Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sourdough Waffles

While I’m on the subject of breakfast, I’m going to encourage you to make waffles. Yes, you are gonna need a waffle iron. Yes, people have to eat them when they’re ready because that’s when they’re best. Yes, if you do the cooking you may have to eat the last one.

I have friends I made through social media, in particular on Twitter. Many people in my family hate Twitter, like my kids, or my brother. My rule of thumb on Twitter for keeping the haters away is Block Early, BlockOften. Mostly I have a good time there, except once, and I’ll write about that another day. My husband refers to my Twitter friends as “strangers.” He has a point.

One of my strangers/friends is a hard-core foodie, and devotes many hours on the weekend to cooking. He makes his own saag paneer, for fuck’s sake. Anyway, he also makes sourdough waffles and who doesn’t want sourdough waffles?

When I embarked on the adventure of growing my own sourdough from scratch, I did so knowing very little about it. A wild yeast you capture from the air seemed like an easy thing to me, like tripping on hotel wall-to-wall carpeting, or drinking from a faucet when you’re thirsty and have no cup: easier to do than not to do. But also, maybe, something not to think about too hard, because the idea of wild invisible yeasts flying around is unsettling. I followed the directions I found here. It took a few days. I moved the thing to the basement, where the temperature seemed to be easily maintaining around 69F. I fed it, and waited. And then, like magic: bubbles.

If I had known that keeping a sourdough is like having plants, I would not have attempted it; I am a known plant-killer.

The sourdough you need for waffles can come from the leftover sourdough you discard at regular feedings.

We got our waffle iron in the mid-80s, when I was still young and I still loved to cook. By the early 90s, we had hungry toddlers, so we had to abandon the tedious process of one-waffle-at-a-time, taking 13 minutes per waffle. We bought a flat top griddle and switched to making Sunday pancakes. I always found that pancakes and waffles didn’t keep, with ordinary batter turning black and separating overnight in the fridge. In my experience, with sourdough waffle batter you can keep the raw batter covered in the fridge for several days without it becoming yucky.

My oldest child takes home a jar of sourdough when he visits, because he hasn’t found a better waffle batter recipe.
Sourdough waffles

The night before you want waffles, you make a “sponge;” to 2 cup buttermilk , stir in 1 cup cold (or room-temperature) unfed sourdough starter; add and mix 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 2 T sugar. Cover, and leave on counter overnight.

In the morning, beat 2 large eggs. Add 1/4 cup melted (and cooled) butter (I have also used bacon fat and I have used goose fat, both with good results); beat in 3/4 t. salt and 1 t. baking soda. Add this egg mixture to the sponge, and mix.

The slimy, living sponge might resist the addition of these ingredients. Be gentle and patient, and try not to overmix.

Cook on a preheated, well-greased waffle iron; mine takes 7 minutes on the first side and 6 on the second. This recipe makes about 4 waffles in my waffle iron.

Serve waffles immediately, to ensure crispness. You can try to hold them in a warm oven; or, do what my youngest does, and put what you don’t finish in the fridge and warm it up in the toaster.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Groundhog Pie day

Last night, I stayed up too late, and slept poorly. At first light the cat started bugging me, meowing and placing a paw on my chin. I could see in the wan light of morning that it was still snow-covered out there. I patted the cat, feeling like winter here will never end. The cat settled in next to me, and I slid back into restless sleep.  After another half an hour, the cat stretched out on top of me, putting both paws on my mouth. I patted him, knowing by the blue quality of the morning light that we had heavy cloud cover and snow yet on the ground; I fell asleep again. We played this game for several more repetitions. I overslept.

I tweeted yesterday that I hate Pi Day. An old friend H____ from my college math teaching days offered up her take on it, tweeting, “Many of my students wished me a Happy #PiDay on the way out of class today. Everyone was just smiling and happy.”
She continued, “I had such fun this week talking about #PiDay with my students, sending them Pi links, etc. They were super into it,” and, then, “We talked about some of the cool properties of the number pi. And while the 3/14 thing is silly, we took it in good fun.”
She compared Pi Day to, “the stupidity of Groundhog Day,” adding, “taking a day to celebrate Pi … is a delightful thing.”

H____ was right, of course. People pretend that nerds have inherited the future, because a couple of nerds like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became billionaires. But most nerds just do ordinary jobs for regular salaries, and while they may share messy hair or dirty glasses or a fondness for a particular mock turtleneck, being a nerd is more about your passions than your fashion. I can’t think of other days of the year that my affection for things mathematical is necessarily appreciated.

Several lifetimes ago, I was a college math teacher, and then a stay-home mom, and after a long time away from the classroom I got a job teaching math in a nearby Catholic girls high school.

Coming from a college teaching background, my contact with students had been mostly limited to 2 or 3 days a week for either an hour or an hour and a half, and office hours. I had done some student advising, but it was always cut and dried, about picking courses and a major. In this job I was taking attendance, reporting dress-code violations (in theory), supervising clubs, doing parent-teacher conferences, writing college recommendations, and listening and handing out Kleenex when girls came to me to cry about things.

I was surrounded by them, from a little past 7 a.m. when I arrived, until some time past 3 p.m. when I dashed out with an arm-load of grading, late to pick up my own kids from their schools across town. I had them in my room as soon as I unlocked the door in the morning, I ate lunch with them in my room at noon-ish; I went to the bathroom with them. I had a room cleaner assigned to my classroom, who cleaned the white boards, swept, and wiped down and rearranged the desks each day after school. Once a week I walked the neighborhood before school, with a safety vest and a clipboard, writing down the license plate number of any student car that was parked in violation of the rules.

That first year, I never conducted an exact head-count of my students until late February, when the head of the math department asked me for it for ordering pies for Pi Day. I had never heard of Pi Day before this job. What a silly reason for a celebration. It had never occurred to me that March 14 might be written 3.14, perhaps because I always thought the ordering day-month-year more logical. As a math person, I understand affection for numbers. I put a line through my sevens, for clarity. My favorite integers are, in order, 8, 0, and 24, and though I do like e and the square root of 2, I love i. Ok, yes, I’m a huge numbers nerd. But, Pi Day? Really?

Crumble-topped Apple Pie

The department chair allowed 6 pieces per pie, because, she said, they were small pies. She ordered enough crumble-toped apple pies from Borrachini Bakery to feed a piece of pie to every math student in the school. This number was essentially the full enrollment of the school, minus the one or two seniors who were headed to art school and didn’t take math their senior year. Like most of the math department, I had a teaching load of five classes: four honors and one, non-honors section, known as, “college prep.” The honors classes had the highest enrollments, with a maximum of 26 students in each, and the majority were full classes. I had perhaps 104 honors students, and an additional 20 college prep students. At 6 pieces per pie, that’s 20 2/3 pies, but, of course, pies don’t come in a fractional form, so let’s make that 21 pies.

The mood on Pi Day was always festive in the math classes, the way it was on spirit days when the girls came dressed head-to-toe in their class colors, or Halloween, or the last day before a break, or any day when snowflakes were seen falling outside the hundred-year-old windows.  Maybe I should call the mood distracted. They were excited for pie, of course.

From the moment that the pies were brought to my classroom, in big stacks of tidy pink boxes, the smell of the pies was intense. Apples, sugar, apples, sugar. Apples! Sugar! And from the first moment of cutting a pie with a pie server I brought from home for the purpose, more apples, and more sugar. By the time the first 26 students had their slice of pie during first period, I was already done with the smell of pie. The desk set aside for pie slicing was already sticky. My garbage can filled up with paper plates and sticky forks and gooey leftover apples and sugar, and don’t forget the empty pie boxes, four boxes per class. The floor around the desk with the pies got sticky. The floor around my desk got sticky. The floor around the trash got sticky. The doorknob got sticky. The room got even stickier through the day. Sticky.

By the end of the day, my clothes were sticky with pie. The light-switch was gooey with pie. My nose was coated with pie. My eyes felt gooey with pie.

This morning on Facebook, my former student and room cleaner G____ had a status update:  Happy Pi Day, everyone!! (Totally craving some pie.)” 

She is in graduate school now.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Love Breakfast

One of my favorite things about traveling is hotel breakfast. I want two poached eggs, with buttered rye toast, some almost-burnt bacon and fruit salad. I can usually get it, though I’ve only had one place in Miami actually get that bacon to the mahogany and black goodness I enjoy when my husband makes it at home. Once, I asked for extra crispy bacon and got extra bacon. It is a struggle.

The Bacon Provider is not a breakfast lover. He wakes up with his hair swirling around his head like he’s floating underwater, his face newly sprouted with beardlyness, and requires about 40 minutes of bathroom-monopolizing to become his tucked-in and tidy self. I wake up looking like a mess, too, but I always look like a mess, so I can roll out of bed and put on pants and a bra and look about as good as I do after a shower and blow-drying. When it’s cold I like to think about wearing my bra over my shirt so I don’t have to take it off; I can’t be the only woman who wants to do this. Sometimes I have to put a little hotel hand-lotion in my hair; travel means a hotel gym, and the gym means too many showers, and too many showers means big hair problems. But even that takes only seconds. The Bacon Provider sits politely in the hotel restaurant, orders toast or sometimes oatmeal.

When the food comes, it is always offered in reverse. There has yet to be a waiter who thinks the eggs and undercooked bacon is for me, the plain toast for him.

Our breakfasts

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Uber Alles

This one time, before I had Uber, I am in San Francisco and I want to go to a fabric store and I don't have a way to get there.
So I decide to get off my high, high anti-Uber high-horse and download the app.
I arrange a ride to the fabric store from my hotel. I’m into it. The app is like a game, with a map and a tiny car you can see arriving, When I step to the curb in front of the hotel, I look up to see the driver, J-- driving by, his head and elbow out the window, calling, "Hey, Maggie. I'll pick you up right there. Lemme turn around."
I ask to sit in the front, explaining that I get carsick.
J-- playing serious hits of the late 70s and early 80s including Billy Joel and he smells of weed.
This other time, when I was in Seattle, I got the best haircut of the last few years and when I was done and trying to change out of the little kimono they give you to wear when they're coloring your hair, but someone was in the bathroom and taking for-fricking-ever and when he came out he reeked of pot, I mean reeked, and I was like, oh, ok, that's legal here now, but, like, seriously, wait a minute, because scissors are heavy machinery, right, and I have an expectation of sitting down in a salon and having a sober person do my fucking hair, right? 
So I started thinking that everyone in Seattle was going to have to deal with a period of adjustment and bad haircuts as they adapt to having legal weed, and I felt a little sorry for all those people walking around with bad haircuts. Maybe they’d all be stoned, too, so they’ll all chuckle and be, like, whatever.
So anyway I didn’t even need to go to the fabric store in San Francisco at all, really; it was just one of those things that I do when I’m in a place with an afternoon to kill, go to a cool fabric store. I went to the fabric store in Hawaii once and it was full of Japanese fabrics priced like the American-made ones and I was so new to the quilting thing that it didn’t mean anything to me, but, in retrospect, I should have bought a lot of it because Japanese fabric is twice as expensive in the rest of the U.S.
Little stores like small fabric stores are the kind of thing you really have to check to see if they’re open, especially in like New York where shopkeepers seem only vaguely aware that oh, people might want to know some shit about a store, like where it is and when it’s open, and the internet would be a place to put that information. But, like, you know, I was in San Francisco, where they practically invented having the Internet to do more things than email. So, I assumed.
So I get picked up by J** my Uber guy who smells just a wee bit like weed and I ask to sit in the front because I get carsick. Straight away, I ask him how he likes being a Uber driver. He tells me he loves it. “How long have you been doing it,” I ask.
“About four months.”
“And what did you do before?”
“Drove a limo for six years. This is much better.”
That settled, we headed to the Upper Richmond.
We talk about race relations in the U.S., and gay marriage, and progress. He refers to “his generation” saying that he was born in 1968, and I wonder which generation he believed me to be a part of, since I was born just a couple years before that. But I don’t ask. My mother comes up, and I talk about her like she’s alive. I like talking to strangers, and I especially like telling lies to strangers. Like if I tell them the whole truth they can steal my identity or cast a spell and give me whammies.
The best thing that J— says is this: “I always say, life is like 1% what happens to you, and 99% how you handle it.”
When we get to the fabric store, J__ says it looks closed. It is closed. I tell him that’s ok, but I’ll walk around the neighborhood anyway. I am disappointed. It was supposed to be so cool. I go next door and try on some jeans.

Then I walk around the neighborhood for a while and drink a Mexican chocolate mocha with a tiny bit of cinnamon on top. There is a guy in there loudly FaceTiming, his babby and nanny nearby. As he leaves I see he has a chain on his wallet. I didn’t know guys still did that.
When I get the email from Uber confirming the payment, I accidentally give the guy, J~~ 4 stars instead of 5. I feel a little bit funny about that now. Are you just always supposed to give 5 stars? Is it like one of those things with the car dealer, where if you can’t give five stars they will call you and ask what they can do to improve their service? Is he going to know and rate me poorly as a customer, and am I going to have trouble getting Uber cars in the future because the very first guy I ever had thought I was a bitch for giving him only 4 stars? I might have to give up Uber and try Lyft.
Oh, wait, but I forgot the best part. After I tried on some jeans at a store near the fabric store that wasn’t open, I went next door and bought some charming and snarky hipster greeting cards with the f-word on them. They had stacks of ironic t-shirts, and real metal Slinkies. There, a quiet, reserved guy sat behind the counter and mildly murmured an encouragement about my jokes, but I’m pretty sure he had a wilder side, because he was playing the Dead Kennedys, “CaliforniaƜber Alles.”