Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday, brought to you by Carbs (and Science)!

I have been sitting on this recipe for what feels like a long time, but is really just over a week. Recently I saw a post with a recipe for German style soft pretzels. If you have been to Germany, you know that these are amazing. In fact, for some strange reason, all bread on the other side of the Atlantic is amazing. Typical United States bread is just kind of squishy and blah.

I was shocked to learn that the hardest part of making soft-pretzels is actually getting all of the ingredients - specifically, food-grade lye. Yes, that gut reaction you just had? Lye is a poison and a drain cleaner, although when you cook it, that's supposed to neutralize.

The recipe for the dough? Easy, peasy. If you throw it together in the stand mixer, you don't even have to get your hands dirty. Honestly. I probably should invest in bread flour to make these again, but they came out just fine without it. And it's fun. You roll the dough into long strands, kind of like playing with playdough. It's also fast. Door to door (cabinet door? to my mouth door?) was about 2 hours, 90+ minutes of that is spent resting in various places.

But the LYE. It's hard to find, in store. You can order it online (but that felt like it would take too long, even though again I sat on this recipe for like 10 days) and you can ask google where to find it locally. Not a big help, but I did learn that Science can help out.

See, Harold McGee is a food science genius, and he wrote a column in the Times about baking soda vs lye. Essentially, lye is a very strong alkaloid, and baking soda a relatively weak one. But! If you put the baking soda in the oven, some sort of reaction with the heat makes it a stronger alkaloid - strong enough that it gets a pretty good effect on soft pretzels. I have proof!

Without a doubt I will make these again. I'm pretending to plan a March Madness party, so these would make an appearance.

The Horror (Or how I learned to stop listening to people and like the books I read)

I'm going to tell you a secret. Come close, I'll whisper it... For several years, starting senior year of high school, I thought I was a bit thick.

If you know me now, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I hung with the nerdy crowd in high school. For some reason, my smart kid crowd was far less cool than the classes ahead of us, whose smart kids somehow managed to be smart and drink way more than is advisable for high schoolers. Anyway, the nerdy kids I hung with? I guess they also had the capacity to lower my self-esteem by talking about books. Yes, I'm not kidding. See, we had a pretty extensive reading list for AP English, as I recall 5 or 6 books. (If you google it now, 3 - one of which I read in a sophomore history class.) And I'm a pretty strong reader, but I recall leaving a few of the required selections to the end (I don't know if I even read Othello). One of those was Heart of Darkness. Why I left it until the end?  (1) It kept being hard to find a copy at the library and (2) all of my friends HATED it. They complained about how it was such a dreadful book, and it took 2 weeks to slog through it. If you have any familiarity with Heart of Darkness, you know it's about 75 pages long. So I finally dug my heels in and read it. In two and a half days guys!  Wait. This was not good. Two and a half days? What did I miss? Why did I like this book? Why did I not just like this book, but think it was ah-mazing? Seriously, and everyone else hated it?

I convinced myself I must be missing something. Not just something, a lot of something. Yes, you're reading this correctly. I enjoyed a book that my friends didn't like and I thought that I was just not smart enough to understand it and thus dislike it. I thought maybe I had read it too peripherally, that there was some seriously deep issues in there that I did not get. (There are some seriously deep issues in there. I got that. But maybe some seriously deeper issues?) Who knows. Now combine this weird enjoying Heart of Darkness and feeling like a moron with the fact that I dated an asshole for nearly 18 months in college, whose favorite activity was posing the question "What are you thinking about right now?" every five f*@$ing minutes. And usually, guys, I'm just thinking about what I need to do later in the day, what I want for dinner, or about the movie we were watching. As was often the case in that point in my life, I was thinking about the guy in my calculus class who I had a crush on, and that probably wasn't for sharing. (Maybe it was, but I'm married now, so who knows where things could have gone.) Anyway, I gave myself a solid dose of low self-esteem on the critical reading and thinking about heavy topics day in day out.

So I was really hard on myself for a couple years. Then my roommate went abroad and my new roommate was an English major whose favorite poem was The Love Song of  J. Alfred Prufrock. God bless her. Poetry, I readily admit, I do not get. But I told her about my love-hate relationship with Joseph Conrad, and she eventually convinced me to take a modern British literature course with her, and I realized that while there is a bunch of seriously deep and fucked up shit in Heart of Darkness, it is just a really amazing story. And it's ok to read it, get immersed in it, and finish it in less than three days.


The point of this story is, stop judging yourself against other people. If you like a book, own it. Read it, enjoy it, and be ok with it. If someone judges you because you liked one of the more widely-read turn of the century British novels, you should tell them to fuck off.

A reward if you've made it this far!

My Top Ten Nine Books of All Time (of all time!!!) - in no particular order

From the Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg) - This is my favorite children's novel. If you haven't read it, you should.
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) - Apocalypse Now was based on this book, if you need another reason.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl) - I am three degress of separation from this author, also, this has nothing to do with physics.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) - If you didn't know that Clueless was based on Emma, well... But this is my favorite of Jane Austen's.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) - Vanity or sanity?
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) - It's hard to pick a Hemingway. I know he was a drunk/abuser, but he's still Papa Hemingway. (Shit, is this what people will say baout Chris Brown in 50 years?)
Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) - Some people don't like Lolita because of the content. Yeah, I kind of understand this. But not really.
My Life in France (Julia Child) - A Julia Child memoir. An amazing one at that.
The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy) - Another AP English required read. Stop what you're doing and read this...

Why is this 9? I get stuck after 9 and can't decide if it's To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, the Bell Jar, the Secret Garden, Freakonomics......

And also guys? Then I went to grad school, and I came across a group of people like me, who make statistics jokes and understand that if you have the fabulous sense of humor to enjoy Nabokov, then why the heck haven't you read Crime and Punishment. And they're also 100% ok with the fact that right now I am thinking about eating the pretzels I just made, and maybe stealing some of the Easter candy I am planning to send to my brother.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drinking a [beer], watching the game, true

If you got that reference, then I have this to say... Wazzaaaaaap.

You'll also notice that the beer pictured is most certainly not a bud. It's 'the case of the ipa' from Just Beer in Westport Ma. Just Beer used to be Buzzards Bay Brewing, and we have a few mini tasting glasses with the clever buzzard image on it. This is more bitter than some ipas (oh, is that why I like it?) and has the sort of cloudy taste of non-west coast-style beers. I'd definitely go for this of the other Just Beer offerings, but my favorite local IPA still comes from our super local neighborhood brewers.

If you do get down to Westport, go try some beers at Just Beer then head to Westport Winery for some super dry bubblies! We had Westport for our wedding toast and have friends who are thinking of having their dessert wine at their wedding.

(Also, I am watching the game right now. Big East tournament in full swing. Go Hoyas!)

Monday, March 5, 2012


I spent some time poking around the internet for a "healthy" banana bread recipe. I have raved about the banana bread recipe from Flour, but it's not exactly the type of thing you feel good eating for breakfast (feel good being, good for you, it makes me very happy to eat cake for breakfast).
Over the years I've found several recipes using applesauce or yogurt instead of oil, but it can yield a gummy texture to the loaf of bread, so I was hoping to find a recipe that wasn't going to do that. I poked and poked and came across several which had some good stuff going for them, finally I picked one and modified it to suit.

Here goes:
3.5 mashed bananas
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
dash of allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2-3/4 cup chocolate chips
You know the drill, mix the wet, mix the dry, add the dry to the wet, stir in the nuts and chips. Pour in a pan and bake. (350 for about 45-50 minutes worked quite well. Then again, I think my oven bakes hot, and the loaf did get browner than expected, but who knows.)

This batter felt pretty loose when I threw it together so I crossed my fingers and hoped it would turn out okay. And it did. The texture is not the light fluffy quick bread with mounds of butter and white flour, but it's not gummy either. And there was nice carmelization in the crust from the brown sugar. And there are chocolate chips, so enough said.