Owl Updates

Yesterday, I went to the far-off distant land of Baton Rouge with some awesome work buddies to deliver a tiny stuffed animal to one of my favorite people. Does anyone need a reminder?

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Monsieur Bricolage made the trip along with us three booksellers, a boatload of cookies, and my mounting nervous energy to meet David Sedaris and hear him be incredibly funny in front of a whole bunch of people.

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And to be incredibly sweet and sincere in front of my friend Bailee and I. When I declared that I had made something for him and pulled out the owl-in-question, David Sedaris proclaimed him adorable and also laid down some suitable compliments in French. He wanted to know about how he was made, he asked us about our days, and he gave us stickers. (And that cute little bit of wordplay up there? “I can’t con-seal my affection for you.” Goddamn it, that’s so freaking cute I can’t stand it.)

Perhaps the most startling bit of delight occurred when David Sedaris then asked me for my address so that he could send me a thank you note.

Let me say that one more time. The greatest humorist of modern times wanted my address in order to send me a thank you note.

Cue the massive rush of happiness mixed with anxiety mixed with 18,000 other conflicting emotions that short-circuited me so hard that I just froze and lost my damn mind for a second.

I did eventually pick up a pen after what was approximately 1/24th of a second of utter electrical insanity in my brain. My hand was shaking so furiously that I had to concentrate on not turning out a serial-killer-type of scrawl that would have negated all of the goodwill that we built up in the previous five minutes. Mission accomplished.

He later did his reading and was just as dry and hilarious as I knew he would be. The entire experience left me utterly charmed. I know it’s a sad state of affairs when it’s refreshing to experience real moments with people who are truly sincere, but I am owning my plethora of elevated feelings here. It was completely awesome, in the strictest, most official meaning of the word. There was actual awe involved.

And stickers, too! Which make everything even better.

Mr. Sedaris, I Made You an Owl

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David Sedaris might be the funniest man alive. Anyone who’s ever heard him read aloud one of his stories would definitely not argue with me on this point.

I’m fairly certain that the first experience I ever had with David Sedaris’s writing came when, before embarking on a study-abroad-type of activity, my fellow students and I sat down and listened to one of his This American Life pieces about foreign travel. (I can’t for the life of me remember which piece this was or find it now on the great wide interwebs, but this one is similar in tone and eight kinds of awesome, so you should listen to it.) I then worked my way through his entire catalogue, at the time, and haven’t stopped since.

He’s coming to a book signing in Baton Rouge next week, and this will be the first time that I’ve ever been able to actually go and see him live. In the 10 years since I began loving his work, there has always been something that prevented me from being able to see his readings, whether it be distance, money, or work restrictions. However, now that I’m going to see him soon, I’m having real trouble keeping myself from having inappropriate giddy spaz-out moments of fan girldom.

It’s weird.

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It’s a strange moment when you let other people in on how excited something makes you. When you trust your friends to understand that a fifty-something essayist can bring out feelings in you that make you want to knit an owl, it’s an important moment in your grown-up life.

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David Sedaris’s new book is called Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and in one of the new essays, “Understanding Understanding Owls,” he details his experiences in attempting to purchase a taxidermied owl as the greatest Valentine’s Day present ever.

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What do you give a man like that in order to show him how much he has touched your life with his humor and weirdness? A tiny, fat, stuffed owl, obviously.

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The pattern is the completely adorable Little Black Owl from Kat Lewinski. This turns out a delightfully chubby owllette who is just begging to be handed to a New York Times bestselling author.  One who will hopefully not conclude that you are a crazy person for knitting and giving him an owl.

The only think left to do is to give this little round ball of cute a name, I think. I’m attempting to think of something abstract and in French (and those of you who are in the know are giggling a bit, I’m sure). Right now, Dan and I are debating between Monsieur Bricolage (translating to DIY or home improvement) or Monsieur Débroussaillage (a clearing of the undergrowth).

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I’m leaning towards Bricolage.

Baking the Holy Grail – Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie

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Like every other baker in the history of ever, I adore the movie Waitress, if not only for the delightfully quirky comedy or the lush scenes of melted chocolate pouring nearly erotically into perfectly formed pie crusts (seriously), but for the moments of stillness and calm provided by the profoundly simple act of baking a pie for someone you love. Very few moments in film stop and dwell in this world in quite the same way, and for those of us who revel in recreating these moments in our everyday lives — whether it be through baking, sewing, knitting, gardening, carpentry, book-binding, calligraphy, fly fishing…or whatever nerdy thing you can’t live without — the art of the handmade often lies not in the product, but the process. The few perfect moments you get to spend when you aren’t thinking about your bank statement or your job or the vacuuming that desperately needs to be done, and it’s just you and the craft.

In this movie, there is a holy grail of pie, the Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie. Now, we never really see this pie or hear the ingredients mentioned in any real way, but, again, like all bakers in the history of ever, I just had to make one. Here’s the clues we have to go on, succinctly put by Andy Griffith: “It could solve all the problems of the world, that pie. A thing of beauty. How each flavor opens itself one by one, like a chapter in a book. First, the flavor of an exotic spice hits you, just the hint of it. And then you’re flooded with chocolate, dark and bittersweet, like an old love affair. And finally strawberry, the way strawberry was always supposed to taste but never knew how.”

How do you resist that challenge? You can’t! You buy some baking chocolate and some strawberries, and you get to it.

My version of the Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie involves a cinnamon-spiced chocolate graham cracker crust, french silk filling, fresh sliced strawberries, and a topper of sweet whipped cream. Let’s do this.

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Chocolate graham crackers get spun up into crumbs in the food processor and then mixed up with some sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter.

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We spread out this Oreo-looking delicious stuff into our 9″ deep-dish pie pan, and then bake it up.

While that’s baking? More chocolate!

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I had never made French silk pie before, and Betty helped me out. More chocolate, butter, and sugar get whipped up with vanilla and eggs (or egg substitute, if you can’t do the raw egg thing, like me) into silky perfection.

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Spread it out into the cooled pie crust. Now, time to display some willpower and refrigerate that beast for at least 2 hours before proceeding.

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Then slice up some strawberries and arrange them as artfully as you can stand on top of the partially solidified chocolate filling.

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I’m mostly kidding on the ‘artfully’ part because that’s all going to get covered up with whipped cream in about a second.

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It doesn’t look like much all covered up, but that’s part of the fun! Anybody taking a unsuspecting bite of this beauty will be delighted by that strawberry surprise. The crunchy crust warms everything up with cinnamon and sweetness. The chocolate is rich and creamy, and the tartness of the fresh berries cuts right through, leaving you with a mouth full of spiced chocolate strawberry goodness and no room for complaints.

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Now, take care in slicing this guy. It’s helpful to refrigerate it a little bit more before slicing just to get all the layers solidified. Then be sure to use a sharp knife to cut through those strawberries and crust to get a clean slice.

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It took a try or two, but success occurred! (And that red and white striped t-shirt matching the pie? Completely unintentional, I promise.)

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Strawberry chocolate oasis success. Now, I don’t know if you can solve all of the problems of the world with this particular pie, but it will certainly get you closer.

Jinger’s Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie
inspired by Waitress, and with a little assistance from Betty Crocker

Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used one sleeve, about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

French Silk Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute

1/2 lb. sliced strawberries
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Pour into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Resist the urge to lick the entire bowl clean. Seriously.

After filling has chilled sufficiently, arrange sliced strawberries on top of chocolate. Press the strawberries slightly into the filling, to keep the layers from slipping.

Combine remaining ingredients in chilled mixing bowl and whip cream on high speed until super fluffy and spreadable. Spread whipped cream over the top of the sliced strawberries until completely covered.

Chill entire pie for 30 minutes to an hour so that everything comes together and slices more evenly.

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Now pretend you’re in a quirky romantic indie comedy and enjoy! I think Adrienne Shelly would be proud.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Will Make Your Life Better, Guaranteed.

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Sometimes you long for something for no good reason other than it would seriously up the awesome quotient of your life. Others don’t necessarily share your rampant desire, and they don’t have to, because you are a person on a mission. A person who needs to own an ice cream maker.

A person who seriously needs to get someone else to purchase said ice cream maker because part of the fun of the chase is getting other people to participate unwillingly in this dream. Plus, who has so many dollars that they can just throw at one more piece of kitchen equipment that only does one thing? Not this person. Nope. That needs to be something that you mention casually to every person you know every single time you see one in a store or a catalog or on an awesome food blog and say just how much better your life would be with the possibility of homemade ice cream just around the corner every second of the day.

Well, ladies and gentlemen…dreams do come true.

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Dan bought me the ice cream maker attachment to my KitchenAid mixer (another fantasy kitchen item acquired through extremely subtle…whining) for our anniversary last week, and we set sail on maiden voyage of homemade ice cream by fixing up some coconut chocolate chip ice cream. Wait…let’s capitalize that up and give it the gravity it deserves. Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Made by yours truly.

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A little research yielded up The Hungry Mouse‘s amazing 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream, which is creamy and delicious, and vegan, of all things! Coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla are all you need to get started here.

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Now, coconut milk straight out of the can is pretty disgusting. You just have to get past that part and blend, blend, blend.

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Then you pour it into your awesome new ice cream maker contraption and…just stand there staring. At least that’s what I did. For about 20 minutes straight. Because making ice cream is just slow enough to be both simultaneously extremely boring and immensely engrossing. It’s science! It’s colloids and emulsification and suspensions and chocolate chips.

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And coconut. I added a half cup of semisweet chocolate chips and a half cup of sweetened shredded coconut to the recipe near the end of the mixing process. I should have put more chocolate chips in there. You could always use more chocolate chips. Also, toasting up that coconut is another great idea that I didn’t have the patience for at the time. You should do that.

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True to form, I also made a salad while the mixing was occurring. I used my overly-educated nursing school brain and figured green salad for lunch cancels out ice cream fatty goodness for dessert, right? So much science up in this place, it’s scary, isn’t it?

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And you guys, it was everything I hoped it would be. Awesomeness quotient went up by at least 20 points, by conservative estimates. It was sweet and nutty and creamy and freaking delicious. We couldn’t even wait for it to freeze all the way through, because it was singing its siren song from the freezer, and we were antsy. (And letting it go overnight was just not an option, am I right? That’s just ridiculous.) Also, letting it finish freezing, like you’re supposed to? Makes things even better the next day. And the day after that. And every other day of your life ever.

I think that our summer is going to be full of plenty more frozen treats, and we may collectively gain a bazillion pounds. What do we try next? Italian ice? Gelato? A fancy fruit sorbet of some kind? I seriously need some guidance because my brain may explode from all the possibilities. Lend me your guidance, ice cream fans of the internet. Our summer depends on you!