why it is imperative that one not tackle dessert recipes that are exactly the sort of desserts one loves to eat:
So easy, so delicious, so never making these again.
why it is imperative that one not tackle dessert recipes that are exactly the sort of desserts one loves to eat:
So easy, so delicious, so never making these again.
Dave and I went to Smorgasburg, the all-food outpost of the Brooklyn Flea market, last weekend.
It was a bit of a spontaneous Saturday for us – not just because we jumped on the ferry to Dumbo on the fly – but also because, for the first time in, oh, forever, I brought my camera around on one of our little NYC escapades.
I’ve been kind of avoiding my camera like the plague since we moved here, which is a shame considering I spent so much money, so much time, so much effort on learning to use that big hulking dslr. I can’t be totally certain now, but I think I remember being giddily excited about picking it out at B&H, lovingly and only half jokingly referring to it as Dave and my first child, and feeling genuinely positive about the prospect of photography as a theory and/or practice. I remember snapping that shutter all across India, Ecuador, Philadelphia, Connecticut. And then I just…stopped?
This might sound silly, but have you ever felt like you’re actually getting worse at something, the longer you stick at it, the harder you try? You look back on the stuff you did when you were first starting out – that first blog post about your boyfriend’s brother’s perfect girlfriend, that first shot you got of a child batting around a giant yellow balloon in a garden in Delhi – and you think, man, that was actually decent. What happened to me? You search for proof your skills haven’t totally degraded and come up empty-handed. True or not, you start to psych yourself out.
That’s how I started feeling about photography. I got frustrated. I kind of gave up.
Looking at these photos, my first thought is, um, maybe you feel this way for good reason, Rach. The pictures kind of suck. They don’t have the right composition, the right use of light, the right focus. They don’t pull me in, don’t make me recall how hot it actually was or how happy we were to be together in the city after so long or how good that pulled pork sandwich (and the DuMont slider and the bahn-mi style hot dog and the Blue Marble cones, not pictured because, um, we ate them too fast) actually tasted. They don’t capture how the long slats of the pier in North Williamsburg felt endless if you looked at them from a certain angle or the repetitive symmetry of the benches that line Brooklyn Bridge park or how cool the perspective shift of seeing the island of Manhattan for a ferry is.
My first thought is, this is not what photography is supposed to be. Give it up, girlfriend.
My second thought is, keep going. You always put yourself down for the count far too fast.
1. I whipped up this fresh vanilla bean, cranberry-filled, crumb-topped coffee cake. The preparation was intense – scrape the vanilla beans out from their pods! (which required me to watch a youtube video, obviously) remove your kitchenaid from where it lives! (in the linen closet, as all good New Yorkers do.) This was all especially arduous considering I was baking at 8 a.m. the day after I threw a dinner party for 10 without a functioning dishwasher (and thus, with a few too many beers.) But I pushed on, because my abundantly wonderful cousins, who have hosted me for many a wonderful meal in their Union Square apartment over the years, were finally coming up to see our little UES abode, and I wanted to be a good hostess.
The cake was delicious – the kind of delicious where even though you really, really adore your guests you find yourself fantasizing about when they might leave so that you can just be left alone, just you and your cake, in an environment in which you might be able to eat said cake straight from the pan with a fork without judgment. Also, the kind of delicious where you refuse to take a second slice in your guests’ presence, for fear that that would signal that it was ok for them to take another slice, and then you’d be less with even less cake.
The intricate preparation combined with the resulting deliciousness gave me a bit of a big head, I can admit this now. “This is the best thing I’ve ever made,” I told myself, “and definitely the most advanced.” I ran through a list of my culinary achievements over the years, and made the executive decision that I’d come quite a long way and was basically a professional now. “I never could have handled this in 2009,” I thought. “I am a baking expert.” I was getting so high on my achievement that I decided to leave a comment on the blog where I had found the recipe, essentially announcing my official entry into the world of culinary excellence. While scrolling down to the comments section, I caught a few words from the post: “super easy”; ” a cinch.” Hmph. The other comments seemed to concur: my piece de resistance was everyone else’s walk in the park.
I decided not to post a comment after all.
2. As previously mentioned, Francine’s best friend is under the weather, leaving her (and us) a bit desperate to find new playmates. In the laundry room, we ran into a girl on Dave’s rotation who has a two-year-old dog. We were trying to figure out if they would be a good match and I mentioned that Franny was a bit on the psycho side. “Oh,” she said, “she should definitely meet this other goldendoodle we ran into the other day. It was totally nuts, and the girl said it was the craziest dog on the Upper East Side.”
The thing is, that’s my line. I’m that girl. That’s our dog.
3. We’re chugging along with wedding planning stuff and are finalizing our ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract. The most recent step was to have our rabbi proof it. He had only two concerns – one, that we maybe adjust the date listed so as not to make the fact that we’re blatantly disregarding Jewish law and getting married on Shabbat painfully obvious and two, “I think they flipped something around. It looks like you’re marrying your father.”
Turns out, my dad’s Hebrew name is David, and David’s Hebrew name is my dad’s name. Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that’s one more tally in the “ways your fiance is creepily like your father” category.
So, the rabbi was wrong…but also, let’s be honest, kind of right.
I fear I may have single-handedly sent feminism back a decade or two today, as my Saturday has literally been one big fat gender stereotype.
With Dave off smoking cigars and riding rollercoasters with a college buddy (the women’s studies minor in you is cringing already, I know), I opted to stay home and indulge some of my more embarrassing interests.
Like, watching old Sex and the City episodes. And new Say Yes to the Dress episodes. And yes, my behavior disgusts me too.
Other items on the agenda included pedicures, shopping, talking far too seriously about the virtues of petite sizing and taking up important questions like, how many ruffles are too many ruffles when it comes to work dresses?
And then there was the nesting.
I insisted on buying this adorable salt and pepper shaker and sugar bowl set (top right and lower left) that seriously looks like it belongs in a dollhouse and is guaranteed to be useful for absolutely nada, especially considering we already have a salt shaker/pepper grinder combo three times the size currently sitting on our kitchen table. Still, I couldn’t stop cradling it in my palm and I’ve had an Anthro store credit burning a hole in my wallet for the past month so…voila. Home it came. Along with a few other chochkis I intend on using both as storage for q-tips and cotton balls and as a daily reminder that I’m closer to becoming my grandmother each and every day.
After unwrapping my little treasures, I sat back and admired the throw pillows I ordered online last week. Because by that point, I was on a roll.
Which means I might as well own up to the baking too. I made banana pancakes for Jill and myself this morning and then whipped up a batch of these ridiculously easy blondies, adding some dried cherries and slivered almonds, in preparation for a barbeque tomorrow.
At least I finally have people to bake for, right? Life is good…if a bit cliche.
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick of being greeted by all this melodrama and illness and – this is a technical term – ickyness every time I click on my homepage. I’m still not feeling super great physically, but I’m trying to turn a corner in terms of my attitude and outlook. By which I mean: let’s move on, shall we?
I think food might be a good place to start, considering it was pretty much the focus of my weekend. This isn’t a total aberration – as my dear friend Courtney once said, I’m pretty much a “food-centric person.” I like it. A lot. But the medicine that I tried (last reference to The Lame Mystery Illness, I promise) totally killed my appetite. So much so that I reached what I fondly refer to as my post-eating disorder weight: the weight I hit after I nixed the fat-free yogurt and saltines diet of my freshman year of high school, but before I started pairing a root beer float (real soda! real ice cream! the horror!) with pretty much every meal at the dining hall freshman year of college. Suffice it to say, without the wonders of daily crew practice and a 16-year-old’s metabolism, this feat was only accomplished due to the fact that I didn’t really eat food for 11 days. I just wasn’t interested in the stuff.
The shit hit the fan on Sunday – two days after I decided I needed to get off those meds, stat. By some strange (glorious?) twist of fate, the point at which the drugs got out of my system coincided exactly with the tasting for Dave’s brother’s bar mitzvah.
Now, for you non-Jews out there, referencing a “tasting” probably conjures up images of Molly and Jason feeding each other tiny, tidy bites of different flavored wedding cakes, right? Think again. Jewish special occasions are all about food: specifically quantity, though quality helps too. Those jokes about Jewish grandmothers grabbing rolls off the buffet line and stashing them in their pocketbooks? 100% Real. That urban legend about Jewish grandfathers (er, me) staking out the door where the servers come out? Less legend, more true.
So that’s your base-line bar mitzvah. But Dave’s parents took it up a notch for this one, at which we will celebrate the baby of the family’s coming of age. They ditched the Original Tacky NJ Catering Hall, where food surely flowed aplenty at all three other kid’s parties, to the New Tacky NJ Catering Hall, where it’s a fucking avalanche of grub. And I do mean that literally. This place has branded itself as a palace of gluttony. Dessert alone is going to send these kids into a diabetic coma: cotton candy machine, bowls of full-sized chocolate bars, a Viennese table (translation for the non-Jews/Italians: massive table, covered in desserts, rolled out to much fanfare on the dance floor.)
But dessert was not our mission – or at least not our main mission – when we headed over to the New Tacky NJ Catering Hall on Sunday. We were charged with helping Dave’s parents pick the adult’s menu, specifically the entrees. Of which there were six. SIX. They brought us six full-sized portions of salmon, chicken and beef dishes: some fried, some topped with cheese, spinach and cream, others dusted with a Thai chili marinade; all, unfailingly, super rich and heavy. Oh, and that was after the cold appetizers, hot appetizers (egg rolls! scallops! things made out of phyllo dough!) and Caesar salad, but before the chocolate mousse for dessert. And, let me repeat this: all full-sized portions.
The staff was ready and waiting with styrofoam takeout containers, but I was not going to let this catering hall best me. After starting out strong with the appetizers and salad, I took down at least three full entrees worth of fish and meat, even polishing off the chocolate mousse – which wasn’t very good, but no matter. When it was all over, I leaned my spoon against the empty dish in triumph and reclined in my chair like it was Passover. (Show off.)
The place itself was about as Jersey as it gets: fake pillars, fake waterfalls, fake fountains designed to look like they were imported from Rome (they weren’t.) Ballrooms with themes like “France,” “Italy” and “New York.” (So exotic!) The effect was such that I felt the need to turn to Dave and say something to the extent of, “Babe, I totally feel like we’re in Italy!” As a native of the state, he failed to find the setting as funny as I did.
And the truth is, it’s really nothing to make fun of. Despite all my criticism, I’m sure it’s pretty cool from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old, who is what this night is all about anyway. His friends will get to run around the whole bottom floor of the place with no parents in sight. The fake windows and disco balls dotting the ballroom light up any color you choose – in his case, it will be blue and silver, obviously, as the soiree is Yankees-themed. It’s pretty much your classic bar mitzvah venue, exactly what comes to mind when you think of “New Jersey” and “coming of age.”
Although, to be honest, I don’t think it would have flown with this girl. She’s always been a bit more…particular.
I’m not really the kind of girl you want to bring home to your mother.
Don’t get me wrong, I can throw on a vaguely preppy, suburbs-ready outfit in no time, thanks to my Connecticut upbringing.
(Wow, had to dig way back into the archives for that one. And no, I would not make that face when meeting your mother. But I might still wear that button-down.)
I lack visible tattoos, abnormal piercings, a criminal record, cult affiliations and dietary restrictions.
But when it gets down to it, I kind of have a big mouth. I say what I think, and, worse still, I show what I think. If some people’s emotions are “written all over their faces” let’s just say that mine are generally scrawled in large looping letters and marked with a hi-liter.
Christie Lee*, however, has a smile pasted on her face all the time. Christie Lee is exactly the kind of girl you’d want to bring home to your mother. Christie Lee is perfect.
She’s perky, skinny, sweet – basically any adjective that applies to a high school cheerleader, applies to Christie Lee. And she also happens to be my boyfriend Dave’s younger brother’s girlfriend.
At first, I completely underestimated Christie Lee, shiny hair and all. I thought I had the trump card, the coup d’etat. You see, I’m Jewish. Chosen. And for having to endure all the stuff that goes along with it – thrice-weekly Hebrew school while those other kids had CCD for one freaking hour; hair that required lots of quality time with a flat iron; legacy of the Holocaust, blah blah blah – I’m supposed to be given this one gift: to automatically win the favor of my boyfriend’s Jewish mother.
Little did I know, Christie Lee would be bringing her A game.
Sure, his family was initially skeptical. For example: the first time my boyfriend’s grandmother heard that his brother was dating an Asian, she kept insisting that she “might just be adopted.” (No dice, Grandma Helen. Sorry.)
But very quickly it became clear that Christie Lee had come to win. Now, it’s possible that the fact that she’s not Jewish made Christie Lee try harder. Or maybe she’s just naturally like this. Hard to say. All I know for sure is that the girl makes me – me, the nice, Jewish, Ivy-league educated young professional – look like a satanic atheist my boyfriend picked up at an underground dog fight.
It started out small. Christie Lee would always bring over brownies, while I showed up empty-handed. Christie Lee cheerily joined in the family trip to Six Flags, while I, um, politely declined. And then, Christie Lee agreed to help the boys’ aunt, a wedding planner, with some upcoming Korean nuptials.
Yes, her Asian heritage actually began working to her advantage. That’s when things got ugly.
I decided the only way I was going to have a shot at establishing myself as at least the family’s second best girlfriend (true, Dave’s youngest brother is only 12, but at this point, even a prepubescent Wiccan was looking like staunch competition) was to fight dirty. So I busted out the biggest gun available to me: Jewish apple cake.
The occasion: Rosh Hashonah. The location: Southern New Jersey. The players: Not just his parents and siblings, but also…the Jewish grandparents. Straight out of Long Island. Plus a few non-Jewish family friends thrown in for good measure.
I spent days combing the Internet for the perfect recipe. I splurged on organic apples at Reading Terminal. I even invested in a freaking tube pan (which days earlier I wouldn’t even have been able to identify in a bakeware lineup.)
And when I was done…well, I had a masterpiece. There’s really no other way to say it. I knew it was a winner before we even cut the first slice. Not only did it get eaten (oh, did it get eaten) but HIS GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME FOR THE RECIPE. I felt triumphant. Clearly, I had won. The competition was over. I texted the word “victory” to my mother, right from the table. I relayed the story, in quite an animated fashion, at our Yom Kippur break fast. I gloated.
But the victory lap was premature. Christie Lee had more tricks up her sleeve – good ones. When I returned home after my Europe trip, I received word that she had sent out…wait for it…HALLOWEEN CARE PACKAGES to all of his extended relatives. I’m sorry, I think that needs repeating: HALLOWEEN CARE PACKAGES. Care Packages…FOR HALLOWEEN. Halloween’s barely a holiday! What in god’s name is this girl going to pull for Christmas?
So, I’m waving my white flag. I’m giving up the fight. I’m out of my league. I just can’t compete with homeade mini apple pies and cupcakes shipped across the country for a holiday that falls in October. I’m not that girl. I’m not the girl you want to bring home to your mother.
But, like I said, I have no dietary restrictions. So, Christie Lee: keep those mini apple pies coming. I may be out of the race, but I have no problem eating the spoils.
*Name altered slightly to protect the cute, skinny Asian girl in question.