Sunday, February 28, 2010


I've finally gotten around to posting pictures from my most recent vacation.  As many of you know, my husband is a scientist and very devoted to his research.  I like my job just fine, but it's not so high-pressure that I feel any compunction about wringing every last drop from my vacation time.

Because husband doesn't really want to take more than one big foreign vacation a year -- and because he went to Europe several times before we met (lucky) -- I went on a trip with my lovely friend Emily.  The above picture is the two of us in front of the puppets of Lyon (for which the city is noted).

Initially, we were trying to decide between France and Italy.  We picked Lyon, France because of the gastronomy and because I have a little bit of French (and zero Italian), which makes it easier to get around.  We had thought of taking a train to Florence and spending a few days there, but for whatever reason, train tickets were crazy expensive to Italy but relatively cheap to Germany -- so we headed north to Stuttgart instead.  Neither of us has a lick of German, but most people in Germany speak some English, so we didn't have any difficulties.  My small French did come in handy in Lyon, where knowledge of English is not nearly as prevalent.

Both cities were a lot of fun.  People were amazingly friendly to us throughout the trip, and the food and drink in both locales were absolutely heaven. 

The full album of pictures from Lyon is here.

And the full album of pictures from Stuttgart is here.

Selected pictures of food and drink-related sites below the cut!

Friday, February 26, 2010

W.H. Auden (I)

Auden has been one of my favorites for many years. His poems seem to me like cat’s cradles woven around emotional abysses in an attempt to bear himself aloft. It’s as if in the process of writing, he is attempting to cross a treacherous stream, and each word is a foot placed uncertainly on a small rock jutting above the water. The damage of the process is – I was going to say ironically, but it’s really not – a source of beauty.

This poem is among his most famous, but I’ve always found it enigmatic. The first time I read it, the gloss said that the poem was noted for its acerbic twist and final note of rancor toward the beloved. That makes this much more and much less than a traditional love poem.

I must be missing something, because my reading is that it’s entirely sincere. The final stanza seems wistful that a conscribed benediction is all that is in the author’s power to bestow, but I think it is meant as such, and not a half-damning indictment.

My reading may be totally off base; if you have thoughts, feel free to share them. In a few days, I’ll post my favorite Auden poem, which became lodged in my head while I was climbing the stairs to the apartment where we stayed in Lyon and has remained firmly ensconced there ever since.

I’m still working on vacation pictures – including food and poetry scenes! – and will try to have those up by Monday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm Back

Hello All,

I just wanted to drop a quick note that I'm back from my latest European vacation (and exhausted from jet lag at the moment).   Thanks so much for the positive comments and wishes in my absence -- I will do my best to respond to everyone tomorrow.

Thanks for sticking around in my absence,


Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

This is really just a variation on the Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies I posted a few weeks ago, but as with so many things, it’s amazing what an difference a few of small tweaks can make.

I liked the original recipe but felt that the batter was insufficiently chocolate-y and was slightly too cake-like. The flavors also seemed kind of one-note.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Baudelaire and Rilke

In honor of the vacation that I’m on, I thought I’d post some French and German (language) poetry. The first is a poem by Baudelaire translated by Donald Justice. As you may recall, Justice is one of my favorite poets, and I think his translations are as delightful as his own compositions.

I’m not a huge fan of Baudelaire – I missed that 15-year-old goth phase that generally precipitates slavish devotion to his ouvre – but when I’m feeling campy and/or melodramatic, he does have a certain appeal.

The foregoing isn’t meant as an insult. I appreciate Baudelaire’s work without feeling terribly excited about it because his sensibility is so alien to mine, but that’s more my issue than his.

Rilke is pretty hard to write about for altogether different reasons. He strikes me as both a towering and puny figure. The poetry is superficially vast in scope, but even at its most expansive, I read at its core a certain reticence and smallness that makes me feel a bit cool toward it. I feel as if he was a great poet who was ironically and cripplingly lacking in spirit.

Of course, he was also kind an asshole. I might just be glossing my feelings about his personal attributes onto his work. That would be unfair, but I would hardly be the first reader to confuse biography with literature. Rilke wasn’t actually German, but he’s the towering figure in 20th Century German-language poetics.  "Tombs of the Hetaerae," which follows the Baudelaire poem, is a poem I admire without qualifications.

Two poems are below the jump.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Butterscotch Creme Brulee for Two

I can’t begin to tell you how enamored I remain of my crème brulee torch.This is the fifth or sixth batch of crème brulee I’ve made since Christmas. I’ve made chocolate crème brulees several times, but I’m still perfecting that recipe – the first batch tasted like heaven but was a bit too firm; in the second batch, I erred too far the other way and ended up with something too pudding-y – but neither experiment was at all taxing to consume. They’re just not ready for prime time, as it were.

I love butterscotch flavors and had been hankering to make butterscotch crème brulees for a while, but fear of burnt sugar put me off. Don’t let it dissuade you! As long as you use a modest burner heat and keep the half and half ready to be dumped in to the caramelized sugar at just the right instant, this should come out perfectly. I found the ease of this recipe rather ironic, as I had been expecting to be much more fussy than chocolate crème brulee.
This is what they looked like before the sugar shell, in lovely natural light 

I used my own crème brulee for two recipe as a template. I’m not sure why, but I felt like this gave me smaller crème brulees – or maybe I just divided the custard less evenly between the ramekins this time. But really, a little crème brulee goes a long way, and these were the perfect finale to a nice meal of roasted tomato soup.

By the by, I will be on vacation abroad when you read this, so if I'm unresponsive to comments, it's because I expect to spend very little time on the internet.  I'll be in France and Germany.  More on that will follow through the wonder that is automatic posting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pane Siciliano

I hesitate to share this recipe because I am such a slapdash bread baker. In fact, I realized that my very casual approach to cooking and baking that has made me somewhat irritated with The Bread Baker's Apprentice. This was given to me as a Christmas gift, and while it’s resulted in three superior loaves of bread so far (including this one), something about its tone makes me want to argue with and flout its dictates.

I’m sure that if I followed Reinhart’s instructions, step by step, ingredient by ingredient, tedious modification of home baking conditions by tedious modification, I’d get better bread. One of the charms of homemade bread for me, however, is this improvised quality. I don’t want my bread to seem as if it emerged fresh from the hearth of a brick fired oven. So few people bake bread anymore that the simple act of making a loaf at home seems like a monumental accomplishment.

In short: I want to be congratulated for my willingness to bake at home (on occasion). If my bread tasted like it came from a bakery, I’d have to work that much harder for accolades. This bread is really great, but you probably won’t fool anyone into believing it came from the corner Italian bakeshop. And so much the better, I say.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jane Hirshfield

I don’t tend to follow contemporary poetry all that much. I made a show of so doing when I was in grad school, and keeping up with writers was part of the job description, so to speak – but one of the reliefs of finally earning my MFA was the feeling that I could safely return to my determinedly anachronistic reading habits.

This is by way of concession that I would probably know more about Jane Hirshfield if I were an avid reader of living writers. I’ve heard of her and have read a handful of her other poems, and that’s as far as my acquaintance extends. This poem was in last week’s New Yorker.

Part of me wonders if it isn’t a touch too earnest, but the pun of the title prevents me from reading it as only earnest. I have pretty deep-seated suspicions about the capacity of humans to anchor any fixed definitions around the word “truth,” so I suppose I like this poem’s rather flip evasion of the concept. That said, I don’t think it’s smirking or dismissive of the idea of a quest for truth, which would render it juvenile.

I might be wrong; I’m still thinking about it. At the very least, I appreciate poetry that gives me something to think about.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Apple Pie Cookies

Apple pie is a baked good for which husband constantly clamors. Alas! For peeling, coring, and slicing apples are among my most-dreaded kitchen tasks. He doesn’t get pie often, yet it seems cruel of me to remain deaf to such oft-repeated pleas.

I thought he might be placated if I devised a simple cookie that had all of the lovely flavors of apple pie but took half – nay, a quarter, if that – of the effort to prepare. And I came up with these. If you’re looking for an approximation of apple pie in cookie form, then look no further.

I used dried apples in place of fresh, because seriously: fresh apples would have made these nearly as much a chore as pie. I waffled on whether to throw in a bag of white chocolate chips and ultimately decided not to, as I was going for unadulterated apple pie taste. However, they would be really good in these. You know, if you’re not such a purist.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scones with Currants and Yoghurt

I love scones. How much do I love scones? When I travel, I do a lot of walking around and am constantly famished. On this account, I permit myself both morning and afternoon between-meals snacks while on vacation.

When I went to London last year, I ate scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam for both of my daily snacks. I like them that much. And I didn’t tire of them – I could have probably kept it up for far longer than the five-day span of my UK sojourn.

Scones are probably my favorite quickbread baked good. Something about them has an appeal that transcends even that of my beloved biscuits. Maybe that’s just more of my anglophilia manifesting itself, but I did major in English. I’m allowed a little shout-out to the mother country and her iconic baked goods.

So why don’t I bake them more often? Most scone recipes call for cream as a binder. I’m far from a healthy baker, but I have a hard time eating something if it feels just ridiculously artery-busting. These rules do not apply on vacation, mind, but at home, I try to be more careful – especially since, when I’m preparing something, I can’t pretend to be in the dark vis-à-vis its nutritional content.

Since yoghurt serves as a good, non-flavor-killing substitute for fatty dairy in so much baking, I thought I’d try to whip up some scones with it. I wasn’t aiming for health food, but I was hoping to create something I could nosh on without peering down at my stomach to inquire if it were a loose-jeans day before indulging in a nibble.