Saturday, February 20, 2010
Cherries In Winter
I've often thought that a required class for high schoolers should be How To Be Poor. Not How to Get Poor - that's as simple as saying, "Charge it." How to be poor is about knowing how to economize, how to live within your means, even when your means are scanty, and how to be happy without spending money to do it. That's a life skill that everybody should have.
I recently met a kindred spirit on the topic. Suzan Colón, the author of Cherries in Winter, asked me if I't like to review her book. I began to set aside her request, but the book's subtitle, My Family's Recipe For Hope In Hard Times, caught my attention. Recipes? Yes. Hard times? All around us. Hope? Not a lot of that. What did she have to say on the subject?
After being laid off in 2008, Suzan needed to economize in a big way. Her mother suggested she look in her grandmother's recipe files for thrifty ways to put dinner on the table. The recipes are in the book, charmingly reproduced as she found them, handwritten on the back of an envelope, typewritten, and clipped from a newspaper column (her grandmother's recipe for Chicken Roman won $5!). But more than the recipes, she found stories of four generations of tough, funny, thrifty people who'd gone through incredibly hard times with smiles on their faces. In the stories she found hope.
Suzan's written a book that's combination family history and very personal memoir, with cooking as it's backbone. There's plenty to smile at. My favorite story is her stylish grandmother, transplanted from the Bronx to a farm, making a deal with the local farmer's wives - "You teach me how to cook, bake, and can, and I'll do your hair and makeup." There are also the tragedies and dramas that make up everyday life - death, unemployment, out of wedlock pregnancy (when that used to be a scandalous thing), and infertility. But the perspective which carried all these people through life was one of optimism, hope, and good cheer.
In a country that thinks times are tough when you can't afford cable, it's a good attitude adjuster to read real-life stories of how people survived the Great Depression and World War II. While this book is not a step-by-step how-to-survive-a-layoff manual, the optimism, courage, and attitude of gratitude will certainly point you in the right direction. I'd recommend getting this book, even if you haven't gotten a pink slip, because you'll find lessons for life. Plus you get recipes. Like these tasty cookies. 7 ingredients, nothing fancy, kind of homey, but so delicious you'll want to make them again and again.
Suzan's Favorite Butter Cookies
- adapted from Cherries in Winter - My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times
1-1/2 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1- Sift flour with baking soda and salt into a small bowl. Set aside.
2- In a mixing bowl, beat egg and sugar until light.
3- Add butter and vanilla to egg and sugar mixture. Beat till combined.
4- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. (If using walnuts, you can add at this point, or save them to roll the dough logs in.) The dough will be quite sticky at this point.
5- Divide the dough into two parts and roll in wax paper. Place dough logs in the freezer overnight.
6- If you want to roll the dough in nuts, do so when you remove the logs from the freezer.
7- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. with 2 racks dividing the oven into thirds.
8- Working with one log at a time, slice the dough into 1/4-inch disks. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving room between the cookies, as they will spread in the oven.
9- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, till the tops are set and the edges are lightly browned. Let cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a cooking rack.