The Myth of Success

Recently, foodie influencer Alison Roman gave an interview to The New Consumer that can only be described as a “shit show.” While talking about her own Zen-like journey into fame, she performed an epic racially tone-deaf (I’m being kind) take down of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, calling them sellouts while she remains pure as the driven snow because she doesn’t have a line of cookware at Target.

What bothers me, other than the latent racism of her entire platform (until this episode she used her whiteness to omit how different cultures influenced her food – just so you know, she is not the person who discovered garlic, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom create outstanding flavor), is that she is making her success seem like something that just happened to her. Like she didn’t try *at all* to become The Foodie with The Stew and The Cookies and The Whatever. Which we, as people who had found a modicum of success, know is not true.

It’s like beautiful people acting like they just always look that way naturally, when in reality it takes a twice daily application of cleanser, exfoliant, toner, serum, lotion, hair dye, and Botox to maintain those looks. It is a lie that inadvertently discourages people from trying – making success feel as if it will always be woefully out of reach.

That is bullshit.

You have to try in order to be a success. You have to try really, really hard. When I started writing articles, I got a hundred “nos” before I got one “yes.” I am still getting rejection emails from a manuscript I sent out six months ago. But I keep trying, because one day I will get a “yes.”

Bon Appetit and the New York Times didn’t pluck Roman off a subway platform one bright spring day, hand her column space, and say, “You look like you could be successful. Write about food for us.” She pitched them ideas and used the incredible amount of work she has done on her Instagram account to get in the door. (Those pictures don’t just happen, people.) She didn’t just luck into those recipes, either. Those were developed with intense hard work and repetition built on the knowledge from years of experimenting with flavor and spices and, yes, food from other cultures.

One quote in particular from the article about how she creates a recipe gets me completely worked up.

“You’re overthinking it. I think people would be fucking shocked at how little — There’s no formula. There’s no strategy. There’s no, like, “gotta have this, gotta have that.””

Actually, there is a formula. One she learned through years of tasting, learning, and cooking. One she developed through years experimentation, seeking out the flavors of other cultures, and through failure. I would bet a plate of cookies that none of those dishes in her cookbook came out perfect the first time. To admit to anything less is disingenuous at best and killing the career aspirations of thousands of young cheflings at worst.

The tone of her whole interview is why people hate Millennials. She is perpetuating the myth that success just happens to people. No effort is required. You are given what you get in life like a participation trophy handed out at a soccer tournament. Failure happens to other people, not those blessed to succeed.

That is a flat out lie.

Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. I’m not saying that luck isn’t a factor, but as the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” Alison Roman is successful right now because she was ready with all the tools she needed when the opportunity came along.

As I said above, she did issue an apology on Instagram for her horrible treatment of Teigen and Kondo; however, Roman needs to learn a larger lesson about owning the effort it takes to make it and honoring the work of those who have gone before you that makes your path to the top possible.

A Visit to JennyCakes

My friend Sandi posted a link to an article about the best bakery in each state. Imagine my surprise when Kensington’s very own JennyCakes was listed as the Best Bakery in Maryland.

I have been a fan of JennyCakes since it opened in 2012. They started in small storefront on Armory Avenue behind Safeway. I got lured there by their cupcakes, stayed for the cherry scones, and my boys were thrilled to find a place that made bars and cookies as well as beautifully decorated cakes.

And I wasn’t the only one. They quickly expanded into the neighboring store and have been flourishing. The number of cars adorned with a Jenny Cakes magnet – round and cookie-sized with her signature orange and white ‘J’ – is impressive. I don’t think there is anyone in Montgomery County who hasn’t been to JennyCakes.

They are a true neighborhood bakery. Jenny and her employees all live close by and it’s easy to fall into a conversation with the other customers about what baked good to pick.

I took my partner in crime, Shaun, to JennyCakes so she (and I) could sample their wares AND I could fulfill my promise to Sandi that I would get there and buy a lemon ricotta cookie.

First of all, the bakery case was FILLED with sweets and treats so delicious I immediately gave up my internal pledge of buying only one and I had to buy two.

This was the day before Thanksgiving and being the curious person I am I asked Bonnie (Jenny’s top lieutenant) how many pies they had on order for the big day. The answer was an astonishing 200 pies were being baked that day for pick up! Alas, none of them were ours. I had already baked a pumpkin and a pecan pie for our dinner.

We got down to business and selected our cupcakes.

It was so hard to choose! Even if we had decided we were getting a dozen cupcakes some would have been left behind.  Do we get caramel apple? Pumpkin? Chocolate with strawberry buttercream? Coconut? German Chocolate? The choices were staggering.

And then there were the cookies!

Jenny’s chocolate chip cookies are the cookie that started it all. If you have one cookie to choose get this one. I asked about the lemon ricotta cookies and was told that the bakery was featuring a seasonal menu right now. The lemon ricotta cookies would be back in time for summer.

But in the end we did make our choices. (And we snagged two cherry scones as well. Because we were feeling just a little Downton Abbey. #teamEdith)

Our 4 choices: Classic yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting, chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake with a cookie dough frosting.

Every cake was moist and delicious. That chocolate frosting on the yellow cake was intensely chocolate and fudgey, not vague and watered-down like from other places. The peanut butter cupcake was equally intense in flavor and eating the whole cake and frosting reminded us of a peanut butter cup. The red velvet cake was moist and light with a nicely sharp cream cheese frosting. Together they create a great counter balance between sweet and tangy.

The last cake, chocolate with a cookie dough frosting, is now my entire reason for living. Ohmigod it is amazing. My two favorite things all crammed together. The moist and slightly fudgey cake topped with a creamy and thick scoop of cookie dough is genius. I ate the cake and the frosting separately, lingering through the final bites of cookie dough.  I was sad that I bought only one.

You, too, can find your reason for living. JennyCakes is located at 10419 Armory Ave, Kensington, MD 20895 – right behind the Safeway. They are open Tuesday through Saturday between 8am until 7pm. Treat yourself!

 

Blackberry Custard Bars

I am always on the lookout for a new spring/summer dessert recipe. Something that can go to a picnic or other event to be shared by friends. Something that is different than a cobbler or crisp or a fluff and more than simply plopping down ice cream bars or fruit pops. (Although I wouldn’t snub those at any picnic!)

Someone shared a recipe on Facebook for a rhubarb custard bar. I was totally game to make those except Safeway hadn’t gotten the memo that I would need 5 cups of rhubarb for this. In fact they had 0 cups of rhubarb and so I needed to think of an alternative.

Raspberries! Uh, not this time. Too expensive and the frozen berries were sugared. I needed something to mirror the tartness of the rhubarb.

Mixed berries? I don’t think so.

Pineapple? Absolutely not.

Blackberries? Yes! They had them in bags in the freezer section which made them A LOT cheaper than their fresh brothers and sisters. They were unsweetened and, frankly, I think they are a forgotten berry. No one sings the praises of blackberry pie or opts for blackberry jam on their toast. It’s always raspberries. Raspberries! Raspberries! Raspberries! Blackberries are the Jan of the fruit world.

More things need blackberries in them so blackberries would be going into my custard! I’m doing it for the middle children!

And they were delicious. A bright and tangy taste with a surprisingly fluffy cream cheese and whip cream layer on the top. You will definitely enjoy these at your next picnic.

Blackberry Custard Bars

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces

Custard

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 7 T flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 24 ounces blackberries, fresh or frozen – thawed, rinsed, and drained

Topping

  • 6 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, whipped

To make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350F/176C.

Prepare a glass 9×13 rectangular Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray or butter.

Using a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar, and salt together using your fingers. A couple of quick turns with your fingers will do it. Then add the cold butter and smoosh (a technical term) the flour mixture into the butter mixture until you have a bowl of course crumbs.

Then dump the crumbs into the baking dish and firmly press the crumbs down to make a crust of about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the crust is just lightly brown.

To make the custard:

As the crust is baking, take a medium or large mixing bowl and measure out the sugar, flour, and salt into the bowl. Give them a quick whisk to combine them. Then add the eggs and cream and give the entire mixture a good hard whisking until it is well combined. Then add the drained blackberries and very gently fold them into the custard mixture.

As soon as the crust is out of the oven pour the custard mixture on top of the crust. Return the whole shebang to the oven for another 45-50 minutes, or until the custard is set. This part is a little tricky. It should have a very slight wobble to it and be just slightly tacky on the top. The top will be browned and yet still look slightly wet. When in doubt stick it back in the oven for another 3 to 5 minutes or until you are satisfied it is done. Extra browning won’t hurt it as you will be covering it with the topping.

When you think it is done take it out and let it cool. As soon as it is room temperature or a little above chill it in the refrigerator until it is very cool.

To make the topping:

In a medium-sized bowl whip the 1 cup of whipping cream until it is stiff. You should be able to tip the bowl upside down and nothing will fall out.

Then in another medium-sized bowl beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. These should be completely combined and very smooth. Carefully dump in the whipped cream and gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream until it is completely combined with no streaks.

Remove the bars from the refrigerator and dump the whipped topping on top of it. Gently spread it over the bars until it is of an even thickness. Chill the bars for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Serve with coffee, tea, or champagne (save a bit of the berry liquid back to make a sort of blackberry bellini!).

These are delicious. They have a bright, fresh, light flavor. The crust and blackberry seeds give you a satisfying crunch while the custard and the topping are smooth and creamy. If they aren’t tangy enough for you add about 2 tsp of lemon zest to the custard for an extra zing.

Enjoy!

Russian Tea Cakes

The winter holidays are filled with traditions. Growing up a lot of those traditions included food. Tons of food. And when I say “food” I mean “dessert.” Cookies specifically. Sugar cookies, thumbprints, peanut butter stars, chocolate covered pretzels, pecan tassies, chocolate drops, chocolate crinkles, candy cane cookies, and – a huge favorite – Russian tea cakes.

Russian tea cakes are also known as Mexican wedding cookies. I don’t care if you have them because it snows or because you are getting married, you should eat them.

They are so easy to make it’s a crime.  And they are delicious enough to get you out of multiple crimes. I know when I make them for Mark I can do no wrong.

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Russian Tea Cakes

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 2 & 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup very finely chopped nuts (pecans or hazelnuts are delicious)
  • More powdered sugar for rolling

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the butter and powdered sugar. If you use a mixer, beat them together on low or you will have powder sugar on every surface of your kitchen. Once they are well combined add the vanilla and mix.

Then add the flour and salt to the bowl. Beat on medium speed until all the flour is just incorporated. Then add the nuts and beat on low until everything is well combined.

At this point test the dough with your finger. If it is sticky refrigerate it for about 2 hours. It will be easier to work with then. If it isn’t sticky go right to shaping and baking.

Preheat the oven to 400F/204C.

Having an ungreased cookie sheet at the ready, start rolling the dough into 1-inch balls. Don’t be temped to go big here. They should be bite-sized. Maybe 2 bites at the biggest. Place the balls about 1-inch apart on the cookie sheet and back for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies should be set, but not brown. This is kind of tricky and you need to be patient. The cookie should be firm to the touch when you poke it, but still remain sort of white.

Straight out of the oven, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. This will be hot work. You can use two forks if you start burning your fingers. Put them on a cooling rack.

When they are totally cool, roll them in powdered sugar again. They look like little snowballs!

And this is why we want them bite-sized! The powdered sugar can be a little messy. 🙂

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They are wonderful treats for parties and just right for snacking at tea. I hope they will become a part of your holiday family traditions!

Healthy Carrot Soup

Quite a few years ago (so long ago it hurts to remember) I lived in Berkeley where everyone does yoga, experiments with veganism, and takes quick jaunts up to Napa for a bottle of wine that will go with dinner.  My coworkers and I were constantly sharing recipes back and forth. One that I still have and make regularly during the fall and winter is Carrot Soup.

It was given to me by my friend/coworker/masseusse Danielle with her notations and annotations scribbled below and on the side of the photocopied page. She’s given great instructions on how to double it and I don’t think I’ve ever made a single-sized batch. And I don’t share.

Well, I used to not share and then my youngest discovered that carrot soup was delicious and he forced me into sharing through sheer stubbornness (“I’m not going to eat anything else”), repeated and annoying asking (“Mommy….Mommy….Mommy”), and guilt (“don’t you want me to grow up healthy?” <bats eyelashes and gives sad face>).

So now I share.

And this is a very healthy meal to have. It’s only 128 calories per bowl and there are 8 bowls in a double batch. Frankly, I’m going to just double the recipe below and have that be the recipe I give you here. It doesn’t make sense to make a regular pot full unless you don’t have a large 6-quart pot to cook in. So, here we go.

Healthy Carrot Soup

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and diced (If you are only going to make a single batch 1 potato is all you need)
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 pints of a vegetable stock (you can also use bouillon)
  • 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 drops of Tabasco (if you want it with a bit of a kick)

In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, potatoes, and onion. Saute them gently for about 5 minutes, without browning.

Add the vegetable stock. Bring it up to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

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Shut off the heat and let the soup cool for about 5 minutes. Then use a stick blender to blend up the chunks of vegetables until they are a nice thick soup.  If you don’t have a stick blender you can use a regular blender or food processor, but you will need to process the soup in batches.

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Add the orange juice and season with the salt and pepper. Add in that Tabasco if you want, or just dish it up into a bowl and enjoy it with a slice of baguette.

A voila! You have a delicious and healthy soup!

This is such a satisfying soup for being so simple to make. And it freezes really well. Just make sure it is totally cool before ladling it into a freezer bag or a bowl.

Enjoy!

A Rockin’ New York Cheesecake

I love cheesecake. Love it. It’s one of my favorite desserts to order when I’m out for dinner. I think my husband loves it more than me, though. He routinely requests it for his birthday and eats it for breakfast. “It’s practically like eating a bagel.”

Given my husband’s love of cheesecake you can bet that I have made A LOT of cheesecakes. This one here is the best one that I have come across. This recipe was first published in Gourmet Magazine, November 1999. I cut it out of the magazine and have used it ever since. It’s really perfect.

What makes it so perfect? It is simple to make. You just whip together the ingredients and then put it in the pan and let the oven do the work.

It also doesn’t require the dreaded water bath. So many other classic recipes require that you wrap your springform pan with foil and then nestle it into the biggest pan you have and pour water around it. Then you have a scaldingly hot, dripping wet cake that you pull out of the oven and have the carry to a cooling rack. Yuck.

With this recipe you end up with a tall, dense cheesecake with hints of a bright citrus flavor.

New York Cheesecake

  • 1 packet of graham crackers
  • 3 T of butter, melted
  • 5, 8-oz packets of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • The zest of 1 orange
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 550F/288C. (No, I am not kidding.)

Grind up the graham crackers using a food processor. You want them really fine. If you don’t have a food processor don’t use an immersion blender. Bits of graham shrapnel exploded out of my container and flung across the counter top, floor, refrigerator, and into the sink. I even found bits on the kitchen table on the other side of the kitchen island. I will be finding bits of graham for weeks. Instead, use the end of a rolling pin or a mortar to bash it with. That is more effective and cleaner.

When the graham crackers are a nice small size mix them with the melted butter. Get the butter all through the crumbs so that your crust will hold together. Dump them into a large springform pan and spread them out evenly. Take the flat of your hand and press it firmly into the bottom of the pan.  Set the pan aside.img_0710

Get to unwrapping the cream cheese. All 5 blocks. I swear the 5 blocks are worth it. I couldn’t bring myself to go with full-fat. My ventricles were threatening to slam shut on me at the very thought of all that fat. The 1/3 fat works just as well as the full-fat and then you can pretend you are being healthy.

In a large mixing bowl – preferably an electric mixer because this starts out THICK – beat together all that cream cheese, sugar, flour, and zests until smooth.

Add the egg yolks and beat them in on slow. Then start adding the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. This is important because the eggs are the only leavening agent in this recipe. They must be evenly incorporated to ensure an even rise and a smooth and creamy texture.

Add the vanilla and mix until well blended. Scrape down the bowl and give it a few beats by hand to ensure that everything is completely blended.

Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan with the crust.  A 9-inch pan should be almost completely full. Mine is a 10-inch pan so I have about an inch of room at the top.  If the pan is absolutely full to the top, put it on top of a cookie sheet or in a pan to catch the drips.

Put the cheesecake in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until the cheesecake seems puffed up. (Make sure it is puffed in the middle or it will sink in the middle as it cools.) WITHOUT OPENING THE OVEN, reduce the temperature to 200F/93C and bake for an additional hour. The middle should be just slightly wobbly when the pan is gently shaken.

Put the cheesecake on a cooling rack. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to separate the cake from the pan. Let the cheesecake cool completely on the rack and then put it in the refrigerator to chill to at least 6 hours. Keep it loosely covered.

When ready to serve take it out of the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature (if you can stand it, that is). This is delicious with everything, but we like strawberries in our household. I also recommend trying it with a chocolate or caramel sauce. Or raspberries. Or blueberry compote. Or alone. Or for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

I guarantee this will be the only cheesecake recipe you will ever need. It is tall, dense, and creamy. Plus you can make it one or two days ahead of your party and not have to worry about whipping together a dessert on top of an entire meal!

Enjoy!

Bourbon Pecan Pie

In the fall in America pecans start to flood into the supermarkets. I do love pecans.  Almost as much as I love pumpkin. Pecans feel very distinctly American to me. They were hard to find in Switzerland, while almonds and hazelnuts were everywhere you looked and were in just about every pastry offered in a bakery.

Pecans come up from the south, from states like Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi. The same areas, incidentally, where bourbon is distilled. I guess it isn’t unusual then that bourbon and pecans would go together in my mind. They are even kind of the same color.

And they taste great together.

If you Google “pecans and bourbon” you will find countless recipes for bourbon spiced pecans, bourbon glazed pecans, bourbon candied pecans, bourbon maple pecans, and the list goes on and on. And if you look there are also a number of recipes for bourbon pecan pie. I have come up with my own, based on the recipe a friend gave to me years and years ago. I tweaked it a bit and then spent a few trials experimenting with different amounts of bourbon, trying to come up with the the right amount for a good flavor. I wanted the bourbon to enhance the pecans and not just taste like a glass full of Blanton’s. It took me about 3 or 4 pies, much to my husband’s delight, to decide on a tablespoon and a half as “the right” amount. Of course, feel free to season it to your own taste. 😉

If you don’t like bourbon, just leave it out. It is a great recipe without it and a pecan pie is an amazingly simple pie to make.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

  • 1 pie crust – whatever recipe you like, even Pillsbury’s ready-made is great
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3 Tblsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 & 1/2 Tblsp bourbon
  • 1 & 3/4 cup pecans, chopped or the halves

Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Roll out the pie crust and place it into a 9-inch pie pan. Flute the edges and set it aside while you make the filling.

Using a wire whisk, whip together the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Then add the corn syrup and melted butter and whisk them together thoroughly. Add the vanilla and bourbon and gently whisk them into the mixture.

With a spatula, gently fold in the pecans until coated with the liquid.  Pour the whole lot into the pie crust you have ready and carefully place it into the oven.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until center is just barely wobbly and the pecans have turned a nice dark brown.

img_0645Let it cool down until room temperature and then enjoy.

You can top it with some whipped cream or serve it with a side of vanilla ice cream or even a side of bourbon. (Although I’m told a nice cup of tea or coffee can also be satisfying. I wouldn’t know. 😉 )