Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brown-Butter Toffee Blondies

These past few days have involved a fair bit of cabin fever, rain, and just enough butter to keep us in hibernation mode.  We've come through the storm no worse for the wear, though our home has sustained a few leaks and we could literally see our windows bending from 70 mph winds.  Tuesday morning, however, has ushered in decidedly fall weather, and I couldn't be happier to break out my peacoat for the cooler temperatures.  And, of course, it's time to start on the fall baking.
There is something very autumnal about toffee.  The burnt, nutty, sugariness (surely that's a word) just screams, "Enjoy me by the fireplace!"

It didn't get cold enough during Hurricane Sandy to justify a fire, but it didn't stop me from baking a tray of Martha Stewart's Brown-Butter Toffee Blondies to keep my hands busy.  And mouth.  Man, these bars are superb!  Between the two of us, JP and I have polished off 1/3 of the pan in just two days.

Definitely keep a close eye on the butter while it's browning, as it's a fine line between 'golden brown' and 'burnt black.'  I also added chocolate chips instead of walnuts because, well, I like chocolate better than nuts.
Not sure if these count as a halloween dish, but, if so, they would count as a 'treat.'  Yum!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why We Broke Up

Daniel Handler wrote this YA book, with Maira Kalman illustrating.  As in, the same guy who did the Lemony Snicket series.  As you may guess it's slightly out of the ordinary from a lot of young adult literature.
Min and Ed are breaking up, so she's giving him a box with all of the mementos from their short-lived romance.  She's including a letter explaining the reason she kept all of these things, as well as why they never would have worked out any way, to go along with the chest of break-up goods.  The chief reason they are no longer a couple is that they're from different worlds: Min wears a lot of black and practically lives at the art film house in town, and Ed is the co-captain of the football team.  Their story is nothing earth-shattering, especially if you've seen any John Hughes film starring Molly Ringwald, but I couldn't help by be entranced by it.
I realize that as a 26-year-old, married woman, my days of teenage dating are way behind me; however, I couldn't help but feel my own high school days coming back to me through the pages of Why We Broke Up.  It's hard to remember, but dating when you're 16 is a wildly different affair from dating as a grown-up.  Handler obviously recalls being 16 and in love: the quickness of it, how you feel as though the world is conspiring against your burgeoning emotions, the judgment of high school cliques and mannerisms, even the folded notes in lockers that seem to hold more than just penciled words.  It seems almost quaint to read about the ease of Min and Ed's 4-week long relationship, and the month-anniversary celebrations and bonfires with the popular kids.  Daniel Handler, take me back to a simpler time!
It should be noted that each item in the box is represented by a lovely illustration by Maira Kalman.  It's printed on beautiful, thick, heavy paper that actually feels like a workout to carry around.  It's not just another YA relationship book.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My (Late) Week in Photos

Ah, there's nothing like a hurricane to keep you inside and cabin feverish.  We're huddled inside for Hurricane Sandy and, for once, I wish we didn't have windows nearly surrounding two of our walls.  There's a lot of wind and rain out there, folks. 
It also reminded me that I never posted photos of my last week!  Forgive my tardiness...

 We had a fondue/game night at our house last Saturday night with some work friends and Belen.  The amount of cheese'll make you full just thinking about it.

 The fall leaves are here!

 My bachelorette meal while JP was in NYC: black bean soup with mushroom burritos.  Insanely delish!

 I also had a mini-craft night with some construction paper and an old frame.  I quite like it.

 I started peeling off my nail polish, creating male hairlines on my fingers.  The left is definitely Ron Swanson.

And my mom came to visit!  She even brought me lunch at work on Friday, and kept me company in the student center.  I love my family.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

Challah!  If you've visited me or my dad in South Florida, chances are high that you've eaten at TooJoay's, a deli chain in our area that serves French toast to die for.  It's wonderfully desserty, thick and sweet.  The trick?  They use challah, an egg bread, to add even more eggs to, then slap it on a pan for toastiness.

I always thought challah would be incredibly complicated to make; turns out, it's one of the easier quick breads.  Add in a dough hook (no kneading by hand!), and it practically makes itself! 
Smitten Kitchen posted this beautiful loaf of fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah a couple weeks ago, and my plans were set: bake this for JP.  His love for me increases exponentially when homemade bread is involved; Mia is the same way.

Rather than make my own fig filling, I bought some fig butter and called it a day.  Seriously, I'm making the bread; how much more can you expect of me, Deb?  I think it works just as easily from a jar. 

If you're a fan of challah, you'll love the addition of earthy sweetness from figs.  Slice it up, toast, add some butter and's a beautiful thing.  JP approves.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cricket in Times Square

The Cricket in Times Square is the Newbery Award-winning book from the 1960s, and it is beautifully quaint.  Chester Cricket winds up in New York City's Times Square after a picnic accident (he fell asleep in the basket) in Connecticut, and is taken in by Mario Bellini.  Mario's family owns a small newsstand in Times Square, where Chester takes up residence in a small matchbook.  He befriends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, starts playing opera on his hind legs (he is a cricket, after all), and gets to know a Chinese man who gives him a lovely home to live in.  
My mom read this to me and Haley when we were wee children (sorry to end that awesome alliteration), and I enjoyed it then as much as I did this time around.  It's a simple story, although some of it isn't totally politically correct.  (A lot of stuff from the '60s isn't, but we move on.)  You can knock this out in an afternoon; get to it!

Friday, October 19, 2012

My Week in Photos

 Haley made me a drawstring maxi skirt that isn't too long for my 5'4 frame.  I love it!  Paired it with a flannel and thick scarf last Saturday to keep me warm in the DC breeze.  Thanks for your sewing skills, Haley!

When JP is gone, I snack more than I eat actual meals: Jonathan apples with peanut butter/almonds/honey, pumpkin spice tea.  These apples are delicious, and smell spicy!  It's crazy.  Try some if you see them at the grocery store.

The rooftop of one of the buildings in Georgetown.  Terrible paint job with graffiti.  How do the kids get up there?

I made fig challah bread, but left it to rise wayyyy too long.  The process of making bread soothes me; it's amazing what can happen with some yeast, warm water, and flour.

Honey-mustard roasted cashews.  Need I say more?

Loving this song, which begins, "The piano is not firewood yet."  Don't write off beautiful things just because they won't last forever.

My mug at work, and a reminder.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Single Serving Chocolate Lava Cake

Ladies, THIS IS IT.  Do you have a single girl night in coming up?  Feel like eating an indulgent dessert but don't want a gazillion leftovers?  Like cake batter, but warmed up and more fancy?  This is your dessert.
JP was out of town this weekend, and I had Saturday night all to myself.  Gossip Girl was already to go on my Netflix, comfy elastic-waist pants were on, and I just needed something warm in my belly.  As is my recent routine, I rifled through my Joy The Baker Cookbook, and landed on this recipe.  It's got 6 ingredients, which I already had in my fridge and pantry, and gave me an excuse to use our wedding 8-ounce ramekins (the things you register for during wedding planning...).

It's your typical chocolate molten center cake: dark and rich, with a cake shell encasing an oozing fudge center.  Double the recipe for a dessert for two, quadruple it for a small dinner party, but there's no shame in doling out the single-serving for you.  I'm sure you deserve it. 

Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake (from Joy the Baker Cookbook, Joy Wilson, 2012)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg
4 tsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and place cookie sheet in oven as it heats up.  Generously flour and butter an 8-oz. (1 cup) ramekin.
2. Place butter and chocolate into a microwave-safe container (I used my glass measuring cup) and heat in microwave until both are melted, maybe 40 seconds.  Set aside to cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and sugar.  Pour chocolate mixture into bowl and whisk until well incorporated.  Add salt and flour and mix until just combined.
4. Pour batter into prepped ramekin and place in oven on top of cookie sheet.  Bake 7-10 minutes; the less time it's in the oven, the more oozy the middle will be.  (The top should be set, though, so you can turn it out onto a plate!)
5. Remove from oven and cool for 2 minutes.  Using pot holders, invert cake onto plate and devour.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Warning: this is a book about a dog.  As most dog books, it follows the canine throughout its entire life, which includes his death.  It's not the climax of the story, but it's mentioned, and you should prep yourself for that as necessary.
Nelson is a beagle/poodle mix adopted by a young couple as they begin navigating the sometimes rocky terrain of marriage.  Katey, a concert pianist, never wavers in her devotion to her dog, although her husband, Don, strays from both Nelson and Katey.  One afternoon, Don leaves the front yard gate open and Nelson escapes on a search for Katey, who is traveling for a piano concert; this takes Nelson on a journey across the country, as he wonders farther and farther from his home.  The entire book is told from Nelson's perspective, meaning there is no dialogue (so there's none of that Homeward Bound situation going on); it almost feels like a silent movie in novel format.  It's lovely to hear about Nelson's life on the road with a lonely trucker, how he ends up in a veterinary clinic in middle America, his time with a wolf pack, and finally being found by a loving boy and his father in California.  Throughout this journey, Nelson never loses sight of his main goal: to be reunited with Katey.
Alan Lazar is actually a composer, and he wrote this book with 7 short piano pieces that you can play from Youtube or your phone at certain points in the story.  This book won't change your life or make you think philosophically, but it's really heartwarming (not a phrase I use lightly) and a great read for an afternoon on the couch with, who else?, your canine companion.  Mia certainly got lots of extra attention while I was reading through it!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My week in photos

I got to see my wonderful little sister!  We got dressed up for one of my college friend's weddings on Friday; we clean up pretty nicely, huh?
These two were excellent hosts all weekend; thanks for your wonderful hospitality, future Bernhard family!
Harbor was John Paul's college roommate, and he married the lovely Kaitlyn in a very homemade, personal wedding on the bayfront.  So, so glad I could be there to see him in a suit!
Saturday was spent shopping around downtown Pensacola.  Haley makes a lovely princess, don't you think?
I also got to meet my niece, the beloved Layla.  She is a delight!  Haley and Matt have a cuddlebug on their hands with that one.
We also got dressed up for the Seminoles game on Saturday night.  As I have no allegiance to any college football team, I figured I could just go all out cheering for the Bernhard's Noles.  Nice headband, yes?
Waffle House on Monday.  Yes.  Chocolate pecan waffles, hashbrowns covered and capped, super-buttered toast...we were gluttonous.
Some pool time before returning to the frigid north of DC.
And yesterday we celebrated JP's birthday!  27 and counting...

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Week in Photos

Goat cheese and chive biscuits!  I do love watching them bake; there's something very soothing about watching dough puff up and darken.

We climbed onto the roof of our building, and captured these clouds above.  Two landmarks you can only see if you squint: the tower on the left is Georgetown University, and the far right shows the National Cathedral spires.  Love this view.

New cardigan from Madewell with heart elbow patches.  Perfectly slouchy and cozy.

Our marriage announcement in our Flagler alumni magazine.  Got a few things wrong (JP's title and Chelsea and Harbor weren't actually in the wedding), but I do love seeing us in there.  We would not have met if not for Flagler College; we owe a lot to them.

Fancy phone photo of my new J.Crew pants, along with a consigned Ann Taylor top, Gap belt, and Urban Outfitters heels.  I really love this whole ensemble, even though it's a bit more spring than fall.

Orange-poppy seed pancakes for Sunday brunch. Served on paper placemats meant for doodling (thanks, Grandma in North Carolina!). Yum.
 JP used his placemat to draw Trogdor.  This invoked a very full discussion of high school nostalgia, as well as lots of texts to and from Haley as they compared dragon drawing skills.

Hooray for fall!  This tea smells like pumpkin pie in a cup.

Today, I'm firmly planted in the Florida panhandle for a long weekend.  On the agenda: a wedding for some lovely friends, pool/beach time with Haley, watching my first FSU game with Haley and Matt, getting inspired for their 2014 wedding (!!!  Still feels weird to say my younger sister is getting married, but am so excited to see it come together!!), and meeting my first (doggy) niece, Layla the Lovely!  Can't wait to share details of the visit next week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pumpkin Seven Layer Magic Bars

Yowza, these bars are good!  Picture this: a crumbly graham cracker crust layered with basically a pumpkin pie filling, a firm bite of Granny Smith apples, and topped with chocolate chips, butterscotch pieces, almonds, and a sprinkling of coconut.
It's like a piece of autumn just fell into your mouth.

I found this recipe on Bakers Royale, and had to make them immediately.  Some friends came over for a movie night last weekend, and I served these up to counteract the bitterness left in our mouths after Arbitrage.  Nothing to cure cynicism like sweetened condensed milk.

Of course, I tweaked things a bit: decreased the coconut, added butterscotch, used more almonds than suggested.  I just always think of the topping of a bar cookie as a recommendation, not something that's actually been written in stone.  Don't mess with the proportions of eggs, flour, etc., but everything else is fair game.  My heart wanted butterscotch in these bars.
I certainly can't deny my heart's desires, can I?
Enjoy these with good company, and I do think they would be an excellent addition to a Thanksgiving dessert bar.  You hear that, Dad?  I may be serving these up down in Florida...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ender's Game

A few weeks ago, JP and I were out to dinner with a good friend who is very into science fiction; we spent a good 20 minutes of the meal discussing our favorite characters in Battlestar Galactica.  Please keep the judgment to a minimum. 
He couldn't believe that I'd read Philip K. Dick, watched BSG, seen Star Wars, but hadn't read Ender's Game.  JP just finished it in record time, and the two of them bullied me into reading Orson Scott Card's YA novel, originally published in 1985.
Ender is the youngest of three children, growing up in a home with a sadistic older brother and middle sister who protects Ender from his attacks.  When he's 6 years old, a general from the military plucks him from his home, and brings him to a battle school to prepare for a war against a race of hostile aliens.  During his years in the battle school, where he is pitted against other young soldiers in the training 'battle room,' Ender is physically and psychologically tested.  Can we entrust the fate of humanity to an 11-year old boy?  And can he handle the pressure?
Ok, ok, JP's magic words for getting me to read this book were, "It's kind of like The Hunger Games."  Yes, there are children fighting against each other, and somehow an awful lot of expectation being put upon people who are pre-teenaged.  This doesn't have the same inter-personal relationships I've come to expect from young adult works; Ender is in his own head a lot, and has interactions with non-military members only occasionally.  It's difficult, then, to connect with any of the characters outside of Ender, although I'm sure some readers will disagree with that opinion.  This is definitely a novel I would recommend to budding sci-fi fans, as well as teen guys.