Sunday, August 31, 2008

what would life be without junk food?

Today I had an unusual craving for chocolate (I usually prefer vanilla), so I decided to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I'm not sure what it is about this particular recipe that stands out from others I've tried, but I suspect it's that the dough is a treat in itself, not just a floury vehicle for the chocolate chips. And the reason for this is twofold: brown sugar to add richness and double-strength vanilla (our addition) to round out the sweetness. In addition, I recommend using a higher-end chocolate if you can. It seems to stay creamy longer, instead of getting dry and flaky and tasteless.

chocolate chip cookies
(as seen on bags of Ambrosia chocolate chips)
makes 3 dozen cookies (but depends on how much dough you eat)

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup cane sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
2 cups chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 375 F.
2) In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3) In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg. Beat well. Add dry ingredients and combine well. Stir in chocolate chips.
4) Roll a tablespoon of dough into a ball. Place on ungreased cookie sheet covered in parchment paper.
5) Bake for 10 to 15 minutes (in all our ovens, it's been much closer to 10, so keep an eye on these guys). Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Note: These will last well in an air-tight container for at least a week.

Do you remember the pizza and lime pie I wrote about a few weeks ago? Ian and Mom K were both gracious enough to divulge their recipes, so many thanks to them.

pizza a la cliffe
(created by Ian himself)
makes 4 pizzas; serves 4-6

(for the sauce -- a variation on marinara created by Colleen Feldner)
1 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
kosher salt, to taste
1 Tbl. balsamic vinegar
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbl. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. anchovy paste (optional -- it's really not that bad, guys!)
2 (28-oz.) cans whole, peeled tomatoes, seeded, puree reserved
1 Tbl. dried basil
1 tsp. sugar
crushed red pepper, to taste (he uses just over 1/4 tsp.)
fresh ground pepper, to taste
(for the dough -- an adaptation of America's Test Kitchens' recipe)
2 cups bread flour (we use King Arthur European artisan bread flour)
2 cups durham flour (can be replaced by bread flour, whole wheat flour, or semolina)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. olive oil
1 1/3 cups warm water
pinch of sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast (not instant)
all-purpose flour, for kneading
(for the pizza)
1 1/4 lb. fresh salted mozzarella, chilled and grated or sliced
1 cup basil, chopped
Penzeys Pizza Sprinkle, to taste (he uses about 1/4 tsp. per pizza)
your choice of toppings (at least try one plain cheese, though!)

(for the sauce -- can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen)
1) Heat olive oil in medium sauce pan on medium-low to medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and a large pinch of salt and sweat until soft, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
2) Add balsamic vinegar, stirring until liquid evaporates, about 30 seconds.
3) Add garlic, tomato paste, and anchovy paste, stirring until aromatic, about 20 seconds.
4) Add tomatoes and reserved puree, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the sauce pan. Add basil, sugar, crushed red pepper, and black pepper (about 8 cranks).
5) After mixture has been heated for 3 minutes, use a potato masher to combine all ingredients and crush tomatoes until only small chunks remain.
6) Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until reduced by 1/4. After the sauce has been simmering for 10 minutes, add salt and any additional spices to taste.
7) Add a dash more olive oil and stir well after removing from heat, and allow to cool.
8) Puree in a food processor (optional, if you like your sauce to be chunky).
(for the dough)
1) In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water, a pinch of sugar, and yeast. Allow to proof, about 10 minutes, while preparing remaining dry ingredients.
2) In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir together and create a well for wet ingredients. Add olive oil, remaining 1 1/4 cups water, and proofed yeast mixture. Combine until a wet dough forms.
3) Scrape dough onto a floured work surface. Knead by hand to form a smooth ball, adding flour as needed, about 10 to 15 minutes, using a dough scraper to assist in keeping the dough from sticking to the work surface. (For a more bubbly crust, the dough should remain slightly wet and sticky. For a flatter, chewier crust, add more flour and work to the consistency of bread dough.)
4) Place dough in buttered bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
5) Punch the dough down and allow for a second rise, approximately 45 minutes.
6) Divide dough into 4 equal pieces and form into balls. Allow to rest for 5-15 minutes before making pizzas.

(for the pizza)
1) Preheat oven to 500 F, placing baking stone or perforated pizza pan on middle rack to heat.
2) For each pizza: On a sheet of parchment paper that has been very lightly dusted with flour, flatten the dough. Lightly flour the dough and a rolling pin; roll out into a roundish shape with a thickness of 1/8-inch (don't worry -- it doesn't have to be perfect).
3) Spread 1/4 of the sauce over the pizza with the back of a ladle, starting in the middle and working your way out, within about 1/4 inch of the edge.
4) Sprinkle pizza seasoning and 1/4 cup basil over the sauce. Top with 1/4 of the mozzarella and any other toppings you choose.
5) With a flat cookie sheet or pizza peel, move pizza (with parchment) into oven and place directly on heated pizza stone or pan. Cook for 8 to 15 minutes, until edge of crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.
6) Remove pizza from oven; allow to rest 3 to 5 minutes. Slice, serve, and gobble.

sublime lime pie
(from a 1981 Capital Times recipe discovered by Mom K)
makes 1 pie; serves 12

(for the dough -- from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, circa 1970)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
4 to 5 Tbl. cold water
(for the filling)
3 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (4 to 5 limes)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
whipped cream
lime slices

(for the crust)
1) Sift flour and salt. Cut in butter til pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing mixture after each addition.
2) Form into a ball; flatten on a lightly floured board. Roll 1/8-thick from center to edge. Fold in half and gently lower into pie plate. Crimp edges (or do whatever you want to make it decorative if you like that sort of thing). Cover and chill until pie is ready to be assembled and baked.
(for the filling)
1) Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Beat egg whites in large mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
3) In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Stir in milk and lime juice. Add sugar, flour, and salt; beat until smooth. Using a flat whisk, fold the lime mixture into the egg whites.
4) Pour into the pastry-lined pie plate. Bake for 35 to minutes or until golden brown (don't freak out if the surface cracks). A knife inserted into the center of the pie should come out clean.
5) Allow to cool to room temperature or chill in the fridge. Garnish with whipped cream and lime slices before serving.

Notes from Mom K: If the pie is browning too quickly, tent it with foil (seriously, make a little pyramid; don't just lay the foil on top or it might collapse and ruin the top of your pie). For perfect slices, run a knife under hot water before cutting the pie.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

a trek to coney

Growing up, I thought Coney Island was the quintessential theme park, so it was only natural that Ian and I made it one of our top New York must-see destinations. If you've been thinking it's a sort of old-timey Six Flags or Disneyland, scratch that. It's more of a permanent Sheboygan County Fair, but instead of animals, there's a circus-style freak show. And if it can even be considered a theme park at all, that theme would be seedy. But nonetheless, it's got a charm that keeps people coming back (okay, not charm -- more of a desire to witness the weird). Anyway, there's a rockabilly festival there today, so we hopped on the train in hopes of some good music, sand and sun, and oddities we likely wouldn't see anywhere else, not even on the subway. Since you may never have been to Coney Island, we took some photos so you can feel one step closer. (And if you've been there, leave a comment! I'd love to hear what you thought.)

This is the (in)famous Coney Island boardwalk. It's quite long, extending east past the New York Aquarium, and west past the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball stadium. Behind the souvenir shop, note the Wonder Wheel, the scariest Ferris wheel ever.

We really did try to enjoy said Wonder Wheel (of Death). In the other photo, you may be able to see why it feels so scary: Many of the compartments (each bigger than a VW Bug) are on curved tracks, so they get flung around when the wheel turns. But not to worry -- a sign next to the waiting line assured us that no accidents had occurred on the ride in 85 years. Awesome! Except that it was built 89 years ago. So is that 85 years since the last accident, or a combined total of the 85 years during which a mishap did not occur, the last casualty actually being this July?

The Wonder Wheel is part of Astroland, which was built in 1962 and is the last remaining Coney Island amusement park. There have been many others built there since the 188os, but most of them (including Astroland) burned down. The Cyclone roller coaster (on the right), where Ian once almost met his doom, was built in 1927.

Astroland has tons of the normal amusement park attractions, like bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, arcade games, tilt-a-whirls, kiddie rides, and even a log flume. Here's Ian, having just commemorated the day by committing a federal offense.

A trip to Coney Island should always involve eating at Nathan's. These are the guys who host the annual hot dog-eating contest on the 4th of July. Ian would probably take the train to Coney just to go to Nathan's, but luckily the brand has a nice presence in grocery stores now.

Hot dogs are great, but I'd been thinking about having a mango-on-a-stick since the last time we were at Coney Island, exactly a year ago. They're delicious -- the vendor even offers toppings, like chili powder, salt, and lemon juice. While I was sure I'd like it, Ian was a self-proclaimed disliker-of-mangoes. Until today. (Victory is mine, but he's clearly not ready to admit it yet.)

Did I mention the original impetus for our trip to Coney Island was the rockabilly festival? Well it was, and this year it was held in a fenced-off area away from the beach (last year it was on the boardwalk), and there was an admission fee! So we enjoyed two songs from the other side of the fence.

Though Coney Island is full of weirdos and death-wielding rides (I'm sure of it!), nobody needs to feel endangered. Here are three of the approximately four thousand police officers that we encountered during today's visit.

And if you think Coney Island is just a bunch of metal and hot dogs (and mangoes on sticks), think again. There's a gorgeous garden right in the middle of everything.

This is the Stillwell Ave. station -- it's the last stop on several subway lines, so there are trains everywhere, running on several levels. The station itself is an architectural marvel too, and is one of the MTA's newest. (And if you've never been on a subway train, here's one for reference.)

The ride to Coney makes for lots of sightseeing as well, because most of the Brooklyn stops are above ground. The bridge in the distance is the Verrazano-Narrows, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island (the fake borough).

If you pay attention, the railways have tons of cool structural shapes. The last two shots were taken from the Manhattan Bridge. It has two levels which allow for roads, sidewalks, and tracks to get people back and forth over the East River, and connects Brooklyn (well, Long Island, really) and Manhattan. And in case you were wondering, that really is the Brooklyn Bridge.

No subway ride is complete without some street music. This man, who was at Columbus Circle, was playing the Kora. It has a really distinctive sound that's a mix between a guitar and a didgeridoo; when he started to sing, the sound was incredible. But the station is -- I am not exaggerating -- 300 degrees, so when our train came we said goodbye and headed home. I hope I run into him again.

I hope you enjoyed your vicarious journey! At least you don't have the sunburn to prove it (I'm pretty sure my freckles quintupled in number). I'm off to bed. Good night!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

oh happy day

Is anyone else excited about watching the DNC tonight? Do regular people do that? I must confess that I've been catching up by watching speeches as YouTube videos, but still -- in my short voting career (this will be the third presidential election in which I'm allowed to vote), no campaign summer has ever felt as magnetic.

My hope for this evening: Obama needs to make us feel good by ripping up the Republicans, not by being warm and fuzzy. So come in swinging, Barack!

It seems like a do-or-die moment that might come out okay...I'm sure this hasn't been the first time, and I probably felt like this last time too, but today I think that the possibility does exist that things will get better. We really could elect someone who won't, as Hillary said on Tuesday, "squander the promise of a country that really fulfills the hopes of our people." She nailed it.

Normally we love your phone calls, but tonight you'll get no answer -- at least during the speech. I'm going to be glued to our 13-inch TV, an Obamatini in hand (and, yes, with pinky extended). And because I knew you would ask:

the obamatini
(developed by the Sisters Cliffe on
the evening of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses)

1.5 oz. Absolut Kurant
.5 oz. triple sec
.5 oz. pomegranate juice
lime juice
twisty lime rind

Combine vodka, triple sec, and pomegranate juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake. Pour into a martini glass. Give it a squeeze of lime juice. Top off with Prosecco, and twirl the twist of lime rind around the rim of the glass and toss it in.

And if you think that will get you feeling a little too festive, I had great luck with swapping in ginger ale for the Prosecco. Pure cranberry juice also works as a delicious substitute for pomegranate juice. I actually prefer it in the lower alcohol version.

Photo courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

Sunday, August 24, 2008

following our dreams

This week was full of good news from loved ones who have, themselves, received good news. I am so proud of them!

ian s. cliffe
Ian got a job...on Wall Street. Surprised? Most of you know that he recently graduated with a master's in theology. His original plan was to take a few years off to teach high school prior to pursuing his doctorate. He spent months looking, but nothing was a good fit. The interviewer at one private girls' school, Ian's top choice, actually told him that they weren't going to hire a man (too bad Ian wasn't wearing a wire -- we'd never work again).

Last week, Ian finally decided to follow his dream and get into the restaurant business (for ages he's been talking about opening one when we get back to Wisconsin). He was hired on the spot to work at a not-even-open restaurant called 
Libertine. Although Ian is a little bit nervous, I'm amazingly calm about this massive career change because he's really happy.

james f.d. martin
The second bearer of good news is my dad. He's a United Church of Christ pastor, passionate about the music ministry. Last week, Dad heard that at this year's UCC musicians' conference, two of his songs were played -- the only composer featured twice -- which means they'll both appear in the new UCC praise song book!

honorable mentions
Two other family members have literary dreams in the works: A certain aunt is releasing an amazing cookbook and an uncle is working on a fabulous book, as well -- I know because I'm editing it! (Don't want to expose their identities and ruin any surprises...) I'll let you know when they're available. Order early! They're bound to be best-sellers.

If you'd like to be mentioned in my compendium of dream-following, please let me know!

Friday, August 22, 2008

shameless pitch

When Liz, Keith, Ian, and I stumbled upon an art fair last April, we found a booth that sold handmade soaps. These folks were smart enough to hand out samples, and we all promised ourselves that as soon as we ran out of the stuff we already had, we'd buy some. Liz recently asked us how she could get some and I figured I'd share the info with all of you since the soaps are so great.

The brand is called Beekman's C.O.P.A. Soaps, and if you live in this fair city, you'll find these at many local street fairs. If you live somewhere else, you can shop right on their website. They even offer the occasional discount.

Right now, we're using Spice (shown above). It smells delicious, but better yet, our hands feel squeaky clean after using it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

pizza pizza

Last night our friends Kristen and Jason came over for an evening of feasting, Rick Warren's interviews with the candidates (boo, grr), and a game of Balderdash (did you know there's a veterinarian in England who founded a sanctuary for alcoholic donkeys?).

We are each other's guinea pigs for new recipes (luckily they always turn out well). Last night we decided to share a few varieties of Ian's latest culinary obsession: pizza. It's the best we've had here, aside from those made by renowned brick-oven joints like Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, and John's on Bleecker (the original, not the horrible facsimile in Times Square -- the scourge of Manhattan). Maybe when Ian has scored a book deal and I've worked my way farther up the ladder of journalism, we'll invest in a brick oven for our massive cook's kitchen (to come). For now, though, we'll "settle" for Ian's pizza, with its crispy olive-oil crust, bold tomato sauce, and gooey fresh mozzarella melted over the top, baked in our lopsided oven which I think is older than either of us. The one pictured below was covered with pepperoni and fresh basil and we also enjoyed a garlic and tomato one.
Not to be outdone, I made Sublime Lime Pie, an addictive recipe I first tasted at Cliffes' house (which I think was first made by Grandma Zahnle). I love it because it's citrusy without having that notorious bathroom-cleaner flavor some Key lime pies do. While it was baking, the top started to get brown prematurely, so I covered it loosely with aluminum foil. It did keep the top from getting any darker, but the two got stuck together when I was pulling it out of the oven and half the filling came off with the foil. Thanks to whipped cream (miraculous in both flavor and function), nobody was ever the wiser (until now...).
If you'd like either of these recipes, please ask. I have to make sure neither is a closely guarded secret, the dissemination of which is punishable by death.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

1.3 million are hungry in new york

Yesterday I got the exciting news that I've been chosen to head one of the teams in our first-ever virtual food drive challenge at The Knot Inc. (apparently because I'm "spunky" -- boo). We'll be raising money for the Food Bank for New York City, according to whom, about 1.3 million people across the five boroughs rely on emergency food resources. (This is appalling.)

If you feel so compelled -- and don't act like you didn't know this was coming -- you too can donate on behalf of our team! Just go to our food bank donation site and then let me know you made a gift (I don't need to know how much) so we can add you to our list of supporters.

I'm especially happy to take on this challenge because the specific food bank we'll be helping is Community Kitchen in Harlem, the neighborhood where Ian and I live, plus donations go to buy uber-nutritious perishable food. If we can help just one of the people who begs near the 125th Street subway station, it will make this project worth it.

Go Team Broccoli!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

home again, home again

So we just returned from the quickest trip to the Midwest we've ever had (three days), back for the first time in eight months. We were invited to our friends Chris and Monika's wedding in Chicago, and I'm finally able to take vacation and it was a slow time at Ian's job, so we were excited to be able to go. Since we were so close, we thought we'd swing up to see our families too, and it was a lovely time.

A few points of note:
  • If you're traveling to Chicago from Milwaukee, you might as well walk -- we averaged less than 30 mph. Nevertheless, the drive was well worth it and a fabulous time was had by all. (If you've seen a lonely black suit coat with blue lining, you know who to call.)

    The happy couple

  • I got to work in the garden! If you want to eat the best lettuce ever, visit my parents in 42 to 47 days.
  • Guinness makes a fantastic addition to cake. Try this recipe from Nigella, which can also be found in her cookbook Feast.
  • Of everyone we saw, our niece Abigail has changed the most. She's speaking in full sentences, but some don't quite make sense. Example: "What da heck, James! Blast off!" (Nobody knows who James is.) I guess we weren't very helpful in calming her down.
  • And Ian read a work of fiction!
All in all, it was a really nice trip, although we're very much looking forward to fully recovering this weekend. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible: Chris and Monika for getting married, our parents for the food, lodging, and iPass, our friends and families for the fun, Midwest Airlines for getting us there safely (albeit late), Enterprise Rent a Car and the A-Team for the transportation, and The Knot Inc. and Union Theological Seminary for the funding.

Next for the A-Team: a Waukesha bocce team?
The games we played in Waukesha were all new to me:
Pioneer Ring Toss,

Ladder Golf,

and Uncle Keith Is a Horse.
And here we are at the Fond du Lac lighthouse that protects boaters from running aground on Lake Winnebago's treacherous shores.

All photos from Waukesha courtesy of Keith Kucharski,