Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quick Summer Vignette

There are fewer things that scream "Summer!" more than beach shots. One of the few things, however, are farm portraits right here in the Garden State. I swear, for the state that boasts both Camden and Trenton, there are locales scattered around that remind you where our moniker came from.

John and I visited Cherry Grove Farm today. We admire (and consume!) their cheeses at the Bordentown Farmers Market every week, and finally made the trip over to their working farm right in Lawrenceville.

And now, I release you back to your summer as I continue mine...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Brief Flirtation with Vegan Baking: Toasting Two Dear Friends' Engagement

You guys, I love dairy. In fact, I probably blow the FDA's recommended daily intake of dairy out of the water. Probably worse than a dairy farmer does. I can't help myself. It's a sickness. A delicious sickness.

But there is a dear friend in my life for whom the joys of dairy cause pain and suffering. Lactose intolerance is a bitch, y'all. While dairy baked into cakes, breakfast eggs, and butter don't usually present a problem, when posed with the prospect of baking cupcakes to toast her engagement, I decided not to take any chances. Engagement cupcakes are best when eaten in mass quantity, so definitely better safe than sorry.

Initially, another friend and I were going to buy a dairy-free cake, but we then realized that the local options were small, and often unreliable in edibleness. So I said, "Between all the baking blogs I follow, surely someone must have at least one recipe that looks promising." Enter Joy the Baker and her vegan chocolate cake.

In looking it over, there were no weird or scary or "typical" vegan ingredients. I've made vegan pumpkin muffins before, and they required xanthan gum...yeh, screw that. FYI, my spellcheck doesn't even know "xanthan" is a word...just sayin. The only "strange" ingredient here was...the delicious, buttery...avocado! All other ingredients were the usual stuff you'd toss around during cake-baking: flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, cocoa powder, some canola oil and the like. In place of butter and eggs, however, I just had to sub in some avocado and white vinegar. The recipe promised no trace flavors of the green machine, and Joy has never steered me wrong before, so I crossed my heart and placed my trust in the other ingredients to do their thing and become chocolate cake.

The somewhat usual suspects.

L-R: creamed avocado bowl; wet team bowl; completed batter--wet and dry teams together.

It felt mildly offputting to be baking a cake without cracking open eggs or creaming butter,  but the result was SO GOOD. The cake was decadent and chocolatey, and it baked up so moist! Apparently a lot of not-exclusively-vegan bakeries that offer vegan goods tend to stray on the dry side. This cake was probably moister than a "regular" chocolate cake, and I would hands-down use this recipe again and again, even when not making a conscious decision to avoid dairy. It's that good. Pinky swear.

Oh, hai...we totally look like regular, old chocolate cake and we are delicious!
The frosting, well, that was a bit different. Joy's recipe makes use of Alton Brown's avocado buttercream frosting. Alton is one of my food heroes, and he has never steered me wrong in kitchen advice or practice, so again, I trusted. I wasn't disappointed, either! While the consistency was a bit runny and more along the lines of a glaze, it was certainly yummy. Maybe because I knew just how much avocado was in the recipe, or maybe because I had ingested so much avocado by the time it came down to the frosting, I was very aware of the slightly vegetabley-flavor of the glaze. John promised he couldn't taste it, and no one at the party at which the cupcakes were served had any idea there was anything non-dairy about them. So I'm calling it a total success.

Frosting cast list.

Creaming the avocado with powdered sugar (there's lemon juice and vanilla in there, too!).

John's and My QC-cupcake. A very scientific bite. It's all market research, baby.
In fact, only 3 cupcakes made it home with me from the 24 I brought to the party! John and I finished the last 2 with breakfast this morning. (What! Omega 3s!)

Next, I cannot believe I have never once made chocolate chip cookies in my adult semi-professional baking life, so that is to what I next turn my attention. I'm thinking browned butter in the dough...chunks of bittersweet chocolate, and maybe even a little coffee powder to kick it all up...we'll see!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Well, we hosted our very first backyard BBQ over 4th of July weekend, and it was wonderful. The weather cooperated and our yard was filled with a handful of close friends, which was pretty perfect.We've finally finished off the last of the food leftovers, but our fridge is still stocked to the gills with beer. Note to self: next time, under-buy assuming everyone will bring at least one six pack with them! Whew!

Here are a few scenics from before guests arrived:

A welcoming walkway with a view of our veggie garden.

The lawn lounge area.

A few snipped daylillies in a wine bottle festive up the deck dining area.

I also recently did a few more very small upgrades as far as decor. A new lamp for my nightstand. A triptych of mirrors in the upstairs hallway to throw some more light and make it less cavernous (though the jury is still out on if this is actually a success...). Finally replaced the falling-apart welcome mat on our deck that we inherited from the sellers. Slowly, slowly things are coming together.

A beach-glass style lamp with a hollow base is a perfect nook for some shells.

A charming threshold between our deck and laundry room entrance.

Attempting to shed some light.

Still feels like the wall is missing some accents, but it's a start.

We have picked paint colors for the kitchen/laundry room and guest room, as they are the final places left for us to paint. Now just to acquire the colors and find the motivation to cut in around every goddamn cabinet in the kitchen...oy. But I have to remember it'll be worth it for a fresh look. And I'm just dying to finish off the guest room--paint on the walls, curtains over the windows, maybe spruce up the walls a bit with a better art arrangement, etc. So more on that as they develop.

In the meantime, here's how I've improved my view while doing dishes and when looking toward the sliding glass doors in the laundry room area. Very tiny tweaks, but they are more than enough to make me happy every time I glance in those directions.

Because our gardens are still bare, these are from the Bordentown weekly farmer's market.

This hutch has been here since moving day because we had nowhere else to put it.

We will eventually give it back to my parents, but for now it's safely in our (dry!) basement. My gosh, look how open and bright it is now! Instant improvement. But now I'm aware of how stark the walls are in the laundry room...oh, projects for post-painting!
Ciao, bellas, and stay cool in this July heat--it seems summer has indeed finally arrived.