Unexpected Comfort – Banana Bread and ASMR

We all find comfort in different places.

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Sometimes these places are easy to find. Sometimes all it takes is pulling out some frozen bananas that you have cleverly hoarded for this very occasion…

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…and letting them sit on your kitchen counter until they look really, really disgusting.

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Yep, totally gross. Ready to go.

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Still gross.

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Now we’re getting somewhere. You mash up those bananas and mix them up with various other kitchen items like butter and sugar…

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…eggs (to make it totally awesome and neon yellow)

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…vanilla and buttermilk…

(And let’s be honest, no one ever has buttermilk in their house. Just mix up a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with whole milk and pretend that you are on top of your life enough to have fresh buttermilk at all times.)

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…flour (both all-purpose and whole wheat, just so we can pretend it’s healthy), baking soda, and a little bit of salt.

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Grease up two loaf pans, and be pleased with just how clever you are by saving all of your butter wrappers for this specific purpose.

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And then realize that your house might have a bit of a butter problem, because this box of butter wrappers isn’t running out any time soon.

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Sprinkle those future banana breads with some oats, just so that we can pretend that they are healthy some more. Stick them in the oven and let that banana scent reassure you that the comfort is coming soon, especially on a rainy and cold day in the middle of April in New Orleans, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

Now, while that bakes, we’re going to take a little break to talk about comfort coming from totally unexpected places. About a year ago, I was listening to This American Life in my car, and I had a moment of such surreality that I had to pull over to finish listening to the show. It was an episode called “Tribes” (you can listen to it here), and the segment named “A Tribe Called Rest” pulled me out of my usual passive listening state and blew my damn mind.

Done listening to it yet? Good. As a middle-schooler, I loved watching painting shows on PBS more than anything else in the world. Bob Ross was an utter joy for me. His calm and lovely demeanor, combined with the scratchy sounds his paintbrushes made when he was tapping out some happy clouds, would give me the chills every single time. I would feel tingles run down the base of my skull into my neck, and for some reason in the backs of my knees, just hearing him talk. There was another woman I used to love as well, who wore lots of turquoise rings and painted her acrylics with lots of different weird mediums mixed in, like sand and other crazy textures. The sound of her palette knife scratching in those artfully rendered sand dunes, and her rings clicking together…I have the feeling that if you would’ve have walked by my room when I was watching this, you would have seen tiny-Jinger, sitting completely still on the very edge of her bed, eyes tilted up to the screen and glazed over with quiet joy. I was so into this that when I went to high school and the times for these shows changed, I set up my VCR to record them for me while I was at school, so that I didn’t have to miss them and their head-tingling goodness.

It’s probably getting a little awkward in here, so let’s check on that banana bread.

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Looking good. Right on track.

I started watching QVC and HSN soon after that, rigging up my old push-button TV with the UHF dial to catch the jewelry shows whenever I could. There was just something about the quiet reverence with which these people displayed and measured earrings with their tiny rulers that would keep me entranced for hours. My favorite memories of summer camp involve sitting in a circle and playing tracing games (where another person traces words on your back or sings a little song that involves tickling and trying to give the other person the chills…you ladies know exactly what I talking about) or braiding each other’s hair. I love going to get my hair cut, not because I care anything about the state of my hair usually, but because the tiny scissor sounds and personal attention give me tingles the entire time. I’m always a little let down when it’s over. My favorite movie scenes involve those of quiet intensity, where the person on screen is performing some sort of delicate or complicated task, and we get to watch it quietly.

Need examples?

 

 

Confused yet? If you didn’t listen to the episode, you might not realize that my life almost exactly parallels the one of the producer, Andrea Seigel, author and screenwriter and general all-around interesting lady. She too was entranced by painting shows and the Home Shopping Network, and goes in pursuit of attaining more “triggers” via YouTube, finding out that she loves watching makeup tutorials. I did the same exact thing. She had no idea that there was a whole community of people dedicated to this phenomenon, and neither did I. Turns out, it has a name. ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And it’s simultaneously awesome and really, really weird.

Immediately upon getting home that day from listening to that This American Life episode, I went in search of these ASMR videos and fell down a crazy YouTube rabbit hole (like everyone does) of people just like me. People speaking quietly and intently while folding napkins. Or leafing through books. Or practicing calligraphy. Or decoupaging coasters. Or pretty much anything else that you can think of. I discovered that, while I do not like going to the dentist in general, I absolutely cannot get enough of someone pretending to be my dental hygienist, speaking to me quietly and executing a complex series of maneuvers to make it sound like they are realistically cleaning my teeth. It sounds bizarre, I know, but these videos bring me comfort in a way that very other few things do.

I have always had an overactive brain. I would never claim that it was out of control in any way, but I have a very difficult time not hearing and internally commenting on everything that is going on around me. At night, I usually have to make myself fall asleep (I have come to think of it as “turning off my brain”) by reading until I find myself asleep with my face in my book somehow. I have a never-ending string of useless trivia winding itself around at all times of day, and most people have no idea unless they try to tell me something that I just know is incorrect, and it takes more self-awareness than I usually have to keep my mouth shut.

I tend to do everything fast. I tend to speed-read, not the skimming of information just to get the gist of something, but just reading incredibly fast, so much that I cannot share reading materials. I type fairly fast. I work out math in my head quickly. I usually only have to hear something once to remember it for far longer than I ever will need to. This type of ridiculous way of thinking usually doesn’t do much harm except in making me look like a smart-ass, but I really can’t help it. Baking and knitting are seriously some of the only things that I can do at a reasonable speed (and some people who watch me knit even accuse me of stitching too quickly), and they tend to bring me comfort in that fact that they remind me that I am physically capable of slowing down sometimes, and that when I do, good things usually happen.

Speaking of baking…

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Done! Let’s let them cool down a bit before we slice them up.

Even though I am not the type of person who dives obsessively into fandoms (yet), I have found another tremendous source of comfort in this community and this (it sounds weird to say it) way of life. ASMR is not just about sitting in front of the computer, listening to people make clicking noises (although, let’s be honest, that’s a lot of it). It’s also about slowing down and appreciating simple activities. It’s about finding pleasure in small things. It’s about breaking down a task that brings you joy and making it last as long as possible. It’s about treating yourself delicately and kindly. It’s about taking care of your brain.

Let me let Heather Feather, one of the greatest people making these videos, break it down for you:

That video right there has helped me to…not to fall asleep really, but to turn off the part of my brain that keeps me from relaxing like a normal person on more than one occasion. It’s fairly goofy, but it’s also kind and sweet and full of amazing creativity. Just like the rest of the ASMR community.

I didn’t think that I would ever post about this, or really ever tell anyone other than Dan, but last week, one of my clinical instructors apparently listened to the same episode of This American Life that I did and came away with a slightly different opinion on the matter. I’m not saying that what she said was…insulting, but she told our clinical group about ASMR in a way that started with something like, “You wouldn’t believe what some people do for stress relief. I heard something on the radio the other day about this weird thing where people like to listen to clicking sounds and people talking quietly on the computer, and that’s how they relax. Isn’t that bizarre?” Not exactly the most ringing endorsement. I took a cue from my totally amazing friends, both online and in real life, and decided to take control of the situation and love the things that I love out loud and not feel weird or shamed by it. I said, “Yeah, that’s ASMR, and I have it.” And I proceeded to relate much of what I have already typed to 7 pairs of very bewildered eyes. And it felt great. Not just owning up to it and defending something I love, but how I surprised myself in disclosing such information to a group of people that I have not known for very long.

Let’s slice up that bread, okay? It’s waited long enough.

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Want the recipe? Here we go.

—–

Simple Comfort Banana Bread
adapted from Ms. Betty‘s recipe, of course

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened (plus, don’t forget those butter wrappers for greasing up your loaf pans!)
4 large eggs
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 6 from the freezer, where everyone who can’t eat a whole bunch of bananas before they turn brown should be throwing them, right?)
1 cup buttermilk (again, who are we kidding with this? 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus enough whole milk to equal 1 cup works just fine)
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
old-fashioned oats, for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make sure that the oven rack is positioned so that the tops of the loaves are around the center of the oven, to ensure even heat distribution. Grease up your two loaf pans with your butter wrappers.

Mix softened butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and blend until well-mixed. Add the bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk all at once and mix until smooth. Then dump in both flours, the baking soda, and the salt and mix until just moistened.

Divide the batter evenly into your two loaf pans, and then sprinkle the tops with the oats. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes to an hour before attempting to take them out of the pans. Run a butterknife along the outer edges first to ensure that the loaves are sufficiently loosened from the pan before flipping them out. Then, wait until they are fully cooled, at least 2 more hours, before slicing them up.

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You will make a mess.

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I usually slice these up into 12 pieces each, wrap them up in aluminum foil, and put them in the freezer so that they are ready for breakfast and lunch emergencies whenever.

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If you take one out of the freezer before you drive to school, it will be defrosted and perfect when you pull it out of your bag for lunch. It will make everyone jealous.

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So, why combine ASMR and banana bread?

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Maybe it’s just that I’m constantly reminded how much I need to slow down and enjoy life. That the best things in this world are the ones that we take the time to craft for ourselves and truly appreciate. That we all need to take a break and relax, and whether that involves sitting down to enjoy a slice of banana bread with a cup of tea or putting on your headphones to enjoy the fact that someone cared so much about you and your weird loves that they pretended to be your dentist or your spa technician or your travel agent or whatever…it’s your thing.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s dumb. It’s totally awesome, and so are you.

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My mom’s baked macaroni and cheese is better than yours. Or your mom’s.

My mother recently became bionic.

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Meaning that she got a total knee replacement last week, and despite recovering nicely, did not feel up to the hours of standing required to make Thanksgiving dinner.

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As you already know, I am always game to make dessert and cranberry sauce, because these are usually my favorite parts of the meal. Dan and my dad also got in on the cooking this time, being responsible for the meat and side dish portions this year.

However, when I said two seconds ago that dessert and cranberry sauce are my favorite things? I was lying. My mom’s baked macaroni and cheese is my favorite dish in the entire world. I know it doesn’t have chocolate or cranberries or pumpkin or pie crust in it, which is usually all I write about, but trust me when I say that this stuff is fantastic. It is simultaneously sweet and savory, eggy and cheesy, creamy and crunchy…it’s perfection in a casserole dish. And now I had the honor of making it, listening intently and making notes on a Post-It while my mom dictated the next step to me from the kitchen table.

Want to make it, too? Of course you do! That would be pretty terrible to give it such a big intro and then say it would remain a mystery, right? Right. However, here’s a caveat before we really get started. We are from New Orleans, and in New Orleans, we don’t measure while we’re cooking, so getting the measurements nailed down on this thing was a bit of a guessing game. (Note that I didn’t say that we don’t measure while we’re baking. That would just be utter craziness.) I think that what we came up with was pretty damn near perfect, but depending on your oven, your humidity, the phase of the moon, and whether a black cat crossed your path, you may want to shift your proportions a little bit.

Let’s go.

Jinger’s Mom’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese
the only macaroni and cheese that you will ever need to know how to make ever again

Ingredients:
1 package of long macaroni noodles (My mom insists on Luxury, a local brand that’s pretty delicious, but you can use whatever you’d like.)
salt & olive oil (for your pasta water)
4 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 lb. shredded cheddar cheese (She actually told me 1 lb. and then a little bit more, so this is a big guess as to how much we used. Using too much cheese would be a big non-issue, really.)

Directions:
First step? Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Boil up a whole bunch of water in a huge pot, making sure to salt the water and add a little bit of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together. Don’t skip this, because the noodles are going to sit by their lonesome for a while after this, and you really can’t have stickiness there.

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After the pasta’s done (and we mean DONE done, as in fully softened but not falling apart, as my mother informed me that she doesn’t believe in al dente), drain it and place it in your favorite casserole dish. I believe the one that we used is a 4-quart one, but I generally have no idea as to these things.

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While the pasta is cooling off a bit, beat your eggs lightly in a medium-sized bowl. Then, add your sugar.

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Eggs + sugar = macaroni magic.

Whisk it up good. Add your milk and whisk some more.

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Then pour it on top of those patiently waiting noodles, and mix it up as gently as possible. You want those long macaroni noodles to stay long, right?

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Nice. Now, dump about half of your cheese (a little bit more than that, really) on top.

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And mix it in.

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And try not to get frustrated if the cheese is a little clumped up in there. She assured me that this was perfectly normal, even though Dan and my dad were making fun of me for my clumpy cheese.

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After it’s all mixed up, put the rest of your shredded cheese on top, making it nice and even, and making sure those edges and corners get covered, because those are the very best part!

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Strike a pose to commemorate the occasion.

Then put your beautiful cheesy goodness into that preheated oven for 1 hour. Try to be patient. I know it’s hard.

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Then pull it out and admire its majesty.

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Remember what I said about the edges being the best part? Proof! My mom and I always immediately go for the corners to get as much crispy cheesy topping as possible.

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Eat it all up and be thankful that my mom told me how to make this so that I could tell you. Make it for your family and friends. Spread the sweet, eggy, cheesy goodness across the globe.

Thankful for Pie – Extended Metaphor 2013 Edition

Sometimes life is a big mess.

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And it takes a little bit of elbow grease to make things come together.

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Sometimes things just seem like they just don’t go together.

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But even if it seems like something’s not quite right…

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…it all works out.

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Sometimes things just look gross.

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And then they become beautiful.

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And tangy!

Sometimes you just have to get that butter worked into that brown sugar, so you throw aside the pastry blender…

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And get your hands dirty.

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And then you run out of metaphor.

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But you have streusel topping, so it’s all good.

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And brown sugar whipped cream, too, which is a miracle unto itself.

The point is…no matter what life throws at you, if you have pie (and homemade cranberry sauce), you can handle it, rest assured.

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This particular one is an adapted version of Pillsbury’s Maple-Walnut Pumpkin Pie (that I got off of a calendar!), made with Joy the Baker’s Easy No-Roll Pie Crust (of course) and pecans substituted for walnuts, because Louisiana, dammit.

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When you’ve got pie, you’ve got smiles. You’ve got people gathering together to chat about nothing in particular. You’ve got warm, pumpkin custard goodness and buttery crust to share with those you love.

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And we all know how we feel about crust. It could solve all the problems of the world, that crust.

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I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of cranberries, pie, parades, love, laughter, and warmth.

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And an extra dollop of whipped cream. That just goes without saying.

Shelter in Place – Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Pie

About a week ago, people were telling us that we were about to get hit by a tropical storm.

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Her name was Karen, she was headed right for us…and she was no big deal.

This is nothing new. If you’re from New Orleans, as I am, you learn that you don’t even start thinking about hurricane plans until you get up to a Category 2. Tropical storms don’t faze us one bit. Chances are the fall weekend will be even more beautiful than you could have even imagined if the Weather Channel is freaking out and telling you to buy a bunch of bottled water, batteries, and candles in preparation for the tropical storm ahead. This case was no exception.

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We did our duty and filled up the gas tanks and bought some bottled water and made sure that the flashlights were ready to go, and then we went about our business as usual. I had children’s faces to paint during Star Wars Day at work, dammit. Karen wasn’t going to bring us down.

The very idea of staying home during a potential hurricane situation (even one that turns out to be a whole bunch of nothing) makes a lot of people shake their heads in disbelief, I’m sure, but we have a lovely term for it that makes it seem both homey and logical (two of my favorite things)…Shelter in Place.

What sheltering in place means to me is that you have to have board games and playing cards ready. You need candles and books and ridiculously large bags of gummy candy to share with your potential shelter-mates. You need to move your mattresses downstairs and have a slumber party amidst the couches. You need to call all your friends and family and make sure they’re either safe or right in front of you. You need to pet the cats more because they can always tell that something’s up.

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And perhaps more than anything else, you need to have some pie on-hand.

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Since a large amount of hurricane season takes place in what the rest of the country experiences as fall, variations on pumpkin pie are always welcome and encouraged. This time around, I went with a little experiment in chocolate and pumpkin swirled together to keep us satisfied in the case of potential storms. Luckily, none of that happened, so we just stuffed our faces with chocolate and pumpkin and made plans for what pie to make next time.

Shelter in Place Pie
Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl – with assistance from Libby’s

Ingredients:
Chocolate & Graham Cinnamon Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate and regular graham crackers (I used 12 chocolate crackers and 6 regular graham crackers to get a nice mix here)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Chocolate Pumpkin Swirl Filling:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (goddammit, I love me some Libby’s, but if you want to go for the real thing, go right ahead)
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all crust ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated.

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Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

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Bake for 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

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Hell yeah, crust. Check that action out.

Filling:
Now, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a small bowl.

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Beat eggs in a separate large bowl. Stir in the pumpkin, and then the sugar and spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

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I like to really get in there with a whisk to make sure all the lumps are out and that filling is as velvety as possible.

Divide the pumpkin batter roughly in half between the two bowls. Mix the unsweetened cocoa into one of the bowls, and really get your wrist into this because that cocoa will be resistant. Make it bend to your will.

Take your cooled graham cracker crust and get it placed before you with your two different batters. Now take a scoop or ladle of some kind that holds about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter and scoop up some plain pumpkin batter and pour that into that crust. Scoop up some chocolate batter and layer it on top. Repeat until it’s all gone.

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Pumpkin pie batter is super fluid and runny, so don’t get upset if it doesn’t layer and swirl as beautifully as you want it to. Just pour gently and give it some time, and everything will be beautiful.

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Kind of. Trust me, it looks better after it’s baked.

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See?

Bake in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Now, here’s the real hard part that Dan and I can never manage to do. Allow the pie to cool fully before cutting it up and shoving it in your mouth. Don’t get me wrong, this pie was insanely delicious while still carrying a tinge of warmth from the oven, but the flavors had truly melded into something amazing the next day after everything was allowed to rest and come together. It’s even still pretty awesome chilled.

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The whole thing tastes like dark chocolate Oreos and sweet spicy pumpkin at the same time. Cinnamon and ginger and cloves warm your nose while chocolate melts on your tongue. If Halloween Oreos actually had pumpkin-flavored filling instead of just orange food coloring, you’d start to get the idea.

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It’s even irresistible to tiny cats! So whether there’s a big storm coming or not, take this some time weekend to mix up some chocolate and pumpkin and your loved ones and shelter in place. You don’t need a better excuse.

Indulge in some Honey Almond Peach Oatmeal. And then go back to whatever relatively unimportant thing you were doing before.

I’m taking a few precious minutes out from writing a theoretical care plan about a patient with acute exacerbation of chronic heart failure to tell you guys something really, really important.

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Life is better when you eat fancy oatmeal.

When I was a kid, fancy oatmeal meant being able to microwave my own packet of crappy pre-made stuff in an envelope all by myself, especially if it was the kind that came with that little weird jelly packet that you could draw your own designs with.

Now that I am an adult, I have gone past the phase of thinking that oatmeal is disgusting, and I am right back on the oatmeal train. Dan and I will frequently eat oatmeal for dinner if we are at a loss of things that we want to put in our mouths that actually exist in our house. And with all the work and school and hospital-experience nonsense that’s happening around here, it’s nice when you know you’ve got that canister in the pantry waiting for you.

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This weekend, we actually had a free morning together, so the oatmeal preparations got a little bit fancier than our standard nuts and honey fare.

Clockwise from the top left-left hand corner we’ve got some quick-cooking oats, some old fashioned oats (because I need my oatmeal to have some tooth to it, no mushy grossness for me), coconut, oat bran, cinnamon, raw sunflower seeds, and raw almonds. All pretty standard stuff around here.

But where does the “honey” and “peach” part come in?

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There we go. A fresh, ripe peach got thinly sliced, and honey was drizzled onto our nutty oatmeal goodness.

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Yes it was. Now, at this point, we got a little bit of attention from some hungry animals.

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I think it’s fair to say that your oatmeal is going to be really good when tiny cats want to know what you are up to on top of that counter.

Boiling water got poured on top, and then…

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Bam! Oatmeal! Of course, some stirring and delicate perfect placement of peach slices happened, too, but we don’t need to get into that.

Want to make some? I figured.

—–

Honey Almond Peach Oatmeal

Ingredients:
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
1 tbsp. sweetened shredded coconut
1 tbsp. oat bran
1 1/2 tbsp. raw sunflower seeds
small handful of raw almonds
several generous shakes (I suppose that’s technically a dash) of ground cinnamon
1 tsp. honey
1/2 large peach, thinly sliced
boiling water (electric kettles are awesome for this exact purpose)

Directions:
Combine all of your oatmeal ingredients (except for the peach!) in a medium-sized bowl while you are waiting for your kettle to boil up your water. Pour boiling water over the top of your oatmeal to cover, and stir thoroughly. Use less water for some really sticky, thick stuff (that’s the way I like it) or more water if you’re into the creamy texture. The oatmeal should absorb the water fairly quickly, in 2-3 minutes.

Dan will often splash some whole milk into his oatmeal right here to make it even creamier. I am not on-board for the whole milk-in-my-oatmeal thing because I want it to be really thick and sticky, but I can see how it would be completely delicious. Milk is optional, but if you’re into it, go for it. It makes him super happy, if that’s any indication.

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Slice up your peach, and lay it on top. Arrange it in a pleasing fashion if you plan to take pictures or if you’re a big weirdo like me.

Now, when you’re eating it up, be sure to get some pieces of cool, fresh peach in with your sticky, gummy oatmeal so that you can fully experience the joy of having fancy oatmeal breakfast.

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Try to resist licking the bowl. It might be hard.

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Love, a Day Late

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I love the first sip of coconut bubble tea. I love the tiny crystal bunny that hangs in my car window that puts rainbows all over my steering wheel in the morning. I love the feeling of squishy garter stitch knitting underneath my needles. I love opening a new book for the first time. I love the moment right before a cake slides perfectly out of a Bundt pan.

I love the first strawberries of spring.

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I love butter and sugar.

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I am also a really big fan of novelty cookie cutters.

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And making a huge mess of my countertop.

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I love looking down at my new cute apron. (Thanks again, Brittany!)

However, no matter what tiny amazing things capture my attention, there will never be anything I love more than making strawberry shortcake for the love of my life.

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Sweet scones. Strawberries with sugar. Fresh sweetened whipped cream. (Recipe from the Joy of Baking, by the by.)

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Stack it all up, and then let someone else take better pictures than you can.

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There we go. Much better.

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Oops, make sure you let everyone on Facebook know that you made dessert first. That’ll make it extra romantic.

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This man right here is responsible for the more artistic shots, of course. And for taking care of me when I need him to, making me laugh every single day, feeding me amazing spaghetti, knowing exactly the right presents to buy, going through flashcards for hours, letting me teach him how to knit, forcing me to ride my bike, having great taste in shoes, dancing masterfully around the kitchen, taking hundreds of pictures of the cat, and for just generally being an amazing person that I feel supremely lucky to have in my life.

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Thank you. For eating strawberry shortcake with such gusto.

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You’re my favorite.

Smells Like the Holidays – Orange Chocolate Granola

Sometimes trying new things ends in disaster.

For instance, yesterday, I attempted to eat a grapefruit. I have never liked grapefruit, but I had really high hopes for this homegrown pink beauty that was given to us with nothing but friendship in mind. Needless to say, it didn’t end well.

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However, sometimes you take a chance on something, and things go so much better than expected.

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Last year, I tried my hand at homemade candies of various types, with mostly positive results (and moderately singed fingers), but I figured this year we’d go a little healthier. And a little safer on the digits.  Granola it is!

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Two different granola recipes from Joy the Baker were the major inspiration for this recipe, but the combination of chocolate and orange is what really screams “holidays” for me.

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Photos for this post provided by Dan, of course, as you can tell by my oh-so-glamorous-and-attractive face here. Seriously, why don’t I have my own cooking show already?

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The orange kick in this granola is provided by copious amounts of orange zest, which will make your kitchen and house smell just as festive as your party favors.

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Hell yes. How can you go wrong with almonds, walnuts, coconut, cocoa powder, and orange zest? You just can’t.

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And then we add honey and butter? Oh my.

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Almost forgot the brown sugar.

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Mix. Mix. Mix.

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Spread. Spread. Spread.

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Resist the urge to eat the pre-baked granola while it’s sitting there being so fragrant and delicious.

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Bake. Bake. Bake. And then stir. Stir.

You only stir twice. Combo breaker!

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Fill up those goodie bags! And then top with a heaping spoonful of mini chocolate chips to make the whole thing even more festive.

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Yum.

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This recipe makes two pans full of toasty granola, which was enough for 11 people to get a healthy breakfast-sized portion.

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Spoon it up on top of some yogurt or ice cream or just eat it by the handful like those of us with no willpower do. Enjoy that chocolate and orange and make the holidays last just a bit longer into the new year!

Orange Chocolate Granola
inspired by Joy the Baker‘s Toasted Almond Granola and Cocoa Almond Granola

Ingredients:
4 cups oats
1 cup whole raw almonds
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
zest from 2 large oranges (approx. 2 tbsp.)
2 1/2 tbsp. butter
scant 1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
mini chocolate chips, for topping

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Mix together all ingredients from oats to orange zest in a large bowl. Make sure that everything is as equally coated with cinnamon and cocoa powder as you can get it and that the zest is well-distributed.

Heat the butter, vegetable oil, honey, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Allow mixture to briefly come to a boil and then remove from heat. We want to make sure that everything’s slightly caramel-y so that our granola isn’t too soft from the orange oil. Add the vanilla extract after you’re done with the heat and mix well.

Pour the butter and sugar mixture over the oats and mix well with a rubber spatula, making sure to get all the good bits completely covered with sugar. This might take a while. Be patient.

Spread the mixture evenly in a thin layer over both cookie sheets. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time to prevent scorching.

Allow granola to cool completely on the cookie sheets and then break apart. Add chocolate chips here as you transfer your granola to a large airtight container or into individual goodie bags. The more the better.

—–

A super special holiday thanks to all my readers who voted for me in Movita‘s gingerbread throwdown! I felt your love from across the interwebs, and I’m so grateful for all of you! You guys are awesome!

I hope that everyone had a very lovely holiday season, and I wish everyone a very happy new year!

Thankful for Pie – Mostly Wordless 2012 Edition

The simple things this year are what I’m thankful for. The little breaks from stress and school and other ridiculous things. The things that keep us sane (and keep us from freaking out about that dangling preposition up there the first sentence).

Simplicity.

So here we have, presented in no particular order, and without additional commentary, the good stuff.

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2012-05-10 026 2012-04-07 059

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232

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097

076 2012-02-11 016

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008

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031

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Happy Thanksgiving.

Rice is Nice, But It’s Just a Grain

Remember last time when I apologized for not posting in a while, and it had been only, like, a month, or something?

Good times.

Nursing school started in August. Since my job didn’t stop, and neither did the rest of my life, blogging fell to the back burner. And then the counter. And then possibly fell onto the floor, because, frankly, I don’t have that much counter space around the stove.

Metaphors are fun!

Poor, poor blogging. Poor abandoned 365 Project. Poor us for not being able to eat all of the baked goods that I haven’t been making. Poor knitting…for…not being knitted. I guess that makes it just yarn.

Don’t get me wrong, I am really enjoying school. Well, the actual work and learning part of it, at least. My competitive self is kicking ass and taking names, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

I’m here for the moment, and I’m skipping any more apologies, because who knows when I’ll be having another free afternoon and get to spend it in serious relaxing style (which for me means making a giant crockpot of chili with cornbread, playing a whole bunch of Guitar Hero, and then busting out the rice pudding).

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Woah. Rice pudding! Let’s take that back out of the parentheses!

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Rice pudding is delicious. And amazing. And just the perfect thing to eat when it’s getting slightly cooler outside (which in New Orleans is what really passes for fall). Joy the Baker‘s Brown Rice Rice Pudding is particularly fantastic, creamy stuff. Can I also say how much I like typing ‘Rice Rice’ like that?

However, rice pudding, in its individual steps, is not the most appetizing-looking stuff.

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Brown rice cooking. Here’s where we get our weird scummy bits and floating foam.

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Although, it does look tons more appetizing when it’s done.

(Full nerd disclosure: I sing this song while making anything involving rice in my kitchen. Tell me you can get through this video without chanting ‘Get wild!,’ and I will send you a special present. Maybe. In the meantime, just go watch Home Movies already.)

Back to the weirdness.

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Cinnamon and butter and honey plus cold milk equals weird-looking stuff…

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…which gets weirder…

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…and then starts to look sort of like Jupiter. I can’t be the only one who sees that.

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Then things get downright sinister before they get better.

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But only for a second.

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Raisins just don’t know how to belong just yet.

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And then we have the dreaded pudding skin. Blech.

Let’s speed this thing up a bit until we get to the good part, okay?

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Getting there.

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Woo! A big pile of heaven, straight from the stove, smelling like buttery, cinnamon toast and exotic cardamom loveliness.

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Inbetween all of these steps, some knitting even happened.

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Crazy, I know! My fingers actually remembered what to do, which was a relief.

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And I remembered what else to do, obviously.

Now, if only I could get on track and somehow incorporate the blogging and picture-taking and cooking and baking back into my life of school and work, that would be something. I know that I’ll get a big break in December, so you guys should save up the cookie recipes for me so that I can get all the baking out of my system possible while I can.

Looking forward to it.

Happy Happy Pi Day!

Being both a baking nerd and a more traditional nerd as well (see here for the proof if you need it), celebrating Pi Day is a complete no-brainer.

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During what other day do I get to recite math formulas to my boyfriend while baking something with delicious graham cracker crust?

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And happy, bright green, lime-y custard?

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And homemade sweetened whipped cream?

We might have to see some of that again.

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Oh yeah. That’s what it’s all about.

Pi Day is for making an otherwise boring calendar day into something filled with the scent of warm, buttery graham crackers and tropical fruit. It’s the perfect day for your favorite pie, mine being Key Lime, if you haven’t already guessed. No matter how much chocolate you can pack into a dessert, Key Lime Pie will always win out for me any day of the week. This one comes from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook.

It was the perfect addition to our day. It’s been wet and muggy and hot and partly cloudy for days here in New Orleans, and this little pie really helped make the sun come out.

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It tastes like…childhood memories of spring and summer. Like hot, humid days and ice pops. (Otter Pops were always our brand of choice. I wonder if they still make those.)

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Like citronella candles and coconut sunblock. Like kickball games and jumping rope. Like swimming pools and fresh cut grass.

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It’s simultaneously creamy, sweet, tart, crunchy, and buttery…and it’s gone way too soon.

I hope that everyone had a fabulous Pi Day! Make one for yourself and have a bite of spring, even if it hasn’t come to you yet. It’s totally worth it.