Reading, Writing, and Shortbread 101

This is what my bedside looks like. Next to that is another stack of cookbooks, interlaced with various magazines and newspaper clippings collected throughout the years. For the past week I've submerged myself in this reading material, in hot pursuit of the forthcoming LRBC dinner menu.

Yes, that's right: I said Dinner Menu.

Despite the cafe's recent setbacks, we've decided the best thing to do (and really like the only thing we know how to do) is to push forward and plan for our future, as well as the cafe's future.

We've been thinking about dinner forever. Yes, since forever. Since before we even opened our doors, before we even talked to this reporter about it or that reporter about it. Yes, fair enough to say that dinner has been in the works for quite some time. But it became very clear once we opened our doors, just how difficult a dinner service was going to be. Not because there was a lack of desire; not because of the lackluster economy; not because there wasn't a demand in our neighborhood; not because we couldn't figure out the perfect menu; but because there simply wasn't enough wo/manpower to make it work. NO WAY. Not with Evan and I working 80 hour weeks. Not even with us working 70 hour weeks. With the opening and closing duties, and the bike-thru service, and the cooking, and the cleaning, we were being physically and mentally dragged and beaten by our business. Too many hours spent doing everything, and simultaneously not enough all at once. We were overwhelmed with how quickly we became busier. There were many days when we felt like we were drowning without a life preserver in sight. Shit, that still happens--look what's been happening now--but wow, not like that, not like they used too.

Things are different now, much different. We have a team behind us now, we don't open during the week anymore, we actually have a filing system for all of the piles of miscellaneous paperwork, and we're working around 55-60 hours/week. I can't tell you what a difference that's made in our lives: we are now able to bathe, walk our dog, eat, sleep, and do a load of laundry on a regular basis. In essence, we've regained a "semi-normal" kind of life, and that's what makes us feel ready to throw ourselves back in the fire and start moving on Project Dinner. Go figure, right? People in the food industry, Man, I'm telling you: WE HAVE MORE THAN ONE SCREW LOOSE.

Thinking about dinner means research. This part has always been easy for me. I've always been a writer. Consequently, I've always been a book-nerd. Well, except in that one Political Science class sophomore year in college. My professor assigned an insane amount of reading material during that course and even my limits were met, breached, and busted. (Apologies, Professor Dreier. It all worked out in the end, didn't it?)

We've always imagined potpies as our dinner-gig, our second claim-to-fame. Egg sandwiches in the morning, potpies at night. Seemed simple enough. We spent months making and baking, test running various concoctions throughout the year on the specials menu. But when winter ended and spring came, and we never got a move-on the potpies, and they started showing up all over the place and, well, the rest is history: Here we are a year and a half into the business and we still don't have a dinner service. What gives? While it is sort of frustrating realizing that part of our dream for the cafe is still unfulfilled, we have always known that it was something that couldn't be rushed. We spent years laying the foundation for what exists now, and the same sort of thought and intention should be given to any future additions to service. When we began conducting research for another go at dinner, we realized that our current Little Red Bike menu is more than just egg sandwiches, and that our menu really does, and should speak to a much larger audience. As a result, potpies are not the answer. Sure, they may be part of it, but not the entire thing.

In our minds, a Little Red Bike Dinner would include: simple but divine tidbits and nibbles meant for snacking and sharing, two or three larger plates that speak to the comforts of your own home, a selection of handmade desserts that evoke grandmothers' spirit, and a decently solid beverage selection worth a visit with friends. Did I mention amazing music rotating around not one but two of our own? What about candle-lit puzzles and games with plates full of warm cookies as prizes? The point is, and has always been, comfort. When we put it on paper, the goal is to have a menu that makes a 65 year old grandfather feel as comfortable as a 20-something foodie. We want a space where both of these people can walk in, order, and perhaps sit next to one another and thoroughly enjoy their meal. It's not an easy feat, but we've managed to make it work so far during our current service. As such, I've been spending the week curled up with Barbara Kingsolver and Edna Lewis, shooting the shit with Jamie Oliver and Scott Peacock, and tucking myself in with scrolls of recipes and inspiration floating in my head. Surely, I can study and become their great student and the dinner menu will continue to sort itself out naturally. There is one thing I'm sure of, the new dessert menu will rotate loads of shortbread, most certainly including this one I've been working on:

Devil's Shortbread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp fleur de sel
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1. In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper, then sift again and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and powdered sugar until mixture is satiny. Add the yolk and the vanilla. Add the flour-cocoa mixture in three additions, beating on low speed only until each addition is incorporated. Gently fold in the pepitas.

3.Turn the dough out onto wax paper. Using the wax paper roll the dough into a thick log as evenly as possible to a thickness of 2-inches in diameter. Wrap in wax paper and chill at least 4 hours.*

4.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment or aluminum foil.

5. Cut the log into 1/2-inch thick slices and place on the baking sheet, leaving at least an inch of room in-between. Bake for 12 minutes. A slightly shorter baking time will yield a softer, fudge-like shortbread; a slightly longer baking time will yield firmer cookies.

Best recommended served warm, or you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week.


LeLo said...

While I have been speechless in finding words to put to your previous posts about The Tragedy, to this post I will say, Hallelujah and Praise Be regarding dinner service, along with Holla!, I'm making those Devil's Shortbread. Should I be concerned that I hate Angel Food Cake but I love Devilsfood?

Keep hanging in there! (insert kitty hanging by one paw from branch 1970's poster here).

Deanne said...

Well, you know what my response to this news will be:

Bring on dinner! Woo!

kati said...

this post was a nice cheerful surprise! you just might be able to talk us into elbowing our way in for dinner and shortbread ;)

Tim D. Roth said...


Velomann said...

The Perfect Shortbread recipe has been a kind of life long pursuit of mine. So far the best one I've found has come from Cook's Illustrated. Amazing how something so seemingly simple can be such a bear to nail down. But I've gotta try your recipe - looks tantalizing. I'm hungry thinking about it.

Mike McGonigal said...

Hey guys! So sorry to hear of the flooding/bullshit.

As a not-so-much-a-morning person who loves your place, I'm super psyched about the idea of dinner there.

Also I'll gladly drop by on Monday for fancy syphon science coffee.

--Mike McGonigal