Monday, December 26, 2011

Seven courses on St. Stephen's Day

We are spending this Christmas in Ohio. Our actual family celebration will be near New Year's, so my mother decided that a good way to fill the time was to host a large, formal dinner party, which I volunteered / was drafted to cook. My father (jokingly?) suggested that seven courses was the right number of courses, and my mother requested Italian. Thus, this menu:
The first course was apretivo: prosecco with Campari. The Italians must really like a bitter flavor, because I had to cut the Campari down to one quarter (2 teaspoons per glass of Prosecco) to make it palatable for us. The second course was antipasti, and I can especially recommend this marinated mushroom recipe. You can make it a day ahead, and then just throw it on a plate with some prosciutto, olives, and cheese and you're done.
Another recipe that will make it into my regular party food rotation, goat cheese ravioli with walnut and white wine sauce. We made the ravioli from scratch, which was an insane amount of work, but I think the walnut sauce would taste terrific on fettuccine, even if it was store bought.
The main course was a lamb, beef, and pork stew, served with potatoes and creamed spinach. It must have all been much loved, because no one remembered to take any pictures. The dessert course was panna cotta. I had no idea how easy it is to make panna cotta! (Um, if you're a vegetarian who's willing to work with gelatin, which I now am, because I have totally had it with little lumps of agar agar ruining all my mousses and tortes.) You're simply dissolving sugar and gelatin in a lot of heavy whipping cream. Chill, and you're done. No hot water bath (demanded by creme brulee) and no cooking over a double boiler (required by mousse). I served the panna cotta with strawberries tossed in sugar and a good balsamic vinegar.
To end, a fruit course followed by coffee. Here, a dapper guest enjoys the fruit salad, which was topped with Chambord.
Now we're off to visit friends in Pittsburgh for two days. Hopefully I'll accumulate even more pictures of food there for the blog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mini

I had to fight long and hard to convince my husband to get a convertible. There are many good reasons not to have one (especially as your only car). They don't hold much cargo. They cost more than a regular car. Long trips are hell for passengers in the back seat. They're not so great in the winter. (That's what I'm told, anyway. How would I know? I live in Miami.)

But after six months of convertible ownership I can firmly state that it is terrific. Driving in a convertible has all the best parts of motorcycling (exposure to the sun and wind, easy parking) and none of the negatives (sweating in all that safety gear, keeping super alert for crazy drivers). Plus I can do my hair, something that's impossible when wearing a helmet to and from work.

Unfortunately for me, my husband gets to pick the next car, which will probably be chosen for its ability to haul a trailer. So this convertible is likely a brief interlude in a lifetime of station wagons.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mandarinen Quarktorte

To distract you from aliens whom I may or may not resemble, let us return to the beloved topics of tortes. I wanted to bring an especially delicious cake to my work's end-of-the-semester party. (It was a potluck lunch before a meeting, which is pretty festive for academics.) This is the cake I chose, Mandarin Ricotta Cheese Torte. Officially, it's supposed to use quark, but this is hard to find in the U.S. and I didn't have time to be making dairy products from scratch, so I used a recommended substitution of Ricotta cheese mixed with yogurt.
Here was the result:
Let's see that from another angle:
Notice the excessive height? A height that one might even call precarious? Soon after, the cake slowly crumbled. I will make it again because it was delicious, but when I do I will most certainly use a pan with a larger area, because my structural integrity field was not up to the job.

Although my cake was not stylish, my new Tortenmesser is. It was an unexpected, perfectly selected, early Christmas gift from a torte-eating friend.
I shall treasure it for years to come. It will be useful for both cake serving and any pastry-related battles for which I should be armed. (Check out that blade!).

I've included the recipe (in English!) for anyone who wants it. From Marion's Cookbook.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This and that

Sometimes I can go the whole weekend and never leave the house; in comparison I was a social butterfly this weekend. Thursday turned into an impromptu date night, and we went to see the new Muppets movie. I highly recommend it if you're a fan of kids movies. (That would be me - the less violence and profanity, the happier I am.) Along with attendance at two parties we also managed to squeeze in a musical, Avenue Q .This musical breaks my low-profanity policy, but it's terrific and it answers the unanswered question, "Are Bert and Ernie gay?"

Today has been a slower day: Andrew is (once again) working on the motorcycle, and I'm planning to do some Christmas shopping. Only nine working days until the Ohio vacation, where I'm supposed to cook Christmas dinner and a multi-course meal for twelve adults. Maybe I'd better start planning...

And... the new glasses. I was going for this look, but Andrew thought they suggested this look.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Not even if she's a Trekkie

Tonight I had to advise my husband: you may not tell your wife she looks like a space alien. Not even if you think it is a compliment.

(This was prompted by my new glasses; pictures to follow soon.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Guests: wanted, unwanted, and somewhere in between

Guests who were wanted: We hosted a Christmas party last night. It made me feel more rooted in Miami. Last year I didn't know enough people to invite to a party, whereas this year we know know enough people that half could decline and we still didn't feel lonely.
I meant to take pictures, I really did. I had never hosted a Christmas party that would take place both inside and outside, and it took some planning to figure out how to construct a room in the garden. (The answer: several strings of lights, a couple of chairs and a lamp, and of course plates and plates of food.) Unfortunately, I had so much fun I forgot about the camera, so you only get an annotated menu:
Rum Punch (Terrific - rum and fresh lime juice are an unbeatable combo, and the nutmeg and bitters raised it from good to stellar.)
Non-alcoholic Punch (I used chamomile tea, white grape juice, and lime juice.)
Chili (to soak up all the Rum)
Extra-thin chocolate chip cookies
Sfratti, walnut-honey Rosh Hashannah cookies (Named for sticks used to evict the Jews. Aside from the dreadful back story, they were excellent.)
Goat-cheese topped apricots (These are the easiest hors d'oeurve I've ever made.)
French onion dip with crackers. (I think I was thirty years old before I discovered that there was a way to make this dip without Lipton soup packets.)
A guest who was unwanted: The success of the party was a welcome diversion from our ongoing battle against a mouse in the house. Since discovering its presence, we had filled holes, boxed up the full contents of the pantry into Tupperware boxes, and had used both no-kill and regular traps, to no avail. In the middle of the night, Andrew heard it chewing again and managed to corner it, where he discovered it was a RAT. Andrew trapped it and carried it halfway across the neighborhood. He then spent the day filling even more holes, and disinfecting the house. I am experiencing equal parts disgust (at the idea of a rat in my kitchen) and gratitude (for a husband who deals with it all).
Guests who are a mixed blessing: This week is Art Basel Miami Beach, which is a international art Show. The show has now spread to other neighborhoods, and the Design District, where we lived, has been overflowing with exhibits, live performances, and other events. This means that we can just walk out of our house and immerse ourselves in interesting art happening all around us. It also means that the traffic in our neighborhood is outrageous, and we must plot alternative routes to and from our house.

Monday, November 28, 2011

We intended to snorkel

We decided on a non-traditional Thanksgiving this year. Our friend E was in town, with her sister-in-law, and we had reservations to snorkel on Thanksgiving afternoon from a glass-bottomed boat. The glass bottom was for me, since I think snorkeling sounds a bit like a sport, or at the very least, like exercise. Unfortunately, our tour was cancelled, and the rebooked tour the next day was also cancelled. (This was understandable, due to the choppy conditions, but next time I wish they wouldn't wait until we were an hour into the trip to make the decision.)

Instead, we had a picnic in the Everglades, followed the next day by lunch in the Keys.

Andrew slices the bread. The lake in the background was part of the Long Pine Key picnic area. I didn't quite catch why it's named after a Key (island), since it's not one.
The spread: ciabatta bread and vegetable pate, truffle deviled eggs, pickled onions, and fruit. The vegetable pate recipe made a LOT, so we still had the traditional Thanksgiving leftovers.
We could almost reach out and touch this guy, as he was sitting right below the board walk. I've never seen such big alligators in the wild. It was fun and a bit unnerving.
The next day we were in the Keys, enjoying the sunny weather, blue water, and pelicans.
Andrew and E enjoy more than just the weather.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reason #412 to live in Miami

People visit you.

In the last year and a half, I've had visits from parents, two aunts, one uncle, a brother with a wife and two kids, and two close friends. That's not bad for someone who can only offer an Aerobed on the living room floor. Even if they mainly come to enjoy the balmy weather and warm seas, I get to see them, and I'm not complaining.

A good friend from DC is visiting Miami this weekend with her sister-in-law. I got to show them my favorite pizza place, Harry's, which has trendy thin-crust pizzas and local Florida beers. (For me: pesto pizza with homemade ricotta and housemade fennel soda). I was so proud that they liked it. After dinner we drove the Mini over the bridge to Miami Beach where they are staying, and they were cheering to see the Miami skyline and neon-lit palm trees. Experiencing your town through visitors' eyes is a great way to appreciate where you live.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It was refreshing to hear such skillful settings in a season that will shortly be dominated by dispiriting dreck.

That was the final line of my choir's concert review. And I agree that it went just smashingly. I am enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes from taking on the challenge of learning to sing again. But now I think I will bask in all the free time I have available, with rehearsals done until the new year.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Singing through a haze

My choir is singing our fall concerts this weekend, with the first being this evening. I am equal parts exhausted (ten hours of rehearsals plus six hours of commuting to rehearsals) and excited. Last night we rehearsed in the first performance space, a church, which turned out to be a modern building (all cement, glass and wood) which had the acoustics of a Cathedral (because of all the cement, glass, and wood). Singing with the orchestra and soloists makes us sound like an honest to goodness real choir. They hope to put some of the concert on YouTube, so if that happens I'll post a link.

In other news, I somehow hurt my back and am taking muscle relaxants. Although I am only taking one quarter of the drugs prescribed, I am tired and loopy. My coworkers have intimated that I am not censoring my comments quite as much as I usually do. So far they find this amusing, but I'll be glad when I'm back to my usual self.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the Sandia mountains

We were in Albuquerque this past weekend, and, my, is it lovely there. Andrew was ready to move, but the lure of mountains in my back yard is not as great as the lure of warm seas and city skylines for me. I originally planned the trip so that my husband and uncle could go hiking together, thus relieving me of any responsibility to climb anything beyond a couch cushion on the way to the kitchen to get a drink. Unfortunately, various injuries and maladies prevented hiking, and we took the wimpy tourist option of driving up into the Sandias. On the mountain top we enjoyed lovely views and stunted trees:We also encountered a whole herd of the rare mountaintop antenna:
Later we got our fill of red dirt, visiting ruins of Pueblos and churches at Pecos National Historical Park. As my aunt pointed out, the story of the American West is pretty consistent: Native people lived there until missionaries (or soldiers) came and converted (or killed or enslaved) them. It's a rather disheartening story if you think about it too much.
For Andrew, the highlight of our day trip to Santa Fe and points north was a petting zoo. The "zoo" was really a pen of goats, chickens, and an alpaca in the middle of a tiny town. For $2 you could buy a bag of corn and earn the intense (but short-lived) interest of every beast.

I appreciate the less animate animals, such as the Steel Burro.
For even more about the trip, check out dispatches from our reporter on location here and here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Glades

We had lovely weather last weekend (read: finally cool enough that we can put the top down on the car), so we took a drive through the Everglades. Several entrances to the park are less than an hour from our house, so we managed the trip in an afternoon. I'm a bit pressed for time because I'm leaving for a short vacation tomorrow, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

From a distance, the Everglades kind of look like the Midwest. Flat.
Even slight changes in elevation are a big deal, because they're the difference between dry ground and swamp.
We saw many birds, but I don't know anything about them.

Andrew's straw hat fits again, now that he cut off all his hair.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Living in the past

I'm having a lot of fun dressing vintage lately. I seem to have hit some magic amount of vintage and vintage-style clothes in my wardrobe such that I can wear the look about half the time. This also means that I've been spending far too much time researching things like how to do your hair in rag curls and whether you can really wear dance shoes outside in rainy weather (they make a lot of inexpensive dance shoes in vintage styles, but many of them have suede soles).

Pity my poor husband, who is the unwilling recipient of all that I learn, and who listens to my debates about whether $110 is too much to pay for a petticoat. (Which of course it is, but there aren't that many petticoat manufacturers around any more, so it's not like I have a lot of options.)

In other news, I took a wonderful weekend trip to DC a few weeks ago. I was in Virginia for work, and extended the trip so that I could visit some of my old friends in DC. It was wonderful to see the fall colors. And to kick leaves. And to be able to wear a sweater. Because I love my job in Miami so much, I keep hoping that my longing for seasons will abate. I hear songs on the radio and think of cider and soup and my heart is struck with a feeling that has no name. Perhaps I will name it Herbssehnsucht, (longing for fall)? In the meantime, I will be happy that it is cool enough that we can sometimes turn off the air conditioner, and I shall look forward to the ten frosty days in Ohio this Christmas.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rainy day at home

Mondays are my work at home day this semester. Right now I'm sitting down with a cup of tea and a piece of a new torte, Lingonberry Yogurt Chocolate Torte. This recipe has a feature new to me - the thin bottom layer is shortbread. When you build the cake and cream layers on top of it, it stays stable because the shortbread doesn't get mushy. Trust those Germans to engineer a cake properly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Weekend projects

Andrew and I are both a bit behind at work, so we spent a good chunk of the weekend trying to catch up with our paid jobs. But we also found time for projects. Andrew installed a pedal extender on the clutch of our car (Yes, I am that short), while I painted our couch. That's right, I painted the couch.

Last year we bought a white couch from IKEA, primarily chosen because it was the tiniest couch we could find. A year of black cat love, red wine drinking, and a husband who regularly uses the white couch as a tool storage location left the sofa looking quite dingy. Slipcovers cost as much as a new couch, so I painted it.
Research showed that you could use regular water-based paint, mixed with fabric medium. It worked, and it actually looks better than this picture shows. It looks kind of like suede and you can't see any of the stains. Hopefully the new navy blue color will hide evidence of future mishaps as well.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Those of you dreading the approaching winter: now is the time to make your Miami travel plans. The temperatures here have dropped the all important three or four degrees. This week we're looking at highs around 85 F (That's in the 30 F for my non-US friends). It's still warm enough to go to the beach (we went twice this weekend, which is a record for us), but it's cool enough to put the top down on the convertible in the evenings.

Along with those two trips to the beach, we also spent Saturday evening listening to strangers tell us their true stories, at Lip Service. People can submit their stories, judges pick the best ones, and then they read them on stage. (Listen to examples here.) Good fun, although they were a bit overwhelming for my sensitive soul. The stories included three deaths and one stabbing. Good thing I always bring a fresh handkerchief to any kind of theater performance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For bad hair days

I've been really diving into the 40's and 50's vintage look lately. A few weeks ago I found an online store called Scarf World which filled a hole in my wardrobe. With my latest purchases I own more than two dozen scarves. (And let me point out that collecting scarves is a much more fitting hobby for someone in a tiny apartment than collecting shoes.)

Now I can put these new scarves together with my new knowledge of 40's scarf tying so that I can go to work looking like this.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Torte Tour

I don't know how it happened, but I've made three tortes in the last three weeks that never made it to the blog. I did a repeat of of the Eierliquoertorte, which is a flourless chocolate cake topped with cream and filled with lingonberry jam. Once again I was too rushed while preparing for the dinner party where this was served to pipe on the whipped cream. I'm sure this lack of piping is costing me style points in the competition judging.

We received lemons in our veggie share last week, which prompted me to make this Zitronentorte. I modified the recipe a bit, which was a white butter cake layered with a filling of sweetened lemon juice and cornstarch and topped with a powdered sugar glaze. I was looking for something with a bit more panache, so I added lemon zest to the cake, used the lemon juice to make lemon curd, and then folded the lemon curd into whipped cream. If you've never had it, lemon curd is lemon juice cooked with eggs (or egg yolks) and butter. It can be used like a jam, and it is heavenly.
This last cake is my hand-down favorite so far. It's a plain cake (Tortenboden), layered with poached peaches and topped with a mixture of whipped cream, yogurt, and gelatin. The yogurt and cream mixture just the right mix of tang and richness.

(And just in case it appears I eat nothing up cream and butter, here's photographic proof to the contrary: a salad of raw shaved zucchini and Parmesan, topped with lemon dressing. This recipe is definitely a keeper.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Out on the town

Saturday night we helped out at a homecoming dance for gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgendered youth, run by a great group called Pridelines. We were told to dress up as if it were our prom.

Actually, when I went to my prom, I wore the poofiest southern-belle dress imaginable. I'd like to think that I've acquired a lot more style since I was seventeen, along with a very handsome husband.

Check it out: Don't Lecture Me!

If anybody would like to know more about what I do, National Public Radio did a great documentary this week on physics education research. "Don't Lecture Me!" is an hour-long program by American Radio Works which talks about why lecturing is not how we should be teaching. Many leaders in Physics Education research participated, including one of my advisors. Listen here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Transportation on two wheels

I might have mentioned this before: I come from a motorcycling family. According to family lore, the first time I was on a motorcycle I was less than a month old. My mother was taking a walk in the woods, carrying me. She reached a steep hill and saw that she would have to struggle up it with me in her arms. My father happened to be nearby on a dirt bike, so he took me in one arm and drove up the hill.

By the time I was 6, I had my own kid-sized helmet. The law stated that children could only ride on the back of street bikes when they could reach the footpegs. So my father (the literal engineer) installed foot pegs, much higher up, that both my brother and I could reach. We used to ride into town, one kid per parent motorcycle.

When I got married, my father immediately started asking when his son-in-law was going to learn to ride. To help persuade my husband, our wedding gift from my parents was a motorcycle.

Andrew took to motorcycling like a fish to water, and it was his main transportation when I moved to Miami and took the car with me. Since he's moved down, he's been stuck doing some repairs to the bike. But it was fixed just in time for our car to go to the shop, so it's our primary mode of transportation this week. I was a passenger earlier this week, but only once (and then I found a carpool). It's fun to be on a bike again, but biking in 90F (32C) in an armored jacket and helmet is unpleasant. I think I'll be waiting until the cool winter months and leave the summer biking to my fanatic husband.

Monday, August 29, 2011

An accounting

Things that went wrong today:
1. It took the doctor five hours (FIVE!) to give my husband and I our annual physicals.
2. I was unprepared for a meeting.
3. We had a fender bender in the new car.

Things for which I am grateful:
1. We both got a clean bill of health.
2. My coworkers are forgiving people.
3. The accident happened at such a low speed that the airbags didn't deploy.
4. The day is finally over.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Extracurricular activites

In graduate school, I decided that there was time enough for me to have one, but only one, hobby, and that hobby was cooking. Now that I'm done with graduate school, I can mainly keep a forty-hour work week. As a result of all my newly-found free time, I find myself taking up new hobbies. Last spring I started taking dance classes. (I find it hard to describe what kind of Indian dance it is: click here if you want to see an example.) I need to practice a lot at home to keep up and, if I want, I could take these classes for a decade or so and still be learning new stuff. So it's a challenge.

Dance classes aren't held during the summer, though, because the instructor and lots of the students visit India during summer vacation. With all that free time on my hands, I decided to join a choir. Like the case of the dance class, I've taken on more than I realized. When I heard I needed to audition, I wasn't too worried. But at the audition the woman who went before me sounded like an opera singer. This turned out to be not too far from the truth, as most of the singers majored in music, and some of them are paid opera singers. I was told that my voice is rusty (so true! I haven't sung in ten years) but that I had potential. The very first night we sang Bach in five parts and we sightsang pieces in Hebrew. I've sung in choirs like this before; choirs that hire soloists and sing with orchestras, but the caliber of these singers is astounding. Quite frankly, I can tell that I am one of the worst singers there, but I'm choosing to see this as an opportunity to learn lots, and fast.

In the meantime, something that I'm good at: Bienenstich Kuchen. This translates as bee sting cake, but I don't know the story behind the name. It's plain, eggy cake topped with lots of almonds and filled with vanilla cream. This is officially a kuchen, but I haven't figured out the difference between a Kuchen and a Torte.

Monday, August 22, 2011


This week's torte is a pear torte, which I chose because our vegetable share came with a dozen pears this week. The recipe for this torte was not so straightforward, because it was one that expected you to use all packaged foods. It was something along the lines of "While baking a fruit cake base, mix up a packet of vanilla pudding, open two jars of pears, and add water to a packet of glaze."

I think this "fruit cake base" will be a common component in the future - the ingredients are similar to that of a pound cake (equal amounts of butter, sugar, and flour) but it called for more leavening than a typical pound cake (three eggs), so it turned out a bit lighter. Here are the mistakes (let's call them learning opportunities) made with this cake:
1. I accidentally used a too-small pan, and my cake was higher than expected. To compensate, I cut the cake in half horizontally and froze half for another cake.
2. I poached fresh pears in simple syrup and orange juice, which was a great improvement over canned pears. I then brushed some of the leftover liquid on the cake layer before I topped it with the pudding. This is commonly done with French cakes (genoise) but it make the cake almost soggy. I've got to quit thinking these techniques will transfer and just follow the instructions.
3. The glaze, something called Tortenguss, is something you normally buy in a packet. (It's that light red sheen you might be able to see in the picture). I followed a suggestion I found on a German baking forum to make a pectin glaze, but it never set up. I'll need to try adding more pectin.

The beauty of making cakes, though, is that even imperfect ones are pretty darn delicious.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Places I've been: St. Petersburg

I went to St. Petersburg last weekend. (Alas, it was the Florida version, not the Russian city.)
Previously, St. Petersburg was a destination for us because my cousin and her family lived there. However, soon after we moved to Florida she joined the Foreign Service and moved away. I'm sure it's just coincidence that as soon as her cousin moved within driving distance she fled to the furthest corners of the world.
However, St. Pete is still pretty terrific. It boasts a brand new Dali museum. (To be specific, the building is new but the art is not.) It helps to have a guide when you're looking at Dali - he was a man that crammed an awful lot into each painting. (Example here.)
We also stopped along the way at a state park, formerly the site of the Koresh Unity religious group. They lived communally and. believed in celibacy and reincarnation. Their most interesting belief was that humans lived on the inside of a hollow sphere, and they did science experiments to prove it. Although we arrived too late to view their scientific apparatuses, we did spend quality time with their gopher tortoises.
Andrew enjoyed a lunch which featured his two favorite things: beer and math.
There's also a county park in St. Petersburg with extensive boardwalks. This feature is appreciated because the water is filled with alligators.

Here I am contemplating the swamp, deciding that I could never, ever live in Florida without the two miracle inventions: air conditioning and insect repellent.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Places I've been: Mountain Lake, Minnesota

My mother grew up near the small town of Mountain Lake, Minnesota (population 2,104). My father was more of a big city boy, living near Windom (population 4600). I don't get a chance to visit very often; this June was the first time since Andrew and I met that I've been to visit. Mountain Lake is misnamed slightly: it has a mountain (although you'd only call it one if you lived in the Plains) and it has a lake, but they're not near each other. And the only reason it now has a lake is because the town used a Works Progress Administration project (during the Depression) to dam a river and make a lake.
My mother has six brothers and sisters who live within driving distance of Mountain Lake, and I got to see them all. (It turns out some of them have been secretly reading my blog, too!) When I imagine living in Mountain Lake, I can see how different my life would be. I'd have to have a different job - there are no physicist jobs around. I'd have to have a different religion, or at least stop going to my type of church - most of the churches are Mennonite, as all of my ancestors were. And I'd have to eat different food - there were no veggies burgers in town. But there would be rewards as well. Many of the houses are built in the early and mid 1900's; they are surrounded by large trees and set near the street. It's easy to walk around town, and it's surprising how often I bump into an uncle or two when I'm wandering around.
And as a matter of fact, I'm headed back there this weekend. I have a conference in Omaha, Nebraska next week, which puts me only four hours' drive away from my grandmother and her 90th birthday party. I'm supposed to be a surprise visitor, because I had already said I wouldn't come before I realized how close I would be. But I don't think this post will ruin the surprise - my grandmother does not know how to work a computer.

So, while I'm gone, some other impressions of southwest Minnesota:
Since I've last been there, they went and got all modern: there are wind farms everywhere.
The good ole Green Giant in Blue earth - we used to visit him on our way to our grandparents. (For non-Americans, the Green Giant was/is a icon of a brand of frozen and canned vegetables)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A new cooking challenge: Tortes

Remember how I wanted to learn to cook Indian, so I promised to make it once a week last year? That failed. I managed to cook quite a few Indian dishes, but few of them appeared on the blog because they just weren't that spectacular. Andrew and I would eat them, and they were moderately tasty, but nothing that I wanted to encouraged other people to make. As a result, I've put that project on hold until I can take some proper lessons from someone who knows how to make proper Indian food.

Instead, I introduce my new cooking challenge: tortes. For some reason (perhaps centuries of national animosity?), the French bakery where I trained rarely made tortes. So I can whip up pate a choux, buttercream, and eclairs in my sleep, but I can't make a proper German cake. My trip last year to Muenchen reminded me how terrific these layered cakes, concoctions of cream, fruit, and nuts, really are. The introductory contestant is the Eierlikoertorte, from a recipe shared by a colleague, who has much more experience with German baking, as he is (1) German and (2) bakes more professionally than I do.

Eierlikoer is a cordial made of cream, eggs, and alcohol. Because I live in Miami, I couldn't buy the typical Northern European brands, but it turns out the Venezuelans like it too. The end result was a flourless cake (just almonds, chocolate, and lots of eggs), layered with a lingonberry jam and topped with whipped cream and more egg liquor. It was a smashing success.

P.S. Does anyone know how to include foreign characters, like umlauts, in blogger posts? I think this project will require heavy use of them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How many of me?

I was taking a break from a day-long cook-a-thon (pictures tomorrow, I promise), when I saw this website:

It uses census data from 2000 to tell you how many people in the U.S. have your name. There's a grand total of 1 of me, although there are at least 308 people in the U.S. have my husband's combination of first and last name. The fun part of my situation is that there's never any doubt who authored my papers. The not-so-fun part is that every time I'm asked to give my name on the phone, I have to stifle a little groan. It's guaranteed that I'll have to spell every name, usually twice. And then (unless it's legally binding) I'll just go along with whatever the caller thinks I said. Last week someone put an 'f' in my last name.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wednesday is now the day to prod people

Too much of my job here involves getting people to do things they don't want to do. Graduate students get back to me, and bosses return my emails. But there are other people in my work life who either can't or won't do the things I'd like them to do. I suspect that this is due to the fact that I live in Miami. Procrastinating is just the complete immersion into Miami Time (which is closely related to Cuban Time)
For example, I've been here over a year, and it took me until this week to get a working key to the graduate student office. That room requires electronic access, which means someone had to input my ID number into a computer somewhere, and someone else had to input my ID number into the door reader itself. It took me months to even figure out who was responsible for these tasks, and then uncountable numbers of emails and phone calls. This was such an effort that I actually listed "Get key card access to the graduate student office" as one of my professional goals during my first-year employment review.
I have regular reminders in my calendar so that I remember to bug all the people I need to bug. Today it occurred to me that it would be more efficient to designate one day as "The day to prod". So now, every Wednesday morning, I'm going to go down the list and gently agitate each person who's supposed to be doing something for me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If you deep fry your salad is it still healthy?

I had a dinner party this weekend, and once again failed to take pictures. So you'll have to use your imagination a bit for this post. I've been trying a new strategy for dinner parties. I plan fewer courses (three or four) and I choose one item to be a showstopper, which is often something I've never made before. If I end up with extra prep time, as I have lately, I'll try to throw together an amuse bouche with whatever's lying around. Thus, the menu this weekend was:
Dessert: Blueberry Clafoutis
Unless you studied those recipes, it will not be obvious that the salad was the most time-consuming (but amazing!) of those recipes. The salad was relatively straightforward: greens, nuts, apricots, and herbs. The dressing was quite nice (although infusing oil by cooking it with lemon zest was not worth the time). The egg that topped the salad, though, made it something worth remembering. It was a complex preparation. First, I soft-boiled the eggs and then chilled them. After peeling, they were double dipped in a crumb mixture, and then deep fried right before they were placed on the salad. I think it's the closest thing a vegetarian will ever get to a Scotch egg.
Everything else on the menu was made from a recipe I knew well. The clafoutis, a baked product that I only discovered last year, is so easy: fruit in a pie tin covered in a pancake-like batter and baked. It's so much easier than pie, but allows me the same opportunity for showcasing summer fruit. The only hitch is I can't figure out how to pronounce 'clafoutis'. Does someone out there speak French?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Born in 1921

My grandmother Ruby is 90 years old today. There's so much of her life that I can't even imagine. She gave birth to eight children, lived on a farm that didn't have running water until after my mother was born, and raised and cooked most of the food her family of ten needed. As a result, today I have seven aunts and uncles that love me, and in a few weeks they'll all be getting together to celebrate nine decades. I won't be there, so here's my good wishes. Happy 90th, Grandma!