Lavender Shortbread Cookies

I’ve wanted to make lavender shortbread cookies since the beginning of the school year. Ever since my friend Hannah mentioned that she had made some, I hankered to make my own cookies. However, I was held back by my inability to find dried lavender at a store near me. Living in the middle of Baltimore doesn’t make it super easy to find niche ingredients so I put my desire for lavender cookies on the back burner because I knew it would be hard to find what I needed. However, on a recent weekend trip into Virginia, I found a great spice shop that had a huge selection of niche spices! It was a great find and they ship nationwide so I may come back for more! However, now I am left with more dried lavender buds than I think I’ll ever be able to use because I bought an 8 ounce bag…I guess I’ll just have to be creative and find other ways to incorporate them into my cooking! After finding the lavender at last, I told myself that it was time to make my lavender shortbread dreams come true!

As with most floral flavors like rose or elderflower, lavender can pack a punch and if too much is used, the food or beverage item with the flavor may end up tasting soapy. Thankfully, that was not the case with these cookies! I’m also extremely fond of lavender lattes which may make me more disposed to enjoy other food items with lavender in them. This recipe is a straightforward shortbread recipe and includes steps for chilling and rolling out the dough. I was a little overly enthusiastic when microwaving my butter so I ended up chilling for longer than the original recipe. The first step in the recipe has you blend the lavender buds with sugar in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, a mortar and pestle could do the trick to blend the two. What you’re really trying to avoid is biting a chunk of lavender by itself. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, rubbing the lavender with the sugar in between your fingers will do the trick to imbue the sugar with a mild lavender flavor. If you opt for the rubbing, you may want to try to chop up the buds just to avoid eating one whole. Otherwise, I think this recipe turned out great for me and if you have any suggestions on recipes to use up the rest of my lavender, add a comment below! Happy baking!

Lavender Shortbread Cookie Recipe

  • 8 ounces (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender bulbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar + extra for dusting before baking
  • 2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Blend together the sugar and lavender in a food processor or blender for about 30 seconds.
  2. Cream the butter in a separate bowl by itself then add the lavender/sugar mix. Mix until well-combined. Add in the flour and mix until smooth and there are no lumps.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on to plastic wrap. Cover with an additional sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Let chill for 30 minutes or more in the refrigerator before the next step.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle some flour onto a hard surface and place the dough disk on top, removing the plastic wrapping. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Use a cookie cutter or your hands to cut out shapes and transfer cut out cookies to parchment paper. Let chill on cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. (I used a random plastic bit in my kitchen to cut out my cookies and it turned out well so be creative!)
  5. Preheat the oven to 300F. When ready to bake, remove the cookies from the fridge. Setting down the sheet, take some sugar and sprinkle it in an even layer on top of each cookie. After the sugar coat, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden on the edges and aromatic. (You should smell butter more than lavender if you’re relying on your nose)
  6. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let cool. Enjoy your cookies!

Makes about 24-30 cookies depending on thickness and shape.

Book Review: Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

Oh my gosh folks, it’s yet another memoir about living in Paris! So this book continues my recent track record of reading as many memoirs about living in Paris as humanly possible. As my move gets closer and closer, I’m getting more excited and nervous to be leaving the East Coast behind and launching on my next adventure. I was really excited to read this memoir because it is much more recent than most of the ones I’ve read so far. Gopnik lived in Paris in the 1990s and into the early 2000s and chronicled his experiences in the Paris Journals for the New Yorker as well as within this memoir. Gopnik explores the difficulties of being an American in Paris as well as becoming a new father shortly before his move across continents.

I really loved this book. Gopnik is pensive and truthful and uproariously funny even under difficult circumstances. Gopnik details the minutiae of living in Paris and the daily battles of an American trying to adapt to a new home, specifically in a home so disdainful of the brand of American globalism that Mr. Gopnik represents. I found the reflections on his life to be touching and made me unafraid to move to Paris today. I think my favorite part of the book was the series of Christmas Journals, a reflection from the holiday season in Paris. Gopnik wrote a Christmas Journal for each year he was in Paris and it’s thought-provoking to read through his year end tabulation of the joys and disappointments of the outgoing year. I would absolutely recommend this book and I’m going to give this one to my mom when I return home for the summer. I hope you are able to find a copy, mine was courtesy of Thriftbooks so I suggest you start there! Happy Reading!

Book Review: A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff

What are you supposed to do after finishing an epic fantasy novel like The Priory of the Orange Tree? Obviously, jump into another fantasy series of which you only happen to have the first book! Yes, this was my big brain move to try and avoid the reader’s crash after finishing The Priory of the Orange Tree. This novel first came on my radar after reading a book review of the final novel in the series, Cerulean Queen, in the Wall Street Journal over the past year. After that review, I put the first in the series on my booklist and the rest is history! This is yet another birthday book so shout out to my brother for the birthday present! Thank you!!! Books are one of my favorite presents and they make up the majority of any gift list I am ever asked to provide. But without further ado, my take on A Queen in Hiding.

A Queen in Hiding tells the tale of Cerulia, the princella of Weirendale and follows her plight from a comfortable existence surrounded by nobles in the castle to becoming the foster child of a farming family. Her mother, Queen Cressa, flees the capital of Weirendale after discovering a nefarious plot against herself and her daughter, placing Cerulia in the hands of a peasant family and leaving to try and recapture her throne. The novel spans about a decade and explores the unrest occurring throughout the Nine Realms, foreshadowing the foes that Cerulia will have to defend herself against once she tries to reclaim her throne. The novel is a lovely read, not quite as entrancing as some, but with a good story and a plucky heroine. I would recommend this to lovers of young adult novels and fantasy in general. It’s a very female focused novel which I adore and found to be really refreshing. I hope that you get a chance to try reading this novel and happy reading with whatever is on your night stand these days!

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved this book so much! It’s so rare these days to find an entire fantasy series encompassed by one novel, however large that novel may be. This book was gigantic but I read it pretty quickly because I was so entranced by the story! Samantha Shannon does an excellent job of building an entirely new world full of mythical creatures and strong women who don’t take no for an answer! I first saw this book at a bookstore while I was in Spain last January and immediately put it on my booklist. I knew I couldn’t buy it then because it would’ve added at least five pounds to my bags but my brother kindly purchased it for me for my recent birthday. I’m so glad he did because this is a gem of a novel.

The Priory of the Orange Tree begins with the story of Ead Duryan, a highly trained warrior priestess who has been assigned to protect Queen Sabran of House Berethnet, ruler of Inys and leader of Virtudom. The House of Berethnet has kept “the Nameless One” at bay for a thousand years and has benevolently ruled Inys but no longer. The minions of the Nameless One are on the rise and Ead must find a way to protect Sabran and all of Virtudom before the Nameless One conquers all. The Priory of the Orange Tree tells Ead’s tale through her eyes and all those around her which I found enchanting for filling out the world that Shannon created. The novel is also very inclusive with a diverse set of characters. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel because it didn’t seem forced but a natural extension of the world that Shannon built. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to trudge through all 800 pages. I appreciated its length because I felt that the story was able to truly develop each character. However I did feel that the ending was a little rushed but it did the job. It was a wonderful escape to another world and I hope you get a chance to enjoy Shannon’s writing sometime soon. She is also the author of a pretty popular series, The Bone Season, so that may be next up on my reading list! Happy reading!

Almond Lemon Macaroons

I made these little delights a few weeks ago and wanted to post the recipe just in time for Easter or Passover. These macaroons are delicious little mouthfuls that are perfect for any occasion as spring creeps into our lives. I’ve been so desperate for some sunshine or even blooming flowers so I’ve been baking a lot of really light summery things lately. With their strong lemon flavor, these fit the bill! The original recipe was from the New York Times but I modified it quite a bit. These are a take on the traditional almendrado cookie of Spain which is a cookie made from blanched almonds and heavily whipped egg whites. While made of the same ingredients as macarons, the Spanish cookie is nothing like its French cousin but is still a treat! Almendrados are traditionally flavored with cinnamon and I was delighted to come across this lemon flavored variation.

In reality, these cookies are much simpler to make than the typical almendrados. It’s made of five ingredients and comes together in less than fifteen minutes. The longest part of this recipe is the chilling period between preparing the dough and baking. The chilling period is meant to help dry the cookies out but chilling your cookies also gives the ingredients time to combine into deeper flavors. The original recipe called for chilling for twelve hours or overnight but I’m impatient and I shortened it to six hours. You can do it for the whole twelve hours if you’d like but I thought it wasn’t necessary to wait! The recipe also calls for the zest of one lemon. I used the equivalent of four tablespoons. I love lemons and I will often zest my lemons as soon as I get them and freeze the zest in the little sauce containers you get from eating takeout. This has worked really well for me because I adore strong lemon flavoring and I’ll often just take a container out from the freezer and use the whole thing. I would recommend trying it because it can help to preserve the delicious flavor from summer lemons well into the winter. Let me know if you try this recipe, I really hope that you do! It’s delicious and a nice mouthful of sweetness for the lingering chilly wintery nights that we’re having these days! Happy baking!

Almond Lemon Macaroon Recipe

  • 160 grams (1 2/3 cup) almond flour (Original recipe calls for grinding your own blanched almonds but that is time consuming and a LOT of work)
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon or 4 tablespoons of lemon zest
  • Additional 50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar for topping
  • About 30 almonds for decoration
  1. In a bowl, combine the almond flour, granulated sugar, and lemon zest. Add the egg and mix well. Alternatively, use a food processor to combine ingredients.
  2. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Put the additional 50 grams of sugar into a bowl.
  4. Tear off pieces of dough (about the size of a walnut) and roll into a ball. Roll in the sugar and press an almond into the top until it is half buried in the dough. Aim the pointy part of the almond into the dough.
  5. Bake cookies 8-10 minutes until the barest hint of color shows on them. Cookies should still be a little soft when removed from the oven so they don’t harden too much. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

NYT Butterscotch Cake

This recipe was a request from one of my friends and I can never refuse a friend! I put out a call for what people thought I should do next on my Instagram and she sent me this! It looked delicious and it ended up making one monster of a cake! I would recommend making this one for a group, it took me about two weeks to finish it off myself after I gave her half…it was a lot of cake! It was delicious but the flavor may not be for everyone! It doesn’t taste quite like caramel, contrary to the description of the recipe from the New York Times cooking section. It is definitely more of a butterscotch cake and I really enjoyed it. If you’re not a butterscotch person, you could still make the cake but change up the frosting type. The frosting is incredibly thick and lends most of the butterscotch flavor. I also followed the recipe to a tee and I would recommend not doing any crazy substitutions until after you’ve made the recipe once. I’ve found that it’s easier to substitute and get creative when I’m not forced to do so by my lack of ingredients and easier still when I’m substituting in a recipe that I’m familiar with. I’d be pretty hesitant to substitute in a complicated dessert recipe because I worry about it going wrong and wasting all the ingredients!

So how did this recipe go for me? Honestly, pretty well! The cakes were easy enough to make and once made, the cake kept really well in the refrigerator. I’d even say that I preferred to eat it cold out of the refrigerator than fresh out of the oven. This recipe calls for a stand mixer but I used a handheld. If you prefer one or the other, use that, it doesn’t matter a ton in this recipe. I think the trickiest part of the recipe was the icing. I didn’t have a problem making it on the stove but it was really hard to actually ice the cake. I choose to drizzle the icing onto the cake after I had put it on the cake stand and the icing got everywhere. Not only was the icing messy, it also hardens immediately as it cools which meant that it hardened all over my prep table as it oozed off the cake. Definitely not the ideal especially as I was frantically trying to ice it before I was expecting a delivery…. It was messy but I’d be happy to do it again now that I know about the potential for mess. I would recommend doing two passes of icing on top, an initial drizzle over the top then one last pass to even out the layer. Doing a smaller layer twice will help to keep the mess to a minimum and prevent any unnecessary icing loss. I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did and happy baking! Let me know if you have any ideas of what I should try next in the comments below!

NYT Butterscotch Cake

For the Cake

  • 225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 375 grams (3 cups) self-rising flour
  • 400 grams (2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 240 milliliters (1 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Icing

  • 225 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 440 grams (2 packed cups) dark/light brown sugar (OG recipe calls for dark, I used light)
  • 120 milliliters (1/2 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 305 grams (3 cups) sifted confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour 2 nine inch cake rounds.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, four minutes. Scrape as you cream if you can.
  3. Add eggs in one at a time, mixing well and then scraping the bowl. Then alternate adding in flour and buttermilk, starting with flour and ending with flour. Add the vanilla extract last and mix gently to combine.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans (It was roughly 650 grams in each pan for me). Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 30-40 minutes depending on your oven. Let cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes then turn out into racks and let cool completely.
  5. For the icing, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over low heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and let bubble for five minutes, whisking constantly to prevent any of the mixture from burning.
  6. After five minutes, carefully and slowly add the buttermilk, stirring constantly until it comes to a roiling boil. Remove from heat and add salt. Transfer to a bowl.
  7. Mixing on low, add the confectioner’s sugar, whisking until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Icing should be glossy and pour easily.
  8. While the icing is still hot, spread one cup over the top of the bottom layer then add the top layer. Use the rest of the icing on the top and sides of the cake. It will set as it cools so work quickly and carefully.
  9. Enjoy your cake!

Book Review: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

I love Flannery O’Connor! This short story collection was a birthday present from my brother and I was overjoyed to see this amongst my shipment of birthday books from him. The first book of hers that I read was Everything that Rises Must Converge, one her short story collections published posthumously. O’Connor was an extremely talented author from the mid-twentieth century American South who died tragically young from lupus after publishing one novel, Wise Blood, and the short story collection titled A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. O’Conner’s wit is unmatched, she is very easily my favorite short story writer other than N. K. Jemisin. A Good Man is Hard to Find is full of haunting stories that left me unsettled after reading them. O’Connor’s fervent Catholicism is also very noticeable throughout the stories, they’re all full of overtones of original sin and man’s unworthy nature. I really like O’Connor but I do have some reservations in recommending her stories to other readers for a few reasons.

One of the biggest issues with reading O’Connor these days is her prolific use of the n-word. And when I say prolific, I mean it. O’Conner uses the word intentionally, conveying the terrible meaning of the word every time it is written. O’Connor uses the word to highlight the fragility of the social order in the post war South but that doesn’t make it comfortable to read. Her use of the word is so problematic that it’s even brought up in the introduction by Lauren Groff. I don’t think that the short stories would have the same undertones if the n-word wasn’t used but I still was really uncomfortable reading some of the stories. I think if you do decide to read this story collection, you have to be prepared to read it critically and I would NOT read it aloud. Just because the word was written in the fifties and the author didn’t view it as problematic then does not mean that it is not a very, very problematic word. The other issue a future reader may have is the unsettling threat of condemnation and sinfulness inherent in man found in every story. I really enjoy reading the stories because of that element; it makes me more contemplative of my own actions. However, just because I enjoy it, doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. Either way, these stories were a quick read that could be digested over a nice lunch hour. I would recommend the stories to the intrepid reader but perhaps not for those who can’t watch a scary movie without sleeping with the light on. O’Conner is the master of Southern gothic after all! Happy reading!

NYT Pecan Pie Brownies

I bring you to another one of my mail ready recipes! This was another one of the recipes that I tested out for mailing and according to the recipients, they made it through beautifully! I think the key to mail-able baked goods is both density and freezing! I made these twice because I made a few mistakes the first time. The second time that I made them was about a week before I mailed them and once they were cooled, I froze them in ziplock baggies until I was ready to ship them. Even from Baltimore, they only took two days to make it to the recipients on the West Coast which was fantastic! I was really excited to make these because they combine brownies and pecan pie, two of my favorite baked goods! I found these as a I was going through the New York Times Cooking website. I’ve featured a couple of their recipes now and I cannot stress how much I love their cooking section. In an effort to keep the New York Times alive, the cooking section was monetized and a subscription costs about $45 a year. If you’re able to pay, it is absolutely worth it. Some of their cooking recipes can be hard and unnecessarily complicated but I’ve found that the variety and quantity of recipes is unmatched. This specific recipe is from Melissa Clark, one of the many wonderful writers for the food section. These brownies took a little time to perfect but are a wonderful afternoon treat! As I’ll share below, the first time I made them was a little bumpy but I got the hang of it by the second time.

So what went wrong the first time that I made this? A couple things but the biggest issue was the pan size. This recipe calls for a 8 inch square pan, the typical brownie pan. However, the closest thing that I have to an 8 inch square pan is my 9 inch cake rounds. Instead of buying yet another pan, I decided to make the brownies in my rectangular cake pan (8 by 13) which caused them to burn pretty badly because I misjudged the baking time with the thinner layer of brownies in a larger pan. The second time, I used my nine inch cake rounds and cut the brownies into squares once they had cooled a little bit. I also didn’t bake as long on round two because I was worried about burning them. The original recipe said to bake up to 55 minutes for the topping to set. I only baked for fifty minutes and found the fudge-y texture of the brownies to be so yummy that I didn’t want to bake it any longer. Because I chose not to bake it as long, the pecans were liable to coming loose. So a bit of a trade-off but one that didn’t affect my brownies too much after I froze them. I also found the recipe to a be a little bitter both times I made it. The brownie batter itself is very sweet but the topping wasn’t. It may have been because I used whole milk rather than heavy cream in the topping and I think you may have better results if you add an additional tablespoon or two of light brown sugar. So let me know how it goes for you in the comments below and happy baking!

NYT Pecan Pie Brownies Recipe

For the Brownies

  • 115 grams (1/2 cup, 1 stick) unsalted butter,
  • 115 grams (4oz) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 250 grams (1 /4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 130 grams (1 cup+ a lil more) all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 45 grams (1/4 cup) semisweet chocolate chips

For the Pecan Layer Topping

  • 85 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 60 milligrams (1/4 cup) honey
  • 55 grams (1/4 cup) light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used whole milk, if you do so, add another tablespoon of sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 200 grams (2 cups) toasted pecans halves, roughly chopped
  1. Heat an oven to 350F. Put the pecans onto a large sheet pan and roast for 8 minutes or until you can smell the nuts. Set on a rack and let cool.
  2. Once ready to bake, heat oven to 350F. Grease and line an 8 inch square pan with two inches of excess parchment on each side to help lift out the brownies once they’re baked.
  3. To make the brownies, place the butter and chocolate into a medium pot and place on the stove over low heat. Melt, stirring constantly. Once melted, scrape into a large bowl and mix in the granulated sugar. Let sit until cool to the touch, 4-5 minutes.
  4. Once cooled, whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Whisk in the flour, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt. Mix in chips and scrape into the prepared pan. Smooth over the batter into an even layer and set aside.
  5. Make the pecan layer by whisking together the melted butter, honey, brown sugar, heavy cream, and fine sea salt. Fold in the pecans until well coated. Once mixed, pour pecan mixture in an even layer over the brownie batter.
  6. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt and bake until the top is set and firm to the touch, 45-55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into 16 squares.

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This book was brought to my attention by my boyfriend. I don’t believe I had ever picked up a book by Ken Follett until this one and I was utterly enchanted. When we first started dating, I vaguely remember Jason mentioning that he thought that I would like this book but never gave it another thought outside of that conversation. He actually brought me his personal copy earlier in this semester and I was intrigued, but intimidated by the size. This novel clocks it at 806 pages which is nothing to sneeze at and was a mountain even for me! I am really glad that I read this book because it transported me to another world. It was first published in 1989 and since then Ken Follett remains a prolific fiction writer. I hope to read some more of his work but it may have to wait until I work my way through my stack of unread books! But without further ado, I give you my take on The Pillars of the Earth.

The novel is written through multiple perspectives, that of Philip, Tom Builder, and others. I think the way Jason described the plot to me still rings very true; it is a book about a town trying to build a cathedral. But it is about so much more than just the stone building and the people who inhabit the surrounding area. It is a story of resilience and perseverance through the worst that life has to throw at you. It really cheered me up because if these characters can survive through the novel, I can also survive through the pandemic! I loved reading this book which I cannot stress enough. As a scholar of medieval history, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found the book to be well researched. To me, there were no glaring historical inaccuracies and the way the novel swept through the history of the unification of England into part of the Angevin empire was fascinating. I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly. I think that it has something for everyone but that perhaps it should be read by those 14 and up. It is a little racy at times and a trigger warning is highly necessary for the first part of the book. Other than that, I cannot recommend this book enough to people! Do yourself a favor and book yourself a pandemic escape with this amazing read! Happy reading!