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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Freezer Fun: Five Things I Like to Stick in My Freezer

A silly but fun food-related post that I'll throw up for the hell of it. I'm hiking in West Virginia tomorrow, which will be awesome!

1. Bananas. A frozen banana is cheap, tastes great (like ice cream), and is healthier than a creamy dessert. Also, less guilt when you eat it at 8 in the morning because you're in a rush to work  at non-traditional dessert hours.

2. Tofu. Freezing and re-thawing tofu actually makes it fabulously spongy. This sort of tofu is really great for marinating, and then cooking in stews or stir-fries. The technique is also used in Taiwan and Southern China to make "mock meats" and other delicious things. Use drained but not dried extra-firm tofu. Freeze for 24 hours, thaw afterwards. The color change to yellow is natural, don't worry about it.

3. Fig cake. Is delicious frozen.

4. Dark chocolate (not unusual). Ditto.

5. Mango. Frozen mango, ground up, is surprisingly good...with alcoholic assistance. Recommended with vodka and a sparkly mixer.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Agency and the backdrop: "You didn't build that" and Psalm 136

הודו ליי כי טוב, כי לעולם חסדו
הודו לאלוהי האלוהים, כי לעולם חסדו
תהילים קלו:א-ב

"Give thanks to G-d, for He is good, his mercy extends forever,
give thanks to the G-d of gods, for his mercy extends forever..."
Psalm 136:1-2

Psalm 136 is hands down one of the best parts of Psalms, nay, the entire Bible. Besides being (in the Hebrew) one of the most beautiful and resounding, it is maybe one of the most straightforwardly logical - yet brings one to appreciating G-d's wonderful complexity. There's good reason that it has an honored place in the Jewish tradition (we call it the Great Praise), and is a longtime favorite of many Christian denominations.

In another sense, it is very applicable to today, and specific events.

Psalm 136 outlines all the little things that G-d did in the course of the creation of the world and the Exodus - a long and complicated list. One does not need to be a literalist - I myself most certainly am not a literalist - to understand and appreciate some of the key messages of the Psalm: all of these things allow us our freedom, our normal life, and allowed the characters of the Scripture to proceed in the way they did. Little things that we take for granted.

In a sense, the Psalm is a reminder of our relative lack of agency - not just in comparison to G-d - wherein an obvious difference resides for believers - but also in our agency regarding forces surrounding us. We can't make the sun shine, or the Egyptian army not chase us, just by our own little selves. Sometimes, we leave it to forces beyond our play - the habits of gaseous substances at hot temperatures on a star 93 million miles away, a tactical decision, a temperamental sea.

And it makes us think of our own agency in regards to others.

Obama's comment to entrepreneurs - "you didn't build that" - was problematic, but touched on a key point: our agency cannot be isolated from its context. You can't build a successful plank factory without roads for the planks to travel on or a stable currency to pay your woodcutters in. Your agency in building that factory is admirable - but limited. That backdrop of many little things had to be there to allow your agency to have its full effect. Obama, perhaps, was too quick to criticize those who had done a great deal of building - but he is right in that all of that requires so much behind it.

Psalm 136 is perhaps a divine reminder of this very mundane concern: it's not just you, and it's not just like that most of the time. So many little things needed to occur for you to be at this point, and for many of the things you take for granted - be it running water or a 3am frozen yogurt - to actually get there. And as for one's own agency - it reminds one that other forces have so much power. For theists, that power is G-d. For non-theists, that power could possibly be found elsewhere.

If you believe in G-d as a force of balance, as I do, you'd also need His hands to be moving forces in such a way that your methods work. If you take a more traditional deterministic approach, then you obviously need His help to build. And thus, for the theist, I must wonder: if one is to take Obama's comments so badly, then does one deny the agency of G-d, be it a divorced agency, or a distant agency, or as many in the critiquing circles claim, a real and urgent agency? I'm led to wonder.

A lot of this post is very much coming from a religious perspective, but I believe that you don't need to believe in G-d per se to find value in Scripture. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lemon-Rosemary Cake with Olive Oil (Pareve)

It was duly noted that this is the fifth food-related post in a row. Don't worry, next post will be religiously themed on Obama's "you didn't build that comment."

I made this cake for some care packages I sent out, and it was surprisingly good!

Lemon-Rosemary Cake with Olive Oil (Pareve)
based on my own recipe for lemon shortbread and my obsession with rosemary as a seasoning

As any good Jewish cook does, I eyeball everything. Measurements are approximate.

Serves 16-24

juice of 3 lemons
~1-1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
4-5oz. olive oil (about 1/2-2/3 cup), plus more for greasing
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp rosemary
~1 1/2-2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a pan that is decently deep with olive oil. I used two 9x9 pans.

2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the lemon juice and the sugar until combined.

3. Add and combine the eggs, and then the oil and vanilla.

4. Blend the rosemary in until fully combined. You should notice the mixture change color a little bit.

5. Add in the flour and baking powder and mix thoroughly to form a medium-thick batter. Take a taste - if the lemon is too domineering, add flour, sugar, and oil in a 2:1:1 ratio, and if you add a good amount, consider adding some egg white to that.

6. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs. Remove from oven, cool, cut and serve.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dark Strawberry Pudding

Summer is the season for strawberries.

Stacks of cartons of juicy, red fruit in the supermarket; farmer's markets with pounds upon pounds of strawberries of various sizes, and one of the tastiest seasonal treats there is - in my opinion - is freshly chopped strawberries on yogurt gently stained red by the fruit juices oozing out.

Thus I set out to make a treat for my colleagues - a tasty pudding or cake that would take advantage of the last strawberries of the season - before we hit the times of the shipped strawberry.

Before baking, I macerated the berries in a vinegar-sugar mixture to bring out the most flavor and aroma for the final result. It worked - the pudding caused the whole apartment to smell like strawberries! I also left the vinegar in the batter, so the pudding also turned quite dark - particularly on the outside - and caused the inside to turn a delightful purple.

Dark Strawberry Pudding

1 pound fresh strawberries
½-1 cup balsamic vinegar*
3 tbsp brown sugar

1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted + extra for greasing pan
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder

1.      Dice the strawberries thinly. You can do cubes or thin slices; I prefer cubes so that they become mushier during baking. Place into a bowl such that they have a bit of air.
2.      Mix in the balsamic vinegar and 3 tbsp sugar and shift around so that the strawberries are covered and all but the strawberries on top are submerged in the vinegar-sugar mixture. Leave to marinate for 2 hours - in the fridge is fine.
3.      Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a 9”x9” baking pan.
4.      In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter, egg, and sugar until consistent.
5.      Add the vanilla extract and milk, and stir in.
6.      Stir in the flour and baking powder until you have a consistent, thick batter.
7.      Add the berry mixture – strawberries, vinegar and sugar – and blend to combine. Be sure to keep the vinegar, it adds flavor and gives the pudding the dark color.
8.      Once the mixture is blended and the berries evenly distributed, pour the mix into the pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out only with a bit of strawberry on it. Remove from oven, cool, and serve.

*I am aware that balsamic vinegar can cause issues for more than one dietary restriction (halal always, almost always very strict kashrut, vegetarian vinegar can be hard to find) and thus may be impossible to use. Several substitutions are possible, particularly involving fruit-based vinegars.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reflections on Dubious Life Goal #3: Make a Thousand-Calorie Cake Slice

Given my penchant for ridiculous desserts (such as these fat-laden ambassadors of nom), and my penchant for theoretical feasts (reference the treif-fest), it was only going to be a short while before I combined my passion into another glorious thing: theoretical cakes.

See, I have a list of ~15 dubious life goals. Some of them are totally not blog appropriate. Some are not enough for a blog post yet (e.g. dress as Scarlett O'Hara for Halloween). I figure:

G-d's created some awesome and fascinating things on this earth. Some of them people don't like. Whatever.

Anyway, high on this list of goals is to create a cake that will actually cause you to have issues. Namely, a cake that is 1,000 calories per slice.

Now, it should be noted that the Cheesecake Factory already has some of this available for you. There is a reason I get the simple cheesecakes there.

But it's just so much fun to imagine all the ridiculous things that one could put in a thousand-calorie/slice cake.

So I've got a few ideas down. I won't make them anytime soon, but they were quite fun to dream up.

All cakes are normal, 9", 8-slice cakes except for number 4.

Not very scientific, but still.

1. Nutella-Peanut Butter-Chocolate cake, two layers, with cheesecake frosting and a topping of chopped bananas.

2. Soft Chocolate-Almond Cake with Honey-Almond Frosting Coated in Almonds.

3. Mediterranean Cake, flavored with Dates, Figs, Pomegranate and Almond, served in two layers with a yogurt and honey binding

4. 24 slices. Very tall. Very decadent.

Layer 1: Chocolate Beet Cake

Layer 2: Yellow Cake

Layer 3: Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

Layer 4: Yellow Cake

Layer 5: Chocolate Beet Cake

Binding: Cream cheese frosting.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Getting used to being around carnivores

I'm not used to seeing a ton of meat.

I usually try to limit my land meat intake to once a week - it's healthier, better for the environment, better for certain health issues, much easier for keeping kosher, and, I feel, more morally ethical (I'm inspired a bit here by the teachings of R' Kook). I actually haven't had anything fleishig (land meat) for about a month now. I'm toying with the idea of forgoing meat altogether.

I never grew up with that much meat - my sister's pescatarian and my parents never really understood the meat-every-day thing. Also, a significant number of my friends have some sort of restriction on meat - from keeping kosher or halal to vegetarianism to vegan to picky eating. I'm also friends with a lot of people in groups with traditionally high vegetarianism rates - liberals, Jews, queers, etc.

So most of the year, restaurant visits, catering, and cooking are organized around things like:

"Um, wow, we can't eat anything on this menu, everything has beef."
"Tofu cookoff!" (Can we do this?)
"We're out of lentils. We need to get more."
"This is a vegan remake of ________ "
"I think everyone has some sort of restriction, just cater the whole thing vegetarian."
"Did someone buy vegan/kosher marshmallows?" (Most marshmallows have pork gelatin.)
"They put ham in the mac and cheese again." (No, seriously, UChicago Dining does this all the time.)
"Er, can I get a vegetarian ___________, hold the ______?"
"Seitan! Seitan everywhere!"

In short, I'm not particularly accustomed to being around carnivores.

So D.C.'s most interesting culture shock has been the amount of meat.

Yes, I am aware that most Americans eat a ton of meat. Meat is subsidized and heavily promoted in this country, and high consumption cuts across social classes. Significant constructs of American masculinity, authenticity, and normativity revolve around meat consumption.

It's just that I'm still not quite used to the amounts of meat this physically involves.

My colleagues (who, by the way, are lovely) for example, eat meat-packed sandwiches, chicken-laden lunches, and flesh-crammed salads for lunch. Some every day. I've seen more meat at the lunch table some days than has entered my digestive system in two and a half months.

Or when I'm in the supermarket. Perhaps this is a product of living near university types during the year and having grown up in a heavily Jewish area, but I'm not used to seeing so much meat in shopping baskets. At the supermarket I'm going to, it's easier to buy a pricy cut of chicken than a decent broccoli. (Whole Foods at Foggy Bottom, take note.)

Or what people I know here eat. I've seen lots of packages of minced meat.

Or folks in restaurants. The meat parts of portions look bigger on plates, and I definitely see a lot more meat orders through windows or when I've gone out to eat. The three or four times I've gone out, however, have mostly been with people with dietary restrictions of their own that meant that we were the "vegetarian table" or such.

I guess this is me - a good New York Jewish kid of immigrants who lives in a university neighborhood in Chicago and spends a lot of time around Jews, liberals, queers, and fish-Friday or old-school Catholics - getting used to the American norm. Or maybe it's a white American thing. I don't know.

(And now, I will proceed to stuff my face with onions and bread before Tzom Tammuz)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Vegan (Thus Pareve) Potato Kugel

I'm in DC now! DC is awesome. I will write up an update once I've got time for the very long update that will be required.

I went to a vegan friend's apartment last Friday night for Shabbos dinner with two other friends of mine from various aspects of my life. I made a vegan potato kugel for the occasion. Ashley (the vegan) liked it a lot and wanted the recipe, so here it is!

I also made a non-vegan kugel earlier in the week for some other friends and for my family, the recipe I use is pretty much this one, which I wrote up last year, except I've started adding the rosemary, thyme, pepper, and marjoram.

Vegan Potato Kugel
based on my own recipe for unvegan potato kugel, which is based on my grandmother's recipe

4-5 potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, diced
2/3 cup olive oil + 2 tbsp for frying + 1 tbsp for greasing (canola oil also works)
2/3 cup water
~1 1/2 cups flour (a bit unsure on this measure)
1 1/2-2 tsp rosemary (you should have plenty of rosemary)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9 x 13 shallow cake pan with the oil.

2. Grate the potatoes into thin strips. I grate by hand. Don't be a wuss.

(I recommend keeping the gratings until you use them submerged in water, since that prevents oxidization and your kugel turning gray.)

3. Fry the diced onion in the oil until the pieces are just soft. Set aside and cool.

4. In a bowl, mix together the onions, potato, olive oil and spices until the oil coats the potato.

5. Add the water.

6. Mix in the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the "batter" around the potato and onion is not completely thin. You may need more flour. Add the baking powder with one of the batches of flour.

(The flour makes up for the missing egg)

7. Pour into the pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top of the kugel is brown and crisp. Remove from oven, and wait until it is a bit cooler before cutting into it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

One year of blogging

Thanks for reading folks. Fun stats:

4770 page views
13 readers a day
with the highest readership from the US, Russia!?!?!, Chile, Israel, and China

Your favorite posts:
-Ten Reasons I Love Being Jewish on Christmas
-Overfatty Cakes
-The Very Not Kosher Banquet
-All the Michigan Legislators
-Slutty Brownies, Part II

Most of you come off my Facebook, as expected.

44% of you use Chrome, and 29% use Firefox.

It's been great! I have another, long-as-hell post in the works, so look for it tomorrow or later this week!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

All the Michigan legislators

Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina va-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-gina.
(These should be said in different voices.)

Wait. What is a reasonably religious gay guy doing immodestly screaming things about the sexual organs of ladies?

(Vagina vagina vagina)

Well, ladies and gentlemen,

It has something to do with this idiocy: a female legislator in Michigan's state house was silenced for mentioning the word "vagina" in an abortion-law debate.

Most of the silencers were men (and Republicans). It seems that they can't handle the word. They said it was to protect kids that such so-called lack of politesse was barred. But I think it's different.

If you can't say it, you shouldn't put a law on it. You can't even write the law then.

Here's what I say:

All the Michigan legislators
based on the song by Beyonce Knowles

All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the male legislators

Now put your pens down
Up in the House, we just heard a word, she’s doing a good lil’ thing
Decided to talk and you want her to walk
‘cause she talked ‘bout the ring

She said VAGINA yes a VAGINA
It’s a talk about abortion law
We all were born, we all came from one
It’s a totally clinical word

‘Cause if you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it

She’s standing outside, you want her to hide,
Because she said a scawey wowd’
What a lass, she’s got sass,
‘cause she hits your BS

She needs no permission, did we mention
That the Constitution grants free speech
‘cause it’s her body, it’s reproductive law,
Don’ go round acting like her Paw

‘Cause if you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Don’ go around, claimin’ innocence
Fo’ the kiddies down below
They gotta hear, they gotta know,
‘coz otherwise STDs will grow

If you don’t have the nerve to say
The things that gotta be said,
Go down to the homestead, lie down in bed,
Maybe you’ll stop seeing red

All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the Michigan legislators, all the male legislators
All the male legislators

Now put your pens down

‘Cause if you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Don’t be mad once you hear that she says it
If you can’t say it, you shouldn’t put a law on it
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A recipe that actually is not fatty: Version 2 of Dill Vegetable Soup!

...and I prove to you that I can make things that are not horrendously fatal to your figure.

I was originally going to write another post, but I put up the picture of this soup on Facebook and got two requests from Aaron B. and Nicki to write this recipe up, so here it is.

It's a vegetarian (and if you skip the noodles, vegan) variation on ye olde Jewish/Eastern European soup, with that ever-classic flavoring: dill!

I've actually made another variety of this soup before for Passover, which can be found here. The vegetables used in this one are completely different, and is written for less broth.

Dill vegetable soup with noodles

Dill Vegetable Soup with Noodles

I use the classic Jewish measures of the eyeball and the palm of my hand for many, many recipes, so once again, all measurements are approximate.

2 medium-large onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 turnip, peeled and chopped or diced
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped (I chop them thick and hearty)
3 tbsp olive oil, keep a bit more on hand just in case
2 tsp. rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 1/2-2 cups dill (about two fistfuls), de-stemmed (sprigs OK) and chopped lightly, plus extra for garnish if desired
thin egg noodles

1. In a medium-large stock pot (any normal stock pot should do), saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are soft.

2. Add the parsnips, carrots, and turnip, and cover the entire thing in water (I estimate about 4 quarts, but do it until there seems to be 3-4 times more water by volume than solid.)

3. Bring the vegetable-water to a boil while covered.

4. Once the water is boiling, add the rosemary, bay leaf, salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, and dill. Cover and let simmer for up to an hour, until the flavor is very vegetable- and herb- rich. Forty-five minutes worked fine for me. If the soup is not flavored enough, add more spices in the following proportion: 3 parts salt, 2 parts rosemary, 1 part pepper.

5. In the meantime, cook the thin egg noodles separately, and set aside. I recommend using good old Jewish lokshen, although I imagine a thin pasta could work well. Do not cook the noodles in the soup; otherwise, the soup may become overly starchy. This rule is good in general for starchy soup insertions.

6. Remove the soup from the heat, and serve with the noodles and, if you want, dill for garnish. If you want, you can serve it without the vegetables, but I recommend serving it with the vegetables, particularly if you get awesomely fresh parsnip.

(The soup also apparently works well for a stock, my sister has already used some of the broth to cook some zucchini.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On return

I haven't been back "home" in New York for about five and a half months. Since heading off for university two years ago, it's the longest time I've spent away from New York. Actually, it's the longest time I've spent away from the Tri-State Area...ever.

Nothing special, I know, not in comparison to the rest of my family: from my mother's semi-annual trips to her homeland, to my father's lack of ties to his rather faraway homeland (South Africa), all the way to the fact that my grandfather has not been in his hometown, a dusty outpost in a rural patch of South African grassland, since 1953. One hundred and sixty days: absolutely piecemeal!

Things have changed. Some of these shifts are obvious: for example, the trees were bare when I left, and now branches are covered in layers of green leaves.

Some of the shifts are less obvious.

I'm used to these shifts in general - every visit to the family brings more - but this visit is really making me ask whether it's my tastes and preferences that have changed, or actual things.

The answer is "a lot of both."

I will not wander off into the clichéd and sanctimonious discussions of how I have changed. Other than some awkward moments of confusion at Shabbat services, not much of these shifts are worthy of lengthy discussion right now.

But some little things have altered in the five and a half months I have been gone. Besides the obvious answers of "family dynamic," "nature," and "who has what going on," smaller things have shifted. Examples include:

* The billboard advertisements have gotten a bit more kawaii and "cute" - including one of my personal pet peeves, "happy to be eaten" animals. One advertisement for the Oyster Bar restaurant in New York - a rather tourist-oriented and most kashrut-challenged seafood establishment - encourages potential patrons to partake of fresh Dutch herring. How so? With a line of smiling, grinning fish in an airport security line for an x-ray, on their way to plates in New York, wearing little I Love New York shirts. It is almost as every herring is a suicidal little thing. And don't get me wrong, I love herring - it's the reason I will never, ever, ever be fully vegetarian. But this display is a little ... much.

I have not seen ads like this before as much. Just more...mundane, less noticeable ads.

(OK, I sound sanctimonious and pretentious, yes. Due to absurdly obvious and common graffiti, posting a picture of said advertisement would involve multiple modesty failures.)

* The cheap deli coffee has become slightly stronger. The Midwest has converted me into quite the coffee drinker over the past two years; the drink actually has a separate line when I'm doing my budgeting. Back here, I drink a mix of fancy coffee as a treat to myself (my post-Shabbat snack was an Italian cappuccino and a pastry) and deli coffee to keep me going. Any good New Yorker will know what I am describing: the cheap cup-o'-joe that every bodega, deli, and grocery in the region can sell you for a delightfully low price, providing caffeine if not, necessarily, a quality beverage experience.

It's strengthened a bit. Of the seven cups I've gotten in the past few days (don't judge, now), six have been significantly stronger than my last visit (December 2011, which was largely sustained courtesy of $1 medium coffees) or the visit before (Thanksgiving, including a 6am airport sprawl courtesy of a 24-hour bodega's percolator).

I wonder what the reason for the stronger coffee is. Clients who have spent too long up, admiring the sunset over dinner? Longer hours for worse pay (more likely)? Secret changes in instant coffee made by the manufacturer?

* The public transport system has become less class-diverse. This change has probably been happening for several years - since well before I moved to Chicago in September 2010 - but it has been most noticeable on this visit and the last visit.

The dynamic before was a little bit more diverse: one would see thousand-dollar handbags brushing against student backpacks, jostling little grandmas with Chinese newspapers in the line of vision of young men in construction workers' garb, over whose shoulders I would peer to check which transfer would be quickest.

Is it just me, or are there fewer suits and ladies of leisure on the subway now? I went to visit a friend on the Upper East Side - New York's chichi quarter - on Thursday afternoon, and not many people got off at 86th Street. I saw fewer telltale signs of wealth on the subway.

One would be tempted to blame the economic crisis for this, but I saw quite a number of those markers as soon as I emerged onto Lexington Avenue. The handbags, the sunglasses, the obscenely expensive shampoo advertisements.

I would have thought that the crisis would have inspired a certain frugality in New Yorkers - I would see more Prada on the 6 - but maybe there is a recovery. Or a retreat. On verra.

(It should be noted for those of you unfamiliar that New York has the highest Gini index in the country. So much for Democratic Party politics, it is a limousine liberalism that one finds here.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Brownie Recipe - Because this is Now a Blog for Making Other People Fat

I am officially determined to cause a spike in business for the gyms and Jenny Craigs of Chicago by my cooking alone.

My friend Myra wanted to see my brownie recipe - as in, when they're not encased in cheesecake or on top of cookie dough and Oreos.

So here it is! Shabbat shalom u'mvorach!

Brownies! And me.

Flexible Brownies
adapted off the Smitten Kitchen recipe

7-oz. chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
3 tbsp water
1/3 c. milk
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease a 9x13 baking pan.

2. Melt the chocolate into the butter and water in a saucepan until you have a thick ganache. Set aside to cool. You should slice the butter into bits for quicker and more consistent melting.

3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the ganache and milk until well blended.

4. Mix in the eggs and vanilla extract.

5. Add the flour and sugar in equal proportions, about 1/4th at a time. That's a 1/2 cup sugar and a 1/4 + bit cup flour each time. Add the baking powder with one of the additions. Stir until consistent each time.

6. Pour into the pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out only with a few crumbs. For the best result, do not bake until a clean toothpick. Set aside and cool before cutting and serving.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Slutty Brownies: A Second Recipe, with Peanut Butter and More Calories than Last Time

So Overfatty Cakes turned out to be one of the most popular posts to date. You really seemed to enjoy reading about these fat bombs.

And suggesting additions.

Some people suggested Nutella, gianduja, (David and his hazelnuts), candy, and Quinn, ever adventurous, suggested cake mix, saying something along the lines of "we do this stuff in Utah all the time."

Then my friend Noah suggested the best thing ever: peanut butter.

I love peanut butter. I put it on everything. I eat it all the time. It makes dessert even more awesome.

It also adds a ton of calories to whatever it is in. Of course, I couldn't resist.

So I made slutty brownies...for my entire dorm.

Brownies | Peanut Butter and Oreo | Sugar Cookie | Heaven

I got creative with the middle layer. Peanut butter is difficult to play with, but it cooperates once you...crush the Oreos into it. Yes, crush the Oreos.

Adding the peanut-butter-Oreo layer.

Anyway, here is the second slutty brownie recipe. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Slutty Brownies

Sugar Cookie Dough

1 stick butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups flour
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Middle layer

1/2 large jar peanut butter
24 Oreos, broken into pieces


6 oz. chocolate chips
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder.

1. Grease a 9x13 baking pan.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar for the cookie dough until smooth.

3. Add egg, flour, vanilla, and baking powder. Knead into the butter-sugar mixture.

4. Press the cookie dough into the bottom of the baking pan until you have an even, but thin layer on the bottom.

5. Mix together the broken Oreos and peanut butter until the Oreos are equally distributed in the peanut butter. Spread evenly over the cookie dough, but it can be a little bumpy. Fill in the holes with extra peanut butter.

6. Melt the chocolate and the butter together to create a ganache. Set aside to cool.

7. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

8. Mix the ganache and the other brownie ingredients together to form a consistent batter. I suggest mixing the ganache and sugar first.

9. Pour the batter on top of everything and spread evenly to cover.

10. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out only with a few crumbs and bits of peanut butter and Oreo cream. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

On a less diabetes-inducing note, my friend Jonathan (yes, there are more of us - Jewish boys named Jonathan are like maple saplings, we take root everywhere) has a nice new blog called Besides Much Cattle. Link is in the blogroll.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bomb Scare: An anecdote of Chicago during NATO

There was a "bomb scare" outside my building Saturday morning.

I rolled out of my building around 10am to go to services and began to walk down the street. As I walked down, I heard a policewoman yelling.

"Yo, there! Stop! You can't go down there!"

"Why?" I asked. I've walked down Harper at least five hundred times.

"Some jackass left a package under the rails."

For reference, my building is next to a commuter rail line.

My first reaction was "oh shit."

This commuter rail line also goes under where the NATO summit was taking place over the past few days.

The police shut down some of the streets around the rail line and sent in the bomb squad. A helicopter's drone stood over the neighborhood for hours, and sirens sounded at random points throughout the morning. My prayers in the synagogue service - not well-attended due to the difficulty of navigating Chicago during the summit - were broken by the constant sounds of police sirens.

The "package" was an empty suitcase. An all-clear was issued. In the ensuing mess of traffic, a bus rear-ended an SUV and blocked off one of the neighborhood's main streets. Traffic in Hyde Park was a mess for most of Saturday. Walking to and from synagogue was adventurous that day. Snarled traffic, police officers everywhere, sirens, bomb-search dogs on tight leashes. Not exactly a peaceful Sabbath.

I'm pretty sure it was some prankster who thought that it would be a fun joke to cause a hullaballoo.

On the one hand, I'm really happy that the police reacted the way they did. I know that not every package is a bomb, I know that paranoia does significant damage to a society. I'm Israeli-American and South African-American; I've bridged three paranoid cultures for my whole life. But the fact that that response can happen in the city - just in case, G-d forbid, that something should happen - says a lot. Because I'm damn glad that someone reported it, and they went to look at it. Because if it had been a bomb, I would've been pissed and sad if I couldn't live in my building because some horrible person blew up the Metra line. I'm grateful to have the protection I do.

On the other hand, the past three days have been a bit much for the city of Chicago. We're all paranoid. The police presence, road closures, and helicopter drones feel strangely eerie. The reaction to protesters downtown - with whom I am not necessarily in complete accord - has left much, much, much to be desired of the CPD. The University was strangely silent today - many staff and faculty were not able to attend classes or meetings due to the road closures and transport reroutes throughout the city.

The bomb scare added to this sense of paranoia. I'd thought of the NATO-related chaos as something that would be taking place downtown, and at McCormick place. But it actually took place where I live, work, study, and move. It hit home.

I'm not against NATO, or the summit. I might not be the biggest fan of NATO, but I'm not anti-NATO - it should be noted that for some activists, for some causes, NATO is an ally, not a foe. I'm not the world's biggest fan of the summit being in Chicago, but that's more because I don't think that the summit serves the city's needs. NATO would do much better for itself - and cities - if they held summits in smaller, more easily secured locations.

However, I am quite glad that Chicago will return to some sense of normalcy soon.  Even for someone who didn't venture downtown, who spent most of the weekend doing schoolwork, who didn't have something invested in the summit or opposing it, the disruption to the life of the city and the bomb scare was not that really that great. I, and three million other residents of Chicago, want the city back.