Monday, May 13, 2013


Ask me, at any given moment, what I want to eat and there's an excellent chance I'll say bread. I love bread. Were I forced to give up every other food in the world save one, that one would be bread. Bread is also somewhat of a nemesis. I believe that the standard serving size of bread is one loaf. I believe bread is a meal. I believe bread is an inalienable right. These beliefs are the enemy of a trim waistline and a diet sufficient in nutrients.

So bread and I have lurid affairs. We meet secretly and occasionally. We are passionate in our time together knowing that it can't last. Often I don't even dress bread up with toppings but will devour it unadorned. When we are apart, I am mightily tempted by bread, even mediocre bread, but I stay my hand knowing that bread and I will be together again soon. I play favorites with bread and am, while polyamorous, discerning.

I have made a bread from time to time, but given my propensity for entire-loaf-consumption, don't make a habit of it. Yet even the best of intentions get tested. My mother wanted a baguette pan for mother's day and it seemed silly to just buy one while Amazon was already delivering to my house. I've never made a baguette, so the prospect was interesting. I do like eating baguettes...

I was all set to make a plain white version when the same bad influence mother pointed me to the 20% wheat version profiled in The New York Times Magazine earlier this year. Since I happened to have wheat flour in the house, I figured what the hell. The recipe couldn't have been simpler and the dough quickly took shape. A half hour or so in the oven nestled soundly in the baguette pan and there were three tiny loaves ready for the sharp-toothed embrace of my mouth.

The verdict? For a loaf I whipped up in a minute in my house with a conventional oven? Pretty good. But there is much room for improvement. I'll start with the flavor. When I have a wheat bread, I enjoy a little something extra: malt, honey, molasses, something to highlight the wheatiness. Since this recipe had all of 4 ingredients (5 if you count water), this extra oomph was absent. My next iteration will likely try adding one of the above. Fearing overcooking, I likely took this out of the oven 4 or so minutes too soon. The bottom crust is perfect, the top crust a little too pliable. This bread isn't quite white and isn't quite wheat and I think I'd prefer one or the other. I think if one made this recipe with 5% wheat flour instead of 20%, the result would be a nice, slightly complex white. I'm also debating beginning my own sourdough starter. These are not good thoughts as they imply more bread.

Like any good affair, though, the key is to not make mistakes that could lead to discovery - where discovery in this case is 15 pounds of additional stomach attributable solely to bread. If bread and I are to continue our assignations, we must moderate. This means that either a lot of leftover bread is headed to the freezer or everyone in my neighborhood is about to find homemade bread bundles on their doorsteps.

Not-Quite-Whole-Grain Baguettes from Mark Bittman, New York Times

100g whole-wheat flour
400g all-purpose flour
10g salt
6 instant yeast

Add the above to a food processor and turn on - slowly add up to 1.5 cups of water until the dough comes away from the sides (and looks like dough), then keep the machine running another 30 or so seconds.

Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap while it rises over the next 3 hours (the colder your room, the longer you may need - mine rose over 4 hours).

Divide the dough into thirds and shape into rough logs, then cover your logs with a towel for 20 minutes (very lightly flour your work surface if needed).

Roll the dough into more baguette-shaped configurations and put them in your baguette pan and let sit for a half hour. Use this time to preheat your oven to 465.

Slash the tops of the loaves (next time I will do one long cut down the middle as opposed to many short ones for aesthetics) and bake until a thermometer inserted in the loaves reads 210. Cool on a rack (but not for too long since you know you want to break off a warm piece and start eating).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Chocolate Chocolate Rebirth

I think it's been a year, or thereabouts. As I've told my in-person readers, there got to be a point where I didn't know how much more the limited public could stomach "horrible metro north commuters and their horribleness," and since I don't, as a rule, write about work or my marriage, there wasn't much else going on. After nearly four years, the suburbs are home, not some bizarro world I've been transplanted to. Do I still have tons to gripe about in this hellscape of no pork buns? Surely, but if it ever was interesting, it certainly isn't any more.

But I do DO things. Mundane things to be sure, but things nonetheless. And since I am loathe to introduce an entirely new address to the online ecosystem, I'm going to use my existing real estate for things.

Today's thing: What Is The Point Of Pinterest If I Don't Use My Pins?

I pin. Not as widely as some, and along very narrow points of interest, but I pin and I'm not ashamed to say I like it. Curious? Partially curious? Pins. As you will see the main focal points are Things I Would Like To Wear and Things I Would Like To Eat. I pin actual things that I might actually want in my actual life. Sorry if you clicked the link to discover what inspirational quotations I enjoy (hint: none). But I also have a certain fondness for order. It's why I started subcategorizing my pins. Things I Would Like To Wear became Things I'm Still Waiting For To Go On Sale, Things I Bought, Things I Can No Longer Buy But Might Like To Reference At A Later Date. Things I Would Like To Eat became Things I Have Eaten And Liked, Things I Have Tried And Not Liked Well Enough, and Things I Am Waiting To Eat. I like a good taxonomy. But for the lists to remain relevant, I need to try more things and re-categorize them, otherwise my useful tool becomes massively non-useful for me.

It is with this noble cause that I bring you Double Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I am a very very messy chef, but in honor of this rebirth, I cleaned my counter and my beloved tangerine Kitchenaid stand mixer. I am also actively wiping up my messes as I go along. And though my kitchen is blessed with some of the worst lighting AND some of the ugliest and lowest cabinets imaginable, I am also taking photos. If you're going to be following along at home, I should mention a couple things about my "Cooking Philosophy:"

1. All measurements for spices and herbs in recipes are woefully inadequate. I dump the required spices into the cooking vessel until it "looks like enough." For the purposes of recipe transcribing, however, I will use a 3-4x estimate over what the recipe originally called for.

2. In addition to not measuring spices, I also don't measure salt. Some things just need a good eyeball and salt is one of them. I generally adhere closely to the recipe, it's just I will really never ever get out my 1/8 teaspoon for salt.

3. I like metric and you should too. I'm not going to be a bitch about it and convert imperial measurements to metric ones where the original recipe was in imperial, but I'm also not going to convert the other way either. Buy a kitchen scale and embrace grams - you will totally thank me. In fact, stop reading, go buy this kitchen scale. It's 25 bucks, comes in fun colors (mine is obviously orange), and lasts forever.

4. Kind of related to #3 and about that old canard regarding baking and measurements and ANY SLIGHT DEVIATION WILL IRREPARABLY DAMAGE YOUR CONCOCTION. This is both true and misleading. Yes, if something calls for a teaspoon of baking powder and you put in a tablespoon, you're hosed. If I'm weighing out a liquid and I get 5 grams more than I should, not a tragedy in any way. What is frequently more important is temperature and humidity. Don't try to leaven things when it's raining outside. Your kitchen isn't humidity controlled, your bakery's likely is.

Ok, let's go.

Ever so slightly adapted from Annie Eats.

2 sticks of butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cocoa powder - I use Valrhona and it is worth every extra penny it costs. Quite honestly, if you're about to pull the tin of Hershey's out of the cupboard, don't bother making this recipe.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
salt (I used in the general neighborhood of 1 tsp.)
1 12 oz. bag chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Preheat your oven to 350 and get your cookie sheets out. I use half-sheet pans and Silpats and love this combo, use what you've got.
Cream butter and sugar together until very smooth. You'll learn to eyeball this, right now, just put it in the mixer, walk away for approximately one segment on The Daily Show, come back. Scrape bowl.
Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined - about a minute per egg. Scrape bowl.
Turn mixer down to low unless you like getting a face full of cocoa powder and VERY SLOWLY add the cocoa powder. Once it no longer looks volatile, you can turn the mixer back up. Scrape bowl.
But then turn it down again because you're going to add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Again, please do this in batches and slowly so that your mixer doesn't attack you with dry ingredients.
Turn the mixer back up briefly to really incorporate the rest of the dry ingredients. Scrape bowl.
Add chocolate chips, mix briefly, turn mixer off. If large clumps of chocolate chips exist in your batter, disperse them with a spatula.

The original recipe calls for monster cookies, but I'm not a fan. Not only do I dislike huge cookies for vanity reasons (as in huge cookies don't look good in form fitting dresses), but I like being able to have small bites. Also, since our household is intolerant of things like 4 dozen cookies lying about for nights of insomnia and bad sci fi movies, I will make a small batch of cookies from my batter and then freeze the rest of the dough. This is genius because the next time you want a cookie, you just go to your freezer, grab your cookie log, and cut ONE cookie from it and bake it. You get a fresh cookie and your rear end gets a reprieve. I think cookies of the chocolate chip milieu don't need to be uniformly shaped, so I put my batter briefly in the fridge to firm up a little, and then used my trusty soup spoon to measure out one cookie sheet's worth of cookies (in this case 10). My baking time for these was 16 minutes, but since all ovens are different, start checking yours at 12 minutes just in case. Now a nifty trick I learned from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe which is in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home is that if you want moist cookies, don't underbake them. Instead, spritz the cookies with water before baking them. This gives you a nice crisp outside and a nice moist inside - just how I like my cookies.

Oh, and for those keeping score. Number of chocolate chips spilled on the floor - 9. Amount of raw batter consumed - about 3 tbsp. Amount of flour on clothing - 3 handprints.

The verdict: Ok, I think we all can agree that this batter would benefit from being rolled in balls then flattened on the cookie sheet prior to baking, cause these aren't the most attractive of cookies. Due to the addition of the baking powder, these rise more than my standard chocolate chips and are cakier. And I think that's where the problem lies: I don't really want my cookies to be cakey (unless they're rainbow cookies with which I have an unhealthy relationship). Of course, now I have a log of cookies I'm not crazy about which means some lucky person will get gifted them and I might just experiment with dumping cocoa powder into my preferred chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Coming Out Of Hiding (Though After This Post, I Might Need To Go Back)

I'm about to do something a trifle unusual: I'm going to start a discussion for which I do not have my traditional ABSOLUTE RIGHT ANSWER. Understandably, this bothers me. I trust in my nearly-unwavering rightness about most everything, and coming face to face with an issue that I don't have a blanket opinion for is frankly disorienting.

Obviously, I'm talking about guns because we're all talking about guns these days.

So, the first thing that probably needs to be said is how I too have been struck by the terribly awful no-good very-bad shooting in Aurora. That it has occupied my brain since I heard about it.

And the second thing that needs to be said is that I'm not sure it changes my opinions on anything.

My facebook friends have poured out their indignation at guns, the NRA, congresspeople who oppose gun control - all good, solid liberal positions.

And all completely beside the point in this instance.

Crazy people don't follow the laws of the land. That this nutball lunatic used guns bought legally to murder people does nothing to persuade me that he wouldn't have gone around collecting illegal guns should he have been thwarted in his attempts to buy legal ones. Why? Because he's a farking lunatic who wanted to kill people and if he wasn't hung up on the legality of that, he wasn't going to be hung up on the legality of weapons acquisition. Just Say No hasn't worked for addicts and I'm not sure that the gun control debate can be watered down in the same way: people who want to kill other people will find a way to get the guns to do so. Like how people seem to find all the cocaine they need. Gun control would not have prevented this act of a madman - it may have delayed it, but it would not have prevented it. Illegal guns are too easy to eventually get and, again, people who desperately want to kill other people find a way.

My personal feelings on guns are murky at best. I don't know what I think our position as a country, or even as a state, should be. I don't personally dislike guns. I'd like to feel comfortable using one and adding it to my list of life skills. I don't think people who like guns are any crazier person-to-person than people who like veganism (this is a lie, I would choose the gun nut over the vegan any day of the week). I don't think my lifetime will see scenarios where an armed insurrection against a corrupt government will be necessary.

But, then again, I'm not sure I'd be willing to bet my life on it...

I think that the yammering from pro-gun people and anti-gun people needs to simmer down long enough for them both to agree that neither is crazy about illegal guns. I think everyone can agree that it would be better for there to be fewer illegal guns. It's less politically charged of an issue and more suitable to legislation and enforcement that the current impasse about legal guns.

But whatever your feelings about guns, please do not be swayed by the media, your friends, facebook, the aliens that whisper to you at night: access to guns did not create the bloodshed in Colorado. A crazy person did. If anything, blaming the guns allows us to stop blaming him. And we should all be spending all of our time blaming the F out of him.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You'd Think Saying "I Told You So" Would Get Old

Dear American Women Moderates,
I don't know if you remember me, but I'm the one who said that your lukewarm opposition/nonplussment/indifference to a woman's right to choose would have repercussions. I tried really hard to convince you it wasn't about the scarlet-A abortion, but rather about you, as a human being, getting to decide your own medical destiny. You didn't quite see it that way. You only saw abortion which you though was icky. And that is totally your right. Lots of lefter-than-you women think it's icky. You're the Tipper Gores if you will, the "it should never ever happen, but if it does, we should acknowledge the tragedy and work to prevent it" people. And with such a contentious issue, many on the lefter-of-you were content to let you think it was icky while you didn't press to make it illegal. That way no one had to have an uncomfortable conversation.

But somewhere in the liberal elite bunker, someone who looks an awful lot like I do (this was a while ago, so fatter), was saying crazy paranoid doomsday stuff like: one of these days some idiot is going to try to limit access to contraception. "Don't be ridiculous!" You ALL said, "that would never happen. They're two entirely different things. No one could ever think that contraception should be up for debate!" Both you middle-of-the-road Tippers and you coastal hedonists.

I am so, so tired.

It was too difficult for all of you to separate your personal feelings and choices from what the letter and spirit of law should be. Because you, personally, wouldn't choose to have an abortion, you thought it was important to tell people that, to get that moral superiority bump. You didn't think it was hurting anyone because you still allowed that other women, the morally inferior ones, could choose to do it, but an upstanding citizen like you wouldn't. And you needed everyone to know that. Otherwise we could have mistaken you for one of those abortion-happy 10-stamps-and-the-eleventh-is-free people. I hope you feel really superior. I hope you are pleased that you took the high road and didn't stoop to saying something like, "medical decisions are private regardless of gender." You know, the way we do for Seventh Day Adventists. You didn't see it as a medical issue because you were so concerned about what people might think of you.

Welcome to the slippery slope. Now you have people in nearly normal states like Virginia proposing that before you get an abortion, you need an ultrasound. You know, the same way as when you go to the hospital to get a nail removed from your foot, you need a chest x-ray; the way you need a prostate exam before you can get a scrip for penicillin for your strep throat. And, I mean, only a crazy tin-foil hat person could have seen this coming. To say nothing of the resuscitation of a fifty-year old argument that The Pill is only utilized by women of loose morals (who, by the way, need fewer abortions).

So, I kind of want to know: how do you feel now? Are you able to continue feeling morally superior because your abject laziness has permitted this? Do you feel any sense of responsibility for prizing icky over equality? I kind of hope you don't.

I know, you weren't expecting that. But I am so beyond apoplectic about this that I've gone in the completely opposite direction. Ban everything! Allow any state that wants to turn a tax-paying, voting woman into a second class citizen because she has a uterus. Heck, propose that a woman can't even see a doctor without a male family member (father or husband) present. We women cannot possibly be expected to make those kinds of decisions on our own. We might choose incorrectly. Much like the mandatory ultrasound, having dad or devoted partner come to the doctor with me will make sure that someone understands what is about to happen to me, whether or not it's cancer treatment or drops for an eye infection. Those are heady issues that are way too difficult for me, with my uterus, to understand. It's the chief reason I'm so glad to have a husband.

I don't know how many years it will take before you revolt - I'm guessing somewhere around a Qadaffi-number of years, but perhaps you've had it too good until now and you need some serious oppression to make you rethink your priorities. You didn't realize that every time you personally denounced abortion that you were arming the enemies of all women with the weapon of: "polls have shown that most women disapprove of abortion, so no one cares if we outlaw it." And you laughed in the faces of the people who pointed that out.

I look forward to laughing at you.

Yours laughing maniacally from a pharmacy in Montreal,


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Watch This Space For A Massive Rationalization

I've sat on this a couple of days, desperately searching for the silver bullet of logic to make what I'm about to write not appear to be a complete reversal of previously published thoughts. I'm willing to believe a great many things about myself, but no matter how much sugar I sprinkle on this turd of a rationalization, it still tastes of, you know.

Someone who looks an awful lot like I do, and who has the password to this blogger account, wrote a scathing piece about why she could give a fig that poor, sad, Amy Winehouse made the leap into the inevitable, and how we should shut up about how it's a tragedy.

And then Whitney Houston goes and dies. And that writer feels, well, something. She casts around desperately for a reason that has more substance than sheer nostalgia and that can somehow justify her emotion at Houston's death when she nearly cheered at Winehouse's because, at least, we would get to stop hearing about the latter's antics.

Here's the pathetic result of that casting about:

Whitney Houston was truly singular. Much as it was cool to stop liking her after her airplay exceeded one's tolerance, I came back to Whitney in the 90s. Part nostalgia, part realization that, though Greatest Love of All is seriously sappy, no one else could have done it. One of the things that reality talent competitions have taught me (other than the fact that a lot more of you are getting pregnant in high school than I approve of, and more of you really need to consider college) is that there is an ocean of difference between talent and Talent. While discussing the X-Factor with my father this year, I noted that it was unfair to ask any of the participants to sing a song by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey because, while they could likely get the notes out, their versions would only highlight how short they fall of the original. Whitney Houston's Talent was effortless and it's why I gave her first grudging respect and then true admiration once the 7th grade dance memories faded.

I don't know why she couldn't keep it together. I don't know how anyone in her position wakes up one day and decides crack is a good idea. I do know that she didn't then go out and cut an album whose title track was "Crack Is Dope!" (Unlike our previous dead drug addict whose claim to fame was that she had a hit with a song about how the people who wanted her to stop doing drugs and get help were lames.) We had to watch Whitney Hosuton's Talent evaporate.

So news of her death did make me sad. She had a once in a generation voice and she totally effed it up. So I guess I was sad and angry. I don't want Houston to get lumped into the sad sack remembrances we reserve for the merely talented who bump themselves off due to drugs. I don't want retrospectives to put her photo after Winehouse's in the annals of people who recently died and also did music. I want her to remain in a class of her own (and I don't think it's unfair to say that Jennifer Hudson couldn't hold a candle to Houston - she can't, that's the point, no one can).

I'm not going to go so far as to say that Houston's death was a tragedy - I still like to reserve that for truly serious things - but it was a death worthy of reflection. We knew Houston before she knew drugs and we knew what she was capable of. That she gave it up along the way, yeah, that makes me sad, and I don't mind if that makes me a hypocrite.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Catalog of Current Injuries

1 jammed knuckle
1 sternum bruise
1 left bicep bruise
1 blood blister on right index finger

In my defense, I maintain that I wiped out face first into the barrier because of my desire not to hit other people, but I will freely admit that I was the only one to be temporarily ejected from the go-kart course due to excessive crash. I also lost a button on my shirt which devoted partner said just made me look more NASCAR.

That having been said, go-karting is fun! We went Saturday night for The Boy's birthday festivities and all involved enjoyed it far more than we thought we would. After all, driving a fast bumper car around a track can sound kinda lame, but actually driving a bumper car around a track while desperately trying to beat your friends and family? Fun!

Despite my first round wipeout (and people, I used the universal scuba ok-sign to let you know I was cool; just because you saw me crash headfirst into a barrier doesn't mean I was hurt - I'm superhard), I would like to say that I improved my time each round and, had it not been for a "bump" by she-knows-who-she-is in the finals, I would have finished a respectable 4th.

As it was, I am pleased to say, my own devoted partner took the gold, sheepishly I might add as, apparently, he took out the birthday boy on his way to the podium. I was pleased to learn that all of the participants experienced age-related aches and pains, but I hope I was, at least, the injury winner.

Next year, I'm suggesting bull riding!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What Have You Done During My Absence?!?

I know I don't live in Manhattan anymore. Even as I still consider hizzoner my mayor, and Mimi's my pizza place. But while I've been gone, something absolutely silly has happened, and you might not be aware.

I speak of something I discovered, purely by accident, yesterday: select bus service.

I attempted to board the M15 at 125th and 2nd and was told the bus did not accept metrocards. Wait for that to sink in. No. Instead, I was told to put my metrocard into a metrocard dispenser-looking thing outside the bus, by the bus shelter, and get, wait for it, a receipt. Then I could board the bus and, again, hold your breaths, not show anyone my receipt. Of course, by this time, I had missed that bus because, well, there was a substantial line of other people waiting to get receipts from the metrocard kiosk.

WTF? doesn't even begin to cover it.

I realize that I am of the old school that clearly remembers tokens and their phase out, but I also remember that metrocards were designed to be easier. Have metrocard, have access to public transport. Now, less than 20 years later, and the metrocard WON'T gain me access to public transport? Explain to me how this makes anything easier - to say nothing of the fact that I had no idea where this "select bus" planned on stopping and was just happy that I wanted to go to a two-way crosstown intersection which I felt sure would be a stop.

Devoted partner attempted to make sense of this by saying that it was, perhaps, designed to prevent long lines of people waiting to insert their metrocards into the slot on the bus - strangely enough, the MTA sort of agrees by claiming that you can now board at the front or the back of the bus. Hallelujah, praise jeebus. But explain one tiny thing to me: would it not have been ever so slightly easier to, I don't know - have a second metrocard reader at the back door of the bus? Wouldn't that accomplish the same thing and save me from a multi-step process to RIDE A BUS? After all, there was a second MTA employee on my select bus, presumably to check that I had a receipt (also, do you know how easy it is to misplace a receipt the second you receive it? Am I supposed to clutch this wispy piece of paper in my hand like it's a treasure map on the chance the receipt police come a-knockin?).

This is, easily, the silliest technological backstep I've seen in a while, and I can only assume it was allowed to happen because I moved away. And before you start to make it out like I'm the crazy one, how about this gem of information from the MTA website:

"Neither machine sells or refills MetroCard; they are not vending machines, and do not make change."

So to board a select bus you need to 1. Go to the subway station and buy a metrocard; 2. Walk to the bus stop and insert your metrocard into a kiosk that serves to only print a receipt; 3. Not lose said receipt because 4. Someone maybe perhaps will ask to see it.

Sorry, fellow New Yorkers, this is clearly my fault for leaving. But since I have no sway with your mayor, perhaps this is something you'll have to fight without me. Mention my name, though, I like to feel like I'm still relevant.