27 January 2010

unexpected day in the life.

Give me a day that starts out with me falling asleep around 4am.

I'll tell you that it's not going to be a good day.  There's that midday social obligation.  There's articles to read.  There's all those bike miles to add up.  There's that class I'm not interested in, talking about that book that I didn't get much out of with that group of people who bore me with that nutty professor.  That's going to happen.


I'm going to wake up a little grumpy.

And things are going to add up.

That toast is delicious.  And that music?  It's music to my ears.

Those people outside the liquor store?- yes, I'm there at 11:30am- the ones who always heckle me for cash when I pretend I'm not listening?-- dollar bills all around, not really thinking about it.  It's windy, get some coffee.

Let's get on that bike, the one I fight with, the one that carries me through Center City as that van honks at me but I miss all the potholes.  Bake some cookies, my favorite thing to do.  Baking with the girls who are like my Relief Society, making our own group just like the Relief Society would've told us to.  But give us mimosas- the idea they scoffed at, drinking at noon- give us mimosas and chocolate chips and snickerdoodles.  A few hours of much needed sisterhood and that bread!  Something you could only find in Philly, that bread!

Breeze through those articles, the ones we won't talk about, and on to dinner.  Leftover spaghetti noodles somehow transform themselves into some proto-yakisoba, pan-fried noodles, onions, garlic, pea sprouts, soy sauce.  And we have that conversation, texting back and forth about that UPS guy who likes you.  I look forward to that, you know.  Coffee, yes, at 6pm, class tonight, what a bore! But I'm glad we talk- a different we- when we meet in the kitchen. I'm glad when you offer me some of that soup and when you tell me you liked the latkes I made, the ones you ate without asking.  Going to that talk tomorrow, getting an advisor tomorrow, class tomorrow.

Let's not think about tomorrow.

Let's talk about going to OAH in April, tenement style, with everyone.  Or you- the other you- call me and squeeze in that five minute conversation while you walk home and I race out the door.  Headlight, blinkee light, helmet, lock.  Green lights and minimal traffic, easy parking and not even late!

Allow me to bust out every strategy in the book to get through that class.  The instant challenge to a viewpoint that you tell me later will make me that professor, the one people are afraid to take and who challenges them to learn!  The notes to the person sitting next to me that inspire discreet smiles and solidarity.  The discussion's dragging, please, let me ask that question- the one about how this book would look if we wrote it from a different methodological perspective.  Let it be 9 o'clock when the professor starts answering that question, when he lays out how the book would be called "Spain on the Brain: Anglo Anxieties in Hispanic World, 1500-1800," and tells us the who thesis and sums up the class just perfectly in spite of repeating the phrase "Spain on the Brain" five, eight times.  Who cares if the monologue lasted 35 minutes?  It's the second time I've made this happen, that question, this monologue.  I've already forgotten I don't care about colonialism.  What a time we had with those guys! The ones who drive us crazy, the ones who tell us they enjoyed our comments and that they like our folding bike. The ones who exist only as types and never come out with us afterwards.

Beer, glorious beer, finally!  Let there be the favorite usual waitress who we always overtip at our favorite usual bar, the ones where people's eyes twinkle as the pitcher gets emptier and the light reflects off the yellow glass lamps and the dingy wood paneling.  Oh, that laugh that reminds me of my cousin, and please, tell me again that twenty-five isn't that old.

Oh you guys! You don't have to wait.  Headlight, blinkee light, helmet, lock.  I'll try that smaller intersection, just right, an easy left turn.  Why have I never taken that route before? 

Give me third gear all the way down the Parkway, wind on my face, no cars, dim lights glowing against the Art Museum.  I'm on the folding bike, it's not as blissfully cruise-y as the other bike, but wait, it is.  Sublime propulsion along the usual unnoticeable route.  Don't let the cat in, he comes in anyways, but he's home, I'm home, he's happy, I'm happy.  I'm headed up the stairs, happy because I'm leading this life that I never planned to lead, happy that I enjoyed this day that I didn't expect to enjoy.

26 January 2010

planet bike blaze 2 watt led headlight review.

A while back I wanted to take my folding bike out.  It was a short trip- just a mile- and one that I knew would probably include a car-involved change of venue.  It was perfect for the folding bike- but unfortunately, I was headed out at night.  I try to practice what I preach, so I decided to take the Old Dutch.  But not before I got online and ordered a headlight for the Dahon, because this aggression would not stand, man. 

Big Brother and I had been talking about this purchase for a while, so I knew instantly that I should check out "that headlight reviewed on Kent's Bike Blog."  Between Kent's review and the reviews he linked to on Amazon, I was sold.  

My only comparison as far as headlight experiences go is with the bottle dynamo-generator light on the ODT.  It is not incredibly bright and it adds some resistance, but you know, it's a headlight, and aesthetically, it's really nice looking.  The parts of Philadelphia that I ride through are generally well lit, so my headlight concerns are more oriented towards making myself visible to cars.  So that said- that my needs and expectations were pretty low- you can understand that I was totally blown away when my new headlight arrived.  

I ordered it through Niagara Cycle Works on Amazon and it arrived a week before it was scheduled to. Installation was quick and easy.  The light slides off and on an interchangeable bracket so that you can use the light on a number of bikes and take the light off when you go inside places.  It has three settings- High, Low, and Superflash.  Since my goal has been visibility and not necessarily lighting the way, I have used the Superflash setting the most.  

This may be a better statement about the merits of effective headlights in general rather than this specific product, but the results were instantaneous.  While on a main street that I frequent often, I noticed that cars at stop signs stopped and stayed stopped because they saw me- no false starts or lurching forward.  Parked cars coming into traffic tend to stay stopped for longer as well.  People getting in and out of their cars have waited for longer, which I think decreases my chances of getting doored.  I feel more confident in situations were the bike lane leads to overlap with the right turn lane and making left turns.  I like being able to see the light bouncing off the back of cars and stop signs two blocks away as I ride.  

My night riding experience feels exponentially safer, and as a result- at least until I get another bracket to attach the light to the ODT*- the Dahon has become my go-to night bike.  Testing the light during the day time, just for the sake of this blog post, produced similar results and got me thinking that riding with a headlight during the day might not be such a bad idea.  With the addition of this light, I can't seem to stay off the Dahon, The ODT is resentful but understanding.

All in all, this is probably a lot more light that I need- but I like the overkill quality.  I like going from being questionably visible to absolutely visible (this is especially true now). If you're on the market for a headlight, I really recommend this one.  But more than that- and rhetorically (not actually), this is my "I challenge you to pray about the Book of Mormon" moment- if you haven't reevaluated your lighting setup lately, I'd like you to join me in exploring the joys of greater visibility.

*Ordered! I wrote this post like 10 days ago. Oops. As it turns out, the bottle dynamo is on the fritz- wires maybe? That poor bike has been totally battered on my stairs.  Somehow lost one of my rack-to-skirt guard clips grocery getting last week. 

22 January 2010

magic almond butter middle cookies.

Due to a headache and a mild existential / career path crisis, I can't come up with a catchier title for these cookies. I also can't come up with an actual recipe, which is fine because these don't really mandate one.  I ripped off the concept from a recipe posted at Tasty Kitchen , a variation suggested by a classmate, and the reality of a bunch of sugar cookie dough sitting in my fridge. So maybe "Crowd-sourced Almond Surprise Cookies" would be better.  Anyways, I like these because they aren't too sweet, which is a total relief after eating all those frosted cookies.

Here's what you do:
Mix up a batch of my Perfect Sugar Cookies. Refrigerate dough for a good long time.

In a little dish, mix up equal parts almond butter and powdered sugar. I used about 3 tablespoons of each for mine and came out with enough for 7 cookies.

Roll out the sugar cookie dough.  Roll the almond mixture into little balls and wrap the sugar cookie dough around the ball.  Make sure you say balls a lot.  Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies are a nice golden color- I liked that they got a little crunchy because it made for a nice contrast with the soft inside.  Serve with black coffee while listening to Cat Power before going for a walk to sort yourself out.  

18 January 2010

for the freedom of the human spirit.

One of the joys of being a historian is developing a sense of the big picture.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day evokes a little twitch from me.  Certainly, the influence of his vision for America has been felt across the generations, but I can't help but feel that something is lost in commemorating just one man's sacrifices and opinions and efforts when so many people gave something, or even gave all, to begin the still incomplete process of achieving equality for all Americans.  

lucky me, to have such an awesome mural on the side of my house

"Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free; we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, but if people are still hungry, we will not be free... Singing alone is not enough; we need schools and learning... Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all of mankind."
-Ella Baker, founder of SNCC

chocolate truffle tart recipe.

I bake pretty regularly, but I can't say that I try out new recipes all that often.  Part of it is pragmatic- fancy desserts aren't as portable or long lasting as say, cookies- and the other part of it is the fear factor.  I get so nervous-  baking failures are just so public.  As a result, my baking vanity is largely tied to my ability to produce endless batches of sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, beer bread, Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake, etc. etc. Nobody seems to mind.

This all changed the other night [drama!], when my roommate presented me with a major challenge- to produce something "French and decadent" that would compliment his Duck Casseulet.  I didn't know what exactly that was, but I was pretty sure I'd stumbled upon recipe gold while searching through one of my favorite food p*rn sites.

Using the Chocolate Truffle Tart recipe from the food blog Tartelette, I had one of the most pleasant baking experiences that I've had in a long time.  Maybe it was spending a quiet, lazy, unrushed, rainy Sunday morning in a clean kitchen- something I find infinitely sublime- but it had a lot to do the quality of the recipe. It calls for relatively few ingredients and offers some really useful method directions.  I have long been a hater of rolling out crusts, but this recipe had me transferring pie crust into the pan with zero cracks and no falling apart. I might have almost cried, crust has been that much of a burden to me.

I was scared of using unsalted butter and could only find unsweetened chocolate, but consensus was that the dessert was not too sweet, and sufficiently French and decadent.  It received rave reviews (and totally cleaned plates) from our dinner guests, and pairs nicely with red wine or coffee.

Chocolate Truffle Tarts [adapted from Tartellete according to how I made the recipe- which is not necessarily the most efficient way]

makes 1 mega tart- could probably serve twelve or more- perfect for crowds who just want a little sliver of dessert

For the chocolate crust: 
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup  unsifted powdered sugar
3 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

For the chocolate truffle filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate [or unsweetened chocolate + 1/2 cup of sugar]
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
4 large eggs

For the chocolate ganache:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate [or unsweetened chocolate + 1/4 cup sugar]
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of salt

Prepare the crust:
In a mixer, whip together the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and pinch of salt and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix briefly. Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen it up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350F and position a rack in the center. Butter a springform pan
 [parchment would be a good idea here] and set aside.

When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board or in between two sheets of plastic [rolling the dough out underneath a sheet of cling film was a revolutionary concept for me]. If the dough tears while you roll or/and transfer into the rings, just patch it with your fingertips. Bake for 10 minutes. Keep the oven at 350F.

[I did these steps while my dough was chilling]:

Prepare the filling:
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the butter, sugar, and coffee together to a boil over medium. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and leave it undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. Gently whisk until smooth [by hand is much better than mixer for these steps, believe me, Kitchen Aid addicts, I tried both]. Add the eggs, one at a time whisking quickly until the mixture is smooth. Pour on top of crust and bake for 10 minutes. It will look a little jiggly when you take it out, but it will set in the fridge later.
Let cool completely.

Prepare the chocolate ganache:
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a gentle boil. Pour it over the chocolate and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Whisk until smooth and incorporate the butter at the same time until the ganache is completely smooth. Resist temptation to store in refrigerator if you are waiting for your dough or the tart to bake.  

Left with about twenty extra minutes of dough chill time after preparing the truffle and ganache, I recommend mixing up the egg whites with some of the leftover heavy cream, scrambling them, and serving them with some of the leftover coffee you made.  Coffee with supplimentary heavy cream, that is.  COTGB is all about full fat dairy.

Spread ganache on top of tart and smooth out with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until ready to eat- be forewarned, it gets pretty solid in the fridge so you may want a substantial warm knife to help with the cutting.  We served ours with vanilla flavored unsweetened homemade whipped cream.  Delish.

14 January 2010

mid-afternoon muppet distractions.

I was in the midst of a I-must-know-everything-about-Nelson-Rockefeller-ever-written kick this afternoon when Big Brother sent along this magical NPR review of a Muppet Show comic book.  It is genius because A. it starts out with a brief cultural history style context, which I dig (though where's the Reagan Revolution in all this? Come on, man!) and B. The guy rates the comic book on a scale of 1-10 based on good/bad Muppet Show clips.  Working your way through the list is probably not a bad way to kill a half hour, unless you know, ahem, you have lots of reading on Nelson Rockefeller that you'd like to be doing.

For the lazy- here are two of the more awesome clips- the first, because it's effing funny and the second, because "this is your pig chorus" is my new favorite deadpan statement, and also because it features the lesser-known Muppets Beauregard (which makes me want to watch The Great Muppet Caper immediately) and Sweetums (which suddenly seems like a great Halloween costume idea).

13 January 2010

bicycling only sucks when it reminds me of having a car.

I love being car free and all that, I really do, but there are some days when biking / bike ownership is just a pain in the ass. LIKE TODAY.  Whew, excuse me, caps lock got away from me.

It started before I even got out the door.  It was a grocery getting run, ideal for the Old Dutch, and to prepare for the ride I actually put on some makeup and tried to you know, rise to the aestethic demands of riding such a fine looking bike.  And then I went to pump up the poor neglected tires because the folding bike's been getting so much love lately.

Well, let's be real about this. I don't enjoy any kind of bike maintenance accept for accessory acquisition, which doesn't count for shit, and periodically my evil, socialist Woods valves get into it with my decidedly American pump made for decidedly American valves.  Now before this devolves into an entire post on how Woods valves are an enemy to democracy and I should've swapped out my tubes a million years ago, I'm going to sum up my feelings in a haiku.  Here it goes:

Woods valves. 

That's the best I could do.  At any rate, I beat the shit out of myself getting the bike down the stairs (this is not unusual) and spent an overlong time fussing around with my pannier and then finally, FINALLY, I am on the road.  And I'm just too amped up to enjoy the ride because my Big Unwieldy Bastard of a bike has been this ungrateful arbiter of torment (I like my bikes like I like my men?), and then the road and Trader Joe's were both full of idiots (this is not unusual), and I'm all amped up, and ya know, by the time I made it through the checkout a second time, and almost got hit by someone not observing a stop sign, and realized that the handle of my bell somehow got busted off, I was just like Really?  This is a better way to travel?

Woods valves.

I know that's not actually a haiku, but it makes me feel so much better.

how the eff do I fix this?

I was going to end on a moralizing note- like "but it's still better than driving a car" but I think I'm going to leave it.  Because I'd really prefer to moralize about how you know, there are good days biking and days that suck, and maybe that's just part of getting around and being alive, etc. etc.

What?  You still want a happy ending?  FINE.  I found my favorite treat ever at the store- STROOPWAFFELS!- and because I got on that damn bike I GET TO EAT THE WHOLE BAG.