Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Food #22: Apple or Peach Cake-Thing

I found this recipe in a Food and Wine magazine years ago on an airplane. And, yes, I can now confess that I removed said magazine from the plane and brought it home. There were several good recipes in the magazine, as I recall...baked pastas and homey fruit desserts were the big draw. I still have the magazine on my cookbook shelf, plastic airline-cover and all.

So I've been making this dessert for years, but I still can't call it "quick apple cake," which is what Food and Wine called it. It's really not a cake, but rather something like a cobbler with a cake topping. Is there a name for that? I also like it just as much with peaches as with apples, if not more...and I like it with more fruit than the original recipe called for. You can be creative with it, too: mix apples with cranberries in the fall, peaches with strawberries in the summer, whatever you like. It's hard to go wrong, frankly, with this much fruit and this much butter.

It's really too hot to bake right now, but I did make this one at the beach, and it turned out great. Here's how you do it.

Cut up six apples or so into a casserole dish (or, if you want a higher cake-to-apple ratio, cut three apples into a pie dish). The original recipe says to butter the dish but I've learned that's not really necessary. If you're using peaches, use at least six, more if your casserole dish has room. You are looking to get the fruit up to the top of the dish, more or less, but you don't need to heap it up.

Toss the fruit slices with lemon juics (about one tbl), sugar (one tsp) and cinnamon (2 tsp).

Melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter. Stir into the melted butter 3/4 cu sugar, 2 beaten eggs, and 1 cu flour. Pour the batter over the fruit. Sprinkle some sugar (and cinnamon, if you like) over the batter. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes (pie dish) to 65 minutes (casserole dish)--or until the top looks golden and delicious. You can serve this hot, at room temperature, or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream or nothing at all. As with cobbler, leftovers are good for breakfast, but don't count on them if your family is anything like mine.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Not about Linda Hirshman

Well, not really. Except maybe a little bit. Thanks to Becca for pointing out Megan O'Rourke's terrific piece in Slate: A Working Girl Can Win - The case against staying at home with the kids.. Here's the money quote for me:

"The essence of the mommy wars in recent years has been the assumption that the woman who stays at home does so for selfless reasons, invoking the good of the children, future leaders of our country. But Hirshman flips the terms of debate, reminding us that women who work aren't being selfish: even 40 years after the feminist revolution, educated working women, especially those with top-level jobs, are still pioneers. Women have the right to stick up for their own careers, not just for reasons of personal fulfillment but for reasons of social necessity."

What she said. Of course, as a "working mother" I would agree, right? While I wish O'Rourke had added the obligatory "outside the home" or "for pay" after "women who work," I think she's got this right, and if it's what Hirschman says, then I reluctantly have to agree with her as well. It's good for society to have all kinds of workers. The workplace isn't always fun, or fair, or fulfilling, but the more different kinds of people are in it, the more chances we have of making it better. And until fathers choose to stay home with their kids as often as mothers do, "choice" won't really be choice.

ear worm

A week at the beach with my ukelele-playing, Dan Zanes-obsessed, four-year-old nephew has left Pay Me My Money Down on an endless loop in my head.

Worse things could happen.

So just to add to the mix, I googled this video yesterday. I like it better than the Conan one, though you can watch that, too, if you like.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What I read

As promised, the reading list from beach week. I began with two books by Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky. I hadn't encountered Pratchett before, though my students are always recommending him. These two are from the Discworld series, which I haven't tackled yet, but they are for kids rather than assuming the adult audience the rest of the series does. Or so I hear. In these two novels witches are good (or can be), "pixies" or "brownies" are not quite the helpful sorts we're used to encountering in English fairy books, and a 9-year-old girl can save the world. I need to say more about them soon, but that will have to do for now.

I moved back to Diana Wynne Jones after that. Having loved Fire and Hemlock, I was less thrilled with Witch Week or The Time of the Ghost. They're fine, and I heard a great talk on the Ghost one when I was at ChLA, but they don't seem as inventive as Fire and Hemlock or, for that matter, Howl's Moving Castle. Jones is terrific when she's clearly reworking a fairy tale or a fairy tale motif, I think. She loves to play with narrative and to explore the possibilities that a somewhat rigid form leaves open to her. In the two books I read on this trip there's less of that, and for me, at least, also less pleasure. But that might just have been me. I have read two of the Chrestomanci books now and there are several more to go...

On then to Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata. I'd heard her speak at ChLA, and this novel won the 2005 Newbery. It's not fantasy, and I really spent most of the week steeped in fantasy, so perhaps that accounts for my response, but I really found it kind of pedestrian. There's an important story to be told about the Japanese immigrant experience in America, and Kadohata can tell it, I think, but the novel seemed a little too talky to me, a little less lyrical than it aspires to be. Still, a good story, worth telling.

Over and Over You, by Amy McAuley, is one of those books I picked up because it was next to something else I was interested in. Past-life teen romance. Hmm. A wasted hour or two, nothing special.

Criss-cross, on the other hand, by Lynne Rae Perkins, had somehow crossed my radar screen before (ah! Because it won the 2006 Newbery!) and seemed like a good bet. I once began to write a novel that I conceived of graphically, as taking place in the intersection of several lines representing several different characters' lives. I figured the intersection would be interesting, but I didn't take it any farther than that. I never wrote the novel. (Or, of course, any other novel, but that's a different story.) Lynne Rae Perkins did, and she did a great job. Several teenagers' lives intersect and nothing much happens: no murder, no magical intervention, just some day-to-day encounters that may or may not mean much in the long run. The writing in this one is terrific: she captures, I think, something of the intense self-consciousness of adolescence that Curtis Sittenfeld is working on, without turning it into pathology or "problem novel."

I had seen references to Russell Hoban's The Mouse and his Child many times over the years, and it seemed like this was a good time to read that one, too. It's not, many people say, really a children's book, although toys come alive in it. In fact it's rather dark (not that some kids' books aren't) and weighty as well. I can't say I enjoyed the experience of reading it--I was really enjoying the way Pratchett blends humor and high seriousness, and books that aren't funny weren't really grabbing me in the same way--but I think it's worth reading again. Though the edition I linked to above is newer, the one I read had nice illustrations, too, by Lillian Hoban (yes, the team who did the Frances books).

Somewhere in there I also read I was a Teenage Fairy, by Francesca Lia Block. Again, I'd heard a talk about it at ChLA and was intrigued. I've also loved Weetzie Bat and in fact have a project going to write about it. Block's writing is always a pleasure (well, my students who found it "flat" would disagree, but think postmodern fairy tale and it works), and the depictions of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and New York City as three kinds of women are fun. The story line is a bit predictable (child models preyed on by lecherous photographers) and the sense that we are all damaged is perhaps a bit overblown, but the references to Peter Pan are well done and the motif of photography fascinating. Mariah keeps promising to lend me her copy of the collected Weetzie Bat novels, but maybe I just need to go find my own.

I'm working on a project on children's literature and theology, specifically 20th-century fantasy and narrative theology, so some of the above could be considered research. I love when that happens.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Beach Week... over. We had a glorious week: fabulous weather, great food, fun with the kids, and not too many fights over who gets to watch what on TV. (Beach houses, unlike ours, have cable.)

And now the kids are on vacation and I'm...not quite. Lots to do before the summer ends and I'm already seeing it slip away. It's the curse of the academic: the long, unscheduled summer that fills up with projects without end. That, and the fact that we are always working a semester or so ahead (book orders, syllabus design, etc.) makes it feel as if the summer is coming to an end rather than just beginning.

Maybe some time at the pool will change that feeling.

Friday food returns this week--sorry for the unannounced hiatus, but I have a superstitious dread of announcing vacations in advance.

I'll be catching up with some book and movie reports before too long. I did meet my beach week goal of reading a book a day, so there's plenty to talk about.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Food #21: Fruit Cobbler

Before our last trip to the beach, two years ago, I scrawled recipes (or just ingredient lists and quantities, sometimes) into the front and back covers of my battered copy of New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, one of my favorite cookbooks. Here's the cobbler recipe as I wrote it in then:

1-3/4 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
4-6 tbl. butter
1 cup milk

Drop onto
6 cups fruit
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbl. flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbl. lemon juice

375 for 30-40 minutes

Does that make sense? It helps if you make biscuits every now and then. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, then stir in the milk. Really, you can melt the butter (I didn't know this then) and stir it into the dry ingredients with the milk. If you have another drop biscuit recipe you prefer, it will probably work. Peaches work really well in cobbler (and they're starting to come into season now, here), or a combination of peaches and blueberries, or plums and get the idea. Soft fruit, though. Apples will take longer and really are better suited for crisps and pies. Maybe pandowdies, too. But you shouldn't be baking with apples in June, anyway.

Serve this with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, or nothing at all, hot or room temperature or cold. Leftovers (as if!) are good for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Required Reading

I've been reading a lot lately, and that's part of the reason I haven't been writing so much. I'm soaking in others' words rather than generating my own. I need to do both all the time, but it can be hard, and there are days when the reading really needs to take over. I'll probably have more to say about Diana Wynne Jones and George MacDonald before too long (present and past masters of English fantasy writing for children), but for the moment I will simply leave you with two links. If you thought you'd read all you wanted to about Caitlin Flanagan, you are wrong. Jen Lawrence, of MUBAR and the LiteraryMama blog, scored an interview with her that is excerpted here, in this profile, and also reviewed the book, here. What I take from this writing is that Jen Lawrence, not Caitlin Flanagan, deserves to be the next voice of feminist at-home mothering. And anything else she wants to write about.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday Food #20: Easy Delicious Rosemary Bread

You may have figured out that I love to bake. The truth is, though, that I love having baked. I love the smell of something baking permeating the house, I love giving people baked goods, I love eating them. I'm not, however, one of those folks who derives spiritual satisfaction or therapeutic release from, say, the act of kneading, or from the long process of bread-baking, in particular. That's why I love Suzanne Dunaway's book, No Need to Knead, which I've cited here before. She taught me how to make yeast bread almost as easily as quick bread, and to make bread without kneading that is as good as bread that you do. (She claims it's can be the judge.)

This bread is easy. I take it to potlucks. For that matter, Mark takes it to potlucks. I think I'm right in saying it's the only bread he's ever baked. Everyone loves it. You do need to eat it up pretty quickly, though; it doesn't keep well. That's not a problem in our family.

Special equipment: you need a baguette pan for this. It can be for two or three loaves. Mine is a cheap two-loaf one from a local gourmet shop but most gourmet shops have them.

You also need to buy some yeast. If you have some in the fridge and you can't remember when you bought it, throw it out and buy some new yeast.

A rosemary plant is nice, too, but if you don't have one you can buy some fresh rosemary at the store or leave it out.

A big (long-handled) wooden spoon is best for stirring, and your bowl should be ceramic or glass.

Other than that it's pretty straightforward.

2 1/4 cups lukewarm water (it should be the same temperature as the inside of your wrist, or even a little cooler)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached or all-purpose white flour
2 – 3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons rosemary oil if you have it, or olive oil
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Measure the water into a large bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over it. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in two cups of the flour and the salt until the mixture is smooth—about two minutes. Stir in the rosemary oil, if you have it, or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. (Other flavored oils might work as well…)

Stir in the remaining 2 1/4 cups of flour for about two minutes longer, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and the flour is incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky but as long as it's pulling away from the sides it's fine. If it's too sticky, add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour (mine has never been too sticky).

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk—about 40 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Spray the baguette pan with nonstick spray or rub with olive oil.

Tip the bowl over one groove of the baguette pan and let 1/3 – 1/2 of the dough (depending on how many loaves your pan makes) fall into the groove. Cut it off with a rubber spatula. Repeat for the other groove(s). Brush the tops of the loaves with olive oil, then sprinkle with rosemary and kosher salt. Let rise for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the loaves are nicely puffed up. (Mine tend to rise outward rather than upward and slide out of the pan; if that happens to you, just fold the dough back over on itself.)

Place the bread in the preheated oven and reduce the temperature immediately to 400° F. Bake for 30- 35 minutes or until the loaves are nicely browned. Tap the baguette pan on a flat surface to loosen the loaves and cool them on a rack.

Note: Cooling bread before cutting it keeps it from "falling." It also seems to help it stay fresh longer.

Note about rosemary oil: You can make this yourself by stripping 6 long branches of fresh rosemary and chopping the leaves very fine. Gently heat 1 cup olive oil until it is warm. Off the heat, stir the rosemary into the oil and let sit for 2 –3 hours. Strain the oil and use. Or you can buy some. Or you can just use regular olive oil, which is what I do and it tastes fine.

You can also make this bread overnight. Once you've got the dough ready in the bowl and covered, put the bowl in the fridge. Two hours before you want to bake it, take it out and let it stand until it reaches room temperature. Then proceed as above, pouring the dough into the baguette pan.

Adapted from No Need to Knead, by Suzanne Dunaway

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I just want to note the irony that Stephanie (aka Yarn Harlot) made actual progress on some fabulous knitting the other day, and felt as if she'd done nothing, while I unravelled an entire sweater and got a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes undoing is just as good as doing, if not better.

Of course it helps that I did actually get some important reading done, and the kids were fed, and I think the dishes were even done by the time I unravelled. The sweater, that is. Other days I just come undone and there's very little sense of accomplishment in that.

Sometimes, too, saying "no" is an accomplishment, as the U.S. Senate demonstrated today. I'm sorry there weren't more than 48, but 48 was enough.

Monday, June 05, 2006


A couple of summers ago I knit myself a sweater. Not with sleeves or anything, just a simple cotton shell. Actually, I knit it twice. I knit it once and I didn't much like how it fit, so I unravelled it and knit it again.

I wore it once.

Then it seemed too wide and yet too short (my perennial knitting problem--ask Mark some time about the sweater I knit for him, or perhaps an orangutan, early in our relationship). So I washed and dried it, and thought about wearing it again. Then it was fall and the time for sleeveless shells was past, and then last summer we went to England where it was cool and rainy.

Today when I found it in the summer clothes bin I thought briefly of giving it to Goodwill. I know I won't wear it again, after all.

Then I remembered that people buy up handknits at Goodwill and unravel them. Which means, of course, that I could unravel this and have all that yarn back. It's not very expensive yarn, but still.

I now have two large balls of cotton yarn and a sense of accomplishment. Funny how even undoing something can give you that.

*(Does anyone know why knitters call unravelling "frogging"?)


where did my blogroll go?

(edited to add: well, wherever it went, it's back.)

Tuesday morning: and, gone again. Sigh.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday Food #19: Asian Grilled Chicken

I should probably preface this recipe by noting that, at the end, I will just tell you to grill the chicken and leave it at that. I don't grill, myself: I'm just too much of a girl. Or something. I have actually grilled things, on rare occasion, but it's never a good thing to let me too near the fire. Maybe it dates back to the time, years ago, when I leaned over a candle and set my hair on fire. (Mom put it out by just slapping at it with her hands, but it smelled funny for quite a while.) But really I think it's just that I don't grill much, so I don't know when things are done. Plus it's awfully hot out there over the grill, and I hate the heat. But I love grilled food, and thankfully Mark is willing to stand over the hot grill (or, because he knows what he's doing, to set the food on the grill, close the top, and walk away for a while), and then we all get to eat delicious grilled food.

So. Confession over.

Here is the marinade we like the best:

Mix together in a large ceramic or glass bowl:
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tbl. sugar
1 tbl. each chopped garlic and chopped ginger

Add the chicken and marinate for a while--at least 15 minutes, or all day. (Refrigerate it, obviously, if you're going to marinate it all day.) Then grill the chicken. Or, of course, delegate this step.

In fact you can also broil the chicken in the broiler. But the timing on that depends on what cut of chicken you have so I'll leave you to figure that one out as well.

This amount of marinade is enough for quite a lot of chicken: the other night, I think we had about 14 boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You could halve the recipe and there would be enough for the amount of chicken you want for four people, I'm pretty sure. (Or use the whole amount and boil the leftover marinade to make a dipping sauce...) But the chicken thighs were on sale the other day, and they make good leftovers--packed in a lunch with rice and edamame, or chopped and tossed into pasta with peanut sauce--so we made them all. And you do already know that chicken thighs are more flavorful than breasts, right? But you could use this with boneless breasts, or in fact with bone-in chicken parts of any sort.

This recipe derives from Sheila Lukin's All Around the World cookbook. She calls it "yakitori," which means "grilled bird," though real yakitori is speared on bamboo skewers (which Lukins also recommends) and doesn't have garlic or ginger in the sauce. While I love real yakitori, I find skewering tiny bites of chicken far too labor-intensive for family dinners, and the grillmaster finds the skewers hard to turn--so use whole pieces of chicken and everyone will be happy.