Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tiny Cakes Go Viral!

Admittedly, I probably should not use the word "viral" when talking about Tiny Cakes.

Also, I don't know if you can call it "going viral" when your sister bakes a recipe you put on your blog and then sends you photos, but I'm gonna go ahead and use some creative license here. It's my blog and I'll exaggerate if I want to.  The point is this: Erin made Tiny Carrot Cakes for Easter! And in this photo, you can even see the laptop in the background which is dialed into Knit Yourself Pretty. It's like a blog within a blog! Is your mind blown?
I think someone needs a Tiny Cake...
This last weekend, Erin hosted a little Easter party for all of her Berkeley friends. Oh, seeing these photos took me back to my Berkeley days, when Erin and I lived together and this very same group (we called ourselves the Fattys) would get together to do these very same things on Easter: Dye eggs and eat a bunch of food. Do you want to see what we looked like 10 years ago? Then click here!
Erin made quite the spread for her friends. Even mom's Christmas quiche! (Erin, was it extra salty like mom always makes it?)
My cake!!!
And at last, Tiny Cakes were enjoyed by all! I "think" everyone got their own cake. Isn't it fun to have your own cake? Not have to worry about who is getting the bigger slice? I think Henry was extra glad to have his own Tiny Cake. He does not look like he's in the mood for sharing.

But I do want to say thanks to Erin for sharing! And also Eva Longoria, whose carrot cake recipe is the basis for these particular Tiny Cakes. Get the recipe here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter in Brooklyn

My Mom asked me on the phone last night, so what are you doing for Easter? Hmm...I thought. I had absolutely no idea. But it got me thinking. What does Easter in Brooklyn look like? So with that in mind, I began my day, camera in hand. Herewith I present to you my Brooklyn Easter:

The day began with finishing a sock that I've been knitting over the last week: The Pom Pom Peds from the Purl Bee. I kid you not, I am actually a believer in the pom pom ped. I'm one of those odd people whose shoes are constantly eating their socks. To keep the sock from getting sucked down into the netherbelly of a sneaker, I actually need a pom pom. So I decided to fashion my own last week. One down, one more to go!
 The garden is alive with pops of color. These strange little flowers (mutant tulips? exotic daffodils? ecstatic crocus?) were positively lunging toward the sunlight today.
And these red buds are growing atop our apple tree. Or is it our cherry tree? We planted them both at the same time and there is some debate about which we planted where. Once the trees bears fruit (someday, provided that a neighbor unbeknowst to us also has a cherry and/or apple tree so that the local bees can crosspolinate the buds enabling the trees to bear fruit), we'll know for sure. Until then, we'll just enjoy these buds, which smell divine.
On the way to meet Nicole, I stumbled upon this Easter egg blue Chevy truck.
And on the sidewalk just behind it was this sign beckoning me to go to something called the Holy Crab. In this old-school Italian Williamsburg neighborhood, my two honest guesses regarding this event are either a Catholic luncheon or hipster brunch. It really could go either way.
The daffodils in the market were grouped together just so, all shapes and sizes singing in the same choir.
And the rose was bubbly and sweet, as was the lovely conversation.
On the walk home I photographed a tree I've been eying for the last week, very impressed by how many "needles" it seems to have packed into one little nuggety bulb. These needles, by the way, will eventually turn into those long spirally leaves that turn neon yellow in the fall and twirl to the ground like dancers.
I came home and upgraded my tomato plants into bigger cups.
This one is named Aunt Ruby. It's going to be a big hearty plant that produces green heirloom tomatoes. Needless to say, I have already developed fond feelings for Aunt Ruby.
What I love best about tomatoes is that at this young stage, they already smell like tomatoes. They are so good at delivering on their promise. I consider them trustworthy friends.
But if we can go back to the sock for just a minute. I thought I'd share with you my favorite part of Easter day, which was sitting in the sun, making the pom pom.
For those who have never made one before, it really couldn't be easier. Just cut out two cardstock circles, and then cut out a circle within each of those to make a donut. The only cardstock I had in the recycling bin was a box that held butter; I swear to you, I did not realize until I'd cut out the circles that I had in fact cut out the words "salted butt."
You wind yarn around and around the donut, then snip along the sides of the cardstock, putting your scissors right between the two donuts as you cut the strands. The yarn poofs out in a very satisfying way as you snip.
Then you have a sip of iced coffee.
And finally, you tie a piece of string between the two donuts, pull tight and knot it off. Remove the donuts and trim the pom pom until it's a nice fluffy round shape. When it's all done, put it on your sock!
And if you're anything like me, take the time to appreciate both your knitting success and your excellent pedicure. 

And that is a Brooklyn Easter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tiny Royal Wedding Cakes and/or Loaf

So do you all remember when I failed at my company's bake-off last fall? Well I do! So when they announced last week that we will be having yet another bake-off for our spring preview party, I thought, here it is! My chance to redeem myself! What is that glimmer of hope that a bake-off conjures? I believe the magic of a bake-off is this: It's low-risk, it's tasty, and it's a potential opportunity to gloat. Good stuff, people. Good stuff.

I learned so many things from my failed chocolate tartlets of six months ago. Most notably, that meringue doesn't hold up so well after 24 hours. Also, that tartlets aren't meant for the subway. But most importantly, I learned that you must practice your recipe in order to determine a few things: A) Does it actually taste good? B) Will it still taste good tomorrow? C) Do I have the skills to make it look good? D) No really, how do I make this look good? And E) Can I transport it without complete disaster? So as a warm up for next week's bake-off, and as a way to preemptively celebrate the Royal Wedding via watching the terrible Lifetime movie about Wills & Kate with my girlfriends, I decided to try out a recipe using my TINY CAKES method!
Yes! Tiny Cakes are back on the blog! I am still addicted to making them and they are more delicious than EVER. For my bake-off entry, I decided to try out the Cassata Cake from United Cakes of America by Warren Brown. This is, for reasons I don't quite understand, the official cake of Ohio. Warren Brown encourages a different kind of baking than us 'Mericans are used to. For instance, he has you weigh ingredients rather than scoop them out of measuring cups. And he encourages using the finest, freshest ingredients you can find. His message seems to be this: If you're gonna bake, do it right, people.
My cakes came out of their ramekins beautifully. A little crumbly at the edges and golden brown. The trick with this recipe is that a meringue is folded into the batter just before baking, so the cake is truly an airy, spongy delight. Not dry in the least!
Because it's supposed to be a triple layer cake and I only halved the recipe to make my Tiny Cakes, I had a ton of batter left over. I decided to put it in a loaf pan and just "see what happens." The instructions tell you to take the cakes out of the oven and let cool on a flat surface. Silly me, I doubted the sage words of Warren Brown and plopped my loaf onto a rack. I immediately realized this was a mistake--the cake is too soft and airy to withstand the wires of the rack! I paused for a moment to take this picture, then immediately moved the loaf to a board to cool. Mild fiasco averted!
The magic, the mystery, and the glory of this cake belongs almost entirely to the lemon ricotta filling. Stiff yet smooth, tangy in a way that only ricotta can be, and joyful in a way that only lemons can be, I was tempted to use the filling to frost the cake. (I resisted, of course.) I sliced each Tiny Cake and the loaf in half and plopped a generous amount of filling in the center along with a handful of sliced blackberries. (Note that my bake-off entry will have strawberries, but they looked dismal in the store that day. Come on spring! You can do it! Mama needs fresh strawberries from the farmer's market by next Thursday!)
I placed the tops on the cakes and pressed down a bit so the filling oozed out the sides.
And then I frosted them with whipping cream. Oh heavenly harmony of creamed goods and all things cakey. Warren Brown, you are an evil, wonderful man.
Because I was going to watch the horrible William and Kate Lifetime movie at my friend's house on Monday night, I thought it only proper to turn the extra loaf into a wedding loaf. Bejeweled, of course, for the occasion. Plus it gave me a chance to  try out the cake recipe on a group of discerning friends! (Who, by the way, have no problem telling me if something I made tastes terrible.)
As evidenced by Jess licking the frosting from the tiara, I think it was a hit. 

But the question is this: is it good enough to win? Who knows! A past winner of the bake-off said this to me yesterday: Do you want to win? Then you've got to do chocolate. I know she's probably right, but damn it, I'm a rebel. I believe in my chocolate-free Cassata Cake, and I hope you do, too. Wish me luck! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Sourdough Kind of Weekend

Well, a happy weekend to you, too, dear readers. As what will surely be a lovely spring weekend steadily approaches, I thought it only appropriate to share with you my recent adventures in sourdough baking: cinnamon rolls! What else says Saturday morning like a homemade cinna-bun? Am I right?

This story begins 4 months ago at Christmas when my Dad gave me a jar of his 30 year-old sourdough starter. Well, technically, I guess this story starts 30 years ago when my Dad decided he was interested enough in bread baking to buy a yeast packet and a book on the subject and...miraculously, the yeast still survives! And we have evidence that we can eat! Truth be told, my Dad is a little obsessed with the stuff. We grew up eating sourdough waffles and sourdough fruitcake...anything deemed "bready" was made with sourdough. I have fond memories of getting to stay up late when we were kids so that we could eat the bread right when it came out of the oven, sometime around midnight (my Dad clearly had some time management issues). We'd tear off pieces with our hands and smother it with butter, which would melt immediately into the loaf. And now, I have my very own batch! Pretty cool that I can actually now make the same bread we ate as children, right?

Sourdough, if you are not familiar with it, is fascinating. It is a live yeast that sits in your fridge, all frothy and weird, just waiting for you to pull it out onto a warm kitchen counter, mix in a little flour and water, and turn it into a batter.
Grody sourdough starter when it comes out of the fridge.
Yummy sourdough once it's been stirred!

So, my Dad gave me this book--Adventures in San Francisco--with the jar of starter, and he assured me that it would tell me everything I need to know about baking sourdough breads. When I opened to the first page and saw the photo of this awesome lady--a true San Francisco bread-baking vet with those bad-ass cat glasses--I knew I was in good hands.
I decided to make the cinnamon rolls, despite my Dad's warnings that it was "the toughest recipe in the book." I am an ambitious baker! So on a Friday night, I scooped out some of the jar slime, put it in a tupperware, added some flour and water and let it sit overnight. In the morning, it had doubled in size and was all smooth and creamy, ready for some baking!
True to my typical weekend form, I slept "a little" late on Saturday. And then I realized that the recipe requires TWO risings before being baked, and then we had to run some errands. So...we wound up eating the cinnamon rolls around 7pm...ah yes, I have inherited my Dad's time management baking problems. But yum yum yum were they delicious! The wonderful thing about sourdough is that you get this great toothsome texture. It's not all wimpy and doughy--it makes the kind of bread that you have to tear a bit with your teeth, and the sourness comes through just a touch, which is a great pairing with the sugar of the rolls and the spiciness of the cinnamon. The rolls are at their finest right out of the oven, so don't delay! Call your friends and neighbors and insist that they come over to get a piece of your hot baked buns. (It helps if you say it just like that, too.)
The weekend I made the rolls, my friend Sam told me that she also has some ancient sourdough starter in her fridge, handed down from her family, so I typed up this recipe and passed it along to her. And now I'll paste it here for you. If you want the book shown above--Adventures in San Francisco--you can still find used copies on Amazon. It's loooong out of print, but boy is it a goodie. And if you don't happen to have 30 year-old sourdough starter in your fridge, you can start your own! Here's one place you can buy it online for cheap, but there's tons of starters out there, so no excuses, people.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

So first, you need to take your starter out of the fridge and stir it up real good. Then, in a plastic or ceramic bowl (don't use metal tools or bowls), mix 1 cup of the starter, 1 1/2 cups white flour, and 1 cup warm water. Cover it with plastic and let it do it's thing for 12 hours in a warm, draft-free place. It should be all bubbly and "alive" looking when it's ready.

At the end of the proofing period, stir the batter, put 1 cup back in your starter container in the fridge, and the rest is for your cinnamon rolls (about 1 1/2 cups). Put the batter in a large bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup of room-temp milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Then add 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time until it's too stiff to stir with a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead in another 1/3 cup of flour. It should be smooth, elastic, and soft.

Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel, and let rest for two hours in a warm spot (sunny windowsill? Radiator?) When the dough has doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a board so it's about 1/2" thick in a rectangle shape. Brush the dough with melted butter, mix up 1/4 cup sugar and a tablespoon cinnamon, then sprinkle that over the butter. Roll up the rectangle and cut into 1" slices. Put them swirly-side up in a greased pan (the sides should all be touching). Cover and let rise for 45 minutes. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool for a few, then drizzle with icing (powdered sugar with a little milk and vanilla) while it's still warm. Then eat it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Handmade Weirdness

Folks, I don't mean to alarm you. But I have a serious case of the blahs. The weather is warm and lovely at last, and yet I chose to wear sensible trousers. And a cardigan that I hate. It's a full-blown case of the Mondays, people. An official funk!

I had a whole other blog post planned for today...a cheerful, sweet story about cinnamon rolls. But, I tell you, I just couldn't do it. I looked at that post and thought, blech...I'm not feeling the sugar today. But I wanted to post SOMETHING! I went in search of another topic, something that felt right, something that would fit my mood. I remembered way back to one of my first blog posts, where I showed everything I had ever made all stacked up on my dresser. I promised in that post that I would follow up with photos of what those things look like when worn and realized that I had never done so. But surely, I thought, there must be nice photos of me wearing these clothes! I went in search only to realize that photos exist, but boy are they weird. And so, I present to you some highlights.

A red summer dress that I wore on our honeymoon. Heather Ross, author of Weekend Sewing, gave me the pattern for this dress, and I whipped it up (literally) in a weekend, smocking the bodice with elasticky thread and keeping the hem long. As you can see, it is particularly suited to playing Jenga with the staff at the hotel bar in St. Lucia. (Isn't this what all newlyweds do?) I think this summer I'll take up the hem to just above the knee. Ah, I do love how empowering sewing can be...performing tasks like altering a hemline makes me feel like a wardrobe magician.

Here I am wearing my gray hand-knit sweater to the birthday karaoke party of Miss Seventy Jane. Some people, such as everyone around me in this photo, may feel that a proper outfit for a Saturday night karaoke birthday party would be, I don't know, a party dress. But not me! Saturday night parties are when I break out the pure alpaca handknits and flared jeans.

And here is one of my favorite summer dresses, worn last spring at my bridal shower. And yes, we had a rainbow pinata at my bridal shower. (I really do love my girlfriends.) This dress is made from a sheet I got at a thrift store. I ain't too proud. When I first made the dress, it fit about as well as a toga. I snipped up the length of the back and took it in a few inches. Tied with a wide belt, it's girly, tropical, fitted and nearly fancy.
And finally, my favorite knitted blue sweater--Ingenue from Custom Knits. I happened to be wearing this sweater on a day when Iggy Pop came by our office and did an impromptu book signing. Here we are, staring into each other's eyes. And boy, does he have piercing blue eyes! He asked me out, but I said was all very awkward, of course. Oh, but I'm sure he'll survive.

I promise that someday I will show you actually nice photos of me wearing these clothes that I've so lovingly made by hand. But for now, I hope you enjoy these snapshots taken from random moments in my actual real life.

Ah...I feel a little less blah already.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Grandmothers, Heirlooms, and Shiny Things

Just recently, I noticed something interesting. I was standing at my dresser, putting away clothes, when I noticed that an antique china bowl that I use to hold jewelry looked very similar to the jewelry box sitting next to it. The fresh colors and swirling flowers looked almost like they went together. The bowl is a piece from Robb's grandmother's china set; the jewelry box was my grandmothers. I thought to myself, could it be that these two women who never met and lived across the country from one another had such similar taste? And how did both of these things come to wind up on my dresser, so many years after they had both passed away?

This, I believe, is one of the ways we commune with those who are no longer with us. We visit with belongings, ponder what they meant to that person, and what they mean to us now. Did Robb's grandmother like the china pattern, or was it picked out for her? (I, for one, adore it.) Was this a special jewelry box of my grandmother's, or was it some old thing that someone gave to me to fill with sparkly stuff when we went to pack up her home? Though it may seem morose, I find it quite interesting! So I thought I would spend some time visiting with the grandmothers. Won't you join me?

When my grandmother passed, I was eight years old. For some reason that has never been quite clear to me--perhaps just to keep me occupied--I was given the floral box above and allowed to root through Grandma Gerry's jewelry and fill up the box. Because I was eight, and because it was the '80s, I wound up with a few things I might not have picked now, like the pink crystal heart earrings above.

But there were a few gems that I'm so glad I grabbed. For instance, the Rainbow Girls ring. For those of you not in the know, Rainbow Girls is a "society" with a Masonic heritage, so it's got that element of mystique that's so intriguing. Grandma was a Rainbow Girl in her teens and must have received this ring then. I have tiny little fingers and it only fits on my pinky, so she was either teeny tiny, or she also wore it as pinky bling.
The rainbow and hammer on top of the ring are nice and all, but the setting is what it's all about. I'm a sucker for ornate settings.
Another ring that is a total mystery is this one--the diamond swirl ring. Was it an engagement ring? If so, whose was it? I don't think it was her engagement ring and none of my family has been able to tell me who it belonged to or what it was. Fancy cocktail ring? Priceless gem? I have no idea, but someday if I go to Antiques Roadshow, this will definitely be one of my entries.

And of course, I would be remiss not to mention the grandma ring that I wear every day. It came from Robb's Grandma McClure, the very same one who owned the china bowl above. This is my engagement ring, and it was hers, too. And at the end of the day, I have to say, it's the prettiest engagement ring I've ever seen. Simple, delicate, with a slightly ornate's not too much and not too little. Clearly, us ladies all have excellent taste.

Just last week, I saw Robb's mom and caught her gazing at the ring. She said something to me along the lines of "I was just visiting." And really, that's what we do when we pull out the heirlooms, isn't it? 

And isn't it fascinating that someone can hang onto these pieces for so long, tucked away in a drawer, while others don't even know that they exist? I thought of my dad and uncles as I conceived of this post, and how they might like to revisit some of their mother's jewelry, which they probably haven't seen in decades because it's been in a box in my underwear drawer. Perhaps, if we're lucky, they can recall her wearing these pieces, a memory will be jogged, and a new story will be born.