Category Archives: dessert

Laundry Room Hideaway

IMG_1040After Busy BZ and the baby go to sleep and the toys are put away and the dishwasher is emptied and everything is reset and ready for the next day, I make a decision about what to do with my last hour or two of the day. You might think I’d relish this time, but instead I feel paralyzed. After a day with a baby on my boob and toddler in my face, what should I do for myself? I could go to the gym or dust off my yoga mat, or maybe I could read or write. Usually, just the thought of these activities makes me tired. So, most nights you’ll find me finishing a regrettable season of some show Hulu with a cup of tea (or sometimes wine) and a jar of M&Ms.

The move from NY to TX has not been an easy one. I’ve never minded moving before, but then again, I’ve never moved pregnant or with a kid. Almost a year later, BZ has finally stopped talking about NY. This a relief and heartbreaking at the same time. “Remember that house with the red door?” she’d ask from time to time referring to our old house. “We can go back there,” she’d add, continuing to play happily, emotionally ruining me for rest of the day, kick-starting my inevitable M&M consumption. Now, it’s fading. She’s forgetting our friends there and the house and those first two years and I feel alone remembering all of it so brightly. Cue the M&Ms…

Maybe the most important detail of all this, is that I can’t eat the M&Ms out in the open. A three-year-old tracks my movements all day long and she’s fluent in candy consumption. From across the room, she distinguishes the sound of a rustling bag of M&Ms from something less interesting. If they’re on my breath, she will call me out and remind me to share. So, I pop candy into my mouth at intervals when she turns her head, careful to keep it quiet, chugging tea to wash down the scent. The compromising method of consumption doesn’t boost morale.

To this day, my mom stores bags M&Ms in the laundry room. Growing up, I never stopped to think about how strange it was for the candy to take its seat next to Costco sized jugs of Tide and dryer sheets, but now it couldn’t be more clear… Laundry room candy is a last vestige from her days of concealing M&Ms from ME. Like mother, like daughter…I guess it’s my turn to find my moments of peace and chocolate alongside the fresh sheets and underwear.

Our family is moving yet again. It sucks. Thankfully, this time we’re headed to Ohio to be close to family and M&Ms are small and easy to pack. Still, all this moving has made adult-ing at 33 feel more challenging than it did at 30. I thought I’d already organized most of life’s “big picture” pieces like a job, house, good friends, baby, etc. While reinventing yourself at 20 is exciting, after thirty it’s just exhausting. I suppose that moving forces you to find the core of your identity because it strips away so many of your surroundings. Motherhood is also transformative and challenges identity…basically, I’m like the hollow shell that’s lost her chocolate filling and peanut. Or perhaps, I’m the solid candy center missing her colorful candy coating? Only Mars knows. For now, I’m taking baby steps when it comes to planning and focusing on the two little girls who have become my world. One thing is certain — I’ll be spending plenty of time in the laundry room.

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Filed under dessert, Toddler, Uncategorized

The Baker’s Rack Strikes Again

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The moment we arrived to Boston, I started feeling foolish. My ears flushed and my temples started to thump as I anticipated intruding on someone else’s kitchen.  Sierra and I were traveling to our best friend’s wedding and I was bringing the cake.  Armed with extra buttercream, a bouquet of offset spatulas, and even extra cake batter, I had thought of every disaster scenario – except one. I had overlooked an important detail – what I would look like when I arrived to set-up the cake at the reception site. I had brought neither whites nor slip-resistant clogs.  I’d even forgotten a bandana or hat to cover my hair. Instead, I sported a scoop-neck blouse, in which any dishwasher, chef, line cook or server could ogle my cleavage.  I felt the shamed presence of every female chef who had cooked, sweat and fought for an iota of respect.

I called the chef’s cell to alert him of our arrival and tugged upward on my poor choice of travel-wear. Feeling like a second rate Giada, it is no surprise that the chef was dark and handsome. After finding parking, I picked up the largest tier of the wedding cake.  Resting on my tense, 90-degree forearms, the cake’s placement perfectly framed my bosom.

Of course it did.

Breast next to cake and cake next to breast, I took a reluctantly, voluptuous, breath and stepped carefully and confidently into the underbelly of this Bostonian Brasserie. While I may not have looked like a qualified pastry chef, it would take more than tall, high-heeled boots and puddle of melted ice to take this professional down.

The kitchen was a truly fantastic, city kitchen. Intensely focused cooks cut French-fries in time to the saucepans that sizzled like the percussion section of an orchestra. The precision of this kitchen only highlighted my wardrobe folly. Alas, there was no going back now. I clopped though the kitchen in my heels and began to set-up the cake. One tier after the next, I hoped that the quality of my work proved that I was more than just a nice pair of cupcakes.  I shoved a side-towel into the belt-loop of my skinny jeans and ignored the judgmental stares of other two women in the kitchen.  Didn’t they understand that they were witnessing an act of unyielding female sprit?

When the cake was complete, I was relatively pleased with it.  Methodically, I cleaned up.  I returned dirtied bowls to the dishwashers and thanked them, saluted the cooks and shook hands with the chef.  He looked shorter than when I first met him, or maybe the weight of the cake had been lifted from my own shoulders. I was a true pastry professional — my baker’s rack and all.

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Filed under baker's rack, DELICIOUS, dessert, Food Reflections, Places to go, Travel, wedding cake

Driving with cake.

wedding tier

I would like to preface this whole thing with the fact that I believe people should eat whatever they want.  I’ve watched the videos from factory farm slaughterhouses, I believe in gluten intolerance, and I’m well read in Michael Pollan….And maybe, just maybe, I have a huge, impenetrable blind spot for Mallomars, Jif peanut butter, medium-rare steak, and Count Chocula.

Last weekend, I drove to the Jersey Shore with a “gluten-free pescatarian” – Basically, someone who eats fish and peanuts.  It is a life without crusty banquettes, finger-sticking racks of ribs, and basically any Italian food.    In fact, it pretty much excludes all of European cuisine- the Austrians and Germans would be without their Weiner Schnitzel, the Irish could no longer eat soda bread or drink Guinness, and the English would lose bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding.  Under the regime, sushi remains the only colorful cultural food experience left to enjoy.

But, people should eat how they want and do what makes them feel good.  For me, that means hotdogs when I’m at a baseball game.  For you it may mean frozen, organic entrees at Trader Joe’s.  Whatever flips your pancake.

So, I was in the car for five hours (2.5 hours there and 2.5 hours back), trying to make conversation and fill the awkward, radio-less void.  (I’m not sure why people don’t put on the radio when they’re with strangers in the car.  I think it’s a common courtesy to those of us who only confidently carry conversations about Muppets or laminated dough.) We were delivering a gluten-free wedding cake to a venue in Jersey.  I’d iced, decorated and was setting it up as a favor to a great, local, gluten-free bakery (Gluten-free pastries CAN be delicious.  Come to Beacon and give them a try).  Traveling into the misunderstood armpit of the East, I realized that I am an incredibly insensitive human when it comes to food preferences.  Not only did I semi-absentmindedly suggest we get lunch at a BBQ dive (and then laugh that he couldn’t), but my inner foodie started flailing, leading to spasms of the mouth.  I randomly interjected that I like Cheez Whiz (Although, Cheez Whiz IS vegetarian, it is not technically gluten-free.  I didn’t know this at the time of my Tourette’s episode, but I was pretty sure no one who was socially or healthfully food mindful condones The Whiz).

Throughout our five hours on the road, I defended Texas, raved about the “addictive” qualities of Cheetos, and declared my love for regional fast-food chains.  I was the worst sort of passenger, but in a frenzy of social awkwardness, defending my “friends” in hermetically sealed packaging, and having had one too many glasses of wine the night before, I couldn’t stop myself.

Dear Stranger in the Car, I apologize for my behavior.  I have hope that in the future, we can bond over dried mango slices, chocolate covered ginger and hard cider.

rustic wedding cake

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Filed under dessert, Food Reflections, Travel

Volumes.

I’ve been reading a lot about Alice Waters – although, having recently started with catering, I might have been better off with a biography on Henry Ford.   Learning about Alice’s character has been making me smile.  She is a sort of antithesis to efficiency – striving for an artist’s perfection in the smallest detail, from the flowers to the plates to the post-work celebrations.  She completely transformed America’s approach to food.    The energy she exudes, even through the retelling of her story, makes the banquet cook sigh with wistful longing.

There is a very thin line between efficiency and imprecision and Alice wouldn’t dabble in either.  Chez Panisse began as an ambitious project started by a bunch of Berkeley hippies, idealists, and Francophiles.   This is the other part I love about the story – these people weren’t cooks – not originally.  As someone who jumped into the food world from the outside, it’s nice to know that there are others out there that did the same and did so successfully.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been learning a lot about banquet food.   Until I see otherwise, I believe there will always be a sacrifice of quality for the sake of volume.  It is the difference between IKEA and a hand-carved rocking chair.   I love IKEA bookshelves – would even go as far as to say that there is some artful choreography going on at IKEA.  The massive store must be planned and orchestrated so intelligently that millions of people can flow through and get what they need with relative ease.   The furniture does what it needs to do and usually, looks pretty good – but it doesn’t have much soul.   I feel that the same thing happens to food once you begin serving over one hundred people.

I do, however, admire the ability to orchestrate a meal for one hundred people that is served hot, frozen, or un-wilted to everyone at the same time.  It takes an organized chef and operation.  Everyone from the front-of-the-house to the back needs to be working toward the same mission – making the best quality food possible for that many people.  Delivering good, well-cooked food to the masses may not be fine dining, but there is an art to it.

Looking from Alice Waters to catering, it is amazing to see the many approaches to food – people’s expectations, the importance of ingredients, timeliness, complexity of flavors, etc.  Whether we pop open our microwave or hand-make our pasta, we make daily decisions about how we approach what we eat.   As a professional cook, where we work will also determine our approach to food.  The chefs we work with, our access to ingredients, the size of the place we work – all of these things begin to form our individual food identities and eventually, it becomes not just about finding a job, but understanding our passions.

Last week I quit catering.

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The Jurong Frog Farm – Beware of the snow jelly.

I have always been a sucker for foods that involve “jelly.”   They’ve always sparked thoughts of cold, wiggly bowls of Jell-O in summertime, or perhaps a sweet spread of strawberry preserves on toast.  Naturally, when the Jurong Frog Farm advertised, “snow jelly,” they had my undivided attention.

Snow = nice!  Jelly = delightful!   But oh, this Midwestern, Jell-O slurping pastry cook could not have been more wrong.  While independently snow and jelly may sound as harmless as kittens and bubblegum, together they are to be avoided.

The frog element of this excursion should have given me a clue.   The woman working at the frog farm store offered me a thimble-sized taste of the jelly brew.  As the taste transferred from her hands to mine she said, “It is a great Chinese remedy made from the female reproductive organ of the frog.”

At this point, the amphibious female privates floated in front of me in a sugary syrup.   Supposedly, it was to be eaten as a dessert, but nay – no chocolate, nor honey, nor dollop of whipped cream could correct this misfortune.

Not wanting to be rude, I took the tiniest of tastes and I knew I would never be able to look Kermit in the eye again.  The drip of syrup coated my mouth in a way that caused me to frantically scrape my tongue against my top row of teeth.  Was it psychosomatic or was my mouth becoming numb?  Clearly, I was going to die.

“Try some,” I promptly handed the vessel over to my boyfriend.  Who was I to deny him of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? I smiled.  His eyes became equally as pained as the fluid passed his lips.

After thanking the dear lady at the frog farm and then chugging a half-gallon of water, we started making plans to find the nearest curry puff, fried noodle, or anything to rid our memories of the froggy-nad.

To find a frog legs, I recommend the Jurong frog farm.  To find a proper jelly, please spare yourselves the sorrow and travel to THIS website.

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Here. I’ve made you a Galette.

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It was a fresh fruit galette, to be exact.  I also like to call this, “the lazy man’s pie,” because it doesn’t require that I find the pie pan (My family just moved, so not wanting to search for the pie pan isn’t quite as lazy as it might sound.  Although, I wouldn’t jump straight to calling myself industrious either).  It also doesn’t involve any lattice-work or decorative topping.  This is another plus for the baker who wants to get it all in the oven, no frills, and start eating as soon as humanly possible. 

 

All I really had to do is roll out my pie dough into a circle (preferably round, but perfection is not necessary…just call it “rustic.”)  Then I mixed my filling, piled it in the center of my dough and folded up its edges to encase the filling.  There is also a little egg-washing the crust and topping with sugar (with which I went a wee bit overboard…)  Next, into the oven it goes and out comes a galette!

 

Despite the effortlessness, or the “laziness,” of the endeavor, there was something rather dignified about the rustic elegance of the final product.  The galette seemed to looked up at me and say, “I am fruit. I am crust. I am pure, unmolded, simple goodness. I am Galette!”

 

My favorite advantage to making a Galette, only made better by its minimalism, is that you can serve it and announce, “I’ve made you this Galette!”  Then people go, “Oooo. A Galette!” without a single clue as to what a galette might be or what it should look like.  You’ve made a perfect specimen.

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Discovering Halva

As I mentioned in my last post, I came across more Halva while perusing the New York City bakery scene.   This time it was swirled and coated with chocolate, but still had that characteristic sweet sesame seed taste and firm nougat-like.  Being curious about where this stuff actually comes from and exactly what it’s made of, I consulted my friend The Library.  

 

According to, “The Food & Cooking of Eastern Europe,” Halva is made all the way from Poland to India and as actually been around since the Roman Empire, when it was made from pine nuts and honey.   Halva can be found in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Romania and there is also a Hungarian version called “Turkish Honey.”   In theses areas, it is made with ground nuts (either almonds or sesame seed) OR semolina (aka: a golden colored, high gluten flour).  

 

THEN, I also found Halva in an Indian cookbook called, “Taste of India,” by Mary S. Atwood.  In this book there were four varieties of Halva, including cashew, banana, egg and carrot (although I have watched a couple videos on youtube where it is also being made from semolina).  From reading these recipes, it appears that Indian Halva is eaten both hot and cold.  The hot version is almost like a candy pudding and when it is cooled, it dries out and solidifies.   Most contain clarified butter, sugar, spices, water and then a root vegetable, seed or nut.  

 

So, there’s my bit of discovery on Halva.

 

Perhaps that was too much information, but I got excited.  I just find it fascinating how a dessert that’s internationally consumed is so unfamiliar to so many people (including myself until a month ago!)  So, now we know.  I may even get extra adventurous and try to make some Halva myself sometime…

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