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 ( 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


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.