Category Archives: holidays

Road Trip Roundup, By the Numbers

2029: Miles we drove.

7: States we visited. Also, the number of days we were gone.

9: Episode of Dexter Season 5 that I found profoundly disappointing after watching it in hotel that had cable because I couldn’t wait for it to come out on DVD and which I hope is not a harbinger of the entire season.

4: Chicken wings in the “Midnight Train” entrée at Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffles.

13: Years since I’ve had the Beverly at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

239: Age of the Old Pinke House in Savannah.

14: Miles over the speed limit I was driving when pulled over for the first time in South Carolina by cop who said he’d have to take me to jail if he wrote me a ticket because I have an out-of-state license and, who, thankfully, let me go.

1: Tire change on a national holiday in a Waffle House parking lot.

24: Jeff Gordon’s number, which I learned at the Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

12: Cans of Cheerwine we brought back with us.

25: State license plates we counted.

36: Dead animals we saw on the side of the road.

And…about a zillion: Number of Led Zeppelin songs I heard.

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Filed under chickens, dishes, entrees, frying, holidays, pie

The Turkey That Wasn’t

Did you ever see that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which his mom made a tofurkey for Thanksgiving and it was all gelatinous and weird and hilarity ensued?

Doesn’t this Baskin-Robbins cake remind you of it a little?

Or at least seem ill-advised for holiday celebrations?

Maybe it’s the shiny brown icing? Or is it that it makes you think of turkey-flavored ice cream?

I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s not quite right…

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Filed under cake, holidays, ice cream

Goodbye, Libby’s (At Least For Now)

This year, I carved my first pumpkin in a long, long time. The last pumpkin I carved was based on advice from Martha Stewart (or the like) when I was working at a credit union in Fairbanks. My office held a carving contest and my pumpkin was truly something to behold – I made a leaf pattern and cut out leaves around the pumpkin, carved veins in them, and then pushed the leaves partially back through the holes in the pumpkin so that when I lit it up, the leaves looked like they were floating around said pumpkin and glowed. But — story of my life — the pumpkin rotted and liquefied the night before judging and I lost.

I can’t say this year’s pumpkin was a triumphant return, but it was nice to feel festive again.

I *also* decided that for the first time ever, I would roast the seeds instead of tossing them out…and, boy, am I glad I did! It was sort of hard to find a recipe I liked…so I ended up just rinsing them, tossing them in olive oil, adding salt and roasting on a sheet pan at about 300 degrees for 45 minutes. They were perfect! My mother said it was really hard to get all the orange pumpkin gunk off of them, but I didn’t think it was actually that bad. And it turned out that T’s favorites were the ones that were a little darker because they were roasted with gunk on.

I also heard that you should consider boiling the seeds first…but I thought the roasted seeds were fine sans boiling.

Now my goal is to make a pie from an actual pumpkin. I’ve never done that before either. And even though my baking enthusiasm has dimmed considerably and may never be what it once was, I’d still like to try out real pie this year. Another friend had a taste test last year in which she made a pie from scratch and a pie from a can and asked guests to guess which was which. It seemed obvious to me — the pie made from real pumpkin was a darker color and sort of less pleasant to look at…although I don’t actually remember how they tasted (…which may actually be because I thought the canned pumpkin pie tasted better, but I am too ashamed to admit it).

But, as a general rule, I’ve been perfectly happy with Libby’s all my life. There – I said it. If that makes me Whiskey Tango, so be it.

So I’m not sure I’ll turn pie-from-an-actual-pumpkin into a holiday tradition for years to come. But, like seeing Mount Rushmore or going waterskiing, it seems like something I should do once in life.

And yet…the Web seems to be barren of useful pie-from-a-pumpkin resources. Could it be that the difference is negligible and so no one bothers?

Granted, my research was not as exhaustive as it perhaps could have been, but every pie recipe I saw on Epicurious.com (my favorite!) called for canned pumpkin. Ditto FoodNetwork.com.

And I’m surprised that given the annual food mag task of making old Thanksgiving news new again that they haven’t jumped all over this. I would think that Alton Brown of all people would have made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin at least once — after all, I saw him harvest coconut using a power drill — but, alas, I cannot find a recipe from him either.

Thankfully, my go-to cookbook when the Internet fails — The Joy of Cooking — has perfect instructions. I will give it a shot soon (and maybe make a Libby’s pie, too, just for old times’ sake) and report back.

And…just a reminder: There are rumors of another canned pumpkin shortage this year…so if you don’t want to experiment with real pumpkins, make sure to pick up a can of Libby’s before the Thanksgiving rush!

Image via cardamom/Flickr

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Filed under Alaska, books, Food Network, Halloween, holidays, pie, pumpkins

Cheerwine Inspires Savannah Road Trip Plot, Alternate Thanksgiving Plans

There is a new fancy-pants (not to be confused with Clancy Pants) grocery store opening up around the corner from my apartment. And I hadn’t thought much of it as it looks like the kind of place that sells $9 jars of mustard and, as I am a penniless writer, it didn’t seem like the kind of place where I’d be popping in for incidentals.

Last weekend, T went out for a newspaper and such…and returned, much later than anticipated, with said paper and a bottle of Cheerwine from the aforementioned fancy-pants grocery store.

I’ve *heard* of Cheerwine. (In fact, I think the sole male blogger at the super-effusive lady-blog [for which I no longer write because I am not cut from the same super-effusive cloth] mentioned Cheerwine in his bio. He is based in North Carolina.)

T’s family, incidentally, is also in North Carolina. So…he knows the stuff and was somewhat excited about finding it here. We split the bottle – that’s right: a glass bottle, just like Coke from Mexico, or wherever it is that produces it with real sugar. The verdict? It was alright. Certainly hit the spot. Maybe kind of like Dr. Pepper? But a little more cherry-y? Or less cola-y? I’d give it a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5 gold stars. (Come to think of it, this may possibly explain why my food-writing career has not quite taken off yet…)

And…because of a photo ID snafu, I’m not sure T and I will be able to hop on a plane in two weeks to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. Christmas, perhaps…but Thanksgiving seems increasingly unlikely.

So, naturally, thoughts turned to spending the upcoming holiday with *his* family. Not sure I am mentally prepared for this, but…no time like the present, I guess.

And…because I am my mother’s daughter, I have hatched a harebrained scheme to tie in a trip to Savannah if we drive south. Is that nuts?

My defense:

1. I’ve never been to Savannah and I’ve heard wonderful things about it.

PLUS 2. I graduated from high school in Georgia, so it seems kind of shameful not to have visited Savannah at least once. (Although, in my defense, I only spent three semesters at George Walton Comprehensive High School.)

PLUS 3. We could go to The Lady and Sons! T (and I) love her! And I would love to eat there! (Although I have to be wary of shellfish as he is allergic. But, still! So much good stuff on the menu to try!)

It might involve a bit of intense driving, but we could totally get down there in two days with a day to spend there before heading north again for Thanksgiving.

I think it could be super-fun and memorable and a nice escape from the city, which has not happened much this year. But…I still have to convince T this is a brilliant idea and that we only live once, etc. Which may or may not work.

(It’s not the first time I’ve pulled something like this. When I heard his roommate was driving to Indiana for a wedding over Labor Day weekend, I tried to convince him we needed to hitch a ride and spend the long weekend in Indianapolis. I failed because he had to work…but if he was planning to take time off that week for Thanksgiving anyway…Savannah just might be my $1,000,000 idea.)

Image via three6ohchris/Flickr

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Filed under Brooklyn, cherries, holidays

My Top Ten Patriotic Desserts

Kudos to the Cool Whip marketing team — whenever I think of Fourth of July desserts, I think of the Wave Your Flag Cake.

But…I was also pretty sure that there had to be other patriotic desserts out there…and while this *may* be slightly belated, it *is* still technically Fourth of July weekend…so here are my Top Ten Favorite July Fourth Desserts…which you can maybe still pull out for Columbus Day? Or Veterans Day?

10. Sandra Lee’s Fourth of July Trifle. I agree with Matilda Cuomo that cottage cheese has no place in a lasagna (I’m sorry, health nuts, but it’s wrong…), but if you are actually in possession of a trifle bowl, I see no better way to cap your 07/04 festivities than with the potential future First Lady of New York’s trifle. And, in true Sandra Lee style, this shizz is easy.

9. Or…how about this beauty? Taste of Home’s Red, White ‘n’ Blue Salad literally screams, “Happy Independence Day!” Just look at it.

8. If Yankee Doodle went to town and found this, he would have called it magnificent.

7. As temperatures rise, try these Patriotic Pops on for size.

6. Normally I feel Epicurious hits home runs…and the Red, White and Blue Ice Cream Cake may very well be super-tasty…but it also got hit with an ugly stick.

5. Firecracker Bites. These look more like sliders with straws or mini milkshakes to me…but kids allegedly enjoy making them.

4. I would wager a lot of people would prefer a younger, more scantily clad man emerge from a cake…but, in the spirit of the holiday, I suppose we can make our peace with Uncle Sam Celebrates 4th of July.

3. I don’t know where you find green ice cream cones, but — in all seriousness — these Lady Liberty Cupcakes are the bee’s knees.

2. Wait! Maybe I spoke too soon! Uncle Sam Ice Cream Cones are darn cute. *And* you can use regular cones.

Drumroll…

1. I’m not a huge fan of marshmallows on their own, but these Edible Eagles are maybe the most creative dessert I’ve ever seen. And, frankly, a fudge-covered Oreo in and of itself would make me one happy camper any day of the year.

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Filed under blueberries, cake, cherries, cupcake, holidays, ice cream, parties, red velvet

St. Patrick’s Day with Mike Meyers, Judy Garland, Hal, Mal, Jill, Lance Romance, a Whole Lot of Tammies and One Single Barbie.

(…even though I’m not sure any of them are/were Irish…)

I feel like I’ve been in such a rut lately…and, like Austin Powers, my mojo is gone. But…to carry the analogy a bit further, I’ve been unable to find my Dr. Evil and somehow learn a powerful Dorothy-esque lesson that I never really lost it at all.

I still haven’t been baking much…even though a friend recently took me to Costco and I got 72 ounces of chocolate chips and could theoretically bake cookies for every last one of the 2,556,598 people who live in Brooklyn. And, sure, *that* would be one heck of a post…but…let’s be realistic.

Today is March 14…or 3.14…or Pi…which I suppose means I should be making pies. But I’m not. Cat-sitting, yes. Old-bill-shredding, yes. Laundry-doing, yes. Book-draft-tweaking, yes. Golden-Girls-watching, yes. But…pie-baking, no.

I just sort of accepted that maybe I’m not going to have anything to write about for awhile. And…I’ve been pitching stories — a girl’s gotta eat — and I was trying to think of some good ideas for St. Patrick’s Day and *that* got me thinking about the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi and their yearly parade (or, rather, the yearly parade they march in…) and I realized the timing is perfect and I *do* actually have something to write about now.

For the uninitiated, the Sweet Potato Queens are a group of women in Jackson who dress up in spangly green outfits with pink fur and fringe and big red wigs with sparkly crowns and accentuated body parts. They march in Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year and are led by Jill Conner Browne, who calls herself the “Boss Queen,” and has written numerous books on being a Queen that are both amusing and empowering…even though I sort of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She’s a good writer — and has definitely found her niche — but I think (and I mean this in the nicest way possible as I really do think it’s a good example of someone who found a way to make a living doing something she loves…) it’s the same brand of fiery Southernisms packaged under different themes, like Love or Money or Divorce or Getting Older. Nothing wrong with it. Just…like I said, if you’ve read one, you pretty much know the gist. (Although…to be fair, I don’t think I’ve read anything after the Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

And yet…despite the repetition or whatever, I really like those ladies and part of me wishes I was en route to Jackson for next weekend’s parade.

I went to the parade one year while I was living there…but I only vaguely remember the very end in which Tiny Tim — the Grand Marshal that year — passed by on the back of a convertible with his ukulele. And…it sort of begs the question how I could possibly miss and/or not remember a brassy gang of Southern women in sequined outfits and giant boobs who go by “Tammy” while Lance Romance tickles the ivory and they dance on a float…but I have absolutely no recollection of them. It’s kind of sad. I guess I had different priorities circa 1994…

A few things I *do* remember about the Magnolia State:

  • The boiled (pronounced “bald”) peanuts sold on the side of the road by an old guy with a crusty nose. When my mother first saw his sign, she said, “P-Nuts? What’s that? Pine nuts?” and our real estate agent furrowed her brow and said, “No. Peanuts.”
  • The prisoners wore pants with big green and white stripes and served lunch at a barbecue festival called Red Hot in July…which was a little weird. I’ve never had a felon serve me food before. (I don’t think.)
  • I had my first pulled pork sandwich at Red Hot and Blue (which my parents tried to find again when passing through Jackson last year but it maybe doesn’t exist anymore?).
  • My dad’s coworkers called him, “Mr. Brian,” because they wanted to be respectful, but also friendly…
  • I was on the yearbook staff with the mayor’s son and I played basketball with the Secretary of Agriculture’s daughter…and we had a dress code that said we could only wear t-shirts from the school itself or from colleges…and every time someone walked into the gym in a Yale shirt, my basketball coach would scream and when that person looked around, confused, he’d say, “Well it said, ‘Yale,'” but he pronounced “yell,” and “Yale,” just about exactly the same…or if anyone walked in with a shirt from say, Brown, that wasn’t Brown, he LOVED saying, “That ain’t brown, that’s blue!” (or gray or white or whatever). He was born in California, but only lived there for a few months when he was an infant…and yet still felt we had some sort of bond because of it. “My mama said you could get green beans real cheap there,” he’d say. He was the first person I ever met who actually chewed tobacco and he would spit it into the back of his truck. And, for whatever reason, I can remember him talking about getting fire ants in the innards of his truck and watching them spit out at him when he turned on the AC.
  • Mississippi also introduced me to king cake and beignets (I’m not a big fan of either)…fried pickles (which I like better), a grocery store chain called Jitney Jungle…and the sweetest little four-year-old boy named Connor who used to live next door to me and who I used to babysit every Saturday night. He saw Free Willy and fell in love with orcas…and, 15 years later, I still have a drawing on my refrigerator that he made for me with the Ross Barnett Reservoir and his house and some boats and the warning, “No Killing Orcas.” It’s really scary to think that he’s 19 now…and the same age as Levi Johnston. He was just such a sweet little boy…and — spoiler alert — I’ve often thought that if I ever have a son, the name Connor will be at the top of my list.

These are just random memories from Mississippi…and don’t likely paint a very good picture. I haven’t been back since…1996? 1997? I imagine a lot has changed. But it’s what I remember. (And I say this even after catching a little bit of Wanda Sykes last night in which she interviewed Constance McMillen and said that Mississippi always has a knack for being on the wrong side of history…and…gotta admit she sorta had a point…)

Back to the Queens: I’m not really sure how Jill Conner Browne became the Boss Queen…but I’m glad she did. She’s definitely on the list of people I admire (…and whose career paths I wouldn’t mind following…) From what I’ve gathered in her books, it sounds like things haven’t always been easy for her — she’s divorced and was a single mother and it took her a long time to find the Cutest Boy in the World…so, I mean, I guess I see her as another example of how important it is to be tenacious and that things work out when they’re meant to be…even if it doesn’t always make sense when you’re in the thick of it. (Amen? [Seemed the appropriate way to end that paragraph…])

And, heck, I think this whole thing got started when she decided to declare herself a queen one day. Which sort of begs the question why I don’t just call myself the Queen of Something and get the ball rolling. But I can’t really think of anything that I’d like to be the Queen of — Artichokes? Endives? Soybeans? — nor do I really have a place to march…or anyone to play the piano for me as I do it. Although — one thing’s for sure: I’m pretty sure the Sweet Potato Queens got the boob thing right. I have a friend who went as Doralee from 9 to 5 for Halloween…and she told me that she learned that men do not care what your boobs are made of as long as they are huge. So…perhaps the lesson here is that I should get a boob job if I want a successful media career?

Or…I could always marry a pop star from the 70s?

Frank Bruni wrote a story recently about Katie Lee (formerly Joel)…and, gotta say, I envy this chick’s life. Basically everything I want to do (with the exception of my own cooking show and marrying Billy Joel), she’s either done or has in the works: the Chelsea-Handler-esque collection of short stories; the monthly entertaining column in Cosmo; the Good Morning America appearances…if I had accomplished any one of those things, I might be happy to rest on my laurels for all eternity. (It also sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say, “I want to be just like Barbie — that bitch has everything!” Except my bumper sticker would say, “I want to be just like Katie Lee…”? No. That can’t be right either…)

Or, you know, maybe I can just print my resume on a shirt…?

I’m not sure how we ended up here. It’s a long way from existential crises to Happy St. Patrick’s Day…but, believe it or not, that was my point. So. I’ll slam the brakes and throw this post in reverse and wrap things up with, “Don’t forget to wear green on Wednesday! And have a happy St. Patty’s Day…!”

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Filed under books, Brooklyn, chocolate, cookies, feminism, Halloween, holidays, Mississippi, pickles, pie, St. Patrick's Day

Going — Pardon Me — Bananas

Well, folks, I’m coming to realize that writing about food doesn’t bring me nearly as much joy as it used to…or maybe it’s that I’ve come to embrace self-involvement and can finally admit that writing about myself is much more enjoyable.

Either way, it’s been a long time since I’ve written about food — and only food. So…any of you old school Tasty Lacy’s fans who are still with me — and have disapproved of recent off-topic jaunts — will hopefully find solace in the following paragraphs.

Last Saturday — January 23 — was National Pie Day. So, yes, this post is very much belated. But…it’s still coming in with plenty of time for Pi Day on March 14 — you still have about six weeks to prepare. And…because I still feel guilty nearly a year later for stiffing the woman who bet on my pie lesson at the Social Media for Social Change auction last April, I wanted to humbly offer up some Pie Tips — or what I envision I would have passed on to her during that lesson she never received.

So, without further ado: All My Secrets That Are Too Late For Pie Day, But Are Just in Time for Pi Day…

1. Make sure the water you use for your crust is ice-cold. Some books/experts will tell you to refrigerate your crust before you roll it out. I say don’t bother. Instead, I just make measuring out the water my first step and throw in a couple of ice cubes while I’m at it and let it get nice and cold while I’m measuring flour and Crisco. That’s it.

2. Invest in a pastry blender if you don’t already have one. This may gross out some of you, but I really like to use my hands when mixing a crust…and I’ve found it’s a lot easier if you mix the flour/Crisco with a pastry blender first to get it started…and *then* use your hands to finish it and get those nice flaky bits. Besides, your hands are going to get gross and Crisc0-y when you roll it out anyway…so I figure you might as well dig in early on. But only after using a pastry blender or it’ll take you forever.

3. A pie crust shield will change your life. Sure, you can use strips of foil over and over again. But…it’s not very green *and*, quite frankly, it’s a pain in the ass to fold those stupid strips over each other and to get them to stay put. And then you have to be uber-careful when putting the pie in the oven because you don’t want one of those delicate strips to fall off. So…I say, “Screw the strips!” and you should cough up the — ahem — dough for a pie crust shield that you can just throw on top of pies time and time again.

That’s basically it. I wish I had more tricks up my sleeve…but, to be honest, I really think the secret to making good pies is a lot of practice. My aunt makes the most beautiful pies…and she’s been making them for years. I hope that if I keep this up that I’ll, for example, eventually be able to roll out a top crust and place it over the bottom crust and pinch the edges and not have any excess on the sides. I think in pie terms, that’s the sign that you’ve truly made it.

But, sadly (or not so much…), I didn’t actually make a regular crust for NPD 2010. (And, despite my earlier assertion that it’s really all about me and, “To heck with food blogging!”, I *would* like to do an experiment and compare a Crisco crust to a lard crust. I think it would be fascinating! Honestly. And maybe it’ll be a good project for 3/14. We’ll see.)

In the meantime…I knew there was no way I could possibly recreate the magic of NPD 2009 — thanks, in part, to Franimate, Social Medium and Half-Man/Half-Press-Release — so, as I noted in my “Come Celebrate NPD 2010 with Me”-email (and maybe even in my last blog post?), I was on the fence about celebrating this year…but I ultimately decided I’d regret it if I didn’t. And, plus, I’m on this big traditions kick, and it would make me very much a hypocrite if I let the opportunity to firmly establish a yearly pie tradition pass me by. So. I decided to make Emeril’s banana cream pie (while my folks were driving back from Tennessee, they stopped at a restaurant — I guess one of Emeril’s in Florida, Mississippi or Louisiana [thanks to Popeye’s, I heard, “Louisiana…Fast!” in my head as I typed that] — and couldn’t get his banana cream pie and it was supposed to be the best banana cream pie ever and my mom was really disappointed). And…it turns out that Emeril’s banana cream pie has a graham cracker crust.

A quick review: This is one damn good pie. And I find that I say that every time I have to make my own pudding…which begs the question why I don’t make my own pudding more often. It called for an awful lot of actual bananas cut up and placed ON the pudding…and I decided that it would be prettier if I made some whipped cream and whacked it on top and then gently flung caramel sauce across it…which was a good idea in theory…but my caramel sauce was a little too warm when I flung it and so it melted the whipped cream a bit…and, as per usual, the pie could have been prettier. But…it was good! So…no harm, no foul.

The problem *now* is that I have all these bananas left over…and so I was trying to dream up banana recipes to get rid of them. Normally I’d make banana bread, but my friend contributed a loaf to Pie Day…and so I was actually thinking about banana fritters for a bit. My mom used to make them when I was little. I have fond memories. There’s a banana fritters recipe in our family cookbook…and so, just out of curiosity, I asked my mother where she got it and she said it was actually my paternal grandmother’s…and I was still interested in learning more about fritters in general, so I Googled and they appear to be a Southern thing…or kind of Soul Food-y or Caribbean-y…or even something that hails from West Africa, according to Epicurious…which sort of surprised me. I have no idea where my Norwegian grandmother — who lived virtually her entire life in San Francisco — originally got the recipe.

But, after all that, I don’t think I’m going to make fritters…I have this hunch that it’s one of those things that was really great as a kid but that might be a little heavy for the Lisa of today to eat over and over again. Instead, I think those bananas are going to become filling for my favorite empanadas. So…in addition to a freelance piece and officially finishing my proposal (…knock on wood…), that’s what I’ll be making this afternoon…and consuming this week.

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Filed under bananas, blogs, books, Brooklyn, holidays, pie, pudding

Man and Lisa v. Food

So…I was sitting around watching TV last night with my cousin…and he has cable, so I was super-excited that I could shift between The Office and Man v. Food and The Little Couple and Keeping Up with the Kardashians

And as we were watching, Jen from The Little Couple talked about dating and said that she got to a point before she met Bill when she thought, “Maybe it’s just not going to happen for me…” and I thought, “Wow – I’ve been thinking that exact same thing…”

And then my cousin and I went back to Man v. Food and he said something like, “You should marry that guy. He lives in Brooklyn and he likes food.”

And, you know, I’ve seen Man v. Food before and I *have* thought that Adam Richman is kind of adorable. (I’ve also thought that he seems like a little bit of a manwhore, too, sometimes…but, then again, what hot-blooded New York male with a show on the Travel Channel isn’t a bit of a manwhore? [And I’m not so much of a prude that I can’t admit that if I was from Mars and didn’t hear my clock ticking loud and clear, I might be inclined to sow oats ‘til kingdom come, too…])

And…I also happened to be texting back and forth with a friend in Seattle last night…and I sort of busted his chops and he sort of busted mine and he finally wrote back something like, “You love me…” and I said, “I sure do…but, right this red hot minute, I’m also sort of loving Adam Richman…” and he said, “I’ll introduce you!” and I said, “Sure…great.” And he said, “No, really – I went to school with him…” and then I freaked out a little.

And, I mean, I realize the odds of it becoming Man and Lisa v. Food are pretty darn slim *and* that 2010 is supposed to be about me and me alone (to which my darling friend said, “Well, then I guess he’ll just have to pine away for you for twelve long months…”), but, heck, I’m not so much of a cynic that I can’t entertain the fanciful notion that maybe my friend has magical powers and/or got along super-well with Adam Richman at Yale and Adam Richman has fond memories of him and/or thought of him as something of a guiding life force and will listen with rapt attention when my friend says, “Hey, so, I have this adorable friend and you should meet her…” (I wasn’t sure whether my friend should lead with “adorable” or “pie-making” in his pitch, but my friend said adorable was the way to go…and then I pointed out that they say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but my friend argued that it is actually anatomically lower and so I amended my intro-to-Adam-Richman phrase. But this is a family blog, so we’ll leave it at that.)

And, you know, maybe it isn’t totally crazy and that blurb from The Little Couple and my cousin’s comment were fortuitous…and maybe Adam Richman will be totally intrigued by my pornographic name and he will totally have his taxi light on. And maybe this explains why the universe has spewed such tremendous man-crap at me over the past several  years – maybe it was all so I would truly appreciate Adam Richman when I had him.

Besides, think about all that Adam Richman and I have in common: Aside from food and travel, we both live in Brooklyn, we both used to live in Atlanta, we both have master’s degrees from Ivy League universities, we both describe ourselves as “a bit on the husky side” (okay, okay…I don’t actually do that…but I *did* eat a lot when I was depressed this summer…) and we are both brunettes. If *that* doesn’t spell out, “written in the stars,” I don’t know  *what* does.

So…I am going to amend my 2010 resolution slightly and say that I am going to be happy with me…and Adam Richman, too, should he happen to fall in my lap.

(Either way, I am excited about 2010. The buck stops in 2009, folks. I was watching Jersey Shore – I know! I know! But I’m working on a story about how MTV is leveraging all the online buzz to drive ratings, so I *had* to – and, you know, there’s tons of dramz: Sammi [the self-proclaimed “sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet”] gets in a fight with Ronnie because she sees him dancing with a girl at Karma and so she gives her phone number to her cop-friend and J-Woww [the one with two-toned hair and renegade boobs] sees and tells Ronnie to go “check his girl” and then he gets upset and leaves the club and so J-Woww goes after him because she doesn’t want him to be alone, but then someone tells Sammi that Ronnie left with J-Woww and *she* gets upset and goes to the house, too, and finds Ronnie and J-Woww in the same room and it’s terrible [which, tragically, is precisely why Ronnie said his one and only rule was not to fall in love at the Jersey Shore!], but then Ronnie feels bad and follows Sammi into the guest room and they make up…and, sure, I’m probably not going to draw *too* many life lessons from Snooki and the gang, BUT…I *did* sort of find wisdom in Sammi’s comment when she was upset about Ronnie and the Mystery Lady from the club [who I think ended up going home with The (poor) Situation who has abs of steel but still can’t seem to close the deal?] and she said something like, “He’s with another girl? No. That’s it. I’m done.” I wish *I* had the gall to say, “Look at how completely amazing I am! If you’re stupid enough to screw things up, I’m moving on! There are plenty of other fish in the sea!” Although…I guess that can be part of my I’m-going-to-be-happy-with-me resolution.)

(Adam Richman, you’ve been warned…[but I mean that in the nicest way possible…])

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Filed under Brooklyn, holidays, The Office

My Final Julie/Julia Reference of 2009…

There are times I feel all alone in this world and there are times I feel really loved. Christmas this year was one of the latter.

And…it wasn’t actually just being with family in any sort of traditional sense (with the drinking of eggnog by the fire and/or staring deep into each others’ eyes near the fir). In fact — and this doesn’t mean in any way that I haven’t had the time of my life baking sugar cookies and wrapping presents and learning that “niece” also means “illegitimate daughter of an ecclesiastic,” and signing a card for my cousin by calling him “Uncley Dick,” and making plans for the Dead Squirrel Museum in Madison (you get my point?) – but…it was also very much because of people I didn’t actually spend Christmas with at all. And you can’t blame me completely for feeling gooey now because I watched “Julie & Julia” last night (one of my gifts!) and that movie always warms my heart and makes me happy.

But…my sister got a copy of Julie & Julia SIGNED for me. As in, Julie Powell actually *wrote* *out* *my* *full* *name* — first and last! — and told me to keep writing. I can’t believe it. It’s one of the – if not the – best gifts I’ve ever gotten. Her story just means so much to me – as I’ve written countless times before, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but…it just reminds me that each of us has the power to change our lives in positive ways…and while it may be hard to figure out how to do that exactly (and it may in fact be quite discouraging!)…the point is that we all can.

And, you know, the movie *also* reminds me that it would be nice to have a sweet man by my side in the vein of an Eric or a Paul…who would hold my hand during my meltdowns — and we all know there are plenty to choose from… — but, after reading Cleaving, I guess I also have to acknowledge that relationships are tough and, like my mother says, if everyone threw their problems into a room, we’d all run back in and grab our own. So maybe I’m better off on my own two feet for now. (I am, after all, trying to be more zen and trust the universe…) In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing fine. And, as noted above, there were plenty of reminders this Christmas that I’m not actually alone in this world at all.

And I’m realizing this reflects just how clingy and needy I am if I require constant confirmations that people in my life do, in fact, care about me…which can’t help but remind me of an ill-advised and overly long (no, wait – “overly long,” doesn’t even begin to describe it — it was verbose to the point of insanity…[but, then again, when I have ever *not* written long? Which is exactly what I told myself as I clicked, “send…”]) email I sent not too long ago to a friend with whom I have always had a weird relationship. I wanted to pry some proof out of him…but he ignored it. And, in hindsight, I guess I can see that it was a scary message…but…I sent it with the best intentions and all I really wanted to hear was that he cared about me, too…and it’s the kind of message I would have been thrilled to receive from pretty much anyone. But…what a punch in the gut to pretend like I had never even sent it…and I think this means he and I aren’t really friends anymore. Which is kind of sad…but also kind of not…because he’s sucked a lot out of me…and I never really got much in return. Which, you know, begs the question of what one wants from a relationship with another human being…and shouldn’t it be enough to just exude love and not expect anything back? Which is actually something I’ve told myself repeatedly before…but now I’m sort of realizing that if you do that you become the Sad Sally who exudes love for people who don’t really care about you…and that’s not ideal either. So I guess I’m learning sometimes you have to stop exuding and save affection for the people who really want to stick around. And, heck, I guess if I’m going to cut out dead weight, this is the time of year to do it…with new beginnings in the new year and whatnot. One less proverbial mouth to feed, I guess…

And this may also be a good time to talk resolutions as I’m not sure I’ll really have a chance to blog again in 2009 (…aww…). And, really, I mean, instead of listing eating healthy and exercising regularly and becoming fluent in Spanish and all those things I know I (probably) won’t actually do, I think I’m going to point to those post-Bartender resolutions and continue to concentrate on the things that helped me end 2009 on a positive note: Be happy with me. Get an agent. Travel. Be patient.

My last Julie & Julia reference of 2009: I made chocolate cream pie for Christmas. And, admittedly, I did not measure the Oreos (I just used a whole package)…which I’m not sure was such a good idea as it yielded a *pretty* thick crust. And it wasn’t like a complete unit. It was like pudding whacked on crushed Oreos. But! Then again…Julia said to never apologize. So. There we are. (Plus, the kids loved it. [I think.])

My aunt contributed a mystery pecan pie and a sugar plum cake…both of which I have heard my mother rave about but have never actually tried myself. The mystery pecan pie has a cream cheese layer and a pecan layer and a pecan-pie-ish layer that magically shift during baking. And, well, no one makes a crust like my aunt, so it was really, really beautiful. And…I wouldn’t say I’m a *huge* spiced cake fan, BUT…the sugar plum cake was really, really good – there’s a butter sauce you pour over it (and I guess *that* is actually my final Julie/Julia reference of 2009) that totally makes it. Good stuff all around. (When faced with three desserts, I cannot choose just one. A little bit of all of them. Which may mean I really *should* concentrate on some of those other resolutions that would make for a Less Fat 2010, but…for now, I’m going to let visions of that cake dance in my head…and we’ll see how long that sustains me.)

All the best for 2010!

Your faithful blogging pal,

LL

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Filed under books, chocolate, holidays, pie

No Candy Thermometer? No Problem!

I went to high school with a girl named Yoshi Nishibara and today is her birthday. I don’t know why mumble-mumble-mumble years after we graduated, I can still remember this. But I can. (The first boy I ever kissed celebrated *his* 32nd birthday eight days ago. I don’t know why I remember that either.)

Yesterday, however, was my friend’s husband’s birthday. And…since last year at this time, I was all about vegan baking, I’m afraid my friend’s husband (and my friend…whose birthday happens to be at the end of November) got stuck with more than their fair share of my vegan experiments. And…since I’ve had tres leches on the brain, I decided there was really no better way to celebrate my friend’s husband’s birthday than with a cake that is decidedly non-vegan — three milks *and* a whole mess o’ egg whites.

The recipe I found on Epicurious said that tres leches is a Nicaraguan cake often served during the holidays…which I suppose makes it even *more* poetic as I sorta, kinda spent upwards of five minutes *in* Nicaragua while I was in Central America a few weeks back.

I don’t think my cake pan was *quite* big enough…as the sponge cake sort of exploded over the edge, giving itself a muffin top. But…no worries, I guess…you’re supposed to cut off the hardened top layer anyway. (And, for the record, it smelled really, really good…like, almost worth eating on its own?)

I think my favorite part of making this cake was the meringue. I’ve blogged before about how meringues are my nemesis…(damn you, you ridiculously clean bowl!) but this recipe called for making it in a totally new way…and I confess I was transfixed! You get four egg whites ready in a mixer…and they sit around and wait while you bring sugar and water to a boil on the stove. As soon as the sugar/water mixture is boiling, you start up your mixer.

Now, the directions say to keep the sugar/water on the burner until it reaches “soft ball stage” on a candy thermometer…and then add it to the egg whites and turn the mixer on really high until it is shiny and cool. But, alas, I do not *have* a candy thermometer…just a meat thermometer. And, you know, sometimes my ingenious solutions work out really well…and sometimes they are absolute disasters. Luckily, this time it was the former. (I told an old coworker about this and he said, “Sure…I mean, candy? Meat? What’s the difference?”) I Googled “soft ball stage” and learned that it’s 235°F to 240°F. And my meat thermometer goes up to 220 (although the highest cooking temperature it has listed is 180 for poultry…). So…I decided that I would wait until it hit 220 and then leave it on the burner for another minute or two…and then surely it would be at 235ish. And…I gotta say I was a little skeptical about the adding-it-to-mixing-egg-whites part…but, it totally worked. Like a charm. A beautiful meringue. (I don’t think it looked *quite* as pretty ON the cake…and I briefly flirted with the idea of tossing it back in the oven to brown those peaks…but…then I decided I should maybe leave well enough alone…)

(Sidenote: Candy thermometers really make me feel like it’s the holidays. That’s because [I am told] my great-grandmother was a whiz at pie-baking and candy-making…and it was from her that my aunt learned everything she knows about pies [I think — I *may* be taking a little creative license here…] and my mom learned everything she knows about candy. And so, in the Decembers of my youth, my mother would make fudge and penuche to hand out to friends and coworkers…making this the one time of year she used her candy thermometer…)

So…fun fact: The milks in question are sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy cream. You mix all of that up with two tablespoons of optional rum (and, who are we kidding? I *obviously* included the rum…but had to buy a GIANT bottle of it…and so will theoretically have a little Captain in me for years to come…). Then you just sort of slowly pour it all over the sponge cake with the sawed-off top and it soaks it up. I was a little concerned that I was over-liquefying it because my cake wasn’t big enough…but I didn’t actually end up sampling it in the end…so…dunno.

I made the cranberry compote, too…which I thought was supposed to be more like a sauce…but, according to another quick Google, is whole fruit in syrup. (Although I think it is crazy-ridiculous that the recipe says to add four cloves…and then to remove said cloves before serving. It’s a big fruity glob — one could spend hours searching for individual cloves. And, for whatever reason, I totally just flashed on a movie with Pee Wee Herman and the circus — Big Top Pee Wee? — in which there’s a really tall guy with a super-tiny wife…and she sings a song about being a needle in a haystack…which I can only imagine is sort of like finding cloves in cranberry compote…[why do I remember that all this time later, too?])

I *also* thought it was kind of funny that the recipe said to add just enough water to make the cornstarch “slurry.” I think I added a *little* too much and in fact made it “wet.” (Cornstarch is some crazy stuff…going from liquid to solid to liquid…it’s almost a little trippy.)

Then…my friend gave me a copy of the latest issue of Yoga Journal that has a story entitled, “The Joy of Baking,” and includes — get this — a recipe for a vegan chocolate cake. (Aww…while I was assembling the tres leches cake, I also found my disembodied Santa and snowman heads that are supposed to go on holiday cupcakes…and I briefly thought about repurposing one for a happy December birthday…but, in the end, I decided that the disembodied heads will be fine in their baggie for another year…)

So…the writer talks about growing up in a remote town and receiving cakes from church ladies who would go out of their way to deliver them to cheer someone up or to celebrate something. THEN she goes on to say that through this practice she “learned early on the joys of nourishing the heart through food.” And she quotes a yoga guy from Berkeley who says, “It’s not unlike the kind of nourishment that comes from romantic love. Food prepared with loving intention is spiritual.”

And I’d never thought of that before! (Insert the obvious joke about how I’ve been able to stay single for so long…) But, I mean…I think she’s right. There *is* something sort of deep and meaningful and connecting-you-to-the-Everyman and whatnot that happens when you bake stuff for people. It makes them happy. And making them happy makes you happy. And that makes you feel good…regardless of how often you actually flex your overtly spiritual muscles. (And surely being a spreader of joy buys you some leeway in the eyes of organized religion?)

And, I mean, I’ve long known the therapeutic effects of baking — still one of the only things that always calms me down when I’m upset — and…as I put the finishing touches on my book proposal, I am realizing that baking-as-coping-mechanism is a really big theme. No matter what’s going on, I’ve always been able to turn to it…and it *always* makes me feel better. (I am actually trying to think of a good title with a new spin on a common baking phrase. Suggestions welcome.)

And I *totally* know what she means about interacting with strangers on the street when she’s hauling around giant baked good carriers…and then the warm, fuzzy part: After baking cakes as offerings for a year, she says she learned “…when we offer up our labor, time, energy, love and craft — humble and imperfect as they might be — with no expectation of return, people respond in kind, and tenderness opens up in the space between.” (Which almost makes me think I should tackle a similar experiment in 2010…)

And, while I don’t really get the yoga connection that she goes on to talk about (I am seriously uncoordinated and exercising in public is one of the things I fear more than anything)…I really like what she says right there. It actually reminds me a lot about Julia Child in My Life in France…who says you should never apologize for any mistakes…because 1) you were nice enough to make something for everyone and they should be gracious, dammit (my paraphrase); and 2) if you’re making them eat something gross, they shouldn’t have to boost your ego, too.

And that’s something that I’m still learning how to do…whenever I offer up something, I immediately want to apologize for all the imperfections — watch out for wax paper on the bottom…and be careful of those cloves I didn’t remove…and it may be too watery…and the meringue looks a little funny… — it’s not easy to just say, “Bon appetit,” and leave it at that.

(And, speaking of Julia, my own sister just MET Julia Powell at a book signing…and she was sweet and asked ahead of time if I had any questions…and I, of course, sent over about 1,000…and, wouldn’t you know? My sister got them all answered for me. [And — hey — I suppose I could even go to the Meat Hook tonight myself…if I am feeling particularly brave.])

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Filed under birthdays, books, brown sugar, cake, cupcake, eggs, gadgets, holidays, parties, vegan