Back in Junior High School, or “Intermediate” as it is known in the parts where I’m from, I signed up for every imaginable sport. Now I know that those of you who know me in this phase of my life are leaning back in your chairs, patting your stomachs and cackling in disbelief (I know for sure some of you indeed cackle when you call “bullshit”), but there was a time in my youth when my butt lined the bench of every B-Team sport to play in the gym of the mighty, mighty CLIS Eagles and in gyms throughout the greater Clear Creek Independent School District.
Before I even got to Jr. High there was ballet, swim team, drill team, cheerleading (I still just ooze pep and sincerity, right? You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed my bubble letter writing) and gymnastics. At CLIS there was volleyball, basketball and track; the fifty meter hurdles being the only event of which I showed any sort of natural aptitude. After high school I dabbled in riding horses and I literally had a five minute affair with tennis, a particularly embarrassing moment in which I joined a club, bought four or five tennis skirts, a pair of K-Swiss shoes and the panties that you can stuff your extra balls in (get your head out of the gutter), and I signed myself up for a private lesson. My dad had told me earlier in the month that all well-bred young ladies should play tennis. Which was particularly funny since I’m certainly not very well-bred, among other things. Anyway, I drove myself to my inaugural lesson all decked out in Le Coq Sportif fare, tossing my pony tail as I walked into the office of the club like an annoying, totally entitled bourgeois peacock.
“I’m here for my lesson!” I told the lady at the front desk.
“That’s nice,” she said, eyeing me up and down, a look I was absolutely positive had been inspired by utterly adorably outfitted-ness, “but where is your racquet?”
There was a long pause. My pony tail swished. I stared. She stared back. And in a flash I excused myself to ostensibly retrieve the racquet from my car...
...only to never return to that front desk, or even to that side of town for that matter, out of the sheer embarrassment that I had never even considered that tennis requires a racquet, not just a cute skirt. And I haven’t picked one up since.
I relay this truly humiliating story of my spoiled and ignorant (specifically focused?) self to make a long-winded point. Racquets aside, I joined each activity because there was gear involved, usually a uniform and “stuff”/ accessories integral to that particular sport, and I relished any opportunity to don a costume and have an identity for an hour or two. I had a particular fondness for activities that required specific footwear--my first being a pair of fire engine red Nike “Pre”s from like 1980, that I threw myself on the floor of a Foot Locker for until my mom, totally exhausted from my tantrum, relented and bought for me. I like accoutrements. A lot. Enough to imperil both myself and those people dressed as referees in my proximity in order to get them.
Which leads me to college, a couple of years after the Great Tennis Debacle of 1991.
I was living in a freezing, uninsulated house on Washington Street in Middlebury, Vermont (only notable because my current studio is, curiously, also uninsulated and also on Washington, just on the opposite side of the country) and had given up my meal plan in the dining hall. I’ve talked about it before. I bought copies of both The Silver Palate Cookbook and the Moosewood Cookbook, part of yet another failed attempt to “inhabit” the body of a typical Middlebury kid (I thought I should at least dabble in vegetarianism) that had started with the purchase of more “stuff” my freshman year. A Vermont uniform: a pair of Birkenstocks, a Grateful Dead CD and a batik print patterned skirt from a store on Merchant’s Row called “Wild Mountain Thyme”, which I’m pretty sure was a money laundering front for pot dealers. Much like in tennis, the Birkenstocks got a quick stroll around Battell field, the quad outside my dorm room, and returned to my dank closet, never to be heard from again. Just like that Dead CD that became a coaster for my “Environmental Quality” coffee and beer mug. If I ever hear “Truckin’” again I will track down its source and kill the iPod from which it eminates. More abandoned costumes, more abandoned gear.
But I digress.
What has endured has been a real passion for alchemy and for cooking that began with the purchase of those two books, still alive and well and on my bookshelf today. They were the first gear that actually stuck and jibed with me, the first vestiges of an identity that weren’t a discardable part of a uniform or costume but a heretofore unexpressed part of me.
So what exactly does this have to do with a blog post, you may ask... well, I guess it’s just a little love letter to my favorite tools, who make making delicious things a whole lot easier. And one of my favorites, the deep fryer (don’t hate, I’m TEXAN. I would fry that Nike “Pre” and it eat it if I needed to), makes this little recipe for mini doughnuts a whole lot easier with a lot less mess.
Gourmet | January 2003
Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 45 min
Yield: Makes about 40 doughnuts
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or allspice
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
About 6 cups vegetable oil for frying
Confectioners sugar for coating (optional)
Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt into a bowl. Whisk in brown sugar, breaking up any lumps. Whisk together buttermilk, butter, and egg in a small bowl, then add to flour mixture, whisking until just combined.
Heat 2 inches oil in a deep 3-quart heavy saucepan until it registers 375°F on thermometer. Working in batches of 6, scoop out a rounded teaspoon (not a measuring spoon) of batter per doughnut and scrape batter from spoon into oil with another spoon, keeping ball as round as possible. Once 6 balls are in oil, turn them over with a slotted spoon and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until deep brown and cooked through, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Transfer doughnuts as fried with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain and return oil to 375°F between batches. Cool doughnuts to warm, at least 10 minutes.
If desired, coat with confectioners sugar just before serving: Put sugar in a small sealed plastic bag and shake doughnuts, a few at a time, to coat.
Like I mentioned above, I used a deep fryer for this recipe, which makes life a lot easier. Also, I used my own blend of sugar and cinnamon (beignet dust, I call it) instead of confectioner’s sugar.
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch pure vanilla powder
pinch ginger powder
And if you’re feeling particularly decadent, try my apple fritters recipe...
As for the ice cream, cinnamon goes beautifully with the doughnuts.
Bon Appétit | November 2002
Yield: Makes about 7 cups
3 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup whipping cream
5 cinnamon sticks
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 large egg yolks
Combine milk, 1 cup sugar, cream, cinnamon sticks, and salt in heavy large saucepan. Bring almost to simmer over medium-high heat. Whisk egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture. Return custard to saucepan and stir constantly over low heat until custard thickens, about 4 minutes (do not boil). Transfer custard to large bowl set over another large bowl of ice water; let cool 30 minutes, stirring often. Cover and chill custard overnight.
Strain custard. Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer ice cream to container; cover and freeze.
And so unlike my tantrums and posturing on the road to self discovery.
By the way, I am planning on putting my sneakers back into good use-- I can’t stay on the bench forever--but they will go nowhere near a tennis court, for sure.