Archive | July 2012

Quick! Call the Doctor!

Somebody take my temperature and get me some Advil because I have Olympic fever! It’s not really surprising since I am a full blown Anglophile and consider England my second home, so I’m kind of bursting with “national pride” as the city I love hosts these games. But I’m taking this year’s Olympic viewing to extreme levels compared to what I normally watch.

Usually the summer games have only three big draws: American swimming, women’s diving, and women’s gymnastics. That makes me seem like I am feminist and American supremacist, but hey during Olympic season we call that nationalism. This year (okay granted it is only three days into them) I have already watched swimming qualifiers and finals, men’s and women’s gymnastics qualifiers including those heats that did not include the USA team, diving, a little bit of volleyball, and the men’s and women’s road races. Seriously, the road races! And those road race coverages are not like snippets of the races interspersed with other events; we are talking four to six straight hours of nonstop cycling through London and Box Hill. I’ve never even heard of this event and yet was so utterly engrossed with my mom and brother trying to figure out the etiquette of cycling and why teams would help out each other and where on earth they came up with the name of peloton for the massive pack of riders behind the leaders. I was actually rooting for the Brits in those races, but watching a 38-year old man win was pretty cool as well.

And don’t even get me started on my swimming and gymnastics obsessions.

I sat here on my couch late last night, trying with all my might to figure out why I suddenly found all of the Olympic events and interviews engrossing. Was it my love of the country and “homesickness” for anything relating to England? Was it a newfound national pride in American athletes? Was it my improved understanding of the sport of gymnastics since my best friend is an Olympic level gymnast? Was it all the giant guys in swimsuits?

Conclusion: It’s finals week.

Yup it’s my last week (hopefully) of UCLA classes, which means two final exams and two presentations and a whole lot of procrastination. Who wouldn’t use the Olympics as an excuse to not stare at information on gladiators or gender psychology? Um no one!

Can I get my finals waived with a doctor’s note for Olympic Fever? Highly dangerous and contagious illness!

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Ode to the Stand Mixer

School has been taking up the majority of my time here over the last four weeks, so once again I am at a loss of what interesting stories to tell you. I could tell you about the time that I ran into a friend from Oxford wandering around Westwood, or catching a foul ball at the Dodger game on Monday, or my booking a skydiving trip for next month. I could tell you any of those stories, but then I’d be lying and lying isn’t really in my nature, despite all of those stories being more interesting than my life has been this month. I get bored sitting in my lectures (okay we do learn some really interesting stuff) and through my exams and reading my textbooks, so I won’t subject all of you to the same plight.

But I also don’t want anyone to feel abandoned, because no one like to be abandoned. It’s not fun either. In fact, my Hollywood Myth of the Romans class would definitely be more fun than being abandoned. At least in class there are some really over keen classmates to silently giggle at and interesting factoids about Rome to absorb for later random knowledge uses. There is none of that in being abandoned. Being abandoned is just…awkward. And awkwardness is even less fun than being abandoned! So the moral of the story is that sitting in my classes is better than being abandoned which is better than being stuck in an awkward situation like the one I probably just made you all stuck in.

So I’ll make it up to you with some baking. Everybody loves baking, right? I mean baking is better than sitting in class which is better than being abandoned which is better than being in an awkward situation! Best of all four worlds! And there has been a lot of baking going on in the house between this weekend and then today.

Despite having a paper and a midterm early in this week, I forced myself to find time to de-stress by baking. (Took a lot of forcing 😉 ) Let’s see, it all began with Friday afternoon tea with almond scones, or as they are adorably being called almond bliss scones, since everything needs an adorable name. The recipe is posted at the bottom of this post. They may have been some of the best scones that I have ever had! And Mommy loved them too, which is always important for a sous baker to approve of the goods being baked as well. These scones were surprisingly sweet and moister than the others–probably a result of my undertaking them a tad–with a slightly crunchy and slight chewy texture from the chopped almonds permeating the dough. Yup, no almond extract in these delights, just pure all natural almonds. Served with some unsweetened freshly whipped cream, the scones made a special treat out of our normal cream tea in the afternoons.

Saturday’s baking was a new one for me: a cake. This cake was actually my mom’s brilliant idea, and it utilized plenty of math skills, proving the age old adage to stay in school. That might relate more to staying away from drugs, but since this cake might be a little bit like a chocolate drug, I’d say that it’s an apt expression. Think about it…four layers, each getting progressively more chocolatey, light with a moist crumb, glued together by more chocolatey buttercream frosting, and decorated with a rich brown chocolate buttercream with my first ever white piping decorations. Drooling yet? Yeah, thank my mom for that one! It took forever to bake the cakes, freeze them, assemble them, and frost them, but it allowed me to get a lot of studying done in the resting time so that the weekend wasn’t an entire wash other than the dishes.

Now you’d think that between the incredible almond scones and the Everybody’s Happy cake (see? cutesy name is a must) I’d be acknowledging that I needed to spend some time studying or else I’d fail my midterm. Right? WRONG. Baking is an addiction, I swear. And with my parents off doing their own things around the house on Sunday, I had no one to distract me from my homework except for Peyton and Byrne, the authors of my British baking book that I ordered as soon as I came home to the States. Hence the second attempt of the Lemon Curd Swiss Roll.

Second attempt, you say? Why weren’t you made aware of the first attempt? Well that answer is easy: it failed. And not in an “Oh I used salt instead of sugar in my apple pie filling but luckily I haven’t baked it yet so I can just rinse off the apples and redo the filling and crisis is averted” fail. It wasn’t even a “Darn my macarons came out wrong, guess I’ll just throw together some Eton Mess and pretend this didn’t happen” fail (that hasn’t occurred yet but I know it will when I finally get around to trying to make macarons). This was a used the wrong size pan, forgot I had a stand mixer, didn’t grease the inappropriately sized pan properly, baked the cake in this said wrong pan for too long, and ended up being able to hold the cake up in front of me like it was a piece of cardboard. Absolutely nothing salvageable, but absolutely embarrassing to behold. It was quickly thrown away and I vowed never to speak of it again. But apparently that part of the event failed as well since I just spilled my guts.

However, I REDEEMED MYSELF! I made the same cake on Sunday but this time with a stand mixer and a properly sized and properly greased pan. And while it may have been a very challenging and time consuming cake to make, it came out perfectly. No mistakes. Some filling gushed out the side when I rolled it out, but according to people who have made similar cakes before such a thing is typical. And the reviews…they warmed my heart on the dreary Monday. According to my mom the entirety of my dad’s office raved about it, a few even went so far as to talk about hiding it so that other office mates wouldn’t finish it off before they had seconds, and I have two requests for the recipe lined up already. That is really the best compliment a baker can get, and I am super lucky to have willing taste testers so accessible.

Riding high on that success, I was placated in my baking for a whole two days, until today. For some reason, I thought today was a good day to not only make blueberry scones, but also Mommy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies AND a new banana cinnamon chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Why? Because I had spare time before my dad was ready to watch Gladiator with me for my film class and I’m hanging out with some friends tomorrow night and nothing says party like freshly baked cookies. Looks like the Office Ladies are going to be subjected to more sugar tomorrow, so I hope they all went for a run today!

Oh and I guess I never did explain why I would want to write an ode to a stand mixer. That little appliance is the hardest working appliance I have ever seen besides an air conditioner in Las Vegas. Seriously, it was invaluable in making TWO batches of cookie dough today, as well as THREE cakes this weekend! When I think back to the days of this last year at Oxford, creaming butter by hand and attempting to fold chocolate chips into a gigantic blob of cookie dough, I am even more in love with my mixer and wonder how I ever lived without it last year. The cookies came out so much better since they didn’t have to rely on my lack of elbow greasing ability to properly blend!

Almond Bliss Scones

 

Almond Bliss Scones

200 g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g soft brown sugar
70 g ground almonds
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream)
teeny bit of water
Preheat the oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift together into a medium mixing bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the ground almonds. Rub in the cream. Add only enough water to bring all the mix together (barely a teaspoon!). Knead until almost smooth, about 5-6 times.
Place on a heavily floured surface and press down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out into desired scone size (5 cm). HINT: dip the scone cutter into some flour before cutting dough for easier removal.  Place scones on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake about 8 minutes until lightly browned or until you lack self control anymore.
Serve with plain, unsweetened whipping cream.
* additional ideas: add in chopped dried cherries when add in almonds.

Apologies Hopefully Accepted?

The blogs have not been posting as regularly here as they were in England, I know, and for that I apologize, though I promise that I am mostly thinking of your sanity and enjoyment when I choose not to post every day or so. You see, the majority of my time is spent either in a lecture room, or reading books and articles, or filling out worksheets, or ignoring the 2 billion emails from my research group, or watching Roman films, or writing papers, or…well, you get the idea. Basically it’s back to the not all that exciting life of a UCLA student, and I’m aware that such a repetitive account week after week of nothing  but school work would probably bore you all to tears as much as I am in lectures and would probably lose me some readers, a compromise I am not willing to make! So the posts may not be as frequent in the next four weeks, but I promise that there are some fun things around the corner.

However there has been some play mixed in with all that work. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some breaks to see the light of day. Monday I met up with my Sophomore year roommate, Michelle, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, for dinner and a massive catch up session. We sat around CPK for about two hours just updating each other on school, new roommates, Oxford, diving, and the traditional most ridiculous story of the last six months. Those, of course, do not get passed on to anyone else, for the sake of our clean criminal records! Kidding 😉 But anyway, catching up with old friends is probably the second best thing about being home, second to Brinkley. I mean, no one can really compete with my love muffin of a dog.

Tuesday also had a dear friend pop into it, but this one was a complete surprise! My mom and I were out walking Brinkley and my friend Amy texted me asking if I was in town. Luckily I don’t drive out of town simply to walk my dog, so we were able to meet up for an extremely late night coffee at Starbucks for the second in a row multi hour catch up. She gave me some great advice on clubbing in Vegas and LA, and told me some amazing news regarding her work. I am so happy for her and everywhere her life has been taking her. Amy is probably one of my oldest friends. We danced together when we were younger and it’s all ancient history from there. We used to dance a lot in Hollywood together as well, but with her currently living in a different city and me being in summer school, that has been put on hold for a bit.

Wednesday was the country’s 236th birthday, which just made me laugh because of how old all the things I saw in Europe were compared to my entire country. I mean, I’m pretty sure in Brussels we saw an iron that was twice the age of the US on sale for 15 euro. The school schedule and pet sitting my uncle’s dog really put a damper on any potential shenanigans, so it was a low key holiday of appointments in Westwood and homework. Everything revolves around homework at the moment. Next year, I’ll do something cool…maybe…probably not since I seem to neglect to make plans for holidays. Oops. I think that means that some of my friends should just make it a policy to have me tag along with all of them. Especially if it involves traveling 😉 I fit in a suitcase I promise!

Oh, I nearly forgot, there was something significant that happened on Wednesday. Mommy and I made a semi-traditional cream tea! Obviously we couldn’t import scones and clotted cream from the UK, so we made do with what we could adapt. But I did make my first batch of scones out of a baking book I bought in the UK and my mom put on a pot of Earl Grey, and we sat down on the anniversary of the day our country declared independence to a tradition from the country we separated from.

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

I believe they call that irony? Regardless of the wrong cultural custom being observed, the scones were fantastically light and sweet, almost just like what one would get at a British teahouse, with some of the best strawberry jam around (McClarens in case anyone wants to replicate our cream tea. Find them at the Farmer’s Market at COC Sunday morning!). Definitely evoked some nostalgia for the last year on my part. (recipe at end of post)

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

Since then, the weekend went by pretty fast and uneventful. I saw Spiderman with some friends–and surprisingly LOVED it!–did all the above homework that I already ranted about, made another batch of “Crunchy Butter Scones”

Crunchy Butter Scone with Lemon Curd

to compare to the “Sweet Cream Scones”, had dinner with some family friends last night, and then have been working on yet another paper today. It’s just about tea time, so I may bust out some leftover scones from yesterday (never as good as fresh out of the oven, but I’d feel bad making more scones when these ones haven’t been finished off yet) and curl up with yet another book on Roman films. Talk to you all soon!

 

Sweet Cream Scone Recipe

200 g self rising flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g caster sugar (plain white sugar)
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream in the US)
—>if the dough is too dry, add up to another 50 mL cream, but our dough has always been super wet and sticky with only the 200 mL
Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Place rack as high as possible in oven. Sift flour and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the sugar and 200 mL cream then work in by hand by rubbing in the cream trying to incorporate as much air as possible until fully mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX. If the mix is too dry, now add the extra cream until the dough is wet enough to hold together.
Place dough on a heavily floured surface and knead a couple of times until relatively smooth. Dust top with more flour and pat down to desired height (we did 1 cm). Cut out 5 cm circles with a crimped circle cutter and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. HINT: dip the cutter in flour before cutting out each scone. Knead the extras back together and repeat until most of the dough is used up.
Bake for 6-8 minutes (we did 8) until they have risen and are slightly browned around the edges and on top. Serve with clotted cream if you are lucky enough to be in England, but with red fruit jam no matter where you are.

Everything is Better in Mini Part 2

I realized that I never finished the mini series! I left you all hanging with the question: What else is better in mini? Mini Europe cannot be all there is that minifying improves! The suspense has probably been killing you, the agony of not knowing tainting the enjoyment of your everyday life. For that, I apologize. You’ll understand my MIA later in this post once I explain my first full week back in California, but for now I will reveal the other thing that, when mini, takes on a whole new amazingness.

Cupcakes.

My baking obsession has been a well-documented phenomenon throughout the year’s posts, and I was giddily prepared for the wonder of having a fully stocked kitchen once again (Partner constant heard me lament about missing a stand mixer). It was probably only one, maybe two, days before my house was filled with the smell of freshly baked cupcakes and heat from the oven. And the baking has been consistent since.

Blueberry and Cream mini cupcakes

Peanut Butter Chocolate mini cupcakes (fondly called Coma Cupcakes)

Devils Food with Pomegranate Buttercream mini cupcakes (newly named Wistful Poms)

Peach and Vanilla Pie

Chocolate Mousse (okay that one didn’t require an oven)

Chocolate Covered Digestive Cookies (yes like the British biscuit!)

And then of course there is all the cooking I’ve been doing as well, but that’s more of just throw together meals rather than noteworthy baking amazingness. It has been awesome having all this freedom in the kitchen, and my brother’s coworkers and my dad’s office mates are all being really spoiled by their freshly delivered goodies.

Unfortunately I can’t spend all day everyday baking; summer school waits for no girl and my first week was upon me way too quickly. I’m taking General Psychology Lab, Psychology of Gender, and The Hollywood Myth of the Romans (yes we are watching Gladiator!). So obviously that means that I am taking three classes during A session of UCLA summer school. I mean that doesn’t sound too bad, right? WRONG. It’s absolute murder. Here’s to put it into perspective a bit: UCLA normally has 10 week terms, but summer sessions are only 6. In one 10 week term, a full load is considered 3 classes with anything more than that being considered an overbooked and stress inducing schedule. The most people usually take in a summer session is two classes. Therefore I am a psychotic masochist in taking what is a full regular term load in a shortened term. Okay the masochism is not really all that surprising to my friends, but this may be taking it to a whole new level. The majority of my week has been spent either in lecture or doing readings and assignments outside of class preparing for the next lecture. No sooner do I finish one thing on my to-do list than I have to add another three. Luckily I have Brinkley and baking and crafting and reading for reviews on my other blog to break up the monotony of body image lectures and readings.

Thankfully I survived my first week, partly because of the opportunities to catch up with some old friends that will now probably be taking center stage on this blog/platform. Monday night I went to dinner with my best friend from high school, Laura, where we had one of the most awkward waiters we have ever had. It felt like he was trying to usher us out of the unbusy but still with a few tables left restaurant as fast as possible. That has never happened to us! Then on Wednesday, after breakfast with Laura at our favorite place The Tea Garden, my college best friends and I reunited in our foursome for the first time in over a year. It is really difficult to work around the schedules of four people, but thankfully we did as Aisha, Keith, and Aaron are amazing and we all had so much to catch up one (haha their initials make the acronym AKA, so calling them that from now on!). It can be such a relief to just see these people again; they have been with me through so much and being around them all just warms my heart. Of course it is all twinged with homesickness for England and missing Partner and Pippa and all my other friends in the UK, but I can worry about how to make it back to England once I graduate in five more weeks.

Until then, it’s all about university work, baking, and spending quality time with my incredible family and friends (and hopefully some blog-worthy shenanigans!).

Cheers!