about bliss

Saturday, January 31, 2009

daily bliss: thaw

Today was above freezing, and the layers of snow and ice began to melt. I sloshed through puddles and even walked on bare grass down by the lake! Large and poweful waves crashed up against the icebergs, throwing up plumes of water and chunks of ice like so many diamonds. The air smelled...fishy...not usually the most desired smell, but mid-way through a long, harsh winter, even the smell of dead fish is an antidote to the blank, barrenness of winter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

daily bliss: "martinis"

You know, the frou frou kind, with four kinds of liquor and often cute names, that taste delicious and coyly disguise their alcohol content, such as the Cafe Grande* I just enjoyed at the RBL, a local swank establishment--scratch that, the only local swanky establishment--after a long first week of the semester.

* Cafe Grande contains Bailey's Irish cream, vanilla vodka, and Starbucks coffee liqueur.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

daily bliss: hot chocolate

When I was in college, my Grandma would buy me giant canisters of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix and my friends and I would drink the stuff every night in the winter, late, when our plans to study often devolved into another gabfest...

Growing up, Mom made hot cocoa on the stove, with Hershey's cocoa and sugar. Sometimes we added marshmallows...

I remember one winter day when my brother, cousins, and I went sledding, my aunt had a huge pan of cooking simmering away on the stove...

And, two of the years I was "on the market," a seemingly pleasant term for the nasty business of the academic job market in the humanities, I attended our large national conference (where many initial interviews take place) in Philadelphia. Since the conference (cruelly) coincided with the holidays, it also (blessedly) coincided with the Hot Chocolate Sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton. My friends and I created over the top beverages, laced with chambord and frangelico, and topped off with towering homemade marshmallows, and a price tag rivalling the fanciest hand-crafted cocktail...

Now, I make a mug of hot chocolate before bed many nights, to warm up and send me off to blissful dreams. I too take the old fashioned route and fix it on the stove, in a small pan, using a mini whisk to add air and froth.

Dharmagirl's Hot Chocolate

1 TBS cocoa powder, Valrhona (this stuff is $$$ but is unbelievably rich)
2 tsp sugar, Florida Crystals Organic Natural Cane
a splash of vanilla
a mug full of milk

place cocoa powder and sugar in a small saucepan. add the vanilla and a small amount of the milk; stir. once you have a thin paste, whisk in the rest of the milk. cook over medium heat until steaming. add marshmallows or whipped cream or nothing at all. i like to drink it with a slice of buttered toast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

daily bliss: super sandwiches

Lately my mind keeps envisioning my favorite sandwich, the Big Al's Saturday Night from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The problem is that I live a good 7+ hours away. This sandwich haunts me with a crusty outside of the Paesano roll, the airy inside of the bread nestled around warm smoked mozzarella, roasted piquillo peppers, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil dripping over the sides....ahhh, bliss.

So with thoughts of good sandwiches lodged in my brain, I spent a good portion of a meeting on Monday coveting my friend B's sandwich--two slices of whole wheat bread, baby lettuces, and white bean spread with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. I wanted that sandwich!

And so, my ever gracious friend brought me one yesterday, and I brought her a bowl of my lentil soup, and we both had a delicious lunch topped off with this week's TWD special. What a delightful way to create a lunch, and what a great way to soothe the sandwich longing!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

twd: chocolate gingerbread

unadorned gingerbread

The start of a new semester means adjusting to a new schedule. I realized, oh, Sunday evening, that with my new schedule would not accommodate my usual Monday night baking sessions. And so, yesterday morning I soaked up the pale winter sunshine and sipped my cafe au lait while mixing up this week's recipe, Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread, selected by Heather of Sherry Trifle. I realized that *duh* I forgot to buy ginger root, so I tossed in a little extra ground ginger and delicious candied ginger pieces.

I made half a recipe in a 6 inch cake pan, and the cake rose over the top. I had a wee bit of trouble removing the cake in one piece, but no one who ate it seemed to mind. I brought the cake to work today and shared it with a table of colleagues--a lovely back to school treat. I left it unglazed so it seemed more like a quick bread than a cake...

The best part about this week's recipe? The jar of molasses just waiting to be transformed into giant, crackly topped cookies!

the tasty bits left in the pan

daily bliss: seed catalogs

I knew the day would come when I would hit the wall. You know, that winter wall. That day when taking out the garbage and filling up the car with gas seem too impossible because, yet again, it is zero degrees. That day when the itchy skin and the layers and layers of clothes feel so constricting you just want to stay in bed to avoid the whole ordeal.

That day, my friends, is today.

And so I'm struggling this morning to find that thread of gratitude, but I did receive a little gift and promise of Spring in the mail yesterday: the Seed Savers catalog.

Now, I am not *yet* a big gardener. Last year I grew two tomato plants and three cucumber plants that flourished, in part, because my neighbor/friend B also kept her eyes on them and watered them when I didn't. This year, however, I'd like to expand my garden. To grow foods that I can't buy at the excellent local farmers' market, such as beans--beans I will dry and use throughout the winter--lacinato kale, and little butterhead lettuces. They beckon me from the pages of the catalog, sounding so simply to grow.

Today, I need to believe in that simplicity, in that wonderful magic of the Spring thaw and the summer sun to carry me through a few more months of this winter. Make that to carry me through TODAY.

Monday, January 26, 2009

daily bliss: legumes

ready for the transformation

I've been reveling in the simple goodness of legumes lately. I was inspired by Mark Bittman to eschew canned beans when possible and cook my own from dried. It isn't difficult, but does demand a little planning and forethought. I follow his directions for the quick-soak method:

cover rinsed beans with water, 2 inches above beans.
bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes.
cover, and allow beans to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
cook beans until just tender; add salt. continue cooking until the desired consistency is reached.

What could be simpler? You can also add any seasonings--I prefer a simple bay leaf or two, perhaps a few cloves of garlic. White beans with sage. Rosemary.

So far, I've made two batches of chickpeas, one batch of navy beans, and the beans featured above, a mixture of local organic beans that is delicious beyond belief. They're not cheap, but if you compare them to other premium protein sources--filet mignon, pork tenderloin--they're still the economical choice. I found these particular dried beans at the little shop between Il Ritrovo and Field to Fork in Sheboygan.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

olive twists

parchment cone of olive twists

Yesterday I craved salty, earthy olives. I remembered these delicious Olive Twists my friends and I enjoyed with a bottle of Conundrum at Amical, a little Bistro in Traverse City, Michigan. On that warm August evening, after watching Hamlet 2 at the TC Film Festival, we dined al fresco and started our meal with briny, funky, flaky pastry.

I was certain I could find a recipe online, but through my quick perusal of the usual suspects--epicurious and the blogosphere--I didn't really find what I wanted. I found a recipe for cheese twists in my Bon Appetit cookbook, and decided to improvise. Amounts aren't exact because, well, I'm really an improvisational cook, which is why I don't think I could ever write a cookbook.

Olive Twists
*makes 30*

1 sheet prepared Puff Pastry, thawed
1/4 lb pitted kalamata olives (or any other olive you like)
lemon zest and juice, to taste
thyme, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Combine olives and seasonings in a food processor until roughly chopped.

Lightly roll out the puff pastry. If it separates along the fold lines like mine did, that's just fine. You'll have three equal sections.

Spread olive mixture on pastry; sprinkle with cheese.

Cut each of the three sections into ten short pieces. Next, twist and stretch each section. This will be a bit messy and the filling may spill out a bit--you can scoop it back into the twist.

Places twists on prepared baking sheet--I covered mine with parchment paper. Bake for about 8 minutes or until golden brown and puffy.

Enjoy warm or cool. These are delicious with wine and cheese:)

daily bliss: wine club

dharmagirl discerning different malbecs...

The first rule about Wine Club is...

1. No work talk: we weren't so successful last night, but that was the first time work crept into conversation (perhaps because we have pre-first day of class jitters).
2. The hosts chooses a variety of wine and everyone brings a bottle to share: pinot noir, zinfandel, malbec have been our choices thus far.
3. Hosts provide delicious treats, and others can bring food as well.
4. We slowly work our way through the bottles, comparing notes, and generally making up our own lexicon of wine criticism.
5. Laughter, merriment, shared stories, and opportunities to know one another outside of the confines of work abound.

Wine club is simple, blissful, and one of the highlights of my month. I'm blessed to work with such amazing people who would be my friends even if we didn't work together. Everyone has humorous and tender stories to share, and these nights help build the bonds of friendship. I love the chance to know my friends better, entering their home, being their guest, and sharing food and drink.

Here's to many more meetings of this august society, working our way through wines both ubiquitous and rare, delicious and swill-ish, through the darkest days of winter to the sparkling sunsets of summer.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

daily bliss: lotion

Today's entry seems a little odd, and more prosaic rather than poetic, but in the dry frigidity of winter, lotion is a temporary salve to my skin and my well-being. Cold dry air outside, warm dry air inside...there is seemingly no escape from dryness, but for those blessed moments when I'm bathed in lotion. Because I also suffer from eczema, my dry skin can become extremely irritated, and only the most sensitive of lotions will do. For now, I'm using Aveeno--the one in the green bottle. I would like to switch to something more natural, but all of the organic and/or natural ingredients varieties I find include chamomile, which I'm allergic to. Perhaps you know of an all-natural skin saver?!?

Friday, January 23, 2009

daily bliss: laughter

I've been fortunate to spend the last 3 weeks with an amazing group of students, studying poetry, one of my favorite literary genres. Our small class clicked immediately, and soon the silliness and jokes bubbled up during discussions of Eliot and Wordsworth and Dickinson, coming to a crescendo as we explored Denise Duhamel's delightful poem "One Evening When Barbie Wanted to Join the Military."

One day I laughed so hard I almost cried.
Another day, a raucous snort broke through.
And today I rolled with laughter, although our time together drew to a close.

During the deepest stretches of winter, it's easy to lose a sense of lightness and humor. To feel the ebullience of laughter, and the comfort of relative strangers laughing with me, was perhaps the greatest gift of this poetic journey.

*thanks to David for allowing our collective laughter to fill his cafe**

Thursday, January 22, 2009

daily bliss: pink

I love the color pink. Baby pink. Hot pink. Blush. Pink that veers into purple. Pink that flirts with peach.

pink clothes...

pink shoes...

pink flowers...

pink hotels...

pink kitchen goodies...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

daily bliss: comfort food

Tonight I made a meal I haven't fixed in, well, years. Pure, mostly unadulterated, comfort food: mashed yukon golds with roasted garlic and olive oil, steamed veggies with light cheddar cheese sauce, and navy beans with garlic. A little pinot noir on the side. A slice of Berry Surprise Cake and a mug of tea in a little while. I felt the need for gustatory comfort--slightly rich, carbohydrate dense nutrients to ease the ache of winter, sadness, and a little frustration.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

twd: berry surprise cake

Diva eggs--Dorie's words.

Diva eggs--the bane of many TWD bakers this week.

I *usually* have luck working with eggs, but I was scared. After an unfortunate incident with my renegade KA, I decided to coax my Diva eggs into fluffy volume using my KA hand mixer. THEY TOOK FOREVER to increase in volume and thicken, rather like a Diva preparing for a night out on the town, keeping everyone waiting while she primps and fusses until every hair is in place, the lipstick is glossy and thick, and the strappy sandals are fastened just so. (not that I have EVER kept anyone waiting in just such a matter. Just don't ask my brother:)

My patience was tested, and my instinct was honed--I watched, listened, and worried over my eggs, but I kept going until they were ready.

And, I'm pleased to say that my cakes turned out just lovely.

They sank a tad while cooling, but no serious craters formed.

I left the cakes overnight, and assembled the final piece de resistance today, with a few mishaps, brought on by a) drinking Pinot Noir and b) chatting with my friends B. and B. while I made the syrup, filling, and topping.

I used meyer lemon zest and a hint of juice to flavor my syrup, which came together quickly.

When I started making the filling, I skimmed over the directions, and decided, distractedly, to use half and half instead of whipping cream before realizing that the filling actually is a kind of whipped topping, and hence the heavy cream is necessary. Rookie mistake. I blame, again, the wine, and my friends, whose conversation ranges from stalkers, odd colloquialisms, and general cheerfulness.

So I started over after my friends left, and the filling was finished in a snap. I decided to use some of my strawberry jam rather than fresh fruit because my inner locavore balked at the thought of out of season berries, even if I did have a vision of creating the Obama logo in berries. Instead, I printed out a little Obama swag to celebrate the day.

As I watched the inaugural ball coverage this evening and rested after a long day of intense emotions, the cake has made a surprisingly good companion. I love the lightness and freshness, the promise of Spring, of hope and virtue, of better days ahead after these days of stark darkness.

Thanks to Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchenfor selecting this delightful recipe. Check out the other talented TWD bakers for more tales of Diva eggs and stately cakes:)

daily bliss: hope

photo taken by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force, courtesy of wikipedia

"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." President Barack Obama

Monday, January 19, 2009

dharmagirl 0, kitchen aid 1

the innocent looking KA

I'm laughing so hard that I can barely post...

Here I am, peacefully mixing up some cookie dough (Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Pecan), and thinking happy thoughts about all my glorious baking experiences, how much I've learned, and generally feeling less than humble...

As the KA whirls the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together, I step to the island to grab the bowl of dry ingredients when I hear a most terrible sound--of clunking, of spinning, and then--horrors--of splintering. The spatula I left neatly placed across the top of the mixing bowl, now flailed around in the mixing bowl as the KA settled into a powerful turn.

spatula detritus

And, because of the splintering, I had to begin again. Luckily, I had not added the goodies yet or I would be crying instead of laughing.

So, thank you, oh talented KA, for keeping me humble. Forgive me for anthropomorphizing you, and for underestimating your sheer force

Now I'll proceed with delicacy with those diva eggs I've heard so much about for this week's TWD creation. Perhaps it's time to haul out the hand mixer?!?

daily bliss: jam

strawberry jam on a winter's morn

As the snowplow scrapes by, and brilliant winter sunshine streams in, I reach for another jar of jam from my hoosier cabinet, desperate for some taste of summer. As I pry off the lid and the air whooshes out, I remember that hot July day that I stood over the stove stirring the bubbling fruit and sugar, imagining this very day and the joy the jam would bring.

This morning I made a half batch of biscuits, using Mark Bittman's recipe. I slathered jam on the warm biscuits, fixed a cafe au lait, and watched the snow sparkle outside, and, in the distance, the lake undulate under a layer of ice.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

daily bliss: shared meals

As much as I love to bake and cook, I delight in sharing my creations with others. Taking time to break bread or sip tea with others strengthens social bonds and can provide a much needed lift. My class has been enjoying hot beverages every morning, as I tote in a bag filled with coffee and tea supplies, including my old coffee maker and an hot electric kettle. On occasion, one of the students will bring in treats.

This weekend I've been fortunate enough to share a delicious pesto dinner with some friends who invited me over rather impromptu. The shared conversation seemed to infuse the simple dish with another layer of flavor. And, yesterday, my friend H. and I went to lunch after yoga class, and reflected on our goals for the year and how we want to achieve them. I've had quite a few of these conversations lately, made stronger by food. My friend B. and I also enjoyed lunch out together a week ago, and planned how we would execute better life balance.

Because so many of my meals are solitary affairs, I treasure those shared meals all the more. And while there's something to be said about the freedom of eating solo--an ultimate flexibility of time, of taste, of tradition--it's something I do too often, and something I will try to change.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

daily bliss: yoga

the sacred symbol om

This morning my friend H and I drove to Kohler for a yoga class at Yoga-on-the-Lake, a new studio overlooking a small-ish lake. We walked into the studio, a large, warm open room, and immediately felt cozy and calm; it is heated to 85 degrees, via radiant heating--ahhh, bliss. The bathrooms are gorgeous, with curvilinear modern Kohler fixtures. As I settled my mat on the heated floor, I watched fat snowflakes drift to the ground before I was swept up in an intense vinyasa flow class.

Although I've practiced yoga for eight years, I've mostly practiced on my own, using CDs or DVDs as my teachers. Whenever I actually take a class, I'm curious and a little apprehensive about the teacher's style. Today's class challenged me, not through new poses, for the most part, but to reach within myself for edges that I often don't press. I felt my soul fly in half moon (ardha chandrasana), my favorite pose, and felt my heart wide open in camel (ustrasana), my least favorite pose. By the end of the class, my cheeks flushed and my whole being toasty and expanded, I felt...purified.

Friday, January 16, 2009

daily bliss: oatmeal

good morning

Nearly every morning, I start my day with a hearty bowl of oatmeal--Quaker Old Fashioned, topped with walnuts, dried fruit in the winter or fresh fruit in season, cinnamon, flax seed oil, and milk. Somedays I feel like dried cherries and pecans, others its dried cranberries (Wisconsin's finest!) and walnuts. Either way, it's a warm and delicious and healthy beginning!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

daily bliss: frost

a room with a view

"The frost performs its secret ministry," so writes British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in "Frost at Midnight," a "conversation poem" written for his son Hartley. And so it does. Yesterday afternoon I watched the lacy patterns of frost expand across the window of my study, noticing how the faint winter light highlighted the intricate details from one angle and then another. In these days of brutal cold--it is currently -4 degrees with a wind chill of -22--a beautiful pattern of frost helps dispel the mental gloom and the muscle twitches as I cope with frigid, interior days and long, dark nights. There's something magical about the frost, as Coleridge recognized; it appears "unhelped by any wind" and in unique floral patterns and arcing webs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

daily bliss: warm winter outerwear

outside the Weather Center cafe in Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Precious winter sun juxtaposes with eight degrees and a sub-zero wind chill this afternoon. As I read poetry for class tomorrow, drinking endless pots of tea and mugs of coffee, I try to focus on the blessings in such cold. My Mom noted that we're lucky to have so many means of warmth--coats, homes, cars. And so today I'd like to celebrate my winter coat, which manages to be both cozy and stylish. I found it at Burlington coat factory back in October, when H. and I went shopping for winter accoutrements. I especially like the graduated quilting (slimming!) and the off center buttons, as well as the price: $55. As you can see here, I have a bright wool Nepalese hat, a little goofy, but bright and warm. You can't see my boats but they're also functional and fashionable--vibram soles, waterproof leather and quilted fabric, all lined with shearling. Toasty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

twd: savory corn and pepper muffins

gorgeous muffins, weird lighting. i'm still learning my new camera!

I come from a family that loves food, and can be rather high maintenance about what we eat, where we eat it, and how we eat. Consider my Grandpa C and his peppers: he will tuck a jalapeno pepper into his shirt pocket when going to a restaurant or even to someone else's house for dinner. He will unceremoniously produce the pepper from his pocket and enjoy it alongside his meal, adding a little extra crunch and zing to whatever delicious dishes happen to appear on his plate.

(Tangent: Back in college, I would bring my own salad dressing to the cafeteria. Now, I cook at home more often than not because, well, I like food they way I like it, and my corner of the world is most decidedly not a mecca of vegetarian food.)

So, as I selected a single jalapeno for this week's recipe, I thought of my Grandpa and how much he would enjoy these muffins, with their subtle heat and their delicious spice melding with a cornbread base--another staple on my Mom's side of the family. Of course, our cornbread eschews sugar because of our Southern roots, but I made an exception and tossed it as Dorie required.

As I seeded, deveined and chopped my jalapeno, I continuously thought don't touch your face! don't touch your eyes! capsaicin! capsaicin! danger! I psyched myself out, and only added half of the pepper to the batter rather than the whole pepper that Dorie recommends. As I chopped and tasted the dough, I could feel the tiny fissures in my dry, winter skin as the pepper's powerful potion lingered on my hands.

I made a few adjustments to the recipe besides halving the jalapeno: I used 3 TBS butter and 3 TBS canola oil instead of 1 stick/8 TBS butter to lower the overall fat profile. I also used part ground chipotle powder instead of all chili powder for a hint of smoke.

I love these muffins, though they're more labor intensive to make than my usual cornbread, which I can whip together in 5 minutes. The chopping and dicing adds an extra 5-10 minutes total, but results in a delicious, hearty muffin that is perfect paired with a hot bubbling soup on these insanely, criminally cold winter nights. Many TWD members enjoyed their muffins with chili--my soup du jour included navy beans, carrots, potatoes, fire roasted tomatoes, and a hint of chipotle. The perfect winter meal, and now I have extras for lunch!

Thanks to Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake, a delightfully entertaining blog, for choosing these muffins! Check out the other talented TWD bakers for their gorgeous photos and delightful stories of muffin making.

daily bliss: coffee shops

Uncommon Grounds, Saugatuck, Michigan

I could spend a great portion of my days in coffee shops, if I had but the time and the money. The heady aroma of coffee seeping into my clothes...the people watching...the aura of introspection. All sustain my interest and stoke my curiosity. Over the holidays, I spent some time in coffee shops with my family, from the Dutch Brothers bakery and Cafe with my Dad to Uncommon Grounds by myself. Last week my poetry class met in a local coffee shop, attempting to puzzle through Coleridge and Wordsworth as the espresso machine ground and steamed. And yesterday, my Hipster friends/colleagues and I met at the local Starbucks to catch up after vacation. We lingered as the snow started falling and the sky turned dark, planning wine club and talking about adventures from our more youthful days, while sipping tea and lattes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

daily bliss: poetry

I'm currently teaching a 3 week intensive poetry class, and every day I am afforded the luxury of settling down with a handful of poems and delighting in the language, the themes, the style, and the overall emotion. Today we read Emily Dickinson, a favorite of mine since I took an undergraduate seminar that explored her poetry in Massachusetts, and Walt Whitman, whose long lines and frank images are impossible to ignore. To delight in words, to treasure that effusive or contained emotion or image on the page, to feel "the top of my head fly off," well, that is a blessing indeed. And to share that joy with 9 students who are engaged and serious and silly, well, it almost seems a shame that they're paying me for so much pleasure.

"I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose."
Emily Dickinson

Sunday, January 11, 2009

daily bliss: moon shine

Last night I stayed up late reading Breaking Dawn, the last installment of the Twilight series. I had hope to finish reading the tome, but at about page 572 all my reading energy had been drained away. As I left my couch for the comforts of my bedroom (see previous post), I noticed the bright light of the moon calling me outside. I cracked open the door to the porch to see a landscape transformed into magical oppositions of bluest black sky, sparkling snow, and long, precise shadows. The moon glowed overhead, surrounded by a pantheon of stars shimmering in the frigid night. Nary a breeze rippled through the trees, and the silence remained unbroken as not a single car ventured down the road. A singular moment of purity and clarity rippled through my heart, and then I sleepily ventured to bed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

daily bliss: flannel sheets + faux down comforter + corduroy duvet

slightly rumpled because it's impossible to iron a corduroy duvet cover or to tumble it wrinkle free in the dryer (i tried)

Saying that winter is cold in Wisconsin is (under)stating the obvious. While this time of year I'm prone to massive fits of self-questioning (why did you leave the sunny south?) and checking the weather where I used to live in Alabama and Georgia, I still feel the strange magic of this harsh Midwestern landscape running through my veins. And, mornings, when the dim light of another (likely) cloudy day filters in the cracks of my light blocking shades, I snuggle deeper into the warm, soft layers of my bed and luxuriate. I am home.

Friday, January 09, 2009

daily bliss: ruby red grapefruit

In order to meet two of my goals for 2009--practice gratitude and blog more regularly--I'm beginning a new feature. Daily Bliss will be a snapshot of something that provides me with a moment of bliss, a moment of gratitude.

Ruby Red grapefruit, sliced in half, and carefully carved out into sections that I eat with my spoon: a sprinkle of raw sugar on top provides texture and a sweet counterpoint to so much tartness. Fresh and seasonal, if not local, the fruit wakes me up on cold winter mornings when I'd rather stay in bed, dreaming of warmer, sunnier climes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

twd: french pear tart

mise-en-scene: tart, tea, and poetry in my study/guest room

As much as I love being on vacation and spending time with my family, cooking and baking with my Mom, brother L, and Dad in my Mom's lovely and well-stocked kitchen, there's something comforting about being back in my own kitchen. I know exactly where my kitchen tools are, am attuned to the whirl of my KA, and have already established, in the brief year I've lived in this home, certain muscle memory: a long reach for the spatula and a twirl to the island.

Neither of my TWD creations turned out as I wished when I made them away from home--and I fully accept all responsibility for their less-than-perfection status. Perhaps the fact that I had a cold and would've stayed on the couch watching seasons 4 and 5 of the Gilmore Girls with my Mom the entire visit (after I gave her said DVD's) had a little something to do with my lackluster TWD performance.

Regardless, I was anxious--and nervous--for the first TWD of 2009: the French Pear Tart, chosen this week by the illustrious Dorie Greenspan herself. I wanted the tart to be perfect, and I wanted to devote an afternoon to creating this masterpiece. However, since I indeed *did* spend a large portion of my vacation watching GG, I did *not* spend much time preparing for my three week Poetry class, which started Monday morning. And so, my baking conditions were not ideal, but evolved around my syllabus creation and reading of classic British poetry, hearkening back to my own halcyon undergraduate days...

And so, last night at 9:00 pm I decided to create the components of the tart. Crust: check, though I had to use 1/4 c. extra fine baking sugar instead of powdered sugar because of a supply issue. Almond cream: check, though I substituted Maker's Mark for the rum because of a supply issue. Poached pears: check, though I had to use Meyer lemons because of, you guessed it, a supply issue. The pears, however, were planned long in advance; my dear mother gave me 3 pears from her farmer's market stash to elevate the tart to locavore status. I stashed the crust in the freezer and the other components in the fridge and went to bed, with visions of all the tasks pending dancing in my head.

poaching pears

This afternoon, in between a study of the sonnet, I prebaked the crust, assembled the tart, and baked it to golden lusciousness. What a comely dessert! And now, as another day of poetry and kitchenry comes to a close, a slim sliver of French Pear Tart and a mug of French Earl Grey Tea awaits. Ahh, buttery. Ahhh, pear and almond merging into one. Somehow, I managed something closer to perfection this time, and found a truly impressive and stunningly simple dessert.

the finished tart

Thank you, Dorie, for continuing to inspire with your pastry poesy. And, Happy Anniversary to TWD! Here's to a delicious 2009.

a perfect cookbook, a perfect slice, and a pretty French plate

new year, new beginnings

my favorite vintage pink cake carrier and canisters

Hello! I've been a negligent blogger lately, enjoying my two week respite from work and words, both of which I love, both of which are entwined, and both of which I delight in all the more after a long vacation.

First, I'd like to thank Mary, The Food Librarian, for the Trader Joe's tote bag filled with goodies--candies and cookies and fruits--for my holiday Elfster surprise. What a delicious and thoughtful treat to find sitting on my doorstep when I returned after my sojourn in Michigan.

And I'd also like to thank Christine, of Happy Tummy, for all of her kind words about me. What fun it was to send off a package of goodies to my secret Elf!

I look forward to chatting more with these two amazing bloggers and the rest of the TWD kitchen crew in 2009. I've already found a community of kindred spirits, passionately baking and writing all over the world. I love how the sweetness in life has brought us together, and I know the act of baking and writing has sustained my spirit many a time this fall.

I first began baking in earnest while I was writing my Doctoral Dissertation--a long and tortuous process of never-ending writing and research, revision and questioning. Baking allowed me to start AND finish a project in one short period of time, and provided me with sustenance for the long, lonely hours of writing.

Now that I'm on the tenure track--a six year probationary period in which I prove--through teaching, service, and research-- that I'm worthy of the job security and academic freedom that tenure guarantees--I feel many of the same pressures as I did when I was a lowly graduate student. My work, it seems, is never done, and I can easily lose myself and my balance in my endless pursuit of if not perfection, then at least excellence. As you can guess, this pursuit often feels impossible, and becomes all consuming, and at times discouraging.

Joining TWD in August forced me to set aside time to bake AND to write for myself at least once a week, and though sometimes it feels like one more requirement, I love the routine, the deadline, the camaraderie, and the time for myself.

This year I vow to carve out more time for myself, separate from my career. Time to read just for the fun of it. Time to linger over coffee with friends. Time for a quick visit with family on the weekends. Time to date and find Mr. Almost-Wonderful (as my dear Dissertation advisor calls him). Time for an hour of vinyasa yoga, a long walk along the lakeshore with my new digital camera (yay!), and time to pursue my non-academic writing goals.

Thank you for reading, and for choosing to spend a little bit of your time with me:)