December, Day 23: Back home again in Indiana

We've arrived back home for the holidays, safe and sound after a wrinkle-free travel day. As ever, we hit the ground running when we arrived, heading immediately to the Mexican Restaurant of my dreams, then to finish shopping, then home to BAKE with my mother. The difference this time is that we got up at 3 AM, Eastern Time and haven't stopped moving since. Awesome.

It seems she took on a small cookie-catering gig for tomorrow and we had to churn out five different batches of cookies. Right now, we've more or less conquered four of them, with the fifth to be baked in the morning.

Things I always remember when baking at home:
  1. The right tools (offset spatulas, clever cookie cutters, lots of parchment paper, proper piping bags and tips, Viking Professional Stand Mixer, etc.) make ALL the difference.
  2. It never hurts to make things look as good as they taste. I'm famous for making delicious, but FUGLY food. New leaf: make my food pretty.
  3. Sanding sugar goes a long way toward making sweet things pretty.
That's all for tonight, friends. Back tomorrow with more tales, maybe photos, and if you're lucky, a recipe or two.


December, Day 22: Post-solstice, pre-flight

Today we have another lame post because I've been flitting about present shopping and cleaning the apartment and packing up my little suitcase and getting ready to fly HOME tomorrow.

Home is, of course, a relative term these days, but around the holidays, home means Indiana. And the good news about a lame post today is that starting tomorrow, I'll be in the land of outlandish cooking projects and will have much MUCH more exciting things to share with you all.
Anyway, today's lame-o post features the Freakish Perpetually Blooming Orchid. You might remember this flower's debut back in September, the day before the Badness happened. Anyway, she's been blooming ever since then! Over three months now! I have admitted before that I'm no orchid expert, but I really REALLY didn't think it'd still be blooming now. The little flower that opened today is one of three new buds that appeared a couple weeks ago and there's a whole new stalk with six or seven buds growing bit by bit every day. What a pleasant little plant! And they say Ikea doesn't sell anything that lasts...


December, Day 21: Short on subtlety

I underestimated the amount of energy this blogging-every-day-thing was going to require. Snow-induced malaise combined with end-of-semester grading (DONE NOW, FINALLY) have dragged me away from the computer. I hope you'll forgive the delinquency of the last couple days, but when the world finds itself covered in a foot thick blanket of powdery white and I'm in the mood to watch Christmas movies, I'm unlikely (at best) to pry myself from the couch to do anything. This was just such a weekend.

However, Sunday afternoon found me waking up (as from hibernation) and wanting a cookie. Specifically, I wanted one of the ginger sandwich cookies I baked for our party last week. So I peeled myself away from the couch and out from under the blanket and headed to the kitchen to bake.The recipe came from a Summer issue of Fine Cooking (yes, I agree these would be delicious on a picnic, but really, their spiciness and rich creaminess are SO perfectly suited to Winter, I'm not sure who thought to make them in June. Anyway, for the party I went with the recipe and made the filling a lemon cream. Yesterday though, I wanted something a little warmer, a little spicier. So I went with a cinnamon cream instead.

Also, (you could have seen this coming) the original recipe would have yielded a spicy, but mellow cookie and that just wouldn't do. So I doubled the measurements of all the spices and amped up the filling with some extra vanilla.

The resulting cookie? Not subtle. But just my kind of treat. These would be well suited to a cup of Bailey's hot chocolate, regular hot chocolate, warm milk (if that's your kind of thing), or coffee, just after dinner. Also, I recommend making the cookies as small as possible - bite sized would be perfect. As it is, my cookies turned out to be about a three-bite cookie, which is lovely.Ginger Sandwich Cookies
with Lemon Cream or Cinnamon Cream
adapted from Fine Cooking

For the cookies:
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 t ground ginger
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t ground cardamom
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 3/4 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar; more for rolling
  • 1/4 c unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment/silpat/butter (if you don't have the former options).
  2. Whisk the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.
  3. Beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. (I wonder if it wouldn't make sense to try the America's Test Kitchen 'reverse creaming' method to control the puffiness here...)
  4. Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.
  5. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated.
  6. Turn the dough out, shape it into a disk (think about pie dough) and put it in the fridge for an hour.
  7. Put some sugar in a bowl.
  8. Roll small pinches (~1 t) of dough into balls and roll in sugar to coat.
  9. Arrange the balls on the baking sheets about 2" apart. (Original recipe suggests flattening the cookies with the bottom of a glass, which seems like a good idea!)
  10. Bake until the cookies feel dry to the touch and begin to firm up. Bake circa 13 minutes. (I have mixed feelings about how long to bake these cookies - I've both overbaked and underbaked them and every outcome has had pluses and minuses. The longer they bake - to a point, obviously - the better they look when cool, but they get really hard.)
  11. Cool completely on racks.

For LEMON Cream:
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened (I used 8 oz.)
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar (I used ~3 c)
  • zest of one lemon (I used twice that)
  1. Mix the cream cheese and lemon zest till smooth.
  2. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Same as above, but without lemon zest and WITH 1 1/2 T cinnamon (or to taste) and 1 t vanilla extract.

Assemble cookie sandwiches!


December, Day 20: Snow

As you all know by now, the WORLD IS ENDING on the East Coast. For people who are "used to snow" they're acting like a bunch of pansies. I mean, a foot is a lot of snow for one night, but this is BOSTON, people. Anyway. I'm holed up and not going out today except to walk Lucy, who enjoys the snow more than most people I know. See the video above for evidence.


December, Day 19: Delinquent

But it's so cold outside...


I know, I know, you're all so sick of hearing about the party. But this recipe was SO good I just made another batch of it. So it's not just a party-recipe.
I've always had a giant-sized sweet tooth and have traditionally eaten candy of various sorts until I feel very ill every Christmas. My parents always set out dishes of M&M's (both peanut and plain - separately, because everyone's a purist one way or the other), Hershey's miniature bars (I love the Mr. Goodbar miniatures), and all kinds of other things. Walking through the house from kitchen to living room is like walking through a veritable minefield of chocolate. And that's not even to mention my dad's annual millions of batches of fudge. Mind you, I'm not complaining.

I thought I'd give my candy-making chops a try, and did so with these DELICIOUS chocolate-dipped vanilla caramels from this month's Food and Wine. A few tips from my adventure trying this recipe out:
  • GENEROUSLY oil the aluminum foil into which you plan on pouring the caramel to chew. It is a REAL pain when it sticks because you underestimated the stickiness of hot caramel.
  • Don't stop at the recipe's suggestion of bittersweet caramel for the dipping. I also dipped a batch in white chocolate, which resulted in a very sweet, but delicious treat. And when I got tired of dipping, I just salted the leftover pieces so they wouldn't stick together. Salted caramel = genius. but you all know that.
Try this recipe! So delicious.


December, Day 16: All Tarted up for the Party

One exciting thing about the little party I hosted on Saturday (and I promise, we can move on to other topics as soon as I've gotten through all the recipes from Saturday!) was that I was trying a LOT of new things.As you all know, following recipes is not my forte and my preferred food is pretty casual. I like foods that come in lumps, and not neat stacks or slices or curls. I like food best that is unchoreographed. So, when I set out to make these two desserts, it was a real departure. Even if they're 'rustic' tarts, a Tart sounds pretty fancy-pants to me. I've only ever made one tart before. For Saturday, I thought desserts with panache would be a nice change.

And so I decided on two different brown-butter tarts. They are both called brown-butter tarts, but these two recipes are very, very different.First, the Orange and brown-butter tart, from Fine Cooking's February/March issue this year. This tart was delicious, top to bottom, crust to cream to topping. The tart shell was straightforward, but delicious, crispy and flaky. The oranges on top were lovely, but in the future, I might make this tart with a different topping (not because the oranges weren't delicious, but because I have an irrational aversion to cream combined with citrus - Dreamsicles away!). But friends, the filling. The Filling! It's fabulous! Make this tart (whether with oranges or with some other topping) at your earliest convenience!
Second, but no less delicious, the Brown Butter-Cranberry Tart, from Food & Wine's December issue. It reminded me a little bit of the Buttermilk Pies of my youth (that's a recipe I'll share with you sometime) and a little bit of the custardy tarts you get in German bakeries. Delicious. I will admit that I didn't love the crust on this one, but that's probably because I had already used my only fluted tart pan on the Orange tart and the pie plate I used made the texture come out all wrong. But, really, I would probably use the orange tart's rather less crumbly crust in combination with this tart's delicious filling. Oh, also, instead of making the suggested cranberry topping, I used some of the lightly spiced cranberry sauce I canned with Christine before Thanksgiving. It was delicious.


December, Day 15: Party postmortem, Part II

On Saturday there was soft golden light, about a dozen lighted candles, the murmur of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack filling in the occasional pause in conversation, and piles of sweet (and a few savory) treats. A couple dozen close friends crowded into our warm little house and the memory of that sweet evening will keep me toasty for months, I think.

What kept us warm that night was not only the closeness of bodies in the cozy space, but the heat of the stove warming Glühwein and the cool warmth (if that makes any sense) of the lovely St. Cecilia Society Punch.

Those of you who know me well know that I have a long-standing and (in some ways) inexplicable love of Germany and many of the trappings of that strange, wonderful country. I never miss it as much as I do in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when free time is best filled with strolls through the spice and sausage scented air of the Weihnachtsmärkte and mugs of steaming mulled wine warming chilled fingers. Thinking of the markets and longing for that particular kind of combined warmth and cold and knowing that many of my guests would also enjoy cups of that kind of spicy happiness, I made a five liter batch of Glühwein and kept it almost bubbling for the duration of the party. Alas, there's no hard and fast recipe for the Glühwein, but for five liters, I threw in two oranges sliced in half, about ten whole cloves, about 7 or 8 whole allspice, half a nutmeg, four cinnamon sticks, half of a scraped vanilla pod (leftover from one of my other kitchen enterprises), maybe a half a cup of amaretto, and a pile of sugar (to taste). It was delicious.The St. Cecilia Society Punch, however, comes from Fine Cooking magazine, as so many of my recipes do. This recipe should be a staple in your party-throwing repertoire. Comments from the party include "this punch packs a punch," "punch was divine" and "wicked awesome punch." After all, any cocktail that needs to rest overnight before making its debut has to be delicious. Make it for your next function. I served it out of a couple of apothecary jars and chilled it with big chunks of ice with slices of lemons frozen inside, church-lady style. The effect was lovely and the drinks were, as I quoted, divine.


December, Day 14: Boston Holiday Clip Show

I hope you're all warm and happy today. It's an unseasonably warm day here and after a long morning catching up with a good friend and a longer afternoon grading essays, all I've got the capacity for is a few photos. Hope you enjoy.
Figure 1. Hi Rise Window.
Figure 2. Holiday lights in the rain, Harvard Square.
Figure 3. State House and holiday lights, Boston Common.
Figure 4. Balcony view, Memorial Church, Harvard Yard.
Figure 5. Ice Skating on the Frog Pond, Boston Common.
Figure 6. Shop Window, Charles Street.


December, Day 13: Party, Part 1

I have many, many recipes and stories to share from our lovely little party last night, but right now, I'm too tired and too full of latkes from Jess and Eli's little party to get into all that. One thing I made for the Par-tay was very simple: cheese straws. These little snacks are delicious, look way more impressive than they ought to, and are a snap to make.
Here's what you do. Buy some frozen puff pastry. Thaw it. Grate some good quality hard cheese (parm, asiago, etc.) and sprinkle it over the dough. Slice into 3/4 inch stripes. Pick them up, twist them three or four times (lengthwise), and place them on a baking sheet. Bake until they're puffy and golden brown. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for more highlights, including the Best Punch Ever, Ginger Sandwich Cookies with lemon cream, Two kinds of brown butter tarts, vanilla caramels dipped in chocolate, and more. Happy Sunday to you all. I'm off to bed now!


December, Day 11: Party Prep Day 1

Getting myself and my kitchen ready for guests tomorrow. If you're not coming, now would be the time to start feeling sorry for yourself. Tonight I've...
  1. Made Vanilla Caramel - which will be cut into tiny bites and dipped into chocolate tomorrow.
  2. Made Cookie Dough for Bowtie Cookies - to be assembled and baked tomorrow.
  3. Made Cookie Dough for Ginger Sandwich Cookies - to be baked and assembled tomorrow. (This dough is disconcertingly wet... we'll see how they work out.)
  4. Started the St. Cecilia's Society Punch - lemons macerating in brandy, green tea syrup made.
  5. Made puff-pastry cheese straws.
Things to do tomorrow:
  1. Bake/assemble cookies.
  2. Finish punch.
  3. Bake one or two tarts (orange and maybe cranberry).
  4. Bake gougeres.
  5. Make a batch of benedictine.
  6. Set up the house.
Totally doable, right? Oh, and I'm going to a Latke party at 2 PM. Hm. Early morning, perhaps.


December, Day 10: Cooking in Literature

Tomorrow begins party prep, so today just a little note. Here's one of my favorite brief passages from literature about cooking, from one of my favorite books EVER.

Possession, By A.S. Byatt:

"When he got home that evening he could smell that Val was in a mood. The basement was full of the sharp warmth of frying onions, which meant she was cooking something complicated. When she was not in a mood, when she was apathetic, she opened tins or boiled eggs, or at most dressed an avocado. When she was either very cheerful or very angry, she cooked. She stood at the sink, chopping courgettes and aubergines, when he came in, and did not look up, so he surmised that the mood was bad. [...] Val put before him grilled marinated lamb, ratatouille and hot Greek bread."


December, Day 9: Liveblogging Top Chef Finale!

10:59 PM: When's the next season?

10:58 PM: Well, that was obvious. He was obviously really great all the way through. Crazy creative, absurdly talented, but I just don't like him, don't really like the sound of a lot of his food, and think he should have been nicer to his brother.

10:57 PM:
Brothers are the last two standing. Bryan is STILL so much nicer.

10: 56 PM:
Moment of Truth: NO! Poor Kevin.

10:55 PM:
Kevin's the fan favorite! Shocking.

10:52 PM:
Anyway, back to me. Drinks are fairly settled, but what about the food? Should I make sugar cookies? More of the apricot almond pine nut cookies? Something entirely new? I'm thinking about making a gougeres ring or maybe a couple tomato & mozzarella tarts, or maybe cheese fondue for something savory. Any suggestions for finger food for 25? I'm not afraid of new/difficult things, but need a couple of EASY fallbacks... Tell me!

10:51 PM:
COME ON, you can't knock Kevin for his mushroom and not tear Michael a new one for screwing up the cake! Michael's going to win. BLEH.

10:50 PM:
Michael fails! Bryan wins! Kevin's falling flat.

10:49 PM: Michael, Michael, Michael.

10:48 PM:
I NEED to own the table where the chefs sit around talking while they're being judged. Also, Michael says "none of us were stoked about what we did in the kitchen." Read: "I screwed up."

10:47 PM:
Michael sucks.

10:46 PM:
Michael's matsutakes were good, apparently. Lots of layers. Tom LOVES and has LOVED Michael the whole time. At least he admits the cake was overdone. It's like they're making excuses for him because they already think he's going to win.

10:45 PM:
Kevin's chicken skin and squash wins. Pork belly FAIL, though. Uh-oh.

10:44 PM:
Bryan's restraint is not a fault. Venison was "a story of my style." Sounds like it was tasty, though.

10:42 PM:
Guest list for Saturday's little shindig is up to 24. I haven't yet planned the menu. St. Cecilia's Society Punch, Glühwein, etc. to drink.

10:40 PM:
$125,000 on the line. Michael's nervous, Kevin's feeling good, Bryan's confident. I think Bryan will win, but I WANT Kevin to win. The brothers are just to froufy. I like Kevin's good, honest food. The others may be extremely well trained and brilliant and all that, but I think Kevin's got really good instincts.

10:38 PM:
If you're still bored during the commercials go here and see why I want a "private writer's residence."

10:36 PM:
Michael says, "me me me me me." Also, careful editing makes it very unclear who's in the lead. I'm also kind of sad that they've scaled back the finale. I miss the days of the hoedown, cooking in a barn for 400 people finales. That being said, it feels like they got more serious chefs and decided to give them a more serious challenge and more serious surroundings. Nice.

10:34 PM:
Kevin: Bacon in his dessert, but was it enough? Michael: they are ON to you! Good pumpkin seeds, though. Uh oh: almost very good. Bryan: Cheesecake was pleasant, finessed, fig sorbet! Win: Bryan.

10:34 PM:
Time for chaos in the kitchen: Michael has OVER COOKED his cakes, people!

10:32 PM:
Kevin: pork with pork. I like it. Bryan: talent, delicious, pungent. Michael: excellent squab, mushrooms were gimmicky, though. Kevin: undercooked pork, good sauce, but Tom is scowling.

10:31 PM:
Kevin: good broth, bad mushroom. Bryan: underseasoned curry, bland plating, well-cooked fish. But it's safe! Don't bore the judges. Michael: squash + lemon = win. Win: Michael.

10:30 PM:
I kind of love Southern pride. You know, the nice kind.

10:28 PM:
Bryan! Underseasoning! Oh no! Michael's prawn undercooked! Noooooo! Fried broccoli interesting, though. Win: Kevin.

10:27 PM:
Kevin: Southern fried chicken with squash & tomatoes. Bryan: Tuna noodle casserole via sardines. Michael: Cream of dehydrated broccoli. He wins for creativity. But weird.

10:23 PM:
"My mom's never eaten a sardine before." Snob.

10:22 PM:
If you're looking to kill some time during commercials, go here, where Jess gives you a little peek at the life of a grad student. Except we don't all come through so gracefully.

10:20 PM:
Did Michael bleach his hair for the finale? What's that about? He's bringing N'sync to the kitchen.

10:18 PM:
Mystery box - matsutake, rockfish, meyer lemon, and squash? Whaa? Also, did you all see the big new sous vide machine that's on the market? Want. Also, YES cook the fish in duckfat, Kevin. Badass.

10:17 PM:
I like Bryan SO much better than Michael. But dude. If I were a tenth as organized as these guys...

10:16 PM:
FOURTH course inspired by favorite childhood dish! Thank you, Tom!

10:14 PM:
How could Kevin and his mom be cuter?

10:13 PM:
Aww, it's their moms! Are they going to have to sous as well? But that could be awfully tricky with the bros.

10:12 PM:
One thing I really like about Top Chef: they all sit around and discuss how they can divide up kitchen space - so collegial.

10:11 PM:
Just looking at the menu for Cyrus to pass the time during the commercials - what's with Red Wine Risotto? Have you tried it? Is it any good? I'm inclined to say ewww. But then I've been wrong before.

10:10 PM: Favorite tweet of the day - I just remembered because of the M&M commercial: "Well, my Xmas present to Jessica went bust: M&M wouldn't let me put Lagerfeld and Wintour's faces on M&Ms. GFY HQ is a sad place today. -H" @fuggirls

10:09 PM:
WHO WAS AT THE DOOR? Either Tom or Padma, I'm guessing. Surprise quickfire?

10:08 PM:
Bryan = captain obvious. "It's going to come down to execution." REALLY.

10:06 PM:
They're cooking at Cyrus. Oh, and it's Iron Chef Top Chef! Mystery box!

10:04 PM: Aaand here come the old chefs. My picks: Jennifer and Eli. NOT ROBYN.

10:03 PM: Not judging Padma for being pregnant, but what is WITH her wardrobe the last couple episodes?! Also, do we like her bangs?

10:02 PM:
Bryan and Michael are really kind of mean to each other. I'm rooting for Kevin.

10:01 PM:
Now I have to actually figure out how to tell the brothers apart.


December, Day 8: Stock-taking

This post has nothing to do with the holidays, for which I hope you'll forgive me. However, the holidays are always going to be intertwined with thoughts about love and mawiage. You see, I just had my birthday and my Second First Anniversary is coming up in just a few weeks, which is very exciting.

(For those not in the know, our First First Anniversary commemorated our first, civil ceremony in August 2008;The Second will commemorate our second, church ceremony, in December of last year. Aren't we just adorable?)Anyway, this sequence of events (Thanksgiving, Birthday, Christmas, Anniversary, New Years) sets me up for an annual festival of self-examination and stock-taking. With the Anniversary being a new addition to the line-up, my thoughts turn to What We Should Be Doing to Make The Marriage Last. We're still bona fide newlyweds, and as such are generally very happy. But who doesn't think a little bit a lot of the time about how things could be better in an ideal world? Dan's always said that we'd probably be a lot happier if we were a little less smart - or at least if we thought about things a little less. I think he's probably right, which brings me to this article from the New York Times Magazine. If you click on that link, be warned, it's a LONG article, but despite its navel-gazeyness it's strangely riveting.

The premise is this: two writers are married to each other for nine years. One of them gets the idea to try to improve their nine-year-old, stable, pretty happy marriage (and write an article about it!). The consequences are sometimes hilarious (sex therapy!) and sometimes heartwrenching (threats of divorce, power struggles, vicious sneering). Basically, these two actually managed to endanger their relationship in the attempt to improve it, only to arrive back at the conclusion that it was fine to start with.

Let me make this clear: I don't think I'd personally want to be married to either of the people in the article (or at least to the personas that develop in the article). But at the same time, I wonder - how good is good enough? (Pardon the Carrie Bradshaw inflection - hard to avoid in a post-SATC world)

We don't fight. We do laugh. We do things together. We do things separately. We don't share everything, but we do care to know what's going on with the other. We communicate reasonably well. All these things are fine.

That being said, isn't it easy to slip into stasis? I mean, we're just a year in (give or take, depending which date you go by) and sometimes it feels like we're newly-minted newlyweds and sometimes it feels like the honeymoon was a million years ago.

So my questions to you, faithful blog readers, are whether you fall into the navel-gazing whirlpool and whether, if you do, you've found a way to keep the spark alive and keep things getting better instead of slowly flattening and deteriorating. Is there a productive way to work on your marriage without it becoming some big drama? Those of you who who aren't so new at this, how do you keep it fresh and exciting and fun?

(I reiterate, we're happy, so don't call up the cavalry. I'm just engaging in some NYTimes-fueled navel-gazery.)

Holiday Movie PSA

I feel the need to share with you all a discovery I made yesterday while re-watching Love Actually (yes, I was supposed to be grading, but I wasn't).

The scene where the weedy cater-waiter flies to Wisconsin in the hopes of meeting a cheerful, amenable American girl? Those three sort of slutty girls the cater-waiter meets? One of them is January "Betty Draper" freaking Jones. What?!

That is all.


December, Day 7: Non-seasonal Clip Show

One of the curious things about shooting film is the delay. The film always comes back a week later and, unless I've shot the whole roll in one go, which doesn't happen often anymore, the beginning is already dated. So, here are a few photos, late, but hopefully you'll enjoy them all the same.

1. Montague Book Mill
2. Trees
3. Footpath
4. Thanksgiving: corn souffle
5. Thanksgiving: pecan pie
6. Chinatown by night
7. My kitchen lantern

More film shots here, if you're bored.


December, Day 6: Oh, rosemary, oh rosemary, how tasty are your branches

Happy St. Nicholas Day to you all! I hope you found your shoes full of candy and sweets and good things this morning. Today just a photo, because I've been holed up at Hi Rise grading papers and sipping tea instead of skipping around like the manic elf I've been the last few days. As a reward for getting work done, I bought a Christmas tree! Given that we're apartment-dwellers (with a rather chew-happy dog), we went with a table-top rosemary tree. That way we can eat it afterward and not feel bad for wasting trees! It's sparsely decorated now, but will hopefully be spruced up (ha!) over the next few days.


December, Day 5: Just under the wire

As a rule, I don't trust sweet recipes from anyone who is considerably thinner than myself. Giada De Laurentiis falls into this category, and while I think she knows how to cook just fine, I wonder why she doesn't eat a little more, sometimes. Anyway, this is all to explain why I was so surprised to discover one of my favorite cookie recipes is by her! Giada's Apricot and Nut cookies with Amaretto Icing (I need say no more, really - all the necessary words are there in the title!) are delicious, toothsome, and not too sweet. The fruity bits are sweet and chewy and the nuts provide a subtle crunch and ... nuttiness. Delicious. And amaretto icing. 'Nuff said, as the kids say these days.This year, I decided to mix it up a little bit and add some cranberries as well (as much because I like cranberries as because they were next to the apricots in the supermarket, if I'm honest). The extra little pop of color does no harm and the tanginess is not out of place next to the sweet apricots. Try this recipe. I added about 1/4 cup of chopped dried cranberries with the apricots, but otherwise stuck to the recipe. I might slightly decrease the flour next time, as the cookies are not as tender as they could be. But all in all this is a winner of a recipe. The hardest part is waiting for the dough to chill. And trying not to eat them all.

December, Day 5: Decorating and baking

Hello all - I'm in the process of baking cookies and decorating the apartment. A real post is coming yet tonight, but this should tide you over. As I was hanging lights around the apartment, Lucy was both curious and a little uncertain about them. This is what that emotion looks like on a cute little puppy face.


December, Day 4: Ho, ho, ho!

Today is my day of birth, as some of you know, and I'm out celebrating. But I thought I'd leave you with a couple of the gifts I'm sending out to the Euorpean contingent - Wiebke, shut your eyes! (Not really. You already know about this one.)
While I was home over Thanksgiving, I was struck by a mood. My mom took me to the cake decorating store (!) and I ran into a display of LorAnn Gourmet flavors and next to it, a recipe for hard candy. The rest is history. I made eight batches (clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, cranberry, lemon, English toffee, grape, and a swirled double batch of cheesecake and amaretto) to send to our family abroad, take to the department for Nikolaustag (a day late), and to munch on while puttering around the house. It's a REALLY easy process (except for the scoring and breaking parts) and kind of fascinating if you find sugar's behavior as mystifying as I do.
Hard Candy
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2/3 c light corn syrup
  • 3/4 c water
  • 1 dram (like in Shakespeare!) flavor oil
  • food coloring as desired
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Insert candy thermometer. Bring sugar to a boil without stirring.
  3. Continue boiling mixture until temperature reaches 260 degrees or 'hard ball' stage.
  4. Add any coloring desired. Do not stir - the boiling distributes the color.
  5. Continue cooking until temperature reaches 300 degrees. Remove from the heat.
  6. After boiling stops, add flavoring and stir. BE CAREFUL because there will be a big cloud of steam that may or may not burn your lungs.
  7. Pour the candy onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Score the candy when it is partially cooled. Break candy along scored lines. This is where it gets sticky. Literally. I found a pizza cutter to be very useful. Basically, you want to score lines into the candy when it's cooled enough to hold a scored line. You just have to play around with it. I also found that a good, sharp, sturdy pair of kitchen scissors (like Joyce Chen) was good for cutting stubborn pieces. Just accept that your first couple of batches won't be very pretty.
Our human relatives aside, there is one very special dog we won't be seeing over Christmas. I baked a batch of Blue Jean Gourmet's peanut butter dog treats for my Lucy, my parents' Poppy and Daisy, and one Bulldog named Oscar (pictured below). I can tell you already that Lucy, Poppy, and Daisy LOVE them.


December, Day 3: Gift Guides

Positively everyone who's anyone in the blogosphere is doing a Holiday Gift Guide this year. This is great because it makes my shopping easier. These lists are LOADED with great ideas.
My suggestion of the year is to make photobooks. MyPublisher, Blurb, and Shutterfly are all good options for this. We've made a book of our travels to Ireland for some of my in-laws, and hopefully they'll like them as much as I do.

If you live in or near Cambridge and are in doubt as to what you should buy for your nearest and dearest (or *ahem* me), check out these stores.

Black Ink: These fine purveyors of random things (including, but by no means limited to, books, dishes, toys, jewelry, eclectic import items, and soap) are always pitch-perfect for your slightly arty, stylish, independent girlfriend with good taste and high expectations. They have this set of porcelain keys I've been lusting after for two years, for no particularly good reason. Also, if you have a love of letterpress and money to burn, let this be your destination for holiday cards (and stationery for any occasion, really). Shop online, too.

Boutique Fabulous: Sort of like Black Ink in its eclecticism, but with a heavier dose of fabulous, a dash of vintage, and a side of furniture. For big ticket items, check out the antique furniture piled in the basement and scattered through the store (almost all of their display furniture is for sale!). They specialize in handcrafted and/or locally produced items and everything is fabulous. They also have a selection of vintage clothes, accessories, and jewelry. You can buy me any pair of earrings they have to offer, as well as a new chest of drawers. Or some of the pretty dishes they have on display.

Christina's Spice and Specialty Foods: THE place to buy specialty spices from all over. It's a joy to snoop around the shelves and no store in town smells as nice. Also, it's next door to Christina's Ice Cream, which is one of my (unranked, because they suit different moods) top three ice cream recommendations in town.

Cardullo's: THE place to buy expensive imported foodstuffs. Great destination for your Marzipanstollen and Advent Calendar needs, as well as for things like caviar, bubbly, and bacon-flavored chocolate bars. Their deli also makes a nice place to stop for a snack while shopping in Harvard Square.

Harvard Book Store: Pretty straightforward bookstore, except that they're friendly, knowledgeable, and locally owned. And they'll deliver to you by bike! Don't go to B&N or Borders or Amazon unless you have to.

Events you shouldn't miss during the holiday shopping season:

Shop Inman by Moonlight: Thursday December 10, 6PM-12AM. Shops open late, serving treats, providing entertainment, and offering discounts! All of Inman Square is fabulous, and all the shops there are shopping-worthy. Also, you can take a break at Bukowski's for a drink, mid-shopping. Or meander over to Lord Hobo for a Soylent Green.

Harvard Square Holiday Fair, First Parish Church Harvard Square: December 5-6, 11-13, 18-23. They have great craftsy things, including jewelry, keychains and wind chimes made out of silverware by Shine On (a perennial favorite gift of mine), really funny t-shirts from Perpiscuity (Toys for Trots!), and really cute retro kitcheny stuff from Fussy Gussy.

And now, most importantly, here are things I'm lusting after most severely:
  • Yashica Mat
  • Digital Rebel
  • Film Scanner
  • Jewelry of Any and All Types
  • Clothes. Specifically, sweaters (cowl neck, especially) and jackets.
  • A military-inspired jacket, like this one or this one.
  • A punch bowl, like this one, or an antique one like this.
  • Books.
  • A hutch or china cabinet for our kitchen.
  • A lamp for over the dining table.
  • No more credit card debt. (read: cash.)
  • Also, fun random things I don't expect! These are my favorite things to get!


December, Day 2: Snowflakes and gooey cocktails

Part I

A few weeks ago Christine and I were canning cranberries. In an attempt to make jellied cranberries, we ended up with a few jars of cranberry goop. It's quite delicious, but not of a very useful consistency. Tonight I had the idea of using it to coat the rim of a cocktail glass. I turned to my trusty standbys - apple juice and bourbon - to fill the glass and topped it off with a little ginger ale. The goo sliding down into the glass was quite pretty before the cocktail was added, but it ended up looking a little bloody. Looks aside, though, it was delicious and henceforth it shall be called the Hard Candy Apple Martini. Make one ASAP.If you have cranberry goo to spare, that is. (Recipe on request.)

Part II
Last night I officially sent out the Holiday/Housewarming/Wedding/Birthday Party invitations (I've been threatening to have a big party for a couple years now, and I figured we could just combine all those reasons into one large multi-purpose party) and started obsessing today about the menu and decorations. I was in the decorating mood anyway, it being the holidays and me being in the holiday spirit, so I cut up a bunch of paper snowflakes and hung them all over the apartment.Midway through this project, Dan showed me this incredible video of GIANT JELLYFISH INVADING JAPANESE WATERS and I decided to make a paper jellyfish. It being the holidays, however, and me being in the holiday spirit, I decided to make it a festive jellyfish. A Jollyfish, if you will. I rather like him. I shall call him Oliver.
(Bonus points and your very own Oliver by mail if you understand that reference!)


December, Day 1: Cookies!

I'm having a hard, hard time believing it's December already - not least of all because the ground still hasn't frozen and there are still leaves on some trees. In fact, today I was walking past a poor, confused cherry tree that was bursting into bloom. Has it been warm enough for that? (Mind you, I am not complaining! Viva la warm weather!) Furthermore, this being the week in which I turn twenty-eight (Friday! Mark your calendars!), the passage of time is especially perplexing these days.

Amanda over at Slow Like Honey has thrown down the blogging gauntlet. She pledges 31 posts in 31 days - every day in December. Well, I'm not one to be competitive or anything, but I want to play along! So, here we go. I've never succeeded at a Photo a Day and I've never successfully given something up for all of Lent. I don't stick to things particularly well, but here's hoping I can turn over a new leaf! (It is time to do that, after all - I always do that at my birthday.)
Anyway, December 1, being after Thanksgiving, is officially an okay day to start the holiday season. So, in an effort to kick start the season (and treat my students tomorrow) I have MADE COOKIES!I've never made and decorated sugar cookies completely from scratch before, so this was exciting. I turned to the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook for a recipe and what I came up with was pretty amazing. The decorating is amateur at best, but I had fun! The love is in the icing.

Holiday Cookies (from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 3/4 c sugar (they called for superfine, I used normal)
  • 1/4 t salt (I only had salted butter, so I eliminated this)
  • 16 T (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, softened
  • 2 T cream cheese, softened
  • 2 t vanilla
  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.
  2. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter into the flour mixture, one piece at a time. (They call this the reverse creaming method. It seems to work well. Makes them flat and compact - easy to decorate, and yet delicious.)
  3. When all the butter is incorporated, add the cream cheese and vanilla until the dough starts to form clumps.
  4. Knead the dough in the bowl by hand a few times until cohesive. Turn the dough out onto the counter, divide in half and pat into 4-inch disks. Refrigerate 20-30 minutes.
  5. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper. When it is uniformly 1/8-inch thick, slide the dough and parchment onto a baking sheet. Refrigerate about 10 minutes.
  6. Cut out shapes (I used the kicky snowflake cookie cutters I got over Thanksgiving.) and lay on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  7. Bake the cookies at 375 until light brown 8-10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
  8. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. When completely cool, decorate with icing.
  • 1 T cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 3 T milk
  1. Mix the cream cheese, vanilla, and 1 T milk.
  2. Use electric mixer to combine milk mixture with powdered sugar. Add more milk as necessary until icing spreads easily.
  3. Make a piping bag out of a ziploc. Add food coloring. Go crazy.