Russians have a saying that the way you greet the year is the way you’ll spend it. As the first few moments of 2018 began to settle in, I decided I would have no problem if the maxim proved itself true this year. I was in London, my first visit to the storied city, and I had just shared a six-course, Michelin star meal with one of my best friends, Libby, at Fergus Henderson’s St. John. By the time the clock ticked midnight, we were already at the downstairs bar-turned-dance floor, sipping on Negronis, and meeting fellow guests from all parts of the globe. My heart felt full and my world big.
The night set the tone for the rest of the trip—we more or less ate and drank our way through the the city—and the momentum didn’t let up as the month progressed. A few days after my return from London, I left for Seattle to visit my boyfriend. Then I flew again to Charlottesville for a Blanc Creatives photoshoot I was hired to style. I was working on four major deadlines in the midst of my travels and if that wasn't enough, I had hand surgery earlier this week. Whew!
One month later, as I adjust to the quiet pace of being back home—one that is being a bit reinforced by this recent surgery—I’m finally getting to process my trip to London here in this space. And you know? I'm starting to realize I left a bit of my heart at Claire Ptak's Violet Bakery.
Housed in a whitewashed building on a quiet residential street in East Hackney, Violet is pretty unassuming from the outside. Step through the door however, and you're transported to a warm, inviting place that feels not totally unfamiliar. The first thing that catches your eye is the glass counter—a treasure trove of rustic, seasonal pastries with a hint of English sensibility. Think layer cakes with bright pink, berried frosting, flaky scones slathered with jam and clotted cream, glossy sugar-glazed banana bread, and freeform rosemary and potato tarts.
While you wait for your little pot of tea to be brewed and your dessert to be plated, you take in the bowls of plump Amalfi lemons, set here and there, jars of freshly-picked flowers, menus framed and signed by Alice Waters from dinners past, and of course the tiny, bustling open kitchen. Dough is rolled out and brushed with melted better for cinnamon rolls, cakes are cut and frosted with jam and vanilla-speckled buttercream, while sheets of warm brownies or blondies are slipped out of the oven, perfuming the air. I had to hold down the urge to grab an apron and step in behind the glass myself, but really—I would've been happy sitting and watching (and eating) there all day long.
I bought Claire's book on my second visit, not only to recreate her desserts at home, but also to be transported back to her cozy, little spot—to an afternoon of sheer delight that sometimes only a slice of vanilla jam cake or a chewy ginger snap can provide. As I ease my way into February, I intend to carve out more moments like these into my daily life and to seek compromise. All too often, I feel like I’m moving too fast or too slow. Either I’m being pushed to the brink of exhaustion or to tears from anxiety that I’m not doing “enough.” I want to take the sense of dynamism I experienced on New Year’s and at Violet's, but leverage it in a way that gently inspires, rather than consumes, my life.
I’ll be getting out, seeing people, working hard, and hustling a little harder—while practicing patience and showing compassion for myself when I start to reach my limits. Looking towards the future has been an exciting, but draining state of mind, so working on embracing my present and cultivating gratitude will also be crucial as I spend my last full month in Rhode Island. All of this is easier said than done of course. I hope I can remember to check in with myself, make soft mental notes as I move forward, and be ok with doing my best, whatever that looks like each day.
With a quieter month, I’m hoping to show this space more attention too, so stay tuned for some long-awaited (cheesy?) recipes. For now, I leave you with this spicy-sweet indulgence—the type of compromise I can always get behind.
Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies
minimally adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook
The pastries were all memorable at Violet's, but Lord knows I am a sucker for a good ginger cookie. Looking at theirs, you see crystalized rounds of ridges and cracks that reveal the promise of soft biscuit underneath. Take a bite and you find they're chewy with a bit of a give (mMm!), with no lack of flavor either. Ginger and molasses provide their spicy snap, while cinnamon and cardamom warm, along with cloves and nutmeg. The coriander and paprika (although I used cayenne for a bit more heat) add a hint of intrigue—a certain j' ne sais pas if you will.
210 grams plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
a pinch cayenne (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
125 grams salted butter, softened
100 grams molasses
100 grams dark brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons boiling water
granulated sugar, for rolling
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Measure all the dry ingredients (except for the brown sugar) into a bowl and whisk well.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and molasses until light and fluffy. Add the boiling water, then dry the ingredients, and mix until combined.
Using an ice cream scoop or two dessert spoons, scoop up individual portions and shape into balls. Roll in caster sugar, then place on the lined baking tray and flatten them slightly, using the underside of a glass or measuring cup. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops crack a little but the cookies are still soft. They will become crisper as they cool. These keep well for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container, but I doubt they'll last that long.