Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baby I Was Born This Way Blueberry Lemon Loaf

Baby I Was Born This Way Blueberry Lemon Loaf

"I'm as corny as Kansas in August,
I'm as normal as blueberry pie.
No more a smart little girl with no heart,
I have found me a wonderful guy!"

When I was in preschool, I used to listen to the entire soundtrack of the Broadway version of South Pacific on an LP as I jumped up and down on my mini-trampoline. The floorboards must have been strong, since I don't remember the record skipping and I wore what was politely called 'pretty plus' sizes at the time.


I liked the film version of South Pacific, too, but even then I preferred the stage to the screen.

According to my mother, the only way to make me sleep as a baby was to play Broadway.   South Pacific was my favorite as an infant. Perhaps it was one of mom's favorites, too, since it's all about a blonde girl from a small town who finds love in the arms of an exotic man, after they learn to tolerate their differences. Ironically, the love between an Irish-Italian-German Jewish girl and a Greek-American man proved to be far more difficult to navigate in 1980s New Jersey.  A failure to make mountainous piles of pastitio, speaking English, and having two eyebrows made the obstacles of two biracial children from a hidden marriage in the 1940s seem pretty tame.

I used to sing "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy" in the summer and then ask to eat blueberry pie as a snack (usually Entenmann's, sometimes Delicious Orchards if I was lucky).

"Some Enchanted Evening" didn't do it for me, though--not then and not now. I liked Rex Harrison's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" from My Fair Lady much better. 

Needless to say, I adored pretty much every tune from The Sound of Music and Annie. (The latter was an early introduction to Tim "Dr. Frank N. Furter" Curry).

My mother's favorite musical film was The Wizard of Oz.  She liked to tell me the story of seeing it in the theater for the first time--how disappointed she was when it began in black-and-white, and how magical it seemed when the technicolor spilled forth from the door, opening up into Oz.

My mother loved musicals because of the escapism they offered her--into fantasy, elegance, and easily solvable problems--as did I. I suppose they taught me some bad lessons about life.  Even the most horrible threats of the 20th century could be solved by singing and dancing across the green hills of The Sound of Music.

I wanted to be just like Judy Garland--she was one of the few brunette heroines in a sea of blonde Disney princesses--but I hated the end of the film. I read my way through all of the Oz books and reminded everyone who would listen that in the BOOKS Oz is a REAL PLACE and Dorothy goes to live there as a PRINCESS FOREVER. (And yes, even at that tender age I liked to explain how Julie Andrews could really sing and Audrey Hepburn was DUBBED in the movie version of My Fair Lady).

As you can see, given my natural pedantic tendencies, baby, I was born to get a useless degree in the humanities in college!

I'm sure that some overpaid Freudian analyst would have had some interesting things to say about my upbringing if I'd been born a gay man in 1950s America, versus a heterosexual woman in the late 20th century.  Fortunately, in today's more enlightened times we can all listen to South Pacific and eat blueberry pie without thinking too much about it.  Or listen to Lady Gaga and eat this yellow brick of a lemon blueberry loaf.

Lemon Blueberry Loaf

Ingredients

Bread
 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large beaten eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup of milk
1 pint of blueberries

Filling (optional)
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened to slightly above room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg yolk

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with parchment.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, zest, and milk.  Fold in the dry ingredients, one scoop at a time.

4. Lightly flour the blueberries. Fold them into the batter.

5. If you're making the filling, cream together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and egg yolk.

6. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the pan.  Dollop the filling onto the batter, then pour the rest of the batter on top of the mixture.

7. Bake for approximately an hour until a toothpick is extracted clean. Cool for at least an hour, and refrigerate to 'set.'

Adapted from Sweet Luvin' In the Kitchen

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nostalgia-free Marbled Chocolate Vegan Banana Bread

When I was in grade school, I had a secret that I guarded with a kind of embarrassed, almost pornographic intensity--I loved old-fashioned children's books. Not just the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series, which would have been marginally acceptable, given that there was a television program based upon them.  But I'm convinced that the popularity of the series had less to do with the bonnets, and more to do with the nice girl v. bitch goddess relationship of Laura with Nellie Olsen (a minor character in the books greatly and wisely expanded upon by the TV writers).

Most of the old-fashioned books I loved weren't particularly famous--I remember several novels set in rural Vermont about a boy named Toby who had a dappled grey pony named Windy Foot. The two of them went on all sorts of 'adventures,' like winning a horse race at the county fair, winning a doll for Toby's little sister, tapping maple syrup, and popping corn to string on the family Christmas tree. I loved a British detective series called The Secret Seven, about crime-solving children who were always celebrating Guy Fawkes Day and eating cream cakes for tea. I liked adolescent novels from the 1950s and 60s where the girls wore pencil skirts, had cuter twin sisters, and worried about the fact that their science grades might interfere with their ability to wear the Varsity sweater of their favorite crush of the moment.

I don't know why I liked reading such odd books, along with the slightly more adult literature I favored like Jane Eyre and more typical children's trash literature like Encyclopedia Brown.  With the exceptions of the Lucy Maud Montgomery books and A Little Princess, they were out-of-print, even in the 1980s when I was growing up. Sometimes I'd be so ashamed to take the books out of the school library, which would mean writing my name in pencil and getting 'stamped' as the book's only borrower, I'd steal them and return them to the shelves.

My most intense nostalgia was as a child--also manifested in my love of dollhouses and crafts--was for a life that even then I knew I'd never lived. I was forever trying to replicate the meals I read about in books set in the distant and recent past, and occasionally my mother would be surprised by a request for something I'd never wanted  so intensely before--like a peanut butter and banana sandwich and a tall glass of milk, meat loaf, or pizza with everything on it.  Simply because my favorite character had consumed it. (For the record I never asked her to help me recreate the infamous 'drunk' scene from Anne of Green Gables). I really believed that one bite, one new dress could change my life.

I've always had a pretty good memory (although as I age, perhaps I shouldn't make that statement with great confidence) and so, regarding my own past I remember all too clearly the bad.  But still (perhaps also a result of my 20s being farther away than I would care to admit) I look back with some fondness upon aspects of my childhood, even those tainted by commercialism.

I remember walking around the now-defunct Seview Square Mall and Child World with my mother, gazing at various toys, craft sets, and stuffed animals with desire, loving shopping in a way that I never have as an adult--in the complex fantasy narratives I constructed with my stuffed animals and dolls, I was absolutely convinced that it was essential that I have a new My Friend Jenny, a My Little Pony, a stuffed kangaroo for my world to be complete. Did I really spend hours flipping through 45s at Sam Goody in the mall? Or pawing through art stores for the required paper, paint, and sparkly glues to make useless objects of my own?

I probably wouldn't let my own child create a fort of sugary cereal boxes at breakfast and eat Frosted Lucky Charms (as much of a health nut as my mother was, she really believed in the fact that it was Fortified With Essential Minerals) or scarf French fries from a bag of fast food even before we arrived home.  But I love those memories, and can look back with nostalgia without trying to replicate them. Especially all of the Nathan's hot dogs slathered with relish and mustard we ate, shortly after my parent's divorce, in the circular mall food court overlooking a balcony that allowed you to stare at the other shoppers, making their way through the stores below.

I know it's supposed to be terrible not to have a home-cooked meal every night. But after cooking for her own demanding, controlling mother and my father, and dealing with my own anger, eating a hot dog or pizza meant peace for my mother, a little bit of a fantasy life before returning to her worries about bills, her job, my mother's asthma. Nostalgia for a life she never had.

Another favorite food of my childhood was Entenmann's banana chocolate cake.  Because it had no frosting, I was always allowed to have an extra-large piece. I make banana bread so easily, and so frequently, I would never buy it today.  But I return to the flavor combination again and again.

 I'm not a vegan but I do occasionally bake for vegan friends. It's good to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, even regards to your diet, so long as you know that the past was never quite as pure as you would like to remember it.

This bread is a spin-off of my earlier vegan banana bread.


Marbled Chocolate Vegan Banana Bread

Ingredients

1/4 cup almond milk plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 mashed overripe bananas
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 2 tablespoons of sugar (I used dark brown)

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line a 9X5 pan with parchment paper.
2. Allow the almond milk spiked with vinegar to 'curdle,' making vegan buttermilk.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
4. Mix together the oil, sugar, bananas, and vanilla.  Add the milk-vinegar mixture.  Fold in the dry, sifted ingredients.
5. In another bowl, sift together the cocoa and sugar.
6. Spoon 1/ 2 of the batter into the pan. Mix the sifted cocoa and sugar into the remaining batter. Spoon the chocolate batter on top of the 'regular' banana batter and swirl it with a knife.
7. Bake for one hour, until a toothpick can be extracted clean. Cool for at least an hour before extracting from the pan and slicing.









Sunday, June 12, 2011

From Banana to Omega: Peanut-Butter Stuffed Banana Bread


“Your cat has swallowed an omega.”

A few weeks ago, a woman from my yoga studio noticed that her cat Sukhi was experiencing some signs of distress. When it became clear that this was not due to a hairball, she rushed the cat to the nearest emergency room.  After probing the cat and determining that it wasn’t poisoned, the vet performed an internal examination. Lodged within the feline on the X-ray was a perfect representation of the Greek letter omega.

Omega, as well as being the last letter of the Greek alphabet, is also the symbol of Lululemon, the upscale yoga clothing and accessory store. Lululemon had recently had a sale on yoga mat bags, and the dangling omega-shaped zipper proved to be far too tempting for Sukhi to resist. From alpha to omega to a $4,000 vet bill for surgery to removed the lodged Greek letter.
 
I once read that long ago, rabbis used to teach children the Hebrew alphabet by writing the letters in honey on a plate for the children to eat.  Sukhi’s desire to eat the Word, bypassing alpha to go straight to omega, alas, proved to be less sweet. 

I sympathize with Sukhi. It is a very human impulse to seek Enlightenment with an easy fix—a pill, a self-help book, a single practice (therapy, running, a low-carb diet), or a guru.  Like Sukhi I have thrown myself into different pursuits in a single-minded fashion, rushing the result—telling myself because I wasn’t good at math, I had to publish a book by age 23, telling myself that because I wasn’t athletic or pretty, I had to be smart. Focusing on a goal and being the best and refusing to try things from A to Z, from alpha to omega, was my mindset.  It didn't matter that I might enjoy some activities at which I might be mediocre.  I was determined not to be humiliated and to prove everyone who had ever mocked me in grammar school to be wrong.

The path to Enlightenment is treacherous one—the children’s game Chutes and Ladders is actually a version of the ancient Indian game of karma ‘Snakes and Ladders’. The game is a metaphor for the human condition: it is very easy to fall back on the path to Truth and hard to rise. Pursuing a goal with steely determination by trying to edge myself up a long slide, rather than taking the longer and more comfortable path of going up some ladders is my usual sway of blundering through life.


But I was told by my friends who consumed the bread that this is as close to inner serenity as you can achieve in a few, swift, Enlightening bites…and even after sliding your credit card through to pay a $4,000 vet bill you will feel better about the world.

Peanut Butter-Stuffed Banana Bread

Adapted from Baking Bites
Banana Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large, overripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large beaten eggs


Filling
4 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature (1/2 of a standard package)
1/2 cup peanut butter (Baking Bites suggests using crunchy but I used a smooth, natural version)
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
Yes, I use store-brand cream cheese, not Philly. 

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment.
  2. Cream together the cream cheese, peanut butter, egg yolk and sugar to make the filling. Set aside.
  3. Sift the flours, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon
  4. Mix the bananas, oil, and eggs.  Incorporate the wet into the dry. 
  5. Pour half the banana bread batter into the pan.  Spread the cream cheese and peanut butter filling on top of the batter, and then pour the rest of the batter on top of the filling.
  6. Bake for approximately 1 hour, until a toothpick can be extracted without any crumbs.
  7. Cool for an hour.  To set the filling, I would suggest chilling the cooled loaf overnight.





Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A foodie's take on the political scandal du jour




This may be one of the creepiest photographs I've seen of a politician.  It's made even creepier by the fact that this is a politician with whom I've agreed many times in the past. And the fact that the arrow pointing to 'Me' is actually pointing to a photo of an adorable little white dog in the back of the Anthony Weiner's office.

But all things, even the most random and innocent objects look somehow obscene and creepy when you put a small sign that says 'Me' next to them.




You see what I mean?

And...

Agh!  I think I need a shower now...

Friday, June 3, 2011

A field guide to urban (or suburban) hipster dining etiquette

If you're reading this blog, it's unlikely that you're a hipster.   However, if you live within the radius of a major metropolitan area, you will occasionally spot hipsters when dining out, particularly if you are a vegan or like swilling obscurely-named drinks. 

I fall into neither of these categories.  But I have observed that if you are trying to raise your Personal Hipster Quotient (PHQ), these tips may come in handy. Once again, be aware  that I myself am not a hipster, merely an observer of the species.

1. Attire: Tattoos are a must, preferably illegal and/or extremely expensive tattoos obtained in foreign countries. Extra hipster points are given for tattoos of obscure bands and tattoos in Eastern languages you don't speak.  The nice thing about tattoos is that even if you are forced to wear non-hipster attire for occupational reasons or because you are dining with a non-hipster (AKA your parents) you can still communicate the fact you are a hipster to the world. Because the world cares.  Oh. So. Much.

Flickr: kate.gardiner
In the absence of tattoos, a scruffy beard and Buddy Holly/Alfie-style glasses can be substituted. Female hipster plumage usually takes the form of body piercing--belly rings and multiple earrings are a must, tongue piercings are optional.

2.  Conversation: A small, expensive phone is essential when dining out as a hipster, particularly in small cafes in which the tables are located close to one another. This enables you to have a loud conversation with your dining companion and someone else at the same time. Other patrons with less exciting lives will really appreciate overhearing your fascinating conversations about your recent snowboarding vacation, how disappointed you are in Obama and the cool new gearless bike you purchased.
Flickr: Fabio Gianesi

3. Sustenance: A special diet is a must. Vegan and gluten-free are popular hipster grazing patterns, although it should be noted that some members of the subspecies make exceptions for extremely expensive sushi, or beef if the venue is sufficiently cool enough. Other hipsters go the other way and adopt the paleo and CrossFit lifestyle.

The essential aspect of hipster dining is not the actual food itself but the attitude towards those who do not Eat As The Hipster Doth.  For example, if you are a vegan hipster and someone brings in homemade chocolate chip cookies to work, it's essential to remind them IMMEDIATELY and IN PUBLIC that not even cage-free eggs are guaranteed to be ethically sourced. Adding that you like to go to a cool, vegan and gluten-free bakery in Brooklyn (it must be in Brooklyn, not in Manhattan) is also a must. Conversely, if you are a paleo who only eats grass-fed beef and lifts weights, make sure to throw in some nasty comments to the woman training for the charity 10K at your office that "CrossFit is the only way."  If you bike to work, don't talk to people who drive cars, regardless of where they live.

Regarding allergies--hipsters seldom have full-blown allergies. However 'sensitivities' (such as gluten-sensitive, wheat-sensitive, dairy-sensitive) are frequently observed in the hipster species, which does not require medical proof and enables hipsters to occasionally sneak a cupcake from Magnolia when Babycakes bakery is too far of a hike.
Flickr: Flibbertygibbit

4. Hipster transportation: While it might be assumed that all hipsters either take public transportation or drive hybrid vehicles to their dining locations, that is not always the case. Some gas-guzzling vehicles are so showy and outrĂ© in their design, they are impossible for hipsters to pass up. However, this does not stop the urban hipster from making comments like: "red paint is made for people who wear leather hiking boots" or "I could never wear a running t-shirt that might have come from a sweatshop!  My friend makes t-shirts like that for only $50 each at his store in the Village."
Flickr: Lorena Cupcake

5. Filthy lucre: Are hipsters rich?  How do they afford to eat out so much?

This is an interesting question. Many of them have hidden sources of income, such as wealthy parents bankrolling their efforts in hipsterdom, were successful enough to store away a bit of income due to some non-hipster job in finance or IT, or have a wealthy, non-hipster spouse.

Hipsters do work, as any non-hipster who has ever tried to futilely get served in a restaurant with hipster staff will know. Bike shops, where they will stare right through you as you wheel in your vehicle, often have hipster staff, and small stores that sell clothing or useless objects.  

However, even if you're not a trust fund baby, you can still be a hipster. Remember, the essential attitude of the Hipster at Work is this: "Are you talking? To ME?  I'm going to stare right over your head and continue with my conversation and ignore the fact that you water glass is empty and/or your child's bike needs a new kickstand."

More dedicated hipsters may pursue careers in the arts. Musically-inclined hipsters identify themselves by their shocked attitudes when you say you like the Rolling Stones or The Black Eyed Peas and gravitate to restaurants with blaring soundtracks.  They seldom listen to what other people are saying, except on their tiny cellphones, so the deafening blare is a bonus.

Occasionally, one will spot a hipster yoga instructor. They usually manifest themselves at studios with extremely expensive towels and exorbitant fees for bottled water.  These studios also have trained staff to look through you if you are unable to their afford expensive workshops.  Hipster instructors are identified less by their way of dressing (as many yoga instructors have a deceptively hipster appearance) and more by  the fact that they tend only 'adjust' cute thin rich people with body piercings who make major contributions to the instructor's pet causes and follow the instructor wherever he or she might teach.  However, hipster yoga instructors are usually detoxing, so you don't need to worry about dealing with them while dining out.

6. Social relations: If your non-hipster dining companion makes a comment about a favorite television program or book, or a favorite entertainer, or going to the theater, make sure, oh aspiring hipster, to have a pained and shocked expression as you say: "I can't believe people are watching the royal wedding when people are starving to death in Africa and Americans buying bottled water everyday."  However, as a hipster, it is totally okay to spend lots of money on your music, clothing, vacations to see cool shows, do extreme sports, and have paid enough for tattoos and piercings to feed a Third World country.  That is self-expression. It's so totally different from watching Glee and reading cooking magazines.

Flickr: girlwithaparasol

It is okay, as a hipster, to have a few mainstream pastimes.  In fact, it's encouraged to have one or two non-hipster interests to let everyone know that you are a human being, like knitting.  But always remember that your pastimes are okay to spend money on, and everyone else has shallow and decadent pursuits.

7. Food shopping: Hipsters generally like Whole Foods (the CEO's lack of support for universal healthcare doesn't bother them, because that is such an American issue and hipsters seldom adopt local causes). But, oh hipster aspirant, don't bother to bring a reusable shopping bag. All hipsters ever purchase are bottles of essential oils, fancy iced teas, and prepared lunches at Whole Foods, since hipsters don't cook. They often know the cashier and hold up the line giving him or her a hug and a kiss--or if they don't, they just talk on their cellphones the entire time to avoid contact with non-hipsters in line.


8. Drinking and smoking:  Some hipsters indulge, other hipsters do not. Regardless of your choice, if you are an aspiring hipster and a smoker, do so without any regard for non-smoking signs, because the whole non-smoking thing is so authoritarian and stupid. If you drink, regardless of your favorite tonic, remember that what you drink is totally cool--whether it is an ironically consumed American beer or a pricey cocktail or bottle of organic wine--and what everyone else consumes is totally inferior.

One final warning: If you do not follow these instructions and occasionally see hipsters where you dine, shop, and pursue your hobbies you may still be under the mistaken notion that you can pass for a hipster, and go up to said hipsters and say things like: "Hey, I'm a vegan, do know any good vegan restaurants?" Or "cool! where did you get that bike?" Or "I love those checkered sneakers."  If you do you just have so. Not. Gotten. This. Post.