Stand Up

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

WE CAN BE but partially acquainted even with events which actually influence our course through life, and our final destiny.
There are innumerable other events, if such they may be called, which come close upon us, yet pass away without actual results, or even betraying their near approach, by the reflection of any light or shadow across our minds.
Could we know all the vicissitudes of our fortunes, life would be too full of hope and fear, exultation or disappointment,
to afford us a single hour of true serenity.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, David Swan

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

LPF isn’t a whole digital diary.
I don’t come here to grouse about my own personal failures and hardships often.
This is not to say that these words are misleading or untrue or that this space is not filled with intimate parts of my thoughts.
(Or that I don’t whine about things…)

But who likes to describe their own missteps, shortcomings, their own defeats, to the black void of the internet?
How often do I share “flop” recipes or tell you about a royal Fuck Up in my relationship?
It is difficult to allow yourself to be seen as a loser to your readers, even for an instant.
This is Social Media 101 in 2016: share what’s picture perfect and keep the little bits of your soul that have shriveled in disappointment off the screen, for God’s sake.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

And in reality, I practice this careful shielding of the things that make me cry in my daily routines, too.
You wouldn’t have known Friday that I had been at the library until 3:30am the night before; that I had been informed of my falling short in a big way that morning.
No. I washed my face with cold water and put on my sturdiest pair of corduroys with which to pull myself up by the pant loops (as my boots have no straps).
I went back to the library and started what had been a very long, endurance-heavy process again.

It’s hard to talk about failures.
I don’t like to talk about them with anyone.  The worst is being probed in your sensitive spot by caring friends who couldn’t possibly know better because you haven’t told them!
When it is fresh, I allow myself the comfort of vagueness, giving myself room to breathe and recenter.

Really, you don’t have to know the details of someone’s stumbles to at least understand their willingness to try again; the number of times someone falls down only matters in the face of how many times they stood up.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

 But OK.  Rant over.  Now let’s talk about something that was a smashing success.
Namely, these cupcakes.

What do you do when you have a craving for banana cake but you have no old, brown, wizened bananas on hand?
We all know green around the edges or even perfectly blemish free bananas are more starchy than sweet and don’t make the best banana baked goods.

These cupcakes have the answer: roast the living heck out of peeled, bland bananas and they will make the fruitiest, sweetest dessert of your dreams.

Roasting is minimal effort: 30 minutes, tops.
The now flavorful bananas are mashed and then combined into a moist buttermilk batter that bakes up into dense, sweet and fruity little cakes.
Topped with a generous swirl of salted chocolate frosting, these cupcakes make for the perfect four bites of chocolate plus banana!

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

P.S. #Banana, previously.

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Roasted Banana and Salted Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 18 cupcakes
cake portion adapted from Epicurious

ingredients:
for the roasted banana cupcakes:
3 bananas, peeled
150 grams (1 1/4 cup) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
113 grams (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
120 grams (1/2 cup) buttermilk or sour cream

for the chocolate buttercream:
175 grams (1 cup chopped or chips) bittersweet chocolate
225 grams (2 sticks, 1 cup) butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
500-625 grams (4-5 cups) powdered sugar, as needed
30-60 grams (2-4 tablespoons) cream, as needed

directions:
Make the cakes: preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Place the peeled bananas on the sheet and roast for 30 minutes, until slightly brown around the edges and very fragrant.
Remove from oven; mash and let cool.
Turn the oven to 350 degrees F and line 20 muffin cups with liners.
Beat butter on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add the salt, sugar and vanilla; beat for 3 more minutes.
Once again scrape the bowl and add the egg and yolk; beat for a full 5 minutes.
Stir in the buttermilk or sour cream until half incorporated; add the mashed bananas and stir a few times.
Stir the flour and leavenings together; then add into the mixture slowly as you stir together.
Once the dry ingredients have been mostly incorporated, beat on high speed for 30 seconds to structure the batter.
Portion into the 20 prepared cups (you will use 2 of the cupcakes to decorate the others).
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a tester comes out just clean.
Allow to cool.
Make the frosting: place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 4 minutes.
Add the cocoa powder and beat for 30 seconds.
Add in the chocolate in a slow stream while beating on high.
Scrape the bowl and add the 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt; while mixing on medium speed, add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time.
Taste and adjust the salt as you like.
If the frosting is too thick, add in up to 4 tablespoons of cream while whipping on high.
If it is too thin, add up to another cup of powdered sugar to thicken.
Decorate cupcakes as desired; if you want, you can cut up 2 of the cupcakes roughly to make little pieces to stick on top.

My Dog

Ginger | La Pêche Fraîche

If Weenie hadn’t died he’d be purring beside her, his ears flattened against his skull and his tail curled like a hook around her bare ankle, his eyes slitted across the dark lawn at the restless, echo-ranging world of night creatures that was invisible to her: snail-trails and cobwebs, glassy-winged flies, beetles, and field mice and all the little wordless things struggling in squeaks or chirps or silence.  Their small world, she felt, was her true home, the secret dark of speechlessness and frantic heartbeats.

— Donna Tartt, The Little Friend

Lemon Cream | La Pêche FraîcheGinger and Rach

You weren’t really a Great Lover or, for that matter, listener.
And that used to frustrate me to no end when I still believed I could influence and control you and have you wear a tutu and jump through hula hoops (literally).
I mean, I was six.  Still a puppy, too, and ever the dog-idealist, despite your clear departure from Normal Doghood.

Gingey, you weren’t like Bambi, Mama’s childhood dog.
Try as I might have to show you my tears and demonstrate how you ought to have sat by me and comforted me, or to hug you close and attempt to teach you how to snuggle, any discomfort or indeed, all-too-discernable display of emotion made you awkward and unbearably antsy.
(But darn it all if I don’t often feel like your nervous younger self now, enduring wild-eyed bouts of panic over minutiae, over things that have negligible impact on my life as a whole.
A leaf blowing in the street; a forgotten homework, etc. etc.)

ginger as a puppyLemon Cream | La Pêche Fraîche

No, you were very much you.
Uniquely neurotic and uncomfortable around humans and other dogs, and cats, and spooks, of course.
Always, you were a lemon.
You loved us in a very non-obvious, difficult to discern manner.  Ever the lemon.  But always my girl.

Anyways, as I have oft-declared, lemon is the best flavor.
I wouldn’t want you to be any other dog or have any other type of manners.
As weird as you were, you fit perfectly into our dysfunction.  You were our dog and we loved you no less for your dislike of affection and attention.  You were different but sweet.

Lemon Cream | La Pêche Fraîcheginger as a puppy and rach

My dog was born on January 6th or 8th (we could never remember) in 2002, somewhere obscure in North Carolina.
She didn’t come to us until she was 8 weeks old, a terrified, lanky little bundle of sable fur with a uniquely unbecoming patch of orange hair splashed between her soft little ears (think: Bozo the clown).
She would have been 14 this coming January.
Some part of me wanted to wait until her birthday, but that’s the selfish human in me talking, so I could quantify just how old my pup was when it was her time.  So that the length of the years we spent together could, in a meager way, demonstrate how important she has been to my childhood and my family to anyone, even those who don’t know.
Dogs don’t have a sense of future time.  Ginger certainly never understood the fuss over her birthday and she couldn’t see her own grey hair spreading across her snout.
She knew, though, that she was old.  She felt the aches and pains, even through the medication.
We could all see that she was weary and uncomfortable.

Yet it is so hard to say goodbye.
She will be greatly missed.

ginger rach first communionLemon Cream | La Pêche Fraîcheginger and rach pigtails

Thank you for being my unwilling and willful companion and our family’s scaredy-cat guard dog.
I am sorry for being stubborn and impatient and altogether too cuddly of a playmate.
And I’m sorry that everyone was so sorrowfully ignorant of your pains as you grew older.  We tried to understand.
And always, we loved you.

On her last morning, Ginger had steak for breakfast, and she got to have some peanut butter as her last snack.
And so it goes that this afternoon, my big, fat, goofy chocolate lab passed into the infinite and left us mortals here feeling very terribly, awfully small.
But Ginger, if even a single iota of your complicated happiness could be attributed to me and my love for you, I am content.

ginger on the porch

Rest easy, good girl.  I love you.

rachel walking ginger

Lemon Cream
adapted from Tartine Bakery
makes 1 1/2 cups

ingredients:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) lemon juice
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
pinch salt
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, cut up

directions:
Place lemon juice, sugar, salt, eggs, and egg yolk in a small pot.
Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat until combined; whisk every 30 seconds or so to prevent lumps from forming.
Cook for 7-10 minutes, until thickened and at a low boil.
Remove from heat and pour into a blender canister or another bowl if you have an immersion blender.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then add the pieces of butter in and blend on high speed until light in color and thick.
Pour into desired vessels and chill.
Serve with blueberries and powdered sugar.

Aux Myrtilles

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.”

–Pablo Picasso

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Can I tell you a secret?

Oh, bother—of course I can. I do it all the time, don’t I?
The rush—the relief—of spilling inky, irreverent and inwardly-felt thoughts into the incontrovertibly stained internet drives the very heart and soul of the blogosphere. I think.

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

The writing of this post began with sadness and loneliness pouring forth from a disquieted mind, with introspection and frustration and words that were important—questions about growing older that, inevitably, must be asked—but it fizzled, never reaching a boil but a rather disappointing simmer that belied the troubles beneath.

It took me so long to eke out a few tortured words.
The sentences clashed, metallic and hard-edged, and rather than producing the profound music I had hoped to hear, begat only dissonance and off-tune complaints.
Somewhere along the way I lost my thread of consciousness and the subtlety of the emotions thus came undone.

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Without it, I was uncertain of the questions I was even trying to ask, or the tone I was trying to set.
This is just an elaborate way of saying: the writing sucked. It was bad. It was melodrama without substance and it was destined to develop into nothing. A half-assed staircase to understanding.

It’s not like I knew, firmly, what I wanted to write about. I was exploring as I wrote, as I often find myself doing in this space.
I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it; couldn’t quite convince each finger to tap out the required letters.

So I erased it, and sat in front of my computer, vexed.
I also simply don’t feel like putting effort into editing recent photos since I’ve moved (again)—it is such a pain, trying to document pretty food without any props and poor lighting and without my tripod.
It’s far more frustrating than not being able to articulate my anxieties, and that’s reflected in the photos.

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I’m annoyed that my blog is lingering, stale crumbs lying stagnant.  The same post to see every time you click back. Boring!
I want freshness and excitement and movement, and yet I am swimming against what feels like an insurmountable tide of writer’s and photographer’s block to deliver even a single post.

I can’t wait to go back to Ithaca, where I have pretty linens and lots of plates and a huge oven etc. etc., if only to glean a little inspiration and rediscover myself in the big jars of flour and sugar.
Even if the trees cast green on everything up there.  Even if I have no pastry bags and piping tips or cake stands.  Even if there is a lot of cat and dog hair floating around in the summer air.
Even if these are all complaints I have lobbed previously, in indignant validity, they will vanish away when I’m back in the heart of my home—the kitchen. (Do I say this every time before I return home? Maybe.)

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I’ve been waiting to share these enchanting little cakelets with you, as I felt them deserving of more than just a rant.
Whatever.  I gave up, I gave in, and I realized that they were plenty good on their own.  Rant be darned.
Some pretty, flowery words would have been a lovely accompaniment to these ruffled pound cakes, but a cup of tea does just as well in their stead.  Take it from me.

In truth, these photos are old enough to go back to Chicago, where the lighting was good and I had all my favorite kitchen tools.
This might be the real reason why I am feeling almost reluctant to release them!

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

I have so many posts highlighting summer’s produce to share with you all!
I really must make haste, because at the rate at which I am posting, it will be pumpkin-spice-latte season and I will be shit out of luck with a bunch of purply-stained blueberry posts lurking in my drafts folder.
I’ll start here, with these lovely mini pound cakes.
The base is a dense lemon yogurt cake, fragrant with zest and moist and buttery–in spite of the lack of butter in the batter–the texture is all due to a generous scoop of yogurt.
Each mini cake is studded with a few juicy blueberries, which, as they bake, collapse in on themselves to become sunken craters of sweet, sticky fruit.
Each cake is dusted with a little powdered sugar; in just two bites, tangy lemon and sweet berries are brought together in the best of summer pairings.

These would be magnificent if made with raspberries or blackberries, and I can imagine that they would also behoove themselves to a ripe wedge or two of peach or apricot.
These are a perfect accompaniment to summertime tea–sweet or unsweetened.
They’re adaptable to whatever summer fruit you have in your pantry (a few white chocolate chips would also sub brilliantly) and simple to make, and they bake so quickly that you won’t even notice that your oven is on!

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes | La Pêche Fraîche

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cakes
makes 15 mini cakes

ingredients:
2 eggs
135 grams (2/3 cup) sugar
150 grams (2/3 cup) yogurt
75 grams (1/3 cup) canola oil
zest of 1 lemon
120 grams (1 cup) flour
1 1/4 baking powder
5/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup blueberries
powdered sugar, for dusting

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 15 mini muffin tins or mini tart pans.
Whisk eggs briskly with sugar.
Add yogurt, oil, and lemon zest and whisk briskly until fully combined.
Add in flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir until the batter comes together.
Portion the batter out evenly into the prepared tins and press 2 or 3 blueberries into the top.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are golden and the blueberries have released their juices.
Allow to cool completely, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Enjoy with a tall glass of iced tea.

All of It

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination,
every mistake, every word, all of it.”

—Goodbye to All ThatJoan Didion

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Oh, friends.
(Spoken with a heavy sigh threaded through each looping letter.)

There’s nothing harder and more painful than saying goodbye—or even “see you later”—is there?
Say no, please.  Indulge me.

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Exams ended a mere week ago, and I uprooted myself only four days ago and have gone and moved a thousand miles away from what I have now begun to consider my home.
1000 miles away from my other half—my partner in crime and most closely held confidante—my best friend.
Why in the world did I willingly do that?

Four days and I have started at an exciting, challenging new job in an exciting, challenging new city.

One thousand lonely miles and four lonesome days and my heart feels as if it has been rent in two.
Who knew you could drown in tears cried in your deepest, quietest dreams?

Is this too much for a blog where I only refer to my beloved by the first letter of his name, out of some unspoken fear that typing it in full will cause him to disappear, a smoke-and-screens magician chased away at the mention of himself?

I fear this is the type of weepy writing that we as Modern Humans like to hold at full arms’ lengths, prefer to keep, safely, in quickly-closed tabs, away from eyes and clicks and minds.
It is too much, simply.

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

And yet, I have to tell you: I have puddled to the floor like a scoop of cool, smooth ice cream in the wavering New York heat.
It took mere minutes removed from the comfort of the envelope of his arms and impossibly soft skin for my constitution to soften, and weeping and melting followed suit.

I scratch messy notes on scrabbled pages of a journal, and live for the dreams where he lays next to me.
I count the days feverishly, feeling like a madwoman.
I cry to my daddy, because I’m hundreds of miles from my steadiest rock, and he, poor thing, can do nothing to console his daughter who has lost her mind in loneliness and love.

Too young, half of my readers will scold and shake their heads, and here is where I can only try to explain how my heart feels so tight when I lay my head on the pillow at night that I can’t breathe in fully without risking a few tears being squeezed out, and all because I cannot see and hear and feel him next to me.

Do I sound like a teenage melodrama?
Pish on that.  I’m terribly lonely, and deservedly so—I feel like I am only a half in what has been a constant whole.

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Okay, okay. I get it. Enough.
Since it’s summer, and not a single one of us can be bothered to spend extended periods in the kitchen tending to complicated things without running the risk of puddling to the floor (pining heart or no), I have a simple, elegant, summery cake today.

The batter comes together quickly, and a handful of strawberry slices take no more time to be thrown haphazardly on top.

Strawberries are ludicrously in season, little juicy ruby red jewels that burst on the tongue and coyly reveal sweet-tartness.
When baked on top of a soft, gently vanilla-scented whole-wheat butter cake, they soften and melt and meld with the cake, edges crisping ever so slightly while getting syrupy in their centers.

Baking it is easy—just stick it in the oven and wander out of the kitchen to a room with a fan, or better yet, aircon, for a little less than an hour.
The scent of strawberry-vanilla will draw you back in at just the right moment.

A few lashings of good quality dark melted chocolate, and you have a weeknight-approved cake that is glamorous with its bejeweled, striped top, and yet is deceptively unfussy and simple in the best way possible on the inside.

Definitely serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
That is not optional, people.
(P.S. Is it true that ice cream helps to soothe desolate long-distance relationship participants who miss their partner?
P.P.S. Scratch that. N is dairy free. Sorbet it is.)

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Pound Cake | La Pêche Fraîche

Whole-Wheat Strawberry Loaf Cake

makes 1 9×5 inch loaf cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

ingredients:
130 grams (9 tablespoons) butter, soft
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
2 eggs
180 mL (3/4 cup) milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
280 (2 1/4 cups) white whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
6 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
pinch of sugar, for topping
1 ounce melted dark chocolate, for topping

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a loaf pan well.
Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes.
Add in the sugar and salt and beat on high for another 3 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the eggs; beat on high for another 3 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and add in the milk and vanilla; stir gently just to begin to combine.
Add the flour and baking powder on top, and slowly stir until the batter starts to come together; increase speed and beat on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fully homogenized.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, layer strawberry slices until the top is covered, and top with a sprinkle of sugar.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs.
Allow to cool completely, then drizzle melted chocolate all over.
Serve with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Crackberry

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Blackberries were on sale.

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Can you tell?  No? Here, here, and now, here?

Summer berries are arriving.  And I fully intend to eat my weight take advantage of them.

{In regards to the title of this post, although I’ve always been partial to my bevy of iPhones and have never indulged in a crackberry, my friend’s dad has it both ways with a Blackberry keyboard that attaches to his iPhone!  How cool is that?
It’s for people who really love the keys on the Bberry (that satisfying clicking…) but who realize the superiority of the iPhone OS.
Genius.}

IMG_9514_01

I can’t wait until I go back to Ithaca and am able to raid the farmer’s market.
I miss the smell, the bustle, the lake, the people.

I’m in a list-y mood, so:

Fresh, early-summer/late-spring produce that I’m craving (that you should be looking for now! now! now!):
fresh, astringent rhubarb
tart, plump raspberries and blackberries (holla!)
crisp, tender spring greens
thin, delicate stalks of asparagus
young, sugary sweet corn
early, juicy strawberries

Ways I’ll be using all this freshness:
rhubarb, maple, nutmeg compote to be served over cold, creamy greek yogurt with butter toasted oats and pecans
cardamom poached rhubarb and vanilla bean mascarpone tart
giant chopped salads full of grilled corn, balsamic roasted asparagus, hard boiled eggs, avocados, slivered almonds, and chickpeas
lemon and strawberry and black pepper ricotta tart

IMG_9528_01

If you find yourself with an abundance of blackberries, as I did, make these cupcakes.  I beg of you.

Blackberries are nestled into a ridiculously simple, 1 bowl no-mixer yellow cupcake batter, spiked with melted butter and plenty of kosher salt.
On top, a honey malted buttercream is drizzled with honey and finished with a single juicy blackberry.

The cupcake itself is like the softest, tenderest, and most fine-crumbed and cakelike blueberry muffin you’ve ever had (only with blackberries instead).

The frosting is not too sweet, and plenty salty.
It came about when I ran out of powdered sugar!  I decided to incorporate honey into the frosting, and then I threw some malted milk powder in for body.
It benefits by the punch of honey flavor from the drizzle, so don’t skip it.

This recipe only makes 12 little cupcakes, so don’t worry about a huge yield!

IMG_9497_01

Malted Honey and Blackberry Cupcakes
cupcake portion adapted from Sally
makes 12 cupcakes

ingredients:
for the cupcakes:
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
heaping 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
splash vanilla extract
1 heaping cup smallish blackberries

for the frosting:
1 cup (16 tablespoons) butter, softened
big pinch salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup malted milk powder

to assemble:
12 large blackberries
1/2 cup honey, for drizzling

directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a cupcake tin with 12 liners.
Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.
Beat melted butter with sugars until combined, then beat in egg.
Whisk milk and vanilla in, then quickly whisk in the dry ingredients.
Gently stir blackberries into batter, then portion out with a 1/3 cup scoop into liners.
Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: beat butter with salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add in the powdered sugar, honey, and milk powder and, starting slowly, beat until totally combined, about 4 minutes.
Scrape the bowl and taste– if it’s not sweet or thick enough, add more powdered sugar.

To assemble the cupcakes, pipe frosting as desired and top with a blackberry.
Drizzle about a teaspoon and a half of honey on top of each cupcake.

Swimmingly

IMG_9154_01

Promise me
you will not spend so much time treading water and
trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget,
truly forget, how much
you have always loved to swim.

–Tyler Knott Gregson

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I’ve had a shit week.

A shit fucking week.  Actually, the last two weeks have been pretty fucking terrible.
I think.  I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I want to complain about.

Clearly, something is wrong, because this is unheard of.
I can make whine out of, well, nothing.

IMG_9206_01

Busy. Running running running can’t stop.  Balance.  One toe, two toes, one fine wire.
Teeter, totter, fall on my ass.  Climb back up and repeat with markedly diminishing grace.
It never ends, this race to the finish.  I’m sick and I’m fucking tired and I don’t want to run anymore.
I don’t want to bother with the balance and the business and the busyness.

Doors are slamming shut left and right; doors slam shut right in my face.  Fine.  Fuck you, too.
I didn’t want to come in anyways; happy to stand in the soaking spring rain.
Happy to keep myself company in my confused, delighted misery.

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 The words don’t come, don’t flow, don’t exist.
The sentences have dissipated, dissolved, disappeared.
My brain is a microcosm of unproductive stagnant energy; it refuses to spit out even the shortest string of words, preferring instead to brood in dark, dank spaces that exist far below the surface.

I miss this stupid, time-consuming blog so very dearly.
Posts await, impatiently, glaringly unwritten but filled with photos and sugar and longing.
Why can’t I write?  Where are the words that so easily filled pages just months ago?

I miss my family.
Even the words meant for them, short snippets of text messages, have slowed.
Can’t find what to say.  Utterly foreign for a needy, demanding, over-sharer.

I miss home, but that’s a given.

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Stretched too thin.
The sum total is too great: two major art/food projects, four classes spanning two majors, one new and important person, three incredibly important friends with as much on their plates as mine, one blog, one body, one mind to hold it all in.

I’m happy, I’m sad.  I feel things deeply and profoundly.
Cry while listening to the Civil Wars–listen to them a lot, on repeat, even– and squeal while watching baby bunnies hop around–too few this spring, too few after a harsh winter.
Cry while thinking about my grandfather; cry and laugh, delighted, at his memorial.
Giddy while holding hands and smile while my hair is gently smoothed back from my face.
Sadness, anger, and regret all stab deeply into my stony heart, just as satisfaction, peace, and joy buoy me upwards, make me light as air and malleable as clay.  Ballooned upward, only to be popped by a pin that feels more like a baseball bat.

But thank the gods that I do feel.
A very wise woman said sadness is raw skin, painful and present.
Depression is a down parka, muffling and silencing, blocking and numbing life.
Fuck those stupid fucking “Depression Hurts” commercials.
Depression dulls; sadness hurts– sadness feels.

And oh!– do I feel.

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Wake up–Friday–sheets already sticking sticking stuck to sweaty skin.  Wake up, drool smeared up one cheek and into one ear; wake up feeling disgusting but alive, so alive.  Sick of being refrigerated anyways.  Grateful for the sweet breeze.

The heat and soupy humidity and smell of rain in the air set my soul to singing.
Spring reminds me to live.  Reminds me not to let a single moment escape unnoticed, unappreciated.
Spring refuses to let me crawl back under my winter parka, refuses to let me burrow deep and hibernate.

Spring is life.  Life in bloom.

Open eyes, breathe deep, smile, cry, whatever the fuck this feeling is at this moment, and embrace it.  Own it.

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These photos are a little preview of an article I wrote for a fabulous food magazine here on campus, Nonpareil.

Stoked to work with them.  I had a super fun interview over coffee with their lovely editor, Jenny.
Reading the article she wrote, I was a touch embarrassed but crazy flattered.  It’s an exciting feeling, to be sure.

To my UChicago readers, I do hope you’ll pick up a copy when it’s published. (Translation: pick one up and read it cover to cover or else.)
To my other readers, sucks to suck.  Just kidding.  I’m sharing the recipe here so you can be included, too.

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This cake takes the traditional American birthday cake– yellow, with chocolate buttercream, and elevates it ever so slightly.

Buttery yellow coconut cake, gently scented with coconut oil, with threads of coconut and egg yolks creating the tenderest and softest of crumbs.
Salted chocolate buttercream, whipped and fluffy, rich with deep, dark, fruity chocolate cocoa powder and enhanced with a pinch of espresso powder and three pinches of salt.
Blackberries, tart and juicy, pair gorgeously– they play a perfect foil for the heaps of butter and chocolate, and add a fresh, lively element to the cake.

You could substitute raspberries very easily, light coconut milk in the cake batter, and coconut cream in the frosting, as well.
You do, however, need the bittersweet chocolate.  It’s the key to getting a truly chocolaty buttercream.

This has birthday cake written all over it.

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P.S.  Happy mother’s day.  My mama and my grandmas are true inspirations.
(HI GRANDMA shout out to you, I know you’re reading this.  You’re the BEST and I miss you dearly.  Hope you got my cards and letters– did I put enough stamps on?– Love you SO much.  I will call you later today, but I expect an email about 5 minutes after you finish reading this…)

My mama inspires me to work hard; she teaches me to balance on the thin wire of life and not take shit from idiots.
She reminds me to let little things go and not let myself be bullied by the patriarchy.
She comforts me when I’m down– “fuck them”– and makes me laugh with pictures of my badly behaved cats– again, “fuck them”.
She begs me to not be like her, but I know I am my mother’s daughter.
And I am blessed for it.

I love you, mama.  See you in a few weeks.

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A Grown-Up Birthday Cake

ingredients:
for the yellow coconut cake:
200 grams (1 2/3 cups) flour
2 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
85 grams (6 tablespoons) butter
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
180 grams (3/4 cup) reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup desiccated coconut, optional

for the salted chocolate buttercream:
50 grams (2 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
315 grams (2 3/4 sticks) butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
110 to 140 grams (4 to 5 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
50 grams (1/2 cup) cocoa powder, sifted
30 to 60 grams (2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup) heavy cream

to assemble:
blackberries
powdered sugar, for dusting

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour 3 6-inch pans or 2 8-inch pans
Stir together flour and baking powder.
Cream butter and coconut oil with salt for 3 full minutes.
Add the sugar in a stream and cream for 4 more minutes (set a timer).
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in the egg yolks and vanilla extract.
Beat for 3 more minutes.
Scrape the bowl; while mixing slowly, alternate adding in the flour mix and the milk, beginning and ending with the dry.
Stir in the coconut.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.
A tester should come out nearly clean, with just a few crumbs sticking to it.
Allow to cool completely.

Make the frosting: melt the chocolate in a double boiler or very gently in a microwave; set aside to cool.
Beat butter, espresso powder, and salt on high for 5-7 minutes, until very fluffy and nearly white.
While whipping, slowly stream in the cooled chocolate; beat for another minute until homogeneous.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and sift the powdered sugar and cocoa over the butter.
Starting slowly to prevent sugar explosions, beat in the sugar and cocoa.
As the frosting begins to come together, stream in the cream, starting with 2 tablespoons and increasing if the frosting is still too stiff.

Assemble the cake: level your cake layers with a serrated knife if they are uneven; brush crumbs off gently.
Place the first cake layer on a serving plate; spread with 1/4 cup of frosting and top with the second layer.
Spread the second layer with 1/3 cup of frosting and press a few blackberries on.
Smooth more frosting over the blackberries so that the layer is even, then top with the third cake layer.
Use 1/2 cup-2/3 cup of the frosting to create an even, thin crumb coat.
Refrigerate crumb-coated cake for at least 30 minutes.
Once chilled, use the remaining frosting to cover the cake as desired.

Janvier

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“There are many things we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”

-Oscar Wilde

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January is a fragile month.
The new year is only just hatching, stretching its wings, ruffling its feathers, blinking awake.
The sun is slowly becoming stronger, the days longer.

It is the month of resolutions, ever so delicate, easily crushed in their nascence.

We are all only dipping our toes in the cold, cold new waters.
Not a one of us knows what the year will bring—a terrifying and invigorating prospect.

How has it come to pass that the end of this first month of 2014 is nigh?
January has flown by in a blur, spinning me around in a whirled frenzy of snow and wind.
I shiver to think of what this year holds—whether it is borne from excitement or dread, I cannot say.
It could also be the ungodly cold here in Chicago.  I don’t know.

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January is a month of citrus.
Though, I must admit, you cannot tell as much from my archives.

January 2013: puff pastry tutorial, coconut mochi, s’mores cake, conversation heart cookies, nutella-raspberry-brown butter crumb bars, maple-bacon and Vietnamese coffee doughnuts, gâteau des rois.  Only one had citrus…
January 2014: Peppermint-chocolate cookies, PB cupcakes, pear-cranberry-ginger crisps, earl grey cupcakes.  Ahem.  Still none.

This pavlova is my answer, my remedy, then, to the absent citrus in what I have just declared to be a month of citrus.
Specifically, lemon.
January is a lemon month.

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Lemon.  Perky, bright, sunny.
Lemon.  Tart, balancing, acidic.
Lemon lemon lemon, I’d choose over chocolate any day.  (Freak.)

The first time I met a meyer lemon was 2006.
I received the January issue of Martha Stewart Living.
As I tore through it, my 11 year old self soaking in every hit of inspiration, I fell upon this cake.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to make this cake so incredibly badly, but knew it was out of my reach.

This cake prominently featuring these mysterious meyer lemons was all I wanted.  And I couldn’t have it.
I begged my parents to let me make it.
They said, “um… no. We don’t need a 3 foot high, 3 tier meyer lemon cake.  Stop reading Martha Stewart, you little weirdo.

Everything was so beautiful and yellow and happy and lemony.
It was torture.
And what the hell was a meyer lemon, anyway?

Can you tell what a strange, disturbed child I was?  A Martha Stewart addict from a young age.
It explains so much, don’t it?

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In a month where stagnation is banished, where the wheels are turning and the world is changing, lemon is ideal.
It’s fresh and lively, something which I appreciate when the fresh produce situation is somewhat abysmal.
Lemon never fails to awaken the palette.
It’s a clean flavor, and after all the heavy desserts of December, we can all use a flavor boost.

Pavlova.  Also perfectly suited for January, with its light airiness and minimal sweetness.
Good for resolution breaking, but not resolution destroying, ja feel?

It’s probably my favorite dessert.  Which is a big, big deal.
I wrote a sonnet inspired by rhubarb, which was featured in my first pavlova. (I have no words for the white balance in those photos.  Please accept my apologies.)
I had pavlova for my 18th birthday cake, a simple one-layer affair, covered in coconut/mascarpone fluff, passionfruit sauce, and tumbling raspberries.

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And now, here we are.
This pavlova focuses on tartness, allowing the meyer lemons to shine.

A supremely light meringue base, crispy and crackling on the exterior, pillowy marshmallow on the inside, is
layered with barely sweetened Greek yogurt,
thick and luscious meyer lemon curd,
fresh bites of strawberries and raspberries, and
finished with a sprinkle of earthy, grounding thyme and
tart, chewy candied meyer lemons.

My pavlova cracked, pretty badly.  I ain’t stressed about it.
See, I thought it would be genius to layer the yogurt and curd onto the layers before stacking them.
What anybody with a shred of common sense would quickly see is that the meringue was too delicate and fragile to stand up to the thick sauces and promptly crrrrrraacked.  *shit shit shit*
Oops.  It’s okay.  Pavlovas crack and crumble; it’s part of their personality, their patina.
Get over it.

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Once I was done photographing the cake, I realized how futile it would be to try to keep it on the cake pedestal.
It was already slip sliding around, as I didn’t secure it to the stand with a daub of lemon curd, as I should have.
Things were cracking, falling, toppling.
So, I plopped it into a bowl, shoved the leftover fruits on top, and called it a day.

The secret?  It tastes just as good smashed up, packed into a bowl, smashed to bits and spooned straight into your mouth as it does dressed up, stacked, and eaten from a proper plate.

And thank goodness for that.

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Meyer Lemon, Berry, Thyme, and Yogurt Pavlova
meringue base from Donna Hay
lemon curd adapted from Use Real Butter
ingredients:
for the meringue base:
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white vinegar

for the lemon curd:
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup meyer lemon juice
zest of 2 meyer lemons

for the candied lemons:
2 meyer lemons, sliced very thinly
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

to assemble:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 pint strawberries, 1/2 hulled and sliced, 1/2 whole
1 cup raspberries
Fresh thyme

directions:
Make the meringue base:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Trace 2 6-inch circles (you could do 8- or 9-inch, but it won’t be as tall.) with pencil, then turn the paper over.
Begin to whip egg whites with a stand mixer.
When soft peaks are just starting to form, stream in the sugar very slowly, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue has reached very stiff peaks.
Gently fold in the vinegar and cornstarch.
Spread the meringue out around the traced circles.
Bake for an hour and a half, then turn off the oven and allow the pavlova to cool completely inside the oven.

Make the lemon curd:
Place water and sugar in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then whisk in cornstarch.
Bring to a boil; mixture will be very thick and gloppy.
While whisking egg yolks, take a spoonful of the cornstarch mixture and quickly combine; continue to add, by the spoonful, until about 1/3 of the hot cornstarch mixture has been added.
Whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the corn starch mixture, and return to very low heat.
Whisk in the butter, then, off the heat, carefully whisk in the lemon juice and zest.
If any lumps are present, blitz the curd in a blender until smooth.

Make the candied lemons:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.
Place the very thinly sliced lemons in the boiling water and cook for 20 seconds.
Remove to the ice bath and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to the pot and bring to a simmer, until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the lemon slices and allow to simmer for 45 minutes, until softened and no longer bitter.

Assemble the pavlova:
Whisk the yogurt and confectioner’s sugar together.
Spread a thin layer over the first pavlova layer, then spread half of the lemon curd onto the yogurt.
Top with the sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of thyme.
Add the second meringue disk, and top with the remaining yogurt and lemon curd.
Arrange the fruit on top of the lemon curd, and sprinkle more thyme leaves over.
Serve with a spoon, in bowls.

Let It Snow

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Delicately blue light streams in through the windows as snowflakes fall, soft and silent, to nestle in with their brothers and sisters blanketing the earth.

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Fragrant pine fills the house, as the scent of sweet spices wafts about, luring passerby into the kitchen.
The ornaments jingle as they are lifted onto the tree, one by one, until it is full up with a motley myriad of memories in the form of handmade popsicle stick and Elmer’s creations and childhood photos, as well as jewel toned orbs and sparkling glass shapes.

It’s the most wonderful time of year…

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Cheery holiday music blasts through my speakers.
Mittens, hats, scarves, and boots are donned to brave the cold.

That is, when one ventures out of the delicious warmth of a cozy bed.
There’s nothing better than sleeping in a soft, pillowy bed in a cold room, snuggled deep into goose-down comforters and blankets.
There’s nothing worse than stepping out of said bed in the pale, wintery morning light onto freezing cold hardwood floors.
Wool socks, please.

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I love winter.  I love the holiday season.  I’m home home home for three full weeks.  I’m delirious with happiness.
Sleeping in my own warm bed, showering with water pressure, yadda yadda yadda all that stuff I mentioned during Thanksgiving.
Only, this time, I get to enjoy it thoroughly, not rushed and harried.

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I have so many ideas floating through my head of what to bake; it’s all consuming.

Cakes, pastries, and so, so many cookies.
So much holiday cheer to bake into little yummies, so little time!

Of course, that’s most of what I’ll be gifting this year!  Everyone loves cookies… And I love making them.  I promise you many recipes to come.

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However, since everyone and their mother have been making gingersnaps lately, I made gingerbread.

Soft, spicy gingerbread.  Sandwiched with tart cranberry compote and bright, tangy lemon curd.  Covered in a thick blanket of creamy mascarpone frosting, and decorated with a few sparkling cranberry ornaments.

This would be a beautiful and jaw-dropping addition to a Christmas party/dinner/celebration.

Happy winter!  Keep your ovens turned on, y’all.

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Gingerbread Cake
makes a 2 layer 6-inch cake
cake portion adapted from Joy of Baking

ingredients:
for the cake:
2 cups (260 grams) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
big pinch ground cloves
pinch cardamom
pinch coriander
pinch ground pepper
pinch nutmeg
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (105 grams) brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (120 grams) molasses
1/2 cup (120 grams) kefir (substitute yogurt or buttermilk)

for the cranberry compote:
3/4 cup cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider

for the lemon curd:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (50 grams) lemon curd
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon butter

for the whipped mascarpone frosting:
2 cups (450 grams) mascarpone
1 cup (110 grams) powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons (30-60 grams) heavy cream

for the sugared cranberries:
1 cup (240 grams) water
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar for dusting

directions:
Make the sugared cranberries:
Heat the water and first measure of sugar together in a sauce pot until sugar is dissolved.
Allow to cool and then place the cranberries into the sugar syrup.
Allow to sit overnight, or at least 5 hours.
Drain the cranberries and allow them to sit for 10 minutes to become slightly tacky.
Place the second measure of sugar in a bowl and place the cranberries in the bowl.
Shake around so that all of the cranberries are covered in sugar.

Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 2 6-inch round pans.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Scrape the bowl and add the molasses and eggs; cream until the mixture is homogeneous (will be liquid).
Add in the kefir and stir to mix.
Add the dry ingredients and stir to mix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 22-25 minutes, until center is springy and cake is fragrant.

Make the cranberry compote:
Place all ingredients in a deep pot and bring to a boil.
Allow to boil until all of the cranberries have burst and the sauce has thickened considerably.
Cool completely before using.

Make the lemon curd:
Place the lemon juice in a small sauce pot and heat until simmering.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together well while the lemon juice heats up.
Once the juice is simmering, quickly whisk in the yolk/sugar mixture and continue to whisk and heat until the curd has thickened enough to leave a trail on the back of a spatula.
Allow to cool completely before using.

Make the mascarpone frosting:
Whip the mascarpone until very fluffy and light.
Sift in the powdered sugar and beat while streaming in 2 tablespoons of cream.
If the frosting is too thick, add 2 more tablespoons of cream, or as needed.

Assemble the cake:
Carefully split each of the layers of cake into two.
Place a dot of frosting on your cake stand or board and place the first layer onto the frosting.
Spread 1/3-1/2 of the cranberry compote onto the first layer.
Place the second layer of cake onto the first and spread with almost all of the lemon curd.
Place the third layer and spread on almost all of the remaining cranberry compote.
Top with the fourth layer and frost with the mascarpone frosting as desired.
To smooth the frosting, run a slightly hot knife over the surface of the cake.
Decorate with sugared cranberries and chopped pistachios.

Clean Chakra, Good Karma

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“Let’s trade in our judging for appreciation.  Let’s lay down our righteousness and just be together.”
-Ram Dass
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As some of you may know, yoga plays a huge role in my life.
I practice 5-7 days a week.  You could say I’m addicted.
Yoga has shown me a part of myself that doesn’t need competition to thrive.
Normally, I live for competing and comparison.
In yoga, I am given the opportunity to learn to appreciate and grow with the people around me who are also sharing in the experience.
Another beautiful part of yoga is the idea of self-study, which allows you to be both the teacher and the student, which is a unique and eye-opening experience.

Leaving Ithaca meant leaving a studio which I had grown to not only love, but feel at home in.
Mighty Yoga is not a yoga studio.  It is a yogic community based on pure love; they welcome new students in with open arms and keep a place for returning students.
I miss my Mighty Yogis something fierce.  All of the teachers there are amazing and bring a different and new sense of wonder to the practice.
I try to hold the sense of community and love that I received/receive from Mighty Yoga in my heart and mind as I try to set down roots in a new studio, which is a different community and a different vibe.
Not bad, or worse, just different.

I made these hand-painted, chai-spiced and rosewater-frosted cookies as a goodbye gift for all the yogis at the studio.
Buttery sugar cookies are dosed with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger, and the royal frosting is tinged with rosewater.
They are delightfully crisp and equally buttery.
I painted each with one of the seven chakras.

Namaste.

P.S. Yes that’s me in the above photo… The pose is eka pada rajakapotasana II.

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Chai-Spiced Butter Cookies with Rosewater Royal Icing

for the cookies:
ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
pinch each cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger
1 egg
2 scant teaspoons kosher salt
3 splashes vanilla

directions:
Beat butter and sugar together until softened and pale yellow.
Add in the egg and beat until super fluffy and shiny and not gritty, about 3 minutes.
Add in the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 20 seconds.
Add in all the flour and stir slowly, mixing until a homogeneous dough forms.
It should not be overly sticky, nor should it be very crumbly.
Roll it out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut it into shapes.
Refrigerate or, even better, freeze, for at least 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, until golden and easily lifted from the sheet.for the frosting:
use this kick ass recipe from Bake at 350, replacing rosewater for the extracts