Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pretending at Passover

I've mentioned before that Jay and I attend weekly Shabbat dinners hosted by our dear friends, Suzie and JoJo.  (We've decided that Suzie and JoJo are our ideal couple, and we want to be the shorter, straight version of them, but that's another story entirely).  Anyway, Jay and I have had other birthday and work obligations that last couple Fridays, but we were finally able to go to Shabbat this week.  We were lucky because this particular Shabbat is occurring during Passover.  I knew nothing about Passover until JoJo posted the story of the holiday as told by cats.

Jay was raised Catholic and I was raised as an eclectic mix of Methodist, Reformed Protestant, and Cookies Cure All (shared by only myself and the cookie monster).  Eventually I strayed away from religion altogether in my rebellious high school years, and then came to appreciate the traditions and psychological function of religion as I was exposed to different ones in college.

We've really enjoyed learning more about Jewish practices and rituals at our weekly Shabbat dinners.  We've been so grateful for Suzie and JoJo and all their friends to so graciously accept us into their community and teach us about their ways.  I've really been trying to understand the Kosher rules at Shabbat, which has involved extensive Googling and annoyingly texting Suzie every two minutes about what my desserts can and cannot contain.  I may not always know what I'm doing, but I can pretend.  And so far, faking it has led to some pretty tasty Kosher-friendly desserts.  This week was especially challenging with the increased strictness of Passover, but in the end, we were pretty pleased with the result:

Chocolate-Covered Macaroons (Dairy- and Wheat-Free)
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Boston Cream Birthday

Some of you may have heard about the Great Donut Adventure I have been on with my boyfriend, Jay.  For those of you that haven't heard, I will fill you in briefly.  When I moved to Boston, I made a bucket list of things to do in Boston.  Pretty high up on the list was "eat a Boston Cream Donut in Boston."  Jay and I decided that we should only try the best ones in the city, so we did a rather extensive search for "the best Boston Cream Donut in Boston."  The results were saddening and shocking: There is no consensus!  No one can agree on which establishment makes the best donuts in the area!  There of course was only one logical solution to this problem: we would have to determine which is the best ourselves.  And what better way to do that than to try all the independent donut shops in the Greater Boston Area?  Our quest had begun.

Our donut adventure that spanned the last 7 months really became about so much more than eating donuts.  The Great Donut Adventure became an early Saturday morning ritual that held our relationship together in the throws of my stress and depression.  It was the only time we got to spend together without focusing on school or work.  Donuts eventually became the symbol of our time together.  So I bought this for Jay as a Christmas present:

So when planning which cake to make for Jay's 25th birthday last week, I had no doubt in my mind which cake I would make him.  I had this cake planned since probably November.  I was going to make, of course, a Boston Cream Pie.  I thought that this was appropriate for several reasons:
1.  It was symbolic of our relationship
2.  It would be my first attempt at making this cake as a resident of Boston
3.  Jay's name from all his cross-country buddies in college was "Boston"
4.  I love pudding and chocolate and cake together

I was planning on making Jay's identical twin brother, Chris, an opposite Boston Cream Pie cake, with the chocolate and vanilla components inverted.  Then I realized that Chris was having all four wisdom teeth removed 2 days before his birthday.  Well, there goes my crazy cake plans.  Looks like homemade pudding for Chris.

Here is Jay's 25th birthday cake:

Boston Cream Pie
(Classic yellow sponge cake filled w/ homemade vanilla custard, topped w/ dark chocolate ganache)
Cake recipe adapted from The Prepared Pantry
Custard recipe adapted from Betty Crocker
Ganache recipe totally made up in my head
Yield: 1 double-layer 8" cake and a bunch of leftover vanilla custard for a recently de-toothed friend

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mounds of Birthdays

March is a busy month for birthdays.  I always have a lot of cakes to make, no matter where I am.  In fact, I have been so busy making cakes for people here in Boston, that I forgot my poor own dad's birthday.  (Sorry Dad!  Happy Birthday!  I love you lots!)

Every month, my internship site celebrates the birthdays for each month at the staff meeting on the third Thursday.  I was expecting this month to be filled with a ton of birthdays at LHI, since there are so many March birthdays in other parts of my life.  Much to my surprise, however, there were only two this month, and they were my fellow interns, Marisol and Tony.  Since I already made Marisol a pretty awesome cake this month, I offered to make the staff meeting cake for Tony.

LHI in Brockton has really become my family here in Boston.  I have never experienced a work culture that is so close-knit and supportive.  All the interns have become like siblings, and our supervisors are like our parents or our crazy aunts and uncles whom we love.  We do really challenging work that is often very mentally draining, but it is all made possible by all the love and laughs we share in the office.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought Tony was my age or even a year younger.  Everyone in the office treats him like our little brother.  He's always there to make us laugh, and we can always depend on him when we need something done.  He even comes to us for dating advice.  Then I found out he was turning 25 on St. Patrick's day this year.  Oops!  He can just be my bigger, older little brother.

Our receptionist, Lily, is really the glue that holds our office together, kind of like our mom.  She always buys the cake for everyone, but she is lactose-intolerant, and can never eat it.  Since I was making the cake for our family this month, I decided to make Tony's cake dairy-free, so that Lily could eat it.

I came up with the following deliciousness:

Mounds Cake: Dark Chocolate Cake w/ Coconut Filling, Topped with a Chocolate Coconut Ganache and Flaked Coconut
Cake recipe adapted from Heather's Milky Way Cake
Filling recipe adapted from Emily's Almond Joy Cake
Ganache recipe adapted from Lil & Will's Engagement Cake
Yield: 1 double-layer 8" cake

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Cutest Carrot Cake

Sometimes in life you make unexpected friends.  My friend Ann is one of them.  I met Ann at Wes when we both signed up to help plan our university's first Relay for Life event.  Little did we know, we would be spending countless hours together the next few years putting the event together almost exclusively by ourselves.  We never saw each other in a social context, only at Relay meetings, which in the spring of our senior year were almost daily.

Then we graduated and parted ways.  A month later, I heard from Ann via Facebook.  She got a social work school placement in Boston, and wanted to know if I had any advice on finding places to live in the city, considering I had just moved here in June.  Little did she know, I was actively searching for housemates for the fall!  And that is the story of how Ann came to be my housemate and one of my closest friends.

Unfortunately, Ann had to change placements in the middle of the school year, and was forced to leave our house and move out to western Mass.  Today is Ann's 23rd birthday, and a bunch of the housemates are driving out to celebrate with her.  I had already made plans to attend another birthday party by the time my housemates' plan developed.  I decided that even if I couldn't go with them, I still wanted to send a little of my birthday love out to Ann.  I chose to make her favorite cake and send it out to her with my housemates, and I'm hoping it survives the treacherous two hour commute.

Carrot Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted from my favorite carrot cake recipe of all time
Yield: 1 double 8" layer cake

I didn't have time to take step-by-step photos because I was in the middle of a baking extravaganza.  Use this post for ingredients, photos, and directions.

I frosted the entire cake with cream cheese frosting and dusted the sides of the cake with walnuts.  I come from the school of "carrot cake should look messy" so I didn't put too much effort into making it look perfect.  Then I dyed some marzipan and shaped it into a carrot, and cut a green Air Head for the top of the carrot.

Ta Da!  The most beautiful and delicious carrot cake ever made!  And it is about to head all the way to western Mass to wish Ann a very Happy Birthday for me.

Happy Birthday, Ann!  I'm so glad we became friends and housemates!  Sorry I couldn't be there to celebrate with you.

Love and cookies,

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake w/ Strawberries

My friend and fellow intern, Casandra, is a little out there.  And by a little out there, I mean she is always saying something hysterical that makes you laugh, and always brings a smile to your face.  She is also one of the sweetest and most genuine people I've ever met, and I would do anything for her.  And by anything, I mean honor her request to make a really weird cheesecake for her boyfriend, Filipe's birthday.

Filipe might be even more of a strange character than Casandra, and they are perfect for each other.  Casandra told me that Filipe's two favorite things in the world are dulce de leche and strawberries.  I gave her two options: a strawberry cheesecake, or a dulce de leche cake.  She asked if there was a way to combine both flavors.  I immediately scrunched up my nose and thought, "gross."  I don't like mixing caramel and fruit.  I am a purist when it comes to fruit: I only like to use it in season and on its own.  But, this cake wasn't for me, so I decided to put my flavor combination morals aside and make this weird concoction for Casandra and Filipe.

I came up with this:

*I didn't have time to take step by step photos, so please forgive me!*

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake, topped with Fresh Strawberries
Recipe heavily adapted from my last cheesecake
Yield: 1 large cheesecake

Springing Forward

Spring is a time of changes.  We change the clocks, the weather, our wardrobes, and our moods.  Well, This year, I've added one additional change to the list: my mind.  Anyone that knows me well knows that I am the most indecisive person in the world.  I don't like making decisions, and I change my mind as often as I change my underwear (which, if you care to know, is often at least twice a day).

A few months ago, I decided to take a leave of absence from grad school next year.  I was just so unhappy that I needed to do something drastic, like go to pastry school.  So I did.  One month ago today, I walked up to the registration desk at Bunker Hill Community College and enrolled myself in their Certificate of Pastry Arts program.  I submitted my financial aid info to BHCC, I withdrew my applications from practicum sites for next year, and told MSPP I needed a break.  Luckily, my school's administration is pretty slow to do things, so nothing was officially processed.  And if you haven't guessed it by now, I said "luckily" because I changed my mind about pastry school.  I am going to stick out another grueling year in the Clinical PsyD program at MSPP.

I know, I know.  I'm ridiculous and you can't keep up with my thought process.  Well neither can I.  I often don't understand why I do the things I do until several months after the fact.  I would like to think I'm a logical and practical person, but let's face it- I'm not.  I'm impulsive and I act on my emotions.  If I am in a good mood, I take risks.  If I'm upset, I go for the first change I can find to get me out of that situation.  I don't like being unhappy.  I have had my battles with depression in the past, and I do not want to go back there.  If I notice myself slipping down that slippery slope of unhappiness into depression, I immediately put on the brakes and run for the hills.  That was the case a few months ago.  I put the brakes on grad school and headed to Bunker Hill.

I realize now that I wasn't unhappy in the field of psychology, I was just plain unhappy in general.  I was thrown into a big, ugly city where people the people are rude and can't drive, and was doing an impossible work load.  And it was a gross, snowy winter.  OF COURSE I was going to be depressed.  With the help of my psychiatrist and the warming temperatures, I am feeling better.  This week I snapped out of my unhappy place and realized that I was letting my mood take over.  I let myself be fooled into thinking that something I have wanted for the past 8 and a half years wasn't for me anymore.  I made a huge mistake.  I love what I am learning and I love sitting with my clients, whether they like me or not.  I am going to stick out this program, and I am going to be a psychologist, damn it.

Before I came to this conclusion, however, I printed out copies of my dessert portfolio and showed them around.  One of the clinicians at LHI asked me if I would make cookies for her daughter's first birthday party, and I accepted the challenge.

*I had to make cookies, a cake, and a cheesecake all in the last two nights, so in my rushing around, I didn't take step-by-step photos.  Please forgive me.*

Butterfly Sugar Cookies w/ Royal Icing
Cookie recipe adapted from The Cookie Bible
Royal icing recipe adapted from Sweetopia
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Epic Cake for an Epic Birthday

One of my dear friends and fellow interns, Marisol, has a big birthday coming up next week.  She will be the big 3-0, and she is not excited about it.  She even named the event on Facebook "Dino Party" because she feels so old.  I had amazing plans of making her a dinosaur birthday cake, but when I asked her boyfriend about it, he told me she doesn't like cake.  Well that sucks.  There goes my cake idea...

Then- out of nowhere- Marisol texted me asking me if I could make a cake for her party.  She told me that she does like some cakes, but she really wanted it for her party guests.  I decided that I was going to MAKE Marisol like cake, and I was going to achieve this by baking the most epic birthday cake possible.  I was going to make her the rainbow cake that I had been saving for the perfect occasion.  A rainbow cake is a visually beautiful, yet technically difficult and time-consuming process.  It involves baking 6-7 individual different colored layers of cake.  Then you stack them on top of each other in a sky-high cake and hope it doesn't fall over.  Then you decorate it however you want.  This isn't a cake you'd make for any old birthday, no, this is definitely a cake worthy of a 30th birthday for a person that makes your life sunshine and rainbows when you are at your super-difficult internship.  This was is a cake for Marisol.

However, I wasn't sure that the rainbow layers were going to be enough.  I wanted to make sure she was going to LOVE this cake.  So I decided to add something she is obsessed with- FROGS!  I'm not great at shaping cakes, so I decided to decorate the cake like a pond and then put frogs on it, instead of making a giant frog.  BINGO.  Cutest-Most-Epic-Birthday-Cake-Ever!  WOOHOO.

Rainbow Layered Frog Pond Cake
Recipe adapted from Plant Food Fabulous
Yield: 1 epic 6-layer birthday cake

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How To Fix an Ugly Week (and ugly cookies)

As the overwhelmingly stressful workload of mid-semester rears its ugly head, the need for stability and constancy in my life doubles.  Luckily for me, I have found the perfect solution: weekly family dinners, AKA- "Shabbat at the Schwacobson's."  When I first moved to 69 1/2, (our affectionate name for our super cool house), I instantly found a giant new family here in Boston.  I was so grateful to have magically been placed in a wonderful house with Suzie, JoJo, Sarah, Tony, Resi, Heather, Lily, Wil, and Cory.  Jay came quickly into my life, and before I knew it, I was at home in Boston.  What I didn't plan on, however, was becoming so close with a group of random strangers from Craigslist and their significant others that I would come to call them my family.

These guys have been there for me through every triumph, breakdown, and mess I've gotten into since my first day in Boston.  We all got lost in the stress of last semester, but this semester we are taking charge.  We are making time for ourselves and our sanity, and pulling this family back together.  

As the baker in the family, I decided my role for dinner each week will be to bring dessert.  Last week I made brownies, and this week, I decided to make cookies.  I didn't have time to go grocery shopping, so I searched my magical box of baking supplies and found some chocolate chips, Nutella, and toffee pieces.  I couldn't pick just one, so I decided to use all three.  It may have been a little too ambitious, and I ended up underestimating the adaptability of one of my favorite cookie recipes.  The cookies came out of the oven looking like chocolate pancakes.  However, I didn't have more supplies, or a whole lot of time to bake another batch before dinner.  I got creative, and decided to cut them up into cool shapes so no one would notice how ugly they were.  This did the trick with aesthetics, but to my surprise, no one even cared what they looked like, because they were so addictingly delicious.

Nutella Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe way too adapted from here
Yield: about 2 dozen cookies