Friday, January 28, 2011

MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO

via flickr

"We're not high-maintenance or difficult, we're just not scripted like other people." - anonymous but wise sage

Most of us are pretty good at adapting to changing situations. We've learned how to shift our moods, adjust our attitudes, and even rethink previous notions in order to accommodate the social climate of our current environment. In fact, these days adaptability and flexibility aren't just desirable traits but mandatory prerequisites if you're going to play with others. This applies both in the workplace and in our personal lives. In our constantly evolving but expendable world being able to adapt and change is a survival skill. But at what point are we being asked to change who we are, including the core beliefs that make up our moral fiber? Integrity, accountability, and fairness are qualities I believe are non-negotiable in every day living. Yet we're led to believe that sometimes sacrifice is for the greater good of the team. Or that bending the rules is what it takes to get the job done. Or being creative with the truth is not necessarily a lie. But any way you want to bend it, flip it, or turn it inside out we all recognize the truth from the lie, the right from the wrong, the good from the bad. Granted not all situations are decidedly black and white, but I think people fall back on the gray scale too often to excuse or justify their own behaviors. Most of us have an internal barometer of what's right and wrong; it's that twinge of guilt, an internal cringe, that flicker of conscience. What would happen if we all followed the Golden Rule to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated? After all, it is our ability to put ourselves in another's shoes that makes us human. Then how is it so easily discarded when it interferes with the bottom line or personal agenda?

In life we're given roles as child, parent, friend, lover, colleague, employee, etc - constantly evolving roles where we may not always know the characters we're expected to play, never mind the scenes we're acting in. Improvisation doesn't always go over well when it deviates from the script and other people's carefully rehearsed lines. But life is a crap shoot no matter how much you try to prepare for it, because the unpredictable factor is always us. Our reactions to the external world based on our own experiences or perceptions. Perception is a funny thing because it means something different to the eye of the beholder. It sets us up to be misinterpreted, misconstrued, and misunderstood. And no matter how much you've rehearsed it could all go a different way, or even completely fall apart. One of the things I've always had difficulty with is that there seems to be a set of guidelines as to how we should behave. I'm not necessarily speaking of code of conduct, proper etiquette, or even social graces. I'm referring to the rules of engagement as if there's only one way to interact or react to any given situation. When you don't behave in the way that's expected vis-a-vis some unspoken agreement in which we dance around each other and therefore the real issue is never addressed, then you're criticized. But we're not machines, we can't always control how we feel though we can try to temper how we channel those feelings. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. We all over react from time to time.

People generally feel uncomfortable with unexpected bursts of emotion, or even the display of too much emotion. Little outbursts are frowned upon, as if we're expected to show restraint at all times. But what is restraint but a means of restricting our emotions or thoughts? As children we're constantly reprimanded for our abandoned and uninhibited behavior, told time and again that children should be seen and not heard. We learn to hold back, bite our tongue, and consequently walk on eggshells to avoid punishment, rejection, or abandonment. But as we all know, biting your tongue is extremely painful. It's as awkward as tying your own hands, or forcing yourself to walk backwards, going counterclockwise, moving against the grain, or even pulling a rubber band too taut. At some point, it snaps back. I think it's infinitely better to just be yourself, to follow your own nature, and consequences be damned. So what if your excitement and passion are misconstrued as volatile or irrational, or your serious attention to work as rigid and strict, or your refusal to compromise your sense of fairness as difficult or high-maintenance. You would think that honesty, loyalty, and sincerity would be considered admiral traits to possess, qualities we'd look for in a friend or colleague. But I think sometimes people find this more threatening than their willing to admit to. Maybe because it becomes a yardstick by which they're forced to measure their own moral fiber, a mirror in which their own true characters are revealed. These are the same people who make you feel like you're not playing by the rules when in fact you're adhering to them to the letter. It's impossible to please everyone all the time, and some times anyone at all. And if we look to others for approval for what we intrinsically know to be good about us, then we'll sadly be disappointed. But do we really need a reward for behaving well? Maybe. After all, how many times have we witnessed someone being rewarded for behaving badly?

NO BANANA SKIN
'Banana skin' is a British idiom which refers to something that is an embarrassment or causes problems. Something we don't have to worry about when it comes to this next dessert. The recipe doesn't call for any banana skins. Banana Foster is a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream a sauce made from butter, brown sugar and dark rum. Often the alcohol is added and ignited into a Flambé table-side as a visual presentation. The dish was created in 1951 by Chef Paul Blangé at Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans. It was named after the owner's good friend and regular customer, Richard Foster, then the New Orleans Crime Commission chairman. I found this amazing recipe for Banana Foster Creme Pie from evilshenanigans.









Banana Foster Creme Pie
recipe via evilshenanigans

For Crust:
1 1/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c unsalted butter, melted
For Caramel Sauce:
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 c light brown sugar, loosely packed
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp dark rum

For Filling:
2 to 3 bananas sliced
2 1/2 c milk
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all-spice
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp unsalted butter

For Topping:
2 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp dry gelatin
1 tbsp water, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp sugar
Cinnamon for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl mix the brown sugar, graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until well mixed. pour into a 9" pie plate and press evenly into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow crust to cool while you prepare the caramel.
  2. In a small skillet melt the butter and brown sugar over medium low heat. Allow it to come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream and rum. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Slice bananas and layer the slices on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the caramel evenly over the bananas. Allow to cool at room temperature while you prepare the custard.
  4. In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, vanilla bean paste, and spices. Pour over the milk and mix well. In a separate bowl mix the eggs and egg yolk well. Pour into the milk mixture and whisk until well combined. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Cook for 30 seconds then remove from heat. Strain the mixture into a large bowl, then whisk in the butter.
  5. Pour the custard over the bananas and caramel. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure it is pressed directly against the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for at least 4 hours, but overnight is preferable.
  6. To finish the pie mix the dry gelatin with the water in a small microwave safe bowl. Allow to bloom for two minutes. Once bloomed, heat in the microwave for 10 seconds. Stir and allow to come to room temperature. In a large bowl add the cream. Mix on medium speed until it begins to develop large bubbles. Add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium high. Add the sugar and the cooled gelatin. Increase the speed to high and beat until it thickens and holds soft peaks. Spread the cream over the cooled pie and dust with cinnamon. Chill for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BACKSPACE


We all suffer from days when nothing seems to be going right, and everything wrong. You're convinced it's a cosmic conspiracy to trip you up just to see you fall. It starts with the alarm clock that didn't go off, and the lost time that trails you for the rest of the day putting you behind schedule no matter how early you show up. The coffee that spills down the front of your new white shirt, confirming what you've believed all along that there really is a hole in your lip. The bumper to bumper traffic on the LA freeway, the idiot that swoops in and steals the last parking space, the internet clog, the fax that never went out, the deal that fell through, the job you never got, the missed connection with the gorgeous guy you're convinced was your soul mate even though you only saw him that once at that place you can't recall. But then, just when you're ready to throw in the towel something happens to remind you that the universe really is rooting for you. They're not necessarily life altering epiphanies or grand gestures like winning the lottery but small seemingly insignificant pokes. Like hearing a song on the radio that perfectly captures the moment, a billboard sign that reads like a cosmic message only for you, the unexpected phone call from an old friend that makes you laugh, or the stranger that smiles at you with no agenda while you're waiting to pay for your five for a dollar ramen noodles. These small moments can shift our attitudes in a huge way. Suddenly the day doesn't seem so bad, your situation not so irretrievable, the disasters not so irreversible. In fact, everything seems just hunky dory as we're given a boost of faith that all is right in the world. The road of life gets bumpy from time to time, we can let it shake us up or choose to enjoy the ride. After all, it's not the destination but the journey that counts.

IT'S IN THE BAG
"Life is a lot like Frito Pie. Better when shared with friends, and best with twice the cheese."
- Peggy Hill, King of the Hill

Frito Pie
1 single-serving bag Fritos corn chips
ladle of chili
heap of grated cheddar cheese
chopped onions
jalapeño slices
  1. Slice bag of chips open along one side.
  2. Ladle chili over chips.
  3. Top with cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and jalapeño slices.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WAITING

"Between the wish and the thing life lies waiting."

In those moments I know I'm deliberately procrastinating I inevitably end up of thinking about a novel I read years ago titled Waiting by Ha Jin. I can't remember the details of the book, only that it was about a Chinese doctor who waited nearly two decades for the courts to grant him a divorce so he could swap out the old-fashioned wife his family chose for him for his more modern girlfriend, a nurse at the Army hospital he worked at. Mostly I remember feeling frustrated with the characters, the plot, and the book in general. I thought it was a waste of my time, yet the book stuck with me. Maybe because waiting is something I've been guilty of... a deliberate inaction, a life lived in suspension. In truth we are all waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting for things to change. Waiting for life to begin. Waiting for the perfect moment. Only there's never a perfect moment, just life. We believe that if we wait long enough things will be different or rather we'll be different. But that's never the case, is it? The only thing that's changed is the year and all the missing days in between. Days we could have been living. Days of just being.

SHAKING THE LEMON TREE
There are some things worth waiting for, like pie for instance. The time it takes for you to make the dough, the filling, and to bake. Or the time it takes to set, chill, and serve. I say if you're going to take the time to bake something, do it well and be in the moment. Enjoy the process. It'll be worth the wait. The Shakers knew a good thing was worth waiting for, especially lemon pie.












Shaker Lemon Pie
2 large lemons, preferably Meyers
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten well
4 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 egg white
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
  1. Wash the lemons, then dry with paper towel. Finely grate lemon zest into a bowl. Slice lemons as paper thin as possible; remove and discard seeds. Add slices to zest, then toss with sugar and salt. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 425° F. Roll out half the dough 1/8-inch thick on plastic or a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, trim for a 1/2-inch overhang.
  3. Mix the macerated lemon-sugar mixture with eggs, melted butter and flour until well combined. Pour into prepared pie shell.
  4. Roll out remaining dough into a 12-inch round, drape over the filling, trim to leave a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, fluting the edge to seal it. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut steam vents into the top crust, and bake pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350° F and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack and serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

THE OBSCURE PHOTOGRAPHER

vivian maier, self-portrait


An auction house.
A repossessed storage locker.
A mysterious box.
30,000 black-and-white negatives.
An anonymous photographer.
A developing picture.
The story of Vivian Maier.











Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011: YEAR OF THE PIE


Trend-spotters are calling pie the food of the year. Did it ever go out of style? Any way you slice it, pie is perfect. Sweet or savory, pan or bite-sized, home-made or store baked, this versatile pastry entices us with its unpretentious simplicity. I can't think of any food more wholesome than pie - it's classic Americana. And with the public's renewed appetite for this humble dessert "Pie Happy Hour" and Pie Shops are popping up across the country. And with it modern takes on classic or vintage recipes. So with National Pie Day just around the corner (Jan 23) why not bake off the new year with your favorite version of the pastry round? It's easy as pie.