Monday, January 28, 2013

The darkest hour

Do any of the rest of you get up early to bake?  I've always been more of a morning person than a night owl.  Plus, there's something so nice about being up before the sun, when the day is still so quiet and undisturbed.  I get so much more done then than if I stay up late to finish something.

Today, it was getting up to make a batch of Swiss meringue buttercream.  (Dorie's recipe from BFMHTY.)  I've made it so many times now, I could practically do it in my sleep. =)  It helps that I had leftover egg whites in my fridge.  I made the cupcakes last night--the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes from Cook's Illustrated, minus the ganache filling--and this way they had plenty of time to cool completely.  B surprised me by saying that if she had to pick just one frosting flavor, it would be vanilla.  (She originally wanted me to do a chocolate/vanilla swirl.)  She picked the wrappers, and we decided pink edible glitter would coordinate nicely.

It's so fluffy!!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Double digits

This weekend has been all about Brianna's birthday.  I can't believe that she's 10!  Friday night (her actual birthday), we had her favorite meal of spaghetti for dinner, and she had a friend sleep over for  the first time.  She requested chocolate mousse cake, since she liked the one I made for Christmas.  I didn't make the exact same cake, instead choosing to try different recipes for the components.  The cake was a chocolate genoise that I found in Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  I filled the layers with Premium Dark Chocolate Mousse from Cook's Illustrated.  (I would have used the regular chocolate mousse recipe, but I was low on 60% chocolate after making the genoise and needed to use 70% instead.)  The whole cake was covered in a ganache glaze.  I decorated it with a simple vanilla buttercream and some blue edible glitter (B's favorite color).  B said she preferred the last cake I made, but thought this one was pretty good, too.  I found it a little too rich, but finally thought to pair it with some raspberry coulis, which helped.  

Watching:  Doctor Who--The Aztecs.  BBC America is revisiting each of the 11 doctors, leading up to the 50th anniversary later this year.  They are featuring one doctor each month, starting this month.  

Reading:  Still working my way through last week's book, and I've also started on the America's Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook.  I'm not sure how many of the things I'll try for myself, but it makes for interesting reading regardless.  

Listening:  Assorted playlists that I've put together.  B & G are amused by some of the music when we listen to it in the car.  

Making:  Besides birthday cake, I made Cinnamon Roll Muffins for breakfast this morning.  They were pretty tasty, but I wasn't totally happy with the texture.  I think that the biscuit dough baked up a little tough, and I wonder if it needed some fat (i.e. butter) to tenderize it.  I've think I've made another quick recipe that was better, but I like the idea of using the muffin tin to bake the rolls.  There will probably be more to come on this one... 

tea to get my brain going while I convert the ingredients list to weights

Feeling:  Kind of nostalgic and a little melancholy.  Part of it is due to B's birthday, and part is because last week was the anniversary of when my first husband Nate died.  Some years are harder than others, and this one was more emotional than I was expecting.  

Planning:  A trip to Seattle!  I haven't been back to visit in years (I lived there for several years in the mid-90s), and I'm really looking forward to it.  I'm going BY MYSELF, which is going to be so nice.  I'm excited just imagining a 4-hour plane trip without anyone wanting me to take them to the bathroom, or wanting to borrow my electronics, or complaining about being hungry or thirsty...  

Loving:  My awesome husband, who is willing to deal with the girls on his own for a weekend so I will be able to take the above trip.  He also manages to keep his cool and deal with the girls when they're driving me totally nuts.  

Find more Currently lists here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I'm still trying to get back in a blogging mood, so I thought I'd borrow something from my friend Anandi.  Back at the beginning of last week, she posted a list of things currently going on in her life.  The idea originally comes from Kristin, who decided to do this as a series on her blog this year.  I figured it would be worth a try, to give me prompts to write about.  So here goes...

Watching:  HOCKEY!!!  I'm so happy that hockey is finally back.  We really need to make plans to attend another live Texas Stars game, too.  We got a bit of "divorce hockey" today.  My husband's Flyers played my Sabres.  I need to get more familiar with the players again--I kind of wish I was playing fantasy hockey this year, since that forces me to pay more attention.

Reading:  Assorted things, including the new cookbooks I got for Christmas.  Today it was the one pictured up top, Cook Illustrated's The Science of Good Cooking.  Many of the recipes are familiar from the other CI volumes that I own as well as the website.  One of the things that I love most about CI is their explanation of their testing methods and the science behind the recipes they come up with, so this book is right up my alley.

Listening:  Another Christmas gift, Maroon 5's Overexposed.  Yes, it's been out for months, but I didn't buy it because I've been trying to leave stuff on my wish-list for J to buy. =)  He said he would have gotten it for me sooner but he had to order the non-explicit version since he knew the girls would want to listen to it in the car with me.

Making:  Lots of stuff, the past couple of days!  Which is a refreshing change, since I've been feeling kind of stuck with baking as well as blogging lately.  Today's dessert was chocolate mousse, again pictured up top.  I also made an impulse buy at Central Market this morning and picked up a carton of blood orange juice.  I've already made David Lebovitz's orange caramel sauce with it, and will have to see what else I can use it in.  I've also mixed up the starter to make these Asiago Bagels from KAF tomorrow.

Feeling:  Pretty good.  The main thing that I'm focused on right now is the Cultivating Courage course that started last week.  When I took it back in October, it was every day for 30 days, including weekends, and I liked the continuity of that.  This time, it appears to be just Monday through Friday.  I was initially disappointed by that, but having a break from new activities over the weekend allowed me to catch up on reading what others in the class have been up to.  And I can still do new brave moves on my own if I want.

Planning:  Cake, cupcakes and the meal for Brianna's birthday on Friday.  She's going to be 10--how is that possible?!  I'm glad that we have the day off tomorrow (me from work and the girls from school).  That will give me some more time to prep things so the end of the week won't be quite so crazy.  For school, she's requested chocolate cupcakes topped with swirled chocolate and vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream.  For the cake at home, she wants chocolate mousse cake.  I made one for Christmas that was chocolate sponge cake layered with chocolate mousse and coated with poured ganache.  She liked it so much that she asked me to make another one.  I wasn't thrilled with the mousse I made last time, so today's dessert was due to me test-driving an different recipe.

Loving:  This great necklace that I ordered from Anandi with my One Little Word for this year.  There's still a post coming with my reasons for picking that word and how I hope it will shape my year.  After last year's focus cake, I want to make another baked good to feature this word.  I'm still trying to decide what to make.

Okay, that's my list for right now.  I'm not sure if this will become a weekly activity or if it will be less often, but I think it will be a good way to help me work through some of my blogger's block. =)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bringing things into focus

I didn't mean to take a couple weeks between posts, especially since I seemed to be doing so much better with blogging more consistently. =)  I've been struggling with figuring out how to wrap up 2012, as well as with figuring out what to bake and cook lately.  I had some ideas on what to write, but couldn't come up with food pictures to put with it.  It finally occurred to me to just borrow the ones I used at the beginning of the year.  The picture above is one of my favorites from the year, though there have been many that I liked.

My one little word for last year was focus.  I've been reading what I wrote at this time last year, something I didn't really revisit during the year.  And I'm pleasantly surprised at how much progress I've made toward what I wanted to accomplish.  It took most of the year, but I'm finally doing a better job with saying no to things I don't want to do or that aren't important to me.  I'm letting other people do some things, and focusing more on the things that only I can do.  I took a chance and moved to a different location at work, which allows me to work with people who appreciate and support me.  I've also been exploring some personal dreams to see where they may lead.  You don't know if you don't try!

One of the things that I did last year to help bring things into focus was to do some things just for me.  That included participating in some online courses that I really enjoyed and would highly recommend.  I have to thank my friend Anandi for sharing her experiences with Mondo Beyondo, which were intriguing.  Unfortunately, by the time I actually looked into taking the course, there wasn't another one scheduled until September.  But there was something called Dream Lab that started in late June, so I started with that.  With themes of play, rest, and kindness to yourself, it turned out to be a good way to start focusing on myself more.  I don't feel like I did as much with it as I would have liked, so will probably sign up for the course again the next time it's available.

Then in the fall I did get a change to experience Mondo Beyondo.  I read something today that said that "Inspiration is an essential part of the creative process."  That's kind of what Mondo was for me.  It helped me figure out what sort of things I want to do.  Not things that other people want me to do, or that I think I should do.  But things that I want for myself.  It got me started on figuring out how to make my dreams happen.  Heck, it got me started on simply believing that the dreams were okay to have.  But then along came another piece of the puzzle that really got the ball rolling.

While I was taking the Mondo Beyondo course, I found out that Andrea was about to start a brand-new course, called Cultivating Courage.  Unlike the other courses that were 6 or 8 weeks long, this one was just 30 days.  But it was every day, weekends included.  And the premise was simple.  Do one brave thing every single day for 30 days.  Some might seem small, others huge.  But the idea was to build a habit of pushing your boundaries, just a little bit at a time.   It was exactly what I needed in conjunction with Mondo Beyondo, the action to go with the inspiration.  It's amazing how powerful you feel when you do something that you were afraid to and survive, even especially when it's kind of uncomfortable.

There will be more to come, since I'm starting on another round of Cultivating Courage today.  Some of my Mondo Beyondo dreams are coming true, and I want to write more about that as well.  And I also have a new word for 2013 that I'll share very soon.  In the meantime, I'm not going to forget about last year's word, since I'm sure I'll still need some focus for this year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unraveling the mysteries

Yesterday was nice--the year got off to a pretty good start.  I didn't stay up late to usher in the new year on Monday night.  Instead, I went to bed when I was tired (G was too), and woke up refreshed.  Over nine hours of sleep, yay!  I had some quiet time with G while B slept in.  (Unlike her mother, B did manage to stay awake until midnight, along with J.)  G and I decided to make breakfast.  B had suggested scones as a good way to start the new year, and of course we had to have chocolate chips in them.

I turned to one of my favorite sources of scone recipes, King Arthur Flour.  I started with their master scone recipe, and tweaked it a little bit.  I substituted some white whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour.  To adjust for that, I went with the higher amount of liquid since the www flour absorbs more.  I used a bit of half & half (30g) that I had in the fridge, and 1% milk for the rest.  I used brown sugar instead of white, since I like the taste of it with the www flour.  For the chocolate chips, we went with mini chips this time--and not too many (a scant cup--140g).  The scones ended up having a subtly nutty quality about them from the www flour, and the chocolate bits were nice but not overpowering (the way full-sized chocolate chips can be sometimes).  And of course we added glaze.

The rest of our day was good--low-key.  We all went to Book People, a local independent bookstore in Austin.  Then we got some hot chocolate for the ride home.  Dinner was low-key as well.  I went with simpler meals for both Christmas & New Year's this year.  Nothing special, but they were things that everyone would eat without much complaint, which counts for  a lot.  I finally got the rest of my Christmas cookies baked, so they were dessert.  Once the girls were in bed, I thought about writing this blog post, but instead opted to watch some Big Bang Theory with J, which never fails to put me in a good mood.  Bring on the rest of 2013. =)

(edited to add--if you look closely at my photo, you can see my ingredients list; if you go by it, also add 3/4 tsp salt; I forgot to write that down)