There’s nothing like squeezing dozens of key limes to make you extremely acquainted with your open wounds. It’s like a roll call for injuries. You’re suddenly very much aware of what you thought was just a small scratch, and any and all paper cuts take the chance to remind you that they still exist. And key limes are tiny, so you’ve got a long way to go. Let’s get started.
I like to believe these cookies are the ones Frog and Toad can’t stop eating in that children’s book Frog and Toad Together.
The Frog and Toad series, for the uninitiated, is a series of books, each one containing several short stories about Frog and Toad’s adventures. And their adventures are relatable. It’s none of this Curious George business, with a monkey flying away in a hot air balloon or working in a chocolate factory. Frog and Toad are too low-key for those shenanigans. Instead, the stories are about things so everyday that they’re almost dull. Toad loses a button from his jacket. Frog writes a letter to Toad so he has a reason to check the mail. Toad plants flowers and waits for them to grow. These are some chill amphibians.
In my favorite story (naturally, as food was involved), Frog and Toad can’t stop eating cookies.
Not to be dramatic, but this is kind of the culmination of my life’s work.
A few years ago my mother found the Friendly’s Wattamelon Roll (obnoxious misspelling and all) at a Super Walmart. This was a big deal. We hadn’t seen the likes of this elusive roll since we lived in New York in the early 90’s. The fact that even I have a fuzzy memory of this roll–I, the youngest of the family, who was three when we made the move from New York to California–is a testament to how deep this dessert runs in our family history.
While eating the newly discovered roll, I wondered why I never came across watermelon-flavored sherbet. Why was Friendly’s the lone pioneer?
That set me on a quest to one day recreate the watermelon sherbet in this roll.
I suggest going the Ina Garten route for this one.
You know, the whole meme about her preference for quality ingredients, that if you can’t get it flown in on a private jet fueled by children’s tears, “storebought is fine”?
In this case, storebought, run-of-the-mill olive oil was fine. The cake ended up tasting delicious. But maybe, had I gone with some olive oil I didn’t get from Trader Joe’s at the bargain price of $6.99 for a liter, I might have been able to taste the subtle notes of olive oil. I could taste it in the batter–in fact, I felt like I was eating a dessert salad dressing and feared I’d added too much–but like alcohol it seemed to have baked out during its time in the oven, leaving me with a moist, lemony cake. I like to think the quality of olive oil used was the reason I couldn’t taste it in the cake–I admittedly have a fairly unrefined palate, but I do remember standing at an olive oil booth at a farmer’s market one Saturday, dipping cubes of bread into shallow dishes of olive oil and actually being able to taste the differences, some smooth, some peppery, all distinct from one another. I bought a bottle of olive oil that day, though I’ve since used it all (I’d go back for more but I have a standing appointment with my pillow on Saturday mornings. And afternoons).
My best friend and I have a running argument about what these sorts of desserts should be called. The term “Popsicle” makes her cringe, so she has always referred to them as “frozen juice pops.” I, however, always embraced “Popsicle,” brand name though it may be. Wikipedia indicates that “ice pop” is the technical term, but I can’t promise anything. Years of brand-name conditioning are hard to beat.
My friend Tammy suggested we make these pistachio pops the next time I came over. This isn’t usually something one can make in under an hour, but I had a secret weapon: an instant popsicle maker.
I don’t decorate.
Part of it relates to my utter lack of artistic ability, and part of it stems from my philosophy that food is there to taste good, not look pretty. Many people are capable of doing both, but I’d rather focus on the thing I can actually do. What really perplexes me is when presentation seems to take precedence over taste, which I imagine is how fondant came into being.
But if I’m baking something for someone else, I feel a need to at least try. In this case, I got a little ambitious.
It took me a while to find this recipe–which is kind of sad, considering it came out when I was five years old. But since the age of seven when I first began baking these cookies, I always used the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. It never occurred to me to try another until the New York Times article came out in 2008. Reading such a detailed breakdown of the chocolate chip cookie was an eye-opener. I tried its suggestion of refrigerating the dough for 36 hours, but I don’t have the patience for that. The article did, however, teach me to (a) sprinkle sea salt over the cookies before baking, and (b) switch to a better quality chocolate chip going forward (Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips has been my go-to chocolate chip ever since). The recipe was good, but what I really wanted was a chewy chocolate chip cookie–and so began a five-year process of trying out different chocolate chip cookie recipes.
People can go a little overboard with the “Once you make X, you’ll never want to buy it from stores again!” guarantee. Because no matter how delicious that bread I baked was, I can promise you that I’m still going to buy sliced bread for my sandwiches. The same goes for many things, especially anything involving a large vat of oil, like donuts.
But it is true of some things, at least for me. For most of my life, the only cinnamon rolls I had came from a Pillsbury tube, or from a Cinnabon store at the mall. And I was content with those. But then one day, in the summer of 2009, my friend Kate and I had some leftover yeast after making pizza dough and we used it to make cinnamon rolls from scratch–and nothing was ever the same. Homemade cinnamon rolls have ruined me, to the extent that I have no interest in the Pillsbury or storebought ones, even if presented to me on a platter (which is really quite rude of me, to reject something I’ve been offered. I told you they ruined me).
The bun is just so soft–not flaky like the Pillsbury ones, but soft in the way that freshly baked bread is meant to be. The bottoms are slightly chewy after absorbing the brown sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture that melts to the bottom of the pan as the rolls bake. And the cream cheese frosting has an actual cream cheese-y tang to it because it hasn’t been smothered with too much sugar. Once I tried that combination of deliciousness, there was no going back.
I was fifteen when my best friend, Kate, told me about this ice cream. She was telling me about having dinner at her then-boyfriend’s house the night before. She glossed over the evening itself and skipped straight to the dessert, which, really, is the most important part of any story. The dessert, she said, was strawberry cheesecake ice cream, with chunks of cheesecake in it. This was a new concept to me and I knew I needed this ice cream in my life immediately. That’s when she told me it was Safeway brand, so the Vons down the street would have it.
Because my parents weren’t home, my only option was my older brother. I knocked on his door, poked my head in, and asked if he would drive me to Vons for strawberry cheesecake ice cream. I gave an attempt at a winning smile.
It did not work.
I dwelled on the ice cream for a few minutes before deciding I had no choice but to walk the mile to Vons myself. So I set off on the journey to Vons, breaking into a run halfway there because cheesecake chunks. In ice cream.