Maybe it’s because I’m a late February baby, but I’ve always had a thing for Valentine’s Day. Abundance of twee notwithstanding, I just sort of love the idea of a Love Day. Granted, there have been years when I was Valentine-less, but even then I guess it was the hope that one day I would have a Permanent Valentine that buoyed me, along with a legit excuse to get chocolate wasted. These days, I still get chocolate wasted on Valentine’s Day, and this year in particular I’m pretty excited about celebrating some Big Love with our Little Family. There’s a lot that’s happened in the past several months, plenty of ups and downs and stressing until I think I might lose it (and on a couple of occasions I totally have). But we might (maybe? Please, universe?) be entering a bit of sweet spot right now, a little calm before the next inevitable storm. And so I say, bust out the chocolate. Turn dessert into breakfast, or vice versa. And good grief, don’t forget the Champagne.
People, my cabinets are an unholy disaster. And I don’t mean that in a humblebraggy, Pinterest-y “Oh, my kitchen is so MESSY! Look at how crooked my Weck jars are on my sparkling clean refrigerator shelves!” kind of way. I’m talking about half-opened boxes and bags of every ingredient imaginable, shoved haphazardly into any available square inch of real estate. Pulling anything out is like a game of Cellophane Wraps and Cardboard Box Jenga. It’s not cute. I mean, I do actually own Weck jars, purchased long ago with the intention of having a Pinterest-worthy pantry situation going on, but now they’re shoved into the back of the hoarder’s lair, probably surrounded by some spilled jasmine rice from that week in 2011 when I was very into trying to cook more exotic dinners, and then realized I had a kid who wouldn’t eat anything but buttered noodles. Gah.
The situation kind of reached a new level of insanity after the holidays, though. With all the new recipe development I’ve had going on, plus holiday baking, the amount of edible odds and ends has multiplied at an alarming rate. Every time I step into the kitchen I get very Joan Crawford, flapping my arms and shouting things like, “I simply cannot WORK under these conditions!!” and then pouring myself a Weck jar full of vodka before retiring to my chaise lounge.
It’s New Year’s Eve, y’all! Wowza. As I type this, I have a huge, almost 10-month-old baby in my lap and a 5-year-old in the living room, who is on (a rather unnecessarily long, really) winter break from Big Kid School. Unreal! 2013, you were a crazy one. I’m not even going to get into the ups and downs and utter confusion that marked this year for me–does the internet really need more year-end oversharing? So I’ll just say that like a lot of you, I’m looking forward to a new year, new projects, and an all-around new attitude. Not to mention more full nights of sleep, which I finally started getting around here during the past week. (Hey, it only took 10 months! Blergh.)
I hope everyone has lovely plan to ring in 2014, whether that means some fancy gala that calls for hair and makeup and something sparkly to wear (Ooh! Tell me, what is that like?) or if you’re doing something more our speed, which is to say a celebration involving comfy pants, (spiked) hot chocolate, popcorn, and the East Coast feed of the ball drop because seriously, I can’t do midnight anymore. Whatever you do, I hope it’s full of fun and love and hope and promise. Really, truly. We all deserve a great 2014. Can you hear me, universe?!
But first, priorities. Brunch planning! New Year’s Brunch, to be specific. Let’s do this year up right by starting with some epic eats. And I don’t mean a whole homemade spread, although if you’re doing that, I’d love to come over. For me, it’s about one great dish or a special side thing to make the first day of the year a little extra special. Bonus points if said thing has make-ahead elements to gently massage you into the morning. No need to be bursting out of a cannon on Day One and making the rest of us look bad. Let’s save that action for some especially warm, sunny day in early June.
First up? Bacon and Caramelized Onion Tart. (See top photo) Because if you’re going to have bacon and eggs, why not repackage the whole thing and blow minds?
Is anyone else feeling like a total Grown Up Cliche this holiday season? I don’t know if it’s because I’m actually older, or that I have two kids now and they’ve sucked everything from me including my brain cells and my metabolism or WHAT, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt the craziness of the holidays quite like this year. Oof. And who has two thumbs and hasn’t even started thinking about shopping for gifts? This lady. Fa-la-la-la-la!!!
Top of the Grown Up Cliche list is three holiday parties in the same weekend, and no idea how we’re going to fit them all in. You too? Excellent. So let’s talk hostess gifts. Maybe my Midwestern-ness is showing, but I do think it’s nice to show up with a little something for folks insane enough to throw a big holiday gathering, especially considering how much effort that entails–shopping, running, organizing, obsessing, cleaning, and then re-cleaning once its all over. I’d say that kind of effort calls something thoughtful, festive, and preferably edible, so that the host/hostess doesn’t have to find a place to put another freaking scented candle that they’ll probably never use, in addition to having to re-scrub the bathroom once all the guests leave. So how about a big bag of Gingerbread Caramel Corn? Oh, and bourbon. Lots.
Ohhh, the food hangover. I’m writing this from my hometown of Chicago, which is basically the best place in the entire universe to celebrate Thanksgiving (I may be a bit biased). We’ve had fantastic late fall weather (very cold for these now-Californian bones, but very little wind, which really is what kills ya out here), great food, and lots of much-needed family time. I hope wherever you are, even if you’re not in a Thanksgiving-celebrating place, you’re doing the same.
But let’s get real.
Now that November is on its way out, we’re about to get into some hardcore crazy holiday times. Shopping and decorating and baking and holding empty threats over our children’s heads so they’ll behave or finish their dinners, lest they get nothing but coal. Fun times! Might I suggest a little something to kickstart your holiday shopping?
Quirk Books, the wonderful publisher of my first two books, knows how to get folks into a holiday gift-giving frenzy. Through their Quirk DIY Book Club, they offer all kinds of creative titles that are perfect for the crafty types on your holiday shopping list. This month, their featured title is Pure Vanilla, woo-hoo! What this means is that for the month of December you can buy the eBook of PV for a mere $3.99. Hot! And because the Quirk people love my people (read: you), they’re offering up TEN free copies for me to give away. Heck yes!
To win one, just enter below using the Rafflecopter (note that you’ll get extra entries for following on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Winners will be notified by e-mail after December 8th!
Ooh-whee, are you feelin’ the Fall, people? We are, even in San Francisco. As per usual, the sunshine and blue skies have finally joined us just in time for temperature to drop, which I can never quite get used to. You know what else I can’t get used to? Daylight savings time. Before children, this used to mean an extra hour of sleep, and feeling even cozier in the late afternoon as the sun dropped out of the sky earlier and earlier. Kind of dreamy. But all this means now is that my kids’ sleeping schedules are even more terrible than usual, and I have less hours in the day to try and get a decent photograph of some really great hot chocolate for you (I give up; see above). Bah. Luckily I’ve had a few fun things going on that have buoyed my mood and kept me from jumping off the roof in a premature Seasonal Affective Disorder tirade:
1. Our big Kindergarten girl has really started reading and writing and generally blowing us away with her hilarity. She’s started lamenting the fact that she can’t walk to and from school alone like all the “collegers”. “Collegers” meaning the older kids in her school. Invented, earnestly delivered words are the best words.
2. My baby boy is still very much a baby, but is now eight (!) months old. Which means that we are officially in the Very Best Stage with him, the stage that makes people have babies in the first place: squidgy, babbling, present, funny, lovable, crawling, sitting up, and getting into things that I didn’t even know were in my house. Never mind that I still haven’t had a full night’s sleep since February, right?
3. Honeyed Hot Chocolate, which I will get to in a bit.
4. I’m actually back to work–teaching a class here and there, doing all kinds of recipe development with exciting new ingredients (more on that soon), and realizing that the importance of having some kind of creative project going can’t be overstated, especially for moms. Even within the madness of mothering two small people, making my own creative life a priority has supercharged me in a whole new way. I feel like a better version of myself, a better mother, generally just more excited to be in the world. I can’t help but wonder what the world might be like if every mother took the time to nuture her creative self as much as she does her children. With the way we mothers can multitask, can you imagine the results? We could start a revolution! And here is where I get a little Oprah on you for a sec.
So here we are, careening towards the holidays. Please stop the train, I need to get off.
Fortunately, there is something to look forward to in all this calendar-flipping madness. The good part is that the best of high baking season is coming up soon! Let’s make it great this year, friends. Let’s break out our best tried-and-true recipes and magazine clippings that we shoved away and haven’t gotten to yet. Stock up on flours and sugars and pounds of butter. Finally buy a dang candy thermometer and get to some old-fashioned confectionery magic (you can do it!!). Wrestle the baking sheets out from under the everyday pots and pans and fire up the oven. And hey, even let your kids get into the fray! (I’m speaking for my Type A self here–it’s not my favorite thing to bake with little ones underfoot and under armpit; there I said it.)
But here’s a top tip that I think has changed my baking for the better: Reach for the bittersweet chocolate this year, even if your recipe calls for semi-sweet or milk. I’m talking at least 60 to 70% cacao, nice and dark. Because nothing balances out a sea of sweet quite like it. In the same way that a good hit of salt or acid (like lemon juice or buttermilk) makes sweet things all the more craveworthy, a slight bitter edge can also add the kind of balance that makes you unable to resist taking just one. More. Bite. Tastebud trickery! Plus, if you really love chocolate, bittersweet is just that much more chocolaty, because it’s got more cacao power AND it has less fat and sugar, both of which can coat and confuse the tongue and keep you from getting the ultimate chocolate experience.
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