Wednesday, October 31

Brother - {Spiced Oat Cake with Ginger Plum Buttercream and Oat Crunch}

I'm currently competing to win some prizes on Tate's Bake Shop's Facebook Page. Perhaps you'd like to enter yourself, or maybe you could spare me some votes otherwise? Thanks! ;)


D is a good guy.

When we were young, we didn't get along.

He chose not to speak much, but when he did, his remarks were often calculated and hurtful. He had a knack for exploiting my insecurities in the most creative ways; shaming me into a pathetic down-on-myself funk from birth through most of high school.

Our parents advised that I ignore him, but it was impossible. How could I possibly be expected to ignore my brother? I'd already spent my entire life with him, and I'd be spending the remaining years with him too, to some degree. I tried, of course, obedient child that I was (am?), but I learned quickly that the silent treatment was a poor choice. Suddenly bothering me was a challenge - and D just couldn't pass that up.

But, really, D is a good guy. Looking back, now that I can see kids from a vantage more similar to my parents, I understand that their constant chorus of "ignore him" was more of a last resort plea than a command. There's only so much you can do to stop kids from fighting. The struggle made us stronger anyway, right?

My entire family assured me that someday he and I would be friends. It was a laughably unbelievable thought - often given as consolation while they scoured the room for tissues, band-aids, or both - but it was also a fine distraction. Immediately, the conversation changed from a one-sided squealing "he hit me" saga to a stubborn and immature "debate;" the gist of which being that I was right and they were wrong. The end.

But it shocked me recently to realize that they were actually... Completely right. When I moved out of the house for college, D and I didn't really keep in touch. Not consciously, exactly, but we just didn't have a whole lot to say to one another. To top it off, he worked 3rd shift, so even when I did go home, he was usually asleep. The only time I saw him was if I happened to be around when he was rushing to work after a shower, and the only time we spoke was if he chose to mumble, "hey," as he passed through the kitchen, jingling his keys.

But that has changed recently. We text - not a lot, but some - and he even starts conversations with me. When I go home, we talk. He shares vegetables from his garden with me. And, much to my surprise, he occasionally comes to visit me. And we actually have a good time hanging out together. It's like an alternate reality. Spooky. How appropriate for Halloween, hm?

He says he doesn't, but deep down I think he really likes to meet new people, and I think that's part of why he likes East Lansing so much. It makes him nervous, but c'mon; who doesn't get a little nervous around new people? Every single one of my friends has liked him, which is something I never would have thought possible 5 years ago.

And even better than enjoying meeting people, D likes to help people. It's a cliche, but I honestly believe he'd give the shirt off his back to someone in need. He's always helping someone with something - and he'll often do a kind deed without being asked - or mentioning that he's done it.

Much to my surprise, underneath that mean little kid facade, the 22-year-old is actually a pretty cool guy. And I finally got to meet him. 21 whole years later.

Who could have guessed?

PS: Family: don't go telling him I wrote this. He'll probably puke and never speak to me again. Love ya! ;)

Spiced Oat Cake with Ginger Plum Buttercream and Oat Crunch
Oat Sponge Cake

2/3 c quick-cooking oats
1 c milk
2/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp soda
1/2 c butter, room temp
2/3 c brown sugar
2 eggs, separated and at room temp
1/3 c sugar
3 Tbsp chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350F (use an oven thermometer!) and oil and line two 6" pans. Set aside.

Process the oats in a food processor or blender until ground and powdery, about 2 minutes. Pour into a microwave safe bowl and pour milk over. Microwave 30 seconds – 1 minute, until warm. Stir and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking soda in the blender. Set aside.

Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about ten minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until very well incorporated. Add the 1/2 the milk and oat mixture, then sift in 1/2 of the dry ingredients. Add the second half of each. Set batter aside.

In a separate, clean, bowl, whip the egg whites and remaining 1/3 c sugar to soft peaks. Gently fold into batter in two additions, adding the candied ginger at the very end.

Portion between the pans and bake 32-36 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and then refrigerate until well-chilled.

Spiced Plum Compote inspired by Epicurious
1 lb plums (I wanted damson, but couldn’t find them)
1/2 c sugar
1" ginger, sliced
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split

Place all ingredients in a pan and cook gently over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until reduced and thickened, being sure to enjoy the smell! Refrigerate until cold. Remove ginger slices, cinnamon, and vanilla (squeeze out the vanilla seeds into the compote) before using for cake.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Check out the step-by-step instructions

To fill and crumb coat:
9 egg whites
1 3/4 c sugar
2 c butter, room temp
1 tsp vanilla

In a double boiler, cook the egg whites and sugar over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the eggs are hot to the touch. Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on medium-low, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. The buttercream may turn into a soupy curdled mess during this process, but if you continue beating it for a few minutes it will become light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.

Oat Crunch inspired by Christina Tosi’s Milk Crumbs
Apply this to the cake the day of serving. Otherwise it loses its crunch.

3/8 c quick-cooking oats
1/4 c + 3 Tbsp milk powder, divided
1/4 c cornflakes
4 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/8 c chopped pecans
3 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 oz white chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 225F. Line a sheet tray.

Combine the oats, 1/4 c + 1 Tbsp milk powder, cornflakes, flour, butter, cornstarch, chopped pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon. Press onto the baking sheet in one, thin mass and bake 7-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool, then break into crumbs. Mix in remaining 2 Tbsp milk powder and melted white chocolate. Spread onto the baking sheet to cool again.

Split both cake layers evenly. Spread 1 side of each cake layer with a thin layer of plum compote. Add the remaining compote to the buttercream, 1/4 c at a time. If the buttercream looks like it is going to break, stop adding plum compote and save for another use. Fill and frost the cake with the buttercream, then apply the oat crunch to the sides of the cake.

Thursday, October 11

Stunt - {Soft Frosted Ginger Chunk Pumpkin Spice Cookies}

They're crisp between my fingers, just as I'd always imagined them to be.

I remember first hearing the word "resume." My stepfather had been recently laid off, and he was spiffing up his resume for some strangely named website that he often referred to as Monster.

It was a scary time for that half of my family, even if I didn't really understand it, but we made it through. It's a simple summation, I know, but J's resume was polished and impressive, he excelled in his interviews, and he got the job he was after - soothing the family.

I don't remember how old I was then, but I was certainly too young to spare much of my attention on something like a job hunt. I wasn't particularly useful or integral in the process, and, looking back, it's probably best that I didn't try to get too involved. My efforts were better spent on a good book. Or maybe a video game. Perhaps now I can argue that I learned some sort of work-related skill from the former or the latter, hm?

Dedication and persistence?

Who knows. Maybe I really learned those qualities from chasing a certain boy in elementary school...

Regardless; it's years later and here I am, fidgeting with this stack of paper and feeling uneasy and awkward about my education and job history.

I know I'm not, but I feel old. I feel weird that this is finally happening - that I'm a sixth of the way through my senior way and that - holy shit - I need to figure out what's next because nothing is certain anymore.

It was nice, four short years ago, to think that college was some kind of easy, natural, expected path. What a comfort it was to graduate from high school and not have to be an independent adult. I didn't have to figure things out because - how convenient - housing and scheduling were a walk in the park and then - what do you know? - I was signed up for school and that was just the thing I was committed to doing for the next four long years of my life.

High school dragged on forever. College would surely be the same. And all I would have to do was worry about my grades for the eternity that was sure to follow.

Except I was wrong. And everything that anyone had ever told me about college was right. And now, naturally, I'm resigned to joining the ranks of those before me who petulantly wag their fingers at the lucky younger few who really shouldn't wish to grow up too quickly.

Because I already know that I've made that mistake myself.

I wished away my freshman year, sitting broken-hearted and lonely in my dorm room after K left for Germany and P left for India. I was down on myself. I quit my job. But I kicked ass in the classroom.

I spent sophomore year blinded and thinking I could fix a relationship that needed cauterization with band-aids. I gained close to 40lbs, suffered through my accounting courses, fell out of love, grew closer to the best friend I've ever had, then ran away to join the circus.

The fall of junior year was blissful and too fast. I don't think I've ever been happier than I was then. The winter that followed was less significant in many ways, but it was a time for me to finally understand that I could be happy "on my own," starting fresh and making new friends. I got healthier. I focused on my internship and started to really get to the meat of my marketing education.

The past three years were a roller coaster of wonderful, exciting life experiences. And now it's senior year.

That "later" that I've been fearing for so long.

And I'm walking home from FedEx with this teeny friggin' stack of resumes, all dolled up (thanks, Boss Lady!) and proclaiming my proudest accomplishments amid a laundry list of seemingly mismatched work and personal experiences for all of the recruiters to see.

And suddenly, dressed in one of my few grown-up disguises, I feel crushed and destroyed at the thought of everything that's to come. Not that I hadn't considered it before, of course, but suddenly it's real. It's right there. And it's time.

I want a career in marketing. I do. I like what I do at CiesaDesign, and I want to learn more about it. It's something I like, so I want to excel at it. That's how I work. I want to take a brand from nothing to something just to see if I can. I want to kick Google AdWords into shape and make it my... Ahem. You get the point.

But getting there. Getting that job based on a 30-second elevator speech and a piece of paper that maybe - hopefully - will be read... Well, it seems impossible. I've already been denied one screening interview, and I'm certain more denials are coming my way. I've done my best to market this blog as a hiring asset, but who knows if any of the recruiters will really find interest enough in me to take a peek.

But the reality of the situation is that 16 years of education and 5 years of work experience allot you just one sheet of 60lb paper, and a 30-second scramble to convince a recruiter to take a second look.

Except, like my peers, I'm more than a piece of paper.

So here's to you, potential boss. I admit that I'm scared, but I also admit that I'm eager. And whatever stuttering and rambling I did in that 30-second window was probably a mistake, but I won't apologize for not being that super-polished, perfect 4.0 student that upper management probably told you that you wanted. Because I would argue that I'm more.

I can be crass, but I like to think that it's because I've got perspective. I'm friendly. I'm creative. I'm resilient.

I like to learn. I like to feel useful. I like to make things happen and I like the reward of seeing the results of hard work. 

As you can probably guess by this long and winding post, it took a long time to find me, but I like who I am and I think you will too.

So if you're lost and confused and fidgeting with that stack of business cards that you collected at the job fair...

Find mine.

And give me a call.

As always: thank you for your time.

Soft Frosted Ginger Chunk Pumpkin Spice Cookies adapted from AllRecipes
My only complaint with these cookies is that they're difficult to transport due to being so soft. I had a hard time taking them into the office, but I admit that they were quite popular there. Anyway... If they're hard to take somewhere... That just means more for you, right?

Printable Recipe

Soft Ginger Chunk Pumpkin Spice Cookies

2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c butter, room temp
1 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c canned pumpkin puree
1 egg, room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 - 1/4 c candied ginger, diced

Preheat oven to 350F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until lightened, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add egg, beat to combine, then beat in the pumpkin and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gently blend in the dry ingredients in two additions. Fold in the ginger.

Drop batter onto cookie sheets by tablespoonfuls and bake 13-15 minutes in preheated oven. Cool on a rack.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 c butter, room temp
1/2 c cream cheese, softened
2-3 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a medium bowl, cream together all ingredients until light and fluffy. Spread over cooled cookies.