Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sleeping with the Enemy

Alright, not exactly sleeping, but... working for. Kind of? Let me explain.

I'm taking a class this semester, Presidential Politics: 2012, and my professor has structured it in such a way that we have a debate each week. On the first day of class, she counted us off, "one, two, one, two, one, two...." 

She pointed to the side of the room by the door, "ones over here," and then to the opposite side of the room, "twos over here." 

She looked at us for a moment, and then said, while bouncing her finger back and forth between the two groups, "Left, right. Democrats, Republicans. Obama campaign, Romney campaign."

Guess which side I was on.

The professor saw that I was in the Romney campaign group and she stifled a laugh, "Ohh, Norah!"

I've had this professor for a few other courses, all of which have been discussion based and related to politics. I'm a bit of a loud mouth, and I'm not very good at hiding my passion. I try to stay polite, but I get noticeably worked up when we're talking about something that I care about. It's fair to say that my professor knew this would a challenge for me.

I called my mom while walking to the bus stop after class. "I don't know how I'm going to do this. I mean, I have a pretty good idea what the arguments are, but I just don't know how I'm going to say them with a straight face."

My brilliant mother decided that what I needed was a fake identity. "Something WASPy," she said.

We decided on Muffy Fairbanks. Muffy wears pearls and summers in the Hamptons. She enjoys white liquors and dog shows, but her husband prefers Scotch and CNBC. Muffy signed up for "Women for Romney" emailing list. I imagine she is quite a lot like Lucille Bluth:

Muffy was created so I can feel okay "caring" about the Romney campaign.
I know this is terrible and that not all Republicans are rich WASPs, but they're the ones that I can understand. They're simply voting in their own best interest! I have a much harder time understanding Republicans who are low-income, or a person of color, or LGBTQ, or an immigrant, or, well, even a woman. I sometimes understand small pieces of it, like if you're a single-issue voter on abortion, but on a large scale I can't comprehend why people would vote for a candidate who is happy with them being second-class citizens.

Terrible or not, transforming into Muffy has helped me deal with being on the Romney campaign in this class. It's like acting - I don't have to believe what I'm saying, because I'm just playing a character. It must be working, too, because I'm pretty sure "my" side kicked ass in the debate. At one point, after I provided my "campaign manager" with a line about Medicare, my professor tapped me on the arm and said, with a smile, "You should be ashamed of yourself."

Well, I would've been, but Muffy was damned pleased.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Orange Truffles

A few weeks ago, I made a chocolate bundt cake with a ganache glaze and I had some leftover cream and chocolate chips, so what was I to do but make truffles? I made three varieties: plain chocolate ganache rolled in cocoa; plain chocolate rolled in cocoa mixed with cinnamon; and cayenne chocolate ganache rolled in a mixture of cocoa, ginger, cinnamon and powdered sugar. My roommates loved them, and there's nothing like a heaping serving of compliments to motivate me to repeat, improve and try variations on a recipe.

A friend of mine turned 29 on Saturday and seeing as I'm quite poor and I recently used the last of my spending money to purchase chocolate chips, cream and a digital food thermometer, I decided to make him some orange truffles. I gathered up a few dollars in change (I wasn't lying about that being the last of my spending money) and picked up a couple of organic oranges and lemons at the market down the street and set out to try my hand at dipped truffles.

...So I have this problem. I do one of two things when I'm trying a new recipe – I either research variations of it to the point that I don't have any clue where to start and end up mixing a bunch of ideas together, or I get over-ambitious and try to do something after only having the most basic idea of how it works. With this recipe, I did both. Truffle centers are ridiculously easy (according to my limited experience) and tempered chocolate is moderately difficult, so clearly I should have read a lot about tempering chocolate and gone with the first simple recipe for truffle centers that I happened upon. Only that's not how I roll.

I don't remember exactly how many recipes for orange truffle filling I looked at, but it was more than five. Most of them required Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur, none of which I had, so I stuck mostly to a very simple recipe I found on that used only oranges, cream and chocolate. Also, this was my first time tempering chocolate, so of course I read one page of directions and decided I was ready to give it a try.

Orange Truffles

  • 2 oranges
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 18 oz semi-sweet chocolate, divided
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder for dusting
  • candied orange peel
  1. Use a large grater to remove the rind of one of the oranges and place the rind in a saucepan with the cream.
  2. Use a fine grater or microplane and zest the other orange and set aside, covered.
  3. Place the saucepan holding the cream and orange rind over medium heat and simmer until bubbles appear around the sides of the pan (at this point I also added a couple of tablespoons of orange juice from one of the oranges, and I added a bit more chocolate to compensate for the added liquid). Remove from the heat and cover. Let the cream sit for 30 minutes to infuse and absorb the citrus aromas.
  4. Slowly melt 8 oz of chocolate in a double boiler (or a metal bowl placed over a sauce pan with simmering water), stirring to make sure all pieces are melted.
  5. Reheat the cream slightly and pour through a strainer over the chocolate and stir to combine, being careful not to incorporate bubbles into ganache.
  6. Gently stir in zest
  7. Cool in the refrigerator until firm enough to shape (anywhere from a few hours to overnight)
  8. Spoon or pipe 1-inch balls of ganache onto baking sheet covered in parchment paper and put in freezer for 2 hours
  9. Dust your hands with cocoa powder, and roll the scooped truffles into round shapes. Return to the refrigerator for an hour to make them firm enough to dip in melted chocolate.
  10. Temper the 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, or alternately, melt the chocolate with 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening. Dip the firm centers in the melted chocolate using dipping tools or two forks. Wipe the excess chocolate on the rim of the bowl, and place the dipped truffle back on the baking sheet. While chocolate is still wet, garnish with slivers of candied orange peel.
So when it came to tempering the chocolate, I failed. Miserably. Actually, I don't think I failed so much as Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels failed me. I heated the chocolate in my makeshift double-boiler to 110 degrees, cooled it to 80, and reheated to 90 and it was incredibly thick. I stirred almost constantly, so I know it wasn't a problem with the heat not being evenly dispersed. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think that a higher quality chocolate would result in a thinner chocolate at the correct dipping temperature. I know the quality of the chocolate affects the melting temperature, but I don't know much more than that.

I dipped a couple of truffles in the horribly thick tempered chocolate and it was a mess, but in hindsight it was better than what I ended up doing for the rest of them. I heated the chocolate up more in hopes that it would thin out and make dipping easier, which it did until it started to melt my truffle centers. I ended up with chocolate and ganache all over my hands and some very, very misshapen and shoddily covered truffles.

Most of them ended up somewhere between the two pictured here, but none of them are particularly beautiful (though they are quite scrumptious). I'm not pleased, but I am determined to master tempering chocolate and dipping truffles.

I haven't had a chance to give my friend his gift yet, but he already knows that things didn't go quite as planned. Thankfully, I also made candied lemon peel and orangettes later that night and those turned out much prettier (I'll post those soon). All together it should make a decent gift, but I do hope to never, ever give anyone anything quite this ugly again. Even if I do, though, I won't let that stop me.

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell' attitude." --Julia Child

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Abstinence-Only Still Rules on

A friend of mine sent me a link to the following video with the note, "Thought you'd find this very unhelpful.":

"You don't have to talk about the parts?!?!" What the hey, Obama? I thought we were progressing?

The website seems to do everything it can to avoid talking about "the parts." There is a lot about how to be an active listener, sharing your values and expectations for your child, and the importance of staying involved and setting boundaries. The information there is decent (for the most part), but what's not there leaves a void for parents who want help talking to their children about all of the dimensions of responsible sexual decision-making.

Contraception is not explicitly mentioned anywhere on the
"Talking to Your Pre-Teen or Teen About Waiting" part of the website. The closest it comes is near the bottom of the section titled "What if My Teen Has Already Had Sex?" has this to say: "If your teen does not decide to stop having sex, these same suggestions apply. But it's also very important that you help your son or daughter visit a health care provider to develop a plan to reduce their chances of getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease."

Contraception is covered in the
"Birth Control" subsection of "Dealing with Risky Behaviors and Other Challenges" area, but the information provided is about how contraception works rather than how to talk about it. The guide for how to talk to your kids about waiting is fairly exhaustive, so why does the website not provide a similar section for parents who want to provide their children with information on how to be safer should they choose to have sex? While parental involvement and values strongly influence young people's decisions about sex, it is unrealistic to expect that everyone will abstain until marriage. This website seems to imply that the only course for a responsible parent is to advocate abstinence-only until marriage. The decision about what to tell your kids and when to tell them should be up to parents. Why is this government website making a judgment call rather than providing parents with tools to help them talk to their children about all aspects of sexual decision making?

Joe Sonka points out that the website has a bias which is strongly reflected in their section on
marriage. In his blog post on RH Reality Check, Sonka summarizes what has to say about marriage: "That's right, folks. Tell your kids they better get hitched to their heterosexual partner, or else you'll never have great sex and you'll die young, poor and unhappy. And whatever you do, don't talk about 'the parts'..."

The heterosexism on the website is harmful and, in some cases, lends itself to flat-out lies. The website states, "First of all, let's be clear on one important point. In general, children - and adults - do better in homes headed by a married mother and father."

That claim has been disputed by the
American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers. From the Amicus Brief filed by the APA, APA and NASW:

"Indeed, the scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with gay and lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has been remarkably consistent in showing that lesbian and gay parents are every bit as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and their children are as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents."
So, we've got a homophobic bias and no information about contraception. Sounds an awful lot like some of those failed abstinence-only programs to me.

Looking at, you wouldn't know that the Obama Administration sought to defund abstinence-only programs and supports comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention initiatives. Comprehensive sex education in schools and communities is important, but parents need and deserve support in their efforts to teach their children about safer sex. is in dire need of a makeover to make it "4
all parents," not just those who oppose teaching their kids about contraception.

Ed. note:  I wrote this at the beginning of September but didn't have anywhere to post it at the time.  I'm glad I finally found a home for it.

About Me and This Blog

I was planning to write a rather long introductory post that explained who I am, who I hope to become, what I do, what I want to do, what I think is important, what I like, what I don't like, what this blog is and what I hope it will become, but when I sat down and tried to write it all out, it seemed completely overwhelming and a little bit pointless. Really, this whole blog will be answers to those questions, so I suppose I just have to be patient with myself (and I thank you for being patient with me, if anyone actually ends up reading this). I'll say this much: there will be sugar (I love to bake), there will be sass (I have very little tolerance for ignorance and stupidity), and there will be sex (but probably no not much pornography).

I haven't started a blog up to this point because it seems like a daunting venture. I've never been very good with followthrough, and I just didn't have the heart to start something and then have it be neglected until one day it completely ceases to exist in any meaningful capacity. But right now, at this moment, I'm feeling motivated and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that pass without taking advantage of it.