More American Than Apple Pie
2 oz. bourbon
4 oz. hard cider
1 piece of candied bacon for garnish
cinnamon sugar rimmed glass
The first thing that I am going to do is prepare the garnishes. To make the candied bacon, brush maple syrup onto bacon and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about ten to fifteen minutes. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn! Set them aside to cool.
Next, mix up a batch of cinnamon sugar. TheKitchn.com suggests that the ideal proportions are ¼ cup of sugar to 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. The cinnamon sugar will be used to rim the glass for an additional burst of apple pie flavor. Moisten the rim of the glass with hard cider and then dab the outer edge of the rim into the bowl of cinnamon sugar.
It is less than a week until the 4th of July which means that it is almost time for picnic food, colorful drinks, and fireworks. I will be posting recipes for red, white, and blue drinks later in the week, but today's cocktail is all about American flavors. Is there anything more American than apple pie? How about this cocktail that adds whiskey and candied bacon to the nation's favorite dessert!
Now that the garnishes are ready, it is time to mix up this incredibly easy drink. Pour 2 oz of bourbon into the rimmed glass and then fill the glass with hard cider. Drop in a piece of candied bacon and then enjoy a patriotic combination of flavors!
I was visiting my parents a couple weeks ago and since their kitchen is much larger than my apartment kitchen, I decided I wanted to do some cooking. With fresh fruit easily available during the summer, I decided to try my hand at making jams. For many years I have watched from a distance when my mom made jams, but if I had known it was so easy I would have tried my hand at it years ago. I made a batch of rhubarb-ginger jam, which is a standby in my house because the rhubarb plant in my parents' backyard is enormous, and then decided to branch out with this delicious raspberry, jalapeno, and cilantro jam from Cupcake Rehab. If you like a bit of heat in your preserves, this is the recipe for you!
Summer is the perfect time to catch up on reading and I am a huge fan of British detective stories. I saw a reference to the Rivers of London series with Constable Peter Grant and knew I had to find a copy. One of the blurbs on the back cover refers to the series as "Harry Potter joins the Metropolitan Police" and the books do not disappoint. The first in the series is Midnight Riot and is not pictured above because I have already passed it onto my mystery-loving mom. If you like a little bit of magic, a lot of wit, and a great plot, then you should check out this series by Ben Aaronovitch. I have finished all five books that are currently out and am already impatiently waiting for the next installment!
If you are looking for an easy project to work on this summer, check out this tutorial from Spoonflower on how to make recipe tea towels. I made a batch for my family reunion and they were such a big hit that I had to order more fabric to keep up with the demand! I did not have handwritten recipes to scan, so I used GoogleDocs to create a design that looks like a recipe card. They look great, can be completed in an afternoon, and make a great gift for family members!
I live in a tiny studio apartment which means that I am always trying to find creative ways to maximize my space. One of the ongoing annoyances has been that one of my two windows is not very private. My apartment building is U-shaped and I am at a back corner of the U, looking over the interior courtyard. This means that my window and the window of the apartment next to me make a ninety degree angle and that when the blinds are open, there is a clear sightline from my apartment to my neighbor's apartment.
A little over a year ago, I read an article in the New York Times about using window decals to create privacy while still allowing for natural light. I finally followed through and put up decals on my own window. Since my place is a rental, I chose a static cling instead of a sticker so that they can be removed cleanly. I wanted something that let in a lot of light, so I chose a clear cling with dots that obscure the view into my apartment. As a bonus, when the sun shines through, the dots create hundreds of little rainbows.
Now I can leave my blinds open AND sit next to the window without feeling like my neighbor's eyes are constantly on my back. What design tricks have you used to make living in close quarters feel a little bit more private?
Memorial Day weekend has come and gone so it is now officially summer. School is finishing up, vacations are being planned, and now you might even have a chance to read some of the books that have been piling up in the corners of your home. This is also the time that lists of "summer reads" and "beachy books" start showing up all over the place. Most of these are easily digestible and lighthearted novels that don't take up a lot of room in a suitcase and won't leave you dwelling on the plights of the characters when you are supposed to be relaxing. Now, I love fiction as much (and maybe more) than the next person, but I don't understand why fiction has been branded as fun and relaxing, while nonfiction is considered heavy and even to be work to read.
Let me start with a story. Right before I started eighth grade, my family moved halfway across the country and landed in the Midwest. In the process of packing and unpacking, all sorts of things surfaced that I had never seen or paid attention to before, including quite a few books. Among them were two books about mathematical problems by Lewis Carroll, Euclid and His Modern Rivals and Pillow Problems and A Tangled Tale. I've always been up for reading just about anything and I liked math, so I plucked the books out of a box and stuck them on my bookshelf. When I started my new school a few days later, I discovered that I was required to keep a book with me for quiet reading time during English class (which was called Language Arts). Here is where the problem started: I don't read in ten or fifteen minute increments. When I start a book, it will stay attached to my hand until I finish it or something very compelling interrupts me. Since I knew that the Carroll books would be slower reads, I thought that they were great candidates for in-class reading time. I brought in Euclid and His Modern Rivals, which is written in play format, and had a grand time learning about geometry and that you can write a play about literally anything. Unfortunately, my teacher did not agree and I was forbidden from reading it in class. Euclid and His Modern Rivals was not considered by my teacher to be "pleasure reading" and I had to choose something less academic to read in class.
Fifteen years later I still find this ridiculous. The benefits of reading don't come solely from reading novels and other works of fiction. Nonfiction also enriches our reading lives and can be very fun to read! My college boyfriend was not a reader, despite the fact that his mom was a librarian who kept a steady supply of books in the house. This wasn't because he didn't like to read, but that he hadn't yet found what he did like to read. It turned out that his literary interests veered more towards humorous memoirs, popular science, and books about American politics that featured a strong narrative voice. For him, it took discovering nonfiction to really grasp the concept of reading "for fun."
Classifying fiction as "fun" and nonfiction as "work" does a disservice to readers. If you haven't dipped your toe into the pool of nonfiction recently, then try picking one up on your next trip to the library or bookstore. I find nonfiction easier to read in small chunks because there aren't generally cliffhangers at the end of the chapters, so it is perfect reading material for a busy schedule. Here are a few of my favorite works of interesting, informative, and amusing nonfiction that are great additions to any summer reading list:
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey
Have you ever wanted to know what it is like working as a researcher in a large museum? Trilobite expert Richard Fortey takes readers through the Natural History Museum in London with fascinating stories about the history of the natural world, gossip about what happens behind the museum doors, and a love of learning that will make you care more about fossilized creatures than you ever thought possible.
Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farmhouse by Michael Korda
If you have ever daydreamed about moving to a picturesque farm where you could drink summer cocktails on the front porch while surveying your land and livestock, then this is the book for you. This memoir about country living is not all sunshine and rainbows, but that makes it all the more endearing. In every chapter they face a new issue, sometimes with the house, other times with the neighbors, but always with wit and charm.
Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government by Gregory Levey
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a diplomat? In this humorous memoir, a Canadian finds himself working as a speechwriter for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations where nothing ever really seems to run smoothly. There are the daily issues, like trying to decipher the screams coming from the library down the hall, as well as panic-inducing moments, such as when he is the only Israeli representative at a vote on nuclear proliferation and has to ask the United States how he is supposed to vote. It is a fascinating insight into diplomacy and politics in the Middle East, and is wrapped up in a narrative that will keep you laughing.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges
I realize that this list is getting a little heavy on the memoirs, but the tone of this book is quite different from the others. Chris Hedges is a longtime war correspondent and this book is part memoir, part philosophy on war. He weaves his own experiences and the stories of the people he met in war zones into a meditation on what it means to go to war and how it affects those who live through it. It is a relatively short read, but will stay in your thoughts after you finish.
Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 by Janet L. Abu-Lughod
This book was originally assigned to me my freshman year of college, but not in its entirety. The parts I initially read were so compelling that I consumed the book cover to cover over the following winter break. My K-12 education did not have a lot of focus on world history and what little we did cover was focused pretty squarely in Europe. This book looks east and uses the trade routes of the time to discuss politics, economics, and trends of the time. There are plenty of maps so you don't have to keep an atlas handy while reading and the narrative is quite compelling. Though I hesitate to compare its readability to a novel (which seems to be the en vogue way of saying a work of nonfiction is "fun" to read), it is a work that is engrossing. I reread it on a regular basis because it is packed with interesting tidbits about a time period and area that I know less about than I should.
Mother's Day is on Sunday so you don't have much time left to shop, so why not give Mom the gift of your presence this year? Now, I know that brunch is an ever popular Mother's Day activity, but getting a reservation can be a nightmare and don't even get me started on how crowded the restaurant will be. Instead, try one of these activities that require very little planning and give you both an opportunity to relax and enjoy each other's company:
4. Head to your local garden store to pick up some bright annuals and then plant them in containers on Mom's front porch. Don't forget to stick a bottle of prosecco in the fridge ahead of time so you have something delicious to enjoy after finishing your hard (but fun) work!
Hosting a party brings to mind days of prep, long (and expensive) grocery lists, and fretting over the guest list. That level of work is not realistic everytime you want to host your friends at your place, but you can still put out a spread that will maintain your reputation as a great hostess. Although an informal gathering is about the people, it is nice to offer more than just a bag of chips and a 2-liter of soda, especially if you think the group will keep the conversation going late into the night.
Set expectations. If you are known for making wonderful cocktails or elaborate meals, it can feel like that is expected of you everytime you invite people over. Make it clear exactly what your guests should expect. For example, earlier this week I invited a few friends over for cake and beer to belatedly celebrate a birthday. I didn't worry about providing a selection of wine or liquor besides what was already in my fridge. When extending invitations, keep it simple. Promising one drink and one type of food is more than enough. If you are concerned that your gathering time is too close to a meal, clarify by saying, "I hope you'll join us for wine and cheese before dinner!" If you decide later that you want to provide more, that is a bonus.
Cheese plates make a big statement. There are lots of guides to the perfect cheese plate on the internet, but for an informal gathering, you don't need to strive for perfection. Instead choose items that you would be happy to eat as leftovers. I always keep crackers and cinnamon almonds in the cupboard and a bunch of grapes on the shelf of my fridge, so those were easy additions to the spread. I also set out two types of mustards (already in my fridge) and a jar of my mom's homemade peach-rhubarb jam to add a bit of variety. So far, nothing on the cheese plate was beyond my normal grocery list. Choosing the cheeses can be nerve-wracking, but unless you are hosting a bunch of cheese snobs, people will just be happy to have something to snack on. Brie is a popular cheese and at Trader Joe's the domestic brie is less than half the cost per pound (at $4/lb). This means you can get a big hunk for about $3 that will take up a lot of space on your platter. A hard cheese is a nice addition and the one pictured above is a syrah-soaked Tuscano (also from Trader Joe's). It tastes good and it adds a bit of color. My third choice was a gouda, partly because I was looking for variety and partly because I could get a decent wedge for about $3. All in all, the cheeses came to under $10 which is not much more than a few bags of chips would run you. I also picked up a packet of sliced salami and a baguette, which only added another $5 and had the added benefit of being my dinner that night. But when my friends walked in, they all commented on how nice the cheese plate looked.
A homemade dessert is always appreciated. Everyone should have a go-to baked good that they feel confident making. It doesn't matter if you serve the same thing everytime you host friends. Something sweet and homemade automatically makes a gathering feel special, even if you are just getting together to catch up. One of my favorite baked goods is a sweet potato and bourbon bundt cake sprinkled with powdered sugar (adapted from Bakerella) because it works equally well with brunch or dinner. But for this gathering I made cupcakes (using a no-fail recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook) because we were celebrating a birthday and chocolate-irish cream cake balls (a mix of recipes from Bakerella and TheKittchen) because I was in a baking mood. If you are serving other food in addition to the dessert, one serving per person plus a couple extras should suffice. If the dessert is your only food, aim for making two servings per person plus a few extras. I love to have people over because it gives me a reason to bake. Since I live alone and don't have a lot of self-control around delicious desserts, I rarely bake something just for me to enjoy.
Remember to have fun! When you host a large or food-intensive party, it is easy to get caught up in taking coats and refilling plates. When you are hosting an informal gathering, choose a menu that won't need any attention once the first guest walks through the door. Snag a seat for yourself and don't be afraid to direct your friends to the fridge instead of refilling all the glasses yourself. After all, the whole point is for you and your guests to enjoy each other's company!
The beginning of March is always an exciting time for me. It starts the countdown to my birthday (April 1st!) and to springtime and the new month helps me shake off the funk of winter. Of course, there is still snow on the ground and the temperatures will continue to be below freezing for at least another week, so it is important for me to find the little things in my day that make me smile. Some of the things that make my day better are fun and others are practical, but all of them make my day a little bit better.
I have mentioned before on the blog that I love tea. Taking fifteen minutes in the middle of the afternoon to relax over a cup of tea lets me take a deep breath and regroup. Although I have a cupboard full of tea options, my go-to flavor is Licorice Spice from Stash Tea. It's a caffeine-free herbal tea so I can drink it before bed or whenever I need a little bit of downtime and has a lovely sweet aftertaste (no spoonful of sugar necessary!).
Not every part of my day can be completely relaxing, but I like to make my chores a little nicer. I live in a very small apartment so my kitchen does not have a dishwasher. I'm sure that I am not alone in saying that I dislike handwashing dishes because by the end my hands look like prunes and my skin gets dried out from the hot water. I finally broke down and picked up a pair of dish gloves and it has changed my life this winter. I splurged and got the ones with aloe vera so my hands are soft when I finish doing the dishes. I still don't love doing dishes, but I no longer dread doing them.
I always feel better when I look good so the first thing I do after getting out of the shower is to add a few drops of argan oil to my hair. It helps to control the frizz, adds a healthy shine, and makes my hair feel incredibly soft and smooth. I rarely am on top of beauty trends and I stumbled across argan oil completely by accident. A couple years ago I was visiting my sister in Atlanta and decided to get my hair cut at a salon there. The stylist put a wonderful smelling gel in my hair and it turned out to be argan oil! It is the quickest way I have found to make my hair behave and that puts a smile on my face.
One of the easiest ways to improve my mood is with a bit of sugar, but I have been trying to cut back on how much dessert I consume. My solution has been cinnamon almonds. They are satisfying without making me feel guilty about indulging and that makes me feel good.
In the past year and a half since I started a Birchbox subscription, I have started playing around a lot more with makeup and have discovered that red lipstick is a huge mood-booster for me. I used to only wear a bright lip color when I was going out to do something fun with friends, but I have decided that any day is a good occasion to wear something beautiful. Plus, it is hard to frown when you catch a glimpse of your bright red lips in the mirror.
What are the small things in your life that make your day a little bit better? Share your ideas in the comments!
Tis the season to eat chili! With blizzard conditions in the Northeast and the Superbowl next weekend, you will want something delicious that is warm and can feed a crowd (or that will leave you with days of leftovers).
I was not a huge fan of chili as a kid because tomato sauce is my least favorite way to consume tomatoes. I much preferred my mom's black bean stew which incorporated the same general tastes and textures, just without the tomato sauce. However, about five years ago my parents' neighbor, Therese, stopped by with a pot of chili for us and it converted me into a chili lover.
Therese's version tweaks the chili recipe from Comet Cafe in Milwaukee which can be found here. There are slight changes to the spice quantities but the big change is adding in any other vegetables that you have on hand. The extra veggies and spices added to the mix help dilute the tomato sauce base to a reasonable percentage of the overall dish. One of the other things you will notice is that this chili is not accompanied by cornbread because it is served over pasta. Maybe I just led a sheltered life, but chili over pasta was a novel idea for me.
This recipe is great for a large group because it is pretty much the lowest common denominator for every diet and individual people can choose their own garnishes depending on their food requirements. You can skip the pasta if you're gluten-free, leave off the sausage and cheese if you're vegan, or make any other variation with the garnishes that you want.
Therese's Chili Recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 cans (15 oz each) tomato sauce
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cans (15 oz each) beans, drained and rinsed (kidney or black beans or a mixture of the two)
Salt and pepper to taste
Any other vegetables that you have on hand, such as broccoli, zucchini, carrots or shredded spinach
3 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
Cooked elbow macaroni or bowtie pasta
Grated cheddar cheese
Chopped white onions
Sliced andouille sausage
In large stockpot, heat oil. When hot, add jalapenos, garlic, onion, bell peppers, oregano, and any other vegetables you want and saute until soft. Add tomato sauce, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper and stir together. Add beans, bring to a simmer and cook over medium to low heat for about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add fresh cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta and garnish as desired.
Note: For a chili that is more veggie and less sauce, add in several extra cups of chopped veggies and/or an extra can of beans.
To download a printable version of this recipe, click here.