason, I thought cooking would make me a more marketable woman. I made biscuits when guys came to visit us in the dorm. I brought carrot cake to the guys who stood in line for our block of football tickets. (That made me really popular; I saved their thank you message on my answering machine for as long as I could.) My roommates and I hosted dinner parties for as many as 15 people. We concocted a menu to complement a murder mystery night my senior year. We once offered Easter afternoon lunch for all our friends who didn’t leave town for the holiday.

Haven’t we been taught that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?

I’m not sure how she brought it up, but Apryl and Candace got to talking about my cooking. She’ll never find herself a man if she keeps that up, Candace said. Tell her to lay off.

I laughed off Candace-by-way-of-Apryl’s advice. The show, while entertaining, didn’t exactly depict what I was after.

Still, I’ve been a little sensitive about cooking for people–even my girl friends–ever since. In recent months, I’ve rediscovered that hours spent in the kitchen are almost as therapeutic as hours spent reading or writing. That’s something I do for myself–because I think it’s important to make time for things I enjoy, because I think treating myself well (and eating good food) is a worthwhile pursuit, because cooking allows me to clear my mind and focus on whatever music I’m playing way too loud.

And despite Candace Bushnell’s advice, recently I’ve resumed cooking for others–sometimes even men. There are lots of ways I show that I care about my friends, and sharing food and time is one of them. In the years since Candace evaluated my love life, I’ve learned something important.

I’ve learned how much I value being myself.

That said, here’s the second entry on my go-to recipe list. Frank Stitt’s Southern Table is probably the prettiest book I own, and sometimes I turn the pages just to stroke the glossy food images. (On the subject of being yourself–I told two friends tonight that I have learned to embrace the fact that I’m not cool. I think that sentence embodies my uncoolness.) But here’s a great thing: Although many of the book’s recipes are fancy, delectable creations, and many take the time you would expect from such masterpieces, his cookies are beautifully simple. I make shortbread cookies so often now that I think I went through a five-pound sack of flour in just a month or two.

And a bonus? Since they’re so easy, it’s easy to bake cookies and bring ’em into the office. I’ve got a bag full on my desk right now, and shortbread with a cup of coffee is the perfect antidote to the stress of deadline week.

Shortbread cookies

Makes 3 to 4 dozen

These cookies are so tender they collapse on your tongue and so buttery a couple seem like just enough–though I usually have to have three. They are the ideal accompaniment to custard-type desserts.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the over to 350.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Sift the salt and flour, then add to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.

Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log with plastic wrap and chill for three hours to overnight. Freeze for up to 2 months.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap and slice dough into 1/4 inch disks. Place on an ungreased baking sheet 1 inch apart and bake until the bottoms of the cookies just turn golden, about 10 minutes, turning the sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Variation: After removing the dough from the refrigerator, slice as above, then roll each disck into a ball. Moisten a thumb and press into the center of each ball. Fill each indentation with high quality raspberry or other fruit preserves. Bake until slightly golden, 10 or 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

–Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, Frank Stitt

(I’ll point out that you don’t actually need a stand mixer for this. I’m sure it would make your life easier, but I mix the ingredients by hand and it’s just fine.)

6 Comments

Filed under Autobiography, In the kitchen, Insecurity, Love letters

6 Responses to It’s not the spark that caused the fire

  1. So that’s the Candace Bushnell story. Pretty good!
    Those cookies sounds scrumptious. ALthough with 3 sticks of butter, they better be good!
    OH and I made the apple muffins last week–we devoured them. I think I’ll make more this weekend.

  2. Missy Marie

    The line in the story that got me was “That’s so Apryl”. 🙂

    What’s scary is upon reflection there are a lot of things that totally fit that label.

  3. I’m not cool either. I haven’t accepted myself fully, though. Still working on/waiting on that one. I like your CB story. 🙂

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