Last weekend my mother was having lunch guests, and when I asked her what she was serving them for dessert she rolled her eyes and huffed, “I don’t know. Why do people have to have dessert at every meal?” Before I could begin ranting she remembered, “Oh wait, I think we have some sorbet!”
How is this woman my mother? I can’t blame genetics for my sweet tooth. It’s a trait I developed all on my own. You see, it wasn’t just that dessert was an afterthought for Mom that caused me to practically gasp; it was that she thought sorbet was an acceptable way to end her otherwise well thought out meal. Her menu was gazpacho, zucchini ribbons with herbs, parmesan and pine nuts, and cold roasted shrimp with orzo and feta. You’re probably thinking what she was thinking: “Yum.” And it was “yum.” But after all that fabulousness who wants a dish of sorbet?
I have nothing against a smooth frozen scoop of deliciousness. I just can’t eat it plain. In a bowl. With a spoon. One creamy mouthful after another. I have to have contrast, a little crunch, something that bites back and challenges me a bit.
Okay, we’ve entered into metaphor territory. But it’s true. I think texture is one of the most important things in food and frankly, life. Think about it. The people you connect with, love, take into your confidence, trust and laugh with have more to offer than just one thing. They’re not like a bowl of ice cream or yogurt or even bananas. They have opinions and ideas, maybe sometimes different from yours. They don’t nod in agreement all the time with a placid smile. They call you on your stuff, tell you when you’re being annoying or simply difficult. Maybe they’re annoying and difficult at times too. But they always engage.
I can’t tell you how many times in my dating past I was set up with guys who were advertised as “nice.” And if I ever expressed reluctance to the matchmakers I got a lecture from well-meaning, married, yentas (all of whom had great husbands who were a lot more than “nice”) about the merits of being with a “nice” guy. But I think there is a really big difference between being “nice” and being “kind.” Of course anyone you care about should be a kind person, as should you. But someone who is described first, foremost and, usually, only as “nice” is really a boring person wearing a smile.
I’m going to get a lot of flak for this but come back to me when you can disprove my theory officially. Anyway, I think sometimes people mistake the desire to be challenged as the inability to accept peace and contentment. That isn’t it at all. Life, if you’re lucky, is long and wouldn’t it be more interesting to spend your time with people who don’t “yes” you to death? That’s a lot of “yes.” Actually, there are probably pathologically controlling types who prefer a tail-wagging lap dog so they can just do what they want to do without worrying about having to satisfy another. But I’m not here to discuss pathology.
I’m here to talk about a dish of sorbet. You know how they always ask, “cup or cone?” I’ve never said cup in my life. I like the crunch of the cone (and the amount delivered by a lick of ice cream rather than a spoonful). But I knew my mother wasn’t about to buy a box of Comet sugar cones, so I suggested I make some sort of crispy cookie, something to give her mango scoops a little bite.
These crispy, lemon thins come from the Gourmet cookie book which is a great addition to your baking library. It’s arranged chronologically and winds up providing a peek into the history of the sweet American palate. It also illustrates the evolution of recipe writing styles. As you can see below, burying ingredients and instructions together in a paragraph is a lot less user friendly. I also didn’t like the omission of certain details that seemed to presume a level of skill or comfort in the baker. Why aren’t you telling me the speed at which I am supposed to beat something? Or if my eggs need to be at room temperature? When it comes to cookbooks, I don't mind being patronized.
The cookies turned out exactly as I had hoped--buttery wafers with a puckery snap. They would have been just right served with the sorbet.
"No one really wants dessert," Mom reported, when she carried the lunch dishes into the kitchen (without a trace of I-told-you-so). "Just coffee and a few of your cookies."
Aha! Now, knowing my mother, she probably said, “We have sorbet and cookies,” making it sound like it was one or the other and not remembering that my intention was for her to serve both. The operative word being “my” and since this was her lunch party, not mine, I should have stayed out of it to begin with. But at least her friends made the right choice—going for a bit of sour crunch to accompany their raucous and hilarious conversation. In fact I heard them say a few things that weren’t so “nice.” Thank the lord. As for me, I blew off the sorbet too and went with a bowl of juicy strawberries to contrast with my lemony cookies. And an hour later I bought a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream and ate it down to the last crumb of cone. Sure was “nice.” Oops.
Gimme Texture Lemon Thins
from The Gourmet Cookie Book, Conde Nast Publications, 2010
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2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (one lemon should be enough)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup flour
Preheat oven to 400F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease sheets with butter. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla on high speed for 3-4 minutes until beater forms ribbons when lifted. (Could take longer depending on your mixer). Add lemon rind and mix till incorporated.
In another bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. If you don't have 2 mixers, vigoursly beat butter with a whisk instead. Could take about 5 minutes.
Add butter to egg mixture alternately with flour in four additions--a dollop of butter, 1/2 of the flour, a dollop of butter and the rest of the flour. Mix until completely incorporated. It will be loose.
Bake cookies for 5 minutes or until the edges are browned.
Let the cookies cool on the sheets for just 1 minutes, then transfer them with a spatula to a rack and cool completely.
Yield: 4 dozen cookies