September 28, 2010

why yes, i a.m. in the radio

By this time I was wishing I had not stopped into Chicote's but had gone straight on home where you could change your clothes and be dry and have a drink in comfort on the bed with your feet up, and I was tired of looking at both of these young people. Life was very short and ugly women are very long and sitting there at the table I decided that even though I was a writer and supposed to have an insatiable curiosity about all sorts of people, I did not really care to know whether these two were married, or what they saw in each other, or what their politics were, or whether he had a little money, or she had a little money, or anything about them. I decided they must be in the radio. Any time you saw really strange looking civilians in Madrid they were always in the radio. So to say something I raised my voice above the noise and asked, "You in the radio?"
"We are," the girl said. So that was that. They were in the radio.
--"The Butterfly and the Tank," Ernest Hemingway
Slowly making one's way through H's Complete Short Stories has its perks. You are reminded of some pretty funny (and spot-on) truths about life. For instance, if you're a would-be writer, you probably are curious about "all sorts of people," but it's not always easy — sometimes people just feel like they're going to be boring. Another thing that is (or appears to be) true is, you don't need to be attractive to work in radio.

Here's a thought. Next time you meet someone who seems boring, try asking, "You in the radio?" If they catch your drift, things may get interesting. And if you end up taking a liking to the person, just explain that it's nothing were just quoting Hemingway. You do that when you're nervous, sometimes.

September 26, 2010

Au Bon Mint Chocolate Loaf

Chocolate cake always reminds me of the bit in Matilda where Miss Trunchbull punishes a chubby kid by forcing him to eat an entire gigantic chocolate cake in a school-wide assembly. I wonder what the recipe for that cake is? Anyway, I've been meaning to bake a moist chocolate loaf cake for quite some time. I haven't done so since last winter's "I lava chocolate cake."

This time around, I made a few adjustments and decided to give it a minty twist, since I happened to have peppermint extract and a few peppermint patties lying around.

I have to say that the finished cake tastes a lot like Au Bon Pain's mint chocolate loaf, a favorite of one of my old boss's. He liked to warm it up in the microwave before eating it — a wise choice, since heat tends to revive and moisten pre-sliced pieces of cake from these sorts of establishments. And he always had it with a cup of cold milk. What a connoisseur of cake. Here's lookin' at you, boss.

(New) York Peppermint Patty Chocolate Loaf
Inspired by Ina Garten's recipe
Dry ingredients:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup of your favorite hot coffee

Final ingredients:
A few peppermint patties (like York), broken into chunks
1/2 cup chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a loaf pan and put on a baking sheet in case the cake overflows while baking.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl mix together the second wave of ingredients and pour into the dry mixture. Fold in until smooth. Incorporate the peppermint patties and chocolate chunks last. Pour into the loaf pan (note: this makes a little too much batter for one loaf pan, so if you want to prevent the cake from overflowing while baking, restrain your fatty tendencies in the name of aesthetics and use only 90–95% of the batter).

Bake for 50-60 min until a knife (or chopstick, if you're Asian like that) comes out clean.

September 20, 2010

Adventures With Almond Flour, Pt. 2

We sit beside people who show us wallet pictures of their children. "Sont-ils si mignons!" I say. My husband constructs remarks in his own patois. We, us, have no little ones. He doesn't know French. But he studied Spanish once, and now, with a sad robustness, speaks of our childlessness to the couple next to us. "But," he adds, thinking fondly of our cat, "we do have a large gato at home."

"Gateau means 'cake,'" I whisper. "You've just told them we have a large cake at home."
This passage is pretty funny, no? Personally, I think we could all do with a bit more homophone humor in our lives. Reading this also inspired me to bake.

I'd take an almond gateau over a gato, any day. Last February, I made a light almond cake with a thin, delicate glaze (Adventures With Almond Flour, Pt. 1). Finally the second installment is here, and this time, it's a denser almond blueberry loaf cake drizzled with a thick buttermilk glaze.

Almond Blueberry Loaf with Buttermilk Glaze
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
6 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup jam (I used apple cinnamon)
1/2 cup blueberries

Grease and flour a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, almond meal, brown sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, extracts, and jam. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold in the blueberries last. Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.

While that's baking, whip up the glaze.

Ingredients for the glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1-2 tbsp buttermilk (adjust according to desired thickness)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Simply whisk everything together, increasing or decreasing the amount of buttermilk according to how thick you want your glaze to be. Once the cake has cooled, drizzle it with glaze and dig in.

September 18, 2010

Eden eatin'

In the house the godling grudgingly accepted cheese and bread and cold meat and pie and coffee and a piece of chocolate cake.
"I'm used to a hot dinner," he said. "You better keep those kids away if you want any car left."
--East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Perhaps I have low standards, but that sounds like a terrific meal to me. All the fixings for a sandwich + pie + chocolate cake + coffee?! Yum.

It's a testament to John Steinbeck's storytelling prowess that even one as heathenly as I can enjoy East of Eden; indeed, reading it again has confirmed it as one of my all-time favorites. Incidentally, it also belongs to a very exclusive (re: two-member) club of literary works that feature "cold meat" and "pie" in the same sentence. If you ask me, that's a club that could do with a few more members.

September 12, 2010

Soup's on

"There's some soup," my mother said. "Why don't I heat it up." And suddenly her eyes filled with tears, and all at once we fell to kissing one another — to embracing and smiling and making cheerful predictions about one another — there in the white, brightly lighted kitchen. We had known each other for so long, and there were so many things that we all three remembered...Our smiles, our approving glances, wandered from face to face. There was a feeling of politeness in the air. We were behaving the way we would in railway stations, at my sister's wedding, at the birth of her first child, at my graduation from college. This was the first of our reunions."
--"First Love and Other Sorrows," Harold Brodkey
What a great ending; it reminded me of my family's impromptu late-night munchies sessions, circa 1996. My family had just moved to California, and I don't know if it was the time difference or simply the stress of adjusting to new quarters, but we'd get hungry late at night — the kind of hunger that could only be quelled with noodle soup, and sometimes a sponge cake to wash it all down.

The weather's starting to get colder, which means more than a soupcon's worth of soup's on 'round these parts. One of my favorite soups only requires three ingredients (besides water and seasonings): fish fillets, seaweed, and eggs.

Directions: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the fish fillets and swirl in a few beaten eggs. Once the eggs and fish look pretty much cooked, rip up a few sheets of nori/seaweed and drop them in. Season to taste. Slurp it up with reckless abandon.

September 9, 2010

For Esme, no cinnamon toast

"Do you know Ohio?" she asked.
I said I'd been through it on the train a few times but that I didn't really know it. I offered her a piece of cinnamon toast.
"No, thank you," she said. "I eat like a bird, actually."
--"For Esme, With Love and Squalor," J.D. Salinger
Cool story. But who in their right mind could turn down a piece of cinnamon toast?! Not Martha Stewart -- it's one of her favorite things to eat for breakfast. Cannot believe it's been over a year since I witnessed her greatness in person.

September 5, 2010

Choo choo...who are you?

"His father poured himself some whisky and when the stove was hot he took some hamburgers and cooked them on the lid, turning them with a rusty spoon as if he was following some ritual in which he disregarded his wife's excellent concepts of hygiene and order."
--The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever
Cheever has a pleasingly quiet sense of humor. His words sure helped alleviate that dead feeling I get whenever I ride the Metro North.

That darned Cheever had me craving a hamburger and whisky, but I had to make do with a rice krispies treat. Meanwhile, the man next to me -- who was reading a book about Islam -- neatly peeled an orange and ate it. It's funny how little things like what we pack for a train ride can reveal bits and pieces about ourselves. So take note: if you have the misfortune of sitting next to a creeper like me, someone could be blogging about your train activities right now...

September 2, 2010

swimming in doubts

"He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure."
--"The Swimmer," John Cheever
This story provided me with just cause to suspect that Kazuo Ishiguro was influenced by Cheever's work. Both writers can conjure up convincing, unreliable protagonists who go to great lengths to delude themselves and deny the existence of what causes them pain. So-called unreliable narrators indulge, instead, in a charmingly fantastical existence, taking the reader along for the that inevitably comes to a crashing halt, of course.

What would it be like to realize that for some time already, you had unwittingly led a false narrative of a life, and everyone could see through it but you? Oh wait, I know. It would be awful. And yet I like these types of stories quite a bit.