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.

lemon curd on basil shortbread

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.

Making Lemon Curd with Unrefined Sugar

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.

Making Basil Shortbread

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.

Basil Shortbread

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?

Coconut Sugar Lemon Curd

Basil Shortbread and Lemon Curd

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.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    I´ve been there, screaming at night, and doing so many other things, ever since I´m a kid. I used to wake up in the living room, once inside the tub, on another bed. I do feel as you do, that we let our rawness out during the night. Yet, I still have to find the tangible way of bringing it to reality in a way that helps me solve whatever is in my sub-conscious. Anyway, lemon curd is such a fantastic thing! Have to try that shortbread too! Lovely.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Inside the tub! Amazing! Tim actually used to be a sleepwalker, too, although not yet in our married life.. I can only imagine how that would go for us! Thanks for your comment, Paula!

  2. Amanda Paa (@amanda_paa)

    Sleep sure is an interesting part of the human day isn’t it? Brian and I have both woken up in the middle of the night with terrifying dreams, and holding each other can be the most comforting thing in the world. I love the idea of lemon curd made with coconut sugar, which i’ve started using a lot lately. Do you use the almond meal/flour from trader joe’s?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Amanda, It’s definitely nice to have someone reassuring nearby when you wake up from a nightmare. Worst wakeup ever is when your heart is racing and you can’t figure out what’s going on! Hate it. And yes! I do use the almond meal from TJ’s! Once in a while, we buy the blanched almond flour online or from somewhere else, but most often we buy TJ’s. Best prices and great quality!

  3. Bethany

    Um…yum! And what a treat to have a Tuesday post! I think I’ll like this random posting. It will be like an impending surprise always. Thank you for a simple recipe.

    1. Bethany

      Mommy brain – you normally post Tuesday… Lets just chalk that up to lack of sleep…(wink, wink)

      1. Shanna Mallon

        Haha, I just figured you meant it was at a different time on Tuesday or that, yay, still a post on Tuesday! : ) Either way, glad to have you popping by and glad you’re cool with the new random postings!

  4. sarah kate branine

    Mmmm. I saw this on your Instagram feed. It looks so good to me and I don’t even (really) like lemon flavored foods. (I know. I hope you’re still my friend!)

    I love sleep stories. Yours is a good ‘un. One of my all-time favorites, of course of Steve because I never talk in my sleep (ha!), is from our sleep-deprived days with Graeme as a newborn. I woke up to Steve fumbling furiously through the sheets, frantically telling me that Graeme was in there somewhere. I knew Graeme was safely sleeping in his crib, and since this was not my first sleep-deprived talking rodeo, I decided to just enjoy the ride : ) Next thing I know, Steve is cuddling our hot water bottle, soothingly telling it that everything was okay. It clearly wasn’t. But by that time, I could no longer contain my laughter which tipped him off to the fact that, yes, it was time to go back to sleep : )

    I can’t wait until you guys are parents. Oh the sleep-deprived stories you’ll have : )

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Bahahaha! I love that story so much! I would have cracked up, too! And I can’t wait ’til we’re parents either, if God blesses us with kids. : ) I can only imagine all the crazy things we’ll say and do, ha!

  5. sarah kate branine

    p.s. Your new header is beautiful, as always!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Thank you! Tim helped with this one, and I love it!

  6. Jess

    This brought back memories – my college roommate and I used to wake up in the middle of the night having a full-on conversation. I think we sleep-talked through most of the night on more than one occasion. The brain does funny things. Baking is a good cure to the hiccups of everyday life though. Hope you guys get some better rest this week. 😉

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Get out!! That is crazy!

  7. Kathryn

    My boyfriend keeps trying to escape from our flat in the middle of the night when he’s asleep. I’m trying not to read too much into that 😉

    I love the combination of lemon and basil and I’m intrigued by the use of coconut sugar in this – I bet it tastes just wonderful.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh my goodness! These sleep stories are too much! A runaway! What crazy things our minds do!

  8. Amy | Club Narwhal

    I love this so, so much. I am trying to embrace letting go and simplicity. Two things that seem to go hand in hand–paring back, slowing down, easing in our out. I love late summer for all of those things. It’s such a nice respite before the gearing up, speeding up madness that is fall. Also, lemon curd. Yes. I came home from work the other day to my husband eating toast with lemon curd. He said, “Did you know that lemon curd is good on toast?” I did, indeed. I told him, “Did you know you have transformed into Martha Stewart who also loves fresh lemon curd on toast?” Why I know that fact, I do not know. But now I want lemon curd.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I’m with your husband and Martha — Lemon curd on everything!

  9. Moira

    I can’t believe how agitated I become when I think back to when I had these same sleep experiences and how far I’ve come and how much better I feel when I realize I don’t have them any more. There are many things that can be altered to alleviate the problem, but the first and most important thing that screams out at me is: get rid of every source of light in your room. Especially, get some room darkening drapes to go over your blinds and move your night-light out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. You might find, as I have, that as the quality of your sleep improves, you won’t nee to get up in the night anyway. Even if you have the lit up clock facing you can be enough to disturb your sleep! Getting adequate, high-quality sleep is one of the most important, yet under-appreciated steps you can take to improve your overall health and wellbeing. Spend some time googling the subject, implement some simple changes and see if you can find anything that will make a change for the two of you. Your daytime life will improve, too. But don’t just accept it as something that can’t be changed.
    There, that’s my little speech for the day!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Hi Moira, Yep, you are absolutely right about sleep. Like I said in the post, we’d love to get shades; we just haven’t done it yet. : ) Also, I feel I should clarify that this was the first time Tim’s ever woken up screaming, haha. Generally speaking, we’re blessed with long, blissful rest.

  10. J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Started cooking with coconut sugar recently but the kind I use is coconut sugar with stevia so its sweeter. Found that I don’t like the stevia flavor when its pronounced but when you add something like chocolate or lemon it obscures it. This lemon curd sounds like the perfect thing use my coconut sugar with stevia in :)

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Interesting! Hope you enjoy! : )

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