Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Chanuka!

Actually, it's not Chanuka-related, but here's the Emma Lazarus poem that's been in my head recently, especially since the news about Spain inviting back exiled Jews:


Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred,
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil'dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, "Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!"

Obviously problematic, of course, to refer to America as a "virgin world" and celebrate without criticism the European advent upon these shores. But I love the concept of a year as two-faced, and I love the reminder of what the US has represented sometimes, for some people, when it is its best self. Or, at least, of what the US should aspire to be. This sonnet also pairs really nicely with The New Colossus.

I also like to claim Emma Lazarus as a secularist, and she was definitely a Socialist. She herself is always paired - possibly due to name primarily - in my head with Emma Goldman, another Jewish woman I really admire and a community-spirited anarchist whose name seems never to have been exactly cleared.

Back to Chanuka, though, I've been thinking all year about more progressive ways of understanding a holiday that glorifies a small group of radically conservative religious zealots who murdered their secular brethren as readily as their sort-of-oppressive governors. Tonight I've thought of lighting each candle for a different aspect of the admittedly complex story - one for the secular Jews murdered by the Maccabees, one for the Jews killed fighting for what they saw as the right to practice their own heritage, one for the Greeks (many of them friendly with and welcoming of Jews) killed by the Maccabees, and then one for people nowadays not permitted to practice their own culture, and one for people nowadays not permitted by be secular, modern, free of religious oppression.

Of course, I don't know what I would do on night 8. I'm out of candle ideas. And it's all a little Pesakh-y. But I kind of like it!

I wish there were a song that tackled historical Chanuka, and what hope we can draw from it. (Does that mean I have to write one now?) Laoz Tzur/Rock of Ages is so beautiful musically (I've been telling Alex that if his caroling company needs more Chanuka songs - since all they have is Dreidl, Oh Chanuka, and some stupid carol about Chanuka lights, and so they run out of songs really fast whenever they sing around Jews - that would be a great one, right up the carol-arrangement alley), but the words are SO warmongering, martyr-y, dependent on divine aid (and retribution), ahistorical, etc. etc., it's hard to listen to. Maybe that one's due for a rewrite?

In the meantime, I'm listening to the Wailin' Jennys instead.

And Pentatonix's new arrangements of a few Christmas carols, because I love tight harmonies more than I hate Christmas carols! On that subject, I saw Pentatonix's free show at the Verizon Store in Grand Central yesterday, which was awesome, and got to meet/hug/take a picture with them and get a signed poster! Cool. So today, re-excited about them, I went and picked up tickets for Alex and me for their spring tour show in February. $25 I probably should have hung on to, but they will bring me enough joy that it's worth it!

I know I always say this, but I really do mean to post more often... we'll see how long before the next one! In the meantime, happy Chanuka!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Emancipation and Pasta

So last night was great. Katie and Faye and I grabbed soul food at Manna's on 134th and Malcolm X, which I'd been craving for some time. Mac and cheese, collard greens, truly amazing candied yams (and I do not like my yams candied), mashed potatoes, bread pudding, plantains. Yum!

Then we went and saw the Emancipation Proclamation Exhibition at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. It was really good. The exhibition was pretty simple, in a small room, and it pretty much consisted of the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, a later draft on vellum, on the other side of the room a typewritten first draft of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 100-year anniversary Emancipation Proclamation speech (with his edits on it in turquoise ink!), and some explanatory panels. But the panels were thorough and detailed, a good brief refresher on the events surrounding emancipation and then a quick journey through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and post-Civil Rights challenges for blacks and others who still face systemic oppression (p.s. I love that museums will come right out and say things that are true, without equivocating or doing that thing the media does where they include viewpoints that are wrong in order to be balanced). And seeing the Emancipation Proclamation, written in Lincoln's hand, with bits copy-pasted in from a previous speech published in the newspaper, with caret-ed in edits, was just amazing, as was seeing the bits of MLK's draft and editing process. It only took half an hour to view the whole exhibit, but it was moving, educational, and totally rewarding.

In other news, round challah drizzled with honey, for a sweet and round new year!

Can anybody tell me what exactly would make a year round,
and why that is desirable?

I made it into French toast today, and that was great, although I think I actually still prefer my French toast from sourdough; it makes the flavor more interesting and vibrant.

Also I made salted caramel ice cream with salted caramel praline, and threw in leftover frozen bits of homemade cinnamon pecan roll, and it's delicious although too salty because when I halved the recipe I forgot to halve the salt. But I would make it again, with the correct amount of salt, and I can already tell it's an amazing recipe! (Recipe can be found here, btw. David Lebovitz is so great.)

Leftover giant upside-down cinnamon pecan roll.
These are a big pain,
even if you're in the habit of making bread,

Also, about a month ago I made pasta for the first time! I had like 18 egg yolks leftover from all the macarons for my tea party, and the pasta dough alone used up 7 of them. What a hilarious, pain-in-the-ass, kind of fun, ultimately delicious process!

You really do make a well of flour 
and throw the eggs and other ingredients in it,
and then...

Stir it up with your fingers! 

For a really long time. 

Until it turns into... 

This! And you incorporate the rest of the flour with a pastry cutter!

Eventually you get a ball of pasta dough! 

It is very important to pose prettily
as you grate parmesan for the alfredo sauce. 

It is also very important to wear your
original French chef hat
from New Orleans. 

After the dough chills in the fridge,
you roll it out AS THIN AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN,
which is difficult and not really that thin,
and then pizza cut it into
fettucine heaven! 


Lots of cheese and more egg yolks for the sauce! 

Scrumptious homemade pasta,
and I am ten egg yolks down!

I also made tapioca pudding (which I thought I liked, but blech, I need to toss it), green tea shortbread cookies, and ice cream with the remaining yolks. A good food month!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Chock-Full Summer's End

I have done so many fun things since I last posted in July!

Here are some of them:

Faye, Katie, Alex, and I went (at Katie's instigation) to a Jazz Age party on Governor's Island! Actually, first we accidentally went to the Jazz Age party on Governor's Island the weekend before it happened, and were confused but ended up having a lovely day in the sun, picnicking on a bench looking out at boats between Staten Island and Brooklyn, swinging in the grassy area at the end of the island, and eating chocolate cake under the trees. But then the next weekend we went to the Jazz Age party, and it was very fun also! None of us but Faye had appropriate Jazz Age attire (not having been doing promotional parties for The Diviners), but it we felt festive anyway. Alex and I ate leftover homemade mac and cheese and also macarons; Faye and Katie bought some Jazz Age food! There was live music interspersed with some amateur but very cute acts, and I made Alex dance with me on the dance floor!

I did not take this picture; 
I found it by Googling "Jazz Age party Governors Island 2012"

Also I recently had a late birthday tea party, for which I made (with lots of help!) crustless white bread chicken salad sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches, scones, and five kinds of macarons with mixed fillings!

 I made macarons in all the colors!

 Green macarons = a sink full of green

it looks like the meringue and the almond flour 
will never combine!

 Alex arranged them so beautifully.
The green ones are pecan.
The blue ones are peanut.
The pink ones are plain.
The brown ones, some are chocolate and some are espresso!

Petit fours!

Edlyn came with creme brulee doughnuts, and Katie brought a beautiful and delicious chocolate cake from the bakery around the corner!

A bunch of friends got together to give me a great, great gift - a basket of ingredients! And it's good for them, too, because now I can make them more dessert :)

So many amazing ingredients!

We all were dressed up and ate delicately while trading thinly veiled insults, and then we watched The Secret Garden, which no one else had seen. I love that movie a lot.

Also, Alex and I have been subway stopping a couple times! We're still on the 6, but we're finally up in the Bronx, which is great because now I've actually been to all five boroughs. On our last stop in Manhattan (125th St.), we wandered out as close to the water as we could get, eventually stopping at a playground next to the freeway (it might have been the intersection of FDR Drive and the Triborough Bridge), where we admired a mural about the perils of dope. Between our first and second stops in the Bronx (we got out at 3rd Ave./138th St. and then wandered a little but mostly just walked to Brook Ave.) we grabbed food at a Caribbean place (I don't remember which island), which was acceptably tasty but nothing to write home about (not like that awesome sandwich I got around 116th or 120th, the time before!), and then we boarded the subway at Brook and went home. Then about two weeks ago we continued the exploration, managing six stops in one trip. We got off at Cypress and walked as far out toward the water as we could go, through a pretty ugly industrial area, and then north along Bruckner to go back underground at E. 143rd St. Off the train again one stop later at 149th, then cut diagonally along Prospect Ave. to see a little more of the neighborhood (it mostly looked poor/working class but well cared for, although there was one block on which on one side of the street the houses were fenced off and very well cared for, and on the other side they were falling apart, totally dilapidated. That was weird, especially as they appeared to have started out similarly constructed) before heading east again to go underground at Longwood. Again one stop, to Hunts Point Ave., where we were not able to look at the neighborhood map due to a domestic dispute (and police officer) right in front of it, so it was actually somewhat fortunate that we were able to figure out our crooked way to the next stop at Whitlock (finally above ground!). That one was an especially cool walk, though, through a pretty hoppin' downtown area and a few cute residential blocks. Next up we'll cross the Bronx River, and we only have 10 stops (two trips, I would think) to finish out the 6 line and make it to Pelham Bay Park, which I have always wanted to explore! Ah, progress!

Yesterday a bunch of us grabbed conveyor belt sushi (I had never had conveyor belt sushi! It is so fun!) and then karaoke'd for two hours (ack!) before returning home to watch the 49ers crush the Lions, which was awesome. In other news from the last couple months, I had a great time at J-West in early August; I'm finally reading Melina Marchetta; I'm about to start work on Bye Bye Birdie, Footloose, and a Seussical revue; Jamie is finally back and threw a really great barbeque followed by an awesome girls' night at her new place with Alf; I already miss summer weather even though in New York it's pretty terrible; Skye is staying with us during her break from tour, which is delightful; we have a new long-term subletter beginning in November but still need someone for the month of October; I LOVE LOVE LOVE my new mattress (well, new as of Memorial Day, but I was gone for a month and didn't get to fully appreciate it), and I am having a lovely and reflective Rosh Hashanah. Also, Alex and I have been cooking up a storm, and I have been having adventures with house plants - more on that next time! Now to go post that subletter ad and get ready for work! (And the looooooooong commute....)

Friday, July 27, 2012

In Which I Am Now a Voice Actor, and So Is Alex!

Yesterday, I recorded a radio spot! Amazing!

Basically, Libba Bray is publishing this awesome-sounding new book, The Diviners, and they're creating these radio spots that are basically scripts abridged from early scenes in the book (if you "like" the facebook page, you can read the first few chapters), so Faye was helping look for actors to record the voices. Fortunately, the actors she knows are us!

So Alex and I got gigged on to do these spots, and yesterday we showed up at the studio to record. I did the voice of Evie in the first scene when she gets to her uncle's place; Alex did a magnificent job voicing first the douchey, rich, young man who gets freaked out by a Ouija board at a party, and then the staid Jericho, assistant museum curator. It was so much fun! Evie was kind of hard for me, because she's a flippant, flirtatious flapper (OH YEAH I JUST DID!), outgoing and a party girl - basically the opposite of me. If I knew how to do a flirtatious tone, I would have been employing it for years, eh? But it worked out - it only took two takes plus one more for extra, and then in like five minutes Libba and the producer were able to patch together the best of Alex's and my line readings into one smooth spot.

So how cool is all that?!? (They paid us, too.) I don't know when/where they'll be - aired? published? I don't know what you call it - but I'll be sure to let y'all know! Anyway, now I want to do voice work all the time, because it was so freaking great! The end.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When I Am Rich

I will buy all of the jars of honey that look intriguing to me, no matter how expensive! I will probably have ten kinds of honey at a time, which is not minimalist at all, but which I will really enjoy!

In Which I Get Hit by a Banana

I have done some fun things since I got back from California on Sunday!

I was totally wiped when I got in, especially as the plane landed an hour late and then it took another 45 minutes to get my baggage due to a carousel mix-up. I took a cab home, took a shower and a nap, ate dinner and chatted with Faye and Katie, and then went straight to bed, as I reported to camp in New Jersey first thing Monday morning! It was an intimidating week of lots of commute and early every day work coming after a week of dress rehearsals and Winnie the Pooh performances and travel, but I made it and had a good time! Mainly by forcing myself to go to bed by 9 every night (well, 9:30-10, more realistically).

So on Tuesday I went to a book event at Books of Wonder; Kristin Cashore, Melina Marchetta, and Gayle Forman were on a panel asking each other questions, which was very fun. Of all the books by all those authors, I had only read Fire by Cashore (which I liked but didn't love), though of course Faye has been telling me to read Marchetta since the day I met her. Well, I'll tell you: The panel inspired me, apparently! The next morning I picked up Graceling, which had been sitting in my house since November and which even Alex had read before me and really liked. I had picked it up once before, read ten pages, and thought it was stupid - and now I can't even tell why! Because I read it in one day, because it was magnificent. And then I made Faye lend me Bitterblue ASAP, and read that in a day and a half. If you're interested, my reviews on Goodreads are here and here, but the summary is, they're basically my favorite thing since Tamora Pierce. Which is what every review I've ever read of them has said, so no points for originality Shoshana - and they're not even that similar to anything in the Pierce canon, and they're maybe targeted a little older, but they just give me some similar feelings.

Anyway, I lay fairly low until Friday, as I was still trying to get enough rest in to make it through the week. But on Friday afternoon, I went straight from work to karaoke with Katie and Faye and other people in publishing (mainly Katie's coworkers at Soho, it looked like), which was fun. Karaoke is still fairly new to me, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but it is growing on me some! Emily came by too, and I haven't seen her in ages, and then we all trekked back to Renselaus/Pemberley (the name of that apartment across the street from me appears to be in transition), played a little Mao (I made some very good rules! I like this game and no one ever wants to play, so it was very fun for me!), and then went to an Irish bar (is there any other kind in Sunnyside?) up on 46th to hang out and listen to some Irish music, which was totally great.

And then yesterday, after FYA book club, which is always way more fun than I even remember, and after browsing the farmers' market, which was magnificent and bigger than I've ever seen it and I can't wait to actually do some grocery shopping, I met up with Edlyn for a show called You Art What You Eat at Slap Dash. This was a hilarious experience. Also a cool one, but primarily hilarious.

This bit of Crown Heights appears to be at that early stage of gentrification that's actually really cool, with a dramatic variety of businesses from cheap unisex haircut places and cheap but potentially delicious restaurants that have been there forever to a brand new (and utterly delicious) gelateria. You know, the stage before long-time residents can no longer afford to live there (and neither can the artists who were the forefront) and their communities get broken up and big box stores start moving in and kicking out the interesting little businesses both old and new. Anyway, the point is, I was enjoying it for now at least!

And then there was the actual show. First I had some free refreshment, aka a vegan low salt low fat cholesterol free whole grain mini doughnut, which was better than I expected but not, you know, something I would ever actually eat again. Maybe that gives you an idea of what this crowd was like. Throughout the first act, a piece of art played on a projection screen behind the presenters: an 11-second loop made on a scanner of a person playing with cotton candy. During this act we had a shy and sing-songy reading of a personal essay about Montana and eating cherries, which was actually well-written, I think, but it needed a better reader or I needed to have it on paper in front of me. Then we got a reading of a story - which (this was too good) has now become part of the novel this guy is working on, called City of Princes - which again was actually pretty good. So some of these pieces were surpassing the expectations I had developed upon arrival, which was cool.

The first intermission was then followed by a very strange piece during which a guy threw bananas at us, ate bananas very quickly, and shouted a bit, all underscored by songs that mention bananas. I myself got hit by a banana, which I quickly slid into my purse, since bananas were on my shopping list and now I guess they're not (in fact, I already had a banana in my purse, which I had purchased at a coffee shop only an hour before!). Still, though this banana piece was bizarre, it was actually quite entertaining. It was followed by a neat video called Grub by none other than Jeff Stark - a montage of freegans prepping and eating food and washing their dishes. And actually, I am kind of interested in freeganism and I might go to the Grub community dinner sometime and help cook! At any rate, the freegan video was followed by a video called Taco Monday, which seemed to be primarily hand drawings of tacos coming out of other things, with supporting roles filled by hot dogs, remote controls, middle fingers, and chicken legs. I have to admit, that one seemed kind of stupid to me, but I was probably just not the right audience.

After the second intermission was an audio presentation of a recording of a guy's very intense sleeptalking, which made me uncomfortable. Also, there was a PowerPoint about beekeeping, which was great, because I freaking love all the kinds of honey ever! I think there are probably 8 different kinds of honey in my apartment right now, and while I can't take credit for it all (I'm gonna guess that there are four of mine and four of Jamie's), I definitely appreciate it!

And then I went home and the train was very slow and then I went to bed. And now it is today and I will hang around here and get shit done and maybe help them paint over at Renselaus-will-soon-be-Pemberley. See ya!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Three Songs

So one great thing about being in California is driving, because the great thing about driving is that I listen to the radio, and learn new songs! Here are the three new songs that I learned listening to the radio while driving in California for the last month - well, the ones that stuck.

Well, technically Ya'el introduced me to "Little Talks," but then I promptly heard it about 50 times on the radio! I haven't listened to any other Of Monsters and Men yet, but I want to.

I haven't watched this music video yet (although I have read a description of it!), but the song caught my attention immediately when I first heard it on KFOG. It's the rare sad ballad that doesn't strike me as boring, overwrought, and/or sentimental, which makes it class A in my book! (not in a drug sense) (and unlike his other hit, "Lego House," which I had to turn off in the middle)

I liked this song a LOT and IMMEDIATELY, but it took me three listens to figure out most of the chorus lyrics... which completely shocked me when the words finally registered! I had been thinking, "what a nice fun song about running!" Obviously, this required some reevaluating. But disturbing as it is, I still really really like it. Too bad I don't love any of Foster the People's other stuff (of the 7 or so songs I've listened to), although "Don't Stop" is ok. Somehow all the rootless elements going on in their other songs really click here.

So that was my California summer in music! (Plus the song I wrote on the way back from SLO, but I don't know yet if it's any good.) Now I'm back in New York, starting up camps in New Jersey at Porch Light, beating the heat, scrubbing the bathroom, borrowing Melting Stones from Katie, memorizing some poetry, thinking about hosting a tea party for my birthday (fancy tea! fancy tea party dresses! watercress sandwiches! macarons sandwiched with ice cream in honor of the hot summer! scones! maybe I'll finally get my act together and make some clotted cream!), gearing up for J-West... blahdidy blah, life as usual :)

Hopefully I'll be better about blogging this month! Fingers crossed, eh?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Which I Am Better at Baking Than the Whole Internet

Because I made macarons today and got them right on the first try!

Every single baking blog I read claimed to have taken 3-10 tries to get them right. So I am better at baking than the internet! Or at least better at following directions.

Anyway, here is how it went down!

On Sunday I went to the apartment sale of a friend of Faye's, with Faye and Katie, to help them acquire stuff for their new apartment (of course, it is currently in my apartment, because Faye currently has no apartment and Katie is subletting a loft bed in Manhattan). Also at this apartment sale were things that F&K didn't need but I DID! These include two pastry bags and accompanying tips (actually, I can't figure out how to get the tips to go on and stay on and do their job, but fortunately for macarons you only need a basic round exit so I didn't have to attach anything successfully) and also a kitchen scale! The kitchen scale is very small and won't reset to zero with anything heavier than a pound on it, so it's not efficient and it's hard to read the display and I'd like to replace it with a better one when I can afford it, but it's good enough to measure ingredients for macarons for now! Also I spent $9 on an oven thermometer and $5.50 on a pound of blanched almonds at the Mediterranean grocery in Astoria (also I picked up a big container of black sesame seeds for $2, for macarons and ice cream and anything else delicious I can think of!). It turns out one recipe of macarons only uses a quarter pound of almonds, so it will be semi-sort of-affordable too keep myself in almonds. I also splurged on two colors of powdered food coloring at the cake supply store at Queens and 45th: emerald green and cherry pink. These will be good for when I make mint macarons and rose macarons. I also want black food coloring for black sesame macarons and blue food coloring for I don't know what kind yet of macarons and red and brown food colorings for chocolate macarons and gold food coloring for champagne macarons and ginger macarons and all the other macarons because gold is exciting.

So after I returned from those errands today, I got down to work! I was prepared to try two or three times today before giving up. So as not to waste ingredients on potential disaster macarons, I made only a half recipe - one cookie sheet of macaron halves - what should have been 18 macaron halves but was actually 17 because I spaced them poorly.

Anyway, I did everything that the recipe I picked and Stella at BraveTart said to do. I weighed my ingredients. I whipped the egg whites with sugar for almost ten full minutes (actually, I only did about 2 and a half minutes instead of 3 for each speed, because I had read that another baker found that it helped her macarons not to have hollow shells, but it still came to almost 9 minutes total). I did the macaronage without tentativeness, deflating my whites but counting my strokes and paying close attention so I didn't overmix and turn it runny. At this point I was not positive I had done it right - at one point I piped out a test macaron and it didn't spread quite the way I thought it should, so I piped the excess batter back into the bowl and continued folding for about 10 or 12 more strokes. In the end, both the one slightly undermixed and the 16 (I guess) correctly mixed macarons came out fine. I piped the rest of the macarons onto the parchment paper. I don't do circles beautifully, but they came out ok. I let the macarons sit for an hour in case I had overmixed (it's not strictly necessary but it doesn't hurt). I checked the temperature of my oven (5-10 degrees hot, as I suspected from the first). I put the baking sheet on another baking sheet to even out heat along the bottom. And then I put them in the oven and proceeded to sit and watch them bake for the full 19 (and then another 4) minutes, because I am nerdy and was both curious about the process and also wanted to see exactly what would go wrong and when if something did go wrong.

Here is what they looked like right at the beginning:

Here they are about three or four minutes later totally growing frilly feet just like they are supposed to!:

I cannot tell you how exciting it was when I saw that first foot.

Here is the first crack (not supposed to happen, in a perfect macaron):

I cannot tell you how concerned I was about the whole batch when I saw that first crack.

Fortunately, only four of the seventeen cracked, and only one little crack apiece (I have seen pictures of macaron disasters where every macaron has collapsed with 6 cracks!). I think some of it had to do with the poor job I did tearing and straightening out the parchment paper and then putting the pan in the oven, so a few of the cookies weren't sitting flat on the pan.

Here is the picture that just revealed to me what I didn't notice after 23 minutes of staring at eye level at my oven, which is that the oven door is totally disgusting:


Anyway, I checked them at 19 minutes, when they're supposed to be done, and ruined a macaron (two macarons, I thought at the time, but one fixed itself when returned to the oven!) in the process - basically you're supposed to try to take a macaron off of the parchment paper, and if the top comes off in your hand they're not done yet. I did this with two, and one I totally destroyed but the other I put the top right back on and it fused back with its bottom! Anyway, then I stuck them in the oven for what was going to be two minutes but I got nervous and confused and they weren't browning or anything so I figured I had a few more minutes before I overcooked them (they are not supposed to brown at all) so that turned into four minutes (with me still sitting there staring at them the whole time, haha) and then I checked another one and it was done and I took them out! Here they are out of the oven, with beautiful smooth domes and magnificent feet!:


While they were cooling, I mixed up some Italian meringue buttercream, because I am fancy. This involves cooking egg whites and sugar over a double boiler until they are about 150 degrees (good thing I have a CANDY THERMOMETER now, eh?!? :D), then beating them in a bowl until they are cool (ugh, this takes forever, and also glass bowls, like I have, retain heat, so the buttercream never got as cool as it was supposed to so after I beat in the butter it still wasn't thick so I had to pop it in the fridge for a bit) and beating in room temperature chunks of butter and a little vanilla and salt. Basically, it tastes like straight up butter with some sweetness. Hilarious but also delicious. And then I flavored one section with Tasmanian leatherwood honey, which Tom (Jamie's ex) gave me like two years ago and which I like but which has a very strong and distinctive taste so I go through it very slowly, and food colored it "sunset orange" with a mix of plain ol' cheap liquid food colorings; and then I flavored one section with rosewater and colored it "dusty rose," and set aside some plain vanilla for later.

Here are the rockin' results!:

You can't really see the pink of the buttercream in the other one I took a photo of, so here instead is a picture of just the buttercream:

Anyway, they are delicious too - crispy on entry, full of chewy cookie, bright Earl Gray taste (actually a little too much bergamot in this variety of Earl Gray for me, so I won't make this flavor again for myself, but Beauty Queen Amanda loved it and I think everyone else will too), creamy sweet buttercream with just a gentle flavor.

Basically, I am the rock star of the kitchen! Next up: mint chocolate macarons. I think. My mind could change between now and Thursday (tomorrow I go teach in Jersey. Although I have time to bake before I go, so I might do that too). Maybe I'll make some for Faye's birthday tea party too! Although I think I am already booked to make green tea cake and ginger ice cream and maybe scones. So we'll see ;)

Oh, and btdubs, here is a quick pic of those cinnamon rolls I mentioned in the last post:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Macaron Investment

The question is, of course, whether to buy the kitchen scale, piping bags and tip, buckets of blanched almonds, and powdered food coloring (because bright colors improve all food!) necessary for learning to make macarons.

And I do mean "learning to make" as opposed to just making, because based on all reports - even the down-to-earth non-magical-thinking one I've decided to subscribe to - macarons are complicated and finicky.

But, you know, now that Grease is done, I have the time and the inclination. I've gotten better and better in the kitchen over the last couple years, and I'm careful and good at following a recipe.

And then there's the part where I'm completely obsessed with the idea of making them.

I mean, come on! They are so pretty! And delicious, which I didn't expect out of them before I tried them. I'm so picky about dessert, and they really look like they would taste like sweet cardboard, despite how pretty they are. But it turns out they are delicious! (Based on the two I've ever eaten - a rose flavored one and, I think, chocolate chestnut, or something like that.) And they are filled with buttercream, after all. And I've never done French or Swiss or German buttercream before, so that would be totally exciting! I love the crispness and then the chewiness and then the softness, and all the flavor without too much sweetness.

And all the flavors I could try! I have rosewater - I made rose ice cream the other day - and I could make caramel ones, and chocolate, and chocolate mint, and bourbon pecan... as with ice cream, the possibilities are endless! Plus it would actually complement my ice cream habit really well, as many ice cream recipes use 5 or 6 egg yolks, and I have trouble figuring out to do with all the whites. The answer, of course, is make macarons, which call for lots of egg whites!

But a good kitchen scale - I read good things about the OXO brand - that holds up to ten pounds, which I would probably want because my bowls are glass rather than stainless steel, so a couple pounds already is $30-50; powdered food coloring is about $2 per 1/2 oz of color; piping bags are about $4 apiece; and almonds (which would be my biggest ongoing cost rather than single startup investment) are like $6 for 8 oz! Yikes! None of that is egregious, of course, but it's more than I want to spend, especially since my entire discretionary budget has been going to train tickets to get to work, and also I really want to see Once and Newsies on Broadway (which at least is tax-deductible for me!).

I wish it were my birthday already! Oh well. I will either decide to do it or not. And I will be sure to let you know if I do, and blog about all of my macaron triumphs and travails!

In the meantime, yesterday I made giant upside-down cinnamon pecan rolls, and they are sweet and delicious. Not an everyday treat - they need a double rise, which I'm used to now from regular bread making, and also you have to roll the dough out into an 18"x24" rectangle (the size of my entire counter!) and brush it with butter and sugar and cinnamon and roll it up and cut it into pieces, which is not terribly difficult but kind of a pain - and they're gigantic (so you need a lot of people around to eat them) and too sweet for me to eat all the time - I prefer richness to sweetness - but they are pretty darn good. Faye and Alyssa and Katie and Alex and I wolfed them down after a dinner of spinach salad, vegetables with hummus, and roasted asparagus last night, while watching season 2 of Sherlock. Great night!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Food (Spring 2012)

Here is the promised second food post!

But of course without pictures to guide me, I now have to rack my brain about what I've actually cooked in the last month or so.

For one thing, I made Carla a cake for her birthday (the six-layer chocolate fudge cake Aunt Carolyn always made for my birthday!). That particular cake is a pretty epic undertaking; the frosting alone is a several hour project. Most of that time is waiting for it to cool, but you do have to boil the cream and sugar in the microwave for ten minutes without it boiling over and ruining everything (I did not succeed at this - although I did the first time I made this  cake last year for Alex's birthday, so, confusing). And the recipe specifically says microwave - but I think that's just because Aunt C is a master of adapting recipes for the microwave so you don't have to stand over the stove for ages. Which I really appreciate, but next time I'll probably just make this icing on the stove, because it is less work than cleaning boiled icing off of every surface of the microwave.

We also had a seder here, for which Alex and Jamie and I (with the gradually accumulating help of many guests) cooked a legit feast! 60 deviled eggs, roasted asparagus, charoses (we thought it was a lot but it disappeared it seconds!), matzo ball soup (courtesy of Hannah), scalloped potatoes, a veritable mountain of salmon cakes (who knew 2 pounds of salmon could make 50 salmon cakes? we've been eating them for two weeks!) with horseradish sauce, 80 macaroons (well, I wanted to use up the coconut! but now we still have a few macaroons sitting in the Madeline lunchbox. probably should have frozen them), fresh mint ice cream (sooooooo good and I never make it because a large enough amount of fresh mint to make the ice cream is prohibitively expensive. I wish I could keep plants, because then I could grow mint and have it all the time!) and cinnamon ice cream (made from steeping cinnamon sticks! of which I got a whole container cheap at Foodtown not too long ago). Everyone had a great time reading from shared haggadas, reclining on our couches (actually the only way we can fit 15 people sitting and eating in our apartment), and feasting!

I also made avocado ice cream a month or so ago. This received very mixed reviews. I myself have mixed feelings about it. I think it would be better with a little less lemon juice - but Jamie thinks it needs more! Carla, Bobby, and Hannah loved it - but everyone else took one bite, made a funny face, and sent it back. It's just a very subjective one, I guess!

But there are so many weird ice creams I want to make! Creme fresh ice cream - egg nog ice cream - goat cheese ice cream - lavender honey ice cream (actually I just bought the ingredients for this yesterday - lavender is available at the Union Square farmers' market!) - olive oil ice cream - parsley ice cream - basil pine nut ice cream - coconut saffron ice cream - earl grey ice cream - polenta ice cream - buttermint ice cream (you can buy concentrated butter flavor!) - black pepper ice cream - ricotta ice cream! Plus of course more regular flavors, like butterscotch pecan, espresso, peanut butter, and rum raisin. Plus I really want to get ahold of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which is a great looking ice cream cookbook that my library doesn't carry. She uses a little cream cheese and a couple other techniques for thickening the ice cream and making it smooth, custardy, and scoopable, instead of making an egg custard base. Not that I've ever had problems with egg bases - whether the eggs are cooked or not (and yes, I'm very careful about salmonella; if I'm using raw eggs, I buy local farmer's market eggs from safely raised chickens, and wash the shells with soap before cracking) - but I'm intrigued to try her technique. She has a recipe for "the darkest chocolate ice cream in the world," which I want to try even though I have been disappointed by every chocolate ice cream recipe ever.

Anyway, enough ice cream (BUT CAN THERE EVER BE ENOUGH?!?!?). I was sick for a week, and then voiceless, and then busy, so I basically hadn't cooked in two weeks (peanut butter sandwiches! whole wheat pasta with cheese! grilled cheese! box mac and cheese! leftover potatoes and salmon cakes! lots of cereal!)... until yesterday! Yesterday Jamie and I went shopping and I got back on my game! We made hazelnut butter (I brought home a bunch of hazelnuts from my visit to Google with Alex's brother's friend Aaron, who works there and was here on a business trip. Google lets you eat all you want AND bring home all you want in a box, and has four cafes and unlimited hazelnuts for snacking! I still think Google is a little creepy, but eating lunch there was a cool experience!), chocolate hazelnut butter (way better than Nutella), maple butter (it turns out that if you heat maple syrup to 233 degrees F, cool it to 40, heat it to 60, take it off the heat, let it sit, then stir vigorously, it turns into maple butter! Chemistry is weird. Also hard, because no one had remembered to make ice in the last week, so we had about 15 star of David ice cubes [smaller than rectangle ice cubes], which made an insufficient ice bath for cooling to almost freezing. We eventually packed the pot with random stuff out of the freezer, then for the last few degrees stuck it itself in the freezer! Next time, I'll have ice.), pulla (Finnish sweet coffee-time bread. Flavored with cardamom. Jamie and Hannah like it ok; I think it's a little weird. Tossed the recipe), and crepes (sweet ones from Jamie's memory of Alf's recipe, not the plain ones from the blintz recipe. Taste pretty much the same, so next time I would make the plain ones because they don't have half a cup of sugar and also I have an easier time getting them out of the pan). I love to cook!

And today... I made cheese! I have only made a little so far, from two cups of milk, but it only took about ten minutes so I will totally make more (this time I'll try stirring in a little cream, maybe, and using lemon or buttermilk instead of vinegar to coagulate, because despite one blogger's taste test determining vinegar to be the least obtrusive,  I can still taste it a little). This is so exciting! I put milk on the stove for five minutes and then a few minutes of curdling and draining later, I have real cheese! I've read mixed things about whether you can make more cheese with the whey (it's possible that it's only possible with rennet-curdled cheese and not acid-curdled cheese, in which case I want to try with rennet, except I don't know where to buy it or what it costs), but everyone seems to agree that the whey can be used for many things and is full of nutrients, so I'll keep it on hand and do a little research this afternoon.

Also this afternoon, I will make the cheese into blintzes! It seems to be about the right consistency - along the lines of ricotta or farmer cheese - so why not? I also want to make these. You know, even when I get through all the recipes I have printed out in binders, photocopied in folders, and copy pasted or typed up in files on my computer, I still have over a hundred recipes bookmarked to try also! THE EXPERIMENT IS NEVERENDING. Which is both intimidating and great.

Anyway, here are the links regarding cheese, if you're curious:

I'll keep you updated on the blintz, lavender-honey ice cream, and hopefully soon halvah situation! (Have I mentioned that I want to try my hand at halvah? Because it is delicious, and I do.) Happy cooking!

I don't remember what this was, but it looks chocolate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Food (Winter 2012)

This is a post about food. It will probably be extensive, to make up for all the posts I haven't posted about food in the last three months! Here goes. (Let me pull up my folder of pictures for reference.)

Oh jeez, some of these are old (haha, January seems so long ago!).

For one thing, when I was home, I made pecan tassies, because I had been wanting to for ages, but didn't have the right pan, but didn't want the right pan because what do I need with a one-use pan? Anyway, they came out fun:

They are adorable, and would be popular among my friends in New York, but really they're not good enough to be worth the pain in the ass of shaping all those tiny individual pie shells. Next time I will just make pecan pie!

Shortly after I got back, I made peanut butter truffles, aka buckeyes:

Also individual and time consuming, but not as irritatingly tedious as the tassies. A little too sweet (how to get the right consistency in the center using less powdered sugar? maybe processed peanut butter instead of natural? because the natural is so wet and sticky, it really needed the sugar to smooth it out into a good filling) but still totally addictive. These warrant making again and playing with the recipe.

Next I made rumballs! I totally did not love these at all, but every single other person who tried them raved nonstop (even the people who are used to my baking and therefore have acquired some discrimination), so I'm keeping the recipe. They'll be great party favors/thank-you or birthday gifts/spoil-coworkers dessert. And they're attractive!

In a brief digression from baking, I am still making excellent use of the fondue pot. Usually, this involves Faye, Emily, and sometimes others coming over with ingredients, which is a great way to get me to bring this darling out of the cupboard for a new fondue recipe.

Here is the beautiful feta walnut fondue we tried in February:

It was thoroughly enjoyed by all!

The first one I ever made (which was a pretty straightfoward cheddar, I think) is still my favorite, though. I guess at heart I'm a basic-flavors kinda woman!

I also threw a chocolate fondue party a few weeks ago to welcome Faye's friend Katie to town, and it was a smashing success! All 10 or so of us couldn't finish the (double recipe) of chocolate fondue with fruit, pound cake, and (just to try it) avocado. (Avocado in chocolate, it turns out, really just tastes like avocado and chocolate. No blending or complementing - but not terrible.)

I also brought back from California a souffle dish, which allowed me to make the souffle recipe I'd had sitting around for some time!

 How pretty is this prep picture?
I love the stiff egg whites
and the creamy yellow yolks.

Folding away!

I am always afraid that things that are supposed to puff in the oven,

But they always do!

I also made mushroom piroshkes one day when Alex was out rehearsing Rainbow Fish.

The batter for the dough looked so cool before I mixed it!

It was another of those have-to-make-a-bunch-of-individually-put-together-things recipes...

But they came out so beautiful - and so delicious - that it was totally worth it!

I would make them again. They are basically stuffed with mushrooms, cream cheese, and not a whole lot else that I can remember!

Anyway, back to baking! (I can never stay away from dessert for long.) I made these (I think they're firecracker fudge) cookies with peppermint icing a couple months ago. I think next time I would leave off the powdered sugar on the outside, which is a little too sweet. There's something a little funny or that I don't totally love about these cookies in general, but I'm not sure what it is - and I did keep eating them! Also, they're beautiful.

Here also are some pastries I made. They tasted fine. Like pastries. Tossed the recipe.

I also tried a whole wheat chocolate chip cookie recipe that everybody on the internet swears by. It was pretty interesting - a whole different thing from white flour chocolate chip cookies - with a more complicated taste and a more hearty feel. Jamie loved them, but Alex and I only thought they were ok. I don't remember if I kept the recipe (if I did, it's because Jamie pressured me!).

I also made some kind of layered thing with caramel (homemade - I'll get to that soon!), which I don't remember being any better than any of the other layered things I make, and which I think I tossed the recipe for.

But speaking of caramel (it is soon already!), I have been a little obsessed with ice cream sauces recently. The first time I tried to make caramel, it seized all around my whisk as soon as I poured in the cream. I was flipping out a little - I may have shouted at Alex to help me while also shoving him out of my way - but after some vain reconstruction efforts, I decompressed for ten minutes and then tried again, with much better results. In the two or three days after that, I made many sauces!

Clockwise from top left:
creamy caramel sauce (the one that went wrong the first time);
butterscotch sauce;
salted butter caramel;
classic hot fudge (PERFECT).

They were all delicious. I liked the plain caramel the best; Jamie loved the salted butter caramel; and butterscotch has a permanent place in Alex's heart. I also made a pecan praline sauce (with whiskey) that was delicious, a lean chocolate sauce that was fine but no competitor for the classic hot fudge, and several batches of vanilla ice cream to eat it all with! I still have a bunch of sauce recipes to try, too: dulce de leche; semisweet hot fudge; marshmallow hot fudge; marshmallow sauce; mocha sauce; and white chocolate sauce. Let's get on it!

And here ends the pictures I've taken of food recently, because after the sauces happened, Alex went on tour and I let him take the camera, since he would be doing more interesting things than I would. I do miss it for food pics, though! I'll draw this post to a close, though, since it's so long, and start another post on more recent cooking projects ASAP!