Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chocolate Stout Cake with Espresso Syrup

Sorry about the lack of posts over the past two months. Here is a delicious cake to show my repentance.

Chocolate stout cake

Chocolate Stout Cake with Espresso Syrup


1 stick salted butter
12 fl oz (1 bottle) dark stout beer (I use Guinness*)
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract

1.      Preheat your oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. A 9x13 rectangular pan works too.
2.      In a saucepan, melt the butter into the beer. Bring the beer to a boil, and immediately remove from the heat. Let cool.
3.      In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours and cocoa powder. Add the sugar, salt, and baking powder, and blend into the dry ingredients.
4.      Add the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract into the cooled butter-beer mixture. Whisk until blended.
5.      Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture; stir to combine until consistent.
6.      Pour the batter into the greased pan, and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick/chopstick comes out with only a few crumbs. Remove and cool.
7.      Glaze with the syrup while the syrup is hot: pour it over the cake and spread the syrup around with a knife. Let cool so that the syrup hardens over the cake and forms a crusty, sugary exterior. Dive in!


2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ cup espresso or strong coffee (you could use instant espresso powder too)
1 shot rum (optional)

1.      Put the sugar and water over high heat in a saucepan. It will start to bubble and thicken. Be careful of smoke. Stir continuously.
2.      When the syrup begins to turn brown, add the coffee (and rum) and stir in quickly. Warning: there will be a puff of smoke.
3.      Keep stirring until the syrup is thick and a dark spot appears in the middle. Remove from heat and immediately pour over cake. If you can’t do this, you need to reheat the syrup when you pour it over the cake; the syrup hardens quite quickly.

*If you keep kosher, only normal Guinness is kosher, flavored Guinness is very much not so. Then again, “flavored” Guinness is a cancer upon the earth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Easy Easy Honey Chili Sweet Potatoes

A lazy recipe post.

Three large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into medallions
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp chili sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2-1 cup olive oil

1. Preheat your oven to 400F.

2. Grease a 9x9 baking pan. Put the sweet potatoes in.

3. Mix the other ingredients in a cup, then pour over sweet potatoes to cover.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes, flipping sweet potatoes now and again in pan. Remove from oven when done (soft inside, slightly less soft exterior - the best way to test this is to taste-test).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Du må studere et fremmedspråk. 别说“没有时间。”

Everyone needs to learn a second language. 

I don't care if all you want to do is stay in the United States and study English-language stuff.

Learning a modern language is an incredible intellectual exercise - and really important for understanding one's own culture as well. One becomes much more appreciative of one's own taken-for-granted cultural and linguistic background after having to switch one's mind to another language, another mode of speech, another culture, and another worldview.

There's also the fact that it makes you more employable, staves off Alzheimer's, is fun, makes research easier...the list goes on and on.


- The nonsense of not learning a foreign language because one is "too old" is outdated and a crummy excuse at best. Language learning moves in waves, not quite age. The age thing relates to certain modes of internalization ... and kids sometimes have trouble learning other tongues too.

Anecdote: I've watched a 40-year-old monoglot gain strong proficiency in French in a year.

- "Everyone speaks English" is true in the sense that "every Jew keeps kosher" or "every blonde is Nordic" - a sweeping generalization that is totally false. Furthermore, I've done enough re-translations at various jobs to know that so-called "proficiency in English" can be a highly subjective measure.

-"I don't have time" is disproven if I see a single Farmville status on your Facebook.

(If you are concerned for time, pick a language generally considered to be more straightforward for English native speakers. I recommend a Scandinavian language, French, or Malay in that case. ASL is not as easy as it might seem.)

- "I'm not good at languages" is usually a reflection of the learning method rather than you. You are not that hopeless. Have some confidence!


Other notes:

1. "Useful" languages are not always necessarily the best thing to learn. You have to have genuine interest in the country and the language to really be able to learn a "useful language" to useful ability. 

I am fairly fluent in Mandarin, which is the current useful language in vogue, and as a result, I've been in a lot of Mandarin classes (we're talking north of 1,500 hours of formalized study alone). I have watched hundreds of students start and drop Mandarin because of either perceived difficulty, lack of time, or most notably, lack of motivation. If you're not genuinely interested, don't take Mandarin.

For reference, a rough estimate indicates that 85% of students who start Mandarin at the University of Chicago do not reach a level of what I'd call "useful proficiency." (I define useful proficiency as B2 or above on the Common European Framework.)

Secondly, most languages are useful if you make them useful. Sure, most Swedes speak fairly proficient English. But if you choose to do a lot of work on/with/in Sweden, Swedish can be quite useful. (Also, if you are a murder-mystery nerd like myself, Swedish is rather "good to know.")

On the other hand, so-called useful languages all have wonderfully diverse cultural, economic, and social backgrounds to engage with. It is very difficult to find absolutely nothing of interest in the Spanish-speaking world. 

2. Even if you are completely and only into the Anglosphere, or even just the United States, there are languages that can suit your interests. English is not only a living, spoken museum of fifteen centuries of linguistic influences, but also offers links to other languages and cultures around the world. Furthermore, the cultures of the Anglosphere often operate in more than English alone - reference Wales and Welsh, much of English noble culture and French, and American borderlands with Spanish. Hell, there are some really cool opportunities in this regard - for example, if you're very interested in New Zealand, a country which has a far lower language proficiency rate than the US, Maori is definitely something to consider learning.

And of course, there's American Sign Language - a fascinating and complex language spoken right here in the good ol' U. S. of A.

3. Do not be ashamed of simply learning an ethnic language. If that makes you happy, go for it. I've seen a lot of Jews receive harsh scoldings for learning Hebrew or Yiddish, or Polish-Americans for taking Polish. Why? It's not Spanish, Chinese, or Arabic. Well...as far as I see it, if someone is more engaged with their home culture and wishes to take the ancestral tongue, it makes more sense then for said student to study said language, since the level of proficiency - and resultant intellectual exercise - is likely to be far higher.

4. Latin, Ancient Greek, and Akkadian are all nice, but you really should learn a modern language too. Much of the intellectual exercise of learning a foreign tongue - the move  into another cultural framework, the psychological stress of reformatting your personal expression - is lost in ancient tongues. By all means, take that Coptic class - but you should really consider learning something modern too.

5. Be forewarned that what some consider to be an easy language may be hard for you, and vice versa. For example, Spanish is widely considered to be easy, but I find that language ridiculously difficult at times. On the other hand, I have had not too much trouble with Norwegian - a language with a ridiculously irregular orthography and somewhat irksome pronunciation. 

More extreme, my roommate is driven absolutely crazy by French or Spanish grammar, but can hold forth quite well about the supposed ease of Japanese.

6. If you want to learn an obscure language, go you! Just be prepared to have to search for resources quite intensively. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ten Achievements This Summer: What I Did In DC

Ten of the many things I achieved this summer!

1. Get published. Sort of. My job largely consisted of research for a publication to be released at a conference in October! I am cited as one of the researchers and helped in the editing process and with graphs. 15,000 people now will view my work...nerve-wracking!

2. Create 10-15 recipes. Some are on this blog!

3. Basic reading German. Projekt Deutsch went slower than planned. German is HARD. But I can now slowly read newspaper articles!

4. Discovered the depth of my migration passion. I read a lot of papers and books about migrations in my spare time, and got a lot of immigration info into the publication at work.

5. Learn Hosea. Technically I finish tonight or tomorrow, but Hosea is an amazing - and dense - book.

6. Visit one new state, and go fishing for the first time. West Virginia! Y'all should go to Harper's Ferry.

7. Read a novel in Norwegian. The book, called King Solomon's Sword, or Kong Salomos Sverd - ostensibly about Israel - was way too dramatic and flashy for my taste, with one too many quixotic chases and a sketchy plot. It also took me three and a half weeks to read. But I finished it!

8. Renew the understanding of my religious faith. See the kippah post.

9. Eat phenomenal Ethiopian, Salvadoran, and Malaysian food. El Rinconcito in Logan Circle serves scrumptious pupusas. Meskerem in Adams-Morgan serves great alecha and wat. Malaysia Kopitiam in Dupont Circle has a world-rumbling laksa.

10. Meet a crew of memorable characters. Y'all are awesome.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shorter Name, Please: Black Bean Peanut Chili Soup with Rice Flour Dumplings and Tomato

Making dinner on my own is actually really nice.

Firstly, I can eat whatever I want. So I make lots of spicy food.

Secondly, cooking is a great way for me to destress from work, or cool down from a workout.

Thirdly, I can experiment. The result: this soup.

I had a lot of peanut butter and a can of black beans, as well as a random tomato. I also had a craving for dumplings of some form - matzoh balls or rice flour dumplings based on what my Caribbean friends call "Saturday dumplings."

The result was this soup. It was very tasty and filling - and very hearty! I will make variations of it this winter.

But can you think of a shorter name, please?

The finished product! My dumplings are rather large; I like to chop them up in the soup.
Black Bean Peanut Chili Soup with Rice Flour Dumplings and Tomato

1 medium onion or ½ large onion, diced

1 clove garlic, diced

2 cups black beans (canned and drained – about 1 can – or soaked from dried)

1 large or 2 medium tomato(es), diced

3-4 cups water

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp hot chili sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

Cilantro to taste

Canola oil


1 cup rice flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Powdered ginger to taste

Pepper to taste

2 eggs

2 tsp water

(Optional: dried seasonings to taste)

1. Start with prepping the dumpling dough. Mix the dry ingredients together until combined.

2. Add the eggs and water to the flour mixture, and combine until you have a sticky dough. Set aside and let stand.

3. In a pot or large saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic until soft in oil.

4. Add the beans and tomatoes and sauté quickly for one minute.

5. Pour in the water and stir. Add the peanut butter, chili sauce, soy sauce, and cilantro and stir in. Bring to a boil.

6. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring regularly. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

7. In the meantime, shape your dumplings into little ball shapes with your hands. I imagine you can make 20 small ones, or 10 large ones. I prefer large dumplings to provide a cooler bite in comparison to the peppery soup. Also, you can chop them up with your spoon in the soup (like matzoh balls).

8. Drop the dumplings into the simmering soup and cook until the dumplings are all floating on the surface.

9. Boil for another minute. Remove from heat and serve. Serves about 2-4 people.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

And I'm back: Uncovered head edition: On the Request of Alexis and Robbie

I also have a recipe one coming up soon.

In the final analysis, it is between you and G-d; it was never between you and them anyway.”
-Mother Teresa

Sorry about the lack of posts recently.

Anyway, some of you know that I stopped wearing the kippah after four months.

Don't worry, I'm still religious. A few of you wanted me to write up an explanation, so I did.

These things don't apply for everyone - many people find a lot of happiness and meaning in wearing such visible religious symbols - not just the kippah, but also the turban, the hijab, the enormous cross, and so on. This is just my experience.

Kippah wearing is not required by Jewish law (although my approach to halachah is decidedly unorthodox), but is seen as a sign of yirat shamayim - fear of the heavens, a sign of modesty, and now, a sign of pride.

 I think, like a lot of things, that my cessation might be hard for people to understand. Just as it is hard for people to understand that people need/want different religious practices at different times – I had wanted to wear the kippah from November onwards (and even while dating a non-Jew contemplated doing it), and decided quite suddenly in April to do it.

So why did I stop?

1. I felt like it distanced me from G-d. I spent so much time worrying about the kippah - and when to not wear it (unsafe, horrifically rainy weather, non-hechshered restaurants). I worried "am I tzniut enough?" "What do people think?" As a result, my own religious beliefs - and spiritual well-being - suffered, and I felt so beholden to other people that I felt as if my link to G-d - and respect for Him - was in decline because I was so beholden to other people's thoughts.

After I stopped, I found a really good blog post by a rabbi who detailed the same problem he had, but he's in a situation where he can't take it off

2. I felt targeted. I already had a rule of unsafe areas, hypothetical abroad, and non-kosher restaurants (I eat dairy and fish out) as being kippah-free zones. But I still felt targeted. Work was a safe space, but the streets weren't always. I got a fair number of comments over the four months from passerby. It got to the point where I felt as if everyone was watching, and I began to worry about things happening.

My worst experiences were actually with fellow Jews. I've gotten sexually harassed twice, harassed by extremists twice (once for buying a hechshered thing at a Starbucks) harassed for other reasons thrice, and a lot of "hey ehrlich friend"-type comments.

One of the awkward things is that the kippah in the US has become a symbol of Modern Orthodoxy - and I'm not Orthodox. So with Jews, some of it was confusion as well.

3. There’s also the fact that it makes me draw even more attention to myself when I have to explain religious things. That was not challenging and did not factor into the decision, but I think it will be a relief to not have to do that.

Things that did not factor in: family and friends' disapproval; dislike of kippot (I love them!); other kippah-symbolism problems (re: brands of Zionism); difficulty of maintenance on a day-to-day basis.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Inspired by Baked and Wired: the Skinny Elvis (Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Banana Rice-Flour Flatbread)

One of the deadlier matters for my budget this summer has been my workplace's proximity to a fabulous bakery and coffee-shop: Baked and Wired.

This little establishment is a fantastic purveyor of all things sweet or caffeinated, and let me tell you, nothing starts my day quite like an expert brew or a perfectly crafted soy latte in one hand, with a piece of shockingly divine zucchini bread or eyes-closed, knees-bent delicious biscuits. At work, events are sweetened with goods from this shop, be it cookies or cupcakes or some divine almond concoction that may or may not cause transubstantiation of the consumer from human to a happiness beam.

Thus, Baked and Wired has become my muse for my own baking. Which is important, because I've been baking pretty frequently for the office.

At one event - another intern's birthday and last day - I tried the Elvis cupcake, a banana pastry topped with peanut butter-chocolate frosting. (In memory of the King's favorite sandwich, which was a fried peanut butter and banana delight). I became dead-set on trying to capture that flavor from the first bite.

In other news, I also wanted to make a gluten-free item - a few colleagues can't have it, and I prefer quick-breads to cupcakes anyway. So I made this: a Peanut Butter - Chocolate Chip - Banana Gluten-Free Flatbread.

The office liked them a lot - and in the email I sent out to announce the presence of such goodies, I asked for suggestions for the name. I was tempted to call these "Marilyn Monroes," but one lady suggested "Skinny Elvis" and the name stuck. I thus leave you with the rather easy recipe for ... the Skinny Elvis! Warning: it's not that skinny. I believe in butter.

But what would be in a Marilyn Monroe?

Skinny Elvis

I eyeball everything, so measures are approximate.

1 ripe banana, smashed
2 eggs
1/4-1/3 cup peanut butter
5.5 oz chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 cups rice flour
7 tbsp melted butter + extra for greasing
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup soy milk or regular milk (I use soy milk for thickness)

1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a baking pan - use a bigger pan for a thinner product.

2. In a large bowl, mix the eggs and banana until thoroughly combined. Add the peanut butter, vanilla, sugar, and butter, and mix thoroughly.

3. Add the flour and (soy) milk, and mix until you have a thick, sticky batter. A thin batter requires more flour, a thick batter, a little bit of milk or another egg.

4. Spread evenly over the bottom of the pan, and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out only with a little crumb. Cool, cut, and serve.