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My sister-in-law, fresh from a World Market shopping trip, placed a packet of dried rose petals in my hands and declared they were ripe for some Sarah confection.
That night, I went home and began my brainstorm: rose, pistachio, marzipan. Yum. Cream, ganache, praline. Yum. Strawberry rose pavlova -- rhubarb and rose -- coconut cream and rose pudding.
The first fruits of this brainstorm you'll find in the recipe for Pistachio Rose Shortbread Cookies below. Waaaaaay below. You're going to have a scroll through all my thoughts on "food consciousness" before you get to the crumbly buttery tea cookies pictured above.
You see, my sister-in-law and I like to think of ourselves as foodies. We enjoy going out to eat together, especially because we approach food at restaurants in the same way: how can we try as many interesting dishes as possible? We'll order a whole slew of small plates, or a few entrees to share, and happily go over the top in pursuit of unique and exciting combinations of texture and flavor. (For anyone in the Naples area, our current favorite spots are 21 Spices, Kareem’s, and Namba. Definitely check them out.) We’ll dissect each, compare it to other ones we’ve tried, other ones we’ve made. For us, it’s pure delight.
For others? They often find it maddening.
I've heard remarks on how we're always talking about food, breaking it down and analyzing as we eat. Accusations levied that we don't know how simply to enjoy a meal. It's a bit of a family trait. When Maria, Sophie and I are eating together, it's all of that, and more. We're constantly measuring it up and comparing it to when or how it was made before -- or should be made the next time around.
What is this? Is it a fault, or a strength? I suppose it depends a bit on how you look at it.
Here's when "food-consciousness" probably leans toward fault:
When you're a guest at someone's home, and you approach the food set before you with a critical attitude, that's probably a sign that you need to shift your focus to the things that are more important in that moment: namely, gratitude and graciousness. Foster gratefulness for the company and for the gifts shared. Try to receive these things with grace and ease.
I remember recently I was at a birthday party where cupcakes were served. Someone made an off-hand comment, "well, you probably don't eat these," and gestured to the store-bought cupcakes on the table. I was taken aback. She was right. I wasn't eating them. And then I felt ashamed.
The cupcakes weren't going to kill me. How dare I think myself above eating them?
When you are gathered with company to celebrate, there is an expectation, perhaps even an obligation, to partake in the food. Together. Broken and shared.
And I get it, I get it, there's a lot of garbage out there. It's good to eat clean and to eat healthy when you are able. But sometimes other things trump those real goods. And I think, when you are at a celebration, community in sharing a meal is probably the greater good.
One sugar-loaded cupcake is not going to kill you. I am 100% sure of it.
It may very well kill your sensibilities. It certainly wounds mine! But that's when you need to buck up, swallow your pride, and take a bite. It literally won't kill you.
(I just want to note here that allergies and intolerances are legitimate exemptions.)
Here's when "food consciousness" becomes a strength:
When your heightened awareness of food's texture and taste inspires you to cook better for those you love, to prepare meals for your family, not with drudgery, but with enthusiasm and creativity, then hurrah for that! Food in all its stages -- growing, harvesting, preparing, consuming -- can uplift as much as it can weigh down. When infused with love, intelligence, care, and attention, the entire process and experience can be transformed.
When your sensitivity to the balance of salt, fat, acid, heat fosters creativity and confidence in your ability to use the ingredients in your kitchen, what a win. And when that same sensitivity gives you the wherewithal to offer informed praise for the meal you are served -- whether at a restaurant or as a guest -- that makes the world a better place.
As is so often true in life, highly useful tools can be used equally well to work wonders and destruction. They are a double-edged sword; hence the idiom. A blade can be used to do as much good as it can do harm.
"Food consciousness" is just another tool. My advice? Use it wisely!
Did you ever wonder where the "short" in foods like shortbread or shortcake come from? Perhaps you've already guessed it: shortening.
But why "shortening"? Because, when mixed in the right proportions, fat will make a pastry "short," i.e. cause it to break in to small, crumbly pieces.
Pistachio Rose Shortbread Cookies with White Chocolate Glaze
[For the cookies]
10 tablespoons (5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry roasted pistachios, finely chopped --setting 1 tablespoon aside
1 tablespoon food-grade dried rose petals, chopped (like these)
1 teaspoon orange zest (optional, see note)
[For the glaze]
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream
garnish: reserved chopped pistachios, extra rose petals
Extra equipment: mixer, parchment paper, rolling pin, small (roughly 2-inch) round cookie cutter.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpats.
In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter, sugar, salt, rose petals and orange zest. Add in chopped pistachios (leaving aside 1 tablespoon to use later as garnish) and mix until combined. Sift flour over the bowl, then mix on low until just combined and crumbly. Remove bowl from stand and use your hand to knead the dough together against the side of the bowl until smooth.
Place the dough on the counter between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. With your hand, smoosh the dough down a little. Then, with a rolling pin, roll it out into an even round about 1/4" thick. Gently peel off the top layer of plastic/parchment. Using a small round cookie-cutter, cut out cookies and place them evenly spaced on baking sheets.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place cookies in freezer to chill while the oven preheats. Bake the cookies at 300 degrees for 12-15 minutes, until the bottoms and edges begin to turn a pale golden. When baked, remove from pans and let cool on baking sheets.
While the cookies bake, prepare the glaze. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir together white chocolate chips and cream. Heat in the microwave in short 15-second bursts, stirring in between, until completely melted. Set aside to cool.
When the cookies are completely cool, spread a small amount of glaze (start with about the size of a dime) on top of each cookie. If you are OCD like me, you will pipe an outline with the glaze first, and then fill it in. Before the white chocolate glaze sets, garnish with chopped pistachios and rose petals. (You may have to work in smaller batches to make sure the glaze doesn't harden before you garnish!)
When I made these cookies, I added the rose and pistachio at the end with the flour. I found the rose flavor didn't come through very strongly, and it was suggested (by my sister-in-law!) that "activating" the rose petal flavor might help. That's why I recommend in the recipe above adding the rose petal earlier, because beating the rose with butter and sugar should help release more flavor.
Another thing you could try if you're willing, and I will try it when I make these again, is letting the rose petals soak with a few drops of water before adding.
I forgot to add the orange zest when I made these cookies *facepalm*, but had every intention of doing so and, after the fact, decided the orange zest would really take them to the next level. But, because I forgot, I listed it as "optional" above.