Tim and I woke up screaming in the middle of the night last week. I didn’t check the clock when it happened, but it must have been 2 or 3 AM, the only noise the hum of our air filter, the only light our neighbor’s driveway flood lamp. Even with our blinds closed, the flood light still filters in, our unavoidable night-light while we sleep; we’ve said many times that we should buy drapes to make the room darker, but, two years in, we haven’t. The first thought I had was, I’m screaming! The second was, Tim’s screaming! He’d been having a nightmare, his explanation came out in a slow mumble. In the midst of it, he was about to fall off the bed, bringing our blue quilt with him, but just before he could, his legs kicked and his eyes opened and he screamed, louder than I knew he could scream, and right in that deep-sleeping moment, my body joined in.
The next day, after we’d replayed the entire experience for each other, right down to the way I nervous-laughed for about seven minutes after waking up, imagining our poor upstairs neighbor wondering what was going on, I finished my work hours and Tim said, Go do something that refreshes you—Go bake! And I made lemon curd.
I got the idea because someone I follow on Instagram made a lemon curd tart recently, saying how it’s the simplest set of ingredients, just egg yolks, sugar, lemon, and butter, and the day after the Screaming Episode, simple seemed like just the thing. Actually, simple always seems like just the thing. Simple schedules, simple budgets, simple statements like “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “Me too.” I like simple. Simple gives me room to breathe. Yet, even as I say that, I realize, wait, “I love you” isn’t simple in meaning, just simple to say. “I’m sorry” isn’t basic or natural; it’s the kind of thing grown adults never choose to do.
And so it is with lemon curd—the heated combination of ingredients a list so short, you could count it on one hand; the stirring process of creating a curd so simple, a child could help. Yet what results is hardly simple: a bright, sweet, thick spread that makes your lips pucker and your hand reach for another full spoon.
It’s especially nice on shortbread cookies, the gluten-free kind made with almond flour and kicked up a notch with basil. That’s what I made here.
Is it simple? Simple to make, yes. Simple in taste, no. What’s truly simple in this life?
In fact, even telling you about our screaming last week is more complicated than it sounds, especially when I tell you it’s not the first time I’ve had it happen to me. My junior year in college, I lived on the second floor of a large, boxy, on-campus girls’ dorm building, in a room with three other girls. Well after “Lights Out” one night, all four of us woke up screaming, piercing the darkness with our high-pitched noise. Nobody knew why it happened or who’d started it, although a few years later on a weekend trip to Minneapolis, my friend Michele took off my glasses from my sleeping face and I screamed in response.
“It was you who started your dorm room screams!” she told me. Maybe it was.
When you’re asleep and unconscious, you respond differently to stimuli than you might when you knew what was going on. Someone screams, someone hits you, your dream says you’re falling off a building, and there you are responding with a knee-jerk response devoid of logic or deliberate thought. You start screaming, too. You kick back. You tell your brother you want a pizza when he comes and talks to you in your sleep. Who can say where these answers come from? How do you know what you’ll say? When you’re asleep, you release control. You let go. Crazy things might happen, and you know this—but you surrender trust anyway, what else can you do?
We’ve been doing a lot of letting go around here lately. Letting go of blog schedules, letting go of mortgage schedules, letting go of our plans for the future and our decisions we thought we would make. Sometimes, one or both of us wakes up screaming, metaphorically speaking, when we learn about mistakes on our 2011 tax returns or a leak in our car’s air-conditioning valves or some other unexpected new expense or red tape, but we’re finding that in return comes so much more peace. Loosen your grip, and, suddenly, you have space again—so even if things aren’t actually simple, the way you think about them can be.
Coconut Sugar Lemon Curd on Gluten-Free Basil Shortbread
Lemon curd adapted from Martha Stewart and basil shortbread reposted from last year’s anniversary post
Makes 1 1/2 cups of lemon curd and around 10 shortbread cookies, give or take, depending on how large you make your cookie log and how thick you slice the rounds
This version of lemon curd uses coconut sugar rather than traditional white sugar, which means you get all the minerals and lose the bright yellow color. Essentially, as you can see in the photos in this post, your curd will be more of a yellowy brown rather than a sunshiney yellow. It still tastes amazing—and the coconut sugar adds a slightly caramel taste.
for the lemon curd:
3 large egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons coconut sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into tablespoons
for the shortbread:
5 tablespoons butter, melted and then cooled
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 1/2 almond meal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 or so basil leaves, chopped finely
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Combine the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and coconut sugar in a small saucepan, and whisk to combine. Put the saucepan over medium heat, and stir it with a wooden spoon while it warms up. You’ll need to scrape down the sides and the bottom while it cooks. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, it’s done. This should take around five minutes. Once it hits that point, remove from heat, and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring each one until it melts into the mixture. Then, pour the curd into a glass container, cover with plastic wrap that you press down to the top of the curd, and stick it in the fridge. Let it chill about an hour.
Meanwhile, make your shortbread:
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, combine all the shortbread ingredients with a spoon, eventually using your fingertips to form it all into a ball of dough. Press into a squatty log and stick in the freezer while you clean up the kitchen and line two cookie sheets with parchment (maybe 10 minutes). Slice dough into rounds, ideally around a half-inch thick, and place on baking sheets. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Let cool before topping with lemon curd.