Scavenging: Lemon Curd and Lemon-Ginger Scones

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

-Say what you want about scavenging for food. The results speak for themselves.-

It was called buzzarding for two reasons. The first and main reason was because of the obvious comparison to buzzards and their scavenging ways; how people would circle trays of food in a constantly tightening the gyre until they descended upon them and picked at whatever meat and bones were left. The second was because they would be buzzing all over the school like cracked-out crazy people trying to find a free meal.

The second was apt enough but it was the first that made the term so humorously endearing, so identifiable, and heaped onto you a feeling that you really were some sort of unclean beggar hiding in the shadows and waiting for the best opportunity to take, or, in some cases, outright steal.

Anyone who has gone to college can identify with buzzarding. Others call it freeganism, while some may simply call it scavenging, but all students have done it. As a student constantly expending energy through studying, Frisbee football tournaments, dating dramas, classes, all night parties and the inevitable mornings after that are first defined by the phrase “I am so hung over,” only to immediately be followed by, “God, I am so hungry,” food is a constant need at all hours of the day.

I don't think any student ever intends to debase themselves to hunting for food like a starved hyena. It goes against the notion that you're one of the educated elite that has to show it through dignified words and actions. However, when you're damn near poor and living off student loans and ramen then you learn to be okay with swallowing your pride for some free eats.

-Fresh Meyer lemons picked fresh from the Break Room.-

Regardless of the reasons why, buzzarding is a habit all college students must learn. If change cannot be found under the couch for a run to In-&-Out then buzzarding kicks into overdrive and the famished 20-something must put aside ego and hunt for food. It’s natural instinct.

Instinct or not, though, skills can be developed in order to hone the hunt for food. In college my roommates and I constantly kept on the lookout for flyers anoouncing events where food would be offered and we eagerly awaited various campus events where a buffet would be present. I snuck into club meetings that I was not a member of (the list of clubs I crashed is extensive ranging from the Communist Club, the Future Farmers, and far too many emo poetry readings with the Poetry Club who always had amazing mochas freshly made by one of its members that brought an espresso machine to meetings). I even made friends with plenty freshmen who could get me into the Dining Commons for free.

Encouraged by a friend, I was even an active volunteer for the Jewish community center. I wish my motives were wholly altruistic but damn it if these people didn’t know how to make a mean maror. I stayed on and assisted when I could knowing there was the promise of bagels and, sometimes, fresh challah. I eventually stopped volunteering, though, through a combination of guilt brought upon by a Lutheran upbringing and accidentally interrupting the prayer at Shabbat dinner by trying to quietly inhale a broiling hot latke without anyone noticing only to horribly and audibly burn my mouth.

I had other methods of feeding myself. I hoarded, God, I hoarded. Stocking my mini-fridge with filched food was like playing a game of Tetris every time I opened it.

-While tasty on toast and scones I find lemon curd to be just as amazing on waffles, pancakes, ice cream, and even on the side to some leftover grilled chicken from the fridge.-

Lastly, since Davis is an agricultural town with a plenty of middle-to-upper class suburbs, there are plenty of fruit trees to raid if you know where to look. The first time that my roommate came home with a pillowcase filled with tangerines I chastised him for taking someone else's fruit. He argued that the tree was in the front yard and he only took what he knew were tangerines that had been sitting on the ground for the past few days. I checked the tree the next few days and, sure enough, plenty of fruit did drop and the owners never picked it up, let alone picked the fruit from the tree. The next week I went with him pillowcase in hand.

These days when I hear tales from my friends about how strangers are constantly swiping their fruit I gasp and chide these criminals with a wave of my finger as if they were in the room with us. (I am a hypocrite. I know that and I’m fine with it in regards to this issue. I stole from neglectful strangers. These people are stealing from friends who furtively pick the fruit on their trees with the intention to eat every single one. This is what I tell myself.)

-Scones are just so easy to make. I wonder why I don't make them more often?-

Of course, after college and having become a food writer one would think that I would have left these habits behind like the scratched up card table I ditched in my first post-college apartment. Sadly, this isn't the case. I still scavenge for food wherever I can find it. I don't think it will ever matter just how well-fed or well-off I am or become because if there are snacks nearby, be they in the form of veggie plate or candy bowl, I plan to slam down on it like the hand of God.

These habits aren't privy just to college students. If you've ever worked in an office environment you know what I mean. Leftover doughnuts from a meeting? No need to announce it over the loudspeaker. Your co-workers know. They can smell free food in the air the way a shark can smell a single drop of blood from a mile away. All you have to do is put them in the Break Room and back away before the wolves decend upon it. Be quick about it too, or you'll lose a finger.

-If I knew in college what I know now. Not just about food but other stuff, too. I know I would have skipped a lot of bad dates.-

This is just as true at my new job back in the non-profit world. I brought my new co-workers some cupcakes (from Esther's, naturally), a sort of "Thanks for welcoming me" gift, and before I could blink all that was left were crumbs and torn up cupcake papers - a practical baked goods Blitzkrieg.

Don't worry though. I showed them.

At the end of my third day, I found an entire sack of Meyer lemons. Written on a piece of paper taped to the wall next to them was a note, "From the tree. Please take." So I did.

To justify my actions let me explain that after an entire day the sack was still nearly full. Most people, it seemed, didn't know what to do with almost ten pounds of lemons.

Amateurs. I made that bag of lemons my bitch.

-Regular lemons or even limes would be just as delightful in these recipes.-

Much of it went to pitcher after pitcher of lemonade. The rest of the juice and zest was quickly prepped and tossed into containers in the freezer for future baking projects. I've also been promised even more lemons, so you can anticipate that many cans of vanilla bean and Meyer lemon marmalade is in my future.

However, what I was feeling like that night I got home - what I was really craving - was lemon curd. Really sour, creamy, lemon curd with enough spark to start a car. And, perhaps, some lemon scones to smear it on. Yes, lemon on lemon. The best kind of lemon treat. Even better? Totally a valid breakfast option even though, and let's all just admit this to ourselves, they're totally dessert.

I realize the only difference between by buzzarding then and my buzzarding now is that I know how to better utilize my pickings. Years ago I would have just tossed produce that went old and uneaten. Now it gets poached, baked, stir-fried, canned, and churned into ice cream.

I'm a smart and proud scavenger these days and the results prove it.

Lemon-Ginger Scones
Adapted from Molly Weizenburg's A Homemade Life

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 425F. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse meal. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and ginger and whisk to incorporate.

2. Stir together the half-and-half, vanilla extract, and egg in a bowl. Add to flour mixture and stir gently to combine. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Using your hands squeeze the dough together into a rough mass. Turn out onto lightly floured countertop and knead a few times just to bring it together. As soon as the dough holds pat it into a circle and cut into wedges.

3. Place wedges onto parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with extra half-and-half. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool on wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an air tight container for up to four days.

Lemon Curd
Adapted from Cindy Mushet's The Art & Soul of Baking

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Fill a large bowl halfway up with ice water. Place a strainer over another bowl set it aside. Fill the bottom of a double-boiler with at least 2 inches of water. The water should not touch the top part of the double-boiler. (You can do a makeshift double-boiler by using a pot and a metal mixing bowl.) Bring to a rolling boil.

2. In the metal bowl or top part of the double boiler whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar until well blended. Add the lemon juice and stir together. Place bowl over the boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, but leisurely, for 7-10 minutes being sure to scrape the bottom and sides frequently to prevent the eggs from scrambling. When the curd is thick and holds its shape (you should be able to lift the whisk and when the curd falls back down it should remain distinct on the surface) take it off the heat.

3. Immediately pour the curd through the strainer and into the bowl under it to catch all the bits of scrambled egg (there is always some). Add the butter to the curd and let sit for a minute to melt before stirring it in. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Place the bowl of curd into the bowl of ice water. Once curd has completely cooled, use or store in the refrigerator until needed for up to a week.

Something Different: Pairing Blood Oranges and Cheese

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

-I apologize but licking your screen will not stop the cravings. Please stop doing that.-

It had sat there, almost begrudgingly, in its small plastic container for nearly three weeks which is almost 3 years in cheese years. It had been the only survivor from a small Christmas brunch and while I had meant to attend to it the poor cheese always seem to bear the brunt of my schedule and timing. So now it sat in the corner hidden slightly behind the carton of 2% milk. It was so far back it even peeked over the jar of preserved walnuts, which is a sure sign of neglect in my fridge.

I hadn't necessarily meant for this to happen to the cheese. Just like many of my friends who I never seem to make enough time for it just never to seem to properly fit into my dinner plans or social schedule (or lack thereof). The tiny nub wasn't enough to throw into a pot of macaroni and cheese and by the time I finished cleaning the dishes from the leek gratin is when inspiration for a gratin with blue cheese struck an hour too late. Oh, and it would have been perfect in that wheat berry salad with dried apricots, but I was making it for eight people. What I would give for culinary powers of Jesus to feed the masses on mere crumbs, or to, at least, be able to spread this humble chunk of cheese a little thinner.

It happens all the time though, neglecting food. You might think it difficult for BF and me. Our weekly shopping budget is about $22 a week not including the occasional dry and canned goods run. We spend it smartly at the Farmers' Market picking up produce, eggs, and bread. We often come home with plenty of food, yet, more often than not we can't seem to eat it all.

We cook every day being sure to make plenty for leftovers for lunch the next day. We have friends over for meals, and I usually end up feeding Roommate and his BF should they be here. The occasional impromptu dinner party seems to occur every so often as well, which allows me to revel in the comfort and friends and whip up a last minute dessert that thankfully uses up some more of that fruit we bring home or are constantly gifted by friends with trees.

Yet, we have so much left over somehow. Greens go as limp as dozy cats, their rigid fibers sapped of all strength and left with the tactile texture of slightly damp silk. Carrots lose their backbone and bend to anyone's will. And celery? Well, its snappy personality becomes sickly. More than once has the bread gone moldy to the point that it looks like a mighty fine cheese as opposed to a hearty sourdough. Milk goes chunky and buttermilk goes rancid (yes, it is possible).

-Blue cheese and blood oranges... who would have thought?-

Still, this cheese had seemed to live. I pulled it out and inspected it through the foggy plastic. No growth, well, none unwanted at least. Blue cheese grows more distinct with age as the flavors ripen and the culture spreads and intensifies. However, fuzzy or oddly colored blue cheese is a sure sign of spoilage. Strangely enough a month in the back of the fridge produced no obvious visual discouragement.

I popped the top and expected a wave of rotten odor to wash over me smelling like a middle school gym locker room and the poor choices you made in it. Instead, the smell was pert and alive with the scent of wet hay, nettles, and cream. It was reminiscent of a rainy day on a dairy farm whose buildings are crept over dust and clover.

This blue cheese, a Fourme d'Ambert, one of France's oldest cheeses (made as far back as the rule of the Roman Empire) and AOC protected, is a classic end-of-the-meal blue often eaten with dessert wines such as a sweet Sauternes.

When it had first arrived for the brunch weeks ago it was still young. Age had given it body and character. Overall, it was creamy and slightly nutty with a salty twang that vibrated through your tongue as if someone had plucked a string on a guitar. This cheese was vibrant and strong.

As amazing as it tasted I still wasn't sure what to do with it. Not enough pasta for mac and cheese. Honey seemed too simple. No crackers in sight. Damned if I wasn't out of wine yet again in order to make a good pairing.

-Moro blood oranges are just plain prettier than other oranges.-

Then the fruit bowl filled with dark skinned Moro blood oranges caught my eye. "Citrus and cheese..." I pondered. "That's a thought." I knew that marmalades were a popular option with blue cheeses but I never gave much attention to the idea of pairing fresh citrus with cheese. Generally, I've always believed the whole lactic acid / citric acid combo always leads to an upset stomach, but I figured that there surely wasn't any harm in trying.

I segmented the orange and placed the supremes on a piece of slate with the cheese. A nibble of both and suddenly each revealed its secrets to me. The sweet, burgundy juices from the Moros tempered the salt of the blue, while the blue's cream accentuated the Moro's often underwhelming sourness into something perky and candy-like. I had stumbled onto one of those perfect cheese matchings made in Heaven.

A whole different world of cheese pairings seemed to open up. I ran to the fridge for some goat cheese and smeared some over the tiny wedge of orange. The salt in a creamy goat cheese caprichio polished the sugars in the blood oranges and made them shine and, unlike with the d'Ambert, the citric acid was given the fortitude to cut through the fat in the cheese creating a uniquely different experience.

Invigorated by the rush of new possibilities with these ruby-hued oranges I went to the store in search of a interesting, Brie-ish cheese. I was wholly convinced that the blood oranges and a semi-soft cheese would be absolutely bangin'. However, I wanted to find something not so salty either as a traditional Brie might be.

-Loma Alta cheese is like a firm Brie.-

You see, BF got me some pink Himalayan salt blocks for Christmas. The blocks are carved from boulders of salt quarried in Pakistan and run a number of lovely shades from cherry blossom pink to moody garnet. When food is laid down on the block it cures and picks up a delicate flavor of salt that pronounced and a skosh minerally. Furthermore, in regards to photography, I was convinced that the blood oranges and cream colored cheese would look stunning against the pink stone.

I picked up a wedge of Loma Alta, otherwise known as Black Mountain. Loma Alta is a semi-firm, organic cheese made from cow's milk. It's produced by Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in California. The taste is somewhat like that of an everyday Brie but not as oozy and less salty. It's a buttery cheese that stands up to brusque pairings.

I peeled and sliced a Moro and carefully laid down the slices on the block for about a minute (allowing any wet food to cure on the block for too long is a sure way to ruin your food as it simply absorbs far too much salt). The cheese, which I gathered would cure more slowly, had already been sitting on the salt block for about five minutes.

A slice of salt cured orange was almost enough to make me gag. Thinking to myself that this was a failed experiment I took the oranges to the garbage disposal. I stopped halfway to the kitchen though, "I suppose..." I mumbled to myself before turning around. I popped one of the orange slices in my mouth and winced as the salt assaulted my tongue, as quick as I could I threw a slice of cheese in my mouth and, as if someone had opened the windows to a stuffy room and let the air rush in, there was refreshing calm. The cheese provided balance. The Loma Alta sang with the salt and created a mellow pairing with the orange that was soft and simple. Even the cheese by itself, having cured on the salt block was not longer a simple semi-firm Brie, but now a complex creature full of nuance and rich, fruity flavors.

-Salt: Making everything better since forever.-

It seems that blood oranges had found a place of permanency on my cheese plates from this point on. Anyone I've presented these pairings to seems to agree, especially where the blue cheese is concerned. It was an unexpected discovery to say the least but certainly a pleasant one. The pairings themselves have lead to enticing new recipe ideas. I've now been eating salads composed of blood oranges and roasted beets with a bit of blue cheese or chèvre scattered about the plate for good measure. Hot toast smeared with Brie and topped with marmalade or slices of blood orange and a flurry of kosher salt is an epic appetizer for any meal.

The lesson, if there is one, is to always look around and see what works. If you have any leftover cheese in your fridge explore your pantry and fruit bowl. Open that jar of Nutella, get out the honey, whip out the celery and see just what works. You might be surprised by something different.

-If you cannot find blood oranges then any other good juice orange would be just fine too.-

Impulsive: Candied Pomelo Rind (Pomeloettes)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

-Rushed decisions may lead to citrusy results.-

I don't really do impulse. Too many times have impulsive, even rash decisions caused me to suffer the brunt of my own ineptitude or carelessness. A lack of profundity invested in any venture, adventure, or misadventure nearly always comes back to haunt you. Furthermore, the ramifications of such lack of foresight can be long-reaching and severe.

Take, for example, the time I made a on-the-fly decision in college to try ecstasy. I was with a bunch of friends and we had - impulsively, I might add - decided to go out dancing. I slipped into the skinniest pair of jeans I owned back when I was a size 28 waist and threw on a fabulous long sleeve shirt. After a short drive we arrived and quickly downed an extra large bottle of Gatorade and coconut rum in the car (I have a policy against paying $8 for a glass of vodka and pineapple juice).

My friend Anna suddenly produced a small Ziploc bagged filled with five tiny white tablets. Each was engraved with the image of a small bird. "They're called White Doves. They aren't as long lasting as a Pink Cowboy," she said with an assumption that any of us could really tell the difference. "They only go for a few hours. Trust me, though, that this thing will have you rolling all night," explained Anna.

"Oh. Um. Well... why not?" I replied. "You only live once, right?" Honestly, that thought going through my head was the shortest trip ever made in Sacramento. She dropped the tablet in my hand. I placed it on my tongue and washed it down with another chug of the Gatorade-rum cocktail.

Inside the club we began dancing as the speakers pumped out heavy techno remixes of Madonna's 80's singles and colored lights flickered around the room. Considering our surroundings it seemed that it would be near impossible to tell when or if the ecstasy kicked in or not.

-Pomelos, if you aren't aware, are a type of citrus fruit popular in Southeat Asia. It is often used in salads and desserts.-

"So when can you tell if it's doing anything?" I asked Anna as I sipped my drink.

"Oh, you'll know," she replied. I wasn't sure if she had heard me as she seemed hypnotized by a nearby gogo dancer like a cobra watching a charmer's pipe. I let the question drop.

"Oh. Okay. Well, if I start acting weird let me know. And, god, why am I so thirsty? This is like my third pineapple and vodka. Also, it's like a zillion degrees in here."

"You're feeling it."

"What? God, I am loving this music. It's really hot in here. Ooooh, look at that guy. I'm going to go introduce myself. Wait, I have to use the restroom first. Hold my drink."

So began a night of hyper-intense ADD, beyond shameless flirtation, and copious amounts of rough groping with total strangers. It might have been fun. I'm honestly not too sure. I only have flashes of memory from that night.

The next morning I woke up on my couch with a blistering headache like someone had trapped me in porcelain room with the world's loudest freight train before taking that train and repeatedly striking me in the skull with it. My shirt was gone and a note was on the table from Anna that explained that my friends tried to find it at the club but hadn't had any luck. In my pocket were three phone numbers and one more was written on my shoulder in black sharpie that was signed, "Harmit. Call me for another sometime. ;)" which concerned me as I didn't know a Harmit or what the first one he referred to even was.

I spent the rest of the day fighting off dehydration and resting in a quiet room listening to a Project Runway marathon. Harmit's number would remain on my back for the next week and a half. I never did call. It seemed that was an impulse worth ignoring.

Of course, this isn't to say all such jumps aren't without any sort of merit. The risk is sometimes worth the payoff. Like a game at a baccarat table the chance to win big is present and palatable. This may be something small such as taking a back road to work and learning later that your regular freeway trip is blocked for miles due to a shoe in the road (if you drive in California you understand what I'm saying). Other times it might be taking a huge risk in the way decide to present a major project to your peers and find that it paid off.

Still, I'm generally not an impulsive person. I do planning. I am an avid fan of forethought. When it comes to pros and cons of any decision I weigh more things than a scale at Weight Watchers. I carefully consider each situation and major purchase I make. Simply enough, I've regretted more than my fair share of bad decisions and I'm skeptical, even fearful enough, to tread as lightly as possible in order to avoid disaster.

-The major challenge in eating pomelo is getting past the thick rind and tough membranes.-

Another example: Back when I was in boy scout camp as a teenager, I learned to question the impulse to do a back flip off a high dive because landing a full-flat belly flop from twelve feet in the air hurts like crazy and will leave your entire chest swollen and bruised for days.

The reason I followed the impulse to begin with? Well, I had preformed plenty of back flips before and when you do land them it's just so damn awesome. One big flop doesn't prevent me from doing more flips in the future.

I still follow my impulses once in a while and take a jump. I recently bought a nicer than I needed mahjong set in order to finish some of my resolutions for 2011. For me, that's just crazy as any old set would have been just fine if not more frugal.

However, where I am most impulsive is with food. When my stomach is involved there is no filter. No careful consideration. I just say okay and chew.

When I was in Mexico last year with some blogging buddies we took a tour of an outdoor market. As we wandered down stalls of fresh fish, butchers, and piles of heirloom mangoes none of us had ever seen or heard of before we did out best to eat everything we saw. Dozens of vendors were making fresh bread, musky batches of mole, tacos filled with vibrant salsas slathered over mountains of minced fire-grilled tongue, pickled radishes and jalapeños, and dry cured sausages. We ate everything we could and abandoned any warnings of not to eat strange foods in foreign countries. We avoided the water but devoured everything else in sight.

Take me to a dim sum restaurant and nothing is off the table. Steamed tripe, flash-fried chicken feet, congealed blood, dumplings of every kind are just some of my favorites. I'll happily spit out bones and chicken nails onto my plate and reach for the next dish before sloshing it down with another cup of hot tea or soy drink.

-Pomelo juice is perfect for any breakfast.-

So it is at the farmers' market. I shop in season throughout the year and at the Asian farmers' market that means there's always some new sort of produce I've never seen before being sold for cheap. Duck tongue herb, fuzzy melon, daikon, mugwort, Kav Ywm, Lauj Vag, pennywort, and loquats have all found their way into my shopping bag. I take them home and cook them and sometimes they taste delicious and other times not so much. The adventure is in the tasting, eating, and cooking.

Last week I was mulling around the market and came upon a bulbous pile of pomelos. Nearly neon in color and fragrant with the smell of flora and citrus they seemed to call my name. I had passed pomelos by before in previous years but never picked them up. Fearing they were too similar to grapefruit, the one citrus I simply don't care for, I avoided them. That day, however, I was feeling mighty impulsive.

When I got home I thought against cooking with it. I wanted to simply taste only pure pomelo. I decided to juice the flesh and candy the skin. Simple, unadulterated pomelo.

I was surprised to find that it tasted like grapefruit only sweeter, without the tongue seizing bitterness that so many varieties of grapefruit can have. It was mild and subtle. The juice made for a refreshing drink, but the candied peel, both sweet with just a whisper of bitter as opposed to the berating bleat of bitter in candied grapefruit rind, was decadent and full of zing. A sour note runs through each strips that's fresh and even slightly minty.

If you have the chance to pick up a pomelo be impulsive and grab one. It's a jump worth taking.

Candied Pomelo Rind (Pomeloettes)
1 pomelo
3 cups sugar

1. Peel the pomelo, taking care to remove as much of the thick, white pith as possible. The pith is very bitter and may require some delicate work with a pairing knife to remove. Set the fruit aside for another use. Cut the peel into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

2. Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the pomelo peel and blanch for 1 minute. Drain the water and remove the peel. Repeat this step three more time. This will remove some of the bitterness from the rind.

3. Fill pot with 2 cups fresh water and 2 cups sugar. Dissolve sugar over medium-low heat. Bring to a boil and add the rind. Reduce heat to medium-low and reduce until the rind is translucent and almost no liquid remains. About 1 hour.

4. Remove the peel from the pot and dredge in granulated sugar. Cool and dry on a wire rack overnight. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Unfinished Business: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

-A simple cake made for Fall and Winter.-

I looked at my old list and grumbled to myself. Two resolutions for 2010 were still unchecked and with only a few hours left there just wasn't any way to finish them up. "How could I have let this happen?" I moaned to myself in dissatisfaction.

I always prided myself on being so diligent in actually accomplishing my resolutions. I never picked anything outlandish; say lose 30 pounds in a week or learn to fluently speak Korean by Spring. My lists are practical. In college, 2001, I made the resolution to learn to do do the splits and preform a back flip. Twelve months later after joining the gymnastics club I had those both pinned down as well as a sharp layout with a half-turn that I could fight crime with given a portable trampoline and a domino mask. When I stated I would learn how to make puff pastry and Italian and Swiss buttercream this past year, damn it, I went to an Advanced Pastry class got it down. Plus, I came away with basic sugar sculpture, too! Bonus!

I feel that creating a to-do list for the year is important. It gives you goals to strive towards. Ideals to obtain and perfect. Tasks to keep you in motion because it is far too easy to slip into an idle state. They encourage self-growth and exploration.

Still, this year, I didn't knock out my entire resolution list. Mind you, it wasn't like I was kicking the dirt. I was active. Probably too active. Plus, I had mitigating circumstances. The fire killed a few months of the year. The internship at Grange surely took away a month of time to really check anything off. Let's not even mention the bevy of extra writing jobs I took on. I was busy! I have valid excuses.

Or so I tell myself. My list really was doable:
  • Learn to make macarons.
  • Learn to make puff pastry.
  • Learn to make beef bourguignon.
  • Vacation outside the country.
  • Do a baking internship.
  • Learn to read tea leaves, really, this time.
  • Get some really sick furniture to replace the stuff lost after fire.
  • Make Dorie's cranberry upside-down cake
Didn't get them all, but still not bad. Mexico was a blast, but since the trip was planned before 2010 even started, well, that one was kind of cheating. I was giving myself one to get me going. Still, I can check it off, right?

-Like artisan tilework made from cranberries and pecans.-

The baking internship? Man, I busted my hump at Grange and came away with an entirely new skill set and a new found respect for the restaurant and baking industries. This one took planning, sacrifice, and determination. I'm a better man for it. Check.

Yes, I did learn to read tea leaves. Tasseography is something I have dabbled with simply out of curiosity over the years. I'm not the superstitious lot in the slightest but I saw the concept of reading tea leaves as something akin to tai-chi or yoga but without the spandex and sweating at five in the morning. As it is, I prefer to sleep in and wake up late to a cup of tea. If I can caffinate and center myself at the same time then I'm good to go.

As for the furniture, well, after I got my insurance check from the fire West Elm and Scandinavian Designs were my personal candy stores. Seriously, the cream micro-suede chair in my living room is boss. I don't even care if white furniture is a pain to clean. I love it.

But macarons and the darn bourguignon... I admit. I could have done these had I taken the time to find time. These were potential posts or writing assignments. The bourguignon could have been a simple dinner party dish. The macarons a treat for a birthday or Christmas! Alas, things just get away sometimes.

The last one on the list though, that cranberry upside-down cake, is the one I want to talk about.

-A bit of orange bitters gives this cake a kick.-

You've probably heard the spiel from other bakers. I love Dorie. When I got to meet her at BlogHer and was able to get advice, gossip, and drink with her I fell in love with her even more. Dorie is the type of person all people should strive to be: warm, giving, energetic, sage, and absolutely hilarious.

Her recipes are also spot-on. Everything I've ever tried of hers just seems to come out perfectly. When I looked through her Baking cookbook, a 2009 Christmas gift from Elise, the cranberry upside-down cake caught my eye. As a total cranberry crazy I decided that I wanted to make that for Christmas dinner at the end of the year.

Upside-down cranberry cake? Check.

The cake is absolutely stunning. Its mosaic tile appearance in moody burgundy and bright ruby hues makes for a cake that impresses everyone you serve it to. I used pecans instead of walnuts as the recipe indicated simply because it was what I had on hand, but the textural result was the same. The pecans added a toothsome crunch between the soft cake and juicy cranberries. I added a bit of orange bitters to the batter for a little more depth and dimension; a bittersweet suite in the cake. All and all, it was a resounding success of a New Year's resolution and a tasteful way to wrap up 2010.

-Dorie is just so damn adorable. She's like the Judy Garland for gay bakers.-

The thing is, many people see resolutions as silly things that don't have any meaning or purpose. Usually these are the people who pay $400 for a gym membership and stop using it come March. You have to take the time to develop goals and resolutions that have real purpose in your life. Not only that but you have to make a plan on how you will address your resolutions. Create a timetable and mini-goals for achieving them and keep them practical. Whether it's a cake or climbing a mountain, you can do it.

So then, what does 2011 hold for me? Well, here are my resolutions:
  • Learn to play mahjong.
  • Learn to make beef bourguignon.
  • Learn to make macarons.
  • Finish the thesis.
  • Burn a copy of the finished thesis out of spite.
  • Start that project with Stephanie.
  • Perfect making crepes.
If you haven't made your own list yet be sure to get started. Right now. Write them on the nearest scrap of paper and tape it to your wall. Feel free to write one or two in the comments as I would love to hear them, too.

If you're writing them now or already made your resolutions I encourage you to add this cake. It's easy to prepare, is a perky dish to brighten up the darker months, and is destined to become part of your regular baking repertoire. A perfect resolution for 2011.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's, Baking

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 cups cranberries - fresh or frozen
2 eggs
1 teaspoon orange bitters
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup apricot jelly

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

2. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring until it comes to a boil. Pour into a 8x2-inch circular pan. Scatter nuts and cranberries into the pan and press into place.

3. Beat butter on medium speed in a stand mixer for 3 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for 30 seconds each and being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom. Add the bitters and mix in for 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low and add 1/2 the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, Add the milk and mix in. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Pour batter over cranberries and level the top.

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove it from the oven and run a kinfe around the sides. Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate. If some of the cranberries or pecans stick to the pan scrape them out and place them on the cake.

5. Warm the jelly on the stovetop and brush onto the cake. Serve.

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