Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tragic Days

This is a photo of John's Aunt Pris (Priscilla), who died in a tragic accident at her home early Saturday morning. She was a very vibrant, loving, fun and caring person who was just 49 years old -- a woman in her prime.

John's family is pretty large, close-knit and well-known in the area where they're from. Pris' husband, Rich, also comes from a very well-known family, so it didn't surprise me that there would be at least 200 people (seemed like many more than that) at her viewing last night. Pris touched so many lives outside her family, from her long-time fellow co-workers, to her 4-H friends, and everyone she ever taught how to ride a horse. They were lined up in the freezing cold, for blocks outside the funeral home, waiting for more than an hour in some cases, to help the family grieve.

When John's mom told me the terrible news, I was right in the middle of frying potato/veggie pancakes (latkes) for my mom's Chanukah celebration on Saturday afternoon. I was shocked and couldn't think of how I could help Pris' surviving immediate family members. It took a day to figure it out: I would cook for them. If there's nothing else I can do, I know I can cook for people. John joined in as well, making a massive chicken and vegetable stir fry.

We sat down with a list of pretty universal food items that we thought they might like. The list grew ever larger, but I knew I could do it all before Tuesday when we left for the viewing. All day Monday, I made baked ziti, baked macaroni and cheese, red sauce (Italian), garlic whipped potatoes, sauteed green beans, corn, peas, carrots, jasmine rice and a few other items that escape me at the moment. John came home from work and took over for a while, making the stir fry, at the same time I prepared a cookie crust dough for a couple of pies I wanted to make. I gave Pris' kids a list and they promptly posted it on the fridge. On Tuesday morning, I baked the two fruit pies (berry and summer fruit, and peach blueberry), which were still warm when we arrived in Pennsylvania to greet her family with two coolers filled with food and open arms for loving embraces.

Our intention was to make sure that Rich would not have to think about cooking for at least a week. Fortunately, Rich and Pris' son Michael will be staying with Rich for a few weeks, and their elder daughter Holly and son-in-law Steve live right next door. Michael let us know that he was looking forward to diving into the bounty, but Holly said that she and Brianne would be dividing up the food into portions to freeze for Rich. Either way, John and I made a commitment to ourselves to visit Rich when we return from our Christmas trip to Utah and periodically check up on him from time to time.

In the meantime, I will keep them all in my prayers.

This is how the newspaper The Morning Call published her obituary:

Priscilla E. Stocker, 49, of Lower Nazareth Twp., died December 16 following an accident at her home. She was a daughter of the late John P. and Elaine (Wagner) Wettlaufer. She had been employed by Cadmus Specialty Publications for many years. She was a 1975 graduate of Easton High School. A Northampton County 4-H Club leader, she loved her horses and her dogs, even Bart. Survivors: Husband of 31 years, Richard; two daughters, Holly Hess and her husband Steven of Lower Nazareth Twp., Brianne of Bethlehem; son, Michael R. of Doylestown; four brothers, John of Sandy, Utah, Thomas of Bangor, James of Palmer Twp., Timothy of Bel Air, Md. Services: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ashton Funeral Home, 14th and Northampton streets, Easton. Call 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Contributions: To the Northampton County S.P.C.A.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Menu for Hope -- I'm Offering Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World -- Enter Code UE33

Here's a quote from Pim to explain what A Menu for Hope is:

Every year, Food Bloggers from all over the world get together for a fundraising campaign. We call it "Menu for Hope." Last year, we raised $17,000 to help UNICEF.

This year, Menu for Hope III raises funds to support the UN World Food Programme, which provides hunger relief for needy people worldwide. To us Food Bloggers, food is a joy. On our blogs, we celebrate food as a delight or even an indulgence. Unfortunately, for many others who share our world do not share that privilege. For them, food is a matter of survival. This "Menu for Hope" is our small way to help.

On our Menu this year is a great list of amazing food related prizes. We hope that they will entice you to give whatever you can, and with some luck you can win unique and wonderful food gifts offered up by food bloggers from around the world.

The rule is pretty easy. For every US$10 you donate, you may claim one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. The more you give, the better your chance to win. The campaign is scheduled to run from now until Friday Dec. 22nd, 6PM PST. So get a move on!

Originally, I wasn't going to participate in the raffle because I didn't have Deb's Delectables to put up for the prize. But, after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like a good fit for me to offer one of my favorite new cookbooks up for a prize instead.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is a great new book from the same person (Isa) who brought us the classic Vegan With a Vengeance. The recipes are wonderful, flexible and tasty! Best part is there's a photo of every cupcake recipe in the book, in color!

So, please see the info below (from Pim's site) to donate and earn a ticket for the raffle. Mine is code UE33.

Here's what you have to do to donate:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope.

2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.

3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code—for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 for EU02. (Please use the double-digits, not EU1, but EU01.)

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 for the results of the raffle.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Gentle Reminder -- America's Second Harvest

For those who haven't yet participated in A Menu for Hope, or who have and still wish to help others less fortunate, I suggest donating to America's Second Harvest or your local foodbank. ASH has links to local foodbanks, so you can start there if you don't know where yours is.

My local foodbank is The Community FoodBank of New Jersey. It allows you to take part in a virtual food drive where you can choose directly from a list of items that they need at that moment. It's a pretty neat solution to a pretty bad problem.

Last year, I participated in Pim's Menu for Hope effort, raffling off a box of my Deb's Delectables chocolates. This year, because we're renovating the kitchen, I've closed up shop for the year and all my supplies and tools are in storage for the next few months. Sorry, folks. Definitely next year, though.

In the meantime, I've been suggesting that family members and friends they pick a cause they think is worthy and give to it. Sure, new things are nice, but in the back of my mind (and most days in the front of my mind) knowing that people within a 5 mile radius of my house are going hungry really puts things in perspective.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Basic Pizza Dough from Mark Bittman

Well Mr. Bittman, in my book, you're two for two. First, your vanilla ice cream recipe and now your basic pizza dough.

I recently bought a handful (or rather a boxful given their girth) of cookbooks including the one here, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I'm slowly making my way through all of the pages I've marked with little copper page points from Levenger or ye olde post-it flags.

John and I usually eat/make our own pizza about once a month. I've shown some of our efforts on this blog. Of all the dough recipes we've tried none have come close to the flavor and texture of Bittman's Basic.

What you see here is a 12-in. eggplant pie I made using some of the dough. It was light and airy, and tasted like pizza parlor dough. It was a bit plain in flavor, but Bittman suggests adding a variety of ingredients before adding the water to achieve a tastier dough. We intend to try the freshly cracked black pepper and garlic.

To the right is the upskirt. Crispy due in part to the high heat of the oven, the recipe, and the pan, the bottom of the pie came out perfectly.

Prior to laying the dough on the pan, I lightly sprayed it with canola oil.

Interestingly, Bittman says he gets 1 large or two small pizzas from the recipe. We got one large and two small. Maybe he likes deep dish pie. We like a relatively thin crust, but this poofed up enough to make typical pizza joint crust.

Here's a side view so you can have an idea of the height of the 'za.

The recipe is very simple and can be made by hand, in a food processor or a stand mixer. Of course, I used the Artisan mixer for this recipe.

Here's the recipe (I shortened it a bit for space):

1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse Kosher or sea salt
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Combine the yeast, flour, and salt in the mixer. As it is mixing, add the 1 cup of water and 2 T of oil.
2. Mix, adding more water until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a few seconds until it forms a smooth round ball. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a bowl, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft free area until it doubles in size (1-2 hours). (It took ours much longer since we keep the house a bit cool due to energy prices. But, we were doing laundry, so putting the bowl on top of the dryer made the dough poof up well.)
4. Heat the oven to 500 degrees F while you stretch out the dough onto your pans. (This dough is really easy to manipulate, so it won't take long.)
5. Add your toppings. (We used my homemade tomato sauce and added a mixture of shredded cheeses. John left his plain, but I also added some fried panko-breaded eggplant I had from an earlier recipe.)
6. Cook for 10-12 minutes depending on how crisp you like your pizza.
7. Enjoy!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Homemade Granola Bars

One of my newest cookbooks is the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It's a huge (more than 500 pages) hardcover book filled with a wide range of classics. The various cookies include bars, drops, roll-outs, shaped, batter, no-bakes, and essentials like sugar and chocolate chip.

There are some great photos in the middle of the book, but probably the most helpful aspect of this tome is the all the tips scattered throughout. King Arthur's book editors were kind enough to list both weights and measurements for the ingredients as well as nutritional information (yay!) and suggested variations on recipes.

I recommend this cookie book for people who love to bake and try new recipes as well as different versions of the classics.

Earlier this week, I decided to try one of the recipes from the book, Vermont Granola Bars. It seemed like it would be easy to adapt since it called for two different liquid sweeteners.

Here's my version (I used organic ingredients when possible):

1.5 sticks of butter
1.5 cups of agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup of dried unsweetened cherries
1 cup dried chopped apricots
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon

First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (25 degrees cooler than the original due to the agave nectar), and lightly grease two 9 x 13 inch pans.

Combine the agave nectar and the butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Then set aside to cool a bit.

While the syrup is heating, place all the dry ingredients except the cherries, apricots and cinnamon in the prepared pans and bake for 12 minutes.

Stir the ingredients on the pan every 4 minutes to prevent the edges from getting too dark. After the time has elapsed, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the oat mixture to a large bowl.

Add the cherries and the apricots and toss to mix thoroughly. Then add the cinnamon and toss again.

The mixture should look like the photo at the right.

Now add the vanilla paste to the butter and agave syrup and stir until combined.

Then, gradually mix the syrup into the oat mixture until everything is well moistened.

Move the batter into the pans and press it flat. The cookbook suggests using the bottoms of other pans the same size to flatten the mixture, but I found that it was easily enough flattened using the back of a silicone spatula.

Bake the bars for 8 minutes until they are a light golden brown.

Cut into squares or bars while they're still warm. I tried it both ways and found that they were very difficult to cut and remove from the pan once they had cooled.

King Arthur recommends using a baker's bench knife to cut the bars into long strips, then transfer each strip to a cutting board to cut into bars.

I just used a large chef's knife and cut them into bars. Then, I used a steel spatula to remove them from the pan. Not too much trouble when warm.

So, how do they taste? Well, pretty darn yummy. Toasting the coconut and almonds beforehand really brings out those flavors. They're a bit sticky, so my guess is that you could probably get away with just 1.33 cups of agave (or even less) and do just fine. I'm not sure I'd bring them along on a hike, but rather serve them as dessert, perhaps drizzled with a carob ganache.

For a low-cholesterol version, you can substitute 3/4 cup of grapeseed oil instead.

The yield, according to the book, is 48 small bars. I cut about 20 decent-sized bars.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What to do on a warm November day in New Jersey.

John and I drove down to Island Beach State Park, which ordinarily would have taken 1.5 hours from Somerset, but because Rutgers was playing Syracuse, we had to take a huge detour that took 30 minutes more. Island Beach State Park shares a Parkway exit with Seaside Heights, but that's about all it shares.

The park is a long stretch of beach between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. By the time we got to the beach (after a couple of slices of OK pizza in the nearby town), it was 2 pm. There are 6 or so little hikes from the road that runs down the center of the park to the beach or the bay, with lots of little nature signs along the way.

There were quite a few SUVs and trucks parked along the beach with men fishing in back of them. We didn't see anyone catch a thing during our hour or so walking up and down the beach prior to sunset.

Word to the wise, try to remember where you came out from the dunes to the beach. We overshot our path by about a 20 minute walk. There are no streetlamps on the park road, but there were plenty of people around. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who likes the beach, but doesn't like the crowds. However, I can't vouch for how it would be during the summer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving at Mom's.

A buffet in the kitchen with enough food to easily feed 16 of my dear family members (more was warming in the oven to replace any dishes that might have gone empty) awaits the parade. Starting at the top of the photo, moving clockwise: stuffed cabbage, baked sweet potatoes and white potatoes, rolls and amazing Sullivant Street sourdough bread from Cousin David, turkey, more turkey and gravy, sweet potato pie, stuffing, roasted vegetables (my addition) and sauteed green beans. My favorite part was the stuffing. Mom's is the best. She sauteed an onion, mushrooms and celery in oil, then added them to a bag of Pepperidge Farm cubed stuffing with some veggie broth. She then puts the mixture in a Pyrex baking dish and bakes it untill it's crispy on top, but not dry in the middle. I could live on the stuff. For the roasted veggies, I followed Gourmet's recipe for roasted vegetables with gremolata. It's made from carrots, parsnips, turnips and brussels sprouts. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't use the brussels sprouts because they stank up my kitchen and fridge. However, they were pretty tasty.

I also supplied the group with Vegan With A Vengeance's Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies and some Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Fruit Sweet and Sugar Free. Both were a big hit. I ate way too many of the oatmeal raisin cookies. They're really not all that healthy with all the butter in them, but healthy or not, they're plenty tasty. MMMMMM.

And so today, I recover from an extremely busy last few days cooking, baking and painting the dining room. By the way, I used Benjamin Moore's Alpaca for the walls and Acadia White for the trim. Since the ceiling downstairs is in good shape, I opted not to paint it. Next week, I begin getting the kitchen ready for painting. This is going to require a LOT of work since John and I put shelves up to act as a pantry when I bought the house. There's a love story behind the shelves, but that's for another time.

Regardless, I have to figure out how to store all the kitchen pantry items (cookbooks, canned goods -- most likely in the garage, baking ingredients, snacky cakes, and so on). One method will be to ruthlessly take stock of all the dishes and cooking implements in all the cabinets. If I haven't used them in a year, they're going to be lovingly wrapped and packed in a box and stacked in the garage until we move (whenever that is). I'm betting that I'll be able to move all the pantry items into the empty spaces in the cabinets so I can take the shelves off the walls to paint.

So much work. Tired just thinking about it. What I'd really like to do is have a spa day and a 2-hour long massage. Maybe in 2007.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Restaurant Review: Thai Basil, Piscataway, NJ

John and I have been to Thai Basil many times previously, but hadn't eaten there in a year. Apparently, a lot can change in a year.

This small Thai restaurant is squeezed into a strip mall across the street from a Walmart and a pretty good Italian pizza joint named Panini's. A year ago, the service was good, the food was reasonable and served pretty quickly. Not so this time.

John was served the wrong dish (or at least it seemed to be a far cry from the garlic and black pepper dish he'd ordered), and our server was the most obnoxious waitress I've ever experienced. I haven't had many run-ins with wait staff, or ever been treated so poorly as by the waitress we had yesterday.

For example, I had asked the owner (who alternated serving with the nasty waitress) to please pack up my soup because I was saving room for the course, but I liked it and wanted to have it later. She brought me my soup all packed up with no issue. After I'd finished my main dish, I asked the nasty waitress to please pack up the dish, but she refused and brought me a take-out container (too small for the large dish) and a bag. I'd never been asked to pack up my own dish there before. Plus, I really didn't want to take a chance off spilling on my clothes. Meanwhile, I saw her bring out wrapped up left-overs to other patrons at another table.

I brought it to her attention and she gave me attitude and commented back. When she left me to spoon up my own food (I really should have asked for the owner, but we didn't have time to go through it), I told John that her tip was in jeapordy because the service was so lousy. We'd waited longer than anyone else in the restaurant to receive our food, been treated poorly, etc. It was hard for us since we always tip 20-25% depending on the bill. However, we needed to express our displeasure (and frankly, shock) with the service. John tipped her $1. The bill was approximately $20.

Then we left. Or so we thought.

The nasty waitress came outside shouting after us and holding the bill, insisting that John remove the small tip if he didn't like the service. Shocked at the scene, I couldn't think of a thing to say. My knight in shining armor demonstrated why he is so classy. He said, "If you don't want it, just donate it," and we walked away. She called after us, "I hope I don't see you here again."

It was bizarre and unsettling to say the least. If we weren't in a hurry to catch a movie (we wouldn't have been if they'd served us in a timely fashion like the other customers -- we ordered very easy courses: vegetable fried rice and John's chicken with garlic and black pepper), I would have walked back in there and complained to the owner.

Instead, I'm sharing this icky service experience with you. We will not be going there again. It was such a shame since it was alright before. Good thing there are a few other Thai restaurants around that we like.

I've eaten in all kinds of places in a variety of different countries and almost always have experienced good, if not reasonably friendly service. Sure, we might have caught her on an off day, but this was really bad.

Afterward, we saw Borat and had a good, hard laugh. We needed it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World! Yay!

I happily tried Isa and Terry's recipe for Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes. The only substitution I made was rice milk for soy milk. The came out wonderfully. They're not sickenly sweet at all and have a faint almondy flavor. I topped them with a carob version of their Quick Melty Ganache, which was a perfect match.

Bravo Isa! You've done it again!

I can't wait to try another recipe.

This was the inaugural use of my new muffin/cupcake pan from Farberware. It has silicone handles, which come in handy when pulling the cupcakes from the oven. Additionally, This was the most evenly golden brown set of baked goods I've ever made. The cupcake liners were unbleached (you can buy them from The Baker's Catalog, but I found them at my local health food store).

Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes (Frosted with Carob Ganache)

I topped the cupcakes with my own version of their "Quick Melty Ganache." For mine, I used
  1. three tablespoons of Vanilla Enriched Rice Dream
  2. 1.5 tablespoons of Organic Raw Madhava Agave Nectar
  3. 1/2 cup of Unsweetened Nspire Carob Chips
I heated the Rice Dream to a simmer, added the chips and whisked them until it was smooth. Then, I added the sweetener and wisked it again until completely mixed.

Next, I let the mixture cool for 10 minutes. Then, I used a ziplock bag with the end cut off (too much cut off, as you can see from the photo) to squeeze out the ganache. It took me a while to get the feel of it. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, yesterday I ordered a chef's pastry set.

The ganache set when it cooled.

The carob ganache made an excellent frosting for these grown-up cupcakes. I highly recommend it for your chocolate-free friends who are carob-friendly.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book Review: Curry, A Tale Of Cooks & Conquerors

Lizzie Collingham's Curry, A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors reads more like a college history text than an entertaining retrospective of curry. It's actually a lot more of a historical tome of India and the country's culinary influences than anything close to a focused book on curry.

I learned much more about India and its cooking styles than I expected. I also gained a greater insight into how bastardized "Indian" food became after the British took hold there.

Just a warning, Curry isn't light reading. It took me several months to get through it because when I read, I either read cookbooks, Ruth Reichel's books, anything by Alexander McCall Smith and foodie magazines. When I spend your day thinking, writing and analyzing, the last thing I want to read is something that taxes me. So, if you're like me, and determined to try something new, just be prepared to chip away at this one.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Final Fancy Flower Chocolate

Final Fancy Flower Chocolate
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Sorry for the reflected light, I'll work on that. This is how the fancy flower chocolate turned out. It's solid dark chocolate below the pretty flowers. To be honest, I surprised myself with this one. All modesty aside, they really turned out great.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Best Gift of All

With the upcoming holiday season approaching, I am reminded that last year John and I decided that we would no longer buy gifts for adults, but instead donate in their names to legitimate charities and places of need.

This year, I've started with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Not only can you send money digitally, but you can participate in a virtual food drive. By going here, you can purchase exactly what the foodbank needs at that time. It's a great way to give.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is part of the larger effort, America's Second Harvest. At a time when we American's typically gorge ourselves on huge amounts of food, shouldn't we be giving a thought (and a dollar or two) to those who go hungry?

Find your local foodbank here.

Completely Off Topic: Rutgers vs. Louisville, Go Scarlet Knights!

Rutgers vs. Louisville
Originally uploaded by i.m.indraneel.

Thanks to I.M.Indraneel at Flickr for posting his great Rutgers vs. Louisville photos.

Many members of my family are Rutgers alumni: Jorden received all three degrees, Mom received her PhD, Dave is a professor there, my step-sister Jill and step-brother Rob both graduated from Rutgers, and I fulfilled half my master's degree there (never finished because I started Deb's Delectables instead).

If you didn't watch the game last night, there are clips on, as well as rehashings on ESPN and the other news channels. It was a very exciting game right down to the final kicks at the end. Boy! Was Ito lucky those Cardinals were offsides!

John and I live pretty close to the stadium, right on the other side of the Raritan from Piscataway, so we could hear (through closed windows no less) the cheering and the marching band's drum section. We also could hear the cannons at the start of the game. There's no doubt in my mind that the spirit of the fans helped buoy the players through their win.

On his drive home, John said he could feel the electricity in the air. He drives right past the stadium on his commute, and so he saw all the cars parked and all the people walking to the game to get their seats.

Other than the game itself, and the moment on ESPN when Rice asked for his mom, the best was talking to my mom this morning. She wore her Rutgers alumni pin to her job today, and had stayed up to watch the game after winning Best in Show for one of her many orchid plants at her local Orchid Society meeting.

Yay Rutgers!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Gingerboy Horizontal
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is a completely new candy for Deb's Delectables. On a whim, I bought the gingerbread boy mold and painted him up pretty fancily. Then, instead of filling him, I spiced the dark chocolate with the same spices used in gingerbread. He's almost an inch deep and two inches long, so that's a lot of chocolate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Milk Chocolate Dreidel

Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Just in case you were keeping track, Hannukah comes early again this year, starting on 5 December (my brother Jorden's 40th birthday). This is one of the chocolates I made for a big holiday order recently. The blue colored white chocolate provides a good contrast for the Shin on the dreidel.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Book Review: Ruth Reichl's Trilogy

I've been waiting until I finished Ruth Reichl's third book Garlic and Sapphires to post a review of all three books. Just so you know, I'm a pretty voracious reader and a fan of her editorials in Gourmet magazine.

When Mom handed over the three books (the first two are Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples), I wasn't sure what to expect. But, I started at the beginning with Tender at the Bone, bringing it everywhere with me because I simply could not put it down. Ruth accompanied me to the periodontist (yes, I still have more procedures to go and lots more $$$$ to spend there) and kept me company while I waited at the DMV for my photo driver's license.

I admire her honesty, especially in the way she paints her relationships with her family and friends. But what really keeps me tied to her books is her food writing. In all three, she shares recipes, but Garlic and Sapphires features select reviews she wrote while working as the restaurant critic at The New York Times.

Her third book is probably my favorite, with her first, Tender at the Bone, coming in a close second. I enjoyed her flawless descriptions of the meals she ate as she dressed in disguise. She revealed so much of herself in all the books, especially the infidelities in Comfort Me with Apples, that made me feel squirmy and uncomfortable.

The most encouraging part of Garlic and Sapphires is the message that she learns from her missteps. By dressing as alternate characters in order to do her critic's duties at New York's top restaurants, she discovers the best and worst parts of herself, and who she really wants to be.

I heartily recommend reading all three books in order. Otherwise you miss the big story of Ruth's personal growth and food-centered career. I'm really glad she's decided to share this much of her life with readers like me. She inspires me to improve my writing about food and other things, as well as to find and be my best self.

Speaking of my other writing, quite a few folks have been quoting my story on the generation gap in collaboration published here.

Since reading Ruth's books, I've been focusing a bit more on the bigger picture of why people resist collaboration in general. My column at has been more pointed lately, and whether it draws praise or criticism, at least it's raising awareness and making readers think.

Please let me know what you think about that column by either commenting here or at FYI, my lastest article is here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Turtle Mold

Turtle Mold
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is the turtle mold. It's about 3.5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide at the widest part. A sizeable chocolate to say the least.

Painting the Turtle Shell

Painting the Turtle Shell
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

It's a time-consuming process, but well worth it when it's done. Although it looks like bright green, it's not as bright in real life. Mixing the green with the milk chocolate gives a much more realistic color to the shell.

Caramel Inside Turtle

Caramel Inside Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Next, I place a whole pecan half snuggly into the caramel so that it will be flat when the rest of the chocolate fills the turtle. People really love this particular caramel.

Pecan Inside Turtle

Pecan Inside Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Next, I place a whole pecan half snuggly into the caramel so that it will be flat when the rest of the chocolate fills the turtle.

Finished Turtle

Finished Turtle
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

He may look small in the photo, but he is quite large for a chocolate. He measures 3.5 in. long by 2.5 in. wide. I had to buy special candy cups to put each turtle in within the gift boxes.

Turtles On The Move

Turtles On The Move
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

These guys took a long time to make, but were well worth the effort. Their shells looked realistic and attractive. I hope they impress their new owners!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Peppermint Snowflake

Peppermint Snowflake
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

I make these hefty chocolates every year, but only during winter. The top slab of white chocolate (really white, not the ivory stuff) is flavored with peppermint oil. The dark chocolate below is filled with a peppermint buttercream filling.

Just a note on buttercream: I make a real buttercream. There's been quite a bit of discussion lately about "real" versus fake buttercream. Mine contains real butter, not shortening or anything scary. Just the good stuff.

I wrap these in a colored foil so as not to mint up the whole box. They measure 2 inches in diameter. A definite two-biter, more if you're dainty.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cinnamon Fudge Jewel

Cinnamon Fudge Jewel, originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is my first time using flickr as my photo posting device. Blogger's been so klugy lately that I thought it was time to try something different.

I made a boatload of these cinnamon fudge jewels last week. First, I flavor red-colored white chocolate with organic oil of cinnamon. Then, I paint the mold with the cinnamon chocolate and set it in the fridge. Next, I add the fudge filling to the mold and top it off with more cinnamon chocolate and finish it in the fridge. Here's how it looks right out of the mold.

There are three shapes, this square, a diamond, and an oblong jewel. They're all pretty spiffy and look pretty in their matching ruby red foil wrappers. More soon!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, Mom and I went to the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ, to see their annual Chrysanthemum show. Mom's a member, so she and Dave (and sometimes I) visit the arboretum pretty regularly to walk the grounds or see various exhibitions.

Below are a few photos from the day, including a cameo appearance from Mom.

FYI, I used my new Fuji FinePix 30 for the photos, on the museum setting for lighting, and the macro setting for the focus.


P.S. I promise to start uploading the Christmas chocolate photos next week!

The grounds in front of the main building. It really is a lovely place. If you're in the Morristown, NJ area, or want to take a quick train ride in from NYC, it's worth it.

Here is just a sampling of the gorgeous flowers we saw at the show.

Just for some perspective, here's Mom standing directly in back of a white chrysanthemum. We encountered a fellow walking out of the display area, who said some of the blossoms were as big as wigs. No exaggeration there.

And, as always, a stop in the gift shop is in the plan. I admired so many things, but walked out with a small stuffed gray squirrel for John. Last time I bought a stuffed animal for John there, it was Roly Poly the hedgehog. Surrounding the gift shop are several other gardens, including the rock garden you see here, a project garden for young students, and an edible garden.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Bobolink Dairy makes a variety of different cheeses, but the ones I tried were drumm, foret and cheddar. I tasted the drumm straight, in eggs, and melted into a few dishes. Each time, I was satisfied with the rich, mellow flavor.

My favorite is actually a cheese not produced there, but made by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who trade it for farming secrets. Bobolink cave-ages the cheese at the farm. It's a very sharp cheddar with loads of flavor.

My last posting on the Bobolink Dairy showed the process of cheesemaking, but here is a photo of some of the cheese produced at the dairy. This is some of their Foret.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Field Trip: Deb Visits the Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard

On 4 October, I had the privilege of experiencing a day-long internship at the artisnal and sustainable Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard in Vernon, NJ. Ordinarily, the fee is $100 a day, but I bartered with Jonathan and Nina White (the owners) for two large boxes of Deb's Delectables chocolates. It was a nice trade.

It took me almost 2 hours to drive up there from my house, but I plugged in my brick of a GPS (a hand-me-down from Mom and Dave that has proven to be more than handy), and watched the sun rise as I drove to the farm. When I arrived at Bobolink, I met B, the baker first. B previously was a baker at Balthazar, but I didn't find that out until much later in the day, but I'll get to that.

Because my visit to Bobolink happened in early fall, they were still making cheese. The Whites only make cheese from the milk given by the cows from April through November, when they happily eat the grass and clover grown in the fields. In fact, Jonathan sprinkled clover seeds on the backs of the cows when they were out in the pasture earlier in the season to spread the cheese in an organic way. Just as an aside, Jonathan has made goat's milk cheese as well. And, he may be the only man in America able to produce human milk cheese (done as part of an art installation).

The farm was started in 1989 as a hobby farm. In 1993, Jonathan quit his job as an software engineer to run the 200-acre farm full-time. I met Jonathan through my friend Richard Factor and his friend Barbara. Bobolink's dairy makes 12 different cheeses, but while I was there they were making Jean-Louis, a 22-lb wheel named for chef Jean-Louis Palladin, "who encouraged food artisans to aim for bolder, earthier flavors," says the Bobolink site.

My first task (which wound up taking all morning) was to help the full-time interns escort the cows from the pasture about a mile up the road back down to the dairy where they would be milked, then escorted back up the road and into their pasture. The interns were an international mix of young people who decided to do something completely different with their time than what they studied at school, with one exception, the chef Sara, who was the chief intern.

I followed the small group of interns to the pasture, past another field filled with calves from the Bobolink cows. Most of them were Kerry calves, since Jonathan and Nina are in the process of breeding Kerrys at the farm. Arriving down in the pasture, I noticed that there was clover everywhere. I wonder if this leads to sweet milk from the cows. Since I know very little about cows or farming, that's only a guess.

We drove the cows from the pasture by raising our voices "A-yup!" I mainly clapped my hands in back of the cows I needed to move, and that seemed to work. We walked the cows down the road to the farm, staying out of the way of big cow poo, pee, and the amorous bull, Seamus, who seemed to want to mount one particular cow in heat. Nearly all the cows were pregnant except for a couple who had recently calved and that one coming into heat. Seamus appeared to be responsible for all the pregancies, the busy guy.

When we moved the cows into the portion of the road near the other pasture with the calves, there was such a chorus of mooing! The cows also wanted to socialize with the calves, so it took a bit of doing to move the cows down into the main farm area and to the corral where they would be moved into the milking barn.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the milking area was that it was clean and didn't smell like cow poo/pee. I noticed this because after the cows had been corralled for a minute or two, they really let loose and emptied out. I don't want to focus on this, but it was a big part of the morning. Because the milking took over two hours (28 cows and only 4 milking hook-ups -- and 3 new interns), I was pretty well nauseated and had to vacate the milking area frequently. I guess if I lived on grass and clover, I'd probably be "regular" too. Just that part alone convinced me that owning a cow was not for me. I didn't stick around for the cleaning out process, choosing instead to visit the bakery (see that portion a bit later in this story). Jonathan said, "Cheesemaking is part-time. Cleaning is full-time."

Jonathan told me that he is planning to rebuild the milking area, as well as purchase more milkers to streamline the process. He'll also need to build because he plans to grow the herd to 50 head. Right now, it's about 28.

As the cows are milked, the milk travels down a tube and is heated in a large vat at 93 degrees F. Whey from the previous day's cheesemaking as well as rennet are added to the vat to make the cheese form. After the cheese forms, they pull out whey for the following day, and use a long cutting device (looks like it's strung with piano wire) to slice through the cheese in the vat, to make the curds. Then, there's some stirring, and finally, the curds are scooped up and placed in a mold to settle and drain. The whey drains into a large milk can, and is later fed to the Bobolink pigs. These are the happiest and healthiest looking pigs I've ever seen. Bobolink sells their pork as well as beef at their web site. They also sell their cheese, but not their bread there.

As the molded cheeses harden, they are salted, and eventually moved to the cave (which I didn't see) to age.

The cheese itself varies from week to week as the cows are moved from pasture to pasture. Jonathan told me that in cheesemaking, weather is everything. Cooler udders produce less of the good bacteria needed for better cheese, hence his seasonal style. He absolutely will not make cheese from milk produced when the cows are eating hay.

I was fortunate enough to sample some Baudolino that had not been aged long at all. They call it the "brie of Barbarossa," but I found it to be immensely buttery, sweet and creamy. I wanted to buy it as is, but I'll have to wait.

After the forms were filled, I went into the bakeyard to learn more about the famous brick oven designed by Alan Scott. They start the fire at 6 pm, the night before they plan to use it, and rake out the embers of the wood at 7 am. They bake their breads quickly at high temperatures, moving to larger loaves as the temperature in the oven falls.

The day I was there, the oven was too hot in the morning to do any baking. When B arrived at 7 am, he saw "fire still shimmering with blue flame." The rhythm of the day is based on the oven -- the degree of heat as well as the space within the oven.
They don't use the milk from the dairy since it's too precious, however, they do use Bobolink cheese on their cheese ciabattas. They use soaked oats in all their breads, and no added sugar. Interestingly, they work without refrigeration within a converted trucking container cooled to temperatures conducive to producing the delicious breads.

First, B does his mixing, then, the doughs ferment. Next, the loaves are pre-shaped and left to rise, then they have their final shaping before they are loaded into the oven with a bread/pizza peel.

I tried quite a few of the different breads: a kalamata olive ciabatta made with olive brine instead of water, the cheese ciabatta, a cranberry-walnut stick (divine!), and their classic epi (my favorite).

Overall, it was a refreshing and different experience. If I were to do it again, I'd skip the morning with the cows, and spend the time in the bakeyard instead. Then, I'd come for the cheesemaking experience, which didn't take that long, and go see the cave.

On my way out, I stopped in the store and bought some of their Drumm and Foret cheeses, along with a cheddar made by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers that Bobolink ages in its cave. I brought those along with a host of breads to Mom and Dave's house for a little sampling dinner on my way home. They were fond of the cheeses and the breads as was I.

Bobolink does several farmer's markets in New York City: on Fridays at Union Square Greenmarket (Bwy and 16th St.), and on Thursdays and Saturdays at Lincoln Center Greenmarket (66th and Bwy). Go visit Nina there and try their cheeses and breads!