A couple of years ago, I joined Food52, a wonderful community of home cooks. I did not even know that such community exists, I stumbled upon it entirely by accident, there was a gorgeous photo of a plum and mozzarella salad on Pinterest and I followed the lead. And joined immediately.
To post a recipe in Food52 community, the author is prompted to write a short description. A piece of cake, right, and as I was about to post our family’s staple vanilla cookies, the very first sentence I typed in was “These are my grandmother’s vanilla cookies.” Well, that did not sound particularly mouthwatering. Delete. “You will be in heaven over these cookies.” Delete. “Swoon?” Delete. After two hours of creative agony, self-inflicted torture and sentences like “I love the richness of these cookies,” my delete button was about to pop-out of the keyboard and I abandoned the computer, took a pencil and wrote a short story.
And then another one. And another...
Recipes and stories began pouring down. Camera followed and the photos began pouring down. Every night, after I came home from work, I would sit down and write. I would disappear into my words and my recipes, the boundaries kept on stretching, forgotten memories surfaced back, I discovered new lands both outside and within.
I started the Three Little Halves blog.
And yesterday, around 9pm EST, Three Little Halves was awarded the 2016 Award for the Best Narrative Culinary Blog by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Can you believe that?
I almost cannot.
But it's official. It is on the wire, and on Twitter, on Eater and GrubStreet and who knows where else. It is also official that Michael Procopio, my fellow IACP nominee is my good luck messenger... It was Michael who told me about the nomination, and it was Michael who emailed me last night to congratulate on the award, in close to real time, while I ate my dinner in oblivion, because I got the dates messed up.
I now regret not going to LA to accept the award in person. It would have been mighty glorious. I would have met Kenji Lopez-Alt. But I am terrible at schmoozing, and Dr. V could not join me, and not being exactly a culinary professional I was worried that I would be there all alone and that the ceremony would eat me up.
So let me give my acceptance speech here in writing.
I am humbled and honored to accept the 2016 IACP award for the Best Narrative Culinary Blog. (With an emphasis on narrative. N-A-R-R-A-T-I-V-E. As in telling stories in English language.) The award means to me more than you can probably imagine. Because, sometimes, when I get my grammar wrong, or misspell a word, Miss Pain corrects me and she says, "Do not worry Mama, you are excused, you are an immigrant." And sometimes, when I address people with this thick accent of mine, they sort of assume that I do not speak English, and they start talking to me slowly, and I mean really, really slooooowly, stretching the words like beads on a string. And now I have something to say back. Good folks from the IACP, you know how to make a girl happy, and I mean really, really happy, and for that I thank you.
We have not had time to celebrate as yet. This is a busy week, Miss Pain has a test tomorrow, and she managed to misplace her test-prep and her homework. Celebration postponed. But that's OK, because we all know that the daily troubles of our little ones take priority over celebrations and awards. I was hoping to make (and post) a glorious, celebratory recipe, with photos to match, but that will have to wait. Instead, I would like to re-post the recipe for my grandmother's vanilla cookies, the recipe that started it all. I hope you do not mind, because: A) it is one spectacular cookie, probably the best I know, and B) some things are worth repeating. (And just in case you were wondering about the story that came with it, it's here.)
Those who tell you that getting awards does not feel good are big fat liars. This award feels good, mighty damn good. Yet, awards are temporal. A moment in time. Like a cherry blossom in the spring. Like a cherry on top of a cake. It is the other feeling that matters, that wonderful feeling, which overcomes you when you write, and spin the words around like yarn. When you move the camera up and down, your eye pressed to the viewfinder on a lookout for that perfect composition... When you chop the veggies and stir the pot, awaiting for the flavors to hit your face. It is the journey that matters and not the outcome, it is the journey that encompasses the lifetime, and I am so blessed to have taken the ride.
Vanilice (The Little Vanilla Cookies)
* 200 grams confectioners' sugar
* 1 vanilla bean, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
* 300 grams lard (ideally leaf lard)
* 250 grams granulated sugar
* 1 whole egg
* 2 egg yolks
* juice of one lemon
* 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
* 250 grams ground walnuts
* 600 grams all-purpose flour
* rose hip or apricot jam
A couple of days before making the cookies, mix the confectioners' sugar with the vanilla bean in a small bowl with a tight lid. This is your vanilla sugar. Store in a dry place.
In a mixer fitted with paddle, beat the lard and granulated sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the walnuts and flour and beat until uniform dough forms. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325° F convection bake (or 350° regular bake). Place the dough on a work surface dusted with flour and roll it out to a 3/8-inch-thick round. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small round cookie cutter (I use 1-inch or quarter-size cutters), stamp out the cookies and arrange them one inch apart on the baking sheets.
Bake for about 12 minutes, so that the rounds remain white. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack or flat surface to cool completely.
Once the cookies have cooled, take one cookie round at a time, spread the jam on it, and top with another cookie round. Roll each cookie sandwich generously in vanilla sugar. Put the cookies into a tin box, and wait for one to two days before serving. (This is a must, so please do not cut corners.) Enjoy.
Makes about 70 cookies