Monday, August 23, 2010

On religious pretzels and lovely western Africans

Sometimes, I feel wholly justified in sleeping for eleven hours.

At the moment I’m writing this, I just crawled out of my own bed for the first time in weeks, and I’m currently yawning, confused, and desperately trying to remember how the coffee routine in my house works.

At least I’m well-rested.

I just got back from a study tour of major American cities with an international program I’ve been working for. It was two other recent college grads and I, along with twenty lovely, if not easily distracted, western Africans. Add to that a crowded Times Square and luggage issues and vans with flat tires, and you’ll start to get an idea of my logistical day-to-day.

But there was also so so much fun. And lots of Senegalese dancing from a fantastic lady named Marguerite, who could move her hips in more directions than I think even exist. And patient French lessons from beautiful Ivorian boys, particularly on the pronunciation of vegetables, particularly concumbre. And some of the best soft pretzels I have ever tasted. (That’s where you come in.)

We were in what they cleverly call the Valley of No Wires – otherwise known as Amish country in Lancaster, PA. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel blasphemous for listening to an Ipod while driving through. And for owning a phone which is, safely hidden in the confines of a bag, deviously and sacrilegiously searching for 3G. Or at the very least, it makes you feel like some kind of technological tease, much like it would feel to eat a giant slab of chocolate cake in front of someone on a diet.

But, these pretzels. They almost make you forget about religion and blasphemy and all the man-upstairs rest for a moment. That is, until the woman at the pretzel stand tells you that the three open spaces in the dough actually represent the trinity, the twist in the center, arms crossed in prayer. But they also make unbelievable ice cream, which, in addition to being either vanilla or raspberry, happens to be completely secular.

The program is over now. I’m currently down twenty friends and trying to figure out the going rate for calls into Mali, but this is one of my favorite food memories from the trip: us sitting at picnic tables smack in the middle of Amish country, alternating bites of homemade pretzel with raspberry soft serve, racing the blaring sun as it melted cones and sundaes with reckless abandon. I don’t think I could go back without them, but you should.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where I wish I could be

I have so many new things to tell you. So so many.

There are Amish pretzels, and twenty new lovely African friends, now come and gone, there are sixty five foot chartered schooners called Extrapolation. I think there's pesto somewhere in there, too, and a chana masala adaptation.

But while I'm sorting all of that out in a way that's at least slightly cogent, have a look at these. It's where I was yesterday, and where I think I wish I could be nearly every day. (Don't worry, I was at least thinking of food to tell you about, I promise.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Foolproof formula

Have we talked about instant gratification on here yet? And how I, like most people, like it quite a bit?

Well, I do. I like it in all forms. My friend Katherin (the birthday-galette maker, remember?) and I hike this trail every so often that we have come to call Instant Gratification Hill. The name is self-explanatory, but essentially, you reach a lookout in about ten minutes. Five if you’re really trying, if ten minutes seems like too long to you.

I’ve found that sometimes, patience is just overrated. This holds true for most things (lines? USPS?), but where cooking is concerned, slow braising and rising times and starters certainly have their limits.

In the name of instant gratification, then, I bring you these cookies (bars?). They follow a pretty foolproof formula, which is to say: flour, sugar, summer fruit, copious amounts of butter. Done and done. They take about ten minutes to throw together (five if you’re really trying, if ten seems like too long to you). Here, patience is rendered completely irrelevant, which is the way I like it, preferably with one of these bars right alongside.

Blueberry Crumb Bar Cookies/Cookie Bars
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 ½ cups white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups AP flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or your fingertips to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly, almost like scone dough before you add the buttermilk. Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and berries and their juices are bubbling slightly on the edges. Cool completely before cutting into squares. (It also helps, but isn’t necessary, to store these in the fridge once they’re cool.)