Three months have passed since my last post and so much good has happened since then that I can’t even apologize for going off the grid completely. I’m just now settling into my new routine as a post-grad adult (more on that in coming posts!), but first I want to rewind and fill you all in on one of the best experiences of my life: a six-week vacay in Europe, y’all!!!
That lingering emotional baggage in particular made me determined to travel again to Europe this year, once everything at school wrapped up. So in July–a scant month after graduating with my PhD–I packed my bags and flew over the pond to my first of TEN countries: Ireland!
(Guinness brownies…what gave it away? )
I’d been to Ireland for the first time almost exactly a year ago, of course, and had fallen in love while visiting my friend Alex in Cork. This time I’d be seeing him in London, where he’s moved for school, so I decided to fly into Dublin for the first leg of my six-week Europe grand tour. It was the first time I’d ever traveled so far alone–my trip was split into two weeks each of solo travel, staying with friends, and exploring with high school friends–and I was extremely nervous that first night when I touched down at Trinity College, Dublin. What if the entire trip turned out to be a dud after all?
As is usually the case with me, my fears turned out to be wonderfully unfounded.… Read more
This chocolate layer cake with peanut butter frosting is THE perfect birthday cake. Made with my favorite moist, rich chocolate cake and a fluffy peanut butter frosting, this cake is the perfect way to celebrate the chocolate-PB lover in your life!
“Oh my god, it’s like I’m eating a PEANUT BUTTER DREAM!!!”
These were the words that exploded from one of my best friends’ mouths the moment she took a bite of this chocolate cake last week. Ten of us were crammed into my small apartment, forks at the ready and bodies half-sprawled all across my bed, couch, and carpet. We had gathered for a surprise birthday/farewell party for the screaming friend, who celebrated her 24th birthday on July 5th and would be leaving us for good the Monday preceding that milestone. Needless to say, she was more than pleased at our unexpected last-minute bonanza!
(This is a picture of her eating cake with chopsticks below. Meet Mops, everyone!)
E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web (1952), once wrote of an unlikely fictional friendship: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” I think of this quote often–and not only because I happened to dedicate an entire chapter of my dissertation to this writer.
Over the past two years, I have been so lucky to cultivate the friendship of someone who is not only a true friend and an amazing writer (if you could only read this gal’s crazy stories!), but one of the most trusting, genuine, enthusiastic, and supportive people I know. She inspires me every single day to become a better version of myself, and we are going to miss her dearly now that she’s off to bigger and better adventures in India, England, and all around the world!… Read more
If you secretly make trips to Red Lobster just so you can stuff your with their famous, melt-in-your-mouth buttery Cheddar Bay Biscuits, here’s some good news for the new year: now you can make (and enjoy) them in your own home! (Recipe here.)
9. Slutty Cheesecake Bars
A thick layer of chocolate chip blondie, rich cheesecake on top, and whole Oreos crammed all throughout give these infamous bars their name. One of the very first recipes that I posted on Wallflour Girl (note the tacky rainbow wrapping paper backdrop) and still one of the most popular after five years! (Recipe here.)
8. Extra-Fudgy Kahlua Brownies with Kahlua Icing
I’m not a booze kind of girl…usually. But put a plate of these extremely fudgy Kahlua brownies (and maybe a White Russian!) in front of me and they’ll be gone before you can say “boozy.” (Recipe here.)
7. The Very BEST Tiramisu (from America’s Test Kitchen)
My shortlist for best recipe sources is, well, short–but I would trust America’s Test Kitchen with my first-born baby. This simple but authentic tiramisu recipe is the best that I’ve ever made and constantly requested at family functions! (Recipe here.)
6. Idiot-Proof Healthy Chocolate Chip Bars
Here’s an idiot-proof recipe that you can hand off to even the most baking-illiterate of your friends! These one-bowl, dump-and-stir chocolate chip oat bars are healthy, too, making them perfect for kicking off a brand new year. (Recipe here.)
5. Hawaiian Chantilly Layer Cheesecake Cake
This recipe holds a special place in my heart: inspired by one late-night, post-movie dinner conversation at Lenny’s Deli, my ex shared his fond memories of a dessert known as Chantilly cake.… Read more
The holidays are here! Sorry for the shortage of posts lately: I spent the last few weeks braving REAL winter and cavorting through the chilly climes of Cancun…
Just kidding! Cancun, as you can probably imagine, was amazing, winter weather included. We spent our early December days simply basking under the tropical sun at our seaside resort, dipping our feet in the warm Caribbean waters, and trekking through some of the gorgeous intra-cavern rivers that wound their way through the old Mayan ruins in Xcaret. Needless to say, I was spoiled silly and am making a rather graceless transition back to my California reality even as I type.
The beachfront view from our resort in downtown Cancun.
Now that I’m back and bundled up again in this nippy weather, though (yes, east coast folks, you may now roll your eyes), nothing sounds better than curling up with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. Nothing, that is, except maybe freshly-baked chocolate muffins in the wee cold hours of the wintry morning, which is exactly what I’m sharing with all of you today. What I love most about this recipe is that it skips all of the tedious separate-and-mix steps required in most muffin recipes: all you need to do here is whisk together dry ingredients, whisk together wet ingredients, fold them all together, and throw that batter into the hot piping oven!
As if simple baking couldn’t get any better, these muffins are perfect for the chocolate lover in your life. The unique combination of yogurt AND milk in this recipe keeps the muffin absolutely moist and fudgy with a hint of cakiness, while the extra chocolate chips that you toss in right before baking add morsels of molten chocolate richness in every bite. Not bad for an innocuous-looking breakfast food!… Read more
So remember how last week I wouldn’t shut up about this Vanilla Souffle Custard Cake (a.k.a. “Magic Cake”) that I made, and then some of you tried making it right away and it was a total hit?
This week I made the chocolate version (AGAIN–yes, this is a repeat recipe, it’s that friggin’ good) and nobody else who tried it will shut up about it, either. So really, I’m just the messenger here, and all chocolate lovers in your life will thank you for it. Cue the Chocolate Souffle Custard Cake choirs!
For those of you who are wondering why this recipe is called “Chocolate Magic Cake,” let me sum it up for you: one simple batter -> pan -> magic happens in oven -> three-layered dessert. Cake on the bottom, creamy chocolate custard in the middle, and a pillowy chocolate souffle on top! If that isn’t science magic, I really don’t know what is.
This Chocolate Magic Cake, which I also adapted from the wonderful Jo Cooks, holds a particularly dear spot in my recipe file. The first time I made it, I shared it at a friend’s farewell party before she left the States and headed home for Spain. The second time was this past weekend, when a huge group of us gathered for a Friendsgiving party filled with dance battles, a wooden table groaning under dessert dishes, and one very boozed-up Mannequin challenge. And now I’m making it for our Thanksgiving family dinner, alongside the original Magic Cake that will forevermore remain in my top 10 favorite desserts.
What makes each of these experiences so beautiful for me (besides the obvious fact that they involve a chocolate dessert!) are the incredibly mixed feelings of love that I associate with them. I miss the old days when I would bake the same recipe over and over again because it was a significant other’s or close friend’s favorite dessert ever, but sharing this single cake with so many amazing people in my life recently has been a whole new kind of blessing: it has been a reminder to me that as we grow older, we continue to love in new and even bigger ways than we ever imagined possible when we were young.… Read more
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