Scone Experimentation

IMG_2657Over the past week, the number of dreary, grey days has increased as the number of leaves on trees has decreased. Though I love apple cider doughnuts, loose and comfy chunky sweaters, snuggling into my winter comforter, and all other cozy autumn activities, it is always sad to feel the warmth of summer fade.

But autumn brings its own vibrancy, with leaves like flames and multicolored fruits and vegetables ripe for harvest. I had always associated pomegranate seeds with summer because of their “tropical” fuchsia hue and the exoticness of a fruit whose seeds shone like edible jewels embedded in bitter white pith. However, after I discovered they were in fact a fall fruit, pomegranates became a favorite fall time treat (though of course, apple cider doughnuts will now and forever be the best part of fall).

After a week of drab, depressing days drained of color, I needed something delicious, sweet, and visually striking, even borderline garish. Enter my favorite breakfast pastry, the scone, combined with my favorite exotic flavors, green tea and pomegranate seeds. Matcha imparts an earthy, slightly bitter taste, while the pomegranate seeds provide small sparks of juicy sweetness. Paired with a mug of hot tea, these scones are rays of light on rainy fall days.

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Two Years

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It must be serendipity: last year, I posted a tomato tart recipe to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my blog, and this year, without even planning to do so, I have another tomato tart recipe!

…Or maybe September is tomato season, and I’m deeply unoriginal.

Well, it’s a certainly at least a little comforting that despite the difficulties of the past year, there are parts of me that remain unchanged. I still love tomatoes, I still adore pastries and butter and learning to cook, and I am still writing about it all.

It’s been two years of discovering that my love for food extends beyond desserts and sweets, and that I may not be as useless in the kitchen as I first thought. Two years of learning family recipes from my dad, exploring new cuisines, gaining confidence with each success, and learning from failures.

Well this is a horribly cliché post, but honestly, I (and everyone else I know) never thought Kitchen Whimsies would make it past its first year. In ancient times, if a baby lived past two years old, parents could begin to believe that their child might actually make it to adulthood, or at least adolescence. I don’t know how to measure the lifespan of a blog – in dog years? In blog years? – but hey, what matters is that somehow, we’re still alive.

I think this year’s tomato tart turned out a little better than last year’s, and I certainly had fun trying out a totally new and totally easy way to make tart crust. Enjoy :)

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Madeleine

IMG_2576When I was ten, my family chose Paris as our big summer vacation destination. After flying to Hong Kong every summer, you think we’d be used to grueling flights and jet lag, but we suffered terribly that first afternoon in Paris.

After arriving, we found ourselves at a small cafe overlooking a river, facing a menu written entirely in French. My dad recognized select words, but not enough to really understand what the dishes were. The waitstaff could not, or would not, speak English. So we just ordered blindly, and of course, some of the dishes were total misses.

I had never really been in a situation where nobody in my family could speak the language of the native population – though my sister and I understood zero words in Hong Kong, my parents had grown up there and navigated the streets and language flawlessly. In Paris, my mom and I tried to find a chocolate shop and even with a map, we soon lost ourselves in the labyrinth of cobblestoned streets. We gesticulated wildly at strangers and they gesticulated back, every person we asked pointing in a different direction. Three hours later, we finally stumbled into the shop.

Our half day of wandering and questionable food left us all crabby and drained. In our cramped, dark hotel room, we quickly fell asleep (then woke up at 4am, and spent the rest of the night fruitlessly tossing and turning).

The next morning, we came down to an airy lobby filled with light. Outside, the bustling sounds of chatter, cars, and mopeds could be heard, and in the center of the lobby was a large, circular table with a platter of madeleines. Our first half day in Paris faded like a nightmare as we sampled our first madeleines, then quickly reached for seconds.

Each morning started with that first madeleine, its light sweetness holding promises of the adventures to come. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower like good tourists, and wandered the halls of Musée d’Orsay for an entire day, not realizing how sore our feet were until after we had left. We came across a fair in a park close to our hotel, and rode what felt like the biggest Ferris wheel ever. We ate seafood and duck and pigeon, all cooked impeccably, and delicious French pastries that have since haunted my memory.

Since that trip to France over a decade ago, I’ve eaten copious quantities of croissants, brioche, and macarons, and yet, I never returned to the madeleine, perhaps because I had built it up to such an unattainable symbol of unbridled wonder that I had experienced as a child in Paris.

However, I recently flipped through a cookbook that nobody in my family remembers buying, and came across a madeleine recipe. I felt like fate must have intervened just a little, so I ran out and bought a madeleine pan that night. And these little cakes were sweet morsels of sunshine, a perfect start to our mornings in Paris and at home.

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Tour of a Witch’s Garden

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The Mulford Farmhouse in East Hampton, NY, is described on multiple websites as “one of America’s most significant English colonial farmsteads.” Being a bit of an early colonial history aficionado, I eagerly searched online for what traits made this farmhouse so ‘significant’ – maybe it housed a legendary colonial figure, or stood on the site of some crucial battlefield – and found…not much.

Mulford Farmhouse, you tease. Of course we had to go check it out.

We ended up getting a tour from an enthusiastic woman, a self-confessed colonial re-enactor whose reenactments had crossed from her work life into her home life – she described how her husband had built a bed with straw bedding and rope slats, as well as a full-on 18th century fireplace in which she made a turkey that she brined, soaked in alcohol, stuffed, and cooked over the course of four days.

As an added bonus to our tour, we received a human rights lecture and other political statements, but the real highlight was our tour of Rachel’s Garden, an herb garden where familiar herbs took on significant and mystical meaning. They could reveal to you your true love, they could save you from smallpox, they could cure the common cold.

By the end of the tour, I almost believed what she had said, not only about the extraordinary healing powers of herbs, but also about the completeness of colonial life. She gushed about her four-day turkey as the most flavorful, most tender turkey she had ever had and recounted how fermented food had saved Civil War soldiers from disease. She wondered out loud whether our diet and lifestyle today was missing something, if we had lost something crucial along the way.

And while I don’t condone a return to the colonial way of life – after all, the Mulfords owned slaves and women were treated as witches, or worse, property – I do wonder about how different, and simpler life was back then when it seemed that good things would happen if you believed hard enough.

We now live in an age where we don’t even know where most of our food comes from (though that’s slowly changing) and yet we know the contradicting statements our politicians have made, we know about conflicts in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It’s difficult to imagine a time when people had such an intimate relationship with food that they believed it held supernatural powers.

So maybe I still don’t know what makes Mulford Farmhouse so ‘significant,’ but I’m glad their attempt to attract more tourism enticed me to visit. We laugh at the superstition, the ignorance, of the colonial era, but would they not laugh at us for our ignorance about how to produce our own food, our own clothing, our complete dependence on others for our comfort – and survival?

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Dreams Come True

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Jiro dreams of sushi. But I dream of something else.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love sushi and really all that Japanese cuisine has to offer, and it might be cuisine that I cook the most. (Or Italian – the number of risotto recipes I’ve racked up is a little alarming.)

But my true passion is baked goods. I once read that gluten has an opiate effect on people, that when you stop eating gluten, you can experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Well let me tell you, I went gluten free for six months and after two months, I simultaneously wanted to cry, hurt something, and stuff my face with bread. When I returned to gluten, I almost cried with happiness. It still gives me a headache (though I think this is more of a food coma effect from overeating every time I’m around sweets), but the tradeoff is (mostly) worth it.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming of biscuits. I never really loved biscuits until I went to Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston. (I already wrote about my experience before so I’ll spare you a longwinded repeat.) Immediately afterwards, I tried and failed to recreate them. Since then, I’ve been tormented by my failure, and I resolved to try again. Buoyed by my recent success with re-trying Shakshuka, as well as inundated with boredom on a Friday night (I have friends, I promise), I gave it my best shot.

Guys, I don’t know if I totally nailed it, but if I didn’t, I came pretty darn close. These biscuits are fluffy, with moist layers you could peel apart, and a shiny glazed and slightly crunchy exterior. Now I can finally lay my biscuit nightmare to rest, and move on to dreaming of other sweet things.

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The New Nutella

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My friends once told me that if I were to be any country in the world, I would be Belgium. I personally saw myself as more of a Netherlands, but after all of them unanimously agreed I was Belgium, I began to see their point.

Belgium just gets me. It’s a tiny country, I’m 5’1″. It has delicious chocolate. I love delicious chocolate. Belgians also make this liège waffle, which is perfect and delicious and chewy with crunchy pearls of sugar. And Belgium created Nutella, which I love dearly.

Belgium also has a beautiful and almost impenetrable forest, the Ardennes. (Of course, the Germans used it in both world wars to successfully launch attacks on France. Clearly, Europe learned its lessons.) Belgium also swore neutrality in both world wars, which I’ve always admired. World War I began for such ridiculous reasons, and World War II was, in my eyes, simply a continuation.

And Belgium is torn between two languages and two cultures, that of the Flemish and the Walloons. As a Chinese-American, I can understand the difficulties of straddling two cultures. Sometimes there is no compromise between the two, and I’m left in some sort of limbo. For example, paying the check is a fight for honor in Chinese culture, whereas in America, I feel like there’s always one person trying to avoid paying his full share. I end up embarrassed and upset either way.

Sometimes, you can’t win. But then sometimes, something comes along so winning and wonderful that all the bad just melts away. Once again, I owe it to Belgium. Thank you, oh great Belgian people, for discovering that speculoos could be made into a delicious, slightly spiced, crunchy yet creamy spread. But also, curse you, oh terrible Belgian people, for creating a substance that I literally cannot stop eating. It tastes good on bread, it tastes good just licked off a spoon, hell, it even makes oatmeal taste good.

Belgium, you’re the foodie of Europe and I love you for it. Thank you for creating so many delicious sweets and spreads, and despite all your political complications, I still think you’re a pretty cool place.

Then again, I would probably say anything for a lifetime supply of speculoos. You think I’m joking? As the Chinese would say, 我不是开玩笑。

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A Picture’s Worth

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As the saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

However, no matter how artfully taken, pictures cannot capture the taste or the aroma of a dish. It can tantalizingly hint at deliciousness with wisps of rising steam, a smattering of fresh green herbs, and the glistening of rich sauces, but it is our imagination that fills in the rest.

Recently, Buzzfeed ran an article by Rachel Monroe, “Why Your Dinner Doesn’t Taste As Good As It Looked Online.” It’s actually thought-provoking and well-written, unlike all those lists with which Buzzfeed draws the majority of its readership. As I read it, I realized, so much of what makes a food blog great is not, in fact, the food. Many of my favorite blogs are my favorites because of the voice of the author, witty, with light and heartwarming anecdotes. But recently, many food blogs have started to sound the same.

Food photography has followed this trend towards indistinguishability. Everyone is striving to appear on Foodgawker (rejected every time, I’m not bitter) and Tastespotter and all those other aggregator sites, but in many cases, the quest for increased traffic has led to a sameness as photos converge to meet a certain standard. Monroe also points out that these aggregator websites also (hopefully subconsciously) favor Western cuisine, thus more soft-lit cupcakes and pastas are apt to appear, and get more favorites, than, say, aloo paneer kofta or Chinese tea eggs.

At the same time, I fervently wish I took better pictures. I love scrolling through pages and pages on Foodgawker and use it to find almost all the recipes that appear on this blog. I totally judge food by how pretty it looks in the picture.

Then I remember that the best (literally the best) chocolate cake I ever had was in a homey Israeli restaurant. The grandmother of the owner had been making it since her youth, and our waiter swore it was the best cake he’d ever eaten. However, the slice placed before us looked like another sad example of quantity over quality. The top was unevenly domed and there were no fancy garnishes. However, my sister and I gamely took a bite…and quickly finished the rest of the slice. The cake was moist, lightly spiced, and yet comfortable, like sleeping in your bed after a long semester away at college. The icing was not polished, smooth ganache or perfectly whipped buttercream. It was gritty and rich and the perfect balance to the soft, dense crumb of the cake. My sister and I reference that cake all the time. No chocolate cake since has even come close to being worthy of comparison.

I started this food blog because I wanted my friends to know that cooking in college can be delicious without being difficult. My photos are, in some cases, pretty terrible. I shoot everything on my iPhone with very little ornamentation, and I shoot my dishes right before I’m about to eat them. Maybe one day I’ll appear on Foodgawker, but I want to do so without having to change my voice so that I sound “smarter” and more relatable, without buying fancy lighting equipment and cooking dinner in the morning just for a good shot in the morning light. That’s not what I’m about.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, so is the is the aroma of a freshly baked batch of muffins, and so is the first bite of a succulent pork tenderloin. Our five senses all capture something unique, and yet sometimes we rely so much on sight we forget about the others.

That being said, please excuse the heinous picture of these chicken wings. My family was all ravenous and I barely was able to snap this picture before everyone dug in. But I can vouch for these wings – they’re crispy, saucy, sweet, and spicy with just a kick of sour lime, and they’re easy to make. Also, they have Sriracha in them. And everyone (everyone) loves Sriracha.

My picture may not be worth any words of mention, but these wings really do deserve every single word of praise. Enjoy!

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Easy Breezy Beautiful Crostini

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In root vegetable world, radishes get the short end of the stick. Think about it. Carrots and potatoes would be the popular kids, sweet potatoes would be cute and sweet. Ginger would be be edgy and beets would be the artsy ones. And radishes? Poor radishes. They’re mistaken for beets and even turnips. People just don’t know how to interact with radishes. At least turnips are loved by animals.

But I think radishes are wonderful. They taste clean, a little bit spicy, and utterly refreshing. They also come in a myriad of beautiful colors, adding artistic flair to the dish.

People usually toss their radishes into salad. I cannot even count how many sad salads I’ve seen with little dehydrated slices of radishes. My friends pick the radishes out of their salads. Poor radishes. I honestly believe that a lot of people think they hate radishes because they’ve never eaten a fresh radish.

So when my dad’s colleague gave him a few radishes the other day, I began to brainstorm how to best showcase them. I wanted to capture the freshness, the feeling they leave in your mouth of having eaten something pleasantly cleansing. I then remembered that radish leaves have their own unique flavor, an almost abrasive spiciness. I settled on crostini because 1) I was short on time and 2) crostini are fairly healthy. The quest for healthy delicious food continues! Enjoy :)

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