Sunday, November 4, 2012

Browned Butter Cardamon Cookies

I know I didn't read the forecast before I went to the Wellseley debate tournament in college. I had returned home from Wesleyan University for spring break my freshman year, and within a week I was bored and frustrated. 

T--, a senior on the debate team lived near Wellesley and it seemed like a great idea to hitch a ride with a friend of mine up to Massachusetts so I could debate with T--.  Now, that would be a true vacation, I decided.   T-- was the president of the debate team, and would never have agreed to debate with me, a puny little novice, under normal circumstances.  But no one else was crazy enough to debate on spring break but me.

The day before the tournament, I went to sleep with visions of trophies dancing in my head.

Unfortunately, the morning I was supposed to leave, I heard that my friend had hit a deer.  Or rather, the deer had hit her.  M-- was a very good driver, and back then, deer were a far rarer sight on the roads of New Jersey than they are today, so I can only conclude that it was an act of deer suicide and the deer flung itself onto her car, saying "goodbye, cruel world."

M-- was distraught and decided not to go.  Now, this also dates the story, because today an enterprising foodie would simply have scraped the deer off the car, rendered it into steaks, and popped it into a cooler with a grill and some homemade bbq sauce, delighted for a good excuse to escape the dreadful food that debate teams always served between rounds.  But this was a simpler time, long before the Food Network and Man versus Food.   However, still determined to get the hell out of New Jersey, I managed to finagle another ride with a nearby debate team in a car.

The ride up did not go well.  I was driving with a senior and a junior, and when the car was low on gas somewhere in New England they pulled over to a rest stop and told me it was my responsibility to pump the gas.

Now, although we were coming from New Jersey, I must note that the people I was driving with were not FROM the Garden State.  Which explains their following reaction.

Me: I don't know how to pump gas.
Them: What?
Me: I have never pumped gas.
Them: Do you mean you WON'T pump the gas?
Me: I have never used a self-serve station in my life! 
(Cue tears). 

Apparently, the phrase 'Jersey girls don't pump gas' had not made its way to Canada or New Mexico, where the two debaters were from and they weren't the type of people to suffer fools gladly.  One of them pumped for me, but for the next ten minutes he muttered. "I don't understand how you don't know how to pump gas.  It's not that hard."  I felt totally stupid and if I had known who Snooki was, I would have felt like her at the time.

Things got better at the tournament during the first day of competition. I don't remember how I did, but I remember liking Wellseley at first sight. I always loved the slightly fussy, mannered New England schools that reminded me of the Victorian novels I loved to read.

However, that illusion of decorum was quickly broken at the debate party that night.  Most debate parties were held in frat houses, but Wellseley had none, so it was hosted in one of the debate team member's halls a large girl named F-- who wore flowery dresses and had, even at the age of 21, what I can only call a 'bosom' (as opposed to breasts). Midterms had just ended and suddenly the hall was filled with males so everyone was feeling festive.  The air smelled so heavily of booze, even though I didn't drink, I felt slightly spacey.

F-- told me where to put my bags where I would be sleeping and went on with her conversation.  "I would totally fuck Jared over John, because Jared is really arrogant and I only fuck arrogant men."  Two other girls were holding forth on the off-rounds debate topic of: 'based on comfort alone, is it better to go braless or wear a bra.'  Within about twenty minutes I was thoroughly bored with the fuck and bra talk and wanted to go to bed, but there was nowhere to lie down and television had been appropriated by a debater named J--, who was watching a Ren and Stimpy marathon on MTV. Every time I drifted past the room he was in, he would turn to me with a sort of glazed expression on his face and say: "genius, pure genius" with the exact same inflection and look back at the TV.  He was one of those people who was always remarkably successful in the debate arena but mysteriously incomprehensible outside of it. The TV sang: "It's log! It's log!  It's big, it's heavy it's wood!" again and again.  

The atmosphere was a bit like a David Lynch film, and if the Log Lady from Twin Peaks had wandered past me, I wouldn't have been particularly surprised, particularly if the log was wearing a DD bra.

The next day, the surreal atmosphere continued as we were all served GREEN bagels for St. Patrick's Day, the perfect shade to match the hung-over debater's faces. I can't remember how T-- and I did that tournament, but I do remember that around the time of the awards banquet, great puffy clouds of snow began to fall.  I wobbled in the high heels and tights I always wore for debate (panty hose ripped too easily, and I didn't feel like buying it new every week).  It was one of those sudden New England late winter-early spring snowstorms that sweeps and by the conclusion of the tournament the roads were impassable for most of the debaters living in the Southern states.

I still needed to hitch a ride back to New Jersey, so I was stranded.

It was imperative that we hit the dining hall to steal food before they closed down for winter break.  Dazed, I wandered in and out of the fluorescent lights, looking for something that wouldn't spoil. Some kids took dishes of cereal and crackers.  I made a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Then we all ran back.  Someone--I don't remember who--tripped over me, and I fell face-first into the snow.  I lay there for a few seconds, wondering if anyone would help me up.  Eventually, I managed to totter upright, and realized that one of my precious provisions of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches now had thumbprints.

All night, the debaters played 'I never' with the Wellseley girls.  For a dorky freshman, 'I never' requires a great deal of strategy.  You don't want to be too honest, because then your completely lame sex life in high school will be grossly apparent.  But you can't lie and be too raunchy, because then all of the sex-starved, unattractive senior males will follow you around for the rest of the year.  Fortunately, the alcohol was strong enough that true to good 'I never' form, everyone was too drunk to remember what was said the night after except for me, since I used water rather than booze to play.

The next morning I awoke to a throbbing headache, not from a hangover, but because of the lack of caffeine. I asked the girl in whose room I had crashed if she had any coffee. "I have herbal tea" she said brightly. 
I looked at her.  
"It's hot and it's just like having regular tea."
"Coffee?" I said, hopefully as if saying the word again could make it magically appear.
 "You can trick your body into thinking it has caffeine," she said and smiled.
I knew I was being an ungracious guest and the expression on my face said: NO, MY BODY CAN SURE FUCKING TELL HERBAL TEA IS NOT COFFEE! GIVE ME ESPRESSO NOW.

Fortunately, for Miss Perky Herbal Tea, the roads were clear enough for us to return to New Jersey by mid-morning.  Someone had eaten my peanut butter sandwiches, except for the one with the really deep thumbprint in it that I didn't even want because it didn't have enough peanut butter so I was starving as well as had a throbbing headache.

We stopped at a diner on the way back.

"Coffee," I said to the waitress, and ordered pancakes, what tasted like the best pancakes I had ever eaten.  I was unusually aggressive at the restaurant in asking for refills and for once had no compunction using butter as well as syrup on the stack. It's coffee! It's coffee! It's black, it stimulates, its good!  It's coffee, it's coffee, it kicks herbal tea's ass and it should! Some people said they were 'too hungry to eat' and picked at their food.  I didn't even know what that meant.

I pumped gas under supervision on the way back, but you know what?  Jersey still doesn't have self-serve, and I don't feel bad about that at all.

These simple butter cookies are great with coffee. Because, sometimes in the morning the only two food groups you  need are coffee and some butter-related substance.

I only made two modifications in the recipe--the comments complained that in the original, the cardamon taste was nonexistent, so based upon the recommendations I upped it by a teaspoon and eliminated the second 'rolling' in powdered sugar, so the flavor of the spice would be more intense.

Browned Butter Cardamon Cookies
--yields 24 cookies--

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 cups all-purpose flour + some extra
1/2 cup powdered sugar


1. Brown butter in a large saucepan until just foaming.  Remove from heat and refrigerate until solidified (approximately 30 minutes).
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Cream butter and sugar.  Add yolk, vanilla, cardamon. Stir in flour, one half cup at a time until a stiff dough is created.
4. Scoop into 1-inch balls. Bake for 10 minutes and sprinkle immediately with powdered sugar.  Remove from pan when fully cooled and hardened.


  1. Well I don't know how to pump my own gas either and I have no excuse since they are almost all self-serve stations in NYC!! These cookies sound fabulous. LOVE the cardamom's such a nice change from cinnamon!

    I just wanted to thank you for your calm and rational comment on my blog regarding the marathon. I've had a lot of people jump down my throat this weekend and accuse me of a lot of not-so-nice things so it was refreshing to hear someone be reasonable. I also just wanted to say that New York Road Runners and the mayor made clear that the race was never going to take away from recovery efforts. A lot of what is done during the race, including med tents and handing out water is done by volunteers (usually med students in the med tents and not actual doctors!). At least, that's what we were told time and again. The reason they're giving for canceling the race is that people in Staten Island were threatening to physically harm the runners and they didn't want to have to add extra police officers on the course to protect us as that WOULD effect recovery efforts. Again, this is just what we've been told so who knows how true it is. I fully understand canceling the race and probably that's what should have been done to begin with...I just don't like the fact that people thought threatening violence was the appropriate response especially since it's not the runners who made the decision and I don't think we should be blamed for running if the race had been decided to be held. You know?

  2. @Joanne--I think that because the clean-up is taking such a long time (some of my neighbors may be out of power for another TEN DAYS, simply because crews don't have the time to fix ONE utility pole) that people are getting irrational and frightened and blaming things they can't control. Of course, runners shouldn't be blamed. However, although I know the NY RR do use lots of volunteers, I think that some official police and medical presence is always required, given the real (mercifully small) risk that someone can have medical issues during the race. Given that some of the hospitals were compromised in the area and all resources are so scarce, I still tend to side with the cancellation, although if I was running I might have felt differently. Also, the food donated for the runners could go to people without food--and to the NY Road Runner's credit, all of the supplies they did have, I heard, were diverted to the storm victims.

  3. I don't care what kind it is, herbal tea is the complete opposite of coffee. Miss Perky is lucky you didn't take a swing at her.

    Washington gas stations are all (and, for the most part, only) self-serve, but Oregon has never had self-serve, which I forget every single time I'm driving there. I generally remember at about the same time that the gas station attendant comes running out of the station to rip the pump out of my hand and glare at me.

    I'm glad you made it through the storm relatively okay. Some of those early pictures, especially out of Atlantic City, were horrendous. Oh! Right now on the news, they're talking about how you just got an earthquake! A small one, but still. That can't be helping matters.

  4. @flurrious--you are so right. Not only is herbal tea awful, it is the very opposite of all that is right and good with coffee, kind of like a 'bizzaro' alternative universe. I never knew that about Oregon! Perhaps I should go there for a visit, since I know I will not look foolish at the pump.

    I live about 10 minutes away from the Shore, and mercifully, that 10 minutes made all the difference in the world regarding flooding. The earthquake was apparently pretty puny (certainly by California standards), but we are expecting a Nor'easter this Wednesday. I'm not too worried, but I'm glad I got my fence fixed.

  5. I made a similar cooky and it was "brick" hard :) Is this also a "hard" cooky or a soft one? thanks