Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Me and Jada

For a while now, I've been thinking that me and Jada Pinkett Smith were like sisters from another mother. We have so much in common. She's married to Will Smith, a powerful Hollywood actor/former hip hop star. I'm married to my husband. She has kids who whip their hair around. Me, too. And she's a vanguard of style, which is exactly how I'm known in my social circle.

But the other day, I read that she doesn't eat for pleasure, she eats for nourishment. I have been reeling ever since. And I don't mean the sort of benign annoyance reserved for a body-obsessed celebrity. I mean I have come to the realization that we, as a society, are completely fucked.

Bill Maher, in an interview with the New York Times food correspondent, Mark Bittman, demonized everything except for the few vegetables he grows in his own backyard. Oh, and cannabis. Milk is chemically incompatible, yeast is bad, wheat is the devil, and you know how he feels about corn, meat, and anything that comes in a box or package. That leaves three things that won't kill me immediately, and I hate all of them.

My question is: why isn't anyone talking about how things taste anymore? Why isn't Alice Waters stepping up to the plate? She's the one who brought back Brillat-Savarin's phrase, "The pleasures of the table." Yeah, she's into community farming, but she also loves eclairs.

The joy of good bread has been lost because the wheat might not be labelled properly. Buying meat is fraught with questions of integrity, even at a place like Whole Foods. You go there because it's the morally correct place to drop $200 on groceries, only to be faced with a rating system for meat. "1" means the animal wasn't water boarded, while a "4" signifies that the cow was fed grass hand-picked with a tweezer by Jamie Oliver. Am I a bad person for choosing meat #1?

Jada probably doesn't even eat meat.  She probably rises to a non-GMO soy latte and a gluten-free, sugar-free muffin made with spelt. Her mid-morning snack is 2 celery sticks and a 1/2 teaspoon of faux peanut butter with three raisins (four, and you're headed for a life of diabetes). For lunch, she might have a kale salad, with 1 oz. of tofu, weighed on a French scale. No dressing. And for dinner, she splurges and has a broiled faux chicken breast, no salt, steamed vegetables, no fat or salt, and 1/4 cup of quinoa, the ancient grain that connects us to our ancestors. For dessert, she treats herself: a tiny child's spoon of sugar-free frozen yogurt, sweetened with agave. It all tastes like shit.

I awake to a slice of cold spinach pizza. I eat carrots and a few apple slices from my kids' lunches. Sometime mid-morning, I get hungry and have Cheese Nips and a diet coke. Lunch is a big chopped salad from Portillo's with a bread stick coated in GMO oil. It's delicious, and so is the salad. I start to get all low blood sugary around 4, so I have two cookies. Or maybe some roasted salted almonds. Or a carrot muffin and a string cheese. For dinner, it's a heaping bowl of pasta with a couple of meatballs and freshly grated parmagiano, and some steamed broccoli with olive oil and lemon. I always have seconds, and usually no dessert, because with the way I eat, I never feel like I need to treat myself. I am always emotionally and physically satisfied after a meal.

So I guess that's the one difference between me and Jada: I eat for pleasure. And she eats to be 20 pounds lighter than me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Can I have another piece of chocolate cake?

Not a day goes by when one or both of my children don't have chocolate smeared on their faces. And I embrace it - this daily eating of chocolate - as long as it's quality chocolate. I don't like them to eat Cheetos or Twinkies or sugary cereals, but chocolate.....yes.

When there's chocolate cake in the house, I have a piece every day, at least one. For me, chocolate cake is satisfying like the carcass of a gazelle would be satisfying to a lion. Thoroughly, devotedly, an all-consuming kill, and at the end, I would lay down and my eyes would roll back in my head. Chocolate cake.

I don't need frosting. I especially don't need bad frosting. But I could always go for a perfect whipped ganache. I made it once in cooking school, and I've never had anything better. Ganache is heavy cream and chocolate, melted to a glossy glaze, but when you whip it, it becomes fluffy, like the lightest chocolate air, but with its deep, dark chocolatey edge miraculously in tact. The problem was, even with the recipe copied word for word, I never could duplicate it. It would turn out grainy, or dense, and a disappointing whipped ganache is a sad affair, indeed.

But really, it's the cake part that I love. And so when I found the following recipe in Alice Medrich's "Chocolate and the Art of Lowfat Desserts," I almost died. I normally hate low fat desserts - the most egregious oxymoron ever. But this recipe has nothing insulting - no non-fat cream cheese product, no applesauce to replace the fat. It's all butter, baby.

Alice Medrich is a plump woman who used to own a pastry shop somewhere in northern California. She's written a few books and become somewhat of an expert on all things chocolate. I make this cake recipe probably once a month, and we eat it over the course of three or four days, with ice cream or just plain, in the middle of the day, standing over the counter, gazing out the window, realizing that life is pretty fucking great.

Alice Medrich's Chocolate Pound Cake

Spray a tube or bundt pan with cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. unsweetened dutch process cocoa (Valrhona, if you can find it)
3/8 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 egg whites
2 Tbs instant espresso dissolved in 3 Tbs hot water
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
12 Tbs unsalted butter, room temp
2 2/3 cups sugar

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt together and set aside. Whisk the eggs with the whites in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the dissolved espresso powder with the vanilla and buttermilk and set aside.

Using a stand up mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until softened, about a minute. Slowly add the sugar, and scrape down the sides as needed. Beat for about 3 minutes, until well incorporated. Gradually dribble in the eggs and beat until well incorporated. Scrape the sides down as necessary with a rubber spatula.

Now you're going to alternately add the dry ingredients with the wet ones, starting with the flour. Turn off the mixer, add 1/3 of the flour and turn the machine on low, so it doesn't spray flour everywhere. Beat until just mixed, then slowly dribble in half the buttermilk mixture. Mix until incorporated. Turn off the machine, add 1/3 of the flour, and continue in the same manner until all ingredients are incorporated. You can do the last bit of mixing by hand with the spatula, to make sure all the dry bits are worked in.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Place the pan on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and place in the middle of your preheated oven. Bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake will feel relatively firm to the touch, and have a bit of a bounce.

Cool in the pan, then invert on to a plate. Once it's completely cool, I keep it wrapped in foil. It will stay devastatingly moist for a good three days, if it lasts that long.