Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Blog

Friends, the state of the blog is strong. Though it appears so in retrospect, it was never clear that the blog was going to succeed, but we showed courage in early 2008 when we returned after a three-month haitus, and again later in 2008 when we again failed to post regularly. In fact, failing to post regularly has been our greatest challenge in the past, but in 2009 we set a new standard of alternating weekdays, which has become a successful program. We believe this will offset past deficits and bring our overall posts-per-week average up to a more reliable level. We plan to renew this program in 2010, but it won't be easy. The winter doldrums will take their toll, and some days, we just won't feel like posting, or there won't be enough cookies to fuel our creativity. There are tough times still ahead, and I don't feel like laying out an exact plan as to how we'll get through it, but we will. What makes our blog great is that more or less some of the time we might have posted something within the past week, and I believe we will continue to be great in exactly this same manner. May you never be out of internet range, and may our blog always load quickly.

Monday, January 25, 2010


A couple of weeks ago our local park held a winter festival. In the main parking lot, I was surprised to see a booth for the 2010 census, complete with a Personalized Census Truck.

I'm all for the census. It seems like a good idea. Plus, it's in the Constitution, and we always do what the Constitution says.

However, it is troubling to me that it is apparently necessary to convince 500 people at a time to fill out their forms by going to small-town winter festivals and giving them free mousepands and travel mugs and windshield scrapers with the census logo on them. Are there people who do not know we are constitutionally bound to count ourselves every ten years? How else would we know how many representatives we should get in Congress? And if you got something from the government in the mail, wouldn't you read it and then, as long as it doesn't seem insane to you, do what it says? I guess the answers are Yes, Magic, and No, for if I reveal my identity to the government, they might try to give me health care.

I'm not really all that incensed. The estimated budget for the 2010 census is $11 billion. There are about 308 million residents, so that works out to about $35 per person, which is pretty reasonable. The cost of making a few hundred thousand cheap products with the census logo on them is probably only a small fraction of that $11 billion. I'm just suggesting that if any government organization should need to market itself, it shouldn't be the census. It should be the ones we all have good reason to dislike, such as Congress, the IRS, and the DMV. The Census Bureau just wants us to be reasonably accurately represented. Why is everything about the government backwards?

That having been said, I do not EVER want to be given a windshield scraper with Nancy Pelosi's face on it, so I guess I should be grateful it hasn't come to that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Friday Wish

May you all know the joy of a late-night cookie shack within walking distance of your soul-crushing, all-night reality gig.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cottage Cheese Theory Doubted, Tested, and Sadly Confirmed

Some years ago, a friend and I (hello, Matt) discovered that we share identical feelings concerning the strange substance widely known as "cottage cheese." Cottage cheese, we decided, is delicious once every six months for the time it takes to consume two spoonfuls of it. The rest of the time it is abominable.

My semiannual craving started about three weeks ago, when I was in the dairy section of the grocery store. Usually I don't even notice the cottage cheese, but that day my gaze fell upon it and a great light shone from the dairy case and I thought YES. Cottage cheese is what I NEED. I must have it IMMEDIATELY. I had some reason to believe I might actually eat more than two spoonfuls, as I had in the previous year dedicated some time to building an immunity to cottage cheese revulsion, due to having to eat the leftover ingredients for quiche. So I thought I could probably manage three-quarters of the container.

To my great surprise, I ate the whole thing. And I went back and I bought more. And I ate the whole thing again. I woke up in the morning and instead of thinking, "Ugggggggh what is that wretched noooooiiiise," I leapt out of bed saying to myself, "I am having cottage cheese for lunch!" And then I would sing a little ditty about cottage cheese and songbirds came to do my hair and it was a beautiful time that I shall always remember fondly.

For it ended. Today. Thinking I had permanently overcome my fear and loathing of runny cheese curds, a couple of days ago, I bought a full-sized container and was looking forward to having a smackerel at lunch. I wasn't even put off when I discovered the seal was broken and had leaked slightly and I had to go back and exchange it for another. Anything for cottage cheese! I skipped down to the grocery store and got a new container and skipped back and opened it up, and great Jehoshaphat, it looked disgusting. I don't know whether it was all the skipping, or the fact that it was out of its refrigeration for the ten minutes it took to get home, or what, but it was all sloshy. With the utmost dubiousness, I tried some, and lo, it was even more disgusting than it looked. Lumpy, watery, warmish: vile.

I may yet attempt to strain out some of the whey (I did spent four bucks on it after all), but I have little hope of it regaining any edibility. I can only conclude that the cottage cheese theory holds: it is only acceptable in small quantities, with at least six months' recovery time. Test this theory at your own risk; if your experiment turns out poorly, you may end up having to make vast amounts of quiche, and I am not entirely sure how well it freezes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The town, it conspires against me.

Yesterday I watched a talk (on the internet, not in person) by Peter Sagal on the origins of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Before he began working for NPR, Peter Sagal was a playwright, and a few minutes into his talk he had this to say about writing: "Being a writer, there is nothing more important to me, nothing more precious to me, nothing more central to my focus than how, and for how long, I am going to procrastinate."

Cut to:

It is mid-afternoon. I am not procrastinating. I am writing.

Suddenly, there is a very loud and terrible noise outside, a sound that signifies hugeness and voltage.

The electrity in the entire town buzzes and shuts off.

Outside, someone yells, "Shit!"

The electricity buzzes and goes back on.

I look out the window, see nothing, re-set the clock on my stove, spend five minutes wondering what that was all about, and decide how, and for how long, I am going to blog about it.

I relate this story in the context of Peter Sagal's take on writing merely to stress that sometimes distractions are not 100% my own fault.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

currently wasting my time on:

A knitting spree! Of course for the first time in edit history it's not 40 below in my bay, making these fingerless gloves rather impractical... but I will wear them anyhow-- just to admire my cable knit.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Candied Pecan Experiment

You may recall that, long ago, I made this salad involving beets. Said salad called for candied pecans, but I was lazy and I did not candy them, I just threw them in plain. Then, over Christmas, Simon P. sent me a whole bag of candied/spiced nuts, and my love affair with candied nuts in salads reasserted itself, and I decided to candy my remaining pecans.

Turns out it is a fairly disgusting process. First of all, the combination of raw egg white and sugar doesn't feel nice on your fingers. And it doesn't look nice on the pecans. You can't tell here, but you could use the phrase "slippery globs" to describe the contents of this tray.

Then, when you take them out to stir for the first time, it looks like you're cooking candied beetles. A delicious appetizer for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, maybe, but no substitute in a salad.

After an hour of baking, they looked much better, and tasted delicious, but it was at this point that I looked at the huge amount of sugar on them and realized that what I had really wanted was glazed pecans.

Ah, well. Good thing I only eat them about five at a time.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

An Inappropriate Use of . . . Something?

Last night I made dinner with some friends. The recipe called for crumbled-up bacon. (I assure you, it was an appropriate use of bacon, or I wouldn't have been party to it.) I guess we were trying to counteract the calorie-laden remainder of the ingredients, because we decided to use turkey bacon.

Here are three things that look more like real bacon than turkey bacon.

1. Bacon Strips Adhesive Bandages
2. The plastic bacon you served to your stuffed animals when you were a kid
3. Kevin Bacon

Please hold these images in your mind's eye when you look at this plate of cooked turkey bacon:

Yes. It looks like rubber.

Turkey bacon cannot technically be an Inappropriate Use of Bacon, because it isn't bacon, but I hereby declare it a Scandalously Inadequate Substitute for Bacon, which is just as bad.

It didn't seem to harm the recipe much, as it was smothered in cheese, which cures all ills, but I've been told it doesn't reheat well. And when a casserole doesn't reheat well, you know there's a problem. And that problem probably stems from a Scandalously Inadequate Substitute for Bacon. Be warned!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Blue Christmas

Rare pictures of a snowy Long Island, taken on a cold but sunny Christmas Eve.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Simon 1, International Conspiracy of Culinary Villians 0

I think of recipes, especially those involving yeast, as the enemy. They tend toward ambiguous language and complicated terminology, and they assume for some reason that you have done all this a hundred times before, as if you are the head chef at the Ritz and not some hungry idiot who just wants dinner. And some things are just malicious; the abbreviations alone are obviously designed to confuse.

Let us take the teaspoon and tablespoon for example. To begin with, those names are obselete. The teaspoon is used for most everything, only a small percentage of which relates to tea. It is the teaspoon that is commonly found on the table, while the tablespoon is used for serving. Unless it's Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I'm willing to bet it never leaves the kitchen.

The names are therefore nonsense, but that isn't the worst of it. The abbreviations for the names make me suspect that there exists an international conspiracy of culinary villians who long ago decided it would be to their advantage to try to mess up everyone else by making "tsp." and "tbsp." almost exactly the same. Once these amounts became standardized units of measurement, probably some soft-hearted and naive chef went to their annual conference and said, "This is silly. Hundreds of thousands of people every year are going to ruin their recipes by misreading and using one when they were supposed to use the other. Let us call them 'littlespoon' and 'bigspoon' so that we can easily tell them apart." And this unfortunate person was no doubt "disappeared" while the rest of the villians all snickered to themselves and said, "Yes, we shall use 'tsp.' and 'tbsp.' in all recipes from now on, and because we hate Australia, we shall make one their tablespoon be equal to four teaspoons rather than three, as it is in the rest of the world. Ha-HA!"

I naturally assume these are the sorts of people who have written every recipe I have ever used, which is why I have learned to treat them all with the utmost caution so as not to fall into their traps. Usually this does not work. If this blog had a search feature I would link here to the post in which some hot cross buns went terribly wrong. Or maybe I never wrote about that because I felt it would degrade my dignity.

Fortunately my dignity and I have since parted ways and I have no reputation to lose, so yesterday I decided that I would try to make some bread, which I have been meaning to do for about two years, but could never work up the courage.

First I set out my ingredients. For complicated recipes, one doesn't take chances with hurried measurements. One does it ahead of time in case suddenly one needs four and three-quarters cups of beef bullion and an eye of newt, and one realizes one hasn't dissolved the boullion yet and the newt eyes are buried in the back of the cupboard, and while one is tending to these things, one's brew is boiling over and/or coming alive. Of course it depends what you're cooking. I was cooking with yeast, and as I have intimated, when there is YEAST involved, you do NOT take RISKS. Yeast is alive but only precariously, kind of like Little Nell, so one must take precautions.

Then I did bunch of things that were boring and not worth discussing. After that, we (Ivan had arrived by this time to provide moral support) got to the YEAST. Here it is, being proofed.

Yeast is creepy. After I put this in, the dough was hot. That's not natural. I'd like to take a moment here to discuss a disturbing fact about fungi (for which we can thank Richard Dawkins): fungi are more closely related to the animal kingdom than to the plant kingdom. I repeat. Mushrooms are more closely related to you than to moss. I asked my mother about this, and she explained that they are not plants because they do not use photosynthesis, but they're not animals either because they aren't mobile. Then she said that when they stick their rhizomorphs into the ground, or whatever, what they're really doing is eating. Like us.


Then I brought this up with my sister, who insists that mushrooms are tasty, and somehow we formed the theory that mushrooms were gloomy, frustrated novelists, but I can't quite remember the logic that brought us to that point. Anyway, that's just another reason not to eat them. Not only are they creepy, and slimy, and look like slugs, but also, it comes uncomfortably close to cannibalism.

Finally I had a nice glob of dough, which I was supposed to leave alone to rise. Which it did very nicely. Thank you, weird scary yeast. I put it on wax paper because the recipe hadn't tricked me yet and I had a bad feeling it was going to get me at the kneading part. Which it did. Halfway through the rising process I realized I was supposed to have floured whatever surface it was rising on. OH NO!

At this point I consulted my Christmas present from The Clergy, which was conveniently lying on my kitchen table adjusting to its new, unrolled state.

Curiously enough, I think this is an excellent motto which applies to basically all situations except one in which your country is at risk of invasion, which is when I would prefer the British Ministry of Information to provide me with a tank and politely advise that I move to the Orkneys. But that is neither here nor there. It was sound advice for my purposes.

Having put the dough on wax paper allowed me to flip it over onto the floured counter, and the problem was solved. I must say I am very proud of myself for having outsmarted my own inability to follow instructions.

In the end all was well, and some three or four hours after starting this operation, I pulled two beautiful loaves of bread out of the oven. I must say, the lack of total ruination that I had expected was quite surprising.

It is delicious.