Wednesday, November 24, 2010

...and the dramatic conclusion...

I am declaring this project a partial success, although it didn't look that way at first. I uncovered the pies last night to find this:

A brulee top only lasts a couple of hours before the moisture in the air causes the sugar to melt into a thick, syrupy sludge that works its way through the pie to the bottom of the plate. Ladies and gentleman, I have now invented the La Brea Tar Pits of the pie world.

A lesser known extinction theory is that the dinosaurs died from a sudden onset of diabetes rather than a meteor

Wonderful. If the odds weren't stacked against these pitiful pies already, they sure were now. I fearfully dug in with my fork... only to be pleasantly surprised. Despite all it had been through, the regular pumpkin pie tasted really, really good, besides being a bit... sweet. The texture was thick and velvety smooth, the pumpkin flavor came through and the gingersnap crust – although I couldn't really call it a crust anymore at this point – gave it just the right kick I was hoping for.

The gluten free/vegan invention didn't fare so well. Since the texture was a little softer and wetter to begin with, the melted brulee turned it into a kind of pureed pumpkin goo, somewhat resemling a thick baby food. The pie was an experiment to begin with, and while the flavors weren't perfect the previous night, they were still in the ball park of an acceptable pumkin pie. But now they were completely ruined and the filling had absorbed so much of the sludge that I had to declare it inedible. And then go brush all the sugar off my teeth.

Conculsion? I need to experiment some more. I'm not really sure why the butane flavor stuck to the pie temporarily, and I have now learned that turbinado sugar is the best kind to use for a brulee. I was a fan of the filling although I think I'll take out the yams to boost the pumpkin flav–

E pecan. Aggiuini pecan. 

Oh dear.

Well, I guess it's a good thing Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I have already claimed the duty of pumpkin pie maker... MWAAAHAHAHAAAAA...

HAPPY THANKSGIVING everyone, I hope your holiday is full of good company and great food, and hopefully free of dinosaur bones.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Practicing Pie

I bet you were sleeping yesterday morning at 1am. Nice and comfy, all snuggled up under blankets, perhaps dreaming about the candied, glazed and gravy'd caloric goodies in your near future. You also may have been drooling on your pillow.

I was baking pumpkin pies.

Once again, I had succumbed to that little voice in my brain that convinces me to start ambitious and involved projects regardless of time, space and materials. I think the last time it spoke, it convinced me that I could hold a full time job, skate on two roller derby teams, play bass in a band and still have time for normal life. Possibly time for a shower every now and again. This voice also taunts me for being weak when I want to use common sense and dismiss its crazy plans.

"What's the matter, Pie, can't handle a project?"
"No little voice, I am just smarter than you and know that building the 'super-awesome ultimate cat tower scratching post playground' in the bedroom probably isn't the best idea. I mean, it is a pretty tiny room."
"You're just weak. A cowardly, scared chicken."
"But I–"
"Okay, fine. FINE! First let me just find room for the bed in the kitchen and then we'll go to Home Depot..."

Recently, I've been doing a great job at subduing most of the little voice's hair-brained schemes for greatness, and I have to say, it's been smooth sailing. Although, it seems to still come out at random times – usually while drinking – to convince me of the merits of doing such activities as say, speeding drunk down a Slip-n-Slide while already on crutches.

ANYWAYS, Sunday Jon and I decided it was time to check out the newly opened Eataly, a giant Italian market/restaurant/anxiety attack owned by Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich. It happened to be "Truffle Day", where Eataly would be selling lavish white truffles for a measly $5 per gram. HA!

Behold, the Italian white truffle, or Alba madonna

Initially, we were overwhelmed by the size and layout of the market. There were produce carts intermixed with a bunch of dining tables and deli counters. Further in, there were shelves of imported Italian candy, 2 separate espresso stands and a panini counter among countless other twists and turns filled with tasty goodies. Armed with large cappuccinos, we jumped into the madness without a clue as to where we would end up.


Pork, pork and some more pork on the bottom there

Breads breads breads

The roasted meat sandwich counter, where you could buy... roasted meat sandwiches

The drool-enducing Porchetta sandwich. Perfect bread, perfect pork. See? I'm drooling now

Someday, I will convince myself to like anchovies


I'm not quite sure what awoke the little voice from its peaceful slumbers. It might have started when we were lost in the endless aisles of pasta world. Or perhaps when I was perusing the cookbooks.

But all of a sudden, there it was. And this time it was speaking in Italian.

Ciao, Pie.

What? Not you again. Not now.

Non si gioca più con me.

Hehhhh. What do you want? I am trying to buy cheese here.

Io voglio cuocere!

You want to bake? 

Tu ed io, miglioreremo la torta di zucca!

Pumpkin pie? I... I do love to bake pies...


... and Thanksgiving is coming up...


... and I really should practice before Thursday when I'm going to make that awesome pumpkin pie with candied yams with a gingerbread cookie crust that I just invent– HEY! YOU QUIT IT! This is supposed to be a nice leisurely Sunday! I don't want to do this right now!

E noi brulee in cima...

Brulee the top you say? That is a pretty good idea...

And before I could say "goodbye leisurely Sunday" Jon and I were in Home Depot in the plumbing section searching for a butane blowtorch so I could brulee a pumpkin pie. I can also now fix our pipes if need be.


Yes. You are seeing correctly, there are two fillings in the works there. Apparently, the singular challenge of substituting and adding ingredients to try and improve an already perfect dessert wasn't pretentious enough a task for me. Noooooo. I had already added candied yams to the filling and precooked it for a thicker texture. I strained it with the finest strainer I had in the kitchen to make it velvety smooth. I replaced the cream and milk with Greek yogurt because at this point, why the fuck not? I gave it a gingerbread cookie crust. But where could I go from here? I began filling the second bowl with the pumpkin and yam mix. Not only was I now fully committed to reinventing the wheel, but I was about to attempt to create a tasty gluten-free/vegan wheel as well! Wee! Why stop at tradition? Damn the norm! Me and my little voice were on a roll now! Here we go! Yams, pumpkin, spices, almond milk, agave sweetener and cream of tartar for thickness. Through the strainer. A crust of margarine and gluten-free gingersnaps. This was uncharted territory. A brave new world.

Pies go in:

Pie cleans mess:

Pies come out:

Pies get lit on fire by other Pie:

All pies feel a bit crispy:

Exhausted and pumpkin splattered, I carried a sampling of the pies into the living room and plopped down on the couch next to Jon who was watching television. I admired the glassy sugar shells. Little voice, we did it again, this looks great! I tapped into it with my fork. Brulee perfection. And then, the unthinkable happened.
"The... pies... taste disgusting." I stated.
"They taste like butane and... gross things." I took another bite to confirm and quickly "bleghed" it back onto the plate. Jon followed suit.

I was completely dumbfounded. Like a good cook (and natural fatty) I had sampled the filling throughout the entire process, and they tasted pumpkiny and rich with no sign of weirdness. Had the chemistry of bruleeing altered the entire flavor of both the pies from top to bottom? Poppycock! This couldn't be happening. Creme brulees never tasted like flammable substances and neither should my pies! My little voice had led me astray! Et tu brulee?! GRRRRR!
Little voice. Are you there? What do we do now? How do we save this?


Little voice?


Great. That's just like you. Disappear when things fall apart. I guess it's just me now. No grandiose plans or or MacGuyver-esque ideas, just me and my two Zippo pies.

I became suddenly morose. I went back to the kitchen and stared at the pies for a while longer. It was like a pumpkin pie funeral and appropriately, I couldn't accept the fact that my little pies were gone. I wasn't ready to throw them out. I decided the only logical thing I could possibly do now was to go take a shower. I futilely wrapped the pies in foil and sulked away. About 45 minutes later, and still pouty, I walked back over to the pies, now resolved to toss them to their trash grave. I removed the foil so I could recycle it and there were my pies, staring at me with their glossy sugar faces.

Prendere un morso.

SOOOOOO you've decided to return little voice. And I will not take another bite! I don't trust you anymore.

Mi dispiace, Pie. Ma per favore, una volta di più fiducia in me.

Hehhhhh. Fine, I forgive you, but I still don't want to take another bite. They are going in the garbage– but what if...

And then, almost against my will, I reached for the fork and scooped another taste. I instinctually made a scrunchy face, but then began to pay attention to the flavor. Perplexed, my face relaxed. I reached for the vegan one and took a sample. The butane had mysteriously disappeared and they tasted pretty good. At this point in the night (early morning), I was feeling pretty pied out and completely bewildered. I felt a third tasting was in order when I was feeling lucid again, so I put them back in the fridge for their final test the next evening.

Have the pumpkin pies survived the night?
Will the dreaded butane flavor retun?
What will Little Voice have to say?

Tune in tomorrow, same Pie blog, same Pie entry!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jag vill ha godis!

No, my cat did not walk across the keyboard. That, dear readers, was in Swedish.

And if you are already drooling over the thought of a post full of Swedish meatballs with Lingonberry sauce or pickled fish – although I might have to question your taste with that second one – I am sorry to say that you are going to be pretty disappointed because this post is about something much much sweeter. Or actually, salty.

Meet the Tyrkisk Peber.

Tyrkisk Peber or Turkish Pepper, is a hard, sweet, peppery and super salty black licorice candy from Denmark.

I'm sorry, salt and pepper black licorice? Yes. Salty. Peppery. Delicious. Black. Licorice.

Apparently it's a common candy in Scandinavia, and it also happens to be the key to my heart. Give me one of these black beauties (not as harmful but certainly as addictive as the pills) and I am guaranteed to follow you around like a puppy pawing at your pocket for more treats. And possibly drooling. Ask my friend Swede Hurt, who gave me my first one in Chicago two weeks back and couldn't shake me from her leg for the rest of the tournament.

You can't see, but I'm actually clinging to her thigh like a 4 year old (photo by Steve Stearns)

Now, I know what you're thinking. I can see your lips all curled up and your nose scrunchy like an eight year old faced with a plate of steamed broccoli. "Eggh" you say. I know your kind. At dinner parties you refuse aperitifs of sambuca or Pernod. Every springtime, your fingers dance around the candy bowl carefully circumnavigating those pesky black jelly beans. Good n' Plentys? You are not fooled by those bright candy shells because you know what they conceal:


And now I have just revealed to a completely horrified you that there exists a candy that is not only black licorice, but salty and peppery on top of the gross anise flavor? And I like it? PIE YOU MUST BE MAD!

Perhaps, but at least I have good taste in candy! Haters be hatin'. But guess what? We are not done exploring this licorice phenomenon yet my picky friends!

Introducing Djungelvråd!

A few days after returning from Chicago, I was going through heavy withdrawal from not having any Tyrkisk Peber. And with no more available to me, my well being was surely in danger. I had to find them. I looked for specialty candy shops in the area, Scandanavian import stores, gourmet markets – anywhere that I might get access to those little gems. It was looking pretty bleak. I tried munching on spoonfulls of cracked pepper to get my fix. I tossed Good n' Plentys with salt – no dice. My trip to Tompkins Square Park in search of a "candy that looked like black tar" did not bode well at all. I was irritable. Sleepless. I NEEDED TYRKISK PEBER.

Then, as we sat in a league meeting, Swede suddenly walked over and handed me this bag of Djungelvrål, or Jungle Roar. My struggle must have been pretty apparent, and like the good licorice pusher she is, Swede was there to deliver the goods.

While Tyrkisk Pebers are a hard candy, Djungelvråls were soft and chewy with – get this – MORE salt.

My lips are shrivelling up just looking at this

I was intrigued and very grateful. I immediately opened the bag and indulged in a few. As I began chewing I felt the sweet familiar twinge of sourness in my upper jaw. My lips tingled with salt. The effervesence of the anise filled my head.

Ahhhhh. It was all going to be ok.

And although they weren't Tyrkisk Pebers, they were the perfect salty licorice methadone. I knew that with these salty monkey shaped babies, I would make it until my next encounter with the inimitable Tyrkisk Peber.

Swede Hurt just moved back to Sweden last week, and while I'm sad to see one of my good friends move far away across a big ocean, I am excited at the prospect of all those salty care packages that I should be receiving.

I will be receiving.


uh oh...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"And we're not having hot mush today..."

I can already tell you that this post is not turning out as I had originally planned.

Monday, I returned from 4 days in Chicago where the Gotham Girls All-Stars competed in the WFTDA 2010 National Championships. It's the big tournament for all the marbles. After all the regional playoff tournaments, the top 12 teams in the country (actually, in the world) compete for first place, bragging rights and a big-ass (also very HEAVY) trophy- The Hydra.

1st place GGRD (attempts) hoisting The Hydra in 2008

The original plan was to gross everyone out with endless pictures of all the "athlete gruel" I forced myself to eat over the past weekend during the tournament. 

You see, usually when we travel for tournaments, the team opts to shack up in extended stay hotels where we can have our own little kitchens and cook meals specific to what we each prefer to eat during competition. At the risk of sounding like someone trying to sell $800 juicers on early morning cable – and I want you to picture me all hyper with a track suit on saying this – maintaining optimal athletic performance and sustained energy during tournaments depends greatly on the foods you consume before, during and after the competition. I love sports jargon.

Seriously though, those kitchenettes are great, and a lot cheaper than eating out 3 meals a day. All you need is one trip to Whole Foods and you are ready to prepare an entire weekend's worth of...

Quinoa with spinach and tofu with cumin, tamarind and ginger


Ahh athlete gruel. It's a one bowl meal that is high in carbohydrates, protein and vitamins. The carbs and protein are great to fuel your body pre game, and the protein and vitamins are essential for muscle regeneration post game. What makes up an athlete gruel varies from person to person depending on taste and preference – wheat bulgur, quinoa, soba, oatmeal, brown rice, pasta, peanut butter, honey, chicken, tuna, tofu, spinach, edamame, kale, bananas, adzuki beans – basically anything that is convenient to eat, easily digestible, and again, has lots of protein and carbs. Sometimes, like in the athlete gruel pictured above, I go a step further and use herbs and spices that have holistic properties that might come in handy. Tamarind is a natural anti-inflammatory, cumin is good for digestion and ginger helps upset stomachs. Luckily, they also taste good together because you can trust me when I tell you that athlete gruel needs all the flavor help it can get!

Athletes doing athlete things in the athlete room

On top of 4 days of athlete gruel, for the week leading up to a tournament, at least for me, it's a strict diet of oatmeal breakfasts, nutritional lunches, bland dinners and protein shakes galore.

Needless to say that by the end of the final game we are not counting down the seconds to victory or defeat, but to sweet sweet junk food. That final buzzer sounds and its like a zombie onslaught of sweaty derby girls hunting for pizza, cheese fries, beer or whatever else we can get our saturated fat-deprived hands on. Screw the athlete gruel! At the conclusion of a derby weekend, there is always a junk food destination in mind. In Portland, we kicked ass and headed right to Voodoo Doughnuts and left with sugar shock. 2010 Regionals? Grabbed our medals and beelined it to the afterparty where we stood first in line waiting for them to wheel out the catering trays. 2009 regionals in North Carolina? Damned if we weren't cheek deep in BBQ and fancy popsicles before I could even get my skates off.

And now Nationals! This would be food blog gold! My chance to take you from the lowest low to the highest high! Feel for me as I force yet another meal of athlete gruel down my throat and wash it down with a chalky electrolyte drink! Mmmmmm! Cry tears of joy when Gotham hoists The Hydra high and savors the first bite of a well-deserved Chicago deep dish pizza! Hooray!

But no. The universe and Chicago had other plans. Other, tastier plans.

This time, there were no kitchenettes. We had a mini fridge and a microwave. There were no rented cars and trips to Whole Foods. Armed with only one huge container of athlete gruel that I made at home and a bag of trail mix, we would be forced to do the unthinkable: eat out. The athlete in me was not so happy. The fatty, on the other hand, was elated.

And to make matters worse, every time I thought I had a good, empathy-fetching flow of athlete gruel pictures going, it was interrupted by an above average meal at one of the local restaurants. Wasting no time, it started with my first meal on Thursday night:

Seitan burrito w black beans and guacamole. Very high in protein and carbs. I behaved and didn't eat the chips and sour cream

Dammit. That was good food. And good for me too. Friday morning, I was convinced it was a fluke and started on my mission of food misery again. There was athlete gruel for breakfast.

Steel cut oatmeal in the microwave with trail mix

And there was athlete gruel for lunch.

Watching the tournament action with my trusty container o' carbs

Just as I thought I was getting ahead in the bland food war, it was dinner time and – what? We were going for Thai? Crap. I love Thai food.

AMAZING soup. Egg drop soup with cucumbers, scallions and roasted garlic. Lots of protein
Rama tofu with steamed broccoli and peanut sauce- carbs, protein and greens! And Fisti's fork coming in for the kill

Fine. I graciously accepted my Friday defeat. But not tomorrow. Not Saturday. Saturday would be all mine.


Notice that the sun has not risen yet. Also notice it's cold enough outside to create condensation on the window

BAM! Beat that, tasty Chicago! Not just athlete gruel, but athlete gruel before the sun even rises! I am sure to win the day! And for Saturday that didn't mean just food. There were games to be played.

Golden ass fueled by gruel (photo by Eric Korn)
Suzy Hotrod exploding through the pack (photo by Eric Korn)
Texas' Crackerjack freaking out about something. Again (photo by Eric Korn)
Texas' Bloody Mary (photo by Eric Korn)

By 11 am, we had beaten Texas 151 - 52. The day was in an upswing. It was not even noon, and I was excelling in both of my weekend competitions. And now it was lunch time. We had to eat light because there was a second game in the afternoon. So we ordered some simple Japanese food and guess what?

It sucked! Thank god there was plenty of athlete gruel left!

Em Dash, Fisti Cuffs and I indulging in some mediocre avocado rolls and crappy udon. We spilled soy sauce all over the bed

I was feeling great. Two gruel-tastic meals in a row and a decisive win on the track. It seemed as if the tasty food streak was finally over and I could get on with my blog mission and back to some ass kicking.

But Chicago wasn't done with me yet.

Our afternoon semi-final game was against Rocky Mountain Rollergirls.

(photo by Eric Korn)
(photo by Eric Korn)
Ladies and gentleman, THE BRAID WHIP (photo by Eric Korn)

It was a battle. Both teams played fast, tough and smart. The final score was Rocky Mountain 133, Gotham 79. Despite our massive rally in the second half, Rocky Mountain handed us our first loss of the 2010 season, and our run for first place and The Hydra was over.

But it was ok, I had another war to win. It was dinner time.

Showered, bruised and tired, Swede Hurt and I took advantage of our other roommates going out to dinner and decided to sprawl out in our hotel room. We were lazy and got food delivered so we could watch bad television and carb up in our pajamas. Our final game the next day was against our long time rivals, Philly's Liberty Belles for third place.

Saturday night's dinner choice? Italian. I was fairly certain that this contest would be mine. The world is full of mediocre Italian cuisine and while it may be perfectly edible, it's hard to get excited about something you can make easily in your own kitchen – probably better – for a fraction of the price. If I want to eat great Italian food,  I'll go to my parent's house. I ordered the baked cavatelli with cheese. Go ahead Chicago, wow me.

Wait a minute... this is handmade cavatelli! And... and really tasty sauce. NO! NO NO NO. Dammit, it's amazing! This is all wrong! My fortune cookie told me that I would triumph! THIS DAY IS NOT GOING WELL AT ALL! AAARRGGH! MMH! Ehh. Heh. Ooooh! Cheese! Mmmmmmm... this is really good... must keep eating... can't stop...

I had lost twice in one day. But for some reason, most likely the pasta, I went to bed satisfied and happy.

Bad television, good pasta

Upon awakening Sunday morning, I stole a couple of longing glances at the leftover cavatelli still in the container next to my bed. It was after all, breakfast time. I bet I could still eat it... it'd be fine... it'd only been a few hours that the cheese has been sitting out... I thought better of the situation and instead indulged myself in one last bowl of morning athlete gruel.

Gruel and Goonies. Breakfast of champions (or third placers)

I was excited and oddly motivated knowing that the next meal I'd have would probably consist of the best of the worst: whatever the nearest snack bar offered, probably cheap stadium beer and something with fake cheese. But first, we had to lace up our skates one last time.

(photo by Steve Stearns)
I'm snarling! (photo by Jay Vollmar)
Prototype for the Suzy Hotrod Muppet (photo by Steve Stearns)
Bonnie Thunders is graced by the light of god (photo by Steve Stearns)

The Philly game went swimmingly. Urged on minute after minute with the thought of how great that first end of the season beer tastes, the Gotham Girls tore ahead without looking back and ended 2010 with a massive 162 - 51 win over Philly, and the honor of being third place in the nation!

Yay! Third place medals!

And there's only one way to celebrate that...

Fisti Cuffs and some heavenly ooey gooey cheese fries

Me, Fisti Cuffs and Swede Hurt uh, rehydrating...

Me and my Budweiser watching the first place game between Rocky Mountain and Olympia. RMRG won, 147 - 146. WOW.

After all the excitement and awards ceremony was over, we quickly showered and got ready for the real celebration – the part of the weekend where we sit in a restaurant and drink beer and shove deep dish pizza in our mouths until they roll us out the door.

I'm sorry. Did that menu say BUTTER CRUST??!!

It's probably a really good thing that this guy quit baseball to open his own pizza restaurant

So maybe my plot to eat nothing but brown mush all weekend for your reading entertainment didn't quite work out the way I originally planned, but I ate well and enjoyed it. And maybe Gotham didn't go home with the insanely weighty Hydra trophy this year. But I have another medal to add to my trophy collection – placing third out of all the derby teams in the entire nation with a season record of 11-1 is no small feat! And Gotham is still the most amazing team in the world. After all is said and done, I couldn't be happier.

Because third place sure tastes better than athlete gruel!