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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cultural Exchange

One of the best things about the Foodie Penpal program is getting a window into others' lives and cultures.  This month's both from Soonya was a perfect example--Soonya's family is Mexican-Korean, and the box included foods from both cultures.

 Soonya included a wonderful handwritten note (how I envy those who have better handwriting than I do, which is pretty much everyone) explaining that the miso soup was great served with a rice mixture that included jasmine, brown and sweet rice along with barley.  The ramen packets were deliciously spicy--David cracked one open the day the box arrived and ate it with leftover brisket.
The honey, which is made in California, is from a Mexican-run plantation.  It includes a gorgeous piece of honeycomb and I am looking forward to having it in tea.
Soonya was also thoughtful enough to include two cans of cat food for Ingrid, who turned 18 two weeks ago.  My gorgeous Siamese cat has been with me since I was 22--almost half my life.  She's a little slower and grayer, but still sassy and a fabulous companion.  I'm lucky to have her.
Thanks again to Soonya for a fabulous box!

Friday, March 29, 2013

So That Happened

So March...well, that (has mostly) happened.  I've been doing a disappearing act because I'm in (not directing, but in) a show that is opening tonight.  It's a truly odd, wonderful play called Dead Man's Cell Phone, which is about a woman who happens to be sitting in a cafe next to a man who has died, picks up his cell phone and gets sucked into his life.  Ever thought technology has made it possible for us to be less connected?  That's the moral of this play.

I act so rarely anymore that I feel insecure about doing so, but even more so this time because I'm the lead.  I've never been the lead!  Last night we had an audience for the first time, and I hope most of them found the play as weird and wonderful as I do.

In the midst of the final couple of weeks of rehearsal, I received this month's foodie penpal box from Ida in Kansas.  I loved this box, and David pronounced it his favorite of the ones I've received so far.  It features--for the second month in a row, yay!--great regional goodies.  Ida hails from Kansas, not too terribly far from where I grew up, and included some great treats.

The Kansas wheat kernels are great fun--crunchy and salty, and I am thinking about ways to incorporate some of them into a sweet and salty granola-type bar.  I've been using the honey straws all week in tea to keep my voice going strong for the show.  And homemade jam!  I'm swooning, although I haven't cracked into it yet.

But the piece de resistance is the chicken poop lip balm.  I'll admit I gave that the side-eye when I first saw it--who wants to put bird poop on their lips?--but was relieved to find on the side of the container that it actually contains no poop.  Whew.  And since I lose containers of lip balm like they're going out of style, it's awesome to get another one.

Fingers crossed and knocking on wood for a good opening night!  When I have my life back a little next week, I'll be posting this month's Cake Slice cake--a delicious honey cake with almonds.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Regional Flair

I love receiving the monthly Foodie Penpal box...because you never know what will be inside.

This month I received a box from Karen in Michigan, who sent Michigan specialties, including rocky road fudge, thin, crispy ginger cookies, a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and a cherry honey mustard pretzel dip.  These goodies arrived on a cold, drizzly Friday afternoon, along with a note describing Michigan's many vineyards.  Karen explained that St. Julian's was a childhood favorite--I am secreting the bottle of grape juice away for Passover, which is coming up much faster than I would like--eek!

I swear David ate two cookies before I could
even get everything out of the box.
The real highlight here, though, is that package of ginger cookies.  They are thin and crispy at the edges, but soft toward the middle--absolute perfection.  David tore into them and pronounced them some of the best cookies he'd eaten in ages. 

My favorite part of participating in Foodie Penpals is receiving regional specialties--I would never have thought that Michigan cherries mixed into honey mustard could be so good!  Thanks to Karen for this wonderful box--I really appreciate it.

If you are interested in learning more about Foodie Penpals, head over to The Lean Green Bean.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mise en Place

I love the term mise en place, which is basically French for having your ingredients together (I almost said having something else together, but never mind--it's been that kind of week) before you start.

I thought I did--really!

This month's Cake Slice pick was a red velvet cake, but with a frosting that mixed creamy marscapone cheese with the more standard cream cheese.  Here's where it gets hairy.  I thought I had red gel food coloring, which is essential for getting that deep, beet red color into the cake.

But it turned out to be pink gel color.  Oops.  The result was a lovely cake that was a deep brown-red due to the cocoa.  It was moist and tender, with gorgeous crumb.  The frosting initially looked like it wasn't coming together, but then I turned the hand mixer up on high and it whipped right up. 

I'm not convinced the cake recipe was particularly special, but the marscapone-cream cheese frosting was:  creamy, fluffy and not too sweet once I slightly reduced the amount of sugar.  It's a keeper.

As a total aside, red velvet cake was one of the specialties of my paternal grandmother, who was a professional baker.  Every time I eat it I think of her.

Marscapone-Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. marscapone cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract.

Beat together the cream and marscapone cheeses with a hand mixer on medium speed until they are light and fluffy.  Add the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla and turn the mixer up to high.  Beat until the icing is fluffy and the cream is fully whipped.

This recipe produces enough frosting to spread between the layers of a two-layer cake, and to thinly cover the sides and top.  Due to the cream in it, it will need to be kept refrigerated.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


The day Freud's Last Session  closed at the end of January, I had a grand plan to take a cake to strike--the period after the last show where you take down the set and clean the theatre in preparation for the next show moving in.  It's a dusty, often sweaty, process, and I frequently end up covered in paint.  Once when I was painting the stage floor in preparation for the next show to move in, I literally painted myself into the center of the stage.  Handy I am not--but I can bake a cake.

The Cake Slice's pick for last month was a banana cake with coffee-walnut buttercream frosting, which sounded great even though I was a week behind in making it.  I didn't have time to make the marvelous buttercream before I had to leave for the theatre, nor did I have time to frost multiple layers of cake, so I triaged the recipe and threw the coffee and the walnuts into the cake itself and baked it in a bundt pan.  It was so tender, golden and lightly sweet that it was a huge hit at strike. 

Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake
Adapted fron Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

This was all that remained of the cake after strike.  David
ate it for breakfast the next morning.
 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (it took three for me)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 tbsp. strong coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a bundt pan by spritzing with nonstick baking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a small bowl, then set aside.  Combine the bananas and butter in another small bowl.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla on high speed until the butter becomes light and fluffy--about three minutes with my Kitchen-Aid.  Scrape down the bowl frequently.

Add the eggs one at a time, then turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the bananas.  Scrape the bowl thoroughly and add the walnuts and coffee;  mix until the batter is just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the bundt pan, leveling the top.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool the pan on a wire rack for half an hour, then unmold and cool for a bit longer.

Serves 12 to 16.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where Did It Go?

Has it really been a month since I last posted?  That holiday hangover obviously lasted a lot longer than expected.

I'm coming to the realization that with my current workload, not to mention theatre and, well, life, I probably am not going to be posting that often for the foreseeable future.  One of the things I considered was just hanging it up and not blogging anymore, but I realized that I would miss certain things like Foodie Penpals and the Cake Slice group, not to mention all the terrific feedback I've received over the past eighteen months.

So.  I'm going to try to be better about this.  It may be twice a month, but it certainly won't be every week.  I am also going to post photos of the other things I'm working on, such as the two shows I directed in the past four months.

And on to Foodie Penpals....

I received a box this month from Kyndra at Peace Love and Low Carb.  I'm excited to have my first penpal from the West Coast (just outside Seattle), and also to have lots of low-carb and low-calorie goodies in the first month of the new year.  While I think I managed to escape holiday weight gain, I still have about five pounds to lose from where I was at prior to gaining my thyroid-disease-related weight.

As a total aside, one of my pet peeves: When I was diagnosed in 2009, lots of people said "Oh, you get to go on thyroid medication and the weight will just fall off!  Lucky you!  I want to be diagnosed with it so I can go on Synthroid."  Uh, no it doesn't and no you don't.  End of rant.

But I digress, and back to the box:  it contained a delicious salsa, protein bars, dark chocolate, supplements and other goodies for a health January.  I apologize for the horrendous photo, but I was on my way out the door to catch a plane to St. Louis to see my parents and David snapped it with his iPhone.

That is bacon-flavored dental floss you see sitting on top
of the book.  It gave me a laugh.

Thanks Kyndra for the terrific healthy goodies!  If you are interested in participating in Foodie Penpals, go here.  Back soon with a great bundt cake recipe (definitely not low carb) and Golden Pond photos.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Hangover

I am having a serious holiday hangover.  Not an alcohol hangover, or a food hangover, but just general malaise related to the holidays.  It felt like the holiday season was longer than ever this year--I don't know whether it is that Hanukkah was early or the party rounds started even earlier.  All I know is that I have an absolute inability to make small talk anymore.  I need a vacation.

It probably doesn't help that I am directing a show these holidays and we open in ten days.  It's a very intellectual play called Freud's Last Session, which imagines a conversation that Freud would have had with C.S. Lewis (a/k/a the theologian who wrote the Narnia books).  I'm not sure I have the requisite brain cells for this show some days.

I did manage, though, to make this month's Cake Slice pick--Mississippi Mud cupcakes with marshmallow frosting.  The cupcakes made the rounds of two parties on Saturday, plus went to a rehearsal. 

The frosting took a little work, but the cupcakes were a snap--use your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and add about a cup of chopped pecans. 

As for the frosting?  Let's just say I ate spoonfuls of it out of the bowl.  I adapted the original recipe slightly to decrease the amount of sugar and increase the vanilla.

Marshmallow Frosting
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup water
4 large egg whites
1/8 tsp. fine salt
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Stir together the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small pot over medium heat.  Bring this to a boil, then cover with a lid and boil for an additional two minutes.

Uncover the pot and let it cook until a candy thermometer registers around 240 degrees, which is the soft ball stage for candy.

While the syrup is cooking, add the eggs whites and salt to the bowl of a stand mixture and whip them into firm peaks.  When the whites are at the firm peak stage, transfer the syrup to a measuring cup with a lip and then pour it gradually down the side of the mixing bowl. 

Keep whipping the egg white mixture until the peaks are very firm, then add the vanilla and whip the mixture again briefly.

Makes enough frosting for 24 cupcakes and some eating out of the bowl.