September 6, 2012

I Am the Destroyer
(+ Rosemary Apricot Squares)

So look what I made:

I’m guessing some of you might be having identification problems at this point.  I’ll give you a hint.  You’ve probably used it.  It makes a gorgeous roast chicken.   It’s equally lovely with roasted potatoes.  And it's usually substantially greener than this.


Okay.   It’s kind of like one of those Magic Eye puzzles.  You have to sort of squint, and take two steps back, and relax your eyes until it’s juuuuust out of focus, and –

Yes!  That’s right!  It’s thyme!

And I killed it.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned my murderous streak.  Everything living I’ve ever owned has died a grisly death.  Except maybe the bunny: they tell me he went to live on a nice farm.  But I have my doubts.

Plants are the easiest to deal with because you don’t have to be crippled by guilt when they die.  That’s what they’re there for.  They’re like training wheels for goldfish.  Which, in turn, are training wheels for kittens, which are training wheels for babies.  Ascending ranks of responsibility, guilt, and terror.  At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.  But I’m feeling pretty down about losing this thyme.  And his brothers before him, Basil and Herb. 

[ Note that the thyme did not get a name like Basil and Herb (AKA sage) did.  This is called a distancing mechanism.  I’m relieved that I had the foresight.  In my head, tall Basil and stumpy Herb were like Bert and Ernie.  Except they died.  And two phantom Odd-Couple Muppet plants lodged in my memory is more than enough.]

We could blame the thyme’s fate on the weather.  It was a horrible summer, the hottest in forevers, and as I am sitting here writing this in the first week of September, it is still 93 degrees outside.  Any plant would suffer.  I watered it diligently, and I made sure it got replanted in a roomy pot with actual soil and a reasonable source of sunlight, which means it had it far better than poor Basil and Herb ever did.  But other people managed to keep their plants alive this summer while mine crisped, so I’m pretty sure this is still on me somehow.

My other herbs, by the way, don’t look much better than the thyme: the mint and basil are spotty, the chives look oddly bleached, and the cilantro has gone from a bushy collection of leaves to a two-foot-tall bouquet of white flowers.  Although I’m told that’s a perfectly normal stage in cilantro’s life cycle, I’m tempted to feel that a complete metamorphosis should probably count as a failure on my part.  If you asked me to babysit your puppy and I handed a bat to you when you returned, the fact that it was still technically a life form probably wouldn’t stop you from asking a few choice questions.

You might be wondering why I keep trying to grow herbs if it’s such a disaster.  For starters, I’m not about to let a bunch of leaves and twigs defeat me.  But I’m also just tired of making recipes that call for a tablespoon of chopped oregano and having to pay $4 for a nosegay of it at the grocery store – all but a tablespoon of which, by the way, will go brown and slimy in the bottom of the crisper drawer.

Plus, I’ve had a recent breakthrough.  I’ve regained some confidence.  Sure, I’ve got albino chives and leopard basil and Kareem Abdul Cilantro.  But I also have Rosemary – beautiful, compliant Rosemary.  Rosemary, who doesn’t even care whether I water it.  Rosemary, who loves his low-nutrient, rocky soil.  Rosemary, who really just wishes I’d leave him alone and let him do his thing.  Rosemary’s my kind of herb.  So guess what?

I killed him.

There was a recipe.  A glorious-sounding recipe, for apricot squares with a crumbly  topping and a rosemary-laced crumb crust.  And I thought: Rosemary!  Here’s his chance!  He’s been such a trooper; I’ll let him shine.  And because they turned out so amazing, so sweet and tart and ever-so-faintly-and-pleasantly herbal, I made three pans’ worth for friends and family.  And suddenly, good ol’ Rosemary was gone.

I thought it would be okay.  For the first batch, I snipped sprigs willy-nilly.  But by the third batch, I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Or the planter, as it were.  But that seemed fine: I’d snipped the chives down right to the dirt to make twice-baked potatoes, and they were back as tall as ever in a week or two.  And the cilantro’d grown a full foot overnight.

But Rosemary hasn’t recovered.  He sits, stumpy, two inches tall, and he sulks.  I don’t think he’s growing at all.  Was I supposed to only pick off the leaves?  Was I supposed to cut the thinner twigs but leave the thicker branches?  I’d be the wrong girl to ask.  I think I’ve managed to kill Rosemary.  Rosemary, who can survive rocks and drought and curious goats, but perished on my balcony.  It’s a special skill I have.

So enjoy these cookies, in Rosemary’s memory.  At least he didn’t die in vain.

Rosemary Apricot Squares 
barely adapted from Baked: Explorations
by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

I'm not typically drawn to apricots, but the gorgeous orange color of these bars and the addition of rosemary drew me in.  And now, of course, I can't stop going back to the pan for one more tiny sliver.  Despite the flavoring innovation, these are comfort-food cookies at their best: a pastry crust, a thick and heavily-perfumed layer of fruit preserves, and a crumbly brown-sugar topping.  Add a mug of tea and you've got the best early-fall afternoon ever.

Flour  [ 1 ¾ cups ] 
Salt  [ ½ teaspoon ] 
Fresh Rosemary  [ minced, 2 ½ teaspoons ] 
Unsalted Butter  [ 12 tablespoons, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes ] 
Powdered Sugar  [ ½ cup ] 
Vanilla Extract  [ ¾ teaspoon ]

Dried Apricots  [ 2 cups – about 8 ½ ounces ]
Sugar  [ ½ cup ]
Honey  [ 3 tablespoons ]
Brandy  [ 2 tablespoons ]
Salt  [ 1 pinch ]
Water  [  1 ½ cups ]

Flour  [ ½ cup ]
Dark Brown Sugar  [ firmly packed, ½ cup ]
Pecans  [ coarsely chopped, 1/3 cup ]
Salt  [ 1 pinch ]
Unsalted Butter  [ 3 tablespoons, cold, cut into ½-inch cubes ]

Make the Crust: 
1.   In a 9-inch square baking pan, fit a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil so that the foil extends over the edges of 
          the pan.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray. 
2.   Whisk together Flour, Salt, and Rosemary. 
3.   In a mixer, at Medium speed, beat Butter, Powdered Sugar, and Vanilla for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. 
4.   At Low speed, mix in Flour. 
5.   Pat dough into an even layer in prepared pan. 
6.   Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. 
7.   Heat oven to 350 degrees. 
8.   Bake crust 25-30 minutes, rotating pan at the halfway mark, until golden. 
9.   Cool in pan on wire rack. 

Make the Apricot Filling: 
1.   In a medium pot, simmer Apricots, Sugar, Honey, Brandy, Salt, and Water until Apricots are tender and 
        mixture is syrupy.  This will take 40-50 minutes. 
2.   Remove from heat and let cool slightly. 
3.   Puree in food processor.
Make the Crumb Topping:  
1.   In a mixer at Low speed, mix Flour, Brown Sugar, Pecans, and Salt for 15 seconds, until combined. 
2.   Add in Butter.  Mix 1 minute, until mixture resembles sand. 

Bake Squares:   
1.   Spoon Apricot Filling over Crust and smooth. 
2.   Sprinkle Crumb Topping over Apricot Filling. 
3.   Bake until crumb is softly browned, 20-25 minutes. 
4.   Let cool in pan before cutting into squares.


  1. I love reading your posts! :D
    I made these bars last year, and they were amazing!! (Everything in the Baked cookbooks are fabulous.)

    Sorry to hear about your thyme. ;)

    1. I know, I'm so excited to get the newest Baked book. Until then, their Caramel Apple Cake recipe definitely has my name on it. :)