Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bacon as Metaphor for Joie de Vivre

Today's post is a photo essay that I like to think captures one creature's longing for meaning in life.  In the case of this little soul, bacon is life, and thus the longing for bacon is tantamount to man's yearning for that something special...that existential purpose...that joie de vivre.

I think the title of this post is going to be the title of the next paper I write to present at a conference.  I can make an entire PowerPoint chronicling Odie's eternal struggle to satisfy her lust for bacon.  I smell a jury prize at the AAR next year.

"Do I smell bacon...I am pretty sure I smell bacon..."

"I'm sure of it...I know you have bacon but
you are hiding it from me!"

"Anguish...what is life if not for the bacon?" said Odie, this
time in a French accent.

Whitny's Blood, Sweat & Tears Blackberry Flavor Extravaganza Turnovers

One of the biggest perks of living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the shadow of Yosemite National Park is around this time every year wild blackberries start growing like weeds.  And what choice does a girl have but to go out and pick them and then turn them into golden buttery fruit-filled baked goodness.

So how do you get the berries on the vine from plump purple cluster to warm gooey filling in a puff pastry?  Well the first thing you need is a good berry picking partner...I have this little bundle of red fur fluff below as my sidekick.

This is Ling...she cares nothing for blackberries and would
much rather hang out on the porch than trudge through the

There are a couple of things you need to know about wild blackberry picking...the first is that only pluck the berries that are so purple they are practically black and look like they are about to burst and the second thing you need to know is that if you get to a berry patch and find that there is a black bear already picking berry clusters there...just walk away.  The average black bear eats 35 lbs of blackberries a day in the fall and in order to meet that quota they aren't afraid of taking a swing at some greedy human intent on a blackberry snack.

After you have collected your blackberries put them in a bowl and wash them.  Of course you should probably first go wash out your wounds.  Blackberry vines are spiteful horrible plants with spines on them that basically tear you to shreds...much in the same way a cornered alley cat would...and leave you looking like you have just crawled through trenches lined with concertina wire.  

Once you have bandaged your wounds and washed your berries it is time to inspect them.  You need to make sure that each berry is totally ripe, otherwise it will give your pastry filling a sour bitter taste.

I find that retiring to one's study is the ideal environment for
examining your blackberries and of course wearing a smoking
jacket only enhances the experience.  Sadly my smoking
 jacket was at the dry cleaners.   

Why inspect the blackberries?  You want to avoid the berries that look like this one pictured below.  They may be pretty but those little ruby colored drupelets (Yes, that is what they are called...drupelets.  It might be my new favorite word) are still ripening and thus have either a bitter or sour taste and can ruin your whole pastry filling with their potent flavor.

Word of the day:  Drupelets

Once you have inspected each of the berries put them in a colander and rinse them once more to make sure you have washed away all of the "nature" from the berries.  

After examining each berry I would say this is one awesome
haul...totally worth all of the shredded skin on my extremities.

Then take your berries to the kitchen and prepare everything you need for baked berry ooey gooey goodness.

I like to lay all of the measured ingredients out ahead of time.

Whitny's Blood, Sweat & Tears Blackberry Flavor Extravaganza Turnovers

  • 1 cup of fresh organic blackberries picked with your own two hands
  • Rolled out puff pastry dough 
  • Half a package of cream cheese (or 4 ounces to be precise)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice squeezed from a lemon (none of that bottled stuff)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • 2 teaspoons of washed cane sugar

Throw the cream cheese, egg yolk, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and lemon into the mixer and attach the big paddle to whip all of this confectionary goodness into submission. 

While the cream cheese and other components are being beaten and battered (but in a good way) in the Kitchenaid mixer go ahead and take the egg and water you had set out and whisk them together into an egg wash.  What is the egg wash for?  The egg wash creates that crackle-laquer finish on the top of croissants and other pastries and gives the pastry dough its flaky goodness when baked.  You will use the egg wash and a little pastry brush to gently paint the pastry dough with the egg wash before you put the tray of pastries in the oven.  

Use a roller to flatten out your pastry dough and then cut it into squares.  I cut these in about 3.5 by 3.5 inch squares and then painted the edges with the egg wash.

Now that you have your pastry dough squares cut and the edges painted with the egg wash go ahead and take the cream cheese and sugar filling from the Kitchenaid mixer and use a spoon to measure out a dollop of the filling and drop it in the center of the pastry dough square.  Then find three or four cute little berries in the big bowl of berries and place them in the cream cheese filling.  Then take another square of the pastry dough and place it on top of the bottom sheet of dough with the cream cheese and berry filling and press down on the edges creating little pastry pillows.  Then seal them by using a fork to create a border around the edges.  

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and then get a stick of butter and some flour and rub the butter all over the pan you are going to place the pastry squares on.  Then sprinkle four all over the oven sheet with the butter.  This may seem like a waste of time in a world where most people just spray pans and baking sheets with Pam or some sort of synthetic butter-flavored lubricant.  But Whitny Braun uses real butter.  If you love yourself, if you love your family, if you love will use BUTTER!  Because butter brings makes people better.  

Now place the pastry pockets about an inch or two apart on the buttered and floured pan and then get that egg wash out again and paint the top of the turnovers.  Then get a handful of sugar in the raw and sprinkle it gingerly over the top of the pastry dough.  The sugar will cling to the egg wash like glitter sticks to Elmer's school glue in a grammar school art project.  Place an adorable little blackberry on top  of each of the turnovers and then pop those bad boys in the pre-heated oven! 

Wait twenty minutes or so...and then...wait for it...

Voila!  You have piping hot, delicious turnovers that will rock your world

Now if you find that you have leftover berries as I did...there still more you can do them!  I decided to make syrup...because who doesn't like blackberry syrup on waffles, french toast, on your toothbrush in the morning, who cares?  Blackberry syrup is just delicious.  It's like the nectar of the gods if the gods lived in Coulterville, California.

This mixture pictured above is just 4 cups of blackberries, 1 cup of raw sugar, 1 egg white, 1/4 cup of tapioca and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Stir it with a big wooden spoon and let it sit for a while and allow the berries and sugar and lemon juice to sort of dissolve into a blackberry soup.  Then pour it in a saucepan and bring it to a slow boil reducing it down to a thick rich sauce and then strain out the seeds.  Strain it a few times so that you have a totally clear liquid and your end product will be this delicious elixir of blackberry goodness pictured below...

So there you have Blood, Sweat & Tears Blackberry Flavor Extravaganza Turnovers and syrup concoction recipes.  So you may have your Connecticut estate full of blueberries and cranberries Martha Stewart and you may invite the who's who of international high society out to the "farm" to harvest them...but I, I have Ling the dog and a colander!  It's really only a matter of time before I get my own magazine and holiday television special...only instead of "Martha Stewart: Living" mine would be called "Whitny Braun: Mediocre Living".  I have a gut feeling its going to be all the rage.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Most Intelligent Cat in the World

This is my cat Maxwell J. Peanut and there is really only one word to describe him...magnificent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cattle Country at Sunset

There is just something about this picture that makes me feel like a Ford F-150 or a Chevy Silverado should come pulling into frame and then either John Mellancamp or Bob Seager and the Silver Bullet Band should start playing. There's just something about this pictures that exudes "Americaness".  I call this composition, "The American Road" or "Backdrop for Detroit Vehicle Commercial".  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cindy Lou Who Restores One Cynic's Faith In Humanity at Local Bank

This week I experienced a first, something I never thought would come to pass in my lifetime…something so incredible that when I tell you what it is it was will sound so oxymoronic, so improbable you will most likely scoff at the words you are reading on the screen, minimize this page in disgust and go back to watching one of the “Real Housewives” shows or playing World of Warcraft.  Well boys and girls, are you ready to hear something so astounding you’ll file it away in the “impossible” category along with things like free lunches and a sensible but stylish shoe?  Here it goes…brace yourself…and don’t say I didn’t warn you:  Today, I had a heartwarming experience in which my faith in humanity was restored…AT THE BANK!

If you haven’t blurted out a colorful expletive from a bygone era, like “Poppycock!” or “Balderdash” or my personal favorite, “Blather and bilskate” by now and slammed your laptop shut in outrage then I figure that right about this point you are asking yourself, “But Whitny, how on earth is this possible?  Aren’t banks soul-sucking, bone crunching leviathans that prey upon the hopes and dreams of hard-working men and women?”

Well, yes…I am not arguing that for the vast majority of us our only experiences with banks involve hours spent on hold trying to navigate an automated phone tree and overdraft protection fees and loopholes in the fine print which allow them to foreclose on our homes…however, today I saw something at the bank that sweet and pure and reminded me that there are still some young people out there who believe in the ideas of hard work and the American dream.

As I approached the bank teller’s counter I saw an adorable petite blonde girl, vaguely reminiscent of Cindy Lou Who from the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas who was apparently celebrating her 18th birthday by taking her life’s savings to the Bank of America in Sonora and opening her very first savings account.  Apparently Bank of America requires a $25 minimum to open an account and so this sweet girl was there to dump her life’s savings in the form of a pile of coins from a Jansport backpack on the bank’s counter.

This pretty much captures the essence of the girl at the bank.

Now my cynical mind immediately assumed that the bank teller, an elderly woman in a collared kitten sweater, would be irritated by the idea of manually counting out each and every coin in the pile that would ultimately amount to what is a trivial sum in Bank of America’s coffers.  But shocker of all shockers…she wasn’t annoyed in the least!  She didn’t laugh at the young girl’s paltry savings or roll her eyes in disgust…no, no…she actually happily pulled out a deposit slip, a bunch of paper wrapper to put the coins in and proceeded to painstakingly slide each penny, nickel, dime and quarter across the counter, counting them with as much care and concern as a Goldman Sachs accountant inventorying a billion dollar hedge fund.

Now the cuteness and heartwarming goodness didn’t stop there.  The collared kitten sweater-wearing elderly bank teller began counseling the young pony-tailed girl on the different programs the bank had in place to help you grow your wealth and again I was waiting for cynicism to seep into the situation.  But again, it didn’t!  The little teenage girl listened enthusiastically and shared her plans with the bank teller to save up for a pick-up truck that was for sale at the auto body shop down the street so that she could drive herself to the restaurant where she was a waitress and in the fall drive herself to community college.

As I stood behind these two national treasures, these two gems of Americana, these two “real Americans” (as any politician running for office would call them)…I felt like the Grinch in that scene where suddenly the ice melts off his heart as he hears all the Whos down in Whoville singing “Da-ho-dooray”. 

And this was me after watching this little interchange...

Yes, oh yes, And the Whitny, with her Whitny-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And she puzzled and puzzled ’till her puzzler was sore. Then the Whitny thought of something she hadn’t before. What if Christmas (the American dream), she thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas (the American dream), perhaps, means a little bit more. 

So anyway, as I sit here on a Sunday afternoon writing on my blog I find that I am a little less cynical, a little less jaded, a little less likely to roll my eyes at the idea that there are still some people out there in this great nation of ours who don’t think of hard work, modest means and learning from your elders as old fashioned values.  Apparently there are some people still out there that just see all those things as a way of life.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Thanks for the listening.