Monday, July 18, 2011

Stop 22: Colorado Apple-Banana-Walnut Nugget Cake

We had a potluck brunch on the last day of school.  I organized it and subsequently threw my back out at some point during the preparations.  I also promised all of my colleagues many more potluck-esq types of events in the future, but as that I am now planning my big escape to Belgium or Paris or somewhere in the middle, who knows how inspired I'll be to get people to bake.  On that note, does anyone want to pay me a bunch of money to go to Paris for a year and just kind of hang out?  I have been looking at jobs there and I think that that would be a far superior alternative.  Let me know...

Anyway, we had a potluck and it seemed like the perfect time to make a cake that I had no interest in eating.  This pretty much means either something with peaches or something with bananas.  I chose a banana recipe.

The Apple-Banana-Walnut Nugget Cake was created to honor Colorado because of Brown's association between a trip he took to Colorado as a child when he was shocked by all the small "nuggets" of rock were there (he was expecting large boulders and that's it) and Colorado's history relating to the gold rush. He chose apples, bananas and walnuts because they were good for holding the soft cake together.

I should acknowledge at this point that I don't have any pictures of this cake.  I forgot to take them before and then I went home all whimpery-like because of my back and forgot to take them half way eaten as well.  If you don't want to read anymore without the promise of visual stimulation, I completely understand.

The cake itself consisted of the normal cake ingredients plus some sour cream, heavy cream and brandy. There were also four eggs and three egg yolks thrown in for good measure and a bit of cholesterol.  The recipe called to leave all the fruit pieces pretty chunky, as to make it nugget-y.  Then you put on not one, not two, but three glazes.  First white - powdered sugar and milk, then tan - the white one mixed with some melted chocolate, then brown - just melted chocolate.  It truly was a sight to behold.  I was also told that it tasted good.  All I can tell you from personal experience is that I'm even more repulsed by the scent of baking bananas than I am of raw ones...

Next Stop: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake.  I had a packaged one at a wedding and I want to see how it compares!

Stop 21: Washington D.C. Cherry Trifle

I have been a very bad blogger, I apologize profusely.  The end of school happened and then my back pain and then Europe and well, I have been a very bad blogger indeed.  I am back at it though and hopefully will have lots to regale you with soon!  It has been a bit too hot to do much baking recently (though there was quite a bit of experimenting with baguettes right after I got home from Europe), but I am hoping to jump back in for a BBQ I have next week.  In the meantime, some catch-up!

Right before the end of the school year, my mother hosted her book group meeting.  The book they read was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which is really quite a nice book if anyone's looking for anything to read.  She asked me to make something for it and we determined that few things get much more English-y than a trifle, even if it is out of the ultimate American cookbook...

Brown chose a cherry trifle for D.C. in honor of the cherry trees that are so prevalent down there.  I'm not sure how he decided on a trifle for their vehicle though.  It was a pretty basic recipe, but with a few extra tricks thrown in.  Brown called for his "Amazing Vanilla Cake" recipe for the cake layers, but I had some leftover vanilla cake in the freezer and used that (remember when I said I would never deviate from the exact recipes?  HA!).  Brown's trifle recipe calls for sugaring the cherries. This basically means to dump the pitted cherries in with some sugar and apple cider vinegar and let them hang out in the fridge for a few hours.  When all that is done, he has you make a simple syrup and add the juices that have come out of the soaking cherries to that.  Then you soak each layer of cake with the simple syrup before putting in the whipped cream and sugared cherries.  Brown also required the whipped cream to be very loose, so it all kind of blends together.  I think I understood his reasoning, but in the future, would probably whip it up more.  I prefer a firmer texture over his aesthetic preference.

I discovered a cute trick for pitting cherries during this process. By gently pushing of the point of a corkscrew through the top of the cherry (where the stem was), the pit slipped right out the bottom of the cherry and didn't leave a very big hole.  This was good because part of the appeal of the trifle was how the cherries looked with the layers of cake and cream.

It was very tasty, though with those ingredients, I can't imagine how it wouldn't have been!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Europe! (part 2)

After Bruges we headed for three days in Amsterdam.  We got there by train, got kicked out of a first class carriage on said train, made our connection in Antwerp and eventually found our hotel.  We had a bit of confusion with finding hotels because what could be better than being lost in a new city filled with pick pockets and tourists while schlepping 800lbs of luggage?  Nothing!

The first day we were in Amsterdam it was really hot, like 90's hot.  And my back hurt.  That day involved a lot of walking around and looking at things, going into air conditioned stores and finding places to stop and have the magical European iced tea (it's fizzy!).  We saw some sights and then did our normal afternoon siesta.  When we went back out for dinner, it looked approximately like the apocalypse was upon us, so we ended up going to an Argentinian steak place much closer to the hotel than where we had originally planned.  It was good because the skies opened, the winds howled, men clung to their beers under sidewalk table umbrellas for dear life, water sloshed in through the windows and doors, it was outstanding.  And broke the humidity.

The next day we went straight to the Anne Frank house after breakfast.  It was rainy and cold, but there was still a line.  From there we hit the Jewish History Museum, had some falafel for lunch, did the Portugese Sephardic Synagogue, and I dragged my mom to the American Hotel to see the architecture.  Then we discovered hop-on-hop-off canal boats and bought 24-hour tickets for those.  It was a good call, because the sun had come back out and things were heating up.  I had the best crepe of my life at a place called Hansel and Gretel and then we took a mini tour on the canal boat through the city.  That night for dinner we went to a Thai place in the Red Light District which had been talked up by the tour books.  It was busy and the orchids were beautiful, but the food was only so-so.  We then walked through the Red Light District and had some amusing conversations about the fact that we were walking through the Red Light District as mother and daughter and I taught my mom the difference between coffee shops and those coffee shops as we walked by.

We started off day three by going on the longest canal boat leg that went to the outermost canal in the city and saw some sights that way.  Then we did the Van Gogh Museum, found the cafe we had wanted to go to for lunch which was closed for renovations, ate more falafel, found the flower market, hit some stores, and located the restaurant at which we wanted to eat dinner - we were getting smarter!  After that afternoon's siesta we hit Kapitein Zeppos which was awesome.  Totally quirky interior, excellent food, funny waiter.  It was great!  On the way back we literally spent our last four euros (on water and iced tea).  It was sad knowing the vacation was coming to an end.

lunch and iced tea 
mom in a shoe 
some beers

Bird, the Thai restaurant
Our hotel was made up of four canal houses
at Kapitein Zeppos with some more beer

Kapitein Zeppos interior
rain storm on the first night 
statue of Anne Frank at the Westerkerk next to the Anne Frank house

interior of the American Hotel Cafe

Mom and me waiting for the canal boat tour
And that was that.  The next day we hopped a flight back to Boston and it was like we'd never left.  Unfortunately, I now have the crazy travel bug and can't wait to go back again!

As mentioned before, I came back to a week of extreme back pain and then was in a wedding on the weekend.  The wedding was incredible, but of course, took up a fair amount of time.  From mani-pedi on Thursday to the catered Four Seasons lunch on Friday afternoon to the rehearsal dinner at Silvertone on Friday night to prep and the actual wedding on Saturday, it was a jam-packed weekend.  Also a weekend in which I learned that one should no drink beer, gin and champagne all in one night.  Or at least not without a fair amount of cold pizza in the fridge for the next morning.

This was the wedding of my friend Anne (of guest post fame ) and her fiance Ben.  The wedding had a peacock theme and everything was done beautifully.  And Anne is a vegetarian who doesn't really like vegetable, so there was a pasta bar, which was awesome.  I don't have a lot of pictures from the wedding, but here are a few that show how creative and beautiful everything was.

This is actually two bridesmaids bouquets mixed together. 

Anne's mom made one of these bags for every out of town guest.  They're adorable and have the Make Way for Ducklings ducks on them!  And were jam-packed full of yummy goodies.

And that's that.  Now, the trip is over and the wedding is over and I guess I have to go back to the real world.  Oh wait, I'm a teacher on summer vacation, the real world is the beach!

I'll be posting about the cherry trifle and golden nugget cake soon!

An Actual Side trip - to Europe! (part one)

I realize I haven't posted in quite a while.  The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me.  School ended, I pulled something in my lower back, went to Europe, came back, was jet lagged, and then, just to top it all off, was in a wedding last night.  It's been a crazy three weeks, but things are finally settling down.  Here are some of the highlights:

On the last day of school for teachers (which is the day after the last day of school for students) every year there is a big school-wide meeting.  I refer to this meeting endearingly as the "Kumbaya meeting" because it seems to be a day for people to get up and tell other people how much they love them.  It's actually very nice and gives people a chance to honor others in a public forum.  This year, I asked the principal if we could combine the meeting with a potluck breakfast.  I used to create a list of what was needed and have people sign up for those things.  There was a ton of food, it was wonderfully successful, and it was also where I seemed to have thrown out my back.  Because of that last part, I ended up leaving the school for the summer feeling a bit ill-at-ease.  But I had also discovered that many of my colleagues can certainly cook, so we will be doing some major pot-lucking again in the future.

Two days after school ended, my mother and I left for a seven-day trip of Europe.  We took about 250 pictures, which I will not post here, but the whole thing was incredible, bad back and all.  And let me tell you, walking and biking around Europe for seven days is not the way to heal a bad back.

The trip started in Paris where we spent our first day, right off the plane, sans sleep, wandering around, climbing up to Sacre Couer, finding and adorable street filled with cafes (Rue de Cadet), getting misplaced looking for an Miro exhibit (we were literally in the wrong place, not lost), tripping over the Eiffel Tower, and accidentally eating (and paying for) two entrees at dinner rather than one.  Our hotel was adorable, the room being in the garret of an old Parisian building with a view of the Eiffel tower in one direction and Sacre Couer in the other.  Paris was a quick and slightly exhausting (and exhausted) day, but absolutely lovely.
Mom and me at the Sacre Couer steps
Our balcony
Paris hotel (the window allll the way at the top was our room)
 The next day was our trip to Giverny, where Monet lived and painted, and the real reason for our trip.  We had arranged a bike tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours which my mom had read about in the newspaper and did not disappoint.  The day started with meeting at the Gare Saint-Lazare to catch a train to Vernon, the town next to Giverny.  We did not miss our train, but only just.  In Vernon, we got out bikes and then we to a open market to buy lunch which we then biked to a spot on the Seine to eat.  Then we biked to Giverny (nice smooth bike trail and a little hill at the end) and had a few hours to see the house and gardens.  They were amazing.  Then we biked back, caught a train back to Paris, we home, fell asleep, woke up, ate dinner and packed because the next day we were leaving for Belgium!  I do want to give a little plug to the bike tour company here because I thought it was pretty incredible.  It's an American company that runs all sorts of tours in London, Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin.  Our tour guide (Meghan) was knowledgeable and sweet and very helpful.  It was well planned and the bikes were comfy.  There is about a 25% chance that I am going to quit my job and go give bike tours of Europe for the rest of my life.  I'll keep you posted.
Meghan giving bike instructions

Our picnic by the Seine
Mom and me at Giverny
Yummy crepes for dinner that night!

We made our train to Brussels very, very early and ate about three breakfasts in the meantime.  By the way, I should take a moment to point out that everything in Europe is very expensive right now.  Like, you sit down and order a coffee and then realize you've just paid seven dollars for it.  But you're on vacation, so you just kind of go with it.  It's a really great way to get really poor, really quickly.  Anyway, we made our train to Brussels with no issues.  We also eventually made it onto our train to Bruges, though having ticket machines in the Brussels train station that do no accept cash or credit cards was a bit sneaky.  And mean.

In Bruges, once we found our hotel (which was a converted barge and adorable), we met up with my friend Tom who was in Belgium on business.  I loved Bruges.  It was an adorable, totally navigate-able city with tons of history and shops and bikes and tourists.  It didn't really need more than a day or two, but for some reason, I want to live there and stay there forever.  Mom, Tom and I used the Rick Steve's Snapshot Bruges (big shout out for Rick Steves!) to take a tour of the city, see all the sights, check out the brewery, find a closed restaurant (that should have been open), and then finally find one of the best restaurants we ate at on the trip, amusingly called Tom's Diner.

The next day, it was just mom and me in Bruges and we rented bikes from the hotel and went on a journey to Damme, a small town about five miles away.  There wasn't much to Damme, but it was a very nice ride and very nice to be on a bike since we had done so much walking the day before.  At this point, my back was still in pretty bad shape, but biking seemed better than walking, at least until I got off the bike...  After Damme we went to some chocolate shops and boutiques, a park called Minnewater, found a lace shop, and had a light dinner.  I should also mention that for some reason in these parts of Europe, the sun does not go down until the break of dawn.  Or at least about 10:00-10:30.  Because of that, it makes a lot more sense to eat dinner between eight and nine.  And because of that, it makes a lot of sense to nap between five and eight.  These Europeans are really onto something.
My favorite picture!
Bruges canals   
At the Chocolate Line - chocolate place with crazy flavors
De Halve Maan brewery

View down the canal from Damme to Bruges

Amsterdam and wedding in part two!