I have incredible hearing and it is often a burden. Sometimes I think it’s due to my poor vision (thank you botched LASIK surgery): one sense is weak so the other has to compensate. The other day I was coming out of the park when I overheard a pedi-cab peddling tour guide misinform his seated tourists. Pointing to a building that once housed Conan O’Brien he said in his thick Eastern-European accent, “That is where the Michael Douglas lives with the Catherine Zeta-Jones.” I wanted to yank those glassy eyed out-of-towners off the little padded bike bench and scream, “Don’t listen to him! He’s lying!” (He was off by five blocks) And then yell at him for taking advantage of them. But then I thought the better of it and kept walking. It’s not my fault these people were so lazy they couldn’t walk around the park with each other and a map and instead forked over $40 each to be fed hogwash by a shyster. Also, I could never treat a human being like a beast of burden. Who lets someone else huff and puff on their behalf while they just sit on their duffs? I would have made a terrible Cleopatra.
A similar thing happened the other day. I was on the subway platform when I heard one fanny-packed woman say to another, “We’re just going to take the Red Line uptown to Times Square. That’s where all the stores are.” First of all we were all in the 66th Street subway station and Times Square is down, not up. Also, New Yorkers don’t refer to their trains by color. Rather, we use numbers and letters as in, “I jumped on the 2 and switched to the R.” I wanted to take her aside for a tutorial. Again I held my tongue. Why do I care and why is it my problem that she didn’t do her research? I’m not the Ambassador of the City. Then I realized, I can never move. It has taken me my whole life to absorb all the connotations and nuances of my city. What it means when someone chooses to live in one neighborhood vs. another or take the M104 bus instead of the subway or buy her groceries at Eli’s instead of Whole Foods. Every one of those choices translates into a character, or at least a character trait. If I moved to another city how would I ever catch on or catch up?
Years ago my sister spent a year working in Florence. Despite speaking Italian she said it took her months to get comfortable enough to have a personality. I knew exactly what she meant. When you are so concerned about simply expressing yourself there is no time for subtlety or humor. You just want to be understood on the most basic of levels. That’s how I feel it would be if I moved. What if I relocated to Chicago? How would I know what it means to have brunch in Lincoln Park or be from the North vs. the South Side (by the way, side of what?). Would I remember to say “the L” instead of the “subway?” I feel the same way about DC. And do I say “DC” or “Washington?” Do people from Philadelphia refer to it as “Philly” or is that just for non-Philadelphians? In New York we never shorten Avenue to “Ave” as they do in Boston. “Comm Ave” is fine in Beantown but “Columbus Ave” in the Big Apple? Absolutely not! See, it’s just too hard. I need to stay put.
The other thing is that I don’t drive. Theoretically, if I was able to conquer the lingo and the insiders’ meaning, I suppose I could live in Chicago, Boston, Washington or Philadelphia because they all have great public transportation systems. But I could never transplant to a must-have-car city like LA which is really too bad because growing up I spent a fair amount of time in the City of Angels and I loved it. The best I can do is experience other places in the kitchen. And not just in the obvious make-baklava-and-feel-like-I’m-in-Greece way. I love reading about bakeries in other towns, just to see if there are signature desserts or regional specialties that sound particularly delicious. The July issue of Food & Wine mentioned Zoe Nathan, the chef/owner of the Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica. After reading the menu online I started to wish my friend Jane hadn’t given up her cute apartment in walking distance of the café to move back to New York because then I’d have a place to stay after I jumped on the next flight in order to try everything in the place. Luckily the magazine printed a recipe for one of the Ms. Nathan's most beloved bakery offerings and I was able to close my eyes and pretend to be sitting in the sun, on a perfect LA hair day, sipping a latte and eating a salted caramel square. They are a sublime combination of cookie and confection—deeply sweet, buttery, chewy and salty. The cookie has a Twix-y feeling to it, crumbly and not too sweet. You’ll want to cut really small squares because they are so rich. Or don’t and just be prepared to fall into a sugar coma before you are done.
And on a completely different note, yesterday was the first anniversary of In Sweet Treatment! After 75 (now 76) recipes my kitchen is still tiny and red and only slightly worse for the wear. Thanks for reading and if you haven’t baked any of the treats you’ve read about yet you will have plenty of opportunity—clearly, I’m not going anywhere!
Staying Put Salted Caramel Cookie Squares
From Zoe Nathan, Food & Wine, July 2010
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1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg white, beaten
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides.
In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners' sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporatedthen beat in the flour and salt. Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.
Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.
In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes.Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares.
Yield: 32-64 bars depending on the size of your sweet tooth.