The Spy Test Kitchen has returned from a smashing vacation, brimming with ideas and new experiences. Despite what Agnes Callard said in her New Yorker piece, The Case Against Travel, I think travel is good for the soul. We got out of town, saw old friends, met new people, saw lots of art, and water, and fireworks, and ate constantly, and with gusto. I polished my toenails, slathered on the sunscreen, donned brightly-colored, light weight summer togs, and kept filling my canvas market tote with fresh, local fruits and vegetables at each and every farm stand.
Foodwise, as it was a New England vacation, the ubiquitous lobster roll was a favorite, as were oysters, and scallops, and fried fish sandwiches, and cooked-on-the-grill hamburgers. There was also gelato, focaccia, Parker House Rolls, pesto, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, panisse lettuce, and blueberries, blueberries, blueberries. We trailed dreamily through busy Italian food markets, independent bookshops, edgy galleries, cavernous museums, and tchotchke-stuffed antique stores. We waited for a ferry, rode in unaccustomed Ubers (and traffic), walked miles in the sun, and got caught in a downpour while strolling to the beach. We went on pilgrimage to the shrines that are Car Talk Plaza, Eataly, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Harvard, and the Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett, home of the Tall One’s very first lobster roll. We unwound in a very busy fashion.
We went out to dinner often, but the best things we ate were homemade: carrot cake is good for a birthday celebration, but it is even better a couple of days later for breakfast. And a bloody Mary brunch should always include snappy little homemade Old Bay biscuits from Dorie Greenspan’s Cookies cook book. Dorie says she wanted a cookie that would go with beer: I applaud her noble impulse. This was the perfect New England vacation crunchy little cocktail nibble, made ineffable by the addition of good Maryland Old Bay Seasoning.
Dorie Greenspan’s Old Bay Pretzel and Cheese Cookies
Makes 3 dozen
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 24 pieces
4 ounces (1 cup) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces (57 grams) salted pretzels, coarsely chopped
Put flour, Old Bay and salt in a food processor; whir to blend. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and pulse in long spurts. Pulse until dough forms clumps, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of the bowl. Add cheese and pretzels; pulse to combine. Turn dough onto a work surface; knead briefly to bring it together. Divide in half; roll each half into a 9-inch log. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap; freeze at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°F. Position racks to divide oven into thirds. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.
Use a serrated knife to cut dough into ⅓-inch-thick slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 19–21 minutes, rotating sheets front to back and top to bottom after 10 minutes, or until firm and golden. Cool on sheets 5 minutes and then place on cooling racks.
The sous chef wanted a taste before the cookies had cooled completely. He was chastised. The pretzels need to cool to regain crunch, and the Old Bay needs time to mellow. Patience is a New England virtue: think of all those widow’s walks. This is also the perfect time to make a batch of bloody Marys, watch some tennis, or to get out the beer. Enjoy your summer!
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”
― Maya Angelou