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Where the Magic Happens: My Trail at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad

Forward

It’s not everyday that a young aspiring chef is given the chance to trail at some of the world’s best restaurants.  This unlikely opportunity was bestowed upon me. A few weeks ago, I staged at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, which are both part of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s Hospitality Group, Make it Nice.  For readers who do not know the meaning of stage, it is a cooking apprenticeship. I had the honor of trailing at Eleven Madison Park for two days, and The NoMad for three days.  In order to get a clear picture of what those two restaurants are like, it is important to understand their slogan, which is the name of the brand itself. All of the Make it Nice restaurants are hospitality at its finest because their chefs and service staff create delicious food that is served in the best way possible.  Eleven Madison Park is inspired by its New York City location, featuring dishes that put a French twist on traditional New York food. In short, Eleven Madison Park was number one on the 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017, named the best restaurant in North America that same year, and has countless James Beard Awards.  The NoMad serves French-inspired modern cuisine with more worldly influences. This restaurant has received numerous James Beard Awards and has a slew of other recognitions that prove its excellence, in addition to one Michelin Star.

At the one and only Eleven Madison Park, I spent my time doing preparation work with the culinary staff temporarily and the remainder of the two days with the pastry staff.  At The NoMad, I received more responsibility which involved a great deal of baking and measuring out mise en place. It is amazing to be served at restaurants of this caliber, but the experience is taken to a whole other level knowing how exactly the ingredients on the plate became art.  I was lucky enough to get an indulgent taste of both parts of the restaurant experience. While the glory of my stage may seem like it was short lived, the knowledge and value that I was able to draw from that week is something that is now on my metaphorical utility belt; to be used throughout my journey in the culinary world.  After this eye-opening week, I decided that it was important to share this experience with the world.

Just Another Week at the World’s Best Restaurant

“We got a bunch of random [stuff] from Dairyland today… figure out where that’s going.”

As you can tell, your restaurant experience at the award-winning Eleven Madison Park begins when shipments are received in the early hours of the morning.  Everything from greens, fruit, citrus, meat, and, apparently, a lot of dairy must be unpacked, re-packed, and labeled meticulously until everything finds a place.  Every. Single. Day.

At Eleven Madison Park, my first job was joining the savory staff in organizing their food, which has made me quite familiar with the process.  I began by husking kale very carefully (or so I thought), before a staff member took a piece out of my “done” container and instructed me to try again, removing every single bit of the husk, down to even the thinnest part.  He then proceeded to do just that, with three leaves at rapid-fire speed.

Next up was nettle — cue the scary movie track and offensively loud thunder.  While it seems like a harmless dandelion-style green, nettle is actually in the same family as poison ivy.  Chef Alex informed me of this before recommending that I put on three pairs of gloves prior to washing, drying, and trimming the greens.

Lesson number one in working at Eleven Madison Park: You must be able to do the work very well and very quickly — there are simply not enough hours in the day for three-Michelin-starred restaurants to dwell on small tasks, but nonetheless they must be done.

I was planning to write an article about people and establishments — including Make it Nice — to show what is that drives and motivates them to spend so much time perfecting their processes, but after my experience, it was clear that these two restaurants redefine my meaning of excellence entirely.  In general, people seem to separate the food they eat in restaurants from the journey the food takes to get to their plate. In my five days as a trail, I witnessed the care and level of perfection that the staff strives for.  I experienced the process by simply watching, learning, and completing the many small tasks in the kitchen that are imperative to producing an amazing final product.

I came to appreciate EMP’s high standards, when I was asked to label a bunch of containers filled with pieces of angel food cake.  Prior to that, a chef showed me the proper way to rip apart the cake, putting aside a few example pieces for me to model mine after.  Every so often, he would come back to check my work and remove a bit from a piece to adjust the size.

After I was done, the chef told me to label the cake bits that I had broken off.  Doing what I was told to, I grabbed the label board, pulled pieces of tape off the roll, pressed the adhesive on the surface of the board, and began to write “Angel Food Cake 6/22/18 S.A.”  The chef had moved onto something else, only returning once the majority of the labels were done. I was a bit surprised when he ripped off all of the labels that I had just finished and used an X-ACTO knife to cut new tape into equal-sized pieces, starting the entire process over.

At the moment, I questioned why something as simple as label size mattered so much, but then I remembered how clean, organized, and carefully labeled the walk-in fridges were, leading to my realization that this attention to detail is why they are at the top of the ladder.

I feel as though I cannot continue writing without sharing my other experience with angel food cake that would be the subject of many nightmares to come.  Before the previous task, I was asked to use tweezers to break apart angel food cake bits into crumbs of a specific size, which I then worked on for the next two hours.  This tedious task was just another example of how vital every single detail is to a successfully run restaurant, proving that everything done there is done for good reason.  The situation was reminiscent of that iconic Karate Kid scene that everyone knows, “wax on, wax off,” but the chef’s version.

There were countless other unique projects that I was assigned during my two days at Eleven Madison Park.  While I was working with the savory staff, I weighed out a couple hundred tins of the relish that goes into EMP’s New York cheesecake-inspired dish.  Each little metal tin had to weigh exactly twelve grams and then be tapped down so that it spread out evenly. Of course, since we’re talking about EMP, not your Joe Schmo deli around the corner, something that might normally be seen as mundane tastes spectacular enough to be its own dish.  Just take a moment to imagine every aspect you taste in a dish having this kind of miraculous quality.

Another mission I was given was to hull and sort several hundred strawberries into groups of small, ugly, and the ideal-looking berry.  A note for concerned readers: no need to fret, the strawberries that aren’t blessed with good genetics are still used for family meal, jams, and sauces. I would later discover the tiny strawberries I separated, beautifully poached in the angel food cake dessert I was served.

I will never forget my first job in the pastry department — cutting out 500 cheddar crackers.   I was pleasantly surprised when I got to sample the fruits of my labor, which ended up being a small black and white cookie with a savory filling and apple chutney in the center, all sitting on top of the cheddar cracker.  The black and white cookie aspect was familiar since I had witnessed a pastry chef using several tools to paint on the icing, ensuring that each cookie featured the perfect bold separation of black and white.

It was the absolute best feeling in the world to finally see those little bits and pieces that I helped create, in a dish.  Every single minute spent toiling became worth it when I saw that my hard work actually helped complete these dishes and add to their beauty (not to mention deliciousness).  I cannot even begin to describe how incredible the tasting menu I got to try was — well, actually I can. Everything I ate evoked a feeling of amazement with a hint of melancholy.  Being served the food right in front of those who had worked so hard to create it, felt more like destroying artwork. It was basically the culinary equivalent of viewing “Starry Night” or the “Mona Lisa,” and then ripping them into pieces while Van Gogh and Da Vinci watched.

After trying each plate, I went back to my station to continue working, and then to my delight, someone would come up to me again and say, “Chef Sara, your next course is ready.”  Now, for the purpose of professionalism, I tried to contain my excitement, but in my head, I was doing cartwheels. While sampling each dish, I tried to make sure that I truly savored and appreciated each new flavor.  When I brought my empty plate (once containing the lemon poppy seed dessert) back to the chef who had served me, he asked me whether I enjoyed my food. It was apparent that somehow he didn’t think I did. I was so caught off guard that I just looked at him for a second before replying, embarrassed, “Oh my gosh, I thought it was amazing. I mean, it was the best meal I’ve ever had!”  When he responded, “To me, it did not look like you enjoyed it, but it seems as though I misinterpreted that,” I started to realize that in trying to interpret and savor the flavors, I must have made some weird faces.

After that moment, I was given time to stand in front of the plating station.  If you haven’t ever seen pictures of EMP’s remodeled kitchen, this area is located in front of the exit leading to where guests are seated, and has a rectangular island with hot lights hovering over it.  To the left of the station, servers stand in a line while Chef Dmitri inspects that every last dish is crafted to perfection. The chefs/artists who are plating use the uniformly rolled cloth napkins placed at the end of the table to wipe any excess off of their canvases.  The most interesting part was how they used specific techniques on particular dishes — the duck for example, was removed from the plate for a few seconds, while a swift hand wiped a small amount of sauce from underneath. For me, there was a moment of excitement when my eyes met something familiar being plated — the nettle that I had so carefully worked with was placed on top of the duck in the form of a salad.

While observing my surroundings, I noticed how there was a kind of loud quietness in the kitchen.  Even though people were constantly moving around, the looks on the chefs’ faces were of deep concentration, something I had never seen or experienced before.  There were ever-present sounds of kitchen tools, low voices, and the occasional sizzle of a pan, but few people actually spoke out loud because of their “quiet” policy.   Somehow, despite this “silence,” their teamwork looked as effortless as it was efficient.

A kitchen that communicates and works well is imperative to success, which is then seen in the food that is served.  Of course, this is something that the staff at EMP has in mind all of the time. As a trail, I was able to be a part of pre-meal at both restaurants, where the lead chef addressed concerns and also praised the team for their outstanding work.

At these brief meetings, the lead chef would signal everyone to wipe down the kitchens, after which the entire kitchen staff would gather around him.  Many of the points that were brought up served the purpose of making the kitchen as efficient and clean as possible. Part of achieving that harmony in the kitchen is ensuring that everyone works as a team.  One thing is certain, the staff really understands the value of small favors, which come in the form of doing things such as holding the freezer door for others when they are carrying large loads.

Even though these meetings cover a large range of topics, a few things particularly stood out.   I vividly recall one conversation switching to how work in the kitchen affects the experience of their guests. Chef Dmitri reiterated the fact that their guests flock to Eleven Madison Park for a profound experience, making it a sort of haven for guests, where they are treated with great hospitality and served thought-provoking food.

During the meeting, someone informed Chef Dmitri that in the cooking line, there is a bit of competition amongst the chefs. He recounted that there is an unspoken race between his fellow chefs, with the goal being to put together the most delicious food in the shortest amount of time.  Chef Dmitri responded by turning the discussion into a learning opportunity, explaining that competition is beneficial because it strengthens the team by adding a more refreshing approach to their work.

In both restaurants, the chefs would respond to most instruction with a loud “Oui, Chef!,” meaning “Yes, Chef” in French, which reinforced this common theme of correspondence and teamwork.  While the kitchen could get heated and a bit stressful at times, there was also an ever-present spirit of caring hospitality, which I witnessed through a few instances, like when a service staff member would come around the kitchen offering water at EMP.  At The NoMad, there was one chef who would always check in to see if everyone was hydrated enough and equated anything negative to an insufficient intake of water. “Your biscuits didn’t rise correctly? You were probably dehydrated when you made them.”

Not surprisingly, there were some moments that seemed almost too stressful to handle, like when a wedding cake that needed to be finished in two hours was made incorrectly the day before, creating a crazy rush to start over from scratch and then to have it decorated within two hours.  The feat was only made possible due to the incredible coordination of two pastry chefs. One of them was standing at the counter separating egg whites and yolks like there was no tomorrow, while the other measured dry ingredients with the same quick precision. All the while, I was standing at the same counter measuring mise en place for the largest quantity of biscotti I’d ever made, but my stress suddenly felt minuscule.

On my afternoon shift at The NoMad, I was present for a smaller meeting with just the pastry chefs.  They gathered in the tiny space behind a cooling rack, where a dry-erase board listed their tasks for the night.  All of the chefs divided those tasks so that each person felt confident and comfortable with their workload. To end that meeting, everyone put their hand in the middle, did one of those “Go team!” huddles, and then ran off to do their work.  This team dynamic remains the same in and out of the kitchen, according to my co-workers, who said that they frequently go out together after work.

During the week, I met many people who gave me words of advice and knowledge that will always stick with me.  During family meal at The NoMad, I remarked that the week was flying by and that I could not believe it was already my last day.  “That’s how it is all the time here. The days go by very fast” one of them told me. Though I already had an idea of the answer, I asked whether coming to The NoMad felt like work, and the table gave me a resounding no.

On my first day, while I was separating peas from their pod with tweezers, I was talking to a chef who surprised me with inspiring guidance.  Our conversation centered around how challenging, but mostly rewarding a career in the culinary industry is. He said that “there are going to be days when you are crying.  There’s going to be days when you are sad, happy, or frustrated. Whatever you do, do not give up.” He told me this the first day, before I got a more three-dimensional view of what it is like to work in restaurants of this level.  Reading those words off the computer screen may register as something cliche to readers, but it was advice that clicked for me, as I got a taste of this career.

I arrived at The NoMad scared to use a scale and make pastry in large quantities, but I left the restaurant having forgotten that those things once plagued my mind.  From making meringue, devil’s food cake, pie fillings, and cookies, to doing tasks that appeared insignificant, like topping focaccia bread with potatoes and onions, I learned to own it all and have a blast.    Small things lit up my world, like being told to take home as many unwanted croissants as I wanted.  Even when I left the kitchen, I caught myself accidentally using kitchen signaling — the words used to navigate a busy kitchen, like behind, in front, corner — in the streets of New York.

On my last night at The NoMad, I was being served part of the tasting menu by a woman who was also training a new member of the service staff.  He had created a label for something, but stopped in his tracks once the woman began explaining that all of the restaurant’s success is really found in the details, and that if they just ripped the tape off of the roll, it would look like they just didn’t care.  I smiled at her words, as I thought back on how far I’d come.

In reality, most people will not get the chance to experience the best restaurants in the world, but there is so much to discover and learn in terms of the food you eat and appreciate at your local restaurants.  My advice to readers is to ask questions about your food, take time to think about what’s on that plate, and appreciate it. Let me just say, it does not just appear magically.

The following pictures are from my incredible meal at The Nomad Hotel.  Unfortunately, I was not able to photograph my food at Eleven Madison Park.

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Sources

Cover Image:  © ERIC PIASECKI PHOTOGRAPHY

food

It’s Not a Cookie! It’s Cake!

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What is a Madeleine?

The Madeleine is a type of French butter cake, however everyone usually refers to them as cookies. They are pretty easy to bake, but there are a few steps that you should not forget to do, if you want the real thing.

I am here to say that Madeleines are not as simple as a cookie–that’s what makes them French. Sure, it’s easier to just prep the batter and pour it into a muffin tray of some kind.  Though, in that case they would just be cupcakes.  It is evident that there are steps in the process of making them, that provide those defining features.  These characteristics differentiate them from being anything else. When fresh, Madeleines have a crispy exterior and a soft interior. They are most well-known for their distinct shell shape.
If you think about it, the person who created Madeleines, recognized the potential for something different and never done before with cake. There are plenty of legends and stories out there as to how they were invented, but it all boils down to someone pouring cake batter into molds, discovering that idea was good, and then polishing off the recipe. Basically, this pastry is creativity and elegance all in one shell.

 

Crucial Steps

Brown the Butter
It is really easy to go from brown to burnt with butter. Melt the 6 tablespoons in a very small pan/pot at a fairly low heat. Wait till it comes to a simmer. You could wait for the butter to brown slowly at this low heat, but make sure you keep an eye on the butter. It should turn to a golden brown. As soon as you see the butter slightly begin to brown, take it off the heat. The heat of the pan itself will continue to brown the butter even off the heat. What I did once the butter started simmering was crank the heat up high for twenty seconds, and it browned immediately. Act quickly, so that the butter does not burn. I suggest the slower method for beginners. After that, there may be some remnants on the bottom. Pour the butter once through a fine strainer to get rid of most of it.

Why should you do this?
Browned butter has a nutty flavor that adds a more rich flavor to the Madeleines.

Rest the Batter
Let the batter sit covered in the fridge for one hour.

During the this period of rest, starch molecules in the flour absorb the liquid in the batter. The absorption causes them to swell, which gives the Madeleine batter a thicker consistency. Gluten formed during the mixing of the batter gets time to relax, as air bubbles work their way out.

The result of this resting period, like all other batters that need to rest, is a more delicate and refined texture. Most importantly, the rest period creates the signature “hump” that they must have to bear the name.

Brush the Pan
First things first, plan to buy a non-stick metal Madeleine pan
In doing this, that well-known shell shape will be achieved, and there will not be any trouble removing the Madeleines.

Spray some non-stick spray into a bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the Madeleine pan.

Recipe

Ingredients:

3 eggs
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1 1/2 (7.5 ml) tsp citrus zest or vanilla
1 cup (120 g) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
¼ tsp (1.25 ml) salt
6 tbsp (60 ml) browned butter
powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions:
You do not need a mixer for this recipe, so go ahead and use a whisk to beat the eggs with sugar until pale yellow. Add zest or vanilla extract.
Gently whisk dry ingredients into the egg mixture, just until combined everything is incorporated. Add the browned butter and slowly whisk the batter.
Use a rubber spatula to scrape the edges of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the batter for and hour or overnight. Do not skip this step, as you will not achieve the “hump” of a Madeleine, the traditional mark of this French pastry. Sometime during this rest period, preheat the oven to 350F/(176C).

Lightly coat a non-stick, Madeleine pan with baking spray. Do this by spraying the baking spray into a small bowl and with a pastry brushing the molds.
Fill each mold until the batter is a bit under the brim, but not reaching the top. You want to make sure the batter covers the shell shape. Do not touch the batter, instead allow the cookie to spread on its own.
Bake 7-9 mins until slightly golden around edges and centers look set and slight hump has appeared. The time depends on your mold size. Allow to cool slightly so they can removed from the tin. Then they can be dusted with powdered sugar and eaten!
Notes: Batter can be made 2 days ahead. Batter MUST rest for at least 1 hour in the fridge in order to get that “traditional madeleine hump”.

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food

Perfectly Imperfect Pie



Have you ever woken up one morning and felt especially in the mood for a certain food? Well I woke up today, in the mood to make pie. Not just any pie, though. It needed to be one of those “perfectly” manicured lattice ones that no one really eats, instead acting as window decor (you know, in those 1950’s movies). Today is Friday, and Friday is the day that my local farmer’s market is open, so the universe was just telling me: “go to the market, buy fresh berries, and make a beautiful pie”. Not a summer goes by without there being a pie recipe featured in a food magazine such as Real Simple that people look at but never bake. After recently seeing so many amazing lattice pie recipes all over the place, I decided it was time. So, here is a fool-proof recipe. As you can tell in the pictures, the pie did not come out flawless, but my family and I can vouch for how amazing it tasted. That is why it is so perfectly imperfect. Together, you and I can promote more realistic beauty standards for pie.

Ingredients:

Crust
1 cup of cold butter (two sticks) cubed
6 tablespoons of ice cold water — fill a cup with water and ice and measure out by the Tablespoon
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour + extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar + extra for topping

Filling
1 pound of fresh strawberries
A bit less than a pint of blueberries
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Pinch salt
Juice of one lemon
Two tablespoons of butter (to add when the filling is inside the pie)

Directions:
Crust:
You could use a food processor for the crust, but I did it by hand as to avoid the heat from my food processor. Rule number one when it comes to pie crust: keep your dough cold.
Add dry ingredients to a big bowl and combine well. Add half of the butter and cut it into the flour using a pastry blender, until you get a lumpy crumbs. Add half the cold water. Continue to cut in the rest of the butter until well combined. Then add in the rest of the water and continue to use the pastry blender until the dough stays together. It is okay if the dough is slightly crumbly, as long as it does not fall apart. Shape the dough with your hands into two disks and put them inside the fridge for an hour.

Filling:
Add all of the ingredients together, except for the butter, and set it aside. This is called the maceration process, which extracts the juice from the berries, resulting in a more flavorful final product. You can leave it aside for up to an hour.

Putting it together:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Be sure to put loads of flour on your clean counter and roll out both disks after reshaping them into spheres. The thickness should be about ⅛ inch. Rotate the dough as you roll it very carefully, and add flour as you go Make sure the crust is not uneven. Halfway through rolling, flip the crust and add flour .

Drape the pie crust on a 10 inch pie pan that has been greased with butter and flour to prevent sticking. If it does not fit quite right, adjust the crust accordingly, use excess dough to fill in any small gaps. At this point, add the filling and sprinkle the butter over the fruit. Roll the other disk out and cut strips lengthwise that are half an inch wide.

Start laying out the lattice for one direction. Then place the other direction down. In the areas where the dough crosses, you must either make it go over the other the other strip (the one going the other direction) or under it, alternating each time.

After you have finished your lattice, then trim the edges to your liking with a clean pair scissors. If you have extra dough, add a strip around the edge, over the part you just trimmed for a cleaner finish. Then, take a fork and press down the edges, so that a row of vertical lines form around the pie.

Take one egg and mix it thoroughly with a fork. Generously apply this egg wash with a pastry brush, but don’t go too crazy with it. Sprinkle a bunch of sugar (approx 3 tbsp) on top of the pie, being sure to cover all of it.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for fifteen minutes. Then, lower the heat to 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Let it sit for an hour before you eat it. There you have it! A pie that is too beautiful to eat, but tastes so good. Trust me, using fresh fruit really does make a difference.
PS:
If you can wait to eat the other half of the pie a day later, it somehow tastes 10 times better.


food

Salad is Sexy

 

 

 

What’s the big deal?

First of all is that even a question? Salad can be as addicting as a bag of chips if paired with the right dressing.  No joke, I paused editing this post to get more salad .  I am also still right next to the big window where I took the pictures for good lighting, so I got some pretty weird looks.  This is a basic recipe my family has always had on the table.  We put it on legitimately everything on our plates whether it  be rice, chicken, or actual salad.  This recipe just brings all the flavors home, if you know what I mean.  I’m not going to continue wasting your time going on about dressing.  Anyways, my dressing is the secret to all of your problems in life, so you should definitely try it out.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons of good Olive Oil

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 tablespoons of grapefruit or orange juice

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

teaspoon of honey

optional: teaspoon of Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Measure everything out and add into a medium bowl.  Whisk everything until well combined.  The dressing will naturally separate, so just shake it up to incorporate the contents before you serve it.  The dressing stays fresh for a week, assuming you do not use all of it by then.

featured, food

This One Takes the Cake

 

 

Cake. Its something pretty traditional; some may even go further to say boring.  If this dessert is boring to you, then you’re doing something wrong.  Done well, a basic cake has the potential to impress.  Ditch the mediocre box mix for this simple, but delicious recipe.  Traditional buttercream can be unimpressive.   I mean it’s pretty much just sugar and butter.  The addition of salt and cream cheese balances out the crazy amount of sugar in frosting.  I add a small amount of cream cheese, so you cannot tell its there, but the taste is richer.  The addition of jam is optional, but it adds a pretty light pink color and accompanies the cream cheese.  If you are looking for a go-to basic cake recipe, this one is it.  This recipe tastes exactly like that familiar “cake batter” flavor in ice cream, oreos, etc. (duh… its vanilla cake).   I have nothing thought-provoking or ground-breaking to say about this recipe; it’s just really damn good.

Vanilla Bean Cake:

  • Butter or nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 ¼ cups of cake flour (and more for the pan/pans)
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • *or … omit flour, salt, and baking powder with self rising cake flour
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla pod
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • To be fancy… add gold leaf to the edges of the cake once its frosted like I did

Secret Amazing Frosting Recipe:

  • 4 ½ cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 ½ cups room temperature butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • ¼ cup jam
  • ⅓ cup cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and flour as many or as little pans as you want.  This depends on whether you  want a layer cake. The cooking time will adjust based on how many layers you do. The more pans= shorter time.  If you are looking for a traditional layer cake, use four six-inch cake pans.

If you are not using self rising flour, sift flour, salt, and baking powder together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.   Add the sugar and whichever vanilla you chose.  Mix on medium high until its fluffy for 3-4 minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the egg yolks one at a time. Stop it again, and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in a few batches, alternating with the milk.  Start and end with the dry ingredients.  Mix for no more than 30 seconds after the last addition.

Evenly divide the mixture among the pans.  I used one pan and baked it for 45 minutes.  If you are doing four pans, bake it for just 22-25 minutes.  It honestly does not matter, as long as you check every so often.  If a toothpick comes out mostly clean, its ready.  Its common sense that if it’s still soupy in the middle, it probably needs more time.  It is so important that you let the cake cool for an hour or so, before trying to get them out of the pans.  It will fall apart if you don’t wait or it you don’t coat the pans well enough.

Frosting:

With a paddle attachment on medium speed beat your butter sugar and vanilla until fluffy.

Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until well combined for 2 minutes.

You can adjust it to your liking with more heavy cream or sugar.

Putting it together:

If you are doing multiple layers, add a generous amount of frosting to the middle of the layers after leveling the cakes to your liking (leveling: evenly cutting off cake top for a flatter surface).

Spread those layers and assemble the cake.

Then you should do a crumb coat by adding just enough frosting to cover the outside of the cake, to prevent the crumbs from being visible in the end product.

Spread this evenly with the straight edge of a butter knife or leveling spatula.

Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes.

Add the rest of the frosting and spread evenly, while rotating it on a cake stand.

 

featured, Self-Help

Pimples are “In”

Whether you are a girl or a guy, the first hour of the day probably consists of prepping yourself to go out into the world.  Some care more about what people think when they see them than others.  There are also those who don’t give a damn what impression they bestow on others, and create a certain look just for their own confidence.  There is a whole scale ranging from those who roll out of bed and plunge right into their day, to the people who spend time making sure they have a balanced bronzer-highlighter ratio.  This article is for those who really do care and are questioning why that is.

Sometime ago, I woke up feeling pretty fed up with my pimples.  I came up with the idea of abandoning my makeup products for a month, with the hope that my skin would clear up.  I was going to run the idea by a friend, but before I did, the topic of self esteem came up in conversation.  Then the idea was born.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone by prohibiting myself from using makeup products and heat tools with the hope of ending up with improved hair, skin, and mentality.

Day 1

I am someone who from day one took pride in my appearance.  My mom has told me that I always wanted to pick my own outfits and dress myself as a kid.  One can imagine what could go wrong with a four year old dressing herself.  Nonetheless, mini-me was very opinionated and relentless.  Anyway, this attitude continued throughout my life and into my teenage years when the godsend of makeup and hair tools were introduced into the equation.  Like most people my age lacking confidence in my physical appearance, I latched onto these things and they became part of my routine that I did not question.  It felt good that my appearance was something that I was in control of.  Most people have fun trying out new looks, palettes, curls, etc. It sounds corny, but making yourself up provides the opportunity to express yourself.  I tried out the liners, the eyeshadows, the lipsticks, the curls, the waves, and whatever else seemed flattering.  Eventually, I found what suited my preferences and what I liked.  In all honesty, it was not until recently that I questioned why I spent this time doing this.

It seemed interesting to see what would happen, if me–the person who usually looks put together and enjoys it and all, just stopped caring.  The first day in public without makeup and my hair done, I felt pretty insecure and could feel myself walking with less confidence.  I began to realize that my confidence had become dependent on how I looked.  That revelation made my stomach drop.  Upon considering this habit, the gross feeling of vanity and self absorption almost made me sick, giving me more interest in completing the challenge.  I wondered, maybe it’s the generation that I have grown up in with the me me me attitude or if it was a normal teenage phenomena.  

Week Two

It just so happened that I ran out of contacts a few days after I started the challenge, so I was stuck wearing glasses. Contrary to what one may think, after not wearing makeup for a few days, my skin broke out.  I was blessed by the gods of complexion with oily skin and pimples–it was exactly what I needed then.

Here I was, my face full of pimples and my glasses completed the look.  At night I wear a retainer and recently started using an acne medication, so it was an interesting sight to see.  For some reason, I did not feel embarrassed; those feelings were present the first few days.  Maybe I was embracing my raw and unfiltered self.

I stopped doing these entries after the first week, but stayed committed to the challenge.  There were a couple days in the beginning that I did cheat, but then made up those days.  Why did I cheat?  One of those days was picture day for my team, so I convinced myself that I needed to look good for the sake of the yearbook.  At the end of the day though, quite literally, I remember looking in the mirror thinking, “I look exactly the same as I did without makeup” and that it was not worth messing up my little challenge.  The other day that I cheated, I had just gotten the most beautiful new mascara and I really wanted to try it out.  Distracted by the awesomeness of the mascara, I went to school with it on, and my best friend called me out.  To my surprise, she gasped and said “Sara you’re wearing makeup. Cheater!”.  Then she jokingly said, “You’re only hurting yourself.”

She was right. I was only lying to myself, and I desperately wanted to prove that I could go a month without makeup and heat.  From then on, I went on with my mission and business went on as usual for a seemingly long month.

Throughout the thirty day period, I  did get a few comments.  However, aside from my closer friends, no one really noticed that I stopped wearing makeup, so I rolled with it.  Most people just complimented my natural hair.  I came to the conclusion, that most of my insecurity is just in my head.  I asked my mom if I looked any different one day in a car ride home from track practice.  Looking at the road, she simply said “no, I mean you look pretty much the same.”   I asked “seriously, mom, you don’t notice any difference?”.  She proceeded to look at me with confusion, and the conversation switched to dinner.

I had written that I felt less confident at first.  After the first fifteen days, I was becoming pretty comfortable with how I looked.  My pimples disappeared, and whether anyone noticed or not, my skin looked better than it had in awhile.  I started to get used to my eyes being less defined and my hair not being in “perfect” curls.  One day someone even commented that they never noticed I had freckles, which may or may not have made my day.

If you care enough to wonder if I just rolled out of bed looking like a hobo everyday, the answer is a big no.  The challenge guidelines were no makeup and no heat.  I used neither, but I am guilty of some loopholes.  According to my friend’s justification, these loopholes did not fracture the integrity of the challenge.  I must confess; I did curl my lashes.  I also slept in braids, to keep my hair from becoming a frizzy mess.  I kept up with a skin routine with night cream, exfoliant, and my regular day moisturizer.  Other than that, I promise that I am innocent.  It is true, that by doing these things, I was still tending to my appearance.  Makeup and heat are things that you apply to yourself with the goal of changing your appearance.  What I did, just made myself look presentable and did not change my look as drastically.  Though I settled with that excuse, this point did make me doubt the purpose of those endeavors and whether doing so fractured the intention of the challenge.  The fact that I simply could not go without doing those things was something to reflect on.

What changed this month?

One thing for sure that I learned is that people don’t care as much as you think.  I was probably just blinded by a cloud of self absorption to realize that no one gives a fuck (excuse my language).  That’s the thing.  Everyone is caught up in their own problems and other important things to really analyze what you look like.  It was a combination of that and the fact that no matter what, I still have the same face. With or without makeup, I am the exact same person.  If nothing else, my skin looks healthier.

Major Takeaways

Everyone can relate to the great feeling that a great makeup look or perfectly composed outfit can bring.  It can truly transform how you approach your day.  One might say that it is vain to spend time tending to your appearance, but I say the opposite.  Look at it this way.  Your time is an investment.  It is valuable to spend your time on a routine that will make you feel confident and be the best version of yourself that you can be.  If spending an extra few minutes on your hair or choosing an ensemble will ultimately give you the boost you need to feel like a boss, then go on and do it!

It is okay to care about what you look like.  It is fine if you want to look a certain way.  What matters is that you are comfortable with yourself without those things so your confidence does not become dependent on it.  My intention is not to end this article with this lesson figuratively wrapped in a box tied with a bow.  In saying that, I mean that this month really was meaningful and is something that can truly be understood by doing the month without makeup.

When you go out into the world and feel comfortable, it truly shows in how you carry yourself and makes a difference in how you go about your day.   Do not abandon the eyeshadows and concealer.  Don’t throw out your irons and brushes.  Most certainly, do not trash the over priced foundations and highlighters.  As long as you are comfortable with yourself without those things, it is okay and healthy to want to enhance your features.  This experience was unexpectedly eye-opening for me, and I hope that it might encourage others to consider going on a beauty detox too.

food

Simplistic Cooking

If there is anything to know when it comes to basic home cooking, it’s that simple recipes and fresh ingredients yield a better outcome.  Have you ever noticed that on many occasions you may have thought that whatever you were working on—whether it be cooking or art, the more details you added, it did not look or taste as great as it did originally when it had less going on? This phenomenon applies to a bunch of things in life; especially in the culinary realm.  Here are three brief recipes that are perfect examples of this philosophy.  All of them have minimal ingredients, but their flavors stand out in a way that is straight to the point.  There are certain ingredients a home cook should always have in their pantry and fridge for most recipes and they should always be the best.  Arguably the most important of these ingredients that can pull a dish together is a very good quality bottle of olive oil in your cooking arsenal. An ingredient so versatile and flavorful if used correctly, has the ability to add a backbone to whatever dish you are making.  

 

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Asparagus with Parmesan

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

  • One bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 regular kitchen tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  1 tsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss all of the ingredients with the Asparagus on a baking sheet.
  3. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes until roasted.

 

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Herbed Italian Orzo

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed (optional: my version does not have it)
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 white onion chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Combine cooked orzo with  bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, and the optional mozzarella cheese.
  3. Dress the pasta salad by pouring in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt, parsley, pepper, and basil.
  4. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Honey “Glazed” Carrots

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Yield: 4 people

Ingredients

  •  1 lb. carrots
  •   3 tablespoons of butter
  •  2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1.  Wash, peel, and cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut once again through the middle.  Boil the carrots for three minutes and no more than that because you do not want those soggy carrots that taste gross.  Drain it afterwards.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan like the one pictured at medium low.  Add the carrots as well as the seasonings and honey.  Do not add the parsley until the end.  Toss and cook for 3-4 minutes.  The carrots should still have a bit of a bite to them, and should not be fully “cooked” per-say.
  3.   Add the parsley after turning off the heat and toss to coat.
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This poster was bought at a farm in Martha’s Vineyard, but is originally an advertisement during World War Two when America was encouraging rationing.  However, what it says is still valid when it comes to choosing the right ingredients to cook with.

 

 

food

Healthified Big Mac

My blog is full of contradictions.  On one hand I have posts about healthy eating and resolutions, but on the other I have recipes for marshmallows and ice cream.  Don’t be so quick to judge though.  I’m all about being able to strike a balance.  This recipe is one that I’ve made inspired by a similar dish that my aunt always used to make for my family, but healthified and still just as amazing.  Whenever I cook, my style is always “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, so the recipe has ingredients that can be adjusted to your preference and as you see fit.  At first glance, it does not seem like there are many ingredients.  With most things, less is more, and when you don’t complicate things, flavors stand out more.

Ingredients:

1 Pound of Ground Turkey

Half an Onion

Four Cloves of Garlic

Good Olive Oil (do not use the cheap stuff)

Herbs de Provence

A small bunch of cilantro (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or Hoisin Sauce (completely different sauces, but both add the extra concentrated flavor)

An egg

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Extras/Garnish:

Cheddar Cheese Slices

Arugula

Whole Grain Bread (I cut them into circles, removing the crust)

Avocado Slices

 

  1. Prep the ingredients.  Chiffonade the cilantro. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.  In a pan, drizzle olive oil and heat it at medium low. You can toss a piece of onion into the pan and if it sizzles, its hot enough.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until glossy and a bit soft.
  2. In a medium sized bowl add your turkey, salt, pepper, cilantro, preferred sauce, and herbs de Provence.  Mix well.  Now add the sautéed garlic and onion, mixing everything well.  Lastly crack the egg in and make sure everything is incorporated.
  3. Heat up the pan again after cleaning the remaining onion off on medium high with a bit more olive oil.  Make sure you have a spatula handy.  The turkey is a bit difficult to form into rounds, so try your best to do so, and just plop them on the pan once it’s hot.  The burgers should be about an inch-ish thick and fairly small compared to a regular burger.  I made mini burgers, so they were about two inches in diameter.
  4. Once the bottom browns, flip it over and cook the other side until it browns as well.  The sides should be cooked as well, but not necessarily browned.  It should take about 6-8 minutes.  You don’t want to overcook the burgers, so if you are not sure, cut one of them in half a little early to check for redness.  With beef it’s okay to have the center red, but with poultry, it is obviously not.
  5. Plate the burgers with the garnish ingredients listed.  If you would like cheese, turn the heat off, but put the cheese on top of the burger while it is still hot and on the pan.
  6. Enjoy!

 

Beauty

Better than Bath & Body

We are all familiar with Bath and Body Work’s signature Warm Vanilla Sugar scent that most of their products come in.  No matter what you get at that store, there is no going wrong with that one.   Though this is true, nothing can beat real vanilla sugar.  It is pretty difficult to mess up a sugar scrub , but if you cannot seem to get the proportions right, here is a good recipe.

Warm Vanilla Sugar Scrub

1/2 cup melted Coconut Oil

Two tablespoons Olive Oil

1 cup regular sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Teaspoon of vanilla extract

Optional: vanilla pod seeds

 

In a big bowl, add all of your ingredients with the exception of the coconut oil.  Make sure to split the first layer of the vanilla pod in half, careful not to completely cut it in half, using a chef’s knife.  Then scrape the seeds using the edge of the knife, out of the pod, and add it to the bowl of sugar.  If it is not melted already, pop the measured out oil into the microwave for 30-60 seconds, or until completely liquid.  Add the oil to the bowl of sugar and mix everything thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Remember all of the ingredients can be adjusted to your preferences.  If the mixture is too dry, add more oil and vice versa.

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featured, food

Marshmallow “Peeps”

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Right after Valentine’s day, stores are always quick to set out all the Spring and Easter themed candy, one of the most well-known and coveted treats being peeps.  A few years ago, I was trying to find something more interesting to make and stumbled upon a marshmallow recipe.  My first thought was “You can make those?”.  Marshmallows are a trivial thing that people usually just buy from the supermarket, so I never considered the possibility of making my own.  Surprisingly, they are relatively easy to make and require minimal ingredients.  This recipe is adapted to the upcoming holidays and general Spring theme, but you can make many varieties.  Cut into pretty shapes and packaged well, they make great gifts or party favors.  If you are too grown up to eat peeps, these are definitely a step up and a bit more sophisticated.

 

Ingredients:

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cup

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Lemon juice or Strawberry Flavoring

Directions:

  • Add the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water.  If you would like lemon flavored marshmallows make sure you have ¼ cup lemon juice and ¼ cup water included in this addition of water.  If you would like strawberry flavored ones, skip adding lemon juice and add strawberry flavoring to the sugar syrup later in the recipe.   Have a whisk attachment standing by.
  • In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, and let the mixture come to a rolling boil and let it boil for about 30 seconds. All the while, keep a watchful eye to make sure the sugar syrup doesn’t overflow.  Take it off the heat and immediately begin with the next step.
  • Turn the mixer on low speed and  slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and fluffy; about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Cover two sheet pans normally used for baking cookies with plastic wrap.  Then, lightly spray the two sheet pans with nonstick cooking spray By using sheet pans the marshmallow will be spread thinner so you can easily cut it into shapes.  Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around over a sink to catch the powder, to completely coat the bottom. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.  It makes for very little mess and removal if you use plastic wrap.
  • Once the mixture is thick and fluffy and has been whipping for the allotted time, you can separate half of the marshmallow fluff into a bowl.  Put a very very small amount of red food coloring into one of the bowls of marshmallow and a small amount of yellow food coloring in the other.  Obviously, you can adjust to your color preferences, but I was going for Pastels.  Mix well to combine or leave a bit under-mixed for a marble effect.
  • When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pans, using a spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest of the powder for later use.  At this point, you could leave the marshmallows on the counter overnight to set, or leave them in the fridge for 3 hours.
  • Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter dusted with the powder. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow by tossing them in a big bowl with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary.  Put the marshmallows covered in the powder in sieve and toss to get rid of extra powder. You can store these in an airtight container for about 3 weeks.  They do get sticky, so I recommend layering parchment paper in between stacked marshmallows.DSC_1363DSC_1366

 

food

Time to Par-Tea!

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I have always loved the idea of dedicating a part of the day to enjoying tea and little snacks that look too perfect to eat, like British people traditionally do (or so I’ve heard). Americans have their own version of high tea, but we enjoy our liquid energy boost to-go in Styrofoam cups or in those familiar paper cups with that infamous green mermaid. If the logo that I’m referencing has not already been ingrained in your head with native advertising, for your information, it represents Starbucks.  I love the idea of quick and easy, but it is nice to sit down and enjoy this tradition in a more slow and relaxed manner.  As much as we try, we will never be British, so we might as well adapt “tea time” to our own American culture and taste. The three types of cookie recipes included have Italian, Irish, British, and American influence.  Although they taste amazing alone, it is best to eat them with tea or coffee on the side and with good company.

DSC_1252DSC_1296DSC_1257Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti
Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios
Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, beat together oil and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs.
  • Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
  • Divide dough in half. Form two logs, about 12×2 inches on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. If the dough is sticky, cover your hands in flour.
  • Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
  • Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices for longer biscotti or cut it across to make smaller biscotti. Lay the cut cookies on the sheet and bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
    Yield varies on how you cut them.

Biscotti are normally known as “the boring cookie”.  I’m convinced that once you make this recipe, your perspective on this forgotten Italian cookie will change.  The combination of pistachios and cranberries is great and the faint taste of olive oil adds an interesting flavor.  I’m not a biscotti fanatic, so maybe this is just how they are usually made.  Either way, this recipe is amazing.  By making them from scratch, you aren’t going to knock your teeth off from biting into one either. What are you waiting for?

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Lemon Glazed Cookies
Yields 2 dozen
Ingredients
1 cups butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornstarch (it seems like its a lot, but this amount of cornstarch makes the texture better)
Lemon Frosting (see recipe below)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy using an electric mixer. Add lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat well.
  • Add flour and cornstarch into butter mixture and mix until well combined. The dough might look dry, but give the butter time to “melt” into the dry ingredients. If its too wet looking, you can refrigerate it for ten minutes or so.
  • Roll cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place onto parchment paper cookie sheets and bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove from baking sheet, and cool on wire cooling racks since they break easily before being cooled.

Lemon Frosting:
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
⅛ cup lemon juice
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar

  • In a medium bowl, combine butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and powdered sugar and beat with a fork.  If the mixture is too dense, microwave it for a few seconds.  If you microwave it too long, no worries.  Just put it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Additional lemon juice may be needed to get the frosting thin enough too.
  • Carefully dunk the cooled cookies into the frosting, since they break very easily.  To make the cookies look even better, grate some more lemon zest and place it on to the tops of the cookies you just dunked.

Even though the fact that these cookies look adorable should be enough motivation to make them, there are many other reasons.  These literally melt in your mouth and sweet and sour glaze is perfect for the otherwise boring shortbread cookie.  The combination is heavenly and nothing short of perfect especially when accompanied by tea, of course.

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Mini Chocolate Chip Scones
Yields 32 mini scones
Ingredients
Scones
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup very cold unsalted butter (frozen)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Glaze
1 cups confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
    In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Cut in butter (It is better to freeze the butter, grate it using a box grater, and then cut it in that way. This method yields the flakiest scones). Stir in heavy cream and vanilla.
  • Carefully stir heavy cream/vanilla mixture into flour mixture. You do not want to over-mix, but due to the amount of dry ingredients it may be tricky to well incorporate the liquid and the dry mixes. You will need to use an electric mixer on a low setting to help coax the dough to cling together.
  • Once dough is beginning to cling together, add chocolate chips and incorporate, and then transfer to a very lightly floured surface
    Knead the dough and chocolate chips together until you are able to form a ball.
    Break the dough into 4 even pieces and round each one out into a disk about 5 inches wide.
  • Cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to cookie sheet.
    Bake for 14-16 minutes.
  • Prepare your glaze by whisking together milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Start with 1 cup powdered sugar, and if it still seems too runny you may increase the sugar amount. If it is too stiff, you can add more milk.
  • Once scones are cooled, drizzle icing on the top of each scone. Allow it to sit and harden before serving.  If you are extra like me, put the icing into a pastry bag or plastic zip lock and cut a very tiny part off of the tip.  Use the piping bag to drizzle the icing on for a neater look.

Out of all of these recipes, this one is the fan favorite.  I have made these a number of times for get-togethers, bake sales, or just given them out to friends.  It was actually the inspiration for this post, as so many people have asked me for the recipe.  These scones are sort of like the fancy version of a chocolate chip cookie but better.  See for yourself and recreate these scones!

 

 

food, Self-Help

Game-Changing Pancake Recipe

 

With many new year’s resolutions underway—the most popular one being to improve health and well-being, this recipe could serve as inspiration to avoid imminent distraction from achieving your 2018 goal.  If you are in the mood for some indulgent breakfast, since it is likely that you are trying to deprive yourself of excess sugar and junk, this is the perfect meal.

Let’s take a look at the generic pancake that is usually eaten.  So you have your butter, flour, sugar, eggs, leavening agents, and milk.  According to a simple google search, the standard medium pancake has eleven grams of added sugar.  This recipe only has three main ingredients.  People hold on to your hats, because this is going to surprise you.  My version has bananas, eggs, flour, and a couple additions like baking soda.  Do not worry ; the banana taste is not very prominent.  You will be shocked to find out how great these taste without the added fat that pancakes are normally fried in and the sugar.

Ingredients

⅔ cup whole wheat flour or oats

2 ripe medium bananas

2 eggs

½ teaspoon of baking soda

Splash of vanilla extract

Optional (for added richness and protein): a generous scoop of plain Greek yogurt

 

*Chocolate chips or blueberries

*Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil cooking spray

 

Add all of your ingredients, with the exception of the toppings into a blender and let it go at a medium speed until well combined.  Please do not overmix because this will mess up the consistency.

Heat up a non-stick pan on medium low heat (this pan type is super important, as it eliminates the need to use butter) and if you want, spray some sort of cooking spray on it.

You can make the pancakes as big or as small as you wish and add any preferred toppings.

Incorporate the add-ins after the battle settles into the pan.  Then flip the pancake after the top bubbles and the edges slightly separate from the bottom.  Cook each side until they are lightly golden and fluffier.  It is recommended to use a wide metal spatula.

Now take a second to admire how amazing these pancakes look!

 

Real Talk

Many people cannot stick to their diets or meal plans because they are restricting themselves too much.  After a few days, it is common to give in and splurge on what is being avoided.  You have definitely heard it about a billion times, but striking a balance between the good and the bad can lead to habits that stick.  Take this food for instance.  There are many ways to alter an “unhealthy” food into something delicious that can fuel your body.  Let’s say that you desperately want fries or a burger.  By utilizing the right flavors and ingredients it is so easy to make those two foods good for you and taste amazing.  In fact I will post a recipe for baked sweet potato fries and turkey burgers.  When one thinks of a turkey burger, they think of those disgusting and flavorless frozen ones, but that cannot even be considered food to be honest.  This is the cusp of the issue.  People tend to associate what is deemed healthy with those sort of descriptions.  I am here to say, that it most definitely does not have to be this way.

 

Beauty, featured

Give Your Makeup a Second Life

 

 

 

 

It is a fact of life that makeup is overpriced and does not last forever.  Most of us use makeup well past its expiration, so you might as well make the most of it.  For these recipes, all you need is old makeup, coconut oil, and water. Below I listed a few great things you can make from various makeup products that are either broken or “expired”.  I have made and tested out all of these as pictured above, and can tell you that they turn out awesome.


Lip Tint: blush
1. Crush the product into a fine powder in a small bowl.
2. In another bowl, microwave two tablespoons–give or take of coconut oil for 30 seconds (until it becomes a liquid fully).
3. Incorporate the oil into the blush powder and blend it with a fork.
4.  Clean your old blush container, and dry fully.  You can pour the mixture into this, or buy little containers especially made for homemade beauty products on amazon.
5. Close the container and put it into the fridge to set for half an hour.

I love this one because your lips will remain the color of the pigment you use–without having to reapply, but it comes off easily with makeup remover.


Cream Eyeshadow: old eyeshadow
1. Crush the makeup into a fine powder in a bowl.
2. Clean the container.
3. Add a normal spoonful of water (1/4 the amount of bronzer) to the powder.  Start with a small amount of water, and add more if needed.  Mix thoroughly.
4. Scoop the eyeshadow into your old container.

Adding more moisture to old eye shadow makes the pigment stronger, look cleaner, and stay longer–take my word for it.


Moisturizing concealer/ lip primer: face powders
1. Take an already broken face powder and add 1-2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil.  The mixture should be thicker than the consistency of the lip tint.
2.  Pour/ scoop into the previous container, and refrigerate for 30 minutes so it can become more solidified.

*Note: If you have very oily skin, this concealer might not work well for you.  As a primer, it is absolutely amazing, and if you have dry skin you can use it as you prefer on your face, skipping regular moisturizer.


Save your mascara:
1. Boil some water and pour it into a bowl.
2. Place the sealed mascara into the water, and let it sit for 10 minutes.

food

Pumpkin Ice Cream

In lieu of pumpkin spice season, I decided that  a recipe like this one was overdue.  Yes you are thinking, why make ice cream when you can just go and buy some for a couple bucks in the supermarket—let alone make ice cream in the winter?
Well, first of all this ice cream tastes amazing and worth the work.

When you walk into the supermarket, you are hit with these bright fluorescent lights and an overwhelming amount of choices to make.  Walking down the dairy aisle, you must choose whether you want 2%,1%, whole, skim, almond, cashew, and countless types of milk (not to mention the brand you want). You purchase the milk for a few dollars or so and take it home all within the span of an hour.  This is something that has become a mindless action.  Do you ever stop to think where that carton of milk came from? Obviously, it was not always on that  refrigerator shelf.  The same goes for any other product in the store, including ice cream.  Your favorite treat was part of a large batch in a factory, and  packaged to be shipped to your supermarket  joining the countless other brands and flavors sitting on that shelf.   Of course, this is super convenient, and saves  a bunch of time, however there is less meaning in what you are consuming.  When you create something on your own, there is more pride and value in the product of your efforts.  The reason I love cooking is because the plate is a canvas for creativity and it provides the opportunity to experience food in a more fun way.  So, maybe just stop for a second before reaching for that carton of ice cream in that familiar supermarket situation.  Unless you know someone who has a cow, I don’t recommend doing the same with milk.

Anyways, making your own ice cream gives you a lot of freedom and obviously control as to what you put in it.  Most of the time, supermarket ice cream has ingredients like corn syrup and guar gum which is gross.  One day, as I was chowing down on some ice cream, I noticed that nowhere on the container did it say exactly what it was, which makes me suspicious. All this dessert is supposed to have is heavy cream, sugar, eggs, milk, flavoring—no BS.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (95g) granulated sugar
big pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup (180g) fresh or canned 100% pure pumpkin puree
1/4 cup packed (60g) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground dried ginger
a few turns of ground black pepper
optional: 2 teaspoons whiskey or brandy
1. Make an ice bath by putting some ice and a bit of water in a large bowl and nest a medium-sized metal bowl (one that will hold at least 2 quarts, 2l) inside it. Set a mesh strainer over the top.
2. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, granulated sugar, and salt. Whisk together the egg yolks in a separate bowl.
3. Whisk about half of the warm milk into the yolks, stirring constantly (this process is called tempering, which is done so that the eggs don’t scramble).
5. Scrape the warmed yolks back in to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
6. Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the heavy cream, in the bowl nested in the ice bath. Stir for a few minutes until it’s cool, then puree the custard in a blender with the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and whiskey or brandy, if using. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.
7. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tired of Pumpkin Pie? For a creative alternative, sandwich a scoop of this ice cream between two graham crackers, smooth edges, and freeze to set.  This recipe is perfect on its own and great for your thanksgiving celebration.  Remember, if you have an ice cream maker that needs to sit in the freezer before use, plan ahead of time, so that it is ready.
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How I served the ice-cream at my Thanksgiving: “deconstructed pumpkin pie”.  For the record, my family made fun of this.
food

Mood Booster Muffins

The perfect gift for someone who needs to get well.

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Recently, a family member of mine was in the hospital, and I didn’t want to come empty-handed when I stopped by.  So I thought that instead of the usual cookie or brownie plate, it would be better to bring muffins!  This recipe is not too unhealthy or sugary, like one would expect muffins to be, which is perfect for someone who might be on a monitored diet.  Wrap them up and put them in a basket, or bring them on a plate.  If you feel like being extra, then make it a care package by adding a pair of fuzzy socks, deodorant wipes, and a mini throw blanket for the perfect gift for someone in the hospital (that is…if they aren’t offended by the wipes). Also, don’t forget a card with a sweet message!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coarsely smashed ripe banana (2 large)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • a scoop of love and good wishes

Streusel Topping

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • Optional: half of a vanilla bean (if you want to be cool)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Line muffin tins with paper muffin liners.  This recipe makes twelve decent sized muffins.

What I usually do is set all my “mise en place” (fancy way to say measured ingredients), and then put everything together.

Put the streusel ingredients together and set aside (do this first so it can sit).

Combine sugar, butter, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Whisk it all and then add the banana.  Then, add the dry ingredients, excluding the chips and stir with a wooden spoon just until moistened.  Next, add the chips and finish off the mixing.

Using two spoons, scoop the batter into the cups, and evenly sprinkle the topping on all twelve.  Bake for 20-25 minutes (mine were done at 22) and let them cool off before taking them out.  See, how easy was that?  Now you have a heartfelt gift for your loved one.

Care Package Stuff:

wipes
Get these on Amazon for your sick friend so they don’t stink ($13.95)
throw
I don’t know about you, but I find hospital linens to be in comfortable, so treat them to this amazing fuzzy blanket from Target (Threshold $12.74)
socks
These socks are so comfortable and are bound to put a smile on their face (Target’s Xhilaration Brand $3)
oil
Peppermint oil is my go-to solution for everything. In fact, I will do a post just about this holy grail product. Great for stuffy noses, headaches, and for clearing the air (Amazon $6.99)
Self-Help

My 7 Tips on How to be a more Informed Person

These simple and non time consuming tips will help you to become a great conversationalist and make you seem more politically aware.  With all of the constant events and issues in the world it is difficult to be knowledgeable about it all.  There’s also the difficulty in choosing what news to trust.  In order to have a more three dimensional understanding of whatever topic it is, you must take all sides into consideration, while being picky.  I apologize in advance for the amount of times I use the word “bias” by the way.
1) Know your sources: What news is least biased?
a.This is the great big question.  For information on how to determine whether what you’re reading/viewing/ listening to is biased, read this page on FAIR.org
NPR, BBC, Google News, Al Jazeera, and USA Today are some of my go-to less biased news outlets.
Why is this important?
If you only are exposed to biased news, your views become biased, and you will not have a good interpretation of the news.  Most definitely, there is going to be a huge chunk of information missing or a whole new point of view you have no idea about.  Bias in its own nature favors a certain group or type of person, which is very limiting.  Why limit yourself to a certain belief?
b. Try to resist confirmation bias. Today with social media and snack-able content, its easy for it to become a habit to watch short snippets of news, which only exposes you to a small part of what you should know. When you have the choice between a short minute-long video and a lengthy article or video, most people are going to pick the short info-graphic video on Now This or Stay Tuned on Snap-chat.  This isn’t to say don’t watch these, but what I am saying is this shouldn’t be the only way you get your news.  Don’t view things that always agree with what you believe, or you’ll be stuck in a box.
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This chart reflects the sources people are more inclined to trust, which theoretically should be less biased.
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This goes to show how your views affect how you perceive sources.
2) Read Biased News
FOX News, CNN, New York Times–just to name a few
By doing this you have to force yourself to see around the bias and still increase your understanding.
3)Listen to speeches
Writers often put their own two sense in which can sway your opinion.  By listening to an influential person firsthand, you can judge what you think about them or what they are talking about.
4) Getting your news in everyday
-A good method is listening to podcasts as you get ready for the day. Playing Pod casts is an efficient way to be more informed because you can listen to them while doing anything.  Spotify and the podcast app on your iPhone have hundreds of different networks on a wide range of topics and genres. My favorites are Ted Radio Hour, How I built this,  Radio Lab, The Daily, WSG What’s news,  ABC World News Tonight with David Muir,  What Trump Can teach us about Con Law, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Stuff You Should Know.
-Make it a habit to read an article that appeals to you on the news app daily (read interesting articles so you keep up the habit)
5) Engage in conversation with people who have different views and have an open mind.
Bring up something that is thought-provoking at the dinner table or something you learned that day.
6) Learn about problems and events in your community and volunteer to experience them first-hand.
I love to volunteer at my town’s Soup Kitchen and the Garden that they own and I try to find opportunities through my school’s programs.  You can look into volunteer opportunities in your town (soup kitchen, school events, local fundraisers, etc.)
7) Read, read, read, and read
“Literately” anything you want (no pun intended)! Books, magazines, newspapers,  articles on apps, blogs about whatever peaks your interest.  This is the number one way to expand your vocabulary and knowledge.