The December Sun (featuring Palmiers with Crater Lake Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Rosemary)
The December sun languished sneaky and low, an inch or two above the afternoon horizon until I made a left turn. Then it sharpened its rays. Squinting, I eased my sneaker off the gas, flipped the visor down, and stretched into the rectangle of shade on my forehead. I was already on edge as I had 16 Zoom-party-boxes to deliver before 4:00 and time was disappearing without my consent. Now the sun was slowing my pace by blinding me at every turn. Breaking into an anxious sweat, I pushed the sleeves of my sweatshirt up.
“Take a right turn at the stop sign,” my best friend GPS advised. I spent almost as much time in my car as in the kitchen in 2020, delivering freshly baked bread, fully cooked meals, and these new assorted-appetizer-Zoom-party-boxes (available now!) to clients who can’t throw parties in person.
I pulled into a space a few houses from the drop-off, put my Honda in park, and looked down at the sun on my forearms.
They are invisible in the dimension-reducing fluorescent lights of a commercial kitchen or the ambient hue of our home, but that afternoon the sun’s beams highlighted them like a black light on a motel bedspread. Scars– from my fingertips to my elbows, two solid sleeves of them. There is a map of my life here on my flesh, an indelible yet almost invisible history lesson of faded carbuncles and pallid slashes from my 28 years of kitchen work.
Most of the scar-producing events resulted from quickly forgotten moments—a dull knife absentmindedly slicing through a stack of onions, the oil spattering with glee when the vinegar-soaked, waffle-cut potatoes hit it, the never-ending army of sheet pans… all hot, all waiting to permanently mark unprotected forearms, fingers, elbows, anything.
But as I ran my fingertips over the divots, I remembered the bigger events, too.
There was the first time I sous-cheffed for Norman Lear’s chef. She handed me 25 carrots and a mandolin adding, “You’ve done this before, right?”
“Of course!” I replied, semi-truthfully, but my insecurities overrode any mastery of the instrument and in three swift passes, I added the tip of my finger to the small mound of thinly sliced carrots on the cutting board. I wanted to die I was so embarrassed but got the wound cleaned, wrapped, and gloved so quickly that I don’t think anyone in the bustling kitchen noticed.
There were the clients in New York, who used their kitchen for cooking so rarely that their oven had become a storage unit for children’s toys. They owned an incredibly expensive Japanese knife set which I was encouraged to use when I cooked for them. Of course, these knives were insanely sharp because they never saw any action and twice I cut myself while taking a knife out of the knife block. Not even using it. Twice!
There was a catering job in Beverly Hills where I was deep-frying cheese-filled squash blossoms outside on a camp stove because the client thought the smell of frying would conflict with her home’s expensive candle bouquet. The small burner holding the pot of oil was unbalanced from the get-go and when it tipped over onto my right hand creating a second-degree burn, I said nothing. I wrapped it in a dishtowel, replaced the oil that had spilled, and kept frying.
There isn’t time to acknowledge the fear, pain, and shame of a wound in the kitchen. There’s too much other stuff to do.
But that afternoon, like a good therapist, the December sun showed me how many scars there were and, rather than let my ego take another failure hit, I claimed credit for the wounds. My business has lost a lot this year. I miss the parties, I miss the clients, I miss the process of cooking real food for people in their homes. But I’ve been doing this a long time, through failures and triumphs, and will continue the battle for truth, justice, and crispy chicken for the rest of my life.
As tempting as it is to spin this story into an allegory about the permanent scars left on all of us over the past year, I think I’ll stay in my cooking lane and let my neighbor Dave do the talking.
Here is a creation that I invented for the assorted appetizer Zoom party boxes (still available for Zoom parties and meetings!) I had been obsessing over Rogue Creamery Crater Lake Blue Cheese, which is one of the best cheeses in the world… and local to us Oregonians. I combined them with some candied pecans and fresh rosemary in a puff pastry palmier and the result was a breathtaking union.
Palmiers with Crater Lake Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Rosemary
Makes about 20 palmiers
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
- A dusting of flour
- 3.5 ounces of blue cheese, preferably something like Crater Lake Blue, crumbled
- ½ cup candied pecans, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
- Lightly flour a board or a wide space on your counter. Unfold the thawed puff pastry and dust it with a little flour. Roll the puff pastry out into a rectangle approximately 12 inches by 10 inches.
- Scatter the blue cheese over the puff pastry, breaking any big pieces down. Sprinkle the chopped candied pecans over the cheese and then sprinkle on the rosemary.
- Starting from the outside of the longer side of the pastry, begin to roll tightly toward the center. Stop at the middle and then roll the other side in to meet it, pushing the sides together. On a cutting board, slice the log into ½ inch thick oval rounds and lay them 2 inches apart from each other on a sheet pan covered with a silicon mat or parchment paper.
- Put the sheet pan with the uncooked palmiers into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up. These cook much better when going directly from the freezer into the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bake the palmiers for 10 minutes, and then turn over and bake for 5 minutes on the other side.
Enjoy, stay safe, and remember… January 20th is almost here!
Just in case you don’t have a candied pecan recipe you love, here’s mine…
- 1 egg white
- 1 1/2 teaspoons water
- 1/4 heaping cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon spicy paprika or cayenne, optional
- 3 cups pecans
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicone mat.
- Whisk the egg white with the water in a bowl. Add the sugars, cinnamon, salt, and paprika or cayenne. Mix.
- Add the pecans and mix well to make sure the pecans are covered.
- Toss the pecans onto the lined sheet pan and bake for 35 minutes.
- Let cool before you eat or cook with these.