Experience Eating: A November Challenge!

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This is a reminder for you - and it's a reminder for me, too. And it's a challenge for all of us, too! I wrote last week about about being sure that, when we eat, we try to make it more of an experience and less just about stuffin' our faces or finding some food out just because. What I've realized is, now that I'm thinking more about this stuff, I am making more informed and exciting decisions when I eat. Not that I am eating fancier or spending more money - I think it's actually the other way around. Why would I go out to eat if it's just because I'm feeling lazy? That sure seems like a waste of money, especially when I could snuggle into my home and make something there, even if it's a weird conglomeration of food.

Before you go any further, watch and listen to this video of Anya von Bremzen talking about THE TRANSPORTIVE NATURE OF FOOD. This is in all caps because of how strongly I believe in what she has to say. It will impact your life.

If you are interested in enriching your life, improving things on the daily, and in challenging your community to step up what they have to offer, read on for what this challenge means. It's pretty easy!

  1. Put away your phone for one entire meal per day.
  2. Be the interesting conversationalist at your table. Think of topics of conversation before you eat with other people. 
  3. Slow down, look at your food, appreciate it, and enjoy it - one time per day. Don't rush.
  4. When you eat out, think about whether or not the restaurant is giving you a great experience, or if they are just going through the motions. Do you want more of an experience? Make one for yourself if you can't find one outside your home.
  5. Tell me about it - use #ExperienceEating to tell your friends about what you're doing. 

Happy eating and I can't wait to hear how this goes for you!

Photo Credit: Ashley Camper Photography

His and Hers Sweets: Dia De Los Muertos

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This is the second post in our His and Hers Sweets blog series with Lovestru.ck Weddings and Events and Jenny Rawson PhotographyDia de los Muertos is a beautiful holiday from Mexican tradition that celebrates the lives of lost loved ones. To bring joy and light into this part of life is so beautiful, I think. Candace and Lindsay, of Lovestru.ck, had the great idea to make this shoot more bridal in nature, by bringing in some models. I love how it turned out! Please enjoy the results.

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About The Pastries: I wanted to do my take on some classic Mexican sweets. Churros are so great because they have such a unique, organic shape - and, instead of doing the classic cinnamon and sugar coating on these, I chose to use cardamom and sugar. I wish you could smell them! The cinnamon cake includes a rich dulce de leche that was infused with star anise and cardamom pods, then roasted cashews were added. Both of these desserts would be unique and exciting additions to any wedding menu.

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About The Styling: Even though Dia de los Muertos is known for its bright colors, we wanted to keep the look and feel of the shoot bridal. In the spirit of the holiday, we created a Mexican-inspired altar, or ofrenda, filled with candles and dark red garden roses. We kept everything neutral, so the focus remained on the enticing dulce de leche dripping down the cake and the dramatic dark chocolate accompanying the churros.

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I love how Candace and Lindsay styled this shoot. Can you even believe how beautiful the painting work is on the model's arms? I want that every day, please. 

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Thank you to the other wonderful vendors that helped with this Dia de los Muertos photo shoot - the spirit of the photos would not have been the same without their contributions.

Thursday Sweets: 10.30.2014

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It's been another whirlwind week - lots of pastries, with a surprise sinus infection thrown in. Yay! The highlight of my week was celebrating my husband's birthday yesterday. He is such a calming influence in my life, when everything is moving 100 miles per hour, he is always there for a joke and for talking through things reasonably. I was up early to make him confetti pancakes with extra sprinkles, maple syrup, and quark - and to make him a big lunch, packed with all kinds of surprises. We took a quick walk with our dogs after work, and before dinner. I felt so relaxed and centered. After an amazing dinner at our new local brew-pub, we snuggled in to watch the final game of the World Series.

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Taking the night off from baking and work was so important and good for us. I'm always moving so fast, that it's easy to get caught up in everything. Being in my PJs by 8:30pm, all snuggled in, was pretty great, and a rare treat.

Russell's birthday cake was a hit for sure! With layers of chocolate and quark fillings, and 16 crepes, it was insanely rich (even for the guy who doesn't know the meaning of the word!), but totally fun. I think it would be great with tea or coffee first thing in the morning, duh. 

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Oh, and if you live in the Lincoln area, be sure to stop by Paper Kite between now and Saturday, November 1, to take advantage of their one-year anniversary party. There are some special deals AND little pumpkin heart cakes by yours truly. Only while supplies last, of course!

Here's what's been interesting to me this week:

What happens when you take a week off social media? I think I need to find out.

I'm obsessed with my friend Kiana's new blog. It's INSANELY well curated and you will love it.

Do you have a style uniform?

Head-over-heels for this pumpkin cinnamon roll loaf -- that you let sit overnight!

Revamped food hits from the '90s that you will LOVE, if you were alive then...

How to: eat cheap and vegan

On Birthday Cake Trends + Confetti Cake Recipe

Confetti cupcakes. Birthday-style.

Confetti cupcakes. Birthday-style.

Someone asked me recently, "What is the normal birthday cake flavor?" And it really pissed me off! Trends are something I personally like to stay away from for the most part - because classic delicious things are, well, classically delicious. And I don't want to be that person who tells anyone what they should be eating for their birthday cake. I want to choose my own cake and I want you to choose whatever you want, too! So I truthfully don't even know what flavors people are going with these days.

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There is nothing wrong with getting behind cupcakes (as shown in this post), macarons, or mini-pies when the trend comes along - but your birthday is your special day and you deserve whatever you want. And you'd better have someone make it for you, too! Russell's birthday is today, and it was so incredibly fun to craft his birthday cake together. We went through some cookbooks, talked about what he likes and doesn't like, talked about textures, etc. And it was awesome! What he ended up with is a 16-layer crepe cake with chocolate-cashew spread and a sweetened quark mixture. I'll put roasted cashews on top and something kind of tart to round it out, and I think it will be great. 

The point is, I want you to be happy (whether or not I'm the one baking for you). I don't want you to dive into the birthday cake norms and the unfortunate consequences of getting a yellow cake with chocolate frosting because that is what a food site told you to do. While I love yellow cake with chocolate frosting as much as the next person, I have bad memories related to it because someone I really dislike at this point in life ordered that for her birthday one year. So if so-and-so food site tells me to eat that kind of cake, I'm just not going to do it! Your birthday cake is yours to shape. You should work with your talented local pastry chef, your husband, your kids, your BFF, your whatever - to have exactly what you want. It's one of the best parts of my job, honestly. I had the pleasure of doing the birthday cake for Candace of the amazing Lovestru.ck Weddings and Events last weekend. I worked with her and her sister to be sure it was exactly what she wanted. Walnut pound cake with vanilla buttercream and sweet corn-milk streusel. Seeing someone so elated about their birthday cake is the best thing in the world. 

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While I refuse to recommend one particular kind of cake for your birthday, I will say that there ain't a damn thing in hell wrong with confetti cake. If you want, read about it here. It's flavored with imitation vanilla and has a rainbow running through it. I love it. I put sprinkles in Russell's birthday pancakes this morning and it turned regular pancakes into something really spectacular. If only I'd had glitter...

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Make a birthday cake or whatever your birthday friend wants. Maybe it's birthday waffles. Just make it, because you will make their day.

Confetti Cake Recipe

1 3/4 c cake flour

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

1 3/4 c granulated sugar

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 c unsalted butter, cut into lil' cubes

4 eggs

1 c whole milk

2 tsp imitation vanilla flavoring

1/2 c rainbow sprinkles

Grease two 9" pans or line 24 cupcake tins. Preheat your oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the cubes of butter and let mix until the butter looks like sand in the bowl. Little peas, or smaller. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined. Add in the milk and vanilla extract and mix to combine, again. Then fold in the sprinkles. Divide the batter between the pans or the cupcake tins and bake in the preheated oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. About 25 minutes for the 9" cakes, and about 15 minutes for the cupcakes. Let cool.

Buttercream: You can use anything here. A great confetti cake frosting is featured in this article. I decorated these with marzipan letters and, well, more sprinkles.

Photo Credit: Yay Cake!, Chocolate Cake


Dutch Butter Cookies With Almond-Quark Filling

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I love recipes that can be used in several different ways. If I have leftovers of something, you can be sure, they will be used! So, these cookies are really special in that the components are great for cookies, but you can also make them into a free-form tart, and you could make them into other things I'm sure, too!

These were originally made for a super rad Random Act of Pastry order this month. It was for a beer tasting and cheese with Open Harvest (my local co-op that I LOVE) and Zipline Brewing Company. The last course was these little gevulde koeken, or Dutch butter cookie filled with almond paste. I added local quark from Branched Oak Farm because it was a cheese tasting and quark goes well in just about anything. The cheese buyer at Open Harvest just became a Certified Cheese Professional, and they wanted to celebrate! 

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Amazing-smelling apple and buttery tarts belong in sunshiney piles of leaves, right? So much swooning!

Amazing-smelling apple and buttery tarts belong in sunshiney piles of leaves, right? So much swooning!

If you make anything I've posted on this site, ever, I would recommend making these. Unless you are vegan or afraid of butter. I really, really should not eat dairy and the smell of these insanely buttery cookies cooking (and sitting on my counter) was too insanely intoxicating for me to resist. The bites were some of the flakiest I've ever had. The dough was a joy to cut and baked up perfectly. The almond paste and quark filling baked perfectly into the two pieces of dough, making it almost indistinguishable in texture. It's divine. You really don't have to put the teal glaze on top. They are super, mega classy without it, but I couldn't resist some teal glaze for this celebration.

I made loads of cookies, then I used the remainder of the dough to make a big circle-ish shape. I piled the rest of the filling in the middle and folded up the sides, putting some Jonagold apples on top. You guys, the smells. The smells of this thing reminds me why I love to bake so much. It's completely irresistible. The smell wafts. Honestly? I woke up in the middle of the night, smelling it, and actually got myself out of a warm bed to take a tiny bite of the cookie crust. Russell said, after trying it, "That fruit pizza was great." FRUIT PIZZA. Gotta love him!

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I beg you to make these, if only for the smells. Take it around with you if you want to make friends. Take it on a date if you really want the other person to fall in love with you. Bake this stuff just to smell it on a rainy day.

Butter Cookie Dough

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c granulated sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 3/4 stick butter

1 Tbsp cold water

Mix together all dry ingredients, add in butter, one tablespoon at a time. Using your fingers, or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, process the butter into the dry ingredients until it feels and looks like fine sand. Add in the water and mix to combine - until it comes together in a ball. Wrap with plastic in a flat circle shape and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour, up to one week.

Filling:

1 c almond paste (use this brand)

2 Tbsp sugar

1 egg white

1/2 c quark

1 tsp almond extract

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Mix everything in a stand mixer, or by hand until it's fairly smooth. A few small chunks are totally fine.

To assemble: Let the dough sit out at room temp for about 30 minutes before you try to roll it out. Flour your counter and roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick. Cut 2" rounds. Put half of the rounds on a lined/greased baking sheet. Egg wash the round. Dollop in one teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle of dough. Put the other circles (the second half of them) on top of each cookie and press the edges to seal. Egg wash the top and put a sliced almond in the center. 

Bake at 415 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, or until really brown and smell amazing. Let cool.

For the free-form tart: Roll to 1/4" thick into a circle-ish shape. Fill the center with the filling, leaving about two inches of empty dough on the edges. Fold up the edges. Add slices of apple. Egg wash all of the exposed dough and sprinkle turbinado sugar on the apples. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, or until, again, it smells amazing.


Congratulations! Chris + Rachel's Wedding!

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I loved working with Rachel and Chris, and their families, to put together their ideal wedding desserts. When we met for the tasting, Rachel said she doesn't usually like cake. I mean, I was pretty concerned. But luckily she loved the spiced apple cake and cinnamon buttercream. Talk about THRILLED - I was so happy and relieved that they found something they loved. The cake was layered around brown sugar-stewed Nebraska City apples, and covered with cinnamon buttercream. Natalie from I Bloom flowers did the floral arranging. Totally stunning, right?!

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We also decided to do many, many little cheesecake bites and s'more bars. The dough in the s'more bars was full of graham crackers and there were ooey gooey bits of marshmallows all over and throughout the bars. So decadent.

We also did a little 6" cake for their young ring bearer who also had his birthday the day of their wedding. How sweet and thoughtful was that? We did a simple vanilla cake with blue (of course) vanilla buttercream. This was such a fun cake to make - and so sweet of the couple to honor his birthday on their wedding day!

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Please enjoy these photos. I absolutely love working on weddings with my clients. It's a dream to see it all come together.

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Lots of love and pastries from my sweet kitchen to you!



Beyond Nourishment: Eating To Create An Experience

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On our recent weekend getaway to Oregon, I really wanted to let myself live in the moment. I disconnected myself from work communication and tried not to think about blog posts, pastry orders, or responsibility in general. I wanted to sink into our snacks, our meals, and the planning process between all of them. I wanted to actively get into the culture and cuisine for whatever we were having. For example, we stopped at Kenny & Zuke’s, a Jewish delicatessen next door to the Ace Hotel, where we were staying. I read the whole menu. I looked at all of the decor, kept my phone in my purse (read: no pics to prove it), and just really wanted to live it up. Living it up meant I got a warm, toasted caraway-filled pumpernickel bagel (SO much caraway, it was amazing), whitefish salad, herring, and lox. And lots of mustard. Russell had pastrami on Jewish rye. It was definitely not a fancy meal, but it was an awesome experience. Every part of that restaurant made me feel like I was somewhere special; somewhere unique that people cared about.

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Later that night, we stopped at Kachka, a Russian restaurant that I had been wanting to try. They serve vodka by the gram, have several kinds of caviar, blini, pomegranate syrup over Russian pancakes, the most amazing propaganda decor - and they have dumplings. We had savory dumplings that were really lovely. They were great. But then, then we had the sweet dumplings, varenyky. The only reason I ordered the varenyky with sour Oregon cherries was because they were out of the pancakes with pomegranate syrup. They were definitely my second choice. But what happened next was amazing. They were absolutely insane. The dough was soft and squishy - totally fresh and unctuous. The filling was hardly sweet, with really tart, soft, perfectly cooked cherries. They were just barely laced with a tart butter sauce, and dusted with chiffonades of mint and basil. The absolute and extreme joy I felt and experienced when I ate each of those cherry dumplings was incredible. And it’s hard for me to explain. I felt like I was both at a Michelin-starred restaurant because the execution was so perfect, but also like I was at a Russian grandmother’s kitchen table. 

The entire environment at Kachka lead up to the experience with these dumplings. It was a no-bullshit situation. We were at a dark table with standard-looking, unremarkable eastern European/Russian plastic tablecloths like my Polish grandmother uses, lots of silver work in the glassware and interior design, and beautiful lace pieces were strategically placed throughout. The menu didn’t have definitions. You either figured it out, didn’t care what you were getting, or asked your server. I faked knowing what I was ordering a couple of times. But that made it so much more fun! I wasn’t being catered to - I was given a proper Russian experience. I got real-deal food with a real-deal environment. This is a special experience that I don’t think one gets to experience often.

My giddiness was not only because of the food or the place. I want to set the bar higher for my dining. I want to demand a great experience. I deserve it - we all do. I deserve to go out of my way to find something that really satisfies me. I deserve to put away my phone, think about active, fun dinner conversation. My fellow diners deserve to be engaged in witty, interesting stories and they deserve to have bites of what I ordered! As Pilar Guzmán says, taste is our most primal memory keeper. So why don't we make that experience more special, if we are really just running around making memories at every meal?

We believe that good food can not only anchor a day but inspire a journey. The way a meal - and the permission to drink a midday bottle of rosé - bookends an afternoon of browsing and sightseeing is the very definition of vacation.

Taste, second only to olfactory senses, is our most primal memory keeper. Experiencing a dish in context forever changes your impression of not just the cuisine but of culture itself.
— Pilar Guzmán, Editor in Chief, Condé Nast Traveler

I know none of us can afford the time or finances to make every snack and meal a really special occasion - or something incredibly elaborate. But what we can do is to really think about what we are eating and try to make some kind of experience out of it. Does that mean just using nicer cloth napkins, as opposed to sloppily wiping your mouth with a paper towel? Maybe. Does it mean actively thinking of interesting things to talk about with a dining partner? Yeah, for sure. I was in a hurry this morning, before leaving the house, but I sat down with my almost-burned English muffin and eggs, and I really took a good look at it and my surroundings, I took a deep breath, and I ate breakfast.

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But on a larger scale, we owe it to ourselves to seek out dining experiences that challenge us and excite us. Our days are slipping by very quickly, and if we don't sink into some of the minutes during those days, what's the point? I've spent too many days rushing. I've spent too many meals being unsatisfied. We deserve to seek out opportunities for great food and we deserve for restaurants to give us a fantasy experience. 

I know I want that. Don't you?

Photography Credits: Nicole Franzen Photgraphy, Willamette Week, 101 cookbooks