Friday, November 14, 2008

recipe: Spiced Pear Cake

This recipe is based on a German/Jewish Apple Cake that my mother used to make around the holidays. She died when I was a kid, and her recipe box was lost in my father's & my resulting move to Florida -- we moved to be closer to my father's mother, who could look after me while my father was at work. When I started getting into baking in college,* I tried to reconstruct the recipe based on shoddy memories of being 6 years old and up to my little elbows in thin-sliced, cinnamon-sugar--coated apples. It never quite came out the way I remembered it, and it wasn't until I was 25 that I thought to ask my family about it -- upon which I received a recipe card in the mail in about a week, hand-written in my grandmother's neat script with the kind of blue ballpoint that she'd always come back with a box of after visiting her State Farm agent.

It'd be lovely for Thanksgiving -- the cake comes out super-dense & moist with a sort of buttery toffee flavor, and the spices are classic fall fare. I modded the recipe to use pears instead of apples 'cause I've got a lot of friends who don't like cooked-apple texture. (The pears are nice, but I still recommend apples -- and the fruit is sliced so thin that it ends up more soft-caramely than pulpy/mushy anyway.) It can be served warm or cool or chilled, with ice cream if you want, or a melted chocolate drizzle maybe, or plain and with coffee.

Spiced Pear Cake


4 medium pears
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, gently melted (but not hot)
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt


Peel the pears and slice thin (but not VERY thin... maybe 1/8th of an inch. thick enough so they don't fall apart on you). In a bowl, toss the slices gently with the spices and 1/4 cup of sugar and then set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs together with an electric mixer until the mixture lightens and expands a bit in volume (maybe 2 minutes?). Add the butter and beat for another minute or so, then stir in the vanilla. (You could do all this with a whisk if you needed a workout.)

Sift together the dry ingredients. Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture (adding it in 2 or 3 batches works well) until the batter is smooth. Grease an 8x8 baking pan (if it's not nonstick) and pour in the batter. A 9-inch round should also work.**

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350.

Take the bowl of now-macerated pear slices and discard some of the pear juice/melted sugar that's collecting in it -- you don't want to add too much moisture to the cake. Then, starting about 1/8th of an inch in from the outer edge of pan, lay the pear slices down on top of the batter one at a time, parallel to the sides of the pan, overlapping each slice just a bit. Go around the pan in a ring, and then start a second ring inside the first, overlapping the rings a bit, too. Keep going until you fill the pan or run out of fruit (hopefully the former). This will be a pain in your ass.

When you're done, pop the pan in the oven for ~60 minutes. (If you ended up using a 9x9 pan 'cause you're a naughty baker like me and don't own all that many pans, try ~40 minutes.) When it's done, the cake should be pulling away from the sides of the pan and poking up between the pear slices, which should be golden-caramel-brown, and a toothpick near the center should come out clean. Allow pan to cool at least 15 minutes before serving, but it's even better the next day. Preferably for breakfast.


If you wanted to, you could chop the pears into smallish chunks instead of slicing them all fancy, and just kinda scatter the macerated chunks over the batter. But the fancy slices really are pretty.

If you're going to use apples, I like Granny Smith 'cause I'm quaint like that but any tart, firm, baking-approved apple would be okay. Just slice the apples VERY thin if you're doing the fancy slicing thing -- ~1/16th of an inch, or as thin as you can get them consistently and still be able to handle them. And add up to 1/4 cup more sugar during the maceration process, and make sure the mixture sits for at least an hour. Apples are stubborn.

The spices you add to the fruit are a flavor adventure (i.e., spice to taste). I think 1.5 tsp of total spice is a good amount to aim for, though.

* Man I wish I didn't know enough potheads that this sounded less than innocent.

** Baking 911 has a good pan-volume chart for use in emergency substitutions.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm in San Francisco for a work convention -- hence the recent Internet silence. What's your favorite thing to do in San Francisco?

I've been once before. Overall, my favorite things include:

1) Touching everything in Kid Robot until someone asks me to either buy something or stop fondling the merchendise.
2) Crepes at Ti Couz (I recommend the scallops and the Nutella, y'know, separately).
3) Discovering that some cities have good mass transit.
4) Eating sashimi at schmancy work receptions at The Palace.
5) Arriving at the Parc 55 to discover that your comp room is a suite that overlooks half the city.
6) Friends who fly up from LA to hang out with you for the weekend.
7) Working 13-hour days I GUESS.
8) Gawking at the fog rolling in while the sun is setting from a suite that overlooks half the city.
9) Gyoza at randomly selected Japanese restaurants on Haight.
10) Anticipating a trip to Dave Eggers' pirate store/writing workshop.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

an announcement that smells faintly of salsa

awesomancy at work

Yes, the rumors are true! Come January 2009, you will have access to the best full-page, M-W-F-updated, black&white-inked webcomic about foodmagic THAT EVER HAS BEEN CREATED.

You have questions. Don't worry, that's perfectly normal.

What's all this about, now?
An ongoing webcomic called Burrito Blade, to debut in January! Each update will be a full page of black-and-white comic book, and will appear at every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

And who’s responsible for this?
Adam P. Knave writes it. Renato Pastor draws it. I poke it with editsticks. D.J. Kirkbride is our spiritual guide and/or inspiration-imp.

But what is it about?
The Legend of the Burrito Blade is an epic fantasy story set in modern-day New York. It's a story about how mythology affects us and how we effect mythology. It's also a story about how we choose sides and what those sides mean. And, you know, it has food-based weaponry and silliness and action and humor and everything else you might fear expect from the likes of us.

How long will the whole story be?
We are people who enjoy getting ahead of ourselves, so right now we're planning for the story to be somewhere between 500 and 600 pages of comic. I believe I mentioned epic? It'll be broken up into ~30-page chapters, which will ultimately be broken up into 3 volumes, for ease of consumption.

How regularly will new comics be posted?
The majority of the time it'll be updated M-W-F, like clockwork, sirs. The plan is to take a week off between chapters (maybe 3-4 times a year) and two weeks off between volumes (once every ~16 months), during which we'll be posting sketches and original fiction and such instead of new pages.

Dare I ask how this idea came about?
Dare on, my copatriot! See, Adam was joking around with D.J., like they often do, and he decided that since D.J. likes burritos and is a ninja that he should have the Burrito Blade. The goofiness grew into an idea in which Adam saw some odd spark of potential, and he decided to use this unsuspecting idea to tell this huge story. Then he asked me to join him, because I edited this similarly wacky book for him and it worked out pretty well. Then Brian Cronin over at Comics Should Be Good offered to run an ad for an artist because he is a great guy. Renato was one of the people who applied, and Adam knew instantly that a deep friendship was written in the stars. They seriously just get along. And thus a team was born. A team!

Does this team have a name?
It does, thanks for asking! We have decided to form AWESOMANCY STUDIOS as an umbrella for our work. We are, by name, AWESOMANCERS. This is Awesomancy Studios’ first project, it will very much not be the last. We all also enjoy doing other jobs, so you shouldn't be shocked if our team grows and changes roles as time marches on (like it does).

Is it true one of the characters is named after Kirkbride?
Yup! D’Jay (who might be the big bad, but you never can quite tell), is named directly after D.J. Kirkbride. (We hate apostrophes in fantasy names too, but you try coming up with an asthetically pleasing phonetic alternative.) Accidentally, he happens to even look like him. Seriously, accidentally. Renato hadn’t seen a picture of Kirkbride when he drew D’Jay.

I'm not really into websites anymore, so can I subscribe to a feed?
You're lucky that we're living in the incredible future. If you happen to be on LiveJournal you can friend burritoblade, and if you use an RSS reader you can add to your feeds. There will be (mostly!) silence from now until we go live, of course, but tidbits and trinkets will be going up periodically in the meanwhile.

Any questions?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

10 things that don't suck

1. Bowls of chili eaten at taverns full of participatory young voters all watching a presidential debate, even if you still feel bad about eating meat, cheese, and um food after your 18-month stint editing for a nutrition textbook publisher.
2. Discounted shoes, especially when you've got a big business conference coming up to excuse shoe purchases.
3. DVRs, even if you don't have time to watch all the things you record.
4. Invitations to Halloween parties, even if you're conflicted about attending due to anticipated social awkwardness AND you aren't sure what you want to wear because most costumes for ladies are stupid and you're thinking for the first time ever that maybe you want to be stupid (but maybe you don't).
5. Babies falling asleep on you, even if you're not sure that you'll ever be ready to have babies of your own.
6. Crinolines, even if you go for the cheaper ones.
7. Sock Dreams, even if it makes you covet $50 socks.
8. Playing Halo against random people on X-box Live, even if they're probably 12-year-olds who will still pwn you and hump your corpse afterwards.
9. Earl Grey tea, even if you still can't escape thinking of it as tea, Earl Grey, hot.
10. Rain pattering down all morning, even if you've lost all of your umbrellas.

What are some of your favorite things?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

recipe: Double-Chocolate Bacon Cookies

I like baking; it's edible chemistry. I can do chemistry. Cooking terrifies me 'cause it's all unregimented in ways that I never learned how to troubleshoot, but I find baking easy -- medatative, even. (Unless things are going badly and I can't figure out why, in which case I have occasionally tried to behead innocent bystanders with pie plates.) And I like feeding people, especially with things they've maybe never tried before or wouldn't bother making for themselves. So what exactly does a grammar monkey bake for a triple-bachelor birthday/house party/post-Piratepalooza party/all-around sin fest?

Double-Chocolate Bacon Cookies
(Makes 24 cookies)


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 a vanilla pod, scraped)
Dash of scotch/whisky, if you happen to have some (~1 tablespoon)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda [NOTE: If you're using Dutch-process (aka pre-alkalized) cocoa powder, you should use baking POWDER instead. Otherwise you'll end up with oven-baked pancakes.]

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
6 strips of smoky bacon (a little less than 1 pound uncooked; it should be ~1/2 c. once chopped)


1) Set out your butter and egg to allow them to approach room temperature.

2) Cook off the bacon -- err on the side of extra-crispy, but don't burn it all to hell. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool completely, then run it through a food processor (or y'know a knife) until it's basically largish bacon bits. Set the bits on a paper towel to drain (again).

3) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

4) In large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy -- a couple minutes on medium with an electric mixer should do it.

5) Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and any booze you're using until well incorporated -- another minute or so with an electric mixer on medium.

6) Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt), and then stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture until the dough is smooth -- it'll be a bit sticky.

7) Stir the chocolate chips and bacon bits into the dough.

8) Drop by the rounded teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets, and flatten slightly with your fingers.

9) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes -- the cookies should be crisp around the edges but still soft in the middle. Allow to cool slightly on the sheet before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.


The amount of bacon you're gonna wanna use will depend on the thickness of slices and how much you wanna freak people out. I'd recommend buying a thicker-cut, higher quality bacon (I like Wright's) so that the bacon flavor really comes through without these feeling like meatcookies.

If the dough is too wet/runny/sticky to easily get onto the baking sheet after step 6, you can add maybe a tablespoon of flour and/or cover the bowl and set it in the fridge for ~10 minutes. If you wanted to, you could leave the dough in the fridge for a couple hours and come back later for the baking part.

You should probably warn people a lot that there's bacon in them there cookies -- I made a sign involving cartoon bacon holding hands with cartoon chocolate.

Many thanks to Kathy from for the chocolate cookie recipe I started with, to muffin of for bravely blazing the bacon cookie path before me, to Vosges for providing me with my original choco-bacony inspiration, to Mike, Geoff, and Joe for being born, and to all the nice people who didn't punch me in the gut when I offered them a cookie with meat in it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

review: The Graveyard Book

In his new children's novel, The Graveyard Book, literary rockstar Neil Gaiman gives it to us straight: sometimes death isn't fair and there's nothing you can do about it, but life can be as fair as you're willing to make it. After the loss of his living family, Nobody Owens is taken in by a nonliving one. Though the particulars of his existence are unusual, anyone who's in the process of growing up (and please note that many grown-ups still have some of that to do) will sympathize with Nobody's frustrations (studying, authority, social interactions) and joys (friendships, hard-earned skills, packets of crisps).

Graveyard seems to have been written for a slightly younger set than Gaiman's previous (and, for me, far scarier) children's novel, Coraline. Older readers, and those better-versed in the supernatural horror genre, might anticipate the twists and reveals a good while before Nobody. But even with the usual monsters and mayhem all in their usual places, right down to the Lovecraftian Thing What Lies Beneath And Speaks All In Caps, Gaiman's blind-casting of the characters and Nobody's fabulously pedestrian treatment of thoroughly extraordinary things will allow The Graveyard Book to take turns at delighting, educating, and creeping the good wits out of anyone who's willing to let it.

Look for The Graveyard Book in stores on Tuesday, September 30th in the U.S. and on Friday, October 31st in the U.K. Also look for Gaiman himself on his 10-city U.S. and 4-city U.K. book tour -- though in case you won't be able to attend in bodily form, HarperCollins will be posting free video recordings of each of his U.S. appearances, during which Gaiman will read one chapter of the book each day.

Chapter illustrations by Dave McKean are online, but were not published for review.

In summary, I liked it, and you should find some children to read it aloud with while doing all the voices.

Monday, September 22, 2008


It was almost chilly this morning! This makes me want to drink coffee, bake squashy pie, find my sweaters, go for a walk under oak and maple trees, procure apple cider, snuggle, wear a scarf, read a ghost story, and be in elementary school again. Not necessarily in that order.

Welcome to Autumn and this blog, folks. I'm Lauren, and I'll be your dorkful host. Pardon my Webdust as I figure out how the hell this thing works, and stay tuned for actual content, including a recipe that involves nearly equal parts chocolate chips and bacon.

This is what I looked like as recently as Labor Day weekend. [Photo by Cyclone Larry, who was really excited that I wasn't wearing the cupcake shirt that I am mysteriously always wearing when he sees me.]