Cherry, white peach, chocolate and frangipane tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Last night Clio and I went for a walk after dinner, as we almost always do. It wasn’t even close to 8 o’clock yet, but it was getting dark. There was a chill in the air, but we could feel the warmth radiate from the wall of rocks, which had soaked in sunshine all day. Earlier in the day, we’d seen that someone had stuck a piece of tassly grass into the trunk of a tree. It looked like a little bouquet, or a little spray of fireworks. However, at dusk, it seemingly took its true form.

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The spirit of the end of summer. He’s laughing at us from behind a tree, full of mischief, but a little sad, too, maybe even slightly scared. He seems substantial, but if you run your hands through his tresses, as we did today in the bright afternoon light, he falls to nothing. Through his winking eyes and gaping mouth, you can see the beautiful darkening light along our towpath, and watch the leaves fall like bright shadows.

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

This tart contained many of my favorite flavors. It was fun to make, and I realized I hadn’t made anything slightly complicated in some time. It’s not complicated as in difficult, but it does have a few steps, a few layers. The first is a sweetish buttery crust. But you don’t roll it out, you just press it down with your hands, so it’s not that hard. The second layer is bittersweet chocolate. I melted the chocolate chips over a low heat till they were just soft, and then spread them into a thin layer with the back of my spoon. The third layer is a frangipane, but on the firm side, not too custardy. And finally, of course, the fruit! I like the rich, tangy, sweet but not too sweet quality of this tart, and ate if for breakfast and before bed for days. We also ate it with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and I recommend these presentations as well.

Here’s The Ethiopians with Feel the Spirit. Love this one.

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Charred eggplant, pistachio and pine nut dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I went for a walk on the other side of the canal. The last time we’d gone that way, we’d lost Clio. It had only been for a few minutes, but long enough that I got that sinking feeling in my heart, long enough that Malcolm took off in a teary panic, feeling guilty because he’d dropped her leash. Last night I told Malcolm about my dream that Clio ran away, and in my dream I knew my favorite sound in the world was the jingle of Clio’s collar approaching through the fearful silence of having lost her. Malcolm started to think about his favorite sound. First he said it’s the sound of an airplane when it sounds like thunder a few days before your cousins visit. Then he said it’s the sound of a motor boat when your head is under water because it makes you feel…no, that’s not the right word. “What? What word?” I want to know the word for how a motor boat heard under water makes you feel, but he won’t tell me because that’s not his favorite sound anyway. He says, emphatically, it’s Isaac’s laugh. Not his fake laugh, but the laugh that fills up his whole body like it’s helium, so that he could float away on the laughter, the laugh that makes him glow. He said it’s a sound that makes you laugh when you hear it. And it is! And then he said he also likes a certain sound in combination with a certain smell, first thing in the morning. The sound is the bird that goes who who who whoooo. (“A mourning dove?” “Yeah.”) And the smell is water but sweet water. And he said he also likes a certain smell that smells like autumn, when you’re warm inside your coat but your cheeks are cold. I wanted to remember every word, but I knew I wouldn’t, and I made him repeat everything over and over, and it was slightly different every time, and it’s slightly different now when I write it all down. And though it’s changing all the time, I know now that I’ll never forget it.

What’s your favorite sound in the world?

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

On Monday the boys cooked every single meal over a campfire in the back yard. They made veggie sausages and toast for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and potatoes and mushrooms for dinner. My friend Neil had just told me about a Romanian eggplant dip made with charred eggplant, so I decided to make a version of that. I wrapped an eggplant in foil and cooked it right in the fire for about an hour, till it was melting inside and charred outside. I combined it with pistachios, pine nuts, some herbs, some roasted garlic, and I made thick smooth sauce. We ate it with olive bread and fresh tomatoes, but it would be good with pita and salad, or as a dip for roasted vegetables or chips.

Here’s Autumn Sounds by Jackie Mittoo

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Yellow squash and white bean empanadas

IMG_4277There’s a vine that grows outside our front door and along the back fence of our garden. It’s called wild clematis, or devil’s darning needles or old man’s beard. It has beautiful little white flowers, and the most intoxicating fragrance, not too sharp or too sweet, indescribable. Like honeysuckle, it blooms at the beginning and the end of summer, and like honeysuckle, it always comes as a sweetly melancholy reminder of summer’s passing. How fast these lazy days go! You can feel it…you can feel the hours drift away. Yesterday I took a blanket out for Clio, who likes to lie in the sun, but the sunlight moves so quickly these days that I couldn’t keep up. It races across the yard. We’ve had a ridiculous spate of perfect weather, the kind that almost hurts when you step outside, because you know it can’t last, and you feel as though you need to savor every moment of it, you don’t want to spend a second in the house. You want to feel the way the chill leaves the air in the morning and the day warms up but the shadows are so perfect, this time of year, that wherever you walk you move comfortably through sunlight and shadow in equal turns. The very air feels good, you walk out into it as you jump into water of the perfect temperature, it feels good on your skin, it feels good to move through it. This time of year, this kind of weather, you think about all of the summers of your life; when you were little and school started soon, when you’re older and you still have that strange feeling of transition, though you haven’t had a first-day-of-school in years. You think about all of the summers to come. I recently discovered the Portuguese word “saudade,” which is a beautiful thing. A sweet sort of nostalgia, missing something but glad that you knew it, and hoping to know it again some day.

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”

As the poets of wikipedia say, “one feels an interior satisfaction because it is impossible to find something, but one never stops thinking that one is searching for it.”

And doesn’t that sound like late August? Doesn’t that sound like the light shifting fast, and the days dawning cold, and the wild clematis blooming outside your door?

Summer means summer squash! We got three lovely little summer squash from the farm. I decided to make empanadas with them. I combined them with white beans, spinach, cherry tomatoes, small hot peppers, some herbs from the garden and sharp cheddar. They were a nice combination of crispy and tender. Very light, for an empanada. We ate them with a fresh tomato sauce, but you could make it all simpler still by chopping some summer-ripe tomatoes and having that alongside.

Here’s Saudade, by Cesaria Evoria.

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Ratatouille-style ratatouille (With potatoes and roasted beets)

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

We’ve decided to watch every movie made in 1967. It is for fun! We chose 1967 at random, after watching La Chinoise a week or so ago. We’re obviously not going to watch every movie made that year, but we’re going to do our best. Some we’ve already seen and loved: Le Samourai, The Two of Us, Cool Hand Luke. Some aren’t available on DVD yet. But we’ll do the best we can, and I’ll probably tell you all about each and every film. As I said, we picked the year at random, but upon reflection it seems like an interesting time. (And wikipedia agrees, “The year 1967 in film involved some significant events. It is widely considered as one of the most ground-breaking years in film.”) On the cusp of a new decade, at the end of a decade of great change and tension and upheaval. People have new ideas, and they’re finding new ways to tell their new stories, new ways to capture the images, new ways to arrange their narratives. Many directors are working in color for the first time, and we’re moving from the cool black-and-white stylishness of the sixties to the polyester polychrome neon of the seventies. And the French are still driving enviably cool cars. (Have you seen Le Samourai?) Some films deal with shifting ideas about marriage and family. Some films are experimenting with the shockingly entertaining qualities of violence, from Bonnie and Clyde to Godard’s Weekend. We have films to distract you from your troubles–The Jungle Book, Elvis Presley movies, James Bond Movies, and films that tackle the issues head-on, like the Best Picture-winning In the Heat of the Night. Some people are looking back, and others are looking forward to a new world when anything is possible and everything is allowed. The new wave isn’t so new anymore, and the rebellious exploits of the early sixties seem quite tame and adolescent compared to what’s to come. It’s the year my parent’s got married, and two years before the summer of ’69, when men walked on the moon and I was born. I was going to tell you about the first movie we watched, La Collectionneuse, but this introduction has gone on so long that I’ll save it for another post. Watch this space!

IMG_4059It’s squash, eggplant and tomato season, and we all know what that means! It means ratatouille! We thought it would be fun to try to make it like they make it in the movie of the same name. Lots of other people have already recreated that recipe as closely as possible, so we thought we’d mix it up a bit. We decided to pre-cook everything, so that it got a little crispy. We decided to add potatoes and beets, because they’re nice thinly sliced and roasted, and because we’ve had them in abundance from the farm as well. And I cooked the eggplant separately, because I like it best crispy and roasted breadcrumbs, nuts and herbs. I cut the eggplant in large rounds, and we used it as a sort of plate for the ratatouille. Delicious!

Here’s Lulu’s To Sir with Love, the top song from 1967 from the movie released in 1967.

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Almond cake with blueberry & chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

We went to look for eagle feathers though we knew we wouldn’t find any. As with most things in life, it was more about the journey–the walk on the towpath, over the old train bridge, down the hill through the tall ferns and prickly vines, up to the tower where the eagle had lived. Maybe we’d go farther past it, all the way to the river, maybe we’d see the eagles flying over the water, looking for fish. We didn’t see the eagles, we didn’t find any feathers, the prickly vines scratched our ankles, but it was a wonderful walk. The wild ferns and flowers and vines are taller than me down by the eagle’s tower, and it’s a strange bright green world with narrow paths, some that lead into the woods, some that lead to the river, and some that lead up the hill back to the path. Under the staring blue sky, with small white clouds and grasshoppers flicking across our path, this felt like summer. Is it the dog days? Because we’re living like dogs, sun dogs, dogs of summer, here at The Ordinary, with no plans. We snooze in the warm sun, and wake to eat or run to the river for a swim, or chase wildly through tangled ferny paths. Clio is the leader of our pack, she shows us how it’s done, and the boys are attentive pupils. We’re trying to slow down the days, with our lazy ways, but they’re flying by anyway. Evening falls earlier, and there’s almost a chill in the air in the mornings. So we’ll follow Clio into the sunshine, and soak it up, we’ll store it inside of us against the cold days ahead.

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You know what I’ve been making a lot this summer? Flat wide cakes with fillings inside. Almost like a gateau basque. This one had blueberries and chocolate chips. (They almost always have chocolate) I’ve made some with ground almonds or almonds and pistachios, and I’ve filled them with jam or other kinds of fruit. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crispy like big cookies. This one was quite soft inside, and a little crispy on top. It was very juicy, you can’t turn it out of the pan or anything, because it will fall apart. David said it’s like blueberry fudge. I’ll tell you about the other cakes another time.

Here’s Summertime by Sam Cooke.

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Fresh mint sorbet

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh mint leaves

Well, I have two boys. They’re different in many ways, but they’re alike in this. Sometimes you can tell that something is bothering them: they get distracted and quiet, or they talk a lot, they seem nervous, they want to be alone or they’re extra clingy. And with both of them it doesn’t always help to ask them what’s wrong, because they’ll say “nothing.” They’ll both say “I’m fine.” But if you stay with them long enough, if you can get them go for a walk with you, or if you just sit by them on the couch with the dog, or take them for a ride to some place or another, they might tell you what’s eating at them, they might share their worries. Sometimes it’s best just to be there and to be quiet, so when they’re ready to talk, you’re around. It’s hard to do, of course. It’s hard to wait, when every instinct is yelling at you to go in there and figure it out, to fix it and make it better right away. And sometimes when they finally tell you what’s bothering them, it’s not something you can fix in an instant. Sometimes it’s not something you can fix at all, ever. At some point you lose the magical ability to soothe every hurt with a kiss. It’s the hardest thing to do, to just sit and wait and listen, but sometimes it’s the most important. Because it does help to talk about things. Sometimes a worry, which grows larger and uglier in the darkness of your own mind, shrivels to nothing when you expose it to the light by sharing it with another person. Sometimes just saying that you feel pain helps to lessen the pain. And maybe somebody says “I’ve felt that pain, too,” which helps you to know you’ll live through it. Because people like to make connections, they need to. We need to. We all need someone to listen to us with no judgement, no advice, just open caring warmth. And we can wait and listen not just to our own children, but to other people’s children as well. And everybody is somebody else’s child. We’re all in this together. It’s hard to wait and be silent. It’s hard to listen for what is really being spoken. But sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do.

When I was little my mom used to buy Family Circle and Woman’s Day magazines. If you knew my mom, this fact would probably be surprising to you. I used to look through them for helpful household tips and recipes. Once they had a recipe for mint ice. Made with fresh mint leaves. I LOVED it. I still remember exactly how it tasted. I don’t remember the recipe, though. So I’ve tried to recreate it based on how it seems like it should go. We have a wild and unruly bunch of fresh mint in our garden, and I harvested some to make this. You can use any kind you have, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint…anything! I used my ice cream maker to make this, because I love my ice cream maker. But if you don’t have one, you can make this as a granita. Let it partially freeze, then stir it, then let it freeze some more, and stir it, till it’s all frozen and all broken up. That’s how I made it when I was little. This was really delicious. Really refreshing. If I do say so myself, and I do!

Here’s Velvet Underground with I’ll Be Your Mirror.

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Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

“…and Eris whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.” Eris, also known as Strife or Discordia, and her friend or brother Ares, the god of war, walk through the world causing pain and destruction. They love to see people fighting with one another, they laugh on battlefields turned to mire with the blood of slain men, they yell horribly and happily across fields of wounded men, and taunt them back to the fighting so that they become corpses. Eris comes between friends and lovers, introducing jealousy, suspicion and doubt into happy relationships and turning them sour and broken. All of the creatures in Pandora’s box: scolding, despair, envy, gossip, distrust, drudgery, and–worst of all–false oaths, all of these creatures are children of Eris. The gods don’t like Eris, because she’s so unpleasant and nasty, they don’t invite her to their parties; but they use her. If somebody angers them, they’ll send Eris down to destroy their life and their love. Sometimes Eris is seen as valuable to men. She introduces the kind of dissatisfaction that makes a man work harder. She makes him feel insecure about his achievements compared to those of his neighbor and inspires him to become more industrious. But then potter fights with potter, farmer fights with farmer, carpenter fights with carpenter and everybody is miserable. Eris has apples of discord, and she throws these down to distract people and make them fight. If you ignore them they’re very small and harmless. But the more attention you pay them, the more you try to get rid of them, the larger they get, until they block your way entirely, or destroy you. I find Eris fascinating, and frighteningly recognizable. When I first read about her, I thought, “I know people like that.” I thought of people at my newly old job who lied and gossiped and stirred up trouble because they enjoyed the drama and knew that others did, too. I thought of countries who lied and spread fear so that they could provoke or justify war, for whatever evil and greedy reason they harbored. But maybe we all have a bit of Eris in us. We can blame it on her children, on envy or despair, or any other weakness and insecurity, but maybe everybody has a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be from time to time. It’s a frightening idea. I suppose the thing to do when faced with an apple of discord is to pay it no attention, to not let yourself be sucked into a web of lies that grows more tangled and dangerous with each person to believe the stories and to spread them. It’s better not to feed the discontent, but to starve it by speaking the truth, and spreading kindness and encouragement instead of misery and strife. Or we’ll anger the gods and they’ll turn us all into birds!

Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

This genius idea was David’s. He thought that cornbread is sort of dry and almost crispy, and blueberries are soft and juicy. And they’re both sort of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, so they’d all go well together. And they do! This was a nice almost-a-cake kind of a bread. David made French toast with this one morning, and it was ridiculously good!

Here’s Trouble by Cat Stevens.

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Zucchini and cornmeal croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Malcolm and I have an ongoing joke. He’ll show me something–a picture he’s drawn, something he’s made out of legos, a frog, a handful of sweet ferns. And I’ll cry, “look at your fingernails!” Yeah. Actually Malcolm doesn’t think it’s a very funny joke. Malcolm is growing fast, and so are his fingernails. Moments after he cuts them they’re already a quarter-inch long and caked with dirt. This is only a slight exaggeration. The thing is, I never used to mind dirty fingernails. I used to say they were a sign that you’d had a good day, that you’d gotten out of the house and climbed a tree or played in the dirt. How much more true is this for a boy in this age of video games and nonstop screen-related entertainment. He could spend the whole day indoors staring at flickering glowing surfaces of varying sizes and never move at all. So I should be glad when he has a little dirt under his fingernails, or when he has mud on his shoes that he’s tracking all over the house. I’ve never been a super-tidy person or a stickler for cleanliness, so why did I become a person who sees the dirt on the hands and not what they’re holding? I resolve to change the situation from this moment forwards. I won’t see the dirt for the ferns. I won’t be distracted from the truly important things by trivial matters of personal grooming. I will fully appreciate the gesture of somebody raising cupped hands towards me to share something that is remarkable or precious to them. I will see the beauty of the outstretched palm. When I see muddy prints on the floor, I won’t grab the broom, I’ll ask for the story instead, I’ll ask where he was walking, where he gathered this mud, and what he was thinking about as he walked, who he was talking to, where he was headed.

It’s the season of summer squash and tomatoes. What a wonderful season! I like zucchini croquettes. I wasn’t sure what to call these, in point of fact, because they’re almost like dumplings. They’re soft inside, crispy outside, with a pleasant denseness. They’re very flavorful with golden raisins, sage, oregano, garlic, pine nuts and a bit of sharp cheddar. They’re nice dipped in or covered with a sauce, and this time of year of course it’s going to be a tomato sauce! We ate them one day with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and balsamic, and one day with a simple cooked fresh tomato sauce. Good either way!

Here’s Dirt Dauber Blues by Memphis Minnie. We found such a large blueblack wasp in our store today! Nearly two inches!!

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Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and zucchini tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

We went away for a couple of days for a very small vacation. I brought a novel to read and a notebook so that I could start writing a novel. And guess what I did instead? I read a field guide to insects and spiders. I’m completely charmed by the names of the various crawling and winged creatures. And this leads us, Ordinary friends, to another installment of our sporadic series on found poetry: the unconscious poetry of bug names. Who doesn’t want to read about worms and beetles on a food blog? As I read through the guide I thought about the people who had named these bugs. Some seem to have had a very good imagination and a sly sense of humor. Others seem appealingly earnest and literal. But the one thing that they have in common is that they all seem to have a real affection for the creature they’re naming. They’ve studied it and learned all they can about its form and its habits. Maybe they even take credit for discovering this tiny life form, and they’ve named it for themselves, with their own names. They name them for their appearance, they name them for what they once were or what they’ll become, for the way that they were before their great change, or the way they will be after it. They name them for the job that they do. They’re called after what they eat and where they live, their home and their sustenance. We have question marks and painted ladies, phantom midges, predacious diving beetles, darners and diggers and borers and pruners and skimmers and elaters (elaters!!) Cloudywinged aphids, snow fleas cat fleas human fleas, snow lice, hog lice and bird lice. Firebrats and jumping bristletails. Ferocious waterbugs and Eastern toe-biters. Treehoppers, leafhoppers, sharpshooters. You’ve got your eastern cone nose and your jagged ambush bug, your boll, pine, bean, alfalfa, rose and lesser cloverleaf weevils. And the beetles! O, the beetles! Elegant checkered beetles and their coarse cousins rough fungus beetles, spotless nine-spotted ladybugs, willow leaf beetles and harlequin beetles, fire beetles and blister beetles, iron clad beetles and patent leather beetles. You have both dainty tiger beetles and beautiful tiger beetles. Somebody loved tiger beetles! Dragon lubber grasshoppers, differential grasshoppers, toothpick grasshoppers and true katydids. Bearded robber flies, phantom crane flies, march flies, marsh flies, flesh flies. The moths are fairies and gypsies and sweethearts and witches and beauties, and the butterflies are wood nymphs and satyrs and elfin. What a world of characters we have flying around our heads and buzzing in our ears and crawling through the grass at our feet!

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Who is hungry now?!? This has been a summer of beets, squash and tomatoes, as all summers should be. And we’ve made a lot of tarts, as everyone should do! We mix it up though. Sometimes the vegetables are in the custard, sometimes they’re on top. Sometimes we add nuts, and we almost always add cheese, but we mix it up a bit, we use different kinds. This tart had roasted yellow squash and beets mixed up with a pistachio/pine nut custard and topped with pretty multi-colored cherry and grape tomatoes.

Here’s Leadbelly with Boll Weevil.
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Pistachio-almond-cherry-chocolate cookies

Pistachio cherry chocolate cookies

Pistachio cherry chocolate cookies

Here at The Ordinary, we get a lot of spam comments. Several a day. I confess I feel almost sorry for the spammers, because we’re such a small concern, here in our little Ordinary world. I want to tell them that they’re wasting their time, and that their heartfelt words won’t reach all that many people. But I must also confess that I like some of the spam comments that I get. They’re charming. And to continue the theme of found-poetry-of-the-modern-technological-world that we started yesterday, I’ll share some with you here. They’re generally very generous comments, very complimentary, enthusiastically positive. And this is nice to read when you’re feeling discouraged, as I have been, even if you doubt the absolute sincerity of the commenter. And they’re often strangely but appealingly constructed, with an unexpected rhythm, and a brand new use for words you’ve heard a million times, which is where the poetry comes in. You want to read it twice, you want to share it. It’s not honest enough to be enduring, or soulful enough to be genuinely touching, but many of these comments transcend their original purpose to become something more beautiful than a means to sell diet pills. And here we go…

    Wow, this post is pleasant,
    my younger sister is
    analyzing these things,
    thus I am going to tell her.
    Buy to to rapidly dispose of surplus goods,
    they set prices,
    an irresistible work.
    Benjamin Blaire was a rounded and studious businessperson.
    Why not go to the Boracay beach and experience
    something more out of this ordinary?
    Halloween ghosts and goblins are
    on the brink of embark on our neighborhoods.
    Don’t blindly!
    We must
    believe
    ourself.
    You will see treasure in your journey
    as well as a better gear to use,
    once you have enough components and item
    you’ll be able to build your own items
    plus enchanted it with a lot
    more powerful attribute.
    Although Trade might have been a triumph,
    1970 had more to offer.
    You’ve done a formidable process
    and our entire neighborhood will
    probably
    be grateful to you.
    Thanks a lot
    for sharing
    this with all of us
    you really know
    what you’re speaking
    approximately!
    I to find it very bothersome
    to inform the reality
    on the other hand
    I will definitely
    come
    again
    again.

Well, I could go on forever, but I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you about these cookies. David came home from the flea market this morning with a new beautiful blue plate, and he said, “Good for cookies!” So I made cookies. We had some cherries that needed eating, and I always like cherries with pistachios and almonds, and I always like everything with chocolate, so there you have it! I added a little cardamom, because I thought it would go well with everything, and it did. I made quite a small batch…a half batch…because I’m still baking in my toaster oven. So double all of these ingredients if you’re going to make a real batch of cookies! If you cook them till they’re golden on top, they’ll be quite crispy on the outside, but if you stop when they’re just slightly browned on the bottom, they’ll be more soft and chewy. The choice is yours!

Here’s STEP RIGHT UP by Tom Waits.

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