Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘homemade’

I haven’t had a second to write since I pulled the Easter bread out of the oven! This is a first, and I’m not jazzed about it. Being a contractor means you’re never bored and always busy. Which, as any contractor can tell you, is simultaneously great, and blows. Today was the first day in months that I haven’t gone Mach 2 with my hair on fire.* I’ve been so happy to relax a little, to start cooking again (brownies for my teenage cast and crew)…

Three sticks of butter plus cake flour mean they’re essentially a semi-solid.

to eat ice cream (hoooo doggy. Twice this week, actually, and both bloody spectacular)…

Chocolate-orange and coconut ice creams plus hot fudge sauce, all homemade, at the bent spoon in Princeton.

My beloved peanut butter moose tracks, greedily gobbled an hour ago.

I am unusual in that I am oddly, inextricably connected to nature; I must see and smell and touch everything new each season. This past month I missed my ephemerals. I only barely nuzzled the Kwanzan cherry blossoms before the rain took them down. I’ve never missed these, and the lack of them has affected me powerfully, like trying to breathe with the only one lung’s capacity. Subtracting them has not been not healthy for me.

But I’m dreaming about visiting the farm (finally open), foraging (wisteria right now, and much more to come). And I had the loveliest surprise a couple of days ago:

I thought I had missed the lilacs, too, blooming so early this year. Drove in between rushed errands to try to find some blossoms that weren’t spent so I could bury my nose in them, and didn’t have much luck. Then I happened upon a huge, lush group of bushes next to the art building at my alma mater, where I was finishing a prop contract. The school is at the opposite end of the state, and I’d forgotten that flowers there bloom later. The wind off the lake blew their fragrance around me before I even saw them, fresh and sweet as could be. I remembered the strange miracle of more: my theory that whatever we miss, somehow the universe makes it back up again. And then some.

*Gratuitous Top Gun reference.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

img_8938

Making food props for any theatre company has its own unique challenges, but making them for a high school adds another handful (and another unique, while we’re at it).

I’m in the middle of a run of Les Miserables, the much-loved opera with an unusually high body count. Most of its characters don’t make it to curtain call. I told the actors we could easily hand out pens with playbills and have the audience cross out characters throughout the play. When only Marius and Cosette are left, the French Revolution is over and so is the show.

Despite the loss and poverty depicted, there is also great wealth. When the above characters marry, they have a lavish wedding and cake. I asked what side of the stage the wedding cake will enter from, and when the director said stage right, I knew it couldn’t be too tall; that side of the stage has only shelves on which to store props. He agreed to a layer cake, so I made one (above) with three batches of homemade play dough, cake tins, mini tart tins, and paint applied with a piping bag and tips as if it were buttercream. Young Zak found a gold bead somewhere and pushed it into the cake. I’m not sure why. Being a freshman might have something to do with it.

But when I brought the cake in, the director said it was too low, and that if I built a taller one, we could store it somewhere off stage and bring it on just for the wedding.

Would that I had known this before.

So yesterday I built the below with three storage boxes from AC Moore stacked and glued together with wood glue, and painted using the same technique as above. My crew let me know that young David, who plays a police officer in the show, opened the lid of the top box to peer inside. I said if they see him doing that again to tell him Marisa is going to hide his billy club and he will never find it in a million years.

The cake is tall, and one of the young musicians saw me walk past with it and gasped, ‘Is that real?’ so my work is done.

img_8951

Actually, my job with food for this show isn’t entirely done; I have to feed four loaves of bread per night to the cast, who eats it on stage behind the barricade. I don’t want it to be stale, so I buy it fresh every day. The girls who bring it on from stage left eat most of it while they’re waiting to go on.

When I first brought bread to rehearsal last week the director skipped that scene, so I told Cristian, who plays Enjolras, to take the bread for his side of the stage downstairs to share.

Teenagers of every stripe don’t stop eating. It’s fascinating and almost eerie to witness. They always have their hands in a box of Cheez-Its. But this is a boarding school, which means the kids are even hungrier; and this was a sophomore boy I was talking to. He gaped at me and shouted, ‘We can have the whole thing?!’ When I said yes, he almost bit my hand off.

img_8950

Its hours are numbered.

Read Full Post »

img_8909

The little bits of chopped peanut on top didn’t hurt.

Notes from an afternoon in Princeton, last Wednesday. God, but I ate well, but I’ll come back to that.

Background: I went to a small boarding school nearby with students from all over the world. You couldn’t help but become friends with kids from Orlando, FL, the Caribbean, the Ivory Coast, Bangkok, Taiwan, because that’s largely whom you bumped into in the halls and while brushing your teeth at night. A few years of living with a variety of faces and accents felt very normal, which I didn’t realize until I went to a college where everyone looked like me and was mostly from NJ or PA. It was a good college, but it felt bland as pasta straight out of the pot.

Foreground: Princeton was crowded, cold and grey though it was. A handful of us were ordinary Caucasian Americans. The rest? It was like the U.N. was on its lunch break and pouring down Nassau Street. Here, as at my high school, this was the rule.

I heard Cockney English spoken behind me outside the bookstore, Russian beside me at the crosswalk. A group of three—two young students of Middle Eastern and Latino descent and an African-American cop—were chatting idly and chuckling outside a falafel shop, their breaths puffing in the cold.

the bent spoon, my favorite ice cream shop in NJ, was closed for vacation. Which pained me, as it was Chocolate Day and I had planned to make it count, but on my way there I had spotted a sign outside Jammin’ Crepes advertising a Mousse Parfait special. It wasn’t chocolate, but it was probably worth trying my tears for. The place is fantastic.

I sat down and ate the above—that’s peanut butter mousse layered with homemade jam and whipped cream, with toasted sugared crepe chips on the side—very slowly. This was while listening to a couple speaking Parisien French right beside me (p.s., they ate every bite of their crepes, and they’d know from crepes) and another couple speaking the Queen’s English behind me.

Diversity reminds me of some of the best years of my life, simply put. I feel calmer when the people around me don’t look and sound just like me. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I actually feel like I fit in better. It was an immensely peaceful experience.

And I noticed on my way back to my car that those two kids and the cop were still kibitzing in the cold about nothing in particular.

Read Full Post »

IMG_5191

Toad-In-The-Hole, an egg, sausage, and rosemary dish baked inside Yorkshire pudding batter. My recipe was a gift from a Manchester, UK reader, and it’s so deliriously satisfying that I will never make another.

Hygge (pronounced like a tugboat’s horn: HOO-gah) is a old Danish word that’s difficult to translate into English. My best definition: It’s the well-being that results from surrounding oneself with comfort, safety, and, if Pottery Barn has anything to say about it, off-white bouclé throw pillows.

I’m not knocking Pottery Barn, mind you; once I learned about hygge, I realized my own North Star has been leading me toward the concept all my life, including my love for that store’s aesthetic, which is totally doable without the price tag. The New York Times recently advised people who were seeking hygge to take the following as a Step One: ‘Go home, and stay there.’ A fair starting point.

As someone who can get overwhelmed easily—a door prize from my childhood—I will probably always gravitate toward hygge. The photos below show some of my favorite things to eat to feel soothed and safe, but this is really a way of life, if you can swing it—a way to live more civilized life.

My methods (and you’ll have your own, and I would love to hear about them):

-Using only wooden, glass, or ceramic dishware. Plastic and metal are a no-go.

-Yoga every morning.

-Serving my most I’m-glad-you’re-here dessert to guests: a hot, fresh, fudgy brownie, a blop of melting homemade ice cream on top, served in a bowl.

-My fireplace, which is gas, but still way cool.

-Changing the feel of my place with every season; most recently, a fresh Christmas tree in my bedroom and vintage Advent calendars from my neighbor, long gone and much missed.

-Breathing in fresh cold air after a snowfall, and wearing my best snowball-making mittens from when I was 12 (I didn’t get much bigger).

-Foraging.

-Traveling on my bike as soon as it’s warm enough to, as much as I can.

-Getting virtually all of my furniture secondhand so it has a little soul to it. I find it in antiques stores, from friends, and from garage-sale lawns. I refinish it to make it my own, and sew my own pillows and curtains. (Not really good at it, but they hold together.)

-Vanilla extract made from vanilla beans and local vodka. Laundry detergent made from Borax, washing powder, and Ivory soap. Fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth and hung to dry.

-Reading the delicious essays in the weekend Times.

-Cooking from scratch. (Making sausage bread next. Yowza, and stay tuned.)

-Hanging my own work on the walls of my place—photography, drawings, and pebbles I’ve collected from all over the world.

-Very thick hot chocolate made with great-quality semisweet chips, milk (or make it with half milk, half cream, if you want to see me genuflect), and a smidge of cornstarch.

-It’s astonishing how much clutter stresses people out. I shoo it right out the door so it never has a chance to put up its feet.

-Relaxing in ten-year-old L.L. Bean flannel pajamas and blogging, like, say, right now.

-Laughing really hard with friends.

-Bringing a little bite of something good to share when I visit someone.

-Cooking to ABBA, or classical music, or the Mamas and the Papas, or The Cure. Any music.

-Celebrating Chocolate Day every third day (to stave off migraines), and eating organic dark chocolate on my favorite little 1960s-era plate that once belonged to my aunt.

-Opening the windows and leaving them open as soon as I can every season. I am happiest when the indoors feels as much like the outdoors as possible.

-Living where the ocean mist rolls down the streets on foggy mornings.

-The hiss and bubbling of old radiators.

-Feeling the charged energy in the air on Mischief Night and Christmas Eve.

-Reading fairy tales, different versions of each, and then studying the analyses of each. Scrumptious.

-Freshly laundered cotton sheets, a down comforter, and a cool, dark bedroom. A horizon I’m heading toward very soon.

Peace & love.

IMG_4900

Hot homemade sourdough bread with melting Kerrygold butter.

IMG_4027

Shepherd’s pie, properly made with lamb. The UK knows from hygge, even if it’s not their word. Chronically gloomy skies demand it to preserve the sanity of the people.

IMG_5001

Maple cream tart.

IMG_3642

Local apples on a reclaimed vintage farm bench.

 

 

IMG_1800

Mozzarella in carrozza, a grilled-cheese sandwich that’s battered before it’s fried.

IMG_6289

I think I put five pounds of apples in this dude. An avalanche of fruit every time I sliced it.

Read Full Post »

A few nights ago I made an apple cake with buttermilk and a good hit of my homemade apple vodka. I would have done it anyway; I love cake…it’s Fall…I love cake (this bears repeating).

But I wanted to try making a recipe with even less sugar than I normally use. In the past 10 or so years, I’ve been typically cutting back the sugar in recipes by half or more because sometimes I’ll have the cake for breakfast. Too much sugar in the morning grosses me out, and moreover sends me into a stupor. But my doctor told me I should be moderating my sugar even more, so I added just two heaping tablespoons of organic sugar to the batter along with something like a half cup of apple vodka, which contains sugar. So the cake is somewhat bland—I might have gone overboard—but I’ve been dressing it up with a blop of plain yogurt. The sour tang is surprising against the gentle sweetness and tender texture. So I’m proud that I made it work and that it works beautifully. Every day I’m looking forward to a piece of my apple cake.

*

Tonight I worked at a soup kitchen a few blocks away. It was a Thanksgiving feast for the needy in the community, a couple of days early. When I arrived I saw a young lady wearing a cocktail dress, with her hair in an upsweep, crouching and peering into a rolling cart of canned soft drinks. She asked if there were any iced teas that weren’t diet. (Can’t blame her.) We scanned the cart and said we were sorry, but didn’t see any.

The young lady sighed and frowned, thanked us, and turned to go. Then suddenly the event organizer said, ‘Wait!’ She reached into the back and pulled out some regular iced teas that had been hidden. I started laughing as the young lady started loading them under one arm, and she turned to me with a big grin and a question in her eyes.

‘It’s just—really wanting something, and then getting it,’ I said. She laughed with me and said, ‘Yeah.’

The world is a spinning top—it always has been, if we’re going to be honest. There will always be things we want and don’t get, and we need the strength and tenacity to keep moving forward when that happens.

But I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t get tiring when, over and over, we don’t get what we want, or have it and lose it. And this year has been a doozy. I’m wishing you your regular iced tea, at the very least one, whatever that is to you…more even, as many as you can carry.

img_8616

Read Full Post »

Oma is 97 years old. Born in Germany, she escaped the Holocaust and lived most of her life in Manhattan. Today she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and lives with her daughter (my friend Peggy) and her family near me.

Peggy told me her mom grew up loving marzipan—not a surprise for a German girl—and asked me if I’d bring her a little piece of my homemade stuff. Last week I did.

When I arrived her mom was still out at the doctor’s office. Peg walked me around the sunken living room and showed me all of the shelving she’s had to clear off because Oma likes to take things down and move them to new places. We came upon books and knickknacks in odd spots, hand towels and garments neatly folded and set down on the carpeted steps. I put the candy on a higher shelf, figuring I’d give it to her later.

Oma came home and joined us in the kitchen, all smiling wide blue eyes and wispy white hair. She asked who I was. I told her I was Peg’s friend from long ago. Peggy asked her in German if she had found a candy and eaten it, but she didn’t respond.

The candy was, in fact, missing from the shelf. We peered around every table and chair and into every corner of the living room, looking to see if she’d moved it. Finally we found the empty wrapper, carefully folded. Well, she must have liked the candy; it was gone.

I thought about the fact that it was likely her last piece of marzipan, and almost certainly her last piece of homemade candy. (Truthfully? It was the only homemade food I’ve ever brought over, since Peg and the rest of the family keep strictly kosher. But Oma renounced Judaism years ago.) And I thought about the honor of treating a Holocaust survivor to a taste of her youth.

But mostly I thought about this: It’s entirely possible to derive pleasure from a single bite and fold it up neatly and tuck it away into a corner of one’s mind—maybe to be retrieved later, maybe never again. And that later or never is beside the point; the pleasure is the point.

When it was time to go, I asked if I could give her a kiss goodbye, and she nodded.

IMG_7802

Read Full Post »

IMG_4526

Like an army, if the army was attacking with cuddles and butterfly kisses.

I know a guy who is not a sweet eater, yet recently rhapsodized about these as he chatted with friends and relatives all night at a party. It was pretty entertaining watching him nurse one as if it was 100-year-old brandy instead of a s’more.

This recipe has been in my repertoire since 1998, which I can tell you for sure because I still have the Martha Stewart Living Magazine from whence it came.

I do not make it because it is easy (it is in fact a bear to make. A bear, a leopard, and a three-toed sloth on an off day, to be precise). I don’t make it because it’s quick (nope again; it takes several hours). I make it because even people who aren’t sweet eaters dig it, even people who swear by Walgreen’s marshmallows stacked on Hershey’s chocolate dig it, and everyone else as well. S’mores, like foot rubs and Maltese puppies in teacups, are one of the human race’s common denominators of happiness.

And these are especially special because the ingredients are a few boosts up from the campfire classics. Broken down:

The marshmallows: Homemade. They take a long time to cool and set, but making them isn’t hard. And the result is not even in the same hemisphere as the Walgreen’s variety—pillowy, squooshy, pully, and far lighter than store-bought.

The chocolate: It’s mixed with butter and melted, making an already rich thing richer. Go high-quality. Ghirardelli is a good jumping-off point. Gritty, off-tasting basic supermarket brands are not going to cut it.

The graham-cracker base: That’s Honey Maids (or whatever you like best), ground and mixed with butter and sugar.

A big also: Once assembled, Martha suggests putting the lot under the broiler to caramelize the marshmallow tops. But really, this recipe is a good excuse to treat yourself to a small but powerful butane torch.

11666231_10207213238239587_388646037255738520_n

Me with my weapon of destruction.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way, lifted from my pencil scribbles in the margins:

-Spread out the process over a couple of days, or give yourself the day with an early start (and if you can snag a little nap before the event, take it).

-Grind up the graham cracker mixture in a food processor.

-Brush the marshmallow pan very well with vegetable oil, add parchment, and brush that well with oil, too. Marshmallow is like a two-year-old: sweet, soft, sticky, and stubborn. It is wonderful, but it will fight you. Placate the beast ahead of time and things will go far more smoothly. Oil everything very well.

-I really like to taste the vanilla, so I use quite a bit more extract than the recipe calls for—up to twice as much. If you’re the same, I encourage you to do the same.

-Spread the powdered sugar into a rimmed cookie sheet, and use plenty of it. Then put the whole marshmallow on top. Decide whether you want large or small s’mores (I’ve done both) and cut accordingly. When you cut them, turn them on all sides into the sugar to coat and de-stickify.

-You may have marshmallows left over. This will not be a problem for any children in your household, nor for most adults. They’re delicious plain, on a sandwich with really good-quality peanut butter (yes, it certainly exists), dipped in chocolate, or—this is the best—floating on top of your hot chocolate.

scan0003

My cooking class (one of many), circa 2003, hopped up on sugar. I made classic s’mores with them under a strict agreement that when I turned on the torch, they had to sit on their hands (little kids will reach for anything). They did it.

Despite the extensive list above, do make these. Then eat them slowly. They are not to be rushed.

And do spring for a butane torch. Tell the kids to sit on their hands and have at it. You will be the rave of the schoolyard (not a bad position to be in).

scan0005

It’s blurry, but still conveys all the love, wonder, and tragic beauty of a dish that’s about to be devoured. This was our inaugural s’more effort, made for Thanksgiving dessert.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »