Monday, April 8, 2013

Sipping Spring

Last week, everything was gray.

All the news stations told us we were having a dry year. Then, on Easter, the rains came through and sat around for a few days, dropping temperatures intermittently. While the days were cooler than the end of winter, I decided to mix up something decisively befitting warm weather.

I first discovered blood oranges two years ago while studying abroad in Italy during the summer. The hotel we were staying at served a deliciously tangy-sweet, curiously colored juice every morning with breakfast. It took us two weeks (and our professor's rough translating) for us to figure out what it was: blood orange juice. I had never had anything that tasted quite like it and was immediately enamoured (surprising for someone who never liked orange juice).

After failing at tracking down blood orange juice consistently in the U.S. and then cutting oranges out of my diet, I started noticing these beauties being stocked around the supermarkets this spring. After deciding that a few each year won't hurt me (and as they don't seem to bother me as much as my normal orange intolerance does), I've been incorporating them into everything I can think of until they go out of season.

Blood orange lemonade seemed the perfect drink for both spring and an introduction to the summer that nips at its heels: unusual yet classic; easy to mix up; invigorating and refreshing. Plus, the drink that results is a fun grapefruit-pink that I think would make a perfect addition to the showers, barbeques, and crawfish boils this time of year brings.

Blood Orange Lemonade
  • 5 large lemons
  • 3 blood oranges
  • approx. 1 c sugar
  • approx. 2 quarts water
Roll the lemons firmly between your palm and a countertop (or other hard surface) to help soften them and allow for easier juicing. Juice lemons and blood oranges, straining out seeds and pulp as necessary or desired. Add the juice to a large pitcher with 1 cup sugar and 2 quarts water (I prefer the water to be lukewarm so the sugar dissolves easily). Depending on the amount of juice your fruit produces and your personal preferences, you may want slightly more or less water and sugar, so feel free to taste as you go. Stir well, and enjoy!

 I hope it's spring where you are.

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Chocolate and Being Good Enough

This post has been churning in my head for a while, though it's not one of those things we seem to talk about.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being "good enough."

I know it's a nearly universal truth that we're harder on ourselves than anyone else is on us. We disappoint ourselves more easily (maybe daily), and struggle to accept a compliment. And more than just a "thank you": a genuine, sincere understanding and pride in the good parts of ourselves. We compare ourselves to people that we have no chance of being; who don't actually exist. We don't write as well as one person, our art is lacking when compared to anothers, someone else still has a better resume or a higher measure of success. The fact that all of these superior traits aren't present in one singular other person (but rather a super human amalgam) sometimes make that big of impact on how you feel.

And the weirdest thing? Compliments coming from people we know seem to mean less than they could otherwise. You know what I mean: the "oh, but you have to say that!" response. But I've decided this is absurd. The people who know us probably have the best frame of reference for measuring our growth. So what if our best painting, or best grade, or best plan is someone else's just okay? My boyfriend noted recently that it seems, to him, like men aren't expected to try whereas women are expected to always be striving. Maybe that's true in some ways. Maybe that changes my frame of reference any more. But, you know, I'm starting to think (or maybe still trying to convince myself) that it's okay if my great isn't exceptional. Because it's still pretty damn outstanding for any person to have their own growth. Right? I think that's how our world can reach new levels, too: each person constantly reaching their own new personal level of great; whether for that week, that year, or that lifetime.

In the spirit of this, here's some of the things I've been cooking lately. Not too original on my part, but new. Because today (headachey, humid, sleep deprived today) I may not be great by any measure except this week's or the past few, but that's good enough. Really.

(It helps when that involves chocolate, too.)

In my family, we bond with food. My dad's family is pure Cajun, so this comes pretty naturally. Like, have lived on the bayou in South Louisiana for 200 years Cajun. I never learned to like much of the traditional feast, but we still had our own things that I'd been missing since my diagnosis a year ago(!). One: frozen Swiss Rolls. I don't know why, but my father always freezes them. I swear they just taste better that way.

When I stumbled across Smitten Kitchen's recipe for a flourless chocolate cake roll, I thought it might make a perfect substitute. I followed her recipe with a few small adjustments: instead of one large roll, I cut the cake into 4 pieces (cutting up its longest side; you could easily make a larger number of smaller rolls), and I covered the resulting rolls in chocolate candy coating.

I won't lie, there were several points in which this more or less resulted in a giant mess, and half of the resulting rolls were nowhere close to photo-worthy. However, if you put the cakes into the freezer wrapped up in wax paper (like shown above, right) for 10-15 minutes before attempting to apply the candy coating, the whipped cream is less prone to melting out and oozing into a giant, messy, chocolate swirled puddle (oops). After you've coated the cakes and let them sit on a wire rack for a few minutes to begin hardening (put some wax paper underneath the rack to catch the drips), rolls them back up in some wax paper and store them in an airtight container. Stored in the freezer, the whipped cream holds up nicely and we had no problem with ours even after 2 weeks. Just them thaw a few minutes before eating to avoid bending any fork tines (again, oops).

Our second bonding food? Fried bread dough. Sunday mornings I would beg my dad to try up strips of frozen bread dough left out to defrost the night before. Those were the best breakfasts. (Did any of you do this? I've yet to meet anyone aside from my dad's family who's ever heard of this, much less experienced it.)

We've been trying to recreate these experiences for the past year with varying degrees of failure. Today I tried out these gluten free Nutella do-nuts and I might have finally found the trick. I replaced the ricotta cheese in the recipe with Greek yogurt (and the vanilla with molasses since we were out...) and it resulted in a pleasantly tart-yet-sweet dough that puffed up nicely when fried. Seriously, whip these up for a weekend treat the next time you have a bit of time (and don't mind a messy kitchen too much, if you cook like me). These were far from the prettiest thing I've ever made and required some extra flour mixed in to hold together well, but without the piped Nutella center or the glaze I added (both of which were delicious in their own right), I might have finally found a substitute.

At the very least, they're good enough.

(P.S. Feel free to leave any thoughts you may have on things like this. I'd be more than happy to hear them.)