To everyone who volunteered to test a recipe in this final push to finish my book, thanks so much for coming to my tea party* **! I'll be in touch this week.
*Not to be confused with the Boston Tea Party, wherein you throw all of my desserts overboard into the harbor in the middle of the night.
**Not to be confused with the Tea Party political movement wherein you eat dessert and then throw immigrants out of the country in the middle of the night.
My book deadline is 10/1. I still have umpteen recipes to develop and all kinds of shit to write over the next three weeks.
It's not brain surgery—I know that. Nobody's going to DIE if my cookbook doesn't come out awesome(ly?). Except maybe the copyeditor. And my pride. But it does need to get done or I don't get paid and it doesn't get published. You can't have a fantastic first half of the book and then all blank pages for the rest. Sooner or later, your editor is going to catch on no matter how many well-crafted diversions you create:
Editor: Can you send me your final manuscript file again? There's no text.
Me: Oh, crap! Did I send the wrong file? Here you go...
Editor: It's still a blank document.
Me: That's weird. When I open it, I see 103 neatly typed pages complete with recipes. What do you see?
Editor: One. Blank. Page.
Me: What version of Word do you have again?
Editor: The same version I had three months ago. Do we have to go through this every time?
Me: Maybe you should check to make sure your text color is set to black and not white?
Soooooo, if anyone can test a recipe in the next two weeks, I would be immensely grateful!
Okay, you caught me. Cherry pie isn't actually going to be in my cookbook. Why? Because cherries aren't a seasonal winter ingredient (the theme of my book). Dried cherries, maybe, but not fresh sour cherries, which is what these were.
What happened was I had to retest this pie crust (which will be in the cookbook), and I didn't want to make the same winter pie twice when I had all of these lovely summer cherries sitting around. So voila. Cherry pie.
It was just too pretty to ignore.
If anybody has time this weekend to test a recipe, I could use some last minute help. Not only will your name go in my book, but you'll also have my gratitude AND you'll end up with something delicious. Unless you don't end up with something delicious. And I have to axe the recipe. But in that case you'll be doing everyone a public service!
Win win! (Sort of.)
According to my blog hosting service, Food on the Food recently hit one million pageviews! So, thanks again for reading this little blog. I know you guys have one million other things competing for your attention, so I appreciate that you find a way to squeeze a quick, silly read into your busy lives. Here, have a whoopie pie!* ** *** ****
*Offer good starting Fall 2013!
**And you have to make it yourself.
***After you buy the book.
****Hello? Is anybody still there?
The first thing I did when I made my deadline was to drag my neighbor out for Mexican, and then proceed to devour an entire Fiesta Plate all by myself along with most of my friend's refried beans, half a pitcher of sangria, and a giant piece of tres leches cake. Don't look at me like that—you can't celebrate a partially-completed dessert cookbook without cake!
That was followed soon thereafter by the peanut marzipan you saw in my previous post, because I can't go a whole week without sugar, you know that. Then came the huevos rancheros: warm corn tortillas strewn with cumin-scented black beans, fried eggs nestled on top, scattered with crumbled cheese and cilantro leaves, and ribboned with salsa or hot sauce. What can I say, I've really been digging Mexican food lately. I know I need to get back to work eventually, but right now, the fiesta continues!!
This is one of my favorite lazy meals because we always have eggs, cheese, a can of black beans, and a partially eaten jar of salsa on hand. If I have corn tortillas in the back of the fridge, I'll use them. If not, I leave them out. We eat this as often for dinner as for brunch.
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin (or more)
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper
1 big can black beans, rinsed, drained
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Fresh farm eggs
Cheese, crumbled or grated (e.g., queso fresco, cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella)
Small corn tortillas
Salsa or hot sauce
Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat until shimmery. Sauté onions until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and cayenne, and stir about 30 seconds. Stir in rinsed beans and a few tablespoons of water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover with lid to keep warm.
In a non-stick pan, cook the eggs how you like them. I like mine over-easy (i.e., runny). Husband likes his with the yolks broken and completely cooked. My kids only like them scrambled. You can make a whole bunch of sunny-side-up eggs at once by cracking them into different quadrants of the same pan so the whites run together but the yolks are spaced out. Let them fry for a minute or two, then add a bit of water on top, cover, and steam until the tops are set. Then just use a spatula to cut between the yolks into portions.
Heat up the tortillas. I do this in the microwave in a stack covered with a damp paper towel. You can also do it in a hot, dry skillet for about 30 seconds per side.
To serve, arrange tortillas on plates. Scatter some beans on top. Set an egg in the middle and sprinkle with cheese. Spoon on some salsa or a squirt of hot sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro, salt, and pepper. Customize as you see fit, with sour cream, avocado or guacamole, or your own homemade pico de gallo when tomatoes are at their best.
Eggs: Allandale Farm, Brookline, MA
Tortillas: Cinco de Mayo, Lynn, MA
Turns out that the shooting pain in my left wrist that I've been ignoring for the past month is some kind of tendonitis/carpal-tunnel-type situation. Which is fanTAStic news for me leading up to my first manuscript deadline.
I nodded obediently as the doctor told me the first stage of treatment: Advil, ice, wrist brace, and not using my left hand for three weeks. My left hand is my dominant hand, by the way. It's my writing, chopping, typing, whisking, stubborn-peanut-butter-jar-opening hand. Then I went home and had this conversation with my left hand:
Me: Hey. Listen up. There's one week left until my deadline so you better man up. This book isn't going to write itself.
Lefty: The doctor prescribed rest. You told her you would...
Me: Pipe down. You already had a week of rest during the big Norovirus Extravaganza. I get one shot at a book. ONE SHOT and you're not going to ruin it for me.
Lefty: Ice! I need ice!
Me: You'll get your bag of frozen peas in a minute. First type this stupid post.
Lefty: Why don't you ever make the other hand do any work? It's not like she has anything better to do.
(Right Hand is sunning herself under my desk lamp in a skimpy bikini and earbuds.)
Me: What? That useless thing? The only thing she's good for is helping to keep me from sinking to the bottom of the pool, and she can barely do that, frankly.
Right Hand: Whatevs. (Rolls over onto her other side)
Me: Do you know what would happen if I put Righty over there in charge of operations?
Me: Sure, you'd enjoy a relaxing convalescence, but you'd return only to find that all five of your fingers had been chopped off. Is that what you want? God, I can't even read her writing. Would you look at the draft for this post? Does this say "bloody stump" or "broody crumpet"?
Right Hand: Another margarita, please!
Suddenly, another week isn't looking so bad!
I'm working on quite a few ice cream recipes for my book. Why ice cream for a winter dessert cookbook? Because, as reader Sara says, ice cream knows no season. In fact, it's the dessert of choice in our house year-round. We own an ice cream machine and actually use it. I love to churn up a fresh batch of ice cream made with local milk and cream knowing it's free from the dubious effects of rBGH and antibiotic residues. The results are excellent.
If your ice cream machine is currently hibernating, I daresay you will soon be putting it to good use!
I was fretting about my expanding waistline a few weeks ago when I happened to pass a bulletin board at the gym promoting the YMCA Lose It Challenge. Drop 10 pounds in two months by tracking your meals and exercise using the online application, Lose It. Normally, I don't like to micromanage my food consumption, but since this year has special circumstances attached to it, I need to start paying a little more attention if I don't want to gain those 30 pounds we talked about. Might as well make it fun, right? I signed up right away.
Based on my age, height, and current weight, Lose It calculated my recommended daily calorie intake, then revised it downward based on a 2-month, 10-pound weight loss goal. My job, it explained, is simply to document and input my meals and exercise each day, and try to keep my calories under that magic number. Easy peasy. I can do this!
A database within the application stores the calorie amounts for almost every food you can think of, from raw ingredients to several brands of frozen meals and fast food. So far I haven't been able to stump it, even with random entries like persimmons. I usually break out the individual ingredients for homemade meals, but, if I'm feeling lazy, I might sub in an equivalent meal from one of the restaurants they have on file.
Then there's exercise. Calorie-burning values have been assigned for all kinds of physical activities, including swimming, running, aerobics, yoga, walking, sit-ups, push-ups, canoeing, darts, Wii bowling, house-cleaning, snow-shoveling, luge (!) and, yes, even sex. I checked. Three different levels of sexual activity, in fact, from passive, light kissing to active, vigorous humping. Unfortunately, the values are much lower than one would hope. For example, if I wanted to burn 150 calories (the equivalent of 45 minutes of slow-moving tai chi), the Lose It number-crunchers estimate that would require active, vigorous sex for no less than 4 hours and 30 minutes. Poor Husband!
Anyway, I take a kind of perverse pleasure in accurately documenting my food and exercise down to the amount of cookie dough I ate out of the bowl and anything that might possibly count as physical activity. Calories burned are automatically subtracted from calories consumed, and then the number is compared to my target calorie intake. I particularly enjoy the custom graphs they provide so I can see the results in painful relief. Here's how I did last week:
The red is where I exceeded my calorie count. It's pretty obvious which days I was making desserts. My favorite is last Monday where I took my calorie count and tried to double it. Take that, Lose It, you're not the boss of me! I hope I really enjoyed whatever baked goods I was tunneling my way through that day.
So, yeah, not as easy as I thought with my crazy new dessert-packed lifestyle. I haven't lost any weight over these past three weeks, and the date by which I'm projected to meet my goal keeps getting automatically recalculated further and further into the future, but it should be noted that I haven't gained any weight, either. And, honestly, if that's all I accomplish, it will have been worth it.
It has come to my attention that when you're writing a dessert cookbook, you will put on a lot of weight. Seems pretty obvious. I, however, was under the impression that I possessed some sort of magical metabolism that could absorb the extra calories and channel this new wellspring of energy into learning a great new skill, like carpentry or Mandarin. Turns out, that's not how it works. Turns out the only skill that interests you is how to break your previous pie-eating record.
Before I started writing this book, I ate dessert only a few times a week. Okay, yeah, sometimes I'd have double portions if Red happened to make her lemon cream tart or BFF made her dulce de leche ice cream pie because they're such great cooks and they don't judge me like you do, Internet! And the holidays don't count, either, because sometimes you just have to eat a whole tray of fudge. YOU HAVE TO!!! (Storms off crying)
The occasional indulgence doesn't matter all that much, really, but now? Now I eat multiple servings of dessert every single day. In the past three months, I've gained 10 pounds. That's nearly a pound a week! You can't argue with the scale. In that same period of time, Husband lost 25 pounds. Twenty-five! He dropped it like most men drop trou—without any hesitation whatsoever. How did he do that? By not eating any of my desserts, that's how. And by adhering strictly to the tenets of the South Beach Diet. Can you believe that jerk? That sexy jerk? Fuck him! (Storms off crying)
Point is, I haven't weighed this much since I had another human being growing inside me. What's more, this book requires another nine months of gestation. At that rate, I'm set to gain 30 more pounds. While I'm not fat at the moment, if I do gain those 30 pounds (and I think it's reasonable to expect that I won't get any taller), I will meet the definition of "clinically obese." All while working out five days a week! (Shoves cookies into pocket then storms off crying)
What to do? What to do? I really can't exercise more than I already am. I can barely keep up this pace as it is. And I can't not eat dessert. I could eat less, maybe, but then I would argue that the quality of the book will suffer. Because sometimes, readers, if I can be frank for a minute, I just want to get the recipe done. Just get it done and say it's fine as it is, but it's not fine, it's too sweet or too dry or too mealy, so I make it again but then it's way too smooth, so unbelievably smooth it's creepy, and it's not until the 15th or 16th bite that I finally admit it to myself.
So hi, everyone, and welcome to the Emotional Rollercoaster of 2012. Because I can't just be happy. I can only be happy with an equal and opposite amount of angst.
I just finished a draft of the first chapter of my cookbook! This had me feeling pretty pleased with myself until I remembered that I have to do that nine more times. Things are going to get ugly come June, I can tell you that much.
So, what's it like writing a dessert cookbook? I won't lie. It's pretty awesome. Especially at this early stage where my editor isn't breathing down my neck, yet, and I can pretend that what I'm cooking and writing is exactly what she wants, and she's going to make sweet, sweet love to my manuscript! But I know that's all wrong. A good editor will poke holes in every aspect of what you've written, questioning the very foundation of your ideas, until the world as you knew it doesn't make sense anymore and slow death feels like a better alternative than all the nit-picking work you have ahead of you. Of course, after the revision process is complete, even you have to admit that your manuscript is a million times better than it was before, but by then all the hard work is over so it's a lot easier to be honest.
The biggest problem with a book that revolves around sugar, as you might imagine, is all the sugar flying around. Before I started this project, a five-pound bag of sugar could last me two months easy. Now I'm lucky if it lasts the week. My brown sugar spends so little time in the pantry that it stays soft and fluffy instead of turning into the usual stale bag of marbles. I'm single-handedly keeping Cabot in the butter business. And I don't even want to tell you how many empty containers of heavy cream are in my recycling bin right now, but it looks like all the neighborhood babies crawled over here last night and had a huge bender.
In order to stay on schedule, I draft 2-3 different recipes every week. Each one has to be made 2-3 times to get it to the level it needs to be. Maybe more if it insists on sucking. Often, that translates to seven or eight desserts coming out of my oven per week. In other words, 7-8 bowls that get licked, 7-8 cakes/pies/puddings to be tasted and compared to the ones before, each one tempting me with the sweet promise of a sugar-high and an equally dramatic sugar-low. My workout regimen can barely keep up!
The obvious answer to this problem of surplus sweets is to give them away, right? And I have many willing takers, including neighbors, teachers at my kids' school, and farmers at my farm. I'm more than happy to give away the good stuff. Proud, even. But who wants to claim credit for the crappy stuff? Not me. Even I have some pride. My creative process is messy and unpleasant. It's not good PR to be all, here, have another shitty cake and, by the way, buy my cookbook! Yet, I can't bear to throw food away. So what ends up happening is that the reject versions sit around for days cluttering up my kitchen counters until I realize that I need one of the baking dishes that's already in use. Before I know it, I've blacked out face-down over a tray of subpar bread pudding until Husband comes home and, after peeling my face out of the custard and clearing my airways, scrapes everything into the trash while I protest incomprehensibly.
See? It's not all fun and games, people. This is serious, serious business.
But I will say that I'm very proud of the work I've done so far. I can only hope that a diabetic coma doesn't claim me before I have a chance to finish!
Now that the kids are back in school, I really need to get going on this manuscript of mine. According to the schedule I drafted for myself, I need to develop 10 awesome dessert recipes each month to meet my deadline. That's 2-3 recipes finalized per week. *gulp*
I'm not panicking. It'll be a piece of cake. One hundred and twenty pieces of cake each month, if my calculations are correct, and that's not including pie and cookies! Which brings me to my next important goal: exercise. If I am to maintain my girlish figure in the face of constant sugary temptation, I need to do more than run once a week for a few months out of the year. I need a routine. Peer pressure, if possible. Hence, I've rejoined the YMCA after a 6-year hiatus.
I've made good use of the pool, so far. TeenNiece, who has returned to her island state, gave me lots of good pointers this summer. My strokes aren't breaking any speed records, but it's how I feel that counts, right? And, frankly, I feel like a goddamn mermaid. (Swimming laps adjacent to water aerobics for the elderly does a lot to boost one's self-esteem.)
I've also been tempted by several aerobics classes (non-aquatic) listed on the fall schedule. Zumba, for example, seems like just the kind of embarrassing dance- based workout I can really get behind. The more embarrassing, the better, I say! Then there's Pilates. I still don't know what that is, but I guess now would be a good time to find out. My friends think I should take yoga. Ninety-nine percent of them think yoga is the best thing ever. What kind of a person ignores the advice of 99% of her friends? A mule-ish one, I suppose. What can I say? Yoga goes against every fiber of my being with its core components: breathing, stretching, and peace of mind. Whenever I'm in a painfully awkward yoga pose, instead of maintaining a clear and focused breath, I wonder who invented this excruciating torture and how much I'd like to punch them in the face. That possibly defeats the purpose of yoga.
No, I've always been more of a martial arts kind of girl. Karate. Kickboxing. Kung fu. Controlled thrashing, but thrashing nonetheless.
Wait, what's this I see? Tai chi on Wednesdays? Slow, controlled thrashing in the form of an embarrassing dance routine?
I think we have a winner!!
P.S. The recipe for that cheesecake in the photo above (almond cheesecake with fig confiture) can be found here. You can bet that one will be in the cookbook!
Thanks for all the nice comments regarding the book thing. I will definitely be contacting each one of you who offered yourselves up for recipe-testing in the coming months, keeping in mind your geography and any preferences you've noted. I hope to be organized about this. We'll see. And, yes, the recipes will include metric conversions since the book will be distributed internationally. So, to all you Brits who offered help—yes, yes, yes!
The Cape was awesome last week with the family, minus that hideously hot day on Friday. I know I won't get any sympathy from all of you who had to sweat it out in a 105-degree brick oven of a city compared to my scenic-though-breezeless 99-degree coastal getaway. Still, take it from me: don't go to the bay side at low tide during a heat wave and expect any relief. The tidal flats just bake in the sun under those conditions and the shallow tidal pools are as warm as a bathtub, which may sound pleasant on this 69-degree evening, but are absolutely hideous when you're roasting in your own skin.
We waited it out for hours as the tide slowly came in, assuming that all the superheated sand was no match for the cold, cold water rushing in from the Atlantic depths. But no. The water was hot. HOT!!! Like a parched bedouin, I wandered for half an hour over those sandy flats and out to sea, waiting for the water to turn cold and/or reach my chin, preferably both, but it never did. When I finally looked back, I couldn't even see the shore I had walked out so far. I got a little freaked out, I'll admit, simmering in the middle of Cape Cod Bay all by myself like that. What if the water rushed in really fast and I was suddenly in over my head and had to swim the however many miles back to shore? I'm not a very strong swimmer. I probably couldn't do it before the tide went out again, which would then carry me further out to sea with the sharks and the tigers and only my own pee to keep me hydrated and no receptacle in which to capture said pee? (This is what I retained from Life of Pi.) And just when things were starting to go well! My last, dying words bubbling up to the water's surface would be: Curse you, Alanis Morrrrrissssseeetttttte... *bubble* *bubble*
Spoiler alert: I didn't die after all. But despite the fun, my vacation still did nothing to relax me. Apparently.
I have some news to report, you guys, and for once it's not bad!
It would seem that I'm going to be writing a book! A cookbook, to be exact. What's more, it appears that someone is going to publish it. That's the tricky part, right there, especially in this economy. But, wait, it gets better: An actual professional photographer is going to take the photos! I KNOW!!! How did I score that?? I have no idea, but here's how I imagined it:
Them: So Tammy.
Them: About the photography for this book.
Them: It's not that we don't like the style of your blog photos...
Me: You mean blurry?
Me: With the attention to detail of a sleepy preschooler?
Them: ...We already have a photographer in mind for this project.
(pause while a single tear rolls down my cheek)
Me: OOOOHHHHHHH, THANK YOU, BEJEEBUS!!!!
Me: Never mind.
Here's the scoop: The book is coming out in Fall 2013 by Running Press. It will be about seasonal winter desserts with an emphasis on local sourcing. In other words, really cozy, delicious things made out of apples, pears, cranberries, nuts, cheese, maple syrup, etc. Yes, even squash. I'll be digging deep into the root cellar for this, and we'll also be spending a little time in the citrus belt because they have winter down there, too. Also, I love citrus. Basically, if it grows in the winter or can be stored in the pantry, it's fair game. The book will cost $30. I mention this so you can start saving now. That's a dollar a month starting today. Loose change is fine. It will be worth every penny, I promise. Did I mention the pretty photos? Only the best for my loyal readers (P.S. Don't get used to it!).
So I guess this would be the appropriate time to thank you guys for coming to visit me out here in cyberspace. If not for you who are reading this anonymously in numbers that seem interesting to publishers—some of you since I started this blog five years ago—there would be no book at all. And I might be resorting to selling myself on the street corner for not that much money probably. Is there anything sadder than a prostitute peddling pumpkin pie on the side? I'm not sure that there is. So thanks are also in order to my agent, Melissa Sarver at the Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency, for sparing me that indignity.
A few more things: There will definitely be some swearing over the next year. Like double the usual amount. Maybe more. Also, I could use some recipe-testers. If you're willing to test a recipe or two to make sure they work in your kitchen, leave a comment or send an e-mail and I'll be in touch. But right now, I need to tend to the first and most pressing order of business: a gym membership! Second order of business is a vacation.
See you in a week!