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.