Words to Live By: New Eyes

7 May

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees.” – Proust

Pippa Middleton Eats Cake. This Cake.

16 Apr

chocolate Guinness cake

I keep coming accross different representations of the same quote on Pinterest: “If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders.” If true, my heart might be in entertaining because my new medium of procrastination is tweaking recipes and hosting gatherings where I can have others help me ingest all the goodies I’m making!

On Sunday night, I had some friends over for dinner and as an entertainer extraordinaire I had to ensure my friends had something homemade for dessert. What’s dinner without dessert anyway? This is what I told myself, but really I had been longing to make chocolate cake and needed some help eating it. Just kidding. Ok, maybe I’m being a little bit honest here.

It was a delicious dinner and a great start to a week that I have promised myself not to include much deviation from my productive schedule. Of course, every good dinner comes with even better conversations.

Between bites of cake, one of my friends says: “Have you heard about this lady that spent $10k in plastic surgery to get Pippa Middleton’s butt?” Well, yes. “This cake is delicious by the way. 10 points for you and Pippa’s butt.”

Ever since the Royal Wedding, Pippa Middleton’s behind has had a great following worldwide. Plastic surgeons are banking on the Pippa buttlift, personal trainers are helping women break a sweat with the Pippa Middleton boot-y camp and a group of highly regarded intellectuals with a specialty in aesthetics have founded the Pippa Middleton Ass Appreciation Society on Facebook.

I guess no one has broken the news yet that the secret to Pippa’s sought-after bottom is actually in the Guinness chocolate cake I made this weekend. Ok, so this might not be exactly true but I am sure that as an English gal Pippa does enjoy a proper pint of stout. And well it’s safe to say that very few ladies do not enjoy a good serving of chocolate.

I have tried a few chocolate cake recipes and I must tell you, this is probably the most deliciously light and moist chocolate cake I have ever baked. It is definitely worthy of the palates of today’s royals, socialites and commoners alike.  There’s a cup of Guinness in it that can be substituted for strongly brewed coffee, although I advise against it since the Guinness really brings out the chocolate flavor.  And well, why choose coffee over Guinness?

chocolate Guinness cake

Pippa’s Guinness Chocolate Cake (with Guinness-Chocolate Buttercream Frosting)

For the cake:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (plus about 2 teaspoons for dusting the cake pans)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Guinness

For the frosting:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons Guinness

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pans with about a teaspoon of flour for each pan and gently tap out any excess (there’s a good tutorial for doing this here). Preheat the oven to 350°.

Sift together the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix everything for about a minute at low speed using the paddle attachment. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the oil, eggs and vanilla. Heat up the the Guinness in the microwave for about a minute. Slowly beat the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then slowly beat in the Guinness until fully incorporated.

Pour equal amounts of the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 35 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the enter of each cake comes out clean). Allow the cakes to cool, in the pans, for about 30 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper and discard.

In the meantime, melt the chocolate chips using a double boiler or use a microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave in 30-second intervals. Stir the chocolate chips until completely melted, then allow to cool to room temperature.

Using the electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the vanilla and beat for about 1 minute, scraping the side of the bowl with a spatula. Slowly beat in the confectioner’s sugar at low speed, for about 1 minute. Add the Guinness to the melted chocolate and mix until well incorporated. Slowly beat this mixture into the butter until just combined.

Set a cake layer on a serving plate or cake tray, flat side down. Level the cake using a serrated knife. Evenly spread about one third of the frosting over the cake just until you reach the edge. Level the second cake and place on top of the frosted cake. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and cover the sides of the cake.

Enjoy responsibly and in moderation.

Deviled Eggs & The Rest is History

8 Apr

deviled eggs

My only memory of deviled eggs dates back to a soirée hosted by one of my most esteemed history professors in college prior to his return to London. It was quite a treat actually, having deviled eggs for the first time in the kitchen of the historian who authored Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, Felipe Fernández-Armesto. I experienced a bit of sensory overload that night compliments of the rich, mildly piquant deviled eggs and an engaging conversation with a very charming educator.  

I’ve wanted to make deviled eggs myself for a while and found Easter brunch to be the perfect opportunity for it. These make a rather elegant appetizer and can be made with ingredients usually found in one’s kitchen. I can tell you that after researching deviled eggs recipes online, I came up with my very own using what I had in my kitchen. No biggie.

I wonder what Prof. Fernández-Armesto has to say about the alleged Roman origins of deviled eggs and the variations of this dish across cultures.

A big Thank You to my brother for lending his photography skills for this blog post. He also made sure no deviled egg was left behind at the table.

deviled eggs 

Historic Deviled Eggs

6 large eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp organic german mustard
1/2 tsp Spanish sweet paprika
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh, crushed pepper
For garnish:  sweet paprika and green onions

Start by boiling the eggs until the yolks are hard. I recommend visiting Egg Watchers to use a fun and accurate timer for boiling perfect eggs. Once done, run your eggs under cold water, gently crack the shells and peel them. Allow the eggs to cool before cutting them lengthwise.

Carefully remove the egg yolks by using a small spoon, place them in a mixing bowl and arrange the egg whites in a serving platter. Using a fork, mash the egg yolks and add the remaining ingredients. Mix everything together using a whisk or a fork until all ingredients are well incorporated. For a creamier consistency, add more mayonnaise and adjust seasoning to taste.

Transfer the egg yolk filling to a pastry piping bag and fill the egg white “shells”. Garnish with sweet paprika and chopped green onions. Keep them refrigerated until ready to serve.

Welcome back, Betty

6 Apr

It’s been quite a while since I stepped foot into the kitchen to cook a real meal. For months, I’ve been surviving on canned tuna, whole wheat matzo crackers and apples with peanut butter (with the occasional orange beef and house special fried rice take-out meal from the Chinese restaurant right next to my office).

cookie dough and mixing bowl

Well, let’s say these days I have a bit more time to do what I love, including putting my kitchen utensils to work and writing.

I decided to cook a real dinner for a change and it came out beautifully. My sister, of course, wouldn’t let me off the hook that easy and communicated her craving for “something chocolatey”. Actually, it was more like “Hey, Betty Crocker, can you make me something for dessert?  With chocolate?”

Diligently, I started researching quick alternatives to satisfy her craving and while going through my fridge and pantry I realized I had been hoarding  everything I needed to make chocolate chip cookies. Lucky her. I adapted a recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book and got to baking for the first time in months.

The cookies hit the spot for her craving. And, now I’m left with about a dozen cookies that keep calling me back into the kitchen for another bite (or two). I am convinced that if I enjoy them with a cup of green tea these won’t find shelter in my thighs.

I guess you’ll see me running like a madwoman around the neighborhood a lot more often.

double chocolate chip cookies
Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book (Chocolate Chip Cookies) 

1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granualted sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer in high speed, cream the butter until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and continue beating until the mixture is no longer gritty when rubbed between your finger and thumb. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until blended, occasionally stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula if needed.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed or stir with a wooden spoon just until blended. Add the chocolate chips, mixing or stirring just until blended.
Using two spoons, shape the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls and place on the baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches (2cm) apart. Bake the cookies until golden brown, about 12 minutes.

Carrying On

30 Mar

Someday, we’ll forget the hurt. The reason we cried and who caused us pain. We will finally realize that the secret of being free is not revenge, but letting things unfold in their own way and time. After all, what matters is not the first but the last chapter of our lives which shows how well we ran the race.

– Unknown

The End.

Words to Live By: Never Too Late

15 Feb

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Soulmates (or Messengers of a Higher Power)

13 Feb

Miltenberg, Germany. December 2011

Soulmates: we are socialized to believe a big part of our lives should be dedicated to the search of our soulmate. That one person we were separated at birth from. That one person that we will spend the rest of our lives with because no one else has the ability to understand us as they do.

However, I have learned that you don’t search for a soulmate. Instead, they come to you when you most need them and least expect them. And they are not, at least in most cases, meant to stay around for very long. Just long enough.

Long enough, as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, “to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life.”

I am a very spiritual person and therefore believe in the existence of a higher power. You can call it God, Allah, Buddha, the Universe (or Electricity as my high school Spanish lit. teacher would say). I strongly believe these soulmates are all messengers of a higher power that come into your life just at the right moment.

They are:

the  lady that reminded you of your mom and helped you pick a nice pair of shoes at Norsdtrom one day when your world was so cloudy that even deciding on flats over platform heels  seemed overwhelming;

the high school classmate who confessed he always wanted to date you and a decade later still finds you beautiful right when you were thinking how undesirable and unattractive you were;

the acquaintance from abroad who gave you company when your insomnia kept you awake and taught you that letting go a little and going for an adventure really isn’t that bad;

the college student in your standardized test prep-course, who barely knows you, yet gave you the sweetest, unsolicited piece of advice when you were questioning whether or not to finish that course;

and finally, the lover who unintentionally gave you the push and confidence you needed to embark on a a long overdue venture that will transform your life .

Words To Live By: Impossible is Nothing

5 Feb

Bateman Street, London by Nobuyuki Tgauchi

“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.  Impossible is nothing.”  — Muhammad Ali

Words To Live By: Marilyn Monroe

29 Jan

NEW YORK CITY—Marilyn Monroe at the premiere of East of Eden, 1955. Photograph by Eve Arnold

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring” -Marilyn Monroe

BEMENT, Ill.—Marilyn Monroe resting, 1955. Photograph by Eve Arnold.

A Writer’s Dilemma

6 Dec

“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

Erice, Italy. Summer 2011

Writing is therapeutic.

At least for me, it’s a way to let go of demons and feelings that haunt me. It forces me to analyze a situation and find somewhat of a conclusion to what I currently face. It’s a form of release, letting go, articulating what I feel and just moving on.

Other times, it’s a form of showing appreciation towards someone meaningful. It’s my way of letting them know that they’ve made such an impact in my life, I was actually inspired to create a piece of literature.

Writing is then a liberating, violent, passionate, beautiful activity.

But, what happens when after going through the whirlwind of emotions that usually precede a piece of writing — the tears, the cigarettes,  the bottles of whiskey, the glasses of cheap wine that helped you dig deep into yourself, looking for words to describe your Utopia, the cloud you’re currently living on (or the absolute hell your burning yourself in) —  you can’t share in any way what you’ve written?

When you can’t make it publicly available on your blog?

When you can’t even share it privately with whomever inspired you to write it in the first place? (Because you KNOW they won’t understand the complexities of your writer mind, the need to put feelings into words, the desire to make a few moments often considered mundane, perennial. Because, perhaps they won’t understand why there are any feelings at all).

What happens then?

I guess you wait for the right time. You open another bottle of cheap, organic wine and you wait. You switch from wine to whiskey and soda. You light up a cigarette, even though it does no good to you, even though you’ll probably end up inconveniencing them with an asthma attack tomorrow. You go back to the bottle of whiskey. This time you omit the soda and just hit it on the rocks.

You wait for that time when publishing perhaps the most honest and passionate piece of writing you’ve ever created will not affect either one of the parties involved. You actually care more about the other person’s interests than you do about your own. You’ve already bared yourself on a piece of paper. You already lay there naked, so what difference does it make for you?

This is not about fear, but about protecting the non-writer in your life.  You’re waiting for the right time – that precise moment when publishing your story won’t affect the other party involved. When the circumstances that hold you back from making it public today are no longer relevant.

Because us writers have immunity in this crazy, hard to understand literary world. But the civilians we share our lives with don’t.

P.S. I have no patience. I’ll open another bottle of wine and wait because I still respect you. Tomorrow, I’ll turn to whiskey. And to your utter disappointment,  there will be cigarettes every night until the day I’m able to publish our story.