New York, Sandy, and Bouncing Back

November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

My vacation week was cut short by Hurricane Sandy, and my birthday was spent cooped up in bed, watching the wind and rain rage outside, with a warning from Major Bloomberg to stay inside. But I’m counting myself lucky that I’m safe and dry, and didn’t lose anything in the storm except for a couple of fun times. Watching the news is a sobering reminder that while I was complaining that all of the restaurants were closed for lunch, some people were out there actually losing everything. So I’ve been thinking about the happy moments of this week and they’re actually more plentiful than I thought.

Running down Prospect Street, through the autumn leaves and seeing the neighbors come out to talk to each other in the middle of the street.

These crunchy squares of burnt caramel toffee from Poco Dolce in San Francisco that my dad sent me in the mail.

Having The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in my hands for the very first time, I can’t wait to spend hours with it.

A lovely day-before-birthday dinner at Prune, which we visited for the second time, and chatting with our table neighbors — a French family confused when their son got asked for I.D. for a glass of wine.

A warm welcome — and couch — from old friends and new in New York City, a plate of marshmallow topped sweet potatoes, and a couple more shots of whiskey than I ever expected at a dinner party.

Corduroys and brown combat boots, perfect for November.

A morning yoga session that makes me wonder why yoga ever made it out of my daily routine.

Watching a young boy, who could not have been more than eight-years-old, sip chocolate milk while reading The New York Times, across from me at Small World Coffee.

Sending in my ballot, just in time.

Waking up on my birthday to a lemon tart, a handmade hat from Granny, and a blue Tiffany’s box from my little brother.

Taylor Swift’s new album Red, which surprisingly and embarrassingly, is so spot on I can’t stop listening.

A little secret that makes me smile when I walk around campus, and keeps me warm, like my new rusty red cashmere sweater.

Goat Cheese Custards

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The first time I arrived on a street corner in New York City, I was uncomfortably overwhelmed by the mass of people walking straight towards me, shoving, sidestepping and sometimes, halting mid-step so that the dozen people following close on the heels had to suddenly snap to the side in order to avoid collision. The sheer quantity of people was shocking. I swore I could never live in a place inhabited by so many people determined to follow their own path, regardless of how many people had to get pushed out of the way on the sidewalk. Sitting in the back of a taxi was a whole other story and nerve-wracking ordeal as every time we made a turn, I was terrified we would crash into the car beside us. Nevertheless, I came back to the city numerous times as an escape from what we politely call “the orange bubble,” which is the Princeton campus. Gradually, I have learned to navigate, to shove, and to walk with a purpose, and oftentimes find myself, completely unnecessarily, enacting the same techniques in other cities.

We spent a couple of days in the city last week and somehow managed to avoid the more centralized areas for much of the time. Staying in Morningside Heights, just north of Columbia, we took the subway; we ate cupcakes and drank carafes of sangria in the West Village; we sat by the docks and watched the sun set over New Jersey. In many ways, the city is different every time I come back. It’s only ever for a day or two at a time, so it’s only ever a glimpse, a quick breath before going back to the grind. Far from being terrifying now, it’s comforting, reassuring, that so many people exist in the world and they’re all doing their own thing. Which is nice to keep reminding yourself of when everyone at school seems to be heading down the exact same path.

Of course there are exceptions. Like the guy in the Columbia bar who told me to start pulling all my university connections in D.C. now and sarcastically wished me luck when I said I wanted to do cultural journalism as opposed to political journalism. Or the guy at the same bar who told my friend to abandon aerospace engineering because the money (equivalent to happiness) was in consulting and investment banking. But, well, if you stick to walking down the street and observing people, without actually talking to them, the sentiment that everyone is doing their own thing is there.

Which is, not really the point. I would never advocate not talking to people, just because certain individuals can be incredibly shortsighted. I guess part of the thing about talking to strangers is running the risk of being insulted and angered. But, we ranted about them on the way home that night and now, a few days later on campus, we’re back to doing our own thing.

So on that note, I made these little custards quite awhile ago. They’re creamy, like a light cheesecake. A red wine reduction poured over the top takes them from grown-up to sophisticated. They’re great if you just can’t decide between the dessert and cheese course. And the wine, well a little extra wine never hurt anyone. Cheers to being 21! And finally being able to buy alcohol for my own baking!

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

October 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I used to hate pumpkin with a passion, the same way I now hate raisins, cooked carrots and orange-chocolate (sorry, I was scrounging for a third hatred). Then one year, I went home for Thanksgiving and spent the first night sitting on the kitchen floor with a blender and my little brother, trying to puree roasted pumpkin for my very first pumpkin pie. I’m still not sure what possessed me to do it, given the icky color of pumpkin pie filling, its oftentimes-nauseating texture and the simple fact that I didn’t like pumpkin. But together, we dutifully made this pumpkin pie and — much to my surprise — I actually liked it, so much that I snuck tiny slivers from the fridge for the rest of the weekend.

From that, the next natural step seemed to be to start craving pumpkin spice lattes come fall. To get excited when seasonal pumpkin pie Clif bars finally hit the stores. To roast pumpkin with nutmeg and browned butter. And to start baking other pumpkin items. Cookies, packed with dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, to be devoured on the bus post-race. Fragrant, spicy muffins topped with oat strudel. Which is exactly what these are —

I spent this past weekend in New York City with my mother. We went to the theatre. We dined at Prune, where we started with fresh radishes spread with sweet butter and roasted eggplant with tangy yogurt and ended with an exquisite bitter chocolate pot de crème and mascarpone ice cream topped with caramel croutons which soaked up the excess, melting cream.

We sat at tables that were too small for all the plates, and slurped spicy noodles at a communal table to the loud din of East Village bar-life and dishes being thrown in for washing in open-floor kitchens. We stumbled upon lunchtime food-truck markets and weekend farmers markets. We sampled various pumpkin treats, and I found most of them to be too dry and lacking a certain pop of flavor. The last evening, we gathered together the ingredients in the hotel room and I made these pumpkin spice muffins, which were everything I had hoped for flavor-wise from the baked goods at the market, and twice as cute.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, via the American club, in Kohler, Wisconsin via Gourmet Magazine
Among the changes I made to this recipe (like adding a topping! and using brown butter!) was making the batter entirely in the small saucepan. Given the minuscule size of the hotel kitchen and the lack of mixing bowls, this made a lot of sense. That said, even if your kitchen is massive, it’s still one less dirty bowl.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 15-ounce can solid-packed pumpkin
1/3 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons vanilla turbinado sugar
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small saucepan brown the butter until it smells nutty and you see flakes of amber at the bottom of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar, eggs, salt, pumpkin, spices, baking powder and baking soda. I added the eggs last, in order to give the butter a chance to cool down a bit first. Fold the flour into the wet mixture, being careful not to over mix. Spoon the batter into non-stick or greased muffin tins, filling each mold about 2/3 high.

To make the topping, combine the oats, flour and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Crumble the butter in with your hands until you reach an even consistency and the oats start to stick together. Add the white chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly. Sprinkle the topping on each muffin.

Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife stuck in the center of one comes out clean.

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