Fried Ice Cream Cake

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SoHoppinGood #TopYourSummer #CollectiveBias

Who’s ready for summer? I am SO ready for summer.

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As you’ve probably surmised from the dearth of recent blog posts, life lately has been busier lately than the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s in the middle of birthday season. These past two weeks, I’ve flown home for a 24-hour stint, seen Young the Giant perform live, hosted my wonderful friend and her sister at my place for several glorious days, won the Family Cup with my global sibs group, gone to see a soccer match between my two “home” teams, attended our school’s annual musical showcase, and busted my butt to scrap/rewrite a starting draft of my next dissertation chapter section. That last one in particular still has me reeling on me feet, but thankfully no hellfire or brimstone spewed forth when I brought it in to my advisor meeting yesterday.

Phew!

With only two weeks left in the school year, though, my mind is already wayyy into summer mode–if you haven’t already guessed by this AMAZING summer-inspired fried ice cream cake that I’ve busted out for y’all. I’ve also been making this summer’s epic to-do list, which looks a little something like…

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1. Take a spontaneous journey somewhere unexpected.

2. Spend an entire lazy day at the beach.

3. Travel outside of California.

4. Go camping, with real tents and campfire s’mores and stuff.

5. Eat lots of ice cream.

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6. Go to a concert.

7. Stargaze. Dance under the stars.

8. Host a movie marathon night.

9. Read a book…for fun!

10. Eat oodles of ice cream.

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11. Send care packages to my friends.

12. Try 5 new restaurants.

13. Plan a surprise for someone.

14. Watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day.… Read more

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Caramel Coffee Toffee Sticky Pudding Brownies

Happy Teachers’ Appreciation Week, everyone!

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It’s crazy how much you take for granted until you’re the one standing in front of the classroom–that, and the amount of baking that you end up doing for your students in any given school term because you genuinely love them and want them to be happy human beings, even if they sometimes ask you questions whose answers are on the syllabus and expect responses when they email you 5 hours before a paper is due. I guess it’s good practice for the 40-kid family I plan on having someday.

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Facetiousness aside, though, I owe a lot to the teachers in my life who pulled me through my brighter years and supported me through my tougher ones. Two in particular stand out to me: the first is my high school English Lit AP teacher, who was a total tough cookie and set us a timed essay on our first day of class after having us write multiple essays throughout the summer on 1984, My Name is Asher Lev, Typical American, and (I think) something broadly Shakespearean. He had a reputation in the school for being something of a hardass, but I never received anything but fair judgment and respectable guidance from him. Granted, I was a pretty strong writer already in senior year and didn’t struggle nearly as much as my peers did in that class, but I also knew it was because I worked my butt off that year to put out my very best work for this teacher. And in a way, that year was the year when I first learned what it’s like to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with literature.

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The second is a very special lady whom I admire to the stars and back. Katharine taught my children’s lit seminar at university during my junior year, and I was lucky enough to spend that quarter with her exploring New York City in Stuart Little, strolling through the rolling cityscapes and hills of the Rootabaga Stories, laughing and crying over the images in American-Born Chinese and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Read more

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Letting go of fear–and that pink tube of pepper spray

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While this (obviously) is a food blog, today’s post addresses some of my thoughts on important issues surrounding women’s safety and social perceptions surrounding sexual assault and harrasment. We’ll be back to your semi-regularly scheduled recipes & photos next week! ~Ala

Image courtesy of the University of Missouri.

- one -

I am sitting at one of the counter seats at Starbucks, laptop out and a messy pile of blue examination books sprawled out on the narrow wooden surface. Outside, it’s dark, though the low buzz of the cafe and the artificial lighting mean that I can–and intend to–stay for at least another 3 hours before heading home for the night. I squint my eyes, trying to decipher the illegible scrawl in front of me that is attempting to make a vaguely coherent argument about the psychiatric relevance of Winnie-the-Pooh. I have just read something about Pooh’s undiagnosed case of OCD when somebody pulls out the stool next to mine and sits down. Unconsciously, I shift my seat away just the tiniest bit to the left.

Focused as I am, another five minutes pass by in silence before I begin to notice: that feeling that jolts you slightly from the back of your head down your neck when you suddenly realize that somebody is looking at you. Or maybe it’s just that my peripheral vision is working. Whatever the case, I can feel a pair of eyes studying me as I work, a face turned in my direction rather than poring over a book as all the other faces around me are.

Then a voice: “Hey.”

It’s not a suspect “hey” or anything: not the sleazy “hey” you might get at the bar when your girlfriend goes to the bathroom and hasn’t come back yet; not the gruff “hey” of the guy sitting on a stoop leering at me as I hurry past, staring hard at the ground; not the catcall-type “hey”‘s that are hurled out of open car windows as a group of boisterously laughing and whistling men drive by.… Read more

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Mini Churro Donut Muffins

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If you love churros, donuts, and the excuse to justifiably eat them both for breakfast–trust me, these sugary babies are for you.

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Mini Churro Donut Muffins are, as their name implies–ahem–the perfect balanced breakfast food. Okay, so they’re rolled in glorious cinnamon sugar post-baking, and maaaaybe they’re more like a donut/cake than a muffin–but they’re baked instead of fried, which has got to count for something…right?

And that makes them okay to consume for breakfast.

And lunch.

And dinner.

And maybe dessert, if your stretchy pants are feeling particularly stretchy.

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We’ve been having a lot of sweets around here lately…and I mean a lot. The boy is a chronic snacker with an enviable metabolism and I’m always catching him rummaging through my kitchen for freshly baked sweets. Last week, I baked a batch of these donut muffins for my students, tucked them away in tupperware, went to the bathroom…and emerged again to the sound of a hastily closed plastic lid and smacking lips.

The upside of smothering all your baked treats in cinnamon sugar (besides the obvious): you’ll always catch the culprit. And this particular culprit agreed that the donuts were very good indeed.

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As with all great things, you’ll need to coat the donut muffins in melted butter before proceeding to roll them in a snug, cozy coat of cinnamon sugar goodness. The butter-meets-sugar combo is what gives these breakfast treats extra crunch on the outside, so don’t skip this step!

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My students, friends, and friends’ coworkers all RAVED about these Mini Churro Donut Muffins, and really–who can blame them? I recommend making a double or even a triple batch.

You know, just in case someone in the kitchen happens to eat half of them before they make it out the door.

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Who’s the biggest sweets snacker in your house?Read more

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Asian Sesame Pasta with Steamed Broccoli

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #DareToPair #CollectiveBias

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Last year, when the sneak-peek movie clip featuring broccoli-topped pizza from Inside-Out was first released, my Italian friend sent the link to me, laughing as he quoted Anger:

“Congratulations San Francisco–you’ve ruined pizza!”

As it so happens, I love broccoli on anything–even pizza–and I stand my ground when I say that it makes a great, refreshing topping for one of my favorite homemade meals: Asian sesame pasta. Luckily, I recently learned that this same Italian friend buys Barilla pasta, which is exactly what I used in this recipe: Barilla Whole Grain Spaghetti, made from 100% whole wheat! And who am I to question a true Italian who knows his pasta, right?

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It might not look like much, but trust me when I say that this 10-minute pasta recipe is just the right, light accompaniment to the nutty sesame oil and bright broccoli flavors in this dish. It’s certainly been a heaven-sent meal after swimming, which I’ve been trying to do 6-7 days a week so far this year–with success, I might add!–and the tangy vinaigrette has got to be one of my favorite flavors ever. To be honest, I’ve been cooking for two more often around here but, erm, this dish hasn’t made it to two mouths so far. Just one.

Might be mine.

So yeah, it’s pretty darn good!

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If you’re looking for a fun, new way to spruce up the nutty taste of whole grain spaghetti, this dish is your Patronus. (Sorry, we just got back from a very late Harry Potter pub night…) Your calling. Your soulmate. Whatever the heck you want to call it, it’s YOURS.

You can even run your fingers down the glorious boxes in the pasta aisle as you prance by while you shop at Walmart, if you wish.… Read more

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Chocolate Chip Toffee Walnut Cookies

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone grocery shopping at an absurd hour of the night. Say…..4 AM? No? Anybody?

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I realize that there are a lot of things that I take for granted as an unmarried, mostly unemployed, highly mobile grad student. Free pool access, on-campus groups, friends living within walking distance, and yes–spontaneous 4 AM grocery shopping trips, apparently. Which may or may not be coupled with–ahem–the 5 AM baking sprees that yielded these chewy, amazing chocolate chip toffee walnut cookies.

On Sunday night, that’s exactly what I did. My friend and I had stayed up late talking about life things, and after all of that emotional cogitation, we were starving. So–bless our fatigued minds–we decided to strap in and drive to the store at 4:05 AM and buy ourselves some groceries, along with some much-needed post-midnight snacks. It was a testament to my tired brain that I had to walk back to the cereal aisle four times–for my friend’s cereal, then peanut butter, then the oats, then…well, I dunno why we walked back that last time. But I also made sure I grabbed a bag of toffee bits because things were getting real, and cookies were on the mind…

“Nothing good happens after 2 AM”–but apparently very, very good things happen after 5 AM.

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Let me tell you about these cookies: the dough, which bakes up soft and chewy but lightly crispy-edged, is based on my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I didn’t feel like making plain old chocolate chip cookies though–go big or go home at 5 AM, I say–so I decided to throw in a generous stash of walnuts and toffee alongside the chocolate chunks before folding it all into the fluffy dough.

5 AM baking, guys. It’s totally worth the half-exasperated, half-“omg is this what it’s like to date a baker” bleary look that your significant other will give you when s/he trundles into the kitchen amidst your banging pans and mixing bowls.… Read more

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Lemon Meltaway Cookies

I’m posting and running today–after all, it IS spring break around here!

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We visited San Diego Zoo this weekend and oh my gosh, I’ve forgotten how much I miss my old zoo days–yes, I worked at a zoo for four summers in high school–surrounded by discussions of conservation and environment and animal enrichment. We also got to stay at the SD Welks Resort, and I swam at a pool for fun for the first time in years. Bliss!

I even made it back to LA in time for an impromptu dinner with friends and way, way too much good food in mah belly.

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And then there’s spring break baking. We’re talking massive, massive amounts of lazy baking and…absolutely no photos. None, zero, zip. What.

As penance (i.e. when the realization hit me that it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post, eeps!), I decided to dig up some old photos of these amazing Lemon Meltaway Cookies I made last month and completely forgot to post. Sometimes I’m so grateful to my lazybum self–otherwise, you would have missed these gems!

They’re a complete cinch to make and perfect for the citrus lover in your life. Sweet but not-too-sweet, tart but not-too-tart, these meltaway lemon cookies, well, melt away in your mouth at first bite. Perfect for sharing!

Or you, know…not.

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I’ll be back to regular posting next week! Until then…

Who’s the lemon lover in your life? (Hint: make these for him/her!)

Ala

Lemon Meltaway Cookies

These lemon meltaway cookies are easy to whip together and perfect for the lemon lover in your life. Sweet but not-too-sweet, tangy but not-too-tangy, and bursting with sunshiney citrus flavor!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Additional powdered sugar (for dusting)

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy.
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Baymax Sugar Cookies

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I rarely fall in love at first sight, but if I had to make an exception, it’d be Baymax. Or should I say Bae-max? <3

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If you’ve never seen the movie Big Hero 6, a) I have a lot of questions for you, most of which are not particularly innocuous in nature, and b) unless your house is burning down at this very minute, I want you to drop everything you’re doing and watch the movie. Wrangle in a couple of five-year olds for the cause if it’ll make you feel better.

Then you can come back and keep reading this post with what I hope will be newfound appreciation for humanity, the world, and (most importantly) these adorable cookies.

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One of the reasons why Baymax is so lovable is because he is the world’s best friend. Sure, he’s programmed to be a health care companion–but (and here’s a vague spoiler for those of you who completely ignored my advice above–I’m not even going to feel bad about sharing this!) by the end of the film, he’s so much more than that. Whether he’s giving fa-la-la-y fistbumps or the best hugs ever, Baymax gradually learns the value of everyday compassion and empathy for others, and that lesson is definitely part of the reason I love this film so much.

This weekend, I finally had a day to spare and decided to put that lesson into practice with a bit of a gratitude exercise. The mission: deliver these cookies to friends before the start of finals week!

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I didn’t glide around San Fransokyo on my own personal Baymax (boohoo) so it took a while longer than I anticipated, but in the end 20 cookie care packages were delivered between 2 and 9 PM on Sunday! I was so exhausted after the non-stop excursion that by the time 11 PM rolled around, I was basically half-asleep on the boy’s couch and no amount of wheedling or teasing would rouse me from my pillow-hugging position.… Read more

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Cookies with Easter PB Eggs

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #EasterSweets #CollectiveBias

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It’s funny what small things can make an ordinary week great! Aside from a smattering of rain (which caught us as we walked back from Spotlight on Saturday night–and okay, it’s pouring outside right now but I love it), the weather here has been beautiful and the days have been a real lark. There’s been quite a lot of baking going on, not to mention lazing around and generally being as sloth-like a creature as humanly possible–which, if you know my track record with stress and manic workaholicism, is nothing short of a miracle.

On Wednesday, I decided to do a bit of impulse shopping and ended up walking out of Target with a big, beautiful woven Easter basket lined with yellow and pink cloth. Even better, I got to say “no” to the cashier who asked if I needed a bag–“nope! I’ve got a basket,” I informed him–and skipped out of the store carrying a basketful of Easter goodies, all the while feeling like Little Red Riding Hood on her way to her grandmother’s house. Word to the wise: if ever you need a pick-me-up for an otherwise gloomy day, try carrying a bright cheery basket! There’s nothing equal to it (well, except some chocolate and maybe these cookies, which I’ll get to in a sec).

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As you can see, I decided to raid the candy aisle at Target quite thoroughly in preparation for assembling the most epic Easter basket to date (pictured above), which included an adorable DOVE Milk Chocolate Bunny, Starburst Sweet & Sour Jellybeans, Starburst Original Jellybeans, and a bag of M&M’s White Strawberry Shortcake for good measure, since it’s only being sold for a limited time (and exclusively!) at Target.… Read more

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Zucchini Tomato Marinara Pasta with #OXO

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“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

If you were standing in my apartment earlier this morning, that would have been the inarticulate sound from the kitchen.

Now before you panic (oh my god, there’s a MANDOLIN SLICER in her photos!!!), I can assure you that it wasn’t a scream of pain.

No, my friends–that was a shriek of pure joy issuing in glass-shattering pitch as I played with my newest kitchen toy. And I am so so so excited to share it with all of you today–can you tell?

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OXO recently sent me another lovely bundle for my pasta-making lazy days: this Adjustable Hand-Held Mandoline Slicer, a Grape & Tomato Cutter, and a beautifully sturdy Rice & Grains Washing Colander with a draining spout near the top edge for easy pouring. Now as a gal who doesn’t often indulge in acquiring “kitchen gadgets” (okay, maybe the bread maker I got for Christmas is an exception. And the confectioner’s sugar dusting wand. And the Mickey Mouse ice cream scoop….oh fine, I love kitchen gadgets), the arrival of these wonderful toys via mail could only mean one thing: pasta play day!

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By noontime, thinly sliced zucchini was sizzling on the stovetop and my pasta was happily draining al dente in its colander. With all of the craziness happening around here lately, it was a relief to just spend an hour in the kitchen cooking, slicing, photographing, and–best of all–eating a truly homecooked meal.

Even I was surprised at how fresh this whole meal tasted–with whole wheat pasta, lightly cooked zucchini, quartered cherry tomatoes, a dollop of marinara sauce, and a sprinkling of assorted cheeses, this pasta is giving me the physical, emotional, and mental fuel to get through the rest of this crazy day (I’m currently preparing a guest lecture for Tuesday’s English survey course and am slightly freaking out, but don’t mind me).… Read more

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