Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: A Look Back

I'm sure this doesn't surprise you, but I love when people - usually news anchors or school administrators - develop instant nostalgia. You know... the way people talk about something that happened yesterday or maybe the day before with such awe and reverence that you start to question yourself and your lack of concern over that same, fairly insignificant event.

An example:

The Gosselins: Where are they now?

(Personally... I'd watch that special. I know it hasn't even been a week since their finale on Monday, but I miss them.)

Anyway, I'm already getting nostalgic about yesterday's Thanksgiving meal. It was... really quite good. I blame the chef.

Literally, my Thanksgiving meal was made by a friend who is a former executive and then restaurant chef.

We had...

The most moist, delicious, roast turkey I've ever had.

Also on the plate: roasted root vegetables, garlicky asparagus, melt-in-your-mouth onion, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked squash. Not pictured: amazing gravy made from reduced drippings, and cranberry pear relish spiked with orange Stoli.


Luckily, my nostalgia will be calmed a bit when I eat my plate of leftovers tonight.

And stay tuned for dessert. You can look forward to a better picture (and an explanation) of this guy...

And his awkwardly portioned friends.

What'd you eat yesterday? Thanksgiving or not... I'm just curious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stuff Amanda Likes: Savannah

I'll be honest: Smalltown, Georgia gets me down at times. We're small, dry*, conservative, and without our own Target.

Luckily, when things get blah here, I can roadtrip it to Savannah, a place Amanda likes very much. Here are just a few of the things I like about Savannah.

1. Driving under Spanish Moss & Palm Trees at the same time.

It's just so Southern and homey that it makes me want to fall into a bout of fiddle-dee-dees that would make even Blanche take notice. Just on the other side of this median is the Daughters of the American Revolution park. Blanche would have something to say about that too.

2. Paying to park at a meter, under Spanish moss and palm trees, and in front of adorable rowhouses.

Don't really need much more explanation. The kitsch level is just really high. And I like that.

3. The Book Lady

Located at 6 East Liberty Street, the Book Lady bookstore is quite the find. I happened upon it while hunting down a bakery. (I didn't find the bakery, but I found the building... so I'm not giving up.) Anyway... The Book Lady. This bookstore is accessed by a tiny door just below street level. It's stuffed to the gills with all sorts of books, and I do mean all sorts.

Funniest thing about this bookstore? The bathroom. The bathroom (a one-fer) is large but it's also stuffed to the gills with books, just like the rest of the store. There are shelves in there. And tubs. And boxes. And stacks on the floor. A note on the door (propped open by a stool until you move it) reads:

"You are welcome to use the bathroom, but do not remove the books. These books ARE NOT for sale. Thank you, The Book Lady"

Does that remind anyone else of Sienfeld and George's Impressionists?

4. Soho South Cafe

Just past The Book Lady at 12 West Liberty Street, the Soho South Cafe caught my eye with its brightly colored umbrellas and promise of art with my lunch. Once inside, I was not disappointed. The cafe is big and open with high ceilings and many windows. Art is everywhere, but I didn't take in much of it since my book and I were seated at the front window. The staff was super friendly and hospitable (go figure, I know...) and when my waiter forgot my silverware he sweetly exclaimed, "Oh my word! I'm so sorry about that!"

I swooned a little.

And the food? Excellent. I ordered the Waldorf-style Tuna Pita with a lightly dressed house salad. So good. And so fresh. It was so good that I'm officially adding to this list of foods I would eat every day if I was forced to.

5. The Savannah Mall

For this last bit of stuff, you'll have to shift gears with me. One of the great things about Savannah is that as a place, it's a total both/and. Savannah is BOTH the historical, adorable, artsy place that you've seen so far AND the suburban shopping district that is just a few minutes away. Since I can't shop outside of Goodwills in Smalltown, Georgia, my trips to Savannah definitely include a stop to the mall(s).

And on this trip, I found this poster. Sigh. Sadly, the gingerbread trailer park wasn't set up yet. Otherwise you'd better believe I would have brought you a picture.

To wrap up, this list only covers one street and one mall, but it gives you a small taste of some of what I like about Savannah. Rest assured there are many other things. Things like Paula Deen, River Street, to go beers, Five Guys, ghost tours, Lady Chablis, and street musicians.

*Seriously. I have to drive about 15 minutes from my house to the county line in order to purchase hard alcohol. Beer and wine flow freely though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paula's Mini Burgers in Puff Pastry: All the Good

I don't have a lot to say about these burgers. The take away message is, "Make them now, you won't be sorry."

I watched Paula make a full-size version of these with her sons the other day, and I was very impressed. The burgers are no fuss extra lean ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. I got 9 mini burgers out of 16 oz. of ground beef.

After the burgers are fully cooked (I browned them in a skillet and then baked them through), just top them with a piece of cheese, wrap them up in thawed frozen puff pastry, and bake them again. Couldn't be easier.

The only thing easier than making them is... well... eating them. Enjoy!

Here's your recipe:
Paula Deen's Mini Burgers in Puff Pastry

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Sister and I Look Nothing Like Each Other

(and other lies I like to tell)

+ I promise I'll unpack my office this weekend.

+ No, really, your cat is different.

+ I'll definitely check my school email over Thanksgiving break.

What are your favorite fibs?

Friday, November 20, 2009

How NOT to Prepare for Guests

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I'm sure many of you are getting ready to welcome friends and family into your homes. I know what you're up against. You're anxious about the timing of dinner, the comfort of your guests, and the random statements that will come flying out of your grandfather's mouth. So, dear reader, let me calm you down a bit. Sit back, relax, and learn from my (not terribly) recent experience.

Here's what not to do mere minutes before guests show up at your door.

The morning of your guests arrival, do not fondly remember the ambitious (but delicious) zombie cupcakes of a few weeks back.

Do not let the zombie remembrance remind you of the giant two layer Chocolate Cake with Turtle filling in your freezer.

Do not let the memory of cupcakes gone by encourage you to pull the two cakes from their frozen safety and thaw them. The day of your guests arrival.

And once the cakes are thawed, you might not want to take a picture of the mammoth cakes just to show your friends later that yes, you could in fact lift a giant two layer Paula Deen cake full of caramel, chocolate, and nuts.

Okay... you might want to take the pic, because even once things really hit the fan, you'll at least have a goofy shot of yourself that might just one day turn into a blog header... or something.

Anyway... back to it.

Oh... it's getting more obvious, isn't it.

Please don't decide that one hour is plenty of time in which to make and pour the chocolate icing over the cake before your guests knock on your door.

And... ugh... this really getting hard to talk about... I think it's still too fresh.

Please, please don't answer the phone when your guests call you from 20 minutes out and say, "20 minutes? That's actually perfect. I'm just pouring an icing on my cake real quick and then I'll head up to the coffee shop. I'll sit outside and wait for you there."

Because you just had to know that the 1/2 inch lip you left around the giant cake on the biggest plate you have was not going to hold that icing. And you should have seen it coming when the icing started pouring over the sides without covering and your (silly) response was to add more to the top.

So, yes, if you've gotten this far and done this much this wrong, then you will just have to suck it up, pick up your guests, and welcome them into your home, now complete with chocolate icing dripping down the counter, drawer pull, cabinet, and well onto the floor.

Even your Kitchen Aid will be embarrassed to be seen like this.

But... even if everything goes as wrong for you as it did for me, it doesn't mean your guests' visit is doomed. We had fun. Didn't we, Kira?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bet you didn't see THIS coming!

You know that day you reach - after you've been sick for a while - when you are so fully fed up with soups, toast, orange juice, tea and all other sick foods? Well, today was that day for me.

It was also the day before the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.

Feeling quite a bit healthier and totally excited about the week long school vacay coming up, I was primed and ready for an ambitious dinner.

I did some research in the office today and after school, I attempted to duplicate The Friendly Kitchen's Almond-Thyme Crusted Chicken with Maple-Balsamic Glaze, Pecorino Polenta, and Garlicky Kale.

What made me think I could manage a meal put together by a blogger with a $40,000 culinary education? What encouraged me to take on a dinner that requires two pots, two skillets, one pan, and various prep tools?

Honestly? ...Almond meal.

I'm still trying to use it up.

But... as you can see, my dinner was edible! And pretty good, actually.

I should never have been so scared of polenta. Wilted spinach (no kale at Smalltown Walmart... surprise!) is quite terrific. And almond-thyme crusted chicken is subtly flavored and will be great leftover.

But friends, I'll be honest. The drizzle isn't pictured because I forgot about it and instead of reducing it, I burned it. It turned into a balsamic, maple candy. Very black. Very sticky. And then very quickly very solid. Blech.

When it was all said and done, I learned a very big lesson.

No matter how many pots, pans, aprons (yes, two), whisks (again, two), knives, and measuring cups you use to make your dinner, it will still only take you about 15 minutes to eat it.

And then you'll have to do the dishes.

Dear Reader,

Never live alone.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mail Call!

When I got home from my loooong day of teaching with half a voice, I was greeted by a very exciting package on my doorstep. My everpresent landlord actually saw me find and recognize the package as my Zombie Cupcake prizes and called over, "Someone sent you a Christmas present!"

(I think I caught him off guard when I responded in my manly rasp, but it got me inside my house without having to carry on a conversation.)

The package encouraged me to be careful when opening... and careful I was.

Look at all the goodies. :) Let's take a closer look, ya?

My prize package included:

A pouch made by Yoyo of Topstitch.

An awesome Cupcake Rehab inspired painting by Christine Comis.

Pink polka dot cupcake liners from Lyns of Sweet Cuppin Cakes.

And... a handwritten note from Marilla.

There was so much pink in this package, people. And I love it. I've already decided where to hang the painting, what to put in the pouch, and how I'm going to fill those liners.

A big THANK YOU to Marilla for hosting a Cupcake Rehab 2nd Birthday Giveaway. And another THANK YOU to the prize sponsors. You guys are tops.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stuff Amanda Likes: Folk Music

So, I'm sure you've all seen this book

and if you haven't, you should. Christian Lander started compiling Stuff White People like on his blog, and then put it all into one hilarious book. It's definitely worth a read.

Anyway... sometimes I think that you all just might like to know a bit about Stuff Amanda Likes. And... if you don't... then feel free to ignore this post and move on to higher blog ground.

Today's theme is... Folk Music

1. Girlyman, "Somewhere Different Now"

Since my true favorites are indy folk, it's hard to find good videos. Many of them end up coming from concerts, radio spots, or the like; you'll see that in the clips I've posted here. But... Girlyman is good however you can find them. Doris, Ty, and Nate combine harmonies with guitars, mandolins, congas, tamborines, and whatever they can find (seriously... I've seen Ty play a colander) to produce music that makes me weak in the knees.

And as far as Ty (the lead singer on this song) is concerned, it is my life goal to "bust up her hideout."

Fun Fact: Girlyman is based in Atlanta, Georgia, but the only time I've seen them in the flesh was in Portland, Maine.

2. The Wailin' Jennys, "One Voice"

Pandora introduced me to The Wailin' Jennys this semester over a stack of student papers. We hit it off immediately, and it isn't just their name that won me over. These women have gorgeous voices that they wrap around spirituals, hymns, ballads, Irish folk songs, and many of their own original songs. They're hard not to love.

Fun Fact: The Wailin' Jennys are responsible for "Calling All Angels", the song that plays at the end of Pay It Forward and reduces all living, breathing beings to puddles of weepy mess.

3. Nada Surf, "Blizzard of 77"

Now, I can't speak for all of Nada Surf's work. I've been told they were a flash in the pan in 1996 with the enormously annoying song, "Popular." I don't know that song and I don't care to. But "Blizzard of 77" and others I've heard like it have that earnest harmony that demands attention. It probably doesn't help that one of my smalltown friends plays this particular song every time she's in charge of the tunes.

Fun Fact: The last post on Nada Surf's blog was just over one year ago. In it, Matthew Caws expresses his concern over the upcoming presidential election and encourages readers to vote. These dudes are nothing if not current.


That's all for now. Just a few of my current must plays. If you have a minute, do check out Brandi Carlile's "Dreams" (embedding disabled, lives ruined). I'm serenaded by that one each time my phone rings.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Almond Butter: Take Two (this time there's a cupcake)

On Tuesday, I told you about my almond butter fiasco. Well... after that disaster, I found almond butter at Bi-Low. (Who knew?!) I used the almond butter to put together my Cupcake Hero November: Nut Butter entry.

Blackberry Almond Cupcakes

A moist, vanilla almond eggless cake topped with almond nut butter icing and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

But wait... just beneath the surface lurk...

Two different fillings. I was inspired to double fill these cupcakes by a donut I had at a Tim Hortons in Maine. This ridonkulously decadent donut was filled with both jelly and icing. Having enjoyed the experience very much, I decided to cupcake it. And why not cupcake it with a nut butter icing?

For the icing bit, I made up a thick almond butter icing. To complement that icing, I chose a blackberry jam.

As you can see, the result is visually fantastic. And though one taster thought the effect was a bit peanut butter and jelly, she loved the flavor of the almond butter icing.

All other tasters were unavailable for comment, as the cupcake rendered them speechless. There were a lot of "oh man"s and "wow"s and "ungh"s. High praise indeed.

Without further ado, here are the recipes.

Super Moist Vanilla Almond Cake
modified from Love and Olive Oil

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 cup almond milk
1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.

Whisk oil, almond milk, and vanilla bean paste together in another bowl. Then pour into a well in dry ingredients. Stir until mostly smooth and pour 1/4 c of batter into each liner. (Cupcakes will dome up nicely.)

Bake 20-22 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

Almond Butter Icing (for filling)
based loosely on allrecipes' Fluffy Peanut Butter Icing

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon almond milk (use more if icing is too thick to use as filling)

Blackberry Jam
adapted from Sandra Lee

Stand in jam/jelly aisle for a good few minutes.

Debate worthiness of different fruit jams as they pair with your vision of an almond butter cupcake.

Pull jam (any jam) from the shelf, examine it at length, replace it on the shelf, and leave the grocery store with a jar of Blackberry Jam.

Almond Butter Icing (for frosting)

adapted from this girl

Take remaining almond butter filling and slowly add almond milk until icing is thin enough to spread easily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The almond butter that just... wasn't.

Cupcake Hero's November ingredient is Nut Butter.

Hmm... nut butter. Nut. Butter.

I didn't want to do peanut butter, because I just have to assume that any peanut butter combination I come up with will be done (and probably done better) in the round-up by someone else.

Since I <3 almond, I decided that an almond butter would be the best, sneakiest, inventive-iest ingredient on which to base my November Cupcake Hero entry. But... as you might have guessed... this is NOT the post in which I unveil my November Cupcake Hero cupcake.

I think you'll see just what kind of post this is in just a minute.

My quest to procure almond butter started in all the usual places: grocery stores, health food stores, the Saturday farmer's market. I was soundly and swiftly disappointed at each place.

Refusing to give up, I researched the process of creating almond butter. Oh, it's so simple. (They said.) Just blanch, peel, roast, and process. (They said.)

It's just a list of steps. I can handle steps, right?

1. Blanche: Bring pot of water to a boil, remove from heat, add almonds, let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Drain mucky brown water off the almonds and pop the nuts out of their wrinkly skins.

This process made me a little angsty. In a giggly way. So you guys get a video.

(I know you care. I was just in a bad place.)

3. Place nuts in food processor and let her rip. Nuts should (should) become a meal, release oils, become a ball, and finally smooth out to a butter.

Umm... this is as far as I got. Almond meal.

So... almond butter didn't happen for me. But that's okay because now I have over two cups of amazingly fine almond meal. Any recipes I should try?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Brunch (for Two!)

Yes, yes, I know. Sunday brunch is quickly becoming a habit with me.

But, ya know, there are most definitely worse things.

So here's what I had for brunch today and what I recommend you make for brunch at the next available opportunity (Sunday?).

4 strips of bacon, baked for ease and smoke detector testing (mine's fine, by the way). 4 eggs, slow scrambled with milk, a slice-o-Kraft American cheese, salt and pepper. And a holy mess of fried potatoes.

Mmm... let's spend a minute with those potatoes, shall we?!

My grandmother (mom's mom) made the best fried potatoes. They were perfectly browned in just the right amount of oil. Seasoned only with salt, pepper, and onions, the potatoes were simple and comforting and absolutely amazing. Breakfast-for-Dinner at Mammaw's house was a rare treat that we ALL got excited about. Honestly, boys and girls, I don't even remember the other dishes served at those breakfast gatherings. The potatoes were just that good.

So... that's the nostalgia... now here's the joke:

My aunt (mom's sister, Mammaw's daughter) set out to make these fried potatoes this summer. She reached back into the recesses of her mind and did her very best to recreate Mammaw's fried potatoes. What she ended up with was disastrous and she came to me wondering what went wrong. After she talked me through her process, I asked a question: "Hmm... how much oil did you put in the skillet?"

(Ready yourself for the punchline.)

She replied, "Oh... about this much" raising her right thumb and pointer finger to show about an inch and a half. (O_O)

Too much! Too much!

Anyway... since then I've been trying to make those fried potatoes on my own. And, I think I've got it. Today, I spiced them up Creole-style because I didn't have any onions but the basic idea is the same.

Mammaw's (Creole) Fried Potatoes

Vegetable Oil
Potatoes (red-skinned, cubed)
Minced Garlic
Creole Seasoning (Tastes Great on Everything!)

1. Take a turn of the pan with the vegetable oil. (Just a turn, more than that and you'll be deep frying your potatoes. You just want to brown them. Right, Anita?)

2. Add the chopped potatoes to the hot oil, spread them out, sprinkle garlic and Creole seasoning over them, and walk away. Seriously. Let them brown.

3. Flip them a few times as they brown, but give them several minutes between flippings. This the most important part of the deal. Just do it. After flips, season again if you want.

4. Taste test along the way. Stop when they are perfect.

Finally, take all your food stuffs to the table, share them with your house guest (No? That's just me? Well... aren't I just the lucky girl?), and then please go on to seize carpe the diem day.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mint Julep Cupcakes, or What Season Are We Having?

Boys and Girls, I have news. It's November. (That's not the news bit.) And Smalltown, Georgia is still enjoying temperatures in the 70s.

I don't get it. I keep getting up in the morning and making tough decisions about which ridiculously patterned sweater to add to my already patterned (sometimes twice) teacher outfit, only to walk out the door and realize I don't need it. A few days I've been glad to have it but then shrugged it off by afternoon again.

So today I asked my chatty 9am class what I should expect. It went something like this...

Student A: "I'm freezing!"
Me: "Really? Tell me, how cold will it get in Georgia?"
Student B: "Oh, it gets pretty cold."
Me: "Now, what do you mean by 'pretty cold'? Because I've been living in Maine for the last two years..."
Student B: "Okay, no, it doesn't get cold. This is about as cold as it will get."
Student A: "No way, it will get a lot cooler! Like in the 40s, probably."


Friends, I can do 40s.

So when I ask what season we are having, I really am asking. Apparently this is fall, but it feels like winter to my students. To a Mainer, this feels pretty dern close to an endless summer.

Since I don't know what season it is and since my Australian friends are having a different season entirely and who knows... they might be confused too... I don't think any of you can sass me for making a seasonally inappropriate cupcake.

Like many before it, this cupcake came to me in a dream. I woke up from an afternoon nap with the startling knowledge that I had all the ingredients to make a bangin' Mint Julep cupcake.

The cake is vanilla mint bourbon with a white chocolate bourbon ganache filling and topped with a mint bourbon marshmallow buttercream.

Overall, the flavor was... bizarre. The cupcake tasted a lot like the drink. Some tasters enjoyed this (one said, "What is this filling? More of that!"), others did not.

I wasn't sold in either direction.

I dropped one off in a colleague's office in the morning and came back from class later to find the following message on my dry erase board:

"How can you stand that much speermint?! It's like eating gum or toothpaste! But I still love you."

Hilarious. There is nothing I love more than an honest review. None of that smile and nod business for me!

As it turns out, the verdict is out on both the season and this Mint Julep Cupcake. To both this cupcake and the season, I say a big "Why you always gotta label things?!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spinach Artichoke Pesto Pasta

Okay, those of you who like your recipes will not enjoy this one. I measured not a thing.

I was inspired by Rachael Ray while I was still in bed this morning, so you might have more luck finding her recipe.

Follow me if you dare! (You can keep up, I promise.)

I started by browning a can of quartered artichoke hearts that I drained the water out of. A little bit of oil helps the process.

In my new food processor (oh, hello!), I pureed probably 2/3 of a bag of baby spinach and a small handful of fresh mint with about a half cup of vegetable stock, a couple of spoonfuls of chopped garlic, a spoonful of roasted almonds, and a handful or so of parmesan cheese. I added salt and pepper to taste. And... let's be honest... I added some more garlic. And cheese.

Once the spinach pesto tasted good, I dumped it in with the browned artichoke hearts and allowed the pesto and artichoke to get to know each other.

Did I mention that I was boiling whole wheat penne at the same time? Well... I was. But I'm sure you weren't surprised.

The last step was to toss the pasta and pesto together. Let me just say that this pesto was fab and really easy to whip together. The artichoke hearts bring a slight bite to the dish and the overall flavor is light and fresh. Paired with Three Rivers, this pasta made my Sunday night.

How did you ring in November? For some reason, I've been asking people about November a lot these days. So... I'll ask you too. How is November treatin' ya?!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 7: So Much Fail

God's perfect number.
The punchline of this week's episode of Accidentally on Purpose.
The number of Gosselins I still find cute.
The day I started cheating on my 30 Day Plan to Separate Church and State.

And, if I had just cheated, I would have been able to apologize, punish myself, and get back on the horse tomorrow. The problem is that I justified checking my personal emails and sending a text or two because it didn't really disrupt my progress.


Anyway, back to it tomorrow. I'll be good. For the challenge, if nothing else.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Halloween Reflection

When the fellow in the middle was commissioned to zip my $9 Goodwill dress of infinite tightness, he gripped the zipper, started pulling up and asked only one question:

"We're going all the way up?"

Yes, dear. Have a bit of faith.

This morning, when one of my students asked how my weekend was, I thought about it and said, "It was nice."

When she asked me if I did anything for Halloween, I said (without thinking), "No... I didn't... How was your dad's haunted house?" She launched into a story about scaring children and I returned to my gradebook.

And... we're back to normal. At least for another 362 days. Sigh.