Touch: Damned Double Sleeves

I remember getting incredibly frustrated in my parents' bedroom, facing their full-length mirror and attempting to put on a North Cumberland softball jacket at about 10 years of age. Hair too long, windbreaker material and bunchy jeans, questionably in braces, and my long shirtsleeves kept getting shoved up my forearms with each jacket sleeve attempt. I was ready to burn all the clothes in the house.


Then, in a, "What the hell are you doing?" life-changer, my mom saw me struggling and instructed me to fold my fingers back and grab my shirt sleeves before going for the jacket.

Now, in a novel, the mother character might add something forcedly wise, a "Keep calm and carry on," but my mom just swooped in, showed me how to stop being rage retarded, and left it at that. Problem solved.

Even though it's been about 15 autumns since then, I still think of my 10-year-old angst and my mom's nonchalant diversion of meltdown when I put on my first few jackets and hoodies of the fall season, the first few awkward double-sleeves. A little piece of muscle memory fires up a vivid scene with that green and yellow jacket every time I gear up to settle into November.

You Guys Want Some Cookies?

Ahem. So it's been a while. And I shall speak to that absence and its underlying excuses (generally unpleasant particulars, yadda) at some point. But for now, let us let bygones be bygones and focus on cookies, shall we?

There's this guy, Paul, who is not only handsome and hilarious with great taste in left-hand jewelry (insert *bling* sound effect here,) but also an incredibly hardworking part of the family funeral business. After an especially trying string of long days and interrupted nights, this dude deserved some damn cookies in his life. Enter your lovely and currently unemployed narrator.

Peanut Butter Cookies with Reese's Chunks Like Woah
(Recipe modified from Amy Sedaris' fantabulous I Like You)

Acquire:
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
~A lot of Reese's cups (squatty, not the flat sort)

Get the oven cranked to 350. Add the moist stuff together, beating the egg into melty butter. Add the dry stuff to that...or whatever - don't be fussy, just get it cookie doughy. Unwrap and chop up a seemingly excessive amount of Reese's cups; sprinkle into dough and mix well together.

Grease up your cookie sheets with shortening and spoon what you think is a decent amount of cookie into their respective cookie spaces. (You might have to wrangle them into themselves a bit, but don't bother worrying about too much spreading room.) I personally can't call a peanut butter cookie without fork marks on top oven-ready, but you won't be graded on that part.

Check them at about 11 minutes, and probably put them back in for another four or five, depending upon the brownness of the edges and firmness. (Do I really need to tell you these things, guys? Feedback welcomed.)

Upon delivery, Paul came up for air to moan a very appreciative thank you after four or five disappeared down the gullet, so I'm tallying Operation Delicious Stress Relief as a success. While your sweethearts likely don't deal with the deceased and their bereaved on a daily basis, it can't hurt for you to also show some love by whipping up a batch. Well, unless they're allergic to peanuts. Or eggs. Or are obese. Or diabetic.

South Philly


Off at 12th and Locust, 8:27, underground to tilt my street level southbound on Broad for a day at Fels.

En route, rustling. Quick stop: South Beach Diet corporation, purveyor of tree-nut-free, hand-to-mouth, foot-to-pavement breakfast products - good morning to you, my friend.

Onward. Purposeful purple flats jostle golden-arched sugar packets; must have been there yesterday, day before? Have there been sugar exchanges already, not yet quarter of 9 on a Thursday? I think of a Linda I've known, the most loyal of a pack of Bridgeton McDonald's 5am coffee clients; teens should all work bakeries in their teens to meet this breed, to learn of the routine-riding 50, 60-somes who sugar unabashedly as they genuflect to the gods of shitty husbands past.

I shuffle, hustle, lotioned and bruiseless, kicking hashbrown wrappers, hollow Newport husks, Marlboros, Pall Malls, et. al. Til across the bridge in the evening, for me, my sticky wrapper remains in pocket, but I see and crinkle and feel akin. Broad Street pedestrians, here we are now.


A few blocks from point B, Baldi Funeral Home looms, a stoic, still meeting place for an early handful of mourners, presumably family, though tough to distinguish by grief here. Its face seems obstinate against the cold, with its heavy doors, its windows of varied dimensions, the whole of it garnished with pressed black suits, starched black skirt sets, sunglasses, handkerchiefs, initials and vowels.


Settle in quick! Thursday morning meeting: "Paperwork paperwork."

"What about paperwork? When you think about paperwork...paperwork."

"Well, paperwork, yeah. Paperwork for sure."


Break for lunch, and I, with my bastard nimble legs and chipper willingness, make a Simonetta's run like I've done it before, like I know, and like I belong. Order by composition; confirm cryptic, in-group, letter-digit ID; pay, tip, do not pass go. Yet still, I stand aside, a spectator to the cheek kisses of '148 familiarity.

Verbatim, I submit: "Yo, RITA! Next time you come, bring me some business cards? People always wanna know who took the picture there, and I let 'em know it's you, but I'd like to have a card to give 'em, you know?"

Said picture, one of many regionally standard shots of some Italian dude beaming over some Italian kid, but here, I'm rather taken by the effect. Dad surrounds me, beaming, as I give him a buck a sandwich in the tip jar. Nonchalant offers to supply fixin's in a Ziploc-brand side baggie? That's a family touch, like he's apt to tuck it next to a pudding cup; that's something my mustached dad would do.


Resume. Juggle juggle, format and such, Excel and Joomla and Word, and so forth, and so on.


4:30 comes and I'm pitied, "You can go home," and then, I'm more grateful for the relief than I'd been as afternoon shift girl for Daybreak Coffee Linda; I'm as thankful as a kid can be, though I know I'm grown and now a desk jockey, giddy for a sliver of day on South Broad.


Skyline sighted, heading back up, I pass a McDonald's, from which I presume the morning's detritus. Halted in front, 'Caucasian' by self-identity, I'm sure, brunette with musty gray at the roots, bundled just shy of a survival tinge (as we have all tended to be, more or less, through this frigid spell) - a woman stands. She's rolled a pick-less suitcase with able wheels in tow up close. Her face hovers all but literally pressed to the Play Place window. She watches intently at each effort, each shriek. Absorbing each image of each child in frames as they climb along braided jungle gym boughs, roll amongst the plastic balls, she stares, and I'm her. I'm so her. Not, today, in the literal, birthing sense of the sentiment, but in my empathy for her caricatured portrait of "yearn." I won't photograph; the thought doesn't cross my mind until I'm gone. She longs, and I long. My day will come, or it won't, but I know neither for sure, and therein lies the grandeur. Her day seems faded, penciled in on a calendar that's been long recycled into UArts pamphlets, Xpress Food Mart postings, fliers for parents of babies of children of my age, babies of beggingly juicy, throbbing parts, vulgar really, but sanctified by intent and community and funerals.

I grant myself a back glance, one parting glimpse of now, before I fall again under the literal sparkle of Center City. 5:00 and change, northbound and upward, I continue.

Cameo - Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust

Back in and around Cumberland Regional High School, when we were all greasy, squawking, and too cool for school, Erin Danna quietly hummed as an artsy oomph of talent, quite literally a shimmer in a corn field. Her charcoal-and-chalk reproduction of Albrecht Durer's Hands I stands out in my mind as one of the most humbling, inspirational peer interactions I had from 1999-2003, wordless, touchless.

Now having fled to less pasture-y pastures, Erin shares her eye through photography - this much I knew after intermittent internet stalking (eh, socially acceptable stalking lite, you know) and a chance encounter one evening at Logan Square. However, much to my delight, I was recently surprised by her facebook status update touting a very chic-sounding, forthcoming holiday tart. I commented something to the effect of, "Ooh ooh gimme," and - trumpets, ticker tape, sequined exotic animals please - what we have for you lovelies is Sensuous Particular's first guest cameo (clearly featuring our first impressive camera work!), by the one and only Erin Danna:






Adapted from Bon App├ętit, December 2007
Makes 10 servings

Ingredients
Crust:
• 8 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), coarsely broken
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
• Pinch of salt

Filling:
• 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 2 large egg yolks
• 1 large egg
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• Pinch of salt

Preparation
For crust: Preheat oven to 325°F. Finely grind gingersnap cookies in processor (yielding 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups). Add melted butter and salt; processuntil moistened. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Place pan on rimmed baking sheet.

For filling: Combine finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and heavy whipping creamin heavy medium saucepan. Whisk over low heat until chocolate ismelted and smooth. Remove saucepan from heat. Whisk egg yolks, egg,sugar, flour, ground black pepper, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Very gradually whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until smooth and blended. Pour chocolate filling into crust. Bake chocolate tart until filling puffs slightly at edges and center is softly set, about 30 minutes. Transfer to rack. Cool tart in pan 20 minutes. Gently remove tart pan sides and cool tart completely. If you'd like, top with chopped dried fruit, nuts, or crystallized ginger.

(Chocolate tart can be made 1 day ahead. Cover tart and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Hear, Home

The steely rumble descending just beyond our line of sight, a muffled, mechanical roar of engines foreign to me and to most, blindly trusted in faith chased with Xanax to deliver us here, to home.

Seven stories up and the whooshing of modernity falls below, around, through itself in a crisscrossing, cascading emphasis, small calls to attention in a hive of transport. Coming and going, folks below, too, 1,029+ of apartments like ours housing people like us, all home.

Fifteen minutes, door to Philly International offers anxious anticipation of the familiar yet always, for me, more-than-slightly nerve-wracking sounds of departure, always punctuated with some disconcerting grinding or clicking.

"I guess I should've said something...?" said Lauren Taniguchi, 25, of Collingswood, her family, friends, and 150 innocents strewn about in a bloody heap.*

*Am I an optimist or a pessimist to fantasize that fate would leave me suffering in solitude for my aural recognition and continual inaction? Sigh.


Ultimately, knock wood, it never is this, and so we gallivant to deserts, beaches, mountains, ruins, wherever, posing for photos with soundless spaces for post-trip, jocular captions. Fly back, another set of ear pops in the climb back down to the belly-down thump of ground. To humming heaters and heavy doors, to one young, still-squeaky cat and to the primitive hush of snow lain commandingly, indiscriminately over surfaces and crannies alike in their being below, here, at home.

Metablog

Although it was not originally my intention, Sensuous Particulars has become, well, a pseudo-foodie blog. I'm surprised but satisfied with this hidden inclination of mine; food interaction is a daily catalyst to my creative processes...even if my microwave buttons are tellingly worn. The thing is, even Pop Tarts come in different flavors, and you could have a dozen conversations with a dozen strangers about your experiences with them. That, to me, is one of the values of food writing - its universal appeal and accessibility. The consistency of food as a character in our shared narrative gives colors to life beyond the day-to-day bare bones of our commutes, office chairs, and ATM receipts.

I could go on and on, but that would not be particularly delicious of me. Please pardon the philosophizing, but I'm all excited because Salon, one of my daily go-to sites, is launching a Food Section - <http://www.salon.com/food/>. Francis Lam's introduction to this section sheds light on good things to come. I'd bet the butter that a recipe from Salon will find its way to Sensuous Particulars sooner than later.

Rollin, Egg not Rick

Some days I'm proud to be Asian, and some days I'm REALLY proud to be Asian. On Sunday evening, I took a recommendation from my (Chinese-American) boss, busted out my wok, and made egg rolls. On Sunday night I waved a map of Asia from my terrace while wearing a kimono and triangle rice paddy hat. One delicious truth, one silly hyperbole.

My boss, an adventurous and prolific cook known amongst her peers for dozen-course brunches, brought me a recipe and Chinese mushrooms to help get on my way. Although egg rolls have always seemed to me like one of those restaurant-or-takeout foods that just doesn't amalgamate from your fridge, I poured one dash of soy sauce out for my country-adjacent-ish homies and gave it a go.

You'll need:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T brown sugar
~1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 napa (Japanese) cabbage (about 2-1/2 pounds), thinly sliced - can be substituted for traditional cabbage, as I did due to my whitey whitetown Acme. I actually wound up using significantly less cabbage than this; with the other measurements my mix was strong without being overpowering.
4 medium carrots, coarsely grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T grated fresh ginger
~5 re-hydrated Chinese mushrooms, thinly sliced, if you've got them (Sidebar: Freeze the mushroom-hydration water in a little baggie to use in a soup or something later. I've used it in instant miso soup to add a more rich flavor. Ghetto but proven.)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 scallions, thinly sliced (I left these out, but recipe calls for them.)
16 square egg roll wrappers (like Nasoya, which Acme carries) - I bought one pack and used 10 wrappers for my cabbage volume reasons.
1 egg, lightly beaten
Duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce for serving

The recipe also calls for 1 pound ground pork; I used shrimp instead and will probably try crabmeat next time.

What to do:
In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. In a large skillet, heat 1 T oil over medium-high heat. Add cabbage, carrots, garlic, ginger, and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing, until vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Raise heat to high; add soy sauce mixture (and pork if that's your deal) and cook, tossing, until liquid has evaporated (and hypothetical pork is no longer pink) - about 5 to 7 minutes. Mix in scallions if you're the scallion-y egg roll type. I sauteed the shrimp up separately with a little oil and soy sauce and added these to the fully cooked vegetables. Transfer the mixture to a plate to cool to room temperature. Lay wrappers flat on a work surface and assemble egg rolls.

Now.

Here the photocopied recipe directs kind reader to page 46 from our one-page 44. I could see where we were going with this given our clues, though, and laid the squares down on my cutting board as diamonds. I spooned a hefty spoonful of cabbage shrimpslaw onto the middle and folded the back point up and over the filling, tucking it into the topmost edge. I carefully rolled the lump over its edge, then dabbed a bit of beaten egg onto each side point, folding them up and onto the wrap-covered filling. I then blotted a bit more egg onto the top point of the wrap and gave it one more roll to seal the little cabbage package. I'm assuming this is more or less what page 46 said, because it worked pretty damn well.

The directions continue to instruct patient, long-sleeved reader to fry these suckers in a 5-quart pot of 6 cups of vegetable oil, 4 at a time, at 350 for about 2 minutes each. Yeahhh...no. Not happening in my kitchen. I went the baked route because A. I'm a set-it-and-forget-it kind of gal; B. I don't clean the kitchen THAT well; C. Health - laziness first, but yes, health as well; and D. I don't have a Cornballer.*

To bake:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet; place egg rolls on sheet and brush with 1/4 cup oil. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Serve with duck sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce. If baking from frozen, bake about 15 minutes -- apparently you can prepare these egg rolls, freeze them in a single layer until firm (at least 2 hours,) transfer to a resealable plastic bag, and keep frozen for up to 3 months. I did not do this. I ate them all in a day and a half.

Anyway, this is a fantastic recipe to keep in mind at the grocery store as you wander past the napa. It whips up surprisingly quickly and shockingly simply for such professional results - this one's definitely worth the effort! To paraphrase Cypress Hill, roll it up, bake it up, eat it up, and enjoy.



*

One of the Three Most Important Meals of the Day

Sunday breakfast is a tried and true tradition at Jeff Tan's Diner (Upper Deerfield, NJ - call ahead,) and I do what I can to forge the time and resources to do the same on my and Paul's own.

This past Sunday, I compiled the following:
3 eggs
2 wedges Laughing Cow Swiss cheese
1 splash milk (cow, not soy or almond or jazzy)
3 apples, peeled
~1/4 cup brown sugar
~1/4 cup white sugar
~1/2 cup water
~1T flour
Cinnamon (approximately some)
3 frozen potato hashbrowns
Cheddar cheese (again, some or so)
4 slices soy bologna
2 slices "Popeye" bread - homemade loaf of spinach, roasted pepper, and Parmesan cheese bread I got at the Collingswood Farmers Market
Olive oil

The apples were my favorite, Fujis, which I had been enjoying all week after checking out the aforementioned Farmers Market last weekend; I love a bit of sweet fruit with my first meal of the week. I sliced these up in a saucepan, stirred in water and sugars with flour and cinnamon on low-medium heat, and put a lid on it to begin other chapters, minding it with an occasional stir. These are done whenever they're tender enough to take a fork with grace and are fine to sit on low until you're ready to go.

I scrambled the eggs up with a splash of milk, cutting the Swiss cheese wedges into creamy, swirling globlets. If this mixture were a band its name and first album ought to be "Swiss Pips and the Yolky Yellow Melt" - this is just a thought I had while preparing it and should not necessarily affect your experience. I cooked the Y^2Melt omelette-style in a lightly oiled pan, flipping instead of folding to make one layer of cheesy egg. The slices of Popeye bread (which obviously could be swapped out with other breads on a whim) got drizzled with olive oil and popped in the toaster oven.

The soy bologna got sliced into half-moons and pan-fried in olive oil, which actually turns out to be a great veg. substitute for ham, prosciutto, or porkroll. (I crave this stuff with mayo on a potato roll.) Construction: toasted bread below, soy bologna above, cheesy eggs one more, roofside salt and pepper to taste. Fork and knife accoutrements recommended for those outside of the messy carpet market.


The hashbrowns went in the microwave to thaw a bit, then tossed in a pan with about 1T heated olive oil to brown. When one side was crisp, I flipped and added the cheddar cheese to melt. Cheesy potatoes - nothin wrong with that.

Paul ran downstairs to get juice (Dole Orange-Strawberry-Banana is AWESOME, by the by - light and sweet, nice with ice.) I dished up our his and hers platters, appropriately dressed with cinnamon, salt, and pepper; we feasted in the sunlight like royalty. Sometimes - especially on three-cheeses-before-10am days - "good morning" doesn't even scratch the surface.