Memorial Day

My grandpa in the Navy, 1944That's my Grandpa in a photo from April 1944, on or very close to his wedding day. He had just turned 24, and the photo was taken shortly before he left for sea during WWII.

I was thinking about him today, Memorial Day, as I thought about veterans in general. His ship, the USS Wasatch (AGC-9), was the flagship of the 7th Fleet, stationed in the South Pacific. Being the flagship meant that admirals used the ship as their command post, as Admiral Kinkaid did to command the naval forces of the 7th Fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of all time. This log of movements chronicles the Wasatch from its departure at Norfolk, VA June 27, 1944 until its return to San Diego, CA November 28, 1945. I also found a more detailed description of the Wasatch's action in the South Pacific as I was looking for information.

I didn't know much about my grandfather's war experience — he never talks about it, not when I was little, not now. But in less than an hour poking around online, I was able to uncover more than I ever knew about where he'd been and the battles in which his ship had been involved. And for the first Memorial Day in a long time, I actually did some good hard thinking and reading about the sacrifices men and women have made throughout history to ensure, "that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." To my grandpa, and veterans everywhere, thank you.

Originally published May 27, 2002

Confetti Cakes Cookbook for dream cakes

The Confetti Cakes CookbookThe Confetti Cakes Cookbook: Spectacular Cookies, Cakes, and Cupcakes from New York City's Famed Bakery by Elisa Strauss is one of those cookbooks that just astounds. I was not familiar with the bakery or this woman's cakes before, but color me impressed. As someone who's not only worked with fondant but actually made it from scratch (not recommended), my mind was blown by what this woman can do with cake!

The book features recipes for all kinds of cakes and cookies, including amazing stacked wedding cake cookies that look just like little cakes, and a sushi cake that looks just like the real thing. Strauss's ability to make cakes that look like baseball caps, sushi, and handbags is incredible. The book also contains basic information about techniques and ingredients that any baker will find useful, even if they don't undertake a week's worth of baking to create the "Sugar Stiletto and Shoebox Cake."

But perhaps what I like best about this book is the inspiration it provides. I'm not sure I'll ever make her exact cakes, but boy does it make me want to come up with my own crazy concoctions. With all the techniques and tips she provides, I have the confidence to do that. Now I just need a willing victim friend who's looking for a birthday or wedding cake.

Harold McGee will demonstrate the…

Harold McGee will demonstrate the application of the scientific method to classical cooking techniques, ingredients and new technologies in a three-day class at the FCI. Drat! That sounds totally cool and right up my alley. Alas, the mid-July date is no good for me. And also it costs $1,200! I think I'll read McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen again instead.

Up to 10 small cups…

Up to 10 small cups of green tea a day is fine but studies show that more than that can be harmful. This is important to note if you're taking green-tea-based supplements because they "can contain up to 50 times as much polyphenol as a single cup of tea." Polyphenols are helpful in small doses but in large doses can cause liver and kidney damage. Everything in moderation, as they say.

His cattle ration consists of…

His cattle ration consists of about 17% "candy meal," a blend of chocolate bars and large chunks of chocolate. And that's not all, in this report about livestock producers feeding their animals human food because ethanol is driving up the price of corn. I'd love to read the whole article, but that damn Wall Street Journal is subscription-only.

How to keep cookies fresh

Cookie Osmosis

After all that perfect chocolate chip cookie baking, what's the use when your batch goes stale in a matter of days? Cookies are great out of the oven, but biting into a hard crumbly mass later in the week is no fun. That's why you need to understand the science of cookie osmosis, or How to Keep Cookies Fresh.

The trick is simple: place a slice of fresh bread in with your cookies a day or two after you've baked them, or whenever you find their texture has deteriorated. The moisture from the fresh bread will migrate to your cookies (through cookie osmosis, see diagram above), rendering them soft and chewable again. It will literally unstaleify them!

Special thanks to my mother-in-law Dee, who passed on this technique to her son, who introduced it to me.

Almost dining at the Waverly Inn

waverly_inn.jpgHow We Almost Ate At Ye Waverly Inn. The Amateur Gourmet and his parents tried to have dinner at the Waverly Inn but there reservation was lost and the host was not accommodating, and well, you have to just read it. The whole tale of the "new" Waverly Inn just saddens me. I used to live down the block from the Inn and went there a few times for dinner. The food was so-so, but the building was fantastic, with cozy fireplaces and a great old bar. I always thought it could be something really special. Then a few years ago, I saw it was for lease, and for about one crazy moment, I fantasized about opening my own restaurant there.

Of course, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and some partners snapped up the lease and the rest is history. He opened an exclusive supper club for himself and his friends and those in the know. Their town cars block the narrow street. And what was once a nice neighborhood joint is now another "it" spot in Manhattan. And the food isn't even supposedly that good! I haven't been, though I might try at some point, just in the hopes that somehow, it's not as bad as everyone says. That somehow, it's become that neat little cozy local restaurant I always wanted it to be.