Toast Your Sugar, Friends

A quick note to suggest that you all toast your sugar. I learned of the technique from Stella Parks (one of the greats!) over on Serious Eats. She uses granulated sugar in place of beans or pie weights when she is blind baking pie shells. The sugar eventually takes on color and a caramelized flavor. But you don’t need to wait for the next time you’re making pie, toasted sugar can be made anytime. Instructions here. I like the results after about 3 hours. And this stuff is great in a lot of places. Pavlovas! Ice cream! Scones! Cookies!

Speaking of Stella, she recently brought another pastry secret into my life. Her fruity whipped cream technique has you whip heavy cream with some sugar and some freeze-dried fruit in a food processor. The resulting thick and delicious cream (kind of like clotted cream) is super stable and can keep in the fridge for days. It is genius. I especially like raspberry. She explains the whole process here. Sweet!

Bowls

Now feels like an awkward time to publish a cookbook on grain bowls. They’d become a joke in our house a while back and even lamestream food media seems to have recognized that they are over-hyped, at least as a trend. As a way of eating they remain wonderful and essential. But add them to the pile of faded cultural moments along with small plates (or maybe just having small plates explained to you at excruciating length?), “everything is better with bacon” (No, it’s not.), cupcakes, and prohibition-era cocktails. But from the trash heap of food frenzy we get to salvage the remains of what we like and incorporate them into our lives.

So maybe I am wrong and it is a good time for one more book of bowls. This one, Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole Grain Meals, is from Carolynn Carreño, one of my favorite cookbook coauthors, who is finally venturing out on her own. I know her mostly as the woman who collaborates on Nancy Silverton’s wonderful books, though her resume is long. She’s also proven herself to be a great internet pal, and she kindly sent me a copy of the book.

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Throwing Parties During the Apocalypse

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After the presidential election in November, we were suddenly (at least it felt sudden) confronted with the holiday season—for many Americans a time of celebration and gathering. But enjoying Thanksgiving can be difficult when your president-elect is filling his cabinet with people whose only qualifications are being white and rich. Watching lawmakers play games with people’s healthcare can make it hard to enjoy unwrapping gifts. Though the holidays were a salve in some ways, providing a distraction and an opportunity to spend time with people we love, they highlighted the fact that we need to change the way we live. Hopefully more of us who have had the privilege and disgrace of ignoring things for so long, are waking up.

Having the time, energy, and resources to throw a party is a privilege. Having something to celebrate is a privilege. I hope in the new year we can all spend some time thinking about how we use that privilege. I propose that it is possible to have fun and throw parties while also doing some good. In fact, I think our hosting and homes will feel better when we combine the two. Remember, everything is political. And rich people seem to throw fundraisers all of the time, why can’t we? They rent ballrooms and have Beyoncé perform, we might have to settle for our backyard and a boombox. Our parties will be more fun and have better food.

We hosted a small holiday open house in December and turned it into a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. The deal was, I would bake a lot of cookies (cookie parties are the best parties), Bryan would make some drinks, and our guests would bring cash to be donated to Planned Parenthood. We made it clear that our guests should not bring anything else (no host gifts or cookies or bottle of wine or whatever—CASH. But we all stressed that it was not necessary, we do not want to make friends who may be strapped for cash feel bad about not being able to donate—there are other ways to help.). I put some latent crafting skills to work to make a donation box. We designed and produced three custom buttons for the event (I bought a button maker years ago). And I printed some fact sheets about the great work that Planned Parenthood does and had them available throughout our apartment. Otherwise, it functioned as a fairly standard holiday party, though with perhaps a bit more talk about politics. At the end of the night we had spent time with some of the people we love, had eaten our fill of cookies, AND we had raised $750 for Planned Parenthood. Not a bad score for an afternoon with friends. Even if we had only raised $50 it would have felt like a success. Something is always better than nothing. The revolution starts with lots of little things. We need a revolution—now. (We needed it ages ago, but now is all we got.) read more+++

Lottie + Doof Gift Guide 2016

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Julianne Ahn makes some of my favorite ceramics at Object & Totem. She has quite a following, so things go fast. But they are worth waiting for.

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Okay, okay, this is a major splurge. But after years of being curious about linen sheets my friend Grace convinced me they were worth the money. She was right. We’ve become linen converts. I find myself talking about them way more than I should. The only problem is, they’re fucking expensive. But Bryan and I had been sleeping on the same cheap cotton sheets for most of our decade-long relationship so we felt like we could justify the upgrade (I am The King of justifying upgrades). We now have a set from West Elm that we got on sale and some from Parachute. I especially love the off-black (coal, as they call it) from Parachute–it is just such a great 90’s goth color. We like them because they are cool (we both run hot) and yet have a comforting weight to them. Hard to explain, but delightful.

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We Are Everywhere. For real.

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DS & Durga have made it to this guide before, and I can never get enough of their everything. They recently released a line of pocket perfumes. Oil-based roll-ons that you can easily transport. They even come in the perfect felt sleeve. And as always, the graphic design on these is A+. Spirit Lamp is based on a favorite candle of theirs, described as:

  • Tea service at the colonial parlor of Mme. Revere, topless psychic.
    Hot silver heated by open flame. Bohea vapours, radiant heat, milk.

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These beautiful little match holders are from Evanston-based artist Julia Finlayson’s Grandmontstreet Ceramics. Each perfect little vessel holds a handful of matches and is ribbed for striking. They’re available at one of my favorite Chicago shops, Asrai Garden (who recently launched their very own web shop!).

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Pillows! This pillow is great, but so is everything from Banquet Atelier and Workshop in Vancouver. I am pretty obsessed with their textile patterns and a lot of my domestic fantasies revolve around curtains for our dining room in one of their rad fabrics. read more+++

The Cookie Crumbles

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1. Cried.
2. Quit Facebook.
3. Hugged my friends.
4. Donated to Planned Parenthood.
5. Made this galette. (It’s wonderful.)
6. Read this. (Funny)
7. Read this. (Not Funny)
8. RAGE.
9. Went on some walks.
10. Visited the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.

That’s a list of some of the things that I’ve done since November 8th. I thought by now I would have something to say about something, but I don’t. I don’t know any more than anyone else. And I think that is why the present moment is so painful. None of us know what to do or what will happen. Sorry, it sucks. But there is work to be done. And here I am writing about cookies, which is both the best and worst thing I can do. read more+++

#ImWithHer

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[poster design by Claire Hungerford for Commune]

Please.

SQIRL 4EVA

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I was both eager for, and dreading, the Sqirl cookbook (which is actually called: Everything I Want to Eat, Sqirl and the New California Cooking). The popular Los Angeles restaurant has become so beloved by both food-types and celebrity-types that it has become easy to hate. Until you eat there and kind of get it and kind of love it and wonder what it means about you. And Dave Franco is sitting next to you which is confusing and wonderful. I love Sqirl but never really wanted to discuss it with anyone; it is embarrassing, like trying to start a conversation about how great Beyoncé is—so obvious and overdone. (What can I say, I am a Gen-Xer, we were raised to dislike popular things). I had a lot of the same apprehension about the book.

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But I guess what I am learning about Jessica Koslow, the chef and owner of Sqirl, is that she is good at stuff. She manages to capture everything I love and am a little frightened of about Sqirl in the cookbook (including Dave Franco). Even from the outside, you know that something different is happening here. The book jacket clearly references one of the most beautiful cookbooks ever published, Living and Eating by John Pawson and Annie Bell. Pawson is a minimalist architect who has a weird relationship with food and aesthetics (he doesn’t cook and maybe only wants to eat white things) but somehow food writer Annie Bell turns this into an amazingly weird and wonderful lifestyle book. We should talk more about that book another time, but I bring it up because if you’re going to reference another book—that is the one to reference. Living and Eating is what I always use as an example when I get into one of my “why can’t cookbooks be weirder and more beautiful” whining fits. Koslow answers my complaints before I even open the book. read more+++

Cooking with Recipes

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Aaaaaaand: I’m back! The school year is successfully underway and I finally have more time for other things, like all of you wonderful people.

Have you noticed lately how online food publications want us to be cooking without recipes? Strangely implying that somehow it is better for us home cooks. Becoming free of recipes is some aspirational state that we should all dream of living in someday. It drives me crazy. Most chefs and expert home cooks I know rely on recipes, whether they are memorized or on paper. It is how we get the food to taste the same each time. Maybe it is mostly semantics and what the editors mean is that they want us to be better at improvising. But if that is the case then I am confused by their experience of the internet. You only have to read the comments of any food blog to understand that most people seem pretty comfortable improvising (I was out of chicken stock so I used maple syrup!). Anyway, most of the time immediately following their claim that they are going to teach us how to cook without recipes, there is literally a recipe. So I guess they can’t get away from them either.

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Victories, Large and Small

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I hope that Julia Turshen is the future of home cooking. There are a few voices in the crowd of people talking about food that are worth listening to–Julia’s is one of those voices. I would describe her, in lazy shorthand—the kind used to pitch a new television series, as Ina Garten with a sense of humor (she is the queen of #dadjokes) and a political conscience. This basically describes my ideal food writer. Full-disclosure, I also consider Julia a friend, but I think that only influences my judgment in positive ways. I can testify that she is authentic. Additional evidence for her greatness is the mountain of praise she has received in the weeks leading up to the release of her new cookbook. read more+++