Monday, November 19, 2012

And the winner is...

And the winner of my first-ever blog contest is...


"My favorite unusual holiday is ... today! Today is Pocky Day! (Also today is Veterans Day, but there's no snack associated with that.)"

I haven't had Pocky in ages!  Pocky is a snack that does not need to be doctored up but in case you  feel like baking something else, you have 365 recipes to try (and 365 or so new holidays to celebrate).

Flurrious is the author of a hilarious blog that often has food-related posts, so I suggest you check it out.  She recently answered all of the 'NaBloPoMo' questions of a challenge designed to help bloggers blog a single it seems fitting that she is rewarded with a book that celebrates the equally daunting challenge of baking a cookie a day.

I know from reading Flurrious' blog that she isn't a 'daily baker' but there are also cookies in this book which use mixes and are actually 'creative assemblies' of existing cookies, so once again the book has something for everyone.

Send me your address (home address or P.O. is fine) at:


pagones721@gmail. com

And of course, for all non-winners, you can pick up a hardcover or Kindle version at Amazon.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hostess RIP

Like just about every American who was a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I have a Hostess memory.  I never understood the appeal of Twinkies any more than I understood the popularity of vanilla ice cream, Jolly Ranchers, or other super-sweet things, but I did love the Hostess chocolate products and pies. 

My elementary school didn't have a cafeteria but whenever my class went on a field trip, I'd always use my lunch money to buy a pack of chocolate, cream-filled Hostess cupcakes, a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a soda (orange, grape-flavored or root beer if available).  Other kids would bring their sandwiches and buy a snack or buy pizza, but I went straight for the Hostess.

My mother was pretty sugar-phobic but when my parents were getting divorced and I was being bullied in school...I still remember how for at least one week straight she bought me Hostess pies, and included a pie a day in my lunch. I seriously remember nibbling at the thickest corner of the pasty, glorying in the peeling suntan texture of the pie crust and knowing with greater certainty than at any other moment in my life that my mother loved me and would do anything for me. And sometimes she'd allow me to have a pie as an after school snack, versus Green Giant creamed spinach, or celery and carrot sticks.
In college, I discovered Suzy Qs, HoHos, and Ding Dongs at the school convenience store and on really bad days, I'd skip eating real food entirely and just get a packet of them for dinner with some candy from the bulk bins.

I'm rather embarrassed to say, contrary to the stereotype, I don't drink or smoke dope, so my unhealthy eating habits were completely due to my own lack of self-control, not to any pharmacologically-induced cravings.

But even when I ate Hostess stuff fairly regularly, when given the choice between a really good piece of cake and a packaged snack cake, I would ALWAYS choose the regular cake from a good bakery.  Not because I was born with healthy appetites--I threw out the red apple my mother faithfully included in all the lunches she made for me FOR YEARS.  But bakery cake ALWAYS had more frosting.

So it surprised me to see the outrage over the loss of Hostess-brand foods.  Haven't people's eating habits been changing?  Has all the stress on home baking and all the press given to baking your own food on television been for naught?  To quote one of my friends on Facebook: "most of the people who are complaining haven't eaten a Twinkie in twenty-five years."

Even people I know who regularly post articles like: "McDonald's and KFC are the evil slaughters of baby chickens" as part of their Facebook feed were mourning the loss of Fluffernutter sandwiches on Wonderbread.

But my all-time favorite response regarding The Death of Hostess was: "now what ethnic slur are people going to use to criticize Asian students for acting white?"

More seriously, aside from the tragic loss of jobs around the holiday season and perhaps hypocritically given my former passion for them, I can't get too broken up over the death of Twinkies.  They seem to belong to another era in my mind, when eating McDonald's was guilt-free and McD's was a happy, wholesome place to go after softball games; when Ragu tomato sauce was just as good as the real thing from scratch; when it was okay to watch the Smurfs and eat cereals that featured prizes at the bottom of the packages on weekends; and when I ordered all of my clothes and Christmas from the Sears catalog.

Not that I don't look back upon these things with fondness, sometimes, but I don't want to go back to DOING any of those things, any more than I want to substitute eating Ding-Dongs for a snack, versus a good slice of cheese.

However, given the escalating prices of Twinkies on eBay, I am clearly in a minority.

I think the appeal of Hostess nostalgia is that, as we grow increasingly fragmented as a nation in terms of the foods we use and crave--which is a product of greater ethnic diversity (a good thing) and also a growing class divide in the US (a bad thing)--we look back to the past when everyone seemed to be eating the same sort of food. Now, Hostess products (along with McDonald's, KFC, Carvel, and the other cherished brands of my childhood) have a kind of trashy, retro appeal, but when I was a kid EVERYONE ate that stuff, regardless of where a family was on the economic ladder. No kid brought in sushi in their lunchboxes or had sculpted gluten-free birthday cakes from Whole Foods.

Of course, there were some partisan divides--I noticed as well on my Facebook feed there was a small minority of people who loved Tastykakes and regarded them as far superior to Hostess and an even smaller but equally vocal minority of Little Debbie proponents.

(Full disclosure: I was an equal-opportunity snack cake lover, I should note, but I liked Hostess the best because of the peelable frosting and greater abundance of fluffy cream filling, and Little Debbie was a bit too sweet, even for me).

But personally, I think the time for Hostess and the type of foods it makes is coming to an end.  It's possible someone will buy the brand and 'save' the Twinkie, but in ten or twenty years, the Twinkie will not have the cultural cache it has as a symbol today.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Browned Butter Cardamon Cookies

I know I didn't read the forecast before I went to the Wellseley debate tournament in college. I had returned home from Wesleyan University for spring break my freshman year, and within a week I was bored and frustrated. 

T--, a senior on the debate team lived near Wellesley and it seemed like a great idea to hitch a ride with a friend of mine up to Massachusetts so I could debate with T--.  Now, that would be a true vacation, I decided.   T-- was the president of the debate team, and would never have agreed to debate with me, a puny little novice, under normal circumstances.  But no one else was crazy enough to debate on spring break but me.

The day before the tournament, I went to sleep with visions of trophies dancing in my head.

Unfortunately, the morning I was supposed to leave, I heard that my friend had hit a deer.  Or rather, the deer had hit her.  M-- was a very good driver, and back then, deer were a far rarer sight on the roads of New Jersey than they are today, so I can only conclude that it was an act of deer suicide and the deer flung itself onto her car, saying "goodbye, cruel world."

M-- was distraught and decided not to go.  Now, this also dates the story, because today an enterprising foodie would simply have scraped the deer off the car, rendered it into steaks, and popped it into a cooler with a grill and some homemade bbq sauce, delighted for a good excuse to escape the dreadful food that debate teams always served between rounds.  But this was a simpler time, long before the Food Network and Man versus Food.   However, still determined to get the hell out of New Jersey, I managed to finagle another ride with a nearby debate team in a car.

The ride up did not go well.  I was driving with a senior and a junior, and when the car was low on gas somewhere in New England they pulled over to a rest stop and told me it was my responsibility to pump the gas.

Now, although we were coming from New Jersey, I must note that the people I was driving with were not FROM the Garden State.  Which explains their following reaction.

Me: I don't know how to pump gas.
Them: What?
Me: I have never pumped gas.
Them: Do you mean you WON'T pump the gas?
Me: I have never used a self-serve station in my life! 
(Cue tears). 

Apparently, the phrase 'Jersey girls don't pump gas' had not made its way to Canada or New Mexico, where the two debaters were from and they weren't the type of people to suffer fools gladly.  One of them pumped for me, but for the next ten minutes he muttered. "I don't understand how you don't know how to pump gas.  It's not that hard."  I felt totally stupid and if I had known who Snooki was, I would have felt like her at the time.

Things got better at the tournament during the first day of competition. I don't remember how I did, but I remember liking Wellseley at first sight. I always loved the slightly fussy, mannered New England schools that reminded me of the Victorian novels I loved to read.

However, that illusion of decorum was quickly broken at the debate party that night.  Most debate parties were held in frat houses, but Wellseley had none, so it was hosted in one of the debate team member's halls a large girl named F-- who wore flowery dresses and had, even at the age of 21, what I can only call a 'bosom' (as opposed to breasts). Midterms had just ended and suddenly the hall was filled with males so everyone was feeling festive.  The air smelled so heavily of booze, even though I didn't drink, I felt slightly spacey.

F-- told me where to put my bags where I would be sleeping and went on with her conversation.  "I would totally fuck Jared over John, because Jared is really arrogant and I only fuck arrogant men."  Two other girls were holding forth on the off-rounds debate topic of: 'based on comfort alone, is it better to go braless or wear a bra.'  Within about twenty minutes I was thoroughly bored with the fuck and bra talk and wanted to go to bed, but there was nowhere to lie down and television had been appropriated by a debater named J--, who was watching a Ren and Stimpy marathon on MTV. Every time I drifted past the room he was in, he would turn to me with a sort of glazed expression on his face and say: "genius, pure genius" with the exact same inflection and look back at the TV.  He was one of those people who was always remarkably successful in the debate arena but mysteriously incomprehensible outside of it. The TV sang: "It's log! It's log!  It's big, it's heavy it's wood!" again and again.  

The atmosphere was a bit like a David Lynch film, and if the Log Lady from Twin Peaks had wandered past me, I wouldn't have been particularly surprised, particularly if the log was wearing a DD bra.

The next day, the surreal atmosphere continued as we were all served GREEN bagels for St. Patrick's Day, the perfect shade to match the hung-over debater's faces. I can't remember how T-- and I did that tournament, but I do remember that around the time of the awards banquet, great puffy clouds of snow began to fall.  I wobbled in the high heels and tights I always wore for debate (panty hose ripped too easily, and I didn't feel like buying it new every week).  It was one of those sudden New England late winter-early spring snowstorms that sweeps and by the conclusion of the tournament the roads were impassable for most of the debaters living in the Southern states.

I still needed to hitch a ride back to New Jersey, so I was stranded.

It was imperative that we hit the dining hall to steal food before they closed down for winter break.  Dazed, I wandered in and out of the fluorescent lights, looking for something that wouldn't spoil. Some kids took dishes of cereal and crackers.  I made a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Then we all ran back.  Someone--I don't remember who--tripped over me, and I fell face-first into the snow.  I lay there for a few seconds, wondering if anyone would help me up.  Eventually, I managed to totter upright, and realized that one of my precious provisions of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches now had thumbprints.

All night, the debaters played 'I never' with the Wellseley girls.  For a dorky freshman, 'I never' requires a great deal of strategy.  You don't want to be too honest, because then your completely lame sex life in high school will be grossly apparent.  But you can't lie and be too raunchy, because then all of the sex-starved, unattractive senior males will follow you around for the rest of the year.  Fortunately, the alcohol was strong enough that true to good 'I never' form, everyone was too drunk to remember what was said the night after except for me, since I used water rather than booze to play.

The next morning I awoke to a throbbing headache, not from a hangover, but because of the lack of caffeine. I asked the girl in whose room I had crashed if she had any coffee. "I have herbal tea" she said brightly. 
I looked at her.  
"It's hot and it's just like having regular tea."
"Coffee?" I said, hopefully as if saying the word again could make it magically appear.
 "You can trick your body into thinking it has caffeine," she said and smiled.
I knew I was being an ungracious guest and the expression on my face said: NO, MY BODY CAN SURE FUCKING TELL HERBAL TEA IS NOT COFFEE! GIVE ME ESPRESSO NOW.

Fortunately, for Miss Perky Herbal Tea, the roads were clear enough for us to return to New Jersey by mid-morning.  Someone had eaten my peanut butter sandwiches, except for the one with the really deep thumbprint in it that I didn't even want because it didn't have enough peanut butter so I was starving as well as had a throbbing headache.

We stopped at a diner on the way back.

"Coffee," I said to the waitress, and ordered pancakes, what tasted like the best pancakes I had ever eaten.  I was unusually aggressive at the restaurant in asking for refills and for once had no compunction using butter as well as syrup on the stack. It's coffee! It's coffee! It's black, it stimulates, its good!  It's coffee, it's coffee, it kicks herbal tea's ass and it should! Some people said they were 'too hungry to eat' and picked at their food.  I didn't even know what that meant.

I pumped gas under supervision on the way back, but you know what?  Jersey still doesn't have self-serve, and I don't feel bad about that at all.

These simple butter cookies are great with coffee. Because, sometimes in the morning the only two food groups you  need are coffee and some butter-related substance.

I only made two modifications in the recipe--the comments complained that in the original, the cardamon taste was nonexistent, so based upon the recommendations I upped it by a teaspoon and eliminated the second 'rolling' in powdered sugar, so the flavor of the spice would be more intense.

Browned Butter Cardamon Cookies
--yields 24 cookies--

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 cups all-purpose flour + some extra
1/2 cup powdered sugar


1. Brown butter in a large saucepan until just foaming.  Remove from heat and refrigerate until solidified (approximately 30 minutes).
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Cream butter and sugar.  Add yolk, vanilla, cardamon. Stir in flour, one half cup at a time until a stiff dough is created.
4. Scoop into 1-inch balls. Bake for 10 minutes and sprinkle immediately with powdered sugar.  Remove from pan when fully cooled and hardened.