"A cookbook's value is only half on the page; the other half is in the action it inspires." Tara O'Brady
I’ve been thinking about agency quite a bit the past few weeks, dear reader. It’s one of those lingering questions from my time in graduate school that doesn’t seem to want to leave me. How is it that we can feel empowered to act in this world, to do, to move, to create? Why are these moments often so fleeting? Who are the individuals who share my values, who make me feel heard, and who themselves are heard by me? They are questions of community, of personal identity, and the interface between the two that we are continually navigating. Somehow, ethical questions make so much more sense to me when answered through food than theory. Here’s what I mean:
A few weeks ago, I went to The Book Larder to hear an author talk from Tara O’Brady. You’ve seen her book—everyone is talking about it, cooking from it, and drawing from Tara’s unmatched humility. She spoke so articulately about her relationship with food, how dishes connect her to family, both past and present, how she moves through the world constantly searching for that glimmer of playfulness. It comes across in both her words and recipes. Small moments, tiny movements to say this is who I am. It’s miso butter on top of a burger. Scrambled eggs made just as grandma did. Sincerity, full stop. I left that room feeling full in a way I hadn’t in months because I saw pieces of myself, both the current me and the ideal me, present throughout that entire room. We were all bits of questions, poised at the tip of tongue and wavering on small, unsure hands rising slowly in the air. We were parts of Tara’s answers too, nodding in agreement, filled with quiet thoughts of “I hoped she’d say that.” I went to Tara’s talk alone, but did not feel alone in that room. It was an unspoken community brought together by one common interest—sometimes, it is as simple as that.
And then earlier this week, I had my cooking class with Mia at The Pantry and I don’t think either of us was able to stop smiling from the moment we walked in. From the expertly packed garden leading to the quaint entrance to the communal wooden table loaded with cutting boards, knives, and aprons, it was clear that we were about to be taken care of. Everything had been thought of—to me, there is no feeling as comforting as that. So we tucked in, learned to make a traditional Sunday British roast with all of the trimmings and got to know those around us. Between shelling peas and tempering custard, we were all on the same page, providing helpful advice where needed and fearlessly tackling tasks we previously had no knowledge of. I wanted to grow roots in that place and never leave. I even dished myself a second helping of dessert so I could stay and chat longer—I wasn’t even hungry anymore. I felt like a kid again, not wanting to leave for fear of missing out. If that isn’t a reflection of self, I don’t know what is.
When the weekend rolled around, I was feeling adventurous and wanted to tackle something that required a bit more involvement. I pulled out Deb Perelman’s recipe for rugelach, a beautiful combination of raspberry and chocolate that walks the line of being just sweet enough. Plus, there’s a whole brick of cream cheese in the dough. I know, right? They are messy, tactile, and methodic—meditative even, in their rolling out and rolling up. I recommend making them on a gloomy Sunday afternoon with an endless pot of coffee. Make a mess, take up the whole kitchen table, spill jam on your apron. Don’t worry about it, not one bit, because you’re doing what you need to do.
Chocolate and Raspberry Rugelach
From Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 48 Rugelach
2 sticks of unsalted, room temperature butter
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ t. table salt
2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. seedless raspberry jam
2/3 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
3 T. toasted pecans, finely chopped
½ c. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 large egg yolks
2 t. water
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add salt and flour and combine on a low speed until the flour just disappears. Scrape dough onto plastic wrap, form into a round disk, and chill in the fridge for two hours.
While dough chills, you can prepare your fillings. Warm the jam in a saucepan over low heat, just until in bubbles. This will loosen it up and make it easier to spread. Place jam in a bowl and set aside. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl and set aside. In a third bowl, place your pecans, and in a fourth bowl place your chocolate.
Clear out a space in your freezer for a sheet pan to sit level (I warn you now to avoid the mad dash of making room later).
On a lightly floured surface, divide your dough into thirds. Keep one-third on your board and place the rest back in the fridge. Roll out your dough into a rough 12 inch circle—perfection be damned. Spread three tablespoons of jam across the entire surface with the back of a spoon. Then sprinkle three tablespoons of cinnamon-sugar, two tablespoons of chopped chocolate, and one tablespoon of pecans over the jam. Lightly press the filling into the dough with your hands.
Using a knife or a bench scraper, divide dough into 16 wedges. Roll each wedge tightly from the outside to the center, tucking the pointed end underneath the rugelach. Space evenly on a parchment lined sheet pan and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Repeat the process with the remaining two balls of dough, chilling each batch as you finish.
Lightly beat your egg yolks with two teaspoons of water. Brush the rugelach with your egg mixture and sprinkle on turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown. Remove rugelach from pan while still warm (the jam will solidify as it cools and they will stick if not removed right away) and cool on a cooling rack.