The holidays passed quickly, as usual. Jonji and I hopped between families, spending Christmas Eve with the Barbers at Jason and Shellie’s for dinner, gifts, and games; Pat and Taz’s on Christmas morning for breakfast and gifts; my parents’ for brunch and presents by the fire, then a welcome walk along Westcliff before settling down for cocktail hour and finally dinner. This year Mom made Suzanne Goin’s excellent pork stew with polenta, root vegetables, and gremolata, which was especially lovely considering it was both delicious and a dish we didn’t have to spend our entire Christmas afternoon slaving over, for once. For dessert I made this Ginger Slice and David Lebovitz’s Salted-Butter-Caramel-Chocolate Mousse (from My Paris Kitchen), which Bailey seems to forget she loves every single time and subsequently spends a few minutes after the first bite with her eyes rolled back in her head (she also repeatedly insists it should be called “marshmallow fluff”).
Earlier in the month, Mom celebrated her 50th birthday. Megan Pickett hosted, and she served a decadent spread of hummus and pine nut relish for appetizers, candied beet mimosas, and one of Mom’s favorite lamb dishes for lunch. I made two lemon meringue tarts, as per Mom’s request, of which we passed slices around while we sat around the fire after lunch. During the group photo, Mom got a stomach cramp from laughing and appeared in the picture as two legs—of course, that just made us all laugh even harder.
A week later, Jonji and I were back at the Pickett’s for the annual White Elephant party. Everyone from all three families made it, which was a rare treat. We laughed over some truly terrible gifts, and I once again brought the memory of Cruton, the Pickett’s deceased cat, to the forefront of everyone’s minds, this time with a hand-drawn “poster” made with Sharpie.
Jonji and I bought a car a few months ago, which made me feel like a real adult. Before settling on our little Nissan Versa, we went and checked out a hybrid at a small, independent dealer one rainy Friday night. When we got in the car to test drive it, we noticed it hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned—in fact, we found a used q-tip between the seats and even, when we popped the trunk, a woman’s leather jacket. After that, and an inspection by a neighboring mechanic that yielded rather poor results, we decided against the car. But the next day was a success, and we drove away from the dealership with a 2018, basically new but technically pre-owned, car.
Rain clouds crossed the Bay Area over the last few weeks, accompanied by a chill that brought the first hint of frost to the surrounding rooftops. Our chard is standing tall in the garden, welcoming the cold weather. The tomato plants, which have flourished for a surprisingly long time, have finally begun to droop, though yellow star-shaped flowers still hide beneath their blanket of leaves. The tree outside our window has bloomed with the most delicate, frilled pink flowers that look like they belong on tiny ballerinas. Kitty spends a lot of time in “the tropical zone,” which is what I call the chair we place in front of the heater for her, where she can finally relax and spread her little limbs.
One other note: I was finally made a full employee of Pure Storage, so now I get to work with Kelly and Tim for real! Two weeks ago, on my first official day, I got on the elevator on the third floor, going down. When the doors opened on the second floor, Kelly walked in. We were excited, but not as excited as when the doors to the first floor opened and Tim waved back at us. Living. The. Dream.
I was first introduced to the idea of the “slice” by Taz, my sister-in-law, who served apricot slices one Christmas morning a few years ago. It’s a New Zealand thing, and from what I understand it’s essentially a tray bake with a cookie base and some sort of topping—like a lemon bar, millionaire’s shortbread, or crumble bars. The slices I’ve tried have been exceptional, and something I would gladly eat every day. My coworker Graeme, also from New Zealand, brought in Ginger Slice (also known as Ginger Crunch) to work one day and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I baked some myself. He advised using much more ground ginger than called for, so I did, and also sprinkled on top some chopped candied ginger I’d made a few months ago. The result was incredible, the cookie-like morsels perfectly sweet, melt-in-the-mouth, and sticky, with a zing from the ginger.
After a few trials, I’ve come up with a version that has more ginger and less sugar than the original recipe I found on David Lebovitz’s website. I do recommend buying golden syrup for this recipe—it’s inexpensive and easy to find on Amazon, at the very least (I use Lyle’s). Honey could be an okay substitute, but you will certainly have a distinct honey flavor (which, come to think of it, could be wonderful). Whatever you decide, I urge you to try these. They were perfect for the holidays with their abundance of warming ginger, but they don’t need a special occasion to be made. Ginger Slice will make any ordinary day extra special—they’re the Felix Felicis of baked goods.
makes 32 1×2-inch slices • adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe for Ginger Crunch
9 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
generous 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp ground ginger
1-2 tbsp finely chopped candied ginger (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8×8-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper (lining is optional, but it will make cutting the bars easier).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (3-5 min). In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, 2 1/2 tsp ground ginger, and salt together.
Mix the dry ingredients into the butter until well combined. The mixture will still be crumbly but clumps should be sticking together. Press the dough evenly into the buttered baking dish, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until light golden brown.
A few minutes before the base is done baking, making the icing. Heat the 5 tbsp butter and the golden syrup in a small saucepan, then mix in 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar and 2 tbsp ground ginger. Whisk until smooth.
When the base is done baking, remove from the oven and immediately pour the icing over the top, tilting the tray to evenly cover the base. Place the baking dish on a cooling rack. After 5 minutes, sprinkle the chopped candied ginger evenly over the top, if using.
After at least 30 minutes, slice into desired sizes. I like to make 32 tiny rectangles, but you can cut them whichever way you’d like. These are delicious immediately, or a day or two later as long as they’re stored in an air tight container.