Archive for October, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Table

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween ModernDomestic readers! I hope that everyone will be out doing something to celebrate the holiday tonight. I plan on sitting outside our apartment building and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters with my coworker and Wonktheplank (later, we’ll possibly be checking out the insanity that will be Adams Morgan, mostly to see which drunk 22-year-old has the sluttiest outfit. We’ll see how we feel).

We had a couple people over last weekend to watch Rosemary’s Baby, eat cupcakes, and drink some Octoberfest brews. Wonktheplank and I had an awesome time putting together Halloween decorations for our apartment. In fact, I’m so proud of our little projects that I had to share them with you.

Wonktheplank watched about 10 minutes of Saw II last weekend on cable, and was inspired to create an elaborate torture device for my stuffed hippo out of kitchen utensils. It involved ice dripping through a strainer, which collected in a container, which rested on a see-saw, which (when it was heavy enough), flipped a trap door, which the hippo fell through and hung himself. It wasn’t even funny how much Wonktheplank enjoyed coming up with this creation, although I felt bad for my poor hippo, who never did anything to deserve such a fate.

Hippo Torture Device

Hippo awaits his doom in the Saw-inspired torture device.

More decorations (less savage than this one).

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Top Design: Apocalypse Edition

Ondine's room was my favorite. I just love that wallpaper.

This was the apocalypse episode of Top Design. Ondine rose from the dead! Nathan was crippled by the evil powers of Granny Chic! Eddie met his doom! Maybe next week Top Design will feature zombies careening out of cemeteries and taking over the earth.

This latest episode of Top Design (the creatively named “House Challenge”) started off, again, with Eddie bitching about how he doesn’t like Preston. My god, so what else is new? I’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating: what is so awful about Preston? And why must they harp on this week after week? Sure, the guy seems a little reserved, but is he really deserving of such scorn?

After the obligatory Preston bitch-fest, we move to Eddie’s birthday celebration, which is the night before their final challenge. After Eddie eats his cake and opens his immaculately wrapped (we’re talking a Martha Stewart wrapping job here) gifts, he, Ondine, and Nathan hang out and drink margaritas, while Preston shuffles off to bed. The producers use this little episode to illustrate how isolated Preston is, but I think he’s probably just exhausted. Aren’t they all sleep deprived? If I were there I’d be trying to get as much sleep as possible.

While Preston sleeps, the rest of them drink a whole bunch, and Nathan gets the brilliant idea to do an impersonation of a “Japanese Top Design” Host, all decked out in what I presume is Ondine’s clothing. I can’t really describe his impersonation because it made no sense. I’m sure it was really funny to the three of them because they were drunk. However, like much drunk humor, it’s merely awkward and confusing for the sober.

Next it’s time to find out their challenge—and, guess what, it actually involves designing rooms! My God, three challenges in a row that are more about design that gimmicks! For the grand finale, the three final contestants will get to make over an entire house. So for this challenge, the contestants will make over one room in the finale house.

Is Eddie breaking down? Or just yawning?

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Presidential Cookie Bake Off: Cindy McCain’s Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies vs. Michelle Obama’s Shortbread Cookies

McCain and Obama Cookies

Cindy McCain's Oatmeal Butterscotch Chip Cookies (left) compete against Michelle Obama's Shortbread Cookies (right).

For the past two weeks leading up to election Day, ModernDomestic has been reviewing our eight favorite presidential cookie recipes, and picking the best of the bunch. Check out yesterday’s entry for the battle between Nancy Reagan’s Vienna Chocolate Bars and Pat Nixon’s Sequoia Brownies.

Well this is it folks. Just one more set of recipes to go. And you knew that I couldn’t possibly do the bake off without testing out the recipes of our two current presidential nominee’s wives: Cindy McCain‘s Oatmeal Butterscotch Chip Cookies and Michelle Obama’s Shortbread Cookies.

Just like the 2004 elections, there’s been some controversy around the 2008 Presidential Cookie Bake-Off, but this time it’s the Republicans submitting fake recipes. Yes, that’s right, Cindy McCain actually stole her recipe from the Hershey’s Web site. Or, shall I say, she “modified” the recipe from the Hershey’s Web site—Hershey’s calls for 1 3/4 cups butterscotch chips, while McCain’s recipe calls for 1 2/3 cups. Wow, a whopping difference of 1/12 of a cup of butterscotch chips!

While I think it’s a little ridiculous to expect the first ladies to have “family” cookie recipes these days (I mean, doesn’t everyone just get their cookie recipe from the back of the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Bag?), you really wonder that Cindy McCain didn’t learn from the Teresa Heinz Kerry Pumpkin Spice Cookie scandal. The campaign also tried to pass off a bunch of Food Network recipes as Cindy McCain’s, but at least they were able to blame that on a hapless intern.

Michelle Obama has stayed out of the fray, submitting a family recipe for shortbread. Or, at least, if it isn’t a family recipe, it isn’t an easily Google-able one. The recipe is adaptable and can be spiced up with different fruits, nuts or flavorings.

One of these cookies was disgusting and one was divine. But which was which?

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Presidential Cookie Bake Off Round Three: Nancy Regan’s Vienna Chocolate Bars vs. Pat Nixon’s Sequoia Brownies

Reagan and Nixon Cookies 2

Bar Cookie Battle: Nancy Reagan's Vienna Chocolate Bars (left) vs. Pat Nixon's Sequoia Brownies (right)

For the next two weeks leading up to election Day, ModernDomestic will be reviewing our eight favorite presidential cookie recipes, and picking the best of the bunch. Check out last Thursday’s entry for the battle between Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies and Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Part three of the ModernDomestic Presidential Cookie Bake-off is a Battle of the Bar Cookies. In the ring we have Nancy Regan’s Vienna Chocolate Bars (which I’m sure were so chic in the 1980s) and Pat Nixon’s Sequoia Brownies (named after the Presidential yacht).

Now some ModernDomestic readers have questioned the legitimacy of this particular match-up. After all, not only are both women Republicans, but does a brownie really qualify as a cookie?

This is an interesting question, and I must admit that my opinion on the matter is colored by my childhood devotion to The Joy of Cooking. In my version of Joy from 1975, brownies appear in the chapter “Cookies and Bars,” implying that both are, deep down, merely different expressions of the same baked good. I did some poking around on the Web, and found that Merriam Webster defines a “cookie” as “a small flat or slightly raised cake,” while the Epicurious food dictionary defines a cookie as “any of various hand-held, flour-based sweet cakes” and includes “bar cookies” as one of six types of cookie. So, at least from my limited research, I think I can count bar cookies as belonging to the cookie species.

As for the Republican-Republican match up? Honestly, I could have made Lady Bird Johnson’s Lemon Squares, but Pat Nixon’s Brownies and Nancy Reagan ‘s Vienna Chocolate Bars just looked so much better. And besides, the two are well matched – both women were old-school First Ladies, who presented a perfectly feminine face to the world, but who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support their husband’s political careers.

But who bakes a better bar cookie?

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Washington Post Cupcake Wars: Desperately In Need of A Synonym For “Creamy”

I’ve been remiss in my updates on the Washington Post’s Cupcake Wars, now that so much of my time is taken up the ModernDomestic Presidential Cookie Bake-Off. Well, that, and Wonktheplank’s computer is still in the shop, leaving us computer-less at home.

I even failed to update despite the astonishing developments in the Cupcake Wars: the Washington Post decided to extend the series! Last week was supposed to be the last match up, but instead some crafty editor decided he could squeeze two more weeks of content out of the series! This makes me think that someone at the Post is a little late on their “Thanksgiving Guide” or whatever they’re working on over there for November, and decided to just cover it up with some more Cupcake Wars. Or maybe those Washington Post reviewers couldn’t get their fill of viciously criticizing cupcakes.

Two weeks ago, the Post ventured out to two bakeries, Baltimore Cupcake Company and Furin’s of Georgetown, to see how their cupcakes compared with the rest of the pack. Um, excuse me, but isn’t this the Washington Post? Didn’t they stray into cupcake territory rightly belonging to the Baltimore Sun? I knew there weren’t enough bakeries in DC for this series.

Well, they weren’t well-served by their foray, as Post testers didn’t like Baltimore Cupcake Company’s offerings. They disliked the “crumbly” cakes and “pasty” frostings, and they thought the flavors tasted like “Halloween candy.” The best of the bunch was the peppermint patty cupcake, but only because one judge liked it and raised its average score.

However, not to worry Baltimore Cupcake Company—your competitor didn’t do so hot either. In fact, the Post thought that the cupcakes at Furin’s of Georgetown were pretty awful, and in a “I think I’ve tasted these from the Safeway bakery before” kind of way. Tasters called the cupcakes “forgettable,” with flavors that were difficult to distinguish from one other. They thought the carrot cake cupcake was the best of the bunch, although thing was huge – like, 7.9 ounces huge. What I really want to know is, if the cupcake clocks in at just under half a pound, does it even qualify as a cupcake any more? Or is it actually a small cakes?

Last week, the Post managed to find two more bakeries to profile: Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café, a new bakery at the Washington Convention Center, and Best Buns Bread Co, of Shirlington. This made me feel a bit nostalgic, as Wonktheplank used to live in Shirlington, and we’d walk by Best Buns all the time, although we never actually went there (we were too busy getting the awesome and awesomely cheap Mediterranean food at Aladdin’s).

I also wonder which intern had to go and make all those calls to bakeries seeing if they sold cupcakes. Do you feel like you’re a real journalist now? Do you?

Surprise surprise, the cupcakes from Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery & Café didn’t fare so well. Post testers thought the cupcakes tasted like they had “come out of a box,” and had strange, off-flavors. The cake was dry, and the frostings were marked down for  tasting “artificial.” Testers were fans of the red velvet cupcake, however, perhaps because it hadn’t been sitting around in the refrigerator case all day.

But you know that the Post can’t have too many weeks in row hating on cupcakes. So the cupcakes from Best Buns received strong reviews. The Post testers praised the cupcakes for their moistness, saying that the cupcakes reminded them of a “classic homemade oil-based cake,” whatever that is (we always made butter cakes growing up). Testers liked the rich chocolate flavor of the chocolate cupcake, and praised the not-to-sweet frostings. The chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting was hailed as the best of the lot.

So there you have it, folks! Two weeks of cupcake mania. I bet whoever is writing up this series is dying every time they have to describe a new frosting. I mean, how many times can you say a frosting is “creamy,” or “fluffy,” without making them all sound exactly the same? Well, we’ll see how they do next week, as the Cupcake Wars wraps up. Or will it?

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Top Design: Bedrooms on Acid, Martha Stewart Showroom Frenzy, and Product Placements Galore!

The winning room. Could it possibly be a (gasp) hotel lobby?

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. I actually found last night’s Top Design pretty entertaining (gasp of astonishment). I mean, it wasn’t Project Runway or The Real (crazy) Housewives of New York City entertaining, but it was on par with a mediocre episode of Top Chef. And for Top Design, that’s saying a lot.

Yes, there was bitching, but there was also design! The designers designed rooms that didn’t look like crap! There was an Eddie smackdown! The Pop Design was actually interesting! This is not the Top Design I’ve come to know and . . . kind of like.

In week’s challenge (“Light It Up”), the contestants had to design rooms around chandeliers. Really, really fancy, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, which no one would ever actually own because high-end stuff like this looks ridiculous anywhere other than a fancy hotel bar. I think chandeliers like these masquerade as high-end design objects, but in reality they’ve been created to subconsciously make you buy a whole lot of overpriced cocktails.

The episode started off with more of Andrea’s whining— yes, was more whining than last week. Part of me feels bad for her, because the competition has killed her confidence and I know what that feels like. But the other, meaner, part of me wants her to either stop whining and get her act together, or go home. I mean, it’s reality TV. Hasn’t she seen an episode of Top Chef? Reality TV shows judges aren’t chosen because they hand out tea and cookies to contestants.

As if Andrea’s wet-dishrag act wasn’t enough, we also have to listen to Eddie bitching about how Preston doesn’t know how to do the dishes. Um, I don’t get it. Apparently Preston’s big offense is that he put soap in the dishwasher and then turned it on. Huh? Maybe Eddie could come to DC and do my dishes for me, since apparently I too do not know the “real” way to run my dishwasher.

An actually interesting challenge! Who knew it could happen on Top Design?

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Presidential Cookie Bake Off Round Two: Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie Vs. Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Bush and Kerry Cookies

Theresa Heinz Kerry's Pumpkin Spice Cookies (left) competes against Laura Bush's Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies (right). It's 2004 all over again.

For the next two weeks leading up to election Day, the ModernDomestic will be reviewing our eight favorite presidential cookie recipes, and picking the best of the bunch. Check out yesterday’s entry for the battle between Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury cakes and Mary Todd Lincoln ‘s Gingerbread Men.

For Part Two of the Modern Domestic Presidential Cookie Bake-Off, I couldn’t resist digging up Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe from 2004 and seeing how it stacked up against Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Heinz-Kerry caught a lot of heat in the 2004 elections for her Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe, first because the Family Circle readers didn’t like them, and then because she said the recipe actually wasn’t hers. According to her, the first recipe she submitted to the Family Circle for Yummy Wonders (worst name ever) was rejected because it didn’t work, and someone from the campaign submitted the Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe without consulting her. Personally, I find that kind of hard to believe. In any event, she disowned the recipe, telling the New York Times, “I never made pumpkin cookies; I don’t like pumpkin spice cookies.”

Laura Bush, on the other hand, submitted a variation on a standard oatmeal cookie. Her Oatmeal-Chocolate Chunk Cookies are a smorgasbord of ingredients, including sour cherries, walnuts, and chocolate chunks. Bush won the 2004 bake off, meaning that the Family Circle contest has correctly predicted the election winner for the past four years (although apparently the big secret to winning is chocolate).

Determined to get to the bottom of the matter, I procured both of the recipes from the Family Circle Web site. The recipes follow at the end of the entry.

It’s Bush vs. Kerry all Over Again. But Who Wins the Match?

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Presidential Cookie Bake-Off, Round One: Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury Cakes vs. Mary Todd Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men

Lincoln and Washington Cookies

Round One of the Bake off: Martha Washington's Shrewsbury Cakes (left) compete against Mary Todd Lincoln's Gingerbread Men (right)

For the next two weeks leading up to election Day, ModernDomestic will be reviewing our eight favorite presidential cookie recipes, and picking the best of the bunch. Check out yesterday’s entry for the introduction to the bake off. Tomorrow Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies square off against Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

No Presidential Bake-Off would be complete without traveling back to yesteryear to see how our original First Ladies stacked up cookie-wise. After all, in those days recipes weren’t ubiquitous items found on the back of every cereal box and bag of flour, which makes these recipes all the more interesting.

So today we have recipes from two classic presidential wives: Martha Washington, stalwart and beloved wife of founding father George Washington, and Mary Todd Lincoln, paranoid and unpopular wife of our very own Honest Abe. Who will win, Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury cakes, or Mary Todd Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men? Let the battle begin.

Well, actually, before the battle begins, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I found the Mary Todd Lincoln recipe in this Independent article. It was only after making the cookies that I found out that it was an “approximation” of her actual recipe, which has been lost to history. How exactly the Independent came up with the “approximation” I will never know. Still, I wasn’t going to waste an entire batch of gingerbread men, or, in this case, gingerbread circles and stars. And I figure that they had to modernize the Martha Washington recipe as well, so perhaps they’re still equally matched? You can come to your own conclusions. Recipes follow at the end of the entry.

Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury Cakes
All in all, these were very basic cookies, hailing from a simpler time, when sugar was a luxury and we didn’t expect cookies to be loaded with every kind of chocolate, candy and high-fructose-corn-syrup-flavored filling available. No, the Shrewsbury cakes were honest and plain butter cookies, enriched with egg yolks and sweetened with sugar. When baked, they were very crisp and only slightly tender on the inside. I made them using dried cranberries, but I think if I made them again I would use currants, as the sharp tang of the cranberries didn’t quite mesh with the butteriness of the cookies.

Gingerbread and Shrewsbury Cakes Go Head To Head

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The ModernDomestic Presidential Cookie Bake-Off: Welcome To The SmackDown

Cookies

Cookies, a proud political tradition.

While all eyes are on the Presidential candidates and their health care/economy/foreign policy plans these days, as a domestically-minded individual, I have another concern on my mind: whose cookie will enter the treasury of White House recipes?

I know that having candidates wives submit cookie recipes harkens back to pre-feminism and pre-internet days where a woman’s place was in the home and everyone didn’t get their recipes from Epicurious (in fact, this has proven a problem for several recent candidates’ wives, as I’ll explain later). But part of me loves this American tradition. After all, cookies are such a rich part of our culinary culture—who doesn’t remember baking gingerbread cookies at Christmas time, or baking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies with their mom? So I find it oddly fitting that cookies would get mixed up in politics.

According to this New York Times article, the actual Presidential Cookie Bake-Off as we know it today is relatively new, beginning in 1992 after Hillary Clinton said her famous quote that she could have “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,” instead of entering the workforce like she did. Family Circle spotted an opportunity and started the Presidential Cookie Bake Off, where readers vote for their favorite cookie recipe from the presidential candidates’ wives.

So in the first of a four part series, ModernDomestic will be having our own Presidential Cookie Bake Off. After researching first lady and first- lady-candidates recipes, I’ve chosen my favorite eight to compete against each other in an all-out four part Presidential Cookie battle. For the next two weeks the flour will fly, the whisks will stand at attention, and we will discover which first lady has the ultimate presidential cookie recipe.

Tomorrow: We kick it old school, as Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury Cakes Go Head-To-Head with Mary Todd Lincoln’s Gingerbread Men.

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Top Design: Space Age Rooms Evoke Yawns, Heart Attacks

The winning room. Maybe it's polished, but that doesn't make it interesting.

Wednesday on Top Design, the challenge was to design “The Room of the Future.” True to the title, the designers created rooms for the year 2108, proving once again that the Magical Elves production team isn’t exactly pushing the envelope on Top Design.

Seriously, this would have been an “innovative” challenge at the 1939 World’s Fair. Even Disney Land’s “House of the Future” closed in 1967 people! Is this really the best they could come up with?

Yawn-evoking concept aside, I liked that the designers worked separately in this challenge, so we really got to see what they were capable of. And because everyone was working separately, the drama factor was definitely down, which was a nice respite from last week’s bitch-fest. After all, watching crazy people scream at each other for little to no reason is what The Real Housewives of Atlanta is for.

Granted, Ondine ran around like a chicken with her head cut off during most of the episode, but I would do that too if I lost my shopping list in Ikea. In the final frantic minutes of the challenge Ondine also spilled varnish on Eddie’s white couch, which the previews tried to portray as “sabotage,” but it was obviously an accident. And in the end, the judges didn’t care about it at all.

The Good, the Bad, and the Dull

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