Thursday, December 27, 2012

Least Stressful Holidays Ever

We didn't travel anywhere for the holidays this year, and so far it has been really relaxing. I was wondering why people make the holidays into such a crazy thing, but then I thought of my favorite holiday things in the past.

In 1990, my grandmother gave me a dollhouse she had made that had real electricity, actual newspapers and magazines, bacon and eggs cooking on the stove and a whole family complete with a dog and a pet turtle.

It was awesome, and I am sure it was probably stressful for her to make that whole thing herself in addition to all that she did for all the other people in her life. The fact that I remember this fabulous dollhouse and that Christmas in general 22 years later must point to the fact that it is all worth the stress - at least maybe for relatives of small children. But for me now, let's hear it for the least stressful holidays ever. Brought to you by:

  • French press coffee (so, so delicious). I got the Bodum 8 cup Brazil French Press for Christmas, and it works great.

  •  Jacques Pepin's soda bread made into breakfast sandwiches with eggs given as a Christmas gift from my new boss courtesy of her husband's chickens. 
  •  Pajamas from Ann Taylor Loft, and a book I am reading I bought a long time ago called Sometimes Madness is Wisdom about the marriage of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. They drink too much, throw wild parties, jump in fountains, and hang out with Ernest Hemingway - fun all around!
  • Rounding the bases to the finish on the last season of "Alias". I wrote about some thoughts about the show at the end of this post. Besides being influenced by Sydney Bristow's fashion sense lately, and those previously stated comments about the whole show possibly being about the role of work in modern life, what is also interesting is in my own life having watched the entire show in college. At that time, I worked 40 hours a week, took four classes at a time, and had no idea how I would end up. To watch a show again years later is like hearing a song from another time in your life, or reading Jane Eyre again - it takes you back like nothing else. I think mostly it makes me remember how anxious I was then about the future, and how little I knew about adulthood or the professional working world. This all makes me think of the words of a very wise woman - "If you live only in the past you are angry, if you live only for the future you are anxious, but if you live in the present you are at peace". Great words to live by when thinking about the new year approaching. Sydney Bristow is a great character. She's strong (obviously), sincerely kind, ridiculously smart, and ethically solid. She was probably a good character for my college self to have spent some time with (in retrospect I can't really say the same for the "Sex and the City" crew, although I know they were a big part of the reason I moved to New York City), but as an older person now I feel bad for her sometimes. She accomplished a lot in the world, sure, and my college self was fascinated by all of that, but at what cost? Now, getting to the end of the series a second time I can't wait for it to end because I know it leaves her on a beach with her husband. Years later, I've come to appreciate the idea of balance in life a lot more than I did in college. On that note, its really nice to have some time to relax. Just like this time last year I made a recipe for challah bread that started with 9 cups of flour (what?). Check it out at the end of this post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Staples: Mediterranean Pasta

We sometimes like to go to the Troy farmer's market without a preconceived notion of what we'd like to prepare for dinner, because sometimes the available ingredients will suggest a meal themselves.   A couple weeks ago, we got some lemon pepper fettuccine from Flour City Pasta, thinking it would come in handy later that week.   But when we sampled and were then compelled to purchase some remarkably good feta from Danascara Cheese, a meal immediately suggested itself: a Mediterranean pasta dish. I've been making variations of this since learning a basic recipe from my mother.

Since we had a frozen chicken breast we started with that, although it works very well as a vegetarian recipe as well. After putting the pasta water on, saute the chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a little olive oil. Add some red pepper flakes. After the chicken is browned, add some minced garlic, shallot, or if you're me both. Saute for 30 seconds to a minute, then add a small can of Italian tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes if they're in season.) Let the sauce simmer. About two minutes before the pasta is ready, put in a can of unmarinated artichoke hearts and the juice of 1-2 lemons. Add the pasta when it's ready, and crumble feta cheese over the top. Serve it with a green salad and you've got a terrific meal that can be done on a weeknight.

And definitely try the feta from Danascara Cheese next time you're at the Troy farmer's market, it's terrific.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mrs. London's Bakery and Cafe

Dear Mrs. London's,

I love you so much.

I love your baguette (pictured above) - so crispy and flaky on the outside and yet chewy and moist on the inside. It is a marvel of baking perfection that I can't accomplish since I spend my days running around a museum, but payng you $4 is well worth the price.

I love croissants too (I haven't tried them, but Daniel has).

I love the look of all of your pastries, and simply just being in your store.

I love that stopping for anything, not only gives me something that tastes great and vastly improves the sophistication level of whatever I am having for dinner, but makes me feel vaguely glamorous - like I should be carrying a hat box and going to pick up my poodles from the groomer (yes, I will take a pistachio macaron, thank you!).

I love you like I love a sparking rosé wine on a hot and humid day.

I love you like I love Valentine's Day.

I love you like I love meeting a girl who loves watching "13 going on 30", vintage clothes shopping, reading interesting books, planning ridiculous theme parties, fantasizing about making Baked Alaska, and plotting extensive European vacations that won't actually happen any time in the foreseeable future.

I love you like I love Forever 21 - a little fluffy, not totally great for me, a little indulgent, fun all around? Exactly.

I love you like I love an episode of the "Real Housewives of Every City" where no drinks are thrown in anyone's faces, and no one storms out in a fit of anger.

I love you so much I can barely describe.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Preparations and "Alias"

Holidays can be stressful, but I am determined not to feel that way this year. Instead of traveling, going broke, and feeling overwhelmed, how about we remake the holiday season into being all about cookies, television, and pajamas?

There is no reason to get worked up about the commercials with the big bow on the Lexus in the driveway. What I like best about the holidays is someone walking up to me and handing me a jar of homemade granola - simple, thoughtful, not expensive. Check out my post about homemade Christmas gifts last year. I also like cookies - lots of cookies. Check out my Edward Hopper cookies I made last year (am I the only person who Googles "art history inspired holiday cookies"? the search results are not impressive). Also, check out my post about the cookie exchange I organized last year at my former workplace. But - enough about last year!

We received a Miro sculpture on loan at my new job, and there is something about it I really love. I could stare at it all day. So for the staff holiday party, I wanted to make a way for that the sculpture to come to the party! You'll notice I failed at some key elements - like, the pitchfork. I made meringue pitchforks, but they were breaking very easily. Then, I bought some Twizzlers right before the party and thought I could drill them in, but then the heads started breaking off. So no pitchforks for most of my cakepops. You'll also notice the white sticks. I wanted to cover the sticks in black duct tape, but I couldn't find any at Michael's. Check it out:

There are many small, thoughtful things you can do for all kinds of people in your life. Some ideas for this can be a jar of chocolate covered espresso beans (which I wrote about on From Scratch Club) or a bag of homemade mini pies (check out my post about those here):

I'm going to a cookie swap tomorrow, so tonight I am making cinnamon bun cookies. Check out the recipe here. I still need to make the icing, but they are looking pretty good I think:

And on that note of the holidays being more about television, let me tell you some ideas I have about the show "Alias". You may want to sit in your pajamas over the holidays and watch it all on Netflix. I am up the the last episode of Season 4 (it is nice to accomplish things in your life). The show brings up some interesting questions, like is Sydney Bristow a feminist figure? But, I think what it makes me think of most is the role of work in modern life. Of course, she is unique in that her job involves lots of exotic international travel and the craziest, most varied wardrobe known to man, but I think many aspects of Sydney Bristow's life can be considered universal. Look at how much she gives up for her career over the course of the show - her friends, her academic dreams, her fiancé. Sure, she dates Michael Vaughn, who the college version of me thought was a real heartthrob, but she seems to end up suspicious of him at various points in the show, and he got married after only nine months of her being missing. In season one, she has a normal life and the contrasts between her spy life and her regular life are played up and make for interesting drama and comedy. But for most of the show, her entire life is her career. After season one, she has no outside friends. Sure, she has the weird coincidence of working with her father, sister, and alternating rescuing and chasing down her mother, but she never has relationships again like she did with Will and Francie. She gets to fight for what she thinks is right in the world, wear very sharp looking suits, and work in a chic office - but I have to say it seems to suck to be Sydney Bristow. Or perhaps it makes you think that your work relationships are very important - that they aren't just extra relationships you are forced to have, but in fact some of the most central relationships in your waking hours. That is depressing I know, but that starts to be the message the show sends. You better like what you do for a living, because you might not get to do much else. I think the show also plays into a fantasy of living vicariously through her - who wouldn't want to know every language in the world, beat up bad guys on a regular basis, be that beautiful without seeming to care about your looks much, and feel like you are really making a difference in the world? Nevermind that you could die at any moment, you don't have any outside interests, and you don't really trust anyone in your life. What a fun show to watch!

Anyways, here is to taking it easy this holiday season and not letting society, Martha Stewart, or anyone else make you feel like you should be doing anything different.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chaos and Buttercream

My friend Sandy is a total cake-making genius. What I mean by this is that she does awesome things like putting a drop of cheesecake oil in her frosting and creating cupcakes that are unbelievably light and fluffy. I've gone to parties where I end up taking 4 cupcakes home, and they don't make it through the night. She has recently branched out on her own and created "Chaos and Buttercream", and she has a website! Check out her amazing and beautiful cakes here!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

From Scratch Club Holidays

Check out I'm featured in the From Scratch Club podcast this week. Also, I wrote a post about chocolate covered espresso beans.

Dream Puffs S'more

This morning I was successful in getting off the couch from my watching Alias on Netflix, and we made our way to the Troy Farmer's Market. We got some great items, and saw a lot of cool people.

I'm a huge s'more fan, and when I saw these at the DreamPuff Marshmallows booth I could not resist. I took it home and put in a 350 degrees oven for about 5 minutes. This is a ridiculously delicious item!

 I really enjoy making marshmallows (last year I mailed them out to half the people I know). But I will admit that they make a big mess in the kitchen, so I am happy to buy the DreamPuff ones (usually at the Book House). I also made some graham crackers for the food swap last month, using this recipe. Homemade marshmallows are way, way better than the commercially made ones. The texture is fluffier, and they just taste way better. Homemade graham crackers have a more nuanced flavor and a softer texture. Therefore, homemade s'mores are a brilliant idea. What is also fun is that the chocolate on these is a light layer spread on both sides of the crackers. Fabulous!