Sunday, May 29, 2011

Always fashionable date-nut bread

In the 1960s, wrote Jason Epstein in the New York Times:  "Schrafft's, with its Irish waitresses in their black dresses, white aprons and lace tiaras, with its date-nut bread, creamed chicken with bright green peas and pineapple sundaes, was dying as if in sympathy with the afflicted cityscape itself."

Date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches are even more decidedly out of fashion today, and I wonder if they will ever be in fashion again. Even creamed chicken and pot pies are undergoing something of a comfort food Renaissance. But not these:

Flickr: arnold-inutaki
 However, I distinctly recall being introduced to date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches soon after the divorce of my parents--they were a meal of which my father would never have approved. Dainty and sweet--how I loved when my mother would allow me to select a moist loaf of the bread, curiously chilled and shrink-wrapped in the dairy section of the Shop Rite. When I was allowed to eat date-nut and cream cheese sandwiches for dinner, sipping Lipton Iced Tea, I suddenly felt transported to a black-and-white or blazing technicolor cinematic world, the kind where actors and actresses snapped witty dialogue at one another and broke into song.
Kiss Me Kate

I've never been very good at beginning fads and fashions. The only craze I can recall beginning was a brief fad for marbles in grade school. I distinctly recall bringing in my mother's old grade school marbles in a bag, along with a new assortment I'd asked for on a whim from the toy store.

The next day, after playing with a few of my friends, other girls bought in marbles. The idea of coveting beautiful, jewel-like things and risking all your wealth with a flick of the thumb appealed to the mindset of middle school girls.

However, since then, I've always been somewhat out-of-step with trends. I wore green nail polish in high school, for example, because I saw Sally Bowles wear it in Cabaret. No one wanted to imitate me then, yet years later the makers of Vamp and Hard Candy polish were able to capitalize upon darker-than-dark or oddly colored shades of varnish.

I wish I was more of a trend magnet. If only I could make people as passionate about rockin' Shakespeare and kick-ass 19th century novels as urban hipsters can make sullen looks and overly expensive and uncomfortable shoes and dry, overpriced cupcakes with odd ingredients au courant.

However, I remain convinced that with this easy date-nut bread recipe, I can help date-nut bread make a comeback.  It's easy, and relatively light on sugar and fat, and high in fiber--I adapted it from this website.  Unless of course you slather it with cream cheese, which will make it even tastier yet up the calorie count a bit.  But you can always dance all of the calories away....

Date-nut bread with Gluten-free, Dairy-free Options

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup almond milk with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar stirred into it OR (dairy) buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pinch cloves (optional)
  • 1 pinch nutmeg (optional)
  • 8 ounces chopped, pitted dates (roughly one cup)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups oat flour (gluten-free) OR whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of walnuts
Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8X4 inch loaf pans with parchment.

2. Bring the milk, zest and spices just to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in dates. Soften for 10-20 minutes (depending on the consistency of the dates).

2. Stir the oil, eggs, and sugar together. Add the milk-date mixture.

3. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together and stir it, by scoopfuls, into the 'wet' batter.

4. Mix together, pour into loaf pans. Sprinkle walnuts liberally on top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted cleanly from the loaf.




Monday, May 23, 2011

'Lazy' gluten-free citrus carrot bread

I think the person who lives with me is calling because she wants give me a bath.
I'm always suspicious when I hear the word 'lazy.' 

As in: "he's such a bright boy, if only he weren't so lazy he could get fantastic grades."

Or: "if only she weren't so lazy, my neighbor could have a lovely flower garden."

Or: "she could be one of our best employees if only she weren't so lazy and didn't read recipes and surf the IKEA catalog online when she should be working ."

Usually what the critic really means when they say 'lazy' is that the individual whom they're criticizing has a different agenda than the teacher/neighbor/boss would like them to have.  Pick up the lazy boy's notebook and you'll find an intricately scrawled, detailed cartoon with haunting, witty pictures. Perhaps the neighbor with the bare yard prefers going running in the morning than weeding her flower beds. Perhaps the non-model employee has a life outside the office and a hobby that she feels more passionate about than her work. These people aren't lazy, they just don't happen to be doing what you want them to be doing at the moment. 'Lazy' sometimes really means 'out of my control' and/or disobedient.

And given that a friend of mine who speaks five Asian languages, has two Ivy League degrees, and is of Scandinavian heritage STILL had trouble deciphering the charmingly incomprehensible instructions that come with the deceptively simple looking furniture at IKEA, I would hesitate to call anyone who shops at that furniture store 'lazy.'

However, in terms of my own prejudices regarding laziness, I admit I feel a bit of a stab of disappointment whenever I see a beautiful picture of a cupcake or bread on Tastespotting or one of the major food websites, click on the recipe, and discover that it's made with a mix, particularly a commercial mix.

Now, I was raised in a Country Time Lemonade/ Duncan Heinz/ Pillsbury Crescent Rolls kind of a home. My mother was far from lazy--she had worked to financially support her family since she was sixteen, and even when married took care of her own home as well as my grandmother's home, including pruning the trees and cleaning the gutters. A combination of growing up in a home of a woman who didn't really cook either (my grandmother had one 'signature dish' and it was Shepherd's Pie), food neurosis, a controlling husband who was disappointed she couldn't cook like his Greek mother, and pure exhaustion caused my mom to resort to very plain cooking--or very from-the-box cooking.

The reason that I turned to cooking is that I wanted to find a healthier path for myself. But I still find it weird that websites that celebrate food have so many pretty pictures of breath-stopping arrangements of food that probably doesn't taste much better than wax-encrusted apples or lemon chiffon pie sprayed with shellack.  Sure, I can make a pretty, crackless cheesecake with ease--using cement.  

On the other hand, some of my greatest blogging inspirations have used mixes. This provokes me to reflect...what is from scratch cooking, anyway?  Does the fact that I use canned pumpkin make me a lesser cook?  Should you be milling your own Rice Krispies for marshmallow treats? Home-crafting your own M&Ms?

I suppose where I draw my personal line is this:

Weird chemicals on the label=bad


Pronouncable ingredients on the label=good

So I didn't feel too bad using organic, natural baby food for this carrot bread. The baby food had only two ingredients--pureed carrots and water, and it was a great, easy way to skip the step of shredding the carrots. Next time I make a carrot cake, I may try substituting some pureed carrots for some of the oil in the recipe.

This recipe uses oat flour, so it's gluten-free, plus it has Vitamin A-packed carrots, Vitamin C-packed citrus fruit, immunity-boosting honey, raisins, and even pecans for a bit of protein. So if you're really creative in your rationalization, you can certainly justify smearing some cream cheese on this and calling it a balanced dinner.



'Lazy' gluten-free citrus carrot bread

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups oat flour (or whole wheat, white whole wheat or all-purpose if you prefer)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 zest of 1/2 tangerine or 1/4 orange
Pinch of allspice and/or nutmeg (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pureed baby food: I used two 4 ounce cans of unsweetened carrot organic baby food
2 large beaten eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup juice from the orange or tangerine OR unsweetened carrot juice
1/2 cup pecans
1/ 2 cup raisins



1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8X4 inch loaf pans with parchment.
2. I mixed everything in one bowl. Mix all of the ingredients in order and after adding the spices sift the flour with a fork before adding the 'wet' stuff and folding in the nuts and raisins. I bought baking raisins with extra moisture, and didn't even bother to plump them. And I bought pre-chopped pecans.

3. Bake for an hour, until the toothpick is extracted clean. Cool for at least an hour (preferably more) before removing from the pans, slicing and serving.

Note: The bread, although incredibly moist, is not particularly sweet, unlike the more oily, sugary, dense crumb of a carrot cake. Still, make sure you don't use sweetened baby food--or worse, baby food with any added 'savory' ingredients like gelatin.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chewthefat makes Post Punk Vegan Scones

As soon as I saw a recipe entitled Bikram Baking: Ginger Chocolate Chunk Scones on the Post Punk Kitchen's website, I immediately put the scones on my 'must bake' list.

When I was in graduate school I went through an intense scone obsession. Despite the fact that I got a degree from 'that school in Cambridge' my nutritional IQ was about zero at the time. Never having seriously worked out or participated in a competitive sports, I pretty much operated on the principle that so long as I wasn't eating too many calories, my eating habits must be fine. Even if I was nauseous from eating a pack of Nutterbutters for dinner, I believed my inability to concentrate was a trick of the mind, a passing fantasy--so long as I clocked in around 1500 calories a day, things like protein, carbohydrates, nutrition, were for people in other majors.

I went through a long period of eating a Starbucks mocha, medium (I refuse to use the pretentious company language for sizes--it is a medium) Frappucino every morning, coupled with a maple oatmeal scone. In case you're wondering how I afforded this breakfast on a grad student salary, kids--this was back in the day when Starbucks were only in cities (not in my NJ suburb) and somewhat reasonably priced.  Besides, since I'd often have Nestle Quick and snackcakes for dinner (or some fat free angel food cake if feeling really virtuous) my food budget was pretty slender. (But not my waistline).

Despite the fact I was effectively being paid to study, graduate school was not the happiest time of my life. I've only taken kickboxing classes at pretty girly gyms but if emotionally beating myself up were a spectator sport, I would be Mohammed Ali. The inviting crust of the glaze of the scone and the freezer burn of the icy drink blotted out any haunting sense of inadequacy, at least for a moment.

There are two kinds of comfort foods--the good kinds, associated with nostalgia and happy memories, like roses on birthday cakes--and the bad kinds that you eat out of nervousness, stress, loneliness, and boredom. My maple scone addiction was pretty much the culinary equivalent of a dog licking its paws to sedate itself whilst his owner is away.  I would get my breakfast, sneak it into the library, and read rare books on Christina Rossetti with sugar-encrusted fingers.  Amazingly, given my lack of coordination that no amount of yoga has healed, I never spilled my countless Frappucinos on any priceless manuscripts.

My cavalier attitude towards books didn't seem like a big deal at the time, since I also knew a guy who used to take rare Zoroastrian manuscripts into seedy gay bars to read. I've never tried this pick-up technique myself, but it seemed to work for him! (See, you get all sorts of tips reading Chewthefat)!


I'm not a vegan, but was intrigued by the idea of a vegan version for what is usually a delightfully dairy-infused creation.  I did change the flavoring (hence my inclusion of the recipe). But the main problem, also experienced by another baker who made them, was that the liquid-to-dry ratio seems very high. If you give these a go (and be forewarned, they look and taste more like drop cookies than scones) I would add the milk slowly, 1/4 a cup by 1/4 a cup rather than all at once.  The batter was very runny, and the scones seemed excessively large and 'spread out.'  Oh, and I had to glaze it--for nostalgia's sake.

I hate to give a negative recipe review and I would assume that it was 'me' that had such a problem, but since a vegan blogger had the same issue with the 'runny' batter I'd suggest making these for the taste, but be forewarned they are very fragile, tend to crumble, and aren't good to bring with you to share with friends to a brunch. And for me, comfort food is really about sharing, not eating in solitude.


So I'm afraid that the Post Punk vegan scones were a bit disappointing, much like the author of this blog has been to her parents.  For true happiness, much like the doctors in the 19th century novels I studied and still love, I advise sunshine, fresh air, horseback riding, and marrying an incredibly rich and handsome man.  And servants to clean your home.  Lots of servants.


Vegan, Post-Punk Ginger Lemon Raisin Scones

Ingredients:

3 cups flour (the original recipe doesn't specify, but I used oat flour).
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (the original recipe specifies dry, ground ginger)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch allspice (I left this out)
1/2 cup brown sugar (original recipe specifies turbinado)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 1/4 cups non-dairy milk ( I used almond milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup of raisins

Glaze
2/3 cup powdered sugar
Juice of one lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Spread parchment paper on two  baking sheets.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, spices).
3. Mix the wet ingredients together (I would suggest instead mixing the oil and extract into the dry ingredients and adding the milk 1/4 a cup at a time until the batter is thick, but not runny. Adding 1 1/4 cups milk created a runny batter).
4. Fold in the raisins. Spoon batter onto parchment using a 1/4 cup scoop.
5. Bake for 15 minutes.
6. Whisk together the sugar and lemon. Lightly drizzle glaze on the scones.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vegan, gluten-free pumpkin bread for everyone



My job as a camp counselor for an academic camp was not the worst job I ever had.


However, it was surely my lowest-paid labor, on a per-hour basis. 

I know if you're a middle management type with an MBA you believe that only inspiring mission statements really motivate drone-level workers to perform at a high level, not extra pay.  But I beg to differ.

As the camp was 'academic' rather than sports-oriented, as well as taking care of a tribe of eleven 12-to-13-year-old hormone-addled girls, I also had to teach creative writing classes to groups of about 20 campers at a time. I was nineteen. My schedule at Camp Smartypants was something like this:

6:30am: Get up.  Review morning lesson plans.  Make myself look presentable.
7:00am: Rouse charges. Realize the sad wisdom that teenager's brains are oriented on a later time frame than adult's brains.
7:30am: Pry hairdryer from the last teenage girl's white-knuckled hands.
8:00am: Supervise breakfast. Make sure quasi-anorexic teenage female charges eat said breakfast. Watch the rest put a mixture of grape juice and orange juice in their Lucky Charms or pour mountains of powdered sugar on cartoon-shaped pancakes.
8:30am-9:30am: Office duties. Make coffee for camp directors (they always complained that it was too strong when I served it). Sort mail (pre-Internet, there were lots of pink envelopes encrusted with stickers for various campers).
9:30am-10:30am: Supervise study hall. Listen to daily recitation from angelic-looking mildly autistic boy who tells me that he can read an entire Lord of the Rings book in an hour, and does so every study hall. (Not that my social skills were any better when I was his age, incidentally). Prep for the class I was teaching.
10:30am-11:30am: Teach writing class. Try to explain to students that not everything they write is genius and revising is a Good Thing.
11:30am-12:30pm: Lunch.
12:30pm-1:30pm: Teaching second class.
1:30pm-2:30pm: Free period, usually spent getting supplies with my own money for camper's birthday celebrations, organizing materials for my classes, or doing laundry.  Occasionally running on my pale, pasty legs around the river.
2:30pm-3:30pm: Campers' supervised free period. Of course, I got to supervise the snack bar, which meant I was basically selling the sugary fuel that would make my life a living hell for the next hour.
3:30pm-4:30pm: Second supervised study hall.
4:30pm-5:30pm: Make sure my charges were ready for dinner.
5:30pm-6:30pm: Dinner.
6:30pm-7:00pm: Get ready for evening activity.
7:00pm-8:30pm: Evening activity and 'decompression' (for kids).
8:30pm-9:30pm: Get ready for bed.
10:00pm-1:00am: Sit in the hall making sure kids don't bust out and have sex with campers of the opposite gender in the nearby dorms.

This was the schedule 7 days a week. Every 10 days I would get a day off. Because I am not a 'team player' I immediately left the campus on those days.  However, counselors who were 'team players' would stick around just in case they were needed.

Although I have a half-sister, I was raised as an only child. I selected my college specifically because I could have a single room. (I shared my personal room with another counselor, but at least I had the bottom bunk).

After about 2 weeks of this schedule, I looked like Christopher Walken at the end of The Deer Hunter.  I actually saw an interview with Walken who said he used his camp memories as the 'dark place' within himself when shooting the Russian Roulette scenes. Ah, Christopher--you are a kindred spirit.



The one 'comfort place' in such situations where you don't have a moment to yourself, and you know that one of the other counselors--a former counselor at Camp Smartypants--lost his virginity there at age 12 and you will be strung up if this happens if one of your girls sneak out and do the same--is food.  

However, camp food, despite the high cost of tuition and the low rate of pay ($1,200 before taxes for every three-week session back in the go-go 1990s) was beyond abysmal. Microwaved pancakes, vats of sugary commercial cereal for breakfast, square tater tots and hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch, and mystery chicken for dinner with iceberg lettuce was the daily fare.  One healthy and athletic girl said: "I can't LIVE like this, I will be 300 pounds on this crappy food." I hate to use gender stereotypes, but the male teenage counselors merely complained that the portions were too small.

After a week living off of Special K, white hot dog buns spread with mustard and tomato slices, and undressed iceberg-laden salad--and store-bought, pre-warmed cookies (of course)...I was a desperate woman.  

I should note that Camp Smartypants was held at a university, and another camp was held on the same premises--a ballet camp. Waif-like reeds wafted through the trees, along with Camp Smartypants' sturdier campers lugging backpacks filled with textbooks and angst.

The section for the ballet camp in the cafeteria was roped off, and one day, I blundered in.

For breakfast, there were individual berry salads, topped with a dusting of granola, chilled Light n' Lively yogurts in unusual flavors (like Pina Colada) and enormous bran muffins stuffed with raisins. Of course, being dancers, all of the girls were simply drinking tea and sharing an orange amongst themselves--one per table.

I love bran muffins!  And trust me, after living off of white bread, they were necessary!

Lunch was mozzarella and basil salad, in a delicate, ballerina-sized portion, coupled with a light whipped chocolate mousse and raspberries. I've always believed that if you act like you belong somewhere, no one will notice you, so I confidently selected my chef's salad with chopped eggs and rosemary-toasted croutons with flaked tuna salad for dinner.

My hair was long then, so just to be safe I'd tie my hair into a bun before heading into the cafeteria when I took more food--day after day.

Eventually, Camp Smartypants' director, huddled and miserable over his cheese whiz burgers and 'tots' noticed the Bad Example I was setting.

So you know my terrible secret, dear readers, I once stole food from the tribe of the Black Swan and didn't feel particularly guilty about it.  I am the blackest swan of all.

But just to show that I am generous of spirit, here is a gluten-free vegan pumpkin bread that is so delicious my yoga studio decimated it when I brought it in to share with everyone. It's adapted from Joy the Baker's version, but I substituted orange zest for some of her spices.  I realize that pumpkin is not seasonal, so forgive me that, at least, dear readers.

Vegan, gluten-free pumpkin bread

Makes 2 loaves 

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups oat flour
2 1/3 cups light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest1 15-ounce can of pumpkin (the contents of a small can)
1 cup canola or other neutral oil
1/3 cup honey (for less stringent vegans) OR golden syrup (vegan) OR (maple syrup)
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
 3/4 cup dried cranberries

Ingredients

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8x4 pans with parchment paper.

2. If necessary, briefly plump the cranberries by soaking them for about a minute or so in warm water. Don't put them in boiling water, as they are more fragile than raisins. Drain immediately.



3. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinnamon together.

4. Mix together the rest of the wet ingredients (pumpkin, oil, honey or syrup, water).  I used organic pumpkin because I couldn't find the regular (cheaper) version, to be perfectly honest, but because I did, this bread is even more PPC (pumpkin politically correct)!
5. Fold in the nuts and the cranberries, lightly flouring them if desired to minimize sinkage. However, I did not and the bread was still 'spackled' nicely.

6. Pour mixture into the two loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour to1 hour and 15 minutes. My loaves took about an hour before a toothpick could be extracted 'clean.'
Despite my unequal batter distribution, both loaves browned nicely

7. I had to cool the bread for at least an hour before removing from the pan and slicing--it seemed to 'retain' its heat for a long period of time.

8. Slice, serve, and immediately share with others to prevent yourself from eating too much of this incredibly delicious bread!



Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peanut Butter Egg (Salad)




In middle school, I had a mild obsession with Woody Allen films, spawned by my love of Annie Hall. The obsession quickly died after Allen decided to stop making funny, zany films and instead switched to producing tortured vehicles about men in love with much younger women.  But I do recall seeing this film: What's Up Tiger Lily?

Allen doesn't appear in the film at all.  None of his usual 'cast of characters' does (no Diane or Mia). The film is a re-dubbed version of a Japanese spy film International Secret Police: Key of Keys. The original flick was supposedly so awful Allen was given license to rewrite the entire film. Even Allen's redubbed version isn't that inspired, although its premise is--the plot revolves around a quest for the world's best egg salad recipe.


After seeing the film I had an odd craving for egg salad--odd, I say, because as a child I seldom ate real food willingly.  But I scarfed down an egg salad sandwich (my mother's standard mayo, mustard, celery variety) on light rye quite willingly--proof in the power of suggestion. 
Lakenvelder
I'm always in search of a good egg salad recipe. However, when I stumbled upon this recipe for peanut butter egg salad I was a bit taken aback. 


Even as a child, I was always fascinated by unusual applications for peanut butter. One of my favorite characters in a children's book called The Cybil War was a feisty, red-headed girl who used to practice the piano with a jar of peanut butter and a carrot beside of her--every so often, she'd pause, dip the carrot in the jar, and then go on playing.


The original recipe I saw called for a single teaspoon of peanut butter, stirred into 8 eggs and 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise.  On first glance, this seemed like a rather pointlessly petite addition to a massive amount of eggs.


I decided to give the combination a try, to 'take one for the team'--that is, for Team Food Bloggers United. I admit that compared to some bloggers, I am not as adventurous an eater as I could be--this is not the blog to read if you're looking for someone to eat chocolate-covered crickets or Japanese pufferfish.  However, peanut butter and egg salad seemed to be a reasonable combination to try.  However, to truly get the 'full peanut butter experience' I decided to amp up the intensity. This is my redubbed version of the original.





Peanut Butter Egg Salad


Ingredients

Sometimes eggs, like food bloggers, are reluctant to come out of their shell--but are still tasty!
2 chilled hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise or Nayonaise 
1/2 tablespoon chunky, natural peanut butter
Black or red pepper flakes to taste



Directions


Mash the eggs, mayonnaise, and peanut butter together in a bowl.  Season to taste.
Only one ingredient--peanuts!  Great stuff!




Verdict: Not bad.  I think some coarsely chopped seasoned peanuts, more hot pepper, and some shredded cabbage could turn this into a Thai-inspired dish. The taste as written is very 'kid friendly' and milder than egg salad made with Dijon.



It's not quite worth international espionage to obtain the recipe. But from now on I do think that ALL bad movies should be dubbed so that their plots revolve around the acquisition of the perfect egg salad recipe.  Even if they were originally written in English.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sexy Banana Bread

I recently head an interview with David Kessler, the author of The End of Overeating, who stated that one of the reasons that people overeat is that highly palatable foods (think sizzling steak, greasy pizza, or vanilla-infused, cooling brownies) are so stimulating to our senses, so salient in our environments that it's hard to think of anything else until we satisfy that craving and take a bite--and another bite.

Kessler didn't talk about sex, but I'm sure everyone has been in a situation where sex has been the sizzling steak, the cheesecake, the elephant in the room that no one can ignore.

After I graduated from college, I took a dramatic writing class in New York City. At the time, I had aspirations of acting and writing for the stage. Like most twenty-somethings, I was insecure and my identity was as vulnerable as a wet, jiggly bowl of vanilla pudding.

I had some success writing short plays in my teens, but other than that, I was relatively new to the format. The class consisted of a fairly typical roster of New York City writing workshop 'types.' The teacher was a successful off-Broadway playwright, a very angry, large man who resembled a beanbag with long hair. He perpetually sported a backwards baseball cap and a sour, sarcastic grimace. The students were a hodgepodge: office drones in suits dreaming of quitting their jobs and making it big; an actor-waiter with arms encrusted in tattoos like an ancient map; a truly saintly woman who was a counselor getting her MA in psychology and ran a support program for young girls who cut themselves; and a dominatrix.

The dominatrix was about 5'5, tan, with chin-length curly black hair and a slightly pointy nose. With her tan, athletic body she looked like the girls who played field hockey and softball at a competitive level in my high school. She didn't wear her 'work clothes' to class, but favored midriff-bearing shirts paired with khakis or jeans. She did have a belly button ring, but it was the 1990s, and hell, even though I didn't HAVE piercings, I had GIVEN people piercings in the past (but that story is for another post).

She looked so healthy, despite spending most of her days in a dark room.  She'd flounce in, playing with her shirt and belly ring, stand in front of the class and talk about the conflict she had with one of her clients, who wanted to leave his wife and run away with her. And the famous client who had asked her to be in one of his (legitimate, Hollywood) movies.

Discussing writing in class was pointless. "I have a revised version of my second scene," I'd say, hopefully, reaching into my green backpack that was covered with buttons that said things like: 'Save Mother Earth' and 'Straight But Not Narrow."

"My ass hurts so bad today," said the clean-cut dominatrix, not even bothering to pick up the carefully stapled copy I placed before her tan, perfectly manicured hands.

Of course, exhibitionists and New York go together like bagels and cream cheese. What annoyed me was that the teacher, evidently bored by our literary efforts, egged her on, apparently finding her drama far more interesting than any of our little emerging dramas on the page.

The dominatrix's draft scenes tended to be long, pointless dialogues between clients in--you guessed it--an S&M parlor. Sad to say, the rather mild-mannered counselor wrote quite a beautiful play that we barely talked about, given the focus of the class.

But I can't blame the teacher entirely, I suppose. After all, there he was, a tubby but not very attractive man who had seen lovely leading ladies throw themselves at agents and directors all of his life.  Here was a woman, desperate to put on a show 24-7, right in his face, wearing a sports bra, a belly ring, hip-hugging pants, and Birkenstocks with Vamp-colored toe polish. It was a minor New York City off-Broadway writer's dream come true. 

The play I wrote for that class was so unmemorable even I can't recall it, but I do remember the envy I felt for someone who could shine their fake personality like a neon sign so brilliantly, it eclipsed everyone else nearby.

I am occasionally capable of Random Acts of Hotness--like, in the summer I will be wearing a tank top and shorts and see myself in the mirrored glass of a door and think, "wow, I look good."  But it's always purely accidental, and I seem incapable of creating the effect by an act of will, unlike the dominatrix. And my Random Acts of Hotness happen at best once a month.

Banana bread, however, is a different story.  I think it's difficult to make a bad banana bread. And this is one of those over-the-top, show-stopping banana breads that you make to give as a gift or bring to a fancy brunch when you don't have time to make something more elaborate. I made it for someone who doesn't like chocolate very much, but if you tossed in some chocolate, peanut butter, or cinnamon chips it would be like the 'helicopter scene from Miss Saigon' of banana breads.

Because for me, peanut butter, like sex, is one of those things that...when it's in the room, I can't think of anything else...





Oops!  I mean:


Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1 cup of sugar
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (a 'natural' kind is fine--as always, I prefer brands with only 'peanuts' listed as an ingredient)
2 beaten eggs
3 overripe, mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups oat, white whole wheat, or whole wheat flours
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line a 9X5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar. Incorporate the peanut butter, eggs, bananas, and vanilla into the mixture.
3. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly blend the dry into the wet ingredients.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately an hour, until a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.'  When the bread is done, the top will have a golden color.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vegan Banana Bread

I'm old enough to have taken the paper-based version of the GRE. The computerized version has fortunately eliminated the logic game section, but the LSAT still has them.  Here is a sample, cribbed from this prep website:

"Hans is considering purchasing each of six items arranged from left to right on a shelf at the travelers’ warehouse—a razor, a stereo, a television, a UV lamp, a video camera, and a watch. Each of these items is powered either by batteries or by an adapter, but not by both. The following conditions apply:
 
1. The UV lamp is either the leftmost or the rightmost item on the shelf.
2. No item powered by batteries is adjacent to any other item powered by batteries.
3. The watch is powered by batteries.
4. The fourth item on the shelf is not powered by an adapter.
5. The razor, which is powered by batteries, is to the left of the watch, and to the right of the video camera and the stereo. 


Which one of the following could be the order, from first to sixth, in which the items are arranged on the shelf?
 
(A) video camera, stereo, watch, razor, television, UV lamp
(B) UV lamp, video camera, stereo, razor, television, watch
(C) video camera, UV lamp, stereo, television, razor, watch
(D) UV lamp, video camera, razor, stereo, television, watch
(E) UV lamp, stereo, video camera, razor, watch, television"


 I never did particularly well as these games, because my brain always went astray.  Why is Hans making an either/or choice between a razor and a stereo?  Surely shaving is more important than a new sound system?  What kind of a hippy are you Hans?  And a U/V lamp?  Dude, Hans you don't have a razor and you're thinking of buying a U/V lamp instead?  Or a video camera?  Grow up, Hans!

However, glad as I am to see the logic games disappear from the GRE (and honestly, if you're studying deconstructionism, linear logic is definitely NOT something that will be useful for you in grad school--trust me) I think that all culinary students should have to take a logic game test.  Why?  Consider what even the average mother might be faced with, when having a birthday party for a child:

A: is a lacto-ovo vegetarian
B: is allergic to peanuts
C: is on an all raw, vegan diet
D: can't have any refined sugar, because it makes him hyperactive
E: violently allergic to red food dyes and hates pizza
F: will ONLY eat peanut butter and jelly on white bread
G: nothing can touch on the plate, including cheese 'touching' the crust of the pizza


  What to serve?

Even as someone who could be classified as a pain-in-the ass guest myself (no flesh or coconut, please) has to be sympathetic to a mother who wants to throw up her hands in despair, and longs for the early 80s parties of my youth, where the options of even the most dedicated hostess such as my mother were as follows:


You may select:


1. A hamburger
2. A cheeseburger
3. A hot dog
4. To go hungry


THE END


I do recall one girl who once bought a pack of saltines and a jar of (smooth) peanut butter to an arcade party (yes, I am that old) because she didn't eat pizza, but that was as esoteric as the choices were...


But because I am not one of those purely omnivorous people myself, I am very sympathetic to people with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets. So, the next time you need to bring something to a brunch, I suggest this bread.  The recipe originates at the Post-Punk Kitchen, was modified by Cookie Madness (thanks, Anna!) and this is my version. It is vegan and soy-free...and peanut-free, since I topped it with a cinnamon crumble.  I also used oat flour, so people who are trying to avoid wheat can enjoy it, and oat flour is sturdy enough--and the recipe is forgiving enough--that it doesn't need any additional binders or stabilizers.

It will offend the Atkins types, I suppose, or people who don't eat sugar.



For those of you who are 'like that'  and because it is Mother's Day, and my mother's favorite food was steak, this is for you:

shanyabright
Sorry I turned out to be such a disappointment as a meat-eater, mom!



Vegan Banana Bread





Ingredients

Bread

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups oat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup light brown sugar
3 overripe bananas--mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

 Topping
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9X5 or 8X4 loaf pan with parchment.
2. Mix the almond milk and vinegar to create vegan 'buttermilk'
3. Sift the oat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
4. Mix the oil, sugar,and mashed bananas together.  Stir in the milk.  Don't be alarmed if the mixture smells like a salad. Incorporate the flour mixture.  Once the ingredients are well-blended, pour one half of the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Sift together the topping mixture. Swirl half the cinnamon and sugar through the batter in a pan with a knife. Add the rest of the batter, then top with the remaining cinnamon and sugar.
5. Bake for 1 hour.  Toothpick should be able to be extracted 'clean.'

Even non-vegans love this bread!
 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Apple for the teacher...

 
Note the difference:

Oh no!  You shouldn't have!

versus

Oh. no.  You shouldn't have.

Every amateur baker is familiar with the Awkward Baking Moment, when he or she offers a loaf or a tray of muffins or cookies to a friend or acquaintance.


Instead of eager delight or bemused thankfulness the amateur baker is occasionally greeted with one of two reactions:

Reaction 1: (Typically female).  Oh. no.  You shouldn't have.

Translation: I am on a diet.  Are you trying to spackle calories onto my thighs, only weeks before swimsuit season?

Reaction 2: (Typically male). Are those raisins?

Translation: Your baked good appears to have oatmeal and some sort of dried fruit in it, and is made of whole wheat or oat flour or some other weird, hippy grain. I have been instantly transported back to third grade, when my mother used to force-feed me oatmeal or Cheerios for breakfast.  Fuck you, Quaker Oats dude, and fuck you baking chick with your so-called healthy cookies. Why didn't you consult my preferences before I baked? I want some fucking chocolate!

I always feel a bit perplexed by these reactions, because one of the advantages of being a baker, as opposed to purely a cook, is that you can give food to people that they don't have to--indeed, aren't 'supposed' to--eat right away.

Awkward Meat Moments are far worse. I still recall when I went to a colleague's house in England who didn't know I was a vegetarian. She asked me to dinner after we'd finished working.  Terrified that I would faint from a lack of protein when she learned I didn't eat flesh, she served me what I can only describe as a brick of yellow cheese, wrapped in some very, very buttery eggs that tasted like pure yolk. Served with corn, it was one of the most yellow meals I have ever tried to hide in my napkin.  "But I made it--JUST FOR YOU!" she cried when I tried to explain I'd had a large lunch.

After eating as little as possible, I consumed a Crunchie bar on the way home.  Thank goodness the UK has the good sense to have candy bar vending machines in most of its public transportation hubs! You never know when you may have a Crunchie emergency!

However, if someone offers me a dessert I'm not very fond of, I always feel happy, because I know they were thinking of me--even if the baked good is not one of my favorites.

When I was a pepperoni-consuming child, I always had a strong aversion to spray whipped cream, Jell-O, and coconut (clearly, I died of food poisoning at a Midwestern church potluck in my previous life). However, if someone makes me something with coconut, intellectually I understand that the rest of the 'normal' world doesn't consider this an act of hostility, and I gratefully accept the gift, and am grateful to pass it on with affection to the coconut lovers in my life (you strange, strange people).

I have to say, though, that the most generous gift recipients I know are teachers.  Unlike investment bankers who get cranky if their bonuses aren't in the six figures, teachers always seem happy when their students color them pictures or bring them bagels and doughnuts.

This is the final day of Teacher Appreciation Week.  I'd strongly suggest that you make this bread for one of your teachers. If you're a teacher and you aren't feeling appreciated, I'd suggest you kick back this Friday, crank out some A/V materials to show your kids, and order a pizza for yourself in the middle of class, a la Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  And eat it all yourself.

Cinnamon-Apple Raisin Bread (Gluten-free, dairy free)

Ingredients

The bread

1 1/2 cups oat flour (or whole wheat, white whole wheat or all-purpose)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice OR cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce (not chunky, homemade or store-bought)
1 overripe, mashed banana
2 large beaten eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup 'plumped' golden rasins
1/2 cup 'plumped' black raisins

The topping

 3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line a 9X5 loaf pan with parchment, leaving some of the paper overlapping to make removing the bread easier. Reserve the 'topping' ingredients for later.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt

3. Blend the applesauce, bananas, eggs, oil, honey, and water in another bowl.
4. Slowly fold in the dry ingredients, mix, and then add the plumped raisins. Lightly dust the raisins with flowers to avoid 'sinkage.'

5. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Sift the cinnamon and sugar for the topping.  Pour half of the topping mixture onto the batter.


 6. Pour the other half of the batter into the pan, top with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture.

7. Bake for approximately one hour, until a toothpick can be withdrawn 'clean.'  Cool for an hour.  Better served the next day, after being 'chilled' in the refrigerator, as this allows the flavors to settle.