I can’t talk about my time in Ireland without talking about Guinness. I might as well have eaten at a Michelin-star seafood restaurant and told you all about the bread basket.
According to the friend I was visiting in Cork, there are two things you cannot visit Ireland without trying: the chocolate, and the stout. Now, I was all for the chocolate (obviously), but Guinness? Beer? Stout? Hops? Imperial pints in the UK/Ireland are huge and I had never drunk so much as a can of beer before visiting Europe (the taste of beer reminds me of that nasty Chinese herbal medicine we used to drink as kids), so I felt a bit nervous about what I’d do when faced with a whole glass of that dark, intimidating liquid. All the same, I certainly hadn’t come halfway across the world to sip on sparkling water–so when Alex proposed that we go out for a couple of rounds at the local pubs, I was ready to give Guinness my best shot.
Verdict: Turns out, I am actually a fan of the well-poured Guinness! Alex explained the process to me while we waited for our bartender to finish pouring,* then we found seats outside and enjoyed the live music wafting through the town streets while we sipped on glasses that were nearly overflowing with creamy white head. We later met up with a group of his school and university friends, who were probably the friendliest folks in the northern hemisphere and made me feel absolutely welcome. Of course, the second pint of Guinness probably helped! Best of all, Alex and I got home the first night at 1 AM, poured ourselves some cereal with milk, and watched Louis Theroux documentaries into the wee hours of the morning before we were too tired to stay up any longer.… Read more
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 supertopical and super-duper intellectual.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
Somehow the gods of time have managed to speed us straight through October. In less than two weeks, I’ll be flying to Florida to compete in the World Food Championships–and you know it’s official because my completely un-glam face and bio have somehow been plastered on their website.
Watch out, WFC: your competition is about to get a whole lot derpier.
As folks around me can attest, I have been baking a LOT lately. My friends, who have graciously volunteered to be guinea pigs help me taste-test my recipes over the past few weeks, are keeping me on track and–more importantly–helping keep me within the boundaries of sanity. Between writing and teaching and researching and emoting, the last thing I honestly want to do at the end of a long day is try recipes by myself, so thankfully these lovely folks are around to make the trial-and-error process a little less arduous.
My pants and the scale, on the other hand, are less happy campers.
Another downfall of all this prep is that I’ve temporarily suspended my no-added-sugar regimen in favor of the opposite: complete and reckless sugary abandon. My kitchen, which I’ve been too tired and too lazy to clean properly (why bother when it will just be coated in flour again the next day?), is now an artistic landfill of granulated sugar and egg splatters worthy of being transported to a modern art museum. The one upshot is that I’m also inclined to bake as much as I can during this interim period, which means that I’ll occasionally produce gems like these glorious cheesecake brownies with fudgy chocolate ganache and not even bat an eye as I photograph and devour the entire stack.
Somehow I managed to salvage enough of these brownies from my ravenous maw to bring them to campus a couple of weeks back, which is how I know that they are some of the best brownies in the world.… Read more
After last year’s Calvin and Hobbes success, I gave myself exactly two days before I started brewing up ideas for this year’s festival. The idea behind the Edible Book Festival is simple: pick a book, create a food display inspired by the book, and show it off to a happy, hungry public. Perfecto, no?
Now is a self-proclaimed amateur connoisseur of both children’s literature and baked goods, you can imagine the sort of schoolgirl high I get every time the end of March rolls around. I mean, edible books? You might as well slap my name all over the marketing flyers and call it a day.
This year I decided to go the literal route and use the book that’s chock filled with edible references. Growing up, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t on my list of favorite books–it wasn’t even on my radar until the seventh grade, and by then I wanted nothing to do with the grotesque author who had written abominably disturbing works such as The Witches. (I mean, have you read that book? Yeesh!)
In fact, it wasn’t until I began teaching children’s literature at the university level that I read the novel in its entirety – once, then twice, then five times and ten. I couldn’t get over all the zany demises of Charlie’s rivals, or the wonderfully awful Quentin Blake illustrations accompanying these descriptions – and let’s face it: a book all about chocolate? Twelve-year-old self, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???
Once the cogs started turning, there was no chance in holy fudge tarnations that they were going to stop. I knew I wanted to do a display inspired by my favorite part of the books: the tragic disappearances of each of the four naughty children who enter Willy Wonka’s factory.… Read more
When I was 5, my mom told me I was allergic to chocolate.
Now, you’d think that a future 20-year product of the public education system would have smelled something fishy, but I smelled nothing but the tantalizing, forbidden scent of chocolate.
Believe it or not, the ruse lasted until age 10, when we were selling Hershey’s bars for a school fundraiser and I sank my teeth into a gorgeous, silky chunk of chocolate heaven.
Half a decade of my life. Irretrievable. Lost. Goner than a koala chucked into a black hole.
Aside from those five years of chocolate-less existence–and opting out of meat–and okay, my insanely picky palate–I’ve never had eating restrictions, really. At least not the kind of allergy that will debilitate you and close your throat and send you to the hospital with an EpiPen sticking out of your arm. Thank goodness.
I’m lucky in that respect, but it really wasn’t until grad school that I met friends who really did have food allergies. One of my closest classmates is allergic to a whole score of things, including nuts, dairy, and soy. I’ve told you about my recent student who has all of those allergies, plus corn, bean, fruit, and gluten allergies. Another guy in my office has Celiac, meaning gluten is a no-go for him, either. And this one’s not just a fad diet or a “gluten sensitivity,” I’ll tell you that much.
That’s why you may have noticed a lot more “allergy-friendly” recipes around the blog lately. Have you checked out last week’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Crumble Peanut Butter Mousse Parfait Cups? Seriously though–gluten-free doesn’t need to mean un-tasty. In fact, I’ve had so much fun baking GF lately, my friends with gluten allergies have started asking whether the latest batch of treats is gluten-free–and it’s so nice when you can make someone who usually can’t participate feel included in something as simple as dessert.… Read more
Yesterday, over lunch, my friends and I were sharing our best embarrassing stories. You know, the ones that made you blush so hard you thought your face was actually going to combust into a bunch of fiery napalm and set ablaze everyone within 15 square yards of you. We’re not talking the kind of mild embarrassment that happens when you walk in late on the first day of class and get called out by the teacher.
We’re talking stress-dreams-of-getting-caught-stark-naked-in-a-Costco-parking-lot-on-a-Sunday-afternoon kind of embarrassment.
Unfortunately, I’m terrible at calling up examples while they are still relevant (i.e. during conversation), so I didn’t contribute much to our lunch sharing session. I did enjoy a very nice Afghani spinach flatbread, though.
But as it turns out, this is very lucky for you guys, since I’ve decided to spend this Friday sharing a few of my favorites with you! None of which involve unwanted nudity, thank goodness. So without further ado….
Quite a few years ago at Disneyland, I was waiting in line for the bathroom next to Adventureland. There I was, fiddling with my gray Tigger jacket sleeve, minding my own business, when I suddenly look up and notice an Asian man with short-cropped hair, spectacles, and a rather square jaw standing in front of me.
Of course, I immediately feel embarrassed for the poor man. Can he read English? His unfashionable red sweater and khaki pants tell me he might be a tourist (thank you, vast over-stereotyping), and as we get closer and closer to the front of the line, I start fidgeting. Finally, when I see the “Women’s Restroom” sign passing us by the restroom entrance, I decide I can’t let him go through the agonizing embarrassment of walking into the Women’s restroom by mistake. So I do the worst thing I could possibly do in such a situation: I tap him on the arm.… Read more
I know I promised to share “something juicy” with you in Monday’s blog post about these awesome cookies. That just goes to show two things: that a) I probably shouldn’t make promises I don’t have a mind to keep, and b) for future reference, you probably shouldn’t trust me when I say I’m going to tell you something juicy. I didn’t even have time to blend a fruity drink and present it to you as a punny example of my exceptionally dry humor.
So nothin’ juicy today. Just me and this fudge that disappeared in about 30 minutes when I took it to the office this morning…
The funny thing about this Vegan Walnut Fudge is that it actually turned out to be a total accident and delicious failure–if you can call addictingly healthified fudge a failure. This year it turns out that one of my nicest students is allergic to basically every edible substance known to my kitchen: gluten, soy, dairy, strawberries, grapes, corn, beans, apples–the works.
You can believe that when I heard this news during that first day of classes, I was utterly mortified. That shock, however, soon transformed into a (slightly perverse?) excitement about rising to the challenge. Hold my wine glass and let me roll up my sleeves, Marty-O, because this gal’s about to do a crazy one in the kitchen!
The intervening weeks have been filled with tons of crazy experimentation, tons of label-checking and Googling, and an unprecedented intimacy with allergy-free and dietary-friendly ingredients I had never touched. Did you know that baking soda is pretty solidly gluten-free, but that some baking powders do contain gluten products? Or that peanut butter can be made with soy? Or that certain brands of powdered sugar also include unexpected additives such as cornstarch?
Because this fudge contains powdered sugar and my student is allergic to corn, I couldn’t very well serve it up, meaning I had spent an entire afternoon carefully dancing around with this recipe for nothing.… Read more
Fact: Everyone else’s life looks cooler than yours.
Did you just get a promotion at your accounting firm? Congratulations! Your former classmate just got bumped up to CEO of a high-profile tech company that makes life-saving microchip nanobots.
Also, that dorky kid whom you all made fun of in high school is now happily married with a newborn on the way and wedding pictures that make you want to drown your face in your toilet bowl. Meanwhile you are blasting Hunter Hayes’ “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” on repeat and devouring a tub of cookie dough ice cream like your life depends on it.
If you’re me, you’re also watching that wonderful 1999 movie “Never Been Kissed” featuring 25-year old journalist Josie Gellar (played by Drew Barrymore opposite the extremely dreamy Michael Vartan) and wondering vaguely to yourself if you’ll feel quite so warmly about this movie when you’ve gotten beyond 25 and are, alas, still very much a chronically romance-challenged Josie Grossie.
Fact: You are 99.9% convinced everyone else’s life IS cooler than yours.
Fortunately, this “fact” confirms one thing for you: you’re certainly not alone in this feeling. While you’re busy hovering jealously over your friend’s newly published YA novel, somebody else is contemplating whether or not to Like your recent post about your new blog. Maybe they do decide to Like it, and you would never know the full 10 minutes of internal struggle that went into that seemingly simple choice.
Would it seem creepy to Like this, considering I haven’t actually spoken to them in four years? your brain asks in torment. Do I want to endorse their coolness? Would doing so make me feel worse about myself in comparison?
The wonderful Nancy from Gotta Get Baked, for whom I have immense respect and love (she is one amazing cookie), called my attention not too long ago to an article on this very topic.… Read more
These brownies aren’t the only crazy thing happening around here this week, though they are insanely fudgy and I made boxes of these for friends who loved them and I’m selling them online here so if you want them without so much as stepping a toe into your kitchen, I can make that happen now.
Crazy? I love crazy.
Just about 45 minutes ago, I got off an epic long late-night phone call (yes, it’s 3 AM and I manually pressed the Publish button on this post) with my friend. I’ve been prone to lots of anxiety and high-stress nights lately for seemingly no reason, so catching up with her (instead of spending the evening wringing my wrists to a pulp) was a pleasant change of pace.
At one point, she mentioned rereading this blog post I published back in June about defining self-worth–if you haven’t read it yet, I spill a whole bunch of juicy confessions in it about my life and insecurities that are interesting and probably mildly entertaining. From there, we started talking about just about everything: about the difficulty of living up to expectations, feeling burnt out from Life, piecing together bits of our life through expert stalking social media surfing, the recent guys in my idiosyncratic love life, and, oh yeah: my recent tendency to eat my feelingz.
Mostly because #school. And maybe some of the aforementioned guys stuff. (Thankfully none of them think big-picture enough to actually read my blog #middleschoolalloveragain)
With these brownies just schlumming around the house all the time now and getting wrapped up for Etsy orders, I shouldn’t be surprised I’m eating my weight in feelings these days. Thick, fudgy, gooey, crunchy feelings.
However, one of the best reminders to come up in our conversation was the importance of taking time to reflect on our own lives.… Read more