The Summer So Far? Ice Cream and Muffins!

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Hello there. It’s been a while. I’m afraid that I have been reveling a tiny bit too much in the fact that my semester ended and doing some things that I don’t get a lot of chances to do. Like what, you ask?

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Sitting near lakes during lovely sunsets.

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Having lunch dates with my love. (At Dat Dog, of course. Overloaded hot dogs and Barq’s in the bottle should be the opener for every summer vacation.)

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Knitting a little squirrel for Eddie Izzard. Like you do. (Pattern is the hilariously titled Knit One Squirrel Two, by Rabbit Hole Knits, a lovely little bit of knitting that turns out some very strangely shaped little items. Don’t those tiny squirrel leg/haunches look like drumsticks? And the squirrel body? I can’t even get into that.)

We’re going to see Mr. Izzard in Austin at the end of June as a special birthday treat from my brother and his fiancee. I’m still wondering exactly how I am going to manage to give him a squirrel as I do not have any idea as to whether he is into the whole autograph-and-shaking-hands-with-fans situation after his shows. Anyone have any ideas short of me going on Twitter and telling him that I really want him to have this tiny squirrel, no strings attached? I’m pretty sure that I will be sent to awkward-Twitter-stalker jail for that one.

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Eating frozen yogurt out of cups that depict some sort of crazy dystopian mountains-vomiting-rainbows insanity.

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Listening to the charming words of Mr. Kai Ryssdal, (in person!) everybody’s favorite sassy business radio host.

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Reading Infinite Jest and giggling when I see references to children’s pictures books and M*A*S*H throughout, although I don’t think David Foster Wallace much cared for the antics of Hawkeye and Trapper John (I almost wrote B.J., but I’m pretty sure he was only into the early seasons).

Playing this game with Trip almost every single morning. He crouches in the corner now and waits for me to wake up so that I can get that sunbeam-iPhone-reflection going for him.

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Watching awesome bands and eating crawfish with wonderful friends. (And the Ghostwood even has a new 7″ out called Empty Cosmic Gloom that you should purchase so that you can get your fix of New Orleans pop punk goodness.)

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Causing my right thumb to go numb by X-Acto-ing tiny stencils of popular movie symbology so that I could tattoo them on small children. I do weird things for work sometimes.

Speaking of…

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Dressing up as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for our Summer Reading Kickoff party at work, where we all dressed as our favorite characters from novels (graphic novels included) that were later turned into films. Dan is responsible for the amazing goggles and war-hammer, and yes, you should be jealous of that fact. This was the first time where I ever got so into a costume that I would consider this ‘cosplaying,’ and it’s weird to think that my first time cosplaying happened on the clock at Barnes & Noble. I had some fairly extreme wig + goggles + tights + combat boots anxiety, but had an awesome time nonetheless. Especially after the event was over and I spent 3 hours at the information desk helping people, being the only person inexplicably in a costume in the entire store. I’m sure I confused some people. Except the people in the graphic novels aisle. I’m pretty sure that I delighted them.

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Making Jeni’s Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk Ice Cream, from her amazing first book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

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I didn’t get to eat much of it, as it was contributed to a work potluck in the break room, but it was some delicious stuff.

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It was a reason to actually go out and buy buttermilk, something that I do not normally do, even if a recipe tells me to.

Now I am in the situation where I have an awful lot of buttermilk that is going to go bad soon if I don’t use it up (How can you tell if buttermilk has turned, by the way? This is an important question.), so some baking just had to be done. Loaves of banana bread were mixed up and baked, but I still had more left over, so I turned to another old favorite.

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Pinch My Salt‘s delicious Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins were a great way to get up early this morning to use up that buttermilk, plus make my whole house smell like oranges, which is always a plus.

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Just one swipe on that grater, and it’s all over for me. I love oranges. I need a more emphatic word than love, but my hands still smell like oranges, and I’m too distracted and enchanted too care.

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Just lovely.

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The oranges are zested and juiced, and then combined with whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and some wonderful warm spices.

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I always like this moment right before I whisk together my dry ingredients, when you can see all the different colors and textures. It’s like sand art, in the best sense of the word.

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The wet ingredients are not nearly so attractive unmixed. Or mixed, frankly.

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But chunks of walnut make an appearance as well. I like to keep the chunks fairly large just to make these muffins as rustic and homey as possible.

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I’m going to pretend that that’s also the reason why I don’t smooth out the tops of my muffins, but laziness is probably also a factor in that.

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But look at that gorgeous cracked top! It’s so worth it. The tops of these muffins are sweet and have just the right amount of crunch. The bottoms are moist and orangey and buttery and full of whole wheatiness.

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You can even pretend that they’re still healthy when you dump a bunch of butter on them and enjoy them with some tea on a Friday morning. I have made these muffins countless times, but this is probably the first time with actual honest-to-goodness buttermilk, not fakey whole milk and vinegar kitchen hacks.

There’s only one problem. Even with all of this hearty buttermilk-based baking, I still somehow have buttermilk in my refrigerator. Apparently in Louisiana people must be drinking this stuff, because I can’t think of any reason why I had to buy a whole liter of this stuff. What on Earth am I going to do?

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Oh dear. Summer has only just begun. Someone ask me to make them an ice cream cake, quick.

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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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
Crust:
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.

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.

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.

365 Project – Week 14

Well. It’s been a week of serious ups and downs.

And the ups! Oh boy, were they some delightful ups. Let’s take a look at them. Those that can be photographed, anyway.

Ups.  I just wanted to type it one more time.  What a weird little word.

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I was playing around with our tiny portable tripod to see if I could get a picture of all of my nails altogether, and I noticed that I had a cute, tiny spy watching me.

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Rodney’s Snowballs! A great way to finish a day of very sweaty and strenuous gardening. I’ve got cherry there, and Dan’s got some grape going on. Rodney’s, although very small and a tiny bit…dodgy, has always been my favorite place to go for snowballs. They put a gummy bear in the bottom of your cup so you have a little surprise at the end! Their ice cream flavor is my absolute favorite, but I wasn’t ready to have my whole mouth dyed yellow.

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Strawberry Shortcake! This was the extra pretty version that soon got toppled by way too much extra whipped cream. It was fantastic.

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Hooray! Got my acceptance letter for nursing school in the mail and promptly did a little dance in my chair. I can’t wait to be way too busy come fall. I wasn’t even peeved that they spelled my name wrong. Well, not much anyway.

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Banana bread, prepped and ready for the oven. I’ve started throwing all of our slightly soft bananas into the freezer as soon as it’s clear no one’s going to eat them and making lots of banana bread to slice up and freeze for later. It makes a great breakfast or snack, as long as you’re patient enough for it to defrost.

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Bowie in the early morning sunlight that creeps through our kitchen window. Although not much that morning, just the fact that the sun was shining at all was a relief.

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Nearing the toes on the second Southwest Anklet!

Here’s hoping that next week has just as many delightful up-related moments. I have a feeling it will. So far, there’s pie and potato salad, picnics, and a large Curious George costume in my future…what could go wrong?

Five years training. Hard, hard work. Night school. Pilot. Chocolate Biscuits.

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Is there anything more lovely than cookie-makings in the strainer, waiting to be sifted?

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Here are the beautiful beginnings of everybody likes sandwiches‘s Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, all sifted and ready to go. As you’ll soon be able to see, here’s also where the realistically-colored pictures come to an end.

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All that dark cocoa makes my camera’s contrast go crazy, resulting in delicious cookies that are particularly hard to photograph.

Here again I used my new cookie scoop to get more uniformly-sized cookies. The dough for these cookies is fairly loose and hard to shape, due to the oil involved, so the less touching, the better.

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The original recipe also calls for flattening the dough into discs, but I’ve found that makes for very thin cookies that don’t hold much jam. And we want these babies to be full of jam. Packed. So again, I try to touch them as little as possible.

You first bake the cookies about halfway, and then take them out, use your 1/2 teaspoon measure to make indentations in them (because you used your thumb the first time you made them years ago, and the lingering memories of scalding hot cookie dough make you eager not the make that mistake again), and fill them up with jammy goodness.

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You also have to hold very still and stay on that shutter button to get a picture of this in time-lapse style, just because. We usually use raspberry jam, but since strawberry was what was on hand, it was going right in.

I also can’t keep typing the word jammy without thinking of this bit of brilliance from Eddie Izzard:

I wish that there was the original version of this somewhere, but the Fisher Price one will have to do. Just imagine everything coming out of the mouth of a British man in fantastic makeup, having a hankering for chocolate biscuits. It’s about 2:04ish when he starts raving about jammy dodgers, but do give a listen to the whole thing (otherwise my title for this post makes absolutely no sense).  He does love his jam.

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With a multi-step process like this, having two ovens helps. I thought it was a bit odd at first that my parents chose to go with both a gas and an electric oven, but while cookie-making (and I’m sure during Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations), I have a deeper understanding and appreciation. I can have some cookies on their first go through the oven while prepping the next for the second step, all at once.  It’s quite exciting.  However, multiple timers going off all at once does nothing to help the sanity.

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After that second trip in the oven, the jam molds itself into the cookie, turning the entire thing into a wonderful sweet treat that tastes like brownies and summertime.  These are Dan’s favorite cookies (and probably favorite baked good, next to pumpkin pie, that I make at all), and usually when I’m making them, I just tell him that I’m making his cookies.

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The obligatory bite-out-of-the-cookie shot. Look at that.

And the fact that I obviously need to redo my nail polish.

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For the whole of the week, I’ve been looking forward to coming home from work/school and cozying up to a little plate of this jammy happiness with some milk…

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…some craftiness…

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…and the dreamy, sad eyes of Josh Charles kicking serious ass on Sports Night.

I’m on the last disc, and that makes me a bit misty.

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There’s always some casualties when making thumbprint cookies, usually from pushing too far through the dough when making the little jam wells. However, the whole texture this time was a bit off for some reason. My cookies didn’t really set quite as well as usual, resulting in really soft brownie bites rather than denser cookies. I’m not sure if I made a mistake in doubling the recipe (because how could you not double this up?), or if it’s just the altitude shift (since I’ve only ever made this recipe in Colorado). They still taste delicious, though, so I’m in no hurry to find the ‘problem,’ if you could even call it that.

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Nope. No problems here.