Mind the Gap Peppermint Patties

Last Monday I had a little mishap and well, the best way to describe what happened is to tell you exactly what happened.  Below is an email I sent to some inquiring friends the night of the incident.  Rather than recreating the tale from scratch, I thought I’d share the words at their freshest (and yes, slightly manic), just hours after… 

I left work at 6:30 and got on a C train with the plan of switching to the 1 train at Columbus Circle so I could get off at 72nd & Broadway because I had to go to Fairway. As I was walking up the stairs from the C platform to the 1 I saw that a train had just pulled in and ran to catch it. Just as I was jumping into the car the door started to close so with my right hand I tried to push it out of the way so I could get on. I should add that there were still plenty of people boarding other cars and I didn't think I was being reckless.

I need to get to that train!
In the blink of an eye somehow I either slipped or was thrown off balance by the door and I started to fall. There was a guy right next to me also getting on the train who caught me, but not before my right leg fell between the edge of the subway platform and the subway car. And by leg I mean up to the top of my thigh. No, I’m not that skinny—the space was that wide.  When I say the whole thing happened so quickly I really mean like 2, 3 seconds. Like a fast up and down dip. You know when they announce “Mind the Gap" over the PA system?  I guess I didn’t mind it enough.
The gap
I was then safe on the train, thanked the guy profusely and was standing holding onto the pole.  That should be your first clue that something was awry since I do just about anything to avoid touching anything to do with a subway.  Anyway, slowly what had just (and could have really) happened started to dawn on me and my heart started to pound and my right leg started to really hurt. Coupled with feeling kind of embarrassed by the whole thing, all I could think was "I just want to get home." So the train made its next stop at 66th street and I was going to get off at the one after that. Between 66th-72nd I started to feel a little whoozy and by the time the doors open at 72nd I was totally dizzy and lightheaded.

Somehow I walked to the staircase to climb to the main part of the station by gripping onto the banister and hoisting myself up step-by-step. Again, note that I am touching something I usually deride others for even lightly grazing.  Realizing I was feeling very faint I grabbed onto something. Maybe it was a garbage can or a gate. I don't know because I was so dizzy that all I remember is looking up to see three people standing above me.  One seemed to be calling 911 and another said, "Are you okay? You just passed out." And I realized I was on my back LYING ON THE SUBWAY STATION FLOOR! 

The Bannister
Again, I was totally mortified and I insisted that I was fine and I started to stand. One of the guys put out his hand to help and I thanked him but then the next thing I knew the three people were standing over me again and a woman said, "You know you just fainted a second time, but I stuck out my arm so you wouldn’t hit your head.”  And rather than even attempting to stand I just sat up and crossed my legs – crisscross applesauce as my niece would say.
Yup, I was lying next to this garbage can
At this point they really wanted to call 911 and I begged them not to and a cop happened to walk by and they grabbed him. He started asking me lots of questions and insisted on calling an ambulance. I could tell his real concern was that I was going to sue the city but that’s neither here nor there. So an ambulance came, he helped me to my feet and I felt freezing because I had been totally sweating.

I got into the ambulance (BTW, my first time ever) and the EMTs were so incredibly great. They took vitals and I kept saying I was okay and really, just wanted to go home. (I was no longer feeling faint and in my heart I knew I was okay.) Then they said, "Is there anyone home who can keep an eye on you?" Um, no. And the guy EMT says, "I'm sorry. Pick an emergency room.  You can't be alone."

I then tried to reach my parents with no luck so I called my sister to ask her where they might be but she basically jumped in her car to drive to the city from Westchester to meet me at Lenox Hill before I even hung up.

I got to the ER (I knew it wasn’t a life or death situation since they didn’t even put on the siren and I was just sitting up on that little bench) and considering how terrible it could have been, it was really fine. My sister got there 10 minutes after I did and they checked me in, made me change into a gown and hooked me up to an EKG. All I wanted to do was go home and shower, and eat dinner.  Even though at this point my tail bone was really starting to hurt (from hitting the station floor when I fainted the two times) and a bruise was starting to bloom on my right hamstring. The doctor then announced he saw something on the EKG; either an extra beat or something tiny but a little funny so he insisted on doing blood work and more blood pressure stuff. I explained to him, “it’s nothing” (because I’m a doctor?) and I was sure it was like a delayed fight or flight thing. Like shock, when adrenaline surges and your blood pressure plummets. Not to mention the ER was freezing and I was shaking with nerves.

Yeah, it was a little more crowded than this
He was great but said, "Um, it’s not nothing because I saw something and we're doing these tests and I'm giving you saline." So I sat there with an IV, thinking about how dirty I felt and hoping the results would come back soon so I could go home.  Meanwhile, my sister, who had been up since 5AM with one of my nieces, really needed to get back to her house. My brother was about to jump on the train from Brooklyn when sister reached bff Rich on his way from the gym. Rich got in a cab, relieved my sister and waited with me while I was being hydrated. Ultimately the blood work came back, my heart was normal and I was allowed to go home.  (See, I really am a doctor.) I'd say I was there from 7:45-10:30.  Not bad for a New York City ER, right?  It could have been so much worse on so many levels.

But the moral of the story is two-fold. 1) nothing is worth running for and, more importantly, 2) despite what the EMT said, I am not alone. 

The overwhelming thing though, and the thing that has brought me to the brink of tears, is just how much kindness I received from people whose names I don't even know, like the nice man who offered me his hand at the station. And I wish I knew the names of the EMTs.  Their warmth, care and humor made me feel so much better.  “Remember, take a cab!” the guy EMT said when he left me at the hospital.  And when the doctor said I could go home I told him I loved him. And at that moment I did.   Anyway, other than not being able to wear shorts until at least next summer (my hamstring looks like a giant eggplant) and having an annoyingly sore tailbone, I know I am so, so lucky. Can you believe it?!!!! And all I wanted to do with buy groceries.

So that’s the story of my mishap.  And I’ve sworn that I’m going to stop rushing.  And I’m going to wear my glasses so I see the gap before I fall into it.  And I’m going to carpe diem.  And for all those reasons I made myself a treat.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a mint and chocolate person.  I’ve had this recipe for homemade peppermint patties in my files for awhile but for some reason haven’t tackled it. Probably because they idea seemed time consuming.  But with my commitment to calming the hell down, I thought waiting for the sugar to reach the “soft ball stage” and the methodical dipping of the fondant disks might serve my jittery brain well.  And it did.  And these taste so good I urge you not to be scared of the words “candy thermometer” or “marble slab.”  
They are truly doable.  All you need is a little patience.  And trust me, if I found some, so can you.  

Mind the Gap Peppermint Patties
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From Saveur Issue 107
2 1⁄2 cups sugar
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter
1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar
1⁄2 tsp. peppermint oil
6 drops green food coloring
2 1⁄2 cups dark chocolate chips, melted in a bowl (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao and melted the chips in the microwave)

Stir together sugar, cream, milk, butter, and cream of tartar in a medium, heavy pot. (I used a Le Creuset and it worked beautifully.) 
Bring to a boil, without stirring; reduce heat to medium. Attach a candy thermometer to inside edge of pot; cook, without stirring, until it registers 236°, 12–14 minutes.
Pour sugar mixture onto a marble slab. 
Using 2 heatproof spatulas, scrape mixture back and forth to make a fondant, moving it across the marble quickly until it becomes thick and just cool enough to touch, 3–4 minutes. 
Toward the end, completely work in the oil and coloring.
Gather fondant into a ball; knead until it resembles smooth dough, 3–4 minutes. (If it becomes powdery, work in a few drops of water.) Mine got a bit gritty because I stopped to take photos. So I really had to knead it for awhile to get it smooth.  
Shape fondant into thirty-six 1 1⁄2"-wide disks, each about 1⁄3" thick. (Keep unshaped fondant covered with plastic wrap while you work.)
4. Working with one fondant disk at a time, dip them into chocolate using a fork; let excess drip off. Transfer to a wax paper–lined sheet pan. Let set in a cool spot. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool spot for up to a week.

Yield: 3 DOZEN


Don't Feel Old Blueberry Corn Muffins

Ed Asner made me feel so old last week. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t set out to remind me of my age but he just put it into a perspective I really didn’t need. I was watching Mary Tyler Moore, oh—before I go on I need to let everyone know about MeTV. I stumbled on it while traveling up my cable offerings. On Time Warner in New York it’s on channel 144 and let me tell you it is video pablum. Along with MTM there are evening airings of Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart. I know! Spending 22 minutes in the company of those geniuses will cure whatever ails you.

Anyway, so I was watching Mary and Rhoda and they were having some discussion with Phyllis wherein Phyl made a snide remark about their singleton statuses. (Stati?) They were both “almost 30” and gasp, single! As Cloris Leachman babbled on I found myself floating to my computer, calling up IMDB and checking on the ages of Mary and Valerie Harper at the time the show aired. In fact, they were both over 30 (double gasp), Mary being 34 and Valerie 31. That was the first hurdle I had to get over. They both seemed so “old” when I watched the show as a kid. They were ladies; Mare getting ready for a date in a little black dress, hair up in a twist, fastening a hoop earring while Rhoda munched on popcorn sitting on the velvet pull-out sofa cracking wise about whatever dork was about to pick her friend up. Ok, that wasn’t particularly “lady-like” but they appeared to be grown-ups and here I am learning they were waaay younger than I am today. Not to mention that their slight embarrassment over being single at 30 is just beyond ridiculous.
But that isn’t what got me as much as what I learned when my eyes rested on the website’s tiny thumbnail picture of Ed Asner as Lou Grant. Take a minute and think about Lou. He was irascible, grumpy, worn, a big drinker and seemed to carry the weight of the world on his bulky shoulders. And now wait for this: the first season of the show “Mr. Grant”, or Mr. Asner, was 41 years old. Let’s put this in perspective. Jon Hamm is 41. Mark Wahlberg is 41. And Matt Damon is 42. Huh? It just doesn’t compute. But most importantly, I am not 41. How am I older than “Mr. Grant?”
With Ed hovering in the back of my mind I was chatting with two of my pod-mates at work when one of them asked what it was like growing up in New York. These two are quite a bit younger than I and one of them said she thought I was probably 35. And for that I will always love her. But as we talked about the nightlife of a teenager in the asphalt jungle I had to catch myself before I mistakenly showed my (non-driver ID) card. They were discussing the need for fake ID’s while they were in college and I was about to reveal that back in my day the drinking age was 18, not 21. It wouldn’t have taken but a second to do the math (thanks a lot Wikipedia) and frankly, I work with so many more twentysomethings than fortysomethings that I just didn’t need to be looked at like an odd curiosity with a dash of what would surely be pity.

Then I went to the movies. I was sitting in the crowded theater before the 7:45 screening of Looper (if anyone has seen it and can explain it, please let me know) and a dad and his teenage son sat next to me. As always, the theater was playing commercials before the previews before the feature and there was some deafening (I really am o.l.d.) ad about scoring tickets to upcoming Led Zeppelin concerts. While “Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move…” was blasting from the screen the 15-year-old kid leaned over to his dad and yelled, “Is Led Zeppelin a guy or a girl?” Okay, game over. I guess it’s safe to assume that 8th grade boys are no longer groping their dance partners to the strains of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Speaking of concerts, recently I was at a dinner party and one woman was bemoaning the fact that her daughter’s first concert would most likely be along the lines of Justin Bieber. “How can I let that happen?” she sighed. That led to us going around the table and reminiscing about our firsts. Mine was Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden—The Stranger tour if I’m not mistaken. I went with three friends, one of whom stole a cigarette from her sister’s bedroom which the four of us shared. We were 12. Someone else remembered seeing The Go-Go’s which sounded like fun and then the host said, “Mine was Janis Joplin.” Whoa! That changed everything. Here I was feeling 100 and he was old enough to see someone who had been dead so long she was never part of my consciousness at all.

But like so many band-aids, the healing properties of this comforting piece of information were short lived. All it took was one pass by the fluorescent lighted mirror in my office ladies room and all I could think of was another friend’s husband. He’s a dermatologist and has a stash of Botox in their apartment refrigerator for when she needs a little perking up – the youthful genie in a bottle waiting to be released in their own Sub-Zero! That is one fridge I’d like to raid. Oh don’t judge! And don’t knock it till you try it.

Unfortunately injectables are not in my foreseeable financial portfolio and so I slather on creams, balms and gels and try not to frown too much or suck on straws too much. I exercise, drink plenty of water and then I heard terrible news; studies show refined sugars speed along the aging process. Are you kidding me?! The one thing that is guaranteed to give me pleasure? I had always focused on caloric damage, not tissue destruction!

And so to the cupboard I went. And I made a recipe with the number one anti-aging fruit (blueberries!), which was also low in sugar, high in whole grains and low in fat. These muffins are surprisingly good considering I usually take mine with three times as much butter and twice as much sugar. But the crunch from the corn meal is really nice and they are totally satisfying. Is that code for dense? Well, a tiny bit but not in a bad way, truly. I liked the chew and they are filled with juicy fruit.
So I made myself a cup of anti-oxidant dense green tea, toasted a muffin and while I waited for the glow of my 35 year old skin to return, I clicked on Facebook to be greeted by several suggestions of “People You May Know.” And there he was. Ed Asner. Think I should friend him?
Don't Feel Old Blueberry-Cornmeal Muffins
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2003

Printer friendly version
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 1/4 cups yogurt
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (do not thaw)
Nonstick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in center. Lightly coat a standard muffin tin with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest.
In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, egg yolks and butter. Stir yogurt mixture into flour mixture until just blended. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until just stiff. Gently fold whites and blueberries into the batter until just combined.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup three-quarters full.
Bake 20 minutes until tops are golden and a cake tester inserted in a muffin center comes out clean. Let muffins cool slightly, about 10 minutes, before turning out of tin.

Yield: 12 muffins


I Missed You New Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did you miss me?  Well, even if you didn’t, I missed you.  It’s just that it took me awhile to realize it and the way my blog-sickness revealed itself was kind of interesting.  It all started with the subway. 

The biggest hurdle I’ve had to face with this full-time job thing (aside from the reduction in my personal writing time) is the daily commute.  Back in the day when I was working elsewhere, I lived close enough to my office to at least have the option of hoofing it in the morning or evening, or both.  A brisk walk is such a great way to ease into the work day or shake it off after a long one.  Well, my new gig is a hike and not a particularly scenic one.  So, I’ve been a slave to the C train for five months and if you’re familiar with the Straphangers’ Report, it’s one of the lowest rated on the subway system.  Meaning, it’s not the cleanest or the most reliable.   But that’s not really the thing that’s getting to me.  It’s the people.

Under the best of circumstances, I don’t really enjoy crowds of strangers.  Add the specific insult to the senses you get when you’re on a subway car packed with people whose idea of hygiene varies from unwashed to grooming themselves in public and you have yourself an unpleasant situation.  We’ve all seen women attempting to apply mascara in their rear view mirror when they’re driving to work and are stopped at a red light. Not the safest of ideas but at least they aren’t moving.  What about spackling yourself with a full face of make-up – foundation, concealer, blush, eyeliner, eye shadow, lip liner, lipstick and face powder – while on a train that’s flying 60 miles an hour?  Well, if the look you’re after is Baby Jane meets Divine, then this method of “putting on your face” will work for you! 
Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson
But that’s minor compared to the morning I heard an unmistakable sound and knew what I was going to confront when I looked to my left.  A woman, clipping her fingernails, sending tiny shards of what were surely filthy bits flying about the train.  Putting to good use the sneer passed down from my grandmother to my father to me, I glared right at her.  And of course she didn’t even look up.  In fact, nobody sitting near her seemed to realize their neighbor was mid-manicure.  Why was I the only one bothered by this?
Yup, I took a photo of the nail clipper
And speaking of manicures, recently I was getting one myself (not on the C train mind you, at Zen Nails on 72nd Street) when the girl sitting at the table next to mine began to dig at her head.  (Don’t worry, her nails weren’t wet, she was waiting for an available aesthetician).  I thought she must have lice and while I was trying to figure out how I could politely (or not) move away from her, I heard a little snap.  She dug around some more and there was another click.  And then I realized what was happening; she was fastening her hair extensions into her scalp.  OMG!  And again, no one noticed but me.

I often feel this way, like I am some kind of public nuisance hall monitor.  Some of you may remember that when Bobby Brady was given the coveted H.M. position at Fillmore Junior High, he lost most of his friends by being so uptight.  I don’t want to be that person!  But then I’m confronted by such heinous acts I’m incapable of ignoring them.  Like a few weeks ago in Penn Station.

I was using the ladies room before taking the train out of town for the weekend.  Okay, you might be surprised that I actually enter the bathroom at Penn but honestly, it’s not that bad and it’s like Buckingham Palace (or what I’d assume a palace loo would be like) compared to the facilities on the LIRR itself.  Anyway, as I was washing my hands I saw something truly shocking happening at the sink next to me.  A perfectly normal looking thirtysomething woman in a sleeveless shift dress had her left arm up in the air, as if she was waiting for the teacher to call on her, and in her right hand was a pink disposable Daisy razor.  Yes friends, she was shaving her underarms over the sink!  I was so appalled my mouth literally fell open and I gasped audibly.  But did Miss Armpit flinch? No.  (Actually, that would’ve been dangerous since she was holding a sharp).
But my point is that all of these affronts provoked reactions in me that far exceeded their importance.  As I said, everyone else seemed to be going about their business.  Now, maybe that’s because they are as uncivilized as these untamed women, or maybe it’s because they have such busy lives they don’t have the time to pay attention to anything else.  Or, maybe they have an inner calm that allows them to breathe through the unpleasantness that surrounds them and move on.  I do not have an inner or an outer calm, which is why I have always sought serenity through the measuring, mixing and baking of a sweet treat.  I mean, there’s a reason what you are reading is called In Sweet Treatment.  And there is a reason I have felt off-kilter for weeks: I haven’t been baking! 

So here I am, back where I started.  As soon as I realized the true source of my irritable, hall-monitoriness, I knew I was on the path towards salvation.  And luckily for me, I had recently torn out the below recipe from Bon Appetit.  Jim Lahey, of no-knead bread making fame, offered up this twist on a Toll House cookie which I was instantly curious to try.  For those of you who know the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate chips bag by heart, you will note a striking difference here.  There is way more brown sugar than white and he uses baking powder and not soda.  What was going to happen?  I had to find out.  

Basically what you get is a cookie that puffs up while it bakes (left) and then sinks upon cooling (right) to become a crispy around the outside, chewy in the middle, bite of buttery, toffee-flavored deliciousness.  I urge you to give it a go.  It couldn’t be easier to make and there really is a difference in flavor, all for the butter, I mean better.  And even more importantly, the act of baking them brought me back from the edge where I was teetering very close to vigilante justice.  So the next time you don’t hear from me for awhile, check Riker’s Island.  Or remind me to put on my apron.
A snack always makes the blank page easier to face
I Missed You New Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Bon Appetit, March 2012
Printer friendly version

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and both sugars in a large bowl until well combined, 2–3 minutes. 

Add egg and vanilla; beat on medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. 
Add dry ingredients, reduce speed to low, and mix just to blend. Fold in chocolate chips.  
Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2" apart. 
Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until edges are golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Yield: 30 cookies