Quote of the Day

This past weekend, I read a couple of YA novels that took the standard fairy-tale premise of “the prince saves the princess and they lived happily ever after” and turn it around into “the princess saves the princess (and whether they lived happily ever after is a bit more ambiguous)”. That made me want to reread Diane Duane’s groundbreaking “the prince saves the prince” novel, The Door info Fire (1979, revised edition 1984). I’ve quoted from this book once or twice before; it would not be an overstatement to say that it was probably the most important novel of my life after I discovered the first edition in a second-hand bookstore.

In this scene, the Goddess has come to share herself with the main protagonist, Herewiss, who is on a quest (his beloved having been successfully rescued from a siege). She is speaking, somewhat obliquely, maintaining the pretense that She is an innkeeper:

“But at the same time, loss of power, the death of things, is a process that not even the Goddess can stop. Eventually even the worlds will die.”

“So they say.”

Her face was profoundly sorrowful, her eyes shadowed as if with guilt. “The death is inevitable. But we have one power, all men and beasts and creatures of other planes. We can slow down the Death, we can die hard, and help all the worlds die hard. To that purpose it behooves us to let loose all the power we can. To live with vigor, to love powerfully and without caring whether we’re loved back, to let loose building and teaching and healing and all the arts that try to slow down the great Death. Especially joy, just joy itself. A joy flares bright and goes out like the stars that fall, but the little flare it makes slows down the great Death ever so slightly. That’s a triumph, that it can be slowed down at all, and by such a simple thing.”

This is one of three or four scenes in this book that still make me cry every. single. time.

Available from Ebooks Direct as part of the omnibus The Tale of the Five. Duane has announced that the long-promised fourth book in the series, The Door into Sunset, should be completed some time in 2017. (The series has had a somewhat Unfortunate publishing history, and for all the people like me who rave about it, it has never sold as well as Duane’s popular Young Wizards series of YA novels, which explores some of the same themes.)

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Sitting here after spending another late morning abed with a book, I came to think for a moment: those authors whose books meant so much to me when I was growing up, they are as much older than me now as they were then — and I’m now in my middle age. Some of them have left us altogether; indeed some of them were no longer living even when I first learned to read. For those who do remain, there is some limit, unknowable but finite, to the work they can yet create to move, inspire, and change us all. I am thankful for them, and for the next generation, and the next one after that, just now rising into their talents.

And yet, even the most heartwarming new tale often leaves me aching. Why can’t I have even a tiny bit of that? I ask myself. Am I so undesirable a person, that no one should ever take even the slightest interest? It is the question, the hurt, that has defined my entire adult life. Perhaps some day, I’ll have an answer. Until then, I’ll keep on living the only way I know how — and keep on reading. And crying.

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Leftover cream + chocolate = truffles!

Last weekend, I made a chocolate layer cake using Alice Medrich’s whipped chocolate ganache as filling. Ganache, of course, requires cream, and making ganache from high-test chocolate requires more cream to balance out the cocoa butter and keep the result from hardening beyond the point of whippability. The chocolate that I used last week was Valrhona Manjari 64%, which required 2¼ cups, or just more than a pint. (In retrospect, it was so stiff before whipping that it could probably have used more than that!) Since cream comes in pints(*), that meant that I had 1¾ cups of cream left over, and that meant that this weekend would involve making truffles, there being few other useful and simple things to do with leftover cream.

I followed Alice Medrich’s recipe for “Classic Ganache Truffles” (Seriously Bitter Sweet, Artisan, 2013; p. 109), and made two separate batches. This recipe calls for 7 fluid ounces of cream for every 10 ounces of chocolate, so I had to use two different chocolates (and also had to scale the recipe slightly for the second batch, as I was 50 ml short on cream after making up the difference when my first batch of scalding cream boiled over). The first batch (full size) was done with more Valrhona Manjari, of which I had about a pound remaining, and the second batch (scaled down) was done with Madécasse 63% baking discs — which are tasty enough but may have too high a proportion of cocoa butter for this recipe. I also added a tablespoon of Grand Marnier to the second batch (which I wouldn’t have done with the Manjari), and increased the chocolate by an ounce (before scaling) as directed in the recipe. The process is otherwise the same as described in my September, 2015, post, including the use of the #100 disher to portion the ganache. I rolled the Manjari truffles in chopped, toasted hazelnuts, and the Grand Marnier truffles in black cocoa powder.

A small handful of these would make an ideal lovers’ dessert for Valentine’s Day, except of course that I have no lover to share them with. So like most of my sweet baking, they came into the office with me on Monday, but I wasn’t able to give them away because the Institute was officially closed due to a snowstorm that didn’t really storm. I put them in the refrigerator at work for another overnight, and I’ll take them out Tuesday to warm up an hour or two before I hand them out.

(*) For readers from outside the U.S.: a U.S. pint is 16 fluid ounces, not 20 as in Imperial measure, or 473 ml. For culinary purposes, we now use a “metric pint” of 480 ml (32 tablespoons at 15 ml per). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines a cup, for nutritional labeling purposes, as exactly 240 ml.

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Chocolate cake mashup

There are a lot of different ways to make a layer cake. You can choose from any number of different cake styles, bake them in different sizes and shapes, and then there are all sorts of fillings and frostings. Last weekend I had a cup of leftover sour cream sitting in the refrigerator, which was as good an excuse as any to make Ovenly’s Black Chocolate Stout Cake, but I wanted to do something different with it. This cake has a strong, bitter chocolate flavor that would clash with most fruit fillings, so the usual route is either to use a lightly-flavored frosting (like the one described in the post linked above), or to double down on the chocolate flavor and make it even more decadent.

For the cake itself I made no modifications, and baked it in the usual 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans, with pre-cut parchment rounds to line the bottom. After completely cooling and flattening the cake layers, I sliced both in half — which I had not successfully done before — to make four layers, which I then stacked for a pleasing and approximately level top, cutting a small registration mark in the sides of the stacked layers so that I’d be able to get them into the correct orientation again. (I think I owe this trick to Alton Brown.)

For the filling, I made Alice Medrich’s whipped chocolate ganache (from Seriously Bitter Sweet, Artisan, 2013; p. 189). I followed the formula for 64% chocolate, to match the block of Valrhona Manjari I was using, although I added a few discs of 63% chocolate to make up the exact 200 g mass specified. This recipe makes 615 g of ganache, after taking a tablespoon or two to taste, which divides nicely by three to fill a four-layer cake.

To cover the cake, rather than a traditional buttercream frosting, I used Medrich’s Sara Bernhardt Chocolate Glaze (p. 194), made with Valrhona Guanaja 70% chocolate. This particular combination (of cake, filling, and glaze) is very similar to Medrich’s “Tribute Cake” (p. 171) but for the choice of cake (Medrich’s recipe uses a butter cake with buttermilk and natural cocoa rather than with stout, sour cream, and black cocoa as here). The glaze is very simple, made by melting and then cooling 225 g of your favorite bitter chocolate, 170 g (6 oz or 12 tbl) of unsalted butter, 1 tbl corn syrup, and 5 tsp (25 ml) of water. A nice feature of this glaze is that, if allowed to cool until solid, it can be spread like a frosting to crumb-coat or fill gaps in the cake before reheating it to apply a smooth glaze coating.

Black Chocolate Stout Cake with Whipped Chocolate Ganache and Sarah Bernhardt Chocolate Glaze
If I had had some cardboard cake rounds, I would have picked the cake up and tilted it around to get a smooth and even coating of glaze across the entire cake. As it was, I just cut some strips of waxed paper to catch the overflow and spread the liquid glaze over the top and sides with an offset spatula. The ideal temperature for pouring this glaze is 88°–90°F (31°–32°C), according to Medrich, which requires frequent checks with the probe thermometer when reheating.

I put the cake in the refrigerator (which you can do with this glaze — it won’t harden to brittleness like pure melted chocolate will) and brought it in to the office the next day, but not before cutting one slice to show you:
Slice of cake, standing upright on plate

I did the nutrition data for this cake, but I’m not going to copy it out here. Suffice it to say, it’s really bad for you — nearly 800 kcal if you slice it into sixteenths like I did here, with lots of saturated fat and lots of sugar. In general, it’s best to give this cake away rather than eating it.

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Other people’s recipes: King Arthur Flour’s Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread

This gallery contains 10 photos.

I have a few recipes for sandwich bread that I bake time and again, but sometimes I like to try something different. Last weekend, I stumbled across a recipe I had printed out from KingArthurFlour.com for an all-whole-wheat sandwich bread. … Continue reading

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Other people’s recipes: Lora Brody’s White Chocolate–Orange Pound Cake

This gallery contains 11 photos.

As I mentioned in the last installment, Lora Brody’s cookbook Chocolate American Style (Clarkson Potter, 2004) is the only cookbook I regularly consult that consistently calls for extra-large eggs in its recipes. So it’s natural, after making a Brody recipe … Continue reading

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Really ultra-super-hyper-quick-take: Lora Brody’s Chile Cha-Cha Brownies

Last weekend I did “Chile Cha-Cha Brownies” from Lora Brody’s Chocolate American Style (Clarkson Potter, 2004; p. 237), and didn’t even bother to take a single photo. I’m sorry, I was a bit distracted by current events. They were pretty good, not spectacular, and I think one of the other “spicy brownie” recipes I’ve made — perhaps the one from Ovenly? — were a bit better. Everyone at work who tried one liked it, but most had a hard time picking out the chile. (I home-ground dried New Mexico chiles as I couldn’t find any pure ground chile in my spice cabinet, maybe should have used pasilla negros or anchos instead.)

Another recipe from this cookbook to follow shortly, as it’s pretty much the only cookbook I have that calls for extra-large eggs in every recipe.


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 2⅙″×2¼″ bar
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 249 Calories from fat 132
% Daily Value
Total Fat 15​g 23%
 Saturated Fat 7​g 33%
Trans Fat 0​g
Cholesterol 55​mg 18%
Sodium 63​mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 27​g 9%
 Dietary fiber 3​g 10%
 Sugars 18​g
Proteins 4​g 8%
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 4%
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Recipe quick takes: Joanne Chang’s Oatmeal-Raisin-Cranberry Cookies

It’s been a while since I did a food post (probably disappointing to all of you who followed me just for the recipes), so for the first of the year, here’s another Joanne Chang cookie recipe, Oatmeal–Raisin–Cranberry Cookies, from Baking with Less Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015; p.–50). This one differs from the standard oatmeal-raisin cookie recipe in more ways than the obvious: these cookies are soft, moist, and tender rather than the chewy toffee-like Default Recipe. There is only 75 g of sugar, so they’re noticeably less sweet than the old standby, even with sweetened dried cranberries added to the mix. There is, however, a substantial amount of fat, between the half-pound (225 g) of butter, two eggs, one egg yolk, and 75 g of walnuts — and unusually, the butter is melted rather than being creamed with the sugar. For additional flavor, I used black walnuts rather than English.

Of course I couldn’t resist eating some of the cookie dough before baking. The dough is really quite liquid, almost a batter, when fresh; unlike some other cookie recipes, you can’t skip the overnight rest in the refrigerator, because you won’t be able to form the cookies properly until the butter resolidifies. I used a #30 disher to get approximately 50-gram dough balls, which made 13 cookies (but my assumption is that I actually should have gotten 18 if I hadn’t eaten any of the dough). Chang calls for squashing the dough balls with the palm of one’s hand onto the (parchment-lined) baking sheet, as she does in most of her other cookie recipes; these cookies do not spread much, even after 16 minutes in a 350°F (175°C) oven, so the amount of squashing on the way in will determine the diameter of the baked cookie.
Close-up of a single cookie

Since I just made these cookies on Sunday, and today is a public holiday (I’ll actually be at a hockey game in Detroit as this post goes up) I don’t have any comments from co-workers yet. I might actually not bring these in to work at all: there aren’t very many, they aren’t super-high-cal, and I could stand to have a dessert at home that isn’t chocolate. (No, seriously, sometimes I really would like to have something other than chocolate. Only sometimes, not all the time!)


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cookie
Servings per recipe: 18
Amount per serving
Calories 242 Calories from fat 123
% Daily Value
Total Fat 14​g 21%
 Saturated Fat 7​g 34%
Trans Fat 0​g
Cholesterol 58​mg 19%
Sodium 140​mg 6%
Potassium 81​mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 26​g 9%
 Dietary fiber 2​g 8%
 Sugars 14​g
Proteins 4​g 8%
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 1%
Iron 6%
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One more day in 2016 for charitable giving

If, like many people in the United States and elsewhere, you give money to charities at the end of the year, you have only a few hours left. (Note that for tax purposes, a gift made using a payment card occurs in the year when the transaction is initiated — not when it posts and not when you pay your bill. So there’s still time to make contributions for 2016 if you are eligible. IANATLORA, TINTA.)

Historically I’ve limited my giving to just a few organizations, preferring to give larger gifts in a more focused way. But this year, particularly since the election, I wanted to support some organizations that are really going to need the help, and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. I also gave to some of the organizations I more typically support.

So here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

  • Médecins sans frontières — I gave through Zeynep Tufekci’s year-end matching-gift campaign, which is motivated particularly by the situation in Yemen but is not earmarked, because MSF is better positioned to decide where the greatest need is. (And by the way, whenever you give to a crisis charity, that’s a really good idea — let the experts at the charity determine where and how best to use resources. Events can move fast.)
  • Lambda Legal
  • American Civil Liberties UnionN.B. not a charity but a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, so donations are not tax deductible, but there is a parallel 501(c)(3) charity if you don’t want your gift spent on political activity (it will still be put to good use)
  • Planned Parenthood Foundation of AmericaN.B. PPFA is the charitable 501(c)(3) which provides health-care services to vulnerable women, but there is also a parallel 501(c)(4), PPAF (Planned Parenthood Action Fund), which does political work; you can give to both if so inclined
  • Human Rights Watch reports on human-rights issues around the world and brings them to the attention of global media and policymakers
  • Center for Responsive Politics, which organizes and makes searchable the mandatory campaign-finance filings of federal candidates, political parties, and political committees
  • Constitutional Accountability Center a think-tank and public-interest law firm supporting a “progressive textualist” approach to constitutional law
  • Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the most prominent civil-rights advocacy organizations (note that some people are critical of SPLC’s financial and fundraising arrangements)
  • The FreeBSD Foundation supports the continued development of the FreeBSD operating system as a platform for research, experimentation, education, and day-to-day use. (Disclaimer: I was one of the early leaders of the FreeBSD Project, which is legally separate from the Foundation, and I am still a FreeBSD developer. I have no connection with the Foundation and receive no direct benefit from its activities.)
  • The Wikimedia Foundation supports the operation, international educational mission, and legal defense of Wikipedia and its sister projects (including Wikimedia Commons, one of the world’s largest repositories of freely-licensed images and multimedia, and Mediawiki, the software that Wikipedia runs on). (Disclaimer: I am an inactive Wikipedia, Commons, and Wikiquote editor, but I have no connection with the Foundation and receive the same benefit from its activities as everyone else on the Internet.)
  • Radiotopia is a partnership of PRX and Roman Mars, a distribution platform for independently-produced podcasts, financed on a public-radio model

Some other organizations you might consider supporting, but I ran out of time, money, or patience with badly designed Web sites: WNYC is the producer of numerous public-radio shows and associated podcasts, including “Studio 360”, “Radiolab”, and “On The Media”, but doesn’t provide a way to make a donation to those specific shows; Media Matters for America is a progressive media watchdog; the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation support civil liberties and human rights online; EMILY’s List is a progressive Political Action Committee (so not a charity) supporting female candidates for public office. A few others that I think are worthy but didn’t consider this cycle: Human Rights Campaign, Bi Resource Center, ProPublica, your local public radio and TV stations, Amnesty International, PEN, International Committee of the Red Cross (not the American Red Cross), and the friends of your local public library.

As an aside: some of these organizations do a pretty terrible job protecting their donors and Web site visitors from snooping. They could probably use some IT help, from people who understand that anything any US-based provider knows, the Trump Administration has access to after January 20.

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Are cookbooks taking over publishing?

Cookbooks are said to be the hottest category in trade publishing right now, but it’s probably a stretch to say they’re “taking over”. However, I wasted quite a bit of time creating the following (somewhat silly) table, counting the number of titles from various publishers/imprints I’ve acquired over the years. There are an awful lot of them, and a few you’d never expect — it seems that every trade publisher these days really does have to have a cookbook or two in their list to be considered “with it”. The publishers/imprints are shown with their current ownership, which is necessarily anachronistic given the consolidation in the industry over the past three decades. (I couldn’t use my library database for this because I don’t track subject categories in my database, and I only track publishers by ISBN prefix, not imprint.)

Parent Publisher Imprint # titles
Penguin Random House Crown Publishing Group Ten Speed Press 13
Clarkson Potter 5
Pam Krauss 1
Knopf Doubleday Alfred A. Knopf 4
Random House 1
Penguin USA Viking 1
Chronicle Books (dist. by Hachette) 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 11
La Martinière Group Abrams Stewart, Tabori & Chang 9
Lagardère Group Hachette Book Group USA Hyperion 1
Little, Brown 4
Grand Central Life & Style 1
Perseus Books Group Running Press 2
Octopus Publishing Group Mitchell Beazley 1
CBS Corp. Simon & Schuster Charles Scribner’s Sons 6
Simon & Schuster 1
W. W. Norton Countryman Press 4
W. W. Norton 3
Workman Publishing Group Artisan 4
Workman 2
News Corp HarperCollins Ecco 1
Harlequin 1
William Morrow 1
Phaidon Press 3
Harvard Common Press 2
Sasquatch Books 2
Bonnier Weldon Owen 2
Andrews McMeel Universal Andrews McMeel Publishing 1
Cedar Fort, Inc. Front Table 1
Rowman & Littlefield Globe Pequot Press 1
RCS MediaGroup S.p.A. Rizzoli International 1
Hearst Books 1
Garden Way 1
Prospect Park Books 1
John Wiley & Sons 1
Kyle Books 1
Gibbs Smith 1
Midway 1
Levin Associates 1
O’Reilly Media 1
Ryland Peters & Small 1
Boston Common Press LP (dba America’s Test Kitchen) 1
Prima 1
Interlink Books 1
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