Today, the ImaginariYUM turns one year old. It’s been a pretty amazing year. From my Dad’s Sunday Blueberry Pancakes to Pain au Chocolat to today, you’ve helped me grow bolder, grow easier, grow more comfortable with my abilities and constraints. I’ve made some pretty creative things, tested some things tried and true. Run a marathon, and begun training for another. Learned to enjoy every moment of every season — even the hot, miserable ones, because they all mean something, give something.
And this summer, especially, has been filled with love, and with joy. I was honored to be a bridesmaid and the “pastry chef” for my best friend Tracie’s wedding in July, and then, just last Friday — just a month after I caught the bouquet and he caught the garter, and five years to the day after our first date — my fella asked me to marry him. The love of my life. The guy. The one who says he never really thought the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was true until he met me. The one who taught me to love strange midwestern concoctions, and makes a perfect grilled cheese. The one who washes the dishes, is happy to be my guinea pig. The one who never, ever complains when things take way longer to cook or bake than I led on. The one who makes me laugh every day, throws a bag of ice in the tub when I’m exhausted, sore, and whimpering after a long run, reminds me that creativity is like a muscle that needs exercise. The one who sat with me and watched Bugs Bunny cartoons on my phone, in the back of a bar, on our first date, and who will still sit with me and watch Bugs, over, and over, and over again, any day that I ask. That guy.
So on this bloggiversary, I thought it was appropriate to celebrate just a little. With cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream, to be exact.
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When you make the decision to sign up for a marathon, you are essentially giving up a large portion of your life for one third of a year. Last year, my first, was hard. Adjusting to running five days a week, up to 22 miles at a time, was rough on my body, but not necessarily on my mind. Last year, I had the luxury of flexibility. I had lost my job just two weeks before my training was set to begin. If it was going to rain in the evening, I could get my miles in in the morning — and not just at the crack of dawn in order to make it into an office at a decent hour. I could do it whenever I felt like it, whenever the weather permitted. This year is a whole new ballgame. I once again have a relatively low-mileage schedule to make it easier on my injury-prone body. But the intense heat of the summer has forced me into 6:00 a.m. workouts or earlier, freeing up my evenings, yes, but leaving me so exhausted that I can do no more than throw together an easy dinner (preferably without an oven or extended stovetop-time) before I feel I can do more than sit on the couch and stare at something — with my legs elevated, of course — and eat ice cream.
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I’m not a big material gift-giver. Probably because I’m a pretty awkward gift-receiver. Sure, it’s always great to rip open some packaging and discover something extremely thoughtful, something you’ve always wanted, or something you never knew you would want but would end up using on a regular basis. It might also stem from the fact that my parents always insist that we not buy them anything for birthdays, Hanukkah, Mother’s or Father’s Day. Maybe we just need to be more savvy (note: parents do NOT want massage gift certificates), but what that has meant is that my gift to my family, my friends, my loved ones, is very often the gift of food. Putting love into a cake, brownies, penne or gnocchi; and the sacred ritual of gathering and filling our souls with that love. It becomes more than a meal, more than a gift: it is an experience, shared, together.
And sometimes, I go into overdrive. This is what happened this past weekend, when my fella celebrated his 33rd. We had blueberry pancakes with actual real bacon, his favorite kickin’ grilled chicken and blue cheese calzones (twice), and this Chocolate Nutella Banana Insanity Cake. Continue reading →
All too often, we spend too much time apologizing for words and actions, or silence and inactions, for which we have no reason to apologize. For speaking too quietly, for asking someone to repeat something he said. For having dinner ready half an hour later than we intended. For asking for help. And for not baking, or writing a blog post, for two and a half weeks. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to throw myself at the mercy of the few of you who read this blog, apologize for having external deadlines, interviews, a raging stomach flu. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll present to you this gorgeous flourless chocolate cake. Hailing from the brain of the wonderful David Lebovitz, it has four ingredients that you very well might already have in your pantry, and is an easy go-to for a last-minute dinner party — or, hell, a last-minute chocolate craving. I made this for the second night of Passover, when I was no longer sick but hadn’t had any energy to go running around looking for matzoh meal or cake meal or even almonds or hazelnuts or coconut. What I did have was nearly a whole Pound-Plus Bar of bittersweet chocolate, eggs, sugar, and butter. And, with only a few minutes of prep, it was probably the only thing I had the energy to stand in my kitchen for.
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What grounds you? For me it’s the gentle purr of a cat. The peaceful fall of snow against lamplight. A warm, firm embrace. And cinnamon. No matter where my mind is, whether it be under stress or on the high of a possible opportunity — an electrical current coursing — they bring me back down to earth. They give me a moment to pause, to breathe, to close my eyes and smile.
So when it snowed on the first day of spring, my brain frustrated from staring at research and trying to edit on an 11-inch screen, I stepped into my kitchen and watched our one tree being blanketed swiftly with white as the sky became greyer and greyer, then darkened towards nightfall, pink and purple in the cloudy city sky, and knew that I also needed to inhale the aroma of butter and chocolate and oatmeal and cinnamon. The frustration of technology, and not having a printer, required a double dose of grounding. I needed oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies to connect me back with the earth, my sanity, myself.
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There are days when I dream of sun-ripened fruit and farmstand veggies and other fresh things. And then there are days when I try to Nutella everything. I’ve gotten into the habit of baking off loaves of peasant bread and schmearing warm slices with Nutella, or rescuing day-old peasant bread by toasting it and schmearing it with Nutella. It’s been my daily afternoon treat and I think it was saving me from the depths of everyone else’s winter depression. When we ran out of the sweet stuff over the weekend, we took advantage of the current thaw and took a walk up to one of our many local European markets (one of the great things about living in a Greek neighborhood) to see if they were selling it any cheaper than the supermarket on the corner. They weren’t, but they did have giant jars. Don’t worry, I said, I’ll find a use for it. But when I say “Nutella everything” I don’t just mean a schmear on things here and there — I’m talking about recreating Nutella in all kinds of food forms. Enter these chocolate-hazelnut banana muffins. Continue reading →
Picture it: Paris, 2001. The dollar is stronger than the franc, which would be replaced with the euro just a year later. Gigantic bottles of Evian cost less than 50 cents. Orangina is all the rage. And you can stuff your face with pain au chocolat for less than a dollar a pastry. It was a dangerous time to be an American in Paris, when every day was meant for gluttony, lest those previous months studying and meandering down those cobblestone streets go to waste before a return stateside, where even decent breads and viennoiserie cost several dollars a pop. “Indulge,” says the little voice inside your head. “Have one more,” says the little you sitting on your own shoulder wearing red pajamas and wielding a pitchfork. The little you on your other shoulder, wearing a white gown and sporting a halo above her head, is silent. She, too, is indulging in one more pain au chocolat, shards of crisp, buttery crumb falling from her lips and into the folds of her white, silken gown.
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I’ve been feeling pretty under the weather the past few days. Could be from the subzero wind chills. Could be from running in the cold (but not in the subzero wind chills — come on, I’m not that crazy). Could be from too many super fudgy brownies and homemade In-N-Out burgers and fries. But from forehead to belly, I’m beat. I want to throw in the towel. I just want to curl up and knit while I watch a day’s worth of Daria. And detox, in my own way, by starting off the day with yogurt and tea. Continue reading →
Simplicity. It’s something I fear losing as I delve deeper and deeper into this food blogging thing, deeper and deeper into the world of the locavore. The other week I melted some chocolate and swirled in some peanut butter. Tried to let it set, become a creamy candy bar, but my impulse control left me and I ate it straight from the bowl, warm and melty and messy. It was heaven. And I didn’t tell you about it. It’s a relic from my teenage years, but just doesn’t seem sophisticated enough, mature enough, detailed enough, for a culinary blog. What is happening to us?
Yet besides experimenting with marshmallows and croissants, simple is oftentimes all I do. Simple is what I turn to when I need to whip up a batch of something for a dinner party or a whiskey party or a barbeque and I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to a tart or a cake. Simple is usually cookies these days, but simple used to always be brownies. These magical brownies, to be precise (not to be confused with “magic” brownies). This is a two-bowl, once in the oven recipe, which tickles me. Chocolate and butter. Salt and sugar. Vanilla and eggs. And flour — but just a little bit. No leaveners, no hand mixers or stand mixers, no food processors required. Just a couple of bowls and measuring spoons and cups, and a bit of love and magic. Continue reading →
I know for the last days of Hanukkah I should probably be making jelly doughnuts. Or a jelly doughnut cake. But sufganiyot, the traditional treat served during the Festival of Lights, was never high on my mother’s dessert agenda, and I’m not sure we ever tried convincing her otherwise. Once, as an adult, I fried up some apple cider doughnuts for our Hanukkah feast, but have since realized they’re much better baked. And although I’ve had no problem stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some chocolate honey glazed (which, I think in this day and age, is no longer glazed with honey, but rather some other sugary concoction) to share around the menorah, rugelach is more in line with my family tradition. And unlike fried doughnuts (but not fried cookies), they’ll last for more than one sitting. I’m also gearing up to try my hand at croissants, so I may as well work on my crescent-rolling technique now, right?
This year I set out to do something a bit different from the traditional. At least, traditional in my family. My mom’s recipe, which comes from my grandma’s Romanian side of the family, is filled with sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts. Actually pretty perfect for this time of year. But I must be stuck in some other dimension because my December treats have been suspiciously lacking in chocolate, and this must be amended immediately. This year we’re going to make rugelach of the babka variety: chocolate and cinnamon; tender and bittersweet. Sort of like 2014. But that’s a whole other story.
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