'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.'
-- Ophelia, Hamlet
, William Shakepeare
So, I believe there are blogs who share nothing more than the bare facts; a dry, fastidious list of ingredients, cooking times, a finished photo, maybe the occasional passing comment on how this is 'so yum' or 'a must-make'. Then there are the blogs to which I'm always drawn, whose words carry melody and sway, whose images are so full of shadow and life and color, so evocative of story and place that I quite forget what I'm doing and dive into a world of someone else's making. There's always a beautiful recipe at the end, sure, but ultimately I'm also in it for that journey through someone else's eyes. The best blogs I've ever read share closely-held feelings, the bitter and the sweet, along with recipes for sour cream coffee cake. The most skilled culinary writers are those who are aware that we can talk about food, about rosemary cookies, let's say, almost without talking about them at all.
This week culminates in the Day of the Dead, and I'm making rosemary-for-remembrance cookies in the shape of calaveras, and feeling haunted. A little sweetness on the tongue may help with that, who knows? It's natural to remember those who have passed at this time of year, something about the changing seasons and the gentle fading of leaves on branches always puts me in that frame of mind, anyway. Picturing the faces and voices of those who are gone. I'm still here, still standing although who can say why, still remembering. The most beautiful thing about cooking is, to me, the ritual of it all. You can mourn a loss with sweetness and a hint of salt, you can mourn a loss excellently well with rosemary pressed into cookies and sweetened with a coat of sugary lemon and feathery flourishes of dark chocolate. Some say it with flowers. I, apparently, say it with herbs. Remembrances of those who have passed are all around, but in this season of lost loved ones and lost childhoods and memory, I'm also catching glimpses of my own past, remembering a little girl with traces of wilderness in her heart and soul.
Dreamily trailing a stick behind me, hair all leaf-strewn, picking out quartz--the small, clear fragments known as 'Arizona diamonds'--from a muddy riverbed. I loved rocks and crystals, sticks and pods, anything plucked from the ground. I had a bag of stones already at home, and each one had a name, a purpose, a significance. I wanted acres of forest to roam, instead of the flat, grid-shaped concrete acreage of my suburban home. I wanted to brew and to forage, to strip bark and whittle shapes, to cut and carve and leap and roll and name and know. I wanted to eat flowers and drink streams. The stories I loved best were any stories involving clever witches, adventures, talking beasts. My sympathy was always with the witches. Often times, it still is.
Long car drives tended to hypnotize me, I'd spend hours looking out the window at the high-speed landscape passing away before me, rapt. Imagining figures darting in the trees. I always imagined a wilder me, a twin like the pale watery reflection of myself I could see through the glass, who looked exactly like me but arrayed wildly in skins and loosely woven wool. Padding silently through the underbrush of the forest or the creosote and saguaro of the desert, knowing every root and leaf and berry, and never speaking a word to anyone. The wild me was my twin, a silent and wise copy of myself, alike and yet not at all alike. The other, darker half of a coin. Friend to wolves and witches and more. If that dark twin existed now, as a real living adult, she'd roll out cookies with rosemary in them, I know she would. She'd know the meaning of every herb and the sharp, bitter, piney, clean grassy green flavor of each and every one. She'd pour us a cup of tea, silently, and pour out a bag of assorted crystals and quartz on the table touching each one and smiling benevolently as if to show me the future in a bag of stones. She'd reach her white hands across the table and enfold both of mine into hers, squeezing them reassuringly. Pray you, love, remember.
To the ones who are gone, I don't know why any of you were taken; I don't know why I'm the one still here, still standing. Still so breathlessly in love with life that I'll rise before dawn to handpaint cookies and glue fragile petals to each one with sugar paste, giggling maniacally. Maybe I actually do have a dark twin who has watched over me all these years, standing guard against the evils of the world with a handcarved hunting bow and smelling faintly of rosemary, my straight-backed and eagle-eyed protector. Maybe I've just been one very lucky little girl, to grow into a woman capable of standing where others have fallen. But here I am nonetheless, and this week in the time of souls and spirits and sweets and wolves and witches, I am full of rosemary and remembrance. Remembering faces and voices and names, where I can. Remembering what once was. Remembering the reflected images of one real girl and one imagined, wildling twin.
There's a small, serious-eyed little girl in the backseat of a car, heart beating deerlike with the simultaneous thrill of running headlong through the forest and sitting very safely in the backseat of a car. My small forehead pressed against the glass, thoughts slinking like wolves, racing silently against the side of the road in the ever-dwindling outline of the car’s headlights.
Sweet Rosemary Cookies with Lemon Zest Glaze
There's something very pleasingly witchy and apothecary-like to me about putting herbs in sweet baked goods, and these cookies certainly don't fail to please. Rosemary is an especially good choice here, not only because it pairs so beautifully with the buttery taste of the cookie and the sharpness of the lemon glaze, but because it symbolizes remembrance. Like the marigolds also used to make these ordinary cookies into sweet little calavera sugar skulls, rosemary has long been associated with mourners, making it a perfect choice for Day of the Dead-themed sweets. In case that sounds super-morbid for a cookie recipe, let me hasten to add that it also tastes delicious so there's, you know, that.
The handpainted flourishes in dark chocolate and brilliantly pink, beet-stained icing are thoroughly unnecessary and your cookies will taste just as sweet without them....but they do make me smile. A little extra brightness in a season of growing darkness and reflection is always I good thing, I say, so decorate away! :)
Makes about three dozen cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, chilled in freezer for at least half an hour
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
ice water, as needed
Combine the first five ingredients in a mixing bowl, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate the chilled butter into the dry mixture, stopping several times to toss & coat the butter with the flour mixture. Add yogurt and stir to combine (I recommend getting in there and mixing with your hands at this stage). Sprinkle in ice water in small amounts, just until mixture begins to hold together as dough.
Separate dough into two equal-sized balls, roll into two equal logs roughly 2" in diameter, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (dough may be made several days in advance).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and lightly oil or line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap and slice logs into equal pieces about 1/4" thick, place on baking sheet. Bake at 325 for about 20-15 minutes, or until edges have just begun to turn a light golden brown. Remove from oven, let cookies cool thoroughly before glazing.
For the the lemon glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Combine in a small bowl, stirring until all lumps have dissolved and the glaze is about the thickness of honey. Apply to tops of thoroughly cooled rosemary cookies, let sit at room temperature for about five minutes until glaze sets.
Extra decoration (optional):
Place a small amount of dark chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl, heat in microwave until just melted. Using a brand-new, fine-tipped paint brush, decorate the cookies with faces, small dots, swirls and flourishes.
For icing in any shade of pink, place a small amount of powdered sugar in another small bowl, add fresh grated beet and a few drops of ice water, stir until desired consistency and color is achieved. Using the paintbrush, apply pink glaze to create circles on cheeks, decorative dots, or any other shapes you like.
Finally, pull apart a few edible marigolds (I purchased mine in the fresh herb section of my natural food store, you may also want to try farmer's markets for these) into individual petals, then use a small amount of powdered sugar glaze as 'glue' to stick these onto your decorated cookies.