C is for Cardamom. And Cookie. And Connecticut.

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IMG_4433This past Thursday, I enjoyed a holiday night out with the girls at a local restaurant, Good Luck. They are known for their delicious cocktails, ambience and family style menu.  The French 75s were flowing freely and several ladies brought wine since there are no corkage fees on Thursdays.  Afterward, we hit a local brewery, Roc Brewing Co.,  to pose with their glowing tree made out of beer kegs and with one of the owners who was dressed up like Santa Claus.  While we were out enjoying holiday festivities, it was incomprehensible to think what would happen the next morning in Connecticut. 

I’ve been watching, listening, and reading much like the rest of America.  I’m not going to comment on gun control or mental health care reform here. I’ll save that for the media and politicos because one could argue either side.  Getting angry and argumentative is not going to bring back those poor people who lost their lives on Friday.  I do have to say that amidst this horrific act of violence, we are lucky to live in a country that pulls together in times like these.   Although these violent acts should not occur, they unfortunately do.  We are fortunate (yes, I said it: fortunate) that they are few and far between in our country; that these isolated incidents haven’t erupted into one person managing to sway our entire country into massive acts of violence.  In times like these, we forget that over one million children were murdered in the Holocaust.  For every lunatic that brings a gun into a school and murders innocent children, teachers, and his own mother, there are thousands of good people who make our country and this world a better place.  We do have incidents of violence, but the majority doesn’t embrace or tolerate it here. We are fortunate that a young teacher hid her students and took the bullet to save her entire classroom.  How many more children could have been killed had she not done so? Yes. We are fortunate.  And in difficult times like these, it helps to have that perspective.

When I was a kid I was very much like Natalie Wood’s character, Susan Walker, in Miracle on 34th Street. I questioned Santa Claus’s existence at a very young age and shrieked like a crazy person when placed on his lap. You know those pictures of horrified children sitting on Santa’s lap that go viral on the internet? Yep, I was one of those. I wouldn’t describe myself as a natural-born skeptic, but rather one who was bright and inquisitive and with a mother who couldn’t keep up the charade for very long.  She used to send me to school and warn me not to discuss my skepticism with the other children in my class who still believed in Santa Claus. My response was usually something to the effect of, “They haven’t figured that out yet? What? Are they dumb?” 

Well, today I saw something random that restored my faith in humanity.  I couldn’t get a pic because I’m not down with distracted driving (I won’t play with my phone behind the wheel) but basically it amounts to this – a Facebook status update that I posted earlier today: “While en route to Balsam Bagels this AM, I saw a legit-looking Santa on a Harley with a sidecar filled with toys getting onto the Browncroft expressway ramp and it made me smile from ear to ear. In a week where such awful things have happened, it’s nice to see someone with a good sense of humor out there spreading holiday cheer. So thanks, Santa on the Harley. I may have screamed in your face while I sat on your lap and accused my mother of impersonating you at age 3 in a Service Merchandise, but today I’m a believer.”

IMG_9241Enough said.  It may seem strange to punctuate this commentary with a recipe, but I like to end on a lighter note and you’re going to need to leave Santa something on Christmas Eve.  And, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, just bake these and give them to someone.  Give them to your kid’s teacher, your postal worker, a hungry homeless person, your crazy cat-loving neighbor, or that strange great-aunt of yours who tells you, “Your tooth is your best friend.”  Don’t let the Grinch get to you.  You know – hug yo’ kids, hug yo’ wife, and hug yo’ husband.  Be kind and do something unexpected and nice for someone else this holiday season.  

These cookies can really be made at any time of the year and contain an ingredient, cardamom, which is mainly used in Indian cooking and chai teas.  My first experience with cardamom was at the house of my old buddy, “Bollywood”, where  her father demonstrated how to make homemade chai tea. You can buy it already ground but when purchased whole, these delightful green pods can be put in soups, curries, rice pilaf, the aforementioned chai tea and many other dishes.  When cracked open, the green pods contain seeds that can be ground fresh in a coffee or spice grinder.  For a more pronounced flavor, I recommend freshly ground but if you’ve never tried cardamom and aren’t sure you like it, grab a ground version at the store.  I would describe the flavor profile as very fragrant, falling somewhere between ginger, citrus, and pine (but in a good, interesting way), and pungent without being bitter.  Combined with cinnamon, sugar and butter, these cookies can be made versatile by finishing with a variety of toppings that will give the Girl Scouts a run for their money and fill Santa’s bowl-o-jelly belly.

Lady Sensory’s I’m a Believer Cardamom Butter SquaresIMG_4424

(Adapted from Gourmet magazine, 2004 holiday edition)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground Saigon cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground allspice

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (use vanilla sugar if you have it)

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

I’m going to give you instructions to make the cookies followed by options for toppings.  Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom & allspice in a bowl.  Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, then beat in eggs and vanilla.  Add flour mixture, a little at a time and once combined, separate the dough into two logs.  Place each on its own sheet of plastic wrap and use your hands to roll and square off the sides of the logs. refrigerate for an hour and use a ruler or flat-edged object to help straighten the sides and create corners. Chill for at least another hour (dough can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a month or so until ready to use).  Put oven racks in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and take a log and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place on sheets, one inch apart, and bake for 10-12 minutes, switching racks halfway through cooking.  Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before removing cookies and placing on racks or wax paper to cool completely.

You can use a variety of toppings on these.  Last year I put sanding sugar on each of the cookies before baking and drizzled them with high-quality, melted, bittersweet (very dark) chocolate. I typically use Scharffen Berger, but use the best quality you can get your hands on.  This year I used a drizzle of my traditional vanilla icing with the melted chocolate. I dyed it green to match this year’s color theme.  The original recipe provided a variation of this with espresso powder. While it wasn’t my personal fave, others enjoyed it and I feel it warrants repeating for the coffee lovers in your life:

1 tsp espresso powder

1 tsp vanilla

1.5 – 2 tbsp milk

1 cup confectioners sugar

Dissolve espresso powder into milk with 1 tsp vanilla. Add the confectioners sugar and enough of the milk mixture to make a pourable icing. Place icing in a plastic bag, cut off one end and drizzle over cooled cookies. Melt the dark chocolate, place in bag, cut the end and repeat. Allow to set for at least 2 hours before leaving out for Santa or distributing to your co-workers.

P.S. As a follow-up to my previous post about the Cheez-it earring giveaway, well, no one commented on the post per the contest rules.  So, I’m giving them to someone who messaged me directly about them. However, if they interested you and you were too shy to say so, stay tuned for some offerings in 2013 and you may have your chance at snagging a pair.

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