Christmas time always makes me think of New York.......and whatever else might be said adoringly or disparagingly about it, the city knows how to put on a hell of a charming holiday season. Festive twinkling lights reflected in damp streets, rosy-cheeked faces smiling in puffy coats, giant garlands and enormous high-rise Christmas trees, carols wafting around in the air from street performers on trumpet and sax...it's a giant rock & roll neon-lit Nutcracker in a snowglobe, and it's perhaps the only season I truly miss in NYC. Thinking of the city is what led me to these chocolate-dipped meringue cookies, as well. A riff on that classic deli staple, the Black & White Cookie, they're a lighter-than air version that I like to say is what a Black & White would be like if those cookies were actually tasty (in reality, they're usually pretty spongy and disappointing).

A crisp, sugary vanilla meringue cloud dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with a little extra holiday pixie dust in the form of crushed candy canes, these Black & Whites never disappoint. They couldn't be easier to throw together, but they're no last-minute cookie, so make sure you leave plenty of time for that long, slow bake in a warm oven. There are two things you can't hurry, after all: love...and meringues. But these, I swear to you, are worth the wait, and they'll make any holiday gathering merry & bright!

Black & White Meringue Cookies

Makes about two dozen cookies

3 egg whites

3/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3.5 oz. dark chocolate (I use a bar of my favorite 70% dark)

1 candy cane

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Begin beating egg whites until foamy, either by hand or in an electric mixer, add sugar and continue beating. Add salt, cream of tartar and vanilla, continue beating for about five minutes or until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

Place generous spoonfuls of meringue onto parchment (about two tablespoons per cookie), swirl into roughly cookie-shaped objects, but remember that slight imperfections in meringue can make everything a little more beautiful. Bake for 2 hours at 200 degrees; meringues are done when the outside is dry to the touch and they can be easily lifted from the parchment. Remove and let cool thoroughly.

Unwrap candy cane, place in plastic bag and gently crush into pieces with the bottom of a coffee cup. Break or chop chocolate into small pieces. In a small microwave-proof bowl, place 2/3 of chocolate and microwave 20 seconds at a time until fully melted. Stir in remaining chocolate pieces, keep stirring until mixture is fully melted. Dip each meringue halfway into chocolate, then place on parchment to set. While chocolate is still shiny, sprinkle candy cane pieces over each one. Repeat until done, let set fully, then enjoy!


Photos: Ten22 Studio
I need to be the first to point something out: I have no biscuit-making pedigree in my heritage. There's no familial biscuit recipe handed down in grandmother's shaking hand, no secret ways, no bygone biscuits that I can recall at all, really.
But I love them.
Buttery and flaky, soul-redeeming when they're perfect but honestly great even when they're crumbly, served savory to mop up streaks of gravy or just-so sweet and dolloped with rich lemon curd.....man, do I love me some biscuits. Do you need to have biscuits in your bloodline in order to make them properly? Purists are going to tell me yes, but even still, I don't know. Certainly my biscuits aren't Southern-grandmother-perfect. My people aren't Southern at all, but British--maybe my biscuits have a touch of the scone about them, instead--so these may be cultural anomalies, but they're fantastic alongside a hot, steaming cup of morning coffee, or a tall glass of iced tea. Lightly sweet and kissed with fragrant lemon flavor, the rich pistachio glaze on top is all the sugar you need (plus maybe a little bit extra).
Photos: Ten22 Studio
Just so you know: I'm not a huge fan of most pictures of me. Unless they're taken by a freakishly gifted professional, as these were. Most of the gorgeous photography in this post was shot by my friend, the very talented Rennai Hoefer of Ten22 Studio (she has since blogged the rest of the photos from this shoot, and they're all just as delicately stunning), in an equally gorgeous kitchen borrowed from Heather Kinkel (aka The Birdiegirl Co.). It takes a village to produce a lovely batch of biscuits, people. Rennai and Heather made me feel like a downright domestic goddess that day, and in gratefulness to them, I share my biscuit recipe from that day with all of you. Go forth, blog friends, and bake these for the ones you love. ❤️

Photo: Sweet Laurel

Sweet Lemon Biscuits with Pistachio Glaze
Makes a dozen small biscuits
For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (very cold, ideally you should place it in the freezer for 20 minutes first)
1/2 cup of milk
zest from 1 small lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
For the glaze:
2/3 cup chopped pistachios
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment in preparation. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt & sugar. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate cold butter into the dry mixture. Work the mixture with your fingertips until everything becomes coarse and crumbly, then STOP! Add milk and work the mixture a little more with your hands until a shaggy dough forms. Add lemon zest & juice, work it gently into the mixture, then gather the dough in a loose ball and place it on a working surface (a clean, lightly floured countertop or another piece of parchment works here).

Pat dough into a shape roughly one inch thick, then--using a small biscuit-cutter or my favorite method, the drinking edge of a glass*--cut out biscuit shapes and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 425 for about 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove and let cool thoroughly.

( *My 'biscuit-cutter' is a small glass that cuts shapes about 2 1/2" inches across. Yours may vary slightly)

To make the glaze, place 1/3 cup pistachios (setting aside the other 1/3 cup for now) in a food processor and pulse until they are as finely ground as possible. Add confectioner's sugar, then water in small amounts. I like to start with a tablespoon and blend until a slow, runny honey-like consistency is achieved, adding a few drops of water here and there as needed. Add a pinch of salt if using unsalted pistachios. Spread on the tops of your cooled biscuits and sprinkle with the remaining chopped pistachios.


Two magical little words for you today, my friends.......strawberry season.

Just saying the words gives me a little strawberry-perfumed sigh of satisfaction. These plump, juicy little red mouthfuls are a favorite of mine from way back in childhood, and always conjure up a series of lazy summertime afternoon feelings. When challenged to come up with a dessert that matched perfectly with a Fourth of July-themed picnic, my first and only thought was STRAWBERRIES. Seeing as July fourth falls smack in the middle of their ripe season, it's perfect timing, and I think you'll love the simplicity of this rustic tart. A shortbread cookie-inspired, press-in crust is the easiest pastry base in the world to make, and the buttery pastry meets its perfect match when topped with a thin layer of rich mascarpone and thinly sliced sweet-tart berries.

The little hints of white that peek through the layers of cheery, bright red strawberry are subtly patriotic enough for any July fourth picnic, and if you're looking for a flag-inspired dessert that gets its lovely hues from nature (rather than vats of red--and worse, blue--dye), this is the treat for you. Happy Fourth of July!

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

Makes one 9" tart

For the tart base:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the tart topping:

1 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together butter and sugar in a medium bowl, then stir in egg yolk. Add flour and salt, and stir until the mixture is dry and crumbly. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Place in freezer until firm, about 20 minutes. Bake, rotating halfway through, just until the tart base turns lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove pan and let tart base cool in pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine mascarpone (I like to use Vermont Creamery), lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. Spread mixture on completely cooled tart base with a pastry spatula or butter knife. In another bowl, toss strawberries with honey, then arrange in whatever pattern you like on top of the tart. Slice, share and enjoy!


I'm going to talk about rice pudding in a second, I swear to you. I'm talking about a velvety rich concoction that clings to the spoon in that most voluptuous of ways, topped with ripe mango slices and a drizzle of magical caramel sauce (more on the magic of that later), finished with a showering of pistachios. But you're going to have to hang in there for a moment, because I recently had a birthday, and as the occupant of a possibly-gracefully-possibly-not aging human body.......something else has been on my mind a lot lately.

Tell me about vulnerability, says one half of me, as though I were two separate people, each turning to the other.

I'm standing over the stove and poking the surface of a rice pudding at the time, stirring whole grains as they melt into a creamy mixture, and if I'm startled by this sudden self-address I'd like to think I am too cool to show it. This is how people lose their minds, isn't it?

I prod the grains of rice in coconut milk for a moment longer, thinking about how to answer myself. Softness. Let's talk about softness, shall we? We so often speak of strength as hardness, she's steely or he's made of stone, as though simple hardness were the thing to be prized. But hardness resists experience, rejects knowledge. Things glance right off the surface of a steely, hard thing, colliding and gliding away into the ether without leaving so much as a scratch. True, the next movement in your direction could, say, be a knife sneaking into the velvety hidden, mortal place between your ribs, or it could be an innocent spoon nudging into the silken depths of a warm bowl of rice pudding.

Still I can't help but wonder.......is that, really, all there is to all this? To harden up and evade life's every experience, unscratched? Believe me, one half of me says to the other, you've known people like this. And so have I. Is that really all that we're here to do, to escape and remain unchanged and unlearned and eternally youthful and unblemished, only to die one day without ever having really lived? What a blatant waste of a lifetime on earth.

No thanks.

Far more courageous, I think, to turn and face the knife--or the stirring spoon, as it may turn out--and not grow yourself an outward shell to deflect the blow; to remain soft, yielding, open to experience. It takes a strength far greater than simple steeliness to accept life's blows and to absorb them, allowing the resulting dings and scrapes and even gouges to become part of our personal landscape. Press up against life--yes, okay, in a way like warm rice pudding, surging upwards above a spoon or pressing silkily into the roof of your mouth--and let its other people, atmospheres and events leave impressions; some will linger, and some will fade. I scrape my battered wooden spoon against the bottom of the pot again and again, leaving loops and whorls that fill with creamy deliciousness as they collapse. My rice pudding is nearly done.

Tell me again about the teacups, then, says the skeptical half of me to the resilient half, not yet satisfied with my answer. About the teacups? I say that there are wiser cultures than our own that value an object more as it sees daily wear--the wabi-sabi nature of an heirloom cup, the glorious warm-to-the-touch tarnish on a piece of antique copper, the rich, rubbed softness of a piece of vintage velvet--and how it grows in beauty and usefulness as it's touched and scratched and tarnished along the way. I talk about the teacups whose glaze literally takes on different colors as years and years of repeated pourings of hot water and ceremonially sipped tea transform what was into what will be. It's supposed to add to their beauty, not detract from it, and I like that idea--as the occupant of a human body myself. People ought to cherish themselves, body and soul, in the same way. Shouldn't we? We change, we grow, we twist into ribbons, we bloom and reshape, we transform into extraordinary things, and finally, we die. One day. If we haven't let circumstances leave impressions on us along the way, then we've missed the whole point.

My second self is satisfied, silent.

I serve us each a portion of coconut milk rice pudding, heaped softly in a bowl under a fan of thinly sliced ripe mangoes, a drizzle of coconut dulce de leche and a small handful of pistachios. The rice pudding steams fragrantly upwards into our faces as we dip spoons again and again into the soft surface of the rice, not a word passing between us until it's all gone and we're silently scraping the sides of bowls.

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Mango & Pistachios

Serves 4 (depending on how well you tend to share)

This is, obviously, a rich creamy treat for anyone who's looking to take dairy out of their dessert routine without sacrificing flavor. It's still pretty decadent, but it's loaded with healthy plant-based fats from the coconut milk and pistachios. And a fanned-out spread of ripe, delicious mangoes on top adds just enough tart sunshine brightness to what is otherwise a bowl of soft, sweet, addictively spoonable goodness.

I've made several different versions of this in the past, including a variety that used brown rice for its nutty crunch and was a loose spin-off of this Mark Bittman recipe. In the end, though, I settled on arborio rice, the grain used to make traditional risotto, as much for the intercontinental vibe of this recipe as for its creamy texture. The grains swell up and become plump but still just toothsome enough, suspended in a thick and rich coconut pudding.

2 14 oz. cans of coconut milk (buy the best quality you can find, and use the full fat version, please)
4 tablespoons brown sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup arborio rice

Optional (but recommended) toppings

Fresh mango slices
Chopped roasted pistachios
Coconut dulce de leche (see recipe below)

Pour coconut milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add sugar and stir until dissolved while heating just to a boil. As soon as bubbles begin to break the surface, reduce heat to the low end of medium and keep at a simmer. Add salt, cardamom and rice, stirring well.

Let simmer for about 45 minutes, remembering to check in with your wooden spoon every few minutes--even if you are in the midst of deep, philosophical conversation with your 'other' self--and give it a stir, scraping the bottom to prevent sticking. Rice pudding is finished when it's thick & creamy and rice is tender. Remove from heat and serve slightly warmer than room temperature (although it's a pretty great breakfast eaten cold the next day, as well), topped with fresh mango slices, a drizzle of coconut dulce de leche and pistachios.

Coconut Dulce de Leche

This is a pretty great basic recipe to have up your sleeve in general, as it's suitable for vegan, paleo or dairy-free diets, and is amazing on fruit, cake, ice cream, a spoon........whatever takes your fancy. The 'magic' of this wonderful sauce is that it somehow manages to taste like the most creamy, rich, butterfat-filled version of caramel sauce you ever tasted, while using none of those actual ingredients. In fact, it takes only three ingredients and comes together in less than thirty minutes on your stovetop with minimal effort. MAGIC.

Makes about 2/3 cup

1 14 oz. can of coconut milk (same note as above regarding quality)
1/2 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan (it's not much liquid, but you want to go larger rather than smaller on this, the extra surface area will help the caramel to evaporate and reduce), whisk together over medium heat until sugar and salt have dissolved. Bump the heat up to medium high and boil gently for about 20-25 minutes, stirring often to make sure it doesn't burn, boil over, or generally do anything else unpleasant.

Dulce de leche is done when it has thickened and darkened to a caramelly, nut brown color....yes, I realize this is totally subjective. Just stop it when it looks & tastes good to you. Remove from heat and let cool completely, then drizzle over rice pudding with mango slices. Can be saved in a container with an airtight lid for about three weeks. But it probably won't be around that long. :)