Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale

I am really excited to be participating in the Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale! Over 50 local bloggers and restaurants are teaming up to offer their best sweet treats for sale, with all the proceeds going to the LA Regional Food Bank. The bake sale will be held on Saturday December 10th from 10am-4pm at Pita Jungle in Pasadena. If you are in the area, come on out and use your sweet tooth for a great cause!

 

The bake sale was started by Cathy Chaplin, who writes the mouthwatering gastronomyblog.com, with help from Laurie Moore of G-ma’s Bakery. The first bake sale was held in December 2009, and since then, they have raised over $12,000 for the LA Regional Food Bank: that is amazing! My hats are off to these incredible ladies, and I can’t wait to fire up my oven and join in!

There will be cookies and cakes and pies and brownies and cupcakes and muffins and all the deliciousness you can imagine, all baked up by some of LA’s most talented ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be contributing mini-loaves of my chai masala spiced pumpkin bread. I hope to see lots of you there! I am so looking forward to trying some tasty treats, making some new friends, and supporting the food bank!

Cranberry Orange Walnut Scones

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, we are all faced with a burning question: what am I going to do with all these leftovers? Thankfully, since it was just Eric and I this year, we did not have the equivalent of two refrigerators full of perishable food (er, that might have happened in the past…) The main thing I had left over was a big bag of cranberries, and I have been thinking up all kinds of ways to use them! I actually made these scones last week with dried cranberries, but fresh cranberries would be a lovely addition, and I’ll probably make another batch using the fresh ones before the week is over!

These are really easy to put together, and they bake in no time. Considering that baking something for breakfast is often the last thing I do before I go to bed, that is always a welcome treat. 🙂

I put lots of zest and orange juice in these scones, and I added walnuts to the traditional pairing of cranberry and orange because I like things to be crunchy. Texture is key! These scones have the most lovely subtle sweetness and are perfect for when you don’t want a mouthful of sugar for breakfast (although, of course, sometimes I do!) If you’d like them to be sweeter, you can always increase the sugar a bit.

And thus continues the Great Scone Explosion of 2011! I almost think I should put in a Scones header, or at least count how many kinds of scones I’ve made this year and give myself some kind of makeshift prize. More scones, probably. 🙂

Cranberry Orange Walnut Scones
Adapted from Martha Stewart 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of one orange
Juice of one orange
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons more if necessary
Granulated sugar crystals for sprinkling on top

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper (or use a Silpat). In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest.
-With a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in dried cranberries and walnuts. (This can also be done in a stand mixer; just be careful not to overmix).
-Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add buttermilk and orange juice, and stir in until just combined; do not overmix. Use a little more buttermilk if dough is too dry to work with.
-Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; shape into an 8-inch round. Transfer to baking sheet. Cut circle into 8 wedges; space them 1/2 inch apart (to prevent sticking, dust knife with flour). Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar crystals (this gives them a nice crunchy top). Bake until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Shorts in November

Eric and I had such a lovely holiday weekend. We got to spend a beautiful four days together, and we cooked up a storm and did lots of exploring. The weather was incredible as well, topping out at 80 degrees this weekend. Crazy! But I’m not exactly complaining, odd as it may be to decorate a Christmas tree in such temperatures!

I’m happy to find that fall does come to Pasadena, if only a little late: the trees have been absolutely gorgeous in the past week, aflame with color. I love it, even if I am sweating while appreciating it. 🙂

This afternoon, I found myself in shorts and a sleeveless top. All of this was sort of an excuse to show off my amazing new shoes, another glorious thrift store find: are they not wonderful? I love everything about them, from their tiny little heel to their flood of colors to the little studs on the toes. Someone more sensible might have chosen a monochromatic look to highight the shoes, but oh no, I decided to celebrate color with more color!

This silk top is an old Bargain Barn find, and it’s definitely a favorite of mine. It has these cute ties at the top, although they are so short I can’t find a way to tie them. Maybe they are just supposed to make you feel a bit like a sailor? I also really love the side panel, with its little slice of diagonal stripes.

The belt is a classic Jun Lee find, and I wear it all the time. I love it with red (and, well, almost every other color too!)

My earrings are also from Jun Lee, and I wore them to give a little echo to the toes of my shoes. 🙂

I can’t wait to write more about our adventures this week (Cornish hens! Pita bread! Baba ghanoush! Santa Monica!) My heart is just overflowing with thankfulness, not only for all the wonders of the past week, but for the blessings too big to even properly put into words: for my husband, for my family, for love. I hope you all had a wonderful week as well!

Sierra Madre

One of the best things about living in Pasadena is that we are surrounded by lots of cute little towns, many of which have distinct histories and really cute downtown areas. Last weekend Eric and I headed over to Sierra Madre for an afternoon stroll, and we had a really lovely time. There were gorgeous fall leaves on the trees, and they had just put up their Christmas decorations. So sweet!

One of the most beautiful things about this town is that it’s a lot closer to the mountains than Pasadena, and there’s not much built up on the hills in between the two. It really makes you feel like you are in a mountain town, and mountain towns have a really special place in my heart. (Cue the Twin Peaks soundtrack…)

On our stroll through town we passed by a few little cafes and parks, all decked out for the holidays, and then we saw The Four Seasons Tea Room. Oh my goodness. There was nothing but smell of scones for blocks around it. We didn’t go in because it was a bit pricey for an impromptu visit, but I would love to go sometime soon!

Across the street there was a little art studio with all kinds of classes. They had this pretty sculpture out front, and I, of course, loved the bright colors!

A bit further, we came across this gorgeous old church, built in 1890. The sky was so dark and atmospheric that day that the white walls stood out all the more. It made me happy. So I proceeded to frolic in the beautiful fall leaves. Oh yes.

A bit further down the street we came to the hardware store, which was totally charming. We went inside to have some keys copied (finally getting around to that!), and we marveled at their impressive Christmas tree selection: so excited to get our first tree this year!

While we were waiting for the keys to be copied, I took pictures of the pretty paint chips.  I am greatly indebted to whoever invented them. Really.

On our way back to the car we saw a salon that apparently means business. This cracked me up.

And I had to take a picture of their sweet playhouse, where To Kill a Mockingbird is currently being staged. Eric and I will have to come see a play here sometime soon!

We had such a lovely afternoon strolling through town. It felt festive and adventurous, and yet it only took us about 15 minutes to get there. If there are any neighboring towns around where you live, I would really encourage you to spend an afternoon there for a change of scenery. With Sierra Madre all decorated for the holidays, it almost felt like we were on vacation. This is exactly the kind of place that I’d like to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I think we may head to another little town today to explore and do some shopping. I hope you all have a lovely and adventurous weekend!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all enjoying a beautiful day surrounded by warmth, laughter, family, friends, and truly delicious food! May we all make joyful memories today that we’ll hold dear for years to come. Bon appetit!

Quince Tart

My love affair with quinces began not too long ago, and in the most improbable of ways. I confess that I didn’t entirely know what they were until I read about them in Orhan Pamuk‘s hauntingly beautiful novel The Museum of Innocence. I picked the novel up during a rainy spring, seeking some aesthetic escape while my beloved was continents away, and, reader, I could. not. put it down. It is one of the most deeply moving, excruciatingly gorgeous novels I have ever read. And I read novels for a living. One of the key ideas of the novel is the extraordinary capacity of quotidian objects to serve as living and breathing repositories of memory. In love with the overwhelming beauty of the everyday already (thank you, Nabokov), I was swooning every other page. Pamuk’s starting point for the novel, as he explains it, was found precisely in these objects, the remnants of his childhood, the remnants of his hero’s romance. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but I will say that one of these objects is a quince grinder. I had no idea what it was, but then I found this lovely piece in the NYT, in which Pamuk introduces some of the objects, which he is actually putting in a museum in Istanbul (!!!!!). This kind of cross-over between literature and life is completely mind-blowing to me, and I could not contain my glee at Pamuk’s deep understanding of the resonance of everyday objects, of their incredible significance. It is actually very hard to describe how much this whole undertaking moves me. It is even a little bit frightening, since words are my tools, my hammer and saw for daily labor. So, in a tiny act of homage, I decided to make a quince tart.

I had to wait a long time for it to be quince season, and then I had to wait for the quinces to ripen. They can’t be eaten like apples, even though they look a bit like them: they have to be poached to make them soft enough to eat. The characters in Pamuk’s novel are making quince compote, and now that I’ve worked with the fruit, I can see that a quince grinder would be a very handy object to have around indeed.

For the tart, first you peel the quinces, and then you quarter them and cut out their fleshy seeds. Then slice them thin and add them to a pot of sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, and allspice berries.

You simmer this mixture for about an hour and a half, during which time your whole house will smell like heaven. I promise.

As the quinces cook, the liquid will reduce, and the fruit will soften. When they are ready, they will be slightly pink. So pretty.

Then you just load them into your tart crust and bake for a bit, until it’s lightly bubbling. I used Dorie Greenspan’s tart crust recipe, and it was perfectly paired with the quince.

Eric and I happily snacked away on this tart for a week, and it just got better and better, the perfect fall treat. If Pamuk ever came over for dinner, I would make this tart for him. And then I would probably weep profusely in attempting to talk to him about his novel and how much it moved me. It is not so often that I have an experience that I feel is so completely beyond the realm of linguistic expression, and it is really rather mystifying trying to write about such an experience, but oh my goodness, would that we all had more of such moments in our lives, whether they be found in books or in others or in the world around us. It’s in these moments that magic, real magic, is made.

Quince Tart
Crust recipe from Dorie Greenspan
Tart recipe adapted from Melissa’s Produce

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
(Dorie’s recipe is for a 9″ tart pan, but it worked just fine in my 10″ pan).

-Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely – you’ll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that’s just fine.  Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.  Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
-Very lightly and sparingly – make that very, very lightly and sparingly – knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
-Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Don’t be stingy – you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it.  Also, don’t be too heavy-handed – you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don’t want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly  texture.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking. (I left mine in the freezer for a few hours, while I was working on the quinces).
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust.  Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil.  If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

For the quinces:
1 pound quinces
1 1/2 cups Water
1 cup Sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries
2 teaspoons lemon juice freshly squeezed

-Peel quince and cut lengthwise into 8 wedges, coring it. Cut each wedge cross-wise into thin slices and in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan combine with water, sugar, cinnamon stick and allspice berries.
-Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until quince is tender and has turned a deep pink (near end of cooking), and syrup is reduced and thickened. Discard cinnamon stick and allspice berries and stir in lemon juice.
-Cool quince filling for 5 minutes, and then spread into pre-baked tart crust. Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool for 20-30 minutes before removing tart from tart pan. Slice and enjoy!

365 Project: Year 2

On Sunday I finished up my second year of the 365 project, which means that I have posted one picture per day to my Flickr account for two years!It’s great to have a sense of accomplishment about it (comrades, when you are finishing your dissertation, any sense of accomplishment will do!), but more than that, it is a gift, really, to have this record of my life and to have an extra incentive to keep my eyes open wide every single day, so I don’t miss any little bit of magic. What happens now that I’m done? I start Year Three! I couldn’t imagine my life without this project now that I’ve started it, so I will carry on:) I usually post about a weeks’ worth of pictures at a time, so the third year should be up early next week. In the meantime, here is a quick look back at some of my favorite moments from this year, as well as some thoughts on the general trends of my interests and subject matter (because I love amateur statistics!) 🙂

Every year brings its own joys and sorrows, but I am grateful for all the joys this year has brought my way. By far the best was that I married the love of my life and the best friend I have ever had. Being with him makes every day a happy adventure, and, as I told him a few weeks ago, being married to him is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Our wedding day was sweet and beautiful and all we could have hoped it to be. *Heart overflows with gratefulness*

Before our big day, we got to spend some truly special times with our families. We met my family at Sea Ranch for Thanksgiving last year, where we feasted, hiked, read, slept late, and generally made merry. *Nostalgia*

In the spring Eric and I went to see the tide pools at Half Moon Bay. As soon as we left, I wanted to go back. I wanted to see more starfish!

In May Eric and I both graduated from Berkeley, spent a beautiful week celebrating with our families, and then left this lovely library behind.

A few days later, my brother got married in beautiful Carmel, and more awesome family celebrating ensued. Lots of champagne, lots of laughing, lots of good food!

The next day, Eric and I were able to visit Point Lobos, which is one of the most breathtaking places we’ve ever seen. Just wow.

Less than a month later, Eric and I got married and headed off to our honeymoon in Hawaii! It was 10 days of utter relaxation and beauty, as is evident from this picture. 🙂

When we got back, we soaked up the rest of the summer with our dear friends, and Eric moved out of his apartment so he could move in with me and our wedding presents. The stack of boxes was pretty impressive: thank you friends and family!

Just a few weeks later, we moved to our new home in Pasadena and started working on making it our own. Whew, what a year! It makes me a little tired thinking about it (and I even left out a few other trips and happenings)! It is so nice to be settled here, getting cozy and enjoying being newlyweds.

What else can we learn about me from the past year’s pictures? I drank a lot of coffee. I drank a lot of tea. I did a lot of reading and a lot of writing. I did a lot of cooking and a lot of baking. I worked on a lot of fun projects. I saw lots of beautiful plants, flowers, and trees. I visited some incredibly gorgeous places. I got to do it all hand in hand with the person I love more than anyone else in the world. And I have really and truly wonderful friends and family. That sounds like a sweet life to me. At the risk of being meta, I have to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to look back and be grateful some more. 🙂 I’m excited to see what this next year has in store for me!

Purple, Tweed, and Pearls

One of the most lovely things about living where we do is that we are surrounded by lots of tiny little towns, which are really cute and fun. On Saturday Eric and I headed out to explore Sierra Madre, a lovely town with a clear view of the mountains and lots of little shops, cafes, and historical buildings. They had just decorated for Christmas, so we loved seeing all the wreaths and trees and ribbons!

The best part was that we found so many beautiful fall leaves! Hurray! And it was actually pretty chilly, so we felt very autumn! I love how my shoes are completely buried in the leaves 🙂 These shots were taken in front of a church that was built in 1890. And I thought that was pretty awesome.

This outfit is comprised of some of my favorite pieces. The tweed skirt (with the cutest kick pleats, and a satin lining to boot!) came from my favorite clothing swap party. It reminds me of my dear friend Aly, who is always so classy and would look so elegant in this skirt:) Of course, I had to add bright colors: this purple silk top is from the Bargain Barn. I kind of love its ridiculous poofy sleeves, as well as the pleat down the front and the tiny gold button at the collar. (And by sheer coincidence, I had just painted my nails purple. Color coordination FTW!)

The belt too is from the Bargain Barn, and my shoes, which I realize you can’t see at all, are brown suede flats that my mom bought me for my birthday a few years ago: thanks, Mom! I had grand plans to put some lipstick on and switch into some more colorful shoes, but I suppose the me you are seeing here is the everyday me, the me that is too cold for frippery! Soon I had to put my beloved thrifted corduroy coat back on to rescue me from the wind.

The earrings are really special to me. They are little black pearl studs that I bought on our honeymoon. If our time in Hawaii convinced me of anything (I mean besides the glories of the lanai and the luscious pineapple), it convinced me of my great love for oddly-shaped and colored pearls (this love was first kindled when Eric brought me back a set of beautiful burgundy pearls from Australia). So so lovely. I wanted to buy them all, everywhere we went, but I was very happy with this modest little pair. I love how they almost look like tiny shiny buttons.

So, this was our little photo shoot in the leaves! I will write more about Sierra Madre later this week, because it certainly deserves its own post: major cuteness! I hope you all had a lovely weekend!

Petaluma

Somehow, Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and I have remained almost entirely oblivious to it. I chalk this up in part to the dissertation madness, but also to the fact that, for the first time in my whole life, I won’t be with my family this Thanksgiving. Now, of course, I *will* be with my family because I will be with Eric, and he is my family and my home, wherever he may be. But a little tradition that has been going on for many years is coming to an end this year, and I am missing it and remembering it fondly. For the past five years or so, both my brother and I were both living in the Bay area, and my parents and my little brother would fly out to spend Thanksgiving with us. The first time we all stayed in a big suite in San Francisco, but in the years after that, my completely amazing parents would rent us a house at Sea Ranch, and we’d all get together and hike to the beach, read books by the fireplace, explore the surrounding towns, and, of course, do plenty of cooking and eating. My parents bought all the groceries (oh, happy day!), and Eric and I would trade off cooking with my brother and his now-wife. It was heavenly. So every Thanksgiving Eve, Eric and I would make the drive up the coast to Sea Ranch with a trunk full of brussels sprouts and pumpkins to spend a few glorious days by the ocean with all the people I love the most in the world. While I am bummed that it didn’t work out that way this year, I have been thinking fondly of the times it did, and one thing that came to mind was the cute little town where we’d always stop for lunch on the way up and back down: Petaluma.

When we’d pass through, they’d usually have just put up the Christmas decorations, and it was lovely to see the seasons blending in to each other one after the other.

Eric I actually had a chance to visit this summer too, on our way up the coast to a wedding of some sweet friends of ours. We ate at the glorious Della Fattoria, where I was apparently too busy stuffing my face to take any pictures, but I can attest that it is totally charming and totally delicious. After lunch we took a quick walk around town, and strolled across the bridge over the river.

It was lovely to see all the charms of the town in warm weather, like the little riverside coffee shops, with patio tables. I was smitten instantly.

The town is full of lovely old buildings and squares, and we had a beautiful stroll, hand in hand.

I love the old bank….which is now apparently an antique store. Sounds good to me.

One of the places we passed by was…a pie shop! Pie has found a special place in my heart due to the masterpieces of my friend Steve, who would frequently have me over for pie day, where I’d sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch butter, fruit, and flour turn into sheer magic. Steve is passionate about pie, so I wished he could have been there to see this place, the Petaluma Pie Company. He would have loved it. They even had a wall dedicated to the pie stories of all their customers. Steve, you must go there someday!

Sadly, we were way too full for pie (I suppose they call it Della Fattoria for a reason!), but I walked around taking lots of pictures and grinning like a small child and probably puzzling the employees. Sorry! They had all of these old-fashioned blenders and mixers strung across the front window: so cute!

And they had these tiny little ceramic pies on display: even cuter!

And they also had a mushroom and goat gouda pie. Hook, line, and sinker!

But eventually we had to leave the warm and buttery air of the pie shop to continue our peregrinations. I don’t know too much about the history of Petaluma, but I loved seeing some of the old buildings, which spoke of the bustling life of a little river town. I loved this little boarded-up window in a brick wall.

Eric thought it would be a great backdrop, so he took my picture. 🙂 Petaluma, I will miss visiting you this year!

The Ultimate Chocolate Bundt Cake

This past Tuesday was National Bundt Day, and even though this post is a bit late for it, I was celebrating in spirit! Eric and I got a bundt pan from my sweet friend Leah as a wedding gift, and I am in love with it! It’s the perfect way to make a rich and moist cake that doesn’t even need frosting. YUM!

A few weeks ago, in the midst of endless dissertation editing, I decided what I really needed in my life was chocolate cake. A big layer cake would have been too much for just two people, and I wanted something lighter than a tort, so I turned to the trusty bundt. I found this post over at Joy the Baker, entitled “The Making, Baking, and Consumption of the Best Chocolate Bundt Cake Ever.” And I knew I had hit a goldmine, since Joy is amazingly awesome, as are all of her recipes. So, off to the store I went to get my supplies.

The recipe involves two parts: mixing the cocoa powder with coffee (yes, coffee!!), and mixing the cake base. I couldn’t taste the coffee at all, but Eric said he could. I suppose maybe my taste buds themselves are 70% coffee-based by now. I’m not complaining.

The whole house smelled amazing while the cake was in the oven. And then we ate it. Eric likes seeing my ecstatic food faces when I bite into things, and I don’t think I disappointed him here. I took one bite, looked at him, and said, “This is everything I could ever want a chocolate cake to be.” Oh yes.

The best part about National Bundt Day for me was my discovery of the bloggers who celebrate it. Chief among these is The Food Librarian, who not only has done a 30 bundts in 30 days project three years in a row, but officially calls it “I Like Big Bundts.” Oh yes.

I have spent so much time on her beautiful blog in the past few days! Pumpkin Spice Bundt? Sounds good! Ultimate Streusel Bundt Cake? Yes, please! Cinnamon Chocolate Bundt Cake? Sign me up! My eyes start goggling at the possibilities!

I think that this rich and delicious chocolate bundt cake is going to be my standby for years to come, though. I can’t imagine it ever failing to put a smile on my face. Hope you enjoy!

The Ultimate Chocolate Bundt Cake
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker, from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tablespoon brewed coffee
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups plus 1 Tablespoon buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups, plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

(I didn’t put a glaze on the cake and didn’t think it needed one, but if you would like to make one, Joy will tell you how here!)

-Put brewed coffee and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.  Remove from the heat and let come to room temperature.
-In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs and egg yolk on low speed for about 1 minute.  Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low again for another minute.
-Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.  The batter will be very loose.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.
-Let the cake cool completely in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack. Serve and enjoy!

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