about bliss

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

twd: espresso chocolate shortbread

Gilmore Girls.

Cafe au Lait.

Girl talk.

Espresso chocolate shortbread.

Saturday afternoon.

Hanging in my living room with my mom while G and my dad golf.


thanks to Donna, of Life's Too Short Not to Eat Dessert First, for selecting this week's TWD pick. these cookies are tasty, buttery, crisp, and subtly flavored. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

daily bliss: all's (un)fair at the county fair

dried cherry almond oat muffins, chewy granola bars, banana cake

"I hate these papers. You never get things baked quite right when you use these," uttered the judge, as she peeled back the muffin liner, tore the muffin in half, peered inside, and then tasted a flake of muffin crumb.

No bite that combined toasted sliced almonds and plump dried cherries. No taste of the cinnamon sugar topping. She scribbled something on the tag, and moved on to the next muffin, the only other entry in the Health Muffin category.

These were not baked in papers.

These were awarded a first place blue ribbon.

Mine? A third place white ribbon. Despite being the only other entry in the category.

Disheartened, we wandered over to photography judging.

We watched as 19 close-up photos were spread out on the table. I spotted mine in the top left hand corner.

An artsy shot of cabbage. Savoy, all rippled and veined. 

As she moved photos off the table, mine stayed! A pink ribbon for fourth place!

When the judges took a lunch break, B and I wandered the fair grounds in search of drinks. We hit up an airstream coffee trailer, and posed with the Harley Hog. 

We stared at rows of tractors. 

We returned to the pavilion, walking behind rows of ladies with clipboards and photo printouts, on which they carefully logged their ranking, the number of entries, and what kind of photos won. 

Once again, my entry, a series of three architectural details, was placed in the top left-hand corner of the table. As the judge shifted the 14 other entries around, mine stayed put. I watched her write a 1 on my photo, and eagerly listened for her comments. She loved the clean lines and the clarity of detail. 

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower
cathedral in the Cluny Museum

A blue ribbon!

Not for baking. 

Not yet. 

My granola bars, confections of oat, honey, dried cherry, toasted pecan, and chocolate, were still waiting to be judged. They were the only ones in their category. I was confident. Two blue ribbons? For a first timer? Excellent. B and I headed home, needing a break from the pavilion. 

Later that night, G and I returned to the fair. As G scoped out the food choices at brightly lit booths and towering tents, I pulled him to the building where I'd spent my morning. I couldn't wait to see my granola bars and their blue ribbon. 

Er, red ribbon. 

Second place. In a category in which I was the only entrant. The word excellent was scrawled on the tag. 

A girl has to laugh. 

G and I walked through the pavilion, past huge squash and 4H posters, decorated cakes and afghans, and I decided that my ribbons made for a much better narrative than if I snapped up all blue ribbons. As we sipped Bud Light and ate kettle corn, talked to politicians and skirted religious zealots, I celebrated being part of this community. Joining in the long line of women who bake. Who shoot photos. Who create. Who compete, once a year, not for money, but for a small token of recognition. 

I'm proud of my ribbons, but my joy comes from feeding my family and friends sweet treats throughout the year. My joy comes from framed photos that I took decorating our home. My joy comes from sharing a bit of sweetness, a bit of perspective.

A moment of bliss. 

With or without paper liners and blue ribbons. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

100 words: all dressed up

All Dressed Up...

She smoothes the satin and lace that hide her from herself. She glances around the room at the piles of shoes and jeans and hoodies amassed on velvet-covered chairs. Cosmetic cases spill forth their creamy contents. White Rain and Love’s Baby Soft mingle in the air. She recites her vows under her breath, stares at the diamond on her hand. 
A knock breaks her moment. She lowers the filmy veil, picks up the bouquet of pink roses and trailing ivy. Smiles widely.
Opens and steps through the door, walks down the corridor. 
To him.

I'm participating in a weekly writing challenge: 100 words. Each week, Velvet Verbosity posts a prompt, and participants write 100 words, in any form, that evoke the word. This week's word: corridor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

100 words: such great heights

I'm participating in a weekly writing challenge: 100 words. Each week, Velvet Verbosity posts a prompt, and participants write 100 words, in any form, that evoke the word. This is my first week. The word is failed.

Such Great Heights 
She beats eggs until they billow above the lip of her bowl. They form shiny, stiff peaks. 
A chocolate custard, smooth, thick, voluptuous, bubbles on the stove.
She gently folds them together, until the white disappears.
Lovingly spoons the mixture into a ridged, round dish, capped with a parchment crown. 
Slides it into the oven. 
Waits. Glides quietly through the house. Hums to Chopin on the radio.
Opens the oven door and spies a lift so high, it rises above the parchment.
Giddy, she removes the souffle: Airy. Light.
Within moments, it falls. And sinks. And slumps: Dense. Heavy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

twd: chocolate ganache ice cream

topped with coconut and pecans...

True confession time: though I'm an admitted chocoholic, I don't usually order/purchase/make chocolate ice cream.

My old-school favorite? Mint chocolate chip.

My grown-up favorite? Some kind of coffee flavor with chocolate accents (chips, fudge, swirl).

Both flavors feature chocolate, but do not overwhelm with a chocolate base.

HOWEVER, several years ago my mom introduced me to Palazzo's triple chocolate gelato. And I started to change my mind about chocolate based ice creams.

Then, in Paris this May, I ordered a scoop of Cacao Amer, a deep, dark chocolate, accented with a scoop of Caramel Sel Beurre (salted, buttered caramel) at Berthillon. Mmmmm.

Dorie's chocolate ganache ice cream delivers a velvety scoop, even when made with skim instead of whole milk. The combination of 62% Scharffenberger and 70% Ghiradelli provided a rich chocolate flavor, though a milkier color.

My custard making skills are improving, and now I have Mr. Chill in the basement, with room to store my ice cream making canister and containers of experiments. I envision improvisations on this, and other ice creams, in the future.

Thank you, Katrina, of Baking and Boys, for choosing this cool treat on a hot week!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

daily bliss: bicycling

Tires crunch on gravel.

Warm pine needles send up their distinct fragrance.

A self-generated breeze envelops me as I pedal down our country road, pumping fast, and then coasting, hands-free, down the hill by the creek.

If I'm lucky, I remain upright, soaring through another summer day. Other days, my wheel catches small stones and I topple over, knees scraped and stinging.

Growing up in the country, we biked along bumpy streets, long before bike paths stretched out in endless parallels. Long before mountain bikes or hybrid bikes were popular, we tore through the woods on kid bikes with banana seats, or thin-wheeled ten speed huffys or schwinns. My brother and his buddy fashioned hydration systems out of two liter pop bottles and tubing, long before camelbacks were standard.

In graduate school, I tried to avoid the daily costs of parking in city garages by biking to class. My apartment was on the southeast corner of campus; my classes met on the northcentral part of campus. At Michigan State, this was a considerable distance. And quite challenging, as pedestrians, rollerbladers, and renegade squirrels vied for sidewalk space. More often than not, I left my bike at home and drove, paying a few dollars for parking. (and a cup of coffee and lemon poppyseed muffin at Espresso Royale Cafe).

For the past three weeks, I've eagerly awaited G's arrival home from work. "Biking?" he asks. I nod, and strap on my chaco sandals. I grab my amphipod, stuffed with a few dollars, a house key, benadryl, and an epi-pen. As he slips his speed-distance-weather computer on his bike, I buckle my helmet, toss a water bottle and amphipod in my bike basket. We're off.

For the first few blocks, we go slow. We assess the previous day's soreness. We test the wind. As we fly/brake down the big hill leading us to the lake and to the multi-use trail that curves the lakeshore, I feel the day's stresses drift away.

We take turns leading, pedaling into or against the wind. We weave through neighbors and tourists, who walk, bike, roller blade, or jog along the popular trail.

"Hey guys! You should try my tandem sometime," our friend N shouts as we wheel past.

My bike bell comes in handy, as couples, groups of women, and families crowd the trail, impeding the flow of two way traffic.

The trail curves close to the lake in places, with flowering weeds tumbling out of the wooden guardrail that saves us from a rocky precipice. Waves ebb and flow, boats float at a distance, a forked tree branch bobs toward shore, and a red buoy marks the site of a century-old shipwreck.

The trip from our home to the end of this trail and back measures 11.8 miles. We're steadily increasing our speed. Next, we hope to increase our distance, and hook up with another trail, leading us through a state park, up and down hills, and through cool forest.

On weekend afternoons, we pack beach essentials into my bike basket and G's backpack, and ride just past the trail's end to a city beach of vast expanses of sand. We prop our bikes along dune shrubs, spread our towels, and rest after a good ride. When the sun becomes unbearable, we brave the water. On this side of the lake, in particular, the temperature is unpredictable. One Saturday my ankles were instantly numb, and the next weekend I somersaulted through the waves, frolicking like my younger self.

When hunger starts to rumble, and the sun lowers in the sky, we're back on our bikes, ready to fly through the breeze, challenging quads and hams and calves, reaching for that moment of delicious summer outdoor exhilaration/exhaustion.

We climb the hill near our home, shifting into lower gears. We take turns encouraging each other, riffing on Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It." A woman walking down the hill joins in, shouting "pedal! pedal! pedal!" At the top of the hill, we bump fists, and shift back into a higher gear, counting the blocks until we're home, where cool water and snacks and air conditioning await.

Tires flow on asphalt.

Lake water send up its distinctive fragrance.

I'm lucky; my favorite lake glimmers beside me, G steadily pedals ahead of or behind me.

I may wobble, I may tumble. But in the next moment, I'll soar.