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Vile.

I’ll never understand these things.

Sticks? Really? Sticks. So it’s come to that. Well, I suppose it had to happen someday. 

Still, though. Vile. (Not worse than cilantro - but, then, nothing in heaven or on earth is.)

12:45 am: thealdermansagate

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Life gave me a lemon.

So I made lemon scones.

Lemon cream scones. Good Lord.

12:35 am: thealdermansagate

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Flapjacks

Flapjacks. Griddlecakes. Pancakes. 

Idea: Everything in life should be made on a buttered pan. 

And served with maple syrup.

12:34 am: thealdermansagate

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Farm Fresh

Go to the store and grab a carton of eggs - Grade A, Extra Large. They’re perfect. 12 identical white orbs nestled comfortably next to each other, and you can pretty much guarantee that resting inside each one is a yellow yolk identical in size and color to the others.

The thing is, supermarkets pigeonhole eggs as the always predictable, always dependable kitchen standby. Sure, eggs can be white and flawless. They can also be brown and speckled. They can vary in size and color. And yolks, they come in all shapes and sizes, running the gamut from buttercup to goldenrod to sunset. They can even come in pairs - two for the price of one.

Shells can be brittle, paper-thin. Shells can be tough, apocalypse-ready. A brittle shell may hold a sunset yellow, almost orangey yolk. A thick shell may hold a small yolk, disappointing in size and color. One thing about eggs, they declare it loud and clear: Size doesn’t matter.

All this I learned in a farmhouse kitchen in Hudson, NY. Pleroma was the farm’s name, biodynamics was its game. By day, it was all spiral gardens, three-sisters farming, and organic pesticide that sometimes worked. By night, it was the odyssey of baking with imprecise ingredients. It was a land where measurements did not exist.

My key lime pie calls for four identical, perfectly yellow yolks tucked inside four identical, perfectly white eggs. Each and every time, it is pristine. This one was not. Four yolks of varying size and color slid to the bottom of the mixing bowl. One was leaking out onto the others. I swirled them together into a slippery tie-dyed mess and called it dessert.

These eggs had never seen a refrigerator, and they never would. They came from the chickens that squawked and pecked their way through the tomato patch, the beasts gouging great gaping holes into the carefully cultivated fruit before jerkily squawking off and over to another bed. They were evil, and we hated them.

But the key lime pie? Divine.

05:03 pm: thealdermansagate

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The diner’s the thing.

Fact: Not all diners are created equal.

It’s almost like the delicate layers of a French pastry, the way the components of a diner unite to complement each other - but, very unlike a French pastry, it only works when they’re slammed together in a steaming mess of chrome, bacon grease, and heavy ceramic plates. We’ve all seen those diners that dress up as restaurants. Nicer booths, nicer lighting, nicer menus - same items, just set in an italics-heavy typeface. You want to shake them. You want to tell them like it is. “Pal, you’re a diner.”

The counter. Best seat in the house. The one that lets you know this place isn’t ashamed of what it is. It’s not afraid to show you its guts - The Griddle. This diner knows what you think of it, and it’s cool with you looking over its shoulder. But this diner also has attitude. You chose your seat, now sit in it. And don’t be surprised when your vegetarian omelette tastes vaguely like bacon. That’s probably how life should be, anyway: tasting vaguely like bacon.

Plating is key. Only a fool would say otherwise. The placement of homefries can make or break a dish. It’s the difference between loving it and leaving it.

I judge my diners by a few immovable standards. Tuna melts. Mushroom Swiss omelettes. Cherry pie. Coleslaw. Homefries. Bonus points for the design on the formica. 

The best diner I’ve seen to date is Chick’s, in Clark Summit, PA. Perfectly chrome, perfectly red, white, and blue. It’s patriotic and they serve pie? Sign me up.

And while it’s not quite a diner, the Elliston Soda Shop in Nashville, TN is as perfect a soda shop as I can imagine. Soda shops and diners, they’re one and the same. They go together like hamburgers and malts, like coleslaw and pickles. 

Diners, we salute you.

02:33 pm: thealdermansagate

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Bananas all up in my bread

I am partial to bananas. Let my voice ring out, true and loud and clear. I love bananas and I don’t care who knows it.

Banana Bread

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 medium bananas, mashed

1/2 cup milk

Setting the oven at 350 F, combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, beat in eggs one at a time, and stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture, alternately with bananas and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared baking apparatus and bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes (for a loaf), 18-20 minutes for muffins, or 10-12 minutes for mini muffins.*

*Please take heed: These are adorable and they WILL make you friends. That’s a promise.

09:24 am: thealdermansagate

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When Central Park blooms, I head to the kitchen to prepare a picnic feast. On the menu: freshly squeezed lemonade, roasted red pepper-artichoke-olive antipasto, corn on the cob, caprese sandwiches on baguettes, ricotta, and the crown jewel: pie.

Strawberry rhubarb pie, to be exact.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Filling:

1 lb. rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 lb. strawberries, washed and hulled

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp lemon juice

3 tbsp flour

1 egg

Toss the rhubarb and strawberry pieces with sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, flour, and egg - ensuring that everything is coated. Set aside while you make your crust.


Crust:

2  1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a large bowl (or food processor), combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/4 water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water (but don’t process more than 30 seconds).

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Divide in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour.

When it’s sufficiently chilled, preheat the oven to 425 F as you place one portion of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a pie pan and blind-bake for 10 minutes (poke the unavoidable air bubble with a fork). Please, no more than 10 minutes! You don’t want the edges to brown, or they’ll be overdone later when the full pie is baking. 10 minutes is just long enough to dry out the dough. 

Add the strawberry-rhubarb filling.

Lattice:

Roll the remaining half of the dough into another 12-inch circle, but this time slice the circle into 1/2-inch strips and weave them gently over and under one another atop the fruit filling.

Place the pie on a cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil to catch any fruit drippings. Bake at 425 F for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. 

12:22 am: thealdermansagate1 note

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Poppy seeds remind me of my grandparents, Polish Holocaust survivors who grew up on colossal poppy seed-filled Hamentaschen the size of my face (typical Hamentaschen are the size of normal cookies). My grandfather, a former boxer who was spry and athletic until well into his 90s, would bring one home from the bakery every so often. He would slice it into thirds and eat it all week, which might explain his nonagenarian agility. Whenever I pick up one of those Hamentaschen, though, it rarely makes it all the way home.

When spring sprang this year in early March, I thought of the small jar of poppy seeds in my cupboard. I thought of the perfect combination of crunch and zing in a lemony cake batter speckled with poppy seeds. I thought of Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins (from imafoodblog.com)

2/3 cup sugar
zest and juice of 2 small lemons
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup non fat yogurt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons poppyseeds


Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 400F. Prepare your muffin pan or whatever muffin cooking apparatus you will be using, and place on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, rub together the sugar and lemon zest until the sugar is moist and you can smell the lemon.

Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, and canola oil until well blended.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and with a rubber spatula gently and quickly stir to blend. Do not over-mix. Stir in the poppy seeds. Divide the batter evenly in 12 muffin cups, I like to use an ice cream scoop to measure this out.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool for about 5 minutes, and then remove them from the molds and let cool to room temperature.

To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar with 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Add more lemon juice as needed to get it to the consistency so you can drizzle the glaze over the muffins.


11:24 pm: thealdermansagate

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On a recent dark and stormy day I sat before a blue-draped collapsible table at a silly little craft fair. Despite my cries of “Wow your family and friends!” and “We’ll give you a ‘stache in a flash!” and “Go from drab to fab!” I sold only one mustache-on-a-stick after six hours of hawking. Moral of the story: the masses cannot be trusted.

Steady along my path to blossom into an academic scholar, a pastry chef, and owner of a drive-in movie theater, this hiccup on the road to greatness shan’t deter me. Nay, I pulled myself up from the depths of the non-mustachioed underworld and made a pie.

Not just any pie. A pie that you’ll eat for breakfast in your underwear. (Believe me, I know.)

Apple Pie for the ages

Ladies and gentlemen, The Apple Filling:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

3/4 tsp cinnamon

5 tsp all-purpose flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

Peel and core the apples, toss with sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, flour, and egg - ensuring that everything is coated. Set aside and leave them to get acquainted with one another while you make your crust.

And making its debut, the all-singing, all-dancing, all-butter Crust:

2  1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a large bowl (or food processor), combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/4 water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water (but don’t process more than 30 seconds).

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Divide in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour.

When it’s sufficiently chilled, preheat the oven to 425 F as you place one portion of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a pie pan and blind-bake for 10 minutes (poke the unavoidable air bubble with a fork). Please, no more than 10 minutes! You don’t want the edges to brown, or they’ll be overdone later when the full pie is baking. 10 minutes is just long enough to dry out the dough. 

Add the apple filling to the blind-baked bottom layer.

And now for the lattice. Roll the remaining half of the dough into another 12-inch circle, but this time slice the circle into 1/2-inch strips and weave them gently over and under one another atop the apple filling.


Pinch edges together so everyone thinks Grandma made it, place on a sheet of aluminum foil (to absorb runaway juices) on the lowest rack, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until apples are tender (though not mushy).

A tip from Pushing Daisies: Baking grated Gruyere or Cheddar cheese onto the crust will make your eyes pop out of your head. This is a very good thing.

 

06:15 pm: thealdermansagate

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A little spice can be nice.

A syllogism:

All chocolate is sweet. All cayenne pepper is spicy. Therefore, chocolate-cayenne bark is sweet and spicy.

Admittedly, the one about Socrates is smoother. But not as smooth as the chocolate-cayenne-peanut-studded bark I crafted and gifted this holiday season. After the chocolate has melted and gone away, and all that lingers is straggling shard of roasted peanut, the heat creeps up on you. Like a baby dragon breathing soft flames from your stomach.

Not for the faint of heart.

Cayenne pepper has always been a favorite of mine. Just a dash adds a whopping and surprising ZING. Pumpkin pie, chutney, candied yams, Mexican chocolate mousse, chocolate bark. If cayenne pepper could talk, I wonder what it would say.

"Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"

8 oz (1/2 lb) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup peanuts, chopped

1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or less, to taste)

1 cup chopped raisins (optional)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a microwave-safe bowl or double boiler, carefully melt the chocolate, ensuring that it doesn’t burn. (If microwaving, 15- or 20-second intervals should do the trick. When the chocolate begins to melt, reach in and stir it every 15 seconds. Tedious, but better safe than sorry that you burned half a pound of bittersweet chocolate.) When all is melted, add the chopped peanuts and cayenne; mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and spread evenly. Throw it into the fridge for about 30 minutes, or until set.

Reminder: Warn those adventurous enough to try your bark that it contains cayenne, lest they scratch at their throats in terror at presumption that you have poisoned them. (Note: If they are allergic to peanuts, you very well may have.)

12:07 am: thealdermansagate5 notes

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The month of eating alphabetically.

Alphabet soup is so 1995.

A month of alphabetical dining? That’s much more 1999. 26 letters in 26 days. It’s a plan sweeter than Grandma’s signature maple walnut loaf.

(Menu pending.)

It occurred to me as I ate my dinner last night: green peas and cherry pie. Not exactly a balanced meal, but, well - those little steamed peas are so bright and green and wrinkly, and cherry pie has an otherworldly allure. There I sat, devouring wrinkly peas and cherry compote, happier than a squirrel with a cheekful of acorns. Pie and peas, I thought, a meal of P. And so it begins.

04:32 pm: thealdermansagate