My mother had a very large vegetable garden behind our family home in Amana, Iowa. Tending to this garden demanded much of my mother's time during the growing season. But, oddly enough, I have vague memories of my mother in her garden. Instead, my memories are of baskets (beautiful handmade Amana "bushel" baskets) full of produce set by the kitchen door... and the production that was always underway in my mother's kitchen.
The reason I remember the fruits and vegetables more than my mother actually working the garden is because she was usually finished with her weeding, watering, and harvesting before I even woke up... and I woke up early! My mother did her chores before the sun was high and summer's heat made tending a garden unbearable.
And after a good amount of work had been completed by my mother, there was always a mid-morning coffee break. Everything stopped, coffee was made, and some sort of sweet treat was served. Now when I bake brioche, cookies, tarts, etc., I wish my mother were here to enjoy it all with a cup of coffee, and me.
I've been stacking several of these Almond & Blood Orange Cookies on my husband's coffee cup saucer in the mornings. This is one of the best cookies I've made (and eaten) in a long time. And there's another bonus in addition to the wonderful taste -- the citrusy, almond-laced aroma in the kitchen after you bake these cookies.
My mother told me that when she was a little girl, she would receive a fresh orange in her Christmas stocking. We now take fruits like oranges for granted, having access to them year-round in our grocery stores. But in the early 1900's, that wasn't the norm by any means. It was very special, indeed, to be able to eat an orange in the winter. And I wonder what my mother would think of the
crimson-fleshed Blood Oranges. Their color and taste can't be beat. But be warned -- the Blood Orange growing season is short. Buy them now!
Coffee break with an Espresso Con Panna (a double shot of hot espresso with cold, softly-whipped, heavy cream on top).
recipe from Carrie Vasios | Serious Eats: sweets
+ Italian Almond & Blood Orange Cookies are served with Espresso Con Panna
NOTE: To toast the almonds, preheat oven to 325˚F. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden.
• 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled (see note above)
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg yolk (white reserved)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 packed teaspoon blood orange zest (from 1 blood orange)
• 1 egg white (reserved from egg above)
• 1 1/2 cups sliced, blanched almonds
• Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)
1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the toasted almonds until the consistency of cornmeal. Transfer almonds to a mixing bowl; add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
2. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and blood orange zest; beat mixture to combine. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the moist and beat until a dough forms. Divide dough in half and on a sheets of plastic wrap, roll each half into a log, 1 1/4-inch in diameter. Wrap each log in the plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
3. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Position oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place the reserved egg white in a medium-size shallow bowl (I added about 1/2 teaspoon water to the white; stir to combine). Fill another medium-size shallow bowl with the blanched almonds. Remove the cookie dough logs from the refrigerator. Using a sharp paring knife, slice each log into 1/4-inch pieces. Take a slice and dip one side in egg white (leave slice in egg white for about 10 seconds helps the almonds to adhere), then dip in the sliced almonds, pressing firmly into the almonds; place on baking sheets. Repeat with remaining cookie slices.
4. Place a cookie sheet on each shelf of the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden, switching position of the sheets half way through baking. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a cooling rack. Dust with confectioners' sugar.
TAKE a LOOK:
My father passed away on the shortest day of the year, December 21st. His funeral was on the morning of Christmas Eve. The Amana Colonies in Iowa, where I grew up and my Dad still lived, were transformed into the beautiful and picturesque villages of my youth, with the help of heavy snow that fell throughout the day on Christmas Eve. The combination of a fresh blanket of snow and the simplicity of the Amana Church at Christmas-time was the most perfect way to say good-bye to my Dad.
I probably caused my poor father endless hours of distress while I was growing up. I was always hatching some plan to get myself a pet, but they would never be common pets. Once I sent off for an exotic pets catalog out of Okoboji, Iowa and was determined to get one of the Gibbon monkeys they had for sale. I don't even remember the price of the monkey, but cost was my smallest concern. The bigger obstacle was convincing my father that we needed a monkey in our home. I understand now why he didn't want a monkey.
Then there was the three year stretch I dreamt of owning a horse. My father told me we had no place to keep a horse and I would point out to him the large field behind our property. It didn't matter to me that the field belonged to the Amana Society and Charolais bulls grazed there. It was the perfect location. I would just tie up my horse in that field when I wasn't riding it. The horse never happened either, and I understand now why he didn't want a horse.
During a family vacation one summer to the Twin Cities I found a "disarmed" skunk in a store in downtown Minneapolis (I can promise you, there are no longer any skunks for sale in downtown Minneapolis). It was $25 -- such a deal I thought. But my father wouldn't let me buy the skunk. The skunk was followed by a desire to own a chinchilla. My desires were endless. "Pets" that I found and brought home, like the large snapping turtle or the small mouse that I purchased at Woolworth's, were released into the wild at night while I slept, after my mother heard they could possibly carry salmonella.
But the one pet I did bring home and everyone fell in love with was Otto. In the spring of my junior year in high school I somehow acquired three Mallard eggs. With the help of my science teacher the eggs were placed inside an incubator at school. Of the three eggs, one hatched and I named the duck Otto.
The following summer Otto and I were inseparable. When I walked up the hill to the post office each morning to get our mail, Otto walked with me quacking the entire way. In the afternoons we'd walk down to the creek behind our house, in the field where the Charolais bulls grazed. Otto would take a dip, paddle around for awhile, and when Otto had enough we'd walk back home.
We also discovered that summer that Otto was not a he, but a she. Otto began laying eggs that were fought over by my aunt next door and the old man across the street. When Mr. Fritsche heard there were duck eggs in the neighborhood he showed up every day demanding we give him what we had, considering duck eggs to be the best eggs on earth. My aunt on the other hand wanted the eggs for the "funeral cakes" she always seemed to be baking, telling me they made better cakes than chicken eggs. At the same time, my aunt made it very clear she wanted no one else to know what her secret ingredient was.
So... you probably think I'll end this remembrance with a recipe for duck. No, I won't do that. But it's not a happy ending, either. After making it through the winter, using hay bales to keep Otto warm in a small workshop behind our house, we needed to make a decision on where Otto would go when I went away to college. As much as my parents (my mother especially) loved Otto, they were not interested in the full-time care of my duck. I reluctantly gave Otto to the boy across the street who promised me my duck would be given the best care possible. The first time I returned home from college I received a call asking if I'd like to come over and see Otto. After hanging up the phone I couldn't get there fast enough and thought it odd that I was being led inside the house. As much as we had loved Otto she never would have lived indoors with us. And as I soon learned it wasn't the case there either. Otto was sitting motionless on top of the television, apparently the taxidermied victim of an encounter with an outdoor cat. Needless to say, I never visited again.
I can't help but think about Otto this spring and how special she was. Mallards seem to be everywhere in St. Paul when I'm driving or walking, and one in particular almost gave me the opportunity to pet it... I wonder how Pipi would feel about a duck moving in?
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I was recently "back home" visiting my father in Amana, Iowa. Originally a communal society from the mid-1800's to 1932, things have changed there, drastically. It's not the same as when I was growing up... but nothing stays the same, does it? I went out with my camera one morning to shoot photos of places that still seemed like the Amana I remember.
Many of the original homes were either made from sandstone or handmade bricks.
Grapes were grown by many to produce wine. Rhubarb and dandelion wines were also made in the Amanas. I remember picking dandelions when I was young, earning 50 cents for each bushel basketful I picked for the wineries (I had a strong entrepreneurial sense at an early age. I showed great promise, but it somehow disappeared as I grew older).
This is a side entrance to the old West Amana store. Each of the seven villages had its own general store and church. The seven villages are Amana, East Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana and Homestead.
Isn't that a great foundation on the weathered wood building in the background?
There is still beauty to be found.