2014 Resolutions

  1. Eliminate my credit card debt. I made progress in 2013 but not as much as I’d like.
  2. Bike 2,000 miles. A repeat from 2013. I made it more than halfway thanks to hacking my commute, which resulted in biking more than 500 miles in the last quarter of the year, so this should be easy enough.
  3. Bake one new pie per month. A repeat from 2012, when I made this resolution and then baked zero pies. Savory pies count, but not quiches, as I mastered them a number of years ago.
  4. Leave the country at least once. A repeat from 2013, with the added incentive of loved ones of my loved one living on another continent.
  5. Read 25 books. This was my goal for 2013, but I fell short by several books despite increased commute reading time.
  6. Score a new PR. This means either besting one of my 2013 times in the half or 5K, or running a new distance.
  7. Complete at least one item per month from my Chicago bucket list. Because if I don’t make a list, it won’t happen.

2012 Resolutions In Review

Oh right, last year’s resolutions.

1. Running faster in at least two half marathons plus the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.
Done. I PR’d in the Illinois half in April, taking 6:40 off my Detroit time. I missed a PR in the Monster Dash by 4 seconds. I also took 4:59 off my Cherry Blossom time.

2. Learn more about [my] DSLR.
Done. I took a DSLR workshop in May and feel like I have a somewhat better grasp on how my camera works – and then I broke my arm and couldn’t hold it properly for a few weeks, and then it started taking spirit photographs and spent 3 months in the shop. Whoops.

3. See [no] fewer than 12 movies in the theater.
Done. I saw: The Adventures of TintinMy Week With MarilynTinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyThe ArtistThe Skin I Live InJoy Division with Le voyage dans le luneShameThe Cabin in the WoodsYour Sister’s SisterThe Hunger Games, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall (x3), and Django Unchained.

4. Write at least one [letter] per week.
Done. I wrote 169 letters and postcards in 2012.

5. Find a job in Chicago.
Done! I’ve been at my job nine months, and while it isn’t my dream job, that has less to do with the job and more to do with my dreams.

6. [Bake] one pie per month.
I baked zero pies in 2012.

7. Master at least one new cocktail at home per month.
I mastered two cocktails: the manhattan, and the French gimlet.

8. More travel.
I didn’t leave the country despite my best attempts to walk to Mexico. I did leave the state more than a few times, though.
January: Carlsbad/San Diego, CA plus lots of back and forth to Chicago
February: back and forth to Chicago
March: Champaign for LEEP weekend, DC for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler
April: southern Illinois with the GSLIS ladies, Champaign for the Illinois I-Challenge
May: Overnight to Indiana
June: weekend in A2, Anaheim/Imperial Beach, CA
July: nowhere because I had a goddamned broken arm
August: weekend in A2
September: nowhere
October: two weekends in Champaign, Charlottesville, VA for a conference
November: DC, Champaign
December: San Francisco, CA, weekend in A2

9. Read at least two books per month.
Nope. I read 17 books, quit one book club, and started another.

10. Learn to do alterations.
Nope. Maybe this year.

11. More feats of strength! More push-ups. More miles on Orange. And maybe, just maybe, a pull-up.
Done, sort of. Angie and Soy and I started the 100 pushups training program, and I was happy as long as I stayed ahead of the husbands. We had a push-up competition on our girls’ weekend (I won). And then I broke my arm. My strength is coming back, but a pull-up is still a long ways off.

I did, however, put a lot of dang miles on Orange, though I didn’t hit my arbitrary and late-established goal of 1,000 miles.

12. More time connecting with the important people in my life.
Done, though this looks dramatically different than it did last year.

Mo-mo-more?

We’re in Rockford for the holiday, having moved the majority of our material possessions to Chicago three days ago. The last two days have been full of cookies and presents and traditions and relaxed family time. Max has been running around playing with trains and pointing at various delicious things and saying “mo-mo-more”, his voice lilting upward as he points at the object of his desire.

I mention this because as I look forward to 2012, what I want most is mo-mo-more. More time with friends and family. More travel. More flowers, more movies, and more amazing food. More miles. More love, more patience, and more connection in my relationships and with the world. So this post is me reaching my hands in the air and asking the universe for what I want in the next year:

  1. This year was about running further. 2012 will be about running faster in at least two half marathons plus the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.
  2. I want to take better photos of more than just food, though better food photos would also be progress. I want to take a class, read a book, participate in an online workshop – in general learn more about the fancy DSLR we bought almost three years ago. And then apply that knowledge for good, not for evil.
  3. I’m reasonably certain that the only movie I saw in the theater this year was the final Harry Potter installment. With two movie theaters within a mile of our new place, we should have no excuse – other than lousy offerings – to see fewer than 12 movies in the theater.
  4. I want to write more letters – at least one per week. Do you want to be my pen pal?
  5. I need to find a job in Chicago, as it will make many of these mores possible. More time with my family as they’ll be 75 minutes away instead of 5-7 hours. More time with many many Chicago friends (though less time with A2 friends). A new and exciting city life for the two of us. I’ve loved my MPub job, but I need to be in Chicago.
  6. I wanted to bake 24 unique loaves this year. We made significant changes in our diet over the summer, and I haven’t really baked since then. I think, however, that one pie per month is a reasonable goal.
  7. Bourbon and I got back together in 2012, but I need to have more in my cocktail repetoire than the trusty Manhattan. There will be many opportunities to drink fancy cocktails in our new ‘hood, but I want to master at least one new cocktail at home per month.
  8. We took a fun road trip vacation over the summer, and I took solo trips to Philly, DC, and New York for work, races, and fun. I would like more of the same this year, beginning with my birthday weekend in California and possibly including a trip to Europe after the semester wraps up.
  9. More books read: finish the 2/3 challenge, keep up with my book club, and hammer away at the To Read lists while reading at least two books per month.
  10. Step up my game and learn to do alterations so that I can finally finish all of the half projects in my closet.
  11. More feats of strength! More push-ups. More miles on Orange. And maybe, just maybe, a pull-up.
  12. And, most importantly, more time connecting with the important people in my life. I’m not sure how to quantify this other than to say that I want to fight my introvert nature and say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’ for lunches with friends, dates with my husband, or visits to my family.

What will you do in the new year?

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

We spent last weekend in Rockford, celebrating a very special boy’s very special first birthday. Jenn and Bill really outdid themselves with the treats, and I’ll be honest when I say that I was tempted to dig in with the same sort of abandon demonstrated by the birthday boy. It got messier from here, but I had to share the restrained cute:

In addition to Max’s chocolate-and-chocolate smash cake, Jenn and Bill made a two layer Mario cake – chocolate on the bottom, funfetti on the top – with homemade fondant, complete with Goombas, mushrooms, bricks, and pipes:

Mario Cake!

There were also homemade cupcakes, but what I really want to tell you about are the sugar cookies, decorated to look like Starmen:

Starmen!

and Yoshi eggs:

Yoshi Eggs!

Now, I’m usually not a sugar cookie kind of girl. When presented with your conventional cookie options, I usually go for monster cookies first, then molasses, oatmeal raisin, and last, but not least, chocolate chip. These sugar cookies, however, were just about the best sugars I’ve had. They were delicious right out of the oven – and stayed soft (but not chewy) for a few days after. I ate the last star Wednesday morning – nearly a week after they were baked – and the cookie was still soft.  That’s much better than your average store-bought cookie, which even with preservatives will be stale by the end of the day.

The weekend’s treats totally did in my diet and my sweet tooth – but I look forward to making these when both recover.  Jenn shared her recipe, which she got from her friend Robyn, and which I’m happy to share here. Jenn and Robyn note that gel food coloring will result in more vivid colors, and should be added after frosting reaches the desired consistency. Liquid food coloring, on the other hand, should be added to the frosting BEFORE other liquids, as it may affect the frosting’s consistency.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream (or sweet cream soured with 2-3 tablespoons vinegar)
6 cups sifted flour – more if necessary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 375, and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats. Cream butter and sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. In a 2 cup measuring cup, dissolve the soda in the sour cream, mixture will froth and almost double in volume. Add to butter mixture and blend. Sift dry ingredients together and blend into the wet ingredients gradually. If necessary, gradually add more sifted flour until you can easily roll out the dough. Cut out cookies and bake 10-12 minutes on the prepared baking sheets. Yield will vary depending on the rolled-out thickness and size of your cookie cutters.

Buttercream Frosting
1/3 cups cold butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (optional)
1/4 cup whole milk or cream

Cream butter. Add powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and liquid food coloring if using. Add milk or cream, stirring constantly, until the frosting forms stiff peaks. Gel food coloring will produce more vivid colors; if using, add after the frosting reaches the desired consistency.  Spread on cooled sugar cookies – or enjoy on graham crackers or straight off the mixing spoon.

A Very Purim Bakefest

As I understand it, the holiday of Purim celebrates the Jews’ narrow avoidance of extermination at the hands of an evil man named Hamen. How the holiday came to involve also eating Hamen’s hat, I’m not sure, but it’s delicious and I’ll take it. I’ll also take any excuse to bake delicious pastries:

A Very Purim Bakefest

After a brunch of savory spinach kugel, fresh grapefruit juice, and a salad, we got to work. Olivia rolled out the dough for the rugelach, a flaky rolled pastry filled with dried fruit, nuts, jam, or other sweets.

Rolling

Susie spread the apricot jam (or apple butter when we ran out) and sprinkled on the raisins, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon sugar. Shannon rolled up the rugelach, tucking in the ends of keep the sweets from escaping:

Rolling

I took up the rolling pin for the hamentaschen, so there are only photos of the final product – so you’ll have to imagine me rolling out the deliciously lemon-scented dough and cutting it into small rounds. Susie painted an X of butter on each, then Shannon added a dollop of prune or apple butter. Olivia pinched up the corners of Hamen’s hats, and into the oven they went:

Hamentaschen

We each went home with a box full of treats and a vague understanding of the story of Purim, based entirely on what we remembered from the Book of Esther and what I could parse together from Wikipedia. Purim starts on the 19th, so we have some time to read up – and to enjoy deliciously buttery, flaky, rich and flavorful treats.

Recipes:
Rugelach from Gourmet
The Perfect Hamentaschen from the New York Times

24 Loaves: Month 1

In the last month, I’ve baked 8 loaves from the basic Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day recipe.

Five boules, which were more or less successful. The first couple were great, including the two I baked while extremely hung over the weekend of my birthday. That’s the beautiful thing about this recipe – even if your head is throbbing and you want nothing more than to be horizontal, you can shape a loaf and get it in the oven and have fresh bread to sop up last night’s indulgence in little more than an hour. We had a couple of loaves come out a bit spongy and without the gorgeous crackly crust, which I think was because I baked them at a lower temperature than was prescribed. I also think that I’m going to add a bit more flour in the next batch, as the dough has been really wet.

Look at that!

Two pathetic demi-baguettes made with the ends of the first batch of dough. They tasted fine, but were difficult to shape and never really rose.

Flat Baguettes

One ciabatta, which I forgot to photograph, but which we used for sandwiches the other weekend with roast beef and good mustard.

One gorgeous baguette, so gorgeous and perfect that I went out in the snow just to take photos. Crackly crust, great crumb, can’t wait to bake another one.

Baguette!

Technically this amounts to eight loaves in one month, but really it was just one recipe and a bunch of different shapes. I figure that’s a good start, right?

25 Recipes #2: Goulash

I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got home from Cleveland last Wednesday – I just haven’t been blogging about it. I made hummus and fresh pita bread for our friends’ New Year’s party – the latter was perfect, unlike earlier pita efforts. We were both somewhat worse for wear on Saturday, and the Barefoot Contessa’s fresh pea soup was just the thing for our troubled stomachs. On Sunday, I made the first recipe from my new Essential New York Times Cookbook: mushroom caps stuffed with sausage and duxelles – simple but incredibly flavorful, and destined to be on our table many times in the future. I also took on the second recipe from my 25 Recipes list: goulash.

Goulash!

I’m not sure how goulash got on our list exactly. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as Shane grew up in a city whose cuisine is as influenced by Eastern Europeans as my hometown’s is by the Swedes.

I was concerned because there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes authentic Hungarian Gulyás. Many recipes call for tomatoes, while others swear that goulash never contains tomatoes. Some recipes call for potatoes to thicken the stew. Others suggest serving the stew over dumplings or egg noodles. The goulash I remember from my childhood always involved ground beef and elbow macaroni, and is apparently known as American Chop Suey in some parts of the country..

Browning the beef

Fortunately for me, Shane doesn’t have any particular memory of a specific goulash, so I was safe to proceed. The one thing all goulash recipes seem to agree on is the paprika, which gives goulash its characteristic color and savory smoky flavor. The paprika differentiates goulash from more pedestrian (but no less delicious) beef stew. In this goulash, the paprika is cooked in bacon fat already used to brown your beef and saute onions and garlic.

Sauteeing onions and garlic

Add everything to the pot – the browned beef and bacon, plus stock, diced red peppers, tomato paste (oh, the heresy!), seasonings, and water (or beer) enough to get the right consistency. Let it all simmer for an hour or so – enough time for me to shred and then prepare some pasta – and you’ve got a warm and hearty dinner. I was going to add ‘flavorful’ to that list of adjectives, but I was honestly underwhelmed by this recipe. It was good but not remarkable, which is probably the case with most comfort foods.

Kitchen Assistant

Either way, Mina was happy to supervise, Shane was happy to eat it up, and I’ll be happy to make it again. Maybe we’ll try a more authentic recipe next time.

Recipe:
Goulash from Smitten Kitchen – 1/4 recipe with egg noodles and some bread was enough for three portions

1218 Simple Pleasures

rice krispie treats from weikel's bakery in la grange
Photo by sass_face

We’ve been craving – no, fiending for – Rice Krispies treats for the better part of the week. We stopped by the bodega* at the end of our street for ingredients one night, but couldn’t justify paying $5 for a box of cereal and $2.50 for a bag of marshmallows when buying two individual treats (less than $2) could sate our cravings while preventing further treat binges.

True to form, however, the individual treats only made us want more treats. Isn’t that the way it always goes when fat and sugar are involved?

And so I found myself making Rice Krispies treats at 9 o’clock this morning, melting butter and marshmallows while Shane did the breakfast dishes. In an attempt to be fancy, I spread melted butterscotch chips on one half of one pan, and melted peanut butter chips on one half of the other. The melted gooey everything had barely cooled before Shane sliced out a peanut butter coated treat – and then asked me if we could please wrap up the treats in controlled portions. Sure thing. And if this is the only Christmas baking I get to this year, I think that’s just fine.

Rice Krispies treats
Recipe adapted from the Kellogg’s original
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1/2 cup chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips (optional)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then add the marshmallows and stir until melted. Add the Rice Krispies and stir until coated with sticky goodness. Press into a 9×13 pan or two 9×9 pans.

If you’re feeling fancy, melt 1/2 cup chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch chips over medium heat, then use a spatula to spread as thinly as you’d like over as many treats as you’d like. 1/2 cup chips should thickly cover half of a 9×9 pan.

*Side note: I refer to the corner store as a ‘bodega’ because I like to pretend we live in a real city. In Michigan, they’re known as ‘party stores’, which Wikipedia claims is a hold-over from Prohibition.

1212 English Muffins

English Muffins!

I go through bread baking phases. When I first learned how to bake bread – back in 2003, in the apartment with a horrifically carpeted kitchen and tile on every surface – it was a revelation. We were broke, and the bread we bought was generally of the extremely inexpensive store-brand variety. Occasionally we’d get a Parmesan pepper baguette or a loaf of olive bread from Mary’s Market. Realizing that I could make an excellent sandwich loaf for not very much money – and also work out aggression from a long day of talking to angry customers – was just as wonderful as you might imagine.

Since then, I’ve gone back and forth. I baked regularly when we first moved to A2 and I was unemployed – but then I got a job and we decided we could splurge on a half loaf of something awesome from Zingerman’s from time to time – or we could stock up on half price breads at Plum after 8pm. I have no complaints about this. I like good bread, and I like not always having to make it.

But here’s the thing – there’s a whole world of breads out there, and I only know how to make a handful of ’em. In the last year I’ve made bagels and yeast rolls, zucchini bread and no-knead bread. In the next year, I want to learn about bread – breads of all kinds! 24 loaves in 12 months. I would consider this morning’s baking a preview for the main event.

We’ve been buying English muffins for the last few weeks in an attempt to perfect the breakfast sandwich – and even though I’m over the breakfast sandwich kick for the moment, I’ve been enjoying them smeared with peanut butter along with my breakfast Greek yogurt.  I’ve had a couple of different English muffin recipes bookmarked for a while, so this seemed like a great project to take on this morning.  With a pot of beef stock simmering on the stove, the kitchen was sufficiently warm for the first rise, and the running dishwasher provided enough heat for the second.  I toasted the muffins in the cast iron, then transfered them to the toaster oven for the final bake.

The end result? 9 golden muffins, all very tasty but a little too dense, and lacking the nooks and crannies that are so good at catching melted butter and fresh jam.  While that’s not going to stop us from eating them – we enjoyed a couple with tonight’s frittata – I think that next time I’ll be a bit more gentle in forming the muffins.  Because there will be a next time.  Maybe even this week.

Recipe:
English muffins from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by way of Pete Bakes

2011 Resolutions

I usually like to give myself until my birthday to make resolutions and to report in on those from the previous year. This year, however, I’m pretty set on my list, and if I post it today, that gives me almost 13 months to complete the following:

  1. Expand my bread repertoire by baking 2 new types per month.  I can make a solid sandwich loaf, but there are many more loaves to try!
  2. Knit socks.  I’m there.  I can do this.
  3. Run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  If my knee, winter training, or finances prevent this, run at least one 10K.
  4. Continue saving aggressively for a down-payment on a house.  We’re hoping to buy this summer, but it might be advantageous to wait another year, which is why this resolution is ‘save’ not ‘buy’.
  5. Complete the 25 Recipes challenge, in which we attempt to master 25 recipes that we’ve been intending to try.
  6. Learn to accessorize.  I love the look of scarves, jewelry, and all of that, but haven’t spent much time figuring out how to work those things into my wardrobe.
  7. Make a decision about grad school.  Do I need/want more of it? In what field? This decision will largely be influenced on my job situation.
  8. Sock away 3 months’ worth of my half of the household budget (approx $4500).  I worked on this in 2009, was un/underemployed for a few months, and then got a job that pays $15,000 less than I was making when we established our budgets. I’ll be posting about this and other financial goals on How I Am Not Spending Money.  Hopefully extra income from teaching will help with this.
  9. Survive my first semester of teaching.  Can I tell you how intimidated I am about this?  It’s a little paralyzing.
  10. Take a solo trip and a vacation with SB.  We’re thinking Portland or San Francisco, and I’m thinking that my reward for #9 should be a trip to NYC.

What do you want to do in the new year?