Archive for ‘Baking’

April 28, 2015

Childhood memories that go straight to your thighs…

I have many hobbies. Most are, regrettably, sadly sedentary. Just take a look at the topics in this blog: Art, fashion, needlework. Not terribly high impact and not really compatible with incorporating a treadmill…although wine + treadmill would be amusing if ill-advised. So, I remain almost obscenely unfit. Mind you, I’m not hating on my body. I have a healthy self-outlook; I just wish I was stronger and not so averse to stairs. Ahhhh, stairs…my great nemesis! Anyways, some of these hobbies aren’t simply unhelpful on this front, they’re downright counterproductive. Like baking. And lately I have really been feeling the urge to bake…and, consequently, my waistband has been feeling the pressure. (This is despite the fact that the Greek still eats easily 80% of the resulting goodies and yet remains frustratingly svelte. Surely unreasonable envy and annoyance is cardio…) And recently, the only thing I want to bake are old-fashioned cookies!

Time-tested, delicious little morsels, the perfect combination of sugar and nostalgia that leave your whole house smelling like sweet, sweet butter for hours afterward. Some people thumb through old photo albums or paw through old boxes of baby clothes, but I enjoy baking…and I hate wasting food. So, after an afternoon’s stroll down memory lane, I have 72 little reminders of childhood with a profoundly high calorie count…and a genetically ungifted metabolism that will cause me to gain weight simply from looking at the pictures of these cookies. (Like, a cantaloupe burns more daily calories than I do.)

Fittingly, all my recipes come from my old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook which has basically fallen completely apart (Are there still places where they’ll bind books for you?).

First I began with Peanut Butter Cookies. I even bought processed sugar paste (a.k.a Jif) specifically for this purpose.

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Then Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars…because I was essentially raised by Nestle Tollhouse.

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Finally, I made Snickerdoodles, which, admittedly, I had never heard of until I moved to Maryland at the age of eighteen and which I actually make with avid regularity…because they’re tasty. But they are unarguably lots of people’s childhood cookies.

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According to Wikipedia, The Joy of Cooking claims the name has a German origin, but “It is also possible that the name is simply a nonsense word with no particular meaning, originating from a New England tradition of whimsical cookie names”. I choose to believe the second one. What are the other nonsense cookies names, you may ask? You know I had to know: Graham Jakes, Jolly Boys, Branble, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles.

Ha, Tangle Breeches.

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April 11, 2014

Birthday baking

Because I am stubborn as an ass, I took the trouble to blog about how after nearly two decades of baking, I had finally decided I had found the perfect chocolate cake recipe…and then promptly proceeded  to try out a new CC recipe I had stumbled upon recently.  It’s entitled “The Pink Cake” from Epicurious.com, is apparently an old-fashioned recipe beloved  by many, was laborious to make requiring me, for example, to prepare fresh raspberry purée to accomplish the pink tint of the buttercream frosting, and which, after all that, I can merely award a resounding “m’eh”.  The Greek was less effusive with his praise, actually scolding me for deviating from my tried and true method.  Heaven for fend I try to expand my repertoire as a baker; he takes his sweets very seriously.  Sadly, it just didn’t have nearly the moistness and chocolatey-ness of my original (far more simple) recipe.  The buttercream was top notch, however, reminiscent of wedding cake icing, although I only had half the called for amount of raspberries giving the cake only a pale pink hue instead of a pink-pink one and only the faintest hint of raspberry flavor.

Still, it was a lovely cake.  And prepared for my mother’s birthday last month, so it got all gussied up for the occasion.

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We passed on the posh dinner reservation and opted instead for a quiet Sunday at home. The whole afternoon was handmade, in fact.   Those without tender must toil; at least I’ve graduated from macaroni art and hand turkeys!  The Greek worked the hardest, I think, making a pair of highly palatable pizzas entirely from scratch.

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He even kneaded the dough himself!  I have blurry proof:

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Finally, I presented her with my latest knitted creation…unfortunately still on the needles.  Ah, I came so close to finishing on time…so close.  And now, nearly two months later…yeah, it’s still not done.  Such a disappointment!  Naturally, the wintry deluge that had plagued us all season has now turned to balmy temperatures and a general lack of scarf weather.  And I think I must finally accept that, indeed, it is spring…and I have failed.  So, I must move on and publish this post anyway lest the post itself also become so absurdly late as to be pointless (More so?  It kind of is already.  Whatever.).  Anyways, despite aforementioned “uncooperative” circumstances, I still declare the day a success and proof that paucity can produce proficiency.  That, and when your mother is thoughtless enough to have her birthday four days before Valentine’s Day, all plans and considerations must be made months ahead of time so sometimes this is what you get…

January 22, 2014

The perfect cupcake

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Well, I think I can conclude that I am on a bit of a baking kick at the moment.  The irony of course being that following New Year’s, most people resolve to have less sweets in their lives.  But thus far I’ve been doing a pretty good job of “disposing” of the various desserts in places other than my thighs.  Most recently, I made a batch of what has become a staple in my repertoire: chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  It is easily one of my strongest, most mouthwatering offerings.  This is likely due to the lovely chocolate cake recipe I have, entitled “Presto! Chocolate cake” from the Mousewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook, given to me by the Greek’s dear mother.  It is one of many cookbooks distributed by Mousewood Restaurant, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant located in Ithaca, NY.  They certainly have plenty of recipes to spare, considering that their menu changes daily, and just the one cookbook I own comes with many delectable, granola-friendly goodies such as a “Carmelized onion tart”, “Greek stuffed zucchini”, and about five different recipes for grits.

Now, because chocolate is a magical thing, I have tried my fair share of chocolate cake recipes, including one from Epicurious.com that calls for strong, black coffee and is denser than lead when finished.  So, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter.  Furthermore, the Mousewood recipe receives, by far, the most compliments for its moistness and chocolatey-ness from the various human guinea pigs I’ve served it to.  It is the unanimous winner!

I struggled with whether or not to publicize their recipe in my blog.  After all, it isn’t officially available anywhere online.  But it has been previously published in at least two other blogs before me.  The recipe also includes a glaze that I don’t include here, I do my own little touches here and there, and I think I give them their due credit.  So, I have decided it is just unobjectionable enough to pass muster (I’m a scientist and am therefore compelled to cite everything: a reflex, at this point, as habitual as breathing!).  The recipe can be found below as well as the link to the frosting recipe I used which uses less butter and a touch of sour cream making it a little more tart than others.  Note: this can be a tad jarring to those more accustomed to the sugar shit you buy in plastic canisters at the grocery store that I clearly have an unfavorable opinion on.  Enjoy!

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Presto! Chocolate cake

1 c. unbleached white flour

1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 c brown sugar

2 large eggs

¾ c water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ Cream cheese frosting recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and dust with flour an 8- or 9-in. cake pan
  2. In large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
  3. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and blend well after each addition
  4. In small bowl, combine water and vanilla.  Add flavored water by thirds to the creamed mixture, alternating with flour mixture and beating after each addition
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in center comes  out clean and cake begins to pull away from the sides, about 30 to 35 minutes.  Bake cupcakes for about 20 minutes

Makes one cake round or about a dozen cupcakes so double the recipe for a layer cake

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January 9, 2014

Christmas cookies and last-minute-knitting-crunch-time

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Graduate school is about sacrifice.  The time and energy that must be devoted to my new endeavor in order for it to be a successful one means many things: less time spent with family and friends, less time for the other things I enjoy doing,…and inherent poverty.  This holiday saw the spectacular convergence of these three themes.  First, in what I can only describe as a remarkably coordinated show of charity, most of my loved ones mercifully declared this year a no-gift-exchange-year.  For the remainder, I very ambitiously (and ultimately unsuccessfully) tried to knit gifts for most of them.  Sadly, planning multiple projects, starting them way too late, and then spending nearly zero time working on them ended pretty predictably.  And as such, I have spent the majority of my post-Christmas downtime furiously trying to get those finished.  Currently, that saga remains unconcluded…

Also, while I did manage to bake several pies this year (as per usual), the Christmas cookies I had planned did not come about until after the holidays, which worked out exceedingly well for my colleagues who got fresh cookies upon returning from winter break.  Incidentally, any (and I do mean ANY) extra foodstuffs that you might need to get rid of need only be placed within view of a pack of scientists.  Ravenous creatures.  Anyways, I’m simply happy I got them done at all…annnnd I finally (finally!) used the decorator set the Greek bought me forever ago that I had yet to use.  Now, I normally don’t go in for decorated sugar cookies.  I get it: the fun is in decorating them!  But I usually only like to bake things that taste, well, good.  And happily I think I achieved that!  I used this recipe from The Washington Post for the cookies (I found I needed at least twice as much cream cheese to get the dough to the correct consistency), this one for the royal icing (with a dash of blue food coloring!), and this one for the decorator frosting.

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Notice all the little specks from using Sugar in the Raw!

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God bless standing mixers!

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Aw, the Greek helped decorate a cookie.  Um, adorable!

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All-in-all, not a bad effort for my first attempt.  Mind you, this is the goal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/irinalapko/4210474976/…a photo taken from my stepmother, Irina’s, blog, which can be found in my blogroll.  So, not quite there yet.

And about that decorating set, cheap piece of crap broke two-thirds of the way through.  So, any recommendations for a new one that, say, doesn’t break on its first time out would be appreciated.

August 11, 2013

New recommendation: Krusteaz Lemon Bar Mix

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Okay, I know I keep saying I’m not a boxed mix type of girl…but then keep recommending mixes, in the same sentence.  But this fabulous mix from Costco simply must be acknowledged.  The Greek brought this home one day along with a 10-lb bag of lemons (everything at Costco must of course come in ridiculously large portions) because, well, I don’t know…evidently when you send the Greek out for ingredients for baked goods, no less than five servings are expected from the effort.  The bulk mix alone comes in a 3-pack!  But the box also contains a simply delicious recipe for lemon bar cheesecake, which is very popular around these parts and allows me to flex my culinary muscles.  And because my actual from-scratch recipe for Lemon Squares calls for only about 1-2 lemons, we’ve also been enjoying gallons and gallons of lemonade, which allows me to flex my actual (and far less substantial) muscles.  See also this and this for good lemon square recipes, but I like mine from Food Network the best because it has more lemon flavor.

January 6, 2013

Synopsis: Holidays 2012

First and foremost, I’d like to note that I am finished with that evil, wretched, awful class!!!!  Me=winner.  Or survivor?  Either way, I’m done.

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This actually occurred, by the way, around Thanksgiving, and I am just getting around to announcing it now.  These things will happen when you’ve shackled yourself to a university that decides, for the first semester of the first year, they will teach you graduate level knowledge in a college style format (i.e. four hours of lecture a day, five days a week).  Also, they make you learn the whole shebang in the beginning; not just your intended field, but everything you never wanted to know about cell biology.  This is where young people have the advantage: they still have the dog-like obedience of youth towards authority figures.   That and the capacity to stay up all night studying and drinking coffee without having to use words like “irregular”.  By the time you’re my age, your brain has simply decided that it’s not going to do things it doesn’t want to do just because some grown-up told it to, which made for difficult learning when brain found topics uninteresting.

And now, on to the holidays…a topic I finally got to consider once I finished the semester at the beginning of December only to realize to my horror that it was barreling down on me, and I hadn’t done a single thing to prepare for it!

I’m happy to report, my table runner made it onto the Thanksgiving table this year.  Knitted by me for my aunt and uncle last Christmas, I finally acknowledged I had made it too narrow when I had already spent too long on it to start over.  So, I have decided to start spreading the rumor that this was intentional in order for it to be utilitarian.  Most people simply have a table runner; they now have a table runner AND a scarf long enough for them both to wear at the same time.  See?  Versatility!  You’re welcome, relatives!  Some autumn-colored daylillies complement it nicely…

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I had unprecedented baking success this year!  Nearly everything turned out just perfectly except for one pumpkin pie that mysteriously collapsed in the center like a soufflé, the latest victim of the custard killer that is my crappy oven.  Nothing will set properly in that damn thing!  I also made a pair of pecan pies, one of my specialties for which I receive scads of unwarranted praise considering that I use the recipe from the Karo syrup website and there are about three ingredients total.  Nevertheless, this year I found a way to make it at least a little my own.  Inspired by my first pie that used the last of the crumbled pecans in a bag, I decided to coarsely chop the pecans before adding them to my filling.  This is math even I understand: chopped nuts=more nutty surface area to be candied.  And while it is highly unlikely this wasn’t previously thought of by a thousand bakers before me, I thought of it independently and shall take credit for it.  Apple tart tatin, part deux, was also delicious.

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This year, I also took my first shot at a yule log.  Named after the large log burnt in the hearth on the evening of the Yule festival, a religious celebration of the Germanic tribes that then became the Christian celebration of Christmas (that’s right, kids: Christmas used to be a pagan holiday!), it is now a jelly roll cake made to look like a log.  The flavors were spot on, but the log was a little droopy. Perhaps my log actually better represents the giant, heavily decomposed logs one would find in the primordial forests of Northern Europe where Yuletide was once celebrated or perhaps I just wasn’t aggressive enough when I was rolling up the cake, afraid that I was forcing too much mousse out of the cake, and need to roll the log more tightly next time.  Either way, it’s not bad for my first try.  The recipe is here.  I used extra virgin olive oil instead of hazelnut oil, a deep cookie sheet instead of a jelly roll pan, and mini marshmallows and Hershey’s Kisses instead of the meringue mushrooms in the recipe.  Improvisation is the key to being a truly good baker, folks!  Some of the best cooks I know have old or few kitchen supplies and teeny, tiny kitchens.

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And miraculously, I got everything accomplished…with improbable pluck and panache!  Although admittedly, some of my international relatives may have still not received their Christmas cards :(.  And acknowledgement must be paid to the Greek who really stepped up to the plate this year and did the majority of the nightly ritual of wrapping gifts for the holiday visit with family the following day.  This includes his gift to me, beautifully made himself, my reward as the evident victor of a ludicrous argument we’ve been having the past few years in which he no longer thinks he needs to wrap my gifts and I, um, disagree, culminating in me returning his gift to me last Christmas because, I reasoned, we have all joint funds; if he doesn’t find some way to make it special, I might as well have bought it myself!  When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to start finding more creative ways to spice things up.  But isn’t it lovely?  Worth it.

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UntitledAnd now to conclude this post, I think I shall do what I did last year: have a glass of wine and reflect on 2012 and my goals for 2013.  This year, I had a glass of Rondel Brut Cava sparkling wine: dry, tasty, and $7 a bottle!  A fortunate discovery during an especially high concentration of gatherings this past summer that required economical bubbles.  Sadly, my first goal of the new year was last year’s as well: while I AM in graduate school, I was unsuccessful in getting into a coveted PhD program and instead applied to the Masters program.  So, I’ll be giving the doctorate a go again.  I also hope to see a revival in the things I enjoy doing and yet haven’t been doing a lot of lately; unfortunately, my goal of last year, in addition to being incomplete, kind of left me no time for doing anything else.  Perhaps this explains why I happily volunteered to do so much holiday baking despite having less places to go this year and was able to approach it with such zeal despite the academic ass-kicking that left me so exhausted.  Finally, I want, as I want each year, to try new things: not always a successful thing (see: gardening and mountain biking) but a necessary one I think.  Happy holidays, all!  And a Happy New Year!

December 27, 2012

Blogging without potholders

When it comes to baking, I have two demons: apples and caramelized sugar.  Almost every attempt at any dish involving either of these two ingredients has resulted in disastrous failure.  From my first flan when I was fifteen, coated in syrupy, scorched sugar (burnt is an inadequate description) to the nefarious Franken Apple Pie of 2007, it’s no secret that these are my culinary Achilles’ heel.  This came to a calamitous culmination a year or so ago when I attempted to combine both into a single pastry, a Salted Caramel Apple Pie, that would become the most gorgeous-looking yet grotesque-tasting dessert ever envisioned by man or woman in the history of civilization.  Much like the mythical creatures that tried to lure Homer’s Odysseus to shipwreck on a rocky coastline, the Siren song of a golden brown lattice crust dotted with sea salt and a perfectly prepared caramel topping hid beneath it a bog of tart and watery death.  Note to self: when adding the filling, do not (DO NOT!) also add the lemon juice that the apples have been setting in.

But this Thanksgiving, the curse has finally been lifted!  Inspired by Jacques Pépin’s Apple Tatin, that he recently made on his public television show (you know me and public TV!), and using the recipe from the rightfully adored blog, smitten kitchen, I have conquered both demons and created a delightful dessert that I think will become a mainstay of my autumn apple baking boom!  But alas, the war was won but not without casualties.  I realized once more what I’ve discovered many times before: namely, that caramelized sugar is hot.  What’s more, the second it is accidentally flicked onto the skin it solidifies making it impossible to remove as it continues burning you (unless, of course, you’re the freakish woman I once saw on The Food Network making spun sugar nests by flicking the liquid sugar onto her own hand!).  This resulted in a blister and taking my left index finger out of commission for the remainder of the baking.  And with one finger down, this beget further injuries and messes.  The final and most severe injury is also arguably the most embarrassing, and so inspired the title of this post.

Here’s the thing about blogging: you might be reading a blog and find yourself thinking that the writer leads such a romantic, interesting life (this is, quite obviously, a hypothetical scenario, having no particular blogger in mind).  Fresh fruit at the farmer’s market, charming antiques off the beaten path, “Oh and look what she happened upon, and what lovely pictures!”.  But the truth of it is, it’s really a whole lot of absurd staging with a dash of fiction.  This behind-the-scenes peek is silliest when I’m baking: trying to juggle picture-taking with the timing of certain dishes and preparations (caramelized sugar waits for no one!), handling my expensive camera with flour-covered hands, having to stop and take the time to clean up splashes and spillage and remove unappealing items from the shot…  I can’t tell you how many photos have had to be cropped or discarded because an errant, icky pepper shaker (with a glob of last night’s spaghetti sauce still clinging to the side) snuck into frame!  It can get frantic at times.  Such was the case this time when, after removing the tatin from the oven but before flipping it onto a serving dish, I decided to take a few shots.  And, like vain Narcissus drowned in his own reflection or prideful Icarus burned by the Sun, I, trying to get a better view of my triumph through my camera lens, grasped the handle of the pan that had just emerged from a 400°F oven with my bare hand and burned the hell out of my palm.  Perhaps not a Greek tragedy-level injury but certainly a Greek tragedy-worthy humiliation.  This left a large, sore blister on the side of my hand and, I’m pretty sure, a layer of my skin on the handle.  This is in keeping with my unofficial tradition of literally putting myself into my baking, which first began when I accidentally grated a rather large chunk of my own flesh into a carrot cake one Easter and that I have faithfully been keeping up ever since.  My night ended with me lying on the couch with both hands positioned straight up in the air covered in blue aloe vera gel, trying to think about anything but the pain while the Greek, naturally the hero of my tragedy, flipped the tatin for me (like a pro!), washed all my dishes (there were many; a pumpkin pie (a.k.a. Plan B) had also happened), and helped me with the child lock on the cap of my multivitamin the next morning.

But that aside, Thanksgiving dessert was a glittering success.  Other note to self: half and half cannot (CANNOT!) be substituted in place of whipping cream.  And now, without further ado and because I freaking had to work for these this time, the pictures…  They are abridged due to aforementioned sitcom-style scenario of hand-burning hilarity:

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April 27, 2012

My New Year’s resolution of frugality makes me want to talk about things I’m not buying

I don’t know about everybody else, but the recession in this country that began with the real estate bubble burst in 2007 and the stock market crash in 2008 impacted our little family pretty hard.  The Greek lost his job in 2008 and would not work steadily again until 2010.  During that time, my mother came to live with us for a while, and there was a harrowing five months where three people lived on a single (relatively modest) income.  My stellar credit score and powers of retail persuasion were most assuredly put to the test as well as the Greek’s improvisational skills and uncanny ability to push items far beyond their expected shelf life: I learned that some empty litter buckets, some electrical tape, and the old mop pole can make an extremely effective snow shovel and that there are myriad uses for duct tape.  But then the Greek went and found himself a wonderful, well-paying job and has been dutifully working himself to death to keep it.  One evening about a year afterward, he remarked to me that he just doesn’t understand how, with this substantial boost in income, we still seem to be just scraping by.  Naturally I told him, “You must understand, darling, there was such a tremendous backlog of things that needed to be fixed or replaced, things that were delayed or pushed back, and things that we had given up entirely and were just plain living without.  All these things add up, and we’re just going to take a while to get resettled.”  What I omitted was that his dear Lisa had also gone a little insane with the credit cards and taken herself on a little buying binge for the last several months, a frenzied release of all that pent up worry and deprivation.  An expensive exhalation.  Every experimental thought, every passing whimsy was tossed carelessly into the shopping cart.  Now don’t misunderstand me.  I wasn’t living beyond our means, and I’m not in the practice of collecting things I’ll never use (not counting shoes; wearing them once is using them, right?).  But if you can picture yourself on a daily basis; now imagine all the things you see in a day that you even remotely want, and imagine if you bought all those things.  Well that was me for a while.  You’d be surprised how many things you see in a day that you could and would use.  With the New Year, I vowed a renewal of my frugal ways.  But like any recovering addict, the urge is still there, and it must find its release.  This blog is to be my methadone.  And with this post (and likely many to follow) I will take the opportunity to talk about the various adorable things that I encounter instead of buying them.  Because I have learned a valuable lesson: there isn’t simply “want” or “need”.  Within “want”, there are sub-levels and degradations, and it is staggering how much larger this category is!  So, below are many simply marvelous items that are sadly not on a “want” tier high enough to justify a purchase under my new (and loathed) terms.  (Disclaimer: This post, which I actually began writing in February, comes on the cusp of a decidedly un-frugal spending spree following a pointedly failed attempt as an aspiring graduate student (You’re welcome, Coach Factory Outlet).  So, I’m ashamed to say, some things on this list had to be removed once they became no longer “things I’m not buying”).

1.) Oh, Joy   Like many women, I have a jewelry person: a person I turn to time and time again for jewelry and whose impeccable instincts I trust implicitly.  Some women have a few, but even so, we remain as devoted as a spouse to them.  For me, that person is Joy Opfer.  Through Joy O Designs and then Kyler by Joy O, she has been designing and handmaking dainty, delicate, and utterly exquisite sustainable eco jewelry from her online store based in San Francisco since 2006.  I bought my first piece of jewelry from her in 2008 and so the love affair began.  A bonus: the blossoming company now has its own blog, http://kylerdesigns.wordpress.com/, in which it talks about all things green and fashionable, two of my own personal raisons d’être!

        

2.)  Love you, BAGGU!   One thing I can never seem to get enough of is bags.  Perhaps it’s my obssessive-compulsive nature, but I enjoy (in that rip-your-hair -out-with-anxiety-if-it-doesn’t-work-out kind of way) having a place for everything.  A fortunate new discovery of mine is http://baggubag.com/#Shop…found, as it were, on the same divine blog I just mentioned.  BAGGU bags are durable and adorable bags that fulfill any need from reusable grocery totes

…to leather pouches that serve as simple, chic purses

 

…to canvas sleeves for laptops and everything bags in all shapes and sizes for pens and pencils, make-up brushes, sunglasses, or snacks (I am particularly fond of the one with the little elephants on it…so cute). 

 

I think my favorite item, for its versatility, is the duck bag; it has a shoulder strap and small, inner, zippered pocket, and the cotton canvas material makes it more rigid than your  regular old tote bag.  So it could just as easily be used as a work bag than a grocery bag.

3.)  Holey Bundt!   My rule of gift-giving is that one should buy items for people that they want, not that they need.  This is because, at least in my case, there are so many things that I want that I find are too much of an indulgence for me to buy for myself, as this post rather clearly illustrates.  Things I need are my responsibility to buy; things I want are a treat to receive.  And if that rule were a place, that place would have to be Williams-Sonoma.  For there is no other place on Earth with a higher concentration of things both fanciful and costly that you can’t reasonably buy for yourself (hmmmm…a $40 cookie sheet?) yet would looooove to have in your home.  And if you ever  make obligatory trips to Williams-Sonoma every time you’re at the mall, spend three hours there, and emerge with nothing but a $7 spatula because, damn it, you were leaving with something even if it wasn’t the copper bottomed pot and pan set…Well, then you probably agree with me.  And W-S baking pans that needlessly turn baked goods into different shapes would seem to fit neatly into this category of frivolous, expensive, and most definitely, definitely want.  Here are just a few of my favorites at the moment:

 

The Heritage Bundt Pan

The Nordic-Ware Mini Bundt Pan

The Williams-Sonoma Nonstick Madeleine Plaque Pan (with which I could, at long last, use my “Earl Grey Madeleines” recipe.  For those of you who say “Just make your recipe on a regular cookie sheet. Who cares whether the cookies are scallop-shaped!”.  To that I say, “Rubbish!”).  Oh, and in case you’re starting to think that perhaps I sound a little unbalanced, maybe a little unhealthily obssessed, I’d like to offer, as a point of reference, the comparitively more emphatic endorsement by the Facebook group “Help for BUNDT Pan Addicts”.  Yes, there exists a Facebook page for people who are really into bundt cake pans.  And yes, their favorite pans come from Williams-Sonoma.  And no, I am not a group member.  See…perfectly healthy.

4.)  Me Want Madewell   I’m really into green things.  For example, I’ve been known to blog frequently on being green.  People who can afford to buy the numerous things I can merely talk about make me green with envy.  And when it comes to clothes, I have an especial soft spot.  I find the dark and jewel-toned greens to be particularly eye-catching.  I can now add to that list the Slowdance Skirt from Madewell in Alpine.  One sees it and can most certainly picture a cool, spring breeze fluttering the skirt every so slightly as a couple slow dances in a garden, to music softly heard in the distance.  It is the embodiment of “romantic”.  Google it to your heart’s content; as far as I can tell, it is completely SOLD OUT!

5.)  Drinking the Kool-Aid   I recently bought a pair of yoga pants for $80, and it got me thinking.  Why have I chosen such an expensive hobby?  They’re pants.  Pants you sweat in.  Few other everyday forms of exercise have been so effectively morphed into an obligatory fashion show.  But that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.  DC-ers have turned yoga into a way of life and not in that yogic kind of way.  Actually the opposite of that: yoga boutiques with outlandish prices producing high end yoga clothes and accessories that extremely fit, fashionable, and well-off people wear on the streets seemingly round-the-clock (they can’t all be caught headed to yoga all the time); countless yoga studios with new, trendy types of yoga emerging at an alarming frequency, each deviating more from original yogic practice and intent than the last (yogalates comes to mind); the ever increasing amount of yoga-related trappings one must amass as all manner of unrelated items are now being associated with yoga (I feel like the 4th century yogis never used a yoga ball) (I’ll bet you’ve never heard of an eyebag).  But then I think what’s really the problem with all this?  Is it really so awful?  Well, yes.  Yet I still find myself staring longingly at all these beautiful yoga items that I can’t bring myself to shell out huge sums of money for (and sometimes buying them; for the record, the pants are awesome and, as they say, “don’t jiggle it when I wiggle it”).  I remain a yoga purist at heart, but I excuse myself the occasional sturdy, attractive, heftily priced yoga basic.  Case in point: the Manduka MatSak yoga bag (Large, in Graphite).  Manduka is arguably the granddaddy of overpriced yoga equipment, but damn, their stuff looks good.

6.)  Red Room   If it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear, I like vintage stuff.  While, for the most part, my tastes seem to me fairly streamlined, when it comes to my home, they diverge into two completely incongruous styles, 1950’s retro (if you’re picturing a diner, then you obviously don’t know me) and French country.  Throw into the mix the Greek’s affinity for rustic, heavy woods and industrial hardware and our rigid unwillingness to meet in the middle (is there a middle?), and you get a mish mash of a home in which purple walls and French lithographs meet large, unfinished wood furniture and dainty floral armchairs sit beside chunky leather recliners.  Similarly, it has also taken us an obscenely long time to accrue furnishings and make the rooms of our home “come together”.  We’ve come the farthest along in our kitchen (although MUCH remains to be done), and I’d long ago decided that the most ideal complement to my mint-colored walls, white cabinets, and modern bronze hardware would be several splashes of bright red in the form of vintage-looking kitchen utensils and appliances. 

   

The Le Creuset Stoneware butter dish in Red and old-fashioned salt crock in Cherry, the Staub 0.25-qt mini round cocottes in Grenadine, and of course the Kitchenaid Artisan Design stand mixer (with glass bowl!) in Candy Apple Red would be fabulous additions to my collection, which currently includes the Kirkland Signature Red Dutch Oven from Costco and…yeah, that’s pretty much it so far.

6.)  Passchal Passion   Made from the inner tubes of discarded tractor tires…yes, you heard me correctly, Passchal bags are not only cute, they’re clever.  The company has managed to repurpose something coarse and cheap and turn into something truly fashionable (according to their website, they’ve recycled 76 tons of inner tubes to date!).  That kind of ingenuity doesn’t come cheap, however, which is why, despite the charming bags pictured below, I only have a small clutch bought a while ago that the Greek doesn’t know (nor will he ever know) the cost of.  They also sell travel bags, really handsome wallets, and (coming soon and highly anticipated) a new line of bags made from recycled signs and banners.  All this from a former welder and an inventor, not the Stella McCartney-esque high-end fashion designers you’d expect.

 

Well, this concludes the first addition (of which, I’m sure, they’ll be many more) of my posts about gift ideas, wish lists, and just general lovely discoveries I find online that tickle my fancy. Woo, that felt good…although, and I suppose this is unsurprising, the urge to go out and ACTUALLY buy these things is now stronger.  Hélas!  This post has seemingly had the opposite effect than the one on which it was motivated.  But I shall endure.

January 8, 2012

Synopsis: Holidays 2011

The holidays began for me as they do every year…with baking.  In the end, I’d made three batches of cookies, baked six pies, bought one carrot cake (to replace one burnt apple pie), and made one breakfast of beignets (from a mix; I’m not a machine!).  All-in-all a success, aside from my nemesis apple pie, which, despite six attempts made during the last decade, has stubbornly refused to both look appealing and taste delicious at the same time.  Irritatingly, my most beautiful pie tasted by far the worst ending up tart and watery despite the addition of homemade caramel.  A frustrating bafflement.  And my unanimously declared most delectable pie being the ugliest; it was notoriously named “Frankenpie”.  My most recent pomme failure was a pie completely scorched on the top, possibly because I brushed the crust with milk instead of egg white having used the last of my eggs, or possibly at the hands of my erratic oven which I mentioned in a previous post has a suicide pact with several other kitchen appliances.  The most recent member of their ranks: the kitchen faucet who sprung a leak and flooded the cabinet below the sink on New Year’s Day, an appropriate occurrence considering the curse of bizarre mishaps that always seem to happen to us on and around New Year’s.  However, this became a rare opportunity for the Greek to demonstrate his renowned MacGuyver-esque skills to, quite literally, use a straw, a paper clip, and a rubber band to allow us to continue to use the kitchen sink until our replacement part arrives in 10 to 14 business days.

 

Now, I pride myself on my present-wrapping.  I actually enjoy taking the time to make sure every gift is wrapped beautifully despite the fact that we can’t display them under the tree lest our feline terrors shred them and that most of my delicate handmade bows get smashed en route to each holiday party.  But this year acknowledgment must be paid to the Greek’s mother Ann for her sparkly blue bows of abstract art inspired by the fascinator (most recently popularized by Princess Kate).

 

These pair of photos I have aptly named “The Frenzy” and “The Fallout”; they are as close as a still representation can come to describing the Greek’s nephews during the unwrapping of presents.  And I learned a valuable lesson this year: always dress your little ones in the most adorable, preferably matching (this is why you have two) outfits for present-unwrapping.  For one, they’ll likely go along with whatever you chose as long as it involves opening presents, and, as many a childhood Christmas morning photo of mine can attest to, it’s less cute when they’re wearing dingy pajamas and mussed hair.

  

Kayla’s tolerance knows no bounds.  Good dog.

2011 was a big year for me.  I began a blog, and within it I recorded all the things I’d resolved to do that year…and then actually carried them out.   Imagine that.  And while the Greek and I didn’t do anything even remotely exciting this year (we sat around and watched the DIY network and read books; he fell asleep at 11:54 pm), I thought such a personal feat should be somehow commemorated.  So, I had a glass of Viognier.  I think it’s a $6 bottle of wine.  Nothing exceptional about it except that I bought it in Paris in spring 2010.  I thought this occasion was special enough.  Plus, it was a prime opportunity to use my lovely stone wine stopper, a gift from my sister.  So I drank it slowly and thought about what my resolutions are for next year.  In 2011, I applied to grad schools.  In 2012, I shall get into one of them.  Try new things.  Keep making the time to do the things I enjoy.

When I was a child, I lived a very transient life moving from one place to the next (no, my father was neither in the military nor on the lam), and my family was and remains scattered all over the world.  Since I moved near my aunt and uncle’s to go to college and decided to stay put for the foreseeable future and since my mom joined us over a year ago and we were thankfully able to convince my sister to visit us for many years in a row and since the Greek’s family all remained within a stone’s throw of one another, I now find myself in an unprecedented rich concentration of family that I have never before experienced.  I should be basking in the warmth of the knowledge that a dream, so hopefully and longingly wished for, had finally been realized.  But what do I do; complain about how tiring it is slogging from one place to the next each holiday season.  Which I shall do next season.  Christmas is invariably a 3-4 day affair, a veritable marathon of several cycles of baking, wrapping, driving, and merriment.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful spending the holidays with you all, and I love you all dearly.

November 27, 2011

Things that need to happen right now

I offer evidentiary proof that I need a kitchen remodel.  My sanity and baked goods depend on it.  This is my entire working space!  At the very least, mama needs a new kitchen island.  Additionally, my kitchen appliances are committing mass suicide.  The fridge leaks, there’s a burning smell when I run my dishwasher, and none of my custards will set properly in the oven.  My kitchen is Jonestown.  Have resorted to trawling the aisles of hardware stores hoping to stumble into a reality show carpenter offering to “crash my kitchen”.  No luck yet although I do plan to propose marriage if I run into DIY network’s resident “yard crasher”, Ahmed Hassan: http://www.diynetwork.com/ahmed-hassan-bio/bio/index.html.

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