Goodbye 2011!

So much happened this year! 365 days ago, Dan and I were getting ready to board a plane back to snowy New Jersey, with paper deadlines and finals looming.

In January, we mostly huddled inside, trying to study for exams, prepare for thesis presentations, and finish off our second to last semester. At the end of the month, I took a trip down to Austin, TX with Princeton Crew for our annual winter training trip.

The team in Texas.
At that point, I was still in the second boat. Occasionally, our coach gave me a glimmer of hope that I might be considered for the top boat, but it was always fleeting. I also really got my weight under control in January/February, regularly hitting 129 pounds.

February began our final semester at Princeton. The month went by in a blur, with the exception of Dan's wonderful V-day surprise.

During February, I also worked my way into the top boat with the Princeton lightweights as we prepped for our first race.

March marked the start of our racing season, where we blew our competition out of the water. We immediately took the top of the national polls. It also marked a rapidly approach deadline: my senior thesis due date.

In early April, my thesis was handed in, and the beginning of the end began. The lightweights finished our undefeated regular season, Dan and I completed our final classes at Princeton, and we prepared for finals and graduation.

In May, we won the regional championships!

And then Dan and I graduated.

I got sick during graduation. Lots of people, incredibly high temperatures, and the stress of training were not a good combination. I stayed sick through June, when we raced at the national championships, and came in second.

Dan and I briefly parted ways while he visited home in Oregon and I flew to England to race one last time.

Rowing in England!
We were reunited in Berkeley shortly thereafter, where Dan began his search for work, and I started work as a rowing coach. We also began planning our wedding!

In August, Dan started work at an architecture firm in San Francisco. As we both got busier, the year began to march away a little bit more quickly.

September and October were spent looking for housing and making money. We finally moved into our new apartment in mid-November. We enjoyed Thanksgiving with Dan's parents, as they came down to help us move.

Thanksgiving on the beach! Only in California.
December brought frantic wedding planning, including the arrival of my wedding dress! (Yes, it still fit!) We also celebrated the holidays both in California with my family and in Oregon with Dan's.

Now, one year later, Dan and I are out on our own, and preparing for our wedding--a short two weeks away!

Stay tuned for New Year's Resolutions tomorrow!

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Easy Peasy Whole Wheat Bread

If you search for "things that have to be made with a KitchenAid", bread comes to the top of the list. This is, of course, not true (unless you're making brioche), but it sure is much easier. And this recipe couldn't get much easier.

Like all bread, this takes time. Try it some weekend. If you start it at breakfast, you'll have fresh from the oven, fluffy 100% whole wheat bread by lunch time.

The key to making the bread fluffy, instead of dense, is adding vital wheat gluten. Adding this protein helps make up for what whole wheat flour lacks--the ability to hold onto air bubbles. You can usually find it in the bulk section at your super market. Bob's Red Mill also sells a packaged version.

Note: stand mixer not required, but these directions call for one.

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100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
makes 1 large loaf

1.5c warm water
1.5t active dry yeast (1 packet)
pinch of sugar
3T oil
2T honey
3.25c whole wheat flour
3T vital wheat gluten
1.5t salt
milk or cream for brushing

1. In a small bowl, or in your liquid measuring cup, mix the warm water, yeast and sugar.
2. Put the remaining ingredients except milk/cream into the bowl of your stand mixer.
3. When the yeast is bubbly, add it to the stand mixer and mix with the paddle attachment until the dough just comes together. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
4. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, rest for 2 minutes, knead for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test.
5. Let the dough rise someplace warm for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
6. Gently fold the dough down (don't punch!! unless you like dense bread...), then shape it into a loaf in a greased, lined 9x5 loaf pan
7. Rise an additional 30 minutes to an hour, or until the bread has crested over the top of the pan. (It won't rise much more in the oven.)
8. Brush the top of the loaf with milk or cream, and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F. I also brushed the tops 10 minutes and 20 minutes into baking, so the top was nice and shiny.
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We ate this with a salad and homemade split pea soup. There's something so satisfying about an entirely homemade meal.. I can't wait until our balcony garden produces enough veggies for a homegrown, homemade meal!!

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A New Tradition

Last year, Dan and I started a new tradition. We celebrate Christmas Eve with my family, eating a traditional German feast of red cabbage, mashed potatoes and goose, followed by delicious desserts.

On Christmas morning, we trudge to the airport and make the two hour flight up to Oregon to meet Dan's parents at the airport. After Christmas dinner with Dan's family, we make the drive to his parents' house out by the coast for a week of relaxation.

This year, a most wonderful present was awaiting me under the tree--a brand new, beautiful KitchenAid. I've wanted a KitchenAid for a few years, but realized how impractical it would be in a college dorm. Although it was probably good for my waistline, I was disappointed every time a cake craving was thwarted by my inability to whip up a nice buttercream frosting.

So far, we've made chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, challah (my favorite kind of bread), whole wheat sandwich bread, and nutella cookies.

I think for lent this year, I might have to give up anything I could make with my KitchenAid instead, just so I have an excuse to use it more. Not that I've needed an excuse so far.

Happy baking! And I hope everybody is coming out of their holiday food coma, and ready for more. If not, trying whipping up a batch of nutella clouds (replace the peanut butter with nutella) by hand.

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Merry Christmas from OAK!

Heading to Oregon for Christmas take two!!!

Updates to follow.

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas!


Book Review: Tender by Nigel Slater

Back in Princeton, Dan and I visited one of the last remaining bookstores on earth. (Ok, that's a bit dramatic.) I think we spent an hour just perusing the shelves, Dan in the photography section, while I buried my nose in cookbooks.

The selection was absolutely overwhelming--hundreds of cookbooks, with thousands of recipes, and so few meals to cook. (We were eating in the dining halls.) I knew I didn't need any of them, but when I pulled this one off of the shelf, I was captivated.

I dragged Dan over to show him the dark, oversaturated photographs, paying homage to fresh, crisp, tender vegetables. Finally, somebody who understood!

The pages of this book are sectioned by vegetable--from your standard broccoli to the more unusual celeriac. Each section has a succulent description of the vegetable, graphic enough to make even the most ardent zucchini-hater reconsider, followed by planting tips for your backyard vegetable patch, and a collection of recipes.

Now, I know the English are famous for crappy cuisine, but I think Nigel Slater may be one of the few with some serious tastebuds. So far, we've made two recipes from the book, both of which were phenomenal. The remaining recipes look equally delicious, and I hope to attempt many soon.

Be warned that these are not recipes for the faint of heart--he is not shy with the heavy cream--or those new to the kitchen, as the instructions can be quite vague.

- Amazing photographs and descriptions, all of which make you want to eat more vegetables
- Creative and classic recipes, plus notes on how/when to eat them
- Great organization, and clear layout

- Many of the recipes rely on meat and fat, so this is not for strict vegetarians or people on a diet
- The recipes can be a bit vague in places (e.g. "cook as you see fit")

Overall, I'd recommend Tender to any carnivores trying to eat more vegetables, as well as anybody who's serious about growing their own vegetables. If you don't eat meat at least occasionally or garden, it's probably not worth the $25.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Tuiles and Trees

Earlier this week, Dan and I decorated our first Christmas tree together!

Apparently, if you wait until the week of Christmas to decorate your tree, all of the ornaments go on sale. We decided to do a classy tree, with glass ball ornaments.. ok so they're mostly "shatterproof" glass, aka plastic.

That same evening, I tested the good graces of my La Farine apron once again. Flipping through my cookie book, I scanned ingredient lists to find something I could actually make. (A lot of the recipes call for cream of tartar.. probably a good thing we don't have any, or Dan and I would eat way too many cookies.)

I stumbled upon tuiles, a super thin wafer cookie that is incredibly pliable when hot, and very stiff and crunchy when cooled. They also look a lot like GIANT potato chips.

The recipe toted the difficulty of making these cookies--not only do they involve an unusual shaping method, they also require precise removal from the oven. The line between crisp and chewy is almost as thin as the line between crisp and burnt.

Fortunately, I had luck on my side.

Well, except on this batch.. I used parchment paper instead of aluminum foil, because I like to experiment. Outcome: cookie fail.

I'm not going to give you a recipe, because you should really just go buy the book. I will give you some advice, however:
1. Use aluminum foil, dull side up, liberally buttered. Alice Medrich claims silicone mats work as well--I don't yet have silicone mats with which to test, but I trust her.
2. After 10 minutes in the oven, check often.
3. Once they're out of the oven, work fast. On your first batch, I recommend making just one or two cookies, so you see how they behave right out of the oven. From there, you can increase the size of your batches.
4. Feel free to re-use aluminum foil, just make sure to re-butter!

Happy baking!

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Split Pea Soup: Peas Optional

In an effort to declutter, I sold a number of old books to our local used bookstore, Moe's. In addition to making space for the books I'll actually read, they gave me Moe's money to spend in the store.

I spent a long time browsing (as I do in all stores), and eventually ended up in the cookbook section. (Somehow, I always end up there--like father, like daughter.) As I flipped through the various books, mostly from long disproven fad diets, I saw the yellowed spine of a small, unassuming, paperback book.

<Image Source>
I'd heard the name before, but never bothered to delve deeper. When I opened the pages, I was immediately enchanted--the recipes were all about the vegetables. They were simple, varied, fresh, savory, delicious.. I bought it.

Of course, it has taken me months to actually read its contents, and select a trial recipe: split pea soup. Dan and I made this last night and it was marvelous. The soup is thick, hearty, filling, and flavorful. 

Due to Dan's dislike of mustard and vinegar, I had to alter the recipe somewhat. If you do not have such an aversion to mustard, a squirt of Dijon upon servings does wonders to brighten the flavors and tickle your tongue.

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Split Pea Soup
serves 4 when served with bread
based on Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook

2 qt. slow cooker (or a big pot and lots of time)
sharp knife
frying pan
stirring utensil

1.5c dry green split peas
3.5c water
1 bay leaf
1t salt

2T oil
0.5 onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
1 potato, thinly sliced (2-3mm thick)
2c sliced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
0.5c chopped tomatoes
0.25t thyme

0.25c freshly chopped parsley
Dijon mustard, pepper for serving

1. In the slow cooker, combine the split peas, water, bay leaf and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. (If you don't have a slow cooker, simply simmer this, covered, for 3-4 hours.)
2. Saute the onion, celery, potato and carrots in the oil until the potato and carrot begin to brown slightly. Add the garlic and chopped tomatoes; saute for an additional 5 minutes. (This looked good enough to eat plain!!! I may make this for lunch some day.)
3. Add the vegetable mixture to the slow cooker, along with the thyme. Let cook for an additional 15 minute.
4. Just before serving, add the mustard and parsley. Serve with toasted hunks of bread, in warm bowls.
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The ingredient list is long, but you probably have most of the things on the list already. The process couldn't be simpler.

Each serving has just under 400 calories, with around 20g of protein, and less than 10g of fat. (You could cut the fat by using just 1T of oil.)

If you're a carnivore, chorizo would be good in this, as would the more traditional ham. (Great way to use leftover Christmas ham!!!)

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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La Farine Challenge

This story is a little bit haphazard, but bear with me.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to bake muffins. Instead I ended up setting off the smoke alarm, spilling burnt butter all over the oven floor, and throwing out perfectly good cranberries. Not a good start to our first apartment.

To remedy the situation, and bolster my spirits, Dan purchased a T-shirt from my favorite bakery--La Farine. My next baking adventure, wearing the T-shirt, was much more successful--the banana bread disappeared within 24 hours.

The success was clearly due to the good graces of the La Farine fairy. To ensure future baking success, Dan went on a search to find a La Farine apron, also sold in their stores. 

Unfortunately, there was only one left--an apron that had graced the mannequin of their Fruitvale location. Having only frequented their Solano, Piedmont and College Avenue stores, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to visit a new location, and sample the goods.

The apron is awesome--I made brownies from Alice Medrich's cookie book last night. There are very few brownies remaining. (Oops.)

We also determined that it's impossible to compare La Farine products from different stores without side-by-side comparisons. Over the next few months, we plan to acquire the follow baked goods from various La Farine's for comparison:
- sour baguette
- sour batard
- an assortment of cookies (bisous, chocolate pecan, peanut butter, etc.)
- chocolatine
- frangipane

Of course, the closest La Farine is approximately 4 miles from our apartment.. a journey that must be accomplished by bicycle. (This is our attempt to neutralize the calories of french pastries. Not sure that's possible.)

We'll keep you posted on our progress! And the apron should make an appearance in some upcoming photos.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment or emailing me at piquantprose [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Butternut Squash

Maybe your knives are sharper than mine, but I think butternut squash is a pain to prep. Most recipes call for peeled, cubed squash, which just counts me out right away.

So when I came across a recipe in the Moosewood cookbook for butternut squash soup with pre-cooked squash, I went for it. (Especially necessary seeing as I'd already cooked the squash just to get it off my counter.)

One of the biggest problems with butternut squash is its overwhelming sweetness. The flavor is too strong to conceal in sweets, and it's too sweet to hide in savory dishes. (We tried a butternut squash chili--it was too sweet to be hearty chili.)

This recipe counters that with the addition of mushrooms and curry powder.

P.S. No blender required!!!

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Butternut Squash Mushroom Soup
serves 4
adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

3T butter
0.5 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
6-10 medium brown mushrooms, sliced
1T cumin seeds
2T curry powder
1c vegetable stock
1c water
1 butternut squash, pre-cooked to softness and scooped from its skin
salt + pepper

1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add the onions and a dash of salt, stirring to coat in butter and cooking until just softening.
2. Add the celery and carrot, stir and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and cumin seeds, stirring every minute or two, and cooking until the mushrooms are browned and fond is forming on the bottom of the pan
4. Add curry powder, stock and water, scraping the fond off the bottom of the pan. Stir to coat the veggies and mix the curry.
5. Add the butternut squash and stir again. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, periodically mashing the squash against the side of the pan with a spatula (unless you want chunkier soup).
6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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Adventures in our new kitchen!

Dan and I have been cooking on our own for a few weeks now, and we've been getting along nicely. Having a gas stove has helped me with the transition. (I grew up cooking with gas, so I find electric very confusing.. I always look below the pan to see how hot the flame is.)

A few notes:
1. Menu planning is super helpful. We're on a pretty tight budget, which means we try to use everything we buy--that's a lot easier to do when you have a plan for what to buy. We still have a few grapefruit languishing in the back of the fridge, but we're using up our produce appropriately.

2. Slow cookers are AWESOME. Dan and I generally don't make it home from work/gym until around 7:30 or 8pm. (Last night, we finished our workout at 9!!!) It's really nice having dinner ready to go when you get home. We also use it for oatmeal!

So far, we've made oatmeal, beans, lentil soup and chicken tortilla soup. I expect it will continue to get heavily used.

3. I'm out of practice baking!! I tried to make muffins this weekend, and ended up setting off the smoke alarm. The butter/sugar didn't incorporate very well, and ended up bubbling over the edge of the muffin pan onto the oven floor. I spent 30 minutes scrubbing out our oven today, and it's finally usable again.

4. Toasters are awesome--and prevent a lot of burnt bread.

We're continuing to enjoy our first month cooking on our own--it's a terribly fun adventure.

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