Post 19 – Old School Food Pictures

Yesterday I went back in time through my own words and pictures. I was cleaning out an old desktop computer that has been living in my closet for the past two years and I ended up finding a bunch of old pictures, early IM exchanges with a certain someone, and interesting self-reflections on what I pictured my post-college life to be. When I finished sorting through things I wanted to keep and things to trash, I emerged in a nostalgic haze, barely aware of my present life in Boston.

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It was nice to reminisce. I remembered some very happy moments I’ve lived that are easily forgotten, I remembered the joyful newness that comes with the beginning of a relationship, and I admired my past self for some forgotten accomplishments.

Like remember when I made that cool tie-dye cake for the Peace, Love, and Neuter event at the Humane Society in Dayton?

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I guess 2007 Erin remembered the value of photographing food that she created (this doesn’t feel like 6 years ago!) Must have been about the time I started making my famous Checkerboard cookies.

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I’ve clearly been baking every chance I get from cinnamon rolls…

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To Fruit tartlettes…

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To Cheesecakes.

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To birthday cakes… (we see some of that chocolate frosting from the previous post going to work here)

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There are some definite benefits to doing some old-fashioned spring cleaning: a renewed sense of love for someone I take for granted all too often, a slight spike in my self-confidence (I’ve been making awesome food longer than I remembered!), a new perspective on my present life (look how far you’ve come), and the relief gained from gently clearing aside possessions of the past to make room for some gratefulness in the present.

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(What was the occasion for these mini bundt cakes? I have no idea. Does one need an occasion?)

More cleaning and packing to do and next week a new kitchen to cook in!

 

Oh hey, it’s Tuesday again.

Remember when it was just last Tuesday and the friendly stranger greeted me with a joyful “Happy Tuesday”? See what I told you?

Time flies. Carpe diem!

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Post 18 – Birthday

Yesterday I turned… one year older (you can’t just tell the whole internet your age!) and I can feel it. No my bones aren’t aching nor my knees giving out. I feel it in the sense that time is sprinting right by me. I feel it in the sense that I should be living for what I love and seizing opportunities. Time really does disappear too fast.

I remember waiting with my sisters on Christmas morning until we were allowed to wake up our parents to open presents. We’d look at the clock. 2 minutes gone by. We’d play some cards, look at the clock again. 5 minutes gone by.

Five minutes is FOREVER, we thought.

Now a week disappears in a blink and “wasn’t it just last Tuesday?” becomes a phrase in my life connecting all similar moments as if in one long string. Every Tuesday is just a continuation of the previous Tuesdays, as if no time passed in between. Like a movie reel the tape just keeps on rolling. Wasn’t I just having a birthday like a year ago? (Uh yeah, you were.) But somehow it didn’t seem like that long ago.

I have to admit that I wasted much of my birthday being grumpy. The weather in Boston was un- May-like -ly (how’s that for a made-up word?) cold and drizzly and I was supposed to be packing and measuring our new apartment and a couch to see if it fit. Birthdays are supposed to be for fun, I grumbled to myself, not for responsibility.

As I get older I realize more and more that birthdays are for taking action (instead of making wishes) and for counting the lucky stars in your life that are there to celebrate with you and to tell you to shape up when you get grumpy on your own birthday (thanks. You know who you are).

Speaking of lucky stars, my number one lucky star made me a surprise breakfast this morning (photo credit to him): hash browns, pancakes, and bacon.

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And I am ever so grateful for my wonderful friends who got me a beautiful Chocolate Mousse Decadence cake and celebrated with me over a delicious dinner at the Elephant Walk! To the credit of my friends, the day did start and end well, but I realized too late in my grump-slump that I needed to change my own attitude.

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Having a birthday is a reason to celebrate, but also a chance to reflect. If a year can go by this fast, just imagine the next year and the next. What do you want to be doing? When you look back in five years, where do you want to be? (I know, I know, I used to hate this question too and I don’t like spouting cliche phrases) but I have to remind myself ALL THE TIME – do what you love and do it now. I highly recommend this book for reflecting on this in detail.

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Oh ok, you want a recipe. Well in honor of birthdays, here are two for my favorite chocolate frostings.

WARNING: the first one is very buttery and sweet and rich and delicious and it takes a bit of time to make, but the second one is also delicious and much simpler to whip up.

Happy Birthday to me! (or to you if you’re reading this on your own birthday). Make it a day of gratitude.

 

Perfect Chocolate Frosting

from The Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I prefer Ghiradelli’s 70%)

½ cup half-and-half

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Place a large bowl in the sink and fill with ice about half way. Make sure it is bigger than the saucepan you are going to use in the next step.

In a saucepan (see previous step) pour chocolate chips, half-and-half, and butter and melt over medium heat. Stir constantly until it melts and the mixtures thickens, about 5 minutes. Do not let boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth. Remove the pan to the bowl of ice in the sink. Be careful not to allow any water into your pan of chocolate or it will be ruined. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer on low speed until the frosting thickens and is satiny, about 5 minutes. (I did it once by hand and it doesn’t get as smooth, plus you get tired.)

Use as desired for cupcakes or cake of your choice. The frosting will stiffen up as it sets. If it gets too hard to spread, place the saucepan back over low heat for a few minutes.

 

Chocolate Buttercream

adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook

1/3 cup butter, room temperature

½ cup cocoa powder

4 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2-4 T. milk, depending on consistency desired

Beat softened butter with an electric mixer, Kitchenaid, or by hand. Beat in cocoa powder. Slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla, and a bit of milk. Add as much sugar and milk as needed to reach the right consistency and taste. (To be honest, I don’t usually measure the ingredients for this these days).

Post 17 – Tuesday is the new Friday… sorta

Happy Tuesday!

Yes, that’s what I said. Pass it on!

I was walking home this afternoon, my mind glazing over from a tired Tuesday when I was awoken from my daze by the kindness of a stranger. Just a block from my apartment, a young man surprised me with a sincere, “How’s it going? Happy Tuesday!” His quiet greeting was followed by a nervous laugh as if he was slightly embarrassed by his own gesture. The greeting so threw me off guard that all I could do was smile in response, left in awe at the simple joy left by his kindness.

You know what? I think the world needs a little more joy on Tuesdays. I know that people love Fridays, but let’s say we give Tuesday a little love. I’ve always looked out for the underdogs (like the time I did my state report on Iowa because no one else had chosen to study the state before. Remember that, Mom? All the other 4th graders were fighting over Hawaii and Florida because they had sunshine and rainbows going for them, but I chose Iowa and all I got was corn.) Let’s hear it for Tuesdays!

I’ve been busy with life the past few weeks (getting ready to move, summer job hunting, life contemplations), but that’s not to say I haven’t been cooking nearly every day! Because variety is the spice of life, I’ve been trying to incorporate new recipes when possible and document them when I can.

Here are just a few food snapshots for your viewing pleasure.

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I take advantage of nights when Sam is gone to cook foods he doesn’t like. Here is a simple (but delicious) sautéed shrimp with scallions, white wine, and pasta. Oh and a jar of peas. That’s how I eat my peas these days…

Best thing to do with extra zucchini (other than make zucchini bread) – zucchini chips! Mmm – sweet and savory!

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The photo below is from a kitchensurfing gig I did. Smoked Salmon on Toasted Baguette and Cucumbers, Caprese bites, and Spinach Hummus.

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Dinner was Lemon and Herb Salmon, Mediterranean Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives (and some plain couscous for the kids), Mixed Greens with Feta, Cranberries, Roasted Pumpkins Seeds and Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Roasted Green Beans.

IMG_2314Dessert!  Strawberry Rhubarb pie! Pictured above pre-crumble and pre-bake.

Pictured below after baking. One for me, and one for them. (Gotta test out the recipe first – sheesh!)

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Happy Tuesday! Pass it on!

Post 16 – The Incredible Lightness of Light

The weather has been beautiful this week in Boston and for that I am so so grateful. I have biked to work every day and enjoyed it immensely. There is a reason that the sunshine makes us feel so good – it gives us life and light, it reveals beauty. When the sun lights your face, how can you not glow? And the sun provides everything, right? Photosynthesis! But of course! (Thank you middle school science class) Without the sun, the flowers, trees, and grass would not grow and there would be no food to eat, but we know all of that somewhere in the back of our minds, right? Right. But I myself forget all the time the importance of the sun in giving me light in my life and for others.

I worked at a small bakery for a short time after college. I got up at 4 AM to make my 5 AM shift and every morning I got up for work I hated my life a little bit. There’s something about waking up at that time of the night that makes me feel alone and fearful, as if the dark will never give way to the bright blue and white of a beautiful day. I would get to work at 5 AM, the roads empty, the sky dark, and the mood in the bakery somber and tense, and I would get started on my daily tasks. One great thing about getting up that early though is appreciating the sunrise all the more. After about two hours of making scones and cookie dough and rolling out croissants, I could see the light – quite literally – as the sun began to rise through the front windows of the bakery and the regular customers began dropping in for their morning coffee and scone. I remember thinking: There is the sun. Thank God for the sun! And when the daylight finally came, the day would get a little better.

Sometimes I delivered catering orders for the bakery, a trip I relished for the opportunity to get out of the bakery for a little bit and drive. I remember loving the feeling of freedom as I was driving toward the sunrise.

What is it about light that makes us feel alive and like the moment is infinite?

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The trees in my building’s courtyard

It’s not just me, either. One of my co-workers’ sons goes to school at a school out of town so she only sees him on the weekends. She loves her son dearly and talks about her visits to go see him and the drives they take together. Whenever they drive through a tunnel, she says, her son puts on “their” song (whichever one it is) and blasts it loud. This is our song. And they drive through the tunnel with the music loud, singing and celebrating as if that was all there was. The lights in the tunnel make it magic, the moment is infinite, and they are both happy to be alive in the light from the tunnel.

This week has finally brought with it the beautiful spring weather – blooming flowers that I pass on my morning ride, green everything, and even some spring showers. I am grateful for the sun and all it brings with it (food included). I haven’t baked much this week since spending more time outdoors, but don’t worry, I’ll cook something again soon enough. Go get some sun light, sunshine 🙂

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Post 15 – Sticky Dough Pork Pot Stickers

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Me and my loved ones are celebrating by eating leftover homemade Asian food and catching up on emails. Yay! I know, I know. Everyone uses Cinco de Mayo/ this weekend as an excuse to drink tequila-heavy Margaritas and indulge in guacamole and tacos. I mean why not, right? Independence for Mexico! Today we’re all Mexican! It’s like St. Patrick’s Day when we’re all Irish. Well, so… not really.

(You didn’t get the memo that Cinco de Mayo is actually not celebrating Mexican independence like many of us like to think? There was some battle and so now everyone decided we’d commemorate it by eating Mexican food and getting crrrazy. Oh, me neither)

So I was in the mood for Asian food (I know Asia is a big continent, but I really have no idea which country this food is from.) I got out my Ming Tsai East Meets West cookbook that I’ve never used and found Pork and Ginger Pot Stickers (duh, delicious!) and Braised Chicken with Shittake mushrooms and Snap Peas. The recipes sounded totally do-able based on my careful read-through.

Now when you become famous and have a restaurant called Blue Ginger like Ming Tsai, making homemade pot stickers is probably a no brainer. Your mom taught you how to roll the dumpling dough and salt the cabbage and stir it in with the pork, ginger, soy sauce, etc., so you just mix it up, and you roll out some pot stickers. No big thing. So I read and executed the recipe with a somewhat cavalier attitude and decided that hey, I could totally make pot stickers FROM SCRATCH just like Ming. No store-bought dumpling wrappers for me. Ming gives the recipes for the dumpling dough right in his book. Easy. Done. Bam. Follow along with me – you can do it too.

Pork and Ginger Pot Stickers

Step 1: Boil 2 cups of water. You may not need all of it, but you boil it anyway.

Step 2: You measure 4 cups of flour and a ½ teaspoon of salt in a bowl and slowly add the boiling water (remember: you might not need all of it!) while stirring with chopsticks (this is where I started to get cocky. Look at me, I’m making homemade dumpling dough AND stirring with chopsticks. I am AWESOME. So I added all of the water. This may have been the beginning of my downfall. Unfortunately I forgot to get pictures of these steps.)

Step 3: You knead the dough and let it rest for an HOUR. Ming doesn’t say whether to refrigerate it after an hour if you’re not ready to use it or not. He just says an HOUR. Period. I of course wasn’t organized and left it out for more than an hour. It will be fine, I told myself. And it seemed fine… at first.

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Step 4: Divide dough in half. Roll one half out into a long log, 1 inch in diameter. Okay, done. Cut off ½ inch pieces and roll them into thin circles, 3 inches in diameter. Umm…the dough is sticking to the counter and rolling pin. How do I fix it?

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Step 5: Add flour to the counter and rolling pin and try to roll out dough again. My “circles” are a little jagged but that’s how you know they’re homemade. The dough is still sticking and these circles look like mini Pangaeas.

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Step 6: Try again. You’ve done 4 perfectly acceptable ones, just keep on going. Deep breaths. Don’t get frustrated. But these stupid dough balls are not cooperating with me and they keep sticking to the stupid rolling pin and countertop. RRRRRrrrgh.

Step 7: Wad up the STUPID balls of dough that don’t give a damn about how hard you’ve tried to make the little buggers into something delicious and how close it is to the time when your friends are arriving and you still haven’t taken a shower even though you went running this morning and is this how you get rewarded for trying to make something new????

Step 8: Take a break. Throw that stupid dough away and run to the nearest Asian market and buy some frickin dumpling wrappers. You’ve done your time.

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(ahh – insert sound clip of the angels singing and a golden glow of happiness surrounding me as I find dumpling wrappers, perfectly round in a neat package).

Step 9: Sigh a big sigh and fill the dumpling wrappers with delicious pork and cabbage mixture.

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Step 10: Heat up a skillet with some oil. Cook them the way the recipe says so that all your hard work and frustration pays off and you can enjoy the juicy, salty, chewy, and delicious results. Realize that at this point you’re too lazy to take any more pictures and to tell people how to make them. At this point, no one wants to have the same experience as you.

Step 11: Dig in with your friends (or by yourself) and eat with delicious dipping sauce. It will initially seem like way too many, but leftovers are delicious, and they’re even good cold from the fridge after a round of Scategories and a few bottles of white wine or the next morning 🙂

Happy Pot sticker eating!

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P.S. If you’re feeling ambitious, ask me and I’ll post the recipe for these scrumptious and sticky Pot stickers.