Sunday, October 30, 2016

Editing 101: To Quote or Not to Quote

I know that a lot of people are confused about the use of quotation marks. Though they seem to be very sure about them in their usage, so maybe they don't think they're confused about them.

Here's a really short explanation of when to use quotation marks:
  • around dialogue, such as:  

"The store is open," he said. 
 
  • around words which might be unknown (or used in a way previously unknown) to the reader, such as:  
 
When we're talking about a store being available to the public, we refer to that store as being "open" - though its front door may not be standing open, or it may not have a physical door at all. 
 
  • around words which might be facetious, where "air quotes" might be used if you were speaking, such as: 

They say the store is "open" 24/7, but apparently that's only true if you know the owner.


Here's an even shorter explanation of when not to use quotation marks:


I saw that sign on Thursday and I'm still not sure what they were hoping the quotation marks would signify. (I also wasn't immediately sure what "open-remodel" meant, but at least I could figure that out via context.)

Even more confusing to me is the fact that it is a professionally printed sign - not just something someone dashed off with a marker on whiteboard - which would indicate that the writer was pretty darned sure it was correct.

If you're ever not sure about the use of quotation marks, shoot me a message. I promise not to be "too" snarky when I reply.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Bundt #3 - Apple Bundt

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted. The weather has been freakishly nice, lately, so we've been doing things that we don't usually do this late in the year (like spending much of last Saturday washing all of our windows).

Hopefully, if you've still got some apples around, this will have been worth the wait!

This recipe comes to us from Bundt Cake Bliss, and even inspired me to buy a brand new Bundt cake pan from the Nordic Ware Factory Store:


The recipe was pretty straight forward, and I took the recommendation of using multiple kinds of apple (I used Granny Smith and Macintosh).


One of my favorite kitchen purchases ever was a hand-crank "apple peeler-corer-slicer." I've had it for probably 20 years, and although I only use it 3 or 4 times per year, I think it's worth the space it takes up on my shelf.

You slide an apple onto the prongs, and then, as you turn the crank, it moves the apple through a peeler mechanism, as well as coring and thinly slicing it.


I realized, recently, that I did not actually own a standard apple wedger-corer - which also has its uses, and would be handy for this if I hadn't had my gadget. When I went out to buy it, I noticed that it describes what it does a bit deceptively:
Do you see that it says that it "Slices and Dices"? I'm not really sure how they think that the piece (below) does either of those things.


But, anyway... Back to the Bundt.

After making quick work of my apples, I added in spices. I opted for Nutmeg, instead of Mace (it was closer at hand, and I really like apples with cinnamon and nutmeg). 


Using the measuring cups Christopher bought which I really figured I'd never use, I got all of my wet ingredients together in one bowl...

...and then started combining things:

Remember how we've discussed that Bundt pans come in different sizes? This star is only a 10-cup pan, but the recipe was for a 12-cup pan. So I had to pay attention and guess at how much batter to pour in before layering in the apples. 
I won't lie - I think that the thin-sliced apples worked better for this than larger chunks would have worked, though it did mean some work to try to get the batter to move between the slices.


Because I knew there would be leftover batter and apples, I planned ahead and greased a large muffin tin. And I filled that with the rest of the ingredients.
 

One thing to be cautious of in this situation: The muffin-sized cakes are going to bake at a much different rate than the full cake. I had to kind of guess at the times, and keep an eye on the pan to make sure they didn't go too far.


Luckily, they turned out pretty well, and only had minor issues coming out of the pan. (Basically, the apples were too close to the sides, and so the batter hadn't joined top to bottom in that final one.)


On the other hand, the full Bundt came out of the pan with no trouble at all, so I just dusted it with a little powdered sugar and called it good to go.


The cake was really amazing. The apples gave it a ton of flavor - and moisture - and I was able to eat a little extra of it by telling myself that it was "healthy" (since it had fruit in it).

The muffin-sized cakes were crunchy around the edges, as well, which I really loved. And they stored well for a couple of days.

REMINDER: I'm still looking for recipes to work with! I've had a request for a pumpkin cake, and I've got a couple of ideas that I'm looking at. But if there's anything you want me to try out and write up, let me know!
 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Editing 101: Spellcheck Is Not Your Friend

We've talked about this before, but I found a great example of it recently, so I thought it was a topic worth a quick revisit.

Spellcheck - spoiler alert - only checks for spelling errors. (If only they could have named it in some way to clue users in on that, right?)

This means that a word that is technically spelled correctly - and might even look right at a glance - isn't necessarily the word that you intended. But Spellcheck isn't going to tell you, because Spellcheck is looking at the spelling of the word, and not the word's meaning.

This is how men end up with receding heir lines, and why women have to be careful about how they style their hare.


Spellcheck, unfortunately, is also the giver of mirth to many editors, because of what it leaves behind.

Just last week I came across this gem:

"The cow towing attorneys answered his every whim."

When I first read that, I inserted a mental hyphen into "cow-towing" and assumed that all of the attorneys were being forced to pull cattle along behind them. 



A friend of mine pointed out, however, that without the hyphen this would mean that the attorneys were being towed by a cow while said cow was responding to all of the whims. 

I honestly had to read the sentence multiple times before I realized that the intent was to state that the attorneys were "scraping and grovelling" before the man in question (aka "kowtowing"), and there were no bovines in the room. 

Personally, I think Spellcheck was just having too much fun with that one and decided to milk the situation for laughs


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Argument for Editorial Arguments

It seems somehow topical, as the current election season wears on, that we take some time to discuss the art of argument. Or possibly even to simply debate the meaning of discussion. (I could go on, but I'll stop before I have use up the entire thesaurus.)

As you work with an editor, you'll more than likely have some pushback. There will almost always be times when you and your editor - moving along all happily and breezy - come across a point of contention.

You might be asked to change the order of chapters. You might be told that a character's name doesn't really work. You might even be told that a major point in your argument is flawed.

Does this mean it's time to start doubting all you've written? Do you need to re-think your entire thesis? Is it time to choose a new editor?

Yes, in fact, if you're someone who is prone to blowing absolutely everything out of proportion, then it is the perfect time for you to do all three of those things.


On the other hand, if you're able to take a step back and truly consider your editor's recommendations, you might be able to figure out where you've missed the mark - even if you never find fully common ground.

Let's look at a quick example. Say that you've set up a portion of your argument based on one single point, such as:

Dogs shouldn't be allowed in the house, because all dogs eat furniture. 


Your editor, with no disrespect intended, might reply with "I had a dog, once, who never ate any of my furniture. Are you sure this is correct?"

You have three options at this point.

Option 1) If you feel your argument is strong, you can explain - not just to your editor, but also to your readers - why you feel this way.

NOTE: That italicized bit is really important. I don't know how many times I've made notes in the margins of a manuscript, only to have the author send it back to me with the manuscript exactly the same, but a two-paragraph explanation IN THE MARGIN. This is nice and all but the margin notes won't ever get to the reader unless they are incorporated into the text.

So, assuming that the author wants to back this argument, he can say something to explain it, such as:

A study by a leading group of pet psychologists has found that every dog has an innate desire to chew on furniture, be it cushions, tables, or chair covers. Though not all dogs will act on this, it is entirely possible. Thus, the only way to avoid canine/furniture issues, would be to keep all dogs out of all houses.

Of course, for this argument to really work, there needs to be a citation, explaining just which "leading group of pet psychologists" issued this statement, and whether this study included multiple breeds of dogs, etc.

Option 2) If you feel that the editor's response calls into question the validity of your claim, you could either couch it in some softer language ("Some studies have shown that some dogs...") or do more research and either remove it from your text or modify it appropriately. This will most likely lead to a ripple effect of needing to modify the rest of the text to back up your new claim.

Option 3) If you do more research and find that the editor is correct and realize that the editor's statements call a central claim to your book into question - and possibly completely negate all you've been trying to do - then you can rethink your book entirely.

Now, most people aren't going to take Option 3. Assuming you've done your research, you may be able to find some way to refute, or at least raise discussion around, what the editor has said. If this is the case, then Option 1 and Option 2 are perfectly good ways to go.

However, frankly, if you are truly open to what your editor is saying - and you and your editor each have backing and support for your assertions - there's always the chance that Option 3 might be the way to go. Before you trash it all, though, this would be time for a big discussion with your editor, starting with questions like "Do you think the rest of my book has any validity?" "Do you think I need to completely start over?" "Are any parts of my book salvageable?"



If your editor is worth her salt, she'll be able to walk you through your crisis of faith in yourself, and you'll come out the other side with a much stronger book.

And, in case you're wondering, here's a short list of things that I don't recommend that you do if your editor calls some of your facts into question:
  • Don't decide to reject all of your editor's other valid points (such as changes to grammar, spelling, etc.) because you have a difference of opinions on a point you're making.
  • Don't throw your hands in the air and declare to everyone around you that it's a conspiracy. 
  • Don't start throwing random pieces of unrelated information around to try to prove your point (in other words, if your claim that all dogs should be kept outside because they eat furniture is being refuted, don't come back and say "but dogs' nails scratch hardwood floors" as if that proves your "eating the furniture" claim - an unrelated truth may be true, but it's still unrelated). 
  • Don't make accusations about the editor's claim, as if it will back up your argument (if your editor's response is "my dog never did this," you won't prove your point by telling your editor "your dog looks funny and once ran away").

And always remember - whether in editing or politics - decisions you make today will impact what the future holds. Making those decisions with as much unbiased fact-gathering and discussion as possible gives you the best chance for a positive overall outcome.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Baking Happy Hour - Bourbon Bundt Cake

As promised on Wednesday, we've got a triad of Bundt cakes to talk about. And here is the second: Kentucky Pound Cake from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts.

I got the book a number of years ago (I'm not going to look at the note in the front to see just how many years), and there are a number of recipes I use from it. I really love the East 52nd Street Lemon Cake, among others, which uses the same basic technique for glazing that this one does.

I really need to find a better way to display cookbook pages if I'm going to keep doing this, don't I?
You'll notice that the title of the recipe is "Kentucky Pound Cake," but I called it a "Bourbon Bundt Cake" - I think you'll understand why as we go along.

Most of the steps for this are almost the same as for the Lemon-Lavender Bundt cake from the other day. There are a few distinct differences.

1) This recipe is very clear that you need to sift your dry ingredients. I honestly don't know the last time I sifted my flour, but I did it this time, just to be safe.

Do not tell my junior high Home Ec teacher that I washed the sifter out in the sink afterward. I remember her specifically telling us that it would make the flour gummy and you'd never get it clean again.
2) This cake recipe - unlike most cakes I've ever made - has only light brown sugar in the cake itself, instead of the more traditional white granulated sugar. 
It also struck me as a little odd that the recipe calls for "one pound, plus one cup" of light brown sugar. This means you can't simply weigh it all, but you also can't simply measure it all. (Or maybe you can, and I just don't know my weight/cups conversions for packed light brown sugar.)

At any rate, I ended up with this kind of Devil's Tower-looking mass of brown sugar-y goodness in my prep bowl.
So, as we did in Wednesday's post, we creamed the butter (okay... I used margarine) and brown sugar, and then added in the eggs one at a time. Then we got to the "alternating dry and wet" ingredients bit, which is where this got really fragrant.
Yes, that's a little tiny (well... small, at least) bottle of Jim Beam on the counter. We don't typically have Bourbon in the house, so I went to the liquor store and got all sorts of odd looks asking which bottle they had would be closest to a half cup.
I'm not a huge fan of "brown liquors" for their aromas, but when this went into the mix with the brown sugar and vanilla, it smelled amazing.

This batter was a little closer to a standard cake batter than the last pound cake was, but you can still see that it didn't just go all runny when I put it into the pan.

Because this pan is fairly easy to get around in (sorry, you'll have to scroll down to the "after" photo to see the actual pan), I used my margarine wrapper to grease it, and then coated it with flour. I didn't use the "butter and sugar" method that I used last time, because this cake was going to get a liquid glaze, so the crunchy sugar exterior would just melt.
Oh - the astute among you will notice that this is not a Bundt pan. It's a tube pan (with a removable fluted base). Let's not mention that to the people whom we told we were going to bring multiple Bundt cakes for their party...
An hour and 25 minutes later (pound cakes are not for people in a hurry), the cake came out of the oven to cool, and the house smelled of boozy, caramely goodness.


After some cooling time followed by my usual prayers and finger burns, the cake came out of the pan looking pretty awesome, even if it wasn't technically a Bundt.

It's good to go when it becomes clear, because that means all the sugar has dissolved.
I prepped my glaze (wondering the entire time whether it was really wise to have alcohol over an open flame), and put the cake over a sheet pan so that the pan would catch the dripping glaze and I wouldn't have to spend the next hour trying to wash down the countertop. 

If you look closely, you can see the light coming through around the edge of the pan in the background. That's because it's a removable-bottom pan, and I had taken it apart as I was removing the cake. 
As the cake cooled and the glaze hardened, the cake actually got a little darker looking, and by the time it was ready to plate and take, it was pretty much picture perfect, if I do say so myself.
You can see how the sugar in the glaze has started to recrystallize, lending a really nice outer "shell" to the cake when you cut into it.
Again, as with the last one, I don't have a "money shot" photo, because we didn't cut these before taking them to the party we went to. Here are the things I can say about it:
  • The texture was a little denser than I expected (considering the liquid nature of the batter)
  • You do not want to use expensive Bourbon in this, because the flavor is probably going to get lost in the sugars
  • The booze does not have a chance to "cook out" because the glaze isn't ever cooked - so you probably don't want to serve this to any kids. 
So there you have it: a perfect fall happy hour cake!


Tune in next week for a Bundt cake that will help you dispose of some of the extra apples you have after going out apple picking this fall.

*****

Reminder: I'm on the lookout for recipes you want me to work with and post about. Whether they are something you've never tried because you want to see how it turns out, first; or something that you had a flop with and want to see if it was just you; let me know, and I'll whip it up and see what happens!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Baking Weather: Gluten-Free (and soy-free) Lemon-Lavender Bundt Cake

Fall seems to be setting in pretty solidly this week. After having 70-plus-degree days over the weekend, we had a high of about 50, today. At this rate, I might have to put away my shorts for the season pretty soon. (Though... this is Minnesota... so if it bounces back up above 60 any time between now and March, they'll probably be back out.)

Sartorial issues aside, fall makes me think even more about baking than usual. (Not as much as the Holidays, but that's a whole different level of baking for me.) I thought it might be fun to look at some variations on one of the most Midwestern of cakes, the Bundt.

In case you're not sure what a Bundt cake is, I offer you this helpful clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding:


Okay. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's look at the first of the three Bundt cakes we'll be baking this week: a gluten-free (and soy-free) lemon-lavender Bundt cake made by slightly modifying a Martha Stewart recipe. (The original recipe can be found here, on MarthaStewart.com.)

I know that you're probably thinking that the gluten free portion of this recipe is just a gimmicky thing. It's not. A good friend of mine developed a series of massive food allergies a few years ago (long before gluten-free was a grocery store buzzword), and she started searching out recipes that she could bake for herself and eat. As one of her baking friends, I worked with her on a number of projects, and we bounced a bunch of ideas off of each other.

Recently, I started trying out Bob's Red Mill's "One-for-one" gluten-free flour. Basically, this is a flour that can be used straight from the bag in most recipes, without having to add a bunch of other things (like Xanthan Gum) to make it all hold together. It's been a godsend, if I'm being honest. I've been able to bake all sorts of things with it without any problems.

So, when Christopher and I were getting ready to get married this summer, as we were looking at the number of attendees who couldn't have gluten, I asked Kathy for her favorite cake recipe. She gave me this one, and I made a few changes (which we'll discuss as we go along).

For the soy-free part (another of the massive food allergies), I make sure to bake this with butter, though my go-to is typically margarine, unless a recipe specifically calls for butter. 

Kathy did all the math to make this cake with a specialty blend of GF flours. I, on the other hand, used Bob's Red Mill's 1-for-1 Baking Flour, so I left out the Xanthan Gum.
For the most part, I followed the recipe pretty much as written in the original - using the 1-for-1 GF flour in place of the all-purpose flour.

I mixed my buttermilk with my lemon zest, juiced my lemons, and blended my dry ingredients a separate bowl. 
As a reminder, the official version of the recipe is on Martha Stewart's website at the link, above.

Then I added my secret ingredient (which apparently wanted to stay secret, because this photo really didn't turn out well): Lavender.

Lavender and lemon - if you haven't had it - is an amazing combination. I've found that a good rule of thumb is to use about the same measure of lavender as you do lemon zest. I've also found that you'll get more flavor from the lavender if you crush it a bit and let it soak in your liquids before blending it into whatever you're working with. In the case of this cake batter, I measured out about as much lavender as there seemed to be lemon zest, crushed it in my palm, and then dropped it into the buttermilk to infuse until I was ready for it.

Before I went much further, while the oven was preheating to 350 degrees, I prepped my 12-cup Classic Bundt pan. (I have to admit that I love living near the Nordic Ware Factory Store - you can get almost any shape of pan that they make - plus they do some great deals. One of the other two Bundts I'll be featuring was done in a pan I bought specifically for it the day before.)

If you're not sure how big your Bundt pan is, it should say either on the "handle" or as part of the outer design somewhere around the rim.
Although there are many different ways to prep a pan for baking (not the least of which is with a basic spray to get into all the nooks and crannies), since I was baking this to be Gluten Free AND Soy Free, I wanted to control exactly what went into the pan.

I melted some butter on the stove, used a basting brush (and my fingers) to rub the melted butter everywhere, and then shook in some sugar to coat the pan. Yes, you can use flour, but sugar will caramelize along the way and, when the cake cools, will give you a sweet crust on the outside of your cake. (I learned that trick from Christopher.)
I went all the way on this, and used some Lemon Lavender sugar from one of my favorite foodie shops - The Golden Fig in St. Paul. They create their own sugar and spice blends, as well as stocking a lot of local goods. AND they're really cool people - even President Obama thought so when he stopped there a year or so ago.
So now it was time to assemble the cake batter. We start with creaming the butter and sugar and adding the eggs one at a time.


Then there's the piece that makes me happy our Kitchen Aid mixer has it's pouring shield: You need to add the flour mixture and the liquids in alternating amounts (three flour, two liquid, starting and ending with the flour). Without a pouring shield, this would probably have resulted in me coating the entire kitchen in flour.


I'm always surprised at how... non-cake-batter-y "real" cake batter can be. You know how, when you do a boxed mix, it just pours? That doesn't happen with a pound cake. A pound cake needs a spatula, and needs to be manipulated in the pan to make sure it is evenly distributed.

I swear that 98% of that made it into the pan. I will not say that 1% of it didn't end up "taste tests"... which, of course, I would never recommend because it has raw eggs in it... but it's so good!
Bundt cakes (and pound cakes in general) take a long time to bake. This one takes "50 to 60" minutes, if you're baking based solely on time. I typically set the timer for the earliest time, and then start doing the toothpick test and adding time as needed. The recipe says to tent foil over this cake if it starts to brown too quickly, but I didn't have any problem with that.


Fifteen minutes with the cake sitting on the rack, still in the pan, just kind of taunting you, can be difficult. But this is what allows the cake to solidify so that you can flip it out without having to shift gears and present your guests with a trifle, instead.

You can see the flecks of lavender in the cake. You can also see the one spot (at about the one o'clock position on the cake) where I didn't grease the pan quite well enough, so the crust stuck to the pan.
I always do the "put the rack over the pan and flip it all at once" thing. I won't lie - I'm lucky to have long fingers and wide hands, so that that is possible with a Bundt pan. I still end up burning myself about one out of every three times I do this. And I do a combination of swearing and praying an average of one out of ever one times I do this.

After the cake cools - which can take forever if it's sitting in a warm kitchen, or almost no time at all if you set it in front of an air conditioning vent or on a table in the porch where the temp is 20 degrees cooler than the house - you can serve it as-is, or add a glaze.

Because I like to really amp up the lemon and lavender in this one, I vote for a lemon glaze (Martha's got one on her website, too.) The original recipe calls for only lemon juice with the sugar, but I like both the look and flavor of the lemon zest. So I add about a teaspoon of zest - as well as a teaspoon of "bruised" lavender.

When you mix it up, the glaze needs to be a consistency that will "flow" but won't "run." I know that the recipe gives specific amounts, but I always end up going back and forth adding more sugar, then more liquid, then more sugar, until I get to something like this: 


Spooning this over your cooled Bundt should result in it running down the sides, as well as into the signature center hole.

(Martha suggests that you do this while the cake is still on a rack, and that you put waxed paper beneath the rack to catch all of the drips. That's probably a really good idea. Granted, it's not what I did, but it's a good idea, nonetheless.)

One of the great things about Bundt cakes (and pound cakes) is that most of them tend to be fairly sturdy and, thus, movable. After the glaze had stopped running, I transferred this one to a plate with a "doily" made of cut parchment paper (which - in what felt like a Martha-worthy move - I trimmed to have an edge which mimicked the cake's design). 


I don't actually have a "slice" picture of this cake, because we took it to a birthday party, along with three other cakes - two of which we'll be discussing in the next few days. I can tell you that - even with the GF flour - this has a "pound-cake dense" but springy texture.

As a pound cake, it's perfect for summer - zesty and floral. As a Bundt, it's the perfect way to say goodbye to summer, and welcome the start of fall.