Hazelnut Lemon Cake with Roasted Blueberries

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Summer has arrived, swiftly warning me of its brutality.

Today is my day off — I didn’t have much planned except for yoga this evening, but Kristen invited me to speak to her 6th and 7th graders about having a career in art. While one class seemed more interested in knowing if I knew “how to hack” or not (I told them that Google knew every single thing they did on the internet, so it was in their best interest to not hack), some students were genuinely interested in learning more about art and design.

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

I sure wish I had someone to talk to about careers in creative when I was younger! My newspaper advisor in high school (now a client!) was always supportive of my want to pursue design as a career, but being part of a family who only cared about finance made art school impossible.

It’s weird, isn’t it? I have friends working in almost every industry that exists. Some whose parents are creatives and encouraged creative careers — some of that backfires and sometimes it works. There seems to be a delicate balance. My parents strongly (forcefully) encouraged me to pursue finance and accounting. Sophomore year of college, I took an accounting class, and was doing pretty well. I hated every minute of every econ class I ever took, and I went into that accounting class with an A. But halfway through the final, I thought to myself, why the hell am I here? I hate accounting. I refuse to ever take another accounting class again.

So I walked out of the final exam. I got a C.

My dad wanted to kill me, but I knew I had made the right decision. It was the decision to choose my own courses, and to finally stop letting my parents dictate what I wanted. Back then, I wanted to be a CIA operative. I started taking Arabic classes, and I excelled. My parents rolled their eyes.

And don’t get me wrong, I loved my college experience, and my Arabic wasn’t bad — I had a couple of job offers for career paths close to being a CIA operative (but not quite the real thing). And I liked it, but there’s just no comparison to how much I love what I do now. I don’t think time was wasted, per se, but man, twenty-seven year old Sarah would loooove to travel back to 2004 and whisper some advice to high school Sarah. It wouldn’t be to specifically go to art school, but it would have been to stop letting my parents scare me into a career that I didn’t want.

Instead of the year and a half of economics classes for the business major, I could have been taking illustration and design. I can take those classes now, but sometimes, I wish I had a better base.

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Of course, the grass is always greener. Who knows, if I went to art school when I was an undergrad, the recession could have killed any marketing budgets that could have funded a budding career — especially in Los Angeles.

It’s one of the many reasons why I love talking to kids about my job. I tell them about how I always loved art and creativity, and that I was somehow able to make it my full-time job, and that these days, it’s much easier to find work in creative than it was ten years ago. And half of the interesting stuff lies in the fact that I didn’t go to art school. I technically didn’t have to go to school at all. But it shows that you don’t need a degree in whatever the rest of your life will be spent doing.

And when the kids ask me how many hours I spend working, it’s always shocking to add it up and tell them sometimes up to 70 hours a week. I can see their eyes bug out, but I always supplement it with telling them: You know, if you’re lucky enough to really love your work, it won’t always feel like work. Which is true. Now, if I could just turn writing this blog and making yummy treats my full-time job. That would be a treat, wouldn’t it?

Hazelnut lemon bread & roasted blueberries // sweetsonian

Hazelnut Lemon Cake with Roasted Blueberries, adapted from Diana Rossen Worthington

Ingredients:

3/4 cup hazelnuts, finely ground
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Zest of half a lemon

1 pint fresh blueberries, cleaned and picked over
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Mint sprigs, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Combine the flour, walnut meal, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Stir with a fork, and set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the sour cream and lemon zest. Slowly add the dry ingredients (I have this thing to keep my KitchenAid mixer from spraying flour all over the counter) and mix until just blended.

Pour the batter into your loaf pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Pour the blueberries into a baking dish or cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with brown sugar and butter, and stir to combine. Roast them in the oven until the blueberries are about to burst — about 10 minutes.

Serve each slice of cake with a spoonful of roasted blueberries, and garnish with mint (optional) if you like.

A Star-Spangled Tart

Something that I haven’t been quite honest about, reader, is that the past year or so has been some sort of limbo for me.  I know I’ve mentioned it, but I thought I’d address some things that have had a lot of impact on my writing, my cooking, and my outlook on life in general.

So much of my life is weighted upon my work – even for those of use who have workaholic tendencies (guilty as charged), what you do is your means to how you live your life: it determines what you eat, how you sleep, where you live, and how you spend the majority of your time awake as a person.  What you ultimately do for work says everything about who you are – everything, and no less.

When I first started working, my parents advised me to work for the weekends, and to savor time spent away from the office, while my peers say not to work too much or too hard.  Both options, to me, are a waste of time that you will never get back – as a single twenty-five year old, anyway.  If I had a family to support, my story might have been different.

Note to self: if you are not satisfied where you are, you should never be satisfied until there is a (non-fluorescent) light at the end of the tunnel, and you should never, never – ever – settle for anything less.

Maybe this is a generational thing. I feel like I’m surrounded by incongruencies: people saying that you can’t do anything without a graduate degree, others saying that you don’t need any sort of degree to be successful.  Some people are unhappy at their jobs, but stay for the benefits, and/or the ability to have their cake and eat it too.  Or they just complain, and stay where they are solely because they’re not working to change it.  Or, they put in the work to find satisfaction.  Those who pursue satisfaction – however long or winding the road may be – well, I hope with all my heart that they find it.

After twelve long months, I think I have a good idea of what will happen to me next.

I’m wrapping up my position at CIPE, where I was able to learn so much about what I want to do.  Next week, my family arrives, and I’ll be able to share a tiny slice of what my life has been like since I found my home here in Washington – and my Washington friends will finally meet my family, and probably do a long-awaited beer bat with my father.  I’m hoping for another Fourth-of-July Eight Clap.

After that, this American girl is going to Mexico for a week.

And after that, I’m taking the next step – so thank you, all of you who have dealt with my bitching and moaning, my neglect, and my stress.  Your unconditional support means the world to me, and I promise, I can pay you with food, friends, and long, chatty runs along the Potomac river.

Sweet, delectable food.  Happy fourth of July, America.

 

Sweet tart crust, by Smitten Kitchen

1.5 cups AP flour, plus whatever you need to make the dough workable
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg

Whipped Cream Filling

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions

You’ll need two rectangular tart pans to make the American flag shape – the dough recipe gives you just enough to fill both.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a food processor, combine 1.5 cups flour, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Pulse grind until evenly mixed.  Then, add the cubes of butter and pulse grind, slowly adding in the egg.  Pulse grind (about ten seconds each) until it won’t mix any more.  At this point, the dough was too sticky for me to work with, so I gradually added flour – about another half cup – until it was more of a pie-dough consistency.

Deb recommends chilling the dough, but I’m horribly impatient these days, and frankly, since it wasn’t required, I didn’t do it.  I rolled the dough out to about 1/4 of an inch in width, and transferred to a buttered tart pan.  I like giving tarts a nice, thick crust – the dainty crusts always fall apart on me.  I’ve given up on them.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden to your liking.  Then, remove it from the oven, and let cool.

While that’s resting, beat your whipping cream in a stand mixer for a couple of minutes, until it looks like, well, whipped cream.  Look for stiff peaks.  As it begins to form, gradually add the sugar and vanilla extract.  Set aside in the refrigerator until your tart is ready to serve.

To prepare, use a spatula to fill the tart with whipped cream.  If you want it to be extra decadent, line the tart with a layer of fresh strawberry jam before filling with the whipped cream (that was my original intent, but I got distracted when I made this, and then forgot to do so).  Arrange your berries on top of the whipped  cream to look like a star-spangled banner, put on an American flag bikini, and share your tart with some of your best friends, American or not.

Blueberry Muffins

Hello, world. It’s been a while, for which I apologize. Life has been hot, humid, and busy. I’m leaving my job at the federal government! It has occupied almost a year of my life, and the vast majority of my post-undergraduate career. And I’m moving into the non-profit sector, for an international development organization that I am very excited to be a part of. Plus, I mentioned this blog in my first interview, and then received some good reviews in my second interview. Working with foodies is becoming a priority in my life; I can sense it. Anyway, between my running schedule and frantically tying loose ends at my government job, cooking has fallen short of blogging. Of course I have been cooking – I just haven’t had the time to photograph and consciously think about the recipes that would benefit you all as the sous chefs you will all become at some point in your lifes. Rather, I have my friends over for dinners in my microscopic kitchen, and I give them lessons on how to properly chop onions, or how to brown chicken, and we all come up with get-rich-quick schemes to market my love of food. And then I decide against it, because I’m terrified of turning my passion into work and money. My entire life, the people I love have cooked for me, and taught me to cook for myself. I could only return the favor by cooking for those I love, and teaching them to cook for themselves. It’s only fair, and it’s one of the many things I love to do.

I know the focus of this blog was originally intended for sweet, confectionary foods, but let’s be honest. Who wants to turn their oven on in this heinous Mid-Atlantic heat/humidity wave? Not this blogger. No, sir. Not me. But my colleagues at work and my friends have been pestering me for an update. I’m sorry – it has been too hot to cook. I have literally lived off of raw vegetables for the past month or so. I’m very happy for that, since it is literally too hot to run. Until this past weekend. Well, it was still to hot to run this weekend, but I started my new half marathon training session this morning – let’s see how long it will take to get used to waking up at 6:30 to run and shower before work! I’ll keep you guys updated.

Anyway, I spent this morning running around the National Mall to jump start my metabolism from all of the blueberry muffins I ate yesterday. It was Sunday, and we had blueberries galore, so I couldn’t resist the temptation of making blueberry muffins. It’s such a family-like food to me, since my mom made them on the weekends when I was a little girl. The boxed mixes, of course. Now, I’m definitely not the person who condemns boxed mixes of any sort. I actually started cooking with them through college, because it was so easy. And then I added to them, and messed around with the ingredients, and then I reached an epiphany: boxed mixes are expensive. So I advise you to do this, if you are looking to cut back on your food spending. When baking, keep your kitchen stocked with flour, sugar, baking powder, and butter. Most baking recipes include some variation in the measurements of those ingredients. I don’t remember the last time I spent three bucks on mediocre muffin mix.

WHAT YOU NEED:

2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 to 3 cups fresh blueberries

WHAT TO DO:

First, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.  Then, in a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter together with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Then, add the eggs and milk, mixing until smooth.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture until the batter is lava-like and thick.  Fold in the blueberries.  Divide into baking cups in a muffin pan — it should make about twelve.  Then, bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.