dude fude, food, mommies

birthday cupcakes 2012; who’s in charge?

Chemistry is important. I’ve written about this before here. I like to watch whipped butter lighten or sugar transform. But this year, around M’s birthday, I was busy. I found one cupcake recipe that sounded good but called for three sticks of butter for twelve cupcakes. Uh… and it took an hour of prep.

So I turned to Cooks Illustrated, where after “much testing,” they dumped all the ingredients (and just 1 stick of butter) into a kitchen aid and mixed for 30 seconds. Voila! as they say. Then I doubled the recipe (again) and made another twenty-four.

I had picked out this lovely butterfly pattern for decorating but M overruled me (she’s about to be 6). She wanted Backyardigans and Backyardigans only, which meant a Backyardigans ring set in the middle of green (like a backyard) frosting. I got to add the dark green sugar and purple sprinkles. And that’s what it was.

I’ll post the recipe shortly. And here’s the frosting (minus the lemon zest) + food coloring.

mommies, stories worth repeating, thoughts, writing

In Africa…

My grandma is blessed with the most excellent, innate, and timeless style of anyone I have ever known. As I tried on a red knit hat with an oversized flower that I got as a holiday gift this year she said, “It will look better with your hair down.” And it did, of course.

At ninety, my grandma has Parkinson’s disease, and very serious memory loss. Sometimes, she cannot remember what has happened in the prior sentence, ending one definitive statement about something with a question about what has just happened. “It was so great to see them,” she says. “Is it just us here today?” She will often remark on the darkness of the night. Again and again. The darkest night she has ever seen. What day is it? Isn’t it dark tonight? What day is it? Isn’t it dark tonight? This is the darkest night I have ever seen.

I modify and streamline my answers until my response is honed and perfected. Yes, the darkest night on the longest day in December. She nods. Isn’t it dark tonight?

Some number of years ago, and before it came back into fashion, my grandma suggested I purchase a white shag rug for my living room. That was a year or so before everyone started doing it. Her apartment still looks modern, although now some of the paint near the top of the 13 foot ceilings show their age. The rugs are slightly worn, but still lively with color. But the chocolate brown wall in the dining room is still perfect.

My grandma has never really worked, she but was the daughter of an immigrant who did. My great grandma was a single mom, before the term had been coined. She owned and ran a successful business when women were thought incapable of it, and later, she bought and managed real estate properties, and her son joined her in the business. Not her daughter.

She raised her daughter very carefully. My grandma was excellent pianist, careful not to to play tennis so as not to damage her hands. She was charming. She elevated conversation to an art; you were lucky to be seated next to her at dinner. She knew just how to go to lunch, buy the best presents for friends. She gave lovely dinner parties, dressed beautifully, shopped creatively, wore her hair just right. She was current on art, music, theater, ballet, opera. I still have and love Japanese flower scissors she bought for me from Takashyimaya on 5th Avenue. They are beautiful.

She always knew what color to paint the walls. You would still choose the same wallpaper she has in her den (if you could find it) even 42 years later. All this is not to say she was perfect, that she did every thing right, that she didn’t struggle with not having a career, or never becoming a concert pianist, or raising her three children. She was human. I know many people feel that, especially for women, pursuit of excellence in the aforementioned areas is considered worthless, or even demeaning, but for my grandma, it was a life well lived. She seems to be the last of certain kind of person. Her life was her art, and she, the maestro.

“It is not easy being a woman in Africa,” says Issac Denison in Out of Africa (played by Meryl Streep). Or any place else for that matter. And the rules of womanhood, femininity, equal rights, equal pay, stay- at-home-moms, right-to-life, when to get married, and many other issues will not be settled anytime soon. I am not convinced anyone knows, well enough, the answers to these questions.

When I was 13, she gave me just the right length pearl necklace for a girl that age, with an extra strand to add when I turned 16. You may not have known that there is an  appropriate length necklace for a girl that age, but there is. And it does not change with fashion or time. Before she lost too much of her memory, she gave me another set of pearls that had been hers, the grown-up version. She knew many secrets in that magical process of turning a girl into a woman. They have not been lost.

She is a kind, wonderful, lovely person, even now, even though she is not who she was. There are still the same moments of grace and kindness and charm in her. When I am in her apartment, there are many memories. Opening the medicine cabinet in the guest bathroom, I remember, many years ago, when I accidentally broke an expensive bottle of perfume. I was horrified, but she didn’t get angry, she didn’t even seem upset. She just wanted to make sure I wasn’t hurt. She got married at 22 and has been married for 68 years. My grandfather is with her still, taking care of her, making sure these final years are okay.

A friend of mine told me recently that if you go to a foreign country and teach a man English, the language will be lost in one generation. But, if you teach a woman, the language lives forever because she will teach her children, and so on, and so on…

dude fude, food, mommies, recipes, Uncategorized

The Big Cake

Tiara Cake

I like to use birthdays as an excuse to make a new cake. Or make an tried and true cake that challenges my decorating abilities. Thus, the Tiara Cake came to be. It’s in honor of M’s 5th birthday, which is today.

Having a child turn 5 is one of those milestones, where you say to yourself, “Five years have already passed! I can’t believe it’s already been 5 years.”  And 5 is big, because your child is playing iphone games, has decided to be an astronaut, and uses the word awesome. You may have even seen a glimpse of the teenage years to come and the accompanying fashion and attitude, and yet, you still have a little girl who likes her princesses.

And so, in honor of the occasion (and for the party), we decided that the cake would not be shaped like a tiara itself but have a tiara (image) on it. (I wasn’t about to start drawing Ariel herself, in frosting). A tiara, which M will likely be wearing today, seems a solid symbol of both princesshood and birthdayness, and it’s not too complicated to represent in sugar products. It had to pink, of course, although I started out thinking it would be silver, only to find that frosting doesn’t come in silver, not at any local store anyway. M had also requested that I write, I love you and put some hearts on the cake.

For her party, we are also having a pinata, which has all six princesses (I guess Repunzel hasn’t made it into the hallowed center six for good yet) hanging out at their castle. I am expecting that by next year the princess interest will have waned, and we’ll be onto something else. I think we’ll be ready.

The cake is devil’s food cake with white chocolate chunks (again, for surprise) and a cream cheese lemon frosting.

The frosting is easy and reliable and delicious:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened

8 ounces cream cheese cut into 4 pieces, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar

I mix up the first two in the kitchen aid, add the second two, sift in the sugar. Mix but not too much. And it keeps in the fridge for week.

I’ll post the cake recipe if it turns out to be very delicious. Now, I’m just hoping my fairy godmother prevents it from raining…

Close up
dude fude, food, mommies

dude fude: curried rice and black beans (blog-worthy meal)

The problem with brown rice and homemade black beans is that they take a loooong time to make and, like many other good things in life, require planning.  However, these beans go from bag to bowl in the shortest time possible and the curried rice is about the same.  These are both Cook’s Illustrated recipes (which never seem to fail, well maybe once…) except that I don’t measure everything exactly. 🙂

The thing about these two things are, they are soooo good and make lots of leftovers, so it really is worth it.

Black beans taste better than they look

Black Beans

Put in a big pot:

1 medium onion minced

6 or so cloves of garlic

1.5 Tb coarse salt, a little less of regular salt

2 bay leaves

1 green pepper chopped

1 lb of black beans (picked over–I measure them out and then pour them in stages on a plate, picking out any that don’t look good)

12 cups of water

Bring to a boil, skilling foam off the top, then lower, partially cover and cook for around 2 hours.  Mine took less.   The liquid doesn’t totally cook down (and in fact if you run out of liquid add enough to cover the beans) but I store it with the liquid which is great for reheating, or cooking down in other dishes.  I just use a slotted spoon to drain the liquid off for immediate eating.

Curried Rice with tomatoes

Curried Rice

This, I just tried for the first time, but as M said, “This is soooo good!”

In a medium sauce pan put:

2 Tb butter, melt,

then add 1 chopped onion (cook 3 minutes)

then add:

1.5 ts curry power

1 Tb minced fresh ginger

1 or 2 cloves of garlic through the press

1/4 ts salt

cook 1 minute

Add I large can diced tomatoes (I used the really amazing! best in the world? San Marzano imports)

cook for few more minutes.  Set aside

Preheat over to 375

Put 1 1/2 cups of brown rice in a 8 inch sq. baking pan

add 1/4 ts salt

cover with 2 1/3 cups boiling veggie broth or water with veggie bullion cubes (as I did and then let cubes dissolve)

cover with tomato/onion mixture, spread out over rice

cover with two layers of foil (not sure this is necessary, but I did it)

bake for 70 minutes

then take it out and you can add frozen peas and then cover with a dish towel for 5 minutes, then uncover for 5 and eat.  Likewise, you could do the same with raisins.  It’s a bit of trouble, but it’s really tasty.

I usually add yogurt on top and sliced avocado and tonight we chopped up some cilantro as well.  I should of taken a photo of the food on the plate, but I didn’t think of it, and then it was gone…

dude fude, food, Uncategorized

On being irresistible…

As a kid, chocolate chip mint ice cream was my favorite flavor.  In this, I was not  alone.  However, I was alone in thinking chocolate chip mint pares perfectly with caramel, and pare it I did, when I had the opportunity to have an ice cream sunday which was usually once a year with my grandparents, on the way to the Berkshires from New York City.

Askew glances from waitresses aside, I stuck to my guns.  Glowing accounts of fudge sauce could not dissuade me.  Nor could the sight of the stuff itself. I always preferred the golden tendrils off caramel cooling against soft minty mounds.

Many years later, I unsuccessfully pitched the idea to Ben and Jerry’s during a nationwide ice cream flavor contest.  I forget which flavor won that year.

And so it has come to pass that I, on occasion, make my own ice cream.  I try not to make it too much because it is so delicious.

But with a small but significant peppermint bush growing in my garden, and an excess of cream in my fridge, I decided to make some.  The only sugar I had in the house was brown sugar and I decided to use it.

And so it was that I found myself back to the minty caramel marriage of my youth.  Not quite caramel, but just an absolutely addictive undercurrent of caramel taste.  Teasing in that way, so that you must take another bite just to make sure it’s really there. And another.  Combined with the freshest, brightest mint (from garden to pot in 10 minutes), it’s a real delight.

Butter Mint Chip

Adapted from Elise’s Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream (she’s got pictures and step by step making instructions)

Here’s my version:

Put lots (2-3 cups) of mint leaves in a pot with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of cream.  Heat until just boiling, cover, turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes.  Repeat, but you can let it sit for less time.  Strain out leaves, mashing milk out of them and put back mixture back into the pot.

Mix in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved.

Pour 1/3 or so of the milk mixture into 4 egg yolks, stirring constantly (you don’t want to scramble the eggs).  Then pour the egg/milk mixture back in pot on the stove, turn up the heat to medium, stir constantly and make a custard.  It’s done when the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon.  Don’t let it boil.

Strain into 1 cup of cream.  Let cool.  Sometimes I do this overnight.   Sometimes I put this mixture in a bowl surrounded by ice first.

Once it’s cold, put into ice cream maker.  I add a little bit of alcohol or vanilla, and chopped up chocolate. I like it chopped finely.  I actually chop the chocolate first and put it in the freeze prior to the whole process.

After it comes out of the ice cream maker, it’s this beautifully soft and creamy ambrosia.  You can eat it now.  Or,  if you put it in a container and let it freeze, it will harden a lot.  Both forms are irresistible.  It’s food that brings on the quiet and completely focussed concentration of my four year old.  Bliss.

Update:

I have now made a chocolate ice cream with chocolate hunks and caramelized pecans and a Meyer lemon with slivers of dark chocolate.  Uh… both delicious.  It’s kind of ridiculous how good this stuff–too good. And so now, left with a huge number of egg whites left over I forge into new egg white-related domains…

yum
Meyer Lemon with chocolate
into the freezer
mommies, stories worth repeating, Uncategorized

the satisfactory ending

Frog and Toad

You may or may not have had occasion to read Frog and Toad Are Friends recently.  However, if you are like me, and have a young child, you may have read it hundreds of times in the last few months.

And happily so.

The Frog and Toad series, by British author, Arnold Lobel, are among the children’s books that one can read repeatedly and still enjoy, or at least tolerate, or at least not totally loathe.

In fact, I love Frog and Toad and especially Frog and Toad Together.  The stories are good, the characters relatable, and the endings are brilliant.  Enviable.  Analysis-worthy.

But let’s start with two excellent characters, long time bffs. Frog is the elder statesman, the more responsible, more reliable, wiser character with Toad, his immature, ill-mannered, ill-temperated, often neurotic and, of course, good-hearted best friend.  Toad is usually suffering through some lesson, something which more often than not, he does not appreciate.  My daughter has often said, you’re Frog and I’m Toad, and tonight when I asked her who her best friend was, she said, “You.”  So, I guess, I’m still Frog, which is kind of funny, since I relate more to Toad, despite my being older and wiser.

Cookies, a story about Frog and Toad binging on delicious cookies that Toad has baked, ends with Frog giving all the cookies to the birds in order for them to gain willpower. Toad rejects this concept announcing that Frog can keep the willpower–he is going home to bake a cake.

Almost every story is a juicy little nugget; shaped perfectly, with just the appropriate amount of  plot and character development to make them full bodied and delicious.  And the endings…  I don’t want to use the word perfect, but, they really are.

They often end with “place,” like, “The hands of the clock moved to show the hours of a merry Christmas Eve.” Or, “Then they sat in the shade of a large tree and ate their chocolate ice-cream cones together.” “They ran around the corner of Frog’s house to make sure that spring had come again.” In one, Toad has the last word, “Winter may be beautiful, but bed is much better.”

I think my favorite is from The Letter (Frog and Toad are Friends): “Toad was very pleased to have it.” It really comes down to a mixture of closure and uplift.  It’s just so damn satisfying.  You feel as good as Toad getting his first and probably last letter (sent to him by Frog, of course).  Just two best friends feeling as content as can be, as right in their little world as conceivably possible.  The best part is, Frog has already told Toad the contents of the letter, because he has to convince him to wait for it, being, as it is, delivered with interminable slowness, by snail. But they actually end up enjoying the wait because they share the knowledge of the contents of the letter.  Togetherness is a big happy theme too.  But I digress.  I mean, what more can I really say?

Toad was very pleased to have it.

mommies

the early years

Yesterday, my daughter M told her very first story.  

She was holding a small yellow plastic bear meant for the bath and as she walked it along the edge of the tub she said, “One day, I was an antelope but I used to be upside like a bat.”  Here she turned the bear upside down and looked up at her audience for response. I nodded with a smile.

Then she let the bear float in the water and she said softly to herself, “Then you were floating on your tummy and I was kicking you.”  She kicked the water, lost interest, and picked up a toy frog.

It was short, but there was something compelling about it.  Good start, kid.