Friday, June 26, 2009

Go ahead -- eat the flan!

Because I wish I were in Florida with my husband, enjoying delicious Spanish food, I hunted up a flan recipe that I just might try this weekend, if it's not too hot. This recipe comes from the How To Make Dessert site.


1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1 can evaporated milk (12 fl oz)
14 oz. whole milk (measure in empty condensed milk can)
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
12 tsp regular granulated white sugar
Boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Ready 8 (6oz) ramekins. We are going to pre-caramelize a layer of sugar into the bottom of each ramekin. Line ramekins evenly with 2 tsp sugar each. Arrange them evenly on a removable wire rack that can go into the oven, giving some space between each other. The wire rack is used for easy-in-easy-out of the oven. This will allow for the ramekins to get equal heat exposure all at once and maintain open airflow, unlike a baking sheet. (If you only have a baking sheet, you may use it instead, but it will take longer to caramelize.)

2. Boil water. Keep on low heat and ready to use.

3. When oven temperature reaches 400° F, place the wire rack with sugar-lined ramekins centrally on the lowest oven rack. Keep a close eye on the sugar and do not go anywhere. (This process is better done with a see-through oven door with oven light turned on so you don't have heat escaping.) When you've got a nice golden brown color, which can occur quickly, remove the entire wire rack with ramekins from the oven. (If your oven has uneven heat distribution, you can remove just the ones which look ready and give the others more time, but again, keep a close eye). Once they turn a golden brown color, they can burn very soon afterward. Your new caramel glaze will start to harden and crackle as they cool. That's all right. Turn oven temperature down to 325° F.

4. Whisk the three kinds of milk and salt together. Whisk eggs and egg yolks in a separate bowl. Then combine the milk and egg mixtures and mix well. Strain the mixture through a sieve to eliminate clumps. Separate mixture into the individual ramekins over the caramelized sugar.

5. Place ramekins evenly into a baking pan leaving space around each one. Fill baking pan with boiling water halfway up the ramekins. Bake in this water bath on the lower middle oven rack for 40-45 minutes until set but still jiggly in the center.

6. Remove and cool for 30 minutes. Individually cover each ramekin with plastic wrap making sure it's air-tight. Chill for at least 4 hours, but better if you give it 8 hours.

7. When you're ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and loosen the sides of the ramekins by running a paring knife around the edges. Invert and serve. (Inverting may be easier if you keep the paring knife inserted and slightly pulled to let some air in, but be careful not to puncture the surface in the process.) Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I did last weekend

Now that I've declared a hiatus and don't feel obligated to blog three times a week, I find I have more to say. Funny how that works.

Today I saw prints of the first photos I've had taken in almost four years. Not counting my wedding pictures, of course, and these were just test photos. And I hated them. My tummy seemed huge, my thighs likewise. I looked lumpy and bloated and strange. I sat with tears in my eyes as the photographer and his wife/collaborator (with whom I posed for some shots) praised me and the photographs. I felt shame, disgust, and failure. I was ready to plead illness and help them get everything back down the stairs. It's one thing to prattle on about body acceptance and size celebration, but I learned today that where the rubber meets the road, I still don't like my body.

I don't always have the eyes to see my beauty, or whatever other people see when they look at me that they find attractive and worthy of capturing for their art. When the photographer told me, "Big is beautiful!" I replied, "Yeah, on other people." This led into a conversation about body image and art, and I was told that I am "red-haired, freckled, chubby, shapely, and beautiful -- you're the classical ideal, with your shape." I still felt like not eating ever again and torturing myself at the Y. I love to swim, but I found myself thinking that it might be time to hit the elliptical for, say, three hours a night. I stopped that line of thinking long enough to listen to what the photographer was telling me, and the frantic, crazy thoughts went away.

After all my appointments today (my psychiatrist actually weighed me, so size was on my mind anyway), I met again with the photographer and his wife. We hauled equipment up the stairs and spent four hours making art. I had fun, and enjoyed every bit of it once I calmed down and, as I joked with them, "got my mojo back." Both my collaborators were, I think, making an effort to praise me, which I appreciated very much. Their acceptance freed me to be more creative than I ever have been. I think we got some good photos, and this time, I'm armored against seeing my changed body in the new images.

I wouldn't really wish my sick thyroid back, and my contours have only exaggerated, not entirely transformed; I'm hardly Venus of Willendorf. I have a waist, a big bust, and wide hips. My legs are short and heavily muscled under a moderate layer of adipose tissue. My thighs have texture, and sometimes my tummy does, too.

I spoke with my husband (he's in Florida doing family work) after the photographer left this evening, and told him how I had felt about the first photos. He became quite impassioned, telling me that at no point in history besides our own has skinny been the ideal, and how now the curves that you see in ads are surgically created and digitally manipulated. He reminded me that I am both happier and healthier now than when I could squeeze into size 10 jeans, at my thinnest back in college. He said that if I wanted to give up eating, spend four hours a night at the gym, six days a week, and take $50,000 for touch-up surgery, I could look like a run-of-the-mill Model Mayhem girl, but would still find something about my body to loathe. I know all this, but it did me good to hear him saying it. He said some other things relating to my body, but those remarks are not for public consumption.

I've always been one to worry whether I'm "doing it right." I felt today, when I first saw the prints, that I was doing it wrong, my body was wrong, that I was a fool and a freak to take my clothes off for an artist. Sometimes, I still don't feel that I have permission to consider myself beautiful, that this shape I'm in is lovely and right for me. All I can do is try again tomorrow.

(all images copyrighted)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day

"I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died."
Hamlet, Act IV, Scene v

Friday, June 19, 2009


I won't be blogging for an unknown length of time. I am busy and need to focus on things other than this. To anyone out there, thanks for reading.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nia Vardalos: What's the Big Deal?

The marvelous Nia Vardalos has written a piece about her doctor-ordered weight loss. Though I would argue that weight loss is not as simple as throwing and retrieving a bag of Doritos (calories in minus calories out does not equal weight loss for everyone), I love her confidence and frankness.

I support all people in their quests for health. If weight loss (or gain!) happens to be part of that, then I support that, too. What I do not support is weight loss for the sake of making one's body fit the deranged ideal we have forced on us every time we wait in line at the grocery store. A woman gains weight, and she's "packed on the pounds." If she loses weight, she's "got her body back." If she loses "too much" weight, she must have an eating disorder.

Our bodies are never good enough. There are people who make obscene amounts of money off the self-hatred they drill into our minds. What's it going to take to get you mad enough to refuse to buy in?


So, what exactly is up with my weight loss? I get hit with this awkward question daily and have answered it in press interviews, at the grocery store, at the newspaper stand. Why? Because I see their anxious, open faces needing the secret, the new pill, the cure, anything. Just please share the secret. So I hesitantly answer and am always met with the same response: the glaze-eye slack-jawed face.

Because they don’t want to hear the truth: I had a blood sugar problem so my Doctor ordered me to lose weight, it was really hard but I did it through diet, exercise and it took a year.

This is when the boredom sets in on the querying person. I might as well just shove an Ambien up their nostril. The gleam in their eye fades and they get sleepy.

No one wants to hear the facts about weight loss. It’s simple. Take that bag of Doritos and throw it as far as you can. Now chase after it. Pick it up, do it again.

Or don’t. You don’t have to lose weight, unless like me, it becomes an issue of health. I thought I was attractive when I shot ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ Studio executives and movie reviewers let me know I had a confidence in my looks that was not shared by them. In other words: they labeled me with words like, overweight, unattractive, unappealing. Hey, just say fat. I love the word fat. I used it in the title. It’s actually not a naughty word. We give it a power it actually doesn’t have. So, you’re fat. Big deal.

Kansas City Chocolate Dream

This recipe comes from Maida Heatter by way of Kristina, the Theobroma Goddess. Thanks again, Kristina.

Variations of this recipe pop up in many areas of the country under many different names; Chocolate Upside Down Cake, Chocolate Sauce Pudding, Chocolate Pudding Cake, Hot Fudge Sauce Cake, to name a few. In most cases, whatever the name, you will have a square pan of chocolate cake floating in a rather thin, dark chocolate syrup; both the cake and the syrup are spooned out together and served like a pudding with a sauce.

This Missouri recipe is similar, but is something else. It is a small shallow square upside-down cake which, when turned onto a cake plate, covers itself with a think layer of dark chocolate topping that resembles nothing I can think of. The topping is as dark and shiny as black patent leather, as tender and semi-firm as a pot de crème, and as mocha-chocolate flavored as you might weave dreams about.

The topping and the cake are baked together. Sensationally quick/easy/foolproof. This is wonderful just as soon as it has barely cooled, or it can wait for hours, or it can be frozen.

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce (1/4 stick ) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup walnuts, broken into medium-size pieces

Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350°. Butter a shallow 8-inch square cake pan and set aside.
Sift together into the small bowl of an electric mixer the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, and sugar. Add the milk, vanilla, and melted butter, and beat until smooth and slightly pale in color. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir in the nuts. Turn into the buttered pan and smooth the top. Let stand while you make the topping.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
½ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons granular instant coffee
1 cup water

In a small, heavy saucepan combine all the ingredients. Stir over rather high heat until the sugars melt and the mixture comes to a full boil.
Gently ladle the boiling hot mixture all over the cake batter.
Bake for 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted gently into the cake comes out clean. (During baking, the topping will sink to the bottom.) Set aside to cool in the pan.
When the cake has cooled, cover with a square or oblong serving plate or a cutting board. Holding them firmly together, turn the pan and the plate over. If the cake does not slide out of the pan easily (and it probably will not), hold the plate and the pan firmly together upside down and tap them on the work surface. Now the cake will come out, and it will be covered with the topping, some of which will still be in the pan; use a rubber spatula to remove it all and put in on the cake. Smooth the top gently or pull the topping up into uneven peaks.
Serve immediately or let stand all day or freeze. (If you freeze this do not cover with plastic wrap; the topping never does freeze hard and plastic wrap will stick to it. Just cover the whole thing with an inverted box deep enough so it doesn't touch the cake.) Freezing diminishes the flavor of all foods, especially this. Although this can be erved frozen, it has more flavor if it is brought to room temperature.
This cake does not need a thing but a plate and fork. However, if you are serving it for a birthday party or some other festivity, ice cream is wonderful with it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"You Must Obey."

If any of you are Hotmail users, you're probably seeing ads touting a weight-loss "rule" that "You Must Obey!" This same advertisement appears on other sites, too, but Hotmail is where I see it most. The accompanying photos change from time to time, but the message does not.

A photo of a face-forward, moderately plump woman set above a photo of what appears to be the same woman, drastically smaller, standing at the classic size-minimizing angle.

"You Must Obey."

I hit the Refresh button, and the ad comes right back. This time, the illustration is a leggy cartoon woman in a purple T-shirt and panties.

"1 Rule You Must Obey."

Sometimes, the emphasis changes: "You MUST Obey!" "You must OBEY!"


I will not click the ad. I don't want those responsible for it to be encouraged by site traffic.

Obey. Be good. Get thinner. Work harder. Cut your hair. Wear this.

Don't eat dessert. Don't ask for sex. Don't laugh so loudly. Don't ask for more.

Deny yourself. Deny your Self.



Friday, June 5, 2009

Rhubarb Shortcake

For many years, we had a rhubarb plant growing on the north side of our yard. We used to dare each other to bite into a freshly-plucked stalk, knowing how dreadfully sour it would be. Thinking of it now, the inside of my mouth cringes and waters. In The First Four Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of her mortification at realizing the "pieplant" pie she baked for the hired threshers had no sugar in it; one kind-hearted man sugared his own slice, claiming that he liked it that way because everyone could sweeten the pie as much or as little as he liked.

My mother often made stewed rhubarb, which she served with shortcake, ladled over ice cream, and my father sometimes ate plain, from a bowl (or from the jar!) with a spoon. She also made rhubarb cobbler, about which I sometimes dream. It was so very delicious and so simple, just rhubarb in an 8x8 square pan, covered with a streusel of butter, brown sugar, rolled oats, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, baked for 20 minutes or so. Technically, I guess it was a "crumble" rather than a "cobbler," but a rose by any other name...

Stewed Rhubarb

4 cups rhubarb, chopped
2/3-3/4 cup sugar (really, to taste)
1/4 cup water

Put rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan. Pour the sugar over the rhubarb, mixing well. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally (and watching that it doesn't burn), until soft. Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold on yogurt or oatmeal.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Projects and Cake

I didn't make cake last weekend.  Instead, I'm going to make it this weekend.  In the meantime, I have several crochet projects to finish: tiny clothes for my sister's daughter.  We're expecting her to arrive at any moment.  My sister is under doctor's orders to relax, in order to delay labor (she's been to the hospital once already).  

In July, I will be playing the harp in public for the first time in four years.  I've neglected it dreadfully, but my beautiful instrument has painful associations now (mostly tied to what I wrote about last time).  This is another thing I'm taking back.  I keep finding things to take back to myself, wash clean, and make mine again.  More heavy lifting.  I am thankful for the help I've been given.

During lunch, I visited the ballet school and obtained a schedule.  The lady I spoke with there had silver hair swept back from her elegantly boned face; she was working on something with a sewing machine.  I told her that I wanted to join the adult introductory class, and she was very gracious and, thank heaven, didn't laugh at my short-legged, heavy-muscled, big-breasted body.  I peeked into the studio itself and oh, the beautiful blond floor and the barre!  I can make this happen.  

I treated myself to a few essential oils, the better to create a natural skin care regimen.  The products I've ordered through the mail has been either severely delayed or stolen, and is more expensive than I'd like anyway.  The sugar scrub recipe from Little House in the Suburbs has been working really well; I used calendula and chamomile flowers instead of basil, mixed with olive oil, turbinado sugar, and tea tree, lavender, and blue cypress essential oils.  My skin feels soft, but not oily (always a problem this time of year).  Tonight, I'll try my herb-infused cider vinegar toner; my hair likes it, so I have high hopes for my skin.  

What are all of you up to?

template by - header image (c)