Sunday, February 26, 2017

Proofreading: Minding Your Possessives and Plurals

I've been thinking about this topic for the past few days, trying to think of solid, witty, interesting ways to make my point. But which point to make?

First, there's the "Everyone needs a proofreader" point - which I know we've talked about in the past. No piece of writing is ever so short that it doesn't deserve having someone proofread it. This is doubly true if the piece of writing is going out into the world to represent your company. Perhaps, for instance, if you're running an ad in a relatively high-end Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine.

**We'll discuss levels of culpability in a moment, don't worry.

Then, there's the "You don't use an apostrophe to make a word plural" point, which is one of the things that everyone should have learned in grammar school (you know, when being taught grammar). In other words:

day is singular: One day at a time.
days is plural: There are seven days in a week.

day's is still singular, and now it is also possessive: The day's highlight was writing this post.
Of course, there is one instance where I can see people getting confused, but I'm going to try to make it clear:  

days' is both plural and possessive, but the "s" makes it plural (see above), while the apostrophe makes it possessive (each piece has its own reason for being there): Several days' work left him exhausted.  

Why don't we look at this again: 

The singular "day" is made plural by adding an "s" = days
The singular "day" is made possessive by adding "apostrophe-s" = day's
The (already) plural "days" is made possessive by simply adding an apostrophe = days'

I'm not going to say this is always the rule - because no language is so cut-and-dried - but it's pretty solid. 

Which brings me back to the relatively high-end Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine ad which I saw last week. 

But, first, a quick chain-of-command discussion for such publications. I used to work with the production of programs for theatrical events, and we often would send over all of our copy and images to the production team at the company we worked with to create the programs. That production team would also compile all of the ads that went into the programs, and would help with all of the layout. Often, if we had any errors in our text (or wonky images, or anything), someone at the production house would let us know either by calling us up or by flagging them in the physical proof. 
Once the physical proof was ready to go, they'd send it back to us, and our team would go through it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that everything we had sent through was correct. We may or may not look at the ads (many of which may not even have been placed, yet), and then either sign off or request changes. 
At the same time, the production team would look at everything one more time (or lots more times), and - from time to time - would have to again reach out to us - or to the ad creators. If the ads came from people who were in a hurry - or who didn't think it mattered - they'd just let errors slide. And... well... I think that might come into play in what I saw this week.

One more quick refresher on plural and possessive nouns: 

client = singular                 clients = plural
client's = singular possessive                clients' = plural possessive

 I apologize, in advance, if the following image makes your eyes and/or head hurt:*

The best I can say is that it's possible that the third apostrophe on that page ("buyer's") might be correct - though I believe they probably meant it to be possessive and plural = "buyers'."

Seriously, folks. High-end magazine. Full-page ad. Wouldn't it have been worth it to pay a proofreader $20 to make sure that your firm didn't look like... well... like that ad makes them look?

*I'd also like to point out that "Client's" should be lower case in the second line. But I'm letting that slide since it's the least egregious of the errors on the page.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fried Dough #4: Yeast Beignets

Before we go into the discussion of Beignets made with yeast (as opposed to other leavening agents), I'd like to apologize to CindyfromIdaho for the fact that I came up with no answers to the "why are my beignets not rising like they should" question. Hopefully, at least, this recipe will give you some alternate ideas.

Now, as we all remember from the beginning of the month, my first beignet recipe - which did not use yeast - met a little resistance from a few people who felt that beignets should always contain yeast. So... after some looking around, I came across a recipe from Paula Deen on the Food Network website. (Say what you will about Paula and the reasons she got rushed off of Food Network, her recipes have never let me down.) The recipe is for French Quarter Beignets, and I'll just let you bop over to that site for the recipe, if you want it.

On to the photos:
In the front right, you can see our brand new jar of yeast - replacing the one from the freezer, which had had a 2010 expiration date.
As you might guess, based on the fact that our last jar of yeast had had an expiration date from 2010, we don't work with a lot of yeast in our house. But I know all of the basics of what is supposed to happen, and felt pretty confident.

I got my lukewarm water, and added the sugar, and then added the yeast. 

And, when nothing happened, I stirred. And waited some more.

Then I dumped out the first batch, and got out a thermometer before starting the second batch.

I actually had to go online to find out what the right temp for yeast is - apparently whoever put all the info on the jar just kind of assumes that if you're buying it you already know what to do.

I tried again.

This time, thankfully, stuff started to happen.

And, within just a little while, all of those little plant/animals had gorged on the sugar and bloomed all over the place in my bowl.
I learned all about yeast from Alton Brown on "Good Eats" - but aside from the fact that large puppets eat sugar molecules and burp out gases, I'm still a little unclear on it.
Next step: the rest of the wet ingredients.

I never really notice how precarious my bowls are when I'm mixing. But this one, in this photo, does make me a little nervous.
Dry ingredients followed the wet, followed by the shortening.

I won't lie - it felt a little odd just dropping hunks of Crisco into the bowl and whisking. 
Eventually, my whisk was full of batter/dough, but it was looking pretty much like it was supposed to.

I switched to a spatula to scrape it all out, then...

...kneaded it around the board for a bit until it was "smooth."

If I were at home at my parents' house, I'd have set the covered bowl on a radiator to rise. But we live in a 1950s-era rambler, with wall vents. And you can't exactly set a bowl on a wall vent. So, when you're looking for the warmest place in the house, you set the bowl on top of the fridge.

Where, in about 2 hours, you find that the dough has not quite doubled in size. (I'll admit, here, that I thought my fast-acting yeast would have sped this process along. It makes me wonder how long it would have taken to get to this size with "regular" yeast.)

As I've tried to do with most of the other doughs, I opted to very closely follow the rolling out and shaping instructions.

The thickness made perfect sense.

The size of the actual "squares," however, seemed a bit small (at least at this point, I was thinking it might have been a typo).

Granted, they puffed up nicely when I fried them, but... still... pretty darned small.

So, having made one batch as instructed, I cut up the rest of the dough in a much more expected (at least by me) two-inch-ish size.

Which fried up ever-so-puffily.

Along the way, I somehow ended up making a Beignet Minnesota!
Since this was all about trying different things, the first batch we made was at a higher temp than the later ones (not entirely on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either).

In the picture, below, the one cooked at the higher temp is on the left, the one at the lower temp is on the right. Christopher and I both felt that the lower temp beignet had the better texture - possibly because it was given a little longer to rise in the pan before the outside got too hard.

You probably also noticed that there are some "square donut" looking ones on that plate. That's because, while the small beignets were just ridiculously small, they did have a good "crunch to dough" ratio, which we lost a bit of when we made them all bigger. With the hole in the middle, we got more of that crunch in each bite.

Honestly, we were kind of thinking that if we did them again we might opt for "beignet sticks" - kind of like churros, but a bit fluffier on the interior.
Overall, I think we decided that these yeast beignets were a better texture than the other batch - though with the added two-hour resting time, it's hard to say whether that slight edge is worth it.

A few other things to wrap up our month of fried dough...

Flour can make a mess.

For instance: I'm not, typically, an apron wearer, and I sometimes wipe my hands on my pants when I'm working with dry ingredients. Thus, we have this lovely photo:

At the same time, flour can also make a mess of your oil. Prior to making these beignets, I had strained out the oil and filtered off about 3/4 cup (maybe more) of oil that had settled to the bottom of the pan after the Fry Bread. Yet, after this round of beignets (which had all been rolled out on flour), the oil was looking pretty sad, again:

By the way... I know that this has been a month of frying, and it probably seems like we've been using a ton of oil - which can't be all that healthy for us. So I wanted to show you the next picture.

This is the bottle of oil after I emptied the pan after our final beignets. You can see that the oil level is above the label.

I realize it looks like there's a lot of oil missing from the bottle, but you have to remember that at least 6 ounces of oil went in the compost bin a while back. So, over the course of five major fryings (the four breads, as well as the non-blogged-about wontons we made in January that started me on this path), we had really only lost about a cup of oil.

And we made a LOT of food. This batch of beignets, alone, produced something like two dozen of the large ones. (For the record, they lost their crunch and got a little tough after the first day.)

If you're using a fairly healthy oil (which is all relative, I realize) - and if your temp is right, so that your food is frying, instead of absorbing it all - this isn't so bad.

With that ever-so-slight nod to healthy eating, tune in next week for something fried, which - technically - has no dough involved. (The things I do for you!)


I've got a couple more posts coming up based on suggestions from some of you - and they're pretty fun. Thanks for the ideas!

And, please, let me know if you have something you've always wanted to try, or you want someone else to taste, first - or you think might be a Pinterest fail waiting to happen (one of the next ones... well... let's just say it tasted good, at least) - and I'll see what I can do.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fried Dough #3: Fry Bread

Apparently all of the discussion of Fried Dough over the past few weeks got at least on reader to think about making Fry Bread. And, when he mentioned it, I was reminded that we had some Fry Bread Mix in the pantry.

(Oddly enough, we had two boxes. I don't remember buying two. So, please be aware that Fry Bread Mix might multiply if left in the pantry for too long.)
That's the entire recipe and ingredient list, right there.
Since we already had a pan of oil on the stove, frying up some bread and making a version of "Indian tacos" seemed like a good idea. (Does anyone else think it feels odd to say "Indian tacos"? But "Native American tacos" seems kind of like it's going to far the other way. Thoughts?)

So I got some hamburger out, as well as a can of refried beans (because they just sounded good), and along with the bread, we (Christopher typically makes our taco meat - very spicy, with a really great texture) set out to make dinner.

Umm... At this point, this blog post could get a bit boring. You see, here is the whole story of mixing the ingredients:
Since two of us were working on these, you get action shots!

I guess I could have taken a photo of the bowl with a lid on it in the porch where it chilled for a bit. (Because this is the part of the country where - in a normal winter - you use your porch as an auxiliary fridge or freezer, depending on the weather.)

It did "smooth out" a bit, during the chill. I wouldn't say it "rose" but it did relax a bit before we rolled it out.
This is a little more than half of the dough, rolled out to about 3/8 of an inch thick.

It rolled pretty easily, though it did give Christopher a little resistance, which might have been less bad with a longer rest/chill.
Christopher is much more technical in the kitchen than I am, so since he was helping out with this batch of frying we dug out the deep fry thermometer, heated up the oil, and started in.

Action shot! Do you see those tongs?

Remember how the oil looked really "dirty" when we were frying the donuts? Well... When you're working with something that loses flour into the oil, that starts to settle on the bottom. You can see it beginning to collect in this picture.
We fried up four of each and let them drain, so that we could serve them with the taco meat and beans.
Our colors varied, based on the temp.

Do you see the color of the meat at the bottom of the picture? It's filled with cayenne and chili powder and white pepper and garlic and salt... basically, a recipe for goodness.
Of course, if you're paying attention, you know that we had six pieces of dough. What did we do with the other two? We sprinkled them in cinnamon and sugar, of course!

The one issue we had was that these puffed up a little too much. A few of them worked really well for kind of tearing off the corner and stuffing them with filling, but not all of them. So we were left with this fried bread that wouldn't really fold, but also wouldn't work as a bun.

Luckily, we had about half of the dough leftover. So, a couple of days later, we tried the next batch.

This time, we made six individual balls of dough and then flattened each by hand. We were able to get them a little thinner this way, and that gave a nice outcome.

Can you tell that I had strained out the oil in between batches? I also tossed about a half cup that had turned the color of motor oil and was kind of clinging to the bottom of the pan.

Slightly thinner, still delicious.
We had leftover tacos with the leftover bread, and it was good, since the "leftover" bread had still been fried right on the spot. I had a couple of the last (already fried) pieces a couple of days later, and although the flavor was still good, the dough had gotten tough.

So... We've now had beignets, faux-nuts, and fry bread. Which, of course, means that next week we'll be back to beignets - this time with yeast!

See what happens when people suggest things for me to make? How fun and interactive is that? :-)

If you have any kitchen questions, recipes you want someone else to try, or foods that you think really ought to get their moments in the sun, let me know!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Editing: A Love Letter to Your Manuscript

For the past month or so (there was a short break in the middle), I've been editing a memoir. (It's part of what inspired me to discuss genres a couple of weeks ago in my post "Writing 101: Details - and Facts - Matter.")

It's an interesting blend of fact and sort-of fact, as most memoirs are, detailing some family history, some personal history, and a bit of American cultural history, as well.

A (relatively) quick side discussion to point out the first adjective in that last sentence: "interesting."

If you're writing a memoir, you have to pay attention to what your intended readers will find interesting. For instance, if you only plan to give the book to your kids, family stories will probably be fairly interesting to them. But if you plan to try to market your book to a wider audience you're going to have to find something that you can write about that truly will interest that audience.

Hollywood tell-all biographies sell well because people are (often) interested in celebrities. That audience may - or may not - also read biographies of sports stars, or of people who overcame great odds to fulfill greater destinies.

If you want to have big sales, you need to be able to explain to a wide audience what makes your personal story bigger than just a family story - even if it is simply that your attention to detail sheds light on a very specific aspect of life.

This memoir, however, had been written out "conversationally" - for lack of any better way to describe it. The author's voice was practically audible as I read through the pages, and it quickly became obvious that her stories had been put to paper as if she were telling them to friends over coffee. They bounced around in time. They connected via the tiniest of threads. They blended personal memories and hearsay as you would when chatting in a coffee klatch. 

It was - to put it bluntly - kind of painful. One moment, we were in the middle of World War II, the next it was 1956, and that was followed by a jaunt into the 1920s focused on another relative. The details were all there, but they hadn't been given much care. 

Luckily, she decided to bring it to an editor for some TLC. And I spent the past couple of weeks (after meeting with her and getting her okay to do so) untangling the manuscript so that I could weave it back together, trying to create a sunburst quilt out of a patchwork blanket.

This is what developmental editors do. We take what's on the page, do our best to fall in love with its hidden quirky brilliance, and then nurture it so that it can live up to that potential. (For a whole post on potential, you can jump back to last September.)

And, while we're at it, we make sure that the language still sounds like you - because there's nothing worse than a personal memoir that sounds like it was written by someone else. (Because, well, that would probably make it a biography - as we discussed a few weeks ago.)

So... If you truly love your work - whether it's memoir, fiction, non-fiction, or something in between genres - prove it to yourself (and your text) by keeping the Valentine's box of chocolates for yourself and hiring an editor. 

I promise you, your manuscript, and your readers will all be happier in the long run.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fried Dough #2: "Faux-nuts"

Okay, I'll admit - I've been trying to figure out a good name for these all week. "Fauxnuts" seemed the most descriptive, so we're going with that.*

OH - Before we get all fauxnutty, a few comments from last week's Beignets post:
  • I've discovered that there are those who feel that beignets should always be made using a raised yeast dough. (Though the Cajun cookbook that gave us last week's recipe - and at least one online recipe from Emeril Lagasse - both used baking powder.) So we'll be revisiting this later in the month (after I replenish our yeast supply, since the jar we had expired in 2010).
  • I obviously didn't use enough powdered sugar. 
One thing that wasn't discussed at all was whether or not altitude might have played a factor in how much they puffed up here, as opposed to in Idaho. (So if anyone has info on that, please still let us know.)

Now on to today's much easier fried pastry: the fried donut-shaped canned biscuit Fauxnut.

Yep. You read that right. We're frying canned biscuit dough for a quick donut fix this week.

Somewhere back in the deep recesses of my brain, I remembered doing this when I was a kid - though I'm fairly certain my mom wouldn't have let us make them, so I'm not sure where/when it happened.

The hardest part of this recipe is probably the choosing of your canned biscuit flavor. I mean... Pillsbury, alone, has 9 different varieties of refrigerated (canned) biscuits. And there are a ton of other brands on the market. You can even go gluten free if you want. I opted for "Original," just because it seemed like it would probably have a nice, middle-of-the-road flavor (and I wasn't sure how the other flavors would be as donuts/fauxnuts).

Standard "here are all the ingredients" shot.
Seriously. Is there anything better than popping open a tube of refrigerated dough - whether biscuits or some other food? It's like culinary Pop Goes the Weasel!
With all of the ingredients (okay, except for toppings - we'll discuss those later) taken care of, it was on to shaping them.

Even though these were "Grands" (aka "bigger"), they were a little small when we took our smallest round cutter to them. (We don't actually have a donut cutter, because... well... I can't honestly remember the last time we've needed one.)

Nope. I didn't add flour to the cutting board. Didn't need to.
As I went along, I flattened out some of the disks, so that the hole-to-ring ratio seemed a little less skewed. 

On the far left, you see the first one I cut, without flattening out the disk.
Next step: Into our familiar pan of oil, which had waited all week on the stove for us.

Okay. A bit of a confession: Between the beignets and the fauxnuts, we'd used the oil one other time - which I'm planning to tell you about, but since I promised the donuts would be here this weekend I'll have to explain the "dirty" oil later on.
Frying these up - once again without using a thermometer - took almost no time. They required a quick flip about halfway through so that they would be nicely browned on both sides. (This also helps to make sure that the interior is cooked through.)

I did have a bit of a debate with myself about whether flattening them was such a smart idea (although it did help with the hole punching). If you look at the picture, below, you'll see that the ones on the left are pretty flat, while the one on the "upper right" is more... well... donut shaped. 

At this point, I was letting them dry for a moment on paper towel before deciding on what to use for a coating. Don't worry, you'll see the results, below.
 Of course, you can't make fauxnuts without also frying up the fauxnut holes.

Wow, the oil looks really gross in this picture.

Ohmigod. Don't you just want to reach in and grab one and pop it in your mouth? (And then go to the emergency room because you just put your fingers into 350-degree oil and then put that same oil into your mouth... So - no - don't do that. use a good slotted spatula or a kitchen spider.)
There was some debate as we went along regarding what toppings should be on the fauxnuts and the fauxnut holes. We're fairly traditional around here, so we tossed the first of the fauxnuts in sugar. With the fauxnut holes, we put together some cinnamon sugar and tossed them around in a covered bowl.
Now these you could reach in, grab, and pop in your mouth!
And, because I was thinking of you, I actually plated them all before devouring them.

This was almost foiled by Christopher, who was having to endure the smell of fried goodness from the other room. Luckily, because these only took me about 10 minutes from start to finish - basically I turned on the oil to heat, and by the time it was ready I had already shaped the fauxnuts, after which it went even faster - by the time he was ready to raid the kitchen, I was already walking out to the living room with the goods.

If you look closely, you'll notice that the two fauxnuts on the right have been glazed. How did I do that so quickly? I put about a quarter cup of ready-made frosting (yes, Pillsbury - in a tub - it was leftover in the fridge) into a small pan on the stove and melted it down. Once the fauxnuts had cooled a bit, I drizzled it over.
Are these fauxnuts the best breakfast pastry in the world? Umm... no. There's something innately "biscuit-y" about biscuit dough that even frying it and coating it in sugar can't hide.

But, if you're in a hurry and want a donut fix without all the fuss and mess - and you have a pan with about an inch of oil in it - they're definitely a good substitute, which you can keep in the fridge as a backup.

(And, if you really like them, you could start a group called Fauxnuts fo-ever!)


Tune in next week when we explain how the oil got so dirty - and, later this month, don't forget that we'll be talking beignets one more time!

*Who knew that there were already a baker's dozen (multiple bakers' baker's dozens, in fact) items referred to as "fauxnuts" on line? Because they seem to be made with everything from apples to puff pastry sheets - and a whole lot of options in between - I'm choosing to keep the name and simply add this to the list in the same way that a million different recipes all share the name "cookie."