Crackly Crackers

January 16, 2011 at 1:23 am 64 comments

cracker1

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.

cracker3

“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?”

cracker5

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.

cracker2 (Left to right: Parmesan Cheese Crackers, Orange Sugar & Spice Crackers, Lime Thyme Crackers)

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.”

cracker4

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.

cracker6

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.

Crackly Crackers
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

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Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting Ginger, Almond, and Cranberry Semifreddo

64 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lauren  |  January 16, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Such a lovely post, Elissa. I hope you’re settling into Boston nicely once again – reading this made my heart ache a little bit for home and for the adventures that university will bring. May this semester be absolutely wonderful for you, my friend!

    Reply
  • 2. Rachel  |  January 16, 2011 at 2:07 am

    Beautiful post. Leaving your parents for school can be so bittersweet, but it’s part of growing up isn’t it? Try not to spread yourself too thin at school; I remember you writing about how busy you are there.

    Reply
  • 3. Sara  |  January 16, 2011 at 2:13 am

    Hi Elissa, I just started reading your blog. We seem to be in the same situation, in our first years of college (although I’m a bit closer to home than you are). Great post – the crackers look wonderful.

    Reply
  • 4. Robyn  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Good luck with the new semester! I suppose it is bittersweet but think about it, no matter where you are, in Seattle or Boston, there are always good things! You can let the sad things fade into the background and be content.

    Reply
  • 5. Nicole  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:22 am

    A great story. You always tell them so well. Have a safe trip back to Boston.

    Reply
  • 6. Elissa's Dad  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Hmmmmmm, I somehow missed the whole napkin episode-how can that be?

    Not much to say now except the usual “I love you” and wish I had a smaller sundae so that I didn’t need to make you let go of me on that last hug. My belly is as full as my heart.

    And yes, saying goodbye to your parents is part of growing up….I guess I still have some more growing up to do because it wasn’t that much easier to say goodbye than it was the first time.

    Last words: daily photos

    Reply
    • 7. Elissa  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:33 am

      You were in the bathroom. Mom and I have our moments. Love you too

  • 8. Hannah  |  January 16, 2011 at 4:39 am

    why yes, i think i will make these. cos they look perfect.

    http://www.bake5.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • 9. Shanni  |  January 16, 2011 at 5:00 am

    Hi Elissa, ever since you went t college every post u write made me end up in tears. I just cant help but cry! I get jealous of the relationship between you and your parents. I barely speak t my dad at all though we see each other everyday- probably less than 3 sentences a day.
    And i really love the fact that you didnt go with the lomo crazy which many food bloggers have done. Most of their photos now are b/w or edited! Which i think doesn’t show the true colours and beauty of the food.
    Thanks!! =) Good luck with the new semester!

    Reply
  • 10. Jaime Ramsay  |  January 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I love this story and I love your parents – so sweet! That fig jam sounds delicious as well.

    Reply
  • 11. Ryan  |  January 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Your writing is amazing and those crackers look delicious! :)

    Reply
  • 12. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  January 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Delish! These crackers look so scrumptious!

    Reply
  • 13. Kori  |  January 16, 2011 at 11:28 am

    What a lovely post to read on a gray Sunday morning! You are a talented writer…great story! And those crackers look delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

    Reply
  • 14. Holli  |  January 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    You are such a wonderful old soul…. I love reading your posts…… thank you!

    Reply
  • 15. Stephanie  |  January 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    I’ve been wanting to make crackers for a while!

    Are you still doing daring bakers? I loved the challenge this month :)

    Reply
  • 16. Livin' in the Kitchen  |  January 17, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Aww, you’re writing is really moving. They crackers sound awesome! I’ve never tried making homemade crackers, but I think I will soon. Thanks!
    Jess : )

    Reply
  • 17. Sophie  |  January 17, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Gosh, this was such a lovely, poignant post.

    These crackers sound awesome!

    Reply
  • 18. Tonje  |  January 17, 2011 at 6:15 am

    I usually never comment on blogs, but this time I just had to. Because this made me cry. And I’m at work. And that’s rather inconvenient.
    Your writing is so beautiful and comforting, and even though I’m in my second year – and in Norway – I can relate to just about everything you write. It seems to never get easier to leave home after a vacation or weekend, but I guess that’s okay:) Thank you for being an inspiration.

    Reply
  • 19. liney  |  January 17, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Good luck in college! I myself have just started reading your blog but you’re so amazing and a pretty good inspiration! I just started a new blog and am 17… like you were when you started and I hope to one day be as confident as you .. and a much more successfull blogger! its great that you still find time to cook too….. and you write beautifully! i love the fig jam story! so sweet!

    Reply
  • 20. bakinginlisbon  |  January 17, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Love your posts. These crackers are just gorgeous!

    Reply
  • 21. Be  |  January 17, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Hello,
    I really enjoy reading this blog and the food photography (im one of those people that can spend an hour just looking through a cokbook). :)
    While I was reading this post I saw that you guys had taken a napkin and althoughit may seem like just a simple napkin I thought maybe you should call the place to let them know you guys took it. I’m sure they would understand. Not trying to ne a bother or offend, just trying to help

    Reply
    • 22. bell  |  January 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Seriously, Be? It’s a napkin. They’ll get over it.

  • 23. Silki  |  January 17, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I like to cook on Fridays :)

    Reply
  • 24. SeattleDee  |  January 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    A lovely post, as always. Good-byes are so difficult, as you all find ways to deal with the challenge of your growing independence.

    Thanks for the pasta machine suggestion – now why didn’t I think of that?

    Reply
  • 25. Carolyn  |  January 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Once upon a time I went to Emerson, so I love reading your stories and reminiscing about my own time in Boston/college experiences. You are a great writer; I tear up every time. Please don’t ever stop writing.

    Reply
  • 26. Maria  |  January 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    This is so sweet. I’m also in college and always find it difficult to say goodbye to my parents

    Reply
  • 27. Katie  |  January 18, 2011 at 12:23 am

    What a sweet story! Dads are so great. Mine bought me a cookbook he thought I’d like. Never thought I’d see that day come! :)

    Reply
  • 28. Chef Tom  |  January 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I know how it feels trying to fill your stomach at school. Wish I had a Dad and Mon like you, very lucky!

    Reply
  • 29. Chef Tom  |  January 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Sorry, I meant your “Mom”

    Reply
  • 30. Brittany  |  January 19, 2011 at 8:37 am

    That’s very exciting for you! Change can be super fun.

    As for your crackers, they look delicious! I think my family would be impressed with how posh they look.

    Reply
  • 31. Prerna@IndianSimmer  |  January 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Hey thr,
    Got to know abt u from Kamran from Sophisticated gourmet and wow, he was right! What a beautiful space you have created here! Loved visiting your blog and will be back for sure!

    Reply
  • 32. Ruby  |  January 20, 2011 at 12:53 am

    This is the second time I cried while reading your blog! And, I NEVER cry!!!! I absolutely love your story. :)

    Reply
  • 33. alwayshungry  |  January 20, 2011 at 9:54 am

    unveiled raw emotion
    simply shared
    You just made me cry.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  • 34. Dana  |  January 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    What a great story. Goodbyes suck, I always cry on goodbyes.

    Reply
  • 35. Seattle Sundae  |  January 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Wow it must be so hard to leave your parents after it’s just been the three of you for soooo many years. Just you three.

    Reply
  • 36. Katie M  |  January 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    What a lovely post! This is the first of yours I have read but I very much intend to look at all your others posts. Your descriptive skills are amazing and it was thoroughly enjoyable to read about your experiences while also relating to them. I wish you the best of luck!

    Reply
  • 37. Jasmine M  |  January 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I love the details you use in telling the story. It seems so romantic almost that certain foods remind you of details about your life. Best of luck at college.

    Reply
  • 38. Denise Rambo  |  January 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Another lovely post Sweetie! Just curious – what’s the Brie you’re so smitten with?

    Reply
    • 39. Elissa's Dad  |  January 22, 2011 at 12:58 am

      Framage d’Affonois, so far I have only found it at Whole Foods but I am sure most good cheese shops should have it.

  • 40. Sarah  |  January 23, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Your post is so incredibly sweet. It reminds me of how my parents have been buying new books for me at every stoop sale (the Brooklyn equivalent of a garage sale) they see, a practice my mom usually discourages because if I try to fit any more books into my tiny New York bedroom there won’t be any more room for me. I love hearing about your experiences at college, though they make me wish I was having as many adventures as you are. I can’t imagine working at a restaurant and a radio station and studying journalism and still having time to blog and bake and have fun and occasionally sleep and eat.
    I love the looks of these crackers as well, especially lime and thyme. What a well rhymed combination! Plus I like anything with thyme in it because it gives me an excuse to start singing Scarborough Fair, the Simon and Garfunkel song.
    I hope that your first days back at school are as amazing as your first term!

    Reply
  • 41. Cousin Sharon  |  January 23, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    I didn’t go away to college, but when I moved out and got my own apartment my dad called me every morning at work to say hi. He never asked how I was, but I know he was checking on me. The day I got married the morning phone calls stopped. My dad knew that there was someone else making sure I was okay. I’ll never forget those calls and their significance. Enjoy the second half of freshman year!

    Reply
  • 42. Courtney  |  January 24, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Wow, can I just say that your blog is really impressive?! Your pictures are awesome. I am an amateur, baking/cooking college student as well, but unfortunately I’m limited to the pixels on my camera phone. Ah, well…it is the recipe, the taste that matters anyways! Keep up the good work :)

    Reply
  • 43. Abby  |  January 24, 2011 at 3:14 am

    What’s the name of the pancake restaurant you visited near the airport? I live on the East Side. Just curious- I’m always looking for off the beaten path places to eat at with my daughter.

    Reply
    • 44. Elissa's Dad  |  January 24, 2011 at 4:30 am

      Pancake Chef about a mile north of the airport on Pac Hwy.

  • 45. Megan Campbell  |  January 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Hello,! My name is Megan. I’m 15 and like you, I love to make food !

    Reply
  • 46. Geni - Sweet and Crumby  |  January 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Such a sadly sweet post. Lately your posts make me tear up. The crackers look so nice and crispy. I can imagine your flavor combinations and am starting to crave them even though I have never had one. I guess I had better make them this weekend. You know what…I happen to have fig jam sitting in the fridge!

    Reply
  • 47. Julie  |  January 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Elissa,

    I experienced a bittersweet farewell to my mom when I went to college three years ago. I forgot my pillow and some sheets at home in my rush to get ready to be driven to the residence on campus. Luckily I only lived 45 minutes away and my parents drove me back home to get my pillows and sheets. It was so hard walking into the house and knowing that I’d have to leave it again. Seeing my ginger and white cat sleeping in his chair tugged even more at my heart, I hated not being able to take him with me. Still, I gathered my pillows and my sheets and my mom and I drove back to the college. We had a nice chat, I’m not too sure what, and all too soon we were back at the college. We carried my things to my room, made the bed together and then I followed my mom down to the van. We said a tearful goodbye and I stood for a few minutes as she pulled away.

    That first night I did not want to socialize with anyone, but one of my room mates came into my room and wanted to know how to connect her laptop to the internet. I had a spare Ethernet cable and helped her to set up the internet as the floor IT guy had shown me how to do. We spent a lot of the night talking about cats, our favourite actors and our favourite TV shows. I was feeling better when I went back to my room, but then I started to talk with one of my friends from back home and my mood immediately plummeted. I was miserable and homesick and not even one of my favourite comedy songs (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle of Monty Python) could cheer me up. Soon, though, I was good friends with that one room mate and with the room mate that was in the room across from mine (my residence had six rooms each in one apartment like dorm with four “apartments” on each level. Also there were 2 bathrooms per “apartment”). We still keep in touch even though we each live in different cities now (one room mate is closer to me than the other) and we had an awesome year together.

    I am so excited to give your Crackly Crackers a try and to pick up some Brie and fig jam. Thank you for giving me a fantastic looking and sounding cracker to go with Brie and figs!

    Reply
  • 48. Emily T  |  January 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    This is such an endearing post. As a senior who is about to attend college in the nearing months, I acknowledge the bittersweet attachment to home. You presented it all so eloquently.

    Reply
  • 49. Household Ways  |  January 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I have awards for you over at my blog.
    http://householdways.blogspot.com/2011/01/blog-awards.html

    Reply
  • 50. Amanda  |  January 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Elissa, I have officially fallen in love with your blog. Being a 17 year old senior in high school and leaving to college in a few months scares me. I enjoyed hearing your story of both how your parents felt and your little adventure with the jam. I feel like I can totally relate to your story because I know my parents are going to be exactly like yours :p I enjoy the little talks my parents and I have about college and how they say they are going to ship me some homemade food so I can get a little taste of home. Thanks for a good read and welcome a new follower :)

    Reply
  • 51. StephIrey  |  January 27, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Elissa, I’m just in awe of your blog. Your writing is so delightful and poignant! I’ve given you a Stylish Blogger award via my blog! Congrats!!

    Reply
  • 52. Breeana Powers  |  January 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I loved your post. I am a Senior myself and will be going off to college this summer. I am very excited but nervous also. I can very much relate to missing all the delicious homemade food that I take for granted at home. Especially Nutella and homemade croissants. I know my mom and dad will really miss me and I hope to have them send me those special things that I would otherwise miss from home. This blog really touched me and I very much enjoyed your story.

    Reply
  • 53. Madison  |  February 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    What a sweet reminder that your parents are never far from your heart. I bet every time you see fig jam now, you will think of them even more than you do now.

    Reply
  • 54. ashley m  |  February 1, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    I can really relate to your post because I will be leaving for college this coming fall and I know it will be difficult to detach fro my parents. Thanks for the amazing post, I love your descriptive writing and how you use recipes that contribute to events in your life.

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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