Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cake of the Week: S'mores Layer Cake

Four layers. Two kinds of cake. Whipped chocolate ganache. Homemade marshmallow frosting. If that’s not a birthday cake, I don’t know what is. 

Inspiration for this most glorious creation came to me during yoga (as all my best baking ideas do). LLC requested something s’mores-y for her birthday, and I had an eye to outdo myself (two birthdays ago I made Coffee Butterscotch Awesomeness, and last year were Oreo Cupcakes). So I schemed and plotted and planned and worked the Google like a pro to find the perfect recipe combination. 

To make this cake I had to be adventurous. Three of the four components I’d never made before, and one (the whipped ganache) I kind of made up as I went. Luckily the birthday baking angels were looking out for me and it all turned out perfectly with minimal stress/drama/anxiety. 

The first cake layer is a Graham Cracker Cake (i.e. crushed graham crackers in lieu of flour), and the second is a standard Chocolate Cake. For the filling, I thought regular chocolate ganache would be too heavy, so I made ganache then whipped it…essentially creating Chocolate Butter. Swoon. And finally: myself, egg whites, sugar, and a candy thermometer teamed up to attack the final and most intimidating part – Homemade Marshmallow Frosting

It was a match made in birthday-baking heaven. 

So here’s how it went down: First thing Saturday morning I baked my cakes. I halved this recipe and this one (the quantities below are the ones I used). Then I made the filling, which needs to refrigerate for a couple hours. Then it was marshmallow time. Candy thermometers strike fear in the heart of this daring baker, but I took a deep breath and handled the situation. It was a bit touch-and-go when I had to pour molten sugar into egg whites while beating them. I don’t have a stand mixer, so my left hand was egg-beating, my right pouring a 242 degrees concoction, and the rest of me praying I didn’t do any lasting damage to my person or my kitchen. 

The cake transported well, and was well-received by the dumpling-stuffed party guests. I’m not sure how much I loved the texture of the graham cracker cake, but when I voiced that as we ate (Me: Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have done the graham thing…), one guest looked at me, stricken and wide-eyed (Him: NO IT IS PERFECT.) Alrighty then. 

Graham Cracker Cake (makes 1 9-inch layer)
  • 1 cup and 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs 
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk (save the white for the frosting)
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and flour a 9-inch cake pan. 
  2. Whisk together graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl until well combined.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Beat in eggs until combined. Beat in vanilla. Alternate beating in milk and flour mixture until combined.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and let cool completely on a cookie rack. 

Chocolate Cake (makes 1 9-inch layer)
  • 1 cups sugar
  • ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup very hot coffee OR boiling water

  1. Grease and flour one 9-inch cake pan.
  2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. 
  3. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla.
  4. Beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. 
  5. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and let cool completely on a cookie rack. 
  7. Refrigerate both cakes at least 1 hour.

Whipped Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 and ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (one bag is about 2 cups, so it’s close to a bag and a half)

  1. Pour chocolate chips into a large mixing bowl.
  2. On the stovetop, stirring occasionally, heat heavy cream until it boils. 
  3. Pour cream over chocolate chips.
  4. Let sit for 2 minutes, then stir until smooth.
  5. Refrigerate 2 hours, or until completely cool. 
  6. Using a standing mixer or eggbeater, beat the ganache until the color lightens and it looks like very thick whipped cream. (I may have beaten mine a bit too long, it looked kinda crumbly and was tricky to spread…but delicious so I think it’s ok.)

To assemble the cake:

  1. Cut each layer in half lengthwise (to make 4 layers). 
  2. Starting with your flattest layer, spread whipped ganache on it to about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Top with next layer. Repeat until you’re done. 
  3. Cover the cake and refrigerate (I left mine for 3 hours while I went on a pool run. This isn’t really necessary, but gives it time to set and for the flavors to develop.)

Marshmallow Frosting (source)
  • 2 large egg whites (about ¼ cup) 
  • ½ cup sugar 
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar 
  • ½ cup water 
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  1. Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.
  2. Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. 
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer (soft ball stage). While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites. 
  4. When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. 
  5. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable—don't try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. 
  6. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. 
  7. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it's really better to use it right now.


I will DEFINITELY be making the Marshmallow Frosting again. 

And many many thanks to Kat for the gorgeous photography! :) 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend Report: Birthdays and Dragons

What do birthday parties and dragons have in common?


Unless you’re LLC – i.e. mildly obsessed with all things China, possessing the skill and patience to make 200+ dumplings for 17 people, it is the Year of the Dragon, and your birthday is simultaneously a Chinese New Year Party. 

So happy Year of the Dragon, and Happy Birthday LLC

On Saturday night a troop of us trooped up to Glover Park for a Chinese New Year feast. We arrived to an apartment decorated with red streamers and lanterns and fortune cookies and those little red envelopes you give to kids for good luck. LLC outdid herself with the food: she made longevity noodles for long life, and 7 kinds of dumplings: shrimp/egg (my personal favorite), mushroom/cabbage, eggplant, sweet potato, spinach/mushroom/tofu, chive/mung bean, and noodles/mushrooms. 

Her other China-loving friends made butter tofu and a delicious mushroom and eggplant dish. And I, of course, provided the birthday cake. Needless to say, we were stuffed

But before this Chinese ridiculousness on Saturday, Friday night I went out on H st (“H street? That’s far!” -- watch the video if you don’t know what I’m referring to). SpeedyKate and I hit up Khan’s (Mongolian, aka yum!), followed by The Pug

My other weekend events included 3 hours and 20 minutes of pooling (not all at once – that’s an 80-minute run on Saturday followed by a 2-hour run on Sunday). Don’t worry, nothing is wrong with me. I’m just in the pool keeping SpeedyKate company. 

Sunday afternoon post-pool I texted 6x6: Any interest in b&w?
(Baked and Wired is our favorite bakery and coffee shop. If you haven't been...you MUST go!)

6x6: Of course! I’ll meet you there in 15! 

I love that I can always rely on her to meet me for coffee and/or baked goods. We convened at the shop. First we ordered our coffees (small regular, a dash of cream and one sugar for me). Then we went to the bakery side and contemplated the cookie and cupcake options. Hmmmmm….OMG. THEY HAVE CHEESECAKE. All cookie considerations were promptly pushed aside and we ordered a piece to split. 

While snacking, we strategized 6x6’s new running plans, my work goals, our friends’ relationships, and just generally everything about the upcoming week. 

Hope you too had a wonderful weekend!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best of the Week #45

I am having a day today. So my words will be brief, but the usual Best of the Week links still apply.

My most popular post this week was Lunchtime Running, which I wish I were doing now. 

And my Coconut Chocolate Cake was featured on Celebrations' National Chocolate Cake Day. Yay!

I want to see the Northern Lights sooo bad! But the closest I’m going to get (for now) is this time lapse video

I hate the word “impact.” This post captures exactly why:

Today, finding an evaluation in which nothing is IMPACTED would rank with bagging a live platypus.
IMPACTED was useful for hundreds of years in geology, surgery, and a few other fields where things were frequently jammed in between, or up against, other things. Otherwise, IMPACT went about only as a noun, meaning, in the succinct definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, “the striking of one body against another; collision.”

Take the “sandwich or modern art?” quiz. I got 3 right. 

"Rude Responses to Annoying Questions." I particularly enjoy the “are you eating that?” part. And this:
Are you tired? You look tired.I’m beat. Exhausted. Spent. Drained. Pooped. I’m tired, dog-tired, of cutting my night short to ensure that I get ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, waking up on time, fixing myself a decent breakfast, commuting to work and arriving fifteen minutes early only to be asked if I’m tired because I decided maybe I didn’t want to apply my makeup with a torch gun this morning. Soooooo tired.
I love coffee, but I definitely agree with this post: "For the love of God people, it's just coffee." 
If you are the kind of person who goes on a thirty-five minute tangent about how “OH MY GOD I NEED MY COFFEE I AM SUCH A WRECK WITHOUT IT UGH I WOULD DIE IF IT WEREN’T FOR MY COFFEE AMIRITE?!?” you need to not only get a grip on the meaning of the word “need,” but you also need to re-asses the hilarity of those webcomics you love to post everywhere that echo your inability to function without a morning cup of bean residue.
Agreed. Thank god for gchat. (source)


This is awesome, for obvious reasons:

I did not love The Descendents as much as the rest of the world. Mr. Blattman agrees
"Usually a good litmus test for a character-driven story is: “Would I feel much emotion if one of the characters were hit by a bus?” In this case, not really. There is no sense they are real or interesting and hence worthy of attachment."
If I ever get tired of living and working in DC: UK woman crosses Antarctica solo.

Marathon Cookies with 26 ingredients – just in case I ever run a marathon.

Also, this cupcake looks insane and I want it. Preferably now. 

This article captures my work-life. Read it. Spread it. 
And yet. The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about. 
Have I mentioned that I love India? (source)

Alright, hope you have a great weekend and that your Friday is going better than mine!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Literary Bite: The Glass Castle

I read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls when I was home for Christmas and could not put it down. This book is absolutely crazy. And I mean that in a good way. 

It’s the true story of Jeanette Walls’ (the author’s) childhood living in poverty within an insane family. And when I say insane, I mean insane. Her father was a charismatic alcoholic, and her mother an artist who didn’t really believe in raising her children. The family lived all over -- from Arizona to Nevada to West Virginia -- and were taught to see their nomadic lifestyle as an adventure.

Some "adventures" included:
  • Being “rescued” from the hospital after being severely burned at the age of 3 while cooking herself a hotdog. 
  • A visit to the zoo where father and daughter reached inside the cheetah's cage to pet the cat.
  • The father lighting their Christmas tree ablaze with his cigarette lighter.
  • The kids scavenging in garbage cans at school for food.
But some parts are nice. “In one especially lovely scene, Rex takes his daughter to look at the starry desert sky and persuades her that the bright planet Venus is his Christmas gift to her.” (NYT)

What is really touching about this story is how Jeanette and her siblings really looked out for each other. One by one they escape to New York City and help create normal-ish lives through work and school.

The Glass Castle is a great book because you really care about the characters. Every time Jeanette is disappointed by her father I felt genuinely angry at him. And let me tell you – there is a twist at the end that will kind of sort of blow your mind.

It’s a fast and interesting and amusing read – definitely worth getting this book!

This is a video of Jeanette and her mother talking about the book:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Running Update and Two Awesome Workouts

I haven’t blogged about running in forever. And for a blogger who promises a delightful combination of eating, running, and reading, that is just not acceptable! (Just look at my cupcake - she is running.)

I wrote a post way back in November (Time flies!) about running goals. They included running a race and not getting injured. I’m ashamed to admit that I failed on both counts, which is why I haven’t been blogging about running as much as normal. 

Basically, I can only write, Welp, I appear to have hurt myself again! so many times before a) you get sick of me, and/or b) I have to burrow into a corner and cry for a bit. 

But this is not a post about my injuries. Because they are in the past. I have re-learned the same lessons I’ve learned before (Wise Words on Days Off,  The Comeback, Overexcited: Too Fast, Too Soon, How to deal with aches and pains when you’re getting back into running, and Running Smart) and now I’m looking forward. 

Forward to what? you may wonder. Well here’s the update: I did not run the Jingle All the Way 8K in December, but I am entered to run the St. Patrick’s Day 8K on March 11th. And in even bigger news, I got into the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run on April 1! So I’m excited for that.

In a joyous return to all things track, I have attended not one but two early morning workouts in the past week! (Am I becoming a morning runner??? Maybe…) 

Here’s how it goes:
  • 5:15 am: I get up, put on my running clothes, and eat a handful of trail mix or a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • 5:25: I stand on the corner outside my house and Cris picks me up to drive to the track in Ballson. 
  • 5:40-6:00: I nap in the car while Cris starts her warm-up. 
  • 6:00-6:30: I warm up.
  • 6:30: Workout time! 
  • Friday Coach George assigned us a tempo run: We ran 3 miles (jog ½ mile recovery), then 1 mile. Then a 15-minute cool-down jog. Fun times were had by all. 
  • Tuesday was an interval workout: We ran 1 mile (jog ¼ mile recovery), then 4x ½ mile, i.e. 4x800, (jog ¼ mile recovery between each). Then a 15-minute cool-down jog. 
  • Both workouts totaled to about 8 miles. 
  • 7:30: Metro back home.
  • 8:00: Proceed with day as if nothing happened. 

I highly recommend both these workouts for anyone trying to get back into the swing of things. Happy running everyone!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cake of the Week: Chocolate Coconut Cake

We’re having a freakishly mild winter here in DC. Though I like wearing my medium-weight coat, running outside, and avoiding the misery of frozen toes and nose, I miss the snow! 

I love how it looks in the city, and how it feels falling out of the sky, and the way OPM freaks out and gives us snow days (flashback to 2010 –Snowmageddon + Snoverkill = best week ever.). Plus I really really really want to go skiing. And mountains sans snow are just not as much fun. 

So consider this my snow-dance cake (much like rain dancing, but drier).  I made it two weekends ago, in a fit of boredom and wanting-cake-dom. It’s a Vegan Chocolate Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting, and toasted coconut on top to give it a snowball look and tropical crunch. Yummmm. 

Followers may notice that I've made this vegan chocolate cake a few times before (why vary perfection?). This time around I halved the recipe to make a smaller cake.  

Vegan Chocolate Cake
Makes one to two three 8 or 9-inch round cakes
  • 1 1/8 cups organic all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 11/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 cups cold water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line two 9” round pans with parchment paper. (Warning: This recipe tends to stick, so I strongly suggest you go for the parchment paper.)
  3. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, water, vanilla extract and vinegar.
  5. Slowly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients being careful not to over-mix. The mixture will be quite wet, but that's ok.
  6. Pour the batter into the pans evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove from pan and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. I recommend putting cakes in the freezer for an additional 30 minutes before frosting the cake, it will make them easier to handle.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 8 oz (one block) cream cheese
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk, as needed 

  1. With an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter for 5 minutes.
  2. Blend in  powdered sugar.
  3. Blend in rest of ingredients. Add more milk or powdered sugar as necessary to reach desired consistency.

Coconut Topping
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded or flaked coconut

  1. Preheat broiler. Spread coconut on cookie sheet and broil until slightly brown. (Warning: watch the coconut, it burns very quickly!)
  2. Cool completely.

Frost cake, then cover in toasted coconut, then THINK SNOW!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend Report: Hipster Dance Party

Hipsters are hard to define.

Urban Dictionary says, “Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”

Wikipedia tells me “Hipster culture has been described as a ‘mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior[s].’ Christian Lorentzen of Time Out New York argues that ‘hipsterism fetishizes the authentic’ elements of all of the ‘fringe movements of the postwar era— beat, hippie, punk, and even grunge’ and draws on the ‘cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,’ and ‘regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.’”

And there is, of course, the site "Look at this f****** hipster" if you need visuals. 

Those definitions sound very complex. All I know is that much like pornography and obscenity, hipsters fall into the category of you know one when you see one.  

And the dance party I went to on Saturday night was a lot of knowing it when I saw it. DC may not be Chicago or San Francisco or New York or Brooklyn, but it does have a pretty significant population of the skinny-jeans-clad, dark-rimmed-glasses-wearing, messenger-bag-carrying, PBR-drinking hipster types. 

Fatback is a monthly DJ’d party off of U Street with a mix of boogaloo, funk, soul and R&B music. It was kind of a cultural experience – everywhere you looked there were plaid shirts and fake mustaches. I’ve been to Fatback once before, but this weekend was their 4-year anniversary, so it was an even bigger deal. Oh don’t worry, there’s video online (just to be clear: I am NOT in this video). 

I won’t be calling myself a hipster any time soon (or ever), but I’ll probably return to Fatback. 

In other weekend news, SpeedyKate and I did an epic 2-hour pool run on Saturday, and on Sunday I trekked deep into the depths of Maryland (and by trekked, I mean took a bus) to visit my refugees and practice English. Good times were had by all and I was reminded, yet again, that I am terrible at middle school math. Does anyone remember how to do a box-and-whiskers graph? Because I don't...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Best of the Week #44

It’s 9:23. I’ve been up for 4 hours and 8 minutes, gone to Virginia, run 7 miles, come home, walked to work, got a breakfast muffin, and checked my email. 
No bad for a Friday, huh? 

It was my first track workout in a while – a 3 mile and 1 mile tempo! It was dark and cold, aka the usual good time. Though it’s still only January, I have a feeling that the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is going to sneak up on me…

Anywho, much like my morning tempo, this week started slow and finished fast! And now to kick off your (and my) weekend: Best of the Week!

And speaking of cherry blossoms, my most popular post this week was Cake of the Week: Cherry Cupcakes with Cherry Frosting.

Pictures of South Pole expedition go online -- from 1911! (watch the slideshow)

Headline of the Week is brought to you by Opio Juris:
It’s Not The Onion, It’s Fox Nation. (Not That There’s Much of a Difference.)
Sovereignty’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Is it just me, or are people following Stephen Colbert’s campaign closer than the actual campaign?
Why is Stephen Colbert's former super PAC attacking him?
"Yes, we know that sounds contradictory, but that’s what appears to be going on. The “Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC,” now headed by Mr. Colbert’s friend and business partner Jon Stewart, has just released an ad that appears to bite the hand of the person who formally fed it."

Sorry guys, apparently I’m feeling abnormally political this week. Please don’t hold it against me. This article on “Libertarian Illusions.”
"Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable -- all are to take a back seat."

To lighten things up: 1.1 lb baby polar bear. I want  one. (Watch the video!)

I am also newly obsessed with Thought Catalog.
1. "Lines For The Fortune Cookies, 2012" (read them all)
  • It’s time to retire that sweater you wear. You know the one.
  • Be kind to the other girls. Even the mean ones. They are very scared.
  • You will frequently wind up kissing boys sitting next to the boys you should be kissing.
2. Usually I’m opposed to run-on sentences, but this is just impressive: “One Sentence Love Story.”

3. Ok, last one – this is super sweet: “Meet Me Offline.”

Unless you’ve been living in a nuclear fallout shelter, you’ve probably seen "S#*& Girls Say” and any number of its spin-offs. On Rock Center, Brian Williams meets The man behind "S#*& Girls Say.”

This is real and that is why it’s crazy: "The goats with spider genes and silk in their milk."
The transplanted gene means the goat produce milk containing an extra protein, which is extracted and spun into spider silk thread.

Sometimes people try to make me feel guilty for reading fiction almost exclusively. To them I say 1) I don’t care, and 2) “The Business Case for Reading Novels.”
Theory of mind, the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us — colleagues, employees, bosses, customers and clients — is plainly critical to success, particularly in a globalized economy. The imperative to try to understand others' points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise.

"Even Better Than the Real Thing: The 10 best fake Twitter feeds on global politics." (see all)
A spot-on parody of Chinese state propaganda.
Sample tweet: "We admit we're no experts at democracy, but we swear we did not program Comrade Huntsman to believe that 3rd place equals winning."

More about China: It's not a land in which the foreigner suffers. It is not a hostile land or a wild land. It is, rather, a land of pointless minor absurdities and wholly unnecessary inconveniences, which coalesce to infuriate the ill-tempered and delight the rest. (source)

This list is surprisingly useful. I bookmarked it. "Foreign Country Land Mass Compared to United States"
  • Fiji is slightly smaller than New Jersey.
  • The Gaza strip is slightly more than twice the size of Washington, DC.
  • New Zealand is about the size of Colorado.
And at some point this weekend I am going to attempt a Checkerboard Cake! Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Literary Bite: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I love this book. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated by Alison Anderson) is beautifully written, the story is compelling, and I really am totally head-over-heels in love with it. 

It’s pretentious in just the way I like: elaborate vocabulary, beautifully constructed sentences, and obscure literary references one has to know Russian classics to understand. 

The story has two narrators, both living in a bourgeoisie building in Paris. Renée Michelle is a 54-year-old concierge who secretly adores literature, education, and art but feels that she must camouflage herself as an ignoramus. “I may be indigent in name, position, and in appearance, but in my own mind I am an unrivaled goddess -” 

The second narrator is 12-year-old Paloma, one of the building’s wealthy inhabitants. Paloma is extremely intelligent and precocious, thinks life is silly, and plans to commit suicide. (“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.”) 

Mr. Ozu says, “M. Michelle has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside she has the same simple refinement of the hedgehog; a deceptively indolent creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.”

I will admit, The Elegance of the Hedgehog wasn’t love at first page. The NYT review agrees: “Especially in the novel’s early stretch, Barbery, a professor of philosophy, seems too clever for her own good.” But by about 50 pages in I was hooked, and 150 pages in I was 100% sold. 

The story is written in a series of short chapters, alternating between  Renée and Palmoma. Some have more action, and some are more like essays. The story really picks up when Mr. Ozu, a Japanese businessman, moves into the building. The three become unlikely friends and it is wonderful. 

 Have you read this book? Did you love it? 

The language in this book is so good - there are certain passages I read over and over just because I wanted to savor the sounds and ideas. 
“Do you know that it is in your company that I have had my finest thoughts?” (Renée to her best friend Manuela)
"They didn't recognize me," I say. I came to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, complete flabbergasted. "They didn't recognize me," I repeat. He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm. "It is because they have never seen you," he says.  "I would recognize you anywhere." (Renée and Mr. Ozu)
I could copy and paste quotes to you for ever...but I won't. Just read it! 

Here's a good review/summary. and an interview with the author

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mushroom, Leek, Butternut Squash & Barley Bake

I came across this recipe in my usual mishmash of blog reading last week and immediately sent it around to my friends – this looks like us

YES! Everyone agreed. So when Jess visited over the weekend we decided to test it out and see if this Mushroom Leek & Barley Bake is as delicious as it looks. (Spolier alert: it is.)

After a hunger-inducing day of yoga and shopping, we stopped by the ridiculously fancy Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom to buy ingredients: barley, leeks, mushrooms, and parmesan. It really is that simple! 

Back in my kitchen we started sautéing and roasting (the original recipe doesn’t call for squash, but Jess and I are firm believers in the fact that roasted squash makes everything better). And I learned something new: you don’t have to peel butternut squash! You can roast or sauté it with the skin on and it’s fine. It’s even better than fine, it’s good for you.

Because we added the squash we had extra filling on the side. No problems with that! This bake is awesome, and could easily be made with any grain or veggies. It's also good cold and made a delicious lunch for me on Monday. Total win.

Mushroom, Leek, Butternut Squash & Barley Bake (recipe adapted from So Good and Tasty)
serves 4-6
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-6 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups cooked pearl barley (about 1/2 cup dried cooked in 1 1/2 cups water)
  • 2 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F and grease a 1 3/4 qt. baking dish. We used a 9-inch cake pan. 
  2. Prepare the barley: Cover 1/2 cup of pearl barley with 1 1/2  cups of water and simmer for 30-40 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  3. Spray a baking dish and toss the butternut squash with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until tender.
  4. In a large frying pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, cooking for about 3 minutes or until just beginning to soften. Stir in the leeks, cook another 2 minutes, then add in the garlic. Continue cooking until everything is softened and the mushrooms are a nice brown color, about another 3 minutes. Mix in roasted squash. Let cool slightly.
  5. Place the barley in a large bowl. Stir in the mushroom mixture and half the Parmesan.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and salt. Fold the eggs into the barley mixture, then pour into your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the last half of the Parmesan. 
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven, cool for 10 minutes, and serve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weekend Report: Jess Visits DC

This weekend I talked to Jess

If this were some sort of minimalist blog, that would be all you need to know. We talked, in various DC locations, from Friday night through Monday morning, only stopping to sleep. 

I always talk a lot, and I talk a lot with most of my friends. But something about Mollie + Jess = talking at a speed/volume/level of excitement unknown to most normal humans. The sheer level of our shared conversational-ADD is generally of epic proportions. (I stole that from this article, which pretty well sums it up – mostly we talk about everything.)

Friday night Jess arrived from very cold Boston to very cold DC. We went to dinner at ShopHouse, the much-talked-about Asian Chipotle. It is around the corner from my house, opened 5 months ago, and I can’t believe Friday was my first visit! Like the burrito chain, you choose your base, your protein, then an assortment of toppings and sauce. We were starving. I went for brown rice, grilled satay chicken (LLC says the pork and chicken meatballs are the best, so that’ll be my next visit), eggplant with Thai basil and green beans with caramelized onions, and spicy curry. The server asked which garnishes I wanted – green papaya slaw, herb salad, pickles, toasted rice, crushed peanuts, or crispy garlic – umm all of them well duh?  

Delicious. But I will warn you, I’m no whimp when it comes to spicy food, and this was HOT. The veggies themselves were spicy, and the sauce was too – next time I’ll probably go for the mild sauce option.

And then we got fro-yo and talked at my house. 

Saturday we started with a Bikram yoga class. Last time Jess visited we did Bikram and she hated it, but some major change of heart came over her in the past year, and this time she actually enjoyed it. For the rest of the day we shopped in Georgetown, then did some cooking of our own (recipe tomorrow). 

We met up with one of my friends-from-home-since-birth who was also visiting DC for the weekend for a late dinner at La Tasca. How’s this for a small world moment – four people at this dinner were Petalumans! Who knew so many of us made it to DC?

Anyway, now let’s get to the important part. Sunday morning all-you-can-eat/order brunch at Masa 14 was the anticipated focal point of our weekend. (I've been once before - read about it here.

We worked out beforehand to ensure maximum hunger, then headed to the restaurant to arrive when it opened at 11 am. There was a moment of panic-face anxiety when they told us they didn’t have any tables, even though I could see many many empty tables! Unbeknownst to me, they do take reservations, but they’re booked months in advance. And they don’t have a wait list for tables of people who have canceled. (Yes, agreed, this makes absolutely no sense and is incredibly inefficient.) 

But Jess worked her magic and within 10 minutes we were sitting at a table: Jess, myself, SpeedyKate, and Jess’ friend Matt. 

Then the ordering commenced. Over the course of 3 hours, we ordered (and consumed) 22 small plates (read the menu here, we ordered almost everything). Considering that Matt left over an hour before the rest of us, this is a lot of small plates. By the end our waiter gave us a nod in admiration – You know girls, I have to say I’m impressed. 

Go here for a great photo slideshow. Above you see the Wild Mushroom Flatbread, Pain Dulce, Masa Chicken Salad, and Chilaquiles,

We rolled ourselves home and spent the rest of the afternoon lying around, watching the Golden Globes, and talking non-stop (of course). 

Sadly, Jess left Monday morning, but I'm looking to when I should visit her in Boston this spring...

Hope you had a great weekend and Happy Martin Luther King Day!