Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On birthdays and crazy squirrels

Warning: This is a long post so I'd get some snacks before you start reading if I were you.
Birthday Chocolate Charlotte
So, think the picture above and the one below have nothing to do with each other? Well you'd be right, and you'd be wrong, let me explain.  
Today is A.'s birthday and though this isn't "the" cake I made for him for today, it gives you a good idea of the ones I did make that you will see a bit later on this blog. This cake is a birthday cake too, so I thought I'd show it to you. I made it a while ago for a friend's birthday party and was given free rein to choose the recipe as long as it included chocolate; I chose a Charlotte Cecile because that is one of my favorite cakes ever and there's nothing I like better than to make a cake I love to eat for someone else.

But what does this have to do with squirrels? The thing is that this little guy would only have his picture taken in this way when A. was with me in the park. Without A. well... that's the crazy squirrel story.
Please sir, may I have some more---
In fact the whole squirrel thing is due to A., from beginning to end, and coincides with this birthday cake "thing".
The day I started making this cake, A. decided to take Baby Saffron out to the park for a walk and, being in and out of the kitchen and quite tired, he took her without me. A short while later, he called me from the park so I could hear my little girl giggle to no end. Apparently, he'd chanced upon a French couple giving nuts to a bunch of very enterprising (read crazily comfortable with humans) squirrels who were climbing up on them to take the nuts, and these charming people had given him some nuts to lure the squirrels, thus causing my little girl's giggle fit. Well, needless to say, I immediately regretted not having gone with them but it was too late, so I resolved to take her back to that same area of the park as soon as the weather would allow it.

Now, the pictures below presumably portray what happened on that day, taken when I made A. come with me the second time I went to the park to show Baby Saffron the squirrels.
They *look* harmless, don't they....

Oh yes, the cute little squirrel on the ground.
Get the peanut and run

Uh-huh, the cute little squirrel on A.'s leg.
Fearless squirrel

Umm, the really big (but ok cute) squirrel on A.'s coat!
Squirrel Loot
Let me tell you what happened the first time I went on the squirrel adventure.
Oh yes, I was young and naive then, and they knew it.
A. had purchased a big bag of peanuts in their shell specifically for the squirrels, but when the weather wasn't quite so miserable again a few days later, he couldn't go out and Baby Saffron and I ventured forth by ourselves with aforementioned bag.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gluten-Free Pear Chocolate Muffins with Maple or Chocolate Mascarpone Icing

Gluten Free Pear Chocolate Muffins with Maple or Chocolate Mascarpone Icing
So I know this post was supposed to be about peanuts and squirrels and life and was actually meant to go up on Valentine's Day, but stuff happens (like a broken in two places toe), so it will be the next post. Instead, I have to tell you about some gluten-free chocolate muffins I made a while back; I meant to post these before now because I wanted Béa of La Tartine Gourmande to see what she'd started in this house, and the Monthly Mingle deadline is today too so bombs away.

Before I say anything else, let me state a couple of things: 1) No I'm not turning into a gluten-free baker, if there's anything I love in life besides my family, it's gluten; I just haven't posted many gluten-free recipes here but 2) I do have gluten-intolerant friends and friends with food allergies (this is for you Chlōe) so I do like to keep some recipes on hand to bake for them when I need to, plus if the flavor and texture you're trying to recreate is not incredibly complex, it's not difficult to substitute in gluten-free flours without noticing the difference.
Gluten Free Pear Chocolate Muffins
Anyway, we're constantly in boxes here, packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking; so if you can believe it, I found a 1Kg bar of Varhona chocolate in one of the boxes a few weeks ago which I had purchased at La Grande Epicerie in Paris back when I was pregnant, and though it hadn't actually gotten old even though the use by date was October 2009, I felt I owed it to our bellies and general well-being to use it as quickly as possible; also, it's cold which everyone knows is perfect chocolate weather. You will be seeing more results of this massive chocolate usage in forthcoming posts, but let's stick to the muffins for now.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bread Pudding when I dream of snow...

I dream of snow 1-1
Although I'd agree with anyone that there are just some kinds of cold days that are beyond miserable, I have to say I'm a cold weather kind of gal at heart. I love winter clothing, wrapping up in thick sweaters, trying different kinds of knots in my scarves every day (I wouldn't be a real French girl if I didn't have a drawer full of scarves and at least five different ways of putting them on), cradling a cup of hot chocolate or a steaming bowl of soup in my cold hands and then savoring them slowly, letting the warmth seep through me, all things I am happy for every time the calendar hits December.

Unfortunately, my ideal winter and the one I actually get here are two rather different things. I suppose I should be thankful that we don't get three feet of snow at a time the way my sister and her family do in Chicago, but a little snow once in a while would be nice, and by that I don't mean snow that I might see if I were up between 6:00 and 6:17am before it has essentially vanished, making one doubt it was ever here to begin with.
Last year there was one such day, unexpectedly. Granted, it caused the whole nation to grind to a halt and I did lock myself out of the house that morning while walking the "one who brings the crazy." But even while heavily pregnant, somewhat inappropriately dressed, trying to control one very spazzy dog reconnecting with something in her Dutch, barge-pulling, canine DNA, and walking over to the hotel nearby to call A. to come home and let me in, I was still thoroughly charmed by the six inches of snow through which I was trudging. Call me crazy.
Bread Pudding on Cold Days

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Norwegian Coffee Cake: A Yeast-Averse Story

If you've read some of my posts before, you've noticed that I don't make a lot of bread, and that on the rare occasions when I do, I mention my aversion to yeast. Well, maybe it's time I admitted that this aversion I have to yeast is mostly due to my often having a packet of yeast in the cupboard that, logically, hardly ever gets used resulting in the yeast becoming so old and ineffective that, when I finally get around to using it, a fair amount of cursing and imprecations is directed at said yeast when my dough still hasn't risen after 3 hours of pilot-lighting, oven-front sitting, steam bathing, etc...
Norwegian Coffee Cake
So imagine my utter delight when, having purchased a brand new shiny packet of yeast a couple of months ago, all my bread endeavors now promptly ferment, bubble and rise and I obtain the bread I was trying to make, my kneading inability notwithstanding.
Really, there are two culprits in this newfound desire I have to actually make bread and brave yeast: their names are Jamie and Deeba. I mentioned both of them in the last post.

What you may not know about them is that Jamie has this fabulous recipe for a chocolate meringue coffee cake on her blog which was the catalyst of my old yeast/new yeast debacle, and Deeba pulls baked goods out of her oven like Mary Poppins pulls whatever she might need out of her bag. So when Jamie declared that she was hosting this month's Bread Baking Day and that the theme of it would be her birthday which was the 28th of January, I felt I really should participate both because she is a dear friend and because she got me to start baking bread. Deeba's contribution was to insist on posting bread after bread after bread, some from the Ottolenghi book which I gave her when she was here for FBC, which heightened my desperation for bread-baking success. 
Norwegian Coffee Cake
So out came the Tassajara Bread Book which I purchased last summer with every intention of making a ton of bread, and which went unused until yesterday when I leafed through it looking purposely for a yeasted recipe (yes there is a whole un-yeasted bread section in there) and came upon this Norwegian coffee cake. Flavored with cardamom, which I love, at its simplest, it seemed just the thing to bake on a chilly Sunday.
I had a bar of Valrhona orange chocolate I needed to use and orange and chocolate being two flavors that marry well with cardamom, half of it went into the bread. I could choose any shape and having never baked challah or any other braided bread before, I decided to try a four-stranded braid. Though I knew I'd gone wrong about halfway through the loaf (past the point where the diagrams ended), it wasn't until after I'd put the bread in the oven that I suddenly understood how the weave worked.

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