Setting: the bookstore where I work, 3:36pm
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
When did THAT happen, eh? The past few months have really, well...I'm not sure exactly where they went. Here's the News & Events from My Life to catch us all up to date:
The upside is that this is all work that I (mostly) like doing. I still moan and groan when the alarm goes off in the morning, but once I sit down at the computer, I'm pretty darn glad to be there. There are off days, for sure, but mostly I really enjoy what I do.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Ok, before I sucked right into the second book, I thought I'd take a moment to a) resurface, b) eat dinner, and c) have a little chat with you about this book.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Here's the premise: Bella is a lovely young teenager who has reluctantly moved back to the small town in the Pacific Northwest where her father has been living. Despite a propensity to trip over her own feet, she manages to charm everyone at her new school and become Popular in a few days. She's got a great group of friends and several boys who follow her like puppies, but here's the hitch. Bella's got the hots for this guy Edward. And, as is revealed in dramatic play-by-play action, it turns out that he's a vampire. Smoldering looks, quickening heartbeats (on Bella's part, at least - hardy har har), and trouble ensues.
And this is my take: Twilight is a teenage romance novel at its very best, and it had me hooked - right down to the last throaty whisper and drop of tantalizing blood. It's one of the most riveting and entertaining books I've read in a long time, by which I mean that I was only half joking when I said I was glued to the couch and a rumbling stomach was a major inconvenience.
A great novel, it was not. Masterfully written, it was not. There were a few too many 'smirks' and repetitious, round-about conversations between Bella and her vampire for my taste. But let's be clear about this: Twilight is a young adult novel and as such, it was exactly what it needed to be.
Meyer captured that particular and excruciating anxiety of being a teenager right down to the last self-conscious shoe lace. The scenes and conversations felt very real and believable. In fact, many of her passages felt all-too close to my own memories of that time (particularly the scenes of Bella fumbling every attempt at grace in gym class). I could see a teenager reading this and finding solace for her own teenage-y discomfort.
Meyer also captured that equally particular and excruciating anxiety of being freshly in love, that time when a smile turns your bones to jelly and a frown feels like your world collapsing. Those early scenes between Bella and Edward - oh Lord, yes! I'd be lying if I said those scenes didn't make my own heart beat a little faster. There's a part of me that wants to give this book to every teenage boy (and a few grown men) and say, "Here! THIS is how you romance a lady! You're welcome!"
Her characters had me charmed from the get-go. Bella with her awkwardness and refreshing honesty. Mike, Tyler, and all her other admirers in their geeky boyishness. Bella's shy father and her relationship with him. And of course, Edward with all his inner turmoil, sureness, and chivalry.
The plot was decent, if predictable. I felt that the climactic turning point happened a little too abruptly, coming so swiftly on the heels of Bella and Edward finally getting their adorable/scintillating act together. There were a few moments that seemed glossed over in the rush to the finish - like how Bella becomes suddenly accepted by Edward's family.
Meyer can certainly paint a scene, though. Emerging from this book felt like coming out of an intense dream. I had to blink a few times and remind myself where I was. Even when the action was slow, I was still devouring every word without blinking.
I had a few rather major philosophical problems with the book, however. The first is the issue of love.
Bella is 17. Edward is 18 going on 100. They "fall in love" in about two weeks, and tell each other so very quickly. I feel that this scenario happens too frequently in young adult novels, and the conclusion is inevitably, yes, they really are in love. They will get married and be together forever. No trouble. No lasting heart ache. Love wins!
But I just feel that this isn't real. It's not how life works. And it feels contrived and convenient when it happens in novels. I fully admit that this may be my own world view and perhaps true love at 18 that lasts forever happens more than I think. But I think not. And even if so, what's wrong with saying, "Yes, I love you madly. Yes, I feel like I want to be with you forever." but then showing that sometimes love fizzles out? And that it's ok when that happens? What's wrong with showing that, huh?
What I'm getting at here, in my thinking-out-loud kind of way, is that I think novels that show teenagers falling in love - real, forever love - can be misleading for real-life teenagers. They think that the fireworks and electricity is how it will be forever, and when that mellows out or fizzles out, they think something is wrong. Or worse (and yes, this is most certainly my paradigm) they think that they've done something wrong and actually failed at love in some inexplicable way.
I just don't think showing characters jumping headlong into "forever" is a good example, I guess. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but it would be nice to have a dose of reality in our fantasy now and then. Especially when the readers are young adults and are still trying to figure out how the world works.
The second issue is with how Edward treats Bella. Oh, he's chivalrous and gentlemanly, but there are so many scenes where he shuts her down, dismisses her wishes and desires, keeps her deliberately in the dark "for her own good", or makes it clear that he must protect her. It rings of old male-female/husband-wife patterns.
To her credit, Meyer has created a well-spoken, confident character in Bella, and Bella frequently stands up for herself and bullies Edward right back. Toward the end of the book, Bella brings up the idea of equality in their relationship, stating that "It just seems logical...a man and a woman have to be somewhat equal...as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally." It's not clear to me in the novel whether Edward really hears her or not, or if he just dismisses her as not really understanding what she's saying [which is that she wants to become a vampire, so they can be equal].
I'm not sure where this is headed. I'm curious, if a bit skeptical, to see how the relationship develops. Maybe the point is that Edward is from another era when the relationships between men and women weren't quite so equal, and he must now learn to be in an equal relationship. Or maybe Bella will succumb entirely to his topaz eyes and remarkable abilities to keep her safe. Who knows?
On that note, back to the couch I go! Luckily, I was able to procure some Fresca and Twizzlers in my brief resurfacing, so I should be good to go for the next few days.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Have you heard that Joe Biden, theoretically Obama's top choice for VP, loves to cook?
I have to say, I'm not sure what to think about this tendency to attribute "home cook" status to our presidential candidates and their associated flocks. Is this supposed to make them friendlier? More "American"? More approachable and down-to-earth? Because honestly, it would be more American to admit you eat out 6 or 7 nights a week and use your refrigerator to store extra clothes. And also, nothing about Cindy McCain makes me think "approachable and down-to-earth," least of all her cookie recipes.
But I guess I see their point. After all, American's have a long history of believing one thing and doing something completely different.
Monday, August 18, 2008
KitchenAid agreed that the lift mechanism should NOT sound like a portcullis, and they're sending me a new mixer! They were so pleasant and nice on the phone, and didn't even make a big deal out of the problem. They said the new mixer should arrive in about a week and will include a mailing label for returning the other mixer.
Sweet! Thanks, Carla from KitchenAid!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
A KitchenAid Pro 600, in fact! Wheee!! Thanks, Internets, for making it oh-so-very easy to locate and acquire expensive pretty things! Thanks, Food Writing Career, for providing me with the suitable justification for this purchase! Thanks, Engineer, for making me hit "Purchase" and also validating my color choice!
This is a shot of its maiden voyage kneading some ciabatta. I've been longing to make ciabatta forEVER. It's such a sticky, wet dough that it's near impossible to make it without a standing mixer. I'm happy to say that it mixed and whirred and kneaded without missing a beat! (More on the ciabatta itself later)
For interested parties, I decided on the KitchenAid 600 over the 500 only after much weighty thinking and wringing of hands. 600 has a slightly larger capacity (6 qts to 5 qts) and a stronger engine. There are other small differences, but since I plan on doing a lot of bread baking with this mixer, these were the two selling points. You can check out the full breakdown on the KitchenAid website.
The price difference is about $100, no small sum for someone relatively unemployed such as myself. But in the end, I decided that down the line I'll be more grateful to have the mighter power of the Pro 600 than the extra $100.
One small problem I've noticed so far--the mechanism for lifting the bowl up to the mixer-head really jerks and clunks. It locks in place and unlocks again without any problems, but the lifting and lowering reminds me of one of those creaky portcullises (portcullisi?) from medieval castles.
I've never had this experience with any other KitchenAid, and at first I just thought it needed some time to let the lubricant work into the gears and whatnot. But after raising and lowering the lift several dozen times and talking to a few fellow KitchenAid owners, I think this is actually a problem. Maybe the lifter-belt-thingy got thrown off the track during shipping? Who knows. I poked around the internet this afternoon trying to see if anyone else had this problem, but didn't come up with much. In any case, I'm going to call KitchenAid tomorrow and see what they think.
I'm not actually all that worried about it. KitchenAid has a great reputation for both their mixers and their service, and I'm sure it will get sorted out. I'm just happy it works and that I can still play with it in the meantime.
So...yay! Mixer! Ciabatta! Bing...Level Up!
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I've had it on my list to write down all these master recipes FOREVER, but kept procrastinating for one reason or another. Why procrastinate something that you actually want to do? Something that you know will be darn useful to you in the future? And that you will probably kick yourself for if you don't to do and then end up forgetting everything in the fog of post-culinary school life?
Humph. Eeenyways, here are all the master recipes that I memorized for my culinary school final practicum. Apologies for the short-hand--goal #1 is to get the recipes down, goal #2 would be to flesh them out...so they, you know, make sense to more people than just...me. (In the meantime, if you feel like making one of these, give me a hollar and I'll flesh out the instructions for you).
All the recipes for savory stuff to come...eventually...I mean VERY SOON
From my noggin to yours:
Pate a Choux
4 oz butter (1 stick)
1 c. water
1 c. flour
pinch of salt
Bring butter, water, and pinch of salt to a rolling boil. Off the heat, add the flour all at once and stir until it's like mashed potatoes. Put back on the heat and stir to dry out the paste. It's ready when the paste glistens, there's starch build-up on the bottom of the pan, and the spoon stand straight up.
Dump paste into a bowl and work it until it's cool. Combine the eggs and add them into the paste in four additions. Stir completely each time until the egg is completely absorbed and it's like mashed potatoes again. Read when you see motion in the dough when you hold a bit upside down on the spoon.
Ready to pipe/shape/form. Bake 425-degrees, then lower to 375, prick holes in puff and then 300 to dry out.
Pate Brisee / Pie Crust
3:1:1/2 = 2 crusts (top and bottom)
3 cups flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup ice water
1 tsp salt
Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Make a trough in the middle, add in a tablespoon of water, fluff with fingers. Repeat until dough is heavy and cool. Smoosh against countertop once or twice to just bring the dough together.
Bakes at 425-degrees, lower to 350-degrees when golden.
Pate Sucree / Sweet Pie Crust
Same as pate brisee, but replace 1/2 cup of flour with sugar, and replace the water with eggs.
1 1/2 c. milk, cream, or half and half
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt
Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk in milk. Return to medium heat and stir until silky, thickened to coat the back of a spoon, and about 170-degrees. Strain over ice bath. Stir in flavorings. Yum.
Same as creme anglaise. Probably have to double it to fit into the machine.
Creme Patissiere / Pastry Cream
1 1/2 c. milk or half and half (NOT CREAM)
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt
Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, flour, salt, and flavors. Whisk in milk. Return to heat, stir constantly, and bring to a boil (mixture will start 'plopping' with big bubbles). Strain over ice bath.
1 1/2 c. milk, cream, or half and half
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla or other flavorings
pinch of salt
1 1/2 T. gelatin
2 c. heavy cream
Scald milk. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk in milk. Return to medium heat and stir until silky, thickened to coat the back of a spoon, and about 170-degrees. Strain over ice bath. Stir in flavorings.
Dissolve gelatin in 6 Tablespoons of hot water. Stir into the cream base while it's still warm and stir until it gets thick and is just starting to set. Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks and fold it in before the base is completely set. Pour into molds and refrigerate until firm.
Puff Pastry and Semi-Puff
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
2/3 cups ice water
1 tsp salt.
Instructions for full puff later.
For semi-puff, cut butter into flour/salt, but leave in large chunks. Fluff in water as with pate brisee. Form into a square and give it 4 turns.
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
6 T. butter--melted
1 tsp flavorings
pinch of salt
Combine eggs and sugar. Put over bain marie (or VERY low heat). Whisk constantly (electric mixer preferred) until mixture is lemon yellow and tripled in volume.
Transfer to a shallow mixing bowl. Fold in flour and salt in three additions. Lighten melted butter with a little batter and then fold it in. Pour into pan gently. (Pan must be greased and floured)
Separated Sponge Cake
Same ingredients as genoise but the butter is optional.
Separate yolks and whites. Mix yolks and sugar, ribbon until light lemon. Don't need the same volume.
Whip whites until stiff. Fold 1/3 of whites into yolks/sugar. Put remaining whites and the flour on top, and fold it all together. Pour into pan gently.
Soft meringue: 2 T sugar per egg white
Hard meringe: 4 T sugar per egg white
1 c sugar
1/2 cup water
6 whites or yolks
2 c. butter--room temp
1 T vanilla
Heat sugar and water to softball stage (238-degrees). Meanwhile, beat yolks and salt until thick (or whites until soft-peak). With the beaters on, stream the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. Continue beating until the mixture is cool (bowl is cool to the touch).
At medium speed, beat in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Beat until buttercream holds soft peaks. Add flavorings.
Whew. You're welcome! Next up: master recipes for savory...
Friday, August 08, 2008
This is my old desk. It has been abandoned for the past month or so since the Engineer moved back in and our "office" was temporarily relocated to the dining room table.
Obviously converting our dining room into an office space has not been an ideal situation for many reasons--the topmost being because we have no where to actually sit down and dine. But it was necessary evil while most of his belongings (particularly his desk) were still at his old apartment awaiting a free weekend (plus motivation) to move them here.
It's a long story. Needless to say, the Final Apartment Transfer arrived in the form of last weekend, and now we can actually start setting up our office. Let us rejoice.
And now I'm looking at my old desk and thinking, "No. This will not do." You see, it has become apparent to me over the past few weeks that as a freelancer, one spends an inordinate amount of time at one's desk (or dining room table). It has also become apparent to me that, as a freelancer, I require a lot of space. This is evidenced by the piles of cookbooks, dictionaries, copyediting manuals, random paperwork, pens, post-its, and other detrius that have collected on my side of the table and nearby environs. (The Engineer's side is pristine. Let's not talk about that right now.)
Also, work space is important to me. I like to feel comfortable, organized, inspired, and relaxed while I'm there. And it's true: I am spending an inordinate amount of time at my desk, so I'd prefer to be happy while I'm there. Makes sense, yes?
Side note: When I was living in Portland, I had this incredible old teacher's desk that I'd salvaged from a junk pile at Marylhurst University. It was solid oak, a behemoth on legs, with some sort of slightly resistant rubbery top. I loved it to death and am still sad about our parting of ways during the Great Relocation of 2004. (Don't worry--I gave it to a writer friend of mine, so it had a good home.)
Since then, this architect's drafting table (also salvaged) has served just fine. But times are changing. And it's Apartment 3.0.
Here are my requirements: solid wood, at least 5 feet long, simple and unadorned with tomfoolery, and options for short legs or adjustable legs (cuz I'm short).
And here are a few options that strike that fine balance between creative style and budget, all from Ikea, that seductive epicenter of style and budget:
• Option 1-- the Vika Furuskog: This is a 6.5-foot long plank of pine wood, $55. The advantage is, well, it's 6.5-feet long and made of pine, one of my favorite woods. The disadvantages are that it's a bit flimsier and requires 5 legs (which doesn't make sense to me, but who really understands the Swedes?). I'm also not completely sure that it will fit in our current design scheme...hmmm...I swear it was only 6-feet when I looked at it before. Moving on!
• Option 2-- the Vika Byske: A more respectable 5-foot long plank of solid maple, $79.99. This guy's at the upper end of what I'm willing to spend, but I like the length and the sturdiness of maple
• Option 3-- the Vattern countertop: A little over 5-feet in length, slightly more shallow than the actual desks, made of birch, $50. Oh, and it has a water resistant surface. Which is nice because sometimes I spill stuff. I'd have to drill holes to add my own legs, but I used to be a stage hand and my boyfriend's an engineer, so I think I'd be ok.
You can customize the legs on any of these desks. I would most likely chose the Vika Kaj legs (LOVE these names!), which are adjustable to height.
I've also thought about looking into buying a regular old plank from somewhere like Home Depot or Lowe's. Except that I only last about ten minutes in places like that before I start crawling the walls. The idea of being able to order these desks off the internet and having them arrive at my doorstep a few days later is so very nice.
What do you think? Anyone have experience with Ikea desks and/or legs?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
A few months ago, long before culinary school final exams were a worry to be fretted, the Engineer's mom asked me to cater a small party she would be throwing in honor of a friend's 50th birthday. This party was going to be in July (ie, last weekend), but she knows me very well and wanted to give me plenty of advanced notice. She's a swell lady.
Of course, I accepted and immediately started making lists, mining my trove of Successful Recipes for ideas, doubting my culinary prowess, trying (unsuccessfully) to convince Mama Engineer that I wasn't nearly skilled enough to cater her party, and generally getting excited about the whole thing.
It turned out to be quite a lot of fun and rewarding in that "take a step back, fold your arms over your apron, and sigh deeply while people enjoy food you cooked" kind of way. Also to my complete and utter surprise, it was not at all stressful! Shocker!
It was a mid-afternoon party of about 40 people (although about half that number actually turned out). We were planning four main dishes--two salads, a cold soup, and a hot dish--with other little snacks scattered around the room. Here was our final line-up:
- Arugula Vichyssoise--from Epicurious
- Beet and Feta Salad in Endive Cups--from a recipe I did for the Kitchn
- Gorgonzola and Walnut Tortellini Salad
- BBQ Pulled Pork--from a recipe I found over at Andrea's Recipes
- Brioche Buns (to go with the pulled pork)--from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day
These brioche buns were my favorite thing to make. My house smelled like a bakery. They should make candles that smell like that. Or else I might have to make these buns every day.The recipe is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which if you haven't discovered it yet, is the best book ever for bakers on the go. I made their master recipe here on the blog a few months ago, and have since reviewed the book at the Kitchn. It's full of excellent recipes that are really just...well, good! Don't get me wrong--I love my sourdoughs with the preferments and the kneading and all that lovely stuff. It just that...sometimes...you need a quick loaf to get you through the week or to impress some new friends or something like that.
Anyways. These brioche buns are very good. The texture isn't quite as fine as brioche that I've made the long way, but I'm not telling. For sandwiches like pulled pork, they were perfect.
The salads were both a hit. The walnut-gorgonzola salad is just a solid mix of flavors. The gorgonzola is actually in the tortellini--purchased from Trader Joe's and consumed shamelessly by this particular chef. I threw in toasted walnuts for some extra walnut flavor (the gorgonzola kinda overpowers it in the tortellini, which is honestly fine by me), along with apples, argula, and caramelized onions. The dressing is a simple balsamic.
I loved the little endive scoops with the beet salad. They were so much fun to eat! Also, I'm pretty sure I've made that beet salad in one form or another every week this summer. It's that good. Go forth and make it.The only recipe I wasn't thrilled with was the argula vichyssoise. It tasted a bit flat and bland to me. I made it a few times and fussed with the recipe (especially by adding lemon), but never got it quite right. (Oh, my review of the recipe is over at the Kitchn, though reading it again now, I think I was a bit generous.) I came across another cold soup recipe the other day that used yogurt, and another one today that used buttermilk. I'm wondering if either of these would help give the soup a better flavor.
Maybe it's just that I don't really like vichyssoise or potato-leek soup in general. Or cold soups for that matter. Or pureed soups, either, now that you mention it. Huh. Mama Engineer loved it, though, so that's what really matters.
Operation Catering-for-Mama: Success! While I probably could have done something like this before culinary school, I definitely recognized how much more confident and relaxed I felt. That's definitely affirming. Pats on the back all around.
Ok, who's up for some breakfast barbecue?!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Last night I dreamed of chili peppers.
I've been having trouble getting my pepper plants to pollinate, and have been fretting over them. Watching the pale white flowers unfurl so enthusiastically only to shrivel up a few days later and fall off--stem and all--is rather heartbreaking. Besides, I want my peppers.
So far I've only got the one guy pictured above, an anaheim. So obviously I dote on him by taking far too many pictures and nearly knocking him off the stem trying to get a good angle. That's love, alright!
In my dream last night, I was checking up on this pepper when I suddenly looked down and saw fully ripe chili peppers nestled in the dirt. They were bright orange and yellow and red. They seemed to laugh at me, saying, "Silly woman! All you had to do was look for us!"
Anyone who's ever grown fruits or vegetables knows that these plants have a mysterious way of showing nothingnothingnothing. Nothin' but leaf. Then one morning you're casually watering your plants without even expecting anything and you notice one, no two, wait THREE! little fruitlings where there was nothing a minute ago, you swear.
So this is why I half-expected to come out to the garden this morning and find yellow and orange hot peppers winking at me from between the leaves.
Alas, nothing. Just this guy. So we go back to waiting and pretending to expect nothing.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I saw these felt wall panels on Oh Joy! the other day. They're from British designer Selina Rose, and I think they're kinda gorgeous.
I doubt I could actually afford these particular hangings, but I wonder if I could do something similar. Windsor Button sells some pretty big swatches of felt. With a simple stencil and an x-acto knife, I bet I could craft something fun.
I wonder if these would help insulate windows during the winter? I'm SERIOUS! Yes, I know it's summertime. A gal's gotta think ahead is all I'm saying.
The Engineer and I are making a real effort to redecorate the apartment and make it feel more like a...well....like a home. Until now, we've been fairly happy with the odds n' ends that we've picked up at Goodwills and yard sales over the years. Happy in that everything functioned (with the exception of certain toasters who will not be named), was in fairly decent condition, and wasn't overly unstylish.
But with "Moving-In-Together: Take 2" we're thinking it's time to upgrade. The Engineer is calling this new phase "Apartment 2.0." Because he's a geek like that. So sweet.
Looking around the apartment, we realized that everything--with a very few exceptions--has been given to us by family or been acquired for less than $10. We're talking the couch, our lamps, the fairy lights over the door frame, the poster in the entryway, everything.
That's kind of sobering. And it makes me feel a bit sad. Don't get me wrong--we've been incredibly grateful for the generosity of our families over the years. But it's a strange thing to look around and realize that nothing is really ours. I would like to live in a house that feels like ours.
On top of this, I had the startling realization the other day that I no longer qualify as a "recent college graduate." While I'm not the type to fret about growing older, this does still strike a certain resonance in me. It's a bit like shedding a too-small pair of pants. Or cleaning your glasses after being caught in rainstorm.
It's disconcerting, though. I mean, if I'm no longer defining myself as "A," then what becomes "B"? I guess you could call this a feeling of nesting. Or settling down. Or growing up.
So. There you have it.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
A brief glimpse at my first few days of life without school...
Flip flops! Because now that I'm not either perpetually going to or coming from class, I can actually where something other than clogs. Hey, did you know it's summer?
Side note: I have to mention that this is actually my first ever pair of flip flops. I know! First! Ever! Crazy! As you may or may not know, I grew up in the Midwest where there was a distinct lack of what you might call "beaches." And lake shores are NOT to be confused with beaches. Lake shores tend to be very different beasts requiring such sturdy footwear as Teva Sport Sandals and Water Moccasins and what not.
So no, aside from the occasional shower flip flop, these are in fact my first. Fancy!
We're not sure what this guy's story is, but after a heavy rain a few days ago, the Engineer and I found him (her?) in our holly berry bush. He seemed a little...confused. This impression was mostly based on the fact that he (she?!) allowed me to bring my camera within inches of his personal space.
The Engineer was quite concerned that something was wrong and that we should do something. We found a wounded baby bird in front of his house a few weeks ago that ended up dying and I think it affected him more than he let on. Cuz he's a softy, but doesn't like to admit it.
There didn't seem to actually be anything wrong with this bird, though, so we decided to let it be. We checked a few hours later and he wasn't there anymore. Phew!
This was one of the first 'new' meals I've made at home since starting school. This past year, I've depended on a rotation of tried-and-true, make-it-in-my-sleep recipes to sustain me. It's fun to page through cookbooks again for the sheer enjoyment of it.
"This" is actually a Spanish tortilla (what, you can't tell?). Not exactly the most shining example of my new chef skillz, but whatever. I'm tired. It's potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheese in an eggy custard, kinda like a frittata. Exactly like a frittata, actually. Only with a Spanish tortilla, instead of putting it under the broiler to finish cooking, you do this flip thing so that it finishes cooking.
Anywho, it may not look like much, but it was mighty tasty!
So that's what I'm up to these days! Oh, and also sleeping. I've been sleeping a lot. It's like I've been running a marathon or something. Huh!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
This was the last picture to make it into my final portfolio for school. I made the cake in class on Thursday night and then the Engineer forced me to hit SEND on Friday morning to get all the pictures off to Snapfish for printing.
It's called a coffee crunch cake--angel food cake layered with whipped cream and these coffee crunches on the outside. The crunchies were fun to make--essentially, you boil sugar until the hardcrack stage and throw in some baking powder. The sugar foams up and when it hardens, you've got this odd, honey-combed candy. A DIY crunchie bar, kinda like this one! Good stuff.
So the end-of-year countdown is on! Two and a half weeks until I'm officially done and gradumikated from culinary school!
Here's a look at my to-do list for the next few weeks:
Finish futzing with portfolio picturesHA! One down!
- Put pictures in photo album and be dun wit it
- Keep experimenting with dessert gnocci (my original recipe for one of our finals. More on this later!)
- Make flashcards for American cuisine
- Make flashcards for Asian cuisine
- Memorize things
- Bid my roommate farewell on Saturday. Sniff sniff. (Don't be too sad--she's moving back to California--where it's sunny? all the time? huh?--and also just happens to be going to Hawaii for vacation next week.)
- Say "Hello! I love you! Hi!" to the Engineer who is MOVING IN on Saturday (wooHOO!)
- Iron my red polka-dot dress
- Wear said dress to my friend's wedding next week (Thumbs up, Kate and Adam!)
- A photo album
- Photo corners
- Teacup and saucer (for original recipe)
- Butane cartridges for creme brulee torch (for original recipe...aren't you getting curious!)
- Coffee grinder (cuz my roomie's taking hers with her and I am bereft)
- Candy thermometer
- Plants for container garden before summer is suddenly over
Friday, May 16, 2008
I've always been a bit...overenthusiastic when it comes to the science behind the dinner, but doing this weekly food science post for the Kitchn has really put me over the edge into True Nerdom. And let me tell you, my friends, it feels like home.
For the last few months, I've been almost exclusively relying on my main man Harold McGee and his book On Food and Cooking as my source for food science and chemistry. And Harold, I love you. You know I do. But I think it's time that we saw other people.
The problem with the world of food science is that there's just not that much being published on the subject. I dunno, maybe I'm weird (HA!) in that I just like to know, ya know? I love doing something in class, then figuring out why that works, and then doing it again.
(Meanwhile, emulsions STILL elude me.)
One of the things I really like about Harold McGee is that he hits that middle ground where what he says makes sense to lay people, but he's not dumbing it down at all. That's what I really try to do when I write about science and chemistry stuff. I just want us both to read the same thing and to have it make sense.
I'm really excited about this Wild Fermentation book. It talks a lot about one of my favorite topics, sourdough, but also about brewing beer, making kimchi, and other naturally fermented things.
I haven't read or watched a lot of Alton Brown, but people often mention "Oh, Alton Brown talked about that in that episode!!!!" after my posts, so I thought it was time I spent some time with the guy. Flipping through the pages, I think he also strikes that "Make Sense, Not Dumb" balance.
The other two books, What Einstein Told His Cook, are a bit of an unknown. The first book looks like a lot of stuff Harold and I have already been over. The second one looks like a book I could spend some time with.
There's one other book that I'm itching to get my hands on: Molecular Gastronomy: The Science of Taste by Herve This. The only have it on reserve at the library and I haven't had time to get to a bookstore in several months, so it remains a mystery. I have a feeling it will be a touch over my head, but nerds are nothing if not determined to understand that which eludes them. Or keel over while trying.
In other, but related, news: I've been coveting the Kindle electronic book thing from Amazon. I didn't pay it any mind, then I saw that everyone wanted it, then it went out of stock, and now I kinda want it? Does that make me bad? It did cross my mind that the whole "out of stock" thing was maybe a marketing ploy from Amazon designed to make people like me more interested, but...I still want one.
Here's the thing. I think that devices like the Kindle is really the future of publishing. It just makes sense. Amazon has done a really great job of making an electronic product that still has a lot of the features that we love about books--ie, roughly the same size and weight as a book, 'turning' the page, a screen that can be read in the sunlight, dog-earring pages, and the like.
Amazon is also amassing a fairly substantial library of books. Even Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is in there. For me, having my reference books in one handy electronic device would mean that I could truly go work from anywhere without constantly having to make little notes to myself to double check a book reference when I get back home.
Having my cookbooks on an electronic device like this would be awesome. It would be easy to prop it near my work station and eliminate the need for all the post-it scribbles I have fluttering all over the place.
Plus, I'm also one of those people who has to take a million books with me whenever I travel just in case.
So why am I just coveting and not buying at this point? Well, aside from the price tag, my biggest concern is about buying books. When I buy a book, I want it to really be mine. Meaning, I want it in a universal file format that can be used whether I'm using a Kindle or some other equivalent device that is lurking on the horizon. So far, it seems that Kindle books purchased through Amazon can only be used on Kindle devices.
I'll bide my time, thanks. Apple will surely be hatching something shortly. Or maybe Google will succeed in taking over the world and enforcing it's Free Information for All! act.
Anyone in my listening audience have a Kindle and want to give their two cents?
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Hello? Hello? This thing on?
Oh! Hi! Hello! So glad to see you again! I was gone for ever and ever and I've missed you!
I've been on so many adventures the past few months and I can hardly wait to tell you. There were so many moments that I've wanted to share with you, but the time? It just kept disappearing. Poof!
So here I am again. Hello! Oh, I'm so excited. I've been kinda nervous to come back. I mean, what if I post again and then end up getting all caught up with adventures again and time disappears again and...and... Plus, I hardly knew where to begin.
But all that's silly, right? Right.
So I'll begin right here. Today. It's Sunday. It's been raining all week and also very cold and it's very grumpy-making, what with it being MAY and all. Helloooo? May? Sunshine? Summer dresses? Yes, please? I bought the cutest red and white polka-dotted summer dress at H&M the other day (Dominique, I thought of you) that I was hoping to wear to my birthday dinner the other week, but it was altogether too frigid outside. Sigh.
I have one month to go on culinary school. Hooray! It's been a trip, for sure. I started putting together my portfolio of pictures tonight and was really struck by how far I've come. I don't think I'd really stopped to look at the big picture for a while. It was really affirming of, well, the past year of my life. Always nice.
I finished my internship at Cook's Illustrated about a month ago. More stories on this later, but quickly now: It was a good internship, I'm glad I did it, I learned a lot, but it also drained more energy out of me than I can possibly say. It was really intense and required a lot of...coffee. The last month I was there, I was juggling the internship, class at night, getting the hang of writing for the Kitchn, and also applying for a job at Cook's Illustrated that required a pretty intense working interview.
Nay, I did not end up getting the job. Sigh. But perhaps that was for the best, at least right now. I'm still processing it, honestly, so more on that later. On the plus side, I will have an article published in the December/January issue of Cook's Country--very exciting!
Let's see...what else? The biggest knitting accomplishment of recent times was the completion of Angelina's Scooter Scarf--check out her cute shot on Dustpan Alley. She's so kind to totally gloss over the fact that it took me TWO YEARS to finish that scarf. Two years, people. Such a shameful moment in my life as a knitter. Eeenyways, I'll have some more shots of this scarf in a later post. It turned out so nice--so much lovelier than I even imagined it would be. I love it when that happens.
I haven't been reading a whole lot, what with all the crazy adventuring and all. Nothing new to report there.
The Engineer and I are doing quite well. Fabulously, in fact. I'm totally grinning here as I write this (yup, alone...in front of my computer...at 11:00 at night...). It's been a pretty big year for the Engineer and I. You remember where we were last spring? Well, things are a bit better now. Very better, in fact. Things are happy. Grin.
And...I think that pretty much brings us up to date, yes? It's been a big few months. I've changed in subtle ways that I'm only now beginning to understand. The seismic plates of my self drifting and reconstructing themselves. If I had to boil it down, I'd say that I've grown up a lot. If I do say so myself.
But maybe not too much, right?
More soon, dearies....
Saturday, March 08, 2008
So hip hip hooray, the Kitchn offered me the writing job! I'm so excited and thrilled and excited some more. Here's my introduction on the site and a picture of me looking like a goober:
Emma in the Kitchn
I've been getting the biggest kick out of being able to 'officially' tell people I'm a food writer when they ask me what I do. I try to go for a cool, breezy, "Oh, me? I'm a food writer," but it usually comes out as "Oh my god, I'm a food writer, and it's shiny and new and let me tell you all about it and wait where are you going?" Yup, that's me--the absolute epitome of cool.
Thanks for all your support these past few weeks. It's been really awesome to know you've been out there rooting for me and leaving 'anonymous' comments on my posts (Nice job! We totally fooled
I might be a bit MIA these next few weeks as I settle in, so if you need a little dose of Emma's Cooking Lore, stop on over at The Kitchn--http://www.thekitchn.com.
Big hugs to all of you!
Posted by Emma Christensen at 9:45 AM
Sunday, February 24, 2008
It doesn't look like much, but I was more proud of this little dish than words can say. Plating dishes--actually arranging the food on the plate in an artful and (hopefully) appetizing way has been a source of anxiety for me since the beginning of the program. It just doesn't come naturally to me. I'd look over at other people's dishes and see spirals of sauce elegantly dripped around the plate or airy floats of lemon zest places just so in a way that brought the whole plate together. And then I'd look at my plate and wince.
Oh, I know my pictures turn out ok, but that, my friends, is the benefit of the macro-zoom. I heart macro-zoom. One side looks saggy? No prob, just zoom in on the other side! Can't find the right sized plate? Well, don't put it in the picture, silly! Ah, the macro.
Anyways, especially at the end of a long class, the last thing I want to do is figure out how to make my hacked-up, sauced, buttery whatever-it-is look pretty. But still. I've been working on it. Trying to get ideas from photos in magazines. Watching other people. Taking a few risks and asking my inner perfectionist to take a chill pill.
So this little tomato salad? This is the first dish I've ever prepared where I made a conscious effort to think about plating before I started the dish and then, lo and behold, carried it through. It's simple, but classy, eh? It's a start!
Oh, and it doesn't taste too bad either!
P.S. Sorry I've been so infrequent with the postings lately. For some reason I had this completely CRAZY idea that I'd be LESS BUSY once I, you know, quit my job? Nope, sorry, hun. Still running around chasing my tail over here. I've been writing, though! Yup, the second round of posts for my interview at The Kitchn are up! Yay! Go check 'em out:
Keeping Braises Moist with an Inverted Lid of Foil
Book Review: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Recipe: No-Knead Challah (from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day)
Supermarket Saver: How much should you pay for olive oil?
And here's that tomato salad recipe:
Salade de ma Mere
(c) Roberta Dowling, Cambridge School for Culinary Arts
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded (this is easiest to do if you blanch them in boiling water for a few seconds)
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1-1 1/2 T Dijon mustard
1/4 c. raspberry vinager or black currant vinegar
1 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper
2 heads Boston lettuce
Chopped chives or chervil for garnish
Clean and slice the tomatoes and put in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, mix together garlic, mustard, raspberry vinegar or black currant vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the cream and pour over the tomatoes.
Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Clean the lettuce, taking off the rib of the leaves. Add the lettuce to the tomatoes and toss together just before serving. Sprinkle with chopped chives.
For my salad, I chopped the tomatoes into small cubes and drizzled them with enough of the dressing to bring it together. (I had about two cups of dressing leftover.) For plating, I arranged a few big leaves of lettuce on a plate (instead of tossing them with the tomatoes) and molded the salad by putting a cookie cutter in the center of the plate and scooping in the tomatoes.
I think this salad could use LOTS more tomatoes--at least 10-15 nice ripe red juicy tomatoes (Dear Summer, I miss you. When will you come again? Love, Emma)
The dressing has a nice tang to it and the cream is nicely mellow without being too creamy, if you know what I mean? I'm actually not a fan of dressings like ranch or bleu cheese, and I thought this was fantastic.
This would be a fantastic first course or side dish at a summer garden party! (Dear Summer, Still no calls? Don't you love us anymore? Kisses, Emma)
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
"Leave the gun. Take the cannolis."
I am too embarrassed to admit how many times that phrase crept into conversation last night or how we still laughed every time someone said it. But them was some miiiighty fine tasting cannolis.
I will say that my first cannoli experience left me with the impression that cannolis are rather a pain in the arse and are best enjoyed when one does not have to make them personally. And by the way, the reason they look a little, well, burnt is because there's cocoa powder and cinnamon in the cannoli dough. Not at all because I might or might not have left them in the fry-o-lator too long. I'm not sayin' anything.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I recently applied for a writing position with a national food website called "Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn" and guess what?! It turns out they like me and they EVEN want me to write some more! Groovy, eh?!
This is a really neat site--more of a community blog of sorts, really--that does reviews, posts recipes, explores current topics in the food world, and all that good stuff that I blab on about all the time and you kindly listen to. The focus is really on creating a curious, friendly, comfortable space to spark discussion and for people to share their stories. I've been reading and commenting there for a few years and am just so incredibly excited to have this opportunity to work with them!
So I'll be writing a few articles over the next two weeks to see if it's a good fit (and I'm reeeeally hoping it's a good fit!), and I thought y'all might like to stop by the site and check out what I'm up to. And then, you know, maybe tell them how awesome I am? And how you, a completely anonymous and objective individual who I have not met previously, think that they should hire me?
My first two posts just went up and here are the links:
Why Tough Meats Make Better Braises:
New England Fish Chowder:
The link to the general site is here:
The Kitchn: http://www.thekitchn.com/
I have another post going up on Friday and two next week. And check in on the other writers being auditioned because they're pretty cool people too and deserve some love.....Except love me a leeetle more, ok?
Posted by Emma Christensen at 11:48 PM
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
A small delivery of mangosteens appeared at the culinary school on Monday! I'm not sure how or where they came from, but a few of the chef instructors had them, and my Monday night instructor was generous enough to share his with us.
None of us really knew much about the mangosteen other than, 'Hey, isn't this that really crazy fruit that was banned in the US until last year and costs so much money that it hardly matters that we can import it now?' We definitely weren't sure how to cut it open or what to expect once we did. So dutiful culinary explorers that we are, we huddled around a cutting board shoulder to shoulder, made preliminary gestures with paring knives and fillet knives and chef knives, until we finally got tired of being delicate and THWAP! The mangosteen was breached.
My pictures didn't turn out very well, so I only have this one. If you want to see how a mangosteen should be properly dissected, take a look over HERE. There aren't instructions, but I'm thinking that you use a paring knife to cut around the equator of the fruit about a half inch deep and then pull the cap off. That husk is pretty tough, so it must be tricky to use enough force to cut through it without damaging the fruit within.
I also found surprisingly little information on mangosteens during my quick 10 minute search just now, aside from that it was illegal to import it into the US until recently, it's crazy expensive, and it purportedly has some nifty healthy benefits...if you can manage to acquire enough of them in one place (and don't have to share) and then continue having access to them for a long period of time.
The outer skin and husk is inedible (though some of my research says that can be used as a nice fabric dye!). You eat that white flesh in the center--scoop it out with a spoon and eat it just like that. Once removed from the husk, the flesh looks like a milky mandarin orange and--also like a mandarin--there's a little seed in each quarter that you have to spit back out. (I really like the posh delicacy vs. pedestrian vulgarity of this fruit!) The texture in the mouth is a cross between the juicy burst of an orange and the melty flesh of a strawberry. And completely contrary to this, the taste was like a cross between coconut and banana--to me anyways.
Have any of you had the chance to try a mangosteen? What do you think--is it worth the hype?!
Sunday, January 27, 2008
I had some leftover brisket wallowing in my fridge on last week and got it in my head to make some mini-calzones over the weekend. I thought I'd add some caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, but got stumped on the cheese. I stood in front of the cheese fridge at Trader Joe's for at least fifteen minutes picking up one cheese and then another, squinting my eyes and tasting various imaginary flavor combinations in my mouth. Goat cheese? No.... Sharp cheddar? Possibly... Maybe with some BBQ sauce? Sigh.... And then my hand wavered over some smoked gouda. I can't remember the last time I had gouda. No reason, really, I just...haven't.
And standing there imaging how gouda would taste with my smoky brisket etc. etc., I remembered my dad coming home from work with a shopping bag, all excited and jittery as he pulled out a round of smoked gouda and some tart apples. I was probably fourteen or fifteen at the time, and I just remember how happy he was as he cut up the wedges of apples and arranged them around some slices of gouda. "Here," he said, pushing the plate toward me, "Try this!" And with a fair bit of curious trepidation (likely disguised as teenage sass), I mirrored him as he took a slice of apple and layered on a slice of gouda. I bit off a corner and oh my! Good stuff!
I think this was the first time that I realized that cheese could be something other than what was sprinkled over pasta. It could be something more. It could transform my quiet, reserved father into a euphoric, cheese-pushing gourmand. That's some powerful stuff, right there.
And that's how I ended up with smoked gouda in my calzones. Not precisely a 'traditional' filling for calzones, true, but then I've never exactly been one to stand on formalities. I think my calzones and I will be juuuust fine.
I started making these mini-calzones a while back as part of my open-ended quest to find healthy, better-tasting, freezable, and easily-transportable lunch alternatives instead of things like Hot Pockets, Cup-o-Noodles, Lean Cuisines, and their ilk. It took a while to find a crust that fit the 'healthy' profile, until it dawned on me (like a skillet to the forehead) to use my thin-crust pizza recipe. Duh. That dough is perfect for this--thin, but chewy; easy to make and healthy to boot; just enough flavor to give you a nice bread-y background but not so much that it steals the show. Splitting the dough into eight portions seems to give just the right amount of dough for a six-inch calzone. Poi-fect.
The combinations for fillings are really endless. I usually do a medley of meat, cheese, and sauteed veggies--whatever I have on hand. Keep in mind that they are mini-calzones, after all, so there's a limit to what you can stuff in them. I usually weigh out a half-ounce of meat, a half-ounce of cheese, and then layer on as many veggies as I think will fit. Some combos I've done in the past are spicy pulled pork/goat cheese/caramelized onions and red peppers, sausage/cheddar/veggies, eggplant/kalamata olives/feta. You can also throw in a sauce of your choice--BBQ sauce works really well and a dab of tomato sauce is never out of place. Obviously, these calzones can be entirely vegetarian--even vegan, since the crust doesn't have any dairy! Woot!
The only drawback is that these are pretty labor-intensive to make, so I usually set aside an afternoon, make a double-batch of dough and keep on trucking until my fillings run out. I have found that it helps to lay out little piles of fillings in a row so you can just scoop and fold, scoop and fold.
Once they're cool, I wrap them up in saran wrap and throw them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. A few minutes in the microwave gets the cheese melty and all the insides piping hot.
(makes 8 with one batch of dough)
1 batch of thin-crust pizza dough (Recipe HERE)
4 ounces of cooked meat, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
4 ounces of cheese, separated into 8 half-ounce piles
sauteed veggies of your choice (onions, green or red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.)
Pre-heat oven to 475-degrees F.
If you haven't already done so, cook your meat and set it aside to cool. Then sautee your veggies in a little olive oil until they are mostly cooked through and set them aside to cool. It's important to cook these ahead of time because they won't cook all the way through in the oven. Also, if you add the veggies raw, they will likely release a lot of liquid in the oven and you'll get mushy calzones.
Find a bowl in your kitchen that is about 6 inches across (in diameter). Use this bowl as a guide to trace 8 circles onto parchment paper. Cut the parchment into 8 pieces with once circle on each piece of parchment. Flip the parchment upside down so the actual pencil/pen mark of the circle is against the counter and your food-surface is clean.
Cut the pizza dough into 8 equal pieces. Place one piece on a piece of parchment paper in the middle of the circle. Press down on the center of the dough and then use the heel of your hand to gently push outward on all sides until you've filled the circle. The dough will be about 1/8 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and parchment.
Cover each rolled-out circle as you finished with saran wrap or an upside down bowl to keep it from drying out while you finish the rest of the circles.
Place the meat and cheese in the center of the dough and layer on as many veggies as you think will fit (you'll get a feel for it after making one or two). Leave about 3/4 - 1 inch of space around the edge.Lift one side of the dough over onto itself and pinch the dough together in the middle. Pinch all the dough to one side closed and then go back and pinch the other side closed, forming a half-moon. I find it easiest to do this if I pick up the calzone and hold it upright in my left hand like a taco, and then I use the fingers of my right hand to pinch the rest of the dough closed. You can poke any errant bits of filling back inside. Repeat with remaining calzones. (Note--the parchment paper will continue sticking to the dough and that's fine! When the calzone bakes, the parchment will gradually un-stick itself.)
Arrange as many calzones as will fit on a sheet pan. Just before baking, use a paring knife to cut three steam vents in the top of the calzone--go right through the parchment paper. Bake the calzones for five minutes and then flip them over. Bake for another 5 minutes and flip them over again. Bake for another 3-5 minutes until the calzones are golden and browned in spots. This whole baking process takes about 15 minutes in my oven, but it may take shorter or longer in yours. Since the filling is already cooked, you're really just looking for the crust to be a nice browned color. If the edges start to char, that's a sign that they're likely done cooking.
Remove calzones to a cooling rack and bake off any remaining calzones. Once they're completely cool, wrap each calzone in plastic wrap and keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. They'll last in there for a few months (if you don't manage to eat them all first...)
I don't get too worried about the calzones splitting open, honestly. These are more functional than beautiful and I'm usually the only customer I have to please! Once they're cool, I tuck any tumbling bits of filling back into the shell and wrap it all up in saran wrap so it's a tidy package for grabbing in the morning and sticking in my lunch bag.
Re-heat for 1-3 minutes on High. I've also eaten them cold (like cold pizza) if they've been thawing in the office fridge for a few hours.
For interested parties and Weight-Watchers folks: The calzone shell alone is 2 points. A half-ounce (14 g) of meat is usually 1-2 points, and a half-ounce (14 g) of cheese is also usually 1-2 points. If I only use a dab of olive oil for the veggies, I usually count them as zero points. So! One calzone is usually 4-6 points or so. Not too shabby for a meal-on-the-go!