Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Very Oily and Musical Easter Weekend

Roadie work is glam!
Over Easter weekend, we had two gigs in North Georgia. (Did you know I’m a roadie for a band? I’m positive I've mentioned it before. If I haven't, well, I roadie for a band.) Anyway, given the opportunity for two back-to-back shows in one of the most beautiful parts of Georgia, and the unbelievable luck of getting into a cabin for the weekend for free, we decided to make a weekend of it!
Most of the time, roadies
appear to look like this.
We drove up Friday night, the boy and I got there first. We ran around the cabin, checking out all the rooms, playing ping pong, getting in the hot tub. I love hot tubs. I mean, I LOVE them. I used to think they were something for the rich, something for the playboys and playgirls of the 70s. That was before I injured my shoulder. Now, I live and breathe by the hot tub. Thankfully, I have access to one pretty much anytime I need it. Back to our exploration. This cabin, well, was n-i-c-e NICE! It was three stories, three bedrooms, I don't know – 4, 5? maybe 6? decks, a sun-room, the aforementioned ping pong table and hot tub, and so much more! I had initially believed that I would want the upstairs bedroom. Pam wakes up early. However, I saw the stone shower in the downstairs room and promptly claimed it! Wow! FANCY! Totally worth the risk of waking up before I’m ready...
Oh, and the view was breath-taking. Drivin' n Cryin' asked “Have you seen the Blue Ridge Mountains...” well, I have - I do live in Georgia but they never look quite like this where I live!

Morning.  In the mountains.
By the time Pam and Ric got there, we were pretty much settled in, relaxed (I was already in my pjs), and ready for the weekend ahead! How incredible to just be able to hang in a place with loving people and be yourself. There's so much to be grateful for.
Downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia

Saturday morning, we awoke and ate a homemade breakfast. The boys went off to play golf and Pam and I went to downtown Blue Ridge to shop and explore. First, we went to Mercer Orchards and bought jams, jellies, and various fruit-butters. Downtown Blue Ridge is all independent shops and amazing, unique finds. There was one store, though, an oil store, that caught us both off-guard and won our hearts and our bellies forever.
Oils for days. 

We looked in the window, and thought, well this is odd - but intriguing - at the same time. We entered. Why is all this olive oil and vinegar in these containers with little throw-away shot glasses next to them? Do they really expect me to do shots? Well, as a matter of fact, they do expect that. And do shots we did! We were in there for almost an entire hour and barely wanted to leave when we did! The owners, Tom and Donna, are so nice and full of information. And we couldn't stop tasting! That night, as we were setting up for the show, the boy ran over to the olive oil shop to buy some, just from us talking about it!

The gig that night was incredible. Music is always a spiritual experience for me, but you add the backdrop of the mountains and some fresh, non-city air, and I’m in heaven. The next morning we woke up and had another big homemade breakfast, and we were off to the Easter Sunday gig that was about an hour away. I think we were all sorry to miss church on Easter Sunday (I was, anyway), but there's something very spiritual about waking up in the mountains, communing with friends, and having love all around you that kind of makes up for it.

The next Friday, we had another show in Blue Ridge. This time, we just drove up for the show and back.  Tom and Donna from the Olive Oil shop came! During the show, the boy and I were able to talk to them about how to make chicken and veggies on the grill using what the boy had bought. We decided we would try their suggestions the very next day! A rare Saturday off, and even rarer to have an early spring day with no rain - we took advantage of the day and grilled our chicken and zucchini and squash. It was delicious!

For those of you who grill, it's simple. For those of you who don't, ask someone who knows how to grill, and then follow the application instructions! I don't really understand grills. He did all the actual cooking – er, grilling.

The types he bought were the pomegranate-quince vinegar, which we used on the veggies, and the wild mushroom and sage infused oil for the chicken. I simply brushed it on at each stage of cooking – er, grilling – starting with the first flip of the chicken. He put the veggies on a piece of aluminum foil and I brushed them down a few times.
On the grill.
The flavors were not over-powering, but they were there. It was subtle and sweet.

I had never known about flavored oils and vinegar before, and I feel as though my life was not complete! Now, with this knowledge, I fully intend to budget out for these types of things. Food tastes better, and the health benefits are out of this world! If you live within the range of Blue Ridge, I would certainly encourage you to budget your money, as well as at least an hour, and get in that store!
Dinner is served.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cooking with the Kid

Hello everyone! I've missed you so much. I'll spare you the gory details about where I've been, but let's just say it's good to be back in action.  In a nutshell, I moved, got sick, went to the hospital, laid in bed for a long time, got better, had a good time over the holidays, and then got this stupid cold that's been going around that knocks you on your butt for a week.  Oh, the land of the living...
Must. Stay. Here.

I've cooked very little.  I have really missed it.  But, as it was before (and I'm sure it will always be), cooking has brought a few lessons and a tremendous amount of joy.

BBQ Chicken Pot Pie
I've been cooking with a six year old.  Now, if you had told me when I started this that one day, I'd be cooking with a kid next to me, I would have laughed in your face and snorted in your cookies.  But things change. And here we are!

My move was into the basement of a family's house.  I love it! The basement itself is divided into two *huge* rooms, and there's another huge room that has become my closet.  I have a bigger closet than my mom! (I have arrived!)  The kid is six. He's adorable. And smart. And loves to cook and watch the food network.  He's the best roommate a girl could ask for!  I forget he's six sometimes, he talks and reasons like a short adult (not unlike myself).

Gingerbread Cookies
Other than high school babysitting gigs, I've never really had much time alone with kids.  So, I like to have activities planned.  What kind of activities?  The kind that will keep them focused and the kind that they will enjoy.  He likes to cook, I need to cook, so there you go!  How wonderful life is!

I picked him up from school, and we immediately started talking about what we wanted to make for dinner.  He's awesome that way - he gets almost completely giddy discussing it.  We decided on BBQ chicken.  And then got creative with it - let's make it a pot pie!  And then cookies.  It was Christmas time, so we decided on Gingerbread Cookies.

And off we went.  He's amazing in the kitchen.  He helped roll the dough into balls, he advised that the oven was almost done preheating.  He stirred the batter for the cornbread topping of the pie.  If I ever were to open a bakery, he'd be the first person I hired!  We made them a little big, though.  He told me the smaller ones that were the right size were the ones he rolled.  I had to agree.

A hat to keep the hair out
of the cupcakes.
Last Sunday, it was going to be the two of us again.  All the way to church, we discussed baking.  I wanted to make cupcakes for my mom's birthday, and he was more than excited to be a part of it.  We talked about recipes all the way.  We even talked about lunch.  He described a ham and macaroni and cheese that his mom makes (basically mac & cheese with ham cut up) so perfectly.  Even someone who doesn't know how to make mac & cheese could have made it after his description!

We decided to make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes for my mom.  After church, we went to the grocery and bought all our ingredients.  When we got home, I made lunch and started him on the prep work for the cupcakes.  As you can see in the picture, he put his hat on.  He did this after asking me why I pulled my hair back!  So smart, so intuitive!

He helped with every step of this process.  It's amazing to watch a child do something, especially when he is good at it.  He has no fear.  He just picks up what you tell him to and does it.  It made me think of when I started cooking, how timid I was, and all I could do was pick it up and do it, whether I knew what I was doing or not.  I read and re-read directions on recipes, and continued to do as instructed.  And I learned.  The only difference between him (now) and me (then) is that he doesn't know enough yet to be afraid of screwing up the process.

Here's to that spirit of fearlessness!  Here's to cooking!  And here's to my little helper!

Mom's birthday cupcakes
My mom loved the cupcakes!  She was so excited that he helped make them.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cupcakes in Motion

With my certification complete, I wanted to cook. I had to cook. I have been waiting 14 weeks to get back in the kitchen. Finally, the day was about to arrive!  The week prior, I spent time on the computer and with my nose in cookbooks looking for the perfect recipe to cook. I found it. I knew what I was to make. I found this recipe on a blog I follow, My Baking Addiction.

Mixing mixing mixing
Then, my roommate sent a heartbreaking sentence to my text message inbox: “My parents are coming this weekend to replace the counters and the sink in the kitchen.”
Don't get me wrong, I am excited about anything new for the kitchen. I think new counters and a sink with a faucet that doesn't leak is a splendid idea! I just wasn't excited about the timing.
So, I put the idea on hold for one more weekend. Surely, it would be okay. I have waited this long, right?

Then, the next week, we find out her boyfriend got a job in town (FINALLY!) and will be moving here. I get this text message: “Mike got the job! Can you take me to the airport on Friday? We're going to move all his stuff up over the weekend!” So, we have effectively gone from a two to a three-person household. I figured Saturday was the day. The only day I will be able to cook after the renovations are done and before our house is filled with unpacking we need to find a place for.

I went back to the recipe. What will I need? What do I have? I haven't cooked in so long, I don't even know if I have basics like sugar and flour. Do I even have eggs? Yes, I have eggs. They are simple to make and have been my dinner on more than one occasion during this course, one of my few healthy options.
Self-doubt set in a bit. I called my mom a couple times to ask questions I shouldn't have to ask. I paced a bit. I must have checked and double-checked to make sure the paddle was attached properly to my mixer. Was my oven on? I need to look again. Cooling towels. I need to set them up. Is the oven on? It's just been so long, I felt almost like a stranger to my own passion.
I remembered this feeling. It plagued me as I was starting out, not even two years ago. It is almost painful. It certainly is dizzying. There's a scary moment when, the only thing between you and something delicious is inadequacy. And I had more than a few of those moments on Saturday.
Overcome. I shall overcome. I moved through the feeling and began.
I don't know. Awkward.
It made me giggle.
Which felt good.

The process took over. My motions were swift, and I was moving onward, adding a cup of this and a teaspoon of that.
Oh. No.
I swear I had vegetable oil. In fact, I know I had some. I have used it before. It was right there on that shelf. Why isn't it there? What could have happened to it?
It's possible anything could have happened. I could have used the last of it last time I was cooking. I could have dumped it due to a suspiciously close expiration date. I could have moved it in our process of cleaning and reorganizing everything after getting new counters.
Begging for frosting!
But none of that matters. The point is, I was in the middle of mixing and cooking and my oven was on and I didn't have vegetable oil. What can you sub that out with? Olive oil? Can you? I was unsure. I know they are different weights, they smell different, but isn't oil, well, oil? (except motor oil...)
I decided to forge on with the olive oil, pretending with all my might that it is vegetable oil. And you know what? It totally worked! There isn't even a difference! However, olive oil being way more expensive than vegetable oil means that vegetable oil is at the top of my shopping list!
On to the frosting. Oh, how I love frosting. This was a flavored frosting, which I have never attempted before. I have made chocolate frosting and vanilla frosting. And that's the extent of my experience. But, orange frosting? Yep. Orange.
I tasted it after it was all mixed together and decided it wasn't orange-y enough. So I squeezed the juice from the orange in it and mixed it up again. There. Perfection.

Done! Delish! 
These were hands-down some of the best cupcakes I've made to date. I have shared them with several friends, family, and co-workers. If you get a chance, I highly recommend making them!

The lesson of my first trip back? Keep moving forward and don't let anything get in the way. My fear is all in my head. I continue to learn this in my life. The effects of fear can be two things: paralyzing or thought-provoking. Today I choose thought-provoking. My life has changed in more ways than I care to count since my last cooking weekend.  In good ways and bad ways.  In bad ways that will become good ways.  When I let fear overpower me, changes are not my friend, in fact, they are reasons to shut down and stop my life. And today, I refuse to stop. I refuse to let a feeling take over my life. I will live in motion.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Certifiable, er, I mean, Certified!

For the last 14 weeks, I have been taking an online certification class.  It has been fun, challenging, and a complete time-sucker.  As a result, I have not really cooked much.  With the exception of a few (and I mean very few!) actual meals and homemade moon pies, my wandering into the kitchen has consisted of: more tea, more caffeine, a bowl of cereal.  And my cereal choices range in the realm of Fruity Pebbles, Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries, and other sugar-tastic delicacies.  Needless to say, my health has probably suffered a great deal.  My longing for good food has, well, increased, simply from the pains of withdrawal.

As the 14 weeks comes to a close (I'm in the week of the final exam!), I begin to feel the pull of the kitchen.  A pull I have had to resist, as I'm not finished yet.  I begin to daydream about different types of cookies, more moon pies, mashed potatoes, bacon, cheesecake...and I can't seem to focus on my homework.  All I can think about it making that cheesecake. What kind will I make?  I stare at the pile of cookbooks I've laid out on my bedroom floor.  The pile was originally and strategically placed there as a motivation, a reminder of sorts, of why I am working my ass off to get through this class.  I want to better my professional life.  I want bigger and better things for myself, and cooking and all the lessons I have learned in the last year and a half have brought me to this point.  Succeeding in the kitchen has ultimately given me the drive to want to succeed in my life.  Do more, do better, just do.

As this urge to stop in the eleventh hour, to forget about all the work I've put in for 13 1/2 of 14 weeks,and run back to the kitchen is growing and growing, this morning, as my jaws hurt from the clenching of resistance; I get this in my inbox:

Not good for me.  Anyone who knows me, and for those of you who have been reading my stuff since the beginning, you certainly know that I am crazy susceptible to this type of advertising.  I love it.  I love the extra book. I love the related topic.  I love books in general, and cannot seem to pass up on an offer.  I also love Cook's Illustrated and the test kitchen.

So, what do I do?  I. Want.  Offer expires April 20.  Maybe I'll give it a few days.  But. I. Want. and I. Want. NOW.

Two nights ago, I went into the kitchen for about an hour.  I made a tasty grilled cheese and bacon sandwich with homemade pimento cheese, from a recipe a friend gave me.  She mentioned that she had made homemade pimento cheese about a week ago, and the obsession started, until I couldn't stand it anymore.  I had to call her and beg get the recipe and make it.  No delay.  And, I gotta tell was yummers!


Classes are over this weekend, so I'll be back with much more frequency!

Oh, and I want to share one other thing that has taken up the bulk of my time in the past month.
I became an auntie!

She's the prettiest thing I've ever seen!  And I can't get enough of her!  I can't wait until she's big enough to stir and help in the kitchen.  I've already started saving up for her aprons!  And, luckily for both of us, I'm super short myself, so there are step stools and ladders in my kitchen all ready for her little feet to stand on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Theme-Cooking, Tennessee style!

Back in December, I made a disaster, um, I mean cake.
No, I made a disaster.
Going over to friends' house for dinner, I wanted to make a cake.
But I made a disaster.
I intended to make a red velvet layer cake with cheesecake as the middle layer.
I came up with something kind of pink, and not at all layered. And it was hard. And it was disgusting.
Since then, I have been trying figure out how to make up for it. As her March birthday got closer and closer, with no idea in mind, I began to sweat. I mean, it is her husband for whom I made the rockstar birthday cakeS. Yes, cakeS. Two of them, and I did a bang-up, awesome job. On both of them.  And a month later, I fail miserably on a simple dessert cake.
A couple of weeks ago, I was driving. The song Walking in Memphis came on the radio. As an avid music-hound, my mind wanders and I imagine and dream in the midst of every song. I began a weird train of thought. It went a little something like this:

Memphis is in Tennessee.
Pam is from Tennessee.
Tennessee Volunteers.
Bookstore. I love the bookstore in Chattanooga.
Pam is from Tennessee.
Walnut Street Bridge.
Moon Pies.
I want a Moon Pie.
Pam and Moon Pies are from Tennessee.
I want to go back to that bookstore in Chattanooga.
Man, I want to go to Nashville again soon.
This time, I’m going to definitely go to the Grand Ol' Opry.

Marshmallow Fluff
Is it possible to make Moon Pies? I couldn't imagine it not being possible. I mean, someone makes them, right? As per usual, I prepared myself to set out on a crazy quest. I didn't even know if it would work out. Moon Pies are so marketable as a brand, there surely wasn't anyway to break it down into something I could do, right?
This is me going back to my old thinking. My pre-cooking thinking. I was certain everything was hard, everything was impossible, nothing was available. My self-doubt took control of my life for so long that I never realized I had a knack for this. And sometimes (such as this), I slip right back into that old thinking. Possibly because I had never thought to make a Moon Pie. Probably because, in my head, I had a lot riding on the success of her birthday dessert.

Jarred and ready to chill.
As it turns out, there's a book full of recipes. Seriously, what kind of Moon Pie do you want? I can make it. I have a recipe for it. There is also a pan that is specific to making them. Here's the irony. Apparently, Moon Pies are pretty much a seasonal item related to Valentine's Day, when the whole retail world markets them as “Whoopie Pies” (I guess since chocolate is an aphrodisiac and whoopie is a fun old-fashioned word, love, or something that vaguely resembles it?), and this was the end of February...I went to the bookstore, they had ONE copy of that book left. I went to Target, they had ONE pan left.
Why is this picture blurry?
Cause I'm sugared up!
Could this be fate?
I spent a few days rummaging through the book, trying to decide which ones to make. It all sounded pretty simple. Problem: the filling itself calls for marshmallow fluff. Somehow, that equated to using a “box” to me. And I have made that promise to myself to not use a “box” as a shortcut for anything until I know I can do it without the box. So then I began researching if it was possible to make homemade marshmallow fluff. And, no surprise, of course it is possible.
I decided on the classic flavor as well as one with peanut butter filling. Classic had to be part of it, because well, it's the novelty of the idea, right?
I made the fluff the day before, I wanted to give it time to chill in the fridge before I mixed it completely to make the filling. It was so good! I wanted to just suck it up through a straw! It seriously tasted just like marshmallows!
Here's the thing. Everything was surprisingly simple. Just follow the instructions.
Classic and Peanut Butter
Upon giving them to her, the joy that came from making something transferred to her face as she opened, realized what they were, and tasted them! It is always an honor when someone likes my food. It is more than an honor when I make something with someone specific in mind and they get it. And like it.
I made up for my pink disaster from December. I am going to stop obsessing about it. It's my one big failure (other that the zucchini bread/oven fire, of course). Move on, get on.
Soon, I'll get to that bookstore and the Grand Ol' Opry!

***I am not publishing recipes for this blog, since they are someone else's work.  I have, however, linked to the book of Moon Pies, as well as the blog for the marshmallow fluff. If you feel so inclined to make, please, share your experience.  And of course, enjoy! :)
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