Socrates may have thought “the unexamined life is not worth living” but as someone who has been over-examining her own life for as long as I’ve been conscious I’d like to counter with “ignorance is bliss.” Or so it would seem to me.
Think of all the things you’d be freed up to do if you just didn’t know any better. You could proudly say you enjoy listening to Lite FM because really, everyone kind of likes it but is too embarrassed to admit it. You could wear nude pantyhose and not feel like a stewardess circa 1982. You could spend your vacation money on a Carnival cruise instead of challenging your mind touring the Louvre or your body by trekking in Nepal—and not feel guilty. You could marry a boring moron and not even realize it because you didn’t know any better.
Okay, those aren’t very good examples because even if you are clueless who wants to wear nude pantyhose? But really, it’s a pretty big luxury to have the room in your life to reflect on past choices and be able to consider those waiting for you in the future.
For the most part I know a little about a lot which is great for cocktail party chatter but not for in-depth discourse. Yet sometimes I feel burdened by the few things I know a lot about. I’ve talked before about my hyper-sensitive hearing and my desire to break the wall between strangers in order to correct the exchange of misinformation. Like the other day I was at a coffee shop when I overheard a know-it-all woman in town to catch a matinee expertly report to her doppelganger theater partner, “You know, Kelsey Grammer played "George" in the original cast La Cage aux Folles in 1983.” Okay, I’ve never even seen La Cage aux Folles but I knew she was wrong (it was Gene Barry in case you care). It was all I could do not to correct her. Instead I held my tongue and my imagined confrontation joined all the other imaginary conversations I have in my head on a daily basis.
I know I have too many opinions about things and the constant monologue in my brain is exhausting. Once in a while I’ll think I’ve kept something to myself when in fact it has slipped out of my mouth. Usually it’s about people walking too slowly or meandering aimlessly. I’ll be thinking, “Oh come on people, let’s move it along!” when some guy shoots me a deathly look and I realize I just said it out loud. Luckily no one has punched me yet. My desire to scream happens most often when I observe people eating. Catching parents sitting on a park bench feeding their kids McDonald’s when I know there’s a sandwich shop nearby I want to yell, “Ever hear of childhood obesity!?” If I just didn’t know anything I’d be able to walk on by and not think twice.
This week is the start of Chanukah which means my mother will be making latkes when we give presents to the nieces. Mom and I clash over food all the time. She thinks I’m annoying and uptight when it comes to anything to do with frying or animal fat. When she does serve meat at family occasions she’ll watch me dissect my dinner, roll her eyes and accuse me of being on ‘fat-patrol.’ I don’t care. I’d rather save my fat for dessert. But the latke thing is kind of too much for me. I understand marking the holiday with a side of potato pancakes but she seems to think they're an entree—albeit with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. Although they’re delicious I am so preoccupied with the fact that I’m eating a deep-fried dinner (with the accompanying smell of deep-fried hair) I have trouble truly enjoying her hard work.
So many traditional Chanukah desserts involve more frying. Last year I made sufganiyot (jelly donuts), although I did not eat them with my latkes. I'm afraid once was enough. So this year I think we need the astringent bite of citrus to cut through the oilier main course. Clementines are here and they are perfect for the tiny hands of the tinier celebrants. But I can’t possibly leave it at that. I need the contrast of a little crunchy, sweet cookie to accompany the fruit. These orange sables are delicate and crumbly and the decorative sugar can be tailored to your holiday of choice. They are indeed a rich butter cookie (and the fact is their fat content is probably not markedly less than a more overtly decadent dessert) but I’m just going to tell my brain to shut-up. And let me have a blissful moment of feigned ignorance. Happy Chanukah!
Ignorance Is Bliss Orange Sables
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan 2006
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2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter (preferably high-fat, European style), softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of one orange
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted before measuring
1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour.
For the decoration (optional):
1 egg yolk
Crystal or dazzle sugar.
In a small bowl combine granulated sugar and orange zest. Rub zest and sugar together with your fingers to incorporate.
Working in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.
Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball -- and it shouldn't. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)
Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
Hint: To prevent your logs from flattening on one side, cut the empty cardboard tubes from two rolls of paper towels down the middle. Then rest your dough inside the cardboard cradle and put them in the fridge.
When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.
To decorate the edges of the sables, whisk the egg yolk until smooth. Place one log of chilled dough on a piece of waxed paper and brush it with yolk (the glue), and then sprinkle the entire surface of the log with sugar. Trim the ends of the roll if they are ragged and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.
Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.)
Yield: 48-50 cookies