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It’s cold out and I’ve been in the baking mood. It started before Thanksgiving (as usual) and now I’m in the zone. Let’s just hope all this baking doesn’t put me in the gaining weight DANGA ZONE! The recipe is easy and it’s a great alternative to pumpkin pie while still getting your gourd fix.
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. margarine or softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. pumpkin puree
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a muffin tin with margarine (or use baking cups). In a medium sized bowl, sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In large bowl, cream the margarine and brown sugar with a hand mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time, then the pumpkin and vanilla. Next, alternate between mixing in a third of the dry ingredients and a third of the milk until fully incorporated.
Pour into muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full and bake for 18-20 minutes or when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
That’s it! This recipe makes about 15 muffins so you can secretly gorge yourself on 3 muffins and you still have a dozen. I won’t tell if you don’t but you might want to add some extra time at the gym and be on the lookout for the gluttony police.
When I’m not laboring in front of a computer screen in graphic and web design, taking photographs, being social in NYC nightlife, working on side projects with peers, traveling, dancing, drinking…ok, I get BUSY (as do most New Yorkers). One of my hobbies is baking. Don’t judge me! I’m a proficient multi-tasker and baking allows me to be able to get up from the computer from time to time without throwing off the mental focus I’m usually giving to something else. Plus, I’ve been cooking and baking since I was 7 years old. It’s also nice to have something made from the heart that you can share with others…and I’m a sugar fiend. Again…don’t judge! I’m not as bad as I used to be. If you really wanna know how bad, think Lil Chrissy from John Waters’ movie, Pecker. But I digress.
This is a simple brownie recipe that I’ve had memorized for years. It’s a great go-to recipe that works every time and is super easy to assemble.
1/2 c. butter (unsalted) or margarine
1 c. sugar (I usually use 1/2 c. pure cane sugar & 1/2 c. dark brown sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan (sometimes I use pure cocoa powder instead of flour for the dusting).
In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the butter, sugar, vanilla extract and eggs until well mixed. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until well blended; next, fold in the chocolate chips and nuts. Spread batter into prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t overcook!
In fact, a batch just finished while I quickly finished writing this post. I wonder if I can get ice cream delivered in Brooklyn. Gonna have to go out dancing to work all of this off!
Last night I walked around Manhattan late at night so I could take pictures of many of the holiday windows in the city. I mostly kept to 5th Avenue, so I can’t include some stores (like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s) but you can really see how the economy has affected retailers. Usually window displays for the holidays are grandiose, lavish affairs that dazzle and enthrall. This year, many stores slapped some red paint on a wall with maybe a snowflake or a bow thrown around here or there, and overall the effect wasn’t just boring, it was underwhelming. For others, it was just more of the same (sorry, Cartier). Of course, it was the giant retailers who could afford to really “do it up” while the smaller shops are obviously scraping the bottom of the recession barrel. For the record, I don’t celebrate Christmas or any holiday really, except for Halloween, but as an artist/designer I’ve always enjoyed taking in the creativity of the artists who conceptualize and breathe life into a store’s display. I’ve secretly always wanted to design and build window displays myself to be honest. While I understand it’s all a part of the marketing of commercialism, you can’t deny the art of it–that’s what I love.
I have to say that the art was severely lacking, but there were a couple of exceptions. Needless to say, the windows at Barney’s were very cool thanks to the efforts of the Lady Gaga Workshop there (even though with her flair I did expect a little more). Bergdorf Goodman had pretty cool windows if you don’t mind the taxidermy look and Sak’s Fifth Avenue had some interesting ideas, even if they weren’t really holiday inspired. Most retailers seemed to “phone it in” as they say, but I get it. These days, who has the budget? However, as any artist can attest, creativity isn’t something that’s defined by the almighty dollar. Paint is fairly inexpensive but instead of WOW-ing us with some cool design, I saw many one colored walls with nary a thought put into the creative process. That really deflated my excitement and surely that doesn’t help the cause of drawing in the holiday shoppers. Like I said, I’m no fan of commercialism, but every retailer represents multiple jobs–people rely on that industry like any other to put a roof over their head, clothes on their backs and food on the table. Window displays are street level advertising at it’s best (or worst as the case might be) and if you want to find success on a tight budget then being creative is key. I wish everyone luck in making a buck this holiday season. I hope you’re happy and healthy and can enjoy the season with family and friends. May you all be blessed with good fortune in this harsh economic climate and may 2012 bring even greater blessings. On that note, I leave you with several of the holiday windows I enjoyed.
2011 (so far) has turned out to be a very interesting year. Lots of changes, including moving back to Brooklyn, and lots of projects. The summer got especially kooky. We had the mildest summer weather that was quite rainy, we felt the quake that hit DC, and hunkered down for Hurricane Irene. I took on the responsibility of fostering a cat. A 14 year old sassy Manx cat that acts more like a dog, and an irritated, rambunctious 4 year old instead of 14. The Manx breed has a genetic mutation that creates tail-less cats. Actually, all sorts of lengths are possible, but she has what they call a riser (just a bump of cartilage under the fur). She came de-clawed which is probably why she’s a biter. haha Oh, Gidget–I love your bratty butt! Even before summer and the arrival of the Hellraiser cat, I decided to start a new project just for the hell of it.
Maybe I’ll grow some peppers on the fire escape…–that’s how the idea began. I was in Home Depot picking up some paint to re-do the bathroom. Wandering around while our Caribbean Sea semi-gloss mixed, I found myself in the garden center in front of pepper seeds. It was mid to late April, so I was already late in the season for getting started, but I could just get a clay pot & do it in a windowsill. This is where, in typical fashion, I leave reality for the land of imagination and I examine seemingly infinite possibilities all at once. Compare it to watching the growing, blooming and dying of a flower via time-lapse, all in the span of a few minutes. There’s some blurriness of thought but I’m doing something (in reality) like holding a packet of seeds while half reading what it says while half focusing on my dream world. The next thing I know, I’m at the self check-out register with several containers, organic soil (Miracle-Gro’s Organic Choice Potting Mix), multiple organic seed packs and a seed starter kit from Burpee that holds 72 seedlings. That’s not going to fit in a windowsill. o_O
Naturally, I already settled on using the fire escape because I saw the future and it was having my own little urban container garden. I could not be stopped. Not only was I starting late in the season, I was going to be on a northern-facing, 3rd floor fire escape in Brooklyn, NY. Despite the various odds stacked against me, my little garden flourished without any pests, so no pesticides. I just watched everything like a mother hen does her chicks and observed what worked and what didn’t. The only creatures that like the plants were a couple of spiders and what looked to me like at least three types of bees. I never had my camera handy to catch them though. I wasn’t quite sure how various factors like the wind would play, both on evaporation and on the plants themselves, so I had to guess at things, such as how often to water. I knew that for some of the things I wanted to grow that it’s best to grow them in the ground, but again, I wanted to see what was possible so I jumped in knowing that I was going a bit overboard. Nature is surprising though. I picked 6 things to grow: 3 pepper varieties (jalapeno, poblano & habanero), yellow onions, roma tomatoes and tomatillos. Moving them all inside during the hurricane was quite a hilarious task that left me drenched. haha
Months later and I’m harvesting quite the bounty, plus I now know what works for my little slice of outdoor heaven and what needs to kick dust. You might be surprised at yourself if you decide to take up a similar project. If I can accomplish this on a fire escape, imagine what you could do with a roof or yard in the city! I’m not a complete novice, though and various times throughout my life, I’ve had small little gardens and kept house plants. My thumb is fairly green. I do need to give a few props for inspiration to a former employer. My time spent working for gardener/designer Rebecca Cole (colecreates.com) made me realize that container gardens in the city were not only possible, but they can flourish.
My friend from the Vineyard was in town for a weekend trip to the city. Brunching, running around the city, meeting up with friends, toy shopping for her daughters, scarf shopping for her mom, etc., etc., we somehow ended up walking down 14th Street from 6th Avenue to Union Square. I’ve generally dismissed the scenery of the stretch between 6th & 5th Avenue because most of the shops look beat up, or their signage looks very dated, or it’s fast food. So, to my surprise I see a few changes.
Okay, everyone knows I’m an admitted social drinker, usually vodka or bourbon. So, like a beacon, I notice a glowing sign in the dusky sky. Bourbon Coffee. I almost think I heard a record scratch (in my head). Huh? Well, it got my attention. Another non-surprise is how much I dislike the burnt roast taste of that corporate behemoth (cough-cough, starsucks). Wink. Blink…blink. Pardon the detour. Well, they had me at the name.
Their coffee (and chai) are quite good! The staff is very friendly. On this particular day, the barista making my latte was singing while she did so, and her voice was beautiful. They even let her keep in her Marilyn piercing, so that scored extra bonus points for me. Then, I start to notice the decor. It’s nice! The warm colors are inviting and rich, with an African feel. With good reason.
I picked up a pamphlet of theirs, Bourbon Coffee brewing up change, from crop to cup…for Rwanda. It’s actually worded better in the printed material, but from their website:
Bourbon coffee is an international brand of specialty coffee and the first retail brand to originate from Africa. Our retail brand is built around the philosophy of producing great coffee from “crop to cup.” By building the brand in this manner we are able to directly impact the value equation for coffee farmers in Africa.
They also list four core values in their copy: quality, equity, sustainability, and cultural integrity. That’s awesome. And since we like to judge everything based on a separate set of criteria, I give them top marks in atmosphere, service, beverage/food, and overall experience. Yes, taste is subjective, but I’d gladly take Rwanda’s offerings before Seattle’s (unless, of course, I’m actually IN Seattle, in which case it still wouldn’t be the place with the green logo (and by green, I mean literally green, not ecologically speaking).
This is my new destination of choice when I need my caffeine fix. It’s a short walk from Union Square, on the north side of the street or conveniently located near the F,M or L trains. They’re open til 10pm every night and of course, there’s wi-fi!
Read more about Bourbon Coffee on their website, www.bourboncoffeeusa.com.
Last Saturday, I met a friend in NYC’s Union Square for a little trip to Best Buy. By the way, good luck finding decent help in the television department! I arrived in the area a little sooner than my friend and while waiting outside, I noticed a small protest group across the street. I hate politics. Religion too. In fact, those two subjects are ones I avoid at all costs. People are too tied up in their own ideology to recognize the merit or value in differing views, especially if those views are equally (or even more) valid than their own. However, this small protest really encompassed both politics and religion.
For the record, and maybe to the scorn of many of my Jewish friends, I happen to agree with the Palestinians…at least as far as them having a Palestinian state. Hate me if you will, but the entire world agrees except the United States. Well, we as a country pretend to agree, but always step back from taking real action in the United Nations–we vetoed a resolution regarding the topic just last week. You can read it here: Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on the Resolution on the Situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, in the Security Council Chamber
Anyway, the signage at this protest indicated they wanted a healthy debate. I stopped by for a hot second to snap some photos and was given a postcard showing the Palestinian loss of land this past century. Take from it what you will, but there will never be peace in the Middle East until Palestinians are treated fairly (for a change). If you think otherwise, you’re lying more to yourself than anyone.
This past Thanksgiving, I traveled with two of my best friends in NYC to western Pennsylvania, where one’s family lives. I’m always uneasy about meeting families, probably because growing up in a violent household has me permanently shell-shocked. Thankfully, I’ve experienced enough in life that I can practically do anything and talk about a ton of stuff. However, it never hurts to sweeten the pot.
I wanted to make something from the heart for this family of strangers sharing their home and food with me. Cookies seem the logical choice since you can make a lot, and who doesn’t love a good cookie, right? Ok, this cookie is good. I mean, really good. It’s based on the cookie recipe from the urban legend of the $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe. I modified it slightly and my version was enough to get the whole family talking. (Particularly, the dark brown sugar and pecan combo play off each other extremely well, and do NOT skip the part of turning the oatmeal into a powder–makes all the difference in the world!) Word traveled so quickly that these cookies served as my introduction. Every time I met a new family member, they said, “I heard you make delicious cookies.” This recipe makes about 5 dozen, but I doubled it for a full 120 cookies. Have a go at it yourself and get ready to add on a couple of pounds and start your own urban legend of your family’s favorite tasting cookie.
Viper Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2-1/2 cups blended oatmeal (measure oatmeal & blend in food processor/blender to the consistency of flour)
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips and pecans. Roll into balls (size of a ping pong ball) and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet..Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.