Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back in the Kitchen!

I checked out this cookbook from my county library a few weeks ago, and was intrigued by more than one recipe in it. There was one, however, that I kept turning back to, reading over, pondering... The Sweet and Salty Cake. An "indulgent but sophisticated adult sweet," the cookbook said. And Christmas was coming... bingo!

December 23, after filling up a grocery cart with things we don't normally keep (like a full pound of chocolate, another full pound of butter, plus heavy cream and dark brown sugar), I propped open the cookbook and tied my apron. It felt good to be making magic in the kitchen again. Dark cocoa powder, dark brown sugar, sour cream, shortening, butter, eggs... and a gloriously dark batter emerged. Baked in three 8-inch pans, the cakes came out almost black.

The cakes cooled overnight, Andrew arrived from medical school, and we listened eagerly to news predictions of a white Christmas in the southeast. Could it be?

Christmas Eve we breakfasted at Cracker Barrell with my Dad's family, finished up our shopping, and came home. I had a cake to finish. Step one: Make caramel. On the stove.  Armed with a new candy thermometer, I tentatively assembled the water, sugar, corn syrup, sea salt, and cream. Cautious stirring, careful temperature watching, fascinated observing, and science came through. Voila! Caramel!

Another batch for the ganache frosting, and then pour it over a pound of chopped chocolate, the best we could find. The caramel and the chocolate combined to form a rich, sweet, decadent flavor. To this, I added an inordinate amount of butter...

... and whipped the whole kit'n'caboodle into glorious, fluffy submission. Caramel chocolate ganache!

Each cake layer was poured over with the salted caramel, which took too long to soak (I had to poke some holes in the cake), and then covered with a layer of ganache, and a sprinkling of fleur de sel (sea salt).

Whew! Safely in the Tupperware cake holder to await Christmas afternoon. I was so worried; would it be as good as I think? I'd been talking about this cake for a while, and it took up so much time that I wondered if it would be worth it. We planned a simpler Christmas lunch (roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad), so that we could enjoy the cake more. Would it be worth it? Oh, gee.

Yup. It was. I'm not a professional food photographer, so I can't show you how lovely this cake is... here's a better picture from the Baked bakery in New York.

It's so moist; it's very hard to cut that prettily. But it's absolutely delicious. Want a bite? Come on over!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The Merriest of Christmases to you!

Let us rejoice in the memory of a birth, of the Creator suffering the physical body of a man, of a lifetime of the limitations of mortality, of friends who misunderstand and bicker, of an unjust accusation, a facade of a trial, the Passover spent hanging on a cross, and then ... death. Let us remember that God died so that He could rise again, defeat death, free us from the slavery of sin and death, call us His own people.

Christmas is about redemption, salvation, freedom...

Praise the Lord! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Au Revoir, Oscar and Emmy

I live in a tiny southern town. Charming, yes. Historic, yes. Boring, yes.

Apparently, The Travel Channel agrees with all but the boring bit.

Yesterday, as I got ready to go to work, I decided, as I often do, that since a) It was an obscenely gross and rainy Saturday and b) I'm going to a job which I leave smelling of grease, that it would be a make-up-free day. Cozy sweater, messy bun, off to work.

Mop in hand, I contentedly cleaned last night's dirt from the floor. I rather enjoy mopping; it's a mindless task, yet absolutely satisfying. Instantly gratifying. At one point, I looked up to see a young man dash through the bitterly cold rain to knock on our door. I unlocked it to explain that we were not open yet.

This nice young man is part of a film crew who is staying in town this weekend, making a documentary.Can they come film us today?

Oh, gee.

Cameras and cameras and microphones and a dozen people in our small little restaurant...

I've never felt more awkward in my entire life.

Hollywood, I will not be seeing you anytime soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


On my life's to-do list:

Make homemade marshmallows. Eat them.

And buy this necklace from Etsy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Books, Movies, and Munchies

About two months ago, I checked out The Hunchback of Notre-Dame at my local library. The book sat on my shelf for the entire time; I never even picked it up again. I looked at it frequently, but never made a move. A month later, I repeated the exact same charade. Last week, I checked the poor book out yet again, and then today, picked it up, and began to read. Wish me luck, perserverance, and understanding.

I braved the bitter cold to go see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" last night with my dear friend Princess Sarah. Disappointing! It was all I could do not to laugh at the outrageous plot the writers fabricated, as though C.S. Lewis's was not good enough. I felt as thought I was watching a bad sci-fi flick more than once during the movie. The best scene in the movie came at the end, when Aslan tells Lucy and Edmond that he is in their world, where he has another name, "and you must learn to call me by that name. It was for that very purpose that you were brought here to Narnia..." Sadly, however, this scene felt so out-of-place in the context of the movie that if I wasn't a life-long fan of the books, I would have wondered what the heck Aslan was talking about. Disappointing.

Something that is not disappointing, however, is this recipe! I have an aversion to cheese balls, as I generally feel nauseated at the smell of peppers and onions (much less the taste), but the first time my mom made this one, she literally had to tell me to stop eating it. Simple, and completely addictive. It literally melts in your mouth. But, in the infamous words of LeVar Burton... You don't have to take my word for it!

It looks just like this, except is coated with pecans. (I stole this picture from Google...)

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (no substitues), softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cp confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
graham crackers

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Just before serving, roll cheese ball in pecans. Serve with graham crackers.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Engagement pictures and puff pastry

I am currently whipping up three separate things in the kitchen, all for our women's Christmas party at church this evening. A chocolate chip cheese ball (to die for, I promise you), something with puff pastry (my mom's idea) and scones. I adore scones.

I also thought I would give you a peak at my engagement pictures! We took them down at Watson Mill, where we got engaged. Photo credit goes to my talented mother. (They're a little fuzzy on here because she took them on film and these are off the photo CD. Poop. They look awesome in print.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


These lines of a favorite hymn have described the innumerable blessings God has made known to me lately:

Hast thou not seen how all they longings have been granted in what He ordaineth?

I have truly seen. To name a few:

1. My Andrew. It was so good to have him at our home for Thanksgiving, and he'll be here again for Christmas day, then we're hitting up his family's get-together the week after. We had a blast catching up, taking our engagment pictures at Watson Mill (where we got engaged), going on a date (we don't get to often), and looking at the stars. I learned a new constellation: Casseopeia. I found it on my own tonight, so I guess that means I really learned it. We also started our registry... slightly a nightmare. We're both too definite in our opinions sometimes. But that frustration led to a good conversation. I do love that boy.

2. My new sister! My older brother proposed to his girlfriend the week before Thanksgiving. Such joy!

3. Sweet friends. Lindsay and I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving together. I drove down to visit her Thursday; we made jewelry, went shopping, and (of course) hit up the new Harry Potter movie the day it came out. We then drove up to our beloved Chattanooga to attend the wedding of two dear friends. We got to visit with even more dear friends before and after, so all in all ... a sweet weekend. And Linja's coming to see me this weekend, too!

4. Winter. I'm so thankful that it's finally sweatpants and sweater season. I've reached a point in my life where I don't enjoy bumming around the house in jeans: it's either sweatpants or gym shorts. And there's nothing cozier than curling up on our cushy sofa in sweats, a book in one hand and a snack in the other. That's what I did most of the day today.

5. Christmas! Mom and Dad put up our tree this evening while I was at work, so the lights were twinkling at me when I pulled in the driveway. Now I must shop...

6. Discipline. I'm trying to memorize 2 Peter. I made it through the first four or five verses this morning and have been saying them to myself all day. I hope my energy doesn't give out before I'm done. I'm absolutely notorious for losing energy for a project right before it's done, and then I finish it months later, if at all.

7. Hot showers. Chicken strip salads. Family pictures. Coffee. Cardigans. Fleece blankets. Red Mountain Music. Cookies in the oven. Potted plants. Snail mail. Comfortable silences. The gospel.