Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cake Wreck

I just finished reading Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates, a coffee table book that is exactly as it sounds. I love this woman. Her premise is genius in its simplicity: when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong. And oh, do they. Her wit is sharp and dead-on accurate. Check out her blog here.

I especially love that she's being seasonal, as with an example of a frightening bunny cake here.

If you are not familiar with the cupcake cake, consider yourself lucky. It basically involves cramming a bunch of them together and smearing an insane amount of frosting over the top (and coming from me, that says a lot).

Jen was guessing this is supposed to be some kind of hamburger theme? Anyone? For many of these photos there are no words- only hysterical laughter. Jen finds the perfect words for all we want to say and more.
These photos are only a taste, and make me feel better about myself and all those tortes I destroyed during pastry school. Thanks for brightening my world, Jen!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Real Women are Made Of

I've learned a few things from this little high heel challenge for the weekend. First, that walking in heels is really hard, which leads me to realize that being a woman can be pretty hard at times, too.

That led me to ponder on what is difficult about being a woman (it wasn't any of the things that you fellas would guess). As I finally admit I'm a grown woman and start loosening my grip on being a girl, here are some of the things I've realized about being a woman that other ladies could benefit from:

-Real women know the difference between really liking someone and being in love. If they're lucky, one day they'll get to feel both at once.

-Real women know how to change a tire themselves, even if they take offered help.

-Real women have set a future plan for themselves before a romantic partner enters the picture.

-Real women know how to look their fears in the eye and wrestle them to the ground.

-Real women will let themselves cry and be vulnerable, but know the time and place.

-Real women support other women instead of cutting them down.

-Real women know at least one defensive block.

-Real women are open to constantly reinventing themselves. And strive for improvement no matter how perfect they already are.

-Real women aren't afraid to get their heart broken. But they won't let it happen too often.

-Real women have at least one dress or skirt that makes them feel beautiful.

-Real women know they are beautiful.

And most importantly:

-Real women don't have to know how to walk in heels. But it sure does help.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Running in Heels- The Test

Okay, we've got a problem here.

Last night I got dolled up and went out with friends. I went out of my comfort zone and put on makeup, straightened my hair- I even went as far as to put on a fresh shirt after work. This was huge for me, but it didn't seem like enough. So I put on heels.

It didn't go so well.

My friends know I am up for anything. I have no problem embarrasing myself. I will take just aboout any dare. I love challenging myself, both physically and mentally. I have trekked the Himalayas, gone swimming with jellyfish in Halong Bay (did I mention I can't really swim?), learned to ride a bike in Vietnam, and will eat anything put in front of me (maybe with the exception of breast milk cheese, as noted in an earlier post).

But put a pair of high heels on me and I am the biggest wimp. I stumbled through the bar before I'd even had a drink. I whined and moaned for a seat, and then whined and moaned about how much my feet hurt. Then I hobbled ten incredibly painful blocks home on tender, blistered, and very angry feet. I've found my achilles heel, literally.

How is this possible? I am a well-travelled, independent, strong woman who has lived in multiple states across the country. I'm a cosmopolitan, for crying out loud! I'm a savvy, independent, dynamic New Yorker- excuse me, Brooklynite.

Who looks like a drunk giraffe when she puts on heels.

This just will not do.

As my duty to empowered, confident women everywhere, I vow to learn how to do this impossible feat. I won't wear flats again until I can wear heels with poise and walk at least two blocks without complaining. To the women who are already there, you are amazing.

Even though it's a self-inflicted torture comparable to foot binding. And one more obstacle and injustice for women to face. I will make myself do it.

Maybe I'll just try it for a few days and see if I survive the weekend.

So who wants to go out?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ms. Fix-It

Ever since I finished my pre-apprenticeship, I've been looking at New York with different eyes. Carpenter eyes. Or wannabe architect eyes.

I do double takes at plasterwork and hardware. And beautiful doorways.

Just keep me away from those hideous new "luxury apartments" inspired by 1970s communist architecture that are so popular in Williamsburg these days. Sorry, I'm not into cinder blocks or the slapdash, cheap construction look. I can't keep it out of my neighborhood, but I can keep it out of my blog- so no photo.
To the people who preserve the integrity of their neighborhood by renovating instead of tearing down, I applaud you. If only Brooklyn could be a little more like Manhattan on this subject.
Here's one I would love to get my hands on:
If renovating isn't your thing, there are other options:

A girl can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

If Bacon Were a Vegetable

Here's my take on serving bacon as a side vegetable with dinner. Don't do this on a night you have vegetarian company.

Saute thinly sliced garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add broccoli florets when the garlic softens. When the broccoli is mostly cooked through, add cooked bacon pieces (cut in 1/2" sized pieces) and frying cheese cut in bite-size cubes. Cook for one minute more, adding a splash of water to the pan if needed. It's easier cooking the bacon ahead of time so the excess grease can be drained- this is, after all, a vegetable dish.

Frying cheese can be found at most bodegas in New York and at Latin grocery stores. This was my first time working with it- the mild flavor and sturdy, non-melty structure is well suited to the other ingredients. I'm a bit skeptical of cheese that doesn't melt, but it was fun to try something different. My ears will always perk up at the mention of fried cheese- that's what having Sconie roots is all about.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Swimming Upstream

What a week! I haven't felt this busy in a looooong time. Don't ask me what I've been doing, I honestly have no idea. I've been dragging during the day because I stay up too late going through my checklist of dumb things to do. I ran around Manhattan all last week walking dogs, nannying, running errands, making silly phone calls. I'm determined it will all get done eventually.

I'm pretty sure I'm not spawning, but I can definitely empathize with the diligent salmon while I swim upstream. By "empathize with," I really mean eat.

I made an easy pan-seared salmon with garlic butter and cracked black pepper, and served with a simple salad of romaine, smoked gouda and goddess dressing. Finish your salmon in the oven if you don't know your stove very well. The most even way to cook fish is to continue splashing it with the oil or butter from the pan with a large spoon (and this will speed up the cooking as well).

When life gets busy, I reach for junk food. I'm glad this meal isn't letting my diet take a hit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reading is Sexy

I know the weather's coming around. I know New York is going to burst into bloom in a couple weeks, that I should be gearing up for cute dresses, going out and meeting boys. I know, at the very least, I should do something about my hair. But these days, I can't stop reading.

Here are just a few of the books in line on my shelf:

The Portable Dorothy Parker

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Can't wait for this one; I've never read it!)

Dreaming in French by Megan McAndrew

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates

Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Aston

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Journey to the Well by Vashtim McKenzie

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

New Yorkers love to read. I read at least two or three times more than I did before moving here. Everywhere I look, someone has a nose in a book or a book in a bag for the subway ride home. I love it. I take note of interesting covers or titles I often see. This word of mouth, or word of observation has only backfired on me a couple times, as with the Twilight series and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Both were so unpleasant for me, I can't be bothered to make a link.

On a disturbing note, here's an article from the Washington Post showing how few books Americans read each year. Their average number was somewhere around four. (On an internet search, I found a suspiciously generous average of 12. That's still too little for a world power.) The Post said one in four adults didn't read a single book last year. The Pollyanna in me hopes things have changed since the article from 2007, but I doubt it's changed much.

I try to read at least one book per week, which is totally feasible for those who rely on public transportation and get an hour or two of down time each day during their commute. I also don't have legit TV, nor do I miss it. The great thing about reading is once you're into it, you're hooked.

For everyone else with busy lives that can't budget for additional time commitments, try 15-20 minutes each night before bed: that's two hours a week, nine hours per month, and over four days each year. You build vocabulary, promote brain activity, have something interesting to talk about, and if you're lucky, are inspired or moved.

Plus, it will make you sexier.

Check out this link.
What are you reading? Give us the dish or recommend something you thought was great.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Hello Spring" Salad

I love salads. They can be simple or gussied up, ethnic or themed, healthy or indulgent. I'm partial to adding meat to my salads, but I skipped that this time while I send out the old season with something light and fresh.

Here's what you need:
-1 head of red leaf lettuce
-feta cheesee
-1 small fennel bulb
-2 asian pears (what you get when an apple and a pear have a baby)

The fennel adds a nice bite that I find more interesting than celery, the asian pears add a tangy sweetness. This goes best with a sweeter vinaigrette, like balsamic or apple cider.

Feel free to add meat, onion for more kick, or fresh herbs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

She's Crafty

Lately, I don't feel like cooking. This is very strange because there is nothing I'd rather do than make things.

I get this way every time the seasons change. Excited about too many things. Busy. Antsy. Distracted.

"Idle hands cause trouble" was the saying my surrogate grandmother used. In my case, she's right. So I'm putting my hands to use when I'm flying between projects with these crocheted rag rugs. I've adapted them into a chunky, rustic version from the dainty ones my grandmother makes (mine also hide mistakes better).

The best part: they are all eco-friendly and made from recycled sheets and t-shirts. Each is one-of-a-kind and made by a loving, if distracted, hand.

Now if only I can sit still long enough to market them properly on my etsy account.

Let's just hope I don't end up on regretsy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Magic Sundays

Here's my perfect Sunday morning in Brooklyn.

1. Wake up before 9 (not too early, not too late).
2. Have strong coffee in my favorite mug with the Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

3. Eat a breakfast that has a bit of sustenance (lately my fave is oatmeal with blueberry syrup drizzled over the top).

4. Try to have as little to do as possible. Today, crocheting is taking priority over cleaning and being "productive."
5. Repeat often.

Friday, March 12, 2010


A couple weeks ago, a few of my dearest friends in Manhattan trekked over to Williamsburg to join this tart for dinner, Brooklyn-style. Diner is one of the restaurants that's been at the top of my list for ages, and though right in my backyard, it's taken me three years to actually get there.

Lots of things make this place special before you even set foot in it: it's in an old diner from the 20s and was beautifully renovated. Having completed a pre-apprenticeship program to introduce women into tradeswork, I am a sucker for old hardware and architectural detail.

What makes Diner really special is the fresh, unpretentious menu that changes every day. (They embrace the farm to table philosophy and also own Marlow and Sons and Roman's. Check out their blog here.) Our lovely server scribbled the evening specials on the paper tablerunner, explaining the cooking procedure and ingredients used. Our dining experience began.

House made flatbread with serrano ham, caramelized onions and rosemary.

This is me having a transcendent experience with the Portuguese fish stew. It's one of my favorite things in the world and they just happened to make it that day.

Seriously, I could have bathed in the tomato broth.

Frank had a burger with hand cut fries that hadn't been sitting in a bucket all day. They made me so weak, the camera lens got blurry.

Even Abe, with his pain in the butt vegetarian demands, had a marvelous homemade pasta that didn't beg for meat: pappardelle with pesto.

We squished up in the corner booth, completely oblivious to the high traffic aisle next to us and the line out the door. All that mattered was we got a table.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kissing Winter Goodbye

Ice skating with Bessie- a photographic journey.

It's hard to tell, but I was actually working on some sweet jumps and twirls, until one of the rink refs told me to stop.

Isn't she beautiful?

Click here for more info on skating in Prospect Park. It's way better than Central Park or Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, where you spend an arm and a leg and sometimes have a time limit. Plus, you get to be in Brooklyn.
Peace out, winter!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Barb the Builder

I graduated from NEW! Here's me getting my pre-apprenticeship diploma.

Sadly, the hard hats were only for the girls with no tardies. It would have mostly sat in my closet, anyway. I did get an awesome 20 foot tape measure that weighs at least a pound. My tool collection begins!

I wish I had been able to blog about the program more as it was happening, but there were a couple factors inhibiting that.

1) Having a camera was awkward and the teachers didn't seem very excited about me taking pictures when I was supposed to be working.

2) I didn't want to go through the rigmarole of asking permission for classmates to be in the blog.
3) I was too tired. This is actually the real reason and the first two are just excuses.

Between carpentry math, blueprint making, financial workshops, self-defense, occupational safety, painting, electrical work, and shop class, each day was a little different.
Here are some pictures of me in shop.

Here we are beginning to build our very own miter box for cutting 90 and 45 degree angles (for picture frames, for example). This was a proud day for me; I went into the class with the least practical experience as the rest of the girls and I got one of the highest grades. And that was after a gal heckled me for having high math scores, but working at a snail's pace with no hammer skills.
I didn't make it past the first round in the hammer contest, but if I can take my time, I have confidence in my craftsmanship. It shows that I would best be suited for finishing work. It also shows that I'm my father's daughter.
You can see the woman in the corner using a combination square, one of the next tools on my list. I'm getting out some aggression using a crosscut saw.

I wasn't sure if I was going to leave the program with the same feelings as I had going in. Surprisingly, I have them and more. I entered Nontraditional Employment for Women because I wanted to take advantage of the incredible learning opportunity, and all offered for free. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with every minute of it (except for maybe the 5:30 am wake-ups on Saturdays).
This program is really giving women in New York City the ticket to change their lives. I am so proud of the ladies with children who commuted on top of rearranging their work schedules, just so at the end of this, they could get out of a dead-end job or financial dependence.
I went in with an interest in plumbing, and left with an interest in everything. I doubt I will stick around New York for the 5-year apprenticeship on top of a very long wait list, but I do know I'm going to apply the skills down the road. I am grateful for the confidence NEW instilled in all of us, for all the strong women it churns out into a dusty, dirty world.
There is an old house out there, falling apart from neglect and waiting for someone to rescue it, like an old dog at the pound. Somewhere on the horizon, you will see me bent over a work bench, taking a chance on trying to put it all back together again.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How to Ruin Cheese

Warning: this post is going to gross you out.

Here's how to take one of the most perfect foods in the world and ruin it:

1. Exploit your wife after she gives birth
2. Use her breast milk to make cheese
3. Offer it at your restaurant

This is exactly what Chef Daniel Angerer has done at Klee Brasserie, as reported in today's New York Post, which has quickly coined it as Klee Brassiere.

I don't really know where to begin. Social mores, anyone? Turns out, Angerer's wife is encouraging him to try making gelato next. Maybe we can start using sweat as a flavoring- you know, since no two musks are the same, like snowflakes. How about booger garnishes?

Breast milk, on its own, is beautiful and flawless by nature's design. It is also meant to be for babies during the crucial first year or so of development. If it is disturbing to see a 5-year-old still nursing, then why shouldn't it be that much more taboo for an adult to consume?

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with breast milk, I am completely against using any kind of ingredients produced by the human body in cuisine. No thanks. I'll stick to the moral code set by the Western world. If I was in a remote part of an underdeveloped country and breast milk was part of the food culture and was offered to me by the chief of a tribe honoring me as their guest, then that might be another story, but come on. We're New Yorkers. We don't eat shark fins, monkey brains, tiger bones, whales, endangered species; nor do we practice cannibalism. And as far as I know, breast milk is hands off, too.

If this couple wants to do experimental cooking with their bodily secretions, I don't think it should be offered as haute-cuisine at a trendy Chelsea restaurant in New York City. It seems awfully attention-seeking and out for shock value. It's gross. What does their baby think about all this?

Read all about it here. That is, when you're done throwing up. The comments at the end are fantastic.

Sharing a Wish with Jamie Oliver

Photo: jamieoliver.com

Jamie Oliver just soared to the top of my celebrity chef chart. Last month he was honored as winner of the 2010 TED Prize, awarded each year to an exceptional individual with a wish to change the world. His wish? To teach every child about food.

At the Ted Talk, Jamie stressed the need for food education in this country to set an example for the rest of the world in conquering the obesity epidemic. Two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. Our main causes of death are related to diet and make up ten percent of health care costs today. In ten years, costs are expected to double to 20 percent- a staggering 300 billion dollars a year just on diet-related diseases. And it's all preventable.

Jamie humbly introduced himself as not a doctor, but a chef. He shared experiences from his visit to West Virginia, home of our country's largest percentage of obesity. During a school visit, children could not recognize basic vegetables, including cauliflower and tomatoes. Most schools actually promote fast food by limiting cutlery and serving quick, hand-held meals loaded with sugar and fat additives, which lead to addiction. (Anyone with a sweet tooth, I know you know.)

I never realized the severity of the situation until I moved to New York. I spent most of last year teaching cooking and nutrition to kids in the south Bronx, most of whom rely on school for their main meal each day.

You don't have to be a teacher in New York to see the destruction of unbalanced diets a million times a day. Watching teenage mothers feed their children Cheetos and candy on the subway makes me feel helpless because I can't say anything. Two-year-olds who eat McDonald's have no idea how much harm the parent is inflicting.

Adding insult to injury is the misguided idea that fast food is affordable. Excuse me? A $5 minimum for each meal per person, which are designed to make you hungry again in an hour or two? So it's expensive in the long AND the short run? It's enough to make my blood boil.

What resonated with me about Jamie's presentation was his statement that children having poor nutrition is a form of child abuse. I could not agree more, and I love him for having the guts to say it. Children are growing up to be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Food diets are something you are taught- they become a habit. Kids don't have a choice what they are served, so when adults are being irresponsible on their behalf, what will that lead to for them?

Adults should know better, but they are also entitled to make poor choices, whether it's once in a while or, God forbid, every day. We can't expect children to know any differently, unless we teach them.

The truth is, though limited, kids do have a choice. I will never forget one of the third-grade girls tell me she didn't want to drink cow's milk because of all the hormones added to make the cow produce more milk. I applauded her for making an informed decision and we talked about other ways her body can get calcium and why it's important for bone growth.

If you have twenty minutes, I urge you to watch Jamie Oliver's presentation here. If time is crunched, at least skip ahead to 9:30, when he starts really getting to the meat of the issue and offers reasonable solutions to our nation's most damaging epidemic.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I hate exercise. I hate the gym. I hate team sports. And for a long time, I hated yoga, too.

Before the entire free world boos me off the internet for slandering yoga, allow me to explain. I have no flexibility whatsoever. My hamstrings are so tight that when I bend to touch my toes, I'm still about a foot away. A foot!

I took a yoga class once in college, only to be made an example of by the teacher (who was as amazed by my lack of flexibility as one would be horrified by a circus performer). I cut my losses and never went back.
Since I learned to swim last year and ride a bike the year before, my stiff joints are all I have left in the freaky body department. I thought I had come to a resolved knowledge and acceptance about my physical limitations. At least I can still rock climb, even if the rest of my body is like a clumsy giraffe.

My roommate, Bessie, wouldn't let me off the hook. Have I mentioned she's a professional dancer and has been practicing yoga for 15 years?
Since I alternate Sundays between being lazy and bettering myself, I decided to better myself and join her for a class at Greenhouse Holistic in Williamsburg.
A restorative class was the route we went- it was gentle and "not aggressive," good for a yoga virgin like me. We did gentle stretches like child's pose, cat and cow. There was also a lot of napping. It's strange to me that yoga is aimed to center most people and find inner quiet. For me, my internal voice just gets louder.
While everyone else closed their eyes and lay still, here's what went on in my head:
"Hey! So this is how you have a productive weekend? You're gonna nap all day? Don't forget you still have to grocery shop, pay your bills, clean the house and cook something with that hamburger left in the fridge. And you need to call your mother."
"Try to find the quiet within," the instructor said. "Put a block up against distractions. Find clarity in this moment. Strive to be satisfied with everything right now, just as it is."
"Yeah, quit getting distracted. Listen to the teacher, sucker."
When I thought that yoga's purpose is perfecting the body and deciding who's the most flexible in a class, I realize now that I'm the only one looking around. It's just like when I was in kindergarten and couldn't fall asleep with the rest of the kids during nap time.
I also have a hard time relaxing my shoulders back to open up my chest and solar plexus, which I know is one of the main chakras in the body (though I can't think too hard about chakras or I'm really going to start getting lost).
The challenge is not going to be how far I can stretch, if I do continue to practice yoga. It's going to be finding a quiet place within myself, within Brooklyn, and remembering to keep my heart open.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ghetto Sundaes

What do you get when you have two roommates together on a Saturday night with cheap whiskey, junky ice cream, cake mix, and frosting?

The invention of something wonderful.

Behold the ghetto sundae.

Bloods vs. Crips

Photo by Lee Emmert

It's time to pick your side. It's new-age vs. traditional cooking, battling head to head! Hank Sawtelle loves the sous-vide method of cooking he picked up from his days working at wd-50 in Manhattan. Louisa Neumann is a classically-trained French chef. Whose side are you on?

Louisa and I go back to staging in France together through the La Varenne trainee program, so naturally I'm on her team. She can turn any animal or vegetable into a poem. Check her out at the Portland Pickle.

Sous-vide is a method of cooking food sealed in plastic bags at low temperatures in controlled water baths. The French developed this idea in the 70s, and apparently, the results can be sublime. There's something very artificial about it for me, and lots of drawbacks. Cooking sous-vide is expensive, it takes forever (sometimes days for one dish), and makes ideal conditions for breeding bacteria and botulism. In other words, you really need to know what you're doing.

You can read about the fierce battle between these Oregon chefs in the cover story of Mix, based in Portland.

This proves Anthony Bourdain's theory that chefs are either Bloods or Crips. (For more on this, read The Nasty Bits- it's gritty and wonderful.) I stand corrected, Bourdain was actually quoting Timothy Taylor from his novel, Stanley Park. Bloods are old-school and can devote their entire careers to mastering classic recipes with a strong emphasis on technique. A Crip, on the other hand, reinvents, deconstructs, fuses, and makes foams.

Crips keep the industry moving, set trends, inspire awe. Bloods send you home with a full stomach.

If the results are fantastic, I'll give the sous-vide method a shot some day, in small doses. It is all about how the food tastes in the end. But, like most things in life, the 'journey" to get there is also important. Louisa's quote in the article pretty much sums it up for me:

"...sous vide is cooking at arm’s length — the cook doesn’t seem necessary since there’s no browning, deglazing, sauce-building. It’s also much less of a sensory experience; no sizzling, bubbling, wafting aromas. “Cooking” without those things should go by another name! Hundreds of years of French culinary tradition is good enough for me."

What can I say? I'm a Blood.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Makeover Giveaway!

My prayers have been answered. Zesty Cook is offering a blog makeover giveaway! I don't often enter these contests, but my blog is in desperate need of tech savviness to match its sassy tartness.

For you new bloggers out there, check the link. If you win instead of me, you owe me big time.

Please pick me, Zesty Cook! Or just a hint on how to imbed videos and organize my posts into categories. Or just a clue on what "imbed" means.

I refuse to lose my sanity to technology.