Friday, December 2, 2011

(Thanks)Giving 10%

I love my husband. Period. He is the perfect hitch for my wagon and I wouldn't change a thing about him. He could be summed up in a series of words. Loving. Caring. Thoughtful. Helpful. The list continues. If I had to use one word to describe my other half, though, it would be good. In the English language, this word is often taken for granted.

Good is used to describe menially positive things. When I use this word to describe him, I mean it in the way of a good man, in every sense a good human being. Now that you are on the verge of vomiting with this mooshy, gooey grossness, I'll ease your suffering.

A close second to the word good, and I mean a close second, as in millimeters close second, would be impulsive. Yes, drop of the hat, react without using his brain, utterly and entirely impulsive. In the best possible way, of course.

He lives in the moment more than any three people put together I know, which to someone who is spastically neurotic, like yours truly, is as fascinating as it is terrifying and panic-inducing. In short, he keeps me on my toes.My toes, got a little squished the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

We have joined a wonderful new church in our current city, but sadly have missed many uplifting messages and tear-jerking sermons on account of being employed part-time. Used and abused college students usually don't get weekends to themselves.

Last Sunday, Husband was miraculously off of work and went to hear God's Word. When he returned home I asked how it went and about the subject matter. He gave me a brief summary and I went about my day. Now, you must understand, a few weeks ago, we discussed tithing 10% of one of our pay checks regularly to the church, because we believe in this little family we've found and wish for it to grow.

This is where impulsive queues stage right and the orchestra strikes Bach #5.

Husband: "Oh, by the way, don't be mad."

Me: Giggle, "Okay, why would I be mad?"

Husband: "I kind of caught up on our tithing this morning."

Me: Raising the eyebrow.

Husband: "I just, you know, thought we should catch up for the year, since it's almost December, so I gave away 10% of what's in our account."


I subsequently BURST into laughter, as is my habit when faced with uncomfortable or heavily weighted situations.

Me: "Yeah baby? You didn't think that important to discuss with me first?"

Husband: "I thought about that as I was putting the envelope into the plate. At least I thought about it before I got home! I'm sorry! I won't do it again."

I continued laughing and insisted that of all the things about which we hear husbands doing with joint money, giving that sum to our church was by far better than anything like gambling or spending on any other vice which could be harmful.

Seriously though? 10% of our ENTIRE account at once just before Christmas, but, I have a sainted husband who always thinks of others first. Who would condemn that? I truly admire his willingness and ability to GIVE, yet another lesson I've learned in our young married life. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Honey, tea's ready!

I have this thing for honey. Isn't it a funny word? We use it, at least in my house, constantly.
"Honey, I'm home!"
"Hi honey bun!"
"Honey, the tea's ready!"
"Would you like some honey in your tea?"

Since childhood, I've often preferred honey on things as opposed to conventional white sugar. When I moved to North Texas, this thing grew into immense appreciation, considering this particular area is one of, if not the worst, place for seasonal allergies.
I'd NEVER had allergies before then. I hadn't known what had hit me. My first spring in college was spent in a hazy fog of pollen and sinus headaches. While at the grocery store one day, I was looking for peanut butter and came across a trove of honey brands. I began reading and stumbled onto a a local honey bottle.

Suddenly, my father's and grandmother's voices sounded in my head like a drill sergeant's, "local honey is good for allergies." Being dutiful to the reminiscent voices, I obeyed and call it true or psychological placebo effect, it worked.

Which brings me to my semester abroad. The first three months was nothing but rain and clouds. Not the vicious thunderstorms of Texas, but a constant, Eeyore-like drizzle, to which there was no end. I took honey in my tea, out of habit, but was shocked at the flavor. It makes sense that it would taste differently, I was on the other side of the planet for goodness sake, but I hadn't anticipated such a drastic difference in something as simple as my beloved sweetener.

I slowly became accustomed to the taste and discovered a new trove of, not just brands, but flavors. Honey from the Alps, dark and strong from conifer pollen, Fleur d'oranger, sweet and calm, and a number of others from Spain, Germany, and Italy with vastly different flavors as well.

When I returned home, Texas's honey was so subtle and light, compared to the latter ones. Recently, I bought an organic brand of unfiltered honey (I always buy unfiltered, it's just better). I hadn't realized that it was from Brazil. Opening the lid, I was almost sent off my feet with the strong smell and flavor.

Delicious as it is, not much is needed. Thinking of all of the rain forest flowers and tropical fruits whose pollen made it into the honey, it's no wonder that it is strong.

Regardless of this wonderful flavor I found, that simple, subtle Texas honey must always be sitting in my pantry. In light of picking some up the other day, I decided to make cornbread. It seemed like the perfect thing to do right after a cold front blew its way into my neck of the woods.

Baked o perfection, cornbread, like honey, always makes me feel comfortable and at home. I usually bake a 9in pan and just lay a kitchen rag or cheese cloth over it to keep the bugs off. It's nice to come home from a long day and warm up a piece, put a bit of butter in the middle and drizzle some Texas honey over it.

Here's the recipe I used:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
Stir in wet contents.
Butter or grease the pan.
Pour batter into 9 in pan
Bake 20-25 min.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Soups

May I just say that I love Autumn, or Fall, as we say in the South. I love it. I love the oncoming coolness, the fall harvest vegetables and fruits, fall fashions, breaking out the sweaters and boots, county fairs, beautiful, crisp sunsets, deer season, holidays, and hearty meals. I'm also a fall baby. Yay for October birthdays!

As a new wife, I'm still getting the hang of domestic life...things. Cooking is a good example. I've always been gifted in sugary concoctions and sweet treats, but meals were always made by my parents, and then when I moved out, I lived on eggs, macaroni, bread, and cheese (and tea of course).

During said post-parental-home-living, the husband and I have always lived together, except for a semester of dorm life in our early college years. We bought food separately, paid separate bills, and even slept in separate rooms for a good duration of the time. He lived on a likewise diet, but added several highly processed snack foods.

Recently, since we've been married, regardless of the egalitarian feminist I am, I have assumed the role of cooking most meals. Breakfasts are separate, since we rise at different times most mornings. Lunches are also usually not eaten together, but at the end of the day, we are both craving bigger meals to eat together.

My cooking confidence is slowly growing. I always observed my parents' cooking and done my own research on it, but most things I have made since the wedding have been a giant guessing game. I guess that I assumed an innate sense of how to cook would magically absorb into my brain once that marriage license was signed? No idea.

I'll start to follow a recipe and stray. I think of something that sounds good and just make it. I'll go to the store hungry and buy half the store. Seriously, I am the poster child of needing to avoid getting groceries while hungry!

All that said, last week I felt run-down. Flu and cold season is in full swing here in North Texas, as well as, constantly changing winds and weather. Mix this into a concoction of the husband and I working and going to school spells out a recipe for disaster.

I had been around some sick people at work and in class, and after not sleeping well last Thursday night, I was doubly exhausted after work Friday night. While driving home, the thought of making macaroni and cheese (organic, but still) made me feel worse.

I began pondering what would fill this void in my stomach, not to mention the void in my immune system. Chicken broth came to mind. Noodles. Vegetables. Garlic. Peppermint tea. I stopped at a grocer on my way home and purchased what I could. Organic, free range chicken broth, a yellow squash, celery, carrots, broccoli.

I came home and set to peeling and slicing at my loot and boiling them in the broth. I made the noodles separately and dumped them int the concoction. After seasoning with some thyme, salt, pepper, and a hint of rosemary. It was finished. I ate a giant bowl of this soup and went to bed.

When I woke up, my body felt rejuvenated. Granted, it wasn't delicious. Bland and wholesome it was, at best, but I was thankful for it. I had also caught up on some sleep, as I didn't have to be at work until early afternoon, so I let my body sleep in later than usual.

My husband woke up with me that morning and I told him the story of the night before and warned him that it wasn't great, and that I would finish it, but to not feel obligated to eat it. When I returned home from work, I discovered that he'd eaten all of it.

When questioned about it, he just shrugged his broad shoulders and laughed. "It tasted fine to me," he said with a smile.

He then proceeded to ask me to make him chili soon. Chili? Ugh, the thought of heavy beef, tomatoes, and pinto beans came to mind, as well as an array of canned varieties. Not appetizing.

"Really?" I asked, nearly offended.

"Yeah, you know, something heavy and meaty."

I admit, I've been cooking on the lighter side, because I'd grown comfortable with pastas and sauces, and breads. Meat? Not so much.

"What about stew?" I rebutled.

"What's stew?"

"You know, meat and broth base, with carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, hearty stuff."

"Yeah! Can you make that? I just want hearty!"

With the chili situation avoided, I began pondering how I'd make this. I went to our natural foods grocer and waded through locally grown veggies and picked out other needs, all in an attempted to avoid the meat section until last. I have this thing with buying meat. Maybe because we always killed our own meat? I just hate buying it at the store.

I'm also not a huge fan of beef. You can hand me the best cut of fillet minion in Texas and I'll choose a drumstick or venison back-strap over it. With this in mind, I browsed through the freezer, the expensive rump roast, sausage links, and the like, one of which I did choose (it was pork though).

Finally, I came upon a section of paper-wrapped meat, which INSTANTLY made me feel at home, and as I began to decipher the labels, I realized it was locally raised, grass-fed buffalo meat! I was so excited!

I love wild game. When I share with people that I'm a hunter, most look at me strangely because of my stature, and then ask if I eat it.

My response is always, "I only kill what I'll eat or what's attacking me."

They then share some terrible story of having eaten wild game once and hating the flavor. I don't understand this. I find gamy tang to be wonderful in many recipes. I became giddy at the sight and started digging through the wealth before me. I came across some buffalo neck soup bones. Perfect.

When I got home, organic beef broth, water and the bones went into my largest pot. I didn't really measure anything. I just kind of pour and hope it turns out when I make stuff like this (and don't forget to cut all of the fat possible off of gamy meat, because that can ruin it).

After letting it simmer and bubble and boil for about three hours, I cut up all of the veggies and set them aside. A few cloves of garlic and some slices of white onion went into the pot. Then I began adding the veggies, hardiest to lightest with some simmer time in between.

Some basil, salt, pepper, paprika, and oregano later, the soup was ready. I also added a little flour, but it didn't work as well as corn starch would have, as far as thickening goes.

The husband was doubly happy about this soup and has asked for more like it. I feel as though I've defeated another fear. Making something without a guide, and it turning out well is always satisfying.

Bring on the cold weather and long nights, this cowgirl's ready for new recipe experiments!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Madeleines

Well, several exciting events have happened this week. I received my official membership packet into the Farmgirl Sisterhood! Overwhelmed by excitement at opening the envelope and seeing my badge, I squealed, as I do when terribly excited, and ran to find my needle point hoop to stitch in the logo. Problem? I think I left that particular box at one of my parent's residences after the wedding.

With all of the hullabaloo of planning the wedding in twelve days and packing up everything that would fit into our little apartment, somehow that box did not make the trip, yet one with a bunch of porcelain knick-knacks I could have done without, wormed its way into the moving truck. Regardless, I'll have to get one at an antique store or hobby store. I confess to trying to buy anything possible second-hand. Except shoes. Warts. Ewe.

Speaking of wonderful antique stores (old soul over here, remember?), while browsing a recycled bookstore for Margret Atwood or the Bronte sisters, I stopped by an antique shop next door. I strolled up and down the tower aisles, giggling at army surplus, useless porcelain figures, and restraining myself against buying any more vintage teapots, I came across a stack of old sewing patterns.

I've been wanting to make a new dress, but as I do with recipes, rather than inventing something new, I'll take an already-existing, amazing thing and tweak it to my likes and specifications, in this case, alter the pattern. It's more fun experimenting that way anyway.


I am SUPER excited about making one, I'd like to make all three types, traditional, long, and short, but am trying to decide between fabrics at this point. What are your thoughts on fabric choices? I'll keep you posted, as it will be a work in progress, since school and work take up much of my time.

Sewing and baking help me de-stress. I think possibly because it forces my attentions onto something immediate and meticulous, so my troubles shrink in my neglect and inattention. Plus making something and working with my hands, producing something, has always made me feel more worthwhile.

Aside from those precious tid-bits, as the title of this post suggests, I baked tonight!

There was an overabundance of ganache left in the fridge after the macaron frenzy last week. I would look at it every time the fridge would open and envision something, ANYTHING I could make, other than traditional cake or cupcakes, to employ the rest of the chocolaty goodness.


It hit me yesterday. MADELEINES! I used this recipe and added 2 tsp of organic lemon curd to the batter right after the sugar. I may try another one later, as this recipe is a little dense and they're supposed to be airy and fluffy. Me and airy desserts. I guess I misnamed this blog, it should have been Ashley's Airy Dessert Time or something to that affect.


It turned out deliciously. I reheated the ganache in a jerry-rigged double boiler and added 2 tsp (or what ever size you think the little silver spoon is) of lemon curd to that as well. Once the madeleines had cooled enough, I began dipping there shell-sides in the chocolate liquid and subsequently laid them on parchment and placed them on a plate in the freezer to stiffen the ganache.

I sprinkled some with crystal sugar, because sparkles are always better, a few ended up a little over-board, but oh well. They're puuurrty.


I had some failures too. One of the madeleines was FAR too big and came out in pieces, sticking to the pan, but most turned out well. They're not supposed to be so crispy either, but my oven is temperamental. I'd kill for a wood-burning stove.

Warning! The chocolate-dipped ones I recommend pairing with milk or coffee, as they are intensl sweet, and the others with only the sugar or just plain with tea.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Mixer has been Christened

Remember that mixer about which I was SO excited when it finally arrived a few weeks ago? I went on and on my first few blogs, naming off things I would bake and the beauties which I would create. Yadah...that happened, right?

Fact is, at that point, I had no job, nor school to fill my time, I'd just gotten married and back from the trip of a lifetime and then all was suddenly still. I admit I may have come down with some apartment fever. Regardless, life happens, gets busy, and fun things get shifted to the back burner.

This week has been a bit stressful, so I thought I'd whisk away my troubles into a frothy, sweet matter with stiff peaks. Ironically, this morning, I woke up to an email alert from Ladurée informing me that the first Ladurée store has opened in the US, in New York, which is depressing, because I've never been to NYC, let alone go there often, so no Ladurée goodies for me.

Regardless, it rekindled my fervor to make my own sweet concoctions. French macarons have been on my to-do list since I returned to this half of the world and the gorgeous, less than 1000 degree weather prompted me to bake after class today.

Now, a few weeks ago, a friend and I attempted to make macarons. Problem? The recipe was British. Translation? The ingredients were in metric measurements. We attempted to make them anyway, but they were more of a solid meringue than an airy, chewy macaron, without the famously beautiful "feet" every baker tries to achieve.


Today, I found a recipe in standard measurements that seemed to make a decent amount of biscuits. (Concerning the word biscuits, I'd always thought of them as the traditional fluffy bread that accompanies gravy or jam in the morning-again, Southern country girl over here-until I lived with a French family. Cookie has wormed its way into the French language, but it's very specific, like a chocolate chip cookie. Other semi-sweet, dry yummies that are eaten with tea or coffee are called biscuits. It's the same in the UK and Australia, so even when my host mother and I would speak English, this word bled over the language barrier and I've picked it up.)

Now, I followed the directions as closely as possible. On my college student budget (or perhaps out of sheer laziness) I haven't purchased a sifter. My sifting method consisted of me stirring the confectioners' sugar and almond flour together with a traditional spoon and then taking a little bitty sifter/colander thing that came in a wedding gift, and smooshing the dry mixture through the bottom. Smooshing, that's technical baking terminology, right?

Continuing, I broke in the mixer with the egg whites and cream of tater, but then whisked until my arms gave out to achieve the perfect stiff peaks. May I just say that my left arm is completely and utterly uncoordinated? It didn't help the mixture much, and as Husband watched from the dining room table, giggling at my attempt, I was arching my body and contorting my back trying to figure out how to work my useless arm.

He offered to help, which I resisted at first. I'm am GOING to do this myself. Then the burning in my arm continued and began shaking weakly. Man! Fine. "Yes honey, thank you." Stupid T-Rex arms.

Muscles over there went to town and after a few minutes, they were nearly ready. After stealing the bowl back and whisking just a bit more, to make myself feel less insignificant, I continued the recipe. In addition to the original directions, I added a few sprays of rosewater and two drops of pink food coloring. After meticulously placing the first sheet in the oven, I set to work on making ganache.  

After mixing away, I peeked into the oven and squealed when I saw big, beautiful, fluffy, FEET! My other macarons had no feet, they actually didn't change shape at all despite my avail. I slammed the oven door in my excitement, ran to the living room and retrieved my camera.


This made up for the fact that I'd ruined a few of the setting batter rounds on the other baking sheet, due to grabbing it with my oven mit on accident. I have had NO formal training whatsoever in the cooking/baking arts. Everything you will read on this blog, I have figured out as I went along, read out of a book, or off of a website, so fun mishaps are always bound to happen. It's always an adventure!


I placed the ganache in the fridge at this point in order to stiffen it a bit, as it was too hot and runny to put on the brittle biscuits, but after everything was all cooled and hardened, I set to work, putting together the masterpieces.

This is a milestone in baking for me. I have been so afraid to try these, because everyone tells me they're SO difficult to make, or writes that if you don't do ONE step correctly, they'll turn into fire-spitting ants or taste like mud.


My tip to you is to resist the intimidation and approach every recipe the same, with a creative mood and childhood excitement.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Nemesis has been Defeated!

Yes, my nemesis. I have enemies. Enemies in the form of crispy on the outside, doughy and fluffy on the inside, wonderfully airy goodness that is the French Baguette.

Funny story.

I have always been an avid baker. Three tier cakes? No problem. Fondant covered cupcakes? Piece of cake (no pun intended). French macaroons? Maybe a little on the meringue-y side, but still tantalizing. Bread? Serious issues. Every time I've tried to make bread, it ends up being too dense, too sweet, too doughy, just straight tastes like matted flour, or has overly-activated yeast. Regardless of the pains I've taken to ensure these things don't happen, they do.

I still try and try and in turn, fail and fail, but not THIS time!

Wait. I'm not communicating this to you correctly. Perhaps if I explain my last mishap.

It was before I'd left for France, and I wanted desperately to make baguette before I embarked on my journey. I'd also had a burning desire to try out a baguette recipe Shad's mother gave me around Thanksgiving last year. Well, it was more like I stalked her in the kitchen and wrote down her every move.

Now, you must understand, my mother-in-law is a Sage. She can just make things happen, like unforgettable bread or raising eight children. She's Wonder Woman without the annoying headband. Basically, she just waved her wooden spoon around, kneaded some magical dough and Voila! Bread that was smelled by everyone in a 5 mile radius and was in turn, devoured in under 15 minutes.

I tried the recipe I had written down, and my wonder of her grew further, as mine did NOT turn out like hers. It was a horrid, gooey mess that refused to stiffen, regardless of the immense amounts of flour I'd added. Finally, I turned to my then-roommate and decided to just plop the hideous blob on the baking sheet to see what happened.

It was dense. A baguette is supposed to be airy, and fluffy inside, heavy and crunchy outside. This was not the case. It was a slightly sweet brick that tasted more like hardened flour than anything else. We threw it away, and I hung up my apron strings on bread for a while.

Which brings me to today. I woke up to the first full day I've had off Aside from my husband and dog to feed, I had no obligations of any kind. I confess to be a masochistic workaholic at this point in my life. Three places of employment and full-time student. Bah.

In honor of this day, I decided that I needed to bake something. I had found a decent recipe, that did not call for a bread machine or mixer of any kind a few months ago. Legit, handmade bread. The disastrous results of my previous attempts and subsequently wounded ego had left me feeling skittish about trying to make an edible, cereal based fluff ball.

I felt gumption today, though, and tried my hand at it. I measured carefully and followed the directions to a T, praying that it would work. Granted, including all of the rising time, this particular recipe takes about 5 hours to make. It better had been good!

I was terrified that I'd ruined it right at the beginning, as I'd put the yeast mixture in too small a bowl, and ended up transferring it into a larger one. This is almost the same way that I'd over-activated the yeast last time, but I pressed on, setting it to rise and bubble.

Adding the rest of the flour mixture, my hands and fingers became covered in the beer-like smelling goo, as I kneaded and kneaded. It was still fairly sticky when I oiled the bowl and heaped the mass into it. Setting the dishcloth over it, the hour passed by quickly, as I had a friend visiting, and we kneaded it once more and laid the three twists on the baking sheet.

We rigged a tent-like towel structure over the pan to prevent any dive-bombing flies or gnats from tainting the perfection that was the dough thus far. With that, we went grocery shopping and ended up letting the three rise for closer to an hour than 20 minutes. Again, I was terrified that I'd ruin the batch and humiliate myself, yet again.

However, they looked uneven and beautiful when we returned, so I quickly heated the oven and brushed the three with olive oil. Popping the pan in the oven, I filled a bowl with water to provide the moisture. Problem. They wouldn't fit together, I finally shifted the dishes around to make them fit enough for the oven door to shut. The entire first 15 minutes consisted of me pacing and pleading to the Kitchen Goddess to protect my oven and keep the glass bowl from exploding.

The time came to remove the bowl and decide what to make for dinner to accompany the bread, should it turn out well. After wrestling over a decision between pastas, I decided against both, as that would be a LOT of starch all at once.

I decided to just cut up a heap of fresh vegetables I'd had in the fridge and had just bought at the store and serve them up in pesto olive oil. I set to work, flavoring the oil with fresh garlic cloves, heaping the half-wilted spinach leaves into the oil with half a spoonful of my homemade pesto.

A green bell pepper and three medium sized tomatoes with dashes of sea salt, black pepper, oregano, and cucumber slices finished the dish. I poured the concoction in a bowl and pulled the bread out of the oven. It smelled divine, though wasn't much to regard.

"Listen," my friend said tapping the top of one of the baguettes with her fingernail. My heart soared as it sounded nearly hollow. Perfect.

Mouths watering, we all sat around the display. I fetched the beautiful new bottle of Balsamic vinegar, without which I could absolutely not live and a spoon for the veggie concoction. I'm not sure what to call it. Vegetarian's Delight? Italian Hodge-Podge? Wanna Be Bruschetta?

We began heaping the topping in our bowls and breaking the bread. Moment of truth. I soaked a large piece in the oil, without any vegetable topping, as I wanted the bread's taste to be clear. It was delicious. Simply put. Delicious.

I've been on the hunt for good baguette since my return, and I've concluded that I'll just have to do it myself. We ate greedily and afterward, I sat back to digest my triumph.

I've conquered bread. It will never humiliate me again. Muahaha! 


Recipe for Vegetarian's Delight or Italian Hodge-Podge:

You need:

3 medium sized tomatoes
1/2-1 cup of olive oil (depends on whether you want more of a focus on the oil or the vegetables)
1/2 tsp. oregano
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. pesto
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch of pepper
1/2-1 cucumber
1 green bell pepper
3 cups fresh spinach leaves

1.) In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high. Peel and whack the garlic cloves and brown them in the oil.

2.) Wilt spinach leaves in the oil, reduce heat to medium or medium low and add the pesto. Be careful, as the water in the leaves will cause them to pop and spit in the oil.

3.) Dice and slice the rest of the vegetables and place them in the pan. (I like to do tomatoes last, as they retain their shape better when cooked over a shorter period of time.)

4.) Use tongs or a spatula to rotate the mixture.

5.) Sprinkle the remaining seasonings over the mixture and continue mixing and rotating.

6.) When all looks cooked, remove from heat, and either serve immediately with fresh baguette and optional balsamic vinegar or cover and place in fridge for a tasty cold salad dish.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

(Less) Guilty Snacks

I detest that as a society, we relate guilt, romance, sex, and pleasure to food. Pleasure? Understandable, but the others? Come on!

I admit, I feel guilty after eating fried chicken, cake heaped with buttercream or highly-processed snacks. I remind myself that I have to run X amount on top of my normal workouts to burn this off, or think of that next big blemish that will push itself from my face, or think of the mushroom-like bulge above my jeans.

I feel guilt. I don't like this fact nor think it's fair that we women have this connotation with foods. Regardless of whether I like it or not, I still feel it.

In an effort to better mine and my husband's diets (he is a health nut too), I've been thinking of easy yummy snacks to replace ice cream and candy. I confess that I do keep a bar of 72% cacao chocolate in our freezer. I've found (in France, actually) that when I crave chocolate, I don't consume as much if I buy the darker chocolate.

I like it more too. I'm not sure why, as super-tasters are known for not liking bitter things, but it's much more satisfying than milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is actually too sweet for me now, as it has more sugar than any dark chocolate that I know.

Anyway, one such easy snack is to take some French baguette bread or whole wheat slices, spread a thin layer of butter or olive oil over the bread, cut up a banana and place the slices on top of the bread, then drizzle a bit of local honey over the whole thing; toast it, and Yum City!

I don't feel AS guilty about this sweet snack.

Pretty Porcelain

I am NOT  a morning gal. I'm THAT person who is unreasonably and inherently angry in the morning. My body morphs into a green ogre and throws things or rudely ignores anyone around it. Seriously, I've swung at friends, my sister, AND my mother, just because they woke me up.

Most people don't believe me when I tell them this. "Oh Ashley, stop exaggerating! You're so prissy and nice, how could you ever do that?"

Oh believe me, I DO do that, and I have actively TRIED to improve myself and outlook on life first thing in the morning. My husband is a morning person, he can spring forth from our bed, run to the kitchen to make breakfast, and prance and bounce along getting ready, just feeling happy to be alive.

[Insert: jealous grimacing face here]

I wish I could do that, and I've tried! Problem? I'm doomed from the beginning. I'll attempt to spring forth from my slumbers and warm quilts, like a parading bunny, but then trip, or run into things, or can't move some of my limbs (I truly believe that I have mild sleep paralysis or the issue could be due to extremely low blood pressure).

Regardless, I have issues before I even rise. I've tried lying in bed, to wake up a bit. This usually works if I am well rested and wake up on my own accord, though if my alarm clock wakes me up with the rattling sound of Big Ben reverberating in my ears, I'm more inclined to fall back to sleep.

Like I said, issues.

My temper also tends to be shorter before I walk out the door to whichever destination I'm marching. My husband has learned to not ask me questions that are not ABSOLUTELY necessary or talk to me in general, unless it's "how many eggs do you want?" I don't mind answering that one.

SO, the wrestling with myself continues, and eventually I wake up, my blood is pumping, and I am ready to start the day about two hours after my initial awakening.

One thing that helps me though is tea. I. Love. Tea.

Not just black, but green, white, ginseng, and a variety of herbals. Honestly, my pantry became so over-ridden with tea boxes, that they've had to spill over to my cabinets and cute boxes in which I'm supposed to keep things like writing tools or baking ingredients. Nope, Ashley has tea in every nook and cranny available. I like variety, I can't help it!

Having tea while running out the door is such a shame, but it helps me at least wake up. Not so much the caffeine, I don't think. It's something about the smooth warmth and underlying bitter tastes.

As you can image, running out the door with a spilling, reusable tea mug is depressing, when said person carrying said spilling tea mug fantasizes and romanticizes about Victorian and Edwardian tea times. The frilly, flowy dresses, many a time sans corset, to accommodate all of the lovely treats and flowing teas.

My small, truly close group of girlfriends and I have each other over for tea every chance we get. We get a text and breakout all of our best porcelain and throw together small snacks. Often, before strenuous exercise sessions, I'll serve French press espresso, as the shot of caffeine helps the body perform better and longer.

Going to a cute or fancy tea room is my idea of how to spend a Saturday afternoon, as opposed to getting ready to go clubbing. I have an old soul, what can I say?

In fact, my soul has always been old. Once a year, when I was young, my grandmother's church always hosted a Ladies Tea in early May. I remember helping her plan out our table, as she has collection after collection of beautiful tea sets and cups.

I couldn't sleep the whole week before the tea, I was so excited. When the day came, you'd think it were Christmas! These two instances are the only times I can remember springing forth from my bed. I honestly don't think I fully sleep when I'm nervous or excited about something the next day, because most of the day I end up feeling giddy and happy-tired-drunk, then the crash hits later.

Anyway, so I would get dressed in the spring-y-est dress I could find, or branch out and break the rules with white capris and a matching yellow top with bumblebees on them, and wait at the door like a puppy waiting to go for a ride in the car.

My mother would finally emerge from her powdering and we'd be on our way. I always felt like a grown-up. There were so many elegantly dressed ladies, caddies and trays and tins of tea with sugar cubes and creams of all sorts on every table. AND THE FOOD!

As an advocate for beautiful desserts, you can imagine my fervor, running to and fro, not sure which to try first. Then we would sit and listen to a testimony or scripture or a charity project and someone would sing or do a skit. It was so much fun.

Nowadays, my ladies and I attempt to recreate these girlish adventures we all had at one point or another, as the nostalgia and prettiness of a simple tea cup is enough to lift the spirits of in-some-way-floundering early twenty-something-year-olds.

My point, is that on mornings like this one, when I've awoken to a husband who has already left for work, and there is a lack of homework for me to do, I make myself tea with pretty porcelain. It is enough to snap me out of my ogreish mood and ready me for a night shift at my own place of employment.


There is just something about miss-matched porcelain that makes me smile. The teapot is Japanese and the cup is French, given to me by my grandmother, and the sugar and creamer are from a Target line, that my dad bought for me over Christmas. These pieces make me think of them too, which also doesn't help the nostalgic feeling dissipate.

I live my life in extremes I think, to stay in balance. I am a Libra, after all. I have childhood memories like these which fill me with warm giddy and I also have memories of skinning deer and playing in mud-holes that fill me with the same warmth.


Country girl to the core, I guess.


Friday, August 26, 2011

I Lied...Again

I am so deeply, terribly sorry, but alas, I STILL have not had the time, nor energy to conjure a sweet and tantalizing dessert about which to write. I lied again. Oops. In my defense, I worked 50 hours last week and began classes this week. (Last first day of undergrad! WOOT!)

As deeply distraught as you may imagine I am feeling, I do have some updates on product results. I was SO excited about the Coastal Classic Creations make-up and skin-care products that arrived on my doorstep during my last post, and rightly so!

I am in LOVE with this company. The exfoliating brush, Epic Waves Acne bar and facial oil have cleared my face so gently. The redness, (that I never recognized as being a problem, just how my skin looked) that I am assuming spawned from years of harsh-chemical treatments like, salicylic acid, has also dissipated.

My skin is soft, smells like frankincense, eucalyptus and rosemary, and is less oily than it has been since I first began to get break-outs at the tender age of 13. Oily skin is ruthless on both sides of my family. Upside? We all look far younger than we are. Downside? Chronic acne into our grand-motherhood.

These products have done what I had deemed impossible, which is to even my skin tone and neutralize the...I'm not sure what... pH level? No, more like grease level.

Also, the make-up is fabulous. It is sheer and completely mineral based, so it takes much building to create the "built coverage" advertised on their website. Granted, I was a fan of all of the products, with the exception of the concealer and foundation powder, but reading the other reviews, I ordered sample sizes of the "base" concealer and foundation. These made ALL of the difference.

It creates a very matte finish and absorbs a lot more oil than expected throughout the day. It is soft and breathable as well. I'm still coming to terms with less coverage than my go-to brand of liquid foundation, wax concealer and loose powder, but it feels SO much better on my skin and I know that it will keep me healthier.

I am NOT being paid by this company for advertising, nor am I affiliated with them in any way, except as an extremely satisfied customer, so...just wanted to throw that disclaimer out there.

Overall? I doubt I'll use any other cosmetic company. Ever. I'm praying they don't go out of business, but I'm not sure how that would be possible with the quality of their products.

ANYWAY, another product that I absolutely LOVE: Alta Dena's Goat Milk Cheese. I will say this once: I LOVE GOAT'S CHEESE. Since my first taste of it, I've always loved it. As in, when Husband and I are finally able to horse-trade for our little patch of green, the first animals we are going to raise will be chickens and goats. That is how much we love eggs, chicken, and goat cheese. Little perspective.

My problem, though, is that buying it in the tradition fresh form is a PAIN to spread and a PAIN to keep nicely in the fridge. (Technically it should be left out and allowed to mold, as it increases the flavor, like any cheese, but people look at you funny in the US if you do that, plus chemicals are added to the cheese to prevent this, which makes it taste like crap and fall apart.)

Regardless, I love it and recently, while at my local natural foods store, I saw a goat cheese that was shaped and packaged like Monterey Jack or cheddar, but goat cheese? My brain was temporarily confused and intrigued, therefore I bought it. Impulse.

I was skeptical just before my first bite, but then absolutely loved it! It is cultured and aged like cheddar and other hard cheeses, but is subtle and oh so eatable! Yes, I used eatable AND improper ellipses all in one post. Shame on me.

So this is my little product review session, if I were a critic of any kind. Oh, and if you like pretty, French cottage-y, vintage-ish, things go here. I like it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Kitchen Smells Like Basil

Well, my kitchen smelled like basil at about 2:00 pm today. Now it smells like vinegar, basil, and black-eyed peas. This is not the dessert post promised, but I have volunteered to make a dessert for a dinner party Friday night, so it will be documented this week.

I woke up this morning with the notion that I needed to clean. (Actually, I'd been telling Husband that I would clean Saturday, but I had an ovarian cyst rupture that night, therefore, yesterday was spent mostly in bed or at the computer.) Today though, I was energized to clean, but first, I had a project to do that had been irking me.

When I went grocery shopping, I bought a bag of organic, fresh basil leaves, and decided that I would use them for cooking and make pesto with the rest. It had been sitting in the fridge for a few days, and the desire for it NOT to go bad was strong. I have a habit of buying fresh things sometimes, forgetting about them, and then woe-is-me when I find them shriveled in a vegetable drawer or liquefied in a produce bag.

This was NOT going to happen. Basil is my favorite savory herb. Well, rosemary too. It's so hard to choose just one! Regardless, after a bowl of strawberries and some turbinado sugar, I set to work, while waiting for my friend to arrive so that we could work out.


I rinsed nearly the entire bag of leaves, without stems, in my salad spinner to rinse off the dirt and anything else lurking between the leaves, stuffed them into the blending cup that came with my stick blender (a.k.a. the magic stick) and began adding the olive oil.

I partially peeled the two garlic cloves. By the way, little trick taught to me by my friend, turn the clove sideways on a cutting board, lay your chef's knife broadly over the clove (sharp end away from you!) and smash the clove with a good whack! It cracks it open, releasing oils and making it oh so much easier to peel.

After plopping the peeled cloves into the mix, I grated a good amount of fresh Parmesan cheese and added the two tablespoons. All that was left was the nuts and the blending. The recipe I used, calls for 1/2 cup of pine nuts or pecans, but I just sprinkled a few walnuts in there after I'd started blending.


It took a while, but I finally had a leafy goo that reeked of fresh herbs and poured the lot into a recycled jam jar. It was quite exciting. About that time, my friend showed and I made us some espresso and we hit the gym.


After checking the mail, I was ELATED to find a USPS parcel sitting in our mail box. It is a heap of organic make-up trials and a facial soap from Coast Classic Creations, which I found on the Skin Deep website. SO excited! So far, I have tried the bar and oil. I love the feel of them, also their exfoliating brush. The make-up is wonderful, except one must use  a high amount of the concealer and foundation to cover blemishes, but I expect that from any loose, mineral-powder make-up. It is very light and comfortable. I will keep y'all updated with the soap when it comes to my blemish-prone, extremely oily skin.


Upon returning, I saw a few roaches lurking near our trashcan and something snapped. I was pissed. We've had issues with these infernal roaches since we moved into this apartment. We've called pest control, but after so many fumigations, and especially after all of the research I've been doing, my goodness, we aren't calling them again.

I took matters into my own hands in buying roach and ant traps, throwing them everywhere in the kitchen. This did not help, and trying to dissuade my dog's curiosity of them was growing annoying. I had had it!

I grabbed the one bottle of harsh chemical cleaning product we have left in the house and just started spraying every one I saw, laughing evilly and yelling, "DIE! DIE! DIE! I KILL YOU NOW! SUFFER AND DIE!"

My husband came running into the kitchen to see the commotion and busted out laughing at the spectacle. I realized that there were cracks all in our pantry floor. The boards look like they could be removed for cleaning underneath at some point, but they've been cemented in place by the numerous paint jobs the complex performs after every tenant.

I think there is a nest under there, so I went to spraying all of the cracks, and I am crossing my fingers that I don't see any more. After a fight with the vacuum cleaner and some counter wiping, I decided that the bag of dried black-eyed peas in our pantry needed to be use.

I bought this particular bag probably two years ago (gross, right?), with the intention of making hummus with it. I'm not a huge fan of chick peas, so for this Southern girl, the popular bean was a good substitute in my mind.

Finally finding tahini (sesame seed butter), the adventure was bound to happen. I soaked them and cooked them, only realizing when they were finished that the whole bag was probably a bad idea. I had to double the base recipe and still had about a cup and a half left over.

I never tend to follow recipes closely, unless I am baking, but even then, I tend to stray to accommodate my tastes or replace an ingredient I don't have. In this case, I was short about three lemons. I added some extra salt, a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few fresh basil leaves with a dash of Italian seasoning, which is a hodge-podge of oregano, sage, rosemary, and marjoram.

After taking my magic stick to it, it turned out several, delicious cups of hummus. I will definitely make this again, but try to get a few more lemons and much less peas next time.

Pesto Recipe

2 cloves peeled garlic
3ish cups of tightly packed basil leaves
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. grated Parmesan
1/2 cup pecans or pine nuts (I used a few sprinkles of chopped walnuts)

Process everything except for the nuts in a food processor or blender and then add the nuts when everything else is fairly mixed. Refrigerate after placing it in the jar.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brown Paper Packages

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown, paper packages, tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things."
-Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

Mixer is in!!! I saw the large, brown parcel sitting flush at my doorstep Thursday, as I came home from the grocery store, and despite the two heavy brown bags of groceries in my arms, I literally leaped into the air and skipped steps on the staircase leading to my apartment door.

After heaving it open, I placed my cold groceries in the fridge, and alas, I had to leave everything else sitting in heaps on our living room furniture, as I had learnt that day, that my new job would NOT be starting Tuesday, it would start Friday, as in the NEXT day. This presented a problem, as the amount of my business casual attire was much smaller than I had realized, and I was not in possession of nice shoes that are comfortable. Shopping had to continue.

I went to DSW and found two pairs of these such shoes, plus a cute little pink number that mimicked my wedding shoes, but flattened versions (they were on sale anyway). I then, impulsively ran into Macy's, as the mall was set to close in 7 minutes. I grabbed a few business-y things off of the sale rack and high-tailed into the dressing room.

Tearing at the clothes, I bought four and returned home. I was an absolute mess. Night-shift had ruled my life this week before Thursday and the weekend before that, too. My brain was not working properly, not to mention, I was terrified about beginning my new job. It wouldn't consist of wiping noses, changing diapers, or rolling out of bed sans make-up any longer.

It is my first, high-brow, neck-tie, pencil skirt position, and I was so excited and nervous. Of course, I am better today, still completely intimidated, but better than I was Thursday night. I always view my current job as being the interview to my next one. It keeps me in line and on my toes, at least.

Anyway, so I came back from emergency-impulse-shopping and looked over one of my 60 new employee manuals. While sitting there, tea in hand, the box was calling to be opened, so after FORCING myself to finish reading, I pulled out my pocket knife and cut the tape. I am a very meticulous unpack-er when it comes to gifts, things I've ordered, and mail. It's a little compulsive. Seriously.

I unwrapped everything, growing giddy, and pulled it out. It isn't my dream mixer, but it will suffice for now. I put it on the counter, frowning at my smidgen-to-zero counter space, but was content in knowing that it finally arrived.

Yesterday, I wanted to come home and make rose petal French macarons. First thing. Why? See this blog: Rose Petal Macarons Equal Life
Problem? Husband calls me, explaining that he is at our neighbors' house and we are going out to eat with them, and a high school friend of ours, as he just moved to the area, is coming along also. Sad day, but nice to visit with them.

After returning from dinner, I was utterly wiped out. Needless to say, Husband and I crashed shortly after returning and I was back at work early this morning. I was considerably less lost, but let me just say that it is stressful, regardless, because of the value of the merchandise I handle.

While I was waiting for the mixer to arrive, I waded through much of the useless information and utter nonsense on the internet and have found some interesting details. It began when I stumbled upon True Blood's Kristin Bauer Van Straten's website. Side note: True Blood is my favorite show. It gives a modern look at political and social perspectives in a cynically, satirical way, with eye-candy, amazing actors, AND it's disguised as dirty, dirty, Southern smut. Seriously. Guilty pleasure. End side note.Kristin's character is probably my favorite, if I had to choose, which brings me to my point. I saw her in an interview once, and she's so sweet and grounded, I couldn't believe that her personality was so different from her character's.

After reading some of her stuff, I noticed that she is a major activist for animals and natural products. I followed her sagely advice to be a responsible consumer and research how my everyday products get to the stores I frequent. Don't worry, this won't become a diatribe, but the enlightenment was terrifying.

I immediately began researching locally grown food stores and farmer's markets. I've always been health conscious, on account of having extreme hypoglycemia, as a child, and moderate hypoglycemia as an adult, but environmentally conscious? Not so much. My dad works in an oil refinery on the coast and my mom was a domestic goddess for many years, until finding a position in a company that is a client for many oil companies, therefore, I didn't have much exposure to "hippie talk" that my dad once termed it.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't completely bought into global warming. I encourage anyone to take geology classes before doing so, but I do know that landfills are disgusting, I hate wasting things, I can't run on a city street, because of all of the vehicle exhaust, and I can taste pesticides. Seriously, super taster over here.

While scouring the internet for more information and reading the labels of things that I eat everyday and put on my face and body everday, the cringing feeling never ceased. My mom, then sent me a website, on a whim, called MaryJanesFarm. It's wonderful. I am such a country girl. I hunt, grow, feel the freest and happiest in the great outdoors, without cell service or highway noise.

They have a forum with so many tips and recipes, I mean, the owner is an organic farmer herself. I just started laughing and was like, "Okay God. I got it. Thanks." In whichever deity you believe, I'm sure all of you have had these moments like, push-nudge-wink-cough-cough hints all in a row. That happened.

I then began thinking about my time in France. They are EVER so green over there. I loved it. I got used to it. It is a natural, normal part of life. I got used to soap berries washing my clothes, essential oils for deodorant, and fresh food markets ever few days. It is a given there. Fast food places and people who eat at them are severely scrutinized. Customers don't get plastic bags at the grocery store unless they buy them, hence reusable bags. People who can, take the tram and bus to work and school. It is just EASY.

Thinking about it more and more, I realized, I have changed habits. France's influence rubbed off on me. I take reusable sacks to the store, I convinced my husband that it would be cheaper and better to buy a drying rack and soap berries for our laundry, I've begun to phase out my 'traditional' soaps and cleaners to bleach/ammonia free, Seventh Generation cleaning products, and I've been shopping more and more at the organic health food store close to the university.

Wow. That's different. I'm different. I guess this post is more about reflection than baking or creating something pretty to display to the world. I didn't mean for that to happen, but I guess these new habits are a part of my French religion. The food isn't the only thing that pulls at my heartstrings when I think about the hexagonal country.

On that note, I found rosewater at the health food store, so hopefully, the next post will feature something I create with that. Sorry for this rant, it wasn't meant to be one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Sinful Treat

Bonjour, je m'appelle Ashley!


Sweet things make me smile and not-a-little-bit giddy.

I've always found comfort in sugar and vigorous whisking, pearlized details, and antique tea cups. Lace fans, old books, and a pantry full of tea describe my personal pinnacle of sweet things. I've spent a few months in France recently, and have returned to Texas, hence my other blog.

While abroad, I learned just how much I love pastries and food in general, however, the flavor was not the only attraction. Presentation is everything. Eating something that was as delicious, as it was beautiful, hooked my attention. I resorted to taking photographs of so many dishes and tea trays, that I could post about them alone.

The prettiness of food is a rare gem to find in the US. I found myself so taken with the display, most of the time, I felt hesitant to plunge my fork or teeth into anything, on account of my eyes having not properly feasted upon the sight before them. (Yes, I am addicted to wedding cake shows and other blogs that have the interest of making food gorgeous and taste-bud-tantalizing.)

When I first began college, I worked on the set of the television show Friday Night Lights. I was a cheerleader and worked long nights, a few random days, and peddled away at auditions. Between these bouts of attempted stardom, I baked to pass the time.

Tiered cakes, with hand-beaten butter cream, and perfectly textured fondant constantly graced the counters and refrigerator of my friend's mom's residence, where I was living. I grew frustrated with the constant waste, as the cakes were always so large.

I then decided to attempt petit fours, as in my head, they are adorable pastel wonders with pastel or chocolate coating and flowers on top. Wrong.

Mine ended up falling to pieces and looking like the regurgitated mess of a drunken fairy. Chocolate hardened unevenly, the cake was too soft for the weight of the chocolate, and the filling oozed from between the layers, as soon as they began to defrost. Like I said: mess.

They were oh so delicious, but were horrendously ugly. After that fiasco, I spent the next few years in student housing and my baking halted. The decorations that were attempted, did produce lovely snacks and smile-inducing joy, but they were always so large, much of them would go to waste. As you can imagine, I've been pondering a solution to my need to make pretty things that taste like Disney-fied fairy wings or something out of Pinkie Pie's kitchen. (Yes, I am bronie.)

Well, yesterday, while reminiscing about France and browsing the Ladurée website, I had an epiphany.

La Religieuse!

While the US is in the midst of a French macaron-craze, I must say that I would choose the former between the two. The French macaron IS perfection, of course, but there is only so much one can do with the beautifully portable, petit sandwich.

I've decided to teach myself how to create a religieuse to my liking and improve upon it in any way possible, with no formal, background training. This will be my kitchen log. My Klog? Hmmm.

If you don't know what a religieuse looks like, here:


It is a large puff pastry filled with a creme or custard of some sort (the common fillings are coffee and chocolate flavored cremes) covered in icing or poured fondant, and assembled with a smaller puff pastry on top. It is meant to resemble a nun, hence the name. Funny, I find them sinfully yummy.

In the photo, the light happened to create a pin-spot aura around the puffed perfection, and believe it or not, this was not the prettiest one I ate in France.

With this new endeavor in mind, I set about to find the perfect recipe. Problem? I am not currently in possession of a stand mixer.

After scouring the internet for a device that should prove sufficiently useful for my cause, but not decimate my tiny, college-student budget, one was found and ordered. You may wonder how I have baked before now without an electric mixer. Two words: muscular husband.

...and so, similar to many spiritual religions, I plan to be devout in practicing the craft, stay true to myself and my beliefs, and probably spend at least one day a week devoted to this assignment.

God help me.