Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cooking Paris Part 2: Brioche Bread

It's been a whirlwind of a week.

I've been meaning for the last several days to write a new post, but have been continually sidetracked.  Wednesday was the State of the Union, which I quite enjoyed watching.  Thursday, another teacher friend and I were wrapped up in a crisis of one of our students--this lasted into Friday as well.  Friday evening was a welcome relief, as I had occasion to eat out with a girlfriend at this fabulous little Italian restaurant on Bleeker Street called Bianca.  The setting was cozy, the lasagna divine, and the conversation captivating.  My friend, incidentally, returned home that night and promptly got engaged!  Yay for her, and her lovely man.

The weekend has been at once relaxing and stressful; I've done absolutely zero schoolwork this weekend, but we did have to ready the apartment for our landlord's first open house--he's hoping to sell it, which sadly means that we will be ousted.  This entailed dusting and sweeping, scrubbing the tub (that was all Greg), putting any and all unmentionables out of sight, and making ourselves scarce for several hours today.  This sort of schedule will throw off a person's normal weekend routine of lounging about the house all day long, enjoying several cups of tea and/or hot chocolate, and watching copious amounts of movies.  Somehow I survived, though.

And in the process, I forayed once again barefoot into Paris (a.k.a. slipper-footed into my kitchen), to try out Ina's brioche bread.  This version is for mini rolls, but the basic recipe is the same.  The recipe is super simple, but it's not quick, so you've got to plan out your schedule a bit ahead of time.  I read through the instructions several times, but still managed to overlook several important details.  For one, both the butter and the eggs are meant to be at room temperature before you add them.  Since I removed mine directly from the fridge...they were cold.  The butter I chunked up and warmed over a pot of stew we'd had for dinner.  The eggs were cracked into a bowl and then microwaved ever so slightly.  Seems to have worked out okay.

Made the dough last night, took it out of the fridge at seven this morning, formed the loaves an hour later, let them rise a couple more hours, and baked.  Since then we've had ham and brie sandwiches on brioche, cinnamon toast brioche, and stew a la brioche.  One loaf is half gone, the other is hibernating in the freezer.

People always say that laughter is the best medicine...but I'm not sure it isn't freshly baked bread on a frigid Sunday in January.  With extra cinnamon, of course.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Power of Pie

Yesterday the cosmos brought together a few of my favorite things: meeting friends for a night out in Brooklyn, BK Farmyards, and pie.  A billion pies!  (Well, that's what it seemed like, anyway.)

I'll back up.  Since I have been obsessed with this new idea for a someday school, I have been trolling the interweb for groups with similar or related missions.  One such group I stumbled upon is BK Farmyards.  (BK as in Brooklyn, folks.)  They, like many other groups, provide "local food to reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels and offer local jobs to boost the economy."  Cool.  What's even cooler is how they do it: they partner with individuals and organizations in Brooklyn who have an unused parking lot, or a bit of vacant land in a neighborhood, or a personal plot of potential garden.  They call it "growing food between the cracks of urban development."  NYC is urban great to work within that system rather than hopelessly struggling against it.

My favorite project of theirs is one they are in the midst of gearing up for at this moment, a new 1-acre farmyard for a high school here in Brooklyn.  The school will be using this farm as part of its integrated curriculum, teaching kids to tend the land, and providing fresh, locally grown produce to people in the community.  I want to see this project thrive because it will provide another model for me to look to in the future if I try to do the same.  BK Farmyards is currently looking for people to donate to this project, if you're interested.

 Which leads us back to the pie.  You didn't think I forgot about the pie, did you?  A friend of mine--who incidentally makes amazing, delicious pies, homemade crust and all--posted an event on her Facebook page yesterday.
She had decided to enter the 3rd Annual Brooklyn Pie Contest to benefit BK Farmyards.  All you had to do was bake a pie, any kind, and show up with it at this little Williamsburg bar.  Anyone wanting to sample the pies and help judge could also show up, donate five bucks to the cause, and grab a spoon.  What could be better?

So, with the promise of pies in our future, Greg and I trundled off to Williamsburg.  Along with the rest of the world, it turned out.  The place was so packed with pie enthusiasts, you could not move.  It was ridiculous, and simultaneously amazing.  When they finally got the whole gig started, they announced that easily 2-3 times as many people than they ever expected had shown up.  It also turns out that people are surprisingly courteous and joyful if they know everyone is just there for a piece of the pie and a little fundraising.  And there were pies galore, of every sort.  And more just kept coming through the door, making their way, held high overhead, destined for the judges' table.

My friend's pie never did make it into the judging, as she was running late.  But after a bit of dinner out on the town, we went back to the bar to donate her pie and relish in the aftermath of a highly successful pie extravaganza.  By this point the throngs of people were gone, and we were left to gluttonously graze the remaining pies--plastic spoons in hand.  Here is a list of the pies I sampled: Bourbon pecan, Cajun, apple, peanut butter cream, Pear Gruyere, and pear with candied walnuts and bleu cheese.  Heaven.  Pie heaven.

BK Farmyards raised close to $1000 last night, all from the love of pie.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Beet Goes On

So, I know I don't yet write much about my school (neither the one I am currently at, nor my someday school), but my current school is with me all the time, every moment.  The children are precious--even the 20 year old children.  And my school is beautiful because, as crazy and eccentric and irresponsible and disorganized as the staff might collectively be, we genuinely care about the kids.  About who they are, and how they've grown, where they're going, and how we can help them get there.  And this is simply gorgeous.

Yet there are weeks like this one where children are being kicked out of their houses, their family members tell the kids they are worthless, horrible people.  And as children, they believe what they are told about themselves.  And this is sad.  And I can't fix it.

But, I can call their family court lawyers.  And I can help them finish their college applications.  And I can stand beside them when they make a doctor's appointment because they've been ill all week long.  And I hope they know they are loved.

I think this is why I'm hooked on this idea for a food-themed school.  Which is to say, I love a new recipe, but I can't give up on the kids just yet.  So, I keep dreaming of this place where I can integrate these passions.  It turns out that this idea is not only emerging in nooks and crannies across the nation, it is also popping up in my own school.  Just today another teacher told me that she's hoping to pilot a food-themed interdisciplinary curriculum in the 7th grade next year.  Hooray!  I'll let you know if anything comes to pass.

To wrap it up, a bit of a food homage: to the beet!  Nutrition benefits aside, I appreciate the beet for its spectacular color.  In fact, I never did like the beet, but decided I should give this veggie another chance because it is so RED!  What could be better?  (Coincidentally, this is the same way that cranberries made their way onto the list of foods I love.)  Beets can be eaten raw or cooked and are a wonderful addition to any plate.  Here, for example, is a raw beet salad we had the other night, made with scallions, parsley, and a simple dressing.  I hope the beet also makes its way into your dinner very soon.

Hear, hear to the beet.  And hear, hear to another day of fighting the good fight.  The beet goes on...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cooking Paris Part 1: Roast Chicken and Croutons

After grading literary criticism papers for the last four hours, I finally threw down my pen and trekked off to the kitchen for a little time with Ina.  Tonight: Zucchini Vichyssoise from Barefoot in Paris.  For all of us who don't know, vichyssoise is a French pureed soup, made with leeks or onions and potatoes and chicken stock (I looked it up).  This recipe adds zucchini for the fresh taste, and as "a great way to use up those enormous zucchinis from the garden" that I don't have.  Not even in the summer.  In fact, I've killed at least four separate basil plants by now.  That was the extent of my garden, before it withered and crackled up into dried basil confetti--all four times.  Happily, though, the local grocer does stock up on zucchini for just such an occasion.  Here's the soup. 
To be honest, I'm a little underwhelmed.  There's nothing particularly exciting or special about it.  In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't precisely follow the recipe.  You see the greenish hue the soup has taken on?  This can be directly attributed to two factors.  First, I put in additional leeks.  I'm not sure how far beyond the five called-for cups I went, but I just hate to have those lingering extras that I tupperware up and stick in the fridge, knowing in my heart of hearts that I'll never use.  Poor lonely leeks in the back of the fridge.  So--into the pot they went!  Secondly, the recipe called for white boiling potatoes, and all I had access to were red ones.  I believe the red of the skins added to the less than creamy color of the vichyssoise, too.  So, there it is.

On a much more exciting recipe note, last week I cooked Lemon Chicken with Croutons, from the same book.  I'm telling you right now, you must make this dish.  It was lip smackingly delicious!  Typically, my experience has been that I never really love the dishes that I cook as much as I would if someone else had cooked them for me.  They're all right, and other people often like them--but after all that time in the kitchen, I'm just not very impressed or excited.

This was not the case with the chicken.  I couldn't get over myself and the chicken and the caramelized onions and the croutons.
The gist of the recipe (found in full here) is that you slice up an onion, cover with olive oil and place in the bottom of a roasting pan. Then, you quarter two lemons, put them in the chicken, and place the chicken on top of the onions.  Season the chicken and roast!  While the chicken is sitting (post roasting), make croutons.  When you drizzle the chicken with the onions and drippings from the pan, they soak into the croutons and make a sort of instant stuffing.  Oh so good.  I highly suggest upping the onions to at least two, as that was my favorite part.

Super simple and scrumptious.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meet Betty

I'm pleased to announce that we have a new member in our family: Betty, our food processor.  Betty came into our life on Wednesday, January 6th.  She has an adorable brushed-nickle base and weighs just about 30 lbs.  Healthy for her age, I'd say.  Here you can see a picture of Betty with freshly chopped sage, accompanied by a picture of the sage pre-chopped, for comparison and such.

We're still getting to know her, but it's safe to say that this is the start of a beautiful relationship.

Last night Greg and I spent a few hours in the kitchen with Betty and our friend Dave, who mostly sat and politely expressed interest in the cooking process when we exclaimed how exciting something was.  The hours in the kitchen were spent making homemade ravioli for dinner.  Since Christmas Greg has been very excited about his new gift from me: a pasta maker attachment for our mixer.  Apparently we had agreed not to purchase gifts for one another (since Betty's adoption fees were quite exorbitant), but I honestly have no recollection of this conversation.  In the end, I do believe that Greg is quite pleased with his gift, as he has now made pasta from scratch on three separate occasions.  Last night's ravioli was made with a pepper pasta dough, filled with acorn squash, prosciutto, and sage, all topped with a butter-parsley sauce.  Mmm...delicious.

I have one last important announcement.  A year ago I purchased Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook because I love Ina, I adore France, and then of course, there's the food.  The problem has been, however, that I have attempted only two recipes from the entire book since I bought it.  They aren't all that difficult, but just a notch above Barefoot Contessa at Home--more ingredients, a few more steps...  This will no longer deter me!  I hereby declare that I will be making my way through this cookbook.  If anyone would like to join me, simply purchase a copy from your local or online bookstore.  Or maybe you could just come over for dinner one of these nights.  French cooking made even easier, here I come!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Just got back from my first yoga practice of the year.  At the start of practice today I could not even touch the floor in a forward fold--this is when you know it's been too long.  By the end of class I was back to my regular I-can-mostly-touch-floor-in-a-forward-fold pose.  Good enough for now.

Actually, this is one of my favorite things about yoga: the practice.  As opposed to learning an instrument or playing a competitive sport, yoga does not culminate in a performance or a competition.  Instead, it is forever a personal practice.  Each time you come to your mat, you practice yoga; this is true whether it's your first time or you are a yogi guru.  One of my instructors sometimes reminds us that even when we someday are able to achieve that elusive pose we secretly covet mastery over, our lives will be no better.  It's just a pose.  I like this.  That said, however, I would love to do crow without falling over.

My maybe favorite thing about group practice is opening and closing with "om."  At the start of class, each voice is distinct, off key, awkwardly self-aware.  By the end of class, though, the final om is solid, as if emanating from one satisfied voice.  I love this om.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Loving a Good Love Story

In the last few days I basked in the glory that is laying on one's couch and watching a movie, or possibly four.  Or possibly four a day for the past four days.  Maybe not quite, but you get the picture.  Before I married Greg, I was blind to the gaping chasm of a whole in my life: no projector.  A few years ago (after a LOT of shopping and scouting and convincing on his part), we invested in a home theatre system.  I was dragged to one speaker store after another, and stood, listening.  Greg would say, grin on his face, "Can you hear THAT?"  And I would smile bleakly and nod.  Truthfully I could never really hear the difference from one to the next--my ears don't work like that, I think.  Then we would watch one projector demonstration after another.  I was supposed to notice the pixels, or the lack of them.  The brightness, contrast, blahdy-blahdy-blah.

Here we are a few years later, and despite all of my eye-rolling at the time, I now love our movie set up.  And guess what: Brad Pitt is actually saying real, identifiable words in Snatch.  That's how fantabulous our speakers are.  And last week I ever so snobbily told my parents I didn't really want to watch a movie at their house because their 30" television screen just wasn't going to cut it for me.  Ridiculous, I know.  Nonetheless, here I am, happy as a clam, watching one movie after the next.  And Netflix Instantwatch hasn't encouraged me off my couch, either, in recent months.

Last night we had some friends over for an impromptu dinner (baked ziti and ratatouille) and movie night.  We forced them to pick a movie without any imput from us, and the whole event turned into quite an ordeal.  There were several rounds of individual selection, mutual weeding-out, and then finally, the choice was made via a blind ballot: Stranger Than Fiction.

I fall in love with this movie over again every time I watch it.  My favorite love stories are those where the characters find that a person loves them for exactly who they are, and in turn, they are freed to become the best versions of themselves.  (Other all-time favorties along these lines include Punch Drunk Love, Secretary, Amelie, and, of course, French Kiss.)  I used to teach a long unit on tragedy in literature, and so I love how Stranger Than Fiction toys endlessly with the nature of comedy and tragedy, and how the two are so narrowly separated--a mere nudge and a comedy reveals itself to be a tragedy, as Harold Crick (played by Will Ferrell) sadly discovers in his tally book.

Professor Hilbert (played by Dustin Hoffman) so reminds me of my favorite lit profs in college: passionately invested, yet aloof to the point of valuing a good piece of writing over a person's life.  In all seriousness, Prof. Hilbert asks Harold, "Aren't you relieved to know that you are not a gollum?" The movie seems to honor literature while soflty poking fun at its larger-than-life self importance.  I love a good book, and so does this movie.

And we cannot overlook the hippie baker, Ms. Pascal (Ms. Gyllenhaal herself).  She describes her love for feeding people and all I can think to do is abandon everything and open a bakery.  Harold, deciding that he wants her, buys her assorted flours: "I brought you flours."  Ah, love.

A final note on two other female characters worth mentioning for their unabashed love of a good snack: Liz Lemon and Ainsley Hayes.  Ainsley, perky Republican that she is, knows it is always a good time to eat a muffin or abscond with the last pastry from the conference table.  Yesterday I watched the "teamster sandwich" episode of 30 Rock for the first time and marveled at how Liz (and really Tina Fey herself) shoved an entire 6" sandwich into her mouth in one go.  No cuts, no edits.  Just a whole sandwich.  And then a couple episodes later, Liz sits down to a dinner party and notices a bowl in front of her.  She says,"I'm not sure if these are chips or potpourri," whereupon she quickly shoves some in her mouth.  She then remarks, "These aren't chips," and puts some more in her mouth.  That's my kind of girl!  So here's to the women who like to eat, even when it would be more feminine or professional not to.  Yum, yum!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Delicious New Year to You

Several years ago I decided that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday--no gifts, all food!--but this year Christmas gave Thanksgiving a run for its money.  We spent the week in Washington, my parents' home full of hugs and kids and cookies.  Most importantly, I finally got to meet my new niece, Eleanor.  She's adorable and feisty as her red hair.  She and her parents are back off to England in a matter of days, but we hope they will be living this side of the pond again--as soon as her Papa can land himself a paying position in ye olde ivory tower.

In addition to the beautiful baby, the holidays were filled with family and food.  Christmas morning provided us the chance to try out a new (for us) Barefoot Contessa recipe: cranberry scones.  Like many Ina Garten favorites, this one includes three sticks of butter, but I do believe that all butter is forgiven on Christmas.  Here's a peek at the final product, picture courtesy of the fabulous Sandra Ward.  The full recipe can be found at

The following 48 hours consisted of a sort of non-stop cook-a-thon.  There were 12 of us in the house, so my mom figured we'd do all the cooking up front and then coast on leftovers for the rest of the week.  This turned out to be a pretty good plan.  So, day one: scones, home fries, bacon and eggs for breakfast.  For dinner: standing rib roast, leek mashed potatoes, roasted green beans, dinner rolls, and carrots.  Christmas day #2: a turkey AND a ham, sweet potato casserole, green salad, plus all the leftovers from the previous night.  Seriously, a turkey and a ham.

Greg made turkey stock and then veggie soup the following day, to which I added my most favorite and easiest bread (also found in Ina's Barefoot Contessa at Home).  It was so delicious that I made it again last night, back at our home.  The recipe calls for buttermilk; our grocery store was out yesterday, so I tried the make-your-own variety for the first time.  1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 C milk, let sit.  Seems to have worked just fine...I see a lesson forming for a someday "Chemistry of Cooking" class.

Hopefully this year will bring plenty more opportunity to be in the kitchen and to feed the people in my life that I love.  I haven't seen my kids at school for over a week, but they've been showing up in my dreams, always reminding me they are there.

On that note, I will leave you with a phone call I got from one of my students just after midnight last night, as I was coming in from watching cloud-shrouded fireworks on our roof.

Alex: Happy new year, Sarah.
Me: Happy new year!  Did you see fireworks?
Alex: No, but I heard gunshots.

I love you all the same, New York City.  Happy New Year to us all.