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Archive for May, 2008

In the past week and a half I’ve had finals, my birthday, and three days worth of travel, but I am finally home. And boy is it BORING. My family moved to Jacksonville, FL after I went to school and I haven’t been here for any longer than a two week period. This means I never have any way of finding people to know let alone time to get to know them. Basically, I watch a lot of TV. A LOT of Top Chef. And I spend a lot of time at Blockbuster renting series. I rented Showtime’s series The Tudors about King Henry VIII. HBO’s Rome (which I watched at the end of last summer over a 5 day period) was a better period piece, but I love historical fiction about the early Tudor period, so it’s enjoyable all the same.

Unlike other bloggers, I have no Amazing Cooking Mother. My dad does all the cooking. I realize now, however, that I think I ate the same 5-10 meals throughout my childhood. And I love them. They involve salmon patties, homemade macaroni and cheese, tuna melts, burgers, some dish involving noodles from a package and a protein, in my high school years we got really creative with store bought pizza crusts (ie. take whatever is in the fridge/left over and put it on the pizza with some cheese). My dad and I are totally happy living off of sandwiches. All that is relevant to now is that when I went to bake this morning we had no vanilla! I feel like vanilla extract is one of those things you just keep accumulating and you have 3-4 half bottles of vanilla in the cupboard. I actually had to go to a NEIGHBOR and borrow some.

What did I make? Well, I made the elusive clafoutis. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this word pronounced aloud before. I did my research and found “kla-foo-tee” to be correct pronunciation (can someone confirm this?). I haven’t actually eaten clafoutis before, but all the pictures looked good and what combination of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, and fruit could really be bad?

I made Blackberry and Mango Clafoutis.

After taking this picture I ate about half this piece then remembered the recipe’s suggestion to sprinkle some pistacio on top, so I added some and it was definitely a good choice. It added a great texture.

Anyway, even though we were out of vanilla it was great to be home where we at least have REAL MIXING BOWLS. And knives that work. And a dad to send to the store to buy blackberries.

I spent some time today learning how to control the white balance on my little Nikon Coolpix. I also spent some time learning how to cut mangoes. My boyfriend is the ultimate mango slicer so he usually does it when we’re at school. On my own, however, with much riper mangoes than I’m used to, it proved a little difficult. You know what? I took a picture of my mango dissection failure…I’m not even going to put it up. It’s too embarrassing.

place fruit on your buttered dish

See, my kitchen here is unfortunately very dark. In fact, this whole house has serious natural light issues. It’s a rental house. Because of this, I was very tempted to use my flash. Especially after I found a white balance for flash setting. But the blackberries, dark as they were, seemed to throw this off. Not to mention the counter top is a dark granite. It was very frustrating. Then, I still have not gotten Adobe Photoshop Elements for my Mac. I used to have it on my old PC. I was SO photoshop savvy way back when in my super duper scrapbooking days.

I so love the contrast in this fruit. Although I complicated my photography, I found the clafoutis quite simple to make! Whisk some stuff together and pour it over fruit.

For some reason I was having some focusing problems with my camera which was a little weird. My favorite thing about this dish? The way the blackberries floated to the surface of the batter, and appear as these little purple clusters of dots just below the surface. My daddy messed up my picture of my whole clafoutis because he picked a couple of those very same blackberries off of the top! I guess I can’t blame him.

I borrowed the recipe from Mandy’s blog: Fresh from the Oven.

So how was my very first taste of clafoutis? Great! Actually, no, it was better once I put the pistachios on. I think it’s a little too eggy of a dish for me. But that MIGHT be because I had a fried egg for breakfast, and quiche for lunch, and then a second slice of this! Oops. In fact I still haven’t had dinner.

On that note, I think I’ll make myself a sandwich and get back to watching my current tv show obsession: The Wire. This is because, unfortunately, the second season of The Tudors is airing now and I don’t get showtime. Also, I’m not willing to hunt it down online because one of the best parts of the show is ogling the detail put into costuming and set. (But for a fabulous endorsement of why you should watch The Wire, skip on over to one of my professors’ blog, Just TV, and poke around.)

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Speaking of cheese, I made this lovely ricotta cheesecake this past weekend for our Equestrian Team end of the year dinner.

It was an epic baking experience. Since I have no kitchen, I asked Caitlin if I could borrow hers. Caitlin was my CRA (Commons Residential Adviser) last year and now she works in the admissions office. At Middlebury, CRA’s are recently graduated students who live in an apartment in a freshman dorm and give advice and let people use their kitchens or tv’s. In terms of the commons “family”, your CRA is your really cool aunt. We got really attached to Caitlin and we still go to her house every Thursday night to watch Lost.

In the process...

Filling, naked fruit, and zest.

The only problem is that Caitlin seriously lacks MIXING BOWLS. This is an issue. You see that bowl in the picture above? That was still missing many ingredients. I blended for as long as I could with my electric mixer, then had to switch to very, VERY carefully stirring. Not only was it a small bowl, but the sides of it were SLANTED. Well, I prevailed…

Oh, it's a CAKE

One more thing I lacked was a rolling pin. So I just kind of pressed the dough down into the pan. This led to a thick corner edge of the crust and a kind of thin center. Many difficulties ensued when trying to remove it from the bottom of Katie’s ancient tart pan (which she found at a rummage sale or something).

Who needs a kitchen when you have a dorm room?

...if only I had a kitchen...

So I finally left Caitlin’s and left the cake in my boyfriend’s little fridge. The next morning I went ahead to add my strawberries. Who needs counter tops when you have a desk and a chair, though? That’s part of my very brightly colored room. I sat where the orange plate was and sliced strawberries on top of it on my lap. Cutting boards? Nah. College live is all about improvising, right?

That's one of the nicely colored dining hall plates it's on.

Strawberry slicing took a little bit of learning. First I sliced some too thick and some too thin. Then I finally figured out a good slice size and ate all of my mistakes. Ehe. To me, the cake looks like a cake-colored lily pad with a big strawberry flower blooming on top of it.

Final Product

Final product

The team was quite impressed. This is one of my first, more complex from-scratch endeavors up here. I can make a damn good key lime pie from scratch (or other types of pie) but that only takes 20 minutes or so. Anyway, it felt really good when the girls oooh’d and ahhh’d over it. And then everyone took a bite and it was quiet for a second then there were a lot of “mmm, wow, Ruthie!”s.

my cake, my pottery, and my cactus

Cheesecake, pottery, cactus

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Yesterday the Middlebury Farmers Market opened for the 2008 season! Tom and I went down to check it out.

Middlebury Farmer\'s Market

It was Tom’s first ever farmers market experience. There were a few notable themes to this farmers market. Being vermont, they were: Cheese and Maple Products. And then of course there was bread, all sorts of plants, salsa, pastry things, cookies, jams, preserves, and chutneys…

Tom at the Farmer\'s Market

Behind Tom there is the bread guy. By the time we got to him he only had one kind of bread left and one lonely crossaint. The crossaint looked GREAT but I’d just eaten breakfast and was busy sampling a LOT of cheese. We had hoped for a baguette on which to enjoy our chevre – a fresh goat cheese. We got the herbed kind.

Goat cheese from Middlebury Farmer\'s Market.

Above is the cheese display from Blue Ledge Farm. In the foreground are two aged goat cheeses – award winning. The colorful one is aged in an edible ash, which gives it this beautiful line through the center of the wheel. It was named Lakes Edge cheese because it reminded one of the farmer’s daughters of the edge of Lake Champlain. Also the closest one to the front of the picture is a brie-like cow cheese. In the background are the fresh goat cheeses. The farthest one is pepperjack, and the other one was herbed. I love sharp, tangy cheeses and the chevre was SO good. I ate like 3/4s of it yesterday with Caitlin while I was waiting for a cake to bake.

With Otter Creek in the background.

That’s me and my cheese, with Otter Creek Falls in the background. I wish I knew more about describing cheese, because I really do like it. I was supposed to take a Vermont Farmstead Cheese Tasting Workshop over J-term, but I got confused and missed it. I know that I can talk about the texture – this one was smooth…

Well, enough about cheese. We also invested in some homemade SALSA.

Profoun Salsa at the Middlebury Farmers Market

They had Mild, Medium, Hot, and Sweet n’ Sassy. Tom’s a baby and any spiciness makes him make funny faces. The Medium was about a 4 on a scale of 1-10. Just right, I thought. The mild, however, was full of flavor without any spiciness. The salsa’s really chunky and thick with fresh veggies, and as it says on the jar, it does NOT fall off of your chip. I plan on going back next weekend and getting a jar of mild to take home with me. Between 4 of us we ate over half of a jar of medium last might. Oops.

On a final note, this table of maple products and this old couple with their blue ribbons just kind of screamed VERMONT at me and I thought it was adorable:

I LOVERMONT

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My summer after my senior year, before going to college, I worked at Starbucks. It was my first real job with a paycheck. I was offered the job at my interview and I accepted right away. I worked with really cool people and my manager was nice and respected.

Kim and I, barista-ing it up in the morning.

We had a lot of regulars. There was the woman in the horse sweater who would always remember that I was going to be going to college in Vermont (she came first thing in the morning). There was the trainer from LA Fitness who ordered a double espresso. There was the woman who owned the spa upstairs. She was a little obnoxious. There was Alfred – an old man who came twice a day, always carrying a shopping bag and often an umbrella (it rains every afternoon without fail during the summer in Miami) and got a tall, one pump vanilla, one pump classic, dry cappuccino. It was just called ‘the Alfred’. There was Corey and his Lady Friend who were med students at UM. They ordered iced venti Americanos (sometimes not iced) and studied at our counter. There was Eric, our freelance writer who spent his days waiting to get a call from his agent that his book was going to be published. Otherwise, he traded geeky facts with me and I spent my breaks sitting outside with him, where he would be every afternoon reading, wearing very large, impenetrable headphones.

Me spilling the frappuccino mix on my last day.

Maybe they brainwashed me, but I don’t think I’m easily brainwashed. I think I just got lucky. Having such a good experience, you can see why it upsets me when people are like “Starbucks is evil!” or “Their coffee is awful!” Let’s not generalize now. Maybe YOUR Starbucks is awful. And maybe YOU just don’t like their coffee. In reality, they’re a pretty good company when you compare them to others out there. They do a lot for the agricultural communities where their coffee comes from. They do their best to have Fair Trade and Organic available. They give part time employees full benefits. That’s huge. Like really huge. Big points for the Bux.

Jade, Susy, and I and our tools, yo.

Shit, I miss being tan like I was that summer…But anyway, I digress.

I’ll admit it bothers me that there is a Starbucks on every corner. I think the drive-thrus were not the best choice. Sure, you’ll feed addictions of the masses faster and easier, but that’s not what it’s about. What Starbucks wanted to be was the “3rd Place”. Not home, or work, but somewhere in between. There was a Starbucks within walking distance from my high school. There was this group of kids who always went there to smoke after school. And the bratty girls who went and ordered their frappuccinos. Or some of us even met there in the evening to do math homework. It had its own community. My best friend was known by all of the baristas. I’m glad someone recognized Starbucks moving away from being part of the community, and I’m glad Schultz is at least attempting to get back to that.

Also, we can thank Starbucks for introducing the general public to the taste of coffee. Small, local shops flourish now when they wouldn’t have before. I really learned a lot from working at Starbucks. About coffee, about people, about how easy it was to chat someone into taking one of the samples, about how you can know SO much and SO little about someone at the same time. So, please, don’t bash on Starbucks, unless you’re being specific and you can back it up.

And also, please don’t order frappuccinos. For the love of your Barista, don’t order Frappuccinos. They suck to make. Very boring. And I’m telling you, they’re not worth the calories. (Note: I have not ordered a Frappuccino since I worked at Starbucks, unless one of my former co-workers offered to make it for me.)

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A conversation with Carolina on AIM revealed to each other our food blog obsessions:

me: i always knew we were kindred spirits.
me: everyone’s always like “uhh great” when i’m like “foodblogs!!111!”
caro: the cheesecake pops look DELICIOUS
caro: hahaha !! i waste soo much time on em!
me: YES
caro: lmao
caro: its like food porn

Note: the cheesecake pops refer to Jen’s post responding to the Daring Bakers’ latest challenge.

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Sundays suck. Less than Wednesdays (Wednesday is always a really difficult day for me) but more than Mondays (not so bad for me, even if it is a Monday). Why? Because it’s when I (and every other college student) scramble to do as much work as they can for the week.

I spend my Sundays here:

This is the view from the window seat at Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe (also, my organic chemistry lab notebook and my laptop). It’s a coffee shop in Middlebury that is always on the verge of bankruptcy, yet seems to persist no matter what John (the pessimistic owner says). It certainly has character, and it is a nice place to go work, even if you occasionally hear one of the baristas mumble about people (read: college students) who buy one cup of coffee then just get glasses of water all day and take up a table.

To that I say: I buy tea!

From Carol\'s Hungry Mind

Hah, no that’s a lie. Sometimes I buy tea. This is the peppermint tea which is faaaabulous. And I’m not even a tea drinker. In fact, I dislike tea. Not this tea.

If I want caffeine I get a small vanilla latte (sugar-free, skim), usually. If I want a LOT of caffeine, and it’s warm out, I get an iced vanilla latte (sugar-free, skim). If it’s cold and I don’t want caffeine and I didn’t have a huge breakfast, I get a vanilla steamer (whole milk on this one, baby), also known as a vanilla creme. If it’s hot and I don’t want caffeine I get limeade. Lately, however, the citrus press has been broken so I get one of the Izze sodas (grapefruit, or clementine if they’re out of grapefruit).

I used to work at Starbucks. I know my shit when it comes to coffee shops, to say the least. My Starbucks was fabulous, I’ll have all you know. We kept it clean, we didn’t leave drip coffee on for longer than an hour, we didn’t leave our steaming milk unattended. I will rant about this another time, because I hate it when people generalize and bash the whole idea of Starbucks. It’s not a bad company, really.

This is where I am right now:

Battell Beach, Middlebury College, on a lovely spring day.

This is the view from my Adirondack Chair, looking across Battell Beach (the nickname for that expanse of grass). I hate how Beautiful Spring Days make me want to just take pictures and talk about them rather than work on my physics lab report, or my chem lab report, or my OTHER chem lab report, or my english paper, or my chemistry problem set, or my physics problem set.

Yeah.

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So, I have this problem. I love movies. All movies! Drama, action, sci-fi, roco (romantic comedy), animated, etc. I really have the ability to appreciate a movie for what it is. I suppose I do dislike some movies, or think some movies are bad. I suppose it’s difficult to describe. Maybe I just don’t have a lot of expectations, so I’m not often let down.

Well, in the past two days I’ve seen Iron Man and Dan in Real Life.

Iron Man

Totally a great superhero movie. One of the best “suiting up” montages I’ve seen. It’s not believable, of course, but you shouldn’t exactly expect a superhero movie to be believable. The token Girl isn’t even an annoyance (a la some Kristin Dunst scenes in Spiderman). It was enjoyable and engaging and I highly reccomend.

Dan in Real Life

I think the cover said “Delightfully charming” or something like that. Well, it was. Cliche dead mom and a father of three? Yeah, MAYBE. I don’t think it’s taken in a way that’s cliche at all. Everything Dane Cook says should be considered funny, as it is Dane Cook saying it. That helps. Uplifting and happy-go-lucky. Steve Carrell also is such a great pathetic character. Casting gets an A.

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