Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Kind of Blue

I've met people who seem to resent their bodies. Maybe they find their skin and bones limiting or ugly or even bothersome. Truthfully, there is responsibility involved in owning a body. It needs to be fed, walked, watered, bathed and stroked. Some would, understandably, rather just spend time on other projects and pursuits.

On the other hand, there here are, among us, those who truly relish living in their bodies. They're sensualists. Hedonists. Lovers. Athletes. Thrill-seekers. Epicurians. Dancers. These are often the people we describe as having a joie de vivre.

My dad was among that latter group. He loved his body. He praised it and developed it. He grew his hair long and shiny. He was fearless at the beach, and he showed off his thickly muscled arms and legs whenever he could.

So it was especially rotten when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) last fall. His muscles freaked out. His nerves stopped talking. He grew a little weaker every day. It progressed faster than anyone expected.

There was nothing to be done. It's fatal. Weirdly, doctors told him to avoid saturated fat and meat. But when you're issued a death sentence, that advice doesn't seem very rational. A coronary would've been a blessing.

So I cooked. We ate. We talked. I'm grateful for that.

Honestly, all lives have limited-time offers. We hope for 80 or more healthy years, but we really don't know how much time we're allotted. It's one of those mysteries we collectively share. Today could be the last day above ground. Or maybe it's tomorrow. Who knows?

washed blueberries

My childhood Sundays with dad always meant picking apart the Sunday paper with hot blueberry muffins and a soundtrack by Miles Davis.

Sometimes he put on Sketches of Spain, but most of the time, it was Kind of Blue.

He sipped coffee. I drank milk. And we spent our Sunday mornings in delicious idle domesticity.

Coincidentally, his death corresponds with the dawn of our local blueberry season, so I submit this recipe in honor of my dad, who so beautifully demonstrated a love of life.
Classic Sunday-Morning Blueberry Muffins (Makes 12-15)
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 3/4 cup sifted flour (use All-Purpose or an AP/whole wheat blend)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (or more!)
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

1. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
2. Beat in the milk, egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add the dry mixture into the butter mixture.
4. Mix until just moistened. Fold in the blueberries and zest (if using).
5. Line a muffin pan with papers, or grease the cups before filling each cup 2/3 full with the batter.
6. Bake at 400°F for 20 to 25 minutes, and serve with butter, the Sunday paper and Miles Davis, if desired.

You can actually use whichever berry strikes your fancy or happens to look good at the market.

Cheers,

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7.02.2008

Taking on the issues, one lemon bar at a time

chocolate chip cookies
One Cookie to rule them all, One Cookie to find them, One Cookie to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

For the most part, I think most people feel helpless when faced with the big, vague Issues. Take Injustice. Or Suffering. Or Torture. Or Poverty. (No, really. Take them.)

These are concepts too large for a human brain to really conceive. Twelve million children in America have too little food? I can't even hold a detailed picture of more than 150 hungry people in my little brain. They begin to smear together and lose their distinctions as individual people. Beyond 150 or so, they're an anonymous crowd.

Twelve million people is so far beyond my mental abilities as to seem unreal. Imaginary. Like all those billions of stars they tell me are out there. I live in New York where I see Orion. Occasionally. And maybe a dipper if I'm very lucky. The other billions of stars are a kind of fiction to me. Like those 12 million starving children.

When faced with capital-"i" Issues, I think many people have similar feelings. What can I do? I can't do anything. I'm just me. I'm small and not very capable. My superpowers are extremely limited.

But small actions committed en mass actually do make a difference.

For example, I found out last week from the people at Earth Pledge that the temperature in a city like NYC can be up to 10°F hotter than the surrounding countryside. It's known as the Urban Heat Island effect, and it's caused by heat reflected off urban surfaces (read: apartments, offices, bodegas, schools, etc.) and heat created by all the little people running around on, around and in those surfaces doing the things that people do.

Ten degrees. That's a significant change made by the ordinary activities of a few million individuals like me.

Similarly, I'd encourage you to consider the impact you can make in your kitchen. The Share Our Strength Great American Bake Sale begins this weekend. It's their summer-long campaign intended to inspire people to bake, eat, donate and take thousands of small actions toward alleviating the childhood hunger in America. (Those with dietary concerns and carbon qualms can, of course, simply donate to the cause without munching or baking.)

SOS hosts a number of great programs, but this one seems particularly joyous: Battling issues with muffin power! Taking on poverty with pie pans! Fleets of cookies flying into action!

For my part, I'm organizing my office team and bringing treats with which to woo my co-workers on Friday mornings throughout the campaign, which runs from May 19 through August 31.

Do my tangy lemon bars (see recipe below) or rhubarb-apple crisp make a big difference? No. They make a small difference. Alongside a nation's brigade of brownies and sky-darkening clouds of oatmeal-raisin cookies, my lemon bars contribute to a ten-degree kind of difference. My lemon bars are a tiny force for good.

Want to start your own bake sale? SOS kicks off this Saturday. Sign up today at the Share Our Strength site.

A Terribly Sincere Batch of Lemon Bars (Makes 24 bars)

For the shortbread crust:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
A pinch of salt

For the lemon filling:
Grated zest from 3 lemons
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and lightly butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the flour and salt and blend into the butter mixture.

3. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with lightly floured fingertips, raising about a 1/2-inch ledge around the pan sides.

4. Bake for 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack before you make the filling.

5. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, eggs, zest, juice and flour.

6. Pour lemon mixture over the cooled crust, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling looks set (not liquid). Cool to room temperature in the pan.

Keep, covered and chilled, for up to three days. Before serving, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

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5.15.2007

Tilapia Sandwich and a Tra La La. To go.

tra la la muffin

I wasn't going to say anything. I mean, when you find something good, you don't necessarily want the whole world showing up for their piece of the action, right?

And yet, discovery was inevitable. Last weekend while I was at the Essex Street Market, I couldn't help but see the signs.

Literally. They've gone and hung big, colorful vendor signs in the aisles. In the past year Essex has gone from dead-cheap produce, meats and fishes to a market that additionally features two wee gourmet food shops and an American artisanal cheesemonger.

The neighborhood is on the make, and the change is in the air. Or maybe that's just the scent of fresh-baked Tra La La muffins.

Ron and Ira run Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar, the improbably delightful dual-purpose shop at the north side of the market that features fresh-squeezed juices, my platonic ideal of the muffin genre and... fresh fish.

They're fishmongers by trade, and on many happy occasions I've gleefully forked out a pittance in return for their hot, fresh, meltingly tender fish sandwiches slathered in a tangy-creamy tartar sauce.

J writes today to tell me that he's been spying on the progress of their new prepared food counter. His Mission Impossible-style surveillance skills reveal they'll open their gates on Thursday. According to his report, they'll be featuring:
Fish and baked goods, of course, but also other prepared foods. They gave me a sample of a savory (and slightly spicy) cornmeal waffle yesterday that will become a serving platform for some kind of seafood stew or sauce or something (scallops were mentioned).

Alas... It looks like I'll lose my super-secret cheap-and-tasty fish sandwich + muffin shack (and my not-so-secret urban market) to the inevitable tide of hungry humanity.

But I'll try to be a good sport about this whole affair. My loss, your gain.

three spoons

Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar
Essex Street Market
Corner of Delancey and Essex
Manhattan, NY
212.312.3603

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5.08.2007

Yeah, I Know the Muffin Man

So stop me if you've heard this one before:

There's a batch of muffins baking in the oven. One muffin says to another, "Wow! It's hot in here." The other muffin says, "Holy shit! A talking muffin!"

(Thanks, folks! I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.)


Fresh muffins at Essex Street Market

The muffin man and me, we go waaaay back. I mean, moist, delicious, snack-sized and terribly portable... what's not to like?

The nice folks at Red Jacket Orchards were sweet enough to send me a case of Newtown Pippins (the official apple of New York city), and I made up a batch of apple muffins (the official muffin of New York state) last night.

Curiously enough, the official recipe for the official muffin officially uses the non-official Empire apple.

I tweaked the official recipe a bit (can't help it... I'm a tweaker) and have come up with a version that's perfect for those of us who need to use up apples and like chunky foods (chunky peanut butter, chunky brownies, Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk...).

If you do use this recipe, I recommend these changes:

1. Don't melt the butter. Instead, cream it with the sugar, eggs, spices and cream cheese. Then go ahead and stir in your flour and fold in the chopped apples. (The apple pieces will soften but won't break down, so keep that in mind as you're judging the size of your dice.)

2. I doubled the amount of apple pieces.

3. Finally, just drop the spoon and walk away, or you're going to overmix. Remember: nobody loves a tough muffin.

My oven required a 27-minute cook-time on these babies, but yours might run hotter, so test with a knife/toothpick for doneness.

Oh, and here's my favorite muffin website. I know, I know, you've probably got your own favorite muffin website, but that's mine, and I'm sticking by it.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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11.19.2004