Monday, March 31, 2008

Yum, Fake Bacon!

Hi Allison!

Lately, I've been craving something expressly forbidden... a delicious sandwich oozing with mayonnaise and topped with crunchy bacon, crisp lettuce, and juicy tomatoes. I know Veggie bacon is hardly a substitute for the real thing but, since it's the only thing I'm permitted, I decided to give it a try.

The following sandwich was constructed in the kitchen of our rental house on the beach in Port Aransas, Texas, where I spent a week over spring break hanging out with my parents, reading,

The exciting part of this cooking experiment was making the homemade mayonnaise recipe featured in Molly's column in this month's Bon Appetit!

I won't reproduce the recipe here since I've linked to it, but I felt very old-fashioned and adventurous as I slowly whisked the mayonnaise together and emulsified the the oil.

My mayonnaise came out a little runny, but very delicious!

Next step: Fake Bacon! I cooked my bacon on the stove top in a little oil over medium heat. I think it would probably be just as successful, and easier, to do this step in the microwave, but I wanted to feel authentic.

Vegetarian bacon is not so appetizing before it's cooked (notice the ice crystals clinging to the strips of vaguely bacon-patterned soy):

Once the bacon was nice and crispy, it was time to assemble the sandwich. I used toasted oatmeal bread as a base, and added spinach, thick tomato slices, my homemade mayonnaise, and the warm and crispy fake bacon:

We at these sandwiches with sweet potato strips that had been roasted in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, after being coated in olive oil, salt & pepper. All in all, this was a delicious meal. Luckily the photos of it were recoverable from my camera's memory card after I dropped my entire camera into the Gulf of Mexico!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, March 24, 2008


Hey Kathryn,

I hope that your spring break is going well - I heard about how you lost your camera in the Gulf of Mexico, and I'm really sorry for your loss. I recently looked through a children's book, which is illustrated by David Wiesner called Flotsam.  Wiesner, who also illustrated Tuesday, imagines the life of a camera after it was lost in the ocean, snapping pictures of undersea life and passing from beach-goer to beach-goer throughout the years.  I only hope that your camera can have such a future.

My spring break travels took a less exotic turn.  I spent the week visiting my relatives who live in the east coast.  We spent one day at my grandmother's house in Philadelphia, where I embarked on my first major cooking project since the Cowboy Cookies.  Seeing as it was Shabbat, I wanted to impress my relatives and make them my challah.  For those of you who have never had challah, it is a braided egg bread that opens the Shabbat meal, and one of the only things that my family of vegetable-averse, flavor-averse, and meat-averse people can eat together.  My cousin Sarah before I even set foot inside a kitchen expressed extreme doubt: "Why are you even going to make challah?  Homemade ones taste too much like yeast."  Oh Sarah, you really don't know what it's like to be a Jew roughing it in the Heartland.  She probably has never had to deal with not being able to buy challah on Friday.  Learning to make a good challah in Iowa is more than a traditional gesture - it's a necessity.  In Grinnell, I learned how to make it with the help of Deborah Kaiser, and since then I have adapted her recipe and made it even sweeter.  Like a good medium rare steak, I undercook the bread so that it is still doughy and gooey in the center.  I am very proud of my challah recipe, and  I thought it would be easy to prove Sarah wrong.  

It came out looking the same as my other challahs and had my trademark sweet, dessert like taste, but it definitely wasn't my best challah.  The dough took a long time to rise, which made me anxious to have it bake up as quickly as possible.  I set the oven for 350 degrees, and let it bake for around an hour.  However, I forgot to account for my grandmother's dark metal pans.  I had cooked it for too long; the bottom of the challah burned, and the inside was dry.  My family was really nice and still complimented my bread, but throughout the meal, I kept singing in my head: "If I could turn back time."  Anyways, here is the recipe, and I wish all of you the best of luck if you try to make it.  

Sweet-as-Babkah Challah


5 tsp yeast (or two packets worth) of active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 cup oil
5 eggs plus 
1 tsp of salt
7-8 cups all purpose flour

Add 1 tbsp of sugar, the yeast, and the warm water in a large bowl, stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until a tan layer of foam appears on the top.  Add the rest of the sugar, 4 of the eggs, the salt, the oil, to the bowl and mix until well combined.  Start adding the flour, one cup at a time, and once it becomes to hard to stir, lightly flour your countertop or cooking surface, and knead the dough while also adding in more flour until the dough is no longer sticks to the countertop or to your hands.  Wash and lightly oil the bowl, and place dough in the bowl covered with a damp dish cloth.  Set aside for a couple hours until the dough has risen to at least double its original volume.  If the dough is not rising properly, warm up the oven for a minute, and then place the bowl in the oven and continue to let it rise.  Once it has risen, punch the down so that all the air bubbles deflate, and divide the dough in half, and then each half into three strands. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Braid the two loaves, and set on a pan.  Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl.  Brush the challah with the egg wash, and place in the pans in the oven to bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the bread is golden brown.  

Serve after saying the Hamotzi, like the good Jew in all of you.  

Possible add-ins for adventurous eaters:
- raisins
- nuts
- chocolate chips
- shredded coconut
- M&Ms 

Anyways, Kathryn, good luck with all your spring break cooking endeavors.  I look forward to posting about successful cooking experiments in the next couple of days.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Everybody's Gonna Love Today

Hey Kathryn,

I'm sending you and our readers all of my love, especially in light of the tragic events that have happened this past week. Two Sundays ago, a Grinnell student had her dorm space vandalized and graffitied with homophobic slurs. After the campus rallied together in solidarity against forces of intolerance, a second incident occurred in which 34 students who are active in the queer community received anonymous hate mail in their campus mail. I am saddened and incredulous that such outrageous demonstrations of bigotry happened on this campus, which prides itself on being a progressive and accepting community.

In spite of these awful things, this weekend was surprisingly restorative and filled with inspirational Amanda Bynes movies, love mail, a visit from Meredith, a raucous game of flippy cup, and of course, cooking. Meredith and I set off to make something comforting, and we settled on a rather humble recipe for Cowboy Cookies. These were rustic but toothsome chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, a perfect mixture of resolve and hope.

Cowboy Cookies For the Grinnell Soul
-adapted from Cowboy Cookies III on

1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter
2 eggs
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 1/4 c. oatmeal
1 c. chocolate chip cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a baking sheet. Sift dry ingredients into a medium sized bowl. Cream together butter and eggs, add in both sugars, and then the dry ingredients. Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips just until combined. Scoop out tablespoon sized balls of dough and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 12-20 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Making these cookies was a true exercise in Grinnell ingenuity and charity. Meredith and I forgot to buy butter at the store. Emily happened to have a stick of butter left over from a baking project in her dorm, and we exchanged her stick of butter for the use of our remaining eggs. We stole 17 butter packets from dining hall for the remaining half cup of butter. We definitely had enough to make our cookies:

Voila, homemade cookies:

I definitely reconnected to the Grinnell community by making these cookies and sharing them with Grinnellians. Forces of divisiveness and hatred definitely don't stand a chance against these cookies or my friends. Thanks Grinnell - I love you all the more.