Saturday, December 16, 2017

On Trees and Blankets: Christmas Old Fashioned + Walnut Fougasse

I don't think that I will be putting up a tree this year. Some years do not deserve to have trees, just like some summers don't deserve beautiful silk dresses, flip flops or vanilla ice cream. Not that it was a spectacularly bad year. (Just so that we are clear, one absolutely must have a tree in a VERY bad year. That's what Christmas trees are for.) But this year was, hmm, it was a strange one. Gloomy, grey, and long. Way too long. This looooooooooooong. Dim and long. Disheartening and long. Silently off and utterly lacking hope and sunshine. What a strange year. What a strange world we live in. In my very own Three Little Halves universe, things were silently off too. Too few cookies, too many spreadsheets. Not enough pictures, but more than enough office hours. I missed way too many goodnight stories, school drop-offs and publishing parties -- this I am afraid, will disqualify me from winning the mother of the year badge. Or any other badge for that matter, and not for the lack of trying. Some years are simply not to be remembered. Some years just make me want to go to bed and cover myself with a king-size quilt, disappear into the darkness of its underside and count the minutes until the ball drops at the Times Square. And yes, I know exactly what you are thinking right now. The girl is a chicken. Even worse, an ostrich. But take my word, burying your head in sand sometimes feels good.

Oh God, I went on to write a festive Christmas post and it reads like a eulogy. Sorry guys, let me give it another try.

To start with, being under the quilt is not that bad. Can be quite glorious actually, especially if you stick to the words of wisdom and follow the mantra. Or maybe it's the other way, follow the words of wisdom and stick to the mantra. Either way, here it is:

No. 1 Bring some booze under the covers of your blanket slash quilt slash hiding place. Just because one does not have a tree, it doesn't mean that one should not have booze. I highly recommend Christmas Old Fashioned. It's a carefully engineered concoction, and believe me, it works. Just so that we are clear, it's a slightly bipolar drink -- a cocktail with a dual personality. On one side, we have the venerable Old Fashioned, probably the most respected cocktail on Earth - elegant, timeless, strong, well-connected -- it oozes self-confidence and excellent manners. On the other side of the coin is orange scented hot toddy -- cheerful, good humored, slightly tipsy, very optimistic, and totally down to earth. They don't say for nothing that opposites attract, and when they do it's the fireworks people! It's the most beautiful music. Kind of like listening to Beethoven and Duran Duran at the same time, but in a really good way. (BTW, if you happen to be on a slightly decadent side of the blanket, feel free to replace the bourbon in the recipe with single malt. It might sound like blasphemy, but hey, desperate moments call for desperate measures. Glenmorangie The Original is wonderful for this exercise. I am ashamed to say that Nectar d'Or is even better. And no I am not paid by Glenmorangie to say this, it just happens to be my favorite single malt.)

No. 2 Bake a loaf of bread. You don't have to be a pro, just go ahead and do it. In my book, there is nothing that spells u-n-w-i-n-d, s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n better than firing up your oven, getting your hands dirty, and kneading. Digging deep into the dough, allowing it to pull you in, all of you, until nothing else remains but the feeling of being grounded, taking root, letting your anchor sink. Then relax and let the dough rise, let the yeasty bubbles do their magic. Observe. Contemplate. Watch all the sorrows disappear in the gassy vapors of the hard working yeast. Then knead again. Knead, knead, knead. And rise. For one whole afternoon. Over and over again. Bread making is like meditation; it leaves you filled with peace and kindness, and the right sense of achievement; it makes you strong and resilient. Because there is no rebound as determined as the pushback of a well-kneaded dough. Just like there is no scent as sweet as the scent of the freshly baked loaf. It fills our kitchens and our hearts with warmth and security. I've been known to bake a loaf here and there, and needless to say, I have my favorites. My bread of the moment is Rose Levy Beranbaum's Walnut Fougasse. It's just not fair how good it is: crisp, dense, chewy, crunchy, loaded with toasty walnut goodness. It's a bread we all need this holiday.

No. 3 I just had an insightful discussion with Miss Pain. "Do you know Mom," she said, "that when a jellyfish feel endangered or scared, or someone wants to do them harm, they return to being a child?" It appeared to be a casual remark -- because my daughter is endlessly obsessing over the topic of jellyfish immortality and we talk about it a lot -- but on a second thought, I believe that she was trying to tell me something. So this holiday, I'll be going back to my inner child. It's a place in our hearts and our minds where the root of all kindness resides, and all the faith, and hope, as well as the laser sharp focus for starting all over again. I want to be that little person inside me pretty badly. Don't we all? Have a good one folks!

Walnut Fougasse
Slightly adapted from The Bread Bible

* 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
* 1 3/4 tsp instant yeast (I use SAF red)
* 1/2 tbsp salt
* 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature or just barely warm
* 8 tbsp olive oil, divided
* scant 3/4 cup (2 oz) walnuts, coarsely broken

In the mixer bowl, combine the flour and yeast. Mix well. Add the salt and mix well. Add the 1 1/4 cups of the milk and two tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix on low speed (#2 if using KitchenAid) for about 2 minutes, until everything is combined into a rough dough. (If the dough is too dry add the remaining milk). Increase the speed to medium (#4 if using KitchenAid) and knead for about 5 minutes. Empty the dough on the counter and knead by hand for another 5 minutes, until the dough is elastic and barely sticky. Allow the dough to rest, covered, for 20 minutes.

Coat the walnuts with one tablespoon of oil. Empty the dough onto the counter and knead in the walnuts.

Coat a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil. Roll the dough in the container so that it is coated with oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until doubled. It will take about 1 hour.

Turn the dough onto a kitchen counter and flatten it gently. Knead in another tablespoon of the oil. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for the second time until doubled. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour.

Again turn the dough onto a kitchen counter and flatten it gently. Knead in another tablespoon of the oil. Return the dough to the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for the third time until doubled. It will take about 30 to 45 minutes.

One hour before baking preheat the oven to 500F. Have the oven shelf at the lowest position and place a baking sheet on it before preheating.

Turn the dough onto a counter or and roll it out gently into a rectangle. Cover it with a plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes. Place the dough onto a sheet of baking paper and with a rolling pin, or your fingers stretch it to an oval, about 1/2-inch thick. Brush the dough with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. With a sharp knife score two slashes in the middle of the bread, and three or four diagonal slashes on each side of the bread. (This is the simplest fougasse scoring patter, later on you can try out your own designs.) Make sure that the slashes cut all the way to the bottom of the pan, otherwise use scissors to cut the dough completely. Using your fingers, push the slashes open wide. Allow the bread to rise for another 15 - 20 minutes, until it's about 3/4 inches high. If the openings have closed a little, stretch them open again.

Slide the parchment paper onto the preheated baking pan. Place the pan into the oven and reduce the temperature to 450F. Bake the fougasse for about 20 to 25 minutes until crisp and golden brown. (An instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread will read about 212F). Halfway through baking turn the baking sheet so that the bread bakes evenly.

Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on the wire rack to cool completely. Serve. 

Christmas Old Fashioned

* 2 tsp honey orange simple syrup (see the recipe below)
* 1-2 dashes bitters (Angostura is traditional and works well; Fee Brothers’ Whiskey Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned Bitters are better)
* 2 ounces (60ml) bourbon (I use Elijah Craig) or non-smoky single malt (such as Glenmorangie original)
* 1 ounce (30 ml) water
* 1 slice of orange
* 1 cherry

In a small saucepan, mix the water and simple syrup. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the bourbon and keep over the heat for a minute or two, until the liquid is about to boil. Remove from the heat. Pour the drink into heat-proof glasses or mugs. Garnish with the slice of orange and cherry. Serve.

Orange Simple Syrup  

* 1 cup water
* 1 cup light brown or Turbinado sugar 

* peel from one orange, cut into 1-inch pieces 

Combine the water, brown sugar, and orange peel in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir to combine, bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and let the syrup cool. Remove the peels and transfer to a bottle or jar. Store in the fridge for about two weeks.


  1. As the years pass you might find that those we spent under the blanket are not that bad. There is a purpose for them. I learned to let go from those years knowing that it doesn’t really matter in the long run. I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. When he was very little, my son adviced me to not celebrate my birthday - in order to stay young. Their thoughts are so precious, interesting and they give a meaning to this crazy life. Happy holidays :)

    1. Oh that is so sweet. It is incredible how much wisdom is in their little heads. Happy holidays!

  3. so delicious look and xmas theme look stunning in your dish.


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