By now, you must be in Germany, trotting around the music festival, viola strapped to your back. It’s funny to imagine you so far away. You are an ocean away from me, but it feels more like a world away.
My excitement for this trip of yours is unmatched. What an adventure! I’ve never been to Europe. I am afraid to be so far away from home. Someday, perhaps, I’ll be ready to visit that foreign continent with its centuries of history and food and architecture and language. Germany is high on my list of countries to visit, as it is part of my ancestry and I studied its language for four years in high school. I feel connected with Germany. Also, I hear they are very friendly to tourists and they want their guests to have a wonderful time in Deutschland. This reputation is in contrast to what I hear about France, where they hate their tourists and would really prefer if you just stayed in your own country—and sent them your money anyway. Now, these nasty rumors may not be true at all—maybe the French will love me!—but I’d have to confirm them in person to be sure. Based on this logic, I think that I’ll have to visit Germany and France during my first trip to the Old World.
Leaving your everyday life for a few weeks opened up an expanse of time for you that was unparalleled in recent months. I hope that you are finding yourself charmed by this experience of living without your daily grind. I know it can be unnerving to not have your routine to keep you feeling solid and safe, but it can also be so liberating and powerful. Sometimes I dream about those days without routine, days when I don’t have the commute and the work and the packed lunch and the daily annoyances that irritate me, despite my best efforts to not let them bother me. I dream about floating through my day, moving from one beautiful place to the next, stopping to refuel with food and drink as necessary. Of course, in my fantasy, all the food is wonderful and the people friendly and the floating feels magical. In reality, sometimes when I have too little to do, I feel lost, like I’m drifting and no one is around to hear my cries of loneliness. It’s the double-edged sword of being an independent woman, a freedom that seems limitless but is capable of slicing away at you as you struggle to find your sense of security.
All of this is to say that sometimes it’s good to travel and other times it’s good to put down some roots. You’ve been putting down your roots in Chicago for a long time now! That our Chicago experiences happened to overlap is a coincidence that makes me so grateful for mutual friends and what I can only call luck. So many times have I been astonished to find us navigating through the same murky emotional landscapes; being able to talk to you about scary, ugly truths has been like having a hand to hold in the dark. I always say that I like a little hand-holding; I think this world is sharp and cruel enough as it is. I don’t think I believe in tough love. Maybe I’m not as jaded as everyone thinks I am!
Things are going well for me these days. My grueling presentation at work went well, I think, though I was totally exhausted afterward. I expected that, so I figured that I would not get much done for the rest of the day. I’ve noticed that lately, when I give talks, my voice always seems to give out after about five minutes, which concerns me. How am I going to teach hour-long lectures if I can’t get past my opening slides? Maybe I need hot tea or lemon water with honey to keep my throat silky smooth?
I’ve been a total bookworm lately, devouring books with a ravenous appetite. I finished The Devil in the White City! I’m so glad I gave that book a second try; it was absolutely worth it once I was absorbed into 1893 Chicago and all the glamour of the Gilded Age. Matt has recommended another Gilded Age book to me, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, filled with New Yorkers who are climbing the social ladder. I’ve got to ride my bike over to the library to find a copy. I love a good library. In the meantime, I’m rereading The Awakening by Kate Chopin (more nineteenth century, please!) about a married woman in New Orleans who “awakens” to her desires for freedom. I want to visit the Crescent City again, and now that I’m living in Texas, it’s not far away.
When I’m reading, I love a mug of tea and a plate of cookies. Snacks make everything better, don’t you think? I made some lemon butter cookies recently that reminded me a lot of you, though I’m not quite sure why. I think they remind me of the cookies with apricots and fresh thyme. Both recipes make refrigerator cookies, the kind where you shape the dough into logs, wrap it in plastic wrap, and then refrigerate for a while. Then, using a sharp knife, you slice the dough into rounds and bake them until they turn golden and fragrant in the hot cave of the oven. Do you remember the night we made the apricot cookies? What other cookie did we make that night? That was a very fun, very cookie-filled night, though I seem to remember little else other than the cookies and my cozy kitchen with you standing at the counter.
I must confess that I was not very brave when I made the lemon butter cookies. You see, the recipe called for adding chopped fresh rosemary to the dough. Rosemary! In cookies! It’s so wild! I really hemmed and hawed about the rosemary. I used to think that I didn’t like that pungent, piney herb. It’s so strong, almost overbearing, that I thought it best if I just stayed away from it. Slowly, with effort on both our parts, I’ve learned to appreciate rosemary. A little goes a long way, so I use a light hand with it. I do love your white bean soup with fresh rosemary—that soup’s going on my list of fall things to cook. Ooh la la.
But back to the cookies. Even without the rosemary, they are quite lovely. They’re rather delicate, with a soft, almost sandy crumb that melts on the tongue. They’ve got a bit of sparkle on top from the hippie sugar in which you press the unbaked cookie rounds. That sparkle is very important, and not just because it looks pretty: these cookies are barely sweet, and the sparkly topcoat is what makes the difference between what could be a lemon butter cracker and a lemon butter cookie. I even made a few without the extra sugar, and they weren’t as good, so don’t skip the hippie sugar!
If you were in my neighborhood, I’d tell you to hop on your bike and I’ll brew us a pot of tea. I’d set out a plate of these cookies, and we’d have a little tea party while sharing the latest news with each other. Doesn’t that sound nice? But my goodness, our neighborhoods are very far apart, and though your legs are strong, I just don’t think you’ll be able to bike down here before the tea gets cold. So instead, I shall wish you a safe, happy, and wonderful time in Europe, and I’ll look forward to the next time we meet over a plate of fresh cookies.
Lemon Butter Cookies
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes about 30 cookies
These cookies may seem understated upon first bite, but they are very sly and soon you’ll be telling yourself that you’ll just have one more cookie—after all, they’re so small! One more cookie is just another bite or two. And it’s true: these are bite-sized little tea cookies, subtle but deliciously so. I love them for an after-dinner dessert, preferably with a mug of tea. I think they’re even better the second day, when the lemon flavor becomes more pronounced. The dough also keeps well in the fridge for at least a week if it’s tightly wrapped.
One more thing: when slicing the dough into cookie rounds, be sure to use a very sharp knife, such as a paring knife. The dough sort of flops over if you try to use a butter knife, but a paring knife will slice clean through and give you perfect little rounds.
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. freshly chopped rosemary, optional (if you try it, let me know what you think!)
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/3 cup corn flour (Bob’s Red Mill sells this in 24-oz. bags; I found mine at my neighborhood Albertson’s—nothing too fancy)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup turbinado or hippie sugar, for decorating (you may not use a full 1/2 cup—I didn’t)
1) Beat the butter, sugar, rosemary if using, and lemon zest with a mixer for 3 minutes or until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla.
2) In a bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add them to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.
3) Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a log about 1 inch wide. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
4) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Using a very sharp knife, such as a paring knife, slice the dough into 1/3-inch rounds. Dip each round in the turbinado or hippie sugar to give each cookie a sparkly coat. Place the rounds, sugared side up, on the baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown on the bottoms.
5) Allow cookies to cool for a minute or two on the sheet, then remove them to wire racks to cool completely. The cookies are quite delicate when they first come out of the oven, so handle them gently. Serve to good friends with hot tea and plenty of stories to tell.