My Life as an Air Traffic Controller
One day last year I was sitting in my kitchen at 5:00 pm checking email while dinner was cooking. The house was quiet and I had a disconcerting realization: no one needed me. Each of my four children was in their own “cave,” doing homework (I hoped), while simultaneously surfing YouTube (unfortunately) and video chatting with friends (perhaps about homework?).
My job had shifted from being the pilot who transported everyone everywhere, from being asked to fulfill every need, to just making sure everyone was busy doing what he or she was supposed to be doing. My job description had shifted from flying the planes to directing them. I had become an air-traffic controller. I had to make sure the planes were clean, fueled, de-iced and fully stocked. I supplied the flight plan while they just had to periodically call in their location and status. Sometimes the planes would fly off for a few hours, sometimes for days and then for weeks in the summer, when they are parked in Camp Ramah’s hangar in Palmer, Massachusetts. There the planes get a tune up socially, athletically and Judaically.
I soon learned the best way to bring in the planes: homemade desserts. When the planes are at the airport in their separate hangars, nothing brings the pilots into the control tower faster than chocolate desserts, such as the Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffins below. The pilots sit around the tower and discuss each version of the muffins. Are they sweet enough? Do they need more or less walnuts? Their input has always been valuable. They also discuss their trips, where they are going next, whether they found a better route they want to share or give support to a fellow pilot who got a little lost on their last flight. Sometimes they even want to paint their planes a new color and I assist with that too.
When they are properly fueled, the planes go off again. As my daughter prepares to go to college next year, I accept that it is time for her to direct her plane to a new airport. She is ready. She has gone through the pilot training program and graduated with honors.
Soon the planes are ready to fly off again. They submit new flight plans for approval. I fill out the paperwork and I stand in the control tower and watch the jets go off on their separate ways, marveling at how independent they are. Off they go, until the next batch of muffins.
Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffinsmakes 18 muffins
These muffins are healthy enough for breakfast. They have whole grain flour, a vegetable and protein from the walnuts. You really do not even have to tell anyone that there is zucchini inside as they will never know; the zucchini strands melt into the batter when baked and just add moistness to the muffins.
1 1/3 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup orange juice (no pulp)
1/3 cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup boiling water
¾ cup shredded zucchini (from about 6 ounces zucchini), unpeeled, shredded on the small holes of a box grater
1 ½ cups walnut halves, chopped into ½ inch pieces, and ¼ cup chopped walnuts separated out to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place paper cups in muffin tins for 17 muffins.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the orange juice, oil, vanilla, eggs, and boiling water and first stir with a silicone spatula (so water does not splatter) and then use the mixer to mix for one minute, until everything is thoroughly combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the shredded zucchini and mix in well to distribute. Add the walnuts and mix in.
Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop up batter and divide among the 18 cups, filling no more than ¾ full. Bake for 30 - 33 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn muffins out onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Store covered at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze for up to three months.
Recent Television Appearances
Making a fruit tart on Daytime:
On WBAL, demonstrating babka cupcakes:
JC Hayward Video
WUSA9's JC Hayward featured Paula making her Cinnamon Apricot Pull-Apart Babka, perfect for the holidays.
David Magazine article
Paula was featured in a recent article in David Magazine - take a look!
Foodie and the Beast
Paula joins Foodie and the Beast radio show to discuss summer desserts:
Guest blog in Diets in Review
For a healthy carrot cake, go to Paula's guest blog on Diets in Review
Top Pies and Tarts from The Kosher BakerYour guide to choosing the best dairy-free dessert for your Thanksgiving meal
There are 24 different tarts and pies in The Kosher Baker. How do you choose which one to make this year? Here is the list of my top ten favorites for the Fall/Thanksgiving season.
Quick Fruit Pie - The fastest, easiest pie you can make that are also pretty. It uses frozen pie crust and is perfect for when you simply have run out of time but must serve something homemade. You can see a video of me making this on WUSA Channel 9 in DC and find the recipe at the WUSA website.
Pumpkin Pie – This pie is also super easy and you will think you are eating your favorite dairy pumpkin pie.
Orange Mocha Pecan Pie – Another sophisticated pie with a ready-made crust. The orange zest gives it a more adult taste, which is why my daughter Emily, who bakes it every year, omits it along with the coffee and instead adds ½ cup parve chocolate chips. I think she is onto something . . .
Plum Tart - This tart uses frozen puff pastry as its crust, has a custard filling and is topped with plums. You can find the recipe at the WUSA site.
Apple Tarte Tatin is one of the greatest contributions of the country of France to the world of apple desserts. I have to admit that I do prefer the dairy version over the parve, but the combination of caramelized apples and puff pastry is heavenly. The joy of unmolding this tart was captured perfectly on my friend Dorie Greenspan’s new culinapp captures the joy of unmolding the perfect tarte tatin:
Pear and Almond Tart – My personal favorite tart and my son Sam’s favorite birthday cake. I find the combination of crunchy sugar cookie crust, soft, flavorful almond cream and vanilla poached pears irresistible. It has several steps, but this tart is entirely worth the effort. And the calories.
For your guests on special diets:
Sugar free Fruit Galette
Gluten-free: Key Lime Pie
The Road to Sweet Genius
As many of you already know, I will appear on Sweet Genius, a brand new dessert competition show, this Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm EST on Food Network. The show features multiple secret ingredients, unusual dessert inspirations and an Israeli judge, master NYC cake decorator Ron Ben-Israel. I cannot discuss details of the show until after it airs, but people keep asking me why I decided to do this, which is a nicer way of saying, “Are you absolutely crazy?”
When I was cast on the show I didn’t quite believe I could really do it because, to be honest, these competition shows are intense and downright terrifying. My heart races during the countdown of every round of Chopped. Ultimately, I overcame my fear and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
One of the genuine thrills for me was the opportunity to bake with butter and real cream; as the maven of dairy-free desserts, I rarely get that experience. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to profoundly challenge myself professionally and do something that so few chefs get to do. Most people my age play it safe and stick to what they know, and risking potential public embarrassment is generally not an option.
For me this was a grand opportunity to prove to myself that I indeed have the pastry skills required to go up against the best and most professional chefs out there, and that I can create much more that the best chocolate babka you have ever eaten. I wanted to prove to the foodie world that we cookbook authors and home bakers, many of us moms, can compete in the fancy pastry world.
As I stepped into the gorgeous Sweet Genius kitchen, and prepared to face whatever challenges came my way, I smiled to myself because I already knew that in my world of baking for people with special diets, I was already a sweet genius.
My Spring and Summer Challenge
Like the dafodils and irises outside my window, I have come up for air after nine fabulous months of meeting Kosher bakers all around the country. My next challenge is the following culinary to-do list that I hope to accomplish over the next few months. I am open to assistance in any form and plan to blog about my successes and failings.
- Homemade ravioli – I will buy the right equipment and master three new flavors
- Croissants from scratch – I used to bake them for special occasions. And no, they will not be dairy-free, unless I get really ambitious.
- Perfect gazpacho – I cannot eat any canned tomato product and too much tartness upsets my stomach as well. I want a gazpacho I can feel good eating.
- Homemade marshmallows –They were huge in Paris a few years ago, but I still haven't seen the range of flavors here that I saw there.
- Fruit Souffles – I got the chocolate one right and now want to try something else, maybe mango?
- Gluten-free challah – I have heard it is very difficult
- Parve caramel candies – I have mastered caramel sauces, but would love to create a great dairy-free, chewy caramel candy
- Passover, nut-free pie crust – At least I have 11 months to achieve that one
- Four new sugar-free desserts – for my dad and beyond
- Whole wheat babka – in time for Rosh Hashanah
- Baked Alaska – my son Joey saw it on a Food Network show and was fascinated by the science of it
- Homemade mozzarella cheese – first have to find Kosher vegetarian rennet
- New brisket recipe – I love my stand-bys, but ready for something new
- New Banana dessert – I have not given bananas enough attention
- The best kosher pad thai recipe I can create
- French Baguette – I took the bread course in Paris cooking school 15 years ago and it is time to get over my fear