Gift Guide: For the Wanna-be Chef

While picking out gifts for a knitter took a little guesswork, coming up with gift ideas for the cook/ baker in your life was really fun. Food gifts are my favorite gifts to give, because there’s something for everyone and it can fit whatever budget you have. You can go super fancy schmancy, or do something DIY. Whichever way you go, you’ll be able to find something fun for the cook or baker in your life.

Cookbook Gifts

Favorite Cookbooks:

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: It’s no secret that I love the Smitten Kitchen blog, but I also love Deb Perelman’s cookbook (when she announced she was writing another I could barely contain the excitement). So many of my go-to recipes come from this cookbook– pie crust, flat-roasted chicken with tiny potatoes, margarita pizza, and tiny but intense chocolate cake, just to name a few. There are also some really tempting recipes that I have on my to-cook list: chocolate raspberry rugelach, apple cider caramels, vermouth mussels with oven fries, leek fritters… my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book: This is my Mom’s go-to gift for bridal showers, weddings, going-away-to-college parties, you name it. She likes to say that it’ll teach you how to boil an egg or how to cook up something really fancy, so it’s great for both a newbie or a more experienced cook. I can’t even tell you how many of my Mom’s go-to recipes come from this book, so it’s always a solid cookbook choice.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: I’ve had my eye on this book for a while– I haven’t been able to visit the Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie shop in Brooklyn, but I like to imagine that I could bring a little bit of Brooklyn to my Houston kitchen with these pies. Plus pies are one of my favorite things to bake, and I secretly want to learn all the pie-making secrets so I can be the Grandma with pies that will make you weep. That’s a totally normal goal, right?

A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in my Farmhouse: I love Mimi Thorisson’s blog Manger, and I’m crossing my fingers that this will be under the tree for me on Christmas morning. The photos are gorgeous, and the recipes look delicious- although they’re definitely more suited for a Saturday night dinner party instead of a week night dinner (but I don’t think anyone plans to “whip up” a French recipe for a weeknight… do you?) Luxurious, fun, and fancy– perfect for dinner parties when you want to feel French without buying a plane ticket.

 

 DIY food gifts

Favorite DIY Foodie Gifts:

DIY Glittered Wooden Spoon: This tutorial for a wooden spoon with a DIY glittery handle is adorable. You can make a few in different colors, and I think they’d be great as a stocking stuffer. They’re girly and fun, and I don’t think anyone would dislike these (unless they don’t like glitter… or happiness. Just kidding, it’s ok if you don’t like glitter. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one).

Spiced Maple Glazed Pecans: This recipe from Honey & Jam is great for stocking stuffers or coworker gifts (I’m planning on making these and taking them to work with me). They’re spicy, sweet, and salty, and gluten free, so they’re perfect for group gifts. (Note: I would check with your coworkers to see if anyone has a nut allergy before you bring them in!)

Printable Cheesy Gift Wrap: I love picking out little food gifts like cheese, condiments, spice mixes, flavored coffee, or beer in different flavors and making little “kits” — for example, since  my dad loves grilling, I might pick European beers, a marinade, and a spice rub for a grilling kit. (If you’re too rushed/ nervous to pick out your own kit, Eat Boutique! has some great gift boxes, although they can be a little pricey. But still a great option.) These cheese wrap templates would be adorable to wrap up any cheeses you get for your kit, and I think it’d be really fun to wrap up each part of your kit so they have little pieces to unwrap.

Herb Honey:  I love the idea of infusing honey with herbs and packing it up in cute jars and giving it out as gifts. I know honey can be a little expensive (especially if you’re buying raw or local honey), but depending on the size of your jars I think you could definitely get a lot of bang for your buck. Plus I think herb honey would be fun for mixing into tea or baked goods, since the herbs would add a whole other layer of flavor.

 

Baking Accessories

Favorite Bakeware Gifts:

Disclaimer: buying someone cookware or bakeware can be tricky, because they might end up with duplicates (or triplicates). Or if it’s something really big they might have a hard time finding a spot for it in their kitchen storage (especially if they live in an apartment with a tiny kitchen). So I would definitely ask if they have any specific cookware needs before buying anything really nice or that would take up lots of space. That being said, here are some of my picks for bakeware that would be really fun and (fairly) space efficient.

 

Nature Dessert Plates: I can’t get over how cute these dessert plates are, and I think they’d be really fun gifts for any bakers you know (or to add to your own list). It can’t hurt to have a cute plate for your favorite baked goods, right?

Scone Pan: Scones are a big deal in my family. My Dad makes scones for Mother’s Day and Christmas morning brunch every year and I “borrowed” my parents’ scone pan as a sophomore in college, until they eventually bought me one for Christmas. This is the scone pan we use, and the scones come out perfectly every time. (I’m sure this pan would be great for cornbread or tea cakes too.) Perfect for tea parties, brunch, and Sunday breakfasts.

Pride and Prejudice Cookie Cutters: These Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy cookie cutters are obviously perfect for book lovers and anglophiles, but the Printmeneer shop has lots of adorable cookie cutters. These are great if you’re looking for some unique cookie cutters, and they’re affordable too!

Mini Madeleine Pan: I haven’t made a madeleine before, but they seem like the perfect treat for brunch or a tea party (along with the scones of course). I’ve been dropping hints to Teddy about this pan, so maybe I’ll making mini madeleines soon!

 

I tried to include a little bit of everything on this list, but the possibilities really are endless. I hope this gives you some fun holiday gift ideas!

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Resources: My 10 Favorite Food Blogs

Food Blogger collage

If you’re anything like me (aka the type of person who starts looking for gift and party food ideas weeks in advance), you’ve been paying close attention to all the Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes popping up all over the internet lately. Food blogs are my not-so-secret trick up my sleeve when I want to try something new in the kitchen or try out a new technique. But they aren’t just for helping you cook better (although they definitely do). If you’re a writer trying to do some world building, or an artist trying to set up a still life or create atmosphere for an illustration,  or a photographer looking for new styling ideas – food blogs can help you out with that, even if you don’t cook. So you can get inspiration for that dessert you’re bringing to the holiday party and your creative projects at the same time. (So you’re basically cheating, but in the best way.)

Now, in the interest of full disclosure,  I’m currently following 18 food blogs through my Feedly account (and those are only the blogs that are exclusively food-related, but that’s beside the point), and my friends tease me for following “too many” food blogs. But even if you don’t have a list of favorite food blogs, they can still be good resources. And here’s why:

Besides the obvious variety of photography and styling techniques that can help out the artists out there, it can also help out any writers with any researching questions they have. You can learn about a culture’s traditions, religious beliefs, cultural norms, economy, holidays, important historical events, etc. — all through food. This is really helpful if you’re trying to learn about a specific historical era or a culture you’re not familiar with. And even if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, there are plenty “unusual” (to you) recipes (plus modern cooking techniques) that can give you ideas even if your setting is in a galaxy far, far away.

So, here are my 10 favorite food blogs for inspiration:

Valerie's French Chocolate Cake... via Deb Perelman
Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake… via Deb Perelman
  1. Smitten Kitchen: Deb Perelman’s blog is the first place I go when I’m looking for a specific recipe. She’s been blogging for 8 years, so there’s a broad spectrum of  recipes, covering everything from Italian pizza, the best Gingerbread cookies, traditional Hannukah desserts, and Moroccan stew. Her recipes are somehow detailed without being finicky, so you get maximum deliciousness with as few unnecessary steps and dirty dishes as possible. Plus she’s funny  and the writing is great. I’d honestly be surprised if you hadn’t heard of her, but she definitely deserves this spot.

    Mimi Thorisson's Kitchen in France
    Mimi Thorisson’s Kitchen in France
  2. Manger: I adore Mimi Thorisson’s blog. Her writing about life in the rural Médoc region of France is wonderful, and her husband Oddur’s photography is just gorgeous. I love that she writes about a part of France that isn’t Paris or Provence (I’m sure both are wonderful, but it’s nice to get a different perspective of France). The story I’m working on is set in Alsace, and Manger has been a huge source of inspiration and information about French traditions and cooking. I can’t recommend it enough. Her book A Kitchen in France just came out, and I’m definitely adding it to my Christmas list!

    Cara's Coconut Cake for Emily Dickinson
    Cara’s Coconut Cake for Emily Dickinson
  3. Yummy Books: Cara Nicoletti cooks up recipe pairings for a wide variety of books- she cooked her way through The Goldfinch, cured her own ham for Emma, and even baked some walnut brownies for Stacey’s Emergency from the Babysitter’s Club series. She’s well-read and knowledgeable about food, especially meat, since she grew up in a family of butchers and works at The Meat Hook. She takes a really creative approach to her food and book pairings (see her Brooklyn Restaurant & Book Pairings for a great example), and I love her writing. Her book Voracious is coming out next year, and I’m so excited!

    Ivan Day's Victorian Tablescape
    Ivan Day’s Victorian Tablescape
  4. Food History Jottings: Ivan Day is a British food historian. He has written books, taught classes, and worked on movies and TV shows. He is a stickler for historical accuracy, so if you’re trying to learn more about European food, he’s a great place to start. He’s particularly helpful if you’re hoping for a reliable historical source for a research paper (like my bachelor’s thesis on food in Jane Austen’s novels) or historical fiction.

    Emma's Sticky Toffee Pudding
    Emma’s Sticky Toffee Pudding
  5. Poires au Chocolat: Emma Gardner also pays careful attention to historical accuracy, but she’s less of a stickler than Ivan Day. Her recipes are very British, but not in a stodgy way. They’re great for learning more about British traditions (which can be helpful when reading British lit. or Harry Potter). She also has really interesting photography and videos to show you her processes, and she has a really helpful Foundations series to help you learn some basic techniques. (Also, her recipe for That Chocolate Cake is to die for. You should make that first.) Poires has been one of my favorite food blogs for a long time, so I was sad to read her retirement announcement. But she’s studying to be a doctor, so she understandably doesn’t have lots of free time. I’m really glad that she plans on turning her site into a digital cookbook of sorts, so we don’t have to worry about losing any of her wonderful recipes.

    Nicole's Flourless Chocolate Cake
    Nicole’s Flourless Chocolate Cake
  6. Eat this Poem: Nicole Gulotta’s literary food blog focuses on poetry and food, and the way they remind us of each other. She also has a Literary City Guides series where locals give you tips for the best restaurants, cafes, book stores, libraries, and other attractions for various cities. She recently wrote one for Houston, and it made my day. I love her thoughtful writing, and it’s always a refreshing read.

    Molly Yeh's Funfetti Biscotti
    Molly Yeh’s Funfetti Biscotti
  7. My Name is Yeh: Molly Yeh is wacky, adorable, and something of a mad scientist. Her recipes are heavily influenced by her Jewish and Chinese heritage, but she isn’t afraid to put her own twist on things– Halva Popsicles, Shawarma Nachos,  and Funfetti Biscotti. She’s done the research so that we can all know which sprinkles will be the most festive in our baked goods, and that imitation vanilla is the secret to the birthday cake of our elementary school dreams. Her plan to have her own cake house is making me all kinds of jealous.

    Mandy's Taiwan Beer-House Woked Clams
    Mandy’s Taiwan Beer-House Woked Clams
  8. Lady and Pups: Mandy writes “An Angry Food Blog- Homecooking with Extreme Prejudice,” and if that tagline doesn’t make you want to read her blog, I don’t know what will. After she moved to Beijing she started cooking up American classics she missed, as well as traditional Asian recipes (not just Chinese recipes- she has Thai, Japanese, Korean, you name it). But all come with her own “angry” twist, and they are so fun. The writing and photography are killer, and if you’re curious about Asian food, she’s a good place to go.

    Stephanie's Dissertation Vice
    Stephanie’s “Dissertation Vice” Dessert
  9. Desserts for Breakfast: Stephanie Shih’s photography is AMAZING. Her recipes are inventive, and she also talks about her work as a linguist, which is a really interesting combination with the food blogging. Her Dessertation (or dessert party for all her professors and friends after she successfully defended her dissertation) was such an interesting idea, and now I want to throw a fancy dessert party. Who knew linguistics and desserts could go together so well?

    Shanna's Kale and Eggs
    Shanna’s Kale and Eggs
  10. Food Loves Writing: and last but not least, Shanna and Tim Mallon’s blog is one of my favorites, but it’s on this list for a slightly different reason than the others. Shanna and Tim focus on whole foods, and while I’ve loved all their recipes I’ve tried (their cookbook was also released recently Oops, The Einkorn Cookbook is being released on December 1. My mistake!), the thing I love most is reading Shanna’s thoughts about creativity and writing and life. I read her post Kale and Eggs (Or Why You Should Start a Food Blog) whenever I’m feeling discouraged, and it is so, so good. Shanna is open, honest, and encouraging, and in a lot of ways, she’s exactly what I want to be as a writer.

This was such a fun post to write! I hope you’ve found some new food blogs to check out, whether it’s for photography ideas, world building, or recipe ideas. Honestly, I’m a little sad that some of my other favorite food blogs didn’t make it to this list- it seems unfair to ignore them because I “just” read them for the recipes. Someday I might have to remedy that situation, but today is not that day. I hope you have a relaxing weekend before the hubbub of the holidays begins.

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Weekend Thoughts & Links

Flavor Bible1

 

Can I tell you a secret? Recently I haven’t been excited to cook. I always get excited when it’s time to pick out the recipes and meals I’ll eat during the week, but when it’s Wednesday night and actually time to cook… I just don’t want to. And after dinner, I really don’t want to do all those dishes. It’s annoying, because cooking and baking used to be so exciting for me. It was a creative outlet when I was stuck writing research papers my senior year- I would pick recipes that were way too ambitious to get done by 6, so I would usually eat dinner at 8 with my very hangry roommates. And I loved cooking with Teddy, because it was fun and romantic, and our skills and weaknesses balance out well. I do the taste testing and seasoning, and Teddy does most of the chopping, since I’m clumsy and sometimes reckless around kitchen knives. The one chopping exception is onions. I somehow don’t cry when I’m chopping onions, so that’s my job.

 

Once, when I was trying to make crepes to order for 10 people for my roommate’s birthday (not my best idea), Teddy came to the rescue when I was about to lose my mind. He whipped out a second pan, and soon we had a crepe competition going on. He even managed to flip one without a spatula- on tape- and you can see my shocked face in the background. It’s one of my favorite cooking memories (it doesn’t hurt that those crepes were freaking delicious, if I do say so myself).

 

But at some point after I started cooking regularly, it went from fun creative outlet to daily chore. I miss baking cookies just because some friends came over to study, or picking a really complicated recipe that promises that a whole chicken will roast in 45 minutes, even though the last 5 took at least an hour. I miss inviting people over dinner after classes were over for the day.

 

I’m tired of being in a baking slump, so this weekend I’m going to make something just for fun (and to use all the blackberries I’ve been hiding away in my freezer). If it turns out well, you might hear about it sometime soon. In the meantime, here are some links that have helped kick my cooking mojo in gear:

 

-I don’t know about the goat cheese, but I am all about this recipe for oven pear chips.

-Molly made a homemade funfetti cake (with extensive sprinkle research!) and Michelle made chocolate frosting to put on top. Together I think they make the funfetti cake 12-year-old birthday dreams are made of.

-Christmas is coming, and I’m scheming about presents to buy and goodies to bake. I think these Brioche Cinnamon Rolls with Brown! Butter! Frosting might make an appearance at my Mom’s annual Christmas morning brunch.

Sticky Toffee Pudding is another Christmas-y, wintery dessert I’ve been wanting to try. It seems like one of those British desserts that belongs in a Dickens novel, even though it was invented in the 70’s. Weird!

-Speaking of British baked goods, someday I will write a post about food in Jane Austen’s novels. But until then, these crumpets look amazing!

 

Here are some other links I liked this week:

 

-This article is about longevity in blogging, but I think it applies to my struggle with practice and being diligent in other areas too. Let’s just say I’m working on it. There’s also a recipe for roasted cauliflower “rice,” which has me intrigued.

-Really inspired by this interview, and she seems like the nicest ever

-This is a really cool apartment, even if it’s not 100% my style (read: this girl is way cooler than me)

-Whenever I see photos of Tattly tattoos, I always want them, so I may finally jump the gun and order some! These are my current favorites: Cartolina blooms, I <3 you, and thinkin’ of a master plan

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Apple Pie Two Ways

Have you ever noticed that whenever a chef decides to show off by making something two ways,  one- or both- is completely dismal? Or am I the only armchair coach for Cutthroat Kitchen?

Apple Pie Two Ways

 

The thing is though, I only think that’s a bad idea if you serve them together. I’m all for experimenting and finding new favorite flavor combinations, even if I don’t do it as often as I should. (If you listen veeeery carefully, you can hear Teddy crying tears of joy that I finally made a roast chicken that wasn’t lemon-thyme chicken. What, it’s my favorite, ok?) So, here’s my apple pie two ways, one savory, one sweet. I think they’re both delicious, but I wouldn’t serve them at the same time. I’m not a show-off.

 Unbaked & final

Apple-Thyme Galette

This recipe was inspired by my roommate Annie’s Mom’s apple dumplings with sausage (one of her family’s favorite traditions). The sausage and dumplings were so unexpectedly perfect together that I started wanting to try it myself. I didn’t want to steal Annie’s idea (plus who wants to compete with a Mom’s recipe? Nobody!) So I cooked down some apples with butter and thyme and made a galette out of it. The best thing about galettes is that they’re pie for lazy people- it looks like they took a lot of effort, but you just roll out dough, plop some filling on top, fold up the edges, and call it a day. I think it’s a great option for the pie-phobic.

 

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Treacle Tart (and House Elves)

Treacle Tart5

Treacle tart and I are still becoming friends. The dough and I got in a fight during my second attempt (Apparently I was having an off day in the kitchen and it decided to take advantage of that. Jerk). While treacle tart seems kind of unusual to me, it’s sweet and soft and comforting and very British, so it makes sense that it’s Harry Potter’s favorite dessert.

Treacle Tart (Attempt #1)

I loved Emma Gardner’s post about treacle tart’s role in the Harry Potter series. She notes its appearance at 4 out of the 5 sorting feasts Harry attends; it definitely highlights the stark contrast between his dreary life in the Dursleys’ cupboard and his wonderful new life at Hogwarts. The Dursleys even chose his meager treats at the zoo — they bought him the cheapest lemon ice pop (and only so they weren’t embarrassed in front of the lady selling ice cream) and they let him finish the knickerbocker glory that was “too small” for Dudley.

 

After years of neglect and near-starvation, Harry is thrilled to buy treats on the Hogwarts Express and share them with his new friends, but the Sorting Feast is even more exciting. Food magically appears on the table, and he can eat to his heart’s content for the first time in his life.

The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he’d never been allowed to eat as much as he liked. Dudley had always taken anything that Harry really wanted, even if it made him sick. Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the peppermints and began to eat. It was all delicious…. When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before.  A moment later the desserts appeared…. As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 123).

Hagrid and Mrs. Weasley both made sure to provide food for him whenever he visited (although Harry much preferred Mrs. Weasley’s cooking to Hagrid’s rock cakes), but the treacle tart at Hogwarts becomes his favorite. It symbolizes being loved and cared for, which is a completely unknown feeling at the Dursleys’.

 

However, Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn in The Goblet of Fire that house elves make all the food at Hogwarts. While Harry and Ron don’t grasp the consequences of this, Hermione is horrified. The plentiful, nourishing food at Hogwarts is connected to the problematic treatment of house elves at the hands of wizards.

“Slave labor,” said Hermione, breathing hard through her nose. “That’s what made this dinner. Slave labor.” And she refused to eat another bite…. “Treacle tart, Hermione!” said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell towards her. “Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!” But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 182-3).

In The Deathly Hallows, the connection between treacle tart and house elves is even stronger — the reformed Kreacher makes treacle tart especially because he knows Harry likes it so much. Treacle tart means home and love to Harry (which explains why he smells it in the Amortentia), but it also brings up uncomfortable questions about the house elves at Hogwarts, and the shaky relationships between wizards and other magical creatures. I love how complex such a seemingly small detail becomes in the context of the whole series. I can’t say that J.K. Rowling explicitly made the connection between house elves’ rights and treacle tart, but I think it adds even more depth to the series.

 

Treacle Tart4

 

If you like Harry Potter, or even just like English food, try this recipe. I’d love to know what you think. For Americans who have no idea what treacle is, here’s an explanation:

 

Embarrassingly, I thought treacle was a type of gasoline for years because the first time I heard of it was in Alice in Wonderland, and I’d only heard of water or gasoline wells. (In my defense, I was in elementary school.) Eventually I discovered that treacle is actually just a syrupy by-product of the sugar production process. Apparently there’s a long tradition of tricking people with stories about treacle mines or wells, so at least I’m in good company. It’s fairly unknown in the US, but it’s really similar to the corn syrup used for Pecan Pie in the South or the honey in a Honey Pie from up North (although I’ve never had a honey pie, so that’s just an educated guess). I would NOT suggest substituting corn syrup or honey for the golden syrup, though. I’ve been able to find golden syrup at Fresh Market and even some Krogers, but if you can’t find it near you you can order it on Amazon.

 

Baking Notes:

We used Emma’s new and improved recipe and it was delicious! I “pulled a Monica” (Friends, anyone?) the first time I made this and completely forgot to add the lemon juice to the filling. But the lemon juice totally makes this tart, so don’t make the same mistakes I did.

 

I used Challah bread for my breadcrumbs, and then store bought, but both times my crumbs were smaller than the ones Emma uses in her post. So if you want larger breadcrumbs maybe grind them a little less finely in your food processor.

 

The dough is one of the fussier pie crusts I’ve made, so I’m still deciding if I’m going to use this one next time or try another pastry recipe.

 

Definitely make sure to watch Emma’s videos about rubbing the butter into the flour, and how she mixes the wet and dry ingredients together. I’d never even heard of rubbing in butter into a pastry dough, but I think I’ll have to try it more often – it definitely mixes more evenly than with a pastry blender.

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Weekend Thoughts + Links

Tiny Red Book Brooch by Buntmal

Since I’m working full time now, I’ve realized that most of my clothes aren’t considered office appropriate. Since I don’t have the money to go out and by a whole new wardrobe (Who does? If you do, will you take me shopping?) I’ve been trying to wear pieces in different combinations, with different belts and jewelry so I don’t feel like I’m wearing the same outfit every week. I work at a realty company, so I don’t have to dress like I’m going to work at the Vogue office, but it makes me feel better about going into work every day. I’ve also been thinking about a post I read this week about growing a minimalist wardrobe from Reading My Tea Leaves, and trying to think about donating clothes I don’t wear much and slowly adding new pieces that I can mix and match for both the office and the weekend. Sabrina of afterDRK talks about her 5 piece French Wardrobe theory, which I think is really interesting too.

– My style is generally sort of menswear inspired meets elementary school teacher / librarian (if that’s even a thing), so I love the little book brooch (pictured above) I found this week from Buntmal. It’s definitely going on my Christmas wishlist.

– Have you read Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona? It’s ending next week, which seems crazy! It’s being published sometime next year, so I will definitely be buying it. In the meantime, I can’t wait to read the final page next week!

– Are you dressing up for Halloween? I don’t think Teddy and I will unless we know someone who’s having a costume party, but there are some really awesome DIY costumes over at Oh Happy Day this week. The moth costume is stinkin’ cute, but since I’m kind of terrified of moths (long story) I’d probably dress up as an adorable cupcake.

– The Easy Laminated Nutella Morning Buns have me drooling, and are definitely going on my to-bake list. They seem like a good template for other flavors too, which is really fun!

– In my quest to successfully frost a layer cake (and have it look pretty at the end), I might turn to this DIY Abstract Watercolor Painted Cake from Sugar and Cloth. Seriously pretty, and it seems accessible for either a rookie or veteran cake decorator.

– This song has been on repeat at work this week (sorry to everyone in my office!), and the video’s pretty good too.

I have a really fun post coming up this week that I’m really excited about, so come by on Thursday to see it! I hope you all have a great week!

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Coffee Shop Eats: Crumb Cake

Have you heard the saying not to “eat your feelings?”

I’ve had my fair share of nights with girlfriends passing around a jar of Nutella and a spoon after a breakup (don’t pretend you’ve never done it), but one of the most important food rituals I started in college was my pre-paper coffee.

I actually didn’t really drink coffee until around my sophomore year of college, which is especially odd since I come from a family of coffee addicts. But the bigger my workload became, the more often I would leave campus for a caffeinated pick-me-up, and by my senior year I could drink a latte (without syrup!) instead of the frappuccinos I ordered as a freshman. My friends and I had our favorite spots, from the Starbucks 10 minutes from campus to the more hipster places at least 20 minutes away (an occupational hazard of going to school on a mountain). I loved studying there, both for the change of scenery and the chance to pick up a muffin or scone if I needed an extra boost. (I mentioned before that I’ll take what I can get when it comes to writing inspiration.)

Blueberry Crumb Cake

To this day, drinking a latte immediately gets me in the mood to get to work, which makes me wonder if this is one of the secrets to bribing your muse, or as Anne Lamott puts it, the Dr. Seuss creature working away in your subconscious. But the rub is that I haven’t found a favorite coffee shop in Houston yet, and Starbucks gets pricey after a while. So I thought, why not make my own creativity fuel?

I have yet to make the perfect latte, but a crumb cake, that I can do. I made the Blueberry Crumb Cake from Smitten Kitchen (embarrassingly in a tart pan, since I didn’t have a deep enough round pan) and The Black Thyme Muffins from The FauxMartha (in a loaf pan, because my muffin tin went missing since the move to Houston… luckily she gives directions for that as well!).

Blackberry Crumb Cake

Both are completely delicious; the hit of lemon in the blueberry cake recipe is ridiculously addictive, and I’m the biggest sucker for thyme, so I knew I would be making Melissa’s recipe as soon as I could get my hands on some on-sale blackberries. (Tricky in the summer, but I’m excited for more berries this fall. Just look how pretty they are…)

Blackberries

Baking notes:
Don’t get too overzealous when mixing up the crumble toppings. If you mix the sugar and butter and maple syrup (for the FauxMartha recipe) too enthusiastically, it won’t end up as crumbly once it’s baked. It’s still delicious, but it does affect the texture slightly.

Melissa’s note about the “whole milk” yogurt threw me off, so I used some Greek yogurt that we had in the fridge. I later read this article from The Kitchn that explained that the Greek yogurt is simply strained a third time, so it’s extra thick compared to regular yogurt. This made the final cake a little dense (but still moist, so we didn’t mind too much). So I would advise you to use “full fat,” regular yogurt for the moistness and lack of density.

Do you guys have any go-to rituals for getting in the mood to write, run, or do laundry? (Please let me know if you have a ritual that makes laundry more fun. I would love you forever.)

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Brunch for Two

Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but brunch is quickly becoming my favorite. Since moving to Houston a few weeks ago I’ve made brunch almost every Saturday morning. What started as a thank you to Teddy for making breakfast on weekday mornings (which helps ensure that I’m fully dressed when I run out the door) has now become a weekly brunch for two.

Dutch Baby with Jam

While I would never say no to brunch with friends and a mimosa (or two), when I’m cooking on a Saturday morning I want it to be simple… but just a tiny bit fancy. It is brunch, after all. I had seen a recipe for a Dutch Baby by Emma Gardner of Poires au Chocolat , and it seemed much more appealing than flipping pancakes all morning. Trust me, this will make all your brunch dreams come true.

First Dutch baby

Light and puffy and golden, it was the most perfect pancake I’d ever made. I could hardly believe that I made something that pretty in my pajamas and bathrobe. The best part: if you have a kitchen scale you can make it in one bowl and one cast iron pan. If this hasn’t convinced you to make a Dutch baby this weekend, just go check out the original post here. If you do decide to make it this weekend, will you invite me over?

Some cooking notes:
-As you can see in the photo above, I used a little too much butter for the pan the first time I tried this, so when I poured in the batter the extra butter settled on top and made it shiny and a little extra buttery. Not the worst thing in the world, but I would recommend only using a tsp or two of butter, and swirling it around the pan right before you pour the batter in.
-Last weekend I switched out the all purpose flour for white whole wheat flour, which didn’t let the pancake puff as much as I would like (as you can see in the first photo). Next time I’ll try to only switch out 1/4 or 1/2 of the flour instead.
-Emma has some really yummy sounding pancake topping ideas, but my favorite way to eat it so far has been with raspberry jam and maple syrup. I read about Phyllis Grant swirling jam through her batter before baking it, and it’s a game-changer. (You can see some jam mixed into the Dutch Baby in the first photo.)
-The best part of this recipe? Once the batter’s in the pan, you are DONE. (Try that with traditional pancakes.) What you do with the 20-25 minutes it’s doing its thing in the oven is up to you. Cuddle your cat, curl up on the couch with a book, maybe take a quick nap (not exactly recommended, but I’ve definitely thought about it before). Maybe if you want to get crazy you could sip a mimosa and do your nails.
-Want some more Dutch Baby Ideas? Check out Joy the Baker’s Triple Berry Dutch Baby and Smitten Kitchen’s Cherry Almond Dutch Baby. Both sound amazing!

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Literary Bucket List

I recently found out about I Believe in Story, by Maria Vicente, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. I read her Literary Bucket List, and it got me thinking about what would be on my literary bucket list.

my bookshelf2

Join a Book Club. This was on Maria’s bucket list as well, but I’ve been wishing I could join a book club for a while now. I never had time during school (although I went to a few writing club meetings my senior year), but I think it’d be so fun to meet up with friends for drinks and snacks and books. I heard that a local bookstore holds a monthly book club, so I might pop into a meeting or two and see how it goes.

Write a novel. This has been on my bucket list since sixth grade, and it’s probably the most intimidating item on my bucket list. Luckily middle-school-me was smart enough not to demand it be the next Great American novel. I’m actually leaning toward children’s literature, since it makes up a good chunk of what I read on a regular basis (I’m on a Harry Potter kick at the moment).

Be a guest on a late-night talk show. This is mostly a goofy goal (especially since I rarely actually watch late night talk shows), but I always thought it would be really fun to get dolled up and go joke around and tell funny stories. Jimmy Fallon would probably be my top pick for this, especially after reading this article. I’d love to do a lip sync battle too, but I could never top Emma Stone.

Write a cookbook. This is actually even more intimidating than writing a novel in some ways. I tweak recipes from time to time, but I’ve never developed a recipe from scratch before. So this is definitely a maybe-sometime goal.

Have my own library. I’m pretty sure I’ve had this dream since I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Have you seen Jenny Komenda’s bookshelves from Little Green Notebook? They are beautiful, and I love the rolling ladder. These work spaces are pretty inspiring too, although some of them are so messy that I get stressed out just imagining trying to find anything. I tend to be a messy person, but I have nothing on Alexander Calder.

The most feasible item on my literary bucket list is also fairly challenging- write (at least a little bit) every day. It really is all about keeping up the momentum, and I’m doing my best to turn off my editor’s brain and just write. The editing can come later, but for now, I’m trying to just write as much as possible.

So what about you? Do you have a bucket list? I’ve been thinking about all the recipes/ cooking techniques I want to try, so I may have to write out a Culinary Bucket List soon.

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