Browned Butter & Spelt Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies | On Wisdom, Ritual & Grief

Last night, as I slept, I turned 30.

Beginning in my late teens, whenever anyone asked me my age, I would follow the number with the essential addendum, "...but I feel like I'm 30." It wasn't that I was a particularly old soul or anything, I have just always possessed a certain level of maturity that made me feel ready for all the things I imagined adulthood would be. No drama, stable relationships, a fulfilling career, self-assuredness. You know, the simple things. 

As far back as I can remember, I have been eager for the ways of being that filled my heart to match my reality, to have my life catch up with my desires for myself. 

There are moments now, sometimes a beautiful and robust string of them, when I feel wise. But it is an entirely different wisdom than I had imagined adulthood would bring. I don't feel wise because I have all my shit together or because I embody all the qualities and circumstances that I assumed come neatly packaged with 30 years on this Earth (which I definitely don't). I feel wise because I have begun to understand and accept the uncertainty of life. I lean into what feels right without knowing or having grand expectations of where it will lead. My life looks absolutely nothing like I imagined it would at this stage. Nothing. But instead of the deep distress, depression and resistance I responded to that with in my mid-20s, I have come to a place of trust in and patience with the unfolding. It's a kind of wisdom I couldn't have comprehended when I previously dreamed of 30 because I hadn't yet lived enough to know it would be necessary.

I have been feeling an internal storminess the past few weeks, waves of deep grief crashing against the yearning to acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones. A significant birthday. The 1 year anniversary of this blog. Holding that, while consciously and purposefully sinking into a space of darkness. Honoring the lives of the 36 people who died in the horrific Ghost Ship fire in Oakland on December 2, two of whom were my friends. Grieving, sometimes deeply and sometimes shallowly yet always presently, over the incomprehensible travesty and unfairness of their loss of life and our world's loss of their presence in it. 

I feel my breaths differently since they died. 

Em and Donna were such beacons of light. They were unfailingly warm and vibrant people. Genuine and generous, inquisitive and unassuming. A poet and a healer. It is still so incomprehensible that they are gone. The fire took the lives of college students and elementary school teachers, musicians and publishers, activists and filmmakers. People devoted to our communities, to showing up in our world as their authentic selves. There is no sense to be made of it. My heart breaks every single day. 

As people gathered across the Bay to grieve and honor the lives of Donna, Em, Johnny, Kiyomi, Griffin, Hanna, Vanessa, Benjamin, Edmond, Micah, Nicole, Alex, Michela, Ara, Jennifer, Jason, Draven, Joseph, Peter, Barrett, Jonathan, Billy, Alex, David, Travis, Sara, Brandon, Cash, Nicolas, Riley, Chelsea, Jennifer, Amanda, Wolfgang, Michele, and Nicholas, I began to think about ritual. As I began to think about celebrating the 1 year anniversary of this blog in this space and celebrating my 30th birthday in physical space, I thought about ritual even more. The reasons why we gather and commemorate. Honor and draw particular attention to a thing. To acknowledge. To create meaning. To remember. To cherish. To heal. 

It's important. It makes us feel connected, feel valued. It helps us articulate our humanness, together. 

These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Share them with people you love and tell the people you love that you love them. Breathe deeply. Be kind. Create beauty in the world, whatever that looks like to you. It's been a hard year. We all need it.

*Note: These are, in fact, the best ever chocolate chip cookies...and you should trust me on that, because I've baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my life. For many years, I was in search of a recipe that would yield a cookie with as much heft as those you get at fancy bakeries, with crispy edges and thick, gooey middles. After conducting some aggressive research, I found out that melted butter results in crispy cookies, whereas creamed butter results in thicker cookies. SO! The secret trick is to melt half the butter and cream half the butter, which gives you the best of both worlds. And as long as you're melting the butter, you might as well brown it, right? I also threw some spelt flour into the mix because I am physically incapable of baking things without at least 50% whole grains. In addition to a nutritional boost, the spelt lends a nice earthiness to the cookie, which balances out its sweetness. I have tested these babies on at least a dozen people, from California to Indiana, from 12 year-olds to 90 year-olds (and the 30 year-olds in between), and they have all given them a resounding endorsement. Not that I should have to convince you to make cookies, right? 

(Best Ever) Browned Butter & Spelt Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 16

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks, 16 Tbsp) butter, softened
1 cup muscovado (unrefined brown sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup superfine raw cane sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup spelt flour
1 + 1/4 cup unbleached All Purpose flour
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup dark chocolate discs, or chopped from a bar
Maldon or other flaked salt, to sprinkle on top

Directions
1. Place 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) in a small pot and set over medium heat, swirling the pot semi-frequently to prevent burning. Continue to heat the butter after it has melted. It will begin to foam, eventually clear and start to turn amber. At this stage, you will see little brown specks form and stick to the bottom of the pot. As soon as there is a collection of these browned specks, remove the butter from the heat and transfer it to a small bowl, browned bits and all. Be attentive with this; it can go from browned to burned very quickly!
2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed (or with a vigorous arm), whip the remaining 1/2 cup softened butter with the muscovado sugar until fully creamed, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
3. Once the browned butter has cooled a bit, add that and the cane sugar to the mix and beat until whipped, about 2 minutes.
4. Beat the egg into the mixture until fully incorporated, and then the egg yolk. At this point the batter should be smooth and much lighter in color.
5. In a separate large bowl, mix together the flours, salt and baking soda.
6. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet batter and mix at a low speed until just incorporated. There can still be a few bits of flour peeking through. 
7. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently mix in the chocolate chips with a large spoon.
8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge and forget about it for 1-2 hours.
9. At this point, the dough should be firm enough to make into balls. Scoop out 2 Tbsp. of dough and smoosh together into one hefty dough ball, then place in a large tupperware. Repeat with remainder of the dough.
10. Refrigerate overnight. 

11. When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out 6 dough balls, spaced evenly apart. Sprinkle each ball with a pinch of Maldon or other flaky sea salt.
12. Bake until firm and golden around the edges but still a touch undercooked in the middle, about 12 minutes. It is important to take them out of the oven before they are fully baked because the residual heat from the tray will continue cooking them once they're out! No one likes a dry cookie.
13. Cool completely on baking sheet. Then, finally, enjoy!

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons | On...Tahini

It's a little crazy, how many years I had been eating hummus before I knew what tahini was. It was never a part of my childhood pantry and, as I only ever encountered it blended into a delectably creamy mess of chickpeas, lemon and garlic, I suppose it makes sense that I hadn't heard of it until I started getting into food in my mid-20's. 

I remember discussing tahini with a friendly employee at my local independent market when I was living in London and how enthusiastically this young, bearded, flannel-wearing Canadian man extolled its virtues. My brain struggled to wrap itself around the fact that A) there was an equivalent of peanut butter made out of sesame seeds and, B) that it was the second main ingredient in a culturally relevant dip that I had been enjoying my entire life. I hastily bought a jar, trotted home, opened it, dunked in a spoon, put the creamy paste to my mouth and—BLEH!!—almost spit it out. It was SO BITTER! I could not comprehend who would voluntarily eat this stuff, let alone recommend it to other people.

Needless to say, I eventually wholeheartedly boarded the tahini train. The turning point came almost a year later when a new friend (incidentally, also Canadian) asked me if I wanted some halva—a Middle Eastern treat which I had also never heard of. Shaped into a bar with the consistency of snappy nougat, this mysterious dessert is traditionally made with two ingredients: tahini and honey. Little did I know it, but this was a watershed moment. Halva changed my life.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate the divine relationship of these two ingredients. Have YOU ever mixed tahini with honey (and a pinch of salt) and spread it on toast…or eaten it with a spoon? Game changer. For real. (On a side note, don't ever buy the commercially packaged halva you typically see in grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, as it's loaded with corn syrup and other junk. If you're curious to try it—which you totally should—make sure the only ingredients on the package are sesame and honey. Or get it from an outdoor market in Israel, where it is a whooooole other level of cloud-like, melt in your mouth deliciousness.)

A Tale of Two Tahinis

As I began to fully integrate tahini into my life, I quickly learned that there are two different types of tahini: hulled and unhulled. But what does this even mean? What is the difference in flavor, consistency and nutritional value?

The easiest way to understand it is to liken the sesame seed to a grain of wheat, as they both have an outer shell that contains a hefty portion of their nutrients. When this outer bran is removed from a grain of wheat, we get white (or "all purpose") flour; when the outer shell of the sesame seed (called the "hull") is removed (as shown in the middle sesame seed photo above), we get a lighter, more refined version of tahini. This is hulled tahini. Unhulled tahini is like whole wheat bread: thicker, darker, maybe not as sweet and tasty, but packed with way more nutrients.

For such a tiny thing, sesame seeds are actually an incredible source of copper, calcium, magnesium and iron. While the hulled seed still contains some of this nutritional value, it is no longer a whole food and much of it is lost. Take the calcium, for example. According to WHFoods, one tablespoon of unhulled sesame seeds contains about 88 milligrams of calcium (for perspective, one tablespoon of whole milk only contains 17 mg of calcium; maybe we should start feeding our youths sesame milk instead?). Once the hull of the sesame seed has been removed, the calcium content plummets to about 37 milligrams, which is 60% less! 

Unfortunately for us, most commercial brands of tahini are made out of hulled sesame seeds because they blend more smoothly and are less bitter in taste. Unless your jar of tahini says "unhulled" or "whole" in front of the word "sesame" on the front or in the ingredients list, it's safe to assume that you've got the refined version. I picked up a jar of Al-Arz Whole Sesame Tahini in Israel which was the sweetest tahini I've ever tasted. When I returned home, I was able to track it down at a Jewish market in LA (yes, okay, I emailed the manufacturer to find out if they had US distribution, shhhh). Sadly, I haven't found a single brand of unhulled tahini in the Bay. But the good news is that if you can't find it in your area and don't want to buy it online, you can always make your own. Just make sure you buy raw, unhulled (brown) sesame seeds when you do!

Halva is the New Healthy [Macaroon]

I knew I wanted to create something to share with you all in time for Passover (in case that's your jam) that would also be non-denominationally delicious. Running through the list of traditional dishes in my head, it wasn't too long before lightning struck: halva macaroons! Most of the macaroon recipes I've seen and tested use condensed milk as the primary sweetener and binder, which yes, is delicious, and is also pretty terrible for you. Halva spread (tahini + raw honey, not turned into candy-nougat-treat) is delicious, super nutritious, AND basically the consistency of condensed milk! I felt like I was onto something big, and guess what? It totally worked! 

I made these macaroons on the larger side because I was feeling excited about them and was feeding them to grown adults, not small children (mostly; hi Sadie and Theo!). I invite you to make them whatever size feels right for your crowd, just be mindful to adjust the baking time accordingly. I also drizzled the chocolate because I thought it would look pretty, but I encourage you to dip the tops of the macaroons in it if you want a richer party in your mouth. 

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons
Adapted from Danny Cohen's 'Danny Macaroons' recipe
makes 26 1" cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup tahini (preferably unhulled) 
1/3 cup raw honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. (4 1/4 cups) unsweetened, shredded coconut
2 large eggs, whites only
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. coconut oil
Flaky sea salt (like Maldon), to finish

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, melt honey over low heat until entirely liqueified.
3. Add tahini and whisk together until the mixture becomes like the consistency of condensed milk, thick but still runny.
4. Whisk in vanilla.
5. In a large bowl, mix together the shredded coconut and salt.
6. Pour the tahini honey mix into the coconut and, using your hands, blend together until the coconut is entirely covered. The consistency will be sticky and crumbly, almost like a crumb cake topping.
6. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or with an electric beater/whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
7. Gently fold egg whites into the coconut mixture.
8. Using your hands, form 1"-2" balls with flat bottoms out of the coconut mixture and set on parchment. They can be set close together, as they will not expand when baked.
9. Bake macaroons for 13-18 minutes, depending on size, until the tops and bottoms are golden.
10. Once the macaroons are done baking, remove from oven and set aside. Cool completely on tray.
11. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil in a double boiler. Drizzle chocolate over macaroons with a fork or, once the macaroons have cooled, dip the tops or bottoms of them into the chocolate. Finish with a pinch of flaky sea salt.
12. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. 

Macaroons will keep refrigerated for up to a week.