Tuesday, October 27, 2009

French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose French Macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

It's funny how you can feel like you're catching a cold, but then if you unglue yourself from the lazy-boy chair and start a project time flies and there you are with beautiful macaroons. French macarons do not have coconut in them like the macaroons that I am familiar with, but are made from a nut flour like almonds. The challenge was to make them and fill them but I have to say that it was just too sweet and I preferred them plain.

It's too late in the day to have Grandma try one. She brushes her teeth at 4:30 and then refuses to take in any more calories for the day. It's quite early but what can you do. She requested a nutella filling. I wanted to make an orange buttercream for the filling but ended up with some strange orange marmalade concoction with butter in it. Not sure what happened there. It tastes ok.
I wonder if there is a way to make them less sweet but still have the same texture. This was a really good project but tougher than I expected.

The other day my grandma called me down her to place to make pancakes for breakfast. She wanted to show me how to do them so that when I am alone I know how. Cute! I was surprised that she didn't know that I could make pancakes but it was adorable at the same time. She probably still sees me as the little girl in the kitchen with her. Nearly every time we cook together she tells the story of how she used to put flour on my nose and I would leave it there all day. I never would eat what we made until my mom came home from work and I could show her what I did. I like to surprise Grandma with treats like these even though the whole family is freaking out about cholesterol.

Here is what you need to know:

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Flea Market

Yesterday my dad and I woke up at 4:30 am to set up a table at the flea market. In order to get the best spot you have to arrive before 5 but we didn't make it. We had an ok spot and despite it being 35 degrees in the morning we did ok.

In this picture you can see the dollhouse that my grandfather built for me. I decided to let it go because it was old and ratty and just sitting there for too many years already. I figured that it would make a little girl really happy. Dollhouses are like $150 brand new and might be a luxury item for those without handy grandfathers. To my great dismay I came back from the bathroom to find that my father sold it to some woman for her chihuahua. She did not want the box of furniture that it came with obviously so I worked hard to push that on every mommy there. Ugh.

There are really some characters that come to these things. Vultures. Scavengers. It's impressive. Some people pay extra to get in before the damn place technically opens and go through stuff in people's cars. One guy was looking through my dad's record box of 45s at 5:30 am and actually asked me if he could insult me on the price. They were 50 cents a piece.

I thought we were doing well for a while there. Several guys inquired about our curtain rods and coax tv cable my dad was trying to get rid of. Several paperback books sold but we hardly had anyone grab a hardcover. They were a whopping $2 each but they were all history books my dad likes and he didn't want to sell for less. At some point two very tall young men were looking at the hardcovers and one looked at me and said, "Two bucks?" I nodded. He pulled out the money and as if it happened in slow motion I realized that standing before me were two bald heavily tattooed men wearing tall boots and the one who bought the book was wearing a ring with a Maltese cross on it. I froze.

Dad. We just. Took money. From a. Nazi.

No honey. He's just interested in history.

Dad. He's. A. Nazi.

No no honey. Well maybe he is. But don't let it bother you. He's an idiot.

I have replayed this moment in my head several times since. What do you do? Do you ask? Do you stick up for yourself?

"Excuse me sir, but are you a Nazi? If so I can't sell you anything."

"Your kind isn't welcome in our flea market space."

"Sir please put down The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and step away from the folding table."

This experience soured me on flea markets. Next time I have stuff to get rid of I will just donate.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Damn Pizza

Last night I dreamed that babies in diapers were stabbing me with the kitchen knives. It has been a long time since I've had a baby dream. The last one had a baby sitting in a kitchen chair and he was talking to me as if he was an adult. Luckily I don't remember the words of wisdom.

I believe this last dream was a direct result of Giordanos stuffed spinach and black olive pizza. Of course it might also have something to do with the conversation I had with my dad in the basement yesterday.

I was looking at the dollhouse my grandfather built me and I said that I hoped someone would like it when we donate it this weekend. He asked me if I wanted to get rid of all the stuffed animals and other kid stuff and I said yes of course. I told him that it would be a different conversation if I had kids but I don't. He said that he felt bad about getting rid of the crib and high chair so I suggested that we could make a 5 year plan section of the basement. We agreed on that idea in a joking manner but I immediately became fearful of looking at that pile in another five years. A crib, a high chair and a Tyco train set collect dust while I live my life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You Can't Count On Cookies

I don't know what to say. I am not used to this oven? I over-beat the eggs?

When I have a bad day this activity is supposed to cheer me up. Woe is me. I am not a baker.

I am a nothing. A piece of lint in a belly button. A jam in the toe. A rotten zucchini floating in liquid ooze in your crisper.

I will listen to The Cure and read Sylvia Plath's collected poems this evening.

Oh Shiraz! You're my only friend.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Drinking Pumpkin Ale

It's weird hanging out with the family. It's not at all what I thought it would be. I've realized that I always do better when on my own in every sense of that meaning. I make better decisions and see things clearly when I don't have anyone influencing me or anyone that I feel I have to please. Unfortunately I am very easily influenced and aim to please all the fucking time. Fuck that.

I now know three other people that are living in their parent's homes and one that is considering making the move. Luckily I am not the oldest of this group but what difference does it make anyway? Home seems to give some sense of comfort when you don't know what the hell you are doing and are sick of it. The move made perfect sense to me a month ago. Today I can tell you that the great plans I had are fizzling and the loneliness is immeasurable.

Long ago and far away I went to therapy. I learned tools that helped alleviate anxiety and depression. Today I didn't use those tools but instead watched Marley and Me and cried a ton. I've never wanted a dog more than at this very moment. The important thing to do in times like this is to remember the things that are going well and remind yourself of things you have to look forward to.

Things that are going well:

Before sitting down to write I danced around my room to Spoon. I am currently drinking pumpkin ale which rocks my world. Earlier today I made quinoa with a tofu vegetable scramble and yogurt sauce with garlic and mint. I also bought almond flour for an upcoming project and sold my collection of Babysitters Club books. Last Friday I went to see a musical called "Co-Ed Prison Sluts," and it was excellent. The songs have been in my head all week. I found a necklace I forgot I had and am wearing it now. I observed a high school art class and was inspired. My grandma had the flu but is better now. I learned that if I talk to my mother in an authoritative voice she listens. For example yesterday she must have asked me about 7 times to go over with her and Dad to a friend of theirs for dinner. She tried everything even to the point of telling me that she was bringing them a pear tart and didn't I want a slice? So I said: YOU WILL DROP THIS NOW, in a voice that could have been used to announce monster truck shows. It worked. She said ok and walked away. It was a proud moment. This week I also went to a bakery and thought I could do better. I love when that happens.

Things to look forward to:

The Chicago International Film Festival is happening and I have already planned on a few films. A friend will be in town from Florida very soon. I felt better today then I did yesterday so if things progress that way I should be ok. I am going to look at a pastry school next week because why not? Having no direction means total freedom. I am going to watch all my Hitchcock VHS tapes before selling them away. I might try to set something up for a flea market. I will visit Minneapolis in December. I will help my mom pick something out for a baby shower. I started reading The Artist's Way finally. I am going to make potato pancakes soon. Maybe facebook is a way to feel less lonely. Maybe I could get a dog tomorrow.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

At long last I feel that I have accomplished something great. I didn't want to do this project and I procrastinated really bad but here we are with home made puff pastry. This was a surprising success. My mom of course said, "Oh honey. Don't be disappointed when this doesn't turn out." The instructions weren't the best. (Sorry Daring Bakers but it's true.) It took several hours and I pretty much got flour all over the kitchen and my hair.

Grandma said that my great-grandma used to make this from scratch. In this day and age we have to refrigerate in between "turns," or rolling and folding the dough to make the layers of puff. But then she did something that I don't quite understand. She would roll the dough, fold it, roll again, fold, then place in a cheesecloth and dump into a bucket of water. When the dough rose to the top of the water it was ready to be taken out and rolled and folded again. Grandma didn't know how many turns this took but it all had to be done in one day. I did it in two days mostly due to laziness and television watching. The whole idea of the recipe I used was that it would work out as long as the dough remained cold. How did she do this if everything was room temperature? Even the butter was delivered to her soft and warm. I took mine out of the fridge and beat it to death in between my dough made in a food processor. Thank goodness for modern appliances. I wish I could go back in time for a month to see how they did all of this stuff. Grandma wishes she could remember the tricks but is also glad for convenience.

Filling was a really tough choice. I opted for sauteed apples in a pan with butter, allspice, and maple syrup. I have a ton of dough leftover so I intend to do something more challenging with it. Grandma recommended a cheese filling her mother used to make. She had all kinds of ideas that were too complicated for my first try such as poppy seed with oranges in a strudel or spinach and chicken pastry rolls. There will be more to come! I'm thinking puff pastry with veal in a marsala sauce next. I've never once eaten veal.

Waiting until the last minute to make this was truly stupid this time around. These challenges are supposed to be up by September 27. I started on the 27th, but realized soon after that it was the eve of Yom Kippur and I intended to fast the next day. I tried to fast and lasted until 1:30pm which is two hours longer than last year. Yes you can laugh at me if you want. I think it's good to make this attempt even though I am not religious. It seems healthy to give your body a cleanse once a year, but since I always manage to get a horrific headache and become an irritable scary woman I've never been able to do it the whole day.

After I went to a yoga class on Yom Kippur I was ravenous. Another woman in the class was fasting but said that she was going to give up in the afternoon. Should I feel guilty that I ate homemade puff pastry in the afternoon of the highest holiday? I don't really. My mom and grandma joined me because they got headaches too and decided it wasn't worth it. Mom always tries to fast and usually succeeds but a word to the wise would be to stay away from any woman that hasn't eaten all day. It's scary stuff. She got such a bad headache and started smoking and drinking coffee like a mad woman. I asked her if it was ok with religion to smoke instead of eat for Yom Kippur and she said no and that she felt guilty. Thank goodness for something sweet yet again.