One for the road

This post is actually not about the human rights abuses of totalitarian governments, though perhaps it should be. But I am distracted from those more important things by this – Friday when the little boys and I returned from swimming lessons, we found a package on the porch. The return address was Coalesce Bookstore – that is, the central coast’s best and mightiest little bookstore, perfectly curated and beloved by all who discover it – and that alone was enough to make me smile. But right above where it said Coalesce, it also said Linna.  My amazingly splendid Aunt Linna, the owner of Coalesce and my mom’s big sister, is a goddess when it comes to many things – but perhaps especially when it comes to packages. Ever since I can remember, and right up to this day, the envelopes, boxes, and bags that arrive bearing her lovely fluid handwriting are always guaranteed to have things tucked away in them that make you feel happy, inspired, amused and loved. At Christmas time, she sends big boxes full of smaller boxes, each smaller box carefully wrapped and ribboned, and they are never things you’re expecting, but always things you want. (My mom always loved Aunt Linna packages, and now I think I know why – when you are the mom, having gifts come that are surprises for you too is sometimes the best present of all). Aunt Linna is also a voracious book hunter. I sent her a list of a few things I was looking for, the sorts of kitchen books that are generally only found used, and even then only occasionally, because they are coveted by cookbook lovers everywhere. I expected she might come across one or two in the coming months or maybe years … Instead, within hours she was readying a box for me! Two days later it was on my porch. I saved it to open after the guys were in bed – bliss. I didn’t get around to posting last night, as I was camped on a couch with some of my prizes. You might think that gift-packaging and book-hunting at such an elite level would top out someone’s skill list. But if you were thinking of my Aunt Linna, you would be wrong. She also has the greenest green thumb, can turn just about any aerobics class into a hippie revival dance revolution, pretty much invented the idea of putting walnuts in green salads, and – take note – makes a freaking incredible chocolate walnut cranberry cookie that is, actually, not a cookie at all, technically speaking.

These cookies are a staple at all important Thomas family events. Aunt Linna brought a huge double batch up the coast for the baby shower she and my mom and my mom’s friend Carol hosted for me ~ she brought another double batch up for Thanksgiving this past year, with special to-go boxes inside the bigger box, for me and Dan and Gabe each to take home with our families. We never even pretend to say “Oh you shouldn’t have” – we just say “YES!” and try to squeeze in “Thank you” before we start stuffing our faces.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit my Aunt Linna (and Uncle Lance, who has his own noteworthily awesome cookery skills, including magical oyster grilling powers, which we will save for another post) – if you are ever that lucky, I guarantee that you will not leave their house without a container of these cookies that are not cookies at all. Aunt Linna never sends anyone back up the coast without road food. So a container will come out of the freezer, and you will bring it with you to your car, and half the cookies will be gone when you get home a few hours later. The other half you will cherish, one each day, until your husband has a beer too many one night and, all restraint gone, finishes them. Or maybe it was actually you who finished them, and he just doesn’t remember because of that bonus beer. Ahem.

At which point you will attempt to make them yourself, only to realize you don’t have any walnuts – but you do have some almonds – and might granola be good here, too? It might.

I’ll share both versions, just in case you have a lot of driving ahead of you and won’t be stopping in Morro Bay.

Thanks for the incredible package Aunt Linna! We love you guys … 

Aunt Linna’s Road Cookies

Dark Chocolate Walnut Cranberry version ~ Or, Dark Chocolate Almond Granola and Cherry version

These cookies are actually technically candies, and fall in the sub-category of chocolates, which is a special place to be. But they have presence, and heart, and a far more nurturing presence than a candy – so technicality schmecnicality, I say. Cookies they are. The recipe as I am sharing it is actually a half-batch – but it multiplies (and divides) very easily. I use the bowl from my stand mixer as a makeshift double boiler (like in this genius curd recipe from Heidi Swanson) – it makes for a one-bowl activity that is super easy to clean up. 

4.5 ounces best quality dark chocolate
1 cup walnuts
1 heaping cup dried cranberries

4.5 ounces best quality dark chocolate
1 cup granola
1/2 cup almonds
3/4 cup dried cherries

(This ratio is forgiving and the ingredients flexible- either one cup cranberries and one cup walnuts, or one cup granola, a half cup almonds, and three-quarters a cup dried cherries – or your own desired combination. I don’t think you could go wrong here with any nuts or most dried fruits – coconut flakes would surely be welcome … ) 

Before you begin, line two baking sheets with wax paper. It helps if they are cold baking sheets, but that’s not critical.

Use the bowl of your stand mixer as a make-shift double boiler by putting it over a pot of simmering water. Melt the chocolate in the bowl.

Once it is thoroughly melted, remove from the heat and let stand for a minute or two. Stir in the nuts and fruits (or granola and nuts and fruits) and mix well so everything is coated in chocolate. Let stand for another minute. Then, use a spoon to drop little haystacks of the mixture onto your cookie sheets. (See photo above).

Let the mixture stand until the chocolate hardens, at least an hour. If you have to you can cool it in the freezer to speed the hardening, but you risk losing the temper of your chocolate. (And as Jacob said to me after a rough moment for which I apologized to him, “You have to try really hard not to lose your temper Mommy because it makes us sad when we lose it.” )

This makes about twenty cookies. They are best stored in the freezer and eaten right out of it … unless of course, you have the option to eat them on the road.

Oh, and if you are on the road, and find yourself on California’s central coast, be sure to stop by Coalesce. Tell them we sent you – I’ll bet they won’t let you leave without treats. 

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