Sunday, September 24, 2006


Not even fork-blowing winds and a sudden cloudburst could dampen the Pie Social spirit...pies were eaten and enjoyed by many. Commentary to follow, but first, a few pictures...

The pies, chocolate-coconut on the left, peach-pistachio tart on the right...

My tablemate Lisa, with her apple and mixed-berry pies (Lenny, not pictured, made the berry pie, and it rocked)

Skyler and Madeline, with one last piece of excellent peach-raspberry pie

Karen, who used to work at San Francisco's Firefly restaurant and Little Dipper Bakery, and her fabulous maple-pecan and Concord grape pies

Going Social

The coco-choco pie is ready to go! It turned out to be a bi-level pie, with chocolate-coconut custard on the bottom and coconut custard on top, drizzled in semi-sweet chcolate and topped with toasted coconut, in a graham-cracker-and-coconut crust made from the homemade graham crackers that I'd made for last year's Social and stashed in the freezer. It looks a little demented but should be very, very coconutty. The custard is a standard stovetop one, made with coconut milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and a little flour for thickening--after the birthday banana-cream-pie fiasco, I'm not making any more cornstarch fillings for the public until I can be sure it won't turn into soup. This version looks nice and sliceable.

Now, I'm debating--make a peach tart too? I'm out of butter, so I'm dawdling over going across the street to the market for a couple of sticks, then getting into the whole make-the-crust, peel the peaches deal. Do I want to be lazy Pie Queen? Hmmmm.

An hour later: No lazy PQ here! The peaches, foraged from the Carroll Gardens CSA's Saturday-morning leftovers, have been peeled, sliced, and tossed with sugar, flour, a pinch of salt and a few TB of B's magic pistachio fairy dust--ground pistachios, almonds, lemon rind, and nutmeg--and spread into a tart crust made from flour, sugar, butter, egg yolk, vanilla, and more fairy dust. And while thoroughly grubby and sticky with smeary bits of tart crust and sloshed peach juice, the kitchen smells dreamy.

On to the Social!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

how to whack a coconut

The coconut has been vanquished! With a little help from Steve Raichlan's Miami Spice, a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife, and a food processor, my brown hairy-yak nut is now reduced to 3 1/2 cups of grated coconut meat, 2 cups of which are soaking in hot water to make coconut milk, and the rest sitting in the fridge, waiting to be added to the crust and filling of the upcoming choco-coconut pie.

Actually getting into a coconut is not that big a deal, as it turns out. First, poke out the "eyes" with a screwdriver. Drain the liquid inside, which tastes like salty coconut-flavored water, which is what it is. You can drink it straight, or mixed with rum and a dash of bitters, if you're feeling all Jake-Barnes-in-Cuba-ish.

Then you put your now-empty coconut on a good hard shock-absorbing surface, like a cutting board inside a baking sheet on the floor. Be sure to warn your downstairs neighbors before you start the next part, otherwise you'll be that mysteriously noisy Person Upstairs, the one seemingly running a bowling alley in her apartment.

Now whack, whack, whack with a hammer until the nut starts to crack in pieces. The heavy hairy shell should pry easily from the brown-skinned nut inside. Once you've got all the husk off, you grab a small, sturdy knife or heavy-duty vegetable peeler and scrape all the brown skin off--it's a lot like peeling a butternut squash, and just about as boring.

You're left with a pile of bright white flesh with a pleasant, apple-y crispness. (I wanted to like it, really, except for the part about it tasting like coconut. Damn.) Now, if you have a lot of time on your hands, you can rub each and every piece through the small holes on a box grater. Or you can shove them all into the tube of your food processor, tricked out with the grating attachment, and get a bowlful of grated coconut in less than a minute.

Measure out a 1 to 1 ratio of boiling water to grated coconut (that is, 1 cup water to 1 cup coconut) and let the coconut steep in the water for 15 minutes. LIne a sieve with cheesecloth, dump in the coconut mixture, and squeeze out all the liquid. Voila! Fresh coconut milk. Refrigerate like regular milk.

Ok, I'm very tired now. More later.

Friday, September 22, 2006

L'Shanah Tovah

L'Shanah Tovah, and happy new year! Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the year 5767 on the Jewish calendar, and a happy, healthy and sweet one to all of you. Being a baking Jew, I am, of course, making a round extra-honeyed challah this afternoon, using my own recipe from the Honey book. Rosh Hashanah challahs are sweeter and richer, being celebratory, and are usually filled with golden raisins or other dried fruits, all which makes for the best french toast ever a couple days later. This loaf is sweetened with some of the mountain Ozark honey brought back from Eureka Springs. Honey also makes a lovely glaze on the finished loaf, particularly nice if you're bringing some to a friend's house as a New Year's gift. Some fresh apples, a little jar of honey, and a fresh challah roll makes a perfect little housewarming gift at this time of year.

There aren't a lot of Jews on the base where K. is, but nonetheless the Army got a rabbi in from Atlanta to hold services this weekend, and K., thoughtful and interested in religion as she is, went to the shabbat/erev Rosh Hashanah service on Friday night. The rabbi wore a camoflage-print yarmulke and brought dried apples, honey, and Manischevitz wine with him. Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday that calls for daily sunrise-to-sundown fasting, is starting soon too. Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement which follows a week after Rosh Hashanah, is also marked by a day of fasting, from sundown to sundown.

Until then, though, sweet things are encouraged, to represent wishes for a sweet year. Nothing sour, nothing bitter, just ripe, golden, and sweet, warm and welcoming as a loaf of new bread.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

pie socialists stage coup

It's a clear, nippy, really autumn-feeling day out there, which makes me think pie! I'd sure love to make a fabulous apple pie for the PIE SOCIAL this Sunday, but 2 years' of Social experience has taught me that the public is not big on beige. Shiny and fabulous goes, beige just kind of sits there like a sale rack at the Gap,even though my apple pie is, if I may say so, award-winning and really great. So I'm thinking the always-popular French plum tart, and then perhaps the as-yet-uncreated chocolate-coconut cream pie, which K. is gunning for. Shopping for coconut milk and shredded coconut, I was put off by the additives in the packages--propylene glycol and other creepy things, to "preserve freshness and whiteness." Why buy cans and bags when fresh coconuts were skulking, hard and hairy like yaks in the far corner of the produce section? So instead, I've got a real coconut, and will make my own milk and shreds.

I've heard rumours of crawfish pie (mmmm) and I'm certainly hoping last year's lobster pot pie lady comes back. But please, no repeat performance from the cricket-pie dude!

Bring your pies or just your appetites, but certainly bring your friends. See you there!


Monday, September 18, 2006

california here I come

One more week, and I'll be back in California! Wheee! I just can't wait. In fact, I wish I could move on back there, if only for the next few months until K. gets back to the States. This time, I'm going out there to check out this fine program at UC Santa Cruz, a six-month apprenticeship on their organic farm combined with education on sustainable agriculture and organic farming & marketing. It could make the goat farm a reality, or at least my longings to work organizing farmers' markets or CSAs, plus teaching cooking classes and such.

There's a great article in the Bay Guardian about local restauranteur Larry Bain's Nextcourse program, which teaches cooking and nutrition to women in the SF county jail. Says one woman, "When I was in jail, I was thinking this was all bullshit. I can't do that. It's going to be too expensive. It's just you white people blowing smoke up our ass. But I got out and now I'm going to the market every week and my kids love it."

Bain points out that his teachers shop at the Alemany and Heart of the City markets, and that the produce they buy is almost always cheaper, and better, than similar items bought from Safeway or FoodCo. There are other limitations, too--no knives in the jail--and the menu of a main, a salad, and an vegetable has to be produced in 25 minutes or less, for under $5 a person. It can be done, and by now over 750 women have gone through the program.

The current bagged-spinach scare is yet another example of the danger of big agribusiness, organic or not. A recent article in the Times pointed out how the sealed environment of the bag offers a excellent haven for bacteria growth if the bag gets too warm. I know I've eaten spinach from the bag--hey, it says it's triple-washed, right?-- but those dirty, sandy bunches of locally-grown greens are looking a lot cleaner now.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

DId You Eat It at the Antic?

So, Brooklynites, whadja eat at the Antic? This is, to you out-of-towners, perhaps the only NYC street fest worth attending. Unlike the other interchangeable greasy affairs selling tube socks and fried stuff, the annual Atlantic Antic is an almost entirely local affair, with the many restaurants--and churches and other organizations--providing the chow. The menu and vibe changes block by block--from Hicks to clinton it's hipsterville, with beer gardens, rock and alt-country stages (here are The Dansettes, swinging their blue-eyed soul), and sangria Spanish paella, chorizo and grilled fresh sardines from La Mancha.

I was tempted by many, many things, but the standout this year was the lamb sharwerma sandwich from the table outside the Oriental Grocery, on the South side between Clinton and Court.

I think I'd heard tell of their legendary sharwerma here, and the beautiful old copper machine they grill the meat on, taken out and used only for the Antic. Juicy, very well-seasoned meat, chunks of tomato, dollops of tahini and yogurt sauces, cucumber and tomato salad, and a big sploosh of fabulous hot sauce. wildly messy but worth the stack of napkins.

Earlier in the day I'd seen a makeshift bbq pit on the street--a rectangle of concrete blocks topped with a sheet of corrugated metal, with hooves sticking out from either end. A return visit a few hours later revealed an entire butterflied pig laid on a metal grid and smoking away over a bed of coals laid down right on the asphalt.

It was the work of PJ Handley's, the bar and grill down on Court, who were serving up chopped pork sandwiches and plates of ribs. As I was admiring the pig's head, one of the pig choppers snagged a particularly tender morsel from somewhere down around the pig's neck and handed it over. Mmmm, tender porky goodness.

Eatin' it at the Antic

It's time for the Antic! The street fair was just getting going as I did a quick stroll from Hicks to Smith. A whole pig was roasting in an impromptu bbq pit made of a sheet of corrugated iron propped up on a low rectangle of concrete blocks, a pair of hooves sticking out at either end. La Mancha was handing out $3 links of blackened fat chorizo, $8 plates of paella and my fave, grilled sardinas! Waterfalls had a beautiful spread of Middle Eastern salads, and many shawerma grills will be spinning soon.

And what it is with Brooklyn and t-shirts? Seems like everyone's got a brooklyn-pride-t-shirt company going, and they're all selling their wares today. Good sales to be had at Cook's Companion--some nice Kitchenaid and cuisinart saute pans, dishtowels, and other accessories, for way cheap.

But really, it's all about the chow.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Train arrive,
16 coaches long
Well, that long black train,
Coming right round the bend,
Well, it took my baby, but it never will again

Sunny day, clean laundry, homemade chocolate-mint cookies, the brooklyn book festival or the next-to-last day of the Joseph Cornell show at the Katonah Art Museum?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Muffin blues

I woke up this morning,
looked out the door
I can tell my milk cow
I can tell by the way she lows
if you see my milk cow please drive her on home
I ain't had no milk and butter since my cow's been gone

You got to treat me right, day by day
Get out your little prayerbook,
get down on your knees and pray...

It's a rainy day, a day for the blues, a day to make carrot muffins from a recipe from Bainbridge Island's Streamliner Diner. Not exactly, of course, because I can never bring myself to use as much honey and butter as the book calls for. And because I had some extra canned pumpkin lying around, and some raisins, and some canned crushed pineapple, I decided to make pumpkin-carrot-raisin muffins, with more spices and some molasses, too. And weren't they just tasty this morning. I think they'd be especially good with cream cheese or apple butter. They're similar to a morning-glory muffin, minus the coconut, which you could, of course, throw in, if you didn't recoil from coconut as if from a snake, like I do.

Milk Cow Ate the Morning Glory Muffins

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp powdered cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 eggs
1/2 cup (or so) pureed pumpkin
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup crushed canned pineapple
1/4 cup melted butter and/or oil, or more if you like a richer muffin
1/2 cup honey
2 TB molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla

Grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat wet ingredients together. Dump wet into dry, stirring until just mixed and no more streaks of flour are visible. Don't beat! Scoop into muffin cups and bake until lightly browned and gently springy when pressed with a fingertip.

Best served warm or reheated before serving.

If you can bear to put on your wellies and leave the house, good things going on this weekend--on Saturday at Borough Hall the Brooklyn Book Festival will be in full swing, followed by Sunday's always-fab Atlantic Antic. See you there, and don't miss the Baptist church ladies' sweet-potato pies.

Monday, September 11, 2006

just like buttah

Have you seen the new online Chow magazine? It's snappy and fun, and yes, I'm writing for them. See what's keeping me in butter money, here, on the Grinder, and DO NOT miss the video link (or the outtakes). Everything you ever wanted to see on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. Plus, butter sculpting! (As for Chow, I believe you have to register on a sign-in name and password--in order to access Chow, for now.)

When I worked at Chronicle Books, we put out a lot of goofy single-subject books. But the all-time favorite was Butter Magic. Butter Magic, covering the fabulous trend-of-the-moment of butter sculpting (we had, after all, just put out Snowman and Sand Castle) was an in-house spoof that probably could have become a real book if anyone had really wanted to get behind it. I still remember the picture in Saveur of the life-sized cow carved in butter and kept in a refrigerated glass display room at the Wisconsin State Fair. Writes my now-Minnesota-dwelling sister, "Butter sculpting is HUGE out here!" It is so huge, in fact, that the busts of Princess Kay of the Milky Way, the beauty queen of all things dairy (not to be confused with Alice in Dairyland, who fufills the same role in Wisconsin, according to B.), and her court are carved lifesize out of butter and put on display throughout the 12 days of the fair. Don't believe me? It's on Flickr, honey. See the future of the medium.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pie Social!

Pie Socialists, your time has come! Yes, Bubby's is putting on its 3rd Annual Pie Social on Sunday, September 24th, and the Pie Queen will be there, tiara, apron, and pies at the ready. And so can you, whether you're a pie baker or a pie eater. All the info's on the Bubby's website; click up top to get the baker's application. You'll pay less to enter if you get your application in before Sept. 10th, so click now...Make your check out to Bubby's, and mail it to the Tribeca location, with "Attn: Pie Social/Dani" on the envelope.

I'm thinking of plum tart (a hit at both previous socials) and then, perhaps the chocolate-coconut idea that sprang to mind during a conversation with K., as she was rhapsodizing about the coconut chocolate milk that's served (in UHT boxes, of course) at the dining hall run by the United Arab Emirates. A chocolate cream pie, made with a coconut-milk custard, over a crust of chocolate wafers and toasted coconut. Whipped cream, shaved chocolate, and more toasted coconut on top; maybe a little coconut rum in the filling...Of course, I hate coconut, so I won't be tasting this, but I'd bet that for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like.