Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Seminar

Tonight I am making lavender-blackberry scones: a summer seminar in delicious fruit and relaxation. I finally tracked down a place to get dried food-grade lavender (Whole Earth Center in Princeton town), and have a pint of freshly picked blackberries at home waiting for me.

Yesterday, John and I went to a friend's crop-share since she is away on vacation. Since she would be losing money on "wasted" produce, herbs, and fruit, she offered us her pass and wished us well. Aside from the heat and swarming mosquitoes, it was pretty much heaven. My favorite activity was picking blackberries and flowers. There's a lovely bouquet on my table at home. My favorite smell was standing amidst the lemon and lime basil. I probably could have stood there for hours. If the mosquitoes at the approaching dusk was a drawback, the perfect lighting made up for it a hundred-fold. Check out this pic I snapped on my iPhone in one hand while balancing a bucket of flowers in the other. Yeh. That one's like a gift from the photogenic gods...the fuzzy faded summer light at the back...come on, son.

But scones...I've been wanting to make these since initially discovering the recipe months ago, but was having trouble finding the lavender. I know this is counter-productive at this point, but I was too lazy to order it online. When I get the baking bug, I need to bake, and I need to bake NOW. No time for delivery! If I can't run out and pick up what I need spur of the moment, then the recipe gets tabled. I know. I told you it's ridiculous.

As I sit here and daydream about the aroma of these suckers baking, I'm also finding myself reading (and rereading and rereading) the recipe. You guys, I love reading about food as much as I love eating it. I have cookbooks at home that I will sit down and read cover to cover like a novel. (Also, a cookbook without photos is a waste...SHOW ME THE FOOD! In addition to being something delish to look at, I also like to know what to expect along the way as I bake...)

A good recipe is like Shakespeare (bold, I know...and you know I love Shakespeare). It's poetry in motion seeing disparate ingredients come together to form one beautiful sonnet. Oh, and then you get to eat that sonnet. Mmm.

Stay tuned for my latest work. I hope it turns out well. I hope to come back and post a photo of the finished lovelies, topped with lemon curd. Yes.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On Small Miracles

There are a few things that happen everyday that are small miracles. I'm not talking about babies being born or cancer going into remission. Those are pretty large miracles actually.

Not that the things I'm thinking about are super easy or low-priority. I'm mainly thinking about falling in love, buying houses, and getting jobs. In all three of these aspects, there are so many forces against you. I mean, to find a person who is stimulating, supportive, and you actually like being around is hard enough. But to have that person have all those feelings right back at you (at the same time, I might add)? When you think about it, it takes up a huge portion of our time as human beings. Sitcoms center around relationships--potential relationships, developing relationships, long relationships, crumbling ones. It really is a big deal when everything works out and ends in happiness and fulfillment. When you think, too, about handing your heart over to someone else, you're pretty much laying on your back, belly-up saying, "I'm vulnerable. Please be careful." That's terrifying! John and I are together for almost 10 years at this point, and while I feel incredibly secure, I still often feel vulnerable. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I screw this up? Why does he put up with me? Small miracles.

Also, getting a job. In modern times especially, there are so many people fighting for jobs. To have someone even look at your resume deserves a victory dance. Then you have to hope you shine brighter than everyone else, and then you have to hope to wow in person at the interview. All while hoping the job is something you actually want to do (because let's face it...finding a job that is attractive to you isn't easy, either!). I think in watching friends and family hunt for work, I realize I've taken my own career for granted. I'm very much aware of the small miracle that has me sitting at a desk at Princeton University. Big leagues, you guys! It's been 3 years, and I still wander around campus like a tourist, craning my next to take in all the buildings. To think that I was picked out over other applicants blows me away. I'm so grateful to be part of the Orange Bubble.

And houses. Ugh, this is my current headache. It really is a small miracle to have the stars align and to have a house sale go through! Much like falling in love, you approach house hunting with a mile-long wish list, looking for just the right Mr. Tall Dark'n'Handsome House. So once you find it out there, you hope you can afford it, you hope no one else is competing with you for it, you hope you come to a clean agreement with the sellers, you hope the inspection doesn't turn up nightmares, and then, finally, you hope to move in, collapse, cry a little, and sigh the relieved sigh of someone who has checked off a huge accomplishment on the Things Grown Ups Do list.

Small miracles. Where so many things can go wrong and you have little control over the circumstances, there are things that happen every day. People fall in love. People find employment. People buy houses. I'm lucky enough to have the first two taken care of, and am hoping the third will be next.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Perhaps as a nice compliment to my previous post, this one will tell you about my first batch of homemade Irish cream.

This isn't something, like cheesecake, I'd always wanted to make myself. I was happy to head to the liquor store and pick up a nice bottle o' Bailey's and to nurse it as a nice liquid dessert til it ran out. But while I was reading my favorite Irish food blog, and was drooling over her post about making pavlova, she linked to a recipe for homemade Irish cream in case you were feeling adventurous enough to make it to use in the pavlova recipe. At the time, I was more interested the how-to for the meringue, but the drink recipe stayed in the back of my mind.

It was probably a day or two later that I found myself killing my lunch hour in one of my favorites fashions: perusing the shelves of Kitchen Kapers, sighing wistfully and lusting after dream gadgets and things I could make when I finally have a "real" kitchen in which to toil. Then I happened upon the most lovely and perfect vessels for homemade Irish cream. Gorgeous glass carafes with an airtight seal. I walked away from them at the time, but I couldn't get them out of my head.

So here I am, a month later, with two bottles of homemade Irish cream in my fridge (and a nice-sized glassful in my belly). The recipe is ridiculously easy, and yields a more chocolatey flavor than the bottled Bailey's. Now I just need to think of a nice name for my blend, so I can hang a pretty label around the bottle neck to serve during the holidays. The initial idea was to make it to bring around for our holiday visiting. But it all happened so fast...I bought the bottles, got them home, and just HAD to make some. A test run. Clearly justified. What if it was awful, and I needed every bit of the 3 months between us and the first holiday of the season?

And here, my friends, are some photos of my process. (PS: when I make it for an audience wider than John, myself, and a few other test-drivers, I'll spring for more quality ingredients. For this batch, store brand seem to have done just fine.)

Here is just a smashing shot of the bottle necks.

All of the ingredients. That's right. Cream, condensed and evaporated milk, coffee, chocolate, and whiskey. Done.
Whisking it all together: chocolate was melted in a double-boiler, then the bowl removed from the steam. From there, add in the liquids (and coffee), and whisk it til it's smooth.

 Here's the coffee before getting dumped into the warm cream.
 Mmm. Frothy. By this point, it smelled awesome in my kitchen--sweet from the melted chocolate, and boozy from the whiskey.

These bottles are just so amazingly elegant. We chose Bushmills whiskey over Jameson simply to try something different. I feel like Jameson is the go-to here in the states because of the name, but Bushmills seems to be equally popular in Ireland, so we gave it a whirl. It smelled and tasted heavenly. Definitely a good choice.