Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crème Brulée for Two

This Christmas yielded a bumper crop of exciting new kitchen gadgets and cookbooks. Hint for those of you with under-stocked kitchens: start a food blog, and the gift-giving people in your life will really get the message that you are serious about this whole cooking-and-baking thing. It probably doesn’t hurt that I blatantly publicize my wish list before holidays and birthdays. This list has lately been stocked with lots of culinary accessories, but no more! I am pleased to report almost all of them were bestowed on me by generous friends and family. Listing them all would be tedious and slightly boastful, but I’ll definitely be highlighting various kitchen tools and cookbooks and their virtues in the weeks to come.

Today’s tool-du-jour is the Crème Brulée Torch. A Crème Brulée Torch is in the category of “things I’ve wanted for a long time that I’ve always been too frugal to actually purchase.” It seemed frivolous somehow, and frivolous things that you want but aren’t willing to invest in yourself make excellent presents. My cousin Ryan dispatched this charming tool to my house. In addition to melting and browning the sugar for crème brulée, the torch also provides hours of fun in the time-honored “playing with fire” tradition. We are fond of that tradition chez moi. Do note the ur-sophisticated use of French, because we are a fancy household, what with our food torches and French cuisine.

Other Christmas culinary gifts included real vanilla beans. I don’t know if these are the beans my husband bought for me, but he got me quite the substantial bundling of everyone’s favorite orchid pod. While I’ll continue to use vanilla extract for lesser baked goods, I thought that crème brulée deserved the real bean.

The biggest problem with Crème Brulée recipes is that they’re mostly designed to feed a crowd, and I really just wanted to make enough for my husband and me – and wanted smallish servings at that. I had more than my share of cookies this holiday season, and if I want to keep my figure (and I’m vain: I do) and don’t want to live at the gym (which I don’t: it smells), I need to be careful about my consumption of such decadent sweets.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cesare Pavese

Pavese was an Italian poet who had an unhappy life. This, of course, does not much differentiate him from many other writers discussed on this site. Born in 1908, he resisted Italian fascism and joined the communist resistance to Mussolini on behalf of a girlfriend. His subversion did not remain undetected, and he was thrown in jail for three years.

When he got out of the clink, he learned his girl hadn’t waited for him, and he didn’t take it well. Misfortune continued. He killed himself at the age of 42 after a failed love affair with the American actress Constance Dowling.

Pavese is not a poet whose works I’ve exhaustively studied. He was a favorite of my undergraduate advisor, and he tended to bring his poems into class from time to time as exemplars of good work. That’s how I became acquainted with the following poem, and it’s stuck with me over the years.

As an expression of pure despair combined with near-pathological paranoia, this poem is unparalleled. While the tone is grim throughout, the initial images in the poem are of simple moments of grace. The stanza beginning “You too will make gestures” functions as something of a rhetorical caesura, contrasting the fate of the beloved with that of the speaker. Respite and pleasure is possible, even destined for the lover, but the "I" of the poem possesses no capacity for redemption.

This absence underscores his desolation. The detached solitude of the cats mimics an inner darkness that creates separation from the world and its quotidian joys.

Oddly, I find this poem somewhat cheering, despite its bleakness. The speaker is connected to the inert and impenetrable cats; but others, including the lover and the rest of humanity, remain embedded within the physical world and can participate in the exhilarations of routine beauty. The speaker’s awareness of this, and his inability to be like them, are a greater tragedy than the thwarted love, which is either symptomatic of or precursor to this immutable isolation.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Whiskey Currant Walnut Cookies

I made these cookies because I wanted a third variety for the bins of Christmas Cookies I toted to my in-laws places this year. While flipping through the same magazine I used to find the recipe for my Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies, I spotted a recipe for Currant Bourbon Cookies. I have a stash of currants in my fridge – still waiting to be turned into scones (I’ll get to them soon! Maybe ...) – and they sounded like a nice, simple treat that could be tucked into the crannies of my cookie tins.

I didn’t have any bourbon on hand and used whiskey for my booze flavoring. I was also halving the recipe, and the original called for two eggs, so I threw one whole egg right in without reading all the way through. Alas, the second egg was intended for an egg wash, and not for the cookie dough. I upped the amount of flour slightly, and the cookies came out just fine. In fact, I think the whole egg made the texture slightly softer and more tender, which is how I prefer my unleavened cookies.

Martha’s recipe doesn’t call for any nuts, but I thought they would be nice with the currants. Because I still had a ton of citrus on hand, I also threw in some grated orange zest. The orange is subtle and brightens the whiskey and currant flavors.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I, for one, will be celebrating the fact that most of my culinary ventures are more successful than the one depicted.

I had realized it was a bit  underdone, but hadn't realized how very liquid the center remained until I dropped it -- which had the effect of making that question rather moot.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies

I love the flavors of gingerbread, but too often, gingerbread turns out dry. Store bought gingerbread in particular suffers from this affliction. Cookies that should be warm and rich with spice have the flavor and consistency of chalk. I felt like I could do better.

This is a heavily doctored recipe based on one from a Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie magazine that my in-laws gave me a few years ago. Martha seems to prefer her cookies more chewy than cakey. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I was kind of hoping for the best of both worlds, and this isn’t it. I can’t say I wasn’t warned; the original instructions say “bake until flat,” and flat cookies are rarely pillowy of texture.

This is not to say that these cookies are a failure. They are flavorful and moist and have a delightfully appealing sugar crust. Instead of plain sugar, I rolled them in turbinado sugar, and the crunchiness that this added contrasts beautifully with the chewiness of the cookies. Most importantly, this cookie is full of the ginger molasses flavors that are redolent of Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton was troubled. Good-looking in an intense, nervy, raw-edged way, she worked briefly as a model before marrying young and quickly having two daughters. She began writing poetry at the suggestion of her therapist. I suppose posterity should thank him, but her case rather illustrates the shortcomings of poetry-as-therapy: after repeated bipolar breakdowns and progressive alcoholism, she killed herself at the age of 46 through carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage.

Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are often paired as the female ur-confessional poets. This impulse is understandable. Both had long involvement with mental health systems, to put it mildly; both wrote extremely personal and revealing poetry in which the “I” seems, generally speaking, to be located within the author; and both were eventual suicides. The women were contemporaries, knew one another, and apparently discussed ways and means of accomplishing their deaths years before either of them took the final step.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies

Even though I love chocolate, I tend not to bake with it often. I’m so enamored of plain chocolate, preferably of the darkest-of-dark variety , that there seems little cause to dilute its impact by mixing with flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. Feel free to remember this anecdote should you feel compelled to shower me with culinary gifts.

However, it’s also hard to go too wrong with chocolate. When I first spotted this recipe, it seemed like a likely candidate for my Christmas cookie tray. It called for Nutella, spread of the gods, and for hazelnuts, of which I still had quite a few leftover from my adventures in fruitcake.

Of course, when I went to actually *make* the cookies, I realized I didn’t have a couple of key ingredients on hand. I had forgotten to check my stores of cocoa powder, which were low, and I was also fresh out of powdered sugar (which had all been used for the icing of my Florida Christmas Cookies).

On the other hand, I did have a whole jar of Nutella, and Nutella, like love, can cover a multitude of sins.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Florida Christmas Cookies

This is a rare recipe that I’ve been making for my whole life. Since these are called “Florida Christmas Cookies,” and my family has been in Florida since the 19th Century, I thought it might be an old family secret. I’ve heard that my maternal great-grandmothers were both good cooks, so I used to imagine that this recipe had been lovingly handed down for the past hundred years or so.

When I finally asked my mom, she told me she clipped the recipe from Southern Living when I was a kid. That’s what I get for waxing sentimental. In any case, it’s a family tradition now.

These cookies call for substantial quantities of both orange and lemon zest. Before the advent of the micro-plane grater, making them was a chore. Micro-plane gratersare cheap, they work amazingly well, and they reduce the total zesting time from nearly an hour to around 10 minutes. On a slow day.

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I always had to zest the citrus for these when I was growing up. I would drag the oranges and lemons desultorily across our box grater while my sister would be, I don’t know, adding food coloring to frosting, which seemed to be her privilege most years. My mother would never be satisfied with my efforts. She got me in the habit of shredding the citrus down to the end of the pith, which is why these cookies taste kind of bitter when she makes them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

W.B. Yeats (II)

Presented without comment for your Monday.

After Long Silence

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

William Butler Yeats I

Yeats on Wikipedia

Yeats on

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I feel as if I need to create a more comprehensive profile page in case you're wondering who I am or why you should care.

I would rather do this in a Q&A format rather than writing a couple of tedious paragraphs about myself.  This is a long way of saying: if you have any questions, please leave me a comment.  I'll try to answer these inquiries (or cleverly elide them) when I put up a real "about me" page.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Turkish Spice Bread II

Even though my last attempt at Turkish Spice Bread was pretty tasty, I knew I would be going back to the drawing board. The recipe I came up with was good, but it wasn’t as faithful to the bread we had in Turkey as I had hoped.

Last time, I omitted several key spices and honey. I hoped that adding these items this time around would give me something more “authentic.”

Of course, “authentic” in this case may be totally meaningless. For all I know, in Turkey what we had might be called “Slovakian Tea Cake” and bear no relationship to the native cuisine. But it was good. That was the main thing.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Philip Larkin

Evidence suggests that Philip Larkin was a pretty miserable human being. A never-married librarian, he carried on simultaneous long-term affairs with several women, some of them his coworkers. He was misogynistic and racist – his extant letters are full of repugnant condemnations of blacks and immigrants – and apparently quite the collector of pornographic images, large stashes of which were found among his belongings upon his death. You can see it in his picture, too; he might as well be holding a big placard that says “I am a perv!”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Divinity (with Pecans)

I like to think of myself as adept in the kitchen. I whiff a recipe from time to time, but even when things don’t turn out just so, I can usually pinpoint the reason why – I’ll add too much salt or spice, for example, or ignore my batters’ warnings that I didn’t use enough fat or liquid. But I know better. My failures are more often the result of laziness than they are of ineptitude.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

I do not come from a family of cooks. My mother has a handful of dishes that she makes well – most of them odd Adventist concoctions such as Chik’n Rice and fried Fri-Chik
– and she can even make a decent filling for an apple pie, though my powers are insufficient to persuade her that butter makes a much nicer crust than margarine. Old habits die hard.

My grandmother also has a handful of faithful standbys. Everyone loves her stuffing. She makes a good vegetarian chili, and I’ve always enjoyed her potato salad.

Still, neither of them are culinarily adventurous women. They are not philosophically opposed to processed food, and neither ever passes up an opportunity to combine condensed cream of mushroom soup with vegetables, pasta, or rice and call it a meal. And hey, even I like this sort of thing … sometimes. But given that these ladies live in Florida – where you can get excellent, farm-fresh produce all year long of the sort I can only wistfully dream of in Connecticut – their near-exclusive reliance on foods that could survive a nuclear holocaust continues to baffle me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yamabe no Akahito

Today, I give you a short, perfect love poem by Akahito, a Japanese poet of the 7th Century. That's pretty much all I know about him.  The translation is by Kenneth Rexroth.

I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.

The salt girl of the poem is one who gathers and/or processes salt, rather than a Lot’s wife-style person composed of it. All the same, I’m sure it’s no accident that one pictures an actual salt woman. The image suggests both the crystalline purity and unreality of salt, which exists in a state of perfection and simplicity to which no human can hope to aspire, and its dissolvability. These seem nice twin metaphors for love objects in general. This poem reminds me of a quote I read somewhere from (I think) Lacan: that to love is to give something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t exist.

I felt like you had to have a bit of darkness to balance so much sweet.

Akahito on Wikipedia

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Candied Citrus Peel

As promised, I wanted to provide instructions for making your very own candied citrus peel.  This process is mildly tedious, but the final product is so vastly superior to store-bought peel that I can only recommend it.

I used this recipe from as a guide in preparing the peels. The others that I found on the internet suggested boiling the rinds in plain water several times before candying them. Since I don’t mind a little bitterness in my life – and because the fruit cake was a big enough project without adding homemade candied citrus peel to its to-do list – I wanted to select a recipe that would be as short and simple as possible. However, if you don't like bitter flavors, you can reduce them by boiling the citrus peels in plain water for half an hour from one to three times before adding them to the sugar slurry that will candy them.

I used a slightly higher sugar/water ratio than they call for and added some triple sec to the slurry to give the citrus flavor a little extra oomph. I also threw in a little salt, because I’m totally on the salt-in-desserts bandwagon. Otherwise, I made this more or less as instructed.

Peeling the citrus is rather time consuming, especially if you’re as particular as I am about cutting down to just the right amount of pith and peel. However, it’s a soothing kind of task. Once you get into the dicing and peeling, you can kind of let your mind go while your fingers do the work.

I didn’t mean for that to sound quite so dirty.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet. Born in 1875, he was briefly and happily married, but his wife died young. Things didn’t improve from there: he fell ill while fleeing fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War and died shortly after scaling Pyrenees and crossing the French border in 1939.

Machado is reckoned to be the great Spanish modernist poet, but the translations of his work that I’ve read are uneven. The good ones absolutely persuade me of his brilliance; the bad ones remind me how dicey a proposition translating poetry can be.

This is another lovely poem from A Book of Luminous Things. The translator is Robert Bly, who is a noted poet in his own right.  I would be lying if I said I were a huge fan of Bly's own work, but I quite like his translations, which are graceful and economical.

I went to see my mother's family in Florida for Thanksgiving a mere week and a half after getting back from my Greece/Turkey trip, so travel poems such as the one that follows remain very much on my mind.  If anyone’s curious, my Florida Thanksgiving pictures are here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fruit Cake

I love fruitcake. I love it earnestly and un-ironically. I love that it’s like the perfect marriage of trail mix and cake. I love its density, its chewiness, its booziness. I love it to the depth and breadth and height ….

Well, that’s a bit much. Suffice it to say that I really like fruitcake and am saddened by its unwelcome reputation.

Given my love for fruitcake, it was only a matter of time before I decided to try my hand at making my very own. The crop of fruitcake recipes popping up on tastespotting and foodgawker this time of year only heightened the temptation.

As with most temptations, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apricot Currant Filled Cookies

I like a good filled cookie. What I don’t like are filled cookies that have a mere smidge or swipe of the good stuff. I’m the sort of girl for whom the chips are the whole point of a chocolate chip cookie, and the cream cheese center is the whole point of the Danish. The filling is likewise the whole point of a filled cookie. If you’re just going to use a tiny dab, then why bother? Save yourself the trouble – make sugar cookies or shortbread and call it a day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov was a very fine poet who had, among other thing, superlative taste in glasses. She’s not one of my special favorites; I haven’t exhaustively studied her work or committed anything she wrote to memory. I just had this poem floating around in my head and thought I’d post it.

I first discovered this poem in A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry,which was edited by Czeslaw Milosz. It’s a very fine anthology and recommended if you’re more of a casual poetry reader and not the sort to hunker down with anyone’s complete works.

Because let’s be honest: most authors’ complete works are a bit of a slog. I recall having a chat with another English major girlfriend (Hi Lynelle!) who had the pluck to tackle Shakespeare's Complete Sonnets. There’s lots of good stuff in there. We’re talking about poetry that is among the finest ever penned in the English language. The sonnets are a pretty high bar for any poet to match.

And yet … there are duds. And the duds are not altogether infrequent.

It’s quite comforting that even great writers have off days.

This poem is not a dud.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turkish Spice Bread

In Istanbul, my husband and I stayed at the Hotel Tashkonak. We really enjoyed our stay. The room wasn’t huge, but we had our own little balcony and there is a free breakfast buffet every morning.

Nothing about the breakfast buffet was shocking, but it was somewhat different from what you probably think of as a breakfast buffet.  Non-sweet foods were strongly represented, with cold cuts, savory cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and savory pastries all on ample display.

I prefer lots of sugar to start my day, and fortunately, there were plenty of jams and jellies and a large bowl of honey to placate me. I especially liked the rose jelly, which is hard to come by in the states and which is much lighter than most American preserves. The rose jelly was heaven when slathered on the sweet spice bread laid out each morning.

It was this spice bread that really enticed me out of bed after the first day. I make a lot of quick breads, but I still couldn’t tell what was in it. It was dense and moist and had a soft, tender crumb. I started missing it the second our plane left Ataturk airport and was determined to recreate it in my own kitchen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke wrote pleasant, fairly conventional verse. That sounds slighting, and I suppose it is, but his poetry is really a pleasure. Like his lover Louise Bogan, he never much strove to escape his preferred idiom. Most of his corpus is traditional, metrical, rhyming verse.

Unlike Bogan, Roethke did not eschew emotion. His poetry contains anger and scorn; it expresses a slavish adoration toward nature, balanced with the odd acknowledgement of nature’s inherent darkness; it can be wistful and regretful. Most often, however, Roethke is a poet of earnestness, tenderness, and uplift. He is the U2 of the poetry world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I feel like I’m not yet back in my culinary groove. Ever since I returned from vacation, it’s been catch-as-catch can to tidy the house, take care of the laundry, and take care of even simple, heat-and-serve meals

Given that – but given that I still hoped to bake something over the weekend – I opted for simplicity. This is my version of the classic chocolate chip cookie.

I started baking plain chocolate chip cookies at the age of 9. My church had a little youth group called “the King’s Army” – that’s the sort of thing that Adventists consider a clever pun – and in order to fund its meager overhead expenses, we hosted a weekly bake sale. I made cookies using the Tollhouse recipe most of the time, although occasionally, I made it as a bar cookie because hey– drop cookies are time-consumptive, especially for a little kid.

I like to think I did a good job for a pre-teen, but my baking skills have definitely evolved since then. My love for chocolate chip cookies, however, has not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Louise Bogan

Louise Bogan is one of those countless minor poets with which the field of literary history is strewn. That’s not intended as an insult; I’ve browsed her complete works, and so far as I can tell, she never made a serious attempt to extend her poetic reach or overthrow her established idiom.

This was not a woman to splatter herself all over the page. Instead, she wrote concise, well-crafted verse that is almost painfully restrained. She wrote a lot of love poems, but they’re vexingly anodyne. Something about them feels weak and emaciated, as if she was fearful of letting the language veer into the uncontrolled territory implied by her subject matter. I think it is this inhibition that damns her to eternal minor poet status.

Her personal life was apparently pretty sad; she married twice, both times unhappily, and had a daughter that she never much discussed with anyone. She and the decade-younger poet Theodore Roethke had a rather torrid affair in the mid-1930s; apparently, she didn’t think much of his work (though my sources are conflicting), but he immortalized her with a lovely lyric poem which will be forthcoming in another post on this blog.

This poem has been fluttering around in my head ever since we toured the underground cistern in Istanbul with the Medusa's head columns. I think it’s Bogan’s best. The tension between the immobilized stone figures created by the Medusa and the unrestrained fury and passion encapsulated by monster herself echoes the conflict in Bogan’s own poetry between tone and subject.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie

I don’t like pumpkin pie. I love pumpkin in other contexts – bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls – but in pie form, pumpkin doesn’t do it for me. Pumpkin pie always tastes flat and one-note to me, like cheap coffee or artificial vanilla-flavored ice cream. It’s totally not worth its calories.

Sweet potato pie, on the other hand, is something I can’t get enough of. It tastes like pumpkin pie’s brighter, sharper cousin – or perhaps pumpkin pie is the ugly stepsister to sweet potato pie’s Cinderella. Sweet potato pie is what pumpkin pie aspires to be when it wishes on a star.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pablo Neruda

I suspect most educated Americans have heard of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which makes him rare among foreign authors.  His most popular poems are the effusive love poems found in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. I think all of us are, on some level, suckers for good love poetry, and why not?

The fact that he was a Chilean writing in Spanish seems to provide cover for his emotional excesses. I really like Neruda, but I suspect that his poetry would be dismissed as over-sentimental and too desperately impassioned if it had it been composed in English.

When I was in college, I decided – correctly, I think – that Neruda was a poet whose works should be included in my personal library. Unable to find a used edition of his works, I spent a long time hunkered on the floor of my local Barnes and Noble trying to decide between two translations.

This is the poem I first read in the translation that I bought. Except for this poem, it turned out to be the wrong choice. Nonetheless, it’s a fine poem, and a fine rendering of a poem, even if I do have some quibbles about the phrasing midway through. What is a marrowy morsel of sex? If you know, feel free to enlighten me.  I like the rest of the translation well enough to forgive this rather opaque phrasing.

It’s possible that I’m feeling sentimental and impassioned myself. I hope you enjoy the poem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So I am back from my recent sojours.  Husband and I vacationed in Thessaloniki, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.

First, thanks to everyone for your nice comments and well-wishes for safe travels.  They were appreciated!

Since this is a food blog, I thought I'd share the culinary highlights of our journey.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Oatmeal Scones

This is another small-batch scone recipe.  I had an extra Granny Smith apple in my veg drawer, and I love them for cooking, but not so much for eating.  Rather than let the apple molder away until I would have no choice but to discard the rotted thing, I thought I would come up with something in which to bake it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Constantine Cavafy

Since I will be on vacation in Greece and Turkey while this is posted, it seems fitting to include a poet writing in Greek. Constantine Cavafy was of Greek Orthodox heritage and spent most of his life in Alexandria.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Linguini with Tomato Pesto

This pasta is an unlikely-seeming success, but it’s very tasty and easy to throw together on a weeknight. There’s plenty of oil and cheese, but olive oil is healthy, right? There’s also tomato paste and parsley. It sounds like an odd combination, but it works really well.

The best part? It’s a no-cook sauce. You can throw the pesto together in the time it takes to boil the linguini, toss it all together, and you have a meal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kenneth Koch, travel

As many of you are aware, husband and I will be away on vacation for the week and a half or so. I will have limited internet access while away, but thanks to the magic of scheduled posting, this blog will be updated several times while I’m gone. I won’t be able to respond to questions or comments until I return, so please don’t think I’m spurning you.
I would never do that.

In honor of travel, I thought I’d post a poem by Kenneth Koch. Koch was by all accounts a lighthearted guy who wrote relatively breezy and fun poems. Unlike Mark Strand, whose humor gilds a pervasive darkness, Koch suffers under the strain of treating his subjects with sufficient earnestness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chik'n Rice

Today, we’re featuring “a recipe you almost certainly will never make,” unless you are among my ten or so Adventist readers, in which case you probably already know how to make it. “It” is a dish that I think of – complete with misspelling and apostrophe – as “Chik’n Rice.”

It can be frustrating to have grown up in a little-known religious subculture. Lacking Mormons’ sexy polygamy history, Adventists don’t have much pop culture currency. People tend to confuse them with other fringe religious groups.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blueberry Almond Crumb Muffins

This recipe is very loosely based off this one this one, which I pulled from allrecipes about 800 years ago.  Before I became an adventurous baker, I made the recipe as suggested several times.  It's plenty good, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for in the perfect blueberry muffin.  This is.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

William Butler Yeats

Yeats should require little introduction. One of my undergraduate professors likened him to Bugs Bunny in the carrot factory episode – junk in, carrots (or poetry) out – on account of Yeats’ odd panoply of belief systems. He found it odd that such a crackpot was such a great poet.

I think Yeats was confused and more than a little conflicted by the rang of forces striving to claim his loyalty. The proliferating mythologies to which he ascribed seem an effort to create a better realm, one more worthy of his devotion. Yet even this realm was imperiled by the encroachment of dark forces.

Friday, October 23, 2009

White Chocolate Apricot Chunk Cookies

These are cookie nirvana. This recipe is based off a Martha Stewart recipe, but as per usual, I have made of it my own special cookie concoction. Not that the original is lacking. Martha, as we know, is not a woman to whiff a batch of cookies. And I respect that. I honor it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eugenio Montale

I don’t know a great deal about Montale. He was a favorite of my undergraduate advisor, who made us all rush out to buy his complete works (as translated by) Jonathan Galassi in Hardcover. At the time, this was quite an investment, but it is a beautiful book and one that has proven a pleasure over the years.

In this translation – and perhaps this is inherent to translation – the poetry possess greater consistency of tone and emotional pitch than I suspect Montale actually accomplished. This can induce a certain passive reading experience. Last time I was flipping through the poems, I realized after a few minutes that I was hardly reading – rather, I had entered something like a trance state in which snippets of metaphor were languidly floating through my mind while the bulk of my conscious thought was devoted toward running through my day’s to-do list and assuring I had checked all the boxes.

That was a rather convoluted way of confessing that I may not be the closest reader of Montale’s work, but it’s lovely all the same. Below the jump is a rueful and charming love poem.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Coffee cake is hard to ruin. Nonetheless, every time I make coffee cake, I end up on pins and needles until it comes out of the oven and I’ve sliced into it. This is entirely my fault. I’m unable to leave a good recipe alone and bake as directed. I stubbornly insist on mucking about with demonstrably good things.

Take this Smitten Kitchen recipe. It looks delightful – nay, it is delightful. And it sounded like just the thing. Except … (there’s always an “except”), her recipe calls for two cups of sour cream. I’ve had coffee cakes with that much sour cream before and found the flavor overpowering and the texture so rich that they approached cheesecake levels of decadence. Since I’m on a huge baking-with-yoghurt kick, I thought it would make a good replacement. Also, I really like nuts in my coffee cake, so I wanted to add them. And here’s where I’m just a big show-off: I wanted to use a bundt pan, not the 9x13 pan indicated, for a higher visual impact factor. Sometimes, even I am astonished by my frivolity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop led a peripatetic existence. Raised in New England and Nova Scotia, an inheritance left her financially independent, and she spent much of her adult life in warm and vaguely exotic locales – Paris, Key West, Brazil. None succeeded in providing a real home. Her poetry suggests someone deeply ill-at-ease with her surroundings, no matter where they happened to be, and with her fellow humans, whose emotional terrains are foreign and frighteningly volatile.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quiche Squares

This is a recipe I got from my stepmother. She often serves it at holiday breakfasts with bacon, french toast, fresh fruit, and other assorted goodies. I likewise enjoy it for breakfast, but it makes an equally nice  dinner. Paired with a green salad and bread if you want it, it makes a tasty and un-fussy weeknight meal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’d been craving Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls for the better part of two weeks. Ever since I saw this recipe (via macheesmo), I had been tormented by visions of fresh, gooey, pumpkin-y goodness.

Not that I’d ever had such a thing. Last time I had fresh-baked cinnamon rolls was back when I took Advanced Food in high school. That’s the sort of course they had at my religious fundamentalist boarding school. I mock that sort of thing now, but actually? Advanced Food was pretty fabulous. We came, we cooked, we ate. Repeatedly, for a whole semester.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound has issues. He was an ardent fascist who never renounced his politics. He was committed to an insane asylum right after the Second World War, and it would be nice to believe that his political nastiness was just another manifestation of mental illness and not evidence of a cruel and bullying character. Since viciousness and craziness are not mutually exclusive, however, I’m not prepared to absolve him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some recipes are bête noirs, recipes that thwart you time and time again no matter how many times you attempt to master them. Apple pie is in this category for me. I always try to fancy it up, and the results are always okay but less-than-ideal. I keep attempting to make amaretto caramel sauce for the filling, and it always ends up thin and runny. Another trick is using ground almonds in the crust, which does add flavor but reduces the flakiness of the pastry. I like a high fruit-to-crust ratio, so I also tend to overfill the pie. This leads to an underbaked middle and a filling that won’t set.

The best apple pie I ever made was last Christmas at my mom’s. Since I’m the family baker –and in fairness, because I always complain about my mom’s pie (she makes an all-margarine crust, for example), I was assigned the task of making two pies and a batch of Christmas cookies.

Given these assignments, I hardly left the kitchen on Christmas Eve, and I didn’t have the time or energy to get fancy with the pies. My only concessions to creativity were making one plain-top and one crumb-top pie. Neither pie had any special flavorings aside from lemon zest in the filling. I didn’t have as many apples as I thought I wanted, so neither was over-filled with fruit.

Both pies were both perfect. That’s the thing about apple pie: it needs no embellishment. I told myself I would remember this lesson next time I made pie … but I didn’t. Visions of caramel-drenched apples stymied me once again.

This recipe is the opposite of apple pie. It turns out perfectly every time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mark Strand

Having said that I prefer my poets dead and that I don’t like to meet my poets, I am now going to contradict myself. This will not be a huge self-betrayal. To say that I have “met” Mark Strand is true only in the briefest and most literal sense. He gave a reading at my undergrad alma mater, and I was momentarily introduced to him by my advisor.

Mark Strand is not a young man. The incident to which I refer was around a decade ago, by which time he was already plenty old, especially from the perspective of a college student. I knew he was old, and I went to the reading expecting your typical geriatric shuffler.

That he was not. Mark Strand has charisma in such overwhelming superabundance that I felt vaguely elated within the space of ten seconds of meeting him – which is a good thing, since that’s pretty much all I saw of him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sour Cream Cheddar Cheese Biscuits (for one or two)

Among my sorrows is the fact that husband is not fond of biscuits. He is not enticed by fresh-baked biscuits with strawberry jam. He does not like them them slathered in gravy. He does not much care for their British cousin, scones with currants and clotted cream. He is more or less impervious to the appeal of the biscuit family of baked goods.

This is crazy. As a southern girl, I honestly don’t think I ever met anyone before him who doesn’t like a good biscuit. He did not confess his lukewarm feelings toward biscuits until after we were married, so I had been ignorantly and happily baking them for years. Sure, I noticed that I tended to eat the bulk of them, and that we had to throw away stale leftover biscuits with surprising regularity, but I thought he was just being health-conscious.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Donald Justice (II)

This poem ought to be a failure. Rather than building toward a coherent whole, it is rather inert and meandering and ends by fizzling off into that ultimate of compositional cop-outs: ellipses.

And yet this poem has stayed with me, provoking some indefinable but definite response. I suppose it’s reassuring that some poems defy my best attempts to formulate a coherent poetics.