notably not

In trying to decide what to write about this week, I had narrowed my selection down to two choices. Then I remembered that today would be the day after Passover started, and my choice seemed pretty clear.

Now, I am notably not Jewish, though I wanted to be as a little girl. My parents had bought me - and ostensibly my brother, I suppose - a children's encyclopedia set, and one of my favorite activities was reading about different religions. (Yeah, in retrospect that major in religious studies seems like a given, even if it was kind of a surprise at the time.) I don't know exactly what about Judaism appealed to my elementary school self, but boy did it. Rosh Hashanah coincided with my birthday when I was maybe ten, and I was so excited I decided to fast. It lasted until lunchtime, I think.

The religion still maintains a little of that charm for me. Seder, for instance, is pretty much the best in my opinion. And since I don't have one to go to this year, I had to improvise.

I realize that latkes - or potato pancakes - are usually more Hanukkah food than Passover, but, um, I love them so much. (This should be no surprise, after my valentine to potatoes.) After all, what is better than starch, salt, and oil? Not much, I'd wager.

These were one of my first food ambitions; I had latkes two Hanukkahs ago and needed more of them in my life. Why it took me so long to get around to making them I'm not sure. I already want to make them again. (Well, except for the fact that my apartment still smells like fried potatoes and oil. It's...well, it's not the best.)

I wish I had a better picture of the finished product for you. I may have been able to take a better one, if I hadn't kept eating the latkes right off the paper towels. They are so good. So. Good.

Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

2 potatoes
1/4 c. yellow onion
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg

Peel and grate the potatoes, making sure that you get medium-to-large shreds. Place gratings in a bowl lined with paper towels to start draining. You'll want to continue to wring out the potatoes until they are as dry as you can get them.

When dry, place the potatoes in a large bowl. Add finely chopped onions, salt, and pepper - mix, using your hands if you like. (It's kind of fun, albeit a little messier.) Then add the egg, stirring to combine.

Coat a frying pan with oil and let it heat up a little. This part is a little tricky if you're not careful, because you don't want to splatter hot oil on yourself. Spoon about a tablespoon of the batter into the pan and flatten into a little pancake. Repeat the process to fill up your pan. Fry for about five minutes on each side, until brown.

Serve hot, traditionally with sour cream or applesauce. Makes about 8.


take two

I am happy to report that the official onset of spring(!) also ushers in the fact that I can bake with chocolate.

It was the best sort of weekend, the sort that makes you feel kind of invincible. (Especially compared to the weekend before that, which was good but left me feeling more vulnerable than invincible.) It was a weekend of no jackets, not even at night, of playing outside, of new cameras. I photographed the hell out of this weekend.

Sundays have been, historically, not great days for me. I get sad about the end of the weekend, the start of another five days in a cubicle. Lately I have been trying to remedy this melancholy, to find ways to brighten up my Sundays. Sometimes it is as simple as remembering that I do, in fact, like time to myself. This particular Sunday I filled with a trip to the library, watching a couple episodes of Rome, and reading Superman: Red Son. (Which is seriously amazing - even if you don't think you like comics, you might like this.)

And so when I sat down to figure out what my Baking Project was going to be, I was feeling pretty good when I arrived at the bookmarked and dogeared pages for brownie recipes. Despite what happened the last time I attempted brownies, I decided to give it another go.

This time, dear reader, it was a smashing success. Granted, I used a different recipe - and, let's be honest, better chocolate - but still, the victory felt pretty good. Every great weekend should end in delicious baked goods.

Moosewood Fudge Brownies
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

A note on the chocolate: I used Ghiradelli's 100% cacao baking bar, and it worked like a charm. Next time I might either use a bar with less cacao or up the sugar a little bit, but honestly, these are great as they are.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch square pan. (The original recipe says 8- or 9-inch, but my brownies were already pretty thin in an 8-inch pan. Use your discretion!)

Melt the butter and chocolate together - I use the double-boiler method, except my "double-boiler" is a mixing bowl situated on a pot of barely-simmering water, but if you have a microwave, that is also an option! While they're melting, beat the eggs separately in a small bowl.

When the butter and chocolate have melted together, remove from heat. Add in the brown sugar and vanilla, mixing completely. Repeat with the eggs. Then add in the flour and blend.

Pour the batter into the pan; bake for about 25 minutes. The brownies should start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife should come out clean.

Serve warm with ice cream. Seriously. You will thank me. (These also keep in the fridge for a few days, but take the time to set the oven to 300F and warm them for a few minutes. Mmmm.)


photo friday: you guessed it

Okay, I'm convinced Georgetown pays extra to have the seasons come before anywhere else in DC. I haven't seen flowers anywhere else! SPRING. Apparently it is all the inspiration I needed.



I started this post once, trying for a cute opening - something lighthearted. Alas, dear reader, I am not quite lighthearted at the moment. There's nothing serious going on, just a lot of little things adding up to a feeling that can best be summarized รก la Liz Lemon: blerg. I have wavered between wallowing in it and trying to buck up and get over myself. (Hopefully you'll forgive a little wallowing? Oh, good.)

So I was just looking through old journal entries, wallowing, wondering how I'd ever - oh, I don't know, find a satisfying career, become a writer, deal with friends leaving for school, write a blog post. Then, solving the latter problem at least, I found an entry with this phrase inherited from the Quakers: way opens.

I've written about this phrase before. It's helped me get through some rough times, most of which are too personal to write up here. It - like "your life is beautiful" - is a good reminder to have written down somewhere, especially when you are in your early-to-mid-twenties and all your friends are figuring out what they want to do with your lives and you feel lost in the wilderness. (I did mention a little wallowing, right? I promise, that's it.) Because, honestly, all I need to do is buck up and a way will open. It may not be the way I planned on - already my life has changed dramatically from the way I envisioned it - but it will be beautiful in its own right.

Moving on, there is another thing I inherited from the Quakers and that is potlucks. There was a while in DC where we had a weekly potluck set up - and sometimes it would only be four people, sometimes it would be many more - but when my friend Josh went off to Israel for grad school, they pretty much ceased. So I took it upon myself to make them happen again. After months of emailing friends and coordinating schedules, we finally managed to get together to share food and company.

I will spare you a discussion on why eating is an important community-building exercise. For now.

I thought to make popovers. What I wound up making was something between a muffin and a scone. They were by all accounts edible, but that is not quite enough for me anymore. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I tried again the very next night. The scent of parmesan and thyme filled my apartment for a second time, and I tried my very best to follow the recipe exactly, not straying one iota from what was written. I did not check on them, except at the fifteen minute mark when I turned down the temperature. They had started to rise! Maybe they will pop yet!

As you can tell, dear reader, they did not. Sigh.

I could try to gloss it over, give you a recipe for some indefinite "parmesan and thyme quickbread," but it's not good enough. Instead you get another story of kitchen failure - and if anyone has any advice for baking popovers, please, let me know!


photo friday: SPRING

I am so into spring this year that practically every time I mention it, it is with an exclamation point. Or all-caps. SPRING!


a dilemma

Spring has started creeping into the District, and not a moment too soon. The seasons really are perfectly timed - as soon as one starts to wear out its welcome, another one comes right in to take its place.

This meant a lot of things for my weekend, things like taking a walk outside not to get someplace but to enjoy the weather, or having the windows wide open all afternoon, or wanting lighter fare than what I've been eating all winter. That last bit was especially true on Sunday, when all I really wanted was pasta salad from Cafe Tu-Oh-Tu. I did not, however, feel particularly moved to go all the way to Georgetown to get it. And my attempt to recreate it almost a year ago (whoa!) still haunts my memory, a little bit.


So I cruised around the internet, looking at pasta salad recipes with the window wide open. I had two very different pasta salads in mind: the aforementioned Tu-Oh-Tu one, and another that my mother used to make, from a box. Say what you will about boxed food, but this was pretty delicious. And by pretty delicious, I mean I would eat just about all of it, by myself.

The internet, however, did not provide me with what I needed. Or not exactly, anyway. I decided then to just go into the kitchen and make my own (after a short phone call to my mother to see if she had any suggestions). I went with apprehension, remembering my colossal failure in trying to recreate the Tu-Oh-Tu dressing. Putting that aside, I leapt right into making a basic vinaigrette, on my own, with little help. It could have gone horribly wrong.

Dear reader, it did not.

Basic Pasta Salad

I've mentioned before - probably many times at this point - that I'm a big fan of simple meals, ones that don't need a whole lot of prep work. This is one of those. It might be my new favorite light spring dish. You could jazz it up in any way imaginable. Also, this makes one serving. That's it. I imagine it would be super easy to multiply, but I usually eat by myself, so there you have it.

1 serving of pasta (I prefer fusili, though I also like penne)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
pinch ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes

Prepare and drain the pasta.

While the pasta is draining, pour the vinegar into a small bowl. Add the spices and stir around a little. Whisk in the olive oil, rapidly, until the oil and vinegar merge together.

Move the pasta back into the pot you cooked it in. Whisk the vinaigrette a little more and pour over the pasta, making sure to stir it in. Place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until chilled. Sprinkle with parmesan and enjoy!


why court disaster

Sometimes I think the best cooking projects come from realizing certain ingredients are about to go bad. So when I came back from Texas and saw that my milk had a matter of days left in it, I had two choices: one, go to Safeway and buy Oreos, or two, make something. And as tempting as that first option is, I really don't need to eat an entire package of Oreos.

Then, of course, the question was: what to make? It was Saturday morning, before the supermarket, before I was heading over to hang out with friends. I figured cookies would be good, something small and easily transportable. Which is when I realized I still had mini baking cups from the
peanut butter cups.

I thought, maybe I would try my hand at chocolate cake again, but in tiny cupcake form. But then again, why court disaster? I knew exactly what I would do: make my go-to cake, but fill up these tiny baking cups. More easily transported than a whole cake, and with the benefit of no one having to commit to a whole slice of cake! Perfect. I traipsed off to the supermarket, and then set to work.

I've talked about
cake before - and this cake, specifically. It's become my go-to cake, one that I barely need to look at the recipe for, one that I know will come out perfectly, one that I often bring over to the houses of friends. This cake works well both as dessert and as breakfast. I leave it unfrosted, because honestly this cake does not need frosting. (Daniel is always trying to get me to make some sort of almond icing for it. I might try that one of these days.)

So I made up the dough, filled dozens of cups, and slipped them into the oven. They found a nice little home in a basket I had sitting around, coupled with a dishcloth to guard against the cold. It was pretty much the most adorable thing. Once we arrived at our destination, the cupcakes were pretty much decimated. Something about making that cake bite-sized turned it irresistible. I got my first "you should sell these!" comment, which was pretty flattering.

Busy-Day Cupcakes
adapted from Orangette

These are perfect to bring to a party, or a potluck, or any place where a group of people will be hanging out. When I brought these to my friends, they couldn't help gobbling them up, creating little mountains of wrappers next to them.

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.
1 1/3 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 shakes cinnamon
1/2 c. whole milk, room temp.

Preheat oven to 375°F. If you like to be prepared, go ahead and cover a baking sheet with mini baking cups.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. If you are doing this by hand with a wooden spoon (which I recommend, though it is more work) and it is a little nubbly with butter, that's okay. You'll be doing more blending and whatever butter nubbins are left will melt when baked. Add one egg at a time, mixing well after each. Add vanilla extract and blend.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Add about a fourth of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and beat until blended. Add a third of the milk and blend. Repeat three times, so it'll go: flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.

Spoon the batter into the baking cups and put into the oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

These are best warm, but if you manage to have some leftovers, they'll keep for a few days at room temperature, and make a delicious breakfast.