Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!/Goodbye California I will miss you!

I can't believe it's over. Winter break I mean. And actually, 2013 too!

A lot happened this year -- I ran my first marathon (remember the marathon!?!?), quit my job, traveled for two months in Nepal and Southeast Asia, moved to Boston, and started grad school! Overall I'd say it's been a pretty solid year of many many things. What's up for 2014? Who knows, I'm psyched, let's find out!

So now I'm about to leave warm and sunny California behind and head back to Boston for a pre-session course that starts the 2nd. Ugh I know, I did this to me.

It's so unseasonably warm here, my tree is incredibly confused.
But to prepare for my future of all-school-all-the-time, I spent my last two days of vacation doing lovely California things. On Sunday I met up with a couple Fletcher friends to tour vineyards around Sonoma. And on Monday, for my final warm-weather run this winter, my dad and I went to the lakes at Mt. Tam for a 10-miler around Bon Tempe and Lagunitas.

And I finished it all off with some quality time with my favorite little man who is absolutely hilarious, spends all his (waking) time frantically running around and wiggling like a crazy person, loves dancing to dirty dirty rap music, and will probably soon be really talking!

Like I said, it has been quite the year. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU!!!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cake of the Week: Greek Yogurt "Cheesecake" with Honey-Walnut Baklava Topping

Anyone else feel like they ate everything this Christmas? Oh I have no regrets. I'm just saying that after a steady diet of Christmas Crack and Christmas cookies and cheese and crackers and delicious mama-made meals, I could/should spend some serious time with fruits, veggies, and healthier desserts. (Note that I say healthier desserts, not no desserts. Who do you think I am? No desserts is crazy talk.)

What is not crazy talk? Greek Yogurt Cheesecake.

This is a healthy dessert for reals -- nonfat Greek yogurt, eggs, and a little sugar -- that is all! And it is insanely easy to make. And it's actually really smooth and creamy and delicious. Really I am blown away by how good this is. 

I made this for a Greek-themed dinner party back in the fall. Greek desserts are too hard for me on a weeknight (or ever -- I'll leave baklava to the pros), but I wanted to make something relevant to the theme. So I searched around for a dessert involving Greek yogurt, and then made up a honey walnut baklava-esque topping to go with it. 

I made the Graham cracker crust no problem, and slid the cake into the oven, praying to the baking gods that it did not deteriorate into a watery mess burning on the bottom (always a risk when trying something new). Well my prayers were answered because it came out looking a-ok and I was elated!

And I'm happy to report that it tastes good too. Definitely nowhere near as rich and creamy as a regular cheesecake, but it also doesn't give you that stomach-achy oh-jeez-I-ate-too-much feeling after a slice. I will definitely be making this again and trying out different toppings.

Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Honey-Walnut "Baklava" Topping

Ingredients (cake):
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed Graham cracker/crumbs
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups plain or vanilla Greek yogurt (I used non-fat.)
Ingredients (topping):
  • 1 cup honey (I used wildflower honey and it was amazing)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly combine Graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and melted butter. Press into the bottom and a little up the sides of a 9" springform pan and bake for 10 minutes. 
  3. Beat together eggs, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla, and flour. Gently whisk in the Greek yogurt.
  4. Pour into hot crust and bake for 45-50 minutes or until barely set in center (just a little jiggly when you shake it). 
  5. Cool cake to room temperature on wire rack, then refrigerate at least an hour (or overnight) before serving. 
  6. For the topping: 30 minutes before serving, combine all topping ingredients in a small saucepan on the stove. Simmer until thickened, approximately 15 minutes. Spoon over each piece of cake before serving. 
Enjoy and feel good about yourself!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Me, Amy, and the rest of the family here in California!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tough Love and Skiing

A couple days ago, I swished into the lift line, bent to unbuckle my boots, and looked up to see a weathered and familiar face. Dirk? Hi!!! Do you remember me??? It was my coach from elementary school and junior high -- one of the most influential coaches in my life, and one I haven't seen in probably 12 years.

I'll rewind to give you some context: my mama and I are up in Tahoe for the week, skiing with an intensity only the two of us can conjure. (For reals -- 70 runs in two days. Yes we count.)

The first day on snow is always a little bit dicey. It's like dusting off the cob-webs that connect my brain to my hips, knees, and ankles and reminding them how to coordinate a smooth turn. Like riding a bike, it comes back. But unlike riding a bike, skiing takes significantly more focus to bring it back. Back in the day (i.e. high school), my first day on snow was usually in November and only after an intense couple weeks of drills and training did I feel good in my boots and really ready to race. I don't race any more, so now about five runs suffice to re-instill my confidence in my edges and trust in my skis and faith in my own ability to save myself if things go wrong.

View of Lake Tahoe from Mt. Rose.
So anyway, I was at that point, feeling pretty good towards the end of our first day, when we ran into Dirk.

When Sister1 and I joined the Northstar Ski Team in 1994/95 (I was in 3rd grade, she was in 5th, and Sister2 was child-care-aged), we were terrified of Dirk. Everyone was terrified of Dirk. He was intense, and mean, and scary, with a low gruff voice and a death stare that could literally make people cry, and coached the competitive "big kids" (which at that point meant 4th-7th graders). By the next year I was shyly trailing at the back of his pack, just hoping to keep up, keep improving, and earn his respect. 

He was an ex-Marine and ran his team like a drill sergeant. (This all sounds a lot harsher, thinking back on this now...we were 9 to 12-year-olds!) 
  • Skiing in a snow storm: You're cold? You want hot cocoa? Stop whining and give me 50 hop-turns, that'll warm you up! 
  • Learning to pole plant: I want you to imagine a bunch of little bunnies running alongside you when you're skiing. Now every time you initiate a turn, I want you to STAB THE BUNNY! And the next turn, there's another bunny on the other side -- STAB THE BUNNY, COME ON STAB IT!
  • Sitting on the chair: Get'em up! Come on lift your skis up straight and hold them like that. Quads burning, he would then use his poles to push on our skis, creating resistance for "extra fun." 
  • When one of the boys sassed him: Oh shut up and stop being so ugly and stupid. 
  • In the team locker room: Stop horsing around. Give me 20 push-ups. Oh come on, those were sissy push-ups, give me 20 more. Now who wants to arm wrestle? 
  • At the end of the season: I want you to go home and start working now. And work hard all summer, so that next season at the first race, you can stand in the starting gate and look around and say, Hey, you know what? I've worked harder than everyone else and I know that I am the strongest, toughest, fastest kid on this mountain. 
So clearly Dirk was tough. But he loved us. And we loved him. I remember epic powder days that ended in even more epic snowball fights, five kids tackling Dirk and him somehow prevailing and stuffing all our coats with snow. This classic quote, repeated almost daily: Put on some sunscreen, you don't want to look like an old catcher's mitt by the time you're 30. Or playing Tag down the mountain -- one ski, no poles, trying to catch Dirk dodging at high speeds through the trees (for reals, it is a miracle I survived my childhood). And all the time he spent -- literally 9am-4pm -- carefully teaching us the technique and tactics we needed to be ski racers.

Like many a CA December, not a whole lot of snow here right now...
When a coach like that praises you (Well well well, looks like you might be starting to ski like someone who might maybe get good at this someday!) it is like the best thing ever. And as an athlete, you learn to see criticism as praise, because if you're worth criticizing, then you know that your coach thinks you have the potential to improve. I don't know if he planned it this way, but it was all about teaching us work ethic and high expectations. Coaches like this expect a lot because they know you can give a lot -- they think more of you than you think of you, which ultimately results in you expecting more of yourself. And even though I am no longer a ski racer, the attitude Dirk taught, and the self-competitiveness he instilled, has stuck with me. 

I read an article recently bemoaning how young people these days can't handle criticism -- that the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality means that everyone loses. This has not been my experience at all. Dirk was not the first tough-love teacher I had (oh flash-backs to Ms. Zora in ballet!), nor was he the last, but running (/skiing) into him the other day made me realize what a huge influence spending four ski seasons with him had on my life. 

We rode the chair with him and his son, briefly caught up on things (26, grad school, sisters are good, etc.), then skied away. 
Mama: We're on a program -- this is run #39. 
Dirk: Nice! 
Just one word, but clearly he approved. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Literary Bite: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Tikers by Paul Harding is a Pulitzer Prize-winner, and one of those books that you've probably seen around. I don't regret reading it (it took less than a day), but I can't say I particularly enjoyed it. The actual story parts I liked, but overall it's mostly artistic nonsense -- prose-y, as my mama says.

Tinkers is, loosely, the story of three generations, fathers and sons, taking place mostly in the wilderness of Maine, and mostly inside the characters' heads. There's an underlying theme of clocks -- time ticking away, people as clocks, gears out of place, clocks wound too tight -- embodied in the insanity, epilepsy, and impending death of the three men (a preacher, a tinker, and a clock-repairer). The story itself is not chronological, and jumps from character to character, so you have to pay attention!
Framed partly as a deathbed vigil for George Washington Crosby, a clock repairer, the book wanders through time and consciousness, describing in fine-grain detail its rural Maine setting and the epileptic fits of George’s father, Howard, an old-time tinker who traveled the countryside by wagon. (NYT)
I had the sense that I was reading something beautiful, but beyond my grasp. Like getting glimpses of someone else's dreams and hearing descriptions of things I couldn't possibly see. There were times when after reading a few pages I had no idea what was going on, but then after skimming back, I realized that was because there really wasn't anything going on.

I'd be interested to meet the author, just to interact with the kind of mind that produces writing like this. Does he just like the way some sentences sound? Or is there a deliberate purpose to every part, and I'm just not smart enough to get it?

It's quite popular...Tinkers made NPR’s best debut fiction, The New Yorker magazine’s list of reviewers’ favorites in 2009, and is an indie bookshop "darling" -- aka this is a book I should like. But I didn't. I only finished it because I was comfortable on the couch and it was too short to quit. I'd be interested to hear what other people liked about it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cake of the Week: Tex-Mex Chocolate Cake

Once upon a Wednesday, not too long ago, RoommateRachel and I decided to engineer an escape from the cold winter weather and fix a fiesta! Yes, we're about five months from Cinco de Mayo, but in my life Mexican food is always welcome. And Tex-Mex? Oh hello tacos and fajitas and chimichangas and most things Americans think of when they think Mexican food, yes please!

Dinner consisted of fajita filling-stuffed quesadillas on habanero-lime tortillas, black bean salad, and homemade salsa and guacamole of course. And how to end such a feast? With a Tex-Mexican Chocolate Cake!

You may be familiar with the Texas Sheet Cake -- a buttermilk-based culinary concoction the size of Texas (that's an exaggeration, but it is traditionally baked in an 18x13" jellyroll pan). Or perhaps you've made the acquaintance of one of the many chili powder-spiced Mexican chocolate desserts out there?

Well after a dinner of Tex-Mex, I saw only one possible course of action: unite the vastness of Texas with the heat of Mexico. Everyone wins! The frosting is to die for, the cake is moist and spring-y (not crumbly), and the chili powder gives a hint of something extra-special. Well. Let's just say that a group of 10 consumed this whole cake no problemo.

Recipe Notes: 

  • I don't have a jellyroll pan, so my cake was made in a 9x13" brownie pan. It worked fine, but it took a bit longer to cook.
  • This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of chili powder. My chili powder, I'm sorry to say, does not have much kick, so my cake only hinted at an aftertaste of chili. If your chili powder is better/fresher than mine (it probably is), then maybe lay off the chili a bit...or expect a spicier cake! 

Tex-Mex Chocolate Cake

Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray an 18x13 sheet cake pan, or a 9x13 pan. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, chili powder, and salt.
  3. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Once the butter is melted, whisk in cocoa powder. Add boiling water and turn up the heat to medium. Allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds and immediately turn off the heat. Pour the cocoa/butter mixture over flour mixture, and stir.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into chocolate/flour mixture. 
  5. Pour into prepared pan. If using an 18x13 pan, bake for 20 minutes; if using a 9x13 pan, bake for about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. 
  6. When you take the cake out of the oven, make the frosting: In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Whisk in cocoa powder until thoroughly combined. Add milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar whisking until all ingredients are fully incorporated. 
  7. Pour over warm cake using a spatula to spread the frosting all over the cake. If your cake is particularly dome-y, then slowly pour the frosting in the middle of the cake and let it run towards the outsides. 
  8. Let cool completely before serving at room temperature. Enjoy!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Literary Bite: Winter Break (Fun) Reading List

Well hello friends! I greet you from the wonderful world of Winter Break, a truly magical three weeks of relaxation during which I anticipate doing not a whole lot and loving every minute of it.

After finishing my exam last Thursday, I wandered around Davis Square, slightly dazed and definitely brain-dead. I meandered my way into a bookstore (I swear there's some sort of magnetic field around bookstores), and was immediately overwhelmed. I wanted to read this one and that one and that one and that one -- basically, starved for fiction, I wanted them all. And then it dawned on me, like a marathoner at a breakfast buffet: I'm a student, school is over (for now); therefore, I can have them all! I smiled to myself (or maybe visibly, like a crazy person/student who just finished exams...same same, right?), anticipating the fiction binge upon which I was about to embark.

And here I am four days later: cuddled on our couch in Tahoe, sipping chai in front of the fire, appreciating the pretty little tree we decorated today, and already almost done with my first book (Atlas of the Unknowns).

It's a short one, just 320 pages to ease me back into the joys of fun reading, and prepare me for the deep depths of the reading rabbit hole I plan to inhabit this vacation. (Ok, pause for full disclosure: I have been reading fun books while in school, they just take me four times longer than normal because so much of my brain-space is occupied by more serious academic endeavors.)

Before leaving Petaluma, my mama stacked a smorgasbord of books for me to sample. I have exactly 17 days until school starts again.

Winter Break Reading List

  • Atlas of the Unknowns -- Tania James
  • Excellent Women -- Barbara Bym
  • East of Eden -- John Steinbeck
  • The Art Forger -- B.A. Shapiro
  • How it All Began -- Penelope Lively
  • A Sense of an Ending -- Julian Barnes
  • tinkers -- Paul Herring
  • Lunch in Paris -- Elizabeth Bard

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations of other books that should make it onto my list?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Best of the Week #115

Dear First Semester of Grad School,


Oh that’s right! I dropped off the face of the (internet) earth just before Thanksgiving, and now, one gargantuan project, one paper, and that damn exam later, I’m finally resurfacing. I currently feel some combination of relieved and overwhelmed -- I have learned all the things, analyzed many things, written a few looong things, and presented a thing. I cannot believe how much happened in just one semester! And how much more I know! And how many new things I can do! And now my brain is tired.

But for reals, this is how I felt as I finished my Role of Force 3-hour comprehensive exam exactly one hour ago:

(And clearly I mean "swagger" in a functions of force sense...)

If all goes according to plan, I will soon be sleeping in Sister 2’s apartment in Mill Valley, CA, looking forward to three whole weeks of no required work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been having a lot of fun along with the schoolz. As far as I can tell, grad school is about working crazy hard with crazy smart people, and then going to/hosting house parties. I am a fan.

But I am also a fan of pure 100% vacation. So to kick this one off right, here is your Best of the Week/month. I have been compiling this list for a while, so get psyched!

On a serious (-ly awesome) note:
“There is no passion to be found in playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” -- Nelson Mandela

I want to marry this guy. For reals. BEST of the week. (You can read the poem here.)

Two parts hilarious, one part horrifying. "This Smart Bra Will Stop You From Eating Your Feelings. Ladies, Rejoice!"
  • According to the BBC, the blueprint “contains removable sensors that monitor heart and skin activity to provide an indication of mood.” The bra takes your EKG and feeds it to an app on your phone, which then counsels you to avoid the refrigerator, because you’re stressed, or to go ahead and cross the kitchen threshold. (You’re calm! You can handle it.) 
  • On the other hand, sometimes you think you know what you’re feeling but you really just need your bra to brasplain it to you, otherwise you will eat all the things.
I want to go to here so bad. So bad. Baikal Lake, Siberia, that is.

Satellites are just so freaking cool. “I'm Not Just Gaming, Ma! I'm Helping The World's Farmers
  • Here's how it works: Go to the site, and you see a satellite image with the question, "Is there any cropland in this red box?" 
  • "We know, for example, in Africa, there are huge yield gaps. This means you could produce much more food in certain places in Africa, but we don't even know where exactly the cropland is," Geo-Wiki's project lead, Steffen Fritz, tells The Salt. "So because we don't know where the cropland is, we don't know where the best investments could be made in terms of increasing production. So the first step is a very good cropland map."

For Sister2: "Amazing Goats Climb a Near Vertical Dam."

"5 Maps That Could Help Solve Some of the World’s Most Daunting Problems"
Incredible maps on slum infrastructure in Kibera, financial services in Nigeria, and disaster planning in Jakarta's Flood Zone, to name a few.
  • Enter Spatial Collective and Map Kibera. These two organizations, a company and a nonprofit, are mapping a Kenyan mega-slum called Kibera—the name is derived from a word meaning “jungle”—according to how its 200,000 inhabitants actually navigate it. The maps started with crowdsourced landmarks important to locals: water taps, schools, pharmacies. Residents with Internet access were invited to add to an open source map; others contributed data by SMS or attended community workshops, where they wrote on giant empty maps.
  • Spatial Collective overlays these community-generated maps with official data. One project tacked on sewer-line data (depicted here) from Nairobi City Water to find the most valuable spots to build new public toilets. Another mapped community-reported crime data to help the World Bank understand where to place safety interventions like lamps. These kinds of projects make Kibera more legible to its inhabitants and to outsiders.

I am very confused by the fact that this exists...but happy it does. "Russian Army Choir performs "Get Lucky"" Seriously, this is a must-watch.

How are climbing holds made? Well now let me tell you!

  • Chances are, if you’ve elected to read this article, you’re a rock climber. Another assumption is that you have most likely climbed at a climbing gym or at least have an understanding of what a climbing gym is. These facilities come in all shapes, sizes and are made up of a variety of materials such as fiberglass, plywood, concrete and plastic, to name a few. While every gym may look different, there is one thing that nearly all climbing gyms have in common; they all use climbing holds.
  • In recent years climbing has become one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. In 2013, climbing had a 25% increase in new participation with 1.6% of the entire population taking part in Sport Climbing, Bouldering or Indoor rock climbing.
  • I caught up with Peter Juhl, shaper and owner of Brooklyn-based, hold company Urban Plastix, to talk to him about how his company and where he sees the future of the climbing hold industry heading. 
I know this is old news, but I love this version of "Royals." "Florida State University AcaBelles Rock Lorde's 'Royals' A Cappella."

For those of you still in school: "Finals Week, as Told by Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis." My personal fave:

"The best examples of street art in 2012 (48 pictures)"

"What Eating Can Tell You About The People Around You"
  • 2. If Someone Tries Something They're Afraid To Eat...They'll also try things they're afraid of in life. Like ballroom dancing, sky-diving, learning a foreign language and speaking in public. These people are fun. Eat with them.
  • 5. If Someone Chews With Their Mouth Open...... They think they are above you and that the rules don't apply to them. (No seriously, this one is science.)
"English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet"
  • Linguists are calling it the "prepositional-because." Or the "because-noun."
  • You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I'm late because YouTube. You're reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: "'Because' has become a preposition, because grammar." 
This is so cool. I mean really, SO COOL. It's a dynamic map of Africa, showing ALL OF THE DATA on fatalities, heat-map style. Below is a screenshot, if you go to the site you can hover over each incident and see details. (#NerdAlert.) The main site is here -- well worth exploring.

This is exactly how I feel about meetings. "Paul Graham Explains Why Meetings Thwart the Flow of Creativity."

This is amazing. Particularly relevant since I spend a significant amount of my morning writing every single thing I have ever known about nuclear doctrine. "Time lapse map of every nuclear explosion ever."
  • Each nation gets a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the top and bottom bars of the screen. Hashimoto, who began the project in 2003, says that he created it with the goal of showing”the fear and folly of nuclear weapons.” It starts really slow — if you want to see real action, skip ahead to 1962 or so — but the buildup becomes overwhelming.

On a much less serious note, this corgi knows exactly how I feel about being done with school!

To all my Fletcher friends (an any/all other students out there), GOOD LUCK WITH FINALS YOU ARE CHAMPIONS!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm Running Again!

Guys! I’m running again! Woohoooo! Just in time for freezing wind and single-digit temps (anti-woohooo!). No but really, I don’t care if it’s negative a million – I am fully functional and able to put one foot in front of the other, so life is pretty freaking good again. Finally.

Don't be deceived by this sun-shiny day. It is 7 degrees with wind-chill.

I’m taking things slowly slowly – just three miles at a time for now, plus plenty of continued strengthening and stretching exercises.

What was my most recent “problem”? Ugh it barely even matters anymore – basically I started running again (pretty hard) back in August after months off (traveling), while at the same time starting school and sitting allllll day long. Result? Super-tight piriformis problems, which led to hip flexor problems, which led to minor low back problems, which, exacerbated by a soccer game, led to major low back problems, which led to nerve damage (I couldn’t feel the outside of my left foot). I know guys, I know. My life is a saga.

Moral of the story: when you start running again after a while off, do these Hip Flexor and Piriformis Stretching and Strengthening things every day. EVERY DAY.

And these Strengthening and Activating Your Glutes things every day. TWICE A DAY.

That's what I've been doing. And along with weekly incredibly painful massage (literally -- imagine a large PT leaning all his weight onto his elbow, digging into your piriformis), and yoga, it worked!

Like I said, I've been running just a little bit at a time. So I don't have any super-exciting routes to share with you -- just this lovely 3-mile out-and-back on the Minuteman Bike Path. (At this point, any and all running is lovely to me, even though it's difficult and awkward and freezing outside.) The nice thing about being in school is that I can capitalize on light and mid-day relative warmth and do this run in the middle of the day. 

Route details here.
Not running at all this first grad school semester has been interesting, and not an experience I would like to repeat. I don't NEED running -- this semester shows that I can cope with all the stress (intellectually, socially, and physically) a-ok without it. But everything is just so much better with running!

I'll end with wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving! There are just so many things to be grateful for!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksfriendzing!

Thanksfriendzing is upon us! That wonderful pre-Thanksgiving holiday where friends hang out, eat delicious food, and get warmed up for the big day. RoommateRachel and I hosted our own Thanksfriendzing yesterday, and I'm happy to report that it was a HUGE success. 

As this was a Fletcher Thanksfriendzing, we asked our friends to bring dishes from their home countries to share. Result? The traditional Thanksfriendzing dinner plus palak paneer and naan plus Japanese barbecue plus rugulah plus edamame plus so many more delicious things! For serious, people brought their A-game hard -- American traditionals included cornbread, cornbread cranberry stuffing, bacon/Gorgonzola/almond Brussels sprouts, macaroni and cheese, roasted squash, eggnog, and mashed potatoes of course! 

I made Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with cream cheese frosting filling, Rosemary Sweet Potato Gratin (this recipe but with Parmesan instead of Asiago cheese), homemade cranberry sauce, and string beans with caramelized onions. 

RoommateRachel made a delicious and BIG turkey (expertly carved by Michael), bruschetta, and lemon meringue and apple pies. 

We ended the night going around and saying what we are thankful for -- SO MANY THINGS. It's been a pretty epic year, both for for me and most of my new friends. What a perfect way to start the holiday season!

Things other than Thanksfriendzing happened this weekend too, but they were mostly homework related so that is womp womp boooooring to everyone but me (and sometimes boring to me too...). Countdown: I go home for Christmas break in exactly 17 days. Yay! But also oooooh man, standing between me and Christmas are finals. Sheesh

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cake of the Week: Pound Cake with Apple Compote, Homemade CaramelSauce, and Candied Pecans

Eating this cake is like getting bear-hugged by autumn and the holidays. It's warm and buttery and spicy and apple-y and just a little bit crunchy. It looks beautiful and tastes even better -- the best thing I've made (and eaten) in a while. I may or may not have received marriage proposals upon serving. For serious.

This cake came about by brainstorming the perfect birthday confection for a certain roommate of mine. She loves caramel. And pound cake. And anything with apples. WELL THEN. I mulled over the options, considered what I had to work with, waved my magic wand, with and came to this conclusion: Pound Cake with Apple Compote, Homemade Caramel Sauce, and Candied Pecans.

Shockingly, I don't think that I have ever made a true pound cake before. You know, the pound-o-butter, pound-o-flour, pound-o-sugar kind? Yeah, well that is exactly what this is and I'm not even a little bit sorry. It's so simple. And ooooh man so good!

There are a lot of components going on here, but 1) it's worth it; and 2) none of them are very difficult to make at all. I am sharing this recipe with you now because there is a certain day coming up on which you might want to make an insanely delicious dessert...cough cough Thanksgiving cough cough...

I made the cake and candied the pecans in the afternoon, then prepped the apples (peeling and slicing). If you're serving this with dinner, I suggest starting the apples simmering about 10 minutes before you sit down to dinner, then turning the heat off and letting them continue to cook covered in the pot until you're ready to serve. (If you want to just cook and serve, the apples should take about 20 minutes.) Make the caramel sauce right before serving (it takes less than 10 minutes), so you can pour it over the cake hot and delicious.

Pound Cake with Apple Compote, Homemade Caramel Sauce, and Candied Pecans

Candied Pecans (can be made days in advance)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Pound Cake
  • 1 pound (2 cups) sugar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pound (9 large) eggs
  • 1 pound (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Optional glaze: 3/4 cup powdered sugar + 2 tablespoons milk + a splash of real maple syrup
Apple Compote
  • 4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoons cloves
Caramel Sauce
  • 1 packed cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Candied Pecans: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sugar and toss pecans in the mixture until evenly coated and toasted (about 1 minute -- be careful not to burn the pecans). Turn onto waxed paper and let them cook completely.
  2. Pound Cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. 
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until well creamed and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and salt, beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until well blended.
  4. Spread the batter evenly in the pan (it will be thick). Bake about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack and let it cool.
  5. Optional glaze: If you want things to look extra-pretty, mix glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Add a bit more milk or sugar as necessary to get a good drizzle-able thickness. Spoon over cooled cake. 
  6. Apple Compote: In a medium-sized saucepan, combine all ingredients. Turn the stove on to medium heat, cover, and let the apples cook (stirring rarely) for about 20 minutes, or until the apples are like apple pie filling.
  7. Caramel Sauce: Mix the brown sugar, cream, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes to thicken. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold.
  8. To serve: Scoop apples over slices of cake, sprinkle with pecans, and top with a lot of caramel sauce. 
  9. Swoon. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cake of the Week: Lemon Orange Bars

Full disclosure friends: I frequently forget things. Like the time of my flight to DC last weekend. Like the chapter I was supposed to read for class this morning. Like the person I already told that story to. Like the necessity for lemons when I plan on making lemon bars...

I recently found myself in such a dilemma with three options: 1) Go to the store; 2) Make something else; 3) Make it work!

Luckily my forgetfulness is somewhat offset by my baking creativity. I may not have had enough lemons, but I did have orange juice! Same same, right?

Turns out that in the case of these bars, it is. They are made with the zest and juice of just one lemon, plus orange juice. And if I didn't tell you, you wouldn't know it!

I used the same shortbread crust recipe from my apple cheesecake bars because it is The Best.

If you wanted to highlight the orange flavor, you could use a fresh orange and grate the zest into the mix as well. This of course necessitates having a fresh orange on hand...the likelihood of that happening is between you and your own kitchen. 

Lemon Orange Bars

  • 3/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/8 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter -- ( 3/4 sticks) at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing pan

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest from one lemon 
  • 1 lemon's juice + orange juice = 1/2 cup of liquid (i.e. pour lemon juice into a half cup measure, then fill it the rest of the way with orange juice)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  • Directions:
  1. Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-9-inch baking dish.
  2. If you have a food processor: Pulse flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. 
  3. If you're doing it by hand: Mix flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze butter and grate it on large holes of box grater into flour mixture. Toss butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.
  4. Sprinkle mixture into pan and press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/4 inch up sides. 
  5. Bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Filling: whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon and orange juice, and flour. Pour over the hot crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. 
  7. Let cool to room temperature and slice into squares.