More Than Ships Passing In the Night

Category: FOOD

I will celebrate any excuse to smile

This is the third year in a row that April has been the Month of Excruciating Sucky-ness, for one reason or another. I’m not a fan of this trend, so I’m fighting back. For the remainder of the month, my goal is to post a photo or photo series on this blog about something that makes me smile or laugh right now. My therapist told me to immerse myself in things that boost my Joy-O-Meter (I don’t actually know if that’s how she would spell it. She made the word up last night, and that’s what I envisioned).

So, for today’s sunshine, check out what my co-worker did for her fellow admins on Administrative Professionals Day (which was yesterday, by the way. Did you forget? That’s okay, I will gladly accept accolades through the end of the week. And beyond. In fact, every day is Administrative Professionals Day, as far as I’m concerned. Or at least, every work day that I show up to be professionally administrative. Or to administrate for professionals. Or to daily profess my administration? I should stop now.)

Anyway, back to celebrating:

Homemade cookies!

My hand is in the picture for scale. The envelope was so adorable!

How sweet is this?

I’m blessed to have such thoughtful, wonderful co-workers!

Leftovers: an epilogue

It seems weird going back in time to write this post. I’ve had a crazy week and all I want to do is write a moody rant about how I trust the world a little bit less now because my car got stolen earlier this week. Or, I could write a gratitude post about how thankful I am that, even though my car was stolen, it was found shortly thereafter; that, even though they took a few valuables, they left everything else; that they didn’t strip my car or do any other obvious damage to it. I’m thankful that I have my car back, that it still runs, and that campus safety immediately issued me a new permit without hassle and without charge (to put that in context, you have to understand that these permits cost $300).

While street smarts aren’t always my strongest suit, I’m not completely naive either. But it’s one thing to know that things like this happen. It’s another thing when they are happening to you.

So, when I originally envisioned the content of my last “cooking project” post, I was not planning to talk about stolen cars. But life happens, and Sebastian Felix got stolen and then recovered this week, and I feel weird about it.

Anyway, let’s rewind back to the 4th of July weekend, before my car, my sense of privacy, and my sense of security all got violated.

A few of the recipes that I tried out resulted in various “extras” that I didn’t want to waste. When I had finished dipping all of the cake batter truffles in the melted white chocolate coating, there was still extra melted chocolate. So Mom and I grabbed some gingersnap cookies that we had on hand and used those to scrape up the last of the chocolate:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Good to the last drop!” as my grandma would say.

Another curious leftover item: the “cupcake bellies” from the cookie dough-stuffed cupcakes. As you may recall, part of the process involved cutting out the centers of the cupcakes to make room for the cookie dough. The end result was that I had a bowl full of cupcake bellies. My mom suggested the brilliant idea of making a sort of parfait with them. Add a few layers of chocolate pudding and blueberries and voila:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cupcake parfait!

  Finally, when I made bacon & egg toast cups, the recipe called for circle cut-outs from sliced bread, meaning that I had a lot of useless bread parts leftover. So I made croutons! I found a fantastic, easy recipe that pretty much just involved mixing the bread pieces with melted butter, garlic salt, and dried herbs, and then toasting them in the oven.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The result was a crispy, buttery crouton that all but melted in your mouth!

Even after the weekend was over, the cooking didn’t stop. We had bought chicken thighs for a Hawaiian grilled chicken recipe that I wanted to try. However, there just wasn’t time for it over the weekend. At the beginning of the week, Mom pointed out that we either needed to use the thighs or freeze them. Since I had already been in the cooking groove for the past few days, I figured why stop now?

This is one of those recipes where you really can’t “over-marinate” the chicken. So, I prepped the marinade the night before and let it do its thing overnight and all day while I was at work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This one was definitely a team effort: my mom washed and trimmed the chicken thighs while I put the marinade together, and my dad was the Grill Master when it was time to cook the chicken. Look at all of that raw meat! Yikes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The end result was perfection. The three of us were absolutely enamored with our success – the flavor and tenderness of the chicken was incredible. And the bed of coconut rice over which it was served just enhanced everything.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The last experimental thing that I tried making was an amaretto sour. My co-worker gave me the basic instructions: equal parts amaretto and sweet & sour mix, topped off with club soda. I added my own touches based on the ingredients we had on hand, so the end result was equal parts amaretto and sweet & sour mix, with a dash of bourbon, topped off with tonic water. At my mom’s request, I also tried a variation with ginger ale instead of tonic water. We decided that we needed to get some actual club soda. The tonic water added a little too much bitterness, and the ginger ale made it a little too easy to drink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, the name “amaretto sour” is, in my opinion, a misnomer. There ain’t nothin’ sour about that drink!

And so, my 4th of July cooking & baking extravaganza has come to an end. I feel very satisfied with my accomplishment. I made a ton of food over a short period of time, and nothing turned out terribly gross! What’s more, I don’t even feel burned out about cooking. I didn’t come away feeling like, “Okay, I got my fix and now no more of that for at least six months!” Instead, I’ve been pinning more recipes to Pinterest (my “recipe book”) and I’m already starting to brainstorm ideas for what I want to make next. My sister and brother-in-law will be back in another week for my birthday, and I still have plenty of recipes that I want to try. There really is something incredibly fulfilling about the whole process: assembling the ingredients, compiling them, watching cups of watery dough transform into fluffy muffins, or gobs of cake batter become adorable sprinkle-topped truffles, or lumps of slippery raw meat turn into crispy, delectable chunks of savory goodness. It’s a creative experience, and it is also methodical and organized. And that is what makes it beautiful.

For those of you that have been following along, thank you for indulging me while I documented my experience here. I’ve really been having fun with this, and I look forward to many more future cooking projects.

I feel like the most appropriate way to conclude is with this video tribute to Julia Child.

Bring on the roasted potatoes!

(And, of course, bon appetit.)

 

Days 3 and 4: “Go sit down”? What do you mean?

As promised: washing the dishes.

As someone who enjoys cooking and baking, I’d better be ready to clean up after myself, right? Besides, for two years I was in living situations where we rarely used the dishwasher. We just got in the habit of washing things by hand. So, if nothing else, I should at least be used to it by now.

I have two perspectives when it comes to washing dishes. Determining which one wins out often depends on context. Point of view #1 is the responsibility viewpoint: “If you made this mess, then you should clean it up.” It makes sense – it’s a general rule of thumb that goes with being an adult and taking responsibility for our actions. Point of view #2 is the more democratic approach: “You worked hard preparing a meal for me, so I will return the favor by washing the dishes for you.”

Guess which viewpoint I prefer?

I don’t really think of myself as an “Acts of Service” kind of person, but when it comes to the kitchen, feeding people is my way of showing that I care about them, and when someone else volunteers to wash the dishes for me, it really makes me feel cared for in return. Maybe it’s the model that I’ve grown up with. After 30+ years of marriage, my parents have their routine down: my mom cooks dinner pretty much every night and, after dinner is over, the first thing my dad does is wash the dishes.

That being said, I would hate for you to think that I went in and out of the kitchen during the 4th of July weekend like a whirlwind, leaving a mess for someone else to clean up every time. No, I washed plenty of dishes over the course of the weekend, and cleaned up many counter-top messes. But those times when someone else would step in and say “I’ll take care of the dishes for you” were music to my ears.

Which viewpoint resonates with you?

On Saturday morning, I had to make a difficult judgment call. I had come across various doughnut recipes designed to imitate gourmet doughnuts from an apparently famous doughnut place in Austin, Texas called “Gourdough’s.” To me, it sounds like the Austin version of Portland’s “Voodoo Doughnut” or Campbell’s “Psycho Donuts.” Which I love.

I thought it would be super fun to try making the imitation version of the “Flying Pig” – a candied bacon maple donut. I had my heart set on making a batch of donuts at some point during the weekend. But it turns out that donut recipes are intense: I wanted to find a recipe where I could 1) bake the dough instead of frying it, 2) not have to use a special donut pan to mold my donuts, 3) not have to wait 1 (or more) hours for the dough to rise. Then, I would make these magically easy donuts and top them with the maple icing and candied bacon per the actual original recipe that I had found.

Alas, I had no luck in finding such a recipe. Instead, I surveyed the kitchen and reflected on the poppyseed bread, the cake batter pops, the brownies, and the cookie dough-stuffed cupcakes that I made so far, as well as the blueberry muffins I was planning to make later. I decided to give up the ghost of the donuts: taking everything else into consideration, I didn’t feel like I was flaking by not making doughnuts. If anything, I was probably doing myself and my family a huge caloric favor.

Side note: for those of you who have noticed and wondered why I keep alternating my spelling of “donut/doughnut,” it’s because I think both spellings are correct and I can’t decide which one I like best. Thoughts?

Anyway, on Saturday my parents went to an Indian wedding. It was a Sikh ceremony and was actually a three-day event. But they only attended the third day’s events, which involved a morning ceremony (and by “morning,” we’re talking 8:30 am to about 2:30 pm), and then an evening reception. So, they were gone for most of the day with a brief afternoon intermission. Although our family is accustomed to regular YOYO nights (“You’re On Your Own”), Mom had asked if I would make dinner on this night so that my grandparents could spend some extra time with their visiting grandchildren (If I haven’t already mentioned it, and you didn’t already know, my grandparents live with us). I was already planning to make this honey and pecan glazed salmon as the main dish, so I was happy to take on the rest of the meal as well. My brother-in-law came to the rescue as my sous chef, and everything actually came together nicely. I served the salmon with quinoa on the side, peas seasoned with oregano and butter, and a tossed salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The salmon was a hit. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I love it when easy recipes turn out to be delicious recipes as well! Even my grandpa made a point of telling me that I had gotten the fish just right. Culinary compliments from Grandpa are a rare thing to be treasured since he tends to be picky about his food.

After dinner was over, my sister and sous chef brother-in-law insisted on cleaning up and (glorious day!) doing the dishes for me. The only problem was that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had spent so much time in the kitchen for the past three days that I felt lost when I was suddenly no longer needed in there. I kept puttering around, trying to help. My brother-in-law kept telling me to go sit down. I was confused. Sit down? Really? And do what? I left the kitchen and eventually wandered back in. At one point I just stood there aimlessly while they were washing and drying the dishes. Then, I realized that there really wasn’t anything for me to do at the moment so I finally (truly) left and sat down.

After they had finished cleaning up, we went for a (much-needed) evening walk through the neighborhood. My brother-in-law took us to a park nearby that I never even knew existed and we got in touch with our inner children on the swing set until it got too cold and dark to play anymore.

So then we went back home and I made them cake batter martinis.

(Good night for now inner children!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had an ambitious plan to watch “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” Parts 1 & 2 when we got back from our walk. We ultimately had to settle for just Part 1 that night because those movies are super long and it was already getting late. So, we put the movie on and I made blueberry streusel muffins. That’s what normal people do at 10 o’clock in the evening, right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wanted them to be ready to go for breakfast the next morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Confession: this was the only recipe over the weekend that I had already tried before (except for the cake martinis). I actually thought my first batch of muffins turned out better. They had these awesome muffin tops going on, and the streusel topping was somehow “moister” so it caramelized nicely on top of the muffins. This time around, there were no muffin tops for some reason, and the streusel did not seem to melt into the muffins as much.

Sunday was my dad’s birthday. I had one final recipe in mind that I wanted to make for the weekend and I had planned to do it Sunday morning to go along with the blueberry muffins, so that he could have a nice birthday breakfast before church. I wanted to make these bacon and egg toast cups. They looked super easy, so I figured it was a reasonable goal. Of course, that was before I stayed up until past midnight making muffins and washing dishes. When my alarm went off on Sunday morning, my barely-awake self started rationalizing all kinds of half-formed reasons why it was a better choice for me to stay in bed than to get up and make this last recipe. For a while, it seemed like sleep was going to win out over one last recipe. But eventually, I rallied myself awake and stumbled into the kitchen for my final hurrah.

Here’s the finished product:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I discovered after the fact that my family evidently buys extra large eggs instead of normal-sized eggs. This explained why the egg kind of took over the cup. Extra protein, I guess. The results were not as aesthetically pleasing as the ones pictured in the recipe. But they tasted fine and were a good counterpart to the blueberry muffins. In the end, I was glad that I had made the effort to follow through with making these.

Up next: concluding thoughts on my 4th of July weekend cooking project and…. leftovers!

Day 2: getting in touch with my alter egos in the kitchen

Raw meat freaks me out.

Ever since I really started cooking, this has always been a slight problem for me. I have a hard time with meat in general, cooked or not, because I get grossed out by it very easily. I could be eating a piece of chicken, a tri-tip steak, or even a burrito with shredded meat in it, and inevitably there is that bite with the unexpected crunch of gristle, or the slimy sensation of fat, or the rubbery stubborness of some kind of tendon or ligament (read: any part of the meat that you don’t normally ingest). When that happens, it’s all over with me. My enjoyment is gone. My appetite is gone. I’m done.

Raw meat takes this a step further for me.

It looks gross. It’s slimy. There are meat juices that get everywhere. And it’s hazardous. As far as I’m concerned, the stuff is just swarming with bacteria waiting to infect everything and, unless you take extreme disinfecting precautions when working with raw meat, it’s probably going to kill you.

I still remember my first time cooking chicken in the dorms when I was in school. Our Resident Dean’s young children came into the kitchen while I was working and I was terrified that they would touch one of the meat-infected surfaces before I could clean it, and then they would contract salmonella, and it would be ALL MY FAULT.

Spoiler alert: nothing bad happened.

My over-active imagination is like a reverse super-power sometimes.

That being said, when I pulled the two packages of baby back ribs out of the fridge on Friday morning, I was definitely intimidated. That is a LOT of raw meat to be working with for someone as neurotic about it as I am.

But that didn’t stop me. I hate handling raw meat but even more than that, I hate not being able to do something because I’m afraid. I wanted to make these slow cooker barbecue ribs and, so help me, a few shanks of uncooked meat were not going to stop me from doing what I wanted.

I may be Over-Active Imagination Woman a lot of the time, but I am also Rise-To-The-Occasion Woman when push comes to shove.

I got that meat seasoned, browned, and into the crock pot with its marinade. I also deep cleaned the counter, a section of the kitchen floor, and part of our trash can.

The icky part was over and now I could just enjoy the satisfying smell of BBQ ribs marinating in the slow cooker for the next 8 hours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was really excited about the marinade ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8 hours later: I think crock pots are wonderful. The idea that I can throw something in there in the morning, let it simmer all day, and then come home to a house filled with delicious aromas, and meat cooked to perfection and falling off the bone because it it so tender… Genius.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Back to Friday morning… A curious thing had happened: I was starting to cook compulsively. After I finished getting the meat into the crock pot, I made breakfast. On any morning when I don’t have to go into work, it’s almost guaranteed that I will make eggs. I love a hot breakfast and eggs are the quickest means to achieving that end. Usually I fry my eggs because I’m lazy and, of the egg options available to me, frying is definitely the fastest. But when I’m feeling more creative and still want something quick, I like to scramble my eggs. It’s practically impossible for me to scramble eggs without dressing them up. The picture above shows my scrambled egg concoction pre-scrambled. Two eggs, a splash of milk, a few dashes of oregano, a pinch of seasoned salt, and some leftover sharp white cheddar cheese from last night’s sweet potato hash.

Yes.

The recipes for Friday were such that I did not have to spend my entire day holding down the fort in the kitchen and was instead able to go out with my sister and brother-in-law to some local community gardens. It was one of those perfect unplanned summer afternoon things. The roses were wilting a bit, most likely because it’s been crazy hot the past few weeks, but it was still lovely. And it didn’t matter so much about the condition of the roses, because  I was walking the maze of the garden with my sister and, without getting all Hallmark card about it, the fun was really just in being together.

Then we went home and it was back to the kitchen for me, to make the side dish for the ribs: sweet potato parmesan tater tots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Let it be known: I have a weakness for sweet potato fries that is nearly on par with my cake batter/cookie dough obsession. My college cafeteria also served (and probably still serves) tater tots as a breakfast item every day. I had a love-hate relationship with those tots. On the one hand, they tasted so good! On the other hand, they made me feel so gross! When I came across this recipe for sweet potato tater tots, I thought that perhaps I had found a way to achieve tot-al bliss. (Ha….That’s supposed to be a pun.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A shot from inside the oven (this is my version of getting artsy).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If I may say, I thought these were delicious. The sweet potato chip coating added just the right amount of crunch, while the insides were still soft. The parmesan cheese balanced out the sweetness of the potato. Visually (and perhaps flavorfully too, although I’m not really an expert when it comes to pairing flavors) they were a lovely complement to the BBQ ribs.

After dinner it was time for one of the projects I had been looking forward to the most: the infamous gain-a-pound-just-by-looking-at-them cookie dough stuffed-cupcakes!!!

The ironic thing about these cupcakes is that, of all the items I had made so far over the weekend, these were the least “from scratch.” The cupcakes themselves were made from a cake mix. But the (egg-free) cookie dough filling was made from scratch. And the chocolate frosting was made from scratch. And the assembly process was labor-intensive – cutting out the cupcake centers, piping on the frosting, etc – so it still felt like a project.

And the results were incredible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A shot of the cookie dough filling. This was right up my alley because it did not use eggs. As I have (several times) mentioned, I adore cookie dough. But uncooked eggs dabble dangerously close to raw meat territory, and we already know that I’m afraid of salmonella. This was the perfect concoction to enjoy my cookie dough without worrying about food poisoning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I used a melon ball scooper to shape the holes, and a steak knife to cut out the centers (the serrated knife edge made all the difference).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I refused to be skimpy with the cookie dough. I’d rather err on the side of over-stuffing, because no one wants an under-stuffed cupcake! That’s like a cupcake that has only a little dollop of frosting in the center so that it looks “pretty” as opposed to “indulgent.” Holding out on the frosting (or filling) is like a cardinal baking sin, in my opinion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When it came down to frosting the cupcakes, I got to try a new technique. The recipe suggested putting the frosting into a plastic storage bag and snipping off a corner, and then squeezing the frosting onto the cupcakes that way. IT WAS SUPER FUN. I felt like a legit cupcake decorator. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not under any delusions of grandeur about my frosting abilities, but it was just fun in a very tactile, hands-on way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The entire time I was working on the cupcakes, the rest of my family was also in the kitchen playing a game of “Munchkin.” If you’ve never heard of this game, I don’t really know how to describe it to you other than it’s absolutely ridiculous and hilarious and very tongue-in-cheek. And there is nothing like having your back to your family while you’re frosting cupcakes and hearing things like:

“I’m going to kick down the door.”

“I’m going to fight and defeat this level 1 mall rat in 3… 2… 1.”

“Now I’m going to loot the room.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My mom let me photograph her half-eaten cupcake: apparently I’m all about cross-sections.

We finished off the night with cupcakes, “Sabrina,” and Mom’s famous mojitos. A word about her mojitos: they are the best. I think what makes them so good is the home-made element: she grows her own mint and makes her simple syrup from scratch each time. So, not only are they home-made, but the ingredients are fresh. The mojito has really become her signature drink and we always encourage her to double the recipe when she makes them.

I’m realizing as I finish this up that I forgot to share my thoughts about washing dishes! I know you are just on edge waiting to hear about this riveting topic, so I promise I’ll work it into the next post.

Stay tuned!

Day 1: Fourth, Family, Food, Fun, Fireworks (And Appetizing Alliterations)

I kicked off my cooking/baking adventure first thing Thursday morning. When I came down to the kitchen, my dad was already there making coffee and washing dishes so that I would have space in which to work. Can I just say that my family is awesome? I mean, seriously. Am I blessed or what?

First up on the 4th of July menu: Poppyseed Bread

This was a great way to start things off because the recipe instructions pretty much read: “Mix all of the ingredients together and then bake.” For all of the complex chemistry that goes into cooking, simplicity is still a beautiful thing.

DISCLAIMER THAT APPLIES TO ALL ENSUING FOOD PICTURES: I am not a professional photographer. I do not have professional photography equipment. I used my (very basic) point & shoot camera for all of these pictures. The pictures aren’t really intended to show how awesome the food was but rather simply to prove that I did, in fact, make it.

If you want testimonials about how it tasted, I will happily refer you to my family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think many people associate a lemon flavor with poppyseed bread. This recipe did not call for any lemon, instead using almond extract, which added a very distinct flavor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mom wanted to add the orange in the picture as a sort of visual garnish.

We spent breakfast planning out a grocery list for the next few days. Then a trip to the grocery store to stock up on our supplies and soon it was time to start on the next food project: cake batter truffles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m a sucker for any food that has the words “cake batter” or “cookie dough” in its description. I’m also a sucker for putting rainbow sprinkles on anything. When I make crepes, I still put sprinkles in the batter. When I make nutella on toast, I still garnish it with sprinkles. The rainbow nonpareils are my favorite.

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Part of this recipe entailed rolling the truffle filling into little balls. During this process, I discovered that my hands are defective when it comes to forming round shapes. As I rolled the truffle filling, I consistently produced the above geometric shape. I then had to re-shape them with my fingers to get something more…spherical.

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was very pleased with the end result.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I tried putting them in mini muffin wrappers for a fancier look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cross-section!

Immediately after I finished making the truffles, it was (obviously) time to make brownies. There was, in fact, a method to my madness: as part of the 4th of July festivities, my mom had gotten an ice cream maker so that we could make our own ice cream. So, clearly, we needed home-made brownies to go with it. Having recently come across this recipe for brownies from scratch, all I needed was half an excuse to make them. Perhaps the most distinctive (or delicious) part about them was the chocolate frosting, which was spread on while they were still warm, melting into the brownies for an extra fudgy effect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By this time, it was well into the afternoon. I was multi-tasking between finishing up the brownies and starting the dinner appetizer: artichoke spinach dip-stuffed mushrooms, as well as what would be one of the main entrees for our BBQ: roasted garlic chipotle cheddar sweet potato burgers with avocado ranch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love stuffed mushrooms. And I love spinach & artichoke dip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The combination was delightful.

The sweet potato burgers turned out to be a messy endeavor, with lots of ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was pretty excited about all of the different flavors going into this mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Frying them was tricky. The thing about mashed sweet potatoes is that they don’t really like to hold together. So, the “burger” aspect of this recipe was a bit misleading. A better description would have been “sweet potato hash.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Food processors are a wonderful invention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While the lighting in this picture does not make it look particularly appetizing, the avocado ranch was like a sort of glorified guacamole.

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s blurry, but this gives an idea of the finished product.

So much credit goes to Sous Chef Mom and Head Dish-Washer Sister who kept me company in the kitchen and helped out with prepping vegetables, stuffing mushrooms, managing the steady stream of dirty utensils and dishes that kept piling up in the sink, and giving second opinions when needed.

After dinner, we drove out to my dad’s workplace, conveniently located on a hill, in search of fireworks. For a city where fireworks are technically illegal, there was a panorama of shows lighting up the night. The entire time we were there, the popping, cracking sounds never stopped. We could look in any direction and see fireworks going off – some were close, many were in the distance.

After we’d had our fill of fireworks, it was back to the house for the long-awaited, much-anticipated home-made ice cream and brownies.

So, I spent my 4th of July almost entirely in the kitchen. In previous years, I’ve seen my share of July 4th plans that did not pan out as nicely as I had hoped: strep throat that kept me at home with a 104 degree fever when I was supposed to see the symphony perform their outdoor 4th of July special; soporific baseball innings for the sake of a good fireworks show, the enjoyment of which would be immediately nullified by the hoards of people exiting the stadium, and the resulting nightmarish traffic heading out.

Every year, my mom and I talk about how we want to do something fun for the 4th, and then it always sneaks up on us and we end up making last-minute plans, often opting for “fun” social events when we’d rather just stay home and relax. This year, I spent the day with my family. I made food. We grilled burgers. We found our own uncrowded spot to watch fireworks. We did things at our own pace.

It was really nice.

And the food was pretty good too.

Up next: tackling raw meat and dirty dishes, more fun with sweet potatoes, and my budding career as a cake decorator (or not).

Coming soon: dreaming of donuts, salmon success, and midnight muffins.

Dabbling: creative expression to celebrate free speech

Back story: last week, my mom and I did a three-day detox-cleanse thing together that involved fruit & veggie smoothies, probiotics, and epsom salt baths. I missed eating solid food so much during this time that in the afternoons at work, I would sit at my computer, choking down my green lunch drink and staring sadly at all kinds of delicious-looking recipes on Pinterest. Especially desserts. End result: when the cleanse was over, all I wanted to do was cook and bake things.

It pretty much goes without saying that it is more fun to make food during holiday weekends – when you have time for it and there are people who will eat what you make. Granted, I live with 5 other adults right now, so there’s never really a shortage of willing samplers (I really want to make a play on my last name right now, but it would only perpetuate further mispronunciations). But my sister and brother-in-law are here for the weekend, and the more, the merrier! I’m beyond excited to see them and the kitchen is a great outlet for that excitement.

Earlier this week, I was talking with a friend about my tendency to “dabble” in things. I love exploring but I get restless and bored very easily. When I go to a museum, I tend to move through the exhibits quickly. If I try to absorb any one exhibit for too long, my brain shuts down and I end up staring at it vacantly without taking in anything. I’ve dabbled in all kinds of things, but I’ve become proficient in very few of those things. I have great enthusiasm in the beginning and enjoy planning out what I want to do and how I’m going to accomplish it, but when it comes to execution, my focus and energy often evaporate quickly. A lot of times, I will finish what I’ve started out of a sense of obligation, but usually by the time I make it to the end, the enjoyment is long gone.

Given my dabbling tendencies, it is common for me to go through phases of wanting to make food things. It is also common for me to accumulate recipes excessively, get overwhelmed and not make anything. In our conversation, my friend encouraged me to consider sticking with things, reminding me that while I may have a tendency to get restless and jump from one thing to another, I also bring a quality of loyalty, drive, and commitment when I actually stick with something for an extended period of time. He pointed out the long-term rewards that often come along with that approach: the empowering satisfaction of knowledge and experience.

In honor of my friend’s suggestion, and Independence Day, and being reunited with my sister and brother-in-law, I have resolved to MAKE ALL THE THINGS this weekend. A cooking, baking extravaganza of epic proportions (which may also describe our waistlines after this is over).

It’s been months since I felt inspired to write (further illustrating my self-description), so for the next few days I plan to temporarily turn this into a food blog. It will be like a 4th of July mini series. Maybe this is dabbling at its finest, but I already know how to cook, and I already know that I enjoy cooking, and I’m tired of just looking at recipes. I want to start creating. So, I will celebrate my freedom this weekend by indulging in creative expression through the art of cooking.

I have a fair number of recipes I’m excited to try out over the next three days. I’ll make my confession up front: most of them are either desserts or breakfast bread-type things (the kissing cousin of desserts). You may judge me – I know that secretly you’re just wishing you were here with us so you could try the cake batter truffles too.

These updates won’t be in a real time: I’m writing this on Friday, and I’m already 2/3 of the way done with this project. I made five recipes yesterday and three recipes today. I just finished piping chocolate frosting made from scratch onto cupcakes stuffed with cookie dough. My feet are killing me from spending so much time standing in the kitchen, but I don’t care because I am having so much fun!

Up next: my 4th of July creations!

Coming soon: thoughts on raw meat and washing the dishes.

To be continued!

Coffee Fails, part 1

I tried to make a home-made variation on a pumpkin spice latte earlier this week. I inherited this can of Trader Joe’s “Pumpkin Spice” coffee from one of my roommates when we all moved out of our apartment. It’s decent… given that it was originally purchased & opened last fall, so the freshness factor has significantly deteriorated. During the summer, I didn’t really use it because, let’s be honest, who really wants anything pumpkin spice in the middle of July?

But now that Starbucks has officially proclaimed the advent of Fall with the return of their pumpkin spice latte, it occurred to me one morning that I should try my hand at making my own. You know, since I can’t really afford to drink a latte from Starbucks every day.

So, I made the pumpkin spice coffee in my trusty little French press coffee maker. And then, to sweeten it, instead of just sticking to the agave sweetener that I’ve been experimenting with lately, I remembered that we had Gingerbread syrup on hand. Obvious choice, right? If you’re going for all things warm, spicy, and Fall-ish, the perfect combination is bound to be pumpkins and gingerbread.

I added the syrup, added some frothed milk, and anticipated sipping my warm, deliciously fragrant creation in the coziness of my little cubicle when I got to work.

Reality check.

My coffee was neither fragrant nor delicious. And by the time I got to work, it was lukewarm (no thanks to you, yucky morning commute). But I can tolerate lukewarm coffee if it makes up in flavor for what it lacks in temperature.

Oh, this coffee had plenty of flavor, all right. But it was not a pumpkin spice flavor. It was not a gingerbread flavor. It was not, as I recently described the Starbucks version, like drinking Fall out of a cup.

This coffee tasted like………….

…………………….

……………………………………….

…………………………………………………………..peanut butter?

And if you are trying to salvage that as a potentially positive attribute and envisioning something like one of those peanut butter Moo’d drinks from Jamba Juice, let me assure you: it was nothing like that.

It was,

well,

gross.

I tried to muscle through it. I tried using mind tricks. I asked myself: “If this was served to me at a coffee shop, would I like it better simply because someone else made it for me and I didn’t know what was in it or what flavor to expect?” I tried to imagine it in a paper to-go cup: a mysterious latte handed to me by some hipster barista at some small, independent coffee joint with original artwork for sale on the walls and twinkle lights in the window.

It didn’t work.

Eventually, I had to call it quits. My attempt at a pumpkin spice-gingerbread latte had failed miserably. All I had concocted was some kind of bizarre peanut butter latte.

Chocolate & peanut butter? Good idea.

Coffee & peanut butter? Terrible idea.

So, here is your take-away wisdom at my expense: pumpkin spice lattes taste like Fall. Gingerbread lattes taste like Christmas. Pumpkin spice-gingerbread lattes taste like peanut butter.

Take note and take heed, my friends. Not all good things should be combined.

Brunching

Labor Day good eats:

Two cups of French press coffee

Eggs Benedict complete with Hollandaise sauce and deliciously runny yolks

Chocolate chip scones

Lemon curd

One fish taco with goat cheese, hummus, and sundried tomato chipotle spread on it

Dried dates

Shortbread with tiramisu mascarpone spread

Most of this delightful fare was served to me by the even more delightful Mrs. B (formerly known as my roommate). I got to spend my holiday enjoying brunch with the newlyweds in their adorable apartment. There are very few things that I like more than catching up with good friends while sharing good food.

Happy Labor Day!