It’s Mom (by a nose)

Mint Julep Buttons

Mint Julep Buttons

The upcoming weekend is a jackpot for Moms who love horseracing: The Kentucky Derby is run on Saturday, and Sunday is Mother’s Day. This reminds me of an old joke: “Horse walks into a bar. Bartender asks her, “Why the long face?”

(Yes, that’s the whole joke. Think about it.)

(Thanks, I’m here all week.)

I used to consider my Mom really tough to shop for; I never knew which meaningless tchotchke to buy for her. The stores were full of stuff: slippers, perfume, and cheap jewelry. My inbox was loaded with offers of flowers, candy, and ersatz mementos, all aimed at Mom.

Then came my big break: my Mom had planned a trip near Mother’s Day, and I was planning to send flowers, but wanted to time the delivery to make sure she’ d be home. She was delighted at the prospect of receiving flowers, but gently and directly informed me that she’d rather have cash.

The irony is that my Mom and I now trade the same small pile of cash back and forth all year long. I send it to her for her birthday, she sends it to me for mine, and then back it goes to her for Mother’s Day. (I hope Andrew Jackson has frequent flyer miles.)

My friend Dori, a Kentucky native, is glamorous, talented, and a busy mom of two kids under the age of four. This is her weekend, for she always throws a splashy Derby party—hats, hams, Derby Pie, and enough southern drawling to melt butter. But now that her kids are getting old enough to understand what’s going on, they’re going to want to party too, and it is likely other, similarly aged children will follow. What’s a horseracing-fan Mother to serve?

Here’s the thing with the Kentucky Derby: it’s kind of a boozy party. What if you are a teetotaler, a lightweight (yours truly), or a kid? The traditional beverage is the much lauded Mint Julep, made from bourbon, a bit of sugar, and fresh mint leaves. Daiquiris or Piña Coladas can easily be “virgin-ized” by taking out the booze. If you do that with a Mint Julep you’ll end up with a glass, some ice, and a few sprigs of mint, or something that tastes like mouthwash. No, it is better to leave the Mint Julep as is for those who are so inclined.

Yes, there’s Derby Pie, but its bourbon-influenced sweetness can be intense even for adults. (You know something is sweet when they tell you that the addition of a bit of ice cream will “cut the sweet.”)

So here’s my Yankee contribution: something subtly sweet, Derby-themed, and kid friendly—in fact kids can help Mom with the preparation.

Mint Julep Buttons introduce the concept of chocolate to the Kentucky Derby palette. Yes, the mint / chocolate combination is similar to grasshopper pie, but much less gooey. The mint julep filling is a bit restrained in its air conditioned coolness, although you have the option of serving the cookies slightly chilled in keeping with the frosty character of their liquid namesake.

The cookie dough, a fairly basic, intensely chocolate drop cookie, is easily made by Mom. Kids can help her measure the ingredients—a good arithmetic lesson—and even the youngest toddler can make an attempt at rolling small portions of the dough into balls (or get happily messy trying.)

Naturally those who desire something with a bit more sophistication can alter the recipe and technique to suit their needs—after all this cookie isn’t just for Derby day. Instead of filling the cookies with the mint julep filling, you can add the mint extract to the cookie dough, although I would reduce the dosage to ½ tsp. Roll the dough on a floured board and cut with cookie cutters, bake, then dip in dark chocolate. Sound familiar? It should. Girl Scouts have been selling these thin mint cookies for years.

Alternatively, you can add the mint extract to the melted chocolate and dip the cookies in that. A slightly easier variation is to roll the cookie dough into logs, wrap the logs in parchment, and refrigerate. Then slice and bake the cookies.

You can preserve the kitsch of Derby day by melting white chocolate, then add the mint extract and a drop or two of green food coloring. Cookies dipped in this will have an old fashioned “Howard Johnson’s mints-by-the cashier-sea-foam” green.

Practice a little retro-chic by melting the white chocolate, splitting it into small portions, and adding a drop of different colors to each to get Jordan almond colors. (Jordan almonds were little pastel-colored candy coated almonds they used to serve at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.)

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all, and put two dollars on “Dialed In” to win for me…

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Click here for my recipe for “Mint Julep Buttons.”

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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