Pomegranate Molasses Ghost Cookies

The Origin

I wrote a 50,000+ word manuscript in the month of November.  In order to accomplish such a feat, I had to write an average of 1667 words a day.  On November 1st, 1667 words a day seemed like quite a hefty amount, but by the time November 30 rolled around and I’d lived through a least one 7,000 word Saturday scrambling to catch up to my goal, 1667 words seemed a paltry sum.  And I didn’t do all of this novel writing alone.  My mom, as well as some 300,000 writers worldwide, also undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge.  

Stories can grow in surprising ways.  My novel, The Window of Cluttered Glass, is my first real stab at even thinking about writing any kind of fiction for at least a decade.  And, sweet heavens above, my book turned out to be so very fictional.  It’s a young adult fantasy novel, and there is another world, an extremely evil witch, souls trapped for 400 years in the unfinished stained glass Window of All Things.  Also a smart-ass bird named Jacquemo who my protagonists, Roland and Adelaide, freed from the 400 year old oak tree that imprisoned him, and a visit to the Underworld for guidance.  And I wrote this story, me, the girl who likes reading and writing genre-bending creative nonfiction the most.

The Scene

Food happens in my book, fictional though it may be.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches, chili, and blood-soaked Wonder bread to lure the shades of the dead.  And, best of all, the freshly-baked cookies that are offered to Adelaide by what appears to be the ghost of her dead mother.  Here is an excerpt from the sprawling craziness of my first draft:

“Adelaide, look at me.  Look at me!  Your mother is not here, your mother is dead.  You went to her funeral, and I went to her funeral.  We watched her body going down into the ground.  You loved her, and she is dead.  You have to help me find a way to get out of here.”

Now that the door was closed, the only light was coming from a door behind them.  Adelaide stepped into the light.  And then Adelaide heard her voice, “I’m in the kitchen, Adelaide!  Come see, they’re ready.” It was her mom’s voice.

Adelaide walked into the lit room, and there was her mother.  She was standing in front of the oven pulling out a tray.  “Mom?” Adelaide didn’t move.  

“Of course, Addy, who else were you expecting?  Here, try one.  They’re still hot,” and Adelaide’s mom put a cookie into her hands.  It looked like a brown cookie, and Adelaide stared down at it.  And then she knew.

“You are not my mom,” she whispered at the thing that looked like her mom.  And Adelaide’s mom started to laugh.  “Oh sweetie,” she said.  And then Adelaide’s mom grew smaller and smaller, until she turned into a black cat.  

Adelaide looked down at the cookie in her hand.  It was nothing but a dried clump of mud.  She let it crumble through her fingers.

 

 

The Pomegranate

If such a ghost cookie did exist, a cookie that was offered to a girl in an attempt to gain control over her and keep her in a hostile place, that cookie would have to be made out of pomegranate.  Because it was a pomegranate seed that passed through Persephone’s lips in the Underworld and gave Hades power over the woman he lusted for.  Our winter days exist because Persephone ate that pomegranate seed.  

As I teach my students every year, the Ancient Greeks were always chomping down on the wrong food.  But unlike Persephone, Adelaide did not eat the pomegranate cookie, at least not in this draft.

I bought a bottle of pomegranate molasses last year after falling in love with a pomegranate eggplant dish at Fadi’s, a Houston area Mediterranean restaurant.  And I just opened it for the first time to experiment with using it as an ingredient for ghost cookies.  It’s really good stuff, intensely concentrated and tangy-sweet.

 

Pomegranate Molasses Ghost Cookies

You will need:

  • 3/4 pound melted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces pine nuts or chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and the brown sugar.  Separately, beat the egg with the pomegranate molasses and add to the sugar mixture.   Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix into the sugar mixture.  Cover and chill for an hour.  Use a tablespoon to make balls that are slightly smaller than a golf ball.  Roll the top of the cookies in the pine nuts or chopped walnuts.  Cook for 8-10 minutes in the oven.  Allow to cool before eating.

 

The Revision

So, now I have 50,000 words of raw story material on my hands.  It needs to be revised.  Also, I’ve made this cookie recipe twice now, trying to solve the problem of the spreading square cookie outcome.  The cookies taste great, but they spread into each other.  This cookie recipe needs to be revised.

On the Little Prince, the Importance of Rites, and Greek Yogurt Chicken

The trick to teaching literature is to teach literature that teaches you.  The Little Prince has been teaching me about life for an amount of time that can be measured in decades.  Recently, it’s been teaching me about rites. I’ve been thinking about and wondering about the importance of rites at least since last January.  Here’s what St. Exupery has to say about rites:

 

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

  fox

That’s the bit that triggered all the deep thinking.  At this moment in the thinking, I recognize rites as a part of the structure of relationships between people over time.  And by structure, I mean the supporting beams, the bones, the reinforced concrete.  Rites can be the structure for relationship between two people, the relationship of one person with herself, or the relationships of a whole community of people.  And food has always been a very important rite, particularly of the communal variety.

 

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Two of my personal rites: drinking coffee every morning of life, and growing and killing a tomato plant every summer.

 

So, we’ve been eating Thursday dinners.  People come, someone cooks the main dish, everyone else brings wine or dessert or a side dish, and everyone eats together.  I start looking forward to Thursday dinners as soon as I know what food will be made.  This is what I made for the last Thursday dinner.  It was delicious.  Next Thursday, someone is cooking Shepherd’s Pie.  Thursday is a wonderful day for me!

 

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Chicken with Yogurt

Kotopoulo Giaourtava

adapted froma recipe in Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast, sliced into thin 1/2 inch strips
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 cups hard Mizithra cheese, grated
  • About 1 cup of chopped fresh mint
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups Greek yogurt
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Heat the oil over med-high heat in a ceramic-covered dutch oven if you have one, or a cast iron dutch oven.  We’re going from the stove top to the oven here.

Cook the chicken in small batches in the oil on high heat until it turns lightly golden.   Reduce the heat, add green onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and stir in both cheeses, the mint, and season with salt and pepper.  In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt with the three eggs.  Stir the yogurt and egg mixture into the chicken mixture.  Bake the chicken mixture uncovered for about 30, until the top turns golden.

 

Note #1:  Mizithra cheese is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that reminds me of Honduran queso fresco.  If you can’t find it, or if you have an aversion to sheep’s milk, you can substitute a hardened aged Italian cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.

Note #2:  If you don’t have a stove top to the oven type pot, use a frying pan, and transfer everything into a casserole dish when it’s time to bake.

Note#3:  Next time I make this, I will probably substitute boneless thighs for two reasons.  They are cheaper, and I think thighs will resist the tendency of the chicken breasts to turn dry.

Note #4:  You can see why this is a great dish to bring to a potluck-type affair.  It is delicious, and it meets the two big requirements of communal food:  it all fits in one pot, and it is slightly indulgent.