Dec 31, 2007

Random Ramblings #1

Dane Cook is not funny.

Not even slightly amusing. He paces around the stage, very animated, talks REAL LOUD, and periodically changes his intonation as if he was delivering a punch line. He has no such thing, but the audience laughs. I suspect it's psychological and a trained chimp making loud noises would have the same effect. I found a great parody of him on youtube.

Dec 28, 2007

Bombed Out

I own a number of odd, bizarre, or unexpected postcards. Among them a small set featuring bombed out European towns. Four of the five have a short text in German printed on the back, the fifth is French. There is no date, no writing on any of the cards, and I'm unable to discern to which on of the two world wars they are bearing witness. At first I assumed it was WWII, but the two uniformed figures in one of the cards seems more reminiscent of those of the first war. It is however blurred and I'm unable to tell for sure. WWI caused many deaths, but was this level of destruction possible with the limited level of aerial warfare of the time?
They make me wonder. What possessed people to make a series of postcards depicting the remains of these war-mauled places? Judging from the the numbers printed on them - on the front of the French one and on the back of the German ones - there were quite a few of them. Who made them? The victors or the losers, or both? What was their purpose? Bragging rights? Grim reminder? Cataloging? Who would buy such postcards and what would they do with them? Could you mail such postcard? What would you write on it, "Many greetings from bombed out Hazerbrouck"?

If anyone has answer to any of these questions, please let me know.

Dec 25, 2007

Gerbeaud (Zserbó)

Gerbeaud Slice is a signature pastry from the famous Gerbeaud Cafe in Budapest. I've been looking for a recipe for it online, but none of them was quite right. Finally I found a cookbook titled Koffeehaus - by Rick Rodgers - that solved my problem.



1 oz cake yeast or 3/4 tsp (ca 1 3/4 envelopes) active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm milk

3 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

14 tbs (1 3/4 sticks or 7 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled


1 cup ground walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup apricot preserves, warmed


3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tbs unsalted butter

Crumble yeast into the milk, let stand for 3 minutes, then stir. Add egg yolks and vanilla and mix.

Mix flour sugar, salt, add butter and mix till its texture is like coarse cornmeal. This can be done with food processor, or old school, by hand. Add the yeast mixture and work it together, adding more milk if necessary. Move to lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Consistency should be like cookie dough. Wrap in plastic and put in fridge for an hour.

Mix the walnuts and sugar together, set aside.

Butter and flour a 13x9-inch baking pan. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Roll out the first portion and use it to line the pan with. Spread half of the apricot preserves on it and sprinkle half the walnut mix on top of that. Roll out the second part of the dough and repeat the steps. Top with the third portion of rolled-out dough. Cover with clean kitchen towel and let it stand at a warm place for one hour. The dough will not rise noticeably, so don't be alarmed.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Pierce the top layer of dough well with fork. Bake till top is golden brown, 30-35 minutes.
Cool for 15 minutes before turning it out. Run and knife along the edges to loosen it. Put a large board or rack over the pan and turn them together upside down. The cake should slip out smoothly. Remove pan and cool the cake completely.

Make the icing: bring chocolate, sugar, water to a boil over medium heat, stirring consistently, for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, add butter, and stir till it melts. Cool it till it thickens, but is still pourable. This happens pretty fast, so don't set it asided, just keep stirring till it's ready. Pour it over the top of the cake and smooth it with a spatula. Do not bother working the chocolate down the edges. Refrigerate till icing sets.
Using sharp knife dipped in hot water trim the edges off and cut the cake to long rectangular slices.

Of course my cuts were all crooked and messy, not at all like they are in the cookbooks, but they taste just right.

Dec 23, 2007

Isabel Bru

Old postcards can be like a time-warp. This one is dated September 25, 1902. According to the caption the lady in the tight corset is Isabel Bru. I assume she must have been a fairly popular Spanish actress once.
It seems that back those days postcards weren't intended for carrying written messages. The entire back side of this one is dedicated to the address. On some other postcards I found indications that it cost more in postage if there was writing on the back, other than the address, but not the front. Whatever the reason, I have multiple postcards where the writing is on the front.

Banana Bread

All Around the World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins is the only cookbook that I own and use that has no pretty color photographs. I have a bad habit of buying cookbooks just for the pictures and then never using them. My New Year's resolution is to try out more new recipes.

Banana bread is an old favorite, it's very easy to make and it goes great with jam or coffee.

2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temprature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar*
6 large eggs
2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
3 ripe bananas, smashed
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350˚F. Butter a 9x5" loaf pan and lightly coat it with flour.
Mix the butter and brown sugar till smooth. (*This bread is not very sweet. If you like yours sweeter, add more sugar.) Add eggs one by one, mixing completely after each. This part is easiest if done with electric mixer.
Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt in a bowl and add to butter mixture little by little. Need to switch back to a wooden spatula for this part.
Add bananas and vanilla, mix well.
Pour batter into the baking pan. Bake till skewer inserted in middle comes out clean, ca 1.5 hours.
Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning it out.

Dec 16, 2007

Old House

This empty, abandoned house used to stand on the corner of Vineland and Kittridge. It had a surprisingly large piece of land around it, maybe as a throwback to earlier era of the neighborhood. Someone once told me that the area used to be all orange groves in the old days. The property was all fenced around, but there was a convenient hole on the fence. I was eyeing the place for weeks, and when I saw the For Sale sign put up I decided to get a move on. One afternoon I climbed through the fence to take some pictures. The house was smallish and rather quaint. There was a boarded up gazebo in the back, and another building, tool shed or garage maybe. Behind it I found an old work bench. There was graffiti on most walls.

Just a few weeks after I took the pictures, the house mysteriously burned down. I climbed through the fence again. The roof of the house was gone and part of the front wall too. I could see a white fire place in what must have once been the living room. However the pine trees and the big old weeping willows were still standing, barely touched by the fire. A few weeks later all of it - house, gazebo, trees - were bulldozed down. They were supposed to build a big apartment building on the spot, but the lot is still vacant.

Dec 8, 2007

The Valley

Finally gentrification has crept into The Valley, hit North Hollywood and started spreading. The whole neighborhood is a curious mixture of dilapidated old commercial buildings, furious new development, graffiti, and out of whack real estate prices.

Fuzzy Devil

1.5 oz Vodka
0.5 oz Pear Juice
0.5 oz Elderberry Flower Concentrate (IKEA sells it)

Combine with ice in a martini shaker and shake.

My friend Michele and I came up with this drink while on a 2 hour lay-over between a wedding and its reception. It was trial and error and we got good and smashed by the time we got to the reception. Good thing too, since the restaurant where it was held served sickly sweet candy martinis instead apple. Our concoction on the other hand came out great. Pear has nice mellow flavor and the the elderberry adds just a touch of floweryness.

Meat of the Old World

I was back in the old country some years ago. The biggest surprise was not how much it has changed, but how much it hasn't. It was nice to see that the world was not all homogenous yet. Among other things, this is a place still unabashedly carnivorous, where any food puritan who tried to ban foie gras would be tarred and feathered.