This is a thing! I loved having pen pals as a kid, and now I love it even more because it comes with food. Let me explain: every month that you choose to participate, you’re matched with another blogger/reader, and you send them some foodstuff, to about the $15 mark. If you’re interested, in Canada and the States you can check it out at The Lean Green Bean. Or, in Europe, at Rock Salt.
This week I got a lovely set of stuff from Kathy in Calgary. It was all beautifully homemade and thoughtful–delicious huckleberry jam, coconut cookies, and this lovely jewelry pouch and onion bag. Hee! Also, sour candies, which I will definitely be bringing to work for the boring days.
Also, check this array of stamps. You are awesome, Kathy. Merci!
There are some foods which seem hard, like sourdough bread, but which really just require a lot of patience. Yet others, like soufflés, are quick but require some dexterity. Unfortunately, croissants kind of need both patience and precision. I found that it can be helpful to remember the following tidbits:
- Use awesome-quality ingredients. No joke, this is going to take a lot of time, so you might as well make your croissants the best they can be. That means high-gluten bread flour and European-style butter (like Lurpak), which has less water than American-style butter.
- You literally have to bang out the cold butter to form it into a rectangle. Kind of fun, but not actually easy! Next time I might grate the frozen butter as they suggest here.
- You can ensure that your beautiful layers stay intact by making sure that the dough and butter are as close to the same thickness as you can get them.
- Keep your timing in mind–you need to make all your “turns,” put your unbaked croissants into the fridge to rise overnight, and THEN you get to shape them. Oh, and then they need to rise again. So beginning at something like 4 PM on a Saturday for a Sunday brunch would work well.
Making one’s own croissants may seem beyond abstruse when you can buy a couple for under $2. But if you’re curious, you should try making them–it’s fun and satisfying and, um, you can eat your efforts! After two days you will have the most beautiful croissants in the world, and some very serious bragging rights. As you will see, even a very human, mistake-making, not-all-that-fussed sort of cook (moi) can make these.
As a kind of aside, Montreal’s own Adam Gopnik wrote a lovely piece in the New Yorker the other day about baking bread with his mum. It was very sweet, and I recommend you search it out, even if it appears to be subscription-only.
- 500g bread flour
- 10g salt, plus a bit more for your egg wash
- 80g caster sugar
- 10g instant yeast
- 300ml cool water
- 300g chilled, unsalted butter
- 1 medium egg for your glaze
Normally I wouldn’t bother, but this requires numbered instructions:
1) In a large bowl or your stand mixer, put salt and sugar in one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Add the water and mix on slow for two minutes, then on medium for another six minutes. It should be a pretty stiff dough. You can do this without a stand mixer…I guess. But having one makes your life so much easier!
2) Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Dust it with flour, put it in a clean plastic bag, and let it sit in the fridge for an hour.
3) OK, now it gets a little tricky: Roll out your dough into a rectangle about 60 x 20 cm and about 1 cm thick.
4) Flatten your butter to a rectangle about 40 x 19 cm by banging it all to hell with a rolling pin. You could also, as I suggest above, grate your frozen butter and form it into a rectangle. Now put the butter on your dough so it neatly covers the bottom two-thirds of your dough.
5) Now fold the extra dough over one-third of butter. Cut off the exposed bit of butter and put it on the dough you just folded over. Still with me? Fold the bottom half of the dough up until you have, like, a dough sandwich: two butter layers, three dough layers. Pinch the dough together on all sides and put it all back into the bag. Let it chill in the freezer for half an hour.
6) Take the dough out of the freezer (and out of the bag) and put it on the lightly floured work surface with the short end towards you. Roll it into a rectangle about 60 x 20 cm, as before. So now, fold up a third of the dough and fold the top third, so you again have a little square. Congratulations, you have made a single turn! Put the dough back into the plastic bag, back into the freezer, and let it chill for another hour. Repeat this stage twice more, putting the dough back into the freezer for another 30 minutes between turns. After turn two this is going to get really hard on your biceps, so try to coax a willing friend/family member into helping you.
7) Let it rest in the fridge (in its plastic bag) for 8 hours or overnight. I left mine about 12 hours with no problems.
8) When you are ready to shape (!!) line a couple of baking trays with your Silpat or parchment paper.
9) Put your dough onto a floured surface and roll it out to a rectangle a little more than 42 cm long and 30 cm wide. It should be about 7mm thick. Trim the edges to make them as neat as possible.
10) Cut the rectangle into two long rectangles, then cut triangles along the length of each strip. They should be about 15 cm high (from top to bottom) and 12 cm (at their widest point). You should have twelve triangles total.
11) Gently pull on the triangles to lengthen them, then cut a little slit in the base. This will help them become extra-crescenty. Now roll them up, base to end, and turn the ends towards each other slightly.
12) Put your croissants onto the baking trays, allowing space for them to expand. Put them inside a clean plastic bag (like a garbage bag) and let them sit in a cool room temperature spot for around 2 hours. My bread almost never “doubles in size,” but just leave them for two hours and you’ll be fine.
13) Preheat your oven to 200°C/390°F. Lightly whisk the egg with the pinch of salt. Brush it over the prepared croissants and bake for around 20 minutes until they’re golden. Don’t be alarmed if they come out of the oven swimming in a pile of melted butter. Just remove them to some cooling racks, and you’ll be A-OK.
And now that you know the drill, you can turn these into chocolate croissants, almond croissants, jam-filled croissants! Just put your filling of choice in before you shape. And enjoy.
There are some Halloween movies which I absolutely adore. Classics like Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Casper come to mind. But the creepy stop-motion of Nightmare is about as “scary” as I can handle. Slasher movies like Halloween? Or worse, torture porn like Saw? Painful–to sit through.
So instead I’d like to offer up some plain old enjoyable movies that feature Halloween as a plot point, even though they’re really about other stuff. And need I reiterate? None of them are scary.
-One beep means yes?
-I’ve always wanted to have a phone conversation with someone who doesn’t talk…
Oliver and Anna meet at a Halloween party–she is Charlie Chaplin, he is Freud. She’s got laryngitis and can’t speak. Cuteness ensues.
-”You’d better be sure you wanna know…what you wanna know”
In a film best described as high school noir, Joseph Gordon-Levitt tries to figure out the mystery of his ex-girlfriend’s death. Things start to unravel when he goes to a super-secretive Halloween party, with an even more mysterious host.
-”TRICK. OR. TREAT!”
Christy and Ariel aren’t having much success trick-or-treating in their run-down apartment building. Mateo, their cranky, sickly neighbour doesn’t have any candy, nor does he particularly like children. But he ends up giving these little girls his jar of coins, which he’d been saving for ages. They are just too cute. It makes me cry every time!
-”Hey, there’s Daniel!”
-”How do you know?”
-”I just know.”
Daniel Larusso goes to the Halloween dance dressed as…a shower. It’s too perfect! He tries to play a prank on the popular kids (he gets a pretty savage beating as a result) but is then saved by Mr. Miyage. After Halloween Daniel starts to train in earnest to defeat the evil karate master/rich kid Johnny.
-”And you are…a zombie bride?”
HAH, love it! Although Aaron Samuels “loves it” too, Regina George does not. She backstabs Cady and gets back together with her dreamboat ex-boyfriend. After Halloween Cady vows to infiltrate the most popular clique in school and crush its queen bee once and for all.
-”From your secret pal: ‘I feel it in my bones/you ache to know my name/and so I’ll clue you in . . .But why spoil the game?’”
This movie, about the infamous serial killer, is a little scary. But in the end it’s mostly just a massively engrossing mystery. Halloween is when Paul Avery, intrepid reporter and part-time alcoholic receives a card from the killer himself. This movie is 162 minutes long, but goes by like nothing.
I heard that y’all in Moscow got snow last week and–ouch–it’s a high of four degrees tomorrow. I’m sorry to be smug, but I am so glad to be back at this time of year. Ottawa, number four coldest capital, is going to be a glorious 22 degrees tomorrow. And at the same time the leaves are turning red and orange and falling to the ground. Weather jackpot! It’s amazing and should never end.
So far we’ve just been really lucky. And plus, we’re coming up on a bank holiday. So happy! For you Canadians, any of these recipes would be make an amazing dessert for a Thanksgiving family feast.
Like many of my friends, I am always giddy with the coming of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s amazing. This recipe actually uses some real pumpkin for a homemade version.
A delicious pumpkin bread, courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated. I haven’t tried this exact recipe, but if it’s based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, you know it’ll be good. And accurate.
Another great porridge for cold fall mornings. This one uses amaranth, which I am eager to try.
Pumpkin butter was a new thing for me, but it is super delicious and sweet. It’s pumpkin pie in a jar, fit to be swirled into oatmeal or spooned onto toast.
Last, but not least, is the Pumpkin Pie Swirly Cake below (yes, that’s its grown-up name), which comes from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is actually quite easy. Definitely less time-intensive than pumpkin cheesecake. It’s like a pumpkin pie-slash-cheesecake, with a smooth pumpkin pie filling paired with a tart cream cheese swirl.
Pumpkin Pie Swirly Cake (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
- 115g gingersnap cookies, coarsely broken
- 85g graham crackers, digestives or shortbread cookies
- 55g (1/2 stick) salted, melted butter
- 115g cream cheese, softened
- 40g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg white
- 300g (1/2 or 3/4 of a 15-ounce can) pumpkin purée
- 50g granulated sugar
- 50g brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp table salt
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 425 °F (220°C) and grind up the cookies in your food processor. When they’re finely ground pulse in the melted butter. Press the mixture into a tart tin and set it aside.
Mix together the cheesecake batter ingredients. Easy.
For the pumpkin batter, beat together the whole egg and egg white lightly in a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin puree, the sugars, salt and spices. Then mix in the cream.
To put it all together, pour the pumpkin batter over the crust. Then dollop over the cheesecake mixture. Take your knife and swirl artfully. It may look a little watery, but it’ll turn out nicely, promise! Put it in the oven for ten minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F (175°C) and bake for 30-40 minutes. Below we have the finished produit.
Fall here has been lovely. It has been the perfect time for brisk walks, taking photos, and cozying up with a cup of tea and some good reads:
- The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food (Книга о вкусной и здоровой пище) was a Soviet stalwart for 50 years. It was so important that there’s a whole memoir devoted to it. Interesting to note that all the “Soviet recipes” listed in this article are still very much on Russian plates today.
- Jarlsberg is an amazing cheese! Roquefort, Jarlsberg and Gjetost are my favourites, if you’d like to know.
- Baking reaches new levels of artistry with Mondrian cakes.
- Dreaming of comforting cold-weather recipes. This would be amazing.
- A witty article about Madonna’s diet. Surprise: it’s really, really hard.
- 9 delicious-looking salads. To ease the root vegetable boredom that will settle in with fall/winter.
- Nobody does gardens like the English. Holy crap, some of are these are beautiful.
- 48 hrs in Tokyo: I can’t wait to visit and see square watermelons, the studio Ghibli museum and eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro.
- I don’t care much for James Bond, but I do like hotels…
- Next time you’re planning a trip, check out Travel Independent. It’s specific, current and, refreshingly, stays away from Europe/Australia/Thailand travel topics. It was indispensable for my trip through Asia. Also, a really comprehensive discussion of malaria…
- I adore the New York Times DIY Handbook. It’s from two years ago, but I still love it. Some great recipes for nutella, chilli oil, and kimchi, among others.
Have a fantastic weekend!
[Me: Ahh!! I'm at a cat cafe!]
[My sister: Um...what?]
[Me: It's exactly what it sounds like! You drink a latte and pet some cats!]
The cat cafe is a brilliant idea and I have no idea why it hasn’t come here yet. I mean, it’s the perfect concept–you can pet some extremely cute kitties without having to feed them, remove burrs from their fur, or try to vie for space in your own bed at night. It’s genius. Another glorious thing about CCs is that you get the chance to pet so many different kinds of cats–Siamese, Persian, Maine Coon, and my favourites, the beautiful Russian Blue.
When I went to Seoul I had three things on my list: 1) Spend time with my dear friend Mae, 2) Buy some crazy Korean makeup, and 3) Go to a cat cafe. There were actually many more of these cafes than I thought. I went to Tom’s because it had good write-ups, but anywhere you find in swish Itaewon or Hongdae are good bets.
Tom’s seems to take things extremely seriously: you remove your shoes, sanitize your hands, put your handbag in a white plastic bag and then come in. It’s the equivalent of about $7 to enter, but you get a free coffee and there’s wifi (duh). I was really pleased to see at least ten sweet, happy-seeming cats. In fact, they’d had so much attention already that I had to chase them around to pet them. Let me pet you, cats!!
The space was really nice and airy, with a bright white interior and lots of helpful information so you don’t accidentally hurt a cat. They’re open till 11 every night (though don’t try coming before 1) and are located on the third floor, 358-125, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul-si.
All those cats were cute, it’s true, but nothing beats our young Christopher here two Christmases ago. Here he is, ignoring his perfectly nice cat bed in favour of…a box.
Early fall is such a nice time of year; the air feels crisp and clean, and everything has a touch of the “back-to-school fresh” to it. It’s at this time of year that I want to spend more time puttering about next to a warm oven, trying to find the coziest, most comforting recipes. But I’ll also be starting work on Monday, and I won’t have a ton of time. For that reason it’s good to have some easy-to-make foods that will also keep well. Enter: granola.
Granola is expensive to buy, cheap to make. And it’s dead easy, too–the only skills required are measuring, mixing and pouring. After some refining, this recipe is a really nice one: it has a delicious salty-sweet mix and lots of granola clusters, which are obviously the best bits.
Olive Oil Granola (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and The New York Times)
Granola-making is not an exact science. If you don’t have walnuts, use coarsely chopped almonds or hazelnuts instead. The same goes for the maple syrup; if, heaven forbid, you don’t have any on hand, use honey. The secret to getting the granola clusters is the egg white, so don’t skip it.
- 240g (3 cups) rolled oats
- 100g (1 cup) walnuts
- 50g (1 cup) unsweetened coconut flakes
- 25g (1/4 cup) ground flax seed
- 120mL (1/2 cup) maple syrup
- 120mL (1/4 cup) olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 egg white
- 200g (1 1/2 cups ) dried fruit. I used apricots and raisins.
Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C). Mix all the ingredients except the dried fruit and egg white together in a large bowl. Then whisk the egg white a bit and add it to the granola. Mix until everything is coated, then spread the mixture onto a greased/parchment papered baking tray. Stick it in the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating the pan about 20 minutes in. I tried to stir it a bit too, but that broke up the clumps. Don’t do it!
When it looks golden, take the pan out of the oven and let it cool–completely. Then break it up into whatever size chunks you like, and stir in the fruit. Keep it in an airtight container, or freeze it for later.