Monday, May 14, 2012

Blueberry Muffins and Spring Cocktails

I hope everyone got to celebrate the mothers in their lives yesterday! It was such a beautiful weekend. I saw a lot of moms doing yard work (eh hem, where you at on that one, dads?). Mother's day here was celebrated by a homemade brunch and dinner, and the building of a chicken coop. Hopefully that made up for the tattoo I got the day before. Moms aren't usually thrilled when their children come home with tattoos. Poor timing on my part. Lucky for me, I have the nicest mom in the world.

My dad and brothers took care of brunch while Mom and I went to church and enjoyed a run together. They did an amazing job! Spinach quiche, potatoes, bacon, fruit salad, even homemade ketchup. I was able to squeeze in making some blueberry muffins before church, since they're Mom's favorite. And she contributed some chocolate chip banana bread (made the day before so it doesn't count as making her work on Mother's day). Dinner was a winner too! Rib-eye steaks with crab, asparagus, fried onions, and roasted garlic and chive mashed potatoes. We decided that only two meals need to be served every day if they're like that. As in large. And fattening.

A celebratory day isn't complete without some celebratory cocktails around here. A few years ago Dad came up with a Chive Blossom Martini. It's such a pretty and refreshing cocktail for spring, especially if you have chives growing around that you can pick right from the ground. We also made Hummingbirds, a drink that's ordered quite a bit at the bar where I work. It's floral and bubbly, and slightly sweet. It's made with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and if you haven't tried it yet, you should! Or just buy a bottle of it to display somewhere in your home. It's really fancy. 

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
2 cups blueberries 
1 Tbsp turbinado sugar

Streusel Topping
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with liners (makes about 9 jumbo muffins or 12 standard-sized muffins). Cream butter, oil and sugar in mixer. Mix in eggs one at a time until combined, then add vanilla. Add one cup of flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix in milk until just combined, then add the remaining flour. Gently fold in blueberries. Prepare streusel topping: mix all ingredients together with fork, pastry blender or hands until all ingredients are incorporated and texture is crumbly. Divide batter among muffin tins, top with streusel topping, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center (20-25 minutes for standard size, 25-30 minutes for large).

Chive Blossom Martini

3 oz. gin
0.5 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur 
3 oz. club soda
2-3 chives, chopped into one-inch pieces
1/2 tsp. sugar
Chive stem and blossom, for garnish

In a shaker, muddle chives and sugar with a splash of water. Fill shaker with ice. Add gin and St. Germain. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a chive stem (as a straw! How clever!) and blossom. 

From St. Germain

2 parts brut champagne or dry sparkling white wine
1 part St. Germain
2 parts club soda
Lemon twist, for garnish

Pour all ingredients over ice in a Collins glass. Top with a lemon twist. Drink. Then make another one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

James Beard Awards 2012

I was just in the same room as Wolfgang Puck. And Grant Achatz. And Christina Tosi. Not to mention the many, many, many other amazing chefs and food writers, like Frank Stitt, who I just had the absolute pleasure of working with for the afternoon. And I just spoke with Alton Brown (okay, so maybe he just looked at us and said "excuse me" as he squeezed by, but he did it in such a friendly way! And made eye contact!). Duff Goldman hung around us for a while too, but he seemed a little stressed so we pretended he wasn't there.

I was given the invaluable opportunity to help set up at the James Beard Foundation Awards by an amazingly generous and wonderful family friend, Jon. All the thanks to you, Jon! I'm still beside myself.

Jon with the Chesterfield Floral Co. did all the flowers for Chef Stitt's table, and he so kindly let me tag along and lend a hand. He absolutely outdid himself on the arrangements, and the table was beautiful. It got so much attention!

This year was the 25th anniversary, so the nominated chefs all prepared dishes that were inspired by an aspect of one of James Beard's cookbooks. Chef Stitt was serving a crawfish and Gulf shrimp salad, there was a "picnic by the sea" (we're still unsure what that means...), port-soaked prunes with orange creme, a cake by Charm City Cakes, and straight tequila served in champagne glasses, just to name a few. This is the kind of party I want to attend.

From what we saw in the time we were there, the event was going to be an extravagant one, with a red carpet and the whole bit. I'm so grateful I was able to play even the tiniest little role in it all. I'm quite speechless, so I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

The venue: Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center

The venue

An arrangement on our table--and people looking in awe from behind!

More arrangements, and Chef Stitt in the background

Chef's menu item for the evening 

Our table with Chef

Our neighboring tables

Pastry chefs hard at work 

Tequila table!

Cakes hidden away in boxes

The lovely and handsome Jon as we're trying to capture Duff in action. And apparently as we're creeping on Duff, some staffers were creeping on us!

Thanks again, Jon and Ted. This day has made quite a few of this little gal's dreams come true! 

Broad Street Run Recap

Happy Monday, all! I hope you had a great, relaxing weekend. I had a great weekend, but I wouldn't call it relaxing--yesterday was the Independence Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philly. I've mentioned before that my dad and I have been "training" for a few months for this day. Unfortunately, my dad got hurt playing basketball last week and couldn't run with me, but a friend of ours took his place and I couldn't ask for a better stand-in running buddy.

Before the race!

To be honest, I really have no interest in doing races. I like to keep running fun and not stressful, since I use it to make life's other stressful things not stressful. So if running is stressful and other things are stressful, it just sounds like I'm one step on the treadmill away from an emotional meltdown. And when my dad, who convinced me to do this race, was no longer running, and our friend from the gym, who convinced my dad to sign up, didn't originally get to register, I was baffled how I ended up being the only one doing it. Though I'm very glad I did.

Training was a lot of fun. Not many people get to run for hours with their dads, and I'm so blessed that I'm able to spend time with both my parents doing something we all love. I would never be as motivated or determined if it weren't for them. And the race itself was definitely an experience! 40,000 runners all crammed into one starting area. Even spread out among the 10 miles of Broad Street, there was a sea of people that just didn't end. It was incredible. When all is said and done, it seems like we ran twice the distance from weaving back and forth between people--something we surely didn't factor into our training. But there's nothing like having thousands of people cheering the entire time you're running. Who wouldn't be motivated by that?!

And we're off!

The sea of people going all the way down Broad Street. Amazing!

My last minute running partner, Flo, and I have never actually run together before, which is a little tricky going into a race. We had no idea what each other's paces were like, but we ended up being a great match. We finished the race in 83 minutes, and for never having done a race like this before, I was very happy with my time.

We finished!!

All in all, it was a great experience.  And if I wasn't moving to England, I'd absolutely run again next year. Maybe in the future! Also, if anyone out there has a hard time staying away from carbs, alls you have to do is eat a whole bunch of them in one sitting (perhaps a giant roll, some cous cous and toast for lunch?), and then you never want to touch them again. Just a tip! Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Currant Cakes

In the few experiences I've been able to accumulate over the past couple of years as a teacher in the classroom, I've learned quite a bit about children. This week, since subbing every day for a second grade class, I've learned a lot more. Mostly about the mind of a second-grader.

First, second-graders have no concept of age. To them, I'm in my mid-forties. Which is fine, since a class I've had in the past guessed I was 72. Only fifty years off, but hey, you don't really need to know math yet. I guess I'm getting younger-looking as I get older. In that case, I'll take it.

Next, which I'm sure we've all experienced at one time or another, they're blunt. Take this exchange that occurred yesterday for example:
Dearest 2nd-grader: "Mrs. B?" 
Me: "Well, it's Ms. B. Yes?"
D2G: "Oh, Ms. B. Are you getting married?"
Me: "What? No, that arbitrary ring on my hand doesn't mean I'm getting married. It's on the wrong hand, anyway."
Note: Now multiple students are surrounding the desk.
D2G: "Are you ever getting married?"
Me: "Well, I hope so."
D2G: "But you aren't yet? What if you don't?"
Me: "I don't know. I'm just hoping I do!"
D2G: "It'd be pretty lonely if you didn't."
Me: "I agree, so that's why I'm hoping I will someday."
D2G: "Ms. B, I think you should prepare for a lonely life."
All students agreed, seemed satisfied with the conclusion, and returned to their seats. End scene.

Well that's a boost in the self-esteem department. 

I've also learned that there is, in fact, a moment where all teachers can read minds. It occurs after school hours, after all the kids have gone home, we've changed out of our dreadful teacher outfits, and we go about our normal everyday people lives. It happens when we're out doing errand-y things in town, and we round a corner in the grocery store and there stands one of our smiling students. It is in this moment when you make eye contact, before any words are exchanged, that a teacher can read that student's mind. Their eyes are wide and their mind is thinking: Why isn't my teacher at school?

That's another funny thing about second-graders. They think we live at school. They think our desk is our home and the faculty room is our refuge. Beyond that, we do not exist. And if by some chance that idea is proved otherwise, their minds are BLOWN. 

Also, gone are the days of bringing in homemade goodies for the students. With all the allergies that exist, it just isn't safe to do anymore. It's probably for the best anyway because if I could bring in food for my kids, I would probably do it every day. And then there's the whole obesity epidemic and I'd be shunned for being counterproductive. BUT if allergies didn't exist and there wasn't the risk of making my students overweight, I still wouldn't bring in these currant cakes. Kids are picky. And dried fruit-filled dough does not go under the category of Things Children Willingly Eat. However, children aside, these currant cakes are very, very good, and a recipe that my family has long passed down. 

Currant Cakes

1 1/2 cups cold shortening, cut in cubes
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
4 green apples, peeled and grated
1 lb dried currants
3/4 cup sugar
Egg wash

Preheat oven to 425F. In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Stir in milk until just combined. Divide dough in two, wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Roll out each pastry to fit the size of a jelly roll pan. Line the pan with one pastry layer. Mix together grated apple, dried currants and 1/2 cup sugar. Spread currant filling over the dough, and top with the second layer of pastry. Prick dough with fork and brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Bake for 25-30, until golden.Cut while still warm. 

This recipe should be featured on very soon as well. Over there I've picked the perfect beer to go alongside, if you're into that sorta thing. Which I am. And you should be. 

Well, I hope everyone has a lovely weekend. It's race weekend for me, so I'll be gorging myself with carbs until then. Which is every woman's wish, to be encouraged to eat carbs ALL THE TIME. Just livin' the dream over here. See you on the other side of the finish line!

Oh, and happy Cinco de Mayo!