No Food Issues Lemon Mousse

Like most parents of our generation my sister is mindful of her daughters’ sugar intake. And like most parents of their generation, our mother and father don’t understand why. This came up recently during a vacation spent at my parents’ place when Niece Number Two was denied cookie number three right before bedtime and my father shook his head with disapproval. “What’s the big deal? You kids never had ‘sugar highs.’” he stated, hating to see his (skinny) granddaughter frowning with disappointment. (Note to grandparents out there: zip it. This kind of conversation will never end well.) Sensing an incoming storm o’ tension I jumped in, reminding our parents that in fact when we were kids we were denied sugar cereals and our cabinets were not filled with junkie sweets. To that my mother retorted that in fact during the summer we had our fill of Count Chocula and there was often a cold box of Yodels in the fridge. Touche. Her point was that because she never demonized certain foods we never obsessed over them. I had to admit she was right and noted the proof was in the fact that none of us have food issues. But perhaps I spoke too soon.
At that moment my father looked down at the bowls of pasta I had prepared for my sister and me and said, “That is the smallest bowl of spaghetti I have ever seen. Where’s the rest of your dinner?” To which I responded, “A serving of pasta is two ounces.” “Two ounces?!” he bellowed. “When I cooked family dinners I used a whole box!” (Now I know why my derriere was twice as big in high school as it is now.) My helpful sister chimed in with, “She uses a scale and weighs it.” You know, just in case my father didn’t think I was already crazy.
But it’s true. I do use a scale and weigh my pasta. Actually, I measure a lot of things. For example, a glass of wine is considered to be six ounces. After years of practice, I knew how much to pour when I sat down to enjoy one glass of wine with my dinner. But recently I bought new wine glasses and I had no idea what six ounces looked like in them. So first I poured the wine into a measuring cup, then I poured it into the glass and then I took out a ruler to see how far up the glass six ounces came. It was 1 ¼ inches. So until I get used to my new pour, I whip out my ruler every night just to confirm I’m drinking the proper amount.
Clearly, I have a bit of a portion control control issue. And really, why? I have plenty of problems but blessedly one of them is not my weight. Then again, maybe all of this diligence is the reason why one of them is not my weight. Then again again, I need to control my savory food and alcohol intake so I have caloric room for dessert, something I will never sacrifice.

All of this got me thinking about food issues in general. What is considered an issue? Does it prevent you from enjoying what you want or does it protect you from what you don’t want?
I have the reputation of being a fussy eater which I vehemently deny. And I blame it all on garlic. That is the one and only thing I refuse to eat and ask people to take into consideration. For some reason it makes my friends nuts. Okay, if one clove is cooked down in a huge vat of sauce am I going to throw down my napkin and storm out? No, but if you knowingly serve me Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic then I think you’re just being hostile, even if it is an old-school French classic.
As for my other gastronomical aversions, okay, call them Food Issues if you want, I do realize they can seem a bit much and I really don’t expect anyone else but me to care about them. But I have wondered where they came from. I have tons of friends who hang their body image struggles from their mother’s apron strings. I want to thank my mom right now for never making me think twice about my physical self. She never talked about dieting or her weight or her children’s weight. Meal time wasn’t fraught for anyone and although I was a bored and petulant teenager at the table, it had nothing to do with the food. However, when she was cooking there were certain things in her repertoire that had a lasting impact on my palate, not all of it good. There was the broiled chicken with the creepy little fatty tag adhering to various pieces I’d cut from the bone that turned me off of bone-in chicken. There was the steady diet of steak and potatoes that led me to a life without red meat (except if it’s ground and in a Bolognese sauce). And there was the complete lack of fish which took me years of experimenting with tuna and salmon to fully recover from. Remember, my mom is the one who ordered chicken teriyaki at Nobu. But the good news is that the rest of her brood got over growing up fish-free so much as to eat it raw.
But there is one aversion that I can’t blame on anyone and I have no sense of its genesis. I hate anything made with gelatin. Now you might be thinking, “How often is she presented with a festive Jello mold? Does this aversion really get in her way?” Well yes, there are many times gelatin is used in the pastry kitchen to stabilize fillings and mousses and for that reason I have cut myself off from experiencing a lot of reportedly yummy things for fear that they will be jiggly and creepy. So I set out to see if I could break this odd spell and you know what? It worked! I made a lemon mousse that called for just a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin. The result was a wonderfully light, incredibly lemony and fluffy mousse that didn’t weep, wilt, or pool at the bottom of the bowl. Sweet blueberries and juicy raspberries complemented the tart creaminess of the mousse perfectly and it went over so well when I brought it to a recent al-fresco dinner. One food issue down! Next up, a trip to Peter Luger? Only if I can order fish.
No Food Issues Lemon Mousse
From The Sono Baking Company Cookbook, by John Barricelli 2010
Printer friendly version
2 Tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin
6 large egg yolks
Grated zest of 4 lemons (about 4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)

In a small bowl sprinkle the cold water over the gelatin. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and salt and whisk to combine. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Do not boil. Whisk in gelatin.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until slightly cooled, 2-3 minutes.

Beat in the butter a little at a time, and continue beating until smooth and completely cooled.

Transfer to a large bowl and let stand until the gelatin just begins to set, about 10 minutes.

Wash and dry the mixer bowl. (Taste the lemon mixture. If it tastes too sour for you, beat the cream with 1 Tablespoon of sugar. If not, proceed.) Add the cream and beat with the whisk attachment until medium peaks form. Fold into the cooled lemon mixture

and refrigerate until very cold and the mousse is set, 2-3 hours.
Yield: 4 servings. Serve with berries, spoon over pound cake, etc.


Win or Lose Frozen Creamy Peach Pops

Last week’s women’s soccer frenzy got me thinking about girls and sports, something over the course of my life I have spent little time contemplating. It’s no secret that I am a naturally gifted klutz. I have little hand-eye coordination which may be because I have poor eye-sight and no coordination or may be because the tasks that require me to use both my eyes and my coordination don’t really interest me. Plus, I don’t really care who wins or loses. But which came first, my lack of interest or lack of skill?
Recently my father commented on the remarkable physical grace, agility and strength of Niece One (or Granddaughter One to him). His own daughters had lacked those qualities, he claimed, and wasn’t it nice that his granddaughter had them? Before I registered his comment as being vaguely insulting, I agreed with him and remembered an experience I’d had at Niece One’s age. Like a lot of little girls I was interested in ballet, having seen The Nutcracker multiple times. So one afternoon my mother took me to a try-out at Lincoln Center for the School of American Ballet. Dressed in my simple royal blue leotard and pink tights, I found myself surrounded by chignon-ed, tutu-ed six-year old sprites. Groups of girls were taken into a dance studio where fat, old Russian ladies asked us to twist ourselves in various poses. I remember one particularly scary woman with a hairy mole by her mouth grabbing my thigh, hoisting it onto the barre, kneading it and muttering something in her native tongue to the younger woman following her with a pen and a clipboard. I have no doubt that if my niece were to be subjected to that kind of physical exam today she would be accepted into the school immediately and not end up at the 92nd Street Y where her aunt’s instructor’s meaty thighs bore no resemblance to the lithe ballerinas she’d seen every Christmas at the New York State Theater.
Sure, I took various after-school classes—ice skating, swimming, ballet and then modern dance—but I didn’t follow through on any of them. In the meantime, my elementary school’s gym class was more about running around and some minor gymnastics than learning any real team sports. One fateful summer when I was about nine, my siblings and I went to stay with our grandmother for a week while my mother joined my father on a business trip. Nana enrolled us in the day camp held at the community pool in Great Neck and the first day I knew I was in trouble. All the Stacys, Mindys and Laurens were wearing gym shorts, tee shirts and sneakers. My outfit? White pants (practical for outdoor play, no?) and a tic-tack-toe patterned blue and white empire-waist pinafore top with short, fluttery, ruffled sleeves. And if memory serves, this fetching ensemble had been selected with great enthusiasm on my part from the array of choices presented to me by the dwarf who served as the chief saleswoman at the Pretty Please Clothing factory in Glen Cove. But this wardrobe mis-step was only the beginning. One of our first activities was a game called Newcomb. I’d never heard of it but just followed along with the other girls who seemed to break into a song every few minutes, “Side out and rotate! Our team is really great!” (I still don’t know what “side out and rotate” means.) At one point it was Lauren’s turn to serve and I overheard Stacy whisper to her while staring at me, “Aim it at her. She’ll never catch it.” And she was right. The only thing that got me through that week was my counselor who looked enough like Donny Osmond to distract me from the mean princesses. Oh, and I wore shorts the next day.
Luckily, that camp was really my only bad experience with mean, jocky girls. As I got older I had enough athletically gifted friends that when it came time to “pick teams” I always got chosen relatively early in the draft. But still, there was no denying I contributed nothing to my team’s effort to win, ever. My favorite place to stand was the outfield where I could think my thoughts and pray no one was strong enough to hit a ball anywhere near me. If we were playing pin-dodge in the gym, I’d gossip with my friend Annie and jump out of the way of the hurled red rubber ball so as not to suffer bruises to my shins.
Unfortunately when you brand yourself a non-athlete that moniker accompanies you for life. It was up to me to change my own thinking, which I did in my mid-thirties when I realized there were non-competitive, solo things I could do to make myself feel fitter and healthier. For the past 10 years I’ve been doing strength training and yoga and I run regularly. So it was against my usual thinking that I agreed to sign up for a 5K road race with my sister. Team sports are not my sister’s forte either (sorry Sis) but of the two of us, she is in fact more competitive than I am and running a race versus running just for running would be appealing to her. She ran in this race last year and had had fun but I still resisted when she suggested I join her for this year. “Why does everything have to be about being judged?” I protested. Then I thought the wiser and got a little competitive myself. Why not push myself a little? Plus, how can I let my little sister do something I am completely capable of doing too?

Despite her warning that we wouldn’t be running “together” we wound up going at the exact same pace and had such a nice time making our way through our parents’ town in tandem, being cheered on by the onlookers and especially by our family. And as we approached the finish line my sister sprinted, beating me by 5 seconds. But who’s counting? (I like to think it’s because she’s 3 ½ years younger and ½ inch taller.) The point is that it is never too late to adjust your attitude about yourself. Although no one would mistake me for an athlete, and I would have a panic attack if someone suggested an impromptu softball game, I have more grace, agility and strength than I did as a girl. And when Niece One can join us in the race, it will be perfect.
These frozen pops are a great creamy, icy, fruity way to cool off after a run, or just after running around in this crazy heat. They are like a peach flavored Creamsicle! You absolutely don’t need to have an ice pop mold to make them, just use paper cups as indicated. And most importantly, you don’t need to win the race to enjoy them.
Win or Lose Frozen Creamy Peach Pops
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2011
Printer Friendly Version

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups RIPE (!) peeled, sliced peaches (from 5-6 medium peaches)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Greek yogurt

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar is completely disolved. Pour into small pitcher and refrigerate until cooled. Stir in vanilla.

Combine peaches and sugar syrup in food processor and pulse until very smooth.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a large spouted measuring cup or pitcher and pour in peach puree. Using a spatula, stir puree until it strains through sieve. You will have 2 1/4 cups or so of puree.
Whisk cream and yogurt into peach puree until completely combined and pour into ice pop molds, leaving a 1/2 inch of space on top, snap on the covers and accompanying sticks and freeze for 24 hours.


Pour about 1/2 cup of the creamy puree into paper cups, freeze for 30 minutes or so and then insert wooden sticks into cups. Mixture should be frozen enough to support the stick so it stays upright. If not, keep freezing and try again in another 30 minutes. Freeze for 24 hours.

Fill a small bowl with warm water. Dip bottom of molds or paper cups in water for 20-30 seconds and unmold pops. Serve.
Yield: Approximately 8 pops


How I Learned Not to Drive Granola Bars

I learned several things while I was at the DMV last week: I know all of the words to Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds,” men have cankles too, the cute-from-the-back, tousled hair guy standing in line ahead of me was NOT Nate Berkus, just because you spot someone you know across the crowded waiting room does not mean you need to say hello especially since she snubbed you at a recent bar mitzvah, I know all of the words to George Benson’s “Give Me the Night” and I should never leave the house without a snack.
What in the world possessed me to go to the Herald Square branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles on a humid, 90 degree day? My Learner’s Permit expired. I should say that it was my sixth permit to expire over the course of the years since I got my first one with the intention of one day learning how to drive. As I’ve said before, I think people do what they want to do and I guess I just don’t want to learn because I’ve had 30 years in which to do so but have somehow never gotten around to it.
During a recent assessment of various documents I noticed my passport had expired and my permit would turn invalid on the day I turned…, well, on my birthday. Although I had no plans to travel outside the US anytime soon, I panicked when I realized that I’d be turned away at the border should I need to flee the States on a moment’s notice. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing, the fear that approaching Kossacks or Nazis will drive you from your home in the dark of night. Another example of why being prepared is so important.
Renewing my passport without having to deal with another human being was a pleasure and I am now ready should an approaching gang of fascists force me to seek passage on a cargo ship bound for lands unknown. Renewing my Learner’s Permit? A pleasure-free experience.

And here’s another one of my crazy “what if’s.” I actually could just opt for a New York State Non-driver Photo ID Card, for which there is no test. But “what if” I’m in a car (as a passenger of course) when the driver is felled by a seizure or a stroke or a heart attack? I’d have to grab the wheel and how could I do that without a permit? So between the Kossacks and the collapsing drivers, I need my documents to be in full force and effect. I had no choice but to go to the DMV.
11:30AM: arrive to find a line of about 25 people. With no signage or employees indicating I should go elsewhere, I stand in the line for 15 minutes waiting for the one woman assigned to address the line standers individually to tell me I am in the wrong line.

11:49AM: a baby starts to scream and I get in the “right” line, behind 21 people, to take the written test. Notice I am humming “Against All Odds” being blasted from the speakers above my head and shut up as soon as Not Nate Berkus shoots me a look.

12:07PM: realize it was really stupid to drink a huge mug of green tea right before I left the house. A man in shorts and Tevas won’t stop bothering another line stander with questions line stander can’t answer. Shorts man should be wearing pants to cover his unsightly cankles.
12:28PM: A (different) lone woman assigned to address the line standers individually reviews my paperwork, takes my picture, and directs me to sit on a bench until it is time to take the test.

12:33PM: sit on the bench and all of a sudden have that all too familiar feeling that I’m about to take a test for which I haven’t prepared. I grab a well-worn handbook (gratefully remembering the Purell wipes I have in my bag) and begin cramming.
12:50PM: my group is called to the counter and told to “take a pencil AND a pen and pick your answers carefully! If you get only two of the road sign identification questions wrong, you fail the test.”

12:51PM: remember that my grandfather’s failure of the written test was a source of shame for him and behind-his-back mockery from us. Please God, let me pass. And while you are at it, please make my stomach stop growling.
1:05PM: turn in test and hope for the best.

1:12PM: called to front, handed my paper with a red check on it (yay!) and a ticket and told to wait with the huddled masses until the letter and number on the ticket appear with a window number on the digital screen. Look around for a rest room, find none and cross my legs.

1:21PM: while sitting with the 100’s of other people, realize I am humming “Give Me the Night” and shut up when I notice Woman Who Snubbed Me at the Bar Mitzvah has joined the crowd with her older son. Figure he must be getting his Permit too and decide not to say “hello” because that shared reason for being at the DMV is too humiliating.

1:41PM: wonder why there are 26 windows that could potentially be manned to serve this crowd yet only nine people seem to be working behind them. Try not to think about food. I’m starving.

1:58PM: finally called to window 24, pay my $77 and am handed a temporary Permit.

2:06PM: jump back on the subway hoping to get home ASAP due to the too-much-tea and crashing blood sugar conditions
There are so many issues with this tale. Of course you have the municipal budget cuts that lead to spending 2 ½ hours on something that should take 30 minutes. Then there’s the fact that an otherwise very competent woman of a certain age has managed to surround herself with enough enablers so as not to have to acquire what most consider to be a survival skill. And most importantly, that same woman, who always has something to munch on in her purse, forgets that her other five trips to the DMV have taken at least as long and arrives completely snack-free. Don’t let this happen to you.

These granola bars are so easy and taste so much better than any you will ever buy at your convenience store. They are sweet and chewy, nutty, toasty, crunchy and completely filling. The subtle hint of vanilla gives them a really nice depth of flavor and they won’t fall apart as long as you really press the mixture into the pan thoroughly. My DMV experience would have been so much more pleasant if I’d thought to throw one in my tote bag. Of course the matter of too much green tea might have reduced the pleasure of ingesting anything (don’t let that happen to you either) but that was entirely my fault. In the meantime, I could say that in five years, when I have to take that written test again, I will also take my road test. But I don’t want to make promises I can’t (don't want to?) keep. And as long as I have my Metro Card and that handful of enablers, I think I’ll stay a passenger. And I promise never to forget the snacks.
How I Learned Not to Drive Granola Bars
Recipe adapted from The Food Network, Alton Brown, 2005
Printer Friendly Version
8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
1 1/2 ounces raw pumpkin (pepitas) seeds, approximately 1/2 cup
3 ounces sliced almonds, approximately 1 cup
1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, approximately 1/2 cup
6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 1/2 ounces of your favorite chopped, dried fruit. I used apricots and cranberries. (I'd stay away from figs or dates.--too moist)

Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread the oats, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a medium cookie sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved, stirring occasionally so sugar doesn't burn and stick to pan.
Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine.

Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down very, very hard, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish (a piece of wax paper allows for pressing without getting everything all over your hands) and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool COMPLETELY. I was able to turn my dish upside down and the whole thing came out in one piece. I then cut into 12 bars. You can choose any size you like.
Yield: 12 Bars or 16, 2" squares.