Joy the Baker

Notes From The Road

March 9, 2014

notes from the road

Thank you for bearing with me last week as I trekked from Los Angeles to New Orleans in a little Corolla with a very large orange cat.  I sure did see a lot of road and sky!  Palm Springs has the windmill game on lock.  Arizona surprised me with its dreaminess.  New Mexico has the biggest sky.  Texas made me lonesome for… something, I’m not sure what.  Louisiana was swampy and mysterious.  It’s strange, but even after a month of packing, driving across the country felt more like a road trip that a permanent move.  It’s funny how home became so connected with my little Venice bungalow.  I think it will take a lot of days to undo that.

Tron Cat fared remarkably well on the 30 hour road trip.  For as much of a beast as he is when I’m in the kitchen, he was surprisingly compliant and docile in his crate in the passenger seat of my car.  He only had a few freak-outs… but to be fair, I had a few mid-trip freak-outs myself.   It’s nothing a few cat treats and sour gummy candies can’t soothe.

On the road I filled my ears with The Moth Podcast (really beautiful, real storytelling),  NPR’s Fresh Air (I LOVE this recent episode with American Hustle’s David O. Russell), and 99% Invisible (I listened to every episode they made because it’s fascinating and obscure bits of pop culture).  Turns out I also know every single word to Fiona Apple’s “When The Pawn…”, so there’s that.

the quarter

Out of the car and into the French Quarter in three days!  Just like that!

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Ode To A Kitchen

March 3, 2014

in the kitchen

                                                                                                                             photo by Leela Cyd

I’ve never really told you much about my kitchen.  Strange considering most of the creations that appear on this blog originate in this little room.

My kitchen is small and humble.  White-walled.  At first glance you’d probably shrug your shoulders and think something between ‘meh’ and ‘well this would be charming if Joy would consider doing her dishes’.

When I tell you that I’ve created two cookbooks, hundreds of Joy the Baker blog posts, and cooked for catering events in this kitchen you’d probably want to pat me on the back and pour us both a shot of bourbon.  Sooo… yea.

The dishes pile up quickly.  The oven is small and earnest.  The refrigerator holds two bottles of ketchup and little else.  It’s hip, and really… it’s never encountered a cook like me.  Flour and butter everywhere!!

I’m leaving this little space soon and headed to New Orleans.  It’s always a bit of a brain-bend to leave the space where you’ve created so much.  There’s something sacred about those spaces.  I want to share it with you before we go.

ode to a kitchen1

On the main kitchen shelf are a few of my favorite everyday staples.  From left to right:  Homemade Bourbon Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Salt, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (from the Indian market because they have the best and cheapest spices), Jacobsen Salt Co, Pasolivo Lemon Olive Oil, Turbinado Sugar for coffee times, Apple Cider Vinegar, Grey Sea Salt (I’m a baker that really likes salt), my best friend Rachel’s tiny pepper grinder that I borrowed then stole, lastly garlic.

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Honey and Mustard Roasted Cashews

February 26, 2014

honey mustard roasted cashews

Have I told you about the time I drove from Los Angeles to Seattle with a Strawberry Cheesecake as a road snack? Not the most practical of options.

On the scale of really-good to really-bad ideas…. this was a really bad idea.

To be fair, the cheesecake was a gift.  A road trip gift?  That hardly makes any sense. Nonetheless, I’m never one to turn down a gift or a cheesecake.

This time as I travel across part of the south, I’m bringing along much more reasonable snacks:  roasted nuts, cheesy crackers, and popcorn.

We’re back in an age of reason.  Phew.

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Let’s Road Trip!

February 25, 2014

los angeles to new orleans

I’m planning the Los Angeles ——> New Orleans road trip and I need your help!

I think you know exactly where I should eat pizza, where I will find the best road trip snacks, and where I should drink coffee.  I’m also open early morning diners options, and odd roadside attractions.  I’ve got 1909 miles to go over 30 hours (3 days really…).  I’m going to need to supplement my diet of gummy bears and flammin’ hot cheetos with something reasonable and caffeinated.

If you have any suggestions between Los Angeles ——> Phoenix/Tucson please leave a comment below with the name of hotspot and why it’s so great!

If you have any suggestions between Tucson/Ciudad Juarez ——> San Antonio please leave a comment below with the name of the hotspot and why it’s so dang cool!

If you have any suggestions between San Antonio ——> New Orleans please leave a comment below with the name of the hotspot and why it’s rad.

I’ll update this post as your comments and quotes come in so we can all share in the good.

I appreciate you in advance.  I can only eat so many gummy bears… (cry for help).

(Your suggestions after the click-through)

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No Ordinary Move-In Box

February 24, 2014

no ordinary move in box

 I’m in that ugly stage of house-packing.  That stage where the kitchen is half packed, the bathroom is precarious at best, the living room is full of boxes, and I can’t step foot into my closet even if I wanted to.

It’s not charming.  It’s not exciting.  It’s mostly just messing and stressful.  But it’s ok!  There’s an end to the madness.  The end involves a long drive to New Orleans, a fresh bag of ice, a Manhattan cocktail, and new keys to a lovely French Quarter apartment!

Until I officially move in in early March, the pie and cake recipes are going to be sparse around Joy the Baker.  That’s mostly because this is real life and all of my butter and loaf pans are packed away.

Thank you for joining me on this moving journey.  I promise you won’t have to drive across the country in twelve hour stretches.  I’ll handle that for both of us.

I’ve learned a lot about packing boxes and organizing cross-country moves from the internet.  I’m supposed to have a master list indicating exactly what is in each box I pack.  I’m supposed to pack certain things at certain times.  There’s supposed to be some sort of master color-coding situation.  I’m definitely doing exactly zero of those things.

If you’re looking for a master-packer / super-organized mover… you’re totally looking in the wrong place.

One thing has managed to cut through all of the disorganized moving madness:  the Move-In Box!

Do you know about this?  The Move-In Bx is the first box you open in your new space.  It can be all the practical things like an electric drill for putting together furniture or a hammer for hanging picture…. ooorrrrr it can be things that you actually want like bourbon and fluffy towels, and fancy lotion, and good pens for list-making, and sweet cocktail cherries. We’re grown and we can do what we want!  Even when we’re moving.  Thank heavens, for real.

Let’s put our overnight box together!  We’re moving!  Like… we’re both moving.  So thank you.  For real.

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It’s Not Summer Yet Greek Pasta Salad

February 20, 2014

not yet summer greek pasta salad

Often my cravings tell me more about what I want, than the produce tables at the farmer’s market.

I know fresh tomatoes and cucumbers aren’t exactly deep winter foods, but I really just needed to combine them in a bowl with salty feta…. juuust to be sure.

This pasta salad feels extra indulgent because it tastes like early summer when most of you are ankle-deep in slush.  To be fair, this pasta salad is also loaded with an almost embarrassing amount of sheep’s milk feta.  So… should we start counting the days until Memorial Day now?  Too soon?

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Buttered Pecan Biscuits

February 18, 2014

buttered pecan biscuits

I’m not sure I know how to meditate.  I don’t sit still and close my eyes.

To me, meditation requires a bowl of flour, a handful of cold cubed butter, buttermilk, and a biscuit cutter.

buttered pecan biscuits

Breaking the butter down into the flour, sugar, and salt helps ease my mind and clear my thoughts.

I can feel the butter soften and the flour transform in fat.  The pinch of nutmeg is subtle but fragrant, and to me… it just feels sublime.

buttered pecan biscuits

Buttermilk is part of the meditation too.  Of course it is.  I love the smell of buttermilk. It’s promising… with character.  There’s peace in that.

There’s also the clear moment of cracking an egg against a hard surface once, with conviction.

Bourbon is a meditation in itself especially when combined with vanilla beans and transformed into extract.

The standing and mixing, patting and rolling, slicing, brushing, and baking…. totally my jam, my meditation, my 2nd breakfast.

Now let’s add buttered pecans.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin

February 16, 2014

roasted cauliflower soup with cumin

I got a real taste of what most of you have endured this winter.

I was in New York City most of last week and… whoa.  Weather is real.  The snow!  The slush!  A snow plow scared me half to death. They go so fast!  Why did I think they operated at the speed of a zamboni? The shovel and footwear requirements are remarkable. Lastly… freezing rain is 100% unacceptable.

All of this is to say that you deserve a reward, a medal of honor, extra hot fudge on your sundae… something, everything, whatever you want you should have it.

I’m back in California nearly buried in packing boxes, but at least they’re not frozen.  To honor you, I’ve made soup.  It’s roasty toasty cauliflower with earthy cumin and happy curry.  Totally comforting.  You might consider pairing with some sort of cheesy bread situation.  Also ear muffs.  You’re a champion. Stay warm!

roasted cauliflower soup with cumin

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Strawberry and Chocolate Butter Cracker Ice Cream Sandwiches

February 13, 2014

Strawberry and Chocolate Butter Cracker Ice Cream Sandwiches

Remember that time I was like, “Hey you guys, let’s totally make ice cream sandwiches out of savory butter crackers!”

You were like, “Um… that sounds pretty weird.  Are you sure?”

And I was like, “Come on, this is going to be awesome!”

And you were like, “Ok, but we still think you’re weird.”

Remember that?  Well… we’re doing that all over again, this time with strawberry ice cream, melty milk chocolate and coconut oil, and a happy dash of sea salt too!

The result is something sweet, something chocolate-y, something crunchy, something creamy, and something salty!  It’s everything in one!  Well… everything except meaty. We can only go so far.

Strawberry and Chocolate Butter Cracker Ice Cream Sandwiches

Considering the crackers and the ice cream are store-bought, this recipe is so thrillingly easy!

Start by lining up butter cracker rounds, and topping them with small scoops of strawberry ice cream.  I used this perfectly portioned cookie/small ice cream scooper.

Finish this ice cream and cracker  homage by topping the ice cream with another butter round.  Inevitably you’ll find some cheese in the refrigerator… at which point you’ll stand in your kitchen eating cheese and crackers for the next twenty minutes.  I know.  It’s a thing.

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Lemon Raspberry Pie Crust Hearts

February 11, 2014

lemon raspberry pie crust hearts

In my house as a kid, where there was pie, there were cookies.  It was a really fortunate, really delicious rule.

My dad would make a pie crust from scratch, roll it out just so, drape it into a pie plate, and trim the edges to help the pie crust fit perfectly.   My sister and I would sit around dad’s work table just itchin’ to snack on the raw pie crust scraps.

The raw pie dough was dough-y, salty, and buttery.  Good… definitely good, but just a bit bland.

We knew that if we just waited a few minutes longer, dad’s pie crust scraps would be sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and baked to a golden crisp. Pie scrap cookies!  Just like that.  Pie and cookies.  That’s real love.  Waste not a bit of butter.

I turned my dad’s pie crust cookies into something heart-shaped and grand.  Skip the actual pie and make pie-like cookies.  Heart-shaped for love.

lemon raspberry pie crust hearts

This is our ingredient list!

Buttermilk Pie Crust- lots of butter, chilled, floured, and easy to roll.

Raspberries- frozen and thawed since they’re out of season these days.  Drained, mostly… then drained again.

Sugar for sweets.  Cornstarch of thickening.

Spices- cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and lemon zest… which isn’t a spice, but it’s cool.

Lemon Juice- just a squeeze.

Egg- for browning.

Turbinado Sugar- for extra credit.

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To New Orleans We Will Go!

February 10, 2014

To New Orleans We Will Go!

I’ve been staring at this map of New Orleans for most of the morning.  I’m trying to memorize the way the Mississippi River shapes and bends the city.  I’m trying to remember the order of the streets in the French Quarter, and the name of that really cool second-hand shop in the Bywater.  I’m trying to sort out if the parades run down Claiborne Street or St. Charles Avenue or neither or both.  Which side of Magazine Street has the best shops?  How many steps from Royal Street in the French Quarter must I walk before I get to Cafe Du Monde?

This piece of paper has most of the answers, holds the music, the characters, and details the bustling life in New Orleans.

To New Orleans We Will Go!

I should tell you now… I’M MOVING TO NEW ORLEANS!

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Hint of Mint Chocolate Milk

February 6, 2014

hint of mint chocolate milk

My dad used to make my sister and I cold cereal for breakfast most mornings.  He’d spoon some brown sugar into a small bowl, add Life Cereal (remember that goodness!?), and top the cereal with milk.  My sister and I would sit in the breakfast nook watching I Love Lucy (or The Andy Griffith Show on a bad day) and enjoy our cereal.  Easy and regular and somehow super special.

I’d try to rush my way through the cereal before it got too soggy.  Always a race against time.  The best part of cereal was always the final spoonfuls of milk steeped with the brown sugar that lived at the bottom of the bowl.  I loved finding those sweet pockets of brown sugar.

I think I’m looking for those sweet pockets all through life.  They’re not really that hard to find…. especially when you put way too much minty chocolate syrup at the bottom of your chocolate milk glass.  See what I did there?  Sweet pockets.

For a hot version of Chocolate Milk, see: Cinnamon Infused Hot Chocolate.

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Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

February 5, 2014

Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

Cupcakes in disguise… also known as Double Chocolate Baked Doughnuts.

Perfectly cakey and soft with extra drippy chocolate glaze.  Basically, I’ll never make a cupcake again, especially since this is the very best way to eat chocolate cake for breakfast.

Sprinkles, too!  This is a total no-brainer.

Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

Other Baked Doughnut experiments include Brown Butter Baked Doughnuts and Apple Cinnamon Baked Doughnuts.  I’m nowhere near done baking up these little darlings. So much more satisfying than cupcakes… but mostly kinda the exact same thing. Shoulder shrug.

You should get a baked doughnut pan.  No pressure.

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Things I Learned In Uganda Big and Small

February 4, 2014

singing songs

So I made some beautiful baked doughnuts a few weeks ago.

I took pictures of the process.  Step-by-step.  You know how it works around here.

I dipped them in chocolate, I drizzled them with extra colored sprinkles, then I packed up my bags and headed to Uganda.

I had every intention of blogging about those doughnuts somewhere in between telling you stories about the people I met in Uganda and sleep.

There were a lot of stories to tell.  More stories that I had words to describe.  There was that afternoon fetching water with Kevin and her family.  There was the afternoon in the Katwe slum with Hajarah, her mother, and hundreds of other little children clamouring for attention.  Stories of poverty and need, sure… but mostly stories of compassion and hope.

But doughnuts?  How do I talk about doughnuts?  How dare I talk about doughnuts?  Who cares about doughnuts ever again ever?!

I’ve been wrestling.  There’s the jet lag, the memories of the beautiful people I met, the mosquito bites, the malaria pills, the suitcase filled with coffee, dirty clothes, and red dirt.  There’s a sincere hope I’m holding on to…. and then these doughnuts.

Let me break it down.  Consider this a public processing.

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The One Thing I’d Tell My Mom

January 30, 2014

the flags

Dear Mom,

Could you tell I was crying as you dropped me off at the airport  last Saturday?  I think we were talking about french toast.  Important stuff.  That was me trying to disguise my tears.

As I got out of the car and unloaded my bags, you could sense the little shake in my voice and I could see the tears in your eyes.  We hugged, you offered wonderful words of encouragement through your tears, and I walked away quickly trying to disguise the tears in my eyes. I left that moment thinking only of how much I still need your love and your lessons. I’m grown, I think I have it all figured out, and I’m just so mistaken.

I was humbled by the reality of how much I still need you.

Then… off to this beautiful Uganda.

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This Place We Share

January 29, 2014

Kampala, Uganda

I think about you a lot.

I think about what you might want to see on your breakfast table… maybe something with cinnamon and oats.

I think about your best friend’s birthday, and what kind of cake you might make her.

I think about how you’re nervous to make a pie crust, and I want to show you how to do it so you can make my dad’s Sweet Potato Pie.

I think about you a lot because you come here looking for sweet and delicious, colorful and fun, and I want to make that for you.  It’s a honor to do that.  We have a deal:  I make biscuits and then you make biscuits.

Then Shaun Groves wrote, inviting me on Compassion’s blogger trip to Uganda.  I’d visit children, families, and church centers every day and learn about how Compassion really works, then I’d blog about it from Uganda everyday for five days.

The answer was easy:  No.

I told myself that I was thinking of you when I declined Shaun’s offer.  I told myself that you only wanted to see cupcakes and cocktails and the occasional picture of my cat.  I told myself that on this little piece of the Internet you wouldn’t want to hear about my faith, about children in poverty, about how you can totally help because I totally help and it feels really rewarding and it’s really important. I didn’t think this was the place for that, though it is, strangely, the place for run-on sentences.

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DIY: Natural Vapor Rub

January 29, 2014

peppermint eucalyptus Rub

I made this rub last week, before I left for my visit to Uganda.  It’s inspired by that time I thought I might suffocate in the shower.  No joke.

Having a cold is totally not the end of the world.  It’s only the end of the world if you think it’s the end of the world, or if you’re trying to eat peanut butter while your nose is out of order.  That’s a disaster.

The only relief I could find this cold season was in the shower, waiting for the steam to work it’s magic on my clogged sinuses.  That takes some minutes…. long minutes to stand there scalding your skin thinking of other possible remedies you could coax from your medicine cabinet.  This is likely when you suggest that I purchase a humidifier, to which I reply ‘MEH sounds boring’. Sorry.

Lightbulb moment!

We made lip gloss a few months ago!  Couldn’t we use those same ingredients to make a homemade minty vapor rub to spread on our chests and perhaps not be mouth breathers for the rest of our lives?  The answer is a resounding YES! So here.we.go!

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What It Means To Boil Water

January 28, 2014

at the spring

“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well.  It isn’t true.  

Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire.  

This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.”  

-Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal

These words from Tamar Adler’s book crept into my heart last year.  She perfectly describes the humility of boiling a pot of water to prepare a meal… any meal, from plain boiled potatoes to creamy lobster pasta.  Just boil water.  Start there.  The result will be divine, no matter what.

I’ve carried that sentiment around for the past year, sometimes (more often than not) setting aside the beautiful simplicity of boiling water for things like Chocolate Orange and Pistachio Cinnamon Rolls.

I suppose it took some time for Tamar’s words to settle into my system, but I’m thankful they did.  Today I learned what it really means to boil water from a little girl named Kevin, and her sister Christine.

getting water with kevin

Kevin is a serious little girl.  She makes you work hard for the telltale signs of childish joy that I’m used to seeing in nine year olds.  Her heart is heavy.  Her mother is mentally ill and frequently abandons her.  Stability hasn’t been a constant for her and that burden sometimes trumps her the joy inside.  It’s there though… oh, it’s in there.

what it means to boil water 1

Kevin’s sister Christine is one of my favorite kinds of people:  she’s quick to laugh and has the most beautiful smile.  She’s a natural caretaker.  You can see it in the way she glides from hut to hut sweeping up, washing up, cooking up, and adoring her husband, son, and sister.  She’s effortless, easy, and  has a graceful heart full of kindness.

I remember visiting Tracy‘s house last November for Thanksgiving.  Tracy is the spot of welcome and calm when festivities pulse around her.  I found that same peace a continent away in Christine.  That grace is universal.

How much grace do you need to boil water?  Well…. a lot.  It’s a journey that starts with an empty castor oil jug, a long walk, a mud stove, and ends in a cup of tea and cookies.  It’s more than a hike for hot water and cookies, it’s about a beautiful and loving life.

I have to tell you about this.

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Gloria Hope

January 27, 2014

gloria hope

Last Friday I talked about SHOWING UP.  Showing up despite fear.  Showing up despite discomfort.  Showing up with open eyes and open hearts and reaching out to people in need.  The words are a big deal no matter how you’re deciding to show up this year.  Turning those words into action is an even bigger deal.

I’m in Uganda with Compassion International this week.  I’ve never been this far from home, and while I like to consider myself a person who travels a lot, there’s still a bit of anxiety shaking around in my belly.  I can feel the far away.

Halfway through our flight from Amsterdam to Uganda this past weekend, I realized I was going to have to set some things aside.  The scarf I’d been using as a security blanket for the past day and a half of travel would have to go in the warm Ugandan climate.  The neck pillow… outta here!  Did I really need that thing anyway?  Hand sanitizer… just enough already.

More real than the material comforts though, I realized way up in the air between continents, that I’d also need to set aside my comfort zone, my sense of normalcy, and my ridiculous weekday morning social media schedule because something much bigger is at work.

Can we talk about it?

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Creamy Avocado Hummus

January 27, 2014

Creamy Avocado Hummus

I made Curry Hummus a few weeks back.  In that recipe I made mention of Smitten Kitchen’s Ethereally Smooth Hummus.  Deb achieved her heavenly hummus smoothness first by peeling each and every garbanzo bean. Pfffttt.  I quickly and easily dismissed that possibility in my Curry Hummus in hopes of expediting the process and getting hummus in my face as soon as possible.  Peel every bean!? No way.

 The only problem is, the thought of Deb’s smooth hummus has been haunting me ever since!  Dangit!  Laziness backfired. 

Back in the kitchen for me!  This time with a recipe from the latest Food and Wine magazine for Avocado Hummus.  Between the peeled beans and the creamy avocado, I really need this to be a smooth success!

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The Book

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