Today is my grandmother’s 93rd birthday. 93! Here’s the part where I say I can’t really believe the number I just typed out, and I’m sure she can’t believe it either. Though I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like – me being in San Francisco and she being in New Jersey – I did get to cram in a lightening fast visit when I was on the East Coast in November. We sat and talked for four hours about family, the past and present, politics, books, and other meanderings whilst nibbling on the cupcakes I’d brought from DC via the Amtrak (and the PATH, and a car trip).
When I think of my grandmother – ‘Nanny’ – I think of peppermints and her faux wool coat, the three of us squeezed cozily together in the back of the old Volvo as we drove around looking at the holiday lights. She used to visit us for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, and when flying became too difficult as luck would have it I was old enough to be living on my own in Washington, DC, and so I was able to make my way up to Jersey City a few times a year. Often I would visit friends in the city for the weekend then take the train under the river to Journal Square. I would have dinner with my grandpa (often with a baseball game accompaniment) and then walk the few blocks over to Nanny’s apartment for the night.
Now I send her cards – and cookies. For this last Christmas I made up a little box with a pine-scented sachet from Maine, a lemon tea loaf, and a packet of lavender shortbread cookies from Miette. I hear the cookies were a big hit, and I am planning to send another batch very soon – but homemade this time.
I have long loved lavender, and I have long loved to cook with it. Next week I am contemplating working on a recipe for the cookbook for lavender cupcakes (flourless angel food cupcakes) with lemon butter cream icing – I think this would be utterly wonderful. I probably will make a simple syrup from the lavender … or maybe it would be easiest to just add some dried lavender to the batter. I love the floral accent lavender brings; it is probably my favorite herb (and maybe also flower?) and I make good use of it whenever I can. (Side note: I truly love recipe testing.)
These shortbread cookies are delightful: buttery, tender, and lightly infused with lavender. If lavender in a cookie just seems too strange to you, try substituting about 2 tablespoons of lemon zest (Meyer lemons are in season in California right now, so make haste). But be warned: they probably will not last too long on your table.
Another thing that makes me think of Nanny is tea (Lipton, please!). Every time we’d go for our annual-ish grandmother-granddaughter lunch each would indulge in a familiar ritual: a grilled cheese sandwich for me and a cup of tea would always accompany her meal. So today, to mark my Nanny’s 93rd birthday on this earth, I will drink lots of tea in her honor (though I may stick with green tea today) and think of her, and send love.
Lavender Shortbread Cookies, via Not Just Sweets
These buttery little cookies are so very perfect, and all they want for is a strong cuppa (or two).
Makes 2 dozen cookies.
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl, mix the sugar and lavender; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, butter, salt, and baking soda and beat on low speed until it resembles corn meal. Add the lavender sugar, cream, and vanilla and beat until just clumped together.
Form the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough 1/2 inch thick on a lightly floured surface (or between wax paper) into a 6-by-4-inch rectangle. Using a ruler, square the edges as much as possible. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1-inch squares.
Place them 2 inches apart on a parchment lined sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, 11-13 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.