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I have a friend. Her name is Pussycat. I’m Owl, and she’s Pussycat. You know, like the Edward Lear poem. The one about the owl that falls in love with a cat? They went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat? Read a book for cripes’ sake. Anyhoo, I met Pussycat when we were at the National Ballet School together. We became fast friends. She’s a few years younger than I am, but way braver. She’ll just leap and hope the net appears. Not me. Not this Owl. I created Security Check for the Cat Farm. It’s a 20-point security check that I perform each and every time I leave the house and before we shut the Cat Farm down for the evening. Three times. (That’s the key to Security Check success: repetition.)
Pussycat is one of the funniest people I know, and a more loyal and true friend would be hard to find. She’s also a doer. I mean, dancers always say they’re going to go to New York City to dance, but most of them don’t ever do it. But as I was leaving Toronto to return to my ocean home, Pussycat actually did it. She moved to NYC. And – brace yourselves – she bakes on the side. Like, as a job. Way cool, right?
Today is Pussycat’s birthday. I’ve been thinking about Pussycat a lot lately. We haven’t seen each other in years. I’ve let the distance between us grow too far. And Pussycat has been sick. Only 34 years old when she got her diagnosis. When I got her email in June telling me that she was heading to Toronto for treatment, I could hardly breathe. All I could think was: this sucks balls. (I think saying, “this sucks balls,” is even more effective when paired with pictures of pretty cookies.)
Now, Pussycat would punch me in the face if I droned on and on about how pathetic sick people are. Kitty’s got claws. So I won’t. But I’ll tell you something mega rock-your-socks exciting. I’m going to visit Pussycat while she’s in Toronto. A long overdue reunion. And we’re going to bake – for you! Well, we’ll eat a lot of it, but mostly, it’s for you. And when I get home I’ll have some recipes that we’ve tested for you, and I’ll tell you all about those recipes in December. Also, I think I might call the series The Owl and Pussycat Bake Shop. Because when I win the lottery, that sucker’s gunna get opened. But for now, it’s an imaginary bake shop that exists only in my high-fuctioning brain.
Pussycat had these cookies once. Rosie Beaucoup made them for her – that was about ten years ago. And Pussycat has been beggin’ for the recipe ever since. That tells you a little something about how tasty they are. And I guess all that purring and rubbing up against us has finally paid off, because Rosie gave me the recipe. She gave it to me so I could share it with Pussycat. I’ve had it for weeks – but I’ve been waiting to post it until today. A little birthday treat for Pussycat.
And just so you know, sometimes 2.0 will ask something like: when is Hawk going to visit Muskrat? And I’ll say: Owl and Pussycat, doofus. Mother of pearl.
Polvorones are like a shortbread or a sugar cookie. But these have anise in them. So when you bake them, your kitchen will smell like cinnamon and anise. You will feel soothed and warm. You might want to curl up in a sunny patch for a little nap. They are perfect with tea. Perfect for the holidays. Purrfect anytime of year.
So, dear Pussycat, soon I’ll be packing my bag and heading out in a beautiful pea green boat. I will find you and we will dance by the light of the moon. And if I see a shooting star, I’ll wish that you never got sick. But for now, I’ll wish you the happiest of birthdays. And many, oh, so many, happy returns.
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Pussycat Polvorones - adapted from Marilyn Cahill, 3rd place winner Chicago Tribune’s 1996 Annual Holiday Cookie Contest - print and bake
Yields 2 1/2 to 3 dozen.
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon anise seed, finely crushed (I use the rocking motion of knife blade to pulverize the seeds)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, anise seed, and salt. Set aside.
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and 3/4 cup of the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy; about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until well combined. Stir in the pecans.
Put the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl or plate with a lip. Using a tablespoon, scoop dough and roll between the palms of your hands to make round balls. (I use slightly less than a tablespoon for each ball.) Roll each dough ball in the sugar. Place the dough balls 5 inches apart on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Press each ball with bottom of a glass to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned and golden on the edges. Allow to cool completely on racks.