Sunday, January 31, 2010

Emily Dickinson II

The problem with doing multiple Emily Dickinson posts is the paucity of available photos of said authoress. I thought I’d go with this hilariously frilly one, which was devised by publishers of a bygone era (based on the picture in my last post on Emily D.) in order to make her seem more attractive and feminine.

It’s a pretty safe guess that she didn’t much resemble this image.

The following poem is among my favorites, but I find the end a bit mystifying and think it can be plausibly read in so many ways. This does nothing to diminish my enjoyment. I’m a bit weary and overwhelmed by other tasks this weekend, so if you were hoping for a thoughtful analysis of intent and narrative structure … then google is your friend, though I confess that when I searched online for a copy of this poem to cut and paste, most of the accompanying analyses seemed irksomely misguided.

Not that I have strong opinions.

It’s a fabulous poem regardless of one’s take on it.

And I finally got around to making traditional scones, so I shall share that recipe tomorrow or the day after.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dark Chocolate Rum Balls

Rum balls are one of those treats that sound great in theory but usually fall short in execution. I think this is because one often encounters them in grocery store trays of over-processed, over-colored “holiday cookie treats.” The rum flavoring is either artificial or absent, and the texture is akin to that of a gummy bear.

And yet they ought to be deliciousness incarnate. I mean, it’s crumbled up cookie or brownie soaked in rum. Surely, I thought, a homemade rum ball would have virtues that their processed kin are lacking. For example, one ought to be able to make rum balls whose flavor bears some relationship to the potent potable in question.

I am proud to report that my first attempt at rum balls proved my hypothesis correct. These dark chocolate rumballs are dense, moist, and abundantly rum-flavored. Basically, you bake a shallow brownie, break it up, dump in some rum, and roll the resultant goo into balls – and then roll them in turbinado sugar.

There’s nothing not to love there. So let’s get to the specifics:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dark Chocolate Spiced Brownies

I’m not really that huge on brownies but ever since I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, I had been itching to try it. The problem: it took me over a year to get my hands on some chipotle chili powder. Every time I thought to look for it at the store, the store would be out, or I would think to look at stores that don’t carry it to begin with – I’m looking at you, my beloved Trader Joe’s.

These brownies, for the uninitiated (or if you couldn’t gather from the foregoing paragraph), get an extra kick from the inclusion of chipotle chili powder, cinnamon, and cardamom. I really like chili and dark chocolate together, so I thought this might be the brownie for me: the one that would convert me to brownie love, the one that would send me into exclamatory raptures, the one that would make me abandon my favored drop cookies and embrace brownie baking forevermore.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is among my favorite poets, which makes it difficult to write about her. The relationship between her work to some internal conception I have about what a poem should be or do renders dispassionate analysis a daunting task.

Dickinson, as you may know, led what many consider a cramped and narrow life. She never married, lived with her parents and family in Massachusetts her entire adult life, and never pursued advanced studies or travels. However, her poetry is so abundant in experience that people have been trying to ferret out the secret encounters and passions that seem to have animated her ever since she gained posthumous renown.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Banana Bread with Coconut, Blueberries, and Almonds

This is the quick bread which I so tragically under-baked and then dropped in the days leading up to Christmas. Naturally, I was a bit chary of attempting this recipe again, but it’s ridiculously tasty, easy, and a nice way to use up those last couple of bananas of the bunch that always go over-ripe before you’ve had a chance to eat them.

It’s also a nice way to use up flake coconut. I have a ton of coconut on hand because I inadvertently bought two bags on subsequent shopping trips. This used up all the coconut in the open bag, but I still need to whip up some macaroons lest my remaining coconut, horror of horrors, go rancid. That would be a waste of precious coconut.

This recipe was “inspired” by one I found on the internet some years ago, but it’s beyond my powers of recall to tell you from which site. The original made a nice-but-small, flattish loaf that was too insubstantial for my preferences. I’m an American, and we like everything big, right? And that includes quickbreads. I’ve basically superimposed my memory of its flavors onto my no-fail quickbread formula, and the results, as I hope you would agree, are quite tasty – and also quite abundant.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Malted Butterscotch Cashew Cookies

My mother-in-law gave us a huge jar of cashews (among other lovely culinary gifts) for Christmas. Both husband and I are unable to resist those rich, buttery nuts when the urge to nosh strikes, so there was no need to exhaust them quickly. However, I really love cashews in baked goods and wanted to make an easy cookie that could be thrown together in less than half an hour. Enter the Malted Butterscotch Cashew Cookie.

This feels lazy because it is basically just a variation of my favorite chocolate chip cookies. However, it’s a tasty variation, so I it would be remiss not to share it.

Because butterscotch and cashew are fairly subtle flavors compared to chocolate, I added extra malted milk powder to these to give them more depth. I really like the flavor and recommend that you do not omit the malt powder from the cookies.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Geoffrey Chaucer

The poetry reading I’ve been doing lately is different from my usual dips in short-to-medium-length poems. No, I’ve been cozying up to my old friend Chaucer.

I’m not here to scold you for your failure to plow through all of the Canterbury Tales in un-annotated Middle English. I’m not even going to scold you if you failed to make it through the General Prologue in your freshman-year survey of English lit course. Rather, I’d like to encourage you that Chaucer is more entertaining and rewarding than he might initially seem.

I did major in English, so you can take my opinion with a little grain of salt, but reading him in Middle English is not so hard as you might think if you have a good edition with sufficient explanatory notes. As per usual, I favor The Norton Critical Edition. It doesn't contain the complete tales, but honestly: are you likely to go beyond the “greatest hits” any time soon?

I understand that there are plenty of “translations” of Chaucer into contemporary English out there, but it seems perverse to read them when the original is really – I swear – not beyond your powers of comprehension. You’re unlikely to want to cozy up to all of the tales at a go, but I find that dipping into the tales is soothing and fosters the sort of sustained, engaged concentration that I both cherish and find difficult to cultivate in my media-saturated life.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster Relief

I hope it goes without saying that if you have anything to spare, it would be good of you to donate a bit to the Haitian earthquake relief effort. A few charities that seem worthy to me are:

ADRA, the Adventist emergency relief agency. I haven't been an Adventist in a very long time and would not otherwise counsel giving to a church-affiliated agency, but ADRA does exceptional work during humanitarian crises and is not especially dogmatic in its usual operations.

MSF/Doctors Without Borders. I have always thought they are a fabulous organization that does fabulous work.  I read this book a few years ago, and it reinforced that perception.

Lambi Fund of Haiti. I found this through the Charity Navigator web site, and my hope is that donating to such charities will help Haiti recover after the period of urgent crisis has passed and the world's attention has moved on.

Mercy Corps. I don't know much about this charity, but their operational philosophy is very much aligned with my personal beliefs about how positive, sustainable change can be accomplished.

Obviously, I'm not an expert, and I'm sure any reputable and established charity would be fine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I realize this blog has been light on poetry lately, but I’ve been doing more cooking and baking than poetry reading. Last week, I immersed myself in The Children's Book– highly recommended if you’re an anglophile and literature nerd like me – and such sustained fiction-reading seems to have crowded all of the poetry out of my head for the moment.

I’m sure it shall return before too terribly long. Perhaps I can appease you with a fine recipe for Challah?

As you probably know, Challah is a traditional Jewish bread that has lots of eggs and a golden, rich texture. It’s probably my favorite bread. Since eggs mean protein, I can even delude myself that it’s healthy, despite its absence of whole grains.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Caramelized Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Husband had a birthday last week, and I am in the habit of baking him layer cakes each birthday. Husband also has a ridiculous and overpowering affection for apples and apple-spackled baked goods, so when I spied this recipe on the Martha Stewart web page, I had a suspicion he would be unable to resist its allure.

I’d complain, but he used to ask for carrot cake every year, and something about the process of shredding 3 cups of carrots kills me every time. I don’t know why I find the process so vexing, but there you have it. Also, carrot cake is hard to ruin, and I do like to broaden my repertoire of culinary tricks when opportunities present themselves. Birthdays present fine opportunities.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

I’ve been searching for the perfect peanut butter brownie recipe for some time. Plain brownies don’t much do it for me, but throw a little peanut butter in the mix, and you have a treat worthy of the extra time on the treadmill.

One wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a good recipe, but prior attempts failed to achieve what I’d hoped by way of flavor and texture. When I was thumbing through my Martha Stewart Cookie Magazine seeking the inspiration for the Whiskey Currant Cookies, I saw that it had been right there, waiting for me all along (well: in my house for the past three years or so). The perfect peanut butter swirl brownies were there in lovingly photographed detail.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Howard Nemorov

I have to confess that just about everything I know about Howard Nemerov comes from Wikipedia. I stumbled across this poem a few months ago on the Inward Bound poetry blog and found myself returning to it until I finally succumbed to its charms by pinning it to my cubicle wall at work.

Much like the work of the artist under discussion, I find this poem to be soothing and clarifying. I suppose it’s the next best thing to having a Vermeer on the wall – or perhaps, for a language person, an even better thing.

I often find the visual arts overwhelming because I try to “read” an entire canvas (or sculpture, etc.) all at once and find myself agitated by sensory overload. This is probably a maladaptive approach, but I don’t seem to be able to shake it. Poems, on the other hand, must be taken bit by bit, and I find it much easier to lose myself in their meanderings.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Italian Bread

The Bread Baker's Apprentice is one of those tomes I’d been seeing everywhere on the internet. The book has been roundly and effusively praised, and I’d seen so many scrumptious-looking breads on various food blogs that I was itching to get my hands on my very own copy. My in-laws were the kind santas who bestowed this particular gift this Christmas.

We spent the holidays with them in central Pennsylvania, and I perused the book on the car trip home to Connecticut. I am not one to shy away from dense or complicated tomes, cooking or otherwise. However, this book prefaces the recipes with a solid 50 pages of technical detail, and I had a hard time focusing, especially since the car was gently swaying to and fro and the maniacal swervings of other drivers were a distraction.