A Post-Grad's Attempt at a Healthy, Joyful, and Blissfully Sweet Life

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cooking for a Crowd

hello hello there!

i hope you all had wonderful thanksgiving, full of delicious eats! this year mine was quite eventful-i was hired to be the head baker for an inn and all the desserts were up to me to create! which is basically  my dream come true.

after much deliberation and recipe pondering (probably the most fun homework ever), i decided on making pumpkin pie, pecan pie, pumpkin biscotti, spice cupcakes with chai buttercream frosting, and a flourless chocolate torte. YUM!

the kitchen i made a mess of baked in!
I brought over a test run of the pecan pie to Luke's family, and knew the recipe was a keeper when his dad declared it was officially his favorite thing I ever made him. Guess he couldn't tell that the main ingredient was tofu ;)

most of the time i had that whole kitchen to myself, which was wonderful.  once i learned my way around i was zooming like a mad woman from stove burner to oven to mixing bowl to timer.  i am pretty sure the guard who kept "dropping by" one of the nights i was baking was actually legitimately concerned for my well being. which made a lot more sense once i got home and looked at myself in mirror, where i noticed my hair was falling out of my pony tail, i had frosting on my face, and my arms were covered in chocolate.

hey, i could be covered in worse.

actually, i am pleased to say everything came out great, even if i did happen to burn the first attempt at the chocolate torte. after making 24 pies, 70 cupcakes, frosting, 120 biscotti, and a (non burnt) large chocolate torte, my job was complete.  that is by far the most i have ever made in my life! the chef said everything was enjoyed on the big day, and i even got offered a job to do the Christmas baking! just call me Head Baker Julia...

the pumpkin walnut biscotti dipped in chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate i made. a must for any Thanksgiving coffee drink :)

my thanksgiving was a bit nontraditional this year, in that i ran a 5 mile turkey trot and then got together with just my cousin, where the start of the meal was grapenuts.  that might sound weird to you, but for us, it was the perfect holiday!

bridget is my younger cousin, but is more like my sister/best friend. i am SO thankful for her in my life, and honestly don't know what i would do without her! therefore, it was very fitting to spend the day dedicated to thankfulness with her :)

and we celebrated by indulging in all our favorite traditions! grapenuts is an inside joke that was started years and year ago, but basically it's our favorite food and we put it on everything. so, we started the day with yogurt, strawberries, and grapenuts, a meal that can't be beat!

the day was spent doing all of our favorite traditions, like taking pictures, playing dog monopoly, and dancing around like goons. 

eventually we got very hungry and made our other traditional meal-brownie sundaes. we do not hold back on these, and add everything and anything to make them the best! 

this delicious creation would be a brownie (taken out of the oven early so it was still gooey, obvioulsy), half ben and jerry's phish food ice cream and half cookies and cream ice cream, crushed sugar cone, chocolate coated candy pieces, chocolate chips, a cherry, whipped cream, and grapenuts! i absolutely enjoyed every bite!

that would be me, holding up the grapenuts box rafiki style while singing "the circle of life" yes, we love grapenuts that much
needless to say my thanksgiving this year was very out of the ordinary, from baking for a huge crowd, to never actually eating any turkey or stuffing (i don't like either....seriously, give me ice cream for every meal.)

what was YOURS like?

*also!!! i am now just like every other person on the planet and have an iphone, and clearly the first app i downloaded was instagram. follow me!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Taste of Fall

Hey friends!

it's been a while! i hope you are all enjoying fall-i know i am! since it's been a hot minute since i've last written, i thought i'd give you a quick slide show of my fall so far!

most of my days are spent at the bakery i work at, and i could not ask for a better job! nothing beats being surrounded by freshly baked treats!

we are located right on the ocean-this view was taken from our porch.  for a while i was getting up at 4:30am to make it to the bakery for 5:30 in order to bake everything and open up the shop. many people have asked me why on earth i do that, but isn't this sunrise enough of an answer?!

i've also enjoyed forming friendships with the regulars.  i know most of the people who come in in the morning by name, and love chatting with them, sharing stories, and learning about their lives.     i even got a job doing the baking for Thanksgiving morning at an inn one of my new friends cooks at!
One night, after a long day at the bakery, i was at home and feeling quite bored. i (being the awesome person i am) settled on tossing kettle corn into the air and trying to catch it in my mouth. eventually i grew tired of that game and called to luke to tell him about how his super cool girlfriend now had a stomach ache from too much kettle corn, to which he replied "well come downstairs then. i'll bring you to get ice cream!" i ran down the stairs, opened the door, and there he was! he had decided spur of the moment to surprise me so drove up when he got out of work! "get your coat, i'm taking you for ice cream!" he said. 

i was so shocked! no one has ever surprised me before! my night quickly took an upturn and i felt like the luckiest girl as i ate my favorite ice cream flavor ever, pumpkin oreo.  i had tried this new flavor a couple weeks before, and hadn't stopped talking about it. actually, i am still talking about it, a month later.  pumpkin oreo ice cream?!? sent straight from the heavens, i am telling you.

as if i wasn't already convinced i was dating the best guy in the world, the next day i came home to what you see below. while i was at work he took the time to cook me dinner! and this is huge, because before this meal, he had never cooked a meal before. ever. in fact, he once tried to make easy mac in the microwave and forgot to the add the water. he also once made the girl he was babysitting cry because he burnt her popcorn. true stories.

so, the fact that he even attempted anything in the kitchen is awesome enough.  but he took it a step further by making my favorite meal, salmon.  and guess what? he rocked it! he made a delicious salmon salad, and as you can see, took lots of time in the presentation. he explained that he knew i would pick up on how it was displayed, since i'm very into decorating my baked goods, so he wanted to step up to the plate (punny!) oh, and the flowers? yeah, he also got me those. i have NO clue how i get to date this kid, but let's just say i plan on keeping him. sorry, ladies.

some other fun happenings include my best friend from childhood coming to visit, liz! we have known each other since we were 6 and in the same first grade class, but we became best friends in seventh grade when we both had crushes on the game guy.  that guy, of course, was harry potter.  since then we have been through many, many interesting times, from awkward middle school phases (she has some of the most incriminating and embarrassing photos of me known to man kind. and likes to remind me of so ;), to awkward high school phases, and even through awkward college phases even though we went to different colleges.   basically what i am saying is that our awkwardness keeps us together, and what's stronger glue than that?

me and liz the night of our high school senior prom!
she is actually a beautifully talented photographer, and asked if she could photograph me baking for her website. getting to hang out liz, bake something yummy, AND get professional photos?!? sign me up!! i baked a pumpkin pie and then we went out to one of my favorite cafes around to get dinner.  we got the most outrageous mac and cheese ever-it was bursting with goat cheese and roasted red peppers and was insanely delicious.

we came across this sign in the city we ate in. i love finding words of wisdom in random places!
 most recently, i went with a few friends to see my college best friend robyn complete her first half marathon!! as you know, i love a good half marathon and so was pumped to see robyn run hers! she trained much better than i did, and was very diligent and dedicated in preparing for this race.  i actually joined her on a few of her runs, which was super fun! running buddies are the best, am i right? i couldn't wait to see her cross the finish line! i made her a sign saying "robyn runs like a kenyan" and was so proud of her as i saw her coming to the end, looking confident and strong even after 13 miles!

celebratory hugs!! 
i would just like everyone to know that as robyn and i posed for the picture above, she whispered "cupcakes" in my ear, since we have a date to bake some later. clearly, the girl keeps what's important in the forefront of her mind at all times.

we also made friends with the larabar lady who was passing out free samples.  we ran up to her and both said, at the same time, "we LOVE larabars, we eat them all the time!!!" her boss also snapped this pic-i'm pretty sure we'll soon be featured in their new ad campaign. don't worry, i'll hook you all up with the goods ;)

new friends, old friends, baking, celebrating, and overall just absorbing all of this beautiful season while it lasts-my fall has been a good one so far. i hope yours has been as well, and you've eaten as much pumpkin as you can!  i will leave you with this word of wisdom i found at the drugstore, just as a reminder to you all...

indeed it is. savor each bite!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Friendship Sweeter than Frosting

three years ago, i sat down next to a random girl in my old testament class.  she seemed very sweet, and i had no friends in the class, so i figured, why not?  it's nice to meet new people, sometimes.  as it turned out, she was super funny and we had quite a bit in common-we even lived in the same dorm.  by the end of that semester we were good friends, catching up outside of class and even going to workout classes together. i had no clue this girl i happened to sit down next to would become one of my best and closest friends, but it's things like those that you never can plan...

us with our "nutter better" v/gf cookies dipped in chocolate we made for last year's super bowl!
Robyn is a very dedicated vegan and introduced me to both vegan and gluten free baking. i know-i bet you're all thinking"oooooohhhh, so THAT'S where she gets it!!!" yep friends, she's the one who started me on the vegan and gluten liberated baking journey i love so much! the mystery is solved.

the friendship between myself and robyn has been one of my favorite parts of my college experience, and a huge blessing and encouragement in my life. she has helped me seek out God for healing and wisdom, and has made me die laughing in the process.  we have been very fortunate to live if not with each other, right across the hall from each other for our entire college careers, and even now that i've graduated and she is a senior, i still live so close to our college that i am able to visit her frequently-which is a good thing, because who else would prance down the street with me yelling "IMPALA POWER!!" during a six mile run? not many people, folks, not many people.

i am SO fortunate for this girl's presence in my life!!

we frequently had dance parties to our favorite pandora station, african essentials, in shower caps my junior year.
judge if you want, we ROCK those caps!
last year we took our friendship and began to do something with it! suddenly, between working out together, speaking in basically all inside jokes, and constantly being there if one needed prayer or life advice, we also began to explore a passion we both shared-baking.  armed with vegan cookbooks, measuring spoons, and five year old giddiness, we weekly turned our humble college apartment kitchens into, let's be honest, parisan patisseries. from decadent cupcakes, to raw cheesecakes, to dozens of different types of cookies, we created it all.  it was such a breath of fresh air from all the school, work, and stress surrounding us.  we both found such release and enjoyment in baking, and of course nothing beats a delicious, warm cookie fresh out of the oven with a cup of tea and your best friend to chat with!

luke quickly came to the realization that if he was going to date me, he was also going to date robyn-it was inevitable.  thankfully, he and her get along quite well and luke is very aware that when we three go somewhere, he's the third wheel.  if i call him after having a bad day, he response is usually "have you gotten to see/talk to robyn?" because he knows that she is a fail-safe way to cheer me up.

the three of us in our happy little family!
robyn is originally from rochester (rachacha), ny so during the summers we don't get to see each other.  however, this past summer she came up for a weekend visit! we did what we always do-sit at our favorite cafe to chat and catch up, and then BAKE!

look at dem perdy eyes!
it was wonderful to have her actually visit!  we immediately started planning what type of cupcake to make.  it is our dream someday to open up a bakery together, and we talk about new ideas we have for it all the time.

we both love chocolate and coconut, so after much deliberation and debate, and we decided on making a chocolate cupcake with a coconut frosting.  we went back to my apartment, and got to work!

one of the best benefits of vegan baking? you can eat the batter without fear of egg diseases!!
ahhh, sweet freedom...
i seriously want robyn to write a guest post on here sometime, sharing all of her food wisdom-because friends, she has TONS of it! she was the person who introduced me to my first chick pea (after working out sophomore year of college!), green smoothies, and the benefits of both gluten free and raw cooking.  just last week she fed me and luke PURPLE POTATOES!! i didn't even know those existed!

when the cupcakes were done, we frosted them up and then enjoyed the fruits sweets of our labor!

they were GOOD! chocolately, coconuty-much like the ones i made for my graduation party. i think we enjoyed posing with the cupcakes and giggling as much as we enjoyed actually eating them! but i mean-talk about eye candy! ;)

now robyn is back at college and only 10 minutes from me!  we have already begun planning all sorts of yummy pumpkin and fall themed goodies to make, so you will for sure be seeing what we cook up in the coming months!!

all of this to say you might want to rethink putting on your ipod on the train, or averting eye contact with the person you sit down next to in class.  you never know if she or he could become your new best friend, introducing you to new passions, ways of living life, millions of inside jokes, and a friendship that you thank God every day for.

knock some pandas, yentup!!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Very Lucky Girl

friends (and matt),

i am a very lucky girl.

the other day as i was talking to luke, he told me to make sure to pack a nice dress when i visited him over the weekend.  "i'm taking you to a fancy dinner." he said, nonchalantly.  my ears perked-a fancy dinner? like actual grown up couples do?  woah.

when the night came, i donned my pearls and chanel no. 5 (i wish) and hit the town, with a dashingly handsome man by my side. we went to besito, a highly praised mexican restaurant near his house.  it was very beautiful inside, with a whole wall of candles offering very warm lighting and guacamole magicians walking around.


well, maybe they weren't magicians,  but they were pretty talented guacamole makers! a specialty besito offers is "guacamole en molcajete", and what happens is a lady wheels a table over to yours, on it all the mixings for guacamole and a stone basin called a "molcajete."  it's similar to a mortar and pestle and is used for grinding things.  she cuts open avacados, puts them in the "molcajete", and then adds in cilantro, jalapeno chiles, onions (but we opted out of those...gross), tomatoes, and a sprinkling of salt. then she mashes it all together, and wa-la! freshly made guacamole! delicious as well, let me tell you.

this guac was so good that it transformed me into an avocado fan! previously, i greatly disliked avocados.  their taste, their texture...everything.  but they are so good for you (all those heart healthy fats!) that i always wished i liked them.  this distaste for them was beyond my control!  however, i kept eating small bites of it when ever it was presented to me, and then at this dinner i decided to just dive right in.  with that colorful, flavorful bowl in front of me, how could i not?

and i loved it. 

give me MORE!
the same story goes for tomatoes.  i used to hate the taste of them!  but i slowly stopped asking for my food sans them and instead tried to find a way to appreciate them.  again, with all their nutritional benefits, i was determined to make my taste buds like them!! (what did i say about my determination?) and i'm so proud to say it worked. you can change your eating habits, it's true!

i did, and i feel like a whole new woman for it!

anyway, the dinner: amazing.  luke had chicken tacos and i had stuffed peppers with mushrooms, goat cheese, pine nuts, spinach, and raisins (which truly knocked it out of the park.) i would have taken pictures of them but i couldn't put my fork down, it was so delicious!

we also got wine, because we are sophisticated and needed wanted everyone to know it.

this is luke, laughing and saying "let me live my life!!" as i made him hold that pose for about seven pictures because each kept coming out blurry. he puts up with a lot...
and with our check came churros and these sweet little guys!

they are called "mexican worry dolls" and you are supposed to tell all of your worries to them, then sleep with them under your pillow.  in the night they take away all of your worries so that by the time you wake up the next morning, you are worry-free! precious.

the dinner was wonderful, and i felt very blessed to be able to have such a decadent and rich meal.  however, i felt more blessed beyond words to have shared it with luke.  when i asked him why he wanted to do this, he said "well, i haven't taken you out to a nice dinner in a while, and you deserve it. i like to pamper you!"  friends, luke does pamper me-all the time.  with his words, with his actions, with his heart.  yet he still wants to give more.  he claims i deserve it. and you know what? i do. he does, too.  as do you, dear reader. we were created out of love, and love is what we should receive.  every woman deserves a man who will look at her and go "you look more beautiful than ever" every time he sees her.  because that is what God thinks every time He looks down on us.  He adores us, loves on us, cherishes us.  i believe the love two humans share is supposed to mimic that of the One who first created love. and i have a man who is constantly showing me what that looks and acts like, simply by how he looks and acts towards me.

i am a very lucky girl.

don't think you deserve anything less.

Love is patient, 
love is kind. 
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 Love never fails.

~1 Corinthians 13:4-8


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mission Accomplished

"i am just going to blast the air conditioning in the car the whole way and hope that my car gets cool enough to keep the frosting from melting.  i don't care if i freeze-my cupcakes must make it the whole way! what can i say-i'm a sacraficer."

that, my friends, is the conversation i had with my apartment mate, katherine, before i left for luke's on friday.

it all started when i decided to make these delicious cupcakes to give to luke's family.  i would be staying over their house for the weekend, and so wanted to bring a gift. they were the perfect "introduction to fall" cupcake, a spice cake which i concocted up along with the help of jenna, as well as her chai tea butter cream frosting.  the frosting alone is a perfect treat, spicy from the cinnamon and chai and a wonderful deviation from the typical vanilla.  i piped the frosting using a star tip and then dusted more cinnamon on top and by the time i was done, they looked so delectable! they definitely fit the bill for a dessert worth presenting to your boyfriend's parents, that's for sure.

just as i finished sprinkling the last flecks of cinnamon on the last cupcake, it dawned on me:  i had to take my beautiful creations in the car for a two hour drive! frosting is very temperamental and will melt if not in a cool environment; i had not just put all this detailed time into each cupcake only to have them get destroyed!

the horror!

i put them in the freezer in a last ditch effort to keep them as cool as possible and hopefully solidify the cakes enough so that their forms wouldn't loose shape. i wasn't about to let go of the vision of myself presenting luke's family with beautiful looking cupcakes!

it means a lot to me, ok? i'm an artist-aesthetics are important.

i set out on the road, cupcakes safely positioned in a way that ensured minimal jostling and i drove with extreme care.  normally, i'm a bit of a road bully.  i admit it.  i have zero patience on the road and less than zero patience for slow drivers.  i also tend to brake very suddenly and am overall not the greatest driver (my mom  still doesn't let me drive her.) however, there's nothing like cupcakes sitting next to you to put things into perspective! suddenly, with the cupcakes' lives my responsibility, i became a very careful driver. maybe i should drive with cupcake passengers more often?

except for one incident where i once again braked very quickly and sent my purse flying into the cupcakes, i made it to luke's with myself and my cupcakes safe and sound.  the purse incident somehow didn't destroy all of them, only three.  sweet relief!

the damage. how my heart breaks!
i did indeed blast the air conditioning the whole ride.  i wore a sweatshirt and so didn't feel that cold, but my nose was definitely feeling it by the end!  i realized how cold i actually was, however, when i got out of my car at luke's and realized my muscles were frozen and i could barely move!  my idea worked though-the frosting held it's shape! like i said...i'm such a sacraficer.

in the end it was all worth it because his family loved them. his parents and his aunt and uncle all raved about them-about both their taste and their presentation. mission accomplished. all was right with the world.

and so, without further ado...

Fall Spice Cupcakes with Chai Tea Butter Cream Frosting
makes 16 mini cupcakes | inspired by eat live run

Ingredients for cupcakes
1/2 cup all purpose gluten free flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
2 T cold butter
1/4 cup scalded milk
1/4 cup apple sauce

1 beaten egg
~preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line mini cupcake molds with cupcake liners or spray with non stick spray
~mix together all the dry ingredients
~using your hands, mix in the butter until the ingredients feel grainy and therr are no clumps of butter left
~heat the milk on the stove until just boiling
~remove from stove and combine with the rest of the wet ingredients
~add all the wet ingredients to the dry
~mix to combine-but don't over  mix! don't do it!
~bake for about 15-20 min, checking with a toothpick to see if they are done

ingredients for frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tbsps Chai concentrate

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

~beat together all of the ingredients until light and fluffy!
~pipe or spread onto each cooled cupcake, dust with cinnamon if desired, and enjoy your introduction to fall!

have a bite, won't you?


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Saved by the Cake


let me tell you what happened to me the other day.

i came home very late after catering a wedding (a job i do on the weekends), exhausted beyond belief and completely stressed out, as the job often renders me.  it was past midnight and i desperately wanted to go to sleep, but the event had left me pretty hungry.  so i innocently enough decided to grab a quick snack to eat before i fell asleep.

i had no idea what i was about to stumble upon.

this is proof that even after midnight on a day you can't wait to get over with, things CAN turn around! oh, the redemptive powers of...


look at that beauty! she was sneakily hiding in this box, which i found when i opened up the fridge.


i couldn't believe my eyes.  i was sure for a second that i had actually passed out from exhaustion and dreamed this happened. but no-this was real life. this cake was truly waiting for me. me. all thanks to the very generous and kind heart of my apartment-mate! she decided to surprise me with a sweet little gift! all the chaos from the night suddenly melted away and i was instantly transformed into a little kid on christmas who was just given a puppy.

i promptly got a fork, sat down at the table, and dived in.

and never looked back.

be still my heart-this cake was divinethe frosting is always my favorite part of a cake, and the more dense, fudgey, and sugary the better! this cake? this cake nailed it.

i normally don't get chocolate cake because i know nothing can compare to my favorite dessert ever-Gregg's death by chocolate cake.  that would be my way to die if i got to choose, hands down.  i have actually called my parents from africa saying i missed that cake-in fact, the last time i came home from africa my family picked me up from the airport and drove me straight to gregg's so i could be at peace once more.  it is out of the world chocolately and HUGE-it usually takes me about three or four days to finish the slice.  the frosting simply can't be beat, and so i know there's never any use in getting other chocolate cakes because there's no way it could live up to gregg's'.  hoewever, this cake had almost the same. exact. frosting!! it became the second best frosting i've ever had in my life as soon as that fork made it to my mouth.

i ate some that night.

and some the next night.

and some the next. i looked forward to eating that cake all day-and folks, i work at a bakery. 

coming home from work and sinking a fork into this 8th world wonder was one of my favorite parts of the whole day. (if i had to tell the truth, i'd say it was my favorite part of the day.)

this cake and me? we bonded.

it was there for me up until the very last bite.

and what a bite it was.