Figgy Persimmon Cookies with Golden Raisins and Walnuts

Figgy Persimmon Cookies with Golden Raisins and Walnuts // Queen Smithereen.
Facebook notified me that I flew back to Minneapolis one year ago this week. As some of you likely recall, I was living in Atlanta, Georgia at the time. There were probably a lot of forces at play, but this was a pivotal trip to the North. I wonder sometimes if I just missed the place I call home. It didn’t take very much to convince me to fly back to Minnesota for a day and a half (in fact, it took only one Skype date and two days off in a row).

I flew in late one night. Immediately removed from the airport, I remember standing outside the coffee shop that hired me, watching my friend Mike mop the floors at close. I sang “Once Upon A Dream” as I videotaped him from the other side of the glass, his gait hinting at a waltz. When, at last, he emerged from work, he confirmed that his headphones were playing exactly that. We stayed up through the night catching up, and he told me I had become a better person.
Figgy Persimmon Cookies with Golden Raisins and Walnuts // Queen Smithereen.
The next morning, I went to a different coffee shop, one I had frequented when I had lived across the street. The manager surprised us with little cups of eggnog to welcome me home. After that, we meandered through the Delacroix exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

For some reason, the security guard felt Mike stood too close to a sculpture when we arrived. The guard followed my wonderful friend throughout the exhibit, and I giggled the whole time. One man observing art, one observing a man observing art. Then, the world stopped. Until that moment, I had never seen Van Gogh’s Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses. I often think of the silence that seized me as I took in that beautiful vase and its contents, overflowing and scattering the way delicate thoughts rest on the emotions. I actually cried at the sight of that piece.

I remember turning, after a long while, to find the guard facing me. Mike was on the other side of the door, right next to the words, NO RE-ENTRY. His hopeful face was pressed up to the glass like a Kelsey before the display at an ice cream shop. I still laugh when I think about it.
Figgy Persimmon Cookies with Golden Raisins and Walnuts // Queen Smithereen.
That night, I sat outside The Copper Hen, mulling over some feelings. When I was ready, I walked in to find more loved ones. Some had rearranged their schedules last minute. Maybe it was the Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting that convinced them, I don’t know. I remember my friend Melissa leaning over the table to tell me I was loved. It was that moment, right there, that made me choose to move back.

That, my friends, is what good decisions look like. If it’s a question of whether or not to be with the ones you love (who make you feel loved), the answer is obvious (though, admittedly, not always easy to maneuver). If it’s a question of what life might look like if you move forward, and whether or not you will be happy again, I am standing on the other side these days, saying, “YAS QUEEN.” And I have cookies in my hands, too!
Figgy Persimmon Cookies with Golden Raisins and Walnuts // Queen Smithereen.
I can confidently say that these were made with only everything nice. Sugar. Spice. I promise, zero little girls were harmed in the making. Instead, I obliterated Fuyu Persimmons to make bright orange purée. I chopped walnuts. I poured in some golden raisins. My impulse control is at an all-time low currently, because at some point, I couldn’t stop myself from adding dried black mission figs to the mix, too. We end up with a delicately cakey cookie, speckled with purple and gold and toasted nuts, then drizzled with cinnamon spice icing. Because it is nearly Christmas once more, and I am so happy to be at home this time around.

Finally, I’d like to point out: this is often a glorified time of year. Please know that if you are not feeling this way-if you are feeling helpless, alone, abandoned, abused, lost-that I hope things mend themselves for you. It can be hard to be human when the rest of the world is lit up with silver and gold. Sending you all love, healing, and cookies, no matter your circumstances.❤

Slow-Cooker Peruvian Cilantro Chicken Soup

Slow-Cooker Peruvian Cilantro Chicken Soup // Queen Smithereen.
Someone once made a soup like this for me, and I ate it happily for days. I would sprinkle it with chili flakes and droplets of lime juice. It was infectiously green and vibrant. I craved it when it was gone.

The last time I ate this, it was cold outside sometimes, but not always. The trees loomed like large, criss crossing labyrinths, intentionally marking the foreign city that surrounded. I remember pulling a chair up to to my window, the thing that separated me from those trees. On it, I set up a cutting board, my grandmother’s crystal, and a scarf I received several years ago to photograph this granola. This is how I capture what I cook sometimes: in weird positions, on unexpected surfaces, without anyone else’s knowledge.
Slow-Cooker Peruvian Cilantro Chicken Soup // Queen Smithereen.
The thing a lot of people don’t know about food blogging is, it can be a learned art. I’m still learning. I’m always learning. The dishes you see aren’t always hot. The ice cream may have purposely melted in the space nearby. The recipe was probably plated when it wasn’t mealtime because sometimes, the lighting is superior at 10:30 in the morning.

All of this is to say, I remember eating this soup for days about a year ago. I remember that chair at the time. I remember the awkward positioning of that granola as I photographed it. There was other stuff going on behind the scenes that I never shared here, ever. It’s strange, the things we retain.
Slow-Cooker Peruvian Cilantro Chicken Soup // Queen Smithereen.
I made my own version of this soup about a month ago, with the addition of guajillo chiles and yukon golds and turmeric. It was even more delicious than the first Peruvian soup I ever had. I didn’t post it, though, because I had nothing to say. I even asked a friend of mine about what she would write if she were me with the story I have.

What we brainstormed is irrelevant; I got nothin’, except to say, it’s been a year. I am thinking of all the things that are different now. I am thinking about the giant container I have of this, frozen, waiting to thaw, that I cannot wait to share with my mom when she visits.
Slow-Cooker Peruvian Cilantro Chicken Soup // Queen Smithereen.
As Pablo Neruda once said, Love is so short, forgetting is so long. Maybe we remember the things we would rather forget because there are moments of deliciousness, too. There is vividly colored, cilantro-speckled broth. There are moist shreds of spiced chicken. Tender, golden cubes of potato. Red and yellow shards of chili. Cloudy, acidic splurges of fresh-squeezed lime juice. To forget all of it is to forget the soup. The warming moments. Even if those weren’t the things at the forefront.

And so, we finish with more greenery-cilantro, scallions, lime juice.-because the main event can never stand alone. There are condiments, palate cleansers, sides–and each is crucial: new places and familiar faces and saving graces and happy traces and homeostasis and safe spaces and interfaces and warm embraces and different paces and at the bottom of what seems a bottomless bowl-with all its twists and turns and possible burns-you will know that you are not what happens to you. Most importantly, you are not alone. Once learned, that part cannot be forgotten.

Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego

Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego // Queen Smithereen.
Sometimes, everything is a delicate balance. It isn’t even just the day-in, day-out spinning plates teetering around us, threatening to smash. We all have stuff. We all juggle. We get tricked into thinking we are missing fingers. We find quarters behind ears. We encounter surprises around darkened corners. Sometimes, things pull streamers we hadn’t known out of our own mouths. It’s unfortunate when we forget our red noses for the occasion.

The real balance in my world, though, is a constant state of remembrance. That is to say, I find myself consistently forgetting two things:

1) That whatever snagged me for a moment could have been worse in a variety of ways.
2) That whatever snagged me for a moment totally sucked and I need to cater to whatever it is that would help.
Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego // Queen Smithereen.
It took me a really long time, for example, to acquire a mandoline. An inexplicably, horrifically, unbearably challenging time. In fact, it took years. And a lot of necessary, unnecessary fluff in-between.

I told someone years ago that I wanted one for Christmas. I never clarified that the kind of mandoline I wanted would enable me to thinly slice fruits and vegetables. We ended up standing in front of a bunch of stringed instruments days later, because it turns out the silent -e added to mandolin makes a massive difference in terms of semantics. I cackled, and we ended up picking out a ukulele. Behold, the story of how I learned I like to sing.
Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego // Queen Smithereen.
I finally bought myself my own mandoline this past spring, when I moved into my first apartment ever. As in, no roommates. I felt like a grown-up when I stuck my first initial and my last name on my mailbox. I felt like, if certain people were watching, I might have proven something. But they weren’t. It was just me, my ukulele, and my brand new mandoline.

It would be months before I would use it, to be honest. I would sort through some difficult material. I would get the promotion I have wanted. I would meet new people, and reacquaint myself with some I had met before. I would find myself one Sunday evening with an ice cream cone in hand. I would stand before a shelf of used books, staring at the cookbook I have wanted for a very long time (but not for as long as I wanted a mandoline). The book, it turns out, would be half price. Fanning through the pages, I would realize that I am genuinely happy.
Red Potato Gratin with Thyme and Manchego // Queen Smithereen.
At some point, I would purchase about three pounds of wine-skinned baby red potatoes. They would sit in my fridge for about a week before I would stumble upon a recipe that would inspire the one featured below. In which heavy cream cooks shallots and red onion quarters with thyme and cayenne. The mixture is obliterated to smooth consistency and poured over very thinly sliced rounds of potato. The last ten minutes of its transformation occur beneath a broiler, with some Manchego and some more thyme.

Whenever anything gets to be too overwhelming, I remind myself that there are people I love who love me; that there are things like cream-covered, thinly sliced potatoes; that there is a day when people gather and are (hopefully) humbled by the things they are grateful for. And if that doesn’t help, there is always the option of having a second helping of Potato Gratin. Because belts are meant to be loosened, frands! Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. Below is a list of other recipes you might like to serve your loved ones, should Gratin not be your thing (BUT REALLY WHO ARE YOU IF THAT IS THE CASE):

Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
I woke up on an anniversary of something recently to find the Minnesota sky streaked with purples, pinks, and reds. The watercolor was broken by cracks of pitch black, leafless branches stretching into the air. I thought for a moment about how the backdrop of it all-the colorfully rising sun-reminded me a bit of the skies I saw when I lived in Florida. The places we have been. The places we go.

On this particular day, I woke up to text messages I hadn’t responded to. They arrived at appropriate times, and they betrayed me. I had gone to bed at 8pm that night; I remember my eyelids fluttering like the quick, little wings of an insect in flight. The last thing I saw before sleep was Anthony Bourdain looking hungover in São Paolo.
Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
I woke up knowing that it was going to be a long 36 hours. Perhaps not as long as last week was. Last week was a long week, in which I stayed up panicking one night. In which I stood with a bunch of other people on an interstate in protest. In which I broke up a fight between two men. In which I walked in on too many people in the bathroom. In which iCloud found some surprising things I hadn’t seen in a while (and, quite honestly, had not planned to see). In which I handled the surprising things iCloud reintroduced me to with my swiftest, “Bye Felicia” yet. What a weird and kind of terrible week.
Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
It reminded me of this one time in which a friend of mine asked me to talk about whatever I felt I needed to. When I responded that it wouldn’t be pleasant, he told me that didn’t matter. It can be valuable to learn how to sit with the uncomfortable. Which is to say: I talked a lot. He didn’t change. That, right there. That changed me.

Admittedly, not all change is good. I think we often forget the power we have to fundamentally impact all that is around us, even in small ways. In ways that just require sitting next to someone while they say something that is difficult for them to say. I know that some of us are hesitant to adapt, because it requires vulnerability; we forget, at times, that change can be threatening because it is real. There are repercussions. Always remember that it is what we do with what is (and isn’t) given in times of change that indicates our essence all along. We learn what we are made of. Fundamentally, though, we are still ourselves.
Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies // Queen Smithereen.
Like, for example, when tahini lands itself in a classic recipe. With sea salt, of course. Incoming ingredients twist and bend through the inner workings of my existence, and the output: a chocolate chip cookie with a crisp, bendy exterior; a tender interior; a bitter bite of sesame; a dark ooze of chocolate; a sweet contrast of sea salt. These cookies are an extension of the last week of my life, in which I received a lot of contrasting, conflicted life ingredients, and I had to figure out what to do with them. Elections, iCloud, weirdness, tahini, chocolate.

I know there are individuals who are free to identify any which way, and that that can mean they identify in a way that is different from my own. I do have one request: let’s all try to do something about the call for change we feel (and please let it be in honor of a greater, more inclusive good). If I may offer some sage advice: iCloud likely won’t be very helpful.

Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting

Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting // Queen Smitereen.
Take a minute, and think about all of the times that we eat cake. We commemorate birthdays, holidays, and graduations with candles and confections. We recognize the achievements of those we love with layers of pastry and frosting. We gather around sweet rounds to remember the lives of those we have lost. MOST IMPORTANTLY, we might even eat cake to celebrate anniversaries.

Four years ago, I posted my very first recipe. November is a bit late in the year for talk of Spiced Brown Butter Nectarine Scones, I know. Originally, I had a Tumblr for my recipes, which I had named A Trail of Crumbs. It no longer exists. That is where that first recipe for scones appeared, sometime earlier in the Fall of 2012.
Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting // Queen Smithereen.
Obviously, that never stuck. I realized fairly early on that I wanted to create something more. I spent months deliberating, continuing to post half-heartedly on my Tumblr, before I found something that worked better. This is how, four years ago today, I shared with you that very recipe, right here.

NOW. Some of you have been following me since the very beginning, and I know what you’re thinking: this space wasn’t always called Queen Smithereen. *gasp*

There was a time when, inspired by the still-life minimalism of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, I named my website Roast potatoes for. That name, from Stein’s three-word poem that made me ask a lot of questions, changed to what you see here sometime last fall. Given that I babble a lot about life and yoga and memories and playlists, it felt more fitting to call my website what it is: a representation of a Mary Poppins-type leading lady whose tastes-food and otherwise-are bits, bobs, and morsels of a greater whole. She is a queen of smithereens, if you will.
Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting // Queen Smithereen.
When I think about sitting down to write out that first recipe, I know there was a lot I hadn’t even considered about doing this thing. I could hardly photograph a dish to save my life. In fact, I am still working on retaking some of my old pictures for recipes; I just want what you find here to represent the effort I have put into each and every post. My first step was to take that old, first recipe and make it look the way I’d like it to. Given that we are always learning all the time, I feel that, in some ways, I can do a better job at what I couldn’t do back then: photograph.

I can no longer provide the old photos for certain recipes. I can, however, give you a picture of what I looked like way back when this website was in its early stages. I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a sweet tooth and a lot to say in a new city with the support that came from a longlonglong-term relationship. I was shy at the time. I had just entered the work force full-time, and I was floundering. I would sit at my favorite coffee shop in Saint Paul drinking Thai Iced Coffee and I would brainstorm recipes (or, I would write about the ones I’d just perfected). For those of you who are unfamiliar, Thai Iced Coffee is a chilled, extremely strong brew made rich and creamy with sweetened condensed milk. I sipped on so many of those while I poured my heart out into this thing that has become my baby.
Coffee-Cardamom Layer Cake with Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting // Queen Smithereen.
Let’s face it–Nina’s Thai Iced Coffee kept me company while I worked away at this website. In honor of that, here is a cake made of all the things that went into that beloved beverage. Coffee-flavored layer cake tinged with the suggestion of astringent, warming cardamom. Topped with espresso-infused frosting made from sweetened condensed milk. Places to eat it: on the floor; standing up in the kitchen because you couldn’t wait to get it to the table; with friends; without friends; in bed, cozied up to whomever or whatever you’d like (even if that refers to a heating pad).

What do I look like now? For one, I have crow’s feet these days. I have a salary at a job I never thought I’d be working four years ago. My longlonglong-term relationship evolved into what is now a friendship. I have a collection of recipes I cannot wait to try out. I live on my own in my own apartment. I kind of play the ukulele these days, and I really like to sing. I have a brand new car. I feel loved by people that I love. I have been to cities I had never visited before. There are so many beautiful humans that have come my way. I have moved around and returned to wonderful Minneapolis. I have loved, and I have lost. In so many ways. I have recovered from some things I didn’t see coming. And all the while, I have continued to better my approach to what I create.

I am so proud to have been able to build a relationship with you all over the course of the last four years. Sincerely–thank you so much for taking the time to follow me. It means so much to me that we can share our love for deliciousness together.

Elvis Cake

Elvis Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Last year, I walked into work on Halloween and found my coworker, Connor, just as I often did: tall, FULL of charm, and bifocaled. His cap was as it usually was. His hair hadn’t been messed with. In fact, the only difference about Connor was that his name tag read, “JOHN.” I laughed so hard.

At fifteen, I deliberated on my costume until the big day. I remember the moment when it suddenly occurred to me. I put on torn boyfriend jeans and dyed my curled hair temporarily red. I took a marker to an old, white t-shirt and wrote out the words, “Joe lies.” Just like that, I was Corey from Say Anything.
Elvis Cake // Queen Smithereen.
There is a picture of me as a two year old dressed up as Donald Duck on Halloween, in which I look miserable. To think, that was once defeat! What long ways we travel. I have this sneaking suspicion that discomfort just never stops, and that-though 5’7 is IT for me-I am always, always growing. Goodness, is it ever awkward.

I think back sometimes to the fatigue I would experience as a growing kid, and I wonder why we don’t consider how growing pains change as we age. Whether or not we actually take up more space is irrelevant; we are often changing, and sometimes, that change occurs in character-building ways.
Elvis Cake // Queen Smithereen.
With Halloween looming once more, I guess I started thinking about all the ways we dress up in whatever we need to, every day. Of course, there is a 100% chance that that statement stems from the fact that I am writing this with Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” on repeat. A symbol for romantic equality, the song features her asserting that “it” doesn’t hurt, followed by the words,

If I only could / I’d make a deal with God / And I’d get Him to swap our places / Be running up that road / Be running up that hill / With no problems

Swap places. HMM. I admit, my mouth is currently full of cake, which easily sways any and all of my decisions, BUT. This thought, though. This empathic thought. Isn’t that what we kind of do for one Halloween night a year? Granted, it’s not always with the purpose of understanding where others might be coming from. We do, however, present ourselves (in the name of tradition) as the things that we are not.
Elvis Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Couldn’t we do this a little more often? I keep thinking of all the times I have wished another person knew where I was coming from.
Elvis Cake // Queen Smithereen.
Habits form over time before they occur naturally; think of all the years it has taken for the earth to make it seem effortless that the trees are shedding. As a Minneapolis resident, I’d venture to say that Winter is still a bad habit in need of mastery…but I digress.

In honor of Halloween, and of this concept of considering where others are coming from, my cake dressed up like Elvis. One part Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cake, another Chocolate Peanut Butter Buttercream. And if that isn’t enough, I will point out: it is perfectly pompadoured like The King, himself.

Berry Lavender Applesauce

Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
We have all these terms for groups of animals. A grumble of pugs. A wreck of seabirds. A bed of oysters. A wisdom of wombats. A pride of peacocks. All of these, singular terms to quantify (simply) the wild creatures that surround us. Here’s my question: what might we call the throngs of feral thoughts that sometimes plague us? Surely I’m not alone in thinking them, the streams of consciousness.

I practiced Ashtanga yesterday. It was the first time in a couple weeks, actually. #workingonitmaybe

My teacher paused the class at one point to share something that made the last ten months of unintentional practice click into place; he explained that maybe, despite appearances, we are never at our deepest in a posture. Rather, we are freeing the habits that prevent us from reaching the fullest expression of a posture.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
I wondered if the rocky practice I have had over the last ten months (which I talked about here, before I took a nice, long break) suddenly made sense. I get on the mat and each posture talks, and I react, and I have run away. What if, with each posture, there are whispers of what is untethering? What happens when those whispers become too loud?

When class was over, my teacher focused on a portion of the opening chant, which he translated to mean something along the lines of, “freeing ourselves from the poison of conditioned existence.” It was at this precise moment that I became Xanther from The Familiar, completely incapacitated by the number of questions seizing my experience of the world.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.
The thing is: there are so many postures. Which means: there are so many habits. Maybe the point is not to tackle all of it at once. Maybe we just need to try with a little bit of grace each time (even if, say, the grace is a matter of interpretation, and was only visible for, like, 1.2568 seconds). Maybe we gain more of it each time we unravel more of the knots we have tied around our sensitive and not-so-sensitive spots.

Thank goodness it all isn’t so difficult to decipher. Some things wait just outside the box for us to see them, in lavender-scented, purplesauce grandeur.
Berry Lavender Applesauce // Queen Smithereen.