Sunday, September 15

The Mess - {Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits}

I started this post about two weeks ago. It was a really happy story about seeing two wonderful people find each other, and the goodness that resulted.

But then life happened. So I scrapped it. And I’m starting over:

I’ve come to realize that stress and uncertainty often send me heading for the coffee shop. Maybe I shouldn’t self-medicate with sugar and caffeine, but the simple act of treating myself to something somewhat forbidden in terms of budget – both caloric and monetary – is soothing.

So, basically, if I’m at Starbucks – alone - odds are that something is wrong.

Before you worry, I’m ok. This “wrongness” is definitely not why I’ve been away from the blog. Since graduation, I’ve been busy in the most wonderfully rewarding way; growing closer to a lot of incredible people and making memories that I’m glad I didn’t miss out on.

These are amazing times, dear readers, but part of the closeness and memories I’m experiencing are sad, too. It’s really hard to see the people you care about in pain.

I’m on the outside looking in on relationships that are ended, doomed, or crushed before they’ve begun.

I’m seeing friends struggle to find work; struggle to make ends meet.

I’m seeing insecurities ruin good things, and fear prevent risk and growth.

Recently, I’ve had to be the friend who relays unwanted information. The one with a different perspective, or just the one who knows the true story. And it’s so hard, because it’s always the kind of information you know it would be so much easier to just keep to yourself. To bury it away in the back of your mind and go on encouraging your loved ones to the fullest of your heart’s ability. To lie, quite plainly, to yourself and to their face for the sake of smiles.

But friends don’t do that.

And so today, after a couple long chats, I’ve ended up at Starbucks. And I’m inhaling my drink.

And I feel better. A little helpless, maybe, but better.

It’s at least made me realize that I’m genuinely lucky that my biggest struggle these days is figuring out how to be supportive.

Which is, often, harder than it seems.

Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits, adapted from Alton Brown's Southern Biscuits

One thing I can always count on making me feel better - and more in control - is baking, of course. I love quick recipes like this because they're low effort but high payoff; which is exactly what I've been needing lately. Served to friends in need, especially with eggs and bacon aside home fries, they're sure to lift spirits.

2 c flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp butter, chilled
2 Tbsp shortening
1/2 jalapeno, minced
Handful or two of shredded cheddar cheese
1 c buttermilk, chilled

Preheat your oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add in the butter and shortening and press into the flour until the mixture is somewhat sandy. Be careful not to let it get too hot – you don’t want to let anything melt.

Add in the jalapeno and cheddar and mix briefly to combine.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Pour onto a floured surface and pat gently into a rectangle. Fold the dough over itself and repeat 3-4 more times.

Pat out the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 to 1 inch thick and cut into 12 squares. Transfer to the lined sheet, spacing each square about 1/4 inch apart. Bake 15-20 minutes until nicely brown on top.

Saturday, June 1

Lipstick on Pigs {Chocolate Pistachio Ice Cream Sandwiches}

"Why don't you weigh 300 pounds?

He meant it as a compliment, but it wasn't terribly graceful for a number of reasons - one of which being the fact that he'd said it after setting his hand solidly over my knee. He knew I baked because he's a friend of a friend, and I know he meant no harm, but the poor little guy had clearly had a too much to drink and it was causing him to word vomit all over my lap.

The unfortunate thing was that the topic he chose to explore was my body, and I was having a hard time putting up with it.

To begin, I have never been in shape in my life. I got called "fat" and "ugly" more times than I could count in school, and I was treated as you'd expect. When I was unlucky enough to end up in gym class without any of my friends, I was always - and I'm not exaggerating - "picked" last. I'd buddy up with the other outcasts and we'd be "ugly" and "fat" together, wishing with all of our misled pubescent hearts that we were skinny and pretty like everyone else.

The signs aren't so hard to pick up on. Slowly you realize that maybe it's best if you don't speak, so no one can make fun of what you say. You learn to sit in the back of the class - away from the doors - so you're not an easy target when your peers come in. You stop answering your teachers' questions, you eat lunch in the yearbook room, and through all of it, you internalize, maybe subconsciously and maybe not, that you're worthless; except maybe for providing entertainment for everyone who is just better than you.

I had my close friends and people who cared about me, but I got told once, by one of them, that I would be a lot prettier if I could just lose some weight.

It damn near killed me.

I thought my friends were different. I thought that was why we were friends - because they didn't care and thought I was still an ok person, even if I was - GASP - fat. To be looked down upon with such a critical eye by someone that I thought I was close to was so painful and disturbing that I wasn't really sure how to react.

So I let it get to me.

If one friend felt this way, might the others, too? They, the few people that I trusted, were all I had in the halls of my school, but I was suddenly afraid of everyone. For years, I felt that each person I encountered hated me, and I aimed to live an invisible life. If the people that actually liked and knew me couldn't see past my exterior, how could a stranger be expected to? What was wrong with me?

Fast forward a bit, and the years saw to redistributed the weight. I made it out of high school alive, and I lost all commonality and touch with the assholes who took it upon themselves to put me down on a daily basis. I got out in the real world and realized that most people are well-adjusted enough to keep to themselves, largely for the fact that they have more important things to do than concern themselves with the size of my pants - or my nose.

But still, the world taught me to present myself in a different light. I worked hard to clear up my acne. I started dressing better. I learned how to do my hair. I started wearing makeup. I lost some weight simply due to the fact that I had to start walking to class instead of driving. Shockingly, even though I'm the same fat ugly person I always was on the inside, people started to treat me better.

And it sucks.

It sucks because having been deemed "horridly ugly" in the past dictated so much of who I was, went on to be, and am - just because people care too much about something as moronic as what other people look like. 

It sucks because I have been judged and treated like garbage, and I still see and hear people doing the same thing to others today.

It sucks because I got burned so bad in regards to my appearance in the past that I have a hard time reacting positively when someone makes a "complimentary" comment about the way I look, because it shouldn't matter.

Maybe I would feel different if I worked out or if I made a huge effort to look any certain kind of way. If I had worked hard to get a six pack or something, then yeah, maybe I'd want people to recognize my diligence. But I don't. And I haven't. And I won't.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, it really isn't your business what someone else looks like. My weight has never had anything to do with my value, and it never will. It frustrates me now to look back and realize that the whole time I was miserable and broken up about being "too fat" or "too ugly," it was really just because I was too afraid to recognize the fact that I was, to be blunt, a pretty fucking awesome person, and it was all the assholes that had problems and needed to change.

I won't have children for a long time, and this is nothing against my parents at all, but having gone through this realization makes me so eager for the chance to someday teach my own kids that they - and everyone else - are more than their bodies.

A good sense of self esteem is hard to develop. I know. I still struggle with it, to be completely honest. But it's important because it helps you to let things slide when people are being simpleminded and shallow. If a person doesn't have the mental capacity to see past your exterior and into your mind, imagine how difficult other simple things must be for them, hm?

So if you're the kind of person that thinks it's appropriate to to talk to someone about their weight or shape or anything else related the first time you meet them, then you just might be better off stuffing your face with a hamburger, some Natty, or maybe even a sip of coffee - whatever the current social situation deems appropriate. Because, think about it, if that's what you're focusing on, do you really care about the person at all?

Of course you don't.

Pistachio Ice Cream Sandwiches
This method of making ice cream is a little different than you may be used to, but, after a few batches, I'm beginning to think I prefer it to custard bases containing eggs. It's quick, easy, and tasty! I'll be making a lot of it this summer and I'm sure you'll see the base again soon.

Printable Recipe

Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cocoa Nib Ice Cream Sandwiches recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

8 oz milk chocolate, chopped
4 Tbsp butter
2/3 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cocoa
2 eggs, room temp
1/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 c cocoa nibs
1/4 c pistachios, chopped

Line two baking sheets and set the oven to 350F.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a small bowl. Microwave on 15 second intervals, stirring after each, until completely melted. Set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, being sure to scrape down the side of the bowl. Fold in the dry ingredients, then fold in the cocoa nibs and pistachios.

Drop tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the lined sheets about 2-3 inches apart. Bake 12-15 minutes until the cookies are shiny and crackly, but soft in the center. Cool on sheets for ten minutes.

Makes two dozen.

Pistachio Ice Cream very slightly adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

1/2 c shelled pistachios
1 1/2 oz (3 Tbsp) cream cheese, softened
2 c whole milk
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/4 c heavy cream
2/3 c sugar
2 Tbsp corn syrup

Put the pistachios in your food processor and grind to a very smooth paste. Pulse in the cream cheese just to combine, and scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine about 2 Tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch to make a smooth slurry. Set aside.

Make an ice bath in a large bowl.

Pour the remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup into a sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil. Stirring frequently, boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in the cornstarch slurry. Whisk to combine, and place over heat again. Bring back to a boil and stir constantly until thickened, about one minute. Remove from heat.

Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the pistachio and cream cheese mixture, whisking constantly to combine. Place the bowl in the ice bath, being careful not to let any water spill in. Stir occasionally to redistribute, and place in the fridge to cool completely (I prefer overnight).

When the mixture is sufficiently chilled, pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your manufacturer's directions.

Monday, May 13

Simple - {Soft & Squidgy Peanut Butter Cookies}

The sidewalk ahead of me is more than familiar. Alive with visions of memories, I feel like I can literally see myself and my friends - plus and all the shenanigans that have occurred by way of this road over the past four years - right in front of me.

I wouldn't call my steps labored, exactly, but there's a distinctiveness in my gait that indicates a certain degree of intoxication. Which is all well and good, you know, considering that it's the final day of my final finals week. I'm happy to admit that the week(+?)-long celebrations included wine, beer, lots of food, more wine, some studying, and a respectable amount of gin to balance it all out.

But, despite that, I'm not really drunk.

From alcohol, anyway.

There's been so much on my mind over the past week. Each of my years here at MSU has felt like a different lifetime, and I've learned so much from each of them. All within a two mile radius of the Student Union, I've had the happiest, saddest, most confusing, most enlightening, and richest moments of my life - and it's all come tumbling down upon me like a pile of newly dried blankets.

The state of drunkenness I've been living in stems [almost] solely from excitements and terrors once lost like the mysterious half emptied bottle of water (vodka?) in the back corner of my fridge.

And I've been sipping so heavily on this cloying cocktail of nostalgic warm fuzzies over the past week, that when people ask if I'm sad that college is over, I can't even function well enough to throw together a decent response.

Truth is, I'm not sad.

Not at all.

I'm sitting here on my garbage picked armchair, typing away on my 5-year-old laptop, noshing on a plate of brussel sprouts, drinking tap water, and daydreaming about the opportunities that I've already had - plus the ones that are yet to come.

Sitting here and realizing - finally - that I've never been happier with life than I am now.

I feel free. And I feel prepared.

Maybe I'm a little too buzzed to drive, but I'm ready to go.

Soft and Squidgy Peanut Butter Cookies

Go ahead. Balk at that shortening. I know you want to. But hear me out, ok? I'll be the first to say that butter tastes AWESOME, but you have to admit that it kinda makes cookies spread and go all thin, yeah? I didn't want that with these cookies, and I also didn't want the only fat to come from the peanut butter and the egg yolks, because those kind of peanut butter cookies... They just don't do it for me. They're dry and too crunchy. Blech.

So here's my improvement. MY ideal peanut butter cookie - and a number of my friends, too. Maybe it's not YOUR favorite, but that's ok. Variety is the spice of life, eh? For those yet to disown me after my extensive hiatus let alone my gall to come back atcha with hydrogenated vegetable oil of all things, give this recipe a go and you will be rewarded with soft and fantabulous peanut butter cookies - the likes of which you have never known. I think. Maybe that's a bit too grand. Regardless, you'll be happy with 'em.

Makes like... a dozen big cookies.

1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
3/8 c roasted peanuts (I've used salted and unsalted - no pref here)
3/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 c peanut butter (I prefer smooth and never use natural peanut butter for baking)
1/2 c shortening
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
Sea salt, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets.

Grind the flour and the peanuts into a fine powder with your food processor. Add in the salt and baking soda, then pulse to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the peanut butter and the shortening. Add in the sugars and beat to combine, scraping the sides of the bowls when necessary. Beat in the egg, scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the corn syrup and vanilla. Mix to combine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing just to combine.

Portion the cookies using a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Flatten with the bottom of a cup and use a fork to crosshatch. Or not. Whatever. Sprinkle with sea salt if it floats your boat. Arrange on a baking sheet with plenty of room between - I like to put 8 on one sheet, generally (two rows of 3 surrounding a row of 2).

Bake in preheated oven for 17ish minutes. I take them out when I can lift the side of one just a bit with my finger without it crumbling. Set sheet on cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.