Saturday, September 24, 2005

Winter Sunshine Bars

There's been some confusion here about what, exactly, the word "resolution" means. Michael is famous for setting the bar so low that it's pretty much just resting on the floor where you might trip over it and--oh, great!--meet your New Year's goal completely by accident. One year, for example, he resolved not to struggle with inadvertently short lengths of dental floss. "I'm going to throw it away and start with a fresh piece," he vowed, while I committed to such unattainable vastnesses as compassion and generosity. He has decided to practice guitar more--and done so--while I wrestled with the octopus of my own impatience. And for 2010? He's going to make a piecrust before the year is out. It is certainly what they would call in some board meetings "an actionable goal." "Come on then," I said. "I'll teach you. Let's make one right now." Michael looked a little crestfallen. "Well, then I wouldn't have anything to work on," he explained, and I said, "Are you working on the *idea* of making a piecrust?" And he said, "Something like that."

"I'd like to end up with more money," Ben ventured. We were sitting around the dinner table, delineating our goals by candlelight as we spooned up curried turnip soup that was actually better than it sounds, though not much better. "That's more like a hope," I explained, and tried to contain my fear that he's going to be the financiering Alex P. Keaton of our rag-tag little family. "Like something you'd wish while you were blowing out your birthday candles. A resolution is something you commit to working towards." "Hm." Ben thought for a minute. "I guess I want to be better at the piano." "Great," I said. "So, do you resolve to practice more?" Ben grinned and shook his head--the spitting, gorgeous, maddening image of his father. "No, not exactly," he said. "I just want to, you know, be better at it."

Birdy first resolved that our cat stay as cute as he is now. "That's also not a resolution," I sighed, already gumming up my own personal resolution with the sap of impatience. Then she decided to work harder at karate so she can get her yellow belt.

And me? I resolved greater patience and compassion, as always. Also to begin a meaningful practice of community service. Not to compare myself to others. To be satisfied with less. To smile at strangers. I'm sure I'd do better to stick with actionable practices of dental hygiene or, like Ben, to wish for passive impossibilities. I resolve for my moles to look less like shrunken heads! I resolve for the bathroom to become less revolting! But my real final resolution was to eat as locally as possible. With many, many exceptions. "Like lemons, right?" Ben said, because my love of citrus is a well-known fact: the bright smell of lemons and limes, oranges and grapefruits is a kind of aromatherapeutic antidepressant, isn't it? I love, love, love it--especially in the winter, when it's in season. Not here, of course, but somewhere. Like our backyard in Santa Cruz, where the Meyer lemon tree thudded fruit to the ground all winter long, lemons colonizing every surface of our house like fragrant citric barnacles.

So, no, they're not local, this bag of organic lemons that I bought on sale at Whole Foods this week. But what with school looming grimly in the kids' peripheral vision, lemon squares seemed like an act of great compassion. Plus, they're just so outrageously good: perfectly balanced between tart and sweet, between buttery richness and the fragrant slap of citrus. If you make these, resolve to spare a few to pack in the kids' school lunches. Especially if selflessness is on your agenda for the coming year.

Winter Sunshine Bars
Makes 12 bars
Active time: 15 minutes; Total time 1 hour

You could cheat the zest here, and just use the juice and zest of one large lemon. But it's that extra zest--Michael's innovation--that makes these lemon bars uniquely excellent. Which they are.

For crust:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened

For filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1/3 cup lemon juice (around one lemon)
2 eggs, beaten

Powdered sugar for topping

Heat the oven to 350. In a mixer, beat the butter into the flour, salt, and sugar and mix until it forms a bowlful of sandy crumbs. "Really?" I said to Michael. "It's really supposed to look like that?" And yes. Yes it is, apparently. Pat this unlikely-looking mixture into a well-greased 8- by 8-inch pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, until deeply golden.

Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, flour, and baking powder, then whisk in the lemon juice and zest and the eggs. Whisk until smooth, then pour over the partially baked crust and bake for 25 minutes. Cool, then sift powdered sugar over the top, cut into squares, and eat.

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