\

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

I’m turning 40 this week (Friday, to be specific), and for some reason, it’s all I can think about. I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately–listening to bands I loved in college (Nirvana, Pearl Jam–yes, I was into grunge and wore flannels and Docs) and watching movies from the 90s–a time when everyone considered the internet as this cute little fad that no one took seriously. We had brick phones and we worried that Y2K signified the end of days. We worshiped at the alter of Olestra and fat-free, and we started to realize that it was possible to drink for taste as opposed to pre-gaming to get wasted. [We still got wasted.]

I also think of that time as when I felt possibility. After graduating from college, I was frightened, excited yet filled with wonder. Anything was possible even if we were the generation jutting up against the boomers thinking we were different until we encountered the generation that followed, which proved to be really different (and remarkable). Two decades later I think about that time and how much I’ve learned, accomplished, endured and experienced in between and I feel like multitudes. Already, I feel the weight of my years, and this is a good thing because I’m okay with the fact that I’m no longer young. I come to this age with, what I’m realizing is, a different kind of wonder. Twenty years ago I wanted to be accomplished, achieved. I wanted escalating zeroes at the end of my paycheck; I wanted a title; I wanted degrees and other signifiers of success. Now, I see all of that for what it is–lacking. Accumulating things, ticking off items on a list doesn’t mean that I wake to purpose. An Ivy league education doesn’t necessarily guarantee fulfillment. I did what I thought I needed to do and I wake, quite literally, in the middle of my life and realize that I need something other.

I think about mortality in a way that’s less chilling but achingly real. And I keep returning to Oliver Sack’s essays because he was a man who felt his years. He was a man that lived his life with purpose, a man who went out seeking wonder, even as he lay dying. In “Sabbath”, Sacks wrote:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

In one of my favorite essays, “My Own Life”, he wrote:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

There exists so much bitterness, complacency, false idolatry, and fear in the world that it can smother you if you allow it. So I’m making a resolve from now until the end to wake every day and consider how I can create something meaningful without the desire for recognition or the remunerative rewards one seeks for what one makes. I plan to explore how I can continually find wonder, be surprised and surprise others, and how I can be as kind to myself and the ones I love as I can be.

For now, I’m making myself a pre-game birthday cake. Though, I forgot the 40 candles. Haha.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications. If you live outside of the U.S., here is a metric version of the original recipe.
for the ganache
2 13.5 oz cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 tablespoons agar flakes (or 5 teaspoons of gelatin powder, if you’re not vegan or you’re like me, and couldn’t find agar flakes at my supermarket)
pinch sea salt
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao content), broken into pieces
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the cake
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, divided
2 cups whole spelt flour – divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (also known as flaxmeal)
1/2 cup melted extra virgin coconut oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4oz chopped semi-sweet chocolate (addition to original recipe)

for the filling (a simplified version of the original recipe)
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Untitled

DIRECTIONS
to make the ganache
1. Whisk together coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisk often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered, whisking every 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it melt for 2 minutes in the covered pot. Whisk until smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool until it stops steaming. Put in the refrigerator for about 2 hours, or until cold and completely hard.
3. Roughly cut ganache into 1-inch pieces and add to a food processor with orange juice and vanilla. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cake is ready for frosting.

to make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil two 8-inch cake pans and line bottom of each with a parchment paper. Timing wise, I started the cake as soon as I cooled the ganache. After the cake cools for an hour, the ganache is ready and prime for spreading.
2. Add 2/3 cup of hazelnuts and 1/4 cup of spelt flour into a food processor and grind finely (takes about 30-45 seconds). Transfer into a medium bowl and sift in remaining 1 3/4 cups spelt flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to completely combine, set aside.
3. Whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth in a large bowl. Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, apple vinegar, vanilla and salt, whisk until thoroughly combined.
4. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and whisk to make a smooth batter. Fold in chopped chocolate. Divide the batter between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled

to assemble the cake
1. Spread remaining 1 1/3 cups of toasted hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or jar) crush with nuts slightly. Set aside.
2. Invert first layer on a cake stand or a plate. Remove parchment paper. Spread 1 cup of the ganache, leaving 1/2 inch untouched at the edges to avoid spillage when you layer the cakes. Add the preserves on top of the ganache and pomegranate kernels.
3. Invert second layer on top, and remove parchment paper. Frost top and sides and press the remaining hazelnuts along the top + sides. Keep in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. The cake is actually best served the next day to allow for all the flavors to meld and set.

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

finally…doughnuts + some happy bits

Untitled

For the first time in three months, I had a week where I didn’t want to lie down on the bathroom floor and count the tiles. I consider this progress. I took a few new business calls, cleaned my apartment, submitted a draft manuscript of my new story collection to my agent, I contemplated getting a tree but settled on a string of lights for my patio, read three books, and resumed spending time with old friends + planning new friend dates. Yesterday I went spinning with an old friend and former coworker, and after class, she pulled a doughnut out of her bag and confessed that she got into Santa Monica early just to pick up a Sidecar Doughnut and did I want to stop by for firsts and seconds?

Obviously, we went. And we went hard.

As you know, my love for the doughnut knows no bounds. I remember spending one day on a self-designed doughnut crawl across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and was so cracked out on sugar I was catatonic. And although I can’t go crazy with the gluten (see last year’s plague of burning hives + the steroids that made me hallucinate and vomit into garbage pails in the middle of the night, but I digress), I’ve allowed myself one strong gluten situation a week. It’s usually bread as I’m not into pasta as much as I used to be, and I’m now of the philosophy that if I’m going to hoover a bowl of fettuccine, it better be fresh, homemade, and weep-into-my-bowl good. Yesterday, I savored a cinnamon cake doughnut and made no qualms about accepting free, hot samples, and you need to know that these are the best doughnuts I’ve had in my LIFE. So much so that I’m writing a whole ode to a doughnut joint that has two locations in California.

Real truth.

Untitled

Untitled

I love these doughnuts because they’re yeasty so you’re not getting a heavy cake batter bomb, rather you’re enjoying a light, airy pastry that has a bit of a crunch, but it’s feather-light. The toppings are pretty extraordinary, and the time that my friend and I stopped by in the morning, we saw a guy frying up a huge pan of bacon for one of the doughnut toppings. BLESS. All ingredients are local or organic, and the flavors are thoughtful, ingenious and creative. I tried the huckleberry (with berries straight from Seattle), butter/salt, apple fritter (that tasted like a croissant with an apple caramel glaze!) and a Hawaiian blend that oozed cream.

Tears. If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles, run, don’t walk, to Sidecar. I’m giving you gospel here.

[Cough. Insert segue.]

Tonight I was texting my friend Joanna about our cats and how I tend to abhor home decor books. I used to be into the Shabby Chic aesthetic until I realized I loathe pink and don’t have an interest in frills or antiquing, and most books tend to be poorly written and offer homes/solutions that are unrealistic for my taste and budget. Home decor books occupy a space on my shelf that is barely touched or referenced, and I have a hard time getting rid of my collection because I spent so much damn money on it.

Not so with Anne Sage’s Sage Living. Anne + I have a friend in common, and we’ve traded emails on occasion, but I was really taken with her recent interview–so much so that I paused my home decor book fatwa and ordered her book. Although I couldn’t relate to having the financial support of a family or a spouse (I’ve pretty much been self-sufficient from birth), I do know what it feels like to have your life uprooted and upended and having your art be the thing that pulls you through that dark country. I admired her candor and her willingness to own her privilege, and how she was able to reshape a dark time to create something that would yield joy and a sense of home for others. In her book, she enters rooms across the country and offers a nice cross-section of styles + aesthetics. The owners are not interior designers but people who have made their spaces in a reflection of the lives they desire for themselves. The stories, balanced with Sage’s practical advice, gives the book a warmth and depth that is missing from most home books I’ve encountered. It’s empowered me to revisit my space and re-affirm that it’s my creative sanctuary. It’s re-affirmed my desire for owning nothing extraneous, to only possess only that which is necessary and adored.

On an unrelated note, I snapped this picture next to one of the nine succulents I still own. I’ve been known to kill cacti so the fact that these plants, as well as my floor plant, are still alive is a testament to SOMETHING that’s changed in my life. And sometimes one needs those small reassurances (I’m no longer a cacti killer!) to keep going.

 

 

Untitled

eating blueberry pie + growing older

IMG_3039

 

 

I turn 40 next month and I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought until recently. Until a friend responded to something I’d say with you’re not in your forties yet. A kind of slow-your-roll response, to which I laughed and said you’re right. I have a habit of rushing through things. I won’t burden you with a tidy list of things I’ve learned now that I’m approaching four decades of living because I kind of think those lists are a remarkable pile of bullshit–one can’t demarcate knowledge acquired neatly within a decade, rather knowledge is learned and unlearned and re-learned, and what we have with age is the comfort and discomfort you feel when you oscillate between what is known and what is not.

I read a tweet yesterday where a beautiful woman was applauded for looking “young” at the ripe old age of 43 as if we expect our women to be covered in scales with gray weeds sprouting out of their head. As if money and surgery and societal pressure don’t have a say in the matter. As if we keep reminding women about how they look over the years instead of how they’ve lived. I’ve had my time to look and feel young and I’m okay with the fact that when I look at my face in the mirror the reflection back isn’t the Felicia of 17, 27, or 35. I’m okay with lines on my face and a body that aches a little easier than it used to. I’m okay with standing aside and watching the next generation find their way and interpret the world for us, as we did. I’m fine with sitting in quiet. I’m getting accustomed to letting go of regret.

Perhaps what’s bothering me is the notion of mortality and how it presents itself as the years cycle forward. I didn’t much think of death when I was younger because it felt like an impossibility. You’re filled with all of this wonder and promise and you can’t even fathom the idea of loss. Until you grow older and the casualties slowly creep into your life. By 25 I only knew of one person who had died–a suitemate of mine in college who suffered from inoperable brain cancer. Yet her loss felt random, a freak occurrence of nature–unimaginable. And then a good friend of mine died of cancer, and then another. And then someone I knew took his life. And then another. People you love, and acquaintances you know only slightly, depart. Loss makes itself known whether you want it in the room or not, and when I got a mammogram this year and I learned I have dense breast tissue (nothing to be concerned about–just something which requires attention), I thought that the impossibility of dying became real, possible and unavoidable. Now I think it would be insane not to have health insurance because you never know. When I was younger I thought about the life unfurling in front of me, and while I still think about that, while I still try to hold on to the wonder, I think about time, about all the ways in which I could avoid squandering it. I’ve moved from desperately cleaving to the want of happiness and toward a life of purpose. And I suppose I will continue to oscillate between the wonder and the legacy for years to come.

At various points in my life doctors have asked me if I’ve ever considered taking my life. I nodded my response and said while I thought about it and all the ways in which I’d devise my end when it came down to it, I wouldn’t do it. I would only think about it, and the thought would come like a torrent and it would leave as swiftly as it had arrived. All the doctors would invariably follow the first question with this–why? And at every point in my life I said because there’s so much beauty left. There’s so much more worth doing in the small time we have here. Because it’s not fair to just give up. Because I don’t only want to know one small piece of my life without experiencing the whole wonderful composition of the rest of it. One of the few gifts that time breeds is perspective, context. A few days ago a new friend came by with her sweet daughter and we walked around Santa Monica, and she did the thing I wanted her to do–talk about anything other than the specter that I’ve been thinking of (i.e. this omnipresent sadness). We got to talking about Room (the book and the movie) and I’d expressed anger about one specific scene. There’s a scene where the mother is being interviewed about her time in captivity, and when her son was born had she ever considered giving him up. The mother is incredulous. Why would she give up her child? So that it could be free was the seemingly obvious response. And in that moment I saw the ways we’re cruel to mothers. We paint them as selfish, their bond to their child unhealthy, borderline selfish. Freudian. As if there exists a singular moral truth for every situation. The scene was minor, but I walked away from the film and my re-reading of the book, angered. My friend, who’s a new mother, and I talked about this for a bit–the idea of morality within context. There might have been a time when my moral compass would have been myopic, my pursuit of right and wrong, binary. But now there exists so much gray. Context emerges. Empathy creeps into the picture.

I don’t have much to offer about growing older. I can’t deliver neat little listicles that are easily tweet-able. What I can tell you is this–age has brought me physical and emotional space. And that space is filled with so much gray. That space requires patience, temperance because it dawns on you that you are in the midpoint of your very short life and the world is not clean, simple and complete. And this is okay. As the years press on, you keep telling yourself that this is okay. That it’s okay to settle in the gray, vacillate in the betweens.

Or who knows? You may already know all of this at 25. I could be wrong and that’s okay too.

 

INGREDIENTS
For the pie crust: makes a nice 9″ pie, it can also create 2 4″ pies (approximately)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cubed. Keep this in the freezer until you need to use it.
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice cold water

For the pie filling:
4 cups blueberries
1 cup organic cane sugar
3 1/2 tbsp flour or cornstarch

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt until combined. Cut the chilled butter into the mixture with a handheld pastry blender. Cut together until the butter is the size of small peas or lentils. If you’re using a pastry blender, don’t SLIDE the blender, press down on the butter against the flour or you will lose the integrity of the solid butter. You can also pulse all of the ingredients in a food processor. I opted to do this by hand as I wanted to understand how the dough should look and feel before I take shortcuts. Of note, it takes a while (10 minutes) for the dough to be properly cut, so be patient.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, chilled water and apple cider vinegar. Using two forks, make a “well” in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the center of the well. Using the two forks, toss dough from each side to cover the wet well and then toss the flour mixture into the egg mixture from the bottom up. Toss this gently as if you were tossing a salad. I know this sounds odd, but it’s genius. I used to use my hands and I ended up overworking the dough and my crust would always have a cookie-like, tough texture. Do NOT touch the dough with your hands and I even recommend chilling the forks.

Intermittently, check the dough by lifting it up with the fork on its side. If you see lots of “sand” that means you need another small drizzle (think 1 tbsp) of cold water and continue to toss until the dough comes together. You don’t want a wet, sticky dough rather you want a dough that completely comes together. Continue tossing until there are no loose crumbs of flour and the dough sticks together.

Turn out the dough onto a baking sheet, wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Believe me when I say that this is critical. YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH WARM DOUGH, TRUST ME.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. While your dough is chilling, in a large bowl toss together the fruit filling mixture. Remove your dough from the fridge (after 30 minutes) and unwrap. Coat a clean, dry work surface with a dusting of flour. Lightly coat the chilled dough with the flour. Cut the dough in half and coat the cut edges with flour. Place one-half
of the dough on the flour dusted surface. Wrap the other half and chill in the fridge.

Using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough. Make sure you lift the dough between rolls and make sure the dough surfaces are coated with flour so it doesn’t stick. Continue rolling the dough. Roll each corner of the dough, one time, then turn the dough clockwise, roll again, turn, roll again, until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Gently, transfer the dough into the pie tin, align the dough with the center of the tin, covering half the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the other half of the tin. Gently, relax the dough into the tin to shape. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin.

Now you can fill your pie with your fruit mixture! Place the pie tin in the fridge (cooling again! I’m serious, kids!) while you roll out the top crust.

Remove the other 1/2 of dough from the fridge and roll out until you achieve a round circle of dough about 10 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Fold the dough in half. Remove the pin tin from the fridge and transfer the folded dough onto the top of the pie. Unfold to cover the entire pie. Cut off any excess dough hanging over the edge of the tin. Fold the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the crust with your fingers to create a decorate edge.

Chill the pie until the dough is firm (20 minutes). Once chilled, brush the top with heavy cream and cane sugar. Cut three score marks in the top of the pie to allow the pie to vent while steaming. Place the pie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the pie at 400F for the first 20 minutes. You want to shock the pie to allow it to hold the integrity of its shape and create a flaky crust. Reduce the temperature to 350F and bake until the pie bubbles in the center — approximately 45 minutes.

Remove, cool on a rack, and serve with ice-cream!

 

blueberry pie

peanut butter brownies (grain-free)

IMG_0922IMG1231A
If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results. –Anne Dillard (via)

A few days ago I met an old friend for coffee. Lauren’s been someone whom I deeply admire, and have been longing to see for a while. Seeing her feels like an exhalation–I can explain it, but I always feel calm in her presence. She’s soft-spoken, introverted and insanely creative. We met years ago when we were online marketing managers at HarperCollins, and we’ve kept in contact over the years–perhaps out of sheer curiosity about where we’d inevitably land. I remember our first lunch after years of not having seen one another, and I shared how much I loved photographing food, and she smiled and shared that she had started freelancing as a professional photographer. At first I felt embarrassed around her because she was the real deal while I was someone with an expensive camera taking pictures of the food I’d made, but she was so generous with her time that I soon grew eager to ask her questions. She advised me about shooting light, Lightroom techniques for balancing out distortion as a result of using my 16-35mm, and general tips about lenses (she shoots with a Nikon while I’ve a Canon).

portfolio
IMG_4253IMG123

This week, in passing, she mentioned that some of my recent photos have been good, really good, and that I should consider submitting them to a few sites for stock photography. At first I balked, I waved her away–who was I to submit photos alongside people who could pontificate for hours about bokeh and light? It’s weird even writing this alongside a post where the food shots are passable at best (brown is hard to beautify, especially when you’re dealing with gluten-free desserts, which are sometimes challenging as keeping the integrity of the sweet becomes a nearly impossible proposition, and food styling gives me massive vertigo because I think the food should always be the star of the show), but when I look at some of my images from Nicaragua (I really enjoyed shooting with a wide-angle lens, and I feel really proud of this photo), Thailand, Fiji, and India, I get excited. They’re not half-bad. They’re decent, even. I also think the buns from this post are pretty foxy.

So I submitted a portfolio of about 30 photos for consideration to one of the cool stock sites, where I can make a few hundred a month (for grocery + transportation $, not bad!). To be honest, I’m expecting to be rejected (I’m not fishing. Seriously, I’m not), but it’s nice to take an element of what I love about this space and finding a way to make a little extra money from it. I even thought about redesigning the space so I can have a section for my photos (the travel shots are the ones of which I’m most proud, since the food photos are simply okay) in hopes that I might sell some prints.

What do you guys think? Am I crazy? It’d be nice to hear your thoughts.

Like I said, ignore the brownies (although they were downright delicious) as an example of my work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
4 tbsp chunky peanut butter
125g dark chocolate
100g vegan butter (7 tbsp)
2 medium eggs
125g coconut palm sugar
75g almond flour (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a small square baking tray (8×8) with parchment paper.

Beat the peanut butter and maple syrup in a small bowl with a fork. Litter the tray with baby blobs. Set aside. In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy (2-3 minutes). Beat in the almonds and baking powder. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture. Pour over the peanut butter mixture and even out with a spatula. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

Cool on a rack for an hour. You can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.

IMG_0921IMG1231A

grain-free dark chocolate chip peanut butter banana bread

IMG_0537IMG1231A

Today I spent the morning with one of my closest friends. Angie’s one of the few people with whom I can completely be myself. We’re quiet when we speak, there’s no artifice, and I often show up to her house in leggings, hair undone, face scrubbed clean. She has two beautiful and brilliant children, and some of her time is spent tending to them, swapping out the books they read and giving them seaweed and rice when they’re hungry. I admire her tenderness, the incredible way in which she’s able to remember the details. Although I don’t harbor any desire for children of my own, I love watching the love that binds her family. It’s this love that she brings to our friendship, one that has lasted for over a decade. I’ll walk through her door and remind her that I’m 4% Asian, to which she responds that’s nowhere near Asian (she’s Korean), and after we laugh over our private, long-running joke, we talk about our day.

I tell Angie I love her as often as I can.

What I don’t tell her enough is how much I enjoy how we pass our time. She’s busy, an ambitious executive who’s also a devoted mother and wife. I know her time is scarce so I tell her that I don’t care how we spend it, as long as it’s us, talking. And I know this may sound strange, but she has a car and nothing pleases me more than to be in it while she drives. It reminds me of childhood, how I’d spend hours in a car with my pop and we’d talk about everything and nothing all at once. Angie’s like this, and I realize most of our time is spent in her car or in her dining room (I’m sitting; she’s in the kitchen), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today, I came for breakfast and I brought her this bread and it shocked her that something that’s gluten and dairy free could be so light, so moist, so holy-shit good. I spend time with her husband because he and I are so similar, and we always have something to talk about–our shared love of books (I envy their library), food and films. Today I told him that Angie saved my life. Did you know that? Your wife saved my life? That I was determined to drink and ruin, and she got me straight again? She drove me to Felix? Did I tell you about your incredible wife?

But then, the drive! As soon as she told me that she needed to make a run to Whole Foods for a dinner she was preparing for tonight, I was JUBILANT. She apologized for inviting me along for an errand with her son, and I told her that she’s crazy. Food, a car, my closest friend and a little boy who loves books–this is how I wanted to spend my morning.

I’m starting to realize that as I grow older I become conscious of time. I become conscious of getting lean. I don’t need a fancy dinner out or something to do, rather sometimes it’s really nice to spend the morning with your closest friend, eating banana bread. Sometimes the world is as simple and beautiful as that.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook
3 large bananas
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup coconut flour (you may think this is not a lot, trust me, coconut flour needs a ton of liquid to absorb)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Pinch of fine-grain sea salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.

Combine the bananas, eggs, coconut oil, sugar, and peanut butter in a food processor or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until the ingredients are well blended. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, and salt and continue to mix until all the ingredients are well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Circulate half-way through. If the bread becomes too dark (somewhere around the 30 minute mark), tent with tin foil. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before serving.

IMG_0536IMG1231A

frozen pistachio nougat mousse + some thoughts on the cult of busy

Untitled
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal? I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul. –From Omid Safi’s “The Disease of Being Busy”

We live in a cult of busy. We wear our inboxes as a humble badge of honor. We take secret pleasure in telling the friends we rarely see that we’re booked for weeks. We embrace the tools and technology as our deliverance because ordering from Seamless while in our Uber is our salvation. Never mind the fact that we don’t know what’s in the food we ordered, or perhaps we’re handing over our hard-earned money to misogynists who sometimes refer to their company as “Boober,” but that’s for another time. We desire the world and everything in it because we want the whole of life right now; we’re frightened of missing out, of not being, of fearing the other side of the what if we didn’t? question. We pin, tweet and talk about all the ways in which we can be efficient, how we can maximize time. For what? So we can spend more hours of the day filling it with stuff? Seeing people we don’t care to say or scrolling through pages on the internet so we can feel culturally attuned or relevant?

Many of my friends are mothers and I have such a profound respect for their second shift. My closest friend tweets at me that she wish she could experience this thing we call “me time.” We’ve been conditioned to fill our days with meetings that get us nowhere under the guise or promise of somewhere (let’s solve this problem by calling an hour-long meeting!) and we overschedule ourselves into oblivion, and hold some sort of secret, yet torturous pride over the fact that we are so busy. It must mean we’re moving in the right direction, right? That this is our personal velocity, right?

I don’t know. I say this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t even have children yet is busy. Still. I’ve got a lot going on. I’m juggling three incredible projects so that I’ll have the means to pay taxes, pay for dental work that insurance won’t cover, pay for said insurance, student loans and credit card bills. I take on projects to save for holidays and this journey I’m taking out west toward the end of the year. When I’m not commuting four hours a day, 3 days a week, I’m seeing beloveds, I’m dealing with family/personal stuff, I’m writing, editing, baking, and taking care of all the little things that manage to consume an inordinate amount of time.

And through all of this, I wonder if I’m being present. I’m not. I’m forever in-between time, dodging it, tracking it. And I worry how all of this busyness will get me back to the wonder. I wonder what happens if I stop saying I’m busy and fill some portion of my day with nothingness.

A small step forward? I’m participating in the Bored but Brilliant project–an attempt to pry myself away from my cell phone so I can spend that time being creative. And while this may seem like a way to get efficient, for me, it’s about getting minimal. About replacing something wasteful with something meaningful.

And then I plan on asking myself–what is making me so busy? Am I being present? Who or what is taking me away from it? How can I get back to the wonder.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Small Plates, Sweet Treats, modified
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup unsalted pistachios
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/4 cup honey

DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle 1/3 of the sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the sugar begins to melt. You’ll be tempted to stir it, don’t. Resist temptation and let the heat do its thing. Sprinkle another third of the sugar and let this melt as well. Add the rest of the sugar and continue cooking until the color is a medium amber. Swirl the pan so that all the sugar caramelizes evenly.

Stir in the pistachios and coconut and immediately pour the caramel onto a baking sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper. Let it cool completely and then chop it coarsely. I found this easier to break apart with my hands, but you do you.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Make sure you’re on the highest setting, and if you’re clueless about soft peaks, check out this cool pictorial. Soft peaks is the stage where the cream begins to hold its shape and then abandons it completely. Reserve in the refridgerator in a large bowl until you’re ready to use.

Wash and dry the bowl (I love how some bakers assume that you’re rolling with multiple stand mixing bowls–but I digress) and place the egg whites in the bowl and whisk them on high speed until they’re light and tripled in volume. Essentially, you’re a hair beyond the “frothing” stage. While you’re whipping the whites, heat the honey in the microwave or on the stovetop until it’s barely simmering (30 seconds). Gradually, on low speed, pour the honey into the whipped whites. Turn the speed back up to high and finish whipping to stiff peaks and until the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Gently fold the meringue and the caramelized nut/coconut mixture into the reserved cream. Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze until solid (at least four hours). Remove from the freezer 5 minutes before serving.

IMG_0526IMG1231A

anjou pear + apple crisp (gluten-free/vegan)

IMG_0023IMG1231A

I hope you’ve sufficiently recovered from yesterday’s food debauchery. Although every year I make the trip to Connecticut to visit my best friend and her family, this year I decided to stay home and feast on carbs and Korean revenge films. I started off the day valiantly with homemade buckwheat pancakes and maple-brushed applewood smoked bacon, however, by the time I shoveled down my gluten-free pasta with sage sausage for lunch, I was STUFFED and missing all the greenery.

This is what happens when you eat virtuously–you can no longer rock the carb casbah like you used to.

It was also serendipitous that I’d open an email from Lucie and read her incredible, inspiring blog post while eating this homemade apple and pear crisp. To be honest, I write on this space mostly for me, and while I do have you in the periphery I never assume that my words have an impact. Unless I’m physically present in your life, I never conceive of the possibility of virtual influence, and I’m always humbled (deeply so) when I hear that I’ve made an impact in your life, albeit in the smallest of ways. I love Lucie’s blog because you can tell how much care she puts into her words. Every post reads deliberate and thoughtful, and as she writes about her journey to cut sugar out of her life, I found myself nodding along.

Here’s the thing about taking trips–you may have booked the airfare and hotel, but you’ll never know where you’ll end up until you get there. A journey never is what you want it to be. Sometimes the trip changes you, takes you to places you hadn’t imagined visiting and other times you simply travel back to where you’ve come, and you book more tickets, more itineraries in hopes that you’ll not simply arrive at your destination, but rather you experience the space between where you are now and where you want to be.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d live a life without gluten or dairy, my laughter would have been louder than bombs. SURELY, YOU JEST. SURELY, YOU DON’T EXPECT ME TO GIVE UP MY DAILY BUTTERED BROOKLYN BAGEL AND MY PASTA ON THE REGULAR? Blasphemy, I’d say, among other things. Yet the distance between then and now has been remarkable. I had to make the commitment. I had to decide to change my life. I had to have the discipline. I had to sit in months of discomfort and pain. I had to feel those burning hives on my skin to know that the house I so assiduously built was burning down from the inside out.

Along the way, I dealt with a lot of people. People who had OPINIONS and had no problem sharing them. People who read magazines at length and thought that empowered them enough to play doctor and therapist. At first, I was confused, disoriented, and then I told everyone to please STFU. I have a real doctor, a real nutritionist, and I’m paying both handsomely to guide me safely through my journey. Because would I rather travel with someone who has a map, compass and the knowledge of having travelled through a seemingly unnavigable country, or do I take a trip with someone who has simply read an article about this country and is content to feel their way through the dark? I got myopic, focused, and now I’m at a place that feels normal.

What’s ironic about reading Lucie’s post yesterday is that I was feeling the negative effects of eating sugar while reading about her journey to sugar-free. Since my diet is composed of mostly vegetables, lean proteins, good carbs and wholesome snacks, save for my daily piece of fruit (I’m okay with the fructose because eating an apple that also has fiber is markedly different than downing a soft drink), I rarely have sugar. So while this crisp was BANANAS DELICIOUS, I winced after a few bites and had a bit of a headache. I had to take a nap and I only felt better when I made myself leave the house for a four-mile walk. I noticed later that when I ate more of the crisp, my taste buds had adjusted and I found myself going in for more bites, and then a little more–addict behavior–until I woke up and told myself to STOP. I put the crisp away and chowed on some cashews instead.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying thank you for letting me know that my words here matter. That they have an impact. That you’re making mindful changes in your life based on reading the words of a stranger. You can’t know how wonderful that makes me feel.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Minimalist Baker
For the crisp
4 medium-large apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used pink lady, honeycrisp and gala for this recipe)
2 anjou pears, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar + 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tbsp. arrowroot
heaping 1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the topping
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp gluten free flour (I prefer Cup4Cup)
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp gluten-free old fashioned oats*
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
pinch salt
1/3 cup or 5 tbsp. vegan shortening (I use Earth Balance), melted over low heat. Alternatively, you can use coconut oil, but I love how the shortening makes the crisp, well, crispier

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9 baking dish.

In a large bowl, add the apples and pears. Add the lemon juice, sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon and salt. Toss to completely coat the fruit. Add the fruit mixture to the prepared dish and set aside. Also, don’t fret over the apples/pears being too dry, or feel you have to add more lemon. The fruit will emit juices as it bakes, so trust me, this will be delicious.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt. Add the melted shortening and mix with a fork until you get the texture of coarse sand. Don’t worry if the mixture is a little too wet, it’ll crisp up in the oven.

Add the crisp topping over the apples and bake for 45-50 minutes. Let the crisp cool on a rack before serving with your favorite dairy-free ice cream.

IMG_0030IMG1231A
IMG_0034IMG1231A

vanilla-cream filled doughnuts

IMG_6904IMG1231
My writing was like a grown up child suddenly taking up residence in all sorts of strange places and sending back photos.Leslie Jamison

I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Correction, I’ve been distracted, occupied by the sort of paralysis that happens when you sent your book out into the world. Right now, my novel is in the hands of four different people around the country and they’re reading it, not reading it, picking it up or placing the manuscript gently down. Honestly, this is the part about writing I hate–taking the small, private thing you’ve harvested and setting it free. I imagine this is what a mother would feel when she nudges her child on to a school bus for the first time and watches the doors close behind her child. The thing that I once held so close has been temporarily taken from me and I worry (worry!) that people won’t be able to see what I’m trying to do, or simply, they won’t like it.

And yes, it’s so easy to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, however, this is precisely why an artist creates. The only way I can make sense of the world is through writing about it, and as a result of that process there’s a hope that others will feel something, anything, as a result of it. The hope is that they can hear the way my heart beat when I wrote about hurt, and they would somehow understand why I had to linger in that hurt. Set up shop, played house in it. I worry that the structure of my novel will turn hurt into a maze, forcing readers to work to find my beating heart in an age where people don’t want to put in the work when it comes to art. Some want art to explain and tell rather than probe and ask.

I guess I’m also worried because this book represents some of the most confessional writing I’ve ever committed to paper–more so than my first book. It’s easy to use fiction as a curtain, and as a result I was able to imbue a great deal of myself across a few of my characters; I was able to be vulnerable on the page when I have a hard time being vulnerable off it. A great deal of me is in this story–perhaps in ways you might not so easily identify–but not all of it. Perhaps the worry is the very frightening question the book poses, really, will you follow me into the dark? Are you brave enough to go there? Will you take the time to linger there? And I brave enough to have you occupy this space with me? From this solitary act comes an invitation, of which the author prays the reader accepts.

I know this all sounds a bit looney, but this is what it’s like for me right now. For four years in my head and one year in front of a computer or stray pieces of manuscript, this book was MINE. ONLY MINE. Now, in its rawest state, it’s less mine, and I just have to breathe and deal with that.

THANK GOD FOR VANILLA CREAM DOUGHNUTS, especially on those Friday nights when the novel is the ONLY thing I can think about. Will they get it? Will they like it? Will they understand how and why I built this world? Will the world and words linger? Will they hold up over the passage of time? Was me being this vulnerable in fiction truly worth the risk at all {emphatic yes}?

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
For the doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2/3 ounce (18 grams) fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup (160 grams) milk, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
7 tbsp (3/4 stick/100 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

For the vanilla cream filling
6 tablespoons (90 grams) heavy cream
Pastry Cream, chilled

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Stir together briefly, then let sit for about 1 minute to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, 1/3 cup (70 grams) of the sugar, the salt, and the eggs and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the dough comes together. Then, still on low speed, mix for another 2 to 3 minutes to develop the dough further. Now, begin to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is soft and cohesive.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to proof for 2 to 3 hours, or until they are about doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy.

When ready to fry, line a tray or baking sheet large enough to hold the doughnuts with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of about 3 inches into a large, heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. To test the oil, throw in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. (It should be 350 degrees if you are using a thermometer.) Working in batches, place the doughnuts in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown. Then gently flip them and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the prepared tray and let cool for a few minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a small bowl. One at a time, toss the warm doughnuts in the sugar to coat evenly. As each doughnut is coated, return it to the tray to cool completely. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the vanilla cream filling: While the doughnuts are cooking, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the pastry cream . You should have about 3 cups.

When doughnuts are completely cooled, poke a hole in the side of each doughnut, spacing it equidistant between the top and bottom. Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill the bag with the filling. Squirt about 1/3 cup filling into each doughnut. Serve immediately.

Untitled
IMG_6916IMG1231
IMG_6918IMG1231

best blueberry muffins + books that save

IMG_6752IMG1231

For as long as I could remember, books have always been a part of my life. I had the sort of childhood that was a photograph worth shredding; I was alone for most summers, and I spent them on my fire escape reading. While squirrels and birds ravaged the trees outside my window, I sat on the hot grates of a fire escape with a pile of books. Books were my companion and teacher, and you’d be hard pressed to find me–this small girl–without her bookbag packed to the gills, as my pop would say, with books. I started reading at 3, earlier than most, and I never looked back. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I remember that I always exceeded the limit of books one could borrow from the library. When I was small, I was consumed by stories of rich girls and their finery–their fresh water pearls and Fiat cars–where a great tragedy was being alone on a Friday night. Possibly this was a result of my steady diet of John Hughes films, but I felt transported. I felt as if I could close my eyes I’d wake to be somewhere other than where I was. Books gave me freedom, even if the freedom was defined as the confined space in my head.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park


For most of my childhood, I lived in my head. I jettisoned to exotic locales and feigned sleep in a house divided by two floors. I dreamed of stairs! Of taking them two by two! In this world, my imagination was rich and vivid, and I wove elaborate stories about my life as a result of having read so many books. Having been left alone so much, these books were a constant companion, a friend who would never abandon or leave, but they also served as ammunition for the dozens and dozens of stories and poems I wrote longhand. Books felt safe and they allowed me the freedom to interpret and understand the world in which I lived in and make sense of it through prose.

I guess you can say that my writing has always been a way for me to work things out.

This weekend was not what I intended. I planned to rest, write, work-out, spend time with my friends before starting a major project come Monday, but instead I felt anxious, uneasy, nervous–my father’s health concerns me and I’ve done everything I can to push him to see a doctor, but it’s not as if I’m physically living with him and nagging him on a daily basis {which is the only thing that seems to work}. He doesn’t yet see the magnitude of his impairment, and his clipped responses and fucking pride in hiding his illness, even while I know he’s in extreme, constant pain, is killing me. Right now I know he’s angry with me because I’ve contacted his family in Ireland and have also teamed up with his boss to push him to see a doctor. I hate being in this place, feeling his cold silence, even if I know what I’ve done is the right thing to do.

As a result I shifted gears and started reading a book I’d purchased on a whim–based on a line I’d read somewhere on the internet–Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. E&P is the sort of book that crawls deep into the recesses of your heart and sets up shop there. It’s funny, endearing, smart, tender without being sentimental. Reading the love story of two misfits in the 80s made me smile when it was impossible to think that I could. I fell in love with the characters, and felt a sort of kinship with Eleanor because I understood, and was empathetic toward, her life.

You can’t know how much I needed this book this weekend. I feel a sort of unrest about tomorrow and the days that follow, but right now I feel OKAY. Right now I feel sane enough to bake my favorite {FAVORITE!} dessert: THE BLUEBERRY MUFFIN.

Because muffins make me happy.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated, with significant modifications to the topping {i.e. I used a crumble topping from another recipe}
For the crumble topping
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups cake flour

For the muffins
2 cups (about 10 oz) fresh blueberries
1 1/8 cups sugar (8 oz) plus 1 tsp
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
2 large eggs, at room temp
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
First, make the crumb. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and salt. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the cake flour until a smooth dough forms and set the bowl aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 F with a rack in the upper third. Spray your muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine 1 cup of the blueberries along with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, mashing the berries with a spoon and stirring frequently. Continue cooking until the berries break down and the mixture has a thick jam-like consistency; the volume should be reduced to about 1/4 cup. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. In another large bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/8 cups of sugar and the eggs together until pale yellow and thick. Whisk in the butter and oil until combined. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and whisk to incorporate fully. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture along with the remaining 1 cup of blueberries. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold until the dry ingredients are just moistened – the batter will be lumpy, that’s fine. Don’t overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared wells of the muffin pan – each well should be completely full. Add one teaspoon of the blueberry jam to the center of each well of batter. Use a skewer to gently swirl the jam into the batter. Sprinkle the muffins with the crumble mixture.

Bake for 17 to 19 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and they spring back when gently pressed. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

IMG_6751IMG1231
IMG_6747IMG1231

british-style scones with dried cherries

IMG_6006IMG1231
On the plane ride back from Dublin, my father and I agreed that we were ruined. Our drama was rooted in the fact that we had the best scones, butter and chicken we’d ever had. Believe me when I say that our lamentations were real {with the exception of the hour we endured rolicking turbulence and I grabbed my pop’s hand, to which he replied, Your hands are so clammy!}, and for the first weeks we returned both of us refused scones and chicken. Because how could we dare taint our palates?

I remember our trip to Cobb, and how the owner of a small cafe told me that she whipped soft butter in order get that cake-like, aerated texture over which I had been fawning. Confused, I went back to the States and consulted my cookbooks — all of which read that scones MUST be made with chilled butter.

Until I found this Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and the world was set to rights. If you geek out on baked goods, you’ll appreciate the story and chemistry behind the British scone and its U.S. distant cousin. So often I’ve been instructed to not overwork the dough for fear of the HOCKEY PUCK, however, in the British scone version since all the flour is sealed with fat {butter}, gluten doesn’t form so readily, and A WOMAN CAN KNEAD TO HER HEART’S CONTENT.

The result was a marked departure from the scones of which I’ve been accustomed, but it was Ireland all over again. I smoothed some butter + preservatives on my still-warm scones and nearly cried my eyes out. Please. Make. These. Now.

On a separate note, I’ve been thinking about the comments on one of my recent posts. One in particular stuck out — the forced nature of some of my food posts — because it’s something I’ve been noticing myself. Sometimes I get so caught up in a thought or idea that I start writing and I dig where I’m going until I realize that I’ve posted a picture of a salad. Going forward, I’m going to be a bit more thoughtful here, which is not to say stories won’t be paired with food, but the pairing won’t be arbitrary, rather it’ll be deliberate and organic. So THANK YOU for your feedback — super helpful.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cane sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp {1 stick} of softened butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cups dried currants {I used cherries as that’s what I had on hand}
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs

DIRECTIONS
Pre heat oven to 500F and place rack on the upper-middle position.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Measure out all ingredients. In your food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and pulse into combined {5-7 pulses). Add butter to dry ingredients and pulse about 20 times, until butter is incorporated and there are no longer any large clumps. The mixture should resemble sand. Add the flour and butter mixture to a large bowl, and using a spatula mix in your currants {or cherries} until your dried fruit is coated in the mixture. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Set aside 2 tbsp of the milk/egg mixture into a small bowl. Pour the milk egg mixture into the dry ingredient/butter mixture, folding together with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky — don’t freak out.

Heavily flour the counter where you will roll out the dough. I’m talking like 1/2 cup of flour heavy. Flour your hands as well. Gather dough into a ball on the floured counter top. Knead dough 25-30 times, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Using a floured wooden rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle until it’s an inch thick. Cut out scones with a floured 2 1/2 inch round cutter. You’ll get 8 scones out of the first round. Gather dough scraps, form into ball, and roll out again same as before to get the remaining 4. Brush tops of scones with egg milk mixture that you set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 deg F and bake scones for 10-15 minutes, rotating halfway, until scones are golden brown. Transfer to a wire cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before eating. Add your preserves + butter and chow away. Keep the scones in a airtight container and re-heat them at 350 degrees for 5 minutes before eating.

IMG_5999IMG1231

chocolate swirl coffee cake

IMG_5953IMG1231

There’s always a moment when I start a new project when I think: I can’t do this. I’m crippled with self-doubt and I feel like a fraud waiting to be found out. Even when confronted with the simplest of tasks, I always go through this moment of terror, and then it fades just as quickly as it arrives. Then I say that I can and I do, and the experience always ends up being wonderful. I thought about this yesterday as I met with a new client and was delivered a project which, at first glance, seemed tremendous. A global company, multiple divisions, endless processes + procedures {remember the halcyon days of completing a requisition form for a pen?!}, and a sizable budget. My client reports into the President of North America, who also knows my work, and the visibility is tremendous.

In short, this project is a BFD. It’s exciting in magnitude and scope, and I’m always thrilled to seek out the things that challenge me, or transform how I think in a particular way. But…But…this project is BIG.

So I went through my terror, which was the total sum of fifteen minutes, and then I paused. I broke down the project into manageable parts, and within those parts I dissected further. When you start from the smallest and simplest place, things don’t seem as daunting. Now I have a village of smart parts that cling to the hem of a whole, and the panic receded. OBVIOUSLY I can do this I said to myself on the train ride home. And it occurred to me that this doubt comes from a mixture of seeing the largeness of something {its vague, obtuse and grand nature} coupled with insecurity.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list. This list is for my eyes only, and details all of what I’ve achieved. From practical and measurable successes to the triumphs that are smaller in nature, I’ve written all of it down to remind myself of what I’ve done, and what’s left to do. I return to this list often, and it’s like having a drink with an old friend. Reading my list, and creating little houses of projects within the overall village that is my assignment, transformed something that was once frightening to something that is terribly exciting.

I fist-pumped on the train and rushed home to make this chocolate swirl coffee cake as a celebration.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Godiva, modified slightly
For the streusel + filling
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bar (1.5 ounces) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbsp unsalted butter

For the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.

For the streusel + filling: Place sugar, pecans and cinnamon in food processor. Cover and pulse until nuts are coarsely chopped. Transfer 3/4 cup of mixture to small bowl and stir in chocolate for filling. To remaining mixture in food processor add flour, cocoa powder and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly for topping. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl; whisk to combine and set aside.

Beat butter at medium-high speed in mixing bowl for 1 minute or until creamy, using electric mixer at medium-high speed. Gradually add sugar and beat at high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low and alternately add dry ingredients and sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and mixing just until combined.

Scrape half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with filling. Scrape remaining batter over filling and smooth top. Sprinkle with topping. Bake 65 to 75 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean and cake pulls away from edge of pan. Let cake cool in pan set on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.

IMG_5952IMG1231
IMG_5946IMG1231

hot cross buns {without the cross}

IMG_5889IMG1231
It feels nice to be a human again. After a week of disturbed sleep, a case of the blues and a hacking cough, I feel as if I’ve finally turned a corner, nipped this flu in the proverbial bud as it were. I’ve still got the terrible cough, but at least I can move without wincing and my mind is finally focused and clear. So much so that I printed out a few chapters from my novel last night and spent some quiet time editing.

Looking back, it’s incredible how a bout of illness can cast a dark film over the whole of one’s world. This makes me even more grateful for the calls and notes from friends and loved ones, which served as little shards of light intent on nicking away at the dark.

I’m saying dark a lot, I realize, perhaps one of the reasons being is that I changed the title of my novel from Mammoth to Follow Me Into the Dark. I always tell writers that a book is never what you set out for it to be. Once you think you’ve identified what it is, it changes its form. Novel writing is tricky this way, and while working pretty deep in the second, meatier part of my novel, I started to think about light and dark as easy and much more subtle metaphors, as opposites and partners. I played with inverting our meaning of light and dark, and all of this felt right for the story I’m trying to tell. Vague, yes, but this was a pretty big breakthrough for me as I hit 170 solid pages.

Then there’s PART THREE. GULP.

Anyway, in lieu of not working out for four days {I decided to stop being a hero and rest and recover}, I baked like a fiend, and thank god I made these hot cross buns without the cross because right now I’m hankering for one of these bad boys slathered in almond butter.

Enjoy your week!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Donna Hay, with modifications
For the buns
1 tbsp active dry yeast
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
1½ cups (375ml) lukewarm milk {temperature barely hits 100F}
4¼ cups (635g) unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1½ cups (240g) dried cherries + cranberries
unsalted butter, to serve

For the glaze
1 tbsp water
2 tsp gelatine powder
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
¼ cup (60ml) water, extra

DIRECTIONS
Place the yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar and the milk in a large bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to foam, indicating that the yeast is active. Add the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, butter, egg, sultanas, mixed peel and remaining sugar to the yeast mixture and mix until a sticky dough forms. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 8 minutes or until elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

IMG_5861IMG12311

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Arrange the dough balls in a lightly greased 22cm square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes or until risen.

IMG_5865IMG1231

Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Place the extra flour and the water in a bowl and stir to combine. Place in a piping bag or a plastic bag with one corner snipped off, and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the hot cross buns are baking, make the glaze. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Set aside for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatine is dissolved. Set aside. Place the sugar and extra water in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Use a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Add the gelatin mixture and cook for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. Brush with the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.

Serve warm with butter. Makes 12.

IMG_5878IMG1231
IMG_5888IMG1231
IMG_5881IMG1231

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,833 other followers

%d bloggers like this: