Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I woke up yesterday morning on the other side of the continent. That’s a dramatic way of saying that I am home in San Francisco for the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you had a wonderful (and delicious) holiday!

Molten Chocolate Cake

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I thought there would be cake at the finish line of the Philadelphia Marathon. At least that’s what all the cheering squads along the course with cardboard signs would have had you believe. Cake and beer. Sadly, the post-race eats were more along the lines of Chewy granola bars, though a lovely lady, completely unaffiliated with the race, did hand me a free jug of chocolate milk.

It was a great race. We lined up in our respective corals before the sun had risen. Parts of the course were lined with people, screaming, clapping, in costume, like they were at a parade. Our, wonderful, wonderful, friends were standing at miles 1, 8, and 14, cheering. Apparently they had quite a time shoveling down half a scorching-hot pizza and walking a half-marathon trying to find us on the course.

Mid-race, I wondered why the hell I had ever decided that this would be fun. But the last two miles I almost felt like I was floating, which is a feeling I never thought I would associate with marathon running. Even now, just one day later, I’m struggling to remember anything specific about the race itself.

Admittedly, there were things we could have planned better — namely having a place to meet afterwards in the madhouse that was the finish line area. So sadly, there are no smiling post-race pictures with medals around our necks, but I will say that it was an adventure. We rolled out of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon, with a stop at the Medic tent and then at Dunkin’ Donuts.

I can’t say I feel like running another anytime soon. But if you happen to be at Boston 2013, please remember my cake and beer at the finish line.

In the meantime, I’ll be eating this.

I don’t think I’ve ever made anything else from Martha Stewart besides these cakes. They pour lava chocolate, which is reason enough to make them. And they come out perfectly every time, dark, rich, baked on the outside and gooey on the inside, in less than ten minutes, which is like exactly what you’re craving at 11 p.m..Needless to say, I’ve made them quite a few times.

Pear-Cranberry Ginger Crumble

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just when we were preparing for a long period of hibernation, just when I was preparing to outlast the snow, the sleet, and the slush, it suddenly became summer again. Well, as close to summer as you can get mid-November; Hey, I was actually wearing shorts today! And I realized that with all the time I’ve spent complaining about being stuck in Princeton, and how awful and uninspiring most of this state is, I’ve neglected to tell you about the beautiful parts of New Jersey.

We spent the last weekend on our fall break at my long-time roommate’s house in northwest New Jersey. My roommate is a very defensive defender of New Jersey. Crack one joke about how dirty Jersey is, and you’re in for a spiel about how all of Jersey isn’t Newark. And as much as we give her a hard time, she’s right.

Her house sits on the highest piece of land for miles around, above the largest reservoir I have ever seen. We happened upon the area at the peak of fall, when the air was chilly and brisk and the trees hadn’t quite ridded themselves of their yellowed leaves. We spent the majority of the weekend being what we call “old ladies.” We went on short walks, did crossword puzzles, watched movies, and baked every night — a sort of routine that was as enjoyable as it was comforting. We did some hill running that was more or less comparable to running at home in San Francisco. We made this pear-cranberry gingersnap crumble, and may have spooned it over oat pancakes and topped it with maple syrup from a two-gallon jug the next morning. The morning’s activities were interspersed with updates from the New York City Marathon on TV. Next thing we knew, break was over and we were piling up in the car and driving back to campus.

This crumble combines all the flavors I love about the fall — the spicy bite of ginger, the tartness of cranberries and the sweetness of soft, translucent cooked pears. It was impossible to ignore sitting on the countertop. We added an extra apple, thinking the fruit filling might get too mushy with ripe pears. Oh, and we browned the butter, of course. Otherwise, we left the recipe untouched.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Cupcakes

November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Things that are making me happy today: Fictional Life

Blake, the gangly cross country captain of McCormick High, liked to play piano. He sat on the black and white tiled floor and strummed his fingers on his cloth suitcase tap ti tap tap tap. Every so often, he looked up at the screen monitor. An hour and a half later, it still said delayed.

From his vantage point on the floor, he watched the people passing by — starting with the shoes, the suitcase wheels, and the occasional cane. He unzipped his suitcase and took out a cinnamon bun his mother had packed earlier this morning. It was still warm.

A pair of stiletto heels walked by. A lady he presumed, but a glance upward saw a girl, maybe two or three years older than him, in a tight black skirt and a shirt that reflected the iridescent, industrial lighting of the station. A middle-aged man, in loafers and a crumpled pinstripe shirt sat down on a cold metal chair nearby. An older man with trembling fingers slowly fumbled to page 3 of yesterday’s Lifestyles section. A young couple smooched by the entrance to Track 8 before the man stepped on the escalator. The woman then turned around so as to not watch him leave. She had deep wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and, lips pursed, seemed determined not to cry. A young man in a badly-knotted tie dashed by her, clutching a briefcase to his chest, late for his first day of work. Blake turned his attention back to the cinnamon bun.

It was slightly dense; he could see his mother mixing the dough vigorously at the countertop. The layers didn’t flake off easily, and the thick icing left his fingers sticky and his mouth parched. He wiped his fingers on the tiled floor. A woman in a suit happened to walk by at that moment and gave him a look of disgust. He looked back at her skirt suit, stretched so it formed creases down her body, he wondered if she knew the snag in her tights was quickly making its way up her left leg as she walked. He smirked.

She was someone his mother would call a fake. Someone who didn’t know her real station in life. Sometimes his mother would come home Sunday mornings ranting about the new women on the church food committee. Fakes, she would say, social climbers the lot of them. One Easter, one of the women had made a batch of beautiful sugar cookies, shaped and decorated like bunnies and Easter eggs. Everyone had raved about them and his mother had harped for a week afterword about how they couldn’t possibly have been any good. Blake had stopped going to church a year ago.

The train was now delayed for another hour, according to the monitor. A voice on the loudspeaker blamed the snowstorm for a track foreclosure near Mystic, Connecticut. Blake hopped up, stretching out his legs that were an inch too long for his pants — his mother never shopped for clothes fast enough. He thought maybe he’d have a glass of water, and dragged his suitcase to the donut shop. But when he got to the front of the line, he said I’ll have a cup of coffee instead. He counted out a dollar in dimes. He had never had coffee before.

I should probably note than these are pumpkin gingerbread cupcakes made from some recipe that I just can’t seem to find anymore. The only info I have on them is that the recipe was printed in some Boston publication. But really the notable part was that I browned a half cup of salted butter on the stovetop, then stirred in the necessary amount of powdered sugar to make the mixture spreadable. Then I iced the cupcakes. And they were amazing. But I think eating the icing from my finger was equally amazing. 

Goat Cheese Custards

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The first time I arrived on a street corner in New York City, I was uncomfortably overwhelmed by the mass of people walking straight towards me, shoving, sidestepping and sometimes, halting mid-step so that the dozen people following close on the heels had to suddenly snap to the side in order to avoid collision. The sheer quantity of people was shocking. I swore I could never live in a place inhabited by so many people determined to follow their own path, regardless of how many people had to get pushed out of the way on the sidewalk. Sitting in the back of a taxi was a whole other story and nerve-wracking ordeal as every time we made a turn, I was terrified we would crash into the car beside us. Nevertheless, I came back to the city numerous times as an escape from what we politely call “the orange bubble,” which is the Princeton campus. Gradually, I have learned to navigate, to shove, and to walk with a purpose, and oftentimes find myself, completely unnecessarily, enacting the same techniques in other cities.

We spent a couple of days in the city last week and somehow managed to avoid the more centralized areas for much of the time. Staying in Morningside Heights, just north of Columbia, we took the subway; we ate cupcakes and drank carafes of sangria in the West Village; we sat by the docks and watched the sun set over New Jersey. In many ways, the city is different every time I come back. It’s only ever for a day or two at a time, so it’s only ever a glimpse, a quick breath before going back to the grind. Far from being terrifying now, it’s comforting, reassuring, that so many people exist in the world and they’re all doing their own thing. Which is nice to keep reminding yourself of when everyone at school seems to be heading down the exact same path.

Of course there are exceptions. Like the guy in the Columbia bar who told me to start pulling all my university connections in D.C. now and sarcastically wished me luck when I said I wanted to do cultural journalism as opposed to political journalism. Or the guy at the same bar who told my friend to abandon aerospace engineering because the money (equivalent to happiness) was in consulting and investment banking. But, well, if you stick to walking down the street and observing people, without actually talking to them, the sentiment that everyone is doing their own thing is there.

Which is, not really the point. I would never advocate not talking to people, just because certain individuals can be incredibly shortsighted. I guess part of the thing about talking to strangers is running the risk of being insulted and angered. But, we ranted about them on the way home that night and now, a few days later on campus, we’re back to doing our own thing.

So on that note, I made these little custards quite awhile ago. They’re creamy, like a light cheesecake. A red wine reduction poured over the top takes them from grown-up to sophisticated. They’re great if you just can’t decide between the dessert and cheese course. And the wine, well a little extra wine never hurt anyone. Cheers to being 21! And finally being able to buy alcohol for my own baking!

Rosemary Sugar Walnuts

November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

This may be a bit arbitrary, but one of the things I have come to associate with the East Coast is candied, spiced nuts. I can hardly walk down the streets of New York City without veering towards the carts selling honey roasted mixed nuts (+coconut), even though the dirtiness of the simmering pot of oil ought to deter me. Other times, you just have to mention roasting chestnuts, and I get excited, because it means fall and I never used to have a fall before. Leaves tend to stay on the trees year-round in California.

This year I was afraid we had skipped fall altogether and headed straight for winter. It poured and snowed, and all turned into slush, the other night in Boston. But then I boarded a bus out to the Cape the next morning, and the skies were blue, though the wind was chilly. The little town has the aura of a child’s plaything, abandoned after the summer. Many houses on the street are already empty for the cold months ahead. The few inhabited houses left behind have pumpkins on their front steps and young, fallen trees propped up in their yards, the only telltale sign that it stormed this past weekend. A harsh wind hits your face, coming up from the shore, where only a castaway crabbing net and a couple of seagulls remain sticking it out in the cold. In the evening, you can hear the wind, just from your seat by the window.

I haven’t been out here for over three years, though there was a time I came every summer. It’s quite different being here huddled up inside or out walking alone in a hat and scarf instead of doing front flips on the lawn in a bathing suit and washing sand off my toes under the sprinkler.

I know I just posted a batch of nuts, but i just couldn’t resist these. If the dried figs and fresh rosemary at first seem a bit unexpected, the flavors quickly meld together in a sticky, crunchy heap of irresistible snacking. I followed this recipe, swapping out the sesame seeds for pumpkin seeds, according to the season but also due to a personal dislike for sesame.

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