mysticonnie's blog

Megalomania continues...
Cheese Diaries
a Conspiracy of 2
Muffin Top

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


My macaron obsession has culminated in an attempt to recreate the Ispahan, Pierre Herme's confection that catapulted him into pastry chef superstardom. Though "gerbet" style macarons have been popping up in a few select french-style bakeries/patissseries in the Bay Area, I have yet to see any exotic flavors or the larger macarons with additional components in the filling that you can find at any patisserie in Paris. The Ispahan is made with a rose flavored buttercream, with lychees and raspberries, sandwiched between two pink almond meringue cookies. After some extensive research, I managed to procure Herme's recipe for the Ispahan that was revealed in an older issue of Art Culinaire magazine. I spent several weekend procuring some of the more obscure ingredients... rose syrup, egg white powder (not to be confused with meringue powder), glucose syrup. I couldn't find rose paste, except online, so I substituted rose extract.

Both the cookies and the buttercream were actually Italian meringues, which called for stirring molten sugar into stiffly beaten egg whites. For whatever reason, I failed miserably. At one point, the sugar started to caramelize before I turned the heat down, and I also allowed too much of it to hit the sides of the bowl, so shards of caramlized sugar were incorporated throughout the meringue. Actually, it tasted pretty good, but there was no way it would make a smooth meringue or cookie. I wound up straining the meringue for the buttercream, and I ditched the meringue for the cookie and went with plain old stiffly beaten eggwhites. The buttercream, once I flavored it, turned out okay, though there wasn't much of left... just enough for the macaron's I'd be making, and it didn't look silky smooth, like the buttercream I'd made before. Next time, I think I'll the make a traditional recipe and flavor it the way I did before. I'll just cross my fingers when it comes to the molten sugar. The cookies... well, they tasted all right. I was already suspicious, because the recipes I've used in the past called for whipping the whites and folding in (dry) almond flour and powdered sugar. This recipe called for mixing two whites with the almond flour/powdered sugar, than folding it into the aforementioned italian meringue. The almond flour/egg white mixture was EXTREMELY heavy, like pate sucre. I wasn't entirely sure how the final incorporation of ingredients wasn't going to collapse, but I forged ahead. This macaron batter was looser than the batters I've made in the past, and wound up spreading a bit more. I didn't allow them to "dry" before baking as I had in past, and popped them in the oven immediately. The cookies didn't rise, nor did they develop "feet", or a smooth surface. Also, the edges of a few began to brown, and some even burned on the bottom.

When I first tasted the rose buttercream, I thought to myself that it tasted good, but it need some acid to balance it out. As it turned out, the lychees and raspberries did it nicely. The floral notes of the lychees were highlighted by the rose flavoring, and their acidity, along with the raspberries kept it from being cloying. It wasn't perfect, but it tasted damn good. I'll try again, but with the recipe I used before.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Don't know about the music, but that's a fantastic show!

Meant to mention this in the Oscars fashion post, now that I've seen the video, I'm reminded again. I just love McQueen. (watch for it at 5:45 mark)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

We do chicken right

A new Safeway opened near my house shortly after Thanksgiving last year. Up until recently, I hadn't stepped inside a Safeway for quite some time. I usually do my grocery shopping on Saturdays, when I go to the farmers' market, the butcher, the fishmonger, the bakery, Monterey Market/Berkeley Bowl/Whole Foods, etc. If I need anything during the week, I'm lucky enough to have a Thursday farmers' market across the street from my office, and sometimes, I go to the Trader Joe's that opened a few years ago in the same shopping center as the Safeway, or the natural grocery store down the street. I guess you could say I have pretty discriminating requirements when it comes to my groceries. Once in a great while, there's a late night TP or paper towel run to Safeway, but buying such sundries in as huge of a bulk mass as possible from Target has saved me from these nocturnal sojourns recently. The new Safeway, however, is hard to resist, especially since we received a thick book of coupons that promised over 50 dollars in savings. Roughly modeled in a craftman style, with high, high ceilings, exposed beams and a faux hardwood floor, it's huge - probably twice the square footage of the old one - and it unabashedly caters to a more upscale customer. They sell le Creuset cookware, Williams-Sonoma cookbooks and those (quite frankly, silly) stemless Riedel wineglasses (no Scharffenberger chocolate, though!). In addition to the pharmacy, florist, bakery, butcher, deli, bank and Starbucks, there's also a panini grill, a sushi counter, a carving station, an olive bar and a selection of about 4 - 6 hot soups. With the opening of this new Safeway, a new line of organic Safeway Select products debuted - the "O" line. In addition, the produce department boasted of carrying an expanded selection of organics.

A few weeks ago, after we ran out of paper towels, razor cartridges and needing to pick up some chicken for a curry dish, I decided to just buy everything from Safeway. It's been a while since I've purchased meat from Safeway (except for the whole cooked dungeness crabs that were $3.99 a pound - combined with the aforementioned $2.00 off coupon, that worked out to be 4-5 bucks per one and a half pound crab!). Since reading Fast Food Nation and with the whole BSE and bird flu scare, I've been very careful about where I purchase my meat - I want to know where and how the animal was raised, when it was slaughtered, and when it arrived at the place I'm purchasing it from. Also, driving down Highway 5 and seeing (and smelling) the conditions of Harris Ranch (which is marketed as a higher-quality product) really turns my stomach. I'm not averse seeing an animal alive before I eat it. I have yet to meet a crustacean that gives me pause before throwing in a boiling pot, and I still remember going to poultry sellers with my mother as I was growing up to pick out a chicken to be butchered for the night's dinner... I'm fairly certain it wasn't organic, nor was it free range, but that had to be the best tasting chicken we got. These local "boutique" meats I usually purchase (after giving the butcher the third degree about it) - Hoffman chickens, Liberty Farms duck, Meyer Ranch pork, Western Grasslands lamb, Prather Ranch beef, Niman Ranch anything, etc. - are considerably more expensive than going to Costco or an average supermarket, but I justify it to myself by buying very little of it (smaller servings), plus we only eat eat meat for four days of the week. (if we eat out, I'm not so stringent... and popeye's chicken is the shiznit!) It also tastes better. I was surprised though, to discover that Safeway did carry organic chicken. However, none of the organic chicken was available whole. Nor was it available as whole thighs, whole legs, whole or split breasts... in fact, it was all pre-skinned, pre-boned, wet little cryovac'd pink blobs on styrofoam trays. It was extremely unappetizing. "Who buys this stuff?" I wondered. But I guess I'm an unusual consumer. I know more than a few people who are grossed out by a whole uncooked chicken. And eating out with others at Chinese restaurants has shown me how disturbed people get when they are served a whole fish, chicken or duck with its head still on. ("I don't like it when my food is looking at me," I've heard more than once) One finicky eater I know refuses to touch any meat on his plate if there's any signs of bone, skin, fat or cartilage. I don't think that such habits are unusual. But how disassociated are we from the animals we consume if people are buying prepackaged organic boneless skinless chicken tenders (not the whole breast - just the tenders!)? It's as though people don't want to acknowledge that the meat they eat was once a living, breathing creature. It saddens me a little, because (I think) it seems displays a lack of respect for the life an animal gives up in order to feed and nourish us. I don't want to seem like I'm judging those who buy these products. After all, I (reluctantly) wound up purchasing some skinned and boned organic thighs (I think Foster Farms chicken is really gross... besides, what the hell am a gonna do with 6 pounds of chickens thighs that I dislike?), and there is the convenience factor to consider. But such processing winds up doubling or tripling the financial cost to the consumer, ($6.99 a pound for the tenders! Hoffman's organic free range whole chickens are $2.89 an pound). You may as well forgo the meat and have something vegetarian for dinner instead. Sigh. I guess I've turned into a real Alice Waters worshipping/farmer's market junkie/Bay Area food snob.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fashion blogging the Oscars

Like I said before, I haven't seen too many of the nominees this year, so I reserve my right to withold judgment on the films nominated (Crash? Really? It was good but it wasn't all that), but I *will* judge what people wore.

Reese Witherspoon. I think she went with makeup and hair that was very true to her personal style, and the dress was beautiful. I can't really say anything too bad about the dress, except to add that if I were going to go with vintage 50's Dior, you might as well try to find something New Look (1947-ish). In fact, I think something New Look is a little more Reese than what she chose.

Charlize Theron. Dude, that huge bow looked like a giant alien head. I was reminded of the episode of the Simpsons where Mr. Burns has his head transplanted next to Homer's.

Nicole Kidman. Yes, we get it. You're tall and thin. It only serves to enhance how botoxed your forehead is. That being said, I thought the dress itself was gorgeous. I loved the delicate embroidery and beading and the softly belled fishtail hemline, but it just made Nicole look like a skeletal ghost. The green Dior and the ruffled pink Chanel of Oscars past were much more flattering.

Jennifer Aniston. The dress was okay, nothing special, though. But seriously, if your ex was running around adopting kids with and impregnating Angelina Jolie, wouldn't you try to wear something more memorable? I'm thinking along the lines of Jennifer Lopez's green Versace Grammy dress... it doesn't have to be that naked, but should make a statement.

Michelle Williams. I actually really liked that dress. Yeah, it was mustard yellow, but it didn't wash her out, like Cate Blanchett last year. And with the red lipstick, it looked great contrasting against the red carpet.

Jessica Alba. That dress was great. Fit scarily well... she looked like a Barbie doll or something. Eat a sandwich, girl! But soften the hairdo a little.

Salma Hayek. I thought she looked great. Gorgeous color on her, flattering cut, nice hair. Very well put together.

Hilary Swank. I kept thinking her boobs were going to pop out of her dress. Even then, she still kinda looked mannish.

Felicity Huffman. I love that she's fortysomething and working a dress that's nearly cut to her navel. It doesn't look super vulgar... it probably helps that her boobs aren't exploding out of her chest. Okay, and I'm pretty biased towards Zac Posen.

Ziyi Zhang. Gorgeous girl, talented actress, no boobs at all. Not that there's anything wrong with that (I myself am a flat chested girl). Generally, us flat chested girls stray away from strapless. Also, dark colors on top and light colors below serve to minimize the upper body. Combined with the constricting nature of the dress, she looked two dimensional, like a cardboard cutout.

Dolly Parton. I have a soft spot for Dolly. I think everyone does. But how does she keep such a tiny waist? I though she was going to break in half!

Other remarks: That longish hair looks awful on Tom Hanks. And wearing jeans with a tuxedo jacket is just tacky. Dude must have though he wasn't going to win.

Okay! That's it for now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Will there be a Colbert Report afterwards? Or are we stuck with Baba Wawa?

I haven't seen many of the Academy Award nominees - Crash was okay, the Constant Gardener was good, and I really meant to watch Walk the Line, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, but just havent gotten around to it - but I will be watching the Oscars. Why? Well, like any blue-state and proud girl, two words: Jon Stewart. Need I say more? Oh yeah, and there's the fashion commentary. Bring it on.