Funfetti Cake

First things first, reassuring news from home, things are looking positive for my cousin. I’ve been informed that some of few things he has said have been, of course, belligerent and grumpy. I expect no less from the family which produced several cranky robots, and indeed, am encouraged by the masshole indications, because if nothing else, sheer stubbornness will pull him through this.

Secondly, I’m getting increasingly frustrated with my leaking, non-working fridge, that won’t be replaced until Saturday because manufacturers won’t deliver after 5. And it seems like there’s no end to the little things going wrong this week. The steamer that spit water all over the dress I was trying to un-wrinkle AND my hand (hot damn that shit hurt), the electricity that decided to go out with a bang, and the fusebox that refused to make it turn on again, and latest, the oven rack that, when pulled out just a few inches, decides that it wants to be free, slides out all the way and slants downwards, launching a heavy, burning hot Pyrex baking dish filled with molten hot potatoes, vegetables, and oil to the ground, where it all shatters. Nothing like being unable to salvage your dinner from glass shards and trying to mop up the oily puddle of sharpness and pain and having to wait at least ten minutes for the bigger shards to be even cool enough to handle.

My answer to all of this is dessert. All of the dessert. I decided to make a cake tonight, because cake is the solution to all my problems. Bad day? Cake. Stomach ache? Cake. Hungry? Cake. Shitty boy drama? Cake.  I mean, sure, sometimes you gotta mix it up with pie or cookies or custard or a rack of lamb or entire loaf of bread with a wedge of cheese, but, mostly, the answer is cake.

A colleague had requested a funfetti cake a while ago and I actually went and found a box mix, but never ended up making it. So I figured, why not compare, half box mix half entirely homemade? Funfetti cake it is! Also, I haven’t had funfetti cake in ages, so this was a little blast from the past.

For the homemade cake, I whipped up a basic vanilla cake. And I made a basic vanilla buttercream frosting for both.

1 cup milk, 4 large egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1 Tbs vanilla, 2 3/4 cup flour (1 tsp of corn starch per cup sifted into the all purpose flour to make it cake flour), 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 Tbs baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt, 12 Tbs room temp butter, and 1/2 cup of rainbow sprinkles.

The frosting needs: 1 1/2 cups soft butter, 3 1/2 cups powder sugar, 3 Tbs milk, 1 Tbs vanilla, a pinch of salt, and of course, more sprinkles.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a cake pan (or cupcake liners, if you want to make individual portions)
Mix the eggs, milk and vanilla
Combine the dry ingredients.
Add butter, cubed, and blend, slowly adding the wet mixture.
Gently stir in the sprinkles.
Bake 25-30 minutes, then let cool on a rack.

Whip the frosting butter for about five minutes until its light and creamy. Add in the milk and sugar and vanilla. Frost the cake/cupcakes, then garnish with sprinkles or what have you. I tried to draw parts of Boston skyline in frosting, but it looked way better on paper in black and white than it does on the cake.
Boston Strong Funfetti Cake. Baking is the outlet for all these feels!

Boston Strong Funfetti Cake. Baking is my only outlet for all these feels! Well, baking and whiskey. 

The homemade cake turned out much larger than the boxed mix. I had to trim them to stack. Also, it was getting on midnight by the time I started the frosting–that’s what happen when you try to clean, bake a cake, and do arts-and-crafty-shit around the house all in one evening. So, completely exhausted I didn’t wait long enough to frost the cake, the bottom was still sort of warm, and the whole thing looked pretty haphazard, but it was a colorful and super sweet treat that my American colleagues loved. My Chinese colleagues oohed over the icing Boston skyline  and asked if I put a whole bag of sugar in the cake. They tend to really like the subtle-sweet banana breads and such that I’ve brought in, but still the cake disappeared in 15 minutes!

Southern Fried Chicken

Let’s talk comfort food. It’s just one of those days. I sat around at work all jittery and unfocused, checking the news, checking my phone, doing annoyingly little and last minute tasks for my boss who was also feeling stressed and worried (albeit for different reasons). Food and comfort.

I was planning on eating leftover farro salad. Waking up at 5:30 this morning, I made myself a steak and cut it up into small pieces and put it over the farro-apple salad with miso dressing I wrote about earlier (only this version lacked any edamame because they thawed out too quickly when my freezer defrosted). I brought it to work to keep cool in the fridge all day, but I just couldn’t take it home with me again to eat. I left it for lunch the next day. I needed something warm and savory and salty and greasy. I was browsing tastespotting and clicked on a link for bone marrow custard. Holy shit it looks amazing and I’m definitely making that this weekend once my refrigerator has been replaced. I also looked up a recipe for fried chicken, which I was going to make over the weekend, but then looking at the pictures I started getting cravings. And, at least in terms of food, I live by Oscar Wilde’s words, the only way to get rid of a  temptation is to yield to it. So fried chicken for dinner it was.

Deep fried, crispy and moist. I could eat a bucket of this chicken all by myself. This recipe is for a whole chicken broken down into pieces, not just the few I made for myself, but as I did, is easily reduced to smaller servings.

Chicken legs/thighs/parts
3 eggs beaten with 1/3 cup water, 1/2-1 cup hot sauce to taste. I use a mix of Frank’s Hot Sauce and Sriracha, because sriracha makes everything better.
2 cups flour + 2 tsp baking powder, salt
Pepper, salt, garlic powder, dash of paprika and turmeric mixed together

Heat a wok-full of vegetable oil to about 350F,don’t let the oil get too hot, or the outside will burn and the middle will still be raw, particularly with larger pieces of chicken (use a candy thermometer, or pure instinct). Rinse and pat chicken dry. Season the chicken quite generously with the salt+pepper+garlic mix, then dip into the spicy egg wash. Then, roll and coat each piece in the flour mixture, and place the chicken in hot oil. If you’re making a lot of chicken at once, heat your oven to 200F and prepare a baking sheet, to keep the finished chicken warm and crispy. I only had a few pieces, which were cooked in one batch. Let dark meat fry for about 12-14 minutes until golden crispy brown. Less time for white meat, but that shit’s gross, so why even bother.

I served this with some sweet potato fries  and roasted cauliflower, with sriracha aioli (because put that rooster sauce on everything, damnit).

When I came home I turned on a lamp, which immediately sparked with a loud “pop” and all the power went out. Flipping the switches on the fuse box didn’t help at all. I had to call maintenance and wait an hour in the dark until he fiddled with stuff in the electricity adding room and fixed it, so dinner was a late start. Still, it was simple enough that the sweet potato and cauliflower cooked while I made mayo and the chicken, and then relaxed with a delicious and satisfying meal and a cold beer.


Chicken Ballottine

Half a dozen Dunkins’ glazed donuts in hand, a gift from someone passing through the Singapore airport and a nice taste of home, I was on my way to a friend’s house to order take out and binge on the three episodes of Doctor Who. My dad called, a short, gruff statement. “He’s been shot.” He followed up with a  terse explanation that my cousin, a cop, was at the hospital with all my family, that I should check CNN and call later, and then hung up.

At first I thought my dad was joking. This week has been so stressful, so much has happened, that I could at least count on all my family and friends being safe back at home. I had read a little bit, Friday afternoon, about the lockdown in Watertown, the MIT cop being shot, and decided to stop looking at all the news because of all the misinformation, the twitter feeds full of random accusations. Two of my cousins are in law enforcement, one in my hometown, one with the transit authority. I was vaguely worried, but thought about it, and decided that, the FBI, the State police, Cambridge and Watertown cops must have it pretty under control. But then the transit cops rushed to respond to the Cambridge and Watertown calls. he must have been one of the first to respond. As I’ve been told and read on the news, at some point, shots were exchanged. My cousin was engaging the suspect in a firefight, and was hit in the leg, trashing three major arteries. By the time he was brought to the ER, he had lost all the blood in his body and his heart had stopped.

Thank god for WeChat. I just downloaded it last week, and made my sister do the same. We sent each other a barrage of texts and voice messages as we started finding out more about the situation. By the time I got to my friend’s house I thought I might vomit. I can only imagine how my family was doing. They hadn’t caught the guy yet. As many as could get there of my family were gathered in the hospital. The rest were hunkered down at home, waiting for news. I grew up close with him and his siblings, they’re like older brothers and sisters to me. He got married right after I left for China, and had a baby son last year, who I met for the first time this Christmas.

I arrived shaky and shocked and Ginny put a whiskey down in front of me while I called everyone I could on my computer. Being able to be instantly in touch with people on the other side of the world hasn’t stop amazing me yet. After talking to my family, it was easier to calm down, and mindlessly watch the eleventh doctor, and comfort myself by eating three donuts immediately. I spent most of the weekend glued to my computer, scouring the news, checking in on family members. Woke up early to positive news on my cousin’s path to recovery.

Life continues. Humanity shines through in moments of tragedy and horror, and then we pick up and move on with our daily lives. We pull together and stand strong, but you’ve got to eat, got to pay the bills, go to work, go for a run. Small triumphs and petty annoyances, I remind myself it’s ok to go and enjoy a drink with friends, to get upset that my fridge is still broken and the ice packed in the freezer to keep everything cold has melted and leaked out all over my floor. It’s ok to be irritated that my landlord won’t replace the fridge until next weekend.

So yeah. My fridge decided that life wasn’t worth living and gave up in the middle of the week. I had to throw out most of the stuff in the fridge, but saved some condiments and unopened packs of cheese and various other things by immediately buying bags and bags of ice to fill the freezer, and replenish them every other day. I frantically cooked everything I could, and was then faced with the problem of having to eat copious amounts of cooked food with no place to keep leftovers.

I saw a post on this technique for deboning a chicken. It included a link to watch Jacques Pepin explain deboning and then creating a chicken ballottine. I love Pepin, mostly because his accent is just absurdly wonderful. It makes me giggle. And I could use a good giggle these days.

So, Pepin demonstrates with a couple miniscule knicks of the knife at the proper joints, and a few fluid motions, he removes the carcass from the meat and does so perfectly and beautiful. It looked so simple. Go, find the video on youtube. It’s beautiful. I thought, huh, that doesn’t look so bad. Actually, the way he explains it, it’s easy. You make four cuts, scrape a little bit, pull here and there and voila. I could totally replicate that easily.


I was mistaken. Trying to follow along after watching three times in a loop, I still managed to slice the wrong side, cut where I shouldn’t, and take twenty minutes, but eventually, I had a deboned chicken. I’m not going to even try to describe the process, but in the end, the chicken was free of the bones, I straightened it up, rearranged, the batter meat, and made a quick stuffing. This was a great dish to make because I had a whole chicken, frozen vegetables, cheese, and ground pork that was all going to rapidly spoil, and instead, I could throw it all together, invite a friend over, and enjoy a fancy little dinner.

From my freezer I pulled out a thawing ziplock of blanched baby spinach, chopped onion, and chopped celery. I sauteed the onion and celery with some minced garlic, added in the seasoned ground pork, and once that was browned and broken up, the spinach and about half a cup of panko with a splash of white wine and stock. I sprinkled the opened up chicken with salt and fresh ground pepper, then packed in the stuffing.

Deboned chicken with an even layer of spinach-pork stuffing

Deboned chicken with an even layer of spinach-pork stuffing


Then I closed it up and trussed it together with cotton twine. It wasn’t exactly the pretty and neatly wrapped package that Pepin creates, but it would do. I popped the rolled up bird into the oven for an hour at 400F, then removed, sliced and served. It was pretty tasty, makes a fabulous presentation that impresses guests, and is very easy to serve at a table, instead of trying to carve a whole roast bird.

Slicing the chicken to serve

Slicing the chicken to serve

In other news, my office has officially banned chicken or turkey sandwiches from being ordered for any of our events. I read this memo while sitting at my desk, having just had an intern order 40 chicken and turkey sandwiches, eating my leftover chicken dinner, and pretending I can’t see my Chinese coworkers giving me the stinkeye.

The Boston Marathon

I mostly write about food, and sometimes about China, or wherever I happen to travel to. But today I need to write about the Boston Marathon.

The Marathon has always been important to me. I’m related to a historical winner of it (generations ago). It’s a day of pride and celebration of Boston. I’ve volunteered to hand out water. I’ve worn the nylon Boston Athletics Association jackets with pride for years. My family and friends have run it in every year. If I hadn’t been living in China for the past three years, I would have been running it.

I woke up this morning to a voice message from my sister telling me that everyone in the family was all right. I had no idea what she was talking about, but it took about thirty seconds online to start seeing the headlines, and more heartbreakingly, the pictures. I’m extremely lucky that when I checked the facebook profile of everyone that I could remember having mentioned running, reported in safe and sound. My cousin was one of the first responders at the finish line, he and his family are also safe.

Boston is my home, no matter how many years I live in opposite corners of the globe. Boston is where I grew up, where my friends and my families are, where all my roots are. And the marathon. Running has been a huge part of my life. Many of my friends run. The track and cross country team in high school became part of my family.

A marathon is a commitment. It is dedication. It is hopes, dreams, sweat, blood, blisters, and countless hours spend pounding pavement. Not only that, but particularly for the Boston Marathon, it is philanthropy. The point at which the bomb went off, 4 hours in, that time is not the extra qualified runners. These are groups of people who have committed not only to the monstrous feat of pushing their bodies to run twenty six freaking miles, but also, to raise money for various causes. They are doing this for someone else. I’ve run for charity before, and the people on my team? They were amazing. That four hour-ish time is just full of amazing, giving, wonderful, everyday people trying to do something great and give something back at the same time. And I’ll be honest, when I saw the time, I gave some thought to my own pace in the half marathon, and that’s about where I’d be finishing. I’ve shopped at that Marathon Sports before, the explosions were close to friends’ childhood homes and college apartments. I don’t know how someone could be so evil, so malicious, to deliberately cause harm like this, but I’m choosing not to think about that. I’m focusing on the amazing people who pulled together in the face of calamity.

I  read about runners who finished after the blasts but before the race was completely halted, who kept right on running over to MGH and the medical tents to give blood. This made me cry. Because those wonderful, amazing people who gave no thought to themselves or the really fucking difficult physical feat of twenty six goddamn miles, but went straight on to try and help the blast victims.

Anyway, I’m so proud to be from Boston today. I am so proud of the running community, so glad to have come from the amazing running community of Boston.  My thoughts, love and prayers are for Boston right now, for the people who come together to celebrate such a great event, the volunteers and first responders who worked tirelessly to keep the runners safe from further explosions, for the people who were hurt and killed. You can bet that some day when I’m back home, I’ll be running the marathon. If I can’t run, I’ll volunteer. We have had this amazing tradition for one hundred and sixteen years, and the actions of some sick twisted ruin of a person can’t destroy that.