the ultimate cure-all: banana pudding

whenever grace or i have a bad day, we always pick up some banana pudding on the way home. it's not a typical "drown your sorrows" food;those being chocolate, ice cream, and anything involving both chocolate and alcohol. while it's not typical, this banana pudding is perfect for drowning your sorrows- it's creamy, indulgent and due to the potassium in the bananas, actually marginally good for you. or maybe i'm just giving myself excuses to eat it.

to tell you the truth, i'd never had banana pudding before in my life until one fateful day last year at the lower east side cupcake shop "sugar sweet sunshine." i was all set to purchase a cupcake when i surprisingly changed my mind and opted for the banana pudding, which is a layered dessert of vanilla pudding, whipped cream, nilla wafers, and sliced bananas. since, i've had a variety of different banana puddings, and can honestly say that the version at sugar sweet sunshine is the best. oh. other people think this too.

now, due to my recent emphasis on budgeting, i knew that these occasional splurges, while not entirely breaking the bank, could possibly be done for less. after all, aren't bananas one of the cheaper fruits? and isn't pudding just milk and sugar? grace and i set out to recreate the beloved banana pudding in our own home. and while we were excited about the endeavor, we were certain we were going to fail.

ok, here's the good news: it is a dead ringer for the original. the same sweetness and cream, the same ratio of nilla wafers to banana to pudding to whipped cream. THE EXACT SAME PUDDING. it was miraculous. here's the bad news, or maybe better news: it makes a heck of a lot of pudding. like the largest bowl of my set of huge glass bowls. so maybe you shouldn't have it all alone. anyway, misery likes company.

banana pudding: sugar sweet sunshine style, adapted from Sweet Dreams

for whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups hot milk
3 large egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
whipped cream
1 (12-ounce) box vanilla wafers
5 medium size ripe bananas, peeled and thinly sliced

whip all ingredients for whipped cream to stiff peaks. set aside until making the pudding

mix sugar, flour and salt in a large heavy saucepan. gradually stir in the hot milk with a whisk. cook the mixture over moderate heat while stirring constantly until slightly thickened. slowly stir in approximately 1/4 cup the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. next add the yolks to the balance of the hot mixture and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is fully thickened to a custard-like consistency and coats a spoon. remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. let cool completely and then fold in 1/2 cup of the whipped cream. Use a large glass bowl and spread a little of the custard on the bottom. alternately layer banana slices and vanilla wafers, reserving 4 wafers, with custard in between each. repeat and end with vanilla wafers on top. spread remaining whipped cream over the top. grind the 4 reserved wafers coarsely and sprinkle on top of the whipped cream. chill at least 30 minutes and serve.

bananas: $1.55
heavy cream: $2.50
nilla wafers: $4.50
i'm going to assume you have all the others for $3
total: $11.55
considering sugar sweet sunshine charges $5 for one cup of this, and this recipe probably makes 7 cups, i'd say this is a steal!

food + money: rising food costs

a little late, but a very interesting article in slate on the disjunction between rising food costs and the fiscally unrestrained foodie industry. class discussions about fresh, organic food vs. processed food are commonplace now, but still foodie-centric blogs make a bigger deal about seasonal ingredients and fancy meals than cheaper alternatives. why?

and more importantly, why are we so unwilling to enjoy our food while thinking about costs at the same time? even personal finance bloggers, when asked, admit to splurging on food expenses more than anything else. is it not possible to enjoy your food AND be frugal about it? especially with organic food costs rising to astronomic highs!

i admit, i'm not exempt from culpability here- i just mentioned that my dinner at momofuku ko was the highlight of my dining this year. and yet, it also just happened to be the most expensive. coincidence? perhaps you could make an argument that price correlates with quality in food, but if you've ever gone to a taco truck, or queens, for that matter- you know that it is not true. i think it must be that we're motivated to value things that are highly valued around us; my memories of dinner at momofuku ko have only heightened since reading the dizzying reviews. but what about creating a culture around valuing cheap, but good, food? after all, as the slate article says "we rhapsodize about la cucina povera—that is, "poor food" like polenta, beans, and braise-worthy cuts of meat like short-ribs and pigs trotters—but we rarely talk about cooking in terms of dollars and cents."

in this vein, i was encouraged to see the nytimes, that bastion of rampant foodie worship, review suburban chain restaurants, like applebee's and outback. and, much to their shocked surprise, they found the food to be pretty good.(i actually found their surprise to be a little condescending and offensive, but that's another story) conversely, i found it disheartening to see a major foodie outlet, serious eats, pick up the story of rising food costs with little discussion. the few comments made revolved around blaming the larger agricultural system and encouraging people to grow their own food. while growing your own food is a wonderfully worthwhile and satisfying endeavor, so is making a grocery list/budget, which is much, much easier.

as someone who enjoys food, it's a good exercise for me to understand the financial implications of my eating- which is why i've started posting the costs of each of the recipes i make. food and money, as we see from this more in-depth economist article are much more intertwined in the macro global system than in our everyday grocery-shopping lives. it would benefit us all to remedy that.

homemade hummus

for the longest time, i thought hummus fell into the category of "why bother making?" foods. you know what i'm taking about; those foods that, sure, you could make, if you had to, but why bother, when it's probably cheaper and easier to just buy it. sushi and thai food, as well as french macarons, fall into that category for me. i figured hummus was similarly fussy and complicated, involving some sort of roasting or delicate balancing of spices. this could not be further from the truth. hummus is ridiculously easy to make. it is also cheap, filling and a great tasty lunch, especially when paired with some lebanese pickles and grape leaves.

homemade hummus, adapted from Epicurious

1 teaspoon cumin seeds/or powdered cumin
2 garlic cloves (you can roast them beforehand if you want to: rub them with some oil and put them in a little packet of foil in the oven at 350 for about 30 mins)
1/4 cup tahini
cayenne pepper
juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons
2 cans of chickpeas- drained and rinsed
your best quality olive oil

toast the cumin seeds in a little skillet until fragrant and dark, about a minute. pour them into a mortar and pound with a pestle. you can use a 1/3 of a teaspoon of powdered cumin if you don't have a mortar and pestle. add 2 garlic cloves to the cumin and pound them until they become paste. alternatively, you can make a paste of garlic with the flat side of your knife and some salt. scrape everything into a food processor and add the tahini, a pinch of cayenne, kosher salt, pepper, the lemon juice and chick peas. pulse the machine a few times, then add oil in a steady stream. i usually end up using about 1/3 of a cup, but you will be able to tell by the consistency of it. if it seems too thick, and you're worried about your oil consumption, you can thin it out with a little bit of water.

to serve, spread it on a plate and drizzle on more oil, then sprinkle with a touch more cayenne, black pepper, and salt.

cumin: less than a $1
1/5 of a jar of tahini: $3.49/5 = $0.69
lemons: $1
chickpeas: $1 each can
total: $4 total
this is equal to two containers of store bought hummus for half the price!

design round-up

maybe you've noticed i've been a little absent lately? between a work gala, grad school research, and our roommate moving out, it's been a hectic time. grace and i took spring cleaning to a whole new level and made quite a bit of money in our first ever stoop sale. while it's tempting to use this money to plan a vacation, we're using it to redecorate parts of our apartment. this means i'm spending a crazy amount of time on design blogs and have a weekend of sanding and painting a new dresser to look forward to. i'll keep you update on all our refurbishing, and hopefully will have some tips to share at the end of this process.

in the meantime, here's some inspiration i'm using to keep me going.

wallpaper and great color palette

i'm thinking of buying this poster for the new room, which is painted a pale blue-green.

we're re-painting a dresser and i can only hope for it to look as good as this hutch does. i'm replacing the drawer pulls with these maybe? in mint?

great slideshow of different framing/hanging ideas. i think we're going to go with more of a mixed media look, using wine crates backed with decorative paper as shadow boxes.

we've settled on a rug from pottery barn, and these great vintage feeling curtains, so now we're just left with a couple more decorative touches.

and i love this way of hanging dishes- would it look weird above the sofa?

oh and of course if you're in nyc, please come and stay with us!
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