When it comes to writing cookbooks, one thing I’ve learned from those who have come before me is NEVER READ THE ONLINE REVIEWS. Nine times out of ten, I resist the urge to peek. Nine-and-a-half times out of ten, when I do peek, the reviews are relatively positive and thoughtful and an affirmation that at least I sort of know what I’m doing and throwing my creative self out to the wolves isn’t all bad. Nine times out of ten, naturally I will obsess about that half a time in which a review is less than glowing. And within about half of those, I can find the constructive criticism that might actually improve my work. I feel like this is a pretty good record overall, considering that readers and reviewers are humans with all kinds of expectations and thoughts and feelings and so am I.
In my childhood, my mom was The Queen of Garage Sales. For a certain number of years, I spent many a summer afternoon “going sale-ing” (get it?), treasure hunting in the more affluent Chicago suburbs. Sometimes we’d go with friends, making a day of it, a bunch of kids crammed into a van, driving to the North Shore, as our mothers drank Tab and gossiped and squealed and high fived over their finds. Other times it was just my mom and sister and I, and I’d bring a handful of small change and singles hoarded from found stray money around the house and playing mother’s helper for the family across the street for three dollars an hour–just in case I found something that I thought was interesting, then I wouldn’t have to beg for it.
In case you’re wondering how weird of a little kid I was, one of my favorite finds was an old Heloise Hints paperback, thin and worn with a yellowed, curled cover, for a mere ten cents. But I found the contents absolutely fascinating–basically a MacGyvering guide for the modern housewife (or enterprising 10-year-old girl, as the case was). I skimmed the bullet points daily, and spent the rest of the summer dropping knowledge wherever I could, telling my Gramma to boil a cup of vinegar on the stove after she stunk up the place making corned beef and cabbage, and advising mothers of friends to light a birthday cake’s candles with a long piece of dried spaghetti at parties. I’m sure this wasn’t annoying at all.
My love of “why didn’t I think of that?” tips continues to this day. Anything that makes life in the kitchen a little snappier and re-purposes what’s already around gets bonus points, in my book. In fact, I’ve bookmarked some for years. And then I thought, why am I not spreading this goodness? So now I’ll be doing just that occasionally from here on out. Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite culinary tricks.
It’s become increasingly obvious to me that there are entire periods of my life where I couldn’t tell you exactly when certain things happened. I mean, the births of both my kids? Pretty solid on those. But the personal questions, like say, the kind that you have to answer at the doctor’s office? Lord, help me. The week of my last Lady Moment? Let me check my phone and two calendars and probably ask my husband for confirmation. When did I have that appendectomy? I remember recovering while watching a Barbara Walters interview with Angelina Jolie when she was still in her vocal bi-sexual phase, so let’s Google that. (Answer: July 2003. Thanks, internet!)
I like to blame all these brain-made-of-oatmeal lapses on two things: geography, and of course, the children. Having lived in relatively seasonless California for close to 12 years now (!), I often feel like these dozen years have been a smear of life moments with no defined edges.
As a native midwesterner, I grew up marking time by recalling the weather at the time when something occurred, or maybe even what I was wearing (Shorts and bug spray? Wool coat and hat?) to indicate a moment’s position on my life’s timeline. That obviously can’t happen when 45 degrees is considered frigid, 75 is sweltering, and I can often wear flip flops in November with no issues. Lack of metrological evidence, coupled with a mother’s brainspace (read: some of the synapses up in here will never fire again, and I accept that), it’s a miracle if I can even just pin down where I set my coffee ten minutes ago, let alone when I last had my teeth cleaned.
Happy New Year, darling readers! I hope your holiday season wrapped up with a bang, whatever that means to you. Over the years, ringing in the New Year right has meant a variety of scenarios around here, everything from couching it with yoga pants, cookies, and Champers, to the sort of crazy, whoop-filled party that requires a sequined somesuch and trying in vain to hail taxis (admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve experienced the latter). This time around, though, we struck a nice balance with a lively nearby party thrown by new friends, and as every person there had wacky little kids, the festivities were designed to ring in 2015 on east coast time. Which, in a glorious turn of events, meant I was back at home, full of good cheer, in my pajamas and both kids in bed by 9:30 p.m. PST. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. How has this not always been our thing? I think I’ll be celebrating on New Year’s Eve like this for the rest of my days. So great.
Now that we’re solidly settling into 2015, anyone with an internet connection and half an ear tuned into the rest of the universe can’t escape all the talk of turning over a new leaf. Is it just me, or does it seem like all the chatter about resolutions is particularly intense this year? Hmmm. I wonder what that’s all about. Anyway, although I am all for using a brand new year as an excellent excuse to attack life goals and start fresh, I’m also excited to bring some bits and pieces of 2014 with me for inspiration.
So many websites love to do a year-end round-up of the best fall cookbooks sometime in December, and while that makes perfect (possibly better) sense, I often find that it’s not until January that I can actually take a breath and page through all the beauties that collected on my desk throughout the previous season. Since we’ll be in a bit of a cookbook releasing lull for the time being (which picks back up right about the time my third cookbook Real Sweet hits shelves, what whaaaatttt #shameless), these are the still-new-to-me books that I’ll be hitting up for fresh ideas throughout 2015.
I’m going Hyper-Christmas™ this year, people. I’m talking going to cookie exchanges, lots of baking and candymaking, cranking up the Bublé (is it just me, or is he the new Bing Crosby?), and making my kids wear matching Christmas jammies because I’m their mother and I only have a few good years to get away with such frippery. Fa-la-la-la-la!!
I’m pretty pumped about the whole thing, and now that my girl is getting old enough to really get into baking with me all the way through a recipe and not peacing out right after dumping everything into the mixing bowl, I’ve been thinking about seasonal things we can make together every year, and start a new little tradition of our own. Of course, every holiday season officially kicks off with a batch of my very favorite sugar cookies, but this year I came across a cozy recipe that absolutely screams Christmas–sweet, colorful, a bit of history from my German heritage involved, and just enough of a process to make it holiday-worthy and not something you’d do on any old weekend. Lately I’ve been so inspired by all the amazing German baked goods Luisa has been sharing on Instagram as she writes her next sure-to-be-fabulous book, and now I’m all, GUTEN TAG, LET’S MAKE ALL THE KUCHEN, BITTE. It’s pure magic, the things she’s been turning out.
You GUYS. I know you’re probably in the middle of trimming your tree or lighting your menorah or wearing your craziest sequined sweater or whatever you do to celebrate the holidays, but I’m interrupting your crazed online shopping and boozy nog-drinking schedule to share with you something that is super important.
I’d like for you to meet the face of the beautiful beast that has taken over my life for the past 15+ months (and no, it’s not another human baby, good grief!). Isn’t it a DELIGHT? It’s the cover of Real Sweet, my hunk of a third cookbook, which will be born into the world this coming April, courtesy of the brilliant folks at William Morrow. I really, really can’t wait for you to bake your way through its pages and use it in your own kitchens. It’s a whole new way to bake, and I really couldn’t be more excited about the whole thing.
Real Sweet is a baking and sweet treat-making recipe collection, yes, but it’s also a primer on the wildly delicious world of natural and unrefined sugars. Unlike my first two books, which ran on lots and lots of white granulated sugar, you won’t find a speck of the white stuff in the pages of Real Sweet. Instead, you’ll find sugars here that are decidedly less processed, infinitely more flavorful, and do so much more than just provide sweetness a la white sugar.
From granulated alternatives like sparkling turbinado, coconut sugar, maple sugar, heady dark muscovado, and brown-buttery panela, to tasty liquid swaps like honey, agave nectar, and pure maple syrup, the sweet stars in this book pull double duty as both sweetener and seasoning. After months (and months!) of recipe testing, it still blows my mind what a simple change of sugar can do for the flavor, texture, and overall crave-worthy power of a baked good. I’m hooked on these alternative sugars, people, and I hope you will be, too.
What I’ll deliver to you when Real Sweet drops is a whole bunch of real-world recipes for the treats we really love, but made with better, more flavorful sugars, with a more “hip” than “hippie” vibe. The more virtuous items that we can feel good about tucking into our kids’ lunchboxes are in the mix, but so are whimsical candies; bake sale classics like cookies and bars; custards and ice creams; and a whole chapter dedicated to some seriously impressive, fancy dinner party desserts. It’s a book you can bake from all year long, with ingredients that you can feel good about baking with and playing with, including whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits, but don’t worry–there’s plenty of full-fat dairy and chocolate to round things out. Life’s too short! Good times all around!
This sexy beast of a book weighs in at 272 pages, chockablock with recipes and info, sweet tips and tricks, and loads of gorgeous, full-color photography from the gloriously talented Leigh Beisch. And guess what? You can totally pre-order it!
In the coming months, I’ll share some Real Sweet samples so you can look forward to what you’ll get when you have a copy in your hot little hands. I know we’re still in the middle of the holiday rush, but I’m feeling really good about 2015 and all that’s in store for us–let’s make natural sugars a thing in the New Year! Heck yeah!
I don’t know how many of you out there are all woo-woo when it’s comes to astrology, but for me, I’m a–let’s see, what would be the opposite of “fair weather fan”? Sucky weather fan?–let’s just say that I can get into astrology and like to take a peek/read way too much into cosmic forecasts when it feels like life is throwing hard things at me, machine-gun-style. Apparently Mercury was retrograde up until this past weekend, and sweet baby Jesus, I was feeling alllll of that retrogradeness, from stupid mistakes to flat tires to blah health and the list goes on. Don’t even get me started on the multiple cake failures I had going. Tragic all the way around.
I had really wanted to tell you about said cake today, but it’s still not quite ready for you yet, and since three misses is my self-imposed limit for the early stages of recipe testing lest I hurl myself off the roof, I decided to shelve that dang cake for now until some other groovy planetary shift can perfect it for me. In the meantime, I say we go with some chocolate and salted caramel because even in the face of otherworldly forces, those two items, even just eaten off a spoon, will never let us down.
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