August 11, 2009

I have spoken at length—some would say whined at length—about how I dropped the ball on all of my foodish habits after I started law school.  Baking fell by the wayside, weekly trips to the farmer’s market always included buying bread so that Lloyd could have toast and sandwiches throughout the week, Trader Joe’s frozen nasi goreng and gyozas and tamales became fixtures during the frenetic misery of final exam revision.  I have rabbitted on about them, and probably will rabbit on about them again.  And yet, I wasn’t a total loss in the kitchen last year.  I may have only been able to perform one small task, but I did it like a champ.  I have maintained a more-or-less constant supply of homemade yogurt in the refrigerator.  Occasionally I’ll buy a tub of 2% Fage Greek yogurt, or some precious and outrageously expensive French organic yogurt at the Milk Pail Market in Mountain View (one of the most insanely fun food experiences you can have outside of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or the Strip District in Pittsburgh), but other than that, I’m never looking back.

I’m sure it comes as a shock to no one who knows me that I have a lot of kitchen equipment, including a decent set of kitchen appliances.  Since I have been an adult for roughly half my life, I’ve had plenty of time to suss out what is useful for me, and what isn’t.  I’ve heard that the majority of owners of stand mixers don’t buy them to use them, but rather to have them sit fetchingly on the countertops of their meticulously appointed kitchens.  I am mystified by the thought of treating a powerhouse appliance as, essentially, an expensive knickknack, but de gustibus non disputandum est, I guess.  My commercial-model Kitchen Aid paid me back years ago what I paid into it, and continues to pay me back every day.  I never thought I needed a food processor until I got one for free, from a friend who received it for a wedding present and didn’t take it out of the box for seven years.  It is fabulous for making perfectly smooth hummus, and for shredding quantities of vegetables for fritters.  (I’ve never tried it for bread dough, although I know people who swear by it, and if you even think of using it for mashed potatoes, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.) And yet, even though the food processor is a workhorse, there are some mixtures which just work better in a blender than in a food processor—which is why I didn’t think twice about replacing my blender when the time came.  These gadgets may look snazzy and impressive, but they earn their keep.  Lest I give the impression that I’ll say that anything is useful, I point with some embarrassment to the juicer I bought at Woolworth’s right after Lloyd and I moved to Astoria.  Try as I might, I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to drink my fruits and vegetables, especially when I saw just how much fruit and vedge was needed to make a small cup of juice.  Even Nigel Slater’s gorgeous and inspiring book Thirst didn’t move me, and the juicer went to a better home.

In short, I am probably the last person who should acquire another appliance, and yet… I resisted the siren call of yogurt makers for years, supported by three arguments:  1. I lived in a neighborhood where terrific yogurt could be had for a song, from a shop less than fifty feet from my front door.  2.  No modern fancy-shmancy yogurt maker could compare with the yogurt maker my mom had when I was a little kid. I was sure that without the heavy milk glass bowls that were a feature of Mom’s yogurt maker, the yogurt wouldn’t be nearly as good, and there was just no point in trying.  3.  You didn’t need a yogurt maker to make yogurt.  All you needed was a mason jar, a source of low heat (like a pilot light in a gas oven), milk, a little commercial yogurt for a starter and a set of foolproof instructions.  Armed with instructions from several county extension agents, as well as from Laurie Colwin, I made a few attempts at yogurt, all of which tasted terrific but none of which set.

I would like to say that I was finally moved to buy a yogurt maker out of nobler purposes, like wishing to crack the code on the ur-yogurt, or wanting to reduce the amount of yogurt packaging I sent to the recycling bin, but no, it was the always-cheering combination of vanity and groupthink that did it for me.  The vanity came from reading French Women Don’t Get Fat, in which Mireille Guilliano waxes rhapsodic about slender women with perfectly-tied scarves having a little pot of yogurt to take the edge off their appetites.  Apparently a lot of people had the same idea, because the King Arthur Flour Bakers Catalogue and Williams-Sonoma couldn’t keep them in stock.  Eventually, though, I got mine, a seven-pot unit sold under the EuroCuisine brand, for about forty bucks.  (The name may be silly, dear friends, but, like the other cast of characters in the kitchen, it knows its job and it does it well.) I bought some milk, plus a container of plain Dannon yogurt to use as a starter culture, and paint me yellow and call me a cab, it worked. The yogurt set.  It was a little on the tart side, and it was a bit overcooked on the bottom, but otherwise, it was the yogurt for which I was looking.

Over time, I fiddled a bit, experimenting with the amount of yogurt used to culture the next batch, the length of the cooking time (both on the stovetop and in the yogurt maker) and the variety of milk.  I found that lowfat milk cooked down more than whole milk did, and that I had to start with more milk to compensate for this.  Skim milk cooked down even more, and never really took on a good set.  I found that whole milk yogurt not only tasted better, it left me fuller, and thus less inclined to eat too much of it, or of anything else.  (WebMD has an informative, yet amusing, article about this.  It touts yogurt as the “French Women’s Diet Secret” and quotes Mireille Guilliano as saying that yogurt contains carbs, protein and fat, “which are what you need in every meal,” but then only gives nutrition information for fat-free yogurt.  The article also quotes WebMD’s “recipe doctor” as saying that yogurt is a great substitute for butter and oil in baked goods “because it adds moisture, volume and flavor without added fat or calories.” Okay, you’re not adding as many calories, or as much fat, as you would with butter, but even fat-free yogurt is not calorie-free.  You’re adding calories.) I have not yet tried using goat’s milk, or sheep’s milk, but would jump at the chance to try both.  Likewise, I have not tried using raw milk, which I can buy at the farmer’s market in California.  This is mostly because raw milk is expensive, consigned to an occasional luxury, but also because I need to learn more about how it behaves.  Part of the yogurt making process is to scald the milk, then to cool it down.  I don’t know if raw milk will retain its flavor if it’s heated to scalding.  There are alternative methods for thickening yogurt at lower milk temperatures:  one involves the addition of nonfat dry milk to the milk being heated; the other involves using gelatin, which I really don’t want to put into my yogurt.

Begging your patience, dear friends, but this is an excellent time for a digression about milk.  I have ranted in this space before about the increasing difficulty of finding heavy cream or half-and-half that have not been ultrapasteurized.  Ultrapasteurized dairy products have been pasteurized at a higher temperature, at a shorter time, than pasteurized dairy products.  The resulting cream has greatly improved shelf life, but it also has an odd, palate-coating, “cooked” taste.  Ultrapasteurized cream is also tricky to whip; I’ve found that it doesn’t reach the volume that pasteurized cream can reach, and the line between stiffly-beaten and overbeaten is tricky to suss out.  I have skirted this issue by buying cream at Trader Joe’s, or the Milk Pail, two stores that carry pasteurized cream.  There was once a time when health food stores were a sure source of non-ultrapasteurized cream, but now that Horizon and other large-scale organic dairies are ultrapasteurizing, this is no longer a sure thing.  (When a New York Times food editor called ultrapasteurization “the savior of the organic dairy industry,” I could not help but wince a bit.)

What does all of this have to do with yogurt?  Last week, I went to Safeway to pick up some milk for yogurt.  I picked up a carton of Horizon whole milk and saw “ultrapasteurized” on the carton.  For the love of Mike, I thought, Horizon is ultrapasteurizing *milk* now? Reluctantly, I picked up a carton of store-brand milk, wondering where the “pasteurized/homogenized” text on the carton was.  Near the top of the carton, I found something else, in a smaller font:  “Now tastes fresher longer!” That’s when it hit me:  ultrapasteurization of milk is now the industry standard.

I hasten to add that I’m not unsympathetic to the concerns of the dairy industry, or of the grocery business.  The economy is not out of the toilet yet, and of course businesses—and consumers—want to minimize their losses.  I hate discovering a carton of milk gone bad as much as the next person, and I really hate finding milk that’s gone bad before the carton has even been opened.  But I don’t think it’s elitist nonsense to point out that ultrapasteurized milk, despite its superior keeping quality, does not taste like pasteurized milk, or, really, much of anything.  You can certainly make yogurt with it.  You can even make good yogurt with it.  But, as with cheese, the better the milk, the better the yogurt.  I’ve made yogurt from both pasteurized and ultrapasteurized milk, and I know which one I prefer.  Trader Joe’s still sells pasteurized milk, and yesterday I was lucky enough to score half a gallon of Straus creamtop milk at this excellent grocery in my neighborhood.  I’m going to keep buying it—and I’m going to let these merchants know that having this choice available is important to me.  If it’s important to you, too, please, please communicate this to your grocers and your dairy.  Here endeth the lesson.

So we know why you make it and what you make it with, but Jen, what do you do with all this yogurt? I’m glad you asked.  I eat a minimum of a pot a day, usually half with my breakfast and half late in the afternoon.  If I know I won’t be eating lunch until after 2, I’ll have a whole pot at breakfast.  I have used it as a substitute for mayonnaise in salad dressings—it is particularly great with Penzeys Green Goddess salad dressing blend mixed into it, along with a little cider vinegar and salt.  I have also used it as a substitute for buttermilk in pound cakes and in cornbread.  I have beaten it a bit to thin it out, added lime juice, cardamom and a little brown sugar, and used it to dress fruit salad.  I have melted it into plain lentils.  It is used to build a starter for one of my favorite flatbreads, from More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, an English-muffin-like griddlecake, flavored with black onion seeds (also known as black caraway, charnushka, nigella or kalonji).  It is a terrific marinade for chicken and fish, and it also features prominently in rogan josh, a fiery, cardamom-rich lamb stew from Rajasthan.

If you like Indian food, you can really go to town, yogurt-wise.  One of my favorite cookbooks, Purobi Babbar’s Rotis and Naans of India With Accompaniments—which is something of a misnomer, as those “accompaniments” include drinks, vegetable dishes, meat dishes, sambars, chutneys, pickles, raitas and desserts—contains at least 50 recipes in which yogurt is either featured (lassis, raitas, yogurt sauces) or functions as a flavor-delivery ingredient (rotis, uttapam, dosas, the fabulous steamed bread known as idli, the equally-fabulous lobia, or blackeyed peas in gravy).  Truth be told, I don’t know exactly how many of Mrs. Babbar’s recipes contain yogurt.  I keep losing count because I keep getting distracted by how much I want to eat all this stuff, followed by a little dish of sweetened yogurt, enriched with saffron and pistachios.  Or maybe I’ll abruptly shift cultures and turn the last of the cherries left over from last week’s pie into sour cherry borscht, which my beautiful friend Julie taught me to make, and then float a little yogurt on the top of it.  Or I could cut up the rapidly-softening white nectarines I bought at the farmer’s market on Sunday, throw them into that hardworking blender, add yogurt and zizz until drinkable.  Or or or...or I could just quiet down and eat it as is.

elevenses of champions

Yogurt, my way
makes about 6 cups (or 7 EuroCuisine pots)

Note:  If I haven’t made it obvious by now, I’m a big fan of the yogurt maker. smile If, however, a new appliance is not feasible or desirable, and you want to try the mason-jar way, WebMD has the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recipe here If you try it, do let me know how it turns out.

1.575 liters (about 6 1/8 cups) whole milk (I usually measure this by taking one of the yogurt jars, filling it to the brim and pouring it into the pan seven times)
2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I use the former, but I encourage experimentation to see what works best for you.  Use a good commercial yogurt for the first batch, then hold back a quantity from the finished yogurt to start the next batch.  The more often you do this, the better it will taste.)

Scald the milk over medium-high heat.  When the surface of the milk looks a bit “puffy,” with tiny bubbles rising to the surface, and when a skin starts to form on the milk, it’s done.  Pull it off the heat and set the pan on a trivet to cool down.  As the milk cools, skim the skin (also known as casein) off the surface.

While the milk cools, place the yogurt in a bowl big enough to accommodate all of the milk in the pan.  When the milk cools to about 110F/40C—you should be able to keep your finger in it for 10 seconds—slowly whisk the milk into the bowl with the yogurt.  Whisk it just long enough to incorporate everything.  If you have a lot of foam on the surface of the milk, skim it off with a ladle.  You will probably have a lot of milk solids sticking to the bottom of your pan.  Do not scrape them into the milk/yogurt mix.  Just throw the pan into the sink and let it soak.  You’re done with it. smile

Ladle the milk into 7 clean yogurt jars.  If you don’t have a funnel, make sure you keep a damp sponge or paper towel close by.  (Of course, you might not be hopeless at getting milk into jars without spilling a drop.  If you are, feel free to point and laugh at me.) Place them into the yogurt maker in a ring of six, plus one in the center.  Do not put the lids on the jars; that comes later.  Place the cover on the yogurt maker, set the timer on the machine and turn the machine on.  You can keep the yogurt warm for as little as two hours, or as long as 15.  I usually opt for 12.  When I cook it longer, the bottoms tend to overcook and separate, and I haven’t had the nerve to experiment with shorter cooking times.  When the machine shuts off, cap the jars and refrigerate the yogurt for at least 8 hours before serving it forth.

Posted by Bakerina at 03:52 PM in • (1) Comments
August 06, 2009

Here’s what I missed.  I missed our wedding anniversary—an anniversary with a 5, no less.  There was a time when an anniversary ending in 5 or 0 would have brought forth long, loopy, overwritten declarations of love from me.  This would have been a good year for them, too.  When a man essentially forfeits all summer pleasures to pack and haul a zillion boxes so that his wife can go to law school on the other side of the country, he should be celebrated, noisily and sloppily.  I hope I wasn’t writing a paper that night.

I missed the presidential election.  Considering how much handwringing I did over the last one, you’d think I would have taken a moment to give thanks for the difference four years makes.  (I believe I’ve made my leanings fairly obvious over the years, but in case any questions lingered: My guy won.) The day after the election, of my professors was elated and vaguely tearful, not just because my guy was her guy, too, but also because young adults were such a key part of this election, and she loved, loved that young adults were finally taken seriously, because when she was a young adult, and first becoming politically engaged, young people were not taken seriously. Rather, she said, young adults were largely dismissed, seen as troublesome naifs with no idea of how the world really works, told to stop being so noisy and destructive and to let the real adults make the decisions for them.  How I wish I’d written it down while it was fresh.  I also wish I’d acknowledged the painful result of the election, the sad and shameful passage of Proposition 8 in California, and the spectacle of millions of dollars of out-of-state money being spent to deprive Californians of true marriage equality.

I missed law school, every last blessed bit of it:  How the lion’s share of my classmates were born the year I graduated from high school, but they never once made me feel like a dopey, stupid-question-asking, middle-aged killjoy.  How it didn’t take me long to realize that Everything I Know is Wrong.  How I had to learn—fast—how to present an argument and then immediately argue the counterpoint.  How I was not looking forward to studying Torts, dismissing the whole body of law as nothing but slip-and-fall cases, and how my mind was changed by my Torts professor, a quick-witted, scarily brilliant, warm and humane woman, who taught me about tort law as one of the earliest vehicles for civil rights.  How hard I worked, struggling to make sense of it all.  How my grades ranged from the excellent to the shocking, and how I couldn’t reconcile how hard I’d worked for that shocking grade, in a class I’d found interesting, for a professor I liked a lot and longed to impress.  How I was sure that something was wrong with me.  How I was right, but not in a way I’d ever suspected.  How I became a Constitution geek, and a Supreme Court geek.  How I embarrassed myself in public by yelling at a tv on which Jeff Sessions was explaining why reading a Supreme Court nominee’s published legal opinions was not an effective way to determine what sort of Justice that nominee would be, but parsing her speeches was.  How thrilling, exhilarating, frustrating, depressing, and funny this whole process is.  How I have no idea what I’m going to do at the end of it.

I missed my five-year blogging anniversary.  It was on December 1, 2003 that I started writing on the silly yellow page, with absolutely no idea of what I was doing.  All I knew at that moment was that after three years of training and researching and business-plan-writing and working my heart out, I would not be opening my bakery.  If you had told me that five years from that moment I’d be studying for final exams at a law school 3,100 miles away, I’d have asked you where you got the stuff, and if I could have some, please.  The only thing I knew with any certainty was that I did not want PTMYB to be an exercise in solipsism, filled with nothing but meticulous descriptions of the inside of my own head.  It embarrasses, writing that now.  I cast my eyes over what I’ve written thus far, and all I can see is I, I, I, me, I, my, I, I, myself, I, I, freakin’ I. It would be funny, if only it weren’t.

Dear friends, I fell far and fell fast.  First I stopped writing letters, then I stopped making phone calls, then I stopped answering my phone.  I spent hours reading, and then promptly forgetting everything I read, only to half-remember it later.  From time to time I would bake, a loaf of sandwich bread here, a batch of cookies there, feeling panicky because I should have been studying, dammit.  When friends asked me what I was baking, or when I would start blogging again, I would assure them, through clenched teeth, that it wouldn’t be long now.  During the break between fall and spring classes, the rainy season rolled in, cold and dark.  I started wearing sloppy oversized sweaters, knitting for hours at a time because even as I longed to write, I just couldn’t write.  Over time, I stopped writing, baking, knitting, photographing, thinking.  I found myself vowing to punch in the nose the next person who asked me when I planned to start again.

Fortunately, instead of alienating friends and loved ones by punching them in the nose, I went to a neuropsychologist, a nice man who ran me through four hours of tests.  When he told me I had moderate anxiety and depressive disorders, I was not surprised, but when he told me that I had ADHD, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  It’s too early to say that I started the right combination of medication and therapy and lived happily ever after, but I do seem to be getting more done in a day.  I have no idea when, or if, I’ll get my writing muscle back—I still can’t read my old posts without feeling more than a little pain about what I used to be able to do, and how I can’t seem to do it anymore—but if/until I do, there are a few small things I can do, and do well, and I can capture them while they’re fresh.

Here’s what I didn’t miss.  We put in a garden this year, a garden of our very own after 14 years of watching other people plant their gardens.  I’m definitely on a learning curve—three weeks ago I nearly lost all of our tomato plants to rust mites, but our tomatoes are tough little buggers, and healthy new stems, blossoms and fruit are emerging from what we thought were dying plants.  By September, we should be elbow-deep in fruit, and next year, the garden will be even better.

the start of something

I didn’t miss sour cherry season.  We buy our produce at the Mountain View farmer’s market on Sunday mornings.  It is a grand and glorious market, but I’ve not yet found pie cherries there.  I thought I was restricted to stone-fruit pies—not that there’s anything wrong with that—and that homemade cherry pie was something I’d left behind in New York.  Silly me.  “We have sour cherries!,” trumpeted the banner at this wonderful place.  I snapped up three quarts of these:

sour cherries


and turned them into this:

our first california cherry pie

And I absolutely, positively, could not miss this:

Cameron 2-3 weeks 001

This would be my brand-new nephew Cameron, who arrived on Bastille Day.  I have yet to meet him—his mom snapped this picture and sent it to me—but it’s fair to say that I’m smitten.  Come Christmas, just try to keep me away.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:28 PM in • (1) Comments
March 31, 2009

In a better time and place—specifically, in a time when I’m not trying to slog through 30 pages of dense reading about affirmative and negative covenants—I would apologize properly for disappearing for two months, only to return with an interstitial.  No pictures, no recipes, no long-winded documentaries about the garden we’re putting in out back...just what the hell kind of foodish blog is this, anyway?  I know, dear friends, and trust me, I feel plenty sheepish about it.  All that stuff about cherry pie and Norwegian porridge feuds, they almost feel as if they were written by another person.  I’m pretty sure that they weren’t, though, and I’m even more sure that the person who did write them is around here somewhere.

In the meantime, since the negative covenants are growing restless, I can at least share a little news:

1.  Today I am a for-real-and-true Californian.  Two hours into my morning study time at the library, I realized I left a book I needed at home.  I swore gently, dropped off some of my books in my locker, and set off on the 20-minute walk home.  Since I had a little time to kill, I decided to make a cup of tea.  As I went into the bathroom to wash my hands, I heard a banging sound from the back of the house.  Holy cow, I thought, someone’s trying to break in, and I stepped out of the bathroom gingerly, just in time to feel the floor roll underneath me.  It took seven months, but I have finally lost my earthquake virginity.

2.  Today I may be a for-real-and-true Californian, but come this July, I will be Auntie Jenny in the eyes of the law, as well as in the eyes of my best friend’s kids.  The brother who used to send me smartassed letters from science camp, and who charmed an office full of publishing professionals when he was ten years old, has grown up into a responsible young man, and he and his awesome (and awesomely patient) wife are having a boy this summer.  Of course I kicked into full auntie Monty and made him this:

hurdy gurdy jacket

Baby boy, there’s more where that came from, I promise. smile

3.  To answer the unspoken question:  Oh, my god, I just want to get through this semester without flunking out of law school.

Okay, lovely ones, just for sitting through this nonsense, you deserve some pretty pictures at the very least.  smile

oranges in spring

orange blossoms

the world is just awesome

big bowl o'self-esteem (and lemons)

Posted by Bakerina at 12:40 AM in • (0) Comments
January 24, 2009

Let the disclaiming begin.  Dear friends, I had plans for some Cookbook Love essay or other, maybe accompanied by some arty-fantastico food photography.  This will be coming soon enough.  In the meantime, I found myself awake at a ridiculous hour of the morning today.  Since there’s nothing more depressing than studying at 5:30 in the morning, I decided to seize the moment and participate in the 25 things meme, on which several people tagged me on Facebook.  The damn thing took me such a long time to write that I decided to cross-post it to PTMYB.  Most of these 25 things will be old news.  Many more of them will be tedious, the epitome of “today I ate a burrito for lunch/I hate my job” blogging, to use my friend Tristan’s excellent phrase.  But in the end, exercises like these dust the cobwebs off my brain, and in the end, I can’t complain about that.  You certainly may, though. wink

1.  I have a freckle on my top lip, the result of increased sun sensitivity after I started using Retin-A as a teenager to clear up my skin.  Usually it can’t be seen because it’s under makeup, but I just like knowing it’s there, for some reason.

2.  My mother did a terrific job (and, really, still does) at setting good examples for me.  When I was little, my mother read as much as time would allow; she loved art and art history, and would let me look at her college art history textbooks; she was an early believer in local, sustainable farming and used to shop for vegetables from the truck farmers in Wilmington, Delaware (and she used to bring me along); and as much as she loved me, she didn’t live through me and she didn’t treat me as if I were the center of the universe.  I have reaped only good things from this.

3.  I skipped fourth grade.  This meant that from fifth grade through college, I was frequently the youngest person in the room.

4.  I am no longer the youngest person in the room. Frequently I am the oldest person in the room. I used to feel weird about this until I heard Bill Clinton lament that he had just left a meeting where he was the oldest person in the room, and I thought, “dude, you were SIXTY YEARS OLD before that happened to you.  Do you think any of us will have to wait that long?  Try working retail for a while, dude!”

5.  My second job out of college was in the special sales department at Viking Penguin (now Penguin Putnam).  I started working there less than a year after Viking had published The Satanic Verses, and four months after Ayatollah Khomeini declared the fatwa on Salman Rushdie.  By the time I started, the bomb threats had largely dried up, but every once in a while, someone would feel the urge to call a bomb threat in.  I didn’t panic, mostly because my coworkers were old hands at building evacuation, and this was all in a day’s work for them.

6.  When people ask me if I miss New York, I say no, but that’s not entirely true.  The New York I miss is not the New York I left in August; rather, it was the New York I used to visit as a teenager, and the one to which I moved when I was 21.  It was never easy or cheap to live in New York, but it was easier, and cheaper, and if you were resourceful, it was possible to do a lot with relatively little.  That New York is long gone, and I don’t know if it’s ever coming back.

7.  Before I met my husband, whenever I fell in love, my immediate response was to think “It’s love!  It’s love!  It’s love!  I’m in love! Love love lovvity lovvity love!” (repeat x1,000,000) The day after my husband and I had our first date, my immediate response was to think, “Okay.  This guy is not like all of those other guys.  This guy is different, and if it doesn’t work out, you’re not going to find something this good with anyone for the love of God, DON’T SCREW IT UP.  Don’t scare him off.  Don’t do anything stupid.  Just be good to him, because this is a REALLY GOOD THING.” That was about the moment I suspected I might want to marry him.

8.  I often struggle with focus and attention span issues.  After a lifetime of study skill classes and time management seminars, I am only just beginning to consider that it might be a brain chemical issue.  The jury is still out on that, though.

9.  The only flavor I really don’t like (with the exception of the usual suspects like microwaveable scrambled eggs in a tube and frosting in a can), and have not grown to like, is caraway.  For years I wouldn’t eat rye bread because I thought I hated the taste, but after I had my first taste of seedless sour rye, I knew that what I hated wasn’t the taste of the rye, it was the taste of the caraway seed.  The only place I can tolerate caraway is on a kummelweck roll, the roll used for the mighty Beef on Weck sandwich.  Other than that, I still find it really unpleasant.

10.  When I was 10, I was in a car accident that, by all laws of physics, should have killed me.  I still don’t know how I managed to survive.  I have a permanent lump of damaged tissue on my right shin, as well as a scar from where my leg was cut on the door handle, surrounded by 16 smaller scars rendered by sloppy stitching at the hospital.

11.  Lloyd and I have no children.  This was not a choice on our part; we decided to see what fate had in store for us, and to take the hand we were dealt.  So far that hand does not include kids, and since we’re getting longer in the tooth every day, I don’t think it will.  Sometimes this breaks my heart, because I think Lloyd and I would make decent parents and we could have a great little family.  Other times this fills me with the purest relief.  I certainly wouldn’t be in law school if we had kids—and yes, I worry that I would end up unwittingly screwing up their lives, or Lloyd’s.  Having said all that, when people ask me if we have kids, I still automatically answer “Not yet.”

12.  After one of my coworkers saw David Bowie at Lee’s Art Supply on West 57th Street, I used to hang out there for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  I never did, although I was told that he was a regular customer.

13.  Among my closest friends are my college roommate, who has been a dear friend for 25 years, and my childhood pen pal, who I met by filling out a “Do you want a British pen pal?” coupon in a teen magazine.  We started writing to each other when we were 12; I met her for the first time when I was 22 and flew to England to meet her and her new baby son; she was maid of honor at my wedding.  With both of these friends, I can go for months without keeping in touch with either of them; yet once we starting talking, it’s like we never stopped.

14.  My first trip overseas was a summer program in the country formerly known as the U.S.S.R., between my junior and senior year of college, in 1987.  Two weeks before the end of classes, I was asked to leave the country by local government-types.  This was not for political reasons.  Yes, there’s a story.  No, it won’t be told here. >smile

15.  The most shocking thing about law school is how quickly I reverted to my dopey, awkward teenager self.  People will tell returning students that they are at an advantage because they have more life experience, they know that the world doesn’t turn on their grade point average, they have a better sense of what’s really important in life.  I have two words for these people:  Nuh Uh.  I have two more words for these people:  Contact high.

16.  Even though I feel perpetually dopey and awkward in school, I really love my class.  It is composed of brilliant, funny, warm and humane people, people who will laugh with you and will watch your back when your back needs watching, and I could not ask for a better group of people with which to be in school.

17.  While I like actual breakfast food, I love leftovers for breakfast even more.  The day after Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. smile

18.  I feel more at home, more comfortable in my own skin, working in a bread bakery than I do anywhere else.  The two weeks I spent in continuing education at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Vermont were among the happiest of my life.  I was doing something I really loved.  I was good at it.  I was training with people who I admired and respected, and I wanted them to find me worthy.  I was making a plan for the future.  At the same time, I recognize that I am lucky that I never opened that bakery after all.  Between the spike in commodity prices and the credit freeze, 2008 would have killed us.  We would be over half a million dollars in debt, and probably would have had to declare bankruptcy.  It is a sobering thing to look at your dream and think “thank God we dodged *that* bullet.”

19.  Counting the summer work I did as a teenager, I have worked as an office assistant, an intern at the Youth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a title searcher, a newspaper reporter/photographer, a sales assistant in both the publishing and cosmetic industries, a bookseller, a children’s book buyer at the store where I sold books, a temporary switchboard operator at an emergency homeless shelter run by the Red Cross in Brooklyn, a pastry cook, a breadbaker and a standup comic.  (That last one didn’t really pay, and I wasn’t good at it.) With any luck and plenty of hard work, I will also be a lawyer, working on either food policy issues or civil rights.

20.  I once called in sick from work because I was reading a book I loved too much to put down.  (Disclaimer:  Everybody gets *one* sick day in their lives like that.  I’ve had mine.  I won’t be taking any more of those.)

21.  I wish I could throw a baseball.

22.  The only downside to being married is that I can’t fall asleep listening to the radio anymore.  If I were single, that radio would be playing all night long.

23.  Although my grandmother taught me basic garter-stitch knitting when I was little, I didn’t really learn how to knit until I was 38.

24.  My heart still breaks much more easily than it should.  It doesn’t take much.  I keep waiting for it to toughen up a little bit, but it never does.

25.  I miss the way I used to listen to music when I was a teenager.  Call me a sentimental old fool, but I believe there is something almost chemical in the power a song you love has over you when you’re younger.  Occasionally I still find a song that makes me feel that way, and when I do, I feel like a new person.  Hearing a song like that feels like diving into clear water.  It feels like doing the work you were born to do.  It feels like love.

Posted by Bakerina at 01:38 PM in • (0) Comments
January 08, 2009

You really could write encyclopedias, fell whole forests and smoke bandwidth trying to do justice to the loveliness of the place where we live now.  I am East-Coast-born-and-raised; I miss Philadelphia and New England like nobody’s business; and I am resigned to the fact that if I want the kind of mozzarella I used to walk around the corner to buy, I must either make my own or take a 90-minute train trip into San Francisco to buy it; and even with all that baggage, I am still enchanted.  I could go on and on about the jalapenos still growing in the garden in January, or about buying Meyer lemons, blood oranges, pomelos and pomegranates at the Franklin Square farmer’s market in Santa Clara.  I could easily write a good five hundred pages about how Bunni came to visit for five days and found pleasure in everything from the view of the ocean at UC Santa Cruz to the grapefruit growing in our neighbor’s yard, from the soft glow of the streetlights in our neighborhood to the fact that out here, you can buy wine at the drugstore and hard liquor at the supermarket.  I could write about the day trip Lloyd and I took down 101, watching as the rain stopped and the fog burned off and we were surrounded by luscious rolling greenery, reminiscent of the landscape of the Scottish countryside, driving past fruit farms in Watsonville that whispered seductively in my ear:  if you like this now, you’ll really like it in summertime.

It has been so long since I’ve done anything around here but placeholding with angst-ridden internal monologues.  There is so much to share.  Yet I can’t share any of it.

At least I can’t just yet.  As I’m sure a few people are aware, I finished my first semester of law school last month.  I had big plans for the hiatus between the end of the fall semester and the start of the spring.  My mother and stepfather would be visiting for five days, arriving the day after my last final.  (They did, and we had a splendid time together, even though winter weather—or what passes for winter weather in Santa Clara County—arrived with a vengeance.) Bunni would be visiting the last week of break.  (She did, and we had a bang-up time.  Her photoset of her trip makes me smile.) I would write the letters left unwritten, get the house in order, get some practice driving our new Scion, update my resume, look for summer work, apply for fellowships to pay for my summer work (since it looks like any summer work I garner will be unpaid), pursue some other moneymaking opportunities, and, first and foremost, I would write.  Finally.  There would be no more curtailing my food crank impulses.  I would sit and write like I did in December 2003, when PTMYB was born.

You can guess where this is going.  What I did was sleep in past 7 every morning, change into a handknit sweater that grows increasingly ratty with each wearing, and knit.  I tried to read, but my attention span was shredded, and I couldn’t get past five pages without thinking that I should be doing something else.  The few times I sat down to write, the same horrible thing that happened during my year of unemployment happened again.  Two, three, four hours would roll by while I stared at a blank screen, writing a few lines, erasing them, looking at other people’s work for inspiration, feeling not inspired but depressed that I had fallen so far, so fast.  I knew that our current circumstances would not support seat-of-the-pants planning:  I would need to budget my time as assiduously as I budget money, making a plan and sticking to it, but I had no idea how to do it.  I began to wonder if my inactivity since December 2007, my lack of a full-day schedule, had destroyed my last tenuous shred of initiative, or worse yet, caused me actual brain damage.  I wondered if I would need Ritalin just to get through the Sunday New York Times.  I wondered what it would take to get me out of this, and if Lloyd would want to remain married to me after I was done with school. 

Now I know what it takes.  As shameful as it might sound, it takes feedback.  Specifically, it takes grade-based feedback.

That was indeed a coy way of saying that my grades were posted last week.  The good news is that I am not failing out of law school. smile The bad news is that while I’m not failing, it’s obvious that my fall methodology of Reading, Panicking, Weeping and Reading once more is not doing me any favors.  My grade spread ranges from the excellent to the worrying.  Fortunately, I have an opportunity to put the worrying grade right, but it’s going to take work, and help, and effort—the kind of effort that precludes staring at a blank screen for four hours, flouncing away tearily and temporarily hating the president who you helped elect because he took all the same first-year classes that you did, and you just know he aced them, hell, he probably ran practice exams for fun, and we HATE that in an incoming president.

(That was a joke.  Please don’t send me hate letters pointing out where the lack of academic rigor in a Commander-in-Chief has left us.  Believe me, I’ve noticed.)

At any rate.  It may be counterintuitive, if not ironic, to start writing more frequently now that my free time is over and the demands of school are rearing their ugly heads, but I’m keen to try.  Even if it means just weekly posting, or lots of placeholding interstitial folderol, it’s better than three months of silence.  I miss the foodish conversation, and I want it back, even if it means I only have two hours on Friday afternoon, or Sunday morning, to partake.

I did get one thing accomplished during break.  One day, Lloyd and I went out to the garage and brought in six boxes of my books, mostly cookbooks.  The boxes are in the bedroom, waiting patiently until our cash flow allows for a new set of bookshelves.  “I’m just going to pull a few things out that I want to look at right away,” I said to Lloyd. “Knock yourself out,” he replied.  He didn’t even blink when he saw what I consider to be a few things.

starter kit

Dear friends, I can’t tell you how it feels to sit in this new place and hold my old books in my hands, the ones that got me through biting New York winters and sweltering New York summers.  I have my old points of reference back, the source of gingerbread and cold soba noodle dressing, baked cherry tomatoes and pickled greens, onion pie, buttermilk biscuits so tender they fall apart at a cross word, other buttermilk biscuits which are sturdier but no less toothsome.  To have them all back is a tonic, and with any luck—and with work, help and effort—they will take all that worry I’ve been carrying around, and they will peel the skin off it.

pile of lemons

Postscript: It is a topic for another day—hey, I have homework wink—but I figured a little cheesy product endorsement would get the year off to a rollicking start.  My adored friend Sharon gave us this superb cookbook for Christmas, and from the day it arrived, I have been unable to stop cooking from it.  If you are a fan of The Splendid Table on the radio, you will eat this up.  (Not literally, of course—I mean, you want to keep it around so you can cook from it.) If you are unfamiliar with it, this might be the book to make you a fan.  Details will follow—maybe even next week. wink

Posted by Bakerina at 01:26 PM in • (0) Comments
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