Beyond Nourishment: Eating To Create An Experience

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On our recent weekend getaway to Oregon, I really wanted to let myself live in the moment. I disconnected myself from work communication and tried not to think about blog posts, pastry orders, or responsibility in general. I wanted to sink into our snacks, our meals, and the planning process between all of them. I wanted to actively get into the culture and cuisine for whatever we were having. For example, we stopped at Kenny & Zuke’s, a Jewish delicatessen next door to the Ace Hotel, where we were staying. I read the whole menu. I looked at all of the decor, kept my phone in my purse (read: no pics to prove it), and just really wanted to live it up. Living it up meant I got a warm, toasted caraway-filled pumpernickel bagel (SO much caraway, it was amazing), whitefish salad, herring, and lox. And lots of mustard. Russell had pastrami on Jewish rye. It was definitely not a fancy meal, but it was an awesome experience. Every part of that restaurant made me feel like I was somewhere special; somewhere unique that people cared about.

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Later that night, we stopped at Kachka, a Russian restaurant that I had been wanting to try. They serve vodka by the gram, have several kinds of caviar, blini, pomegranate syrup over Russian pancakes, the most amazing propaganda decor - and they have dumplings. We had savory dumplings that were really lovely. They were great. But then, then we had the sweet dumplings, varenyky. The only reason I ordered the varenyky with sour Oregon cherries was because they were out of the pancakes with pomegranate syrup. They were definitely my second choice. But what happened next was amazing. They were absolutely insane. The dough was soft and squishy - totally fresh and unctuous. The filling was hardly sweet, with really tart, soft, perfectly cooked cherries. They were just barely laced with a tart butter sauce, and dusted with chiffonades of mint and basil. The absolute and extreme joy I felt and experienced when I ate each of those cherry dumplings was incredible. And it’s hard for me to explain. I felt like I was both at a Michelin-starred restaurant because the execution was so perfect, but also like I was at a Russian grandmother’s kitchen table. 

The entire environment at Kachka lead up to the experience with these dumplings. It was a no-bullshit situation. We were at a dark table with standard-looking, unremarkable eastern European/Russian plastic tablecloths like my Polish grandmother uses, lots of silver work in the glassware and interior design, and beautiful lace pieces were strategically placed throughout. The menu didn’t have definitions. You either figured it out, didn’t care what you were getting, or asked your server. I faked knowing what I was ordering a couple of times. But that made it so much more fun! I wasn’t being catered to - I was given a proper Russian experience. I got real-deal food with a real-deal environment. This is a special experience that I don’t think one gets to experience often.

My giddiness was not only because of the food or the place. I want to set the bar higher for my dining. I want to demand a great experience. I deserve it - we all do. I deserve to go out of my way to find something that really satisfies me. I deserve to put away my phone, think about active, fun dinner conversation. My fellow diners deserve to be engaged in witty, interesting stories and they deserve to have bites of what I ordered! As Pilar Guzmán says, taste is our most primal memory keeper. So why don't we make that experience more special, if we are really just running around making memories at every meal?

We believe that good food can not only anchor a day but inspire a journey. The way a meal - and the permission to drink a midday bottle of rosé - bookends an afternoon of browsing and sightseeing is the very definition of vacation.

Taste, second only to olfactory senses, is our most primal memory keeper. Experiencing a dish in context forever changes your impression of not just the cuisine but of culture itself.
— Pilar Guzmán, Editor in Chief, Condé Nast Traveler

I know none of us can afford the time or finances to make every snack and meal a really special occasion - or something incredibly elaborate. But what we can do is to really think about what we are eating and try to make some kind of experience out of it. Does that mean just using nicer cloth napkins, as opposed to sloppily wiping your mouth with a paper towel? Maybe. Does it mean actively thinking of interesting things to talk about with a dining partner? Yeah, for sure. I was in a hurry this morning, before leaving the house, but I sat down with my almost-burned English muffin and eggs, and I really took a good look at it and my surroundings, I took a deep breath, and I ate breakfast.

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But on a larger scale, we owe it to ourselves to seek out dining experiences that challenge us and excite us. Our days are slipping by very quickly, and if we don't sink into some of the minutes during those days, what's the point? I've spent too many days rushing. I've spent too many meals being unsatisfied. We deserve to seek out opportunities for great food and we deserve for restaurants to give us a fantasy experience. 

I know I want that. Don't you?

Photography Credits: Nicole Franzen Photgraphy, Willamette Week, 101 cookbooks

His and Hers Sweets: Beer Lovers!

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How can I count the ways of my love for Candace and Lindsay of Lovestru.ck Weddings and Events? They are unbelievably organized, on top of the latest trends, very sweet and easy to work with, and just all around great gals. And, they have built an incredibly successful business that brings joy and love to all of their clients. They designed and coordinated our wedding last February and I truly can't imagine what the day would've been like without them! Now I have the pleasure of working as a vendor at some of their events, which is also a dream come true. I can't tout their skills enough.

I was so excited when they approached me about doing a wedding dessert blog series together. Their styling + my pastries? Obviously that is a match made in heaven. Each month, I will create two desserts based on a pre-determined theme. One pastry will be more masculine (in texture, shape, ingredients, etc.), and one will be more feminine. I think this will be a great way to re-imagine how we see wedding desserts - and to see how these pastries play together on a theme.

Photography by Jenny Rawson.

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About the Pastries:

When we started talking about this shoot, my first thoughts went to Oktoberfest and the flavors around the fall harvest. I wanted to put beer in everything, but it just didn’t seem right. If you’re already drinking beer, do you need to eat it, too? I went to some of my greatest memories in Belgium, with one of my best friends. We drank beer and ate sweets on a really brisk night. We had paper cones filledoliebollen, covered in mountains of powdered sugar, from a street fair. I added lemon zest and Nebraska City apples to these free-form doughnuts to lighten them a little. The speculoos were inspired by a bakery in Bruges – with deep flavors of cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg. So amazing. To take them beyond the traditional version, I made them into little sandwiches with salted caramel buttercream, some dark Belgian chocolate, and roasted pistachios. Sitting down with a big glass of my favorite Belgian beer and these sweets would be an autumn dream come true for me.

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About the Styling:

We love styling dessert displays for our clients’ weddings, so we’ve amassed a large collection of different food presentation items over the years. Our beer-themed pastry shoot allowed us to incorporate materials you’d see in your favorite pub such as dark natural wood and slate. I pictured our beer lovers enjoying a picnic with their favorite microbrew, so we made colorful paper cones for the oliebollen to fit perfectly into a four-pack beer carrier.

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Are you thoroughly in love yet?! Can't wait for you to see what's coming up next month!

Thursday Sweets: 10.16.2014

Vegan pumpkin doughnuts with cardamom + cinnamon. Pumpkin seeds and candied hibiscus.

Vegan pumpkin doughnuts with cardamom + cinnamon. Pumpkin seeds and candied hibiscus.

This week in news: vegan pumpkin doughnuts are sweeping the nation! Or, at least, my kitchen and Lincoln. You guys are LOVING IT. I couldn't have been more excited to send off three dozen of the little cuties to a 6am birthday yoga class at Lotus House of Yoga on Wednesday. It was a super sweet surprise from one romantic partner, to another, for his birthday! So sweet. I obviously love when people treat each other.

In other awesome news, I added an F.A.Q. section to my site. I want to make an effort to share more about who I am with you - and that probably means everyone should know how I really feel about the Fast and Furious series of movies. 

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Keeping this short today - we are heading to Oregon for a surprise hubby birthday trip tomorrow! I will be cheering on the Portland Timbers, by his side, trying to remember/learn their 25,000 different chants. 

Should you stock up on chocolate because of Ebola? 

John Oliver + pumpkin spice. Lolz. Lolz. Lolz.

A Beautiful Mess has some overwhelming DIY projects. But here's one, and its outcome, that I want to get behind.

A follow-up to DIY projects: My house is a design nightmare, but I could def see myself adding some magic to it!

Michelle Obama wins again. Too bad she can't up her husband's ratings!

Obviously I love The Blogcademy. Do you have some business dreams you just can't let go? Find them in 2015 for the push YOU NEED.

I am LOVING Anya von Bremzen lately. Try her recipe for kubeliaka.

We are not JUST female chefs.

Nordic Bakery: Dairy-Free Swedish Tosca Cake

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It is definitely safe for you to say that I am currently pretty obsessed with Scandinavian sweets. I love Scandinavian design, too, but seriously, for the life of me, that will just never be a part of what I have going on. I live in a 100-year-old house and spending money on cute minimalistic pieces would be a waste, because they would inevitably end up with chocolate and dog hair on them. Just some #realtalk, okay? So, I will stick to sweets and spices. Not really sure how I ended up on this kick, other than I love cardamom a lot and Scandinavian sweets are really homey and just look really beautiful to me. I don't have a connection to Scandinavia through my ancestry, though I have several friends with Norwegian heritage. 

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Our recent trip to Minneapolis was amazing, and we also ended up trying loads of Scandinavian treats, likely because there is a huge population of Swedish and Norwegian people. The restaurants pay huge homage to this culture. At an indoor market, I found a little bakery with a gift shop attached that sold lots of Scandinavian sweets and the kitschiest little trinkets. And also just tons and tons of lingonberry preserves. So many. Seriously. The one thing I did buy was the Nordic Bakery cookbook. I stood in the shop for about ten minutes ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over every page and started to take pictures of some recipes. We walked away to go to a different shop, and then I had a few more recipes I decided I needed pictures of. At that point, I just figured it would be stupid not to buy it. The woman running this shop was the cutest. I said I didn't need a bag for my book, and she just giggled. "A Swedish man was here this morning and he said the same thing, in Swedish." She repeated what he had said. It was adorable. "Isn't that so cute?," she asked. Of course it was adorable!!!! She kept giggling. There was a bucket labeled "LINGONBERRY PRESERVES" on a table behind her. It was obviously in use and probably held about 20 pounds of preserves. I would probs try to work for her if  I lived in Minneapolis. Instead, I just have this amazing book now! Yay!

Nordic Bakery is a little shop in London, England. They do dark rye breads, traditional Scandinavian pastries, lots of little sandwiches, etc. The breakfast rolls other sweet rolls basically make me drool immensely. If you haven't checked them out, or their cookbook, you really should. I immediately made their signature Tosca Cake. It's a rich eggy, buttery cake with a crunchy caramel-almond topping. I wanted to keep the richness, but take out the diary to keep my belly happy. With the help of lots of coconut oil, that happened!

Recipe for Tosca Cake, altered from Nordic Bakery version

4 eggs

3/4 c full-fat coconut milk (canned)

6 1/2 Tbsp melted coconut oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp baking powder

2 c all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 400F. Grease a 10" springform pan.

Whisk the eggs and sugar until the mixture is foamy and thick. I use a stand mixer for this because I value my arms, but by all means, do this by hand for your upper body workout. This takes about 10 minutes with a mixer. Add the coconut milk, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Mix to combine. Add the flour and baking powder and fold with a rubber spatula to combine. Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for about 40 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the topping.

Tosca Cake Topping

3 Tbsp coconut oil

1/2 c granulated sugar

2 Tbsp full-fat coconut milk (canned)

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

3/4 c sliced almonds

Put all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 7 minutes, until boiling. Cook on the boil for two minutes. 

Remove the baked cake from the oven and pour the Tosca topping over the cake. Spread it to be even. Put back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes until it is bubbly and caramelized. Once done, let cool for about 30 minutes before removing from the pan. Dust with powdered sugar for ultimate delicious.

 

Vegan Pear Swirl Rolls + Cinnamon Frosting

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To be honest with you: It was only 45 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, but I still put on a really huge, bulky, high-necked sweater. And it feels amazing. I don't care that it'll probably end up being 59 degrees today. I do what I want! And, I may or may not be ordering a brand spanking new Icelandic sweater. Just couldn't find the right one when we were there in February, so I'm ordering from a sweet woman in Reykjavik who customizes them for each order. Expensive? Yes. But I consider this an investment in my well being, warmth, and overall happiness.

I originally thought to put fruit in cinnamon roll-type things because of a post about fig and dark chocolate cinnamon buns. Come on, how great does that sound? But the truth is, I don't love chocolate and I especially don't like chunks of it baked into things I'm eating. The chunks get stuck in my teach and it's just awful. I like the dough part of things. So, anyway, ditched the chocolate and made this recipe more my own. Plus, when you have vegan buttercream hanging around, you add cinnamon to it and spread it on whatever you're making.

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A note on the pears in this recipe: I have been honored to receive a big bag of these sweet jewels every year (for the past three or so) from my friends' mother. They have a farm with lots of fruit trees, a great garden, cows, CHRISTMAS TREES, and the happiest home. It's so warm and wonderful. The pears are really delicious, but they are also so special because Jane is a part of them and because I feel really lucky to have them shared with me. 

So, make these lil' babies and have a good weekend.

Recipe - Buns

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

3/4 c full fat coconut milk (can)

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 c brown sugar

1 1/2 c diced fruit (I used pear)

3 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat the milk to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Add in the sugar, oil, and yeast. Let sit and bubble for about five minutes - or until it sounds appropriately yeasty and is looking alive. Add in the flour and salt. Mix together with a wooden spoon until it's thick enough that you have to switch to your hands. Knead for about five minutes until the dough is nice and smooth. Add more flour if necessary. Form into a ball and put into a greased bowl to rise in a warm area for about 40 minutes, or until it doubles in size. 

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Punch down the dough and roll it out to a about 1/4" thick rectangle. Spread 4 Tbsp olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle on brown sugar, cinnamon, and fruit. Roll up the dough like regular cinnamon rolls. Cut into 8 pieces and put into a greased baking dish that fits them all comfortably. I used a lasagne pan and a monkey bread pan (doubled the recipe). Let the finished, unbaked cinnamon rolls sit on top of the warm oven for about 20 minutes, to let it rise a bit more. Then bake for 30 minutes, or until nice and golden brown. Let cool while you prepare the frosting.

Vegan Cinnamon Buttercream

1/4 c nonhydrogenated, GMO-free shortening

1/4 c vegan butter

2 c powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 c non-dairy milk

1  1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream together the shortening and vegan butter until light and fluffy. Add in powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix for about 2 minutes until combined and fluffy. Add in non-dairy milk and mix with your mixer for another 3 minutes, until very fluffy. Spread over your lovely little cinnamon buns.

Thursday Sweets // 10.09.2014

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This weekend is a wedding I've been looking forward to for a while. The bride is a friend from middle school, though we really hadn't kept in touch. I can't wait for it!!!! The beautifulness and deliciousness is going to blow everyone away. Truly!

I had two really wonderful Random Act of Pastry orders this week. On Sunday, I delivered a couple dozen hearty vegan cookies for a couple who was driving through town. They were touring The International Quilt Study Center, on their way to Yellowstone for three weeks of camping and hiking. The gal's mom follows the blog and sent me an e-mail last week, asking if I could drop something by the Quilt Center for them - as a surprise. Apparently the cookies went over really well! The only bad part of this was not seeing their faces when they got the cookies. 

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Sidenote: If you are ever passing through town, make it a point to stop by the Quilt Study Center. It's so awesome, and the building itself is really beautiful and very thoughtful.

Another order was from a new customer who was at the Ignite Lincoln event. She wanted to commit a Random Act of Pastry and called to ask if I could deliver a surprise birthday cake to one of her studio assistants. She would be out of town her her assistant's birthday, but wanted to have this surprise cake for her. How. Awesome. Is. That. ?!?! I made a four-layer Belgian chocolate cake with Italian espresso buttercream - topped it off with some chocolate-buckwheat, pomegranate, candied hibiscus, and honeycomb (!!!). I knocked on the door and asked for the birthday gal. Told her I had a birthday cake for her. And watched her jaw just drop. It was so great! I love that someone thought far enough in advance to make this happen. I felt like a true pastry fairy. It was amazing.

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I have a super secret order for the beginning of next week that is ALSO a Random Act of Pastry. I may or may not have roasted some local chestnuts this morning for a maple-vanilla chestnut paste for this order. You're right: I did. I received my own lil' random act o' love from the hubby yesterday to celebrate our, as he coined it in the card, "smooch-a-versary". I LOVE the unopened blossoms.

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Oh, and I'm also going to Mexico and to Oregon next week. Livin' life, you know how it goes!

Please enjoy these links to awesome things that exist around our Internet. I always learn a little something from lists like these that my fave bloggers post. If I don't find anything interesting to share with you, I just won't make a list. Not gonna give you a bunch of crap, y'all.

Love you!

What would you eat for breakfast as a kid in Brazil? Turkey?

Just learned about this blog by the BADASS 18-year-old British gal, Izy. She also just released her first cookbook. In awe.

My former chef, Johnny Iuzzini, just released his second book, Sugar Rush! Buy it!

Sesame Tahini Baath Cake? Yup.

One of THE BEST pastry cookbooks I have ever seen.

Being A Chef Doesn't Make You An Agent For Social Change.

Should we be eating more ugly fruit? Definitely, you guys. 

This has nothing to do with food, but it's my favorite new hair product. The volume! Only use it at your roots.

10 Sweets To Make + Eat During Mercury Retrograde

Raw Brownies, Photo Credit: My New Roots

Raw Brownies, Photo Credit: My New Roots

I have to start this post with by saying that I do not really abide by astrological things - as in, I do not know what a lot of the phrases mean (i.e. "moon rising", etc.) and I don't stay incredibly up-to-date. I do know that I am a Scorpio, hubby is a Scorpio and basically, we definitely fit the rules of your typical Scorpio. I also know that weird shit happens a lot, and that full moons bring weird shit, too. I will also say that I've read up on Mercury retrograde when it's come around the last few times and... it has totally resonated with me. 

Here's a short 'n' sweet explanation on what we're dealing with:

Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, truth and travel, so when the planet goes retrograde — which means that it looks like it’s going backwards in the sky — all those things go backwards. They start to get ugly and tangled up. Mercury isn’t really going backwards, it’s just hanging out by the sun, but from Earth, that makes it look like it’s in reverse. It typically runs for a couple of weeks, a few times a year.
— Gala Darling, www.galadarling.com

This essentially means that your life is going to be flipped on its head. People are going to be acting super crazy, you're going to get in crazy fights, your travel plans will likely be ruined, and you shouldn't be trusted with any big decisions. Sounds fun, right? So in a time like this (October 4-25, 2014), you gotta find some constants. You need comfort and you need it now. Trying wild new things could be great, but after all the wild stuff that is probably going to happen to you, I'm guessing a big slice of chocolate cake will sound better than a walnut tart with persimmon custard and saffron-walnut crumble (BUT WOW THAT ACTUALLY SOUNDS REALLY AMAZING I HAVE TO MAKE IT).

Banana Chocolate Cake, Photo Credit: Green Kitchen Stories

Banana Chocolate Cake, Photo Credit: Green Kitchen Stories

Marzipan Challah, Photo Credit: My Name Is Yeh

Marzipan Challah, Photo Credit: My Name Is Yeh

Here's a quick list of sweets you should consider making and eating. They are simple, with few ingredients and techniques required. No matter how weird your day is, I can almost guarantee these will work out for you.

  1. Banana Almond Chocolate Cake - Deep, dark, and chocolatey - but isn't going to weigh you down. You need to be able to think on your feet! Double the recipe if it's been an especially rough day.
  2. Vegan Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies - Straight up deliciousness that should be eaten piping hot, from the oven - with a big mug of hot chai with coconut milk. In my opinion.
  3. Marzipan Challah - Make this on a Saturday afternoon after a week when everything has gone wrong. When the world is upside-down and you just need something to do with your hands. Make this because I want you to tell me how amazing it is.
  4. Vegan Pumpkin Cake With Walnuts - It's fall. This is all you want. 
  5. Vegan Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies - When you are running low on ingredients for non-vegan cookies (i.e. butter, eggs) and need to get serious. Make these cookies.
  6. Almost-Raw, Vegan Chocolate Tart - You don't bake it and it's basically healthy. This will satisfy your deepest chocolate cravings. The ones I know you have and I know you want to satisfy.
  7. Vegan, Gluten-Free Toffee Cinnamon Cookie Bars - I want to eat these hot out of the oven, mostly just eating the crunchy edges so much that my husband gets really irritated because I'm "not the only one who likes the crunchy parts!!". 
  8. Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookie - Replace the raisins with apricots, add walnuts, some more cinnamon... do whatever you want. This recipe wil NOT fail you.
  9. German Sunken Apple Honey Cake - Use a vegan butter replacer and this could be dairy-free, but it is not vegan. Looks amazing and will have you standing back, looking at your masterpiece, in awe. This is a thing to accomplish today.
  10. The Raw Brownie - Vegan, gluten-free, amazing. I was texting all my friends the fist time I made and tried these. "You won't believe it! They're even better than regular brownies! No, seriously!" You do need a food processor for this recipe, but it is easy as pie from there.