Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category


Happy Vale-New Year!

I both made and tasted praline buttercream for the first time yesterday. Time stood still for a moment. No…seriously.

But even more seriously, the wife and I enjoyed a wonderful night in for Valentine’s Day( as you can see by the photo to the right). Le Succes is a French cake/pastry concoction made by layering baked almond meringue wafers and praline buttercream, and then frosting the top with chocolate buttercream and coating the sides with chopped toasted almonds. It’s light, but slightly crunchy in texture, and has so much flavor that you realize how much time you’ve wasted in your life ‘not’ eating such delicious foods.  Plus, with that much butter, success is already only a whisk away.

I made no deviations on this particular recipe, as I am still a newbie to the traditional French pastry methods. Perhaps I’ll get bolder as I go along. And, if it ain’t broke…

(Yes, that is a rear-projection TV in the corner. We’re still living in the stone age when it comes to home electronics. And yes, that is a cardboard fireplace framing the TV. We threw a Harry Potter party a few months back and couldn’t bring ourselves to toss it.)

Valentine’s Day really is an interesting holiday. Some would say it was devised in order to sell corny cards and over-stuffed animals…and the skeptics are probably right. However,  it’s certainly wonderful having someone to share the day with, and to have a reason to remember just why it is that you love that certain someone (nod to the Wife!). But barring all the lovely niceties of coupledom, V-day has also always had a more interesting personal relevance in my life.

For some reason, V-day, or approximately the middle of February,  has always felt more like New Year’s day than January 1st. Patterns seem to begin and end, and cycles tend to run their course around this time of the year. They have for a long time. I suppose there may be some sort of astrological  explanation for this, though I’m unaware of one.

So, in a sense, today feels like the first day of a new year for me.

I’m ready for it.

Last year certainly wasn’t a bad year. I finished my first novel, graduated with my MFA, paid off a credit card. Good stuff in general. Sure, there were also the challenging times, I.E. the sixty or so rejection letters, money concerns, and all the other business-of-living type obstacles and impediments. But that was all last year, especially the rejection thing. This year…this year is going to be different! I woke up this morning and said to myself “Today is going to be the day that sets the pace and tone for the rest of the year.”

I woke up to an inbox full of  tedious requests and was hit with two rejection letters, one from an agent who has had my full manuscript for 8 months ::winces::. I also had to stand in line at the DMV and the post office. ::winces again!::.

However, it’s occurred to me as we move on into evening that I’m both right and wrong. Yes, today marks the end of a long waiting period. But I can only hope that there will be many more in this next year. My agent hunt/journey toward publication is still in its infancy, after all. And, in some ways, today really has set the pace and tone for the next year: I’m going to have to work hard. I’m going to have to pick myself up after these little defeats. I’m going to have to write. Today is just like any other day in that regard.

On that note, I’ll leave you to go get some real writing done. Happy ValeNew Year, all! May your deserts be buttery (as well as your Chardonnay)!



Best B-day Present Ever (A somewhat delayed post)

My wife gave me a most wonderful gift for my b-day: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and co. As I said to my bookworm friend, “This is my version of the Oxford English Dictionary.”  It’s a lovely two volume set that contains an incalculable wealth of culinary wisdom. I anxiously await to give it a test drive. Another wonderful thank you to my darling wife!


“Dirty Berry” – The tastiest, manliest fruit beer

Summer is upon us (though it’s been a little chilly here in San Diego), and the time has come to enjoy a nice, refreshing beer. I brewed this one a few months back, and though it might still be a bit green (fresh fruit beers take a bit longer to mellow out in the bottle) it is super delicious, light, and alcoholic. I thought I would share the recipe. I am making a few corrections here from my original.

Dirty Berry” Fresh strawberry beer

Original Gravity: 1.062

Final Gravity: 1.o14-1.015

Alcohol %: 6.5


8 lbs ripe strawberries

1 lb 10L Crystal Malt

2 lbs pils light malt extract

4.5 lbs dry wheat extract

1.5 oz. Tettnager hops (bittering)

.5 oz. Hallertau hops (aroma)

1 crushed campden tablet

1/4 teaspoon pectin

1 tbsp Irish Moss

1 vial of Belgian Wit Yeast (WYEAST) (You can also use a Bavarian style)

1/3 cup priming sugar


I’ll spare some of the more detailed brewing directions for the sake of time here. Let me know if you have specific questions.

Hull and chop your strawberries and let them soak for 24 hours in an open container with one gallon of water, campden, and pectin.

Soak grains up until near boiling in 1 gallon. Sparge with half a gallon 150 degree F water.  Dissolve malts. Bring to boil. Brew wort as usual ( 1 hour boil time). 45 mins for bittering, 15 for aroma, 15 mins for Irish Moss. Set brew pot in cold ice bath to chill. Pour into strawberry/water mixture. Fill fermenting tank up to the 6 gallon mark with cold spring water. Pitch yeast when the wort drops below 70 degrees.

Ferment as normal, and be sure to transfer to a secondary tank 7-10 days after strong fermentation. Just an added note, you will want to use a blow-off tube if you don’t have a big, fancy fermenter. Be prepared for an impressive krausen on this one!

Bottle as normal with the priming sugar. (I have noted that you should use about half of the amount of priming sugar that I originally used. I’ve had a few champagne bottles, which is always disappointing.)

You want to let this beer condition at least 4 weeks, more to the order of 6-8 weeks. The longer you let this one sit on the shelf, the better.

And there you have a tasty fresh fruit beer. It’s a bit labor intensive (and more expensive depending on the deal you can get on strawberries) but well worth it.