This short film was shot entirely on a mobile phone. So cool!
Oh, you thought that the birthday was over, did you? Well, in the infamous words of "Mad Dog" Tannen, you thought wrong!
No, no. We're talking about a guy whose birthday became infamously known as "birthday week" as a child. So I guess now that he's 30, "extended birthday weekend" is a more reasonable way to celebrate. There was a specific request for white cake with white frosting. After doing some fairly extensive research, I found two things: 1) there were no white cake with white frosting recipes from any reliable sources and 2) I didn't feel like spending all day making up for the gaping hole in the white/white cake universe. So I did what people don't normally admit to (particularly people who maintain baking blogs): I use a box. I've found that using a boxed cake and a small package of pudding mix is a good quick fix. Less exciting for me, but a nice alternative when you just want a quick cake. The cake, combined with a basic buttercream frosting (from a recipe that called for a whole 1/2 cup of milk!), made for a slightly dowdy, if not delicious cake.
So I'm sure you've all been waiting with baited breath to hear about birthday Extravaganza 2011! Wait. What's that? You haven't been? Oh, I didn't tell you about that? Oh, sorry.
If you read a couple days ago about my baking disasters, then you know my brother's birthday had something to do with it. Well. This weekend was all about family celebrations: one for my brother's 30th birthday and the other for my cousin's 11th birthday. Two birthdays. High stakes. For today's party I got to be a spectator, but for brother's birthday yesterday, it was dessert central. Now when you're a guy who doesn't really drink, dessert is important. So, per his request I made cheesecake. And since I got rave reviews for it back in February, I made some strawberry cupcakes.
So here's how it all went down:
So I've been baking for a little while now. Ok, probably more than a little while if you count the years since college graduation (in which I began making fancy desserts) and the times during college (in which I survived by living off of chocolate chip cookies - and had the dress size to prove it) and the time before that, when my mom taught me the proper technique basics (separating wet and dry, not over mixing, not using melted butter or - the horror! - margarine). Which probably means that, at this point, major kitchen disasters are one of those distant memories. Yes, every time I walk into the kitchen it should be a serene, Zen-like experience where everything comes out clean and beautiful and perfect. Just like all those blogs around the internet with the most perfect looking baked goods you've ever seen in your life, all photographed in a fairy-nymph forest, awash in natural lighting.
Well, should is probably the optimal word here. Because sometimes (and definitely more than I would like) things go terribly wrong. Sometimes I'm very tired when I start to bake. Sometimes I do things like misread the directions and cream the butter and eggs without adding the sugar first. Sometimes I have to throw out a half a pound's worth of butter and two eggs because I didn't just listen to the inner voice that told me, "well that's an odd technique." Sometimes I add too much batter to the cupcake pan and they overflow in my tiny oven. Sometimes I make cheesecake and the water bath leaks into the fortress of aluminum foil that I surrounded it with, which, like most walls, didn't do a darn thing in protecting my precious (and very expensive) cheesecake from outside, water invaders.
Sometimes, even now, disasters happen in the kitchen.
And here's the thing: life's like that. Sometimes you're tired and things go wrong. Sometimes in the middle of it all, you can't possible imagine how things will ever be ok again - how they will ever work out. But then you keep going. You improvise. You start over again on some things and salvage others. You take notes about what you did wrong. Then you go to bed and wake up the next morning and survey the damage. And usually, almost always, everything is fine. The cupcakes - which taste delicious - get a little frosting ban-aid, the cheesecake, it turns out, isn't destroyed. The butter and eggs were a small sacrifice. You figured a few things out and grew a bit from it all; you realize, of course, that things are going to be just fine.
Generally speaking, baking is a reprieve for me; a time when I'm in control and comfortable - when I can feed myself and others. Despite the fact that I poured boiling water over my cheesecake just before putting it in (note: boiling tea kettles spurt water) and having the water leak through the aluminum foil from the water bath, the desserts I'm working on for my brother's birthday survived with minimal damage. And so did I.
The cheesecake and cupcakes I have been working on are not done yet, so check back for pictures and a review some time after Saturday. Also, the cupcakes actually came out perfect this time around, but they have overflowed in the past. Oops! Live and learn.
I can't pronounce Yosemite without repeating the word in my head as "Yose-might." It's probably from coming here as a kid in one of the more idyllic aspects of my life when, for a few days or a week my family - my parents, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins - would spend some time camping, hiking, hanging out, sitting around the camp firiand generally spending time together. These camping trips are now a part of family lore: when Jillian sprained her ankle coming down the mist trail, mom's 'before' picture captured at Mirror Lake by Uncle Dick, when the bear ripped the window off our mini van because dad and Uncle Dick forgot a package of bacon in a cooler. Even though we can't make these trips happen anymore, we still treasure these times together and the park represents those good times we had together.
This weekend, my brother, dad and I spent some time in the Valley. Here are some images of Yosemite:
For anyone who's ever done something creative, this one's for you. Olé!
I had a boss once who didn't like change. It was surprising actually, once you got to know her, how, with her reluctance to try new things, she managed to be a well-respected small business owner who was decidedly good at what she did. Certainly her work ethic was a large part of it, but despite that, you couldn't help but feel that she was digging her own grave. I mean, she didn't like new things. Most stark in her personal war against change was her disdain for technology. This woman didn't like computers. Computers. "If it was up to me", she would proudly boast, "I wouldn't use them at all." Really? Of all the things out there to strategically not invest in (an extensive collection of DVDs or maybe the latest Ke$ha CD), computers wouldn't really be my first choice. I mean, I'm no futurist forecaster here, but I'm pretty sure computers are here for the long haul.
You're probably wondering how I got to this thought process, or where I'm even going with this. The key idea here is change. Everything changes - you know that, I know that. But instinctively, we want to hold on to things the way they were because change scares us. After all, what if the change made our lives worse? What if we didn't know what we were doing anymore, especially when it was so easy before? But the thing is, that whether or not change is good isn't the issue. It's a complete lie. No one can avoid change because change simply is. You can pretend that you don't need to grow and evolve with everything and everyone else. You can go on acting like everything will stay the same forever. You can insist that you'll be fine without paying attention, without adapting to the newest thing. But in the end, you'll be the one to pay. You'll make yourself obsolete with your own limitations. You'll kill yourself before anyone else ever does. You'll grow old before your time.
What my boss' stubbornness taught me was to always look at the new with an open mind, even when I'm comfortable with the old. I was in our garden the other day, paying a visit to our rosemary plant (my favorite). I was feeling really inspired to make something dessert-oriented with it, since I absolutely adore the aromatics of the plant. I googled for a rosemary cupcake recipe, in hopes of finding something moist, delicious and frosting laden - exactly what I always like. Instead, I found a recipe from Vanilla Garlic, a local food blogger, for rosemary and lemon cupcakes made with cornmeal and olive oil. Even though it wasn't what I initially had in mind, I decided to go for it, since it was a simple recipe anyway. And what can I say? These cupcakes are delicious. Not too heavy, but complex and really lovely, all the flavors come together to make this recipe a winner. Not what I was comfortable with, but a success to be sure.
So here's the thing: not everything we do to change is big, but it's important, nonetheless. Maybe it's cooking something new and realizing you liked it after all. Maybe it's going to a class you've always wanted to try but never had the nerve to go to alone. Maybe it's learning to embrace new technology. Before you know it, all the little changes will add up and when you look back, you'll be doing things you never thought you would or could do before. An that's entirely worth it.
The original recipe makes 12 cupcakes, but I actually got 15 normal sized cupcakes out of it. They took about 15 minutes to bake. I also added one-half of a juiced lemon to it, just to taste. In the future, I might try sifting confectioner's sugar on top, rather than granulated, as the granulated was too heavy and a lot of it didn't stick to the cupcake properly.
Rosemary & Lemon Cupcakes (as taken from Vanilla Garlic)
12 cupcakes / 350 F oven
What You'll Need...
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 cup of AP flour
1 cup of cornmeal
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary
zest of two lemons
1/3 cup of sugar
What You'll Do...
1) Preheat oven to 350 F
2) Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and olive oil.
3) Sift in the dry ingredients together and whisk until incorporated.
4) Chop the rosemary, and fold it and the lemon zest into the batter.
5) Scoop into cupcake papers and sprinkle on sugar into a thick, snowy covering.
6) Bake for 17-20 minutes, rotating the pan after the first 15. A toothpick should come out clean.
7) Set onto a wire rack to cool.
Today this article popped up in my twitter feed about the best trips to take in the fall. I'd never heard of the Lavaux vineyard terraces in Switzerland, but now I definitely want to go.
OK, so I know I've been a little MIA over here since I've gotten home. But let me tell you, jet lag on top of visa appointments on top of pub crawls on top of summer visits from important-family-people on top of basic survival have really taken its toll and I'm just now feeling like I'm not going to keel over from exhaustion at any moment.
In case you noticed there, I did mention a visa appointment and I do, in fact, have my visa in hand for France. Up until now, I didn't feel like it was really happening, but now that I know that they know that I know that they know that I'm actually moving there, well, let's just say it's really setting in. I'm doing things like emailing my roommate (yes roommate) in French (what a stretch!), making plans and checking weather averages (why did I pick an area that could be an artic tundra? And, while were at it, where does one find a coat for below freezing temperatures when it's still 100* outside?). I'm also starting to get excited about being in Europe again, namely being on the same continent as a couple of very dear friends to me who happen to live on a decidedly non American continent.
Over the years, in my attempts to alleviate my Euro-sickness (home sickness but for Europe), I've taken to reading expat blogs and watching lots of travel television. Today travel channel just happened to show an old episode of No Reservations in Paris, which basically consisted of Tony drinking absinthe, eating varying amounts of red meat and going to a genuine French bakery at 3am to see how they make the bread.
But did I mention the bread?
One of my favorite blogs, An American in Ireland, profiled a new bakery called Brown Hound Bakery in a small city in Ireland today. Although the photos were limited and the bakery has no proper website (don't even get me started on how I feel about establishments that only use Facebook as their primary website, ugh. disdain), it made me happy. Along the lines of wanting to own (or at least work at) a bakery at some point in my life, this bakery, as well as the stuff they were making, looked beautiful. There's something about bread and pastry that is appealing because it's so beautiful and refined and yet warm and homey. How can you not feel invited into a place that smells like fresh, baked...something? There's a craftsmanship to perfectly piped pastry (alliteration win!) that makes you feel like whoever made it really cares about what they do.
So now I'm excited, because even though it's going to be cold and new and very rural, at least I'll be in France where there will certainly be a bakery somewhere and, even more importantly, some good friends will be just a short trip away.
There's a lot of graffiti in Athens and most of it is just junk written by losers with too much time on their hands. But a few times, we ran into some genuine art and I thought I'd share it with you.