As I was going through my artwork from the past six years to assemble my new portfolio, it became apparent that I create a disproportionate amount of art during the month of February. Last year, I had an art school application due in February, so naturally I finished up more drawings and designs that month than I usually would, but I think the main reason I draw so much in February year after year is to distract myself from how much I dislike the weather that month. It is a terrible, emo month, maybe even worse than November.
November sucks (and pardon my northern hemisphere/temperate climate-centrism here) because that’s when winter really hits. You can feel winter coming in October, but there are still leaves on the trees, the days are reasonably long, and it isn’t too cold just yet. But when November rolls around, it’s full-on winter: all grey skies, lifeless landscapes, and unpleasant wetness. But it is a month of adjustment; by December, I’m used to it. By February, however, I’m sick of it; it is the nadir of the year. February isn’t the darkest month of the year, and in most of the places I’ve lived, it isn’t the coldest and it isn’t the wettest, but it sure does feel like it (surprisingly, in London February is actually the least wet month on average). Even sunny Los Angeles is not immune to the climatological ills of February:
(Color altered for effect.)
So what to do to cope with February, Old Man Winter’s loathsome last hurrah? I offer three solutions:
- Draw anthropomorphic squirrels ad nauseam. Works for me!
- Celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. If you’re single, just take it as an excuse to drink Scotch and eat chocolate.
- Try your hand at baking. I don’t bake very often, but now that I’m unemployed and have easy access to a convection oven, I have no excuse not to. Baking is meditative, time-consuming, and fun, and it fills the kitchen with delightful smells and warm air. And did I mention that when you’ve finished, you get baked goods?
Here are a couple of easy recipes I made last week for a party. And I say they’re easy because even I, a complete novice to baking, made them without any trouble. The main inspiration behind them both was the always delightful Borough Market.
Red Currant, Pine Nut, and Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies
In the United States, currants are eaten rarely and almost exclusively dried. I don’t know why – it’s not like we can’t grow them there. In England, and I think in much of central Europe, both black and red currants are a favorite flavor in baked goods, candies, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as savory dishes. The red ones are perky and sharp, with a cranberry-like sourness, while the black ones have a richer, plummy, pruney taste. This recipe would work well with both; red is what I found, so red is what I used.
I liked the way the fresh berries popped open in the oven; when they came out, the heat had turned them into little patches of sweet red goo. They still hung on to their tartness, which complemented the buttery pine nuts and spicy, aromatic cardamom nicely.
If you can’t get fresh currants, you can use chopped cranberries or cherries, or you can try it with dried currants. This is based on a recipe from Bon Apétit.
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup fresh currants
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
2 cups oats
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Whisk eggs and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Stir in currants.
- Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and spices into medium bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until smooth.
- Add currant and egg mixture and whisk to blend.
- Stir in flour mixture, then oats.
- Butter and flour baking sheets. Drop batter by spoonfuls onto sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Using moistened fingertips, flatten cookies slightly.
- Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown, about 13 minutes. Cool on sheets.
Chestnut and Ginger Brownies with Kinako Frosting
Cravings for Japanese junk food, rediscovering one of my favorite blogs, and my inability to leave recipes alone led to this recipe. Laura has a Marie Claire cookbook with a good brownie recipe in it, but I knew I wanted to tweak it somehow – originally I was thinking mochi brownies with black beans and kinako frosting, but I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, and besides, we were out of mochi.
Enter Borough Market, where I happened to stumble upon a pack of prepared chestnuts. Later I spotted a bit of ginger chocolate at Sainsbury’s, and I had my new recipe (I’m rewriting it here with simply ginger and chocolate). The kinako frosting recipe is from Delicious Coma, which has always been my favorite Japanese food blog, and it’s becoming one of my favorite Los Angeles food blogs since the author moved there last year. The frosting is amazing, by the way.
150 grams butter
250 grams dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup prepared chestnuts or marrons glaces, chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 generous tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Melt 150 grams of chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until smooth.
- Beat eggs and sugar together until mixture is pale and thick.
- Fold in chocolate mixture, followed by sifted flour and baking soda, ginger, chestnuts, and remaining chocolate, chopped.
- Butter an 8″x8″ square baking pan and pour in batter. Bake for 30 minutes or until brownies are set.
- Allow brownies to cool for at least 30 minutes, then spread evenly with kinako frosting and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cut into squares and serve.
I don’t have a photo of the brownies, but please enjoy this picture of what I made for lunch on Valentine’s day instead: