Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Failure...

It must be the time of the semester; I just can't stop thinking about failure. (Why, yes, I am grading my first set of papers, why do you ask?)

Monday, September 20, 2010

trying to learn a lesson...

...from the beet cake. Do we learn from failure? I do, sometimes. Read more about it at Inside Higher Ed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beet Cake: Redemption

Last week I made about the worst cake I've ever baked. Except for the first one, baked when I was about 11, which was a crazy cake using Nestle's Quik instead of unsweetened cocoa, and not enough sugar. Seriously, that one was inedibly bad, but this one was almost as bad.

It was a recipe I'd made before, which made it all the more galling. I hate to share the recipe having said it was bad, but really, it's a perfectly good cake--if you do it right. It's this chocolate zucchini cake that I learned about from our wonderful CSA farmers. It's a pretty tasty cake if you do it the way Lisa does, or the way I'd done it before. But I think I made at least two strategic errors with last week's cake. First, I used all beets for the veggies; previously I'd used zucchini, and that was terrific. Second, I threw in a half cup or so of buckwheat flour, which made it heavier than it should have been.

I hate to waste food, so I've been working away at that cake all week. Mark helped some, but Nick flat refused, and I could hardly blame him. Actually, both Mark and I kept eating it in part out of curiosity--was it really as bad as we thought? Maybe it just tasted, you know, like beets--we both like beets, so why didn't we like it? But the fact is, we didn't. Still, I felt that beet cake should work--after all, beets are sweet, right? Otherwise they couldn't make sugar from them!

So I googled around a while, searched out epicurious, looked for vegan recipes, and otherwise explored the possibilities. Most recipes for chocolate beet cake seem to be efforts to create a red velvet cake without red food coloring, but most commenters seemed to agree that it didn't actually work. Jessica Seinfeld had a recipe--and, again, it was hard to find people who were positive about it. And my point wasn't to be deceptive about this at all; I just thought it might be an interesting use for beets (which, again, I quite like), and perhaps a healthier chocolate cake as well.

In the end I took from a number of different recipes and came up with this. It worked, but I'm not sure I can even quite repeat it. One thing about this one is that I had some leftover squash puree in the house so that became part of the veggies in the cake; I think that may have helped reduce the excessive "beetiness" of the first cake while still helping keep the whole thing moist. Another thing is that I cooked the beets and then pureed them with their cooking water, so the beets were a lot moister in this version than the original--and, I think, mellowed by cooking. With those caveats, though, I now give you:

Beet Cake, Redeemed


1 cup cooked pureed beets* and/or squash, cooled. (I imagine sweet potatoes would work, too; your puree can be quite a bit waterier than if you actually meant to eat it)
1/4 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream (I had some Greek yogurt and used that)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional


Preheat oven to 350F
Butter or spray a 9-inch square cake pan

Whisk together the first 7 ingredients (puree through vanilla). Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda into the liquid ingredients, stirring only until you can't see any more flour. (Don't overmix.) Fold in the chocolate chips, if using, and pour into the prepared cake pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top springs back when pressed lightly. Serve warm with ice cream (or plain) and see if anyone guesses what's in it.

*I had shredded beets left over from last week's disaster, so I put those in a microwave-safe bowl with water and steamed them until they were soft, then dumped all into the blender to puree. The squash was cut in half and the seeds, etc., scraped out, then turned cut-side down into a baking pan and baked at 350 for about an hour, or until soft, then scraped out of the skin and pureed in the food processor.

Monday, September 13, 2010

a new stage in parenting

Over the 15 years that we’ve had children in school, my husband and I have managed not to have latch-key kids. Until now. For years, one or the other of us could be at home in the afternoon when they got home. Sometimes that meant picking them up from school and bringing them up to campus while I finished the work day, sometimes it meant finishing the work day at home, but one way or another we managed. It helped, of course, that we both had very flexible schedules, and that we (and our department chairs) were able to schedule our classes for prime times, so that one of us could get usually home before the school day ended. I did once teach a night class rather than teach during homework-and-dinner-prep time, and I’m in awe of those who do so all the time — that is really not my time of day. For a while one or the other of my kids was often in after-school soccer because it bought us an extra hour before pickup time on practice days—that ended, though, when it became clear that neither one had any interest in soccer beyond the camaraderie, so when the games got serious they gave it up. (And, for the record, no, I’ve never asked a childless colleague to teach late so I didn’t have to, nor has my chair ever made such a request for me. So far — fingers crossed — it’s all worked out fairly easily.)

More recently, my husband has picked up much of the slack, working from home as my administrative load has increased. So now, though I still rarely teach late in the day, I do occasionally have meetings that go until 4 or 5 pm — or even, as today, beyond. (Sometimes I even schedule them myself.) The first few weeks of classes when it was clear that this would become a more regular occurrence there was still no problem — my middle-school son wasn’t back in school yet anyway and was at home with his dad.

But school started last week and his dad’s out of town right now, and I’m solo parenting it for once. And today and tomorrow I have late afternoon meetings. Since my son is thirteen and reasonably responsible, we decided he could have a key and let himself in, and he’d call to announce his return.

I’m waiting for that call right now.

And after reading Susan O’Doherty’s blog post today I’m already counting the ways this could go wrong. A party in Central Park isn’t at all my concern, nor do I expect the cops to get involved, but there are many different kinds of near misses. He left a lunchbox at school last week; did he somehow lose his key? Or is the bus running late? If he missed the bus I would already have heard, I imagine, but what if he just couldn’t manage the rather sticky key in the very old lock?

Of course the call just came and all is well. There’s homework to worry about, and I do still have that meeting to go to, but for the moment another milestone’s been passed and all is well.

I do know I’ve been fortunate in this one. My milestone is a lot of other people’s day-to-day existence, and more parents than not patch together after-school programs, childcare arrangements, swing shifts, babysitting co-ops, and various other maneuvers to make their days work. I’m grateful that we managed to do all right for this long. And, like a lot of other parents every day, I’m glad that call came in when it did.

(cross-posted from Mama, PhD at Inside Higher Ed)

a food post

When I was a little girl my mother cooked dinner every night. Usually it was a meat, two sides, and dessert--at least in my memory--but there were exceptions to that rule. Spaghetti with meat sauce was one--usually served with a salad on the side. And there were other things that we had every now and then that were usually called "caloosapotti," which was someone's (my brother's? Mine?) mispronunciation of "ratatouille." I have no idea how the word "kallusapoti" should be spelled, but maybe you can get an idea of the pronunciation from my two attempts here.

One of the central features of calloosapotty was that it couldn't be repeated. If we liked it--or if we didn't--Mom would say, "you'll probably never eat it again." These were improvisational dishes, dishes that just incorporated whatever was fresh in the garden, or leftover in the fridge, or both.

I came up with one of those improvisational meals tonight and it was so satisfying, I just have to write it down. I may never really repeat it, but I can probably approximate it again. It involved turnip greens (we got little salad turnips in the CSA share on Saturday), and eggplant, and some leftover tomato sauce.

I started with the turnip greens, sauteing them in olive oil with sliced garlic. As the greens wilted, I added a sprinkle of pistachios and some raisins. My favorite way to eat spinach is sauteed with garlic, raisins or currants, and pine nuts--but I didn't have pine nuts so pistachios were my substitute.

While the greens were sauteing I sliced the eggplant into half inch rounds, brushed both sides of each slice with olive oil, and placed them on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 400F. When I remembered, I turned them over and brushed them with a little more olive oil.

When the eggplant rounds were brown on both sides, I piled the greens onto them (removing the garlic slices as I did), then topped each with about a tablespoonful of tomato sauce and about the same amount of shredded Italian cheese (Trader Joe's "quattro fromaggio" blend). Then back in the oven to heat the sauce and brown the cheese.

Oh, my goodness, those were delicious! No, I couldn't get Nick even to try one, but I don't even care--I wanted them all! The turnip greens were surprisingly mild, the eggplant was creamy, and the sauce and cheese were just right. I may never repeat it exactly, but it was delicious. I'm sure it would be great with spinach or chard or kale, with or without pine nuts and without the raisins, if those seem odd in this context, but I've got to tell you, they were really good. I'm sure this dish isn't authentically anything--it's calloosapoti, pure and simple, and it hit the spot.

[edited to add:] The moral of this story may simply be that I will eat anything, given enough olive oil and garlic. I can live with that.

Monday, September 06, 2010

On Not Always Saying No

Is service the housework of academe? I'm not sure, but it certainly takes up more of my time...read on at the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed