The chocolate world is quite a divided one. You have the snooty dark chocolate lovers that crave the bitter and complex flavor profiles, the average Joes who want the simple flavor of milk chocolate with the caramel undertones, and those in the white chocolate camp that just want something smooth, light, and barely sweet. I usually fall into the hoity toity dark chocolate world, whereas my husband and mom in law lean more towards white chocolate.
For the most part, I’ve never bothered to waste money on white chocolate so I’ve only ever been subjected to the overly sweet mass produced kind. You know the ones I’m talking about. The white chocolate that you find in cookies from Subway or your local grocery store bakery, or the stuff that they layer with peppermint for peppermint bark during the holidays. I don’t know what it is, but it just tastes like sugar to me, and that’s not what chocolate is about.
Then something happened. My husband and I have a few fancier-than-the-local-takeout-spot date night dinner spots we like to visit. I usually always go for a crème brulee (because nothing beats crème brulee that uses real vanilla beans mmmm) and my husband will favor a tiramisu. One night we ended up getting a slice of vanilla cheesecake, and it arrived as a cheesecake and white chocolate mousse combo. I was skeptical, squinting at it with distrust, hoping it didn’t overpower the cheesecake portion.
Does anyone else feel insanely overwhelmed sometimes? Like no matter how many to do lists you make, or no matter how you try to keep to a schedule to try and get everything done, somehow there just aren’t enough hours in a day? Lately I feel like I’ve just been play catch up; just trying to stay afloat. My to do lists are just about useless because even if I try to do just ONE thing, that one thing seems to suck up the entire evening.
About a week or two ago, NY finally started feeling winter, and I had no winter jacket to speak of. So Monday after work I decided that I would leave work on time (hah.. hahah… oh stupid me) and go to the store with my husband to pick up a jacket. I had a very definite idea of what I was looking for – a generic puffy jacket that hit mid thigh or lower. In my mind, I’d go to the store, buy this jacket, then come home in time to feed my daughter dinner and spend time with her before bedtime. What ended up happening is that I left work 40 minutes late, caught the absolute worst train delays, got to the store tired, and by the time I got home it was my daughter’s bedtime and I was exhausted.
Years and years and years ago, I had my first Cinnabon. We had just moved to Arlington TX (a suburb in the Dallas Fort Worth area) and I had just transferred to a brand new high school near the end of my Sophomore year. Within of a few months of us settling in, my dad actually got transferred to another state to work on a project there. It was a hard time for me – I missed my friends, I missed my dad, and the feeling of not belonging in this blonde-blue-eyed-football-loving-expensive-bag-toting-every-kid-gets-a-car-when-they-are-16 sort of world was painfully real. I know I made life difficult for my Mom, who was essentially bringing up me and my sisters by herself while my dad was away. We would fight about curfews, getting a car, grades, getting in trouble in school, and everything else under the sun. Looking back now, I see how much stress she was under and how she was trying her best. But explaining that to a teen angst filled 15 year old would have been impossible.
I also see now how she tried her best to give us all the things she could, in her own way. She would cut back on some non-essential groceries so we could get season passes for Six Flags (an amusement park close by), or a new jacket that was a pretty good knockoff of what all the other girls in my high school were wearing, or taking us all to a matinee movie . And then there was the time she were at the mall and we got Cinnabons. In that moment I was “normal”. I was doing what all the other kids were doing, and it felt nice.
The other day my Aunt called to tell us that my cousin had gotten engaged. Yeay! Awesome news! Of course, immediately we started making plans of when the wedding would be, which members of the family would fly over (the wedding will be in Pakistan), and how much fun we’d have. It’s been a while since there’s been a really close family friend / family member’s wedding and I miss it. The craziness that leads up to it, all the organizing, hah even all the drama. It’s just so much fun.
And of course within all these discussions, was a key component – what are we going to wear?? Normally I’m a jeans / top / semi-sneaker flats kind of gal. I don’t really think about bags or shoes or coordinating anything. My wardrobe is simple – everything works with everything else so it’s easier for me to grab whatever is clean and get dressed in the morning so I can head to work. But a wedding is different. These are fancy outfits that cannot be bought the day before. And I’m South Asian, so these fancy outfits are always decked out with embroidery, jewels, and all things bling. So I started looking up potential outfits to get made and started taking measurements.
Every year I make New Year’s resolutions. And every year, I break them This year’s list included the usual – exercise more, eat better, read regularly, don’t waste time, grow as a person, etc etc etc. It also included blog / baking related tasks – post regularly without stressing myself out, bake a cake a week and decorate as practice, try recipes that scare me, etc. I’ve been pretty good about posting regularly in my opinion. Well, as well as can be expected
The whole “baking a cake a week” thing sort of fell flat though. But, looking on the bright side, it’s not like I didn’t bake ANY cakes! I ordered myself a few 6 inch pans, and have managed to tackle about one a month. Pat on the back for me. Hah, the thing is, I’ve been sticking to my staple chocolate cake and vanilla cake recipe, and have only been branching out when it comes to frostings. And it is totally dependent on the mood I’m in.
Fall is here! Fall is here! This is by far my most favorite season. The season of blazers, warm scarves, and just the right amount of chill in the air. The season of Fall foliage (I’m from the northeast… it’s what we do), and the satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot. The season of apples! From warm apple cider, to apple tarts, to just eating them plain. This time of year it’s all about apple variety. Honeycrisps are my absolute favorite, but I also try to snatch up some Mcintoshs, Pink Ladies, and Fujis.
Even an all year staple like the tart green Granny Smith is somehow sweeter and crisper this time of year. The Granny Smith is my favorite when it comes to baking. I know I know… that’s a cop out… but it’s true. You just can’t beat it. And the apple knows what it’s doing. It retains its shape, the tartness somehow always compliments the sweetness of whatever I’m baking it with, and I haven’t found a better companion for caramel sauce yet.
A few years ago when my husband and I were thinking about starting a family, I just couldn’t picture myself with a kid. I mean come on… a kid… that’s such a huge commitment! So much responsibility! I felt that my life would be over, and it would be all about this new baby. Hah. I know. I sound crazy. I was just so afraid of losing my sense of self. There were a lot of panic attacks, and a lot of hand holding from my husband’s end, but eventually the idea grew on me. I started to think of this future baby as someone I could be friends with, someone I could share things with, and someone who I could love.
One of the ways I got over the fear was imagining scenarios of me and this future baby / kid doing things together. I pictured us going to the park, or sitting in our future backyard just enjoying a great late Summer / early Fall day. Flying as high as possible on a swing and feeling that moment of exhilaration when you jump off midswing. I pictured us reading together before bedtime and introducing her to all the worlds that could possibly be imagined in books. From exploring new planets, to swimming in the middle of the ocean, to befriending dragons, to scolding monkeys. There’s nothing that can’t be achieved in a good book. And, because this is me, I pictured us baking.
Hah I know it’s so June Cleaver, but somehow it’s such a “Mommy and me” iconic imagine that I just can’t get out of my mind. Both of us in a sunshine filled kitchen, with this little munchkin standing next to me on a chair while we whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies (like these, or these, or these) or some cupcakes. I pictured those cupcakes coming out of the oven, and the two of us decorating them with a smear of frosting or just straight nutella and maybe some colorful sprinkles, laughing and sharing secrets, while her father sat at the kitchen table reading a book or grading papers looking up and smiling at us. “Baba look what Mama and I made! Want one?” The two of us would walk over to him, me holding glasses of milk, and her proudly but carefully carrying a plate of cupcakes. We’d sit together and share an afternoon treat while we talked about all the stuff she was learning in school and the new discoveries she’d made that week. This perfect little family moment.
A few weeks ago Maheen and I started watching “Mind of a Chef”. It’s a great show hosted by Chef David Chang as he visits different restaurants / meets with different chefs and culinary geniuses to see what’s going on in the culinary world. We are in love with the show, mainly because of how much emphasis is placed on what’s going on in Asia, but also because of how hilarious Chef David Chang is. Watching the show, you’d never guess he was the mastermind behind the crazy popular Momofuku brand. On one of the episodes he brought in his head pastry chef Christina Tosi, who talked about Liquid Cheesecake. I’m sorry… what? Come again? Yea. That’s right. Liquid Cheesecake. Sounds crazy awesome? Yea, I thought so too.
Right around this time, I also took the tart class at ICE, and couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to fill the tart with this liquid cheesecake instead of pastry cream? It would be like a cheesecake… but better.” So off I went to make a the liquid cheesecake and my tart shell. Now I know this blog doesn’t reflect it, but I love cheesecake. (one of) My only issue(s) of making it at home is that I can never get the consistency right. It’s either completely under done and rawish, or overly done so that it’s just a little dry and has the telltale crack on top. Liquid cheesecake sounded like the answer to all my concerns!
But I think I messed it up. It just never set up right for me. I was expecting something with the consistency of a really thick pastry cream, but the taste of cheesecake. Maybe I didn’t let it cool for long enough, or maybe I didn’t let it bake for long enough. Either way the cream was just too liquidy and not enough cheesecakey. A quick google search shows people using it as part of frostings or fillings for cakes. I may just try it again some other day, because the taste was just fantastic. Since I followed the recipe to the letter, I’m going to just include the source from where I got it – Liquid Cheesecake recipe from Tasting Table. Let me know if you guys give it a try and how it works out for you!
I have a love / hate relationship with tarts. I adore how they look and taste. That you can fill them with anything from a pastry cream to a ganache (the stuff you make truffles with); they can be sweet or savory; and they come in so many different sizes and shapes. How adorable are mini individual tarts that you can just pop into your mouth? They are perfect for summer garden parties, any sort of baby / bridal shower, and I have no qualms about eating a boatload of them while watching a rom-com. Love. Them.
But whenever I’ve attempted to make the tart shell at home, I’m met with disastrous results. Alh my apartment hasn’t burned down or anything, but the shells are just a wreck. Tasteless, dry, cardboardy things that may as well be mini bowls for the filling and not much else. So when I saw the Summer Tarts class on the ICE class roster a few weeks ago, I immediately signed up. I mean here was a class being taught by an award winning chef (The James Beard award. Yea. THAT level of fancy), it covered one of my most dreaded topics, and I still had gift certificates that my awesome husband had given me as part of an anniversary presents years ago. Done.
Now all the pastry dough recipes I’ve used in the past, from my culinary go to sources like CIA and Martha Stewart, to the general blogoverse, have all had me cut in the butter to form the dough. The butter, flour, water, and everything else are chilled multiple times during the course of putting it all together to keep it at the right temperature before you bake it. And this is where the problem lies. I somehow overwork the butter so I’m left with a leaden tart shell not worth anything.
There are times I just can’t believe I’m 32. A full blown adult. With a husband. And a baby. It’s kind of crazy. I can’t believe it’s been ten YEARS since I graduated from college. Where did the time go? I somehow still feel like I’m in my early twenties. Cutting classes and going out to restaurants, museums, and films without a care in the world.
One of our regular hang outs was actually the Cheesecake Factory. Me and a friend of mine would cut class, drive out a half hour just to get this one drink. A frozen mango raspberry concoction that just tasted like summer. Spring, Summer, or Fall you would find us out in Long Island sipping on these drinks (Winter was reserved for hot chocolate) discussing the most serious of topics – my parents are awful, this guy said this to me, what am I doing with my life?
Looking back, as ridiculous as these conversations were, I knew I could trust her with anything. One semester my workload was so intense, that I couldn’t commit to both working at my job and continuing my schoolwork. This friend was there for me in an instant and lent me a thousand dollars to help me get by. And when someone she trusted betrayed her, I didn’t think twice about rushing to her house and staying with her until it all passed.