Madeleines are wonderful and delicious

I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I was to find a madeleine recipe in the second volume of America’s Test Kitchen’s Gluten Free cookbook. I bought a madeleine pan shortly before discovering that not eating gluten made me feel better, so it only got used a few times, mostly for bake sales. It’s hard to cook something you love but can’t eat. It was the first recipe I made out of the book.

Lemon Madelines

2.5oz GF flour (I usually use the ATK GF blend)
0.25t baking powder
0.125t salt
1 large egg + 2 large yolks
2.67oz sugar
4T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1T grated lemon zest
1.5t vanilla

  1. Mix dry ingredients (sugar is a wet ingredient, remember) in a bowl. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl until well combined and very smooth. Stir in flour mixture with rubber spatula and mix until dough is homogeneous and smooth. Let batter rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375. Spray pan with vegetable oil spray (I forgot to do this with one of my two batches and getting the cookies out was doable, but it was easier with the spray). Portion batter into molds of madeleine pan, about 2t per cookie. (Seriously, BUY ONE. Madeleines are SO EASY to make and everyone is so impressed when you can do it, but the hardest part is talking yourself into buying a specialized pan.) Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and they spring back when pressed lightly.
  3. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then let them cool completely on a clean dishtowel.

I suspect you can make them without the lemon and they’ll be fine. I also made an orange-cardamom batch (I love cardamom) – you omit the vanilla, swap the lemon zest for orange, and add 0.5t ground cardamom to sugar mixture in step 1. So good.

It’s a quest!

Let’s review the required components of a quest, shall we? (Courtesy How to Read Literature Like a Professor)

  1. A questor
  2. A place to go
  3. A stated reason to go there
  4. Challenges and trials along the way
  5. The real reason to get there (hint: it’s almost always self-knowledge)

In The Wangs vs the World, (1) the Wang family is traveling to (2) their oldest child’s house in upstate New York from their family house in LA because (3) their house has just been repossessed by the bank and their family business and fortune has just gone up in smoke during the 2008 crash. They face (4) challenges and trials along the way, including their middle child deciding he’s marrying the first woman he has sex with about halfway into the trip, a car crash, and the last of their business product, which they had hoped to deliver to a client, dissolving. But they do eventually learn (5) their family is and has always been the most important thing.

I enjoyed The Wangs vs the World. It’s funny, it’s told from a point of view you don’t often see: an Asian-American family who had succeeded through hard work, sure, but isn’t doing very well right now. At all. Those two things alone make it worth reading.

Wednesday Shorts

I’ve saved up a lot of reading for today. Here’s the best of what I read:

A near-perfect breakfast food

Because sometimes you just crave pancakes, even when you’re gluten-free. Add maple syrup and bacon (sometimes I substitute raspberry jam for the syrup), and you’re good to go.

Pro tip: if you’re reheating pancakes, the toaster oven is a better choice than the microwave.

Buttermilk Pancakes

10.5oz GF flour (I use the America’s Test Kitchen blend)
1t salt
1t baking powder
0.5t baking soda
2T sugar
1.75 c buttermilk
2 large eggs
4T unsalted butter, melted

  1. Start heating skillet/griddle. Mix all dry ingredients together in bowl and wet ingredients in another. (I use a 4-c measuring cup for the wet ingredients. It works well.)
  2. (Redacted because the ATK GF Cookbook wants you to separate the eggs, and whip the whites separately to make the pancakes lighter and fluffier. I find that this makes the pancakes so tall they don’t cook well – the middle never gets all the way done. So you can whip the egg whites to a froth, but be forewarned.)
  3. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until batter has thickened and there are no lumps. (If you’ve actually done the thing where you whip the egg whites, this is when you fold them into the rest of the batter.)
  4. Use a 0.25c measure to portion batter onto skillet/griddle. Cook pancakes until the tops bubble and bottom is browned. Flip. Cook for a couple minutes longer. Eat immediately.


Pride and Prejudice-adjacent

The conceit of Longbourn is interesting: Pride & Prejudice as told from the servants’ point of view. And it was a delightful little book with, I thought, interesting insights into the Bennetts. But the main story was with the servants and their lives and loves, as it should have been.

Basically, it was a lovely little story, good for curling up with on a snowy afternoon.

Before the republic became the empire

If you (like me) mostly read popular history about Ancient Rome, you know the story of Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar backwards and forwards. The super short version is: Pompey and Caesar were both famous, powerful generals and politicians in the Roman Republic. By the time they were done competing for control of Rome – Caesar won, Pompey was dead – Rome was effectively an empire instead of a republic. (HBO made a fictionalized series.) But, for such a fundamental political change to happen, the battle had to have been much, much bigger than just a political rivalry between two men.

The changes started 100 years earlier, as:

  • Rome starts conquering land that is further and further away from Italy;
  • more money starts coming in from those conquered lands and staying in the hands of the elite;
  • the elite need standing armies to fight far away wars;
  • but those armies are loyal to a particular general and not to the state;
  • not to mention, the elite split into two main political factions; and
  • those factions start caring more about winning than they do about governing properly.

Basically, the state needed to be reformed as Rome grew in size and in wealth, and those in power refused to change. It lead to lots of war and death and power grabs.

The Storm Before the Storm talks about these earlier years much more coherently than I can here. There are compelling figures and a wide sweep of history that echoes to current American politics (but with important differences).

It’s worth your time if you (like me!) enjoy learning about ancient Rome.

Clothes matter

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore was a delight. It was exactly what it promised to be: an examination of the standard uniform of various writers, mainly but not exclusively of the 20th century. Full of pictures and pithiness, clothes project an image of who the writers want you to think they are: rebels, an aloof outsider, cultured, whatever.

It should be said that clothes do matter; even if you claim not to care what you wear, you are still conforming (or not) to a standard. Grabbing the top t-shirt on the pile (and bragging about it) says so much about who you are and the position you have in society and the amount of respect you have for those around you (little, I would argue).

Clothes do not make the writer – dressing like Joan Didion will not make you write like her – but they are another way authors express themselves. And it  was fun to look at the photos and read what the various authors say about their fashion tics.

(PS I cannot imagine reading this book on a kindle/tablet. Get the hard-cover version and enjoy its design.)

Unexpectedly relevant

I read The Secret History about a million times in college. To this day, I’m not sure why I was so obsessed with it.

When the weather turned, it seemed like a good time for a re-read. The characters were much the same: so obsessed with finding some ancient Greek definition of beauty that they’d lost all their morality. Donna Tartt’s description of   the New England fall and winter were still lovely and haunting and they made me want to spend all my time at a small college in some tiny Eastern state.

What I wasn’t expecting though, was the parallels between Bunny, the tragi-comic character who drives much of the plot, and Donald Trump. They are both bumbling, in over their heads, cruel in a way that doesn’t realize its full consequences, utterly insistent that the world is the way he sees it, and charming (according to Maggie Haberman, Trump is captivating in a one-on-one setting in a way Obama never was). It made it kind of hard to read in spots, honestly.

That parallel made The Secret History surprisingly relevant – I got insight into our current president and the people around him in a way I was not expecting from a book published in 1992.

Recommended, and not just for nostalgia’s sake.

Fake fairy tales

The Language of Thorns is a lovely little piece of world building. Leigh Bardugo writes young adult books that take place in Ravka, her made-up pseudo-Russia and Kerch, a proto-Amsterdam; they are full of magicians called Grisha. The Language of Thorns are fairy tales from this world.

The most important world-building tale is The Too-Clever Fox, because it was inspired by one of the side characters (who I am a big fan of) who is getting his own two-book series next year. Yes, I was looking for clues for how the next series is going to go.

My favorite of the stories is a tie between the first one, Ayama and the Thorn Wood, which had the great line “They prey that their children… will tell the true stories instead of the easy ones,” and the last story When Water Sang Fire, which was inspired by Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

This fills the gap whilst waiting for the next series to come along.

Monday Shorts

  • I will confess to only looking at the pictures and not reading the article but: what would modern animals look like if they were drawn like dinosaurs (that is, from their skeletons only without all the parts that wouldn’t have fossilized).
  • Watch the trailer for American Crime Story: The Murder of Gianni Versace. I am not, repeat, NOT a true crime fan. But I remember the day this murder was reported so very distinctly, and it came during 1997, which is the year that defined the next section of my life… It was weird and memorable and I can still hear the person who told me about it pronouncing his name “Johnny” because “the i softens the g in Italian, it doesn’t get pronounced on its own.” She was Canadian and a hoot and I wish I could remember her name.
  • On Being Midwestern: The Burden of Normality. “Our bland, featureless Midwest—on some level, it is a fantasy. The easiest, most tempting tack for a cultural critic to take with fantasies is to condemn them. Given what ideas of normalness, in particular, have done to this country, to its nonwhite, nonstraight, non–middle-class, nonmale—and also to those who are all of those things, and are driven slightly or fully crazy by the effort to live up to the norm that is their birthright—it is tempting simply to try to fumigate the myth away.” (The Midwest, by the way isn’t flat. The Plains states are flat. The Midwest has hills and forests and lakes – some of them Great – but it isn’t flat.)