Gooooooin’ to the chapel and we’re gooooooona get married…

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 § 3 Comments

That song was the first song I ever learned to sing in harmony.  My best friend from high school and I walked around singing the chorus.  She was actually a singer — a ridiculously talented one — and she instructed me to just stick to the basic melody and she’d take care of the rest.

Anyhow, where was I?

Ah, right: weddings!  This epic cake!

The second-to-last layer of the last tier is in the oven right now.  I have learned some lessons along the way, including but not limited to:

(1)  Do your shopping at Costco.  Seriously.  Just do it.  And get the 7.5 dozen egg flat, because you will end up needing them all, even though you only have 5 dozen on your list.

Needs more nuts. (No, seriously, I did, and do you have any idea how hard it is to find blanched hazlenuts down here?!)

(2) Don’t bake while sleep-deprived.  Like that time when I had spent about a week getting around four hours of sleep a night, culminating in an overnight train voyage (tip: better living through chemistry), and then started baking the first tier around 11 pm.  And then put the second layer of that tier in the oven around 12:45, meant to bake it for about an hour, settled in to watch “My Strange Addiction” while it was in the oven, and woke up at 2:30 to the smell of burning cake.  And of course it was the layer with the most expensive ingredients (see above: needing more nuts).  So yeah, don’t bake while sleep-deprived.  Because re-making half a tier’s worth of batter?  Not fun, and not cheap.

(3) Know the volume of your stand mixer.  It was a foregone conclusion that the bottom tier (30 cups of batter for 3 12″ square layers) would not fit in my mixer.  I thought the second layer (19 cups) would.  I was wrong.

Lemon poppyseed: Is good for you.

(3) Supreming lemons will always hurt.  Always.

Ow. (And you should see the twin cuts on the tip of my index finger!)

More lessons to come, including shots of the baked tiers, and maybe even shots from my natal village (highlights: the civil war room in my mom’s house; the Robert E. Lee license plates).  Also, not that y’all can help me with this directly, but: I couldn’t decide which dress to wear, and so I brought literally every single party dress [that isn’t black] I own and figured I’d make the decision here.  The contenders: cream and black that I wore to my cousin’s wedding last autumn; blue strapless that I wore to my mom’s wedding 4 years ago; white with embroidered flowers and ridiculously girly (maybe even too girly?); and floral print. What’s a girl to do??  Is it wrong to wear white to another woman’s wedding [her dress is gold-ish]?  Is it even more wrong to reprise a dress you’ve already worn to a [family] wedding?  Thoughts?


Dude, Ethel, where ya been?

Sunday, 15 May 2011 § 2 Comments

Anyone still here?

Hi!  I’ve been neglecting this space because I spent the past week trying to figure out what to do with myself.  The answer hovered between “painting at the Rooster’s new abode” and “absolutely nothing.”  I haven’t read a book in over a week.  I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without reading.  I have watched an ungodly amount of really, really bad internet television and Netflix streaming. I’ve gotten a haircut that I’m starting to regret.  I was in a mood where I felt the need to get rid of things, you see.  There just needed to be less, as though that would counterbalance the too-much-ness of the past several months.  I don’t have a ton of clothes, and certainly not a lot that I don’t wear, so a closet purge wasn’t really an option.  And while I have a surfeit of books, I can’t exactly get rid of them.  So I got rid of a lot of hair.  It was longer than it had been in years and years.  Now I look like a cross between Rachel Maddow and a Bunddeutsches Mädel.  Ah, well.  Barring catastrophe, hair tends to grow back.

Also, I made Exam Jam as a thank-you gift for my committee.  One batch was the also freshly-minted Master Garrett’s strawberry and wine jam (not pictured).  The other was a sublime strawberry-rhubarb from Kaela; with relatively little sugar and a healthy dose of lemon juice and zest, you can really taste the fruits.  Yummm.

Rollin' in the deep cast iron pot

Secret Ingredient: O+ Blood.

Our local farmer’s market is bursting with beautiful, crisp rhubarb.  Swoon.

The really exciting item on the agenda now is planning the wedding cake for my aunt’s wedding.  I’ll be traipsing back below the Mason-Dixon line next week and baking the cake for her 100-guest wedding.  It’ll be three tiers, with three layers each:  almond-hazelnut with white chocolate mousse filling; lemon poppyseed with lemon curd filling; and lavender-rose-vanilla with lavender-rose-raspberry jelly filling.  And a swiss buttercream frosting.  I’m super-excited.  I’ve baked two wedding cakes before, but they were both smaller, so this will be the largest one yet.  Since I need to take my heavy-duty kitchenaid mixer to do it, I’m taking the train — a 17 hour journey!  But I love train travel, and the immediacy of the experience of space and time.  As a double-plus bonus, I discovered that the mixer fits in my smallest suitcase!

Yeah, I can't imagine getting this one through security.

To give you a sense of the epic scale of this project, check out my shopping list for when I’m down South (there are other things I’m buying up here, like Rosewater and lots and lots of nuts, since I’m not sure I can find them down in my Natal Village):

US Butter : 24 sticks (6 lb)
APF: 10 lb (?)
Cake flour: 2 boxes
Sugar  (10 lb bag)
Eggs: 4 doz plus 2 c whites
Brown Sugar
Vanilla Extract
Whole Milk (7 c)
Cream (8 c)
Buttermilk (1 ¼ c plus ⅓ c)
Baking powder
Creme fraiche (2.25 c)

White chocolate (3 lb)
10 lemons + 15 (or bottled juice?)

So, stay tuned for those misadventures!  Also, I found out a friend is expecting, so baby knitting projects to come!

Champagne Socialists.

Sunday, 1 May 2011 § 2 Comments

Debut, les damnés de la terre!

Nous ne sommes pas les forçats de la faim.  Parce que nous avons brunché.  (Seriously?  How can the French not have a word for “to brunch?”)

Oh hai! I’m back.  I finished my last written exam last Wednesday night and have been a slothful wretch ever since.  I was doing that thing where you hide under a rock with your elbows out and have ’60s protest music playing on endless repeat.  (You mean you don’t ever do that?)  So I invited my buddies over for May Day Brunch this morning.

Champagne Socialist Solidarity: You're doing it right.

It was the absolute best way a person could spend a May morning.  This week instead of baking my bread dough into loaves, I rolled it out into a half-sheet pan, retarded it in the refrigerator, and stamped out english muffins.  I couldn’t find my round cookie cutters, so I used flowers.  Clearly.  (Then the Barefoot Rooster reminded me that canning jar lids work very well when one can’t find cookie cutters, so I made some round ones, too.)

But here are some of the flowers.

I used these to recreate my favorite breakfast sandwich from a restaurant in Providence: toasted english muffin, olive tapenade, goat cheese, roasted red pepper, griled tofu.  Mmmmmm.

Anyhow, socialism and socializing: perfect post-exam-funk remedy.

My oral exam is this Thursday, and while I meant to spend the intervening week preparing — I just can’t bring myself to.  I definitely put at least two books I haven’t read on the syllabi I wrote for two of the exams, so I figure I probably ought to read them.  But oh gosh.  My eyes are still bloodshot from the last few weeks.  I ran into an anthro comrade a few times in the wee small hours at the library last week, and each time he asked if I was okay, because it looked like I had been crying.  And — at least directly before those encounters — I hadn’t!  But I’ll have to force my eyes to read again soon, at least to review what I wrote, I guess.

And so what have I been doing in my slothful days?  Knitting!  I’ll post a picture tomorrow once I weave in the ends, but, inspired by the lovely Eileen’s shrug, I knit a similar one.  Because (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) I’ve decided what dress I’m wearing to my orals, and it’s sleeveless!  And any southern lady worth her pearls knows that you don’t go to places of worship or places of work with bare shoulders; it just ain’t fittin.  So I knit a little sweater-ish thingie to go with it.  Gender: ur performin it right, lulz.

Alleluia! The bread is risen.

Saturday, 23 April 2011 § Leave a comment

Well, that was… I don’t even know what it was.  It’s over, is the main thing.  The exam was a four-hour timed sit-down — thankfully, I was allowed to write on my own computer.  Four questions: choose one from the first two and one from the second.  I had somewhat anticipated variants of two of them, and felt like I could have answered the third, too.  And as for the fourth… well… let’s just say it’s a good thing that I have a week to keep studying between my last exam and the orals.  It’s a question I should be able to answer, but, well, I’m glad I could choose not to.  The exam itself wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I was still pretty much useless for the rest of the day.  I came home, put on my PJ’s, poured a glass of wine, and watched crappy internet television.

The last exam starts Monday, though part of it is a syllabus I’ve technically been working on for  while.  And I’m using technically in a very loose sense there.  You know, kind of like how everything’s a “technology” now, where it used to be a “discourse” (or ruin, or trace, or topos): books, knowledge, Being, etc.  Add to that list: thinking but not actually working.  Whee.

As you all know by now, my MO is stress baking.  And so this morning, I mixed up a batch of Austrian Easter Bread (Osterbrot).  Last year my friend and upstairs neighbor invited me to his Easter brunch, and I made a couple of loaves of his mom’s Osterbrot.  Here’s last year’s:

Das Brot ist aufgegangen; es ist wahrhaft aufgegangen!

Each of those was a full batch of dough; this year, I’ve made one batch and divided it into four loaves because y’all, that is a lot of Brot.

Er nahm das Brot, brach's, und sagte...

The bread itself is very similar to a Challah dough: enriched, yeast-leavened, but minus the eggs in the dough.  Want the recipe?  Here it is.  Just don’t tell my dear neighbor that I’m giving away his heirloom, kthanks.

1 Kilo All-purpose four

100 g softened butter

200 g Sugar (or less for a less-sweet bread)

1 tsp salt

½ L Milk

30 g fresh yeast or. 2 Packets active dry yeast

Spices: anise (fennel if you can’t find star anise); zest of one lemon

Optional addition: raisins

Add the anise and lemon zest to the milk and heat gently in a saucepan.  Turn off heat, and leave to cool and steep, approximately half an hour or until milk is lukewarm.  Transfer the milk to a mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it.  Let the yeast proof approx. 15 minutes.  Then add 3/4 of the flour, the salt, and the sugar.  mix until it forms a rough dough.  Then add the softened butter in chunks.  Add the last of the flour (and raisins, if you’re using them), and knead either by hand or with a stand mixer until smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a light towel, and place in a warm place to rise (mine likes to rise on top of my stove).  Let rise until doubled, gently punch down, and let it rise until doubled again.  Since this dough is full of yeast and is sugary, the rise will be really fast.  I had to run down to the store [damn you, clogged drains] during the second rise today, and was gone for maybe an hour; when I came back, the dough had nearly tripled.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Again, one batch of this makes a HUGE loaf, so I suggest you divide it.  Two, three, or four loaves would be fine.  So divide your dough into X sections, where x = the number of loaves you wish to make.  Now: decide if you’re going to do a three or four-strand braid (I did 4, but I think 3 is traditional for Easter, you know, with the trinity and whatnot).  Then, divide each section into 3 (or 4) subsections and roll each out into a rope approximately 1 inch wide.  Mine ended up being about a foot long.  Then braid them.  And repeat for each of your X sections.

Place the loaves on a baking sheet lined either with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Let them rise again for about an hour, maybe longer, until approximately doubled.  It doesn’t have to be exact.  When you figure they’re about ready, preheat your oven to 350 (F).  Beat an egg and smear it on top of the loaves, then, if you’re feeling really fancy, sprinkle some turbinado or raw sugar on top.   Bake the loaves until deep golden brown on top. Since my oven is heart-breakingly small, I baked them two at a time. For one large loaf, this will be about an hour; for smaller ones, start checking them at half an hour.  If you find that the top is getting very dark but the crumb isn’t baked all the way through yet, lower the temperature to 300.  Cool on a rack.  Then nom.  If the bread lasts long enough to go stale, breads like this make a decadent french toast.  (Just sayin’.)

Ohhai kleine Osterbrote! The wonky one is for me. The others are for friends. It's WJWD.

Really, this is a super-easy recipe, and a great bread recipe to start with if you’re convinced that you in fact cannot bake bread to save your life.  Trust me.  It’s really, really hard to screw this one up.

So, now that the bread is risen, so are my spirits, and I’m off to conquer this syllabus.  Onward-ho!

I feel like an olive.

Friday, 15 April 2011 § 4 Comments

Briny.  Pitted.  Dark.

Anyhow, I wrote a whole long post processing the first round of exams, but it was the sort of dark and whiny and wallowingly despairing thing that, at second thought, is not really meant for public consumption.  (Insert big melodramatic sigh)

On the upside, I guess, instead of drowning my despair in alcohol, I’ve sublated it through stress baking.  Two nights ago after I decided to give up on comprehending anything I was reading, I whipped up a batch of — wait for it — olive biscuit cookies.  At first you might think, “quoi?  Olive cookies?” But just run with it.  They’re the perfect grown-up cookie: a mix of savory and sweet; a little pouty but also indulgent.

I didn’t bake them off that night because I didn’t think any of my cookie cutters were up to the task.  I stopped by the kitchen gadget store on my way to campus yesterday, though, and found the PERFECT one:

No offense to Political Theologies, which is actually a great book.

Yes, dear readers, that is a screwdriver.  For Screw This cookies.  The end result:

Dedicated to my candidacy exams.

Yeah, sure, they look a little wonky.  I blame the olives (which in turn blame me for not chopping them finely enough).  And is it not fitting that I sort of screwed up my screw this cookies?  (nb: Heidi over at 101cookbooks suggests baking them for 12-ish minutes for little tiny cookies; my screwdrivers wanted closer to 17)

I wish I had time to muse more over the semiotics of screw this cookies, but alas: time to conquer the day and the reading list.  With a screwdriver.

Bulk ferment.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 § 2 Comments

In my note to the readers that accompanies my upcoming colloquium paper, I refer to the piece (a draft of my dissertation prospectus) as “still in bulk ferment stage (nb: baking metaphor).”  (I think I’ve overused the perfunctory “This is still very much in progress…”) I feel like my weekly bread turned out a lot better than my written work this weekend; can’t I just submit these loaves in lieu of my paper??

"Final rise, or, Lit Review"

"Dusted and scored, or, Methodology"

"Boule, or, Archival Sources"

"I sliced it too soon, nom nom nom, or, Contributions to Other Fields."

I think we’d all be better off this way.

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