Saturday, April 13, 2013

Writing was my way of having fun. It was as habitual as brushing my teeth.  It was what got me through my adolescence. For a long time it was a secret I guarded almost shamefully.  It was how I created a perfect world, a place I could live in, that was superior to the reality I was plopped into.  At the same time it was how I understood the world I was actually living in. Writing has been my most constant constant.
 In my far-flung fantasies I let myself dream of becoming a writer.  Now I realize I was a writer all along, even before anyone knew of my "cute little habit", before I got paid for it, before I had a book published.  Back when I was a precocious teen, I was feeding myself on books and authors I admired.  Studying them and copying them.  I clutched tightly onto "The Catcher in the Rye" and "The Great Gatsby, half in love with Jay Gatsby and completely besotted with Holden Caufield.  Being a published author was my idea of the greatest heights of success. 
Part of me believes that I willed being a published author into being.  All those years of concentrated scribbling and inveterate dreaming and never missing a chance to wish on a shooting star or my birthday candles. And my other part just feels like a lucky little girl.  But now I want more...isn't that just like a human being? Wanting something so bad, making it into the be-all-and-end-all, the top of the mountain from where you can contentedly view a vast vista believing that once you get there then you'll be happy, satisfied, successful.  Only to realize when you get there, it's nice and all but  you want to get to the next mountain-top that is even higher and has an even better view from the top.
 I try to remember the Lionel Richie Theory when my all-too-human desires start to sabotage me.  Lionel Richie in an interview recounted how all through his career he ardorously worked to get to the top of Mt. Scintillating Success, and once he got there, breathless and worn-out I'm sure, he realized that there was nothing there. Nothing.  Getting to the top of Mt. Scintillating Success was what it was all about.  I'd like to test that theory out...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


  Last week, in honor of our tenth anniversary Hub and I decided to throw a dessert party on Saturday after services. I gave myself the goal of 12 cakes in 3 days. I ended up with 11 and a batch of cookies.
 To me, those three sugar covered and flour dusted days were as mellow as a pat of room temperature butter.  It was just the right time to lose myself in a world of sweetness and spice and all things nice. Sometimes when things are starting to get sour and bitter and hard and brittle it's nice to make it over as sugary and rich, soft and smooth.
The sunday before the Shabbat Sugar Party, I went through all my baking and dessert cookbooks and magazines. I hoped to try one of the cakes in Rose Berenbaum's aspirational cake bible, but I think her cakes are so magnificent that they need to be the prima diva of the event, not crowded out by 10 other lovelies. Besides I was going for quantity as well as quality and her cakes are an investment in time, which unfortunately is something you can't pick up at the supermarket.
 I ended up with a cross-section of cakes and desserts from my post-it fringed gourmet mags. The Pecan Caramel Tart came from one of those baking booklets that slows you down at check-out when you're at Stop 'n Shop. It was very well-received, particularly with the gents.  A  crisp and buttery shortbread cookie crust served as stage for  crunchy caramel glazed toasted-pecan topping.
Next up was a Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake, the slightly-tart-totally-smooth maple flavored cheesecake was baked atop a beautiful walnut butter crust. I think I will adapt this recipe for Passover purposes, since there is no flour or any verboten items in this wonderful dessert. Garnished with a scattering of toasted chopped walnuts on top, the two layers of warm nuttiness both enhanced the warm flavor of the maple syrup, and balanced out the sweetness, not to mention, added another pleasing texture to the cake.
I wanted to try a new Carrot Cake recipe, so I decided on a Fine Cooking Sweet Cakes recipe for Carrot Cake with Classic Vanilla Frosting. To be fair, this was my least considered and regarded recipe. I didn't have the right amount of carrots, I added ground cloves when it probably should've been ground ginger. The frosting, which allows what is basically a healthful baked good, into the cake bakery, was pretty good. A little too sweet for my taste, not enough cream cheese tang due to the equal amount of butter. I think I'll go back to my original.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So uncomplicated and simple, yet so profound and beautiful. The small pineapple we received for Purim, had plenty of time to ripen and get heavy with sweet juice. I cut it into eight 1/2 inch slices, removed the tough core. And lay them over a base of sweet brown sugar syrup, spiced up a bit by some ginger mixed in. The coffeecake batter was smooth, creamy, and gentle with just a hint of ginger spice mixed in at the last minute with the buttermilk. After it baked for enough time to make the pillowy coffeecake surface light golden yellow I let it cool. And then with some anxiousness I flipped the baking pan onto the serving platter. It came off (mostly) without a hitch, and what was revealed was an edible Van Gogh composition . The pineapple rings shrunk slightly and looked like sweet sunflowers. The brown syrup background was at the center of the pineapple petals. Gorgeous, especially since Hub and I spent our real anniversary weekend in Philly, where we were lucky enough to take in an exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum, of Van Gogh.   I was so impacted by the obvious amount of strained effort Van Gogh made. He tried hard to be a great artist. Always working to improve and learn more. Toiling  to get better. Trying to be healthy and sane. Trying to figure out how to be a painfully sensitive person in a harsh world. Eat more cake.
Two Layer Peanut Butter Pie, was my zen meditation of the week. Nothing insists you be more present and in the moment than making pudding from scratch. You have to stir, stir, stir, and if you get sidetracked by a telephone call or by checking your email, it will scorch, and leave a black layer on your saucepan that is a bitch to remove. Better to just focus on the pudding for 5 solid minutes. And the second effort was totally worth it. Half of the pudding was mixed with peanut butter chips, the other half with semi-sweet chocolate chips. After more stirring I had two separate yet equal pudding flavors. First the chocolate pudding was spooned over a crispy crust made from crushed peanut butter sandwich cookies and butter. It was followed by the peanut butter pudding, and then a fluffy layer of white whipped cream with salty pops of chopped peanuts. I never even got to try it. It was gone twenty minutes in
Lemon Meringue Pie: I hate you. Ok hate is too strong a word. I resent you and your sour ways, which you cover up in gobs of fluffy super-sweetness. I am not faultless in your lack of success. Fine Cooking this month features a beautiful slice of pie that boasts fluffy cloudlike topping and bright sun-yellow filling. They promised to reveal the secret to Lemon Meringue Pie. And here's the spoiler: It's just not worth all the effort. I scrimped on the meringue. I just didn't feel like standing around making marshmallows for the full 11 minutes of beating time. So this little tart repaid me by falling flat. The rich yellow gel poking ungracefully through the flat white layer.

Caramel Cake. (This paragraph is to be read with a deep southern drawl). The true southern belle at the cotillion. It demanded time, quality ingredients, and lavish attention. And ultimately garnered the most adoration. The provenance of this recipe came from Saveur Magazine. The cover zoomed in on a slice of red velvet cake that was sublime looking, and after glimpsing the other southern layer cakes in the article, I knew that it would take me to the next level of cake baking. The Southern Layer Cakes unit, which was all about this caramel cake. First the light and fluffy golden yellow cake layers, I substituted buttermilk for milk, because when in the south... But it was the frosting, my sweet lord, the frosting! In a big stock pot, butter, vanilla, cream, and sugar and a pinch ot two of pink salt mingled and cohabitated and became one: Caramel. 45 minutes of steady stirring resulted in a warm soft pudding texture that dripped oh-so-lazily over the three light yellow layers, coyly making it's way to the cake stand platter like a southern belle making her way over to the most eligible gentleman in the room.
The new version of Chocolate Mocha layer cake was well received, but I prefer the mocha mascarpone chocolate layer cake from Bon Appetit. One of the three cake rounds broke so it only ended up as a squat looking two layer cake. It was pretty strong on the coffee flavor, which was a credit to this rather average cake.
My Chocolate Bundt is my old faithful, it pleases in a way that a good brownie pleases. It's just good- there's nothing show-stopping about it, although the thick chocolate glaze that collects at the bottom is ooey-gooey-yummy-in-your-tummy looking.
The Tres Leches cake was my sleeper favorite of the afternoon. A nice subtle white cake, poked periodically to allow the creamy rich combination of whole milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk (tres leches) to soak in. Topped with cold lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries, it was a strawberry shortcake with a bread pudding consistency.
And then there were the snickerdoodles...Sweet, slightly spicy, soft, circular snickerdoodles. Simple really. This will be my default cookie. Easy, uncomplicated, and they hold their shape nicely.

By the end of this baking adventure I was twitchin' like a kitchen timer. Between the lack of sleep, glut of sugar, periodic doses of caffeine, and the general adrenaline surge of a good absorbing project I was a bit...keyed up. But also revived back to engagement and interaction. It was a bit like a sugar defribrillator shocked me back into being.

Sunflowers Pineapple Upside Down Cake (adapted from BHG Holiday Baking)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
6-8 1/2 " slices of cored fresh pineapple
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease bottom and sides of 13x9" casserole pan
2. In medium saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat. Stir in 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. ginger. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Pour into prepared pan spreading evenly. Fit pineapple rings into surface of pan.
3. For cake: in a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger; set aside. In a large bowl beat 1/2 cup butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs until combined. Beat in half of the flour mixture on low speed. Beat in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Beat in the second half of flour mixture. Spread batter carefully over pineapple slices.
4. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a woodpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Once cooled, loosen sides of the cake and invert onto a serving platter.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sour Times

What a year it's been, and I'm only in three weeks deep. But thick into the split pea soup that life feels like when it gets all muddled, foggy, and lumpy. Perspective is a thing of the past, it went out with 2011. This used to be a breezy lighthearted food blog that actually posted recipes, now it's a sour true confessional.
It's times like these that I am grateful that no one I know really reads this thing. My computer is the confessional screen, behind which I am faceless and unknown. It all comes rushing out, and then it is lost in a galaxy of words and a universe of humanity and all the conditions associated with that. I'm in a wholly wretched mess that is turning my head upside down and my guts inside out. It will be OK because there is no other way it can be. But there will be a stain.

Serving as a suitable distraction is the news that the Kiddles school is closing in June. I can't express my sorrow over this without sounding dismally uncool and fatally unironic, so I won't even try, and will instead suffer the slings of sentimentality. This little school in it's tidy little building felt like home the minute I walked through it's door with a pre-K aged Samwich. The warmth and family feeling that filled it's halls was obvious to everyone who visited. And being associated with their school helped me to let go of some of the bitterness and corrosiveness that I felt about school and teachers, which was a hold-over from my school days when I was plonked into a school that didn't know what the hell to do with me, so they just threw me away (figuratively speaking ). I actually joined the PTA, something I definitely snorted at in my pre- kiddles school days. I helped run the yearly plant sale and organized the dinner dance one year (poorly, I freely admit). I loved this sweet little Jewish school that emphasized the importance of the Golden Rule and acceptance and appreciation of all difference types. And now it is over. My kids are going to go to a new and bigger school and will have to adjust, and this is the one good thing that comes out of it. Life is all about adaptation, they might as well learn this sooner than later.

And then there's the book. When I conceived this book I had definite notions and ideas of how it would be. Existing perfectly in my mind it was to contain everything I wanted to say through words and flavors and pictures. It didn't take me long to understand that everyone else working on the book (coauthor, editor, publishing co. at large) had their own definite ideas as well, and that sometimes I just have to suck it up, because after all, who am I? I'm an unknown girl with some good ideas. It takes more than good ideas to publish a book. I recently lost the round regarding the book title, and that burned a lot. I don't get to name the baby, I feel like it's starting out with the wrong name. Regardless of any disappointment, I can't give up on it. I've got to fight right through, take the kicks when I have no other choices, and push through whenever there is an opening.
And I have to be grateful. Always be grateful for what I've been given, good and bad because from it I am growing and learning and adapting and becoming the person I am meant to be.
I end this True Confessions post with a recipe for Lemon Cake, because nothing is just one way.

Lemon Yogurt Cake
(adapted from Marlene Sorosky)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
juice from 2 large lemons (about 1/2 cup)
6 oz. greek yogurt, lemon flavor
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Lemon Yogurt Glaze
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup lemon yogurt
1 tbsp. lemon juice

1. Grease a 12 cup bundt pan. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in lemon juice and lemon yogurt.
3. In a smaller bowl stir together flour, aking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon rind. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
4. Spoon batter into bundt pan. Bake in oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
5. Cool for a few minutes and then invert onto baking rack to cool completely.
6. For glaze: in bowl sstir together sugar, yogurt, and lemon juice. Spoon glaze over top of cake allowing it to run down the sides.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

10,000 Hours

Just started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the first chapters in the book is titled: The 10,000 Hour Rule. His theory is that being truly great at something doesn't take talent so much as practice. Doing it over and over again, educating yourself, training, making mistakes, working out problems. Effort and time is what distinguishes the Great from the good. Ten thousand hours is a lot of time to spend on something, and really requires perserverance and a great amount of passion, perhaps this is what actually makes a person Great at what they do. That is what is their talent actually is; Great perserverance and passion. Of course being the self absorbed writer that I claim to be, I thought immediately how I don't have enough hours of doing one thing: Maybe I have an accumulated 8,000 hours doing a bunch of things that are kind of related: Candymaking, Cooking and Baking, and writing about it . I wasted at least 2,000 hours shopping, gossiping, and psuedo-existential cotemplation. Not sure 10,000 hours of Mothering can even be claimed.... Technically I've put in much more than 10,000 hours, as there are 8,736 hours in a single year. But how many of those thousands of hours were performed with full gusto,consciousness, and awareness? I'd like to hope at least a coupla thousand.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

While still enjoying warm and cozy Thanksgiving leftovers, a blog entry is a great idea. It's important to let nothing go to waste, neither good food nor a good mood. The cooking began on Monday night with a loaf of pumpkin walnut bread and a pan of cornbread, as well as a tray of mini sweet potato knishes. Tuesday was Baking Day: chocolate pecan pie x 2, cranberry crumb bars, pumpkin pie, and a caramel apple pie. Wednesday had me elbow deep in two kinds of stuffings (sausage cornbread and classic sourdough herb). I tinkered with a dry spice rub for the chicken wings (needs to be a little more herby). Cooking fresh cranberries into a chunky sweet tart relish, blanching brussels sprouts, mixing up a maple dijonette dressing , and finally making a few cups of white bean sundried tomato spread ended my night on a fresh and healthy note. Thursday: A big platter of crunchy Persian rice was assembled first thing in the morning. The Korean ribs were marinated and then braised, the tofu squares were pan fried to a nice crispiness and the honey-sesame-soy sauce simmered in the saucepan. Fresh chopped parsley and onion and a pinch of turmeric and salt was all the ground lamb needed before it was shaped into kebabs.
The three round tables we rented for the occasion, were set in orange tablecloths and yellow flowers and a spray of candy corn for sweet measure. The buffet table had a horn-of-plenty offering a variety of rolls and mini pumpkins, and there were turkey shaped tealights. And then it was four o'clock, two out of three of my kiddles were dressed in appropriate attire. After a few last minute switcheroo's I settled on a sparkly hostess ensemble that was hopefully festive and elegant but was definitely comfortable. Hub was sporting oven mitts, as he was experimenting with his brand new smoker out in the back.
And then the guests started to arrive. And I had to readjust and execute the next phase of operations. The people aspect, the personality intergration, the real world part of cooking and entertaining. When left to formulate and grow in your head and imagination a big holiday meal or party is as great as you want it to be. The scene from your head can be played out in the coordinating plates, cutlery, napkins, potted plants and of course, candy. It serve as a lovely backdrop where everyone happily sips apple cider, and are pleasantly catching up or getting to know each other. The kids gladly wear the paper bonnets and pilgrim hats (complete with gold sticker button) that were purchased for the occasion. People are brimming with thankfulness and cordiality.
Real life: The guest who needs a diet coke while you are spinning around in the kitchen ("Umm yeah, it's not on the side board?...Hmmm, ouch! burnt myself. "Hub!!! Can you get the diet cokes from the fridge downstairs?") the kid who insists on wearing his ratty Manning football jersey, the cranky family member who just can't help but grouse, the kufte kebabs that are running behind schedule, the mini knishes that need more work. The headache hiding in the back of the head. The chronic latecomers, who throw kitchen timing into disarray.

These gatherings do have a few sweet and perfect little vignettes in time.
There was the Mmmms and the yummms. There was the oldworld older couple who couldn't get enough of the tofu. And the grilled wings that were devoured by the bored teenagers. And the pumpkin walnut bread that was the sleeper hit of the meal. The ribs were gone in a few, along with the kebabs. And the sausage stuffing that continues to please. And then there are parts you have to look for: the table of old-timers happily chatting and catching up, the New York newlywed couple discussing with neighbors the virtues and drawbacks of abandoning City life for a semi-country pace. There was my toast that I kind of flubbed on, but was still OK. And then there are the leftovers.... and the idea that I don't have to cook at all this weekend.

By the time dessert time rolled in, I was beyond preconceived notions and expectations, I was sipping a glass of red and let someone else locate the extra forks and pie slicers. The pumpkin pie was surprisingly my favorite dessert of the feast. However, as we had a few chococrazies at our gathering it was unsurprisingly that the chocolate pecan pie made with a bar of chopped 70% Scharffen Berger garnered the most support and appreciation.

But now, what I am feeling most thankful and warmly about are the leftovers.... and the delcious fact that I don't have to cook at all this weekend.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Hear that CLINK ? That's my first draft in the can. Guided by doggedness, light terror, slight tension, real enthusiasm, and more than a little Mazel, we did it. Five weeks that were cut up with marathon Jewish holidays, the flu, and a week-long power outtage. Of course, there is a world more of work to be done on this beloved manuscript, before it is fully formed and gleaming ready to enter the world. But it is beyond the tricky first trimester.
I ended the cookbook fittingly with a recipe for Whoopie Pies with an option of classic marshmallow frosting, or a more serious Dark Cocoa Buttercream. That was fun. During this process I've learned several things: is an invaluable tool, loaded brevity is crucial in expressing an idea, I have a strange relationship with my kitchen appliances, sleep is overrated- but so is tired-looking skin, you can never go wrong when trying to create goodwill.
Up next: really trying to get a handle on my doughs, cooking for Thanksgiving- turns out, issuing an open call will result in many guests.

Whoopie Pie
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium sized bowl.
3. In large bowl beat together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar on low speed until combined, increase speed to medium and beat until light and smooth. Add egg and vanilla and beat for another minute.
4. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter and beat on low speed until combined. Add remaining flour and milk and beat until completely incorporated.
5. Using a tablespoon drop batter onto prepared baking sheets and repeat spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake each sheet individually for about 10 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed. Remove from oven and let cool before filling with frosting. (Makes 12 whoopie pies)
Classic Marshmallow Frosting
1 cup marshmallow fluff
4 tablespoons milk
½ cup vegetable shortening
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sifted confectioners sugar
1. Beat together the marshmallow fluff and vegetable shortenening, beginning slow and gradually increasing speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.
2. Reduce speed to low, add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, and beat until blended. Increase speed to medium and beat for a minute or two more.
Cocoa Buttercream
1 ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1. In medium sized bowl beat together the confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and butter starting low and increasing speed t medium until frosting is crumbly.
2. Add heavy cream, vanilla, and salt and beat on high until smooth.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Marks

Well, I'm in the thick of it now. So deep into this first draft, that it's what I dream about at night, and it's on my mind all day. I'm too close to it to really have a fair opinion of it right now. All I'm doing is pushing through. Trying not to neglect everything else in my life- while trying to carve out enough time to get it done.