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

CLINK!


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: thesaurus.com 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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy New Year


It's really a new year for me. Today is my birthday- the first day of my 38th year. It zooms by - but at the same time every day is lived in actual time, maybe sometimes even in slow motion. I want to make this upcoming year a good one. I am determined to be productive. This book will be my main focus. I am trying to say everything in my words and flavors.
I want to read all of Roald Dahl's books to the kiddles this year. And take them on some fun excursions in the City. I want to live more healthy this year, do yoga regularly, breathing exercises, and all that good-for-you stuff . I want to do something special for Hub for our tenth anniversary in March. I'm ready to finally master pie crusts this year.
This year I want to work on being less irritated. See more art and less TV. Cook and share lots of good food. And try and remember to be grateful.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mainly Maine



In Maine

we are glad to be part of a land

that remains so beautiful under it's green skin

of woods and open fields, that is glitteringly

bordered by thousands of miles,

of breaking waves, and that is lovely

too, with an unbroken tradition

of concerns, with the kind, enduring grace

of it's neighborliness.

-From Neighborliness by Kate Barnes

I love New England. I loved the idea of it before spending 4 years of college there; and my notions were not disappointed while living outside Boston- from the age of 18 to 22. I have quietly loved New England for a long time now. So I always try to steer family summer trips Northwards. All year long my affection sleeps, as I focus my passion on the City. But when Summer arrives my tenderness for New England stirs itself.

This adventure begins in Portland, Maine. Hub's Sis Deene is visiting from Israel with her husband and three boys, so we really wanted to present them with something grand and striking and American. The colonial architecture and aspect of the old port town was definitely something different for our Israeli cousins. As was the chilly summertime rain.

We brought my mom with us as well, because we wanted her to spend some time in this beautiful part of the country. Until this trip, her experience of New England was limited to the Comfort Inn, Waltham MA. I knew she'd love it- and she did. While the boys took a three hour boat trip, Mom, Girlette and I explored the shops and cafes around Congress street. And it was at a cafe called Paris in the Morning that I tried my first Whoopie Pie. It was maple pumpkin, and I've since come to realize that it was mini-sized. The cake part was soft and spongy and tasted like sweetly spiced pumpkin quick bread. The cream filling was subtle in it's maple-ness but undeniable in it's cream cheese-iness. Hmmm interesting, I thought to myself, more research was needed.

Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream on Exchange St. was also another delightful discovery. Flavors like Chocolate Wasabi, Thai Chili, and Sweetcorn made it apparent that this wasn't your Gramma’s ice creamerie. I decided on the Fig. And I can really say that I've never had anything like it before. The ice cream had a deep caramelly sweetness to it and the chopped dried figs interspersed throughout my generous sized scoop provided a pleasing texture and reinforced the sweet figgy taste of the ice cream. I was off to a wicked good stahht!

The afternoon spent with Les Kiddos (six in all) at the fantastic Portland Children's Museum provided me with plenty of time to review in my mind the wonderful taste discoveries I had just enjoyed. A simple plan was hatched: I was to sample as many Whoopie Pies as I could handle during our stay in Maine, in the hope that I’d be inspired to concoct my own version for the cookbook. The fig ice cream was shelved mentally in my Possible Truffle Flavor file.

Get ready for the revelation of the Century: Travelling in a group of eleven is difficult, especially, when more than half of the group is under the age of ten. Notions of fine dining and elegant sight-seeing are hurled out the window. After a dinner at Denny's whose memory I wish I could surgically remove from my brain, I knew that I would have to sneak away every now and again, to maintain my sanity as well as make any delicious discoveries.

My mother kindly granted Hub and I a date night opportunity, which we eagerly spent at Becky's Diner on Commercial St . Becky's is a very ordinary looking diner, but what is contained between the laminated pages of a very ordinary looking diner menu explains the attention it recieved from Bon Appetit. Our waitress was a plain spoken Yankee girl, who described the specials with an economy of words and evenness in expression- that still managed to convey the scrumptiousness of the items. Hub decided on the broiled haddock and I had the fishcakes. As we waited for our food, I studied my fellow diners. Locals and tourists, a few Hipsters thrown into the mix (Portland has a strong hipster element- kind of like a Brooklyn up North feel). New England thriftiness was exhibited by the single piece of bread we each recieved as we waited for our dishes.

The food was....mouthwatering. It was delicious. It was a joy to eat. From the moment I took the first forkfull until I walked out the door, I was smiling. I was as happy as a kid enjoying her favorite birthday meal. I could not stop eating until every scrap was gone. The cole slaw was crunchy and sweet, the fries were crispy and well- seasoned. Every part of our meal was marvellous. Our astute waitress capably steered us in the right dessert direction. And she had the good sense to make a fresh pot of coffee for us to enjoy with our Blueberry Cream Cheese Layer Cake. A die-hard sweet tooth can always sense what a fellow sweet tooth needs. With a lightness in my heart and a belly full of good food, my fondness for New England was reconfirmed.

One of the things that I really appreciate about New England is the plain-spoken character of it's people. They speak simply. They use less words. There is an editing that occurs in their daily vernacular. There is a reserve to their attitude. This kind of stoicism makes my exuberant verbosity seem frivolous and even over-the-top. But I'm OK with it. I'm not a Yankee. I’m not a Maineahh.

After Portland we went up to the Moosehead Lake region where Hub’s bro, his wife and 2 kids joined us for three days of camping in the rain. It wasn’t so bad, it was actually fun in a rustic, once-in-a-lifetime, roughing it kinda way. The campground was just outside the town of Greenville, and believe me when I say that I took every and any opportunity to make runs into town. Be it for paper plates, milk, or to do laundry at Wishy Washy. And it was on one of these laundry runs that I made another great discovery: Northwoods Gourmet Girl. This little gem is located across the street from the Laundromat. Unable to watch our clothes tumbling for another second, I did a little investigating.

The room is large with clean lines and is on the spare side. I sat at the bar and exhaled gratefully. All was quiet and calm, the lighting was soothing, my sneakers were drying, and I was alone. No one was asking me for anything, there was no crying, whining, fighting or shouting. And I now know what to serve with my Krab Kakes: roasted corn, tomato and pepper salsa and a spicy remoulade. And then there was the dessert… a blueberry cobbler that felt like it was beamed down to me directly from God. A soft cakey biscuit sandwiched pleasantly between warm, syrupy and deep dark violet blueberries and a scoop of slowly melting vanilla ice cream in a fine dusting of cinnamon. Surely this must be a gift from God when you’re damp, cold, and cranky after dealing all day and night with damp, cold, and cranky kids.

Upon further investigation I learned that this was the same Gourmet Girl whose bottles of homemade ketchup and jams grace the shelves of the high end kitchen supply store in Portland where I spent an hour and about $60 in (Tupelo honey, Dishing Up Maine cookbook, and assorted gourmet chocolates). My prediction: Gourmet Girl will be as big and wide ranging as Stonewall Kitchen in a few years. Except she’ll be for the Hipster Foodie. Who can resist an ingredient list that includes TLC?

After camping, we moved on to the Sunset Cabins in Rockwood. Never before has a bed been appreciated as audibly and by so many. Flushing toilets as well. The cabin’s kitchen beckoned and I responded by broiling up some salmon and haddock. We enjoyed our fish and the variety of salads I assembled (pasta, garden, and Asian cole slaw) while sitting at picnic tables in front of beautiful Moosehead Lake.

By this time in our trip there were several conclusions I was able to make about Whoopie Pies. Wicked Whoopie Pies are my over-the-counter choice. It has a good cream-to-cake ratio, and is not overly sweet. My favorite flavor is the vanilla chocolate chip. I did not like the peanut butter one that the competition makes.

It’s hardly surprising that the best Whoopie Pies are homemade. The Maple Whoopie I had in Portland was a great intro to this regional treat. I had a tightly saran wrapped Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Whoopie at Jamo’s General Store in Greenville, that was also darn good. Sadly, I do not think I will be whooping it up at next month’s dental appointment.

We climbed Mt. Kineo, the lot of us (minus a grown up or two and a kid or two). It rained and we kept on going. We kept on climbing through tantrums, tussles, and terror until we reached the top. I was very proud of us.

On Sunday we packed up the cars and crossed the border into Canada. S’ long Maine, Bonjour Quebec! This time I was shameless in my desire to learn more French. I broke my teeth at Subway when ordering our 6-pouce sandwiches. I perservered at the Hotel Jardin in Veille Quebec while checking in as my Mari (aka Le Hub) found parking. I ordered my vin blanc at Portofino the Family-style restaurant that was smart enough to give us our own room and isolate us from civilized company. I hissed “Arret!” (and about another half a dozen angry epithets) as my Kiddlers had epic melt-downs in a couple very public spaces. Hub, Deene, sis-in-law Mishtophe, and I clinked “Salut” after everyone was at last, quietly sleeping. Not fluent yet, not by a long shot- but a little more suave.

We went through Vermont on the way home. Vermont is my all-time favorite state. Burlington is just such a great town. The amount of young people and the vibrancy of it’s food scene really makes it gleam. Tried to get into American Flatbread but it was packed three deep at the bar on a gloomy Monday night (rain, rain go away…).

Our drive home the next morning in clear and gentle sunshine showed the green pastures and sloping fields that hem the country road in their most beautiful light. The Vermont countryside is soft and rolling and wonderfully green. It is in contrast to the craggy and rugged Maine landscape where forests of pine trees line the road for miles and miles on end. Both states are natural beauties, but one is more severe and ascetic. The other lush and curved.

“I love her valleys broad and fair,

The pathless wood, the gleaming lake,

The bold and rocky bastions, where

The billows of the ocean breaks: “

From New England by Albert Laighton

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Progress


Done with the Hanukkah chapter, and I'm pretty happy with it. Hope to wrap up July 4th Chapter in the next few days . Testing summer salad-as-a-meal recipes. Grilled Steak and Veggies Summer Nicoise Salad, has potential- needs to be expanded and the garlic grilled pitas need to be served immediately for it's full effect. Note: Include grilled corn in next version.
Hub's sis and fam arrived today from Israel . More captive Tastebuds- yippee! Perfect crowd to test out cherry cola ice pops. Tonight's Bibimbop was hopeful. I seared tuna in a crust of sesame seeds, cracked pepper and a little salt, made some gochuchang which is a spicy Korean pepper paste which is mixed into the jasmine rice that the seared tuna, matchstick carrots, snow peas, and bean sprouts rest colorfully atop. I also brewed up some spicy sweet soy sauce which is the dressing for this filling yet light summer salad. On the whole very delicious- except I might suggest serving the gochuchang on the side for the benefit of milder palates.
The Blue Cheese dressing that I shook up last night was also noteworthy. I plan on serving it over a wedge of iceberg lettuce garnished with cherry tomato halves. A nice side to the simple tuna sandwiches I plan on serving tomorrow night for dinner. Might make a salad pizza for Thursday Pizza Night (TPN). I'll report back from the tastebud set.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 c. buttermilk
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. minced red onion or shallot
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. garlic powder
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 c. blue cheese crumbles

Mix up all ingredients in a large jar.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sweet Taste of Summer- The Bright Side of Winter



Like everyone I have taken some lumps, but on the whole life has been pretty good to me. I am currently living my dreams of being a writer and a mom. OK, so I had to readjust the setting of the dream, but in this version I'm only 30 minutes away.
That's just the thing about dreams, you have to be flexible to let them come true. Nothing is perfect, except for a dream that just lingers softly in your mind and heart. Making the dream come true, working on it, bringing it into being- well, that's where flexibility and effort and a little heartbreak come in.
The first chapter for the book is due in two weeks. After my initial baffled "Huh?" reaction, last week I sprung into action. We decided that we would start with Hanukkah, which 10 days into the process I'm having another "huh?" moment, this time with irritation. I'm smack dab in the middle of the loveliest summer weather I have enjoyed in a long time. So while working on Hanukkah I'm also doing July 4th. I'm serving fried food for dinner, accompanied by light crunchy summer salads, and fresh, sweet, fruity desserts. I haven't heard a complaint from the tastebud set yet.
Donz and I are trying to figure out the format of the chapter introductions and recipe headers. Being a writer I care as much about the words as I do the food. The two go hand-in-hand, without one there cannot be another. Donz is breakneck-speed busy, with a show a day, and a couple of meeting sprinkled into the mix, in addition to her homelife. And we are trying to figure how this all works, and how we work ourselves into it. As is my way, I'm figuring it out as I go along, sometimes I'm a few steps behind- once in a while I'm a little ahead.
For guidance I have turned to books. I have consulted with Julia Childs editor; Judith Jones. She was very helpful, informing that many of the best cookbook authors were unschooled culinarially. She also told me that many were over 40 when they got their start. But her best nugget of advice was to have passion and a point of view.

I also turned to a contemporary. Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life" is based on her blog Orangette. In addition she was a contributor to Bon Appetit, and that's how I became acquainted with her food and words. Since I didn't follow her blog, the book is fresh and new to me. She has a charming style, I say this through gritted teeth. She is very very talented. And she deserves the attention and acclaim. She has passion and a point of view, which she expresses often-times with beauty and grace. What more can you ask for?

So here's what I've come up with: My best offering so far, the one that delights everyone the most - is the summerfruit kuchen. It's a snap to make and can be personalized to taste. I like it with plums personally, but nectarines, peaches, or apricots work just as well. The cake layer is soft and sweet thanks to the juices of the fruit layer on top. I made this stonefruit dessert every day last week, for many of my taste buds. It will fit nicely into my Fourth of July menu, which has been a pleasure to devise. Summer is my muse, and the plentitude of fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs provides me with real inspiration.
My Hanukkah menu, which calls for an inspiration that takes me in the opposite direction, has been a little more challenging. Why we decided to start with a holiday that is placed in the heart of cold and barren (vegetationally speaking) winter, mystifies me, and makes me think that my intuitive powers may need some fine tuning. I have recipes for three different kinds of fried fritters so far, that are solid. My jelly donut muffins are good, and the chocolate dipped dreidels are adorable. I'm still playing with a couple of crispy-fried ideas. Trying to get myself back into a winter-state-of-mind, which happens to be a difficult time in the year for me to begin with, is a bit of a drag. But, on one of our hot and sticky days, it's not hard to yearn for the cool austerity of winter. I need to idealize winter, and get that Brighter side of Winter in the Hanukkah menu.

Summerfruit Kuchen

1/2 c. butter/marg
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. reg milk, soymilk, almond milk, coconut milk
4-5 thinly sliced peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines (or a combination)
2 tbsp. sugar (I like turbinado)
1 tbsp. butter/marg

Preheat oven to 350F
On medium speed and in a medium bowl mix together butter/marg, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until a batter forms. In a sperate small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add to wet batter and mix in until combined, the batter will be thick. Fold in milk to make a smoother more spreadable batter. With a spatula smooth out batter evenly over bottom of greased baking pan. Place fruit slices in whatever design you desire over batter, overlapping, and ensuring the top is completely covered with sliced fruit. Sprinkle sugar over surface and dor with butter/marg that was cut into 6-8 little slivers. Place in oven for 40-45 minutes, the fruits will be shrubken and golden around it's edges, and a toothpick inserted will come out mostly clean (save for a few clingy crumbs).
Enjoy this fresh taste of summer with ice cream, whipped cream, or on it's own.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Montreal


Bonjour tout le mond! Just back from Montreal. This French weekend getaway was well-placed, so much so that if it wasn't for it, I might have found myself in the loony bin or receiving a visit from the coppers. Last week was tough. It contained several scenes that I am ashamed to even recall. Sometimes you gotta hold on for dear life, and last week was one of those weeks. Clutch onto sanity, balance and equilibrium; scrounge around for even a shred of patience and kindness, dig deep and try to find your better nature. It ain't easy. There are a whole lotta excuses: The flooded basement fills the house with the rank odor of cat piss, it's that time of the month-my exclamation point. The first draft of the book is due in three months and I am paralyzed wondering what to do next? And the collective culture in chez nous is that Maman has no other purpose in life other than the blind and unyielding service to Hub and Kids many needs. And last week there was a lack of female adult conversation that serves as a crutch sometimes. Crutches are necessary when one feels themselves stumbling and hobbling around in discomfort and pain. But it doesn't stack up, for me the measure of a successful person is how she overcomes her situation. I didn't overcome nuthin' this week.
The purpose for our visit up North was a wedding, our long-time friend Zelig was getting hitched to une fille Canadienne. They had the good sense to pick the perfect spot in the Montreal Summer Calendar: Jazz Fest. Friday morning I threw a few sundresses in my bag, my pink batik caftan with the plunging neckline for the wedding which called for "Shabby Chic" attire (?), and as an afterthought a few lacy undergarments for Hub's sake. And of course Judith Jones memoir: The Tenth Sense, My Life in Food". She was Julia Child's Editor, as well as many other reknowned food writers.
To further set the scene: As La Mother-in-law pulled up to pick up les jeunesses, I hosted the battling impulses of Motherdom; wanting to hold onto them and be with them and make up for all the horrible lost moments of the past week. But also needing to breathe, wanting to be unattached and unhindered to experience life on my own terms. And then they were gone, and we were off. Vive La Liberte!

A recollection of the weekend's best moments: Waking up in an elegant and stylish hotel room, to the thrilling notion that the day was all mine, to do as I pleased. With that delicious thought, I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep next to Hub.
Sauntering through the fashionable shops and boutiques near L'hotel (two summer blouses and a bangle). Forcing myself to speak French, dreadful accent be damned!
Brunching with Hub at a Super-Duper French Brasserie. Decent Mimosa. Sampled a Montreal bagel, and am not ready to give up the New York ones yet. The Montreal bagels are smaller and sweeter and chewier. Hub's Oeufs en Cocotte were delicieux! His Bloody Mary was just right.

Our meandering path to Old Montreal cut right through Jazz Fest. The sights! The sounds! The chance to just walk, observe, and enjoy! The revived inclination to flirt!

Dinner at Kitchenette was good. Texas home cookin' fare; comfy, cozy, flavorful stuff. But the dessert is what made the good 'n tasty meal great. Sticky Toffee Pudding Sundae with Cracker Jacks- it was gone in two minutes. A sweet and dense square of toffee pudding topped with a dollop of classic vanilla ice cream and bathed in warm homemade caramel sauce, with a homemade cracker jacks as a garnish (which I thought were more of a distraction).

Then there was brunch and a brief hike up Mont Royal with NY friends also in for the wedding.

The wedding. Zelig was previously married, and after his divorce he went through a bit of a rough patch. This wedding was a triumph of Romance and Second Chances and all that good stuff that makes a lump rise in your throat. It was clear to all how happy and in love Zelig is with his bride. Instead of the usual speech Zelig crooned a love song to his new wife. It was a heart-melter. The wedding band was phenomenal. Even if I wanted to, I could not stop dancing. It was as though all the stress and aggravation of the previous week was released on the dancefloor.
Late to bed, early to rise. It was back to New York the next morning. I return with the desire to be better. To be a better mom, to write a better book, despite feeling overwhelmed by both assignments.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book


Just as I imagined it would be. It took what felt like forever to get the contract, and then to get it finalized. And the first draft is due in three months from yesterday. Of course, this to me really is a dream of a problem. But I am shit-scared. I am so worried that I won't be able to harness it and express it in a beautiful and effective way. I think I have 2/3's of the recipes that I need. I have to figure out the last third, while coming up with the narrative with Donz. I am now exiting overwhelmed and entering pre-panic concern. How do I do this?.... you just do it. That'll be my answer- whenever I ask that question.
A book! Me writing a book- look at me world, I am writing a book.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Emilie's Sweet 'n Silent Visits


“It’s a decent pie…it’s fine” she said unenthusiastically after swallowing a forkfull of the triple berry pie that she baked for dessert. “It’s great! It’s delicious!” the women countered as they happily devoured their wedges. She rolled her eyes as she stared at her plate, poking at the crust with resentment. “Well, what’s wrong with it?!” asked an exasperated Dina.
“I would be so proud if I made this pie. And my husband? He would be thrilled!” was Amanda’s contribution to the pie’s defense.
“I’m berry happy right now” came from Anna, ever the goofball .
“Roxanne, you’re never, ever satisfied with anything you make, no matter how tasty and perfect it is” Caren correctly observed.
“It’s just missing something” Roxanne said with the slightest tinge of bitterness in her tone.
Now it was their turn for eye rolling. “You always say that!” said Caren as she placed the last of her piece in her mouth.

Roxanne took a swig from her mug of black coffee, and then chased it with a gulp of white wine. She felt drowsy and keyed up all at once. Her friends had never tasted Emilies’s baking, she reminded herself. If they had her chocolate cake or peanut butter tart, or carrot cake or peach pie or anything Emilie made they would realize the difference between Roxanne’s “good” baking, and Emilie’s magical desserts.

She briefly considered explaining Emilie to her friends, but as usual she dismissed the impulse. How could she describe Emilie without making it sound like a juicy nugget of coffee klatch gossip? She knew her friends would seize upon the details of Emilie’s late term miscarriage, they’d make shows and sounds of pity, but like Roxanne, they would never really understand how this could result in this woman’s complete silence.
“I’ve had cake that tasted so good that it made me cry.” Roxanne said without sentiment.
“I don’t think cake could make me cry- no matter how delicious” said Dina
“Maybe if it was chocolate” mused Amanda
“I don’t know about crying, but if it was good chocolate I could come” this, of course, belonged to Anna.
“By cry do you mean a single tear or were you full on sobbing?” asked Dina the skeptic.

Roxanne remembered when she dropped off a lasagne for Emilie and her family, days after her miscarriage. She wanted so badly to say something comforting, to offer her some kindness, she stumbled around for words, Emilie’s emphatic silence making her act more and more awkward. She retreated from her house feeling spurned and embarrassed. And pissed with Emilie, which then made her feel bad. But still, hadn’t she gone to the trouble of caring, and making a freaking lasagne! Her better side reminded her of the trauma Emilie had just suffered.

For three weeks Roxanne’s phone calls, emails, and texts to Emilie went unanswered. The day that Roxanne decided that there was just no excuse for such rudeness, Emilie turned up at her door holding a big and beautiful carrot cake. With a wary smile she extended the cake to Roxanne. Roxanne felt shamed as she received the double decker cake covered in a light and swirling layer of fluffy white frosting. She looked from the cake to Emilie’s face. A flatness had settled over her fine features. Her blue eyes had a dull gray aspect to them. “For me? Wow…” Roxanne clearly remembered being a little confused by the cake. Emilie just stood at the door, looking at Roxanne, as if trying to organize her thoughts. “How are you doing, Em?” Roxanne asked feeling trepidation as she waited for her friend’s answer and reaction. Emilie smiled thinly, nodded, and turned to leave.

“ Well, if you don’t like it. I’d be happy to relieve you of it and take it home with me and give to my kids, they’d love it with some whipped cream” Caren offered helpfully.

“It’d be great with vanilla ice cream” suggested Dina

“ Ben and Jerry’s make THE BEST vanilla ice cream. It has actual vanilla beans in it, so it looks and tastes very gour-met” Anna took pains to pronounce the T.


Roxanne recalled the cream cheese frosting that topped Emilie’s carrot cake in a flash. It was flecked with those delicate little vanilla beans. She was confused, and more than a little unsettled after her strange interaction with Emilie. Roxanne placed the cake on her kitchen counter, and with her pointer finger took a swipe of the frosting. First it was a gorgeous and simple sweetness, followed by a fresh tartness, which flowed into a luscious creaminess. With a plastic knife she indelicately carved out a piece. The carrot was bright orange and flecked the spice colored cake, much like the vanilla beans decorated the frosting. It was soft and fluffy to her fork. And it tasted like home, it tasted like warmth, it tasted like a mother’s loving touch. The cinnamon and nutmeg was like a hug. The beautiful flavor filled her heart and almost made it burst. Tears sprang to her eyes.

Emilie’s sweet ‘n silent visits. That’s how Roxanne came to refer to the semi-frequent visits from her long-time friend. She’d show up at her door and wordlessly hand her a different dessert every time. On a crisp mid-autumn afternoon she received a maple pecan bundt cake that was sturdy and dense and mellow in it’s golden sweetness. It made Roxanne think of the turning leaves outside. And begged for a mug of coffee and some friendly chatter to go along with it.
The day before Passover it was a flourless chocolate cake, that took her seder from dark, rich bitterness to an exaltant sweetness and ended in the brightness of the infused orange rind.
Change just takes some getting used to, fighting against it only increases the discomfort. Roxanne knew this instinctively. But she struggled with Emilie’s new non-verbal way of being. Her husband, Greg, was no help. He hid his unease behind caveman humor. “ A woman who bakes cakes and pies instead of talking? Sounds almost too good to be true!”
She ran into Edward, Emilie’s husband, at the wine store, and noticed the extra pounds added to his frame.
“What do you think goes with a dark chocolate truffle tart?” asked Edward conversationally.
“When in doubt, I always say Cab”
Edward selected a mid-priced bottle. “I don’t know if she ever made this tart for you before, but it’s…. magic. The chocolate is endless … and even a little bit sexy, if it‘s possible for a baked good to be sexy .”
Roxanne wondered what to say. On the rare occasion she saw Edward since Emilie’s miscarriage and subsequent silence, Roxanne followed Edward’s cues and pretended that everything was fine and that Emilie had just discovered a new-found talent when it came to the obsessive baking.
“Mmmm sounds incredible! That Cabernet will do nicely, I’m sure” Roxanne said jauntily.

“My friend Jordan is going through a divorce. Her kids are having a really hard time with it. The daughter was kicked out of school, and her son got some girl pregnant. And I‘m sure Jordan, has that thing…what‘s it called? Workout Anorexia, y‘know what that is? It’s when you workout obsessively.” said Caren sadly.
“Who left who?” asked Amanda
“ Jordan found out he was cheating with a co-worker” Caren revealed in a stage whisper.
“Ugggh how predictable!” Amanda shuddered
“Yeah, she was suspicious for all the usual reasons, and then she did some snooping and found a few texts that she says are beyond obscene- perverted shit apparently”
Anna reached for the triple berry pie and cut herself another slice. She gestured to the coffee pot. “Any more of that left? Let's make another pot”






Saturday, June 4, 2011

5/28-6/4



Had to back away from the Van Gogh re-edification project. Thought of the Alexander McQueen exhibition in short spurts. Came up with a few really refreshing and tasty ice pop ideas. And one sweet li'l truffle named Blueberry. I was tinkering around with the blueberry filling of last week's pie. The blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice was cooked down down to a thick and juicy compote-like consistency. Swirled with fresh frothy cream, it was a beauty to behold. Although sweet, creamy, fruity, and lovely to taste it is not the summer thirst quencher that the mango-lime-strawberry popsicle is.
The leftover pie filling was the starting point for a delightful new truffle flavor. The replayed image of a wedge of blueberry pie in a beautiful puddle of vanilla bean flecked ice cream led me to fill vanilla bean infused white chocolate ganache with tiny spoonfuls of soft jammy blueberries. I had to hold back on the inescapable sweetness and introduce a dark and slightly bitter note in the form of the dark chocolate coat it wears. But the dusting of cinnamon graham crumbs takes it back to it's homey dessert origins. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Recognizing where chocolate was most needed, a few bonbons were quietly slipped into a few needy hands, as all eyes were focused on our First Graders who performed so well onstage. The smiles and the deep sighing is all that is needed to know. However, the tale of a terrible day full of in-law friction, morphing into a fine day after enjoying the truffle, was happily received.
The fish in chips recipe made for the kiddles the other night needs a lot of work, but might be something in a few more tries. The mac 'n cheese is solid- especially when topped with french fried onions.
As for Hub's birthday Open House, we are not on the same page. Considering it's next week- we need to figure it out. Being a man who is turning 40, he wants to eat red meat and celebrate his deepening masculinity, while beating his chest. Visions of fat slabs of beef and stein's filled with ale fill my head whenever his ideal birthday party is imagined. But when left to my own devices, bowls of fresh,crispy green salads thinly slicked in flavorful aromatic dressings occupy my vision. And platters of cheeses and fruits, and every kind of bread to soak up the pitchers of fruity sangria's and exotic punches. Of course, all of this is just biding time until Dessert. A table covered in jewelled toned pies (blueberry, strawberry, peach), A tall and proud chocolate layer cake, a devious little chocolate tart, a couple cream pies (key lime, banana peanut butter). Of course a sturdy bundt ( Lemon? Maple Pecan?), caramel sandwich cookies, salt caramels with pink peppercorns (?!) an assorted truffle platter, shooters of butterscotch pudding. And a fanciful cheesecake.
The obvious question is how to coalesce the two? How to make it work without too much dissonance? Serve the sangria in beer steins? Make a garden deli party? Trays of meat tastefully arranged and garnished, served alongside finger friendly potato knishes, and bowls of fresh green salad, and an gourmet inspired cole slaw- OK, maybe, but dessert is all mine.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 20- May 27



Words, words, words, stir, stir, stir, think, think, think, drink, drink, drink. The week in review.

Started reading Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace this past weekend. Because college was almost a million years ago, any academic knowledge acquired is steadily leaking out of my brain. The stacks of cookbooks that line the room, reveal a certain kind of tunnel vision. Leaving Van Gogh is not a cookbook inspired by the colors and subjects of Van Gogh's painting. The only edible things that were mentioned in the book were coffee and absinthe. It is a historical novel told from the point of view of Dr. Gachet, Vincent VG's physician and subject in a few paintings. She described Vincent's canvases lovingly. She represented Vincent and his struggles with real sympathy and regarded his huge talent with admiration. It sent me straight to the Met this morning to get up close to his canvases to study his thick and rapid brushstrokes and strong colors. His paintings are so full of feeling and personal sentiment, a very normal looking woman was secretly observed tearing up and sniffling while looking at Wheat Field with Cypresses.

The museum visit was the culmination of a week spent in quiet rumination, which is another way of saying there was room for a nation of heavy thoughts and unhappy questions. It could have been one of those coincidences that happen when Mercury is in retrograde, or is upside down or something cosmically trippy like that, but almost every planned social interlude was thwarted by what can only be viewed as garden variety flakery. A wide array of flaking: the "oops! I totally forgot!", the "damn! I am supposed to be at ________ at that time" double booking, the "sorry, I'm feeling so tired", and my favorite: "My friend wants me to take a yoga class with her, and I kinda really want to". As I walked across Manhattan I noticed how every second person was huddled over their personal communication devices. Eyes glued on those little contraptions of wonder and social alienation. When everyone is staring at their palms, moments of spontaneous connection are much less likely to happen. It is oddly ironic to have 182 friends, but not be able to meet anyone in person for a cup of coffee and some pleasant chit chat. Well that's not entirely true, there was book club on thursday night.

It was a good showing at Daz's. I made a blueberry pie twice. The first one boasted a beautiful lattice crust but was not nearly sweet enough, so that was deemed a mistake that the kiddles and hub picked over. The second one was sweet and had the slight suggestion of cinnamon, due to the addition of a cup of sugar (instead of half a cup) and a generous pinch of cinnamon, a squirt or two (not 4 or 5) of lemon juice, and finally, stirring it all up so that the individual berries are coated in what looks like crystal frosting. Daz made a couple delicious springtime salads. Her pasta salad is a personal favorite- it is full of flavor and texture. She also made a watermelon feta concoction that was quite refreshing. She purchased a couple of bottles of Skinnygirl Margarita's that went down nice and smooth. The pie was rather enjoyable when served with a scoop of Ben and Jerry's Vanilla ice cream that the hostess had thoughtfully provided. The flaky wedge of soft, sweet,slightly tart berries in a puddle of vanilla bean flecked creaminess is one of those simple culinary joys that is worthy of quiet festivity. Her home is elegant and tidy in a rustic style, and it made the blueberry pie taste that much better.
So the contrast of that tasting experience clashed quite a bit with my eating experience in the city the next day. After departing from the museum, Streus, a college friend who was visiting from Los Angeles, and I strolled down Fifth Avenue and chatted amiably. The memory of what is was like to have a leisurely personal conversation returned. It was a perfect spring day in Manhattan, warm bare skin was all around. We walked and talked all the way down to 60th, where the venerable Plaza Hotel stood before us. New York Magazine had a review of The Food Court in Plaza a few months ago, and interest was piqued.
They didn't renovate the Old New York grandeur out of the Plaza. It is still sparkly and grand and grandmotherly (if your grandmother has over-the-top rococco tastes like mine). Downstairs is a village of little boutiques and stands. The Food Hall takes up a lot of space, and the seating arrangement seems a little confusing. Guests are seated at counters and islands and there are stations for various cuisines and options; seafood, grill, pizza, salad. Streus, had to get across town to meet up with friends. Bye, bye. Kiss, hug. I'm glad we saw that McQueen exhibition, yeah, let's do it again next time you are in town.

Seated at the edge of the pasta station right next to a distressed and vintage looking mirror, the white tiled floor was noted, and the art deco in Paris motif to the room was understood. It was loud and crowded. The service was uninterested and impersonal. I decided to be good and ordered the watercress salad and a side of parmesan french fries for good measure. The salad was bland, the thin little pannini hiding in a jungle of salad was nothing to talk about, and the shmear of lemon jam on the plate was not lemony enough. The parmesan fries were as good as McDonald's fries- which is praise (McDonald's fries are pretty good). The parmesan added nothing. Thankfully the 2 gourmet soft pretzels (feta and olive, roasted garlic) procured from the pretzel truck outside the Met, were tucked away in a bag for later. The restaurant represents a side of New York that is irritating in it's self importance.
Once outside the Food Hall Payard's perfect little confections beckoned, and the passionfruit macaron was good. The salted caramel was delicious; buttery, soft, bitter-sweet. But the pretzels were enjoyed the most while window gazing at Bergdorf's. The garlic pretzel was so soft and buttery and garlicky. It was my culinary adventure of the day. I'm still trying to digest the McQueen exhibition: Savage Beauty. It was something completely new for me.

Next up for next week: An article on gourmet popsicles. A couple boxes of truffles, new spring flavor raspberry? blueberry? Hub's 40th birthday open house has to be considered. Need to try out a couple of weeknight recipes on the kids ( sausage pie, mac 'n cheese, and fish in chips). Homework for the week: Finish Van Gogh Vision and Reality, and think about McQueen exhibition.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring: Take Two




Yesterday was a perfect spring day. The kind of day that inspires art. I wrote a post that attempted to convey the splendour of the beautiful afternoon. But I realized that everything I wanted to say was penned by the Romantic poets, depicted by Van Gogh or Monet, and conjured by Vivaldi and Dvorak. At the end I decided that the best I could offer was a berry pie; a juicy, sweet-tart very berry pie.
I was excited about my assignment; an edible tribute to Spring. I put the post away for later, to be continued after I completed the the pie. No pre-made pie crust for this offering, I needed to make the dough from scratch. I regard pie crusts as the final frontier in baking, I haven't found a dough yet. I settled on a Martha version, hoping for better results this time.

Skip forward through swathes of lush green grass dotted with tiny bright yellow buds. Bright spring sun fades into a crisp night. I reviewed a few recipes on the internet, and came up with a plan. I imagined the pie while relaxing in bed and watching TV before going to sleep.

Gray, overcast chilly morning. The dough is crumby. My flinging over spring draft is missing. I meet up with Daz at the diner and the conversation is on the somber side (yet, no less interesting). Think about how it's just as well that I lost yesterday's flowery post draft. Keats does it so much better.
The berries are plump and juicy and deeply colored. I use a combined 6 cups of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, add in juice from half a lemon, half a cup of sugar, the scrapings of one vanilla bean and some flour to absorb the berry juice. I gracelessy graft the dough together and piece up a lattice crust. After baking it in a preheated 375F oven for about 50 minutes the aroma is good, and the berry center is inviting. I'm not sure it's a glorious tribute to Spring, but it'll be a nice ending to tonight's dinner.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Who Doesn't Love a Good Wedding?



I like to think of myself as too cool to be interested in anything as preciously pompous and irony-free as the royal wedding. But in truth before I became a jaded and snarky New Yorker, I was a subject of the British Commonwealth, a child of Mother England's premier penal colony: Australia. The Aussies have mixed feelings about the royal family, which they refer to lovingly as those Pommie Bastards, but in general share a grudging kinship with. Aussies think of the English as their stuck-uptight cousins, whom they enjoy taking take the piss out of. During my entire time in Oz, The Royals were a tabloid cover fave (it was during the Di-Fergie epoch).
So I had some context when I worked out at the gym this morning and watched the replay of the wedding. The Queen was in a sensible suit with matching sensible hat and shoes. Duty and tradition informs her every move. She seems hardworking, but strict and cold and tough. Not the kind of grandmother that grabs your punim and surreptitiously places a twenty in your pocket. I can actually imagine her declaring "Off with your head" when dispeased. There was goofy Prince Charles -boo (...as in boorring) and Camilla, who seems to utterly lack in style. Camilla's veddy British kind of dowdiness makes the memory of Princess Di even more vivid. And there's no doubt who is the mother of those quirky jr. princesses; Beatrice and Eugenie. Those hats were downright nutty.

She looked beautiful and demure. Kind of refreshing to see a celebrity bride keep her ta-ta's to herself. Felt bad for Wills, he looks a lot like his mum and has her same shy manner. At times he appears embarrassed and uncomfortable with the whole thing.
They really do know from pomp and pageantry over there across the pond. I think the royal wedding puts most Hollywood productions to shame. The entire affair was a tasteful and brilliantly arranged spectacle, from the eccentric hats perched on the heads of the lady guests, to the elegant pagentry, complete with hordes of Union Jack waving extras. The denouement was that chaste little kiss (times two) on the balcony as they waved to their loyal subjects- the unwashed masses. Approaching it from an American point of view, it does seem slightly bizarre that this is real and not characters acting out a script.
It is especially surreal when images of horse drawn carriages, and a magnificent medieval cathedral, are juxtaposed with the scenes of utter devastation and chaos in Alabama. But I think therein lies the appeal, the world is a mess. People are struggling and suffering. Nature is in revolt. Getting lost in a good old fashioned fairy tale is tempting. Monarchs have always understood that. Give the people a little sip at the banquet, for tomorrow it's back to the fields.

In honor of Will & Kate and the utter Britishness of it all, I served the kiddles afternoon tea. I made thin little cucumber sandwiches cut into neat triangles, and bought some rich butter tea biccies (biscuits). The tea I served was more moroccan in flavor due to the mint leaves that steeped alongside the tea bags in the tea pot. All in all a very pleasant affair, that my Yank-ified children devoured before watching Phinneas & Ferb. Only Girlette showed an interest in the Royal Wedding. I recognized that dreamy wistful look in her eyes as she watched their replayed kiss.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cycling Through Life



Life is a series of cycles. Spring blooms into summer which deepens into autumn and then sheds into winter. My own course is almost as predictable as the seasons. After being with family and friends for a while I automatically yearn for football fields of space. Inevitably a season of social fecundity dries up to a period of drought, when my cell phone's main function is to tell time. And then before long I am sick of myself and ready to hear different voices again.
After a week brimming with family, friends, and food I need to recharge with some alone time. But it was a really great Passover! We infused our seders with some personal expression and meaning. Feeling the aches, pains, and silent strength of generations of Jewish women before me, I inserted the Four Daughter's questions into the evening's program. We set a place at our table for all those who are still not free and said a prayer for the oppressed. A couple of days before the seder I gave the kiddles a Passover performance project: Samwich offered a top ten list of why the Children of Israel left Egypt (" no gefilte fish"). Girlette did a Parting of the Red Sea Dance. OK, fine it all sounds a bit hippie-dippy, and Samwich's lethal eye-roll made it clear that it was a little kooky, but let's be real- the seders can be somewhat dry and academic if you don't do something different now and then.
My seder plate menu went down pretty well, the pre-seder chicken wings were the high point. I have to work on the poached egg on spring greens dish- but it was more of a time management issue than anything else. The apple walnut haroset crumble ended the meal nicely. But for me the most successful Passover experiment was the chocolate macaron whoopie pies. Fluffy marshmallow sandwiched between two airy french macaron cookies. I also stirred up a rich chocolate ganache that I spread between the macarons for a more classically French treat.
I am pleased to report that I now have a flourless chocolate cake that I can rely on. And much like the certainty of the seasons, I gained the Passover Five, which hopefully I will shed as the darling buds of May emerge.

Chocolat Macaron Whoopie Pies:
3/4 c. ground almonds
3/4 c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
3 egg white
1/4 c. granulated sugar

Marshmallow Filling

3 tbsp. butter/marg
2 c. marshmallows

Place almonds, powdered sugar, and cocoa in a food processor and pulse for about 10-15 seconds. Sift mixture into a bowl.
Place egg whites in a large bowl and whip until soft peaks occur. Slowly beat in the granulated sugar to make a firm and glossy meringue.
With a spatula, gently fold the almond mixture into the meringue in three portions. When the dry ingredients are incorporated, continue folding the mixture until a shiny batter with a thick ribbonlike consistency results.
Pour into a pastry bag and pipe small circles onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. If you don't have a pastry bag, drop small, neat teaspoons onto the baking sheets. Preheat oven to 325F. Let the macarons stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Bake in the oven for 13-15 mins. Let cool , and then carefully peel the macarons off the paper.

Marshmallow filling: in a medium saucepan melt butter over med. heat, add marshmallows and stir until melted into butter.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

PassOYver


Oy! she said. An Oy that summons all the woes and pains of her foremothers. It's time for the Big P - Passover. A spring-time celebration of freedom, that requires heavy labor to prepare for. The uncanny thing is that Passover comes at just the right time this year. After a particularly shut-in winter, a radical cleaning and purging is really necessary. The winter detritus just accumulated and left everyone feeling cramped and stifled.
I was surprised by how much pleasure I got out of organizing my arts and crafts closet. I threw away several years worth of junk. And gave away jars, baskets, art supplies, and assorted knicknackery to friends/neighbors who will put it all to good use. Filling up bags and bags of clothes, toys, magazines etc. made me aware of how we have so much more than we need. Beauty is hard to resist, comfort is a habit, and non-stop amusement is expected but in the end all these trappings become a burden. Please remember next time at the mall.

The kitchen was where the Oy-ing really took place. My pantry is crammed to overflowing with jars, bottles, boxes. Some of the stuff is daily baking/cooking necessities, but a good amount are exotic flashes in the pans, that have not been used since the 4th of July 2006. I have a chili oil that is older than my little dude. A jar of meyer lemon curd that remains unopened and untouched through it's second winter. All the half-finished, or barely sipped, bottles of booze that we've accumulated over 7 years of Hanukkah parties and other adults-only gatherings, makes me think we have a half-drinking problem. Getting rid of it all was a bother and hassle, but the results are (insert image of the red sea parting)...liberating. The pain in my neck is my badge of freedom, and, it connects me to the generations of Passover preparin' maidels before me.

I'm looking to challenge myself with this year's holiday menus. Besides having to hunt around for the best Passover products and ingredients, there is pressure to offer the best food and dishes at the Seder. Additionally, I want to put forth something creative and meaningful that I can use in the book. I've come up with a sketch of a menu that is based on the Seder plate. Poached eggs on spring greens, glazed chicken wings, horseradish crusted roast beef, apple and walnut macaroon crumble. For me the preparation is over, now it's show-time for the monday night seder.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good News


So here's some good news: We finally got the contract for our book deal. Just before Thanksgiving hey told us they want to publish our book, and, now, a couple of weeks before Passover we got official proof. The interim period was wrought with a fair amount of worry and insecurity. In my more wobbly moments I became convinced that they had changed their minds, and they just didn't know how to break it to us. And in my dark moments I allowed the bitter thoughts in for a chat. But mostly I kept cooking and writing. I am so excited and nervous, and grateful. For now, I am keeping this little jewel to myself, holding it close to my heart. Of course Hub knows, and good thing because I'll be needing his expertise with contracts soon. The kiddles have some vague idea, but as long as nothing changes for them, they couldn't give a hoot. I don't know if Donz is having the same reaction. Donz, my book partner and now close friend, is a singer, so shows and performances are her thing. In my deepest heart since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a writer. I've kept a journal since grade school, and at certain times in my life it felt like it was my religion. In my 'tween years I wrote a bunch of screenplays that were basically John Hughes rip-offs. In highschool I put together a few issues of a student magazine. In college I made tentative forays into the Lit world, but I was completely intimidated. Back then it seemed to me there were people who were considered "Writers". They wrote in a very serious and arty style that felt uncomfortable and verged on the humorless. In creative writing classes they would be vicious. I didn't have any kind of confidence in myself or my writing ability. I thought myself not serious or cool enough to be a real writer, like those other kids who listened to cooler music and did cooler drugs and had cooler friends. So I denied that I wanted to be a writer. Every once in a while something would come busting out. But I quickly covered it up.

After I got married I discovered the kitchen. The best part of the discovery was that I love creating with food. And finally my writing has a focus. That was my problem during those years of trying to figure out what to do- I never had focus. I wanted to do everything. But what I wanted to do most of all was to write a book. And it is happening! I can't believe my good fortune, and am so grateful to the Universe, God, Existence everything... And when I tell people it feels just a bit smaller. No one cares as much as you do- why should they? I want it to stay huge for just a little bit longer.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Caramel Love


I have fallen in love with caramel. I find the the whole process, from making it to savoring it, really therapeutic and rewarding. Being a part-time chocsmith I've come into the lives of quite a few chococrazies, and there is nothing quite like the thrill of satisfying a true chocolover. Chocolate makes them happy down to their bones, and creating something that can make people that happy, for even a few minutes is really fun. I like chocolate, at certain times during the month I love it, but I am not a chocoholic, at heart, I am caramellow.
After spending more money on salt at Williams Sonoma than is logical, and really rocking out those creamy salt caramels, I was hooked. I had caramel on the mind. The taste of the Purim sweets lingered; at first it's a saltiness that flowers into the most luscious, heartwarming, homemade mellifluence you can imagine. The flavor then melted into a creamy sweetness and at the end had the slightest hint of burnt sugar. For someone who believes baking/candymaking = Love; messy, salty-sweet caramel is the ultimate expression of love. It begins with simple kitchen ingredients: white sugar, water, a little fresh lemon juice. A high flame melts it down to a clear syrup, and it bubbles and boils until it goes from clear to light yellow to golden and then deep amber- kind of like love. Just before it gets bitter and burnt, you remove the caramel from the high flame and cool it off and relax it by mixing in cream and give it a tight pinch of salt and then you butter it up a bit. Stir it a little, let it get softer and watch the color change again to a warm shade of...caramel. Admire it's glossy smoothness. Offer another kiss by dribbling in some vanilla extract. Dip your index finger tentatively, it's hot- but taste it anyway. Yummmmlove.

It was in this headspace that I came up with another truffle flavor for a small order. Chocolate Caramel Nocciola: hazelnut flavored caramel covered in dark chocolate ganache with a light sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts. So far feedback (Hub) has been very positive. I'll really find out what people think next week when the chocolover in Florida recieves her Easter box. I will also serve some at the Wine Tasting we're hosting for the PTA, that will get me a whole crossection of sweettooths. Hopefully there'll be a few caramellows mixed in with the crazed choco-fiends. I always strive for a diverse crowd.

Hazelnut Caramel

1/2 c. + 1 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 c heavy cream
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. hazelnut extract

in a med. saucepan stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice together. Let sugar mixture melt into a clear syrup, don't stir-swirl the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, undisturbed until the sugar syrup begins to color around the edges. Swirl pan to even out color and cook until it becomes a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Keeping the saucepan away from your body, stir in the cream. Return pan to heat and bring back to boil (about 30 seconds). Reduce heat to low and let simmer for approx 5 minutes. Stir in butter and hazelnut extract. Let cool for a minute or two.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sweet Notes on Purim




Sunday, March 20
Today is Purim. It is a custom to give friends and family fun gifts of food and snacks on Purim. Something like a small bag of oreo's and a bottle of milk, or a bag of chips and a juice box would be completely acceptable. But because I have a bit of a sweet problem, I always go a little nuts with my Mishloach Manot (purim packages). Sometimes I get all cutesie-tootsie and come up with some kind of theme; like 3 different kinds of cookies delivered in a cookie jar with an iced coffee attached to the side. This year's theme is Simply Sweets; glorious, terrible-for-your-teeth, blow-your-healthy-eating-regime- sweets.
On wednesday night I stirred up a couple of batches of cream caramels. I added another layer of flava by using some good French salt from Williams Sonoma, and then finished them off by sprinkling some Australian pink salt (also from WS) across the top. They are kinda awesome. The making of the caramels were somewhat time consuming and labor intensive but not overly difficult. However wrapping them all in wax paper was literally a pain in the neck.

Thursday/night: I continued with my sugar mad science experimentation. I made around 8 different types of hamantaschen dough; cream cheese half a bar, cream cheese whole bar, chocolate with buttermilk, traditional with coconut milk and vegan buttery spread. The results were interesting, and at times surprising, and almost all were very sticky. In the end I conclude that the dairy-free doughs kept it 's shape the best, and that the cream cheese doughs were the tastiest.
For fillings I made a tart cherry lekvar, which is an eastern european method for making fruit jam and butters. Dark dried cherries stewed in a combination of lemon juice, water, a little sugar, and a split vanilla bean. Still feeling the sugar rush that came with the salt caramels, I made a caramel nut filling which was too runny to use. There was a batch of blueberry cream cheese hamantaschen, I utilized the cream cheese dough for it, and because it had a creamy tartness to it I sprinkled the tops with coarse sugar which makes the cookie sparkle like Queen Esther (the heroine of the Purim story). Then I went into peanut butter territory. I spooned 1 tiny teaspoon of peanut butter which was melted with a little cream and brown sugar to make a sturdy and sweet filling. Next to it a tiny teaspoon of red raspberry jelly- so that's my PB& J Hamantaschen. I also spooned peanut butter alongside chocolate ganache for a Reese's style hamantaschen.
As I was getting later and later into the dark chocolate night, my experiments started getting wackier and more sugar-crazed. Partially melted dark chocolate chips mixed into condensed milk result in a not-unpleasant tootsie roll flavor and texture when baked.
And then there were the barks in the night. An orange infused dark chocolate bark topped with dried cherries (featured ingredient of Purim '11) and pine nuts. Next I made a milk chocolate bark topped with chopped cocktail peanuts, and rice krispies. And then for the white-lovers I made a vanilla bean flecked white chocolate slab with dried blueberries and slivered almonds. At Hub's suggestion I made a combo bark: equal parts dark and semi sweet chocolate bar topped with slivered almonds and tart dried cherries.
I had a sweet raindrop of an idea as I was falling asleep on thursday night: Semi sweet bark with chopped marshmallows, dried cherries, and chopped walnuts. 'Cos life can sometimes be a Rocky Road, and the world seems to be falling apart, and sometimes it just feels good to is sit back, close your eyes, and eat sweets.
Last night I stayed up until 3 wrapping those blasted, utterly swoon-worthy, cream caramels. And packing up the variety of barks, and hamantaschen. And then whimsically assembling it all in paper bags, popcorn boxes, and chinese food cartons. Now I think I'm ready to take the cure to sweets overdose: Salt. Real food. Water.

Sour Cherry Lekvar

2 c. dried cherries
1/2 lemon juice
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 split vanilla bean

Put dried cherries, lemon juice, water, and stir in sugar. Add vanilla bean. Heat over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble, lower to a simmer and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of liquid is reduced. Remove from heat, and transfer cherry mixture to a food processor and coarsely chop (pulse for a few seconds). Makes enough lekvar to fill 3 dozen hamantaschen