Sunday, September 14, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Revised

I was nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a few weeks ago. I didn’t dump ice on my head and I have no plans of doing so. I did take a dip in the utterly freezing Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gloucester, which was quite a shock to this Florida girl who grew up near warmer water.

I’ve honestly had mixed feelings toward the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Initially it felt shallow and unhelpful, with too much body flaunting and not enough addressing the issue. I’ve only recently come to fully appreciate how much this viral phenomenon has contributed to ALS fundraising and increased awareness. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing those affected to slowly lose functionality. Voluntary muscle actions are affected first, and during later stages of the disease, many are unable to breath or eat without aid of expensive machinery. There is no cure.

I’ve been familiar with this disease since I met my best friend’s mom about 3 years after she was diagnosed with ALS. It was devastating to watch how quickly and completely Diane's functionality deteriorated until she passed away after a 5-year battle at the beginning of her daughter’s and my junior year of high school.

Diane rehearsing back when her only care was singing the right words. 
Over $109 million has been donated in the name of the challenge and more people than ever before are talking about ALS, a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I still don’t see the need to dump ice water on my head, but I’ve opted to do something that has a bit more meaning in addition to donating to the cause. You can easily make a donation at the ALS Association’s website.  

I decided to take a more personal route. Whenever we can both find the time, my friend Amanda is going to help me come up with a recipe that her mom would have loved. 

Amanda and me after her senior showcase — following mom's footsteps and then some!
Next time I make it to New York or Amanda comes to visit Boston, we’ll have a feast to honor and remember Diane, a wonderful woman, singer, and mom, who passed away from ALS nine years ago today.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Milk Chocolate Bunny Taste Test

Not all milk chocolate bunnies are created equal.

As Easter approaches, convenience stores are devoting entire aisles of merchandise to Easter-themed candy like marshmallows chicks and chocolate bunnies. Different brands attempt to lure buyers with decorative packaging and additives like caramel or crunchy rice cereal. Even the pure chocolate options vary in flavor because of the different formulas used for production.

I gathered 5 friends to do a blind tasting of 10 milk chocolate bunnies of varying shapes and density.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Busy Bee: A Whirlwind Wrap-up of the Past Month

It’s so unfortunate that whenever I get really stressed out by work or school, I can’t make the time for my favorite de-stressing activity. There is no time like the day before a deadline that I would rather be whipping up some sweet Honey Frosting or carefully watching over a pot while making Candied Citrus Peels.

Sadly, when I have a fast approaching deadline, all of my energy and attention is directed toward cranking out my paper or article and making it the best it can be.

More often than not, my “free” time in the past couple of months has been dedicated to reading and writing assignments, leading baking and innovating in the kitchen to take a back seat. When I finally walk through my front door at the end of a long day, I settle down with a bowl of cereal, having made it through the rest of the day subsiding on caffeine and determination. Ah, the life of a graduate student.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sweet Lessons Learned - Candied Citrus Peels

Enveloped by the smell of wafting citrus and sugar, I’m overcome with a vision of plump, bright yellow lemons hanging from a branches and threatening to plunge into the coast of the Mediterranean. Years ago, while studying in Florence, I spent weekends and holidays gallivanting across Italy, and vacationed on the Amalfi coast for a long weekend in the spring. Vast sparkling blue waters stretched beyond the rocky coasts and slender winding streets bustled with merchants and tourists. Sprinkled in between storefronts and around every corner nestled small lemon trees, their branches sagging under the weight of baseball-sized lemons. Each lemon’s rough, bumpy surface yielded easily to thick white pitch surrounding the sweet and tart fruit. The smell of fresh citrus always brings be back to this time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Year, New Beginnings

It’s taken me a bit longer to share a reflective post of the past year, but I’ve found that 2013 has been an incredibly transformative year. Rather than single large milestones, this has been a year of multiple new experiences, developments and advancements toward the life and career that I want for myself. 

Many, many pieces creating the whole. Like this garlic. Or maybe I just want to share this photo that I took six months ago, but haven't found a use for.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Quiet Moment to Bake

Once upon a time, but really not all that long ago, I would come home from my 9-5 desk job in the evening and bake something for my blog or just for fun. I’d plot my baking adventure either on my train home or during those final few minutes at the office where I would watch the clock anxiously to determine the most appropriate time to scamper out the door. 

I would often purchase a few last minute ingredients on my commute back to my apartment and would eat a quick dinner before getting out my supplies and baking up a storm. I’d wrap up around 10 or 11 pm, dutifully clean my dishes, and head to bed, imagining the excitement I’d be greeted with the next day upon arriving with fresh cookies or cupcakes.

I haven’t baked after work like this for a very long time. These days, I’m working in a restaurant and generally not returning to my apartment until about 11 pm if I head straight home or later if I go out for drinks with my coworkers. By the time I walk in my front door, I’m generally both exhausted and famished after standing on my feet for hours and not eating for as much time.

These days, I don’t even like to cook a real dinner when I get home because of the extra few minutes it would require me to stand and wait if I made something even as simple as stir-fried vegetables with rice, a staple dinner at apartments past when I worked standard desk jobs. I usually opt for something like macaroni and cheese (made from a box) or soup, opened from a can and simply warmed over the stove. 

Outside of work, I'm working toward an MLA in Gastronomy and dedicating all of my "free" time to reading and writing assignments for class. Baking for fun has taken a back seat unfortunately. 

This week, I worked a shift where the pace was steady and the number of workers was excessive, so I got sent home early enough to think of baking during my brisk walk home. I knew I would be stopping into the grocery store to satisfy a craving for ice cream — winter weather makes me crave hot beverages and frozen treats equally — and decided I would also pick up the missing ingredients to make my favorite cookies for an upcoming cookie swap.

I stocked up on supplies, relaxed for a few minutes eating my Ben & Jerry’s straight from the carton, and set out my supplies. I quickly remembered something I’d long forgotten: baking at night is incredibly peaceful.

There’s no added sound from the outside world of cars driving by or people having conversations and watching TV. Roommates go to sleep, leaving the kitchen yours to reign alone. Any stress from the day quickly fades away with each methodical measuremnt and calculated stir.

These quiet moments are few and far between these days, but I’m stocking up for the winter so that I can bake whenever the opportunity presents itself. I’m hoping the next few weeks will be mellow before I start a whole slew of new adventures in mid January. Grad school, what are you doing to me?!

As an aside, if you're looking for a food-related book recommendation, I've got a few! Those photos are primarily books I've been reading for class. In the next few years, I'll be building up quite a collection.

Til next time, happy baking!

-Young Idealistic Baker

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes

When you take two great things and mix them together, it can be magical! Chocolate and pumpkin go together flawlessly for a fantastic fall cupcake and worked like a charm for a last minute Halloween treat.