Tag Archives: friendship

More Baking Therapy

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My friends are part of my family. They mean the world to me and I have endless love for them. So when they are hurting and heartbroken because life can be cruel sometimes, I take it personally. I want to sit on the couch and hold their hand and just be with them, so they don’t have to be in that scary and dark place alone. Except for those pesky hundreds of miles that separate us.

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I have a friend suffering a devastating loss and it upsets me. Because of the pain that I cannot take away and because there is so little I can do, amplified because I am not there during this difficult time. I have ceased to be amazed at how adult my life as become, which I suppose is a perfect example of my adultness. The problems that you fret over – they are the big ones, the ones with no good solutions and they weigh heavily upon me.

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So I bake. It is my therapy. Or perhaps, more realistically, my escape. To have a goal, a blueprint that you can see through to the end. Having complete control. Knowing the variables. My mother thinks that I am some frou-frou cook, making everything from scratch, taking the hard (and time-consuming) way to do things. I think she may have a point. Sure, I could make something easier, with fewer steps or more store-bought ingredients, but that’s not me. I like that I can choose the hard route. I like the process, the transformation of whole foods into something else. Cracking the eggs, straining the puree, using any and all of my extensive collection of measuring spoons. Lugging my gorgeous green stand mixer from the dining room to the kitchen counter. Dirtying every pot, mixing bowl and mesh strainer. Pouring a glass bourbon, and then a another one to help dull the edge of life. Because some nights you just need to bake until 1:30 in the morning. Even if it is a Tuesday night.

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I’ve had my eye on this recipe for these Pomegranate Clove Thumbprint Cookies every since I got my hands on Ripe by Cheryl Sternman Rule over the past summer. Then I spied a quirky Cranberry Curd recipe in a recent issue of Cooking Light and my gut told me they had to go together. My gut doesn’t usually steer me wrong and this is no exception. Don’t forget the pomegranate arils – they make the cookies unexpected and delightful. And the color? It simply speaks for itself.

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If you are lucky enough to have your friends nearby, invite them over and share an afternoon, some hugs and these cookies. Be warned however – they don’t travel well (I suspect gushy nature of the curd is at fault), which is why dear friend, I didn’t send them your way. Please forgive me.

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Pomegranate Clove Thumbprint Cookies with Cranberry Curd

The recipe for the cranberry curd makes about 3 cups of curd – way, way more than you need for these cookies. Seal it up in a jar and enjoy the seasonal treat on crackers, biscuits or buttermilk pancakes. It has a nice mouth-puckering quality to it, as all curds (and anything cranberries) should. This curd is slightly different than the curds I’ve made in the past (lemon curd I and II, rhubarb curd, blackberry curd – it’s possible I have an obsession…) as it calls for the butter and sugar to be beaten together before incorporating the eggs or adding any heat. I was a little apprehensive about the technique, but was satisfied with the result.

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Cranberry Curd
from Cooking Light, December 2012
 
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
 
Pomegranate Clove Thumbprint Cookies
from Ripe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule
makes ~20 cookies
 
1 cup (120 g) flour
1/2 cup (80 g) almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon (85 g) granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
~1/4 cup cranberry curd
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For the cranberry curd:

Combine water, lemon juice and cranberries in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes or until cranberries pop. Using an immersion blender, process until smooth (can also use a blender or food processor). Strain cranberry mixture through a fine meshed sieve over a bowl; discard solids.

Combine sugars and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add egg yolks and egg, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in cranberry mixture, cornstarch, and salt. Place mixture in the top of a double boiler. Cook over simmering water until a thermometer registers 160° and mixture thickens (about 10 minutes), stirring frequently. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in liqueur. Strain through a fine meshed sieve once more. If using later, cover and refrigerate.

For the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In another large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy, ~2 minutes. Stream in the sugar and beat 2 minutes longer. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. With the machine OFF, dump in the flour mixture. Turn on the mixer and stir at the lowest speed for 30 seconds and then increase speed to medium and beat just until the flour mixture in completely incorporated. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375º and line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Scoop ~1 1/2 tablespoons dough and portion into mounds. Using the end of a wooden spoon (or your thumb), form a depression in the middle of the cookie. Bake until the cookies are set and golden brown around the edges, 15 – 18 minutes. Cool completely. Fill each thumbprint with cranberry curd (the recipe suggests 1/4 teaspoon, I sort of just heaped it on…) and top with 4-5 pomegranate arils.

I don’t have the words

Sometimes I think about how frustrating it must be to be a baby – to know that you need something for your well-being, but don’t have the words to communicate it or, more importantly, to even articulate it. No wonder they cry all the time. I’ve been feeling that way myself lately. Yesterday I cried, silently and shaking, in the bathroom stall at work. Why? I have no idea. It seemed the thing to do.

setting the table

At this moment, I don’t have the ability to articulate what is that I need for my well-being, in life, in love, in my career. I’m a 31-year old baby. And that is more frustrating than not having whatever it is that I need. I’ve been feeling restless lately, yearning for a change but not having a clue as to what that might be. It’s left me feeling (and acting) extremely defensive about everything you could possibly think of so as to prove my talent, my skills and my judgement.

cantaloupe almond milk soup with mint (and pancetta)

Should I move? It’s no secret that I don’t have much affection for the Midwest. Minneapolis, I like, but the Midwest is not the place for me. And frankly, the unhappy memories overwhelm the happy ones (which do exist) that are associated with this particular place and time of my life. But I want to move to a place where I plan to live for more than just a few years. Which means I need to find a job. A real job.

fresh pasta with garden veggies and pesto (and Robin)

Should I apply for faculty positions? Despite my desperate desires to leave the Midwest, I don’t want a second post-doc position. I’m craving independence but am totally scared out of my mind at having it. I’ve been a post-doc for 2 1/2 years – am I ready to be on my own? I’ve had a good summer, work-wise, and I worry that it’s over-inflated my ego and I am getting ahead of myself. It’s been known to happen. Or is it just a return to self-confidence? I worry especially because I am struggling to find focus with my research interests. I have a clear idea of the biological questions that I want to ask and investigate and have a good context in which to study them, but am lacking the detailed specificity that you need to write grants, apply for jobs and perform experiments (not necessarily in that order). It’s the whole articulation problem I’ve been having recently. The good news is, that I know that I want a faculty position at an academic institution, something that I wasn’t even sure of a year ago, or even six months ago. Finding one? That’s a whole other ballgame.

nectarine mascarpone tart with gingersnap crust

Should I start dating? I wish I had an answer to this one. On one hand, it might help me move on. On the other, I don’t think it’s fair to use other people to fix your wounds. I want to be emotionally ready to enter the dating world, and I don’t think I’m there yet. Plus, I have a fair amount of travel plans in the next year and I may yet decide to up and move in the near future. Is there even time to date? Or are these just excuses so that I don’t have to risk breaking my heart again? Sigh. I just don’t know.

after dinner

I know I need to work on living in the moment. Finding joy in my life as it is, and not letting the fears of the future weigh me down. But that’s easier said than done, especially when you are down in the doldrums. However, I do have a couple of shining spots in my life and it’s important for me not to gloss over them: my friends and family. I have a trip planned back to the Pacific Northwest in a couple of weeks (and for a whole week no less!) that will no doubt nourish my soul, it always does.

kudzu approves

As for my friends. I love them. Each and every one of them. They might be few and far between, but they are treasures in my life. Last weekend Robin came up from Texas to visit. There was eating and drinking (you’ve been gazing upon photos from a dinner party I hosted to welcome Robin to the Twin Cities), shopping and playing dress-up, some arts and crafts and cuddling with the cats, but most importantly, there was just laying on the bed and talking in way that you only do with your best friend. No filters, no social niceties, no worrying about being judged, sometimes about the small things and most often about the big things. The fact that those people exist in my life is beyond belief and I am ever so thankful for them.

the morning after

Okay, so life isn’t so bad. So why I am I so restless? And how do I find the words to articulate what I need when I haven’t even quite figured out what that is?

Coffee Ice Cream + Mocha Sauce (and some thoughts on life on the internet)

It’s not a secret that I love coffee. And ice cream. It was only a matter of time before I made a batch of coffee ice cream. Rich, bold whole coffee beans steeped in cream and sugar and churned until frozen. It’s about all I can do to not eat it morning, noon and night, which isn’t all that surprising given those are the hours that I drink coffee. (Note: I thought I would try a kitchen experiment and rinse and dry the coffee beans after they steeped and brew them in a pot of coffee. Result: something akin to swamp water. I figured it at least meant that all that coffee essence was trapped in my ice cream.) I announced my intentions for this ice cream last weekend on Twitter, giving a shout-out to David Lebovitz (@davidlebovitz) whose recipe I was following.

To which he replied:

Enjoy the coffee ice cream – don’t forget the chocolate sauce! : )

The power of the internet and social networking sites. It astounds me that we live in an age where somebody like me, a purple-haired fungal biologist can interact with world-class pastry chef. I figured I had better heed his advice – this man literally wrote the book on ice cream. But, because of my long standing coffee obsession, I made mocha sauce instead. David Lebovitz did not steer me wrong  – coffee and chocolate go hand in hand.

I sometimes forget that this blog is in a public space. I understand that when I hit the Publish button that my words, my thoughts and my food appear on the internet, for anybody to to view and read. But it’s all in a very abstract sense. It astonishes me when somebody decides to reach across cyberspace and write to me about what I’ve presented here. It’s a technological hug. And it’s lovely.

I am a lot of things. And my relationships with the people who read this blog vary tremendously. I am family; daughter, sister, niece, cousin. I am a friend; from grade school, high school, college and grad school. I am a co-worker; from the dental office and from the lab and the larger scientific community. I am a former dancer. I’ve made friends with the family and friends of the people closest in my life. And I am a stranger to some. All of these people are welcome to participate in these slices of my life that I decide to put on the internet. 

I forget how wide of a net life casts. It’s an easy thing to brush off, to slide past, but it really is astonishing how many intersections there are. Like my obsession with coffee and ice cream, it’s no secret that this time in my life has been difficult. It’s oddly comforting, and simultaneously very scary, knowing that so many people have access to many of my innermost thoughts and emotions. It gives me the opportunity to share without actually having to speak the words aloud. It gives my readers the opportunity, whether in a public comment or a private message, to give me a hug. And it makes me feel not quite as lonely.

Thank you for the hugs.

(Have some coffee ice cream and mocha sauce).

Coffee Ice Cream and Mocha Sauce
from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
 
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Coffee Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee
 
Mocha Sauce
1 cup strongly brewed coffee
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
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For the ice cream:

Warm the milk, sugar whole coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once warm, cover and remove from heat. Let steep for at least an hour (or longer if you have to deal with your towed car…). Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large batter bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Rewarm the coffee-milk mixture. Slowly pour the warm coffee-milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat. Cook custard until thick, stirring constantly. Pour through the mesh strainer and stir into the cream. Mix in the vanilla and the ground coffee. Chill thoroughly. Churn in your ice cream maker.

For the mocha sauce:

Whisk brewed coffee, sugar and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 30 seconds without stirring. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth. Let the sauce stand for at least an hour (it will thicken slightly).

Swampkins*

What a weekend.

There were smiles, tears, hugs, good food and drink and even better people.

And there was love.

Lots and lots of love.

Two dear friends of mine from grad school got married. To each other.

Robin and Dave

Every time I think back on it – it brings tears to my eyes. It was perhaps the most beautiful and love-filled event I’ve ever witnessed. I say with great pride that I am good friends with both Robin and Dave, as individuals and as a couple – so their union turns me into a giant oozing ball of mush.

I met Dave when I was a first year grad student and he was an older and wiser student in my same program. As life would have it, I was nearly living with him (at the time I was dating his housemate) and over the course of the year, became great friends with him and my life has been forever better for it.

Robin entered the scene the next year when she came to grad school and now I can’t imagine a world without her. Remember my post about The Pacific Northwest and my inability to articulate my affinity for such a place? I wrote that with Robin in mind.

Thanksgiving 2005

But let’s get back to the wedding. The crowds descended upon a small town in rural Vermont (I suppose that might be a redundant phrase) where Robin grew up. Family and friends from all stages of life – childhood, high school, college, grad school and now as post-docs. It should come as no surprise, given how awesome Robin and Dave are that they people they have surrounded themselves with people who are equally as awesome. And that, more than anything, is why the weekend was so much fun. Reunions with old friends from grad school and the making of new friends. The sharing of life and love and everything in between.

Bridal Prep

The ceremony was lovely. Robin and Dave entered together, holding hands and exuding happiness. They welcomed their guests and asked representatives from various aspects of their life to join them and speak about Family, Friendship, Exploration and Love, each symbolized with flower. Pete, Robin’s insanely talented stepfather, made a vase of sorts to collect them all. They exchanged vows, rings and sealed the deal with a kiss. And I stood there, next to them, sobbing the entire time.

There were cocktails and a serious spread of tasty cheeses, followed by a delicious dinner where the tables were named after well-known evolutionary biologists (at least to a good fraction of the crowd). And then the dancing began. And continued. And continued some more. My legs are still sore. And to cool off we ended the evening with an impromptu pool party.

If only I had more photos to share with you. But I was too busy partaking in all of the festivities. Luckily they had a fantastic photographer who already has some photos posted here.

I wish that I could put into words how special the weekend was. How touching it was to how happy and excited Robin and Dave are. How much love was shared by everybody who took part. How much fun the whole thing was.

So thank you, Robin and Dave, for letting me be a part your wedding celebration, but more for letting me be a part of your lives.

I love you guys.

*Swampkins is just a funny play on words that we designated for the event. Mostly for Twitter purposes.