Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cookie Heaven

I'm going to Toronto tomorrow, which means two things: hanging out with my favorite people in my favorite city and cooking. Because my boyfriend's mother actually uses her kitchen. My mother was never the cooking type (she currently lives off of Praeger's Veggie Burgers, Skinny Cow fudge bars, Kellog's Complete Bran Flakes, and anything else that comes out of a box) and so I never had that whole "working kitchen" atmosphere at my house.

Don't get me wrong - the kitchen in my house growing up was huge. When we moved in it was a workable space, but then my mom - donning the hat of interior designer - created a whole new kitchen that made it necessary for builders to push our house out in the back. The kitchen is monstrous - there's an island in the center with a sink and drawers and we eat almost all of our meals there; the dining room is only used on special occasions. There is a wood-paneled refrigerator and freezer and everything looks so... state of the art. When the kitchen was done my mother took photographs, had them developed into slides, and sent them to Metropolitan Home for a "greatest kitchen" competition. Now, the "window seat" is covered in old newspapers, the ledge by the windows is covered in more newspapers, the drawers by the kitchen hold mostly junk, and the cereal drawer below the microwave has lots of empty boxes. And there's two dishwashers because we keep Kosher, though I doubt that will be a selling point when the time comes. 14 years later, it still looks really modern. Oh - and if you plan to redecorate your kitchen DO NOT use concrete tiles! That's what we had and it was quite painful when your then hormonal little brother bashed your head into them.

Now, in the city, I realize how huge our kitchen was. It was the most used space at home, even if it wasn't for cooking. But in New York, the average kitchen that I've been in is about 30-50 square feet. If that. Which makes it more understandable that most New Yorkers don't cook. My aunt and uncle used to live at 88th & Lex (they've since moved to Scarsdale with a ginormous kitchen) and their kitchen was small although bigger than most I've seen in New York. I went there for some time to watch my cousin when he was a toddler and every meal was takeout. And when I've babysat at various apartments there are more takeout containers than tupperware. I recently served at a Christmas Eve party - also on the Upper East Side - and the kitchen was really big, yet almost all of the food had been picked up.

I have no kitchen this year, so I use my friends' suite kitchen. It's about 25-30 square feet and is used by 5 kids and me, the visitor. All of my kitchen appliances line the nearby table, the floor, and what little counter space there is. I just cleaned out the fridge (which was gross) and found so many take out containers, half-eaten sandwiches, tin-foil wrapped burritos, and the like. It seemed like we hadn't cooked once all year based on what was there. Of course, we had, each on different levels: I made my "from scratch" food for bragging rights, one girl has a likening towards Chicken Dogs and cookies, two guys make tuna - errr, open a can of tuna every day - and one of them also makes pancakes, and my friend cooks pasta a lot or heats up food from home. But here it is so much more expensive to cook than to order takeout or delivery.

There are three supermarkets nearby: Appletree, D'Agostino, and Morton Williams (which I still call UFM). And then Garden of Eden is very gourmet and a few blocks south from D'Ag. When I go home I realize just how stark the difference is in grocery stores - these few hardly have sales, and when they do the food is still more expensive than on Long Island. Which is by no means a reason to go to Long Island. So cooking for one or two can be pricier than just getting takeout. It dependsd on the quality that you want, I suppose. When I cook it is more expensive than if I ordered out, however, what I cook is much better tasting, healthier, and actually a complete meal, not some greasy old Vegetable Lo Mein. But with meal plans, packed schedules, and tiny kitchens, students don't necessarily learn how to cook and then will be the newest takeout consumers upon entering the "real world." And CampusFood.com doesn't help either. Now you don't even need to call in your order and hope that the person at the other end understood what you wanted. You can order it online.

So to ring in the new year, and close out the old I am leaving you with my favorite "dorm style" recipes of the year. These are surprisingly easy, taste so much better than their take out counterparts, and will impress your friends.

String Bean & Mushroom Saute
My boyfriend's mother first made this. I never realized how much I loved string beans until I tasted this. If you don't want to deal with trimming the ends of the beans and having to pick good ones at the grocery store, then just buy the frozen ones (whole) thaw them in some hot water and follow every direction after that. The amounts of mushrooms & string beans can be adjusted to your liking.

1 onion, sliced relatively thick
1 pound of string beans, ends trimmed
3-4 portobello mushroom caps, or about 6 ounces of baby Portobellos, sliced into pretty big chunks
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (that's EVOO)
Kosher salt

If you are using fresh string beans, fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. When it is boiling add the string beans and blanch them - keep them in the water for about 3 minutes and then transfer them to a pot of ice water. You can do this earlier in the day if you'd like. Heat a saute pan on medium low heat and then add 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp oil. Add the onions and let them caramelize in the pan - there is a fine line between caramelizing and burning so keep fiddling with them - it will take about 15 minutes, maybe less or more depending on how thickly you sliced them. Throw in the mushrooms, and add the extra olive oil OR butter if you want - the mushrooms are like sponges and will absorb it all so add either one or the other. Sautee the onions and mushrooms until the mushrooms are tender and cooked down; you will notice that they've shrunk down. At the last minute add the remaining oil or butter and the string beans, toss it all around until the string beans are heated through and add some kosher salt to taste. This is fabulous with salmon, eggs - just about anything!

Sugar Cookies
I made these after I got my KitchenAid. They are so great, and cut out very easily. If you mix some confectioners sugar, a bit of water and some food coloring together you will get a nice royal icing mix and you can decorate the cookies afterwards. I also halved this recipe and it worked out fine. The trick is to roll out half of the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper and then put it in the fridge, then do the same with the other half. By the time you're done with the second half, the first dough sheet is ready to come out.

6 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like almond myself)
1 tsp. salt
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350
degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. This recipe
can make up to 5-dozen 3” cookies.


My Amazing Mac & Cheese
I made a ton of this for our building-wide Thanksgiving Dinner. Like five trays worth. It's a more complex recipe that I whittled down by eliminating all but the bare necessities to make it taste good. And let me say, it's been a hit.

1/2 pound macaroni
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. butter
3 cups of milk (I use 1% and it's fine; I'd assume some prefer to use whole milk though)
1 egg
12 ounces of cheddar cheese, grated (I use a mix of mild and sharp cheddar)
salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. butter
1 c. bread crumbs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the macaroni; cook according to the box's instructions and strain. Make a roux (sp?) in a saucepan: over medium-high heat melt 3 Tbsp. butter and add the flour... then whisk it so that the flour doesn't burn. It will take about 5 minutes. The flour is a thickening agent for the cheese sauce but you have to "cook" it so that the dish doesn't taste flour-y. Once you have the roux, add the milk and continue to whisk the mixture for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and whisk a little while - you will notice that it is thick and if you used whole milk it may be thicker than 1% however even skim would be fine here. Temper the egg - beat it and then add a couple of teaspoons of the hot milk mixture and whisk briskly so that the egg doesn't cook. Then slowly add the egg mixture into the rest of the milk mixture and keep whisking so that you won't have bits of scrambled egg in your macaroni. Now stir in the cheese. You can do it in bits so that you know that it's all being incorporated. The hot milk will melt the cheese and as you whisk you'll notice that you have a light orange and very creamy sauce. Add salt & pepper to taste and stir in the macaroni. Put the entire thing into a pan, about 13x9" worked fine for me and if you have a 2 quart casserole pan that's even better (but what college students do?). Now melt the remaining 3 Tbsp of butter, remove from heat, and add the breadcrumbs tossing them to coat. Sprinkle this over the top of the macaroni and - as my boyfriend always reminds me - make sure it's just a sprinkle and not a heavy coat, otherwise it will be to crumby. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Friday, December 30, 2005

TechGeek/DomesticGoddess

Most of my major purchases/gifts in the past year have required either batteries or an outlet. Over the year I have accumulated:
- a 12" iBook
- a food processor
- an iPod
- a KitchenAid stand mixer
- a digital camera

I can say that my newfound appreciation for electronics like computers and cameras are due to the fact that I hang out too much with tech geeks... you know, ones who read SlashDot more often than they check Facebook. Or that I am really impulsive and need the instant gratification of a digital camera. But then my other "electronic toys" are for cooking.

Sure, I love to cook. But I have been realizing just how domestic I am. I would be the perfect housewife if I only liked to clean as well. The food processor and KitchenAid are actually more technologically advanced than what would be in the 1950s housewife's kitchen but are still some big accessories for a dorm kitchen. And it gives me an incentive to make sugar cookies from scratch, grate my own cheese, make my own sauces, and bake my own bread, rather than using the "slice and bake" cookie dough, kraft shredded cheese, canned sauces and Wonder bread.


I have also taken up knitting within the past year. I was at the Wal-Mart in Markham, Ontario during last year's winter break (yes, I know, Wal-Mart is the devil) and bought some needles and yarn and a book and tried to knit. The first problem that I ran into: I'm a lefty. And while the friendly folks at the Yarn Company told me yesterday that you should never learn to knit lefty, my right hand (or left side of the brain) is so weak that I couldn't learn the proper way to knit and just taught myself backwards. So everyone thought I'd give up soon, since I kept running into problems. But I persevered, made 2 awful scarves last semester followed by one good scarf, and I've made 4 scarves since December 3rd (all of which were... as I call it... "superlong"). Now I'm trying to work on some hats and arm warmers, which is why I went to the Yarn Company to buy some double-pointed needles. The hobby is becoming quite expensive - thank god for Joann Fabrics, which has ubercheap yarn. Downtown Yarns, which is on Avenue A between East 3rd & 4th Street, has amazing yarns and I bought 3 skeins of super chunky yarn there but they were $15 a skein and on the cheaper end of their selection. This hobby is becoming quite expensive, but at least I have some snazzy accessories now.

So yeah, right now I'm half technologically advanced/half domestic housewife. Which means that I can take some great pics of food or blog about stichin 'n' bitchin.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bohemianism, Artsiness, Poseurism, etc.

I said that I would devote my next post to it. And here I am, a day later, wondering if this is all too incriminating. I just tried writing it out and it was pathetic. Basically, my point is this: I became a RENThead a decade too late. That's it. I could have been 11 and singing more songs than just "Seasons of Love" because we had to in Vocal Vikings (laugh it up). I could have at least been on-point when they were taping in the city while I was here during Spring Break, when they were performing about 3 avenue blocks from my internship over the summer, when they were making appearances throughout the city. I got the tail end - the Symphony Space benefit when half the cast came out. I'll live. (but for how long? - Chbosky)

I should note, however, that the current Roger in RENT is absolutely amazing. If you liked Adam Pascal in the movie, you'll love Will Chase in the show even more. If you thought Adam was flat, or just didn't like him for whatever reason, I can assure you that you will love Will Chase. He just screams emotion, angst, rage, love, determination... and he can sing. I was blown away when I saw it on Monday with my little brother. I love the show but I never felt - upon walking out of the Nederlander - that, damn, I needed to see it again within the next few weeks. So if you can go before he leaves on January 29th you definitely should.

In terms of my delayed RENTheadness, I have realized that I have just missed the boat on nearly everything I like. I am an avid Dave Matthews Band fan but started going to concerts only after he was completely mainstream (I'll blame overprotective parents on that). I can only wish that I was at the DKE house at UVA in 1992; then again, I was in second grade. I was able to see the Shins at Webster Hall and get to the second row, but I started liking them after Garden State and Scrubs. The only few things that I haven't missed the boat on were that I liked Spelling Bee before it went to Broadway (though now I can't afford to see it again, and the lottery is impossible), I liked Boozy before it made the Daily News' Top 10, and I watched Food Network before it was hip.

Yesterday I went to Butler and took out three books: the RENT "bible," Belmondo Style by Adam Berlin, and Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl. I got the bible because I had heard all about it but didn't want to shell out $40. I read Belmondo last year (it's written by one of my writing teachers) and I want to read it again to see how it translates into a screenplay because said teacher had some news of getting a film deal on it. And then during Finals week I was volunteering for the AIDS Service Center by gift wrapping for donations at Barnes & Noble and some lady was having me wrap Tender at the Bone, also by Reichl. Only then did I find out that in addition to writing (fantastic) restaurant reviews and being the head honcho at Gourmet the lady wrote books - memoirs to the best of my knowledge.

I want to be Ruth Reichl.

First off, the book made me realize that my idea for my senior writing project is that much less original. Second, Reichl's life is basically my dream. I'm about 50 pages into the book, it's 1978 and she lives in a "commune" of sorts in Berkeley, CA. At $45/month. Now we think of Bohemianism as a big loft in Williamsburg and clothing meant to be from thrift stores but actually from Urban Outfitters or Andy's. It's all about hip-ness now. And I'm totally unhip. I'll admit it. I will never be as hip as an NYU student - nor 95% of Columbia. Reichl was living on the top floor of a Victorian, lives with a number of roomies that are uber-liberal, go through different stages of vegetarianism, support sustainable agriculture, and she is a chef/food writer while her husband is a site sculptor. It seems like a sophisticate post-college life... going out once in a while to a nice restaurant and savoring every dish, while still barely making ends meet, doing what they want to do, etc. etc. And since my dream job would be that of a food writer, and since she got to savor Paris and LA (in the first 50 pages alone) I'm jealous. I even look past her affair with the stuffy food editor and her clashing clothing and frizzy hair and want to be her.

On the topic of Bohemianism, I always think of the word next to Poseurism. It's past clothing. Every "artsy-fartsy" neighborhood in New York is super gentrified - and don't tell me that it's not. Thrift stores have stuffy clothing - not vintage-y things - and most are on the Upper East Side not the Village or Chelsea. Bedhead takes 30 minutes to pull off. I was in Alt-Cafe by Tompkins Sq. Park a few weeks ago and it was just so... trying to be starving artist. The chairs were well worn and ripped and a hodge podge of designs and colors. The clientele was mostly artsy-looking, but a glance at their sketch books made it apparent that it was an act. And drinks were just as expensive as Starbucks. No starving artist could actually go there (although they may have braved the expensive coffee if only for the free WiFi that comes with it). Although my being there made me just another poseur; I stuck out from the artistes since I was donning Old Navy, have no piercings or tattoos, and was revising essays for class. And although I'll use the excuse that "I was waiting for friends to meet me at Astor Place two hours later," at the end of the day I could have passed the time at Starbucks or Veneiro's. I didn't need to go to a Boho-chic place.

So I'm a poseur. They're poseurs. We're all poseurs. And I usually follow suit at such a point that it's quite apparent how unoriginal I am. And now I want to be Ruth Reichl. Which makes me original, I guess. To everyone except Reichl herself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let's give this a try...

I have yet to master the art of the blog.

I may have tried. Maybe once. I don't remember.

On multiple job/internship interviews I have been asked if I blogged. The best answer that I could render was that I have "read multiple blogs." And I bet that now that I have joined blogworld the blog will become archaic and completely replaced by the podcast. But I will not even attempt how to use that, and besides, I hate my voice.

My head is currently bursting with thoughts. Mostly because it's winter break, and there are more homeless people on campus than students. Normally I'm talkative. But everyone is gone. Which has forced me to start talking more and more to people in the stores that I visit. Today I:
- explained the logic behind "West Philly" hoodie (with an AK-47) that I got for my boyfriend's brother for X-mas to the guy at Neighborhoodies... [logic: the bro goes to Penn and says that his city is oh-so-much-more-ghetto than New York and therefore I do not live in a city]
- asked a few too many questions to the box office guy at the Village Theatre
- had a nice conversation with the security guard at the front door of Butler Library during which he looked at the buttons on my backpack and told me about how his old boss had a wall of buttons [jealousy ensued]
- talked about Walmart: The High Cost of a Low Price with the guy at Kim's... by the way, they've been very friendly this past week... I've been going there nearly every day to rent movies because I need something to do after 6... and I used to avoid the place because I thought they were all obnoxious. Then again, I have been trying to avoid mainstream flicks so they can't roll their eyes because I DON'T have 40 Year Old Virgin in my hand.
- listened to the cashier at Milano Market complain about how bad Altoid's Lime Gum tasted and offered her a sympathetic smile

Maybe when winter break ends I will have nothing to write about. But with a book-sized project due in May and another 4 essays to write for Personal Essay (again) I need to stop going to rediculous websites to pass time and at least type something.

Today I was in the Village. I can't remember if it is the area considered the "West Village" or just "The Village." I got off at West 4th Street by the A line and then walked Southeast. So I'm guessing that it was "The Village." I was going to the Village Theatre to find out how to get cheap rush seats for Newsical. When I got off I saw the W. 4th Street Courts and then realized that I was right by the Gay McDonald's. Now don't get your panties in a twist when I say that. There is a back story here... which is why I mentioned it:

Spring Break 2005
I was staying on campus, as usual. My boyfriend was in Dublin visiting his friend who goes to TCD (Trinity College - Dublin). He had written to me about how the McDonald's in Dublin was serving "Shamrock Shakes" for St. Patrick's Day. Essentially they were vanilla shakes with a bit of green food coloring and some mint flavoring.

Two of my friends and I went downtown to go to A Salt & Battery so that we could get Chip Buttys (another delicacy he wrote about), Fish & Chips, and Deep Fried Mars Bars. Then we saw a McDonald's (I think it was around 8th Street) and asked them if they served the Shamrock Shake. The guy there said that they didn't, but that they were the "Bootleg McDonald" and so we should check the "Gay McDonald" on West 4th. Hence the name Gay McDonald's. Needless to say, when we went we found out that a. it should have been called the "Singles McDonald's" b. Shamrock Shakes are exclusively served in Ireland.

After passing by the McDonald's I walked to Bleecker and what do I pass? First, Porto Rico Importing Company. My mother has been ordering coffee from there for years. We would get boxes of their coffee beans delivered to our house a few times a year - any time there was a sale like for Peter's Birthday. Our house would smell so good on those days. Even though I never drank the coffee I loved the smell. I thought that we were so sophisticated because we had coffee from the city whereas others just had Folger's or Dunkin' Donuts... or Starbucks once that came to town. Now I know that Zabar's is where the upper crust New Yorkers purchase their coffee from.

Then I passed by Cones, which I went to once after a competition at the Fencer's Club back when I was in high school. I saw Risotteria at the corner of one of the streets (the Gluten Free place), and then Pizza Box & Pizza Booth... the two pizza stores that are so close to each other and I always forget which one I went to back when I was a junior in high school. I had gone to NYU with a few high school teammates to watch some collegiate fencing (NYU, Penn State, and others) and then we went and got lunch. At the Coles sports center, all of us were running through the RENT libretto, a thing that all of us fencing girls did that totally turned the guys off of the musical. So we're there singing (from Today 4 U, Tomorrow for Me)
"Oh Holy Night"
"You struck gold at MIT???"
"They expelled me for my theory of actual reality which I'll soon impart to the couch potatoes at New York University..."
That's about as far as we got when we thought it was ironic that we were singing about NYU at NYU.

So I start thinking about RENT while I'm walking past these pizza places, because that day at NYU was right after I saw the play for the first time and I was in a total haze, much like I am now. But that will be the subject of my next blog. And the other girls that I went with were more or less Jesus Christ: Superstar groupies.

To wrap this up, I used to think the Village was oh-so-glorious-and-artsy and then over the past three and a half years I've grown a distaste for the Village because it's too expensive, too trying-to-be-artsy, and because I fell for the whole get-a-crappy-fake-ID-there-on-the-first-day-of-orientation ploy. But now as I come back there for the first time since last Spring Break I realize that I actually have some emotional ties to this area. Not that I want to live there (although I will lust after those pre-war apartments that those with trust funds and/or sugar daddies can afford) but I guess I really don't mind the place.

And so ends my first blog. Let's see how long this lasts.