Chocolate Chip Challenge

choclate chip

In our household, you can tell the season by what we are eating in bed.

Summer nights are filled with pints of ice-cream and a spoon, but when the crisp smell of fall pervades the air, freshly baked cookies are my late-night snack of choice.

Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with a break-and-bake cookie, sometimes you want something just a bit more. I was pursuing the internet the other day, looking for a recipe that would impress my sugar-loving husband, when I came across a plethora of vehement opinions on the subject of chocolate chip cookie recipes. People have seriously loyalty when it comes to cookies.

The two most popular recipes I found were Jacques Torres’ recipe for The New York Times and the Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie in Baking Illustrated, and since we were headed to a Halloween party in a few days, I decided to conduct a bit of a chocolate chip cookie experiment.

To be honest, I expected the results to be inconclusive: Some people would prefer one, maybe a majority would go for the other.

Believe it or not, every single solitary person chose The New York Times cookie. The cookies were huge – a three and a half ounce mass of dough boasting an undercurrent of caramel flavor, studded with dark chocolate chips and topped with just a sprinkle of sea salt. The other cookies were good, sure – thick and gooey, especially delicious straight from the oven – but they lacked the complexity of the NYT cookies.

I can’t wait for freezing temperatures so I can snuggle under the comforter with a large glass of milk and one of these delicious monstrosities.

(Top photo via The New York Times)

Advertisements

On Nesting & Blueberry Rye Muffins

muffins 1

I spent most Sundays of the last month of my pregnancy baking.

It was August in Alabama; a sweltering season of triple-digit temperatures most choose to spend by the pool, ice-cold beverage in hand, but I was padding around the kitchen in an oversized Wilco tee,  up to my elbows in butter and sugar.

muffins 2

Part therapy, part nesting, baking was a way I could quiet all of the fears I had for my unborn child (what if the girl he likes doesn’t like him back? what if he is missing a major organ or an ear? what if he wants to play football and gets a concussion which leads to a personality disorder? what if he has a personality disorder?) and the way I could prepare for him, even when the nursery was finished and all the tiny clothes washed and folded. Now there were cookies, too.

Though most of my creations hovered just above edible, these muffins were my crowning glory. My husband, a wonderful chef, often teases my cooking and tries to ban me from the stove, but I’ll counter, Remember those muffins?, and he’ll admit, Yes, those were incredible.

The recipe is from a beautiful blog I stumbled onto, Local Milk. It seems a bit odd, with rye flour and olive oil, but follow it to a tee. If these muffins were scarfed down in August, I can’t imagine how good they’d be in November.

muffins 3

2013.

I suppose the general trend is to do a year summary post before the new year begins, but better a day late than never, right? 

 

This past year was one for the books. I rang in the New Year in Chicago and my Twenty-Third Year in New Orleans. I also went to New York (twice), Baltimore, Manchester, Nashville, Hilton Head, and Destin. I saw The National (twice, once at my very favorite venue), Bob Dylan (twice, once in VIP where I almost died of excitement), Wilco (twice, sensing a trend?), Passion Pit, the XX, Local Natives, Phosphorescent, The Lumineers, David Byrne & St. Vincent, and many, many more. I was less than a football field’s length from Paul McCartney, and I got to sing Let it Be surrounded by some of my very favorite people in the universe (oh, and now I get Beatle Mania. I was about to faint too.). I adopted a puppy who is, at this very moment, snuggled next to me breathing soft, sleepy puppy breaths onto my keyboard. I spent a magical Valentine’s Day at Hot & Hot Fish Club. I drank (many) bottles of incredible wine.

photo

The thing that all of this list-making and accomplishment-accruing doesn’t really account for though, is that 2013 was a bitch. All of the end of the year Facebook statuses (stati? statum?) and blog posts make me feel a bit lousy, but then I realized: any year can seem incredible in a highlight reel. The reality (for me, at least), is that the day-to-day, three-hundred-and-sixty-five living of a year is messy, unpredictable, and sometimes just downright difficult.

 

It’s also lovely, wonderful, and full incredible things, of course, but this isn’t always quite as apparent.

IMG_2423

I think it’s these difficult things that make us want to make resolutions to be healthier, happier, and wiser. I know many people who scoff at the idea of New Years’ resolutions–I’m sure that if it could be calculated, the percentage of people who actually accomplish what they set out to would be positively minuscule–but I don’t think it’s the making of the resolutions that really matters.

IMG_2120

The magic of a New Year is the hope of a fresh start, a clean slate (or iPad I suppose, though that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).

 

This year I want to read more than I watch television. I want to eat more kale than bacon. I want to sit and listen to albums from start to finish. I want to love excellently. I want to speak kindly. I want to learn how to do the splits.

 

Despite my best efforts, 2014 is going to be just as difficult, messy, and unpredictable as this past year, but you know what?

 

I can’t wait.

Phenomenal Millenials

The millennial generation–and I’m not hating, because these are my people–has a strange way of taking something completely ordinary and turning it into a full blown phenomenon.

Take mustaches, for example: once upon a time, mustaches were simply a thing of uncles and the 80’s. Nothing of note, particularly, just a peculiar facial hair fashion. Now, mustaches are everywhere. They’re on pencils, backpacks, mugs, shoes, scarves, flasks…you name it, I can find it at Urban Outfitters. Start ’em young with a mustache onesie if you’re so inclined. In a quick Google search, I found over 500 unique mustache onesies. Now that’s what I like to call options.

Over the last few years, people have turned to nature to nurture this obsessive compulsive complex. Pumpkin is the new mustache. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes have reached beverage fame, and almost every brewery and doughnut shop release a special pumpkin flavored treat. Mars, Inc. even reported recently, via the NYTimes, that they are releasing Pumpkin M&Ms citing “strong popularity among millennials” as the primary reason for the new candy. Sales of last years pumpkin products–none of this, understand, are ACTUAL pumpkins–was over $290 million in the United States alone. That’s a lot of pumpkin flavoring, folks.

In this rush on pumpkin, I feel that the other varieties of squash have been grossly underrepresented. Pumpkin had its heyday, and now it is time to move forward…

To butternut squash.IMG_1383

I have created the most amazing sandwich. I didn’t really create it, so much look desperately into my almost empty fridge and try my best to make something edible, but it turned out pretty great if I do say so myself. Juse take a butternut squash, roast it, then mash it up. Toast two pieces of bread, spread some pesto, sun dried tomatoes, and few flakes of parmesan cheese and the butternut squash on them and BOOM! you just made the best sandwich of your life.

IMG_1379

I wouldn’t normally encourage others to follow my cooking advice (I’ve been known to start more than a few fires. One time I actually had my entire building evacuated when I attempted to cook brownies, but that’s a whole different story for a whole different time), but since this one involves only limited oven time, I’d say you’re safe.

So let’s start a new craze! Butternut squash shaped flasks, anyone?

The Velvet Pants of Sweet Baby Jesus

Everybody has one good story.

It’s the story you pull out of your pocket at a party just when everyone’s resorted to talking about the food in just a little bit too much detail, or on a first date when things are headed south after you discover the only thing you two have in common is a mutual appreciation of the bread basket. It’s the sexy little black dress of a story that hugs your curves just a little too much; the story that, were it a player in MLB, would be batting a thousand.

This, my friends, is my That Story.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Once, in France, (kind of a pretentious opener, but stay with me) I went to a Food & Wine Exhibition (even more pretentious, right? It gets better). Really, “Food Exhibition” is simply another name for “I’m About To Head Back To the States So I Will Stuff My Face Like A Duck Destined For Paté,” it just flows better. My roommate, Katelyn, and I scurried up and down the aisles snacking on paté, cheese, olives, oysters, sweet breads, sour breads, chicken, sausage…you name it, we ate it. There was wine at this exhibition as well, but we didn’t get the courage up to ask for a tasting until a particularly rich (read: nasty) serving of paté.

We traipsed up and down the aisles, trying frantically to find something to get the awful taste of duck fat out of our mouths while simultaneously exuding a rich and wine-buyer-ly aura. After the first few stops we’d perfected our technique, and effectively slurped and sniffed our way through the vins de France.

Image

Finally, quite a few tastings later, we stopped by a booth manned by an older husband and wife team. He spotted the American in us immediately—presumably it was our giggles, accents, and general lack of self-restraint, which pretty much serves as an Old Glory tattoo on one’s forehead—and jovially invited us over, “Try my wvinne!” he said. We, of course, were happy to oblige.  While we were tasting, he prodded us about life back home (he had a great-nephew once removed living in Idaho, you see, and was curious if we had ever met him). When I told him I was from Alabama he got a twinkle in his eye, threw up his arms, and exclaimed (as if it was the most splendid thing to happen all day) “Ahhhhhh!! Tu est une raciste!!!”

Ahhhhh!! You are a racist!!

Though he seemed just tickled at the idea, I quickly demurred—“Non, non, non, non, non”—but he winked at me and grinned as if to say, “oh oui, bien sur, just our leettle racist secret.”

Now that we had this kinship, my sweet old racist wine man decided that we were up for the primo stuff.

He leaned in close between us and whispered, “do you vant to try the best wvine mademoiselles?” Well of course, we wanted the good wine! Bring it on! He dug a bottle out from the bottom of a tattered blue cooler in the back of his tent, and poured two heaping glasses. We swirled, sniffed, and slurped obligingly.

He motioned us in again and said in a stage whisper, “it’s like zee velvet pants of svweet baby Jesus.”

Um, right, yes just precisely what I was thinking. The velvet pants of sweet baby Jesus. NAIL ON THE HEAD.

So, if you ever need a new way to describe your favorite wine, I’ve got you covered.

Image

Forget blasé things like dry/acidic/fruity/nutty: look for notes of sweet baby Jesus’ velvet pants.

The Many Dangers of Joining a Book Club

Last December, I blithely decided to join a book club I saw advertised in Starbucks.  The poster was perfectly on-point to rope me in: “Book Club Looking For Members: wine-loving student preferred.” As I’m nothing if not a wine-adoring, book-loving student, I was in with both feet, arms, legs, and my entire bank account (which, to be fair, isn’t really saying that much).

Fast forward to January 4, and I’ve finally gotten up the initiative to send the email after discussing at length with anyone who will listed why this is the best thing to happen to me, ever. I’ve always wanted to be in a book club, see, since I was in first grade and my best friend Elizabeth and I would sneak into her attic and read Pride & Prejudice (I was quite the rebellious youngster).

I receive an email back the same day, and the author sounds lovely. The email is in my favorite font (Georgia) with my favorite valediction (warmly), and she (Laken) seems like the perfect curator for a book club. She’s more type-A than I could ever dream of, and has made a short survey to “gauge my interest” that asks normal things such as nights when I’m free, books that I like, and what I think the first book we read as a group should be. Though I am not a perfectionist, I am most definitely an overachiever, and so I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that my answers are absolutely, perfectly cool.

Ten nail-biting days later, and I have a response. The email, sent out to a list of undisclosed recipients, says that I have been accepted to the book club and that the book of the month will be Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which was totally my suggestion and that we will meet on January 29 at 6pm. Coincidentally, I’d inhaled it weeks before and could think of nothing better than sitting around with a glass of wine and my best friends that I didn’t quite know yet.

On to January 29, the fateful evening.  Six o’clock, in the dead of winter, means in nowhere Alabama that it is already completely dark and eerily much silent. I’m driving along, headlights on, following my GPS and singing along to Bob Dylan. I sail past fast food restaurants, pet supply stores, home depot, walmart, KFC until quite suddenly, I’m around absolutely nothing. Dead silence. No comforting neon lights. My next landmark, a trailer park with one lone light-pole, does little to assuage the uneasy feeling that is slowly creeping down my throat and settling in the pit of my stomach. I’m sure it will get nicer soon, I think, expecting a cheery neighborhood with a welcoming wooden sign, to pop up around the next deserted corner. Instead, I find, 15 minutes and several run-down shacks later, an abandoned dirt road, which my GPS is cheerily demanding that I take a left onto. This road, I should stress, has absolutely no lights and no concrete. It would be more fitting to call it a path, a path into the unlit wilderness.

Suddenly, the book on the seat has a new meaning. Gone Girl is no longer the thriller I had been so excited to discuss, but a rather foreboding omen.  I am the gone girl. I am sweating, my hands are shaking, and I can hear my heart thump, thump, thumping in my ears as I call my boyfriend. “The house is in the middle of nowhere and I don’t know where I am and I am afraid that the book is a sign and I’ve never met any of these people and what am I thinking this was a terrible idea,” I’m expecting him to say don’t be silly, you’re making these things up (I can be terribly skittish, you see, so there is the possibility that these ladies were not the ax murderers I believed them to be). However, he seems almost as concerned as I am when I tell him that I am in the middle of the woods, not in a subdivision as one would think. “She would have told you that it was in the middle of nowhere, if this was legitimate” he reasoned, and this sage advice was enough to make me turn straight around and head home.

But I’ve looked forward to this for so long; I must be imagining things. I’m sure once I turn down the unlit dirt path, the house will be well-lit and beautiful; they just haven’t gotten around to sprucing up the entrance.

So I do another u-turn, screw up every ounce of courage that exists in my convulsing body, and head once more down the dark, dark highway in search of the “road.” I find it, turn onto it, and see the house my GPS indicates. It’s a little shack with only two cars parked out front, and one light on inside. The curtains look like moth-eaten grandmother lace, and slats are falling off of the front.

I yelp, do the quickest u-turn known to man, and high-tail it home.

After I am safely in the confines of my boyfriend’s apartment, I tell the tale and we settle in for dinner. Suddenly he runs to the window, and looks back at me in fear: “There’s a group of girls outside, and they’re burning a huge pile of books!” he yells. I blanche.

“Just kidding.”

But it isn’t a joking matter, my friends, because that is the true story of how I was almost a real gone girl.