“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me.
A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month.
I could have cried over it. I did.
Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.
I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
— Jonathan Safran Foer | Everything is Illuminated
Eleven weeks has this year been.
Magically have the hours stretched into days, weeks, months.
In the moment, the minutes melted like molasses, yet here we are, looking back at the accumulation of time piled high like snow drifts.
The quarter gusted by, ruffling my hair, picking at the edges of my jacket, freezing my salty tears to icicles.
Time, that infallible, indefatigable soldier, marches on.
I pool myself at his knees, pull at his clothes, cry, implore him for more, more, more.
I beg a retreat, a repeat– just one– beg for second chances, for one minute, one hour longer.
But he is deaf, this cruel god. There is no rewinding, no turning back.
Done is done; done is done, calls his war drum.
Onward we march. Forward we go.
Eleven weeks has this year been.
One, two, three months. Two thousand fourteen. Twenty fourteen.
The year began as a frenzy of tears, of dually joyous and grieving reunions, of family and love and support and then fell into a deep well of loneliness and numbness, of steely walls and wintry blues, of homesickness and exhaustion.
Slowly, though, 2014 stabilized to an equilibrium.
Just as there was sadness, there was celebration.
Just as there was remembrance, there was readjustment and renewal (even some resolutions).
Healing is not easy.
But you cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.
One walks hand in hand with the other.
And so must we, as their waves beat down on our beaches, as they soften and change our malleable souls.
This submission is not comfortable; it is not easy.
We do not like to be changed.
Yet what can I say? It gets better.
Things get better. I don’t eat dinner alone in the stairwell anymore, cold and alone. I let warmth into my life.
I don’t cry when I’m falling asleep; I don’t cry when I wake up. I smile, and stretch, long and satisfying.
I don’t feel like my lungs are collapsing in on themselves when I think about you. I breathe deeper, and deeper still.
I don’t feel my heart break anew into a million pieces when I think about my father, his brothers, his mother. It aches, but I embrace it.
I don’t feel like I’ve been punched in the gut when I hear your name. (Although I did feel like I was being punched, repeatedly, when I heard your voice. My body clenched and I started to sweat. I listened to it over and over and over.) I am so proud and so grateful, and I close my eyes and remind myself of that instead.
There were times when I didn’t think it would get easier. When I felt hopeless, helpless, lost.
It did, though. I see it more and more as this quarter draws to a close.
Never forgetting. I miss you. I keep your picture in my wallet for good luck on my tests. I taped your picture to my wall– you’re a dreamcatcher for anything math-related because those kind of thoughts give me nightmares.
I’m sure you happily absorb them, and roll your eyes when they’re wrong.
No, never forgetting.
Just feeling my heart knit back together, feeling the rent be mended, one stitch of time by one.
Allowing it to get better.
If there was ever something that you would think couldn’t get better, it would be St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake.
The name alone is enough to give this impression. Gooey. Butter. Cake.
But oh, friends, oh. Does it ever get better. In a word, yes.
Let’s be clear and upfront about what gooey butter cake is.
There are two versions: one is the more classic, yeasted bottom, butter topped coffeecake-like confection, and one is Paula Deen’s dump-a-buncha-butter into a cake mix and slather it with cream cheese decadence. Christina Tosi makes a similar version.
That’s how you know it’s good.
1) the name
2) Paula Deen
3) Xtina Tosi
This is the decadent, preservative-filled type, but made better. Made way, way, way better.
No box mixes. Sans preservatives. Still just as easy.
First, the base. Normally a box of yellow cake mix with a stick o’ melted butter added.
Here, oats, brown sugar, plenty of salt, and brown butter are stirred together, turning into a thick, soft cookie base, with a hearty texture and assertive flavor.
Next, the topping. Cream cheese, more brown sugar, eggs, plenty of salt, and a heap of powdered sugar are beaten together to form the sticky, cheesecake-y layer.
After it bakes, the top is cracked and deeply golden, and the whole thing smells like brown butter-brown sugar heaven.
Shut your eyes to resist its seductive temptation, and stick it in the freezer. Overnight. This is the hardest part of this recipe.
When it comes out the next day, it’s dense and chewy, yet maintains its eponymous gooey-ness.
Dust it in more powdered sugar, slice, and dive right in.
One bite and there’s no going back.
It just got better, fam.
Brown Sugar Oatmeal Gooey Butter Cake
makes an 8×8 pan
heavily adapted from Christina Tosi (originally via the now defunct Gilt Taste)
for the base:
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
for the topping:
8 ounces cream cheese
hefty pinch salt
6 packed tablespoons (3 ounces) brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups (13 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line an 8×8 pan with parchment, then grease the parchment generously.
Place oats in the bottom of a bowl, then put sugars and salt mounded up to one side.
Place your butter in a heavy pan over medium heat.
After it melts, continue to cook it until it browns and becomes nutty and fragrant.
Pour browned butter over oats and allow to sit and marinate; after a few minutes, stir the sugars and salt together with the oats.
Beat in the egg and egg yolks.
Stir in the flour and baking powder.
Mixture will be crumbly but stick together when pressed.
Press into the bottom of your 8×8 pan; you will have some left over (leave 3/4 of an inch for the topping).
Prepare the topping:
Beat cream cheese and salt together until very light and fluffy, and no lumps remain.
Whip in the brown sugar until the mixture is no longer gritty, about 3 minutes.
Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat on high for another 3 minutes.
Sift the confectioner’s sugar over the top of the mixture and beat just until combined; scrape the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is homogeneous.
Spread the mixture over the crust, making sure it covers the entire thing.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed, golden, and crackly, with only a slight jiggle in the center.
Remove from oven and let cool; PLACE IN FREEZER for at least 4 hours, and up to one night.
To serve, remove from freezer and immediately slice; dust with plenty of powdered sugar.
Here’s the sad part: I don’t really feel like writing this post right now.
And I didn’t feel like writing it yesterday
or the day before.
Today was Labor Day; I should be gushing about how wonderful summer was and how much I’m looking forward to the fall (my favorite season, duh. Fall baby.)
I’m not ready. I’m so completely and utterly not ready for fall to come sweeping through on a breeze as sharp and cold as the edge of a knife.
Two weeks ago, I was beyond ready. I could barely wait.
I was on the edge of my seat, excited for cool weather and college (?!) and even the infinite and damned pumpkin recipes.
So, as I write this post, this technically last summer post, why am I so apprehensive and even anxious?
Lord only knows.
Something inside me has switched and is now tugging me backwards through time, rewinding through the heat and the rain and the thick humidity, rather than pulling me forwards into the chill.
As the time of my departure looms large, I find myself clinging to my friends who live here in town, clinging to my town itself.
Who knew it would be so hard to say goodbye to your safe haven, your happy place, your home?
(Other than everyone…)
See, and here is exactly why I didn’t want to write this post.
Now, I am in tears.
And I don’t want to tell you about this awesome ice cream.
I just want to sit and cry and listen to my sad music playlist and whine and reminisce.
I want a hot cup of tea and a pair of comforting arms to snuggle into.
I. Am. Not. Ready.
Hell, I don’t even want to be ready.
But, I have a job to do here on this sweet-filled blog. So:
This ice cream is awesome.
This is the second time I’ve made it, which is very rare.
It’s a caramel corn ice cream, loaded with goodies.
A creamy custard base is steeped with sweet corn cobs and kernels, fortified with a million egg yolks, and churned until thick and soft.
It’s layered with a soft, smooth caramel laced with whiskey, and crumbled corn cookies, which are summer and sun in a single buttery bite, and which come from the great Christina Tosi.
If you wanna get real naughty, you take a big scoop of this ice cream and sandwich it between two leftover corn cookies.
And then you eat it and think about summer.
Because, I’m telling you, there’s no way you can eat this ice cream
and not think
Caramel Corn Ice Cream
for the corn custard:
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels taken off, cobs reserved
9 egg yolks
7 tablespoons sugar
Place heavy cream and milk in a deep pot with the kernels and cobs of the corn.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Allow to simmer for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let cool for at least 45 minutes.
Strain the milk mixture, discard the steeped corn. (Scrape the sides of the cobs to make sure you get all the milk out.)
Whisking vigorously, or blending with an immersion blender, add in the egg yolks and sugar.
Return to the pot and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and blend, in a regular blender canister or with an immersion blender.
Allow to cool completely (overnight in a fridge is ideal).
for the whiskey caramel:
3/4 cup sugar
big pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon whiskey
Place the sugar, salt, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed and deep pan.
Heat over medium heat until sugar caramelizes and turns deep amber, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the heavy cream and whiskey together.
Once the caramel reaches a suitable color, remove from heat and immediately pour in cream/whiskey mixture, whisking constantly.
Mixture will steam, foam, and erupt; be careful and wear an oven mitt.
If the mixture seizes, simply return it to a low heat and continue to whisk until the caramel dissolves and becomes smooth and grit-free.
Allow to cool completely.
1 batch corn custard, recipe above
1 batch whiskey caramel, recipe above, warmed for 20 seconds in a microwave or until pourable but not very hot
4 corn cookies, chopped roughly directions: Churn custard according to your ice cream maker’s directions. Once churned, layer 1/3 of the ice cream into a loaf pan or other freezer-safe container. Sprinkle 1/2 of the chopped corn cookies onto the ice cream, then drizzle the caramel over. Layer in the same manner once more. Finally, top everything off with the final third of the ice cream, then place in a freezer to set for at least 2 hours before using. You may need to let the ice cream thaw slightly before scooping to serve.
I managed to weasel my way into getting an interview with Christina Tosi.
Every time I say that, I do a double take. She has long been a source of inspiration and recipes for me. Her book, Milk Bar, is a wealth of ideas, and chock full of helpful hints (hello, 10 minute creaming? Best. Cookies. Ever.).
The pages of my cookbook are dusted with flour and occasionally stuck together with butter and bits of caramel. (Savin’ dat for later.)
Confession time: I read Milk Bar. Read as in, sit down with a cookie and read each and every recipe blurb and recipe. I don’t know how many times I’ve done this. It’s at least fifty. I still laugh at all of the jokes and funny memories written between those pages. Thus far, I’ve only found one teeny-tiny typo. (This coming from someone who scours the Sunday NYT for typos and who usually finds one on the front page of the Style section…) Color me impressed.Sigh. I’m star struck. The not-so-photogenic pie you see in the photos was the famed crack pie. What a fabulous recipe! My god, it’s like buttery gold. Worth every single calorie. Without further ado, here’s the interview. (I’m not including the recipe for crack pie as I want to encourage those who have any mild interest to purchase the book… Honestly, it’s one of the more useful and inventive cookbooks I own, and while it is no encyclopedia of baking, it still manages to pack in plenty of information and sugar. You can find the recipes online, I’m sure, but I for one am a proponent of cookbooks.)
Chef Christina Tosi is the pastry chef of the Momofuku line of restaurants, which are owned and run by Chef David Chang; she herself runs the Momofuku Milk Barline of restaurants. Her cooking style is self-described as “loud, delicious, textural, and fun.” She is a genius when it comes to flavor pairings; she invents combinations like thai tea, lemon, and marscapone, or celery root and white chocolate, which are surprising and arresting in a most delicious sense. In 2012, the James Beard Foundation named her Rising Chef of the Year; she was the only pastry chef in the category!
Rachel Sally: I think of you as America’s favorite pastry-chef-next-door, and as such, you have a huge influence on food trends; who or what do you view as your biggest influences?
Chef Christina: I think working in a broad range of bakeries, restaurants and food settings and situations really shaped me as a whole. I approached every job, even the ones I worked at for free as an opportunity to learn. Also, my grandmas, the sweet toothed ladies that recognized my love for baking and my genetic sweet tooth!
R.S.: Which cookbook or book has influenced you the most?
C.T.: The Magnolia Cookbook was one of my first favorite cookbooks as a teen when I was getting into the kitchen on my own terms. They had so many versions of cheesecake in there, breaking all the rules, adding whatever flavors and textures they wanted. I thought it was the coolest cookbook, and the best way to approach a classic like the cheesecake with reckless abandon!
R.S.: What one word would you use to describe yourself and your cooking style?
C.T.: Soothing with a sense of humor.
R.S.: Do you work well under pressure?
C.T.: I love working under pressure. I love being in just a little over my head. It’s how I function best. If you don’t like the same, you probably won’t like working at Milk Bar, but my feeling is if you can make IT happen under pressure, the sky is the limit.
R.S.: Where do you find inspiration for flavor combinations?
C.T.: Everywhere and anywhere. The grocery store, the bodega on the way home. The dinner around the corner. Magazines, airplanes, fancy restaurants, Dairy Queen, T.V. You never know when inspiration can strike!
R.S.: What is the most underrated flavor combination, in your opinion?
C.T.: Salt and pepper.
R.S.: What one ingredient could you not live without?
R.S.: What is your favorite food?
C.T.: Depends on my mood. I’d say this winter it’s acorn squash with butter, cinnamon and breakfast sausage!
R.S.: What is your favorite composed dessert that you’ve ever made?
C.T.: Cereal milk panna cotta with avocado puree, chocolate hazelnut, cornflake crunch. [Editor’s note: Ohmagah]
R.S.: How do you respond to negative criticism in regards to a dessert?
C.T.: I take every opinion seriously and to heart. Not in a negative way, but in a double check myself way. Is there truth in the comment, is there something wrong, could it be better, do I really stand behind this dish or dessert? Humility and the ability to curb your ego, especially when under criticism, are very important.
R.S.: What tweaks do you make?
C.T.: Doesn’t mean you have to change a thing. Just means you have to be open and willing to check yourself and/or stand up for yourself.
R.S.: Do you edit already existing and successful desserts?
C.T.: We always edit existing desserts.
R.S.: Why do you?
C.T.: [We] always look for room for improvements, updating inspiration points. Sometimes we change elements, depths of flavor. Sometimes we’ll test a ton of stuff and never change a thing.
R.S.: What is your best tip for dessert success?
C.T.: Stay true to yourself, your taste buds, your inspiration, your approach. But be open minded about feedback and criticism.