Old ways and new ways

Bread-baking season started again in October, when it finally got cool enough to have the oven on (although it remains, in mid-November, unseasonably mild). I made a satisfactory couple of loaves following Mark Bittman’s easy (food processor-kneaded) sandwich loaf process. I varied the flours, sweetener, liquid, and fat each time, and made no detailed notes, but I am getting a better feel for the texture of dough at each stage and for the shaping of loaves.  I get nice flavor and a pretty good, well-knitted texture in a bread that can last me a week of skinny slices. It turns out that watching the rise timings helps. With those two successes behind me, I attempted a much more complex recipe for French loaves found in BAKING WITH JULIA, edited by Dorie Greenspan. I started with old dough, saved from the previous week’s baking, waking it up with a little water the night before. This went into a first starter, which then made a second starter, which then went through two long rises before shaping and final rise.  The dough looked great, stretchy with big and small holes, through the second starter and even the first rise, but the second rise almost didn’t. The dough had become almost inert, seemingly.  I shaped two small baguettes, following the instructions rather impatiently — it was now eight o’clock on the second day, or twenty-four hours into the process. Maybe they should have rested longer than an hour, but I was out of time.  So into the oven they went. And there was enough oven spring to make the two sad, poorly formed logs burst and bulge out in various directions, but not enough to make the texture less than leaden. Well, whipped lead. Still edible, but dense and somewhat gummy. Rather than developing a crisp brown crust, they had the mottled look of a redheaded glassblower. Continue reading


In memoriam.

C. K. Williams

Another drought morning after a too brief dawn downpour,
uncountable silvery glitterings on the leaves of the withering maples –

I think of a troop of the blissful blessed approaching Dante,
“a hundred spheres shining,” he rhapsodizes, “the purest pearls…”

then of the frightening brilliant myriad gleam in my lamp
of the eyes of the vast swarm of bats I found once in a cave,

a chamber whose walls seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures,
their cacophonous, keen, insistent, incessant squeakings and squealings

churning the warm, rank, cloying air; of how one,
perfectly still among all the fitfully twitching others,

was looking straight at me, gazing solemnly, thoughtfully up
from beneath the intricate furl of its leathery wings

as though it couldn’t believe I was there, or was trying to place me,
to situate me in the gnarl we’d evolved from, and now,

the trees still heartrendingly asparkle, Dante again,
this time the way he’ll refer to a figure he meets as “the life of…”

not the soul, or person, the life, and once more the bat, and I,
our lives in that moment together, our lives, our lives,

his with no vision of celestial splendor, no poem,
mine with no flight, no unblundering dash through the dark,

his without realizing it would, so soon, no longer exist,
mine having to know for us both that everything ends,

world, after-world, even their memory, steamed away
like the film of uncertain vapor of the last of the luscious rain.


Looking at myself in the mirror as I wrapped my scarf yesterday, I thought, “Some days you just have to get dressed as though you did not know how to dress yourself.”


Checking into this whole shrub fad. Rachel H got us delicious ones at a farm stand after the Central PA Saturday singing last year, and then of course Ted S simply drinks vinegar.  Anyhow, I made some ginger switchel from this recipe  – vinegar, honey, ginger, water. It’s resting in the fridge now. I used less honey than suggested, we’ll see if it needs more. I bet it’ll be good with seltzer and bourbon. (Haven’t got the book yet.)


A few little things I’ve collected.

1) [Roger Caillois] fell out with André Breton after a disagreement about the nature of the Mexican jumping bean.

2) The Sign of the Holy Lamb and Ink-bottle, at the East end of St Paul’s church.

3) A little “how came you so” — that is, drunk.

Also, if you want to see me lead THE FAITHFUL SOLDIER (ShH 174) in a hot happy room in the hills outside Nazareth (Pennsylvania): thanks, Bridget, and congratulations to Dan and Katy.

Tagged ,


No photo, so take my word for it that yesterday’s lime pie, finally dolloped with concentric rings of softly (hand-) whipped cream and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and minced lime zest, its pale face circled with a russet collar of cookie-crumb crust (speculoos mixed with very similar almond wafers), looked rather pretty. My baked goods hardly ever look pretty — maybe handsome in an undecorated fashion, but not pretty — so I was pleased. And it tasted great, the tangy, soft, cool lime and cream a fine contrast with the crunchy, cinnamon-and-gingery crust. It went beautifully with the other dessert contribution at the dinner party, Camille’s lemon cake with raspberries.

I was inspired by this frozen lemon pie recipe from Everybody Likes Sandwiches, cross-referenced with Mark Bittman and Martha Stewart and a handful of other recipes. Citrus tarts using sweetened evaporated milk are legion, and not complex at their essence, though there are so many variations that this basic simplicity can be obscured.

The only other time I went to Ralph’s place it was for another dinner party and there too I brought cream, bowl, and whisk. That time it was a chocolate torte — the red wine cake, I think. He must think I’m obsessed with beating. The Four Freedoms monument on Roosevelt Island, now visible, clean and elegant, from Ralph’s terrace, had not then been built. Like all the best midtown views, his also includes other people’s terraces, watertowers, and the Chrysler Building.

Crunching and jamming.

You remember that pear-ginger conserve I made, out of Melissa McClellan’s FOOD IN JARS book? Well, I made another recipe, nectarine-lime, and it was maybe even more delicious. It came out a gorgeous purplish-red color, too, surprisingly, suggestive of cherries or raspberries, but I figure it was all due to the nectarines’ skins.  The minced lime zest gave it a little sharp nip.

I had all the ingredients (except the millet, procured for 26 cents at the organic store on Court Street) so I made Smitten Kitchen’s vegan, gluten-free, nut-free chocolate granola bars.  So far I have not encountered any of my acquaintance with all those requirements, but the non-sensitive to whom I’ve offered the bars have enjoyed them. There are a lot of variable slots in the recipe: I used pomegranate molasses for the sweetener, tahini for the nut butter, coconut oil for the fat, dates and dried cranberries for the fruits.  Even cut with (gasp) corn syrup the pomegranate was, as I feared, somewhat overwhelming; if I make these again I will use honey and will change up the fruits, maybe to raisins and apricots. I’ll also reduce the chocolate further (I used a little less than the cup called for).  In pursuit of effective congealment I adopted the technique from the comments of heating the syrup briefly and melting the oil and tahini into it.  I baked at night, refrigerated the tin, and cut the bars in the morning, and they held together quite well. Half the batch is keeping safe in the freezer, individually wrapped purportedly for travel snack use, though I had one frozen last night.  I’d say they were a success, but not such a stunning one as to put paid to any thought of alternatives.

I’m giving you just a thumbnail photo, because why make an ugly picture any easier to see?

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.


Momentary preservation.

In the cool of the morning yesterday I made a little jar of pear-ginger conserve based on the recipe in Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars.

Photo on 2015-05-27 at 07.54(No, that’s not a properly sealed lid; I didn’t process it, I’ll just keep it in the fridge and use it up soon.) It’s good, though for some reason I expected it to be tangier than it turned out. McClellan’s formula includes chopped pear, half as much sugar, orange (I used tangelo) including the peel, lemon juice and zest, grated ginger, chopped walnuts thrown in toward the end.

Something else I made recently, but took no photos, and I feel uncomfortable discussing because I didn’t note the source, just jotted down an outline in my notebook: hazelnut crisps. These flourless wafers are kind of like non-puffy macaroons using the whole egg.  I baked a test batch and I’m glad I did, as they were far spreadier than I had guessed — so much so that one crept right off the edge of the baking sheet and landed in a charring lump on the bottom of the oven.  They also needed longer and hotter baking than the recipe proposed.  Once all that’s solved, they’re delicious.

Here’s my version: 1 egg; 1/2 cup sugar; scant 1/4 cup melted butter; 3/4 cup finely chopped hazel (or other) nuts; 1/2 tsp vanilla; pinch of salt. Oven 375º.  Whisk all together and let stand to thicken. Use a silicone mat or parchment; use a jelly roll pan if you are worried about cookies making a break for freedom. Drop small amounts, widely separated, and bake; after 10 minutes, pull out to separate and reshape. Bake another five to ten minutes or until they are browning nicely at the edges. Let cool and slide them off the paper. The cookies will be extremely thin.

Canzonet for two voices at the cheese counter



Overheard counterpoint at Zabar’s cheese department:

“Taleggio, taleggio, taleggio”

“Manchego, manchego, manchego”

(Not entirely overheard, though quite true. I sang S1 in this duet.)


Better macaroons.



In previous years I’ve used David Lebovitz’s recipe for macaroons, which calls (extraordinarily, I haven’t seen this anywhere else) for lightly cooking together the ingredients in a skillet before baking. This year I didn’t look up his recipe and just used the universally approved method that simply mixes the egg white with the dry ingredients and bakes.  And I have to say, they’re NOT AS GOOD. This morning I made a tiny batch of the Lebovitz method — of course I left out the flour; otherwise the only differences are the process and the addition of a little dab of honey — and they are not as macaroon-looking but they are charmingly juicy with a caramelized edge.  So good.  Thanks, David, it’s well worth dirtying a frying pan.


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