I wonder what inspires people.
I think a lot of people are inspired by the obvious things, like music and art. But I think it’s the unique inspirations that are really the most interesting. The kind of things that, when we admit them over cocktails at dinner parties, our dining companion’s heads tilt, just slightly, in an attempt to understand just why we love that thing we love.
My aunt is inspired by crafting and fixing things. She will find an old wooden chair in a junk heap and see that the ‘junk’ isn’t junk at all. And before you know it, she’s repurposed it, breathed it back to life, and there it sits, a shining example of a diamond in the rough with a second chance.
My cousin is inspired by lights. He’ll light any event. He’ll dig up the exact light for any moment, and place it, just so, until the effect is right. He’ll talk lumens and light sources, LEDs and incandescent. He is able see to see the world in light.
I am inspired by many things occasionally and a few things often. I am inspired by the world. And, more often than not, I am inspired by this.
The warm aroma of baking scones; the perfect light to capture the details of just exactly how the moment felt. Smoke and mirrors, with the reality to back it up. This is what inspires me: to capture a feeling and a moment and to express it. To express it so that people can see it and feel it and maybe, just maybe, be inspired by what inspires me.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Scones
From King Arthur Flour
2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup cold butter
1 cup to 2 cups minced crystallized ginger, cinnamon chips, or chocolate chips
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
coarse white sparkling sugar, for toppingDirections
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2) Work in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it's OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.
3) Stir in the ginger and/or chips, if you're using them.
4) In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and eggs till smooth.
5) Add the pumpkin/egg to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
6) Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don't have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.
7) Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and divide it in half. Round each half into a 5" circle (if you haven't incorporated any add-ins); or a 6" circle (if you've added 2 cups of fruit, nuts, etc.). The circles should be about 3/4" thick.
8) Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar or cinnamon sugar, if desired.
9) Using a knife or bench knife that you've run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 wedges.
10) Carefully pull the wedges away from the center to separate them just a bit; there should be about 1/2" space between them, at their outer edges.
11) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.
12) Bake the scones for 22 to 25 minutes, or until they're golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean, with no wet crumbs. If you pull one of the scones away from the others, the edges should look baked through, not wet or doughy.
13) Remove the scones from the oven, and serve warm. Wrap any leftovers airtight, and store at room temperature. Reheat very briefly in the microwave, if desired.
Yield: 12 scones.
When I was a kid – before the culinary explosion had completely overtaken the popular culture, before Food Network and the Rachael Rays of the world dictated that the American family's dinner plates would consist primarily of sammies, cheesy pasta and breaded chicken (woe!) – there was Jacques and Julia.
I won’t even begin to suggest that the Julia Child and Jacques Pepin hadn't already taken their places among the giants of the aforementioned culinary explosion by the time I was watching them in the early nineties (and later in reruns as a nostalgic adult) on their terribly endearing take on classic French cuisine. They were (and still are) my favorites.
Jacques, especially, with his impossibly easy way as he chops food faster and more perfectly than anyone I've ever seen – cooking “fast food” his way. And what a way it is. I can only describe it as French, or maybe more appropriately, southern French, since the recipes are always made au feeling and always look so effortless and…easy.
Just exactly the kind of cook I would hope to become – one who not only cooks well, but with feeling and with instinct – the kind of cook who cooks fearlessly.
One of the things I love most about the food Jacques and Julia would make together was that it really looked like food. The term food porn had not entered into the lexicon and while I love beautifully styled food, I also loved the way you knew that, even if it wasn’t placed perfectly on the plate - just so - Julia and Jacques' food was, simply delicious.
So I present to you something that pales in comparison to the cuisine that Jacques and Julia might have made on their show but reminds me of them because it’s simple, unfussy and in a word, delicious. The kind of food I'd like to see on the American dinner plate...no offense to Rachael.
Mexican Chicken Florentine
(adapted from Spark Recipe
and suggested by the Bee
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 (10 oz.) bag prewashed spinach
1 (145 oz.) can chopped tomatoes and green peppers (brand: Rotel)
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 375*F. In a glass baking dish, place the spinach evenly over the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper to season and place them over the spinach. Pour the can of tomatoes and green peppers evenly over the chicken breasts. Place in the center of the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the chicken breast is cooked through. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, remove the baking dish and sprinkle the chicken with the parmigian reggiano. Return to the oven and cook until the cheese has melted and the chicken is cooked through.
NOTE: Ok, people. I have to tell you. I eyeballed this recipe and the amounts listed above are my best guess as to the correct ratio. So just do your
best guess, too. Cook it au feeling.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day! The day of the Irish! The day of Guiness! And corned beef! And cabbage! The day we can all cast away our aversions to carbs and general good manners and drink ‘til we can’t see straight, if we want… I mean, it’s the Irish thing to do, right? (read: yes.
Once again, in an ode to one of my most favorite places, I made one of my most favorite (and less famous among the American set) Irish foods: brown bread. You’ll remember last year I made the same thing
in hopes of transforming myself into the very wonderful Darina Allen
of Ballymaloe. Alas, really simple foods like Darina’s classic recipe are incredibly difficult to recreate Stateside, for an absence of ingredients. The result was a not-so-successful version of what I’m sure is a lovely recipe.
Ever the stubborn type with finding (or creating) the best recipe for my baking arsenal, I searched and I tried again. And friends, success is here. Indeed.
This recipe is the closest I've tasted to the soft, but hearty brown bread frequently found on Irish tabletops that I fell in love with. My favorite way to eat it is with Irish butter and a cup of tea with tea, but it would also be great next to a hearty stew or just plain, standing at your kitchen counter while still warm and crumbly (just a thought, this never actually happened…I swear….no lie…).
Make it today if you’re feeling Irish and still on the clearer side of your Guiness. It’s also a very Irish thing and sometin’ yer wee mam would sure like. It’s grand, ‘tis. Just grand.
Irish Brown Bread
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups well-shaken buttermilkKD's notes: I was out of buttermilk so replaced it with the "buttermilk trick" - I used some skim milk and heavy cream to make it and it worked out great. Also, I added a tablespoon of sugar, rather than 2 teaspoons, per some of the comments on the original recipe. Finally, don't over mix it! This will cause it to be tough.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flours, wheat germ, salt, sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar in a large bowl until combined well. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in center and add buttermilk, stirring until combined, about 30 seconds. Dough should be a bit sticky, but not wet. Do not over mix.
Transfer dough to cake pan and flatten to fill pan. With a sharp knife, cut an X (1/2 inch deep) across top of dough (5 inches long). Bake until loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool, right side up, about 1 hour.Notes:
Bread can be served the day it is made, but it slices more easily if kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 1 day.
Leftover bread keeps, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 4 days.
A commercial sized party bus, a 45minute ride into the hills, a bride, a groom, 150 cupcakes, 2 champagne toasts, innumerable glasses of wine, dinner, dancing and a shot of tequila to end the night.
72 hours later and the Blonde and the Ginger are now married.
What a night it was.
You couldn’t have asked for a more perfectly beautiful California October evening - the bright blue sky dotted by white white clouds, punctuated by perfectly cool evening – the seats framed by the vines, the stage poised. A sweet ceremony, sealed with a kiss, ended with applause and a quick jig down the aisle.
What else is there to say? It was a night full of love and joy. The dancing was great, the food delicious.
And, in case you were wondering, the cake turned out, too.
It's been a hectic summer. So hectic that it's now, in fact, fall and the activities of summer are still not quite winding down. Without a doubt, the most exciting and talked about event (at least amongst my
friends) is just now coming together.
It's a WEDDING!
And in the rush of all the other
activities this summer, I kinda maybe sorta forgot to tell my bloggie
friends, that I am, indeed, making the cake!
Yes, my friends, The Blonde and the Ginger are getting married and they asked me to make a wedding cake for them.
So here's the deal: it's not a huge wedding cake that they need. They have hired out for cupcakes to feed the masses (and to be cute) and wanted something to cut and feed to each other.
Initially I had thought to make it a standard 8-inch round cake with two tiers and fondant. After more consideration, I decided that a little bigger, 10-inch round, was more suitable for the celebration. The bride requested lemon cake.
Now, as you know, I've had my fair share of cake mishaps
in my day, so my emotional response to this request vacillated somewhere between excited (yay! What an honor, this is so exciting!
) and terrified (oh my God, the cake is going to fall apart everywhere and I will ruin the wedding, f*ck f*ck f*ck
) . But, when faced with fear like this, there's nothing better to do than to just keep running right through it, so I made a plan and have been implementing Project:Wedding Cake for the past month now.
Phase One was to make the gumpaste flowers. I didn't photo-document this process, but trust me, it came with a few (small) hurdles, but eventual success. Phase Two was to make four cake layers and six topper layers - chikity check!
Last night was Phase Three and Four, which included stacking the cakes (lemon curd was made earlier in the week) and frosting the cakes. This is the part where the cake could potentially fall apart. Phase four was rolling the fondant and draping the cake. Today will be the final phase, Phase: Labor and delivery. Oops, just kidding! Today is Phase: Delivery and Final Touch ups. (Then EAT IT!) More to come...
Here are some teaser shots from last night:
Stacking in progress: This is happening, man!
Closeup of the lemon curd filling. Tip: well-it off to avoid cakes falling and curd oozing.
The fondant's on!
Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Portobello Mushroom
1 portobello mushroom
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 italian sausage link, casing removed
about 2 cups spinach, loosely packed
Preheat oven to 350*.
In a pan, brown sausage, breaking into small pieces. Meanwhile, remove the stem from the mushroom, discarding any tough or woody parts; roughly chop the rest. Once the sausage is cooked through, add the garlic and the chopped mushroom cook until the mushroom is soft and the garlic is aromatic. Remove this mixture from the heat and spoon into the top of the mushroom cap, top down. Bake at 350* for about 15 minutes, or until the mushroom is cooked through.
There are a lot of ways in which I can imagine ringing in a thirtieth birthday. One might be a quiet dinner with the family. Another might be a hike in the mountains with your main squeeze. Some people might be spending the weekend with their 2.3 children and 1.5 pets, barbecuing in the backyard.
Let’s just say that thirty is one of those birthdays that can look pretty darn different, depending on how the whole situation known as Your Life is going.
With that being said, our life (and my “our” I mean my pal TDub and our group of friends) looks a lot like this:
A weekend-long celebration, replete with firework-laden cake (made by yours truly), cocktails, boating, lounging, glow stick dance parties, light shows and house boat-rocking good times.
We’re taking advantage of it, ‘cause by thirty-one, who knows? It might look a whole lot different.
TDub's Rockin' 30th Birthday Cake
Bottom Layer:Chocolate Butter Cake (from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes one 8-inch square, three layer cake
3 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise
the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans; each pan will take
about 3 1/4 cups of batter.
4. Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Place butter in a bowl and beat until creamy. Add sugar and cocoa, mixing well. (You may need to add the milk,
as it is a dry mixture) Stir in milk in portions, stirring each time. Add vanilla. Spread on cooled cake.
FOR THE TOP LAYER:Yellow Birthday Cake (from Martha Stewart)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.
Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (from Savory Sweet Life)
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
up to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.
I'm on Jury Duty this week, friends. Which means that for the last few days I've ben doing a lot of sitting around, answering the same questions a million different ways. They (and by they, I mean the lawyers and Judge) have deemed me non-offensive enough that they want me to stay on the jury. So that's where I'll be for the next week or so. I think the right thing to do in this circumstance is to make some low a pumpkin bread, because it's 1)does not cntain two sticks of butter like most of my recipes do and 2) it's delicious. And since the weather here has gone cuckoo cold, I think we can at least use it as an excuse to eat seasonally inappropriate quickbreads. Sound good?
Oh and P.S. I was asked to make a big ol' cake this week, so get ready!
Low Fat Pumpkin Bread (Skinnytaste.com)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with baking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt witha wire whisk. Set aside.
In a large bowl mix oil, egg whites, pumpkin puree and vanilla; beat at medium speed until thick.
Scrape down sides of the bowl.
Add flour mixture, then blend at low speed until combined. Do not over mix.
Pour batter into loaf pan and bake on the center rack for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the pan cool at least 20 minutes, bread should be room temperature before slicing.
I love silence. I love the way it feels to sit in a room and hear the sounds of nothing: the air circulating, the computer humming, the walls creaking.
If silence were a place, I think it would be the tiny house where our minds live. Whenever it’s silent, my mind gets to come home and wrap itself up in the big duvet blanket inside my brain. It relaxes. And in silence, my mind gets to just chill out.
I used to live in silence a lot. Alone. Silence used to envelope me for large stretches of the day, punctuated by visits from my cat, who would come and see me - she in her silence, too.
It probably seems strange, or sad or lonely to the average onlooker to imagine the girl all alone, kept company by her cats. The cat lady image is impossible to avoid.
But if you go there and believe that, then maybe you don’t get it. Be silent. And once you’re silent, try going back
to all the noise. Maybe you’ll see it then.
Everything has noise. Your computer has noise –feeds and updates and breaking news. Your phone has noise – calls, and questions, texts and alerts. Your job has noise and the radio has noise and the grocery store has noise.
So sit in silence for a moment and recognize the power of your mind outside of all the noise. This is where your creativity lies. Outside of all the noise: this is where your brain can be you. Where it can process. Where
the uniqueness of your individuality lies.
This is where mine lies.
There’s been too much noise. Too much noise that I can’t control.
The challenge is to find the silence: the center, the focus, the realm of thinking. From there creation is possible; creativity will come back, it has to.
And when that comes – bam! – just like that, I’m back.
Seeking the silence. Challenge, accepted.