I must have been thinking of Daft Punk when I came up with the title for this blog post. The end of an era. Dang. But the following thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with the legendary Parisian dance music duo, so enough of that.
I’ve been in a cake-making mood, lately. I don’t even really like cake, although I do have preferences (and none of them are chocolate because apparently, I am some sort of perverse contrarian weirdo.) I don’t want to make a cake every day, but I decided I was going to make a sort of cake-a-month challenge. And you may laugh at my reasons.
I don’t want to eat cake. I want a visual document of a cake I made. I just want to take pictures of my cakes.
Flipping through my grandmother’s Betty Crocker cookbook was one of my favorite past times when I spent weekends visiting my grandparent’s home as a child growing up in our tiny Ohio town. I would park myself in an old armchair with a stack of them on my lap and flip through the pages, tracing the photographs with my small fingers, dreaming of making these delicious desserts myself.
Often times on those weekends, my grandmother would bake a pie* and I would “help” by rolling shapes out of the leftover crust, sprinkling them with sparkling sugar, and baking them up in the still-hot oven, after the pie had finished its time there. I was always rather disappointed that my creations looked absolutely nothing like the colorful confections in the pages of those books that had inspired me so.
*Speaking of pie, I found this image yesterday and I have been cackling about it for the past 24 hours.
As I grew older, I never completely lost my love for cookbooks but found myself more frequently drawn to food blogs on the internet, where I had begun to find recipes to experiment with. When I created my own blog (not this one, but its very distant cousin) back in 2002, one of my biggest inspirations and motivations was to one day feature delectable images on my website that rivaled the beauty of those that had captured my imagination. This, as it turns out, was no easy feat for a person with no eye for design and no photography skills or training. I mean…that’s a lot of work. And not necessarily work I was interested in investing in what is basically just a personal blog.
I eventually came to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn something if I wanted to improve my cake pictures. And while I won’t pretend I put a lot of effort into it, I did watch a class on Skillshare that I do think was pretty helpful and I think I’ve actually leveled up a tiny bit! I’ve shared pictures willy-nilly throughout this post, and none of them are in any sort of order, chronological or otherwise–but I think you can spot the few that I did post-video classroom.
Now please remember, I am coming at the subject from someone who knows next to nothing, so obviously if you’ve got some of these skills under your belt already, then there’s probably not much insight to be had here. I watched Olena Hassell’s course on photography, composition, and styling but there are probably free videos on YouTube that may share similar tips, tricks, and techniques. It was actually a YouTube video that convinced me to pay money for Skillshare, ha! I am too easily influenced.
I’ve obviously got quite a ways to go, and I’ll probably never get there, where ever “there” is. That’s fine. I think I have reached a point where some of these photos are exactly as good as the photos on those cooking blogs of yore that I was so enthralled with. But that’s just my opinion, and even if they’re nowhere even close, I am pretty excited to continue trying my hand at it and sharing beautiful photos of cakes, while fobbing off on someone else the actual cakes themselves, for purposes of digestive disposal.
1. A marvelous sourdough loaf with loads of encouragement and everything bagel seasoning suggestions from @clockedoutandcookin on Instagram. Original recipe from the foodbod blog. I had made a few loaves of sourdough earlier in the summer, and at the time I thought it was a really tedious, stupid, shitty process and that maybe it just wasn’t for me. But something finally clicked yesterday as I was folding the dough for the umpteenth time, and I realized that every time I approached the bowl, I was actually looking forward to working with it, to gathering portions and pulling it up and over itself, with feeling the texture gradually change from shaggy and sticky to bouncy and bubbly. That was an unexpected revelation. Isn’t it great when you realize you’re not too stuck in your ways to change your mind about something?
We were a frozen pizza and Hamburger Helper household mosts night while I was growing up, and we definitely never had any type of formal Sunday dinner, so as an adult, I guess I get a kick out of doing something a little fancy on Sunday nights. And while I suppose it could be argued that stew isn’t exactly haute cuisine, it sure beats Digiorno’s.
3. And lastly, chocolate chip cookies made with a hefty dollop of sourdough starter discard. Although this made for some really freaking incredible raw cookie dough, it resulted in very… fluffy cookies. Which, if this is your thing, then you might really enjoy these lil puffers. But I don’t love cookies and I especially don’t love cakey cookies, so eh. Not a fan of this version. They can’t all be winners!
From the time I was old enough to have a job, I have always worked weekends. As a teenager, starting out as bottom-bun girl and working my way up to cashier at Checkers (yes, that was my first job!); working both as a staffing manager AND a weekend caregiver for a home-care company in my twenties; working two jobs for nearly a decade in my thirties, full time in an office during the day, and part-time in a health food shop in evenings and on weekends. When I moved back to FL, my weekends were *almost* free there for a few months, but I quickly realized my elderly grandparents were not doing so well, and so my Saturdays and Sundays again became consumed doing all of the things for them that I did not have time to do during the workweek. All the while, every second, every breath in between, writing, writing, and writing some more. Scribbling for various venues, and for my own blog, which I’ve had in various incarnations for the past twenty years. And though I enjoy writing (mostly, ha!) this too, is work.
All of this is on my mind today. Someone recently remarked to me, in an off-hand yet weirdly skeptical-bordering-on-suspicious sort of way, “why would you spend all weekend cooking? That’s so much WORK.!” No, friends. I know work. And I have spent a great many weekends working. Most weekends of my adult life! But, for me, cooking is never, ever work*. Days spent hovering over simmering soups and yeasty bubbling bread dough, chopping, mixing stirring, sprinkling, concocting something delicious and heart-warming and filled with love, these are sacred acts of the most joyful magic. This is time well spent –best spent!– and I cannot think of a better way to spend my Sunday.
*I sometimes feel a little weird and not…self-conscious, exactly….but I begin feeling some kind of strange, shy, sheepish way when I share my excitement about how much I love cooking. I understand that not everyone enjoys cooking, or even gives a fig about it. I personally know some of these people (and I might even be related to them.) And I worry I might be coming across as self-congratulatory, like LOOK AT HOW GREAT I AM AT THIS THING THAT YOU CAN’T DO/DON’T LIKE TO DO. And that’s not my intent! But I guess I am always worried, all the time, about inadvertently making someone feel lesser-than. And so I downplay or diminish or sometimes completely secret away the things that I love or find important or…that I’m good at. And that really sucks.
But it is okay that I like something you don’t, that I do something you don’t! There are plenty of things that other people like to do that I can’t be bothered with in the slightest. There are all kinds of people in the world obsessing about all kinds of stuff, and the way I feel passionate about making soup is maybe how someone else feels super jazzed about whittling spoons or hula hooping or playing the accordion. And what a wonderful world it is, full of all of us, enthusiastically just doing our things. And anyway, people who like to cook have got to have people to cook for, so I think it all works out.
The above photo? That is concrete evidence that even if it takes you forever, you may eventually become better at something. I’ve been attempting to bake bread for decades and this is the year that I finally got it, if not “right”, well, it’s definitely not wrong, either. Don’t ever give up on your dreams! Especially if they involve pillowy loaves of delicious sandwich bread.
This loaf makes wonderful toast, and there’s no snack so enchanting as a thick-sliced, crunchy piece of homemade bread, toasted and slathered with butter. A drizzle of honey is nice too! Buttered toast calls to mind keeping warm and safe on blustery nights in cozy pajamas with milky tea and nursery rhymes and Mother Goose and it’s just…simple-gentle, magical nourishment for your inner child, as silly as that might sound.
When we were very young, our mother would prepare a supper of scrambled eggs and toast for my sisters and I when we were having a rotten day (or maybe she was having a bad day?) Even now, these many years later, the comforting fragrance of slightly carmelized and charred bread, the soothing hum of the heating filaments, and even the mechanical whir of the toaster gears springing up the now toasted bread is enough to lower my blood pressure and slow my breath when I’m feeling off-kilter and panicked. Buttered toast forever, please.
https://www.buzzbybakes.com/post/don-t-discard-the-discard…And for kindred spirit kitchen witches who are interested, this wonderful recipe is courtesy Buzzby Bakes.
Inspired by a conversation with my sister that’s really too long to get into but the gist of it is that I struggle to reconcile living a life of refinement* with my fierce devotion to disgusting junk food: she suggested that I make a little ritual of it. A small portion of, say, Funyuns, with a fancy whiskey or somesuch. I liked this idea very much and I love my baby sister for suggesting it!
When I tweeted about it (I’m one of those people who keeps a twitter for the sole reason of spouting ridiculousness) @cheesesexdeath adroitly suggested that I pair it with a super gooey, spruce-wrapped Harbison, and with that, a Saturday night supper was borne! Sadly, my grocery store did not have the Harbison–sad trombone–so I grabbed a triple creme Fromage d’Affinois, and I don’t think that’s at all similar but it’s a buttery ooze that’s providing a wonderful contrast to the salty, crunchy, top-of-the-mouth-scratchy skanky funk of the Funyuns.
Thanks to my life-advisor and my spiritual cheese advisor for tonight’s divine/unholy meal. Amen.
*P.S. I blame my misguided ideas and obsession with “refinement” on reading too many Alexandra Stoddard books in my late teens/early twenties.
So last night I made a thing out of some random stuff in my fridge and it was way better than it had any right to be, and I am definitely going to make this part of our meal rotation. I forgot to take a photo and it was not particularly attractive anyway, so please gaze upon Mads-as-Hannibal holding court at his dining table, and pretend.
A Perfect Bowl of Autumnal Slop
-Dice up two sweet potatoes and toss with some olive oil and whatever seasonings you usually reach for. I used s+p, herbs de Provence, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. Roast in 425 ° oven until they are as done as you like.
-Separately in a pan, sauté some sliced sausages (I used two Field Roast apple-sage fake sausage), until it’s browned; set aside.
-In the same pan, sauté sliced leeks (1-2) for a minute or two, add a small container of sliced portabella mushrooms, stir in s+p to taste, let it cook down a bit. Splash in some sherry or vermouth or whatever you have on hand.
-Throw in a handful of chopped spinach, let it wilt. Toss sausages back in.
-Splash in some heavy cream (totally optional, we just happened to have on hand that we’ve been adding to everything, just to use it up.)
Divide roasted potatoes between two bowls. Top with the sauteed autumnal veggie matter. Garnish with crumbled bleu cheese (optional, but we had a tiny wedge left over from our curdbox)
Like I said, this was way better than the sum of its parts and definitely better than it sounds on paper! A perfect (sloppy) bowl of autumnal comfort.
For August’s installment of our Ten Things series, I am over the moon that Cheese Sex Death is paying us a visit and taking us to moody midnight cheese church!
As lover and fanatic of all things cheese, I was beyond tickled when I came across the Cheese Sex Death Instagram at some point over the past few years, and it’s been such a treat getting to know the person behind the account: former cheese-monger Erika Kubick. Erika believes that cheese is the sexiest, holiest food in the world and that we should all pleasure ourselves with it every day. She created Cheese Sex Death as a guide to buying, plating, pairing, cooking with, and tasting cheese, and to inspire people to indulge their funky fromage fantasies!
According to Erika:
Even though the world of artisan cheese seems intimidating, all you really need to know is that you like eating it. I’ll help you learn the rest.
With Erika’s cheese classes you can enjoy a customized luxury cheese tasting in the comfort of your own home or office, and you can frequently find Cheese Sex Death doing pop-ups and events–as a matter of fact, she’ll be at the Chicago Oddities Market this very weekend (8/24 and 8/25 at noon) serving up some sexy raclette nachos, which sound really freaking amazing. Stop by, grab some cheesy goodness and say hello!
In the meantime, put on a Siouxsie album, don some black lace gloves, light a few candles, and peruse Cheese Sex Death’s 10 Goth Cheeses And What To Pair With Them, below. And a million black lipsticked kisses to Erika and to intrepid intern Zoe for this dark, dreamy and utterly delicious post today.
10 Goth Cheeses And What To Pair With Them
Most people associate it with cute images of love and romantic picnics in the park, but cheese is one of the most magical and goth foods out there. Many different kinds of cheese spend their youth aging in cold dark cellars, much like a crypt, where they are left to decay and mold. And if that’s not goth enough for you, both Pagans and Christians alike have a history of using cheese in magickal spells and rituals. Some have used it to manifest good fortune or ward off illnesses, while others used it to tell the future!
By interpreting the holes in swiss, the veins in blue, or the cracks and bumps on a cheese’s rind, a fortune-teller would be able to read the markings and find patterns and signs that tell the future—a practice known as tyromancy.
Now that you have learned a little about the magical history of cheese, let me introduce you to 10 different goth cheeses, and what to pair with them.
Goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove are cloaked with vegetable ash before aging in cellars. This helps the rind develop and gives the cheese a spooky, shadowy look. Goat cheeses are especially eerie, with a bone-white paste that contrasts against the ghastly gray rind. Pair a wedge with charcoal crackers, which add an extra touch of darkness and a nice crunch to oppose the soft cheeses.
Casu Marzu (which literally translates to rotten/putrid cheese in Sardinian) is a sheep’s milk cheese which is aged beyond the regular fermentation period of cheese. The result is a decomposition, brought about by the maggots that live inside of it. How did the maggots get there? Cheesemakers place a specific kind of fly on the cheese, so that they lay eggs inside. Due to the acid from their digestive system, the fats in the cheese break down when the maggots eat their way through it. As if that’s not creepy enough, the cheese must be consumed while the maggots are still alive. They’re known to be able to jump up to 6 inches, so pair Casu Marzu with a blindfold to protect your eyes.
This delicious, creamy goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Creamery is covered with a wrinkled rind that resembles a brain. These cerebral wrinkles are caused by geotrichum candidum, a fungus widely used to develop the rinds on soft-ripened cheeses. Its rich, fudgy interior is snow white and begs for something sweet, so pair with roasted beets for a beautiful blood-stained effect.
With its bright orange pumpkin-like inside, Mimolette from Normandy is one haunted looking cheese. The rind has a sweet, floral aroma and resembles the outside of a cantaloupe. The cavernous exterior is formed by tiny cheese mites that feed on the rind and aid in the aging process. It’s a nutty cheese with a savory finish, so pair with the equally magical and delicious dried figs, which look an awful lot like shrunken heads.
This is not your mama’s Wisconsin cheddar. Clothbound cheddars are made in the traditional English-style. Rather than shaped into blocks, it comes in wheels, which are coated in lard and wrapped with muslin cloth before going into the cellar to age, like a mummy to a tomb. Pair this cheese with a hard cider as apples symbolize immortality, and are traditionally placed as offerings to the dead for Samhain.
Smokey Blue Rogue Creamery
Smoked cheeses evoke images of fire and brimstone. While smokey flavors can often overpower a cheese, Smokey Blue is a rich, buttery blue with just a kiss of campfire. The wheels are gently smoked over smoldering hazelnut shells, creating notes of bacon, funk, and sweet cream. Spread onto a square of Novo Coffee chocolate from Ritual for a perfect bite reminiscent of campfire s’mores.
This goat cheese Gouda from Holland is firm and crunchy from a full year spent aging in a cave. Filled with crunchy bits of cheese crystals, which are actually clusters of the amino acid Tyrosine, the pale wheels are coated in black wax to distinguish it from the others. Have yourself a sultry and kinky night alone with Betty and enjoy with a whisper of whiskey.
You can pretty much expect any soft cheese with an orange or pinkish rind to fill a room with the distinct scent of gym socks and decay. These are called washed-rind cheeses, and most of them have more bark than bite. It stings the nostrils, but the inside is milder with a buttery, beefy flavor. Foxglove from Tulip Tree Creamery is bathed in porter beer before aging, creating a sweet and custardy interior. Pair it with Dead Guy Ale from Rogue. It’s malty and sweet, but still bubbly enough to cut through the richness.
This cheese from Jasper Hill Farm is bound with spruce bark, as if crafted by the Blair Witch herself. The interior is so sinfully gooey that without the wooden ring, it would spill right out of its rind. Peel back the rind and spoon out the indulgent, pudding-like center. The inside is as rich as custard with subtle notes of the forest. Pair with rosemary roasted potatoes to complete the woodland feast.
Challerhocker is a delicious Swiss cheese that has been washed in brine and spices, then aged for at least 10 months. The name translates to “sitting in the cellar” and is stamped with a haunting face peeking out from the cheese. Pair with onion jam, as the flavor compliments the buttery, nutty, and slightly sweet cheese.
And there you have it cheese sluts! Now you can impress your friends with the yummiest, gothest cheese board they have ever seen. Cheesus bless.
I’m a morning person. (“Booo! Hisssss!!” Don’t think I can’t hear you!) No, but really, I am. Once I’m awake, I’m not really the sort of person to lie in bed scrolling through facebook until my limbs feel like moving in human ways again. But the key here is, “once I’m awake”–because I can very easily roll over and go right back to sleep, and perhaps even sneak back into the same dream I was dreaming before the alarm interrupted my slumber. But once I am actually out of bed, there is no going back, and I honestly prefer it that way. Mornings are the best. The earlier the better. I’m not even the sort who can lounge around in my pajamas once I’m no longer burrowed under the covers; nope, once I am out of bed, I am committed.
And it’s not because there’s “a whole day of possibilities” before me (barf! and also, they’re probably all bad) but because at 5 o’clock in the morning, no one is calling you on the phone. That’s right. I hate phone calls so much, I will wake up at five in the morning just to enjoy some ring-free quiet time.
I don’t typically want breakfast within these first few hours of waking; that would feel too much like rushing things along, and I don’t think my digestive bits are even ready to clock in at this point. During this pre-dawn time of day, I prefer to take things slow. I like the still, quiet atmosphere of a world just beginning to regain consciousness, and I softly make my way through this world on tiptoes so as not to alert it to my presence. No teevee, no radio or music or news, and for god’s sake, don’t talk to me! I have my small routines at this time, and they are undertaken in utter silence.
Upon waking, I either immediately 1. throw on some ratty exercise clothes and go for a brisk walk, or, 2. splash water on my face and spend about ten minutes with my morning skincare routine. Both are activities that cause my brain to start working, albeit in different ways, maybe even on different levels An early morning constitutional, while the blood is pumping to my brain, is when I often get my exciting “aha!” ideas. The less active routine of my six or seven steps of cleansers and toners and serums and gels and whatever else, gently generates the brain and starts it to slowly ticking and whirring as I go through my process of morning ablutions.
At this point I may have a small glass of aloe juice and get the coffee started. I may curl up on the sofa to read a book, or work on a knitting project. I definitely don’t start checking emails or plugging into the world just yet. This is time just for me, to do the things I like to do, uninterrupted, sans any other obligations. Responsibilities don’t even come into picture during this time. And finally, around 7:30 or so is when I start thinking breakfast-y thoughts.
Most breakfast items seem to be geared toward people with a sweet tooth. I can’t eat cereal; it has too many associations of my mother sitting at the table, bleary-eyed, chain-smoking and drinking coffee, while I choked down a bowl of Wheat Chex before elementary school and was almost on a daily basis immediately struck afterward with a stomach ache as I contemplated the dread and ultimate futility of the day as it stretched out before me. Existence felt grim to me from a young age, and to this day, I can only eat a bowl of cereal late into the night in mid-summer, as a snack, maybe because it was too hot for dinner. I’m not a fan of pancakes or waffles or french toast or muffins or donuts* or yogurt or granola bars or any kind of breakfast bar, really. They’re all too sweet. Blargh.
*not gonna lie–I do eat donuts–I like them, even!–but they have to be an afternoon snacks-with-coffee type thing. I can’t do a donut as a first meal of the day. I really can’t do sweets on an empty stomach, period. It makes me feel a little ill and weird.
I have, however, found a handful of savory, and one or two barely-sweet options that I enjoy and are staples in my breakfast-time rotation! They’re not necessarily appropriate for every day (either they’re a little too rich or time-consuming) but between these five options and a few bonus quickies, I’ve pretty much unlocked the secrets of the most important meal of the day.
1. Japanese style breakfast, which I know I have mentioned before, but it’s amazing, and I would eat it every day if I could. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit involved, so I generally only do this one on the weekends. Generally I include rice and miso soup, broiled salmon, homemade pickled vegetables, and tamagoyaki (rolled japanese omelette). You could also serve natto alongside this meal, but I can’t get past the stinkiness/sliminess factor, so it’s never on my table! There’s something about this combination of foods that is wonderfully savory, and perfectly balanced to fill you up while at the same time you feel like you are eating something light.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for creating such a meal:
2. Rice & egg. This is a hearty-soothing breakfast. I don’t think I’d eat it more than once a week, but if I am being honest, the BEST time to prepare this meal is when you are experiencing the head-throbbing, sorta-nauseous-but-you-still-wanna-eat misery of a hangover. It works best if you have some leftover rice to start with; this way you don’t have to spend any extra time cooking up a batch. Heat a portion of leftover white rice (you could probably use brown, but I prefer white) in the microwave, and while that is going, fry an egg on the stove. Keep it yolky. Once your rice is hot, stir in soy sauce and a butter product of your preference to taste–you may want slightly more butter than soy sauce, but not a lot of either–top with your fried egg, and sprinkle liberally with furikake (rice seasoning.) Devour with a comically oversized wooden spoon.
3. Toast with peanut butter and preserves. This is more of an every day type breakfast for me. It’s quick, it’s filling, it’s only slightly sweet if I pick a jam with a little bit of tartness. The best bread for this is Ezekial* because it’s dense and study and crunchy and it doesn’t flop under a generous smear of peanut butter. Of course, I am not sure I’d eat the Ezekial bread any way other than toasted. I’d venture that it’s a mite unpalatable, cold. I typically just keep it in the freezer until I need a slice or two, then I just pop it straight into the toaster. Once browned to your liking, spread with your favorite peanut butter and jam. I happen to like Peanut Butter & Co.’s The Bee’s Knees and bilberry jam. Enjoy on a tiny Bride of Frankenstein tray.
*I just ignore the scripture on those Ezekial bags; I save then up and use them to scoop up dog poop during when we have visiting puppers.
4. Porridge. This is actually steel-cut oats, but I call it porridge because it makes me feel like I am eating fairy tale food and not a gruely bowl of slop. It’s another everyday go-to, especially when it starts to get cold out. We cook up a huge batch of oats at the beginning of the week, and I generally eat it thusly: portion out a bit, stir in some of your preferred sort of milk, cinnamon, golden raisins, chopped dates, chopped pecans, slivered almonds, and the barest drizzle of maple syrup. Heat in the microwave until hot, and top with a spoonful of ground flax seed. I like my porridge on the thinner side, so I err on the side of more milk, but that’s totally up to you.
5. Fake bagel! Obviously, real bagels are preferred, but those are a weekend treat and I feel like I can get away with eating “fake bagels” far more frequently. And whereas porridge is standard fare in the winter months, when it starts warming up again, you know, like February (because Florida), I start leaning toward fake bagels for morning eats. Start with some sort of “sandwich thins”–I think mine are Arnold brand, but I just grab whatever is in the store–and here’s the thing. You may want this untoasted. Those sandwich thins sort of frizzle up and get stuck in your toaster, and honestly, I think this tastes better cold. Spread with one wedge of Laughing Cow cheese split between two sides of the bread, sprinkle with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning blend (this stuff is a marvel!) and top with thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions. This is the vegetarian version, but you could also add a few slices of smoked salmon, and that’s also delicious. Having made it both ways, I can share that while the salmon version is very good, you really don’t miss it if it’s not there. It may not be the healthiest thing in the world, what with the shelf stable cheese and all, but I think it’s remarkably tasty! And after eating this you’ll probably be remarkably stinky, but it’s totally worth it.
Some quick bonus bites, for when you don’t have the time/energy for any of the above:
KIND Bar, Pineapple Banana Kale Spinach (strangely funky-nasty addictive)
Make ahead, freezer friendly breakfast sandwiches –okay, so this is not exactly a quickie, you will have needed the forethought to make these ahead of time. But if you have done so, it’s super quick to heat it up and jam it in your mouth as you’re running out the door in the morning. Or maybe even take it to work and heat it up when you get there. This a WW recipe that I have linked to, but the idea could be adapted to a higher calorie diet, or perhaps veggie-fied, or whatever fits your lifestyle.
So, wow. I’ve just written nearly 1800 words about breakfast. I’m really tackling the hard-hitting stuff here, aren’t I? Do you folks have any favorite savory breakfasts? (Sorry sweeties and sugar fiends…you know I love you, but I don’t even want to hear about your cinnamon raisin bagels –GACK– or your Special-K bars.) Tell me all about your favorite weekend and weekend morning meals and maybe I’ll enliven my breakfast agenda with a new addition!