Friday, December 28, 2012

The Gift of Gingies

Every holiday season, I make gingerbread people, aka "gingies."  It started out with our family baking cookies for a holiday ski club fundraiser several years in a row.  Then once I stopped skiing, I started making them to give away as gifts.  For the past several years, that is all anyone gets for Christmas from this broke college, and now grad, student.

Those of you that have never made gingerbread cookies, you might think, oh, what a lame gift.  However, those of you that have put the hours of intense labor into making dozens of these little ginger ninjas know that this is one of the most time-consuming and love-filled gifts you can give someone.  I'm serious, they take FOREVER.  Every year I get excited to make them, and then halfway through I vow to make more money the next year so I can buy people real presents.

This year I didn't come home in time to make them for everyone, so I sent out some Christmas cards and decided to just make the gingies for people in Boston.  I gave them to my boyfriend's family, my housemate's family, and some guys at my gym.

The trick to not getting sick of them is to use lots of different shaped cookie cutters so that you don't start drawing angry eyebrows on the ginger people when your hand gets tired from icing so many smiling faces.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread People (Gingies)
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker
Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutters

Celebrating Life

December 16th marks the birth of two of the most wonderful and important men I will ever have known: my best friend, Kurt, and my grandfather, "Grampie."  And much to the heartache of everyone that ever knew them, both are no longer alive.  Most people try to use euphemisms to say that, like no longer here, no longer with us, or passed on, so I know my phrasing may sound blunt.

For those of you that know me, you will know that my beliefs about life and death and what happens to us are pretty cloudy.  I don't know what I believe, but I know what I feel.  And I can't say that Kurt and Grampie are "no longer with us," because I feel their presence all the time.  Whenever I'm upset, a song Kurt loved will come on the radio.  Or when I'm feeling like I'm not strong enough, sometimes I get a little tingle in my knees, which Grampie had so much trouble with.  I don't really know what this means, and I'm highly aware it could all be coincidence or just very much in my own head.  But I don't really care.  At the end of the day, the point of believing in anything is to have something to get you through the day.  Hanging on to the memories of two of the most influential men in my life and celebrating them does that for me.

To make the day a little less sad, I decided to bake them a birthday cake.  It was not to be morbid or a function of my own grieving process.  It was just that I wanted to remember them in a special way to celebrate their life.  And that's what birthdays are all about- celebrating the accomplishments of life.

Since it was the holidays, I made a gingerbread cake.  I think they both would have loved it.

Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Cake w/ Vanilla Glaze and Peppermint Candy Pieces
Recipe adapted from Kitchen Trials
Yield: 1 8" cake and a little extra (I made 2 little bundt cakes) or one 9" square cake

Getting Competitive

I'm not a competitive person.  I never liked organized sports and stopped loving dance when I joined a competitive team.  I don't like games where there is a winner or a loser.  I never enter cooking competitions because I thought it would make me hate baking.

Then grad school happened.  I have become extremely competitive with myself.  I did the Diva Dash in September, pushing my body to its limits in a 5k with 11 obstacles.  I am pushing my mental capacities by writing paper after paper after paper.  And lastly, I am challenging my emotional stamina.  Can I handle this insane amount of stress for four years straight?

All this pushing made me think maybe I could push my limits and try something outside my comfort zone- a cookie competition.  My internship decided to have a staff cookie contest for the holidays, and I signed up to bake.  For a tiny little office, we made it pretty legit.  There were official judges with official score sheets and separate judges' eating rooms and a secret tallying.  For one of the first times in my life, I said "bring it on" to the competition.

I am constantly being evaluated at my internship.  In a professional capacity, in a clinical capacity, and a personal one.  Obviously I want these people to like me.  Normally I achieve this by baking things and winning people over with my sugary skills.  I felt an immense amount of pressure to come up with the best cookie possible.  I researched recipes for weeks and enlisted the help of my friends and family to send me their ideas.

The winning recipe was found by my sister.  I chose these because they were creative and really different from anything I'd made before.  Also, they were freaking adorable, and I'm a sucker for holiday cuteness.

Of course, I always think I know better than the recipe, and had to change it up.  Nutella is ALWAYS better than peanut butter, and shortening should never be used instead of butter instead you want weird textured cookies.  And I doubled it and changed a bunch of other things too.  This is what I came up with:

Nutella Melting Snowmen Cookies
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
Yield: 4 dozen adorable cookies.  Feel free to halve the recipe if you don't need as many

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More Macaroons

Holidays are an especially wonderful time for macaroons.  First of all, they give you something different to eat beside gingerbread and peppermint.  Second, they look like little snowballs.  And third: they are dairy-free and easily made gluten-free as well, so they make a great gift or party-snack for your food-allergy friends.  Finally, and most importantly- they are incredibly easy to make.

I've made them twice now.  Once with almonds and once with dried blueberries.  This holiday, I made them twice in one week, for two separate holiday parties.  They are extremely versatile and you can put whatever you want in them.  For my old roommates' Dapper/Burlesque Chanukah party, I used dried cranberries (and they ended up looking a little like boobs, but that was slightly fitting for the occasion).  For the Latin-American Health Institute's staff holiday party (aka my internship), I used colored fruitcake cherries.

So without further ado...

Vanilla Coconut Macaroons w/ Colored Cherries

Holiday Coconut Macaroons
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 4 dozen macaroons

Friday, December 21, 2012

Squashing Tradition

My grandmother was a farm-wife during the 50s and 60s.  She fell for all of the new store-bought things to make her life in the kitchen easier.  Don't get me wrong, she still believed in making things from scratch, but if there was an area or two where she could cheat, she did.  One of these areas was using canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie.  Mind you, she only used the best, (Gram loved her Libbys), but she cheated none-the-less.  Since I learned from her, I always made it the same way.

This year, my mom decided that since we were reclaiming our Thanksgiving holiday, we would try something different.  She had the bold idea of not only making a squash pie instead of pumpkin, we would use cooked squash instead of canned.  She spent her whole summer and fall canning and freezing vegetables, so she wanted to use her squash.

I always welcome a challenge in the kitchen, so we made our very first squash pie.

Squash Pie
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker
Yield: 1 9" pie (and a little extra)

Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

I haven't had a very normal Thanksgiving the past few years.  In fact, I can't even remember our last "real" Thanksgiving.  Three years ago my grandfather was really sick, two years ago I was in Spain, and last year my grandfather died the week before, so my mom and I spent the day eating pie in our pjs on the couch.

Losing both my grandparents last year definitely changed our holidays.  We didn't want to do "normal" anymore.  We even escaped Christmas by running away to Florida for a two week vacation.  This year, my mom decided we'd try to redefine our holidays.

We cooked a big, traditional Thanksgiving dinner for just the three of us.  We tried to recreate all our old dishes from Thanksgiving with our grandparents, and change the holiday to fit our new, sadly smaller version of our family.  I also needed some sense of normalcy to relax from the horrible semester I was having.

Of course, I was placed in charge of the desserts.  Every year my grandma made banana cream pie, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and occasionally a cake of some sort.  We didn't need all that for the three of us, so I just went with the banana cream and the pumpkin.

Old-Fashioned Banana Cream Pie
Recipe from Betty Crocker
Yield: 1 9" pie

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scones and Smiles

The first semester of grad school has been tough.  There has been lots of paper-writing, lots of hair-pulling, lots of reading, lots of medical problems, and lots of crying.  There has been very little socializing, little personal time, and almost no sleep.

Luckily, there has also been a lot of love.  I have found some of the most supportive friends at MSPP, and they have been monumental to me getting through the last few months, even though we rarely see each other outside of class.  Even though I have my amazing family and friends all over the world backing me up, sometimes you just need someone that knows exactly what you are going through at that moment.  I am so grateful to have you people in my life.

The best aspect of MSPP is its incredible sense of community.  One way they establish that is through sharing food and experiences.  Every week in clinical seminar, we take turns bringing in breakfast to share while we talk about cases and professional growth.  Last week was my turn, so I decided to make pumpkin scones!

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Chip Scones
Recipe adapted from Chew Out Loud
Yield: 16 small scones

Monday, October 29, 2012

Papers and Pumpkin Cookies

It's crunch time at school.  I had five papers due this week, and wrote a total of 40 pages.  I needed a baking break on Saturday.  Even though I went as a bottle of hot sauce, I felt more like superwoman.  I woke up and got donuts with Jay, went for a walk around Harvard Square, stopped by the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, wrote a 6 page paper, baked 5 dozen cookies, went to the gym, and was ready for the party by 9.

Since we were going to a Halloween party, I thought pumpkin cookies would be appropriate.  I didn't have a lot of time, so I flipped through the Cookie Bible and picked the first pumpkin recipe I saw.

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from the Cookie Bible
Yield: 4 1/2 dozen cookies

Candy Corn Cookies: Take 2

Last fall, I decided to make some fall-themed cookies around Halloween.  AKA- I used candy corn instead of chocolate chips.  It wasn't my brightest venture.  They were awkward and super chewy and the melted candy corn made a huge mess.

I decided to try again this year.  The boyfriend took his GRE, and I decided to make him these as a congratulatory present for him.  I took my own advice from my previous cookie adventure, and made some changes.  They still weren't perfect, but who knows, maybe I'll make them again next year and the third time will be a charm.

Candy Corn Cookies: Take 2
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happiness Project w/ Pumpkin Cake

Despite my bouts of intermittent constant stress, I have been doing better emotionally the past few weeks.  My happiness project has been working.  With the help of my supervisors, classmates, and friends and family, I have finally found ways to make time for me.  Even if the idea of taking time out of my schedule to focus on me freaks and stresses me out to no end, I have been forcing myself to do it.  On Columbus Day, I went for a hike with my boyfriend.  Tonight, I went for a run at sunset around Jamaica Pond.  And last week, a bunch of us went out to celebrate our classmate and friend, Lauren's birthday.

Naonet Woodlands in Dover, MA
All the first year PsyD students are pretty maxed out right now.  October seems to be the month when all of our major projects and papers and exams and other assignments are due.  For those of us in statistics, the anxiety is through the roof because we have our midterm tomorrow.  Why am I blogging if I have a midterm tomorrow you might ask?  Good question.  Maybe it's because my brain is fried and I need a break.  Or maybe it's because I feel fairly confident in the material (this probability is highly unlikely...).  Or maybe it's because I'm still working on my happiness project and need to use this blog as it was intended- as my therapy outlet.

Even though we still don't know each other super well, many of us first years in the PsyD program have bonded and share an incredible sense of love and respect for one another.  The people in my cohort have become my family, and I am so grateful to have such giving and compassionate individuals as my peers.  One of these amazing people is my friend, Lauren P.  We met on the first day of orientation, but sadly have no classes together.  We try our best to stay in touch despite having different schedules, and even though we don't see each other often, she is never more than a text away when I need an extra smile.  Eight of us went out to dinner at Bertucci's last Friday night to celebrate the birth of this wonderful girl.  And of course I, in typical Hannah fashion, called the restaurant ahead of time to make sure I could bring in my own cake.  They said yes, and the baking began...

Pumpkin Cake w/ Brown Butter Icing, topped with Pumpkin Seeds and Dried Cranberries
Recipes from Martha Stewart (I know, I NEVER use her recipes because she annoys me, but I have to give her some credit on this one, it's a pretty awesome f***ing recipe)
Yield: 1 8" double layer cake

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall and Friends

It's fall, it's fall, it's fall, YAY!  The weather is finally changing and the crisp fall air that tickles my bones is upon us.  There is something super magical about fall to me, and it always seems to lighten my mood.  Maybe it's the fresh, cool air when you wake up in the morning, or maybe it's the colors of the leaves, or maybe it's just that overall feeling of change and progress.  Whatever the reason, fall makes me happy.

Columbus day hike to Naonet Woodlands in Dover, MA
You know what else makes me happy?  Friends.  MSPP has given me so many new friends so far, and I am so grateful for every single one of them.  A few of us that are in almost every class together have formed a reading group to make our weeks less painful, and that has created a tremendous sense of solidarity and collaboration, which also lessens the stress.  However, as wonderful as it is sitting next to these amazing people for 7 hour stretches at a time, we really don't get to see each other outside of school.  We decided to have weekly study "parties," where we can do work, eat yummy snacks, and catch up on lives outside of grad school.

I hosted the first one this weekend, and since we are now officially in fall baking mode, I had to make something pumpkiny.  I chose pumpkin cheesecake bars.  Good choice, self.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars w/ a Caramel Swirl
Recipe loosely adapted from Taste of Home
Yield: 1 9x13" pan

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Housie Happiness

I have 5 wonderful housemates.  They are 5 really amazing girls, and I feel so fortunate to be living with them for the next year.  Unfortunately, I never really see them.  The rare occasions when I am home, I am either studying or sleeping.

We decided to amend this issue by having house dinners together every so-often.  Our first one was a few weeks ago, and Gwynneth and I were the first ones up to the plate (pun intended) to do the cooking.  We decided the easiest to do would be pizza.  Sadly, one of our housemates is gluten-free and lactose intolerant, and pizza isn't exactly the best food for someone with those issues.  So we made Becca her own pizza with gluten-free pizza crust and soy cheese.  It looked a little funny, but she said it was good, (although I think she was just being nice).

For dessert, I wanted to make a dessert pizza, like our dear friend at Wes, Mert the pizza guy, used to make.  It was an apple, cinnamon, cream cheese pizza, and it was to die for.  I wanted Becca to be able to eat it too, so we used the extra gluten-free crust and left out the cream cheese on part of it.

If you can have gluten and dairy, make a real one.  If not, this might be an OK substitute.

Gluten-Free Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Dessert Pizza
Recipe: by the seat of my pants
Yield: 1 large pizza

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chocolate and Changes

I am not happy.  OK, I said it.  The first step to changing something is admitting it, right?  Well I guess I can start now.

Grad school is hard.  Really hard.  I have no time for myself, no time for seeing friends, and no time for sleep.  The stress caught up to me and I got sick.  Today I spent five straight hours writing a paper, and I don't even understand what it says.  I am sad.  I snap at whoever is around me, and I cry on a daily basis.  And you know what?  That's not even the bad news.  Nope, the bad news is that I have a whole four years of this.

This is not a way to live for four years.  I am a happy person, and if I am not happy in a situation, I change it.  I'm not ready to drop out of grad school just yet, but I am ready to make some changes in my life.  Today is the first day of fall, the season of change, so today is a good day to start.  Instead of crying and trying to do my readings all day long, I took a break, and baked some cookies.  I opted out of going to a lecture I signed up for, and took time to clean the kitchen.  I might even take a nap.

I am going to school to learn to relieve people's suffering, and it's about time I learned to relieve my own.  Today marks the first day of my happiness project.  I am going to actively pursue that sense of life and hope that I've somehow lost.  These cookies are my first step.

Double Dark Chocolate Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Friday, September 21, 2012

Throwing Things Together

Normally, when I bake, I like a recipe to follow as a guideline.  Other times, I am in a hurry, and think I have a general idea of what I'm doing.  Sometimes, this works in my favor, and others, the whatever-it-was-that-came-out-of-the-oven-that-in-no-way-shape-or-form-resembles-something-edible ends up in the garbage.

This week was my week to bring breakfast in for my clinical seminar class, and I was faced with the choice of spending a lot of time and making something super delicious and awesome, or actually doing the homework for my classes.  I went with homework this time, (although, you might recall, I normally chose the baked good when I was at Wes), and decided to throw together an apple crisp.  I literally just chopped up some apples, and then threw whatever I thought was supposed to go into apple crisp in the pot.  It's almost metaphorical for my life right now: "just throw everything together, give it time to cook, and hope it comes out OK in the end."

It wasn't a super typical "crisp," but whatever apple hodge-podge it was was pretty darn delicious.  Unfortunately, I don't have a real recipe for you, but I'll give you a general idea of what I did.

Caramel Toffee Apple Crisp
Yield: 1 large pyrex dish of apple crisp

Snickerdoodles for Stacy

A lot of my class of 2012 friends have been doing really brave and exciting things since graduation in May.  Some have gone on to grad school, some have traveled the country, some have moved to cities halfway across the world, some have moved in with significant others for the first time, and some are just brave enough to move home again (which probably takes the most guts of them all!)

One of my best friends in the entire world, Stacy, is one of those brave people that I admire.  She went home to NYC to work for the summer, saved up her money, and then bought a one-way ticket to Chicago.  She had no job, no plan, and moved in with two girls she met on Craigslist, without ever seeing the place beforehand.

I have so much respect for this girl, yet I'm still selfishly sad that she has moved so far away.  She's no longer a 1.5 minute walk from my house at Wes, or even a mere 4-hour bus ride from Boston to NYC.  She's literally a thousand miles away, and I miss her.

Her birthday was last weekend, and unfortunately, I haven't yet come up with a way to ship my birthday cakes.  This means I couldn't send her something as awesome as I made for her last year.  I had just made brownies a few days before, so I decided cookies would probably be the easiest to make and ship quickly.  I didn't have time to go to the store, so I had to settle for what I had on hand, and came up with snickerdoodles. (I was also rushing, so I didn't have time to take step-by-step photos, sorry!)

Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book
Yield: 16 large cookies

Don't Stop Believin' Brownies

For those of you that have had the rare opportunity to speak with me the past few weeks, you know I've started grad school.  You also know that it's taken over my life, and that all I do is go to class, study, and go to my field placement, and go to work.  It's living, but it's not a life.  It's been really difficult to adjust, and it's taken its toll on my mental and physical well-being.  I've been doing a lot of crying, falling asleep at my desk, and have had a pretty lovely virus.

My second week of grad school, I decided I needed to make some brownies.  I didn't really have the time, but sometimes, you just have to make time for the things that make you happy.  Baking and eating brownies are two of those for me.  Between the brownies, the help of my 5 wonderful housemates, my boyfriend, my amazing peers at MSPP, and some strong encouragement from family back home, I am getting better.  I am feeling more hopeful and happier and supported and loved, and I want to thank everyone that has been there for me the last few weeks.  If I make it to my doctorate, it will be because of you amazing people.

I didn't have a whole lot of time to photograph and go step by step, but I am sure you are all incredibly smart people that can figure it out.

Salted Caramel Brownies
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 1 9x13" pan of brownies (read: 1 serving if you are really upset, or are menstrual)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Baked Blasphemy

Jay, (the boyfriend), and I have a lot of similar likes and dislikes.  The type of cookie we like is NOT one of them.  I like soft, super chewy, salty chocolate chip cookies.  He likes, as painful as it is to say, crispy cookies (dramatic music and thunder in the background).  To me, there is nothing sadder than having a cookie craving, and getting a cookie that makes crunching noises when you eat it.  Normally, I am so heartbroken that I throw it out after one bite.  Crispy cookies are absolutely blasphemous in my world.  But for some bizarre reason, they are my boyfriend's favorite.

I told Jay when we met that I would NEVER allow a crispy cookie to come out of my oven, unless I forgot a batch in the oven and burnt them.  Well, sometimes, people do crazy things for love.  That crazy thing for me was type "crispy chocolate chip cookie recipe" into my search bar yesterday.  Don't worry, fellow bakers and chewy-cookie-lovers, I haven't gone soft, (well, I guess in this place it would be hard), but Jay needed some cheering up.  He is deciding on whether or not to take a new job, and is pretty stressed out about it.  I decided to make him his favorite cookies for support.  (Everyone that knows my distaste for crispy cookies should be applauding my selflessness right now).

Crispy Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Recipe adapted from the Food Network Kitchens
Yield: 24 large cookies

Friday, August 17, 2012

Glitter Everywhere

There is glitter everywhere.  On my face, in my bed, on my floor, on the stairs, in the bathroom, the kitchen, and even on the cake.  That can only mean one thing: it was JoJo's birthday last night.  JoJo is one of my wonderful housemates for the summer, and one of my new favorite people on the planet.  She is one of the most fun-loving, happy-go-lucky people I have ever met in my life, and it is absolutely impossible to be sad or angry around her.  Yesterday was her 29th birthday, and she threw a super dressed-up, glitterfied extravaganza dinner that was so sparkly and over-accessorized that even Queen Elizabeth would be jealous.

Since I went home to NY for a few days, I didn't have too much time to make a super fancy cake with a lot of rare ingredients and flavor combos.  I came home, opened the fridge, and said, "OK- CAKE!"  I still had another 2lb bag of carrots that I needed to eat, so I decided on a simple carrot cake.  Of course, a simple carrot cake wasn't going to fit the theme of the party, or JoJo's sparkling and happy personality, so I dug around in my box of cake supplies and found decorating crystals.  Normally, I would say that glittery sprinkles have NO place on my birthday cakes.  I think they make cakes look tacky and cheap.  They belong on sugar cookies and kids' cupcakes, not a special, custom-made birthday cake.  THIS, however, was the exception.  JoJo's cake NEEDED glitter sprinkles.  No questions asked.  Here is what we got:

Carrot Cake with Raisins and Walnuts and Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens' New Baking Book
Yield: 1 8" double-layer cake

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Carrots and Craziness

As I mentioned in my last post, my life is kind of nuts.  I am super busy with work, trying to find a new job, get everything set for my classes and internship, finish my summer reading, and tie up the loose ends for my new lease in September.  Oh, and I'm also trying to have a tiny bit of a life, and did get to spend the whole weekend in PA with my boyfriend and his sister for a memorial 5k race, so my life isn't all bad.

What is difficult, however, is paying bills.  Since I couldn't find work for 2 months when I moved here, my bank account kind of emptied itself.  Because I am now an adult in the real world (god I miss Wesleyan), I am responsible for paying things like rent and buying groceries with real money.  Being a super saver grocery saver, I love weekly grocery sales.  (The boyfriend thinks I am nuts because I have so much fun looking through grocery coupon catalogs).  Last week, there was a sale on carrots: buy a 2lb bag and get one free!  "Yay!", I thought.  "I love carrots!"  Well, as much as I love carrots, it's kind of hard to go through four lbs by yourself before they go bad.  So I decided I needed to use some of them and bake something.  The following beautiful creation was born:

Semi-healthy Carrot Breakfast Muffins (with coconut flour, walnuts, raisins, and hemp seeds)
Adapted very loosely from my good friend, Betty
Yield: 1 dozen delicious muffins

Business, Busyness, and Blondies

I think I wrote about it in my last post, but I have a new job.  It's kind of exhausting and pretty overwhelming.  I'm not even sure if I like it.  It's emotionally and physically draining, and I go into work every day with the fear I'm going to go home with bruises.  Because of this, I really haven't had a lot of time for baking or blogging, but I have made a few things, so I'll just give you the recipes and give a more formal life update when things calm down.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Blondies (with coconut, walnuts, and peanut butter)
Adapted (to the point where it no longer resembles the original) from The Cookie Bible
Yield: 1 8x8" pan of blondies

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sweet Celebrations

I GOT A JOB! I GOT A JOB! I GOT A JOB!  YAY!  OK, OK, I know I already had a job, went for two days of training, and then quit, but that one sucked.  That was for a fancy schmancy restaurant dealing with uptight coworkers and snooty customers, and made me very unhappy.  This new job, however, is AMAZING.

Three years ago, I worked for Lexington, an organization that supports adult individuals with mental and physical disabilities.  It was by far the most rewarding and fulfilling job I've ever had.  It completely changed how I thought about life and my body and my health.  My new job is doing something similar, working for the Guild for Human Services, which is a school/residential program for youths ages 6-22 with mental health, behavioral issues, and disabilities.  I am beyond excited to be doing something I love again.  And this time it is with kids!!!

A celebration was in order, and since it was me creating the celebration for me, there was only one thing I wanted: chocolate.  Spanish chocolate mousse to be exact.  When I was 17, I spent three weeks in Cardona, Spain, with the family of a girl that stayed with me the summer before (her name is Olga, and both she and her family are wonderful).  Despite my horrible grasp of the Spanish language at the time, her family was extremely patient and kind to me, especially her mother, MercĂ©.  This amazing woman did her best to teach me some of my favorite dishes that she made.  The most important one to me was her chocolate mousse.  This mousse, like other mousses I had while I was in Spain, is very different from mousse here in the states.  Here, chocolate mousse often has a base of heavy cream, half and half, or includes gelatin; it is more like chocolate-flavored whipped cream.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this is just a whole different ball game.  The texture of this mousse is more like the inside of a truffle, only fluffier.  Hello food-gasm.

Spanish Chocolate Mousse
The best adaptation I could manage from the kitchen of Mercé
Yield: Approx 5-6 individual servings

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Milky Way Madness

I was extremely fortunate to magically find a sublet with six wonderful strangers this summer.  I love all of them so much.  The best part, is that everyone in the house has a significant other except one.  (It was two of us, until Jay waltzed into my life two weeks ago).  This means that our house really has more like 11 people in it.  Luckily for me, all of my housemates have equally wonderful SOs, so I've made many new friends my first summer in Boston, without even leaving my house.

One of these awesome significant others is Heather, (Resi's girlfriend).  Heather's birthday is next week, so I collaborated with Resi to make her a cake.  I haven't done a candy-themed cake in a while, and have been itching to do one, so I asked Resi what Heather's favorite candy bar was.  Dark chocolate Milky Way cake it is!

Unfortunately, there was a little miscommunication/misunderstanding on when she wanted the cake.  She said Monday, and I thought she meant this one (the one before her birthday), but she actually meant the next one (after her birthday).  So I made the cakes last night, stuck them in the freezer, and then texted Resi to ask what time they would be home for the cake.  I didn't hear from her, so I figured I'd just go ahead and assemble it anyway.  While I was putting the filling in, Resi texted me back saying she wanted it next week.  Oh well, now they were both surprised, I guess!  Cake is good any day, right?

Dark Chocolate Milky Way Cake
Cake recipe used from Emma's Cake
Yield: 1 two-layer 8" cake

Monday, July 9, 2012

Happiness Cookie Dough

Life has a funny way of taking you by surprise sometimes.  There have been so many positive things happening in my new life in Boston that I am starting to lose track of them individually.  Instead, my life is pretty much one giant ball of happiness cookie dough, and I can no longer separate which particular ingredients are making me so smiley.  I'll try to sort it out a little for you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chocolate Birthday Love

For some reason, I'm still kind of in a funk.  I think maybe I have just had too much to do and haven't been sleeping well.  The brownies I made last night definitely helped, but it's a pretty serious weird mood.  Luckily, it's my lovely housemate, Lilly's birthday today.  That means I have an excuse to make cake!

Her wonderful boyfriend is also quite the baker, so we collaborated to make her a chocolate cake.  However, Lilly is quite the athlete/fitness guru, so I wanted to make her something a little on the healthier side.  I found a recipe for a lower-sugar, whole wheat chocolate cake.  I also had very little time today, so the fact that it was a super simple recipe with only one bowl sold me.  It's also summer, which means I opted for a chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries instead of frosting.

Lighter Chocolate Cake with Homemade Chocolate Sauce and Fresh Strawberries (Dairy-free)
Cake recipe adapted from Eating Well
Chocolate sauce recipe adapted from david lebovitz
Yield: 2 8" chocolate cakes

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bad Day Brownies

Today was a bad day, for almost every person in my house.  JoJo and Suzie both had really stressful days at work, and Lilly had to figure out how to get a physical without health insurance.  I went for an absolutely miserable shopping trip, and ended up getting epically lost, and maxed out my credit card.  Today was a really bad Tuesday.  It was so bad, in fact, that even coffee couldn't cheer me up (I'm kind of like an addict, and every time I'm upset I drink coffee, kind of like an alcoholic turns to booze at the end of a really bad day).  I went to Starbucks, and shortly afterwards, I was in tears.

I eventually survived my trip, and got my necessary clothes for my new job.  When I got home, I flopped on my bed and blasted Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah until I could collect my thoughts.  I had to plan how to bring me out of this funk.  I tried dinner, which was delicious leftover sesame peanut noodles (from my really fun date last night) on top of tons of spinach, and the rest of Nick Campiglia's apple raspberry wine.  That should have done the trick, but it wasn't enough.  I still felt out of it.  There is only one thing to bring an entire house out of a funk that bad: brownies.

When I was waiting forever at the library to print my insurance papers, and sadly watching a man have a psychotic breakdown, I found a cookie book, (forgot the name- sorry), completely out of place on one of the shelves.  It was clearly meant for me to see.  I flipped through it, and a recipe for overnight brownies caught my eye.  Apparently, if you let the brownie batter sit in the pan overnight in the fridge, the flour and cocoa are hydrated, and you end up with moister, more delicious brownies.  Of course, TODAY was the bad day, not tomorrow, so I decided to let the batter sit for 2 hours in the fridge, and said it was good enough.  We needed those brownies stat.

I also took a really blurry picture of the ingredients on my phone, so I kind of just guessed at whatever I couldn't read.

Bad Day Brownies
Recipe kind of adapted from a recipe in a random cookie book in the library, but mostly made up
Makes 1 8x8" pan of brownies (aka- not a lot if everyone is upset)

Super fudgey and amazing

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Beginnings and Old Habits

Well, it's certainly been a while since my last post, over a month in fact.  For that, I apologize.  You see, I was rather busy with that whole graduating college/moving thing.  Oh, and the fact that I had also resolved to stop baking.  It's a rather expensive/unhealthy habit, and I figured that since I would be on a poor grad student budget with a full class schedule and job (hopefully I'll get one soon), I might have to cut down on my favorite hobby.  Blogging also takes up a considerable chunk of time.  I figured, OK, undergrad done=blog done.

Then why am I still writing, you ask?  Well, old habits die hard.  Baking is my therapy.  It is what I turn to whenever I am sad, lonely, or just plain bored.  I guess there are worse habits to have, so I might as well just embrace it.  Baking is what makes me happy, and I like being happy, and I'm not ready to take that away from myself just yet.

I moved to Boston a week ago.  I LOVE it here.  My house is beautiful, it's in a great location, and my housemates are more wonderful than I ever could have hoped for.  I am ready to call this my home for the next four years.  Unfortunately, it can't all be smiles and rainbows.  Moving to a new city can be tough, and even though I know a few people here, I've been feeling a little lonely.  It could be the small-town-girl-in-the-big-city effect, or it could just be Wes-withdrawal and the fact I no longer live within a 5-minute walking radius of all my closest friends.  Or it could just be the constant rejection of job applications.

I baked some muffins last week for a brunch my housemate through for her teaching aids, and it felt pretty good, but I wasn't too proud of their texture, so they didn't really cheer me up.  Last night, we had a house meeting, so I decided to bake some cookies.  I had to improvise with the ingredients a bit and I was worried how they'd turn out, but in the end, they were amazing.  They reminded me that this is what I do, this is my passion, and this is what makes me happy.  So I'm going to keep baking through doctoral school.  You're welcome to follow me along my journey.

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Recipe adapted from the Cookie Bible
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quite the Pair

I am generally a fairly patient person.  Of course, any of my friends would tell you, that this is far from the case when it comes to food.  I mostly eat cereal, yogurt, and salads, because I can't stand waiting for things to cook.  When I am hungry, I want to be fed 10 minutes ago.  The same is kind of true when it comes to baking.  I want to mix things in a bowl, put it in the oven, and be done.  Yeast breads don't give you that option.  You have to let the dough rise, and then punch it down, and then let it rise again.  I HATE making anything with yeast.  Cinnamon buns, however delicious they may be, are one of my worst enemies.  They take FOREVER.

Last night, I was supposed to go to my friends' place for a wine and game night, but I decided to make cinnamon buns first and they took so long that I didn't get to go play games.  Curse you little bundles of doughy cinnamon sugar goodness...

You're probably wondering why I would make them if I just told you how much I despise them.  Well, it's a long story, a few years in the making actually.  But we'll skip all the details.  All you need to know is that my friend Justin is a very important person in my life, and that he likes cinnamon buns.  That was kind of our thing: whenever I found something cinnamon-bun related, I would post it on his wall.  So for his birthday this year, I decided a few months ago that I was going to make him a GIANT cinnamon bun.  Then, about two weeks ago, out of the blue, he tells me that cinnamon buns are no longer his favorite, but instead he likes apple crisp.  Um, excuse me?  I don't think so.  I had been planning this thing for months, and you're just going to pick something ordinary and boring and unattractive as a birthday cake?  Great.

There was no way I was going to make him a pan of apple crisp for his birthday, so I talked it over with Stacy, and she came up with the idea of combining the two.  It ended up in the end being more of just apple cinnamon buns and it kind of lacked the "crisp" aspect, but I think it gets my point across.  All that matters is that I had no idea what I was doing, and they turned out AMAZING.  Paula Deen, you are my heroine for this base recipe.  I was trying to rush to get to game night, so I'm sorry I don't have step by step photos, but they are really easy to make, so just follow Paula's instructions and you should have no trouble.

Apple Cinnamon Buns
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen
Yield: About 2 dozen

Finally All Legal

Our entire house is finally legal.  Chandra and I are the old ladies that are 22, the other Hannah had her 21st birthday last month, and now, the last of the four is finally legal.  Leah completed 21 years of life on Monday, but unfortunately her birthday fell during finals.  We didn't have time to bake for her until after I finished my LAST UNDERGRADUATE PAPER (sorry, really felt the need to emphasize that), so we made her a belated birthday pie.

I didn't really know what to make her, and then I remembered that I had a bag of last summer's elderberries in the freezer.  Now, I've never had an elderberry, but back home, they are considered gold.  They are really hard to come by, and even more difficult to pick and sort, so elderberry pies are cherished in my family.  I decided that since Leah is a huge foodie, (she just recently started her own food blog!), she is one of the only people I know that would appreciate the rarity of this strange berry.

Stacy and I really just improvised with this pie, and Leah ate it with her friends, so I'm not really sure how it turned out.  I hope it was ok!

Elderberry Pie w/ Crumb Topping
Recipe from innate pie genius

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mistake Macaroons

Last night was our last class for our student forum on translation.  We were having a mini-fiesta/wrap-up session and all brought snacks.  I really wanted to bake something, but Tuesday was a pretty busy/exhausting day, and I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.  I was totally drained, but had already committed to making something, so I decided to pull together some strength and make some cookies.  I'm still trying to use up what I have in my cupboards, and what did I find but a big bag of shredded coconut?  I thought, MACAROONS!  Perfect; they are easy and fast to make.  Only problem is I think macaroons are boring on their own.  They need a little extra something.  The last time I made them, I used slivered almonds. 

My favorite ones are from Linda's Sweet Memories Bakery, and hers have a cherry on top.  I drove up to the campus grocery store to get maraschino cherries.  Some jerk cut me off just as I was turning into the parking lot and took the last of only four parking spaces.  I was in a hurry so I parked illegally, and ran into Weshop so I could get in and out before I got ticketed.  Of course, they didn't have maraschino cherries, so I decided dried cherries would have to do.  I found the stack of them on the shelf, grabbed one off the top, waited in line, paid for it, and rushed home.  As my luck would have it, when I pulled the container out of the bag, I realized that I had actually grabbed dried blueberries which were in the wrong stack instead.  I wasn't going back there, so I figured they'd have to do.  And you know what?  They were a hit.  Win.

Coconut Macaroons w/ Dried Blueberries
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 4 dozen macaroons

Sarah's Sangria Cake

Ok, so I've done a lot of baking over the years, and have come up with some pretty amazing creations.  But this cake, by far, surpasses anything else I have ever made or conceptualized.  It was DELICIOUS, moist, light, and one of the coolest ideas I've had in my life.  So how did I come up with this genius idea, you may ask?

Well, we must first start with the reason I made the cake in the first place.  Fate would have it that I would not end up staying abroad for a full year last year, throwing my housing at Wes upon return to chance.  As luck would have it, I sent out a Facebook message pleading all of my friends if they knew someone that was looking for a roommate.  My friend, Sarah Q, told me that her friend, Johnny was looking for someone, and gave him my email.  Johnny worked for ResLife, and put a plan into action for me to live with him and two of his friends (who were both also returning from abroad) even though I had never met any of them.  Now, this situation could have gone horribly, horribly wrong, but it didn't.  I came out of that semester with three of the most wonderful new friends anyone could ask for.  We all bonded in our special ways, Johnny and I with our obsessive cleaning, Julia and I with our boy gossip, and Sarah and I with our foodie-ness (she is from NYC, so it is in her blood).

Last year, I made Sarah a really awesome Black Magic Cake befitting of even the snobbiest foodie.  I knew that this year it would be tough to top it, but I had to try.  It's getting to the point in the semester where I don't have a lot of points yet, so I have to choose my ingredients carefully.  I opened the cupboards and found a bottle of merlot, and was immediately inspire.  Sarah was going to be missing the Tour de Franzia for a family affair at home, so I thought that a birthday cake was an appropriate way of getting her wine.  I didn't want to make any more frosting, so I decided that I would decorate it similarly to Stacy's cake and use whipped cream.  When I thought of what I could possibly put on top of the whipped cream, I decided on fruit, and then decided that the fruit in combination with the wine would make a sangria cake, and the most amazing cake idea was born.

Sarah's Sangria Cake
Chocolate Merlot cake, brushed with Merlot, filled and topped with fruit-infused whipped cream, garnished with wine-soaked fruit
Basic cake recipe adapted from Epicurious

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Black(berry) Beauty

This week was my friend Heidi's 22nd birthday.  Heidi and I have a lot in common.  She does ballet, loves horses (rides on the equestrian team), and her name also starts with H!  Heidi is a lot of fun, and she always has something to say that will make you laugh.  She is also such a naturally sweet person, that I didn't think a cake would be appropriate.  I decided that a pie would much better reflect her personality.  Although I really hate making pies out of season of the fruit they feature, I decided to make an exception since I had a bag of blackberries in my freezer that I had picked over the summer. 

Of course, I can't make just a plain, boring, blackberry pie.  This is a birthday pie, so it has to be special.  I decided to dress it up with some coconut, mainly because that is what I had in my cupboards.  I present to you:

Blackberry Coconut Pie w/ Crumb Topping
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cookie Cups

At RVS this week, we made some really amazing loaded blondies.  Since I have recently discovered the horrible, sad truth that I am allergic to chocolate, I've become increasingly attached to the idea of blondies.  For our final class of our student forum last night, we were all supposed to bring snacks.  I really don't like the idea of not bringing something homemade, so I decided to whip up a batch of blondies using what I had in my cupboards.  Of course, I really hate bar cookies because they are rarely pretty to serve, and decided to make them in mini-muffin pans.  The result: cookie cups!  They have the shape of a muffin or cupcake, but the texture and flavors of a cookie.  It's genius!!!

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookie Cups
Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: 15 assorted sizes of mini cookie cups

Friday, April 27, 2012

Holy Holly Haitian Cake

I have the greatest boss in the world.  His name is Holly (pronounced OH-lee), and he is from Haiti.  Holly is by far the nicest, funniest, and most compassionate man I will ever have the pleasure of working with.  Because most of us student employees are seniors, we really wanted to do something special for him this year before we graduate.  He doesn't like it when people do things for him, so we made sure to pump out some information on his birthday and favorite cake from him much earlier in the semester, so that he wouldn't suspect anything.

He said the only kind of cake he likes is Haitian cake.  Of course, I had no idea what that was, and when I typed "Haitian cake" into Google, I got far too many variations to have any idea which one he likes.  I decided to email his wife and see if she had a recipe or just at least a better clue of what he was talking about.  (His wife is a professor here at Wes, and may be one of the only other people on this campus to match her husband in terms of niceness and warmth).  She very quickly responded and sent me the link to this recipe.  I decided it was something I could handle and got to work.

We always like to pick on Holly because of his diet.  He really doesn't like fruit, except for maybe bananas, and you rarely see him eat vegetables (unless you count the onions in his dirty rice and beans).  He most frequently eats fried chicken, grilled cheese, pizza, french fries, and anything else that would clog your arteries.  That's why it came as no surprise to me that his favorite cake would contain no fewer than FOUR sticks of butter and EIGHT eggs.  Holly's birthday is a special occasion every year because we are celebrating one more year that he did not die from cardiac arrest, so I figured that this cake was very fitting for that reason.

Traditional Haitian Butter Cake (Gateau au Beurre) w/ Honey Lemon Syrup
Recipe adapted from

Chocolate Torture

One day last week my friend Hannah came over to work on a translation project with me.  (I know, you must think I just talk about myself in the third person all the time, because I talk about all my "friends" named Hannah.  Well, I'm being honest.  There 24 Hannahs at this school, and I just so happen to know a lot of them.)

Anyway, one of the other Hannahs came over, and mentioned that she'd been to my house previously to cook with one of my housemates, and noticed all the pictures from my dessert portfolio hanging on my cupboards.  She's not much of a baker herself, but would love to learn, and asked if we could have a baking date before I graduated.  Lucky for her, I had Emma's cake coming up, so we had an excuse.  Unfortunately, most of my cakes are two-day affairs, so since I'd made the cake itself the day before our date, I told her to pick out a recipe.  She chose Black Gold cookies: little gooey, intensely chocolatey, circles of love, native to her home state of Texas.  They are pretty much like a mostly flourless chocolate torte in cookie form (the main ingredient is chocolate, instead of flour and butter like in most cookies).

Definitely food porn
Very unfortunately for me, I gave up chocolate for the week to test whether or not am, indeed, allergic to it.  It took every ounce of strength for me not to try them.  They looked AMAZING.

Black Gold Cookies
Recipe adapted from Veronica's Cornucopia

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Chocoholic's Dream

This year, I became friends with a wonderful girl named Emma.  Not only is she the absolute sweetest person you will ever meet, she is also my other half.  She shares of my love of booty shakin' and wooping in ZUMBA®, rugged mountain men, baking, and intensely chocolately things.  When it came to making her cake, there was no question that it would be filled with chocolate amazingness.

Unfortunately, I discovered some of the most tragic news on the face of the planet: I may possibly be allergic to chocolate.  I have had sporadic hives on my legs for a month now, and they itch so badly I want to take a chain saw to my legs instead of my finger nails.  Well, I recently noticed that these hives seem to appear whenever I eat chocolate.  I decided to go for a week without chocolate to see if this was the cause.  I did OK making the cake, and didn't lick the spatula or have even a drop of chocolate mousse!  But when the cake was cut, I was powerless against the force of a supposed-to-be-four-layered cake filled with chocolate deliciousness, and caved and ate a slice.  I broke out in hives about half an hour later, but it was so worth it :)

Emma's housemate and my dear friend, Alyssa, came over to help me make the cake, and my other friend, Hannah, helped me make the mousse the next day, so many thanks and credit to them!

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake w/ Chocolate Ganache
Recipe adapted from Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nutella & Kahlua Love

This will be a rather short post, because there are not enough words in any language to describe how much my friend Mel means to me.  She gives me this amazing sense of calm and positive energy and peace that cannot be expressed, but only felt.  She is one of the most incredible human beings I have ever met, and therefore deserves a 21st birthday cake that is equally as incredible.  It needed to be something rich, decadent, slightly sinful, with a whole lot of love put into it.  This is what was born to celebrate the birth of Mel:

Nutella Cheesecake with Oreo Crust and Kahlua Ghiradelli Chocolate Sauce
Recipe adapted from Pink Parsley

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Send Silence Packing

Tomorrow is Wesleyan's Send Silence Packing event.  SSP is an event sponsored by Active Minds, Inc. to raise awareness to the fact that 1,100 college students commit suicide in the US each year.  We want to break the silence and the stigma.

Our Active Minds chapter leader at Wes asked us to bake for the event, so I threw together some cookies.  I'm not super proud of them, but I was in a rush and working with what I had in my cupboards.

Chewy Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk Cookies 
Recipe adapted from the back of a Reese's chips bag

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Senior Survival

Wesleyan senior theses and essays are due this Thursday.  That means there a lot of stressed-out and unhappy seniors this weekend.  Those that are pretty much done are just nit-picking and putting their final edits in.  Those that aren't that lucky are spending every waking hour in the library (and a good portion of their sleeping hours too).  Stacy and I aren't writing theses, so we decided to bake some cookies to cheer up our friends that are.

Stacy adapted this recipe by subbing in coconut and almonds for the espresso to make Almond Joy Shortbread Cookies.
Almond Joy Shortbread Cookies

I sort of made up my own, adapting the basic recipe on the back of a Toll House bag:

Cherry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Yesterday was my housemate's 21st birthday.  Her name is also Hannah.  Two Hannahs living in the same house can get very confusing.  We were supposed to come up with nicknames for the both of us at the beginning of the semester.  She was supposed to be "B" or "Hannah B" and I was supposed to be either "Banana" or "Monkey" because that's what some other people unfortunately call me, not mentioning any names, *cough Nik and Lauren cough*, but somehow we never actually followed through with them.

When we sent out texts and emails telling people to come over to celebrate Hannah's birthday with cake, people got confused about whose birthday it was.  "Wait, wasn't her birthday in February?" and "Hannah made her own cake?"  NO.  The OTHER Hannah's birthday was yesterday.  Now that we've got that straight, let's move on to the cake.

Birthday girl and her cake
My other housemate, Leah, and I collaborated on this little number.  We emailed a bunch of recipe links to each other, but couldn't really come to a decision.  We eventually decided that since the day we made the cake, (Monday), was National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, that we would make a peanut butter and jelly cake.  I'm sorry if this brings to mind this stupid song- I don't know where it came from, or why it is so popular, but I do know how much I hate it.

Anyway, Leah had made our friend Joel absolutely delicious peanut butter and jelly cupcakes 2 weeks ago, and we decided to convert those into a cake.  It didn't turn out quite as delicious as the cupcakes, but it was still pretty delicious.  Leah and I have both been really busy and stressed, so we didn't get a chance to take step-by-step photos on this one.  But that's OK, because I don't suggest using it anyway.  The cake was a lot drier than the cupcakes were, and for some reason was a really weird texture.  The frosting was really overwhelmingly sweet.  We almost made people sign a waiver stating that if they got diabetes after a bite of that cake that it wasn't our fault.  If I were going to make it again, I would probably use a different recipe for the cake, and maybe use a peanut butter cream cheese frosting to cut the sweetness.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Healthy Birthday!

My friend, Stacy, and I have both recently decided that we are eating way too much sugar to be healthy.  I've noticed I typically consume some form of sugar or dessert 2-3 times a day, and lately, I've been noticing blood-sugar related headaches and dizziness.  That isn't good.  Both Stacy and I have a family history of diabetes, and it's time we turn our lives around.  We're trying to help each other through it.

One of my best friends from home, Christina, celebrated her 22nd birthday last week.  Usually, I'd send some sort of baked good to arrive on my friend's birthday.  Unfortunately, I had to send her a belated gift this year because all my baking supplies were at school.  When I went into the kitchen to bake  today, I was craving sugar.  Sometimes I really feel like an addict; I start shaking and opening all the cupboards, searching for something sweet.  Luckily, I anticipated this ahead of time and did not buy anything sugary on my last grocery run.  I decided that I would probably not be safe around a large amount of cookie dough this morning, so I chose to make Christina some healthy granola instead.  My poor friends, whenever I'm on a health-kick, they are too, whether they like it or not.

I pretty much just threw whatever I had in my cupboards into a bowl with some maple syrup and a few tablespoons of coconut oil.  This granola has oats, raisins, craisins, chopped almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.

For the procedure, I roughly followed this one from Joy of Baking.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My culinary veins are filled with... mayonnaise?!

Well, I am finally home on Spring Break to recuperate from the crazy first half of the semester.  I am catching up on sleep and letting my back heal.  My housemate, Chandra, also came home to Canjo with me for a few days, so she can get to know my family better and see the place I call home.

My dad's birthday was yesterday.  We were hoping to surprise him with a little get-together, but he's a pretty wise old owl and is not easily fooled.  He knows I am too good a daughter to just blow off his birthday, so I decided to surprise him in another way: his cake.  Since I am a broke college student, and soon-to-be flat-broke grad student, my birthday gifts to my friends and family are usually edible.  For my dad's birthday this year, I decided to surprise him with a very special cake: his mom's chocolate mayonnaise cake.  I know, I know, it sounds disgusting.  I was pretty appalled myself when I read the title and didn't even want to try it, but since it was my grandmother's most famous cake, I threw hesitation to the wind and swallowed my culinary pride to make it for my dad.

My cousins and aunts put together a collection of my paternal grandmother's recipes, and gave it to some of the younger generations for Christmas.  I had yet to try any of her recipes, but decided that this was the perfect occasion.  What better birthday cake could someone ask for than your favorite cake your mother used to make?  I even used her buttercream recipe (although I have to admit, I didn't love it as much as the one I usually use).   My dad seemed pretty pleased, so I think I hit the mark on this one.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cookies for a Cause

These cookies mark my 5th baking adventure in a week's time.  I made two separate batches of the coconut chocolate chunk cookies on Monday and Tuesday, then Greta's cake Thursday and Friday, Tiramisu on Saturday, and now these little beauties on Sunday.

Even though I had a very busy day and was pretty tired after an AMAZING St. Patty's themed Zumba® class, I decided to whip up a quick batch of cookies for a bake sale.  My friends, Tresne and Katie, started a student group called Students for Sayaxche, which supports the partnership between Middlesex Hospital and Sayaxche Hospital in Guatemala.  We spent our last student forum class (titled Issues in International Health Partnerships) talking with Luis, an EMT/ER tech who is helping to lead volunteer medical trips.  Seeing as I have absolutely no services to offer in the medical field/have a fainting disorder which would make me pass out probably 4 times a day, I've decided the best way for me to support them and their initiatives is by baking to support their bake sale tonight.

I was too sore to go to Weshop to buy any more ingredients, (I'm still nursing a back injury), so I just used whatever ingredients I had on hand, and came up with these:

Giant Cinnamon Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible

Breaking Down the Bucket List

If you haven't already heard, Stacy and I created a second semester senior bucket list of all the things we want to accomplish before we graduate.  Last spring, my friend, Ariel, and I talked about making tiramisu from scratch together.  Then we ran out of time in the semester, but figured we'd get time in the fall when we were living together.  We somehow never got around to it while she lived here, either, so I decided to put it on the bucket list, so it HAD to be accomplished.

We're approaching the middle of the semester, and I'm not quite half-way through the bucket list.  Last weekend we attempted to find red dresses and then ate at First and Last Tavern (where we had tiramisu for dessert).  I decided that this was the weekend for our own tiramisu.  I went to Price Chopper and bought the mascarpone, and then to the liquor store to buy the Kahlua.  If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right.

Homemade Tiramisu
Recipe from here
Lady Finger recipe from Joy of Baking

Reese's Explosion Cake

This blog post may be a little short, consider I have to write three of them today, plus a staff meeting, plus Zumba®, plus yoga, plus work, plus a group meeting.  I also went to bed at 4am, and then my body just decided it would be a good idea to wake up at 10am.  Thanks, internal clock.

In terms of life updates, I officially submitted my enrollment deposit for the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in Boston, and will be there for at least the next 4 years in their clinical psych doctoral program.  YAY!

OK, on to the cake.  Friday was my wonderful friend Greta's birthday.  She's normally a huge fan of my birthday cakes, especially the chocolate ones, so of course I had to make her one that was super chocolatey and decadent.  My friend, Joel, showed me this cake a few weeks back, and I decided I wanted to try to make my own, so I figured this was the perfect occasion.

Birthday girl and her cake!
Unfortunately, it was a huge disaster.  The cake crumbled, the ganache stiffened into a putty, and it just generally looked like a mess.  That's why it's called a Reese's "explosion" cake- it looks like a bomb went off inside it.  If I make it again, I am going to leave it alone and not try to cut the sides down and make it look like a big Reese's cup.  The flavors speak for themselves.

Reese's Explosion Cake
Cake recipe adapted from here (one of my favorite and easiest go-to chocolate cake recipes)

Monday, February 27, 2012


I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I have a super power.  I seem to have this incredible ability to get sick or injured at the most inconvenient times possible.  Right now, I am teaching 4 Zumba® classes a week, and I managed to either tear or seriously pull a muscle in my lower back.  It could have been the 7-mile outdoor run I did on Thursday, or the super-intense Zumba® class on Friday, or a combination of the two.  Whatever the cause, I've spent the last 2 days hobbling around like a little 80-yr-old woman with osteoporosis.  Today, the pain was unbearable, and nothing I did seemed to help, so I reached for an Oxycodone I had left over from last semester's idiopathic pain episode.  As helpful as this was for my back, (and my mood!), it kind of took away all hopes for productivity.  So, instead of doing my readings, I decided to bake some cookies instead!

A few weeks ago, I had to go to San Francisco for a grad school interview, and promised that I would make cookies for whoever covered my shifts in the mail room.  My dear friend Mel came through for me, as she always does, so I decided to make her some cookies as a way to say "thank you."

She and I have had several conversations about language, like how certain phrases mean different things in different languages, or how some words don't exist or aren't translatable to other languages, or how the languages we use shape our personalities.  When I decided to translate "thank you" from English to cookie, I came up with this:

Coconut Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sushi Serenity

Tomorrow is the 3-year anniversary of the worst day of my life: the day I lost my best friend, Kurtis.  February 24th and the days leading up to it have been pretty difficult for me the past 2 years, and this year was no exception.  In addition to all the stress of trying to choose a grad school and overextending myself, I have been trying to grasp the passing of three entire years since that 5am phone call that changed my life forever.  To say that I've been a complete emotional wreck the past 2 weeks would be a bit of an understatement.

Over the years, I've found that the best way to cope with the loss of someone you loved that much is to surround yourself with the love of those that are still here.  Love is not something I'm short of these days.  I am so fortunate to have some of the greatest friends and the most supportive family anyone could ask for.

Birthdays are special events that tend to multiply all the love that's floating around.  A birthday is a marking of the passing of time that is completely different from New Years.  New Years seems to represent renewal, a chance to start over.  New Years is the time to forget all the bad parts of the past year and give yourself a fresh start.  Birthdays, however, mark the continuation of time.  They are milestone markers to celebrate all the things you've accomplished in a year.  A birthday is a celebration of life and having lived it with the people you love.

My new friend, Alyssa, had a birthday today, and it's proven to be a great way to get me through this week.  She and the rest of our friends decided on a three-day celebration, aka, Rassi Fest 2012.  Last night, we all went out for all-you-can-eat-sushi at Sushi Palace in Hamden and then bar night on Main Street.  Tonight we celebrated with dirt cups and sushi cakes, and tomorrow night is the big fiesta.  Being a part of all this birthday love is helping to remind me of how fortunate I am to still be here, surrounded by dozens of people that I love.

As much as I love Alyssa, I didn't really have the energy to do an all-out cake this week.  I decided to replicate a cake made by my baking twin and fellow blogger, Meg.  I have been wanting to make this cake for a year and a half, but just never had the right occasion.  When I found out that Alyssa loves sushi, I knew I had to make it for her.

Sushi Cake (AKA- Rice Krispie Treat)
Replicated from Meg's sushi cake for Jillian

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Vexation

I am a hopeless romantic.  I will come straight out and admit it.  I am, by no means, a cynic about love or relationships.  I do, however, loathe Valentine's Day.  I think it's a far too commercial and materialistic manifestation of "love."  It takes all of the beauty and romance of love and turns them into a billion dollar industry of cards, chocolates and flowers.  Some say it is a day to "remind that special someone that you care," and I will let them think that way.  However, I completely disagree.  I think there are much better ways to show someone that you care, and that those little things can be done throughout the year.  Valentine's day has become the one day a year to make up to your significant other for screwing up the rest of the year.  It's even better than an anniversary, because it's so in-your-face and on the same day every year, so you can't miss it.

I used to love Valentine's Day in grade school, especially when my "boyfriend," Jeffrey, gave me chocolates and a teddy bear and colored-in coloring book pages of the 101 Dalmatians in Kindergarten and the 1st grade.  In college, however, today is a day I despise, mostly because I work in the mail room.  I see everyone else get care package after care package, all reeking of chocolate and decorated with glittery hearts and lips.  We also get dozens of flower deliveries, and you can imagine how I feel about those given my allergies to every plant under the sun.

Despite my strong feelings of hatred for this day, I still like to use it to make my friends smile.  If I am annoyed on Valentine's Day, I'm sure all of my friends feel the same way.  So to make their days a little brighter, I bake all my Wes friends cookies, and send a few care packages out to Rochester.  I used 8 hours of baking yesterday to cope with my negative feelings about today.  If that's not using baking as therapy, I don't know what is.

Valentine's Sugar Cookies with Almond Glaze
Recipe adapted from a Sweet Pea Chef
*I made two batches, one with butter and one with Earth Balance (for my dairy-free friend, Leada!)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Real Reason to Celebrate

Things have been going really well lately in the busy life of Hannah.  I finally have a complete schedule that I am happy with, I'm getting to see my friends more this semester, I have a grad school interview in San Francisco at the end of the week, my birthday is on Thursday, and my first Zumba® class of the semester is today.  I really don't think my life could be any better right now.

Of course, when things are going so well, I tend to get very appreciative and emotional.  I've been so happy I could cry, and in fact, I have, several times this week, actually.  One of the things that I have been so happy about is being at Wes.  As hard as I try to not think about my impending graduation in 111 days (but who's counting?), the beautiful weather and all the fun I'm having with the people I love is making me think about how much I'm going to miss this place.

One of the things I love most about Wesleyan is the people, and how everyone supports one another.  My friend, Joe, and I met through Active Minds last semester, and despite not knowing each other super well, we have somehow become each others' mental health supports.  He is an incredible individual with so much passion for life and helping others, and I truly admire him.  He lays his issues out on the table for everyone to see, in the hopes that it will help others come forward with their problems as well.

Last night, Joe threw a party to celebrate a very important accomplishment.  Joe is a recovered alcoholic, and this month is the one-year anniversary of his sobriety.  I am so incredibly proud of him for this, and I asked him to have the honor of making his cake.

Now, what cake could one possibly make that would encapsulate all of the feelings associated with this kind of event?  I wanted something innocent and whimsical that represented how we used to enjoy ourselves as kids, before alcohol became the supposed prerequisite for a good time.  The first thing that popped into my head was a root beer float.  Ding, ding, ding!  We have a winner.  I decided to turn a root beer float into a cake.  So, without further ado, I present to you, Joe's 1-Year Sobriety Cake.

Root Beer Float Ice Cream Cake
Cake recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rewind: Rum Balls

This year is supposed to be a good year.  Since New Years' Day, I have been happy.  I like where my life is and where it's going.  I have felt free of stress and worry and drama.

Today, the stress came back.  It hit me that I am a second semester senior, I am fighting my way into classes, I don't like any of the ones I am enrolled in, I can't find a space for my Zumba® class, and a 4-hour Monday shift in the mail room starting at 8am will kill anyone.  Today I felt a tug away from the good place I've been the last few weeks.  Then, after dinner, I decided that this time, I'm just not going to let it happen.  Nope, I'm going to hit REWIND and not let it get to me.  I've come too far to break down so early in the semester.  I've found my happiness, and I plan to keep it.

So, in true Hannah-fashion, I decided to combat my emotional problems with a mixing bowl.  Instead of doing my homework and letting my anger build up, I poured all of my frustration and stress into a batch of rum balls.  My friend, Justin, asked me if angry baked goods taste better than regular baked goods.  I answered yes, I think they do, because there is more passion in them.  I am a firm believer that nothing in life is worth anything without passion.  That being said, these are going to be some freaking good rum balls...

My friend and Zumba® sister, Carol, gave me the recipe for her grandmother's rum balls.  Because they combine two of my favorite things, cookies and rum, I've always been a huge fan of the things.  I've been waiting for just the right occasion to make them, and I figured that since I was stressed and just happened to have all of the ingredients for a slightly adapted version in my cupboards, that tonight was the night.  So, without further ado, my adaptation on Carol's grandma's recipe.

Chocolate, Coconut & Cashew Rum Balls
Recipe adapted (a lot) from Carol's grandmother's cookbook