Cook’s Library with Patsy Column for March 2016 – Beauty Speaks to Us

Every spring when the purple hyacinths bloomed, my mom would pick a big bouquet and put it in a fruit jar in the middle of the dining room table. Even as a child, I realized this was about more than bringing flowers inside. Although I didn’t understand it then, she was satisfying an innate need we all have for beauty.

Years ago I was writing a magazine story about a church with beautiful stained glass and one of the people I interviewed commented that beauty was a manifestation of the divine. I loved that statement and have thought about it many, many times since. It really resonated with me.

I’ve been reading “Beauty,” a book by the poet John O’Donohue. “The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves,” he writes. “We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”

Far be it from me to presume to explain it better than Mr. O’Donohue, but this concept continues to come up in my life. It is part of the reason I like to be surrounded by “things” that remind me of beautiful experiences. Some of them are beautiful in their own right, and some of them are probably beautiful only to me.

The adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” is so true. I’m attracted to things others might not be interested in at all – from rocks to old vases. Others love vintage cars or mid-century furniture. Whatever appeals to your sense of beauty satisfies something deep inside you.

This extends to food, too. There’s a reason presentation is always one of the things graded on a competition cooking show. Over the years I’ve made some food that is pretty, but most of the food I make has more of a – charm – shall we say. But who doesn’t love a jar of homemade cookies on the counter? No extra decoration is required! Homemade food is always beautiful, whether simple or dressed up.

I thought this month I’d share with you one of my absolute favorite cookie recipes. I’ve been making these cookies for more than 25 years and so far no one has turned one down. They are delicious and perfect with a cup of tea when it’s just a little nippy outside. I decided I’d better share them while we still have some days ahead before the summer heat arrives. The bonus is that your house will smell amazing while they’re baking.

Don’t be put off by the crystallized ginger – it’s easy to work with. If you don’t have any and don’t want to get any, you can leave it out, but it does add a little something special to the recipe.

Ginger Cookies with Crystallized Ginger

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ounces crystallized ginger, minced

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and molasses and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and crystallized ginger and mix. Make 48 one inch balls. Put on cookie sheet and flatten with glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes..