Archive for February, 2018

The Same Cake?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

My mom and I have an ongoing discussion about what it means to follow a recipe.

She says, when you follow a recipe, you follow each step; no variation, no substitutions.  Otherwise, you’re not cooking that recipe.

I say, recipes are strong guides.  But, you might be short of something or in the mood for a little twist.  So, make educated substitutions and alterations to fit your needs.

This topic came up again last weekend when I made one of my mom’s pound cake recipes for dinner.  Or did I?

I’ll let you decide.  Either way you decide to make this cake, it is both easy to throw together and a treat to eat!

My mom’s pound cake (with my variations)

  • 2.25 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar (brown sugar)
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla (rum.  and let’s face it, I didn’t measure, I just tipped the bottle for what looked right)
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sour cream (I didn’t have any.  I had 0.75 cup plain, full fat yogurt.  I figured this would give the acidity the baking powder needs for leavening.  I added 0.25 cup heavy cream so I’d have the 1 cup and also for fat content)
  • 3 eggs
  • (cinnamon)
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use an electric mixer to blend for about 3 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 325 degrees F for 60-65 minutes or until the top springs back when touched lightly in the center (took closer to 70).
  2. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert onto a plate.  Pour butter glaze over it while it’s still warm.

Butter glaze

  • 0.25 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla (rum)
  • (up to) 2 Tbl water to adjust consistency
  • (nutmeg)

So, this is where following the recipe exactly steered me wrong… I added the 2 Tbl water all at once and it got way too thin.  Add the water slowly, a bit at a time.  It should be thick enough to drizzle over the cake and run down the sides, but not gloopy.

Some of it will run into the center and pool around the outside of the cake.  My siblings and I would run our fingers through this before dinner to taste the frosting; and at dessert, my grandfather would fish it out to spread on top of his piece (and share with us as well).

This really was a nice cake.  Even my mom had to admit it.  “But if you put my cake and this one side by side,” she said, “someone would have a hard time telling they came from the same recipe.”

What I’ve Been Cooking Lately

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Professionally, I’ve been navigating USDA requirements for meat analogues for school lunch programs and trying to work out a recipe that would be accepted by a state monitor as having sufficient protein quantity at an acceptable pdcaas digestibility score.  Fascinating stuff.  Mainly for how difficult it becomes to serve neither meat nor processed foods to vegetarian school children.  But also mentally exhausting, which is one big reason that I don’t write much here anymore…

The personal stuff is quite a bit more fun, particularly when the kids decide that they want to cook with me.

Faraday is about to turn 4, and tends to cook with me quite a bit.  He can clean mushrooms with a brush and pick leaves off of fresh herbs, but he’s mainly there for the tasting privileges that come with helping me in the kitchen.  I’ll take what I can get.

When we’re in the kitchen, he tells me, “You’re the chef and I’m the cook.”

“What’s the cook’s job?” I ask him.

“To do whatever the chef says.”

I’ve got him trained well.  At least in the kitchen.  Outside of the kitchen, I cease being the chef and he ceases to see his job as being to do whatever I say.

Angstrom is 7.6667, and starting to come into his own when he wants to help.  He’s usually more interested in reading, which is also a fine activity.  But, as he’s getting older, he is becoming an actual help.  I can give him a block of cheese and a grater and he’ll turn it into shredded cheese for us.  He’s also starting to get the hang of using the knife that I got him (perhaps a bit prematurely) for his 6th birthday.  I still keep an eye on him to make sure he’s got his thumb and fingers out of the way, but he does a fine job slicing mushrooms on his own.

He also has been interested in making sure I write down my recipes.  That can be tough because so often I am just reaching into the fridge to take what we happen to have and turn it into dinner.  We won’t necessarily have the same leftovers the next time, so the recipes may not be re-creatable.  Not to mention the fact that I so rarely measure.

But… I did make a very nice cheddar, broccoli, and potato soup the other day that he asked me to document.  So, because Janice asked what I’ve been cooking and Angstrom wants me to preserve my recipes, here is the best I can do on that front:

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

  • Bacon Grease leftover from cooking a metric s*it ton of bacon for brunch.  Not all of it.  Probably about 1/3 cup.  Maybe a half of a cup.  A good knob’s worth scooped out of the custard dish of bacon grease with my favorite wooden spoon.
  • Garlic, sliced thinly.  A bulb’s worth.  (bulbs seem to be about the right unit to measure in.  Never trust a recipe that calls for 1-2 cloves of garlic)
  • Flour, sufficient to make a roux the consistency of wet sand.  Add slowly as described below.
  • Stock.  I’m not sure if it was chicken or vegetable.  Either would work.  Probably about 2 cups; I had about half of one of the boxes from the supermarket leftover.  Lately, I’ve been partial to whatever brand is low in sodium and labeled “cooking stock”, though I really should make my own.
  • Milk, about 3-4 cups, I think?  1%.
  • Leftover roasted potatoes and broccoli, from the same brunch that you cooked the bacon for.  Probably about 4 cups combined of those?  All of the broccoli that was left and most of the potatoes.
  • Cheese.  A mix of 3-year-old Vermont white cheddar and supermarket meunster.  There might have been some parmesan in the mix, too.  2.5 cups, shredded?
  • Spices.  Definitely black pepper.  I probably used Aleppo pepper, too.  If you don’t have any, I highly recommend getting some right away.  Penzey’s sells it.  So does the random multi-ethnic grocery store I shopped in Temeculah, CA once.  So there are probably some other sources, too.  And I bet I used some nutmeg, but only a touch.
  • Herbs.  Thyme, oregano.  Basil?  Whatever you like.  Sage.
  1. Saute the garlic in the bacon fat.  When it just starts to turn golden brown,
  2. Stir the flour in slowly until the roux gets to the consistency of wet sand.  When in doubt, stop adding flour but keep stirring.  If it looks too loose, add some more.  Go ahead and crack your pepper into here, too.  Keep on stirring the roux until the garlic encased therein has mellowed to a gorgeous golden color.
  3. Whisk in the stock, followed by the milk.  Break up the lumps, scrape the corners with your wooden spoon.  Whisk some more.  That’s it, looking good there now.
  4. Let it simmer for a bit.  15-20 minutes out to do to let the flour cook out.  Add the potatoes.  Some of their starch will cook out and add to the consistency of the soup.  Let it simmer another 15-20.
  5. How’s the consistency?  If it’s too thick, go ahead and add some milk.  If not, add the broccoli.  And if you add milk, go ahead and add the broccoli, too.
  6. When it all comes up to temp, drop that heat back way down to low.  Stir the cheese in, slowly now.  Let it melt before you add more, just a handful at a time.
  7. Taste it.  Adjust seasonings.  It very well could benefit from some salt.  I swear by Diamond Crystal kosher salt for most purposes, but it irks me that they eliminated the metal pour spout from their 3-pound box.  Now, every time I fill up my little salt dish, I have to tape the cardboard flap back closed with masking tape.  But it’s still fine salt nonetheless.
  8. Tell everyone it’s time to come to the table.  Get ignored.  Walk into the dining room and discover that the table isn’t even set yet.  Make a Pinky & the Brain reference about how it’s the same thing every night, you’ve got to set the table for dinner.  Listen to some griping as the kids get the bowls put around the table.
  9. Wait for one of the kids to go to the bathroom.  Once he comes down, wait some more because the other one will realize that he also urgently needs to go.  Maybe turn the heat back on under the soup while you’re waiting so it doesn’t get too cold.
  10. Wait, what, is everyone here?  Did you wash your hands when you finished in the bathroom?  Did you do an adequate job?  Okay, dinner is served.


Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

So, back in 2006, I was featured in a 2-artist show at a gallery in Lawrenceville and haven’t shown any artwork publicly since.  Seeing as I’m not doing much of anything with this page, I figured I’d put up a couple of shots for the 3 people who still have this on their RSS Feed (hi, Janice!)

Back in 1997, I had an idea that I could paint in words.  I’ve been spending the odd evening since sometime in 2000 trying to follow through on the concept.  Here are 2 of my more recent works; click on any thumbnail for a larger image:

All Your Life, You Were Only Waiting For This Moment To Arrive

Personal reflections in swirls of color; a blackbird emerges from the center, ready to take flight.

24″ x 30″, oil on canvas,

2018, available

Fuck You Warhol, You Never Even Liked This Town

Musings on Warhol’s tendency to settle for 65% of an idea (peeing on metal) instead of taking it all the way there (peeing on metal to make a picture) and also thoughts on how fervently the city Warhol rejected (Pittsburgh) has adopted him as their own.  The end result, a cityscape of Pittsburgh as viewed from the North Side.

24″ x 30″, oil on canvas

2017, on hold

Ceramic Face Bowls

In addition to painting, I sculpt in clay.  My work in this medium tends to consist of whimsical faces built into the side of hand-thrown bowls.  Decorations come from multiple clay bodies being built together; all work is unglazed.  Samples shown below are all approximately 6″ in diameter and 3″ high.

2017, stoneware, available