Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wild Untamed Asshat Sighting

Tonight, driving down California at dusk, Charming Suitor and I witnessed an epic display of lack of human kindness.

There was a long line from the light at Belmont, so we were stopped a good block and a half back.  In front of us was an SUV and in front of the SUV was a police cruiser.  On the side of the street, getting ready to cross, completely jaywalking, was a man with a cane about 70 years old.  Traffic was completely stopped.  The man walked up to the window of the SUV and proceeded to yell at the guy that he was driving without his headlights on RIGHT BEHIND A POLICE CAR!  He then walked between the two cars and went to the driver's side of the cruiser and TATTLED on the guy in the SUV like they were in kindergarten and the guy had stolen his crayons.

Then he finished his leisurely jaywalk across the street.

It is important to note that the SUV had done nothing to this man, had not moved while the guy was crossing, or blocked his path.  Nothing to incite any sort of desire for revenge or retribution.

As traffic finally began to move again, the cop car slid over to the side, and then merged right in front of us, behind the SUV and turned on the lights.

The poor SUV got pulled over and probably ticketed, for having been slow on the uptake with his headlights at DUSK on a well-lit street, a thing I have probably done a zillion times, especially in these weird Fall nights.

CS and I were totally shocked, not at the cops, who really at that point didn't have much of an option, but at the random assholery of the pedestrian who went so far out of his way to make trouble for someone who had not done a single thing to warrant it.

Now, I have on occasion given in to road rage.  I have called in a complaint to the "How am I driving?" number on the back of a truck that blew a stop sign and almost t-boned me.  When an idiot hipster bike rider flew into my lane of moving traffic at top speed from inside a park without stopping and then almost wrecked himself on the front of my car, caught up with me to ask me what the fuck I thought I was doing, I did respond "Thinning the herd.".  And once after waiting for over 15 minutes in a parking lot for a space to open only to have a yuppie in a BMW snake my space from the other side, I might have called him a foul name or two and questioned his parentage at the top of my voice out the window.

But in each case, I felt provoked, incited, and reasonably justified.

Tonight?  I wished that I had the power to look up that guy's license plate, get his address, and send him some cookies.

What is the nastiest unprovoked thing you have seen?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dominos and Chocolate Cake

Oh, Chickens...things are very very busy over here!

First off, before I do anything, I must remind my Chicago peeps to please attend the seventh annual Witty Women night!  Tomorrow, October 23 at 7pm at The Book Cellar on Lincoln Avenue.  Me, Jen Lancaster, Amy Guth and Claire Zulkey will be yukking it up, signing books, and there is wine to boot!  Most of us write new pieces especially for this event, and I have finally put pen to paper about the legendary Lake Powell trip of 1996.  Let's just say it involves a 60 foot houseboat, an epic ass-bruise, fruit compote, a broken toe, and a band of Superhero Fundamentalist Mormons.  You don't want to miss it.  First come first served, so get there early and get a seat!

Things are hopping over here at the house.  We got some great new tenants for the two upstairs units.  Eight 20something boys are now living in my house.  EIGHT.  The apartments are both 4 bedrooms, so we have two sets of roommates.  I call them all Matt.  Two of them are actually Matt, and that is 25%, and I'm too old to remember eight new names.  So far they don't seem to mind, even though sometimes I have to ask them if they are a 3rd floor Matt or a 2nd floor Matt.  At any rate, they are all very sweet and seem to be settling in happily.

The basement renovation has officially begun.  It is amazing how setting out to do one project has a massive domino effect.

Today's example:  HVAC.  This old girl still has the original steam radiator heating system, and the "as many window units as the electrical system can handle" AC system.  But one of the things my poor Charming Suitor gave up when I made him leave his darling bungalow to move into my Castle was a forced air heat and central air system.  Ouch.  So our first order of business and the very first project we wanted to undertake as owners was upgrading the building to a brand new HVAC system.  On the surface, you would think this would not be a big deal.  We knew that the chase would be in a series of identical closets we have stacked up on each floor.  The new mechanicals would go in the basement essentially where the current massive scary boiler lives.  We would run the ductwork for the upstairs units visible in their ceilings, and the ductwork for the basement and first floor right down the hallway in the basement, feeding up into our apartment and down into the basement.  Easy peasy.

Except for that sneaky domino thing.

In order to install the new furnaces, you have to do demo on the ENTIRE BASEMENT, because otherwise you spend a freaking fortune on new furnaces that you then clog and damage with demolition dust.  Okay, so you schedule the demo.

This then requires that you actually go through the 20 years of crap that has been accumulating in your basement and send what you want to keep to storage, and figure out what can just go away. The entire Anne Rice Oeuvre in mass market paperback, complete with brittle wavy pages from bathtub reading, for example.  Three days of digging through old boxes of tax receipts from the early 1990's and both of our previous marriages.  An entire duffel bag of concert security t-shirts from my days as a college roadie.  Every book, CD, and DVD in the Western World that CS and I have apparently acquired.  25 collected years of 15 different cooking magazines.  All the crap that sane people, who move 5-10 times in their 20s and 30s purge every time they move to a new place.  Which I have never done because I haven't moved since I was 23.

We got it done, and are pleased with the results.  A good 50% was purged, either given away, recycled or just junked.  45% got packed up in a somewhat organized fashion and headed off to storage, where we are unlikely to see it for the next couple of years.  But it was the 5% we hadn't counted on.

The 5% of stuff that you keep in the basement because you don't need it often, but you do need it regularly.

Luggage and other travel gear.  Basic tools for household repairs.  The tubs and racks of off-season clothes.  The Famous Christmas Tree.   This is when you really commit to your project. Because this is when you realize that your dining room, formerly home to dinner parties and lovely celebrations is now officially the storage for the storage stuff that can't go to storage.  This is when you tell friends and family that the dominos have knocked entertaining off the table, literally.

As I write this there are burly men in my basement making a huge racket and a 20 foot dumpster in the alley rapidly filling with crap, and frankly, for the moment?   I love every bit of it.

In the meantime, I have a new recipe to share.  It is from, a site that if you aren't reading, you should.  It is the perfect thing to have in your arsenal, for no other reason than it works in an emergency.  People coming over?  No eggs or milk in the house, and no time to go get any?  Or your honey just called and is having a shitty day and you want something comforting to offer?  This?  Is that cake.  Rich and moist and chocolaty, 45 minutes from start to finish, and 100% made of pantry staples.

It also happens to be naturally vegan, and can even be gluten-free if you use one of the cup-for-cup flour substitutes.  It isn't overly sweet, especially if you don't frost it.  It works as well for afternoon tea as it does for after a dinner party.

Emergency Chocolate Cake
Adapted from
Serves 6 to 8

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I use Valrona or Hershey's Special Dark)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, grapeseed or vegetable)
1 cup cold water
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
1 t instant espresso powder (optional..but I love how coffee makes chocolate more chocolaty.  You can also sub out cold coffee for 1/3 of the water.)
Confectioners' sugar (optional, for dusting)

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, espresso powder and salt. Sift. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar.

Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk until smooth, or pour through strainer in to a bowl and break up lumps, pressing them through.

Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the floor several times to pop air bubbles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.

Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners' sugar, or frosting if desired.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Pumpkin" vs. Pumpkin

Chickens, it is officially Fall and I am THRILLED.  Fall is my favorite season.  It means football, and falling leaves, and the disappearance of humidity related hair disasters.  It means a return of sweaters and boots and cute jackets.

It means ticking down to Thanksgiving, which, as you all know, is my singular most important day of worship at the altar of home cookery.  And for those of you who are new?  You might want to pop over HERE and check it out.

Having said that, there is one thing about Fall that I don't particularly appreciate.

"Pumpkin Spice".

The minute the heat breaks and the first cool breeze wafts through, the world seems to lose its mind and everything on the planet is suddenly "Pumpkin Spice" flavored.  Which, let us be clear, is almost never ACTUALLY flavored like pumpkin, but mostly flavored like spice.  Not good spice.  Not warming satisfying spice.  Bottom of the stale spice drawer spice, mixed with sawdust.

I like spice.  I like the autumnal heat of ground ginger, the kick of cinnamon, a touch of clove.  The subtleness of mace, transformative nutmeg.  And I like pumpkin.  Not a huge fan of pumpkin pie, but the flavor of pumpkin I find very pleasing.

But I do not need everything I put in my mouth from September through December to taste like a Yankee Candle.

Local bakeries making moist pumpkin breads and tender pumpkin muffins and crumbly pumpkin scones?  That contain actual pumpkin?  Go forth with your deliciousness.  Big corporations whose "food" is mostly made of multisyllabic chemicals?  Give it up.  That crap is disgusting.  And yes, I am looking at you Pringles.

Seriously?  Just no.

And if you combine the word Pumpkin with Coffee or Latte or Smoothie or any other beverage?  GACK.

I know I am about to get a flood of pumpkin spice latte fanatics who wait all year to gorge themselves on a cup full of creamy potpourri, but I can take it.  Bring your ire.  I will always contend that your taste buds are broken.  It won't make me love you any less.

But let me at least try to move you towards the light, may I?

Because pumpkin?  REAL actual grown on a vine pumpkin?  Can be very delicious.  It can even be delicious with some fresh spices.  It is the very essence of Fall.  But it isn't a "flavoring".

For starters, I give you my famous Pumpkin Soup recipe.  Anyone can do this, and the results are truly spectacular.  It is a terrific first course for Thanksgiving, a fun mugful on Halloween, and the perfect way to begin a Fall dinner party.

Pumpkin Soup

2 1/2 lbs peeled cubed seeded pie pumpkin or butternut squash (I have used both with equal success)
2 large cans pumpkin puree (29.5 oz organic…not pumpkin pie filling!)
3 boxes chicken stock or a gallon of homemade stock
1 pt. heavy cream
2 med. (or one large) yellow onions
1 stick butter
Fresh ground nutmeg
¼ t espelette pepper (ground or paste) (opt)
s/p to taste

In a very large stock pot, sauté onions in butter till soft. Add fresh and canned squash or pumpkin.  Put in enough chicken stock to cover by about 2 inches.  If you want to make it vegetarian, use water.  Cook over medium heat till very soft, about 35-45 minutes. Blend with immersion blender or in stand blender till very smooth.   For extra velvety soup strain thru chinois or fine strainer.  Add cream and season to taste with salt and pepper, espelette if you like and fresh nutmeg.

Freezes beautifully pre-cream, I often make a double batch and freeze half without the cream in it.  Is also delish without the cream if you want to be healthier J


½ c heavy cream, whipped
8-10 amarretti cookies, crumbled

Blend together and scoop on top of soup.

Have also topped with:

Crushed gingersnaps
Crème fraiche mixed with crystallized ginger
Candied orange zest
Toasted gingerbread croutons
Herbed Popcorn
Whipped cream blended with cranberry sauce
Crouton with melted asiago cheese

Fried sage leaves

Not convinced yet?  How about this:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup  granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
6 Tablespoons pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup (90 grams) dark chocolate chips or chunks tossed with 1 T flour to coat

Cream melted butter with the sugars until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and pumpkin and egg until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk all of the dry ingredients and spices together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together with a large spoon or rubber spatula. The dough will be very soft.  Fold in chocolate chips until well dispersed.  Cover the dough and chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Scoop 2 Tablespoons of dough for each cookie, roll into a ball between your hands (grease your hands if you like).  Flatten the dough balls because the cookies will only slightly spread in the oven. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. They will look slightly underbaked at this stage, but as long as the chips look melted and there is a crispy outside, they should be finished, and you want them chewy.  As soon as you take the pan out of the oven, give it a sharp whack on the counter which will help flatten the cookies even more.  Allow the cookies to cool for at least 10 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack.    Cool at least 30 minutes to an hour before eating.

Anyone else have any favorite pumpkin recipes to share?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath