Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Glimpses from a holiday

I planned to blog this weekend. But then, I also planned to go to class today. Neither happened, and I don't have any fabulous reasons for you as to why it just wasn't possible. But, because I didn't blog -- and because I didn't go to class -- I got to spend some valuable time with friends on Saturday night, check off my to-do list, and, today, still had the energy at 5:15 to grab my yoga mat and go workout at a time when I'm usually ready to flop on my bed and close my eyes for a few minutes of precious rest. Sometimes trade offs are worthwhile, even if there is now a big paint canvas calling my name from the art building.

I'm going to go ahead and backtrack a couple weeks and fill you in on the rest of my spring break. It's worth remembering and sharing. Like I mentioned before, I started out in Lubbock and got to soak up time with my uncle and his family, whom I rarely see. I just can't get enough of those little cousins. They put up with my annoying photo-op demands quite well.

The second half of the week was spent in San Antonio. While there, my adopted Hispanic grandmother threw a birthday party for my friend's dad, and it was an event to remember. With all the cheek kissing and margarita drinking and endless streaming of people into the house (all claiming to be related to each other) it was a naturally chaotic, enjoyable time.

I baked a Guinness Chocolate Cake as my contribution, and it disappeared so quickly that even the 51-year-old birthday boy missed out. But, then, it did have an amazing Guinness Buttercream just begging to have a finger dug into it. And then, with evidence of a greedy finger on a slice of cake in full view, you can't very well just leave it sitting there. It belongs on a plate with a ready fork in your fist at that point, right?

On the morning of the party day, I made a quick trip to Austin and got to meet the people behind Foodzie. Despite the distracting location of our rendezvous, I was so glad to make face-to-face contact with those I work with on a daily basis via my computer. I'm still interning for them and find my culinary imagination whirring as I copy, edit, and write about chocolate truffles and intriguing pickles and olive oil infusions.

So, between my hours seeking out free wireless connections around San Antonio to "be a foodzie," eating homemade Puerto Rican rice and beans, and hitting up the shops that Abilene will only ever dream of having, I still managed to pull out my camera. I had a very willing model on hand, so I sent her out into the cold with a pile of scarves around her neck and bare toes on concrete one day.

Another day I grabbed some eyeliner and headed beyond the corner of her eye, onto her cheek and down her neck with the freeing feeling that I was finally able to do what I always got in trouble for growing up (I have a distinct memory of a friend and I drawing on our faces with cheap, bad-smelling make up once...her mom officially drew the line when nail polish started going on the cheeks and nose).

So, this was my spring break. Somehow the Guinness Chocolate Cake never made it into my camera's viewfinder, but this just leaves an excuse to make it again sometime. You know, for official documentation.

That canvas is still calling me, but it's too late into the night to respond now. I think I'll give some love and care to the blank sheet of linoleum on my bedroom floor. I swear it's sending messages of neglect my way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Polaroid love (and repairs)


I have a short one for you today, friends, but I intend to come back with a proper scoop on the rest of my spring break. Such time-consuming things will just have to wait till the weekend. I'm sure excited to show you the photos I took while away!

For now, let's give some attention to the present. Today was a hard day. Thinking back to yesterday, though, I landed on my pillow last night with a very contented sigh, so I'm thankful for the joys experienced. They are sweet reminders in difficult times.

Someday soon I'll probably share what's going on, but it's best to wait till there's a cleaner, more concise answer. Too many variables and unknowns right now.

I was keeping this short...remember?

So today I want to share about my "new" polaroid camera. I finally started fiddling with it this afternoon (a sure way to lift my spirits is to put a camera in my hands!) and discovered this precious old thing has an automatic flash that won't turn off.

Of all the silly things. Really.

I abhor flashes, likely because I've seen them used in so many wrong ways, and I don't know how to confidently use them in the right way. So, after taking a couple shots and cringing at the effect of that damn flash, I took the black insert that was ejected when I loaded the film, cropped it down, and hardily taped it over the flash. Perfecto!

Below is my customized non-flash polaroid camera, and at the top of this post is my favorite shot from the day. Cheers.


Monday, March 9, 2009

And I love the times


I'm sitting in a crowded coffee shop in Lubbock, Texas, tuning out the loud conversations around me with a mix of voices on my iTunes. I'm escaping a little further.

It's spring break. That infamous week-long party that comes with college life, but I have this theory that my school scheduled it early this year just so we couldn't join forces with anyone beyond our fellow classmates. Not that I'm disappointed. I simply don't have any interest.

I've escaped from Abilene for a few days and that's exhilarating in itself. I'm sipping my fair share of my uncle's home-bottled wine and beer while playing soccer with his kids and talking with his wife about the endless family news that comes with having nine aunts and uncles. And now I get to be in a little coffee shop with the scent of espresso absorbed into the walls and half of a banana muffin on a plate before me. This is all indeed a luxury in a schedule that has booked my life with attending classes, working, studying for those classes, and interning online. I even got to go out for a run/walk this morning for an hour. Phew.

It's nice to have room to breathe.

Not that enjoyment is sucked out of life while in my regular routine. By no means. I love the art that I get to do for "homework," even if it does sometimes require energy I don't seem to have. I love bringing a new batch of photos into my photography teacher to hear his encouragement and receive his critiques. I love every single person I work with in my university's little Study Abroad Office. And I love the times I get with friends on the weekends and (very occasional) weekday.

Last Sunday afternoon happened to be one of those times. It was a beautifully sunny day and a friend was scheduled to stop by to cut my roommate's hair, so I decided to whip up something comforting, slightly sweet, and pretty enough for plenty of lingering-over.

I have been wanting to try the Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins in Molly of Orangette's recipe archive for some time now, but the timing never seemed right. For one, I was not raised with the concept of a "right time" for doughnuts, so that word in the recipe title kept throwing me. I loved the idea of the nutmeg and the look of powdered sugar dusted across the surface, but the word doughnut was always supposed to come with a cringe growing up. While I will surely act more graciously in the presence of those outside my immediate family circle, after my few rebellious experiences with them at childhood friends' homes, I, too, have concluded that doughnuts don't do much for me. Now and then I can appreciatively nibble on one, but they rarely spur a craving.

All that to say, last weekend I found myself scanning over this recipe and finding ways to trim it up a bit so it would leave me feeling less like the average doughnut does...greasy, heavy, and remorseful. Besides, I knew Molly's taste buds did not tend toward that direction either, so there had to be something to these muffins. I pressed on.

I used the last of my oat flour, which cut out a little of the all-purpose. I substituted coconut milk for the whole milk. And I cut back on the butter and sugar applied to the outside. What came out of the oven was delicious. It had a greater complexity to it than I imagine the original does, with ever-so-subtle scents of coconut and oats. Each muffin was light, fluffy, and cozy in all its nutmeg-y goodness. They didn't even need the powdered sugar coating, but I went ahead and put it on the tops of about half. It dressed them up a notch, and because I had cut two tablespoons of sugar out of the batter, the added sugar matched a mildly sweet crumb.

I better get over my "doughnut" word prejudice. Because I plan on sharing these with a lot more people.

nutmeg doughnut muffin 2

Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins
Adapted from Orangette, who was inspired by Columbia City Bakery and adapted her own recipe from Kathleen Stewart of the Downtown Bakery & Creamery, Healdsburg, CA

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour
2 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¾ cup plus 1 Tbs coconut milk (substitute water for the additional tablespoon if using full-fat coconut milk)
2 Tablespoons buttermilk (or 1 Tbs plain whole milk yogurt/1 Tbs water)
1 ½ sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

3 Tablespoons unsalted buttter
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease 1-2 muffin tins (expect to make 12 muffins) or fill with muffin liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk together thoroughly, and then set aside.

Combine coconut milk and buttermilk in a measuring cup or small bowl, and set aside.

Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with an available electric beater. Beat until the butter is soft and creamy. With the motor running pour the sugar in a steady stream (or in small, gradual portions with the electric beater). Continue beating, scraping down sides, until the mixture increases in volume and lightens to pale yellow. Look for it to become light, fluffy, and creamy, like frosting. Then add the eggs, one at a time, until everything is just combined.

With a large spatula or wooden spoon, mix a fourth of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Add a fourth of the coconut milk mixture. Continue to add the dry and wet ingredients alternately until everything is just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the cups of the muffin tin. Bake until they are just turning golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

When the muffins are cool enough to handle, prepare the topping by melting the butter in the microwave or on the stovetop and measuring the powdered sugar into a deep bowl. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of one muffin with butter and turn it upside down into the bowl of powdered sugar. (You may brush the whole surface with butter and roll it in powdered sugar if you prefer.) Shake off excess sugar and serve.*

These kept well for me for another two days, though they need to be in an airtight container. Also, Molly mentions that the batter can be kept in the fridge, covered, for up to three days.