Thursday, December 30, 2010


If you haven't figured it out by now, I am very much learning this whole blogging thing as I go, so, some things that seem obvious slipped by me as I was setting up The Literary Foodie.  One of those obvious things is the option to receive email notifications each time there is a new blog post.  Though you would think so, becoming a follower of the blog does not actually send you any notifications.  So, without further ado, for those of you that are interested in being the first to know my thoughts and musings, you will now see an option to enter you email on the right side of the screen.  Hopefully I did it right and you will actually start receiving notifications.  I would appreciate it if someone would let me know that it is (or is not) working!  Are there any other options that I am missing on here that you would like to see?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Portable Traditions

I have always considered myself a habitual person that has a need for comfort and predictability.  I have been told by many close to me that this is the way I am and it is something that I have always embraced.  Though I do like my certain habits and comforts I am beginning to question this label that I have been toting around for so long.  Everyone, myself included, was waiting for a bit of a meltdown when I moved across the country leaving behind everything that I knew.  The meltdown never came.  The same went for Thanksgiving and Christmas, both times I was prepared, so much so that I started psyching myself out, and the days came and went and I had a great time.  I am now starting to think that though those things might have once been true for me, I have become stable and secure in myself to handle the changes that life throws out. 

I have also learned that, for me, having portable traditions is a very comforting thing, especially around the holidays.  Of course there were plenty of things that I missed about spending the holidays in New York with my family, but I was able to continue many of the traditions that I hold dear right here in Sacramento.  For our first holiday season here in California my husband and I were not really sure what to expect, so we fell back on some favorite traditions to give us that bump of holiday mood that the (50-60 degrees!) weather was keeping from us. 

One of the more intricate and delicious of my family traditions is the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve.  There are a few theories of where this tradition came from, most coming from a religious stand point, but for me it is just a wonderfully over the top meal that you don’t do any other time of the year.  Following the rules completely you are supposed to make seven different dishes each with a different type of fish, but since it was just the two of us we had five dishes one with three types of fish. 

I was working Christmas Eve until 7 (oh retail) so Rob got to do most of the fish shopping.  I was actually pretty jealous, he went to a great Asian market in downtown Sacramento and got most of the fish right there.  He came home telling me all about the tanks of live fish, and I can’t wait to take a trip to this market.  Grocery stores can be quite a field trip for Rob and I! 
Turned out to be my favorite

Our menu consisted of:
Smoked Salmon on rye and Caraway seed crackers with herb chevre
Seared Scallops over a salad of mixed greens and herbs with a balsamic reduction
Steamed clams in a White Wine, Garlic and Parsley broth
Spaghetti allo Scoglio
Boiled crabs with garlic and butter dipping sauce (eaten in the dark thanks to our power outage!)
All the color comes from the shrimp heads!

All in all our meal was fantastic and a lot of fun to cook together.  The evening was slow and languorous, as we chatted, cooked and ate with no pressure.  As we found with our Thanksgiving meal (you can read about here) there was a lot of pleasure to be found in the intimacy of a holiday with just the two of us. 

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and are all gearing up for an awesome New Year.  And as an homage to my fishy celebration here is some equally fishy reading:

The Big Oyster: history on the half shell by Mark Kurlansky

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Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world by Mark Kurlansky

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Sex, Death and Oysters: a half shell lover’s world tour by Robb Walsh

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Hope you Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Baking State of Mind

I never fully realized just how much your state of mind truly affects your baking.  Sure it affects your cooking in general, but baking just tends to be a bit more sensitive and really shows when something is off.  I honestly can't think of a time where everything that I was trying kept failing.  Of course recipes go bad, it happens to all of us, and I have definitely forgotten a major ingredient or step before, but these are usually isolated events.  Oh, the holidays!  I can think of a few books that acknowledge emotions affecting cooking and baking, Like Water for Chocolate, is first to come to mind.  At least my stress isn't showing up in my food to make my guests sick! 

  I didn't think much of it when the caramels I tried to make didn't turn out, that was just a bad recipe, and my second attempt was just a shot in the dark anyway.  But then came the failed coconut bars, and finally the safe standby, my ginger spice cookies that I have been making for years.  I am pretty sure that if I had continued attempting recipes my predicament would have continued.  There was a bit too much of a trend there for me to for me to just brush it aside as nothing.  I have never worked retail in such an exhausting and crazy environment, and both Rob and my schedule have been overlapping badly lately causing us both to constantly go out of our way adding longer hours onto our already long days.  It is also possible that the amount of rain we have been getting has been affecting pressure/moisture in the air in a way that I am not used to. 

Whatever it was I had to take a few days off from baking to let things fall back into whatever place they need to be in so that everything does not keep failing.  Sadly though this does mean that the packages that I sent out were a little lighter than planned, but I am still pretty proud of myself for getting them out at all, I have always been a holiday procrastinator and since almost all of my things have to get mailed to New York I had to get everything done and out by Monday.  The Post Office did not seem to care that I was having kitchen dilemmas and needed more time.

There is a holiday dessert potluck at work today so I am up early preparing to take another stab at my ginger spice cookies.  I will also be bringing some of the peppermint bark as well (Rob made that and it turned out great) so if the cookies fail I have a backup.  I have cleaned the kitchen and made sure I have all my ingredients and utensils ready.  Hopefully, with the calm of the morning my kitchen juju will be all healed so that I can get back to one of the best and busiest baking/cooking times of year.  Wish me luck!

Anyone have a kitchen fail story to share?  I am sure I am not the only one this happens to :)


I am happy to report that my cookies turned out perfect and were the first ones gone from the potluck.  All is right with the world!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Will Make it Feel Like Christmas!!

Being a New Yorker in California is proving to be a surreal experience during my first Christmas here.  Today (December 15th) was in the mid 50’s and just a few days ago we were inching towards 70, not only is the thought of snow a joke but Rob actually donned his shorts last week!  I did not realize how much weather told time for me until I moved here to Sacramento where the weather does not match the time that my body expects it to.   Christmas is only ten days away and judging by the weather it feels as if I still have another month or so.   I can only imagine that it will take a few years of living here to really get used to this, and I may never get all the way there. 

This is my fourth Christmas working in retail and for those of you that have had the pleasure of this experience you know that it changes the way that you view, and feel about, the holidays.  Not only do I get to see the more unpleasant sides of this time of year (I lost count of how many angry/disappointed people I had to tell that the Mark Twain bio was sold out today) but I am also overworked and exhausted.  This leads to a real lack of interest in holiday festivities. 

This year it is only my husband and I on the holidays, a first ever, so I am a little worried about becoming melancholy.  I am trying to counter this by finding holiday things that work around our crazy schedules and are forgiving of our energy level.  Thanks to Google I was able to find out where the best neighborhoods are to drive around to see Christmas lights, and this handy site has told where I can watch all my favorite holiday movies. 

We have also decided to do a bunch of holiday baking and candy making which has been fun and has the best rewards at the end.  This week has been pretty hectic with both jobs overlapping and Rob and I sharing the car, so today demanded some more relaxing baking.  We decided to make Peppermint Bark and Salted Caramels, the main component of each consisting of us standing side by side at the stove stirring and watching our pots bubble merrily away.  I am sorry to say I can’t think of any books that really focused on candy making, if you can come up with some let me know! 

I have made caramels once before, so this time I knew that I would be standing and stirring for quite a while.  My first time around I was so sure I was doing it wrong and the stupid line on the candy thermometer refused to budge.  Caramels are not something that you make often, they are time consuming, but if you only make them once in a while the pleasure of the finished product is more than worth it.  My first time around I used a recipe from Mark Bittman’s, How to Cook Everything, but since my cookbook is still packed away this time I used a recipe from the blog The Comfort of Cooking (please read my update before following this recipe, you can thank me later).  These are taking forever to cool and it is pretty late so I am not going to get to try them until tomorrow.  I really hope they came out good, since I didn’t get to use the recipe that I know works great and Caramels can be such a finicky candy.  I will let you know in the next day or so. 

I have never made Peppermint Bark, and though I feel like I must have at some point, I can’t remember having ever eaten it either.  While ringing customers out I overheard someone ask my coworker if we sold peppermint bark, he told them that we didn’t and, being a foodie himself, proceeded to tell them how easy it is to make them.  I don’t know if those customers took his advice but I did, and I can happily say this is one of the easiest holiday treats I have ever made.   Though I pretty much went word for word from my coworker’s description, I did use this recipe as a back up.  These are all finished and taste great, though I think next time I will add peppermint extract just for the extra kick. 

This weekend I have a little more time on my hands so I am looking forward to doing some actual baking ( and hopefully more blogging).  I hope you are all enjoying the buildup to the holiday season, and you are all treating your retail workers kindly!! 

Do you have recipes that you only make during the holidays, or treats that you look forward to all year?


OK, so I really hope none of you have attempted to make Salted Caramels from the recipe link that I gave you because if you did you would have ended up with a half hardened very sticky mass of caramel.  I should have double checked with another recipe because the temp did seem a little low, but I thought what do I know I have only made caramels once.  Well, once was enough to know that cooking the caramel to 225F on your candy thermometer is not going to do you much good when what you want to cook it to is 250F.

I took it in stride though, and did not let it ruin my spirit.  Instead I covered my hands and arms in caramel as I attempted to remove the wax paper backing from the caramel so that I could cook it again.  I won't tell you how long that little endeavor took me, just trust me that you are glad you read this before making your caramels. Now my second attempt is cooling in the fridge (minus about a quarter of the original caramel).  If this attempt does not work out I throw in the towel until next year. 

I recommend finding the recipe for caramels in Mark Bittmans cookbook, like I did my first time around.  That batch came out so perfectly I feel as if now I will never make them that good again. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eating The Books (Or at least from them)

Hopefully, by this point, you have all at one time or another tried a recipe from a book that you were reading.  Maybe it wasn’t even a recipe, just a dish that a character talked about that you then had to go figure out how to make.  We have all been there: an author describes a food in such a way that you want it right then and there and you will do whatever you have to, to get it.  Sometimes this is as easy as going into your kitchen and whipping it up, other times it is impossible, with ingredients that are completely foreign to you or that were made up to begin with. 

I remember my earliest frustration, one which I think I shared with many: wanting Turkish Delight after reading C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and having no idea what they were or where to get them.  It wasn’t until years after reading the book that I found and tried Turkish Delight in Canada, and after that long wait they were not worth it at all.  Honestly, I wish they still lived only in my imagination.

More and more authors are having the foresight and courtesy to include recipes with their wonderful descriptions.  Though I have had a few incidences of these recipes being complete failures (a love of food does not necessarily mean an ability to cook) usually if a recipe makes it through the whole writing, editing, and publishing process you can trust it.  Sometimes it is a hassle to go to the bookshelf that holds your fiction and memoir books to leaf through and try to find recipes though.  I assume most of you, like me keep your cookbooks separate from your other books, most likely near the kitchen.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone took all those recipes and made them into their own books?

Well, it seems a few other clever individuals thought this was a good idea too, and they took it a few steps further and actually did it!  After a little field trip to the library I have collected a pretty good collection of those type of cookbooks, and after a little research have found the titles for a whole bunch more.  Some of the recipes are from books about food, and some are just inspired by favorite stories and characters.  Personally, I hope to permanently add to my collection both, The Book Club Cookbook, and, The Book Lover’s Cookbook.  These two are not only great resources for recipes to try and books to read, but their eclectic mix would keep kitchen boredom at bay for quite a while.

Those I found at the Library:

The Cat Who… Cookbook
by Julie Murphy & Sally Abney Stempinsky
Over 200 recipes and menus inspired by Lillian Jackson Braun’s beloved bestselling mysteries

Lobscouse & Spotted Dog
by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman & Lisa Grossman Thomas
A Gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian

The Book Club Cookbook
by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Krupp
Recipes and food for thought from your book club’s favorite books and authors

The Book Lover’s Cookbook
by Shaunda Kennedy Wegner & Janet Kay Jensen
Recipes Inspired by celebrated works of literature and the passages that feature them

The Jane Austen Cookbook
by Maggie Black & Deirdre Le Faye
Recipes from Jane Austen’s household and time period
I couldn't resist
Do you have any literary inspired cookbooks? 
What about books that you wish had cookbook