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Sunday, May 28, 2006

"So what are you going to make this weekend?" asks my pal and fellow-box-factory toiler T. We have been working together for less than three months, and already she knows: there is nothing like a three-day weekend for baking. If the weekend promises to be hot, the kind of hot that makes a normal person wonder who on Bog's earth would turn on an oven under such conditions, so much the better.

Alas, once again life had other plans for me, but unlike most circumstances in which life had other plans for me, these plans were actually fun.  The original plan was to hit the market early, snap up some rhubarb and asparagus and maybe some heavy cream, meet up with Julie and walk down to Soho with her to attend this fabulous kitchenware yard sale.  Normally I eschew any sale that would call out a big crowd -- which is to say, all of them -- but Time Out New York mentioned something about Waring blenders marked down from $200 to $70 for this sale.  I have been living blenderless ever since I had the bright idea to grind rye berries in my old Waring blender, and it made its displeasure manifest.  Of course I would brave the teeming throngs for the long-denied pleasure of being able to make a Cuban milkshake, or a perfectly-blended custard base, any time I wanted to.

Although I'm wishing at this moment that we did have asparagus and rhubarb and heavy cream, in the end I was glad that I eschewed the market run to stay in until 10, and to block the lace shawl I have been knitting for the past two months. At 11 a.m., the start of the sale, I crossed Broome and Wooster streets and noticed that there was a line in front of Broadway Panhandler, and whoo doggie, it was a long one. I was glad that I remembered my sunblock, for we spent an hour on line to get into the sale, half an hour shopping and another hour on line to pay for our goodies. Had I been alone, I would have scarpered and spent the day in some cafe or another, but thankfully Julie was with me to laugh and talk about boys discuss vital and important issues of the day, and the time flew by, as fast as time can fly when you are standing on a line with two hundred other people on either side of you.

I was richly rewarded for my patience, not only by the acquisition of kitchenstuffs, not only by Julie's splendid company, but also by our lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. Longtime PTMYB readers know how I feel about chains in general, and bakery-cafe chains in particular, but as I say on a nearly-hourly basis, for every rule there is an exception, and Le Pain Quotidien is definitely the exception to my rule. Even if you are left cold by organic-speak -- and I know that organic fatigue is running high among more than a few people -- there is still much to enjoy at Le Pain Quotidien, starting with that everyday bread, naturally leavened, carefully mixed and baked, bursting with flavor and texture and aroma, the kind of bread I love so much that I wouldn't blink an eye at the thought of making hundreds of loaves of it every day. There are lean, crunchy loaves, soft buttery loaves, pastries that shatter in your mouth as you bite into them, granola and chocolates and tapenade and tea and preserves, all of which would leave you blissfully sated if only your eye could keep from wandering to the next beauty on the shelf...Our lunch was a thing of wonder, and fortifying to boot. I am still trying to suss out what makes Le P.Q.'s ricotta so wonderful. It has to be the quality of their milk, for I have made my own ricotta at home, and while it was very nice, there is something about the ricotta that came with my bread/cheese/spreads/prosciutto/melon platter that was so plainly, cleanly good that my heart would have been breaking, if only I weren't so happy. I would gladly give one of my own thumbs to make a ricotta even half as good as that one. Once upon a time that would have meant going to the health food store for organic milk, but now that even health-food-store organic milk proudly trumpets its ultra-pasteurization from its labeling, that sort of milk is out of reach, at least until I move to an area where I can buy or barter milk directly from a farm where the farmer is nice enough to let me pester him with questions about pasturage and handling.

Well, Jen, that's all well and good, but we're hearing an awful lot about what you can't make this weekend. Exactly what can you make? A fair question. Now that I am no longer blenderless, I can make pureed soups without having to futz around for five minutes with immersion blenders and strainers in order to achieve perfect smoothness. (Don't get me wrong; I love my immersion blender, but it's nice to have the option of something bigger, faster and more efficient.) Cold black bean soup and vichysoisse, here I come. I can make milkshakes, the yogurt-based Indian drinks known as lassi, and batidos, the aforementioned Cuban milkshakes. Although there are Cuban restaurants dotted about New York City where you can get a batido with your pressed sandwich, I was actually introduced to batidos by Didi Emmons, whose Vegetarian Planet is one of my favorite cookbooks. Her recipe for guanabana (soursop) batido is easy to make, contains ingredients that I can find in my icky local supermarket (milk, guanabana nectar, a little condensed milk, a squeeze of lime juice; add ice and rrrrrrrnnnnn), and is pure frosty gorgeousness on a hot day. What else? I can finally, finally participate in the frozen blender-drink discussion which with 'mouse loves to torture me. Dude, you have been served. But best of all -- and just between us ducks, the real reason I am glad to have a blender again -- is that I can now make the smoothest custards in the world. If you have ever made bread pudding, or any kind of pudding, and you find yourself fighting with that last little bit of egg white that refuses to blend, a blender is what you want. It will zap that last little stubborn bit of egg white like nobody's business; just put your milk and eggs and flavorings in the blender, rrrrrnnnnn and, when you are done blending, skim off any foam from the surface with a ladle; this will result in a smoother, denser custard not pockmarked with air bubbles. I guarantee that there will be some custard or other this weekend, not only because I have a blender, but also because Broadway Panhandler is selling ceramic puddingware at half-price, and I was able to snap up half a dozen creme brulee dishes and half a dozen square ramekins for cheap. (I am embarrassed, dear friends, to admit that my little kitchen-gadget-nerd heart is easily impressed by the idea of square ramekins, and the square panna cotta/flan/creme caramel that can be made with them. I am an easy tool, yes.) Whether this custard love will result in the saffron panna cotta I learned to make as an unpaid restaurant kitchen pastry monkey years ago, the cardamom panna cotta I devised as an alternative, flan for Lloyd, the connoisseur of flan, or even just plain old butterscotch pudding for Lloyd, the connoisseur of butterscotch pudding, only the next day and a half will tell.

Och, how could I forget? Because there are few better ways, in my book, to spend a three-day weekend than baking a pie, there will absolutely, positively, definitely be vanilla bean buttermilk pie. Happy Memorial Day, dear U.S.-based friends. (Happy weekend in general to dear friends from further places.)

Edit: I have received some very nice email from several of you asking if the pumpkin-bread recipe is sharable. Why, of course it is. Stay tuned.

An additional edit that has nothing to do with blenders or pie: Not long ago, my dear friend and personal movie critic went to see Thank You for Smoking and came back with good things to say about it. Since Bunni has never steered me wrong on a movie, I knew that it was something I should see. Not long afterwards, she and I were in a bakery-cafe next door to one of our favorite yarn barns when Aaron Eckhart stopped in. He was affable and charming, but looking a little thin; I probably should have bought him a sandwich, but instead I chose to go see his new movie, simply so that I could help keep him in groceries. I finally saw Thank You for Smoking on Friday night, and can easily recommend it to anyone who likes more than a little gentle meanness to their satire, and to movie quote geeks: this one is movie-quote-geek heaven. Although my favorite line involves Aaron Eckhart and Katie Holmes discussing exactly when a comment is off the record -- a quote I will not repeat here, as it's a little indelicate -- my second favorite is going up in my cubicle at LuthorCorp: "99% of everything done in the world, good or bad, is done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented."

One more edit that has nothing to do with anything: I don't know why it's happening now, but I have been subjected to ridiculous amounts of trackback spam over the last week. TypePad, I am not amused.

Posted by Bakerina at 01:25 PM in • (0) Comments
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