Wednesday, October 30, 2013

One Kitchen, Many Hearts - Real Life Edition

Have you ever given your home address out to a bunch of random strangers you met on the internet so that they could send you stuff?
Probably not.
So then, you probably haven't said to those same random strangers, with whom you now speak every single day, "Hey, if you're ever in my neck of the woods, come stay with me!"
Well, I have, and I'm all the better for it.

Look at us - we don't look AT ALL like internet crazies.
Totes safe.
Sidebar -- I am a huge HUUUUUUUUGE fan of Alton Brown.  Husband and I have used many of his recipes and techniques over the years; in fact, Mr. Brown's corned beef recipe is the only one I will use.  We adored Good Eats and mourned its end.
As such, I read the announcement of the Edible Inevitable Tour with utter giddiness, and I was delighted that he made a pass through the East Valley.
Not being alone in my adoration, Beka immediately checked the tour schedule and, realizing that there would NOT be a stop in the Pacific Northwest, made plans to come down and go to the show with me.
Timing being what it was, her trip overlapped with her being assigned my name for our One Kitchen, Many Hearts gift swap.  So basically, this trip was Meant to Be.
Before I get back on track: y'all. If Alton Brown is coming to your town, GO TO THE SHOW.  It was hilarious and fun and oh my gosh pray that someone in the front row is late.

A little teaser - you need to go to the show to see what happens.

On to the goods, as it were.
Most importantly, I am the new proud momma of an actually rectangular 9 x 13" pan for marshmallowing.  Previously, I had been making my mallows in my Pyrex pan, which is awesome.  But if you have a Pyrex pan, you know that the edges are rounded.  No big deal for casserole dishes, etc., but when you want to make something that is a "perfect" cube, those rounded edges make for some waste.
OK, so I used those "butt" pieces to take selfies with marshmallow mustaches and to "quality control" the hell out of every batch.  BUT STILL.  This new pan, which can also double (I guess...sigh...if I have to....) as a roasting pan will add at least five or six more mallows to every batch.
So far, they've been used to make two new fabulous mallows flavors.  I don't have a picture of those mallows, though, because, um, well.... I ate them.

This is the last of the expresso-honey mallows we made...
they are my favorite flavor to date, and incredible in coffee.
If that weren't enough (it seriously would have been - I am already planning like ten more flavors), Beka took me shopping.  I remember back in the day BC (Before Child) when I'd watch What Not to Wear and swear that I'd never become "that mom" - you know the one: the mom who puts herself last and then forgets how to shop and what looks good on her.
Guess what I turned into.
(Spoiler alert: "that mom" - I turned into "that mom")
When I attempt to shop for items for myself that are not running gear, I usually end up feeling guilty about buying something when I work from home and can basically wear yoga pants if I want to, getting frustrated when I don't find anything that works (I have a standing rule that I will not purchase anything unless I love it), giving up on fashion altogether, and using the money to buy something for Her Royal Highness, who, because she insists on growing constantly, is always in need of some item or other.  When shopping with Beka, I was not allowed to 1) have hangups about buying something for myself, 2) have limited time (yes, I still feel guilty about spending time in a store when I could be home with HRH), or 3) give up easily.
Shockingly, it's easier to follow the rules when someone holds you accountable for them.
Beka has a fantastic sense of style and an eye for what will work on a person.  We had planned to have a shopping day already, but the big surprise was that she bought this houndstooth dress while we were out.

She also tutored me in such remedial courses as Why We Buy Nude Shoes 102 and How to Overcome Your Fear of Jewelry 130.  Thankfully, I didn't need to go back to Handbags Are Your Friend 080 and nabbed the above teal number without too much assistance, although goading may have been involved.
All in all, I bought two dresses, two shirts, two pairs of shoes, a jacket, a handbag, sunglasses, a necklace, and a bracelet.  I love them all.  I got nothing for HRH.  I felt no guilt.  It was glorious.

Honestly, though, the Most Wonderful Gift that Beka brought me, which can't be packaged up, was her company.  It's been a bit of a stressful fall at work, and the respite from Groundhog Day, the Sequel, and the hilarity that ensued over the long weekend, was exactly what I needed.

Of course, after Beka's plane landed, I immediately took her to one of my favorite local breweries, San Tan Brewing Company, where we snapped a terribly blurry but hilarious selfie.

I swear it was just one beer.
OK.  Maybe Two.
 We drank plenty of wine.

We mustache you for another glass of wine.
Please don't shave it for later.
We also had plenty of beer.

We bought the same shirt on purpose.

I look like A DORK.
We made and/or ate OMGSOMUCHFOOD.

Southern-style seafood risotto, collards, and blackened (sort of) shrimp
Brunch: Bloody Mary and soft fried eggs over risotto cakes
with asparagus and duck fat potatoes
Smoked pork burger at Angel's Trumpet Ale House
It was seriously The Best Weekend.

Now, not everyone got to hang for a full weekend for a gift exchange, but I can't wait for you to see what I sent to Kisrten (second spoiler alert - marshmallows from my new pan were involved).
Make sure to check out the goods in this Free For All Stuff Whatever You Can Into the Box theme.  After all, the holidays are coming, and you never know when or where inspiration will strike.
Beka/Kvetchin' Kitchen
Jeanne/Inside NanaBread's Head
Kat/Tenaciously Yours,
Kirsten/Comfortably Domestic
Mads/La Petite Pancake
Megan/Wanna Be a Country Cleaver
Then get out there and see if you can't ship off a Package of Surprise Fun to someone to see how your day can be made by making someone else's.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Today, my dad celebrates his 66th birthday.  I'm sure that he will spend it being harassed by various friends and family calling to razz him about his age, enjoying a good burger and cocktail, and getting a special birthday wish from his favorite (ok, FINE - only) granddaughter.

Except (and if you are familiar with this blog, you already knew this) none of this is true.

My absolute favorite snap of my dad
October, as you probably know, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but I will never think of it as anything but the month that my dad both entered and left this world.  He died 15 days shy of his 52nd birthday, on October 1, 1999, from complications stemming from his five year battle with colon cancer.

There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn't continue to ache, and days like today are still, 14 years later, often difficult to bear.  While nothing I will ever do can bring my dad back, I continue to do my best to prevent other fathers from being diagnosed with colon cancer in order that other daughters don't have to tell this same story.

For the fourth year, then, I am participating in the Colon Cancer Alliance's annual Undy 5000 next month in downtown Phoenix. Our race (5K and 1-mile fun run) is the last of the series each year, and each year since I have become a part of the local CCA chapter, I have been overwhelmed with the number of people under the age of 50 who have been diagnosed.  Many have beaten the disease, but we have also lost wonderful people like Arijit, the force behind Poop Strong (I was fortunate enough to be a part of Arijit's team last fall before he lost his battle this March).

The money raised by the Undy 5000 goes directly to local colon cancer treatment.  Those in the Phoenix area who are battling colon cancer can find assistance, both for payment of treatments not covered by insurance (although with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, fewer people WILL be turned away from getting the treatment they need, regardless of their stage of cancer or their status of having a "pre-existing condition") and for other necessities like counseling for patients and family members.  Cancer affects all family members, and the CCA is there to step in and be a support system for patient AND family.

I'm so proud that my daughter, who is nearly 5, has asked to be in this year's race with me, so she and Husband will be running (yes, running) the 1-mile fun run while I take on the 5K again.  I'm hoping to coordinate our finishes so that I can cross the finish line with her.

If you are so inclined, please consider making a donation to this incredible cause.  Colon cancer doesn't discriminate, but when appropriate measures are set into place, it is nearly 100% preventable and beatable.  You can check out my personal page here.  And please check back after November 16 for a full recap of race day.  This was my first race I ever ran four years ago, and its significance continues to overwhelm me.  This race is not about time for me, unless we count the time that I hope my efforts will add to someone else's life.

Happy birthday, Dad.  I love you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pumpkin All the Mallows!

I have a confession.

I do not like pumpkin.

I don't like pumpkin pie.  I don't like pumpkin lattes.  I don't like pumpkin ice cream.

Pumpkin: blech.

But aside from Husband and myself, most people I know look forward to the first day of Starbucks pumpkin latte season fall like it's Christmas in order to get their mitts on some pumpkin goodies, which are then hoarded like Gollum's Precious.
Who am I to rain on the pumpkin parade?
As such, when my favorite group of food bloggers decided to get together for Pumpkin Week, I needed to get on the bandwagon.

So naturally I decided to make pumpkin marshmallows.

Now, if you'll allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment...
*clears throat*
The pumpkin marshmallows you can buy at any local grocery store do not have any actual pumpkin in them.  What they DO have is "natural and artificial flavors" as well as Yellow 5, Red 40, and more.
Mmm-mmm-mmm.  Yellow five.... My favorite.

Not that I am touting my marshmallows as a healthy food by any stretch of the imagination.  But I'd like to think that a candy made with real pumpkin and no artificial colors is at least a teensy bit better on the scale of Things That May or May Not Kill You Someday if You Eat Too Many of Them.

I'm pretty sure they also taste better.

Most of the pumpkin marshmallow recipes I've found whip in a bit of pumpkin puree at the end of the mallow-making process, and while that will certainly bring the pumpkin flavor out, I felt like I needed to ensure that the flavor had some serious depth in order to appease the pumpkin lover's palate.  To get that, I used both a "pumpkin water" as well as a pumpkin spice syrup, which can also be swirled into your morning coffee.  This method might take a bit longer to make, especially when compared to those store bought Pillows of Horror, but in the end, my happy taste testers can verify that this is a mallow worth its spice.

Pumpkin Marshmallows
adapted from Jenni Fields's Pastry Chef Online
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
  • 1 cup cold water mixed with 2 Tbsp of chilled pumpkin puree (the "pumpkin water")
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn syrup (or honey or rice syrup)
  • 1 cup pumpkin spice syrup (recipe below)
  • splash water
  • powdered sugar/corn starch mixture in which to toss the marshmallows
Combine the "pumpkin water," salt, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a mixer.  Sprinkle gelatin over the mixture and stir to combine, being careful to get rid of any lumps.  Set aside.

Spray a 9X13 pan with either pan spray or coat with oil (I use my Misto and olive oil).  Line the pan with plastic wrap, and then coat the top of the plastic wrap with oil.  Coat completely with your powdered sugar and corn starch mixture.  I've played around with how much, and what I've found works well for me is to coat completely and then tap out the excess.  This makes, for me, a less clumpy end product.  Set the pan aside.
Bring sugar and syrups (and a splash of water) to a boil.  Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 244° (the soft ball stage).  
When the syrup mixture reaches about 235°, turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, to low or medium low.
As soon as the syrup reaches the proper temperature, remove and pour into the mixing bowl, continuing to whisk on low/medium low.  
Gradually raise the speed of the mixer.  Continue to whip until the mixture has about tripled inside (read: you're fearful it will overflow) and it starts to come off the sides of the bowl in small threads.
Using a large spatula liberally coated with pan spray or olive oil, pour the marshmallow cream into the prepared pan, carefully spreading it out evenly.  Take a pause to lick the spatula before throwing it in the sink.
Sift the corn starch-powdered sugar combination over the top of the marshmallows, making sure that you can't see any of the shiny mallows under the snowy powder.  Allow to sit, uncovered, for several hours or overnight.
Once the marshmallows are set, invert the pan over a large cutting board.  Use the plastic wrap to easily remove the marshmallows from the pan.  Cut into one inch cubes, tossing each in more corn starch and powdered sugar before storing in an airtight container for about a week (or however long the mallows last). 

I did try out the marshmallows with a bit of cinnamon with the powdered sugar and corn starch mixture, but I felt that this made the flavor lean too heavily in favor of cinnamon, but if that's your jam, you get down with your bad self.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 15 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or more, if you like - I like)
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium to medium-high heat while the sugar dissolves.  Continue to heat until the mixture reaches a boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced slightly (to a syrupy consistency).  Cool to room temperature, and immediately strain through a very fine mesh sieve or even cheesecloth.  Set aside until ready to use.

Now, a major shout-out to my girl, Megan, an affirmed pumpkin aficionado. Last month, as I started to work on the recipe, I sent her my first batch of both the syrup and the marshmallows.  In addition to helping me determine the proper balance of flavors in the syrup (I had my suspicions, but it helps to talk to someone who actually partakes in pumpkin lattes....), she also told me that her husband Ben had been putting the marshmallows in his coffee, so there's THAT.  You're welcome.  Thanks, Megan, for helping me get a syrup that is neither too sweet nor too spiced, but one that puts all the flavor of fall into whatever medium you like best!

Can't get enough pumpkin?  Then you're in luck - the Theme Weavers are at it again, so just peruse through these recipes to get your fill, and then come back for more!
And later this week, we also have: