Posts Tagged ‘food’

Making a fake cake

IA real Battenbergn the production of Rainbow Kiss, a Battenberg Cake figures prominently however it’s never eaten. Now, the battenberg is very specific in look, with a checkerboard of pink and white visible in every slice. While it’s very common in the UK, it’s something of a specialty item here, so I asked the director if it would be all right to have a fake one rather than a perishable one. Thank heavens he’s quite reasonable and saw the sense in that.

Sponges for Battenberg
Appropriately, the Battenberg is a sponge cake so. I got two shop sponges and cut them into the pieces for the checkerboard. I dyed two of them pink, using food coloring, and left two the color of the sponge.

assembling the battenbergReal Battenberg is held together with apricot jam. I used a mix of vinyl wallpaper paste and acrylic paint to get that gelatinous orange quality.

Clamping the battenberg
As the sponges absorbed moisture from the paste, they swelled. To keep them from separating, I used a good old fashioned c-clamp. Later, when I needed to apply equal pressure over the whole thing, I wrapped the cake in masking tape, which I left in place for the next phase.

The iced cake Icing the cake. Mm… looks yummy, right? If that were real, it’d be covered in marzipan. As it is, it’s a lovely confection of gloss gel medium, modeling paste and a touch of raw sienna for that almond tint. The final product took forever to dry, even with a fan on it.

See, the exterior of the icing dried quickly, but it sealed the surface, so the rest of the moisture wicked inside the sponge and could only evaporate out the ends. When it finally set, I used an electric carving knife to cut slices.

Apparently I made a monster Battenberg. The real ones are about half the size of mine. At least, the commercially available ones are. One of the actresses reassured me that homemade or bakery ones are big like mine. Whew. It’s hard to tell from online photos how large they are, you know? I was estimating based on the recipes and how thick American cakes are. I should have known better, since we tend to supersize things.

Eco-friendly French to ship their wine under sail

This very interesting, but too short article talks about the use of sailing ships to reduce carbon emissions.

An excerpt:

French vineyard owners are returning to a slower pace of life by starting to export their wine by sailing boat – a method last used in the 1800s – to reduce their carbon footprint.

Later this month 60,000 bottles from Languedoc will be shipped to Ireland in a 19th-century barque, saving 18,375lb of carbon. Further voyages to Bristol, Manchester and even Canada are planned soon afterwards.

The three-mast barque Belem, which was launched in 1896, the last French merchant sailing vessel to be built, will sail into Dublin following a voyage from Bordeaux that should last about four days. The wines will be delivered to Bordeaux by barge using the Canal du Midi and Canal du Garonne, which run across southern France from Sète in the east, via Béziers in Languedoc. Each bottle will be labelled: ‘Carried by sailing ship, a better deal for the planet.’ Although the whole process will end up taking up to a week longer than a flight, it is estimated it will save 4.9oz of carbon per bottle.

Does anyone else feel a story possibility sitting here?

Dinner with David Autrey

Our friend David Autrey, of Westrey Wine, was in town selling his wares for the past week. I had not realized exactly how much I missed the wine geek conversations that were so much a part of our life in Portland. David is what we call a serious techno-wine geek. He can not only tell you the flavor profile of what you are tasting, but also the chemicals that cause it as well as the conditions during the life of the grape that contribute to the various compounds. Besides all that, he majored in philosophy at Reed, so the conversation is always, always stimulating.

He stayed with us for two nights and took us out to dinner tonight at Jean-Georges. I think we all agreed that the food was well-crafted, but not inspiring. By that I mean that everything was exquisitely cooked, but that the recipes were uneven. We had a tuna tartare that was probably divine, if it weren’t over-sauced with Thai Ginger. Even so, it was a delightful meal. We had two wines that were exquisite — I’ll get the names from Rob tomorrow.

Scientists Explain Chocolate Craving

Wired News has an article that totally justifies my chocolate intake.

If that craving for chocolate sometimes feels like it is coming from deep in your gut, that’s because maybe it is.

A small study links the type of bacteria living in people’s digestive system to a desire for chocolate. Everyone has a vast community of microbes in their guts. But people who crave daily chocolate show signs of having different colonies of bacteria than people who are immune to chocolate’s allure.

Skyr at Whole Foods

Mmm…. our favorite Icelandic treat is at Whole Foods.


Now if I can just convince them to carry the pear flavor.

Testing the cats

Last evening Jenny and her fiance, Chris, came for dinner. Well, really, they came to drop off Zoe, their cat, as a trial run for when we take her during their honeymoon. Dinner was just taking advantage of them being here.

I was, to be honest, anticipating some fireworks. When I got Marlowe as a kitten, Maggie hated him so much that if I petted Marlowe and then tried to touch her without washing my hands, she would hiss at me. I’m not making that up. She tolerates him now, more so after the cross-country drive than before.

And Marlowe has never seen another cat, except ones outside the window. His only other experience with other animals have been with dogs that we’ve dogsat. (Boy, that word looks wrong.) Oh, and the mice. Anyway, I had no idea how he would react.

Zoe came right out of her carrier and went up to Marlowe to sniff his nose. He was totally freaked. He had no idea what to do. He only knows this one other cat who beat him up as a kitten–in fact, it’s only in the last year or two that he’s realized that he’s bigger than she is and that she’s old. So, despite the fact that he looks like a giant hulk next to Zoe (also a black cat) he was afraid of her.

Maggie stretched, walked up to Zoe. They sniffed. Then Maggie went to take a nap on the futon. She was so not interested. I think she was just pleased that I hadn’t brought home another dog.

We spent most of dinner watching the cats watch each other. The best moment came after dinner. I wanted to show Jenny and Chris the thing that Marlowe does with the basket. I didn’t think he’d do it, because there was so much strangeness. Man, he saw the basket and beelined across the room to sink his face into it. He immediately sank into his “I’m invisible” posture and seemed so much more at ease.

Zoe. Zoe clearly thought he was insane.

She crept out from under the bookcase where she had been hiding and stretched out to sniff the basket. Marlowe made one “meep” and she levitated backwards, kindof like, “My god! There really is a cat in that thing!”

After that everyone settled into a good routine of ignoring each other. I saw her this morning when I put her food down, but she’s hiding now. I think she’s in my closet, but I’m not going to fish her out. Jenny and Chris come back to pick her up tonight.

Dinner guests!

Set for dinnerI had promised the folks who helped us move in that I would cook them dinner. Last night we had the first of our guests, Jodi and Sam. This is the first time I’ve entertained in the apartment so I wasn’t sure how it would go. I was also a little frazzled from the cart adventure. On top of this, we were getting ready for Rob’s trip out of town, so he had packing to do.

After some thought, I decided to go all out and serve the meal in courses, so I could really test our set-up. The kitchen cart, by the way, is worth all thirty blocks in the rain. It makes the space so much more workable. Up to this point, I’d been frustrated because the prep area is at the other end of the kitchen from the stove with the refrigerator between, so I couldn’t keep an eye on anything cooking. This is much better.

We started with negronis, which I think Rob wanted to make, in part, because he will be around copious amounts of wine at IPNC this weekend. I had some good olives and two local cheeses, blue and cave-aged cheddar. Sam has a list of food allergies which is fairly impressive and totally fuels my desire to have a challenge when cooking. No gluten, tomato, potato, peppers or eggplant. It’s normally fine but I could not find any gluten free bread. It was very aggravating. I found a source today, of course.

The rest of the menu:

Cucumber, watercress, fennel and tarragon “Smashed” salad
Brown rice pasta with black olive sauce, green beans and Garlic spears
Lotus fig with goat yogurt, honey and cracked pepper.

The only real failure was the garlic spears. I love these sauteed in olive oil; they remind me of garlic flavored asparagus. Wonderful. However, these were spectacularly woody. I mean. Really. Spectacular. We could not cut them with a knife. Chewing was possible, but only with heroic efforts. The flavor was still good, but only at a great cost.

The living roomWe still have work do on the apartment. Jodi and Sam were very gracious about the fact that our futon is still on the floor. (The frame comes next week) For all that, the evening felt very comfortable. It also soothes me considerably to be able to entertain. It’s part of my nesting impulse. I enjoy cooking. I like having people over.

I spent so long on tour, that I think I don’t really believe a place is mine unless I can invite people over. For the past several months, while things were in boxes, I stopped feeling like the house in Portland was mine. It became a tour location. Know what I mean? So I now finally feel like I live here.

Of course, in a complete paradox, I now also feel homesick because Rob got on plane to go back to Portland for ten days. le sigh.

Here’s the last of the dining room photos, just because.

The dining room corner

And the day started so nicely.

What a day. I’ll all in.

We started by having brunch with fab girl, her friend Leslie, Jodi and Jed at Cafe Deville. It’s a nice big open space with good food, but the service was questionable. We kept having to send water glasses away because they had floaters in them. Ugh.

After that, Rob and I spent a couple of hours tromping around to various paper and art supply stores looking for the paperwood I want for my laptop’s space bar. No luck. I finally picked up a piece of thin birch ply for model airplanes. I’ve found paperwood online, but there keep being minimum orders and, you know, I want to test it first. It’s very frustrating. If you know a store that carries it, do let me know.

Giving up on that, we headed to Home Depot to pick up paint for the living room and dining room. While I’m all for shopping locally, I just can’t plunk down $45 on a gallon of paint. Can’t. And that’s what the paint costs in my neighborhood.

In between painting, I wrestled with a couple of different computer programs trying to crank out an ad for Shimmer, because my software is still in the boxes coming from Iceland. All the trial versions of other software have expired, leaving me with nothing very useful. Again. Frustrating. So I went back and forth between that and the walls, which are also frustrating because they are just a wee bit uneven. It’s impossible to get a clean edge, even with tape, at any point. I do it better freehanding, really.

I’m heading off to shower and bed now. I’ve got a job interview for a temp position as a receptionist tomorrow. While I’m here to do puppetry, it usually takes a year or two to establish oneself in a new community. Gotta keep food on the table and paint on the walls while that’s happening, eh?

Iceland in New York

Last night, Kahlua invited us out to dinner with her and her daughters. We hadn’t seen them since Iceland, so were delighted to go. She suggested Gavroche, a French Bistro. We had forgotten that it was Bastille Day, so it was crowded, even more so than usual for a NYC restaurant. But they have a charming garden in the back, and it was Nicole’s (her oldest daughter) birthday. (The youngest one is the one I worked with in Iceland.) We were also joined by the girls’ father, Miss Emily DeCola, and Nicole’s boyfriend, Davi. I have no idea how Kahlua swung getting a table in the garden for such a large party.

Much to our surprise, Stefan was in town from LA for the night. We had no idea he was coming. I guess he got in around 7:00 pm, has a gig today, and is flying back home tonight. Crazy life of actors. It was so good to see him. We trotted out the Icelandic for about three sentences and then spent the rest of the evening in English. Which is good because I have so not been practicing.

But I think we all really enjoyed reminiscing about Iceland itself and didn’t talk about the show at all. Certainly, Stefan had wonderful, wonderful stories to tell about growing up as the son of a whaler. Fascinating stuff. I miss being there.

The meal itself was good, but not exceptional. Solid, well-conceived food. sigh… I sound like such a food snob. It was a lovely evening. Hopefully the first of many.

(By the way, for those newcomers to my site, I worked on this show, but try to avoid using the name to make it harder for fans to search for it. The producers of the show let me blog while I was working there with the understanding that I would keep my posts generic and specific to the work that I was doing. There’s also the fact that one of my co-workers, the youngest daughter referred to earlier, is a minor and some of her fans can be a little creepy.)

Finding spots and things

People keep asking me how I like living in NYC. It’s only just feeling like maybe we do live here. I mean, we spent a week driving. A week after we got here, I went off to Readercon for three days feeling very much like I’d driven straight from Portland to Burlington with a brief stopover in NYC.

But, there are some things in the apartment that have come together in ways that really please me. For instance, we had all of these wooden wine crates that we brought the china out in. What to do with them? Or how about the baskets that only really get used when I have company? Behold! They are in the kitchen.

Shelving in process

Yesterday, Rob and I headed out to the Union Square Farmers’ market to pick up produce and bread. Trader Joe’s has opened up a branch just a couple of blocks from the farmers’ market so we picked up some staples. Interestingly, they don’t have the same stock as the one in Portland, so we had to skip some favorites.

In the evening, I went to the closest organic store here and discovered that yes, they do have spices in bulk. Hurrah! I’d also taken my granola jar so I could stock up. I explained what I wanted to do.

“You have to weigh it first,” he said.

Pointing to the weight written on the jar, I said, “I already have the tare, but can double-check.” Why not, I figured, after all I could be trying to pull one over on him. So I put it on the scale, which read 2.00, just like I had written on the jar. So I get a couple of scoops of the granola I want to try, look at the other items and then come back to check out.

He plunked the jar on the scale and it read 2.67. “That’ll be $10.63.”

“Um…” I looked at the half-empty jar. “Really? I think you’ve got the weight of the jar in there too.”

“Huh. How much did the jar weigh?” He scowled at me. “Did you weigh this?”

I was one of two customers in the store. The other was a tall, cadaverous man with a beard who arrived after I weighed it. I smiled and nodded anyway. “Yes. It was two point oh.” Again, I point to the weight written helpfully on the jar.

“Grab a bag and put the granola in that. So I can weigh it.”


“A bag. Get a bag. From there. Put the granola in it so I can get the right weight. I don’t know how much the jar weighs.”

“But I don’t want a bag. If I’d wanted a plastic bag, I wouldn’t have lugged a two-pound jar with me to the store. We know the jar weighs two pounds, so that means I have .67 pounds of granola.”

The cadaverous man chimed in. “You can put the tare in the scale to get the right price. I used to do this all the time at a food co-op out west.”

I smiled gratefully at him. “Thanks. That’s what we did back in Portland. I’ve just moved.”

He nodded as if he knew exactly what I was going through. The guy behind the counter punched some buttons and finally said, “$2.67 cents.”

We all agreed that sounded right, so I gave the counter guy the money and said, “So what do I need to do next time I come in? Because I’m going to bring my own containers again.”

As if he was my new best friend he said, “I’ll figure it out. Don’t you worry. Next time, I’ll know how to use the scale.”

Oh good.

Honestly though, if I’d found another place with spices in bulk or if this weren’t the closest organic store…

Chemistry question

I have been trying to search on this and am not coming up with useful stuff, so I’m hoping the vast hive mind of the internet can help out.

In my story, “The Bride Replete,” I have an alien race which uses some of the members as repletes to store large quantities of food in their crops (a sort of sac for, well, food-storage). I had thought of using sodium bicarbonate and water to create a constant pressure in a replete’s crop during the process of stretching them. Would this work? They do have a sphincter they can close and open voluntarily. Is there something better?

Many thanks!

Edited to add: This is a totally alien planet with no human interactions, so brand name things are right out. The technology is roughly equivalent to mid-1800s England, though there’s room to play, since it’s another planet.

Edited further to add: This is an artificial process to speed up the way it would work naturally. It’s someone using science to do what would naturally happen by just eating more food everyday. This is a way to prep a new replete for when the harvest season begins.

Book Report – “Good Food from a Japanese Temple”

Oliver No. 3My brother and Jodi, after carrying boxes of our books up to the apartment declared that they wanted book reports about each of these books in order to prove that we actually needed them all. Further, they wanted the reports written on the seven manual typewriters that they hauled upstairs. My plan is to do them in the order in which I open the books. That’s why number one is a cookbook.

While I seriously doubt that we will complete all of the reports before we all get bored with the idea, here is report number 1 written on the Oliver Visible Writer No. 3. It does not have a standard keyboard, so my degree of typos is a bit high.

Good Food from a Japanese Temple

Welcome to NYC

John got up to see us off this morning at the ungodly hour of 5:30. He sent us with some of the corn from last night–I’d realized at dinner last night that it might well be two years since I had fresh corn on the cob. The stuff in Iceland, in addition to being shipped in from Lord knows where, was not a familiar food for the Icelandic cooks and turned up in strange places. Gummi Chef tended to make this casserole which had wedges of corn on the cob in it. It was very strange.

Speaking of strange and corncobs, we discovered today that Marlowe likes corncobs–not corn, mind you, but corncobs. When I’d finished my lunch, I held the corncob out to Marlowe. He’s often strange and has a tendency to like vegetables. He spent the next, oh, fifteen minutes licking the corncob. It was cute and a little disturbing.

Anyway, we were on the road by six o’clock and made reasonably good time. I must say, West Virginia’s interstate was the smoothest we’ve been on; it’s too bad that we were only in the state for twenty-five miles. When we hit Pennsylvania, traffic stopped. We’re on the turnpike now, but I’m unclear on what the toll fees are being spent on.

We passed a number of towns or landmarks with names that just wouldn’t fly in a book. Paxtonia? Linglestown? Mad River? Triadelphia? Boro of Alpha? Please… Oh, and two Bethlehems. What’s up with that?

I spent quite a while on the phone today, changing our arrival plans around. Instead of going into Katonah tonight, we went to Brooklyn to drop Jodi’s stuff off. We arrived around 8:30. My brother, Steve, just arrived after the ball game he attended. Indian food is on the way. Whew.

Tomorrow is load-in day. Wish us luck.

From Racine to Bradford

First of all, I have to say that Brad and his wife, Joanne, are fantastic hosts. Brad made an amazing meal, including a handmade spinach, prosciutto raviolli, a wonderful mixed vegetable dish with a vinegrette marinade and quite possibly the most elegant sandwich I have experienced–to say that it was a ham and cheese does not do it justice.

For those of you who are thinking, “Wait–isn’t Mary a vegetarian?” the answer is yes and no. I tend to be, but I am much more interested in good and interesting food than I am in being a stickler for no meat. So, knowing that Brad was a foodie, I was only too happy to eat whatever he wanted to make. Dinner was very, very good. My advice is to figure out a way to get him to cook for you.

Also, and I don’t usually say such things, his wife Joanne is distractingly beautiful. Also sweet and funny. The entire visit was quite wonderful.

We left about 8:00 this morning. In Indiana, we crossed over “Nameless Creek.” (I would have taken a photo, but the batteries are dead. Tomorrow, I’ll try to resume the photography of our trip.) We made good time to Ohio, except for Detroit and Chicago which had major road construction. I don’t mind being in the truck for days, but I am getting really tired of being jostled. There’s something about the way the truck, our belongings and the road interact that periodically causes us to get shaken back and forth so that our heads bounce against the seat backs. This is the first road trip where I haven’t wanted to read, even though I brought plenty of books.

To put this in perspective, we used to drive between Raleigh and Chattanooga a couple of times a year when I was growing up. I would read for the whole trip, even in the Nandahala Gorge. I’ve never had motion sickness issues. But in this vehicle, the thought of picking up a book is really not appealing.

However, I have gotten a fair bit of writing done.

We arrived safely at the Scalzi compound and were treated to another wonderful meal. You know how Scalzi is always going on about how fabulous his wife Krissy is? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. He’s not exaggerating in any respect. Corn on the cob, grilled portabello mushrooms, pasta salad… mmm. After dinner we watched fireflies on the lawn.