Monday, September 23, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - MPMF '13!

There are two weekends in Over the Rhine that are not to be missed. The first is Bockfest, the spring beer festival. The second is MidPoint Music Festival - a three day musical extravaganza that sends thousands of people running all over the 45202 to catch smaller, indie acts before they get big.

These events bring the city to life, and show the possibilities of what could be in store for our downtown with eventual repopulation. People stream from bar to bar, venue to venue. Armed with an all access three day pass, gangs of friends roam from show to show to try and uncover the best act of each night. We drink beer and dance our faces off. We tweet inappropriate things to make them show up on the big screen in the Grammar's parking lot. Then we go to bed and do it again. And again. It's an energy that is hard to explain, but absolutely intoxicating.

I'm lucky to have some great musical guru friends who do a lot of research and help tune me in to bands I might not recognize. The weekend before MidPoint I sit down with my computer and go through friends' recommendations, Spotify, and the funny, descriptive rundown of each band from CityBeat (Low Cut Connie sounds like The Black Keys and Ben Folds hit the road in a van that runs on bourbon and expired pork barbecue? I'M SO THERE) to develop a working schedule for the weekend.

This year MPMF put together an interactive schedule - you can go through the lineup and select bands you want to see, and it will save it into a printable/saveable/shareable format. Super fun - go check it out at - you can check out my picks for the weekend if you need inspiration. I tend to gravitate towards upbeat, danceable music that sounds like it would be a more fun live show over beautiful (slower) music. I've got a Spotify playlist with my anticipated bands for your listening pleasure as well.

Here are my tips for an epic MPMF weekend:

  • Use Twitter - the #mpmf hashtag not only allows you to search and see what bands are blowing up, at capacity/sold out, or lame, but you can also send tweets using the hashtag and they'll show up projected at venues around the festival. Pretty fun!
  • Check out the MidWay - Even if you're not feeling down to drop $70 on a three-day pass, you can still participate in MidPoint fun. 12th Street will be blocked off and have free bands and cool stuff in pop up trucks (collaborating with ArtWorks!), as well as food trucks and beer vendors. Also, Washington Park will be loud enough to project beyond the barrier they put up, if you don't mind not seeing the performances.
  • Ride your bike! There is, very sadly, no shuttle traveling around to venues this year - which sucks especially because there are some really good bands playing at out of the way (comparatively) venues like the Taft and Mainstay Rock Bar. If you have lights and access to a bike (or $15 to drop on a nightly rental), biking (on the street! going the correct way!) is a much better alternative to walking. 
  • Have some backup bands - If a show is super popular, you might not get in to the venue if you get there a little late. Also, despite your best efforts, after drinking a few beers, walking ALL THE WAY to a certain venue might seem like a daunting task. 
  • And above all - Go with the flow! Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the band you thought for sure you were going to see is already at capacity. The beauty of the pass is that you can go to ANY of the venues. Relax your expectations, and you will be guaranteed a great show and a fun experience no matter where you end up - which is the most fun part of all. 

T minus 3 days and counting! I'll see you out there!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

There's Always Pie

New life motto.
This year, the changing of the seasons seemed to bring a gust of contentiousness alongside dropping temperatures and turning leaves. Ugly rants from people on all sides - blaming liberals, conservatives, entitled Gen Y-ers, Baby Boomers, poor people, rich people, Republicans, Democrats. Racism. Shootings. Even locally an embattled local race for mayor and City Council riles up neighbors and co-workers, each of us convinced we are right. Hell, in OTR it feels like Main Street versus Vine Street. East and West. New and old. Poor and Rich. Right and wrong?

It's exhausting. Reading story after story, comment after comment filled with bitter, angry words. Hatefulness directed towards our fellow humans. Participating in it makes me sad and tired and doubting humanity. Enough is enough. I beat a retreat from the buzz and bustle of an OTR weekend and got back to basics. Friday was spent solitarily chopping veggies; my kitchen's been blessed this summer by the fruits of my guy's family garden.

Homemade butternut squash ravioli with
brown butter, hazelnuts, and homemade sauce. 
There is nothing more cathartic than Dylan on vinyl, red wine in the glass, and the simple monotony of vegetable prep. Ripe, bursting tomatoes simmered slowly into sauce. Six little butternut squashes were carefully peeled, scooped, and chopped into a dice, frozen for future soups and stews. The worries of the world fall away in the kitchen.

I packed up and headed back to Indiana to see family on Saturday and Sunday. Introduced my sister and her roommate to John Prine and the complexities of homemade ravioli. Together we made a pie to bring to dinner with my grandparents the next day.

I spent Sunday morning learning the intricacies of canning applesauce from my mother. The smell of cooking apples and the rattle of the pressure cooker were an integral part of childhood - I don't even remember what Mott's tastes like. There are
There's ALWAYS pie. 
many paths to adulthood; my final step (marriage, babies, and home ownership notwithstanding) was learning how to can applesauce. I returned to Cincy with a small pressure cooker and my great-grandmother's Foley Food Mill. She ran her applesauce "for company" through twice, and loaded it up with extra sugar. Pure bliss tastes like superfine applesauce - and she was happy to see her grandbabies running around like banshees hopped up on liquid candy.

When you've grown up riding combines, taking back roads to Grandma's and other details of life in or near the country, the Rye Pecan Pie we unveiled for my grandfather Sunday afternoon tastes like home. Two sticks of butter and enough brown sugar, molasses and corn syrup to sink a ship envelope the tastebuds like a soft, billowy-bosomed hug from Grandma herself. It's adapted from Diner, a restaurant known for their fried chicken, in Brooklyn. It called for a springform pan, but that wasn't available in my sister's college kitchen - an 8x8 cake pan worked just as well. It took a while to make - but I'm learning that these good things do. Katy, Kayleigh and I sat up, talking and playing cards, waiting patiently through all the steps of the pie.

Love you, Grandpa.
Grandpa loves pecans. He always has a bag of them and shells them on Sundays when he's cheering on (or verbally lambasting) his football teams. Before I left for college we had Sunday dinner every week at their place without fail for the better part of ten years. He's been an important part of my life - instilled  in me a love of trains and respect for hard work and doing things right at an early age. He's not doing so well as of late -  coming home and seeing him was definitely the right call. I returned to Cincinnati with a slightly sunnier outlook. If worse comes to worse, I'll blow up my tv, throw away my paper, move to the country, and build me a home. 

Rye Pecan Pie, from this recipe.

Serves about 12
Takes 2-4 hours.

Here's what you need:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 1/2 cup ice water, more as needed
  • About 5 cups dried beans (for baking)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup molasses, dark or unsulfured
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons rye or bourbon, not more than 90 proof
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 2 1/2 cups pecan halves

Here's what you do with it:
  • Make the crust: In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and white sugar at low speed. I used the food processor. Add butter and mix until pea-size lumps form. Raise the speed to medium-low and add 1/2 cup ice water in a slow, steady stream, mixing just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Shape dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in plastic, then roll it into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)
  • Open a 10-inch springform pan, flip the bottom over so the outside surface faces in, then close. This will make removing the pie easier when it is done, by preventing the dough from sinking into the pan’s crease. OR use an 8x8 cake pan, well greased with non stick spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle 16 inches in diameter. Lift it and let it settle into pan, fitting the dough down into the edges. Press the sides firmly against pan and pinch around the top rim. Trim dough with kitchen scissors so it hangs over the rim by one inch, reserving excess. Refrigerate in pan until very cold and firm, at least 45 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper in pan, then a piece of aluminum foil. Fill foil lining with dried beans to top of pan. Bake 15 to 25 minutes, until the sides of the crust have set and turned a light golden brown. Remove from oven and lift out the beans, foil and parchment. Patch any holes with reserved dough, pressing firmly. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before filling.
  • Fill the pie: Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and rye or bourbon. Place baked pie shell, still in the pan, on a sheet pan. Gently pour in the filling. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over surface. Working from outside in, arrange pecan halves in concentric circles, without overlapping, until entire surface is covered. (Use only as many as needed.)
  • Bake 50 to 60 minutes, just until filling is firm and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into center. (Do not worry if the overhanging crust becomes very dark brown.) Let cool completely. Use a serrated knife to saw off all overhanging pie crust. Carefully remove outer ring of pan. Slice with a large, very sharp knife and serve with whipped cream.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diner-en-Blanc 2: Electric Bugaloo. Some things are worth the effort.

food, bubbles, friends. check check check. 
The excitement that ran high this weekend is finally slowed enough to wrap my head around. Slowly, the apartment is getting put back together after the frenzy of activity had bits and pieces strewn from one end to the other. Dresses and pants washed and put away. Champagne flutes stored for the next special occasion. They never mention whether Cinderella had a giant pumpkin guts and mouse-horse mess to clean up when she returned from the ball, but I feel her pain.

The Dinner in White returned to Cincinnati for a second year. This time around we were much better prepared. Combining efforts in a group of six helped make for a more streamlined, less harried process. Best of all, the friends we gathered were genuinely excited about the event, and put time, money and effort into preparation. Liz and Kelly sewed chair covers. Dana created exquisite table arrangements. Ali came from Indianapolis. Keith splurged on champagne. We had a pre-planning meeting, divvying up tasks and food preparation and discussing hairstyles. I haven't put this much work into an evening since Duct Tape Prom back in 2004.

Our hard work paid off. Despite the annoyance of walking our stuff PAST the event location to get to the meeting spot (and then turning around and going right back), once the table was set up and the first bottle of bubbly popped, I couldn't imagine a more magical night. Balloons and jazz music floated gently through the trees, and as the sun went down, candles and twinkly lights lit the scene.

For Keith to spend his last evening in Cincinnati in Washington Park - the crown jewel of the neighborhood we both love so much (and have spent years living, working, and playing in) with good food, friends, and dancing was a pretty great send-off. At the end of the night we all felt really lucky to have been able to partake of it.

Freakin tart. You are So FRANCH!
Obviously I had to make a pie for this enchanting evening. I picked the fussiest, French-est one on the list - Raspberry Hazlenut Tart. It required French butter (did you know that's a thing? apparently it has a higher melting point), hazelnut flour, yet another Loose Bottomed Tart Pan (thanks to my friend Margaret now I have one of my own!) and two days of preparation. I was nervous I was going to mess it up - or drop it en route to the picnic - but neither happened.
This pie is seriously ridiculous. If you don't wish to try it out, readers, I don't blame you. First you make the pâte sablée  then refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Everything must be sifted, and measured out with a digital scale. Using special butter, making a hazelnut cream, pre-baking the shell, even down to finding fresh raspberries in September - who would bother with such an undertaking? Is it worth it?

And maybe, this is the question that everyone is ultimately asking of Diner-en-Blanc. It is easy to stand back and ridicule. To scoff at the pretentiousness of those with the ability, means and desire to pay for the privilege to drag their own stuff to the middle of a park. There are many examples of people spending money on something that seems ridiculous. Skiing, manicures, and football games, to name a few. 

Gatsby-style. With dirty feet. 
Should I feel bad about spending my time and money in this way? I wish some of the proceeds for DeB went to charity, but after chatting with a friend who helped put it on, I know that no one is making a profit on it. It's really expensive to rent facilities, purchase insurance and security, lights, sparklers, and more. I budgeted in a big way for the night - borrowed and combined costs where I could, found my dress at a thrift store, made things by hand. I wonder if it's as much of a "show off your wedding china" society-type event in other countries. We Americans tend to make things more complicated than necessary.
Color me naiive, but maybe the goal of this event was simply to create a magical evening. That's what it was for me and mine. Lifted up on good music, bubbles, and the exhilaration of a shared experience with people I love, the night is one of my favorites in recent memory.

It's obviously not for everyone - but that's how it works sometimes. Not every event, new bar, restaurant, or the like is going to appeal to every person - but it's important for the vitality of a city to have a healthy mix of all things. I don't spend a lot of time at Mixx or Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill - but I am glad they exist, if for no other reason than to bring people in. Maybe we can all take a page from Sly and the Family Stone - different strokes for different folks.

Check out more pictures!

Raspberry Hazelnut Tart - from this recipe

Takes about 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 24 to 48 hours’ chilling. (It took me longer than this, but I am no French pastry master.)

This is what you need:

  • 290 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 1/3 cups), plus more for dusting
  • 35 grams hazelnut flour (about 1/3 rounded cup)
  • 110 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 1 cup)
  • 175 grams French-style 82 percent fat butter, such as Plugrà (6 ounces), plus more for greasing pan, at room temperature (I found 7 oz of Presidente at Dean's Imports)
  • 3 grams fine sea salt (about rounded 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3 grams vanilla extract (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 80 grams egg yolk (about 5 yolks)
  • 30 grams whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (about 1/4 cup)
  • 70 grams hazelnut flour (about 3/4 cup) (couldn't find hazelnut, had to sub chestnut)
  • 70 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 grams cornstarch (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams cake flour (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 70 grams French-style 82 percent fat butter, such as Plugrà (2 1/2 ounces), at room temperature
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 grams vanilla extract or paste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 12 grams dark rum (about 1 tablespoon), optional
  • 150 grams good quality raspberry jam (about 1/2 cup)
  • 250 grams raspberries (9 ounces or about 2 cups)
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
This is what you do with it: 
  • Make the pâte sablée: Sift flour, 35 grams hazelnut flour and 110 grams confectioners’ sugar into separate bowls. Place 175 grams butter, 3 grams salt and sifted all-purpose flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until flour and butter just come together. Add sifted hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar and mix on low until ingredients are just incorporated. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks and mix on medium just until ingredients come together. Scrape dough out of bowl and press into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangular block. Wrap airtight in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  • Unwrap dough and cut into two equal pieces. Wrap one piece and refrigerate or freeze for use in another tart.
  • Butter a 9-inch metal tart pan with a removable bottom very lightly and evenly. (If you can see the butter you have used too much.) Place parchment paper or a Silpat on a work surface and dust lightly with flour. Tap on the dough with a rolling pin to make it pliable. Roll dough out gently to about 1/4-inch thickness, frequently rotating it a quarter turn clockwise. Work quickly so dough doesn’t warm up and become sticky.
  • Cut a circle that is 1 1/2 inches larger in diameter than tart pan. (An easy way to do this is to use a larger pan or ring as a guide; set it on top of the dough and cut around it.) Very lightly dust dough with flour; use a pastry brush to remove any excess flour. Wrap dough loosely around rolling pin to lift it up from work surface, then immediately unroll it onto tart pan. Gently guide dough down the sides of the pan, making sure that dough leaves no gap between the bottom edge of the sides of the pan and the bottom. Using a paring knife, trim away excess dough hanging over edges. Refrigerate tart shell, uncovered, for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
  • Assemble the tart: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 15 minutes and place in a bag. Seal bag and gently roll over nuts with a rolling pin, just to crush them into halves. Set aside.
  • Sift together 70 grams hazelnut flour, 70 grams confectioners’ sugar, the cornstarch and the cake flour.
  • Place 70 grams butter, pinch of salt and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Turn off machine, scrape down sides of bowl and add hazelnut flour mixture. Mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add egg and mix at medium speed until incorporated, no more than 2 minutes. Add rum, if using, and mix until incorporated.
  • Remove tart shell from refrigerator. With a fork, poke holes in the dough, 1 inch apart. Spoon or pipe hazelnut cream into bottom of shell. Using a small offset spatula, spread in a smooth, even layer.
  • Bake tart for 40 minutes, until cream and crust are golden brown and the tip of a paring knife comes out clean when inserted. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
  • Remove tart from the ring and, with a small offset spatula, spread raspberry jam over surface in an even layer. (If jam is too stiff to spread easily, place it in a small saucepan and warm it slightly first on top of the stove.) Arrange fresh raspberries on jam. Just before serving, distribute roasted hazelnuts among the raspberries and dust with powdered sugar. The tart is best when eaten the day it is made, but can be refrigerated for a day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


We have some catching up to do. Two weeks ago I made a delicious Jumbleberry Grunt, but due to Final Friday activities (and a last minute call to action), none of my friends made it to my apartment to partake with me. More like a GRUMBLEberry grunt. So I put it away and went out with friends, and Liz and I ate it over the next few days for breakfast. Sucks to your ass-mar.

Last week was a special occasion that called to pull out ALL the stops. My fella Keith got a new job in a different city. He's sampled nearly every pie I've made, and I didn't want him to miss out on too many... so this weekend I made four pies. Three for a going away shindig; the last one we'll talk about another time.

It doesn't really get better than friends and pie. Unless it's friends and THREE pies. True to form, the pie recipes took a bit of work, but the results were definitely worth the effort.

Rhubarb Raspberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits was the easiest. I threw it together last and it cooked up easily. Finding myself without cornmeal, I subbed in instant grits (ground in the food processor to make them a little finer). They worked out splendidly. Normally one thinks of strawberries and rhubarb, but the raspberries added a nice twist.

Lemon Confit Shortbread Tart lived up to its name. The confit itself could've used some more sugar, but the crust was buttery and sweet, and adding a little whipped cream toned down the pucker a little. I'd never made confit before, and was surprised that the peel candied so well. Be prepared - the sour will sucker punch a little, but it's really delicious.

The last pie was my favorite. Every fruit pie made so far could easily be created sans crust for an incredible ice cream topping, or just eaten alone- and I could eat a pint of this filling all by myself. Plum Chutney Crumb Pie got started two days early. Boiling down plums with rosemary, black pepper (yup!), star anise, and cinnamon stick created a complex chutney that was unexpectedly tasty. I was nervous it would be too savory, but the balance worked. Well done, New York Times.

The kitchen was a disaster zone, but the Neon's courtyard was perfectly peaceful for a late summer evening. Lots of people came by for well wishing, and by the end of the night all the pies were pawned off.