Ahhhhh. November and December in the Cranberry Isles. I really don’t mind these darker months. I know the light comes back pretty quickly in January and February and there’s something very special about the pre-solstice sunsets seen from a ride home on the mailboat. Hello wool socks and old sweater friends. I happen to like the feeling of getting ready for winter.
Someone asked me last summer if I thought I was better prepared to deal with the pandemic because of how I cope with an island winter. Maybe? Much of what I do to deal with the isolation of island living in the diminutive days could also prepare me for virus-related solitude.
I think all of us tend to stock up more on groceries at this time of year, since bad weather can cancel boats which would cancel off-island plans. Since it’s no fun adding a cold boat ride to a doctor’s office visit, I try to be more aware of the need to wash my hands. The same measures I take to stay healthy in cold and flu season could lessen my chances of catching COVID.
Trying new recipes is a good form of solo winter entertainment.
Around the island, I can still pick bouquets of pine, spruce, cedar, and winterberries to freshen up the house. November is when I get out my little white lights to set in various indoor spots. Some are on branches in vases and others are strung along a windowsill. COVID or not, my mood is lifted by their magic every afternoon as soon as darkness falls.
Trying new recipes is a good form of solo winter entertainment. I’m lucky that Bruce and I both like to cook. My latest goal is to learn to bake amazing baguettes, and I’m waiting to see what Bruce will try next.
Below is a recipe that was new to me last summer and the cookies were a hit at the Bar Road Market. The cookies are flat, crispy on the edges and still chewy in the center. The recipe is quite conducive to “making it your own.”
One week I added mini chocolate chips and toffee bits. Another week I added chopped dried cranberries and slivered almonds. I buy large granule sugar from Amazon for rolling my molasses cookies, and it makes this chocolate version quite special. I think for a Christmas cookie it would be fun to roll it in crushed candy canes or nonpareils.
I would like to wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday season as we reach the end of one of the worst years ever. May 2021 be a truly happy new year for us all.
Chocolate Sugar Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
1 large egg plus one large yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle of the oven. Heat oven to 350. Line three sheet pans with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1-3/4 cups of the sugar, and beat again until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and beat on low speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat again on low speed until combined.
4. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a medium bowl.
5. Scoop the dough into 1-1/2 ounce portions (2 tablespoons). Roll each ball in the sugar. Place eight cookies on each sheet pan.
6. Bake one pan at a time, rotating halfway through baking. Bake until the sides are set and the top begins to crackle, 12-14 minutes.
7. Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack and let cookies cool for 5-10 minutes on the pan, then remove cookies and let them cool completely on the wire rack. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.
Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).