Good MORNING!!! (good night)

I’m reading this title in the weird high-pitched voice I use to say good morning to cats when one appears (from sleeping, that is, not just like a random cat. I would in that case say hello, and not good morning, obviously). The reason is that I am talking about MY SOURDOUGH STARTER!!!!! And it is the closest thing I have to a pet.

Yes, that’s right: SHE IS AWAKE! (Yes, she. My Russian tutor tells me I may not call my plant “she” in Russian because “plant” is neuter; well, I ignored her then, and I’ll… ignore her now? if she tells me sourdough starter is neuter? Also, what should I name her? The sourdough starter, not the Russian tutor. She has a name.)

Day eight billion something

Anyway, a few days ago it finally became cold in New York, such that it was possible to conceive of turning on the oven at some point in the near future. I decided it was time for the sourdough’s hibernation to end. I took it out of the fridge and, well, to be perfectly honest, poured a lot of weird gray liquid down the drain, and then scraped a lot of weird gray former sourdough starter off the top and sides and put them in the garbage (and even took out the garbage). Then I fed it with some nice new whole-wheat flour and water and put it in the back of the oven with the oven light on.

The (temporary) problem was that the heat wasn’t actually on, so it was still super cold, and my sourdough starter is very sensitive to temperature, as I know from when it appeared to die last spring. I hoped it would somehow perk itself up in the oven.

Day eight billion something + 1

It didn’t, but this morning I was down by the stove dealing with sourdough things and felt a weird warm breeze. I was like, what is that?? Why is it warm? Where is it coming from??? It was heat coming from the radiator. I literally forgot what heat was. So I fed the sourdough (I removed some more of the old starter, since I have no idea what flour/water ratio it’s at, and put in exactly[ish] an ounce of flour and an ounce of water) and put its pot-holder hat on and put it on the floor by the radiator.

I got home tonight and IT WAS ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!! It was all frothy and bubbly!!!!! I was deeply excited. Here is a picture of the corner of my apartment where all the alive things live (except me).

Plant and sourdough starter in kitchen

The weird dark layer is liquid, and it is supposed to be there (I think/hope).

(Oh, and except the cockroaches; I don’t know where they live.) (Also, I like that picture, and you can even see my cool Russian art through the window.) Continue reading

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Toaster cake and the end of an era

The end of the era is not the end of this blog. This blog is eternal, like … two very small eternal things. However: I did today finally finish this Russian TV show I’ve been watching for like 700 years. (And before that, I was watching a different Russian TV show that this one is a spinoff of.) This is very momentous and all that.

(Also, there is going to be a spinoff of the spinoff. The first comment on the trailer on YouTube says, “Who is going to watch that… WELL nonsense completely.” [Directly translated from Russian.] The second comment says, “Hurray!”)

I just tried to find a clip of the show to embed here for you, but I could not find a good one; it is a very bad show. Here instead is a clip from Kukhnya (Kitchen), the original series:

 

As you can see, it is a work of great comic genius. (They are trying to cure someone of the hiccups by scaring him with a cat; instead, the wrong person gets scared, and is cured of their stuttering.) This clip also features Fedya and Senya, great best friends after whom I am going to name my cats someday.

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SOOUUUURRRDOOOUUUGHHHHHH

This post is approximately one hundred years in the making, i.e., I’ve been thinking about and putting off making sourdough for roughly one hundred years. HOWEVER, I’m writing a story where the protagonist basically is having a mental breakdown and makes a lot of bread (which is obviously autobiographical, but she’s more advanced than me and makes sourdough, so I figured I would have to learn so as not to let her get ahead of me) (and also so I can see if the story makes any sense). I’ve been working on this story for almost a year and I’m SO tired of it (I’m on draft 6.2, per my numbering system) and I’m hoping that the sourdough experiment will somehow push it into being finished.

So I got this brilliant idea at the library during writing group, and then I got home and started preparing, and then realized that Passover starts on Friday. But I think the starter itself will be ready right around Friday, so then I can put it in the fridge (where it will enter a state of suspended animation) and revive it after Passover ends (much like happened to Khan, but hopefully the starter will be less distressed/violent). And then I can have sourdough to break Passover. It will be very exciting.

I am starting with Phickle’s sourdough starter tutorial; it’s based on Tartine Bakery‘s book (link courtesy of my neighborhood independent bookstore!), and thus should be good. It looks easy to follow, thus its appeal (and it was the first thing I found). If anything goes terribly wrong I’ll consult Breadtopia, which is a very soothing and lovely site.

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Everything is going exactly according to plan, no issues here whatsoever.

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THE MTA SUCKS pineapple

Wow, I am super not in the mood for this. I was trying to get over writer’s block by writing some nonsense here but I already don’t feel like listening to myself. Oh well I already took all the #relativelyshitty photos (that was self-deprecating in a charming way, but actually they are not good photos) so I have to write. Please send me a story idea and I will write it.

I went to the supermarket, as usual, and I was very cranky when I got there because I was hungry, and the supermarket was entirely full of couples fighting and children having mental breakdowns, so I joined them and also had a mental breakdown. This was brought on mostly by walking back and forth several times trying to find barley, and then it was where I thought it was all along. Then I spent 400 hours trying to decide what ice cream to get, and trying to find feta cheese. Long story short, I bought a pineapple.

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If you brought me diamonds, if you brought me pearls, if you brought me roses like some other gents might bring to other girls, it couldn’t please me more than the gift I see—a pineapple for me.

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For Hillary

This is just going to be a personal post. It’s not going to be inspiring (though, links at bottom) and it will definitely sound super selfish. Commiserating today has been helping me. So, this is where I am at for now.

I still feel sick. I’ve been crying for two days straight. My heart—and you know I mean this, because I hate talking about my heart—is broken into a million, billion pieces. For me, for Hillary, for our country, that we don’t get to see her as president. I wanted that more than anything.

On Tuesday night, before I went to sleep—around midday in East Coast time—I had never been so excited in my life. I’ve been waiting for this since the 2008 primaries. I’ve loved and admired Hillary for a really, really long time. I honestly don’t remember how I decided on her back then. I remember how excited and proud I was, standing in a New Haven library and filling in my ballot for her, to be voting for a woman, a strong, progressive, feminist, just fucking awesome badass woman. And I’ve been with her ever since—just, really quietly, because of all the times I’ve had people (mostly men) tell me I was wrong. And then. Well.

In my Russian conversation class today, when we were talking briefly about the election, my teacher said to me, “All the students have been in bad moods today, but you seem really upset. Why is this so close to you?” I just kinda mumbled, “It’s hard to say.” Partly because I didn’t want to start crying again, partly because many of the reasons were things I wouldn’t have felt safe saying while I’m living in this country, partly just because it is hard to explain.

I’m a Jewish, queer, slightly mentally ill woman. That’s not really why this scares me so much. I’m white, and I can hide the rest of it, which I do, most of the time, which I’m ashamed of. So, hi—here’s the truth. This election will change me. It’s hard to say “home” right now when I think of that place, but: I will do everything I can to change this country when I get home.

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I made baked ziti tonight (sort of). This post was going to be about it. About how it’s my home, but that sounded stupid. And it’s not MY home that matters. But this is how I am trying to make myself stop being so tired and sad and despairing and get up. It didn’t work, but I’ll try again.

 

I’m also collecting links to YES LET US GO FIGHT articles:

Ask Polly
Daily Kos
Deadspin
HuffPo
Jezebel
Leslie Knope (Vox)
Man Repeller
Medium 1
Medium 2
Slate

How to: drink beer

Pretty much every time I go out for beers with my friend Sarah, I go, “Wait, what are hops? Are those the ones I like? Do I like lager? What’s an ale?” I don’t know why. She has never claimed to know very much about beer.

The original idea for this post was: It’s hot out this week and I don’t feel like cooking. I should do a “How to: drink beer” post and it will be like, open a beer and put it in your mouth. But then I realized that was dumb and not funny.

I spent a while today reading pretty much every single beer article on The Kitchn, and now I am a beer expert. (I also read this extraordinarily awesome Men’s Health slideshow.) I know things like:

-Hops are the flowers of the hop plant (related to hemp); they make things bitter. (Dear self, for future reference, you really like hops.)
-Lager is like normal beer—Budweiser, Miller, etc. (There are good lagers out there, though!) They are made with bottom-fermenting yeast, and they ferment at colder temperatures. Lagers are described as crisp, clean, etc.
-In contrast, ales are made with top-fermenting yeast and are “robust” and “complex.” (They are better than lagers. But NO JUDGMENT.)
-IPAs (India Pale Ale) are hoppy ales. I like them. A lot. They are hoppy because hops are a preservative, and they were brewed to withstand the trip from England to India (by boat, back in the day). Pale ales in general are made with paler malt—less roasted. I can’t even get into malt right now. OK, fine:
-Malt is actually malted barley. That is pretty much all I comprehend about malt. I don’t even know if it’s the same stuff as in bagels. Hold on. OK. Malt is “the term used for maltose sugar extracted from sprouted barley,” according to Epicurious (trustworthy). So it seems like it is probably the same thing. (Update: It’s the next day and I am still ridiculously confused by this. Help.)

I have totally lost the thread of this post. Right now I’m drinking Tenacious Traveler, from the House of Shandy Beer Co. It tastes like ginger and lemon (it tastes more like a shandy—beer+lemonade—than it does like beer); it’s really, really weird. You can’t really taste anything other than the ginger and lemon. I am mostly just mystified by the fact that they had it in my utterly sketchy East Harlem bodega. I’ve never heard of it before. But the label has a guy with a mustache, so that’s nice.

I have a very minor obsession with seasonal beer, so I may start commenting on them here. (The minor obsession just means that I usually get the seasonal beer when it’s on tap. But I think everyone does this. Also, this is more true in the fall, when I am on the ever-important quest for pumpkin beer.) Good night.

Spring vegetable orzo + how to: make a bechamel

The title of this post is kind of a lie. I was making this orzo dish that included a bechamel, and since the dish was pretty easy and cookingly uninteresting, I was like, ooh, I can teach everyone how to make a bechamel! But it turns out I am not qualified to do that, because I have no idea how to make a bechamel. I mean, the orzo came out very good, so I guess it was successful, but I had no idea what I was doing.

Béchamels are one of those classic French sauces that everyone thinks are difficult to make. Then every cookbook author goes, “You probably think béchamels are difficult to make, but they are super easy!” Then you try, and it turns out that no, they are actually really difficult and it always goes awry.

Martha Rose Shulman, who does the Recipes for Health column at the New York Times and is one of my favorites, says this about béchamels. Hers is an olive-oil bechamel instead of butter, since she is healthy, and I used her recipe because it was a part of her other recipe that I was using. And I am not confident enough to make my own béchamels, willy-nilly.

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A Call for Comfort [Food]

It’s not hard to deduce from my few posts that much of my initial cooking experience is owed to the blog smittenkitchen. Deb Perelman’s anyone-can-do-this adaptations of recipes from well-known sources eased me into the idea of producing real, edible meals in my very own home. Successes from those recipes gave me enough of an ego boost to host my own seder (gasp!). The only real victim here is my boyfriend (you may know him as my handy kitchen assistant) who was perfectly happy ordering in 6 nights a week, reserving the 7th night for Trader Joe’s amazing 99-cent macaroni and cheese. You know, the one from the box with the little packet of orange powder. Okay also maybe my wallet.

The finished product is spectacularly beautiful, with an orange hue you don’t often get with sticky buns.

To get to the point – I serendipitously happened upon the BAKED shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn around the same time this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe popped up on smittenkitchen. It felt a little bit (a lot a bit) like fate, and it was probably less than 24 hours later that I ordered the BAKED: Elements cookbook from that site I sometimes refer to. Of course, having the recipe (and two versions at that) is only the beginning. Months went by without any legitimate reason to actually make these buns. I hardly ever kept my pantry full of specialty goods like pumpkin, bread flour, or whole milk (I suppose nobody keeps milk in the pantry, unless it’s that new-fangled ultra pasteurized stuff, which I am skeptical of). I can’t even believe I used to consider those “specialty.” I mean, really, I get anxious now when there isn’t pumpkin in my pantry, right alongside shelf-stable cartons of cream. Regardless, it wasn’t until life got a bit more interesting (if you want to put it that way) that I decided to finally spend a good few hours learning some new techniques and making something I’d be able to indulge in as days upon days continue to unfold. A true comfort food emerges. As a side note, I also made ice cream (technically malted frozen custard with chopped hazelnuts. Yes, you want some.). Next week calls for chocolate cake (so stay tuned).

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Under Pressure

In the spirit of the last few posts, tonight I’ll be going into a bit of minor detail on how to deal with a pressure cooker when making Indian style lentils. My household recently acquired one, after many weeks of deliberation over the huge range of styles, sizes, and brands. We were finally able to bust it out tonight and give it a spin. Luckily, it didn’t actually do any spinning, but we did duck for cover just in case.

Here is a picture of carrots, since it was requested of me to not include the picture of someone literally ducking for cover. I don’t like carrots, unless they’re candied, in pancakes, or, apparently, highly pressurized.

Our recipe for Curried Lentils came from a book we found at the NY Public Library called The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook. The ingredients were simple:
2 cups lentils (we used green)
1 cup coconut milk (we used light)
1 cup stock (we used vegetable)
2 tsp. madras curry powder (we used “hot curry” powder)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

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aux Anything

There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.

Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.

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