Book pairing: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay & thumbprint cookies
Redeployment is a punch to the gut. It is a sharp inhalation, a bang in the chest, a crack of the knuckles.
This series of short stories — which dive into the minds of the American participants in the Iraq War — pushes the reader back, not onto her heels but deeper into her chair. Each account of a Marine's tussle with depression, each veteran's disconnect from the life he knew is another reminder of the cost paid by a few that is largely unknown and perhaps unknowable by the rest of us.
One of the most moving chapters in this National Book Award-winning collection involves a conflicted Marine stationed near Ramadi, Iraq, who confronts the battalion's chaplain. He is concerned about misconduct in his unit, and the chaplain is concerned that he cannot help him. The chaplain reflects:
I went through their names over and over on the flight back, a sort of prayer for the dead. We touched down and were processed. I watched the Marines hug their parents, kiss their wives or girlfriends, and hold their children. I wondered what they would tell them. How much would be told and how much could never be told.
My biggest duty stateside was planning the memorial service for all sixteen. I struggled to write out something satisfactory to say. How could I express what those deaths meant? I didn't know myself. In the end, yielding to exhaustion, I wrote an inoffensive little nothing, full of platitudes. The perfect speech for the occasion, actually. The ceremony wasn't about me. Better to serve my function and pass unnoticed.
Klay, a Marine officer who served in Iraq, conjures in Redeployment a stir of feelings that necessarily accompanies the subject of war. What is right? What is wrong? Is morality relevant? Can it be humorous, if not outright funny?
His writing is disciplined without being dry, sometimes adorned and other times crowded by military jargon. It is, above all, moving in a way that both highlights the failures of the War and the sacrifice of those who fought it. It is deserving of all its praise.
These thumbprint cookies attempt to capture the forever mark left on those who serve, whether they have confidence or misgivings. They appear uniform from afar, the result of a repetitive and steady production process, but are distinguished by their individuals flavors. And, like Klay's intense stories, the cookie forms can be saved for later, when their consumption is not a race against fading freshness, but rather desire.
Makes about 45 mini cookies
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- assortment of jams (I recommend raspberry and apricot)
- sliced almonds (optional)
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and salt).
In another large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using an electric mixer at medium speed. Then, beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Add the dry mixture and beat on low until just combined. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Cut the dough into three equal parts and roll each part into a 1-inch log. Using a sharp knife, cut each log into about 15 equal piece. Roll those pieces into balls, then flatten between hands. If baking immediately, place flattened disk onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, make an indent in the middle of the cookie with your thumb and fill with jam of your choosing. Top jam with sliced almonds, if desired, and bake at 350ºF for about 15 minutes or until golden.
If freezing, place disks close together but not touching on an unlined baking sheet, then make indents with thumb but leave unfilled. Freeze uncovered for at least three hours. Remove from freezer and leave at room temperature for a few minutes to allow cookies to release from the tray. Stack the cookies in batches of 15 and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze uncooked for up to three months.
To cook frozen cookies, remove from the freezer before preheating oven to allow them time to unstick from each other. Bake at 350ºF for at least 15 minutes or until golden.
Whether baking fresh or from frozen, cool cookies on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving. Cookies may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days.
Adapted from Epicurious.com.
In honor of Veterans Day (Nov. 11), this month's theme is war and veterans.