Monthly Archives: March 2007

I have another commission!

For a baby shower this time…a few more of these and I can quit my “real” job!

The commissioner/father-to-be also suggests I dub my contest pie “Hold on, Wait a Minute, Let Me Put Some Brooklyn in it!”-Pie.

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Our Friends at Gawker…

Observed this.

(I just have a plain ol’ blender. And stuff oozes out the bottom if you’re not careful.)

And then there’s this, too.

And this!

(Food galore…)

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It’s Quite Literally a Jungle Out There…

From a NYT story today about dating, apartments and deal breakers. Something of a horrifying experience, I’d say:

“The second experience involved an artist who lived in an East Village tenement. As he entered her apartment, a free-flying parrot relieved itself on his head. Then a large rabbit darted out from somewhere and licked his feet. A baby gate separated a second rabbit from the first — there had been a nasty penis-biting episode, his date explained. Also, the kitchen wall was covered with antique egg beaters, which looked to Mr. Heindl like weird tools.”

And yet not only did it work out…but now they have a nine-month-old daughter and they live in my neighborhood…

The story continues with Mr. Heindl explaining how a deal breaker turned into marriage:

“I seriously thought, ‘Shall I run? No, I like her, I like her, I’ll check it out,’ ” he says. “I thought about it, I asked myself, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and I decided it showed she can really nurture, because one was like a really old rabbit, a geriatric rabbit. And she baked, obviously.” (Italics mine.)

So…I think this means there’s hope for me yet. All I have is an obese cat. And he has never pooped on anyone.

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I can’t wait until May 2!

My beat-boxing air guitarist friend alerted me to this: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/waitress/

He says it’s “right up (my) alley.”

You can even Match the Pie to Its Description!

Ooh – now that I think about it…my parents will be here May 2. I think “the story of one woman trapped in a life from which she dreams of escape. Jenna’s secret ambition is to save enough money from her waitressing job to leave her overbearing and controlling husband. Jenna is a sharp, sassy woman with a gift for making unusual pies whose recipes are inspired by the trials, tribulations and circumstances of her life. An unwanted pregnancy changes the course of events giving her an unexpected confidence via letters to her unborn baby” will be a tough sell to my dad. So I may have to wait until May 6…which, coincidentally, is Pants’ birthday.

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I’ve been outta town…

…so I didn’t bake at all this weekend. I tried to gather my thoughts last night and recall every pie-related (or maybe just food-related) incident over the past 5 days so we can catch up. Here goes nothing:

First things first, I got a pie bird! Only $3.95 at Sur La Table! Looks like a blackbird.

I also got a sign at this wacky store in Walnut Creek called “Calypso Twist.” My aunt said the place made her happy. I was a little skeptical…but it was indeed a happy place. And now the sign hangs in my kitchen…

I had to look at RVs with my parents at the Solano County Fairgrounds (“Deals on Wheels”; “No reasonable offer refused!”) and then we decided to drive to Lodi to look at even more RVs. (I opted out for downtown Lodi…) This inspired my mother to sing the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic, “Stuck in Lodi Again” in the backseat of my aunt and uncle’s monstrous SUV. I was a *little* grumpy until we stopped off at food stand along the way. It’s a little blurry in the photo above, but they had a pie club (“Buy 7, get the 8th free!”)…as well as baby pigs for sale for $50. (This would sort of be a good time to bring up Hampton, my uncle’s barber’s son’s pig who really likes women with high-pitched voices, but I fear if I delve into that, I’ll never get back on track and we do have a lot of ground to cover over the past few days).

On our last night, we ate at Chez Panisse…where I tried cardoons and smoked duck. This probably goes without saying, but it was really, really good. I didn’t even know what cardoons were before that. Afterward, I was curious whether or not FreshDirect carries cardoons. They don’t. They look like celery…but our waiter said they’re in the artichoke family.

On the plane back, I finally finished “Julie and Julia” (I read too much of it on the way back from Alaska and had to take a break). I don’t remember the *exact* passage, but there was something in it about chopping nuts that reminded me of making Sex in a Pan (don’t worry – that pudding dessert, my lovelies) with my very first roommate in New York. I could only find walnuts in the shell…and didn’t have a nutcracker, so my roommate and I attempted to crack the nuts with hammers…but that was really loud and there was a baby upstairs (it was at night), so we ended up hunkered down in my closet cracking the walnuts on phone books (to muffle the sound) with hammers. You’d think something like that would bond you for life, huh? Sadly, this was not the case. But, that’s neither here nor there, as a former editor would say.

I also started reading “My Life in France” (the latest Julia Child book) and was stunned to discover that Julia learned to cook (at least the fancy French stuff) at 37. This means I literally have TONS of time to find my calling and that it IS still possible for my life to have direction, purpose and meaning. And that it’s okay if maybe I’m stumbling a bit. And that it’s important to remember that Rome was not built in a day. And all that stuff. (There was actually a sign at Calypso Twist that said something like that. It’s not the one that’s hanging in my kitchen though. The one in my kitchen specifically mentions “pie.”)

Before I left, my mother sent me a recipe for Elvis’ pound cake…and it seems like I’ve been seeing a lot about pound cake since then. I have to spend some time gathering my thoughts before executing an actual blog entry about it – she said something about a pound of flour and a pound of butter and that’s how it got its name?

My Saveur subscription lapsed, but I had to buy a copy at the airport ($5!!) because there was a great big ol’ coconut cream pie on the cover. (I haven’t actually read the article on the Massachusetts diner, so we’ll leave it at that for now…) There was also an Emile Henry ad for their fancy-pants pie pans…but I like Pyrex a lot. Guess it would be worth experimenting to see if it’s worth paying the extra bucks for an Emile Henry pan. I’m ashamed to admit there was a time when I didn’t think I needed to waste money on a pastry blender either…

Saveur also has a calendar of events of sorts…that includes the Interstate Mullet Toss April 27 through 29. I also didn’t read what Saveur had to say about it, but I definitely remember my classmates talking about the Flora-Bama Mullet Toss when I lived in Mississippi. However, I have yet to witness the spectacle…

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It’s Springtime

My mother is always in good spirits after the vernal equinox as it means she no longer lives in perpetual darkness…

For those of us who do not live on top of the world, the differences are perhaps subtler. In a similar vein, colleague recently requested a lemon cheesecake and since I am chairwoman of the Birthday Committee at my office, I figured this would be a good way to say, “Happy Birthday, March.”

(Fun Fact: my grandmother lived in Burlingame, CA for years and years and years. Even MORE Fun: SFO is in the vicinity and I’m flying there tomorrow.)

The really interesting thing about this cheesecake is that it called for a water bath (my second in one week!) I was worried again about scalding myself…but assume it had something to do with the cheesecake cracking? My cheesecakes always crack, so I was willing to experiment.

I decided to improvise with the crust – Lorna Doone! – as I had no idea how many of those little cookies were in half a cup…and who has time to grind them up and measure them and then grind up more and measure again and so on and so forth? It also calls for a lot of butter, so the crust wasn’t at all as grainy as my cheesecakes are usually wont to be. In any event, it kind of reminds me of that NYT story about improvising…I also couldn’t be bothered to actually wash my teaspoons, so I used a regular spoon and eyeballed the lemon juice and zest. (I live on the edge on weekdays.)

(While this sucker was in the oven, I was flipping channels and came across something about female bodybuilders on TLC. They were preparing for a big competition and had cans of Pam backstage! Do they spray themselves with it?? The commentator said something about them eating sugary foods right before the competition to make their veins bulge…)

I was pleased to see the cheesecake did not crack in the oven…but only one side was browned. It looked kind of like flan or creme brulee. I had to get really creative about storing it in the refrigerator, stacking a bunch of stuff to nestle my cheesecake in tight: plate, springform pan (which I think is warped), wax paper and another plate on top. This setup was intended to prevent any weird refrigerator smells from contaminating my cheesecake.

My colleagues seemed to enjoy it…but I have to admit I feel kind of like a freakshow bringing in multiple cakes a week. So…I may hold off for awhile and let some anticipation build (and to perhaps create the illusion that I do actually have other hobbies…).

One colleague asked if there was mascarpone in it. I couldn’t believe it! I was thrilled…what a fine palate he has.

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I missed a day!

…which means there’s SO much to catch up on.

The NYT had a bunch of really good food stories yesterday.

I really liked some of the descriptions in It Boils Down to This: Cheap Wine Works Fine even though a friend described them as “pompous”:

“I whisked several beurre blancs — the classic white wine and butter emulsion — pouring in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc with a perfume of Club Med piña coladas, an overly sweet German riesling and a California chardonnay so oaky it tasted as if it had been aged in a box of No. 2 pencils. “

And…”Next I braised duck legs in a nonvintage $5.99 tawny port that reminded me of long-abandoned Halloween candy, with hints of Skittles and off-brand caramels.”

I also really, really liked Tortillas Like Mamá’s, but This Is No Bodega. I even tried to find a recipe for pupusas, but didn’t really find anything that looked incredible. (There was one on the Food Network that would do in a pinch, but it didn’t blow me away.)

(Baking connection! “The Rancho Liborio bakery is a study in cross-cultural merchandising. The Cuban bread has to have the right delicate crust and texture for dipping in café con leche. The compact Mexican loaves called bolillos (four for $1) are sold near Salvadoran pastries called peperechas, layered with pineapple. The tres leches cake is a hit with almost everyone, including African-American shoppers from the area.”)

And I thought For Orange Zest, Substitute Kool-Aid was also really interesting. My mother definitely tinkers with recipes. I suppose I do, too, to a certain degree…

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Crust Trouble, Dancing with the Stars…and Junior High Memories

This may actually turn into ruminations on ABC’s prime time programming last night as that’s what was on in the background (I don’t have cable), but I’ll make a concerted effort to tie it back into baking.

Have I already blogged about displacement? My aunt taught me that when measuring Crisco, you add water to the measuring cup to get a better idea of how much you have left to add. I prefer to use smaller measuring cups and just scoop it out of the tub (I ran out of sticks and FreshDirect only had small tubs…and after three crusts, I’ve pretty much decimated my new small tub). I found the banoffee crust to be a bit too sticky and was a little worried, but I’m more careless when baking after work, so I added a *little* more flour and then made an executive decision that everything was going to be fine (The Secret??).

It was at this point in Dancing with the Stars that they introduced NBA hall of famer Clyde Drexler who is an impressive 6’7″. What they don’t know, however, is my very own father is 6’10” and so 6’7″ does not really astound me. I liked Clyde though – he seems like a really nice guy. For whatever that’s worth.

Other DWTS thoughts?

Heather Mills and her partner first met up in Brighton! If you read my post yesterday, you know how I feel about Brighton! (I also thought it was funny that they referred to Mills as a “charity campaigner” as if “divorcing a Beatle” wasn’t really what made her a “star…”)

At this point I realized I had forgotten to poke holes in the bottom of my crust and tried to do it mid-baking. (Oops.) Holes or no holes, this one still turned out pretty ugly. And part of it crawled down the side during baking…I don’t know why. I think another call to my aunt is in order. (While I was spooning in toffee, the whole crust moved independent of the pan…)

My final DWTS take-away: Billy Ray Cyrus. Guy didn’t do so hot last night. And he may sing about mullets now, but it was obviously his achy-breaky heart that made him famous. That song was on the airwaves when I was in the 7th grade.

And…I was in band in junior high. I played the flute…which sort of reminds me of the time my friend Erin took me to a secret beach in Malibu (where she swore I didn’t have to worry about people seeing me in swimwear) and then a creepy man in what I initially described as “the worst g-string ever” – but then my roommate (from my sophomore year in college who prides herself on being the shallowest person I know) told me was actually a “t-string” – appeared out of nowhere…and Erin and I moved away from him at the secret beach because he was a little too close for comfort and kinda, sorta, you know, naked…and we were just kind of hanging out and doing our thing when we looked at each other and asked, “Do you hear music?” and looked over and saw the creepy guy in the t-string playing a flute. He was standing there on the secret beach in his t-string, playing his flute as if it was the most natural thing in the world…

But, back in junior high, our big band hurrah was a local parade and our big rival was Cook Jr. High. (We were the Spartans of Slater). My band director picked a patriotic tune and had us all hyped up about how talented and professional we were in our white jeans with red stripes up the sides. Cook? Played AchyBreaky Heart. And guess who won top honors in the parade?? I hated that song for a looong time afterward.

Now though – I admit I’m glad I never had to learn to play a Billy Ray Cyrus song on the flute.

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Two and a Half Pies

So, this weekend Job #1 was creating my first commissioned work, a chocolate coconut meringue pie. Except that I couldn’t find a recipe for that exact pie and I am not so talented as to be able to bake sans recipe…so, long story short, I decided to do a chocolate cream pie and a coconut meringue.

The coconut meringue recipe I found on Epicurious.com called for cream of coconut (is there a big difference between that and coconut milk??) and FreshDirect didn’t have cream of coconut, so I had to go to the grocery store anyway. I also needed to buy coconut extract and was impressed by the extract selection they had at my little Met Foodmarket…but, unfortunately, all the extracts of the Met Foodmarket rainbow did not include coconut. Vanilla (natch), almond, lemon, imitation butter (!!)…but no coconut.

I also had to use Oreos with the frosting scraped out instead of Nabisco chocolate wafers. Improv!

And…I *thought* I had unsweetened baker’s chocolate at home but I really had semisweet baker’s chocolate (and only an ounce!) so I improvised by using all of the bittersweet chocolate I had purchased for the occasion (7 ounces instead of 5) in addition to the last ounce of semisweet baker’s chocolate I had to my name. (For the record, I am officially out of baker’s chocolate now.)

The chocolate cream pie recipe called for forcing custard through a sieve…which, if you recall, is what I had to do with that Boston Cream Cake-thing. Even though it was kinda gross…I have to admit that the end result – homemade pudding, I guess – was seriously one of the greatest things I have ever had in my mouth. Period. It quite literally made my tastebuds dance and sing. (Says the recipe: “This beautiful pie is great for entertaining, since the rich, creamy filling will be a surefire hit with anyone who likes chocolate pudding.” I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a HUGE chocolate pudding fan…but, oh, man. It was good stuff. I would even be tempted to secretly make it in my apartment where I live by myself and where no one would ever know…and just eat it all myself. With my cat. Except then I’d be a cautionary tale…and I’m thinking here that by putting that statement out into the cosmos that perhaps it will be a deterrent…but, who am I kidding? I’m totally going to do it anyway…might as well embrace spinsterhood with gusto.)

I still haven’t figured out the single crust. I rolled it out a LOT so that there was enough to fill the pan and spill over the edges, but then it seemed too thin…and it ended up bunching a little…and I tried to crimp the edges to make them pretty, but have in my notes here that I was worried about it being tough…probably because I thought I had handled it too much.

You also have to pierce the bottom of a single crust with a fork (or use pie beads or some such nonsense?)…and it came away from the sides during baking.

Other observations:

Cream of coconut kind of looks like lard.

Meringue takes FOREVER. I spent a good 20 minutes beating the hell out of it with my hand mixer on high…and it’s the first time I have ever used the “power boost” feature. But the recipe called for “stiff, glossy peaks” and it was definitely glossy at a certain point, but whether or not it was actually stiff when I gave up and said, “To hell with it…” is debatable. I’m surprised my arm isn’t sore today.

“In keeping with the tradition of southern desserts, this [coconut meringue] pie is sweet. Dr. Stallworth uses buttermilk in the filling to provide a hint of tang, but northerners may want to accentuate it even more by adding a tablespoon of fresh lemon or lime juice to the filling,” Epicurious says.

In homage to my Southern roots, perhaps, I stuck with the buttermilk for “a hint of tang.” And, while I am obviously not allowed to sample my commissioned work, I think it smelled pretty darn good. (And I was able to store it in my beloved Elegan cake holder.) Fingers crossed my coworker has a happy anniversary…

Re: Banoffee

Look! It says, “This pie, an easy take on toffee with bananas (hence the name), made its debut at The Hungry Monk, a pub in England, in 1972. Traditional recipes involve boiling unopened cans of condensed milk, but since that sometimes results in explosions, we thought you might prefer our method.”

I’m very excited about this pie…so much so that I thought I could make it after midnight and had to actually abort the mission when I pulled out a pathetic single crust from my oven and realized I was too tired to give it the attention it deserved.

In order to avoid explosions, you have to open the cans of sweetened condensed milk and pour the “milk” into an empty pie pan and cover it with foil and place it in a roasting pan and add boiling water and then leave it be for two hours (refilling the water as necessary…). I used a roasting pan I borrowed from a friend of a friend at Thanksgiving and still haven’t returned (oops) and was kind of scared I was going to scald myself when removing the water bath from the oven. Thankfully, this story ends happily.

I was really excited when I removed the foil and discovered that I had made toffee! It kind of looked like brains though. (Stirring it up and chilling it should – fingers crossed – eliminate any brain-like consistency.)

And here’s my great-big England tie-in: coincidentally, the second Bridget Jones movie was on TBS all weekend. I think I’ve already established my position on that film, so I won’t beat a dead horse. But, it was sort of like a car wreck in that I couldn’t exactly look away…and then at the end, I heard a familiar voice singing, “Your Love is King.” I had to verify this online just now, but I was right! It was Will Young! For those of you who were not watching reality TV in the UK in 2001, he was the winner of England’s Pop Idol long before Simon Cowell (okay, a year before Simon Cowell) hopped across the pond to insult would-be American singers. Will Young and Gareth Gates were the final two contestants and I was a HUGE Will fan. (Gareth was pretty in a boyish sort of way, but Will had the pipes). My boyfriend’s mother had 4 sisters and all of them voted obsessively for Gareth and I got all caught up in it – i.e., “If there is any justice in this world, Will Young will win Pop Idol!” And so he did…and now he makes cursory appearances in Mrs. Henderson Presents and on Bridget Jones soundtracks. (Ironically, this realization came on the same night that Anderson Cooper interviewed Simon Cowell on 20/20…but please don’t think less of me for watching Pop Idol – it was the first year of the show! It was a new and exciting phenomenon! It’s not like I voted for Clay Aiken. [Although perhaps I should admit that I *did* actually vote for Mario Lopez in a moment of weakness in the final episode of Dancing with the Stars last season. But Saved by the Bell, like, defined my generation. And Screech lives near my cousins!])

In any event…after the horrifying Bridget Jones sequel was over, Wimbledon was on! And say what you will about romantic comedies, but this one was filmed in Brighton which was where I went to school for two years and so I have lots of happy memories there. (And, one might also argue, it was exceedingly appropriate since banoffee pie originated in the U.K…)

But, sadly, I left the crust dough out too long and it was a *little* too dry by the time I tried to actually work with it…and I thought I could be really smart and fold over the excess crust to compensate for any thinness and make it easier to crimp…and I was really excited when I realized that each and every pie I attempted to bake required stiff peaks at one point or another…but then I removed my single crust from the oven and found that it did a weird creeping-down-the-sides-thing and seemed a bit gummy, so I decided to cut my losses and save banoffee for another night. But I’m halfway there with the toffee!

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Culinary References Abound!

…in this ESPN.com story, Ugly Basketball is Beautiful for IU, UCLA, about Saturday’s match up.

Case in point:

“Put it all together on the same court Saturday, and you have a recipe for sludge soup — which is, of course, a dish best served to a coach like Sampson or UCLA’s Ben Howland, who’ll appreciate it for reasons having everything to do with a grinder’s mentality and nothing to do with art.”

And…

“There isn’t much mystery meat on this plate. UCLA, the national runner-up a year ago, gets to Saturday’s game as a team that spent weeks this season as the top-ranked club in the country, and it wasn’t until end-of-the-season flops against Washington and Cal that anyone really wondered if the Bruins were vulnerable. Indiana, emerging now through the fog of the end of the Davis years, has just finished suggesting that it is ready to begin re-establishing its reputation behind a defense-first system.”

Since I am notoriously a sports curse, this begs the question of whether or not I should/can watch that game as it sounds like it is going to be an ugly match.

Either way, I’m really glad that Mata guy doesn’t have that weird face mask thing this season…

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