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.