April 18, 2008
Dear friends, there is more and better text to come, and once I return home, there will even be pictures to go with it (curse this desire to travel light and to leave the laptop with the photoediting software at home!). I’m just sending up a flare here to confirm that despite the best efforts of pre-rush-hour traffic and terminal construction at JFK to thwart me, I made my flight by the skin of my teeth, flew across the country without incident (save a little bumping around in the midwest, which is, apparently, something I’ll need to get used to if I fly this flight path on a regular basis), and am now being spoiled, utterly, by the amazing and wondrous Grace. I would natter on about what a joy she is to talk to, how sweetly she’s been taking care of me ever since she picked me up at the airport, how beautiful is her house and how lush is the view from the patio, but to do so would cut seriously into our sourdough-pancake-eating time. Grace is taking me out for sourdough pancakes, and then we’re driving to San Francisco together. I’m having such a blast that for the first time in my life, I don’t care if I sound gloaty and obnoxious. Oh, yeah, you wish you were me right now.
With any luck, this will pass, and I will settle down enough to write something pleasant to read. Until then, dear ones.
Posted by Bakerina
at 01:39 PM in
April 15, 2008
I don’t know if it was my lunatic one-day train trip to Boston (leave at 3 a.m., return at 7 p.m., do a staggering amount of walking in the meantime), or if it’s my upcoming trip to Santa Clara (fly to San Jose on Thursday night, return on the red-eye on Tuesday morning, do a staggering amount of walking in the meantime), but I have been absolutely, positively, embarrassingly exhausted for the past nine days. I still go to bed and wake up at my normal hours, but whereas I’m usually out of the house within half an hour of having my breakfast and a shower, I am now...sitting. I’m not just staring into space, of course; I read, I write, I knit, I write some more, but I do it all from the comfort of my own living room, which makes me feel lazy and sheepish. I do still go to the pool, but I suspect I’m not working hard enough to do my energy levels any good. If I added some weightlifting and another form of cardio, that might help, but the thought of doing that is even more tiring (which is not to say that I won’t do it). Eventually I do leave my house, camera and notebook in hand. If I’m lucky, I get a few decent shots, but I’m still nagged by the sense that this might be the last free time I ever have in my life, and I am not putting it to good use.
Lloyd has suggested that all of this sleepy bad attitude is a natural result of pondering the uncertain future. He has also suggested that feeling lazy and sheepish is not doing me any favors. When I told him “I have no idea what I’m going to do with my week,” he answered simply, “why not just live peacefully for a few days?” He did not drive a fork into my head, baked-potato-like, the way I richly deserved. He really is a keeper.
That said, even though I am currently as chatty, thoughtful and interesting as an aspidistra these days, I realize that it’s bad form to have news to share and not actually share it. In other words, yes, dear friends, the school saga continues. In addition to Santa Clara (a/k/a Bay Area) and Northeastern (a/k/a Beantown), I have also been accepted to Pitt Law, adding Pittsburgh to the geographic smackdown. New York City is in there, too, because Cardozo (the law school of Yeshiva University) has waitlisted me, and will keep me on the waitlist until August 25 or until I tell them to take me off of it. I have not yet heard from Brooklyn Law, but I knew from the beginning that it would be a long shot. Colorado said no.
Holy moly, now I’m really tired. But hell, there are worse things in life than being tired. I may be worn out and overwhelmed, but I’m definitely not bored or depressed or feeling assaulted by a terrible job situation. I’m headed to the land of sun-kissed, thirsty lotus-eaters. I’ll be staying with Grace—woohoooooo! I’m staying with Grace! I’ll have at least a day, maybe two, in San Francisco. I have a day of meeting more Future Lawyers of America, and, if all goes well there, I might just have a job interview, too. I’m on the verge of a Grand Weekend Out, and until then, I still have my share of neat stuff to appreciate at home, like, say, this little piece of public art, which Bunni and I found while walking down York Avenue on a particularly horrid, sleety, freezing February day. I went back yesterday, wondering if it would still be there, and odds my bodkins, it was. It’s a mock cemetery made from tongue depressors, located on the corner of York Avenue and 67th Street, in the heart of the neighborhood where you can find Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. It’s good to see that the Future Doctors of America have maintained their sense of mordant dark humor—and have managed to keep up with current events on top of it. Hmmmm. Maybe what I need is to feel more exhausted, not less.
Posted by Bakerina
at 12:48 PM in
April 12, 2008
Those of you who have been visiting this silly yellow page for the past few years know that I get a little touchy on subjects like gentrification and the explosion of luxury housing construction in New York City. I have been accused of romanticizing the past, of vilifying the people and businesses who would make the city better, of wishing we could go back to the good old days of skyrocketing murder rates and gauntlets of junkies in city parks. While I can understand these opinions, I can’t agree with them. I do remember when New York City was an easier place to live if you weren’t making hedge-fund money, when you could work a crummy low-level publishing job and still luck into a sublet you didn’t have to share with six other people. I remember hearing live music every night, going to no-cover gigs and dancing without worrying about whether I was violating arcane cabaret laws by doing so. I miss that, terribly. I remember being able to buy fabulous pastries at Lafayette Bakery in the West Village without having to sell blood to pay for it. I miss that, too. I also remember being followed to work by filthy-talking perverts taking advantage of my Girl Walking Alone status, and witnessing an escalating argument over cocaine between two dealers in front of my apartment building. I don’t miss that at all. What I do miss, most of all, is a sense of place, of knowing that there was room for you in New York even if you weren’t making, and spending, piles of money. I have no objection to fancy restaurants, or wine bars, or luxe coffeehouses, or even giant expensive ugly apartments, just as long as they aren’t the only game in town. When there is plenty of housing to be had for the moneyed, but not for their administrative assistants, or the guys who park their cars, or the cooks and waiters who make their dinners, or the bookstore clerks who sell their entertainments, I get a little tetchy. When a 30-year-old French bakery loses its lease so that an Ann Taylor store can turn into an even-bigger Ann Taylor store, my heart breaks. And when a beautiful old building, originally built as a clinic for the poor, recently serving as a branch of the New York Public Library, starts sporting signs reading “Buy This Mansion,” I want to start breaking stuff. I know I’m not alone in my despair, but it is easy to feel alone, particularly when I walk around the city on a nice day and find myself surrounded by adverts inviting the reader to “make Manhattan your own” or “possess your own Soho”. Somehow I do not think these folks are speaking to me.
Thankfully, I am not alone. I am lucky enough to have Bunni and Julie in my life. Not only do they understand my rantiness on this issue—Bunni’s neighborhood has no fewer than four new luxury buildings going up within two blocks of her apartment, while Julie’s neighborhood has been rechristened SpaHa by builders and brokers hot to gentrify—but they also know that the best tonic for this sort of existential dread is to be in each other’s company. If we happen to be having a really nice meal while in each other’s company, so much the better. And if we can have that nice meal in a small sweet neighborhood space, the kind where the owners are more concerned with providing really good food than with establishing a see-and-be-seen vibe, and where we can feel, even temporarily, the sense of place and belonging that brought us to New York in the first place, then existential dread doesn’t stand a chance.
“Allright, my little turtledoves,” Bunni wrote to me and Julie one night. Of course we listened, closely. Of course she knew we would say yes.
Bunni’s proposal was that we go to dinner at Panorama, just opened in her neighborhood—or, rather, reopened. I had been to Panorama before when it was Panorama Cafe, located in a swell two-floor, iron-terraced corner building on Second Avenue and East 85th Street. I had eaten some decent salads, some truly good omelettes and some regrettable bread. I’d never ordered wine on any of these visits; as far as I was concerned, Panorama was a brunch restaurant, or the place you went when you wanted a big salad and an iced tea. You might not eat fancily, but odds were good you would eat decently. When I learned that Panorama had lost its lease, I felt that old familiar sinking in my heart: another low-key neighborhood fixture bites the dust. When Bunni told me that Panorama was not closing, but rather moving to the space that M. Rohrs’ House of Fine Teas and Coffees vacated when they moved to their new space on East 86th Street, I was glad to hear that Panorama had a home, but baffled by the thought of it moving into Rohrs’ old space. I knew the old Rohrs’ well. The space was tiny, cramped and a fraction of the space in Panorama’s old location. How in the world were they going to do it?
I am pleased to say that they did it, and they did it well. Admittedly, a meal at the new Panorama is more expensive than at the old Panorama, but not extortionately so; depending on whether you want a full three-course meal with wine or a small plate or two, you can eat for $50 per person, or for $20, or more or less or points between. The bread is much better now, and served with olive oil pressed from olives grown on the owners’ farm. The new wine list is small but impressive: I had a Rodney Strong pinot noir with my appetizer and a malbec with my entree, as well as a taste of the viognier Julie had with her meal, and was so delighted with everything I tried that I’m all set to come back and try the wine flights once Panorama rolls them out. The space is beautiful, with exposed brick walls and warm lighting, surprisingly airy and wide-open. It is not the tiny, packed-to-the-rafters space that Rohrs’ occupied.
Of course, all of this would be a moot point if I didn’t love the food.
Bunni’s scampi in garlic sauce. Much passing around of plate at table. Yummy noises ensued.
Julie’s calamari. More passing around of plate, more yummy noises.
My salad, a lovely thing made from mixed greens, orange and grapefruit sections, toasted almonds and strawberry vinaigrette. I am only a little ashamed to admit that I ate a sizable portion of this salad without utensils, although I stopped short of licking the plate clean. Mmmm, vinaigrette.
For entrees, we opted for pasta, and plenty of it. Julie was intrigued by the lobster ravioli on the menu, but was also intrigued by the cardinale sauce (white wine, tomatoes, garlic, shrimp and cherry tomatoes) that was featured on one of the other pasta dishes. She asked the waitress if the kitchen would be willing to dress the ravioli with the cardinale sauce, and happiness!, they did:
Bunni, no fool she, ordered the paglia y fieno (green and white pasta, peas and prosciutto), which I’m definitely ordering on the next visit:
I meanwhile, did something I haven’t done since I was a little kid. Although I’ve made meat sauces for pasta at home, I almost never order them in restaurants, but for some reason, something about a big bowl of spaghetti dressed with meat and mushrooms and tomatoes called out to me that night.
Not surprisingly, by the end of all this, even without cleaning our plates, even with having enough to take home, we had to forgo dessert, which was a shame because I do like to leave room for tirami su. I’m not complaining, though. The three of us came to dinner with minds full of trouble and hearts full of worry, and there will be plenty more of that to come. For three hours, anyway, we were in a warm, well-lit room, enjoying each other’s company, eating and drinking wonderful things made for us by people more concerned with their food and their atmosphere than with courting celebrities, feeling the sense of place and belonging that is all too elusive for us in our own city these days. That’s my kind of Friday night.
303 East 85th Street (between 2nd and 1st Aves.)
New York, NY 10028
Edit: Bunni has informed me that Panorama is now serving weekend brunch and a sandwich menu. Woohoo!
Posted by Bakerina
at 05:54 PM in
April 02, 2008
Well, okay, I did at least bother to wash. I just can’t resist a nice David Bowie reference. The dazed bit is accurate, though.
Dear friends, it is not only Deep Thoughts of the Future keeping me away from this space. There is still plenty of that, of course, but there is also a new spring ritual in my life, the phenomenon known as Deadline Knitting. Last March found me cranking out cotton dishcloths against the clock so that I might present them to Julie at her bridal shower. This March finds me still cranking out cottony goodness, brought to me by the swell gals at Mason-Dixon Knitting, for another richly-deserving recipient. Although the party in question is not until next week (and that’s all I’ll say here, lest she be reading), I have only a two-day window to finish everything. To say that I’m getting a little obsessive about all the knitting is to understate the case, truly.
In addition to knitting and deep thinking, there will be traveling, too. On Saturday I will be taking a day trip to Boston to attend Northeastern’s open house for admitted students, leaving New York at 3 in the morning - really—and arriving in Boston around 7:30, which should give me time for a nice breakfast and the tallest coffee known to man before I go meet some Future Lawyers of America, tour the campus, hobnob with the faculty at the Museum of Fine Arts, and then catch a late-afternoon train back to New York. At about the moment I finally recover from traveling to Penn Station in the middle of the night, specifically, on April 17, I will be flying to San Jose so that I can attend Law Preview Day at Santa Clara on the 19th. For that trip, though, I’ll be sticking around for the weekend and taking the redeye back to New York on Monday. Just writing that makes me tired. But happy. But still tired. I’ve never been able to sleep on airplanes, but this trip might be the one that teaches me to do it.
I will be back, though, as soon as I can. After all, Owen wants to talk about eggs and Juno wants to talk about fruit crisps. Who could stay away in the face of such promising conversation?
Posted by Bakerina
at 11:38 AM in
March 27, 2008
Before I share the recipe for this little cupcake here—because I know I’ll be poked with pointy sticks if I attempt to post a picture and then skedaddle without including a recipe—I do want to thank everyone who either commented here, sent email or called in response to the “Bay Area v. Beantown geographic smackdown” post. I heard from a lot of you, and I am touched to know that so many of you care, and wish both me and Lloyd well in the coming months and years, when we’ll need as much luck and intelligence on our side as we can muster. I am refraining from commenting further right now—although Bog knows that won’t last long —simply because for all that this is an exhilarating process, it is a stressful and exhausting one, too. I won’t enumerate on all of the factors we need to consider for our future; the most important one, of course, is to stick by each other as long as we live*, but there are other factors, too, factors that both require Lloyd to stay in New York for at least another year, and also require us to contemplate our post-New York future—because, as I predicted on this very page nearly 4 1/2 years ago, our time in New York is running out, and we’d like to get a head start before the rug is pulled from under us. In short, Lloyd and I are not going into anything with blinders on. We’re trying to make the smartest decision that can be made, even if that decision does not look smart in the short term. For that reason, I am holding off on any more discussion until I’m ready for it. Thank you all, in advance, for your patience and understanding.
Yes, yes, so noted, blahdeblahdeblah. Cupcakes, please?
Absolutely. Today’s bit of
Sunday Thursday afternoon cake love was inspired by bunni, who made beautiful little cakes using the Magnolia Bakery vanilla cupcake recipe and her bunny cakelet tins. From the minute she called to tell me about them, I’ve had cupcakes on the brain—but not the cupcakes that are ubiquitous in New York (and, to hear my dear friend Sharon tell it, are making an inroad into the same nifty neighborhood in Pittsburgh where, once upon a time, I wanted to open my bread bakery). I recognize that from an aesthetic viewpoint, a steep tower of icing atop a cupcake might look sexy, but the result is always the same: after two bites, my head rings, my teeth hurt and my stomach feels like a canvas bag with a medicine ball in it. As much as I hate to admit any fealty toward packaged food, I’m afraid that my idea of the ur-cupcake stems from the Tastykake chocolate cupcakes I loved as a kid: a small, intensely-flavored cake, a thin ribbon of icing across the top. If you are familiar with fairy cakes, those are pretty much where my cupcake tastes lie.
Once I knew that cupcakes were in my future, it was a short skip to determining the flavor. Ever since I acquired my copy of one of my favorite cookbooks, English Food by the late Jane Grigson, I have been enchanted with her recipe for Parsnip Cake, which she describes in her recipe headnote thusly:
In recent years, American carrot cake—sometimes, and I am not sure why, called passion cake—has become popular in Britain. A friend from San Diego sent me her recipe, and I thought it might be good made with parsnips instead of carrots. And it was, in fact it was even better. That is my excuse for including it in a book of English food.
I am of the opinion that, as Robert Heinlein said of little girls and butterflies, Jane Grigson needs no excuses. About the cake, she is bang-on. I made two changes to her recipe. One was to bake the cake in muffin cups, rather than layers; the other was to substitute half the plain flour with whole-wheat pastry flour, inspired by my new copy of King Arthur Flour Whole-Grain Baking, which I bought on Monday after spending Easter weekend reading Momerina’s copy. There are other changes I’ve thought of making: adding raisins, adding pineapple, replacing the traditional cream-cheese icing with with seven-minute coconut icing—but really, I would just be gilding the lily here, and I know it. I tried one of these with a cup of tea at 11 a.m., and it was just right as is, the perfect thing to bake—and to eat—while contemplating one’s stressful and uncertain future.
inspired by Jane Grigson’s parsnip cake in English Food (Ebury Press, 1992)
makes 18 medium-sized cupcakes
Note: Because Jane Grigson gives both metric and imperial weight measurements, that’s what I’m using here. Normally I try to include volume as well, but this morning I just weighed everything right into the mixing bowl. If you’d like volume measurements, let me know, and I’ll edit accordingly.
For the cupcakes:
375g (12 oz.) peeled, grated parsnip (peel and grate first, then weigh)
125g (4 oz.) chopped hazelnuts or walnuts (again, chop first, then weigh—I used hazelnuts)
400g (13 oz.) caster or golden granulated sugar (if you have regular granulated white sugar, that’s fine)
125g (4 oz.) all-purpose or plain flour
125g (4 oz.) whole wheat pastry flour (or use 250g all-purpose flour if you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (Because this is an English recipe, I used Ceylon cinnamon, which is the predominant cinnamon used in British baking. After I added it, I remembered that the original recipe source was American, and what we Americans consider cinnamon is the stronger, more pungent cassia. Really, though, you can’t go wrong here, no matter what you use.)
1 teaspoon salt
250ml (8 fl. oz.) oil (Jane Grigson recommends either sunflower or a 50-50 sunflower/walnut or hazelnut oil mix. I used peanut oil, which is my default oil of choice, but if you can’t have peanuts, canola, safflower or even plain vegetable oil will work just fine)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Jane Grigson suggests either the vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod; I think that the pod vanilla flavor might be lost in this cake, but in all fairness, I haven’t tried it yet.)
Preheat oven to 400F/185C/Gas Mark 6. Set a rack in the center of the oven. Line a 12-cup muffin mold with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray.
Mix parsnips and nuts together by hand and set aside.
In a stand mixer or food processor, combine the sugar, flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the oil and beat just until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just combined. (You can also do this in a regular bowl with a hand mixer. If you beat this by hand, make sure that the oil and eggs are very well combined.) Add the parsnips and nuts, stir to blend. Add the vanilla. Be sure that the parsnips and batter are all evenly distributed.
Divide the batter between the cups. (I used a 1/4-cup Zeroll cookie scoop, which gave me 18 total.) Bake on the center rack for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the bake. When they are done, the surface will look moist, but they will be firm to the touch, and a toothpick plunged into the center of the cake will emerge clean.) Let rest for a few minutes before decanting the cakes to a cooling rack. If you have batter left over (there should be enough for six more cakes), let the pan cool down, then line and bake off the rest of the batter. Let cool completely.
For the icing:
250g (8 oz.) cream cheese (Jane Grigson specifies full-fat, but I used reduced fat [Neufchatel], which worked nicely. Fat-free, though, I wouldn’t do.)
125g-175g (4-6 oz.) softened unsalted butter (I used the smaller amount)
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted (This makes a not-too-sweet icing, which I love; if you like a sweeter icing, add more)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or lemon juice
This is a doddle. Cream the cheese and butter together, add sugar, add vanilla or lemon juice, stir until smooth, well-blended and fluffy. Ice your cupcakes all at once, or just put them in an airtight container and ice as needed. Keep the icing in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature and stir before you spread it.
*Astute readers among you might recognize this line from ”Song of the Open Road” (stanza 17) by Walt Whitman, which my dear friend Sharon—the same dear friend Sharon who told me about the arrival of hepster cupcakes in Pittsburgh—read at our wedding. It still resonates with us.
Posted by Bakerina
at 12:50 PM in