Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori

Disclaimer: I wrote this last weekend.  I still think that it's important for me to post this, but know that I've become much more positive as the week has progressed.  I won't pretend that I'm magically better - but I can say that, especially as I write this little note now, I'm much happier than these words below would have you believe.  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...


Being disoriented by your own emotions is an interesting phenomenon.

One moment you recognize that you're feeling one way, like you're content with yourself, working at your desk, pouring over a genetics study; then suddenly you find yourself with your head in your hands, and you're rocking back and forth in your chair in the middle of the library, with people and voices streaming all around you.  You become aware of yourself, how sick and sad you must look, or otherwise how incredibly invisible you are when no one meets your eyes, as you look up and scan the room for someone, anyone, you know.

It's not just in the library, either.  It's at crew practice, it's walking through the quad to class, it's waiting to fall asleep in the darkest hours of the early morning.  It's like everything is collapsing in and shattering outward at once, in a gray and quiet way; but you know quite well that you are being dramatic, that anyone else in your position would be handling this much better than you are.  Anyone else would be put up walls.  The feelings would just be waves, breaking against it, and the sound of them crashing would simply fade out into a dull roar, which itself would become almost nothing as the walls grew higher, stronger.  Maybe I'm not able because I'm not willing, deep down.  Or not willing because I know I'm not able.

I'm sorry if you don't want to read about this, whatever this is, or if you think it's not appropriate for me to share these struggles in this kind of forum.  I'm not sure myself if I should even be posting this.  I don't want people to worry, and I don't want you to think I'm just crying out for attention here.  That's not the point.  If you know me in person, you know that I don't hide very much.  I'm not good at concealing how I feel.  It's not that I can't keep my mouth shut when a thought pops into my head (well, some people would probably debate that I can't keep my mouth shut, I can be chatty), it's that everything I'm experiencing emotionally shows on my face.  I'm a terrible liar.  And I've always considered this lack of composure, so to speak, a weakness of mine.  I mean, several people who are close to me think it's a weakness, too: how are you supposed to be successful in your career if you cry when you're frustrated, no one will take you seriously if you show too much emotion, you're only hurting yourself and the people around you when you can't maintain your composure.  These aren't exact quotes, but you get the idea - some of it is gendered, like oh you're acting like such a typical woman, all emotional, ugh, pull it together, but that's clearly not the whole story.  It doesn't have to be gendered to be a negative position on emotional toughness.

Nonetheless, it's been drilled into me that this is a personality flaw.  It makes me a burden, while also making me a weak person; it is a hindrance to social and economic success, and so on.  I've tried so hard to make myself tough, especially in these past two months.  I've tried just not to feel anything.  It doesn't work.  It can't work, and it shouldn't work, because it's not a flaw.  It's how I am.  And it can be positive.  When I feel something, I feel it deeply, and you know that I feel it.  And that kind of transparency, while leaving me vulnerable in many ways, also renders incredibly sensitive to the people around me.  I let people into my world who are willing and able to be a part of it, without boundaries (and sometimes people who aren't willing or able to be a part of it, apparently, as I've discovered).  That can be an incredible gift, both for the people in my life and for myself.

So I'm not going to try to hide too much here.  I'm purposefully being non-specific, mostly keeping names and personal events anonymous.  Those details aren't incredibly important to understand what's going on with me, and are too much information to give as far as I'm concerned.  The reflection is enough, I think.  And it may be too much.  So if it is too much I'm sorry.  If you're worried, don't be, I have an incredibly strong support system.  It's just that writing here helps me, for whatever reason.  Maybe I should keep a personal journal, but I probably wouldn't keep up with it when it's just for myself like that, so I let my thoughts overflow here instead.  I hope that those of you who are similar or are feeling similarly will understand, and even benefit from reading this.

Here's to solidarity.


Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori (for one):

1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/5 block soft tofu
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small avocado
2 sheets nori
3 rice paper wrappers
2 radishes, sliced thinly (I didn't actually use these, but I really wanted something crunchy, so I've written them in here for when I make them again)
~2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (I didn't have any on-hand so I made a random sauce that evoked similar flavors, but I would've preferred straight-up Hoisin)

In a small non-stick pan, heat canola and sesame oils over medium-low heat.  Once warm, crumble in the soft tofu and warm in the oil for ~5 minutes (basically a quick marinade).  Beat the eggs with the salt, pour over the tofu to cover the pan (making sure the tofu is evenly distributed), and cook low and slow until the eggs have set.  Slide the omelet onto a plate and chill in the freezer.

Heat a couple cups of water until it's almost simmering (it should be steaming but not burn your hands when you go to dip the wrappers in).  Meanwhile, tear each nori sheet into 3 pieces and slice the omelet into 3 pieces as well.  Slice the avocado thinly.

To form the rolls, pour the water into a round dish or cake pan (~9 inch diameter).  Soften one rice paper wrapper at a time in the hot water, then lay flat on a clean surface.  Lay 2 nori strips over the wrapper, making sure to leave space to fold up the sides later, then smear some Hoisin sauce on the nori.  Lay on a third of the avocado, a third of the egg, and some radish slices.  Fold up the sides and roll (like a burrito).  Finish the other two, cut each roll in half, and dig in!      

Rye Bread

Hello, friends.  It's been a long time since we've talked.  How are you?  A lot has changed, for me, anyway.  I haven't been able to write in a while... Like I actually have been physically and emotionally incapable of writing here.  I haven't even wanted to take pictures really.  I've been making lots of food - cherry jam shortbread tart, chicken pot pie, garlic bread, mint chocolate chip gelato, butternut squash and chickpea salad with tahini dressing, maple wheat bread, and some other things I'm forgetting - so it's not like I haven't had material to share with you.  I'm sorry, I'm going to be better about posting.  To give you a recap on what you've missed around here:

- Crew preseason began at the beginning of September, and I hosted two of my lovely crewmies in my apartment for the month.  I don't know what I would've done without them, honestly, they kept me sane.

- Then, when it came time to seat race for the Head of the Charles lineup, my MRI results from August came back, revealing that I have a bruised spine (which is the beginning of a new stress fracture).  I'm going to see a spine specialist soon, but over the past couple weeks I've switched to rowing port (that won't mean anything to some of you, but it matters because now my back is twisting a different way from the one that hurts a lot).  It's actually helped, but we'll see what an actual doctor says.

- This week has been the trial period for novices who are interested in joining the team, so things have gotten more chaotic at the site.  But in a good way - it's nice to have fresh faces around.

- This past weekend, I went to Paris!  We were only in the city for 46 hours total, but it was lovely and incredibly beautiful, just as you can imagine.  I was there with four other UChicago rowers and our novice men's coach for the annual La Traversée de Paris, which is essentially a 34km row on the Seine.  I'd hesitate to call it race, since it's more of a parade, with a couple hundred boats rowing past the Eiffel Tower, Pont Alexandre III, the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame, and often stopping to take pictures.  This is the third year UChicago has sent a contingency, and we were the only American crew in the event, so it's a very special privilege for our crew.  We each stayed with our own host families from a rowing club in the suburbs of Paris - I miss mine already, she was so wonderful - and met some of loveliest people there.  Now I want to learn French and return to immerse myself completely in city.

- I'm still working at Arete, having been promoted from Project Assistant Intern to Program and Operations Assistant.  I'm moving up in the world!  I've also started working as a research assistant for the Experience and Cognition Lab on campus, run by Daniel Casasanto, and it's really cool.  I'm happy there.

- I'm also taking an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) class - so basically right now my life is rowing for UChicago, EVP responsibilities for rowing, 4 classes plus the EMR class twice a week, and 2 jobs.  Yeah.  I'm pretty busy...

... I'll sleep when I'm dead.

Rye Bread


Sponge:
3/4 c bread flour
3/4 c rye flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 water, room temperature

Flour mixture:
2 1/4 c bread flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 tablespoon course salt

Combine all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl, whisking until very smooth and thickened by intentionally incorporating air with the whisking motion.  In another bowl, stir together the flour mixture ingredients.  Gently scoop it over the sponge to cover completely.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 4 hours (or at least 1 hour - the longer the rise the better).

Dough and baking:
1/2 tablespoon canola oil
~2 tablespoons cornmeal

Add the oil and stir with either a wooden spoon or your hand until the flour is moistened.  Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then knead on a clean surface that's been sprinkled with flour for 5 minutes.  The dough will be less sticky after you've kneaded it, then cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for 20 minutes.  Knead for another 5-10 minutes until the dough is very smooth.

Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, turning in the bowl to cover the dough with oil as well, and let rise 1 1/2-2 hours.  The dough should've doubled in size.  Punch down the dough, re-oil the boil, and let rise another 45 minutes.  Again, punch down the dough; but this time, form it into a round loaf shape and let rise on a sheet pan dusted with cornmeal for 1 1/4 hours until almost doubled in size.

Place a baking sheet - or even better, a baking/pizza stone - in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.  Make a few 1/4-1/2 inch slashes in the top of the bread.  Place the baking sheet with the bread on it gently onto the preheated baking sheet or baking/pizza stone in the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, lower the heat to 400 degrees F, then continue to bake 30-40 minutes until the crust is golden brown and a skewer inserted to the center comes out clean.  Let cool, then slice for a sandwich such as the following:

Mustard Chicken Sandwich

1/2 cooked and shredded chicken breast (I roasted mine, bone in and skin on, with olive oil, dijon mustard, ground allspice, salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground ginger, and chili powder at 400 degrees F for ~45 minutes)
Gruyere cheese
Spicy brown mustard
Lettuce (I used turnip greens because lettuce is boring)
Ground black pepper

Having discovered that the toaster oven is a beautiful invention, I now make many warm sandwich creations with it.

Slather both pieces of bread with mustard before topping generously with cheese.  Also top one of the pieces of cheese-bread with the chicken, then toast until the cheese is all melty and the bread is crusty.  Place the greens and pepper over one piece of bread before putting the halves together and digging in.

Daddy Sauce

This sauce has been a staple in my family ever since I can remember, and long before that.  It's simple and warm and so, so satisfying.  The recipe makes a lot of sauce, but that's kind of the point - you'll want to have this on hand in the freezer for easy, impromptu dinners.  I finally got those pictures for the Maple Wheat Bread post up, so have faith, I'll have sauce pictures for this one too.  It's hard to make meat sauce look elegant - no offense Dad, you know that I know it's darnnnn tasty - but I will do my best for all of you.

Daddy Sauce

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-8 cloves garlic
3 pounds ground beef
Italian seasoning
2 cans whole tomatoes
Dried oregano
2-3 cans ground tomatoes

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large stock pot.  Chop the onions into a medium dice, then sweat in the olive oil with a liberal amount of salt and pepper to taste until the onions start to become soft.  Crush or finely mince the garlic into the onions.  Cook until just aromatic, then push the mixture off to the side of the pot in a mound before adding in the ground beef.  Increase the heat to medium or medium-high heat and give the beef a light coating of Italian seasoning, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks, until all the meat has browned.

Remove the whole tomatoes from their juice and add them into the pot.  Using a knife or just the firm wooden spoon, break up the tomatoes into the beef.  Sprinkle generously with oregano, then add in the juice from the cans of whole tomatoes, the cans of ground tomatoes, and half a can of water.  Place the lid at an angle over the pot to allow the steam to escape and reduce the heat to medium-low/low.  Cook, stirring very frequently, for 3-4 hours.  After every hour or so adjust seasoning by adding more Italian seasoning and/or oregano.  Depending on the beef, there may be a lot of oil floating on the top of the sauce - just skim it off during cooking.  The sauce is done when you can't distinguish the ground beef from the tomatoes, and the onions have almost disappeared completely.  

Maple Wheat Sandwich Bread


This summer has been a roller coaster and a half, my goodness.  And honestly, I haven't posted in a few weeks since, well, I haven't done much cooking.  I really need to get back to it.  I don't meditate or pray, I can't do yoga (no headstands, thanks), and I don't go on food cleanses or juice diets (someone please shoot me if I ever try to juice).  I've been coming to the realization that I'm not the type of person who can refuel by crawling into my own personal bat cave and surfing the Internet, playing video games, or watching TV for hours.  By refuel I mean destress, decompress, center myself, bottle up all the crazy, et cetera.

On the one hand, I need to spend time with people - and I don't mean doing all sorts of activities, I mean sitting around talking or enjoying a show together with a couple friends.  And then on the other hand, I do need quiet Holly time alone, but I need to be doing something: kneading a mound of bread dough (hence the post today), tending to a pot of simmering sauce on the stove, or pounding piles of fresh basil into a fragrant paste with my mortar and pestle.  I can let myself get caught up in the food, the textures and flavors and steam washing over my face, and in the motions of my body stirring, folding, pressing, pushing.  I can let my mind wander, but only so far.  This is the most crucial aspect of my refueling, because when my mind wanders too far, I can't reel it back in, and it can go to some pretty dark and depressing places.

I've been spending so much of my time in my own head this summer, for various reasons, but all of them culminating in my inability to prevent these rumination-depression cycles.  My thoughtfulness turns into unhealthy rumination, which sends me further and further down the unhappy thoughts rabbit hole.  I mean, I used to do this a lot in middle and high school, as I'm sure a lot of young women do, with body image.  You see the picture of the beautiful, flawless model in the magazine, or the movie star on TV, and soon you're thinking too hard about how perfect she is, and how not perfect you are, and then down you go, pointing out all of your imperfections to yourself, dwelling on them, hating your body.  It doesn't have to become clinical to be painful.  And as a caveat, this isn't limited to young women either, I'm just using that cohort as an example.  At some point, though, this body image cycle seems to matter less, whether for acceptance or love of your body, or for some other reason, the more you mature.  

Yeah, this is a huge generalization, but all I'm trying to say is that this general obsession with body image is usually a teenage phase.  And one that I've experienced.  So I'm sure that this too is a phase, spurred by the normal growing pains of being a twenty-something and by recent events specific to my own life.  It just took me a while to realize it is all.  It's nice having a name, too, the rumination-depression cycle.  It makes it easier to identify, which makes it easier for me to consciously divert my attention away from those thoughts.

Aside from a little self-exploration in these past weeks, I spent a too short weekend on the Cape earlier in August.  I haven't been that happy in a long time.  Being with John was a large part of that happiness, but I also just felt so full of joy to be in New England again, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean - oh, salt water, I missed you - and feeling so at home.  My mom, dad, brother, and I, along with my Auntie Carol, Uncle Jonathan, and their daughter Sydney, used to spend a couple weeks on the Cape every summer.  Those were always the best weeks, my hair tangled with salt water and sand, and my hands sticky from Sundae School ice cream.  We would spend a day in Province Town, where I'd swoon over pretty polished sea shells and salt water taffy and Cuffy's sweatshirts, and where I bought my favorite perfume so many years ago.  We'd play mini golf and raced go-carts.  We'd eat to our hearts' content, lobster rolls and steamers, hot dogs and corn on the cob, and so, so much ice cream, and finished bins full of art projects.  My mom and Auntie Carol would always finish [or at least attempt] a puzzle, too.  Maybe sometime I'll write more about my Cape Cod summers for you, but now, I'm not in a place to reflect on them fully without being overwhelmed by nostalgia.  Suffice it to say that even though I've only spent a handful of weeks in the grand scheme of my life on the Cape, I'd sooner call it home than anywhere in Chicago.


Maple Wheat Sandwich Bread
adapted from Florence Fabricant via The Wednesday Chef

1 c milk
1/4 c plus 1-2 tablespoons grade B maple syrup, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg beaten
2-3 c whole wheat flour
2 c unbleached bread flour

Place the milk, 1/4 c maple syrup, butter, and salt in a saucepan over low heat.  Bring to a boil, being sure to stir frequently to prevent burning on the bottom of the saucepan, then set aside to cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and sugar in a large bowl.  Once frothy, ~5 minutes, stir in the egg, and then the milk mixture.  Add in the unbleached bread flour, stirring to combine, then begin adding the whole wheat flour 1/2 c at a time until the dough comes together in a ball.  Dust a clean work surface with more whole wheat flour and knead the dough ~8 minutes until the dough is smooth and tacky, but not sticky, adding more flour as necessary.  Place in an oiled bowl, turn in the oil to coat all of the dough, and cover with a clean towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, ~1 hour.

Punch down the dough, then turn out onto a clean, lightly floured surface.  Roll out the dough into a 9x12 inch rectangle (it doesn't need to be exact, don't worry about it), then, starting from the narrower side, roll up tightly like a jelly roll/cinnamon bun.  Fit seam-side down into an oiled loaf pan, then let rise once more, ~45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a pastry brush (or just your fingers if you don't have one), glaze the exposed dough with 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup.  Bake ~45 minutes until the top is golden brown, and when you rap on the top of the bread with your knuckles, it's firm and sounds hollow inside.  Cool completely before slicing and making the best PB&J of your life, or slathering on some Nutella.  If it starts going stale before you can eat it all, this would be great for some french toast.

Sour Cherry Pie & In My Lunchbox

Eeeep!  Over 100 of you have liked my Facebook page!  Thanks!  If you haven't yet, go here to like Strong Coffee, and then you'll get status updates from me whenever I post something on the blog.  Sweet, right?  I thought so too.

This pie though.  Oh my goodness.  It's perfection.  If you thought the peach pie was good, this sour cherry pie is stellar-awesome-delicious-want-to-eat-the-whole-thing-right-now-om-nom good.  It was one of Lottie + Doof's first posts, via Bon Appetit, and it's no wonder he revisited it again on his site.  I could just eat a bowl full of the filling alone, with pleasantly pucker-inducing cherries slumped and bound together by a sticky-sweet sauce of sugar, lemon, and vanilla.  And then, with the crust, you get a hit of crunch and texture, with that luscious, soulful flavor only butter can provide.  Together they're magical, truly.  Every night last week I inhaled a slice for dinner, and didn't regret it one little bit (one night I even had two slices, but, errr, let's not talk about that).  My dad even proclaimed that it was the best cherry pie he's ever had, and I'm pretty sure he's tried a lot of cherry pie in his life.  So there.  What I'm saying is, get your hands on some sour cherries, and get to work.  If you're in Chicago you should go to Green City Market, they're delightful, and that's where I found mine.  I haven't seen them in a regular grocery store before.


For another picture-less In My Lunchbox entry I want to tell you about a little simple summer salad.  I know, I know, I posted about salad last time.  The thing is, I do eat a lot of salad, but it's only so I can justify my multiple snacks a day (and my pie for dinner).  I'm pretty sure I eat the most, and the most frequently, out of anyone in my office.  It may be a little sad, actually.  But when I'm munching on a handful a pretzels, oh boy am I productive.  The munching helps me concentrate, I think... Or it may just be that being full helps me concentrate.  Either way, I like to snack at work, so I end up eating several little meals a day rather than eating a couple big meals.  Especially since I'm getting into work around 7:30 in the morning, sitting in a coffee shop for a while until the office has actually become populated, working a full day there, then either taking the CTA up to the river site in Lincoln Park for sweep practice or biking up Lake Shore Drive to the lagoon site to teach the Learn to Row class, it's 9:30 or 10 at night before I can actually sit down for dinner.  At which time I should be going to sleep again.  So the 3-square-meals-a-day plan doesn't really work out for me.  Girl's gotta eat.

Anyway, so this salad.  I have to digress again for a second to talk about heirloom tomatoes.  Now, I'm not going to say that by virtue of them being heirloom and fancy (and more expensive obviously) that they're better than your average vine tomato.  But when I'm at the grocery store, the quality of the heirloom tomatoes has been consistently better in my experience than that of the little bundles of vine tomatoes, or the giant beefsteak tomatoes, which have tended to be watery-tasting.  At the farmer's market, though, the quality of those regular tomatoes is so good that I don't feel compelled to buy heirloom.  If you prefer heirloom unequivocally, then by all means.

So grab a medium-size tomato and gently dice (use a serrated knife to cut tomatoes, you won't squish them this way).  Throw it in a bowl.  Then, take half an avocado, remove it from the skin with a spoon, and slice it thinly.  Fan out the slices, placing the fanned-out stack on top of the tomatoes.  Do the same slice-then-fan process with a cooled roasted beet, skin removed, and place it over the avocado.  Douse with a glug of good olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Shave a few slices of parmesan over the top with a vegetable peeler, then dig in.  The tomato juices will mingle with the oil and vinegar to create a luscious, slurpable dressing in the bottom of the bowl.  I suggest eating this with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the sauce, or you can just drink it out of the bottom of the bowl like I do.  Shhh, don't tell.


Sour Cherry Pie
adapted from Lottie + Doof

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
2 sticks really cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
5-8 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided
3 tablespoons corn starch
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
~1 tablespoon Muscovado sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Toss the butter in the flour mixture and work with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is the texture of damp sand and the butter is lima bean-size.  Make a well in the center and add in 4 tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, beginning to work into the flour mixture and adding more water as needed for the dough to come together.  Divide into 2 halves, then roll each into a ball, pat into a disk, and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Keep cold until ready to use, but let it sit out on the counter for a couple minutes before rolling to soften.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and lemon juice in a large bowl with the cherries.  In a small bowl, whisk together the 1 c sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and corn starch, then add into the cherries also.  Roll out 1 dough round into a ~12 inch circle, then transfer into a standard pie pan.  Trim the overhang to 1/2 inch, then pour in the cherry filling.  Roll out the other dough round, place it over the top of the filling, then trim the overhang to match the bottom crust.  Using your fingers or a fork, seal the top crust to the bottom.  Brush the exposed crust with the egg, then sprinkle with Muscovado sugar.  Cut a few vents in the top crust to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet, then bake for 15 minutes before turning the temperature down to 375 degrees F and cooking for ~1 hour.  If you're worried that edges will/are browning too quickly, gently cover with a thin piece of tin foil.  Cool completely before serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Or both.


Lattice Peach Pie

If you don't read The Wednesday Chef, well, you're missing out.  I haven't made many of the recipes she posts, but I enjoy her personality so much, and that she writes about what she feeds her son Hugo (he's only about a year old now).  I really love children, especially infants and toddlers, so I live a little vicariously through her posts about Hugo.  I also recently read her book My Berlin Kitchen, which makes her blog even more of a joy to read.  I feel like I know her a little better, y'know?  The book is basically a memoir with relevant, and delicious-sounding, recipes at the end of each chapter.  But it's even better than that, because her life is actually a fairy tale, with a happily-ever-after and everything... And recipes!  That's the best-sounding fairy tale I've ever heard of.  Anyway, even if you just read my blog to check up on me and you're not exactly a lover of cooking, I think you would still like the book.  It's cute and heart-warming.

After I finished that and House of Leaves I tried to get into The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I'm struggling to stay interested, which is odd, because that should totally jive with me, right?  I was expecting it to be more about food I think, and less about what's wrong with 'murican business and government.  I'm also weary of the central claim that there's a national eating disorder - i.e. an overwhelming obsession in America with healthy eating fads, due to the lack of a strong culinary culture that would guide our food choices.  This is certainly true to some extent - my impression, though, is that it's a bit of an overstatement.  I mean, there are plenty of intelligent people who take all of the hullaballoo that's stirred up by new health trends with a grain of salt, and plenty more people who just don't really care about the trends and just eat how they want to.  But this is also after only reading the introduction to and the first chapter of the book, so I should probably get through more of the content before I knock it.  At this point, I'd just make the counter argument that while this country may not have a strong, cohesive culinary culture like Italy, France, or Japan that guides the answer to the question what's for dinner, individuals and families develop personal, consistent food cultures that shape their daily food choices.  And these can be just as resistant to the stormy weather of popular opinion and trendy diets as national food cultures.

Enough talk, now for pie.  Frankie (whom you've seen here before, when he helped me make cookies during Christmas last year), made this with me.  He's my dough-mixer and lattice-weaver extraordinaire.  I almost couldn't believe my ears when, after topping the pie with the dough lattice mostly by himself, he turned to me and proclaimed wow, baking is fun.  You should've seen the smile on my face, oh my.  It was great.


Peach Pie
crust adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon regular granulated sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
2 sticks really cold butter, cut into cubes
~1/2 c ice water
~1 tablespoon Muscovado sugar
1 egg, beaten
~3 1/2 pounds peaches (6-8 peaches), cleaned and cut into thin slices
1/3 c brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
~3 tablespoons corn starch
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss the butter cubes in the flour to coat.  Then, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is lima bean size, and the mixture resembles the texture of sand.  Make a well in the center of the mixture, and pour in 1/4 c of the ice water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Begin incorporating the liquid into the dry mixture, adding water as needed for the dough to form a smooth ball.  Divide the dough in half, pat each half into a disk, and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In another medium bowl, prepare the filling.  I didn't bother peeling my peaches, since I'm lazy and I like the skin anyway, but if you prefer then you can peel them.  I sliced mine pretty thinly, into sixteenths, but if you want larger pieces feel free, you'll just have to be aware of the adjustment in cooking time.  Place all of your peach slices in the bowl, then toss gently with the 1/8 teaspoon salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of corn starch.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Roll out one disk of dough into a 1/4 inch thick circle, using lots of flour to prevent sticking to the rolling pin or surface you're rolling on.  Turn the dough evenly and often to make sure it's not stuck.  Transfer gently to a standard pie tin, then trim away the dough that hangs over the side.  Sprinkle the dough on the bottom of the pie tin with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, then pour over the peach filling.  Roll out the other dough disk to the same 1/4 inch thickness, making it more of a square shape, since you're going to trim it into a square anyway.  Once trimmed, cut the dough into 12 even strips.  Lay 6 strips, evenly spaced, over the filling.  To create the lattice, pull back every other strip (so you'll have 3 strips folded over and 3 laid out straight).  Lay another strip, perpendicular to the others you've already placed over the pie, over the 3 strips that are laid out straight.  Fold the other 3 strips back over, so it's covered by 3 strips and covering the 3 others.  Repeat with the next dough strip, this time pulling back the other 3 alternating strips.


Does that make sense?  If it doesn't just leave me a comment here and I'll edit the description.  It probably would've helped if I'd taken pictures of the steps.  But  I'm sure you'll get the hang of it - just keep interweaving the strips like this until you've used them up.  Trim away the excess dough hanging over the side, and then using a fork or your fingers, seal the lattice strips to the bottom crust.  Brush the lattice with the egg, then sprinkle with Muscovado sugar.  Bake for ~15 minutes until the lattice has begun to brown, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and back for another ~30 minutes.  Once the filling is bubbling hot and thick, and the crust is cooked through, remove from the oven and let cool completely.  You don't want to cut into it and create a soupy hot mess, do ya?  Once cooled, cut into slices and serve with a drizzle of cream.




Fig & Mascarpone Tart

It seems fitting that the last creation I made at home was my chocolate chip banana bread.  Frankie and I also made a nice peach pie last week (which he claimed was too sweet despite there being about a 1/3 cup of sugar in the whole pie, I think it was too tart for him but he didn't know how to express that), so I'll share that next time.  But I'm back in Chicago now, back at work.  I'm just trying to be positive, focusing on getting super strong for crew preseason in September.  Going back through the last few posts I've written, I sound pretty depressed, and that's not really what you're here to read... This blog functions as something of a diary for me, but I have to be mindful that hey, I kinda want people to read this thing, and also, that this is on the internet for everyone to see.  I don't want you to visit this site and think oh, here comes emo kid again, cue the Evanescence and dark makeup.  So I can't, or shouldn't, be too explicit about my life or feelings.  I do find it comforting, though, that a least a handful of people visit this site to see what I've been up to, and hopefully care about what's written here.  I will try to be more positive when I write for you, because this should be a happy place for both you and me to come together and think about food.  Because food is the happiest thing there is.  And evidence from neuroscience strongly suggests that humans can learn to activate the areas of our brains associated with the experience of happiness, and recover more quickly from the effects of negative emotions.

Ah, science.  You make me so hopeful.


May I digress slightly for a moment?  It is so irritating when I hear the suggestion that psychology isn't real science or hard science, and is instead basically just hogwash and a soft science.  I'd like to point out that there are several branches of psychology varying in the degree to which they employ techniques from the hard sciences like biology and chemistry, or from social sciences or the humanities.  It depends on which branch you're talking about, first of all.  Secondly, those branches which are more social science- or humanities-based aren't hogwash or non-empirical necessarily.  What is hogwash is how members of the academic community like to put down other fields to make theirs seem better, truer, more righteous, et cetera.  I'm sorry that you have to put down other people and their fields of expertise to inflate your own sense of worth and purpose.  All branches of psychology deal in facts and research.  I mean, stupid is as stupid does - a psychological study can be just as full of questionable material and conjecture as a study in any other field, but it isn't lacking in interest or intellectual merit simply because it is psychology and not pure biology or physics.

Aaaand I'm back.  I just had to get that off my chest and enlighten you as to the wonders of psychological research.  I'm not angry, just passionate.  It's funny, I hadn't considered studying psychology until this past September - I was scrolling through the course catalogue, projecting my inner monologue onto John about how I shouldn't major in Russian Civilizations because what will I do with that and linguistics is really cool but it would either be a career in linguistic research or the CIA for me and I didn't want to narrow down that much yet blahhhhh... When he suggested that psychology might be a good fit for me, take a look at the course offerings.  I realized that I was interested in most of the classes, and after I took biological psychology winter quarter last year, my mind was actually completely made up (I've been waffling on this subject since my junior year of high school).  Of course, I was also planning on double majoring with linguistics still, but have since dropped that to a minor.

In any case, what my parents thought was a whim has lasted, and I'm still totally smitten.  That doesn't mean that I really have any idea what I want to do with my future.  I'm trying to adopt John's one-day-at-a-time approach.  I'm not very good at living in the moment, either dwelling on the past or looking too far ahead, both of which are very stressful for an already antsy person.  I'm going into zen mode.  I'm sick of being stressed out about all the things I want to do but can't yet and all the things I should've done, or the things that should've (or shouldn't have) happened.  It doesn't change anything.  The question is, what am I doing right now, and what will I do later today. Of course, thinking ahead is necessary to guide the here-and-now, but only to a certain extent.  It's about finding the balance.  Well, this is what I'm telling myself right now anyway to keep me calm and to will myself into not being miserable anymore.  I am taking control of my feelings and realizing that I deserve to be happy and confident and strong.  I'm not quite at the point where I'm going to repeat you are strong and beautiful or something into the mirror every morning to remind myself, but I am so sick of letting the people in and circumstances of my world, and especially the past few months, hurt me.

It seems that in my college life this has happened several times, where I've felt wronged and wanted closure from those who have wronged me, but it's never come.  I want them to recognize that they have hurt me, experience the pain of remorse, and give me peace so I feel validated and happy once again.  When it doesn't come, though, there's a choice - I can continue to dwell on how I've been wronged, and let the negativity invade my dreams at night and my work during the day, or I can let it go.  The letting go is so hard because it feels like giving up.  It feels like I haven't stood up for myself, like I've let the people in my life walk all over me and tell them it's okay, tell them that it's really my fault.  I want to get what I deserve - closure.  I do deserve that at least right?  It doesn't work like that, though.  And so I have to make the closure I deserve for myself.  Because above deserving closure from those who've made me feel horrible, I desire and deserve happiness.  As my close friend Kathy says, I deserve the best, no exceptions.  She's right.  But you have to define what's the best, and that's the tricky part.  This time, for me, the best is owning my own sense of self-worth.  It's mine, and I can't let anyone take it from me again.

So, after that nice self-help rant, without further delay, a fig and mascarpone tart for your trouble.

Fig & Mascarpone Tart
adapted from Flourishing Foodie 



1 1/2 c all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
2/3 c almond meal
1/4 c brown sugar
7 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and really cold
1 egg, beaten
~1/4 c ice water
450 g mascarpone cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 lemon
5 figs
~2 tablespoons pure honey

In a medium bowl combine the flours and brown sugar.  Quickly and gently cut the cold butter into the dry mixture, making sure to leave lima bean-size pieces of butter throughout.  Make a well in the mixture and add the egg.  Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of water with the egg and begin to combine, adding more water as needed for the dough to come together.  Once you can gather it easily into a ball, pat it down into a disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  On a clean surface with plenty of flour, roll the disk out into a circle 1/4-1/2 inch thick, or so that the dough will go ~1 inch up the sides of a tart pan.  Carefully transfer the dough into the pan (I just used a regular springform pan because it's what I had, but it would be prettier in a tart shell, with high sides mind you).  Dock the dough (poke lots of holes in the bottom with a fork to make sure the steam can escape) then bake for ~15 minutes until cooked through.  Set aside to cool.

In another medium bowl, beat the mascarpone, cream, and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the vanilla and lemon zest, then beat until there are stiff peaks.  Spoon the filling into the cooled tart shell.  Cut the figs into eighths and arrange as your heart desires.  Drizzle over as much honey as you like, then serve.