Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The poetry I promised...

Don't laugh.

This first poem is based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, my favorite dead man in the entire world.

If You Want Me

I, Sarah Kaplan, the daughter of the city,
a cosmos of messy ponytails and library books and skinned knees,
bequeath myself to the sunburnt pavement
and dirty linoleum, and dandelions that grow between cracks in the sidewalk,
to the chipped and rust-stained tiles that line the walls of the 7th avenue subway station,
to the parched and yellowed outfield grass in Prospect Park, witness
to dropped pop flies and late-inning comebacks, secret kisses stolen after dark,
sorrows and picnics and bare feet attached to long freckled bodies,
arms outstretched and grasping on to a kite string as if for dear life.
I am that grass, roots dug deep in six feet of Brooklyn dirt,
trodden by the feet of eight million New Yorkers. I bury my heart
beneath their pounding heels, but quivering at the ends of kite strings
I gain the sky.
If you want me, look for me in subways and cramped kitchens;
look at cracked sidewalks and weed choked lawns, and the grass
in Prospect Park where red infield dirt meets everything that lies beyond.
If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles—
you will hardly know the dreams you’ll find there.

And these are the first three stanzas of a sestina. A sestina is one of the coolest and hardest forms of poetry out there. If you want to know more about them go to

Kentile Floors

Wake up to the sound of running water,
and cat feet scurrying in the morning half light,
and cries for kibble—a voice like slivers of glass
in your ears, breaking the world into pieces
you must find a way to put together;
give order to the chaos, make it habitable.

Shake sleep from your eyes, learn to reinhabit
this noisy world. Give the cat her water
and food. You string motions together:
take the twelve frozen steps to the bathroom, switch on the light,
shake off your pajamas till your dreams lie in pieces
on the tile floor, splintered like glass—

careful not to step in it. Look hard in the glass,
accept the constellations of acne that inhabit
the skin of your forehead, the unfinished piece
of abstract art that is your teenage face. Turn on the water
and scrub at your flaws, hold them up to the light,
wring them out and resolve to be better.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake


Okay, so for my next post I had been planning to wax poetic about how wonderful Brooklyn is, and how sad I am to be leaving this beautiful borough in the fall for the hot, humid, charmless city of Washington D.C. (Not that Brooklyn isn’t hot and humid, or occasionally disagreeable. Especially on a day like today, when my hair starts to frizz before I’ve even stepped out of the shower.)

But then this cake happened. Gloriously dense and moist and chocolate-y and delicious. Here it is in cupcake form:

And here in bundt cake form, unglazed:

Not much of a looker, is it? But watch when you smother it in melted chocolate glaze…

Now that is worth slaving over a hot stove in an already 95 degree kitchen for. (No air-conditioning in Brooklyn. Definitely something I won't miss in the fall!)

This cake tastes ridiculously moist and indulgent, especially when you load it up with twice as many chocolate chips as the original recipe calls for. But it actually isn’t nearly as bad for you as it seems at first bite. The secret lies in the two cups of grated zucchini that get mixed into the batter. By far the best two cups of vegetable I’ve ever eaten. The other secret is the spices—cinnamon and nutmeg. Also a teaspoon of coffee grinds. Also chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Here is the recipe, slightly adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coffee grinds
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini (keep the remaining 1/2 zucchini for optional garnish)
1 (or 2, if you’re crazy as I am) cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a bundt pan with butter.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In another large bowl, cream butter and sugar till smooth, then add the vanilla, coffee granules, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

3. Reserve a cup of the flour mixture and add the rest to the egg mixture. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

4. Add the zucchini and chocolate chips to the reserved flour mixture and toss to coat. Fold into the batter and blend with a wooden spoon—don't overmix. Pour into the prepared cake pan and level the surface with a spatula.

5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen the cake, and invert over a large plate.

6. For glaze, gently melt chocolate chips and cream over low heat, stirring briskly till smooth. Allow glaze to cool, then drizzle over cake. This cake is best eaten the day it’s made.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Middle Eastern Not-So-Flat Breads


Lets talk about what I’ve been doing for the past, lets see, month and a half. Or more specifically, lets talk about why I haven’t been posting anything to this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been baking; my extremely bikini unfriendly body can attest to that. It’s not that I haven’t been writing either. It’s just that somehow I’ve been too overwhelmed by everything to 1) take pictures of what I bake and 2) sit down and write about it.

Here is what I have been doing since I’ve been gone:

1. Finished my senior portrait for English and my portfolio for Poetry. They’re not exactly what I wanted them to be, and nowhere near perfect, but I feel about them the way a mother must feel about her newborn child. Even now, nearly a month after I handed them in and received a grade, I will take them from my bookshelf and proudly examine their every detail. I hand-bound them, because I’m the kind of girl who refuses to use an electric mixer even for egg whites and I won’t hand over any task to Kinkos that I can do myself, and buy massive amounts of paper and ribbon to boot. If I am ever courageous and unselfish enough I may post a bit of my writing from them here. But for now I enjoy them in privacy, like a small child with a stolen piece of pie.

2. Attended prom. I knew this day would come, but that didn’t make me any more enthusiastic for it. I am not a dance person. I don’t like the music (when did it become unnecessary for a song to have a melody and intelligible lyrics and anything other than a head-ache inducing, heart-rate changing, painfully rhythmic beat?) that gets played at dances. I don’t like the hassle of buying the perfect dress. I hate high heels. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the night. The prom was held at a fancy hotel where the man at the coat-check was dressed in a vest and a bowtie and each place setting included two glasses and three forks. Afterwards my friend and I dropped our things off at my house, changed out of our dresses and cumbersome shoes, and walked through the semidarkness to the Brooklyn Bridge, where we watched the sky change from gray to green to palest blue and the sun repainted the Manhattan skyline in shades of pink and gold.

3. Graduated from high school. Unimaginable, inconceivable, and utterly mind-blowing, but there it is.

4. Thoroughly enjoyed my freedom. I have never, ever, had a summer so empty and yet so busy at the same time. Most mornings I wake up not knowing what I’ll do to fill up my day, and yet every night I drop into bed exhausted and exhilarated. It’s wonderful.

5. Reading, a lot. I was never one of those people who stopped reading during high school because she didn’t have time. But my pace definitely slowed. Fortunately, in the past few weeks I’ve taken to reading again at a breakneck speed. As in, four books over the course of one long weekend. I don’t have time or the brainpower (it’s over 90 degrees in the city and I don’t have the blessing of air conditioning) to list them. But if you haven’t read The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, you should immediately make a trip to your local library and change that fact. It’s amazing.

Now (and you’re probably thinking “finally!”) onto the main topic of conversation: food. On the last day of school (which is either three weeks ago or an entire lifetime, depending on how you look at it) my friend and I had to bake something for a Comparative Government project. We had studied Saudi Arabia for the project, so we decided to make a Saudi flatbread called khobz. For some reason we decided it would be a good idea to make the bread the day after prom, after staying out all night and having walked a three miles to the bridge and back. Predictably, my measurements were off and I fell asleep while the bread was rising, so these aren’t flatbreads so much as they are rolls. Nevertheless, they were delicious, especially dipped in hummus brought by the group that studied Israel. I’m including recipe with my unintentional modifications.

2 cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup sesame seeds (We didn’t have sesame seeds so we replaced this with ½ cup of whole wheat flour)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp dry active yeast
1 and ½ cups warm water
½ palm-full coarse sea salt
1 palm-full chopped rosemary

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Mix together the flour, salt, sugar, yeast with your fingers. Form a depression in the middle of the mixture and slowly add the warm water and olive oil, kneading gently for 15 minutes until the dough becomes soft and smooth. Divide the dough into three parts. Stretch and flatten each ball of dough and keep in a warm place covered with a towel for three hours. When the dough has risen, sprinkle flour over a baking sheet and place each roll on the sheet. Sprinkle the breads with seasalt and rosemary. Arrange the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the bread for about thirty minutes, or until the edges of the breads become brown and crisp.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies


I love summer in the early morning, when the streets of Brooklyn are still quiet but for the bustle of shopkeepers and the ragged breath of joggers as they hurry past. The sky is a pale blue tinged with green and gold, and the air is both light and laden with promise and the scent of flowers in bloom.

I love summer when I’m standing at my counter, in shorts and an old t-shirt, barefoot, tossing strawberries and rhubarb with sugar and lemon zest for a tart, and across the room the door to the backyard is open and my cat is lying on her side on the patio, basking in the sun.

I love summer when I’m perched on my stoop, sticky with sweat after a long bike ride, eating ice cream (mint chocolate chip in a sugar cone, please) and listening to snippets of the conversations of passers by.

I love summer when I’m sitting on the couch with my dad, drinking lemonade and watching baseball, yelling at the TV when the Mets do something stupid (which is most of the time), clapping and shouting enthusiastically when they finally get something right.

I love summer in the early evening when the setting sun repaints my backyard in shades of pink and gold, and we sit on the patio with the umbrella up and vegetables on the grill, watching for the very first firefly to light up the darkness that’s to come.

I love summer when I’m sprawled out on bed, window open wide to catch the sounds of cicadas and late night traffic and boats in New York Harbor, limbs heavy and soft from a day in the sun and skin still tinged with the faintest scent of sunscreen.

But most of all, I love summer afternoons when I’m lying in the grass in my backyard, listening to Joni Mitchell on the radio, with a glass of water, a cookie, and a great book in my hand.

Look at my mom's pretty peonies!

Today that book was Sense and Sensibility (my favorite of Jane Austen’s; I’ve read it about five thousand times) and the cookie was peanut butter. It was sheer bliss.

These peanut butter cookies are delicious—dense and crumbly, crisp at the edges but still soft in the center, with lots of butter and just a hint of cinnamon. They go perfectly with Jane Austen and a summer afternoon.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 ¾ cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon of salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup smooth peanut butter (because the oil in natural peanut butters tends to separate out, use a generic, non-organic brand)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two large cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, cream butter, peanut butter, and sugar till light and fluffy. Mix in egg, then dry ingredients.
Roll the cookies into tablespoon sized balls and create the checkered pattern by pressing into them with the tines of a fork. Bake for 15 minutes, or until puffed and browned at the edges.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Banana Muffins


So, technically I should have been studying for my Calculus AP this afternoon. (It’s tomorrow and I still don’t know what logistic growth is. Eek.) Or out running in Prospect Park. (I’m training for a 5K the first weekend in June. It’s my first ever race.) Or finishing my Senior Portrait for my English class. Or working on a poetry project.

But I had a not-so-great day at school, and then I found an extremely not-great email in my inbox when I got home (Hint: it has to do with a word that looks like but has a vastly different meaning from “collage”) so I chose to do none of those things.

Instead, I made muffins. Banana muffins.

If I were a baked good, I would probably be a banana muffin. Brown and unassuming on the outside, but with a beautiful moist interior. I’d be made with part whole wheat flour, and a half a cup of bran. But I’d also have a generous amount of chocolate chips tossed in my batter. Because no matter how delicious something is, it is always improved by chocolate.

Banana Muffins
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

4 overripe bananas
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted
1 large egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup bran
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (This is a lot, but I love cinnamon. You can cut this to 1 tsp if you like)
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup pumpkin puree (Martha calls for sour cream but I had leftover pumpkin and decided to make these healthier)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

½ cup dark chocolate chips
½ cup of toasted pecans, chopped
(I made half of my muffins with pecans and half with chocolate chips. Unfortunately, my sister had friends over and the chocolate chip muffins all got eaten before I could take pictures.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins or fill with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine flours, bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Then add sugar, oil, and egg and beat until smooth. Slowly add flour mixture and stir till combined. Do not overmix! Add vanilla and pumpkin and mix until combined. If using chocolate chips or pecans, add those now too.

Fill muffin tins ¾ full and bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. (Or ignore your burnt tongue and dive right in!)

This is a picture of the ocean I took while on vacation in Oregon a few years ago. It doesn't have anything to do with banana muffins, but it goes with what I've written below.

I can't think of anything creative relating to banana muffins to write. As I said, it’s been kind of an unhappy day. But I will give you a snippet from my senior portrait, something I've been tinkering with for a while:

The sea the sea, it tumbles and leaps and rolls and calls to me. It laps at the feet of this busy island city and calls to me in the darkness. At night, when my mind is wandering and the trees cast moon-shadows on my wall, I hear the eerie whistles and low bellows of ships in the harbor, the raucous honking of tugboats in the East River, and pieces of my heart seem to jump out of my skin and sail straight out my open window. I shift position, arms and legs sticky with sweat under the single sheet that is all I can bear on these sweltering summer nights, and try to make myself comfortable in my overly soft, unnecessarily warm bed. I pray for a breeze and try not to mind when it comes bearing the smell of salt and the promise of freedom.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies


I haven’t posted for a very long while. Hopefully I haven’t disappointed any avid readers. (Though I doubt I have any.) My only excuse is that I’ve been overwhelmed with the craziness of my senior year: choosing a college, AP tests, etc. Thankfully, all of that is done, or at least is on its way towards being done, and I can focus once more on the most important things: reading and baking.

I’ve been doing a lot of both in the past week. I recently went on a book-reserving binge on the New York Public Library website, and all the books I’ve put on hold have started coming in. Though I know that I still have work to do and scholarships to seek out, it’s hard to keep my nose out of new books once they’re in the house, perched tantalizingly in precarious piles atop my bedside table or scattered on the kitchen counter. I’ve particularly fallen in love with Andrea Barrett. She writes fiction about science and scientists, which may sound dubious but is actually wonderful. I especially loved her collections of short stories: Ship Fever and Servants of the Map. Each of the stories is so different and intricate, but when read together they weave themselves into a kind of treatise on humanity. On the ways science and knowledge affect us, the ways that searching for truths about nature leads us to truths about ourselves. I love it when writers—or anyone, really—can find that intersection between science and philosophy and art, and use it to tell a story that isn’t only thoughtful and beautiful but so engrossing that you can’t tear your eyes from the page, even when it’s past midnight and you have a calculus test the next morning.

I think that that mixture—science, philosophy, and art—is also part of why I love baking. Baking is unquestionably a science. Anyone who has tried a recipe fifteen different times, painstakingly noting each variation in baking time or the type of pan used can vouch for that. But it also requires an artistic flair—that dash of cinnamon added to your strawberry shortcake recipe based on what could either be the faintest whim or the most fundamental gut instinct. I even like to think that baking has a touch of philosophy to it—baking is, after all, about assembling a collection of diverse ingredients that alone mean nothing but together can make a masterpiece. How much more metaphysical can you get than that?

These cookies are like a collection of Andrea Barrett’s short stories. Each aspect of the cookie, like each story a collection, is delicious on its own but even better when consumed together. You take a bite and realize how well white chocolate and cinnamon work together, how the rich bitterness of the dark chocolate plays off of the sweetness of the pumpkin. There are scientific elements involved: the batter seemed to wet, but I didn't want to add more flour and make the cookies super heavy, so I decided to toss in hald a cup of oats on a whim. They have an aspect of logic and thought to them: if you're overly analytical, like me, you'll wonder about the spicy yet homey flavor hidden beneath the chocolate, about it's role in the batter, about what it means for cookie as a whole. Then you'll realize that it's nutmeg and laugh at yourself. Plus they're delicious. They even look cozy and inviting, like something you'd want to curl up in a chair by the fire with, along with a cup of tea and a good book. It’s a scientific experiment, a philosophical mind-game, and a work of art all in one recipe. Pretty impressive for a Wednesday afternoon.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (heavily adapted from Joy the Baker)

These cookies are a funny sort of mixture between a muffin, a scone, and a cookie. They’re much softer than a regular oatmeal cookie and have a denseness similar to some scones. I’m going to keep toying with the recipe—I’d like for them to crisp on the outsides a bit more—but these are delicious (and healthy! Only 3 tbsp of butter!) even now.

½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
1 egg
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons of butter, melted
½ cup pumpkin puree
½ tsp vanilla
¾ cup chocolate chips (I used a mixture of half dark chocolate and half white chocolate)

1.Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.In a large bowl, whisk together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
3.In another large bowl, beat egg and sugar until smooth and light yellow-brown in color. Beat in butter, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until incorporated (be careful not to overmix). Add chocolate chips.
4.Place ice cream-scoop sized balls of dough onto baking sheets, spacing cookies at least 2 inches apart.
5.Bake about 15 minutes or until tops begin to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chocolate Biscotti


I love Sunday mornings in my house. I wake up late to the smell of coffee and the sound of my cat padding down the hallway, whining to be fed. I get myself out of bed slowly, wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom, where cream colored light slants through the skylight and softens my sleepy reflection in the mirror, and then head downstairs to the kitchen. There are bagels on the counter—our Sunday ritual—and a kettle of water is already on the stove for my morning cup of tea.

But the best part of the morning is already on the table, huge and gray and sprawling and already divided into piles by my mother. It’s the Sunday New York Times, possibly the one thing besides chocolate and my copy of Little Women that I absolutely cannot live without.

The Kaplan family is very specific about reading the paper. We all have our favorite sections—my mother likes the Styles, my dad reads the Sports section first, and I always reach for the Week in Review before anything else. We’re stingy about it too—my dad won’t give me the front section till I hand him the Week in Review, my mom won’t let anyone touch the magazine until she’s finished the Sunday crossword puzzle. But there are few places in the world I’d rather be than sitting at my kitchen table on a cozy Sunday morning, a cup of chamomile tea and a toasted pumpernickel bagel in front of me, and the Sunday paper in my hands. I love the familiarity, the way certain writers’ tones are always the same. I love that the “laugh lines” are always on the second page of the Week in Review and that Thomas Friedman’s columns are always on the left hand side of the first opinions page. But it also changes every day; there are new things to learn, new articles to ignite my sense of indignation and give me another cause to devote myself to.

These biscotti, deliciously crunchy and chocolate-y, go perfectly with the Sunday morning paper. Eat them plain or dunk them in your coffee--either way you'll find yourself reaching for seconds (and then thirds) before you even finish the front section.

Chocolate Biscotti
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
a little less than two cups of flour (I had exactly two cups and the dough was really crumbly and not all the flour mixed in--I might go for 1 ¾ next time)
½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time and mix until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients a little at a time and stir to form a stiff dough.

Split the dough into two balls and place one on each baking sheet. Form the mounds of dough into slightly flattened logs, about 4 inches by 8 inches. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes.

Remove the biscotti from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes. With a serrated knife, carefully cut biscotti at an angle into 1-inch thick slices. Arrange biscotti cut sides down back on the baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes more, flipping them about halfway through to ensure that they crisp on both sides.

I kept the dough plain, but these would be delicious with chocolate chips, almonds, or dried cranberries in them. The original recipe called for pistachios, which I’m sure would also be tasty and would look beautiful.