Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Healthy Recipe Round-up

A Healthy Dinner

We've almost reached the end of my month of healthy eating! Since the beginning of September, I've completely eliminated sugar and sugar substitutes like honey, and drastically reduced my consumption of grains and dairy. Some days were difficult; some not so much, but I always knew I wouldn't eat this way forever.

I am pleased to report that I feel much better, and am well on my way to reaching my target weight again! With both of those things in mind, I'm planning to continue on a very similar diet even when we get to October in a few days. I found myself in a sugar rut this summer (as evidenced by publishing almost no recipes that didn't contain chocolate!), so I thought now that I'm nearing the end of my healthy month, I would share some of the best recipes that got me through it.

Massaged Kale Salad

1. Massaged Kale Salad. James introduced me to this almost a year ago, and I'm a total convert. We stick to the recipe, just eliminating the salt (between anchovy paste and soy sauce, it isn't necessary!).

Bruschetta Salad

2. Bruschetta Salad. We modify this one a bit, too, just making the tomato part and serving it without bread or feta spread. I usually eliminating the pine nuts as well, as I can't usually be bothered to toast them.

Tuna Cake

3. Tuna Cakes. I've made these twice in the last two weeks, they're that good! I find they're easier to do as patties than in muffin tins. I also found that 2 eggs made them a little runny, so I prefer to use just 1. I also cut back on the lemon zest, as it isn't my favorite flavor. And we have so many fresh herbs at the moment, I've really enjoyed adding parsley and thyme instead of cilantro, and subbing dried chipotle flakes for the jalapeno.

4. Zucchini Noodles/Spaghetti Squash. Both best with lots of pesto!

5. Chicken Fritz. This is a crazy simple recipe from Big Girls, Small Kitchen, which involves taking the leftover chicken shreds after roasting a whole bird, and frying them up with shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika. Totally delicious!

And for just one slightly naughty recipe, Ella's Raw Brownies (no agave or maple syrup added, of course). Sometimes a girl just needs her chocolate!

So that's some of what I've been living on for the past few weeks! This isn't the end of my healthy kick, so stay tuned in weeks to come for some more recipes that aren't necessarily dessert-related.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rides on the River

Grand River
Lansing Water Plant

I wouldn't call mine a family of typical traditions. For example, we never have a Christmas tree. But over the last few years, one routine has developed: a Sunday bike ride along the River Trail in Lansing, usually followed by beer (and/or ice cream).

It's a long, gorgeous, and diverse trail, and growing all the time -- soon it will extend into neighboring towns! -- but as many times as we've ridden it and it's many spurs, I've never brought along my camera. This weekend, though, with the water as smooth as glass, and the lighting so perfect, I really couldn't resist whipping out my iPhone on a water break.

We rarely ride alone -- friends almost always join us for the exercise and for the beers afterwards at Riverfront Grill. Then we head home for dinner, because Sunday night is Nacho Night (or at the very least, Taco Salad Night), and that is another sacred tradition.

Happy Monday! It's Mountain Day at Smith, so I'm going to have to do something about that. This is a post about traditions, after all, and while I may not ever have a naked convocation again, I think some of those things translate very well into real life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lansing Bluesfest

Lansing Bluesfest
Lansing Bluesfest
Lansing Bluesfest

Last weekend was Bluesfest! Over the course of the summer, a series of festivals celebrating different kinds of performance happen in Old Town Lansing. Earlier in the summer I missed Jazzfest, but I blogged about the Renegade Theater Festival last month. Bluesfest is similar to Renegade, but much louder and more raucous.

We had a great time listening to all the bands play. My favorites included a group with an average age of 14, called Red Herring. They had a lot of talent, including a female singer that did one of the most convincing impersonations of Robert Plant I've ever heard. Despite their age, they knew about Frank Zappa, and pulled off one of his songs pretty well, too, in addition to airing some of their own.

My other favorite band, Harper & Midwest Kind, played on one of the main stages, with an Australian lead singer who also played the didgeridoo in a number of his songs. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll have already seen the video! It was really amazing to watch. We agreed that the didgeridoo is basically acoustic dubstep.

My tips for Bluesfest: arrive early if you want seating and (cheaper) alcohol. After 6:00, getting a wristband to enter the enclosure costs $5; before 6:00 it's free. Of course, you'll have to be 21 to enter the enclosure at all. Fortunately, being outside the enclosure doesn't prevent you from getting anything except wine and beer -- there are food vendors, stages, and seating areas outside of it, too. And as much as I hate to say it, bundle up! Nights in Mittenland start to get cold this time of year.

Festival season is winding down, but it isn't quite over yet -- I'm looking forward to Art Prize in Grand Rapids next month!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Crescent Moon

We saw some amazing skies at the wedding a couple of weeks ago. I know I've already documented my fascination with sunsets, and it's a little cliche, but I couldn't resist. It was like staring into a Thomas Kinkade painting. But when it's reality, rather than a trite illustration tailor made for funeral greeting cards, it's so much more breath-taking. The bride and groom took advantage of the opportunity for a few more pictures, and they turned out looking almost like a prom photo backdrop.

Anyway, I've reached the half-way point of my no-sugar cleanse. Last night, after a rough day, I nearly caved to the idea of chocolate -- any chocolate! -- but I caught myself in time and had some fruit instead. Not a bad substitute. I do think I can make it through the remaining 15 days, but I also think I'm going to have to go out for Tini Tuesday afterwards, and also make some kind of baked good. The very idea frightens me, because I don't want to end up where I started, but what is life without brownies (at least in moderation)?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum

A few weeks ago, when James was still in town, we agreed to go into Saginaw on business for my mom. It takes a chunk of time to get to Saginaw and back, however, so when we woke up the morning of this trip, we decided we should make a day of it. I suggested stopping in Frankenmuth (where it's Christmas all year long!), but James prefers to make Christmas a one-day-a-year kind of celebration, so we agreed to postpone that visit in favor of the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum.

I had never heard of the person or the museum before, but it had open hours that fit right in with our plans, it had great reviews on trip adviser, and the most important factor: it's free! So we took care of business, and set off in search of art.

Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum
Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum
Marshall Fredericks Friendly Frog
Marshall Fredericks Pterodactyls
Marshall Fredericks Expanding Universe
Marshall Fredericks Saints and Sinners
Marshall Fredericks Spirit of Detroit

What an impressive collection! I had never heard of Marshall Fredericks until that day, but I'm certain I've seen his sculptures many times without realizing it -- he's responsible for an astonishing number of sculptures and monuments, especially in the Midwest. I found his work graceful, intriguing, and unusual. He had amazing scope, designing busts of famous leaders; playful models for children (check out that enormous frog!); and complex, intelligent sculptures meant to provoke high levels of thought. His work has christian elements, but also scientific ones, going from "Birth of the Atomic Age" and "The Expanding Universe" to "Saints and Sinners" and the "Fountain of Eternal Life". Part of the magic of the museum is the atmosphere. Almost all the statues here are white plaster casts, and white marble covers the entire, open space. It's so light, bright, vast, and aesthetically pleasing.

Fredericks' work is not the only part of the museum worth seeing -- they host exhibits of other artists and sculptors, as well as a replica of the studio where he worked. There is also an outdoor sculpture garden we enjoyed meandering through as we left. I highly recommend setting aside an hour or two to visit if you ever end up in the area!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rainy Days+Updates

Rainy Days
Rainy Days

I took these photos during one of the really violent thunderstorms that we've had around here lately, and it seemed like the appropriate backdrop for this post.

It's been a weird few months. After James and I graduated things really seemed to go downhill, for me at least. I had to turn down a job that should have been perfect for me because the details just wouldn't come together (and by details, I mean the tens of thousands of student loans I can only pay for if I don't have to pay for anything else). Then there was a sudden family tragedy, which left me essentially alone with my panic in the house for more than a week. It was just the opportunity my brain needed to shut down and I found myself too depressed and defeated to do much more than bake a lot of comfort mini-cakes and shotgun all 8 seasons of Bones on Netflix (again). I barely left the house and I didn't willingly talk to anyone, because that would mean being honest about what I was going through, and I really didn't want to do that.

I have never been the type to succumb to depression. My whole life, I would just set a goal, and go for it (and in some cases, just get lucky). I set my mind on going to Smith, and I got there. I had some great internships and attended some pretty prestigious programs. I never worried about where I would be when I graduated, until suddenly it was a pressing issue and I didn't have a plan or a path. I didn't know where to go, or want to admit this to anyone. I felt like I had failed, and if I didn't talk about it, maybe no one else would notice.

The thing is, people always notice. And when I finally stopped kidding myself, I started to feel better. I'm not where I should be yet, but I'm making changes and I'm not fighting alone anymore, which is a much better place to be. I don't have all of a path yet, but I have a way forward.

The past few months have been an exercise in getting back to what makes me feel good. I've been trying to exercise more and keep busy. A few days ago I sat down at the piano for the first time in months and was pleasantly surprised to find that my fingers seem to remember Mozart and Marianelli. And after a summer of overindulging my sweet tooth in every possible way (and gaining weight in the process), I have decided to spend the month of September on a pseudo-paleo cleanse, cutting out all added sugar, including sugar substitutes like maple syrup and honey. I'm also drastically reducing my intake of grains, alcohol, and dairy. The first week was really rough, but the worst is over and I already feel a lot better. I can tell when we get to the end my relationship with cake will be much healthier!

I have some other updates in the works, pertaining to my job and living situations, but they are all currently half-baked, and I'd rather to wait until they are real before sharing them with the internet. This is where I am for now!

p.s. I updated my About Me page and added a blogroll and a sparse FAQ page (for information about things like my camera and stuff). I also put in some content tabs at the top for easier navigation. Let me know what you think of it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake

In my last post, I promised to tell you more about that 80th birthday cake. When I asked my grandfather what he'd like to eat, he asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I'm a bit of a one-trick-pony when it comes to cake. I really don't see the point of eating a cake that isn't moist, delicious, and extremely chocolatey. To that end, I've found one cake recipe that gives me this every time. True to form, it's from the Barefoot Contessa, and you can find it here. For Grandpa's birthday party, I made a double recipe, filled it with plain, unsweetened whipped cream, and frosted it with a slightly modified version of this (it's cheaper and just as delicious with 14 oz of butter instead of 1 ½ pounds!).

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake

The only issue with having only one cake recipe to swear by is in situations like the 80th birthday weekend, when I found myself in the position of making a birthday cake not just for my grandfather, but for my aunt, who flew in for the party on her birthday. She is similarly traditional in her cake tastes (chocolate, please!), but I didn't want to make her the exact same cake she'd be eating a few days later at grandpa's party. I eventually settled on adding a hint of raspberry to the chocolate cake, because when is that a bad idea, but after spending half an hour looking for a suitable recipe, I just decided to modify my favorite recipe.

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake

As it turns out, the perfect chocolate cake is even more perfect with a few modifications. Ina calls for a cup of coffee, which I left out in favor of 1/2 a cup of Chambord/Frambois. The result was a similarly rich, moist cake, with a hint of raspberry. I accentuated the raspberry with a filling of whipped cream mixed with raspberry jam, frosted it with a simple ganache, and decorated it with concentric circles of raspberries. The result was probably the best cake I've ever tasted, and I can't wait to make it again!

Dark chocolate raspberry cake detail

Beatty's (Raspberry) Chocolate Cake
Slightly modified from Beatty's Chocolate Cake
1 ¾ cup flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup raspberry liqueur (frambois or chambord)
Raspberries, for garnish
For filling:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup raspberry jam (I prefer to use unseeded pure fruit jam)
For frosting:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup chocolate chips (I always use Ghirardelli 60% cacao)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Flour and grease two round cake pans (8 or 9 inches) and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

With the mixer on low, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and continue mixing to add the the raspberry liqueur. Turn the mixer off and give it another few stirs with a spatula to make sure the whole mixture is uniform. The batter will be very liquid.

Pour half the mixture into each of the prepared pans and bake them for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for about half an hour, then turn the cakes over on a wire rack to cool completely.

For filling: Whip the cup of cream until stiff peaks form, then stir in the jam until the mixture is roughly uniform. Dump the mixture out on top of the bottom layer, and spread it out a little bit until it is relatively even. Leave a gap around the edges of roughly half an inch -- the cream will move toward them when another cake is added on top, and you don't want it to end up mixing with the ganache when you frost it!

For ganache: Heat the cream over medium-low heat. Remove immediately when it begins to simmer and add the chocolate chips. Whisk furiously until the chips are combined, and allow to cool to room temperature (leave it in the refrigerator for a little while if necessary). Then, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip the ganache until it forms somewhere between soft and stiff peaks. It will increase in size and become easier to spread over your cake. Frost initially with a crumb coat, then use the rest to make it look pretty! Garnish with raspberries in any pattern you wish, and devour as soon as you've taken a few pictures of it's beauty.

In case you were wondering, these are updated photos, taken after I learned a little bit more about food styling! Much better than the originals. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

80th Birthday

We love a good excuse for a party over here, and my grandfather's 80th birthday is a great excuse for a party. He's a pretty fantastic guy -- witty, generous, and kind -- and we knew any party for him would be a well-attended and exuberant affair.

A birthday party is all about a person, and we decided to make our party distinctly Fred themed! Luckily, he's an easy person to do this for. Firstly, the color scheme: he wears almost exclusively primary colors. We found paper plates and napkins at the grocery store with a great red, blue, and gray theme, and continued it for the balloons and ribbons. It turned out really nicely!

Birthday BalloonsBirthday Balloons

Next, my favorite stroke of genius (all my mother's doing): a cardboard cutout of James Bond with one of my grandfather's headshots on top. He loves his martinis. I created the card to go in the birthday wreath with a little bit of photo manipulation.

Party Decorations
Party Decorations

Then came the focus on Fred's life. We went through numerous family photo collections to find some great ones of him, and filled several photo boards. These photo boards are really easy to make, store, and use over and over again -- I will share a tutorial for making something similar soon. We also raided his home office for a table dedicated to him. Pictures, trophies, and a basket for the post cards we sent out with each invitation as a way for people to send along memories and wishes, whether or not they could be at the party. Grandpa loves postcards, and he got a bunch for his birthday!

Party Decorations
Party Decorations

Drinks came in the form of a non-alcoholic family punch recipe. We provided vodka and champagne to spike it, along with beer and wine on the porch to lure people outside.

Party Punch
Wine and Beer Bench

For food, we just did our best to make it ample and scrumptious. We covered the dining room table in chicken satay, salads, caprese skewers, and roasted vegetables. The star of the food show, however, was the cheese plate. If you don't understand the labels, watch this and all will become clear.

Party Food
Party Food
Party Food
Party Food
Party Food
Party Food
Party Food

Dessert came in the form of a birthday cake, of course! (I will describe it in more detail in another blog post). Homemade cakes are always best, but we have limited options for baking cakes to feed upwards of 50 people. This cake, albeit the biggest cake I've ever made, wasn't enough. We supplemented with cream puffs (bought in bulk from Sam's Club, just like the cheese) and a couple packages of "Sweet Bites" from Trader Joes, which are perfect for situations like this. They're gorgeous, delicious, and just need to come out of the freezer to add dimension to dessert.

80th Birthday Party
80th Birthday Party Cake

It was a great party -- we had more guests than we ever anticipated and everyone had a great time. Fortunately we always make twice as much food as necessary! Grandpa's 80th came in with style and I look forward to his 81st!