wall collage

there was some serious debate about what to put on the wall in our spare room. in the end, we just decided that more was better. just to the right of this collage is a huge marimekko print, and to the left is some rapidly decreasing empty wall space. we used some cigar boxes i found as shadow boxes, and used plain ribbon and binder clips to hang up anything that wasn't in a frame. all in all, it fits perfectly with our general "more is more" aesthetic, and provides ample procrastination material by being directly adjacent to the computer. and obviously when hammy is sitting just so, i'm totally powerless to focus on anything else.

chocolate croissants + jojo's

if you live near a trader joe's and you like chocolate, you are going to be very glad you read this blog. way back in august, my tito (tito is the diminutive of tio, which means uncle in spanish. the only equivalent word in english is for the female version- auntie. i guess maybe unk?) javo (are you still reading this blog?!) randomly surprised me and my brother with some gift certificates to trader joe's. he also mentioned in passing some frozen chocolate croissants that he loved. i gratefully pocketed the gift certificates and then promptly forgot all about them until this past week. walking home from an impromptu dinner at momofuku ssam bar with grace, we noticed that the usually mobbed trader joe's near union square was suspiciously empty looking. so we stopped in to use the gift cards- and i thankfully remembered about the chocolate croissants! they had them in stock; packs for 4 for about $4 each. i would be ashamed to say to say we got five boxes, but after eating them i realize that it was actually a brilliant move.

coming out of the frozen wrapping they look like nothing special. but if you leave them out at room temperature overnight they transform into these huge clouds of dough. both grace and i were shocked to the point of laughter by how huge they got- like those plastic dinosaurs you get in chinatown that expand almost indefinitely when submurged in water. i was so tempted to poke the soft dough to see if it would deflate, but for the sake of my breakfast, i controlled myself. after about 25 mins. in the oven, we were rewarded with these flaky friends:

oh, and while you're at trader joe's picking these babies up, make sure to get a box of candy cane joe-joes. i'm super late to the delicious train on this, but i've just learned of the crazy goodness that is the joe-joe. a cross between a thin mint and an oreo, with none of the girl scout/nabisco guilt, these totally hit the spot just about any time. a cup of tea and an handful of these did wonders for my sore throat today. or maybe i'm just imagining that?

my funny valentine

better late than never right?
i'm never going to come close to the Obento! set on flickr, but this arrangement was well received. the tofu was a little tricky to work with, but i think i got the message across.

and another sweet + easy valentine/lovey craft:

i just replaced the tags on a couple of my favorite teas with cut out red hearts secured with a little glue. this project took all of 5 mins, and left a very pretty by-product of lacy red heart-shaped hole paper. i'm tempted to cut out all sorts of cute shapes and glue them to all my tea bags! via craftershock.

butternut squash soup/orange

gah, i'm sick with a terrible sore throat today! the worst thing for me about being sick is fact that everything tastes a little muted. fortunately, you don't have to worry about that with this soup- the flavor is turned up so high that even on a sick day it's bright and bold enough to still taste great.

i've made this soup at least half a dozen times and each time it's been slightly different, which is part of the beauty of this recipe. as long as you have a butternut squash and some stock (or bullion cubes), you have a delicious soup. and while it may taste different every time, it is always a buttery, golden orange. served with some salty capers and homemade garlic croutons, it's the perfect thing for chasing these winter colds away.

butternut squash soup
, recipe by me!

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, grated
3-4 1/4 inch rounds of fresh ginger
pinch nutmeg
fresh sage, chopped fine
2 3/4 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

melt butter in large dutch oven. add onions and cook until softened and just starting to caramelize. add garlic, ginger, nutmeg and sage, cook for 1 min. add squash and toss to coat. cook for 8-10 mins, until squash begins to soften. add broth, and simmer for 20-25 mins, until squash is totally softened. remove ginger pieces. puree in blender until very smooth (it usually takes me 3 batches) and return to pot. stir in cream, salt and pepper to taste. you might need to add a little more water if it is too thick.

to make garlic croutons, cut a stale baguette into bite-sized pieces. toss with grated garlic and olive oil and toast at 350F for 10 mins.

garnish soup with drained capers and garlic croutons.

creme brulee/ yellow

when you host dinner parties often preparing all three courses can become exhausting, which is why grace and i have started outsourcing dessert to our invited friends. usually this involves a pint of ice cream, brownies, or some homemade cookies, which are all fantastic choices and are happily received. that is, until the day someone brings a blowtorch over. now, if you bring anything less than a dessert involving power tools, just note that i'm privately comparing it to this beauty:

there is nothing more satisfying that the crunch of burnt sugar as your spoons slides into the creamy yellow pudding beneath, especially when you've been able to caramelize that sugar yourself. the only thing wrong with this dessert is the obvious problem of scale. once you learn how to blowtorch the hell out of something, you never want to stop. similarly, once you finish that one creme brulee allotted you, you feel as if you can eat them forever. so, while it may seem like a good idea to double, or triple, this recipe, i can tell you from personal experience, at one of those fancy buffets in las vegas, that caution should be exercised in all aspects of this dessert. but that doesn't shouldn't stop you from taking pictures of yourself looking maniacal while holding a blowtorch.

creme brulee, thanks to shannon + jes

from: "creme brulee, the bonjour way" by randolph w. mann.

1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean (or whatever you want to infuse with - we used 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 12 cardamon pods split, 1" piece ginger peeled and sliced)
6 egg yokes
1/4 cup brulee sugar (or regular granulated sugar)

combine the milk, cream, sugar, salt and vanilla bean (or whatever) in a small sauce pan and stir over medium heat until it reaches the boiling point. set aside to steep until it cools down. pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees, and adjust a rack slightly lower than center. in a separate bowl, whisk the egg yokes briefly, add the cream mixture very slowly into the yokes, whisking well with each addition so the yokes don't cook. once blended, strain the mixture through a fine sieve. pour the custard mix evenly into 8 shallow ramekins. bake them in a water bath for 30 to 40 minutes, until the centers are softly set. if you have deeper ramekins, they might need an extra 5 minutes. remove from the oven and cool in water bath until comfortable to handle. cover the dishes and refrigerate for 2 hours. these can be stored 1 or 2 days before serving. to serve, sprinkle each top with about 1 1/2 tsp of sugar, and torch to caramelize.

note from s+j: if we make this again, we would probably use 1 less yoke, swap the whole milk for heavy cream, and let the infusion steep for another 15 minutes or so.

bacon on cake-time

please, please, please click here. this is the greatest thing to ever happen to this blog!


oh people, this is so near and dear to my heart. and look at all these others! if i were to indulge in a little crass materialism, i would say that a cheeseburger cake and a CHEESEBURGER BED would make my life complete. what a wonderful place america is that we are so devoted to one of our national dishes!

can't you just imagine yourself as a slice of bacon between those sesame buns? all the mayhem caused by the cats on top of the bed at night would go unnoticed, and i would never be cold again, and making the bed would always be a source of humor!

le grand meaulnes + le perroquet vert

update: by some other great stroke of luck, the house we rented with friends recently had this green parrot as the central feature of the living room! and remember all those other parrot links i put up like 6 months ago? am i being told by the fates to get a parrot?!

by some great stroke of luck i stumbled upon these two books in the past year; they've left such an impression on me, and are kindred spirits of sorts, that i just continue reading them over and over again. while i can't say they are 'happy' books, by any stretch, they are evocative of certain kind of childhood pleasure + wonder; one that is often, but not necessarily, lost in adulthood.

one of my favorite english classes in high school was called coming of age. we read "rich in love", josephine humphreys' sensitive novel about a 'precociously perceptive' 17 year old, faulkner's classic coming of age short story "the bear", and da-dum, the obvious choice of joyce's "a portrait of an artist as a young man". while all of these choices felt remarkably apt to my teenage self, in retrospect i wish we had also included "le grand meaulnes", primarily because i've never read a book that does a better job of showing, instead of just extrapolating on, the chasm that exists between childhood and adulthood. all the pieces i read in high school were self-consciously engaged in writing about the 'coming-of-age' process, "le grand meaulnes" only intention is to tell a simple, heart-aching, children's story through the adventure of a sheltered french schoolboy and his impulsive friend.

and yet, the irreparable way that expansive sense of wonder, possibility -magic even- you feel as a child dissolves into resignation and grief has never been told more poignantly. i don't know if i would have been able to appreciate this book as a teenager, but as someone well past the last gasps of childhood, i admire it's honesty, and am inspired to maintain some of that childhood wonder still. this lovely review does a great job summarizing the book's particular spell.

any book written by a princess is at least worth a first look; what compels someone so coddled to expose herself through the written word? certainly for princess marthe bibesco her circle of friends may have had something to do with it- proust, rilke, and gorki among them. "the green parrot", despite its innocuous name, is a book about loss, childhood innocence, and the redemptive power of love, sparsely told in three short sections. through the magic of google book search, you can actually read the book in its entirety online, but make sure you can at least curl up with the computer, brew a cup of tea, and use two cats as your blanket while reading. it makes the experience all the more pleasurable.

money links

just wanted to point out that there have been some great, really introductory, explanations about basic financial concepts in the nytimes these past couple of weeks as part of a series called "what you need to know". i encourage you to check out "credit scores: what you need to know" and "income taxes: what you need to know", especially since tax time is upon us, and since credit is growing more and more scarce.

also, music to my ears, the personal savings rate increased almost 1% between november and december last year, from 2.8% to 3.6% of disposable (net) income. while i'm so thrilled people are starting to save, i'm still disappointed at how low the savings rate is overall. up until the mid-90's, the national savings rate hadn't ever dipped below 5%, and in fact in 2006, it actually went negative. (look out for an article i wrote in the next issue of sadie magazine on the importance of the personal savings rate) on the other hand, reduced spending and increased savings will only prolong this period of economic contraction, which maybe is the price we pay for borrowing and spending other people's money.

any bailout plans aside, things will continue to get a teensy bit worse, so check out this askmefi link to asses the various pros/cons of online financial tracking programs. i used pear budget, then excel, and now mint + excel, but i'm a little crazy, obv. use what works for you, but use something - please!
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