Thursday, December 31, 2009

good fortune

If you're sitting around, either waiting to go out or settling in for the evening, and had the thought cross your mind that really, you'd like to do a bit more tax-deductible donating before the close of the year, then this is a fortuitous Internet meeting, friend!

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is one of my favorite organizations to toss digital monies at, firstly because they help protect the rights of adults to read and own works of literature and art as such they choose, and secondly because they offer really worthwhile gifts and merchandise. (If you're still looking for a few belated holiday gifts for folks of the geek persuasion, they're a perfect place to look -- they've got lots of signed editions of terrific comics and novels, in addition to artwork and sundry perfumes, t-shirts, and etc.) So, yes, you should check out the CBLDF store.

Child's Play, the gamers' charity set up by the kids from Penny Arcade, allows you to send toys, books, movies, and games directly to any of several dozen children's hospitals around the world through Amazon.com. Christmas is past, but sick kids can still use the entertainment. You can also donate directly to the organization through Paypal -- they've always got administrative costs to consider.

Locally, the Atlanta Community Food Bank helps a lot of people have brighter holidays -- and happier, healthier new years. If, like me, you find yourself with more desire to give than actual dollars, you can always sign up to volunteer -- or donate just a few dollars.



Some terrible things have happened this year, and I can't say I won't be a little glad to see it go. But my family is deeply possessed of good humor, my friends are magnificent bastards, and a man who delights me every day loves me. I am so grateful for my good fortune. It's five hours to 2010 -- I wish you all a lovely end to the year, an even better beginning to the new one, and all the best fortune throughout!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

just this once i will help you be cleaner rather than messier/dirtier

Upon braving the mall yesterday to purchase a replacement cell phone charger (having left mine in upstate New York with my aunt & uncle), I realized that Lush, one of my favorite silly-girly-overpriced-and-possibly-overhyped-bath-product vendors, is holding their annual post-holiday clearance sale. Despite that big long hyphenate of doubt, I do love Lush -- they make some beautifully scented products, and you can get a lot of use out of them if you're sparing about it.

But so SALE. Yes. If you don't have any Lush stores in your area, you can shop online and purchase certain gift sets buy one, get one free, and certain holiday-themed products buy one, get two free.

If you DO have a store in your area, they're probably running the same promotion that mine was -- certain gift sets (including all holiday-themed sets and any regular sets made before December) are buy one, get one free; all holiday items are buy one, get two free; and all soaps are buy one, get two free.

Lush's soaps smell awesome and usually cost 6-8 bucks a bar. If you've got a few extra dollars and need some soap, bubble bath, or other girly things, this sale is so completely worth checking out. Just go soon -- things sell out quick!

I'd personally recommend picking up a bar of Honey I Washed the Kids soap (a light, sweet honey-vanilla-orange scent) or Ice Blue soap (PEPPERMINT HELLO MORNING scented) or Figs & Leaves soap (a bit earthy and sweet, with exfoliators that're gentle enough for my rice-paper skin).

Or, if you're looking for bath enhancers that're on sale, I'd recommend a Mr. Butterball bomb (a moisturizing bath fizzie with a scent similar to Honey I Washed the Kids), a couple of Li'l Lush Pud bombs (a fizzie that smells like spicy Christmas pudding, but they're small enough that you might need two for a full bathtub), or a Holiday bubble bar (solid bubble bath, extremely girly, with a bit of glitter and a carnation-orange-rose scent -- can break in half and use for two baths).

[Notice: Lush did not approve or endorse or otherwise encourage me to write this post -- aside from how they made some pretty rad products and then put them on sale.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

recipe: simple stovetop egg nog

Egg nog is easy to make! Like crème brulee, except you don't bake it. If you're thinking, "well that sounds hard and doesn't encourage me to try making egg nog," I bet you've never had anyone show you how dangerously easy it is to make crème brulee. And I'll fix that sometime soon. But for now, just consider: Do you have half an hour to stand around your stove stirring something? If so, you can make some egg nog.


Simple Stovetop Egg Nog
Adapted from Alton Brown, Simply Recipes, and Cook's Illustrated.

Makes a quart of nog, which serves 4 to 6 people, depending on how much of it they want to drink. If you have any serious egg nog enthusiasts, you might want to double the recipe.


INGREDIENTS

2 eggs
3 egg yolks*
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 tsp salt (I used sea salt 'cause it has plenty of time to dissolve)

1 cup heavy cream (that's a half-pint)
1 cup milk (anything from 1% to whole will be fine, I might not try nonfat)
2 whole cloves (do NOT substitute ground cloves)

1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (or half a bean, scraped with pod reserved, which would be so tasty and fancy-looking)
1/4 cup bourbon or dark rum (technically optional. But I used 1/3 cup, an' what?)
1/2 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg (the fresh seriously makes a delicious difference)


METHOD

In a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan, combine your eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk them briskly for at least a minute, until the mixture is foamy and has lightened a bit in color. (If you're using a nonstick pan, be sure to use a silicone-coated whisk -- and if you don't have one, do the whisking in a mixing bowl! You don't want any Teflon in your egg nog.)

Add a half cup of cream and whisk it in good -- you want the mixture to be smooth and fully incorporated before you add more. Add the remaining half cup of cream and whisk again until smooth. Do the same with the milk, a half cup at a time. This makes sure that all the proteins and fats from the eggs and milk are snuggled in with each other so that your nog will be satin-smooth. Drop in the whole cloves (they'll steep while the mixture heats).

Set your pot of nog on the stove, and turn the burner to the second lowest setting. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Ready for an arm workout? Start stirring, sir and/or madam. (I like using a whisk and keeping it going at a pretty good clip, but if you're using a nonstick pan and you don't have a safely coated whisk, a wooden or plastic spoon at a splash-avoidingly sedate pace will be fine.) You want to keep stirring constantly and heat the mixture gently-gently-gently. This may try your patience, but don't be tempted to turn the heat up. After about 10 minutes the nog should start steaming a little, and you want to maintain that steam without letting it reach a full simmer. If you let the mixture simmer, you'll have finely scrambled eggs instead of lovely drinkable custard. So if it begins steaming really profusely, turn the heat down to low and keep stirring.

If you have to stop stirring and step away for a minute or so, don't worry, you won't kill the egg nog. But it's best to keep it moving so that a) a skin won't form on top [ever made gravy?], and b) it won't heat too much or too unevenly. See above re: scrambled eggs.

You'll know the egg nog is done when a probe thermometer tells you it's 160 degrees F. Or when you dip a metal spoon in the nog and then watch the way that the custard drips off the back of the spoon -- it should coat the spoon entirely and evenly, and pool a little thicker along the edge before dripping off. Or when the timer you set goes off, provided that the mixture has been putting off steam for at least 10 minutes.

The egg nog will thicken a bit as it cools, but if you like a thicker egg nog, you can safely continue cooking it for another 10 minutes or so, stirring all the while. I kept mine going for a full 35 minutes, and it turned out like melted ice cream (yay). If you're not going to be adding any booze, I'd recommend taking it off the heat at 25 minutes.

Once it's off the stove, add in your flavorings and stir (again, more, yes) to incorporate. Pour or ladle the egg nog through a fine mesh sieve into a happy-in-the-fridge container (I used a cleaned-out Chinese delivery soup container 'cause I'm highfalutin') and cover it tightly. (If you don't have a fine mesh sieve, you can skip this step -- just fish out the whole cloves. The straining gets out any little lumpy egg bits and perfects the texture, but it'll be fine without this step.) Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days.


MAKIN' IT FANCY

You can serve this egg nog plain -- just stir it first (your arm should have recovered by now) 'cause it'll have separated a little. Or you can:

--Sprinkle an extra bit of freshly-ground nutmeg on top of each serving for dual-purpose eye/nose-pleasing decoration. AND/OR:

--Whip 1/2 cup of heavy cream until it forms soft peaks, and gently fold/stir it into the egg nog. (This will give the egg nog a very pretty, snowy-looking layer of cream on top when you serve it.) OR:

--Whip 2 egg whites until they form soft peaks, and gently fold/stir them into the egg nog. (I have not tried this so I don't know what it does! But Alton Brown thinks it's a good idea, and he knows stuff.)


FLAVOR OPTIONS

If you're cooking for people who can't have alcohol, a teaspoon of (nonalcoholic) rum flavoring added at the end with the vanilla and nutmeg might be a nice addition.

If you order flavored lattes with extra pumps of gingerbread or pumpkin spice syrup: Consider ignoring my recommendation about the whole cloves. In fact, forget the whole cloves. Instead, when you take the pot off the heat, add a scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves and a scant 1/4 tsp cinnamon in addition to the other flavorings.


*OH HAY, A TUTORIAL

Separating eggs takes a bit of practice, and is a bit messy, but don't be intimidated: Working over your sink, tap the waistline of an egg on the edge of a bowl or on the surface of the counter a couple times until a crack forms. Hold the egg upright over the sink, and carefully open it the way you'd open a hinged box. A bunch of the egg white will fall into the sink! Pull the top half of the egg shell off. If you've got two somewhat even halves of shell, you can gently tip the yolk into the empty top half, being careful not to snag the yolk on the sharp edges of the shell, and then pour any remaining white out of the bottom half of the shell -- and if that doesn't get rid of most of the white, you can repeat that yolk transfer a few times. If you end up with one "half" of the shell not being large enough to hold the yolk, just cup your palm and empty the egg into it, carefully cradling the yolk and letting the white of the egg sludge through your fingers. If at any point the yolk breaks and starts to run, don't worry about how much white is left in with it -- just add it to the mixing bowl. A little extra white won't hurt anything here.

If you want, you can also save the egg whites in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days for use in this or other cocktails or baking projects. They'll also keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Friday, December 18, 2009

holidays = food and shopping

Oh, The Holidays! The one time of year that I'm operating nearly at the (ludicrous) speed of my brain. I love the season and am always somewhat relieved when it's over.

Had my office party at One Midtown Kitchen, which put together an excellent lunch for us. If you ever go there and they offer you hand-rolled gnocchi with root vegetables, you should take them up on that. (Though beware: they seem to enjoy sneaking bits of delicious meat into things that are ostensibly vegetarian. Like hand-rolled gnocchi with root vegetables. I personally enjoy charcuterie, but I wasn't expecting to find slices of it on top of my vegetarian option.) But yes, I only spilled prosecco on one person, and that person wasn't even my boss. Success!

Went back to Prohibition last night, and found the establishment to be much more -- well, established. They found a rotary dial for their phone booth (which I'm glad I didn't have to deal with after I'd had any drinks 'cause I'd nearly forgotten how those work), turned off the flat-screen, and were operating with comfortable ease. I had a tiny but satisfying bowl of gnocchi (my current obsession?) with a wonderful salty cheese crust (though I didn't detect any of the duck the menu said was in there -- perhaps it got overwhelmed by the cheese?). And Darrell poured me a Gin-Gin Mule (ginger beer and gin with a sprig of mint, warming and cooling at the same time), a whisky cocktail I didn't catch the name of involving lemon juice & peel (very smokey and grown-up), and a new thing made with Aperol and shouju and ginger beer and lemon peel (light & juicy & delicately sweet, one of my new favorites). [Oh, and I think I spied the AJC's John Kessler while I was there -- I managed to not descend upon him in a cloud of fangirl, and am hoping he'll have nice things to say about the place.]

I developed a sudden love for shouju (an airy and slightly sweet rice liquor that goes really well with citrus) at Yakitori Totto in New York City circa New Year's Eve last year. I'd never seen it on a menu before, but it sounded good and came with a variety of fruit juices. Or, more specifically as I discovered, a variety of fruit for the customer to juice. The bemused/amused waiter (who had about as much English as I have Japanese, meaning that we both did a lot of gesturing and apologizing in poor accents) looked at me looking at the fruit, and graciously whisked it away to make something drinkable out of it. (Hurrah for mutual cultural embarrassment.) If you find yourself in NYC, you should go there and order one of everything (or two of everything, as you may find yourself not wanting to share). At the very least, if they happen to have it as a special again around this time of year, try their elegant shiro-kuro goma (white & black sesame) noodle soup.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on shopping about a month ago, 'cause I had about half of it done. And so I stopped for three weeks. Oops. I'm gonna try to write up long enthusiastic things about some of my favorite online merchants later on, but for now I'll just recommend that anyone with some holiday shopping left to do hie to Sock Dreams, Think Geek, New Egg, or Jeni's Ice Cream. All have lovely products and customer service, and get things out quickly. Bless them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

consumerism WOW it's december already

It's time, friends and colleagues, for a precociously holiday-themed edition of Consumerism Wow! Fellow Awesomancer and t-shirt lover Adam P. Knave and I have teamed up again to tell you about why we like some things -- not just t-shirts, this time! -- that we think you will like, too.

Part 1 of this veritable thing-liking extravaganza can be found here, on Adam's blog. Click through if you'd like to see some of the things that I think you should consider purchasing, along with Adam's completely vaguely super-incorrect reasons for why I think so. The following is Part 2: Adam's picks, and my explanations for why he likes them! Perhaps you should read about them now?


THINGY #1

velma and scooby grew up. together. alone. (this is totally for George Wallace)
Lauren: Oh man! Someone illustrated that fanfic you wrote and put the picture on a t-shirt? Is there a picture on the back of you as the zombie leader of the zombie-Harlem Globetrotters?

Adam: No there isn't and I'm rather ups... HEY! Nice try but you won't get me to admit my zombie-doo fanfic writing ways THAT easily!


THINGY #2

tyrell corporation logo
Lauren: Branding for fictional corporations is the best kind of branding, 'cause you don't have to feel guilty about how they treat their employees or source their materials 'cause they're all fictional. Also, you can't stop dreaming about electric sheep. And Rutger Hauer.

Adam: Rutger Hauer is a fine, fine looking man. You know, I wonder how Blade-Doo-Runner would go...


THINGY #3

edward munster, sparkle vampire
Lauren: You want to remind people that real vampires can sparkle and be adorable if they damn well want to.

Adam: Exactly. Except for the sparkly bit. And the adorable bit. Also the vampire bit, if you want to be picky. I mean... yeah. But otherwise? Spot on!


THINGY #4

be the trouble you want to see in the world
Lauren: You're just hoping that people will do weird shit around you so that you can turn them into characters and plot devices in your writing.

Adam: I don't need them to do anything special for that. No I just want the cover. The more people out there causing trouble the less my own schemes will be noticed and stopped. I just want to use society as a looky loo. Is that so wrong?


THINGY #5

get excited and make stuff
Lauren: Aww, this one is actually really sweet. Unless by “things” you mean “more post-zombie-apocalyptic Scooby Doo self-insertion fanfiction.”

Adam: Why would I mean that? I mean, who would ever... what makes you think that? YOU CAN'T PROVE ANYTHING, LAUREN!


THINGY #6

genesis NES lovechild
Lauren: I don't care why you want this. If you saved all of your NES and Genesis came cartridges, and all that stands between me and the most badass throwdown marathon of Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers and Bubble Bobble is the purchase of this gadget and a plane ticket, I'm coming to your apartment in 3 to 5 processing & shipping days.

Adam: I was thinking of buying a few of my old carts back, actually. Yer on, Spanky!


THINGY #7

buck rogers statuette
Lauren: They didn't have a Duck Dodgers statuette?

Adam: Oh, see, now that's just mean, that is. It's Buck! The original space badass! We don't mock Buck, we just don't. That's like mocking the baby Jeebus.


THINGY #8

class of 2057
Lauren: Okay clearly this is a joke shirt 'cause we've already discussed that if you could travel back in time, you'd be wearing really sleek suits and drinking martinis in the 60's, not hanging out here & now wearing t-shirts. You want this shirt so you can throw rival time travelers off your space-time scent.

Adam: Well that was the plan until you ruined it! If it wasn't for you and those zombie kids!


THINGY #9

elements by kidrobot
Lauren: Shiny bits of plastic to taunt your kitty with from a high-standing shelf! Before you make this purchase, I recommend making sure that kitty hasn't built a jetpack based on the design from that Buck Rogers statuette.

Adam: My cat could not use a jetpack. She has no thumbs. I gave her one, to make sure, and she just licked it and sat on it. She has no interest in flying.


THINGY #10

titanium spork
Lauren: Oh, nevermind, with this you will have all the protection your shiny bits of plastic will need from evil bejetpacked kitty. Kitty will be easily subdued! This is a titanium folding kitty-incapacitation system! PLUS it will be a handy tool for eating with when I serve you some delicious homemade kittypop tarts that are too fresh and hot to pick up!

Adam: Can we please do a comic - Jetpack Kitty vs The Spork? Like, serious please? C'mon. No, wait, why are you running away, Lauren? Was it something I said?


And other than posting this evidence of why she fled, Lauren the grammarmonkey was never seen nor heard from again. Happy Consumer Holidays, folks!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

wordbits & editbobs

Just a quick bit of news about Stays Crunchy, which is that book I edited for Adam P. Knave: Adam's publisher, Creative Guy, is running a contest to thank people for purchasing the book! Just take a picture of yourself, your cat, your photogenic friend, etc. holding a copy of Stays Crunchy in Milk, and post a link to it as a comment on this post of Adam's before December 18th. On the 18th, they'll randomly draw an entrant to win the complete series of Farscape on DVD. Because Farscape was awesome, and you are probably also awesome, and awesome things belong together. (If you haven't purchased a copy of the book yet, there should still be time to allow for shipping & handling! And it'd make a good gift for the 80's-pop-culture addict in your life. It's available on Amazon.)

In other edity news, I'm helping Adam and one D. J. Kirkbride with a particularly exciting comic pitch, which is particularly exciting because it involves pirates and other stuff that I'm not allowed to talk about. (Stuff I'm not allowed to talk about is often the most exciting kind of stuff.) I'll let you in on it as soon as I'm able.

Also, in holy-whoa-sometimes-Lauren-reads-things-for-fun-that-aren't-comics news, I'm finally reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and it's just ridiculously charming. If you ever thought that snarky 19th century British tea-party literature would be much improved by elements of urban fantasy, this book proves your whimsy to be absolutely correct.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

restaurant: Prohibition

It's Prohibition -- you've heard rumors. An underground pub. A hidden door, accessible only by entering a secret code in an inconspicuous phone booth. Inside, amidst the dark woods, rich leather, cozily low ceilings, and sepia-toned lighting, bartenders sharp in vests and ties serve cocktails to men smoking cigars at the bar and ladies lounging by the fireplace.

Okay, on East Andrews in 2009, it's schticky. The fireplace is electric, there's a flat-screen above the bar that's likely to be tuned to a basketball game, and UK-style phone booths, while not entirely exotic in the Brit-pub–loving Atlanta metro area, are not even vaguely inconspicuous. But honestly, it's no more artificial an atmosphere than any of the other bars in Buckhead or Midtown sport, and the quality of the cocktails is worth the kitsch.

Before I tell you more, full disclosure: A dear friend of mine, Darrell Autrey (seen here in full-speed-mixing mode), was hired on as one of Prohibition's bartenders, so A) I'm probably biased, and B) I went on the very first night that the place saw customers, so the staff was still gaining their pub-legs. A few things could've gone better, but the drinks were spot-on.

Among the five people in my party (which I mention as so to look less like a complete lush), we sampled their:

  • Ramos Fizz, which is their take on a silver gin fizz: A light, creamy, refreshing gin & lemon juice & egg white cocktail made with an additional hit of tart raspberry liquor. Don't be afraid of the egg, or the gin. This drink has converted everyone who's tried it on both accounts.

  • Fancy Tequila Cocktail: Made with Lunazul tequila and fresh-squeezed citrus juices, this, out of everything we tried, was the drink that made me grin involuntarily upon tasting. It's everything good and pure about margaritas.

  • Aviation: Gin + maraschino liquor + lemon juice + crème de violette = a juicy SweetTart. Try this if you'd usually order a Cosmo.

  • Dark & Stormy: They make this popular rum & ginger drink with a kick-yo-mamma-strength ginger beer, rum that adds just enough sweetness, and a squeeze of lime. It's simultaneously spicy & soothing.

  • A new thing that is possibly being called a Ten-Penny Piece: Drambuie, gin, a twist of lemon, and a bit of orange peel that's briefly introduced to fire on its way to your glass. Refreshing, herbal, and slightly sweet, this drink is everything I love about the retro craft-cocktail trend: it's yummy art.

  • Tom Collins, with muddled mint: The addition of mint makes this version taste even less like alcohol than usual. Like dangerous soda pop.

  • Mount Zoom: Aviation gin, cream, honey, and a dusting of nutmeg, which all together taste like a bright, snowy Christmas day. (No really.)

  • A Cooley Sinister Proposal: amaretto and orange peel tempered by slightly bitter Cynar (artichoke & herb liquor), forming a sweet-but-not-too-sweet nightcap of a cocktail.


The food showed promise but a less complete delivery. Three sample dishes were being passed around:

  • Lamb chops on the bone over a mushroom risotto: The heaviest of the three, and the most in need of work. The lamb, while perfectly (i.e., rarely) cooked was a bit greasy, and the risotto was salty and somewhat crunchy. With slight tweaking, it'll be every bit as warm and stick-to-your-ribs as it's intended.

  • Thin slices of smoked duck breast piled against a salad of arugula and roasted corn with a creamy dressing (blue cheese, I think): The lightest and most balanced dish. The smoke treatment took most of the gaminess out of the duck and left it wonderfully tender, and the salad's play of sharp, bitter greens against sweet corn and mellow dairy simply worked.

  • Crisped prosciutto wrapped around melty cheese (mozzarella, maybe), plated with a yellow heirloom tomato salad: This dish was the most craveable. Though a few of the tomato slices I got were mealy, most were good and bright-flavored. Dressed casually with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and perhaps a tiny bit of vinegar, they melded with the oil from the prosciutto on the plate. And the crispy prosciutto/cheese rolls were pornographically delicious, a combination of salty, crispy, fatty, and chewy that makes for the perfect indulgent drankin' snack.


They have an extensive cigar list that I can't speak to because I don't smoke -- if anyone who's been has any comments about it, let us (my readers & I, not the royal we) know!

The atmosphere was thematic and cozy, mostly. The music was jazzy and at that elusive audible-but-nonintrusive volume. The lighting was moody but not too dim to read the wood-bound, clear & cleverly written menus. The chairs at the bar were wide and comfortable, if a little low-sitting. My only gripe concerns that flat-screen TV over the bar -- it's distracting and (I am seriously saying this about a pub) anachronistic at best, and tacky at worst. I understand that sports are important to people, but it injures my delicate aesthetic sensibilities to see a classily-over-the-top theme smashed by such a direct reminder that it's all just play-pretend.

Overall, Prohibition isn't a place I'm going to call home -- like most of Buckhead, it's a wee bit outside of my nerd/hipster comfort zone and price range, and I'm sorta-definitely That Guy Lady about smoking in bars. (I'll put up with it occasionally, but I don't like it. Cigars are at least atmospheric, to a certain extent and in a themed place like Prohibition, but I can't abide that kind of pollution on a frequent basis, especially if I'm trying to treat my palate.) But for the kitsch factor, the cocktails, and to check out the evolution of the menu, I'll certainly be visiting again.

If you want in, I'd keep an eye on their website and Facebook page (dudes, I know). Or drop me a note, and I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

recipe: drunken-raisin oatmeal cookies with pecans and tangerine

I'm a food blog junkie, infatuated with foodie recipe sites, and a sucker for slick, high-production-value cookbooks. And I'm here today to tell you: Sometimes the recipe on the back of the brand-name lid really does work best. For example, my favorite pumpkin pie is the kind you make with a can of Libby and the recipe that's printed on the label. (The first year that my family nouveau & I hosted our See We Are Totally Grownups Thanksgiving, we slaughtered a pumpkin and made the pie from scratch. It wasn't as good.) Same goes for oatmeal cookies -- honestly, the Quaker Oats kids know what they're talking about. They've made some cookies in their time. Trust in the label. It wants you to eat delicious cookies.

....Okay, confession: I don't entirely trust in the label. 'Cause, see, the Internet told me that parbaking the pie crust will prevent sogginess and that simmering the pumpkin and cream together will make a richer filling, and the Internet never semi-rarely steers me wrong. I can never just follow a recipe. This is possibly why I started a food-related blog.

In the case of oatmeal cookies, I mostly just add a few little touches for maximum deliciousity. The base recipe creates soft, chewy, comforting oatmeal cookies. With a few little additions, I wind up with something that tastes like home and warm and the holidays: pecans for a buttery crunch, whole wheat flour for nutty richness, cloves and tangerine zest for tastes-like-Christmas, and whiskey for smokiness & extra moisture [and also 'cause dude, most things about the holidays are better when you (or, y'know, your raisins) are a little tipsy].


Drunken-Raisin [Vanishing] Oatmeal Cookies, with Pecans and Tangerine
Adapted from the inside of the Quaker Oats lid. Makes ~3 dozen cookies.


INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup raisins (dried figs would also be awesome, just chop them raisin-sized)
1/4 cup whiskey (or bourbon -- you want something sweet rather than peaty, I used Jack Daniels)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tangerine (or orange, or clementine, for 1 tsp of zest)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark is fine, I like dark)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar (minus a tablespoon if you like less sweet desserts)
1 stick unsalted butter (we're gonna soften it)

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whole oats (regular or quick-cooking)
1/3 cup pecans (we're gonna chop them small & toast them)


METHOD

At least an hour before you start working, measure out your raisins into a ramekin, small bowl, or coffee mug. Add the whiskey and stir. Set aside, and stir whenever it occurs to you that you haven't in awhile. (You could do this the night before, even, if you have way more foresight than I do.) Don't worry, all the alcohol will bake off. No one will get tipsy from the finished cookies.

When the raisins have soaked up some of the whiskey, you're ready to start working. Set out your butter and egg to allow them to warm up a bit.

Chop your pecans to pea-sized-or-smaller chunks, and toast them until fragrant and warm-golden colored. That'll be ~2 minutes in a toaster oven or in a pan on medium heat on the stovetop, ~10 minutes in an oven that's just been turned on and is heating up to 350 (which is what the cookies will bake at), or ~5 minutes in a hot oven. Watch them carefully. If they burn/blacken, start over with fresh pecans. Set aside.

Measure out your dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and clove) into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Zest your orange-colored citrus of choice, and if the pieces are more strip-like than granular, chop them fine (a teaspoon is approximately what you get from one tangerine or clementine, or ~1/2 of an orange, if you're not being extremely industrious about zesting). Add the zest to the dry stuff and whisk again to combine.

If you haven't heated up your oven yet, now would be a good time to get that going towards 350.

Measure your sugars into a separate, larger bowl and add your softened butter in chunks. Cream them together using an electric beater on medium for 3 minutes, then add your egg and vanilla. Use a spoon to strain 2 tablespoons of whiskey off of the raisins, and add that to the wet mixture as well. Use that electric beater on medium again for 1 minute to combine.

Add your dry ingredients to the wet ones, and stir by hand to combine. Drain any remaining whiskey off your raisins, and add the raisins to the bowl. Also add the toasted pecan bits and the oats. Stir, again by hand, to combine.

Drop by rounded tablespoon (ping-pong ball sized bits) onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. They'll look a little shiny and underdone in the very middle of their tops, but they'll continue cooking a bit after they come out, so that's okay. Cool for 10 minutes on the pan, then carefully remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. They'll be crumbly while they're still warm, and chewier once they're cool. I'm a chewy-texture fan, so I'd recommend waiting.

If you don't need that many cookies right now, you could refrigerate the dough for an hour or so until it's solid enough to work with, and then mold rounded tablespoons of dough into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze in a plastic bag or container for up to a month. (Just let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before baking, and use the full 12 minutes of baking time to compensate for the dough being chilly going in.)

Store the cookies in an airtight container, and they should last a week. Freshness-wise, anyway. They don't call them "vanishing" for nuthin.


OH HAY, A TIP

If, like I did when I made these, you find yourself without brown sugar but with both white sugar and molasses, you can haz a substitute. White sugar is just brown sugar with the molasses removed. So, to substitute for a half cup of dark brown sugar, use a half cup of white sugar plus 2 to 3 teaspoons of molasses. (I say "2 to 3" because honestly, measuring molasses is an imprecise science. Just get about that much in the mixing bowl, and don't worry about it.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

recipe: sugared cranberries

Last winter I went through a phase where playing with melted sugar seemed like a really excellent idea, and through a simultaneous obsession with cranberries. Of course this happened eventually:

sugared cranberries
Sugared cranberries. Most recipes I've seen call for maceration overnight, but I prefer my method of gentle simmering -- it jellifies the inside of the cranberries without sweetening them very much, and once you apply the sugar crystal coating, each berry becomes an individual bite of cranberry sauce: a burst of tart, thick jelly contained by the crisp crunch of sugar shell. And they look gorgeous and festive as a plate garnish or table dressing with a warm & wintery holiday meal. Many thanks to Maria @ MommyMelee for the photo evidence.



Sugared Cranberries

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup granulated white sugar (for coating)

1/4 cup granulated white sugar (for syrup)
2 tbsp water
1 cup fresh cranberries

1/4 cup additional sugar (for syrup)


METHOD

Set out a layer of parchment paper (or a plastic/silicone cutting board) on a flat work surface. Pour the 1/3 cup of sugar for coating into a medium (like, can-of-soup-sized) bowl, and set it by the paper/board.

Rinse the cranberries, but don't worry about drying them. In a 2-quart saucepan (i.e., smallish, but large enough to hold all of the cranberries in a single layer), stir together the water and 1/4 cup of sugar, and place over very low heat. Like, heat setting 1 or 2 out of 10. You'll want it to just simmer, but never reach a full boil. Stir the sugar occasionally until it's dissolved and just beginning to bubble.

Add the cranberries to the melted sugar, and stir gently to coat. Some (or even most) of the cranberries will split a seam in their skin to let steam out, but so long as they're not starting to gush jelly out into the pan, they're not too hot. If any start bursting completely open, take the pan off the heat for a moment and turn the temperature down.

Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring gently and frequently to keep the cranberries coated with the syrup. When the liquid in the pan begins turning pink, add the extra quarter cup of sugar. Continue stirring gently for another 3 minutes or so. You're looking for all of the sugar to be dissolved and the cranberries to look like they can't take much more heat without bursting.

Turn off the heat, but leave the pot on the warm burner to prevent the syrup from solidifying too much while you're working. With a slotted spoon, fish a scoop of cranberries (<10 or so) out of the pan and wiggle it to drain off some of the syrup. Add the cranberries to the bowl of sugar, and shimmy the sugar around in the bowl to coat them. If any of the cranberries are sticking together, poke them apart with a finger or clean spoon (carefully -- hot sugar can be very hot). Once they're coated with sugar crystals, gently pick the cranberries out (they should be cool enough to touch if you're quick) and place them on the parchment paper/board to cool, dry, and harden.

Coat the remainder of the cranberries in sugar, a scoop at a time. If towards the end of the batch you find the sugar crystals clumping instead of coating the cranberries evenly, just pick out the clumps of syrup and add a couple tablespoons of fresh sugar to the bowl. The sugared cranberries can be eaten/used as garnish as soon as they're cool enough -- maybe after they've been out of the pot for 10 minutes -- but if you want them to last for a day or two, allow them to dry for at least an hour on the sheet.

You can proceed this way through an entire bag of cranberries, using fresh sugar each time -- a 16 oz bag contains about 3 cups, or 3 batches. You want to keep the cranberries in a single layer in the pot, though, so that they cook evenly and thoroughly -- don't be tempted to cook a double or triple batch all at once.

It's best to store the sugared cranberries in an open container in a cool, dry place that's out of the sunlight, which may melt them. Do not store them in the fridge -- the moisture will make them melt for sure. You can seal them in a plastic baggie or container if you wish -- just put a layer of parchment between the cranberries and the plastic. Even so, the sugar coating may begin to melt after a few hours. Should the coating melt, you can reapply it without doing any particular damage to the cranberries -- they won't look as pretty the second time around, is all. They should keep for 2 or 3 days (if you can avoid eating them all, piece by piece, absentmindedly).

If you're the sort of person who hates wasting anything, you could add a few tablespoons of water to the remaining (pretty-in-pink) syrup in the pot, heat it and stir to dissolve, and pour it into a sterilized jar/bottle for use in tea/coffee/cocktails during the holiday season. It shouldn't have much if any flavor from the cranberries, and should last at least a month if you store it in the fridge until it's needed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Neil Gaiman coming to Decatur!

My favorite children's-and-more bookshop in my favorite part of the greater Atlanta area has lured one of my favorite authors into doing a reading and signing here in town! More specifically, Neil Gaiman is coming to Presser Hall at Agnes Scott College in Decatur on Monday, December 14th at 6:00 pm thanks to Little Shop of Stories and its excellent staff, who set up such a fabulous Graveyard Book-themed Halloween party that Neil chose them as a co-winner of his presence.

You can read full details about how to get in on this fabulous fan opportunity here on the Little Shop blog, but in summary: The reading/signing is ticketed, and although the tickets are free, you have to pick them up either A) from Little Shop of Stories today, i.e., Monday, November 30th, before 8:00 pm, or B) via telephone or at Little Shop starting on Monday, December 7th, and ending whenever they run out of tickets.my Delerium costume, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman

Knowing Neil Gaiman fans (we're not all exactly rabid, but oh crap is this a picture of me dressed up as one of his characters? Hell, nevermind, we're all crazy), tickets will probably run out. For general reference, I went during lunch today to pick up mine, and received ticket number 318 of X, where X is a number which hopefully my query to the store will produce.

Gaiman has a dreamy terrific reading voice (check out his audiobook of Coraline for evidence), and by all accounts is a pleasure at readings and signings. And is gonna be signing any one item, or any two items provided that one of them is a book of his purchased from Little Shop (with the receipt). So if you like mythology, stories about stories, dry-yet-springy British senses of humor, Neil's blog, and/or having a lot of fun in a good clean literary sort of way, I recommend that you get yourself a ticket and come on out. Hope I'll see you there, Atlanta-and-the-surrounding-area!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

no fate but what we make for ourselves

Okay, my post title is a Terminator 2 reference. And it doesn't even apply that hard to what I'm trying to get at. AN' WHAT. I like that movie. It's about family and Linda Hamilton's awesome arms and a mixture of practical and digital effects that continues to hold up to my aesthetic discrimination.

Perhaps you should forget everything I said after "family".

Families are mutable. Members are born or grafted in, and others pass or branch away. My closest friends & I call each other family nouveau, though at this point I feel like the "nouveau" is superfluous. When I spend time with them doing the most human things -- cooking, laughing, holding their children's hands, sharing our stories -- we are family.

This has been a strange, difficult year for me. I've come to virtual emotional fisticuffs with depression, anxiety, new loves and loves past, and sudden loss. But, luckily for all of us, the universe doesn't revolve around me & my tribulations, nor around any of my family members or their own troubles. For as much awkwardness and hurt as any of us experience, there are still days bright & brisk, grandparents lavish with hugs and gifts, favorite movies and games to re-experience, technically and calorically hazardous new recipes to attempt, dessert tables, espresso and sambuca, comfy pants, ready smiles. I will save these things up to remember when everything seems terrible, because the world is every bit as beautiful as I'm capable of helping make it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

thanksgiving panic planning

Thanksgiving is next week! I'm shocked, frankly, shocked. And trying to come up with something to bake.

Traditionally I've done a linzer torte, which is like a very large spiced almond cookie with raspberry jam-type filling and pain-in-the-tuchus latticework on top -- but my dear family nouveau includes a child with a nut allergy, so I figure that probably, grinding a bunch of almonds into airborne powder in their kitchen would be rude.

A couple years back I made my other favorite holiday dessert, my mother's apple cake (which I posted a pear riff on awhile back -- most of my friends dislike cooked apples). I'm bored with that, though! Hello, my name is Lauren and I am Short Attention Span Theater.

This pear-butterscotch pie, which The Kitchn kindly pointed me towards, is a serious contender. The only Thing about it is that I hate pastry crust. Hate. Seriously. Don't tell me it's not that hard. The salt in my pie crusts comes from my tears of suffering and humiliation. Yes, even the storebought kind. Hate. Pastrycrust.

This is also the Thing about this s'mores pie, which also sounds wondermous.

Perhaps I shall grow some lady-balls and make one of these happen.

Unless you have any better, non-pastry-crust-related suggestions?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

consumerism wow: Adam's picks

Last time on Consumerism Wow, fellow Awesomancer and t-shirt lover Adam P. Knave told you why I like some t-shirts and I told you why he was wrong -- and now, gentle readers, the tables have turned! Here are 10 shirts that Adam's coveting right now, and my completely accurate ideas of why he wants them. Pay no attention to his flimsy rebuttals! He knows I'm right. He knows it deep in his Hello Kitty earring.


SHIRT #1


Lauren: You live in the space between joy and melancholy! Wearing this will be like normal other people wearing t-shirts from their high school, college, or plucky local athletic team.

Adam: My athletic team, The NY Death-Bringers What Bring Death, are VERY plucky thank you. This shirt just reminds me that sometimes you're in that little slice of Meh and all you can do is go meh about it.


SHIRT #2


Lauren: You always sort of thought that Han Solo would make a better band frontman than a smuggler (a short punt, as he really is the galaxy's worst smuggler), and you're so happy to see him finally finding some kind of life fulfillment that you want to support him by wearing this t-shirt. You're a good friend to fictional characters, Adam.

Adam: Close, but really I feel whenever Han is on screen Eddie van Halen should be playing, instead of that instrumental score they have for Star Wars. Han running down a hallway from Stormtroopers? Hot for Teacher! Han flying through an asteroid field? Panama!


SHIRT #3


Lauren: Oh, easy. You want this shirt as a bitter reminder to never challenge Chuck Norris to a roundhouse contest when you've both been drinking and innocent bystanders are innocently standing nearby.

Adam: You can not prove that happened. At all. Because it didn't happen. And that guy was fine, later. I mean, what guy? There was no guy. You know why? Because this never happened.


SHIRT #4


Lauren: From what I understand about you, pretty much all you do is make secret plans. And then sometimes carry them out. This t-shirt belonged to you before it was ink-printed cotton, when it was a mere dream of a t-shirt in the mind of a madman.

Adam: It's true. Though I minorly object to "sometimes carry them out." I always carry them out. Sometimes they just fail, you see.


SHIRT #5


Lauren: Y'know I always think it's cute that you put little warnings up on your blogs about how your work probably contains mature content, 'cause while yeah, you sometimes curse like a sailor and display crude or graphic images, most of the time you're just talking about Jem or Dazzler or Hello Kitty or princesses or pretty things that sparkle. Though I suppose it's sweet of you to want this shirt so that you can warn people about that, too.

Adam: I... I so want to argue this point with you but... you know. Jem and Dazzler and Hello Kitty are awesome, so there.


SHIRT #6


Lauren: The real party is that you weren't writing in the 1950's and therefore will never be blacklisted by the McCarthy administration unless you finally work out how to time-travel and foolhardily attempt to live the fabulous life promised you in Leave It to Beaver and Mad Men! Party on indeed, you pinko-Commie motherlicker.

Adam: I actually do own this shirt, I must admit. And I wore it recently, while out of town. In line for some food a guy starts talking to me, in Russian. Excitedly. After a while of me just smiling and nodding and him going on in Russian and laughing, he switched to English. He was just fucking with me, asking if I was a communist, in Russian, due to the shirt. Just sayin'.


SHIRT #7


Lauren: You want this shirt because you play tennis, right? Adam? Right? Um. Should I be wearing a HazMat suit or something?

Adam: Yes. I play tennis. That is it exactly. Come closer. It's safe. I just... play tennis.


SHIRT #8


Lauren: I was born in 1982, so everything I know about Gary Coleman comes from Avenue Q, so my guess on why you like this shirt is gonna be even more tenuous than the others. Um. You want this shirt because. You. Are what Willis was talkin' 'bout? And because you enjoy schadenfreude and agree that everyone's a little bit racist?

Adam: Now I feel really old. Thanks a lot. I want this shirt because Gary Coleman shouldn't be forgotten. Like Bastille Day. Remember, remember the midget of surrender. The Rich White guy, penthouse, and plot.


SHIRT #9


Lauren: Oh god. You want this shirt because you ARE foolhardily planning on going back in time to live the fabulous life promised you in Leave It to Beaver and Mad Men, but you want to have a contingency plan in case Stuff Goes Wrong.

Adam: Does this mean you don't wanna come along? Mad Men! They dress wonderfully! Also boozins for lunch! What else is there in life?


SHIRT #10


Lauren: Bustin' makes you feel good.

Adam: It's very very true.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Blood That Bonds

Back when I was just a wee little edit-monkey, fresh out of the English department of the University of Florida, I filled my free time (i.e., the time during which I wasn't glued to Monster.com, dancing at Market Street Pub's free-cover 80's night, or playing some serious Halo 1) with lots of odd editing jobs. I proofread a few novels, including both modern and historical Mormon-slanted romances, pro bono for a vanity press. I worked a couple grammatical kinks out of a comic book or two for my friends the Killer Robots, who were collaborating with (omfg) Bob Burden in a Flaming Carrot crossover at the time, in exchange for a few bucks, a few drinks, and a free ticket to Dragon*Con. But Christopher Buecheler was the first author who actually paid me to proof an actual novel.

It involved vampires and hookers and action and lurve, and I cared for it like it was my own strange little wordbaby. Christopher and I fell out of touch after I worked on the first part of the story -- he was still writing the second part, and we both became busy with our day jobs.

Flash forward 5 years -- past the stints I worked handling nutrition textbook manuscripts, proofreading gay male erotica written by and for women, editing a novel about cartoon cereal mascots, and copyediting all the rheumatology ever -- to about a month ago, which is when I received an e-mail out of the great #0000FF yonder from one Christopher Buecheler. He's launched that first book I worked on, The Blood That Bonds, online, and is currently offering it as a free download in a number of a formats, hoping to manifest the reader and maybe-hopefully-even publisher interest that the story deserves.

He's also convinced Garry Brown to do a lot of really gorgeous artwork for the story & characters.

The Blood That Bonds is an urban horror-ish title along the lines of the Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine novels I loved when I was in high school, and still indulge in via things like Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series and Mike Carey's Felix Castor books -- it's supernatural, sexy, violent, and filled with equal parts shock value and earnest emotion. If you or a teenager you know thought you might've enjoyed Twilight if all the vampires hadn't had so much sand in their vaginas, you should give The Blood That Bonds a go. It contains 99% less vampiral vagina sand, guaranteed. And for the low, low price of zero American dollars, it's worth at least a download & taste test, right? Right.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

[pink ribbon goes here]

I try to walk a tightrope of a line when I'm writing this blog -- I talk about things and people that are quite dear to me, but for the most part, I don't like writing about my own life here. I've got Twitter, Facebook, and other personal outlets for that. So I'm not going to (re)post the bit I wrote about my mother's breast cancer here. If you'd like to read it, it's over at A Southern Fairytale, where the wonderful Rachel hosted a whole month's worth of guest bloggers for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many thanks to her for providing a space for so many stories and so much empathy.

And, folks: Do a breast exam on yourself, or on boobs that you love, once a month. Every month. Constant vigilance applies to more than just watching out for Voldemort & poisoned pumpkin juice.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Fight to the Death Recording Studio

So I've got this friend George Wallace. I know him through Phil -- he was one of Phil's roommates. George is one of those maddeningly intelligent people who genuinely enjoys reading Thomas Pynchon novels and can, without particularly exerting himself, play your guitar way better than you can.

It would be more than a little tragic if George weren't in a band, but luckily for all of us, he's in A Fight to the Death, which is in fact a band. Specifically, they're an Atlanta-based band who wear classy suits and think you'll like some accordion, ukulele, banjo, keyboard, and pedal steel with your rock'n'roll. Guys, I am here to tell you that, even accounting for your individualized taste in music, A Fight to the Death is totally correct in this opinion.

Now, it's possible that I'm biased because Mark, CJ, Nathan, Daniel, and George are all awesome guys who are my friends on Facebook and sometimes even in three dimensions, or because they've occasionally used their band tab to keep me in the concert-venue lifestyle to which I have become accustomed (ie, full of whisky&cokes), or because George always says nice things about my snickerdoodles. But mostly they just rock out. Allow me to demonstrate via the use of a bullet list and several Internet hyperlinks.


Audio & video evidence of rocking out (which is important for a music band, am i rite?):
Pictorial evidence of rocking out, captured by Kevin Griggs and with quasi-interactive mouse-over captions by me:



George Wallace playing a pedal steel guitar

I told you, classy suits.

Now, If you've enjoyed these examples of rocking and are aurally hungry for more, you could purchase their current CD, and/or you could come out to one of their upcoming shows, and/or you could fund the creation of their new album in return for logical & badass thank-you gifts such as a download/physical copy of the currently hypothetical album once it's finished, behind-the-scenes footage of the recording process, previews of new songs, a cover song of your choice performed at a show, or even a private performance from the band (which sounds dirty to me but probably won't be unless you provide them with a great deal of alcohol, and maybe some fancy pasties to match their ties).

They're using Kickstarter.com as a home-base for their fundraiser, and it seems like a pretty hip site! As of right now they're only four hundred and sixty American-Earth dollars away from reaching their goal of $2,000, and they only have 11 more days to raise it! And I want to hear their new album soon, so you should really drop them a couple bucks if a couple bucks is something you've got sitting around.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stays Crunchy in 3-D!

HEY so I guess I never mentioned it, but check out what I've got in three-dimensional, solid, opaque, paper & ink & binding-glue format?


HI I HELPED MAKE A BOOK AND HERE I AM HOLDING IT.

Smart Shoppers Secrets (a book blog with a funny name), who gave Stays Crunchy an excellent, thoughtful review, interviewed Mr. Knave about writing it. And asked him about me 'cause I have obnoxiously been making my editorial presence known, and he said nice things that you can read here.

Also, hey, if you're an independent book store -- well, congratulations on your sentience and ability to surf the Internet, I hope you're enjoying them as much as I'm enjoying mine. If you're an independent book store employee, manager, owner, other associate, or friend, hark! Adam has 10 copies of Stays Crunchy that he's giving away to independents to read and/or give away themselves and/or sell for retail price & keep the full profits, with the hope that they'll enjoy it and want to stock a few copies. 'Cause he likes independent book stores and wants his readers to support them. Just drop Adam an e-mail (adampknave @ gmail.com) or poke his blog.

Secret: If you're an independent book store person in the Atlanta area, e-mail me or leave a comment here, and I'll drop by your store with a copy of Stays Crunchy, like, today. Bonus points if you're in/near Decatur, but I'm enthusiastic about traveling short distances if you're enthusiastic about the book.

Friday, October 16, 2009

shine on, Philip Clippinger

One of my close friends in town, Phil Clippinger, died in a car accident on the evening of Saturday, September 26th. He was probably on a Target run, getting reading to drive to a Decemberists concert in Athens, but had only gotten a mile away from his house when he was caught in a downpour on a tricky curve of highway on-ramp, hydroplaned, and ran off the road.

That guy dressed as the Joker in the picture of me as Harley from last Halloween? That's Phil.



I'm so glad I have this silly picture.

We're a tight group, my friends here in Atlanta. [We have a group name (the Nexus) and a battle cry (call: "Dekalb living!" response: "WHAT WHAT!"). Yeah, we're those people.] The amount of support that everyone has given and received has been quintissential of how a family acts. We are a crazy, dysfunctional, kinda incestuous family, and I don't know how I would've gotten through the past few weeks without every one of these marvelous bastards I call my friends.

It still doesn't make any sense to me that Phil isn't a present, local part of that family anymore. That he's not going to call me about coming out to Fellini's on his dinner break, that he's not going to keep me on the phone for an hour describing details from his new Joker Batman video game, that he's not going to try to convince me how much fun I'd have at Bonnaroo, that he's not going to show up late to whoever's party with a case each of Sweetwater 420 and diet Coke.

I love him, all his faults and mine included, and I'm not sure that I ever expressed to him how much I do.

A thing that everyone seems to have been saying is that there isn't enough time, that we need to make more of an effort. To be with each other, to celebrate the things we share, to find joy where we can.

Phil was such a joyful person. When I think of him, the first thing I think of is his laugh, frequent, free, deep, and a little bit sly. Despite being disappointed by the (many) things in his life that didn't go quite as he wished, he found a way to laugh about pretty much everything, and I don't think I ever heard him say anything negative about anyone. (With the exception of Shia LaBeouf, who, to be fair, costarred in three films that stomped all over some of Phil's favorite things.)

Phil's Facebook page has a lot of lovely stories and pictures that've been posted by friends and family. His obituary was in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday the 29th, and they're currently keeping a guestbook online.

A few friends have posted memorials on their own webspaces: Merlin, Matt Anderson, and CJ. If anyone else posted one or knows of another one, post a comment with the link and I'll publish it, too.


In lieu of flowers, Phil’s family has asked that donations be made in Phil’s name to Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, The Faustman Lab of Massachusetts General Hospital, or the charity of your choice.

I’d recommend a donation to Child’s Play, the gamers’ fund & toy drive for children’s hospitals. Phil loved playing games, especially ones that involved messing with his friends’ minds, and he didn't get the chance to teach the next generation the simple, Machiavellian joy of screwing their friends over hardcore within the context of a game, where said friends can’t be too pissed about it. (Hypothetically. I’ll tell you a story sometime about a game of Munchkin). A donation in Phil’s name to Child’s Play is a small assurance that sick kids will a) have fun distractions, and b) learn to be clever dicks. He would've appreciated that.

Phil's flickr -- myspace -- facebook -- livejournal

Thursday, October 15, 2009

recipe: snickerdoodles

I visited my mother's parents every summer when I was growing up. My Grandma Lou baked every day: loaves of butter bread, cinnamon rolls with walnuts and maple icing, fruit pies, angel food cakes, oatmeal raisin cookies, snickerdoodles. My memories of her bright, busy kitchen are a huge part of why I find baking and baked goods such a comfort.

A good friend of mine, Phil Clippinger, died in a car accident on Saturday, September 26th. (I've had a memorial post in the works for weeks, but haven't been ready to talk publicly about everything yet.) The week after his death, I spent a lot of time baking -- it kept me busy and fed my friends -- but on the morning of his funeral, I found myself with a kinda hilariously Jewish need to bake. The funeral was a huge Catholic mass, with a choir, and kneeling, and billows of incense smoke pouring through the thick slant of sunset that fell over his coffin. It's not like his family was sitting shiva. And it's not like I'm really that Jewish -- only half my family is, on my father's side, and I don't even observe the high holy days unless someone else does the planning. But when I woke up on the morning of Phil's funeral, I had to make something to bring to his family. And snickerdoodles were the most comforting thing I could think of.

This recipe makes ~3 dozen chewy, buttery, cinnamon-spiced cookies, and can easily be doubled if you need to feed everyone.


Snickerdoodles
Adapted, as usual, from smittenkitchen.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (use a full 2 3/4 cups if you're doubling)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar (If you don't have this, omit the baking soda and use 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder to substitute for both)
1/8 teaspoon salt

8 tbps (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg, room temperature

1/8 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

METHOD

A half hour before you get started, set out your butter and egg to allow them to approach room temperature.

When you're ready to start, preheat your oven to 400° F, and prepare a cookie sheet with butter, parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat if you're into that kind of thing. (I've got a nonstick sheet that things come off of pretty well all by itself -- I've found that greasing it just makes the bottoms of cookies burn, and putting down parchment or a silicone mat prevents cookies from getting good & crispy on the bottom, so I leave mine alone.)

Measure out your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt) and whisk them to combine.

In a larger bowl, measure out your butter and sugar. Beat them with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until they've begun to lighten in color and increase in volume (this is called creaming and it's how air gets into the batter, and thus what gives cookies their awesome chewy-tender texture -- if you creamed the mixture for a couple minutes more, you'd end up with a more airy, cakelike texture in your cookies). Scrape down the bowl then add your egg, and beat the mixture on low until the egg is fully incorporated (1 minute or so).

Pour your dry mixture into your wet mixture and stir manually until everything's incorporated. If the dough seems too sticky to work with, add an extra tablespoon or two of flour.

Combine your cinnamon and 1/8th cup of sugar in a small dish, bowl, or ramekin -- something you'll be able to roll balls of dough around in. Stir to combine.

Use a table spoon (like, a thing you'd eat with) to scoop out a bit of dough -- think something maybe 1 inch to 1.5 inches in diameter, or a bit smaller than a ping pong ball. Roll it between your palms gently to shape it into a ball, and then drop it into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll it around to coat it with awesome, and then place it on the baking sheet. Flatten it into a disc maybe half an inch thick and ~2.5 inches in diameter. Repeat with a bunch more cookies! They shouldn't spread too much, so you can place them ~2 inches apart or so on the sheet.

Pop the sheet in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes (or until ~1 minute after your kitchen starts to smell like awesome, or until the cookies have puffed up and then deflated, or until poking one gently on the top yields slightly springy resistance). Allow the sheet to cool for ~5 minutes once it's out of the oven, and then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack until they're just cool enough to serve.

To mix ahead: This dough freezes better if you don't coat it in cinnamon sugar first (the sugar coating may melt when the cookies defrost). So if you're mixing ahead, just roll the dough into balls and freeze them: Either wrap them in plastic so they aren't touching and seal them in a baggie/container, or freeze them on a sheet pan for ~1 hour before tossing them in a baggie/container. Defrost them in your fridge for ~1 hour, roll them in cinnamon sugar, and bake more or less as usual (you might need to add a minute or so to the cooking time).

Monday, October 12, 2009

it's always sunny in Lobsterdelphia

Hey, so what's shakin' in Philadelphia next week that I should check out? Or, what's generally shakin' in Philadelphia that I should check out? [Note: By "check out", I mostly mean "eat", but I'm certainly interested in arts & sciences other than the culinary ones.] I'm gonna be in town on a business trip for a few days, and have never been there before! So if you are a person in the know about Philly, you should tell me what I should see and do. And eat.

In return I offer you a photo of what I will not look like while I'm there 'cause the foam rubber lobster suit was a single-time bad idea for rheumatology convention promotion. NEVER AGAIN THE BUTTER SAUCE.




(My organization, for which I generally edit medical journal articles, throws a big convention for practitioners every year in a different city. The first year that I went to help run it, we were promoting for the next year's convention, which was going to be in Boston, and all of the promotional material featured these cute little cartoon lobsters. And one of the higher-ups decided to give away a free pass to the Boston convention each day via giant costumed lobster. And when the First-Chair Lobster Girl backed out one day, I took up the lobster mantle.

I made this photo into a Christmas card that year. On the inside it said, "And you thought I'd never do anything with my English degree.")


But yeah, so make with the recommendations, folks. And the first person who compiles a list of places that serve surf & turf gets a claw upside the head.

Monday, October 5, 2009

recipe: chocolate chip pecan brown-butter cookies

These cookies were inspired by a brown-butter cookie that Maria (MommyMelee) makes, my personal quest for the Ultimate chocolate chip cookie, and a random craving for pecans. They bake up thick and soft, with a crisp-crunchy edge and a nutty richness from the pecans and browned butter.

For anyone who's never done it, browning butter is magical, and something I think I want to do for all my recipes that call for melted butter from now on. Similar to how toasting nuts or searing meats brings out their full flavors, gently cooking butter before using it in a recipe deepens the taste and color of the final product. The outcome in these cookies is a decadent and craveable comfort food.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Brown-Butter Cookies
Adapted from Deb @ smittenkitchen, who adapted it from AllRecipes.com.

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup packed dark brown sugar (light would be fine too)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

METHOD

First, get your butter browning: Cut your butter in chunks into a small, shallow pan, and set it over low heat. Really low. Just above "warm", and certainly not as high as medium. The idea here is to just toast the butter -- you want it to melt & separate, and then get just hot enough so that all the milk solid bits sink to the bottom, and then cook just long enough so that those milk bits caramelize, becoming fragrant and turning a lovely warm shade of golden brown. The whole process should take maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and your butter should bubble but never go above a simmer. Stir it frequently to keep all the milk bits from sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan. When the color has deepened and the butter smells like maybe you want to stick your face in it, take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

Meanwhile, or afterwards if you don't like multitasking, preheat your oven to 325°F. Take your chopped pecans (I like them to be pretty much minced with a few slightly larger chunks 'cause I don't like too much crunchy texture in my cookies, but you can adjust to taste -- I'd say anything up to pea-sized chunks would work), spread them onto a baking sheet, and pop them in the warming oven for 5-10 minutes or until they're fragrant and have slightly deepened in color. Set them aside.

Measure out your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and whisk them to combine.

In a separate, larger bowl, measure out your sugars and add in the browned butter. Beat them together with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes on medium. You're looking for the mixture to increase a bit in volume and lighten a bit in color. Add the vanilla and eggs, and beat for about a minute until the mixture is creamy and well incorporated.

Put down the beater, and mix in the dry ingredients by hand (well, by spoon/spatula, unless you really want to use your hands). Then gently fold in the chocolate chips and the toasted pecans. The dough will be soft and sticky, and at this point, you could refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before baking. (David Leite, who I trust in all things, researched & recommends refrigerating cookie dough for about this long to allow everything to combine & settle into itself. Guys, I don't have 24 hours' worth of cookie foresight. If you happen to, though, let me know how the refrigeration thing works for you.) If you find the dough too sticky to work with, cover the bowl with foil/plastic wrap/a large plate and pop it in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.

Next, use a spoon to scoop up a ping-pong ball sized or slightly smaller bit of dough, and roll it gently between your palms to form a ball. Drop it on a cookie sheet (greased or covered with parchment paper if you like) and flatten it out a little so that it'll cook more evenly. Leaving about 3 inches between cookies, fill your cookie sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies and whether the dough has been chilled. (You're looking for the cookies to puff up and then deflate a bit -- an undone cookie will yield easily if you gently poke the top of it, and leave a sort of darkened, bruised-looking indentation, and will feel very soft. Gently poking the top of a done cookie will offer slight, springy resistance, and won't leave an indentation. Erm, relatedly, please use caution if you're going to go reaching into ovens to poke at cookies. Honestly, erring on the side of underdone is okay. They'll continue to cook a bit once they're out of the oven anyway.)

Once they're out, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling enough to shove in your mouth serve.

If you're going to put another sheet of cookies in to bake immediately, wipe down your cookie sheet with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel first (this gets the crud off the sheet and also cools it down enough so that it won't par-bake the new round of dough before it even hits the oven).

If you'd like, you could freeze the dough for baking later -- I just roll the dough into cookie-sized balls and wrap them in plastic wrap so that none of them are touching, then stick the whole caboodle into a ziplock bag or Tupperware and shove it in the freezer. Alternately, if you have the space in your freezer, you could place the dough balls on a baking sheet and let them harden in the freezer for an hour or so, after which they shouldn't stick to each other and could be placed directly into a ziplock bag/Tupperware. They'll keep in there for at least a week. Just remember to either let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before baking, or to adjust your baking time (maybe 12-18 minutes) if you're doing them straight from the freezer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

zombie symposium video +ODST

For anyone who missed it (or who wants to create a greatest hits edit or fan music video*), the entirety of the Atlanta Zombie Symposium is available for watching on the vast and multitudinous Intarwebs! Laszlo posted nice links to all of the video bits on one of his online soapboxes, SRF Heavy Industries, which you should be reading anyway.


Aaaand now back to Halo: ODST. Most hilarious voice cast ever. No I won't tell you who, you have to play the game. I'm digging the audio backstory pieces -- they remind me of ilovebees, which was a promotional alternate-reality game for Halo 2 with a component of audio drama and which I have huge nostalgia for. Also, the pistol has a scope like in the first Halo! Oh how I missed being cheap with the pistol.



* PLS DO THIS NAO.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

recipe: banana-pecan-date bread

Baking is one of my coping mechanisms. It keeps me busy, and then I get to eat/feed other people comfort food. My project for the evening was a riff on my friend's family banana nut bread recipe. The dates add a tangy sort of contrast to this sweet, homey quick bread, and the pecans are sweeter than the traditionally used walnuts.

The only real secret to any quick bread recipe (y'know, anything you can put in a muffin tin/get to rise without yeast) is to not work the batter much at all after you add in the flour. You really only need to get the flour wet -- mixing it too hard will create too much gluten and make your bread/muffins tough. And nobody likes tough muffins.

Banana-Pecan-Date Bread

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, sliced
1 tbsp vanilla

1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped small

METHOD

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spread your pecan bits out in a pan and stick them in the oven until they begin to get fragrant -- 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how fast your oven heats up. (You want them to get a little deeper in color, but be careful not to burn them!)

Meanwhile, butter & flour a bread loaf pan. Yes, even if it's nonstick!

Measure out your dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, salt) into a bowl and combine them by stirring with a whisk. (You could sift them together if you're more motivated than I am.)

In a separate bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Hit 'em with an electric beater on low-to-medium speed for ~2 minutes, or until the mixture increases in volume and lightens in color a bit. Add the eggs, vanilla, and bananas, and beat for another minute or so on low-to-medium, or until the bananas are pretty well mashed up and mixed in -- smallish, pea-sized chunks are okay, but you don't want pieces much larger than that.

Now, my friends, it is time for the dry ingredients, so put that mixer down. Gently stir your dry mixture into your wet mixture, juuust until it's incorporated. A couple dry spots are okay, 'cause after you gently stir in the toasted pecan bits and the chopped dates, you're gonna leave the batter alone for five whole minutes. Five! Just set the bowl down and walk away. (I know this because Alton Brown knows this.) While you're checking your Twitter page, the flour will be busy soaking up some extra moisture without creating any of that nasty tough-muffin gluten.

When you come back, pour the batter into the prepared pan (you'll notice that most any flour pockets will have disappeared, and the batter will have some air pockets in it -- this is a good thing) and pop that sucker into the oven! It'll take an hour or so to bake -- check it at 60 minutes, and leave it for another 5-10 if it's not a deep golden brown yet. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes (to let it finish cooking & solidify a bit), then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it sit for another few minutes (for the same reason) before slicing and devouring.