Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Admittedly, mistakes were made last Friday. So perhaps to atone for my sins, I spent the rest of the weekend as wholesome as can be, holding babies, lot’s of family time, and of course, cooking. The BF and I spent Saturday in Santa Cruz feeling far worse than we had intended. Needless to say, when we woke up on Sunday we knew we had some amends to make, the first to our disgruntled bods, who were still, yes still, angry about the gin and vodka and gummi bears. We needed something that would heal our weary souls.
Soup, we determined immediately. The BF was outvoted two to one (when I really want something I count as two). It just so happened that I had been wanting to try the Mushroom Barley soup from November’s Food & Wine.
We had a mission, and with all missions, there are obstacles, namely in our case, the grocery store. As much as The BF and I would like be those kind of food people who can whip up something from nothing or cook based on ingredients just “lying around,” it’s not our forte. Unless it’s a sandwich, but that’s a different story altogether. Instead, we must drag our day two hangovers to the grocery store on a Sunday evening , at just about the time when every other person in Marin County is doing the same (sans hangover, I assume). It was foiled from the beginning.
We hit Whole Foods first; we wanted quality meat and mushrooms. My bad mood immediately sets in from crowds and it’s only exaggerated by the types of people you find at Whole Foods in San Rafael (see previous post on snobbery). And then: no pearled barley. Can you imagine? All those effin bins filled with granola, nuts, rice, grains, basically everything you could ever think of, but no pearled barley. I got that panicked, glazed look in my eyes and rushed to find The BF at the butcher counter. The headache was pulsing
“There’s no pearled barley.” I was deranged; I know because my voice hit those high octaves.
“Calm down, just calm down.” I took deep breaths as he followed me back to the dry good aisle, so that he could confirm that there really was no pearled barley.
Forty-five minutes later, after considering using hulled barley for close to ten minutes, we were at grocery store numero dos, United Market, ready to purchase pearled barley and the extra beef broth we forgot (go figure). While The BF ran in—I just couldn’t bear it—I called my mom, who in her endless quest to make sure I know just how overly indulged I act, reminded me that they always have pearled barley at Safeway. Thanks mom, noted.
At home, finally, we began to cook, and though I thought I’d at least have a couple of hours to whine about how much I hate crowded grocery stores while the soup cooked, it turned out I had less than an hour. Hence, this post; I just gotta get it out somewhere, right?
Based on just how damn delish that soup turned out, it seemed that somehow, among the aisles and people and carts, we finally undid our wrongs. If you’re looking for a little redemption yourself, I highly recommend that you make this, especially with the suggested changes. It may be the only thing you won’t regret this weekend.
Mushroom Barley Soup with Mini Meatballs adapted from Food & Wine
5 cups good beef stock
2 cup water
1/2 cup pearled barley
3 large thyme sprigs
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (We used cremini, oyster, chanterelle, & porcini)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1.5 lbs. ground sirloin
1 large egg
2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt & pepper
1. In a medium pot combine the stock, water, barley, & thyme. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over at a simmer until the barley is almost tender, about 18 minutes.
2. In a large nonstick skillet heat the oil. Ad the mushrooms and the shallot, season with salt and perpper and cook over high heat until browned, about 10 minutes.
3. In a medium bowl combin the sirloin, egg, bread crumb, cheese, 1/2 tsp. salt, & 1/4 tsp. pepper. Mix until just blended. Roll into sixteen 1-inch balls, about bit-size.
4. Add the meatballs & mushroom mixture to the soup and simmer over medium heat until the meatballs are cook through and the barley is tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the thyme. Stir in the parsley and serve.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
However, I’m not going to lie, I think I might just be better than those people. See, that’s where I’m a snob or at least was a snob. One long evening of drinking on an empty stomach can really change a girl.
I’d like to say that it all started innocently enough, but in truth, our company’s Halloween party had most of us drinking before 4:00pm. Post party we headed over to Voda, a vodka bar tucked away on Belden Place. Quite picturesque outside, less appealing inside. Nonetheless, we jovially sipped on (gulped down) quite delicious $3.00 happy hour Lemon Drops, before deciding we needed a change of scenery.
Okay, I’m a lightweight, which is great for the pocketbook and less wonderful for me when I’m out on a drinking night with friends. By the time we made it to Toxic, the Lemon Drops had done their trick. That trick being stealthily intoxicating me without my gag reflexes or mental capacities realizing it. Of course I immediately ordered a vodka tonic and decided that the gummi bears in glass bowls lining the bar (Haribo, no doubt. I love this place now) were a perfectly reasonable dinner.
Since it was just 8:30pm when we got there, the bar was nearly empty, and so we had only one choice but to continue to drink. Only some of us didn’t just drink. Some of us (as described the next day by witnesses) decided to dance rather inappropriately, launch a gummi bear war across the bar, and shamelessly sing karaoke at the top of our lungs. In other words, humiliate ourselves in public. I wish I could blame all of this on an alter ego, but alas, there is only me. Humbled and embarrassed me. Some of you may be used to nights such as this one, but I am not. I was shocked with myself and mildly disgraced.
Thus, I must leave my snobbery at the proverbial door, because I have to face it. I’m no better than anyone else; I can be a real idiot too sometimes. All it took for me to come to my senses was one night in this City with its vodka bars, gummi bears, and oodles of snobs. It just wouldn't be the same without us.
Please note I did pay for my snob prejudices all weekend...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I think the weather, in the Bay Area at least, is copying me. It's all back and forth and this way and that, summer, fall, no actually winter. The weather itself I don't mind. I can appreciate a rainy days interspersed with 70 degree days no problem; it's the mimicking that's pissing me off. I don't take kindly to having all my uncertainty and wavering displayed for the entire City to see. I know, it's not like anyone's going to make the connection, but I do... And that's enough for me. I don't need the constant reminder that I'm indecisive--just standing on the edge of a ridge somewhere scoping out both sides, debating about which will hurt more when I finally fall? The thorny bush side? Or the poky stick side?--I KNOW this already.
Now, what am I so indecisive about? That's an entirely seperate blog that has absolutely nothing to do with this weather. But I will tell you this: I started my Master's program at San Francisco State almost precisely two months ago. So that means that since applying in January, accepting in May, and going to classes since September, that entire time, until about five days ago, I've believed that I was in a two year program. OnlyI'm not. Three years. Three. Count 'em: One. Two. Three. As mix-ups go, this one doesn't have much effect on my outward being becuase I sure as hell ain't dropping out now, but regardless, I can't help describing this feeling as akin to (and I'm just speculating here) finding out that you're actually a year older than you thought.
Internal monologue goes like this: You've got to be kidding me. How? But...That means...Then....Damn. Dammit all to hell.
Once you're managed to accept it, you have to face the facts.
For me that went something like this: Okay, seriously, how am I that stupid? How did I not realize this before? How? HOW? Calm down. "How" doesn't matter; it's just that I'm that stupid. I am that stupid.
And so on. Hopefully, you can see how that kind of realization along with the "other" things I can't even begin to summarize, can leave one (me) in a state of absolute confusion. The weather just taunts me. Is it going to be rainy? Sunny? Bitterly cold? Will she or won't she? There's just no telling.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
It’s not often that I have an idea I’m so passionate about that I need to share it with the world. But a few weeks ago, just when summer was lingering into the chilly evenings of fall, The BF and I enjoyed a divine dessert at Boulevard. I had heart amazing things about this restaurant, and I was definitely not let down; however, it was their dessert that lingered with me the most. Essentially a reinvention of all-American Apple Pie: thick, delectable square of apple terrine; I liken it to the pudding-ed juices that would dribble out as you wrung out a freshly baked apple pie (if that were possible of course), spiced ice cream, sandwiched between two sugar cookies and rounded out with pecans, a final sprinkle of candied apple pieces. There are not words. Let’s just say that The BF was not ashamed to scrape his finger along the leftover bits on his plate.
So how did this lifechanging sweet motivate me? Within a week after eating it, when it was still on my mind, and I could remember it’s textures on my tongue I ran into Cupcake BakeShop’s cupcake contest, with the theme “Reinvention.” I’m not competitive, never have been, I’m all too happy to let others take the gold, but when I saw that contest, my first thought was, I could win. Now whether that’s even moderately true or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I had an idea that I just I had to try.
An apple cake was easy enough, but I desperately wanted to try that to recreate that terrine in the form of a pudding I could dollop inside my moist cake. Well I dug through the internet like I would if I were Googling an ex-crush, but no firm signs of an apple terrine. I did, however, find recipes for apple pudding and one for a terrine that sounded somewhat similar to what I had eaten. I managed to rework them to create the exact flavor I needed and the pudding texture that would set up just right in the cupcakes. My final step was frosting. Buttercream was an obvious choice since it immediatley conjured up the buttery goodness of apple pie, but vanilla? That didn’t seem right, and I already had a lot of spice going on, so what’s the next best thing to vanilla and pie spices…bourbon, of course.
So that was that, and thus, my re-invented Apple Pie cupcakes were borne. Oh, and they tasted amazing too. The perfect Autumn cupcake.
Apple Pudding Cupcakes, with Bourbon-spiked Buttercream Frosting
Cake from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. Cinnamon
1.5 lbs. Granny Smith Apples, peeled and grated
2 1/3 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sour cream
- Preheat over to 350 F. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon over the apples and let them sit for 15 minutes to expel some of their juices.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium-sized bowl.
- Pour the apples over a fine mesh sieve and let the juices drain. Don’t press down, just let the natural juices leak through. Set Aside.
- Beat eggs and sugar together in a mixer on medium-low speed until thickened and pale yellow, about two minutes.
- Add the oil, pouring slowly, until just incorporated.
- Add the sour cream on low speed until the white streaks are gone.
- Pour in the dry mixture in two separate batches. Mix until just incorporated in the batter.
- Finally, add the apples. Stir in by hand to prevent over-mixing. The batter will be runny, but don’t fret, that’s normal.
- Spoon the batter half way up cupcake liners. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in a thin layer on top. Top with batter until just below the liner.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let cool to get ready for the pudding and frosting.
Apple “Terrine” adapted from frenchgardening.com
2 lbs. sweet apples; I used
½ cup hard local cider; I used Aces here, local to
1 ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp. Calvados (apple brandy)
2 eggs, beaten
6 tbsp. butter
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Peel and chop apples into two inch pieces and place in a baking dish along with the lemon juice and cider. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft enough to mash down with a potato masher or a fork (if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
- Remove from heat and mash, along with the butter, Calvados, eggs, and butter. Cover in tin foil, bake for another 40 minutes, until much of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove from oven and chill.
- Once chilled use an immersion blender to finish off the smoothing process of the apple. Set aside.
Brandy Buttercream Frosting adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cakes: Fillings & Frostings
3 cold egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2 tbsp. pieces
2 tbsp. high-end brandy; I used Knob-Creek
- Stir together the egg whites and cream of tartar, until the cream of tartar completely dissolves. Set aside until the sugar is ready
- Clip a candy thermometer to a small saucepan. (Make sure it’s immersed in the liquid but not touching the bottom.) Combine the 2/3 cup sugar, the water, and the corn syrup. Cook over low heat, partially covered until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir often. Raise the heat to high and let the syrup bubble vigorously, until the thermometer reaches 240 F; this is soft ball stage. Wipe down the sides of the pot with a damp pastry brush. Remove from heat.
- As soon as the sugar is off the heat, begin to whip the eggs and cream of tartar mixture with the 2 tbsp. of sugar on medium speed until soft peaks form. About 5 to 10 minutes.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low while you pour in the hot sugar mixture. Try not to let it hit edges of the bowl because it will harden on contact. Once all of the syrup has been added increase the speed of the mixture. Beat until stiff peaks form.
- At this stage, you can begin to add the butter one-piece at a time until combined. Using a spatula wipe down the edges as the butter has a tendency to hang on the edges of mixing bowl. If you notice that the butter is forming tiny lumps, place the mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk vigorously by hand until combined.
- Once the consistency is right, add the brandy and give it a final stir. Using immediatley or set in the fridge until ready.
- Cut a small circle from the top of the cooled cupcakes, going about an inch down. Remove the circle and fill with a dollop of the apple “terrine.” Cover up with the remaining circle of cupcake.
- Top the cupcake with a generous swathing of frosting.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
In fact, people-watching is one of the only things that I like about big crowds. It's also one of the things I like more about the city then anywhere else around here. The people-watching is constant, endless, and very entertaining. People are nuts, and yes, I do lump myself in with that statement. I'm sure if my own conversations were taken completely out of context, I would seem crazy too. The sidewalks and buses are just rife with the satisfying tidbits of other peoples' lives. But even I have limits. Sometimes it's just too much. Case in point, I was talking to my good ol' pal Scrap Lazy yesterday via IM, and she was transcribing the fight that was taking place between the guy who lives next door to her and his girlfriend.
SL: Thhhhhank you, Ryan. Thank Youuuuu. (Her reenactment of the fight)
SL: I seriously hate her. (Her personal commentary on the situation)
And she seriously does, because this is this tenth time Scrap Lazy's had to listen to one of this upset girl's rants. Knowing the intimate issues of her neighbor's relationship isn't as exciting as it is annoying. I've hit this point with some neighbors of my own as well. The wooden floors so common in the city are gorgeous if you have them, and excruciatingly noisy if you live below them. The first time you hear your neighbors, uh, coupling (floor against bed posts, bed frame against wall, steady, rhythmic) at 9:15 on Tuesday night, it’s funny. The second time it’s gross. The third, it’s just annoying, and every time after that, well, it’s just too much information.
I find myself suddenly wondering things about them that I know I shouldn’t: Is it more then just once a week? Is it always at the same time? Is THAT normal? And every time I see them I find myself wanting to blurt it out, “9:15 on Tuesdays.” It’s so wrong. I’ve been taken too far into their world. They’ve pulled back the curtain, but it’s gotten stuck like that. Now instead of enjoying the momentary fascination with their life, I’m caught up in it. It’s the kind of people-watching that’s just not fun anymore. It leaves nothing, literally zero, to the imagination. I can’t make bitter assumptions and judgments like I usually do. I have to remember that even though they have loud, painfully boring sex above my room, they still let me park my car in driveway when I can’t find parking.
The city’s taught me a lot about people. The biggest lesson learned? That there is a certain group of people that fall somewhere between stranger and acquaintance: neighbors. Beware. They city is crawling with them, and they take all the fun out of feeling anonymous.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Not that kind of wake 'n bake. This is about actual breakfast. See I have this problem with breakfast. I’m just not very good at it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, because I do. I just happen to struggle with the actual act. I don’t eat breakfast during the week, and on the weekends, when I have the time I never want to eat it. It makes zero sense; during the weekdays all I want to do is lounge around with a plate of pancakes and good book, but on the weekends I find myself holding out on eating until noon so I can I dig into a BLT or an al pastor burrito.
In truth, when I do make it out to breakfast I end up indulging, like eggs benedict with avocado, home fries, and a scone indulging. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s just so good, and it’s never the same at home. I guess breakfast has become some illicit act that I save for one special morning once a month. But maybe it doesn’t have to be like that? The BF certainly doesn’t believe so.
This weekend I finally enjoyed breakfast at home in the form of strata. Strata is essentially a savory bread pudding. And boy is it good. We made it late Saturday night after getting back into San Rafael from San Francisco, and then baked it until bubbly in the oven.
I’d never had strata before. It’s just not quite as ubiquitous as frittatas and French toast at your neighborhood café. But it should be. Or maybe it shouldn’t, because it might be the only breakfast worth staying at home for.
Mushroom, Fontina, & Sausage Strata
3 cups half & half
8 cups sourdough bread, cubed, oven dried
12 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, small diced
4 Italian sausages, fresh from the butcher, 2 hot, 2 sweet
2 ½ cups grated (soft) fontina cheese
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 200F. Spread bread cubes across two sheet pans and cook in the oven for twenty minutes, flipping half way through. Remember we want the bread dry, not browned.
2. Whisk the eggs and half & half together in a medium bowl, with a big pinch of salt and a smaller pinch of pepper. Keep in the fridge until the other ingredients are ready.
3. Heat a saucepan with a tablespoon oil. Cook the onions with two cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of rosemary until caramelized. While cooking, season with salt and pepper. They should vary in color from golden brown to near black. Set aside.
4. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a separate pan with a tablespoon or two of oil, two garlic cloves, the remaining rosemary and a pinch of salt. Cook until the juices from the mushrooms have been cooked out. Set aside.
5. Remove the sausages from their casing. Keep in large, bite size chunks and begin to brown in a large pan. Brown until just cooked through, about 8 minutes.
6. Using a 9in. square baking dish, place a layer of the bread cubes, followed by a layer of ½ the mushrooms, onion, and sausage with a final layer of ½ the cheese. Repeat once more.
7. Pour the egg mixture over the entire dish. Place a heavy dinner plate on top of the casserole and press down. Leave for at least an hour or keep overnight so that the bread can absorb the egg and cream.
8.Bake at 350F, covered, for 1 hour. Remove the cover and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
One thing that kept coming up was the notion that when we're feeling bad (you know, looking for a pity party, which I am certainly a serial invitee), people tend to tell us why we should be thankful. To remind us that we're lucky. But what I realized this morning was that people always do this in the negative; they remind us that it could be worse. Atleast you aren't living in Darfur, or dying of a painful disease, or fighting in Iraq. It's so strange that we're forced into playing the "there are so many worse things" game. It seems like it would be more logical to say, "but what about last weekend. That was so much fun." Or "we live in such a beautiful location." Why is it so much easier to think of all the things that could make life harder, but challenging to come up with the things that actually make life good?
I contemplated this long and hard while heading out the door for work. Instead of trying (that's the operative word) to be thankful for not being so many worse things, I was determined be thankful for the new life that's joined my friend-family. That was something positive, a net-gain. With this thought in mind it made it that much more difficult to truly express the anger that welled up in me at the sight of a large series of scratches across the left, front-side of my car. Scratches that had certainly not been there the last time I had driven it, maybe four days prior. But there they were, clear as day, on the side facing the street of course.
A scratch is a scratch is a scratch, but these are the worst scratches my car has ever seen. And I wasn't even involved in making them. There was no note with a neatly written name and phone number, no scrap of paper with even a scribbled apology. Nothing. Let me tell you something, when you're standing against your damaged Mazda with no note shaking your fist in the air, and you can see a Bentley and a Land Rover and a BMW across the street, you're really staring down at the injustices of karma. To be clear, a nick on my car does not trump the the birth of a baby in terms of emotional reactions, but I will say that the sensations of varying emotions left me mighty confused. Within minutes I was mumbling things to myself like "it could have been worse." And really, it always can be. But dammit, it can be better too.
Thus, while I will remain my ususal mix of fleeting hope and pessimism with just about everything else, today I can be thrilled about this baby girl.
Welcome Baby Taylin Anichka Witten-Hannah ...pictures to come...
PS: Damn you, reckless city drivers.
Friday, October 5, 2007
The beloved book "He's Just Not That Into You" is, in my very humble opinion, the biggest generalization in the history of gender generalizations. It destroys the potential for very successful relationships to ever form or grow. How does it do this? Well it gives girls a reason not to put themselves out there, to be pessimistic (which is certainly just as bad as overly hopeful and naive). It lets the smallest guy moves (which really aren't thought through that deeply) be interpreted by said girls as negative, always. I mean, obviously he must not be that into you if he ever reschedules. God forbid, the guy have a life. Or feel unsure or nervous. I mean I thought we wanted men to have jobs and good families--those things require TIME. I thought girls wanted guys that were sensitive and emotionally available--being able to deal with a lady's emotions will require having a few of their own. I do believe in the importance of chivalry and will acknowledge it's slow extinction; It would be nice if all men retained that politeness that's been so lost over the years, but how can women demand that of men when we have lost it as well?
It's easy for me to say, right, because I'm in a relationship. But had I listened to that book, I wouldn't be in this relationship (3 years later). Maybe I'll write a book called, "He's Into You, But He's So Into You That He's Not Sure How To Deal With These Feelings, So Be Patient." Single girls, be protective of your hearts, but don't (please don't--and you know who you are) become jaded and hopeless, otherwise when you do finally meet that guy he's going to accuse you of being a man-hater, and that's not what you are! You are a sucky person hater! Just like me. Damn all them sucky people for making the rest of us look bad. Be nice boys and girls, we really do need each other.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
If you know me at all, you know I like to read. I count on reading in the way other people depend on cigarettes, pets, myspace. It’s my go-to leisure activity, pass the time plan, sleeping aid, and personal therapy. But it’s not just reading, its books. I love the way in which they're tangible, consistent but ever-changing.
The best thing about SF is that it’s still crawling with independent bookstores. And I got to finally check out one of the more well-known gems this weekend. Green Apple Books on Clement. Just how many people had told me that I needed to check it out, that I’d love it. Have you ever noticed that when someone tells you you’ll just love something, you automatically grow weary?
But this time I did…love it. It was crowded and spread across three shops over two blocks of busy Clement. The colors alone made me happy. Book spines in red, purple, lime green, burgundy, chocolate brown. Endless aisles of books: cooking books, psychology books, plain old fiction books, nature books, used books, new books. A reading Mecca of sorts.
And if I’m the only person who picks up a used book and flicks through the yellowed pages wondering how many people have read this particular copy of this particular novel, then so be it, I’ll wear my nerdiness like a crown, but if there are others out there, then let’s go explore the dusty, wooden shelves of Green Apple together. I’ll even provide the Dim Sum.