Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Any Excuse for a Celebration: Half Birthdays and Ha-Cakes

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It’s holiday time in the blogosphere – everywhere I look I see recipes for Christmas cookies or Hanukkah cakes or generalized ‘winter holidays’-themed party food.  But I think you’re all forgetting the most important holiday of the year: my friend K’s half-birthday.

Yes, I said half-birthday.  I can’t tell you how many people have balked when I tell them I’m planning to make a half-cake for K.  “Half-birthday?” they ask, incredulous, “isn’t that just for kids?”  Well, yes.  It is.  But one of the things I love about K is that she is pretty much the definition of unabashed.  She wants to celebrate her half-birthday with a few friends, some tasty food, and a ha-cake (as in hapenny, jeez), and honestly I don’t see any problem with that.  It is a bit strange for a grown woman to count her age in halves, to be sure, but on the other hand, couldn’t we all use a little more whimsy and celebration in our lives?  I know I could.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Adventures in Baking in Other People's Kitchens: Blueberry Olive Oil Cake

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Baking at my parents' house is always a bit of a...complicated adventure.  Whereas I'd slowly and methodically built up a system in the London home where I lived for four years – I knew which specialty pans and ingredients I did and didn't have, and what stocks were low in the baking cupboard – living here in someone else's house, and especially working in someone else's kitchen, has really been a challenge.  I never know what ingredients we have, in what quantities, and in what state of freshness (the other day I used molasses with a 'best before' in 2012, which is actually really recent for my mom's cupboards – it was fine).  And while the double oven gas Viking range is amazing, the rest of the supplies are sketchy at best: we have a mini muffin pan and a popover pan, but no normal muffin tins; a heart-shaped silicone cake pan but no loaf pans; and one usable cookie sheet.  One.

So when I offered to bake something with the blueberries that were lingering on their last legs in the fancy fridge drawers a few weeks ago, I figured it would be an experiment.  I wasn't really prepared for just how many things I would need to change, but I was at least ready to be flexible.  And thank goodness for that!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Making my excuses, and hoping for the future

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I know it's been an inordinately long time since I've written, and I actually wish I didn't have such a good excuse.  But unfortunately I do.

My engagement fell apart (and with it all my happiness and stability and functionality) in a most spectacular and traumatic way back in June, after months of pain and torment – obviously, I wasn't doing much baking during that time, and the aftermath was too filled with tears and logistics and fleeing the country for me to be thinking much about food at all.  I was lucky if I could remember/force myself to eat one small meal a day.  Needless to say, there wasn't much I could say here that would be anything but depressing, so I stayed away while I tried to pick up the pieces of a life I no longer wanted to live.  I moved back to San Francisco and am currently living with my parents while I try to get through this extremely dark time.  It's been the most difficult few months of my entire life, and there have been days when, if Morpheus had offered me one pill to keep going and one to stop everything right then, I would certainly have taken the latter pill.

But, and this is important, there have been bright spots.  Hours, even a few hours in a row, when I forget how much pain I'm in.  And every month there have been more of those hours – this month there have been whole days.  It feels like nothing short of a miracle, and I spend a lot of my time waiting for the relapse (there have been many of those, some unbearably long and brutal), but it seems time is finally starting to heal me a little bit.

And then a few days ago, I baked a galette.  It hardly counts as baking, since the dough was given to us by a neighbor and my mother prepped the apple-pears, so I literally just tossed the fruit with some sugar and spices, rolled out the dough, and brushed melted butter over the top, but it was a start.  And I had a feeling that things might actually be okay one day, far off in the future.

So to thank you for sticking around through my long hiatus, and as I ask you to please bear with me as I continue to gather the shreds of my heart and paste them together with spit and mud – I'm not as sharp as I was before all this, but hopefully that's temporary – I offer you this 'recipe' for an easy free-form galette.  It may not be much of a project, but it lifted my spirits and made me believe for a moment that maybe I could patch my life back together with a little patience and melted butter.  I hope for you it's at least a semi-pretty and tasty solution to the question of what to serve after dinner with friends.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

A Dream Deferred: Italian Almond Cookies

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When my guy and I were in Rome a couple of years ago with my brother and his girlfriend for Christmas, the apartment we stayed in was just down the street from a tiny bakery that had the reputation of selling some of the best cookies and panettone in the whole city – a lucky accident of which we took full advantage!  Every few days we would wander in and make use of my ever-more-limited Italian to buy a bag of treats: chocolate-dipped Christmas trees, jam studded thumbprints, mini pistachio biscotti, and our absolute favorites, chewy, dense, heavy-sweet almond cookies.  Those ones were always the first to go, and we kept finding ourselves having to negotiate over who got the last one.  If only I didn't require so much time stalling while I tried to remember the word for almond (mandorla – of course now I can remember it!), we might have just gotten bagfuls of those each time and called it a day!

So of course the minute we got back to the UK I looked up a recipe.  And then I bookmarked that recipe, bought ground almonds, and... promptly put off making the cookies.  I think I avoided it for so long at first because almond paste (one of the main ingredients) is super expensive, but after a while I just kept forgetting about them.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

'Paris Is Always a Good Idea' – Dark Chocolate Sables and Some News

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As usual, I've been wanting to spread the news about these amazing sables (or, as my French co-worker corrected me, sablés) since I first baked them, but as usual life has gotten in the way.  In face, I have an unusually good excuse: this post is especially apropos because the BF took me on a surprise trip to Paris the weekend after I made these French cookies – and he proposed!  Of course I said yes (if you've been following this blog for a while you know that he and I are already practically married), and have been consumed by wedding planning insanity (on top of work and book promotion) ever since.

Nonetheless, even with a head full of even more things than before (sigh), I still can't stop thinking about these little beauties – ooh, maybe I'll make a batch for the wedding!  Ahem, sorry.  I get distracted a lot these days.  Where were we?  Right!  I can't stop thinking about these sables, so it's high time I passed them on to you all so you can obsess over them too.  Trust me: they're worth the lost sleep.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Converting the Skeptics: Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

I made sticky toffee pudding for the first time back in November – I'd been invited to a British-themed dinner party and I had no idea what to bring for dessert (having of course claimed that course before my phone had even registered the invitation email).  Normally I count on my large roster of American sweets to wow the Brits among me with little effort, but I didn't think it would be fair to break from the theme just because it was outside my comfort zone.  Still, what exactly constituted a British dessert (or, as the Brits say, 'pudding' – actual pudding is 'angel delight'...don't ask me why)?  Most of the really successful dishes have American and European counterparts: lemon drizzle cake, shortbread cookies, fruit crisps...  I didn't want to make super-classic Eton mess or a Bakewell tart (I actually hadn't thought of that one, but it would have been too much effort for the day anyway), so I was at a loss.  Until I remembered that old pub classic, and one particular skeptic to whom I still have something to prove.

I have a personal bone to pick about sticky toffee pudding: I need to prove to my older brother that a dessert made mostly of dates can be indulgent and delicious and completely unfruity.  I tried to explain sticky toffee pudding to him last summer and he wouldn't listen to my description of the dish itself, just kept making that irritating 'blegh' face that only brothers can keep mastering to such an infuriating degree well into seeming adulthood.  I swore up and down that I would make it for him someday and he would eat his words (and facial expression), along with half the pan.  So when I was trying to think of a British dessert to bring to girls' night I decided this was a good opportunity to practice, ensuring that when I do eventually make sticky toffee pudding for my family in SF, their socks will be duly knocked off.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

How to Tart up a Dinner Party: Easy Apple Tart

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I have a fantastic friend here in London who used to be my tutor and is now the source of most of my shocked belly laughs – he's crude and shameless and hilarious and I love being around him.  So when he invited the BF and me to dinner at his house, of course we rearranged our schedules to make it work.  I offered to make dessert, and my request for preferences was met with the line 'A tart sounds appropriate.'

Well, what could that be besides a challenge?  (Okay, yes, it could be an insult, but it was written in a cheeky tone, not a mean one.)  I immediately started going through my recipe bookmarks in search of the perfect tart – I wanted to make this super-easy showstopper, but of course we couldn't find raspberries anywhere in London in the dead of winter, so it had to be apple or pear.  The tricky bit: as I had plans that day to go to the Taste of Christmas event, it had to be something I could make either very quickly or in advance.  As it turned out, the recipe I used was a little bit of both.

Easy apple tart