Archive | June, 2010

If It Weren’t for Birthdays, I Might Just Give Up

28 Jun
Shellie's birthday dessert

Oooo, pretty! And tasty, too. Happy Birthday, Shellie!

So, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what–and how–advertisers are trying to sell me.  And things are not looking good.  If I don’t get a home security system, random people might break down my door.  In the rain.  If I don’t take my calcium supplement, my ankle will break when I jump off a curb.  Seriously–apparently those Sally Field commercials aren’t scary enough, so now women “as young as their 30s” can fracture their ankle when they jump off a curb in red moderately-high heels.  Also, if I don’t take my aspirin, my heart will explode.  My acid reflux disease can be managed by taking a magical pill, but it will give me constipation and gas.  Frankly, I’d rather have acid reflux.


If I don’t get the right insurance, either I’ll be paying too much, or I won’t have enough coverage, or I’ll be in an accident.  In the rain.  My dry eyes are past the point of being managed with silly OTC drops.  Noooo, I’m suffering from an Actual Condition.  I need a prescription that will make me produce more tears.  Of course, a stick in the eye will do that, too, but they can’t charge me for a stick.  Yet.  If anyone in my entire family tree has ever had one of a Number of Specific Diseases, I absolutely need to find a lawyer, because I could be entitled to Compensation.  I’m sorry that you had pink eye, great-great-great grandfather Eli, and someone is going to Pay.

They want me to buy lots of different medicines to make me feel better.  I can take some for antsy legs, for being sad, for being fat, for having a headache, for not getting pregnant.  For low cholesterol, for high cholesterol, for high blood pressure.  And don’t forget the ones that make me Stay Awake or Fall Asleep.  No wait–here’s one that’s even better.  It makes me fall asleep and Stay Asleep.  Guess what else does that?  A vase to the head.  Some of those medicines will make me anxious, make me vomit, give me diarrhea or constipation.  One might make me Drive In My Sleep.  Most of these medicines May make me feel dizzy and groggy.  You know what else does that?  A vase to the head.

I need to buy poisons to kill weeds and other poisons to make my garden grow.  I gotta poison all the bugs (sorry, bees.  And I so used to enjoy honey)–gotta watch out for people sized termites.  If regular old poisons won’t work, I need to call folks who will come to my house with Tanks and Truckloads of poisons.  Professional poison.  Oh yeah–and I need to put poison on my vegetables to keep the bugs away so The Beloved and I can eat them.  Yay for poison tomatoes.

I could go on and reach 500 words, but I’ll cut it short at 468.  I’ll wait while you count.  Anyway, all of this horror and woe doesn’t even begin to touch what the news does to me.  Not only has the bottom of the ocean, assisted by BP, sprung a leak, but the glaciers are melting, the oceans are rising, the deserts are growing and spring is coming earlier and earlier.  And then, add in the people themselves:  posturing and finger-pointing and pouting and stamping of feet and beating on chests.  And a lot of cursing.  And that’s all on in the stands at the kids’ hockey match. (Warning–woman shrieking profanities at the top of her lungs)  Shudder.

All of this could make me Take To My Bed and retreat into the welcoming warmth of a vat of Homemade Pudding.  But, there are still enough bright spots in the world to make me pick myself up and do something moderately useful.  One of those bright spots is birthdays.  I love them.  Especially mine.  The Beloved even got me presents for my half birthday, because I’ve whined about it for years and he just wants to Shut Me Up.  Fine.  I’ll shut up.  Smugly.  With my presents.

Last week, my best friend, Julie, and her daughter came to visit.  Shellie is Irish Dance Girl.  ‘Member her?  Her birthday was Saturday, and she turned 16.  She just got her driver’s license about 2 hours ago.  Yay, Shell!  I first met Shellie at about 3 o’clock in the morning, just a few hours after she was born.  I was with her when she went out to eat for the first time.  At ten days old.  At Backyard Burger.  We had cobbler.  Shellie slept.  I watched her grow up–she’s not quite done, yet–and now she’s visiting colleges.  It’s never too early to start looking, so she’s checking out her options before she starts her junior year.  When I found out they were going to stay the night, and so close to her birthday, I gathered my strength and levered myself out of bed, put away the pudding and made a special dessert in honor of her 16th birthday.  Shellie is a chocolate and berry person.  Julie is a vanilla pudding person.  Not wanting to please one at the expense of the other, I decided to go All In and make a Layered Extravaganza as individual servings.

Shellie’s 16th Birthday Berry Brownie Splendor
I didn’t really call it that, but I could have.  I just said “Here!”


  • The Best Brownies Ever–Swirled with Raspberry/Blackberry/Black Currant Jam
  • Melted Jam
  • Homemade Vanilla-Maple Pudding
  • Lightly sweetened sour cream topping

For the brownies–based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

  • 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 oz. butter (12 Tablespoons)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 16 oz sugar
  • 5 oz cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon extract(s)/liqueur
  • Swirl in(s)/mix in(s) of your choice

The original recipe calls for some nuts.  Use some if you want.  Toast them first.

Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat–or use a double boiler or the microwave on medium power.  Let it cool to warm–maybe 85 degrees or so.

Whisk in the salt, sugar and flavorings.  I used vanilla and a bit of maple flavoring because I had some lying around.  I  knew I was swirling in some jam, and I thought that the maple would be lovely with it.  It was.  Very.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Fold into the chocolate mixture.

Line a 9″ square pan with nonstick foil (very useful stuff, that).  Pour in some of the batter and tilt to cover the bottom of the pan.  Blob on some jam.  Add some more batter.  Blob on some more jam.  Add the rest of the batter.  Swirl a knife through the whole shebang.  Bake at 325F until risen, firm around the sides and mostly firm in the middle–about 45 minutes.  Let cool.  Cut out circles of brownies to fit in the bottoms of whatever size glasses/dishes you’re using.  Shove them in there.

For the jam

Melt jam.  Stir.  Pour some on top of the brownie layer.  Let cool in the fridge.

For the pudding

For each cup of whole milk, you need:

  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • salt, to taste
  • sugar, until it’s as sweet as you want it.  Start with 2 tablespoons and go from there.  Use brown sugar, if you want.
  • 1-2 egg yolks (depending on how rich you want it)
  • vanilla extract to taste (I used a touch of the maple, too, just for fun)
  • a couple of tablespoons of butter

Put the butter and vanilla in a bowl that’s big enough to hold your pudding.  Put a fine mesh strainer in the bowl.

Heat the milk, corn starch, salt, sugar and yolks in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Taste for salt/sugar, and adjust to your liking.

Whisk constantly over medium to medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and boils.  You might need to reduce the heat a bit, but let it boil (still whisking) for about a minute to cook off the raw starch taste.

Pour through the strainer and into your waiting bowl.  Press the custard through the strainer with a rubber spatula.  Stir until the butter is melted and the flavorings are incorporated.  Taste again.  You can still adjust the sugar/salt at this point if you need to.

Carefully spoon in the pudding on top of the jam layer, leaving about 1/4″ at the top.  Refrigerate until set.  If you have leftover pudding, good for you–it’ll be ready the next time you have to take to your bed in despair.

For the sour cream topping

Use as much sour cream as you think you need to top each of your desserts by 1/4″.  Put that amount of sour cream in a bowl.  Sweeten with some brown sugar–to taste.  Add a wee pinch of salt and maybe a tiny splash of vanilla.  Let sit for about 15 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved completely.  Stir again, and then top your desserts.

Just for fun

I took some of the jam, melted it again, and dripped three drops on top of each dessert.  Then I ran a toothpick through the drops in a circle, making 1980s-style haute cuisine hearts.  It was her Sweet Sixteenth, after all.  To have made perfect hearts, I should have strained the jam.  I didn’t, so some of them were lumpy.  You will, though, so your hearts will be perfect.

Refrigerate the whole deal until time to serve.  Stick a candle in the center of the birthday one and sing.  Shovel into your face.  These things take about 14.7 seconds to eat, just so you can schedule your time appropriately.

I’m off to the beach on Thursday afternoon to stay with Julie, Shellie, the rest of her family and some of the other Irish Dancing friends.  Should be a great time.  I intend to post again before then, unless another commercial scares me back into bed.  If that happens, enjoy your Fouth of July.  Whether or not you celebrate it as Independence Day, I hope you have a wonderful 4th!

Finally, the Long-Awaited, Much Anticipated PMAT Live! Episode 4: How to Do the Creaming Method

17 Jun

Well, maybe you haven’t been waiting for it, but I’ve certainly been stymied at every turn while trying to edit and get this out to you.   Things I know:   a)When you get a new computer, things don’t always go well with the video editor.  b)When you finally get the editor working, it’s best to click “SAVE” every few minutes.  Not that I lost all my work one time because I was so Passionate about the Creative Process, mind you.  It’s just a friendly reminder to us all.

At any rate, here it is, in all its glory.  Not only do I describe The Creaming Method in Meticulous Detail, but you also get the bonus of a Pure Vanilla Van Halen Sour Cream Pound Cake.  And how can you say no to that?  Exactly:  you Can’t.  Enjoy!

If You Don’t Believe Me, Maybe You’ll Believe Julia

16 Jun

Julia Child was just The Best, wasn’t she?!

Often, I am amazed by the small coincidences that can add up over time to equal Kismet.  The following is just such a case.  Read on, won’t you?

In 1988-ish, my Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray retired from Plainfield, NJ to Pinehurst, NC.  They looked at many different retirement options, but settled on Pinehurst because of the golf, the weather, and maybe because it was only a couple of hours from my parents’ house.

Their next-door neighbor is Tris.  She is a delight, and we’ve known her as “the lovely neighbor,” since they moved.  Over the past couple of years or so, with Auntie Ev’s decline and eventual death as well as all the other changes going on with Uncle Ray and Auntie ‘Leenie, we’ve gotten much closer to Tris.  She is a Point of Contact and usually knows what’s going on over there.  She is also smart, sarcastic and hilarious.  Plus, she curses, which I appreciate A Lot.

Tris is facing some open heart surgery in a couple of weeks, so I’ve already put a sticky note on her cookbooks in case of her Untimely Demise.  Of course, she offered first.  But you’d better believe that I jumped on it.  I’m a little mercenary that way.  I blame The Beloved.

I went down to Pinehurst last Wednesday to join The Family for luncheon, and we all wandered over to Tris’s house to say “howdy.”  She said that I could go ahead and pick a cookbook or two.  Sort of like a drug dealer gives you a free sample before sealing the deal.  I know, because I watch a lot of television.

Anyway, I opened her Cookbook Cabinet and spied Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.  I held it up with a raised eyebrow.  I got an immediate  and emphatic NO.  Then, I picked up an old copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  Again, I got a NO.  So then I was all, “You’re a little bit Take-Backsie what with all the you-can-have-one-just-not-that-one nonsense.”  She unashamedly agreed.  She’s that way.  Then she told me to pick another.  I grabbed a Maida Heatter staple, Maida Heater’s Book of Great Desserts.  I didn’t exactly get a yes.  It was more like an “Okay, fine.”  Then she said that she wanted a recipe out of it–one for some sort of ganache-y topping/frosting stuff.  She started looking for it, and then she saw her mother’s notes in the margins.  And that, my friends, was the end of my Very Brief Ownership of Maida’s book. (To be fair, I wouldn’t have parted with a cookbook with my mom’s notes in it.  But I don’t really want to be fair).

I made a face at old Tris, and she sighed and said, “Fine, take Julia and leave me Maida.”  Then, just to be mean, she made me take some other crazy Scottish cookbook with Ye Olde Scottish Recipes in it.  You know, like southern cornbread and American haggis.  She told me I had to take the good with the bad.  Just like life.

I’ve looked through the Scot-esque cookbook and have duly Set it Aside.  Forever.  And then, saving Julia for dessert, I opened it up and began to read.

And guess what I read?  The same stuff I’ve been telling you guys forever.  Seriously.  Like how if you learn the cooking and baking techniques, you can make a ton of stuff just by switching up ingredients.  And how, as long as you understand how to cook, you can put together a list of ingredients even if it doesn’t come with its own set of instructions.  But, since it’s hard to believe a crackpot with a blog, I’m going to quote–at length–from Julia’s forward to her wonderful The Way to Cook.

The more one knows about [cooking], the less mystery there is, the faster cooking becomes, and the easier it is to be creative and to embrace new trends and ideas–in addition, the more pleasure one has in teh kitchen.

I have broken with the conventional organization of a cookbook,where all lamb is together in one section and all beef in another, all carrots or salmon or game hens in their separate places, and so on.  Wherever possible, I have put things together by method–veal chops are with pork chops because they cook the same way.  Chicken stew in red wine is with turkey-wing ragout and rabbit stew–if you can do one, you can do the others because they are assembled, simmered and sauced the same way.  It makes sense to me, also, that all braised meats be grouped together so that their similarities are clearly evident.  And since you can boil-steam butternut squash in the same way you boil-steam carrots, pearl onions, and green peas, I have grouped them together also.  You use the same base for clam chowder as you do for corn or fish chowder, and that base can also be used for a fish casserole; they, too, are a group.  The technique is what’s important here, and when you realize that a stew is a stew is a stew, and a reoast is a roast whether it be beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, cooking begins to make sense.

–excerpts from the Introduction to The Way to Cook, page ix (that’s not a six without an “s.”  It’s a tiny Roman numeral 9)

She goes on giving other examples and explaining how once you make a basic dish a couple of times, it’s a part of your repertoire.  Once you’ve gotten it down, you can start playing with it a bit.  Changing it up and varying ingredients to suit your and your family’s tastes.  And where have I heard that before?  I know:  I mutter that stuff in my Sleep!

And that’s what I have to say about that.  Maybe Julia said it better.  After all, her introduction is printed in a Real Live Book between two covers.  A book that she wrote twenty-one years ago.   As for my repetitive exhortations to have fun and learn techniques and stop stressing so much over recipes, I can only hope that they are one day printed between the covers of a Real Live Book.

So, thank you to Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray for moving to Pinehurst and being neighbors with the Divine Tris so that I could one day snake one of her favorite cookbooks even before she passes beyond this Veil of Tears.  I fully expect that, once Tris recovers from her surgery, she will be her usual spry, spectacular shelf.  We will invite her to come hang out with us at our beautiful house, drink wine and maybe eat something inspired by Julia.  But she ain’t gettin’ her book back.

And thank you, Julia, for being so far ahead of your time that folks might just now be catching up to you, even though you left us in 2004.

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