If there is one thing I loved growing up, it was make believe. I’d come downstairs and begin my day as one character or another, complete with a costume and the occasional prop. “Alright Brittni, who are you today?” my parents would have to ask. You see, I wouldn’t answer them unless addressed by my “real” name.

A few of my finer moments include the time I scotch-taped a butter knife to my leg in an attempt to mimic Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell in the movie “Hook.” Or the day I decided to steal mom’s eyeliner pencil, smudge it on my face to look like dirt and scrub the floors with a toothbrush a la Cinderella before her fairy godmother showed up.

However, my favorite game had to be “Little House on the Prairie.” I’d set up my log cabin in dad’s garden shed and run around the backyard barefoot with my hand-sewn satchel and rag doll in tow, calling myself “Laura.”

When dinnertime rolled around, I’d bust out a jar of homemade prairie cornmeal…which was essentially dried corn kernels (i.e. squirrel food from the feeder nailed to a nearby tree) smashed with a rock.

Sadly, I never got to eat my pretend cornbread – it was imaginary after all – but looking back, I think that’s where my love for multi-grains may have begun.

There is something so wonderfully…wholesome about whole-grains. Even the words themselves sound inviting. Say them slowly with me: “whoooole graiiins.” They’re like a pile of clean towels fresh out of the dryer, warm, inviting and good.

My heart does a quick skip whenever I find a recipe featuring an unexplored grain – gives me an excuse to visit that lovely display of Bob’s Red Mill flours at the market. Buckwheat and barley and brown rice, oh my!

So, when I found a recipe for mixed-grain butter cookies in my new cookbook “The Italian Farmer’s Table,” I practically swooned.

Butter. And grains. AND Marsala wine?! God I love Italy.

It’s a simple cookie – unadorned and modest. But with that first bite, that first crunch from the grains, you know you’ve stumbled upon something different.

The cornmeal I used ironically reminds me of that jar from my childhood adventures on “the prairie.” The coarse, stone ground meal provides a lovely crunch to the otherwise soft, cookie. Marsala lends a bit of complexity, though it tastes strongest when the cookies are fresh out of the oven and mellows as they cool.  Then there’s the whole-wheat flour, adding some depth. And finally the butter shines through, holding all that grainy goodness together in one, small, compact little cookie.

I might not play make-believe anymore like I used to, but the familiar sense of adventure still lingers. And I feel it most while in the kitchen. Now instead of movies and story books, my inspiration comes from food memoirs and the dining section of The New York Times. I wear an apron in place of a costume and channel Ruth Reichl rather than Tinkerbell.  But the best part is the food. It’s finally real!

Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all?

~Brittni

Mixed-grain butter cookies, or, pan mejin cascina caremma
Adapted from “The Italian Farmer’s Table”

If you don’t already have this book, go out right now and buy it. It’s excellent. I’d provide a little mini-review, but The Traveler’s Lunchbox has done a swell job already! These cookies are lovely, hearty and have the ability to disappear rather quickly. Use a smaller biscuit cutter to stretch the amount. I’m a big fan of Marsala wine and doubled the amount called for in the recipe. I have provided my version below, but if you prefer a lighter wine taste then simply use 1 rather than 2 tablespoons of Marsala and omit the extra 4 tablespoons of flour.

You will need:
2 tbsp. fine cornmeal (I used a heartier, stone ground variety and it worked great)
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup + 4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp. Marsala wine
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Directions:

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a normal bowl with a handheld mixer), mix together all of the ingredients until they begin to come together and form a dough.

Scrape the dough onto a clean work surface and shape into a round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350.

Remove the dough from the fridge. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Roll out the dough until 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies using a small, round cookie cutter (biscuit cutters work well).

Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake 7 minutes for soft cookies or 12 minutes for crunchy cookies. (The book recommends 12 minutes, but I like my cookies chewy…)

Remove from the oven and transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Yield ~ 15 cookies

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