Friday, September 21, 2007

Curiouser and Curiouser - Speculaas

Most of us need no provocation to indulge in the pleasures of eating and drinking, unless, of course, we have taken up the cause of self-deprivation in the form of going on a diet. Diets derail at an amazingly high rate, likely around the same percentile as new restaurants going under. This food business can be pretty tough to negotiate.

Diets fail for many reasons, the greatest of which is boredom. You can assuage the hunger pit formerly known as your stomach with enormous portions of “safe” foods such as hot-air popcorn and celery sticks, but it takes stupendous willpower to resist breaking out of the bubble of agonizing boredom which comes from knowing that for the next several weeks or months, you will live on only hot-air popcorn and celery sticks in order to reach your goal. Boredom can get you into a great deal of trouble. Go ask Alice.

Alice, the Alice of Lewis Carroll’s famous, quasi coked-up novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, lives the idle, pampered life of a stuffy upper-class Victorian English childhood. As her story opens, Alice is languishing with boredom on a river bank, primed for any temptation that comes her way. A white rabbit dressed in a waistcoat and fretting over the time is just the sort of diversion this little girl craves. The chase is on.

No sooner does our fanciful heroine drop with a “thump” onto the floor of the deep well of the rabbit's hole, than she is drawn to the label of a little bottle of liquid ordering her to “DRINK ME.” Despite the elaborate matrix of pro and con arguments blurring through her mind, she does conclude that its contents are potable:

… finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she soon finished it off.”

The drink, however, nearly finishes her off. Now shrunken to only ten inches tall, she spies another alluring directive, “EAT ME,” on a small cake housed in a glass box. Giving up any further debate, Alice “…very soon finished off the cake,” and as one can now predict, skyrockets to a reed-slender figure over nine feet tall.

Magical transformations of height and weight should be so easy. I cannot vouch that a sweet marked “EAT ME” will either shrink or stretch you, but I do know that if you eat too many of them, they will make you wider.

Speculaas - From Cookie Recipes Online. I made no deviations, except to roll out the dough approximately 1/4 inch thick before using assorted cookie cutters (not shown). The cookie in the photos was cut with a large oval jar lid and stamped with a letter press before baking. Traditionally, this dough is pressed into special molds, most commonly the image of a windmill, and often served for Christmas celebrations. It is important to allow the dough to soften slightly after chilling to allow for easy rolling. Makes approximately 32 two-inch cookies or 16 large ones. --

This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole, and Lisa of Champaigne Taste, for their wonderful Novel Food event, highlighting the good food in the good books we read for body and soul.


Been There, Done That

Grilled Portobello Caps

Spiced Sweets
Extreme Gingerbread Makeover


Rosa said...

I love these biscuits, which I can buy easily in France under the name Speculoos. Like a few other Dutch specialties, they are popular in northern France. I'd never thought of making them at home, but now I will! Love the Eat Me touch.

Valli said...

Excellent post for the Novel Challenge! I have seen these particular biscuits at the deli with their nostalgic windmill shape. Now we have the recipe to give them a try at home!!!

bee said...

you write beautifully, susan. ever thought of writing your own novel?

TBC said...

I like the results of your "eat me" mold. :)
This is such a fab entry for the event and I like how you have connected the cookies with this novel.

Simona said...

Great story, Susan!
The comparison of diets and restaurants is quite interesting.
I love those cookies: cookies are actually my big weakness. Thanks for participating in our event.

sra said...

nice post as usual, susan. made me laugh. the biscuits look nice, and nice idea to write on them!

Lisa said...

A most excellent post, thank you! Go ask Alice—a wonderful touch. And the "eat me" on the cookie is brilliant. So happy you joined in.

Maryann said...

Wonderful post and you are quite the writer. You go girl! :)

Suganya said...

Do you realise that you have an amazing skill...Stringing pearls(words) into a beautiful string(yr post). I noticed the very first time you wrote to me:). You should take this to next step, Susan.

Paz said...

I would definitely eat this! ;-) Enjoyed your post.


Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

Thanks, Rosa. It must be the Flemish influence on northern France that makes these popular. Here in the U.S., they can be found fairly easily, tracing back to the heavy colonial immigration of the Dutch and Germans.

They’re pretty easy to make, and molding or stamping is a novel way to decorate without frosting, though occasionally I have seen them glazed with royal icing.
Valli – Thank you. These are vaguely like a spiced shortbread, but thinner and crisper.
Dear Bee, thank you so much. I don’t know what the future holds, but the idea of a two-writer household (my husband is a professional writer), is very appealing.
Thanks, TBC. I don’t know that I ever met a cookie that didn’t demand to be eaten. : )
Simona – Thanks for another excuse to crack open a book and to cook at the same time. I do hope you and Lisa run these events seasonally.
Sra – Thanks always. Laughter IS the best medicine, after cookies, that is. : )
Lisa – Thank you! This was such a fun event, I’m already thinking of another lit pick for a future entry should you and Simona host this theme again.
Maryann – Thanks for the kudos. Your enthusiasm is contagious. : )
Thank you, Suganya. You are very sweet, as sweet as cookies. : ) After years of business writing, creative writing at leisure is very refreshing and satisfying. We’ll see what happens going forward.
Hi, Paz! Welcome! I’ve definitely eaten enough of these myself – I didn’t have a choice, really! Some orders are easy to follow. ; ) Good to see you and thanks for visiting. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Nora B. said...

wow, Susan, that cookie looks so wonderfully delicate. I've never used a letter press before, sorry for sounding juvenile but this is soooo cool!

Lucy said...

What can I say?

I love it. All of it. Great piece of writing, great novel, great recipe, and where oh where did you get that stamp woman!


Susan said...

Hi, Nora! Thanks. If you can't be juvenile while discussing "Alice," I don't know when you can!
Dear Lucy - A thousand thanks. That stamp was done with individual letter presses from a cake decorating kit.
The dough was so perfectly pliable, like modeling clay, making it ideal for sunken-relief.

Cynthia said...

I can read your writing everyday. I thoroughly enjoy it.

Sandeepa said...

Ha ha :) bring it on and make me stretch ;-) Loved your write up.
You are so true, if I had to think of only celery sticks life would get so boring. This is what I was telling a guy friend who being a fitness freak asks all and sundry to stay off life's little pleasures.

Ahh to each his own, for me I want a "Eat Me"

About the starter, Susan thanks so much for thinking of me. But I am very hard pressed for time with family visiting and more to make their appearances :) So I don't think I will be able to do any justice to the wonderful starter at all.

librariane said...

Fantastic! I'm sorry I missed a chance to participate in a book and food event... of course, I can make it my own challenge. I've been needing to feel creative food-wise, so this will be perfect!

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - Another shortcrust-based spice cookie for me to enjoy, I see. You have a gift for finding these extraordinary-tasting goodies. And to boot, there are ground almonds. Heaven.

Do you know the significance of the windmill? I haven't the foggiest.

The presentation of the partly-eaten cookie ties into the text of the post very well. The cookie looks perfect - crisp and slightly buttery...I can only imagine how divine the kitchen smelled when these were baking.

Christina said...

I love, love, love the stamp! Wonderful! Funny, evocative, and as usual, elegantly simple. I always think of elegant as the word to describe you, Susan.

Have a happy day!

Toni said...

Thanks for bringing Alice into this lovely, lovely post. I'd have no problem following the instructions on this cookie!

Have you read the book "Eat, Pray, Love"? I just finished the part on Italy (the "Eat" part), and she writes about her experience with gaining weight in Italy. It's beautiful.

Kelly-Jane said...

I have heard of these dutch cookies before, and actually managed to recall which cookbook I read about them in!

Great post again :)

Now I wonder if I need a speccula board...

sunita said...

Beutiful write up...I so agree with does get hard, thinking of celery sticks all the I've recently found out...since then, I've let go a little and it's bliss. So could you please pass over an 'eat me' :)

Nanditha Prabhu said...

beautifully written! hope to read all your ideas in hard copy some day!
have you ever given it a serious thought?

Suganya said...

Your husband a writer? Wow! What are his works so far?

Sharmi said...

lovely post. liked the eat me mold. and that small bite:)

Doug said...

Great intro Susan. As it turns out, 'Go Ask Alice' is also the name of Columbia University's health and wellness newsletter.

Susan said...

Thanks, Cynthia. Wish I could write everyday, but it IS work, and I need a little time to recharge between posts. You know what I’m talking about.
Sandeepa – Glad you liked the post. Thanks! What would we do without life’s little pleasures? Perhaps your fitness friend means well, but walking the fine middle line of moderation is tough enough, never mind cutting everything out.

I understand about the starter. There’s just so much time and energy. Of course, you must tend to family first.
Hi, Librariane! Thanks! It may not be too late. Stay tuned to Briciole and Champaigne Taste; the girls are thinking of hosting this event seasonally.
Thanks, Shaun. I knew you would love these. They are of Dutch origin; hence, the windmill. That’s my bite mark in the cookie. Sometimes it’s just easier not to buck authority and give in.
Christina – That’s a fine compliment, to be elegant, no matter which definition of the word. It means a great deal. Thank you very much. Oh, and that you dig the stamp? Just icing on the cookie.
Thank you, Toni. “Eat, Pray, Love” is on my ever-lengthening book list. I’ve heard great things about it. In fact, let me go and add it to my Amazon shopping cart right now. You DO get free shipping if your order is above, $25 dollars, I believe. : )
Kelly-Jane – Thanks. You don’t need a speculaas board. You can just roll and cut the dough into any shape you like, then bake them as is. You can also press each with a brand new rubber (ink) stamp, the kind you find in craft/art stores. There are hundreds of designs you could experiment with. Speculaas molds also are available individually; you don’t have to buy an entire board.
Thank you, Sunita. I like celery, but it’s not the first thing that pops in my mind when I want an interesting bite to eat. : ) I’ve got a wicked sweet tooth, as many of us do.
Nanditha – Thank you so much. At the moment, it’s difficult to say what’s going on in my head outside of thinking about the next post. Comments like yours are very encouraging and dear.
Suganya – My husband is a political writer and statistical analyst. His early career was spent as a journalist. He is currently the executive editor at Public Agenda, a non-partisan research firm, where he is responsible for the content of its website, a site that was nominated for two Webby Awards, and named one of Time Magazine’s 2005 “Coolest Websites.” His first book, written with a colleague, is scheduled to be published in February 2008 by Harper Collins. “Where Does The Money Go?” is a citizen-friendly look at the federal budget, deficit and debt. As you can imagine, I am terribly proud of him.
Thanks, Sharmi. I was very careful when I bit into that cookie. It was the best one of the batch, and I was afraid of ruining it with too big a bite, tempting though it was.
Doug – Thanks. That’s too funny. It’s a priceless little title; good to see it used elsewhere.

jeena said...

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Jeena xx

click here for food recipes

Sharmi said...

Hey susan,
I dont know if you are already done with the Amish friendship bread starter. if not please email me your mail address. I would love to send you some.

Mishmash ! said...

Susan my reader still discontine to show your latest posts....i am trying the feedburner this time....let me see.....I keep missing your posts:(


sunita said...

Nice to know about your wonder you're so proud of him :)...all the best with the book.

Susan said...

Thanks, Jeena! Welcome!
Sharmi - It's Day 3 since I received your starter. I'll have to feed it soon. Thanks!
Shn - I hope selecting the Feedburner email subscription option was successful. I just got a comment fr/ you, so I'll "assume" that it was. (?)
Thank you, Sunita, for your dear well wishes. : )

librariane said...

Well, I did the challenge for myself this weekend, and referenced your blog, Susan! Thanks for bringing this challenge to our attention--it was fun. :)

Mansi Desai said...

pretty neat!! a fun project to give your kids to do:)

Susan said...

Hi, Librariane. Thanks for your spirit of thoughtful fun.
Thanks, Mansi. These cookies appeal to kids of all ages. Who can refuse them? Who would dare to?