6.12.2014

Daily Life | 1

Sometimes I worry that this space is me talking at you (whoever you are) rather than really engaging in some kind of modern-day one-sided conversation. Sure, I love documenting the different things I'm making and the ways I'm exploring new and old passions alike, but I also want to look back and see my daily life mixed in. Because the truth is, the majority of my life isn't built up of DIYs or calligraphy or baking. It's an uneven hodge podge of all of those things and more. Some nights I watch marathons of Netflix, some nights I take Skillshare classes, some nights I bake lemon blueberry muffins and read cookbooks like novels and wash dishes for what feels like hours. Some nights I come home at 5 and sleep until 7. I want a record of that, too. So that's what this is. I'm taking a week off of Instagram to stay focused on what's going on right here around me, to really dig my fingers and toes into my daily life. I plan to take a photo each day, whether on my phone or my camera, and share it here.

Today, I'm working from home. We were lucky to find an affordable apartment with a small second room where we've set up a little office/sewing/business space for both of us (Mike's big on eBay these days). It's where Mike does his homework or grading, where I sit most of the days I work from home, where I sew or write or play with one of the many hobbies I've picked up over the years. There are two windows in the room: one that overlooks our neighbor's porch and grape vines, and the other looks out onto our street. It's often loud because of school traffic or yapping dogs, but sometimes the way the sun hits the mint and blue houses across the street makes me pause my work and stare. We're planning to stay in this apartment at least another year, and sometimes I find myself nostalgic for it even as we're still here. Though I sometimes complain about how cramped it feels or how you can't actually rearrange any of the rooms because of their size, this is our home and I will miss it one day when we are gone.

6.10.2014

Made | Cinnamon rolls

I remember the first time it occurred to me that cinnamon rolls could be made from scratch. My sister, newly married, had just come to our family's Christmas dinner from my brother-in-law's family's Christmas morning. "His mom makes cinnamon rolls from scratch every year," she said. Even though I'm from the south, we weren't immune to canned biscuits on Christmas morning. Homemade cinnamon rolls sounded like a special tradition. 

I didn't wait for a Christmas morning with in-laws to start making cinnamon rolls. I made my first batch of homemade cinnamon rolls for a big brunch at a friend's house. Since then, any time more than four people are gathering for a weekend meal, I pull out The Weekend Baker and make a batch. When I started making these, I followed the recipe to a T, but since then I've loosened up a little and made it my own. I've also acquired a stand mixer since those early days, and these have gone from special occasion status to sweet tooth/craving status. Without having to knead it by hand, these are dangerously simple to make (though I am a little nostalgic for late nights kneading in the kitchen). 

The main change I've made for these is to brown the butter that gets topped with cinnamon and sugar and rolled up. I love the caramel flavor it adds to the cinnamon rolls (not to mention the way it makes my kitchen smell).
Getting yeasted dough to rise in the height of summer is no problem (sometimes it rises too quickly), but in the dead of winter—which, let's face it, is when you need a cinnamon roll the most—it can be a little trickier. Sometimes I preheat the oven to 100 degrees F while I'm making the dough, and turn it off a few minutes before the dough needs to sit and rise. Then I place the covered (metal or heat-safe glass) bowl into the toasty oven. Make sure you turn the oven off a few minutes before you place your dough in there so it can cool off to about 80 degrees F.
I like to smear the glaze on while the rolls are still a little warm, that way it melts just a bit and drips into the crevices and edges. 
Recipe after the jump. One thing: At first glance, this seems like a lot of work, and it is! There are plenty of steps and ingredients, and you can't wake up one morning and decide to have fresh cinnamon rolls an hour later. But if there's one thing I've learned from baking is to enjoy the process and appreciate each bite knowing every ingredient and bit of effort that went into the making of it. Treats like these aren't meant for everyday anyway, so I'm kind of grateful that it takes more than just a few minutes to throw together. 

These are great to make ahead of time before a big gathering. At the end of the recipe there are instructions on what you can do ahead; you can let the dough rise slowly in the fridge overnight before baking and serving, or you can cook them, cool them, and freeze for later, though I've never tried this. Nor do I know anyone who, in their right mind, would bake cinnamon rolls and not devour them right then and there. 

5.29.2014

Reading | Delancey & A Homemade Life


I think my favorite new genre is the cookbook as memoir. I've been reading, simultaneously, Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life and Delancey. The other afternoon at the library, while picking up a book I'd put on reserve, I grabbed one of the cookbooks from the metal cart right next to the checkout desk, as has become my tradition. In weeks past, it was The Vegan Scoop and Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home. This week it was Dinner: A Love Story. I haven't made anything from these cookbooks yet, but I've found myself wanting to spend more time in the kitchen. Rather than poring over Pinterest to find a new recipe, I've been using tried-and-true base recipes as jumping off points and getting creative.

I suspect I like these kinds of books for the same reasons I enjoy blogs (in fact, I'm reading Molly Wizenberg's books as a result of being a long-time reader of her blog, Orangette). They delve into the daily and the mundane in a way that makes it seem less humdrum and more of an art. In the way that Martha Stewart made meticulous planning seem necessary to entertain, this genre and its authors are stripping those airs away.

It's strange for me to read about people who come to cooking later in life. Growing up it felt like we were always cooking, always preparing for the next meal. Now that she's older, my mom is a fan of cooking all day so we can have food for the days that follow, but when we were younger, I remember her most clearly in front of the stove, all of us kids fluttering around her asking to help. So many of our pictures include my sister and I, elbows deep in flour and sugar, standing on our dining room chairs cutting out sugar cookies. One of our favorites is of me standing and staring in awe while my sister Bea operates the Easy Bake Oven, my NKOTB t-shirt reaching my knees. I'm grateful to be able to say that as far back as I can remember, there have always been home cooked meals, big messes, and piles of dishes.
These days, my mom and I spend the majority of our phone calls recounting our meals to one another, planning menus for my next visit home. These aren't fancy meals. Often, we're talking about how we buy bananas just so they can rot and we can make banana bread—the same recipe she's been making for us since I was a toddler. I bought two single slice packs of Spam on sale at Target the other day, and I can't wait to call and tell her about the musubi we plan to make with it. For Mother's Day, Bea and I went in on a charcoal grill and all the accoutrements so she could make her famous ribs and marinated chicken. She cried when they unveiled it to her.

When I read the first 20 or so pages of Dinner: A Love Story, I started to see these early days of Mike and me living together as I might 10 years from now—the start of tradition, of ritual. Our weekly meal planning and grocery trips, our monthly BJs hauls, our sporadic and often fruitless attempts at couponing, our little green card catalog on top of the fridge that holds our favorite recipes scribbled on index cards. These are the beginnings of what will be the backdrop of our family's daily lives; no matter where we live or work, these are the things we will always do, a sense of routine we can rely on no matter what life throws at us.

I'm so happy to see a celebration of the power of food. There have been a lot of books and documentaries about the harmful and destructive aspects of the food industry, and I think these stories—Molly's and otherwise—are a way to reclaim the nourishing and positive powers of gathering some friends, fresh ingredients, and eating.

5.27.2014

Not Intent On Arriving's Writer Wednesday

Many months ago, I received a very sweet email from Kristin of Not Intent on Arriving, a blog about travel and daily life. That was some time in November, and she wanted to do an interview with me for her Writer Wednesday. Of course, I immediately said yes and after several weeks (months?) of it slipping my mind, I finally got back to her! In April, she posted the interview, and I'm just now seeing it because there are over 300 unread blog posts in my Bloglovin' (at what point should I just mark all as read and start over?) That said, you can see it here! Thanks again, Kristin!

5.22.2014

Made | Breakfast ice cream


If you know anything about me, know this: ice cream is my favorite food. Unfortunately, in my journey to becoming healthier (i.e., eating more whole foods and less refined sugar), I've had to cut back significantly on my ice cream intake. Don't worry about me, though: I got an ice cream maker last month, so I've been perfecting my coconut milk ice cream recipe using natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup. This is all very necessary science in the face of a rapidly approaching summer.

Summers before, I've survived on frozen grapes, popsicles, iced coffee, and ice cream. Two summers ago I bought my first popsicle molds and proceeded to experiment with freezing Greek yogurt with berries stuffed in it. "We can eat these for breakfast!" I exclaimed to my sweaty roommates.

With my new ice cream maker, I decided to take it one step further: breakfast ice cream. OK, so technically it's breakfast frozen yogurt, but you get the idea. Everything in this recipe—including the name—is aimed at the goal of getting myself out of bed and an air conditioned room to go to work this summer. Don't worry about Mike, he has summers off so he can hide out in our room all day long. But I'm going to need to more desperate measures.

Full disclosure: It's currently in the 60s outside, so this is all just preparation for a sweltering summer that part of me is hoping will come. If it doesn't, then I'll just eat this because it's delicious rather than to keep my insides from catching on fire. Enough chit chat. Let's get to it.

For a simple breakfast ice cream, you'll need Greek yogurt. If you like plain Greek yogurt, then go for it! I opted for Trader Joe's (delicious) honey Greek yogurt. Grab some cheese cloth, a fine strainer, and a bowl.
Dump all that yogurt-y goodness in there. Finally! A use for that cheesecloth I bought a lot of months ago!

You're probably thinking, Isn't Greek yogurt already strained within an inch of its life? Yes, but there's still a lot of liquid left in that inch, so to be safe, let's just exercise our patience and put our yogurt in a strainer in the fridge for a few hours. You know that mysterious clear liquid that appears at the top of your yogurt a few days after you open it? That's what we're getting rid of. The two pound container of yogurt I bought strained out about 2/3 cup of liquid in the fridge over the course of five hours. Less liquid = less icy breakfast ice cream. 
After your yogurt is strained, freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. It will freeze just like any other ice cream batter, though maybe a little bit faster. Add any mix-ins you want in the last five minutes of freezing. I added peanut butter and granola to mine to complete the breakfast theme. I scooped the frozen yogurt back into its original container and froze it overnight to harden.

When it came time to eat it, I added slivered almonds and sliced bananas with a side of coffee. Add some fresh pineapple, cherries, banana, cacao nibs, and you have yourself a breakfast banana split! The possibilities are endless here, folks. 

5.13.2014

Made | Baked churros

One of my favorite things that Massachusetts natives say is "pokey." In the south, my stepmom called it "dawdling" or "lollygagging," and it's one of those terms that lovingly teases the person it describes. I'm not usually a pokey person; in the mornings, I can get ready in less than half an hour—that includes showering, drying my hair, getting dressed, and making a smoothie. It's pretty impressive. But there's something about the weekends that makes me lose all of my ability to efficiently prepare to leave the house. Just ask Mike. 
The Saturday before Cinco de Mayo, Mike and I were planning to head to Western Mass to visit his parents and grandparents then head to Connecticut for a friend's Cinco de Mayo party. I had put off making some sort of dessert to bring to the party until the morning of, and even then, I lay in bed debating whether or not I would make something. After finding this recipe (via Studio DIY), I decided to go for it. 
I like churros as much as the next guy, but I hate frying things. Set aside all of the health concerns, I hate the little dots of sticky oil that gets all over the stove afterward. I hate the smell that lingers long after all of the fried foods have been eaten. I hate the yellowish color that the backsplash behind the stove takes on after a few too many sushi nights (we always make tempura). So this baked churros recipe seemed perfect. The simple choux batter came together quickly and in one pot before I dumped it in a pastry bag like this (I did not use this technique, but I definitely will next time!). 

As the recipe promises, they turn out a little soft and eggy without the broiling step (even covering them in cinnamon sugar didn't really help), but we were transporting these to another state, so I knew they'd just get soft again even after broiling. So I did what any self-respecting baker does when faced with a baked good that could be better: I drizzled chocolate over them. 

It made all the difference. And despite requiring a pastry bag and a double boiler, this recipe cooked up and cleaned up (while they were in the oven and then while the chocolate hardened in the freezer) fairly quickly. We managed to get on the road before we hoped we would be. No pokeys around here.

4.30.2014

Made | Croissants!

Ever since I fell in love with baking, I've wanted to learn how to make a croissant. There's always been a reason I couldn't learn yet: I didn't have a stand mixer (turns out you don't need one at all); I didn't have bread flour; I didn't have the time. But like anything else, I just had to dive in and hope for the best. I've been really inspired by Janee's return to school—baking school—so this past weekend, I stopped putting it off and made my first successful batch of croissants.

The entire process takes about 20 hours, though luckily not all of that is hands on. Mike and I had plans to go see a movie on Saturday, but I talked him into getting a couple from Redbox instead so I could babysit my croissant dough. Dreams take sacrifice, right?
I used Julia Child's recipe (who else), as explained by Barbara Bakes. I recommend reading through the steps several times to get familiar with it. For instance, she links to this video in step 44, which told me that I had been folding the dough wrong the whole time. It turned out OK anyway, but it was a great reminder to be thorough in my prep next time.

The dough comes together really easily and almost immediately starts its first rise. I started it around 4 PM on Saturday, which put me through step 32 by midnight. Mike and I fell asleep on the couch and I had to set an alarm so I'd get up and do the last step before putting the dough in the fridge for the night. If you're not crazy for croissants, then this recipe might not be for you. By noon on Sunday, I had hot croissants fresh out of the oven.

It was definitely worth it, and I finally crossed something off my list of baking goals (that's a thing, right?), so I'd say it was a rainy weekend well spent.
Don't get me wrong, I had my share of problems while making these. On Sunday, after they'd been in the oven for 10 minutes (I kept peeking in to make sure I wasn't burning them), our smoke detector went off. We have one of those newer smoke detectors that don't just let off an ear-aching beep, they also speak to you: "Warning, fire." I'm always afraid our landlords (who live upstairs) will think I'm burning the place down, so I press the button until it finally shuts off. I must've pressed it one too many times because next thing I knew, the fire detector lady was saying, "Warning, carbon monoxide." Cue panic.

I'm one of those people who's scared by the labels on a can of spray paint (I once returned a can of spray chalk paint because of the explosion warnings on the bottle), so I threw open all the windows, turned a fan on, turned the oven off (and pulled the croissants out), then proceeded to sit on the back porch in my pajamas while reading the back of the smoke/carbon monoxide detector. After a little research and panicked texts to Mike, I realized that I had put the thing in test mode, and the carbon monoxide warning was a false alarm.

Luckily there were croissants waiting inside to comfort me.
 Look at those layers!

What have you been baking lately?