Moving: Maple Pumpkin Cake + Giveaway

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

-The only thing I could make amidst the chaos.-

New house. New house.

No, sadly, not my own house. Finances aren't that perfect. Yet. Fiancee and I are renting a house. Our first actually. It feels like we're moving up in the world a bit.

Since this crazy flood-slash-mold issue isn't getting resolved properly anytime soon and the (now ex) roommate is stuck in legal battles with the complex owners, Fiancee and I have decided to finally just cut bait from the whole thing and run.

And running, it seems, usually comes to be a good thing rental-wise. I seem to land in better and better places every time a disaster destroys the last one. When God closes the door in your old apartment (or burns it down, or floods it, or infects it with mold, or buries it under a roof collapse, or explodes it in the neighbor's meth lab explosion), a window in a much better property opens. Or so it seems to be for me.

Maybe I'm just jinxed when it comes to real estate?

-I know I'm not jinxed with maple syrup at least. (Image from The Federation of Quebec Maple Farmers.)-

Either way, the new place is bigger. Huge kitchen with more light than a glow stick factory, a gas range, and a new fridge. No dishwasher (ick) but washer and dryer (yay!). Yard big enough to have - dare I say? - a dog. Or better yet, a lemon tree?!

Unfortunately, the only problem with moving is the move. I frickin' hate it. And though with age comes the luxury of no longer relying on friends with trucks and finally being able to just hire movers everything still must be carefully sorted, boxed, labeled, hauled, unpacked, and reorganized and I just hate hate HATE it.

The back and forth from house to truck? Lord, I practically wilt at thought of it. I may have kitchen hands that proudly bear scars from peeling flats of plums with a pairing knife or boiling sugar, but damn if they aren't dainty things that simply detest carrying heavy loads.

The other thing I loathe besides all those boxes is that they have imprisoned within them the things I need. Particularly my kitchen; all of it properly wrapped in the daily paper and smartly stacked. A few exceptions exist: two plates, some forks, a large bowl, and a baking pan I found under the bathroom sink for whatever reason I can't figure out why.

The Engagement: Persimmon Spice Cake

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

-Persimmons announce the arrival of fall, amongst other things.-

I'm told by many of female friends that most women have been planning their wedding since they were little girls marrying off their Barbie dolls. Many of them admit they are, in fact, some of these women. They know the china pattern, the first song, how they'll dance with their father, and what the dress will look like down to a sequin-sewn T. Some women already have their favorite florist on speed dial just in case. I know bakers who attest that some brides in question have called them about cake flavors before even informing the parents about the big news.

The fairer sex may just be a tad crazy, it seems.

Men (well, maybe most men, I can't speak on behalf of my sex or sexual preference) never think about this. I certainly never have past the fact of, "Dear Lord, if I ever want to do one of these giant circus weddings with 300 people please let the flower-and-glitter-laden gazebo I take my vows under collapse on top of me." Because, honestly, I'm not a wedding fan; and though I have been to some rather lovely ones and enjoyed myself I have had no desire to really take part in the whole affair.

Now, apparently, I have to do another wedding. Mine.

Because BF proposed.

And I said yes.

-Tungsten with an abalone shell band. Because I know 99.9% of you want to know. The other 0.01% are my straight male readers.-

So BF Fiancée, has done the deed, the family members on both sides have been called. Cheers all around because I'm the happiest boy in the world right now. I got the Masters, the travel, the book deal, and the boy. Life is good. Like hardcore, knock-on-wood, finding $20 in your pocket, thank you baby Jesus good.

Fiancée and I were having our first night to just sit down and unwind since I had returned to China. We had a lovely night at home watching movies and eating a dish I was testing for the cookbook. Eventually we retired for the night. Suddenly he grabbed me close and he told me he loved me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

Then in the comfort and warmth of our home he got on one knee and asked me to marry him.

Never have I met someone who matches me so well, who can make me laugh, who can charm my parents, who can calm me down when I panic, who thinks about my needs, who sets me straight or humors me when I need it and knows which response to give, who takes out the trash without being asked, who can make a fine cocktail, who supports me in everything I do, who makes my rockets fly, and who enjoys cooking and eating an epic meal.

Scent and Spice: Figgy Chai Muffins

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

-I so rarely ever start with lists...-

Some things you may not know about me:
  • I hate when people call me Gary. Given, I’ll use the name Gary when the kid at Jamba Juice asks me for it as they always mishear me and shout the name Derek when my order is ready. Other than that, no, please do not call me Gary. I will have to punch you in the throat.
  • I don’t have a type. When I was dating my only pre-reqs were that any potential mates had no criminal history and didn’t do drugs (if it was a hookup then these rules were negligibly a bit more lax). Things like race and body type aren’t huge factor to me; personality is. Points if potential mate can pull off a well-tailored vest.
  • I would go straight for Lucy Lawless. Unquestionably. BF is aware of this fact and has made his peace with it.
  • I lick the salt off chips before I eat them. It's a very strange habit and I have to remind myself not to lick my chips in public otherwise people look at me funny.
  • I find the following distasteful: grocery store tomatoes, Ann Coulter, tabloid magazines, people who read tabloid magazines, western novels, repeats of 80’s comedies, overly aggressive drag queens.
  • I find the following to be rather enjoyable: repeats of Xena: Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless (see item 3), the 10th Doctor, Kit Kat bars, Jane Austen novels, overly aggressive drag queens.
  • I love a fine cologne. Preferably with hints of citrus, sandalwood, raspberry, or any number of spices such as clove or cardamom. Gush.

-Also, I love a good back rub, but that's not the topic of this post.-

The latter is particularly true about me. Combined with item number 2 in that list any man wearing the right cologne can simply cause me to ride right off my wagon and go tumbling into the sheets. It’s rather embarrassing though I can’t say I mind it. Consider Happy for Men my slutty kryptonite in a smart orange-glass flask.

One particular friend knew how to smartly apply cologne using techniques that probably required more forethought than a home loan. He would spritze the air leaving a perfumed cloud of mist to hang momentarily and, before it began to descend, he would briskly walk through it. A quick spray on the wrists so that in case hands went roaming later in the night with some unexpected someone a hint of nutmeg would entice. Lastly, and quite clevery I might add, a small amount on the back of the neck. When dancing closely with said unexpected someone their nose would be enticed by a spot of scent, the prey engaged and caught.

Throughout the night I could smell him and I must say his technique was rather effective.

BF learned from him how to properly apply cologne. He uses the knowledge to its ultimate. Simply enough, cologne, particularly the spices within them, drives me bonkers.

The Cookbook and a Call for Recipe Testers

Friday, October 7, 2011

I was at a blogging conference attending one of the sessions entitled, "From Blog to Book." I was there mainly out of curiosity as my authorial leanings usually tended to sway more to literary than culinary instruction. I listened as friends and colleagues discussed how they made the transition, the pitfalls and challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and so on. It was all quite interesting and I took it all to heart but felt that, really, none of this pertained to much to me. After all, I had zero desire to write a cookbook.

I explained as such to my friends. I told them that no, I did not want to write a cookbook, nor did I ever want to. It seemed like too much work. Too much hassle.

Until, suddenly, one day it didn't seem like a bad idea. In fact, the project sounded riveting. Still, I realized I didn't want to go it alone. I called my BBFF (Blogging Best Friend Forever), Stephanie Stiavetti, and talked to her about it. We synced up immediately.

We found a subject we wanted to explore. Something that no one else had done. Something that would kick quite a bit of kitchen boo-tay.

It was cheese. Really amazing, artisanal and farmstead cheeses and how to cook some truly modern and epic recipes with them.

So we started drafting a proposal. Then we found an insightful agent with a good eye and plenty of experience who loved it, and who we developed an immediate and genial rapport with. She then found a publisher who was as excited about the project as we were.

And, so, suddenly, it seems I'm writing a cookbook with my BBFF.

Who would have guessed that this would ever happen?

The book's working title is called, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese and it's been picked up by Little, Brown and Company. The concept behind the book is to present a variety of macaroni and cheese dishes that embody a modern, minimalist approach that allows each recipe to focus on the cheeses utilized and how the other ingredients compliment and are complimented by them. Fine cheeses truly are amazing on their own, but cooking with them brings out new personalities and flavor profiles that are rarely ever experienced. This book presents the chance to do just that. It'll even have pictures by the infamous duo of Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson.

It's going to be a crazy ride filled with plenty of laughter, excitement, exhaustion, and probably a break down or two (much future thanks to BF's patience on the latter, but he'll be eating well this coming year so I figure it's an even trade off) and I cannot wait.

Recipe testing has already begun and I'm waist deep in notes, cheese, pasta, and far too many dirty dishes. The thing is, though - and readers, this is where you all come in - Stephanie and I need help.

We're looking for recipe testers. Lots of them. People who are interested in trying hand-crafted cheeses, unique recipes, and providing crucial feedback. We can't reimburse and compensate anyone as it's just not in the monetary stars, but we can give you acknowledgement in the book and you can certainly note in your resume, "Professional Recipe Tester." It's a nice start for anyone looking to get in the business.

Anyways, huzzah! I'm so excited about this project I almost pass out!

We're already quite a few recipes in and ready to just go nuts. Fresh produce, special meats, and an array of amazing cheeses from Stilton and Red Hawk to Keen's are all going to be featured and given the star treatment. We hope you'll love these recipes as much as we do.

I'll keep you all posted as things advance. Until then if you're interested in becoming one of our recipe testers and getting a bit more information e-mail Stephanie and me at We hope to hear from you!

Adventurous Eating Starts at Home: Grape & Lavender Galette

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

-Adventurous eating doesn't always mean roasted grasshoppers and 1000 year eggs.-

“So I think I’m going to make a grape and lavender tart. I found a recipe on Martha Stewart,” I nonchalantly told BF.

“Grape and lavender? Why?” BF seemed curious about this one. It wasn’t the most straightforward recipe to be sure. In fact, I doubt he had ever seen or conceptualized a grape dessert before. It wasn’t like they were on the menus of every restaurant.

“Well,” I sighed, “to be honest it’s because, One: I’m intrigued by the idea of it. Two: It sounds kinda terrible to me but also sorta tasty. See, the idea of cooked grapes to me actually seems rather unpleasant. Grapes have a flavor that I think is best cold or even frozen -” I love to freeze grapes as a snack, “-and the idea of them being served hot just sounds groady. I imagine them tasting rather sickly sweet and having a texture of hot boiled mash with nasty strings of curled grape skins.”

“I assume the lavender is a part of this, too?”

“Exactly. Lavender is a tricky food. Few people can cook with it well and fewer even know how much to use when they do. I’ve had great experiences when it was used on a turkey as part of a salt rub and enjoyed some whipped cream touched with lavender, but other than that… I dunno. It’s quick to go from floral fragrance to being snuffed out with the fume of a grandmother’s panty drawer.”


-The grapes I used were Flame, Black Emerald, Champagne, Obsidian, and Concord.-

“Yeah, I thought you'd like that comparison. So, this is just a grand experiment to see if I can get myself to like both cooked grapes and try lavender in a new way. Hopefully it’ll be awesome. It may just be alright. Possibly, it may taste like the sins of a used up, overly made-up, tranny hooker baked in a pie crust.”

“Nice,” he said and turned to leave the room.

“Ha ha! Man, I am on a roll today.”

This wasn’t my first stroll down this particularly unusual avenue of cooking. I had traveled this route many times, mapping out my various culinary distastes and challenging them in all sorts of ways. Too many jaunts down lima bean alley left me to realize that I simply don’t care for them in any way, and that I had my mother’s terrible and overcooked turkey soup to blame for this. A surprise run-in with Brussels sprouts and its retinue of Parmesan cheese and garlic showed me just how much I enjoyed the little cruciferous’ company on my plate. I have had enough encounters with spaghetti squash to know that given the chance I would lock them all up in a cell and throw away the key, the nasty little things. I attempted cooking with eggplant once years ago after being more than a bit nervous of them. These days we’re the best of friends.

So I would try with grapes and lavender.

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