I’m still getting the hang of baking–in that, I can follow a recipe pretty well, but haven’t been brave enough to branch out on my own and try crazy inventions yet (unless you count adding cranberries and pecans to French bread). But I have ventured far enough down my Baking Bucket List to have a few favorites…
Favorite to photograph: Challah
The braided design and glossy, egg-wash finish makes this one a no-brainer. Definitely the most Instagrammable of my baked goods, even when it’s a little wonky or lop-sided. I’ve tried different styles–a spiral and a braided coil–but the 6-strand, braided log is my favorite.
Favorite to bake: French Bread
It’s a pretty straight-forward recipe, and I love the way the entire apartment smells like bread. I bake it in my beautiful Le Cruset Dutch (French?) oven, and it leaves us a versatile bread that’s tasty morning, noon, and night.
Favorite to eat: Red Wine Chocolate Cake
What’s better than red wine or chocolate? Combining them into a decadent cake topped with a layer of dark chocolate ganache (or cream cheese frosting, your choice!). This photo is of a similar recipe for chocolate sour cream cake, which is nearly as delish.
Favorite surprise/transformation: Chocolate Babka
I just had to include this one because it looks absolutely terrifying before going into the oven, but it comes out completely gorgeous and so scrumptious. There’s definitely an ugly-duckling-metaphor in here somewhere. 😉
I plan on sharing my recipes for each of these (and more!) soon–is there one in particular you’d like to see first? What’s your favorite baked good, to bake and/or eat? Let me know in the comments!
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Holy crap you guys, I just found this lovely little post sitting in my drafts as I went to write my first 2020 Reading Challenge post. SMH! Welp, enjoy this super better-late-than-never recap, and look forward to hearing my first 10 books of 2020, coming soon!
In 2019 I set a goal of reading 40 new books, and ended up reading 64! Here’s the final list:
If I can only recommend one book from this long list, it’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea. It follows a teenage Muslim girl in the wake of 9/11. It’s nuanced and rich and I sobbed, laughed, and was completely engrossed–I read it in about two days, sneaking open my kindle app at work and cooking dinner with one eye glued to Shirin’s story.
One of Us is Lying is an excellent murder-mystery-meets-the-Breakfast-Club. I love a good unreliable narrator, and the fact that there are 4 different points of view telling the reader about a death only they witnessed (and are, therefore, the only suspected murderers) keeps things very interesting.
Matchmaking for Beginners surprised me the most. It was available for free through Amazon Prime, and I’m not really sure what led me to open it–maybe the pale blue cover and a desire for something lighthearted. This book definitely delivered, while also having a thread of deep emotions throughout.
I really enjoyed expanding out of my YA-comfort-zone and reading books in so many different genres. Do you recognize any books on my list as favorites of yours? Have any recommendations for 2020? I’m already building my “to-be-read” list–there are so many great stories out there!
I don’t know if it’s being a thirty-year-old, or just the way things fell this year, but I’ve been busy! With the days being short and dark, it’s all I can do after work to cook dinner and watch a few episodes of Great British Baking Show or Grace and Frankie before calling it a night. And our weekends have been booked solid!
Those are just excuses for why I’ve — once again — fallen off the face of the blogging planet for a bit. Are we at a point where I can skip these intros and just pick up as if there haven’t been month-long gaps between posts? Maybe?
Anyway, one of these busy weekends, we visited family down in Naples, FL. It was glorious. The weather was a perfect 80s-and-sunny all weekend, we watched the sunset while walking on the beach every night, mixed some perfectly refreshing cocktails, and responsibly soaked up a little sun.
We also made these super easy and SO decadent grilled cheeses. I can’t take any credit beyond agreeing to every suggestion Charlie’s aunt made, but I’ve since made my own at least three times.
I also found this recipe for crusty bread in under two hours (!!) so we’re eating pretty well this week. I actually baked the bread after work one night (which is unheard of, because, you know, rise-times). I’ll admit I prefer the depth of flavor (or is it texture?) a good slower-rise brings, but in a pinch, this recipe is great!
Basically, all you do is toast a slice of crusty bread (French is best), slather it with fig jam, cover it in slices of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (or your cheddar of choice), then broil that bad boy for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
Best enjoyed with a fork and knife… but you do you, I won’t judge!
Once, we added sliced turkey between the jam and cheese, which was delectable
I bet apple butter (or thin-sliced granny smith apples), bacon, and cheddar would be super tasty
Really, any combination of jam and cheese that sounds good to you should work — let me know what you try!
I’m coping with leaving St. Louis. DC’s “smashburgers” are a joke, and the barbecue doesn’t come close, but I’m dealing.
What makes it harder is that this freakin’ city is haunting me. It’s St. Louis. No one ever talks about St. Louis (except when the news is blowing a riot way out of proportion or pulling stats on murder rates, of course). So *why* are mentions of it cropping up everywhere?
Watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a passing side-comment of a scene, a family mentions moving to Missouri. Then confirms they’re going to St. Louis for work.
A medical podcast I listen to had an episode about the time Chicago reversed its river, literally dumping its shit on St. Louis (and ruining the Mississippi River for over a century. Thanks, Chicago).
Then I’m helping my boss with something when we’re interrupted by a spam sales call. He says they’re always calling him, these people in St. Louis.
My husband also got a recent StitchFix delivery that included a shirt from St. Louis. How serendipitous!
I get these aren’t big deals, and my husband says I only notice *because* I’m on the lookout for St. Louis references. Maybe he’s right, but it doesn’t change the fact that I am trying to move on, and St. Louis refuses to let me!
In case you were wondering, in no particular order, and by no means complete, here is a list of the items I plan to try my hand at in my lifetime:
Buche de Noel (Yule Log)
Swedish Tea Ring
It seems like each episode of the Great British Baking Show inspires another addition to the list, and with this newfound hobby, I’ve started checking out more baking blogs for tips (and even more inspiration). Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see me try–I’m game to post about all my baking triumphs and failures!
I already wrote my post reflecting on 2019, so this post is about my hopes for 2020 and beyond. Last year, I said I don’t like resolutions because they’re broken so easily, but I did keep to my 2019 goal of reading 40+ books (the grand total is over 60 and I promise I’ll post the entire list and highlight my favorites). I also sent queries to over 20 agents, so I kept to my goal of pursuing publishing in 2019. I *didn’t* do so hot at keeping up bi-weekly manicures (and my hands are still a mess most of the time) BUT I was getting a little better at “treating” myself more frequently–then we moved and I’ve yet to find a nail salon I love as much as the one in the Central West End (but one goal for 2020 is to stop being passive-aggressively-bitter about no longer living in St. Louis).
Riding on last year’s coattails, my goals for 2020 are similar. This year, my goal is 50 books. I’m not anticipating the downtime of a move between jobs, so most of my reading will be squeezed into the in-between-life moments: brushing my teeth, waiting for elevators, steeping my tea in the mornings.
I’ve decided to hold off querying any more agents until I’ve gotten a first draft of my sequel finished. Partially because I think this might take some pressure off, mostly because I know how the story ends but no idea how to get there, and I like the flexibility of being able to tweak book 1 if needed to make the entire story better. So my 2020 goal is to finish drafting Sticks and Stones (working title), then regroup in terms of publishing. (Of course, that goes completely out the window if an agent offers representation now) 😉
I like the idea of doing something very resolution-y and health/physical-body-related, even though my follow through is statistically horrible. I’m going to try getting up a half hour early and incorporating a quick yoga routine into my mornings. And maybe get more manicures again.
I’m also going to return to therapy in 2020. This one’s kind of cheating, because I’ve already made the appointment, but I like crossing things off lists. Look at me go, already starting 2020 ahead of the game! I want to be more honest (I know that’s a goal I’ve had in the past, but this year I’m particularly focused on no longer lying to myself), and I hope therapy will help me separate out how I actually think/feel/want to act from the ways I *think* I should think/feel/act.
And I’m totally going to bake more, because I absolutely love it. I want to master challah, and tackle at least 5 items on my baking bucket list in 2020: macarons, croissants, sandwich bread, pretzel buns, and rainbow cookies.
Because everything in life should come with a soundtrack, here’s my song for 2020: BRILLIANT by Shinedown. If I can be one thing in 2020, let it be this kind of brilliant.
I love the trend of posting your best nine pics of a given year. Not only is it a chance to revisit some excellent memories and gather them all into one collage (remember making actual collages in the 90s, pasting together photos and stickers and ticket stubs? Am I dating myself?), but pulling together nine pictures from across a year reminds you just how blessed you are.
Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily *good* year. Maybe I’m just getting better at seeing the positives. Either way, this year I struggled to narrow down my 2019 experiences into nine thumbnail-sized shots. So what are blogs for, if not reminiscing?
At the beginning of the year, we got a perfect snow in St. Louis–enough to disrupt work for a day, not enough to put us on lockdown. One of the neighborhood restaurants opened its patio that night and provided free spiked hot chocolate/hot toddies around fire pits. Such a midwestern thing to do, and such spontaneous, snowy fun!
We also went to our first (and only) musical at the Fox Theatre while in the Lou. Fiddler on the Roof was every bit as magical as I remember it being when I watched it on VHS in middle school (moreso, since it was live, and I was old enough to appreciate what was going on in the story–I did NOT realize how dark it gets in Act II!).
Taking advantage of our location, we did a long weekend in the other Lou–touring bourbon distilleries, appreciating the baseball history, and visiting Churchill Downs. Louisville remains one of my favorite trips we’ve taken, and I can’t wait to visit again!
2019 saw the first newborn member inducted into the Olin Boys’ Club, as well as a whole host of get-togethers and adventures with our b-school buddies. These include Olin’s formal, graduation, and a trip to the Ozarks, to feature a few. The hubs turned 30, which we celebrated with bowling followed by a rooftop bar.
We visited Chicago and continued an hour north to see Milwaukee (my favorite of the small cities we’ve visited since moving to St. Louis). We popped home in time to watch the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Then began our journey east.
After a pit stop in Indianapolis (and another, not-pictured, in Pittsburgh), we made it to our new home in DC. I worked on polishing my manuscript and query materials, and began seeking agent representation for my novel.
My brother visited during his (too) brief tour of the US before returning to Korea. I bravely (for me) explored DC on my own, between job-hunting and writing. And my in-laws (after at least 8 years of talking about it) *finally* bought a home in Old Town.
We made it out to Rehoboth Beach, where we discovered we’re no longer used to the brilliance of a sun reflecting off ocean waves.
An agent responded to one of my queries, complimenting my writing sample and requesting more. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire walk home from our new favorite pizza place. My husband bought a car (unrelated, but almost as exciting for him).
Dear friends tied the knot. Others have growing families. I turned 30.
And celebrated with a parade. Okay, that was for the Nationals, since they won the World Series and all. I started a new job with a fun group of people. I watched so much Great British Baking Show that I was inspired…
I spent time with those adorable faces (and equally adorable sister- and brother-in-law, not pictured). I baked a lot more delicious stuff. Turns out, I’m a baker! #challahatyagirl
As the year winds down, holiday parties are filling the calendar. Crazy to think there’s only a week left in 2019, and in the 2010s! What a decade it was. Here’s to the memories, friendships, and epic life changes!
I’m on to my latest obsession: baking. We can mostly thank The Great British Bake Off and Paul Hollywood’s piercing blue eyes for this–what started as relaxing entertainment became a desire to smell baked goods while watching people frantically complete challenges, which turned into me thinking why don’t I try a challenge? And I remembered one time years and years ago when I wanted to surprise my husband with a loaf of challah except it seemed way too hard so I decided we’d forever be a bakery-bought challah family (sorry to all his Jewish ancestors).
But now, watching a dozen people slamming and punching and kneading dough, I’m thinking that looks so cathartic. And I don’t know what it says about me, that the idea of punching something is what encouraged me to try baking bread, but here we are. Much like the time I chose to study Russian in college (because learning a new language wasn’t enough of a challenge, why not throw in an entirely new alphabet on top of it?), if I was going to try my hand at baking bread, I was going to bake something I know my family would enjoy, difficulty be damned–basically, if I can take a blank slate and fill it with the knowledge needed to master something tricky, the easy stuff will be even more of a breeze.
Now I don’t know if it’s because I came at it with such a can-do attitude, or if my counter-intuitive theory actually works, but this challah was pretty simple. The absolute hardest part was wrapping my mind around the 6-strand braid (because I’m competitive enough to not settle for a 3-strand braid). And judging the baking time–I left it in a touch too long, so it was a little dry around the edges.
I call that a smashing success for a first attempt, though, and I’m looking forward to making more!
The recipe I used comes from Smitten Kitchen (because practically all the best recipes do). I halved it because I didn’t want to risk bombing 2 loaves (though in retrospect, that would have upped my odds for success, too #maths), and because for all our love of challah, 2 loaves would have been a stretch for my husband and me to finish (yes, next time I will absolutely be sharing with parents).
I also used this video to figure out the braiding because apparently I’m a visual learner?
All of this inspired me to make a list of other baked goods I’ve always thought were too complicated or involved or insert-excuse-here for me to try, so there may be another post or two in the future about baking!
The night is so cold, my ears start to ache before we’ve even crossed the street. Breath crystallizes in the light of a streetlamp and my nose throbs. My date ushers me through the door first, ever the gentleman, and I’m hit by a wall of heat and the rich scent of beer and well-polished wood.
The bartender pauses in her conversation with one of the local regulars to call a friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass. We wave, still too frozen (not to mention far too hungry) for Midwestern small-talk. The floorboards are well-worn around the horseshoe bar, as if we needed a path to follow.
Tonight, we’re in luck: there are only a handful of people in line. Of course, if this is their first visit, we could still wait a half-hour to order, but I like our odds. My eyes wander the tap handles as I try to decide between my usual Citywide Pale Ale or a nice chocolate milk stout.
Aggressive music floats through the window into the kitchen, underscoring the conversation taking place there. This close, the smell of caramelizing ground beef makes my mouth water. Impatience sets me bouncing on the balls of my feet as the couple at the counter finalize their order.
“Hey, guys, long time no see,” he says when it’s our turn.
It’s been just over a week since our last visit. It feels like an eternity has passed.
The guys chitchat about the weather and how quiet it is tonight, despite the line that has multiplied behind us. Then comes the order: “Two double classics with everything and a side of regular fries.”
I pretend I might switch it up, but in the end, it’s always the same.
We snag two stools at the far corner of the bar, Thursday night football starting up on the screen behind us. Frigid winter air leaks through the seam of the door beneath the TV, but it’s toasty within my jacket. The phone nestles on the bar between us.
I’ve gone for the stout; he orders the pale ale. We people-watch and make up whispered stories about those in line, feet from where we sit. A raucous cheer sounds from the other side of the bar. I twist in time to catch the replay and curse my fantasy team.
The phone buzzes: order’s up! He slides from the stool and squeezes past the line to retrieve the scratched metal tray. My heart pounds with anticipation. Butter, onions, and sizzling beef cloud around us as he sets our burgers down.
The toasted bun is soft and buttery. The crisp edge of the smashed patties adds a delicate crunch, and melted American cheese wraps it all in salty, gooey luxury. No matter how much I savor every bite, the burger is gone within minutes, washed down with fat, golden fries—perfectly crisp exterior, soft carby interior—and a swallow of one of 4Hand’s finest brews.
My belly full and warm, my fingertips buzzing from the stout, we brave the cold once more to return home.
Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.
Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.
It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.
The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.
Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.
Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.
By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”
A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.