11/19/14

Almost Famous Women + Pineapple Pie

I’ve been thinking about my grandma a lot lately. It's to be expected as the past week marked a year since she died. But still, it’s been surprising to see the extent to which she’s crept into my consciousness. I’ve thought of her as I’ve monitored the ripeness of the lemons on our tree in the backyard; when she visited us last year it was the end of October, and she’d wanted to make something with the lemons, but they were still too green. Now in the middle of November, just like last year, they’re ready to go.

When she stayed with us, I noticed how her balance was off, how she walked down our hallway with a totter and sometimes a little step backward to catch herself. It’s exactly how Teddy walks down the same hallway one year later.

I thought of her when I placed our order for a Heritage Turkey—the total cost of which will be around $100—by far the most money I’ve ever spent on a single grocery item. I know that Grandma, a purchaser of frozen Butterball turkeys—is rolling in her grave.

And I thought of her just this morning when I wrote the plumber a check for more money than I’ve written a check for in years. Grandma didn’t call service people to come fix things for her. She went to Rolliers, the local hardware store in the suburbs of Pittsburgh where she lived.
But I thought of her most while reading an advance copy of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women, a short story collection that explores the lives of talented and gutsy almost famous women throughout history. (To name a few: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma.) For the most part, these are women of or very close to my grandma’s generation. And as I read, I kept thinking of how capable and resilient they were, two words that come to mind when I think of my grandma (and the opposite of what comes to mind when I think of myself).

And then I got to the story about the reclusive and unapologetically miserable painter Romaine Brooks. The story opens with an epigraph, a quote from Brooks’s notebooks: “We are what we can be, not what we ought to be.”

At which point, I abruptly decided to cut myself some slack.

Because I wasn’t born in 1919. I was born in 1981. I can’t, in good conscience, buy, let alone eat, a Butterball turkey. And I don’t know anything about plumbing. Well, I know now about the water shut-off valve that’s connected to our toilet, which broke, or rather, disintegrated late one night last week, and how water flooded into the bathroom like a hose on full blast that we couldn’t stop up or turn off; it was so shocking that Matt—a pretty handy guy with loads of tools—initially wondered if we should call 911 before he collected himself and ran into the basement to shut off the main water line to the house. (If this had happened while I was alone with Teddy, the house would have surely floated away.)

We are what we can be. And what I can be is a baker of an incredibly delicious pineapple pie.
See, my favorite story out of the collection, “The Siege at Whale Cay,” centers on “Joe” Carstairs, a speed boat racer and Standard Oil Heiress—I’m italicizing the ess to emphasize that Joe is a woman.

The story takes place on Joe’s private Caribbean island and involves a love triangle between three women. There’s also some great food scenes as there is a cook on the island, who at one point is “frying johnnycakes on a pan over a fire, popping pigeon peas into her mouth. Everything smelled of fried fish, blistered peppers, and garlic.”

But when the cook serves roasted pineapple for dessert one night, I immediately knew what I wanted to Bon Appétempt as companion piece to the story: this pineapple pie, which came to me by way of Tim from Lottie and Doof. (Plus, it’s Thanksgiving season and I thought that maybe one of you might want to be an iconoclast and show up at your family or friend’s house with this decidedly-not pumpkin pie.)

Or maybe you want to make it because it’s delicious? The egg, sugar, rum, and lime juice create a custard that surrounds the bites of pineapple, and then this is encased in flaky, golden, buttery pie crust.
Look! My pie slid to one side, just like Tim's!
For the recipe, go to Lottie and Doof! To pre-order a signed copy of Almost Famous Women, go here!
I close with an apology for the lack of new posts and videos. When Matt and I aren’t dealing with Teddy and plumbing emergencies, we’ve been working on publicizing the book and creating really great (you be the judge?) content that we’ll be sharing a little closer to the book’s February 3rd launch date. We’ve even got dates set for our little book tour! If you’re in LA, Pittsburgh, or Raleigh, please please please mark your calendar. The events are going to be fun, I swear. We’re trying to have product to give away (bon appé-tote bags!). Matt is promising to try out some never-before-seen stand-up material. And Teddy may even show up! So, I’ll see you there, right?

Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA) on 2/3/15
Barnes and Noble (Pittsburgh, PA) on 2/11/15
Quail Ridge (Raleigh, NC) on 2/14/15 (More details to follow)
(Possibly more dates to add, depending on all sorts of things.)

Also, on the off chance this post wasn’t enough to tide you over for a week, here are some other cool things going on around The Net:

An interview I did with the new site, The Short Bread!
My friend Corinne recently launched a new literary journal: The James Franco Review where the goal is "to publish works of prose and poetry as if we were all James Franco, as if our work was already worthy of an editor’s attention." I love this concept and their opposite-of-snarky approach so much. Please read the about section for more info!

Until next time!
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11/5/14

Picadillo

Perhaps the thing I've missed most about my life before Teddy is the dawdling, the puttering, the flipping through magazines and cookbooks, the spontaneous decision to bake a cake in the middle of the afternoon, the long neighborhood walks with Mavis. In short, the leisure time. 

When Teddy is napping, my priority tends to be checking my email, or brainstorming ways to publicize my book, or cleaning, or getting started on dinner, or watching a couple of gymnastics videos on youtube (to center myself), or maaaybe, if there’s time, writing. On the days I have a nanny here, this impetus to mark things off my to-do list is even worse. (How could I pay someone to watch my kid so that I could dawdle? I need to create something great right this second!)
This lack of dawdling is probably why I'm bringing you another recipe I made on my brother's suggestion; I am outsourcing my curiosity, apparently. And by suggestion, I mean that my brother sent me a subject-less email with this link (and nothing more) in the body: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016814-picadillo.  
But in the past few days, I've made a point to get a bit of puttering time in, and honestly, it's been borderline healing. Today, I listened to an old episode of On Being titled, "The Science of Attention." I’ll copy and paste the synopsis of the show now (italics mine):

 

"What Adele Diamond is learning about the brain challenges basic assumptions in modern education. Her work is scientifically illustrating the educational power of things like play, sports, music, memorization, and reflection. What nourishes the human spirit, the whole person, it turns out, also hones our minds."
Our oven door handle has become a bib-drying rail.
Which begs the question: how many times will I have to continue to learn the same lesson? That you can only push yourself so hard, that some tasks aren't helped along by that encouraging (but more often berating and suffocating) inner voice telling you that you can do it (if only you'd try harder). [Ironically, just now, I looked up the definition of the word leisure and found this: “(leisure for/to do something) opportunity afforded by free time to do something: writers with enough leisure to practice their art.”]

Speaking of voices: I'm set to record the audio version of my book at the beginning of next month. When my editor first asked me if I’d do it, I was really excited. But soon thereafter, I remembered how one of my old bosses hated my voice. How do I know? He told me so! To be precise, his words were: "Ughhh, that voice!" said in the way you might say, "Ughhh, my bulging disc!" But then, I came across this video and now I feel better.
So, here's to puttering! (Or pottering, if you're English.) Both of which are defined thusly: to "occupy oneself in a desultory but pleasant manner, doing a number of small tasks or not concentrating on anything particular."
p.s. The picadillo was great. I don’t love raisins, so substituted dried apricots, which I think worked really well. My favorite bites were ones with an olive in there, so next time, I think I’ll chop the olives into halves or quarters so as to spread the love. Also, we served this with homemade flatbread! Hopefully, we'll post a video how-to soon. They were so easy and fun to make. 

Picadillo adapted from the New York Times
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
⅔ cup dried apricots, chopped
⅔ cup pitted (inexpensive) pimento-stuffed green olives

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions and garlic, stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to soften, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add tomatoes, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir to combine. Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and add the dried apricots and the olives. Allow the stew to cook for another 15 minutes or so, then serve, accompanied by some manner of flatbread or white rice.
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10/26/14

Video: Beet and Goat Cheese Terrine

Season 3 kicks off with a whimperliterally!

p.s. Do any of you remember the last time I made a terrine? This one (obviously?) tasted much better. And in the future, I hope not to wait so long before making another. They're really quite satisfying endeavors: the building, the unmolding, and the slicing!

Beet and Goat Cheese Terrine adapted from The Art of Eating Well
4 purple (magenta?) beets, about 10 oz.
4 golden beets (or any other color!), about 10 oz.
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or chives) (or any other herb you think might go well)
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
14-16 oz. of goat cheese, room temperature
salt
pepper
special equipment: a loaf pan around the size of 4 x 8 inches. (The one I used was 4 x 11, so I got a slightly shorter terrine.)

Line the loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving enough paper hanging over so that you can easily cover the terrine when the pan is full.

Scrub the beets, then place in a pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil; cook at a simmer for about 30-40 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool, then peel.

Meanwhile, mix all the herbs and garlic with the goat cheese in a bowl and season to taste.

Slice the cooked beets into various circular thicknesses, some 1/8th inch, some 1/4 inch.

Put a layer of golden beets along the bottom of the pan, remembering that this layer is going to be the top of your terrine, so you might want to make it look nice. Here, the recipe tells you to spread a thin layer of the goat cheese on top, but I found more success in placing a glob of goat cheese on one of the beet slices and then pressing that on top of the first layer of beets, trying to make sure that I had a solid, wall-to-wall layer of goat cheese between them. Do this (using a bit less goat cheese for the rest of the layers) until you're halfway up the loaf pan (or until you've run out of golden beets). Then, move on to your purple beets. Continue along until you're out of beets and goat cheese.

Pull the parchment paper over so all the terrine is covered. Place a weight on top of the pan and leave in the fridge overnight or for 8 hours to set.

Cover the set terrine with a plate and turn upside down to remove it. Slice and serve your gorgeous terrine.
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10/13/14

Butter Chicken

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I want to say in this post, which is kind of appropriate for this particular recipe. See, while this may be a post on Butter Chicken, as the subject states, this recipe was part of a mangled-by-Teddy New York Times article titled “Ambition’s Chicken,” which Matt and I misread initially because, up until a few moments ago, we had been referring to it as Ambitious Chicken.

But you gotta start somewhere. So, let me begin by thanking you all so much for your amazing response to my book-cover announcement. Your preorders caused the book to “trend” on Barnes and Nobles for a bit there. So, thank you, thank you, thank you! I appreciate it so much.

A friend of mine recently told me about the book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl, which sounds great. Just the title alone seems to capture so much of today’s zeitgeist with our daily onslaught of information, emails, and things to do (and feel?).
Anyway, since Teddy was born, I too have been steadily compiling a list of essays I don’t have time to write. Here’s a small sampling from the growing Word document:

1. Why Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee Makes Me Uncomfortable

2. I Know All Parents Think Their Baby is Special But I Think Mine Actually Might Be

3. On Living in My Hero Zone 
(A while ago, I bought the audio version of the book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, in which the author discusses how most of us aren’t living in our zone of genius and begins to explain how to achieve that kind of living. I found it all very interesting—if not a little hilarious—and when I went to talk about all of my thoughts with Matt, he began accidentally referring to the genius zone as the hero zone. Point being, I have a lot to say about this book!)

4. Maybe Nobody Knows, Maybe Nobody Cares, But It Really Feels Like Paul Ryan Took a Bribe in Front of the Whole World*

*OK, fine. Maybe I have a bit of time right now to get into this one: In case you missed it, on CNBC, Paul Ryan publicly criticized Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors (If you’re out of the loop: You can’t pre-order the majority of Hachette books on Amazon, and once the books come out, they aren’t given the normal Amazon discount nor are they available to ship in a timely manner. In effect, you are discouraged from buying Hachette books from the site that is believed to control over 50% of the book market--physical and electronic books.) The following day, Amazon made a major exception for Ryan, essentially flipping a switch so that suddenly his Hachette-published book was easily discoverable, discounted by 25 percent, and available to ship immediately.

We haven’t heard anything from Mr. Ryan since. Sooooooo, so much for fighting the good fight! But here’s my thinking: if he wasn’t getting special treatment from the online megastore because of his status as a congressman (which would be a violation of House ethics rules), then surely, all a Hachette author needs to do is publicly declare their displeasure with Amazon’s treatment of their book and then, the next day, the book will become available for pre-order and all that jazz—amiright?

OK, well, in that case, I would like to make this blog post my official declaration of displeasure with Amazon’s treatment of my book and, while I'm at it, the books of all other Hachette authors. (It’s probably safe to say that Amazon missed my previous blog post about all this.)

Ahhh, great. Now we can put this lousy topic behind us and finally talk butter chicken.
This is one of those recipes that you want to bookmark for your next dinner party. Sure, the ingredient list is long and it’s going to take some time to make, but it is also one of those dishes that can simmer away, unattended on the stovetop, just becoming better and better, and it is also one of those recipes that is undeniably delicious. Even if you know someone who says they don’t like Indian food, I bet they would like this meal. If you have a rice cooker, serve it with some basmati rice. If not, maybe get that naan bread they sell in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s? Oh, this is fun—now I’m imagining a dinner party! (I can’t remember the last time we hosted a dinner party!) But even if you’re not the entertaining type, you probably want to make this recipe. We ate the leftovers the following night and were even more impressed.
Butter Chicken via The New York Times
1 ½ cups full-fat plain yogurt
about 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds chicken thighs, on the bone (As you probably already noted from the photos, I used whole chicken legs with the skin on, but next time I'll probably use skinless thighs like the recipe calls for. It would just be easier to eat and portion out.)
¼ pound unsalted butter
4 teaspoons neutral oil, like vegetable or canola oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium-size tomatoes, diced
2 red chiles, like Anaheim, or 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
Kosher salt to taste
⅔ cup chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
1 ½ cups cream
1 ½ teaspoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons ground almonds, or finely chopped almonds
½ bunch cilantro leaves, stems removed.

Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin in a large bowl. Put the chicken in, and coat with the marinade. Cover, and refrigerate (for up to a day).

In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil until it starts to foam. Add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds, and cook until the onions start to brown.

Add the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, chiles and salt, and cook until the chiles are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the chicken and marinade to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Stir in the cream and tomato paste, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the almonds, cook for an additional 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Garnish with the cilantro leaves.
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10/5/14

The Book Cover!

Dear Friends,
I’ve been looking forward to this post for a long time. Because, as you can see from the above image, I finally get to share the cover of my book with you. Go ahead, spend some time with it—there’s no rush!

My regular readers (Hi! Thank you!) will certainly recognize a few things. Like Mavis. Or The Vivianne. Or Matt’s Funfetti Cake. Or my grandma’s Belgian Waffles. (If you can’t see what I'm talking about, don’t worry. After a few more paragraphs of text, there’s a semi-annotated version—I just couldn’t help myself!)

My regular readers (Hi again! Thank you!) might remember that I’ve actually had the book cover for a little while, and so perhaps you’re wondering why I’m only now unveiling it. Well, in short, because I didn’t want you to get sick of me talking about the book when we were still nine months out from publication. But now that we’re down to just four short months (some of them holiday-filled), I’m going to start saying things like this: please pre-order my book!

Speaking of pre-ordering, I’ve created this landing page for the book, full of generous blurbs and lots of links to places where you can pre-order it. (Very unfortunately, because of a cutthroat negotiating tactic meant to put pressure on my publisher, Hachette, you cannot pre-order the book on Amazon). But don’t get toooooo discouraged!  <—I’m mostly talking to myself here. You can order it anywhere else books are sold, and of course, you can always call your local bookstore and ask them to order it for you. If you chose this latter option, that would mean the WORLD to me.

Relatedly, we are in the middle of planning a little book tour. Right now, this consists of four cities: Los Angeles; NYC; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Raleigh, North Carolina. If you live in any of these cities, I would LOVE to meet you and really hope that I get to! If you don’t live in any of these cities and want me (and Teddy) (and maybe even Matt?) to come to your town, then the only other option is to make this book a bestseller, which will in turn, allow my publisher to spend more money on marketing the book, which in turn, will allow me and my family to travel without paying for everything ourselves! Sound like a plan? Great! Let’s dooooooooo it!

OK, so, here’s that annotated version of the cover:
Now it’s time for me to get to the grocery store. But thank you again, guys! For reading, for your support, for everything.

Until next week!
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