Thanks for stopping by! Here on BECOMING LOLA I share stories on becoming minimalist, as well as living a pure clean life as a style-obsessed digital nomad with a no BS approach to ethical fashion + travel. Grab a glass of wine and start here: Building A Minimalist Wardrobe.


Dec 22, 2010

one lovely blog award for becoming minimalist lola

AJ of AJ's Cooking Secrets who goes way back with me, to the wee early days of the infamous WHIPPED Challenges really made my day last week when he told me I got One Lovely Blog Award on behalf of his good graces. I used to dream of getting blog awards years ago when blogging was still in its infancy stages, and it seemed like such an elitist trophy that would never make it onto my mantle. And how funny is it, that now when I've totally given up on being recognized for working so hard on this here little blog, that one of the most down to Earth bloggers I know sends one my way. So thanks AJ, you are really too sweet! I guess as tradition has it, I am to share some of my absolute fave foodie blogs eh? Let's see...I try to swindle my way out of favoritism, but if you really want to get to the essence of my weekly inspiration, do check out these five blogs. They deserve every award out there. Congrats bloggie friends!

Dani of Paris Pastry is the most dedicated hobby baker I know and probably is the first food blog I remember discovering and following daily. She makes no excuses for being a passionate amateur, but her utter moxie is palpable and makes everyone believe they can give macarons a go, or have perfectly buttery, flaky, French croissants arise from the oven every morning. I love her.

Nicola of Concrete & Honey is the sweetest, most artistic blogger I can think of. Honestly, her eye for color, craft, food and florals makes me swoon. She loves Paris like me. She takes pictures that makes you dream. She has a big heart and invites everyone in via her blog, so visit

Steph from Raspberri Cupcakes calls herself a silly, short, ABC Malaysian Sydney food blogger, but I just call her a baking genius. I drool on cue when visiting her blog. Every single cute cream puff, beautifully styled photo, or lavender scented recipe I come across leads me back to her. If I had a food Oscar instead, you bet she'd get it.
Lisa of Spicy Ice Cream who I don't expect to care for such a humble award because she's like on another level (and well, I used to comment all the time and never got her to respond, sigh) is still my absolute go-to girl for insanely creative dishes and gorgeous drool-inducing photos. She's the kind of gal you wish would quit the graphic design and open a cafe already!

Jessica, a new fave and hopefully future friend, runs Lua Los Angeles which I adore for its simplicity in enticing you to literally just pack everything tonight and move to Cali tomorrow morning. To be honest, I hate taking a peek at her blog most times, as it makes me covet the lifestyle she so effortless curates. The gorgeous kitchens, the masterful apple pie lattice crust, the cinematic skylines. Ahhh. Bliss.
Jeska from the beloved Lobster and Swan should be on everyone's list. I don't have to tell you about her, you already know. She is it. Whatever it is, she is it. She is luminously talented at everything from turning butter into cakes worthy of newsstand covers, and paper into collages or brooches I want to buy in bulk. Inspiration starts and ends with her.

Dec 17, 2010

SPOTTED new mag where women cook...

There is a new magazine in town, and by the looks of it and the whispers on the street, shes not playing around. Her name is Where Women Cook and I found her thanks to Allison of Dolce Confections, who, (if you follow me on Twitter you know) I met up with yesterday afternoon for high tea and scones at Alice's Tea Cup here in Manhattan. Don't get all huffy, a full bakery review and story about our lovely afternoon coming Monday. In the meantime, you can still get to know Allison on your own. She's long had a home on my sidebar. Ever since discovering her blog around the time I first launched mine, I knew she was a girl after my own food loving heart. She had a passion, went for it, and never looked back. Luckily, this means she keeps an ear out for fabulous foodie events, and when Where Women Cook announced they were throwing a magazine launch party at my favorite spot ever (Chelsea Market people!) she was there like white on rice. I prefer butter on rice, but you get the picture. Allison attended the little shin dig, and as she told me the enviable account, I did very well masking my jealousy. I mean she got to meet The Pioneer Woman for goodness sakes. Anddd have a picture taken with her! Ugh, kill me now. Death by chocolate, oh yes! But I digress. Go see her lovely post about the event here. The two images above are courtesy of her blog, and the funniest part...well, Amy of Amy's Bread is my former boss. Yup, I'm a bonafide bakery worker alum. Those days were filled to the brim with free daily baguettes, pink frosted cupcake lunches, and southern biscuits with jam if I got to work early. Ah, I'm hungry now. Okay off to go spy on some food, but do yourself a favor will ya. Check out WWC and get yourself a copy. Its only fifteen bucks for a quarterly. I've already added it to my wish list! What are your fave foodie mags by the way? In case I do get the twenty Barnes and Noble gift cards I specifically threatened my family to send me for Xmas, I'll need to know what to buy. Hehe.

images of Where Women Cook premiere issue

Nov 23, 2010

j'adore sunday suppers...

...just a peek at what's been inspiring me so far this week, and if you think this looks good, wait until tomorrow's post! Indulge yourself here.

Oct 22, 2010

a gift of pretty for me

Well, there was no outdoor picnic or quaint surprise party dinner with a huge pink cake. There wasn't even some sugar cookies all wrapped up in pink bows waiting on my front porch. Or balloons or candles or boys with kisses. But you know what? There was Mandy who dedicated blog space to me the way a hubby would dedicate a sweet song, and Cate, and Chelsea, and AJ who is busy being a food prodigy but took time to drop me wishes, and Danielle who is the sweetest girl in all of Europe that I plan to sweep away to Paris, and Jen who loves macarons as much as I do, and Sian who would have sent me her homemade cupcakes if she could, and Debbie who will join forces with me in any baking challenge, and Holly, and Gabrielle who adores pink more than me (is it possible!?), and Sarah, and Chelsea, and Renée,and Ardna who had a birthday too, and Pink Lady whose blog is supremely more beautiful than mine...I had all of them, wishing me a happy birthday filled with sparkles and dreams and a future of bliss. So really, in the scheme of things, all the boys and gifts and candles and cake is not so important. I would trade all of that every single year for just one moment to have friends like you guys. So really, merci beaucoup...gracias...vielen dank!!


Sep 28, 2010

my minimalist french style life in paris will be....

french designer brand styleparisian styleparisian style

How does one imagine a dream life in Paris epitomizing minimalist french style

Mine would... filled with bike rides along the riverside country towns, visits to all the grande pink palaces with their luscious summer gardens, shopping for blooming peonies even when I have no idea where to put them, indulging in designer fashions (whether rented or stolen!), channeling my inner Jane Birkin whilst I tout around my pink pastry boxes all tied up with ribbon and my lunch wicker basket flaps in my arm, scavenge the city for the most pungent cheeses and brightest macarons, impromptu window shopping at the outdoor book stands where I meet my future European lover over our shared passion for livres de histoire, and of course lots of sneaking up on the croissant delivery boys to see if I can't exchange a few batted eyelashes for a fresh, melt in your mouth pain au chocolat!

But until then, I'm off to make a breakfast smoothie, flip through some mags I just bought (including Elle with Lauren Conrad on the cover, yay!) and watch the highly anticipated Gossip Girl Premiere from last night, online. The episode is called Belle du Jour after all. A bientot mes amis!

Sep 24, 2010

j'adore des macarons...

You might say I am a little obsessed with these petit cookies. Their crisp chewy shell and the rich dense fillings of raspberry, chocolat or even caramel. Their lustrous brightly hued shells in fuchsia, Robin's egg blue, rouge red, and mocha brown. Biting into them is an innocent nostalgic bliss only comparable to days on Daddy's shoulder at the fair with giant elephant ears in your hands. Even just staring at these mini luxuries give way to an instant smile. Your eyes gleam, your mouth salivates, your heart beats faster. Could it be? Are macarons my soul mate? Will I meet them on my next blind date? Are they the new equivalence of tall, dark and handsome for the single gal? Maybe so. I would certainly trade a full box of Laduree's macarons with a glass of wine and some Sandra Bullock flick over a night with a cute stranger any day! What's worse, is that I just discovered, not even 12 hours ago, a quaint little cafe by school that sells macarons for only $2. That's a steal for NYC. And get this. They have mini choux too! I had to try them, as I am suddenly finding myself in an absorbency of French culture mode and have always heard of this infamous choux pastry. I opted for the caramel filled mini choux, generously sprinkled with sugar and perfectly browned. OH MY GOSH. Can we say heaven on Earth! I'll do a full bakery review later this weekend.

What I really wanted to tell you lovelies is that I am going ahead with my foray into professional baking early. Why not right? There is inspiration all over the place! Reading A Homeade Life at our book club. Surfing through my fave blog Franish Nonspeaker. Seeing all the writers turned foodies enjoy life the way Europeans do. Its my turn darn it! So I am going to go pick up a catalogue at the Culinary Institute which has been on my New Year's resolution list for months (maybe even years...ouch). I'll do a pastry course, see what I can learn, and go from there. I might even have a few tricks up my sleeve with my ami nouvelle Mandy. Etsy comes to mind. Shhhhh. And then when I finally make it to Paris on my study exchange program, I'll take a master course on macarons so I can really give Pierre Herme a run for his money. Ah, oui, more like a walk, but you can find my confidence endearing for now. And who knows, maybe a small bakery in San Francisco, that is, if I fall in love with the city the way I'm expecting to, come this November. Life is full of dreams. Its time I make some come true...

What about you? What are you going to cross of your list?!

Sep 23, 2010

aspiring american in paris first batch of macarons...

Longggg overdue ladies and gentleman, but please offer a drum roll first batch EVER of homemade macarons! I know, I know, you have been waiting on me, your savior, to try these out first. You needed that last bit of hope that even the most pathetic and unequipped hobbyist baker could pull these off. Well, tis true mah dears! I am clumsy, always unprepared, lacking any training, and totally pulled these off. Woot, woot! And the story all starts with one little email from my friends over at Oh!Nuts. They wanted to offer my humble lil blog some fresh bulk nut products, and when I saw they carried almond flour, I knew it was a sign from the baking gods. "Just go for it already Lola" the gods were whispering, getting impatient. So I did. It was now or never.

So I did it! From scratch. By my own handiwork. With no help whatsoever. Just allot, allot, allot of reading of course. And can you blame me? These suckers are a nightmare for every novice foodie or aspiring pastry chef. But after a while (re: two days of research interrupted by my own 48 hour old stench) I finally lifted my head and closed my sagging eyes, went to bed, and promised myself to just awake the next day fresh, fearless, and ready for an adventure. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt right (pun intended!)? So I accepted that I might be defeated, that those macarons would emerge from my Granny's old little oven with no feet, concave lids, burnt bottoms, and the color of mud. But low and behold, none of that dare take place! You know, after watching Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice marathon style for the last few months, I am really starting to believe that people who want to survive an extensive surgery, or kick cancer treatment in the ass, just have to believe in the positive all the way through, as if confidence and optimism were the last remaining emotions left in the world and you had no choice. Same should go for baking. Why on Earth should home bakers torture themselves by the elusive reputation of one small little cookie? Just believe in yourself and shove all the foolishness of everyone else's bad experiences in the far part of your brain.

I set out to do this like a surgery. Let's, for sake of storytelling, call me Dr. McCreamy. Oh yeahhh. I had my 'mis en place' which really gets the confidence engines revving when you sit back and see all the gleaming fresh products awaiting their master. Nothing is ever perfect, no matter how much you research or plan. So of course, I forgot the eggs had to be aged so I just followed a trick I read about, and popped those bad boys in the microwave for about 10 seconds. I slowly unzipped the freshlock seal on my beautifully nutty aromatic almond flour by Oh!Nuts. I got my sugar and my salt and all their pantry friends together, and we just, ya know, set out to have a party!
Macarons with Chocolate Ganache & Salted Caramel
makes about 16 filled macaroons

1 1/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) ground blanched almonds (I used Oh!Nuts)
6 tablespoons fresh egg whites (from about 3 extra-large eggs)
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
filling (see recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse your ground almonds a few times to make sure they get to flour consistency. In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar and almond flour. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar. Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioners' sugar mixture until completely incorporated.
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter (I didn't have all that fanciness, I just used a 99cent store pastry bag and cut the tip 1/2 inch). Pipe 1-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little. Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macarons and the shiny surface turns dull, about 15 minutes.
  3. Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar (or not, depends on your oven, I didn't need to), until the surface of the macarons is completely dry, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macarons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
  4. To fill the macarons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macarons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macarons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 ounce salted butter (you may use cultured salted as well, as I did)
  1. Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until boiling. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
  2. Combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Stir just until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Cook without stirring until the caramel is a deep golden (you may play around with the darkness of your caramel, but be careful, as sugar cooks very quickly at this point and will easily blacken if you don't stop the cooking by setting the saucepan in a pan of ice water).
  5. When the caramel has reached the golden color, immediately pour in the warm cream.
  6. The sauce will bubble up. Allow it to become smooth before proceeding.
  7. Add the butter and whisk in until smooth. I also go ahead here and pour mixture into a stand mixer, add sifted confectioner's sugar in until it reaches a consistency I like.
  8. Use warm or at room temperature. It should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will become quite stiff. Allow it to come to room temperature after storing. At room temperature, it is still very thick, so give it a hearty whisk to get it to spreading consistency, or warm it (very briefly) over low heat, stirring all the while.
Honestly, these macarons were delicious! I will not sit here and say they will trump Laduree, but to have Paris a bit closer to home anytime I like, its a very painless process once all the stress about failing subsides. You end up with a great homemade product that otherwise would cost and arm and a leg. I could go without the super nutty flavor of the almonds, so I am up for trying the hazelnut version next, which I discovered on my beloved Franish Nonspeaker!
Ha, wouldn't it be a pathological lie if I denied having learned anything? Are you crazy! It was low stress, but full of new knowledge. For one, mis en place is beyond important for this particular recipe, as everything is about temperament and one ingredient relying on the upcoming ingredient to be ready and at the right temperature. So, mis en place dolls! Then, make sure to learn about your oven. I read so many conflicting things about oven ajar vs oven closed. It was one of the hottest summer days, so I took a risk and figured I didn't need to add any extra humidity and kept my oven door closed. Also, when it comes to whole folding of ingredients, it really helps to watch videos to see just how one should manipulate the spatula, and at what speed and for how long. That is the key to the shells. When it came to piping the shells, I don't have any fancy things okay. I totally took a spice can and sloppily traced circles onto the parchment paper in lieu of a template sheet (which means uneven and mismatching shells, but oh well!). As for the filling, oh my! The salted caramel is so quick to golden, that the first go I completely burned it. So watch that pot closely and DO NOT STIR while its cooking (I did that too, and it turned into a rock). Otherwise, its sooooo yummy and my fave filling so far. I used it for cupcakes a few days later. Oh, and that whole airtight container thing is so true. I put my macarons in a cake stand since I was so proud, they needed showing off. The next day, they were as hard and crumbly brittle as, well, as poorly stored macarons!

Aug 13, 2010

become minimalist once and for all, maybe as a baker?

It's that time again darlings. You know, the time where I start with "let's get personal....personal!" becoming minimalist dreams theme song and you're expected to know which song tune it matches. By now, if you don't know that its Let's Get Physical, then really, there is just no hope for us as friends. If you did catch on, bravo! You continued unconditional friendship. Yay for you! I don't have a lifetime supply of Laduree macarons, sorry. Or a free car. I'm not Oprah after all.

Well anyway, you might have noticed my little blog face lift this week. Do you like!? Nothing major or fancy (albeit a tad country a la the new linen background, hopefully French country at that), just a reflection of the direction I am heading. Towards where, whom, or what? Now that is the million dollar question. You see dearies, I am having midlife crisis number 121. Anyone care to join me? Don't worry, it won't be like that time we tried to start Bakeaholics Anonymous, or even that time when we admitted to each other the cringe-worthy amount of reality tv we watch (and when I say we I ofcorse mean me, as I talk to myself here on this blog; pretty sure the comments I read are imaginary friends I only wish to have)...this is pure personal life down syndrome time. Is your husband driving you crazy? Are your kids growing up too fast and you feel too girly all by yourself? Perhaps longing to break free of your small town for a visit to the French countryside? I hear ya, trust me, I do. I can't pinpoint exactly what my diagnosis is, but its definitely driving me up the wall. I'm young and ambitious, yet nothing seems to be enough these days. I'm insanely insatiable...with an appetite for life bigger than the bites I can chew off. And everything just seems like an intangible yet clearly coursed drifting fog infront of me. Make sense? Ah, alas it never does. But one thing is for sure, GOD or whoever sent me here (here being Georgia) for a reason, and its becoming apparent now. It seems my dear Granny is just as lost as me, and it breaks my heart....and that is an understatement.

I can't even begin to explain the horrid behavior that goes on in this here mansion. My grandmother birthed five children, all of whom (shamefully, my mother somewhat included) are the most selfish and careless, most inconsiderate grown ups I have ever seen. I remember longing for the embrace of my aunts and uncles when I was small, now haven grown up to be people I don't even recognize. They badger Granny daily about her love of gardening, hoarding (remember earlier kitchen appliance overload that left me squealing with glee?) and overall passion of hobbying, then for good measure they live rent free without so much as an offer of help on bills, dishing an overgenerous share of home cooked dinner she slaves over straight after coming home from work without so much as a thank you, or walking in and going straight to their rooms. I mean for god sakes, she is over half a century old, does that not qualify her to live her life the way she wants! She traveled two countries to get here decades ago, worked her tush off, bought her dream house, and now everyone tries to knock her down and make her feel small as if she should live like some peasant saving bread crumbs. I just will not have it! I am so glad I came. Each and everyday she has thanked me for coming and inspiring her to do what she always loved- sewing, designing and gardening. I feel awful for not visiting in the last 6 years, but I am here now, and I have a purpose. I cleared her garage, fixed up her sewing suite in the basement, bought her a website domain, and now....if its the last thing I do...I will make sure my Granny has her own business like she always wanted. Being a nurse is great, but I know she aims for more, and I will help her get it. I know I have school, work and my blog, but I have to do one else will. I want her to have her own little website and maybe even an Etsy shop where she can sell her fabulous home decor (and its is FABULOUS work she does) and even do custom services. I was thinking even a time capsule collection designed by the both of us (well mostly me, I micro manage too much haha). But it would be a treat for the eyes I promise! We already went fabric shopping and I sketched out roughly a Marie Antoinette inspired collection. What do you guys think?Anyway, sorry for the rant. I just feel, well, its my blog, and if for nothing else I do want this to me a documentation of my life (and as expected I stopped writing in my cupcake journal, ughh). I may watch allot of reality tv, but I don't have my own show. There are no cameras following me around. So I want to remember all these tiny moments and crossroads, because sometimes at night when you lie in the dark and think about your life, you feel sad when you can't remember it all...all the happiness.
And then there is my life without the intertwined circumstances of anyone else. Just me and my needs, goals and dreams. I am so nervous about starting my courses and planning for graduate school, letting the fear of wasted money get in the way. Beautiful Shelley has inspired me again to seek placement at Le Cordon Blue in Paris and CIA in California. Ah, to live in a Victorian palace in San Francisco. What a life....

What are you guys currently dreaming about? Any goals on the horizon? I am tickled pink that Mandy is planning a cupcake shop with her mom. How lovely!

Aug 10, 2010

i need to being living a minimalist lifestyle in the woods

minimalism in the woodsbuild a minimalist house
Sometimes I wonder where I am going. Where do I belong? Why am I here....and not here? Or for the sake of continued drooling, why are we all not here?

Jul 31, 2010

minimalist lifestyle books: table style

book review of table styleBoy what a lovely day I had today. Why do I always feel so lonely back in New York City? It only takes one day with family in their huge house atop a giant hill over a good bbq to realize you are never really lonely. Everyone has someone. So cheer up lad and ladettes (is that a word?). Always remember someone, somewhere, is thinking about you and you alone. On that note, I have to share:

 minimalist lifestyle book review 

My latest read, Table Style by Liz Belton photographed by Debi Treloar.

I am in love with all of Ryland Peters & Small's books and hope to one day own a little book company just like them. But more on that later. Table Style reminds me of all the joys entertaining brings people as well as the rewards of adopting a minimalist lifestyle. The good company of friends or family, the satisfaction of creating concepts, the indulgence of a well planned (or even accidental) menu and the heavenly beauty sleep you fall into after its all done. I mean really, isn't that what life is all about? So the next time you see a pretty little decor book perched on a shelf, don't just leave it be, take it home and let it inspire you beyond just the kitchen and craft shop. Food, decor and entertaining books bring about memories you otherwise wouldn't think of, persuade you to call up on people you might have forgotten, or even give you a good enough excuse to throw a get together that otherwise would seem daunting. And Table Style did just that. One of my absolute favorite pages was the 'picnic in the park' feature complete with a makeshift tent made of branches and gauze under the cascading leaves of a weeping tree and romantic lunch for two. I immediately sprung up from my chair and ran to the basement, certain I would find a vintage picnic basket in Granny's hoarding collection (yeah I said it) and sure enough I did! So look out for a super sweet picnic photo shoot for this blog exclusively next week.

A few other enchanted ideas included a flower fountain (tea roses on an eggholder anyone?) perfect for a bridal shower or sister's birthday brunch, as well as weekend breakfast settings using collected patterned tiles as coasters (nothing a simple trip to the thrift shop wouldn't serve up) and yogurt in mason jars next to fresh cut garden blooms. How refreshing would that be the next time you had a book club meeting, right, right! So go on. Head to your local shop and pick up a copy. Snuggle up tomorrow on your favorite worn in cushion and see what little party you can plan next. And remember, you never really need a reason to celebrate...

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Jul 30, 2010

a baking orgy to remember...

So I was talking to myself the other day as usual (ok well not really, I did a post here but no one really responded, and its quite okay, I'm boring...I get it) and am now ready to reveal all the excitement that has been swirling in my little brain. But let me kindly interrupt this post to get to what's really important. I know what you all are still thinking about...and its my darn post title. I know, I know. Some of you have kids. Some of you might be nuns. Some like me, may even have old grannies who raise eyebrows at Paris Hilton every time she gets out of a car in a short dress. I know, but really, I couldn't think of a better word. And I mean really, why the hell did the porn industry have to steal a perfectly good word form the rest of us PG rated do gooder citizens? So let's just solve this right here, right now. My trusted Webster's never lets me down! Orgy, simply put, means celebration devoted to sensual enjoyment. And believe you me, after just watching Nigella Feasts on FN, that was pure sensual enjoyment at its finest. So the word definitely hits the nail on the head of what I want this post to embody. Lets see if other synonymous words would have done the trick in under 5 seconds: blowout? fling? circus? (most likely if its my kitchen) party? rampage? carousal? (is that the thing at the amusement park, hmm) feast? indulgence? merrymaking? Well there you have it folks, very nice words indeed, but they just don't do the trick for me, I'm afraid. So if my proposed baking orgy is too much for you to handle on my blog from time to time, I guess we can do our bid adieu. Just know, you'll so want to come back after hours. Ha!

So now on to the main menu. Again, after begging for help here, I have it all figured out and I'm ready to rumble! Its the official last day of July 2010 tomorrow which only means one thing. Tomorrow starts the countdown of my 30-day baking challenge here at Granny's house! Yes, Granny's kitchen, Granny's garden, and her KitchenAid that she is yet to know will find its way into my luggage 30 days from now. More on that later. Below is my line-up of all the activities I plan to indulge in come hell or high water (or sunken cupcake domes, confusing corn starch for flour, and forgetting my eggs in a basket altogether). As usual, let me know what you think. I hope I'm not in this alone! And do spread the word. I may be confident and ambitious, but self-absorbed be it not I. I would love the virtual company of you, your readers or even your fellow blogger friends. Let's have some baking fun!

30-Day Baking Challenge
for the pure purpose of overindulging & blaming the love handles on learning
  1. Let Them Eat Cake: bake my way through Cupcakes by Pamela Clark (see books on sidebar) using a weekly poll voted for by readers (starting with coconut ones that I still owe you guys, sorry!)
  2. American In Paris....wait, I have done this column twice already and it never occurred to me...I'm nowhere near Paris! Hmmm. Ah, ok! *Aspiring American In Paris*: classic and popular traditional French baked goods once a week until I feel one with Julia Child
  3. Bed&Breakfast Princess: practice various ideas and concepts for my future B&B menus, teaching myself to not only cook things outside of dessert land, but to eventually persuade myself breakfast is not the devil and can indeed be consumed after the hour of 11am
And last but certainly not least my darlings, something I have been secretly twiddling my imaginary mischievous mustache about, a community blogger baking challenge we can all do together! It hit me like a ray of sunshine while watching Iron Chef followed by Chopped on FN. Why duh, why don't I create my own mystery ingredient based other baking obsessed foodies like myself. Right, right! Well after racking my brain (and the thesaurus) I came up with this...

A virtual mystery-ingredient-based baking challenge for food bloggers. Using's random recipe generator (because sadly after thorough research, there is no such thing yet as a random ingredient there is no need to be I guess) we will concoct happily in our kitchens the most sweet and savory baked goods each week, letting readers be the judge of concept and presentation (no such thing as virtual tasting yet either I'm afraid) and the winner, decided upon by tallying up comments I presume, can get a fun little banner to put on their blog! And trust me, the recipe generator will definitely be a fun and helpful tool since we don't have Ted Allen or Alton Brown to direct us. On first click I got strawberries, lard and butter as ingredients. Now tell me you can't make something mighty delicious from any of those bad boys. Requirements...hmm, not many. Just need to join in (comment below!), have a food blog, pick an ingredient that I will blog each week after using the generator, bake, snap pics, post, then wait!

Okay off to rest a bit. Okay not really. Off to eat whatever is left of last night's banana pudding then make the dough for my Pain Au Chocolat Cinnamon Rolls for this week's *Aspiring American in Paris*. Ah, don't you just love baking challenges!

Well, whose in!?

Jul 24, 2010

becoming a minimalist baker part 2

What a lovely day it was. Well, minus the suicide inducing public transportation system that is Miami's metro, it was a relaxing day of shopping and learning. First stop was Barnes and Noble, yes, againnnnn. This time with money my friends (no bargain bin today dolls), and boy did I practically run home to cuddle up in bed with my FIRST EVER COOKBOOK! Can you guess which charming girl I whisked away to my abode? Nigella Lawson of course! Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook was staring at me with puppy eyes, but it was $5 more, and I'm on borrowed wealth. Plus, when free money comes along, you don't exactly buy in singles. Nigella needed a companion for the long ride home, so Molly and Sophie hopped in the bag too. Surely that was a tea party for the ages.

Then it was off to Whole Foods where, as promised, I dished a few good bucks on my first bottle of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, Organic Agave Nectar, Premium Sea Salt along with a delightful jumbling of other baking goods. Sure does beat McCormick's and CVS brands! Oh, and did I mention...I finally found this infamous European style butter! I wish I would have tasted the ingredients before my bake test below, which was silly of me, but I promise to taste them next batch to better describe the differences in product, not just results. For one, European style butter seams allot lighter, which I don't know yet is better or worse.

So today's baking test as mentioned here (where I am still looking forward to your comments about which bakery/baker you think has the best recipe!) made use of Amy’s Bread “Pink Cake,” a moist vanilla-flavored butter cake which was actually inspired by a recipe from Carole Walter, in her book Great Cakes (see, every famous baker uses another famous baker's secrets). The delicate flavor and texture of this cake is a perfect match for a heavy, intensely sweet frosting such as a classic confectioner’s sugar buttercream. And let me tell you, having eaten at Amy's (I used to work there!!) and making her recipe, this is indeed insanely sweet. But I love it that way. In the book, Amy mentioned you could save your teeth the cavity pain by trying the cupcakes plain with sliced fresh strawberries or peaches for a sublime summer dessert.

Yellow Cupcakes with Pink Buttercream Frosting
via The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted 3 cups or 420g
  • Baking powder 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon or 20g
  • Kosher salt 3/4 teaspoon
  • Milk 1 1/4 cups + 3 tablespoons or 340g
  • Vanilla extract 2 teaspoons
  • Unsalted butter, slightly softened 1 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons or 320g
  • Sugar 2 3/4 cups + 2 teaspoons or 560g
  • Eggs 5 large or 260g
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease the cake pans. Line the bottoms with rounds of baking parchment then dust them lightly with fl our. Shake out the excess. Or use Baker’s Joy baking spray that contains both oil and flour, so you don’t have to flour the pan. With Baker’s Joy, put the parchment liner in after you spray the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk them gently for even distribution. In a separate bowl combine the milk and vanilla.
  3. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs gradually, mixing well after each addition, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often.
  4. Lower the mixing speed to medium-low and add the flour mixture to the butter in 3 parts, alternating with 2 parts of the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until it is evenly incorporated. This is a thick, fluffy batter, resembling whipped cream. There should not be any lumps or dry pockets of flour remaining. If the batter has a curdled appearance it has not been mixed enough. Increase the speed to medium and mix for another minute or until it is thick and fluffy.
  5. Divide the batter equally among baking cups. Place the pans on the center rack in the preheated oven. Bake them for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is almost ready to pull away from the side of the baking cups and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Be sure to rotate for even baking.
  6. Cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes. I recommend an hour. Frost!
  • Confectioner's sugar 7 1/2 cups or 845g
  • Butter 1 1/3 cups or 300g
  • Poured fondant 1/3 generous cup or 138g
  • Milk 1/4 cup or 62g
  • Vanilla extract 1 tablespoon+1/4 teaspoon or 13g
  • Salt 1/8 teaspoon
  • Baker's Rose Food Coloring 1-2 drops

In a bowl, beat 600g or 5 1/2 cups of sugar, as well as the butter, fondant, milk, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Start on low speed then increase to medium speed when powdery texture becomes moistened. Gradually add remaining sugar 1 cup at a time. Add color and beat on med-low speed until mixed and still fluffy.

As with my many previous trials, I know that cupcakes taste drastically different the next day for some reason. But let me just say, this is a great cupcake! The crumb is tender and delicate, perfectly moist (not too much so, but not at all dry) and the buttercream, although my consistency still sucks (any tips for this...besides prepping the butter??) was a tad too sweet and tasted nothing like at Amy's, then again I couldn't find poured fondant. I tried melting rolled fondant but that only melted my butter, so don't try that. Its not exactly like Amy's cupcakes and I followed everything correctly, even had gourmet ingredients, though I lacked a kitchen scale and stand alas, a baking test semi-complete.

Jul 21, 2010

trying to become a minimalist baker at the bookstore

minimalist baking book reviewI did it again. Like a bad Britney Spears deja vu, I freakin did it again. In I walked praying not to spend a dime, and out I walked with yet another "bargain bin" book. But oh my, was it ever the most joyous occasion of my life. Do you want to hear the story? Of course you do. Even if you don't, I'm here to share. I won't become the next Emily Dickinson keeping stories to myself. Right, right?

It was a beautiful evening set aside for a few errands. Apple store exchange here (why do things just stop working when you need them most?) a few groceries there, and next thing you know I finally arrive in front of Barnes and Noble. But not just any BN, my absolute beloved location in the Upper West side where the five floors of indulgence are like Alice's rabbit hole and I always jump in voluntarily. If you know me by now, you'll know that the Union Square building is my absolute fave, if not for the New York City touristy book section right at the entrance, or the fact that I can always find Lula at the magazine stand, then simply for the admirable architecture of the century old building that makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself. But the UWS locale is so much more serene and quiet... no crowds, no breathing down your back. Just empty aisles for aimless browsing and even little old ladies (well, ladies who lunch in designer get-ups no less) all gathered together in the paperback release rotunda enjoying their book club meetings (seriously, this was happening, didn't even know you could just hold meetings in BN...wonder if I can start Bakeaholics Anonymous?).

So what's a girl to do? Grab the largest browsing basket, set a timer for two hours, and head out in the Food Network Star row that's what! Not sooner did I read the sign "Food & Cooking" did I see Giada, Paula, Ina, Nigella, and even Martha for good measure, sitting pretty on cherry wood shelves, that I was jumping up and down with glee (no not internally, actually jumping up and down noticeably, and dropping things in the process). This was my first time in BN with leisurely hours to kill ever since I inherited this culinary addiction. So this was a true delight. I started off in the food biography new release aisle which is one of my true Achilles heel; refraining from placing less than five books in my basket was a dire inner battle. Kathleen Finn was really teasing me with her newbie, The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry: Love Laughter & Tears At The World's Most Famous Cooking School. A simple gal who leaves the corporate world (nothing new there) to seek out a professional culinary life at Le Cordon in Paris with little to no French skills, in both speaking or cooking? Sign me up! What could top that. Well, nothing other than a simple gal who started a little blog called Oragenette finding herself now as a NY Times bestselling author after releasing A Homemade Life. Ahhh, and so the wish list grew.

With a small hop and skip to the right, I was in very dangerous territory. The cooking rotunda. Oh lord help. I quickly rolled up my sleeves, set down my heavy basket (already I know) and started at the very beginning. As a girl without any cookbooks to yet call her own, all I could think was the many BN gift cards I would soon be requesting for the holidays. Everything from Martha's Cupcakes to Nigella Express was setting a strong hold on me, and even some lesser known names with alluring titles like Dorie Greenspan and Trish Deseine who come highly recommended by some of my French blog readers, so I eagerly took note. After dropping Martha in my basket, I headed anxiously towards the, bargain bins.

Yes, the bargain bins. The enabler to my crime, the instigator to my fights, the...well you get the picture. Once you step in empty handed, there's no turning back. There will be a book there for you, and it will be calling your wallet. Lucky for me, by the time I left, I sadly realized my infatuation with food overshadowed my love for decor, and I never even ventured into the design section. So Jane Brocket's Gentle Art of Domesticity came home with me, and it was only eight bux. Cheapest date I ever had come home, that's for sure.

Well the night had to come to a close eventually, after all, The Bachelorette wasn't going to watch itself. As I headed toward the escalator with my bargain bin find, leaving the others with their $25 price tag in the dust (sorry Martha) I came across...what was this..a secret alleyway with even more food books!? Oh my, someone knew about my addiction and they were playing Inception puppetry with me. Well, I didn't want to be rude of course, whoever was mastering this little rat maze, I obliged and settled down in a little nest cove with more books than could fit in my basket. Magnolias Cookbook, Baked, Amy's Bread Cookbook and a few others were the best kind of torture. I knew I couldn't buy them all, neither did I want to (Magnolias...ughh) but at that moment I knew...this was my chance for incomparable research and a bake test experience for the ages. So yes I did read over a hundred pages of recipes in one sitting, and yes I did copy them all down along with tips and tricks straight from the horse's mouth, and yes I have them all for you and can't wait to get in the kitchen to finally find...just who has the best damn cupcake!

So I want to know, who do you guys think has the best cupcake recipe? And don't worry, the baking test and recipes will all be posted here in the next few days!

Jul 16, 2010

minimalist bakers unite

I have HUGE exciting idea in the works, but first, I want to share this fun and nosy survey I found on a foodie forum. I would love to learn more about you. See, I am courting you, hoping one day we can all be friends and cook away in one lavish virtual kitchen, and eat away our sorrows. Wouldn't that be lovely. Okay, okay yes, since this is a fantasy, George Clooney can come too. Or perhaps Sean Connery is more to your liking. I rather have a crush on our president as well, he is quite dapper indeed for Hawaiian chocolate. I digress. So yes, answer one, answer all, just have fun and let it all out. We promise not to tell. Because honestly, when was the last time anyone genuinely wanted to hear what you had to say? Badgering your boyfriend or hubby into listening about your obsession over cookies made with Callebaut chocolate vs. Ghirardelli, after bribing him with an exchange of one hour of football does not count!

Can't wait to see what you all answer! Especially you ParisPastry, Debbie and GrandeMarine!

The 'Obnoxiously Curious Peek At Kitchen Adventures' Survey
1) how often do you bake?:
2) where/from who did you learn to bake? (school counts):
3) what was the first thing you ever baked?:
4) what was the last thing you baked and when?:
5) what's your favorite thing to bake or cook?:
6) what was the worst thing you've ever baked and why did it fail?:
7) what's your favorite thing to add to baking? (sprinkles, dried fruit, nuts, etc):
8) why do you like to bake?:
9) where do you store baked goods after you've baked them? (container, freezer, etc):
10) where do you find your recipes? (cc, cookbook, family, own creation):
11) what's something you've never baked before, but would like to?:
12) what is your absolute ideal baking/cooking fantasy? (eloping to become a Parisian pastry chef counts)

PS- Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be dressed like Audrey whilst baking. If you do not prepare a proper sundress, matching apron and that oh-so-effortless (but really took two hours) messy pin-up bun, then please...just don't come back to my blog okay. Just kidding. Not really.

Jul 10, 2010

review: sweet melissa patisserie new york

Now that the secret is finally out, let the fun begin! The best part about planning a business? The indulgent research. Ha! Bet you thought I would let that part slip by this blog eh. Well think again. All the more reason to eat to my heart's delight. To craft the perfect tea party menu, I'll need to eat as much as possible. I mean, we wouldn't want to get crushed by competition right? And since my first bakery review post went over so well....along with the fact that my mother and Mandy think I would make a great freelance food critic...time to sharpen our pencils and teeth, because its drool fest time.

Autumn in New York leaves little else to be desired. Last weekend, the sun was shining with all its glory, the air was still, the people were out and about enjoying the falling amber leaves, and I was just a girl about town strolling along the cobbled streets of Park Slope Brooklyn aimlessly, without a care in the world. The dozens upon dozens of storefronts were as alluring as a French woman in rouge lipstick, enticing me, pulling me with magnetic force. Choosing a spot to eat in New York is as easy as choosing which of your children to give your kidney...its ridiculous. As luck would have it, I was meeting a friend and she did the torturous duty of selecting the eatery for us. As I glided towards second street, I could already see the cute Tiffany blue chalkboard menu make its shape in my view, and as I turned the corner, my eye caught glimpse of the miraculous window display, filled with holiday decor and pastry delights. "Sweet Jesus!", I exclaimed. But I was soon corrected. This was Sweet Melissa, and little did I know that this small and unassuming patisserie would be the reason I would go bankrupt that day.

The bakeshop was quaint and unfussy, with a pastry display on the left and gelato display to the right (now called their crémerie). And just like Le Pain, a small but perfectly curated selection of cookies, kitchenware, and small goodies lined the shelves that separated the ordering stands from the seating area in the back. I was told there was a beautiful courtyard as well, but alas, I was busy drooling all over the window displays to the dismay of the cashier girl who already had Windex ready to go.
We established some time ago how horrible a native I am, so it should come as no surprise that I was clueless about how famous this establishment actually was, and Melissa Murphy herself, a heralded master chef with her own book and countless appearances on top tv shows. The hype makes sense, everything looked scrumptious beyond belief. I walked straight up to the cashier and let her know clear and frank that I would be ordering one of everything...and so I did! My goodie bag got filled with her powder sugar dusted madeleine cookies, vanilla custard filled sticky buns, thumbprint jam cookies, lavender and baby blue petit fours, freshly baked flaky croissants, not one...but two cupcakes- double chocolate and raspberry chocolate - as well as a pumpkin muffin for good measure. It is fall after all. I haven't tried everything just yet (thank goodness for ziplock seals and refrigeration) but what I have tried is delicious and well worth the visit. The petit fours, my very first ones by the way, are sooo cute. I did fret over the fact that they were quite stiff, as if they freeze them to hold the icing in place all day, so that was a bit disappointing. The icing cracks and falls away into your mouth like crunching on ice cubes, but the cake is moist and the raspberry filling is a nice surprise. Of course I ripped into the double chocolate cupcake like it was Christmas! Besides the fact that it too was cold for the sake of freshness, the little bugger was pretty good. My favorite part of the whole self-induced buffet was the croissant. You can never go wrong with a perfectly sweet yet flaky and buttery croissant. Nom nom. All I was missing was hot chocolate to dip it in...but at this point, I was lucky if I had a dollar left to get home!


gift of pretty...

Oh boy, last day of French is tomorrow. J'ai un examen. Wish me luck. And to think I haven't even started on the French translation for the extra credit restaurant review assignment. Oh la la. Here is a dose of pretty to ease my mind...and yours. One day we all will be sipping tea and munching on baguettes. Till then.


click images for source

Jul 9, 2010

the house that love built...

So you may have guessed it, though you could never tell, but I have a new thing in my life...and its called love. Hmmm, granted not love just yet, but pretty darn close. The funniest part, is that it got dropped on me as if by a baby stork. Like a Thanksgiving dinner delivery, literally. We'll call him L for now (L&L so cute, I know!). And yet I've lied again...the funniest part is actually mother fixed us up. On what planet that actually works, I have no idea, but its true! She had a little twiddle of her thumbs at the art of matchmaking last year when she was in town and I invited her for her first ever margarita (another story entirely). She said she wanted to bring along a friend, and over dinner, whilst watching their marriage-like banter back and forth, I had imagined later on she would tell me that she had gone cougar on me and that he was her new lover. But in fact, she had brought him for me. Brought him to be shown off like a clean cut doxin at a dog show. Oh nice ears. Very slender calves. Nice trot. Unfortunately, at that moment, he was not my cup of tea in physical attraction or mentally, as I was still depressed and clinging on to the fleeting memories of my ex fiance.

Fast forward a full year, and she invites him to meet me for Thanksgiving. Knowing I would be all alone, it was actually a nice surprise to see him again. A year sure did do his body good, because he looked good enough to eat! I almost did. I had been intentionally starving all day to pace myself for all the calories awaiting me on Thanksgiving night. He invited me to the movies. We went. I had a drink. Or two. I was tipsy, and so my lips perhaps might have tipped themselves right over onto his face. He didn't seem to mind. We talked on the phone the next day. We went to a party and danced the night after. We spent this whole past weekend together too. I don't know what the heck is going on, but it makes me believe in reincarnation. How we can just click like we have known each other for light years, its unfathomable. Soul mates is too cheesy, kindred spirits doesn't fit either, but there is something there brewing, and I'm just so thankful. For someone who thought she would never find such happiness again, its the best Thanksgiving gift ever. Love is the best cure to loneliness.

But my only problem is this! The inevitable comparisons to my ex. I keep doing it! Does anyone else do that? My ex was amazing in that he literally found all my life dreams and ambitious quirks to be appealing. If I told him one night I wanted to buy a vintage RV, paint it all pink, set sights across the country, and just cruise for months selling cupcakes at boardwalks or buy a run down cabin in the middle of the forest, paint it all white like a fairytale palace, use it as a bed and breakfast while we sleep off in a streamer somewhere, he would have been waiting with our bags packed when I got home. So what do I do now...starting from scratch..with the same dreams and quirks. I want to live in a gingerbread house just like this, in the forest with the owls and the wood nymphs and light fairies, where the wind sings and the moon glows and the river runs through it like a harmony. Will I have to do it alone, give up the dream, or have my cake and eat it too? I wonder...
images here from this amazing NY Times article here via Concrete & Honey
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