Scottish Shortbread

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Scotland: land of the kilts, castles, and sweet mother of Mewtwo best shortbread ever!!!

My first blissful taste of Scottish shortbread happened in a cozy two-apartment AirBnb nestled just outside Edinburgh city center. Our hosts, Alicia and Mauricio, were a lovely couple from Venezuala with an adorable beagle and the best advice on what free shows to see during our four days at the Fringe festival. In true host fashion, they had also stocked our room with a variety of local munchies, ranging from biscuits and candies to–of course–the famous Walkers Scottish shortbread. I ate most of the bag a few for breakfast, along with some cheese rolls that Alicia had shared with me the night before while we were chatting in the living room about old Tom Hanks films. I melted from the moment that I popped that cookie in my mouth–the buttery, crumbly shortbread melted too–and from there it was love forged on the Highlands for me.

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But quick important sidenote! That totally cute teal notebook featured in these photos? It was gifted by my amazing friend Moupi, who messaged me on the day before my trip and (since she knew I wouldn’t have my laptop with me) gave it to me as a way to commemorate my travels! I ended up only using it occasionally on the trip to jot down some of the thoughts I shared in my last post and hastily scribble in my highlights for each day–BUT when I got back, I found that my bag was drowning in a silly pile of ticket stubs, fliers, and pell-mell paper memorabilia from my three-week travels. Cue brilliant idea to organize everything in this notebook: so now I have an entire little journal devoted to my Europe trip! It’s kind of neat to see one of the best experiences of my life neatly encapsulated in scrapbook form so that I can revisit it anytime I want now :) The tickets pictured here are from all of the plays and performances that we saw while we were in Edinburgh.… Read more

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Miniature Whipping Cream Pound Cakes

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Of all the places I visited in Europe, my favorite place by far was Edinburgh, Scotland. A buzz of excitement radiated through the city, palpable from the moment our 2-hour train from York pulled into the old station. We had timed our visit to coincide with The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest art festival where thousands of artists converge every year to perform, sing, dance, make you laugh, make you cry. During our five days in the city, my sides split with laughing at the sketch troupe Daphne’s Second Show, a Cambridge trio that wove together hard-hitting humor with physical comedy, seamlessly transitioned sketches, and surprisingly impressive three-part harmonies. My heartstrings wavered and melted at I Love You Because, a loosely Pride-and-Prejudice-based modern musical about two couples who learn to love another not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. On our last night there, my heart both broke and mended at Liam Williams’ Travesty, a stunningly executed, intimate play about two people who learn to navigate the murky path through love, relationships, expectations, and commitment.

Art, like food, has always resonated with me differently at different times in my life. While I’ve shared some of the best moments from my vacation in the UK so far, not all of the trip went smoothly. I arrived in England to a welcoming household, and a partner who felt strangely distant; as the days went on, the sense of disconnect and aloofness only intensified, especially when I saw how warm and animated he could be with his family and friends from school. By the time we reached Cambridge on our fifth night together, I was crying on the bench outside a banquet afterparty while trying to book a last-minute room at the London Travelodge (we didn’t have anywhere convenient to stay the next night) and wondering what on Earth I was doing in England at all.… Read more

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Knickerbocker Glory

Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time. He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn’t fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon bought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first. 

Harry felt, afterward, that he should have known it was all too good to last.

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You didn’t think I was going to talk all about my time England and NOT blabber on about Harry Potter, did you? Naive Muggle fools! Muahahaha.

Traveling through the UK was like walking through the pages of all of my favorite children’s books. I got to visit castles that looked just like Hogwarts, Kensington Gardens (the birthplace of Peter Pan), and even King’s Cross (including the real Platform 9 3/4!). Now that I’m back, I cannot wait to pay these favorite books another visit while imagining them taking place at the very spots where I stood!

Knickerbocker glory is probably my favorite single food item from the HP series, immortalized in a line about Dudley throwing a tantrum “because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top” (anybody who knows me at all also knows that I love quoting that line in everyday conversations about ice cream). Until I traveled to the UK last month, however, I had never tried the famed treat–which, of course, only hardened my resolution that I would do so in the native land that had popularized it. It wasn’t until our last day in England that the coveted opportunity popped up in York, where we were grabbing dinner after the horse races.… Read more

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Victoria Sponge Cake

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For the first time ever, I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago in a foreign country. I was feeling a bit nervous because I was far away from home, family, and friends–I had arrived in London only two days before, and both days had been packed with touristy (and wonderful!) but tiring activities, including a day-early birthday surprise of 4 o’clock tea-and-champagne time. Thankfully, I had given up any claims to local trip planning already and was more than happy to go along with the plan for the next day, which involved a visit to nearby Leeds Castle in Kent and a very British plan to picnic on the rolling green lawns under the rare English sun. As it turns out, the California sunshine followed me to all but two days (both spent in Edinburgh) of my visit to the UK and Ireland, so I wasn’t complaining!

One of the things I loved most about my visit to Europe is the pace of life there. We spent that entire day in sun-kissed bliss, strolling around the castle and meandering around the rolling green lawns and doing nothing in particular. It was such an unexpected change from the usual hubbub of invitations and surprise parties and planned outings that I couldn’t help but feel glad that I had decided to book an early August flight to the UK, despite all of my earlier reservations about spending my birthday abroad.

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Another lovely surprise that I hadn’t anticipated was the homemade Victoria Sponge Cake that arrived on the patio table after dinner that evening! A candle was already lit on top–I made a wish and blew it out, opened a card, and felt that little wriggle of happiness in my chest that only a really pleasant and unexpected surprise can inspire. By that time, the birthday wishes from back home were also flooding my way through social media and my (thankfully unlimited) international texting, and we spent the rest of the night in the forest-lined backyard, watching shooting stars from the Perseid Meteor Shower light up the starry black night sky.… Read more

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Millionaire’s Shortbread Bars

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In England, where I started my 3-week Europe trip, I was stunned by the sheer variety of food that I encountered. Okay, so maybe the fish-‘n-chips and beer British stereotype I had always entertained wasn’t exactly a fair one–though they do like their beer–but I wasn’t ready for the amount of GOOD STUFF I inhaled during my 6 days around Kent, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and York. From tea time scones & jam to gratins and savory pies, there simply was no shortage of perfect nibbles to fuel our packed daily schedules.

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By far my favorite eateries to visit were the pastry and bread shops. There’s something infinitely comforting about the smell of freshly baked goods wafting in the air as you peruse shelves with strange, quaintly British names like “Bakewell Tart” and “Eton Mess” scribbled underneath them. Even familiar-looking desserts had unfamiliar names: biscuits for shortbreads, knickerbocker glory for a particular type of ice cream sundae, and puddings for desserts in general.

Though I didn’t encounter this particular dessert in the UK until we arrived in Edinburgh after our England tour, the Millionaire’s Shortbread–or what most online recipes would just call Millionaire Bar–was one of those known-yet-unknown foods that I felt I was meeting for the first time halfway across the world. We were at the Edinburgh Castle whiskey gift shop, where we had just finished sampling two extremely disappointing creme-flavored whiskeys, when I spotted these little gems sitting on a white tray next to the castle-themed hip flasks: just a scant layer of caramel sandwiched between an even scantier layer of chocolate on top and a hefty, THICK slab of shortbread on the bottom. The caramel and chocolate looked thinner than the woefully optimistic sundresses and cardigans that I had brought with me to the freezing, wet city.

The boy (who, by the way, is originally from England) came over and laughed when I expressed my surprise at these Frankensteinian versions.… Read more

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Quinoa Salad

Guess who’s back, back again? I’ll give you a hint: it’s this girl, and she’s back all the way from beeeeautiful Europe!

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Okay, that was more of an answer than a hint–BUT only because I’m seriously excited to share all of my adventures with you. As I mentioned in my penultimate post, travel planning for this three-week trip had basically swallowed up my life (and the better part of my sanity) in the months leading up to August, so getting in the groove of blogging again is a super squeal-worthy enterprise. In fact, I got so ahead of myself that the first thing I did after hopping off my 12-hour flight was barrel into the grocery store to pick up a few A LOT of fresh ingredients and start cooking.

There’s really nothing like a month away from home to make you fall madly in love with your kitchen again!

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But more on Europe later, because first I want to tell you all about this quinoa salad. Does it look innocuous and unassuming to you? HA!

Sorry. Sorry.

But also not sorry, because it’s seriously great stuff. The tangy flavors of lemon and rice vinegar in the dressing blend perfectly with the subtly earthy taste of cumin, the nuttiness of sliced almonds, the freshness of chopped tomatoes, and the sweetness of raisins. After three weeks of basically eating my heart out in delicious, occasionally coma-inducing bliss through England, Scotland, Ireland, and Italy, I simply couldn’t wait to create a homemade dish full of greens and vegan-friendly produce. Luckily, I kept a running memo pad throughout my travels of dishes that I wanted to try making (you’ll see them over the next few weeks!), and quinoa salad was at the top of my list. Can you guess where I was inspired?… Read more

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Filed under Healthy, Lunch & Dinner, Salads, Vegetarian

Chocolate Kahlua Rum Balls

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Posts might be sparse around here these weeks, but food is most definitely not in short supply! Part of the reason for this is because I just got back from a Charles Dickens conference in Santa Cruz, where 300 Victorianists from all over the world  congregated to discuss Dickens’ 1848 novel Dombey and Son and lament the dining hall food in tearful, poetic unison. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from our week-long stint, it’s that no academic event is complete without good, old-fashioned booze–and lots of it! Which, of course, makes these booze-soaked chocolate Kahlua rum balls super topical and super-duper intellectual.

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As we say in the academic world: don’t be simplistic, but do be simple. While not every lecture during this conference adhered to this rule (though the wonderful majority of them did!), you can bet your Victorian ball gown that this simple chocolaty, silky, boozy dessert does. (Have I mentioned that it’s no-bake?) All you need are five minutes and six ingredients: crumbled brownies, walnuts, light corn syrup, powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, and–oh yeah–lots of rum. Rum to your heart’s delight. One days, two days, rummy days. Rum, Forrest, Rum!

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Meanwhile, I’m off to recover from the, er, festivities, but never fear–I’ll be back soon! After an entire week of 18-hour days, Victorian-themed (dance) parties all night every night, and endless socializing with some of the most amazing people on this planet, though, I’m ready for a bit of well-earned R&R. Not that you’ll miss me much: just make sure you make these silky chocolate bites every few days or so and I’ll be back before you notice!

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Sending my chocolaty love,

Ala

Chocolate Kahlua Rum Balls

These simple chocolate Kahlua rum balls are perfect for making ahead! They require no baking and offer a silky, rich flavor profile that will make the ideal treat for any booze-lover.

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Strawberries ‘n Cream Cookies {+ A Few Thoughts from a PokéTrainer}

You know those incredibly frustrating people walking around on the streets and into traffic and over cliffs and right smack dab on top of your newly-polished dress shoes because they’re too busy playing Pokémon GO?

I have a confession to make.

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I am one of those incredibly frustrating people playing Pokémon GO.

I apologize if I ever trampled over your dog in my haste to catch an Arcanine. It was (probably) an accident, unless you just happened to be in my way while a Squirtle is loose nearby and a mad, mob-mentality stampede that would make any Black Friday vet proud seized hold of me. Then it was probably deliberate. But I realize that being part of a cult(ural phenomenon) doesn’t make me any less of a Poké-jerk, so please excuse my trangresses…

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There are many downsides to living in a college neighborhood. Blasting music at 3 in the morning, piss-drunk but holier-than-thou undergrads whom you hope to never see in your classes, zero parking…

But there are also upsides, one of which is that when geeky pastimes hit home, they hit hard. For the past 7 days or so, seriously over half of the people walking around campus are fueling up at Pokéstops, catching Pokémon, talking about Pokémon, dreaming Pokémon. We shuffle casually up to spots where those glorious purple lure modules have taken over our AR screens, grinning sheepishly around at the other folks around us who have stationed themselves on the same block as we swipe our fingers upward in an all-too familiar motion, swiping in harmony with every other index finger in a 30-foot radius, warmed by the knowledge that we are all part of the same cultural moment–that even though we are strangers, we are a community, too.

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It’s easy to make fun of Poke-players as geeky eccentrics or even fanatics, but there is also something strangely democratizing about the game that should not be ignored, even at this early stage of the craze.… Read more

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Strawberry Cream Cheese Oat Bars

Happy middle of Jul–wait, what?

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I’m not sure how we’re already halfway through the summer–nobody ever consulted with me about this matter, or I would’ve veto’d it faster than you can say “pandas on a water slide”–but here we are, even so…and in spite of me, it seems!

These past two weeks have been unusually crazy ones…which is my way of excusing myself for the recent lack of updates. Whoops! Thankfully, we’ve finally hammered out our final plans for le big Europe trip, which is exciting because I hate travel planning with a passion, and more than one late evening ended with me simply drooping my head onto the table while the boy (bless his much more patient, level-headed penchant for these things) continued to click away at various online bookings and ticket listings, and basically making sure that the rest of the trip actually happened.

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Aside from that, there hasn’t been much time for baking or photography because apart from travel planning, we’ve been having a bit of fun around here! We spent this past long weekend moseying around town, attending various picnics and potlucks, and having an early surprise birthday day for him since he’ll be home when it happens later this month. We started the day by getting massages, watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople (a VERY good film–it earned 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and we both loved it for its wit, fast-paced humor, and general ability to tell a spot-on story), and then getting dressed up to see a play called Big Sky at the local playhouse (it was also VERY good–the perfect mix of humor and dramatic insight into the workings of a dysfunctional family). Needless to say, I’ve been playing a lot of blog catch-up since he left for home yesterday, and I can’t wait to share all of the other exciting developments happening around here lately!… Read more

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Easy French Apple Pie {15-minute prep!}

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The end of term was last week, and–as one of my graduating friends reminded me–nothing smells comfort-y quite like pie does. And nothing spells comfort when you’re tired and hungry and stressed like a 15-minute prep time!

Yes, none of my jokes here: this is quite possibly the easiest dump-it-all-in French apple pie recipe that I’ve ever made, and my summer-ready self is SO thankful for it.

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In the past two weeks, I taught my (possibly last ever!!!) undergraduate English class and started kicking my butt back into full dissertation writing mode. Oh! And I haven’t shared the biggest news of all–I’ll be traveling to Europe!

I won’t be posting anything specific about my travel plans until later this year when they’re all done–as much as I love everyone here, the internet has too many eyes, not all of which are savory–but I’m super excited for this development. I’ll be traveling and staying with friends and simply cannot wait to soak in the beauty of these places! Totally worth the five days of throbbing headaches that I suffered in between… #definitelynottheplanningtype

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Meanwhile, back on planet Reality, I’ve been moseying around in the kitchen a lot this week. In my last meeting with my advisor, he point blank asked me how baking was going and he sounded palpably disappointed when I told him–rather boringly–that I was focusing on my dissertation. His exact words were: “Oh, is that what you want to be doing right now? All right then.”

So. I’m baking again. Seriously though, I love my advisor. And productivity levels are up, because let’s be frank here–who wouldn’t be inspired to write with this easy-arse pie in one hand and a massive fork in the other?

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Before I go, let me tell you a little about this pie. Unlike your standard apple lattice or baked top crust pie, this one has my favorite topping ever: cinnamon brown sugar streusel.… Read more

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Filed under Baked Goods and Desserts, Fruit Desserts, Pies