about bliss

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

daily haiku: 8/100

stacks of magazines
a sapphire lake michigan
the view from my couch

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

daily haiku: 7/100

stuffy runny nose
wanting to retreat to couch
first cold of the year

twd: chocolate-crunched caramel tart

"Doesn't this tart look amazing," I whispered on Saturday afternoon, as the sky greyed and raindrops threatened to fall.

"Okay, I'm just not sure why this is called a tart," G said, as I showed him the photo in Baking: From My Home to Yours before we embarked on the baking process.

"Well, a tart is, um, not just for fruit! It's baked in a pan like this one!" I showed him the round, fluted edged pan with a removable bottom, the one he was about to butter for me. (is it cruel to delegate such tasks? he does a much more thorough job of buttering and flouring, as needs be, than i do). 

"I still don't get it," he said, shaking his head. 

I walked out of the kitchen...

...and into the study, where I selected my trusty pocket Oxford dictionary. "A tart is an open pastry creation!" I remarked, and then made a slightly risque joke involving the second definition of tart (consult your dictionary).

With that bit of banter established, we set about making the pastry. G buttered the pan, careful to fill each tiny pleat of the edge, as I mixed up the dough. We set it into the freezer and began the business of caramel and ganache making. 

I delegated the ganache making to G, as he's a huge fan of the versatile creamy chocolate concoction. He chopped 8 ounces of bittersweet Scharffen Berger chocolate, and whisked meticulously as I poured over the boiling cream and added the chunks of butter. 

Meanwhile, I faced the hot, tedious task of caramel making. I've successfully made caramel, in many stages and versions, on several occasions. I'm always nervous, though, as molten sugar foams and bubbles, threatening to harden and blacken in an instant. The caramel crafting was hot, steamy, and touch and go. I may have uttered a few profanities as I stirred and checked the candy thermometer. The color test was not reliable, as I used my favorite beige colored Florida Crystals organic cane sugar to intensify the flavor, and pale yellow star thistle honey in place of corn syrup. 

As I struggled with the caramel, and the tart shell baked, G chopped the cashews—Planters Harvest Jumbo cashews, roasted and lightly salted.

Our tasks complete, we sampled the components, eyes lighting up at the voluptuous flavors and textures of the ganache and caramel. 

We covered the cooled ganache and caramel, and set them in the fridge overnight. I decided to freeze the tart crust to keep it as fresh as possible. 

On Sunday, we assembled the tart and brought it to G's parents' home for an early fall Corn Roast and family get-together. 

After a delicious meal of grilled meats and soy products, roasted corn, salads and salsas and fruits and vegetables, we sliced the tart into sixteen slivers. 

With mugs of coffee in hand, the adults surveyed the tart and began eating...


The children were not fans, eating everything but the ganache, or declining outright. (next time i'm going to bring cupcakes adorned with pink sprinkles for the girls!). 

"This tart is not (a) tart," M said, delving into his second, nay, third sliver a few hours later, "but it's good anyway!" 

Conviviality and celebration filled the air as we watched the Detroit Lions finally, finally win a football game for the first time since December 23, 2007. 

I adore this tart, as it marries several of my favorite flavors—chocolate, caramel, nuts, and buttery pastry. Next time I'll use salted and roasted pecans, and I'll share it with my Mom and Dad and G, perhaps the night before the Lions win yet another game. 

Thank you, Carla, of Chocolate Moosey, for selecting one of the recipes I most wanted to bake! 

Monday, September 28, 2009

daily haiku: 6/100

one dozen cupcakes
and one tiny chocolate cake
i love babycakes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

daily haiku: 5/100

warm maple syrup
thick homemade bread french toast
bourbon soaked peaches

Saturday, September 26, 2009

daily haiku: 4/100

bright kid, drug problem
eighteen months of jail time
two weeks out, he's dead

for LS, a former student, who died last week of a heroin overdose

Friday, September 25, 2009

daily bliss: madison memories

a lovely little venue 

Last weekend G and I attempted to live like we're still twenty-something years old (we're not.even.close.) and attend three concerts in three days:

Sugarland, in a stadium venue in Milwaukee. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush (and band) played and rocked and danced and generally made merry on a gorgeous stage.

Andrew Bird, perhaps the best whistler I've ever heard, lulled me into half-sleep with mad violin skillz and cerebral lyrics at the Overture Center in Madison.

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers and Carbonleaf jammed, rocked, ballad-ed in the intimate Majestic in Madison.

We survived...

On little sleep (staying with G's friend C! who hosted us and several others for a UW football weekend, which made for some interesting late night conversations).

On caffeine.

On adrenaline.

On lazy Sunday afternoons column writing (check out the full story of our Madison Farmers' Market meanderings at Corner Table for Two) and football watching, er, listening to.

We traveled from one concert to the next, alert and awake until sometime after midnight Sunday night/Monday morning as we wended our way home, two and one half hours, on dimly lit highways. We took turns driving, keeping one another awake until the miles disappeared just as the raindrops gathered into a shower.

Between the concert going, we explored Madison.

I've waxed poetic about Ann Arbor before, a city with a certain urban liberal hippiness that I adore. In many ways, Madison reminds me of Ann Arbor, except it's not quite as urban. It's less...snooty. And more easygoing.

We spent several hours promenading around the Capitol Square Farmers' Market, observing the varieties of human behavior—a man carrying a tiny dog in a special backpack, a man decked out in prison orange playing Bach on a piccolo—and purchasing novel vegetables—edamame and cranberry beans.

We spent time—and money—in foodie shops, including Fromagination, a cheese and gourmet foodstuffs store, and Barriques, a "wine cave" featuring a wall of 100 wines under $10.

We ate. Oh, we ate well. Couscous and hummus dishes at Kabul, an Afghan restaurant on State Street.

vegetarian couscous

Roasted veggie and montchevre omelets at the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery. (and cupcakes—mocha chocolate, raspberry lime—to take home).

roasted CSA veggie and montchevre omelet

Summer rolls and red curries at Sa-Bai Thong.

spicy jungle curry

And we drank.

Some wine (thanks, C!).

A fabulous glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.

Lots of lattes and au laits.

what am *I* doing with a latte?!?

Monday I walked around work on a Madison high, sharing my experiences with anyone who would listen.

Tuesday I crashed.

Tonight I'm wishing for my next trip to Madison to happen...soon.

daily haiku: 3/100

red berries bubble
white loaves rise, fall, rise again
jam and fresh hot bread

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

daily haiku: 1/100

quiet damp grey sky
roads still slick from last night's rain
traveling inward.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

daily bliss: autumnal equinox

pie pumpkins at the madison farmers' market. photo by ggg

The alarm buzzes. NPR's "Morning Edition" flows through my bedside radio. I roll over and groan. Six a.m. is not going to happen this morning. I stay in bed, willing myself to roll over one more time and land, gracefully, on my feet, on the floor, and start the day. 

Welcome to the Autumnal Equinox, a day I spent wishing I was wrapped in a blanket on my couch, drinking steaming beverages, watching incense undulate, and listening to the interplay of raindrops and foghorns. 

Alas. I had to spend six hours at work, explaining Aristotelian rhetoric, sitting through (boring) meetings, and grading student blogs. 

But when I came home from work, I slipped Simon and Garfunkle's Greatest Hits in the CD player and worked through 30 minutes of thoughtful yoga. Then, I turned on the Gilmore Girls and drank cafe au lait. I shopped online. I prepared for class tomorrow. I ignored the stack of final drafts needing to be graded. I diced veggies for black bean soup and mixed up corn bread. 

In short, I gave myself the afternoon to settle into the increasing interiority of the new season.

And, I felt peace. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

daily bliss: farewell, summer

Dahlia, a late summer blossom

Despite overwhelming sleepiness, I walked to the Lake after work today, wanting to enjoy one more hazy summer afternoon of wave watching and sun drenching. 

Trees everywhere are loosening their leaves, and the nights come quickly and chilly. I reach, once again, for my trusty fleece jacket and lightweight scarf, before heading out in the evenings. 

My stomach yearns for warm soups and cornbread, for red wines over whites, and for quiet days at home, spent holed up with hot beverages, meandering conversations, and long cooking projects. 

Farewell, oh Summer of Fun, a summer beyond imagination, a summer beyond wonderful, a summer beyond full. My heart overflows with gratitude for the sheer abundance this season provided. 

And now, we begin Fantastical Fall...

I can hardly wait:)

Friday, September 18, 2009

daily bliss: fresh from the garden

In a byzantine system that's too complicated to explain here, my English Department colleagues are sprinkled across the great state of Wisconsin. Occasionally, conferences, workshops, and/or projects bring us together. 

Yesterday I headed North to join a few of my favorite English Dept. friends to work on a Lesson Study project. Afterwards, I stayed at A and R's farmstead, and we set about exploring the garden. 

This week the weather shifted—the air suddenly smelled of fall, the chill came quicker in the evening, and lasted longer in the morning. As we walked through the garden, tomatoes and beans gave way to hardier squashes and tenacious herbs. Cute pie pumpkins and one baby watermelon lay plump amongst dying vines. 

We clipped and snipped and lifted, and headed indoors. R marinated tofu with a mixture of honey, soy sauce, sriracha hot sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. The tofu baked until it was golden and fragrant. I julienned zucchini, lemon cucumbers, and one lone carrot while A cooked rice noodles and set out the goodies—including mint, basil, pea shoots, and arugula—on the table to create our own Vietnamese Spring Rolls. 

These rolls were beyond fresh, and absolutely scrumptious. I quickly learned the process: place a rice paper spring roll wrapper in boiling water until it was thin and flexible. I spread the wrapper on my plate, squiggled hoisin sauce on the wrapper, and then began layering the tofu and vegetables. I rolled and tucked until I had a somewhat neat looking packet, dipped it in peanut sauce, and took a bite. 

Each flavor, from pungent to spicy to sweet, melded together in most bites, and I eagerly rolled my second roll. 

We sampled, er, drank a paper bottle (read: box) of organic Torrontes, and talked and laughed as we continued to fashion our own dinner from the abundant ingredients on the table. 

To finish the meal, we ate the flaky peach and apple turnovers I made for TWD before processing tomatoes from their garden.

This morning, I experienced nirvana in the form of a tiny BLT—sustainable bacon, local lettuce, cherokee purple tomato, and homemade buttermilk bread. As I drove home, I gave seriously consideration to eating some sustainable pork products on occasion. They're so delicious, and sometimes I have a hard time remembering why I'm not eating it in the first place...stay tuned. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

twd: flaky apple and peach turnovers

mini apple turnovers with hot pink sanding sugar 

"These itty bitty turnovers are...a pain in the ass!" 

This sentence bounced around my head for the 30 minutes it took me to assemble the little treats last night. The fruit, particularly the crispy apple bits, wouldn't be folded under the increasingly soft dough. My frustration grew, and I folded and stretched the tiny bits of dough into a rough semi-circle. 

I decided to make the turnovers diminutive because, well, my stomach is becoming less tiny by the day and I partially blame the delectable, irresistible weekly TWD treats (as well as a bevy of beverages I've enjoyed this summer). I would sample one of each kind—apple and peach—and then give the rest away, or tuck them into the freezer for a craving day. 

The turnover dough is fairly simple to make, and nicely waits in the refrigerator when you need to leave for an impromptu Sunday afternoon corn roast with your boyfriend's parents. 

The fruits take no time to prepare. A tiny dice, especially for the apples, makes the folding easier. 

It's the turnover assembly that's tedious. 

But well worth it—these tiny little pies are delicious, with a dab of fruit surrounded by flaky, tangy crust. Mmmm. 

Thank you, Julie, of Someone's in the Kitchen, for selecting these tasty tiny treats!

mini peach turnover

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

twd: chocolate souffle

Ahhh, souffle. The breath of life. The magical transformation. The delicacy. 

The intimidation.

Reader, souffles are...easy. They're easier than pie, simpler than cake, and so very delicious and satisfying. Think of the voluminous eggs as a vehicle for flavor, and you have the secret to souffle. 

I whipped up a quarter recipe of the souffle Sunday evening when I was a) beyond sleepy; b) drying out from a little too much boxed pinot grigio the night before; and c) attempting to unpack from the weekend, pack for the school week, catch up with my family via the telephone, and prepare for classes today. 

My batter filled three small ramekins, and while the rise wasn't super impressive, they still billowed aloft for a few shining moments before sinking, gracefully, into deliciousness. 

I enjoyed my souffle with Dorie's vanilla ice cream and felt almost virtuous eating this simple dessert. (yes, i am aware that this is stretching matters a bit). 

Thank you to Susan of She's Becoming DoughMessTic, for selecting this recipe and allowing me to discover the truth about souffles. Check out her delightful blog, filled with recipes and culinary adventures.  

Monday, September 07, 2009

daily bliss: bittersweet

Friday: the neighborhood is awash in haziness. The Western sky suggests a watercolor pastel painting, each shade of sky and clouds, of trees and ponds, melding into one another under a gentle fuzziness. 

My feet trace the steps of so many summer days, following the sidewalk's curves under trees that are beginning to turn from green to gold, unleafing themselves over lawns. 

I stop by the elementary school playground and pull myself aloft on a swing, pumping my legs until I reach that shimmering moment of queasydizzyecstasy, and shiver my way back down to the ground. Gradeschool aged girls, playing on the other swingset, tease one another, "do you have a boyfriend?" they ask one another amidst peals of giggles. Yes, I want to answer, imagining one of those girls is my lovesick fourth grade self always watching from the outside as other girls walk hand-in-hand with the cute boys to the edge of the playground and—some of them—beyond. 

In a spot of undeveloped long grass, a family of deer sits, munching the blades, turning their pert heads this way and that to watch me watch them. 

As I meander by the pond, swarms of gnats and lake flies fill the air with so much mad life, or lust, I'm not really sure. I watch a graceful, long necked bird sweep through the air, hovering just over the water's edge. 

The neighborhoods are quiet at first, and then loud music bumps out of a room here, and a voice breaks into laughter there. "Come on over Sunday, we're going to fry out," booms one man, from a screened porch party. From an upstairs window I hear "Hi!" yelled by a brave boy, right on the edge of puberty, his voice betraying his hormonal tumultuousness. "Hey Blond Girl!" they all yell and giggle, as I, already walking by the next house, raise my hand in a wave.

The mainstreet is lined with flags to celebrate one more summer holiday, the last in the trifecta that marks the passage of time from Spring's potential through Summer's fruition to Fall's harvest.

I feel a collective effort to savor this long, last weekend of Summer before Fall demands our attention, with vibrant color and inescapable intensity, with heartier fare and savory vegetables. With school days and football games, increasing grey skies and chilly nights. Corduroy and cashmere, clogs and heels. 

I pack my weekend bag with the fabrics of summer: light cotton tees and dresses, khaki shorts and miniskirts, shiny spandex bathing suit tops, sandals. I add in the layers of fall: fleece, scarves, hooded sweatshirts. 

Saturday and Sunday: We drive North, and the road through the reservation pops with autumnal color. The hot days quickly give way to chilly nights, which we stave off with warming beverages and hot campfires. Sunday night we all settle around the fire, laughing, talking on the surface and diving deep. Slowly, we leave the circle of the fire and settle into sleep, knowing that the morning will bring about a bittersweet ending to this last fling with Summer's sun.

Monday: We drive South, and think of fall. Somehow, the colorful trees seem more prevalent today. The coffeehouse radio station obliges our quiet introspection with a steady stream of quality songs, old and familiar, new and true. 

I climb the stairs to my apartment and ignore the bags that need unpacking. I recline on my couch, willing a little daytime sleep to come, but despite the fullbodied tiredness after a long weekend, my eyes won't stay shut. I lace up my walking shoes and head outside, determined to drink in just a little more sunshine. 

I cook dinner, check in with my parents and brother, all of whom I dearly miss. I have to remind myself that work beckons tomorrow, that students are submitting their first paper drafts. My brain can't quite wrap around this return to responsibility, and all I want to do is blog and journal and daydream just a little while longer...


Potential. Fruition. Harvest. 


Spring. Summer. Fall. 

Looking for my new rhythm. Trying out this new balancing act. Thinking of my favorite yoga poses—half moon, tree, dancer—which rely on drishti (focused gaze), balance, and a letting go of fear-of-falling.

I bake a bittersweet chocolate souffle—tackling a dish that requires, above all, patience, to allow the air to expand in a glorious breath, allowing the cakes to rise to such great heights and nevermind the fall. A touch of sweetness with an edge of something a little sharper and bitter, like the crisp note of autumn air after a warm summer day. My heart aches, wanting just one more moment, day, week, month of summer enchantment...

I oscillate between acceptance of the changing seasons and longing for summer to linger. I ride the edge of liminality, I sojourn in the spaces in between...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

twd: espresso cheesecake brownies

One year ago I joined TWD in hopes of baking more adventurously, blogging more regularly, and finding "my people" on the internet. These hopes have been fulfilled doublefold. Although my blog contains as much "food for thought" as actual "food," it has become a place where I can connect with my bloggie friends all over the world. And, although I've missed a few weeks of baking fun and don't always comment as frequently as I'd like on your blogs, I treasure my TWD readers. Thanks, y'all! Here's to another year of deliciousness. 

Several months ago I blogged about making a fabulous chocolate cream tart while Mom and Grandma, visiting for the weekend, watched. I wrote about how I like to bake alone, being particular (control freakish?) about the process.

Lately, my boyfriend G and I have been cooking on the weekends, and I've been teaching him how to cook some of my favorite dishes and sharing some of my comfort foods: summer succotash, peach pie, panfried okra. 

He must enjoy these lessons, since he suggested we create a newspaper column and a new blog to chronicle our adventures in the kitchen. It's definitely a work in progress, but you can stop by our Corner Table for Two.

This weekend, we planned on making several variations of guacamole to bring to our monthly wine club gathering, and this week's TWD offering, espresso cheesecake brownies.

Reader, I invited him to help me bake.

G buttered and floured the pan and basically—and flawlessly—executed all of the brownie layer steps while I attended to the cheesecake layer. 

I feel like I have grown as a baker as I've given up some of the control and accepted help in the kitchen. It's—gasp—fun. And the brownies?!? They turned out swell. 

The wine club loved the tri-layer treats, and offered up rave reviews:

"It's like a coffeehouse on my fork!" and "If I was hungry I'd eat the whole thing." 

Today my friend K requested that I bring them to school next week for our first coffee gathering. 

Thank you, Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell, for selecting this tasty recipe!