Mexican Wedding Cookies


Mexican Wedding Cookies (or biscochos, polvorones, sandies, sand tarts, Russian/Czech tea cakes) evidently have their roots in medieval Arab cuisine, and are connected to the timeless tradition of saving the richest, sweetest goodies for special occasions. The treat traveled with the Moors to Spain, and they were adapted throughout Europe. They were known in America as Russian tea cakes until around the Cold War, when Russia was a Big Baddie. Since TexMex food was coming into the culinary consciousness around the same time, they were rechristened Mexican Wedding Cookies.

I made these back in May for an end-of-semester shindig complete with margaritas, dulce de leche ice cream, and something like 18 different kinds of guacamole courtesy of Snehal. Many rousing games of washers were played! Gossip was gossed! Children were ignored! (Okay, just kidding on that last bit.) (Mostly.) These cookies, along with the ice cream (sans pecans), were a hit! I have been meaning to post this forever, but just kept putting it off.

I made these in the most traditional round shape, but they also occur in crescent and disc-like shapes; in some parts of Mexico, they are cut into diamond shapes for weddings to symoblize purity. They’re also popular as Christmas cookies.

So, without any further ado, here is the recipe.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

from the side of the HEB flour package

1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 t vanilla
2 cups AP flour
1/4 t salt
1 cup chopped pecans (that’s pronounced Puh-CAHNS, by the way)
extra powdered sugar for dusting

Heat oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with foil and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Cream on high for about 2 mins.

Slowly add the flour, salt, and pecans to the butter mixture; mix on low for about a minute.

Shape the cookie dough into two long rolls about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the fridge for 2 hours.

Cut the chilled dough into 1/4-inch thick slices and roll into small balls. Place the balls one inch apart on the cookie sheets. Bake on the center oven rack for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Immediately remove the cookies from the baking sheets and roll in the powdered sugar. (This part is extremely tedious and will make you question your decision to make Mexican Wedding Cookies.) Place on wire rack to cool.

Makes 48 cookies.

For love of Edward Cullen


Friday in my class we talked about the meanings of vampires in the cultural imagination. Here is a powerpoint slideshow I put together based on a poll taken from my class and my Facebook friends. There’s not a lot of commentary here, but it’s a very compelling document indeed! Can you tell which comments were from my students (mostly freshmen, all women) and which are from my “grownup” friends?

vamps

And for those of you with older versions of Office:
vamps

The reading for that day included the intro and final section of Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves and this article from NPR. I found that the girls were fairly resistant (maybe?) to the idea that a culture’s version of the vampire is reflective of the zeitgeist. We talked a bit about the conservative vampire of the 1980s and how he (why always male?) reflected paternalistic Reagan-era politics and AIDS fear, and how Stoker’s vampire interrogated the figure of the New Woman and late-Victorian xenophobia (which we will discuss later this week).

From there I asked them to describe Edward Cullen, who is this moment’s Vampire du Jour. They came up with protective, creeper, sugar daddy, father figure, stalker, unconditional love, and a few others I can’t remember right now. From there, I asked them what it is about Edward’s “ambient ethos” (a phrase I shamelessly stole from Snehal Shingavi) that is reflective of our zeitgeist. Twilight came out in 2005, smack in the middle of GWB’s presidential regime, we were embroiled in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina happened, the first of a number of personnel changes on the Supreme Court, etc. The past five years have been full of all sorts of upheaval and uncertainty, and Sarah Hepola argues that for 30-something women, Twilight offers an escape from the disappointments of the real love plot, and that it is particularly resonant with women going through major life changes (I, for one, got sucked in while expecting my daughter, who just turned 2 yesterday).

It would serve then, I suggested to my class, that the reason we responded so overwhelmingly to Edward Cullen is that we needed or wanted someone to take care of us. I might even argue that both Presidents Bush AND Obama can be reflective of our desire for a savior-protector.

There’s the whole Mormon angle to contend with, too, but I chose not to open that can of worms in class.

This week we’re discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moving on to Stoker’s Dracula before embarking upon Eclipse. This is still very much in progress, but I’m keen to see how they respond to thinking critically about someone as polarizing as Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Stay tuned!

Cold fusion


Have you ever made a dish on the fly that you’ll probably never be able to replicate again? I think I did that tonight.

I had bought some multicolored veggie pasta shells on a whim and had a hankering for some homemade mac and cheese. I didn’t really check the cheese supply in the drawer before starting, though, so I pretty much set myself up for failure.

First, I whipped up a bechamel with about a T of unsalted butter, a rough 1/4-cup of flour, and 1.5 c milk. And then, I threw in about 3/4 cup Kraft shredded Mexican blend! Then about a T of shredded cheddar/monterey jack! And then about 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan! And then a slice of Havarti! And then a couple of hunks of Beecher’s Flagship!

Then I drained the cooked shells and had way more cheese sauce than pasta, so I cooked up some mini penne and threw that in!

And it was delicious! (Of course, because my darling boy LOATHES homemade mac and cheese, he had to have the obligatory tantrum about “disgusting mac and cheese!”) And I’ll never be able to make it again. Cold fusion.

BlogHer Food ’10, Day Two


So, Saturday dawned fresh and new and I woke up before 5:30. Even though my body was in the Pacific time zone, my body’s clock was still in CST. Fortunately, I was able to fall back asleep until my alarm went off at 7. Scooted over to the InterContinental for breakfast, where I met the manly Hank Shaw over the coffee urns. Seriously, that man can do everything! We got to chatting a bit and I told him about my research, which inspired him to introduce me to Elise Bauer, whom I revere simply for her banana bread recipe, which I have made approximately seven thousand times.

After the isolating and kind of depressing experience of the previous evening’s party, I decided to make friends at breakfast. So I joined a table of other lone-wolf types and struck up a conversation. One lady was from Pork. I can’t remember her name, but she was really nice. The other lady was Trish, an academic librarian at Stanford who also write the blog Cheeky Attitude. Trish and I would meet up again at the closing keynote panel, where I gave over my greedily obtained second sample portion of the bacon macaroni and cheese. That’s just the way I am, people. I’m a giver.

Morning panel: Urban Farming, including the aforementioned Hank Shaw. Other panelists included Joshua Stark, Margo True, and Novella Carpenter. They are all undertaking the admirable task of raising chicken, ducks, goats, etc. I’ll be happy if I a) manage to get a winter garden in the ground within the next couple of weeks and b) make a successful, botulism-free first attempt at pickling.

After that, I dithered about making my own field trip to Trader Joe’s, but opted to hang out and catch an early bus for the Ferry Building excursion. Lucky for me, because I met two lovely ladies on the ride over! Laura and I stuck together for our time at the farmer’s market (we were doing a scavenger hunt in hopes of winning a $500 gift card to cooks.com, I think it was, which meant that we got to visit a lot of farm stands!). Liz and I met up again at the closing party.

I have to say that the farmer’s market excursion was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. THAT, friends, is my bread and butter, exploring locally grown food and talking to producers of artisanal cheeses and so on. And making a really nice connection with another human being with whom you can gossip over Cowgirl Creamy grilled cheese sandwiches.










After that was the final breakout panel, on the importance of community in food blogging. I don’t have much to say about that, partly because I want to protect my dissertation ideas to some degree but also because it’s sort of at the root of some of my icky feelings about the conference. So that’s all I say about that.

Closing keynote with Ruhlman, Gluten-Free Girl, and Orangette Molly. It was a very raw, emotional, and moving panel. Probably more useful to me, dissertation-wise, than the community panel. The liveblog archives on BlogHer are useless, otherwise I’d direct you to the transcript.

Erm, then there was the closing party which had a bunch of mediocre food (apart from the life-changing pistachio-cherry brittle) and was sort of a time warp into high school when all the popular foodbloggers cheerleaders stuck together, cackling and tossing their hair while everyone else only wished they were that cool.

It was seriously cliquey is what I’m saying.

But I learned to make bacon!




And then I went back to my hotel. And then I went home. The end.

I guess I could sum up the conference thusly: It was a weird blend of ick (all the swag, which I did not photograph, but that you can get a sense of by looking here and here; the restaurateur who was giving out free $30 cookbooks to BLOGGERS ONLY; the feeling of being the ostracized loner in high school) and awesome (I came out of it feeling really inspired about my research and also in my passion for food-based social justice causes). Will I do it again? I don’t know. We’ll see where the year takes me.

BlogHer Food ’10, Day One


So, this weekend I went to the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco, partly for my research on women’s food blogging communities, and partly because I have dreams of being a superstar food blogger who makes ONE MILLION DOLLARS from what springs from my brain and my kitchen. (Not really, but isn’t it a hoot to pretend?)

I arrived in San Francisco and to the conference during the second set of panels, and popped in to see Mrs. Q, who is a friend of a friend, and the rest of the panel on “kids, cooking and health.” I honestly don’t remember much of what was said in this panel because I got caught up thinking about my own son’s lunches and how much I deplore the tray lunches at his school. It got me thinking, too, about the matrix that constitutes the relationship between The Poor and The Establishment. I am too tired to parse it right now, so suffice it to say that I’ve been chewing on this issue since Friday.

After that panel, I went to another panel on maintaining your voice across social media platforms. This one was geared more toward the rock stars and the wannabes, I think. If you want to be a professional food blogger, this was the panel for you, because it really was about building a brand. I had fun live-Tweeting it, tho!

Demos and sampling were next, so I grabbed a few nibbles from the Nutella and Nature’s Path tables (I would not eat a full meal until my return to Austin on Sunday evening) before heading over to my hotel.

I really liked my hotel room. It reminded me of a nicer, cleaner version of Paris hotel room. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as swanky as other attendees’ rooms, but it was enough for me. Plus, it was far enough away that I got to do a lot of walking, which I think helped me keep from gaining weight on my all-Scharffen Berger diet. Here are a few peeks at my quarters:

After I freshened up, I walked back down to Howard Street for the opening night party at Elan. Shortly after grabbing a glass of wine and a canape, I spotted Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. We had a lovely chat, and she was very patient with the eager lady (me) who introduced herself by saying “IjusthadtocomesayhiIwasreadingyourbookontheplanehereandIjustloveit!”

I hate how puffy my face is in this picture.

There were lots of samples.

Kerrygold cheeses and butters. Yes.

Hi-Chew, Japan's answer to Starburst. I got a bunch of packets, but I think I left them in my hotel room.

The ladies from Donsuemor, with delish madeleines and other tasty treats.

Not pictured here, but among the best tastes I had that night were the goodies from FullBloom Baking Company. I especially recommend the marshmallow crunch bars and the toasted oatmeal bar. They tasted like treats, but not chemically processed and infused with guilt and unicorn tears.

I floated around a bit, trying to make eye contact with folks, but no one seemed interested in socializing with strangers. So I ate a tiny duck slider and left. Was in my jimjams and trying to choke down vile room service French Onion soup by 9pm.

Tomorrow: Day 2!

Gratitude


Last Sunday, my family and close friends gathered at Max’s Wine Dive to celebrate my 38th birthday. I had gone there with Layne and Crystal a few weeks back for drinks and for an informal book-group-type thing and really liked it (the cheese toast is full of YUM and of course, when I tried to make cheese toast at home, it came nowhere near the perfection at Max’s).

They actually opened the restaurant 15 minutes early for us, since we had 10 adults and 7 children ages 5 and under, which was a smart move on their part since wee ones can be a bit disruptive. As a side note, Matt and I were thrilled with how well our children behaved, especially Harrison, who was met with great temptation to act up and chose the high road.

Our service was pretty efficient; while the waitron wasn’t particularly warm or chatty, she did a great job of meeting our needs and making our mimosas bottomless. (How do you figure the Weight Watchers points of a mimosa that keeps refilling itself?)

I had the SXSW, jalapeno cheese grits topped with pulled pork. Very tasty and filling. I probably took a bit more than half of it home:

The SXSW, mimosa, Amber

Crystal and Cynthia had the deep fried eggs Benedict (!). I think they liked it, although the yolk looked pretty hard cooked, which I believe was a disappointment to those wanting a really good money shot of breaking into the egg:

Deep Fried Eggs Benedict

Abby had the Bananas Foster French Toast. I didn’t ask her how it was, but it looks tasty!

Bananas Foster French Toast

Amber had the breakfast burrito, which she described as “a brick.”

The breakfast burrito brick

Laurel and Lucinda split the yogurt and fruit plate. The vanilla mint yogurt was flecked with vanilla bean and was DELISH. I also ordered a red velvet pancake for Laurel; naturally, I stole a few bites and found it to be deep and chocolatey, if not a bit overcooked. Matt had the fried egg sandwich and said it was tasty, but could have used a lighter touch with the truffle oil. Layne had the house specialty, the fried chicken and waffles, and said it was pretty good. (I didn’t get any pictures of her sweet face, boo!)

The mimosas were just what the birthday fairy ordered.

But really, this post is not about the food we ate at Max’s that day. It’s about how lucky I feel to have been surrounded by all of these wonderful people at my birthday celebration. I complain a lot about being stuck at the kids’ table that is graduate school, about how little money I make, about how my writing career has stalled out due to the economy, about my attempts to control my weight, about many of life’s annoyances. But then I look at these pictures and see the faces of the people that I love and think about the people I love who weren’t able to be there that day and I think, I’m so glad I’m exactly where I am.

The Crestview Crew

Crystal, Cynthia, Lucinda

Laurel not loving the flash

The Miculeks, Matt and Harry

Crystal and Me

I’m so happy. I’m so grateful.