Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hot Chocolate...on a STICK.

So, it's been three months since my last post. I'm pretty much the worst blogger on the planet. You're about to forgive me though, because I come bearing Hot Chocolate on a Stick.

Part of living in Minnesota is surrendering myself to the notion that every type of food imaginable can and should be served on a stick whenever possible. The winters are very, very dark and long here; I'm not going to begrudge anyone whatever amusement they can find. If putting a wooden skewer through a snack makes you happy, then more power to you!

Given that I've garnered a bit of a reputation when it comes to all things edible over the past year, I knew that whatever Christmas gifts I gave this year had to include something homemade and delicious. I didn't want to send anything too delicate that might break or spoil during shipping, so that ruled out most of my original ideas. By sheer luck I stumbled across this post on an adorable blog called Giver's Log and knew instantly that I'd found the perfect thing.

I made 68 of them, because I am just that crazy.

David was away deer hunting almost every weekend (we recently bought a 7 cubic ft freezer chest to hold all the venison meat. And David claims to have grown up in the suburbs), so luckily I had the whole kitchen to myself. Sixty-eight chocolates molded in Dixie cups with sticks and candy canes poking out of them take up an astonishing amount of space. 

The most time consuming part of the entire project was actually the packaging. I made three flavors: original, peppermint, and cinnamon. I wrapped each individual stick in plastic and tied it up with ribbon, hemp twine, and a little label indicating the flavor. Then I grouped them up and placed them together in larger bags--four to a pack--and added another label with directions.

We had a huge blizzard the weekend that I made all of these. It was so cozy to be inside my apartment melting chocolate and eating broken candy canes while the snow piled up outside. I may also have had a mug of hot chocolate or two. I mean, someone had to be the taste-tester and David was up in Wisconsin sitting outside in the freezing snowstorm waiting for Bambi to come along, so I had to bite the bullet myself. Tough job.

Hot Chocolate on a Stick 
adapted from Giver's Log

Yield: approximately 10 sticks of Hot Chocolate

WORD OF WARNING: Do not let so much as a drop of water near your chocolate or it will seize. If it seizes (and you will know if it does because it will become a grainy, horrible mess) it will still taste delicious, but it won't look as pretty. If you don't care how they look, then you don't have to be so vigilant. Make sure that all of your equipment is bone-dry. NO LIQUIDS. This means that you can't add booze to these (just splash some into your mug once it's all made!) or things like vanilla or almond extract. If you want to add flavorings they should be in powder or paste form only.

You will need: a double boiler (or a metal bowl over a sauce pan), a piping bag (or a ziploc bag), chocolate molds (Dixie cups and ice cube trays work just as well),  a wooden spoon (or whisk, I quickly abandoned my spoon for the whisk. Use what works best for you!), and sticks (wooden dowels, lollipop sticks, popsicle sticks, candy canes, cinnamon sticks, whatever!).

  • 8 oz high-quality chocolate, between 60 to 72% cocoa. Do not skimp on the chocolate. I used Guittard and it was amazing. 
  • 1/4 cup of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt

Set up your molds and have your sticks handy.

Sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Please do not skip this step. Sift. Please sift. Then set aside. 

Gently melt chocolate in a double boiler until about 2/3 of the chocolate is melted and a few solid pieces remain.

Take off heat and add the powdered sugar mixture. Stir, stir, stir. It will be very, very thick, like frosting. If it looks like a big old gritty mess, just keep stirring; it should smooth out soon enough. The final product will be smooth and very glossy and shiny. Immediately transfer to the pastry bag and pipe into your molds. You want 1 oz of chocolate in each mold. If you have a kitchen scale it is immensely valuable here. If not, try to split the chocolate evenly between 8-10 molds. Add a stick and let it harden--usually I give it about 2 hours to be safe, though they are often set before then. (If you use candy canes for the sticks, you will need to prop them up. After much trial and error and an awful lot of swearing I found that hooking them on a bowl worked best. Of course, I didn't have a bowl that was the perfect height, so I supplemented by adding crumpled tinfoil around the rim). When chocolates are set, remove from molds. Hot Chocolate on a Stick will keep well for up to one year in an air-tight container. Do not store in the fridge or freezer.

Decorating (Optional):

I decided to dress mine up a little bit to make them extra-pretty. I bought some white candy melts and dipped the set chocolates into it and then either dipped them in colored sugar, or applied chocolate transfer sheets (the plaid decorations you see in pictures). There are lots of great ways you can play with these. I already have some good ideas for future batches. Be creative, and pretty much anything goes. 

To Serve: 

Stir 1 stick into 1 cup (8 oz) of hot milk until melted. If feeling incredibly indulgent, top with homemade whipped cream. Enjoy!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and that a joyous New Year's Eve awaits you. May 2011 bring you health and happiness. 

Much, much love. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Ethics of Eating Well

It is almost time for apples, which means it's almost time for apple-picking. Few things bliss me out as much as spending a crisp, sunny Autumn day picking apples and drinking hot cider before going home to bake, bake, bake.

Yesterday, I was hunting around online for an orchard where David and I could go and pick our fill. The first place that came to mind is the orchard that David and I visited last year. It was an idyllic, lovely little orchard, and exactly the sort of apple-picking experience I wanted. But I hestitated. The apples at that orchard are grown using pesticides.

And as that moment of hesitation expanded, I realized that I was probably going to have to go ahead and find an apple orchard that's chemical-free. For me, eating has become ethical.

I dug my heels in on this for a long, long time. My food came from the supermarket. It appeared there, by magic, waiting for me to buy it. Anything that happened to it before it got on my plate didn't really interest me. I had no desire to think about it.

When David and I were in the first flush of dating, he mentioned an article he had read about the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup and how it is in absolutely everything we eat. Man, did I fly off the handle. "Psh!" I said. "It's corn. It can't possibly be that bad for you! The government regulates these things! They wouldn't let people eat it if it was bad for them!" They were gonna have to pry the Diet Coke from my cold, dead fingers, I can tell you that much. David, wisely, did not push the issue. My ignorance was a bright flag; I waved it.

The first thing that put a crack in my resistance was cooking. Cooking, for me, began as an experiment. A challenge. When I was a junior in college Dan came up to visit me for a weekend, and I decided to make my first ever pie. I found a recipe somewhere--who knows where--for a simple apple pie, and I went at it with gusto. Peeling apples with a slippery little paring knife, rolling out the crust, dumping it all together and hoping for the best. Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could DO it. If I could create something out of nothing, like magic. It turns out, I could.

The pie was gorgeous coming out of the oven. The high crust was golden and sugar-sparkled. When we cut into it (without bothering to let it cool--how could we wait?) there was an odd, 2-inch gap between the dome of the crust and the cinnamony filling, but who cared? I had pulled this out of thin air. It tasted wonderful.

That's how I cooked for a long time: to see if I could do it. I tried many more pies. I made bread. I made over a hundred mini cheesecakes for the holiday party at David's office. I made pita, and macarons, and fresh pasta. If it was difficult or time-consuming, I tried it. I started to read about food, to invest more time and thought into what I was making, and soon enough these one-off cooking experiments evolved into something else. I started cooking full meals, three times a day. For the first time in my life, I was cooking consistently to feed myself.

The more I cooked the more interested I became in the ingredients I was using. It became a lot harder to pretend that the food I was buying at the grocery store was harmless, or even--that it was food.

I will tell you right now that one of the biggest reasons I refused to inform myself about the American food industry is that I knew, instinctively, that something was very, very wrong with it. And once I opened that Pandora's Box there was no going back. I'd either have to drastically change my life, or go on as I was and feel ashamed and guilty about everything I ever put into my mouth for the rest of my life.

Let me pause for a minute here, and just try to say something. I'm not here to tell you what to eat. I'm not here to say that the way I feed myself is the way that you should, too. Food is deeply, DEEPLY personal and I sure as hell don't want anyone to dictate the very complicated relationship that I have with it. I'm not trying to dictate yours, either. The reason that I'm writing this post is that while a lot of things have changed in my life in the last year, one of the most visible changes has been centered on my relationship with food. And it's been one of the most emotional changes. One of the most exhilerating. I want to process that, to record it. To take stock and say, this is where I am, this is what has happened to me, this is how my life has changed.

Needless to say, I opened Pandora's Box. I read all the Michael Pollan: THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMA, IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, SECOND NATURE, and THE BOTANY OF DESIRE. I watched FOOD, INC. and JAMIE OLIVER'S FOOD REVOLUTION.  I read blogs and books and listened to podcasts and talked to people and educated myself. I went to farmers markets and started an herb garden in my window sill and tasted things. And there were a lot of really terrible moments where that dormant sense of dread I'd felt so often in the grocery store, the one I refused to face, proved to be justified, and even more horrific than I'd thought. I gave up the Diet Coke of my own accord.

We joined Mississippi Market, a local food co-op. I became obsessed with the idea of going to the Farmers Market. I marked the opening date on my calendar, and we were there at 8am that dull grey April morning, browsing through half a dozen stands all bearing some slight bundles of asparagus and perhaps some new potatoes. Not very glamorous. But as the summer went on, the number of vendors exploded. By buying almost every last bit of our produce at the Farmers Market, David and I wound up eating seasonally. For myself, at least, it was the first time in my life.

I love sugar snap peas, particularly when eaten raw. I fell in love with them, oddly enough, in New York. After work one day my friend Bri and I met up and decided to amble around down in Union Square as we so often did. The Wednesday farmers market was still thriving, so we gathered up some bread, some cheese, some strawberries, some sugar snap peas. We sat on the grass and reveled in our bounty. As we sat there, chatting and laughing, snapping open thick pods and popping raw peas into our mouths like candy, I remember falling a little bit in love with just about everything at that moment. Every time I eat them I think about that afternoon.

Our co-op had some. Slender little things imported from Mexico. I bought a bunch, and shelled them enthusiastically (I love to shell peas. When I worked in restaurants I also loved to roll silverware or fold napkins. I find small, repetative tasks that require little focus so relaxing and lovely). And they were...ok. Not great. This is nothing against our little co-op, which champions local growers and products at every turn. But the winter sugar snaps imported from Mexico? Not impressive.

Several weeks later in the spring, our Farmers Market had sugar snap peas by the trillion--big fat pods that snapped with the most delightful, satisfying crunch I had ever heard. Mexico had nothing, nothing on Minnesota as far as peas were concerned, and I made my first decision about eating foods in season. I will never, ever eat wimpy little sugar snap peas again. I will wait, in agony, every year for that brief window of time when peas are available locally, and then I will GORGE MYSELF on them. Having had something so delicious, I never want to settle for a subpar sugar snap ever again. It will be worth the wait.

Eating in season, eating locally, eating food that has been raised without chemicals or hormones, meat that has been fed only its natural diet and been granted the freedom of unrestricted movement--these are some of the things that guide my food choices, now. I want to support my community, stimulate my local economy, meet the people who raise my food and know that they do so sustainably. I want the food that I eat to be food.

I'm by no means a purist. I love coffee. I love my fully-stocked spice cabinet. I really, really love citrus. But I want to make the most ethical food choices that I can. I want the time that I spend in the kitchen to be a joy, the ingredients that I use to be the freshest and most nutitious, the meals that I eat to be delicious and shared with the people I love.

I'm not saying that eliminating HFCS from my life was easy. I'm not saying that I will never eat another Snickers Bar. I'm saying that educating myself about my food, and making a commitment to better food choices is something that I have never once regretted. Not for a second.

I'm saying that once I realized that other choices existed, once I explored them and committed to them, a lot of beauty came into my life. And this small triumph, this act of deliberate choosing, opens up so many other doors. In how many facets of my life am I doing what I'm doing simply because I haven't bothered to access any alternatives? My choices about eating have empowered me to make other choices, to take control of my life in other ways.

Eating mindfully is just a start.

And I am still learning.

I just recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE, and was telling David about it on a long car ride. In the book, Barbara is having a phone conversation with a friend of hers who happens to be a gourmet chef. They are discussing Barbara's garden, and she mentions that the potatoes have recently come up. Wait, says the chef. What do you mean 'up?' What part of a potato comes 'up?' Barbara answers somewhat incredulously, the plant part. Hold on, says the chef. What are you talking about? Potaotes have a plant part?

The gourmet chef and I have that in common. Potaoes grow under ground. They sprout little eyes that take root and, you know, that's it. The fact that potatoes have a plant part that grows up above the ground astonished me.

"Can you believe it?" I said to David in the car. "A plant part? I never knew that! Did you?"

"Um, yes," he said, this man who claims that the corn fields where he grew up count as the suburbs. "We drive past potato fields all the time."

Well, imagine that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Please Don't Ask Me What My Book Is About.

Once upon a time I was a writer who wrote things. I graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in English. I wrote a lot of really terrible short stories and some poetry that is scarcely worthy of the name. I wrote nearly every day for about six years, and have appeared in some very modest publications (one of which actually paid! Thirty dollars, hell yeah!). I then wrote some marginally better short stories, and even one or two that could be considered good. I worked on a novel and hatched ideas for several others. I wrote a children's book and even got to the beginning stages of shopping it around before I chickened out. I was part of several delightful writers groups and was invited to read my work aloud at a number of events. I started working in the publishing industry. I began writing less and editing more. I became a literary midwife, and happily brought many, many books into the world without ever sparing thought for my own. And somewhere along the line I became a writer who doesn't actually write anything.

Recently I've decided I really ought to do something about that. I don't want to render my degree any more useless than it already is, afterall. So, I give myself a couple of pep talks and dive right in.

David comes home after work one night to find me seated at the dining room table typing madly away. Naturally he's confused, because I'm using my laptop, yet not trolling around endlessly on Facebook. He asks what I'm up to.

"I'm writing! Just working on my novel!" I say, beaming. I am like a four year old who has just tied her shoes for the first time. David obligingly showers me with heaps of encouragement and praise, so of course I have to ruin it all by saying, "Oh, yes! I'm going to write every day for the whole month of September!"

Wait, what? Like hell I am.

But of course, now I've got to. I've gone and made a stupid pledge in front of someone else, and now I've got to follow through or perish. And so far I've done it. I have sat down every day this month and contributed at least a single sentence, but oftentimes more, to my little novel.

And I am not here to tell you about how hard writing is. I am not here to tell you how mind-numbingly stupid that little blinking cursor can make you feel. I'm not here to tell you that it's easy, either, because it sure as hell isn't. I'm not actually here to say a damn thing about writing at all. I'm here to ask you--beg you--for one small favor, and the favor is this:

Please don't ask me what my book is about.

Because here is what will happen if you do:

We go up to David's cabin for Labor Day weekend. Holidays are a free for all, so besides the two of us, David's cousin Timmy, his Uncle Mike, and Mike's girlfriend Shelly are all staying up there as well. I bring my laptop because I am committed to writing every single day, damnit. I find small, quiet moments to get my writing done. I wake up in the morning before the others and I hunker down under piles of blankets with my coffee at hand and I write. And I write. And I experience that sensation I'd forgotten, the one where writing is the best, most freeing, most joyful thing in the world. The words are flowing effortlessly. Time flies by and I don't even notice. I have hit my stride. I have remembered this gift. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened.

But eventually I am caught out. People wake up, move about, drink their coffee, pull on their sweatshirts. For a couple of hours I am dumb enough to think I might be off the hook. But then it happens.

One of them comes up to me, all innocent smiles, and asks "So, what is your book about?"

And a small part of me, the part that can still think rationally, the part that is going to be drowned in just a few precious seconds, hisses in my ear, "This is why you stopped writing, you moron."

Because I utterly loathe that question. Why do people always ask that question?! There is no polite way to avoid it. You sound like a total prick if you say something like, "Oh, I don't like to discuss my works in progress." Yet if you are anything like me, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to answer that question in any remotely normal way. I always end up apologizing for myself. Like, oh god, I am so sorry that I piqued your curiosity. Truly, it is better for both of us if we leave the topic unaddressed. You really do not want to know how fucked up I am at this juncture. Shall we discuss the weather instead?

I turn into a spastic freak when faced with that question. I literally begin to twitch. The novel I'm currently working on is a YA fantasy (I know, god, I know) and that's embarrassing enough to pull me up short right there. But somehow, I lumber on. My cognitive skills fly out the window, so I’m twitching and turning bright red and shouting out things like “There’s this girl? And magic! Mole people? But not really!”

I am losing my audience. Mole people? Jesus. They are backing away from me slowly. They are looking very, very sorry that they asked. And what I should do, I know, is let them go. I should shrug and give a tilted little half-smile and leave it at that. Fucking writers. What a bunch of lunatics.

But deep embarrassment is only one of many emotions racking my nerves at this moment. And embarrassment is being over-ridden by EARNESTNESS. Suddenly I am overcome with desire to win these people over. I am a writer. A good one, even! I have some really great ideas! My books are going to be pretty good, if I ever get around to finishing them! I need to prove that there's more to me than just magic and mole people. I can be more sophisticated than that.

I try to save myself. I’m groping for something that will satisfy these people and return their facial expressions to normal. Something that will ease their minds about the fact that they are going to sleep with me in a one-room cabin tonight and that I could possibly be an axe-murderer.
So I switch tactics completely, abandon my YA novel, and start blabbering on about my other novel--a monster of literary fiction that I have been working on since 2002 and of which I have never completed even a single draft--as if that would be any better, any more comprehensible.

“AUTO-EROTIC ASPHYXIATION! I like to write about smoking cigarettes! There is probably incest, but I’m not decided as to whether or not it’s consumated!" I shout these things out like a game show contestant until the shame, the SHAME forces me to just shut my freaking mouth. And people are too stunned, too horrified to even look grateful that I have finally stopped talking.

At which point I usually shrink and fade and curl up into the very smallest version of myself and mumble something like “…anyway, um…I’m not very good at describing it?” and take the first opportunity to run away and DIE.

So please, please, PLEASE. Spare us both any further humiliation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Farmers Market Fail, A Boyfriend Post

*Note* Another post by David, who is keeping this little blog going while I'm busy with other things. I'll post again soon, truly. Not sure yet whether it'll be a narrative, or a recipe, but I'm getting back on the blogging wagon, I promise.

By now everyone who reads this blog knows how obsessed we've become with the farmers market this summer and with food in general since the move to Minnesota. It should come as no surprise to anyone that we made an early morning trek to the St. Paul Farmers Market a couple of weekends ago. The only problem--this trip didn't go so well.

First, we broke our only rule. We went after 8am. That is a no no. I'm no good with crowds, especially meandering, slow crowds. If we get to the market early enough, there aren't too many people. We can simply make our way around the market (which is a great market by the way) and then loop through again to hit all of the stands we want for the things we've decided to purchase. If we get there too late, we run into the f***ing crowds. They are slow. They get in my way. They are slow, and they get in my way. It's no good going to a farmers market after 8am. And this week, we went after eight.

Second, in my mind, it wasn't me for once. Obviously it is mostly me that hates crowds. Riley can calmly manage them and still enjoy a leisurely walk around the market and shop. This guy can't do that. But I put my game face on this week and, while a little cranky at the horrible driving surrounding the market, I believed myself calm, cool and collected throughout. In anticipation of my usual crowd anger, however, it was Riley that was a little off kilter. [David is being very generous here. I was a total shrew.] As we made our way around looking for various goodies I could tell something wasn't quite right. She was stressed out because of the anticipation of my anger. So, we rushed through and got what we needed.

Third, I've been on a potato craze. It's spring/early summer and that means new potatoes! And, apparently, that means I get to try as many new potato salad recipes as possible. Again, obviously, Riley has been getting a little tired of all the potato salads. I make massive amounts of each recipe whether or not they are good. Then I expect that we eat it all for lunch over the ensuing week. Big mistake; she usually has a couple of helpings while I polish off the other two pounds. [I mean, it's good and all, but how much potato salad can one person possibly eat?!] Inevitably I bought about four pounds this past weekend.

Fourth, the potatoes were rotten. It turns out Riley was finally in the mood for potatoes--she was going to try a new recipe for crispy baked potatoes. She woke up Sunday excited to make a brunch of eggs, bacon and crispy potatoes! As I read the paper she went to prep everything, but then soon enough came back into the room...

"We've got a problem. The potatoes are wet."


"The potatoes are wet and they smell funny. And some of them are squishy."

"Well, pick the bad ones out!"

We walked over together, to take a look. I started picking potatoes out. Some were still solid, but did smell funny. Others literally exploded when you squeezed. After some typically stubborn picking through on my part, in an effort to salvage the lot, I started to gag. They smelled that bad. [They really, really did.] Riley intelligently and calmly called the whole thing off. No potatoes for brunch. No potato salad for the week.

Farmers Market Fail.

[Thankfully, such a wretched experience is a rare occurance. Most of our Farmers Market trips are wonderful and end in some seriously delicious dishes!]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's Finally Summer (a Boyfriend post)

From February through June, for the most part, my life revolves around baseball. By association so does Riley's. She likes the Red Sox and all, but comes nowhere close to my level of fandom. My excitement kicks in as spring training starts and by the time the regular season opens I can become downright obsessed. I watch every game available, whether or not it's the Twins. Back when I lived away from Minnesota I would purchase so I could watch every Twins game, but would also watch the local game at the same time, if it was on. Once Riley and I were even at a Mets game in Queens, while I was watching the Twins live on my iPhone at the same time. I repeatedly check all the sports sites for updates throughout the day, follow several Twins-centric blogs and have been known to watch Baseball: a film by Ken Burns when I can't get enough. Yeah, all ten dvds worth.

Field of Dreams makes me cry. Yes, that's the one with the talking corn field and Kevin Costner.

It must have been a long spring for Kelly. When you throw in the fact that this is the opening season of Target Field--the new home of the Twins--and the fact that I am living in Minnesota for the first time in almost ten years, you could say I became a little over obsessed this time around. We've watched a lot of baseball and gone to quite a few games. It's been great. But expensive. And it is starting to wear on us, a little.

That's why I'm surprised by a recent turn of events. For as much of a fan as I am I don't play baseball and rarely get a chance to play catch. In fact, I haven't had a glove for years. So, when I get the chance, I usually jump at it. Such was the circumstance the other day--after dinner at my uncle's he and I were tossing the ball around when Riley grabbed an extra glove and joined in. Now I've got to say that this was a little unexpected. I can't recall having Riley show interest in this before. Every once in a while we'll throw a Frisbee around, but I don't think I've ever seen her throw a ball. That's why I was a little surprised when, after she made a nice little grab, she threw a solid strike right into my mitt from at least 70 feet. My glove even made that nice popping sound.

What a pleasant surprise.

Three of played for quite a while, with my aunt joining in even. Just about every single ball Riley threw hit the target. She has an arm ladies and gentlemen! (Would now be an appropriate time to thank you Jack?) We had a lot of fun that evening and we even got to play catch again the very next day while visiting my Mom. On the way home we tossed around the idea of buying gloves and making it a regular thing. And, the next week, we did! We're each the proud new owners of mitts. We even did the whole oil them up, place a ball inside and wait thirty six hours thing to break them in. We haven't had the chance to play catch at home yet though--we've had plenty of rain and spring like cool whether lately in Minnesota. But as I sit here writing this post it is at least 85 degrees with about 85 percent humidity. The sun is still out too, so maybe we'll go play.

It's finally summer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Home Alone

Remember when you were a teenager and your parents worked late or went out for the evening or--oh my god!--went away for the weekend and you had the whole entire house all to yourself? And it was totally the best thing ever!

Even if it was only for an hour, having the house to myself when I was a teenager was a hallowed experience, and that hasn't changed.

David went away for the weekend to spend time with his college buddies, and even though he was taking the car, and even though I barely know anyone in this town, and even though I had virtually nothing planned to occupy that time, I still immediately got that little thrill.

The magic of having the whole house to yourself for any extended period of time has nothing to do with relief in someone else's absence. ...Ok, maybe when I was a teenager it did. But David's impending absence inspired no such relief. I'd miss having him around, for sure.

It's that there's a certain luxury in being alone. It inspires indulgence. You can do all kinds of stuff alone that you can't do in front of your significant other. (Although, it turns out that I'm comfortable doing pretty much anything in front of David. Ok, sure, if I watch 7 straight hours of trashy reality tv shows he's going to tease me relentlessly about it and perhaps be a little disgusted. But the fact is, I've totally done that in front of him before, and probably totally will do so again. Singing 40's musicals at the top of my lungs while wandering around the house in my pajamas? Been there, done that. In an attempt to tame my crazy hair I wrap a turban of paper towels around my head for 20 minutes after every shower, and he smiles at me over breakfast like I'm not the least bit insane. This freedom to be found in solitude is an illusion because my boyfriend loves me--completely and without restriction--and so within our partnership I am already free. Sappy, right? Also true).

And I knew that being without a car would make me feel stranded, and I knew that being without David would make me feel lonely, and I knew that the best way to combat that would be to indulge in the admittedly awesome magic that is having the entire house to myself.

Oh, the things I had planned! It would be a weekend-long girly sleepover for one! All the embarrassing things! All!

Gossip Girl marathons! Ice cream for breakfast, face masks, cold press iced coffee with Bailey's, farmers market strawberries all day long, sitting on the floor in the middle of my living room with a towel and a bowl of very hot water and shaving my legs while watching tv (yeah, that last one is weird. To me, though, that is just the ultimate in uninhibited relaxation. Who knows why. I am bad at the girl thing. My best friend and my mother had to hold me down when I was 20 and forcibly pluck my eyebrows for me because I refused to do it myself on some weird principle I've long since forgotten about. Fact). Just an endless string of indulgence! PILLOW FIGHTS WITH THE CAT!

It didn't happen like that. Of course not. What happened is I ate a mangosteen, and watched just one episode of Gossip Girl, and didn't shave my legs at all. I did all the laundry and after my initial text to David to make sure he got in safely after the long drive, I left him to it with his boys because nothing ruins a Guys Weekend like a girlfriend who calls all the time. I went to the farmers market via the bus and got caught in a thunderstorm and an interracial homeless couple out of their minds on illegal substances got into a physical fight over whether or not the gentleman was hitting on me (he was). I brushed the cat and slept in the EXACT middle of the bed and kept all the sheets and covers to myself.

And was very, very happy when David came back home (hung over as hell and looking like he had had the time of his life!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

"You Can't Come, Kate" Coconut Cupcakes

So, LOST ended. 

And I might as well tell you right now that if you haven't watched the finale yet you can just scroll right to the bottom of the post for the cupcake goodness, cause there will probably be spoilers in this post. 

I watched a stray episode or two of the first season when it originally aired, but I had a lot of other stuff on my plate in 2004 and didn't latch on to the show the way I later would. 

In 2006 I hit a low point. Basically, I was in New York, dirt poor, had no real career to speak of, and had just gotten out of the most destructive relationship I'd ever been in. I pretty much dealt with the astounding depression by never, ever, ever leaving my bed, and steadily gaining approximately 20 pounds. Awesome, right? 

Not that LOST saved me or anything. I owe that to my unrelentingly fantastic friends and my own weird determination to keep on keepin' on regardless of what I'm up against. But sometime before I decided to get out of my bed I figured--since I'm just laying around ANYWAY--I might as well give this crazy TV show everyone is always talking about a shot. And then I watched the first three seasons in a week and a half. I've been hooked ever since. 

Since moving to Minnesota, David and I have been watching this final season of LOST with some of his cousins and their significant others. We alternate hosting and providing dinner, drinks, and dessert. It's a pretty sweet set up, because you only have to be responsible for one thing per week, which takes the pressure off. 

I volunteered to bring dessert for the finale; mainly because I have been wanting to try these pineapple flowers FOREVER and needed an excuse. I figured I'd go all tropical with my dessert to pay homage to the Island in my own humble way (and because, you know, pineapples are tropical) and came up with Coconut Cupcakes filled with Key Lime Curd topped with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pineapple Flowers. 

Originally, I wanted to use mango curd and planned to make my own using the ever-incredible Smitten Kitchen's recipe. But that would have taken a lot of time and effort, and I had already committed myself to 6 hours of making dried pineapple flowers. And, really? There's only so much time in the day. So I punked out and used store-bought Key Lime Curd instead. Sorry.

I have to admit, I was disappointed in the finale. But, ok, I didn't HATE it like I first swore I did. Maybe. I haven't gathered my thoughts quite yet. I used to dash off abrasive and rather hilariously pointed recaps of LOST for my friend Russ via email when he was unable to watch episodes. The tradition has since died, but he requested that I recap the finale for him, and I've promised to do so. Most of my legitimate thoughts on the show have gone into that thus far, and I'm left with only very incredulous caps-lock-y shrieks of outrage (CRAPPY AFTER-LIFE? FREAKING GOLDEN LIGHT OF HUMANITY? SAYID AND SHANNON, SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY?!)

But mostly, and above all else: I hate Kate. I have always hated Kate. Kate ruins everything. She is an everything ruiner. Everyone is constantly telling her that SHE CAN'T COME on whatever little island adventure they're having that day. They tell her this because if she comes, she will RUIN EVERYTHING. But does she listen? Hell no. BECAUSE SHE SUCKS. 

She for sure cannot have any of these cupcakes. 

"YOU CAN'T COME, KATE" Coconut Cupcakes 
Adapted from Simply Recipes


  • 3/4 cup of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup of canned coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 2 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each additions. Add vanilla, almond extract, and coconut milk. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture a little bit at a time. Mix well after each addition. Gently fold in coconut. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack completely before frosting. 

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 package of cream cheese (Philly admittedly works best), softened 
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 1-2 cups of powdered sugar

Cream together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar slowly, mixing after each addition, until frosting reaches desired consistency. 

Dried Pineapple Flowers
Adapted from Axis of Ævil


Heat oven to lowest setting and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel pineapple and slice thinly crosswise (not too thin, or it will burn). Bake for 3-4 hours, turning over with tongs about every hour, or whenever tops begin to look dry. Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool for a few hours. When flowers are dry but still pliable use a flower cookie cutter, or hand shape the petals using a good pair of kitchen shears (I opted for the latter because I don't own any cookie cutters, but I really liked the control the shears gave me). Grip each flower by the center and gently pull petals upward to create a more realistic look. Return to the rack to finish drying. 

Kate hate forever!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Excuses from the Guilt-Ridden

Reasons I Haven’t Updated My Blog Since February
  1. I’m busy.
  2. I haven’t cooked or baked anything worth writing about.
  3. I’ve cooked and baked plenty worth writing about, but forgot to take pictures of the deliciousness.
  4. I’m sick of posting only about food.
  5. I’m tired.
  6. I’m lazy.
  7. I’m homesick.
  8. I never do anything interesting.
  9. I’ve done loads of interesting stuff, but don’t have any pictures to prove it.
  10. I’ve done interesting stuff, and have pictures to prove it, but I look ugly in them and am still inexplicably too vain to post ugly pictures of myself on the internet.
  11. I’ve done interesting stuff, and have plenty of pictures in which I look great while doing said stuff, and I am more than happy to plaster flattering pictures of myself on the internet—however, the hard drive on my computer is COMPLETELY full and I don’t yet have the money saved up for an external and thus cannot upload photos for love or money and we all know that a blog post without pictures is LAME.
  12. The fact that my audience is so varied (hi mom, dad, grandparents, friends, former coworkers, significant others’ family, former clients, former high school classmates I am once again in touch with thanks to the slightly awkward magic of facebook, and random strangers from the internet!) severely limits the scope of what I feel comfortable writing about. And everybody loves food, right? Right! Except as mentioned in #4 I’m sort of sick of posting about food. Conundrum!
  13. Writing is hard.
  14. Writing consistently is particularly hard.
  15. I have notoriously terrible follow-through.
  16. I’ve been reading a string of epic fantasies—from the literary to the moderately trashy—one after the other over the last month, and pretty much spend all my free time inhaling those books as opposed to doing anything else, ever. It’s an odd phase, and it will pass, but for the moment I am consumed.
  17. I’m boring.
  18. I’m still suspicious about my own motives for keeping a blog. My previous blogging experience consisted entirely of a handful of livejournal accounts, so, yeah.
  19. I've been too busy theorizing about LOST and being devastated by the fact that [SPOILER] Kate hasn't been killed off yet. I hate Kate.
  20. You know how you put something off, and put it off, and put it off, and it just becomes impossible to pick it back up again? Yeah, that.

PS. I started this list, like, a week before I got around to posting it. I have an external hard drive now. Pictures will be uploaded. Posts will be posted. You will witness the impossible. 


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My dad and I share a sweet tooth. When he started bemoaning the fact that he had to read all my facebook status updates about the delicious things I was baking without getting to taste them, I promised that I'd ship him some baked goods for his birthday.

I've never shipped food before, so I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to send. Cookies seem like the obvious choice. Simple. Not messy. Easy to transport.

But I wasn't really feeling it. It didn't seem special enough. Cookies aren't birthday-ish.

When I was a kid, we always had those snack cakes around the house. Little Debbie's, Drake's, Hostess. So I figured, why not mimic one of those? So I decided to make Ring Dings from scratch for my Dad's birthday.

It was a little complicated. Ok, a lot complicated. But I was up for the challenge.  Want to see?

Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

mise en place

Mise en place (pronounced [miz ɑ̃ plas], literally "putting in place") is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place."

I've been cooking for about eight years now, and have been cooking seriously for the last five. 

There are three professions I seriously considered having in elementary school (where all career ambitions first bloom). I was determined to be either a teacher, an actress, or a pastry chef.

As it happened I stumbled upon publishing (a career I never considered in elementary school because it didn't occur to me that such a job existed. Books, I believed, sprung fully-formed onto library shelves, where they waited their whole papery lives to be checked out and devoured by yours truly). Yet, teaching, acting, and cooking never left my life. They remain my dear, abandoned loves, and whenever my guilt allows me to face them, I indulge.

I have many, many food memories. A few bad, but most overwhelmingly good, and several rather charming in their simplicity. I remember going grocery shopping with my family as a child, and how after leaving the deli counter my father would unwrap the cheese and give me a slice to eat while we walked up and down the rest of the aisles. I remember stopping at Anthony's Bakery sometimes after running errands with my mother, and having to decide between a cheese danish or a Half Moon cookie. I remember my first taste of ginger bread, on a dark Christmas Eve, given to me by my Nana from the bakery she worked at in Boston. But my first memory of actually cooking is when my Grammie taught me to flip pancakes. I remember the nightgown I was wearing. I remember the feel of tile on my bare feet. I remember the agonizing patience required, to wait until the entire surface of the puddled batter erupted with bubbles before flipping the pancake over. Because otherwise, I'd get a runny, goopy mess. And I get a lot of those, because I am not very patient. 

And it just so happens that mise en place requires just as much--if not more--patience as perfect pancakes. 

Organization does not come naturally to me. I am too restless, too lazy, too impulsive and simultaneously hesitant to be seduced by the idea that setting out everything you'll need for the task ahead of you in a clean, coherent manner would make cooking (or life) significantly easier. 

At best, I would gather all my ingredients and plop them down on the table. Not measured or divided. Not arranged in the order I'd be using them. It was enough of an accomplishment for me to know that I wouldn't have to go digging around my pantry at the last minute only to discover that I was out of yeast. And there is something to be said for that. Unfortunately, I can't tell you how many times I overlooked the yeast altogether, not seeing it among the scattered ingredients on my table and forgetting it completely. That sucked. 

So this year I decided to put my prejudices aside, and give mise en place a whirl. Do I even need to tell you how much more harmonious my kitchen adventures have become since? Mise en place has revolutionized cooking for me. Amazing how all those professional chefs and organized home cooks have been right all this time. Never again will I lose track of how many cups of flour I've already dumped into my mixing bowl. 

And while mise en place has revolutionized my life in the kitchen, I'm finding more and more ways to implement it in the non-culinary aspects of my life. I will be the first to admit that I'm disorganized and scatterbrained, and yet suddenly I'm consumed with the need to have "a place for everything, and everything in its place."

According to my father, I didn't really become an adult until around 2006-2007. He's probably right on the money with that one, too. By that time I'd been living in New York for a year or two, I had begun my career, was more or less financially stable, and started cleaning my room/apartment on a regular basis. The fact that I make my bed every morning now probably shocks my immediate family, or anyone who roomed with me in college. It shocks ME, even. 

But now that kind of neatness and order and ritual lends a kind of serenity and calm to my life. 

So I've made room for mise en place in other corners of my life. Whenever I'm applying to jobs I make sure I have my updated resume, references, and cover letter template ready to go before I even begin the application. Last month I reorganized our bathroom closet and put everything into clear containers which I labeled with things like "cleaning supplies" and "medicine/first aid." Thanks to David (who is naturally an organized person) all of our books are separated by genre and alphabetized by author. And, well, my clothes are all color-coded in my closet. But that's something I've just always done.

It's definitely a challenge to keep it up. We made fresh pasta last week on Kelly Riley Day 2010* and since the ingredient list was SO minimal I didn't properly set up my mise en place. And of course, I wound up forgetting 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added it in time, and the pasta turned out beautifully, but David and I were both laughing and shouting about the importance of mise en place! My 2010 resolution! That has been my lone lapse, though. It does help that we have such darling little prep bowls. They're so pretty that I'll find any excuse to use them!

The coolest thing, though, is looking at your pretty little bowls, and well-prepped ingredients and knowing what they'll turn into. For example, the ingredients in the first picture in this post combined with a little bit of water baked up beautifully into this:

*you are dying to know what Kelly Riley Day 2010 is, aren't you? Soon, I promise! It's a complicated post!