a booklist

When I was fifteen I read a book called, Are You Really Going to Eat That? by Robb Walsh. 
It detailed all the disgusting things the author had eaten and the stories behind them. 
It wasn’t the food, but the stories surrounding the food mesmerized me.
I became obsessed. 
I read cookbooks the way other people read novels. 
I read about the history of barbeque, the art of sushi, the architecture of the perfect loaf of bread. 
I read the food encyclopedia,
The Man Who Ate Everything, cover to cover. 
All five hundred and twenty-eight pages of it. 

My favorite books, however, were the food memoirs, because the lives of the authors wrapped around recipes and meals. 
Eating and love and destiny and history and romance-- in the lives of these magic people-- it was all interconnected and intertwined through food. 
These writers were the kind of people I wanted to know. 
They were all somewhat troubled, and clever, with strange childhoods. 
They had sexy lives-- slick with travel and encounters with famous chefs, rare cheeses, wine, cloud-like pastries, and sensuous lovers that entertained them in between courses. 
However, more than anything, I was fascinated that these magical people lived in pursuit of beauty. That an entire way of life could be structured around the ceaseless pursuit of flavors that lasted just long enough to be remembered and written about. 

And so eating and drinking, became for me, about the story. 

This year is almost over. 
I'm trying to comprehend all the stories, all the meals, all the drinks. 
Maybe it doesn't matter. 
But I can't help it. 
Do you remember? 
I want to say. 
Do you remember? 

Remember the butterscotch budino? 
Remember the time I cried, and he gave me the cookies for free?
Remember when I dropped the bowl of whipped cream?
Remember when we sat in Central Park and I gave you the rest of the pastries? 
Remember the rum, and the beach, and the lobster pasta?
Remember the Halloween samosas at 2am, and you were too drunk and I was too sober and everyone came and sat on the sidewalk, all in costume-- just to eat doughnuts? 
Remember the time I asked for “a pink drink please” and you touched my hand across the table?  
Remember the gelato and cheese and grapes, and rescuing a dog in the rain and I was barefoot? 
I didn't want an entree, but you insisted. 
You ate all the pizza, asshole. 
We only ever ate breakfast tacos. 

Do you remember? 

So it's been a hungry year. 
Very hungry. 
I have been learning that it is impossible to hold too tightly onto people. 
However, it is possible to love the memories and collect the recipes. 
And to remember this bitter and sweet year, with gratitude. 
Because if nothing else, at least we ate. 
And at least I got a story. 


Some Food Memoirs You Might Read If You Are So Inclined 

* My favorites are italicized. 

The Man Who Ate Everything -- Jeffrey Steingarten

Are You Really Going to Eat That? -- Robb Walsh

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food -- Judith Jones

Garlic and Sapphires -- Ruth Riechl 

Comfort Me With Apples -- Ruth Riechl 

How to Cook a Wolf -- MFK Fisher 

A Homemade Life -- Molly Wizenberg 

My Berlin Kitchen -- Luisa Weiss 

Blood, Bones and Butter -- Gabrielle Hamilton 

Toast -- Nigel Slater 

My Life in France -- Julia Child

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen -- Laurie Colwin 

The Sweet Life in Paris -- David Lebovitz

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti -- Giulia Melucci

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating Food in China -- Fushia Dunlop 

Climbing the Mango Tree: A Memoir of Childhood in India -- Madhur Jaffrey 

My Life from Scratch -- Gesine Bullock-Prado 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- Barbara Kingsolver 

Chocolate Pecan Pie

From now on, when ever anyone asks me how I am doing, I am not going to say,
"I'm great."
"I'm good."
"I'm fine."
I am going to say:

"I am loving life." 

Because being alive is actually really spectacular. And it's inspirational to affirm the wonder of the world to other people, as well as yourself.
So there you go. 

Also it is Thanksgiving. And I am so grateful. My father likes to tell me that Gratitude and Forgiveness are the Most Important Thing.

And he's right.

I'm grateful for my family, what they have done for me and the love I have for them... There are not words for my gratitude it goes --beyond. I am especially grateful for my brother Michael, because he lets me call him and say everything that is in my head and he listens and we laugh, and that is good.

And I am grateful for friends, old and new, for laughter and good times and talking about everything and nothing. I am grateful for hugs and smiling and laughter. I am grateful for meals. I am grateful for books and blogs and the newspaper and long walks. I am grateful for music and lyrics and poetry. I am grateful for sitting on blankets and looking at the sky. I am grateful for clouds. I am grateful for professors and university. I am grateful for lipstick and cvs and dancing. I am grateful for yogurt and granola and bananas. I am grateful for sunlight. I am grateful for the cold. I am grateful for waking up. I am grateful for singing and pie.
And I am grateful for myself. And I'm grateful that I can forgive myself-- for being awkward and weird sometimes, and knowing that it is okay.

I am also grateful for my ability to rationalize eating tremendous quantities of pie.

Speaking of which:

Chocolate Pecan Pie. My mother wished it had bourbon in it. I agree. Add a splash of something boozy while you bake.

Endless love. I am so grateful you're here.

also, i just realized that all of my posts lately have been about how gorgeous life is. how magnificent is that?

Chocolate Pecan Pie
from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

This is really, really good. NB: Dorie specifies a partially baked crust, which frankly, I rarely have time for. Partially/blind baking crusts always exhausts me as it requires too much hovering around the oven. Anyways, I baked this in an unbaked crust and it all worked out fine. Though the crust on the bottom COULD stand to be a little crisper, who cares? Regardless, I wanted to leave that decision up to you, so I left the recipe as is.

1 9-inch single pie crust, partially baked and cooled
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup (about 7 ounces) pecan halves or pieces
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
A splash of something boozy

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 F. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat blah blah blah.
In a large bowl, whisk the corn syrup and brown sugar together until smooth.
Whisk in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until you have a smooth, foamy mixture. Add the espresso powder, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and give the batter a good mix. Rap the bowl against the counter a couple of times to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then stir in the pecans and chocolate.
Turn the filling into the crust.
Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make a foil shield for the crust by butting a 9-inch circle out of the center of an 11- or 12-inch square of aluminum foil.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Place the foil shield on top of the piecrust, the filling will be exposed, the crust covered by the foil. Bake the pie for another 15 to 20 minutes (total baking time should be 30 to 35 minutes), or until it has puffed (the middle and the edges should be fairly evenly puffed), is beautifully browed and no longer jiggles when tapped. Transfer the pie plate to a rack, remove the shield and cool to room temperature. 

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

Let me tell you something that no one tells you:

College is actually School.


Everyone talks about "games" and "parties" and "really awesome people" and maybe "study abroad" or "pedigreed professors."

But in talking about college no one actually EVER, I repeat, EVER talked about going to class and homework etc.

It's missing from the "You're a senior in highschool so you better go to college" dialogue.

Not that I'm unhappy or anything, because I think I'm pretty happy, despite the fact that my dorm room does not have a sink.
I am going to complain about this forever.
And it takes me, like, 15 minutes to pee, because I have to walk all the way down the hall to the bathroom, which is like, a half a mile away.
And I have to pee, like, all the time.
Small bladder.
That's me.
Also. The food here, is not stellar. Did you know that Bland is actually a flavor? Like Salty or Sweet or even Umami, if you want to get technical. No. Bland is the flavor that no one talks about. Those little bottles of Tabasco Sauce are my friend.

Anyways, I still live close to home, so I went home one day, and I baked a cake. Baking again was almost as fun as my first college party. But I don't think I want to talk about that here.


Chocolate Ginger Cake
from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

NB: Dorie suggests icing, which I was far too lazy to make, and it was wonderful without. If you so desire the instructions for icing are below. But it really was good without. 

  • For the cake:
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (5 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate—2 ounces melted and cooled, 4 ounces finely chopped
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger in syrup (available in Asian markets), optional

  • For the icing:
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon strong coffee
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and put it on a lined baking sheet. (Make sure your pan measures a true 9-x-9-inches; see above.)

To make the cake: 
Put the fresh ginger and sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside. Whisk the flour, baking soda and spices together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together at medium speed until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Pour in the molasses and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate along with the sugared ginger. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two (begin and end with the dry ingredients), mixing the batter only as much as needed to blend the ingredients. Fold in the chopped chocolate and the ginger in syrup, if you're using it. Pour the batter into the pan (remember, if your pan is small, do not fill it to the top). Bake about 40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Don't be concerned if the cake has domed and cracked—it will settle down as it cools. Transfer the cake to a rack, cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cake. Turn right side up and cool to room temperature before icing. (The edges of the cake might be quite brown, but don't fret—you can trim them after you ice the cake.)

To make the icing: 
Fit a bowl over a pan of simmering water, put the chocolate and coffee in the bowl and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl and, using a small whisk, stir in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the chocolate and stir it in. Transfer the bowl to a counter and let the icing sit for about 10 minutes.Put the gingerbread, still on the rack, on a piece of wax paper or foil (the drip-catcher). Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and use a long metal spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes (you can hurry it along by chilling the cake briefly). If the edges of the cake are overbaked, now's the time to trim them. Then cut the cake into 9 even pieces.

NB: Gingerbread is a good keeper. You can wrap it and store it at room temperature for about 3 days or freeze it, iced and all, for up to 2 months. 

Chocolate-Dipped Fruit Nut Balls


I've missed you.

It's been a while.

Don't worry. I still love you. The holidaze have flown by, and here I am. January 1st. A fresh start. A new year.
A clean year. 2010 was so full, hard, and insanely busy. I'm not complaing, but I'm glad it's over. I'm ready for 2011.

So many good things are going to happen. I can just feel it.

I don't know where I'll be a year from now, and I'm starting to be okay with that. Being young and preparing for college or the next stage of your life or whatever is coming next, is strange. You feel like you're living in a sort of netherworld limbo. Which is unpleasant, sometimes, but it's also okay.
Lately, when I've looked at myself in the mirror I think, "I look different than I did last year." Perhaps it's only my imagination, supposing that my face looks different, but I really do feel that I've changed. Or something in me has changed. And that is very good.

I've decided that 2011 is the year of the prune.

Prunes. I love prunes. LOVE. Ordinary people make faces when you say "prune" they screw up their eyes and make retching noises. And that's because most people only experience prunes as prune juice, which is totally disgusting, and which normal people only drink when constipated. I too hate prune juice, but I especially hate it, because it has nothing to do with the wonderful reality of prunes. Prunes can be blissful. You should not eat prunes that are completely dry and leathery, you should only eat prunes that are plump and moist and sticky.

Prunes are in these strange fruit/chocolate/alien/nut/tasty/cookies. The recipe calls them Chocolate-Dipped Fruit Nut Balls, which is an apt, but rather grody name. You should make these and eat them and dream up some brilliant name in the middle of the night and then have me over, and I can polish off the rest of the fruit/chocolate/alien/nut/tasty/cookies.

They are also VEGAN and HEALTY, because they are simply DRIED FRUITS (i.e. prunes) and NUTS and CHOCOLATE. They are light and sophisticated and rich and luxerious. Did I mention there are prunes in them?

Happy New Year!

Chocolate-Dipped Fruit-Nut Balls
from who was inspired by
Gourmet, March 1986

Also, they improve with time. They are so devine.

1 cup walnuts
½ lb dried cherries
½ lb dried Turkish figs
½ lb dried apricots
½ lb dried pitted prunes
1-2 Tbs fruit juice, such as good apple cider, or fruit-flavored liqueur
Powdered sugar, for dredging
8 ounces good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process them to chop finely. Remove the walnuts to a large mixing bowl.

Rinse the bowl of food processor, wipe it dry, and fill it with the dried fruit. Pulse the machine to chop the fruit finely. You don’t want to turn the fruit into a gummy purée, but you do want it to be chopped finely enough that there are no pieces larger than a pea. Remove the fruit to the bowl with the walnuts, and stir them to mix. Add 1 Tbs fruit juice or liqueur, and stir to combine. Pinch off a smallish wad of the fruit-nut mixture: when you roll it between your palms, does it hold together in a tight ball? If not, add a bit more juice or liqueur until it does.

Pour about ½ cup of powdered sugar into a small bowl; you can add more later, if needed. Pinching off little mounds of the fruit-nut mixture, shape them into 1-inch balls, roll each ball lightly in powdered sugar to coat, and place them on a baking sheet. Let the balls stand at room temperature, uncovered, for 24 hours.

Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and keep it close at hand. In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove it from the heat. Using a teaspoon, plop and dab and shake chocolate onto half of each ball; you may want to do this over the sink, wasteful though it may be, rather than over the bowl of chocolate—otherwise your melted chocolate may be contaminated by sprinkles of powdered sugar. Place the balls on the lined baking sheet, and place them in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened. Tuck each ball into a small candy or cupcake cup, and store them in an airtight container, chilled, for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: About 50 balls.