Tag Archives: baking

A Different Kind of Holiday

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, I haven’t written since right around Thanksgiving. Yes, we are basically at the end of another year (I’m sorry, wait, WHAT?!).

Was this holiday season a blur for anyone else or just me?

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

A scene of quiet and breakfast the day before Thanksgiving. Pumpkin and blueberry muffins!

That’s how it all started. I made pumpkin muffins to bring into the office two days before Thanksgiving. I then hopped on the train that night and served up the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. My mom was on the same page and had blueberry muffins on hand, too!

What else would you expect?

What else would you expect?

Of course it wasn’t long until I was throwing flour all over the place. That’s my unbaked apple pie. If you look closely, you can see that the pie crust was a little rough this time around. Lots of tears and holes. But you know what? It all works out. I would insert a picture of the baked pie, but then my phone broke before I could upload the rest of the pictures, and I lost all the photos between Thanksgiving and mid-December. Womp womp. Trust me. The pie looked nice.

I moved into an apartment right before Thanksgiving! A couple weeks later, my family was kind enough to rent a van and bring down my bedroom furniture. I went ahead and bought a couple of counter-height stools so I could actually sit at the counter and eat or do work. It’s a little nicer than sitting on the floor. Shocking, I know.

Mostly I just try to enjoy the view from my balcony. And dream about the glamorous sunset cocktail hours and bright Sunday breakfasts I can host on it.

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Took this photo as I was running out of my apartment to a work event. But come on! How could I resist?

Maybe I should get a couch or something first, though. So more than two people can actually sit down.

I started working with a new client at the beginning of December. They’re fantastic, and there’s nothing more I love than having a jam-packed to-do list. I’ve had multiple days where I leave my apartment before the sun is up and I’m not back until long after it has gone down. There’s a lot to get done, and I know I’ll love a vacation eventually. But for now, I know that I love to work, and I’m very lucky to have a job that challenges me and makes me excited for those long days.

Between the new client and the new apartment- all of the newness- the holidays arrived and started racing by until all of a sudden it was the weekend before Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas yet. I hustled around Michigan Ave. a bit to finish my shopping. I tried to listen to some Christmas music while I worked. I bought a poinsettia and set up my nativity set.

You know what really got me ready, though? Baking like a maniac that whole Saturday.

I decided to put together a box of cookies for my wonderful coworkers in another office. The key to a good cookie box (or tray) is variety. First up were apple cinnamon oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies. These photos have also gone missing. My apologies. The oatmeal cookies were to have a fruit-based flavor, and to get some hearty texture. The sugar cookies are just classic. I didn’t do cut-outs for this box, but I did cover them in lots of green and red crystals.

Next up were peanut butter blossoms. The recipe is on the back of a bag of Hershey’s kisses. For real! Get a bunch of peanut butter and those Kisses, and you’re probably good to go.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

Glossy, sugary, crackly blossoms of joy.

These are a no brainer. Putting peanut butter and chocolate together is always a crowd pleaser. Note: these are not the easiest to package. You’ll want to layer them on parchment paper in your container. Also, I would suggest having a glass of milk on hand. These are dense, rich, and a little sticky.

Third in line: double chocolate chip cookies with candy cane kisses. Can anybody please come up with another name for these? Basically, prep a double chocolate chip cookie. I used this recipe. Bake them all the way, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes, and then press the kiss in while the cookie is still soft. Let cool completely before you store or package them. Like the peanut butter blossoms, they need to be layered, not tossed around.

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

They are just the cutest and most festive cookies!

I love these for how Christmas-y they are: those stripes and that peppermint flavor make these appropriate only during this time of year.

Because I still miss Chile, and these never fail to impress, I also made alfajores with homemade manjar. Find the alfajores recipe in one of my Chile posts. For those new to the blog, alfajores are basically shortbread sandwich cookies filled with caramel (dulce de leche, or in Chile, MANJAR). Prep the manjar ahead of time: you’ll need to boil the can of sweetened condensed milk for at least two hours, and it needs to cool completely before you can spread it.

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here...

Warning: they might stick to paper towels. Not that that happened here…

These actually didn’t make it into the cookie box. My friend C. came over, taste-tested the cookies, and then kept me from crushing too many cookies into that one Tupperware.

And then, it was Christmas.

First, there was a train ride.

First, there was a train ride, and an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

And an unexpectedly sunny view of the skyline.

Then, there were even more cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cut-outs!

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn't they do a lovely job?

My brothers get all the credit for frosting these, as I was trying to finish up some other baking. Didn’t they do a lovely job?

Then there was some pizza bread. And so much cheese and crackers.

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn't take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

This recipe needed a little rescue after I didn’t take care of the dough. Thank you, Daddy!

And then, there was just a really pretty tree, and a very beautiful, blessed family.

Couldn't ask for anything more.

Couldn’t ask for anything more.

And that, my friends, was Christmas. Just a few days before, I mentioned to a friend that it didn’t feel like it was time yet. My apartment wasn’t decorated, I hadn’t made much time to celebrate in the midst of work and learning the city, and everything was just so new that I didn’t know where my usual traditions fit in. But even though it maybe didn’t feel like the typical holiday season, and even though I maybe didn’t create enough time to reflect and just “be,” it was still a beautiful, meaningful holiday, with lots of time to appreciate and be grateful for what has been an incredible year.

That’s probably the best way I can describe what Christmas felt like this year: grateful. Appreciative. Just so unbelievably thankful for everything that has happened in 2014. Rather than buy extravagant gifts and plan out an elaborate party, in the moments I did think about Christmas, I kept returning to all of the things I’m thankful for. New friends, opportunities, adventures in other states, moving again closer to home, the closeness of old friends, college graduation- the list goes on and on.

Maybe that will be another post. But for now, I hope you have had a very merry Christmas, and that whatever holidays you celebrate have overflowed with blessings big and small.

With love,

Gaby

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The College Girl’s Guide to Dorm Baking

That’s kind of a bold title. Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an expert about baking in a dorm. But I do know a few things. And since people ask me how I do it, I figured I would share it on the internet. Also, I’m not trying to be sexist by saying “college girl.” This is also for the “college guy.” Or “college gender non-identifying student.” “College student” just didn’t have the same ring as “college girl.”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re saying. “Just show me the baked goods!”

This apparently is the first documentation I have of my dorm baking efforts. Fall of sophomore year.

This apparently is the first documentation I have of my dorm baking efforts. Fall of sophomore year.

One more disclaimer: the lighting in our dorm kitchen is less than beautiful, and many of these photos come from before I discovered Instagram and the magic of filters.

This guide is not for you lucky college kids who live in apartment or suite-style situations where you have your own kitchens, with your own fridge, drawers and cabinets to fill up with your own ingredients and equipment. Go read a real food blog and do what they’re doing. I’m talking to everybody like me, who lives in an older dorm with an ill-equipped, often less than spotless, communal kitchen, and must make do with the ingredients offered by the convenience store.

Oh, this light. So harsh and cold. I promise these tasted really good.

Oh, this light. So harsh and cold. I promise these tasted really good.

I started baking regularly in my dorm kitchen when I was a sophomore. I had been inspired that summer by my discovery of Joy the Baker, and subsequently, of Foodgawker. Both became a daily habit, and while I couldn’t make anything nearly as spectacular as the stuff I would find on those sites, I decided that I would try and do what I could with what I had.

These are super easy , a huge crowd pleaser, and I totally forgot to make them this Christmas. Maybe for another holiday soon!

These are super easy , a huge crowd pleaser, and I totally forgot to make them this Christmas. Maybe for another holiday soon!

I worked in an academic office that year, and my coworker and I started bringing in baked goods most Mondays. She had an apartment and brought in things baked from scratch, with multiple ingredients. I, on the other hand, learned how to use brownie and cake mix to make all kinds of cookies. And it worked.

The classic Funfetti cookie. You can never go wrong with Funfetti.

The classic Funfetti cookie. You can never go wrong with Funfetti. (Also, paper towels can substitute for cooling racks.)

So how did I do it, you asked? Here’s how:

1) Bring your own stuff and store it in your own room. Things disappear in communal kitchens, intentionally or unintentionally. I learned really quickly that there were only about three things I could ever count on being in my kitchen: muffin pans, vegetable oil, and an assortment of greasy measuring cups. So I went to the dollar store and to Walmart (real talk) and bought myself my own (really really cheap) supplies. These include: mixing bowls and spoons; spatulas (both the scraping kind and the flipping kind); cookie sheets; a rectangular cake pan; and measuring cups and spoons. I also recommend obtaining a whisk; Tupperware; potholders or oven mitts; and dish soap. Check out what kinds of ingredients your convenience store sells. If you have a grocery store nearby, or at least a way to get there, awesome. For me, I know that if I want to get anything beyond what is required for chocolate chip cookies, or boxed cake and brownie mixes, I will need to go to a store or bring it from home with me.

I made these with my RA, spring semester of sophomore year. These are coconut lime cookies, and we made something so "fancy" because she had a car and could get the stuff.

I made these with my RA, spring semester of sophomore year. These are coconut lime cookies, and we made something so “fancy” because she had a car and could get the stuff.

2) For the love of God, clean up after yourself. Chances are, the housekeepers or custodians in your residence hall are not responsible for washing the dishes people leave behind in communal kitchens- and they shouldn’t be responsible for it. You are almost an adult. Be a good person and leave the kitchen at least the way it was when you arrived. Create some good kitchen karma.

These are M&M cookies made from a cake mix batter. Yes, the taste and texture are a little different. But they're still cookies and they were easy!

These are M&M cookies made from a cake mix batter. Yes, the taste and texture are a little different. But they’re still cookies and they were easy!

3) Get good recipes based on boxed mixes. There, I said it. In my own house, I rarely use boxed mixes. I’ve used real flour in the dorm only a handful of times. The cost, the time, and the clean-up are much reduced when you go with ready-mixed ingredients. Click the links for the master recipe I use for cake mix cookies, and the recipe for my beloved brownie chip cookie. Is there a difference in taste? Yeah. Do your friends notice or really care? Absolutely not.

These are loaded sugar cookie bars, made from refrigerated sugar cookie dough and Valentine's M&M's. Super easy, super sugary, and a big hit.

These are loaded sugar cookie bars, made from refrigerated sugar cookie dough and Valentine’s M&M’s. Super easy, super sugary, and a big hit.

4) Make adaptations and learn about ingredient substitutions. For instance, maybe a recipe calls for melted butter. But all you have is vegetable oil. No problem! Melted butter and vegetable oil substitute for each other in exactly the same quantities. (Softened butter and vegetable oil do NOT.) Applesauce can replace butter in some cases. Maybe you need vanilla and almond extract, but you don’t have almond extract? Just add more vanilla. Trust me, you won’t miss it. Are you trying to bake banana bread but can’t find a loaf pan? If you have a rectangular cake pan (usually 9 by 13) or a muffin pan, perfect. Bake banana muffins! Or banana CAKE. (You can call it cake and it’s really just the banana bread recipe. Don’t worry. I won’t tell.) You can bake both brownies AND cookies in a muffin pan, assuming you don’t have to have that perfect brownie square or round, flattened cookie shape. (Can you tell how much time I’ve spent baking everything in a muffin pan?)

These are chocolate crinkle cookies. Made from chocolate cake mix!

These are chocolate crinkle cookies. Made from chocolate cake mix!

And we now skip over an entire semester of baking when I went to Chile (and you thought that we’d get through a blog post without mentioning Chile. HA.), and enter the era of the iPhone/Instagrammed pictures.

These are from scratch Oreos. My old RA came to visit and she brought the ingredients. Super tasty. (But most college students will opt for the packaged kind.)

These are from scratch Oreos. My old RA came to visit and she brought the ingredients. Super tasty. (But most college students will opt for the packaged kind.)

These were cake mix snickerdoodle cookies. Not the most outstanding. You really do need cream of tartar to get that little extra something.

These were cake mix snickerdoodle cookies. Not the most outstanding. You really do need cream of tartar to get that little extra something.

5) Keep it simple. Keep it easy. It doesn’t take a very complicated recipe, or crazy flavor combinations, to impress people and brighten their day. College kids in particular appreciate the little extra effort you’re making by baking something fresh. Even if it isn’t 100% from scratch or organic or a Dorie Greenspan recipe.

During hall staff training, I made these gluten-free muffins. The ones without chocolate chips are also vegan. They were hearty and great.

During hall staff training, I made these gluten-free muffins. The ones without chocolate chips are also vegan. They were hearty and great.

These started out as a snickerdoodle cupcake and turned into churro muffins. I need to bake these again.

These started out as a snickerdoodle cupcake and turned into churro muffins. I need to bake these again.

Fresh baked goods have a way of making people feel at home. Although I’ve complained plenty about my dorm’s kitchen being…not the best, it’s a favorite space of mine because it is such a great gathering space. Mixing something up in that kitchen has been one of the very best ways for me to see residents, talk to them, and get to know them a little bit. That’s why I bake.

Remember that one time I made alfajores entirely from scratch? That was work. And 110% worth it.

Remember that one time I made alfajores entirely from scratch? That was work. And 110% worth it.

Totally from a box. All of it.

Totally from a box. All of it.

I've made this in the dorm every Christmas since freshman year. This year, I bagged it all up for hall staff. And promptly forgot it in the community fridge.

I’ve made this in the dorm every Christmas since freshman year. This year, I bagged it all up for hall staff. And promptly forgot it in the community fridge.

Also, it tastes pretty good.

It's true!

It’s true!

With love,

Gaby

P.S. If you would like any of the recipes shown or have any of your own suggestions, please leave a comment!

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Last Dance

Please tell me that when you read that title this song pops into your head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOpUfTi1keI. (Please also tell me that if that song does come to mind, you’re also under the age of 45. No? I figured. All right.)

Anyways. I hope that wherever you are, the weather is nice, or has improved relative to the polar vortex which dramatically gripped the United States this week and caused people (including us) to pack grocery stores and stock up on supplies as if the cold was going to last a week, not two days, and subsequently make them hungrier than normal. If you’re in Santiago, espero que no te haya afectado tanto este humo raro que cubrió la ciudad los últimos días. Usually I don’t whine too much about the winter until the volatile Midwestern spring is in sight, but I wouldn’t mind a beach vacation soon.

Washing dishes for ten minutes caused the windows to fog up like this.

Washing dishes for ten minutes caused the windows to fog up like this.

PANIC. Everybody panic!

PANIC! Everybody panic!

Big plus about the cold: it shut down school around here for two whole days, giving my brothers an even longer break, which meant that I got to spend more time with them! Look at all the awesome things that happened while I was here and not in Chile.

Winter sunrises are pretty spectacular, though.

Winter sunrises are pretty spectacular, though.

I am now at the end of my last winter break as a undergraduate. As I’ve said before, and which I will now say for the last time, declining the grant and staying stateside was 110% the right decision. I have no regrets about it. I do not feel like a life-changing opportunity was missed, and I think I’ve reaped far more benefits out of sleeping and enjoying my family than I would have gotten out of running around hot, smoky Santiago for a week. Lesson learned: trust your gut. If something is telling you not to do something, even though there’s a really good argument for doing it, just don’t. Let it go and know that there’s a good, perfectly valid reason you want to take the other road.

It just hit me the other day that this is indeed my last semester as a college student. Obviously I knew it was coming. But I hadn’t gotten that “this is IT” feeling yet. And then I did, once I filled out my application for graduation and confirmed how I want my name written on my diploma.

The key to making the most of this semester is to remember that this is just the last dance, not the end of the world. I want to end college on a high note, and get out while I’m still loving it and having fun. Yeah, college has been the best four years of my life- SO FAR. I hope to God that I am not peaking now! My summer theater camps use to end each year with the reminder, from Churchill, that it was not the beginning of the end. It was just the end of the beginning.

That is all this is. Graduation is a big, momentous occasion- not just to celebrate how fantastic the past four years have been, but also to look forward to what’s coming next. Although the job search has been challenging, it’s also exciting. Look at all of the possibilities! Look at all of the things I can do, once I get a foot in the door!

While I already know that I’ll be blown away by the speed of this final semester, and at the end of every week I’ll probably beg more and more for time to slow down, I’m just going to keep reminding myself that what’s coming next (especially when- not if, when- I get a job) just keeps getting better. I have gotten to where I am today by thinking positively and working hard. Working hard is key- because nothing will happen for you if you don’t try to make it happen.

So that’s what this semester is about: making it happen. “It”- the job, the thesis, the awesome celebrations, the best friendships, everything else- will happen. But it’s up to nobody else but me.

Okay. Good talk, guys. In other news, I baked bread!

Proofed. Not proven. Proofed. Right?

Proofed. Not proven. Proofed. Right?

This smelled AMAZING.

This smelled AMAZING.

Yeasted breads can be a little scary, yes. And this loaf was not perfect, as you will see in a moment. It didn’t rise completely during proofing, which is always fun. Then I couldn’t get the seam of the dough to stay closed, and the filling then bubbled up and oozed and burned all over the oven floor. Dad to the rescue once again! Nothing a little barbecue spatula and a fan couldn’t fix. Thanks, Dad!

Disclaimer: I’m not a food photographer and I shoot with my iPhone.

It looks really cute and pudgy now...

It looks really cute and pudgy now…

...and then it turned into this.

…and then it turned into this.

Ah, that familiar smell of charred cinnamon and sugar. Too common in our kitchen. I’m sorry, family.

I know. Delicious, right?

I know. Delicious, right?

But that wasn’t anything cutting off the wonky ends couldn’t fix! It was just about perfect on the inside. I’ll work on aesthetics eventually. For now, I’m happy baking things that taste good- even if they’re a small disaster on the outside.

Look at that swirl!

Look at that swirl!

You're darn right it makes good toast! Heavy, rich, sweet toast. And the layers pull apart like a dream.

You’re darn right it makes good toast! Heavy, rich, sweet toast. And the layers pull apart like a dream.

I found the recipe right here. Don’t worry if you don’t have a stand mixer. I did the whole thing by hand. You just mix and knead it for about as long as the stand mixer does. Easy peasy!

One last thing: as a blog resolution for the new year, I’m going to try and start writing every other week. Blogging is excellent writing and storytelling practice, and I’d like to recommit to it this year. I’m already accumulating ideas and will keep brainstorming and outlining a little bit at a time so that twice a month, I’m ready to write and will have something new and not pointless to share with you. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

With love,

Gaby

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New year, new possibilities

Happy New Year! / ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

How do you feel about 2014? I’m excited. I like the number. My favorite numbers end in 4 and 8, so I already have a good feeling. Besides that, it’s just a big year! I graduate from college in May. MAY. Four months away. Uhh, when did that happen?! Just yesterday I was a homesick freshman, then a once-again actress sophomore, then abroad as a junior, and now…I don’t know what this year will bring me. And there’s something kind of terrifying but exhilarating about that.

The last sunset of the year. Hazy and subtle.

The last sunset of the year. Hazy and subtle.

I spent the end of the year with my family. My immediate family is the only one that lives in the Midwest- everyone else lives in in New York State (no, not the city). So between Christmas and the New Year is a very important time of year for us to get together and catch up. My dad’s family in particular has made New Year’s Eve THE family party of the year. And since I’d completely missed our summer reunions while I was working in Chile this year, I was especially excited to get back on the road.

A round of Mexican Train with my maternal grandparents. We play to win.

A round of Mexican Train with my maternal grandparents. We play to win.

It’s probably how I’ve been raised, but I’ve never been to into the kind of New Year’s where you get super dressed-up and spend all night drinking and dancing in a big party with lots of strangers. I prefer to drink and dance with those I love the most, and that’s my family.

My dad, uncle, and brother built a huge fire. They used up a whole cord of wood, and then some. It was freezing outside, but you couldn’t stand closer than a foot from the fire and have to shut your eyes from the heat.

Can you feel the heat? The picture doesn't do justice to its actual size.

Can you feel the heat? The picture doesn’t do justice to its actual size.

I made a chocolate cream slab pie, courtesy of How Sweet Eats. Jess is one of my favorite bloggers! And if you have questions or comments about her posts,  she’s pretty awesome about responding! If you’re looking for a dessert that will feed a crowd and impress them too, this is a good one to try.

Pre-made pie crust, rolled out to fit a 9 x 13 foil pan. It's a little bit broken, but it works.

Pre-made pie crust, rolled out to fit a 9 x 13 foil pan. It’s a little bit broken, but it works.

Chocolate pudding filling, from scratch. Don't let the boiling and the cheesy smell before the chocolate is added freak you out. It's okay. Just keep stirring it!

Chocolate pudding filling, from scratch. Don’t let the boiling and the cheesy smell before the chocolate is added freak you out. It’s okay. Just keep stirring it!

Ta-da! It was creamy and rich and not too sweet. If you want to get really fancy, use chocolate shavings, not sprinkles.

Ta-da! It was creamy and rich and not too sweet. If you want to get really fancy, use chocolate shavings, not sprinkles.

On New Year’s Day, it was brilliantly sunny, and I took a few trips down my aunt and uncle’s hill on the tobaggon. In an effort to avoid sledding into trees and pricklebushes, and away from a newly frozen lake, I wiped out every time.

The view from the top.

The view from the top.

We ate a lot of food in seven days. A lot. Of course I took pictures.

When in New York, get your fill of pizza and wings.

When in New York, get your fill of pizza and wings.

Ted's Fish Fry. A must-have when in the Capitol District.

Ted’s Fish Fry. A must-have when in the Capitol District.

On our second to last night, we made steak and boiled live lobsters. The salad makes us feel better about ourselves.

On our second to last night, we made steak and boiled live lobsters. The salad makes us feel better about ourselves.

Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Pizza. The leftovers stayed at my aunt and uncle's house. I wish I'd remembered them.

Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Pizza. The leftovers stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house. I wish I’d remembered them.

I took the time that I had in the car on the way home allowed me to think about my resolutions for the year. I’m still deciding whether or not I want to call them “resolutions.” Another aunt is calling them “possibilities-” it’s a possibility and YOU have to make it happen! Tracy at Shutterbean is calling them intentions, which is another nice way to think of whatever else you want to do differently this year. I came up with three categories: physical, academic/professional, and spiritual/mental. I then decided on five resolutions/possibilities/intentions for each category, bringing me to a grand total of fifteen. Does that sound like a lot? I’m pretty sure that last year I had about four pages worth of resolutions last year. And I’m also pretty sure that I accomplished almost none of them. I’ve read in various places that it’s much easier and more beneficial to pick smaller, simpler goals rather than try to overhaul every aspect of your life starting on January 1st.

A few examples? My university hosts a half-marathon each year- and I’m going to run it! I also want to try Meatless Mondays, which I may step up to Meatless Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. I live by my planner to begin with, but I think I’m going to use it more wisely and try to schedule my work very specifically each day and each week. I have a thesis to write, and scheduling blocks of time for that, and blocks of time for all of my other work, will help me be more efficient and focused. My mental and spiritual goals include limiting Facebook time to just twice a day, visiting the Grotto on campus at least five times per week, and journaling every day, even if just for five minutes.

For physical goals, it’s about pushing my limits and working harder. For academic and professional goals, it’s about being more efficient and more successful, and avoiding those last-minute waves of work. For mental and spiritual goals, it’s about being more reflective and self-enforcing quiet time. Because you can make time for anything if you want to.

Do you have any resolutions? Any suggestions as to how you’ve found success with your resolutions in the past? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re new here, say hi!

If you’re in the US, and particularly in the Midwest, stay warm in this icebox. And please pray for those who are homeless or can’t stay cuddled up inside. If you’re in Chile or another region where it’s summer…just. Don’t even.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and may 2014 be your best year yet.

With love,

Gaby

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Home for the holidays

Merry Christmas! / ¡Feliz Navidad! I hope that you are all enjoying some kind of a slowdown or a break right now, and that you have plenty of time to spend with your loved ones, wherever you are.

I came home from school on the night of the 21st, in the middle of a big snowstorm that ended up dumping about 8 inches of the white stuff in our neighborhood. The next day involved lots of shoveling. On the 23rd, I went shopping (I swore I’d be done by then), baked three kinds of cookies, and wrapped all of my gifts. In my head, I was going to be finished with all of those tasks by about 5 o’ clock. I finished at 12:30 AM.

Idyllic, until you have to shovel it out of your driveway. (Oh, why am I complaining? My family did most of it.)

Idyllic, until you have to shovel it out of your driveway. (Oh, why am I complaining? My family did most of it.)

Cookie baking started at 8 AM...

Cookie baking started at 8 AM…

...picked up again around 5 PM...

…picked up again around 5 PM…

...and finally ended around 11 PM.

…and finally ended around 11 PM.

The next morning, I did a little cleaning, prepped a breakfast casserole, and baked a coffee cake for Christmas morning. After all of that, the huge payoff was a slow and lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We like to draw things out in my house- wake up, make the coffee, maybe open the stockings, then eat breakfast, then open a few presents, then take a break to talk to family, then a few more gifts, then a break…and so on until it’s all done. We may have established a new record for longest Christmas gift-opening this year- not because we have hundreds of gifts, but because we take our sweet time. I will be doing the same with my own children and they will probably lose their minds.

No words.

No words.

Just about sums it up.

Just about sums it up.

In other news: I got the grant! And…I’m not going to Chile this time around. For one thing, flight prices went up and would exceed the entire award. For another (and more important) thing, it would just have been too much stress to organize a trip right at the end of finals week, and then be traveling for almost the entirety of my shorter-than-normal break. Conversations with no less than two advisors, my boss, my parents, and four friends confirmed my instinct that all of the craziness would not be worth it. So I’m taking a break and spending more time at home than I have since last winter break.

I knew barely a day into it that this was the right decision. I haven’t been this relaxed and relatively unoccupied in months. My life would be so incredibly hectic right now were I to be heading to Chile next week. This is not to say that I don’t miss everyone and everything in that skinny little country and that hot, bustling city I’ve called home, but sometimes you just need to stick around in one place for a little while longer. And for me right now, that place is here. I know that I’ll be back in Santiago one day. The links are too strong now for it to be any other way. But this was not the time. If I were supposed to be going, I would just know, and I would not have agonized over the decision, and it would not have caused me so much stress. Being an ambitious person makes it really difficult to say no to an opportunity like a paid international trip. But I also needed to realize that the bigger opportunity may have been this very vacation that I’ve got right now. Everything happens for a reason- and so far, it’s turning out very, very well.

Life is good, friends. I hope that you can celebrate the holidays a little while longer, even beyond New Year’s. If you’re Catholic like me, remember that Christmas doesn’t technically end for us until Epiphany- so don’t stop until then! Appreciate the time you have with your loved ones, and let them know that you’re happy to be there with them. Put away your phone and shut your laptop down for a while (…says the girl writing this on the Internet). Just sit. And smile. Think about how good this year was- and how much more awesome next year will be.

Wishing you peace, joy, and above all, love,

Gaby

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A marathon and a sprint

Well that was a fast two months since I last posted!

Hello everybody. How are you? I’m alive. And doing well. As I predicted, life got busy busy busy after that last post. There were essays to write and projects to present and life to be lived.

Summary:

I had a birthday! I wore a wool coat- the opposite of the shorts that I wore on my last birthday in Santiago. Despite it being a Monday, I was able to celebrate with a yummy dinner, a pisco cocktail (Peruvian, but you know what, it works), and trivia. It was everything I could have asked for a very unimportant birthday at the beginning of the week. There were no Taylor Swift songs involved, and I was quite happy about it. No photos- it seems like some of the most enjoyable nights are the ones that are the least documented.

After the birthday, there was Thanksgiving! Which of course meant that I got to go home and bake a bit. I arrived at home Tuesday night, and my baking ingredients were all ready to go. So I spent Wednesday throwing flour all over the place, and this was the result:

This was my second try at this pie crust. I threw the first one out. I didn't think this was a good sign for the rest of the day.

This was my second try at this pie crust. I threw the first one out. I didn’t think this was a good sign for the rest of the day.

This is the magic stuff.

This is the magic stuff.

Ready! I panicked for nothing. On the right is excess pie filling. I like to eat that for breakfast. With a side of real pie.

Ready! I panicked for nothing. On the right is excess pie filling. I like to eat that for breakfast. With a side of real pie.

I make the pumpkin pie mostly for myself. The real show-stopper is the apple pie.

This wasn't even all of the apples that I prepped for this pie. The rest I turned into an apple crisp.

This wasn’t even all of the apples that I prepped for this pie. The rest I turned into an apple crisp.

I seriously worried about the crust bursting and the pies overflowing into the oven. Why? Why does my mind work this way?

I seriously worried about the crust bursting and the pies overflowing into the oven. Why? Why does my mind work this way?

Turned out just fine. As always. And I could have fit the excess apples inside. Note to self: fruits cook down in heat. Duh...

Turned out just fine. As always. And I could have fit the excess apples inside. Note to self: fruit cooks down in heat. Duh…

Thanksgiving Day itself was lovely. My dad made an amazing dinner, and my mom and I were faithful sous chefs (okay, my mom was the sous chef, and the dishwasher. I mostly just took pictures and ate cheese and crackers.).

It's going to be an interesting Thanksgiving the first year that I try to reproduce this goodness. My standards are very high.

It’s going to be an interesting Thanksgiving the first year that I try to reproduce this goodness. My standards are very high.

Serving suggestion. Everything looks better with a filter on it, right?

Serving suggestion. Everything looks better with a filter on it, right?

The next morning, I ate pie for breakfast and drank way too much coffee. I ventured out at 4 AM for Black Friday shopping, then made a big second breakfast, and lazed the rest of the day away.

Because we didn't eat enough that weekend.

Because we didn’t eat enough that weekend.

And then I went back to school. I wrote a grant proposal to go back to Chile over winter break for thesis research. If I get it, my break will look something like this: home. Cookies. Christmas. New Year’s road trip. New York to Santiago. A week of Chilean summer. Back to winter. Unpack. Repack. Back to school.

If I don’t get the grant, my break will look like this: Cookies. Christmas. New Year’s road trip. Back home. More cookies. Sleep. Back to school.

Both of those possibilities sound pretty awesome, don’t you think?

Why did I title this “A marathon and a sprint?” Because since the last time I’ve posted, that is what things have felt like around here. It’s a marathon because I had to keep going, and it was a sprint because I had a lot to get done, in not a lot of time. It is finally slowing down to a jog, as I turn in final papers and finish up my holiday shopping (the Internet is amazing), and I’m hoping it will become a stroll by the time I come home next week. I am ready for the break. And I know that whatever this break is- whether it’s a nice jog through family parties and baking, or a pretty brisk run from the US to Santiago and back- it will be exactly what I need.

All right, I overdid the running metaphor there. Thanks for bearing with me. Maybe once my brain is a little more rested, you’ll get some more pictures of cookies, and some reflections on everything that has happened in the past year. Because 2013 has been a big one, hasn’t it? And I have a feeling that 2014 is going to give me even more.

With love,

Gaby

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Fall Break Baking Extravaganza

Alternatively titled, Working the Kinks Out Before the Holidays.

I more or less lived in my kitchen during this fall break. When I wasn’t doing homework or keeping ahead on thesis research, I was baking. This will probably be the most time I have for baking until…I’m not sure when. If I’m lucky I’ll eke out two pies the day before Thanksgiving (the kitchen belongs entirely to my dad on Thanksgiving Day). And this year, I don’t get home for Christmas until December 22nd. Three days before Christmas. Last year, I arrived home from Chile on December 12th and started baking probably the next day, affording me 12 whole days to bake. Ideally, I don’t bake on Christmas Eve Day. That means that this year, I get two days to bake, including the day I come home from school. TWO DAYS. This will require advance planning, likely including baking at school once my exams are finished, as well as a limited menu and no new recipes. Just the classics. (My family is probably happy about this. Less time to bake = less cookies to eat,  less ingredients to buy, less mess in the kitchen.)

Anyways. Given all of that, I took advantage of plenty of uninterrupted kitchen time.

There were chocolate chocolate chocolate chip muffins, from the Joy the Baker cookbook. Yes, three times the chocolate.

Look at those crackled tops. COME ON.

Look at those crackled tops. COME ON.

Just a close-up.

Just a close-up.

White chocolate drizzle. Because why not? Oh, and calling them muffins means they're an acceptable breakfast.

White chocolate drizzle. Because why not? Oh, and calling them muffins means they’re an acceptable breakfast.

Joy does it again, throwing in buttermilk and extra chocolate and calling them muffins and not cupcakes. I made a second batch today and they turned out just as great the second time around.

Then I gave Joy’s recipe for cream cheese pound cake a shot.

All was going well. The batter was gorgeous. Silky and fluffy and creamy, just like it should be. It went into the pan. I thought, hm, the pan looks a little full. Well, maybe it won’t rise that much.

I was wrong.

Looks delicious, huh?

Looks delicious, huh?

One side of the cake- just one side, not both, thank goodness- overflowed and oozed through most of the bake time. So once the rest of the cake was done cooking, we took it out, let it cool, and then I cut out the ugly part and salvaged the rest of it. It really is a delicious cake. It’s tangy and dense and moist (such a horrible word but so right for desserts). It just has  a chunk missing.

The sad part is, I had meant to send that cake to friends away at other schools. So I had to figure out something else to do. Snickerdoodles worked out as planned.

Such pretty little things!

Such pretty little things!

Soft, crackly, and covered in cinnamon sugar. Easy fall goodness.

Soft, crackly, and covered in cinnamon sugar. Easy fall goodness.

Last dessert of the week: oatmeal raisin cookies, because we had leftover raisins from another recipe. I’ve made these before. I’m pretty sure I’ve made them from the same recipe before. And here is what happened.

Fail #2 of the week.

Fail #2 of the week.

To be fair, they’re edible. They are chewy and soft. But they were so spread out and some of them were rather dark. I think it was either that the butter was too warm when I incorporated it, or there just wasn’t enough flour. It was probably a mix of both.

So, two fun baking fails this week. Let’s hope that that means smooth sailing for holiday baking.

But I haven’t even gotten to the best part of my baking/cooking this week! Guys! I made empanadas! ¡Empanadas chilenas caseras!

Here is the pino (filling) before getting wrapped up.

Here is the pino (filling) before getting wrapped up.

I did the filling according to the cookbook my host parents gave me: chopped top round, browned and cooked with caramelized onions, green chile pepper, and a bunch of spices. Since I couldn’t find merkén, I made a substitute with chili powder (I used guajillo), paprika, cumin, and coriander, with salt and pepper to taste. It got pretty darn close! And of course, each empanada had a whole black olive, half a hardboiled egg, and raisins.

Going into the oven! My folding may need a little work.

Going into the oven! My folding may need a little work.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

Empanada de pino con una ensalada de lechuga, tomate, y palta.

Empanada de pino con una ensalada de lechuga, tomate, y palta.

You can take the girl out of Chile, but you can’t take Chile out of the girl. I will absolutely be making these again, hopefully with merkén and with better folding.

So besides all of that, I took some walks.

Fall 1

Fall 2

Fall 3

Fall 4

Tomorrow is the last day of calm before the big push begins. The last eight weeks of this semester, and I think especially the next four weeks until Thanksgiving, are busy with a capital B. There will be papers and RA duty and other deadlines and continued job searching and a million other things that will come up. The first eight weeks of the semester were a gift, considering how manageable and evenly paced it all was. But it’s probably going to be a hurricane, not a tornado. Which means that I can see it coming and get ready before it hits!

So I’ve got a plan. I’m making an awesome playlist, because if there’s going to be a lot to do, I’m going to dance my way through it. I’m going to keep exercising because everything they say about exercise giving you more energy is absolutely true. I feel better and I work better mentally when my body works hard. I’m going to keep journaling and incorporate more prayer time, which is a far more constructive way to clear my mind than say, Facebook. I’m going to schedule the heck out of every day and push to get everything on every to-do list done, whenever possible. There is nothing like going to bed at the end of the day knowing that you are keeping pace and aren’t behind in the morning.

It takes focus. It takes discipline. It takes a recognition of my own mental and physical limits, and also a willingness to push and ask more of myself. More than that, it takes confidence, and the belief that I can do it all, and that I won’t break under pressure.

So let’s get to it then!

With love,

Gaby

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