Almond Honey Squares

I was 17 when I started college at San Francisco State University - SFSU– a semester late. I started in January 1975 instead of the traditional September. Everyone was already comfortably settled into dorm rooms. I was late because I hadn’t wanted to go to college after I graduated and my parents weren’t paying a whole lot of attention and didn’t expect a whole lot from me in any event, and it was just fine with them – or so it seemed. My Big Plan was to be a grown-up. Honest. I got a job at my Uncle’s Law Firm as a receptionist (“Mink and Neiman Inc., how may I help you?”) and I moved in with my boyfriend and a friend of his. What a great idea right? My parents weren’t happy about that part but couldn’t really come up with a better plan for me so they eventually acquiesced. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that working and playing house wasn’t really that much fun and I quickly needed a new Big Plan.

It did get me out of the valley though and that was important and the experience wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t what I thought it would be. My home town - Sherman Oaks - was a horror and small-minded from my perspective and I needed out and I got out. But then I needed a new Big Plan and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Turned out that my Dad was going to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and he was willing for me to attach myself to this adventure provided I could figure out how to pay my own airfare - so I did.

Thank you Dad.

Afghanistan - 1974 pre-Russian invasion an incredible experience – most mind-expanding experience of my life, and traveling with my Father was awesome (more about that another time). When we got back from the trip, I knew it was time to move - North to San Francisco (my favorite city) to start College.

San Francisco State University – home of the Gators apparently. I never went to even one game the entire seven (7) years that I was a student there (yup - 7 years) and that’s kind of sad.

Like I said earlier, everyone in the dorms were all settled in and friended up. I was assigned a dorm room with a young woman who claimed to ‘hate white girls’ and she proceeded to be mean to me for the entire period of time we lived together – which was just a couple of weeks before the staff saved me and gave me a room to myself. This room saw a lot of party. Making friends was definitely not a problem back in the day.

On the first day of class, Industrial Arts, and specifically Printing Technology, I met Chappell Hayes. He was my first college friend and he stayed my friend until the day he died on January 24, 1994 from pancreatic cancer. He was only 45-years old when he died. Beautiful Chappell was an amazing person. He had the deepest commitment to his family, friends and community. He would believe in you when no one else did.

He would believe in you even when he shouldn’t have. A dedicated environmental activist, community organizer, teacher, visionary, sage, husband and father, and friend, with a big booming laugh and the warmest of hearts. He was as demanding of himself as he was of others and he had more integrity than anyone ever, and like I said – he was an amazing man. The observation Tower at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland is named in his honor.

The health center at McClymonds High School in Oakland, where he taught wood-working was named in his honor. My life would be different if I had not met him and carried him in my heart. Still do to this day. I just loved that man.

Chappell married Nancy Nadel. An extraordinary person in her own right. Artist, academic, among the first women to receive her Master’s Degree from Cal in Geophysics. Nancy was also a dedicated community organizer, political activist, environmentalist, mother, and friend, who ultimately found her way to the Oakland City Council as a member of that body for four-terms before retiring to be an artisanal chocolatier.

No joke.

She’s incredible. Nancy organized the Jamaican chocolate growers into a co-operative and she imports – literally tons of cocoa beans that she then roasts for her beautiful, creative, delicious, unusual, award winning chocolates. Check out The Oakland Chocolate Company website and buy some of Nancy’s chocolates! They are excellent, delicious, high-quality, healthy (hmmmm…..) morsels. I love Nancy. She is a wonder. And I love her chocolates.

Nancy and Chappell’s daughter is Sele Nadel-Hayes. Sele is a brilliant, effective, warm-hearted, compassionate, thoughtful, sensitive, power-house in her own right. All grown-up now. Cal educated (Master’s in Public Policy) via Macalester College where she got awards and like that. But not only that - she sings, cooks, has amazing travel adventures (she’s very brave and fearless), she used to own a very hip nightclub in Oakland, and she is about as committed to her community and public education as she could be (she’s the Director of Financial Services for the Oakland School District) – and she’s extremely funny. I mean seriously funny. Like she could do stand-up. Her facebook posts make me laugh out loud. No one else does that to me. I couldn’t possibly love her more than I do and I admire and respect her so much.

Sele comes to visit us sometimes and it makes me soooo happy. She is wonderful to have around. She elevates the conversation and mood. She always helps me with things when she comes like setting up my link to foodblogs, like getting tough knots out of necklaces, like that. We always like to cook something together.

Once we had a challah project that didn’t make it into the blog because we weren’t sure about the recipe (she set the dough to rise in the car on the way down Hwy 5 (which I thought was very clever since the car gets warm) but the dough might have had a bit of an attitude because of that and she didn’t think the bread was up to par). I still, to this day, have not perfected challah dough although it is on my list.

Which brings us current. Sele came to visit this past weekend. This time we made dinner together. She brought the new man in her life – Jesse. We like him very much and he cooked with us. Jessie is warm, interesting, bright, enthusiastic, and thoughtful. It was courageous of her to bring him here because she knows that I ask a lot of questions. Truth be told – I didn’t finish my interrogation but I didn’t want to alienate him so I limited the questions to appropriate ones (I hope)!

For dinner we had the Kale salad from Pixie does Pastries which I will post, with her consent, next time. We had chicken cooked at high-heat (super moist), and asparagus that Sele sautéed (but my asparagus doesn’t turn out like that . . .). Jared and Mary came for dinner as well (to regale us with stories from Oaxaca where they just spent a week), and they brought a Rockenwagner pretzel bread baguette that looked delicious. Probably the best part of the meal that we had together were the Almond Honey Squares from a recipe found on David Lebovitz’s blog. I saved one of the squares for Alex and he said it was his new favorite thing. Here it is.

Almond Honey Squares

(from The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells via David Lebovitz)

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Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a 9” square baking pan with aluminum foil – dull side up – and lightly grease the foil with softened butter.

Crust Ingredients: ½ cup (50g) blanched almond powder or almond meal ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp (120g) all purpose flour 3 Tbsp sugar ½ tsp salt 6 Tbsp (3 oz, 90g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed 1 large egg yolk 2 Tbsp water ½ tsp vanilla extract

Almond Topping

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp (2 oz. 60 g) unsalted butter, cubed

2 Tbsp dark honey (light works fine)

zest of 1 unsprayed orange

scant ¼ tsp sea salt

1/s tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (80g) sliced almonds (preferably blanched but that part doesn’t matter).

Directions:

For the Crust: add the almond flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times, then add the 6 Tbsp of cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Add the egg yolk, water, and vanilla and process until the dough comes together. If it’s too dry, add a little more water, teaspoon by teaspoon.

Press the dough into the pan so it covers the bottom evenly.

Bake the dough until the top is golden brown. About 12-minutes

While the dough is baking making the topping by melting 4 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan. Once it has melted, add the honey, orange zest, vanilla and salt, stirring until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sliced almonds, stirring until they’re completely coated with the butter-honey mixture.

Scrape the almond mixture onto the still warm baked crust and spread it evenly over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes more, or until the almond topping is nicely bronzed. Let cool. Remove from the pan by lifting out the foil. Cut into square or rectangles.

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