Monday, January 28, 2008

Baking out of the Box

Dear Whoever Ate Any Brownie I’ve Ever Made,

I have a confession. I might have said the brownies were freshly baked from scratch, but that isn’t as true as it could be. Actually, it isn’t true at all. I baked out of the box. I don’t mean that I used ingredients and processes too creative to be confined within the metaphorical box of standard baking—I mean that pretty much all of my ingredients quite literally came from a box, courtesy of Mrs. Betty Crocker.

But I have an excuse for my deception: society. In my experience, there is an enormous “prestige” associated with baking from scratch, and a resulting disregard for the just-add-water-oil-and-eggs variety. But look, using actual flour and whatever else it takes entails more work, a longer Fresh Grocer receipt, and more possibilities to screw up. Plus, the end result is rarely more delicious, and the work doesn’t seem worth it. In the end, it’s all about the brownies. You wouldn’t want them from scratch (from me) anyway.

I would have told you the truth about my baking, but I couldn’t bear to trivialize the process by saying the brownies were “only from a box.” I worked hard to not over-mix the batter or burn them.

It’s not like this kind of baking is completely brainless. Case in point: for my mother’s birthday a couple years ago, my little brother Armeno saved up his money to buy a box mix of Boston cream pie that he could make for her (mostly) by himself. Unaware that mix, blend, and whip were not synonyms, and that we actually had to wait until the oven was fully preheated, Armeno and I succeeded in making a Boston cream omelet. My mother ate half a slice because she loves us, but stopped at half a slice because she is a human being with standards. I couldn’t even swallow a bite.

But I promise to be honest from now on. And I guess my brownie making is at least slightly creative: I add half a bag of small marshmallows to my old stand-by, Betty Crocker Low Fat Fudge Brownie, to make them gooier, sweeter, and pretty much irresistible. It takes more time to bake, and with my wildly inconsistent oven, the best I can do is check on them every four minutes beyond the recommended bake time.

So now if you hear me say that something is from scratch, you can trust it as the truth. You can also trust that either there wasn't a box mix available, or that my mother made it.

Very truly yours,


Friday, January 25, 2008

Giant Bean Love, or, More Broadly, Philly's Italian Market

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was a tad stressed because of the things I was supposed to do: volunteer from 10AM to 12PM, buy my bulkpack for Jewish History, and do my homework. I had also planned to go with a few friends to the Italian Market. Well, if you know me it's not so shocking that the only thing I actually ended up doing was going to the Italian Market. Owing to my 5AM bedtime and Wharton Reprographics being closed, I didn't have much of a choice, right?

So Dave, Sarah, Rachel, and I layered up in anticipation of the bitter cold (and oh, was it bitter), and we took the 40 bus downtown.

We got off at 9th and South and walked the couple blocks south to Fitzwater, where the market starts. We were surprised to find a lot of the shops and bakeries closed, but we found enough to keep us going for the afternoon. First, I spotted Lorenzo's Pizza, which I hear has employees a la Soup Nazi. I've also been told that it's traditional to buy a cheesesteak at Pat's or Geno's (I'm not sure if it matters which -- if someone knows please enlighten me with a comment) and then a slice at Lorenzo's...and then wrap the pizza around the steak and eat it. Disgusting? Yes. Almost as disgusting as the kid who told me he did that, but before he ate it he deep fried it.

Right by Lorenzo's is Sabrina's, a brunch place that Penn Appetit's own Jamie Png has raved about. I've been meaning to go there since I heard about it last semester, so I had to go in and see the menu. After glancing at it we moved on, simply because half of our group wasn't hungry and we weren't looking to sit down quite yet. So I squeezed back out of the tiny restaurant, Rachel grabbed a sip of the hot chocolate they had outside, and we kept walking.

Next I made everyone go into a butcher shop. I inhaled deeply once inside, savoring the smell of pure meat. This helped my friends confirm that I am, in fact, strange and a little sick.

After dabbling in a few other places, we ended up at DiBruno Brothers. This was the highlight of my visit...and not just because of the free samples! Well, mostly because of the free samples. DiBruno Brothers is primarily a cheese place, but they have a fairly extensive olive bar. They also have giant marinated beans that my sister Mia introduced me to over the summer. I got a container of the beans, had an extremely pleasant exchange with the elderly man behind the counter, and left. And I think I succeeded in spreading the giant bean love by making Dave and Rachel try them. Delicious!

Our last stop was Anthony's Italian Coffee House. I had been there before --during PennCORP , when Anthony's saved me from peeing my pants. The only place in the Italian Market with a bathroom, I think, is Anthony's. So Monday was my first time eating there...

To prevent frostbite on our toes, we took the bus back to Penn after lunch. $50 lighter and with some olive oil, blackberries, asparagus, beans, some day-old Anthony's goodies, and a couple of records, I felt great! How couldn't I? I had had a lot of stuff to do, but only actually did the one thing I wanted to do. My stress was as cured as...cured meat?


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Penn Appetit Magazine's New Blog!

Dear readers,

Welcome to the Penn Appetit blog! My name is Emma, and I am the founder and editor-in-chief of Penn Appetit, a magazine based out of the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Kelly Writers House. It is a forum for all kinds of food writing, including but not limited to personal food essays, recipes, reviews, food features, political food pieces, and also any kind of food artwork and photography. We are currently working on the second issue of the magazine, which should be published sometime in mid-April. We will have our staff writers update the blog periodically once the semester of Penn Appetit kicks off.

If you are interested in the magazine, and would like to get more involved or get on our listserv, please email me at Also, please check out our website,

Happy reading, happy eating, and bon appetit!


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