23 May 2012

"Cultivating solitude and fantasy"

Granta 119
Had the good fortune yesterday to attend a reading by Adam Foulds, author of The Broken Word and The Quickening Maze (for more info here's an interview he did with the Guardian). In response to one of the questions he described his writer's life as that of "cultivating solitude and fantasy" -- which I found immensely validating. I wanted to ask him more about how exactly he cultivates that solitude but I didn't get a chance. He was in Brussels as part of a promotional tour with Granta's online editor Ted Hodgkinson, held at Sterling Books. I told Mr Hodgkinson to please come back and bring more writers to Brussels! But also I am now mulling over the idea of approaching him to see if he'd be interested in, if he and/or Granta do another similar event, setting up a dinner with the author and Brussels-based writers afterwards...We had a great time meeting Jackie Kay a couple years ago. Am going to pick the brain of Martin on this...

Adam Foulds winning Costa Poetry Award for The Broken Word (credit)

07 May 2012

Marketing and Mjölnir

Had what turned out to be a seriously discouraging conversation the other day with another writer. Now I can't look at my embryonic manuscript without thinking how utterly unmarketable it is. I think of what I've been doing lately, so happily, and all I hear are echoes of the words I heard throughout my formative years.... That something is only worth doing if it makes money... Don't do X, there's no money in that....If you *have* to write, why don't you write one of those kind....  I thought I banished those echoes ages ago but apparently no, the little demons just went into hiding and were all too happy to pop back out when they saw their chance. 

A little like Thor, perhaps, thinking he was done with Loki. But the thing is, Thor may be done with Loki, but Loki is never done with Thor.

Maybe that's why Thor's hammer is such that it always finds a way back to Thor's hand, is so powerful that it will crush anything no matter how bad Thor's aim, and yet when he wants it can be so small that it can fit underneath his tunic.

I quite like that hammer-in-the-skirt idea. Must work on that.

Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor.

06 May 2012

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, Translated into Metrics

I haven't posted a recipe in a while. Truthfully, I haven't felt much like cooking. So I surprised myself by rising to the occasion last weekend and making a batch of cookies, and they turned out to be awesome. I had made this recipe before but this time it was truly the best I'd ever made. It was a shame that a couple dozen were slated to be taken to Helsinki's concert for the goûter afterwards. I really wanted them all to myself and so did the rest of us, frankly.

 I don't know why scales are not commonly used in baking in my home country. It is one of the best European inventions by far. Load everything up in a bowl and hit the "TARE" button for each new ingredient. No I don't know what TARE means but I don't care, in practice what it does is put the scale back down to zero so you can weigh something else. One of my most popular posts is How to Bake in American When You Live in Metric, where I give some basic exchanges (one 14½-oz can of chicken broth = 500 ml, for example, and 1 cup of white sugar = 200 g), so I thought I would translate this most classic of all American baked goods recipes for posterity.

With a bonus for Belgian residents: Belgian ingredient references!
adapted from smitten kitchen's leite's consummare chocolate chip cookie (but see also The Guardian's recent summary; both reference Jacques Torres)

250 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
185 grams light brown sugar (I use cassonade blonde Graeffe)
215 grams white sugar (granulated/caster/sucre fin cristallisé...)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (2 cuillère à café; or 10 ml)
260 grams type 00 flour (or white bread flour)
245 grams plain flour (farine patisserie)
1¼ teaspoon baking soda or a 6 grams
1½ teaspoon baking powder or 5 grams
1½ teaspoon salt  or 9 grams
100 grams (I use 1 package of Jacques/Callebaut chocolate chips)

Sift together the dry ingredients: the flours, the baking powder and baking soda, and the salt.

In a big mixing bowl, beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and light. Add the eggs one at a time, blending each completely. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Stir in the sifted dry ingredients a bit at a time. Get it all blended together but don't overmix.

Stir in the chocolate chips at the end.

Divide dough into thirds or fourths (your choice!) and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24, 36, some say up to 72 hours but I've had great results after waiting only 2 so who really knows. The theory is that the dough needs time to rest. In practice this a great way to make baking less onerous by breaking it into parts.... I often make the dough one day and bake the next, as then it doesn't seem so time-consuming. But this is all up to you.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180 C and use your preferred method of sheet baking (I line a metal cookie sheet with parchment paper, if you really must know). Place the dough in dollops - a good spoonful, for a decent but not too large cookie - and well-spaced apart. I can usually get a dozen on my standard-size cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes - do check! - and depending on your oven, you may need more. Cookies should be starting to turn golden brown, especially at the edges.

Let them cool on a wire rack until they're not so hot they burn your tongue!

They will keep for several days in an air-tight container, should they last that long.