Foodie Friday: Happy Birthday

Using my chocolate cake recipe* and Annie’s pumpkin cake and cream cheese frosting recipes**, I created a delicious birthday cake for myself this year. Because my birthday is the day before Halloween, I’ve always been a fan of Halloween and love incorporating it into my celebrations. A pumpkin (orange) layer and a chocolate (black) layer seemed to be quite festive indeed, and both flavors suit my tastes this year. I hear rough frosting looks rustic and homey, so I figure my not-so-great decorating skills are that much more endearing.

Birthday Cake

Yes, those are gummy worms adorning my cake. I’ve always been more about the taste and flavor — what’s inside — rather than looks. Still, it came out rather lovely if I do say so myself.

*Obviously, Hershey’s gets the credit for the original recipe, but I vary between chocolate milk and heavy cream depending on my mood. Also, I halved the recipe to yield one layer. The only reason I didn’t halve Annie’s recipe was because I figured the dozen cupcakes would be a fun treat for the baby, who cannot have any of the chocolate cake until he’s got the all-clear for cow juice.

**Annie uses 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar for her frosting. I’m not the biggest fan of super sweet frostings, so I only used 1/2 cup. Yes, I know, that probably sounds bizarre, but trust me when I say it fits my tastes.


Thankful Thursday: Chicken Dinner

Dear Alton Brown,

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to you for showing the world how to butcher a whole chicken. For a few reasons, I like to buy a whole chicken instead of just the parts. For one, that carcass makes for a tasty stock, and I do enjoy a good bowl of homemade chicken soup. For another, I’m sure you realize the price per pound is more like a couple of dollars after the butchers do all that work for you. I know you shop at Publix — you can black out the name of the store all you want, I know what their herbs, milk, etc. look like — so I know you know boneless skinless chicken breast can go for $3.99/lb, whereas a whole chicken goes for about $1.29/lb. I’d say that’s a pretty steep up-charge for letting the guys behind the counter do the messy work for me.

Now I admit it was a little tricky at first. I’ve never used your techniques before, so you do mention that it takes some practice. However, it went smoothly after I got a bit more confident. That second drumstick and thigh? Came apart just like you said. Now I can buy whole chickens year-round, knowing I won’t have to turn the oven on just to cook the whole darn thing! Tonight, I’m able to cook the dark meat with some root vegetables. Tomorrow, I can turn my boneless skinless white meat into a delicious stir fry. And on top of the stove, I’ve tossed the carcass and a mirepoix into a pot of water to boil down into a stock. Thanks again for taking the guess work out of butchering up a very versatile meat! You’re the best!


P.S. By the way, you also gave me the courage to chop my own garlic. And you shared a great recipe that can sometimes keep the boxes of brownie mix out of the house — I say sometimes because sometimes when Publix has the buy one get one free deals on Ghiradelli, I can’t resist the unmentionable ingredients. Hey, we’ve all got our guilty pleasures, don’t we?


Mindful Monday: Unplanned Hiatus

I’ve become highly aware of my complacency to just let a week or two go by without a post, and I notice the increasing guilt I’ve felt as a result. I also realize I made many big goals for myself at the start of the year, only to realize they’ll suffer that stereotypical fate of most goals set around the onset of a new year. I found myself wondering how I could call myself a writer if I didn’t actually practice the craft — it’s not like I’m merely putting my efforts into another outlet, after all. Still, I’ve also been told that writing just to put something there isn’t always a good idea. I tend to write from the heart when I blog, honestly, so that would really make sense in that respect. It’s not methodical here. There are no outlines, no drafts, no drawn-0ut revisions. Instead, an idea hits me, my brain begins to process thoughts and words, and somehow I churn out between 200 and 800 words after any given post.

So the other day I read Gwen Bell’s post after a bit of her own hiatus, and I realized that perhaps the guilt is unfounded. Perhaps I’m merely treating this thing — this possibility to monetize my words and never have to leave my house to pay my bills — improperly. Perhaps I should be writing to write, to share the joys within my heart. To share the ideas I have. To simply share. Sure, a little money here and there would be nice, but at what cost? I already know there are those out there who frown upon some of the mediums I’ve been using as mediums that abuse the very writers whose words have so much more value than the mere pittances awarded to them. And why should it even be about that insufferable Google PageRank? It’s not about the quantity of visitors, really — it’s the quality. I’d like to say the quality of my visitors is quite nice at the moment.

Maybe I’ve been approaching my writing the wrong way for the past few months. Maybe it’s time to let go of the guilt, embrace the moments of creation, and go forward without looking back at past “failures.”


Foodie Friday: Annie’s Eats Review

About a month ago a friend of mine shared a link to Annie’s Eats. I think it was a chocolate peanut butter cake or something along those lines. Anyway, the food photography is right up there with Smitten Kitchen and The Parsley Thief — basically the same enjoyable experience I expect when I’m looking for delicious, glorious pictures of food. Last week she posted a recipe for caramel apple cinnamon rolls. Let me tell you about my relationship with cinnamon rolls…

Growing up, I never really liked cinnamon rolls. It could very well be that most people dump entirely too much sugar into the icing, thereby rendering the final product a sickeningly sweet, unappetizing mess. Pillsbury, Cinnabon — nope, neither suited my tastes. It wasn’t until four years ago that I came around to the sweet confections that have so much potential. I blame it on pregnancy hormones. I was probably 4 months along with my daughter, and the doctor’s office was across the street from the mall. Being that I take the bus everywhere, I had to go through the mall and across the street to get there. I happened to be walking past Cinnabon that particular day, and they had free samples. I’m a sucker for free samples, and I don’t even care what you’re hawking. I’ve discovered some pretty great things through free samples. Anyway, I must have gotten the least iced piece of cinnamon roll they had on that tray, and it was life changing — absolutely life changing! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to buy stock in Cinnabon or load up on Pillsbury’s cinnamon rolls. However, I did warm up to the idea of making cinnamon rolls from scratch. A few months ago, Brian requested that I make this “clone of a Cinnabon” recipe he found, so I obliged with the hopes of creating an icing that fits my sweet-but-not-too-sweet criteria. I mean, who wants to feel like they just instantly gave themselves cavities? It was a success, even if the rolls still had that weird aftertaste that I can’t quite place.

Fast forward to last week. It’s autumn, and I associate this season with crisp air, colorful leaves, pumpkins, and apples. I think of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger permeating the air. I think of delicious childhood treats. Caramel, apples, and cinnamon all in the same recipe? Sign me up for that! So Monday night I had all the ingredients and a not-so-sleepy baby keeping me awake, and I prepared each separate part. I refrigerated everything overnight to bake on Tuesday morning. It’s been conveniently cool and crisp overnight, so it was the perfect way to start the day. Obviously, I tailored the icing recipe to suit my tastes, but it can’t be helped. I think I might try a different variety of apple next time simply because I’m not big on Granny Smith apples, but overall the end result was delicious. I didn’t bother with pictures — Annie’s got some great images of her own that will absolutely get you interested in baking them, too.


Grateful for the Experience

I recently learned that my time at the University of Florida’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering was actually fairly impactful — the department’s graduate program was ranked number 2 by the National Research Council. In order to rank a school each year, the previous year needs to be taken into account. This would mean both of my designed-from-scratch newsletter, my brochures, and my work on the 50th Anniversary booklet all were taken into consideration when evaluating the program. How much clout these publications had in ranking the program, I’m not sure. What I am sure about, however, is that I feel proud to have had a hand in the ascension of the program. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work with such great people, too. I’m proud of their impact on the program. Most of all, I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to put my creativity and talents to use, both gaining experience and bettering the department I worked with for two and a half years. As soon as I can find a link to the rankings, I’ll gladly share it.