I've had good reasons to put it off, but I can't any longer. We have to talk about the dog.
Or at least, I have to talk about her. If you would like to skip over potentially challenging things and head straight to cookies, scroll down a few paragraphs with my blessing. I truly understand the impulse, especially with the whole world on fire and everything.
The part about the dog starts this way: Dog B, as I have referred to her here from time to time, was born in Puerto Rico, where nothing much went right for her and a great many things went wrong over a length of time we can only estimate, until she was scooped up in an angelic rescue bucket brigade that wound through Florida and New Hampshire (Oh, Florida. Oh, New HAMPSHIRE. But I there I go again, putting it off--) to our house on a hill in Massachusetts in 2009. She had a pretty nice time of it here. We provided a safe and pleasant place for her to be a soft and loony little nutjob, with many mutual challenges and rewards.
Some months ago we began to suspect she was older than we had guessed, as she began progressively losing things like her sight and the ability to turn left or make a basic decision or recollect how stairs work (up or down, Rosa! Never across!).
Right before Halloween all of that came to a close, and we cried a lot and then we carried that which she no longer had need of up to the top of the hill, to a good spot from whence the valley can be surveyed. A large, flat rock for sitting on will soon be placed there, and some daffodil bulbs sprinkled around to surprise us in the spring, and some thyme seed to make a sweet-smelling carpet (that girl was hell on the rugs, let me tell you).
Events of the last week, personally and globally, certainly offer some stark perspective for this kind of entirely predictable loss, but in the main it wrecks a person, to bury a dog. Just wrecks you, as you know if you have ever done it. It seems to me that this is because the love exchanged between humans and dogs is about the most unfettered love possible between sentient mammals. We love dogs so cleanly and utterly, and they love us back in kind, that when they die they offer up a release for all sadnesses, past and present and pent-up and pending. There isn’t much to get your back up when an old dog dies, no injustice or anything to rail against. I knew a 20+ year old dog once and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, canine or human, to be part of that kind of thing. And they don’t tend to leave unresolved conflicts or unfinished novels or other loose ends, these old dogs, just a furry outline where you wish they still could be. Just mourning, pure and simple.
I’m a wreck about it and I’m also relieved she is not suffering or, let’s be clear, pooping around and about on the floor and herself (and myself) anymore. She is irreplaceable and I will get another dog, because the gift of the dog is that we want to love like this over and over again, even with the wrecking.
It is hard to write poems about dogs that are not silly or goopy, but in the last month I have stumbled across two (while looking for other things entirely, which is the kind of surprise I like the Universe to arrange, especially since it tends to group its surprises under other headings). I think they are gems and if you need them, they are here and here.
And now, on to cookies. I did promise cookies, and have we ever needed them more than at this moment? So here is the cookie part, which is the term my nephew used for pie crust when he was very small (“I AM GOING TO EAT THE FRUIT PART FIRST AND I WILL SAVE THE COOKIE PART FOR LATER.”) Now he is large and runs marathons. Time does keep moving, a thought that is mildly encouraging.
I have long been a passionate fan of the site The Bojon Gourmet, which as it happens became known to me via pie crust. Because it was flaky and delicious, and also gluten-free (even the phrase sounds gritty) I made the natural assumption that the baker behind it was a wizard or a goblin, but she turns out to be a lovely human person named Alanna Taylor-Tobin, and every time I make something she posts, I am really, really glad that I did it.
When she put out a call for recipe-testers for her book, I was intrigued, in the sense that I got as close to jumping around waving my arms and shouting PICK ME PICK ME OH PLEASE PICK ME as one can when trying to act casually professional and communicating mainly via a googledoc sign-up form. The period of time in which her recipes were out for testing (and re-testing, thanks to her detailed fine-tuning) conveniently intersected with a time of insomnia and frustration in my own life, two states that are highly compatible with baking and late-night emailing (we do not share a time zone), and I loved every second of it.
Like the testing phase, the book’s recent release is thoughtfully well-timed to coincide with a stretch when I seek things to distract and soothe me. Baking is so good to do when you are sad. Like anything familiar, it offers a way to dance back toward (if not all the way into) functional normalcy—the bowls and the spatulas are all so known in the hand, and the smells are cozy and then when you are done, you get to eat your feelings. Win, win, win!
I try to keep a jar of a house-made gluten-free ‘all purpose’ flour mix on hand, occasionally switching churches when I find a new formula that I like better, so I can adapt conventional baking recipes more easily. But I find that I am much happier baking this way, understanding each flour for what it can do best instead of trying to make a mix of them behave like something else. I come away from each recipe one iota smarter about methods and ingredients and with not one speck of xanthan gum sliming up my hands or counter.
Plus these things are delicious, and even if you are a jolly friend to wheat, and wheat a jolly friend to you, you will be happy to add her recipes to your repertoire of things that are just good to eat.
It was comically impossible to settle on one thing to make.
I made lots of cookies, vaguely thinking I would assemble them together artfully (Alanna and her collaborator, Sarah Menanix of Snixy Kitchen, manifest a lot of gorgeousness as food stylists, inspiring a person to fling things around and try to be gorgeous as well). But I baked with no plan in place that might have led to one kind of cookie meeting up with the other kinds in artful ways. Fearful of building some serious grief bacon, I also hustled most of each batch out the door to friends. Sharing cookies with other people is comparably satisfying to eating cookies personally, especially when you adjust for not having to live in your Sad Pants because you ate too many cookies.
I baked some cornbread, and I made some buckwheat blintzes to give the oven a rest, and then I baked some scones.
Then I had occasion to prepare for a birthday, and Alternative Baker stepped up for me again, with a simple chiffon cake that can be adapted to many uses. (My use included fresh raspberries and lemon mousse with olive oil in it to go on top, and I am pretty sure that is what angels eat, but we can talk about that another time).
My copy of the book is now splattered and certain pages stick together. Just as it should be.
Thanks to Alanna and the nice people at Page Street Publishing, I have a (clean) copy of the book to give away, the better to spread the happiness with.
I like the idea of spreading happiness in (at?) Rosa’s wake. It celebrates the best of what she brought to her time above the grass, and it is the part of what she leaves behind that will bring me to rescue some other creature whose star is linked to mine, who will sully my house and shed on my clothes and chew up my things and be the delight and the breaking of my heart in the next round. And lordy lordy couldn't we all use some happiness right around now, as well as extra cookies to pass to strangers and knit back up the raveled sleeve of care.
Since they are basically the poster cookie of remembrance, I'm serving you up Alanna's recipe for almond flour madeleines. You can enter to win the book by following the simple instructions which appear below the recipe.
very lightly adapted from Alternative Baker by Alanna Taylor-Tobin
I didn’t have the tangerine Alanna specified, so for flavor I used rose petals and saffron. (I blame the quinces that I had on the table, which make the house smell Persian.)
My glaze is not as pretty and glaze-ish as hers; among other reasons for this, I have a problem using as much powdered sugar as a recipe calls for because I don't much like the taste of it. So be aware that you can add 2-3 times as much powdered sugar to the glaze here if you are after a professional, well-robed look, and also that you can skip the glaze completely and still have a lovely little tea cake that presents itself for your morning brew or other not-as-sweet uses. The cakes may not stay tender for as long if you leave them unglazed, but that's what dunking is for.
If you don't have a madeleine pan (I don't; I filched the beauty in the photo below from my mother), a mini-muffin pan would do the deed. If you have only a 12-hole pan, the batter is fine resting so make them in two batches.
Makes 18 madeleines
for the little cakes
- 7T unsalted butter, plus 1-2 T very soft (but not melted) butter for the pan
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- 1/4 c plus 2T (75g) sugar
- 2tsp finely grated zest of a tangerine or lemon, or a fat pinch of crushed rose petals and/or saffron threads
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4t fine sea salt
- 1/2c (60g) almond flour
- 1/4c + 3T (60g) millet flour
- 1/4c plus 1T (50g) sweet rice flour
- 1t baking powder
for the glaze
- 1/3c (35g) powdered sugar (or more; see note above)
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1-2T strained fresh tangerine or meyer lemon juice (as needed to make a runny glaze, so more if you use a larger amount of sugar)
- 1t honey
In a small, heavy pan, melt the 7T butter with the vanilla pod and scrapings over medium heat, swirling occasionally. After 3-5 minutes, the butter will foam up, then begin to turn (and smell) a nutty, golden brown. Keep a close eye once this starts to happen as it's highly prone to burning. If you are using saffron threads, crumble them into the butter now, appreciating that gorgeous scent. Remove from the heat and extract and discard the vanilla pod.
Combine the zest or rose petals with the sugar in a large bowl, and use your fingers to rub these together, releasing the scent oils into the sugar. Whisk the eggs and the salt into this mixture. Sift the combined dry ingredients into the bowl, adding back in anything that gets left in the strainer, and stir well. Whisk in the browned butter, giving the pan a good scrape so you include all the good bits that settled out. Cover the dough and chill until firm, at least an hour and up to overnight.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 375. Generously coat the wells of your chosen pan with softened, but not melted, butter. Fill the molds 3/4 full; a spring-loaded scoop is helpful here, for dealing with the firm batter. Use your fingers to flatten out the scoops into the shape of the mold. Bake 8-12 minutes, until they just spring back to the touch. Let them cool a few minutes before carefully loosening their edges and turning them out to cool.
To make the glaze, whisk those ingredients together and dip the little cakes while they are still a little bit warm, letting the excess drip back into the bowl before you set them upright.
They are best on the day of baking, so get out and share them.