Monday, October 29, 2012


Top 5 Recipes: A Wish List (as in, recipes I want to make):

  1. Miso Soup
  2. Julia Child's Soupe a l'Oignion
  3. Baguette (for real this time)
  4. Lemon curd. (It's just such a pleasurable experience.)
  5. Any kind of gumbo so I can practice making a roux
But as for things I can't stop thinking about eating:
  1. Brutti ma Buoni, these amazing Italian cookies my Aunt Grace makes whose name translates to "ugly but good." Italians, you kill it on a regular basis. 
  2. Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic as described by Smitten Kitchen
I'm not even hungry, I just keep thinking about roasted chicken, garlic, and those cookies.

So. Not last post but the post before, I told you that there's a book I loved as a child but would not let my own children go near. This statement is not entirely accurate. When I was but a lass, I read these books obsessively (yeah, I know, that doesn't narrow it down. I have an obsessive personality; sue me.) but did not realize, no matter how many times my family told me, that these books were seriously creepy, to the point where I'd be uncomfortable with my child reading them. This is a universe where no one ever dies...even if they've been chopped into tiny pieces with a cleaver or eaten by a dragon. I'm talking about....

I took great pride in having read all fourteen in the series, plus Sea Fairies and The Life and Times of Santa Claus to boot. I didn't have any classmates who had read that many....or any of them, actually. My parents had read them all....I think, at some point, but years and years ago, so I couldn't talk to anybody about these crazy-ass books that I loved so much. 

I'm conflicted about the Oz books because I was not in a great emotional place when I became obsessed with them. When I was nine, I didn't have any friends and my teacher was the first adult I had ever met who did not like me. Do you remember meeting your first adult who didn't like you, or at least didn't like you as much as you were used to being liked? I was used to people loving me, or at least putting up with my weirdness, but Mrs. Lonergan (name burned into my brain via shame and humiliation) did not tolerate a child as silly as I was, and I did not know how to respond to this treatment. So for a full year, I retreated into books (and as I later realized, dance), because I literally did not have anywhere else to go. I was in an emotional state where I didn't see how messed up the Oz books were. I just saw that they were pretty and shiny and the mean guys were punished. 

Apart from the super-creepy "you never die, no matter how hard you try or how much you're suffering" thing that Baum states at least once in every book, the world is pretty awesome! There's a village made of people who are puzzles, there are miniature pigs who do tricks, everyone's pretty much nice all the time, and there's basically no poverty. My favorite of the series has always been The Road to Oz, because it has the most interesting and unusual characters. For example: 

Johnny Doo it, capable of solving any problem ever.

The Shaggy Man, who's basically a hobo, only he possesses the Love Magnet, so everyone loves him and does whatever he wants. He's friends with Johnny Doo it for this reason. He's just irresistible. 

And of course, Polychrome, daughter of the rainbow, who eats things like dew-drops and mist-cakes and whines a lot. But she's hot, so she can get away with it. 

It's a magical world....but still super weird. What do you think? Are the Oz books too creepy to let your kids read? I doubt I could handle reading them to my children. 

Swiss Pumpkin: Reichl disappoints

When I was growing up, I loved reading Ruth Reichl's autobiographical book Tender At the Bone. I identified with a child who grew up in the kitchen, as my parents regarded my sisters and I as really short sous chefs. (Parents, I jest.) I once tried to make a tart that she describes as transcendental, but I found it pretty pedestrian. "Surely," I thought, "surely I must have gotten it wrong!" I tried closing my eyes while eating it, but it was seriously underwhelming.

I'm beginning to think Ruth Reichl is just terrible at recipes (not to mention relationships. Burn!), because yesterday, Alice and I made her recipe for Swiss Pumpkin and it was terrible. We had gotten a free pumpkin at Harvest Fest, and weren't sure what to do with it, so I suggested this recipe that I had read about so many times. Reichl invented it and apparently made it multiple times for lots of people, all of whom received it favorably.

Here's how it works. You hollow out a pumpkin, layer it with French bread and some kind of Swiss cheese, then fill it up with cream and bake it at 300 for 2 hours. Simple enough. I remembered my mother making this for us when I was little, ladling out pumpkin soup straight from the pumpkin. We swapped cream for whole milk because we could get that free from the dining halls and took some cheddar from lunch. I knew it probably wouldn't taste as strong, but figured it would work out fine. For bread we went to Hungry Ghost and got a French batard that had made astounding French toast that day for breakfast. Everything was ready to go.

I first became suspicious when the recipe called for hardly any seasoning. Nutmeg, black pepper, and salt was all that was mentioned. We added some fresh chives from my Mason jar garden, but for some reason the spices were added last, on top of the milk. Then the pumpkin started to leak from the bottom. It was a little leak, but we were worried that all the milk would dribble out and the whole thing would be ruined. Desperate, we stopped up the bottom with extra bread and baked it in a baking dish.

It smelled pretty good. We scooped out some bread and cheese into teacups and took a bite.

It was bland. So bland. It was soggy, milky bread and some chunks of pumpkin. It tasted like high-end baby food, if your baby will only eat food served straight from a gourd. And in that moment, I remembered why my mother only made this recipe once: because it's not delicious.

At least it only cost five bucks to make.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

That charming ingenious pig

Last night, I went to a class screening of Bamboozled that was so upsetting I actually felt sick to my stomach. Without hyperbole, that movie was the most upsetting thing I have ever seen in my life. So when I left to catch the bus back home (why yes, this was a night screening at Hampshire), I felt the need to hear a loved one's voice. I called Emily, which was nice. I really enjoy talking to my family, for several reasons. Firstly, they are my family and I love them and like to know what's happening in their lives. Secondly, we all have very similar senses of humor, so they actually get my jokes. What a welcome change. Thirdly, we tend to share very definitive opinions on controversial topics. Whenever I learn that a friend has a very strong opinion on, say......homeopathy, I usually just change the subject, because homeopathy makes me very irritated and the fact that there are people who think it really works is so exasperating that I'm prone to violent outbursts of the kind that end friendships. So when I call my sisters and the talk turns to brownies, homeschooling, or manners, I don't have to censor myself and can freely say that people who frost brownies deserve to be shot. It's very soothing.

But one of the best things about talking to my family is talking to them about books, especially children's books. Obviously, my immediate family all read the same books when we were growing up; my parents gave us their favorites and they naturally read what we read throughout our childhoods. From age seven or eight till far older than strictly appropriate, my favorite books were the Freddy the Pig books by Walter R. Brooks.

Freddy is a talking pig who lives on a farm in Central New York. He writes poetry, is a detective, plays football, and writes a newspaper....among other things. Freddy does all kinds of wonderful and interesting things, and just because the books are about talking animals (all the other animals in the area can talk, not just the ones on that farm and not just Freddy), does not make them cutesy. Freddy gets involved with starting a republic on the farm, for one, and there's a book about him handling a dictator rat, although that's one I've never read. Some of the books were better than others, but even the worst was pretty good. They also taught me a lot of interesting things, such as what a mustache cup is, a lot of interesting proverbs, and words like "peculiar" and "sophisticated" and "phaeton."

The Freddy books were remarkable in that the supporting cast was every bit as delightful as the main character. Some favorites include: Jinx the black cat who yowled outside people houses in the middle of the night to collect scrap metal for the war effort; Mrs. Wiggins the cow who, while not very intelligent, is full of common sense; Mr. Boomshmidt the circus owner who has animals putting up tents, taking tickets, and a lion for a yes-man. I love them all.

The Freddy books are absolutely books I will read my future kids. Coming up soon: the series of children books that I adored but will not let my kids touch with a ten-foot pole. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tastes of Autumn, Part 3: Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

People joke about how autumn online and autumn in real life are completely different, but in the Pioneer Valley, there's no difference. The place is so idyllic I sometimes wonder if I'm living on a movie set.
Yesterday was jacketless weather, so Alice and Rebecca and I went for a walk in residential Northampton and went house-spotting. (There's no point in leaf-spotting when your current town is so ridiculously gorgeous.) I have previously mentioned how I like to imagine my own life in certain houses, and Alice and I share similar tastes. I like a wraparound porch, a screened-in porch in the back or on the side, and I'm very partial to yellow houses. We strolled through the nicest little area with cozy houses that had lazy fat cats and children in abundance and a neighborhood park. It was beautiful and happy and I wanted to pick a house and start having babies right there.

Then on a whim, we went up the hill and the houses suddenly got very swank. People gave us funny looks, and there were three or four cars per driveway. It was simply too fancy. We couldn't take it and left as soon as we could.

This recipe is a relic from 1950's housewife-y cookbooks, but I love it the most. Cooks Illustrated makes a big deal about how its humble appearance doesn't make it any less delicious, but I think it's perfect. Here is an unpretentious dessert that smells and tastes incredible. You get a moist, chewy brownie with fudge sauce on the bottom, perfect with ice cream and a snap to make (although it uses hella dishes, jsyk).


Hot Fudge Pudding Cake
Source: Baking Illustrated

2 tsp instant coffee
1 1/2 c water
2/3 c Dutch-process cocoa* 
1/3 c packed brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
6 T unsalted butter
2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 T vanilla 
1/3 c milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg yolk

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray an 8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking spray**. Stir the instant coffee into the water; set aside to dissolve. Stir together 1/3 c of the cocoa, the brown sugar, and 1/3 c of the granulated sugar in a small bowl, breaking up any large clumps with your fingers. Set aside. Melt the butter, chocolate, and the remaining 1/3 c of cocoa in a small bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (or in a saucepan set over low heat. Who needs another dish to wash?); whisk until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a small bowl to combine; set aside. Whisk the remaining 2/3 c granulated sugar with the vanilla, milk, and salt in a medium bowl until combined; whisk in the yolk. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is evenly moistened. 
  2. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly to the sides and corners. Sprinkle the cocoa mixture evenly over the batter (the cocoa mixture should cover the entire surface of the batter); pour the coffee mixture gently over the cocoa mixture. It will look super weird but just roll with it. Bake until the cake is puffed and bubbling and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the baking dish, about 45 minutes. (Do not overbake.) Cool the cake in the dish on a wire rack about 25 minutes before serving. 
*The recipe says Dutch-process makes all the difference, but the cake was still mind-blowing with Hershey's. Use what you have. 
**I love parchment paper as much as the next baker, but you want your cake to have direct contact with the pan or it won't bake as thoroughly. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Top 5 things I dislike about my Dance History class

  1. It seems like every reading we do has that nasty, self-congratulatory, "aren't I so deep and intelligent" kind of introductory section in which the author uses a pretty simple word like "form," then goes on to explain for three or four paragraphs what "form" means to them, and what they mean when they say it. If you're making one word do that much work, I certainly hope you're paying it overtime. 
  2. One of the professors wrote the textbook for the class. I am highly scornful of professors who do that. You may be an expert in the field, but I'm sure you aren't the only expert. There are plenty of other people who write about African-American protest traditions; it's a fairly popular subject. So get over yourself and don't assign your own book as required reading. 
  3. While we're on the subject of readings, I have to say this: the class is called "Dance in the 20th Century: African-American Protest Traditions." Maybe a third of the assigned readings are about dance. Even fewer are about protest traditions. While things like the origins of the blues and the psychology surrounding the Freedmen's Bureau are certainly interesting, I signed up for a class in dance history. I feel like I have to beg my professors to actually talk about dance history, which they almost never do. That brings me to my next point....
  4. What are my professors talking about, if not dance history? Why, they're one-upping each other, of course! Something in their relationship is rotten or off-balance, because any time one of them makes a point, the other one feels pressure to respond immediately with a better point. This vicious cycle frequently spins them far off-topic, and their long-winded theoretical monologues are not nearly as interesting as the very subtle looks on their faces. When Professor A is talking, Professor B looks mildly irritated and impatient, like someone who's waiting for the right time to get up and use the bathroom, and she frequently exchanges Looks with the TA. When Professor B is talking, Professor A takes on a really interesting look that is best described as a smile on top of a sneer. (When I described this look to Zaineb, she said, "This class must be boring if you're spending so much time analyzing their faces!") It's juuuuuuust short of condescension. Highly distracting and not at all educational. 
  5. By far the worst part of this class is the knowledge that if I had just taken it at Smith (which, as it turns out, I could have), I would be taking it with my favorite professor, who is my favorite professor largely because of her competence

Wardrobe malfunction

It's been a rough couple of weeks for me, clothing-wise. My old reliable leotard split its seams...actually quite a while ago, and though I tried to repair them, the fact remained that I was simply too big for this leotard. The splits grew and grew until they finally were large enough to put a hand through (but the stitches I made still held, so good for me). Then I retired the soldier that had served me so well and had to look for a new recruit. (I apologize for the military metaphor; I just finished Monstrous Regiment.) I recently ordered a new leotard which arrived today, but upon opening the package, I discovered that it had been made with medium sized pixies in mind rather than actual medium-sized women. Do ballet dancers just....never have boobs? Because I have yet to find a leotard that helps me on that score. Sure, the stereotype is wicked skinny girls, but most of the ballet dancers I've met do not fit that description. This isn't a body image concern, just a practical issue. Leotards don't fit me, but they are my favorite item of dance apparel. Busty Girl Comics should tackle the issue so I'll at least find it funny.

Then, this past week, I discovered that my favorite pants had a rip on the inner thigh that was most unladylike. Since I tend to sit with my legs wide apart, I knew that this issue would have to be remedied, so this morning, I sewed up the rip. Not twenty minutes later, another rip right below where I ha sewed opened up again! I am distressed! I thought the whole point of buying high-quality clothes was that they lasted longer. What gives? (Not my pants, apparently.) It's very disappointing when your nicest pants become your raggedy pants. I want to look neat and tidy, not sloppy, but apparently my clothing has other ideas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life plan UPDATE!

Spring schedule: completed! I'll be taking Organic Chemistry, Statistics, Cell Bio, and Ballet IV (finally!). It'll be heavy, but I won't have to take a class over the summer with Bio out of the way. I can focus on working with a physical therapist and maybe even get a weekend job. How crazy is it that I know where I'd want to apply? I have pretty kickass credentials on account of being a kitchen manager at 18, so I'd have a decent shot working the grills somewhere, and I know just which places hire for the summer. I will be successful through sheer force of will.

17 credits and a ballet class to boot. It feels really good to be so driven again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rigid schedule

I am a very Type-A person, and I can prove it! I have a life plan: on my parents' refrigerator, there is a chart that maps every remaining semester of college (and summers) and the classes I need to take if I want to apply to physical therapy programs. Guess what? None of these classes are associated with the dance major! Tra la la. This semester, I have embarked on my life plan by taking Chemistry. Next semester, I'll be taking Chem II and Statistics. This summer, I'll do my PRAXIS at a physical therapy clinic and take Cell Biology. It feels good to have things planned out.

However, life is messy, and things get stuck in the creek sometimes. This week I decided that I had to drop a work shift. Rather, my mother told me that my schedule is insane and I should drop a work shift. Of course, she was right, but I stressed out over it anyway.
To put this in perspective, my Wednesday schedule is as follows:

11:00-12:10--> Chemistry
12:10-12:30--> Eat lunch en route to the Quad
12:30-5:15--> Work
5:30-6:00--> Dinner
6:15--> Take bus to Hampshire
7:00-9:00--> Class screening
9:10--> Bus home
9:30--> Arrive home, start homework

Yes, I have a late start to my day, but it's still crazy and I don't ever have time to eat. This change will be for the best. Now all I have to do is plan my spring schedule!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tastes of Autumn, Part 2: Mountain Day

Mountain Day Pumpkin Pie

Very slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated


1 prebaked pie shell, whatever recipe you prefer
2 c plain canned pumpkin puree
1 cup packed light brown sugar (original recipe says dark, but the molasses flavor was a little too overpowering for my taste)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c heavy cream
2/3 c milk
4 large eggs


  1. FOR THE PIE SHELL: Partially bake the crust until light golden brown. 
  2. FOR THE FILLING: Meanwhile, process the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices and salt in a food processor for 1 minute until combined. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring it to a sputtering simmer over medium-high heat. Cook the pumpkin, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. 
  3. As soon as the pie shell comes out of the oven, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Whisk the heavy cream and milk into the pumpkin and bring to a bare simmer. Process the eggs in a food processor until the whites and yolks are combined, about 5 seconds. With the motor running, slowly pour about half of the hot pumpkin mixture through the feed tube. Stop the machine and add remaining pumpkin mixture. Process 30 seconds longer. 
  4. Immediately pour the warm filling into the hot pie shell. (Ladle any excess filling into the pie after it has baked 5 minutes or so--by this time the filling will have settled.) Bake the pie until the filling is puffed, dry-looking, and lightly cracked around the edges, and the center still wiggles like gelatin when the pie is gently shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 1 hour. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Let the wild relaxation begin!

I love Maurice Sendak with all of my heart (except for the parts that are reserved for the Muppets and Russell & Lillian Hoban), but seriously, "Let the wild rumpus begin!" sounds 10 billion times more exciting than "Let the wild rumpus start!" You need an extra syllable in there, Sendak. Get it together, bro.

Today marks the beginning of Fall Break! I have been so stressed and exhausted this past week, folks, you don't even know. After dance on Thursday, I was too tired to smile, so the contented rush that comes from a really good dance class was lost! What a shame! But now I am on break, and my break started (as all good breaks should) with a trip to the library.

I finally signed up for a Forbes library card, and I have to say that library is stunningly beautiful. It's like the Utica, NY train station: beauty where you least expect it. I've embarked upon an incredible journey this weekend. I am beginning Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. So far I'm about 2/3 of the way into The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, which is really good in a horrifying sort of way. No wonder Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett work so well together. They both seem to enjoy seeing how much horror you can pull off when your writing is very compelling. Undoubtedly this series will leave me weeping, but I'm still going to read it....just like how Season 7 of Doctor Who is making me whimper with sadness, but that hasn't stopped me from watching it.

You know what they say: vacations don't count unless they leave you cringing and sobbing in a corner.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Extension of the heart

One of the many, many reasons I love my Contemporary class is that we get to dance to live music. Dancing to an accompanist versus a CD makes a huge difference, for starters because all the accompanists I've known are very kind. When I was twelve years old, I went to a really fancy ballet summer school for two weeks. I had dreamed of attending for years and when I got there, I was absolutely petrified. At the first class I was scared stiff--literally, rigid with anxiety. Because my last name starts with "A" I was at the end of the barre, facing the accompanist. He was a white-haired Russian man (I learned his lineage later) with an enormous face. We did the first combination on one side, and after he struck the final chord, this man took in my wide-eyed, terrified face, and gave me a thumbs-up from under the piano. I felt reassurance wash over me like a wave, my tense muscles relaxed, and I turned to the other side, ready to dance. That man is my hero. I would never have gotten to where I am today without that tiny gesture of support.

Accompanists are also truly great artists, and our accompanist (whose name is Tony) is no exception. He plays up to four or five instruments at any given time: a drum between his knees, shakers on his ankles, a keyboard, this weird wind instrument that attaches to the keyboard, and he also has pre-recorded sounds that he blends with his instruments. A series of bird calls is in heavy rotation, which really confused me the first week of class. Tony plays the sunrise. He played the fog that rolled in this morning and dusk with mosquitoes coming out and at times, it feels like he plays pure emotion. His drums are a pulse, and the piano is breath. I can't put into words how beautiful this man's music is, nor how grateful I am that I get to dance to it twice a week. It's not easy playing for dancers. Teachers can be very exacting about tempo and style, and of course you aren't the center of attention no matter how well you play.

At the end of each class, we applaud Candice (you always applaud the teacher. If you've never taken a dance class, take note! Your teacher, no matter what technique you are studying, is giving you a gift of time, knowledge and experience. It's very rude to just walk away at the end of class without acknowledging that gift. Applaud and thank them personally for good measure.), and then applaud for Tony. Our applause for Tony consists of the class crouching down and pounding the floor with our palms. I don't know the background of this gesture, but I understand it and appreciate it.