Sign in

Moonbows and Lavender Cookies

Did you know it’s possible to see a rainbow at night?

Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park is famous for them, particularly this time of year when the water is gushing from spring snowmelt and you can catch a full, or nearly full, moon that’s sitting low over the horizon. ⁠

John Muir compared the moonbow to a religious experience, describing it as a “grand arc of color, glowing in mild, shapely beauty.” ⁠

Thanks to John Muir’s passionate writing, even people who’d never seen Yosemite firsthand knew the land was something special. And despite being the third national park (Yellowstone was the first), Yosemite is the one that spawned the idea of national parks in the first place.

Known for its plunging waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and towering granite cliffs, Yosemite National Park was the first land protected by the American government when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864.

Mr. Mike Ballard and I visited the park as part of a winter road trip through the Pacific Northwest, and while it was breathtaking, even winter crowds made it feel like an overstuffed commercial theme park. Everyone who visits Yosemite wants to see the five big attractions: Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, and Bridalveil Fall.

We took our time, getting off the beaten path as often as possible, and tried to find the quiet spots to take it all in. Sometimes it’s difficult to process just how majestic many of America’s national parks truly are.

We stopped at Degnan’s Bakery in Yosemite Village for lunch, and as we were paying for our food, I noticed a basket of shortbread cookies by the register.

“They’re lavender,” the cashier said. “One of the park rangers makes them.”

Always happy for a new treat to try with my afternoon tea, I bought a packet and tucked them into my bag.

A few hours later when we were back on the road, I pulled them out and tried one. They were spectacular! The shortbread was buttery with crispy edges, and the lavender was delicate and lovely.

While I grow several different kinds of lavender in our garden, I’d never thought about cooking with it, so those cookies were a wonderful introduction to the herb as an ingredient.

Culinary lavender refers both to the variety and to the way the flowers are processed. Use the wrong kind — or too much — and your dishes will wind up tasting like soap. Use the right kind, and you’ll get a delicious, delicate floral scent and a taste that can range from peppery (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Melissa’) to cinnamony (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Croxton’s Wild’) to sweet (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Miss Katherine’).

Many dishes incorporating lavender have a French feel to them, since French cuisine is often herb-forward and lavender is plentiful in France, particularly in regions like Provence.

Contrary to what you may imagine, lavender dishes aren’t always sweet. The traditional French spice blend herbes de Provence incorporates thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, savory, marjoram, oregano, and bay leaf alongside lavender, and it’s terrific as a seasoning for roasted potatoes or as a rub for steak or pork.

But if you’re new to eating lavender, start with this shortbread. Pour yourself a cup of hot Earl Grey tea to go with it, and imagine yourself relaxing in a field of lavender or perhaps gazing at a majestic moonbow. Either one is pretty sweet.

This week’s subscriber exclusives: Aside from Champagne, Lavender Lemonade is about as French as a drink can get. Enjoy it over ice and with or without a splash of gin or vodka to turn it into a summery cocktail.

I can’t get enough fresh-picked blueberries these days. But blueberry season won’t last forever, so I’ve been freezing and canning them to stretch it out as long as I can. One of my favorite concoctions is this Blueberry Lavender Syrup, which I have to force myself not to eat directly from the jar.

Subscribers to Around the World in 80 Plates have exclusive access to both of these lovely lavender recipes just in time for summer.

Subscribe now

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

The key to cooking with lavender often lies in your mortar and pestle. For these cookies, you’ll want to grind the dried culinary lavender into a powder to mix the flavor throughout the dough. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, then place the lavender in a plastic zipper bag and pound it with the flat side of a meat mallet.

As with all shortbread, you’ll want to use high-quality butter. I prefer Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, which has a higher fat content than most grocery brands and makes for tender shortbread.

1 pound salted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3–1/2 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour

Using an electric mixer or stand mixer on medium speed, mix the butter and sugar together until creamy and light yellow in color (approximately two minutes). Using a mortar and pestle, grind the lavender into a powder and add it to the butter mixture, combining well. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour, mixing until the dough forms a ball.

Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/2-inch thickness for softer shortbread or to 1/4-inch thickness for a crispier texture. Use a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or knife to cut the shortbread into your desired shape. Repeat the process with any remaining dough. Place the cut pieces onto a cookie sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Bake the shortbread for 20–25 minutes or until they begin to brown lightly on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet. Store in a tightly-sealed container at room temperature. Makes approximately 24 2–1/2 inch servings.

For $5 a month, you can get an additional weekly issue of Around the World in 80 Plates that includes bonus recipes not available to the public.

This week’s subscriber exclusives:

  • Lavender Lemonade: Aside from Champagne, lavender lemonade is about as French as a drink can get. Enjoy it over ice and with a splash of gin or vodka to turn it into a summery cocktail.
  • Blueberry Lavender Syrup: I can’t get enough fresh-picked blueberries this time of year. But blueberry season won’t last forever, so I’ve been freezing and canning them to stretch it out as long as I can. One of my favorite concoctions is this blueberry lavender syrup, which I have to force myself not to eat directly from the jar.

Subscribe now

Food and folklore from my travels to over 100 countries.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store