Posts Tagged ‘family’

full of parties

I just love dinner parties. But for the table setting, the napkin ironing, the course planning, the cooking, and the general pre-company BUSTLE, I would have a dinner party every night. (That sound you hear in the background is my parents and/or boyfriend keeling over.) I love the living room crowding, the catching up conversations and several kinds of wine and the excuse to bake a cake. But you saw that one coming, didn’t you? I suffer from only living with one other person most of the time. It is a great burden, knowing that a pie or batch of cupcakes will take a week to polish off. And who wants to eat key lime pie every night for a week? Well, if you’ve gotta do it, if you’ve gotta, you know, make the sacrifice, might I suggestinsist that you make this one, because it’s fabulous, but key lime pie is frankly a rather particular flavor and all other things being equal, I would much rather have a dinner party every night and send guests home with the dessert leftovers and make a fresh cake every afternoon. Only I would need to get more friends, to cycle through their refrigerators’ cake space. New Year’s resolution: make more friends to foist cake upon.

Parents and I had one dinner party on the 26th and another, larger one on the 27th. We served the chocolate yule log on the 26th and if it is not too terribly gauche, I will confide that the time in the fridge actually improved it. The mousse and cake got a little cozier, so the cake was moister and both were more chocolatey.

On the 27th, we played host to one of my favorite families for a belated-birthday-slash-Christmas party. I made a carrot cake. (Having already Xed Birthday Girl’s totally earnest suggestion, “What about carrot and zucchini cake!?!?” I hope this was good enough!) And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but: toot, toot. Sensational carrot cake. Tip of the hat to Dorie Greenspan, Paris-based chef who, for the past couple months, has played mentor to Emily Weinstein as she learns to bake and writes about it in the New York Times. You know, if I’d known I could land Dorie Greenspan as my fairy cakemother by not knowing how to make a muffin — muffins! You don’t know how to add wet to dry, stir gently, and pour into a tin, and you get a reward!? — well, let’s just say I would have seriously reconsidered sharing the best blueberry muffins on my second-ever blog post. I know you should never play stupid to catch a man, but I think I would do it for Dorie Greenspan. And look, I’ve gotten side tracked again!

So, for the second evening in a row, we got a second Christmas. I received an incredibly beautiful, antique-looking silver bracelet with inlaid cameos, but I think the best present was the look on little senior-in-college and birthday girl Alex‘s face when she opened her last present: a waffle iron. Between our friendship history and near-obsessive reverence for a certain breakfast recipe, let me assure you: it was a very good gift. She squealed and jumped around too much for a proper photo, but here she is just moments before, pouring over a cookbook. A cookbook! How well I’ve trained her!

She is such a cute patootie. Someone get her another waffle iron.

On to the dinner table, where we had onion soup and salmon cakes and five kinds of cheese that come with quite a story (tune in later!) and then, as is the tradition goes in these here parts, lit the birthday cake aflame. This is usually when my stomach starts coiling itself into knots, because it means that cutting into the cake — actually eating this thing you have baked — is mere moments away. And the thing about cakes, about all baking, truly, is this: You Never Know. There is no crying in baseball, and there is no cutting little corners off to make sure it’s not dry in baking. So you just give it your best shot, which in my case involves erring on the side of underbaking (ambient heat keeps cooking the thing after it’s out of the oven), and pray.

In this case, the tester-inserting, icing-sampling, layer-chilling and ritual sacrifice worked. There’s a whole lotta carrots in here, but also walnuts for an interesting textural crunch, plump little golden raisins for softness and taste, a good deal of sweetened shredded coconut for added moistness. And the traditional cream cheese frosting lets a lemony kick in the pants. And it’s three layers! Who can say no to three layers?

At this juncture, I should probably point out that in my insufferably bossy life YOUTH, I never let Alex cut a cake. Because she always did some inane thing like slice it into quarters, then each quarter into thirds and come on, is that any way to cut a cake for nine people?! But this time, I held my tongue and was very mature about her origami methods.

Okay, she might have had to shriek, “I am 22, and I would just like for once in my life to cut my own birthday cake!” But then I was very supportive of her life choices.

(Seriously, it worked out great.)

Make this for your next dinner party. Have one tomorrow! The world needs more dinner parties, more lovely families like this one, and more homemade cakes never hurt anyone, either. It’s a vegetable cake; those calories burn themselves.

Recipe follows…


holiday gift idea: a bottle o’ spiced rum

Before I begin, I would like to say: I hope I am not accidentally giving away another family secret.

I don’t think I am.

Let’s tread cautiously, though.

When Boyfriend and I were in France last May (oh, summer! being too hot! what is that like?), we spent a couple days at my family’s in Bretagne. (Scenes above.) I think the food took him slightly by surprise: langoustines with fresh mayonnaise, a tagine, cheese, fruit salad the first night; nutella, homemade jam, baguette, and brioche for breakfast; an outdoor garden lunch spread of melon and tomato spears, savory cake, pate, a tower of tea sandwiches, a giant tabbouleh, cheese, a fraiser, chocolate mousse, apple tarte; and that very night, two courses of dinner and dessert crepes.

And you wonder where why I can never stop talking about food. ‘Tis the genes.

One thing that cut through these delicious, decadent meals: my aunt and uncle’s spiced rum. So easy to make, and even easier to drink. Even if your friends aren’t big rum drinkers (and normalement, I am not), it’s a great base for making mulled wine, hot toddies, hot buttered rum, spiked cider, and other winter brews. And since we have a bottle just hanging around the bar, I sometimes splash a small tablespoon into banana breads, coffee cakes, and even, yes!, chocolate mousse. For grown-up parties. After sitting in spices for several months, the harsh zing of alcohol disappears, leaving just a spiced cinnamon-vanilla taste that warms you through and through.

And you can always just drink it.

Spiced Rum

  • A 1-litre bottle of dark rum
  • 25 allspice berries
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 tsp honey (optional, because I forgot this part back in October and it didn’t matter)

Add the spices to the bottle of rum and let sit at least one month, or until the allspice falls to the bottom.

ever thankful

Ever since graduating, I have missed my high school’s annual Thanksgiving Assembly with a powerful gut-punch of nostalgia. We would gather in the C/A and, after a few words from the headmistress, start lining up on either side of the stage– students, teachers, administrators, coaches, all —  to read our lists of thanks. You worked on your list of thanks. They were long. And even if the assembly went over, which it almost always did, everyone got to speak. I wouldn’t stake my dad’s apple pie on it, but I bet I have a couple old write-ups lying around. Somewhere. But that’s for another time, and since I don’t feel like whipping out the hankies (or eye-rolls) for my younger self, let’s stick to present-day.

I am thankful for my simply awesome parents and my perfect friends, even though I am still mad at all of them for either moving to Cambodia, London, France, and L.A., or for staying in New York or D.C. and laughing uproariously when I suggested they crawl into my suitcase and come to Iowa with me. Speaking of, I am thankful for having moved to Iowa over a year ago to live in a century-old house that may leak heat in winter but also happens to house Boyfriend, who turns on the portable bedroom heater hours before I go upstairs every night and finds my ever-lost slippers before I get up every morning.

I am thankful for letters, email, and Skype, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and the Sweet Valley Twins, because at least I read something better than the Clique books when I was in 6th grade. (I am also thankful for Casablanca and Shakespeare.) I am thankful for spending my teenage years at Greenway, where I met my best friends, learned to write five paragraph essays in 90 minutes flat, read Kafka and Morrison and Kerouac, got feminism, and where teachers inspired me, which increasingly feels like an anomaly in this day and age. I give thanks for for hair curlers and contacts, for my cats who think they are the world’s first breed of cat-dog-kangaroo, for boots made for snow, rain, and crisp fall days, respectively, and for Anthropologie, even when their creativity comes with too high a pricetag.

I am thankful for the four kinds of flour in my pantry that sometimes make me question my own sanity, my Cuisinart, cheese and good bread and red wine and Champagne. I am thankful for Grandma Smoot’s Sweet Potatoes, not my grandma but a fine woman who decided that sweet potatoes mashed with two eggs, a stick of butter, and a cup of sugar should be called a savory dish and served before dessert: I salute this spirit. I am endlessly thankful for being physically and financially able to travel and the fact that Boyfriend makes the best travel buddy, and so I am thankful for crepes-Nutella, falafel, and the Orsay in Paris, for sunny sunny Vienna and night trains and good walking shoes. I am thankful for a camera that is far better at taking pictures than I am. I am thankful for ART, and that I get to study it, and grad schools if you are listening in, I will be thankful for admission + scholarship too, thanks!

I am thankful for puff pastry, hot showers, kindness, apple picking, nights on the deck, and Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving Help Line at the New York Times. I am thankful for the audacity of hope, both sentiment and author. I am thankful for 23 years with my Kansas Grandma, who wore fierce leopard print shoes, fried eggs in bacon fat, let me spend hours pounding out bad poetry on her ancient typewriter in the basement, and never, ever forgot a birthday. I am thankful that, when she offered to “take me shopping” on a visit to DC at least ten years ago, and I said, “Great, to the pet shop we go!”, she humored me. And while we’re on the topic, I am ever thankful for my Memere in France, who makes the world’s best chocolate mousse, hand-knit me a sweater the color of the French flag with an Eiffel tower on it when I was little, and at age 91 is still eating raw oysters. I am so thankful for the families attached to each side of the Atlantic, and the ones I have made for myself.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope yours feels as good as mine tastes.


in which i “mea culpa”

Hi there.

It’s been a while!

I’m really sorry kiddos! I’ve been busy in the past month plus.

Also, I’m an airhead.

Please don’t leave me?

Immediately after rocking the GREs (kindly see last post), I visited my boyfriend in California.

I was a real brat about leaving. Leaving the incredible food that I’m so (so) spoiled with every time, the wonderful family, the weather. THE WEATHER. Because after California, we went back east to DC.

Do you know how hot August in DC is?

It is in the nineties everyday, at least. It is so hot that government literally leaves town. They just clear out! I am not making this up.

(But I still love you, DC.)

Then we went to New York for a few days. We had tapas, pizza, a surprise party, and — shockingly — a hotel room! This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel since starting school there. (I think.) It was great, by which I mean air conditioned. Even though there were traffic police leaving the building when we went in? Awkward.

Then we went back to Iowa City. A rain forest had sprouted in our absence!

I chopped it down. It took AGES! And sorry, I don’t have an after shot, but all that canopy in the upper left — chopped! Pruned! Weeds eliminated. I’m really proud of it.

Then we went to Des Moines for the day. The capitol building is seriously gorgeous. We even got a private tour of the law library and Supreme Court, since there were so few people there. And we’re famous.

Then my mom came to visit. We ate everywhere! (Maybe I’ll share some reviews later on…) THEN we went to Kansas City. AND NOW, Mom has gone back to DC and Billy has too!, for a job interview. HOOOOO BOY.

Now? Here I am, just me and “The Office.” Or “Dancing With The Stars.” Depending on the commercials. Seriously though: did you know Bristol Palin, the Situation, David Hasselhoff, Michael Bolton, AND Florence Henderson are all on this season?

I never watched before.

Now I may.

Just me, television, and Chinese take-out. Don’t mind if I do.

ketchup [catch up] from france; or, this blog still exists!

Oh man, friends. What a rough couple weeks, bloggly-speaking. As predicted, beret-wearing and croissant-eating took up entire days, leaving absolutely no time for blog-writing, which is a shame, because now that I’m back stateside, I’m going to spend the next couple entries making you very hungry, rather than spreading it out organically. Sorry. Anyway, on with it!

A very late arrival followed a very late departure into a very rainy Paris, and we very gratefully settled into my friend Mathilde’s cozy and quirky apartment in the seventh arrondissement, which featured such merveilles as: wifi, hot showers, fresh bread and nutella, and of course a friendly face. Our first dinner, appropriately, was at Le Relais d’Entrecote. By the by, this should be everyone’s first dinner in Paris. It’s easy: they only (ONLY) serve steak-frites, so the only decision you need make is how you would like your meat cooked. It’s delicious — and they even refill your plate with a second helping of meat slices, thinly sliced golden fries, and the crucial, wowzer mustard sauce. And it’s quintessentially French, and isn’t that why you came to Paris?

The next day, valiantly defying jetlag, we woke up earlyish and hightailed it to Hertz. First off, the rental car — a 2010 Diesel Volkswagen Golf — came out of the garage with only seven kilometers on it. Brand new! Second of all, we drove from Paris to Bretagne, a little over five hours, and can I tell you, we only used half a tank? And when it started to rain, the windshield wipers turned on automatically and adjusted themselves to the level of rain? This car is the greatest. Everyone should own this car. The drive was pretty fun, too. French radio stations are ridiculous. One (Sky Rock?) came back from commercial with the clearly enunciated, IN ENGLISH phrase, “F*CKING. GOOD. REMIX.” That is allowed?

We got to my aunt and uncle’s house that evening and fell upon an enormous heap of langoustines, a tagine, cheese, bien sur, and fruit salad. The following day, the entire family came over and we ATE. And DRANK. For the entire day. More startling yet: in the garden!, because it was a beautiful, brightly sunny afternoon, in defiance of stereotype and my own expectations. We even tanned a little! I think Billy was in awe of the sheer volume of food, all topped off by three desserts (fraisier, apple tarte, chocolate mousse), but we both tucked in enthusiastically.

No sooner had everyone left around five than it was time to leave for dinner — luckily, preceded by a long walk in the one-time artists’ colony of Pont Aven. We had a wonderful meal of galettes/crepes (savory “crepes” are, properly, made with buckwheat flour and called galettes; “crepe” actually refers to only dessert ones) and hard cider on the ocean. We rolled into bed several hours later, wishing for about three more stomachs and five more days here.

Luckily, we still had a week left for Paris…