Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch at the Comfort Cafe

Thursday 10/21 9:12
I had a few winner dinners this week. Monday Night- Vegetarian Paella: brown rice, green beans, garbanzo beans, a cookbook keeper- even the veggie averse Girlette, and rice challenged Big Bro, finished their servings. Tuesday Night- Tofu Pad Thai: rice noodles, bean sprouts, lime, thai chili roasted tofu nuggets, red pepper strips, crushed peanuts- lots of color and lots of spicy flavor. Wednesday Night- Black Bean Burger: Could've been good, however, I forgot to add bread crumbs so they were an amorphous mess. Thursday Night- Pizza Night: Margherita pizza for the kiddles, tomato sauce base, thick slices of mozzarella, torn fresh basil, and a sprinkling of romano. For Hub I sauteed fresh spinach in some olive oil and and chopped garlic and spread it over the dough and scattered with goat cheese crumbles.
Tonight I start my cooking semi-marathon. We're having a few distinguished guests over for lunch on saturday, as well as some old friends we haven't seen in a while. I decided on a comfort food theme for the meal. Starting with Maryland Krab Kakes (imitation crab, old bay seasoning, saltine crumbs, mayo). Going on to roasted chicken, blue plate special meatloaf, garlic and herb roasted potatoes and yams, green beans. For the vegetarians: sesame pan fried tofu on a bed of sesame ginger rice. And I'll finish up with a half-sheet chocolate birthday cake.
Got my red re-up'd (salon visit), and am feeling particularly fiery and revved up. Might sneak in some red chili flakes here and there.
10/22 12:15
Meatloaf -done. Roasted Chicken- done. Chocolate cake- done. Krab Kakes-done. Sesame ginger tofu and rice-done. Herb roasted potatoes and yams- almost done. Still to do: green beans. Lately, I've been hearing a lot about Pop-Ups. In this economy there are a lot of vacant stores and locations everywhere. Cafes and shops rent these vacant locations for a few days as a temporary spot to sell their wares. It's a long-held dream of mine to have a cafe, but I'm not there yet for a handful of reasons. So I view these stints in entertaining as my own pop-up. I devise a menu, a theme, and a setting. Tomorrow will be my Pop-Up Comfort Cafe.
10/23 9:55 pm
Comfort Cafe was well recieved. The greatest hit was the krab kakes. They were savory and light and had a pleasing texture. Next time I'll serve them with a creamy horseradish dipping sauce. The dissappointment was the chocolate cake- I think I overbaked it, so it was a little too dry. I think the recipe has potential so I'll have another go at it.

Krab Kakes

1 package surimi imitation crab
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. Old Bay
bunch of scallions, finely chopped
juice of half lemon
1 sleeve of saltines, crushed
dash of sriracha optional

Using a food processor finely chop surimi. Empty surimi into a large bowl and fold in eggs, Old Bay, chopped scallions, lemon juice. Add saltine crumbs one handful at a time, mixing after each handful. If desired: add dash of sriracha and mix in.
With a serving spoon, drop rounded heaps of surimi mixture in sizzling vegetable oil. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Allow to cool on paper towels

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fan Mail

Dear Aimee Bender:
I'm not the type to write fan mail, but I just finished your very excellent book " The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" and feel that I must register my complete appreciation. I dove eagerly into your novel as soon as I read the hardcover flap. I loved the story of this young girl, Rose, who can magically taste the emotions of the cook in the food they prepare. An idea definitely worth exploring, and something that I could really sink my teeth into (da-da-da dum!). I suppose I was half expecting some high-end and soaring food writing, and while there was some of that- you're writing is lovely and true, what really affected me was the effect this magical ability had on Rose. Being placed in a position she didn't want to be in-Rose at a very young age was privy to information she just didn't want to know. I got how this extraordinary talent became an unbearable burden for her, so that all she enjoyed eating was Doritos and Oreos because they were made in factories by machines that are devoid of pain and emotions.
Of course, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have this ability. Initially I think it would be amazing, but once the novelty wore off I think it would be pretty awful, actually. Imagine eating your Mom's chicken and tasting unhappiness and emptiness, which is of course what happened to Rose. Or biting into a chocolate chip cookie baked by your friend and tasting insecurity and envy. Feelings like sadness, anger, jealousy are probably not at all tasty or nourishing. Joy, contentment, good humor, inspiration are probably delicious, but how often would one come across these emotions? Rose doesn't encounter very much of it during the novel. It is a world of pain and disconnection that she lives in.
Rose's story is an allegorical view of the plight of a highly sensitive person, someone who internalizes other people's feelings and reactions and thoughts and moods, and the kind of misery that heightened awareness brings. It was written so well and was so rooted in reality that the fairytale aspects of the book were easy to accept. It had me thinking about so much, I couldn't fall asleep after finishing it at 1:00 am. My mind was like a glass with a bee trapped inside it.
Something that I thought a lot about was the idea of tasting feelings through food. I know when I'm angry or in a bad mood while cooking it gets dumped into the food. And when I'm feeling cheery and open my cakes and desserts have an added warmth and yumminess to it. The culinary aspect of the book added a whole other layer of identification for me.
Anyway, just a nod to your fantastic book. Thanks for writing it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's 1:30 am and I'm in the throes of party prep mania! Tomorrow we're having a birthday party for Girlette who is turning 6 on tuesday. It'll be a manicure receiving/jewellery-making/pink lemonade sipping/ cupcake decorating tea party.

T-25 minutes. I think I have everything under control. Made the tea sandwiches (cucumber, egg-lox, and brie fuji pear). I made this dreamy caramel dip at the last minute, it will be perfect with the tart crisp green grannies I just bought. The table is set, my odds and ends are finally being put to use. The cupcakes are a little too golden for my liking- but oh well, nothing is perfect.

4:10 Party Over. I think it went well. The kitchen/dining area looks like a huge pink bubble burst and left behind a sticky, sweet, pink mess . Girlette's favorite color isn't even pink (it's gold- but of course) but nothing says tea party like 21 shades of pink. Does it mean we're Tea Party people, if we had an actual Tea Party? It's true the crowd was pretty homogenous- young girls, all with common themes: sparkles, beads, and sugar.

Now that the party is behind me, I have time to be exhausted. The TP, closely followed a very fun, very late Saturday night in the city. We met up with our friend Zelig and his friend, and our fellow chow hound, Noemi- and did it up.

Sleep is like a drug with no side effects. I got a nice fix last night- 9 hours! Everything is clear and sharp today. And I can think without it hurting. Girlette's party was a success, from the personalized manicures that I hired our supercool teenaged neighbor to give each girl, to the jewellery station- where they made friendship bracelets. After a while we gathered around the dining room table which was laid out with all my mismatching tea-time tschochkes. I baked a batch of cupcakes and made 3 different types of frostings (chocolate, raspberry, and caramel) and bought a whole bunch of decorative type candies and embellishments (pink crystal sugar, pearl dragees, gold glitter dust...). They each expressed themselves in sweet and colorful ways. After we sang a couple of rounds of Happy Birthday in a couple of different languages- the pink lemonade was flowing, and the tea sandwiches were nibbled. At Girlette's request I made her favorite chocolate truffles (creme brulee and cookies 'n cream), and chocolate covered strawberries.
The Moms were as into it as their girls- duh, why wouldn't they be? Tea and delicious snacks enjoyed with your girlfriends in the middle of a wet and gray day, a time and place to express your inner girlishness. Three curtsies for the Tea Party! I am a proud member. As a finishing touch I ordereded a bunch of precious little tea cups and saucers as a party favors. Most importantly Girlette had a grand time, she even mentioned gratefully how she's glad that we always have birthday parties at home "because you can do whatever you want in your house".

So now that we're done with the hearts, flowers, cupcakes, and tea portion of this post- onto our night in the City. The only thing it had in common with the tea party, was the color of the drinks. I served pink lemonade in tea cups at Girlette's party, and drank pink concoctions in martini glasses throughout our night in the City. We started out at Flutes where I ordered an Elderberry Kir Royale and a beer for Hub (beer at a champagne lounge?), their french fries were thick cut but good. Once the City Slickers arrived we decided to cut out and try somewhere else. Zelig always knows the hippest, most au courant spots- and he took us somewhere so full of cheeky New York charm that I feel heady just thinking about it. He took us to a speakeasy called Raines Law Room. To begin with, it was so New York cool, it didn't even have a sign. You had to go down a few steps to a heavy bolted door with a small window and pretty much beg the door man to let you in. There were a few rings of hipness we had to jump through. He told us there was an hour wait time, but he'd call us when he was ready for us (Don't call us-we'll call you). We diverted our attention to Rye and waited it out over cocktails. After an hour we returned, the door gendarme was still pretty noncommittal. But there was no way I wasn't getting into this place- I was wearing a new dress that was the requisite black, but velvet and asymetrical and just slightly avant garde. My dress needed to be inside that exclusive little joint. After a little chit chat with the man at the door, and a subtle bribe in the form of a homemade truffle (new flavor: bourbon shortbread- a keeper I'm told), we got in.
It was dark in there, and it was swanky. It was like being in someone's living room, if that someone had great taste, lots of books, and an appreciation for dark wood. We proceeded to the bar area, which was kind of like the kitchen annex to this fantastic apartment. I knew right away that the woman behind the bar was a mixologist and not a bartender. The menu was extensive and leather bound. The juices and syrups were all housemade. The drinks were well considered, balanced and different. I had a few Lion's Tails which were so easy, that I was downing them like Shirley Temples. They were more like Lindsey Lohans. We eventually had to concede that the evening was over due to our real life which was just a few hours away. The night ended ceremoniously in a hot pink mess- but enough about that. It was a night so resplendent with New York-iness that I think I'm good for a while.

Caramel Dip

1/2 stick of butter
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. reg sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 container mascarpone
2 tbsp. bourbon (optional)

In a heavy saucepan over med. high heat melt butter, mix in sugars and vanilla until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, mix mascarpone into caramel. Add bourbon, if you desire. Serve with sliced apples, pears, vanilla biscuits.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Now what?" is what I'm thinking. We submitted our cookbook proposal on monday and are waiting for feedback. I don't know what I was expecting- maybe in my deepest heart I was hoping for an instantaneous "We love it! Of course we'll publish it!". I know very well that things are rarely that easy. It's usually a struggle, and a "journey" with important lessons learned along the way. My problem has always been that I give up when the going gets tough, or more accurately, boring. The fear that I'm a lightweight, a dilettante plays in the back of my head. I realized pretty recently that in order to do anything really worthwhile, you really have to work at. It all takes diligence; relationships, parenting, cooking, baking, writing, being an upstanding individual, fill in the blank- it all takes effort to be better than average and OK.
To be honest, I think the proposal and "conceptual" part of the process is actually the easy part. Testing the recipes until they're perfect is the hard part- the tedious part. Writing the segues to each recipe- so that it's real and not hackneyed and corny, is the hard part.
What I hope to do through the cookbook is to show a way to celebrate every part of life from the mundane to the sacred. Family, friends, good food, good music, good conversation is what makes it all worthwhile: the dissappointments, the boredom, the struggle. It's a Celebrationist Handbook. I'm not sure if I have the ability and skills to pull it off- but I need to try at least.