Sunday, December 30, 2012

Recipe: Rosemary Olive Oil Focaccia

Rosemary focaccia.

In the cold New York winter months, my apartment is sub-tropical in temperature due to the way old buildings here are heated (steam heat). As Boyfriend puts it, "Even if you fire to everyone on the ground floor, people on the sixth floor will complain it's too cold."

And what can you make when the temperature in the apartment hovers around 80° F? Bread.

This recipe is a more specific version of my herb focaccia.

Rosemary Olive Oil Focaccia Bread
Yields one 9 by 13-inch bread.
390 grams (about 1 3/4 cup) water between 105 and 115° F
1 1/4 oz. package dry active yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar (optional)
500 grams all-purpose flour (about 4 cups), plus more for dusting and kneading
2 1/2 teaspoons iodized salt
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, divided
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Sprinkle the yeast on top of the warm water, and optionally add a teaspoon of sugar to feed the yeast. Some people suggest agitating the mixture, but it's not necessary. Leave it alone for about 10 minutes. If a foam develops or the yeast appears to "bloom" in the water, you’re in business. (If the water just looks murky, start over because it won’t work. Either the yeast is old or the water was too hot or too cold. Scrap it.)

In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the flour, iodized salt, and olive oil. The flour should look slightly sandy or lumpy, but not wet.

Add 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, reserving the rest for later. Whisk or stir until they are distributed evenly.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour and stir it with a wood spoon until it is tacky. The dough should be messy and a little wet.

Turn the dough out onto a clean and lightly floured work space to knead for about 5 minutes (or set the stand mixer to knead).

Tip: When kneading by hand, concentrate more on keeping your hands dry with the a little extra flour, rather than thinking about keeping the dough dry. The dough should be warm, sticky, and elastic. If your hands are dry, they won't stick to the dough.

Take a new bowl, preferably a ceramic one, and rinse it under hot water to take the chill off. Dry thoroughly.

Pour about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into the bowl. Place the dough ball into the oil and turn to coat. Cover loosely with plastic (either plastic wrap or a plastic shopping bag) or a damp towel and leave it to rise in a warm place for about two hours.

Punch down the dough gently. Cover the dough again loosely and leave it to rise for an hour or so.
Rosemary focaccia dough after its second of three rises. The clock has a thermometer,
showing this sunny spot in my kitchen reached 91.8 degrees F! 

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Grease or oil a 9 by 13-inch, or quarter sheet pan, baking dish. (I've successfully made this bread in a deep 8 by 8-inch dish, as well as a 9-inch pie plate). Turn the dough out into the dish and use the tips of your fingers to gently press it toward the edges, dimpling the dough as you go.

Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil onto the top of the bread. It will collect in pools in the dimples. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and 1 teaspoon coarse salt.

Leave the dough in a warm place (like on top of the oven while it preheats) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it begins to rise again.

Bake it in the center of the oven for about 5 minutes, then lower the temperature to 425 °F, and continue baking until it’s barely golden brown on top.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Junior High Sweethearts

Violet and Tate, American Horror Story (season 1, episode 4).
When I was in eighth grade, a seventh grader had a crush on me. He was friends with someone who was friends with someone who was friends with me. Word got around that he liked me. I'm pretty sure he wanted me to know. He told someone, if I'm not mistaken, to tell me.

I don't know what he thought was going to happen.

My response was not normal. Even at the time, as a young girl, I knew it was not normal. I was unnerved and upset, really the opposite of flattered. Knowing he had feelings for me actually gave me self-doubt and frightened me a little. So I refused to speak to him. I wouldn't even glance his way in the morning, when all the students huddled into the cafeteria from the snow to wait until school officially opened.

The problem? I didn't know this kid at all. When someone first told me his name, I had never heard it before. I didn't know who he was. This was a person I did not know who apparently had been in some sense watching me without my knowledge. That alone frightened me. He didn't know me, and if he didn't know me, on what basis could he have possibly had a crush on me?

I don't want to speak for women generally, but for me, it felt powerless and humiliating. This person I didn't know had been watching me -- that's the powerless part. And it was humiliating, or degrading might be a better word, to think someone would "like" me without ever having spoken to me. I know that's not at all what he intended.

While I was in grade school and even junior high, I didn't have those puppy love relationship that some kids have. Nothing about it ever seemed remotely right. I was still a fairly typical age at my first kiss, first snogging, first real date, but it took a lot of time and courage to get over those fears. There was never a point when I put them behind me. I surmounted them painfully every time.

I've been thinking (dwelling) lately on femininity and female identity, not in the feminist sense so much as my own individuality. The picture above is from the television show American Horror Story. Two young teen characters, Violet and Tate, develop a bond and eventually form a relationship, but in the pilot, there's a moment when he grabs her hands, when it's too early, before she knows him. Uncertainty and fear, the unknowingness of his feelings and whether her own feelings match his, comes across in Violet's face. Is she safe? Is this okay? Is this what she wants?

Some people describe this as the mixture of fear and excitement, but in plenty of instances for plenty of people, I'm sure the excitement is minimal, but the fear is real.

Horror story aside, it's a brilliantly scripted and acted moment that struck me in a profound way, even though the physicality of it is nothing more than two hands holding.

As we become adults, few people have the time to reflect back on those kinds of moments, and even fewer have the patience to let them happen again. After a certain age, people take a leap, move so fast they don't have time for that fear, and deal with any regret later. But I think adults might learn something from teenagers and junior high sweethearts.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Bowl of Oranges for Christmas

Christmas Eve wasn't anything special or holy when I was young. No one dragged me to church, and while my mother has gone for the last 20 years or so, she didn't when my sister and I were little.

Our neighbors growing up were German and their tradition was to open one gift on Christmas Eve at midnight or thereabouts, whenever they got home from church. When my sister and I got wind of this early gift-giving, we demanded the same. So we do that now, waiting until as close to midnight is reasonable, given whatever little kids are around, and open one gift, sometimes a package that we choose and sometimes one chosen by someone else if it's new pajamas or a housecoat to keep warm in the morning before all the other gifts are opened.

Oddly, food wasn't a central part of our Christmas Eve traditions either. For a period of years, we would show up at some relatives' house and eat ham, turkey, salad, bread rolls, and whatever else the 12 aunts and uncles would bring (there were a total of 16 aunts and uncles, plus my mother and her husband, on his side, but two couples lived far away and didn't come). In more recent years with a smaller group of us, we've gone to a restaurant, a different one each year.

The real traditions start with the stockings. My older sister and I have had the same stockings since perhaps forever. They're patchwork quilted stockings, and I identify mine by a large pink patch on one side. My sister's has a yellow patch in the same spot. We hang the stockings on the chimney mantle, and "Santa" fills them with small trinkets and lays them on the foot of our beds.

My older sister and I shared a room when we were younger, and we'd wake in the middle of the night to riffle through the treasures with the lights still off, trying to feel what each gift could be with our hands in the dark. Gifts in the stocking were almost never wrapped in wrapping paper, and we typically got the same things only in different colors.


An Orange in the Christmas Stocking

After a few minutes of guessing, we'd turn on the lights and see if we were right. We'd squint as the lamp burned our eyes, and dump our loot all over the bed: a toothbrush, an over-sized pencil or perhaps a pen with a plume or rhinestones on it, silly socks, and a smattering of candy canes from the tree and miniature chocolates. And at the very bottom wedged into the toe of the stocking was an orange.

My mom claimed that getting an orange in one's stocking at Christmas was an English tradition. Reading around, I can't find any decent or reliable sounding information on the history of why we do it, but apparently a lot of people in the U.S. do it, too. I'm fine with my own justification that oranges are winter fruit, but still a special treat because they come from afar (which would be as true in England as my hometown in New York state).

Christmas Morning
Christmas morning we'd pack up all the stocking booty and haul it to the living room or den, wherever the Christmas tree was, and dump them on the couch. Then we inspected all the presents. We poked, lifted, and shook every box we saw with our names on it. My mom would eventually rise and join us, first asking what was in our stockings. We laid out all the goodies again and showed her one-by-one our new instruments of dental hygiene and writing.

Out came the oranges, which my mom gathered into a bowl and took to the kitchen to slice.

When it's time to open presents, to this day, we go one-by-one. Anyone sitting on the floor can pick up a gift  and say, "Mom! This one is for you. You go next!" But it's a little like drinking sake or soju: you never fill your own cup. You always wait for someone else to serve you. It puts me in the mindset of thinking about other people and getting excited to see one of my sisters open something special I bought for her.

Then there's halftime. We take a break. Someone makes hot chocolate and coffee. My mom arranges the quartered oranges into a big bowl, and then slices bananas on top so we have something to nibble. Breakfast doesn't happen until the very end, usually around 10:30 or 11:00.

We open all the gifts under the tree and set aside into a pile ones for people who aren't there at the moment, significant others and close friends who may arrive later or not until the next day. When we think we're done, there's usually one more gift hiding somewhere, and not always under the tree. My mother is notorious for getting halfway through breakfast, then springing up from her chair to shout, "Candice! There's another one for you that I forgot in my closet!"

Christless Christmas

Conceptually for me, Christmas sits somewhere between being a family reunion and a farce. The family reunion part may be obvious. December 25 may be the one single day of the year when the tightest members of all my family get together come hell or high water. Not even Thanksgiving has that stature any more. This year, my flight lands at midnight Christmas Eve. I'll make it, but just barely.

As for the farce part, I'm a non-believer, and I as such I'm opposed to celebrating Christmas in the truest sense of the word "celebrate." I almost feel like it's not fair to Christians for me to take part in their big day.

Some of my friends who are in similar positions have thrown down all pretense and embrace Christmas as a commerce day, a day of gift giving and receiving, an American holiday that has little to do with Christ these days. And that's fine. But it does make me feel a little bad for the people who are still into the holy part of this holiday. If I were in their shoes, the commerce part would drive me batty.

If you are a believer, thank you for tolerating the rest of us. And whatever your own traditions, may you cherish them in memory and carry them forward to the next generation. Merry Christmas!

Scraping Bagel Seeds Changed My Life


Or how I got kicked out of college and decided to become a world traveler.

Most changes in life don't happen in a single day. Sometimes we think they do, that things change in an instant, but it's rarely true. A change may start on a single day, or culminate after a long, slow, and invisible lead-up, but rarely can we mark the moment something went from black to white.

I didn't become a traveler in a day, but I do remember the day I made up my mind to become one. A month before, I was asked to leave my college. I was 17 and about to start the spring semester when I got a call from the bursar's office. A woman told me I had an outstanding balance on my bill.

"What happens if I don't pay it?" I asked.

"Your classes won't be held."

"So, I'll be kicked out?"

"Well, your classes won't be held. And you'll be asked to move out of the dorms."

I was getting kicked out of college.

I drove north, back to my mother's house and slept on the high half of an old bunk bed. All I needed to do was quickly and methodically apply to state schools, which with government and state funding anyone could afford, get a job that would help me keep my car and get by for the next few months, and try not to worry. People kept telling me horror stories of their friends who quit school after one semester with the intention of going back and never did. 

"I'm not like that," I said.

"No one thinks they're like that," they said. "But watch yourself."

I littered the town with job applications and heard back from almost no one. January wasn't exactly hiring season in retail, and I didn't have any retail experience. I had worked plenty of food service jobs in the past -- a bagel shop, two pizzerias, a restaurant, a dining hall -- but it helped to have an in, and I didn't. All the places in that town where I had worked before had been sold off to new owners or closed. 

Finally, a chain bagel shop called.

"You're seventeen?" A small woman with thick long hair was interviewing me.

"Yeah, but I worked in another bagel shop for two years. I'm good. I know how to do the job."

"The thing is, we don't need any more counter help. We need another baker, but you technically have to be eighteen."

I didn't know what to say to that. I couldn't exactly make myself older any quicker.

"Would you want to bake?" she asked.

"I'll do whatever. I learn fast."

"What I could do is put you down as counter help on all your forms and just give you the starting hourly wage as a baker." Baking paid more. The hours were earlier, and the job was dangerous. Then ovens that bake bagels are vertical. They look like closets. And the baker has to roll a six-foot rack into it, and then out of it, when the metal racks are as hot as the oven: 550 degrees F. Bakers always have scar burns on their forearms from pulling  trays off these racks and fumbling them. Kitchen work moves fast. You're always hurrying, and most of the time, there's a rhythm that prevents people from bumping into each other or tripping or fumbling 550 degree metal trays. But sometimes, someone falls out of step with the dance, and that's how burns, cuts, and minor amputations happen.

I took the job and started later that week at 4:30 A.M., only my alarm didn't go off and I overslept 15 minutes. I knocked on the door at 4:50 A.M. and a large black man answered it.

"We're not open yet," he said.

"I know," I said. "I'm the new baker. I'm supposed to start training today, and i'm late, and I'm really sorry."

He looked pissed but let me in and introduced me to the much smaller Latino man who was moving bagel-shaped dough from cold trays to room temperature ones. 

That job just went bad from the very start. I never liked it, never liked the people, and didn't stay more than two or three months in the end.

While I was there, though, at least I got to hide in the kitchen and not deal with customers as much as I used to, although sometimes I had to jump in and help when it was busy. As long as it was relatively slow, I kept myself occupied in the back, either slacking dough (pulling it from the freezer to bake the next day, and keeping track of the inventory as I did) or cleaning anything that needed to be cleaned.

One day, I saw a stack of disgusting vented trays, basically, a sheet pan with little holes all across it, like a screen, that prevents condensation from collecting beneath the food. It's similar to using a cooling rack after you bake cookies in a home kitchen. Good pizzerias use them, too.

So there was this stack of vented trays just covered in sticky bits of bagels. Burnt onions stuck in the holes. Chopped garlic formed sticky masses in the corners. We had a bagel that was rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and although we used parchment paper for those, some of the trays still had a cinnamon glue ring around their edges. 

I grabbed a bench scraper, plopped myself on the floor, and leaned all my weight into getting the shit off the pans. It was quiet in the back, and quiet in the front, and the other staff were keeping each other occupied. No one was going to bother me for at least 40 minutes. I scraped and scraped. Sesame seeds flicked through the air and landed on my hat. Onion char stained my fingers. I scraped and scraped.

And while doing this mindless physical activity, a thought popped into my head: I should go to Seattle.

No. I need to go to Seattle.

My aunt and uncle lived there, and I had never been. Only once in my life had I been to the west coast, and it was for their wedding in Los Angeles when I was just a kid.

That's what I needed to do. I knew all my school applications would go fine. I'd get in somewhere and go back to school and earn my bachelor's degree on time even though I missed a semester. I wasn't really worried about that. But now I had this moment of realizing that seeing new places would be equally important to growing as a person and understanding the world better. 

At that moment, a moment that didn't change everything all at once but certainly did mark a shift in my own priorities, I even dared to think about traveling abroad, going to London, maybe even living there some day.

This is what I needed to do.

And it hit me while I was sitting on the floor of a bagel store's industrial kitchen, dirty and smelling of yeast, dough under my fingernails, kicked out of college, waiting for things to get better.

Almost a year later, I went to Seattle. And a year after that to San Francisco and then back up to Washington state again. And a year after that, to London to study abroad.

I still went back to college (University at Buffalo) as soon as possible and finished just three months shy of my original projected date. (I had time on my side, though, because I also finished high school a year early.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Music and Repetition

Who doesn't love repetition?
A few years ago, I had an awakening to the fact that I no longer enjoyed music. I don't spend much time in cars anymore, which is where I listened to most music as a kid, and when I'm home and doing chores, I listen exclusively to talk radio. 

When I first started in my career in writing and publishing, I spent a lot of time working on page layouts and entering copy editing corrections that other people marked. Those two skills take a lot of visual concentration, but for me at least, it didn't require my whole brain. I often would say that I liked taking a break from writing and editing to do page layouts and enter corrections because I could turn off the side of my brain that did the hard work. Once your eyes know what to do, your fingers automate a lot of the job at hand on the keyboard. When you're really good at laying out pages, you can have entire conversations while doing it. 

And that's when I used to listen to music.

I loved Nick Harcourt on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. He finds undiscovered artists and gives them airplay, mixed with forgotten or little-known avant garde music from the 1960s or 1980s. He'd play the occasional bluegrass song or an old folk tune from another country. 

I tuned in with a ravenous appetite for whatever was new to my ears. Sometimes I chased artists I heard, bought their albums or listened to more songs I could find online. As long as I could listen with that big piece of my brain free from difficult work tasks, I was an active listener, deconstructing what I heard, thinking about whether I liked it and why on the spot.

The Day the Music Died
Then, gradually, I moved toward more spoken podcasts and talk radio. My job progressed and I started writing more original content, researching articles I was writing, and working more closely with authors as their editor. There were still some tasks that I could do while listening to spoken words, but I couldn't do it to music--at least not new music. I started to find music distracting whenever I had to drive (which I was doing less, and then not as experienced and automated with it as I had been in the past), and eventually, it bothered me as a passenger, too.

People asked what kind of music I liked or what new bands' work I had explored recently (because I used to be a font of this kind of information), and I'd admit, "You know, I don't really listen to music anymore." Some people didn't understand. They thought I was trying to be intentionally weird. And I'd say, "No really. I don't know what happened, but it's physically difficult for me to listen to music and I don't really enjoy it anymore."

The Road Trip
In 2008, some friends of mine and I drove to Boston for a short road trip. It's a four-hour drive from New York. One of my friends in the car is from a family that listened to music pretty much non-stop. Her father was a lawyer in the music industry, and her siblings were much older than she, which all made for incredible exposure to different kinds of music.

But mostly, she knew pop songs. You know how there are pop songs from 25 years ago that you think you know every word of, and then when you hear it and try to sing along, there are a few verses that you don't know at all, or some phrase in the chorus that you aren't totally sure you know what's being said? She knew all those words. She could stop singing, back up in the lyrics, and recite them one word at a time. And she was always dead right. 

I don't have nearly that same memory recall, but I do know my fair share of Top 40 from the 1970s and 1980s in particular. 

So on this Boston road trip, we dialed into any radio station we could find playing 70s, 80s, and 90s songs. I almost always knew the song within the first few notes and could sing along to almost all of them. And it wasn't distracting.

I didn't think much about that experience until a couple of months ago when some construction was going on at the building where I work. A couple of interior contractors were putting up new walls and changing the floor plan of the space directly adjacent to where I sit. They worked the same hours I did, and they brought a radio with them.

And they set it to a station playing 70s, 80s, and 90s pop.

In my job now, I write or research information for stories more than 75 percent of the day. It takes almost all my mental focus. The other 25 percent of the time, I'm logging and tracking data and resizing images, which, similar to page layout, are tasks I can do while listening to podcasts or having another conversation. When I write, though, I have to have silence.

Or so I thought.

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
There was simply no escaping the radio, but it played songs I knew by heart. And I liked it. I liked hearing "Gloria" twice a day every day for two weeks. I liked hearing Michael Jackson songs that I hadn't heard in years and could still lip-sync.

Lately, I've been giving music a chance again, but with the new-found knowledge that at this point in my life and with my lifestyle, I need stuff I already know. No more new music. It takes too much concentration and isn't enjoyable. 

I've been writing a lot about some childhood stuff, and it reminded me that my brother, sister, and father listened to Paul Simon's Graceland over and over and over again after it came out in 1986. My mom had divorced my father, and he took a new job in Rhode Island. He'd drive to Long Island to take us up to his place for a weekend, and we'd listen to Graceland the whole time, over and over again.

If you didn't know, kids love repetition. Except for my brother, we were all old enough to have outgrown the real love of repetition, that phase when kids repeat the same three or four words over and over and over, ad infinitum. We weren't that bad. But I think really everyone likes repetition of some kind. I think it's human nature. And I think it's also partly why we like music. Popular music is structured. It repeats sounds and rhythms and notes and words. 

A copy of Graceland now lives on my smartphone and my home computer. It's never far from reach.  I even have a copy on disc for the eight-hour drive I will be doing right after Christmas. 

If you don't know Graceland, have a listen to "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes." And pay attention to how many pieces in that song repeat.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Homemade Truffles

Homemade truffles in candy cups.
Every year in December, I bake a bunch of holiday cookies and give them away as gifts to my landlord or superintendent, boss, and a few other people to whom I want to give a little something.

This year, I went with confectionery instead. I made dozens of chocolate truffles, experimenting only a little with the fillings.

The image above shows the finished truffles in candy cups, which makes for a nicer presentations. From left to right, top to bottom, they are: chocolate with pink Himalayan salt, cayenne pepper with red Hawaiian salt, classic truffles, chocolate with rose petal, I'm not sure but possible another  cayenne, and smoked paprika.

My sister also made peanut butter cups:

Homemade peanut butter cup.

Here's another shot of the finished product below. I bought some inexpensive ($0.49) boxes at a cake decorating store and used red tissue paper to hold the truffles gently so they won't wiggle around and smudge. 

The recipe? It's very easy but rather time consuming and takes a lot of patience.

Recipe: Homemade Truffles
For the ganache filling:24 ounces chocolate, chopped (any kind is fine, really)
1 cup heavy cream
spices, your choice 
For the coating:
18 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (ideally, use something that's about 60 percent cacao or higher)

Set a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Melt together very gently about 24 ounces of chopped chocolate and 1 cup heavy cream. Do not rush this step, and do not stir the mixture obsessively. Leave it alone. When the chocolate has melted enough that you can see a difference in color from the melting chocolate and the bits on top that are still in tact, stir gently with a folding motion. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue folding gently until all the lumps disappear. You may have to put the bowl back over the water again if there are big lumps.

You can either let this mixture cool in the bowl to room temperature, or pour it into a lined baking pan. I used an 8-by-11-inch pan lined with plastic wrap, and my house is pretty warm, so I popped it in the fridge, too. It can stay at room temperature though.

When the ganache is cooled, melt the dipping chocolate, also in a bowl over simmering water. Again, do not rush this step. It may take 40 or 50 minutes. That's okay.

When the chocolate has melted, you ideally want to temper it to make it glossier. Tempering means, more or less, manipulating the temperature. In this case, you want to cool the chocolate slightly, then raise it back up to melting temperature. There are two ways to do it:


  1. Reserve a few ounces of chocolate, and store them in the refrigerator. When the rest of the chocolate has melted, remove it from the water bath, and throw in the cold chocolate, which will bring the temperature down. After the cold chocolate melts, you can return the bowl to the water to bring it back up to temperature.
  2. Alternatively, you can remove the bowl from the steam and set it in a larger bowl with cold water. Stir the chocolate gently until it starts to thicken. (A real confectionery expert would use a thermometer, but I don't bother.) Then return it to the steam and re-melt it.

For classic truffles, you don't need the coating chocolate. Just scoop out a small amount of ganache and roll it into a ball shape with lightly buttered hands or using two spoons. Coat it in cocoa powder, and you're done.

I punched out small rounds of chocolate using fondant shape cutters. I dusted the tops of some of them very lightly with smoked paprika or cayenne (ground red pepper). If you experiment with flavors, just remember that a little goes a long way. Then, set the ganache cut-out on an off-set spatula, or the reverse end of a spoon, and dip it in the melted chocolate. Slide it onto a tray lined with parchment paper, and let it cool for a minute or two before adding a decoration to the top, like coarse salt or rose petals. use tweezers to place salt, as wet and sticky fingers won't do you any good.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Eggnog vs. Ice Cream

Eggnog: ice cream in disguise!

Why do some people hate eggnog? 

Because they don't know that it's nothing more than melted ice cream with nutmeg on top, and if you're lucky, a stiff pour of bourbon.

Allow me to demonstrate.

I've rearranged the order of the ingredients below to show how similar eggnog and ice cream are.

Eggnog
Ingredients to make 6 to 7 cups eggnog using Alton Brown's eggnog recipe from Foodnetwork:
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 ounces bourbon
Ice Cream
Ingredients to make 1 quart ice cream (using David Lebovit's vanilla ice cream recipe, which is itself adapted from The Perfect Scoop):
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
The next time someone tells you she hates eggnog, ask her how she feels about ice cream.

And if you're entertaining this holiday season and forget the eggnog or the grocery store runs out of it, just buy a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, dump it into a bowl, and let it melt in the refrigerator. Then grate some nutmeg on top, hit it with a shot of bourbon or whiskey, and consider your holiday drinking obligations met.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Dishwasher Destroyed My Alan Turing Mug

Look how the dishwasher destroyed my Alan Turing mug.

I never grew up in a house with a working dishwasher. It was forever broken, either leaking or smelling like burning rubber. It permanently hogged space in some nook of the kitchen, but we simply learned to overlook it, forget it was there, as if it were a squatter who moves into an abandoned building and no one wants to bother evicting him because really, what the harm in just letting bygones be bygones?

We have a dishwasher now, and it's the only appliance that actually survived when we moved into this apartment in May. (The oven was DOA, and the fridge blew up in July.)

I hate the dishwasher.

Why? It doesn't wash dishes.

At first I tried using it as a mechanism that might get my dishes clean. I rinsed the plates and spoons day after day, and by the end of day three, squirted some dishwashing soap into the little compartment and let her rip.

What I got was crusty curds of food and smears of egg yolk stuck on the underside of plates, glasses with a thin layer of citrus pulp cemented to the inside walls, mugs still stained with coffee, and spoons slick with the dog's saliva (we let her lick the spoon when we scoop out her food).

So now I scrub all my dishes just a little bit with a brush and warm soapy water before loading them into the dishwasher. Now about 15 percent of them come out dirty.

The little compartment that holds the soap doesn't always pop open, so sometimes when I open the dishwasher to unload it, I find all the soap sitting there, waiting to be let loose on some dirty dishes! Alas, it has missed its chance. Then I'll grab my trusty dish washing brush and a cup of water and clean that thing by hand, too.

The dishwasher has also destroyed by Alan Turing mug (above). It's a cheap mug, I'm sure, but the colors never bled until May, when we moved in and started using the dishwasher.


Coffee-stained mug: You can remove stains with baking soda and a damp paper towel.

How to Get Coffee or Tea Stains Off Mugs
Tip: To get coffee stains off mugs, which I'm sure you have, too, if you wash your cups in a dishwasher, line them up on the counter and grab a damp paper towel. Sprinkle a bit of baking soda into your first mug, and use the paper towel to give it a quick scrub. The baking soda will stick to the paper towel, so just move on to the next mug and repeat. Rinse your cups thoroughly in warm water (or you'll see white gritty streaks of residual baking soda) and let dry.