Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Have Cooked Some Things Recently

With Carla:

Bell peppers stuffed with farmers' market ground beef and beef heart!

With Jamie:

Onions stuffed with a cheesy broccoli concoction,
and topped with cream cheese sauce!

I have embarked on a project, and those are part of it - to cook all of my several hundred recipes (some printed and in an enormous binder, some saved in an unorganized fashion on the computer) and get rid of the ones that aren't good or aren't worth the time/money/bad-for-you-ness and take notes on and reorganize the ones that I'll make again! This includes entrees, breads, breakfasts, desserts, soups, everything. Well, actually, the beef-stuffed bell peppers was not part of the project - it was a recipe Carla had. But the stuffed onions were, and boy howdy are they a keeper!

Naturally this project has been a good excuse to bake up a storm. I've been making half recipes so that the things I bake get eaten faster and I can make more things, plus that way I'm more comfortable trying recipes I'm not sure about, because it is less of an investment of resources. Anyway, recently I've made chocolate nut cake (keep), divine decadence (duh), brown sugar pecan shortbread cookies (I don't love them, but Alex and Jamie do, so they're a keeper), walnut shortbread cookies (yum, keep), regular shortbread (not as good as my other regular shortbread recipe, so the recipe is headed to the scrap paper drawer to be used in games of Boggle!), ginger cookies (excellent), and coconut oatmeal cookies (meh. I'll give the recipe to Skye probably, since she liked them a lot). Not a lot of chocolate (aside from the cakes; and I think I have some kind of chocolate espresso cake coming up next), mainly because I've already made all my chocolate recipes and have notes on them! Probably there will be more recipes with pecans soon, as they look tantalizing but I have to shell out for more pecans before I can make them (I ran out after making the chocolate nut cake [which is very moist and rich primarily due to two cups of toasted ground pecans]). Anyway, I'll keep updating y'all on the project as it proceeds! I expect it to take several years.

Several lovely walnut shortbread cookies,
and one hilarious one.

In other cooking news, I've hit upon a brilliant way to get rid of leftovers: gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches! Basil, mushrooms, pickles, parsley, a leftover hunk of mozzarella... it can all just get chucked with some sharp cheddar between two pieces of homemade sourdough, and I have something people pay ten bucks for in a restaurant! For example:

Soon-to-be-grilled cheese with dill pickles

Delicious amazing grilled cheese with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and garlic
and fresh basil

Recently our oven stopped working and the landlord replaced it. In the process, there was a day when we did not have an oven.

Fortunately, Jamie thought to make a handful of hard-boiled eggs ahead of time so we would have something to eat that day! I seized the opportunity to make myself one (or is it technically two?) deviled egg(s).

A little Dijon + some mayo + egg yolk + plenty of paprika =

And I think that's all the cooking news for now! But I still have stuff to talk about, so more posts soon, I hope :)



Saturday, October 22, 2011

I Love Books. Also, Art.

Last week our friend Mary came to visit! She stayed for about 5 five days, and Jamie, Carla, Alex, and I took turns taking her around the city, as our schedules permitted.

On one day, Mary and I went to the Met! I tried to take a few pics, and some of them came out pretty nice, although Mary's were better (she is a photography hobbyist and has a pretty nice camera and lenses). I'll put them all up in an album on facebook, but in the meanwhile, here are a couple of my favorites.

I don't know if you can see with the low-res, small sized picture,
but the light just seems to glow out of this painting,
as if the sun is really there behind the canvas.

Anyway, the Met isn't even the point; I can go to the Met anytime (score one for living in NYC)! The point is, after we left the Met and walked down to Rock Center, we went to a little event Mary had found on Holly Black's blog, a panel at the Center for Fiction called "Before and After Harry Potter: YA and Fantasy," featuring Holly Black and fellow authors Cassandra Clare, Justine Larbalestier, Chris Moriarty, and moderated by Delia Sherman. How cool is that? And, p.s., how cool is it that Mary had found it and wanted to go? I love people with common interests!

The funny thing about the authors on the panel, actually, is that I have heard of all of them, and they're all on my list to read, but I hadn't actually read any of them - actually a fairly unlikely coincidence, given the rate at which I read YA fantasy. But the panel was really great, and I took a bunch of notes in the little journal I carry everywhere for occasions such as this, and so I'll just copy/clean them up for you here!

The authors were asked about authors who inspired them. Here is what I jotted down of their responses:

"Tanith Lee is loved by Justine Larbalestier. TL is a 'completely insane English writer' who claims never to edit anything.

"Cassandra Clare loves E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, Evangeline Walton, and Susan Cooper [I have read all these authors but Blyton! I feel like I am in the in-club!].

"Holly Black - L'Engle made her love the "strange connected universe" [because of how the Wrinkle in Time books sometimes weirdly tied in with the Ring of Endless Light/Austin books]; also on her list were Cooper, D'Aulaire's Greek mythology, and the Green No [??] books. She also loves Alexander.

"Chris Moriarty - loved Lord of the Rings and wrote Elvish, loved LeGuin, Diana Wynne Jones. Also Lloyd Alexander. She thinks of the Chrestomanci books by DWJ as a strong Harry Potter precursor, drawing out of books about English boarding schools.

"The Folk of the Faraway Tree is a quintessential Blyton book. Justine called Blyton 'possibly one of the worst writers.' Short story 'The Rotten Apple' epitomizes Blyton's morality, wherein, according to JL, a bunch of kids welcome a weird kid who then causes trouble, and the lesson is, you should be normal and shun weird kids. Blyton was a 'conservative, racist, horrible human being, and really really influential on me.' [I don't know if the hilarity of this statement comes across typed, but when she said it, JL cracked up the whole audience.] She made Justine want to go to boarding school and have midnight feasts."

Delia Sherman then mentioned that a lot of the books the panel mentioned as influential to them are really nothing like the books they write. What's up with that?

"Cassandra Clare read Anne Rice and the Border Town books, and those were influential. She is influenced by the stuff she read at the age she writes for - so not so much the stuff she read as a kid, but the stuff she read as a teen.

"Holly Black pointed out that when you're talking YA and Harry Potter, you end up talking middle grade, when it really encompasses a much broader age range in the end, what with starting with an 11 year old kid and ending with nearly an adult. She was also influenced by Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, and Jane Yolen [who was in the audience!].

"JL loves retold fairy tales - Briar Rose by Yolen, for example.

"Cassandra Clare went through a fairy tale retelling phase also, including Red as Blood by Tanith Lee (CC thinks this is the best thing TL wrote), The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter [I would guess these are Bluebeard retellings], and Windling and Datlow's fairy tale retellings.

"Chris Moriarty mentioned that she is in conversation with the books she read as a kid, none of which were really about her (she is 'Jewish but it's complicated and Indian and Irish and never fit in anywhere,' so she loved classic fantasy but found it jarring) - except for the books by LeGuin and Yolen. [At this point she said to Jane Yolen, 'we can stop if you want [raving about you to your face nonstop]... or we could probably go on all night!' She wrote The Inquisitor's Apprentice for her kids, to put them in the middle of a book [instead of as a side character, if present at all]. She loves Witch Week, which has an Indian character."

Now they were guided more toward talking about the ups and downs of writing YA, and about how Harry Potter has affected the field.

"JL said, 'if you love every genre and want to write all of them, YA is the only place you can do it.'

"They talked about how adult books are marketed more by genre, whereas YA books are often in bookstores and by publishers considered all one genre, so you can sell books that are mysteries, romances, realistic, etc. all in the YA section. But later JL mentioned that it is weird to see, for example, Liar in the same section as Magic or Madness.

"Cassandra Clare mentioned that Harry Potter brought a lot of older books back into print, like a lot of the DWJ canon. She said that much of the resentment for Harry Potter - which they all love - stems from non-fantasy readers coming up to them and saying things like, 'you've got to read this! It's the most original, best fantasy you've ever read!' JL was accused of ripping off Harry Potter by many, even though of course Harry Potter was using all the old fantasy tropes. 'People see everything through the Harry Potter lens,' one of the authors said.

"Chris Moriarty took a moment to recommend Sabriel, which led into a story from Justine, as 'all Australian authors really do know each other.' Apparently, Garth Nix says that he was paddling along, then the giant Harry Potter wave came in and lifted his boat with it, and all of a sudden he could make lots of money; it was a lot of parents coming to librarians and teachers and saying, 'my kid finished Harry Potter, so what do I give them now?' Kids read a great fantasy book and then want to read other fantasy books - unlike adults, who often enjoy something new but then go back to what they were reading before.

"Chris Moriarty said that reading The Dispossessed was the first time she understood that a woman could write a book about math and science."

The discussion portion of the panel was drawing to a close, and Delia Sherman asked the authors to recommend new YA fantasy books they love.

"JL recommends Dia Reeves' Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry [which I have heard of but not read yet], which are 'Texan, weird, dark, and funny.'

"CC recommends Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker and The Drowned City, and Lainie Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

"HB recommends Megan Whalen Turner [hell yeah!], Anna Dressed in Blood, and Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls [which I have been seeing all over the internet for the last month or so but haven't read yet]."

Then there were some ok questions from the audience and interesting-but-not-interesting-enough-to-write-down answers from the panel, then some time to go up and talk to the authors. Mary and I were at the end of the line, which was great, because it meant we had time to actually chat for a while with no one breathing down our necks. Cassandra Clare and Holly Black are two of Mary's favorite authors ever, so she was fangirling it up, and I managed to hold up my end of the conversation in what I think was a quiet but interesting way without revealing that I have not actually read any of their books yet. We chatted about their books, about the panel and YA, about NYC, about restaurants, and about book tours! It was very neat, and they were very gracious. Justine and Holly offered to sign my journal!

Justine's autograph

Holly's autograph - "what belongs to you
but others use is more than you..."
If anybody can read that last word,
please tell me what it says!

That's all for now, but I do have more to blog about, so hopefully I'll be reliable and post again soon!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


there is an elephant in Union Square Park.


we have too many pots.

I Love My Kitchen!

Alex and I (well, more me, because he's been working 50-60 hours a week for the last few weeks, and I... haven't) have been cooking delicious things since I got back and started to come out of camp-induced kitchen withdrawal! Here are some of them.

One night, Carla cooked some salmon she had in the freezer, and I made a beurre blanc sauce (um, could anything be better than a sauce made primarily of butter? Well, actually, a sauce made of butter and cheese, probably. Also, it would have been more delicious if we had had a better white wine in the house than the leftover $5 champagne from a few nights before, and if I had actually had white wine vinegar, rather than regular white vinegar accented by a splash of apple cider vinegar. But it was still extremely delicious!)

Carla loved it, too!

Shortly thereafter, I tried making double chocolate chocolate chip cookies from the Sarabeth's Bakery cookbook, which had arrived in on hold from the library! I always have (always unwarrantedly) high hopes for homemade chocolate cupcakes - I just keep thinking that homemade things are more delicious than storebought things, and also I keep remembering one time when I made chocolate cupcakes and they were really really good, plus I had accidentally poured way too much vanilla into the buttercream frosting and they were vaguely alcoholic, but then I couldn't find the recipe anymore, and how sad is that? Because at this point I'm pretty sure I was just having a weird taste day, and those remembered cupcakes must not have been really all that great. Because it always turns out that cupcakes are just cupcakes - plain boring fluffy not-very-rich cake, with some good stuff on top. Homemade or purchased, I am always underwhelmed and they are never worth it.

However, everyone else always loves them, so I guess they were in fact worth making! Alex, Carla, and Skye were thrilled. Also, they were very beautiful!

Peanut butter chips, rainbow sprinkles, and cinnamon =
exciting ways to improve boring desserts

I was even enticed into eating one or two myself!
I chalk it up to the toppings.
Because the cupcakes were boring.

I think I finally give up on cupcakes.

Anyway, I also made lentil and brown rice soup! I really liked it, although next time I would actually put in a little less pepper and a little less parsley - it was a little hotter than I prefer for a soup.

I love how it was a little shiny in the light from the veggie stock,
and how great the parsley and bay leaves look amid the lentils!

Also, we made stuffed bell peppers - a little bland, but healthy, and the feta sauce on top blew our minds with deliciosity! It helped that we used a block of what seemed to be fresh feta, rather than the pre-crumbled-into-a-plastic-container kind. We have a bunch leftover and have been putting it on everything because it is so freaking good.

Alex plated the pepper and sauce beautifully.

I also just made great Moosewood enchiladas with bell peppers, onions, garlic, cumin, cheddar, cream cheese, and cottage cheese - not very Mexican, but unbelievably good! I used low-fat cream cheese and cottage cheese, and even cut the amount of cream cheese in half, and it was still ridiculously rich. We had some filling leftover, and used it as chip dip during Sunday football! Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture.

I've also made coffee heath bar crunch ice cream (soooooo good), sourdough bread (of course), cornbread, pancakes, french toast, banana nut chocolate chip bread, and Sweetie Pie cookies out of Mrs. Fields (chocolate batter with semisweet, milk, and white chocolate - I bought some really high quality milk and white chocolate before I went to camp, to see how I would like it, and then forgot to stick it in the freezer before I left, so it is pretty old and you can tell by the taste, which means I can't tell if it was worth it and I'll have to buy it again, at least the milk chocolate [I made white chocolate ice cream with about a third of the brick of white chocolate before I left, and it was really good, but I am just not a white chocolate person. I'm not a milk chocolate person either, but the Vahlrona milk is surprisingly good when not super old, from what I remember from when Tom gave me a taste one time] - anyway, the cookies are ok. Everyone seems to like them, anyway. I could take 'em or leave 'em, although that could be because of the old chocolate. Do you think this parenthesis is long enough yet?), and probably some other stuff that I've forgotten.

I like to cook! I love to bake! I think I'll go use the last of the milk chocolate in a milk chocolate ice cream recipe, and see if that disguises the age of the chocolate! Even if it doesn't, ice cream is delicious virtually no matter what, and I can always make a dark chocolate or caramel or peanut butter or espresso sauce to throw on top and stuff it chock full of truffles or peanut butter cups or chocolate covered espresso beans or cookie pieces, and then it won't even matter what it tastes like! Or I can pour hot chocolate over it! The ice cream possibilities are endless!! Keep checking for future posts to see where this exciting path leads!

To be continued... (probably...).

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Thing I Forgot***

to mention about when Cheryl was here is that I may have taken off my pants in the middle of Union Square Park. This was an exhilarating thing, and I think some children may have been staring at me. But it was mainly practical, because I wanted to change out of my stupid boring jeans and into my new sunny yellow shorts from H&M! I am happy to report that this was a success, and nobody died of embarrassment, and also I looked very fun and cute in my fun shorts. Then we went to Chocolate by the Bald Man. The end.

***I just found the draft of this post from way back in May! How did I never post it? Well, here it is now!