I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad December’s over. Or, to be even more to the point, I’m glad Christmas is over. It’s really weird seeing those words written down; I’m one of those kooks who starts buying brown kraft paper and earmarking Christmas cookie recipes as early as October. But this year, our family got handed a bit of a raw deal, starting with an emergency hospitalisation that took its toll on everyone – sleepless nights, worry, influenza, laryngitis, day-long headaches, back pain, more worry, endless commutes to the hospital, home and back. (Amid all this, I was in Montreal, then in Kingston, then in Montreal again, baiting and trapping mice in my apartment in between.) Almost every single person in my family was sick at some point, looking and feeling like death warmed over for the better part of three weeks. Having somehow dodged the illness bullet, I tried my best to pick up some of the slack – grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundering. The day-to-day stuff that hangs heavy unless you’re in decent shape. I put together a small Christmas Eve dinner and a New Year’s Eve/Dad’s birthday dinner on the 31st. I made cookie dough. I played Burl Ives. I tried to make Christmas feel like Christmas. But, really, it all just felt discombobulated, lacklustre, weird. Weird having someone you love in the hospital on December 23rd, not knowing if or when they’d get out. Weird seeing your folks run around like chickens with their heads cut off when they should be sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and eating spice cookies. Weird not popping the New Year’s Eve champagne, or making stollen with dad or doing any of the other requisite holiday baking with mom.
Given that everyone was so exhausted that all they could think about was their next nap, it was hard to muster the enthusiasm to make food and eat it. But, perhaps counter-intuitively, I cooked. And cooked. And then cooked some more. Because when everything around me feels chaotic and unhinged, I gravitate towards the kitchen. It gives me a sense of purpose, of focus, a project that can take my mind off things and make me feel constructive – be it slicing onions or rolling dough into symmetrical balls. There’s something meditative about simple tasks in the kitchen like that. Even if no one really had much of an appetite, I felt that keeping something simmering on the stove or baking in the oven was a way to calm the storm and regain a semblance of normalcy, of home, of comfort. It’s my way of trying to be productive and helpful when the people I care about are out of steam; like a lot of people who like to cook, it’s my way of loving.
And so, over Christmas, I kept busy in the kitchen – I made those ginger-molasses cookies, a pot of minestrone, tofu bowls, the vegetarian version of this lasagna, garlic scrambled eggs, two pumpkin pies (which were a disaster, but nevermind), orange zest cranberry sauce, Anthony Bourdain’s porc au lait and hasselback potatoes, a cranberry-ginger upside-down cake, lemon roast chicken and parsnip purée, leek soup and sandwiches, chicken pot pie, tomato jam, and a bunch of salads for when everyone had reached their point of saturation with meat and starch.
With the last couple of days before heading back to work, I’ve been using the post-holiday down time to prep for the weeks to come. (which, looking at that freezing rain hammering down out there, turns out was the right decision.) Part of that prep has been to make stuff that can be tossed in the freezer for busy nights – tomato sauce, eggplant curry, fennel soup – as well as things that are good candidates for work-day snacks.
Which brings me to almond rosemary crisps.
I’ve had them bookmarked for a while now, but having never got a chance to make them, they ended up in my mañana, mañana pile (I suspect you have one too?). But then, a couple of days ago, I dug up the recipe after seeing the pile of dried fruit and nuts – the ones that were meant for holiday baking – languishing on the kitchen counter.
And that, dear friends, was the beginning of the end, because now I can’t stop stuffing my face with them.
Four days into January and they’ve quickly become my favourite thing of 2015. They’re earthy and salty and sweet, and the currants sort of caramelise in the oven, becoming a nice and chewy counterpart to the cracker’s crunch. They’re wispy and delicate and have a Scandinavian vibe about them, in that elegant, (but rustic), delicious (but healthy) kind of way. They’re super simple, but really, really good. And with cheese? Omagad.
I encourage you to make them. No, I implore you to make them. Now. And all through 2015.
On a final note: when it’s all said and done, I do realise how lucky we were to have those short bursts of time together as a family. I’m grateful for playing Tombola on Christmas Eve with grandma, for Frandi’s German mulled wine, for mom’s perfect Christmas tree, for the Scott and Bailey marathon with my ragazzo, for being able to stay in pyjamas all day, for Christmas morning waffles, and for Uncle Pete and Aunt Barb’s incredible turkey dinner. None of us might’ve been in the best shape, but we still managed to pull it together. Sometimes the shake up helps you realise how lucky you actually are.
Thanks for checking in, dear readers. I am, as always, grateful to have you in my life. Here’s to high-jacked Christmases, recovery, love, family, friends and, last but not least, food. Happy 2015 to you and yours. x
By the way – if you’re worried that making crackers is fussy work, it’s really not. The process is pretty straightforward – combine the wet and dry ingredients, pour into a baking tin, bake, chill, slice, bake again. The end result makes you wonder why you’ve never made crackers before. (and why the heck you’ve spent so much money on Raincoast Crisps.)
Almond Rosemary Crisps (makes about 60) – adapted from Fig and Honey
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/8 cup brown sugar
- 1/8 cup honey
- 1/2 cup currants, soaked in warm water till softened and drained
- 1/4 cup raw almonds, halved
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/8 cup whole flax seeds
- 1 tbsp rosemary, chopped
– the recipe can easily we doubled or tripled (which might be a good idea. They disappear at the speed of light)
– feel free to switch it up: sesame seeds and anise seeds are good alternatives to the flax seeds; raisins are a good replacement for the currants
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 mini-loaf tins with a light oil (sunflower, grapeseed or coconut oil)
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the centre and add in the almond milk, brown sugar and honey. Fold through until all the flour is incorporated into the liquid. Next add in all of the fruit, nuts, seeds and rosemary and fold until just evenly distributed. Pour batter into the mini-loaf tins and place in the oven.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
Transfer to a cooling rack. Once cooled, transfer loaves to the freezer and leave for about 1 hour.
After the loaves have chilled, preheat the oven to 275°F. Remove the loaves from the freezer and slice as thinly as possible, with a sharp chef’s knife (works better than a serrated knife).
Place the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for a further 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden brown, flipping over once halfway.
Once cooled, the crackers can be stored in an airtight tin. They can be eaten as-is, but pair up really well with cheese – anything from sharp cheddar to Gruyère to chèvre and beyond.