Resolution #31 & #9: Learn or Create a New Craft + Something I Can Wear and Oreos on Steroids

Let me tell you a secret.

I’m half grandma.

I already had my suspicions when I learned that I loved baking from scratch, scrapbooking and starting sentences with “Back in my day.” But, now… I also crochet.  It’s official. I’m a grandma minus the age and the grandchildren part.

Before I get all excited about needle craft, let’s talk about this baking from scratch thing, because I had a girls night the other night and was introduced to the most glorious creation I think has ever come from an oven.  These:

379318_10151306964887149_991732097_n (1)

Can you see that? Oreos. Peanut butter. Brownie. Now go ahead and try to think of something more brilliant and amazing. You can’t, I know. So, since I had to forego alcoholic libations at this girls get-together because of a medical study I’m participating in (more on that later), my night was full of…these.  In fact, I didn’t feel like I was missing a thing.  Of course, like any attempt on anything I’ve ever made that looks beautiful on a food blog, ours came out ugly. No, really. Really ugly.

Our Version

Note the ones in the pan that have fallen apart, oozed peanut butter, or otherwise. But, hey, they all just get chewed up anyway and they were to die for, so what’s it matter?  You want to make these at home, you say?  Well it’s easy.

Just grab a pack of Oreos, a jar of peanut butter, and a box of brownie mix (confession time: there is nothing ‘scratch’ about these). Dig out a muffin tin. Then either line it with papers or go heavy on the Pam, we did the latter and they still stuck a bit but it was okay.

Then, proceed thusly: Oreo, peanut butter on top of Oreo, another Oreo, more peanut butter on top, drop into muffin tin, cover in brownie batter.  Repeat x12. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Voila!  You’ll thank me later. Also, if you try this at home, send me your pictures? I want to see if anyone can make them as pretty as the picture perfect food blogger original. Go on, try it.

Anyway, on to the crafting. I’ve been doing this medical study for the last couple of weeks to fulfill resolution #40: Pay off at least one credit card. But, here’s the thing about medical studies: They are BORING. And you can’t do ANYTHING. No exercise, no snacking, no leaving the building. Basically, you are left to whatever entertainment you can fit in a suitcase and of course, whatever companionship you find with other subjects. So, week one I was pretty content with Netflix, mindless social media and catching up on work and writing. By the end of the week, though, my eyes were aching from screen time and if I saw one more hashtag I swear I’d have lost it.

I did notice a woman while I was in there who seemed perfectly content with a ball of yarn and a crochet hook. Why didn’t I think of that? So, as soon as they set us free for a few days I high-tailed it straight to the craft store (okay, I went and got pancakes first, because there isn’t real food in there either), picked up some yarn and a hook and set to google to teach myself how to create something wearable.

I got a little ambitious and wanted to try for this, for my roomates’ new baby:

SockMonkeyHat_1

But then I started reading through the pattern and seeing abbreviations I didn’t know and realizing I should probably start small so I settled for…these:

photo (3)Those are mine!  I made those!  Essentially it’s a tube with thumb holes, but I call it… A GLOVE. Resolutions accomplished!

I even had enough yarn to make another pair and Dru thought they were so warm-looking and fashionable that he wanted some too. Grandma powers activate!  (I think that face means he’s happy, but I can’t be sure.)

Gloves

If you’re interested in some of your own, check out http://crochet.about.com/. I learned everything I had to know there and found the pattern for these gloves. It even came with patterns for a matching hat and scarf, but we’ll see about that. I’m now on the path to learning how to make elf hats. …What, you thought I’d be making average stuff? No way. Elf hats. Then maybe I’ll revisit the sock monkeys once I get some experience under my belt.

[Resolution] #95 Ask the waiter “What do you recommend?” And take his advice.

So many food posts lately.  I guess its obvious where my priorities on this list are.  🙂

Though, there’s something to be said about the joy of rekindling an old friendship.  Well, I’d say it was more like kindling one for the first time, even though the person I’m talking about and I have been smooshed together in the same schools since the 1st grade.  It’s strange how things work. That we’d seen or at least known who the other was for literally our entire lives, but just now, on this day at this time, we decided to start an actual friendship.  Or he did.  I have to give credit where credit is due.

Dane (he has a name) invited me out for a Sunday of food and merriment this weekend, and I gladly took him up on it.  After all, who doesn’t love food and merriment?

This day happened to begin with brunch at Blue Dahlia Bistro, a very cute, VERY European bistro on the East Side.  Side note about the East Side by the way, not nearly as scary as I remember.  There are a lot of great things over here.  I’m willing to give it another chance, but that’s for another day.

He was already there, sitting at a table with menus when I arrived.  We said our hello’s and sat down and, instinctively, I opened my menu to check out the offerings.

Dane did not.

“Do you already know what you’re getting?”  I asked, feeling a little self-conscious.

“Nope.”

He didn’t open his menu.

His plan was simply to allow the waiter to choose what he would be eating.  He didn’t even want to know what it was before it came out.  Suddenly, it dawned on me.  Resolution time!

With options like Belgian Waffles and Blueberry Blintzes it took me a while to actually surrender the fate of my hungry stomach to a stranger, but I begrudgingly closed my menu and awaited the waiter’s return.

When he came, Dane explained as he evidently had done to quite a few waiters in his lifetime.  “Here’s what we want you to do.  Choose your top two recommendations on the menu, DON’T TELL US WHAT THEY ARE, just choose and bring them to us, whatever they are.  We trust you completely.”

After clarifying that we’d like to try one breakfast and one lunch item, since it was brunch time after all, he went back inside to whisper with the other waiters about what the best selections might be.  He came back, grinning and quite pleased with himself, confident that we would enjoy what was coming to us.

Moments later, this is what arrived:

Top: Tartine (open-faced sandwich) with brie, apricot preserves and walnuts.

Bottom: Sausage frittata.

My face?  If I were punctuation I would have looked like this: 😀  I didn’t get my Belgian waffles but after a couple of bites of a warm, melty, cheesy frittata, it didn’t matter.  And, honestly, I don’t think I would have even looked at the Tartine section of the menu since I’ve never been a big sandwich person, but holy mother these were good.  Brie and apricot is so perfect and sweet and creamy and delicious.  For a lunch item it’s suspiciously similar to a breakfast item.  Not only was each one good, they went together well too.

He’ll likely never see it, but thank you Dave the waiter for the best brunch I would have never put together myself.

I think it actually ended up being a little bit fun for the wait staff too.  I’m no expert but I don’t figure that it’s all to often they get to select what the customer eats rather than just fulfilling orders.  He seemed to enjoy the change of pace despite the potential intimidation factor of our possible dissatisfaction.

Of course, by this point we were so excited about the amazing brunch that we decided that we’d try our luck with dessert too.

Success. Dave’s selection?  Their specialty peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Hea-ven-ly.

I’m usually not extroverted enough to push anyone (or myself, for that matter) out of their comfort zone enough to do this EVERY time I eat, but I will definitely be trying this again.  Especially at the local joints like Blue Dahlia.  Austin has a lot of amazing features, but the local grub is definitely in the top 3.

And of course…what better to finish off a day of great local food than a trip to Cool Haus for–get this–more dessert.  (We’d walked a lot by this point and felt we were justified, somehow.)  We didn’t truly take any recommendation here, but stuck with our brunch theme and walked away with an ice cream sandwich of Hot Cake Cookies (maple cookie with maple sugar bits) and ice cream filling riddled with lucky charms cereal and flavored with Jameson whiskey. This has nothing to do with the resolution but it was too great not to share.

Question of the Day: Have you ever asked for a waiter’s recommendation?  Was it good, or terrible?

 

 

 

Back from the dead, and hungry! [Resolutions #8 and #78 with Recipes]

I now see what bloggers mean when they write those inevitable posts after a long hiatus apologizing for their short disappearance. When I wrote my resolution list, it was assuming that I would have noooothing better to do for the rest of the year.  No unexpected occurrences, no troubles, no distractions.  And that just doesn’t happen.  So, my apologies for the break!  But, I’m back, with food!

I can easily call food one of my greatest loves in life.  It’s good for enjoyment, for comfort, for showing affection, and bringing people together.  For a lot of people, including me, life kind of revolves around food.  That might explain why food shows up so many times in my list of resolutions.  Including #78: Make a Traditional Dutch Recipe and #8 Cook a Julia Child Recipe.

#78 Cook a Traditional Dutch Recipe

I complain a lot that since my parents divorced, and then after my father passed away, a lot of my Dutch heritage was lost for me.  I was no longer in an environment where the traditions, food and culture permeated my everyday life. I felt a little cheated.  I’m always proud to tell people that I’m half Dutch, but what good does that do me if there’s nothing Dutch about me but my genes?

So, since the language is notoriously difficult to learn (though I hope to learn it someday), I figured I could at least get really good at cooking the food.  I started small with this one, a recipe I remember from my childhood as one of the most hearty and comforting foods that came out of my mom’s kitchen.  Hutspot.  It’s a mash of potatoes, carrots and onions that is usually served along some sort of meat like sausage or beef.

This traditional dutch recipe was ever present at holiday meals, when company came over, and most of all on sick days where all we craved was something simple, warm and comforting.  Dutch food is good for that.  But as soon as I moved away from home, hutspot disappeared off the menu, because I never bothered to learn to make it.

So, I figured the first recipe I should learn is that one that I would most want to be able to make for my own family–if/when I actually have one of my own.

There are a hundred and one recipes out there for hutspot.  Including a Flemish version that isn’t mashed at all, but for the sake of tradition I went with this recipe from Food.com and it turned out great.  We served it up with some simple beef tips and gravy, which I highly recommend.

Ingredients:

  • 6 onions
  • 6 large carrots
  • 8 russet potatoes
  • 1/2c evaporated milk
  • 1/4c butter
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Dice the onions and carrots and boil for 20 mins, then drain and set aside.  Peel and quarter the potatoes and boil 20-25 minutes until tender; drain and dry thoroughly.  Add onions, carrots and potatoes back to the pot and mash well until combined. Add butter, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and serve hot.

#8 Cook a Julia Child Recipe

It’s thanks to Julie and Julia that I actually know who Julia Child is, and I’m so glad I do, because while I thought I was pretty good in the kitchen, her collection of brilliant and complicated French recipes makes me feel like a rookie. You mean there are instances in which a cake requires more than one bowl??  The best brownies don’t come from a box?

…Kidding about that last one.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at one of her famously decadent recipes, and after scouring the internet for sweet and savory, I landed on her Reine De Saba (Queen of Sheba) cake.  A nearly flourless chocolate almond cake that is supposed to put all other chocolate cakes to shame.

For a simple chocolate cake, it’s a pretty labor intensive endeavor, involving perfect timing and the ability to multi-task, but it was pretty worth it.  Isn’t there a quote about the more work it takes, the sweeter the outcome?  I think they were talking about this cake. My only complaint is that I think I cooked mine a little too long which I think detracted from how fudgey it should have been, but it still tasted delicious!  It’s not a very sweet cake, which surprised me.  Not even the icing called for added sugar. It’s very much a chocoholic’s cake where the chocolate is the star, not the sugar.  It’s dense, heavy, and just about 80% butter.  In short, my dream cake.

Here is the original post where I found this recipe.

Ingredients:  

For the cake:

  • 4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 tbsp rum or coffee
  • 1/4 pound or 1 stick softened butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds
  • 1/4 tspn almond extract
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled) turned into a sifter

For the icing:

  • 2 ounces or squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 2 tbsp rum or coffee
  • 5 to 6 tbsp unsalted butter

Preparation: 
For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Butter and flour the cake pan.
  3. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe.  Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.
  5. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
  6. Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
  7. With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract.
  8. Immediately stir in one fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter.
  9. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding.  Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.
  10. Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula.
  11. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes.  Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily.
  12. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack.
  13. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

For the icing:

  1. Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water.
  2. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth.  Lift chocolate pan out of the hot water, and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time.
  3. Then beat over a bowl with a tray of ice cubes and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency.  At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife.

To serve, use the butter icing and press a design of almonds over the icing.

Question of the Day:  What is the recipe that brings back the fondest memories for you?

[Resolution(s)] 3, 55 & 100: Tourism, original art, and one BIG burrito. Part One.

So, it all starts with the fact that my normal homebody nature and health nut status have been completely obliterated by everything that’s been going on these last few weeks.  And, kind of ends with the fact that somehow my friends have been better and more diligent than I have at helping me to complete this list of resolutions (thanks guys!).

Resolution 100: Obtain a Piece of Original Art

I thought for sure I was going to have to shell out hundreds of dollars for this, but it turns out all it take is going to the downtown IHOP at 4 in the morning and being somewhat interesting to a homeless man.

Before recently, I rarely went out (and by “out” I mean to Elysium, the goth club downtown, because I really despise the frat boy types at the other bars) and when I did I was out of there before the last-call traffic started.  But…my whole ‘usual’ routine was kind of turned on its head and I’ve been out quite a lot more than usual lately.

Last Saturday, 4 a.m., out with the usual suspects, we found ourselves at the IHOP in full-on vampyre garb, fangs and all.  We were seated together, the 5 of us, in the very back of the restaurant since evidently the staff has figured out that we’re a little too rambunctious for the front.  The back, however, is right up against the window, and tonight there was a very talented homeless man just outside who was staring in and furiously sketching away on a piece of foam board with a ball point pen.

We noted his presence but immediately diverted our attention back to what we would order.  Until a few minutes later…

He was inside the restaurant next to our table, peering at us all with the artist’s eyes, carefully sketching in the details that he was unable to see from the other side of the glass pane.

A few minutes later, he kneeled beside us and said “I think I’ll call it… ‘A Very Us In Austin, Texas …On a Saturday Night. Saturday Night.’ ”  And put it in my hands.

From left to right is Emma, Brandon, Me, Daley and Logan. And ta-da!  Original art.  And, as a sweet and unexpected twist…I’m actually in it. We all gave him the dollars we had left over, around 10 dollars between all of us I think. I trimmed it up and framed it when I got home and it is now proudly displayed on my bed side table.

It turns out he’s got quite a body of work going, because as soon as this went on facebook people started popping up saying “Oh I have one from him too!” I believe is name was Art Randle, but someone correct me if I have that wrong.  It makes me wonder if we could collect his stuff from around Austin and have an exhibit or something.  Get him a little more money than the few dollars he makes on each drawing.  Just a thought.

Resolution 55: Go to a restaurant, order and consume the most calorie heavy item on the menu.

Have you guys ever been to Freebird’s?  Well, if not it’s a national chain that specializes in burritos. Regular burritos, but also larger-than-your-head burritos.

The hybrid up there is your regular ‘ol burrito size.  You know, the size that a person could take down for a casual lunch.  And it goes up from there.  All the way to the Super Monster which takes not one but TWO 13″oversized tortillas to create.  You go down a line, kind of like a cafeteria, dictating to the burrito craftsman what you would like in your behemoth burrito.

Dru, the self proclaimed expert in creating Super Monsters, had the brilliant idea to knock off this particular resultion with said burrito, and insisted that I let him take the lead on its creation.  Most likely to deter my health nut from refusing cheese and sour cream.

The end product contained, among other things: Rice, Black Beans, Steak, Corn, Pico, Peppers, Onions, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Cheese, Lettuce, Cilantro and who knows what else.

The burrito, pre-wrap.  For perspective.  Or this, its size in relation to Dru’s mouth.

It’s a big burrito.

I was hoping I would never know the EXACT amount of damage I did with this thing, but nope…the Freebird’s site has a handy little chart for being able to calculate just how many calories are in that monstrosity. And, while I could have gone with one of those cream laiden dished at Macaroni Grill, or bothered a master chef about the calorie count in his richest concoction…I’m pretty proud (possibly a little ashamed) that I managed to consume the better part of a

2,162 Calorie Burrito

I say the better part because we actually split the thing between the two of us.  It took some real poking, prodding and jeering to get me through the last few bites of just my half. I used to think that I could probably take on competitive eating, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Not if 1,081 calories of burrito can knock me on my ass the way it did. Given, It would have been even better reading to say that I ate the WHOLE Super Monster, but oh well, not everyone can be blessed with super eating powers.  Plus I may have lost a few readers due to sheer disgust.

Anyway. To commemorate a successful burrito feast, our obligatory “Super Monster” made from the burrito’s foil wrapping.  Mission Complete.

In Part Two:  Being a Tourist in My Own City.  Stay tuned.

Tribute Tuesday (one day late): Chocolate Covered Katie

So I know it’s not Tribute Wednesday, but to be totally honest, Tribute Tuesday was full of all sorts of things that kept me far far away from a keyboard.  It’s not all something I’m quite ready to share with the blog world yet, but let’s just say that change is never easy.  And the most difficult part is the uncertainty about whether the change is for the better or not. Certainly, in the moments of pain and discomfort it’s hard to believe that changing anything at anytime is ever a good idea.  I’d much rather things just be happy, sunshine and rainbows all the time, but I know that’s not realistic. I recently read a post about change by a blog-o-sphere friend Danasia.  It came through my feed just as some major changes were happening in my life, a perfect moment of blog serendipity, and came along with a quote from an unknown source that said “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”

Personally…I am much more interested in this quote at the moment:

“May your life be filled, as mine has been, with love and laughter; and remember, when things are rough all you need is … Chocolate.”
― Geraldine Solon, Chocolicious

So, at a time when the last thing I want to think about is adventures and talking about my own life, and the only thing that sounds good is curling into a ball and cradling a pint of ice cream, I decided it was high time for another Tribute.

I won’t lie, I’m somewhat of an emotional eater.  I try to keep it under control now in the interest of my health, but when things get rough…I give myself at least one day for just no-holds-barred comfort food. Ordinarily that means making and eating an entire tin of brownies, or treating myself to a bag of Dove chocolates, but recently I’ve been trying pretty hard to cut out processed and unnatural foods, even in my comfort food binges.

Luckily, my sister Bella, who has as much a passion for indulging her sweet tooth as much as I do, introduced me to today’s tribute: Chocolate Covered Katie.

She’s a food blogger, but instead of blogging about all of those decadent “sometimes foods” as Cookie Monster would put it, she writes recipes that make dessert an “at least once a day food.” This makes my comfort food binge not only guilt-free but also allows me to extend it for as long as I freaking need it, since now I can eat things like…

Triple Chocolate Nutella Fudge

A big fat Cake Batter Milkshake

A healthy stack of Chocolate Chip Cookies

Or if I’m really feeling like I just need it injected straight into my veins, I can skip the oven all together and just get to the good part…the frosting, just a big shot of it, no cake necessary.

And, it’s all healthy, and all natural, and (I believe) all vegan too.

So thank you, Chocolate Covered Katie.  For making the rough times easier…or at the very least chocolatey-er.

And, as a tribute amendment, I would like to publicly thank all of those who are lending their support, kind words, and just sending love in general. Like I said, change isn’t easy, but having amazing and caring friends and family certainly makes it easier.  I love you all.