I spent my last day in Seattle with my parents. We woke up early and got pancakes at one of our favorite dives, a run-down little restaurant near the airport. I spent the afternoon at home with Dad and the dogs, looking through old photo albums. We shared some good sushi for an early lunch, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Even though sleet fell and dirty puddles collected, damp leaves sticking to our soles, I couldn’t have felt happier about my last afternoon.
At home after dinner, I watched my mom boil water for tea, facing away from me. I sat at the table and checked my email as she talked, only half listening. She stopped mid-sentence, and I finally noticed that she’d been crying – so quiet I hadn’t heard from three feet away.
She left the kitchen and I heard the closet open down the hall. She came back with a white cloth napkin with sky blue trim. “Recognize this?”
The last time I saw my parents before winter break was in Boston, a few days before classes started. We had dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant in the North End, a light meal before I left in near tears and caught the next train to my dorms. We didn’t say goodbye for very long because I didn’t want my parents to see I was upset.
“After you walked out, I started crying,” my mom said. I unfolded the napkin and turned it around in my hands. It was so neatly folded and wrinkle-free that it looked new.
“Your father and I left soon after you. We walked down the street and he gave me the napkin – he stole it from the restaurant. He said he thought I might need it.”
And here it was now, a seeming lifetime later, in our chipped little kitchen.
“We walked a little further and went into some of the stores. Your dad, he picked up this jar of something and said ‘Oh – Elissa would really like this.’ He just kept looking at it and finally he bought it. He said, ‘We should give it to her.’”
“The fig spread?”
I remembered this. I thought I’d said goodbye to my parents for the last time, but later that night, my dad stopped by the lobby of my dorm. He had a box of water crackers, a thick wedge of creamy brie, and a small glass jar of an incredible fig jam. It was the last real quality food I had before I settled into my routine of café sandwiches and dining hall chicken fingers. It was the last little bit that felt like Seattle as I settled into Boston.
The first week of school, I passed it around the common room and shared it with my floor. Nobody had eaten anything like that fig spread before, and I saw people right, left and center falling in love. Between my roommate E- and I, the jam lasted a few weeks. When it was gone, I washed out the jar and set it on the windowsill. That’s where it is now, catching the fleeting light that filters into my room.
When it was gone, I craved more, but I wasn’t about to buy more on my college student budget. One afternoon E- came into the room with a grocery bag. She pulled out a package of crackers. “I keep thinking about that fig spread,” she admitted. With or without it, the crackers satisfied us, and now our room is always stocked with a box or two.
Mom was smiling now. “After the hard time your dad gave me about being upset, he was the one buying stuff for you half an hour later. He said we should go to Whole Foods and get something to go with the jam. I thought he was being ridiculous but he was so stubborn about the idea.”
They didn’t know where Whole Foods was, but they took a train and managed to find it. I can picture Dad walking up and down the cheese aisle, like he used to when we shopped together, looking for the particular brie I’m so smitten with. I imagine him looking at shelves and shelves of crackers, deciding which box would go best with the spread.
As I thought about all the work behind that simple gesture, a paper bag with a last-minute snack, I started to feel sad for the first time about winter break ending. I gave my mom a long hug and told her not to cry. I folded up the napkin, following the creases, and handed it to her.
“Hang onto this. I’m serious. Keep this forever, okay?”
“Okay.” She paused, and then smiled. “I’ll use it at your graduation.”
She put the napkin back in the linen closet, Dad came and sat down, and the two of them talked at the dinner table as I finished packing.
Boston, here I come.
Homemade crackers are the kind of thing that look and taste ultra-fancy and gourmet, but really, they’re pretty easy. This recipe is flexible, forgiving, and addictive. It’s as simple as combining a few ingredients in a bowl, letting the mixer do the work, and getting creative with toppings. Indecisive as ever, I made three different crackers. The first batch I sprinkled with lime zest, lime thyme, and black pepper. The second batch got grated parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, and a healthy dose of salt. I made a sweeter cracker with the last batch, topping them with orange zest, vanilla sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon, chili powder.
The three varieties were all different and all good. The one thing they had in common was a thin, crispy texture, and a tendency to disappear fast. They’re good with all sorts of dips and spreads, like hummus, and a whole lot of toppings, like brie and fig spread.
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Makes roughly a dozen extra large crackers
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Toppings for sprinkling (ex: salt, pepper, grated cheese, dried herbs, spices, citrus zest, seeds, flavored oils, etc)
Whisk the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the water and olive oil. Mix the dough with the dough hook attachment at medium speed for 5-7 minutes, or simply mix and knead by hand on a floured surface. The dough should be slightly tacky – add water if the dough is too dry, add flour if the dough is too sticky.
Form the dough into a ball and cut it into a dozen equal pieces. Gently rub each piece with some olive oil, shape into a ball and set on a plate. Cover the plate with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and let the dough rest for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
As the dough rests, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add a pizza stone if available.
After the dough has rested, flatten a ball of dough into a flat strip. Use a rolling pin or a pasta machine to make the dough as thin as possible. You can use your hands to pull the dough out afterwards, getting it a bit thinner. Cut the dough into whatever shape you want the crackers to be (I baked mine in large, freeform shapes and broke them into smaller crackers afterward.)
Place the dough on a floured baking sheet and poke the crackers all over with a fork. Add any toppings (see above for suggestions) and bake in the oven (or on the pizza stone if you have it) until deeply golden brown. The time will vary depending on your oven and the thickness of your crackers, mine took 5-10 minutes. Let the crackers cool before eating so they reach their full crispy potential.
Printer-Friendly Recipe – Crackly Crackers