Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The triumph of the nerd

Today was the nerdiest day. Here is why.

After Zumba class I approached the teacher. And I told her I loved her class but asked if she could turn the music down!

"Can you turn the music down?" That is the nerdiest thing I ever said.

On the other hand, let me think for a moment. There is one other thing that comes close. Well, there are probably a lot of things that come close, most of them Leonard Pennario-related. But the one that comes to mind is once my friend Michelle was picking me up for a road trip. There is blond Michelle and brunette Michelle and both of them are beautiful. This is blond Michelle.

Blond Michelle picked me up and here is what I said.

"Oh, I am looking forward to this long drive. Look what I've got. I've got the new Andras Schiff CD."

I am afraid that tops the Zumba story now that I think about it. You should have seen Michelle's face. She wordlessly turned up the Amy Winehouse. Amy Winehouse was new then. This was before she died. She was singing, "They wanted me to go to rehab and I said no, no, no!"


I am the one who should go to rehab!! So they can turn me into a normal human being.

I was honestly excited about the new Andras Schiff ...

 ... CD! That was before I met Leonard Pennario. Pennario would have laughed me off the block about that one. We had a running joke about Andras Schiff because Schiff was so nerdy.

But to get back to my story, mission accomplished. The Zumba teacher could not have been nicer and she said she would turn down the music! Which, I have to say, I am used to loud music and I usually wear some kind of earplugs. But this was just too loud.

I am so glad she was so nice. Not only that but she caught up with me later in the locker room and we had a conversation. Not about Andras Schiff but about genteel things all the same.

Zumba teachers rock.

They are the greatest!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Alleluia, alleluia, let the holy cupcakes rise

I am in my second childhood and am making cupcakes for Easter.

These were from Martha Stewart February 2009 and  the issue is all blotted with butter and cocoa. When I was frosting them I decided to soar like an eagle and crack out my new cake decorating set from Vidler's. I have always wanted to pipe swirls onto cupcakes!

And it was fun. I think I get the gist of it, how to operate this frosting press. It is kind of like a German Spritz press which we used when I was little, that is to say, in my first childhood.

The only trouble was, the press uses an enormous amount of frosting!

I had made a butter cream out of this cupcake cookbook I have, and I had already doubled the recipe because I sensed that the frosting would not go the distance as written. I piled some into the cake decorator piper thing and right away I could tell that it still would not go the distance.

Sure enough, this frosting that I had doubled swirl-frosted maybe five cupcakes! Then it hit bottom.

I could not see redoubling the butter cream frosting recipe. Already I was feeling guilty over the amount of time this was taking. I am supposed to be writing about a certain concert pianist and not blowing three hours making cupcakes, you know? So I ended up using the knife the way I have before. But my vast collection of sprinkles and jimmies from Albrecht Discount make them look pretty cool anyway.

The process was messy and involved.

But fun!

My niece and nephew are in California and do not know what they are missing. I got to lick all the beaters myself and then the spatula.

By the way, for anyone wondering about the title of the post, it is a riff on my favorite Easter hymn -- well, one of them anyway, "Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise." After Easter Mass I extracted a promise from our organist that we could sing it sometime over the next couple of weeks. She said in two weeks. For the recessional, the only time at Mass when we sing in English.

So, two weeks from today, 9 a.m., St. Anthony of Padua Church. Downtown Buffalo, behind City Hall. "Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise." Followed by coffee hour.

I will bake cupcakes!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The hippie pizza

We continue the hippie food jag with the Moosewood Cookbook's Zucchini Crusted Pizza. I baked it in an iron skillet as in the picture up above. Actually that is my picture. I hate to admit it because I am not a good food photographer but I could not find a good picture online, zut alors.

Cookbook author Mollie Katzen has the recipe on her Web site.

My recipe is a little different from that one. I was cooking out of my vintage edition which is missing some of its pages and is tattered the rest of the way. I have scrawled notes all over it. On the Zucchini Crusted Pizza page it says I made that pizza on Oct. 12, 2005. I wrote that it was South Beach Diet-friendly and that I made it for my friends Toni and Jane while we watched "Night Song."

I remembered that night! We were at Toni's house. But I did not remember "Night Song."

It looks good!

For "Night Song" I added caramelized onions, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers and mozzarella. Mollie Katzen did not specify the amount of salt and I wrote down 3/4 teaspoon. Yes, I am a chronicler! I used to laugh about that when I was in California with Pennario. I do like to write things down. It is because I am German.

My sweet old Moosewood Cookbook, I had it in my college apartment on Parkside, the one with the ghost. The apartment I revisited that time.

My roommates and I cooked out of it constantly. We ate mostly vegetarian because we were kind of countercultural and also vegetarian cookbooks called for stuff we could buy at the convenience store. Lots of eggs and cheese. We didn't have cars and so we liked that. We used to make the quiche out of the Moosewood Cookbook. That is funny because now quiche seems like so much work, and who makes it? But then we made it a lot. Crust from scratch, everything. At least once a week, dinner was that quiche. Looking at the recipe now sort of touches my heart. The page is all blotted and torn.

The Zucchini Pizza does not really taste like a pizza, at least the crust does not. But it is yummy all the same. We put anchovies on it. And mozzarella from Albrecht Discount.

Too much fun to be having in Lent.

We are almost through it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is this heaven? No, it's the gym

I worked late today and decided I did not have time for the gym. I would be too late for Zumba class which began at 5:45 p.m.

However! Somehow I took the exit automatically and my car homed toward the gym. And I soon saw why.

Everything was charmed!

First, I scored this great parking space that miraculously opened. Second, this handsome gentleman waited something like a minute and a half to hold the door for me. Why, thank you, kind sir! He smiled at me as if to say, Welcome to L.A. Fitness!

As I walked in the sound system was just kicking in with the title theme to "Flashdance."

I am sorry, if they cannot play Leonard Pennario that is the next best thing. It cracked me up.

Next what happened was, I was walking toward the locker room and there were these tables set up promoting some concern or other, I do not know what, but they had this big boxer that wore a sign saying "Pet Me." This was the dog boxer...

... not the other kind.

This being a gym I must make that clear!

I could not believe my luck. I had assumed the boxer would be a blind person's dog, one that you could not pet. So I hugged the boxer dog and petted him as he looked up at me with his sweet serious eyes.

No one was in the locker room. I dressed in comfort in my Zumba clothes. I was a half hour late for the class but what the heck, there was still a half hour to go. Zumba was fun. I looked skinnier than I had looked last week. As class was ending and I was leaving I thought the teacher called over to me, "You sneaked in when I wasn't looking!" But I do not know this teacher. I thought: She could not be talking to me.

I did some weights and then I went to the locker room to get my stuff. And the teacher appeared! She said, again: "You sneaked in!" Then she said: "I was so happy to see you! I always love when you come to my class."

I stood there in my conspicuous neon Zumba clothes, smiling, delighted.

What a wonderful hour at the gym!

No wonder my car led me there!

When I left I hoped to pet the boxer again but he was gone. I wondered for a second if I had dreamed him.

Everything was just too perfect, you know?

You've got to wonder.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the Wee Small Hours of the Bread Machine

My church coffee hour baking adventures continue.

I was worried that I would not be up early enough this morning to make a dessert for the, ahem, congregation. On Saturday night Howard and I and our friend Andy were going out to hear Jackie Jocko. And so I decided that when I got back that night, I would program the bread machine to make Coffee Spice Bread.

It is out of the Bread Machine Cookbook which I bought at Savers last week. It calls for one cup of brewed coffee which, I did not have leftover coffee, so I brewed a cup and sat it to rest while we went to hear Jocko.

When I came back I mixed up the bread. I was trying to push the buttons to have it ready by, say, 7:30 a.m., when I get up to go to Mass.

But oops, I did not push the buttons right. Because the thing starts kneading right there and then. And I could not figure out to correct it. Long story short, here it is 4 a.m., and the cat wakes us up, and I awaken to this aroma in the air. It was unbelievable. Like cookies only better. It was the Coffee Spice Bread!

I had to go downstairs and see what was the deal. I padded downstairs in my pajamas. The bread was done. How long it had been done, I had no idea. But I knocked it out of the bread machine pan. The cat came out of nowhere and sat there on his haunches watching me.

I set the bread to cool on a rack and went back upstairs and went back to sleep.

It was almost like a dream only in the morning there the bread was, cooled, done.

And very good if I may say so myself. And at the coffee hour after Palm Sunday Mass it was gone in 60 seconds, as they say.

This is the way to go, I am thinking now. The bread machine does the work, I have more time to work on the Pennario book. I am always trying to think of ways to make things work better and more smoothly.

So here we go. Coffee Spice Bread from "The Bread Machine Cookbook," by Donna Rathmell German.

Mix up, as your bread machine manufacturer intended (I do it in this order, because I own a Welbilt):

2 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 cups bread flour (I used whole wheat flour from Price-Rite)
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I used one teaspoon because I am wild and crazy)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup coffee

Set the machine to do its thing. Go to sleep.

Get up in the morning and go to church, or synagogue, as the case may be. Take the bread with you.

Eat up!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A tights situation

This morning it was almost warm and I thought: I am going to ditch the black tights.

What a mistake that was!

I put on these spring stockings and a cute skirt and I was all ready to go to work. But first I had to go walk to the garage to pick up my car which had needed a brake job. So I set out in my pink spring stockings and my cute spring outfit.

Zut alors!

Things started out nice. It was warmer than it had been and I saw robins in the trees. But then it got cold and a drizzle began. Rain began. There was a kind of street guy who I saw hassling women and I had to go a little out of my way trying to steer clear of him. I had these heels on and I am click-clicking down the sidewalk. The walk was long.

By the time I got to the garage, I was cold! My feet were wet. I could not believe I had dressed like this. Whose idea was this? Spring clothes. Indeed.

So after I had paid for my brake job -- ouch! -- and reclamed my car, on the way to work I swung by my house again and changed into, you guessed it, tights.

It is like 1934 when the Pennario family moved to California.

It is cold!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pie in the sky

This year for Lent I am trying to do what I did last year, which was, ahem, give up meat. It is not that big of a sacrifice for me because I like vegetarian cooking. It is more exciting than cooking meat in some ways because for the most part I think it is harder and more creative.

Except nothing could be harder than trying to get that steak right! Remember that? What a hassle that was. Eventually I gave up.

Anyway. Giving up meat isn't terrible but it is an inconvenience. To try to make things easier I have informal themes for the week. One week was sort of Italian week and another was Eating Well week, all the recipes came out of Eating Well. I am like Leonard Pennario, endlessly creative.

This week is Hippie Week. All the recipes are hippie food!

As my brother George said to me the first time we went to hear the Grateful Dead in California, Deadhead food is good food. And yesterday, I have to say, I was very happy when Howard came home and sniffed and said, "It smells good in this house."

It must have been the roasted beets. I had beets roasting and this other dish involving fish and escarole and mushrooms, from this old Moosewood Classics cookbook I just scored at Savers.
Today I went back to that book and it is Homespun Pot Pie.

It ended up taking, let us say, a little longer than the book said it would. Half way through I checked online and there were reviews praising the recipe but saying how much work it was.

One person wrote: "I made this for Christmas dinner."

For Christmas! That is the greatest. I love when someone is making something for Christmas and I am  making it for Monday night dinner. And we did enjoy it. Here is a picture of Howard eating the pot pie.

Oh, dear. I am afraid this Lent is not doing me a lot of spiritual good. Well, at least it is making me a good cook. Perhaps in Purgatory I will be able to shorten my time by putting in time in the kitchen. I can cook for the other poor souls in Purgatory.

I am going to have to be buried with my Savers cookbooks.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The panicked chef

My church coffee hour baking travails continue.

It is always something, you know? I always have things planned out, or I think I do. And then madness sets in. Today I had in mind making Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies from, you guessed it, Cooking Light. And I get up in the morning, even though I was working last night, and I am mixing up the dough, la la la la la. At least the butter was soft. Remember that other time when the butter was put back in the fridge?

Anyway, everything went well, until the dough would not hold together.

I had spooned out a tray of these cookies and the remainder of the dough was all dry and oat-y. What to do? What to do? Stress. Stress!

Laboriously I scooped out another tray of cookies.

I should have done this yesterday, I was thinking. But... when? I had to go out to a concert. The BPO was playing Beethoven's Ninth. And before that I funneled a few hours into the book. I do not often write about actually doing the book but that does not mean I am not working on it. I am working on it. And I promise myself that I will put a few hours into it and that means that cookies do not get baked. Hence the Sunday morning panic.

Finally what happened was, I decided to take the rest of the dough and pat it into a pan, as if I were making bar cookies. They would take longer to bake but that meant I could run upstairs and get dressed. And it did work out that way! Next time if I make these cookies again I will maybe do that to begin with, make them into bar cookies.

I blame Cooking Light. They must have been skimping on the butter or something and that was why the dough did not hold together. You know how they are always skimping on stuff. Fie on them, fie. Once again I am running out the door with a tray full of cookies that just came out of the oven one second ago. Once again I am skidding in barely in time for the Asperges.

When I am through with this Pennario thing, my next project should be a cookbook.

Somebody has to tell these people how to do things right!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The forbidden picture

Today is a gray and damp Saturday but I am enjoying myself. I went this morning to Zumba and then to Price-Rite. At Price-Rite I followed my mother's advice of always go food shopping when you are hungry because that is when it is the most fun.

I did have fun. The carts there are huge and there are all these traffic jams, leading to all these opportunities to laugh and joke around with your fellow customers. Also I have this new appreciation of all this international stuff you can find, for cheap, at Price-Rite. They have half an aisle of Italian things, olive oils and artichoke hearts and such. And Latino vegetables, things like yucca and yams.

You find yourself wanting to look at everything. For instance one bin held cottage-cheese-sized cartons of ... I picked it up to take a look .... raw brown sugar. In another aisle I heard someone calling to someone else to look at the raw sugar cane. That sounds as if you could make your own rum! A possibility that must be explored.

Price-Rite does not get enough credit for all this stuff. With which, I finally took out my camera in the spice department. I wanted to photograph the mother lode of MSG ...


... and then I wanted to give an idea of the cornucopia of spices.

"Excuse me, miss!" A staffer was calling to me. "We don't allow pictures in here."

I stood there red-handed, astonished.

"You don't?" was all I could think of to say.

"No pictures of the spices," he said.

"Oh," I said. Then I said I was sorry, it was just for my personal web log, whatever. He was very nice so, no problem there. He said it was the manager's rule, not his. But that is astonishing, you know? No pictures in Price-Rite. How strange! And how do you forbid customers from taking pictures, anyway? No wonder nobody knows what goodies may be had in Price-Rite.

After that all I wanted to do was take pictures. I kept thinking about it! Because it was forbidden to me. It is like wanting to publish a picture of Leonard Pennario that belongs to some newspaper and not to me. I wanted forbidden photos of Price-Rite!

Anyway, here it is, the forbidden picture.

The one I took the instant the staffer was telling me to cease and desist!

It should be part of some exhibit, perhaps at the Albright-Knox, of banned art.

It is masterful!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The poet and the nun

I have found this fascinating Lenten reading, as good as any novel. It is the account of Christ's Passion as seen through the fevered eyes of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, pictured at left.

You may read it free online. But I am warning you, it is hard to put down.

Blessed Catherine Emmerich was beatified by John Paul II but not on the strengths of these -- visions, were what you could call them. I think it is one of those situations where the Catholic Church leaves it up to you whether to believe they are from God. But her writings -- well, actually, someone else wrote them down for her, someone I will get to in a second -- they are a marvelous read, if nothing else.

Reading them made me wonder: How come we hear everything about St. Faustina but nothing about Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich? This stuff is amazing. She was this peasant nun without any money or formal education but she goes into all this historic detail. I read somewhere today that Mel Gibson made extensive use of her visions in "The Passion of the Christ."

Here is what reeled me in. As the music critic for The Buffalo News and the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario I am big into music. And the man who wrote these visions down, he was the German poet Clemens Brentano. I had never heard of any of this but I sure knew that name. I know him, and I know his family.

"I know him, and I know his family." There is an endorsement!

Clemens Brentano was one of the most famous poets of the Romantic age, a rival to Goethe. He was one of the two poets we can thank for "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," the famous collection of German folk poetry that inspired a lot of artists including Gustav Mahler. He wrote poetry that was set to music by Richard Strauss. His sister was Bettina Brentano ...

... who had a flirtation with Goethe and, sort of, with Beethoven. His sister-in-law was Antonie Brentano ...

...  who was supposedly Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," the woman to whom Beethoven addressed those torchy love letters. Ha, ha! I love the small size of that picture. I am going to leave it be. Clemens Brentano was the one who wrote that classic observation about the fragile Antonie: "Toni is like a glass of water that has been left standing for a long time."

This is all getting kind of inside baseball. Maybe I will go into it more on my Music Critic web log. My point is, you would think I would have run across this business about Clemens Brentano ...

... taking down the visions of this nun. But for some reason it is just not talked about very much.

"Well, Mary, everyone knows that Clemens Brentano took down the dictation of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich." Fine, all I am saying is you would think I would have heard of this somewhere, somehow, and yet I did not.

It is fascinating stuff.

To be explored at length, of an evening in Lent.