Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cranberry Clove Linzer Torte, and Happy Holidays

Christmas was a quiet affair this year, without much of the usual hubbub or raucous festivities. This was partly a purposeful calm-down for me: while I usually revel in the holiday season, 2012 has been such a whirlwind that it felt good to just spend a day taking a deep breath, seeing close family and closer friends, and watching the rain pound down outside. No usual holiday dessert insanity for me this year, either. Just a simple, almost-rustic cranberry clove linzer torte: tart, buttery, spicy, sweet, and cakey, with a side of chocolate red tea that I got from a visit to the Netherlands a few years ago. The idea for a cranberry filling inside a linzer torte, which typically has a raspberry jam center, came from a colleague of mine (thanks, Beth!), and I actually like this cranberry version much better than the original. Because the cranberries are tarter, the torte isn't cloyingly sweet as it can sometimes be, and the contrast between the tart center and the sweeter, clove- and cinnamon-infused, nutty crust is such a perfect balance. The torte was so good that I made three of them, cutting large wedges as gifts to neighbors, friends, and family (and saving a fair portion for myself for breakfast this week! ;)).

What did you all have for Christmas dessert/breakfast this year?

[click on photo above for larger image]

Despite the quiet Christmas, I'm actually looking forward to a more lively New Year's this year. In years past, I've hosted a small game night on New Year's Eve for New Year's orphans (read: antisocial introverts like me who don't get invited to your stereotypical boisterous NYE extravaganzas), but this year, I have proper plans to attend a proper NYE party, which I'm properly excited about! :D My friend and I are going to make this gorgonzola and pear galette, which the host has eloquently renamed, "Galette de Poires à la Gorgonzola"--everything sounds way more festive in French, doesn't it!

Then, a few days after New Years, I'm off to Boston for a short business trip. It's been years since I've been to Boston last, but I'm excited to get to explore the city again. Please, please, please--if you have any recommendations for must-eat or must-see places in Boston, please leave them in a comment below!

I hope you all are having wonderful holidays, be it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or Yay-no-work-or-school-for-a-couple-of-days-and-the-freeways-aren't-crowded-at-all Week! Happy Holidays!

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jars of Cookies, from sated magazine

It's almost Christmas. I can't believe it. Somehow this year, the holidays have just sort of snuck up on me with no fanfare until a friend pointed out to me yesterday that it's already the 23rd. WHAT! None of my holiday shopping is done. >< I hope you all don't mind receiving Christmas gifts in January instead.... :\

I am super excited, however, to finally get to share a few photos from a shoot I did for sated about cookies for the holidays. I'm especially excited about these photos because while shooting this feature, I basically got to break many of the tenets of modern-day food photography: I shot in direct sunlight and at comparatively small apertures than normal (think f/11 instead of the typical f/2.8s that you see in a good deal of food photography these days). I'm kind of delighted by the results, if I might say so myself, with the sunlight glistening and sparkling off the jars, and the streaks of light piercing through dark edges of the photographs. It's refreshing to break all the rules every now and then!

Also, these recipes, developed by Anita Chu and Jennifer Altman for sated, are delicious. I might have, um, generously sampled them while shooting. :P In particular, the hazelnut thumbprints pictured below are one of my favorite, favorite things that Anita makes, and I'm so excited that she's sharing the recipe over on the sated blog today! Click on over for the hazelnut thumbprints recipe, as well as recipes for buttery Scottish shortbread and spicy speculaas (pictured above).

I hope everyone has a smooth next few days leading up to Christmas! Drink lots of hot chocolate, spiced apple cider, and mulled wine for me!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cinnamon Chocolate Sunken Souffle Cake with Sparkling Cranberries

This is a cake that I made last week for our department holiday party. I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to share it here on the blog, since I only had time to snap one quick photo of it before having to cart it off to the party where it was promptly demolished without any further photo ops. But then I thought, if the world ends tomorrow, I would want you to go out having this recipe, because it's one of my favorite flourless chocolate cake recipes, and because it's even awesomer when topped with a high pile of crunchy, tart, sugared cranberries for a decadent sparkle to the cake. I like to call it the "Richness of the Base" cake, which is kind of a really lame linguistics pun (and yes, I like my puns in baked form). But really, this is one of my go-to flourless chocolate cake recipes ever since I developed it for the chocolate issue of sated. While I find most flourless chocolate cakes far too dense, this one is the perfect balance between being richly chocolate and still light enough to feel like you're eating cake rather than eating a melted-down bar of chocolate. The coconut oil and cinnamon in this version add a touch of extra special punch to the cake, making it perfect for holiday parties. Also! sugared cranberries are just wonderful little bursts of fruit--this is my first time making them, and I probably ate most of the cranberries before they even made it onto the cake. Oops! :)

I also decided today that if the world does end, I wanted to at least see one last sunset at the Pacific Ocean. So I just dropped everything and went. The sun and the trusty Pacific did not disappoint!

It's been sort of an insane past week, filled with a family friend's funeral and bad news and horrible people doing horrible things, and all of this oddly punctuated by good, fun, sweet, heart-warming moments in a way that's just... life being life. Even if the world doesn't end tomorrow, I keep getting the feeling that I want to hug everyone a little tighter from here on out.

Read on for recipe....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Deck the tables! from sated magazine

Over on the sated blog, there's a feature I shot with holiday table floral arrangements from the wonderful Christina of Farmgirl Flowers. Farmgirl Flowers is one of my favorite local SF businesses that I've discovered while working on sated: their mission to work with all locally-grown flowers and to create these wonderfully organic-looking, dense, and eclectic bouquets just resonates so well with the locavore movement currently in the food world. Click on over to the sated blog for tips from Christina for making these own bouquets at home!

Inspired by everything I learned while shooting this feature, I've been putting together some small arrangements of my own out of the local flowers I can find at the markets on weekends. I find that having flowers on the desk in my study/studio is so calming--it's useful to have something charming to look at off to the side of my computer screen to keep me going during the long hours of the sometimes-frustrating writing process! Here are a couple results of my recent floral experiments that I managed to remember to take photos of... lots of dahlias this time of year!

I hope everyone has been having a good first week of December! During a late night procrasti-baking session this week, I made meyer lemon and sage pound cake-lettes (with sage milk glaze and sliced almonds), but they all disappeared at the next morning's lab meeting before I could take any photos of them to share here! But, with meyer lemon season in full swing, I'll definitely be remaking them soon.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

TGIF: Cookies

I haven't had time to be in the kitchen much lately, but when I have, it's usually to bake cookies. I've been making an awful lot of cookies lately. I think it's because they're short on time commitment but big on the satisfaction factor. After sitting and staring at a computer screen for endless hours of stressful writing and fretting and everything in between (read: work stuff. I love it, but it's emotionally draining sometimes, you know?), some nice nutty butter melted into flour and sugar and baked to a ooey gooey, chewy crisp is just the perfect antidote. I've also been experimenting, tweaking things here and there in the chocolate chip cookie recipe to try and achieve the perfect texture, bite, and flavor. What I've learned so far is that it should be a crime to serve chocolate chip cookies without a nice sprinkling of flaked salt on top. Salt just makes the cookies so, so much better! Another thing I've been playing around with are flour combinations--bread, 00, all-purpose, whole wheat. It's been interesting experimenting, and while I'm close, I'm not quite there yet, so I won't share until it's perfect. :) Speaking of perfection, everything else I've managed to pull out of the kitchen lately is only okay, but not ... perfect. And I really only want to share the really, really good stuff here.

Okay, that was way too stream-of-consciousness ranty. :) I can't believe it's already December! sigh.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fresh Squeezed for Anthology Magazine

For all you who are suffering desserts for breakfast withdrawal, there are THREE! citrus-inspired recipes of mine in the new 2012 Anthology Magazine Gift Guide released today. :D! I'm so thrilled to have contributed to the gift guide, especially since I spend many a long hours drooling through the uber-clean and beautifully designed pages of Anthology whenever it hits the shelves.

The recipes include Meyer Lemon Snow Balls (a lemony spin on one of my favorite holiday cookies that my mom made when I was little), Orange Rosemary Bundt Cakes with Dark Chocolate Glaze (something sophisticated to eat by the fireplace while watching the Christmas lights sparkle on the tree), and a Winter Citrus and White Chocolate Tart (a super easy and gluten-free wow-factor dessert for the holiday table!).

Happy Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dogpatch Day, San Francisco

Last week involved a lot of anxious stressfulness, an increasingly frustrating waiting game with other peoples' busy schedules (I hate it when my work is dependent on others, but such is the nature of things, and I recognize that it's a two-way street), trudging through work feeling as though I was wading through quicksand mud pits, and then ultimately feeling as though nothing got done. Sigh, I'm sure we all have these weeks! Thankfully, I have awesome friends who will kidnap me and force me to take a day's vacation doing fun things, like hanging out in the Dogpatch district in San Francisco, eating awesome food, and seeing grand musicals!

The Dogpatch neighborhood is probably one of the places in SF that I go to most commonly. It's a warehouse district, near the water by the Bay, and it houses many of the professional kitchens of the local bakeries as well as prop studios and photography studios within two big blocks of each other. Many of our sated magazine shoots happen there. But, funnily enough, as much time as I've spent in this neighborhood, I've never gotten to take a day and enjoy it as a visitor, so this was a treat. We started the day with brunch at Serpentine, which was so hipstery cool with its industrial-y feel and fancy gin bottles lined up behind the counter that I felt like a total country bumpkin in comparison. But no matter! The food was good--and the fried lemon slices on top of my eggs benedict were a stroke of genius. I've never seen (or thought of) anything like it.

Then we had an hour or so after brunch and before our matinee show to get to, so I took my friends to Flora Grubb Nursery, which is one of my favorite new discoveries in SF. I have no green thumb myself, but I love getting lost in the gardens here, with all of the succulents growing out of every corner, in desks, in old rust-bucket, reclaimed cars, on walls, in wreaths this time of year!, in terrariums. The rose geranium plant that I got here months ago is still alive and kicking, which is impressive given my impressive talent of killing even the most resilient of plants. (also, there was a cute kitty on premises, which is always a plus.)

Then we were off to see the Lion King! in all of its African drumming and Zulu-speaking glory. I'd seen it before many, many years ago, but that was before I'd started studying linguistics, and it was fun to watch it again with new knowledge about African languages in mind.

Finally, we ended the day back in the Dogpatch, living it up with crema catalina ice cream (lime custard + burnt orange caramel) and crispy Valrhona chocolate pearls (and poodles! and sunsets!) at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous.

I have a recipe idea that's been burning in the back of my brain that I want to share soon, but it's just a matter of finding some time in the kitchen to make it come to life! Sigh. Hopefully this week, so that it's in time to make it onto Thanksgiving tables..

Photos are from both the iPhone using the ShakeIt Photo App and the dSLR.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Salted Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies

First off, I want to thank you all for your amazing and supportive comments on my last post! I love that I have such an inspiring and talented group of readers for this blog, and it makes me so proud to be able to connect with you all through this forum. The post has just been republished on my school's main arts site!, with the hopes that it'll engender even more awareness and discussion and might help other students in similar situations. It's a bit nerve-wracking for me to have the post published on the school's website, since I'm so accustomed to hiding my arts life from my academic life. But, I'm trying to live my life more unapologetically, which means learning to be braver about sticking my neck out there. Courage, people!

Second, I want to extend wishes and thoughts to everyone on the East Coast right now--I hope you all weathered the giant Frankenstorm alright and are all safe and sound (and have power and water!).

Meanwhile, I *just* realized late last night (I guess technically it was early this morning, but I have a strict rule that "night" doesn't end until I go to sleep :)), that it's Halloween today! Happy Halloween! And where the heck did October go??? Usually I love to celebrate Halloween. Not only is it an awesome holiday in its own right, but it also kicks off two months' worth of holidays, all the way through January, and I love the buzz of celebration and excitement that you feel starting October 31 all the way up until New Year's Eve.

This October, however, I fear that I've been living under a rock in a cave, buried deep under piles of papers and essays and commented versions of essays to turn into papers and more deadlines for papers and essays (much to the glee of my dissertation committee, it seems....). I've barely even touched my kitchen, except to make tea or to heat up whatever leftovers I'm fortunate to have in the refrigerator. Although, you shouldn't pity me too much--my leftovers have been a decently tolerable combination of Indian food, Asian fusion, and awesome Chantal Guillon macarons. :). Luckily, deadline season will come to a close soon, and hopefully life can return to some more semblance of "normal," whatever that may be.

So finding balance in life isn't easy! This week, I could feel the cracks starting, that creative part of my brain tick- tick- ticking away from disuse while it's been shoved aside for academic deadlines. I could feel my eye actively start framing the world around me in photographs wherever I looked, I became inseparable from my camera phone, my normal doodles in the margins of papers became even more involved, and I started having un-suppressible, obsessive thoughts about dark chocolate with port-soaked cherries. And then it happened: writer's block. BAM. Right in the middle of a streak of productivity, there was an essay that I just. couldn't. write. No matter how many days I spent or how many new drafts I started--nothing. Argh!

So finally, deep into one night of frustrated non-writing with deadlines looming, I walked away from the computer and into the kitchen, pulled one of my current cookbook favorites off of the shelf, and flipped to the deepest, darkest chocolate recipe I could find. I can always count on Alice: these dark chocolate espresso cookies (with a few slight modifications from her original recipe) were exactly what they sound like, the very essence of chocolate. Made completely with unsweetened chocolate (make sure to break out the good stuff in your cabinets), these amazing bites come out of the oven so perfectly melty, with the giant chocolate chunks in their molten centers wrapping you up with this warm bittersweet hug in such a good way you never thought bitter, unsweetened chocolate could. After they cool, the cookies are still perfectly gooey. I used coconut oil instead of butter in these, and if you eat a cookie ever so slowly, you'll get just the faintest hint of sweet coconut flavor come through like a streak of sunshine. Then, the hit of smoked sea salt flakes sprinkled on top brings everything together--really, chocolate just shouldn't be eaten without a bit of salty sophistication to it! Be forewarned that these cookies are rich. I don't normally drink milk, but I needed a shot of milk next to these.

I guess the million dollar question here is whether these cookies cure the stubborn affliction of wrtiers' block? Well.... the next day, I wrote my essay! Of course, I'm not quite sure if it was eating these cookies that did it. Or, if it was baking these cookies and then bringing a box of them to my advisor's office, where she sat and ate them while offering sage advice on how I should approach my essay. I guess ultimately, it doesn't matter. Writer's block is gone, and so are the cookies now. :)

Here's wishing everyone a Happy Halloween! I guess I'll celebrate it a few days late after the deadlines of this week are past, but at least that lets me take advantage of all the 2 for 1 deals on leftover Halloween candy on November 1. Mwahaha! :)

P.S. Also a big thank you to my good friend Priscilla, who is an uber-talented knitter, and made me the cup/bottle warmer.

Read on for recipe.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On purpose, rhythm, and writing your own damn story

It hasn't escaped my attention that this blog seems a bit neglected as of late, but I hope you all will excuse me for the long silences because for the first time in what I feel like is years, I am going full force after something that I want: a goal, a purpose, a reason. And reaching for that almost unattainable goal, one that makes the tips of your fingers tingle when you feel as if you can almost touch it--it feels really good.

For those of you who don't know, over the past few years, I've been living something of a double life. Yes, there's the photographer and baker (and self-taught-muddling-through-it-sort-of-but-not-really graphic designer) that you know from this blog. But I am also a scholar, a linguist, and an academic (or at the very least, I'm in school to become one). And I am very serious about both lives.

But, the message that I kept hearing all around me was, "You can't do both. You have to choose one. People have one passion, one career, one love, one thing to give everything they've got to. Pick one." I was accused over and over again in academia for not being serious enough, for letting my attention wander (Thankfully, my advisor has never uttered these words to me, even if she may think them, and for that restraint and solidarity, I am incredibly, unspeakably grateful). In the food and photography world, I kept holding back, feeling guilty that I was doing two things, not putting my all into going where I wanted to be, into developing into the artist I wanted to fulfill in my head (My friends had an on-going betting pool to see how long it would take for me to quit academia for photography, which was fun to joke about but wasn't particularly helpful). This requirement that I eventually choose just ONE distressed me greatly, and I wound up wasting time not on scholarly or artistic pursuits but on stressing out, feeling completely paralyzed, that I just didn't know which to give up and that I didn't want to just completely carve out a whole, integral part of my identity and throw it away.

Right about when I was begrudgingly and reluctantly coming to terms that I had to make this hard choice, a few miraculous things happened. First, that workshop I was talking anxiously about in my last post? It was amazing. (I'm self-congratulating a bit because I co-organized it. :)) Though there were the tough moments, like the moment someone asked me the hardest question that you can ask me about my dissertation work (aka: the question you hope in your heart of hearts that no one will ever ask you), everything that happened at the workshop--the good and the ugly--all reminded me again of why I love linguistics and being an academic. It affirmed my feelings that I just do. not. want to give it up, no matter what nay-sayers were telling me. And more than that, it was inspiring: the determination that I came out of that workshop with was, do everything in your power to get there.

Then, a couple days later after the workshop, I attended this panel that was organized by a group for Diversity in the Arts at my school on being a career artist. I didn't go into it expecting much, and I had signed up for it a long time ago, before everything else had gone crazy, so I went anyways. The panel was mostly okay and not very applicable to me, until I met Pireeni Sundaralingam.

Pireeni Sundaralingam is a poet, an accomplished artist with publications, readings, residences at museums, the whole shebang. But crucially, Sundaralingam is also a neuroscientist, a legit, trained-in-the-sciences-at-Oxford-and-worked-at-MIT-and-UCLA-and-holds-an-academic-post scientist. She, my dear readers, is TWO things at the same time. And doing amazingly at both, to boot.

I spoke one-on-one with Sundaralingam as soon as I possibly could after hearing her tell her story at the general panel. I desperately wanted to know, "How is this possible? How do you go through your life and choose BOTH, not settle on just ONE, like everyone tells you to? How do you do it!" Here's what she told me (though I can't recount them as eloquently as she said them):

  1. Make your own story. Just because everyone else might think that there are certain paths that you must take from point A to point B, be your own pilgrim and blaze your own path. It is your story to tell and no one else's, so have the courage to live your own story. And, Sundaralingam said, everyone behind you will thank you, because as you turn around, you'll see that you've just cut out a new path from point A to point B for others that are in the same situation as you.

  2. Be unapologetic. There will always be the nay-sayers. But again, don't let them write your story for you, and don't let them make you feel bad for writing your own story. At the end, you'll be the one who's won.

  3. Find your rhythm. Balancing more than one passion isn't going to be easy. It's harder than just having one thing. But, as evidenced by Sundaralingam, it's achievable. The key, according to Sundaralingam, is to find the rhythm between the two parts and to rely on that rhythm.

Meeting Sundaralingam and hearing her advice was invaluable to me. It's so rare to meet people who are practicing academics and scholars but who also have something else that is an equal part of their identity. I am sure these people exist--and that there are more of them than I realize--but it's rare to meet them and to discuss these things publicly since to have two (or more!) parts of your life that you're 110% serious about is so stigmatized. Wherever you all are, if you're out there, I want to hear from you, because we need each others' support!

So where does this leave me? After these few roller coaster weeks, here I am, learning to unapologetically go for what I want, the life that I want to live. Of course, I haven't found my rhythm yet! Psh, that will take years, no doubt, and patience is something that--though it doesn't come so naturally to me--I need to remind myself to have. I hope you'll all have patience with me and with this blog, too, as I try to figure things out. For the first time in a long while, I don't feel paralyzed anymore. I feel as though I know what I have to do, and that Purpose (with a capital "P") is so empowering. So, I'll be back. The photographs and the desserts (and the sort-of-crummy-but-I'm-learning design) will be back. Just be patient. I'm working on that rhythm.

x, Stephanie

Monday, October 8, 2012

White Grape Sorbet

This is one of those weeks that calls for a quiet simplicity to my dessert. Something unfussy, deliciously straightforward, cleansing. Because inside, I feel like this. And this. What can I say? I have a nasty habit for biting off more than I can chew, spreading myself far too thin (it's funny how many food-based sayings there are for this situation). This week, there's a Big Deal workshop that I'm co-running at school, and not only do I have to take care of all these organizational details, but I'm also supposed to give a talk there in front of all the Big Wigs who are coming (somebody just shoot me now, because that's a much more pleasant fate than standing up there in front of people who are 10,0000-gazillion times smarter than I am, who will be looking at me, the polite few will be kind enough to wear these fake smiles and nod gently even though they are smiles and nods of pity, and the not-so-polite few will no doubt just tear me apart in the Q&A session. Just thinking about it makes me want to find a giant rock-cave and crawl into it, never to appear again.) Then, we're also running way late on our sated schedule, and my life in general is just. a. mess. Despite how everything looks clean and put together here on the blog, know that it's my happy place, my simple place, where I go to get away from the disintegrating chaos that is my week. *deep breaths.*

So this white grape sorbet, a counterpoint to the dark and boldly purple concord grape sorbet that I made last year, is the perfect therapy for this week. The sorbet is made from these absolutely beautiful green grapes that my mom brought me a few weeks back. They were perfect and rustic specimens of grapes, slightly bruised light purple in some areas, clumped tightly together on the stems, with leaves still winding around the clusters and pockets of cobwebs hidden inside. I love it when I get grapes like this, which look real like how grapes fresh off the vines should look and not like the plastic-ky, cleaned-up versions of grapes that you see floating in cellophane bags in the supermarkets. The grapes and the sorbet taste equally clean, with a mild sweetness, refreshing and quietly subtle.

Wish me luck with this week--I'll see you at the end of it, if I survive!

Read on for recipe....