Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Proof I'm not Paranoid (sometimes all the school girls really are out to get you)

This lovely requested an internship with my husband today—photo courtesy of Facebook. And if you're thinking it's her doppelganger ... oh no ... she's pretty proud that her photography class likes her latest pinup style self-portrait. (That's right. Her latest.)

For those of you who are not regulars, the backstory is here.


I've looked forward to food section Wednesdays since my first subscription to the New York Times, back when it was paper and came in a blue bag with my apartment number scrawled in Sharpie. I lived in Chicago, in a studio on Belden Avenue, katty corner from Tower Records and some deli with pickles on the table. I had an upstairs neighbor who enjoyed making obscene noises very, very late. In sweet retribution I would set my CD alarm clock, at full volume on Saturdays and Sundays, for 6:42 in the morning. Moments after I walked out the door to serve the omelette of the day to entitled Lincoln Park yuppies, my alarm treated my wonton neighbor and her naked friends to Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach

I still love food section Wednesdays (and science Tuesdays, and home and garden Thursdays) and the idea of a dedicated day to share food and drink ideas. Here are some of my favorites from this week:
The dangers of giving people what they want here.
Good head here. (Mark and I enjoyed this a few weeks ago and it was very complex.)
Sustainable fish in Safeway and Target here. (My bus buddy Margaret will be the first to tell you that Alaska makes you a salmon snob. She's right.)
Crazy avocados here.
Dedication I have yet to experience here.
Bliss here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Cookies are Still Naked

Stay up all night decorating cookies and hate life or eat naked cookies and love life?


The icing is still stored properly so I can bust it out at any time. Maybe tomorrow or maybe not. Mark's new trick is opening the piping bags and dunking the cookies into the pink. I like the cookies as is.

Because of my distaste for weakness and empathy and heartfelt concern, it's a little known fact that I'm a sucker for Valentine's Day. (It's also a little know fact that I have an elaborate boar hunting fantasy, but that's for a different post.) My wedding anniversary? Haven't remembered it in years. Christmas? More and more it's just another dark day. Thanksgiving? If you've seen one Tofurkey, you've seen 'em all.

But Valentine's is special. It brings out my inner school girl and makes me want pink and red and purple heart shaped anything. Which is to say, I think I'll make more heart shaped cookies next weekend—take the easy way out and decorate them with pink and red and purple sugar. Bring them into work. Share the love.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I am Martha Stewart's hydrocephalic bastard child conceived in the bathroom of a New Jersey bar when she was drunk on well tequila.*

Today started with fantasies of subtly colored soft liquid icing oozing out of parchment cones. (No, I don't need a tip, but it's a good question. Thanks for asking.) Now, with cookies on the table and garish icing in bags and bowls on the counter I want to go to bed and forget about heart shaped cookies iced with Shakespearian insults.

The roots of my frustration are inauguration and excess. Today I made my first attempt at royal icing. For the uninitiated, royal icing is the stiff icing used to make super detailed decoration on sugar cookies (think butterfly cookies, hockey jersey cookies, daisy cookies, whatever you like best cookies) and it's made of powdered sugar and egg whites. I bought a bag of powdered sugar and a milk carton of egg whites (I thought that last part was clever). My new gel food colors were at the ready. I glanced at the conversion on the egg white carton, and used the appropriate amount for one bag of powdered sugar.

It was runny.

So I mixed in all the powdered sugar I had. Not enough. Then I popped open a can of gum paste and started adding it to the mixture (it's mostly powdered sugar) and finally made icing that was thick enough. Finally.

My problem? The conversion on the egg white carton was for the amount of white it takes to make up for an entire egg—yolk and all. I only needed the whites, and used twice as much liquid as I should have.

After I hit the right consistency, I used too much food color. Aiming for a soft subtle pink I ended up with a bowl of garish bubblegum. Unable to sacrifice enough white icing to right my wrong, I put the pink horror in a piping bag and made an attempt at red. This time I couldn't add enough. I wanted something rich, something strong. I added a little black. It worked like a dream. The red turned out great, but it doesn't match the pink.

(Throughout this process I  made enough steel cut oats for a week's worth of breakfasts and carrot soup and cornbread for dinner. I'm exhausted. I have a table full of cookies and they're going to sit there, bare naked, until tomorrow night.)

To be fair, the cookies are impressive; they came from James Peterson's Baking. They were easy to make, taste fantastic, and have the perfect texture and structural integrity. To add to my cookie joy I learned a little lesson about the relationship between pie dough and butter cookie dough, and then the relationship between butter cookie dough and dough with enough structural integrity to make a cookie that's willing to be rolled, cut, and iced. It's all starting to make sense. Slowly, baking is less magical and more logical.

I also learned how to keep my cut cookies from shape shifting. Instead of rolling the dough directly on the counter, roll it in between two sheets of parchment—or one sheet of parchment and one Silpat—peel off the top layer of parchment, trim up the dough to fit on a sheet pan, and place the dough on the pan. Chill. Cut shapes, peel of the excess dough, and bake (the cut cookies are still on the bottom sheet of parchment that you rolled them on). It works like a dream. Thanks JP.

With any luck tomorrow I'll have the drive and the skill to make the insulting cookies.

* Mark has impressive facility with 3D modeling software, and if I'd giving him a head's up, he could have created a stunning illustration to match my title. Maybe next time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not the prettiest girl on the block, but she puts out: Tarte Tatin Part II

Tarte Tatin is what dessert should be: carefree, without pretension, and shockingly more than the sum of its parts.

Carefree because the crust is on top and then the bottom so the pastry never needs to look good, never gets soggy, and doesn't have any structural obligations. Without Pretension because the tarte is nothing more than a pan full of butter, sugar, and apples with a crust (an obscenely easy crust if you own a food processor and know how to turn it on). More than the Sum of its Parts because the time the apples spend on the the range, browning in butter and sugar and their own juices, coaxes the fruit into a complex jam bliss.

The tarte popped out of the cast iron pan beautifully. I used JP's technique of heating it up on a hot burner for a little less than a minute, palming the crust, and rotating the tarte so all the pieces were ready and in agreement to come out of the skillet together. The apples browned and held their shape. The crust was texturally Utopian.

Thank you James Peterson.

But the tarte wasn't without drama: Mark and I are in domestic discord over tarte tatin.

Mark would prefer the tarte scented with apple pie spices. (Expected. Pedestrian.) He would prefer a bruléed top. (Hmmm.)

I'm game to try a sugary crispy crust next time around because it might be a thing. But apple pie spices? Can he not taste the complexity of the carmelized apples? The brown butter caramel? And if he can, why is it not enough?

I was incredulous and he wanted to drive his point home. He announced—some might say proclaimed—that the tarte was so lacking it tasted ... English.

To hell with him; I'm in love.

It's true the tarte is a little homely. Her looks aren't what I fantasized about when I was rolling the dough. But she smells like heaven and  feels sensual in my mouth—and if that's not enough to earn a repeat performance, I don't know what is.

The recipe was fantastic and I'll make it again (always in the cast iron skillet).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tarte Tatin Part I

I decided a good weekend project would be a run at tarte tatin—an upside down, one crust, cook on the stove then in the oven, apple pie named after two spinster sisters.

And if that isn't enough to hook you ... Emile Hernry is pushing a new $100 tarte tatin pan that looks attractive but unnecessary. I want the traditional method to prevail (and to spend that $100 on a new bottle of Calvados).

The tarte starts with butter and sugar on the stovetop that melts into a caramel sauce. Add apple quarters on end until you can't add any more. Let them cook. They shrink a bit and soften and the juices bubble up over the pan. It's a tremendous mess but the smell is fantastic. As the apples shrink and soften you add as many more as will fit. After several minutes of cooking I had successfully placed seven pounds of apple quarters, standing on end, in one medium sized skillet.

For about 20 minutes fifteen apples were cooking in butter and sugar and their own juices. Really, the smell was unearthly.

Thinking I know better, as is my way, I made a few adjustments to the recipe:
I used a cast iron skillet instead of a nonstick skillet. When I try to unmold the tarte tomorrow morning before work this choice might come back to bite me. But I've read that nonstick at high heat is a carcinogen and I believe it ever since I smelled an empty nonstick pan that was accidentally left on a hot burner. It was noxious. My cast iron pan is about the right size, is so well seasoned that it's almost nonstick, and is the pan of choice for browning. (I wanted brown apples.)
I used salted butter. I was inspired by the short bread cookies I made the other day (their high salt content elevated them from expected to exceptional) .
I didn't rotate the pan every five to ten minutes to promote even browning. This is a great instruction ... I forgot.

For the most part, the recipe went as planned. I cooked 3/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar in a skillet. I added apple quarters until the pan was full. I waited and added several more. The juices bubbled and turned jammy. But when I went to spot check apples to see if they were properly browned on the bottom, I had a problem: The apples were cooking to mush. When I tried to pull them out of the pan with a fork, I ended up with 2/3 of an apple quarter. The rest was a buttery apply sludge on the bottom of the pan.

(According to JP's instruction I used golden delicious apples—a popular baking apple in France because of their flavor and because they hold their shape well.)

There wasn't much to do. You can't uncook an apple. I tuned up the heat to boil off some liquid and removed the pan from the range. I placed the crust on top (I used a large pot lid as a circle template) and popped it into a 400 degree oven. It baked for 48 minutes. I let it cool, ran a knife around the edge to loosen any sticky bits, and right now it's in the fridge. In the morning I'll warm it up on the stove and unmold it.

I'm really hoping for deep brown, caramelized apples. The jammy apple syrup stuck to the rim of the skillet looks promising. It's deep amber.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Total Eclipse

Hello, Beautiful.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crème Caramel is a Saucy Minx *or* James Peterson is Teaching Me Fervor

When a lover makes a promise, and then breaks that promise, it can be difficult to mine the courage to trust again. Risotto did that to me. She whispered in my ear—when I was young and ripe and vulnerable—that she needed to be stirred constantly. She insisted. She pleaded. Not wanting to lose her, I obeyed.

Years later I learned her dirty secret: Constant stirring is unnecessary … constant stirring is for fools.

Tonight JP told me that I needed to stir my caramel constantly and because of my leftover risotto resentment, I didn't believe him. I put the sugar in the pot, looked at it every now and then, and didn't give it much thought.

My sugar burned.

So I went at it again. This time I stirred like I was supposed to and removed the pot from the heat after the lumps were gone like I was supposed to. The caramel was brownish red like the discussion and photos in his book and didn't smell like molasses. But it was hard. And for some reason the hardness unsettles me. It seems wrong.

The custards are out of the oven and have several hours of cooling ahead of them. I'll pop them out of their ramekins tomorrow and see if the hard caramel worked.

I'm not sure what the difference is, how this book is unlike the others, but I feel like I'm learning. The thousands of pictures help because if the food on my stove doesn't match the food in my book I know something is wrong and I think of ways to fix it. But the pictures aren't the whole story. JP doesn't ramble on about every detail. The book is instructional, but it isn't Baking for Dummies. The Dummies style controls for every variable and doesn't leave room for critical thinking.

The intelligence of Baking is that it documents enough background and technique to be enabling. With James Peterson's book in the dining room I am thinking and making decisions in the kitchen. I have fervor. And fervor is rare.

P.S. The photo is of the second go at caramel. The pot is an enameled cast iron pot by Copco that was a gift to my parents for their wedding. Most of the time I use it for spoon bread.

Monday, January 18, 2010

He steals my beer, but he knows what he's talking about.

I don't know enough about art or photos or aesthetics to talk about food photography with understated gravitas. I do know that the photo editors at Martha Stewart (I am a fan) started a trend of bright white, shadowless, over exposed, etherial food shots. The folks at Real Simple and Oprah are along for the ride. And so is everyone else who wants to be just like them (which is just about everyone else).

In a world of intense food guilt over any plate that isn't raw/vegan/macro/local/heirloom/organic I understand the appeal of bright white this-food-is-angelic-so-I-promise-it-won't-hurt-you photos.

I also understand the appeal of reproducing something you see and admire. What better way to learn? It's sort of the subject of my blog.

But sometimes I want to see something new. Or something old. I want something other than what all the photo editors publish.

Mark is spectacular at what he does. His most recent post is an entertaining and thoughtful discussion on personal work and lighting and it hints at the very real trauma of being married to me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Wasilla Goat Lady is on to Me *or* I Don't Know How David Sedaris Does It

Mark has about two hundred more Facebook friends than I do even though I'm twice as winning. That's bullshit. I'd like to catch up. I'll accept a friend request from almost anyone. But not everyone.

The Wasilla Goat Lady friend requested me today and as soon as I saw her goat avatar and note, it put me on edge.
I believe you sent me a message in October of 2008 about milk. 
Yes, I did send you a note. I also drove out to your farm and you told me I had to leave my dog in the car (Dasha spent some formative time on a ranch in Wyoming and the smell of straw and shit and mud is sweet, sweet heaven to that dog). If you're in the mood for honesty, I was a little creeped out by your weirdness. But that was years ago. We're through. So why the request now? Did you read my post? Did you know it was me? Are you on a baking blog revenge vendetta that starts with Facebook and ends with goat parts in my bed? There has to be a gross of goat ladies in Wasilla, and I was careful not to mention anything too identifying in the post. The Glad baggies were maybe a bit of a giveaway, but it's a common brand and I have a lot more ammo. I could dime you out if I wanted. But I didn't. So back off.

Or maybe it's a coincidence. I feel guilty nevertheless.

Where is the line? How careful should I be? How does David Sedaris do it? Every time I read his books—short essays about the absurdity of his life—I wonder how he faces his family after he publicly exploits them. What does he say? At this point apologizing is stupid because he's a chronic offender and I'm sorry only works for a little while. Yesterday, when I was writing about pots de crème I had this great story about coffee and milk and sugar that was really funny but I couldn't write it because I didn't want to throw my mom under the bus. She didn't do anything mean or wrong, but the story would have hurt the feelings of someone I don't even like and would have put my mom in a spot (who I do like, very very much). So I didn't write it. I try to be careful. I thought the Wasilla Goat Lady was safe. Maybe she was and maybe she wasn't.

If you haven't read any David Sedaris, buy some. Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked are both fantastic. But don't read any of his books in public. You'll laugh so loud you'll scare people.

P.S. The photo is of David Sedaris.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Coffee Pots de Crème: Are they dessert or are they breakfast?

The world of custard is a continuum. At one end is a custard made with milk and whole eggs. At the other end is a concoction of cream and yolks. Variations fall in between. As a general rule one egg will set 2/3 cup of liquid.

I'm unable to control my imagination. I want to make porter custard, and citrus custard, and honey custard. Corn, squash, and chili custard. Monkey brains custard.

Thank you James Peterson. Your introduction makes me feel introduced and independent.

The coffee pots de crème were fantastic, easy, and quick. And they will continue to be fantastic tomorrow morning for breakfast. (About a year ago I made some earl gray tea baked custards. I used loose tea that had been sitting around a while but deserved a good purpose. I simmered an ungodly amount in the milk and the custard was delicious. Mark and I ate it for dessert and were wired until about 2 am from the caffeine.)

For anyone following along, a few notes on Pots de Crème, page 353:
I had to bake the custards almost twice as long as the recipe suggests. I used hot tap water for the bain marie and my tap doesn't get that hot. It was a bad choice. Next time I'll use water from the kettle (my usual).
Oftentimes when I bake custard the little foamy bubbles around the edge of the ramekin bake into the custard and are very visible in the finished desserts. For whatever reason the bubbles vanished this time. It might be because I covered the custards with foil (per JP's instruction) but I really have no idea.
As recommended, I used ground coffee instead of instant.
The custards were a little sweet. Next time I'll use less sugar.

The photo for this post was taken with some super expired 4 x 5 Polaroid film. It reminds me a bit of Irving Penn's food shots for Vogue, which I love, so I'm smittin'.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New to the Wishlist

Food in the Louvre
Review that's fun to read in T Magazine here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If there was a secret brotherhood of macaron bakers, would they call themselves the Macaroni?

It's midweek and uncomfortable memories of weekend macarons linger. My defeat smarts.

The remedy for rehabilitation and satisfaction is simple: Stick to one chapter of JP's Bakingat a time. Start at the beginning and work to the end.

After careful consideration I'm starting with the last chapter, Custards, Soufflés, Fruit Curds, and Mousses because:
  • It's the shortest.
  • I've always wanted to make lemon curd.
  • I have a salamander that I want to use successfully on a few crèmes brûlées so I can get Mark off my back. (The salamander is tied with the butter curler for most loved but least used kitchen object. I've had them both for about 10 years, have never used either one, and refuse to drop them at Goodwill.)
I'll start CSFC&M this weekend with Coffee Pots de Crème.


The photo above is of macaron refuse yolks. The dog was happy to get a few in her kibble.

Other People are Good at This

Lately I've liked:
  • Crazy baked rhinoceros here.
  • Fun list of food fiction here.
  • Retro tomato soup cake here.
  • Ten great quick breads here.
  • Delicious muffins I made for breakfast last Saturday here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Page 256 is My New Favorite Page

James Peterson is doing me right.

It was just like he promised with his prose and his pictures. Everything—from the texture of the dough to the sound of my Kitchenaid. This is the instructional manual I was looking for.

In the mood for a quick hit of success I made short bread cookies after dinner. They are fantastic in every way. They're sweet, crumbly, buttery, and salty. I love them. We're back on track.

The cookies go in the oven as a slab and after they come out, when they're still hot, that's when you cut them. I pulled a chef's knife across the surface, and the dough pulled a little. The edges of the cookies were jagged. I tried pressing down on the knife instead and it worked but was tedious. So I tried my pizza cutter. Perfect.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Someone is sleeping on the couch tonight and it's not me.

Dear James Peterson,

Six footless batches and 15 hours later you can't accuse me of fair weather affection.

Here's the deal: You've always done me right. With so many books and so many recipes I love everything about you—your humility, your style, your tone, and your understated elegance. But today we had a bit of a lovers' spat.

My humble suggestions for the revised edition of Baking:
Please include measurements by weight. Almond flour is fluffy and I don't know if I'm supposed to spoon or scoop it so I've been second guessing myself all day. To add to the confusion, very few conversion web sites have an almond flour option.
When you make a choice, such as powdered sugar mixed with the whipped whites, that doesn't jive with any other recipe on planet (they all call for granulated), it would be nice if you explained why you made the choice. I trust you and love you, but even the hallowed make careless mistakes. In the throws of frustration it would be nice to eliminate at least one variable.
A section on troubleshooting would be useful. My macarons don't have feet. Not one foot in six batches. My size and texture and taste are all great. But the feet. They just won't come. Throw me a bone.
A nod to folklore would also help. I've read a handful of recipes that insist I age the egg whites for a day in an open container at room temperature. Does this plan have any merit? Again, in the throws of frustration and flailing, I'd love a little reassurance.
If you feel like making amends, I'd like flowers. I'd prefer it if you send them to me at work because they'll make the secretary jealous. My favorite color combination is red and purple and I hate stuffed animals (but you already knew that).

If you also feel a little wronged and don't want to send flowers, I understand. I'm not faultless. My piping technique needs practice. I also understand this isn't a book dedicated to macarons. But I need a little time nevertheless. I plan on skipping to the tart section, and working through it recipe by recipe.

Yours with affection,    Jessica

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blushing. Thanks Google.

Flattered and excited and giddy to find this today. Mark was in the shower. I ran upstairs, burst into the bathroom and squealed, I'm famous! I don't know how Ten Speed Press found me, but I found that they found me because of Google Analytics.

I use Google Analytics to track our web stats at work and I use it for the blog. Mark uses it, too. It's free, easy, addicting, and super useful. For instance: I can tell that my blog has recently been read twice from a computer or computers in Brooklyn. I know only two people who either live or work in Brooklyn: my friend Amberleigh, server extraordinaire at Gramercy Tavern and ... dramatic pause ... James Peterson. Which one of them is reading is anyone's guess. Could be both. Could be neither (folks in Poland read too, but I don't know anyone there).

Obviously, Google Analytics is an integrated part of my life.

I also love Google blog search. To use it go to the google page, wait a moment for the periphery to appear, and at the top of the page click more. Then choose blogs on the drop down. Type any whim or obsession into the search box and explore. Blog searches are great because as useful as Wikipedia is, it's not always the answer. Today I did a blog search for macarons and found all sorts of good stuff—much of it added to the blog roll.

Some highlights:
  • The most incredible Bouche de Noel here.
  • Lauderée* chocolate macarons covered in gold leaf and nestled in a Marni box here.
  • Photo heavy post devoted to baking macarons here.
*Not to be too braggy, but if you can't brag on your blog where can you brag, Mark and I shared omelets, salad, and a bottle of rosé at Lauderée in Paris. We sat next to a little old lady who brought her dog with her. The dog curled up under the table and napped while she ate. It's one of my favorite all-time memories of France and the seed for my fantasy of getting Dasha under a table at Lauderée. We might need a four-top because my bitch is large, but she'd love it.

P.S. Macaron day is tomorrow.

P.P.S. Sliced-tauntaun-to-keep-you-warm cupcakes are on!

Update: I know THREE people who live or work in Brooklyn. One is a driving force behind the Reanimation Library. He reads my blog. It's now 27% less likely that my new boyfriend James Peterson is reading.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's that? A cupcake smackdown?

Oh sweet, sweet victory ... where did our love go? And when did aggressive mediocrity slyly take your place in my bed? It's time for us to reunite. Kick some ass. Float in a pool of affection.

This could be our chance. It's a cupcake contest with a theme:
Create a cupcake based on or inspired by ANYTHING you use to warm you up in the cold of winter. Could be hot chocolate, soup, slippers...SO MUCH OPPORTUNITY.

Mitten cupcakes? Bonfire cupcakes? ELECTRICITY AND NATURAL GAS CUPCAKES?

It's on.

P.S. My almond four is here. This weekend is the weekend for apricot macarons. And if I'm feeling ambitious and confident, I might make cocoa macarons with Nutella.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Alaska is not a foreign country. At least not if you live in the United States.

The almond flour is on the way. Maybe. What I know for sure is that the flour has shipped, but I don't have a tracking number because my foreign address requires an alternate shipping method. Blegh. As a consolation I cruised amazon reviews for some inspiration and found the book pictured above. Done. Inspired.

I should have quit while I was ahead. Instead, I found Tartelette. Sure, the baked goods make me envious and the photography puts me in my place. But the real kicker is her note in the upper right hand corner of the screen:

After many requests from readers, I have added a new feature to each post, starting January 2010: recipes are now in English and French.

Really Tartelette? 

She gave me the backhand with that one. It smarts. And it makes me love her all the more.

Wednesday is food section day in every paper I love. I haven't had a chance to read much tonight but right now I'm into this article and slide show in the New York Times about a rare livestock fertility bank.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I don't recycle. Not even at work where it's easy.

OK, I recycle a little bit at work because it's so easy but when that blue bin in my office is full it takes me days to empty it. And during those days ... I don't recycle.

I do reuse: empty pickle jars are my Tupperware, plastic grocery bags my trash bags, old sheets my new cleaning rags.

And wait, there's more.

I get produce from a CSA and I buy duck eggs from the CADD manager at work. The ducks in his backyard have names like Elvis and Eunice and get parrot food and have their own castle and a heated tub in the winter. I shit you not.

I made an attempt at buying local raw goat milk, but when I toured the farm in Wasilla (yes ... that Wasilla) the woman goat farmer kept telling me that her bottling process was sterile because she washes the jars herself and seals them using a plastic Glad baggie for a washer. I think I could have come around on her methods, but it gave me the creeps how she kept insisting everything was sterile. I was standing in front of her, in her kitchen where she bottles the milk. Cats on the counter and farm muck smeared all over the floor is not sterile in my book.

Distill it down and it's local and repurposed and hand made that rule my roost.

Enter Lots of cool handmade stuff. And lots of lame handmade stuff. But mostly cool handmade stuff. You can even search by region and buy from your hood to reduce your carbon footprint. Mondays are my new pick a fave at etsy days (but only if I stick with it).

This week:

I'm a sucker for letterpress and a sucker for wheat sheaths.
Perfect for a coffee klatch.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pittsburg is the new UK or How My Husband is like Robert Pattinson

I don't remember when it started but for lots and lots of years my husband has been opening fan mail from young girls cooped up at boarding schools across England. OK, the boarding school thing is a guess, but I think it's a pretty good guess based on the tone and level of adoration in the letters. Seriously, these girls would make you blush. They send the letters because, as previously discussed, he's pretty spectacular at taking photos (that's me on the left in the slot canyon). And for whatever reason it's always been the young Brits who are moved to send him mail. To be fair, sometimes it's the Australians, but as far as this conversation is concerned, Australians are just extra slutty Brits (sorry to everyone I offended in Australia, and to the rest, you're welcome). Just a few days ago he received a plea to be his assistant. Awesome. Super. I can't wait to cook dinner for a girl in knee socks and the Queen's English who flew half way around the world to spend time admiring my husband. (He politely declined her offer—good man.) A few minutes ago he was digging into his web stats and found his photos all over the website of a sixteen-year-old girl in Pittsburg.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my husband is like Robert Pattinson: girls in the UK knew about him first. (That and the rakish facial hair.)

What does this have to do with baking? Easy. Mark's the first one who turned me onto an Amazon merchant account and I just finished setting one up. So, when I post links to books and kitchen tools and the like, if you buy through the link, I get a teeny tiny percentage of the profit.

Full disclosure and I are a little in love, so I thought I'd document a gesture of affection.

As for the quince paste in the last post: so far so good. It's chillin' in the fridge. My only advice is  skip the buttered parchment step when you roast the quinces. I plunked the fruit in a Pyrex pie dishwithout any protection and it didn't stick. (Don't say I didn't warn you about those links.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Le Roi de la Confiture

He has kind, doe eyes. He looks like he understands: my wants, my fantasies, my upheavals. And he's willing to do his best to pull me through. Brooklyn brown stone and purring tabby be damned, I just know—know in my gut—that my boyfriend James Peterson (he lets me call him Jim) secretly wants to spend some time in a galley kitchen, in a log cabin, in a suburb, in Alaska. I'm patiently waiting for the UPS man to deliver my almond flour so Jim and I can have our next date over macarons filled with apricot jam.

Apricot jam is the King of Jams. It tops my english muffins, marinades my Tofurkey, and defines abricotage. A gentleman and a scholar, it never does me wrong. But today, when it's 2º F and still dark enough that the solstice feels like a snarky joke, it can't do much for me. I don't want royalty. I want a reason to turn on the oven and enjoy a warm kitchen.

Waiting for my date and wanting for my oven, I picked up some quinces and decided to give this recipe for quince paste a try. Mark and I used to buy it with a wedge of manchego from the Whole Foods in Los Angeles and then go home and gorge. It's a thick gel/paste, sometimes called membrillo, that's sweet and quincy, and it's amazing on cheese and traditional with manchego. It's in the oven right now and if it turns out I'm going to cut the pillow of mold off the petit basque I bought last August and feast.


The quince image above is from the New York Public Library archives.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Hungry for dinner but impotent, I excavated the days old pain au chocolate for bittersweet nuggets. Delicious chocolate—wrapped in dough, baked, left to sit, and unearthed—is still incredibly delicious. Mark was jealous.

After a little research it looks like the almond flour you buy is different from the almond flour you make because the flour you buy has all of the oil removed. I had a fear that if I tried to make it myself I'd end up with almond butter instead of almond flour, so this unsubstantiated information fed my fear: I opted to buy. I also bought these super cute tulip muffin papers like you see at Starbucks. (You might see them in other much hipper places, but I live in Alaska.) They're going to photograph well.

Now I need to find a pastry bag and tip. The temptation is to buy disposable bags because you don't have to wash them. But my inner conservationist and my inner francophile teamed up to insist that I buy the washable kind. Now I just need to hunt out a good source. Shopping for pastry tips I feel like I imagine Mark felt when he first started shopping for router bits—do I get the set or do I pay a little more for each piece? The latter requires a little faith and self awareness; it's much more attractive.

A few things I've read that I thought were worth sharing:

Baking in small batches here.

Baking with sauerkraut here.

Rating store brands here. (In general I agree, but don't fall for the Safeway Organics brand of garbanzo beans—they're mushy. I'm for S&W.)

A quick post script—Mark took the above photo of my biscuit cutters several years ago with some now defunct Polaroid film. I still love the photo.