cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some Cidade Wandering

my neighbor's pretty chocolate cake,
& Cherry Blossoms for he who's never seen

I think cherry blossoms bloom overnight. I guess all things do, don't they. But they weren't here the night before, it was overnight, just one night and the sky changed from brown little pods to delicate pinky white petals. It's the little things we overlook; things that are often always there, swimming by unnoticed, and thought to appear only after recognition. but they've always been there. I usually take cherry blossoms for granted, a glance, a quiet smile, yeah not much ado, they'll always be back every season. But something's made me look closer, maybe it is to look for the both of us, you who have never seen them, or perhaps they have never been as beautiful before. But be quick! blink and they are gone. You see, time with them is short; really only a few weeks that fade faster than canvas shoes left out in the sun. Two weeks, maybe three, of perfectly perfumed air and overhead canopies so pink and plushy you can't help but exhale a grin and dream yourself into a woodcut scene at the imperial palace, kimono and all--aha, i knew i always loved Mulan the best of all the Disney princesses, though not a princess...what pretty little blossoms, wish i could have them forever.

Yes they bloom in Spokane. Actually, they bloom all over the United States; they were a gift you see, and really don't belong here at all. In 1912 Japan gifted a near three thousand cherry blossom trees (sakura) as a mark of friendship, because that's what you do with friends, send them forests in the mail (did you get the birch saplings i sent you last week yet?) New York, DC, Philidelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle--the Japanese native flaura is as prominent an indigenous figure in this country as is anything else. How lucky. Some people have never seen. So these are for you. Sakura cherry blossoms, in case you were wondering, are not fruit trees they are merely candy for the eyes, perhaps the reason why they are the Chinese symbol for feminine beauty and love. Well. That's that.

There's been a bit of wandering lately, wandering around this city that will only be mine for the next four weeks. Four years down to four weeks, how could this come so fast. let's catch it in a jar before we leave.

Apparently i live down the road from a caterer who is an incredibly talented baker. get to know your neighbors. On my way home from work i picked up E who requested a cookie baking date, he came to the car with a chocolate cake, dome stand and all. May i ask? he replies, i need to request some food photography, i'll pay you with wine. Deal. The cake was baked special by my neighbor (the caterer) as a one year anniversary present, as she is his "mother in law" no they're not married, but what else do you call the mother of your other? Anyways, the chocolate decadence cake available from Colleen Caters was undoubtedly a very pretty specimen, camera candy, if you will. And right down the road too.

oh what the hell, let's click one of those up there ~ theme "Spring"

Chocolate cakes look best with flowers around them. Cherry blossoms, oh how thematically connective. I am too clever. Cherry blossoms are good omens of fortune and spring love; yet simultaneously used in Japanese metaphor for the fleeting nature of life--love it while you can, and remember it when it's gone, because the reality is that it will always come back. Exotic to US soil, they now belong; returning each year to canopy paths even if only to decorate cakes. How romantic, how poetic--you are waiting for me to shout carpe diem, but instead i'll leave you with the fact that the popsicle stick bridge competition is that way, when you see arrows, follow.

a bientot

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Salty + Sweet: Raisins

Norwegian Krumkake with Honey & "Rum" Raisin Mousse
+ picture book give away

Salty Sweet episode number two--yeah, we picked raisins; nature's little rabbit poos. tee hee. Raisin Mousse here at Salty's, and Raisin Macarons over at Sweet's. Enjoy.

It's coming onto winter in the Southern hemisphere, as it is coming onto summer in the north. Winter and fall are the seasons of preservation, when to make what bounty spring and summer held last. We can, we jam, we cure, and we dry. Well maybe not all we personally, i have never made a raisin before, but someone does, along with figs, and dates, and apricots; so that someone somewhere, during the off season, can yet find company with fruit. There is no greater a food group that i can praise aside from fruit, as i have said many times before, i am quite convinced that i could survive solely on a diet of mangoes and dried figs. Grapes, well, i prefer them pressed actually. But raisins none the less are delicious, yet highly unattractive health pills. Beauty is on the inside remember.

In the United States we don't associate raisins with winter or preservation, or what-have-you. We eat raisins year round as a convenient lunch box snack, thanks in near monopoly to California Sun-Made Raisins. Not that i complain, i could care less that there is one-globo size brand of raisins, they taste great to me, so why fuss. Either way, haven't we all at one point wanted to meet (or be?) the red-bonneted raisin girl? She looks so damn happy, staring off at some unknown gratification; or, perhaps she is exhausted by the weight of that grape basket she is holding. We'll never know. But we can assume she goes out at dawn with that basket to spread those plump little grapes over the hot rocks to dry in the California sun for our snacking pleasure. We all need childhood heroes; i wonder if she knows the Quaker oats man. "Just grapes and sunshine!" reads the box. How could you not love raisins.

I happen to prefer sultana blonde raisins, but my terribly shoddy grocery store was out of stock this week. how convenient. While i lived in France, raisins were as readily available, it appeared, as bread. Every grocery market stocked year-round dried fruit from the East--primarily form Turkey. Raisins secs, dried figs, dates, apricots--what the hell am i doing in France, i need to be in Turkey! 1.50euro for a whole bag. I recall purchasing a small bag of blonde raisins at a dingy market off the back end of Montparnasse, which i then proceeded to "eat and walk with" until a random man stopped me to say "those sure look good" (in French of course) i replied, do you want some? he, really? and i poured them into his hand. well that's fun. so from then on i offered freely to those who looked at me and my raisins, until the bag was bare. my relationship with the raisin was never the same again.

When Christy suggested raisins as our next topic, i thought, ah brilliant! they deserve! but--they are not very prominent in the baking world. hmmmm. Rum raisin ice cream is the extent of the love they get around here. Cinnamon raisin bread. Sprinkled on tapioca. hmmmm. I have been wanting to make Norwegian krumkake since i found someone i knew with an iron. Krumkake is a Norwegian cookie meaning bent cake, and are usually made during the Christmas season...hmm didn't get that memo. No matter, when do we follow rules. These are now summer cones.

But fill them with...raisin mousse? rum raisin mousse? How do you make raisin mousse? i'm thinking puree. I don't have any rum though, but i have cachaca. you don't know what that is? well, it sucks to be you, i've grown incredibly fond of it. according to the man at the Division street liquor store, i'm it's only purchaser. well more for me. But it tastes far better than rum and is slightly sweet, so those dry littler buggers need to take a swim. How about honey too. honey for my honeys. on y va.

you will need a krumkake iron, like a pizzel pan. yes it's a bit specific, but if you are rich, go for it. if not...say a hail mary and go look for someone willing to lend you one.

ingredients: .5 cup flour ~ .5 cup sugar ~ 3 eggs ~ .5 cup butter ~ vanilla or an extract ~ 5 tbsps water
method: cream butter and sugar, add eggs, add flour, then stir in extract and water. 2) bake according to your machine, and then fold into cones before they harden. done.

Honey & "Rum" Raisin Mousse:
ingredients: 2 cups heavy cream ~ 3 egg yolks ~ 1.5 cups raisins ~ 1 tbsp cachaca (or rum) ~ 2 tbsps honey ~ .5 cups sugar ~ 1 packet gelatin or 4.5 sheets
method: 1) puree the raisins in a processor, they will be incredibly thick, transfer them to a bowl and stir in 2 tbsps water, the cachaca, and the honey. set aside. 2) dissolve gelatin in .25 cup cold water. set to another side (hehe) 3) whisk .5 cups cream, yolks, and .5 cups sugar 4) add gelatin to pureed raisins, and then add to the cream mixture. mix well 5) whip remaining cream until stiff peaks, fold in mixture gently, and refrigerate. then pipe into your krumkakes.

i shaped some of the cookies around the bottom of a water glass to harden and form a bowl, mousse bowl! how cute. we need edible spoons now.

Remember, with our Salty Sweet posts, we are trying to make things a bit "interactive" eh? And therefore have a treat to bestow upon someone each time. This episode, fearing the lacklustre of a complimentary box of raisins, we are happy to offer one random reader this exceptionally intriguing display of English literature--"How do You Raise a Raisin?" by Pam Munoz Ryan. Though laced with a paltry rhyme scheme, the illustrations are quite bright. 32 pages chock full of raisin history, agriculture, and trivia. hot dog! I could care less if you have a child or not. The reading level may be ages 5 through 8, but i enjoyed it all the same.

so leave a comment both here and over at Christy's by Sunday April 26th to be eligible to win such a prize. you will never look at raisins the same way again.

a bientot

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bunnies Eat Banana Bread

marbled loafs and shaky toes

Did you know that i cannot take photos at dawn. My eyes are too bleary. They refuse to focus no matter how earnestly i will them to. After a flash fear of the possibility of an eye-malady, i realized that at 5am it was not only the image, but the numbers on the screen that were blurry. Crap. time to call Nikon. eff my life. What the devil am i doing up at 5am mucking about with photos? When you find the answer please share it with me. Perhaps it's just fatigue then. Fatigue and the mountain of neuroses i have accumulated over the past few weeks (months, years?) maybe.

have you ever done something that seemed so perfect, so sensible (in a nonsensical way,) so overwhelmingly right that the consequences (no matter how gruesome the later loom in speculation) seemed to at the time not matter? why are the easiest things simultaneously the hardest. it becomes omnipresent. you begin to fold it over like a never ending 200 thread count cotton sheet in your subconscious, bending it into a swirling tide of self doubt. it is always a challenge to dress a bed, the sheet stretches one way and pulls up another, and even more the devil is the one that grows as it is spread--it began as a twin, now a double, then from queen to king, it magnifies into emperor and then god size; why attempt the impossible. so why is it that the one something you've wanted more than anything you can ever remember wanting before becomes the most sickeningly terrifying. So five am pre-dawns are the result; as beds, pillows, and night slips the enemies--no sleep for the anxious. no sleep for the crazies. Bake a bread. Drink a tea. Stir the glass. Five. Ten. maybe 12 times. clink. clink. clink. metal on ceramics. morning as the bell tolls to six. ding. ding. ding. So look through the lens: blur. Nothing is right. half closed, half alive; the photo gods will focus it for you, if you plead with them in desperate whisper for help. we all need help. but you must ask. Easter loaves at 5 am, for the long drive to Seattle. A long weekend. Let's get some sleep shall we. But first, a quick easter loaf--humble banana bread, and during the therapy baking session, maybe i will start to remember that we choose to act or not act. and we have to live with the result. what comes comes. you'll always be scared. but that's a given. and if you glaze and top the loaf before it is cool, it will not set and run off the sides in thin streaks. but if you run out of time and miss your chance as the morning draws on, then you will have no bread to take at all. so which will it be. but right now. please. focus. eyes shut. lens, focus. snap. perfect. on y va.

What to take home for easter. wine. duh. but eggs? if you want eggs i suggest you glance for but seven seconds at foodgawker and you will have all the eggs you need. so it turns that you really have no need for me in that. Instead how about something a bit simple, a bit average, a bit ordinary. A banana loaf. An innocent banana loaf. Marbled, perhaps like the bunny's eggs. Chocolate and banana marry together in perfect match of spring as do peanut butter and crumbled toppings. Easter bunny will be pleased. Egg salad sandwich? well hmmm, perhaps you should stick to wheat or white for that. But a scoop of ice cream never hurt anyone.

marbled chocolate banana bread with peanut cream and crumble topping:
ingredients (for one loaf) 2 cups flour ~ 2 eggs ~ 2 or 3 bananas ~ .25 cups cocoa powder ~ 1 tsp baking powder ~ 1 tsp baking soda ~ pinch of salt ~ pinch of cinnamon ~ 1 tbsp (+ maybe a little more ~ 1 packet vanilla sugar ~ 1 stick butter ~ 1 cup sugar 6 oz dark chocolate ~ 1 tbsp peanut butter ~ 1 cup powdered sugar ~ dehydrated banana chips

method: 1) cream butter, add sugar. 2) in a separate bowl, mash bananas with milk. 3) in yet another separate bowl, combine flour, powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. 4) add eggs to butter mixture, add banana mixture. Add flour mixture. 5) divide batter into two, add cocoa powder and chocolate to half of the batter. 6) in a
buttered loaf pan, spread the two different batters one cup at a time on top of each other, squiggle around if you want for a more marbled effect. 7) Bake for an hour or until done at 325. 8) in a small sauce pan heat powdered sugar, peanut butter, and milk until a thick little glaze 9) paint onto cooled bread loaf, and then cover with crushed banana chips and chopped chocolate.

Mes amies, please have a marvelous Easter holiday, i will enjoy the salty-gray Seattle sky that looms through the bay-size windows of the dentist office waiting room i currently write to you from, as i await dear S as she dances with the drill. Join us for a drink afterward? We will save you a seat. well, for a conversation with me, you will need one. For the blury camera this morning, well, all it was, in the end, was the adjustment switch next to the view finder. nothing to worry about afterall. it was all in my head. Until next week,

a bientot

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fun Fetti: I Challenge You to a Duel!

rainbow in a can? never dear sam i am.
just watch how high my nose can fly. Intimidation, undoubtedly, is not a good thing. Why in my psychology class just the other day we discussed the chapter on sexual psychology: women don't like short men. ok fine i can see that. Women like the outgoing types. yeah ok. Men don't like intimidating women. uh oh. Men like women who can cook. Well hey now, what if you are an intimidating cook? Does a tear in the universe occur from such a double negative? If it does you must find some other pansy to sew it up, for i am no seamstress. I don't find myself very intimidating in most things. Ok maybe just a little. hmmm. well. damn it.

Look at my three housemates; i have scared them into never attempting the act of baking, even a simple cake or cookie. Why? because they know somehow i would be watching and it scares them. Ahk! I would not judge you! i reply in my defense, innocent until S reminds: "remember when i made chocolate chip cookies? You sat like a buddha monk criss-crossed on top of the stove commenting here and there- you don't need to use that attachment. your butter isn't soft enough. you really don't need to use a kitchen aide for something like cookies. are you sure you want to put that in?" well. oops. i need to work on that.

Maybe it was a tuesday. A thursday probably. Her rowing team came over one night for a team spirit dinner of frozen lasagna. mmmm. someone must send Marie a thank you note. One of the lady's made dessert. A small wire cake tier suddenly appeared on the counter covered in box-cake fun fetti cupcakes glopped over the top with neon-blue dyed fun fetti frosting. my god what a horror, i thought as i walked by. When the broad shoulders had all gone home for the night (ooh my what a rotten cretin i have become!) S asked, "aren't these cute cakes?" of the dozen left over. I turn to her, hmmm, no. She frowns. "Come on, sometimes you just have to every now and then have a good fun fetti." I reply, um, no, no you don't. That is a betty crocker creation. And they look like something from the Cat in the Hat. "So you would never make a fun fetti?" Is that a challenge? Well, you are on. I will show you a fun fetti. Just you wait. There will be fun. there will be fetti. you will like it. now sit down and eat it! on y va.

I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse.
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Once upon a time T.S. Eliot told someone that, immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. Well i am not a poet, but i like to borrow all the same. when appropriate, of course. haughty discourse right now on April's cruelness would probably be a bit much for the present topic. However i feel the rightness to bring forward with this the mention of Dr. Seuss. I could conjecture that perhaps 43% of you who are reading are neither American or Canadian, and have never heard of Dr. Seuss. Or maybe you have and I am wrong. tut tut. The truth is it never occurred to me that there may be humans on this planet who had never heard of Dr. Seuss. That is my American egocentricity showing through again. Well I was talking with my editor, what about i can't quite recall at the moment, but it was some type of argument, and he made something rhyme to which i spat back ahh no i will not eat green eggs and ham! he-what? me-sam i am i won't! he-what on earth are you talking about, ham? me-green eggs and...Dr. Seuss, child's book author, you don't know Dr. Seuss? he-never heard of him. me-ahk! not only is that sad but damn it i sound like a whacko and my entire point is lost! The point is that there is no point for that story. Rarely do i have a point. But perhaps the only point is that i am now reminded of Dr. Suess's narrator and his refusal to eat Green Eggs and ham in a box, with a fox, etc. The plot continues after he snobbishly turns his nose until pestered to the cracking point he eventually gives in to try them and realizes he is quite fond of them. Our story here has nothing to do with that. Yet at the same time it does. Fun Fetti i turn my nose against you, but perhaps if we dressed you up a bit, turned you around, took you out of the box, saw you not as regular eggs and ham, but instead turned you green we could scream:
I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,

To Salty Cod-ify Fun Fetti; One fish two fish red fish blue fish (that would be another quality title of a Dr. Seuss book) see now we are back to fish, one thing leads to another. it's our jingly jangly chains. We're all looking up at the same writing in the sky, but reading it differently. Toffee. No. Fish. I always read it as fish. So it is going to be a cake that has absolutely nothing to do with the classic other than the fetti. Could we have it any other way? No.

My fetti is undoubtedly the small minty pastel chips bought in bulk termed non pareils. S went on a mission to scout them. and she won. Freddy's and Safeway--you are dead to me. These pretty pastels are mint, however, so the cake must match. Chocolate cup cakes. But square instead. Mint. Thin Mints. Girl Scouts. Mint fudge layers with crushed chocolate cookies in between. The Fat Mint Fun Fetti Cake. Only on sale at the Salty Cod.

Fat Mint Fun Fetti Cake
ingredients: 3/4 cup flour ~ 1 1/2 cups sugar ~ 1/2 cup cocoa powder ~ pinch salt ~ 2 eggs ~ 1/2 cup butter ~ 1/2 cup milk ~ 1 tsp baking powder ~ 1/2 tsp baking soda

method: cream butter and sugar. add eggs. add mixed dry ingredients. add milk. then. bake at 350. take it out. cool it. and cut it.

fudge: mint extract, 1 can condensed milk, 18 oz dark chocolate. melt it. stir it. and that's about it.

Fun Fetti frosting: 1/2 cup butter ~ powdered sugar ~ cream ~ chopped non pareils
beat butter, add sugar, add cream, add specks, pretty much just make it a thick buttercream to pipe.

*i bought classic chocolate waffer cookies to crumble and layer in between the fudge and cake, they make excellent for sandwich cookies with the left overs.

F said, as she sat in the African -Squiggle director chair perched in the corner of the kitchen, oh god. this is, wow, you've definately kicked fun fetti in the ass. Our job here is done. And my oh my what cute easter colors as well. The last thing to ask is could you would you with a goat? Well of course you could. If the goat liked mint, of course.

a bientot.