Ok, so I know oatmeal isn’t exciting. And I know a lot of people could careless. But let me put this out there: I freakin’ love oatmeal. Yes, I am a living on the edge wild child for the fibre treat. I love hot porridge, I love oatmeal skin products, I love the way it feels to sift through a bag of oats with my hands, and I love to fucking destroy a plate of oatmeal cookies. Continue reading “Comfort food, ch. 3: Oatmeal Turners”
Comfort food, ch 2: Sweet Metric System Casserole Cookies
I love cookies. Or biscuits*, as my British based, adopted homeland calls them. I love pies and desserts, but my most favourite dessert is soft, buttery, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and creamy vanilla ice cream. /droooooool
Continue reading “Comfort food, ch 2: Sweet Metric System Casserole Cookies”
Comfort Food, ch. 1: Bolognese for Days
Comfort eating – my favourite sport. I have a few meals in my rotation for when times get tough, or when I just need that ultimate food hug. Yes, it’s unhealthy to use food as a coping mechanism. But we aren’t here to discuss my unhealthy coping mechanisms – that’s another post all together. We’re here to talk about the food that takes you to a safe space. The meals that give you an island in a sea of bullshit.
My most craved meals are almost all from childhood, and they’re almost all amazingly unhealthy – chicken enchiladas, biscuits ‘n gravy, bbq chicken with yellow rice, brisket sandwiches, french toast, I could go on in a gravy coated, cheese topped dream.
Today, though, I’m all about bolognese. Full disclosure: I love my mom’s spaghetti sauce. It’s pretty damn good and my #1 meal of all time is her baked chilli spaghetti (coming soon!) But this sauce isn’t my mom’s recipe. I happened upon this deliciousness when I was older and living out of state on my own for the first time.
My sister’s God-brother’s wife, Mandy (yes) posted this recipe she got from her friend, and claimed it was life changing. I was an Extra Super Cooking Novice (I have since become a Kinda OK Cooking Novice) and had always thought bolognese was intimidating and too advanced for me. But Mandy made it look easy. I book marked the recipe until the one random night that I was gutsy enough to try it.
Sheeeeeew – it was incredible then, and it’s incredible now. It’s even good when I forget/swapped some ingredients (read: forgot to buy the right ones). It was the first real “adult” or “more than 3 ingredients” meal I attempted, and it was a raving success. And now, it holds a special place in my rapidly clogging arteries. Joel thinks we should have it once a week.
So, here’s the low down, complete with inevitable Audrey Mayhem (see above about forgetting/swapping ingredients) –
Step 1: find some good trash TV to cook to. You’ve got some chopping to do.
Step 2: cook the onions in some olive oil for 2 minutes.
Step 3: Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes
Step 4: Pour yourself a glass of the $5 wine. Hold out hope that this is the one $5 bottle of wine that defies the odds and doesn’t taste like room-temperature, freshman year of college bad decisions.
Step 5. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes
Step 6: Add the beef and cook until brown
Step 7: Add the remaining ingredients
Step 8: THE HARDEST PART – let it simmer for at least 45 mins.
Step 9: NOSH
This recipe makes between 5-8 servings, depending on how big your servings are. It’s wonderful, complex, creamy and savoury, and I suggest you try it tonight. Because I’m off the store for more pancetta…
Best Bolognese Ever
From M Cubed
Makes 5-8 servings
– olive oil
– 1 large yellow onion, diced
– 3 stalks celery, diced
– 1 carrot, diced
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
– 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
– 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
– ¼ teaspoon red pepper
– 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
– ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
– 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
– ¼ teaspoon black pepper
– ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
– ¼ cup grated Parmesan (plus more for sprinklage)
1. In a Dutch oven (sigh. Or deep sauce pan, or wok, or something stove-top oriented that’s deep), over medium heat, heat the oil.
Caramel Cake: Behind the scenes
My last post was more about the feels inspired by the Back in the Day Bakery’s Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting than the actual process of making it, which itself was a doozy. An involved and kinda painful but ohhh so fun doozy. Also, attempting to make a cake from scratch, by yourself, and documenting it with a camera and note taking, by yourself, adds a whole new degree of difficulty and danger.
The recipe comes from the Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love cook book by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day. You can order the book here and you can find the recipe here. But you should just do yourself a favor, and order the book. It’s full of happiness.
And without further ado, here are some behind the scenes shots!
Haha, the caramel. I read the recipe over and over, wondering how I’d get caramel just from melting sugar. After a few minutes on the stove, I was still pushing sugar around. And then, out of nowhere, it started to melt into a clear liquid.
And the more sugar I added, the darker the liquid got. By George, it became caramel.
It was a slow, careful process, as I had to stir it constantly, add a little bit more sugar each time, and not take my eyes off of it. I felt like a scientist.
After all the sugar melted, I followed the recipe and took it off the heat, and immediately, but slowly, added the cream. And I thought the caramel was going to explode! It instantly reared up, all the caramel seized and it smelled like someone had a wet dairy fart in the kitchen. Something tells me that my definition of “room temperature” cream and science’s definition of “room temperature” cream are different.
I’d have a picture of the 40 minutes me stirring/whisking/swearing at the caramel, trying to get it to melt back down, but I decided to spare the internet. This where I burned my fingers, made a huge mess, and started to wonder if it was too late to just buy an ice cream cake.
Around 9 PM, I realized both cake pans wouldn’t fit into the oven at the same time. I thought,
“I’ll just bake one at a time.”
“but that will take too long.”
“I can bake one on top of the other!”
“But then one layer will bake faster than the other.”
“But they’ll be done! And I can go to bed!”
So I baked both layers at the same time, and the layer on the bottom rack, as predicted, baked faster. And maybe too much.
But the other layer turned out great!
The funny part is, I ended up talking to my mom for about an hour while the cakes baked. It took about 25 minutes to cook each layer, so I could have just baked them one at a time, and I would have stayed up the same amount of time. Ah well. My entire life is a rush to get to bed.
The next day, I started the frosting.
I just realized that I forgot to sprinkle the cake with flaky sea salt. Sheeew. At least there was sea salt in the frosting.
So there you have it! Baking fun with the almost competent baker.
Give it a whirl!
Back to Cakes
In March of 2012, I was a mess.
Like, moving out of your boyfriend’s apartment and back in with your parents, unemployed, emotional, drunk, extremely fragile mess. I joke now about my tendency to hole up in bed, in sweat pants, watching Teen Mom on repeat, but this is where it started. And I did it for about 30 hours a week, when I wasn’t obsessively rearranging my bedroom or using any opportunity to just get obliterated, in an attempt–I mean, in the worst possible way possible–to get on with my life. Basically, I was trying to dig myself out of the hole that was my life, but I just dug myself in deeper.
It was around this time that my mom and her best friend Sue went to visit Sue’s son Matt and his wife Mandy in Savannah, GA. Mandy took mom and Sue to one of her favorite local eateries, Back in the Day Bakery, and mom brought back some of their Old Fashioned Cupcakes for my dad and me. I have a very distinct memory of that day, as I often do with food that changes my life.
I was unshowered and in my pajamas and had just cancelled all my work plans when mom presented the adorable paper box to me, tied with red and white string and hand stamped with the bakery’s name. The box had a couple greasy spots on it, which immediately intrigued me. After all, grease spots most often forecast a delicious treat. Inside the box was a small cupcake covered in pink icing and white sprinkles. I grew up hating frosting and hating cupcakes because they were mostly frosting. But, I didn’t care. Suddenly I needed to eat this cupcake. I peeled the paper and shoved it frosting first into my face.
What a cupcake. Even after a 10+ hour journey in a non-air tight container, this cupcake was perfect. It had the most amazing texture. The best flavor. And it tasted real. Like the first person to have ever created a cupcake had made them in their kitchen from scratch and had delivered it to me. There was no fake sugar taste that accompanies most frosting. It was real butter cream–and all you could taste was butter and sugar. And the cake was moist and had the perfect crumble. Even the sprinkles were tasty. You could taste the attention to detail. It was incredible.
I remember when I was done eating it, I was sad. I was sad all the time back then, but this was a new, different kind of sad. I had a Lester Burnham moment and thought, “This will be the highlight of my day.” And I took a picture of the empty wrapper.
That cupcake, and the three more I ate immediately after, lifted my spirits in a beautifully weird way. Like, the fact that I could love something that I had so long hated made me feel like change within myself wasn’t impossible. Like I had been judging things too quickly. It was cupcake empowerment. Or it was a massive sugar high. But either way, I felt better than I had in a long time.
As with most sugar highs, the feeling was short lived. Most unfortunately. However, a few weeks later, Mandy sent my mom Back in the Day Bakery’s first cookbook that had just been released, signed by chef and co-owner, Cheryl Day. I leafed through it, hoping to find the recipe for the cupcakes that shone a light for me. And lo and behold, there it was. And that to die for butter cream frosting, too.
That first batch of cupcakes helped in a way I didn’t fully realise at the time. Baking gave me an outlet, something to focus on. Following precise instructions gave my brain a break from worry and grief. And looking at the plate of cupcakes, frosted and sprinkled, knowing they were as delicious as the ones made in Savannah, gave me a shot in the arm. I had created something. And it was damn good. And it made everyone who tried it happy. It was the fulfillment I needed in a dark time.
I baked all summer. Some fails, some awesome successes. It was centering, calming, and exciting, even when it made me want to rip my hair out (see: double boiling). But I was productive. As I baked and cooked, life felt easier. For those moments I was in the kitchen, everything was good. And that’s how it’s been since.
Setting down to make something from scratch never fails to make me feel good and right about the world. And I give all the credit to that first batch of cupcakes, and that first cookbook that brought me some hope–something I got to tell Cheryl Day herself last summer when I finally got to go to see the bakery in Savannah.
I haven’t had many chances to bake since I’ve been in Sydney. Mostly because I didn’t have a mixer or pans, and also because I’m still learning my way around Fahrenheit and Celsius and that whole “metric system” thing. So when Joel and I were looking through Back in the Day Bakery’s new cookbook, Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love, which my mom so awesomely sent to me, and I noticed how wide his eyes got when he saw the Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting, I knew I had a baking project ahead of me. Yesssssssss.
First, there was plotting. I went to Victoria’s Basement, a kitchen and homewares store that sells items at deep, deep discount, to buy supplies. Then there were 3 trips to grocery stores to find all the ingredients. With Joel gone for two evenings, I knew I had plenty of time in case I screwed up and had to start all over. I measured out my butter and put it out to warm, and then, it began.
There was a minor catastrophe while making the caramel sauce (hello seizing caramel and 40 minutes of stirring over low heat to smooth things out), and I might have rushed things and burned my fingers and over baked one of the layers a tad, but overall, the cake was delicious. And it brought back all the good feelings that that first round of cupcakes brought.
And I’d say it was pretty damn good.
So far in November, I’ve only had one day of work. So I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself at the apartment, job hunting and performing as a Domestic Goddess. Aside from the constant fear of forever unemployment brimming constantly below the surface, it’s been nice. Usually, I’ll have some free time after I put in my job hunt hours and I hit the grocery store, when I’m at that infinity hour between needing to start dinner and Joel getting home, so I’ll try to read or get some writing done. Or, let’s be real here, take a nap. Lately, though, I’ve been having fantasies.
Like any girl with good mid-west roots, I love a good craft. I’ve clocked in countless hours making collages, t-shirts, cards, bags, sewing projects, even re-decorating rooms. I get a relentless,Type-A like focus and energy when I start a new crafty project. I stay up all night. I skip meals. I obsessively research and plan. I have endless patience to drive around to all the different stores in order to find the exact piece of fabirc or glue or bric-a-brac that I need. I am driven by a successful outcome and I won’t stop until it’s perfect. I mean, I wish I could apply the same craft-borne hustle to the rest of my life. I’d be Martha Stewart.
Because I’m not working, I’m at a place in my life where I have unlimited time and heaps of inspiration. But, because I’m not working, I have no expendable income.
Life. You bitch-goddess.
I do however, have a blog. So I’m just going to catalog my ideas here. And when I start working again and I’m too tired to do anything but go to bed, I can look back and remember that at one point, I had craft ambition.
I would love to recover our couch pillows. They’re perfect, but they’re a bit on the plain side.
I’d like to make some cool covers that have a graphic, like an animal or a taco or something on one side, and print design on the other. It’d be easiest to make these with a sewing machine, but I could also use heat seam bonding and a couple of hand stitches. And, as long as I’m fantasizing, I’d like to recover the couch. And as long as we’re really fantasizing, I’d like to get a new couch for the lounge, and use this couch for the office. And if we’re really, really, fantasizing, I’d like a lounge that’s big enough for couch with a chaise lounge piece attached. /fantasies
In my last place, I had a gallery wall in the living room and one in the kitchen, and I absolutely loved looking at them every day.
Joel liked it too, and now we have big plans to make a gallery wall above our table.
Since we can’t nail into our walls (they’re made of painted concrete), we have to hang prints unframed with sticky-tack, or framed prints on contact strips. We have a handful of prints already, but they’re unframed. And we want to frame them, so the project will take some considerable plotting and funding. But, it’ll look really good once it’s done. I’m waiting with baited breath for this one.
I’d also like to frame some more of Joel’s prints and hang them on this wall.
Since we can’t paint (another fantasy), we might as well throw some art on the walls.
My friend Odie left this nightstand behind when moved back to the States, and now it’s mine and I love it.
I have issues with dark furniture, but especially with dark bedroom furniture. So I’d love to strip it down and paint it a lively color, like orange, teal, or coral.
I’d also like to find a print, or hang my lantern lights, or do something with the blank space above the bed. I’d also like to find good fabric to make a throw cover.
There’s plenty of more, like knitting a loose cable scarf, developing better office space storage, making some prints for the bedroom, make a hanging photo collage… Ahhh… now I want to craft more. MORE MORE.
But, all in good time. I have a potentially awesome job interview tomorrow, so I’m crossing all crossable appendages that I get it.
Because now I really, really want to recover those couch cushions. And put up that gallery wall.
What crafts are you yearning to make?