Damn it

September 27, 2011


You know how when you play Tetris and the bricks don't line up and plonk into place like you need them to?  They keep piling up and piling up and piling up -- with odd little bits of blank space in between -- until your screen is filled and there's no more room for anything else to fall into place?  And you get stressed out beyond belief -- even though it is just a stupid video game -- because you want to fit more things in, and fit them in the right way, the efficient way -- and you can't?

That is my life right now.

I'm in a bit of a work-related transition at the moment, which, when it all plays out will be very good but at the time is incredibly stressful.  And of course, it's all coming during a time when Congress and our political climate are in a state of I-don't-even-know-what-to-call-it-anymore.

On top of everything, it is crunch time for Mike's book.

And, as much as I like to think I Can Do It All Because I Am Just That Awesome, I have to tell you: I can't.

Writing those two words -- I can't -- is something I know I've needed to do for the past few weeks, but haven't been able to bring myself to do because it makes me feel like a failure.  "I can't" is not usually in my vocabulary.  This is new for me, the letting go of some things I really love to do so I can get my shit together and realign and refocus.

Over the past few months, every time I made a shopping list for a dish for this blog, I got sidetracked to another client crisis.  Every week that I've set aside time to cook has been taken over by work I get paid to do.  And, when you're a self-employed single gal with a mortgage, you do the paid work.  Which isn't always the choice that makes me happy, but it's the grown-up thing we all have to do at one point or another, right?

So rather than drag this all out, I'm going on hiatus through the end of the year.  I'll be back in January sometime in 2012 when the dust has settled and my Tetris blocks are falling neatly into place and giving me room to add more.  This blog is the first thing back on the list.

I miss it already.

November 01, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar

I was so excited to make this dish.  I wanted to tell you all about how, when I worked for Discovery Channel in the late 1990s, no matter where I traveled the world I relished the familiar sweet, salty, and punch-you-in-the-sinuses taste of the black licorice at this one little kiosk in the Frankfurt Airport.  How the anise hyssop plant on my front stoop is still blossoming and sprouting new leaves.  How stoked I was about making orange confit.  How nervous I was to make the beautiful, delicate, and intricate spun sugar nests to sit atop this sweet, little bite.

I wanted to keep riding the wave of my sponge cake success, and be able to share with you how marvelously I deglutenized yet another fine-dining, avant-garde dessert.

I hoped to be able to show you how you cream an egg, egg yolks, butter, and sugar...




... then add flour, cornstarch, and dry licorice extract to make the most amazing batter:


... which you bake for a little over an hour until it's spongy and light golden brown.....  and how when it's baking you walk out the front door every 10 minutes so you can relish how wonderful the house smells when you walk back in...



... but what I hadn't counted on is that as it cooled, it hardened.  So much so that I nearly broke a molar as I sampled a little taste of it.

That was the first sign that, perhaps, this dessert was not going to go the way I'd planned.

Regardless, I forged ahead and continued to follow the book's instructions, which was to break that cake into pieces (using a very sharp knife) and put them into a saucepan with some half-and-half, licorice syrup, and glucose powder:



The goal was to reliquify the cake enough so that it became a purée, which you then freeze and cut into small pieces.  Only, no matter how much I stirred it and broke apart those cake pieces into the liquid, it woudn't get close to a purée.



I added more half-and-half, and then some more licorice syrup... thinking that maybe all it needed was a little more liquid (because apparently I think I know more than Chef Achatz does about his own dishes ::::eye roll::::), that maybe my scale was off (it's not), or that I misread the instructions (I didn't), or that the licorice extract was expired (nope), or that the moon was rising in Mercury (I have no idea what that even means).

And even after all that, all I ended up with was this:

... which is not even close to being purée-like.  Despite that fact, I added the six soaked gelatin sheets, and then even tried pushing some of it through a chinois just like the book suggested.  And, it was awful.  Nothing happened.  It just wouldn't work.  It was the texture and consistency of wet drywall (which, I know, doesn't really make sense and is sort of an oxymoron, but whatever).  It was just bad.  And wrong.


I threw it all away.

Without the cake base, there was no need to do the orange confit, the muscovado candy, or the spun sugar (which I was soooo looking forward to).  So, I put all those ingredients back into the pantry and the fridge.

I cleaned the kitchen, felt completely dejected, and was in a rotten mood.  Like, not even the Real Housewives or the Kardashians could snap me out of it.  I KNOW.  I was not smiles times.

I fell back onto the couch, lifted the lid of my laptop, and sent an email to my friends, Holly and Linda -- the friends who are also neighbors, who have eaten everything I've cooked for this blog (and the other one) -- to tell them the evening's tasting was canceled "because this dessert is broken."

Their response ran the gamut of "Noooooooooo!!!!" and "That's never happened to you before!!!" to "Stupid recipe" to "Sponge cake karma."  Which is exactly why I love them.

So, I'm ordering more licorice extract and trying this again, because I should be able to do this and do it well, damn it.  I'm pretty sure that what I used as my gluten-free substitution for all-purpose flour is what caused the problem, so I'm gonna tinker with my own formulas and see if I can make this work.

You guys, I have learned so much from this cookbook, and have come so far in my gluten-free baking in the past two years, that I should be able to make this.  It might not be perfect, but it could be pretty freakin' fantastic. 

So, stay tuned.... it's time for a do-over.

September 14, 2010

I jinxed myself. I should know better.

In my last post, I wrote:

It's the end of August.

Congress is out of session.

My phone isn't ringing.

My email is (mostly) quiet.

This is the last chance for some downtime before the holidays, so I'm going to take full advantage of it.

See you after Labor Day...

If I may, I'd like to edit/amend the above:

It's the end of August. [True.  It was the end of August.]

Congress is out of session. [This is/was also true.]

My phone isn't ringing. [See?  This is where I went wrong.  I never should have typed this.]

My email is (mostly) quiet. [Never should have written this either. I AM SUCH A MORON.]

This is the last chance for some downtime before the holidays, so I'm going to take full advantage of it. [AAAAAAAAHAAHAHHAHAHAAHAHA!!]

See you after Labor Day... [Uh, yeah. Labor Day 2011.]

That post went up at 6:05 p.m., August 21.

I spent all day Sunday, August 22 canning and preserving food for this article in The Washington Post.  I also mowed and pulled weeds in the garden to fend off a location scout for The New Sanford & Son.  That evening, I relaxed on the front porch with a glass of wine and some leftovers from my birthday dinner a few nights before, thinking to myself these next two weeks are gonna be AWESOME.

And the next day, August 23, all hell broke loose for two of my clients and I've been working 18-hour days ever since.  That's not an exaggeration.  Quite literally, I wake up at 7 and start work and do not finish work until I go to bed around midnight or 1 a.m.  I sometimes put listen-only conference calls on mute and speakerphone while I am in the shower.  The phone does not stop ringing (there are reporters around the world interested in one of the issues I'm working on now and the concept of time zones doesn't always work when you're on deadline), the email does not stop coming in, and things are changing and developing minute-by-minute such that I have had to leave the grocery store three separate times, empty-handed, to handle a work crisis... never mind the dinners with friends and lunches with other clients I've had to cancel. [Not to mention the fact that it's taken me eight days to get this post up on the site.]  Deep breath...

I know.  Poor, poor me.  First-world problems and all.

This is all to say that, factoring in some travel and a two-week work project in California, I have not cooked since July 20 -- not for myself, and not for anyone else.  AND IT'S DRIVING ME BONKERS.

I don't have any food in the house -- it would only spoil.

I have eaten approximately 6,498,127 gluten-free Larabars.

I have gone through 4 boxes of Rice Chex.

The guys at my local Indian restaurant see my number on caller ID and answer the phone saying, "Hello Carol, we will see you in 15 minutes."

So you can imagine how the lack of any sort of balanced diet is contributing to my already sky-high stress levels.  I'm a real joy to be around.

I open the Alinea cookbook nearly every other day, and just as I start to make a shopping list and figure out a timeline for making one of the recipes, the phone rings or my email explodes with another judicial action, federal appeal, Congressional statement, or reporter looking for some background. 

I love my job, and I am incredibly passionate about the issues I work on.

But I need to chop something.  Badly.

July 12, 2010

Raspberry, transparency, yogurt, rose petals

So, I did all this:









































And after a total of two days of active work and dehydration time, I ended up with a leathery war wound with Band-Aid pieces strewn about:


I screwed it up somewhere along the way.  Everything seemed to be going well up until the final step, the last dehydration bit.  It never un-leathered itself.  It never got crispy and dry.  And, the photo in the book doesn't even look like there are rose petals in this bite.  Argh.  I've eaten this thing three times in the restaurant, and I actually really, really like it.

I don't like failing at something that I know I can do.  That makes me CRAZY.

Think the raspberries heard me talking about how much I don't like them?  How I wish they were as good as blackberries?  How they're hollow and seedy and look like they misplaced their tweezers?

I'm gonna have to sweet talk my next batch of raspberries.  Put on some Barry White.  Dim the lights. Tell them how pretty they are.  Maybe THAT will work.

Actually, I just bought an even more precise digital jeweler scale (measures to the 0.01g), and I'm gonna try it again, 'cause I'm feeling stubborn.  If it doesn't work again, then I'm buying the URL ihateraspberriestheytotallytotallysuck.com.  You watch.  It'll be the next big internet sensation!

Alinea Book


  • I'm cooking my way through the Alinea Cookbook. Because I can. I think.


Comment Policy

  • Your comments and questions are welcome. However, please think of this web site as if it were my dining room table, and make sure your comments reflect the manner in which you'd treat someone in their home, as if you'd only just met them and were sitting across from them, sharing a meal. I've got thick skin and can take constructive criticism (because ultimately, we all learn from it), but nasty, rude, grossly off-topic, attacking, baiting, or blatantly self-promotional comments aren't welcome and won't be posted. It's just not cool.