I take no pleasure in publicly admitting this, but perhaps if I put it out into the universe it will stop keeping me up at night: I'll be 30 years old next month.
Actually, no, that didn't make me feel better at all.
I'm not sure how 30 is supposed to feel, but I don't feel it. In my mind, I'm still the same person I was at 22 - someone who loves Green Day, Friends marathons, eating Kraft Dinner out of the pot and spending the entire day in pajamas. I love the strawberry lollipops at my allergist's office and the excitement of Christmas morning. Don't let the glasses and my penchant for the New York Times crossword fool you - I'm still a kid at heart.
Superficially, some things have changed. These days just one cocktail makes me sleepy, I now dab on eye cream before bed and, to my dismay, find the occasional grey hair. But deep down I'm basically the same person who enjoys the same pastimes who values the same things. And the one constant, the thing that's never changed, is who I am at my very core, and that is an American.
Neither age nor living in another country for two years have managed to change that fact.
I left the States for Canada when I was 27, and although the two countries are both English-speaking and, on the outside, people appear the same, the cultures are actually quite different. I had a difficult time adjusting to the increased cost of living, the reservedness of the locals and just how much they love to hate their capitalistic cowboy neighbor to the south.
When Hubby and I realized that we'd never be able to afford the lifestyle we want in Canada (and I couldn't shake my perpetual feeling of homesickness), we tossed around the idea of moving back to the States. 'Would that make us quitters?' we wondered. 'And do we really want to put ourselves through another international move?'
Despite the worries, the concerns, the gut-wrenching fears of starting over yet again, the answer was inevitable.
At one of my lowest points last year, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't spend my 30th birthday in another country. It's arbitrary and illogical, but it was something my heart needed to hear. I needed to be home for my birthday. After so many challenges immigrating to Canada and so many months (27 to be exact, but who's counting?) living outside of my comfort zone, I felt I owed it to myself to celebrate such a milestone age at home, with my family.
And so, at 7:33 a.m. on May 3rd I'll be 30 years old. I'll also be a resident of the state of New York.
Happy birthday to me.
Homestyle White Bread
Shortly after Hubby and I signed the lease to our new
townhouse in New York, I baked a couple loaves of
this homestyle white bread. It was simple, comforting
and tasted like home. Fitting for the occasion.
Yield: 2 loaves
* This bread is great for sandwiches and French toast. It will stay fresh, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for 3-4 days. It can also be wrapped in plastic and then foil, and kept in the freezer for up to 2 months.
1 cup lukewarm water
1 packet (2 & 1/4 teaspoons) active-dry yeast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup warm milk (any kind will do but I use 2%)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon oil (any kind - vegetable, canola, olive, etc)
In the bowl of a standing mixer, pour the water and sprinkle the yeast over top. No need to stir. Let this stand for 5 minutes until the yeast is broken up.
Melt the butter in the microwave, then stir in the warm milk, sugar, and salt. Pour 1 cup of flour and the liquid mixture over the yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon until this comes together into a loose batter.
Add another 4 & 1/2 cups of flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms.
Using the dough hook attachment on the standing mixer, knead the dough at medium speed for 10 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. If the dough feels gummy or sticky, add extra flour (one tablespoon at a time) until it feels right. It should be smooth and spring back when poked.
Clean out the mixing bowl and add the oil, coating the bowl with your hand. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, turning it so it's lightly coated with oil. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size (about one hour).
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and turn the dough out onto it. Cut in two and shape each half into a loose ball. Let the balls rest for 10 minutes.
Grease two loaf pans. Shape each ball of dough into a loaf and gently place them in the loaf pans. Let the dough rise for another 30 minutes. While they are rising, preheat your oven to 425° F.
Slash the tops of the loaves down the middle with a serrated knife. Place both pans in the oven and then turn down the heat to 375°F. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Do not slice until almost cool.
Our socks are layered, the night skies are starless and the sun only makes brief cameos these days.
Not only do our cars take longer to start in this bitter cold, but so do we. Hubby has been nursing a sore back since he last shoveled the driveway and I've been trying to control asthma symptoms exasperated by the unforgiving wind chill.
There's no two ways about it - winter is kicking our butts this year.
So, in true female fashion, I decided last week that I was just depressed enough to chop off most of my hair. There's something therapeutic about a new 'do, even if it isn't the most practical style for snowy times such as these. I can't explain it; emotionally driven haircuts are just part of being a woman.
I really can't complain about the weather too much. After all, I did move to Ontario from Florida on my own free will. But I've definitely come down with a case of what my friend Rebecca calls "The Winter Blahs."
Now that Christmas Time has passed and the glow of Valentine's Day has faded, there's the numbing realization that there are still months of cold ahead of us and nothing left to celebrate. Itchy winter skin has set in and snow that was once so fluffy and pure is now slushy mud on the undercarriages of our cars.
And so I'm feeling sluggish, drinking way too much cocoa and daydreaming about warm sand between my toes as I hack away at the ice on my windshield each morning.
How to survive The Winter Blahs? Netflix. Dinners with friends. Hand cream. Tissues with lotion. And molten chocolate cakes.
Molten Chocolate Cakes
These cakes are a play on the lava cakes that have become
staples on restaurant chain dessert menus. The "lava" on the
inside is a little more fudgey and less runny than its restaurant
brethren , but is still every bit as rich and satisfying.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (plus more for the muffin pan)
1/3 cup granulated sugar (plus more for the muffin pan)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark Baker's chocolate, melted
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter 6 cups of a standard muffin/cupcake pan*. Dust with granulated sugar and gently tap out excess.
Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated with the butter/sugar mixture.
Drop the mixer to low speed and add the flour and salt, beating until just combined. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla seeds and beat until just combined. Be careful not to overbeat.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 6 muffin cups.* Bake for 8-10 minutes, remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. The cakes are ready to pull from the oven when the tops no longer jiggle when tapped lightly. Make sure to let them sit in the pan for the full 10 minutes once out of the oven - you want them to set so they don't fall apart when you pull them from the pan.
Use a rubber spatula to gently loosen the cakes from the pan, then place a plate or cutting board over them and flip the pan upside down to get the cakes out. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Store the cakes in a Tupperware at room temperature for up to 2 days. To reheat, place one cake at a time on a plate in the microwave and heat for 20-30 seconds. The lava will cook and become cakey upon reheating but it will still taste great!
* Note: I recommend filling just the 6 muffin cups but if you decide you want to stretch the batter to 7 cups, reduce the cooking time by 1 minute. Be careful of overcooking or there will be no gooey center!
I'm an old-fashioned gal.
I prefer real books to Nooks. I don't have an iPhone. My laptop is a hand-me-down Acer from 2010 with missing keys and a 20-minute battery life. I was probably the last person on Earth to order Netflix. And if that wasn't enough to convince you of my non-techiness, even my mother - the woman who didn't send her first text message until 2014 - had a tablet before me.
So imagine my surprise when Hubby gave me an iPad Air for Christmas and, within minutes, I was in love. And I'm not talking love like I love my Converse Allstars (which is major). I'm talking Mr. Big and Carrie Bradshaw's can't-live-without-each-other love - like how I feel about chocolate cake, Woody Allen, beagle puppies, Casablanca. Dunkin Donuts coffee and New York City. I lurve it.
My new favorite thing is waking up to a cup of hazelnut coffee and the New York Times crossword app. It's quickly become A Thing -- dog in my lap, mug in one hand, iPad in the other, puzzling over cryptic clues such as, "Goat men in a Rubens painting." (Confession: I had to Google that one.) It's one of the few times my English degree has come in handy in The Real World.
So, since Christmas, I've basically spent every moment away from work with my iPad glued between my hands, either playing Hay Day (I got sucked in by this commercial) or scouring Pinterest for recipes. I got a great deal on blackberries last week (99 cents a pint? Holla!) and knew that a cobbler was in my near future so I read through a few recipes and came up with my own take on it.
Cobbler, coffee and crosswords... I may be a little more techie than I was a month ago, but it's still the simple things in life that make me smile.
Blackberry Skillet Cobbler
Any fruit can be used in this cake - peaches, plums,
blueberries, cherries or any combination of the above.
If you don't have honey on hand, use maple syrup,
Grand Marnier or champagne to macerate the fruit.
Yields: 6 slices
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 cups fresh blackberries
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole or 2% milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 whole vanilla bean
To macerate the berries, place them in a bowl and pour the honey and lemon juice over them. Gently mix so the berries are covered in the liquid. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the butter in a 10 or 12-inch cast-iron skillet (if you don't have one, you can use a 9x9 baking dish). Place the skillet in the oven until the butter melts (about 5 minutes).
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the cup of sugar, milk and vanilla extract and stir until incorporated. Cut the vanilla bean down the center with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds. Gently fold the seeds into the batter.
Remove the skillet from the oven. Carefully pour the melted butter from the skillet into the batter, stir to combine, then pour the batter back into the skillet. Now add the fruit and honey mixture to the pan, starting in the center of the batter and pooling it out in a big circle.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out mostly clean. Serve warm, straight from the skillet with a scoop of ice cream on top.
Welcome! I'm a pie-baking, dog-loving, antique-hunting patriot. I'm a fan of rustic home cooking, the Yankees and scenic drives through the mountains.