1.31.2010

New cooking project: Apple Tarte Tatin

I lasted a whole 48 hours before I had to bake something from Molly Wizenberg's book. Chris got us a fruit tarte for my birthday and I've spent the past few weeks in the shadow of that heavenly creation from Financier. I thought an apple tarte might be a fun Sunday project.

I'm not going to retype the recipe here, but for those of you who have the book, check out pages 108-109 to try it out. I'll just add a couple of personalized tips to flesh out an already comprehensive recipe. Here's the list of things you'll need to get started:

Juice of 1 lemon
1.5 cups of granulated sugar
5 to 6 large Golden Delicious apples
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
14 oz of puff pastry



Making the hot caramel was super-easy. I didn't have what the recipe called for (8- or 9- inch cast-iron skillet), but I figured a regular old frying pan would work alright. More on this later.


Molly's recipe calls for quartering the apples and mixing them with a sugar/lemon juice mixture. I never know how literal to take instructions like this. I cut the apples in four, but they looked way too big. Plus, the last time I checked, apple tartes in la France are made with uber-thin slices of pommes. Solution? I cut my quarters in half. I think next time I would try making them even thinner.


So here's where the skillet-deficiency becomes an issue. The recipe says that you're going to cook these apples on the stove-top and then put the same pan into the oven. Unfortunately, my frying pan from Target isn't made with such transitional skillz. Cue stress.


The caramel started bubbling and the apples were cooking. And still I had no solution. What the hell could I use to cook this tarte?


A pie plate? Maybe I could just dump the finished apples into the plate and be done with it. Voila!


I started moving the apples, but then realized that they were originally placed in the frying pan round-side down. Ruh roh. I'm sure I could have scooped all the apples any which way, but I am a slight perfectionist and was already a little peeved about the whole "not having the right pan in the first place." A fork and a little patience paid off.


With the apples aesthetically arranged, I slipped the puff pastry on top, taking care to tuck the extra sides into the plate. It looked like a masterpiece already, but I knew that the most difficult maneuver was still to come.

Le pie bakes. After 30 minutes, I took it out of the oven and it looked a little worse for wear.
"Are you really sure you need to flip it?" Chris asked. "I think all the stuff is going to fall out."
"Yeah..." I, too, was doubtful.


Imagine our shock when it went perfectly. Chris flipped. I flinched. And all was well with le pie.


I mean, seriously, how fancy pants is this tarte!?


Serve with a scoop of Brown Sugar ice cream. Welcome to heaven.


The recipe says it serves 8. I say only if they're 8 children. YUM.


And now it's time for a breakdown:

I'm not going to lie. There were a bunch of things to juggle with this recipe, though it might be easier if you have the perfect tools and are not trying to simultaneously cook stir fry. Just saying.

It was really good, but it didn't remind me of a French apple tart so much as a yummy caramel-soaked pile of apples with a tiny bit of crust underneath it. I also wished there had been some cinnamon in this recipe. I think next time I'll try to add some to the caramel sauce.

Overall though, way fun and way do-able on a Sunday evening. Bon appetit!

1.29.2010

Les livres de 2010

One of my goals for 2010 was to read 15 books. I realized that was a silly low number, but yet it was still a weighty one. More than one book a month. I didn't specify anything further about what kinds of books they had to be or that I had to write about them on my blog or anything of the sort, but I keep a list of them in my Evernote account under a note called "Books I read in 2010." Creative, I know.

From time to time, I may post a few of them up here. This is one of those times. Here are the three books I've read so far in 2010 (woo! off to a great start!):

1. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
I may have previously written about my obsession with Eat, Pray, Love. In fact, I'm sure I did. Must have been sometime during that very weepy period post-Paris and pre-Brooklyn. EPL made me feel like there was a way to change my life so drastically that it could become good again. There's no more basic way to say it. It kind of saved me.

That's why, a few days into January, I went to Barnes and Noble in Union Square for a reading by Elizabeth Gilbert of her new book. And no less than a week later, Bob and Betsy sent me a copy! (Self reminder: SEND THEM A THANK YOU NOTE!) Committed didn't save my life, but it was a fun and thoughtful read. Gilbert's voice is so familiar and it was seriously a little like sitting down with an old friend.

On a more personal note, I was reading this book during the first few weeks of living with Chris. It was fitting to think about levels of commitment during this navigation of who-hangs-their-bath -towel-where. Maybe for that reason, my favorite chapter in this book was "Marriage and Autonomy." Here are some of my favorite parts:

"Even under the best of circumstances, Felipe has the bad habit of sometimes snapping impatiently at people he feels are either behaving poorly or interfering somehow with the quality of his life. This happens rarely, but I wish it would happen never... I deplore this... People in my family wouldn't even speak this way to a mugger. More-over, whenever I see Felipe fly off the handle in public, it messes around with my cherished personal narrative about what a gentle and tender-hearted guy I have chosen to love, and that, frankly, pisses me off more than anything else. If there is one indignity I shall never endure gracefully, it is watching people mess around with my most cherished personal narratives about them."

Liz, I think we can all relate to wishing that the people we love always did exactly what we expect they should.

"...I was awfully grateful to him for encouraging me to attempt things that are not always entirely safe and that are not always fully explainable and that do not always work out quite as perfectly as I may have dreamed. I am more grateful for that than I can ever say- because, truth be told, I am certain to do this kind of thing again."

This is totally the story of "Jen goes to India and has some rough days and writes emails to Chris, who is perfectly supportive."

I liked this book a lot. I can see myself re-reading it; even in the past few minutes of searching for favorite passages, I was drawn into it again.

2. A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich
I saw this book at the bookstore down the street and ordered it from the library, where it has been returned so I can't quote from it. But I think it is enough to say that this book is so fascinating! It gives you the story of all of history in these tiny little bite-sized chapters. I learned so much. For days, I was forever telling people about how Islam was started or that Socrates was Alexander the Great's teacher. It also makes a lot more sense now why France has so many castles!

I gotta say, though- religion has seriously screwed everything up. Since forever.

3. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Britt and LoSacco gave me this book for my birthday and I read it yesterday. The whole thing. It's this weird sort of cookbook-memoir in which Molly recounts a memory and then follows it with a recipe for a food mentioned in said memory. I was finishing this up around 1am last night and my stomach was growling. I mean, pistachio apricot cake? You're killing me, Wizenberg!

And I just have to say this: is there ANYONE who has become a famous or meaningful person in the cookbook world who has not spent time in Paris? In fact, that's the reason why I knew I needed to live in Paris a few years ago- because after reading A Moveable Feast, I realized that there was no one in the literary world who succeeded without spending time in France's capital. That city, man. It is the capital of EVERYTHING.

Here is one of my favorite parts of Molly's book. Obviously it is related to her relationship with Paris (you saw that one coming):

"I remember saying to people, during that year that I lived alone in Paris, that the city felt like my second home... I'm still not sure where home is. It might be Seattle, though I can't be certain. My second home, though, is always the same. Paris."

Um, Molly, let's be best friends.

"There's been so much said and written about Paris that it's daunting to hazard a statement of my own. That city just has something... it's the place where I've been loneliest, and where I've been happiest. Sometimes I've been both at the same time... It's a place where even crying feels romantic somehow, where heartbreak makes you feel like a part of history. It's who and where, for a long time, I wanted to be."

Amen. And finally:

"Whenever I don't know what to do, Paris is where I've gone."

Dude. Welcome to my life. Welcome to the look my parents get in their eyes each time I tell them I'm moving to France (a look that, admittedly, probably also contains the knowledge that all of my crap is moving back into their garage).

I'd like to think that I'm going to go cook a bunch of the recipes in this book, but the reality is that I'm not really a cook. I might try one of her cakes for someone's birthday, but it doesn't really matter. It was a great read even without the recipes. If I do try something from the book, I'll be sure to post the process here for you to admire.

In conclusion, how weird is it that my first three books were non-fiction? Have you guys read anything in 2010 yet that you adore?

1.28.2010

Get 'er done.

Here was my plan:

1. Write a book.
2. While writing said book, hide it away from everyone else.
3. Tell Chris he couldn't read it yet. (And my Mom. And my friends.)
4. Have a launch party at Barnes and Noble in Union Square.
5. Go on a book tour.

I have never been attracted to the solitary aspect of writing, but I thought this was because I was kind of lazy. The reason I wasn't able to go away and write for hours and then go meet friends for dinner seemed, to me, because I wasn't trying hard enough. Or maybe possibly because I didn't really want to write a book after all. Writing a book is hard! Maybe it was too hard for me, I thought. Maybe instead I should go eat leftover pancakes with Nutella.

For a variety of reasons (some Skersh-inspired), I have come to realize that I am not a solitary writer. I'm not saying that I need to write next to someone or especially not with someone. But it has become increasingly clear that I need to share what I'm writing with someone... and fast!

My new friend Kelley and I are meeting after work on Monday, when I am responsible for showing up with a bunch of pages. Which she will read. And judge. And give me some honest feedback on. (Incidentally, she will be showing up with her new blog, which I would link you to if it were already created. So... create, K!)

Nothing lights a fire under your ass like a deadline, people!

And here's the other motivation: knowing that someone is going to be reading what I'm writing is making me focus on writing for her. I am not trying to write for every possible person, who might have millions of different senses of humor or tolerances for fiction or limited imaginations. I am writing for one reader. Kelley. It is that specific.

It strikes me that this is the heart of any kind of creative work, to feel as though you are not creating in a void, but that your little project will fly and be seen by other people. This is the amazing thing about a blog - that ten minutes ago I was eating pancakes and Nutella (oops... awkward...) in my kitchen and now I'm sitting in this chair typing about writing today and in ten more minutes, you might be reading it. Presto! Change-o! Instant audience.

We joined the YMCA earlier this month where you get a personal trainer for your first 12 weeks. You get to meet with the trainer four times and I had my first session a few weeks ago. I will say that I never in a million years thought I would want someone telling me what to do at the gym. It is hard enough to get myself to the physical location to work out, let alone voluntarily ask someone to harass me about going faster on the elliptical.

But guys, this Personal Training thing is so great that I now want one in every aspect of my life. The fact that I am going to meet my guy again tomorrow night and check in with him about my progress? Well, that has been some major motivation over the past three weeks. Except for the occasional Nutella-filled afternoon, I've been eating healthier and working out four times a week and feeling really great.

All it took was a commitment to someone ELSE.

So here's my suggestion. If you are working on something: a blog, a new job, a thesis, a painting, whatever - get a buddy. Find someone who also needs a bi-weekly or monthly check-in. The sweet thing is that you guys can have totally different goals. Get coffee with the girl who wants to write a cookbook and share your workout plans. Discuss your blog redesign with the guy who wants to get his apartment in better shape. It's just as cool to watch someone else progress while you're moving ahead too.

Whaddaya think?

1.25.2010

The Thing.

I'm in the subway on the way home when I realize I forgot to bring something to read. Instead, I pull out my trusty moleskin and spend my 20 minute commute brainstorming a list of things that would need to come together for a project that I've been dreaming about to succeed.

By the time I get home, I'm so juiced up on the potential for my career and my life that I haven't even taken my coat off when I launch into my realizations with Chris as an audience. He makes suggestions, points out flaws in the plan, is supportive when need be. We eat dinner and there's a buzz of newness, of possibility in the apartment.

It feels like spring is here early this year.

*

The funny thing about working in a field that is so divorced from my entire background is that I've constantly felt like a foreigner at work. This, admittedly, has its advantages. I can cry "too technical!" at will and people understand. I cry "too nerdy!" and I slip out of the context again. But I think I'm at a sort of crossroads with regard to software and, more importantly, the Internet.

I think I might love it.

Suddenly I don't envision starting a magazine that's mailed to people once a month; my vision is only available online. This medium speaks to me more clearly. It's a language that I understand. Links are blue and right clicking lets me open one in a new tab. I'm in too far to pretend that I don't understand or that this isn't my world or that I'm not equipped for the job anymore.

Shakespeare and Duras be damned; I'm a techie.

*

Well, not quite. As much as I now BELONG somehow in this new field which has slowly become my own, I still grasp at everything I was and loved for 26 years before I met software. I grasp at it and I freak out about losing touch with who I was. I like having a non-traditional background to my job. I simultaneously feel a gaping hole of empty Frenchness and an overflowing mountain of Internet inspiration. How do you balance that?

Sometimes, in a perfect moment of all things being right with the world, I am quietly wireframing at my desk while listening to French music, having dashed out to the library at lunch to pick up some more fiction and cookbooks. Or friends buy me birthday presents ranging from writing notecards to books to French cakes to plates made by local artists.

Questions of self-identity quiet themselves and melt into one long Ohm, the sound of someone in their late 20s who has not yet had to complicate themselves with nouns like wife or mother or kidney match. You know exactly who you are. For at least one moment.

*

I said this earlier to Chris and I do not type these words lightly on this blog: I have something significant in me. It's a project or a book or a community or, hell who knows, a walk-a-thon. Some days, like today, I feel it strong, pulsing through my veins and brain like a steady chant. It's coming. Sometime. The Great Idea. The Life Effort. The Thing.

And holy crap, on days like these, I cannot wait for it to be real.

1.24.2010

Chez nous

I made this little video for our friends and family who don't live in NY and wanted to see Le New Place, but figured I'd share it here too. The sound is a little quiet at times, but I think you get the idea.

This space feels luxurious and simultaneously like our place to relax, a place where we can both get work done, where I could write a novel and where Chris can come up with another great idea for an Arc90 product. Plus Oscar loves the huge windows (and we have a bird feeder that's waiting to go up, which should improve the wildlife on an 8th story apartment in the middle of Brooklyn).

Enjoy!

Our apartment in Brooklyn from Jen Epting on Vimeo.

1.23.2010

New Project: Making homemade pasta

I got a cookbook called The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters from the library a few weeks ago and last Sunday decided to try my hand at making homemade pasta. Hey! That sounds easy, doesn't it? No? Exactly!

It sounded just hard enough to be fun.

The recipe for making pasta is very simple. Flour. Eggs. Extra egg yolks. Done.




Alice Waters tells you to wrap the dough up and let it alone for one hour. I amused myself by cleaning the bathroom while I left said dough some private time.


When the hour was up, it was time to roll out the dough and cut it into pasta-like strips. This part was FUN. The dough was really un-sticky and had almost a toughness to it. It cut pretty easily and I dropped the long strips into a bowl. At this point, glee set in. Maybe I would never buy pasta again! I would become one of those homemade people! One day my children would say "our mother never bought pasta. She always made it." And people would be jealous.






So then Alice Waters lets me down. She says nothing about how long you can leave this pasta alone before you cook it. So I went to the gym. And I read a book. And about 4 hours later, I got some boiling water together and tried to drop these delicate strips into the water. Sadly, they had rebelled. I mean, these noodles SUDDENLY GOT NEEDY for each other. In a way that you hope your neediest boyfriend never does. I thought, "maybe when they go in the hot water, they'll break up." Kind of like what happens when you're dating a needy boyfriend. Yell at him a little about getting some independence and he'll back off.

Well. I guess noodles are different than needy lovers.




"These noodles are ruined!" I complained to Chris, whose logical brain was both comforting and irritatingly undramatic.

"That's what happens when you cook," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't come out right."

Hrmph. I had to hack that noodle brick apart with a knife in the boiling water. And since Chris seemed ready to eat whatever came out of the pot, I prepared my oil and garlic sauce and put my hacked up brick into the pan, then mixed.




It wasn't terrible. It was pretty freaking dough-y though. I still hold a little bitterness towards Alice Waters. Cause, come on, Alice. You can't just let us hang like that! A few warnings about not letting your pasta re-solidify might have been nice. Next time I'll make and cut the dough just before dinner.


Anyone have tips on pasta making? What have you messed up in the kitchen lately?

1.22.2010

Winging it.

Two nights ago as we snuggled Oscar (who, incidentally, is LOVING the attention of two owners versus one), we talked about our days.

"I feel like I have SO much free time since we moved in together," I said. And it was true. This week I worked on a bunch of creative things, including 1001journals and some letters to send overseas.

"I feel exhausted," Chris confessed.

It's funny how people can be so different.

We hung my bookshelves last Sunday night, in the middle of which I had a nervous breakdown because we didn't have the right tools and seemed totally unequipped to put a hole in our new apartment. As I freaked out, Chris bent his arm and started to move it up and down. "I think we should wing it," he joked, and I laughed. We decided to wing it, eyeball it, approximate. They came out pretty good, I must say, and are now holding a ton of books without falling to the ground.

Here's what's interesting: I bought those shelves two years ago. I never hung them in my room in Cobble Hill because I was afraid I didn't know how. I never hung them in Greenpoint because it wasn't my place and I was afraid of putting something unsightly up in a furnished apartment that was, well, perfect. Left to my own devices, I would have let these shelves sit boxed up in the living room until the next apartment, afraid to do more.

Chris' point of view was well taken. We're two smart people. We can figure it out- or at least try.

What have you been afraid to do lately? What are you smart enough to figure out?

P.S. Photos of the apartment (and maybe a video!) coming this weekend while Chris is away in WI. Stay tuned!

1.14.2010

29



A fine tradition, captured at 28, 27 and 26.

1.12.2010

Keeping it real.

January is a difficult month for me. I have a tendency to get sentimental and in-my-head about Important Moments and the whole Christmas-New Year's-Anniversary-Birthday swing results in many days in a row of feeling like something is the Last. Or the First. I know this must be shocking for all of you.

Case in point. Tonight I was walking through Grand Central when I realized that tomorrow is my last day of being 28 years old. "Maybe I should do 28 things to commemorate this day," I thought. "That's symbolic!" But of what? And how the hell would I have time to do 28 ANYTHINGS tomorrow?

Another example: I spent much of Christmas preparing Chris for The First Christmas with My Family. I told him all about the fun traditions we've done over the years and then was let down when the reality was that some of them have morphed. Making Christmas cookies ONE DAY later than planned is not cause for hysteria, but I let it bum me out. It wasn't how we'd always done it! Our family was growing apart! Pretty soon we'd be ordering Chinese food in a tree-less family room!

See what I mean? Aiming for symbolism and tradition minute by minute is exhausting.

The challenge, it seems to me, is to have thoughtful and reflective moments when it feels right, but not to necessitate them. On Sunday night, Chris and I talked about our favorite moments of the past year. Our trip to France came up, as did my first visit out to Wisconsin. It was a nice thing to think about for a few minutes, but then we moved on in conversation. We didn't spend the evening watching a photographic montage of the past year set to music that pulled at our heart strings (my original plan). Lighter was better. More real.

More real.

There is an aspect of reality that echoes the past, I'll concede that. But it's so hard to live in reality when you're longing for something that has long since changed. If there's anything I should do tomorrow, it isn't 28 random things, it's ONE thing: enjoy the day. Even though my age officially changes on Thursday, I've been becoming 29 quietly every day all year. Tomorrow is but one more step along the path.

1.11.2010

Everyone looks better in France.

So last night I wrote this whole post about Religion and religion and where I am at this moment with all of that, but it was too lofty a post for 10pm and never got done. Hence! Here is a very meager post that says HAPPY ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY to one Mr. Christopher. It has been a wild year. May we always look as calm and happy as we did eating cheese in France:




1.03.2010

Avatar

Watching Avatar was like watching Jurassic Park for the first time. I never knew that kind of stuff was possible in movies. What an awesome imagination and incredible execution.

Go. See. It.

1.02.2010

The Golden Age, Brooklyn-style.

Today we had a surprise guest- Evelyn! She said she wanted to see our new place and hang out, but I think we all know why she really came:


Chris and I walked around the neighborhood for a while this afternoon and we both decided that being closer to our friends is a huge reason why we love the new place. New York is so big that you can easily live an hour from someone you wish you could see daily. That kind of sucks.


Which is Brooklyn is kind of perfect for us and why our progressive party was such a fun time. We started at Doug and Courtney's place (see above) and moved on to Sarah's, then Rama's. All walking distance. All awesome people. OH, THE LOST PARTIES WE WILL HAVE.

The last time I lived within walking distance of a bunch of people was my year in Clermont. It was so great to call someone and meet them for coffee ten minutes later. Does a city ever stay that way thought? Literally the only person that I know still in Clermont is Erica, and she spends a lot of time in Paris at this point.

Being in my late 20s feels like this golden age of friends and couples and a mixture of parties and brunches. You can feel it's not going to last. Someone will start having babies and then it'll be everyone and all of a sudden you'll be at back-to-school nights. Life changes, as cities do. But for these few rare years, it's the best of all worlds.

I never, ever thought I'd say this, but I am so glad I'm spending my golden age in New York. I can't imagine it being as good anywhere else.

1.01.2010

BB '10!

So there's no good rhyming words with "ten." Sublime in '09 worked so well (and great in '08 did its job just fine), but ten is kind of a buzzkill right now. Last night Anne Brown said that her personal motto will be something like "Jen in '10!" which was very sweet, but I think it's against the Laws of Arrogance to name yourself as your own motto.

After some thought, I decided to focus on Balance this year. Chris and I will need to balance our new life together with our own interests and social lives, work is going to require more balancing of my time and my energy, and my own creative projects are going to compete for my time more than ever this year. But "Balance in '10" sounds kind of lame. How about something with a bit more panache?

BALANCE BEAM '10!

I love this time of year. I love the newness and the looking forward and the remembering back and the evergreen decorations that adorn it all. Today was all about NOT making a schedule, and so I slept late and we got around to doing laundry after some naps and hanging some stuff on our walls. It's been a good day of getting stuff done sans structure. More of these to come in BB '10 for sure.

BALANCE BEAM '10! Go!