A very special TJT. On Monday


UCLA definitely brought the boom on Saturday against USC.  And yes, I am using this TJT on Monday post as a  thinly disguised pretense to gloat.  And do eight-claps.

Despite being on home turf, TD and I weren’t planning on going to the game. In fact, I had the day all planned out: holiday baking and the game on the radio.  But then an 11th hour offer from a source we couldn’t refuse (thank you Dan!) appeared with the rain on Friday night.  Which is how I found myself wearing as much blue and gold as I could wiggle into and drinking a beer in Pasadena at what felt like a ridiculously early hour.

After having worked at USC for nearly seven years, I find myself surprisingly and enduringly fond of the institution.  The Trojans, however, are a different story entirely.  I’m not very good at talking smack.  But, let’s just put it this way, I don’t wear red. Of any shade.  Ever.

I love this rivalry.  This is the one time each year when rankings and records make absolutely no difference.  At this game, anything is possible (including that time in ’93 when Tommy fell off of Traveler).  This year?  Epic!  Combine a packed stadium, cross-town rivalry and rain–and you get history in the making.  Boom UCLA, BOOM!

Why yes, I do have gold shoes, vestiges left over from playing the role of TD’s wife during the pre-game dog and pony. 

The only thing marring this sweet, sweet victory was the empathetic pang I felt when the clock ran out and the Trojans sadly drifted off the field.  Deflated.  Sort of like their footballs.

Before I bring this UCLA happy dance to a bow, I just have one thing to point-out, you know, as long as I’m gloating.  I’ve officially been a Bruin for 20 years.  If my count is correct, during this time UCLA has won as many rivalry games as they have lost. I however have a perfect win record for attending UCLA-USC games.  That’s right, UCLA has won every rivalry game at which I’ve had a corporeal presence.  BOOM!


Rivalry Cookies

If you didn’t catch it the first 2,347 times I’ve mentioned it, I work for my alma mater’s biggest rival.  Most of the time this isn’t an issue. I try not to broadcast my collegiate pedigree and really, my coworkers could care less. Except for one weekend each year in early December.  And then all bets are off.  There is trash talking.  There is posturing.  There may or may not be the subtle wearing (or not wearing) of certain color combinations and/or temporary tattoos.

It really doesn’t matter that my own college’s football team has struggled a bit to go 500 in the last few years while the football team of my employ has played in a couple of national championship games recently.  This game can and has been, anyone’s.  Crazy things happen at these games.

Which brings me to baked goods.  Back in 2006 I made rivalry cookies for my office.  The week of the game, I delivered luridly colored sugar cookies in the shape of footballs and helmets.  And we–my team–won the game.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t repeated this cookie delivery since (mostly because they are labor intensive and I’m in the middle of my holiday baking binge right when this game is scheduled).  Sadly, my team hasn’t been able to deliver another rivalry “W” since that game in 2006.

So I thought I’d make some rivalry cookies again this year.  Just in case it makes a karmic different.  I still won’t have the time to put into intricately decorated cookies, so I’ve been playing around with some less time-consuming ideas.  I think I may have come up with a suitable proxy.

Like I did in 2006, I started with the always successful sugar cookie recipe. And then I had some fun with food gel.

The idea was that by coloring the dough before it went into the oven, I wouldn’t have to do it when it came out.

Looks like PlayDoh doesn’t it.  I know this can’t be true but when I was working with it–I swear–it also smelled like the stuff.  If you haven’t already caught-on at this point, the colors represent the respective college colors.  The schools share yellow in common so I rationed-out the dough as 1:2:1.

I then rolled out sheets of each color and then combined the colors by placing one on top of the other.  Here it is with my employer’s colors.

And here with my college’s.

After this I tried various ways of rolling the dough into a  log.  Rolling from the short end yields a bigger but shorter dough log.  I opted for rolling from the long end–I have a lot of cookies to hand out.  With the dough on parchment, I began the roll by grabbing the edges of the parchment and folding over the dough at the edge.

And then repeated the action.

Until I got a log.

Then, the log went into colored sanding sugar. For a nice coat of sparkles.

Finally,  into some parchment for a couple of hours in the fridge.

Once the dough logs were firm I just sliced them up into disks and into the oven they went. The result?  Rivalry cookies!

So here is the plan.  The week of the game I’ll bake up a batch and deliver them to various offices here at work.  Then, I’ll let the great football gods take care of the rest.

Go Bruins!

Raspberry Bars and a little nostalgia

In my first blog post ever, I established that I went to college and then graduate school in one fell swoop.  At the same institution.  I think I also established, maybe even in that same paragraph, that I’ve seen Sir Ian McKellen’s twig and berries.  The part about seeing Gandolf’s private parts really has nothing to do with the fact that I spent eight straight years at UCLA.  I just like to bring it up whenever possible.  And it did happen in Royce Hall.  But I digress.

What does have to do with going to college for eight years is that, at least in my case, I got very comfortable with not ever having any disposable income.  I remember I walked to school for a year because I didn’t want to spend the extra five-bucks each day on parking.  And come on, nobody walks in L.A.

One of the upsides of being relatively fund-free is that you get pretty okay with simply eating for sustenance.  I am fairly certain that during the year I was finishing up my dissertation I existed almost entirely on Kashi Good Friend’s cereal, Trader Joe’s vegetarian pot stickers, $1 pint night beer and the business school café’s raspberry bars.  What do you mean raspberry bars don’t really fall into the base of the food pyramid?  You are right, they don’t.  But one can get away with it when one is 25 and runs eight miles pretty much every day.  And then walks to school.  AND goes to graduate school in the field of education where often, one’s only chance of seeing an age-appropriate member of the opposite sex is to wander over to the business school under the auspices of procuring a snack. I may or may not have also taken courses in the business school to meet the same end.  But, you can’t prove it.

Anyhow, back to the raspberry bars.  They were really good.  Even, well, especially, to my abused palate.    The buttery and crumbly shortbread base was a nice counterbalance to the tart of the fruit jam.  They had a certain nuttiness whose origin I could never quite figure out.  And, they were cheap.

Being the classy girl I am, I threw myself a kegger when I finished graduate school (really though, as far as keggers go, this one was classy).  Of course, the raspberry bars were on the menu.  Still being poor and having spent what little cash I had on the beer, I found a recipe for my beloved fruit bars.  It is a classic and according to me, perfect as written. Save for changing the dimensions of the baking pan, I have stayed true to the original Martha Stewart recipe.

That nuttiness I couldn’t quite put my finger on?  It came from the shortbread.   Ground, blanched almonds help make-up the bar’s base.

When Bessy makes an appearance, you know it’s going to be a good day.

The original recipe provides instruction for hand-cutting the shortbread dough.  I don’t do that because I’m lazy and I have Bessy.  A food processor is fantastic for just pulling together shortbread and pie doughs.  In this recipe, half of the crumbly dough goes into the pan and half gets reserved for the topping.

Here is where my one recipe adjustment comes in.  The original calls for a 10X14 pan.  This makes much too thin a bar for this girl.  I prefer a 9X13.  Then again, I like my bars super strueselly.  If you don’t, opt for the larger pan.

Have we talked about how I don’t like to get things on my hands?  Well, I don’t.  I know Ina says clean hands are a cook’s best tool, but I draw the line at sticky stuff.  Like shortbread dough.  This is a protracted way of explaining that to mold the dough I use parchment and a spatula.  Of course I didn’t take a picture of it.  It works, trust me.

And, into the oven the base goes until golden brown.

Go ahead and let the cookie cool completely.

Then, things get really fun.  Add a layer of preserves.

And finally,  the strussely [sic] topping. To that you can sprinkle some caster sugar over the top for a little sparkle.  And really, who doesn’t need a little sparkle in their life?

Back into the oven until the top gets nice and golden.   I admit  my personal preference is to over-cook the topping.  I don’t usually do it though since I generally like other people to consume at least one or two of the finished product.

Once out of the oven, let everything cool completely and cut.

Mmmmm…just like the Anderson School cafe used to make.

Raspberry (or any preserve) Bars, Martha Stewart

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 9X13 inch baking pan with parchment.

2 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 3/4 cup blanched almonds (about 11 ounces), finely ground in a food processor
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups raspberry jam

In food processor (or if you are a purist and care what Martha Stewart thinks about you), in a bowl, combine ground almonds, sugar, salt and flour.  Add butter a few cubes at a time and pulse to combine (or cut-in butter with a pastry blender or fingers).  Dough should barely just almost come together.

Press 1/2 of dough into pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool completely.  Add an even layer of jam and top with remaining dough.  Then back into the oven until topping is golden.  Let cool and cut.