Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Treat Yo Self!

This is the most stressful week of the semester for me--I won't go into all of the particulars about meetings, work, homework, and class, but believe me, they are multitudinous, and I am exhausted and sleep-deprived. Which means, of course, I deserve a treat. I don't buy sweets (except for dark chocolate) or bake often, simply because if I did, I would eat ALL the things. So when I want sweets, I go out for them. Today we tried Beard Papa's for the first time, and it was perfection. Above, their éclair cream puff. The custard was sweet, smooth, and cool, and flecked with vanilla bean, the choux pastry was fluffy with just the right amount of crispiness, and the dark chocolate on top was thick and rich.

Devin got the chocolate fondant cake, which was basically a miniature (and amazing) chocolate soufflé. It was warm, gooey, and intensely chocolatey. What more could a person want?

It's been really cold in Manhattan since the end of October (it snowed yesterday!), and imbibing warm beverages is one of the most effective ways of warding off not only winter's chill, but winter blues as well. Here we have the chai latte I had, which also happend to be really great. It was hot, sweet, and cinnamony, and, since cinnamon is my favorite spice, I definitely dug it.

This is the cocoa puff--A cute name and a cute idea, but probably my least favorite of the trio of sweets we sampled. The custard was still delicious, but the shell wasn't nearly chocolatey enough for my taste. However, we'll definitely be back this winter for the éclair puff, soufflé, and chai.

Giant knit hat and winter sweater season is wholeheartedly upon us. Not pictured: Massive Michelin Man coat that goes down to my knees, snow boots.

I always prefer my beards fresh 'n natural.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What to Do with Your Miniature Pumpkin

In mid-October, I bought four cute miniature pumpkins from the farmer's market--one orange, one white, one white and orange striped, and one white and green striped. They served me well as Halloween decorations around the apartment, and then as Thanksgiving decorations. Now that Harvest Season celebrations are at a close and Solstice celebrations are nearing, I decided I'd had enough of orange. So, I popped these two pumpkins in the oven! And yes, they're edible. I kept the white and green ones raw and intact, since they're Christmas-y enough. 

First I cut of their tops and scooped out their seeds, just as if I was carving a Jack-O-Lantern. Then I put them on a foil-lined tray in the oven for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. In a non-closet-sized kitchen equipped with an oven of usual size, 45 minutes is probably more like it.

You'll know they're done when the skin is wrinkly and the sides give when you poke them. Here they are, topless.

And here's the delicious pumpkin flesh! I'll be honest, the little orange guy was way tastier than his striped buddy. The striped one tasted a bit metallic, so I ended up discarding it. The lesson here is: If your small pumpkin doesn't taste that great, don't eat it. But the orange one was delicious and super sweet.

Pumpkin skin.

I ate my Halloween decoration with a sprinkling of sea salt, a teaspoon or so of maple syrup, and a little cinnamon. And it was delicious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Operation Thanksgiving 2012: Wednesday

Day two of Thanksgiving prep was pretty pleasant. Both Devin and I had the day off, so I cooked a lot, we went on a movie date night, and afterwards at around midnight saw the folded-up Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats being ushered down Broadway by cop cars. It was a creepy, surreal scene...the disembodied head of a giant fake owl wearing a pilgrim hat here, a massive headless swan body there. Seeing the floats the day before the parade, unassembled and in the dark, makes you wonder what becomes of them during the rest of the year. 

But on to happier topics--Dish 4, apple crumble! Generally speaking, my family is a pie family. It's one of the only indigenous dishes of my forefathers, who were/are Kansans, and before that some sort of Scotch/Irish. In California I'm sure there are at least three different kinds of pie at my parent's house waiting for tomorrow. But I decided to make a crumble, since I'm a little pressed for time and energy. Above, three kinds of apples that went into it: Empire (red), mutsu (green), and pink lady (pink).

Pink lady peelings. The filling of the crumble was: 4 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a little sea salt.

The crumble crust: 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/2 cup pecan halves, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, pinch sea salt, smattering of cinnamon. I mixed it with my fingers.

After assembling, I baked it at 400 degrees for 35 minutes until bubbly and browned.

Dish five: Sage and onion stuffing! I love this stuff. A lot. No other stuffing can compete with its place in my heart. It's simple, herby, and in no way healthy. 

It involves cubing half a loaf of whole wheat bread...

...then dicing 1 cup of celery and 1cup of onion, sautéing the veggies in 1 stick of butter until softened, and mixing them with the bread, 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and 1 tablespoon dried sage.

Then you bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Not the most beauteous of dishes, but so warm, good, and sage-y.

Dish six: Roasted sweet potatoes with sea salt and cinnamon. I'm pretty enamored of this one little stand at my local farmer's market that always has tiny perfect bunches of greens like Tuscan kale and bok choy, and also some of the most delicious sweet potatoes I've ever had. They're bright orange, and their innards, once roasted, are velvety, creamy, and oh so sweet. I popped these in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Take into account my oven is small, so cooking times will vary from kitchen to kitchen.

Here they are sliced and cinnamoned. 

Tomorrow: Potatoes, gravy, and a bird!

Operation Thanksgiving 2012: Tuesday

Devin and I are staying in Manhattan for Thanksgiving, since we can only afford to go home to California for Christmas. Thanksgiving at my parent's house is very specific, with a menu that's been unaltered for years simply because it is perfect. So this week, I am undertaking the insurmountable: I'm re-creating my family's traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but making every piece of a nine-dish Thanksgiving on my own. So! I'm starting early. Tuesday night, I made three things that will only improve with chilling in the refrigerator until Thursday.

Thing one: Whole cranberry sauce, which is something my grandmother usually makes. This year I changed it up a little by using raw agave nectar instead of granulated sugar.

Bring 1 cup water and 3/4 cup raw agave nectar to a boil, then add 12 ounces (one bag) fresh cranberries and simmer for 10 minutes. Let stand until it comes to room temperature--it'll thicken as it sits around.

I really like the taste of agave nectar, so I really like this. There's been a little agave controversy recently--it's higher on the glycemic index than granulated white sugar, and the non-raw stuff has tons of fructose, etc. I chose to use it because, while 3/4 of a cup of agave has the same glycemic index as 1 cup of sugar, it contributes fewer calories to the recipe. Also, it's yummy.

Thing two: Balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts. I nabbed a super-cool Brussels sprouts tree from Trader Joe's. Though I like it mainly for the novelty factor and by getting it I probably made more work for myself (I had to yank all the sprouts off the stalk before trimming and slicing them), I still think it's worth it. I also tell myself sprouts on the stalk are fresher, and it makes me feel better.

All of the little cuties sliced and cored.

How to: Put the sprouts in a pan, add 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, a few grinds sea salt, and a few grinds black pepper, toss to coat, and then put them in the oven at 375 for 25 minutes. So delicious.

Thing three: Fresh cucumber pickles. I've been making this dish as my Thanksgiving dinner contribution since elementary school. I think I nabbed the original recipe from a Ranger Rick magazine, a publication produced for kids by the National Wildlife Federation. But in my family, we call them Laura's Pickles. Here are my secrets.

Laura’s Pickles

2 large cucumbers, finely sliced
1 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
¾ cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice

What to do:
Mix sliced cucumbers and diced onion with salt and celery seed, and let stand for one hour at room temperature.  Meanwhile, mix sugar with lemon juice until sugar dissolves.  After one hour, pour lemon mixture over cucumber combination, and stir to blend.  Barely cover with water.  Store in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Chop the onions the size you’d want to eat them.
Barely cover with water (do not over-dilute).
Make sure to let marinate in fridge for at least 24 hours, more if possible.

To me, Thanksgiving smells like celery seed. It's one of those instant nostalgia-conjuring scents for my personal brain. 

Here are the finished pickles. They're only going to get more intensely delicious as they marinate in the refrigerator for a few days.

Get ready for Wednesday prep madness a little later on!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Curiosity Cabinet

This is a post I'm using for the final project of my master class that took place in the American Museum of Natural History. Each photograph represents a different hall in the museum.

Hall of African Mammals: Snow Leopard in the Central Park Zoo, September 2011

The Hall of Ocean Life: Hermit Crab and Shoe as Treasure Chest, Sant Cruz, CA, July 2012

Sanford Hall of North American Birds: Early Morning Pigeon Migration by the Caltrain Station, Sunnyvale, CA, 2009 and Dead Bird on the Grounds of St. John's Cathedral, Manhattan, 2011

Hall of North American Mammals: Grizzly Bear in the Bronx Zoo, March 2012, and Hiking Path at Rancho San Antonio, Los Altos, CA, June 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Before the Frost

I thought, for posterity and future generations, I'd show you what Riverside Park looked like a few weeks ago, before the nor'easter and other storm. I was wearing a slightly witchy outfit and we took a stroll down Cherry Walk in Riverside Park (If you want to see what Cherry Walk looked like in April, click here).

All the cherries were still clinging to the seems like the birds and squirrels don't eat them, which strikes me as odd. I wanted to try one, but restrained myself, since I didn't have my Poisonous Cherry Antidote on me at the time.

Wood and rock.

Berry pattern/Lace pattern.

Devin and I are both something of Squirrel Whisperers...we got this guy to come up right to us without any food or anything.

Amethyst pendant and untouched fruit.

Fallen apples resting on a bench.

Devin and Laura Diptych.