There are a few books from childhood that linger in the back of one's consciousness as one grows. They can inform anything and everything; sometimes both, and all at once; sometimes without you knowing it, and sometimes creeping up on you later.
One of my favorites, especially at this time of year, is "The Runaway Sleigh Ride" by Astrid Lindgren (which I'm horrified to discover is now out of print, so if you find a copy, POUNCE!). It's about a little girl with wild curly hair who goes to town to go Christmas shopping, hops on the rails of a strange sleigh, and gets carried off into the woods on a snowy evening and has to find her way home.
|Beautifully illustrated -- a requisite in our library -- by Ilon Wikland.|
I owe this book lots of things, but here are three of them:
1. My love of Pepparkakor, the crackly-thin Swedish ginger cookies that perfume the house on the evening of their annual bake. Almost as much as eating them, I love the way the dough holds smudges of white flour top as you cut them into beautiful Christmastime shapes. There's an illustration in the book with flour-smudged Pepparkakor, and it's perfectly imperfectly beautiful.
2. The dark winter night pressing against the windows. This book evokes all the romance, mystery, and coziness of black evenings, and, in the midst of winter, when we all crave a bit more sunlight, the imagery helps me embrace the 4:00 twilight.
3. This book is what makes "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost my favorite poem. I like to think of Frost's poem as the grown-up counterpoint to this story. Almost as if the girl, now a woman, goes back to the woods where she was once lost and listens to the silence of the snow falling. This time, she might rather stay in the woods a while longer. There's always been something sublimely sensual about both the children's book and the Frost poem, and I can't recommend highly enough that you set out to read them back to back. Preferably with freshly-baked Pepparkakor in hand.
This is a prized recipe to my family, coming from a dear friend and real Swede, Lisa. We spent one magical Christmas in Sweden with her and her family, one with dark nights, meatballs, and plenty of spicy cookies. The dough is to rest for 24 hours before baking. It also freezes well. The measurements are in grams, but if you have a kitchen scale, this will be no problem for you.
100 g unsalted butter
125 g sugar, half light brown, half white
100 mL molasses
2 Tbsp dried ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
100 mL heavy cream
500 g flour
Mix butter, sugars, and molasses til creamy. Add the spices and baking soda. In another bowl, beat the cream til foamy. Add to the butter mixture. Fold in the flour. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 24 hours, or freeze until ready to use. Take out the dough, roll very thinly -- about 1/8" thin (with plenty of flour, or between sheets of waxed paper). Cut out with pretty cookie cutters and place an inch apart on a buttered baking sheet. Bake at 175 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in tins.