Like many things, I suspect that the kind of bagel one likes is the kind of bagel one had as a child. According to the various articles that have come to me as I trawl the internet, there are two kinds of bagels: the good ones, and the bad ones. The New York Times, unsurprisingly, takes as fact that the New York Bagel (whatever that is) is the standard to aspire to. But worry not, as apparently there are also bagels in places like Montreal and the Bay Area that will serve in a pinch.

Personally, I guess I am a bit of a bagel heathen: I always preferred the somewhat fluffy type of bagel found at a place like Noah’s over the “better” kind–which, as far as I can tell, is just denser. (This is judging by the bagels from the NYTimes-heralded Beauty’s.) I have, however, always liked homemade bagels, of any variety. The first recipe I tried was from somewhere on the internet; I thought it was the NYTimes (again) but I can’t find it now. Recently, though, I’ve made the recipe from Reinhardt’s book a few times and it has always been wonderful. The bagel is more of the New York style, and I think it is my favorite so far–so I guess home-cooked trumps regional prejudices yet again.

[Again from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day]

Dough [makes 8 bagels] (I always do this by weight)

1 Tbsp (20 g) barley malt syrup or honey
1 tsp (3 g) yeast
1.5 tsp (11 g) salt
1 Cup + 2 Tbsp (250 g) water
3.5 Cup (450 g) flour

Poaching Liquid (I don’t do this by weight)

2 to 3 quarts water (I don’t measure, just fill up at least 4″ of a big pot)
1.5 Tbsp barley malt syrup or honey
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Combine the dough in a large bowl and mix. Then mix some more, kneading some if you like, until well combined. You want to develop the gluten a bit here, but we’re not going to do any of that stretch-and-fold stuff that Reinhardt normally calls for (he doesn’t here). Cover and let rise for one hour, then refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 500 F. Separate the dough into 8 pieces. For each piece, roll into a rope-shape (Anna likes to insert raisins + cinnamon here) and them wrap around your hand and squish the ends together. Roll it off your fist and you’ve got a bagel!

Fill the poaching pot with (cold) water. Put one bagel in it, and if it floats you’re ready to go. If it doesn’t, wait 20 minutes and try again. Bring the water to a boil (without the bagels in it), then add the honey, soda, and salt to the water. Boil the bagels one minute per side (I can do 4 at a time in our pot). Put the bagels on a greased or oiled and parchment lined baking sheet–you really need the oil or it will stick to the parchment paper. I put them in the same orientation that I first put them into the poaching pot, as I think it looks a little nicer, but it really doesn’t make a difference.

Put them in the oven, lower the heat to 450 F, and bake for about 14 minutes. If they get too black on the bottom, but an empty baking sheet on a rack beneath the main sheet (mine always require this).

I’ve done up to 50% whole wheat successfully (and haven’t tried higher), with slightly more water, and they come out (unsurprisingly) somewhat denser. I once used barley malt syrup when I had some left over from a beer brewing (more on that later!), and didn’t notice a difference from the honey bagels–but I also used 50% whole wheat that time, and that difference probably swamped the difference in sugars.


Tomatoes and Poppies!

I may have gotten a little carried away.  This spring I tried an experiment of planting tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seeds under plastic gallon milk containers in the garden.  You see, I have a very bad history of killing seedlings started in the house, either from neglect or overabundant watering, so I thought I would try to create a greenhouse environment outside where I would remember to actually water the seedlings regularly.  I planted 9 seeds of something per mini-greenhouse (milk jug), thinking that the process was probably flawed in some way and that I might get one plant in the end that didn’t die from something or other (I’d read that tomato and pepper seeds can be hard to germinate).  Unfortunately the mini-greenhouses worked almost perfectly, leaving me with 4-8 leggy seedlings per jug that I needed, all of a sudden, to find room for.  The craziness has mostly died down now that I’ve pulled out almost everything else in the garden to make room for them.  The count?  8 tomato plants, 5 red bell pepper plants, 8 pimiento sweet red pepper plants, 4 tomatillo plants, and hopefully a couple poblano peppers as well.  Not to mention the fact that there may be some jalapeños and serranos in a couple of weeks.  Peter is, as you might imagine, ecstatic at the prospect of there being less room for cucumbers and their ilk.  I, on the other hand, have started panicking about where I will plant my summer melon seeds.  There may be a pepper-melon-off at some point, but as Peter has started doing the majority of the watering (while I do the digging, planting, transplanting, and weeding) he has the upper hand.  For now.

In other news, the summer squash plants already have large buds on them, which worries me slightly.  I don’t know if I was quite prepared for zucchini season to start in April.  At least the sweet pea blossoms are still doing their heavenly scented thing and the poppy seeds I planted in the fall are beginning to flower the most lovely, large, and delicate flowers.  How the poppy seeds migrated to various places in the flower bed when I planted them within two square feet of each other is still a mystery.

Parmesan Crusted Butternut Squash

For those people who enjoy the juxtaposition of creamy and crunchy, I present to you Parmesan and breadcrumb crusted butternut squash.  I realize everyone is dreaming about tomatoes this time of year.  Don’t worry, I am too (my plants have tiny FLOWER BUDS ON THEM).  But there was this butternut squash in my cabinet that just wouldn’t disappear on its own.  I know because every time I ignored it and reached past it for the sweet potatoes it just looked at me with its bulbousness and cute little stem, as though asking “when will you want to eat me???”  Finally, after much vegetable guilt, I decided I could do one more winter squash dish, as long as it meant I could try another recipe from Plenty.  Being a vegetable cookbook, Plenty has an entire chapter on squash, just in case I wasn’t plagued by procrastination and indecision before.  The recipe for crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream sounded particularly appealing, so here is my lightly adapted butternut squash version minus the sour cream sauce.

Parmesan Crusted Butternut Squash
1 medium butternut squash (skin on)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon crushed dried parsley (or more fresh)
1 teaspoon minced dried sage leaves (or less if finely ground)
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper (remember the Parmesan is quite salty)
Olive oil for brushing over butternut squash slices

Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.  Cut the butternut squash into slices about 1/2 inch thick and distribute in a single layer on a parchment paper-line baking sheet.  Use your finger (or a pastry brush) to lightly coat the top and bottom of each slice of butternut squash with olive oil.  Mix together the Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, sage, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Sprinkle the Parmesan mixture onto the butternut squash slices.  Bake the squash slices for 30 minutes or until nice and tender.  The Parmesan mixture should get crunchy and smell delicious.  Eat warm.

Madeleines Part Deux

Remember that nearly-useless madeleine pan I have?  Well it may be about to get a lot less useless because I have finally discovered a madeleine recipe worth staying up until midnight to make.  It involves browned butter, vanilla, and the zest of an entire lemon.  And when I say these madeleines are like moist little heavenly scented cake, I’m not just trying to make you jealous that you didn’t find this recipe first.  I swear.  If you come to visit Peter and I, we can whip up a batch.  I’ll try not to burn the butter, and you can try not to eat all the madeleine batter when my back is turned.  The only thing I find frustrating about madeleines is how darn good they taste straight out of the oven, requiring all my self-control not to eat the whole batch myself (by midnight Peter was passed out upstairs, so I didn’t even have cookie-glomming backup).

The recipe for these madeleines can be found in many places, but I stumbled upon it on 101 Cookbooks.  I’ve transcribed it here for my own records along with rewritten instructions detailing my failings with butter browning.  Enjoy!

Browned Butter Madeleines
(Makes 2-3 dozen cookies)
3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup white sugar
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and flour for dusting the madeleine pan
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on the baked cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small pot melt the 3/4 cups butter over medium heat and cook for ~15 minutes until browned.*  Pour the browned butter through a fine mesh strainer lined with a paper towel to catch all the browned butter solids.  Set the butter aside to cool as you put the rest of the ingredients together.
  3. Butter and flour the madeleine pan.  Try to get all the tiny cracks if possible.
  4. Break the eggs into a bowl with the pinch of salt and beat with electric beaters using a whisk attachment for about 2 minutes until doubled or tripled in volume.
  5. Slowly add the sugar to the egg mixture, whipping constantly.
  6. Keep whipping the egg mixture another two minutes or so until thickened.
  7. Set aside the electric beaters, grab a bowl scraper, and fold in the vanilla and lemon zest into the egg mixture.
  8. Now add the flour to the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold in.
  9. Finally, add the cooled browned butter to the egg mixture and fold in until just incorporated.
  10. Fill each shell indentation in the madeleine pan about 3/4 of the way full.
  11. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
  12. When the cookies come out of the oven, remove them from the madeleine pan immediately (and very carefully) and cool on a cookie sheet.
  13. Cover the cooled cookies with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Or dip them in chocolate.  Or both.

*For those of you who haven’t browned butter before, I was extremely lucky with mine because it got all foamy so that I couldn’t see what was going on and I took it off the heat just in time.  The butter will smell nutty and incredibly delicious when it’s done, so pay attention to your nose and the pot.

Hawaii, Part 3

After exploring the north side of the Big Island, we headed south towards a stunning string of waterfalls.  The north-east side of the Island is exactly what I imagined Hawaii would look like: a rainforest of big intensely green plants.  There was plenty of backtracking in the car to drive down little one-way roads at 20 Mph while we gawked at the scenery, windows down to breathe in that humid forest air.  And every once in a while, when we reached a waterfall, we’d actually get out of the car to take a look.  Favorite falls: Akaka Falls (for sheer drama alone).  Falls with the most segments: Umauma Falls (3 segments).  Falls where you actually have a chance to climb up to the top and scramble around rocks (although we didn’t have time to do this ourselves, it looked extremely popular): Rainbow Falls (right outside Hilo, also check out Boiling Pots down the road).

The day ended at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we arrived just in time to take a short hike through more tropical forest and a field of steam vents smelling strongly of sulfur.  Less dramatic than Yellowstone, but at least Hawaii has an active volcano to even the playing field.  We stayed in Volcano village, literally a mile from the national park entrance.  I comforted myself that if the volcano exploded in the night, nowhere on that side of the island would be safe, so there wasn’t any point staying 20 min further away.  At least we were able to arrive back at the park early enough the next morning to start on the KÄ«lauea Iki crater hike before most of the tourists (and before it go too hot).  The hike takes you around and down one of the older craters so that you can walk across a bed of solidified lava.  Of course the steam vents across the crater bed made me wonder if it was more of a “dead” crater, but since I noticed a number of scientific instruments stuck into the rock, I figure someone’s keeping an eye on things… right???

After the crater hike we walked through Thurston lava tube, drove down Chain of Craters Road, and ended up at the bottom of the mountain by the ocean where you could see the cooled lava beds falling into the ocean.  Seven miles down the coast one could clearly see the steam/poison plumes of hot lava flowing into the ocean.  As awesome as it would be to hike to the active lava flow, there are a couple serious problems.  First, during the day, it is absurdly hot, exacerbated by the fact that you are walking on black rock.  Second, the black lava rock you are walking on is uneven, has huge cracks in it, and is sharp as glass.  Third, the area where the lava flows into the ocean is highly unstable, and huge pieces of “new land” break off and fall into the ocean without warning (so don’t go too near the ocean cliffs).  Fourth, if you decide to do the hike at night to get around the first problem, you will not be able to clearly deal with the second and third problems due to lack of light.  The only good thing about doing the hike at night is that you can more clearly see the lava flows.  And, if you’re ballsy, you can take the 4 mile route from the other direction over private land.

The day ended with a glimpse of reflected lava lake light in the main KÄ«lauea crater.  During the day you can only see steam (poisonous gas) from the lava lake just below your line of sight, but at night, the steam glows red from the lava.  It’s pretty spectacular.  If my camera battery hadn’t died earlier in the day I would’ve taken pictures, I promise.

Hawaii, Part 2

On our first official day of vacation, my travel companion and Hawaii guide (another astronomer) and I drove to the northern side of the big island to visit a black sand beach a short hike from the Pololu Valley lookout. Not only is the lookout stunning, with cliff after cliff of lush tropical forest rising from the ocean below, but the hike down to the black sand beach offers even better vantage points, until at the bottom you find yourself in a forest of sorts looking out onto a beach of black, grey, and red rocks worn smooth by the relentless pounding waves.  These rocks (of volcanic origin) are eventually ground into a fine black sand.  This is not a beach for swimming, but for looking and walking, trying not to re-sprain your ankle on the very unstable rock beach surface, for sitting and staring at waves, cliffs, and that crazy person who thought they could surf here.

After a black sand beach morning, we hit up Bamboo, a Thai/Hawaiian restaurant, and the homemade ice cream parlor across the street.  Feeling very belly-full, we drove to a place that will forever be the location of my first successful snorkel-swim (Mahukona Beach Park).  I had never seen so many beautiful fish in such crystal clear water before in the wild.  You could literally look off the dock and see bright yellow fish darting about.  Unfortunately, being fin-less (and thus unable to swim quite so quickly out of the ocean currents), I wasn’t brave enough to check out the shipwreck farther offshore.  This disappointment was short-lived, as at the next snorkel spot (Kapa’a Beach Park, unfortunately too advanced for me) we saw probably 8 humpback whales spraying water into the air, flipping their very impressive tails, and generally accumulating a human posse on the beach and in the water (my astronomer friend tried to go snorkel with them, but the whales were too far away).

Hawaii, Part 1

It was a busy week.  A couple Saturdays ago I caught a 5:30am flight from California to Kona, Hawaii (the big island) following what ended up being the worst night of sleep in recent memory.  I flew to Hawaii to observe on the Keck Telescopes, which means after a day of flying and a three hour time-change, I still had to stay up until midnight to ease into a nocturnal existence.  That’s 3am PST, and on 2 hours of sleep you might forgive me that my first day in Hawaii was a blur.  What I do remember is the surprisingly desolate landscape around Kona and some unbelievably beautiful beaches.  And what else does one do to stay awake but go swimming?  A snorkel was bought, tested, and quickly abandoned due to persistent waves, but I was perfectly content floating in the ocean staring at the cloudy sky (because in Hawaii, my friends, you can still go swimming when the sun don’t shine).

The food was good too, I might add.  Being friends with Italians has its benefits, number one being that they know where to find good food.  I was prepared to put up with normal observing fare, which generally consists of anything that comes pre-made from a grocery store or that can be cooked in under 15 minutes, but oh no, even the little town of Weimea (from which we do our observing) has multiple good restaurants and at least one funky coffee shop.  Saffron, Marriman’s (for lunch), and Weimea Coffee Company (two words: coconut macaroons) are all worth frequenting.

Unfortunately the mountain weather did not cooperate, and both our observing nights were cancelled.  The silver lining of wasting much of the last few weeks preparing for this observing run is that as soon as we learned we were not going to be able to observe, at all, we high-tailed it back to the beach (Hapuna instead of Mauna Kea this time).