Hearts and Madeleines on Fire for Parmesan & Black Pepper Cornbread

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every once in a while you eat something at a restaurant that just intrigues you, keeps with you, and makes you think "I must learn how to make this." It may not be the most revolutionary food or the most innovative, but something about it gives it a unique something. Like a book that you always remember every detail about, the characters, the way you felt when you experienced it, the weight of the book as you held it in your hand - every aspect of the dish just engraves itself into your memory.

For me, that was a cornbread I had at Tre. It was a simple dish, the bread they served before the dinner came. A course (do we call the bread a course?) that is usually inconsequential and given to keep the patron busy as they look over the menu. Still this was different.

The cornbread was laden with cheese and sugar and cooked in a madeleine tray. Their little scalloped edges and undulating texture amused me. The flavor was to die for albeit rather sugary. Yet the concept stayed with me and I told my dining companions right then and there: "I am so going to make these when I get home." And I did. But - and if I may be so bold - better.

I went to work in my kitchen. The first batch was a little light on the cheese and salt, the second came out perfect. However, the good part of the story is in the first.

You see the problem with most madeleine trays is they are thin as a wafer and very hard to get out of the oven without them slipping from your hands or squishing them all as your grab the tray. As such they tray can easily slip away from you and fall to the floor. Or in my case, flip over and toss every piece of cornbread into the floor of the oven.

It is also amazing just how fucking fast a cornbread madeleine will burst into flames when it touches a 400 degree electric coil. Let alone six or seven madeleines touching a 400 degree electric coil. How I was able to repetitiously scream "Shit!" with tommy gun speed and attempt to blow them out (successfully, I might add) at the same time I'm unaware. All I knew was somehow I had put out the fires and now my entire apartment was redolent with the odor of burnt food where it was once graced with the sweet smell of cornbread. And let me tell you that the former lasts much, much longer and is frustratingly more difficult to get out of your apartment than the latter.

I then grabbed the tongs and crammed the newly briquetted tea cakes down the garbage disposal. Sadly it was only after the fact that I realized that I should have taken a picture of the blackened cornbread or, even better, taken pictures of them on fire. Oh, us crazy bloggers. Putting our safety at risk for a few more page hits and an awesome photo. It's like when we chronicle our food poisoning over Twitter. I've seen one or two people do, updating me on every lovely little detail of stomach sickness. Really, that we don't have a higher mortality rate is surprising. I can picture it now: "D-List Food Blogger Dies After Attempting to Photograph Self in Mandolin Mishap."

However, let's not focus too much on the combustion but rather the consumption of these quirky little cornbreads. When they aren't lit aflame they're absolutely divine. Nothing like that crazy ass sweet cornbread that tastes like cake. This cornbread is savory, salted with good amounts of finely grated cheese and given a little of the right kind of heat from generous amounts of freshly cracked black pepper. Perfect with a spot of sweet apricot jam, a smear of butter, or maybe with a drizzle of honey so long it seems to seep into every crack until it's soaked through and the bread sticks to your fingers encouraging them to be licked clean. I can't find a way to eat them that simply isn't appealing.
Parmesan & Black Pepper Cornbread
(makes 3 dozen madeleines or one 8 inch square pan)

1 cup of cornmeal
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of granualted sugar
3/4 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
heaping 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
many good grinds of fresh pepper
1 cup of buttermilk
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
(butter or bacon grease for greasing pan)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease the madeleine pan with butter (or bacon grease!) well, being sure to get into every crevice. Do the same with the baking pan if using.

2. Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, Parmesan, and black pepper together in a bowl. In another bowl mix together the buttermilk, oil, and egg.

3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Place a tablespoon of the batter into each slot of the madeleine tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes or lightly browned around the edges. Turn tray over and allow them to cool on wire rack. If using an 8X8 pan bake for 20-25 minutes.
A special note: The winner of the cookbook contest, winning a copy of Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot is (still trying to get into contact with, please stand by).

The Deep End

Thursday, May 28, 2009

She waltzed up to my desk and peered over. Her left eybrow arched up into a fine point as if to drive my attention to her neatly styled highlights. "You've gone off the deep end," she said.

A statement which I find myself in agreement with more and more. My behavior was to a regular person abnormal at best. Possibly insane. For the food obsessed - this probably means you - it was perfectly logical.

My regular breakfast of oatmeal which I have at work is normally uninterrupted. I unpack my things and start my computer. I make my way to the kitchen and pour some hot-as-hell water into my cereal, then go back and sit at the computer for a few minutes reading the New York Times headlines to see how the world fell apart again in the last few hours. Afterwards a peruse my regular webcomics to help me forget what I just read at the New York Times. It's a blissful and well-balanced regimen I perform every day.

This morning I overslept. The alarm was not set. After a quick transformation I was out the door and by some miracle I left the house in clothes that matched and did not make me look like a color blind lunatic trapped in the body of a hobo. It was also in my favor that bed head and not shaving were in so that I looked cool and hip like those guys that are bred in Gold's Gyms who appear in advertisements for jeans I can't afford rather than disheveled.

Still, in my morning panic to get out the door I was able to throw into a small tote bag the ingredients and tools I would need to eat my most important meal of the day.

I grabbed a small piece of Tupperware that I hate. It's permanently stained red from tomato sauce that, as much as I scrub it, won't come off leaving me to always worry that anything that goes in it will end up tasting like the jars of Prego my roommate is wont to buy. Into it I threw a giant fistful of steel cut oats where, sadly, only 3/4 of it made it into the actual Tupperware, the rest becoming a cereal confetti on my floor and counter. I cleaned the mess with rapidity and swearing so surly it could peel paint off a wall.

Next went in a pinch of palm sugar, a few fingerfuls of chopped and dried dates, pumpkin seeds and raisins. I then tossed in a slight puff of ground cinnamon to round things out. I had done this forever and reasoned that somehow that teeny dusting made me healthier in mind and body if not at least in attitude for a few hours.

It was then I saw the vanilla bean. A splinter of one to be exact. A piece of a seeded bean that had been used and reused however many times to the point that it was broken and shriveled shard of fragrance. I raised it to my nose and sniffed it.

It amazes me just how powerful a vanilla bean really is. Like a movie you know every line too from seeing it so many times, it never loses its appeal. Each time you experience it it's like seeing it for the first time and all you can do is stare wide eyed and wonder if other people know just how amazing this singular encounter really is.

Into the tote it went. Along with it my rasp.

Once at work I sat down at my desk and opened the slightly reddish Tupperware. Assuring myself that there was no faint smell of tomato or oregano I pulled out the veteran shard of vanilla and took the rasp from its sheath placing it over oatmeal.

As I grated the vanilla a fine delicate scent filled the air; the tropic incense rolled over my desk lugubriously like fog. The fine powder began to decorate the top of what I thought would be the very best oatmeal ever had in Sacramento County.

That was when she arrived. She had come to her rational conclusion. It had only required momentary observation. From her point of view I can understand that seeing someone fervently grating a tiny shard of vanilla over a bowl of seemingly trail-mix studded oatmeal at seven in the morning at their desk would be a bit off.

However you, the food loving reader, know better.

The oatmeal was ephemeral as breakfasts do go. The second the hot-as-hell water struck and I began to swirl all the ingredients together I could perceive the various swoons and sniffs from my co-workers, their noses in the air trying to locate the source of the aroma - the heat from the cinnamon perking them awake and the vanilla seducing them to my Path of Oatmeal.

The shallow end is overrated in my opinion. I may be over the deep end, but it tastes better here.

My brain is soft like this ice cream I made to fight off idleness.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It is done.

Final papers. Over. Finito. Collectively I wrote about 80 pages worth of research in the past 4 1/2 months. I'm burnt out. Toasted. Fried. Beaten. And every other food related euphemism I can think of for just plumb tuckered out. (It's not plum, that would just be too perfect.)

Just one problem. I have no idea what to do with myself. I'm not one to have lots of ample time, so what I do manage to balance out is usually neurotically planned to the second so I can squeeze every possible moment of freedom out of that rare mini-stretch of time. I'm like a man sucking down the last drop of water from his near dry canteen in some futile attempt to ward off a parched and sun scorched death. In a way it's kind of sad how efficient I am about my lounging about and procrastination.

There is one academic caveat to my my chrono-affluent dilemma, and that is I do have to finish a 30 page thesis proposal on Slow Food rhetoric (Any Slow Food members in Sac able to sneak me into an event or two this summer for my research? I can't afford the tickets.). Still, right now? Right now my brain cannot process anymore information. In fact it's actually rejecting it and demands I fill it with episodes of Sex and the City and Justice League and the small stack of books I have been meaning to read.

But even that only kills so much time before my brain stonewalls even the most frivolous youtube video or video game or bike ride. I need to occupy my hands and left brain. I need to learn and try and make before all creativity goes *thhhbbblllllpppt*. I actually find myself right now not so much writing but typing in a fugue state without really comprehending or giving attention to the words going on the screen. It's just all a endless string of letters.

I keep my cookbooks close to my workspace and not in the kitchen. It sounds odd, I know, but there's reason behind this which is that they sort of give me a way to break from the stuff that forces my brain to make the words in my head. A happy place to escape to right in arms reach. The pictures, the combinations, the dialogue of cookbooks all sort of snaps me out of my vacant stare - cookbooks are my intellectual and creative smelling salts.

Ice cream sounds nice right now. I actually have a cookbook I received from my brother and sister-in-law that I still have yet to open. How sad is that? So I plan to open it up and find something tasty, something fun, something jaunty and radical and tomorrow, I'm going to fucking make it and start my mini-summer vacation, week off before I start to study again break with a bit of a sweet bang. It's got a few interesting ice cream recipes to try (it means nothing, David; you know that when it comes to ice cream you're still my favorite boy to dance with).

Orange ice cream with dates it is to be then. (Chopped and dried dates mind you. Fresh ones are pricey.)
The recipe comes from my long time neglected copy of In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion by Regan Daley. It's fabulous book that's basically a class in desserts. And I mean a class. There aren't a lot of recipes - enough in various sections like pies, or frozen treats to give you practice in method but still make something one might call haute cuisine. But when I say class you need to understand that this is a 700 page tome of tools, methods, chemistry, history, ingredients, and so on. So far it's a fabulous read and it explains the science and chemistry without being to textbook-ish.

As I said before the recipes are a practice in method and technique - the problem is nothing is really simple when it comes to the recipes for the most part. The book kind of just tosses you in the deep end with recipes that utilize a lot of different practices and steps, but in the end you get a lot done and learn a lot along the way. It's not a learning mode tailor made for everyone but I happen to love it. Learn from your mistakes or make none at all and either way you learn a lot of techniques and methods all in one go.

While my brain was for the most shut off that night but this helped turn it back on. By the time the custard thickened in this orange-creamsicle tasting brew I was awake. Chatting with friends, making plans, and fervently bandaging my knuckles after an unfortunate and garish incident with the rasp while zesting oranges (after a quick disinfecting of vodka followed by a shot or three, that is).

I crashed after prep and clean up and churned it the next morning after allowing it to chill all night. A warm breakfast of Earl Grey tea and ice cream covered with chopped and dried dates perked me awake. I realized I should try to sit down, relax,and enjoy the lack of higher brain functions - it doesn't happen often that I get to actually do nothing. I plan to go outside and lay down on the grass and take in the smell of fresh air and growing trees. Actually stride through the farmer's market rather than dash madly to get back home and start my chores and errands. Maybe even *gasp* read a book for fun, not skim it due to time constraints.

After, perhaps, another bowl of ice cream.

(By the by, there's a new post up at The Rhetoric of Rhubarb. Hope you enjoy that while eating a bowl of this delicious and rich ice cream.)
Orange Ice Cream with Dates
(I added vanilla for a more creamsicle taste. Regan says to mix in fresh ones but dried should be added on top else they become mealy when cold.)
About 1 1/2 quarts

2 cups half&half
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons of orange zest
1/2 vanilla bean, seeded (I used an old husk that I had lying around which was fine)
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
chopped dried dates

1. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan combine the half&half, vanilla bean, 1 tablespoon of orange zest, and one cup of cream. Place over medium-high heat until bubbles break the top. Take off heat and let flavors infuse for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk the yolks and sugar together till pale. After the hot liquid has infused add a small portion to the eggs while whisking, fully incorporating it. Add a little more. Then some more. Then add the whole of it till you have one good custardy mixture. Add the orange juice and fish out the vanilla bean husk.

3. Place over a pot of simmering water creating a double boiler. Stir with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Add the remaining cream and orange zest. Place in fridge with plastic wrap covering it with a vent hole or two to allow steam to escape and to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

4. Place in ice cream machine and churn per manufacturer's instructions. Added chopped dates and serve.

Happy Blogday to Me + Cookbook Giveaway

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I find that I have little attention for personal projects in the long term. For a while they put me into a vice grip; I hunt out the source and absorb all knowledge about the subject, read everything I can get my hands on, and commit myself body and soul to it. That is, until the fascination wears off. Like the thrill of tossing a puff of colorful confetti where after a few minutes watching the delicate paper dance in the air, transporting you to somewhere more jubilant, it becomes less and less exciting as more of it falls to the ground. Eventually those happy feelings fade away completely until it all just lies there on the floor to be cleaned up.

Those pots I bought for a little shade garden sit outside my apartment barren and hungry for green after a frost killed their verdant holdings back in November. I have a pack of tarot cards collecting dust, the deck apparently unable to divine its eventual fate wedged between the works of Jane Austen and Arundhati Roy on my bookshelf. My attempts to teach myself Italian were laughable at best, I still can't count, let alone ask for a restroom - I was relieved when I learned during my last visit to Italy that every native under 35 speaks English fluently (and always prompted with "My English is not so good.").

In fact the only major project I started and finished was the programming of two video games back in the first two years of college, each one took about a year, the first being a learning project, the second resulting in an epic 30+ hour RPG.  (I am still very, very proud of those. And yes, I am kind of a nerd.)

So it shocks me that blogging has brought me along in its own for three years today. But I don't think that I can consider blogging merely a project anymore. It has become an extension of me, in fact I can't imagine myself or my life without Vanilla Garlic anymore. It would be as if you removed an integral piece of me. This blog contains sweat. This blog contains tears. This blog contains joy. This blog contains hard work. This blog contains soul. This blog has been with me through the good and the bad. This blog has become a source of knowledge and discovery. A source of amazing opportunities and experiences. 

But best of all? Best is that without this blog I would never have met so many amazing, inspirational, intelligent, creative, soulful, passionate people who have all become such cherished friends and, indeed, even family. The people in the food blogging community shock me to no end in their warmth and affability and talent. 

So with that - thanks to all of you who make blogging such a part of me. 

Ah, but the blogday! I almost forgot! Now, I've always been more of a gift giver than receiver. As such, I've decided to offer a new copy of one of my favorite and cookbooks, The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong. Of all my cookbooks this is one that I turn to time and again for inspiration and as a mean to impress. In mine the pages are wrinkled in spots from my sake soaked fingers, smudged where I accidentally allowed caramelized palm sugar to sputter, stained where the juice of so many plums dribbled off my knife and onto the instructions which no longer mattered as by then I knew the recipe by heart. Indeed my copy when opened bombards you with the heavy aroma of dessert and cooked fruit from being so loved and having met the rigors of my kitchen. A fusion of Asian style ingredients with Western techniques. It's one of my faves so I think someone else should fall in love with their one of their own.

Want to win? Leave a comment by midnight on May 30th. I'll put the names into a random number generator and announce the winner on May 31st so be sure to check back in and see if the winner is you. Good luck!

Rhubarb and Nectarine Crumble: An Understandable Result of Banner Making

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I hate making banners and buttons for the blog. If anything it's the bane of my blogging life. I recall the horror that was making the banner you see at the top of this web page. Three days of frustration, screaming, and pouring through code and html tutorials and online photoshop lessons. At one point I almost gave up the blog in a small fit of crying after stumbling along for a 6 hour stretch of utter FAIL. Still in the end, it worked out. It might be time for an update though, but honestly I just don't even want to go there.

So when I decided I had to make a banner and button for the new blog (where there is a new post up today), I just had to grit my teeth and bear it. I went to the store and bough a few pink and ruby hued stalks of rhubarb so I could take some pictures. Getting them home I got out the white plate I use for photographs and placed it precariously on my window ledge where I get the most light and, of course, also risk everything tumbling over the edge in a heap at any second when the camera is raised. As I tried to arrange the stalks of rhubarb, a vegetable that is anything but neatly stackable, I began to try to picture my end result. Beautiful, red and white, a perfect font that heralded intellectual thought and creativity in the food world with a picture that encapsulated the soul of food writing. I knew what I wanted and goddamnnit I was going to get it even if I had to break out the glue gun and airbrushing to make it work.

The pictures, amazingly, came out fine. However with no photoshop on my new MacBook I resorted to Picnik, an online photo editing program I was made aware of at the recent IFBC. While I was initially frustrated that my perfect banner wasn't going to be possible (it's a great program but it has its limitations) I came out with one that was better that what I originally envisioned, plus a nifty little banner-button-ad-thingy for this blog. It's a little piece of work with which I am very proud of myself for.

Still, that left me with a lot of rhubarb to use up. Lucky for me I had a few nectarines that were sitting about from the Farmer's Market. Still firm and tight with a death grip on the stone they weren't juice dribbling sweet with a thick aroma. Instead they had a delightfully tart taste to them that was slightly reminiscent of sour candy.

Chopping them up tossing them with some sugar and some diced rhubarb into the little casserole dish they went. (My brand new Le Creuset 5X7 inch casserole dish in pretty cerulean I might add. Found on sale with a matching 7X10 1/2. For $30. Yayness indeed.) I whipped up a quick oatmeal crumble topping and into the oven it went.

Sure 100+ degree weather and baking don't mix entirely, but damn it, dessert was at stake! Twenty five sweltering minutes later out it came. As I moved aside the research I was doing for the new blog's next post I took a bite - never mind that I burnt my tongue due to my sore lack of patience, the crumble was delicious. Not overly sweet, perfectly tangy and tart, with just enough of that juice laden crumble on top to take me into a little bit of bliss. This crumble was a celebration of my new blog and triumph over technological photographic hurdles.

I made it again the next day. It perfectly serves two (or perhaps one very generously) and takes only a few minutes to throw together. If you don't have rhubarb or nectarines, I suppose really any fruit will do nicely but I encourage you to try it this way as it is quite fabulous.

Rhubarb & Nectarine Crumble
1 good, large stalk of rhubarb
1 nectarine
zest of one orange
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/4 stick of cold butter
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of oats
2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Dice up the rhubarb and nectarine. Toss in a 5X7 baking dish with the sugar and orange zest and mix it up a bit allowing the produce to macerate.

3. Place the butter, flour, oats, and brown sugar in a bowl and cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the whole thing looks like bread crumbs. Pour over the fruit and pat down a bit.

4. Bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes or just dive right in like I did and burn yourself. Totally worth the skin grafts you'll be needing on your tongue.

Hemingway Inspired Apricot and Riesling Jam + A New Blog

Monday, May 18, 2009

When writing papers I usually need to have a study break of some kind. More often than not my study breaks consist of cooking something I've never made before. The novelty of crafting something strange and new puts me in a different mindset, refreshes my brain, and (most importantly) gives me something tasty to munch on. Mind and body refreshed and awakened.

For me, one of the strange and exotic I before feared was jam, and subsequently, canning it. Now, all my previous canning experiences are what I would call catastrophes. There was that one time I accidentally dipped my arm into a pot of boiling water. There was the time the tomato sauce jar blew up in my hand, where afterwards a rousing game of "Is that blood or tomato sauce?" was enjoyed by all. The few times I wasn't injured resulted in the food going horribly wrong as in the black sludge-like strawberry jam that left my kitchen smelling like pure hate and despair coalesced into a deadly aroma of smoky pitch.

Somehow though this worked out. By luck, karma, or divine providence I made jam. Good jam. Really good jam.

Now after working non-stop on my Hemingway paper, this jam derives its genesis from Hemingway's short stories, novels, and memoir. I used a tin of canned apricots due to their importance in the short story "Big Two-Hearted River" in which the solitary character Nick downs a can of apricots claiming them to "be better than fresh." Canning in the 1920's was a relatively new concept at the time - women were saved time and soldiers had better access to healthier food, canning was to the 1920's what local and organic is to us today.

The Riesling is because it's fucking Hemingway. Alcohol must be used. Choosing the Riesling did take some time though as I and two wine guys at Whole Foods stood around discussing the principles of the project I was to undertake, what would pair well with apricots, and the many references to booze in Hemingway (so it's not like it was easy to pare it down as every beer, wine, liquor, and spirit known to man was game).

Finally the product itself - the jam. Catherine in the novel A Farewell to Arms becomes obsessed with breakfast as a means of psychologically and emotionally escaping her situation of being very pregnant and trying to row a boat during a storm from Italy to Switzerland to escape the Italian army. She feels that by focusing on breakfast she can displace her anxiety and stress from her precarious state.

Ah, but by now you are wondering what the jam tastes like? It is superb. The sugar from the tinned apricots really gave it a nice flavor. The Riesling adds a different layer of sweetness, one more clear and sharp, plus a slight spiciness. Lastly I put the kernels from the apricots pits in the jars to lend a slight almond profile to the jams. Delicious.

This is also a post to bring to your attention a little announcement. I have started a new blog entitled "The Rhetoric of Rhubarb." This blog will focus on my research which is often an intersection of food, psychology, sociology, literature, rhetoric and history I'll be doing in my grad program. An academic food blog of sorts. It'll be updated every Monday. If you want a bit of mental and analytical exercise I hope you'll hop on over and follow; I am encouraging debate, critique, questions and insights. It still needs some new paint and some styling, so be kind in its Version 1.0 phase.

Hemingway Inspired Apricot and Riesling Jam
4 cups of diced apricots
1 cup of canned apricots, (this should be an entire 15oz can, well drained)
2 + 3/4 cups of sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of Riesling
5 tablespoons of lemon juice
apricot kernels (optional)

1. Place the apricots, canned apricots, lemon juice, sugar, and Riesling in a stainless steel pot with high sides. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. If you want to use the kernels, take the pits outside and pop them on the concrete. Smack them firm and lightly with a hammer and extract the kernel. You may crush the first few but you'll figure it out quickly. 

3. Pour into sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims with a wet tea towel. Place the lid on and screw on securing ring. Work quickly.

4. Wait for the tops to pop in creating a vacuum seal. Store in a cool place and eat within 3 months.

Because this is my life...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Making an order at the local taqueria the other day...

"So what is the name on your order, Sir?"





"No. Garrett."


*pause of disbelief*

"...Sure. Jonathan is fine."

Seriously. How?

Homemade Croutons

Thursday, May 14, 2009

With finals I eat a lot of salads and stirfry due to their immediacy and quickness. A few trips to the local yogurt shop isn't unheard of either. Still, I did find time to make some croutons with some day old bread. Simple and easy with little real work on my part. Perfect for snacking on on a salad if they actually make it to that. The recipe comes from my grandmother's recipe boxes, another winner in my opinion.

Garlic Croutons
Preheat the oven to 350F. Take day old bread and cut into one-inch cubes. Toss with a few glugs of olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Arrange in a single layer on a jellyroll pan covered in foil. Toast for about 10 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool. Serve or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Okay, back to finals for me. I'm a bad blogger this week. =(

A Pause for Raspberry Sherbet

Monday, May 11, 2009

I turned my face away from the pastel magenta explosion coming from the counter and thanked my lucky stars that I actually put on the stupid kitchen apron. It had been a purchase I had long put off but now that I had finally paid out for one I always forgot to put the damn thing on. Luckily, a load of wash was saved and one of my favorite lay-around shirts was spared (only, of course, to be destroyed an hour later by an orange highlighter falling out of my mouth).

I looked down at my raspberry-milk slurry which would soon be churned into raspberry sherbet a la David's recipe, albeit with a bit of orange water and mandarin blossom vodka added. As I poured it into the well chilled bowl I began to think again of how I could utilize Sarah O'Brien's argument that the swamp in Hemingway's Big Two-Hearted River precipitates the eventual "machine in the garden" dilemma of pastoral escape and apply that to the manufactured food Nick eats during his lunch in the story.

Damn, stupid brain. "Stop thinking!" I thought to myself. All I wanted was to make something sweet. Instead my mind kept wandering back to papers I had to write.

With the looming knowledge that my summer vacation would be devoured by endless research, reading, and writing; and my current situation with final papers and thesis proposal, every last square inch of my living room and bedroom were buried in books and papers and notes. More than a few pieces of clothes had been ink stained and Mace was constantly stalking my printer should is show signs of loud ferocity again in it's unending effort to print more sources for me to glean over.

For those curious, my thesis is on the underlying problems in the rhetoric of the slow food movement. By slow food I do, indeed, mean the ACTUAL Slow Food Movement started by Carlo Petrini, but will also discuss a bit of the whole green, organic, local diatribes that people go into. Not to say that I don't agree with what they say, but sometimes the arguments don't take in the whole picture or are a bit too utopian (or in this case Watersian).

Furthermore with finals this year, in order to double up my reading, I ensured that my papers were all food related so I could read books I would could use for my thesis. The ritual of the meal as an indicator of societal values is the paper for my Cultural Studies class, the other on the use of food in Hemingway's novel "Farewell to Arms" and short story "Big Two-Hearted River" as a way to demonstrate the food and eating scenes as a form of escapism and thus a way to psychologically analyze the characters. The irony of the sherbet situation here was I was using food to escape the paper about food as escapism (I wonder if I can work this post in somehow...?).

As you can see I'm drowning in food theory, rhetoric, and psychology. It seems I have laid out my future as a food-focused sociologist of sorts.

But yes, the sherbet. We've gone off topic a bit. I needed to simply escape reading and writing about the blah blah blah of food and actually sit down and make some and eat it. Remind myself why I actually give a damn about it all.

The sherbet was perfect. More than perfect. It was rejuvenating. I picked up some of the books off the couch and plopped down with a ramen bowl of the ice cream. Cid and Mace curled up next to me and I pressed play on the DVD remote to start the Sex and the City DVD start up where I left it. A quick pause in the day to relax and rekindle my fires with a chilly treat, refreshing myself and recalling why all this food study crap is just so much fun.

Leetle Beebee Lemongrass

Friday, May 8, 2009

So many people told me how un-killable rosemary was. How hearty it was. Strong and resilient. A model plant.

Well, I showed them. I killed the hell out of plenty of them. So when people kept telling me how tough lemongrass was I decided to try it out and prove them wrong. Luckily, I work with not only a proficient cook, but a talented gardener named Marco.

When I asked Marco about lemongrass he told me how a tiny sprout had completely taken over his yard without his doing a thing. All he had to do was keep the ground around it a little wet. I asked him if he could possibly cut a piece or two off for me and get them going. Like any happy gardener, more than eager to preach the green gospel, he readily agreed.

Two weeks later he gave me this pot of soil with three sprouting heads of lemongrass inside. The sprouts were itsy-bitsy, nothing more than scions of citrus smelling grass with long blades sprouting tall out of them. Now, unlike previous gardening experiments I planned to keep this pot out on the back patio at my work, away from my shady side yard where the fig tree lets no light in. There I can care for it nearly every day and should something seem amiss I can easily ask Marco for some advice. I figure if I have a tutor nearby the plant has a much better chance at living, a sort of guardian angel against me, the Jason Voorhees of house plants.

Soon, I will attempt mint and thyme as well. My hope is that soon I can actually have a small herb garden at work and that I won't murder the whole lot of it. Sure, it won't be out my window, mere steps away from the kitchen. The point here is to learn to keep these little bastards alive and then take the lessons with me when I'm in a space where I can keep them at home.

Neat Little Bundle

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Just an image. Sorry folks but been incredibly sick the last few days and have finals cracking down on me. =P
Photo by Elise Bauer. She always does such cool work.

The Cupcake That You Never Saw

Friday, May 1, 2009

"I had forgotten about this story. You know, I never told it on the blog because it was so embarrassing at the time but now it's just funny."

I related all this to Kate over dinner at Formoli's as we slurped down a delicious Italian style onion soup. We were at our now regular dinner date where we would play catch up over the past few weeks.

"So what was it?" she inquired.

Sadly, things don't always go as planned. During the days previous to what I call the Cupcake Disaster of Flames I had been obsessed with a new cupcake recipe I had been working on. The premise was that I would create a light and fluffy lemon cake that tasted of sunshine and unicorn giggles filled with blueberry curd so silky that you would melt into a puddle of joy. The whole thing would then be covered in a fine layer of meringue, doused in blueberry vodka and then lit aflame - a burst of sweets and fire of such tasty spectacle that druids would end up dancing nude in my kitchen in awe of it.

In my mind, I tend to exaggerate outcomes. Good and bad.

As I sat down to work, I began to whip together my blueberry curd, a recipe I had created from some raspberry curd one I saw on the interwebs. "A perfect switcheroo," I thought. As I whipped in glob after glob of butter, then a few globs more, I began to think that this recipe was beginning to not seem so right. It was a lot of butter. In fact, curd should not have a pool of oil swashing about listlessly upon the surface. To remedy the problem I whisked the ever-lovin' fuck out of that curd. Seriously, my strong arm was wiped out after that.

The next day the curd tasted like, well, like butter. Funky butter. With a hint of blueberries. Actually, that's a lie. It tasted like oily butter, but blue colored. No berry.

"Okay, so this needs work. Maybe," trying to convince myself, "it will taste better with the cake."

The lemon cake went well enough, but it was dense. I mean dense. Weapons grade, hard as diamond, bludgeon a man to death with my lemon cupcake of skull crushing doom dense. Still, at least it tasted like lemon cake.

"It's still photographable. I can work on the recipe later!"

Luckily, the meringue went off without a hitch. The flambe? Yeah... After about a thousand tries getting it to frickin' light I finally got it lit. The images came out great. I even got video! Yeah! All right! Go me! Cupcakes ablaze, now bring on those nuddie-druids to dance about my skull crushing cupcake of fire!

As I got up to reach for the camera case I then smacked the plate so hard it flew across the room. Bits of flaming egg white streaked across my carpet.

"Shitshitshitshitshit!!!" As I ran with a wet cloth screaming across my apartment attempting to put out the blazing sugar. Lucky for me the flames died out quickly leaving no scorch marks on my carpet and saving my deposit.

After the fire drill, I sank over the kitchen and, with detest, threw the rag into the sink. I looked over at the now mangled blue butter centered, skull crushingly dense cupcake with not destroyed semi burnt meringue. I picked it up and lifted it to my mouth. The smell was okay, the appearance was off-putting. I opened my mouth and decided to take a big bite, but only after a moment of hesitation.

"And that's the story of how an entire batch of cupcakes made it into the trash. The end."

Kate and I clinked our glasses together and dove into the whiskey burger that had been set before us. Sometimes, it's just better when you aren't the one cooking.

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