Posts tagged ‘cinnamon’
In 8th grade, my middle school French class took a trip to Paris. Back then I wasn’t interested in food the way I am now, so I didn’t take advantage of the streetside crepes and Fouchon bakery. Instead I remember how the cobblestone streets felt through the thin soles of my sneakers. The Eiffel Tower electric with lights. The fear I felt in the damp, windless corridors of the skull-lined Catacombs. And the grey parchment paper sky, wisps of clouds and the promise of rain.
Even as the trip unfolded, I knew I was making memories I wouldn’t want to forget. Every evening we’d return to our rickety two-star hotel, with bars on the windows and a spiral staircase that went up and up and up. I’d collapse onto the bed, shoes still laced. Then my friend K- and I would pull out our journals. Neither of us enjoyed updating them, but we both wanted to remember every moment of this adventure. The magic was in the details.
On our last night, we thought it would be fun to exchange journals and see what the other person had written. After all, we’d done all the same things – wouldn’t it be cool to see what each person had taken from the experience?
I giggled when I read K-’s entries – they were as practical and logical as she was. She’d dutifully recorded all the sights we’d seen and places we’d visited. She listed out every meal, every souvenir (including how much she paid) and the method we traveled. When I handed her journal back, I saw bafflement on her face.
“You wrote about such weird stuff,” she admitted. “How is this going to help you remember anything important?”
Suddenly self conscious, I flipped through the pages. No, I hadn’t listed all the monuments and souvenirs, but the information was in there if you read through it all… I’d written about my failed attempts at conversation with a cheerful woman on the subway (I later found out I’d been talking about fishbones and stars, to her amusement.) The French perception of America I’d observed, from strange fashion posters to chit chat in the park. And most importantly, every emotion, whether good or bad, I’d experienced on our trip.
I simply wrote about what I always notice – the people and the emotional connection around me. It felt more like Paris to me than any arch or shopping complex. To me, that’s what’s important – that’s what I want to remember. To me, everything is personal.
Like always, food is no exception. When I visit a farmer’s market, I am as interested in the growers themselves as I am in the produce. I always like to strike up conversation with the artisan bread bakers and chocolatiers I meet – doesn’t learning about their hard work and passion make their food taste even better?
Writing these blog posts often feels a lot like writing in a personal journal. And while food is a thread that weaves through everything, I find that I’m often not writing about baked goods at all. It’s about my mother’s smile when the ciabatta sounds hollow inside, and my father holding his fork just so, right before I snap the photo. It’s about the serenity of sprinkling dough with cinnamon sugar, the way everything has quietly become clear. Food is personal, and there’s no separating it from the rest of your life.
The recipe for these Orange-Cinnamon Sticky Buns came from Lorna Yee’s The Newlywed Kitchen. Lorna’s a friend, a fellow blogger, and a Seattle Magazine food writer. I usually don’t accept free products to blog about, but when Lorna asked me to review a copy, I couldn’t resist. I knew I was glad to have accepted when the book arrived at my door, glossy and making me hungry already.
What I really liked about this book, besides the recipes and vivid photography, was how personal it felt. Every few recipes, the book interviewed famous foodies, describing the story of how they fell in love. Where she met him, what he cooked for her, the role that food plays in their marriage. Besides being incredibly sweet and chock-full of cooking tips, every story made the distant chef feel a little more approachable and the recipe a little more familiar.
Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of food, to tell a story and bring us closer?
The story behind these sticky buns is simple. I remember the fragrance of orange oil left on the zester, and the painted texture of melted butter brushed on dough. My mother coming home and gasping, “Oh, what did you make?” and timing the buns to come out of the oven just as Dad was home. I remember telling him about the sticky glaze: “Walnuts, orange juice, honey, brown sugar, cream, and butter… It’s good stuff.” And his response: a hearty laugh that pushed up his cheeks, and “No, it isn’t!” as he took another bite.
I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything essential.
[PS: As we near the 4th of July, I thought I'd remind you guys of the flag cake I made last year! You might have seen this cake floating around the internet or even watched me make it on tv (you don't even know how nervous I was filming that. You don't even know.) This one's the original!]
When my DSLR camera arrived in the mail, matte black and quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, the first place I went was the kitchen.
Up until then, I’d been using a small, compact digital camera to take my food photos. While I was satisfied with the results, I knew I wanted something more. I wanted a camera that caught the rich sheen of chocolate glaze, the buttery crumble of shortbread, and the vivid colors of buttercream frosting. And while my digital camera could take a photograph of a dessert, it didn’t capture the real essence of what made each dessert truly, fork-halfway-to-your-mouth delicious.
But with my new Canon Rebel XTi, I felt sure that everything was about to change. I lifted my camera to my cheek, felt my eyelashes brush against the viewfinder, and pressed the button gently. My first photograph was a basket of green and gold apples in a woven basket, steeped in the most beautiful afternoon light I’d ever seen. I actually set the camera down to do a little dance right there on the kitchen tiles, feeling utterly radiant.
Since then, taking photographs has become just as fulfilling as baking a creamy, uncracked cheesecake or writing a seamless short story. I take long walks around the neighborhood with the Canon around my neck, glancing everywhere like I could take a picture with my eyes. I look for the extraordinary in the details, for interesting shadows and whimsical patterns.
Every time I check the photos I’ve taken, it’s a mixed bag. There will always be a couple that are slightly out of focus or didn’t replicate the view in my head. I don’t think a good camera makes a photographer. But when I get a shot that makes me as giddy as that beautifully simple photo of a basket of apples, I feel like a life spent seeking breathtaking photos would be a life well spent.
I sent that photograph of the apples to my dad the day I took it. I included a brief, but cheery message with it: “Look!!! This is unedited, straight out of the camera! I think I’m just going to have to send you a photo every single day.”
And you know what? I didn’t think much of that last sentence at the time, but it’s been nine months and he’s kept me to it.
Every day, whether the sky releases a torrent of rain or I get home at nine with a headache and a temper, I send a daily photo. It’s a different image every day… pastel sunrises, wrought-iron fences, even self-portraits if I’m feeling ambitious. And though it isn’t always easy to come up with a new photo, it keeps me photographing the way 17 and Baking keeps me writing.
As it turns out, I love photographing almost anything – people, dilapidated houses, animals, unusual textures – more than food.
There is a side effect to the daily photos, though. I don’t like my dad to look through my camera. I love surprises. I love being surprised, I love planning surprises, and I definitely like surprising other people, so I always want the daily photo to be new when my dad checks for it every night. Unfortunately, I think I care more than he does, so sometimes we fight over the Canon.
“Dad. Seriously. Don’t look through it. I just got back from downtown and there’s a lot of daily photos in there.”
“Good!” He’ll press the buttons to look through the saved photos, a thoughtful look on his face before I’ll try to snatch the camera back.
“It should be a surprise!” And then I’ll get served with the roll of his eyes, his mild annoyance, and that too-familiar face that says “Oh please.” But I always persist.
But after we made this brigadeiros – Brazilian fudge truffles we made at the request of a reader – I surprised both of us by being somewhat open. I normally make him leave when I photograph food, preferring to be alone to avoid the pressure of his presence as well as his advice. But that day I let him stand off to the side as I adjusted settings, taking the same photo over and over.
When he asked what I was doing, I even turned over the camera to show him. Who knows. Surprises are important, but maybe a little family time with five dozen truffles and a set of pretty photographs is kind of important too.
I’d never heard of brigadeiros before, but when someone asked for them through a comment on an old post, I was tickled. Dad and I looked them up together and realized that they were a snack his grandmother had made for him when he was a little boy, exactly the same. Whether they evoked memories or not, though, they were my first request and I didn’t even consider not making them.
With Dad’s help, we decided on five variations: coconut lemon, cayenne cinnamon, tangerine, hazelnut-nutella (think Ferrero Rocher), and white chocolate-dipped lavender almond. It may sound like a mouthful, but actually, this might be the easiest thing I’ve ever made. To make five dozen truffles, including five different variations and a trip to the grocery store, the entire process took us two hours.
The base is only 3 ingredients, but gosh, these are delicious. The entire week we’ve said, “Wow. We need to give these away.” But we haven’t. We just keep eating them. For once, I don’t feel like the photos do the brigadeiros justice.
[PS: I'm thinking about doing a frequently-asked questions post, so feel free to leave a comment with a question for me. I'll pick out some questions and answer them in a later post. You can ask about anything, food-related or not, and I might answer it! :) Hope you all had a great valentine's day. I spent it eating brigadeiros.]
As most college deadlines draw near (January 1st), the flurry of college applications is drawing to a close. One of the coolest things about this entire process has been watching my friends go through it – not because I like to watch them agonize over their essays or anxiously stress over early decision emails. No, I like seeing my friends pick out the colleges that are right for them based on their unique interests.
In middle school, we were generally the same. Some of us were more inclined towards English and social studies, whereas others were more talented in math and science (I knew right away that I was not a math or science person). But when it came down to it, we were interested in the same classes, depending on how cool or funny the teacher was.
But now, after four years of high school, we aren’t so similar anymore. Slowly, quietly, I’ve watched my friends develop their real joys and callings in life. I’ve seen their passions burst forth like the cherry blossoms in spring, and I’ve seen the unfiltered pleasure on their faces when they are doing something they love. And even though I don’t share their interests, I know exactly how they feel.
One of my friends, M-, is an amazing artist. She loves the beautiful, the romantic, the optimistic, and her art is visual poetry. She uses soft, bright colors and gentle swirls of paint to compose half-opened flowers, graceful ballerinas, and sweeping landscapes reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade.
When I look at her work I can’t turn away. Her paintings seem to fill me with liquid sunshine from my shoes up, they’re so light and dreamy. The beauty and inspiration on her canvas reflects what a beautiful and inspiring person she herself is. Every work of art is a confession, and every confession is exhilarating to see.
Another one of my good friends, C-, has found that he was meant to play the cello. Although he was technically “late” to the music scene, not starting when he was very young, his gift is undeniable. C-’s dedication is astounding – some days he goes to orchestra during school, attends two cello lessons outside of class, plays at a symphony in the evenings, and then practices again upon arriving home.
As I don’t play an instrument myself, my ear is untrained and naive. But when I hear him play, even if I cannot recognize the composer or identify any incorrect notes, I can feel the emotion. It runs up my spine in slow, deliberate waves, totally at the command of his bow. He closes his eyes when he plays, and I have a feeling the music envelopes him completely – mind, body, and spirit. [It was he I made the Cello Birthday Cake for.]
I could go on and on. The talents of my friends would fill up not one, but many long winded posts. My friend M- is a skilled badminton player, A- makes gorgeous dresses out of trash bags (as well as art of all mediums), K- is passionate about math (MIT, congratulations!), and E- finds peace when she runs.
I guess it’s not hard to conclude what I’ve found my greatest enjoyment to be too – baking, of course. While I could never work on a piece of art for hours, or play a musical piece over and over until callouses formed on my fingertips, I can spend an entire afternoon in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it took days and hours of work even with help (thanks, E-!) to complete this Gingerbread Igloo for the Daring Bakers.
But it was a labor of love – from cutting out every one of the individual gingerbread bricks, to making 3 pourable fondants because they all failed, to piping out the pine trees. And I don’t know how many of my friends could stand doing that.
But for me, the best things about these passions my friends and I have developed is this: they do not solely define us. I don’t want to walk around school being called “The Baker” without any more dimension to me. I have dreams and ambitions that go beyond the kitchen, even though a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin. I am a writer, a poet, a photographer, a thinker.
M- is not simply the artist. She is considering a career in medicine, she leads the school through student government, and she likes working with the school district. And C-, though he plans to go to music school, plays frisbee and can’t deny his interest in chess and cross country.
I love that we have found something that helps us discover and understand who we are, something that brings happiness and relaxation. But I am also grateful for how rounded and open-minded my friends are. They are multifaceted and flexible, and I can’t wait to see how far they all go in college and in life.
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.