December 22, 2009

I lava chocolate cake.

On the morning of what would turn out to be the first official snow day of my adult(ish) life, I woke up craving chocolate cake – the kind of chocolate cake that is dark, moist, and devilishly delicious. I love the idea of a chocolate cake that includes coffee, buttermilk, and yogurt, three flavor enhancers that promote moistness. The recipe below represents the closest I have come to making my version of a perfect chocolate cake. But beware – this is a recipe for chocoholics' eyes only. And yet I still consider it pretty tame...those who are really hardcore chocoholics will crave a dark chocolate ganache to top the whole thing off.

Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake
Dry ingredients:
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Wet ingredients:
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Last ingredients:
1 c. hot coffee
3/4 to 1 cup chocolate chips, 60% cacao if possible

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a loaf pan or two 8-inch pans. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl, then incorporate into the dry ingredients until smooth. Add the hot coffee and mix until combined. Then fold in the chocolate chips and pour into the prepared pan. If using a loaf pan, it may rise and overflow while baking, so place the loaf pan on top of a large baking sheet to catch any excess batter. Bake for 50 minutes until a knife inserted comes out clean.

December 12, 2009

1/4-Pound Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I think I speak for the minority when I say that I don't like cream cheese very much, not even in frosting or cheesecake. However, I have always been open-minded to the idea of a cream cheese pound cake, because it sounds like the butter would overpower the cream cheese flavor. I think tonight's cream cheese pound cake loaf proved that theory right. Hooray for pound cake! Plus, the magical thing about this cake is that it rises without the help of any leavening agents (e.g. baking powder/soda). I can only suspect that the rising action came from the elbow grease I put into creaming that butter, cream cheese, and sugar at the beginning. My arm was sore afterward, but not sore enough to keep me from picking up that fork.

1/4-Pound Cream Cheese Pound Cake
(adapted from a Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe)
4 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
a few drops of almond extract
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Cream the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and cream until smooth and light. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add the extracts and mix until incorporated. Add in the flour and salt. Combine until it forms a smooth, thick batter, then pour into your prepared pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.

December 10, 2009

Ode to Oats

Nutella and oats are a thing of beauty. Some time ago, I had a fleeting idea to put together a book of oatmeal recipes called 50 Ways to Dote on Oats, or something along those cheesy lines. Maybe someday it will become a reality. I could even get it laminated at Kinko's and put it on my coffee table for some light reading. Maybe the neigh-bors would like it. Ha. Just when you think I couldn't possibly get any cheesier, I DO. I'll stop horsing around now (last one, I promise!) and get to it; what follows is a distantly related quotation from Ayn Rand's first novel:
"Darkness was coming, not from the gray, transparent sky, but from the corners of houses where shadows suddenly grew thicker, as if without reason. Slow whirls of smoke over chimneys were rusty in the rays of a cold, invisible sunset somewhere beyond the clouds. In store windows kerosene lamps stood on the sills, melting yellow circles on the huge, frozen panes, around little orange dots of trembling fire. It had snowed. Shipped into mud by horses' hoofs, the first snow looked like a pale coffee with thin, melting splinters of sugar. It hushed the city into a soft, padded silence. Hoofs thumped through the mud with a clear, wet sound, as if someone were clicking his tongue loudly, rhythmically, and the sound rolled, dying, down long, darkening streets."
--We the Living, Ayn Rand

December 2, 2009

3 eggs, 2 carrots, 1 yogurt cake.

Upon arriving home from work today, I opened the fridge to find a shocking sight: only one carton of extra large eggs in the refrigerator -- and just seven eggs inside! I cooked four for dinner, leaving three for the sake of my sister's sanity. Seeing those three eggs together reminded me of yogurt cake.

I love yogurt cake. I went through a phase where I made one every couple of weeks. Yogurt, like egg yolks and fat, is a magical agent that gives rise to a nice moist cake crumb. Yogurt loaves can be disappointingly plain, though, so you have to make sure to add lots of flavor. Ina Garten's famous lemon yogurt cake recipe is my old standby.

Today's recipe has been adapted from her version; the carrots were a last-minute addition, since I had two of them aging in my produce drawer anyway. I reduced the amount of oil because of the whole milk yogurt, and added some cinnamon and minced ginger for flavor. It turned out pretty darn moist and slightly tangy from the yogurt, with gingery undertones, and a wholesome texture from the carrots. The nice and crunchy top crust ain't bad either. The verdict is yum.

Carrot Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c. whole milk yogurt
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c. oil
2 carrots, shredded (about 1 cup's worth)
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk yogurt and sugar together until smooth. Whisk in eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients, working out most of the lumps. Incorporate the oil; add the shredded carrots and ginger last. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour until a knife comes out clean. Enjoy!

November 30, 2009

Cake vs. Pie

Cake or Pie? The all-important question. I'd always fancied myself a cake person, but this Thanksgiving, it took exactly one heavenly apple pie to doubt myself.

Upon further reflection, however, it seems to me that cake will always occupy a slight edge over pie in my heart. And with that, I leave you with a cake-related passage:
"Every time I come she prepares a nursery tea of bread and butter, cut very thin, and jam, followed by Battenberg cake. This is ready on a trolley in the kitchen and all I have to do is wheel it into the sitting room, while Miss Morpeth raises the kettle in one careful hand - a red hand, with almost anatomically blue veins - and pours water which has boiled once or twice, so great is her anxiety for me to hae come and gone, in her mother's china teapot. When she is settled in her chair, and she has asked me her ritual question - 'Would you like your cake first or your bread and butter?' - and the business of teacups and plates is settled, and later, when she has lit up her cigarette with the gold lighter we all gave her when she left, we turn to the matters of the day."
--Look at Me, Anita Brookner
Battenberg (Battenburg? I see it both ways.) cake is a sponge cake that, once cut, displays a pink and yellow checkered pattern. But it gets even better -- the whole thing is blanketed in marzipan! Doesn't it just scream, 'LOOK AT ME'? Oh, Ms. Brookner is so smart. I wonder if she enjoys this cake. Or does she simply associate it with lonely old women like Miss Morpeth? Also found this recipe for a day when I'm not feeling lazy. When will that day come?

November 29, 2009

Sweet rewards

"He was looking at me expectantly, holding his cookie a few inches above the cup, and the bottom third of the cookie, which was stained a darker tan from the coffee, was beginning to decompose, threatening to fall off into the liquid below. It seemed heartbreaking, it seemed unbearable, that I was aware of this and he was not.* It seemed heartbreaking that he liked the taste of a sugar cookie dipped in coffee, that it was a treat to him. The small rewards we give ourselves--I think maybe there is nothing sadder."
--Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
Just what is so very wrong or heartbreaking about enjoying a sugar cookie dipped in coffee? Such rewards, small as they may be, lay the foundation of a happy, healthy mindset. Alone, they are not able to ensure happiness, but surely they serve well enough to fill in the cracks.

True, that the things we do for ourselves can seem so very small at times. But think about this sort of thing too much, and we will only end up as dissatisfied and unpleasantly whiny as the protagonist of Prep. I don't think any of us want that.

*" parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else)..." -- Rainer Maria Rilke's "For the Sake of a Single Poem"

November 23, 2009

One egg, two destinations

It has always pained me how my baking habits have required me to use ample amounts of whole eggs, eggs that could have otherwise been scrambled and consumed immediately. But guess what -- while doing some extracurricular research about the chemistry of baking, I found an excellent article that seems to suggest that things don't have to be this way. To my fellow egg and dessert lovers: You can have your moist cake and eat your egg-white omelet, too. Yippee!
"The proteins in egg whites force out moisture when they’re heated. The result: puffy but chalk-dry pastries. Egg yolks, on the other hand, lend richness and moisture to baked goods."
Oh yes. I see a lot of experimentation in my future. For example, I am reminded of an earlier incident...while making chiffon cake at a friend's place a few weeks ago, the recipe, true to chiffon form, called for the yolks to be mixed into the batter separately from the whites. The whipped whites were to be folded in last in order to add volume and lightness to the batter. I couldn't help wondering what that gloriously thick, yolk-filled batter would have tasted like if we had baked it right then without adding the whites. Would it be moist and deliciously rich? Or too dense for its own good? I'm eager to find out for myself someday.

November 19, 2009

Small, dark and tasty

Chocolate chunk cookies, candy corn, cocoa krispies, coffee, cones (of the McDonald's variety), cake...what is it with me and my inability to resist foods that start with the letter C? Except coconut, of course.

In my opinion, chocolate chunk cookies beat out chocolate chip cookies any day. Dark chocolate chunks? Even better. The recipe below interested me because it called for dissolving the baking soda in hot water. Why? Just one of many mysteries to ponder in this strange world of ours. These turned out to be some downright delicious cookies, so I won't question it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't question. I simply eat. Whatawaytolive.

Only chocolate chunk cookies would exhibit such a beautiful underbelly.

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Adapted from a random All Recipes recipe)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp hot water
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 dark chocolate bars, broken up into chunks - I used Trader Joe's brand

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and two sugars together until airy and smooth. Then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water and add to the butter mixture. Add the flour and chocolate chips and stir until uniform.

Form into balls and bake for 10-12 minutes.

November 11, 2009

Halfway Decent Pumpkin Bread

Fall means many things to me...knee socks, daylight savings time, apple cider, Indian corn, and last but not least...pumpkin treats! (Including but not limited to pies, lattes, cakes, and quickbreads.)

With this in mind, I recently attempted to follow Alton Brown's pumpkin bread recipe, except I was far too lazy to actually shred a fresh pumpkin. Big mistake. Apparently laziness does not good eats make.

First, I discovered that I was out of oil, but no biggie: I substituted vanilla yogurt and crossed my fingers. However, not much later, I also found that I only had half the pumpkin I needed...and no suitable substitutions came to mind. Drat. I speed walked to the market and snagged another can of Libby's. Geez. The lengths I'll go to for pumpkin treats.

I had envisioned a perfectly moist, spice-laden loaf a la Starbucks, but instead I ended up with a beautiful crust atop a soggy mess that would not solidify, even 30 minutes past Alton's suggested baking time. ??!!

In retrospect, I can only conclude that I'm an idiot: canned pumpkin is much more watery than fresh grated pumpkin, and definitely more compact. I should have known that three cups of pumpkin sounded like a lot. And three cups of canned pumpkin probably amounts to even more than that. D'oh! Not to mention I guess I didn't even need to make that trip to the market. Double d'oh!

What a mess. At least the top half is still tasty and incredibly moist.

Recipe, as I plan to bake it next time, follows.

Hopefully More-Than-Half-Tasty Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
And last but not least:
3 cups shredded fresh pumpkin or ONE 15-oz. can of pumpkin

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients (except pumpkin) separately. Combine the mixtures and fold in the pumpkin last. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes (may have to increase baking time by ~15 minutes) until a knife comes out clean.*
*I strongly suggest making these into muffins: 325 degrees F for 30 minutes.

November 10, 2009

Not-so-transient pleasures

"Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in untying her husband's fortune, and had lived in affluence for half a century; but memories of her early straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though, when she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she took care that it should be of the best, she could not bring herself to spend much on the transient pleasures of the table. Therefore, for totally different reasons, her food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did nothing to redeem it."
--The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
She's the opposite of me; I'm thrifty about clothing because I spend most of my money on food. Food isn't a transient pleasure if you're always eating it — it's more like a permanently rotating source of joy. For us food lovers, a truly transient pleasure is a walk amidst the falling leaves of Central Park. They'll be gone soon.

Edith Wharton really is a good writer. I didn't realize this when I read this book at 16. What a difference five years can make.

November 8, 2009

Loser loaf

The loneliest slice of marble cake in the world.

Oh goodness. This made me laugh so hard when I noticed it yesterday. Poor little forgotten cake. I thought about rescuing it but decided to take a picture of its misery instead.

Speaking of funny things...malapropisms! Here's a good one:
"He's a man of few words, a startling percentage of them malapropisms. Lately, having amassed more money than he knows what to do with, he's begun dabbling in stocks and mutual funds, a subject he imagines I, a professor, must know something about. He shares with me his misgivings about the market's 'fuctuations.' Mr. Purty wears a hearing aid, and the conclusion I've come to is that he's been mishearing words and phrases all his life."
--Straight Man, Richard Russo

November 2, 2009

Superstar blondies

"A commercial painter paints flat; you can put your finger through. But a painter -- for example, an apple by Cezanne has weight. And it has juice, everything, with just three strokes. I tried to give to my words just the weight that a stroke of Cezanne's gave to an apple. That is why most of the time I use concrete words. I try to avoid abstract words, or poetical words you know, like crepuscule, for example. It is very nice, but it gives nothing. Do you understand? To avoid every stroke which does not give something to this third dimension."
--Georges Simenon
Concrete words are fine. Rhyme is even better. Nothing like a little good slant rhyme a la Lupe Fiasco...

I'm too uncouth / Unschooled to the rules / And too gumshoe

I'll tell you one thing, though: I am not gumshoe at baking blondies, even though I have only made them a total of two times in my life. Nosiree, I am awesome at it. The other night I baked them with dark brown sugar and they were excellently decadent. Almost like brunettes. Mmm. I think I would endorse cannibalism if all brunettes and blondies were this delicious.

October 29, 2009

Putting down rice pudding

A friend of mine, whom I will refer to simply as 1.26, recently told me that "Rice pudding is like American people's way of making congee."

Needless to say I found this highly amusing. Bold claim, 1.26, bold claim.

I've personally never had rice pudding, most likely because I feel more than a tad apprehensive about the concept of a pudding with chunks in it. I like my pudding smooth, rich, and preferably of the chocolate variety.

Who knows? Perhaps someday I try and even enjoy this mysterious dessert. For the moment, I'd much prefer to consume rice in other forms, like spam musubi. Yes, that is a layer of egg in there. So delicious.

October 28, 2009

Augusten in October

From N.Y. Mag's Interview with Augusten Burroughs:

Where do you go to be alone?
I am alone all day every day. The only difference between me and an inmate in solitary confinement on death row is that I have Internet access and an uncertainty about my future.

Augusten Burroughs, I have not read your memoir with the creepy claw fork on the cover, but thank you for leading me (and hopefully my fellow quarterlife-crisis-ers) to realize that struggling with uncertainty about one's future is so much better than struggling with the certainty of death by execution. It's all about perspective.

October 27, 2009

Rolling in the Doughnuts

Whether they originate at Stan's in Westwood, or Tim Horton's in Penn Station, delicious doughnuts really do reside on both coasts of the U.S. And whether you enjoy them in moderation or bulk discount at 11:30 p.m. right before closing...well, that's your choice. Mine is pretty obvious, I think.

Seriously, can sprinkles be any more tasty than when they adorn a delicious doughnut? Especially one that's slightly warm from the microwave.

Attn: Tim Horton's is having a Curling Story Contest. SO CANADIAN. I wish I had a "favorite curling memory" so I could take a shot at winning a $100 Tim Card. Oh man. $100 of doughnuts sure beats the grand prize hands down (a trip to the Canadian Curling Trials).

October 26, 2009

No-butter Snickerdoodles

For some inexplicable reason, I've been fascinated with Mona Simpson lately. She happens to be a creative writing professor at my alma mater and the biological sister of Steve Jobs. And just from reading her novel, you can tell that brains run in the family; she really knows how to write. I once saw her speak in person and was not impressed, but when I started reading her book, I was hooked.
"The white VW gleamed in the sun and she carried me, hers again, my legs sticking out from her back. I felt sorry for my grandmother that day, moving around the kitchen in a blue print dress, there was flour all through the yellow light, she was baking, rolling out dough. She cut around our fingers, making cookies the size of our hands, all day she looked down at her work on the table, because I was not hers to watch anymore."
--Anywhere but Here, Mona Simpson
Few of her sentences are as lengthy and run-on as the above--it's just that I liked the imagery of this particular passage. There is something quite tragic about a grandmother rolling out cookie dough, concentrating on cutting perfect shapes for a little girl who is not her own. It's passages like this, and the fact that I have very little counter space, that confirm why I prefer to make drop cookies.

One drop cookie I absolutely adore is the snickerdoodle. Those who remember elementary school will understand why I feel pure joy at the words "book order." It was book order that exposed me to the wonders of Magic Eye, Paddington bear, and Pogs. And it was through book order that I got a hold of The Cookie Lovers' Cookie Cookbook, a tiny little thing that contains a recipe for snickerdoodles that I recently adapted into a batch of seriously delicious cookies.

The unusual thing about these snickerdoodles is that they are made with oil. The original recipe called for melted butter, but I discovered that using vegetable oil makes for tastier cookies. Why? I do not know. I do not question. I simply eat.

Recipe follows.

I Can't Believe It's No-Butter Snickerdoodles

For the Dough
scant 1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of salt
For the Sugar Coating
*1 tbsp sugar
*t tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix ingredients for dough in order listed. Form into walnut-size balls and roll generously in sugar coating. The more coating, the most sparkly and pretty the cookies will be.

Place the cookies a few inches apart on a foil-lined ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly if desired (flattening has a negligible effect -- I tried making both flattened and unflattened cookies, and they looked and tasted practically the same). Bake 8 min. for chewy/soft cookies, and 10 min. for crispy...they're delicious either way.

October 18, 2009

To crave and to have...cake.

"To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing--the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries."
--Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

"Here's a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life..." writes one reviewer on the back cover. Housekeeping is not one of my favorite novels, but it contains passages of such thoughtfulness and breathtaking imagery that I found myself folding pages so that someday I could read them again. I suspect these passages are the author's most valued reflections that she stowed away over the course of many years, until she was ready to reveal them to the world in a spectacular literary debut: her first novel. I'm sure she treasures this novel like her first child, and justifiably so.

I love this passage. Of course, many of my blog posts tend to gravitate toward the thought of cake, and this one is no different. So longing may "bring us wild strawberries," but in my case one autumn night, it brought strawberry coffee cake. When I came across the recipe for it, I thought I had never longed for something more in my life. So I baked it. You can, too.

Strawberry Coffee Cake
Adapted from Joy the Baker (great blog)
For the strawberry glaze
1.5-2 cups frozen strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp water
1 tbsp corn starch
For the cake
1 stick butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
For the streusel topping
3 tbsp cold butter cut into small cubes
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 tbsp sugar

For strawberry filling:
Plop the strawberries in a saucepan until they start to defrost and break down. Add the sugar, water and cornstarch and cook over low heat until it looks like pie filling. Set aside to cool.

Grease and flour a 10x10 in. baking pan (I think you can also use 9x13). Set aside.

For the cake:
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one by one. Add vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed butter in 3 parts, alternating with the sour cream. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Combine until uniform.

Spoon 2/3 of the batter in the pan. Pour cooled strawberry mixture over the batter. Pour the remaining third of the batter over the strawberries.

Now make the streusel topping by rubbing ingredients with your fingertips until it forms a rough crumble. Some crumbs will be small, others bigger. Sprinkle the topping over the batter and bake 50-60 minutes. The smell will be buttery and heavenly, trust me. You'll know it's done when a knife comes out clean.

October 16, 2009

Sweet mother of soup

Ever since I was a wee child, I've had an unhealthy obsession with all things red bean. For those unfamiliar with red bean, it's generously sweetened, often mashed into a paste, and used as the filling for breads, buns and mochi.

Green bean is also a popular dessert filling, but given the choice, I'd choose red over green in a heartbeat...except when it comes to soup. Why? Because green beans are much easier to make into soup. They cook faster too. After work, I made this no-fuss green bean soup in about an hour.

Just bring the beans to a boil in some water, turn the heat down to a friendly boil (by which I mean to say above a simmer but not a rolling boil). Just like shrimp turn pink when they're cooked, green beans burst open when they're ready for the eatin'. Don't forget to sprinkle a ton of sugar in there. Mix of dark brown and white sugars = yummers. Fail-proof, season-proof dessert eaten cold in the summer, hot in the winter.

You can also add glutinous rice balls if you want to make it special. Add some red coloring to the rice balls and you can call it Christmas soup. Behold:

October 15, 2009

Callaloo who?

"Well, maybe," Roy conceded. "But if you can't get the real thing, you make it with spinach. You put in coconut milk: you grate the flesh of the coconut fine and you squeeze it and the moisture come out. You also put in a whole green pepper--it don't be hot unless you burst it--thyme, chive, garlic, onion. Normally you put in blue crab; others put in pickled pig tails. You cook it and you bring out a swizzle stick and you swizzle it until the bush melt down into a thick sauce like a tomato sauce. That's the old-time way; now we put it in a blender. Pour it on stewfish--kingfish, carite fish: mm-hmm. You also eat it with yam, sweet potato. Dumpling."

Chuck said to Vinay, "He's not talking about Chinese dumplings."

"Our dumpling different," Roy said. "Chinese dumpling soft. We make our dumpling stiff."

"Callaloo," Chuck said wistfully.
--Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
Callaloo is a Caribbean soup made with the spinach-like leaves of a tropical plant by the same name. Everything in it sounds good except for the coconut milk. I found a recipe without coconut milk in it though. Perhaps I will try my hand at making it. I do have a bag of frozen spinach...

I don't know about the concept of a stiff dumpling though. I think I prefer my dumplings nice and soft, like a plump, warm bosom. Haha. Maybe not the best comparison, but you know what I mean. Something like this:

P.S. By the way, "It don't be hot unless you burst it"?? Best quotation ever. This logic also applies to soup dumplings straight out of the steamer, I believe.

October 11, 2009

0 x eggs + 2 x pineapple = 1 magical carrot cake

Happy belated birthday, Dad.

My dad isn't much of a dessert guy, but he loves carrot cake. His birthday was last Tuesday, and sadly, I wasn't able to make him a carrot cake in person. However, for reasons partly sentimental and partly fatty, that didn't stop me from making one anyway. For as long as I can remember, the only carrot cake recipe I've ever needed was "The Richest Carrot Cake Ever" from my mom's old McCall's Cooking School binder.

Although the McCall's recipe has great stuff like orange and lemon zest, orange juice, and even a whole pound of carrots (talk about a bicep workout shredding those things), I always wondered why it didn't include pineapple--thus the reason that I'd been hankering for a good carrot cake recipe with pineapple in it. I think I finally found one.

...except I made a few missteps along the way. First, I accidentally dumped in double the amount of pineapple. That wasn't so bad, but my second mistake was awfully strange. I didn't realize until after I'd already eaten it that I HADN'T USED ANY EGGS. For a person who loves eggs as much as I do, this was blasphemy! At first I thought it was the recipe's fault. Then I realized that I was an idiot. I guess it's pretty amazing the cake still turned out well, even in spite of my inability to follow a recipe. The recipe below incorporates the aforementioned mistakes I made, for despite the zero egg and double pineapple content of it all, I'm still quite pleased with the end product. Feel free to botch the recipe below...I'm sure it'll still turn out magically delicious.

The Moistest Eggless Carrot Cake Ever
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple (drained of juice)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray.

Combine shredded carrots and sugars, let sit for 5-10 minutes (a juice will form). In the meantime, combine the melted butter, oil, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Add to the carrots.

Mix dry ingredients (except raisins) together, and add to the wet ingredients. Stir until almost combined, then mix in the raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then flip cake out of pan and let it finish cooling outside of the baking pan.

P.S. For those in the NY area, D'Agostino's manager might have "gone wild" this week, but he's sane enough to know the joys of a homemade carrot cake--Dole crushed pineapple is on sale. C'mon...if that's not a sign to bake carrot cake, I don't know what is.

October 6, 2009

Hooray for MTA

This is mighty interesting. Oh, Train of Thought, how strange it is to look up and see you alongside ads for lawyers and online colleges.
"According to Alicia Martinez, the M.T.A.’s marketing director, the process for selecting quotes for Train of Thought is “elaborate.” Until recently, the M.T.A. outsourced its quote search to a committee of Columbia professors led by Henry Pinkham, the dean of the graduate school. Pinkham says that his committee split with the M.T.A. earlier this year, though, in part because the professors pushed for material the M.T.A. deemed too sensitive. He specifically remembers a famous line from Shakespeare being shot down because it contained the word “flood,” which sets off alarm bells in the subway world. (Martinez denies worrying about “flood,” suggesting that a word like “fire” would be far more likely to raise hackles.)"
Hmm...raise hackles? Who better but a New Yorker blogger to put it so strangely. Heh. And yet I love it.

October 5, 2009

Pagans & raisins

"This was the second time in his life he had seen raisins. He removed them from what they claimed was 'shepherd's pie.' He laid them side by side, along the borders of the dinner plate. The plate was painted with pagan scenes. He began to obscure the images with raisins. It was not calculated. He was in too much distress for calculation.
The first time he had eaten raisins was in that so-called 'fruit of Satan'--the Christmas pudding."
--Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
This book is really reminding me of James Joyce's stuff for some reason. I like it so far, if only for the fact that the chapter titles include "Christmas Pudding" and "Raisins".

Speaking of raisins, yesterday I baked oatmeal cookies and hesitated, as I always do, at the last step where one might add raisins and/or nuts to the dough. I'm kind of an oatmeal cookie purist. As you can see from the photo above, not a speck of dried grape is to be found in those cookies. I prefer my oats without raisins, but I know many people prefer raisins in their oatmeal cookies. Sometimes I make an exception and add chocolate chips. For some reason, chocolate doesn't offend me when it's added to most desserts. Dried fruit, on the other hand, I have less patience for. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to call raisins "the fruit of Satan" like Oscar's dad up there.

Recipe follows.

Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Yields approx. 15 cookies

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
scant 1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (also optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and incorporate them into the wet ingredients. Add the oats and any optional mix-ins last. Drop tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes if you like them chewy, 12 minutes if you like them regular, and 14 minutes if you want 'em crispy.

So are you a puritan or pagan when it comes to your oatmeal cookies? Walnuts, raisins, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips...all these items speak persuasively for the pagan side. But those who crave simplicity aren't so easily swayed. Not to mention the age-old chewy vs. crispy debate...who knew cookies were so religious and political? Ha.

September 29, 2009

Second-rate 'taters

"You go back to Brakebills. You graduate. You spend your life as a second-rate magician. Many do. Probably you never realize it. Even the fact that you failed is beyond your ability to comprehend."

Quentin had no intention of letting that happen to him, though it occurred to him that probably nobody actually set out to have that happen to them, and, statistically speaking, it had to happen to somebody. The hash browns no longer tasted quite so scrumptious. He put his fork down.
--The Magicians, Lev Grossman

The above is a photograph of the exposed innards of a sandwich from Murray's Cheese Shop. It does not look like a second-rate sandwich. It was. But I ate it all anyway. Story of my life.

Quentin's right: Nobody intends to live a second-rate life. It just happens, even to the best of us. That thought alone is enough to make even the most bangin', sizzling hash browns into unappetizing fare.

September 28, 2009

Survival food

"There was some orange-coloured juice in the freezer, so Amanda mixed up mimosas with the champagne that was left. We opened some salted soynuts, and microwaved a pack of faux fish, and all five of us sat at the bar. The three boys -- I still thought of them as boys -- practically inhaled the food. Amanda made them drink some water, but not too fast. They weren't starving --they'd been breaking into supermarkettes and even into houses, living off what they could glean, and they'd even snared a couple of rabbits and broiled the chunks, the way we'd done it back at the Gardeners in Saint Euell Week. Still, they were thin."
--The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
Believe it or not, faux fish can actually be pretty tasty if prepared correctly—no bones or scales to worry about, just loads of flavorful flesh. OK, so that might sound about as appealing (or unappealing, as the case may be) as rabbit chunks, but trust's good.

This book had the frustrating quality of ending right when I thought it shouldn't have, but I'd recommend it anyway, just because there's something so enjoyable about reading a Margaret Atwood story. Here, she proves two things: 1.) That she can work with obvious elements of imagination and fantasy, and 2.) That she can gross us out (Do you dare guess what's in a SecretBurger? One hint: It's probably not beef.) However, she's still doing the same thing as she and other great writers have always done: providing an outlet for us to think about how things stand, versus how things could be. A daunting task, but she's done the job quite well.

September 27, 2009

crumbs of cummings

here is little Effie's head
whose brains are made of gingerbread
cried the third crumb, i am should
and this is my little sister could
with our big brother who is would
don't punish us for we were good;
--e.e. cummings

By the way, doesn't e.e. cummings look like Bruce Willis here? Wowza. I guess it's probably the bald head thing.

September 25, 2009

Burgers and cupcakes

Burgers and Cupcakes might be the name of an establishment, but those happen to be the main foods I consumed today. The burger was good, but the real stars of the day were the sweets...

Matcha Green Tea Cupcake, made by Kyotofu but sold at Dean & Deluca. Most awesome cupcake ever, because of: 1.) the lack of frosting, and 2.) a high degree of moistness that is often absent from cupcakes, but more commonly found in cake.

Lemon Vanilla Bundt Cake from Magnolia Bakery

I had only the most excellent pastries today. Magnolia definitely deserves acclaim for its Bundt cake rather than its cupcakes.

September 24, 2009

Atlas Shrugged of Unknown Selfishness

"Linno thinks of the time she taught Anju how to swim by a stone footbridge that spanned the Meenachil. Anju clung to her like moss to stone, hands fastened about her neck as small silver flecks of poonjan fish went slipping around them. Anju's watery weightlessness, her primal need stripped of pride, these made Linno feel strong and loved in ways she would never admit aloud. 'Don't let me go!' Anju begged, over and over. And though Linno laughed to reassure her sister, she answered without a trace of teasing to her voice: 'No, never.'"
--Atlas of Unknowns, Tania James
It seems to me that human relationships can be founded on our worst and most pathetic fears, out of the abrupt instances when we are reminded of how weak and helpless we would be if left to cope with this world alone. I don't know if that's a reassuring thought or not, but I do know that everything we do is in some way selfish, and there's no point in pretending that things would necessarily be better otherwise. Almost 99 percent positive that Ayn Rand would have backed me up on this. In much more eloquent language.

September 20, 2009

Sunshine in a pan.

It may have looked like cornbread...
but (thank goodness)...
it definitely tasted like cake.

Yellow cake is like the sunshine of cakes. I have fond memories of standing at my kitchen counter, eating Pillsbury yellow cake straight from a 9x13 inch pan. (Fatty alert!) But I always wondered in the back of my mind if the "moist supreme" taste could be duplicated or improved upon in a from-scratch recipe. Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed that people bake chocolate, vanilla, chiffon and pound cakes from scratch, yet they hardly ever make a plain old yellow cake. Le sigh. One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with: "Is Earth really the only planet that hosts life? Sometimes I wonder."

An online search confirmed my suspicions. Finding a yellow cake recipe from a blogger or chef I trust (where are you Ina?) is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and the needle becomes even narrower when you don't want to make cupcakes or a layer cake.

Nevertheless, my first time making yellow cake from scratch turned out better than I had hoped. I went with a Martha Stewart Weddings recipe. I was pretty happy with it overall, except that my cake baked about 10 minutes faster than stated in the recipe, and it was a tad too sweet. It could also do with the addition of some dried strawberries (my sister's fine suggestion). The recipe below reflects the edits I would make next time around.

Yellow Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart Weddings Basic Yellow Cake recipe
Yield: One 8-inch square cake
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • Smattering of add-ins like chocolate chips or freeze-dried strawberries, if desired
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Cream butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla and eggs and mix until combined.

3. Mix cake flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add to butter/sugar mixture in thirds, alternating with the soy milk (beginning and ending with the flour mixture).

4. Pour into greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until golden like cornbread (or yellow like yellow cake!).

September 17, 2009

Unoriginal origins

Yes, decorum; if a proper diffidence and decorous lack of originality have been universally accepted as the essential characteristics of a practical man and a gentleman, a sudden transformation would be quite ungentlemanly and almost indecent. What tender and devoted mother wouldn't be dismayed and ill with terror at her son's or daughter's stepping one hair's-breadth off the beaten track. "No, better let him be happy and live in comfort without originality," is what every mother thinks as she rocks the cradle.
--The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

September 12, 2009

Sweet relief

A fat slice of moist vanilla cake with dried strawberries can instantly make it possible to shed the memory of a long, hard day like today.

September 10, 2009

Idiotic insomnia

I haven't been sleeping so well lately, so I decided to read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot in hopes that it would put me right to sleep. Maybe it would've put the high-school me to sleep, but post-college me rather enjoys this book so far. Drat.
The young ladies drank a cup of coffee earlier, in their beds as soon as they waked, at ten o'clock precisely. They liked this custom and had adopted it once for all. At half-past twelve the table was laid in the little dining-room next to their mamma's apartments, and occasionally when the general had time, he joined this family party at lunch. Besides tea, coffee, cheese, honey, butter, a special sort of fritters beloved by the lady of the house, cutlets, and so on, strong hot soup was also served.
--The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Coffee upon waking! Fritters! Excitement! No sleep.

September 5, 2009

Apples to Dumplings

"Poetry lies, in its adorable wicked way, and what I say is truer than a slice of bread and tomato."
--The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later--no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget--we will return."
--The Shadow of the Wind
For me, that first book was Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children, which still holds a very special place in my heart—for many reasons, one of the minor reasons being those apple dumplings that the children get to eat once they (caution: spoiler alert!) find their grandfather at the end of the book. I imagine they look somewhat like this?:

September 1, 2009

Our mobile lives

"My life, like all our lives, is made up of so many other lives . . . all of them rearranging themselves, all the time. . . ."
--Palm Pre mobile commercial
This Palm Pre ad is a nod to the Olympics welcoming ceremony. But an alien-like pale woman stars in it—all the better to contrast with the red Chinese dancers? Still...why so very Robert-Pattinson-pale? I could not help but feel somewhat alarmed.

The script, however, is noteworthy. What's excerpted above makes me think of tesselations (remember drawing those in junior high?). I like the idea of all our lives interlinked, rearranging themselves in unison: Even in periods of rapid motion, when we feel like everything is changing, we're never truly alone. That's important to remember, I think.

August 31, 2009

"I love a nice white scone."

Mrs. Fitzgerald watched sharply, screwing up her eyes to peer at us, until we had each swallowed a sip of tea--it was so strong I could feel my mouth shriveling--and a bite of scone. Then she sighed with satisfaction and settled back into her armchair. "I love a nice white scone," she said. "Them fruit ones get stuck in my falsies."
--Tana French, In the Woods
It's true: Fruit scones (particularly the seeds from berry ones) do have a tendency to get stuck in one's teeth and/or "falsies". But that's the price you pay for deliciousness. Plain scones, I find, are tasty too--as long as they're sweet enough to distinguish themselves from savory biscuits.

August 30, 2009

Patterns in the woods

"I remember that moment because, if I am honest, I have them so seldom. I am not good at noticing when I'm happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart's desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern."
--Tana French, In the Woods

August 29, 2009

Swedish dinner

"He boiled some potatoes and had open sandwiches of pickled herring in mustard sauce with chives and egg on a rickety table outside the cottage, facing the bridge."

--Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Pickled herring in mustard sauce: another item available at IKEA. The first time I ever had pickled herring (in dill mustard sauce), I was mid-bite when I suddenly panicked at the clearish-white flesh and wondered if it needed to be cooked first. Nothing on the jar indicated that the herring was raw, so I kept eating it, straight from the jar, with noodles. That was my weird Swedish-American-Chinese dinner, exactly one summer ago.

August 28, 2009

Swedish breakfast

"Did you escape?"
"Released early."
"That's a surprise."
"For me too. I found out last night."
They looked at each other for a few seconds. Then the old man surprised Blomkvist by throwing his arms around him and giving him a bear hug.
"I was just about to eat. Join me."
Anna produced a great quantity of bacon pancakes with lingonberries. They sat there in the dining room and talked for almost two hours.
--The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
So far this book has mentioned IKEA a number of times, and now here come the lingonberries. Oh, those Swedes. Always tempting me with their juicy meatballs, bacon pancakes, and delicious, delicious soft serve. Unfortunately, these things are only accessible via the rare trek to IKEA. And IKEA doesn't even have bacon pancakes...but it very well should.

August 25, 2009

Rats and spiders, oh my.

His father was holding him in his paws as if he were a ratling--feeding him! How peculiar to be so close to his father, Montague thought dreamily. His father's paws felt very strong, rathletic, and he had sort of a nice smell, if a bit earthy. After force-feeding him half a vat of porridge, his father set him down, gave him a pat on the head, and then climbed back up the muddy, castle-ridden slope.
--A Rat's Tale, by Tor Seidler
Montague has been to the Sheep's Meadow in Central Park more times than I have this year. Oops, I guess fictional rats know how to experience the city better than I do.

According to a book review by Newsday, "A Rat's Tale may well do for rats what Charlotte's Web has done for spiders." But what has C.W. done for spiders? Personally, nothing--not Charlotte's Web, not anything--could make me want to lovingly pat a real live spider or rat. Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy these stories (I did!). I just prefer to see and/or think about spiders and rats in cute illustration form, not 3-D or realistic, please.

August 22, 2009

Proust's fictitious madeleine

For my 18th birthday, my sister presented me with one of her favorite books: Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. Unfortunately for her, my still-sophomoric self could not fully wrap its brain around Proust at the time, and it took me over a year to finish it. But even then I felt something make an impression on me when I came to the moment that everyone remembers from Proust: the madeleine that sends the protagonist on a tortuous trip down memory lane.
“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”
--In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
Yet I don't think I like madeleines as much as I like the idea of madeleines. Dipping a bit into tea to cut the buttery, sugary richness "after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow" (ah, what magnificent prose!)...sure, I can swing with that. But I don't really enjoy eating them plain. Perhaps it is a French thing. Too elite for moi? Then again, with all the loose interpretations of madeleines out there, maybe I just haven't stumbled across an authentic Proust-y one yet.

That's not to say that these interpretations are never great pastries in themselves. A few weeks ago, I consumed a "madeleine" from Veniero's (an Italian bakery) that was much spongier than the madeleines I've had from Costco (what a cultural mecca, ha). I enjoyed it immensely.

Pictured above is The Adore's Japanese-French interpretation of a madeleine. Unfortunately, it was no more than a dry citrus pound cake masquerading itself in the shape of a madeleine, and not doing a very good job of it either. For the dollar it cost me, I could have bought something better at a Jack's 99 cent store. And that's just the truth.

P.S. According to this article, it's quite likely that Proust's madeleine was "quite dry" and might even be impossible to reproduce, based on crumb yield and informal experimentation.

August 21, 2009

I'm with ya, Shponka.

"One of the pupils who had been entrusted to his care and who was anxious to get him to put scit against his name in the class register for some homework he had not even attempted to do, brought a pancake soaked in butter into the class one day. Though Shponka was very keen on meting out justice, he happened to be very hungry that day and the temptation proved too strong for him."
--"Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt," Nicolai Gogol

August 19, 2009

Those Russians

"They gave the guests a strong drink of vodka and mead with raisins and plums and on a large dish a round white loaf of fine bread made with butter and eggs."
--"The Terrible Vengeance," by Nicolai Gogol
I wonder, does food taste better with vodka on the side? Or maybe just Russian food?

I'm reading Gogol pretty much just because of his role in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. ("We all come out of Gogol's overcoat," says one of Lahiri's characters. So mysterious. MUST FIND OUT WHY.)

But do favorite authors' book suggestions always pan out? My sister and I were discussing this and we didn't reach a conclusion. In theory you'd think so, but then again, just because you like to read what an author writes, doesn't mean you'll like to read what that author reads. Does it? Hrm. I'm only on page 2 of my Gogol so I'll have to get back to you.

August 18, 2009

Crumbly days

Blueberry Crumb Cake from Agnes & Eva's

The Adore's financier, in mini-loaf form

I realized two things today.
  • Loaf cakes never fail to satisfy my sweet tooth.
  • I would not want to die in a Starbucks and be left, slumped there, for two hours before a worker realized I was dead.
"She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone."
--Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

August 17, 2009

Yates, not Yeats

"It simply wasn't worth feeling bad about. Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were."
--Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

The thing about reading this book is that it made me lose all desire to watch the movie. Those few bits of comic relief wouldn't translate, nor would the thoughts behind the harsh words spoken. Though I do love Kate and Leo, the beauty of this book is not its storyline, but its ability to attest to Yates' prowess as a novelist.

August 15, 2009

Dark Egg Humor

Watch this video. Funny, yes. Sad, yes. But nothing can make me feel guilt for enjoying my daily egg(s)!

August 11, 2009

Cake Expectations

Is it just me, or are great cakes hard to come by? Usually ice cream cakes aren't so bad, but non-ice-cream cakes really offend me, only because I know how wonderful they can be—and most of the cakes in so-called great bakeries just don't cut it. I'm nearly always disappointed by: A) the anorexic build of a $5 slice, B) overly sweet, artificial taste, C) the fact that there's more frosting than cake, or D) heck, sometimes all of the above and then some.

Fortunately, tea helps make any subpar cake more attractive to the palate. You know what they say: If the cake's a 2 at 10, it'll be a 10 at 2, as long as you've had many a, pot of tea. Currently I am indulging in a slice of homemade yogurt loaf with one huge mug of green tea. One might think of tea as something to be daintily sipped from a petite teacup and saucer. Pinkies down. Not my style—the glutton in me can't help it. I like my tea in excess; the bigger the mug, the better.

August 10, 2009

Fried eggs, milky bodies

"I never get this stuff at home," he would say lovingly, spearing a chip and inserting it into the yolk of a fried egg. Anxious, in her nightgown, she would watch him, a saucepan of baked beans to hand. Judging the state of his appetite with the eye of an expert, she would take another dish and ladle on to his plate a quivering mound of egg custard. "Food fit for heroes," he would sigh contentedly, his lean milky body forever resistant to the fattening effects of such a diet.

"Smashing," he would pronounce, leaning back, replete. "Any tea going?"

But even as he drank his tea she would notice him quickening, straightening, becoming more rapid and decisive in his movements, and when he passed his hands over his short, dark red hair she would know that the transition was in progress and that he would soon get dressed.
--Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
I don't usually like runny yolk in a fried egg, but the idea of it as a chip dip sounds halfway decent.

Speaking of food, a character named Monica in this book has a very odd eating disorder. She doesn't actually eat much of the food she picks up off her plate—she just waves her arm around until the food falls off her fork, down the tablecloth, and into her dog's anticipatory mouth. Funny image. There are far less imaginative ways to suffer from an eating disorder, I suppose.

Another excerpt:
"Who comes here?" she asked.

"People like us," he replied.

He was a man of few words, but those few words were judiciously selected, weighed for quality, and delivered with expertise. Edith, used to the ruminative monologues that most people consider to be adequate for the purposes of rational discourse, used, moreover, to concocting the cunning and even learned periods which the characters in her books so spontaneously uttered, leaned back in her chair and smiled. The sensation of being entertained by words was one which she encountered all too rarely.
To borrow a phrase from Ms. Brookner, yes, "the sensation of being entertained by words" is one of many good reasons to read this book—or any book, for that matter.

August 3, 2009

Endlessly full and endlessly empty

"You probably need to eat something," the baker said. "I hope you'll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this," he said.
He served them warm cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, the icing still runny. He put butter on the table and knives to spread the butter. Then the baker sat down at the table with them. He waited. He waited until they each took a roll from the platter and began to eat. "It's good to eat something," he said, watching them. "There's more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There's all the rolls in the world in here."
They ate rolls and drank coffee. Ann was suddenly hungry, and the rolls were warm and sweet. She ate three of them, which pleased the baker. Then he began to talk. They listened carefully. Although they were tired and in anguish, they listened to what the baker had to say. They nodded when the baker began to speak of loneliness, and of the sense of doubt and limitation that had come to him in his middle years. He told them what it was like to be childless all these years. To repeat the days with the ovens endlessly full and endlessly empty. The party food, the celebrations he'd worked over. Icing knuckle-deep. The tiny wedding couples stuck into cakes. Hundreds of them, no, thousands by now. Birthdays. Just imagine all those candles burning. He had a necessary trade. He was a baker. He was glad he wasn't a florist. It was better to be feeding people. This was a better smell anytime than flowers.
"Smell this," the baker said, breaking open a dark loaf. "It's a heavy bread, but rich." They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light."
--Raymond Carver, "A Small, Good Thing"

August 2, 2009

The Dead

"One by one they were all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

"Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling."
--James Joyce, "The Dead"
I'm often afraid to recall the fragile state of the human body. Just a heart pumping blood, again and again, until it can't anymore. And as scary as that is, no healthy person usually gives a second thought about all that. Instead, we tend to think about life as the carving out of an existence for ourselves, the formation of relationships, and all the experiences and ties that make us human.

I think all we ultimately want is to avoid the realization that we are actually dead in every way but one. They say that life is what you make of it, but they forget to tell you that sometimes you just don't end up making it much of anything. One day you might be pressing criss-crosses into peanut butter cookie dough, and the next, finding that a dead man has more of an impression on your wife than you have ever been capable of making yourself.

How must it feel to join the dead in the form of a heartbeat that fuels an organic mess; how must it feel to fathom that fragility without fear, the way only the dead can?

July 29, 2009

My oh my.

This recipe for blondies has done the impossible--convinced me that there exists something that surpasses the snickerdoodle. Seriously, if you like snickerdoodles, you simply must try blondies. They're pretty much the awesomest thing ever.

The Udon Dilemma

It wasn't until the 11th grade that I realized "dilemma" was not spelled "dilemna". For some reason I thought that the correct spelling was too straightforward to fit the definition. Then I realized, since when has English ever made sense? Double M it is.

My dilemma today was that it was, once again, very humid. So humid that I fought the urge to take a shower upon returning from "the outdoors". Unfortunately, my stomach just didn't seem to get it. It begged me to make udon noodles pan-fried with sausage, onions, and garlic. Not exactly your average summer fare.

What's a girl living in humidity to do? I succumbed to my stomach's demands and thankfully it was merciful enough to allow a cucumber salad as accompaniment.

1/3 package of turkey kielbasa sausage, sliced thin
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 single-serve package udon noodles (any flavor)
1 large egg (why buy any other size? unless it's extra-large..)
1 kirby cucumber, sliced very thinly
Seasonings like soy sauce, salt, pepper, rice vinegar

1. Stir-fry the sausage (should be sliced very thin) with the onion (chopped) in a saucepan over high heat until the ingredients are fragrant and begin to brown.
2. Add the clove of garlic (sliced thin) and the udon noodles. Gently break apart the noodles with a spatula. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce (if desired).
3. Break in the egg and keep stirring the mixture until it's cooked. Serve with sliced cucumber (drizzle with rice vinegar or black vinegar if you wish).

Hopefully with the addition of that cucumber, you'll be able to enjoy this hot dish with minimal discomfort even in the late July heat. It also helps to eat it next to a fan. :)

Whenever I see stir-fried udon noodles on the menu at Asian restaurants, I can't resist ordering them. But it really is VERY easy to make at home, and I like it that way because I can control all of the ingredients. Add and delete what you will from this recipe (the possibilities are too numerous to be mentioned, but off the top of my head: tomatoes, bell peppers, sliced jalapenos, mushrooms, broccoli, shrimp...). Another thought that comes to mind is topping these noodles with some cold kimchee instead of the sliced cucumber. Doesn't that sound garlicky divine?

July 23, 2009


"Only bread seems to ease her malaise, buttered bread, enormous slabs of it, what she's heard people in this village refer to as doorsteps. She eats it fresh from the oven, slice after slice, sometimes not bothering with the knife, just tearing it off in handfuls. One day, alone in this kitchen, she consumed an entire loaf between noon and supper."
--Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries
Tell me about it. I love bread. Good, soft bread. I have indeed torn it off in handfuls, eating it not with butter, but with garlic hummus.

But what I love best of all about bread is the sandwiches you can create with it.

I've been on a sandwich kick ever since having a pulled pork sandwich from Num Pang, made on a delicious, crisp-yet-tender baguette from Parisi Bakery. Not long after, I bought some French loaves, cucumbers, tomatoes and sliced deli meat at the market, and practically drooled on the way home as I imagined the sandwich I would make upon entering the confines of my apartment.

There you have it. All I have to say is, if you have cucumbers and bread, you are well on your way to a beautiful, light summer sandwich. So long as the bread is sturdy and soft, and the cucumbers are cold and crisp, life is good.

July 21, 2009

Size matters

"I could not have wished for a prettier little wife at the opposite end of the table, but I certainly could have wished, when we sate down, for a little more room. I did not know how it was, but thought there were only two of us, we were at once always cramped for room, and yet had always room enough to lose everything in."
--David Copperfield
Reading this suddenly reminded me of a brunch at Tea & Sympathy, a little (literally, little -- little tables, little chairs, little aisles...) place in Greenwich Village that made me feel like a giant. At one point I dropped my butter knife on the ground and dreaded the idea of bending down to pick it up. Go there if you are blessedly tiny--you'll feel quite at home there, laughing at the bigger folk, who will appear out of sorts amid all the undersized furniture.