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What Are Your 2010 Culinary Resolutions?

I want to make this cake so badly - in fact, it's a New Year's Resolution.

I’ve been waiting for months to write this post. I realized pretty early on last year that 2009 wasn’t for me, and I’ve been hanging my hopes on 2010 ever since then. I even wrote down a long list of reasons about why 2009 is now tied with 1995 (7th grade) and 2005 (the year after I graduated college) as one of my worst years. But then I scrapped it. After all, I’m not here to tell you why 2009 was hard. I’m here to tell you that 2010 has arrived, and it’s going to be awesome.

I’m already compiling a list of new years resolutions, which include the usual things, like going to the gym regularly, laying off “white” food (bread, potatoes, white rice), and upping my consumption of vegetables. And in case anyone was tracking my list of 2009 domestic resolutions, I still don’t have a headboard, nor have I established a personal filing system. So I guess they’re on the list too.

But rather than share my long list of dull personal resolutions, I’ll just stick to the pasty-related ones. Because, seriously, that’s one of the main reasons why 2010 is going to be awesome – I really want to up my pastry game. Here, in no particular order, are the kitchen projects I want to tackle this year:

  • Homemade marshmallows.
  • Try my hand at candy making.
  • Macarons (not to be confused with Macaroons).
  • Actually make a classic french buttercream frosting (yes, the one with the sugar syrup) that doesn’t dissolve into a puddle.
  • Try various laminated doughs: puff pastry, strudel, and croissants (my last attempt, while tasty, wasn’t quite perfect).
  • Génoise.
  • Take a cake decorating class – so I can finally figure out how to make the sides of my frosted cakes perfectly smooth.
  • Get used to making bread and cakes using a kitchen scale (one of my Christmas presents to myself).
  • Make the cake on the cover of “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” (another Christmas present).
  • Either take a class or regularly practice piping, since my piping skills are woefully underdeveloped.
  • Buy cake strips (little strips of silicone to put around your cake pans that keep the heat from penetrating the side of the pan too quickly, resulting in flatter, more uniform cake layers).
  • Practice decorating cakes/cupcakes with fondant.
  • Finally buy gel paste (a much more color-intensive way of tinting frosting than food coloring).
  • Finally go to Baked and Wired. (Still have not been!)

And, in blog related projects, I’d like to switch this baby to a custom template. Not that I don’t love this layout – I think it’s just time for a change. I’ve also been working on a new logo with a friend from choir, and I’d like to actually get it on the site, as she’s done some really lovely work.

As for you? Anyone have some crazy thing that you want to cook this year? Anyone planning on making some head cheese? Sausage? Tripe?


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Your Favorite Childhood Desserts?

Shortbread 4

Chocolate chip cookies top my nostalgia list. (Although, to be honest, these are actually chocolate orange shortbread cookies. But you get the idea.)

I’m still tuckered out from my weekend of cooking, jam making, and canning. And I am having way too much fun looking at all the great birthday cards I got – I can’t decide which is my favorite: the musical Harry Potter card from my friend Nancy, the pop-up cupcake card from my friend Kristin, the ruby slipper card from Nonnka, or the retro cake decorating card from Elpis and Justice. I love them all.

All this jam-making and tart baking and canning has put me in a nostalgic mood. When I told my father about my canning experiments, he told me that my grandmother used to do epic canning sessions during the summer. Her brandied peaches were apparently famous in the family for their, shall we say, strong flavor.

For me, the most nostalgic desserts are the ones my I grew up on – chocolate chip cookies, The Joy of Cooking’s brownies, my mother’s apple pie, and those achingly sweet grocery store cupcakes that always made an appearance at school birthday parties.

But I’m interested in what presses your nostalgia button. What brings a little tear to your eye? Pumpkin pie that your grandmother made? The snickerdoodles you made at your best friend’s house? Cheesecake from that bakery down the street from your childhood home? I want to know – for possible inclusion in a baking project, but also to fulfill my own voyeuristic tendencies.

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So I Picked Those Peaches (and blackberries). . .

Peaches 1

Peaches, from Homestead Farm, in Maryland.

I write from the couch. I cannot stand anymore. I have spent the last five hours doing things to peaches. Eating them, washing them, blanching them in hot water, peeling them, making them into (runny) jam. Needless to say, I am exhausted. And full of peaches. Back tomorrow (or possible Wednesday) with a report from the urban homestead.

And, it’s my birthday. Goodbye 26. Hello 27. Have some peaches.

Peaches 2

My God. What am I going to do with these peaches?

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What’s “Recession-Proof” in Your Budget?


Candy is "recession proof" for many consumers.

Photo by terren in Virginia via flickr, under the Creative Commons License.

According to this New York Times article published Monday, candy is one of those rare consumer goods that isn’t affected by economic downturns; consumers will still buy their chocolate bar in good times and bad. Like Wal-mart, bankruptcy attorneys, and booze, candy is a “recession proof” business.

Granted, the article didn’t distinguish between was the sales of mass-produced candies, like Hershey bars (mmmm) and tootsie rolls (eeeeeh), and fine designer chocolates that can cost upwards of four dollars for a chocolate bar (don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the Whole Foods candy aisle and you’ll see what I mean). Will people still be frequenting stores like Sucre, in New Orleans, Marie Belle in NYC, or ACKC in DC? That remains to be seen.

But what really caught my attention wasn’t the news about candy – it got me thinking about my own personal “recession proof” items. Because despite tough economic times, there are some things I’ll always pay a little more for. Here, in no particular order, is my own list of “recession proof” items:

Jenna’s Recession-Proof Goods

Wine. Okay, I said these were in no particular order, but this is totally top of the list. I love drinking it, I love reading about it, and I love discovering good bottles that I can actually afford. Wonk the Plank probably thinks I spend too much on wine, but, well, what’s the point of living without being able to indulge in a glass of Sauvignon blanc?

Brand-name flour. I guess as an “indulgence” this is one only costs a couple of dollars, but after reading enough baking cookbooks that sing the praises of different types of flour and will spell out how the protein content and types of wheat differ among each brand, I try to get the good stuff. Usually, I buy Gold Medal or King Arthur flour.

Puffins. No, they are not the cheapest cereal – when they’re not on sale it’s around $5 for a tiny box of them that doesn’t quite last the week. But they’re high fiber, wheat-free and just sweet enough to be completely addicting. If I wanted to save money, I’d go back to eating oatmeal.

Nice Hair and Face Products. I’ve tried so many times to cut back in this area, and I always fail. Granted, it’s not like I buy $300 face cream, or anything, but I spend a relatively good chunk of change on my products. However, whenever I buy the cheaper stuff I always regret it and pay my penance in frizzy hair and breakouts. So I’ve stopped trying to get the cheaper stuff, because I always end up caving and buying my usual products before I’ve used all the cheaper items. It’s a vicious cycle.

Nice Jeans. I used to buy jeans at the GAP and Old Navy, where they would cost under $50 a pair. But that’s before my friend talked me into buying my first pair of Sevens – $145 later, I was in love. For me, that’s a huge amount of money to spend on a pair of jeans, but dear god, they just looked and felt so much better than my other jeans. I could never go back. I’d rather buy jeans less frequently, than buy more pairs of cheaper jeans that won’t look as good.

Wonk would tell you that there are more items on this list, and there probably are. But I’d rather hear about you: what will you never stop splurging on? What’s “recession proof” in your budget?

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Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons (or, How To Clean Your Closet)


Time to face the closet demons.

It’s almost fall, and you know what that means—it’s time to pack up your bathing suits and summer shorts and bring out the long pants and wool jackets that will stand up to the colder evenings. Here in DC, I am savoring the feeling of actually being a little chilly in the mornings—or, at the very least, I can step outside my apartment without being hit by a sweltering heat wave that ruins my makeup before I get down the block.

But it can be challenging to face those winter clothes that have been languishing away at the back of your closet. Especially when you realize that you don’t actually wear half of the clothes in your “winter wardrobe” and you’re only holding onto them for strange, unjustifiable emotional reasons like “I wore it on my first date with my boyfriend,” or “it was a gift from my mother and I can’t throw it out,” or “I’m going to fit back into those pants after I lose ten pounds—honest, this is the year!”

Thankfully, one of my coworkers gave me a copy of September’s Body+Soul magazine, which has a no-nonsense article on how to get over the emotional hang-ups that come between you and a clean closet. The magazine is an offering from the Martha Stewart empire that looks at wellness, cooking, and lifestyle tips for the middle-class hippie set.

The article has six tips that will help you let go of your useless-but-highly-sentimental clothing items and turn your closet from memory lane into a functioning wardrobe.

Six Tips For Cleaning Out Your Closet and Exorcising Your Inner Closet Demons:

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Washington Post Throws Itself at ModernDomestic Readership

For those of you who don’t live in DC and don’t closely follow the gossip about the Washington Posts’ decline, I doubt that you paid attention to the scathing remarks the Post received about their recent sensational and completely unnecessary 13 part front-page series, “Who Killed Chandra Levy,” that was clearly a move to drum up readership.

However, I wonder that there wasn’t more outrage from readers about a similar, 11 part series in the Home and Garden section called “Organizing the Attic.” Clearly a ploy to win over the ModernDomestic audience.

And guess what, it worked! Well, I mean, I did read the whole thing, despite the questionable journalistic value, even for the Post’s Home and Garden section.

The series follows Liz Seymour, deputy editor of The Washington Post Home Section, as she takes on the Herculean task of cleaning out her attic that has become a dumping ground/cesspool for every unused item in the house. She even hires a professional organizer to help her out with the project because she’s so overwhelmed.

While I like organizing articles like these because they satisfy my voyeuristic urge to sneak into other people’s homes and judge them (let’s be serious people, isn’t that why we love the decorating shows? Because we can judge?), it also got me revved up to tackle parts of the apartment that need organizing (like, um, the bathroom, where I still have makeup that I got five years ago and is probably going to turn into acid any minute now).

And it made me think, yet again, that living in a consumer-oriented culture like ours just makes it too easy to accumulate crap. WonkthePlank and I try to be good about throwing things out and not cluttering up the apartment, but this is because we live in a one bedroom apartment and we’re already short on closet space. And we still have places in the apartment that could use a good decluttering session.

Following Seymore as she tackled the mounds of stuff in her attic—from old apartment leases to holiday decorations to table linens—made me that much more committed to only buying things that we’ll really use in the apartment, and regularly combing through and getting rid of what we don’t need.

Otherwise, who knows—maybe in ten years I’ll have enough stuff that I can write a series called “Organizing Under the Bed.”

Hmmm, I wonder if the Post will be in need of a new organizing series by then . . .

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