These are from the Global Day of Play in Los Angeles, hosted by Caine’s Arcade. If you’ve never heard of Caine’s Arcade, or you haven’t seen the follow-up, one-year-later video, click the link and check it out. It’s an amazing story.
An essay for school. It also counts for Mellow Yellow Monday.
Every Christmas, my Dutch grandmother used to bake what seemed like hundreds of buttery golden cookies called boterkoek. Oma never used measuring cups or spoons: only her hands and memory. A week before Christmas, she would pull out a massive green CorningWare mixing bowl. Into it she would heap handfuls of white flour and sugar, counting quietly to herself with each dump. Eggs would crack in next, sliding down the powdery mountain of dry ingredients like miniature round saucer sleds. Vanilla would stream straight from the bottle into the middle of the mound before yellow bricks of butter were released from their waxy paper wrappers, tumbling into the bowl with a muffled thud. Then she’d plunge her bare hands into the mix, squeezing cold butter and eggs through flour and sugar, until the mass of simple pantry staples emerged as decadent cookie dough.
Every Christmas I compile a mental list of childhood treats I want to make for my own family. And every December ends with a cold, empty, unused oven in my kitchen. I’m not much of a baker, but this year I’m compelled to finally make boterkoek.
I call Oma and ask her for the recipe. She writes it down and gives it to my more computer-savvy step-mom, who emails it to me. Three days before Christmas, I print the recipe and start to compile my shopping list. My heart sinks. Despite my lack of culinary knowledge, I know the recipe is wrong: too much flour, not enough butter, no sugar.
As a little girl I’d stand on tiny tiptoes to watch Oma work her magic in her blue and white kitchen. Once the dough was finished, she’d pinch off a piece for each of us to eat right away, raw eggs be damned. Half of the dough became round cookies. Oma would roll Gobstopper-sized balls of dough between floured palms, flatten them onto an aged cookie sheet with the tines of a fork, and brush them with beaten egg. In thirty minutes, crisp cookies with glossy, tawny edges would emerge from the oven. The rest of the dough would be pressed into a rectangular cake pan, baked for twenty minutes, and sliced into thick, soft yellow squares called butter cake. I could make myself sick on butter cake, and easily go back for more. The smell of sizzling sugar, butter, and vanilla became the hallmark of a proper Christmas.
As a little girl Oma and I giggled together as she flipped through her mental rolodex trying to remember a name, or when she’d accidentally speak to us in Dutch instead of English. Today we gloss over her memory loss as a rule. Pointing it out to her is outright forbidden. Afraid to breach the canons of Alzheimer’s care for the sake of a cookie recipe, I call my step-mom, the patron saint of impossible situations.
No luck. Oma insists the recipe is correct. Forgot the sugar, you say? Then add sugar, for heaven’s sake. How hard can that be?
Very! How much do I add? What about the flour-butter ratio? There is no pressing her further: I’m stuck with what I have.
I refuse to panic yet. I still have one more trick up my sleeve: the Internet. I don’t expect much diversity in the recipes, since boterkoek is specific and regional. I should only need two or three references to reconstruct Oma’s recipe accurately. I head to the Big Bad Web and start my search.
Leon, Oma’s second husband, took her traditional recipes and ran with them. He adapted her boterkoek recipe to an icebox method. Instead of turning bits of dough one-by-one into little balls, he’d wrap the whole thing in wax paper, roll it into a big pasty log, and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, Oma would slice the hardened dough into cookie rounds, sweep fork tines and egg wash across the tops, and bake them for about twenty minutes. Leon’s method cut the prep time in half and made the cookies more uniform. Oma declared him a genius. Eh. I still preferred butter cake.
Leon passed away several years ago. The scent of homemade boterkoek hasn’t curled around the corners of Oma’s kitchen since. Plates of sunshiny butter cake and browned-butter cookies, accompanied by tall glasses of milk and mugs of dense black coffee, no longer grace the breakfast nook during the holidays. I need to resurrect this recipe, and perfect it, before I become a grandmother myself. My kids are teenagers now. My time is running out.
My Internet search has turned up lots of boterkoek recipes. None of them are the same. All of the ratios are different. There is too much discrepancy from one recipe to another. I cannot recreate Oma’s recipe. Christmas is tomorrow.
I pour sugar into the biggest mixing bowl I have. I estimate the measurement based on my Internet findings. I use the rest of Oma’s recipe as-is, even though I know it’s wrong: a mountain of flour, one solitary stick of butter, an egg or two, and a splash of vanilla. My bare hands plunge into Mt. Boterkoek as a small puff of flour spills onto the counter. Maybe I can’t make the boterkoek of my childhood, but I can still use my grandmother’s recipe.
I hate summer. I don’t do heat well at all, especially when it’s humid. I feel like old wilted lettuce. It’s hard to think or write or do anything, really. These past couple weeks I’ve been living in my car, it seems, with the A/C runing full-blast. I have to jump in the shower fully clothed before I go to bed, then sleep in front of a fan. It’s usually this way until the very tippy end of October, and then I’m dissapointed because the rest of the seasons aren’t as rainy as I want them to be.
I can see myself in the above scene in a sarong, sipping mai-tais and other rocket-fuel concotions cleverly disguised with fruit and tiny paper umbrellas. Every so often I’d venture out from under my pretty yellow parasol to stroll along the white sand and splash the azure water with a French-manicured toe. Only it should be raining. Thunder would be nice. A light wind wouldn’t be amiss, either. The resort staff can worry about the puddles and wet sand I track in.
It is disgustingly hot today. 98°F (37°C) in the shade on the north porch that never sees sun. I’m at my parents’ house because I thought it would be a good central location for the people who needed my help today. Alas, everyone’s plans changed. I remain, however, in this climate-uncontrolled remnant of the past my parents call home. You see, If go back to my own home I will bask in the air conditioning while I play mindless PC games, check my Facebook and email every 20 minutes for counterfeit signs of human connection, and get absolutely nothing done. So here I sit in front of my laptop, next to a box fan, under a ceiling fan, blowing around a bunch of hot sticky air and trying to convince myself that it’s not so bad today.
Friends, 98° in the shade is a bad day. I can’t fake otherwise.
So moving on to this happy yellow potato chip bag. Rob hands it to me after emptying it and says, “Hey, check out this contest! You know, people actually win these things, sometimes two or three times!” You’ll notice near the bottom right corner, the bag says I could win a million dollars.
It makes me nauseous. Deep-fried starch on a hot day doesn’t sound appetizing in the least. Some fresh salsa sounds good, though. Pico de gallo, specifically: tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and salt. No jalapeños, no black pepper, not even garlic. Yum. I could eat that with a spoon right now. It’s just gazpacho without the cucumber, after all. “You should enter,” Rob says. “You’re creative.”
So I enter this goofy contest. Turns out it’s an app on Facebook, which doesn’t thrill me but since I have nothing better to blog about, I click it. I invent a flavor name (“Summer Salsa”), pick 3 ingredients (tomato, onion, and cilantro), and give it a description based on my inspiration (something about being hot hot hot today, an August heat wave, and pico de gallo). It kicks back my description for adult content. wHaT?! After three tries I take out the “hot hot hot” part, and that does the trick. I even don’t want to know what kind of person would blush at that.
I can’t say my new flavor is creative, but there it is. Maybe I should come up with “Potato Salad,” but what kind of flavor ingredients would that include? Pickles? Hard-boiled eggs? Mayonnaise? HA! Wouldn’t that be the most white-bred potato chip flavor ever?
I think I’ll go work on that.
Have you ever seen yellow cherries? These are a variety called Rainier. We picked these, and the darker red Bing cherries, from a cherry farm at the western tip of the Mojave Desert. The desert in general isn’t exactly ideal for a cherry farm, but this one is in a small elevated valley with it’s own perfect cherry-growing climate.
Raniers are great for snacking, but these cherries ended up in pies. My former mother-in-law has the best pie crust recipe in the world. In the WORLD, I tell ya! So we braved a scorching hot June afternoon and picked these beauties solely for a legitimate excuse to indulge in homemade, hot-from-the-oven, melt-in-you-mouth pie crust.
This is a display of Dire Wolf skulls at the George C. Page Museum, part of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA. I took this about a year ago during a family day trip.
My parents are famous for their road-tripping adventures. We grew up driving to far-flung places at least an hour off the beaten path. It might have been a plant nursery that sold unusual succulents. It might have been a small-town park hosting a pow-wow or craft fair. Maybe it was a place that should’ve been a ghost town, but was still surviving somehow. It was usually dusty, even if we never left the pavement. However long it took to get to our dusty destination, it always took several hours to get home, often via Route 66.
In comparison, our day in Hancock Park was quite cosmopolitan. We perused the Page Museum, strolled the tarry park, had a very international lunch from the trucks lining Wilshire Blvd., meandered through public art exhibits, and generally enjoyed a perfect Southern California day. Dust-free.