Monday, May 27, 2013

A Princess Dare

Korena of Korena in the Kitchen was our May Daring Bakers’ host and she delighted us with this beautiful Swedish Prinsesst√•rta!

I can't believe I made such a pretty cake! I've seen pictures of the Swedish Princess Cake before and wanted to try it so this recipe was a welcome surprise. I actually made it for Mother's Day thinking I would shock everyone with the beauty and flavor of this masterpiece. Unfortunately due to the mound of whipped cream and my mother's sensitive digestive tract, I guess you could even say I gave her a stomach ache for Mother's Day. The cake was meant to be fit for a princess but alas, we all can't have such extravagance in our diets.

Still, it was a beautiful and fun cake to make. I ate far more of it than I should have, which is a real problem in doing these challenges. I do enjoy getting ideas and the desire to change things around once I've tried something like this. Next time I would prefer more cake to whipped cream, and maybe a rectangle shape over a dome.

Monday, May 13, 2013


It's amazing how so many things can change in such a short amount of time. I've been away from home for a while but I visited recently didn't I? Why does it all look so different now?

Home is always a culture shock and cause for anxiety. I'm doing my best to make the most of it, and have certainly noticed the far superior comfort of the bed here, and the lack of quarters needed to do laundry.

Shortly into this trip I needed to run some errands and took my old car out for a spin. First I went to the bank's drive up area to use the little shuttle for money. I sent up the deposit slip and cash through the shoot and waited. The attendant inside asked me how I was doing on the intercom and I said fine and continued listening to my music. Then she said: "Excuse me, Aviva? This slip is for Wells Fargo. Did you want to make a deposit here or with them?" It turned out that I had driven automatically to my old old bank in Skokie, IL which I haven't used in five years.

I got the money back and realized she would laugh about me all day with the rest of her work mates while I drove around seeking a Wells Fargo. There are only two in this area as opposed to the ten I can walk to in Seattle. One of them is quite near my parent's place here but since I was already pretty far west I figured there shouldn't be any problem finding the one on Touhy street....but I got lost. In my hometown! Everything was so much more traffic-y then I remember and it must have been hidden in some awful strip mall I've never been to. Thirty minutes later I made a U-turn in some weird industrial parking lot and drove to the location I knew of all the way back in Evanston. It took me an hour to deposit money.

On my second errand I went through the downtown Skokie area because my mom gave me disturbing news that I needed to check out for myself. She mentioned that the art school I attended on weekends as a child went out of business. I thought surely she was mistaken. They had been around since the 60's! There was just no way that this economic downturn would take them out. I drove by and saw the darkness within and a closed sign up in the middle of the day. It was true. I parked and went up to the door still hoping that there was some reason to believe it was temporary, but the place was mostly empty. A few frame samples and glass fixtures remained along with unopened mail shoved under the door. While I hadn't been inside for at least a decade, I believed some things are part of a neighborhood and will never change. It never occurred to me that my lucky little Village Art Gallery in Skokie, IL would be just a tiny memory someday.

I wasn't going to come on this trip. Hiding under my kitchen table was preferred to getting on the plane, but so far it hasn't been as terrible as expected. I've managed to make it to places that I like to go and catch up with some great friends that wonder what the hell I am doing, and that is always fun. People have called to invite me to salsa dance and go for bike rides and see comedy and go to board game night. Friends of mine have opened their own yoga studio and I already got to take classes there. I made it to The Moth story night, which I dearly love. It's a complete change from Seattle where I am constantly the ringleader of social activities, and hardly ever getting asked to hang out.

I've also noticed how much some of my friends in Seattle are pretty depressed and always seeing reasons not to do things. I am so tired of it. I felt that if I didn't invite people over or ask people out to happy hour, I would never leave the house. And plenty of people never called back, so I gave up on them entirely. I see their facebook updates but I really don't care. The change in myself from just being around happier more productive people in Chicago is significant. I want all sorts of new things. I want to join beach volleyball in summer, go kayaking, take salsa lessons again, paint, help remodel my dad's basement, go to the Lyric Opera, maybe finally finish that grad degree I started, etc. Who is this positive girl?

I even had ferocious anxiety about taking the red line train in Chicago. I always promise myself that I will not take it, but end up needing to anyway. Last time I was on the red line a man harassed women  and scared them into giving him money. By the time he got to my car someone called the conductor. The authorities were alerted and we had to wait there until he got arrested. He was replaced by a woman screaming obscenities. Well, for the first time ever, this suburbanite has been commuting by Metra train on this trip, which is a far nicer ride. The red line train and I are officially divorced. The Metra is faster, cleaner and more efficient, but pricier and much farther away from places I normally go. It's worth it. I can walk the twenty minutes. It was time I did some things differently if I wanted to have a better experience.

Some things, however, will never change.

The first day I visited my uncle and grandma I was hit with a barrage of annoyances, and had no escape that being on the phone could provide. I had no where to go and no where to be, and they knew it. I went willingly but nearly lost my mind.

GRANDMA: Avivitcha, you see vhat's goin in Boston? Terrible. Dey should hang zem.

AVIVA: It is terrible Grandma. Maybe you should turn off the news.

GRANDMA: No no. I not turn off. You no vatching Aviva?

AVIVA: I'm trying not to. You'll get sick with the same stuff over and over.

UNCLE: Hey Aviva. Aviva. Why you never telling me about Netflix?


UNCLE: Netflix. Why you not tell me to buy them?

AVIVA: Ok. Well you can get a membership if you want to. It's easy to set up.

UNCLE: No. I very angry wiz you Aviva. You wanna know why?


UNCLE: You don't know why?

(I shake my head)

UNCLE: Because! Netflix has doubled in stock! They're at almost 200%! We could have bought from the beginning! Why you didn't tell me???

AVIVA: I don't know about stock stuff Uncle.

GRANDMA: I tink dey terrorists. Al-Qaeda.

AVIVA: I don't think so Grandma.

UNCLE: I can't believe you knew about Netflix all these years and you never explain to me about them.

AVIVA: What do you mean? I just watch movies. That's all. I didn't even realize my account offered streaming until recently. I'm no expert.

UNCLE: What's streaming?

GRANDMA: Dey Al-Qaeda. I telling you.

AVIVA: I think they were working on their own Grandma. If they were in an organization they would have taken credit for it. They would have bragged.

GRANDMA: Wanna bet wiz me?

AVIVA: No, no thanks.

UNCLE: If you bet on Netflix you'd have a lotta money now!

GRANDMA: Vhat is necklace? You found necklace? Vehre?


GRANDMA: So? Vhat is a necklace? Vhat so important.

AVIVA: You can rent movies with them Grandma.

UNCLE: It's a company. Tell me about more companies you use Aviva. Now I know you're holding information from me.

GRANDMA: Ach. Who care? Necklace shmeklace. Avivitcha. I bet wiz you. Tventy dollahs. Dey Al-Qaeda.

AVIVA: Let's not bet.

GRANDMA: Because I right! Tventy. You gonna owe me. You see.

The troubles of having the family I do are many and mountainous. I'm glad they can be endearing and provide some entertainment once in a while. Going home is actually really nice sometimes. In the rare occasions that these people are on your side, it's a great feeling. It's a relief to take a breather and not feel my stress in Seattle apartment life and difficulty finding enough work. I'm glad to know the family all want to see me progress and do good things in the world, and they don't see me as a floundering fuck up anymore. I may help put up a new ceiling in that basement and stick around a while.

Grandma at first claimed that she won the bet, and I promised to take her to lunch. Then the sneaky woman slipped me an envelope with far more than a twenty in it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Savarin from The Daring Bakers

Natalia of Gatti Fili e Farina challenges us to make a traditional Savarin, complete with 

soaking syrup and cream filling! We were to follow the Savarin recipe but were allowed to be

creative with the soaking syrup and filling, allowing us to come up with some very delicious 


Well folks, despite how nice this may look, I assure you it was a total debacle. The Savarin is actually a really interesting cake and challenging recipe to play with, but somehow it didn't work out properly for me. All the elements were wonderful: bread-like cake, blackcurrant liquor to soak it with, apricot glaze, lemon cream, and fruit on top. Yum, yum, scrumptious. Except that despite how amazing each section was, they didn't go well together at all.

Something went wrong with this sucker and I don't know what. I followed the recipe exactly but either the pan I baked it in was wrong or the yeast wasn't good or I over-beat the batter or didn't do the envelope fold enough, I don't know. Something.

My mom tried to help me with this but mostly said: "Why don't you just make a banana bread instead? That's easier. I never bother with yeast dough." She did manage to find a Julia Child recipe for the Savarin which recommended that I pierce the cake several times over before soaking it in the liquor. It made sense to me, but this did nothing for the cause. The cake felt extremely heavy and drank nearly all the liquor I bathed it in, but it all sunk to the bottom or clung to the sides. The middle barely got tipsy. This was a huge disappointment, especially considering that surely Julia would know how to get a cake drunk.

My cake really turned out to be bread, no doubt about it. Bread, not cake at all. That is why I don't see how smothering it with cream would help the matter. I'm glad to learn bread baking but this wasn't supposed to be the lesson I'm sure. Still, the bread part was pretty awesome. It was soft and flaky and tasty with the bits of orange zest in there. I just wish I didn't put liquor or cream on it!

As for the challenge this was a really good one. This is something I've never heard of or would have attempted otherwise, and I definitely want to improve on my first try. Since no one wanted more than their first bite, the cake ended up being taken to it's land fill doom. Initially I was upset about the time and ingredients wasted, but now I feel like I must know what Savarin is supposed to taste like. If all the pieces of the puzzle are beautiful then I must find a way to fit them together. I was hoping to do 2 this month, but alas the 27th comes so soon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teach A Woman To Fish

There I was wildly excited to make a seafood dish of great ingredients and expense. I had no idea what I was doing in this attempt at a Crab Louie. The guy at the store offered to clean the crab and pull out the meat for an additional charge, but what did I need that for? I could do it. I am me. I am a domestic diva capable of conquering any kitchen challenge even without the necessary nutcrackers and tiny forks. I figured I could rip the crab open with a knife and use my fingers to pull out the meat. Luckily I told this plan to a neighbor who immediately lent me the tools required for this endeavor. Still, I made an impressive mess and had crab guts everywhere, and was totally unimpressed with the amount of meat I got for all the work. Eventually the fridge stunk because we didn't eat it all in time and I felt like the apartment had fish funk for days.

I would like seafood to be my forte, but as of now I am not sure this is meant to be. I had high hopes for a recipe I found in Ina Garten's book for Seafood Gratin. The picture looked scrumptious and I couldn't wait to try it. Thinking that her recipes are simple and come out well, I embarked on my next seafood debacle.

My first problem was that I expected the ingredients to cost around $40 for everything. This was because a friend of ours had recently gone fishing and gave us incredibly beautiful pieces of halibut. All the seafood I needed to buy was 8 oz of shrimp and 8 oz cooked lobster.

I wanted to buy fresh shrimp that I would peel and de-vein myself. I had done this before and apparently had amnesia regarding the disgusting nature of this exercise. So I went down to the market to compare prices and talk to the flirtatious fishmonger guys. Everyone had a say in my seafood gratin. They all wanted to change the recipe and suggested monkfish and all sorts of other things I had no idea how to make. I explained that I needed to stick to the recipe.

The shrimp was priced as expected, but when I wanted cooked lobster, no one had it. They told me that the couldn't sell me anything short of a lobster tail, which was $27.99. Whoa. One of the fishy guys told me to buy these really weird looking enormous shrimp which he swore up and down tasted very similar to a lobster, and they had just got it in today. I bought two of them and already was up to $35 in my budget. I felt a little swindled when I left there but I was up for an adventure so I tried to remain positive.

Next on the list was Chablis, so I went to DeLaurenti's to pick out a bottle. I've never heard of Chablis but I guessed I could find something comparable. I asked the wine guy to help me out and he immediately said, "You're going to cook with Chablis? That's crazy. You don't want to do that. Let me show you something affordable."  Turns out the damn wine went for $40+ a bottle. Thanks a lot Ina! Geez, it says right on your book: "Everyday recipes you'll make over and over again." I don't think so! I bought a $10 bottle of white and got out of there.

There were still a ton of items I needed on this list. The market seemed to be the place to get everything, as I luckily blundered into Market Spice for saffron. I was short on all the usuals at home so I figured I should just get everything while I was out there, but the excursion quickly turned into an unexpected cost of $80. I think I even lied and told my partner that I spent $50 on everything so he wouldn't think I was a total idiot. The gratin needed seafood stock, tomato paste, heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, panko, and various veggies. I went home thinking this had better be the most delicious dinner on earth.

I made the cardinal mistake of inviting a friend over for a dish I've never attempted before. We wanted to do something nice for the friend that gave us the fish, but the gesture was probably lost in the inevitable slop I made of it. I wonder if he was sad to think of how I butchered his poor beautiful halibut, when we could have just put the damn thing on the broiler with some lemon and dill. I misjudged the timing of the gratin, and possibly even read part of the directions wrong.

Professional photos of food in cookbooks should not be the reason you try a recipe. I admit being enticed by its beauty and allowed it to create a mouth watering desire for Ina's Seafood Gratin, but mine was definitely not worth capturing for a viewing audience. The only way to describe my version is to say we ate chunky pink vomit that night, and I was heavily disappointed. The guys were nice enough as they always are when something isn't my best, but no one had seconds which was a sure sign of failure. Those weird enormous shrimp had a terrible texture and even made me gag a little. Bites of halibut were the only good taste in there, but they were drowned in all the muck. I thought all that cream and cheese and sauce and carrots and shrimp just didn't go together properly.

In the beginning of the recipe you had to bathe the seafood in stock, which cooks it pretty well right there. I really felt like there was a better recipe somewhere in that moment when the kitchen smelled nice and you could see the ingredients before my sauce took over. It's possible that we have to have epic disasters in order to find the right recipe for our own taste buds. I just wish my experiments weren't so damn expensive.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Living Together

I recently heard something that sent me into shock. My friend's wife has proposed to her in-laws that they all move into a two-flat apartment building together. She thought it would be good for everyone to be closer. Her argument is that they can care for my friend's parents as they age, and the parents can help them with future children and their first home owning responsibilities.

I'd hate to interject my opinion but I happen to have first hand knowledge of this arrangement. Obviously everyone has their reasons for doing the seemingly crazy things they do. But let's face it, no good can come from this situation. I know my friend's wife sees the good in everyone and is a calm lovely person, so my take on this could seem overly cynical or downright nasty. I don't mean to be that way but I simply can't recommend anyone do this. I've let my friend know what I think but I haven't really come out with the brutal honestly that lies in my brain. There can only be one way for me to explain how I feel about such a concept. Harsh as it may seem: THAT IS A TERRIBLE FUCKING IDEA. THAT MIGHT BE THE WORST IDEA EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE FUCKING UNIVERSE. HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS? OH MY GOD.

Now I understand that somewhere out there families might be normal and get along and prefer to be ulta-involved in each other's lives, but that has not been my experience at all. I mean, I've been so traumatized by my family that I blog about them and share rude details of our lives with the world. How mean is that? Honestly though, the only real reason to enter into this is if you're broke and need help getting started, or you're new to the country and need support. The deal has got to be for 5 years only and then you need to split. If that is not in the contract then forget it.

I want to give you a glimpse into this life by providing some details from mine. My grandma and uncle have lived in the apartment underneath my parents since I was six years old. My mom has wanted to move out for as long as I can remember, but the pull of obligation and guilt and lack of opportunity has kept them stuck there. She used to say it was because she had to take care of my grandmother, but if that was really the case then she has been doing so for the last twenty years and may continue for twenty more. It's a ridiculous notion really. My grandma and uncle guilted them into staying and my mom herself had an unrealistic expectation for where they could move to. I don't know where my dad's head was in all of this, but I know he didn't want to move in with them in the first place and they should have listened.

Because my mom and grandma communicated daily by opening the door and screaming down the hall until the other would scream back, my dad installed an intercom system. (one bad system replaced by another.) My grandma would hold the buzzer down until someone would run over and yell into it. Sometimes they would argue into it as if to amplify their problems for everyone else. A common occurrence went like this: (although it was all in Polish/Hebrew)













This exchange was followed by my mother laying various breads, often far too much for my grandmother to eat, on the stairs by her door. That act was followed by my grandma coming upstairs to throw money on our kitchen table. The money would land back on my grandma's table until she found a way to put it in my mother's purse or her coat pocket and it would stay there forgotten. One day Mom would find it and think it was there all along. The first phrase I learned in Polish sounds like this: ya neeiktsa. It means: I don't want it.

There was never a conversation or decision or aspect of my life that wasn't discussed among all four of them. My grandma didn't want me to learn to swim at a young age, but my mom did it anyway. My mom did not want me to eat sugar during the week, but my grandma gave me all kinds of crap all the time anyway. I never had a babysitter, only my grandma. My parents never went out on many dates or out much at all because my grandma and uncle would judge them for leaving me. As a young child I went to every curtain selection, every chair and countertop purchase, every boring ass adult house and home need there was instead of having play dates with kids my age. I developed an imaginary friend named Catherine Nicola that I talked to regularly and still remember aspects of today.

My uncle always berated my mom for spoiling me and still tells me that I never do anything right and am an ungrateful child. He has yelled at me while I was on the phone for ignoring him, and one time it happened during a job interview. He doesn't have children of his own and he is not American, so I don't know what he expected out of me but he didn't get it. It was impossible for him to fathom that when he came into my parent's apartment I didn't rush around making sure he had something to drink and serving his every need. He has a 1950s version of womanhood stuck in his mind and voiced concern that I am just a lazy brat for most of my life.

My grandma fought my mom on everything, and in turn my mom fought me on everything. I was to take ballet, even though I wanted soccer. I was to play piano, even though I wanted drums. When I took on a part-time job in high school my mom told me I was never going to be anything in life because I didn't care enough about school. My grandma reported my every move to my mom, and my dad always took their side in each battle. I never had an ally of my own. Everything had to be just so, and it had to involve us all. Life was all about pleasing someone else, and I always felt as though I had four parents in the same house.

I hate to blame family for my personal failures, but you have to admit that their influence can lead to some terrible life decisions. A while back I was offered a job at a vineyard as the tasting room manager. I had wanted this job so badly. It was perfect on so many levels. I was 26 and it was a chance for me to get out of Chicago and see and do something new. It seemed like the perfect age and time to have an adventure and take a chance. It was also the light at the end of a tunnel of a bad relationship I was in and had no idea how to get rid of. It was a real chance at starting over, with a real job with real health insurance, and real people who were willing to help me. I had a plan that I would work there for a few years and then start classes at The University of California in Davis. I visited, got hired, found an apartment, and quit my job in Chicago. I announced to my family that I was going to move, and then they got involved.

Each of them told me it was a stupid idea. Why would you move for such little money? What are you going to do all alone in California? You don't know anyone there. You won't be able to handle it. You should just move to a new neighborhood in Chicago if you want a change. Your car is too old to go. Who is going to help you move? They won't pay for your move? What kind of a job do you think you got? It's not a good job. It's not worth it. If they're too cheap to pay for your move then why would you want to work for them? What happens if they let you go? You'll be lonely and miserable you'll see.

So, I chickened out. No one would help me pack and move, they all thought it was a big joke. I wrote a lengthy email to all my friends saying that I never lived in a small town so I wouldn't know what to do with myself anyway. I ended up commuting over an hour each day in awful traffic to a stupid receptionist job in the city instead. I got 3 tickets and into 1 accident that I got sued over years later. To this day, losing the job in California is my biggest regret.

If you want to invite constant scrutiny and second guessing into your life then by all means please go ahead and move in with your family. Every job, purchase, vacation, clothing choice, piece of mail, and any decision at all will be up for debate or at least discussed whether you want it to be or not. And if you live in the same building, you don't even realize now what kind of arguments could be had. Just wait until screaming matches ensue over who uses too much water, and if fixing something is really necessary, and the state of the storage in the basement, or which color flowers are acceptable to plant. These arguments occur DAILY at my family's place. DAILY.

Even if you are a calm, rational individual that doesn't mean that combined with your in-laws or your own parents you will remain that way, especially when child rearing is involved. Imagine for a second your future child's point of view. She will move 2000 miles away because she feels like she feels suffocated by everyone. She may grace you with a call once a month and sound like she can't wait for the conversation to be over. She will have commitment phobias and be forever indecisive because nothing will ever be good enough. She will cower under the shield of relationships rather than find coping mechanisms. She will fail over and over and feel sorry for herself and be very selfish and vain. Her allies will tell her she is too hard on herself.

And you will use this future child as a bargaining chip or negotiator in several disputes over stupid things. She will not care one way or another but try fruitlessly to make peace. During the first year I lived in Seattle I received a barrage of phone calls from each of them complaining about a remodel project.
(example one)

GRANDMA: Avivitchca, tell your mama I no vant it fence.

ME: Grandma, it might be nice in the back. You can have privacy.

GRANDMA: I no vant. Vhy she money spending?

ME: Well, I think it's important to her. Change is good.

GRANDMA: Your uncle no vant fence eiber. You tell your mama not do this. Vhy she vant it?

ME: I don't know. I like parking back there so I don't know where the car would go.

GRANDMA: No make sense. Your uncle no vant. He very angry. He feel like he not own building. She do vhatever she vant all time.

ME: She does, but sometimes she has good ideas.

GRANDMA: You tell her not building fence here. She listen to you. Don tell I said you do dis.

(example two)

ME: Ma, you're really upsetting Grandma and Uncle about the fence. Maybe it's not worth it.

MOM: Are you nuts? Do you know I had to get every god-damn neighbor to sign off on a waiver so that I could build it here? You think I'm going to let it go after all this trouble?

ME: I don't know. Listen, they don't want it. Why waste your money?

MOM: It will bring value to this place. You don't understand. I'm doing it. They're always against everything I do.

ME: Then why cause a problem? If they don't want changes then why bother?

MOM: Because this place would be a fucking dump if it wasn't for us. Don't listen to them, they don't like anything until after you do it. You know years ago when I painted the doors in our unit white? Your uncle screamed bloody murder at me that I was stupid and making the place ugly and I didn't know what I was doing. Then a few months later, he loved it and did the same thing downstairs.

ME: Well I don't know what to tell them. She asked me to convince you not to do this.

MOM: Tell them you would like a fence. You can sunbathe out there and no one will bother you. And we can have parties and it will be nice not to see the alley back there. Tell them.

It's not fun being in the middle of every mundane issue, but I'm not sure it can be avoided. People take sides and rarely in these circumstances can you all agree or even make your voice heard. How will you avoid your child's involvement in each squabble?

And you know, you have to make this future person, or adopt or whatever. Either way, you as a couple need alone time. And you will be having alone time above or below your parents who may hear you and may even comment about it.

A few years back my mother was complaining to me about my grandmother. She was in tears describing every assault my grandma throws at her. She even told me that my grandma complains about my parent's "lovemaking," which obviously made me very uncomfortable. She apparently would come upstairs and make rude remarks regarding whether or not my mother had a good time last night.

So besides your alone time, your parents will also be having alone time. Due to the closeness of the living arrangements, they may feel like discussing things with you.

Last summer when I was in town, my mother casually said that she was dusting in my old bedroom and happened to find a small bottle KY in a drawer. I didn't ask what she was doing in the drawer but I was disappointed in myself for leaving that laying around. It's a perfectly normal thing to have of course and often used for non-sexual related matters, but still. I was heavily embarrassed that she brought this up. And that wasn't the worst of it. She went on:

MOM: Aviva, you know you're not supposed to use KY. It causes problems. They don't want you to know about this, but it's true. I had a problem and my doctor told me not to use it. So I threw yours away.

ME: Uh huh.

MOM: I'm serious Aviva.

ME: Ok.

MOM: There is a better product. Your dad ordered for me on the internet. It's called Probe. You want me to write it down for you?

ME: I think I'll remember. Thanks.

MOM: It's much better. And you know what else the doctor told me? You have to get up right away after sex and urinate.

ME: I know Ma.

MOM: You do? I didn't know that. Usually right after I am like boom! Asleep. But you have to get up and go to the bathroom so you don't have problems.

ME: I got it Mom. Bathroom. Good.

Throughout the course of writing this blog post I was trying to think of any benefits that have come from this situation. Obviously I am extremely close with my grandma despite all the drama because she was always around. However, I remember spending time at her place in Roger's Park nearly every day before this insane move. Closeness just depends on how you handle the relationship, not necessarily how close your living quarters are.

I can't explain enough how growing up with four parents is too stressful an environment for a child. I don't want to be too hard on anyone really considering this, but as my grandma would say: "Tink good on dis. Tink good."

Or, take it from one who knows: try your best to have a normal, healthy family life. Let your parents or in-laws retire to Arizona. Visit on the major holidays, and all will be well. Give yourself a chance to miss them.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hidden Veggie

I'm a little late on blogging for this month's Daring Bakers challenge. The reason being that I didn't know what to say about it.

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers’ challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!
Now, the way I feel about this is that it's very silly business. When Jessica Seinfeld came out with her book I thought it was the dumbest shit ever. All I remember about eating veggies as a kid was that my mom made me do it. Period. She swears that I didn't develop any dislike of anything until I heard someone else complain about it. She even swears that I LOVED Gefilte fish when I was a kid. She never, ever made me a separate dinner from the family, and she never allowed me to skip her prepared dinner for mac and cheese or a PB&J. She told me once that she saw a friend of hers make her rather large daughter a PB&J for dinner and was utterly appalled. 

Now you're probably thinking that she stayed at home and had all the time in the world or something, but no. She worked full time my whole life and came home and made dinner. She didn't grow up with alternatives so neither did I. My mother is very formal about dinner and is often nauseated over things like how Americans switch their knife over to their right hand when it belongs in the left. I had to sit up straight, use all the correct silverware, have a napkin on my lap, stay for proper tea and biscuits after, ask to be excused, and if you slurped....god help you. We ate in the style of Downton Abbey, except my mother had come home cranky from being a grocery store clerk and dealing with assholes all day, and my dad walked in the door and sat down for dinner still wearing his pocket protector. We ate in a tiny kitchen nook, the news was blaring from the tv, and my parents were so tired they just stared off into space the whole time.  

Now she swears up and down that coming home and cooking from scratch every day is an exhausting, unappreciated enterprise that smart women should avoid if at all possible. At the same time she doesn't believe in fast food, so maybe her version of things is a little unrealistic. When I was growing up, she made the type of ethnic food that required hours and hours of standing, stirring, chopping and so forth. Of course she eventually learned the marvels of pasta and taco nights, but that took a while. My dinners now can be experimental, but I save the rigorous ethnic stuff for holidays when I have all day to torture myself, or have fun making a huge mess.

While I remember always having to eat what was on my plate, I also remember my mother having to be satisfied if I just tasted her Russian beet salad or Borscht with sour cream. I did not like beets as a child and still do not like them. I do eat them now if they're shredded on a salad that consists primarily of other things and I have developed a sort of mild interest, but in general I am not a fan. My mom might have just had to pick her battles on some of the veggies. 

If you're going to hide veggies to get your kid to eat them, I have little to judge this on. I do not yet have children and have no idea of the demands or frustrations whatsoever. But, I also don't know if by covering beets in chocolate and sugar you still retain nutritional value, or if kids would be willing to eat the real thing afterwards once they find out. I was pretty reluctant to do this challenge for this reason. I simply don't see how covering something with sweets counts as getting your kids to appreciate vegetables. But, hey if it works then why not?

I did some research to find recipes that I actually wanted to try. Little did I know that there were hundreds of recipes hiding beets in various ways. Clearly, this was the thing for me to try. Will I taste them in a chocolate cake? Will it make the cake better? I decided to find out. 

Mixing batter with beets in it is kind of gross. It looks all bloody and you can't imagine this will make a fine cake, but it does. It really does.



As usual, I had a couple mishaps along the way. The cocoa disaster of 2013 landed triumphantly on the floor while I was making a cake I had little interest in, as if to say: this will suck because you thought it would. And then there was the glaze disaster. I really don't know what to say about that. But I recovered. And I recovered the cake. And it was good. It was really, really good to my total shock. 

The strange thing about the cake itself was that it wasn't good the day after I made it. It was just ok. It was like any kind of "lighter" chocolate cake you could make. But after three days the moistness really took over and the beets really did inspire a deeper chocolate flavor. They turned out to be a pretty nice compliment to cocoa. I never would have thought this to be the case but it's true but I didn't really taste any beet flavor or texture. Still, I'm not sold on the idea that eating cake is good for you just because veggies are hidden in there. But I did think it was a good cake and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. 

Then I went out on a bigger limb and made Cardamom Parsnip cupcakes. I got both of these recipes from Martha Stewart's website. I'm not sure that I would make the chocolate beet cake again, but let me tell you, the cupcakes were out of this world. These I intend to make over and over again and feed them to everyone I know. 

Weirdly, parsnips have never interested me at all. I don't dislike them, but I also find little use for them at all. I don't use them for stock because I think they make the flavor too bitter. I have only really enjoyed them once before, which was when I sauteed them with carrots, butter, and whiskey for Thanksgiving. That was incredible, but nothing compared to these cupcakes.

It never would have crossed my mind to make these if it wasn't for the Daring Bakers. So, even if I was reluctant and uninterested in the challenge, I found out something new and exciting that really delighted me.

The cupcakes were a hit at a party I brought them to, and no one guessed parsnips were the secret ingredient. It was fun to surprise people and I think I understand the benefits of  hidden veggies a little better. I saw some of the other Daring Bakers came up with sweet potato butterscotch blondies, avocado brownies, spinach cake that was really green, and an awe inspiring Swiss roll with purple yams. I finally feel inspired to try out more of these recipes! Yum!

I called my mom to tell her about these incredible cupcakes, but when I said that I made them with parsnips, she said: "No you mean carrot. Carrot cupcakes."

No Ma, parsnip.

Parsnips go in soup.

Yeah but I made them into something sweet. You've got to try this recipe. I tried to make dessert with vegetables.

Oh ya, I heard people are doing that now. 

It makes sense to be apprehensive about this at first, but I highly recommend giving it a try! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Rain In Spain

I don't think any fiction writer can come up with the shit my uncle says. There are many tv characters that are the stupid/funny stereotype I hate, or the characters that have some type of ADD, ADHD, Asperger, Dyslexia problem and we are stuck hearing the laugh track follow their every sentence. That is not at all my type of humor; I've never thought stupid=funny. Granted, the Andy Dwyer character in Parks and Recreation is at times endearing and cute and other times just plain stupid. But in real life, people who speak in this manner are not cute or stupid they're incredibly confused and lost and their every sentence can be followed by frustration and annoyance rather than laughter.

Or at least this is the case with my uncle. My grandma does not know how to use her cell phone so each time I call I have to talk to both her and my uncle on speaker for 1-2 hours. The experience has made me consider gouging out my eyeballs with a fork. I just thank goodness that they don't know how to use Skype or Facetime yet because I wouldn't know how to control my facial expressions.

Our latest conversation was on St. Patrick's Day. I asked them if they knew what day it was and they didn't know. I told them it was the 25th anniversary since I had my appendix taken out. Since my grandma is a bit morbid, she went into the retelling of every surgery she's ever had and every traumatic experience that went along with it. I made an attempt to keep it light and brought the conversation back to my story.

AVIVA: Grandma, do you remember that day? You made me swallow baking soda!

GRANDMA: Oh yes. I pray to God that everytink go vell in hospital. I scare very.

AVIVA: I can't believe it was 25 years ago. I remember that day pretty well.

UNCLE: What day?

GRANDMA: How you vemember it vas today? You write down or somethink?

AVIVA: It was on St. Patrick's Day!

GRANDMA: Oh! St. Patrick's today dat's right. I no vemember it vas St. Patrick's Day.

AVIVA: I was upset because I wanted to wear my green sweatpants to school and mom bought awesome cupcakes with green sprinkles.

GRANDMA: You vas eight vhen it's happen. Really tventy years goin?

UNCLE: You went to hospital? For what?

AVIVA: They took my appendix out Uncle. Twenty five years ago. Remember? I was there for a week. I was nine Grandma.

GRANDMA: Oh nine.

UNCLE: You no have no appendix?

AVIVA: Of course I don't have an appendix. You were there, remember? You bought me Donkey Kong.

UNCLE: But how you no have appendix?

AVIVA: They take it out. So you know they do it more easily now. You only get a tiny scar. Mine is huge.

GRANDMA: Tventy five years.

He might have been joking about not having a clue but nothing was funny so I don't know what to believe. He might have thought that I had some sort of mystery surgery but they didn't take anything out. My patience was wearing thin within the first few minutes of the conversation. I tried to turn things to St. Patrick's Day.

AVIVA: So did you watch the parade or anything on tv?

UNCLE: What parade?

GRANDMA: Patrick, Patrick. People vearing green lotsa.

UNCLE: Aviva, is Patrick the same name as Peter?

AVIVA: What?

GRANDMA: You eat corned beef today?

AVIVA: I didn't Grandma, but that would be nice.

GRANDMA: I like it. Good corned beef.

UNCLE: No no. Peter is same as Patrick.

AVIVA: It's two different names, Uncle.

UNCLE: But in Ireland, if you're name is Peter they call you Patrick right?

GRANDMA: Vat you talking? Not same Peter.

UNCLE: I never see corned beef in stores. They don't sell it.

AVIVA: Of course they have it, they probably have two tons of it in stores right now.

My uncle frequents an electronic store in the far suburbs called ABT. The store is an authorized retailer of various products like Mac computers and Bose speakers. Years ago I got my uncle Bose earbuds because he is a runner and needed them. About a year ago, he lost the covers to the earbuds. This is no big deal, he can easily replace them at the Bose store for a few dollars. I must have told him this five million times.

AVIVA: So Uncle, did you get the earbud covers?

UNCLE: What's earbud?

AVIVA: You know for the headphones for your ipod.

UNCLE: Oh ya ya. I order dem.

AVIVA: You didn't go to the store?

UNCLE: I don't know where a store is.

AVIVA: But there is one in ABT.

UNCLE: What store in ABT?

AVIVA: Uncle, they have a Bose store in ABT. You must have passed it a million times.

UNCLE: I never saw no Bose store.

AVIVA: But you bought your computer in ABT. The Bose store is right next to it.

UNCLE: I never seen it.

What can you do in these circumstances? Passover is coming up and they want me home for it. Just considering a holiday with the family puts me on edge.

GRANDMA: You buying matzoh Avivitcha? Pesach soon.

AVIVA: I didn't buy any Grandma. Not yet.

GRANDMA: Expensive very very in da stores now. I hearing da company not make so much because not sell.

AVIVA: Really? That's too bad. They should market them more like crackers. Then everyone would buy them.

UNCLE: I love matzoh. I love it for breakfast with cream cheese and jelly.

GRANDMA: Use be eight dollars for big box and now sixteen! I cannot belief.

UNCLE: I love matzoh for breakfast.

AVIVA: That's really expensive Grandma. At my grocery store it's almost six dollars for one box.

GRANDMA: (loud gasp) SIX DOLLARS for one? They thiebes. Debils.

UNCLE: You eat it for breakfast Aviva? It's good.

It's good to have patience in this world. I have some friends that are special ed teachers and they are clearly the best people on earth. I could never handle it. One challenging family member is more than enough.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Steaming Hot

Yesterday I did something I've always wanted to do but never had the confidence for. It was my birthday and I like to do "me" type things on my special day. Usually that involves a pedicure, a museum or show, and a seafood dinner. It used to involve drinking until I woke up on the floor, but I'm pleased to say those days are behind me. This year I planned to spend the day with both pampering and hard work.

I suffer from asthma which doesn't bother that often, but whenever I get a tightness in my chest I fear a month of steroids and hell are ahead of me. The last time I had a really mean cold was last summer and I was sure to have my inhaler next to me at all times just in case. Every day I wished that I could get up off the couch and walk down to a near-by spa for women. It is a small and inexpensive place that offers a hot tub, steam room infused with lavender, sauna, and a cold plunge shower head. This type of experience is known in many cultures as the cure for what ails you, and also just excellent for your skin and breathing. In the U.S. I think many people view it as something rich women do for relaxation and luxurious self indulging.

What a ridiculous notion. First of all, it's only $15 and you can stay as long as you want. Second, it's not that easy to sit in rooms where the heat is sucking out everything you've got. It makes you dizzy, thirsty, exhausted, and sore believe it or not. You have to take breaks to rest your heart rate and get back to an equalized state. Drinking tons of water is necessary otherwise you will lose your mind or pass out. Of course, yes after the fact you do feel relaxed and luxurious and soft and fabulous.

I had wanted to do this for years and years, especially when I had trouble breathing, but the deterrent have to be buck ass naked. (hence the reason this place is for women only) In gym steam rooms most people wear a bathing suit, and the whole place reeks of chlorine. But here, you've got to be fucking naked.

Now I've explained before that I'm not the most modest girl. I've changed in front of people and I've skinny dipped and I've even gone to the bathroom in front of people believe it or not. I mean come on. I've gone on a two week camping and canoe trip on the Mississippi when I was a teenager, and I briefly lived on an army base overseas, and I've even been to a god-damn disgusting ass Rainbow Gathering. So, yes I've been in several group showers and used a river as a toilet and have had to smear it, if you know what I mean. So there have been plenty of times when I've been made of tougher stuff and not the prissiest priss.

However, either I've grown more self conscious as I get older, or I don't feel like any of those experiences are comparable to laying around nude with a bunch of other ladies for hours. It's very intimidating. Years ago I attended a Turkish bath when I was actually in Turkey with my mother. It was a gargantuan room where naked chicks laid down in a circle and attendants would come by and wash you while you laid there in the steam. My mother thought it was perfectly normal for all of us to be laying about chatting with other naked chicks. I was completely mortified, especially about the bathing part, and I desperately did not want my mom to see my tattoo. She of course, is not American and stuff like this was part of her usual existence before moving to the U.S. I don't even think she noticed my tattoo, or maybe she didn't even notice nudity really.

I remember when I had to change costumes during a ballet recital and I was so frightened about my body being out there in the dressing room. She told me that it wasn't a big deal because all us girls had the same stuff, but I was so young and all I could think was that this didn't look like that at all. Laying around naked with other people is supposed to be relaxing but I couldn't get over it. The spa in Turkey didn't faze my mom but I couldn't wait to get out. It was one of the weirdest things I had ever done and I did not want a repeat experience.

Yesterday seemed like the time to get over it and go try since I knew it would be good for me, and I wanted to do something healthy for my birthday. The plan was to start with a yoga class to kick my ass, then head over for some deeper breathing at the spa. Several ridiculous thoughts ran through my head before I got there, like whether or not I'd be the mushiest woman in the room and how to talk to naked people if someone starts a conversation. I was extremely worried about the towel size and whether or not I'd wear it on all or half of me. And I worried most of all about the most embarrassing thing on earth: hair.

I've inherited my father's genes when it comes to hair and that is really one of the worst things that can happen to a girl. I'm actually a gorilla and the amount of work it takes to get that under control is insane. As of now, I've got it down to a minimum because I am flat out sick of doing all that crap and decided that my partner will have to accept me as I am. (for the most part anyway) Unfortunately, my self consciousness regarding my amount of hair down there worried me the most yesterday.

I do manage general deforestation followed by a regeneration harvest because I think it's for the best. I know it's very popular to pay someone a lot of money to rip out everything and cause a wildfire of discomfort followed by getting to look like you are nine years old again, but that is not for me. Some of my friends prefer this look and feeling and that's fine for them, but I do not and think it's pretty yucky overall. In fact it's got to be linked to a gross male fantasy/expectation caused by porn. And if so, why are you sleeping with those dudes anyway? Regardless, due to the popularity of this ridiculousness, I feared that I would be the only one with undergrowth of the naked ladies in the room.

Luckily, there were far more Janes of the jungle than Barbie bikinis and I was quickly put as ease regarding that aspect of things. It's so stupid to assume that you're the only one with anything in any situation ever. Of the handful of us that were there, no one had a perfect body because oh yeah. They don't exist! Why do we ever convince ourselves that they do? Every body out there has some type of flaw whether we can see it or not.

Of course, in this situation you do see everything. And it's weird because you want to avert your eyes but you can't really. If you open the door to either the steam or sauna, bam! There they are. Breasts and bush and everything: legs open, legs closed, legs up the wall. I started out trying to get the towel to cover my every part but of course it wasn't long enough. Something had to come out. And then eventually you'll want to lie down so the towel had to go underneath. And then you'll definitely want to use the freezing cold shower for a minute so you've got to stand there naked in front of everyone.

Admittedly I saw a perfect pair of breasts and they were completely astonishing. Obviously these weren't attached to a perfect body overall, but the boobs were magnificent and I almost didn't believe my eyes. They were the perky type that didn't fall to the sides when laying down. They weren't small but not large either. They had this amazingly circular shape. It reminded me of seeing some actress's top halves in movies and I wondered if they got cast for their breast perfection. These are the things that go through your mind when you're sweating out your brains and delirium might be settling in.            

As it turned out, nudity isn't that big a deal and you do get over it. It's possible that Americans are a little more conscious to the desires of personal space, because at this spa there was zero conversation and that added to my comfort level. There was a little bit of locker room chat but no one sat around there naked. There was one person that worked the front desk and she came by to mop or check temperature and what not, but that was it. It was a perfectly serene environment with lovely soft music playing in the background. I became unabashed with my lack of towel and felt relieved, grateful, healthy and happy with the way I spent my day. It was a fantastic birthday present to myself. I felt so good by the time I got home that anyone could have told me World War Three started and I would have said simply, "OK" and gone to bed.


Thursday, March 7, 2013


Last year for my 33rd birthday I made a coconut cake from Ina Garten's book and let me tell you, this thing was just plain stupid. STUPID. I don't know how anyone can get away with a published recipe that calls for: 5 sticks of butter, 2 cups sugar, 1 pound of cream cheese, 1 pound of powdered sugar, 10 oz of sweetened coconut, and 5 eggs. She might as well have called it: Cake To Kill Yourself With. Yet, I made it for my birthday.

I was craving a moist coconut filled cake and I thought the picture in her book looked so lovely. Looks are deceiving! I was astonished at the amount of fat and sugar but felt that maybe sometimes that's what it takes for deliciousness. Now that I've made it, I can tell you that it is totally unnecessary and ridiculous. You can certainly make just as good a cake or better without blocking a damn artery.

It was so dense and heavy. It wasn't a bad tasting cake by any means, but it shouldn't feel like weight lifting just to serve it up either. I really prefer a light springy moist cake that has a slight crumble to it. This was more like a chunk of hearty coconut sustenance proper for times when you are freezing in Antarctica, or if you're in the NFL and eating two entrees plus dessert at the Cheesecake Factory really aren't enough calories for you.  


Layer cakes have always been a tremendous challenge for me. I've never had quite the right tools for it but felt like they're worth a try anyway, especially when birthdays come up. I like the idea of trying various fillings and frostings, and I also like trying it without the usual amounts of fat and sugar. But in the effort to improve, I decided to follow things exactly as they are in the books first so I can make changes later. My change to Ina's coconut cake is: use far less butter and cream cheese or just use a different recipe for crying out loud. I'm glad I gave this a try and indulged in ultimate indulgence for my birthday, but this one won't be made again. Or maybe I would make it for someone else so that the temptation is not sitting around my house!

Today is my 34th birthday and I admit it has come as a bit of a shock. I can't believe that I started this blog for my 30th birthday and the time has just flown by. Instead of making a cake this time, I've received a lovely coconut pie from a bakery as a present. The best part about that is not knowing how much of any ingredient is in there!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snack Snack Crunch!

I've made crackers. From scratch. Using the rolling pin for these was enough to make me feel like I had been at the gym all day long! My shoulders ached for 2 days following this procedure. For a moment, I thought what a good idea it could be to make these for your family every so often. They were such a nice snack to have without any sketchy preservatives or coloring. I even envisioned a homemade cracker snack jar next to the cookie jar. 

Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie as our February 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to use our creativity in making our own Crisp Flatbreads and Crackers! (some recipes found HERE)

I currently work with kids and I can tell you, those hot cheetos really are all the rage. The giveaway neon redness on their fingers and smudges on papers everywhere couldn't go unnoticed. I've even caught a few kids sneaking them to friends during class, even though they are certainly not allowed. And while Tostitos, Goldfish, Cheez-its (which is scary enough in name alone,) and Doritos are fun snacks once in a while, I actually thought these crispy, crunchy crackers I made for the Daring Bakers this month would be a delicious alternative. I generally try to avoid foods with un-pronounceable ingredients anyway.

However, now that I've gone through the trouble...I can't imagine making these that often, or maybe even never again. It was quite the task, especially since I managed to try three different kinds! If I scheduled in making only one type of cracker at a time, then it could be done. I suggest all the parents out there try this once so they can have special snack time and taste the difference. Of course, I'm not crazy enough to tell you that your kids should avoid the hot cheetos altogether! They have to enjoy themselves after all, no matter how neon the color of their food. What do I know about parenting anyway?

I'm very pleased with the way my crackers turned out, despite the fact that the texture wasn't perfect on all. Texture is a tough thing. For these crackers, the dough must be super thin and when I achieved that it often broke apart.

Most ended up perfectly crunchy but some were soft. Most were nice and thin and others were lopsided and way too thick. Timing was an issue as well. I wasn't sure how long to bake each type for and it was pretty hit or miss. I burned a bunch or took plenty out before I should have. This was a pretty useful was to get to know my oven better, and test the strength of my shoulders with that rolling pin! Somehow I managed to make the onion poppyseed, yellow corn, and cheddar cheese crackers.

And now...for the cutest kids in the whole world:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Daring Once Again!

It's still January and I have a right to talk New Years Resolutions if I want to. The first one of mine was to teach a yoga class to other humans, instead of just doing it in front of a mirror at home. I have been wrestling with my self-confidence in this matter, even though I finished yoga teacher training over a year and a half ago. Somehow, with the assistance of very good friends, I finally muscled up the courage to research and rent a proper studio, plan a full class sequence, and choose soothing music to play along to it. As of last Friday I felt like a real yoga teacher, and I got my friends to stick their ass in the air like they just don't care.  

Other resolutions were: 

1) to stop being a broke ass
2) focus on career only, therefore ending the "odd job cycle," as I like to call it
3) get all belongings under one roof and stop being such a gypsy wanderer, or keep the wandering gypsy vibe, but know where things are...I haven't quite figured this one out yet
4) pay off undergraduate student loan, and a credit card (very doable)
5) get back to things I love doing, so that I see more projects through from start to finish 

Now to be fair, it's still January so I have time for the biggies on the list. I'm off to a good start though, and very proud to say that I am re-committing after a lengthy hiatus to The Daring Bakers. Doing a monthly assignment in the kitchen was always fun for me, and always a positive experience even if the project ended up a deflated soggy inedible mess. I don't know why I ever stopped. My kitchen isn't as well equipped as I think many of the other bloggers, but hey sometimes it's good to work with what you've got. I think the act of doing is better than thinking about doing, so here we are. I'm determined to make 2013 a year of positivity. Therefore, I am daring once again to try various things I never have before......

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

I'll be honest. I've never even heard of a GEVULDE SPECULAAS, and still have a hard time remembering how to spell it. Part of the recipe required me to make my own almond paste, which I have never done before. The almonds needed the skin taken off first and normally I would just buy them at the store that way. However since I am still a broke ass and already had almonds in the house with skin on, I had to boil them and rub them off by hand. This turned out to be no big deal at all.  

I also had to mix my own Speculaas Spice concoction, which created a lovely aroma in the kitchen.  It also finally gave me an opportunity to use white pepper, which hasn't left the pantry since Thanksgiving.  

I had some ugly mishaps, but you can't tell from the picture. I am reluctant to admit this, but hey we can't all be perfect.  Sometimes it's best to celebrate the journey and not so much the end result. So, the fact is that I rolled the dough far, far beyond the limits of the pan. I tried to get it right a few times, but ended up taking the easy way out and flopping it over itself. Then I woefully misunderstood how to roll out the almond paste and lost about a third of it in the process. It just clung on to the wrapping and I don't know how I thought it would magically just unwrap and lay it across the dough. Then I forgot to add the water to the egg, so there was a distinct egg smell that permeated the kitchen at first. There is even a bit of an eggy like area on top, which didn't properly soak in. Weirdly enough it's very yellow and I purposely framed the photos so you can't see it clearly. Ha! How about that for perfection? 

I figured it helps to cut them into bars! The taste is great and I would definitely try it again. Thanks Francijn for daring me to make this! Here's to starting the new year off right!