Adventures in Ganache*

I ditched the housestaff Halloween party on Friday in favor of baking pies to take to our own Neuro-IM Halloween/birthday/engagement/let’s-just-have-a-party party.

2015-10-31 16.48.18

Aside from the storebought chocolate crust, all of that was made by hand! A giant can of pumpkin puree, two cans of evaporated milk, a bunch of spice…. and chocolate. Oh god, the chocolate.

My idea, you see, was to do something like this, piping chocolate on the pumpkin pie to make a spiderweb design. So I bought Ghirardelli’s chocolate (mistake #1: should have done a trial run with the cheapy stuff!) and went to work.

The recipe, and all similar recipes I found online, has you zap the chocolate in the microwave to melt it. Fair enough. Except I tried that and succeeded only in scorching my chocolate to death. Seriously, when I pulled it out of the microwave it was smoking so hard I thought my fire alarm was going to go off. So then I tried again, with a makeshift bain-marie/double boiler constructed out of my piping bag:

bain marie

Took about half an hour, but I finally got enough chocolate to melt. Piped the pie on the right with non-equidistant lines…. spatial reasoning was never my strong suit … and put it back in the fridge to set.

But as I was piping the pie on the left in that picture, the resistance in the piping bag started to climb, and climb…. I pressed harder and harder …. and the coupler and tip went flying across my kitchen, schmearing chocolate on everything including me. (Thank goodness I wasn’t be-costumed yet!) Turns out a piece of unmelted chocolate had wedged itself in there and had blocked up the tip until everything exploded. Like when a patient is constipated and then has overflow diarrhea around the blockage. (You’re welcome for that visual analogy in a post about food.)

So now, my pie was covering in goops of chocolate, which was setting fast. I had to think quickly. Grabbed a knife outta the drawer and began spreading the chocolate across the top like icing. A very dark, bittersweet icing. I had to remelt more chocolate (another 30 minutes!) because I didn’t have enough to cover the whole pie … good thing I bought extra (expensive!) chocolate!

Then it looked sort of boring and plain, so I softened cream cheese, dyed it orange with food coloring, and piped a carved pumpkin face. It looks sort of yellow-white in that photo, but it real life was bright neon orange. Like HELLO I AM A PUMPKIN PIE.

Morale of the story: things go wrong unexpectedly, a little flexibility saves the day. Not unlike residency, actually. But pumpkin pie is waaaay more delicious.

* Astute cooks will recognize that this is not ganache. Actual ganache has cream and therefore remains soft and spreadable, doesn’t harden within minutes like pure melted chocolate. But ganache sounds fancier than “That melted candy bar,” and so ganache it is.

A few more quickies

Book #16: Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline:   [2 stars]
Very weird, this book. It’s supposed to be about the contrast in the foster care system now vs a hundred years ago, when kids were apparently shipped across the country in trains (literally) to be delivered as farm hands to random families. I guess this was the premise of Anne of Green Gables, but I never really thought about that period in social history, so that was good, I guess. But the writing was stilted and characters wooden. This could have been a good American Girl book, and even that’s pushing it. But as grown-up literature? No thanks.

Book 17: Learning to Bow, by Bruce Feiler [2 stars]
An American dude goes to Japan to teach English and essentially writes an anthropological text on Japanese society. Mr Feiler clearly has a lot of respect for Japanese culture, and does a good job of viewing it with distance and awe. But I had no sense of HIM as a person … I guess that’s the point of anthro, but I’ve had enough narrative to know that there is always a bias, unconscious or not, and Mr Feiler comes across as so objective (falsely so) that its hard to care much about him and his book. The sections on him struggling to teach and engage his class were great. The ones about how many honorifics to include in a Japanese letter, meh.

Notes today, and some Twitter-style book reviews

“[Patient] arrived 53 minutes late for a 60 minute appointment, so evaluation was somewhat limited.”


Book #13: The Martian, by Andy Weir: [1 star]

Left for dead on Mars. But rebuilt the oxygen converter. YAY!

[I was a chemistry major. I enjoyed chemistry quite a bit. But let’s face it, narrative descriptions of the Wagner-Meerwein rearrangement does not make for compelling reading. For an action-adventure-scifi novel, this was a snoozefest.]

Book #14: Boy Snow Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi [3 stars]

Snow White Re-Told: The mirror reveals hidden secrets.

[More “inspired by” than “modern retelling,” to be honest. A meditation on race and identity and mimesis. The switch in narrators part way through, then switch back to the original voice, was jarring. The plot twist at the end felt gratuitous. But overall, an enjoyable read from a compelling writer. I’m interested in her other modern fables, too, like Mr. Fox, and the Icarus Girl.]

Book #15: Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard Morais [2 stars]

Edward Said rolls over in his grave.

Oh god. This book. It got super hyped cause of the movie (which I still haven’t seen) but it was extremely simplistic and more like a fairy tale than a book. And a Kiplingesque fairy tale at that. India is heavily Othered, throughout the book. The protagonist was dull and diffident — the real characters are Papa and Mme Mallory, and the second half of the book without them slogs. Avoid.


File:Ernest Ange Duez - Resting - Google Art Project.jpg
Descando; Ernest Ange Duez; Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, even without having anything to do on the weekend, I find myself exhausted at the thought of work on Monday.

I find out where I matched for fellowship on Monday. So maybe that’s why I’m feeling so exhausted. I have a LOT of thoughts about the fellowship match process — it was much weirder than it was for the residency match, perhaps because fellowship match is newer (until just a few years ago, people just applied, were offered a position, and went it with). I am extremely nervous. I know it will be ok. I just don’t know what ok will look like, I guess. OK could take me, literally, across the country.


Books 11 and 12

The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

This was a fun little twofer, a beach read of sorts. (I didn’t make it to the beach this year, but it’s a similar light romantic comedy.) I usually hate romantic comedies because they are SO predictable, but The Rosie Project (the first book of the two), is actually a comedy that happens to be about love. So unlike 95% of romantic comedies, this one is actually funny! The premise is that Don Tillman, a Really Smart Scientist, decides to go about finding a wife, in the most rational manner possible: with a questionnaire. Meanwhile, a friend of a friend enlists his help in tracking down her biological father. Hijinks ensue — there is a lot of very physical and very verbal comedy in this novel. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that it was originally pitched as a screenplay, and it would make a great movie.

The follow-up Rosie Effect loses some of the charm of the original, in part by transplanting the action from Australia to NYC, the city where dreams go to die. (Ask me how I really feel about New York.) Now Rosie is pregnant, so Don tries to learn how to be a model father … except no one can give him a straight answer as to what that means. Rosie was smugly irritating in this one in ways she wasn’t in the last, but the scenes with Don going off on his own to study young children in the park, or enrolling himself in a Child Welfare Project, were pretty amusing. A very satisfying read to them both.

Ratings: 4/5 for the first one, and 3/5 for the second.

Books #7 through 10

I’ve been reading, I swear! But a little delinquent on the book reports. Blame summer; even without legitimate vacation, it certainly lends itself to lazy days by the pool.

Book 7: Americanah, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Rating: *****

Wow, that’s a mouthful! And it’s a mouthful of a book, too. It’s told from the perspectives of two Nigerians, once lovers now apart, as they navigate American and British sentiment on immigration, race, and the like. Strongly drawn characters; I preferred Obinze over Ifemelu — he is a deeply sympathetic man, while she is a force of nature. The structure is a little unusual and episodic, almost like its a series of connected short stories that were linked by interludes into this longer, book-length tale. But it’s the kind of book that stays with you for weeks after, especially reading it now, after the year we lost Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. Definitely a desert island read, as was her previous book, Purple Hibiscus.

Book 8: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie King. Rating: ***

Veeeeery different style. This one is the first in a series of mystery novels built on the premise that Sherlock Holmes grew old, retired to the English countryside (and kept bees??) and then was drawn out of retirement in the early 1920s by a proto-flapper by the name of Mary Russell. As an inveterate Sherlockian — the Great Detective features front and center in my personal statements ranging from college all the way to fellowship! — I’m always a little wary of adaptations and continuations of the canon. The BBC’s Sherlock won me over in spite of myself, but this one, somewhat less so. It’s really more of a Mary Russell mystery than a Sherlock Holmes mystery (and its quite a fine mystery at that), but it made the whole Sherlock thing seem like a bit of a gimmick to get attention. The sequel would probably be a good beach read if it landed in my lap but I wouldn’t go out of my way to hunt it down.

Book 9: The Frozen Thames, by Helen Humphreys. Rating: ****

I read this for my book club, way back in February or so. (To be honest, a frozen river sounds just awesome on this 90+ degree September day.) The premise of the book is simple: the River Thames has frozen solid 40 times in recorded history; Ms Humphreys has put together a series of vignettes for each of those times. She does an excellent job with the variations in style over time. And there are broader themes of hubris and wonder. In the words of my 7th grade English teacher: this book was Man vs Nature. (Funny how we never read any Woman vs Nature. I’ll save that rant for another time.)

Book 10: The Martian, by Andy Weir. Rating: *

I hated this book. I finished it, but I hated it. I usually like adventure stories, and survival stories, and what could be more adventure-survival than being left for dead … ON MARS! But the narrator was terrible. He was supposed to be a 30 something materials engineer (who randomly was also a botanist? Because people get PhDs in two totally disparate fields (“it’s science!”) by the time they are 30.) But the way he talked, he sounded like a 12 year old school girl. The flux capacitor is working!!! Yaaaay! Seriously. No. I almost expected to see hearts flying over his “i”s, the way the reeally popular girls did on the covers of their Trapper Keepers, in gel pen.

OK, folks, that’s all for now. More to come soon