Monday, March 29, 2010

Edith Sitwell

This isn’t really a post about Edith Sitwell, about whom I know next to nothing. This is about poems whose pleasures reside in the sounds and texture of the words themselves, rather than in the intellectual or emotional content of those words. The poem below the cut is a fine example of such a poem.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Plum Almond Upside-Down Cake

It had been a while since I made something cake-y as opposed to a cookie or tart. I was starting to hanker cake, but I lacked the ambition to make a layer cake or something that needed to be frosted.

I had spied this recipe some time back and bookmarked it, thinking it looked so very delectable. The contrast of the rich red of the plums and the gingerbread-y cake itself made me wish I could reach through the computer screen and have a nibble, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style.

The original calls for molasses, ginger, and cinnamon as the only flavorings. Molasses and ginger are good, but I can find them a touch harsh when they’re the dominant notes. I suspected that my palate would be happier if there were some vanilla and almond notes to balance the cake. And nutmeg: nothing makes me happier than nutmeg. For my palate, these proved to be inspired additions

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Despite my lukewarm attitude toward cinnamon, I’ve always been a huge fan of cinnamon raisin bread – especially when it has a cinnamon sugar swirl in the middle, all the better for nuggets of butter to nestle in to make the sweetest combination of fat, gluten, and carbs conceivable.

I thought that husband didn’t like cinnamon raisin bread, so imagine my surprise when I got back from my trip to find that he had eaten his way through most of a loaf (from the store) in my absence. Clearly, we had been suffering from grievous miscommunication on the issue. Resolving it provided all the encouragement I needed to make my own.

This process was less linear than anticipated. I started with the recipe suggested in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but it just didn’t suit. It made two tiny loaves or one large one; I wanted one medium loaf, which is just about what we can eat up before it goes stale or moldy. It took a few tries before I hit upon the right combination in terms of flavor, texture, and size. By “a few,” I mean “about five.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Philip Levine

It’s federal grant season at work, and as such, kind of a stressful time for me. The following poem suffices to remind me there are more grueling fates than white-collar office labor, though I presently lack the intellectual energy to provide much else by way of explication.

I like Philip Levine; he’s a competent but not earth-shaking poet whose virtues are rather evocative of his Midwestern antecedents. This poem is of course referencing the famous Yeats poem “Among School Children.” I love Yeats, but that particular poem has never done much for me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Raspberry Custard Tart

One of the lovely simple desserts I tried in France (on the few occasions I was able to resist gorging on tarte tatin) was a custard raspberry tart. Emily and I were starving and needed a bit of a snack before making the uphill trek to the medieval walled city of Perrouge. Luckily, we passed a modest café that had coffee and pastries, and their raspberry tart looked especially appealing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Shaker Lemon Tart

I’ve been itching to make a Shaker Lemon Tart for some time. For the uninitiated, a Shaker Lemon Tart (or pie) includes whole lemons, sliced very thin, that have been macerated in sugar and combined with eggs before being poured into pie crust and baked.

Because one uses the whole lemon, it seems advisable to use organic lemons, and those can be kind of hard to come by – although they are less so now that we finally have a local Whole Foods.

I tried to resist its allure.  Last time I lived near a Whole Foods, when I was a grad student in Houston, I was too broke to make it a shopping destination.  This time, I have succumbed by deluding myself their produce isn’t expensive in moderate quantities.

Where were we before my Whole Foods apologetics? Ah, Shaker Lemon Tart. This is usually a pie rather than an actual tart, as most recipes call for the lemon-sugar-egg mixture to be baked in a double crust. I have always cared much more for fruit pie fillings than their shells. Not believing this dish really necessitated the double crust treatment, I decided to make it an actual tart rather than a pie masquerading as such.

Friday, March 12, 2010

W.H. Auden (II)

As promised, here’s my favorite Auden poem. I think it’s as fine as example of a villanelle as the much more famous “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which seems to be the ur-exemplar of the form in English and the only villanelle that has vaulted into the realm of much-known poems.

If the following poem has a flaw, it’s sentimentality; but to me, it feels like earned rather than ersatz sentiment. I think it’s lovely.

Completely unrelated to Auden, poetry, or any of life’s lovely and transforming experiences, I am still unable to log into Facebook – however, I filed a complaint with TRUSTe, and they have determined that I have a valid privacy violation complaint on that account and are working with Facebook to get the issue resolved. Thanks to everyone who had helpful suggestions.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

White Chocolate Lime Macadamia Cookies

If you’re tiring of all the French food, I have the remedy in this fine American cookie. Inspired by this recipe from Baking Bites, these cookies are just the thing to bring a hint of the tropical to a New England mid-winter.

We’re finally getting glimmers and intimations of spring, but I baked these up before my recent vacation. In mid-February Connecticut, reminders of the tropical are in exceedingly short supply.
I prefer slightly less sweet cookies, so I cut the amount of sugar from the Baking Bites recipe and, because I prefer cakey-textured cookies, I reduced the butter. I also upped the flour and added some vanilla.  Given its sunshine flavors, I decided that this cookie would benefit from a little bit of coconut and threw in a half cup; I did not regret this addition (though I'm sure the cookies would have been perfectly tasty without it).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tarte Tatin

So I totally wasn’t kidding about how it’s all French Food all the time at my house. I’ve made two tarte tatins in the past week. I think I’m going to throw in a lemon tart next week to shake things up, but tarte tatin shows every sign of becoming my new go-to dessert.

And how has it achieved this exalted status? Like my apple pie cookies (and yet: so unlike), tarte tatin has all the great flavors of apple pie for a fraction of the effort. Actually, I prefer it, as I can do without the cinnamon that is de rigueur in American apple pie. Tarte tatin omits superfluous spices and focuses on the core ingredients of sugar, butter, flour, and apples.

Does preferring a French version of apple pie to the American version make me unpatriotic? Or merely lazy?

Friday, March 5, 2010

John Berryman

You’ll have to wait another few days for my favorite Auden poem, as I’ve gotten stuck on this Berryman poem instead.

It occurs to me that I use this blog rather as a means of dislodging troublesomely adhesive poems from my mind. It’s similar to the strategy I employ to get songs out of my head: I listen to them compulsively and find that this works better than avoidance for getting them to go away. Maybe it’s just me.

Berryman was one of the confessional poets and led a fairly miserable life. The son of a suicide, he was an alcoholic who eventually shuffled off this mortal coil by hurling himself from a bridge. I suppose that’s one way to accomplish it.

He’s been among my favorite poets since I was a teenager and is one of my few “early favorites” whom I can still read without wincing at my prior tastes (or lack thereof).

This is from The Dream Songs, his great formal sequence. Narrated by a character known only as “Henry,” they are composed in an odd blend of disjointed vernacular and more heightened oratory, but I have never found them difficult.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Potatoes Dauphinoise

So everyone loves scalloped potatoes, and it’s not as if they’re a difficult food. Even my mom makes a passable version – she basically whips up a béchamel sauce with cheese, as one would do for macaroni, and bakes fairly thick-cut potato slices in this cheesy goop.

Other American versions of scalloped potatoes that I’ve had have been pretty similar, and while I enjoy this dish just fine, I’ve never been so blown away by it that I felt like making it myself. I really hate peeling potatoes, so if I’m going to go through the trouble, I expect something magnificent and not merely edible.

Then I went to France and learned about the truly great heights to which scalloped potatoes can aspire.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


This post is non-food and non-poetry related.  No, this post is an entreaty.  I need help with Facebook.

Because of a Facebook glitch, I have been unable to log into my account for nearly three months now.  When I try to log in and/or change my password, I get a message that my e-mail account is invalid.  However, I continue to receive messages to this inbox from this same Facebook that claims the e-mail address does not exist.

I could set up a new account, but that would be tedious.  I have sent Facebook dozens of messages and have received no response whatsoever.  One is forced to presume that Facebook's Tech Support staff are too diverted by Farmville, Scrabulous, and Mafia Wars to address actual user concerns.

It's pretty disturbing not to be able to control one's personal information.  I've googled the problem, and while I'm apparently not alone (and Facebook lists the e-mail glitch as a "known issue" when  you go to their login help problems page), so far they have expressed no actual interest in, you know, fixing it.

So if any of you clever people have thoughts or ideas about how to get Facebook's attention and get them to address the bloody problem, I'm all ears/eyes.  Thanks for bearing with me whilst I gripe.