Posted on June 15, 2013
It’s only when you open your heart — even if it’s a crack of light from a door slightly parted, opened just a touch, a hair — that love, the rush of it, the thrust of it, will come hurtling through. Eventually, the weight of others and the enormity of their love, will rip the door from its hinges. At first you’ll feel something resembling assault, but you’ll give in. Acquiesce. You’ll surrender, because the risk you take in letting people in is worth more than bolting up your body and living, loveless, alone. Every few years I have to remind myself of this. There are times when I’ve wanted to soft-knuckle doors, wanted to press send, wanted to open my mouth and let all the moth balls flutter out. But pride and fear always intercede; they’re old lovers you can’t quite shake, and they’re selfish and cruel in the way they want you all for themselves. And the more you prepare your break-up speech and practice it in front of mirrors and incant it like song on the subway, the more you assure them that it’s not about them, it’s about you, their grip on you tightens, threatens to enervate. You can’t abandon us, they say. We’re the only ones who never leave you.
This is true. But some departures are necessary, while others are utterly heartbreaking.
This week I found myself sobbing in the street, wiping tears on subways — and those who know me well know that my emotions are carefully guarded, controlled. Rarely do I ask for help. Rarely do I well up. Rarely do I lay my heart down on the table, knowing it’s the greatest hand being played. I’m intensely private, enormously proud, forever afraid, and isn’t it, well, sad, that all the doors flung open because I’m frightened of my cat dying.
This week a former coworker became a beautiful friend. She checked in on me daily, sent texts, emails and called, even as I recoiled, even when I assured her I was fine, just fine, but she pressed on. And part of me secretly wanted her to. When I was at the vet’s office on Friday, she helped me with the tough questions and held my hand, made me laugh and held Sophie close, and I stared at my friend with a look that resembled awe.
We spent the day together, eating pastry very much like this one, and when she left I quietly thanked her and sent her this brief note: Thank you for being a beautiful friend.
I’m trying so very hard to open up my heart, to let all the magic in. Let’s hope it’s not at the expense of my beloved Sophie, because there’s room! I swear it! There’s room for you, too.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe for Kouign-Amann adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too. Read my review of her cookbook on Medium!
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast, or .35oz/10g fresh cake yeast
2 3/4 cups/385g unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup/2 sticks/225g unsalted butter, at room temperature + 1 tbsp melted
1 1/2 cups/300g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and coating
Stand mixer, 12-cup muffin tin
Mix the dough: Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let stand for a few minutes to dissolve and get frothy. Add the flour, salt and the tablespoon of melted butter, and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes, or until the dough comes together and is smooth. If the dough is too wet, add 2-3 tbsp of flour. If it’s too dry, add 2-3 tsp of water. The dough should be soft and supple and pull away from the side of the bowl when the mixer is on.
Proof the dough: to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour to allow the dough to proof. Then transfer the dough to the fridge and leave it for another hour.
Roll the dough: Transfer the dough from the fridge to a generously floured workspace. Roll it into a rectangle about 16in/40.5cm wide and 10in/25cm from top to bottom. You better believe I broke out a tape measure several times during this process because the dough is never as long or as wide as you think it will be. With your fingers, spread the butter directly over the right half of the dough, spreading it in a thin, even layer to cover the entire right half. Fold the left half of the dough over the butter, and press down to seal the butter between the dough layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the rectangle is about 10in/25cm wide and 8in/20cm top to bottom, and generously flour the underside and top of the dough.
Turning the dough, part 1: Press the dough down evenly with the palms of your hands, flattening it out before you start to roll it out. Slowly begin rolling the dough from side to side into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. the dough might be a little sticky, so gain, be sure to flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Using a knife, lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Life the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then lift the left third of the dough and flip it on top of the middle and the right thirds (life folding a letter). Your dough should now be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom, and 1 1/2in/4cm thick. Rotate the dough clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 12in/30cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom with the folded seam on top. The process of folding in thirds and rotating is called turning the dough.
Turning the dough, part 2: Repeat the process once more, patiently and slowly roll the dough into a long rectangle, flipping it upside down as needed as you roll it back and forth, and then fold the dough in thirds. The dough will be a bit tougher to roll out and a bit more elastic. Welcome to the world of gluten forming.
The moment of glorious rest: Return the dough to the baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic wrap under the dough as if you were tucking a little kitten into bed (SOPH is clearly on the brain as I re-type these epic instructions). Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, allowing it to rest and to be rolled out yet again. Don’t leave it in for LONGER than 30 minutes as the butter will harden and you won’t be able to roll it out properly and you will likely throw it against the wall.
Turning the dough, part 3: Remove the dough and place it on a well-floured work surface (still with me? I know, it’s epic, but it’s worth it) with a long side of the rectangle facing you and the seam on top. Again, roll the dough into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough, and use the rolling pin to press it in. Give the dough another fold into thirds and turn it again as previously instructed. The sugar will spill out. DON’T FREAK OUT. Just shove it back in.
Turning, rolling, resting, the epic journey: Once again roll the dough into a rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough and press it in using your rolling pin. Give the dough one last fold into thirds and turn. Return the dough to the baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, liberally butter the cups of the muffin tin and set aside.
Another roll, you’re almost there: Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle your work surface generously with sugar, place the dough on the sugar, and sprinkle the top with more sugar. Roll the dough into a long rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom. The sugar will make the dough gritty and sticky, but it will also make the dough easier to roll out. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. You should have two strips of dough, each 12in/30.5cm wide and 4in/10cm from top to bottom. Cut each strip into six 4in/10cm squares.
Home stretch. You’re about to hit your last rise: STAY WITH ME. Working with one square at a time, fold the corners of the square into the center and press down so they stick in place. I didn’t do this correctly (click here for how they should ultimately look), but who cares because they were INSANELY DELICIOUS. Shape and cup the dough into a little circle, and press the bottom and the top into more sugar so that the entire pastry is coated with sugar. Place the dough circle, folded side up, into a cup of the prepared muffin tin. It will just barely fit. Repeat with all the remaining squares. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the cakes proof in a warm place (78-82F/25-27C is ideal) for one hour and 20 minutes, or until the dough has puffed up.
Pre-heat the oven, kids: About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C and place a rack in the center of the oven. I would also recommend that you place a cookie sheet under your muffin tin when you’re ready to bake as there will be some spillage.
You’re hitting the oven!: When the dough is ready, place the muffin tin in the oven, reduce the heat to 325F/165C, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool until you can just handle them, then gently pry them out of the muffin tin onto a wire rack and leave them to cool upside down. They are extremely sticky and will stick to the muffin tin if you don’t pop them out while they are still warm. Let cool completely before serving.
Posted on June 13, 2013
I’m all out of sorts. While I know I can’t stay at home and hawk Sophie’s every movement, pray that she’ll inch to her bowl and eat (please, my god, please eat), she’s all I think about. I can’t but help feel responsible for her illness. Over the past few months I’ve watched her recede and I told myself that it’s because she’s getting older, that everything is fine, just fine, because she is the one thing in my life that will never leave. My fear of her passing was, and is, that great. So here we are now, me counting the hours until tomorrow’s veterinary appointment (the clock ticks and ticks and ticks), she spending time next to me or around chairs and beds. Safe.
All I can do now is cancel and reschedule lunches. All I can do now is read, watch movies, work alone on marketing plans. All I can do now is bake. That’s all my hands can do until I know what’s what.
You don’t understand. You don’t. I can’t bear losing her. I just can’t.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too, modified slightly. Read my review of her cookbook on Medium!
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp all-spice
3/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup almond (or rice milk)
2 tbsp safflower (or grapeseed) oil
4 overripe medium bananas, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (i.e. flour, powder, all-spice, salt, pepper, brown sugar). In another medium bowl, whisk the egg, milk and oil until combined and add in 3 of the bananas. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet mixture. With a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Don’t overmix. Accept that the dough will be sloppy, gloppy — essentially, a big, hot mess. This is okay. Life is sometimes a hot mess, too.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a hot medium skillet, add a 1/2 cup of batter at a time and cook for three minutes. The edges should curl up slightly and brown and you should see small bubbles ont the wet side of the cake. Carefully flip the cake over and cook for another 2-3 minutes, gently pressing the cake down so it cooks evenly. At this point, you may want to lower the heat and clean the pan with a paper towel so subsequent cakes don’t burn.
Rinse, lather and repeat for each cake. You’ll get 8-9 from this batter. Serve with sliced bananas, maple syrup.
Posted on June 12, 2013
Posted on June 9, 2013
After a long weekend of relentless typing: book revisions, cookbook reviews, blog posts and social media marketing plans, all I want to do is lay supine on the couch and dip a cold spoon into a bowl of something sweet. Right now, this is where you’ll find me — thick in the business of sugar consumption. Thrilled to be delivering against a deadline. Grateful for creating ideas and hatching plans for the things I believe in, for the people I respect and love.
For the fig + plum compote: Recipe courtesy of Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too
3 ripe black or red plums
10 or 12 ripe figs
1 cup plum wine*
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
For the meringues: Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit Desserts
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup cane sugar, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
Notes in the Margins: Finding plum wine was an intense, insane journey. Quite frankly, I don’t have the patience to troll Japanese speciality shops for an ingredient. I used a sweet white wine (Riesling) instead, but I can also imagine you’d do just as well with a deep, fruity red with cherry bark.
For the compote: Halve and pit the plums, and cut them into slices ¼ inch thick. Trim the stem off each fig and quarter the figs lengthwise. Put the fruit in a heatproof medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the wine, granulated sugar, and salt and heat over high heat just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the syrup thickens slightly. Pour the syrup over the plums and figs and set aside for at least 3 hours, or until cool. (The compote can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before using.)
For the meringues: Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375F degrees. Trace six 2 1/2-inch diameter circles on parchment paper, spacing apart about 2 inches. Invert paper onto baking sheet. In a large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, beating until medium-firm peaks form, about 3 minutes. Mix remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Gradually beat sugar-cornstarch mixture into meringue batter, continue beating until very stiff, about 2 minutes. Beat in vinegar for 1 minute. Total beating time should be around 10 minutes. Divide meringues equally among circles, mounding and filling the rounds completely.
Bake meringues for 30 minutes. Turn oven off and keep meringues inside with the door closed for another 30 minutes. Open door slightly and let meringues cool in oven until almost completely dry in center, about 30 minutes longer. Serve with the compote immediately, or store separately in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Assembling the pavlova: Once the meringues have cooled completely, dollop a generous portion of the compote on top of each, making sure you include some of the delicious syrup. Many pavlovas are topped with a generous heap of whipped cream — not my scene. I already find meringues a bit sweet, so adding sugary cream would send me heart racing. If you love your cream, whip it up and add it. Otherwise, this is perfect, as is. Come to think of it, I think this pav would be fabulous crumbled up with the fruit and some Greek yoghurt. WHOA.
Posted on June 8, 2013
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. ― Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Is it strange to hold a number but not feel the shape of it? The clocks are an altogether different matter — they force a kind of inventory. You stare at your hands, inspect your face under the glare of a sun that threatens to set your skin aflame, and contort your body this way and that. A mask, a doll, a funhouse mirror, a forest — you are all and none of these things, and you stare at photographs as a reminder of the person you used to be. As instructed, you’ve taken the inventory, you’ve done the maths, and all you’re left with are the additions. And as a result, all that has been taken away. This wasn’t what you used to look like, you think. You scramble to compare a photo taken then and a photo taken now, and you chart the minor (and sometimes significant) differences.
I’m 37, but I don’t feel it. No, that’s not true. I feel some it. I feel the quiet and patience that comes with having lived through the torrent, having felt the undertow, of having almost gone under, but didn’t. I’ve imagined all the ways in which I can end, complete — from a plane hurtling into the ocean to a wisp of air sputtering out in the middle of sleep — so the trash can flames and basement floods don’t incite the terror they once had the capacity to do. I feel something of the severe in terms of managing the multiplications. There was a time when I’d wake to a face covered in barnacles, all those who cling, burrow and fiercely attach to only drain, and I’d try to yank them off and tire from their resilience. Now I walk around with a scalpel, ready for the scraping. I feel a body slowly not able to recover like it used to. I feel the softness that won’t easily harden. I can start to see the years in my eyes and on patches of my face.
I’m 37, but I don’t feel it because I feel as if I’ve only just woken up. Had I been asleep all this time? Had I been dreaming?
This week an old friend tells me that my greatest challenge (there’s another challenge? I laugh in a way that isn’t funny) is taking comfort in the betweens. There was a time when I worked in marketing and only saw myself as a writer. Refusing to write jacket and campaign copy because it would ruin — I was a woman who would not bend. Then there was a time when I was all slideshows and key performance indicators, and all the important people in my life don’t even know I’d written a book. Don’t know I’m writing a new one. So my friend tells me that I’ve got to find a way to reconcile the two. Torch the masks and meet the world with this one face, these two hands, this one mind, divided.
We talk about the kids and their entitlement, which is sometimes true, but I wonder if we’re a little envious. If we want to age in reverse — start knowing too much to knowing nothing at all, and living every moment in the wonder of the next. It used to infuriate me to hear children cry because I wanted them to know how good they have it. How every moment forward brings a newness that they’ll never get back.
I’m 37 and I hear about the too lates, the new starts, the pivots, the awakenings — and I want to torch all of it.
I wonder if instead of us staring at photographs, obsessing over the surface of things, perhaps we can attempt to create a map of the country that is our heart, the cities that are our mind in swell, in bloom. We gawk at the largeness of it, of all that we’ve become and achieved, and perhaps we need this laid down on paper. Perhaps we need this taped to our mirrors, festooned on the walls. Perhaps then we’ll stop thinking about the maths, the numbers.
I don’t have an answer, but I know that I want to move in the direction of our heart being a country.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe inspired by Joanne Chang’s Famous Applewood Smoked BLT recipe in Flour, Too (Serves two)
8 slices applewood-smoked bacon, thick cut
4 slices good-quality slice sourdough bread
2 tbsp butter
2 cups baby spinach
12 figs, quartered
1 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
Sea Salt to taste
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place bacon on the cookie sheet and bake for 24-28 minutes, until half is crispy and half is still a little bendy. Remove from oven. Lightly toast bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of butter. As I need to keep my dairy in check, I used Earth Balance butter. Top two slices with baby spinach and quartered figs, a drizzle of vinaigrette and bacon. Season with salt to taste. Top with second slice of bread. Cut in half and serve.
Posted on June 6, 2013
What’s better than a life on your own schedule, writing, and yoga during the day? FOOD. Endless amounts of it. Hatching plans over long lunches, celebrating minor victories and catching up with old friends and new, each week I find myself racing around the city, eating until I have to roll home on the subway.
1/2. Kale Salad + Cheeseburgers @ Back Forty West, Soho | 3. Delectable Chicken Panini + Kale Pesto @ Kaffe 1668, TriBeca | 4. Almond Croissant that Reminds me of Paris @ Cafe Dada, Brooklyn | 5/6/7. Rosemary Mac + Cheese, Kale + Citrus Salad, Fried Chicken @ Bubby’s, TriBeca | Creamy Pasta Pesto @ La Pizza Fresca, Flatiron | Cashew (Vegan) Mac + Cheese @ Squeeze Truck in Union Square
Posted on June 5, 2013
If you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written, you may have noticed that I’m obsessed with time — keeping it, losing it — for its the one thing for which we truly have no dominion. I could say that my fixation of time is directly correlated to my fear of death (so traumatic that thinking about my final moments can easily send me into a real panic attack). Lately, I’ve been meditating on my obsession from a different perspective: the clarity and space that only time has the ability to afford you. And after a considerable amount of thought, I came to this: I’m writing some of the best work I’ve written in my life, but it’s difficult in form and structure, slippery (you can’t catch it, nor do I want you to), odd in my use of language, and dark. It’s not for a wide audience, and while this sort of notion — the sell-ability of a piece of writing — was once so important to me, I’ve come to realize this.
I could give two fucks if this collection doesn’t find a traditional publisher. I could care less if no more than 1,000 people read it. I have no more fucks to give for dumbing down prose and making life easier for the reader. I’m creating what excites me, what I think will excite you, and if you love it, AMAZING. If you hate it and give up, it’s been nice knowing you.
Bravery. Feeling assured. Scary, monstrous things, but I’m all in.
I originally wrote this story and published it on Medium, but after a few reads I found that there was a lot missing. So here, dear readers, is my latest.