Surround yourself with people who inspire you, people who bolt you out of bed and invite you to create, build, awaken, and reimagine. Be with those who nourish rather than those who cling and drain every last vestige of energy out of you. Beware of the barnacles, I tell my friends, for their spindly legs and hour-long coffees will create the most cruel of attachments. My circle is small, and I’ve learned how to draw the right people in, while excising the barnacles with surgical precision.
Rarely do I ever walk into the workplace expecting to find friends, but I leave it hoping to ferret out a few people whom I want to more. After I resigned from my job last year, I’ve maintained strong ties with a handful of people — some who reported to me, others on the periphery — and every day I’m surprised by the turns our respective friendships take. Some of those relationships function as a reciprocal mentorship (as I’ve as to learn from my millennial counterparts as they from me), while a rare few have dovetailed into something more. More than just the quick bite and easy coffee, but to long afternoons spent in a kitchen, making something from nothing.
As I type this, I keep thinking about a book I saw yesterday, The Gorgeous Nothings, and I can’t get that title, nor the contents — a collection of Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems — out of my head. Perhaps it’s Dickinson’s definition of the word no: the wildest | word we consign | to Language.
Over the past few years I’ve practiced the art of the graceful refusal, saying no without actually saying the word, because I prefer my world minimal so I can explore the maximum. I’ve a handful of people in my life to whom I devote an extraordinary amount of effort, and lately I’ve seen these relationships — this investment — bloom in ways that continue to astound me.
Today I spent the day with my friend Courtney, who is this stylish, witty prolific writer, who loves baking as much as I do, and is arguably more brilliant than she gives herself credit for. We spent the afternoon baking two recipes she selected, and I’m glad she pushed me out of my repertoire. Because, RYE FLOUR. What started as a few emails traded became a topic of an hour-long discussion.
We agreed that RYE FLOUR is on the verge, on the precipice of something significant. We’re talking boy-band status. Rye isn’t polarizing like buckwheat, nor is it as dense and tasteless as whole wheat, rather it imbues a depth of flavor and an earthiness that can’t be replicated. We couldn’t imagine anyone hating on rye. As such, we’ve deemed it the Switzerland of flours. I see rye in scones, oatmeal cookies and hearty breads and savory loaves. As I type, I’m imagining the cheese pairing possibilities.
We tried a biscotti recipe as biscotti tends to be a bastard cookie. Twice-baked, it’s often considered too dry, the stuff of sawdust and rubble, but we were determined to make this rich chocolate version and do some coffee dunking. We were determined to eat sweets until we went into cardiac shock.
Through all the sifting, melting, mixing, and respective cell phone timers, we spoke a great deal about the future, where we were headed, and how we thought about how we’d get there. I’m grateful for the fact that our conversations no longer surrounded the place of work from which we’ve come, but have evolved instead to the exciting women we are becoming.
Although we found the biscotti lacking that sharp juxtaposition of flavor (it needed a citrus, a cherry, or a more pungent nut), we fell madly in love with the rye bars. And when Courtney left, I hugged her, humbled to have found another bright light in a sometimes dark, frenetic city.
INGREDIENTS: Chocolate Almond Biscotti: Recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz
For the biscotti
2 cups (280g) flour
3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (125g) almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped
3/4 cups (120g) chocolate chips
For the glaze
1 large egg
2 tablespoons coarse or crystal sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla + almond extracts. Gradually add the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs the length of the baking sheet. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.
Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won’t use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.
Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.
Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens.
INGREDIENTS: Rye Crumble Bars with Jam: Recipe courtesy of Orangette, with slight modifications
For the shortbread crust:
65 grams (½ cup) dark rye flour
120 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
50 grams (1/3 cup) dark brown sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
113 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the crumble:
100 grams (1 cup) rolled oats
32 grams (3 Tbsp.) dark brown sugar
52 grams (¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) dark rye flour
30 grams (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
38 grams (3 tbsp) cane sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
85 grams (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
350 ml (1 ½ cups) mixed berry or cherry jam/preserves
Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350°F. Rub a 9-inch springform pan with butter, or grease with cooking spray.
To make the shortbread crust, combine the flours, sugar, and salt in a large bowl, and whisk to mix well. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract, and stir until thoroughly combined. Using your hands, press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes, while you make the crumble.
To make the crumble, combine all of the ingredients + melted butter into the bowl and stir with your hands to create small crumbly bits. Set aside. After 30 minutes remove the shortbread crust from the freezer.
To assemble the bars, spread the preserves over the shortbread crust, and then top with the crumble, evenly sprinkling it over the surface and squeezing bits of it together to create irregular nubs. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until golden brown on top, rotating the pan halfway through for even baking.
When the pan is cool enough to handle but still warm, run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen any jam that may have stuck. Remove the ring. Completely (or mostly, anyway) cool the bars on the pan base before cutting into wedges.
Cook’s Notes: The original directions had us baking these bars for nearly two hours. Courtney and I shook our heads, pontificating on the insanity of baking any sort of bar for two hours, so we settled on an assembly and baking these for 55 minutes, and the bars turned out magical.