Cookies, by definition are reasonably small, flat cakes eaten as a snack or dessert. Unless, that is, it is a tough cookie, in which case it is usually someone with an exceptionally hard demeanor. Apart from the times the word cookie is applied to an attractive woman. It would be very interesting to discover the etymological source of it being used to denote a file on a computer used by a site the computer visits to store data useful to that website.
The majority of English-speaking countries in the world call this confection a biscuit. Only the citizens of the U.S. and Canada refer to it as a cookie. Some experts hold that the word and the confection are from the Dutch, who called it kockie. The Dutch were the first Europeans to occupy Wall Street, then the northern most Manhattan border of New Amsterdam. Beyond that wall were Native Americans and wilderness. Though not for long. As the border was expanded, the kockie went along in all directions.
The Muppet’s Cookie Monster is credited with enhancing the reputation of the cookie in these parts, though it needed no enhancement for some of us. Nor have the bakers been shy of experimenting. There are probably more types to be had, but my count yielded: drop, bar, filled, molded, sandwich, rolled and cut, icebox (now refrigerated), iced, pressed, cream, savory and fortune cookies. By some definitions, brownies and blondies are cookies. Everyone has a favorite and, nationally, the cream-filled chocolate sandwich is the winner. Personally, a few peanut butter cookies with an ice-cold glass of milk approaches divinity.
Then there are Christmas cookies. Those baked to leave for Santa may account for his rotundity. But is anyone taking book on how many of those baked during the season actually make it as far as Santa’s snack plate? Think of all those fingers licked clean of frosting and sprinkles.
Gingerbread was reportedly brought to Europe in the 990s AD by an Armenian monk. By the 15th C the production of gingerbread in Germany was controlled by a Gingerbread Guild. In 17th C England, the town of Market Drayton claimed to be the home of gingerbread. It was shaped, painted and hung in shop window displays. How and when gingerbread, its men and its houses became associated with Christmas is undocumented, but I suspect the Victorians of German descent. So it probably goes.
Surprisingly, though there are many cakes, tarts and pies in the web site’s recipe files, there are few cookies. Clearly something has to change. There is a Gingerbread Pear Cake you might give a try during the season and a festive Cranberry Walnut Tart, but we’ll have to get to work on a few more cookie recipes. Meanwhile, courtesy of my friend, Gail Tirana, we’re offering two cookie recipes, Oatmeal, Raisin & Spice Cookies and Coconut Macaroons. Munch with milk, coffee, tea or Vin Santo according to your preference.
Humans are so wonderfully fanciful. Take two scarce resins, add a dollop of imagination and the gods are sweating Frankincense and weeping Myrrh. Resins are the semi-solid secretion of trees and plants and have been used for incense, perfumes, embalming, sacrificial offerings, medicine, a thickener in food dishes and for glue. When wounded, that is when the bark is scored through, these ingenious trees exude the resins to heal themselves. These two particular resins have been harvested and traded for more than 5,000 years. Murals in the Egyptian tomb of the only female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, depict sacks of exotic trade goods, including Frankincense and Myrrh.
Almost all Frankincense originates in Oman, Yemen and Somalia, a product of the Boswellia scara tree, one of the scrufftiest, scrabbiest examples of desert botany that ever photosynthesized. The Commiphora myrrha tree would not win a beauty contest either with spikey thorns that could have inspired the mace club. Myrrh is native to Yemen, Somalia and eastern Ethiopia. Both resins were worth more than their weight in gold, though neither was considered a luxury. Rather, given their ritualistic roles and their ability to delay the onset of decomposition while covering the odors of death, they were thought of as a necessity. The charred remains of a knob of Frankincense burned as incense was ground up by the Egyptians to become the distinctive black kohl eyeliner. The flagrantly excessive Nero, before he let Rome burn, lit a year’s worth myrrh on the funeral pyre of his wife, in remorse for killing her and their unborn child with a kick to her belly.
In its purest forms, Frankincense was chewed like gum to aid digestion and promote healthy skin. Its medicinal use has expanded and it is currently used to treat depression, cancer, respiratory infections and inflammations, as well as to stimulate the immune system. The BBC reported in 2010 that studies in progress have noted the resin’s ability to arrest and possibly cure cancers by causing the cancerous cells to close down on themselves.
Myrryh has been a staple of Chinese medicine for at least four centuries. As such it has been prized for its ability to “move blood”, to purge stagnant blood from the uterus and to relieve rheumatic, arthritic and circulatory issues. Myrrh has been shown in recent tests to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and to increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
I fear I have no recipes to offer using Frankincense or Myrrh. But in the spirit of the season, while pumpkins can still be had we offer Pumpkin Soup as an appeasement along with a few of the holiday recipes to be found on the web site.
Ducks seem such squabbly birds. It’s a little hard to imagine them being orderly. Yet, those ducklings line up neatly between their parents for every little foray across pond, river or lake. Once airborne, they take to keeping a tight formation as well as they take to water. And every military air force in the world follows their lead.
Recently, a gorgeous Mandarin duck showed up in The Lake in New York City’s Central Park. There were flurries of Tweets and Facebook messages touting his beauty and distributing his photo. Then he disappeared. Puzzled and sad, his fans kept watch. He reappeared, first at the 79th Street Boat Basin and then back in The Lake. Later it was determined that he was promiscuous with his affections and had been seen across the Hudson. He is back in Central Park at the moment though his origins remain unknown.
The most popular duck for the table is the Pekin duck. Wavererly Root believed the Chinese first domesticated the duck. Domesticated ducks were almost as popular in Europe as they were in Asia. In pre-European North America, wild ducks were so plentiful that they were a menu ubiquity without any attempt at domestication. Along about 1893, 6 Pekin hens and 3 Pekin drakes were brought to Long Island by a man named Palmer. All of the Pekin ducks raised in the US, estimated to be in the tens of millions, are the descendents of those nine birds.
Perhaps the resurgence of duck love began when Sesame Street’s Erine gave us all permission to love our bath toys. Maybe Daffy and Donald teamed up to found the Lord Love A Duck Club. Whoever is responsible, most folks find ducks lovable. Apparently they are also a great device for raising funds. Since the Rotary Club of Aspen initated the first one in 1991, (Rubber) Duck Derbies have developed a devouted following. In towns across the country and beyond, an increasing number of official Duck Derbies are being held. Such derbies are the means through which various organizations raise money for some local community interest. If you’ve got a river, you qualify. Each participant makes a donation for a numbered duck of their own. Thousands of bright yellow rubber ducks are released simultaneously. No interference is permitted. Sounds like really useful fun.
Then there are the tables at which hungry folks are waiting for dinner. Fortunately for us, our market is now providing delicious domestic duck from Earth’s Palate Farm for just that purpose. In these pages we have previously offered recipes for Black Lacquered Duck Breasts, and Chinese Roasted Five-Spice Duck among others, all of which may be found on the website. Today’s offering is Crisp Pear-Leek Glazed Duck which works beautifully with Roasted Acorn Squash Rings.