Archive | February, 2013

Tiny Blackberry Cakes

25 Feb

I can’t believe it, but I haven’t really had anything to do this weekend.  No readings that couldn’t wait, no pressing revisions, no new writing.  A few study abroad things to take care of, but nothing that would occupy sizable part of a day.

It was weird.  A little scary.  I survived.  Mainly through running around the city–Friday the art history club went to Northwestern to see their museum.  There was much admiration of brutalism.  You know you’re with the right crowd when everyone’s talking about an offensively hideous and awesome architectural movement with great fondness.



They have their own art history library by the way.  It’s amazing, and we were all wicked jealous.



Saturday I went grocery shopping and finished a fantastic book in some nameless café (I guess it has a name… I just don’t know it) and then to the University of Chicago


for a performance hosted by their radio station.  It was weird.


and today I had loafed around and read about Chinese art and Japanese gender politics.  It’s been weird.  Maybe there will be more to do this week…

Okay, well about these cakes.  I found the recipe on one of my new favorite baking blogs, Top With Cinnamon.  The dame who runs this blog has gorgeous photography (and gifs!) and supremely excellent and creative recipes.  As in, pancakes with only two ingredients, homemade mint thins, and all sorts of improvised goodness.  AND she just turned 17, having the started the blog at 15.  Incredible.

So her recipe is for individual blueberry cakes, but I like blackberries better, and also they were cheaper (somehow?), thus:




  • 2 cups blackberries (or other berries)
  • 1/3 cup + 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder


Stir the blackberries together with 1/2 cup water and the 1/3 cup sugar until the berries are coated.  Divided amongst a few ramekins.  I used four 8 oz ones.


In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp sugar and the whipping cream.  Add the flour and mix until just combined.  Don’t overmix it, or it will be weird and gross.  Those are the professional baker’s terms for what will happen to your cakes.

Divide this evenly amongst the ramekins as well.



Sprinkle with cinnamon and the remaining sugar, and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  The berries will ooze all over the damn place, but it’s cool, do not panic.




So yes.  I’m very happy I got to use my ramekins for something other than eating yoghurt.  I was so excited to get them and then I didn’t do anything with them…

These are best served warm, and can be microwaved a little if need be.





I have, as I mentioned, been reading many books lately, but the one I just finished stands out the most.  I heard about Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein through a New Yorker podcast featuring one of my favorite writers, Peter Hessler, who was talking about Adelstein’s career as the first foreign reporter for a major Japanese paper.

Adelstein travelled to Japan to study abroad and ended up transferring to the university in Tokyo before graduating and, by some miracle, getting hired by one of the biggest Japanese papers to cover the crime beat.  His book is really incredible, and exposes many sides of Japanese society that we often overlook.  It’s also a brutal book, going into serious detail about the yakuza, homicide in Japan, and the bizarre and horrifying sex industry.  The author go into the underbelly of Japan so deeply that he had a major yakuza threatening Adelstein’s life and the lives of everyone remotely close to him.  That’s when you know you’ve hit on something big, and thankfully he lived to tell the story.

It’s worth reading for Adelstein’s personal story, which is very interesting, for what it tells us about Japanese society, and to learn more about the sex industry and sex crimes in general, which can never be talked about too often or in too much detail.


Chinatown, Chicago

18 Feb

It’s been a while since I’ve done a plain old photography post, and I have some neat pictures from today, so here goes.

I went with my dearest bros down to Chinatown today to see the New Year’s parade and get dim sum.

DSC_0150 20-00-55


We got there after the parade started, and it was totally mobbed so we missed a good chunk of the beginning, and probably some of the best floats…



But there was still a lot of good stuff to be seen.  Including a bunch of adorable kids from the local schools:



I saw a lion dance for the first time at my school’s Chinese New Year gala, and I was really happy to see more.  I love pretty much any kind of dancing…



Of course, after the parade, everything was absolutely hectic.  We managed to snag some cotton candy before we fought to get a dim sum table at one of the massively over-crowded restaurants.



We did finally get into a restaurant, not dim sum sadly, called Lao Shanghai.  I had heard good things about the Lao restaurants, so I figured it was a good bet.

DSC_0103 20-00-55


And ohhh, it was.  The wait was tremendous, first to get seated and then to get food, but goddamn, it was worth it.

Although… there was a group ahead of us.  And by group, of course I mean two parents with a small horde of babies.  Who got the big dim sum table with the rotating center.  For two adults.  When there were six of us.

Can you feel my anger through your screen?  Because we were all mad as hell, let me tell you.  I hope someone stole their damn stroller while they were eating.


Anyway.  Up above there are pork shao mai and Shanghai dumplings, which were insane.  The pork we perfectly marinated and incredibly juicy, with really good seasoning.



We didn’t know what these were–Shanghai Man Tou–so we ordered some.  Turns out they’re just dough…  So that was a little disappointing, but we were glad for having tried them.  And dipped in the bitter sauce that was on our table, they were pretty good anyway.

My favorite by far were the xiao long bao, which are soup dumplings.  I didn’t get a picture because I think my roommate would have stabbed me if I had delayed her eating any longer.  I had been wanting to try xiao long bao for a while, and I am still thinking about them even though I’m not remotely hungry.

I was reading about dim sum last night instead of doing anything productive, and apparently there is a story surrounding the origin of bao.  There was a military strategist in ancient China who was trying to cross his troops across a really tumultuous river that they had little chance of fording because the river spirits were mad as hell about whatever spirits get mad about.  The spirits told the strategist that if he brought them 49 human heads, they would let the troops past.

Of course, the strategist was like, “To hell with you, I’m not sacrificing my men to you assholes”, so that night he and his men cooked a ton of meat and wrapped it up in dough so that they were shaped like human heads.  They gave these to the river spirits who said, “This looks legit.  You can cross, I guess.”

Ecce, bao.



We went to a Chinese bakery next, in search of anything containing red bean paste.  We hit on Chiu Quon Bakery, which has a ton of amazingly delicious food, almost all for less than a dollar.  Needless to say, we ate… quite a lot.



My friend Katie, very happy with her red bean bun, not as happy with her pink eye.



I got an almond cookie (and then a whole sleeve of them to go, which I ate way too many of not long ago),



a giant puff of angel food,



and a red bean moon cake!  Which was so, so good.  Ah, I am going back to that place very often, I can tell you.  I know China isn’t nearly as big on dessert (or not the same kind of dessert) as America is, but I love what they have.



One of the highlights of the evening was sitting in the back of the bakery where a Cantonese channel was on TV, and seeing everyone’s reactions to a Chinese music video that was playing.



No one was impressed, evidently.



Finally, we ended up in a gift shop because Katie wanted to look at something.  Among the inventory were: a pen/magnet shaped like a croissant, face masks with boy bands on the wrappers, photocopies of sticker sheets, gorgeous cutlery that we admired with too much enthusiasm, and a comb my roommate bought that operates like a switchblade.  She’s wanted one for ages, so it was a very exciting discovery.



All in all, we had a good time not doing anything related to school or sitting around and staring at the walls, which is probably what would have happened otherwise.  We’ve resolved to go back for dim sum during the week when some places are 20% off and also not packed to the rafters.

I’ve got a couple of recipes floating around that I’ll write up soon, but until then… I return to my research project and endless essays on religion and weapons of mass destruction.


Baked Doughnuts

17 Feb

Let me talk to you about art.

I know this is a baking blog, but I cannot be separated from my love of art, and this is important, so bear with me.

I’m sure my dedication to art and art history is very mysterious to many, and probably very funny to some.  I’m thinking mostly of my high school French teacher who apparently reads this blog sometimes (hello!).  It’s probably funny to her, that I’m doing a minor in art history, because I couldn’t stand art museums for a long time and had no real interest in art.

Yes, this is the same blog with all the pictures of the Art Institute.  My feelings about art and museums changed on a class trip to Paris when I was subjected to a tour of Musée d’Orsay that I was not happy about.

Aha, so now you see what I mean.

But I can say without exaggeration that that trip to that museum is why I am an art history minor.  For real.

That’s actually not what I wanted to talk about though.  I want to talk about contemporary Chinese art, because so few people do.  I actually can’t say much about it because I can’t find much about it.  I’m very sad, though, because my school has this great art history department, but only offers classes on ancient asian art.  We have two professors who specialize in that, which is nice and all, but there is zero representation of modern Asian art.  We’ve got modern Latin America, African Architecture, some classes on various world cities (the only Asian city is Kyoto, and the class covers the Heian period to the Meiji era).

I know you’re probably shocked and dismayed now.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cause emotional trauma in a post with doughnuts in the title.  But my point is that there’s this hole in the art world where contemporary Chinese art should go, and I know there a lot of people filling it slowly, slowly, especially in New York where I tragically am not.  But it’s a big hole, all right.  So here’s my little contribution to its filling:



I found an article the other day mentioning this gallery called the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, which is hosting an exhibition on up-and-coming Chinese artists nominated by some of the old guard.  A lot of the pieces were really interesting and beautiful, but Chen Ke’s work stuck out for, I should think, obvious reasons.



I won’t say too much more about this, since you came here for baking, not art criticism, but aren’t these stunning?  It’s incredible how subtle and varied his art is, considering it’s done in thick oil paint, all in shades of red.  I strongly encourage you to check out the rest of the gallery and Chen Ke’ work, and then tell everyone you know, because look at those paintings.


So doughnuts?



I went to Sur La Table with my gift cards to get a loaf pan for something else I want to make (soon!), and I was walking around the store looking at all the neat things I wasn’t planning on buying because I’m very careful about spending money.

But then I thought, dude I have gift cards.  Gift cards intended to be used for things I wouldn’t ordinarily buy.

So I grabbed myself a doughnut pan.  And then booked it back to the apartment to try it out ASAP.

I googled this recipe while I was in the store so I would know what to pick up on my way back.  Of course, in my moment of need, it was the Washington Post that came through for me.  I had no idea they did recipes!  Someday I’ll talk about my deep love for that paper.  Not today, though, don’t worry.


  • One doughnut pan.  You could probably just pour the batter in muffin cups and make doughnut holes, but you could also just stay in bed and resign yourself to having a boring life. I don’t know, it’s up to you.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • a pinch of cardamom (like, a hamster’s pinch, not a person’s pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 8 tbsp butter (melted, for topping)
  • cinnamon and sugar (for topping)  (or chocolate sauce or whatever you want)


Sift together the dry ingredients.



Look, a nice powdery tri-color!



In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla until combined.  Pour into the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Don’t overmix or they’ll have a weird consistency.


Fill each ring in the doughnut pan ~3/4 of the way full.



Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a tester stuck into the side comes out clean.  These baked really fast for me, but it might be my oven…

Let the doughnuts cool for 5 minutes before removing them.  I slid a knife gently around the circumference of each and then very carefully levered them out.  Once the doughnuts are sufficiently cooled, get the rest of the melted butter and brush all over the doughnuts.  I actually dipped mine in butter but that’s pretty disgusting, so I recommend brushing.

Then, roll them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.



Don’t those look delicious?  They are, trust me.  They’re sort of strange because they’re baked, so the consistency is more cake-like than doughnut-like, but they are very good nonetheless.



To save me and my roommate from eating all of them I sat around in my usual place at the library and gave them out to people.  It is a very good way to get lots of Happy Valentine’s Days, let me tell you.



Now, I’ve read a lot of books lately.  Like, one every few days.  Mostly Murakami, because when am I not reading mostly Murakami?  But also some of my favorite Chinese writers, and a Somerset Maugham that takes place in China.  BUT.  I am going to recommend something that is not by an Asian author, and not about anywhere in Asia.

I’m sorry, I must have shocked you pretty badly.

I was reading one of those Best 100 Novels lists, because… I don’t know, I just like them.  I like seeing how many I’ve read (not many, but almost always the top 3, which tend to be Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, and Portrait of the Artist).  I saw one list had Bolaño, and since I never read him I thought I’d check it out.

I hate to try to describe the plot, because it’s sort of an epic surrounding a poetry movement in Mexico as these young poets try to find an identity amidst all the Latin American poetry that either sucks or is too brilliant to aspire to.  But of course, it’s about all kinds of things aside from that.  I suppose if you really want to know you’ll just have to read it…

It’s a book that feels fast and dangerous, reckless and very young, with characters that think they’re immortal and expect nothing less from their lives than a total poetry revolution.  Maybe I would describe it as a coming-of-age book, but of a particular slice of a certain generation in Latin America.  If that doesn’t sound interesting, then don’t read the book because it will sound totally obnoxious.  Otherwise, knock yourself out.