Thoughts on FOIA, Part 1

By the title of this post, I’m implying that my thoughts on FOIA will be a series. You know me. The next post in the series might not happen for a month or eleven. They are on my to-do list, though, so that’s a step towards it actually happening. In the meantime, the DC Council will be voting on bills (emergency and temporary) to continue the trolling–er, tolling–of timelines for responding to FOIA requests, and this is generating discussion on Twitter. Unsurprisingly. And I have THOUGHTS.

  1. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was understandable that there would be difficulties in responding to FOIA requests in the statutory timelines. We were all sent home to work remotely, many of us without adequate technology. Everything took longer. Heck, just checking email took longer. And of course any responsive records that were on paper weren’t accessible. Other barriers would have been file sizes, for example when OCTO transfers email packages to an agency FOIA officer; if files are too large and the FOIA officer doesn’t have adequate bandwidth to download the files, that could cause delays. And if the computer provided to the FOIA officer doesn’t have software that can manage redacting, that’s another source of delays due to inadequate technology.
  2. But as time went on, new technology was acquired–or could have been acquired. Here we are 18 months in, and agencies really should have ensured by now that FOIA officers have what they need to work from home. Plus, DC government employees are supposed to be working in the office three days a week, as far as I understand.
  3. SO! Timelines really ought to be back to normal.

Now, I have MORE THOUGHTS. Those thoughts include likely controversial opinions about email, about the purpose of FOIA, and how transparent government ought to be. Stay tuned for a hopefully more thoughtful and actually researched exposition on “government translucency.”

The Great Pandemic Baking Show: Trifle

Whoa. Trifle is a bit…much. But what is one to do when one has most of a batch of apple pie filling left? Right. Make a pie. (Or make apple cinnamon oatmeal. Or eat it on vanilla ice cream. Whatever.)

But I’ve been contemplating combinations of deliciousness that could make a good trifle since I began this pandemic baking adventure, and this is the first time that I’ve thought of something that includes the traditional fruit element.

The plan:

Oatmeal cake: next time I’ll bake it at 350, which is 75 degrees lower than the muffin recipe calls for. The edges were a bit burnt tasting, but the cake itself (I made it without blueberries, by the way) was tasty and was a nice hearty contrast to the custard and cream in the trifle. (Look how well it came out of the loaf pan! It was a non-stick pan, and I buttered it with the bits of butter left in the pan from melting it for the recipe.)

Apple pie filling: this was in the fridge from earlier in the week. Just as good as the day I made it.

Custard: I made only half the custard recipe. It wasn’t that using eight egg yolks was so intimidating, more that having eight egg whites left over was going to be a challenge! Also, I didn’t think I needed as much custard as the recipe would make, and it turned out I was right.

Whipped cream: My guess is that most trifle recipes call for straight whipped cream, but the recipe I linked to above combines whipped cream with cream cheese and OH MY YUM. Highly recommended.

My parents don’t have a trifle dish (my mom says that she almost bought one when she worked at a kitchen store, but if she had, this would have been the first time it got used, 20 years later. So it’s for the best that she didn’t buy it) so I used the closest thing they have, which is a brown glass bowl. You can’t see the layers (sorry, Paul and Mary) but that’s okay. Really, it’s the taste that’s important, right?

Mom said she’d have this again. I’d have it again if someone else washed the dishes.

Great Pandemic Baking Show: Schnecken

Season 4, episode 6: Sweet breads

For over a decade, my family recipe for schnecken has been sitting in a “wouldn’t it be nice to make this” pile. I finally made them, and on one hand, the recipe is imperfect. On the other hand, the recipe is perfect.

It’s a family recipe, not copyrighted to someone else, so I’ll share it here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages yeast dissolved in “a little” lukewarm milk with 1 tsp flour and 1 tsp sugar (the recipe says “2 yeast”. I assume that means “2 packages” or “2 Tbsp” or another approximate equivalent)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour* (*You may need more–I ended up adding about 3/4 cup.)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • more melted butter
  • brown sugar
  • pecans
  • raisins

Process:

  1. Add flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and sour cream to the yeast mixture. Blend and knead until smooth.
  2. Set the dough aside to rise. The family recipe says to refrigerate overnight; I let it rise in our cold kitchen for an hour or so.
  3. Divide the dough in half.* Roll the first half out to a rectangle–15″ by 18″? In my kitchen, it’s all approximate. (*This is where the family recipe really goes wrong. The family recipe says to divide the dough in three, but the dough gets really too thin, and who wants to wash three muffin tins, anyway?)
  4. Spread melted butter on the dough, then sprinkle with brown sugar, pecan pieces, and raisins (or dried cranberries).
  5. Roll tightly like a jelly roll or like Chelsea buns.
  6. Cut into 12 equal pieces.
  1. Butter a muffin tin, and put a dab of brown sugar and a half pecan in each spot. Put the filled and rolled dough on top of the pecans.
  2. Repeat with the second half of the dough (or wrap the dough well and put it in the freezer so you don’t end up with 24 schnecken that all need to be eaten before they get stale).
  3. Let the buns rise for an hour.
  4. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.

Some of my notes about what makes the recipe imperfect are in the recipe itself. It somehow doesn’t call for enough flour, and it wants you to divide the dough into thirds instead of halves, which resulted in super thin dough and too skinny rolls.

BUT!!! The dough itself is my new favorite dough. I made a roll with just the dough and a smidge of brown sugar (from the ends I trimmed off) and HEAVEN in my mouth. I think it’s the sour cream that makes the difference (or the sour cream plus the melted butter). I will be using this dough for my sweet rolls from now on.

A few additional notes:

First, this is what happens if you don’t butter the tin adequately. Or maybe if you only use sugar for the filling instead of adding the nuts and raisins. If this happens, just soak it overnight and when you wake up, it will magically have been washed by your dad. If you don’t live with your dad, it will at least be magically easier to was yourself. You’ll note that I used walnuts instead of the pretty pecan in the recipe. I thought my parents had pecans, but I couldn’t find them when I looked. It’s not my fault that they have three freezers!

So pretty in the tins. I should probably have turned them out as soon as I took them out of the oven. That might have prevented the situation in the photo above.

The Great Pandemic Baking Show: Puff Pastry

In The Great British Baking Show Masterclass, Mary Berry admits that she does not make her own puff pastry since it’s easier to buy it at the shops. Nevertheless, I lost my mind and decided that now would be a perfect time to make puff pastry from scratch. (I mean, now is a better time than, say, when I have a full time job!)

I used the instructions in The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, which have you mix a small amount of the flour into the butter instead of just whacking the butter flat with a rolling pin the way the contestants on GBBO do. The mixing process (I used a stand mixer; I may need to invest in one for myself when I return to my own kitchen) softens the butter enough to be able to spread it into a square.

Puff pastry isn’t really difficult to make. It takes time, and patience, definitely. And it requires having a decent workspace and rolling pin. Maybe arm strength–though I don’t have that. And it requires being able to accept knowing that your pastry has a full pound of butter in it.

Anyway. I made my dough, I made my butter, I chilled it all, and then the next morning I put it all together. Roll–fold–chill. After a bunch of times, I had a nice, layered bit of pastry.

I used half the pastry for salmon en croute. I didn’t do a fantastic job of rolling the pastry thin enough, so it was a bit doughy on the sides. Definitely not going to get a Paul Hollywood handshake on it, but it was delicious. Shabbat dinner, so no photos.

With the scraps of pastry from the salmon, I baked some snacks. Butter, flour, egg wash, and heat–can’t go wrong.

What will I do with the remaining half of the batch of puff pastry? Stay tuned to find out.

The Great Pandemic Baking Show: Lemon Tart

Follow up to season one, episode one: what to do when you have four leftover egg yolks.

What is the best thing made with egg yolks? Lemon curd. There is no room for debate here. I am right, 100%.

Except that 1. the recipe I selected to use had too much butter in it, and 2. there are a lot of recipes for lemon curd that use the whole egg. So…we may be having more lemon curd as I try to find a better recipe. In the meantime, the lemon curd I made isn’t good for eating straight, so I digged out a tart pan in my parents’ basement, and made a lemon tart.

I still had those ground almonds I mentioned in the Swiss roll post, so I searched for a Passover almond tart crust. I ended up making the crust for this pie recipe, shown here post baking, pre filling. I didn’t do a great job of making it show-worthy, but it’s my first ever tart crust. I’ll wait for perfection.

After I baked the crust and let it cool, I poured in the lemon curd. Even my “lemon curd? no thank you” mom enjoyed the tart.

The Great Pandemic Baking Show: Swiss Rolls

Netflix arrangement, season 1, episode 1. Cake week.

Signature challenge: Swiss rolls.

The contestants made:

  • lemon curd roll
  • orange and aniseed sponge with honey cream
  • cardamom, pistachio, and coffee
  • chocolate orange with orange jelly filling
  • pistachio with strawberry
  • strawberry and creme pat
  • raspberry and lemon
  • red velvet and white chocolate
  • tiramisu
  • apricot and basil with a mascarpone and white chocolate filling
  • black forest
  • coffee swiss roll with caramelized hazelnuts

My Swiss roll:

Early in the pandemic, I bought ground almonds for Passover baking. I then proceeded to use almost none of them. The remaining almonds have been in my freezer, but in preparation for a kitchen renovation, I brought them with me to my parents’ house. I decided to use them for an almond sponge for my swiss roll.

Then I spent way too long browsing recipes on the internet for a perfect almond sponge, gave up, and ended up making a basic sponge cake (Merlin’s Magic Sponge Cake) from The King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook. Don’t worry; I’ll figure out something to do with the almond meal!

I asked my dad to buy an orange so that I could make an orange filling for yeasted rolls (think cinnamon rolls, only with orange), but instead decided to use the orange zest to flavor a Swiss meringue filling. (I thought about orange whipped cream, but that would have required another trip to the store, to purchase whipping cream, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so trying to minimize trips to the store. No whipped cream for this swiss roll!)

So, how’d it go? My Swiss meringue was closer to orange Fluff–delicious but not peaked–and the cake was…spongy. That said, it was a good first effort at a Swiss roll. I used Mary Berry’s tip to gently score the sponge to begin the roll, and I rolled the cake while it was still warm. No cracks in the cake, and I made a pretty decent roll.

The meringue resulted in four leftover egg yolks, so next up: lemon curd.

Photos (forgive my non-food-blogger quality photography!):