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!