Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Almost, Almost...Part 1

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I can do it I know I can!!!!!!! Here is my excuse: my mom used the kitchen every single day this week except today starting at 3pm. Little did I know the dough had to chill for four hours. I really pay attention let me tell you.

Please enjoy these lovely beginning photos of this excellent project...hopefully you will see the finished product tomorrow! I am SO EXCITED.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holidays Holidays Happy Happy

Happy belated Chanukah and Christmas!

I didn't do anything for Chanukah this year. No candles. No deep fried delights followed by supreme stomach aches. No decorations. No party. Boo.

I'm sad about it really. Each time the holiday season rolls around I think of that song Kyle from South Park sings about being a Lonely Jew On Christmas. I have plenty of Jewish friends that probably all do holiday stuff with their families but I don't have really anyone to do that stuff with. My family is tiny. Really, really tiny. They've also lost interest in holiday festivities. Half of them are Catholic anyway but they don't have a relationship with us. My entire family in the United States consists of 5 people including myself, and then I have one uncle that I send a holiday present to every year. We don't communicate but I do it anyway. This year he gets wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, WA.

I used to HATE the holiday season. HATE IT. I would feign illness to avoid going to any boyfriend's parents house for Christmas. If my work needed me for Christmas Eve, no problem. I would stay late if need be. I made efforts in the past to go to meet a boyfriend's family and found myself in some alternate reality where people gathered around the piano to sing. What the fuck? They would try to get me to sing too and I didn't know any of the words and of course these jerks are in choirs and stuff. Ugh! I never knew what gifts to get people and the boyfriends all had a bunch of siblings and I have none and I have no idea what to get a 6 year old or an over sexed teenager. Even last year I was nearly having an anxiety attack about having to hang out with someone else's family. My stomach was all in knots and I became dreadfully sick the next day. Indulging in the mixture of chocolate eggnog, red wine, beer, and rich food may have had something to do with the sickness but I'm sure anxiety contributed. I've never had a relationship with a Jewish guy and despite wanting to be invited to Chanukah parties, I am sure it would freak me out just as much.

When I was really little my family did it all. We had a fake Christmas tree that we brought out every year. We had an electric Menorah that we put in the window next to the tree. We decorated windows and outside the house with lights. I have no idea what happened to all that. I don't even remember the last time we did it. Maybe they stopped when I figured out that Santa wasn't real? I didn't like that he wore a wristwatch in the photo I took with him. It seemed to me that Santa should know what time it is without a watch so it was clearly bullshit.

Holidays were very confusing to me as a child. I didn't understand why people said I should get 8 presents and other people said that you get presents when you wake up on Christmas day and I totally didn't get how that was supposed to happen without a chimney. Maybe my family decided it was best not to have holidays at all.

The last Christmas I had with my extended "family," was over 10 years ago. They invited us over after I mentioned to my aunt that it would be nice for us to all get together for something other then a funeral. So we made an effort to get along. My cousins played video games the whole time and barely spoke to me. I caught my aunt and uncle wrapping cookies from Sam's Club after dinner so my parents had a present. My parents bought them the exact same thing. I walked into the bathroom when my uncle was peeing. Shudder. My aunt's mother's husband kept singing incomprehensible gibberish loudly. Eventually my aunt played piano and there was some unfortunate belly dancing. My uncle told me I was getting fat. Good times.

Only recently have I taken a different approach to these holidays. I'm really trying to see all the nice things about it like the smell of real Christmas trees in friend's apartments and the unique ornaments they have collected. I try to think of my friends as family rather then hoping for these bozos to get with it. For the last few years I take my family to a performance of some kind. This year I was lucky enough to see the Nutcracker by the Pacific Northwest ballet in Seattle, and The Snow Queen at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. When I have a nice place of my own then I'll throw Chanukah parties and maybe that will have to do. Christmas is a nice day off and therefore something to look forward to.

I leave you with the lyrics to Kyle's song:

It's hard to be a Jew on Christmas

My Friends won't let me join in any games..

And I can't sing Christmas songs Or decorate a Christmas tree.. Or leave water out for Rudolph 'cause there's something wrong with me..

My people don't believe in Jesus Christ's divinity.. I'm a Jew, a lonely Jew.. on Christmas. Hanukkah is nice, but why is it, That Santa passes over my house every year?

And instead of eating Ham I have to eat Kosher Latkes..

Instead of Silent Night I'm singing hey-hach-dol-gavish.. And what the fuck is up With lighting all these fucking Candles, tell me please?

I'm a Jew, a lonely Jew.. I'd be merry but I'm Hebrew on Christmas

Hey Little Boy, I can't help but hear, You're feeling left out of Christmas Cheer..

But I've come to see that you shouldn't be sad This is the one month that you should be glad.. Because it's nice to be a Jew on Christmas

You don't have to deal with the season at all.. You don't have to be on your best behavior, or give to charity

You don't have to go to grandma's house with your alcoholic family..

And I don't have to sit on some fake Santa's lap And have him breathe his stinky breath on me! That's right! You're a Jew, a stylin' Jew.. It's a good time, to be Hebrew.. on Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Recently my friend S mentioned that I need to learn how to write everyday and not just when the mood strikes. Well a hardy fuck you S. You have made me paranoid about this writing! I feel like I have nothing to say. S also mentioned that this blog has seemingly taken a turn in subject matter. But I don't feel like cooking! I don't feel like using a kitchen that belongs to someone else. Not as much anyway.

In an effort to put more meaning into my everyday I have become way too introspective and overwhelmed. Despite the fact that I made a New Years resolution about 5 years ago to "follow my bliss," I am obvioulsy still unfulfilled.

Today my boss said these exact words to me: "You're way too smart for this job. You should be looking into something else." Then he proceeded to show me a listing for a government job in Seattle that he thinks I should apply for. He told me that he feels it is part of his responsibility as a manager to see bright people move up and achieve better positions for themselves. Just yesterday I went to a session with a career counselor and we both agreed that getting stuck into that realm could bring me good money and stability here and now but I would still be unfulfilled and searching.

I wonder why there weren't other managers along the way that could have encouraged me in a field I wanted? All I remember was getting the "you have to pay your dues," and "you've got to start somewhere" speeches over and over. All I did was start somewhere and pay dues for years. Ugly. I don't think my goals were unrealistic, especially since I knew people that similar paths worked out for. It's so strange that I am being pointed in a direction that I don't want to go but it is where I received the only positive feedback as an employee. How ironic to be good at something you hate to do.

I'm trying to figure out if I just have bad judgment in terms of wants and desires or if I need to be more honest with the world.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Deciding that hanging out with family is equivalent to having surgery without anesthetic, I didn't do as much as I would have liked. Mom took over in usual tsunami mode and really the entire family are food terrorists anyway. What is the point? Mom has acid reflux and extremely high cholesterol, Uncle P has diabetes, Grandma has an ulcer, Dad has various allergies and can't have too much salt, and frankly I tend to have a trumpet butt after eating heavy food. No idea if anyone will be willing to sleep next to such a trumpet forever or want to be related to these people. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday filled with happiness and goodwill, but now it just gaseous. So sad.

I managed to make what I thought would be butternut squash gnocchi. I made it in the past and I remember the mess of squash flour in my hair and on my sweater and just everywhere. It was quite similar to the Pierogi Dough Explosion of 2007. This time I made smaller batches but for whatever reason it required much more flour that I thought possible. This squash might have been more watery then the previous one I used. I couldn't form the balls properly and made all kinds of crazy shapes instead. As with last time I didn't think ahead of how to get the gnocchi from the table to the pot on the stove so I had to peel them off, add more flour and rush over to the stove. What a mess. When I did this before my roommate S helped. We were both rushing from one side of the kitchen to the other and several gnocchis did not make it safely to the pot but fell to their smoooshed dooms on the floor.

Luckily that did not happen again. Instead I figured I could keep a cookie sheet next to the pot of boiling water and set the gnocchis ready to boil there. Well being that I am such a culinary genius I did not realize the cookie pan was touching the pot of water. With incredible stupidity I grabbed the cookie sheet with my bare hands to replenish the load and burned the hell out of my left hand. Burned it to the point of screaming and rushing around to find gauze and neosporin.

My mom helped me finish the rest of the gnocchi but she has no patience for such projects and made gigantic doughnut sized gnocchi. We cooked these and ended up throwing them away.

Despite being able to only use one hand I managed to make a sweet potato pie as well. I put in way too much filling and the crust was undercooked. This also was thrown away after only a few tasted it.

Everything my mom made tasted great so I have a lot to learn about Thanksgiving, even though both her and my grandma were up with stomach aches all night.

Some comments from the dinner were:

"I'm thankful that Uncle so and so isn't here tonight."

"That's cold. Shame on you."

"It's true."

"I wish Grandma could remember her recipe for the yeast dough with the tangerines and cinnamon. Those rolls were the best thing in the world to come home to."

"I vemember I show Avivitcha how do, and put flour on her nose and ve laugh in kitchen all day."

"Yeah yeah. I don't remember."

"You remember the rolls don't you? And the poppyseed cake? Heaven"

"I don't remember having those for Thanksgiving."

"We can't eat that stuff now anyway. Too much butter."

"Vonve in a vhile is ok."

"How did you learn about Thanksgiving? Someone must have told you about it right?"

"I don't remember us doing Thanksgiving for years and years after coming to this country."

"No. You rong. You no vemember. A lady at vork telling me and I do. I do only one year after ve come here. You often no vant sit at table. You go out."

"You were a bad daughter. You never listen."

"Shut up asshole."

"Remember when I had a catering gig at the private residence where I served food to unbelievably rich people? I actually walked around a huge table carrying hot, hot platters and doling out portions to 20 people. All these ladies who weren't particularly skinny refused the mashed potatoes. I was wondering why bother putting on a show? The potatoes are too much for you at Thanksgiving dinner?"

"I would have eaten seconds and thirds and say mmmmmmm over and over right in front of them."

"Yeah. Well they must want to eat it and they're purposely denying themselves just to make it seem like their healthy on this holiday? I wonder if they know how much butter goes into everything else?"

"Is funny. Why they no vanna eat? Potatoes good for you."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Night

It's Saturday and I am so exhausted that I am sitting around in stretchy pants watching movies. I must have been half asleep writing the last post but I'm going to leave it as is. Just finished two spoonfuls of peanut butter with Nutella. Willpower is non-existent.

Is this pathetic?

Here is something I don't get. In the last week at my new office there were two cakes brought in to celebrate different occasions. I did not have any cake because I happen to think sheet cake from the grocery store is GROSS. In addition to a monstrous headache, the amount of sugar frosting they put on is enough to give anyone type 2 diabetes. And for what? If you're going to give yourself diabetes you might as well enjoy the better things in life.

Speaking of, I am trying to plan and simple inexpensive Thanksgiving dinner. My choices are: Turkey, (obviously) butternut squash gnocchi, sauteed kale, and.....? I don't know what else. I like sweet potato pie but no one else in the family does. Stuffing and various other vegetables give everyone stomach aches so I'm not going to bother going to the trouble just to have indigestion all night.

If you have suggestions I'd like to know............


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leslie Mackie Lied to Me

Sometimes recipes are bullshit. I think it's because the cooks either don't want you to really know their secrets or they want you to go out and buy their goods instead of making them yourself. Hrrummph.

Leslie Mackie is the owner of the Macrina Bakery in Seattle. It was one of my absolute favorite places to go. The item I absolutely loved in the bakery was the Squash Harvest Bread which I attempted to make from the recipe in her cookbook.

Here is the first instruction: Preheat oven to 375. Spread walnuts and pecans on a baking sheet, and pumpkin seeds on another baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes. Toast pumpkin seeds for another 5 minutes.

Does anyone know what happens when you do this? You burn everything. It becomes charred and the entire house stinks for hours. Fun. Of course I started this project in the first place because I was in a foul mood and needed to calm down. Didn't happen.

Damn you walnuts!! Why are you so expensive? Why did you ruin my day? And you pecans! How dare you!

The garbage can suffered a thrashing and did that little swirl dance where it nearly falls to the floor but was caught in time. My mother came into the kitchen at some point and started doing something behind me and I bumped into her a few times. She made the highly logical suggestion that I should have shaken the nuts on the baking sheet a few times while they were toasting. I responded, "Will you get out of my way please!?!"

I made a second attempt but no longer had the pecans or walnuts needed. Instead I toasted almond slivers and pumpkin seeds at 325 for 10 minutes and they had a nice smell and flavor afterward. It ended up being a big hit so I made another one for friends of my parents. It's always nice to be able to give something away that you know tastes good.

Next I tried Guatemalan Hot Chocolate Bread in her recipe book.

Grandma took one bite of this and said, "It needs whiskey. Or cognac maybe."

"How much?"

"Mmmm. Two shots."

I like the way she thinks. Despite these almonds being nicely toasted, the bread lacked flavor overall and was quite dry. It needed cinnamon in the batter, not just on top and more moisture all around. In addition to the booze

Grandma decided that I should add oil and baking powder, neither of which was in the recipe. She is a big conspiracy theorist on recipes. She believes that no one should share recipes and that if someone gives you one then they left something out on purpose. I love to watch the food network but she hates it. She thinks that they are using fake food and they never taste anything they make.

I told her that I thought both of these recipes were pretty straight forward but didn't work right. She gave me the whole practice makes perfect speech and then told me a fabulous story.

After the war she was charged with all the cooking while her parents went to work. This meant that she had to cook for 9 people because she was the oldest girl. When her sisters got older of course everyone worked together. She even claims one of her sisters was the truly brilliant cook out of them all but I don't believe it. Anyway, her mother would often tell her to do things that she wasn't sure of how to make. She didn't want to disappoint anyone so she would try. The first time she made rice she thought that she had to stir it the whole time. She always stirred other things she made and didn't realize there was any difference in this. So she stirred and stirred and the rice turned blue. She had no idea what she did wrong and pretended it was fine. When her mom asked her what happened she simply said, "I made rice."

I made the best of this situation by lightly toasting the chocolate bread and adding some butter. I am happy that I made these attempts but I have to admit disappointment. When you read of something that sounds so utterly delectable like Guatemalan Hot Chocolate Bread, you really want it to be good. I believe that sneaky Leslie Mackie lied to me. I love her bakery so much that I guess I want to bring a little of it into my kitchen.

Do some things just taste better because you didn't have to make them? When you think of how often people go out for breakfast it's almost funny. Omelets and toast and hash browns, who can't make that well at home? Then again who doesn't like a lovely omelet brought to you while you sit and chat with friends.

I will try to make other things from this book, but I am more looking forward to going in for brunch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twilight Zone

It has occurred to me today that I might be in the twilight zone. I am living in an area I moved away from two years ago and today I started a job that I previously quit. Surely tomorrow I will wake up in my small home in Portland with a yard and a dog and my two kids and friends will be coming over for Friday night dinner and I will serve butternut squash lasagna with goat cheese and light cream sauce with steamed broccoli and red wine and poached pears with cinnamon ice cream for dessert.

What is it that I do for work in Portland? Hmmm. I know what I don't do. I do not ever enter anything into Excel, especially not the exact same things into five different Excel spreadsheets. I do not ever avoid answering a question for fear of backlash and office drama. Pretending to be stupid would never be a necessity. I never care whether anything is printed on white or pink paper. I don't have to answer to people that have no idea how to spell or communicate in the first place. I don't have a code to enter the bathroom. My backpack and purse do not need to be inspected. I do not have to wait one month for my first paycheck. I do not work for people who are fired on my first day there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I love fall. I love pumpkins and Halloween decorations and moody weather and leaves changing. Here in the Chicagoland area we've been blessed with lovely warmish weather lately. I haven't been doing much cooking.

Ok. Well that's not exactly true. I made a cornbread that completely stuck to the pan and fell apart. I made tasteless tofu burritos with overcooked zucchini. I made hard boiled eggs that were actually soft boiled.

I think part of the problem I have run into is that the kitchen I am using is my mother's. I have previously established that my family loves clutter and so I often have trouble finding a bit of counter space to work on. I also have to dig through tons of kitchen gadgets and pots and pans and go through every drawer just to find the one pan I might need. Sure the kitchen might look nice but is it usable? Are we going to end up on that show Hoarders?

Mom and I often have power struggles about every little thing. I will tell her that I intend to make turkey chili the next day and lo and behold she has bought and already made enough soup and stew for two families before I get my chance to use the kitchen. My turkey ends up going bad and the fridge has no room for additional experiments.

The trick to being here is to make something that can be eaten immediately and doesn't require a lot of prep. Here is my first Spaghetti Squash dish and it actually turned out nicely. I can't believe that I have never made this before. It was delicious! This is now one of my new favorite foods. As soon as this was done I went out and bought another one.

I brought it downstairs for Grandma to taste. To her this is total American cooking. Squash in general is not something she would ever buy or attempt. She is leery of food like this and after a small bite decides that she might get a stomach ache. She thanked me for the sqvash and gave the dish back.

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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cake Fail

I was able to maintain a no sugar diet for two weeks then destroyed it entirely. I decided to make a fruit cake, thinking that I would eat none of it, but it didn't turn out right and I got upset and had some ice cream. Damn.

I had high hopes for this cake. I got the recipe from Macrina Bakery's recipe of the month. They suggested fruit such as raspberries, huckleberries, blackberries and so on but I didn't have them. I had plums, nectarines, apples, and kiwi. I thought it would be awesome but it was raw and disgusting. The density of the fruit must have brought down the cake's height and smooshed the rest together. I wonder what the technical term for this mess is but whatever happened it was disappointing. I thought kiwi would be so nice in it! It would give it a little unexpected zing and crunch.

When making fruit cake the trick to it is to coat the fruit in flour so that the fruit doesn't all sink to the bottom of the cake. All I can think of is that the fruit I used was so juicy it made too much goo inside or I just didn't put in enough flour. So sad!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova (Happy New Year)

In honor of this holiday I would like to tell you an amusing story.

My parents were dog sitting for the last two weeks. This is how much my dad likes dogs:

This is how much my mom likes dogs:

Sometimes my mom has a little trouble with English. Sometimes sarcasm doesn't come through so well in an email. This story involves both problems.

My mom was close to running out of dog food and wanted to get exactly the kind that the owners get. They gave her dog food in a huge container that didn't have the name of the brand on it. She read and re-read the email giving her instructions for the dogs. Thinking that the name of the brand was N Y she went to Petsmart, Jewel, Trader Joes, Walgreens, and Sam's Club looking for this dog food. She asked sales staff if they carried it and they all said no. She even showed a copy of the email to a salesperson at Petsmart who told her that they didn't carry it. She showed my dad the email and asked him to help her find it but he said, "Ok, ok no one has it. Let's go already. Who cares what the damn dogs eat?"

Luckily for her I went to Sam's club with them and looked around for a bit. I thought they were taking an awfully long time to get dog food so I found them and she was freaking out. "This email doesn't make any sense! I've been all over the place! No one has ever heard of N Y with strip steak flavor!!!! I don't know where to go next."

So I took a look at the email.

"Mom. Mom. MOM. Calm down. Listen to me carefully: If you're out of New York strip steak, lamb chops, and pork tenderloin you can feed them dog food. It's a joke."

"What? But the salesperson at Petsmart.....but even your dad.......oh my god. You Americans."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Arabesque Sexy Six

I have plenty of stories from my latest journey but I wish to share something pressing on my mind first. I am currently in my parent's home and I have engaged myself in a series of projects in order to avoid depression.
1) Go to yoga as much as possible
2) Clean out all old shit
3) Record Grandma giving me cooking lessons
4) Cook and bake
5) Eat healthier (no refined sugar for 30 days)
6) Murder credit card
7) Work on pending art projects (pending for the last 3 years)
8) Figure out how to get out of here for good

Ok. So far I have managed to start on the first two and I have only been here for 3 days. The reason project #2 is so important is that I come from a family of pack rats and people who buy tons of everything. It's embarrassing but despite living in Seattle for the last two years, I have a dresser here full of clothes. It's not entirely my fault. My mom and grandma love to buy me things that end up just sitting around because I love to buy myself things as well. It's not just clothes either. It's old Jane magazines, National Geographics, mail, various business cards, and even old old cheesy jewelry that I thought was awesome at 12 years of age. (these are the fake silver moon necklaces with a diamond shaped long stone inside, or the choker with hearts and plastic roses dangling from it, ugh.)

Anyway all of this has got to go. It's insanity. Surely a costume shop would be happy to have my prom dress which was an 1800s style bar wench outfit. Maybe a vintage store would want my goth high school graduation dress with unbelievable lace detail? My mom doesn't like this project because she thinks that you never know when you could use the stuff again. Well ok. She has a point. The bar wench dress made it to two Halloween parties and the goth dress was worn in the adult life a number of times. It does actually look quite elegant if you are not wearing liquid eyeliner. Whatever. Enough is enough.

Yesterday and today I spent hours pouring over old stuff. It was surprisingly depressing. I thought it would feel like a relief to see things go but every stupid thing was connected to some memory; mostly difficult ones.

I had two drawers filled with old T-shirts. Well who gets rid of T-shirts right? I found my Gogol Bordello T-shirt, Flogging Molly, Maximo Park, Pixies, Reverend Horton Heat, Plaid, etc. Isn't that cute? Well I tried a few on and they were....
Too tight.

Ouch. I'm still not sure of where they will go exactly but I don't like the idea of keeping things around that you think you will fit into again someday. That was exactly what was in the other two drawers. I tried stuff on today and watched buttons unbutton a moment after I put it on. I couldn't bring some pants together at all at the waist. God it was depressing. Most of that stuff I wore when I was a waitress at Dave's Italian Kitchen. I looked at the tag on a little black dress that wouldn't zip and was shocked. 6. Size 6. That's right. I was a 6 back then. A six!!!

I've never had a whole lot of body issues. Like practically everyone I wish that I was smaller but I'm not obsessed. I'm an 8 now and have been happy with that for some time. Right now it's on the larger side of an 8 and I might be pushing it but I go up and down 5-10 pounds all the time. Big deal. I try not to dwell. Sometimes it bugs me a lot and sometimes, like today I have crackers with brie for lunch and steak for dinner. Fuck it.

Frankly I grew up a ballerina but had the body of a salsa dancer even at 11. My ballet teacher used to tell me that I was fat and had a big butt. She would always make me feel bad but I totally didn't understand what a diet was back then anyway. I'm pretty sure that I was just curvier and doughier than the rest. That and my family fed me pierogies and nutella sandwiches all the time. What they hell did they care about saturated fat and carbs? I was a kid. They wanted me to eat and be healthy. Who wouldn't be a chubby kid in this household? I was active enough but even if there was a strict diet involved, I was never ever going to be a skinny girl.

A friend in Seattle took me to the ballet for my birthday this year and one of my first thoughts was that those skinny bitches up there just don't eat. Well of course I know all athletes eat they just don't eat like I do or have the same body type. I had a roommate once tell me that I could have been a petite supermodel if I lost 50 pounds. Yeah. I would have been dead but apparently famous.

Anyway I went on a very serious health kick around 2005-2006 and worked with a personal trainer for a few months. I was finally the size 6 I had wanted to be for years. I took classes at Bally's called "Pain in the Butt," and walked around like a duck for weeks. On days that I didn't lift weights I went to yoga. I was at the gym at 7 am at least four times a week. I waited tables at night and found myself needing a reason for existence other than asking about meat sauce or marinara. Today I was looking at all those cute small waitress T-shirts and button downs that I used to wear and I genuinely felt sad.

Ok I know this is somewhat ridiculous. I have a million things that fit me now so who cares about all this old crap right? It's there to make me feel bad for not keeping up with the hard work it is to maintain that 6. Well besides that I felt something else. Regret. I was with someone back then that never bothered to mention how cute I looked in those outfits, or what a nice job I was doing with the work outs. He had lost interest in me but pretended to love me and be attracted to me for a long time after the size 6 breakthrough. I wanted to be thinner and sexier and none of it mattered one bit to the person I thought it would matter to most. What a waste! What was I doing then when someone else could have appreciated the hard work and the healthier change? Maybe I could have dated someone then that also went to a gym or did something other than watch The Simpsons?

I don't even know if anyone noticed it. Come to think of it, dieting and working out regularly is so hard for most people that I try to be as supportive as possible when I know friends are going for it. It is SO HARD!!!!! The lifestyle change it took for me to get to that 6 was annoying and difficult and painful and exhausting. I have to tell you that no one at the restaurant or any of my friends ever bothered to say, "Hey you look really good," or anything to notice my efforts and the new me. In fact after buying new jeans in the 6 I went to work and told some girls about it. One of them said flatly, "You are not a 6." I was taken aback and said that I was a 6 now, so she just repeated herself. I felt humiliated but pretended her comment didn't bother me and said, "Well that is what the tag says anyway." I remembered that moment today and for the first time ever I realized that while I try to be a modest person, all that interaction came down to was a word that begins in jea and ends in sy.

And so all of those super cute shirts and mini skirts and dresses and short shorts and pants and bikinis from the size 6 days went into garbage bags today, and goodwill tomorrow. I hope some skinnier bitch will enjoy them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers August

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Here is mine:

This was a good challenge for me because as I have said earlier, layer cakes are not my thing. The torte is a wildy rich dessert and on top are supposed to be caramel wedges. They ended up being soggy and gross and a dreadful topping to this decadence. Oh well. I don't know what I did wrong, but since it dragged me away from reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I guess I rushed it. Bummer. It would have been just fine without them and more sprinkled hazelnuts on top. I just really wanted to like the caramel mess even though for sure it was a failure. The torte turned out well, but best served at room temperature. I had to keep it in the fridge because it has just been too warm here for a cake to live on the table.

All I've got to say about this one is 10 EGGS?!? The recipe called for 10 eggs. Um. I'm having a cholesterol test tomorrow and it is possible that this cake alone has put me into a danger zone. This was the type of cake that you could only have a thin slice of. However, if you have several thin slices over a week you are in trouble. I am in trouble.
How to resist such a thing?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sloth and Chocolate

Unemployment is interesting. Not a single day has gone by without eating chocolate. I really believed that I would spend every morning in yoga class and every afternoon in the kitchen. Instead I have spent every morning and afternoon on the couch.

Since I missed last month's Daring Baker's challenge, I thought I would make up for it with these Milano cookies. I actually forced myself to get up and make these. The recipe came from the food network and they turned out ok. Not marvelous like I was expecting, but ok. What I liked about them is the orange rind in the chocolate and the lemon oil in the cookie dough. I expected them to be more crunchy but mine turned out too soft. Ah well. It was a good try.

Even if I don't particularly love my baking I tend to eat it anyway. Let me tell you, I ate a ton of these. It seemed like a good idea to eat chocolate while laying on the couch and watching Days of Our Lives. The soap was rather unsatisfying because I don't know all the new characters and the same couple that always has their children kidnapped were dealing with that again. Hmm. I watched it everyday last week anyway.

I have to say that it's not that I am sad I left the office I was in but I feel rather sad in general. It feels like I have wasted a colossal amount of time there. Looking back I believe I could have been catatonic at that job and it wouldn't have mattered. I have been counseled on this topic by many friends and luckily they have reminded me that it's important to focus on the bottom line: my paycheck and ability to support myself. You can't rely on your boss to tell you that you are doing an excellent job or not, you have to tell yourself. I think it has really hit me hard that this office and all my jobs after college really have been the definition of underemployment. I tried to make it different at this one because it seemed like what I was doing really did matter sometimes but it didn't. It wasn't worth the effort. These thoughts are clouding my mind lately and I can't seem to make it go away. I can't wait until this is part of the past and the cast of characters are only in mind for a comedic memoir.

One extraordinary thing that happened once I gave my notice was that people started to really talk to me. It seemed as though many people needed to express their discontent with the office and their personal lives. It was easy to choose me as the venting release because I was leaving. I heard many things about how the job just wasn't for them and they felt stuck. I heard one person admit that they are too comfortable and while they would like to leave and try new things they don't have the courage. They would rather stick with what they know even if they don't like it. I heard complaints about different people and the general sense of having no real purpose there and no sense of accomplishment. The most common problem was the fact that people didn't tell you that you were doing a good job. They only told you about the problems.

It was overwhelming and I was moved a couple times. How does one un-stick themselves from an unhappy situation? Is it part of adulthood to merely get through for that paycheck and always feel underemployed and unappreciated? On the other hand I heard a few people talk about how happy they were with their salary and benefits and how I should look into other jobs within this department for the future. Doubtful. It was a supremely weird couple of weeks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Wind Changes Direction

I am moving. It's harder than I thought. I am currently sitting among piles and piles of clothes, papers, books, and dust. I am remembering everything that I like about Seattle and I am becoming afraid of being far away from this life I made.

What were all the good things that I will miss?

having my own kitchen
not running into people I didn't want to see
seeing mountains instead
freedom, independence
not needing to drive
pale ale
local fruit
Alaskan salmon
Greenlake walks
best yoga studio
The White Horse Bar
the Macrina Bakery
the Sound
pale pink orange roses by my front door

Top five lessons learned in Seattle:

5) Your co-workers are generally not your friends. Don't get too involved with them.

4) Beware of drama.

3) Don't ever talk to womanizers or any sexist idiot that is condescending or constantly flirtatious. This includes your boss.

2) Yoga is the secret to health and well being.

1) Sunshine is essential.

It was two years of life lessons that I hope I have grown from. Now I go home to regroup. It is something both scary and necessary. I hope it means that I will grow more and find my way back to creativity and a clearer path ahead.

Best dish I made while living here: Naleshniki with meat (explanation later) and fig pie with pistachio crust. Or maybe the Napoleon. Or the fig raspberry pie with bay leaves and thyme. Hmmm.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Little Something Sweet

This is a Honey Cake which is traditionally made for Chanukah, but delicious all the time. My grandma makes this cake often and I used her recipe for this one. It looks nothing like hers and didn't taste like hers either, but was good. Something was missing and I don't know what. She thinks that I didn't put enough black tea in it or enough honey.

It was ok for a first try, but I miss the taste of hers. I miss everything she makes.

I feel homesick today which isn't something I have felt much since moving to Seattle. I used to just miss certain things about home but never wanted to go back to live. Today I feel the strange need to go home and it is overwhelming.

The thing is that I miss my grandma. I want to go home and hang out with her right now. I called her today but she didn't answer. Later on I saw that she called me back but somehow I missed it. Then I tried her again but she turned her phone off and was probably asleep. I called my dad too but amazingly my parents are going to a tango lesson tonight with friends they made at the wedding. They didn't have time to talk to me and usually I have to tell them that I need to get off the phone. Geez. It's a lonely Saturday night for me and that situation calls for a little something sweet.

When I was visiting home recently I had a very serious heart to heart with my grandma. She is worried about my mom's incredibly high blood pressure and smoking habit. She said that they often get into screaming matches that make her cry. My mom's perspective on this is that it's good for them to passionately argue because it keeps my grandma feisty, but hearing her side of the story wouldn't make that the case. Grandma started to cry when she was telling me about how she kicked my mom out of her apartment for saying mean things to her. It was almost funny because she told my mom not to come back to her home but she lives downstairs so it's impossible and ridiculous. Still the whole conversation brought tears to my eyes and I try never, ever to cry in front of her.

Out of nowhere she says: "Hey. How bout little ice cream? I tink we gonna have little someting sveet. Better sveet than sour."

As usual she is right about everything. A minute later we are eating ice cream and laughing. It's incredible how a little bit of sweet can lift your spirit.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thank you, Julie

I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to see this movie early. I met Julie Powell at a book signing in Seattle two weeks ago and she was giving tickets away. Julie Powell inspired me to write this blog. Granted I had spent nearly every Sunday in a cafe writing in a journal, but it didn't have the same sense of accomplishment that this does.

Something that is brought up in the movie is how blogging is essentially narcissistic. Certainly I don't need to be more self involved than I already am but I do like this project. It's funny though, I realize that I write this because I think that I am interesting and some of my writing is worth reading. Does that make me a complete narcissist? Maybe it's just healthy to have projects that people can comment on and give you advice? I don't know, but I do like it. Recently a friend put up a comment about layer cakes that was super helpful and will come in handy this weekend...

When I met Julie I asked her what she thought the best way to market a blog is and she said that she didn't have to do much of that. People found her because she was doing it at a time when there weren't many out there. Now everyone wants everyone else to know what they think about every little thing. I don't really take the time to check out as much as I would like and then again I find that I just don't care about every damn blog I come across. It's so selfish that I expect people to read mine!

There are a couple food related blogs that I check on from time to time for fun and inspiration. If you can recommend some food/family/art/travel blogs I would look into it. On the flip side I often try recipes online that are recommended, or have a bunch of good comments on them and then it turns out awful. Just because a lot of good comments are on something doesn't make it good. Even the Daring Bakers let me down last month because one of the challenges was to make marshmallow cookies. Yuck. That doesn't interest me at all.

In this movie they do such a nice job of showing how important Julia Child's book was to her and how important Julie Powell's blog was to her. The fact that other people got involved and enjoyed the product was a bonus. I loved the back and forth and the beautiful idea of achieving your goals in whatever medium suits you best.

I really enjoyed the movie and for whatever its worth, would totally recommend it. It was much better than I thought it would be and I appreciated the glimpse into Julia Child's life.

I will definitely be trying Julia's boeuf bourguignon recipe soon.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Kitchen Experiments

So sometimes cooking isn't my forte. I much prefer baking as I find it to be a relaxing fun and often delicious hobby. However, I always want to try new things and I constantly find recipes that I think are worth a try. Occasionally an idea pops into my head of something I haven't tried before and I must go for it regardless of expense or time involved. Usually I do pretty well, this time not so much.

This is a pan fried (mistake) swordfish fillet with rice pilaf and sauteed asparagus. It sounds good but the pan fry idea was all wrong. The taste was ok as I put white wine, paprika, and lemon juice on it but the texture was mushy. It was bordering on gross for me but I ate it anyway since it was a healthy meal. This was a good learning experience. The fish smell in the house was tremendous and lasted for about a week. I definitely have to buy a grill.

Once I got it into my head to cook duck. I found a recipe for duck confit with sweet potato gnocchi and Swiss chard. Now that ended up a success. The smell was nice, the meat was juicy, and the taste was excellent. Granted this was a heavy fat laden meal so maybe that is why I liked it so much. The gnocchi needed some work but for a first try I was pleased. The whole meal cost around $30 to make but I fed 3 people with it. If we ate it at a restaurant it would have been $30 each.

I saved the bones from the duck and made a stock with it thinking that I would avoid waste. I found a recipe for soup with duck stock. I called it Duck Duck Soup. It required quite a lot of vegetables and creme fraiche. I worked on this for a long time and was very excited to make the most use out of the duck but then it all went in the garbage. It was terrible bland and just plain yuck. Oh well.

Still it's good to try new things. Failure or not.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Disaster Cake

I actually made this mess for a birthday. It was my second try too. While I was supposed to have made a White Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake, I really made what my Grandma would call a "moosh mahsh." Disaster.

Layer cakes are a huge challenge for me. They always come out lopsided or I lose a bunch of it when I take it out of the pan. There never seem to be enough cream for the outside and then I never know if I should refrigerate or not. I like them a lot and they are certainly a good challenge so hopefully I'll get better at this one of these days.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Helping Hand

While this is rather shameful I must admit that I did not participate in the Daring Bakers Challenge this month. Of course I intended to and bought all the ingredients ahead of time. Unfortunately I waited until the last minute to do the baking and it just happened to coincide with the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest right now. Bummer. Who would turn on an oven right now? Ugh.

So I thought I would share some things that I have previously made.

Neither of these are family recipes. I got them both from Ina Garten. I often pour over cookbooks but don't like the recipes or they simply don't come out that well. If I see something that I like I usually make small adjustments to get what I want. In a lot of cases I replace sugar with honey or maple syrup, and I replace whole eggs with more egg whites. I really do try to cut back on the fat and especially the sugar if at all possible.
However, if I could recommend any one's recipes for use as they are, it would have to be hers. Absolutely everything that I have tried making from her books has come out perfect. Above is a chicken thigh baked with basil and herbed goat cheese under the skin, served with polenta and a vege medley I made up. Her recipe was actually for chicken breast with herbed goat cheese and basil under the skin, but hey thighs are cheaper and richer in flavor. It was wonderful and super easy.
Below that is her version of soda bread that has a nice zesty orange flavor. It came out beautiful and delicious and was so perfect with a cup of Earl Grey. Thank you Ina.

I try to watch Food Network when I can, but for the most part I find it disappointing. The "chefs" have been reduced to silly catch phrases and pompous reality tv judges. Terrible. Many of them are practically famous for making paninis or risotto or anything with pounds of butter. Pathetic. I can tell you that Ina's recipes are simple but inspired and give you ideas that you probably haven't thought to try before. I admire this woman. I wouldn't mind having dinner with her one bit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tsunami Dorit

I just took an extended vacation to Chicago and Traverse City, MI. It was a much needed break and eye opening experience. I spent time with my grandma, I hosted a barbecue party with my parents, I attended a wedding where I danced the horah, I did a small hike on Mackinaw Island, and I managed to tour Hyde Park a little and check out the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Despite all these lovely experiences I did run into a tsunami. You might not think that a tsunami is possible in the Midwest, but there she was: Tsunami Dorit.

Dorit is my mother. Her name is pronounced Dor Eet. Not Dor It. A friend and I used to refer to our mothers as hurricanes but I have since found that the tsunami is more appropriate for Dorit as it is unpredictable, incredibly fast moving, and causes unbelievable devastation in a short period of time. I actually tend to think of myself as a hurricane just because I tend to get caught up in a frenzy of projects and leave bits of them everywhere but never reach what I believe to be my full potential. This might be a symptom of having a tsunami for a mother.

Do you think I am being disrespectful? It's funny. For years and years I thought we would never understand each other. And then I thought that she is pretty awesome in smaller doses, and now I totally get it. We are opposites. It's never been more clear to me as it was these past few weeks. We have a strained relationship because we are opposites.

I know what you are thinking. You're thinking yeah right, you will be just like her and you are stuck on some silly teenage notion that your parents are the cause of all your problems. I know I know. Well I will tell you that I did inherit some things: I like to be a hostess, I find cooking and baking to be endlessly interesting, I am usually a social being, and I can talk to anyone. What I mean by that last bit is that "I have the gift of the gab, I have kissed the Blarney Stone," and all that jazz. My dad is really her polar opposite as he is quiet, reserved, sarcastic, witty, and very mellow.

Here is where it gets interesting: there is always yelling. Yelling about groceries, yelling about the news, yelling in several languages and all coming from the tsunami. You never know what could set her off. One minute a cigarette is smoked and there is calm and peace in the world and then next a wild berserker is in front of you in full on wolf mode. You are helpless. There is no reasoning no talking back no relaxation for hours. THE FEAR! THE HORROR!

I don't know how many barbecues you guys have hosted but I can tell you what I would have made should I have been "in charge" of this one. I would have made marinated portobellos and red onions on the grill for vege-burgers, and chicken kabobs. I would make a fruit salad and a spring green salad and get some chips. Done. Tsunami Dorit on the other hand made this: salmon, hamburgers, chicken skewers, 4 different kinds of cole slaw, 2 different fresh salads, 2 trays of nachos with grilled steak and melted cheese, crackers with cream cheese and sun dried tomatoes, chicken wings, key lime pie, cherry amaretto bundt cake, pasta salad, 2 different potato salads, 2 watermelons, and there were bowls of sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, and small chocolates infused with vodka on each table.


There was so much to do and since she didn't really prepare much ahead of time she put our guests to work. My friends came in from all over the place and before they knew it the tsunami had aprons on them and they were standing in front of a hot stove being ordered around. It was chaos. They were afraid. A neighbor came by around 3 and tried to get her to just choose one or two things and come outside to join the party but was received with: "See that bowl over there? I need that. Oh and can you bring this down?" Afterwards there was, "Aviva! Get her something to drink," after the poor girl had been up and down the stairs three times. When it was getting to be around 5 or 6 and people wanted to head out and say their goodbyes, the tsunami said: "NO. SIT DOWN. You haven't even had any pie."

My mom was robbed in this life. She should have had at least four athletic sons that need to eat all the time. Instead she could only have me and several people commented on how lucky I was that I managed not to be obese considering the circumstances.

You see, it's not that the efforts aren't appreciated, it's that I just don't get it. I don't want to produce such a display and spend all that time and money to be the world's greatest hostess. I really think that less is more but this is the complete opposite of what she thinks. Tsunami Dorit likes everything in excess and aggressively gets what she wants and it's hard to be around that sometimes. She thinks that I am wimpy because I don't yell at sales people if they don't have something in stock that is in their catalog. She believes that if she makes a manager feel like a shmuck she will get what she wants and it usually works. I tend to be of the "Ok well I'm disappointed that I can't get what I want, what can I do instead?" sort of thought process. She doesn't like that about me.

About a month ago I had asked my parents if they would like to go to the midnight release of Harry Potter with me. My dad is a big fan so I thought maybe they would like that. They agreed and I bought tickets. We arrived at the theater about one hour prior to the start but the teenagers had taken the place over. There were only single seats at that point and I didn't like that idea. I figured that I didn't really want to sit alone and the experience was supposed to be for the three of us. So, I said that I thought we should see if we could get a credit for a matinee the next day.

The tsunami then took over and demanded to speak to management. I tried to stop her but she actually told me to shut up right in front of the manager she was going to berate. She told him that I had flown in from Seattle and that I wanted to see this with my family and that I was highly upset and what kind of place are they running anyway where they let all these people in an hour ahead and on and on. I was mortified. She asked this guy who was sweating profusely to make people move for us. Oh my god. I tried to plead with her to stop and when the guy came back and told us there were only single seats, she FORCED me to sit in one. I believe she said, "Sit down right there and watch your movie." Was I being punished for something? I didn't know if she was going to grow 12 feet and turn green and rip off her clothes and start eating people or what. I had a full on anxiety attack in the theater and had to do a breathing exercise to calm down. I felt that I could almost see water rushing over the entire movie theater and people getting swept away and I sat there nauseous and hoping it would be over soon. When we left she said, "See? You saw your movie because of me. You never appreciate anything I do."

I have to tell you that it is highly unlikely that I will turn into this tsunami someday. I just don't get it. I can only hope that she will cut back on the coffee and cigarettes because she really doesn't need the energy. I won't ever have one tenth of her energy.

On the other hand she happens to be the life of her little block in Skokie. Everyone knows her and admires her garden. A couple of her neighbors who are around my age have struck up a friendship with her and always tell me how lucky I am to have such a lively fun mom. Wow! What a perspective. My friend T told me at the BBQ that Tsunami Dorit intends to "dance like a slut," at the upcoming wedding "because you only live once so shake it god damnit." I told her that once I was in my twenties my mom constantly asked me why the hell I wear crew neck T-shirts. "Hello? You have breasts god damnit. Give them some air. Why hide them in such a stupid T-shirt?"

One of my absolute favorite things about my mom is that her favorite plant is the pussy willow. Nearly every time she stops to admire one she says: "Such a beautiful plant. Such a stupid name."

I can't keep up with this woman.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Great Bacon Debate

And now on to a lighter subject: bacon. Ha ha. I'm about to tell you something extremely controversial and exciting.

I don't like bacon.

Really. It's true. It's not that I hate it or anything. I have been known on occasion to order it and have a little at a diner, but I think it's pretty gross. I don't understand the appeal of eating a fried piece of fat that has a tiny bit of salty meat attached to it. Gross.

I've tried to understand it. I know people that dream of bacon. I've been to weddings and parties where people raved about the scallops wrapped in bacon and I just really like scallops by themselves. On the whole I think the meats of the pig variety are just too salty for me and have a weird color.

We didn't eat it at home of course. My mom wasn't ever around people who cooked pig and she never learned how to cook pig so I never learned what it was. The first time I ever saw a ham was at my Grandfather's birthday party. I was 11 years old. There was this gigantic pink thing on the table and I leaned over to my mom and asked in a frightened whisper: "What is that?"

"It's a ham honey. You don't have to eat it."

"Are we supposed to eat it?"

"Well it looks like that is what they're serving. You don't have to eat it. It comes in a can."

"It comes in a can? Are you going to eat it??"

No! Shhh. Don't eat it if you don't want to."

"Why is it so pink? It looks like My Little Pony."

(My Little Pony happened to be pink with a rainbow tail. Pink was my favorite color at the time but I had never eaten anything that color, with the exception of strawberry ice cream of course.)

"I don't know. You can try it if you want to, but you don't have to."

I didn't want to try it. Any pig related product seemed like it was something I should be afraid of. I never tried ham until my twenties and I really really didn't like it. I understand that there are all sorts of cuts of pig that taste different and granted I even gave pork chops a try recently, but I don't think I will ever grow to love the pig product.

I have no idea when the first time I tried bacon was. My mom made us turkey bacon and so I always thought that was what it was. Whenever I see bacon I just can't get over the grease and the fat. I don't understand why that makes anything better and I especially don't understand why it goes on top of burgers sometimes. I don't want triple bypass surgery, do you?

The bacon problem came into play recently because I wanted to try making a Coq au Vin. It was something I've only had twice but remember it to be a beautiful savory chicken dish. Both times I had it without bacon but I don't know how they made it. Every recipe I looked up called for salt pork, slab bacon, lardon, or pancetta. What the hell? How was I going to do this?

After doing a little reading I discovered that pancetta might work for me better than the other options. It's supposed to have a lighter flavor and is often sliced very thin at a deli. The thinness appealed to me because I figured it would blend better than chunks of bacon. So I went to a European Deli near me and amazingly they were out. They were getting more that week but I was ready to start that day. I asked the guy what he thought I should use instead and he said bacon. I told him that I don't like bacon and got the inevitable shock response. Wow big surprise people. Not everyone likes bacon. Just like how not everyone celebrates Christmas. I know, shocking. Happy Holidays to you.

Anyway, I asked him if he thought turkey bacon would work and he seemed to think it was a great idea. I was super excited because I wasn't even going to go there but then I received confirmation that it was going to work.

Not so much.

The turkey bacon was a terrible crunchy texture in a smooth saucy dish and the flavor overwhelmed everything else. So much for not using the pig.

I followed a combination of recipes from The Food Network and I think I used the best of both worlds. Still it didn't work for me and I'm not so sure real bacon would have helped that much. No point in giving you the recipe. It was lousy. If you know of a good Coq au Vin recipe without too much pork flavor, I would be happy to try it. Damn swine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Late Post for The Daring Bakers

I had an excellent project from the Daring Bakers this month. I finished it a couple weeks ago but didn't feel like writing so oh well. Now it's late.

This is something that my Dad would absolutely love. It's a tart, or British "pudding." The crust was an almond pie crust and this is my first try with frangipane which I originally thought was a cream but no. It's an almond fluffy topping like thing that is thick and yummy, although I thought mine was a little too crunchy and I should have ground the nuts finer.

The fruit filling is a homemade strawberry jam. The Daring Bakers want me to write my recipe for the jam in the blog but geez. I put strawberries in a sauce pan and simmered them until thick. I added a splash of brandy and a tablespoon of sugar and there you go. Jam. I got the strawberries on an exquisite trip to the Oregon coast. We happened to stop in Astoria on our way back for lunch and there was a farmers market going on. I bought a half crate of the sweetest most amazing strawberries in the world. I LOVE OREGON. It's a magical place with incredible beer, excellent fish, and oh my goodness the strawberries.

I used a cup of jam for the tart and it definitely needed more. The contrast between the fruit and the almond taste could have been stronger.

A long time ago in an apartment far far away I used to make jam. I made it for holiday presents. My absolute best batch was a pomegranate kumquat strawberry. It took hours and hours and hours and the pomegranates made my hands purple. But it was so good. It was SO good. This would have been an excellent jam for the tart but I wanted the Oregon strawberries to stand on their own.

My Grandma told me how to make jam. She used to do it with her sisters. They would spend entire days pitting dark cherries and she told me that their hands were black for a week. They would sit there and tell stories and laugh all day. They didn't have pectin so I honestly don't know how the preservation went. She told me to make a small batch by simmering the fruit and sugar and use it. Jam.

She made jam and liquor from pomegranates when she lived in Israel. Pomegranates grew everywhere and you could just pick them. They are my Uncle's favorite fruit so he would pick bushels of them to take home to her when he was little. When she tells me about the pomegranates in Israel I feel like she is talking about another reality. Pomegranates are $3 each here! You could just pick them!!!???!!! What a resource. What an incredible luxury to be able to pick fruit like that and have it cost nothing. I imagine some person owns every single inch of land that bears fruit now, but she really painted a beautiful picture of the time for me.

Back in Seattle I made this tart with delicious strawberries that someone else picked and cost us $20 for a half crate. Worth it, but still pricey.

Here is what you need to know:

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

Thanks ladies! This was fun.