The holidays are indeed upon us, and they’ve swept me up entirely. I’ve been immersed in the pre-holiday sprint at work, tourist-centric people watching at the Ferry Building as I finish up my Christmas shopping, cocktail parties, cookie decorating, the inevitably chaotic process of packing for holiday trips, present-wrapping to the tune of old Christmas movies, sipping bubbly, eating oysters, feeling merry.
I love the bustle—hundreds of people coming and going, so much activity, so much sparkle. All week, I’ve been watching people board the train with their huge suitcases and oversized coats. Are they headed home or leaving home, I wonder, and toward whom are they traveling?
Yet I can’t help but also feel the ache of that which is not merry and bright. I love this city that forces me to see extravagance and poverty, good and bad, revelry and suffering smashed up against one another, but it breaks my heart. More than once I’ve come off an exit ramp in my warm car, sipping coffee and humming along to Christmasy songs, to see tents and hungry faces within arm’s reach.
The carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War. His son had been wounded in battle, his wife had died in a fire and his entire world was ripped apart by war. I’ve sung this song a million times, but somehow I missed the despondent lyrics right in the middle: And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
It is perhaps true that things are not so far from where they’ve always been. The world is not necessarily more broken today than yesterday; hope is not necessarily more difficult to grasp. And that hope keeps crying out as it has for centuries, as it did for Longfellow: Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Wild and sweet, indeed, those bells. Have a wild, sweet, sparkling, merry, bright holiday, my friends, complete with lots of cookies and the people you love most.
Adapted from James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman & Tara Duggan’s The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee
Makes 35 cookies
1 cup (8 oz / 227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4.1 oz / 115 g) powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups (9.9 oz / 280 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar, rosemary and salt. Mix on low speed until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium speed an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just uniform in texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on low speed for 1 minute.
Gather the dough into a ball. Transfer to a piece of plastic wrap, cover with a second piece of plastic wrap and flatten to form a rectangle measuring 7 by 10 inches and about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 5 days.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the dough into small rectangles measuring 1 by 2 inches. You will have 35 cookies. Place them on the lined baking sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart.
Bake for about 18 minutes, until golden around the edges, rotating the pan midway through the baking time. Brush the tops of the cookies with olive oil as soon as they come out of the oven. Let them cool on the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing, then let cool completely before serving for optimal texture. Store in an airtight container.