Sunday, February 28, 2010

Amanda's a WoW kid!: Week of Wardrobe v. 1

Hulloh, new blog feature!

Well... possible new blog feature. If you all like it. And leave enough comments to make me feel good about myself. And like I wouldn't mind spending the extra time taking awkward daily pictures of myself.

Anyways... the feature.

A Week of Wardrobe was my sister's idea. She tried it out a while back and she put another edition together this week. The idea is simple... one pic each day for a week showing that day's outfit. Now... my sister is a bank teller. And a hipster. I am a composition instructor with little regard for normalcy or anything uncomfortable. So... this could get interesting.



Out-of-town teacher uses the distance from students to wear age- (if not profession) appropriate t-shirt.


80's rebel, John Hughes style. Tough as nails and smoking in the bathroom, until two-thirds of the way through the film when she cracks a bit.


Long lost Jonas sister. You can just tell I'm saving myself for marriage, can't you?

Wednesday (Day of Hellish 5-Class Reckoning):

Quirky teacher complete with citrusy sweater and flats, tied together with a $2.50 thrifted, homemade belt. (Holla, faculty bathroom mirror!)


Told that Smalltown will "feel like winter," our heroine winterizes a basic grey t-shirt with the wonderscarf and a jacket, just in case they weren't kidding.

Friday (pt. 1):

That girl who uses Casual Friday to show up all her co-workers by dressing up for the first time that week.

Friday (pt. 2):

This, ladies and gentlemen, is called "finding your light" (at least it would be if the light were any count). This is also called appropriate attire for going out on Friday night in Smalltown. Sigh.


If you follow me on Twitter and paid attention on Friday night, you can probably guess why I played the role of dirty hippy on Saturday. The reality of the morning headache and the prospect of errands, baking, and house cleaning landed me in comfort world: white T, jeans that I can put on and take off without ever unzipping, TOMS, and not a stitch of the makeups.

And... because I just can't end the post with that picture...


Trying out a new coffee shop mandates the humanities woman costume and I willingly comply. And take a picture of myself in said costume in the bathroom.

And that, dear friends and lurkers, is a Week of my Wardrobe. Don't forget to take a gander at my sister's WoW post here. We also talked the Domestic Empress into joining the fold too, so you can check out her week when she posts it on Thursday or Friday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sticky Buns and Stinkin' Students

As it turns out, my students are the willing, eager to please sort. They're working hard and they're confident in my ability help them improve their writing. Though I'm asking them to challenge themselves, they come in each day with smiles on their faces, knowing they are well on their way.

If you believed that, then you've probably already gotten what you came here for. However, if you, like me, had a rough work week, then stick around. You're in good company.

When I had my fill on Thursday, I turned to baking for consolation. And you can tell my need for release was serious, because I turned allll the way to yeast.

My strategy for relieving student-induced stress: Cinnamon Buns with Peach & Pecan.

I followed the Neely's recipe for Nana's Cinnamon Rolls and made a few changes.
- diced dried peaches instead of raisins
- 2.5 cups whole wheat flour & 2.5 cups of AP flour (instead of 5 cups AP)
- shake of ground clove in the filling (I wanted to complement the peaches, but I don't know that it was perceptible. Next time I'll add more.)

And... really... they were pretty good. The peach bits were great to bite into. But... I didn't make these buns to eat them, so I just had a bit of one before I wrapped them all up to share with friends tomorrow night.

I made these buns primarily so that I could focus my energy on a series of tasks and emerge a few hours later with a student sticky bun who that wouldn't yell at me.

Sigh. Ah well. Tomorrow's a new, four-class day. : )

Tell me, what do you do to get over work frustrations?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Decatur Dish

I spent this past weekend blissfully out of Smalltown, Georgia!

Have you heard LCD Soundsystem's "New York, I love you but you're bringing me down"? Well if you haven't, or you'd like to see Kermit the frog sing it, then just dance your little mouse this way. Anyway... that was kinda the point I had reached with Smalltown.

Only I don't love Smalltown. I'm just not quite a Smalltown girl. But for some reason I just keep moving from one Smalltown to another for... ya know... the almighty dollar. There-fore... I take singular joy in roadtrips. Love them.

It should surprise exactly none of you that when I vacation, I eat damn well.

So should you happen to be in Decatur, Georgia anytime soon... I have some recommendations. Because, yes, it was all good.

It was Fish & Chips night when I showed up on Friday, but I chose the Turkey Reuben with their signature steak fries instead. I washed it all down with a Leinenkugel Creamy Stout (and a half). It was all crazy delicious.

Warning: You won't get three pickle spears with your sandwich unless you eat with two pickle-hating friends who also order sandwiches.

Mmmm... They have ice cream, sure, but we were more intrigued by the wide selection of things dipped in chocolate. We had marshmallows covered in chocolate. Sadly, they looked... awkward... in pictures. : ) But they tasted exactly how they should. There's something so comforting about a fresh marshmallow coated in chocolate.

Excuse me, I just drooled a little bit. Let's move on.

We met some friends at the Flying Biscuit one day for brunch and this might have been my favorite meal of the trip. I ordered the Clifton Omelette which is, according to their menu, "three large farm fresh eggs with goat cheese, mushrooms & fresh basil, topped with spicy tomato coulis." To the right there, you will see what my travel companion and I could not leave untested, the cinnamon roll pancake.

Not pictured: the "dreamy creamy grits" that finally did what Smalltown could not do by convincing me that grits could in fact be desirable. And actually, in this case, hella good.

Now just so you know, it wasn't just all fun and games dining out. We also made up a wicked good vegetarian stuffed bell pepper recipe that we ate on for two days. The pictures I took were lacking so you'll just have to wait until I make that recipe again. I have a feeling it will happen sooner rather than later.

Annnnd... Sunday before I left, we made cupcakes.

Blue velvet cake, Julia Child's Italian Meringue icing, and Andes Crunchy Peppermint bits (no, not bacon). They were Olympic themed but I think the lighting of this pic doesn't quite communicate that. Go U.S.A.!

Speaking of those Olympics... I'm going to watch a bit more of them tonight before I turn in. And when I do turn in... I wouldn't mind dreaming of a Decatur breakfast.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wakin' to the Smell of Facon?

This morning I had a BaconEggandCheese sandwich. This is not usual.

What is unusual is that this BaconEggandCheese was made for me. By a friend. By a vegetarian friend.

What? What's that? Vegetarian?! How can that be?

I know... I know... you didn't expect this. Neither did I, honestly, but it's true. I actually do have a handful of friends who restrict their food intake without being forced to by allergies.

I may not understand their lifestyle, choose it for myself, or even attend their parades, but after months of personal struggle, I've taken a very live and let live perspective.

You do you, so to speak.

So when my dear friend Kira presented me with facon (pronounced FAKE-en), I determined to give it a good college try.

Then I remembered that a literal college try would mean that I would show up hungover, five minutes into the facon enjoyment, completely unprepared to eat. I'd take a half-assed bite and immediately begin complaining about the next night's homework... that I have absolutely no intention of completing.

Sorry... I'm not talking about facon anymore. I'll get back to it.

This sandwich (facon and all) was the bomb. Kira cooked up the egg with a bit of heavy cream (uh... omg, yes) and then layered that with facon and a deli-thin slice of pepper jack havarti between two slices of toasted challah. Toss some fresh strawberries on the plate for color and fruitiness... and I'm starting to understand how one could survive breakfast as a vegetarian.

Lila was similarly impressed with the dish and expressed as much by planting her head on my leg for a large part of the meal.

Just in cases.

As it turns out, Lila was out of luck.

In her defense, she has not read my post in praise of the BaconEggandCheese.

So what's the verdict on the facon?

Well... despite the fact that I lolled at its striking resemblance to rolled fondant, it actually is quite tasty. Made most of egg whites, soybean oil, and more flavorings than any one food stuff should have, facon tastes a lot like actual bacon. Smokey, delicious, but with 44% less fat. I won't be replacing the real stuff any time soon, but I might just keep facon in my mental file for a bit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

If at first you don't quite fail, try, try again

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw this post coming.

February 14th, 11:11am: And I just ruined three cupcakes (no biggie) and a cupcake tin (biggie! Who does that?!?!?! THIS GIRL!!!). Dust off the ol' "disaster" tag.

Consider the disaster tag dusted, polished, and bronzed for the occasion.

Ugh. Observe.

Here are four of the recent cherry spice cake cupcakes. Notice how the one in the foreground is fine... nearly textbook. The three in the background? Charred. As in black. Let's... just...

Yeah... you can't smell the smoke and you can't tap on that rock hard cupcake bottom, but you can tell how epically burned those three cupcakes are, right?

Hmm... I can see some of you are still unconvinced. "Look at those golden tops," you might say. "Are you sure it isn't just a funky liner issue?" Well... I see your counterargument, but I'm going to quickly draw your attention back to the evidence.


Conclusion reached.

Soo... I've overbaked cupcakes before. I'll admit it. It happens. But... overbaked cupcakes don't look like this. No no, dear friends. This kind of disaster requires special skill and an extra step.

An extra step that I didn't realize I was taking until it was too late...

Since it was Valentine's Day and I was feeling festive, I made myself a decadent breakfast once the cupcakes were in the oven. And for once in my kitchen experience, my timing was perfect. My egg sandwich came together just a minute before the cupcakes needed to come out of the oven, and I was surprised and even pleased with myself. All smug, I pulled the perfect cupcakes out of the oven, set them on the stove (as I always do), and sat down to that amazing sandwich.

While three of my cupcakes continued to cook. (-_-)

Oh, but don't worry... the smell of smoke and failure alerted me to the disaster before the smoke alarm took notice.

**insert dramatic eye roll here**

So... di-sas-ter. To add insult to injury, I don't have a back-up cupcake tin, meaning that I don't actually have a horse to get back on.

Hmmm... any suggestions for how I should I bounce back? Any comfort recipes I've been missing all my life?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Year Cupcakes!

or, "Valentine's Day is Nothing to Blog About"

This post is going to be a little bit out of keeping from my usual shtick. You see... the product I created this morning was not amazing. From the Cherry "Five Spice" Cake to the blue cinnamon cream cheese icing, nothing went quite right for me. Was it tasty? Not really. Is it something people will want to duplicate? Nah, gurl.

So why bore you with the play-by-play?

Exactly my conclusion.

I will say that the fortune cookie recipe (and procedure) is one you should definitely try. If you have... a lot of time... an excess of patience... and an obsessive compulsive desire to do the same thing many times in a row until you create five serviceable cookies that are maybe tasty. If that sounds like you, then hop over to Cheeky Kitchen's fortune cookie post. Heck... you'll probably want to check it out anyway... she makes it look easy.

If you're still with me, then I'm going to answer the age old question: How do I eat a cupcake with fortune cookie on top?

Come on, don't pretend like you haven't tossed and turned over this question. So many things to consider...

Anyway... I'm going to do the heavy lifting for you, because... well, I care about you. Here's what you should do:

1. Undress that sucker. Treat her like a lady, but like a lady you'd like better naked.

2. Careful not to disturb the cookie, take a bite of the cupcake. (If it's my cupcake, then take a moment to be disappointed in the lack of cherry-ness to the cake. Note the sad blah-ness of the icing, while you're at it.)

3. Gingerly (yeah... ginger was one of my five spices... It was actually a play on Chinese Five-Spice and not actually the spice called "Five-Spice." The fails just keep coming, don't they?) pluck the fortune cookie from it's icing bed.

4. Break open the cookie and behold thy fortune!

"Conditions are perfect"???

Hopefully I have at least one reader who caught the Flight of the Concords reference. But if you didn't catch it this time, you will next time. Enjoy...

(possibly NSFW if you work with children or stuffy people)

Wait a minute... I've objectified a baked good. I've failed to live up to expectations. I've mentioned feelings. I've quoted a love song (kinda?).

Dammit. This is totally a Valentine's Day post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three things that made me laugh yesterday...

1. A bumper sticker spotted in the Walmart parking lot: "If it ain't King James, it ain't the Bible."

They said with the conviction that only a true linguistic scholar can summon.

2. A conversation I had with two students:

Girl: "Where'd you get your sweater?"
Me: "Hmm... umm... somewhere in Virginia..."
Girl: "TJ Maxx?"
Dude: "She's not cheap! It came from Macy's."

In case you're wondering, they were both wrong. I am cheap, but the sweater (a gift) actually did come from Macy's.

3. A movie quote from the woman scorned: "When I retire, I'll simply write a short story as my revenge."

There's nothing like a scathing short story. Am I right?

What made you laugh recently? If you make me LOL, I'll make you a cupcake. Honest.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Julie, Julia, and Amanda (Part 2)



Earlier this week I shared my Julia Child-inspired cookies. They weren't a Julia recipe, but they look like Julia. What I have to share with you today is pretty much the Willy Wonka ("strike that, reverse it") of those cookies. These cupcakes come from a Julia Child recipe, but you wouldn't necessarily know that by looking at them. Just something interesting I thought about...


Julia Child's Gateau A L'Orange et aux Amandes (Orange and Almond Sponge Cake for those who, like me, do not read French) was actually not terrible to put together. The experience of making the cake and icing was a lot like making my first Martha Stewart cupcake. A lot of steps, none of them impossible. Let the record show, however, Julia Child's steps are significantly more difficult and delicate than Martha Stewart's.

The first thing that Julia got me to do that Martha never did was assemble and measure all my ingredients ahead of time.

Mise en place, she calls it. Here's what I had:

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
zest from one orange
1/3 cup orange juice, strained
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup pulverized almonds
1/2 cup cake flour
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar

I do not have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so I followed Danielle's very carefully posted recipe at Cooking for My Peace of Mind. Since I was largely baking for my peace of mind this weekend, it just all felt right.

I began by gradually beating 2/3 cup of sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture formed a ribbon when I pulled the beater up.

Note the ribbon in the bowl there and the amount of left-handed, perfectly timed picture taking skill it took for me to capture it.

Next I added the orange juice, orange zest, and almond extract. The orange et amandes bits. (Is that at all right, French speakers?) After the mixture became light and foamy, I added the pulverized almonds, mixed, and then added the flour, mixed again.

In another bowl, with another mixer, I beat the egg whites and pinch of salt to soft peaks. Once the soft peaks showed up, I added a tablespoon of sugar and continued to beat to stiff peaks, the ones you see in the picture there.

Back to the batter, I added one stick of melted butter and stirred yet again.

Finally, I folded the beaten egg whites into the gorgeously fragrant orange almond batter.

Julia and Danielle said I could fill my cake all the way to the top, but my fancy cupcake liners were quite a bit taller than my tin. So I kept it conservative and I'm glad I did. You'll see in a minute that the cakes rose perfectly.

Now for the topping bit...

I followed the recipe for Julia's Italian Meringue in Julia's Kitchen Wisdom. This book I actually do have. :)

Here's what I gathered (and forgot to photograph):

2/3 cup egg whites (4-5)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (I didn't have this so I went without)
pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water

Julia's instructions: Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt to soft peaks and turn machine to slow. Meanwhile, boil water and sugar to the thread stage. (Amanda's note: You'll know you've reached this when you drizzle a bit of sugar water off a spoon into a glass of water. The sugar should form a thread in the water. Also... don't ever stir the sugar... Idk why... but it must be important b/c everyone stresses that.) Beating the eggs at moderate speed, slowly dribble in the hot syrup. Increase speed to moderately fast and continue beating until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shining peaks.

Let me just say... this takes a hot minute. You can go ahead and walk away. And then walk away again after you check it. And then walk away again when you talk yourself out of checking it.

I'm just sayin... it takes a minute.

But... oh em gee... when it works? It's a thing of absolute beauty. This meringue is Julia's basic meringue. She provides variations for making this into a buttercream, flavoring it, and all sorts of other things... but honestly... this pure form is better than my attempt at her buttercream.

I frosted my mini cupcakes with an offset spatula and they look almost as if they were piped. Gorgeous. I'm... in love. I cooked sugar - I cooked an icing - and I'm in love with the result. I am as surprised as you are.

And what of the cupcake as a whole?

Well... I told you the batter was fragrant and lovely? The cake was just as nice. The sponge is light and fluffy and just slightly sticky. Both the orange and almond flavors are noticeable but delicate. Pairing the fresh, airy sponge with meringue was an excellent choice, since I'm certain anything heavier (an American buttercream, for instance) would have killed it. The Italian Meringue, on the other hand, provided sweetness that was as subtle as the cake itself.


In the words of my idol, Ms. Paula Deen, "Y'all are gonna have to excuse me while I finish makin love to my tater."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Julie, Julia, and Amanda (Part 1)

Now I've done it. I've cut the dickens out of my finger!

(Not really. But who doesn't love that skit?)

Anyways... this weekend I was invited to a little shindig. Here's the deal (broken down like those invitations you wish you got to the popular kids' parties in middle school).

What: Julie & Julia Dinner Party

When: Saturday, Feb. 6, 6pm until...

Where: Blair's

What to Bring: A Julia Chid dish and copies of the recipes to share.

Sounds simple enough, right?

And it was...

Until I woke up the morning of the party (alright, alright, it was 11am... which is still technically morning) and decided that - in addition to my Julia Child recipe that was mostly ready - I needed to bake and decorate Julia Child cookies.

Once I had a plan for the day that involved baking, decorating, and (most importantly) no paper grading, I jumped out of bed and into action.

I rolled out the leftover Brownie Roll-Out Dough that I had frozen the other day.

And I asked Twitter to spot the theme. For the record... no one even came close.

While the cookies cooled, I made the royal icing and got to the delicate, precise work of outlining the cookies. White first...

And here, dear readers, is the danger of using Ziploc bags instead of decorator icing bags. How-ev-er, this explosion can be easily avoided by putting less icing in the bag and double bagging those suckers. This one explosion was my only one all day.

But don't you worry... I made the absolute most of that one explosion by dropping the squooshed out royal icing in the eye of the stove. Brilliant, I know.

Back to the cookies... six hours after I sprang out of bed and into action... I had a collection of Julia Child themed cookies.

Et voila!

Hopefully, hoooopefully you can identify fish, onions, pots or cleavers (your choice), French flags, and wine glasses.

I for one was pretty pleased with the cookies. I know my royal icing skills aren't perfect, but I think they are serviceable and I'm having a lot of fun getting creative with the stuff. Next time I make and decorate cookies, I'm going to make one or two shapes and cut down on the ridiculous variance. I don't want to jump the shark.

Now, for those of you keeping track, I still haven't told you about my actual Julia Child recipe. That is a project for another day. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

World Nutella Day!

Decadence, thy name is Nutella.

Per the World Nutella Day website:

Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso (and Shelley from At Home in Rome, in spirit) solemnly declare Friday, February 5th “World Nutella Day 2010″ – a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

Because I like to do what I'm told...

Disclaimer: (Is it still a disclaimer if it comes after the thing it's disclaiming? Or does it technically have to come before and warn you of the badness ahead? Anyways...) Video is 7 and a half minutes of Amanda time, largely uncut, until the ending at which point there is a large, abrupt, dramatic cut that is jarring at best. I understand but I'm too tired to do any better. Remember that the time between when I learned of Nutella Day and the time of posting was about three hours.

For the readers among you, here's the recipe:

Two slices of pound cake
Smathering of Nutella (As much as you can handle... It's a holiday after all.)
Banana slices (six fit on my slices)

Make the sandwich, kids. I really should have to explain it, right?
Panini that thing on the middle setting for 2 minutes.
Eat and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day! (A Retrospective)

Today I lazily present you with last year's Groundhog Day cupcakes.

And... a little bit of a review.

This morning I got a text from the friend who helped me make those groundhog (mistaken for walrus) cupcakes. She reminded me of the anniversary and wished me a "Happy not walrus day!"

I'll be honest... before I got her text... I had no idea that today is Groundhog Day.

But! Now that I know... I figured I'd let her nostalgia throw me into my own.

Last year at this time:

I was living in Maine, tromping to and from campus (through the snow) to teach one class of 22 students and take two graduate courses of my own. My 101 class was about Oprah and popular culture; I honestly cannot tell you what my own classes were on.

I was a nervous wreck over job applications and life plans.

I blogged most days.

I had a roommate, an adorable apartment with three floors, a collection of winter clothing that now mostly belongs to Goodwill, an aloe plant that I'm still trying not to kill, and a gorgeous kitchen with windows on three sides.

My hair was a couple of inches longer, shaggier, and black.

I had a love affair with potatoes and pasta and had one or both most days.

I was staring at a tub of red fondant and wondering whether or not I'd be able to pull off my super ambitious plan.

I could not imagine reading and commenting on 92 student papers in 48 hours, while teaching and living a semi-normal life.

How-ev-er... that 92 paper task is the one set before me today. Well... the rest of the task, at least. I got the papers yesterday and I have 31 to finish by tomorrow at 9am. Easy peasy.

If only I'd stop taking these breaks to chat, blog, facebook, and tweet.

Eh... who are we kidding? These breaks maintain sanity. That's an important part of the work effort in my book.

By the way, does anybody know if that Punxsutawney character saw his shadow? I mean... it's not really important since I live in sunny GA and honestly wouldn't be able to tell if what they call "winter" continued for another 6 weeks, but still... I'm curious.