Monthly Archives: May 2012

This post brought to you by the 90’s

The 90’s have been rocking my world lately. Friends is now on Nick at Nite. Seriously?! The shows on Nick at Nite when I was a kid were The Facts of Life and The Brady Bunch. You’re telling me something from my recent childhood is now eligible for Nick at Nite status? Stop it.

Then I think later that night I found myself watching Rugrats, which I have not watched in years. It was amazing catching stuff that I definitely didn’t get when I was younger. I also remembered a LOT of the episode. Really, brain? You couldn’t do better than a C in Calculus, but you manage to retain specific details of a cartoon? Helpful you are.

And I spent most of my afternoon re-reading the Amelia’s Notebook series of books- did anyone else read those when they were little? It was a series published by American Girl. Pretty well-written and interesting for children’s books, I’d say.

Now I’m playing 90’s pop on Pandora. Let’s be real: I was barely 8 when the 90’s ended. I shouldn’t be able to remember all this music, but I totally do, and it is awesome.

Enough of that. Time for baking!

I put together a batch of peanut butter and honey thumbprint cookies. These cookies were surprisingly labor-intensive and more time-consuming than I thought they would be. But I’m happy with the result, and I hope the recipient will be too!

Cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla together. Mix in egg yolks. Add flour. The usual. Here’s where it gets a little messy.

Take egg whites (the other half of those yolks, remember?) and beat them lightly. Roll the dough into balls, dip in the egg whites, and coat with finely chopped peanuts. Press your thumb in the middle of the balls (hence thumbprints), and bake at 375 for 12 minutes.

This is about what they look like when they come out:

Golden, nutty, dented cookies.

I got about 2 dozen cookies from the recipe, including some very large ones. You could probably stretch it to 3 dozen more reasonably-sized cookies.

While those cookies are cooling, mix up creamy peanut butter with honey until sweetened but still thick. Place the peanut butter in a pastry bag if you’re fancy and have those things, or be like me and put it in a freezer bag, make a mess trying to get the spoon and your hand out, and cut a corner of the bag off.

Like this!

Attempt to fill each cookie with an equal amount of filling. It’s probably easier to make it pretty with a pastry bag and a tip, but the freezer bag works just fine if you’re not a perfectionist.

Finished product!

Continued adventures in food styling.

Things I would have done differently: Shaped the filling holes better. Cut a smaller hole in the freezer bag for more precision. Overall, it’s a tasty cookie, not super-sweet, but very nutty and filling. You can find the recipe at Lorie’s Mississippi Kitchen.

The weather has turned cool after a brief heat wave, and rain is coming our way, so expect a few more posts at the end of the week as I finish a rather hefty list of baking projects. On the list: cinnamon sugar biscotti, red velvet crinkles, and strawberry clafoutis.

I spent some time last night talking to an acquaintance of my mother who is from Chile. Just in an hour’s conversation she told me a couple of things that I hadn’t learned already: like, it’s custom to wear shoes in the house; you should carry just the money you need when you go out, not your whole wallet; and some places have different prices depending on your nationality (i.e., they want you to pay in American dollars if you’re an American). I’m hoping to meet with her next week to  learn more and practice my Spanish.

Still haven’t decided on a flight to Miami yet. Still need to get my typhoid vaccine. Still need to get a backpack, hiking boots, Under Armor…everything really. On the plus side, the consulate received my visa application! Here’s hoping it’s not missing anything and they can get it to me in a couple of weeks.

Random thoughts: You should think out how a baked good will ship before you make it.

Soul music and classic rock are the best. That’s really my music. I may have been born in the wrong era.

I can’t resist Forrest Gump when it’s on TV. Ever. Nor can I resist popcorn when it’s in front of my face.

Not running for three days and then running in 90 degree weather is hard. Actually, it sucks.

Cold salmon on crackers may just be the best lunch known to man.

What is the line between being culturally sensitive and oversensitive? I thought about this today as I was putting together books that my family is sending to a library in our family’s (as in, my grandfather’s) village in the Philippines. Like, books about snakes? Okay. The children’s version of South Pacific? Maybe not so much…

Back to blog-related stuff: thank you for your comments and views! I had 31 views the day my last post was published, and less than half of those were from Facebook and Twitter. (Two were from France!) So whoever is reading this, however you’re getting here: thanks for stopping by! Please, please comment! I have no idea if that drives traffic to this blog, but the day I had 31 views, I got 4 comments. So just let me know you’ve been here!

That’s all I’ve got for now, guys! Comment away, and look out for more food coming at your face very soon.

With love,

Gaby

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Oof.

You ever have one of those days where you have basically no motivation to do anything? That’s been me for about three days now. How I’ve managed to get anything at all done, I have no idea. I’ll close my laptop and just lie there on my bed for like five whole minutes, staring at the ceiling. I have no lack of things to do. Apparently I just don’t want to do any of it at all. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to get out of this rut? It’s not like me.

Before I got slammed with the lethargy bug, I made cookies.

On the blog where I found them, they were entitled Double ‘Darth’ Chocolate Wookie Cookies, a Star Wars title that the recipients of the cookies loved. Originally they are a Pierre Hermé recipe entitled Korova Cookies. Apparently that’s French for chocolate chocolate chip cookies. Side note: Pierre Hermé is an important French baker. All of my food blogs love him.

Creaming butter and sugar together. One of my favorite parts of the cookie baking process.

What a glorious sight. Butter and sugar, like all cookie recipes begin. This is not a very complicated cookie recipe. Cream the butter and sugar, sift together your dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt), add slowly to the butter-sugar amazingness, and stop when just combined. Then stir in some chocolate chips.

The Pierre Hermé recipe calls for fleur de sel, Dutch processed cocoa, and bittersweet or fine dark chocolate. Like I have the money for fleur de sel. I used kosher salt, Nestlé unsweetened cocoa powder, and semisweet chocolate chips instead.

This is where it gets a little different from regular cookie recipes. After just mixing until combined, divide the dough in half, roll into logs, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour. Then cut into half-inch slices and bake at 325 for 12 minutes.

They were supposed to be chewy. They were not. They were slightly overdone (one of my biggest cookie pet peeves) and crunchy. The chocolate flavor was pretty good. They should taste a little salty, since that complements and brings out the chocolate flavors (truth: try a dark chocolate covered pretzel sometime). But texture is very important to me when it comes to cookies, and the texture was off. Not my best day, but they could have been a lot worse.

Things I do differently: Only bake one tray at a time. Try parchment paper as directed. Decrease the baking time by a minute. Not cool them on the cookie sheets as directed.

The finished product. I have cleverly hidden the burnt bottoms. And failed at food styling.

In other news, I have finally submitted my visa application  to the Chilean consulate and am anxiously awaiting confirmation that they have received it. In the meantime, I need to finish my vaccines, find a part-time source of employment for six weeks, get a plane ticket to Miami (from where we will depart for Santiago), and buy way too much stuff.

This is when motivation would be useful.

We’re almost done! I apologize for the ramblings of the last post. It was too long.

Random thoughts of the day: when your nails get so long that you have trouble texting, it’s time to clip them.

WebMD is a horrible place. ModCloth, on the other hand, is a beautiful one.

Is Pinterest worth it? I know that once I’m on, there’s no turning back.

Eat days- a term I believe I heard from Joy the Baker and Shutterbean, regarding a day where you eat everything in sight- tend to coincide with I’ll-do-anything-but-exercise days. Of course.

Before I sign off, I just want to thank all of you readers who have spent a little time with these first few posts. WordPress has a really neat stats feature that allows me to see how many views my blog is getting per day, what countries those views are coming from (apparently I had one from Germany!), and what sites are referring you to the blog (i.e., Facebook and Twitter). And apparently other people are indeed reading the blog! Surprisingly, very few viewers have come via links on Facebook and Twitter, which are currently the only sites on which I publicize my blog.

Please, if you have read any of these posts, comment. It only takes a second, and all you need to say is, “Hi Gaby! I read it.” Or, preferably, “Hi Gaby! My name is so-and-so. I came here via blahblahblah. I liked this: (positivity). I didn’t like this: (advice).” And so on. Whatever floats your boat, just please say hello and let me know you are indeed out there!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! I hope you have beautiful summery weather and fun parties to enjoy. Please remember our armed forces, veterans, and victims of war in your thoughts and prayers.

With love,

Gaby

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Is it too early to find a life metaphor in a cheesecake?

Seriously, guys. That’s what was going through my mind as I was planning this blog entry today.

I made a Rocky Road cheesecake. And I was going to try to connect life to cheesecake and have this nice segue and stuff. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to make it happen. But more on that later. You want your cheesecake, right?

Most of you reading this are friends with me on Facebook, and so chances are you’ve already seen a picture of this baby, unless you’ve found my baking pictures too obnoxious and have finally blocked me from your news feed.

If so, I’m amazed that you’re even reading this.

This cheesecake, taken from the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cheesecake cookbook, starts by busting up some “chocolate wafer cookies” (Oreos. They mean Oreos. Or generic double-stuf cookies which are just as good as the name brand and on sale.) in a food processor, melting butter, letting it cool, and putting the two together until it binds up. Then press it into the bottom of a springform pan, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. That’s your crust.

Don’t have a food processor? No worries. Put those cheap cookies in a ziploc bag and bash them up with a rolling pin. Try to use a rolling pin. I’ve tried to bash up other ingredients with other tools (namely, a votive candle), and it’s not as effective. Don’t have a springform pan? Not sure what to tell you there. It’s pretty crucial for the formation of the cheesecake. Although maybe a pie pan would work, if you’re not picky about it being cheesecake-shaped. We can talk about food aesthetics another time.

Then you mix together your softened cream cheese, unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla…and I can’t remember what else. That might be it. Hint: when they say softened, they mean softened cream cheese. Leave it out for at least a couple of hours to make it soft enough to mix easily with an electric mixer. Another hint: don’t break your electric mixer. I did that with this recipe. I’d been using beaters that I don’t think were made for the mixer, and I shoved one in too hard, and I basically broke the spinny (that’s the technical term) mechanism. So when I tried mixing the very thick ingredients together, it started making these scary grinding, screaming noises, and plastic began to fall out of the mixer. Figuring it was a goner, I set it aside and tried creaming everything together with this spatula I have that looks like a shoehorn (that’s actually what I thought it was until I started baking). That didn’t work either since the cream cheese wasn’t that soft, and I was throwing cocoa powder all over the place.

So what was I left to do but mix it all together with my hands?

Literally mixing by hand. Look at those chocolatey cream cheese monster fingers!

Then you need to dissolve a packet of gelatin in a little water. This will take longer than you think, but that’s okay since you need to wait for the generic cookie crust to cool completely. Then you also need to let the gelatin cool, but that’s fine too since you have to whip up a cup of whipping cream to stiff peaks.

That’s when you realize that breaking your mixer was dumb. That’s also when your dear friend, for whom you will whip whipping cream with a whisk if need be for her gosh darn cheesecake, mentions that only one beater is broken. So we then proceeded to whip up the cream, quite effectively, with one whisk attachment. By the time you get through these new challenges, trust me, both the crust and the gelatin have cooled, and you slowly add the gelatin to the cream cheese mixture, stirring until combined, and then fold in the whipped cream. Keep folding and digging down to the bottom of the bowl- it will turn a nice even chocolate color again, and won’t be marbled like it looks like to start.

Then you fold in mini marshmallows and chopped nuts, if you actually want your road to be rocky. Pour (really, spread) the filling over the crust, and make sure your springform pan is locked.

Cheesecake sitting in the pan, waiting to go into the fridge. Look at the marshmallows hiding in there!

Get that filling into the pan before you realize how delicious it is on its own. Side note: I think that it would make a really delicious no-bake, cheesecake-esque dessert, like that addictive Oreo no-bake dessert we’ve all had at big family parties. If anyone finds anything or would like to experiment, let me know! Once you’ve stopped eating the filling, cover and refrigerate for a while until set. Go clean up the ridiculous mess you’ve made of your kitchen.

Ta-da!

La torta completa.

Yes indeed. Where are all the marshmallows, you ask?

Nom.

Oh, just well-incorporated throughout the cheesecake, below the surface. No big.

Things I would have done differently: let the cream cheese get even softer. Not break my electric mixer. Remember that whipping the whipping cream is important. Maybe use fewer marshmallows. Been more organized about the whole thing.

Oy. That was a lot for just one recipe, guys. I’m getting there, I promise.

Then I made a birthday cake! Just a simple yellow cake with “French silk” (aka glorified chocolate buttercream) frosting, straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. The cake came from a newer edition, the frosting from a seriously old-school publishing (you can tell by the appetizer recipes).

Cakes get more complicated when you have to mix them by hand. Because of course, my trip to Target post-mixer incident did not include buying a new mixer. So two days later, I found myself mixing cake batter with a whisk. For real. Realization: women before electric mixers must have had really strong forearms and wrists. Cake mixing is tiring for the uninitiated! But seriously, this cake was denser, richer, thicker, and more tender than the last cake I made with an electric mixer. I wonder if that had to do with it.

My cakes baked unevenly, as in, they were lopsided. But I evened that out since I turned the cakes out of their pans to cool a little too quickly, and they stuck to the plastic tray beneath them. Which resulted in this:

Lovely.

That was the bottom layer, though, so I simply filled it quite generously with frosting. The other layer had the same problem, but it was turned upside down on top of the filling anyways, so it didn’t matter.

Glorious chocolate-frosted goodness:

Best frosting job I’ve done yet. So you can imagine what the last one looked like…

And the inside shot:

Serving it up. Look inside. My oh my.

Yummy yummy yummy. Buttery, rich, dense cake. Sugary, chocolatey, satisfying frosting. Honestly, make your own frosting. Don’t buy the stuff in a can unless you have to. I’m no health freak (hence the cake…), but hydrogenated oils are fairly nasty. You won’t have them in frosting you make yourself! Is this healthy frosting? No, but at least feel better that you are eating sugar, butter, vanilla, and unsweetened chocolate. That’s it. Not partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and too much stuff you can’t pronounce or even identify.

Things I would do differently: let the cakes cool in their pans a little bit longer before turning out. Turn out onto a metal surface, not a plastic one. Probably have an electric mixer- although I did feel pretty awesome knowing I made all of that without electricity.

Now I return to that part where I actually almost suggested that a Rocky Road cheesecake was a metaphor for life. Eh, I’m not feeling that metaphor anymore. But here is what I do think: saying goodbye is hard. It’s…rocky.

I am so, so sorry.

I’m leaving to study abroad in just about 6 and a half weeks. A lot of my friends at school are studying abroad, too…during the opposite semester. So I’m not banking on seeing those folks until August of our senior year. Let the words “senior year” hit you. LIFE ALERT. (As in life coming at you really really fast, not like the necklace alarm things for the elderly they advertise on daytime television.) I won’t even see the people who will be back for the spring semester with me until January. The new year. When study abroad will be over. That’s a long ways away. Even most of my home friends are gone for the summer to do research or study abroad. I’ll be fairly settled in Chile by the time most of them return. That means no seeing them until at least December.

As you can imagine, this is an emotional time for me. Those of you know me (let’s be real. That’s all of you.) understand that this means crying. Lots and lots of blubbery tears. You thought it was bad saying goodbye to all of you? Wait until I say goodbye to the fam for six months. I’ve always been bad at goodbyes, too. Always. When I was little, but old enough to be beyond tantrums, I would bawl at the end of big extended family vacations, knowing that I wouldn’t see all of them for a while. Not much has changed. It’s less traumatizing, but still difficult.

So what is it? Some people seem to say goodbye to their friends and family so easily, accepting that six months abroad will fly by, and that the powers of technology let us stay as close as we want to our loved ones, and that the exciting adventures awaiting us will quickly dull the pain of homesickness. I know all of this. I’m not wholly irrational. What I also know, though, is that I am insecure, and insecure enough to be fearful of change. I don’t like that it will be different when I return, in the sense that my usual group of friends will be pretty well split up. I know I’ll have new friends, but that doesn’t make the absence of old ones any better.

I also don’t like that people themselves might change after we’ve all been gone for a long time. This too is an irrational fear, since people will most certainly change after having been abroad and done research and entered their twenties and been around new people. A lot of this change could be for good! But that insecure part of me worries that the change will really separate us, and that I’ll have to find a niche all over again.

This is just part of growing up, isn’t it? Man. So this is what being twenty is like, huh? 18 year olds get to relish in the thrill of being adults. 19 year olds are usually college freshmen. 21 year olds can legally party. 20 year olds? We’re stuck. We get to be sophomores. We get to think about how quickly we’ll get to the next birthday that ends in 0, and all the things we wish would happen in between.

Or is that just me?

Yeah, I thought so.

So here’s what’s coming up next: Cookies. Study abroad preparations. A lot of reading (currently: The Hunger Games, The Fountainhead, and Half the Sky). And more of this blogging business.

Please comment or contact me with feedback! I know this post was long, so I appreciate your sticking with it as I work this writing process out.

With love,

Gaby

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7 weeks and counting…

Well, hi there, everyone!

Welcome to my blog. I’ve decided that blogging, rather than emailing or incessant Facebook/Twitter posting (although let’s face it- that’s not stopping), would be a better way to keep everyone updated on my stories and such, particularly when I leave in July of this year (7 weeks!) to study abroad in Chile. So here it is! I also wanted to start it well before I left and while I had the time to go through all the set-up and work on my writing.

Once I leave to study abroad, this blog will focus mainly on my adventures in South America. Before then, and hopefully once I return to the States, the blog will be a mix of life musings, commentary and opinion, and kitchen fun. I follow several blogs, all of them having to do with food, and I hope to emulate what I love most about them, while finding my own style and writing voice.

On that note: if you find flaws in my writing and photography (and trust me, you will!), please comment and leave suggestions. I’m very new at this, but I would like to be good at it, so I would appreciate your help in making this an interesting, well-written, and enjoyable place to take a break and maybe learn something.

Just to keep you interested, soon I’ll be posting a Rocky Road cheesecake, talk about saying goodbye, and share random thoughts that I’ve managed to write down.

Random thought of the day: if you haven’t gone to the store since the last time you opened the cabinet, nothing new is going to be in there.

That’s the kind of stuff that goes on in my head. So exciting, right?

(I promise I have deeper things to share than that…)

Later gators!

Gaby

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