Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 12 Days of Cooking

Hello blog readers! Has your Christmas season been as busy as mine has? I thought to myself this morning, "Hey, I have time to blog! Yippee!" Then I looked at the blog and realized that I haven't been here in ages.*

But all is well, because we are here together now, laughing, drinking hot cocoa, and anticipating one of the holiest nights of the year. And how have I been prepping for this night?

By cooking every last lick of raw ingredients in my kitchen into every imaginable Christmas treat for four weeks straight.

It has been exhausting, but a lot of fun. It partly makes me wish that the season went on much longer than December 25 (oh does.) And, it makes me want to break into song.

Lucky you, I don't know how to add audio.

Nonetheless, you get my lyrics. Also in your favor: the tune is a dash familiar to you. Hum along to The Twelve Days of Christmas, won't you?

On the twelfth day of cooking, my kitchen gave to me:

Twelve loads of dishes,

Eleven dozen cookies,

Ten dozen truffles,

Nine dozen cupcakes,

Eight Tums needed,

Seven grocery store stops,

Six mini-meltdowns,


Four weeks of working,

Three dozen brownies,

Two failed attempts,

And a huge batch of TAH-MALL-EES!

That's right! After all those sweets, I went over to my in-laws' house and made tamales.

You know, because I am Mexican now.

Here's the proof:

He's finally going to share all his years of experience.

I see five plates, but six shot glasses. Hmmm, someone is getting the fuel without doing the work.


My first masa-smeared corn husk.

Double yum.

I hope you have a very safe and holy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I'll be sharing my memories with you soon, but don't forget to make your own!

Feliz Navidad!

*More than a couple weeks is pretty much ages in in the blogosphere. I'm surprised the blog didn't have wrinkles.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Crumbling Affection


Nothing hits home in quite the same way as a cookie.

Cookies and milk are a treat I still enjoy. Cookies and punch (a far inferior combination) nevertheless remind me of childhood parties, and school dances, and red KoolAid stains on your shirt that blend very well with smeared chocolate chips. Cookie dough ice cream stands alone.

You may have a favorite meal, or dish that mom makes that simply doesn't measure up to anyone else's version. But nothing beats the cookie straight from the oven, having only cooked through enough to keep the warm, soft edges from melting onto your greedy fingertips.

See? This is a feeling that pie could never evoke.

So why must I make you feel this way right now, while you are sitting at your computer or reading this on your smart phone, and very likely not near a bakery?

I must because it's cookie swap time.

Every year before Christmas, the Mastro ladies gather 'round to swap cookies. You bake five dozen of your signature nosh* and swap them with the several other varieties of treats that all your relatives brought. You leave with a bunch of different types of cookies without having to make anything but one type of cookie in your own kitchen.

Genius and delicious. Now, if only we could figure something like this out for weeknight dinners....

Anyway, I don't want you to miss out on an Advent or Christmas cookie swap just because you have no long-standing family tradition to eat way more butter and sugar than should be humanly allowed. Here's a guide to hosting your very own meaningful cookie swap that I really enjoyed reading.

For my cookie swaps this year, I'll be making my signature kolach, a cream cheese dough filled with fruit preserves. They're like miniature hot pockets, but sweeter. And, you can eat eight of them before you realize you're full.

In fact, maybe I need to go make them now.... Happy baking!

*I have totally just given an "out" to all of you Mastro ladies out there currently reading this blog who do not have the time to make your five dozen cookies. The stores have some good stuff nowadays. Feel no shame.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey in the Wine

So it's been a while since I've taken to sitting down and writing about what's up in my little world. Can I blame it on a subdued state since Turkey Day? The continued job hunting and researching? Write it off to too much baking?



Um, I'm going to stop writing excuses now, because you might not find it in your wonderful hearts to forgive me for A) neglecting the stupendous connection between us that is this blog, and B) being annoying.

My Thanksgiving was good. How was yours? Did you eat more than necessary, as is now expected of you until New Year's? I did! And what did I do after that?

Why, I went wine tasting, of course! Nothing quite tops off the Thanksgiving weekend like drinking the equivalent of five glasses of wine whilst being chauffeured around an unfamiliar city.

Want proof? OK! Here's our loot.

And here's some pictures from our wine tasting trip to Paso Robles, which was a birthday surprise for Stephen's cousin, Nick.

Since you are such sweet blog readers, I'll share a little sweet treat with you: a picture of the raspberry-marbled cheesecakes I made for Thanksgiving.

Happy eating!

Friday, November 19, 2010

At Least My Feet Are Covered

It has been a while since I've had a fashion Friday, but since I have a bit of a fashion conundrum, I figured I would post my problem here, like a good blogger, and seek the wisdom of my readers.

Every year, Stephen's National Guard unit hosts a Christmas-time event. This year the event is in Sacramento, which should be a fun change from Visalia (no offense to Visalians). They call this event a "ball." This is deceiving.

There is no dancing. There isn't even any music. It's just a dinner and slide show and speeches and lots of men yelling "Hoo-ah!" repeatedly. Not very Cinderella-esque, but I'll let them call it what they want. They defend our country and all that jazz.

Also unlike Cinderella, I have no fairy godmother to produce for me the perfect gown in the perfect shade of blue to match my eyes. It's formal attire required, but I (sigh) have nothing to wear. Such a basic life conundrum, really, and not at all limited only to "balls."

But with the event in two weeks, I think I need to get it figured out--and figured out before everyone is out shopping every second of every day. Anyone know of any good, affordable places to find formal attire?

Thanks for your help, you fairy godmothers you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Latest

So here's what's up with me lately:

I am currently researching some new career options. I am not yet going to elaborate on them on the blog, other than to say they seem like they use a lot of my writing and researching skills, and fit with my lifestyle. I will say that when I am comfortable and confident enough that they are the right fit for me that I will share more. Until then, you can pretend I'm doing something crazy, like underwater sea urchin hunting, synchronized sky diving. Whatever blows your skirt up.

With my increased amount of free time, I have been able to catch up more with friends and acquaintances. This is something I didn't make as much time for as I should have while I was working, and I hope I can continue to maintain this reconnecting after I figure the career stuff out.

Also while I figure out career stuff, I am embracing the holiday spirit by baking pretty much everything in my repertoire, and then some. Do you have a holiday party coming up? Want to give some yummy gifts out to friends? Need some sweetness in your life (like as a hidden midnight snack)? Give me a call or shoot me an e-mail and maybe I can make something for your holiday that will brighten your spirits and fill your tummy. Win-win.

I appreciate your patience as I figure out my life alongside figuring out when the heck I will get my blog to the spot that I want it.* I truly want to dedicate more time to the blog, both because I enjoy it and because it deserves more attention. I so appreciate when people tell me that they enjoy reading my blog, or let me know that they miss it when I don't post something new. It means more than you could know to hear that encouragement.

New things coming my way from all angles. I want to know: what is new with you? Are you going through any big career, education or life transitions?

*Art imitating life?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blog Neglect

Sorry to any who may have been poking around on the blog the last couple of weeks. I have been busy on the job hunt, researching some new opportunities, and getting sick. I have also been doing some good old fashioned cooking, and prepping stuff for Thanksgiving. I will be more on top of things next week and hopefully get into a more suitable routine for blogging very soon.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend. This is where I'll be (at least on Saturday at 1, where there will be a craft fair!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I have been waking up all week to this guy.

He's modeled after a pumpkin carving my sister did last year. We call him Canny, short for Cannibal.

Well, we would if we named molding squash. He is going fast. Once the last of the trick-or-treaters has cleared out, he will meet his demise in The Great Molding Pumpkin Patch (aka our dumpster).

Hope you have a great Halloween, and that is prepares you for All Saints' Day tomorrow and All Souls' Day on Tuesday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Heal, Pour Salt In Wound

I'd like to share a little story about failure.

This story is a personal story, so I know all of the little details about the main character, like motives. Thankfully, I can tell you the moral of the story, too.

I decided to make caramels. I recently saw this recipe for salted caramels and they looked really good.

I wanted them. However, I did not want the $1.50 per price tag from a real candy shop that came with them.

What do the poor do? They make!

I took my sugar, water, light corn syrup and cream of tarter and heated them up real good.

I let it do its thing.

I added the heavy cream and soy sauce (I know, weird) right when the recipe said to.

I lobbied in the butter.

I mixed. I stirred. I did everything right.

How did they turn out?


They were definitely burnt. Worse, the apartment smelled like burnt Chinese food with a hint of dairy.

What had I done wrong? I added all the right ingredients. I followed directions. I didn't question the soy sauce, even though my limited candy making experience told me it just wasn't right to add Asian condiments.

And now I had this.

After yelling at THAT STUPID STOVE for several minutes, I opted to just relax.

I assure you, this "just relax" nonsense is very uncharacteristic of me. If I did everything right, it had to turn out. It was science. It was the rule.

In another bout of totally uncharacteristic action, and said to myself, "I'll make them again tomorrow."

Because...I wanted the house to smell bad again? I cannot tell you what made me want to try making the caramels again.

Plucky stick-to-it-tive-ness. Stubbornness. Tomato, to-mah-to.

The next day, I followed the directions again, but this time made the caramel on a different burner of the stove, thinking it would keep from getting as hot as the bigger one I'd tried the day before. However, this burner didn't reach all parts of the pot, and I feared it would create a hot spot in the middle, burning half of my caramel, making it...I dunno, half as worse as yesterday?

In my fear, I abandoned ship. I pulled them early, afraid that they would burn and that we'd have a repeat burnt-Chinese-food-day in the kitchen.

How did the second batch turn out?

Underdone. Because I hadn't cooked them long enough at the end, they never solidified like the slice-able and chewy caramels the recipe (which now felt like it was taunting me in a mean-kids-on-the-playground kind-of-way) promised.

So, proving that I was still the head of my kitchen, and that no soy-infused caramels were going to bring me down, I dumped them out into a bowl, and they became sauce.

This was the best caramel sauce ever. It has topped both ice cream and popcorn. It finds its way onto my spoon in the middle of the night. And, it does not taste at all like Chinese food, burnt or otherwise. The soy sauce adds a smoky flavor that adult tongues really appreciate (completely different than the saccharine-only sweets for kiddos).

Here are the parts I'm sure you've been waiting for: the reflection, and the moral of the story.

I think on blogs, and in real life, we have a tendency to share only our successes, or the things we think others will like to see, or the things that turn out perfectly. I also think that's a big disservice to the writer and the readers.

I am not perfect. I am way, way imperfect. I have been reminded of that by outside forces lately, but I think that learning it from my own failed endeavors helped me realize that it's OK. Since much of my life feels a little upside down right now, it was really good to have this absolute failure in a very unimportant area to remind myself to deal with it, get over it, move on. This advice works for those little things.

In a sense, I think the advice evolves when the failures get bigger, more important. Our path in life, our relationships, and the big-ticket decisions don't always turn out perfectly, or even the type of imperfect we expected and were ready to deal with. Sometimes the caramel burns. Sometimes you pull early and things still don't turn out. Sometimes the smell of burnt Chinese food will seep into your pores.

But sometimes, you turn the failure into something. Sometimes it unexpectedly works in ways you didn't anticipate, and winds up in bowls of ice cream at first you didn't think you needed, but end up being essential and really comforting. Sometimes just going with the soy sauce, as weird as it sounds, works out.

And so I am here to repeat something you already know, but that I needed reminding of this week. While many things can't be changed outside your skin, you're in control of what you do. If you blow it once, give it another go. You might fail again, but that might just be OK.

The End (of the story).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The St. Crispin Crisp, and Other Funny Phrases

Since I'm doing a lot more cooking and baking lately, and because I like learning more about the saints, I thought I'd briefly share another kitchen adventure with a lesson about faith.

And this adventure involves ice cream, so stick around.

Yesterday, October 25, was the feast of the French evangelist, St. Crispin. I learned this from one of my favorite blogs, Waltzing Matilda, who posted a delicious-sounding recipe on Catholic Cuisine. This post of hers featured a St. Crispin Apple Crisp.

Which it is. It absolutely is. This is the crust you have been waiting for, the crust you thought you could never recreate, the crust that haunts your dreams. All pies, tarts, crumbles, cobblers and pastry-like items that I can try to make with this crust will be made.


(Thanks for sticking with me after that awkward last sentence.)

The faith lesson you ask? Well, only a world that our good Lord has designed could allow you to apply flour, dairy and a little heat to this:

And get this:

(This is your cue to be upset that you don't live in my house.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gno One Hates It

"Knowledge" might be "power," according to those in the educational world, but it does not make us good adults.

I'm talking about decision making.

Yes, I'll explain.

I know, through years of grooming, that I am supposed to eat balanced meals. Meals with protein. Meals with vitamins. Meals with more than one item. (I also know this through nights of eating just cookies for dinner. That is a no go.)

Alas, this knowledge is not changing my behavior because...

I made gnocchi.

Gnocchi, the delicious potato-y pasta that says, "Hey, you can have a square meal if you think those vitamins will keep you warm at night, but you'll be dreaming of me."

It says that, really. You might need to listen closer to yours next time.

Either way, when the gnocchi are in the house, all this "knowledge is power" mumbo-jumbo gets kicked to the curb. You just want carbilicious gnocchi.

Or, maybe you're like me, and you want gnocchi with butter. And butter is dairy, so there you go.

Here's how you make 'em.

I learned how to make gnocchi from my dad's mom a few years ago. I have since added some "tips and tricks" that I have learned since then that are part of the sacred gnocchi-making strategy.

First, set your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and let it get hot. In the meantime, turn off your air conditioner. If you have both running at the same time, it means you are a millionaire and can pay someone else to make gnocchi for you. I might be available for this job.

Prep some potatoes for cooking by scrubbing them down, drying them well and poking them with forks. You'll need about 5 cups of cooked potatoes for this recipe, and with my little potatoes that meant about 7 (the rest are for later in the week).

Lay the spuds out onto a cookie sheet covered in salt. The salt helps draw moisture out of the potatoes, which is something you want when making gnocchi but no one ever tells you.

Cook the potatoes for about 45 minutes to an hour until there is very little give when you stab them with a fork. They should be wrinkly and sad-looking. This is a sign of success.

Take the potatoes out and let them cool a little before touching. No food is worth second-degree burns.

While the potatoes are still warm (but not hot!), peel off their skin.

Cut the potatoes in half.

Half a potato at a time, work the spuds through your ricer.

This is a ricer.

These are the potatoes going through the ricer.

Don't be scared of the ricer.

The ricer is important because it keeps some of the natural texture of the potatoes. A potato masher would destroy all of your hard work, giving you very dry mashed potatoes that could only be remedied with heavy cream and a nice, juicy steak.

The ricer is your friend. However, if you don't have a ricer, you could push the cooked potatoes through a colander like I used to when I was first learning how to make gnocchi. You'll look ghetto, but remember: you are not running your air conditioner and oven at the same time. No one thinks you're Daddy Warbucks.

When you've collected your 5 cups of ricerized potatoes...

...turn them out onto the counter into 3 cups of flour.

Your instincts will make you feel that this is wrong, that a bowl should be involved. Actually, this is the best way to do it.

Add one egg and a pinch of salt...

and mix these with your hands until a dough forms.

Not quite.

There you go.

This is the reason for bowl-less-ness. Mixing the dough this way will help ensure you don't add more flour than is needed. The dough will take what it needs, so don't force too much flour onto it. Show it some respect.

At this point in the recipe, you could add things like finely-minced garlic, Parmesan cheese, or fresh or dried herbs to the dough for a little zing.

But I don't have time for that. I need gnocchi now.

With a 7 out of 10 on the "reckless abandon" scale, pull off small patches of dough...

...and roll them into thin ropes on a floured cutting board. Cut 1-inch pieces from the rope and roll them up onto a fork.

This makes that little gnocchi sauce "well" everybody is always talking about. The well is important.

Seriously, just flick them up the fork.

My wells are satisfactory, which is good enough for me.

At this point, you have a couple options. The first is boiling up some water in your favorite pot and going to town. When the gnocchi float to the top, they're ready to eat.

It is very likely, though, that you cannot eat all of this pasta in one sitting (as hard as you might try). The other option is to lay the gnocchi out on a clean cookie sheet and freeze them. After completely frozen, you could store them in freezer bags. You can also cook the gnocchi straight from the freezer, too; again, when they float to the top of the pot after being thrown into boiling water, they're ready to eat.

Me? Well....

P.S. Here's somebody making gnocchi with Gorgonzola--yum!

Monday, October 18, 2010

This Is Why We Handwash Everything

I am now holding in my hand the third item to be broken beyond use after taking a round in our apartment's dishwasher.

We've seen mostly glasses meet their demise in this machine, but I don't think it is really that discriminating.

You know, because I'm sure the dishwasher thinks about what dish to take down each washing.

A couple months after getting married, we needed to get some cereal bowls. The soup bowls just weren't cutting it. (It was frustrating dipping a spoon into a bowl that can only get one Cheerio level deep.) When we ended up buying six bowls, I wasn't sure if I should get a replacement bowl after one chipped pretty quickly.

Now all of the bowls are chipped, courtesy of the dishwasher.

It's set on normal wash (which I assume means normal agitation level, too); any recommendations to fix the machine?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fresno Fair

Just a brief reminder that this is the last weekend of the Big (x5) Fresno Fair. We got a chance to go last weekend, so our obligatory moment of eating everything in sight was completed wholeheartedly.

Make sure you don't miss yours!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jen & Julie & Julia

Over the weekend, Stephen and I rented Julie & Julia. We rented it for several reasons. These reasons and their tangent-like paragraphs (none of which seemed large enough when I started this post to justify their own post) are below:

-I had not seen this movie yet, and it was basically the perfect movie for me (please see other reasons).

-Stephen thought it would lift my spirits a bit after a rough week. And, it really did. Light-hearted whimsy + movie about food + real-life food = excellent evening at home.

-We were amused at the idea of blogging about something for a whole year. I loved the idea of working my way through a cookbook, taking the no-excuses route and sharing your triumphs and failures with the blogosphere. Heck, some of my favorite blogs are those with such a specialty, like New Dress A Day, or a cooking theme, like Smitten Kitchen.

-I love anything "vintage." If you want to sell it to me, tell me it's vintage, or traditional, or classic, or some other synonym that basically means enduring and awesome all at once. Endursome. Yeah, endursome. This movie was full of endursome-ness.

-I love Julia Child. Her mannerisms, her tone of voice, her stature--everything about her makes me smile. I would rather learn cooking from her for only 30 seconds than to have Emeril yell Batman-esque words at me for an entire hour. Having her so accurately portrayed by Meryl Streep to endure for all cinema history is quite a treat (and, thankfully, we have Julia herself captured on film, teaching as she loved to do).

-I love to cook. I don't just love it because at the end, I am fed. I love the creating part of it, the part where the final dish becomes more than the sum of its individual ingredients. It might be one of the few things where you can be both technical and creative. You can be reassured that your recipe, with its precise measurements, will, in fact, make the exact dish promised at the top of the recipe card. At the same time, you can feel the recipe subtly allowing you creative freedom, assuring you access to any potential number of successes if you add a little of this, a pinch of that. It's a glorious mix that exemplifies how we should handle things in life: logically, but with faith in improvisation.

-(Please see first reason.)

Overall, I recommend Julie & Julia for any and all occasions.

Except maybe when you are on a diet. No promises, there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'

It has been quite a month.

In addition to trying to get the blog updated, and doing lots of other things (wonderful things like weddings and bridal showers), there has been another change in our life.

And no, unfortunately it's not the one (I hope) you are thinking of.

My position at my company was eliminated.

I, like so many others, am now unemployed. While my family and friends have wrapped their arms around me in love and support, I still feel a bit of disappointment, and nervousness as I wonder, "What now?"

I am so thankful at times like this that God has blessed me with the right amount, with just the correct level, of stubbornness.

You see, I think that God places us each in the position in life where we are given what we can handle. He has created us with a certain temperament to handle that which surrounds us. And, I believe God knew that when he created me that he'd have to set me up in a home and community that would value faith, and God's influence on our daily lives and ultimately our salvation.

If he had placed me somewhere else, well, I am certain I would not be at such peace. Peace knowing we have some money saved up to live on while we look for work. Peace knowing this is not the end of the world. Peace knowing that family and friends are behind us. Peace knowing God's will is driving this car.

While September was quite a month, I am looking forward to seeing what October will bring. I anticipate what God will teach me during this financial drought. I'm looking forward to new opportunities, to the possibilities that lie ahead. And, I look forward to what I will learn about myself in the process.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Changes to Come...

I know I've said it before, but I really mean it--things are going to get big here on the blog.

I haven't forgotten!


Ok, maybe I forgot when I was in that ice cream coma last week...

But otherwise, I haven't.

Anyway, stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye, Summer...

...and a big, football-watching, hot cocoa-sipping, sweater-covered-arms hug to autumn.

Welcome back. You look great. You are just as cool as I remember.

I missed you.


And to you and yours, I wish you a happy St. Matthew's feast day, too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Ides of September

Since today is the middle of September, thus making it the Ides of September, and today is exactly half a year from the Ides of March (that notorious day of betrayal), is this the day we can trust people the most?


Just a weird thought for anyone lurking here today.

Enjoy the Ides!

Sunday, September 12, 2010