Last week, in a hasty effort to avoid a trip to the grocery store for something sweet to eat, I opened cupboards while my quarantine buddy googled what a person might bake with not too many ingredients. It was a bit like a game of Go Fish. She rattled off ingredients while I poked around to survey the options.
This is one of the interesting dichotomies of Shelter-in-Place for many of us. Though we’re inundated with the buzz of split-second social media updates, a retro simplicity now lingers in the air around us. I remember my mom grinding wheat into flour and kneading bread when I was growing up in the seventies, of course back then I thought storebought would be so much cooler.
“Here it is,” Jenny said, “shortbread with only five ingredients!”
Perfect, we had the butter in the fridge and the flour, salt, and sugar in the cupboard to the left. The fifth ingredient, fresh rosemary, was growing on a bush in the garden.
Urban Farmgirls’ founder/gardening guru, Tina Calloway, likes to infuse her water with this herb and knows more about rosemary, AKA Rosmarinus officinalis than most people know what to do with! Happy in its own pot or as a handsome decorative in the landscape, rosemary is a woody perennial that can be cut back and will grow out again each year. It does well in California as we are one of the five Mediterranean climates in the world. This herb has a variety of benefits including positive effects on memory, circulation, and inflammation.
While I preheated the oven, pulled out measuring spoons, baking pans, and such, Jenny went outside with scissors to clip some fresh sprigs. The French lavender bush nuzzled in next to the rosemary, got her thinking that lavender might be tasty in shortbread too. It makes for beautiful dried flowers and decorative arrangements. And along with it’s calm, soothing, and antiseptic medicinal qualities, the scent of Lavandula dentata is said to have been used seductively by Cleopatra to lure Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
I keep a jar of lavender buds in my kitchen, so Jenny and I split the dough in half and went about gently kneading in herbs into one batch of lavender and one of rosemary.
After a short stint of chilling in the fridge, we cut the dough into cookie-sized slices and popped them in the oven. They turned out so perfectly crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth good, that we promptly gorged ourselves silly, then surrendered the remaining portions to neighbors who share our beautiful backyard. And with that, the preceding thought of hoofing it down to the hill to stand in line to purchase a package of treats seemed ridiculous and futile.
Today, I ventured into the unknown territory of making vegan shortbread.
A few days ago, I was in the midst of telling my friend Jayanta, via Facetime, about these yummy little homemade cookies, when I saw a distant look in his eyes -pads of butter pasts casting a shadow over his vegan diet for a split second or two...or three. Because I hate to see people suffer like that, I enthusiastically promised to bake him a batch with what is quite possibly the best non-dairy butter ever. The thought of shortbread without real butter hurts me a little, but after four years of going vegan, he’s used to a plant-based diet.
Plant-based -which brings us back around to gardening! Tina and I were in the courtyard of Urban Farmgirls recently, looking over the plants and discussing which ones are medicinal, which ones are edible, etc.. There are endless possibilities in the benefits of gardening; The diverse uses of rose petals, for instance, which I’ll write about soon.
And just for the record, the vegan shortbread turned out splendidly. I just shared them with my neighbor Christina who texted me promptly to say she’d gobbled them right up!
“Maybe the last batch were richer,” she wrote, “but these tasted healthier. Either way, I loved them!” She ended with an eye-heart emoji smile and a big thumbs up.
In all honesty, Christina does tend to gobble up and praise pretty much everything I share with her, but I think she really means it.
And now dear readers, I must close my laptop, dawn a homemade mask, and transport these vegan rosemary and lavender shortbreads to a doorstep in Twin Peaks before I eat them all. Given this awkward Stay-at-Home moment in time, I plan to drive off before he even knows I’ve been there.
Then I’ll shoot him a string of emojis: eyeballs + cookies + door + wink and save him a trip to the store.