Roasted Vanilla Pears with Espresso Marscapone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Five months. It’s been five months since I moved into my new apartment.

It hardly feels that way.

Only in the past few weeks have I actually begun feeling settled — I guess it’s a result of a summer filled with travels and work and temporary roommates. I’ve learned more about myself as a roommate this summer than I have in the past eight years of living with people who aren’t my parents.

I know I have my quirks. I roller coaster between kitchen nazi and someone who’s so all over the place that I can’t tell left from right. I struggle between pleasing people and being selfish. We all do.

But after a summer of travel in basically every direction that exists, filled with weddings and sailing and rope swings — it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I finally feel settled enough to sit down and write.

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

I just bought a new Apple display screen for my home office, but there’s something comforting about writing my posts from the laptop in bed. It’s how I’ve written almost every sentence for the past eight years. Four of which, as of last Tuesday, have been written in DC. I considered leaving the apartment and being productive when I woke up this morning, but after seeing the forecast and by the time I got to the bottom of my French press, I gave up. I snuggled into bed with a sweater from Bergen and a few episodes of Breaking Bad.

For today, that’s all I need. The weather is cooling down, which makes me just absolutely smitten with this city. And, if you’re on the hunt for a good fall transition food, these pears make an impressive dessert (or breakfast, if you happen to share an apartment with me).

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Vanilla Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

Roasted Pears with Coffee Marscapone, Serves 3 or 6, depending on how much dessert you want

Roasted pears:
¼ cups light brown sugar
½ vanilla bean
3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored (or whatever you can get your hands on)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
Bourbon or rum to drizzle before serving

Espresso marscapone cream:
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup marsacpone cheese
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Stir espresso powder and water in a large bowl until dissolved. Add cream, mascarpone, and sugar. Beat in a stand mixer until the cream is thick and smooth. Transfer into a jar or serving dish, and store in the freezer while you roast the pears (you can even make this a day or two ahead).

In a small bowl, combine your sugar and vanilla bean seeds — I store my vanilla beans in a jar filled with vodka (vanilla extract at home!) but this makes it extra easy to extract the beans. Just snip off the end of a bean and squeeze out the contents like it’s a stick of honey. Whisk with a fork.

Arrange your pears, core up, in a baking dish (a pie plate would fit them perfectly). Brush the pears with lemon juice, and put a cube of butter in each core. Sprinkle the pears with your sugar, and pour the water into the baking dish.

Serve each pear with a scoop of cream and a drizzle of bourbon or rum.

Olive Oil Ice Cream

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Of the many things I fell in love with while in Greece, olive oil might be the most memorable. Every restaurant and cafe table had a bottle of it. It was probably locally sourced, as the mainland was absolutely covered in olive trees.

To be honest, I didn’t ask many questions in Greece. If someone recommended a beach, we went there. If they gave me cookies, I ate them. If there was a bottle of olive oil and nothing to eat it with, I drizzled it onto a plate and dipped my fingers in it… and if there wasn’t a plate, I resisted the temptation to pour it directly onto my tongue.

Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked when I got back to D.C. and discovered that my weight hadn’t changed at all — oh, the agony that led up to the calculated and anxiety-filled two seconds of fluctuating numbers — probably because my entire diet in Greece consisted of beer, cocktails, and Greek salads. At some meals, Silje and I would split moussaka or some other local dish.

But for the most part, it was all salads and all yogurt, all the time.

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

I didn’t bring the iPad with me on vacation. Thankfully, because I was able to at least limit my over-connected tendencies. Why give myself more than two mediums to read work emails on, right? The only downside of leaving the iPad at home was that I didn’t have my normal magazines, which I only really read on the iPad.

Side note, if you have an iPad and you don’t subscribe to the Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living iPad apps… please change that immediately. Especially if you’re a sucker for impeccable design and super interactive buttons. I’m amazed by absolutely every issue.

ANYWAY… when I got home, I came across this recipe for olive oil flavored ice cream in Bon Appetit. As Shaeda would say: cosign.

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Olive Oil Ice Cream // Sweetsonian

Olive Oil Ice Cream, from Bon Appetit

1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (the stronger and more olive-r, the better)

Preface: I did bring back a ton of olive oil from Greece, but many of them were gifts. The bottle I brought for myself was strong, but not as strong as a bottle that was gifted to me — and it was purchased at a French market in D.C. that only happens once a year.

I did learn a LOT about olive oil last night from my new roommate, Emily, who walked our dinner guests through the ins and outs of olive oil pressing and the flavors to look for. If you can find a bottle of domestic first-press olive oil, that would be absolutely ideal for this recipe — when tasted by itself, you’ll feel a slight burn in your throat. That’s how you’ll know it’s top quality.

First, heat the milk, cream, salt, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan — bring to a simmer, and stir with a whisk to dissolve the sugar. Once the cream starts simmering, remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. sugar vigorously, until they look a pale yellow — about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in a 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the bowl of yolks. Gradually combine the yolks into the saucepan, and cook and stir over medium heat until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (2-3 minutes.

Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve, and let chill completely — my favorite method is to prepare an ice bath in a mixing bowl (salt water + ice) and then pour the custard into a Ziploc bag, which I douse in the ice bath. Your custard will be chilled in a matter of 10 minutes.

Once cooled, whisk in your olive oil. Pour into your ice cream maker, and prepare according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Strawberries & Cream Icebox Bars

strawberries & cream bars

strawberries & cream bars

On any given spring day, I would normally advocate for eating fruit as-is. Especially strawberries — they are so sweet and pretty to begin with… so why mess with that?

On the other hand, strawberries were my favorite fruit growing up. I ate strawberry-flavored everything. Ice cream, frosting, cupcakes, you name it. It didn’t matter if they were real or artificial. I loved the flavor, and I loved that they turned everything pink.

Can you blame me?

strawberries & cream bars

strawberries & cream bars

I’ve gone through a transition over time, as we all have. I not only want to fit into my clothes, but I’ve wanted to eat more healthily. Fruit has enough sugar, right?

Well, on this Sunday Funday, we’re just going to take strawberries to the next level.

I found this recipe on Pinterest a while back, and I’ve been itching to make it ever since. I found that there was not nearly enough crumbles to make both the bottom and the top crusts, so I’ve doubled those measurements here.

strawberries & cream bars

strawberries & cream bars

strawberries & cream bars

strawberries & cream bars

Strawberries & Cream Icebox Bars, via Pip & Ebby

1/2 cup pecans, toaste
8 whole gram crackers, broken into pieces
1 cup butter, melted
2 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
Juice from 1 lemon
4 oz. cream cheese
2 cups diced strawberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the pecans and graham crackers. Pulse-grind until uniformly mixed in a pretty, crumbly mix. Then, transfer to a large mixing bowl with the melted butter, flour and brown sugar. Mix with a fork, and spread out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Pat down with your fingers to make one giant cookie (you’ll be crumbling this later). Try to keep it about 1/4 to 1/2-an inch thick.

Bake for 15 minutes, and remove to cool. Crumble into a bowl.

In your stand mixer, beat the egg whites until you have soft peaks. Then, gradually add the sugar and heavy cream. Beat for another 4 minutes, until the mixture is light. Beat in the lemon juice and cream cheese until evenly mixed, and then fold in the strawberries.

Line a 9×13 cake pan with parchment paper. Spread half of your cookie crumbles into the pan, coating the surface evenly. Then, pour your strawberries and cream mixture on top of the crust, using a spatula to spread the cream all the way to the edges. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top, coating the cream entirely.

Let freeze for AT LEAST four hours, but preferably overnight. When fully frozen, slice with a very sharp knife, and wrap individually with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Distribute to your friends on a pretty spring day.

Marscapone Pound Cake with Whipped Cream and Balsamic Strawberries

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There are a few good reasons why I let myself fall into freelance black holes.

The most obvious is, on several levels, financial. Freelancing = more money. More money = less debt, nicer things, and sometimes, slightly less anxiety. When I dedicate a weekend to freelance, I cloister myself. I seal my bedroom door and plug in my head phones, and I get. shit. done.

When I spend a Friday night freelancing, I chug water and green tea. I go to sleep only when I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made, so my sleep is sound. I reward myself by silencing my phone and not setting an alarm. And when I wake up refreshed that Saturday morning, I sip my French press coffee while putting on make up and getting dressed.

Getting dressed and made up for a working weekend is key… because whether I spend my day designing from bed or designing from Ebenezer’s, that Saturday is a day of work. I am a creature of habit. There are certain things I need to do to prepare myself for a day of work, be it at home or at the Energy Department. And this ritual is one part physical, one part psychological.

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Freelancing, I’ve learned, is not for everyone. It’s not easy, and there are days and nights and weeks at a time where I feel myself slipping into a state of anxiety — an antsiness that transcends stir crazy.

There are times when I absolutely love it. Like when I was in Los Angeles for Christmas vacation, on the phone with Google from my parents’ dining table, sipping a cup of coffee from one hand, and scratching the floppy ears of my family’s grumpy yellow lab with the other. On days when I have only one job, when my makeshift office is cozy, and I have a dog under my arm — yes, those are the days. I envision my future exactly like that. One job, working from home, with a dog. Am I a grown-up yet?

Then, there are times when I’m an absolute crazy person. I’m overbooked, I say “yes” to too many projects, I have a full load of creative work at the Department, and friends celebrate birthdays over the course of entire weekends. Those days. Those days make me want to curl into a variation of the fetal position, preferably in my bathtub while periodically sitting up to swig Bulleit straight from the bottle.

The depressing part is that when I find myself so stressed out that the only mode of comfort is a bubble bath and a Manhattan, there usually isn’t time to calm down. Too much stress, too little time.

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But since 2013 began, I’ve been trying to take care of myself. To treat myself better. I work hard. I love my job(s). And I’ve taken a good hard look at several areas of my life. I’ve made goals and priorities. Three months ago, I wrote on this blog that 2013 would be my year. I wanted 2013 to be your year, too.

It’s quarter-end. In the same way that I review my tax information and prepare forms and files for record-keeping and for completing my civic transaction as a tax payer, looking back on the past three months has only magnified how much my life has changed. How incredibly different my life is. What a different place I’m in, and what a different person I’ve become. Hopefully, for the better.

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Mindy and I were discussing 2013. How 2013 would be is my year, and how 2013 would be is hers.

For both of us, 2012 started off in the dumps. And then, little by little, things started to change. It started with a new job, and just trickled into every aspect of our lives.

So this spring, I’m taking a look at 2013 and checking in on my goals. Take better care of yourself. Floss your teeth. Invest in skincare. Sleep in. Drink less.

Spend time with the people you care about most, and make time for those who stood by you through thick and thin. And remember where you came from, because when you needed help, someone came to the rescue. And someday, you’re going to be the rescuer.

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In the end, we are all creatures of habit. We have rituals before we go to bed, and rituals after we wake up. Those habits are not instinctive; you train yourself with repetition, and the action becomes part of your every day life, and part of your whole self. The things you say and the things you do over and over again are the things that will define who you think you are, and how the world interprets your own well-being.

Breaking bad habits is an art form in itself: unbelievably both simple and complex in nature, but not lacking in any psychological depth. If you bite your nails, sleep in your make up, or simply have issues being honest with yourself and with the people you love, break it. Do whatever it takes to break those habits — even if it means taking the babiest of baby steps. Love yourself, and make every decision a good one, if anything, out of self respect.

I’m going to say this one more time. Repeat after me: this — 2013 — is my year.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Marscapone Pound Cake with Whipped Cream and Balsamic Strawberries”

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.