Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome Evan!

A few co-workers and I threw a baby shower Sunday for Ellen, my former office mate. We made it just in time - Evan Brian Castrucci arrived early (very- about 2:30 a.m.) Wednesday morning. No, that's not her wine glass and yes, her husband is wearing a baby's bib. For those of you who know Brian, I'm sure you'll agree he can be a big baby sometimes. I offered to bring the food so I had a busy weekend getting prepared. Because I had a good excuse and a captive audience, among the dishes I made were Rose Bakery's mushroom tart and tomato and ricotta tart. Since I've already dedicated an entire post to the mushroom tart, I'll spare you the details. Except to say that the tomato and ricotta tart is even better!

But I promised I wouldn't ramble on about a tart. So I'll ramble about a cake. When I offered to cook and bake for the party, I must have forgotten that I'm not a cake maker. Especially not a cake to feed approximately 30 people. When this all sank in, panic ensued and I sought the advice of a professional, otherwise known as my husband. Eric talked me down and assured me that I could make a three layer sheet cake using half-sheet pans. Whew! Problem solved. I pulled out Magnolia Bakery's chocolate cupcake recipe, did some basic math to triple the ingredient quantities, and made a shopping list. And then I promptly put aside all thoughts of cake until Saturday morning when I started to prepare the food. I figured I'd better start on the cake first so the layers could cool thoroughly before I iced it. That makes sense, right? I almost sound like I had a plan.

Alas, I did not. Had I planned, I might have anticipated my next problem. I measured everything out and realized that my KitchenAid was not going to hold enough batter for a triple layer sheet cake. Panic ensued again! After I took a deep breath and started thinking strait, I remembered that I mixed every batter/dough/meringue/etc. at LCB by hand, sans la machine. Why was this batter any different, other than it was three times the normal amount? So I began incorporating the dry and wet ingredients into the butter/chocolate mix. You can't tell from the photo but the bowl below is over a foot in diameter and it was full by the time I finished folding in all of the ingredients. I wish Chef Tranchant could have seen me!

Crisis solved for the present time, I moved on to prepping the savory dishes. A short ten hours later I finished up and it was time to ice the cake. It was 10:00 p.m. at night, I was tired and cranky, and my icing was too thick. Eric took pity on me and iced the cake for me. It's really nice to have a professional chef on hand when you've bitten off more than you can chew. It was a pain in the neck and while Eric's icing job was not perfectly smooth, I'm sure it was much better than I could have mustered.

Once the cake was iced, I loaded up a pastry bag and started piping. I had picked up some beautiful, organic raspberries to complement the raspberry jam I used in lieu of icing between the layers. Those raspberries were so pretty, in fact, I questioned whether they were really organic. They were the perfect size and shape that only genetically modified, pesticide laden produce can usually achieve. I just need a piping platform on which to place the raspberries. By 11:00 p.m. the cake was done and so was I. Thankfully, I have no Ace of Cakes delusions of grandeur or I would have been sorely disappointed. The cake (and I) made it to the shower in one piece so as far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do you think Lindsey likes brownies?

We received a flyer on our door on Monday notifying us that a film crew would be in the neighborhood this week filming a "major movie production." Our neighbor, whose home is being used as the set, had given us a heads up to expect the flyer. She also spilled the beans- Robert Rodriguez is filming Machete in our 'hood! Actually, I don't know if the neighborhood will be in any of the shots. So far, all the filming I've seen has been inside the home. We have a bird's eye view because the set/house is directly across the street from us.

At first, we thought, no big deal. We figured it would just be a few cameras and crew members hanging around. On Wednesday we came home from work to see a half dozen semi-trucks lining the streets of the neighborhood, crew members milling everywhere, and gear strewn all over the place. It is a major movie production, indeed! When I first laid eyes on the tubing that snakes from the window of the house halfway down the block to a tented generator, all I could think was, "E.T., phone home!" But Drew isn't in this movie... Lindsey is. As in LiLo, or one half of the adorable, former Sam/Lindsey sandwich (I really hope they get back together), or unfortunate child of stage-mom extraordinaire Dina. Yes, I watch too much E! True Hollywood Story.

Oh, and Robert DiNero is in the movie, too. Along with Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey, Rose McGowan, and Michelle Rodriguez. Quite a mix, huh? Danny Trejo, the lead in the movie, has been on set every day and has been pretty cool about speaking with the neighborhood kids and taking photos. No sign of Mr. DiNero. Jessica Alba has been sighted and I can confirm she was on set because a crew member left a call sheet from Wednesday's shoot in our yard. She started shooting at 1 p.m.- after 2 hours in make-up. As if Jessica Alba needs 2 hours of make up application to look beautiful. I'm pretty sure she's gorgeous as soon as she rolls out of bed. Still no Lindsey sighting but I'm holding out hope. According to her Twitter stream, she was filming in Austin last week. Not that I've subscribed... it's as vapid as you would imagine. She tweeted about her love of Chloe boots.

Things start hopping as the sun goes down. Most of the crew didn't even show up until 4 p.m. today and we've been told they will be shooting until 4:30 a.m. The street is lit up like Christmas and the lights shine right into our rather large windows. It has been a challenge to settle the dogs and get some sleep the last couple of nights. Today is supposed to be the last day of shooting.

While it has been exciting to watch the goings on, I don't think any of the neighbors will be sorry to see them go. I'm definitely ready for the six semi-trucks, numerous white vans, a couple of classic cars, and the BMW roadster that has been parked in front of my house to go with them. Of course, it will be cool to see the movie when it comes out- the release date is sometime in 2010.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

11 Years of Wedded Bliss (mostly)

Saturday was our 11th wedding anniversary and we decided on a low key celebration of dinner and a movie. We forgot to take a photo before we left for the evening so this was taken shortly after 1 am when we returned. Sorry if we look a little bleary- we were up waaaayyy past our bedtime. We went to Gariddos for tacos and margaritas and then on to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Julie & Julia. I suffered from acute taco deprivation while in France for 5 weeks but slowly, I'm starting to recover. Garrido's pork tacos are an excellent remedy. Non-Texas residents would probably be shocked at the proportion of my diet that tacos make up. Those who are lucky enough to live in a state with such ubiquitous and delicious tacos completely understand, I'm sure.

The movie was cute but the story-line following Julia was more compelling than Julie's.

Julie, in the book, was much more lovable and profane. They really cleaned up her potty mouth for the movie. I guess they wanted a PG rating and the book was very un-PG, language-wise. Meryl was amazing, of course, and she did Julia as well as anyone could. The Alamo runs related shorts prior to the movie so we were cracking up over Dan Aykroyd's Julia impersonation from the Saturday Night Live heydays. Apparently, Julia thought his impersonation was hilarious as well.

On a different note, it's hot as h-e-double hockey sticks in Austin and has been for a while. Today was the 56th day the mercury rose above 100 degrees. Ice cream weather, for sure! I made sweet cream ice cream and am proud to report that at least three-fourths of the base made it into the churn bowl. I love the flavor of the base so much I could drink it strait. Just so the ice cream wouldn't be lonely, I made some fudgy brownies to go with it.

Seriously fudgy- that's a pound of melted chocolate that went into the brownies. I topped the brownies with a nut medley, which is a euphemism that means I mixed all the nuts I had left over from other baking projects. Happily pistachios, pepitos, and chestnuts combine pretty well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

For Jan

Shortly after Eric and I met, he took me to San Diego to meet his father and step mom, Jan. The night we arrived, Jan cooked us a fabulous meal of salmon. Ever since, her delicious food and love for cooking have inspired me. Without Jan, I probably wouldn't cook today.

I had always loved food and in particular, eating. A love of food (and a crazy restaurant- but that's a whole, other story) was one of the main things that drew Eric and I together. But I had never actually tried to cook... that sort of thing seemed better left to professionals. So I married a chef.

Eric and I moved to San Diego to be nearer to his father and Jan. We spent a year there and it was really a blessing in so many ways. Jan became like a mom to us and she took wonderful care of Eric's father, Dan. Jan made so many delicious meals for us- including the dinner at our wedding. She hosted our wedding in her back yard. Not only did she cook, she arranged for the minister that married us, directed us on where to get the marriage license, and recommended the place where we bought our rings. And did I mention that she did all of this during our one week engagement? Yep, one week! When you know, you know.

Jan made cooking look so easy and enjoyable that I was snowed into thinking that I, too, could do it. And about 8 years later, I could. It just took a little practice. Now, 11 years later, it almost seems easy. Almost, but not quite. LCB taught me that it may not be rocket science but it isn't exactly child's play either.

Jan's biscotti recipe is one of the first things that I ever baked. I've continued to make the recipe over the years and now mine are almost as good as hers. I've made them at holiday time to give as gifts and those biscotti have many fans! She still passes on wonderful recipes and I've never been disappointed in her recommendations. Jan also introduced me to Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts. When I stepped into Extraordinary Desserts for the first time, I (vividly) remember thinking, "This isn't pastry, it's Art!" If you've ever seen Karen Krasne's desserts, you'll understand why I capitalized the "a" in art. Her work is breathtaking.

We're all shaped by our experiences and the things we are exposed to. I just can't imagine what my life would be like without having met Jan. I'd probably still love eating but I doubt I'd have learned to love cooking and baking. I owe Jan immeasurably for opening my eyes. Thank you Jan!

Mushroom Methadone

I might be a little obsessed... just a wee bit. In order to avoid Rose Bakery withdrawal, I broke out the cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, and made the mushroom and chive savory tart.

The same mushroom and chive tart that I ate on at least a weekly basis in Paris. I tend to get a on jag and have to see it through until I'm entirely sick of whatever prompted the jag in the first place. Man, am I going to enjoy getting tired of this tart!

My helpers were on guard for crumb control. I call Jack and LuLu the "quicker picker uppers" because of their efficiency. They ensure they are always underfoot so as to helpfully lap up all crumbs as quickly as they fall. They even put up with my stepping on them just to be sure they don't miss anything. What would I do without them?

Harry, on the other hand, would never work for food. Not when he has two perfectly good humans to provide it for him. See that look on his face? That's his look of disgust with Jack and LuLu for being so dog-like and begging for treats. Harry is smart enough to know that if they get a treat, so does he, so there's no reason to waste his energy. Beagles are very intelligent - and obstinate, aggravating, and irritating. He totally has us trained!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I made it home safely, and now a week later, I'm feeling human again. The jet lag wasn't so bad this time but, along with over stuffed bags, I brought home a cold. No doubt a gift from the sneezing, constantly with the nose-blowing, teenage girl I sat behind on the train ride back from London to Paris. This, as I'm reading the London Daily Mail's headline about the resurgence of swine flu. She was totally oblivious to the dagger-like stares I kept sending her way. Her mother, who was sitting next to her, apparently never taught her that, when in public, it's polite to excuse oneself to the restroom to blow your nose. My mother, who was sitting next to me, remarked more than once on her ill manners.

But I survived and actually felt up to baking today. I decided to make something simple but also to tackle all my nemeses from class. I made almond rochers, from Tartine's cookbook, a favorite of mine and always a go-to book when I need a good recipe. The recipe involved whipping, cooking eggs over a water bath, and piping... all the things I most bemoaned at LCB. Turns out it's much easier to do these things in an air-conditioned kitchen and not under pressure, time constraints, or the thumb of a French chef. Actually, the recipe is as simple as pie (you'll have to get used to the bad puns if you read often) and makes a tasty, cute product.

I really enjoyed being back in my kitchen, on my schedule, making whatever I wanted to make. If I had been working under LCB's grading system, I would have totally flunked my marks on "economy of movement" and organization (as usual). I would have aced "clean as you go" because I stopped mid-recipe to sweep the porch. That's the beauty of home cooking- you can do whatever you feel like, even if you do have a piping bag loaded with meringue that is going flat. And I felt like sweeping the porch, at that moment, meringue be damned. The rochers turned out just fine and sometimes, in life, you just have to take risks.

This weekend is the opening of the movie Julie and Julia. I'm going to catch it later in the month because I don't care for packed theaters. In honor of the occasion, I put in a DVD of The French Chef and watched a little Julia as I baked. First up was "The Potato Show" where Julia talks about having to have the "courage of your convictions" when cooking. Amen to that! If I learned nothing from LCB (which is hardly the case), I learned to suck it up and just keep going. And that is quite a skill.

Thanks to all for reading my blog and for the kind comments. I'm glad you all enjoyed reading (or at least said you did) about my journey. I may be back in Texas but I'm pretty sure the journey will continue... such is life. I enjoyed writing so much that I'm going to continue this blog. I probably won't post as often and it may not be as exciting as reading about Paris. My only ongoing reader may be my mother (and Marilyn and Jan- thanks for the support!). I've realized that writing, for me, isn't about a reader. It's about the act of organizing my thoughts and the clarity and perspective that putting an experience into words lends.

Thanks again and, "Ya'll come back now!"

Saturday, August 1, 2009

On the Road Again

It just seemed appropriate to invoke Willy as I prepare to head back to Texas. I'm writing to avoid packing because the chances of me getting all this stuff back are slim to nil. I'm going to have to make some hard choices and start jettisoning things pretty soon if I expect to actually zip my bags. I begin traveling for approximately 24 hours at 3:40am when my shuttle arrives to take me to CDG. I fly to Heathrow and then on to Houston, where my lovely husband will be waiting for me to drive us to Austin. I can't wait to see him!

I went with Mom to the airport this morning but they wouldn't let me accompany her to the gate. I had to leave her in a packed, huge airport terminal in a foreign country where she doesn't speak a word of the language - I almost started crying for her. Thankfully, she made her flight with no problems. I was so relieved when she called to tell me she was sitting on the plane waiting to depart and everything was on schedule. Mom hasn't ever flown by herself- two international flights in one week was pretty overwhelming. I just got an email notification that her flight from Charlotte to P'cola is on time as well so all looks good for now. She's still in the air as I type but she promised to call me as soon as she lands in Charlotte.

I'm trying to chill out and enjoy my last day in Paris but I keep thinking of something else I need to eat before I leave. I've run out twice - for my last Arnaud Delmontel baguette and for a framboise millefeuille from Maison Laurent. I missed out on chocolates from Christian Constant and Patrick Roger so I'm kicking myself. It's going to be tough when I can't just walk around the corner to pick up something amazing and delicious. I'm going to finish the last bottle of Cepage Sauvignon from La Cave des Martyrs as I tackle this packing job. Wish me Bon Voyage!