A Few of My Favorite (Baked) Things

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

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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.

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Favorite to bake: French Bread

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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.

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Favorite to eat: Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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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

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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. 😉

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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!

 

2019 Reading Challenge: Wrapped!

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:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusa
  21. The Firethorn Crown– Lea Doué 
  22. Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi
  23. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White
  24. King of Fools – Amanda Foody
  25. Girl, Stop Apologizing – Rachel Hollis
  26. Legacy of Kings – Eleanor Herman
  27. Girls of Glass – Brianna Labuskes
  28. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
  29. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe – Allie Condy
  30. Dance of Thieves – Mary E. Pearson
  31. Mirage – Somaiya Daud
  32. Queen of Ruin – Tracy Banghart
  33. Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People – Vanessa Van Edwards
  34. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
  35. Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
  36. The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Mackenzie Lee
  37. The Lost Girls – Heather Young
  38. Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
  39. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin
  40. Broken Things – Lauren Oliver
  41. Warrior of the Wild – Tricia Levenseller
  42. Unravel Me – Tahereh Mafi (Once I started on her sequel to Shatter Me, I couldn’t stop. I’m 1000% obsessed with her stories)
  43. Ignite Me
  44. Restore Me
  45. Defy Me
  46. The Huntress – Kate Quinn
  47. Vicious (Villians) – V.E. Schwab
  48. Rooms – Lauren Oliver
  49. Duels & Deceptions – Cindy Anstey
  50. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  51. Red, White, & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
  52. A Very Large Expanse of Sea – Tahereh Mafi (My favorite of the books I read in 2019)
  53. Matchmaking for Beginners – Maddie Dawson
  54. Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys
  55. The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena
  56. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  57. The Gilded Wolves – Roshani Chokshi
  58. Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson
  59. The Witch Elm – Tana French
  60. We Hunt the Flame – Hafsah Faizal
  61. The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson
  62. One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus
  63. Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver
  64. Sawkill Girls – Claire Legend

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!

Open-Faced Grilled Cheese

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.

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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.

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Best enjoyed with a fork and knife… but you do you, I won’t judge!

Other notes:

  • 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!

St. Louis is Haunting Me

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!

Baking Bucket List

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:

  • Challah
  • Meringue Cookies
  • Pavlova
  • Macarons
  • Croissants
  • Rugelach
  • Stroopwafel
  • Bagels
  • Ciabatta
  • Biscotti
  • White/Sandwich Bread
  • French Bread
  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Chocolate Babka
  • Rainbow Cookies
  • Buche de Noel (Yule Log)
  • Stollen
  • Calzones/Pizza
  • Lucia Buns
  • Swedish Tea Ring
  • Honey Buns

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!

A Brilliant 2020

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.

Best Nine of 2019

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.

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We also enjoyed adult beverages in the street, because St. Louis.

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.

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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…

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The challah that started it all!

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

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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!

And to 2020: No pressure. 😉