Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lots of Joy Cake

I have a lot to celebrate right now.  I have a lot of love and joy in my life, and I feel like the cake in this post reflects that: Almond Joy Cake.

The semester is officially over.  I survived my Psychopathology final.  I survived my first colonoscopy.  I am feeling better.  I have amazing friends that love me and took excellent care of me.  This is the first finals period of my college career where my eating disorder did not relapse.  All of my grad school applications and letters of recommendation are in and officially out of my hands.  I had a best friend night/day complete with a romantic comedy, cheesecake, a sleepover, shopping, and hot chocolate martinis.  I went to a Zumba Fitness® master class this morning taught by the queen of Zumba herself, Tanya Beardsley.  I am going to Florida a week from today for a vacation with my mom and younger sister.  See?  Lots of joy.

Another reason to celebrate is that one of my closest friends at Wesleyan had a birthday on Thursday.  Emily is a very important person in my life, so she deserved an extra special cake.  Lying in bed the night before, I was thinking about what combination of flavors I could put together that I hadn't already tried, and I started thinking of candy flavors.  That's when it hit me: Almond Joy Cake!  I know, it's been done before, it's not that exciting, but it's new territory for me, so I chose it.

Unfortunately, Thursday was the day I was prepping for my colonoscopy, was on a clear liquids only diet, and after taking the pills, I was really not feeling well and couldn't finish it, so I filled and frosted it when I got back from my procedure on Friday.  Friday was the birthday of two very important men in my life, and unfortunately, neither of them are still with us.  My best friend, Kurtis, was supposed to turn 22, and my grandfather would have turned 78.  Being able to assemble and frost a cake on their birthday was very cathartic for me.  It was almost like I was making the cake for them, too.

Almond Joy Cake
Recipe adapted from here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Cookies for Special People

I have been dreaming about chocolate cookies for about 2 months now.  I have been baking up a storm and just never found the time to make these.  There were always birthday cakes to bake and things to do for other people.  Well, I still haven't found the time to bake for me, but I finally made my chocolate cookies on Wednesday night.

My friend, Emma, and I were TAs for BIO 131: Service Learning at Connecticut Valley Hospital.  This was our first experience as TAs, and we really loved our students.  We wanted to thank them for a wonderful semester, so we threw them a little study break party with cookies, tea, and lots of gummy peach rings that Emma's housemates commandeered while drunk.  I had been waiting for a very special occasion to make these cookies, and decided that dessert after a dinner with three of my dearest friends and then the study break with our students were the perfect events to warrant their chocolatey glory.  My friends and I made the cookies and dinner simultaneously, so they were really just thrown together.  I also had to use my terrible nonstick cookie sheets, which resulted in burned bottoms.  I really have to throw those things out...

Brownie-like Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sharing Sugary Love

I am still sick, and therefore still grumpy.  My lower back hurts and my tummy is uncomfortable.  I just sat through a terrible review session for our Psychopathology final, and now I'm even grumpier.

I am in such a bad mood, even baking couldn't fix it.  Earlier today, I was part of a collective effort to make about 200 cookies.  Wesleyan's chapter of Active Minds, an organization to change the conversation about mental health issues on campus, decided to bake cookies for people during finals week.  We made around 200 cookies (chocolate chip, iced sugar, and vegan oatmeal raisin).  We are going to put each one in a baggie with a little positive note and stress-relief tip, and then pass them out to people in the libraries.  As much as I love this idea and as much as I love baking, this project may have been a little too much for my fragile body to handle, and now I just feel worse than ever.

Iced Sugar Cookies
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book
*Yield: about 6 dozen cookies.  Cut the recipe in half if you are not baking for a large crowd.*

Friday, December 9, 2011

Roscón de Reyes

Well, there are still no updates on my medical issues.  Everything is about the same.  I still have horrible low back pain, abdominal discomfort, and now my dizziness is back.  We still don't have a diagnosis, but will hopefully move closer to that when I finally get an appointment with a G.I. specialist next week.

In the mean time, I'm trying to keep up with everything as best I can.  I still have a ton of school work to do, meetings to attend, Zumba® to teach, and friends to see.  Being a social butterfly is pretty difficult during finals, and almost impossible when you are this sick.  I am attempting to push the impossible by hosting a potluck dinner tonight with my friends from VWM Fall 2010 (my study abroad program in Madrid).

We normally try to make Spanish dishes, or as close as we can come to them, anyway.  Last time, I made Tarta de Santiago.  This time, I thought it would be fun to do some holiday-themed dishes.  I decided to mix holiday and Spain, and make the Spanish Roscón de Reyes, a sweet yeast bread normally eaten on January 6th, Día de los Reyes (Kings' Day).

Roscón de Reyes
Recipe adapted from here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Diagnostic Discontent

The following is a long rant about my recent medical problems.  If you don't care and are just here for the cake, please scroll down.

****Medical Rant****
For those of you that have been paying close attention to my health, you know that things have been going really poorly for my body this year.  There was the anemia episode, the rolled ankle, the countless colds and viruses, the many reproductive system issues, cervical dysplasia, and all the fainting episodes.  Well, now I have more to add to the list.

For four weeks I have been feeling really miserable.  I'd had a sore throat, headache, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, chills, and fatigue on and off for 3 weeks.  Last week I started getting really dizzy and almost passed out on several occasions.  After some coaching from my boss, (who is like my stand-in dad at school), I decided to go to the health center last Thursday.  I went in for flu-like symptoms, and they diagnosed me with a serious kidney infection.  Once they put me on an antibiotic, I started getting really dizzy and developed serious lower back pain.  They gave me a follow-up appointment the next day, and saw that my bacteria levels went down, and assumed that the antibiotics were working.  I was in bed pretty much for four days straight.  I found out 4 days later that they were wrong in the kidney infection diagnosis, and once I stopped the antibiotic, the dizziness went away, but the back pain did not.  They decided to do some blood work to test for a few viruses on Monday.

I patiently awaited the results until yesterday, but the pain was so bad I decided to give the health center a call.  I was told that the results still weren't in, but they could give me an appointment the next morning if I was OK to wait until then, and I agreed.  Half an hour later, I was NOT OK, and was crying on my floor in pain.  I finally had my wonderful friend, Annika, accompany me to the emergency room.  It's not that I was unhappy with the health center, the two doctors I'd been seeing were great, but I wanted to be somewhere that had the machines and equipment necessary to do some real tests. 

We were told it was going to be a 2-3 hour wait, so I let Annika go back to campus.  It's finals time and everyone is extremely busy, so no one really has time to just wait around in medical offices with me.  When I was finally seen, I was told that I had mono again, and that my back pain was probably just a pulled muscle.  I argued with the doctor and nurses and told them I didn't believe either diagnosis, but realized I wasn't going to get anywhere.

I went to my health center appointment this morning, and the doctor told me that all my blood work was normal.  The hospital lab technicians were just incompetent and didn't realize that they were seeing the old mono in my system from two years ago.  Luckily, the health center doctor believed my pain and sent me back to the hospital for CT scans.  I drove myself over there, did the scans, and was back in time to go to class and take an exam.  Awesome.

After my exam I went BACK to the health center for the thousandth time.  The only thing my scans showed was inflammation and swelling in my small intestine.  They have no idea what's causing this, so now I have to see a G.I. specialist for, you guessed it, more tests!  Luckily the doctor was finally able to prescribe me something that would keep me comfortable.  The 550mg Naproxen she gave me earlier today didn't touch the pain, and since I am allergic to the intermediate pain medications, we had to move to straight narcotics.  She wrote me a script for codeine, but unfortunately no pharmacy in Middletown has it in stock.  Go figure.  Then I had to drive back to the health center to get another script, and now I am taking Oxycodone.  Yay!  It did a lot for my pain, but unfortunately didn't do anything for my discomfort/feelings of puffiness in my abdomen.  Oh well, I'm grateful for some improvement!

Anyway, I'm sure you're sick of reading about my issues.  I just really needed to vent somewhere.  I'll get to the cake now.

This year is Wesleyan's third year of Relay for Life.  Two years ago, in our first year, there were really just three of us that put the whole show together.  It was Emma, Ann, and myself: the three musketeers.  Last year when I went abroad and then had all my family and personal issues, Emma and Ann really carried the torch and picked up my slack.  Now, Emma is going abroad to Copenhagen next semester, and Ann and I are both seniors.  We decided we wanted to do a little something for Emma to say thank you for all she's done for Relay, and to say goodbye, since we won't see her again because we're graduating.  Of course, I always say everything with food, so I decided to bake a cake.

Unfortunately my medical instability didn't leave me with a lot of time or energy to bake, so I really had to just throw it together.  I wasn't very creative with the recipe.  I decided chocolate was easiest and since I was in the holiday spirit, I would just jazz up the frosting with a little peppermint.  I made the cake Tuesday night to soothe my frustrations with my body, and decided I'd frost it Wednesday before our meeting.  Unfortunately, I wasn't planning on ending up in the ER on Wednesday.  The whole time I was sitting on the bed waiting I was thinking, "hurry up people!  I have a cake to frost!"

As soon as I got back from the ER I got to work making the frosting and threw the cake together.  It's not the prettiest thing I've ever made, but for a throw-it-together-because-I-don't-feel-well-and-have-no-time cake, I think it turned out alright.

Devil's Food Cake with Peppermint Buttercream
Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Baking Book

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Finally Friends

I have known Benny since freshman year at Wes.  We have several mutual friends, and I've met him on several occasions.  I always thought he was a really wonderful person, it's just too bad he could never remember who I was.

Well, when my friend, Annie, and I ventured off to Amsterdam, she asked if it would be OK if we met up with Benny and his friends, who were coincidentally visiting the city at the same time from their various study abroad adventures.  Maybe it was the fact that we met (again) on another continent, or maybe it was because we met in an amazing pancake house, but Benny finally remembered me.  He recognized me on campus last semester, and now, this semester, we are not only in the same class, but are partners for a research project.  Benny is always a very positive guy, and whenever I'm upset, I know that our project meetings will cheer me up.  I decided to make him a birthday cake to celebrate the fact that we are finally friends, and to thank him for all the smiles he's brought me this semester.  I decided to make the cake with flavors that honor the place we finally met, a random pancake house in Amsterdam.

The pancake house where it all began.  Here is Benny, ready to drink the maple syrup.

Cinnamon Butter Cake w/ Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecans
Recipe adapted from here

Friday, November 18, 2011

Crazy Camping Cake

Today is my housemate's birthday.  Even though Ariel really doesn't like making a big deal out of birthdays, you know my rule.  Everyone needs a birthday cake.  That said, my other housemate, Chandra, and I set off to make a cake that was true to who Ariel is.

We frequently make fun of Ariel for her weird combinations of foods, her love of gritty textured foods, and complete inability to follow a recipe.  But of course all our teasing comes from a place of love.  Chandra and I decided to make a semi-healthy and kind-of gluten-free cake for Ariel, because that's how she normally eats.  Because she never follows a recipe, we decided not to either.  We used a few basic zucchini bread recipes for ratio guidelines, but other than that we just threw a bunch of crap together.  We came up with:

Zucchini, Banana, Raspberry, Walnut, Raisin and Chocolate Chunk Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting (Aka- Ariel's Camping Cake)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup chick pea flour
1/2 cup hazelnut flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 medium ripe banana (mashed)
1 1/2 cups shredded zuchinni
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsps vanilla
2 Tbs raspberry jam
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Handful frozen raspberries

Chandra's 4 types of flour
The mastermind at work
Whisk together all dry ingredients except sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together oil and sugar.
Add beaten eggs and vanilla.  Whisk together.
Whisk in zuchinni, banana, and raspberry jam.
Combine wet and dry ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients and fold in until combined.
Bake in your pans of choice at 350°F for approximately 25-30 minutes.
Ok, so we made the cakes (with some help from my friend, Shannon -thanks!) and hid them in Chandra's room.  Chandra began making the frosting and then Ariel came home.  Chandra used the excuse that she was baking ahead for a potluck on Saturday, and Ariel actually bought it.  She got suspicious, however, when she saw the cake pan and whisks in the sink (oops!  I had to run to Zumba and didn't have time to wash them!)  Chandra and I started frosting after Ariel went to sleep, but of course she wakes up 100 times in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and she caught us.  I did some quick thinking with a Halloween candy bowl and managed to cover the cake itself, but she caught us with frosting in hand...

Conceptually, the cake was kind of a disaster.  The recipe Chandra used for the cream cheese frosting was incredibly wet, and did not make for a pretty cake.  We eventually decided to stack all the little ones on top, cover them in frosting, and then hide the frosting with other things.  We threw some more chopped walnuts and chocolate shavings all over the cake to make it prettier.  Then Chandra came up with the brilliant idea to make an origami tent.  (Ariel is very outdoorsie and loves camping and hiking).  We liked the idea so much that we decided to decorate the whole cake as a camping theme, which worked well since the stacking of the small bundt cakes made it look like a mountain.

The lake with fish
The pecan bear
Trees and bear line, complete with backpack
The fire pit
Birthday tent
The final product
Our other housemate, Ross, decided to wake Ariel up to show her the cake at 1am when we finished it by telling her that a squirrel had broken into the kitchen and killed Chandra at 1am.  She was really groggy and confused, but I think she really liked her surprise mountainy-camping cake that tastes like gritty zucchini-banana bread.  It's definitely the strangest cake I've ever made, but I think it fits my dear friend and housemate very well.

The birthday girl and her cake
Happy Birthday, Ariel!  We love you!

Love and cookies,

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake Presents

I know I said last time that I was starting to put my life back together after the Snowpocalypse, but I'm slowly finding out that it's a rather slow process.  Things just don't feel the same after the lights came back on.  I still have an inordinate amount of school work to do, a bunch of exams are coming up, I have to plan my schedule for my last semester at Wes, and the boyfriend and I broke up.

On Saturday, I was in quite the funk, so much so that I laid in a motionless, unresponsive heap on the middle of my living room floor for a good 30 minutes.  I was searching for a reason to bake, so I decided to make something for an animal welfare club bake sale.  (I've been on their list serve since sophomore year, and have never done anything with them, but I was desperate for an excuse to bake).  I've been eying this mini pumpkin cheesecake recipe for quite some time now, and made it with the clients at the RVS outpatient wellness center on Wednesday.  They turned out OK, but I really wanted to try them again in my own kitchen.

My friend and baking partner in crime, Annika, came over to assist with the process, and to catch up on our lives.  Even though we forgot to add the sugar because we were too busy venting about boys, and had to swirl it in each individual cup with toothpicks, I think they turned out well.  It was also an incredibly therapeutic experience that both Annika and I desperately needed.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes w/ Gingersnap Crusts
Recipe adapted from the Yummy Mummy Kitchen.

1 bag ginger snap cookies
4 eggs
2 8 oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 8 oz packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar 
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg

Ingredients (missing brown sugar)
Beat cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add all other ingredients and beat until smooth.
Line muffin pans with liners, place one ginger snap at the bottom of each, and fill cups 2/3 the way full with batter.  Sprinkle a teaspoon of brown sugar on top of each and swirl in with a toothpick.
If desired, top with caramel sauce.
Bake at 300°F for 20 minutes.  Cool in pans on wire racks.  Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.  (Makes about 40 mini cheesecakes).

About an hour after they came out of the oven, I received an email saying that the bake sale was cancelled due to a shortage of bakers.  Just my luck, right?  I decided to share the love and gave them away to my co-workers and our Middletown neighbors to celebrate the fact that we all survived the Black Out.  Well, in my case I guess it's still to-be-determined if I survived it or not...

Happy cheesecake baking!

Love and cookies,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Surviving the Snowpocalypse

I'm sorry it's been so long since my last post.  Post-Fall Break school work really came to bite me, and as soon as I thought things were getting easier, the Snowpocalypse came.  The senior houses at Wes, along with most of the state of Connecticut, have been without heat or power since Saturday night.  Good news: I have gotten a substantial amount of school work done, submitted my last grad school application, and central campus finally has electricity and hot food.
Bad news: My house is FREEZING, I've been eating nothing but cereal and yogurt for 4 days, and it's so cold that it's hard to concentrate on my school work.

Before we lost power for forever, I did do some substantial baking.  Unfortunately, I have limited time with heat and internet, so I am not going to write in-depth steps to all the recipes.  I will, however, give you the links to the recipes I used.  I promise that as soon as I get an oven again I will do more baking and blog it.  For now, bear with me, as I am bearing with the unbearable cold.

Apple & Honey Gallette
Made at the very end of Fall Break for my brother's birthday.
Recipe taken from here.  I added Chai, and instead of apricot preserves, I used honey and cinnamon.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Made with the clients at CT River Valley Services
Recipe copied from here.

Halloween Smorgasbord
Sugar cookies, Reeses Pieces Brownies, and Sweet & Spicy Halloween Chex Mix
Made with my wonderful housemates for our Halloween party before the storm hit.

If you'd like to see some pictures of the Snowpocalypse, see my post for the Wesleyan Admissions Blog.

I hope everyone is safe and warm where they are.
Love and cookies,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Peace of Pie

Well, after a very rough last few weeks, I am finally home for a much-needed fall break.  Things have been far from easy for me.  Between grad school applications, exams, presentations, research projects, TAing, juggling a social life, my Zumba® class, lots of volunteer work, maintaining a long-distance military relationship, and some unfortunate medical issues, I am spent.
A gorgeous drive home to set the tone for a beautiful break
For those of you that have not yet heard, I was informed this week that I have some pre-cancerous cells in my body.  It is NOT CANCER at this point, so I consider this good news.  I was, however, cautioned that I need to start paying better attention to my body.  I need to start eating healthier, exercising more, getting more sleep, and keeping away from stress.  I feel like I do OK on the eating healthily and sleeping parts, but my schedule doesn't really allow for a lot of extra exercise, and certainly doesn't permit breaks from stress.  But I am determined to change this.

The reason I created this blog was to document how I use baking as therapy to de-stress my life, and how I create beautiful things that spread happiness to those around me.  This morning I decided to bake an apple pie for my grandfather and I was reminded of why I fell in love with baking in the first place.  I was at home, in my own kitchen, with the lights off, listening to the sound of the creek and breathing in the fall air.  I moved slowly, finally going through a recipe at my own pace, not rushing against a clock so I can get my homework done or make it to a meeting on time.  Today I was in the kitchen with my thoughts and my pie, and the rest of the world seemed to fall away for a while.  I think I reached pie nirvana.

Even if you don't make this pie, I hope that you can take a few minutes out of your day to stop everything and just breathe.  Listen to your thoughts and be alone with yourself for a little while.  Take some time to appreciate your life and all the people in it.  And if you do have the extra time and some apples, then it can't hurt to make this pie while you're achieving your inner peace.

Chai Apple Pie
Adapted from Betty Crocker's 2-crust, 9" apple pie recipe
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 2 Tbs vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp salt
4-5 Tbs cold water

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs chai powder (you can definitely add more if you like more spice)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs butter
5 cups peeled and sliced hand-picked apples (the firmer the apples, the better)

Crust Directions:
Crust ingredients
Put all crust ingredients in a bowl, starting out with 4 Tbs of water and adding a 5th of dough is too dry/crumbly
Cut the shortening into the flour (I love being home so I can use the pastry cutter!)
Mix the dough into a ball with your hands (mess avoidance is not an option)
Divide the dough into two separate halves
Roll out the dough until you have enough to line the bottom of a pie plate
Fold dough in half...
...then in half again to aid in transferring to the plate
Patch up any holes and trim excess off the edges

Filling Directions:
Whisk together all the dry ingredients
Peel and slice the apples, then mix them with the dry ingredients
Once apples are well-covered, pour them into your pie shell and dot with butter
Add your top crust, make slits, brush with melted butter, flute the edges and cover them with foil
Bake with foil for 30 minutes at 425°F, then remove foil for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from oven when crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling through the slits
Cool on a wire rack
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream for the full effect
I think eating this pie brought as much happiness to my life as making it did.  I only make pies in the seasons they belong in, and I've been waiting to make a traditional apple pie.  We made a few French apple pies this week in my baking group at the outpatient mental health clinic, but those had crumb topping and no ice cream.  This one was the real thing.

I normally feel a lot of pressure from my family to make pies "just like Gram," and I've been letting it stress me out.  Today, I decided that if I am going to bake for therapeutic reasons, I am going to bake my way, with the ingredients that make me happy.  If I am inspired by a package of chai powder on the counter, I am going to add it, just because I feel like it.  If my overly-critical family doesn't like them, they don't have to eat them.  This is my life, and I am finally going to take control of it.

Wishing everyone a peaceful fall pie season.
Love and cookies,

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Feeling Fall (Candy Corn Cookies)

The leaves are finally changing colors, and I've finally taken the time to take a deep breath and notice them.  This week has been a pretty intense roller-coaster ride for me emotionally, but each meaningful experience I had helped me to find a better grounding.  Sometimes I fall into a Wesleyan bubble and focus on nothing else but my school work.  I forget that I have friends to stay in touch with, a family that loves me, and a world to be a part of.  After stepping away from it all for a while and re-evaluating my priorities, I'm ready to tackle the next two weeks until Fall Break.

All this talk of fall and the leaves changing has me in a very nostalgic mood for my favorite season.  I am in love with all things fall.  The apple cider, the leaf piles, the homemade donuts, the Halloween costumes, apple picking, and yes, I must admit, even the candy.  I decided to make the boyfriend a fall-themed treat for when he gets back from his army class (ON THURSDAY!!), so, feeling a little adventurous after my last baking-with-candy adventure, I was ready to tackle another challenge: candy corn cookies! 

Candy Corn Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (softened)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 8oz bag of candy corn (roughly chopped)

Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.
Cream together butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Add eggs one at a time until combined.
Roughly chop candy corn.  It WILL be a sticky mess, so make sure you have a sharp knife.
Slowly add flour to bowl, then fold in candy corn.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (parchment paper is a MUST on these, unless you want to ruin your pans with orange and yellow goop)
Bake at 375°F for 9 minutes.  Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer pan to freezer for 5 minutes.  Remove carefully and allow to finish cooling completely on a wire rack.
The final product
All ready to go!
These definitely weren't my brightest idea, but I'm not sure they were my biggest baking failure, either.  I really didn't think the candy corn would melt as much as they did.  They ended up melting almost completely and turned into little pieces of yellow and orange stained glass.  Oh well, they still taste pretty wonderful.  I hope Dan and his friends like them.

If you are going to try these at home, I might suggest baking the cookie dough first, and then inserting the candy corns into the top for the last two minutes or so.  Hopefully all this baking with candy will give some of you ideas of what to do with all that Halloween candy you will be accumulating in the next few weeks...

Love and cookies,