Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I am Genius, and So Can You.

Dear Boo,

I have no remaining physical evidence of the miracle which took place in my apartment on Easter Sunday. No image appearing on a slice of toast, no time lapse photography showing a glass of wine disappeared by an elusive Elijiah (see what I did there?), no, not even a single blurry cell phone photo in which one can barely make out the outline of a figure backlit in a halo of warm afternoon sunlight.

Oh wait, there is a blurry photo:

Can you see it? Glowing, ever so slightly? There, next to the brown smudge? No, the other one?

But you can kind of feel the power, right?

Well, you'll just have to take my word for it. Actually, you won't, since you were there and bore witness to the sacred event, but for the benefit of posterity, I am putting this down in print so that, like the gospels, future generations can hear tell of a time when inspiration led to magic and tired mothers could be geniuses.

It was Easter Sunday. Some of us wore frills.

Some didn't. All were hungry. Most were sleepy.

I planned a simple menu which could be executed easily and quickly during morning naptime. It included: Shakshuka, bacon, roasted potatoes, with delicious asparagus vinaigrette provided by the Boo, and fresh fruit and a fruit crisp from The Mother.

We all know, I hope, that when making bacon in large quantities, and especially for guests, one should always make it in the oven. Standing over a splattering pan of bacon grease, flipping and burning yourself and ruining your clothes and generally smoking up the place, when you should be drinking mimosas on the couch, is just dumb. As such, I planned to stick a package on a sheet tray and throw it in the oven a few minutes before your arrival. But there were also the potatoes that I planned to cut up and roast on a pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little paprika, which would also take up oven space and time. Then I realized they both would cook at the same temperature, and could therefore go into the oven together (if not for the same duration). And Then--THEN--it hit me. Here's how my thinking went, if you can call pure inspiration, pure TRUTH and LIGHT and GOODNESS beamed directly into your soul, beyond words, beyond rational thought, beyond emotion and petty distractions of human life, "thinking."

I often roast chicken on top of chunked up root vegetables (like potatoes) in the same pan. Classic, right? This serves multiple purposes: 1: makes a delicious one-pot meal with meat and sides, 2: Seasons the vegetables with herbs and juices from the chicken, and keeps them moist, and 3: makes a sort of 'rack' for the chicken which allows air to flow on all sides, so the chicken is moist and the skin crispy, rather than having it sit in the bottom of the pan, stewing in the juices.


I've seen recipes for oven-cooked bacon which have you lay it on a rack in the pan so the grease drips down to the bottom and the bacon gets nice and crispy. And I've surely seen recipes for potatoes cooked in various fats--duck fat, chicken fat (see above)...

And most of all, a voice inside me seemed to speak, why do two dishes when you can do just one! And thou shalt line it with aluminum foil and not ask questions about the potential toxicity of this and ye shall peel it and throw it away and drink another mimosa instead of getting a cramp in thy arm scrubbing off crusted bits and it will be good. 


I chopped and tossed the potatoes with just a touch of oil (the bacon would provide the rest of the fat), and seasonings. Spread them on a lined pan, and then carefully draped some nice applewood smoked bacon over the top. Popped the pan into a pre-heated oven at 400 and sat back while the incomparable smell of smoky salty pork overtook the apartment. Flipping the potatoes took a bit of finagling what with the bacon in the way, but it was worth it. When the bacon looked just about perfect, I pulled it out and onto a waiting paper towel. Left the potatoes in a bit longer until they were golden and crispy with fluffy interiors, and then scattered some chopped scallions over the top with a dash of more salt.

Result: I am genius, obvi. But this isn't about me. It was never about me. This is about the future. About sharing this revelation with our children, and our children's children. Its a new day, and this day tastes like perfectly cooked potatoes bathed in essence of bacon, with skins that shatter sonorously against the tooth and bacon that is even and crisp and smoky with nary a smidgen burnt or undercooked and slimy. It's beautiful.

And the shakshuka was pretty rapturous as well.


The Mouse

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sometimes a Cookie is Just a Cookie.

Dear Boo,

I have nothing profound to say about these cookies. A fact which has kept me from writing to you about them for some time, despite the fact that they are delicious, a cinch to make, and are both dairy free and flourless, which makes them perfect for those of us on restrictive diets/those of us celebrating the upcoming Jewish holiday. I just couldn't come up with anything poignant, moving, touching, funny, or otherwise worth saying about them, and so they've languished for weeks without a mention.

I thought about using these as a way to discuss why I’ve decided once and for all, that I am against diets of the sacrificial, weight-loss type, the kind that inevitably lend moral weight to inanimate, edible food items, and through their inevitable consumption (because we will, at some point, cave and give in and eat eat eat, feeling horrible and disgusted/disgusting the whole time), give us the false sense of BEING Good or Bad, as if these morsels have the ability to taint or cleanse our very souls. But I mean, really? Do you want to hear more about this? I'm annoying myself here.

Then I thought about something more light hearted, like the fact that when you mix up these ingredients, they somehow turn in an instant, into a thick glue-like consistency that caused my forearm muscles to ripple with the effort of moving the whisk through, despite the fact that I pick up and put down an 18 pound solid (and very cute) weight about a hundred thousand times a day. It reminded me of making ‘ooblech’ as a kid, a potent mix of corn starch, water and food coloring which turned solid when enclosed in a fist, and liquid when you opened your fingers. The best was hurling it at a wall while in the liquid state, a little puddle in your palm, which would then burst forth as spattering droplets which shattered upon impact with the surface.

The 18 lb weight enjoys some avocado
Then I thought I'd talk about how legend has it our grandmother used to bake every. single. day during our mother's childhood, and that homemade dessert would be served at every. single. meal. And that she did this while raising three kids and before the advent of seamless.com. And how I have one tiny person, a one bedroom apartment, and can barely manage to boil a pot of pasta, let alone make a pie crust on a tuesday afternoon. AND my husband does the laundry. But that these cookies are so simple and so fast to make that even I can do a fairly good impersonation of grandma and have a fresh-baked batch ready by dinner time. I was going to go on talking about how I still, six months in to motherhood, can't seem to get much done and how quickly each day seems to go by and how my standards for productivity have been lowered to the point where responding in a semi-timely fashion (read: three days late) to one email and finishing the dishes in the sink deserves a pat on the back. And then of course I remembered raising and growing and keeping alive another human being is pretty freaking productive and then I fell asleep from BOREDOM because complaining about being tired and busy is like the most boring thing in the world and I refuse to do any more of it.

And then I stopped thinking about these cookies and started thinking about how many other things I am not doing because I'm waiting for something outside of myself to happen--inspiration to strike, a sign to be sent my way, someone to swoop in and rescue me from doing it myself, fear to be miraculously removed from my path, indecision to be wiped away once and for all. And the list was loooong, lemme tell you. Its tremendously easy for me, I've found, to think about doing something without actually doing it. To focus on all the reasons not to do it, or not to do it NOW, or why someone else should really be the one to do it, or to get up and eat another pretzel--just ONE more--before I do.

And really, what is all of that nonsense anyway.

So I'm taking a stance, here and now, to stop waiting. Sometimes inspiration comes. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it shows up when you're busy slogging away. Sometimes it arrives at precisely the moment you sit down to do your work, with hours of uninterrupted quiet stretched ahead of you and the chair that's perfectly soft and shaped to your butt with extra lumbar support. But usually not. Sometimes things you (I) write will suck. Sometimes they won't. Sometimes other people will do it better. (And they'll definitely do it better if you don't do it at all.) Sometimes cookies are profound. And sometimes a cookie is just a cookie. And you write about it anyway. Because its better to write than not to write. Because they're yummy and your sister should have the recipe.

You're welcome.


The Mouse

P.S. Speaking of inspiration, I will forever love this interview on the subject.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies (Courtesy of Bon Appetit)

3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons cacao nibs preparation

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg; fold in chocolate and cacao nibs. Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2" apart. Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, 14–16 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan (they'll firm up). DO AHEAD: Cookies can be baked 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.