No comic-April 21

Hi gang! I’m in the midst of wedding cake preparations for my baby brother’s nuptuals this coming weekend (already so many potential comics!) so no comic today and no cocktail post on Friday. Back to what passes for normal next week 🙂

Until then, hop over to the 64 Arts for a glimpse at one of my earlier cakes and don’t forget to check out the Nibbles post for a story from my first experience making (and delivering!) a wedding cake.

Also, Dee from Say Anything interviewed me for Thursday’s post–if you’re looking for some interesting blogs to read, check out my fellow interviewees!

Little Lessons from Big Cakes

The first wedding cake I ever made was a bit of an architectural nightmare. Not because the bride wanted a conglomeration of little cakes but because I was living in student housing and we had a mini-stove with a half-sized oven that wouldn’t hold anything more than 12″ wide.

Read the rest of this cake adventure over at Nibbles ‘n Bites.

50 Shots of America–Rhode Island

Seems to like all Rhode Island ever wanted was to be left alone and they just never stood a chance. An early haven for seekers of religious tolerance it was later the Switzerland of New England during the American Indian wars of 17th Century (even though no one really honored their wish to remain neutral. Strong feelings of independence made it a major player in the American Revolution, hosting the first official bloodshed of the war in Providence.

Read more about the Ocean State and my recipe for hope in a glass over at Sips & Shots.

Foodie Photography

About 10 years ago or more I read an article about all the different “tricks” food stylists would use to make food look good on camera. Everything from cellophane “ice” and “milk” glue to browning agents and tweezer-applied sesame seeds–the works!

Oh, sure, we know folks put their best food front-loaded and forward when it’s time for an advertising campaign or cookbook shoot, but can the average foodie can make their not-so-average food stand out in a still shot?

Read the rest (and see some pictures) over at Nibbles & Bites!

Egg-cellent Egg Salad

Even though we’re all well past egg-hunting stage in my family, I still enjoy dying eggs for the occasion. The un-hunted egg is a prime candidate for egg salad sandwiches in the days after the holiday.

First, a tip for easy-peel eggs.

After the eggs have boiled (10 minutes is generally sufficient for a solid, yet tender, yolk) and you’ve drained off the boiling water, shake the eggs around in the pan enough to cause small cracks to appear. Then, as you cover the eggs with cold water to speed the cooling, water will seep in between the shells and the whites, making it easier to peel, later on.

I’ve also read that older eggs peel more easily than fresher ones.

Find my recent egg salad recipe over at Nibbles ‘n Bites.

Learning the Hard Way

I didn’t post a comic for today and that wasn’t the biggest fail that happened last night.

Tuesday afternoon I started to feel way more stressed than was called for. On the way home I lost it. I’m a fairly stable person but sometimes I push too hard and down I go. Last night I got pretty far down. I thought, after several hours of questioning all sorts of things from why to wherefore to small cog in the giant wheel of time, that I’d figured out what was bugging me.

I was about half right.

This morning, Wednesday, I got a triple shot of the cosmic cluestick and have an even better idea of what I did wrong.

I didn’t take care of myself.

I don’t mean I failed to eat right or failed basic hygiene standards or anything like that. I failed to take time for myself and got wrapped up in the deadlines and to-do lists that I created so that some They would  agree I was doing it right and some other They would acknowledge it.

And last night my mind and the Universe decided to let me know it.

Last night I was heart-sick, today I’m body-sick. Whether the one was the cause or merely a harbinger of the other is anyone’s guess. Probably a little bit of both, to be honest. But I listened, and I hope I really heard it this time because I don’t want to have another night like that.

To that end, things around Random Acts Comics-land are going to be a bit more fluid for the next month or so. I’ve got some housekeeping to do (literally and figuratively) and some shuffling of priorities and some decisions to make regarding my various projects. Nothing’s going away at this time, but I need to approach it all differently, correctly, so that I don’t hit this wall again.

Or be forced to break up with the Internet. Internet and I are BFFs and I’m not ready to give back my half of the friendship necklace.

So I’m going to spend the next few nights attempting to relax (especially the right arm, my drawing arm, it’s sorta on strike and didn’t even want to type this letter), clearing my head and considering my options. Since update days may be sporadic for the month of April, I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on twitter in order not to miss anything.

Because if I don’t do this I risk true and total burnout. And no one else can tell my stories. Other people can tell other stories, but no one can tell mine. And it’s my stories that I want to tell. I draw and write because it makes me smile, it makes me happy. I need to remind myself of that and make sure I proceed with that, and my own mental and physical health, first in mind. The rest will work itself out.

Change is Afoot!

Ah, yes, as we come upon the third anniversary of Random Acts Comics it’s time for a little housekeeping.

The biggest change is that after April, 2010, the “Nibbles” and “Sips” blogs will no longer be found at this url. In fact, until the change takes full effect, the April posts will feature a ‘read more’ link to their own domains, to facilitate the change-over to their own pages. All the archives are there and have been for a few months–this change just means that I won’t have to post the same posts in 3 places every week (my two sites as well as Circle of Food).

This also means that I’ll be freer to post more on each topic as the spirit moves. It’s all for the best and I hope you’ll agree. After all, those who do not care for the food or cocktail bits can just follow the comics, while those who aren’t into comics can have the food and cocktail news a la carte! Feel free to bookmark the new domains as well as subscribe to their RSS feeds so you don’t miss anything.

For the time being, Cocktail Hour will still be hosted here but in time I will be moving it over to it’s own domain (cocktailcomic.com already redirects here) and using Random Acts as a hub for all of my comics-related sites.

Going Off-List

Week before last I did something I haven’t done in over 5 years: went shopping without my Menu Mailer grocery list.

For those not familiar with Menu Mailer, it’s the invention of Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva, and features a set of dinner recipes, serving suggestions and an itemized, categorized shopping list each week. Even though I’ve got a culinary degree, am a veteran list-maker and perfectly capable of decided what to make for supper every night, it was nice to not have to make those decisions each week…

Find the rest over at Nibbles ‘n Bites!

50 Shots of America: New York

Oh, man, New York, the Cocktail Capital of the World (okay, so the Web tells me that Tokyo is actually the cocktail capital of the world, but Hudson, NY, was the first place that the word cocktail can be c0nfirmed in use, so :P) comes in as the 11th state of the Union having ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788. No pressure or anything, right?

Suddenly I’m thinking in TMBG lyrics:

just like old New York was once New Amsterdam

Of course we know why they changed it. Though originally settled by the Dutch and French, the Duke of York decided that Long Island just wasn’t enough for him and he took forceful possession of New Amsterdam in 1664.

I’ve been told that there is more to New York than just the island of Manhattan though, since I’ve not actually seen it myself (only been to the island for 2 days a few winters ago), I’ll have to take their word for it. Apparently those areas are great for apple orchards, cherries and a vast wine-producing segment as well as the largest cabbage production of the US. Maybe it should be called the Big Cabbage instead of the Big Apple?

But the Big Apple it is and, try as I might to avoid an apple drink I just couldn’t help myself when the following occurred to me:

Little Big Apple Dumpling

.75 oz Apple Pucker
.5 oz Apple Juice
.5 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
.25 oz Goldschlagger

Combine all in a small cocktail shaker over ice and give it a Bronx salute or two. Strain into a chilled double shot or cordial glass and think glittery apple thoughts.

I’m…  not even going to try and paint a picture of New York’s culinary landscapes. Books, entire websites, have been devoted to the subject, I’m not going to be able to do it justice in 5oo words. What I can do is share the menu I created for my American Regional class in Culinary School. I was assigned New York, obviously, and wanted to do something to highlight some of the more dominant cultures that the area represented. I figured there were 5 boroughs so I’d pick 5 cultures and serve 5 courses. This was our first opportunity to create a menu, play executive chef to our fellow students and actually have guests come to dine. We had to set the table/decorate, time the courses,  introduce and answer questions about each and deal with whatever came up. Crazy but fun is what I remember most from the evening. That and my salad guy not pitting the Kalamata olives for the Greek Salad (my mother had to ask our dean what the etiquette was on removing said pits from one’s mouth–oops!).

Appetizer (Jewish)
Potato Latkes w/Sour Cream & Applesauce
Soup Course (Russian)
Traditional Borscht
Entree (Irish)
Dingle Pie (lamb, parsnips & turnips), Creamed Mushrooms w/Chives
Salad Course (Greek)
Traditional Greek Salad
Dessert & Coffee (American-ish*)
New York Cheesecake

I don’t need to look it up (even though it was 10 years ago)–of course I got an A. I built a paper model of the top of the Chrysler Building for the centerpiece, for crying out loud (and can’t believe I finally threw it out during the last move–what was  I thinking?!). I also happened to have gone first, thankfully, as we lost a lot of students during that module.

*Cheesecake’s origin is technically from Greek cheese pie that was introduced to the rest of Europe by the Romans but bears very little resemblance to the cottage cheese pie immigrants made in early American days. Cheesecake, as we know it, is essentially an American invention with German and Jewish influences and new-world innovations like the graham cracker crust. We’ll just call it the ultimate melting pot dessert and enjoy it 🙂

the Secret to a Great Cheesecake

Anyone can make a cheesecake if they just follow a recipe. Why, then, do some come out different (better) than others? Is it a super-secret recipe that makes the difference, or is it more?

Todd requested a cheesecake for his birthday this past Friday and I was surprised that I hadn’t shared my secrets for perfect cheesecake on the blog, yet. You might think it’s the recipe, but there’s nothing secret about it.

Basic Cheesecake

2 lb cream cheese
.5 c heavy cream
1.5 c sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla

See? Pretty simple stuff.

So, if it’s not the recipe, what is it?

The 3 Commandments of Cheesecake

It all comes down to HOW you make the cheesecake. The rest is just details.

Thou shalt whip the cream cheese smooth before adding any other ingredients.

A stand mixer makes this easy because you can crank it up and let it run without tiring your arms. If you’re short of time or in a very cold kitchen, microwaving the cream cheese for 30 seconds at a time until it becomes more pliable will not harm the finished cake. Just make sure it doesn’t start to dry out.

Thou shalt never turn the mixer past low when adding other ingredients.

When the cream cheese is smooth, your beating days are through. Notice that every other ingredient is smooth in it’s own way? All you have to do is gently incorporate them, not beat them into submission.

Thou shalt never scrape the bowl.

Once that first ingredient is added there is absolutely no way to beat any future lumps out of the mixture. If you were to scrape down the sides of the bowl mid-recipe you’d be adding clumps, ruining the texture of your cheesecake. The mixture that touches the sides cools off, congeals, clumps. You do not want this in your cheesecake.

Even when you go to pour the batter into the prepared pan, do not scrape the sides of the bowl. Just let what is loose flow in and leave the rest. Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste. Grab a spoon and nosh on the batter on the sides. After all, it’s gonna be the next day before you get to eat the cheesecake, might as well get something out of it now!

The Water Bath

There’s ongoing debate on whether a water bath is truly necessary for a good cheesecake. I’ve done it both with and without and it depends more on your oven than anything else. If you know you have an uneven oven (it happens to the best of us), use a water bath and make sure to keep an eye on the water level. The cheesecake takes about 2 hours to bake (at 325F) and the water level will drop over that time. Theoretically a water bath will prevent the top crust from cracking, but it’s not 100% fool-proof and it’s not something I worry about as much as I worry about the right texture overall.

Finishing Touches

Remember when I said the rest was just details? Well, they can be pretty yummy details.

I seldom use a graham cracker crust. Instead, I prefer crushed cookies that better compliment the flavor of the cake. Our favorite variety uses crushed Oreos as a base, whole cookies ringing the sides (takes about 13 to circle my springform pan, which makes serving size easy to figure) and a few more crumbled ones stirred into the batter. I’ve used lemon cookies to go with blueberry cheesecakes and chocolate wafer cookies as the crust for my dark chocolate cherry varieties. I’ve even made a baklava cheesecake with the nut-and-phyllo layered base and a honey-syrup added to the batter.

Cheesecake is a treat. The basic ingredients are simple, the wait while it bakes and cools is considerable (including the overnight chill), the results should be absolutely sinful. Don’t let any lumps come between you and your indulgence!00