Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Coconut and Macademia Nut Banana Bread (Page 599)

  • Date: Monday, February 19, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-



I made this bread last week because I had some extremely ripe bananas that I wanted to use before they became rotten. This banana bread wasn't great. The flavor was fine, although the banana didn't come through as clearly as I would have liked. And although I like both coconut and macademia nuts, I think the bread would have been better without them. I would definitely omit the coconut if I made this bread again, as it gave the bread a very odd (and unpleasant) texture. My main complaints were definitely textural. This bread was very dense and almost chewy. I prefer a lighter banana bread, with an open, tender crumb. I liked the moistness that this bread had, but it is still possible to achieve that without the super-dense texture. Overall this recipe was fine, but definitely not one I am eagerly anticipating repeating.

It was warm today and the sun was shining. I am overwhelmed by the feeling that the winter quarter curse is melting away with the snow and ice.

I spent the evening with Michael, who looked well, and we had a very pleasant dinner together (take-out for me, not-so-delicious meal replacement drink for her). She was tremendously upbeat, despite everything. We spent the evening curled up on the sofa, telling stories and sharing news. We laughed a lot...

And now I am at home, sitting in bed under several comforters, feeling very sleepy and content. Everything lately has been so dramatic. This week though, things feel calm again. It's a different calm than before -- in some ways a much sadder calm, in other ways a more joyous one. Despite the differences, it's very nice to settle in to a new peace.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Moroccan-Style Preserved Lemons (Page 908)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ronen, Ana, and Craig
  • Recipe Rating: B
I chose this recipe because the "Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves" section was the one that was the most behind. I actually made these lemons a long time ago, but somehow I forgot to blog about them. We had these lemons a few weeks back in a dish with Israeli couscous. It's a bit hard to grade just the lemons. I think they did add to the dish, but I certainly wouldn't want to eat them alone. They had an extremely pungent flavor of lemon and salt. Some people really liked them while others thought they were foul. I thought they provided a nice burst of lemon flavor. I am curious to try them in a few more dishes...

I had brunch this Saturday at Neighborhood Restaurant, which is a completely charming little Portuguese restaurant in Union Square. I have only ever eaten brunch there, but I highly recommend it. The food is cheap and excellent -- one meal is always more than enough for two people.

Being cheap and delicious, it was also busy when we got there on Saturday. The waiting area is in the basement in the pantry. We probably waited for 15 minutes, during which time I wandered through their dry storage, checking out the various canned goods, fresh fruits, restaurant supplies, etc... Occasionally someone from the kitchen would rush in, disappear in to one of the walk-ins for a few seconds, and rush off again, with armloads of food. Being down there, surrounded by all that food and bustle, made me ache to cook in an industrial kitchen.

I never doubt my decision to go in to math. I love my job and that's a huge blessing. Part of me will always long for the kitchen though...

Today is Chris' birthday. Happy Birthday!!!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mincemeat Pie (Page 766)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2007 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C
This one was on the list from the random number generator. I have to admit I was skeptical about pie whose filling both contained beef suet and was supposed to rot in the fridge for up to three months before putting it in the pie. And as I suspected, this pie was not good. The filling just wasn't tasty. If you love dried fruit and booze, perhaps this is the pie for you. I did not find it appealing though. The flavor wasn't terrible, but the texture of the filling was not appetizing. Imagine filling a pie with slightly rehydrated raisins and you basically have the idea. On the up side, the pie was very pretty and the crust was delicious. Matt and I shared one whole piece of pie and then resorted to just eating the crust off the rest of the pie...

I can't resist posting a picture of the amazing (READ: appalling) thing that happened to my friend's car this week. His car was (legally) parked on the street in Somerville and this is what happened to it. Yes, that is a hole in his car. You might ask yourself: how is that even possible? Clearly one car could not do that to another car. But you know what could? A garbage truck. The damage is actually much more extensive than is shown on the picture. The truck practically tore off the front bumper of his car too. And (my personal favorite part), they didn't leave a note. Seriously, who does that? When we went to the police station yesterday to file a police report, the officer's reaction was, "Oh that happened to my wife's car too." Wow.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Beef Stroganoff (Page 439)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I made this beef stroganoff for dinner the first week of class because it just seemed like the right thing to start off the semester with. This dish was great! I am usually not so much a fan of beef stroganoff. I am not a huge mushroom person, and beef stroganoff is one of those dishes that has more bad renditions than good ones. This recipe was excellent though. I started with some really excellent beef tenderloin and the meat came out absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked. The sauce also had a nice flavor -- Matt pointed out that it would be better with less dill, and I agree, but it still had a wonderful taste to it. Overall, a very quick, delicious dish that I would definitely recommend for a cold winter evening.

Last night, after visiting Michael in the hospital, I stopped by my friend's place to hang out and eat pudding. I walked past his car on my way, noticing that it was still iced in to its parking spot on the street with two parking tickets on the hood. It's technically illegal to leave your car in the same spot for more than 48 hours in Somerville, but this is difficult to enforce. When you car is still snowed in days after it stops snowing though, it is easy for them to tell.

So at 10:30pm last night he and I took to the street with a pitchfork and a shovel and tried to free his car from the 8 or so inches of ice that the wheels were frozen in to, and the wall of ice and snow surrounding it. Two hours, a box of salt, and several buckets of warm water later, the car was free. It sounds miserable I suppose, but it was actually tremendous fun. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. And it was unbelievably satisfying to see that car finally come out. The endeavor had a few minor casualties: I stuck the pitchfork in a block of ice so hard that I actually broke the pitchfork in half when I leveraged my body weight against it. Whoops. I think the tread on his tires also suffered because the smell of burnt rubber was so pervasive that it took two showers to get it off me!

Sometimes there is such joy in the smallest things...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Basil and Sour Cream (Page 570)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-
This recipe came off the list from the random number generator. These potatoes were ok... I mean really, it's practically impossible for twice-baked potatoes to be bad. You take a potato, bake it, add some fat, bake it some more. You can't go wrong! But this was not one of my favorite twice baked potato renditions. They were pretty, and they tasted fine, but they didn't have a lot of flavor to them. Basically, it was unclear what the benefit of the extra work was -- mashed potatoes with some basil mixed in would have been equally good (although perhaps not equally stylish). I suppose it was nice that the shells were crisped a bit in the oven, giving the dish some textural contrast. Nonetheless, I won't be making this one again.

I did it! Today I officially accepted a job for the next three years. Starting in the fall I will be in the math department at Indiana University in Bloomington! I am really excited. There are really good people there working on the sort of math that I do, so I will have people to talk to and work with. And although I have never visited there, rumor has it that the department is really friendly and Bloomington is wonderful.

I did have a little meltdown on Saturday though about the idea of moving to Indiana. Don't get me wrong, I love the midwest. I grew up in Madison and I adore it there. But I discovered on Saturday that not only does Bloomington not have a Whole Foods, but there isn't one in the entire state of Indiana. I cried.

I will miss Whole Foods. And Christina's spice store. And fresh seafood. But while it's true that I will probably have to do a lot of ordering online to get the crazy ingredients I need for my project, it's a small price to pay for what I think will be a very happy mathematical home for me. Further, I can't even explain what a relief it is to finally know where I will be living next year. Yay!!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lillie's North Carolina Chopped Barbeque (Page 479)

  • Date: Saturday, February 3, 2007 -- 11pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
Pulled (or chopped) pork is one of my favorite foods so I figured it was about time I made the recipe from The Book... This barbeque was good. Matt declared it as good as the pulled pork at The East Coast Grill. I'm not sure about that, but it was good. I made some cornbread, baked beans, and corn, and we had a big ol' barbeque feast. The sauce on this pork was a little too spicy for me (see entry below). My biggest complaint about this dish though was that the pork was not as tender as it could have been. This was the same cut of meat that I made the amazing Georgian Pork Stew from a few weeks back. That method resulted in extremely tender pork. This braising/roasting method did not produce such a tender result. It was still good though and I'm sure once I move away from The East Coast Grill I will be making this one often to satisfy my cravings for chopped barbeque.

The problem with setting goals for the week is that when I don't finish them in a timely manner, I end up sitting at my desk at 11pm on Sunday night, trying to get everything done. I just finished though, so now I am having a celebratory beer to relax before my goals for next week kick in tomorrow morning!

I am glad this weekend is over. It was trying in a variety of ways. It did have some high points though. In particular, I somehow convinced Jacob, Marco, and Ronen to go ice skating with me at MIT on Friday night. It was really fun. Marco and Ronen came willingly (and I think they had a good time!) but I practically had to drag Jacob there. When he left he requested that next time he get to choose what activity we do to cheer me up! Oh well -- I had fun anyway! Skating on the MIT rink always reminds me of going to the roller rink when I was a little kid. I think it's the music... I loved the roller rink. We used to go there on class field trips sometimes. When I was in fourth grade, the boy I had a crush on asked me to couples skate with him -- it was a big moment for me! Not too surprisingly, they don't have special "couples skate" songs at the MIT ice rink. It's probably for the best...

Tomato Barbeque Sauce (Page 479)

  • Date: Saturday, February 3, 2007 -- 11pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I was in need of some comfort food a few weekends ago, so I made some North Carolina chopped barbeque, and this was the sauce that went with it. It was pretty good. My only real complaint is that it was too spicy for me, which limited how much delicious, delicious pork I could eat. It I make this one again, I will cut back a bit on both the cayenne and the tabasco. The sauce had a great flavor though. Everything but the kitchen sink went in to it, but the sauce still came out with a very cohesive, delicious barbeque taste. The carefully reader will note that the picture above is not a picture of barbeque sauce. It slipped my mind to take a picture of the sauce alone, so the one above is of the sauce on some chopped pork.

Right now I have mushroom barley soup simmering away on the stovetop and coconut macademia nut banana bread in the oven, both from The Book. Normally this would not be remarkable, but I have been in such a funk lately that I haven't cooked from The Book for more than a week and a half now. I woke up this morning determined to rise above my bad mood though, and here I am, cooking away.

Ok, actually I am sitting in a chair, resting before I clean up the huge disaster I made of my friend's kitchen.

Side note on why I dirtied my friend's kitchen instead of my own (especially strange because he is in San Diego): I find it unbelievably lonely to be alone in a space meant for two. Jessie is in Israel for ten days. She very rarely leaves town for more than a day or two, so I not so used to her being gone so long. And while I don't find it particularly lonely to be alone, it's weird to be just one person in a space for two. So I came to my friend's apartment, where I can be one person in a space meant for one. I didn't even have to break in since I am supposedly watering the plants while he's gone. He won't mind that I cooked in his kitchen (especially since it required adding a few items to his pantry), but I should probably clean up my mess...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes (Page 716)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 9:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Craig, Ronen, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Ana chose these cakes for dessert a couple Wednesdays ago. They were quite good. The cake was buttery and moist, with a lovely tender crumb. The topping was caramely and delicious, and the pineapple slice had that almost candied quality that is a trademark of pineapple upside-down cake. I also liked that this recipe made individual cakes. It was nice effect for each person to have their own small upside-down cake. This dessert was very easy to make, and extremely tasty. Everyone enjoyed it (even Craig, who is not usually too excited about dessert!).

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. The day was full of news, both good and very bad.

Last night, after I had stopped both crying and celebrating, my valentine and I got pizza. And to celebrate this (Hallmark manufactured, he would point out) holiday about love and togetherness, we ate pizza and chocolate pudding, and watched The Departed. It was perfect. The last few weeks have felt like months, and I am, more than anything else, exhausted. But despite it all, I fell asleep on Valentine's Day feeling comforted.

I couldn't ask for anything more than that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chicken Fricassee (Page 372)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Craig and Matty
  • Dining Companions: Ana and Ronen
  • Recipe Rating: B
This recipe was on the list from the random number generator. It was tasty. The sauce had a good flavor to it and the chicken was cooked well. My biggest complaint (which I have made over and over again with recipes of this form) is that having the skin on the chicken was gross. If the skin isn't going to be crispy, it shouldn't be there, and there was no way that a preparation like this was going to result in crispy skin. It would have been nice if the skin had been removed and the chicken had been taken off the bone (shredded or chopped) and stirred in to the sauce. That would have been a vastly superior dish. This dish still had a good flavor though and I enjoyed eating it once I removed all the skin from my meat.

I haven't written in days. I just don't know what to say.

This month has been bad news, followed by more bad news, followed by more bad news. Every morning I wake up and think that things are bound to get better, for me, and for the people I love who are suffering this month even more than I am. But it hasn't happened yet.

Chris commented last night that the winter quarter curse is worse than ever this year. Emilee noted that 10 days ago or so the world seemed to turn against all of us.

Last night, visiting with Chris' mom and the rest of the family, it occurred to me that she was the only one who didn't look terrified. Everyone else sat there with wide eyes, scared of the things to come in the next few weeks. Michael, though, looked calm. Whatever profound peace of mind that is, or inner strength, or acceptance of fate, I wish I had some of it. I feel a lot of different things right now, but calm is not one of them...

(Happy Valentine's Day.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon (Page 215)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana, Ronen, and Craig
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I picked this recipe to go with dinner a couple Wednesdays ago because I had made the preserved lemons so I wanted to try out a dish that used them. This couscous was pretty good. The flavors were very strong -- the preserved lemon peel contrasted sharply with the golden raisins, and the cinnamon flavor was not subtle. It was a bit busy for me, but it still tasted good. The couscous and butternut squash did mellow it out a little. I wasn't a huge fan of this dish, but it had several very strong supporters at the table. It would make a decent side dish for an entree without too many strong flavors -- e.g. some grilled meat.

Chris' mom Michael is sick. We will know more in the next few days, but it has the potential to be extremely bad. Chris flew in last night. Today I went out to Framingham and Southboro to spend time with Chris and his mom (and the rest of the family).

In the past four and a half years, mine and Chris' lives have become so entwined that the distinction between his family and my own is extremely blurry to me. On the drive out there today I wondered: how many times have I made this drive? (50? 100?) How many family holidays have I spent with them? (2 Christmases, 3 Thankgivings, 5 birthdays (4 of Chris' and 1 of my own), 2 father's days, a mother's day, 1 wedding celebration, 1 funeral, 2 graduations, etc...) How many pieces of furniture in my apartment belong to Chris' mom and not to me? (My bed, my desk, my hall table, a desk chair, etc...) How many times have I gone to Michael for advice when things were bad, or good, or confusing, or difficult? (Dozens)

In these past years, Chris has become family to me, and his family has a place in my heart with my own. So it is hard for me to think about Michael and cancer in the same sentence. And while in the last couple weeks I have heard those words together over and over, it is difficult for me to think that it could be true...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Garlicky French Vinaigrette (Page 168)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ronen
  • Dining Companions: Craig, Ana, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
There is a dandelion salad in The Book that we had hoped to make last Wednesday, but Whole Foods was out of dandelion greens so we made this salad dressing instead. Opinions varied, but I thought it was pretty good. It had a nice strong garlic flavor. It went very well with the bitter greens Ana selected to serve it on. The heavy cream gave it a lovely thick, rich texture. There wasn't any subtlety to this dressing, but it tasted good!

Wednesday was February 7th, and thus some of the undergraduate math majors at MIT hosted an e-day celebration.

(Get it? e=2.71828... so e-day was on 2/7 at 18:28pm. Ah, MIT.)

Festivities included lots of food starting with the letter e (eel, eclairs, Edy's ice cream, etc...) and a contest to see who could recite the most digits of e. I kid you not! The main event was a nerdy pick-up line contest. This is how I became involved. They needed some mathematicians (including some women) to judge their contest. One of the undergrads asked Lauren to help, and she recruited me to judge with her! It was hysterical. A few examples of what we heard:

"Want to make like an isomorphism and get one-to-one and onto with me?"

"Is your name Lorentz, because you are definitely an attractor?"

"Yo, my eyes must be parabolic because they are focused on you."

"Hey baby, I don't have a good pick-up line for you, but I can prove that one exists."

My favorite detail: the scores were listed on the chalkboard not by the contestants' names, but rather by their username for the MIT computer system! Wow.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Baked Potato Chips (Page 6)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Craig
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, and Ronen
  • Recipe Rating: A
I picked this recipe to go with dinner last week because the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section of The Book was the one I was the most behind on. These potato chips were great! They were definitely my favorite recipe of the meal. They were crispy and delicious without being oily. They took a bit longer to cook than indicated in the recipe -- but that was probably because my mandoline doesn't slice as thinly as was indicated. They were still delicious though! We doubled the recipe and the five of us were definitely wishing we had more, so if you make these for a crowd you might want to make several batches. Homemade potato chips are always fabulous and this was an excellent recipe for them!

I have until June 8th to do a pull-up. Exactly 4 months from today. I am starting to worry I am not going to make it.

(Wow, that's scary for a number of reasons -- I can't believe I am graduating in 4 months)

Matt claims I am making progress on my pull-up, and I suppose I can see that he's right. Yet, I still feel quite far from actually being able to do one. Strangely, the progression of my pull-up has been exactly the opposite of the progression of my dissertation. When I entered graduate school, writing a thesis seemed completely unachievable to me. As time passed, I realized slowly that I could do it. And now, so near to the end, it seems like no problem at all. The pull-up, on the other hand, seemed possible from the start. Really, how hard could it possibly be? But the harder I tried, the more I realized how hard it is. So now, even though I am closer to doing it than I have ever been, I feel less confident than I ever have that I will achieve my goal... At least I have 4 more months!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Grits Pudding with Cheese (Page 486)

  • Date: Saturday, January 27, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
This recipe was the suggested accompaniment for the Georgian Pork Stew recipe. These grits were pretty good. I have had grits with cheese many times (although usually cheddar), but I never would have guessed that grits could hold as much cheese as these did. There was a tremendous amount of mozzarella melted in to this dish, giving the grits an incredibly cool, stringy texture. I hesitate to say this, but I think it was actually too much cheese! I know, I know, it's hard to imagine. Especially since I love cheese so much -- but these grits were so rich with cheese that I couldn't eat as large a serving as I would have liked to. They were good though, and a fine accompaniment for the stew.

Today I felt like myself again for the first time in a couple weeks. Well, actually, I felt sick. I acquired some sort of cold. But that aside, I had a good day. I managed to get some work done at the office. After work I dragged my not-so-healthy self to the grocery store, bought a few things, and made dinner at a very relaxing and leisurely pace.

It turns out I just needed an attitude adjustment.

My favorite attitude adjusting technique is standing on furniture. I'm not sure why this works, but from another 2 feet up, things always seem better. After five minutes standing on a chair, my mood is inevitably improved. I highly recommend. In my experience, people might think you are a little nuts, but at least for me, that's not so concerning. Chris took this picture of me at his place, adjusting my attitude one evening last year. In this particular photo I am standing on a rocking chair, which is the best of all possible choices of furniture to stand on!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Georgian Pork Stew (Page 485)

  • Date: Saturday, January 27, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A
I have been doing a lot of spice shopping lately, so I chose this recipe to make a couple weekends ago because it used an assortment of my new spices (e.g. fenugreek seeds). This pork stew was delicious! My only regret is that the recipe didn't make more, because it was gone by the end of the weekend, and I could have eaten it all week! The pork came out magnificently tender. Matt commented that it was the best pork he's had from The Book yet, and I think indeed that it was the best pork I have had also. I was unfamiliar with the method of first steaming the chunks of pork before browning them and braising them, but it really worked! The spicing of the dish was also extremely good. The stew had a lot of flavor, and it was unlike any other dish I have had. Overall, I highly recommend this recipe -- it took a little time, but it was definitely worth it!

In college, everything bad that happened to me and Emilee happened during winter quarter. Bad break-ups, the spinal leak, unpleasant classes, the horrible medical school admissions process, studying for the MCAT -- it was all in the winter. After a couple years of this we started to see the pattern. By our senior year, we found ourselves just wishing that we would make it through the winter, and emerge in the spring both healthy, and reasonably happy.

It does seem that winter is often harder than other parts of the year. Before I lived in California I attributed this mainly to the weather. It's easier to fall prey to a bad mood when it is 5 degrees outside than when it is sunny and 75. But at Stanford the winter weather isn't bad at all. I would often wear flip-flops in January. There was no explanation. Winter quarter was simply cursed.

This past week, I couldn't help but think about the winter quarter curse. I talked to Emilee on Saturday, frustrated and upset. I didn't mention the curse, but she had the same thought. She reminded me though that we always pulled through the winter in the past. Certainly this one will be no different.

Georgian Salsa (Page 896)

  • Date: Saturday, January 27, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I made this salsa because I needed it for the Georgian Pork Stew recipe. It was pretty good. It had a complex, interesting flavor. It was a little too spicy for me, which made it hard to eat as a condiment with the stew. The recipe for the stew called for some of this salsa to be stirred in to it though, and that really enhanced the flavor of the dish. I always find it difficult to grade recipes that are essentially ingredients for other recipes, but this salsa was tasty, and I would make it again in order to make the pork stew again (which was excellent!).

Today was my last registration day at MIT. And tomorrow will be the first day of my last semester. Crazy! I love MIT, and I am so accustomed to being a part of the department there that it is difficult to think about myself being somewhere else next year. Not knowing exactly where I will be doesn't make it any easier to imagine, of course!

As planned, today was a better day than the past few. Nothing particularly good happened, but for the first day in a while, nothing particularly bad happened either! It was a typical registration day: free food, socializing, having Haynes sign my form in place of Lars, who is back in Japan. I packed myself an awesome lunch, which is key for having a good day. And after work Matt and I went running, which also improved my attitude about things quite a bit. Tomorrow is going to be even better! That's my plan...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fresh Banana Layer Cake (Page 731)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Gunther, Shaili, Nicole, Clotilde, and a bunch of other partygoers!
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I made this cake to bring to a potluck at Alex and Gunther's place last week. This recipe was on the list made by the random number generator, and I had been waiting for a good opportunity to make it. There were no garnishing suggestions, so the basketweave and walnut topping in the picture were not part of the recipe. The cake was quite good. The banana cake itself was moist, with a nice banana flavor. The sliced bananas between the layers were a lovely addition. My big hesitation about this recipe though was that the frosting was overpoweringly sweet. The real problem was not the frosting itself, but the frosting to cake ratio in the body of the cake. The 3 layers of cake were each very, very thin, so even though the internal frosting layers were also thin, there was still too much frosting for the amount of cake. If I made it again I would either bake the cake batter in only 2 layers or double the recipe and make 3 thicker layers. Overall though it was a good cake and people seemed to enjoy it.

Last Sunday when I walked in to the kitchen at the homeless shelter, it was immediately obvious that something bad had happened. Even before Danielle opened her mouth to say that Johnny's wife had died, I knew. I could see it in everyone's eyes.

This morning when I walked in, the staff and volunteers on my shift had that same look. Sad, wide-eyed, and a little bit terrified. Only this time, I didn't know why.

One of the staff members who had worked in the kitchen for years died unexpectedly yesterday. He was 44.

Throughout the shift today, people told stories about how great Jack was, how much they had enjoyed working with him, how much they had learned from him... It was really inspiring to hear him eulogized in that way. Everyone loved him. Everyone got along with him. Everyone was deeply troubled by the tragedy. The hours that I spent at the shelter today were sad but beautiful. And as many of us exchanged phone numbers and email addresses (again) to coordinate attending memorial services (sadly, again), it really made me realize what a community we are. The people that I volunteer with every Sunday are a part of my life. As my fellow volunteer Carol noted one week, "Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with one another." I realized today, more then ever, how much it means to me to be stuck with them.

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream (Page 855)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: B
I picked this ice cream to make for dessert two Tuesdays ago (I am so behind on my blogging!) because I had leftover strawberries I needed to use up, and this seemed like a good choice. This ice cream was pretty good. The fresh strawberries gave it a lovely strawberry flavor, and several people commented that they really enjoyed having the strawberry seeds in the ice cream. The tang from the cream cheese was subtle, but it made this recipe more interesting than a typical strawberry ice cream. My one complaint is that the texture could have been smoother. I generally prefer ice creams made from a custard base for just that reason. A frozen custard comes out fantastically smooth and silky. It is impossible to replicate that amazing texture in a recipe where the cream base is not cooked with egg yolks before being frozen.

I haven't written in a while. It's not because I haven't been cooking. Quite the opposite in fact. I am terribly back-logged with recipes that need to be written up.

I just haven't had a good week. And whatever reserve I had for dealing with it (or putting it out of my mind) ran out on Thursday afternoon. And so I had a pretty miserable weekend.

But now it's Sunday night. Which means that in just a few hours, the week will be over. The coming week will be better. I ate dinner tonight. I hadn't eaten an actual meal since Friday. I subsisted all weekend on Clif bars, SweeTarts, and Campbell's chicken noodle soup. Tonight though I had barbequed pork, corn, baked beans, and cornbread. It was exactly the right meal to end the week with. And with the leftovers already packed away for my lunch tomorrow, it will be the perfect meal to start this coming week with too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Catfish Fillets with Tahini Sauce (Page 289)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matt
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: C-
We wanted to have veal marsala for dinner last Tuesday but Whole Foods didn't have enough veal scallops to feed the four of us. So we had this catfish dish instead. The more I think about this dish, the more disgusted I am. It was really bad. Now, I don't particularly like catfish to begin with, but I was in the company of others who do, and they also didn't like this dish. There were so many problems with it. For one, although the sauce tasted fine, it didn't complement the fish at all. Plus it made very little sense to put hot fish atop a sauce that wasn't warm. It made it especially unappetizing. There were also a lot of complaints about the coriander seeds. Some people thought they were too strong to go with the fish, and others just didn't think they tasted good. I was hungry, and I love fish, but I left 90 percent of my serving on the plate. It just wasn't at all appealing.

Within my first year at Stanford I developed a pronounced skill for picking out Stanford students. Standing at the San Francisco airport, I could, in a single glance, parse the crowd into Stanford students, Berkeley students, and neither. In Boston this game is much harder. There are just too many universities to really master it. Distinguishing Harvard undergraduates from MIT students is no problem. But Northeastern students versus BU students? Graduate students are a whole other matter... I was thinking about this one afternoon a couple years ago when two twenty-somthings, clearly graduate students, sat down in the seat behind me on the number 1 bus.

"I can't think of any reason that esophageal pain would radiate to the back."
"Pacreatitis?"
"I guess."

Ah, I thought to myself, med students.

"Does this bus go all the way to main campus?"
"Yeah, it ends right in the square."

Ah, Havard med students.

Thus having solved the mystery I paid little attention as they rambled on about good bars, "Do you like the enormous room?" and bad rotations "The ER eats your life!". As we passed MIT, I tuned in to their conversation:
"MIT architecture is so weird."
"MIT students are so weird."
"Well what do you expect when you take thousands of people with Aspergers and put them all in one place?"
"You know, this is probably the Aspergers capital of the world."
I laughed silently as I scanned the bus looking for fellow MIT students who may have also overheard this comment. It was indeed funny, but accusing an entire student body of suffering from a mild form of autism is bit bold/offensive. Looking around the bus I realized there was little chance that anyone in the surrounding seats was from MIT. Except for me. They had probably been playing the game too, these two -- trying to decide where I was from. Apparently MIT had been eliminated in the early rounds.

One of my now favorite mental images of MIT is as the Aspergers capital of the world.