Portfolio

Believe it or not, I build things online.

My resume says "web developer" but having done that work for smaller companies means that I've worn a lot of hats under that title. My Swiss-army knife of skills includes: interactive project management, web and print design, front- and back-end coding, interaction design, branding and online brand marketing, Flash development, photography, and digital illustration.

The Latest Stuff

February 4th, 2010

Creativity Under Pressure at Design Camp

On the last weekend of January, I was fortunate enough to participate in a full day Design Boot Camp class given by Portland State University’s Multimedia Program. The class, consisting of about 20 students, was led by portfolio class instructors, Todd Greco and Tian Mulholland, who led us through two timed exercises over the six-hour class to force us to think creatively and work efficiently under constraints mimicking the extreme context a web designer might experience.

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Chateau de Cheese Home Page - A 1.5 hour design exercise for Design Boot Camp

In the morning’s exercise, each student had their choice of six projects to work on. Our goal was to design a logo and a home page for our fictional client within 90 minutes. Students were given a design brief from their client as well as some photos and images to integrate into the design. I chose the Rhode Island cheesemakers, Chateau de Cheese. We were free to use whatever tool we wanted to execute the mockups. I did mine using Adobe Illustrator, since that was the tool that I felt most comfortable and confident with and time was of the essence. At the end of the hour and a half, we turned in our creations and were critiqued – asked to explain our design process and output and then given feedback by the instructors – before the class.

Gocycle Product Page - A 1 hour exercise for Design Boot Camp

Gocycle Product Page - A 1 hour exercise for Design Boot Camp

After a lunch break, we returned for round two which was a one-hour exercise to design a product page for our choice of one of six products ranging from beer to a computer joystick to cosmetics. I chose an electric bicycle. We were given minimal direction beyond some marketing materials (product copy and images). From these we needed to design a product page that not only presented the product, but considered the navigational and functional needs of a product page. During this round, the process incorporated some distractions – loud background music playing (to simulate a shared workspace) and a camera crew interviewing each of us about the class (to represent the multi-taking distractions of an office). Once the hour was up, we turned in our work and were again critiqued.

As you might expect, completing these exercises was a heart-racing experience. But in doing them, you quickly learn to focus on breaking a design down into a set of core tasks and then stepping through those tasks quickly, using your arsenal of design knowledge as efficiently as you can and not ruminating on individual steps. It may seem antithetical to good design sense to be shooting from the hip in this manner, but it was amazing to me how much usable work can be accomplished by staying focused on producing output. At the very least, I now know I can handle the pressure of a client asking for a comp within an hour.

January 23rd, 2010

Lemon Lavender Scones

Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook, page 58

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The scones after an incomplete baking.

I’m sorry to report that this attempt resulted in my first baking failure from this cookbook. The fault is my own. I was distracted and cut too many corners throughout the process. My tries up until now have been far from perfect, but this was the first that was so imperfectly done as to be inedible. We ended up feeding the results to the crows.

Outside of prep (which is involved) and mixing (which was straight forward) the big hurdle for me on this recipe was the kneading. The dough is purposefully supposed to be wet even after a couple minutes of kneading (“it will remain quite moist”). Working on this recipe on top of previous efforts, I realized I have an aversion to working with wet dough. I like the physicality of working with dough, but I don’t like dealing with bits of dough sticking to my hands – it grosses me out. I attribute it to skin issues I dealt with when I was younger involving having large portions of skin bubble, dry up, and peel away. I haven’t had that problem for decades, but I think peeling wet dough from my hands invokes those unpleasant memories.

At any rate, kneading was more of a chore than I preferred and I think it could’ve been alleviated if I had done a bit of “pre-kneading” in the bowl. I’ve done this before where instead of pulling the wet dough onto a floured surface, I dust the dough in the bowl (assuming you have a big enough bowl) and knead it in there. Being able to lift and turn the bowl with one hand while you’re kneading with the other goes down a bit easier for my sensibilities and then I also only have one hand flecked in wet dough. Once it gets to a not-so-wet stage in then kneading, then I’ll turn it onto a floured surface and finish it up there.

(530) 295-6034

The improper way to shape scones for this recipe. Scones should be separated, not just scored.

Since the dough was wet, there was another short cut that I took that impeded the success of this batch. To shape the scones you’re supposed to shape the dough into a long rectangle and then cut the rectangle into triangles. Then you transfer the scone triangles to your prepared cookie sheet and bake them. Since I was already having a problem with the wetness of the dough, I shaped and cut the dough on the cookie sheet but didn’t cut all the way through (I’ve done this on other scone recipes where you just score the dough) and didn’t fully separate the scone triangles  from one another. I think this affected how the scones baked.

How I shaped the scones might’ve been secondary to general oven trouble that I had during the baking. First, I put the scones in the oven, walked away and realized some minutes later that I hadn’t set the timer. When I went to set the timer (subtracting out an estimated elapsed time) I noticed that the oven hadn’t come back up to full temperature. Having to account for this and the inaccurate timing resulted in me pulling the scones out too early. They had achieved the “golden brown” color but they hadn’t cooked all the way through. I wonder also if you could just separate the dough into six parts (the indicated results of this recipe) and then just shape those into a scone shape.

I did taste the results anyway and noted a more subtle lemon taste than I expected. The lavender is an odd taste to me and I’m not sure that I liked it. Nevertheless, this is a recipe that I’ll need to attempt again. The texture is much more bread-like than crumbly – I suspect due to excessive kneading.

Other preparation notes

Lemon rinds and minced lavender take up a lot of the prep time for this recipe.

Lemon rinds and minced lavender take up a lot of the prep time for this recipe.

  • Full prep time = 1 hour
  • The prep is what takes so long – grating lemon rind and finely chopping lavender takes about 15-20 minutes all together

January 23rd, 2010

Lemon Sour-Cherry Coffee Cake

606-843-7761, page 86

The baked and iced Lemon Cherry Coffee Cake

The baked and iced Lemon Cherry Coffee Cake

Overconfidence isn’t helpful for baking. After producing successful baked goods last week, I got it into my head this week to try making two recipes concurrently. Part of the reason was pragmatic. One of the recipes I had chosen, Challah, needed two hours to rise and I thought I could make good use of that time working on another recipe. And since I had plans to attend a margarita party that evening and wanted to bring a treat to share, I chose Lemon Sour-Cherry Coffee Cake as the other recipe. Had my attention not been so divided, I probably could’ve avoided some embarrassing mistakes.

fatality

I needed to finish mixing the hard way after damaging yet another mixer

I am a threat to electric hand mixers everywhere. I already burned out the motor on one hand mixer during my Brown Sugar and Almond Coffee Cake project when, impatient to get mixing, I started blending the dough (with the hand mixer) before the butter had come to room temperature from the refrigerator. This time, I was blending the batter with an older model electric mixer that we had in the house, one that had wire beater attachments instead of the beefier metal beaters that we loved to lick cake batter from as a kid. The batter was starting to come together, me working the mixer with one hand and using the other hand to scrape the batter from the sides of the pan with a spatula. In this conduction of my ingredient symphony the two implements crossed over in just the wrong way entangling the spatula in the beaters and stressing the wires beyond what they could handle. There was a jolt of my mixer hand, a quick flick of the switch to off, and I was looking down at the components of the beater exploded in the batter. I was able to finish mixing with the single remaining beater, but a heavy duty electric mixer is now on my growing grocery list for this project.

My other mistake was due to adapting the recipe for our lack of a bundt pan. The photo in the cookbook, paradoxically enough, shows the a finished coffee cake in a loaf shape, but the recipe calls for a bundt pan. With my continuing oven fickleness, I didn’t want to hobble my chances for success by changing the pan – potentially affecting the cake’s baking time – so I ended up using what I believe is the closest equivalent to a bundt pan that we had – a angel food cake pan – a smooth-sided round pan with a hole in the middle. This lacks the fluting of the bundt pan but since the shape is essentially the same beyond that I figured it would be the most appropriate substitution.

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The coffee cake didn't come out from the pan unscathed.

The substitution of the pan shape had a subtle effect on how the cake turned out. Following the recipe, I “oiled” the pan to prevent the coffee cake from sticking to it after baking. But instead of using oil, I used a thin coat of butter. This didn’t seem to have the desired effect of crusting the outside of the cake during baking and the finished cake came out of the oven and cooled securely adhered to the pan. Careful work with a pastry knife helped separate the cake from the sides of the pan (this would’ve been much more difficult with a bundt pan). And turning the pan over eventually freed up the cake from the pan (I left it for a few minutes and it had released when I looked back on it.) But the removal had left a thin layer of cake at the bottom of pan. It made for delicious samples of the cake (like when you licked the pan as a child) but it left the now top of my cake looking awkwardly denuded. I tried to cover it up with the icing but the surface area of the denuded area was more than accounted for by the icing. I ended up making some extra icing to fully cover it. It was only later that I realized that I could’ve turned the inverted cake over so that the shaved side was hidden and iced the natural top of the cake. With a bundt pan, the shape of the pan encourages you to present the cake upside down to show off the fluting. With the pan I used that wasn’t the case. The cake still turned out okay and I’m not sure anyone would’ve noticed the error unless I mentioned it, but I still knew. Add bundt pan to the shopping list.

Despite all my consternation making it, the cake made it to the potluck  and was received well. I’d like to do it again, perhaps as a bundt cake, but also in a loaf permutation as well. Its size (in the round cake permutation) also lends itself to large portions, so a brunch might be a better forum for it.

Other preparation notes

The source of the rich lemon flavor in this recipe.

The source of the rich lemon flavor in this recipe.

  • My cooking time continues to be extended by the amount of prep required for these recipes. In this case, a lot of time was spent grating lemon rind and extracting the lemon juice.
  • 4-ish lemons produce about 3 tbsps of rind
  • 2 lemons produce just about 1/4 cup of juice
  • The recipe also suggests soaking and mincing the dried cherries. In a future permutation, I can see being too tired to do this step and just throwing the dried fruit into the batter. I’m not convinced this would greatly affect the outcome.
/www.capellan.net/2010/01/brown-sugar-and-almond-coffee-cake-adventures-in-baking/

January 22nd, 2010

Challah

brownstone, page 37

My First Challah Loaf

My First Challah Loaf

Coming off my success baking the Cobdenite, I thought I’d try another bread recipe – another favorite of the Miz – Challah. Not content on resting on my laurels and with an awareness of the vast waiting time involving any bread baking, I thought of working on another baking project concurrently to get the best use my time. In the two hours that one has while the bread dough is rising there’s ample time to mix and bake something else. That something else on this endeavor was a Lemon Sour-Cherry Coffee Cake. Working on two baking projects at the same time is not something to go into lightly or with a rushed schedule. Details can be overlooked.

Besides the lost time waiting for the dough to rise, working on Macrina’s Brioche and the Challah recipes have proven that bread baking is a quick process. In the case of challah recipe, you proof the yeast for five minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients and mix (or knead) into a ball of dough. This took me 30 minutes. Then you set the ball of dough aside for a couple of hours letting the yeast do its thing and make the dough expand to twice its original size. At this point put the bowl with the rising dough aside, tidied up my counter workspace and went to work on the coffee cake. The details of my travails with it are fodder for another post, but by the time that was finishing baking, the challah dough was ready to form.

My not-so-pretty braid.

My not-so-pretty braid.

The divided dough. The next step is to turn these into ropes.

The divided dough. The next step is to turn these into ropes.

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The risen dough before dividing per the recipe.

Baking the challah would have been a snap if it was any regularly shaped loaf. I had a problem when actually shaping the classic challah loaf into its characteristic braid. The instructions say to peel the dough from the bowl to a floured surface and shape the risen dough into a rectangle, cut it into thirds ,and then roll each third into a rope of dough. These three ropes will be braided together into the loaf. The ropes didn’t roll out smoothly for me though. I originally tried rolling a rectangular third between my hands and the counter like Play-doh, but the flat shapes didn’t want to reassimilate into a cylindrical whole. Instead of I got the dough equivalent of a cigar. I rolled harder which encouraged the dough into shape but resulted in uneven ropes that were long and thin. So I tried folding these long ropes in half and continuing to roll to form thicker ropes but the doubled ropes didn’t meld together again because of the flour. In frustration, I tried shaping the dough back into a ball and then forming the rope from that which worked, but I feared I worked the dough too much. The dough had lost its airy light texture in my shaping, and my three ropes weren’t symmetrical with each other. So I ended up with a sad, uneven braid. It’s a testament to the recipe that the loaf still turned out pretty well. In the future, I think it would be better to not form the risen dough into a rectangle as indicated but simply divide it into thirds and roll out those masses into the ropes.

While the braided loaf did a final rising, I pulled the coffee cake out of the oven and let it heat back to baking temperature for the challah. I was tired from all the day’s baking and wasn’t as diligent in monitoring the baking temperature of the oven while the challah baked. I ended up baking it a little hotter than it should’ve and the crust came out a little darker than I’d prefer and the loaf itself was denser than it might’ve been had I not overworked the braids and let the loaf cook at the right temperature.

Other preparation notes

  • I left out the poppy seeds that should’ve been sprinkled on the top of the loaf over the egg wash as indicated in the recipe. I felt neither the Miz nor I cared enough about them to make another ingredient trip to the store.
  • I thought it notable that the recipe uses canola oil. From what I gleaned from the oil bottle, canola is used because it has a neutral flavor. Plus it has the benefit of being loaded with Omega-3 oils. I wondered if I could’ve used butter instead of canola oil as the Miz requested but I didn’t feel confident making any substitutions for this round.

January 14th, 2010

Classic Brioche Loaf

Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook, page 43

There’s a communal quality to baking. Most baking recipes aren’t portioned for one person as I’ve found having worked through a couple of recipes in the 516-590-4338. I’ve ended up with more baked goods than I could safely consume myself. My wife is game in supporting me with this project, but at the same time she doesn’t share my affection for muffins and scones so she couldn’t reap the benefits of my baking to the extent I needed. I was cognizant, however, of her affection for brioche which is her go-to staple when we go to any sort of French bakery. So feeling neglectful towards the Miz and excited to start working on some bread dough after getting my hands floury making the Cherry Almond Scones, I thought a great next recipe to try would be the Classic Brioche Loaf.

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My Brioche Loaf freshly removed from the pan.

The Brioche is in a category of what author Leslie Mackie describes as enriched breads, breads that include the added ingredients of eggs, sugar, or butter. The traditional brioche that the Miz  introduced me to at our local French bakery have a distinctive shape like a large muffin with a fluted stump and an extra nodule (the head) on the top. The Brioche Loaf is another form of this traditional bread which simplifies preparation in a rich, flavorful loaf instead of rolls requiring specialized tins for baking.

The dough instructions are actually very straight forward – proof the yeast, mix the ingredients, knead and then wait. Since I had blocked out baking time expecting it to be very involved (based on the previous recipes I tried), the waiting was the hardest part, especially since I was trying to time the preparation so that I could finish before I headed off to my evening class, so that the Miz would have the loaf waiting for her when she got home from work. Ultimately, I want to figure out a preparation where I can make the dough the night before and then have it ready for baking by the next morning.

In preparing to make this Brioche Loaf, I had lots of time to consider equipment. The recipe recommends using a stand mixer using a dough hook for the mixing of the dough. You add all the ingredients except the butter to the yeast mixture, mix till incorporated, and then continue to mix while adding the butter. The reason they recommend a stand mixer is because the dough quickly becomes too thick for a regular mixer to be able to handle it. Having blown out one hand mixer already, I was acutely aware of this consideration. But I also didn’t have our stand mixer set up and ready to use. So I did it the old fashioned way. I kneaded.

Preparing without a Stand Mixer

Here are my preparation instructions if you don’t happen to have a stand mixer. Proof the yeast (dissolve in warm water with some sugar and let stand until it blooms or starts bubbling indicating the yeast is active). Then add all the other ingredients (except butter) as indicated and start combining them with a stiff spatula (or wooden spoon). The dough will get thick fast and will be wet. Try and combine it as much as you can. Once mixing with the spatula no longer works, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Coat your hands in flour and sprinkle some on top of the dough in the bowl. Then start punching down into the dough and folding it. Whenever it starts sticking to your hand, add a bit more flour. Keep punching and folding until the ingredients are evenly mixed and the dough feels smooth and not so tacky. Now it’s time to add the butter. You’re basically going to continue your punch and fold method while adding a couple pats of butter into the crease each time you fold. This will help incorporate the butter as you continue mixing the dough. You’re done when the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is as the recipe says, wet and sticky and will have good elasticity when stretched.

Brioche dough after two hours

Brioche dough after two hours

(940) 269-0946

Fully kneaded dough before rising

From here on out you follow the rest of the directions as written. Pull dough onto floured surface, form into a ball, and then put it in an oiled bowl to let rise. The dough that I came out with was smooth with a light, spongy heft. It formed nicely and rose vigorously. I finished baking the loaf with time to spare before class to let it cool and then remove it from the pan to a cooling rack. The Miz finally got to it after the loaf had cooled for several hours. She reported a good flavor and is fiercely protective of my attempts to share the loaf. She did comment that it didn’t need all the sugar in the recipe.

Adjusting for a Glass Baking Pan?

I haven't satisfactorally determined if using a glass loaf pan makes a difference in baking

I haven't satisfactorally determined if using a glass loaf pan makes a difference in baking

One outstanding query I have with regards to baking is whether I should be making adjustments in the baking temperature for the fact that I’m using a glass pan. (It’s so far seemed minor compared with all of the oven troubles I’ve been having). Cursory interwebs search indicates I should reduce the temperature by 25 degrees for glass pans though there was a qualification, for recipes calling for metal pans. The Macrina recipes aren’t explicit one way or another, but I suspect they’re designed for metal pans. I noticed that the Brioche loaf I produced had a crumb more dense around the edges where the dough touched the glass pan. This might be an indication that the temperature is too hot and is killing the yeast towards the edges before they can fully expand. It will bear some experimentation with a more significantly lowered temperature to account for the glass. This time I was careful to try and moderate the temperature but I did hold it closer to 350 degrees instead 335 where the -25 degree recommendation would’ve put me.

Other preparation notes

  • Bringing butter to room temperature is not something you can do in a hurry. Plan ahead by putting some out before you get into this recipe.
  • Initial mixing time: 15 minutes
  • The kneading actually was pretty fun and didn’t seem to take any longer than what the stand mixer would’ve taken. There was however all that work.

January 13th, 2010

Cherry Almond Scones

Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook, page 61

The finished scones cooling on a wire rack.

The finished scones cooling on a wire rack.

I like working with my hands. Whether it’s been with art, printing, or other hobbies, I’ve always gotten satisfaction from literally getting my hands dirty in the process of making something. Which is why baking – especially bread – is satisfying for me. You can create a loaf with a machine, but there’s nothing like getting your hands in the dough and feeling it change as you work it until it’s ready to go into the oven.

That said, I’m having a hard time adjusting to the messiness of my new baking regimen. Flour gets all over, and not just on one’s hands. Now that I’ve walked away from completing a couple of recipes with flour all over my clothes and numerous kitchen linens splattered with dough, I think it’s time for me to get over my machismo and start wearing an apron.

Preparation

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The finished dough has a smooth texture and rolls easily.

This isn’t a bread recipe, but to make these Cherry Almond Scones you spend a lot of time with your hands in the ingredients. The recipe first indicates this in mixing the dry ingredients (toss with your hands to combine) – which could be done just as easily with a whisk. I think it’s trying to get you in the proper mindset as a prelude to the hand work you’ll be doing later in kneading the scone dough. After adding the wet to dry ingredients you do minimal mixing (just until dough comes together) with a wooden spoon. (Which seems like an inefficient way to mix dough, the wet dough always sticks to the spoon – I prefer a stiff plastic spatula.) Then you finish the mixing by taking the dough from the bowl and kneading and turning it on a floured surface. I love this part because you can really get a tactile sense of when the dough is ready – in this case it has a smooth, not-too-tacky feel. Plus you can really get a workout. One thing I don’t like about kneading is when you haven’t mixed the wet ingredients properly into the dry ingredients and the dough is still too wet and you start getting clumps on your hand and it makes for a very uneven dough. Add a little flour and keep working the dough. It’s a touchy process but it is so satisfying when it works correctly.

There didn't seem to be enough dough to cut the scones according to the directions.

There didn't seem to be enough dough to cut the scones according to the directions.

In forming the scones I discovered an irregularity in the directions. The recipe has you form them by rolling out the dough and then cutting the scones out using a 3-inch across, round biscuit cutter (I used a highball glass). The recipe indicates rolling the dough to a thickness of 1″ which seemed wrong considering the amount of dough I had and the number of scones it was supposed to produce (8 to 10 scones). Plus those would’ve been some supersized scones. I rolled the dough to about 1/2″ thick and ended up with nine 2″ diameter scones and one supersized one formed from the leftover dough. Even those seemed like more scone than I prefer to eat in a sitting. If you roll them out thinner than the book indicates, I’d suggest croceic.

Results

The scones turned out beautifully. They had an attractive shape and a snazzy sheen on top from the egg wash brushed on just before popping in the oven. The flavor is expectedly nutty with nice pockets of sweetness from the cherries.

Other preparation notes

  • This recipe took much longer than expected to prepare mostly due to prep work. Roasting almonds took up 15 minutes (and I had to do it twice because I burned the first batch in my stupid oven). Then the whole soaking and chopping the cherries seemed like a lot of work. I’ll have to try the scones to see if soaking had a positive affect on the cherries’ texture.
  • Cooking time was 18-ish minutes (book says 20-25) even though the scones were half the thickness as indicated in the directions. I blame this on the oven.
  • Never quite understood the egg wash, but it does make for a shiny crust.
  • In addition to an apron, I need to get a brush for applying the egg wash.

January 9th, 2010

Outlining the Macrina Cookbook

Assessing a project before getting into it is one of the things I’m learning in my professional development classes. Up until now on my 5058471778, I’ve been picking and choosing recipes that appeal to me. But with over 100 recipes, I thought it prudent to look at them in a more studied manner so that I could assess how long this might take, what sort of baked goods I could get out of it, what ingredients I’ll need, which recipes might group together well, and when during the year (considering the seasonality of some ingredients) I should schedule specific recipes.

Below is a table of contents of the recipes in the 323-951-6607, organized by section. As I proceed through them, I’ll link to my related post so this is also a good page to bookmark if you’d like to reference specific recipes in the book. Hopefully I can do this all within the year.

  • Our Daily Bread
    • Baking with Natural Sour Starters
      • Natural Sour Starter
      • Variations on Natural Sour Starter
      • Macrina Casera Loaf
      • Rustic Baguette
      • Apricot Pecan Loaf
      • Onion Rye Loaf
      • Greek Olive Loaf
    • Biga-Started Bread
      • Traditional Biga Starter
      • Seed Dough
      • Classic Italian Loaf with Recipes for Focaccia and Pizzetta
      • Ciabatta Loaf
      • Semolina & Sesame Loaf
      • Olivetta Loaf
    • American Standards
      • Rustic Potato Loaf
      • Cracked Wheat Walnut Cider Loaf
      • (822) 395-9471
      • Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread
    • Sweet Breads
      • Classic Brioche Loaf
      • Raisin Brioche Twist
      • Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread
      • Guatemalan Hot Chocolate Bread
  • Mornings at Macrina
    • Muffins, Scones, & Biscuits
      • Fresh Fruit Muffins
      • Cornmeal Raspberry Muffins
      • Rocket Muffins
      • (541) 306-4422
      • Citrus Oat Scones
      • Cherry Almond Scones
      • Currant Anise Scone
      • Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Biscuits with Fresh Preserves
      • Cream Biscuits with Black Forest Ham and Romano Cheese
      • Ricotta Biscuits with Dried Cherries, Apricots, & Raspberries
    • Croissant Pastries
      • Croissant Dough
      • Morning Rolls
      • Hazelnut Orange Pinwheels
      • Macringle
      • Cinnamon Rolls with Coconut, Raisins, & Walnuts
    • Coffee Cakes
    • Breakfast Bread Puddings
      • Honey Lemon Bread Pudding with Blueberry Compote
      • Raspberry Cinnamon-Sugar Bread Pudding with Nectarine Compote
      • Savory Bread Pudding with Cranberries, Sausage & Chevre
  • From Our Pastry Case
    • Cakes
      • Bittersweet Chocolate Gateau
      • Lemon Butter Cake with Fresh Strawberries & Lemon Cream
      • Semolina Pound Cake with Fresh Preserves
      • Mom’s Chocolate Cake
      • Coconut Cake with Raspberries & Lemon Cream
      • Chocolate Cherry Pound Cake
      • Mascarpone Cheesecake
      • Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream & Fresh Blackberries
    • Pies & Tarts
      • Flaky Pie dough
      • Sweet Almond Dough
      • Pasta Frolla
      • Sesame Almond Dough
      • Mom’s Fresh Strawberry Tartlets
      • Classic Blueberry Pie
      • Fresh Fruit Crostata
      • Lemon Chess Tart
      • Apple & Bing Cherry Galette
      • Chocolate & Brandied Cherry Tart
      • Pear & Honey Custard Tart
      • Apricot Frangipane Tart
      • Champagne Grape Tart
      • Huckleberry & Creme Fraiche Tart
      • Plum & Almond Crumb Tart
      • Classic Ricotta Pie
      • Florentine Tart with Nectarines & Pine Nuts
    • The Cookie Basket
      • Peanut Butter Cookies
      • Ginger & Molasses Cookies
      • Chocolate & Apricot Cookies
      • Olivia’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies
      • Sour Cherry Shortbread
      • Roasted Walnut & Anise Biscotti
      • Almond & Orange Biscotti
      • Fruit & Oat Bars
      • Caramel Pecan Brownies
      • Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies
  • Macrina Cafe Favorites
    • Brunch
      • Gingerbread Crepes with Citron Ricotta, Cranberry Compote & Vanilla Syrup
      • Macrina’s Fried Egg Sandwich
      • Breakfast Strata with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Fontina & Roasted Onions
      • Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Waffles with Fresh Berries & Cream
      • Cinnamon French Toast with Ricotta Filling
      • German Pancake with Apples, Rum & Brown Sugar
      • Egg Scramble with Delicata Squash, Spinach, Smoked Provolone & Beurre Blanc Sauce
      • Bacon, Leek & Gruyere Quiche
    • Lunch
      • Macrina’s Organic Greens Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
      • French Lentil Soup with Roasted Tomatoes & Peppers
      • Corn Chowder with Pink Potatoes & Cream
      • Tuscan Tomato & Fennel Soup with White Beans
      • Butternut Squash & Apple Galette
      • Roasted Tomato & Olive Galette with Fontina
      • Salmon Paillard on Mixed Greens with Mustard Vinaigrette
      • Roasted Goat Cheese Salad with Vintner’s Vinaigrette
      • Orecchiette Salad with Roasted Beets, Fennel & Toasted Almonds
      • Orzo Salad with Cucumber, Bell Peppers, Basil & Feta
      • Chicken Tagine with Lemon & Olives
      • Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Cream & Romano Cheese
      • Egg Salad Sandwich on Greek Olive Bread with Roasted Tomatoes & Anchovies
  • The Holiday Table
    • Savory Bites
      • Porcini Harvest Loaf
      • Holiday Fougasse
      • Winter Pear Crowne
      • Fig & Cranberry Chutney
      • Baked Brie en Croute
      • Roasted Pear Galette with Chevre & Pomegranates
      • Sweet & Spicy Nuts
    • Sweet Treats
      • Chocolate Cherry Heart Bread
      • Panettone
      • Steamed Chocolae Pudding cake
      • Holiday Tart
      • Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie
      • Harvest Pie
      • Festive Gingerbread People
      • The Christmas Cookie Box
    • Most-Requested Recipes
      • Morning Glory Muffins
      • Fresh Fruit Coffee Cake
      • New Flaky Pie Dough
      • Macrina’s Tuxedo Cake
      • Chocolate Walnut Tart
      • Ribollita with Seasoned Croutons
      • Sesame Millet Bread
      • Blackburn Wheat Bread

January 8th, 2010

Coming Down From Feeling “Up in the Air”

Feeling adrift is a state that many people (myself included) can relate with nowadays. Unemployment has that effect, as do many life changing events; weddings, relationships, moving. It’s that effect that Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) tries to examine in his new movie, “Up in the Air”, and it’s the ways that we can deal with that feeling that continues to resonate in my head after watching this George Clooney vehicle.

George plays Ryan Bingham, a hired gun corporate downsizing expert – a person who’s hired by companies to lay off employees. He spends the majority of his year flying around the country doing his job, and he’s built a comfortable existence being unfettered to destinations and finding comfort in structure of airline frequent flyer relationships. But that all changes with the introduction of two women into his life. One is his female counterpart, Alex Goran – a woman traveler played by Vera Farmiga (The Departed) with whom he has an instant connection and with whom he starts a relationship where their respective flight paths converge. The other woman is a hot shot business analyst at his company, Natalie Keener played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight) who introduces the idea of replacing the team of downsizers with computer terminals and video conferencing “layoff technicians” in an attempt to save the company the cost of flying employees around the company. What happens next may seem simply like a reheated storyline: In response to this threat to his job and lifestyle, Ryan coerces his boss (played by the omnipresent Jason Bateman) to let him go out for one more tour with Natalie in tow in order to show her how the business really works.

Underneath what might just be a twist on the buddy flick is some real insight. The movie juxtaposes the fear and opportunity of  getting fired and being uprooted from ones job with how that is disconcerting like other life changes like committing to connecting with other people. The mismatched partnership of Ryan and Natalie – experience and ambition, idealism and pragmatism works to teach them both valuable lessons about connecting. In convergence with Ryan’s burgeoning relationship with Alex though, the odd couple story is a subtle parable about finding one’s way. Ryan’s journey in particular, interacting with Alex and Natalie and reassessing the significance of being anchored by other people into one’s life underscores it for me. Ryan’s job illustrates how easy it is to uproot individuals and dispense wisdom when you don’t have to stay in town and be invested in the consequences.

In the end, the message is that life isn’t about just giving or hearing the advice, it’s about the often messy business of working out which advice applies in your life. Then having the courage to take the plunge and apply it.

January 5th, 2010

Cornmeal Raspberry Muffin

(647) 646-4667, page 56

My modus operandi for this project is to start off with recipes I know I’ll like so I can get some good wins and good food under my belt early to help build momentum. So it was an easy choice to go with the Cornmeal Raspberry muffins for my next recipe.

Cornmeal Raspberry Muffins cooling in the pan.

There’s something about cornmeal that has called to me ever since I was seduced by Marsee Baking’s Cranberry Cornmeal scone (here in Portland). In the ’90s, Marsee still had multiple retail cafes in the Portland area where they served their baked goods alongside coffee and espresso. I’d go into Northwest Portland on the weekend or after work and typically ordered the cranberry cornmeal scone to go with my mocha. The hearty texture with the reward of sweet/tart dried cranberry explosions were a treat that I often went out of my way for. In more recent years, one of my go-to potluck recipes is a Mexican-style cornbread that combines cornmeal with creamed-style corn, pepper jack cheese, green chiles, and a lot of butter. So I was greatly enticed by the sound of Macrina’s cornmeal raspberry muffin recipe.

I took extra care this time, after the oven trouble of my coffee cake trial, to monitor my oven’s temperature. It paid off in that the muffins baked to the specified “golden brown” color in the time specified. The recipe seems a conventional muffin mixture though it uses diced pineapple as a sweetener instead of sugar. This adds that the Miz called a fibrous cooked fruit aspect to the muffins. Not preferable if you don’t like caramelly wet surprises in your baked goods.

Cornmeal make for a visibly coarse texture

The texture of the resulting muffins was not what I expected at all. It’s moist enough but the toothiness of the cornmeal made the muffins seem dry. I used Bob’s Red Mill medium grind cornmeal and I think this might’ve been the culprit. For future attempts, I think using a finer ground cornmeal might help balance out this texture problem. I’m also curious if some adjustments should’ve been made for the size of the muffin. In the recipe, it states the preparation makes 6-8 muffins “slightly over-filling” the muffin tins. I was able to fill a standard 12-count muffin pan with a little left over to make a baker’s dozen of muffins which makes me wonder if there’s a larger size of muffin tin out there.

Filling Cornmeal Muffin Pan

I ended up with batter for more muffins than the 6-8 indicated in the recipe

Other preparation notes

  • Prep time was 45-ish minutes though I spent a fair amount dicing the pineapple rings. Using canned diced pineapple would simplify the prep.
  • For the diced pineapple and pineapple juice called for in the recipe, I used a 20oz can of Dole pineapple rings. 1 cup of diced pineapples is approximate 6 cut up rings. One 20 oz can of pineapple rings also contains just enough  juice for the recipe. Prep time would be reduced by using diced pineapple but I’m not sure if you’d get the same amount of juice from the can.
  • I overlooked the mixing step of mixing the melted butter last after mixing dry and wet ingredients. Instead I mistakenly mixed the butter into the wet ingredients and then added the mixture into dry ingredients.

January 5th, 2010

2009 Movie Round Up, Part 2

A rundown of the rest of the movies I remember watching in 2009. You can see 855-855-8411.

  • Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – Underworld is one of those franchises that I’d watch on the strength of how much I enjoyed the original. That said, it’s tough for a prequel – one that directly leads to the events of the much watched original – to offer much dramatic conflict. Lots of medieval vampires fighting werewolves though.
  • Ice Age 3: Rise of the Dinosaurs – Part of my year’s goal was to spend more time with my nephew and niece. This was one of our movie dates.
  • 500 Days of Summer – I loved this movie enough to watch it twice in theaters and I still want to see it again. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s hopeless romantic of a character lives every high and low of my dating life with a familiarity that made me root for him.
  • State of Play – This political whodunit inspired a lot of discussion between the Miz and I about how it almost succeeded as a thriller. Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are the odd couple of reporters tracking down political intrigue. Good action and lots of suspects. Unfortunately, some weak – not to mention focus-group-friendly – resolution in the third act really watered down its story.
  • Law Abiding Citizen – This is another movie that stopped just short of coherent for me and the Miz. Gerard Butler matches off his patiently calculating intellect against the lawyer who helped free the killer of his family. But it turns out that Gerard is the bad guy.
  • Drag Me To Hell – The Miz was very excited to take in this Sam Raimi horror movie. I was the anxious companion who startles easily. It was hard to appreciate the comedic elements of Raimi’s style when I was constantly anticipating or recovering from the numerous “boo” moments in this film.
  • Harry Potter: The Half-Blood Prince – The most satisfying adaptation of a book in JK Rowling’s series so far. The screenwriters decided to focus more on the relationships instead of the action which, for me, gets tothe heart of the Harry Potter saga.
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  • District 9 – I think I’m in the minority in not liking this movie. I didn’t sympathize with the main character at all, and kept waiting for the aliens who could travel across the galaxy only to then lose control of their advanced technology to kick some ass. Boy was I disappointed.
  • Moon -This was the sci-fi sneaker movie for me this year. A mystery story set on the moon where a lone engineer and his computer co-worker try to figure out the weirdness unraveling around them.
  • Evangelion 1.0 – I didn’t know anything about this movie aside from the fact that it was a mecha anime (and I gleaned that from its movie poster). From what I could gather, it’s one (the first?) in a series of stories and it shows through in the schizophrenic execution of the narrative. Too undeveloped to be a stand alone episode, too out of context to make sense outside of some larger story.
  • Extract – Jason Bateman has been popping up in a lot of movies that I’ve seen of late, and he’s a solid supporting character. This didn’t help convince me he could carry a film.
  • Ninja Assassin – I never thought I’d say this about a ninja movie, but this was too bloody for my tastes. And I’m the guy who grew up dragging my parents to every crappy ninja movie that came out. That said if you expect some crazy ninja action you won’t be disappointed.
  • Couples Retreat – Meh. Vince Vaughn brings his humorous repartee to this comedy, but the script is uneven and the rest of the cast don’t quite carry their moments.
  • Inglorious Basterds -Quentin Tarantino has proven in his previous work that he can do unhurried pacing, bloody action, and clever dialog, but in this movie his skills culminate in this alternate retelling of WWII. His relatively restrained direction along with brilliant actors create an air of menace in scene upon scene from the very opening of this movie that holds you until the very end. I loved it.
  • Up in the Air – Life sometimes throws us curves that completely upend us. George Clooney’s character knows this because he’s the guy hired to fire employees when company managers don’t want to do it himself. But all his wisdom in helping people find guidance in unemployment doesn’t prepare him for the disruption in his life brought by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Sweet and thoughtful.