Fig and Cheddar Shortbread

Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
An unfortunate rule of thumb in my world: when in doubt, overcomplicate. I ran into an acquaintance of mine recently who got me to thinking about how silly it is for me to be afraid of the things I am afraid of. Grace and I had been walking through the Mill City Ruins in lovely downtown Minneapolis when a friendly voice pulled an Adele and said, “Hello.”

We strolled aimlessly through the farmers market, catching up on our last few weeks of excitement. Between sloppy bites of eggy bison burger, he told us he was admittedly still drunk from the night before. We joked that his bouquet of flowers could be used for whack-a-mole purposes, and I held the lovely things as he perused the heirloom tomatoes. On the way back, we got to talking about daring to do the things that frighten us most.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
I suppose I never paused to consider how completely un-terrifying most of my fears are. Actually, that isn’t the issue at all. Really, truly, I have been able to recognize what I am afraid of from an empathic standpoint:

This happened –> which is why I approach things this way –> which is why I am afraid of this –> which is why I do or do not do that.

He asked what I was afraid of currently. I remember a large horde of burly men whizzing past on bicycles right around this time. I remember Grace picking up speed and edging closer to the side of the path. I remember remembering my friend Alex talking Billie Holiday in the exact same place weeks before.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
We walked past a question, etched into the sidewalk: How many worms can you find? It was a game. I thought about what I feared. We began to spot the places where the city had once populated worm statues; Grace pointed out that not a single one was still there. All of them, gone. In their wake, there were crevices in the sidewalk. Spaces that were no longer filled. Voids.

That, my friends, is the thing I am most afraid of. Voids. Of all kinds. Especially the people-shaped ones.

When you let anyone in, you welcome the possibility of hurt. You welcome the prospect of losing them. You open yourself up to answering that question, “How many worms can you find?” with, “None, anymore.” You become vulnerable to the possibility of a pockmark in your sidewalk. Sometimes, I just don’t know if I can handle another scar of what once has been in my life, but isn’t anymore.
Fig and Cheddar Shortbread // Queen Smithereen.
But then I realized something: there I was, thinking about how little I can stand to welcome new things at the risk of losing them…and all the while, I was in the presence of two people I have opened myself up to in the last year. In that moment, it became clear that maybe some of our personal growth can be incidental. Maybe all it takes is the right combination of human traits, or the right timing, or the right culmination of events…

Which brings me back to that time I made this shortbread. Fearlessly, I combined sweet elements (dried black mission figs, pure vanilla extract) with savory (sharp cheddar, cayenne, black pepper). With salt, tang, richness, depth, and the teensiest bit of sweetness, we find our mouths full of cookies and useless questions:

Do these kind of taste like a fancy Cheez-It? Is it dessert, or isn’t it? Do we serve them with soup or with ice cream? Can we treat them like normal cookies, and dip them in milk? Can we consume, like, ten of them at once and not realize it?

To all of the above, probably.

The Autumn Playlist 2016

Flower // Queen Smithereen.
Something to remember: delicacy is not equivalent to frailty. Down the steps and through a patch of trees by the river, there is a secret garden in Minneapolis that somebody tends to. Whoever does this: thank you for actively putting more beauty into the world that I can incidentally encounter.

Since the last playlist we shared, I turned 27 and celebrated the occasion with this awesome pug, Stella, in Chicago.
Stella // Queen Smithereen.
I also turned cherries into my very first pie recipe.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
I saw one of my favorite people on the face of the planet.
Chrissy and Kelsey // Queen Smithereen.
I also visited my grandmother, my heart, my home. Though she doesn’t remember me, she trusts me enough to hold my hands. We walked to lunch together and when she sat down she told me how beautiful she finds my hair. Seeing her happy, regardless of her state of recognition, brings light to me.
Grandma's Hands, My Hands // Queen Smithereen.
Below, here are some other important women in my life. We live in different cities, in different states, in different countries, and on different continents.
Family // Queen Smithereen.
This is at the home of a portion of my family with whom I hadn’t communicated in half my life. It was at this table that I finally realized how much they cared for me, even if it was from afar. They had kept tabs on how I was doing, and welcomed me back with open arms.

To anyone willing to overcome: Thank you. We all need love in our lives, and sometimes the key is to do so unconditionally.

With a warm heart, I returned to my city, where this best day yet was waiting for me:
K.C. Graceface // Queen Smithereen.
It was here, cackling with my best friend, that I realized just how right Rumi was when he said:

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.

Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze

Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Last year at this time, I remember eating a lot of apples. I didn’t discriminate; I went for all kinds. I roasted Gala apples with other vegetables; I made ribbons out of Granny Smiths for salads; and I packed at least two Pink Ladies in my bag on the way to work every day. I appreciated variety in apples, admittedly, though here is one consistency: they are a mundane symbol of how I have changed.

Back then, I had just made the first of many important decisions. In hindsight, I know that I was frightened at the prospect of a possible misstep. At the time, I had been strongly impacted by reading the words,

If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up, it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Those words. Those words are true. I remember finding that quote when I was overwhelmed. That feeling never left me until I left that situation, really; I remember the claustrophobic paralysis of being “picked,” and I was so scared that I might choose the wrong thing in my own life and sacrifice the possibility of appreciating what I had (read: what was fleeting).

Some of the decisions I made back then didn’t stick. Or rather, they stuck. They stuck hard. They stuck so hard that they threw all I was juggling back up into the air in a way that required a different approach to catching. Now that I stand on the other side, I can see that those decisions were never permanent. They brought into fruition other pathways I hadn’t quite traveled down in my decision-making process.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
In a different vein, there are certain things I had set my mind to back then that seemed like pipe dreams. I remember making a case for myself that I might just be able to manage my own business one day. The person sitting across from me told me I could do it.
Warm Apple Crumb Cake with Molasses Glaze // Queen Smithereen.
Here I am, a year later, two cities later, after months of confusion and self-doubt and difficult conversations. In the last week, I received and accepted the offer. Friends, my dream of becoming a manager-which, at once, is impossibly possible and inspiringly frightening-is finally realized. I am getting promoted.

I view everything as a result of this time last year, full of apple-roasting and -ribboning and -eating. Nothing looks the way I anticipated it would. How is it that we make decisions without ever fully comprehending their consequences? It got me to thinking that maybe we are brave to do anything at all. We are brave, because there are dominoes, and the tiniest thing can trigger that effect.

Confetti Cookies

Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
You know, I have never been one for Physics. I remember having to force my hand in college, choosing to take a course on light in order to meet my course requirements. As a hyper-aware individual, I thought it would be mildly interesting to teach myself some science regarding the colorful world around me. I even still remember a couple of things! Really, though, I gave myself permission once and only once in my college career to just pass a course, and that was the one. I moved on with my life…until these Confetti Cookies came around and reinforced-in sprinkles-something that Newton discovered long before me.

Cue Mission: Sprinkle The Things Lesson 1– For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
It started before I moved away from Florida for the second time (read: about a year ago). I met a very kind fellow I nicknamed The Doctor, who had recently received his PhD in Physics. I trained him in at work, and I remember just knowing that he had a deep understanding of the way the world worked around him. Whereas my performance in that college class studying light and color made a couple inadequacies apparent in my life, I really admired that he has spent years observing the forces around us scientifically.
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
One thing always stuck with me from that one Physics class I took–that, much like the rest of us, light takes the quickest path to travel. It’s the Law of Least Effort. Even when light passes through different mediums (slowing down or picking up speed as it refracts through other substances), it is taking the shortest path it can. If I were light a year ago, then my trajectory had briefly slowed, before refracting through a new, really weird medium that made things pick up again.

This brought me to a recent occurrence, in which: I start talking dessert with a new acquaintance. I remember swallowing my judgment at their partiality toward lava cake (BUT WHY, WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY INTERESTING FLAVORS IN THE WORLD, WOULD IT BE SOMETHING SO 1987?!?!*), before-thankfully-the conversation veered toward approaching people. When asked how I go about charming the masses, I replied, “Sprinkles and sarcasm.”
Confetti Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
The conversation ended shortly thereafter. I’m totally working on it, I swear.

Q: So, what happens when sugar cookie dough passes through a sarcastic medium (specifically, yours truly)?
A: It refracts into a rainbowed pile of sprinkles.

Confetti Cookies: equal to what I’d asserted about myself, but opposite. Because, despite any pretenses and/or sincere efforts on my part, I am not, and will never be, a batch of four dozen colorful cookies. Le sigh. Where is my life going. Thank goodness I have this sad trombone here. WAH wah.

In all seriousness, King Arthur Flour delivered on the sugar cookie front with these. That is, this recipe is perfect. On several occasions, I stood at my kitchen counter accidentally dropping rounds of the dough into my mouth instead of the sprinkles. Oops! Call me Butterfingers. But believe me–when my motor skills did not fail me, and some perfectly sprinkled cookies made their way into the oven, magic occurred. I hope you like them.

Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust

Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
When I first started practicing yoga seriously, I remember my teacher guiding our class through variations of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana-otherwise known as Pidgeon Pose-with the intention of meeting the areas speaking to us with interest. This is a loud posture, one that requires us to settle into the intensity; at my teacher’s mention of observation, I stopped floundering and surrendered into (mildly) comfortable discomfort.

Fast forward a couple years, in which I find myself rolling out cardamom-infused tahini pie crust for a perfect, end-of-summer cherry pie. It isn’t the wafts of sugar and spice that bring my mind to an uncomfortable place. While tending to the dough, I begin connecting, briefly, the last time I used my rolling pin for a similar purpose:

Perhaps I am too ambitious at times (says the girl whose teacher caught her red-handed using those five ujjayi breaths in Ashtanga to explore how her fingers bind in Marichyasana D). I say this because, friends, this pie, here, made with sesame paste and cardamom, is the result of my neurotically pouring over literature (pie literature, the best kind) in an effort to learn a new skill. Despite my extensive research, it is, at its core, the second pie recipe I have made, ever. And I couldn’t spare five seconds to not substitute weird ingredients. With its perfectly syrupy cherries and its salty-sweet, buttery tahini crust, it made me think of its predecessor.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.
I had spent the day at a new friend’s house, in the presence of a self-proclaimed pie connoisseur. As I monitored the crust for signs of burning, she calmly talked me through the process of what has previously been my most feared culinary venture. I know, I know. Pie is not that scary, right? YOU GIANT, LYING LIAR. Pies are terrifying. How does anyone even venture to compete with the idyllic, homemade rounds we recall resting on any given grandmother’s windowsill? You can’t. But that day, I faced unforeseen territory, and I learned a lot in the process.
Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust // Queen Smithereen.

Vegan Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup with Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa

Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
Sometimes (read: a lot of the time, most of the time, all of the time), our culture dictates our perception of even the most minute aspects of our existence. In broader ways, too, those of us on the Western side of the globe often adopt an individualistic, and at times, capitalist attitude. So, I stand before you, bowl of corn soup in hand, aiming to convince that this even permeates the way we eat.

It becomes clear upon moving to and living in a Northern state that, come late fall and winter, freezes over into a pristine-if ice-covered and chilly-wonderland. It has taken me several years, but this quality of thawing out-and, most importantly, enjoying the bounty of fresh produce that suddenly sprouts-has really made me appreciate seasonality.
Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
Where I would previously seek out recipes for whatever I was craving using any method possible to obtain the necessary ingredients, I found myself this year looking into the mirror at the face of a woman who has changed in ways she didn’t realize. This year, that woman went to a farmer’s market and bought rhubarb during its peak. She planned a pie (coming soon) specifically for cherry season. She dreamed up a soup to honor the sweet, yellow ears of corn she found piled at the grocery store last week. In a way, this woman has shifted from capitalizing on cravings; she has begun drawing inspiration from what occurs organically around her. At least, sometimes.

Whoa.

Seasonality is a quality I have grown to prioritize, especially now that I live on my own. Of course, my budget was the original inspiration, but so, too, was variety. I started to make batches of nutritious (and, let’s face it, not-so-nutritious) meals using seasonal produce in order to freeze and enjoy over time. It helps keep things interesting, while also providing the reliability of simply turning to what I already have to nourish me.
Cumin-Scented Fresh Corn Soup // Queen Smithereen.
All it took was the gift of a handheld blender from my mother-who, you may remember, is a very generous woman (e.g., that time she gave me the denim jacket she caught me stealing from her)-to inspire a vibrant, yellow, end-of-summer soup. Packed with both pureed and roasted corn, this dish gets its color from the vegetable of choice, as well as vibrant turmeric. Likewise, its aroma stems from a mixture of cumin and lime. We top it with salsa made from smooth, sulfuric avocado and more of that sweet, roasted corn. In case it isn’t obvious: here is this glorious summer season in a bowl.

Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita

Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.
I know what you’re thinking. Sure, you might be wondering what exactly garam masala is. You could also be contemplating the record-skipping concept of Indian flavors in taco form. If you are me at this time last year, then I have two things to tell you: 1) that 5 inches of hair you just lobbed off is going to be back in, like, a week, and you will decide you will never again try to change it and that’s okay, and 2) YES, future you has a slow cooker that you will use to make really delicious pulled chicken. If, however, you-dear reader-are you, in our current space and time, and you are reading this, then I know that these things, though mildly important, are not what has crossed your mind.

Instead, you are reading my words and awaiting confirmation that your eyes do not deceive you. Friends, you are correct–I have purchased a new tablecloth.
Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.
If there is one thing I have learned over the last few years of running this website, it is this: being a food blogger can be a bit like those awkward teenage years. The ones where you thought wearing really long, thin scarves (and, ahem, knee length dresses over flared pants, and heartagram earrings, and ohgoddon’tremindmeaboutthewhitecroppedleatherjacket) was the height of fashionable. Unfortunately, my affair with all of those things I’ve listed that I’d rather forget will forever be haunted by the poltergeist that is the giant box of family photos at my mother’s.

What I mean to say is, there are some things we make and we post that we learn from. What I mean to say is, when you do something, your ability to do it continually refines itself, and it’s really neat and also slightly embarrassing the things you endorsed way back when.
Garam Masala Pulled Chicken Tacos with Cucumber Raita // Queen Smithereen.