So yeah, I lied. What can I say? I’m very busy and important. The once a week thing was super unrealistic. The only way I could actually accomplish that is to relinquish my paltry remaining social life. Not only am I unwilling to do that, it would be counterproductive as I’d have nothing left to blog about.
It’s Lent again and that can only mean one thing: I have given up way too many things. Once again, I’ve become vegan, but I’ve also 86ed gluten while I’m at it. This time last year, I was subsisting on beer, brown rice and peanut butter, so things were not going well. By comparison, I’ve been doing great this time around! I’ve expanded my vegan repertoire to include quinoa pasta and a variety of Asian food, which means I actually eat sometimes. Things seem pretty good!
Last weekend, I had to go to New Jersey for a thing, so of course I stayed with Penpal and her family. I’m not really sure why this happened, but it was A Good Idea. Penpal flew back from Houston because homegirl is wicked intense, and we planned for a fun weekend. And by “we planned,” I mean I said “hey, do you want to learn how to make croissants?” And she foolishly agreed because she had no idea what she was getting into.
Around this time, Penpal was commissioned to do a monthly cooking segment for Forever Young Adult called “Cooking TragicLee”. She had me watch her video before publishing, seeking feedback, and since “OMG I LOVE THIS” was not particularly useful criticism, I also shared it with Bright Contradiction, my local cooking partner in crime. Like me, BC thought it was the Greatest Thing Ever, and she is not wrong:
BC immediately demanded that we document our New Jersey croissant making extravaganza, and penpal agreed to the scheme. I packed a camera and a couple of ingredients I had lying around the house and headed north.
Penpal picked me up from the train station on Friday night and drove me back to her parents house. Even though we are in fairly constant communication via snail mail or the internets, we’d only met once before. Sadly, there are not clear social rules dictating how you should act when visiting your epistolary friend and her family, so things were kind of awkwardly formal, like that time in Anne of Green Gables when Diana first comes over for tea and gets drunk on “Raspberry Cordial.” (side note: recipe idea for your cooking show, Penpal?)
But being a naturally awkward person, this didn’t bother me too much. Plus, Penpal’s parents are really, really lovely people. Even if her dad is kind of like the paparazzi and there are now about a million pictures of me and Penpal that could be featured on Awkward Family Photos:
The next morning, as we were lazing around after breakfast, I had to break the bad news:
Penpal: So should we get started on the croissants?
Me: As they will take about 8 hours, yes.
Penpal: 8 hours?!
Me: Give or take.
So we went to the store, grabbed the remaining ingredients and got started. I was too lazy to look up my recipe, so we kinded of winged it. We ran into several technical difficulties, both with the filming and with the cooking. Penpal’s mother was extremely unsupportive of the entire endeavor. Every once and a while, she would sail through the kitchen, horrified by the mess we were making of her countertop, and say something like “You know, you can go down the street to the bakery and buy croissants. They’re very good,” or “You’re still not done yet?!” or “I think you should give up now and go drink mimosas on the porch.”
But we persevered. Croissant-making involves a lot of waiting around, so we filled the hours in between with chatting, drinking beer, and playing board games. We discovered that Operation is an infuriatingly difficult game, even as adults (how are you supposed to get the ankle bone attached to the knee bone? HOW!?), and I decisively crushed Penpal and her younger brother at Settlers of Catan. I felt really bad about this because they were all friendly and non-competitive about the game, and I’ve been conditioned to play ruthlessly by people who will temporarily break up with their significant other over a bad move. Eventually, however, the waiting was done and we finished baking.
Lucky for you, you get to watch the process unfold in mere minutes rather than hours:
To prove the worth of our 8-10 hours of baking, we organized a blind taste test of our product versus the bakery versus Pillsbury in a can. Drafting Penpal’s parents and brother for the task produced hilarious results:
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check the expiration dates of everything in my fridge.
|Unnecessarily fancy hallway
at the LoC
Hello friends! Have you missed my witty jokes and poignant writing over the past two months, when I seemingly fell off the face of the virtual earth? Of course you have! I promise I’ll be better now. As I mentioned before, I started a new job, and my commute got cut in half so now I am living under the (false) impression that I can go out socializing every night after work it’s difficult to adjust to a new schedule and workload! But I am too poor to continue this pattern finally beginning to become acclimated, so I should be back to my writing in no time!
Coincidentally, my dear friend Bright Contradiction also just started working at my new place of employment. Now we spend 8 hours a day together being thoroughly confused about our jobs, attempting to translate things in to French (mauvaise idée), and delighting over the triumph of opening two separate excel files in adjacent monitors (harder than than you think). We see each other allllll the time. So as I was preparing for Friday night via email yesterday, I was surprised to hear K say she already had plans with BC and BC’s boyfriend.
Me: What are you doing tonight with K?
BC: We’re going to this Russian thing. Want to come?
Me: Oh, I wasn’t angling for an invitation. I just kind of expect to know every detail of your life now, and was really surprised that you were hanging out with my roommate and I didn’t know about it.
BC: I know the feeling.
So I went on about my day, until lunch when BC mentioned the magical words “open bar.” And then I quickly decided that yes, I would like to angle for an invitation after all.
Following work, we hopped on the metro and met up with BCBF at the Library of Congress, which should have been my first indicator that I was not fancy enough for this affair. Actually, my first indicator should have been that the event was invitation only and I was to be spending the evening as Emma Templeton, a friend of BCBF’s who couldn’t make it. Then my next indicator should have been that it was held at the Library of Congress, and finally the collection of uniformed valet attendants waiting at the entrance should have been my last warning that I should turn around and go home. But I blazed ahead and picked my name badge at registration.
|Totally my fake name from now on. It’s a great name.|
Let me paint a picture for you. Yesterday was Friday. Casual Friday. I was wearing ballet flats and slightly-too-big jeans that spent the evening in a perpetual state of falling down, since I recently lost my only functional belt in the squalid pile of unwashed laundry covering my bedroom floor. On top, I had a lightly stained short-sleeved cardigan paired with a pink silk shirt featuring an assortment of holes. My hair was pulled into a messy french braid after not having washed it since Wednesday, when I got caught in a torrential downpour.
Everyone else… was wearing cocktail dresses and suits. Or in a couple instances, full on evening gowns and tuxedos. Even BC looked slightly underdressed, and she was sporting actual business wear as the invitation requested. I was literally the least appropriately attired person there. For someone that normally overdresses* for everything, this was extra embarrassing. K took the opportunity to make jokes at my expense, sneaking up behind me and saying things like, “Ma’am? The Library of Congress closed several hours ago for a private event. I can show you to the exit now.”
*No really. Earlier this month I ruined my favorite cocktail dress running to the train after a US Open match, where I’d worn it on the off chance that we might go out somewhere afterwards requiring a cocktail dress.
No matter. After clamping my new identity to my wrinkled shirt (Emma is so lazy with her clothes!), we went upstairs to some sort of gorgeous, columned atrium filled with fancy food and beverages. We loading up our plates and headed to the bar, which only served top-shelf booze. As I started in on my first glass of (really good) champagne, BC snagged a table for us.
Sometimes, you go to a really cool event, and you think “wow, this is awesome and classy!” and you have a fabulous night that you remember fondly for ages to come. And then sometimes, there is a turning point, from which everything happening subsequently is increasingly preposterous. And that night becomes not just a fond memory, but an epic story that you feel the need to share with everyone you know. Yesterday, that turning point came in the form of a septuagenerian Republican National Committee employee who decided to join us at our table.
RNC was… a character. Every conversation he started was carefully crafted to be as controversy-provoking as possible. “So how do you feel about Putin replacing Medvedev?” “You are all very clean cut. I like that. What do you think about TATTOOS?” All the while, he kept staring at me with a level of intensity that did not make me strictly comfortable. BCBF said it best. “Every cocktail party needs a creepy old dude. And he found us!”
Finally, K arrived (someone had gotten the memo to go home and change first) and BC and I made our escape to refill our champagne glasses. The rest of dinner progressed in the same fashion, with BC, BCBF, K and I constantly rotating out for more food and champagne at any opportunity of freedom.
RNC: I HATE tattoos! I think they are awful! The only exception is that I read about some military men who got the names of their fallen company members tattooed on their arm. I think that sounds real sweet.
RNC (to K): Your eyes are so nice! I want to steal them.
RNC: Are you Jewish, Emma?
Me: Uh… no?
RNC: Isn’t Templeton a Jewish name?
RNC: I’ve never met so many liberals in my life!
RNC: Where are you from, Emma?
Me: South Carolina.
RNC: Oh really? That’s nice. You know, it’s amazing that the confederates did as well as they did during the Civil War. They were really at a disadvantage, but they did well anyway. A lot more confederate women came out to be nurses for their soldiers than in the North, which is real nice.
RNC: You seem really good, Emma. But I guess I’m inclined to think that anyone who looks good is good.
By the end of the hour, we’d made our way through 3-5 glasses of champagne each and BCBF had engaged in a confusing conversation with RNC about contraltos and Amy Winehouse.
Luckily, it was time for a film screening. We processed downstairs to a fancy hallway lined with snack tables and men who looked like bellhops from 1925 (even the bellhops were better dressed than me!). The tables were filled with popcorn, movie snacks like Raisnettes and Junior Mints, and little bags of chocolates. We filed into a fancy theater and listened to Important People talk, such as the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington (want that job title!) and the Russian Ambassador to the US. We made our way through the movie snacks, including some truly bad Russian chocolate bars (“blueberry cream souffée”). The movie started and it was pretty great, excepting a couple of egregious and disturbing instances of blackface.
Afterwards, the Important People invited us back upstairs where would find dessert, two jazz concerts, access to the reading room, and a “surprise.”
My money was on the surprise being a vodka fountain. It wasn’t.
|Lost opportunity: combination Vodka Fountain Ice Luge Kremlin.|
Yeah, that’s a FUCKING ICE KREMLIN. Sorry for the language, but a GIANT ICE SCULPTURE OF THE KREMLIN IN THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS deserves some expletives. When you walk into a room and the first thing everyone notices is not the fully-staffed ice cream bar or the tables full of pastries, you know it’s got to be something amazing you’re witnessing instead.
After getting over the shock of the Ice Kremlin, we tried to eat everything in sight. Unfortunately, after gorging on terrible Russian chocolates and popcorn, none of us had much stomach real estate left. We had to move on to the reading room. Prior to this point, we hadn’t taken any pictures because it was the kind of event where you only take pictures if you are a member of the press toting a very expensive camera. But the Ice Kremlin was kind of a game changer, and suddenly everyone at the reception had their phones out.
|Posing like the statues up high. Appropriate use of the LoC Reading Room.|
Finally, we made our way to another fancy hallway, entered another fancy room, and listened to some very nice jazz music. I was pleased to spot another party-goer wearing jeans and chucks, but even he had on a blazer.
Oh well. If I had been appropriately dressed, I think my head might have exploded from awesome overload.
|“Soooo, we’re doing this every Friday night now, right?”|
|Who is that outrageously adorable little Irish girl? Oh right! It’s me!|
When I was three, my father took a sabbatical and moved my family to his birthplace of Cork, Ireland. For nine months, we lived with my Great Aunt Kal, the sister of my late grandmother. Auntie Kal was a wonderful woman who in many ways served as one half of a surrogate for the grandmother I never met. I don’t remember much from the following year–a game of blind man’s bluff in the greenhouse, playing in light dusting of snow, a particularly foggy day–but the one thing that I will always associate with my great aunt are her scones and homemade raspberry jam.
Sorry to go all Marcel Proust on you, but I don’t think there could be anything more perfect than Kal’s jam and scones. There are entire childhoods wrapped up in those scones; for me, being scolded for cutting my own hair (and then lying about it after very obviously throwing both the hair and the scissors in the kitchen bin) to sitting in a different kitchen a dozen years later, cheating at a crossword puzzle with my cousin by filling in the remaining boxes with whatever words would fit. I know my sister has her own stories tied to those scones, and I’m guessing Kal’s children and grandchildren have theirs as well.
Auntie Kal passed away while I was in college, and for the last few years prior to that, she was not in a state to be baking. The last time I had her scones and raspberry jam was during a trip to Ireland the summer that I was 17. Unfortunately, those final scones will forever be tainted with the realization that her sharp mind was already succumbing to dementia and that they would probably mark the last time I saw my Aunt as I remembered her.
Since her death, her recipes have been passed down to various relations scattered around the Anglo-Irish countryside. My cousins in Northern Ireland took over jam-making duties, while a cousin in Dublin is the keeper of the scone recipe. Both have generously shared the fruits of their labor, but an ocean is a long distance for a pot of jam, and scones do not travel especially well. I harassed both cousins until they handed over their respective recipes and cooking tips, and a year ago made my first attempt during a six-week visit with F and E in New Haven.
F found a nearby u-pick farm where you practically steal the fruit from the vines–something like $5/lb of raspberries. Sadly, we got super lost on the way and only had about ten minutes to pick two pounds of berries and so did not have a huge quantity of jam at the end of the day. I cautiously hoarded my share until my sister’s birthday and Thanksgiving so that my family could approve, and it was at least enough of a success that we tried it again this year.
This month’s six-week visit was scheduled for E’s house on Long Island. After F put the fear of God in her, she called nearly every farm in the surrounding region until she found one with raspberries. Our chauffeur, Matt I (also known as E’s husband) drove us there on Saturday, and we wrestled some bees to collect 6 pints of the best berries. These we supplemented with some frozen ones F had gotten at the u-steal farm in Connecticut, and we got down to making jam! I’m super lazy, though, so I just used pictures from last year.
For every pound of rasberries, use a half a pound of granulated sugar (technically, the recipe we were given calls for equal weights sugar and berries, but we promptly ignored that and it turne out fine). This past time, we had three pounds of raspberries so:
3 lbs raspberies
1.5 lbs sugar
10 8 oz jars and lids for canning
2 large stock pots
To begin with, put the canning jars in the dishwasher. You want these to be extra clean so you don’t get botulism and die. If you don’t have a dishwasher, seriously? It’s 2011, people. Update your kitchen.
Next, wash all your raspberries! If you got them from a farm like us, you will probably find all sorts of new friends living in them and will want to cry as you spend hours trying to drown them all.
Now put all of your raspberries in a large pot. Turn the heat to medium and simmer gently for ten minutes. The rasberries will begin to break up and your wooden spoon will start to turn a pleasing shade of magenta.
Add the sugar. This is where it gets iffy, because the recipe just says, “stir until dissolved and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pot and cover in usual way.” That is not… terribly informative. Your guess is as good as mine on what the setting point is. Both times, F and I have just said, “Ok, I think that looks good?” and started canning. My best idea is to treat it like you would a custard–when it starts to thicken and covers the back of a metal spoon, call it a day.
I don’t want to be responsible for you dying from canning incompetence, so you should read about how to “pot and cover in usual way” in this handy-dandy canning guide from Ball.
You can put any leftover jam in a covered bowl in the fridge for your immediate eating needs.
Auntie Kal’s Scones
After some trial and error, I’ve come up with these Americanized measurements:
3 2/3 (3 lbs) cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of Salt
1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
1 T sugar
Stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter
1 cup (ish) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 F.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut butter into dry ingredients and incorporate with a fork.
Crack egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add buttermilk on top of egg until you have 1 1/5 cups (half an imperial pint) of liquid. Whisk together lightly.
Add liquid to dry ingredients. Mix together with wooden spoon, and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently, just until dough forms a soft ball. Flatten into a circle about a half an inch thick. Cut scones* and lay on greased (or parchment papered) cookie sheet. Brush tops with egg/buttermilk wash.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops begin to turn golden brown. Serve warm with butter and Kal’s raspberry jam.
|Tastes like childhood.|
*In my memory, the scones were round with a fluted edge (this could be inaccurate), so I normally use a fluted biscuit cutter. But sometimes I also use a fluted heart-shaped cutter because it’s extra cute that way!
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles:
While we were at it, we also experimented with raspberry truffles. They were pretty epic, especially considering that we made up the recipe as we went along:
1 cup raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped (Do not use chocolate chips or I will come after you!!)
Set aside 1 cup of the dark chocolate. Put the remaining chocolate in a medium bowl.
Cook the raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan on medium high heat until all the sugar is dissolved and the raspberries start to disintegrate: about 10ish minutes. Or not 10ish minutes–I wasn’t looking at a clock and have a bad sense of time.
Add the cream to the mixture and bring to a vigorous boil, until the mixture is relatively unlumpy. Turn off the heat and carefully pour the mixture over the 1 1/2 cups of chocolate. Wait about 30 seconds, and then stir till all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Cool on the counter until room temperature. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.
Set parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Remove ganache from fridge. It should be solid enough that you can roll into balls, about 1″-1.5″ thick. Place on the cookie sheet and chill for another hour.
Melt the remaining chocolate over a double boiler. If you want to get fancy, learn how to temper chocolate. But I’m guessing you either already know how or can’t be bothered. Break the center two tines of the plastic fork and use this to dip the truffles in the melted chocolate. Place them back on the cookie sheet and cool at room-temperature until chocolate hardens, or if you’re lazy and impatient, in the fridge.
Makes 12 truffles which won’t last long enough for you to take a picture.