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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Molasses Spice Lemon Sandwich Cookies

These cookies are amazing if you are a fan of the old fashioned molasses cookies, which my grandmother used to make (dating them back to at least the 1940's).
This version is jumped up by having a lemon buttercream frosting holding two of them together.
I made these with a #100 scoop, which is about as small as you can go with an easily encountered measuring device (and since they are sandwiches, you want them to be uniform--no one wants to spend oodles of time trying to find two cookies of the same size!  Just make them more or less the same to begin with), so this is more of a cookie to serve as a solo choice than on a plate of multiple cookies.

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 c. molasses
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
12 tbs. butter, melted
pinch of salt

3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. lemon juice
2 c. confectionery sugar

  1. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl mix sugar, molasses, egg, and butter together, then add the dry ingredients in batches, stirring each time until combined.  Chill dough 1 hour.
  2. preheat oven to 375 degree.  Make equal sized balls, and roll them in granulated sugar, then bake for about 10 minutes, then cool
  3. Make the frosting by whisking butter, lemon juice and confectionery sugar together.  Put enough frosting between two cookies so it can be seen from the edges, but not enough that it squeezes out of the cookie when you bite into it. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Kazan Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

I saw this cathedral early in my trip to Russia and so I was not yet prepared for the vast number of beautiful churches that are part of the landscape.  So I will have to be forgiven for all of the pictures of buildings that I took.  This small but charming Cathedral was built in the 17th century on the north side of Red Square, near the Resurrection Gate. It was built to commemorate the repulsion of Polish invaders, and in honor of the Virgin of Kazan icon. There are two things that are very important in Russian history.  One is the repelling of enemies--they still have the Monguls firmly in their minds.  The other is the importance of beautiful icons.  One of the most revered icons in Moscow, it has been connected more than once with the struggle to protect Russia from her enemies. In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, a prayer service was conducted before the icon to plead for the safety of the country, and it was even attended by the great Russian commander, Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.
The building is a cube topped with a cluster of domes and encircled by a gallery. In the north-west corner there is a bell-tower, and in the north-east the chapel of Averkiy Ierapolskiy. The Cathedral was restored between 1925 and 1933 by the great architect-restorer Pyotr Baranovsky. However, this did not stop the Soviet authorities from taking the decision in 1936 to have the Cathedral demolished.
Fortunately, thanks to Baranovsky, blueprints of the building survived, and in 1989 one of his former students, Oleg Zhurin, took charge of the project to rebuild the Cathedral. This was the first church to be rebuilt in post-communist Moscow. On 4 November 1990, Patriarch Aleksei II laid the first stone of the new building, and three years later the Cathedral was back in all its former glory.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Saviour's Tower, The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

I love the towers of the Kremlin, which each have a star atop them.  The stars are enormous, over 3 meters in diameter, and they are lit from within so that they glow red against the sky at night. 

The Gothic-turreted Spasskaya Tower, considered by many to be the most beautiful tower of the Kremlin, was built under the supervision of Pietro Antonio Solari in 1491, and stands on the north-eastern side of the citadel, bordering Red Square.
The gate of the Spasskaya Tower has been the official entrance to the Kremlin for centuries. Until the 17th century the tower was known as the Frolovskaya, due to its location not far from the St. Frol church and monastery. In 1658 an Icon of the Saviour was mounted above the gate facing Red Square, and the tower's name was changed to Spasskaya by decree of the Tsar. It is just a majestic entry to an equally gorgeous space.

The towers are equally lovely from inside the Kremlin gates as they are from afar.
The Russians have apparently regarded the Spasskaya Tower with great reverence over the long haul. According to old legends, the tower was possessed with miraculous powers and was reputed to protect the Kremlin from enemy invasion. People passing through the gates would always observe the custom of crossing themselves and doffing their hats to show their respect, and horses passing under the gates of the tower were said to shy. In fact, legend has it that Napoleon himself could not prevent his horse from taking fright as he rode through the gates, having failed to show his respect, and the French Emperor's hat was said to have fallen from his head.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the tower was used by the Tsar and the Patriarch for ceremonial processions and for greeting foreign dignitaries, and even today world leaders on state visits are escorted through its gates on their way to an audience with the Russian President. The tower is crowned by an illuminated ruby-red star, which replaced the double-headed Russian eagle in 1937, raising the tower's height to 71 metres.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Yet another wonderful new cookie recipe with an intense chocolate flavor enhanced by a fair bit of espresso.  These cookies can be made without a mixer, as an added bonus, if you are cooking in primitive circumstances, like a vacation home or a college dorm.
They both taste and look wonderful.

1 c. flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (either kind)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
4 tsp. espresso powder
1 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 Tbs. butter

For finishing:
granulated sugar and confectionery sugar
  1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Mix brown sugar, eggs, espresso powder and vanilla in large bowl
  3. Put chocolate and butter in a small bowl and microwave until melted (about 1 minute on high)
  4. Add the butter and chocolate to the large bowl, mix thoroughly, then add the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, fold together until mixed, then let sit for 10 minutes before forming into balls.
  5. Form dough into balls and then roll first in granulated suger and then confectionery sugar.  I used a #50 scoop to get smaller cookies, but the original recipe called for using a #30 scoop.
  6. Bake for about 12 minutes--they should be under cooked to get the chewy texture.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Euthyphro by Plato (399 BCE)

I am reading ancient philosophy to my youngest son, and while I managed to dodge reading any of it in my previous 50+ years, I am actually enjoying it, in a kind of weird way.  Although it is pretty clear to me that I do not understand at least half of it.
 This is a dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates that takes place outside the court house in Athens.  Socrates has been accused of impiety, and as we all know, that did not go well for him.  So the account that Plato wrote about this event has some irony running through it.  Euthyphro is accusing his father of murder.  When Socrates asks him why he would betray his own father when he is not compelled to do so, he puts forth that he is doing the pious thing.  Socrates asks him to explain to him what piety is, and poor Euthyphro falls neatly and completely into Socrates logical trap and there is no escaping for him.  Euthyphro is arrogant but Socrates takes him apart piece by piece until there is nothing left for Euthyphro to essentially say that he knows a pious act when he sees it.  Which is about how well things go for Socrates.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Moscow's Metro Stations, Russia

Public transportation was a corner stone of Stalin's architectural and industrialization plans, and so he made the subway stations the cathedrals of Russia.  They are so spectacular that it is exceptionally hard to believe that they are first and foremost centers of transportation.  Even these gorgeous photos do not come anywhere near capturing the beauty that dozens of them exemplify.
First, they are all different.  Some have paintings, some have stained glass, some have intricate mosaics in the ceiling, some have statues.  They have different columns and different light fixtures.  You can recognize one station from another because they are unique and identifiably so.  They are also clean and well preserved.  No graffiti, no trash, few signs of deterioration over the time.  This may be a symptom of a totalitarian regime, but it is very refreshing.
Lastly, the subways run every 90 seconds.  Really.  It is a remarkable thing to behold.  The result is that there are always people walking in the stations, lots of coming and going, but very little in the way of waiting.  You have to make a plan to stop and view the magical art in many stations.  It largely has a communist slant on what is important and what is not, but it is beautifully rendered and even if inadvertently, it honors artists and artisans.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spritz Cookies

I was recently cooking up a cookie storm with a good friend of mine that I have been baking with for almost thirty years, and while we mostly made cookies that we had never made before, we did make an old time favorite of hers for the holidays, namely spritz cookies.  She gave me a new OXO spritz gun, which is her current favorite, and we whipped up these sandwich cookies in just a matter of about an hour and a half.  The dough is easy, you can put them together with any frosting you have on hand (we used a brown butter frosting left over from another cookie) and they are both tasty and pretty to look at.

This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated.

1 egg yolk
1 Tsp. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 3/4 tsp. almond extract
1 c. butter
2/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. flour

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. In mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Then add yolk, cream, and vanilla (or almond extract) and mix briefly.  With mixer on low speed, add flour until combined.
  3. Use a cookie press to form cookies.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until they are just turning brown.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

This is a short book, almost a novella, but it is packed with fine writing and images.  It was short listed for the Booker Prize this year, and of the four books that I have read on that list, this is my second choice to take the prize.  There are two caveats to that--the first is that I have not read the Anne Tyler book, which if the past predicts the future, then I am bound to like a lot, and A Little Life is really quite good and it would be hard to top.

I often feel with some of these brainy works of fiction might I might be missing the point, but to me this is an elegant social commentary on modern life.  The protagonist, U, is an anthropologist who is employed by a multinational corporation for the main purpose of commentating on us, the modern man, and to put us within the context of all man.  Yes, it is a bit lofty, with a minimal plot, but it is a joy to read.  Don't miss it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

I loved the Kremlin.  That realization came as a shock to me.  I hadn't expected to love Moscow, but it turned out that I did.   Moscow's modern  history began around 1147, when Yuri Dolgoruky, Grand Duke of Kiev, built a wooden fort at the point where the Neglina and Moskva Rivers converge. The city grew rapidly, but wood was just not the best structure to defend.   It was  razed by the Mongols in 1208, however the city recovered.  The city was soon powerful enough to attain primacy among the Russian principalities, acknowledged in 1326 when the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved there from Vladimir.
At the same time, stone buildings began to appear in the Kremlin and, by the end of the 14th Century, the citadel was fortified with stone walls. Under Ivan the Great (1462 - 1505), the Kremlin became the center of a unified Russian state, and was extensively remodeled, as befitted its new status. Meanwhile, Moscow spread outside the walls of the citadel, and the Kremlin became a world apart, the base of the twin powers of state and religion.
Peter the Great moved the capital to Petersburg in order to strengthen ties with Europe. It wasn't until after the 1917 Revolution, the Kremlin regained its rightful place as the seat of the Russian government, and the legacy of the Communist era is still visible in the large red stars that top many of the defensive towers, and in the vast, modern State Kremlin Palace, originally the Palace of Congresses.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


This recipe is different from the Mark Bittman approach and produces a dish with the same basic ingredients and spices, but a different texture and therefore a very different dish.  Bittman advocates cooking the component parts of ratatouille separately, because they need differing amounts of time to achieve the same consistency.  This recipe (which also adds peppers, a non-traditional component of the classic dish).  This one is very tasty, and a good uses of the end of summer supply of vegetables.

  • 1 eggplant
  • 3 zucchini or summer squash
  • 2 onions
  • 2-3 bell peppers
  •  1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste, if desired
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
  • 4 cups tomatoes, chopped 
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • ½ cup drained capers
  • ½ cup finely chopped parsley
  1. Trim off the ends of the eggplant and zucchini. Do not peel. Cut each into cubes measuring about one inch or slightly larger. There should be about nine cups of eggplant cubes and six of zucchini.
  2. Peel the onions and cut into one-half-inch cubes. There should be about one and one-half cups.
  3. Core, seed and devein the green peppers, and cut them into one-inch pieces. There should be about two and one-half cups.
  4. Heat the oil in a large heavy casserole and add the eggplant and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, over high heat until the vegetables start to brown, about five minutes.
  5. Add the onions, green peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring, over high heat, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and stir to blend. Add the bay leaf, thyme and capers. Add salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and cover closely. Reduce the heat and let simmer 30 minutes. Stir in the parsley and remove from the heat.