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.
Or a “For the New Mom Gift Guide”.
Or the “I’m a New Mom and Desperately Need to Treat Mah Self as to Not Feel 90 Years Old All the Time” List.
The point is that I’ve been thinking a lot about the little things that have made life with a new baby a little brighter, and thought maybe we could talk about those things. Because Lord knows I’d love a break from talking about how my baby never, ever wants to sleep for more than a couple hours at time. Like, EVER. So whether you are a Mom type yourself, or you are looking to get something off the beaten registry path for a friend who is about to, or in the midst of, having life ruled by a tiny high-maintenance person, consider the following:
In the interest of doing two of my very favorite things–making lists and excitedly telling others about the latest inanimate objects with which I am obsessed, eyes wide and hands flapping–I bring you a new series of posts from the POC kitchen called “What I’m Loving Right Now”**. I hope you’ll not only comment on my crazed collection of finery, but also share what little baubles and gadgets are making your life in the kitchen easier/more efficient/manically, inexplicably happier. Because we’re friends, and because we all need another reason to have that online shopping mouse-clicking finger get all itchy. You’re welcome.
A few of you sent love letters to this completely adorable cake tester after it appeared in the post about this completely delicious recipe. And I don’t blame you. It’s just so sweet I could pass out. Plus, I no longer have to deal with fumbling for a toothpick, spilling half of them on the floor in the process and then two days later getting stabbed in the foot with the one blasted toothpick that I missed during the curse-filled cleanup. I got this tester from Crate and Barrel on a whim, when I needed to spend a wee bit more to get free shipping on an order. Because I’m a sucker. But now I’m a sucker with a glee-inducing cake tester! La-la-la! Win!
I also have to shout out these awesome cutters from Fox Run. I bought them from one of my favorite shops because I was after a set of scalloped cutters for dainty roll-out cookies like shortbreads and these little gems. And that’s how I used them for a couple weeks until I realized that when you flip them over they are round cutters too! I never said I was quick on the uptake, people. So all of a sudden I had two different sets of cutters and would no longer have to use an old tuna can to cut out biscuits. What a great day that was! Pretend you understand the thrill, won’t you?
What little things are you loving right now?
**To the skeptics: I am in no way, shape or form associated with any of these companies or products. If I were, you best believe I’d make that abundantly clear. These are items from my own personal collection of stuff that I regularly use and love.
Anyway, I have botched many a recipe since Baby C came along by adding whole eggs instead of just yolks (my punishment for forgoing mise) or setting the oven to ‘broil’ instead of ‘bake’ (because everyone loves a crunchy brown crust with a raw shortbread center!) orrrrr using the wrong measuring spoon (my sleek stainless steel spoons with their nearly invisible engraved measurements were so handsome until exhaustion started making my vision go wonky on occasion). My point is that I feel you now, baking phobics. And I would like to embrace you all with my trembling arms, caked with tears and flour, and say that there is hope. And her name is Dorie Greenspan and she offers you her protection in the form of her absolutely lovely Baking: From My Home to Yours.
Now, everyone in the food world loves Dorie Greenspan, and I’ve written about some of her recipes on this blog before and have a few in the pipeline here at Piece of Cake. Her book has been out forever at this point, but I’ve always loved it so much that it’s high time I raved about it on this site and urged you to pick it up if you don’t have a dog-eared, butter-shmeared copy of it already. I’ve always loved her conversational writing style, her can-do attitude and approach to baking. Dorie reminds me of the whip-smart, artsy woman who worked in my high school’s library who always had a twinkle in her eye and managed to be warm and delighted to help even the most clueless teenager, making you feel like you were part of a special club just for asking for her help and earning extra points when you asked for a title she found particularly interesting.
Dorie’s Baking: From My Home to Yours evokes the same feeling–even the most fantastical of her confections is doable and you feel empowered by her recipes. Of course, you have to measure your ingredients properly and know how to set your oven, there’s no getting around that (too bad for me), but once that’s done, you sail through her recipes with her voice in your ear, and the whole process a real pleasure. Plus, she is completely adorable, with the kind of Peter Pan haircut that I’ve always wished I could pull off but know I never could because I’ve always felt my head is a wee bit too small for my body. In fact, just the other day I saw a woman at a bus stop sporting a Dorie Greenspan with her black turtleneck and chunky colored glass necklace and coveted the whole look. But that’s not the point.
Follow Dorie’s recipes to the letter and you, too, will think you’re a baking phenom. Try some of her “Playing Around” tips in the sidebar and feel liberated. Come up with one of your own variations, and well, you can practically feel the glow of Dorie cheering on your genius and giving you that afterforementioned “special club” feeling. Except it’s not for checking out A Separate Peace, it’s for scoring PEANUT BUTTER WHOPPERS to add to Dorie’s Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops. But that’s another post. There are a lot of great baking books out there, but start your collection around this cookbook, and you’ll always have a go-to source for fool-proof recipes. Even if you suddenly find yourself highly distractible and have a hard time protecting yourself from yourself when it comes to baking. Promise.
Since becoming a lot more serious about my baking passion as of late, I decided it was time to really start reading up on baking, not just checking out cookbooks, but seeking out information about the science of it. One thing that I love about baking is that it really is just simple chemistry, and if you can learn the hows and whys of different ingredients and mixing techniques, it demystifies the whole process and lets you troubleshoot your own baking issues as you try new recipes or work on old favorites. In fact, just last night I spent a good portion of a party conversation with a stranger explaining to her why her various baking “failures” probably happened, and she really seemed to be fascinated, nay, EMPOWERED by it all. And I really don’t think she was just pretending. Really, I don’t. But that is neither here nor there.
There are two books that are in my rotation right now that are so blowing my mind. More like baking textbooks rather than cookbooks, though both have great recipes as well. The first is by Alton Brown, with whom I am falling more in love everyday (seriously, did anyone see him in the Iron Chef episode of “The Next Food Network Star”? He was all scruffy looking and in a suit and…I want to insert something here about how I need to get out more, but I just won’t, okay? I love him in all his nerdy culinary hotness. The end.). The book is called I’m Just Here for More Food, and honestly, if food chemistry could have been explained to me in this delightful and easy to understand manner in high school, well, let’s just say a lot of things would have been different.
The other book I’m loving is Baking Illustrated by the chefs of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and America’s Test Kitchen (one of the best PBS cooking shows EVER, by the way, The Frugal Gourmet notwithstanding). It’s like the Bible of baking, totally genius. Before every recipe in the book, they give you the detailed story of how they arrived at that particular recipe, outlining all the failures along the way. Each recipe is what they have deemed the “perfect” formula of a given baked good and what makes it so, kind of like a “we already made all the mistakes so you don’t have to” kind of thing. And surprisingly, the writing is actually kind of funny and really entertaining to read. Get thee to Amazon, that’s all I’m saying.
sites i love
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.