Book Club Oscar Party.

emily-post Once my book club decided that Laura Claridge‘s biography of Emily Post was our next read, the emails between us started flying with almost more speed than usual.  We had already decided to meet on the twenty-second, not realizing that evening was the Academy Awards.

“We could do an Emily Post/Oscars hybrid theme for food,” Sarah wrote. “I’m not really sure what that means. Perhaps finger foods and a fancy drink or tea, and everyone should wear pearls.”

“I love cocktails and pearls,” Stephanie responded, adding, “and that’s kind of like a bachelorette party*, minus the cheesy condom shirts and the stop at Dick’s Last Resort, so yes!  This sounds perfect!”

We quickly started suggesting possible bite-sized snacks for the evening; I had been looking for an excuse to try out a recipe for gougères, so I used the get-together as the reason to give Dorie Greenspan‘s version a try — but if I had really been on top of things I would have dug out Ruth Reichl‘s recipe from Garlic and Sapphires, since book club had previously read her other memoir, Tender at the Bone.  Oh well.  I mean, I need little justification to make something warm with cheese, and Ms. Greenspan’s puffs came out wonderfully.  Next time, it’s Reichl all the way.

When we gathered at Sarah’s some of us were toting copies of Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners, ready to discuss etiquette, Oscar ensembles and Emily — though I feel like I have to tell you we spent more the time commenting on Kunio Kato.  Melissa valiantly tried to keep us on track during the commercial breaks, hurriedly addressing Ms. Post’s life and legacy, but really we were all too busy eating to contribute much to the conversation.

I am, of course, talking about myself when I say this.  In my defense: how eager would you be to review the contents of a book — no matter how much you enjoyed it — if there was Champagne, spanikopita, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a twirling Hugh Jackman to distract you?

That’s what I thought.

Gougères, from Dorie Greenspan
Makes about thirty-six puffs

½ cup whole milk
½ cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cups coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyère or Cheddar (or a mixture of smoked and regular cheese)

  1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375°.  Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid boil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan.  Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low and quickly start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon.  The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan.  Keep stirring — with vigor — another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough.  The dough should now be very smooth.
  3. Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or you can continue by hand).  Add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny.  Don’t be concerned if the dough falls apart — by the time the third egg goes in, the dough will come together again.  Beat in the grated cheese.  Once the dough is completed, it should be used immediately.
  4. Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between each mound of dough.
  5. Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back.  Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve the gougères piping hot as soon as they come from the oven.

Note:  You can shape the gougères and freeze them for up to 2 months before you bake them.  There’s no need to defrost the frozen puffs, just bake them a couple of minutes more.

* We’re planning a book club bachelorette party.  No one’s getting married — we just think it’ll be fun.  And funny.
Advertisements

Will She Make It In Time? (Or, Albany to Boston.)

albany-to-boston4.06 pm: My train is scheduled to leave in four minutes and Marcella is driving faster than the legal limit and I’m convinced I am going to miss it.

4.07 – 4.13 pm: Marcella pulls up to the train station’s front entrance and I jump out before she has even put the car in park.  I yell to her as I grab my bag out of the back seat, “Thank you so much, Marcella, but I’m sorry we can’t say goodbye properly,” and then I’m running through the station.  An attendant is making announcements about the departing trains — there are three of them and I can’t tell which one is mine so I barrel down the escalator.  When I reach the bottom I discover I’m on the wrong platform and take off running towards the stairs, which are off course at the opposite end.   Before I can make it there, I catch sight of the elevator and throw myself in.  As I’m jabbing the buttons with impatient fingers, another conductor sees me and asks what train I am trying to catch; when I tell him I’m Boston-bound, he walkies to the other platform, “I have a late arrival in black heading your way; hold the train.”  I want to kiss him, but instead I say “thank you” over and over until the elevator doors close.  The elevator takes forever and when I get out, yet another conductor is waiting for me.  “Right down here,” he says.  “They’re holding the train.”  As I run by, shouting my thanks over my shoulder, I see that Marcella has come to make sure I catch the train.  She shouts goodbye just before I catapult myself down another escalator; there’s third conductor waiting for me, and he slides the carriage door shut after I hop on.  The train is crowded and I consider just plopping down into the first available seat when I see, at the very end of the car, that there’s an unoccupied window seat and I dash toward it.  I have to stand on the armrest in order to stow my bag and jacket the overhead rack.  After I’m seated, one of the on-board conductors comes through the carriage to collect our tickets.  He asks me, “Are you our late arrival?”  I smile sheepishly, say yes, aware that I smell like the most unsavory combination of my breakfast (garlic bagel, lox, cream cheese) and my lunch (four-cheese macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad).  “I’m glad you were able to make it,” he says.  I nod vigorously, feeling droplets of sweat squeeze themselves out of my hair and into the collar of my sweater.  Sit back.  Try to breathe.

4.18 pm: This is the bumpiest train in the world and I am still out of breath.

4.35 pm: Not bumpy anymore, breathing normally again, perspiring still.

4.43 pm: Across the aisle from me is a young couple; she’s in a blue hooded University of Rhode Island sweatshirt, and he’s wearing a melon-and-white striped button-down.  They are cuddling but ignoring each other; she’s playing with her laptop and he’s copying something off of his BlackBerry and into a spiral notebook.  Outside the sun is starting to set and shining an orange-gold light on the barren trees and brush-covered ground.  Soon I’ll have to turn on the overhead light, and later I won’t be able to see anything that isn’t lit up.  For now, I can see wooden sheds housing a trio of John Deeres.  Their windshields reflect the sun and blind me.

4.50 pm: The conductor who asked me if I was the late arrival comes through the car, asking if anyone here is called Asia Smith.  Now I need to know who she is, and what she did.

trainspotting14.56 pm: Still too keyed up, even to read.  Pull up TiVo Desktop and start Trainspotting, which I haven’t seen since high school.  When I got to college, almost everybody — well, almost all the boys, anyway — had Trainspotting posters up in their rooms.

4.59 pm: The kid diagonally across from me is watching Madagascar, no headphones, at such a loud volume that I hear his film much more clearly than mine.  And we are stopped, for reasons unknown.

5.01 pm: Apparently we are about to switch onto a single track, but must wait our turn as there is a freight train currently coming through.

5.06 pm: Okay, I can’t do this with Trainspotting.  My volume is maxed out, my earphones are (disturbingly) only working in the left earbud, and the story isn’t nearly as effective with Ben Stiller yapping away in the background.  Switching to Eat Drink Man Woman, because at least then I can read it.  Besides, the opening sequence is amazing.  My favorite part is at the very end, stuffing the dumpling.  Oh, and we’re moving.

5.09 pm: I wish I had cleaver skills.  It would be helpful to have a cleaver, to develop said skills with.

5.17 pm: No sun above the horizon.  Getting dusky.  Just frozen-over marshes and naked trees, highways with cobalt-blue semis streaking by.

5.31 pm: I can’t even imagine not have functioning taste buds.  I’d rather give up an arm.  It would have to be my left, though.  Pittsfield, by the way.

from-the-train5.43 pm: Getting dark, everything’s got that grayish blue tinge, like being very far underwater.

5.46 pm: When Keith and I were in Shanghai, we encountered so many dishes with non-translatable names, or names that were lost in translation.  Some of these were delicious, and others were too terrifying to try.

5.58 pm: Almost completely dark, and the snow is glowing like under a blacklight.

6.17 pm: Solid black outside, don’t know for how long.  Imagine, living somewhere that the only light for miles would be from your porch, or your window?  Unfathomable to me.

6.34 pm: Something near me is squeaking, don’t know what but it sounds like mice.  Suddenly this train ride seems unbearably long.  I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight, without a dog on my head.

6.49 pm: Springfield.

7.05 pm: Still Springfield.

7.06 pm: Moving!  On the road (rails?) again…

7.08 pm: Done with Eat Drink Man Woman, and onto Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners.  The book group girls and I have been discussing it, and it appears as though no one is much enjoying this month’s book.  I had heard all of these rumblings before picking it up myself, but I’ve got to say I’m really enjoying it.  There’s not much, if any dialogue, but I still find it fascinating, mostly because a large chunk of it takes place near where I grew up in New York.

vauxhall-and-i7.20 pm: As more and more travelers walk past me to and from the café car, our carriage smells more strongly of hot dogs, something I’ve always loved.  (I think it is the Filipina in me.)  I refuse to give in, though I am fittingly listening to Morrissey’s “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get,” off of Vauxhall and I.

7.43 pm: I think it might be time for a little nap, though I’m hoping it will be one without dreams.  Lately I can’t get through the night without one, and they’re all so tiring, often involving me being chased by or running from The Law.

8.14 pm: Worcester.  No dreams yet, but the melon-and-white shirt is talking to someone on the phone about trading gold and the stock market.  It’s boring me back to sleep.

8.22 – 8.27 pm: Am awakened by a text message from Marcella.  A short period of frenetic texting ensures, the topic of which is our favorite of the weekend, aside from baking: boys.

loveless8.29 pm: I hate looking out the window and seeing my reflection.  Unrelated: time for some My Bloody Valentine, and back to Emily Post.

8.36 pm: Ashland Commuter Rail station… there are stretches of utter black in between stations but we’ll be at Framingham next, and there are far more lights all of a sudden.

8.50 pm: Framingham.  Apparently we are running early, and will arrive at South Station in about forty minutes.  How bizarre — even with my holding up the train in Albany and the delays on the way, we’ll be twenty minutes ahead of schedule.

8.58 pm: Reading Emily Post had given me an idea for another book group road trip — to Newport, to visit the Breakers.  I haven’t been since grade school, but I’ve always loved that sort of thing.  I can’t even conceive of living in such a house, and the Breakers was one of the Vanderbilts’ vacation homes, another concept I’ve trouble grasping sometimes.  What if you can’t get to your second house often?  I guess these are the problems of the idle rich.

9.04 pm: Wellesley Square Commuter Rail — getting closer and closer to home, and my bed.  The train is going by so slowly, and giving me plenty of time of examine the backs of many short and squat brick apartment buildings, and a Mobil station.

9.12 pm: Now riding alongside the highway, the same one Keith and I take to and from New York — I think it’s the Pike but I honestly don’t know.  We’re keeping pace with a shockingly white Mack truck.  How fast are we going?  How fast is he?  Am I wrong to assume it’s a man behind the wheel?  I don’t know anyone personally who would enjoy the profession, male or female, but I still want to lean out the window and call over to the driver, “Where are you going, where have you been?”

9.20 pm: Slowly going through Allston before coming to a stop directly in front of the New Balance building.  Just got off the phone with my dad, who was calling to make sure Keith would be picking me up at South Station.  He’s very old-fashioned, my dad, and was quite disconcerted when he heard I was going away for the weekend without Keith.  My father finds it hard to believe that his daughter, or young women in general, are capable of doing certain things without the aid or company of men.

9.25 pm: I’m at a point in the Emily Post book that takes place almost exactly one hundred years ago and it is utterly fascinating.  I’ve always said that if and when time travel is invented, I’d love to go back to New York and spend a few days during each of the huge, history-making eras; the Gilded Age is definitely on the list.

9.26 pm: Back Bay.  Time to pack it up.

9.35 pm: South Station.  And soon, home!

Valentine’s Visit, or Boston to Albany.

boston-to-albany11.51 am: Very crowded train, surprisingly so.  Don’t have a window seat, sadly, but hopefully my very nice neighbor is getting off before me so I can shift over.  The window seat is highly desired real estate, which its advantage of both privacy and sockets, meaning I can watch one of the silly movies I downloaded onto my laptop from the TiVo without anyone seeing my predilection for romantic comedies.  For now, I suppose, it’s just me and Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners.

11.56 am: And we’re off.

11.59 am: Back Bay.

12.03 pm: It is a gorgeous day, the kind that makes me wish I was either running around outside, or at home, asleep on the sofa.  On an unrelated note, the conductor just announced he’s expecting it to be an extremely crowded train.  Have my hopes for an eventual window seat been thoroughly dashed?

12.00 pm: Another conductor on the intercom now.  Apparently what I am on, this train, is only the “Massachusetts extension,” which will connect with the “New York extension” in Albany, therefore tripling its entire length before heading out to Chicago.  How fascinating — this train is like the necklace of snap-on beads I had as a girl.

12.13 pm: Oh no.  My neighbor is disembarking at Albany too.  It appears as though I am destined for a windowless ride.

12.22 pm: I think I might be onto something here.  The couple sitting in front of me is getting off somewhere initialed SPB.  Where could that be?  Is it before ALB?  If it is, I am totally getting that window seat.

12.24 pm: Framingham.  We have just passed a bar called The Happy Swallow.  I love it.

12.37 pm: When I was younger, I was hooked on a series of books called The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, which were reissued recently with horrible new cover art.  Regardless of their outward appearance, the books were about a girl from our world who gets transported (long story) to another full of magic, mystery and unicorns; whenever we went on long car trips, I would imagine I was instead riding a unicorn.  This didn’t make the ride any shorter, but it was fun nevertheless.  Oh, and my unicorn was solid black with white stockings and a perfectly symmetrical blaze in the center of his forehead, from which his silver horn would emerge.  He didn’t have a name, by the way.  I used to just call him My Unicorn.

12.42 pm: Passing a frozen marsh with sleeping trees sticking out of the ice like needles on a porcupine’s back, if the porcupine had the mange.  You know, I’ve never seen a porcupine in real life and don’t know if they can even get the mange, but let’s just say they can.

12.47 pm: Depressing-looking warehouse on a shabby rust-colored parcel of land.

12.54 pm: Worcester.  How did that word ever start getting pronounced Woosta?

1.04 pm: I am getting sleepy but I’m scared that if I give in to my tiredness, I will lose the opportunity to swap seats.  But my eyelids are so heavy.

1.11 pm: Woods, ice-covered hills, sheep and horses whose steaming breath I can imagine casting shadows in the sun.

1.24 pm: All right, I’m going to sleep.  For the record, Emily Post didn’t do this to me; I find the book very interesting, and am really looking forward to chatting about it at book club next weekend.  My drowsiness has more to do with my going to bed past two and waking up at seven.

2.00 pm: Apparently we are coming up to Springfield, which is supposedly what SPB stands for.  I must pounce on those seats.

2.04 pm: Ah, a window, how lovely.

2.08 pm: Springfield, under a sky streaked with clouds.

iq2.12 pm: I’m watching I.Q., which I remember enjoying very much when I was in high school.  It’s about Einstein and love — what’s not to like?  Plus, there is a quartet of elderly men who speak in Germanic accents…  fantastic.

2.17 pm: Moving again, this time over water, via a bridge of course.  How strange would it be if suddenly the train could levitate, or operate over water?

2.24 pm: The kid who took my former seat is 1) a loud talker who 2) must be on the phone at all times.  I’ve got I.Q. on at maximum volume and yet I have more of a handle on this kid’s girl issues than I do on Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan.

2.32 pm: Apparently, the kid behind me wants to go to a party tonight with a certain girl, who has told him that she would like to go, but won’t because she only can stay for fifteen minutes.  He thinks this is a lie and is frustrated.  There is also something about eleven dollars, but I need to hear more before I can fully understand the problem.

2.42 pm: The kid is off the phone!

2.43 pm: The kid is back on the phone.  He kind of wants to see “that movie with Drew Barrymore.”

2.55 pm: The kid is picking up Kaylie at 4.30, after which they will go to dinner.  Then, they’re going to meet up with Steph and Rob and go to either He’s Just Not That Into You or Friday the Thirteenth, depending on what’s showing at the more convenient time.

3.03 pm: A bit of a waterfall, one that looks like it would be fun to raft.  After my maiden rafting voyage, I got off the river with a black eye, my very first.  I wore it like a badge, a brooch, a medal.  It was a great time.

3.17 pm: I’ve lost track of how many abandoned or abandoned-looking buildings we’ve passed.  What could they all have been for?  What were they full of, and why?  And why were they left to fall into disrepair?  How much have those windows seen, or those walls, or each brick?

3.23 pm: There is an adorable little baby on the train, maybe something like two years old.  I can’t remember how many times the people who I can only assume are his parents have walked him up and down the car aisle.  Honestly, until he passes, I’ve forgotten he’s even in this carriage because he’s so quiet and mid-mannered, unlike most babies.  He just walked up to me and placed his hand gently on my thigh.  Very forward.  His mother, quite young, gasped and said, “I knew he was a flirt, but this is ridiculous!”  He’s so adorable, his cheekiness is completely excusable.

3.33 pm: I have noticed that the kid on the phone says the word okay as though it has three syllables and not just two.  Oh-kay-ay.

3.40 pm: It’s always a little awkward when a person by herself, such as me, starts to giggle uncontrollably to herself, as I am doing right now.   Oh, romantic comedies!  Unrelated: Meg Ryan’s got this killer black and white dress in this film that I would happily wear today, tomorrow, forever.

3.46 pm: Pittsfield, where there is much more snow than in Boston.

chloe-audrey-amelias-butt3:53 pm: Marcella just sent me a picture of three of the dogs currently at her house.   At first, I think the photo is only of Chloe the Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix and Audrey the yellow Lab.  Upon second glance, I realize Amelia Bedelia the Peke-a-poo is in the photo too; it’s her curly butt visible next to Audrey.  Not pictured, Nathan and Niña, the Daschunds.

3.59 pm: Finished I.Q., back to Emily Post.

4.06 pm: I don’t think I would like to live so close to the train tracks as some of these houses.  It’s not so much the noise, which would undoubtedly irritate me most nights, but instead the thought of possibilities passing by.  People en route to a place which is not here, and all that — this would be unbearable.  We also just flew by six houses, completely identical in every fashion except for color, by which I mean different shades of white: stark white, creamy white, blueish white, yellowed white, pinky white, greenish white.  This is near Austerlitz, New York, by the way; now we’re running parallel to the Thruway, which makes me think, What did this all look like, before we put our irremovable stamp on it? Though there are patches thickly covered in trees, I don’t think that makes it any easier to imagine this land covered with nothing but.  There are traces of us everywhere, and by that I mean barbed fences, litter and oxidized signs nailed to the occasional trunk.

apartment-life4:11 pm: Now listening to Ivy’s “Get Out of the City” off of Apartment Life, all of which is apropos (which is one of my all-time favorite words, along with vermillion, ecclesiastical and cacophony).

4.19 pm: Passing by another series of warehouses.  Each window has been smashed.  By whom?  When?  These are questions I will never know the answer to.

4.24 pm: Not that I’ve been spying on her or anything, but the woman sitting across from me has been staring ad her face reflected in a compact mirror for something like fifteen minutes.  She’s not putting on lipstick or retouching her eye shadow — she’s just staring.

4.33 pm: A field with snow melted on it in such a way it looks like glaze on a cupcake.  I wonder if any rabbits live there.

4.37 pm: We have stopped, for reasons unknown.  The last time I took the train to Albany we stopped just outside the city as well, but because buffalo were crossing the tracks and refused to pick up the pace.

4.44 pm: Moving again.  No buffalo though, that I can see.

4.50 pm: I’m here…!