Sunday, December 20, 2015

Good Grief.

Grief is a funny thing.

It reminds me of when you're going out and you can't tell what the weather is going to do, so you bring a coat just in case. Some of the time, you're happy you have that coat -- you put it on, zip it up, thank yourself for bringing it. But the rest of the time, you're just lugging around this extra piece of clothing and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't set it down anywhere and it's very present and sometimes you catch other people looking at it and you want to say, "I didn't know what the temperature was going to be, okay? So I brought this and honestly, I'm probably going to need it later."

"But Emily," you say, wondering if there's going to be a recipe at the end of this post (spoiler alert: no). "A coat is ultimately a good thing and grief is terrible so what the hell are you trying to do with this clumsy analogy?" First of all, calm down, don't be mean. It's the holidays.

Second... grief is not terrible. Grief isn't terrible when you are absolutely required to feel something. Losing someone so close and so important has turned me into a ball of feelings -- like a holiday cheese ball, but filled with sadness and loss and coated in anger instead of... nuts? You guys, I love cheese, but I don't like or trust a cheese ball. Is that insane? Are they, in fact, coated with nuts?

There is no emotional outlet. I drive around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis -- the same familiar route I've taken countless times to process everything from college applications to relationships to improv shows -- I drive around the lakes and my eyes fill up with hot, stinging tears and my throat tightens. In the past, I could be various shades of sad and mad AT something -- Northwestern University, Peter, a pretty rough improv set, for example. But this time, there is no target. Just feelings. Sometimes they come out sideways, and I get mad at my cardigan for being wrinkled or the driver in front of me for not pulling over and letting me pass when they want to go 5 mph around Lake Calhoun.

And that's when grief isn't terrible -- it's welcomed. Because I can take a deep breath and say, "Oh, this is grief. What I'm feeling is grief. Here's a label and a box for it." ...Like when you finally learn what a cheese ball is and you can identify it on a table of hors d'oeuvres and move on.

You never choose grief, because it follows closely behind a great loss. But when it's chilly, it's pretty nice to zip up that coat. I'm thankful I brought it. It's only a burden when I have a rare moment of unexpected joy or laughter -- because there's that fucking coat, and the reminder that I had to bring it in the first place, and the temperature is probably going to drop later.

(#thankful and #blessed to be writing from a cold climate where I can really settle into this winterwear metaphor!)

My heart physically aches and I don't recognize myself. I feel quite literally supported by the good friends who have emailed and texted to send their thoughts and love. So, yes, I'm not falling over, but I'm not okay. The only thought that helps a little bit when it's extra cold and I can't stop doing that special kind of sob that feels almost primal, it's so guttural and deep -- the only thing that helps a little bit is this incredibly vivid image I have of my dear friend Samantha tapping my arm and saying, "Sweetheart, it's okay. I'm fine and actually? This place is really neat!" This could be grief working its magic OR Samantha IS right there, in my ear, there but not. I'm putting stock in the latter because... how cool is that?

I'm helping to plan a party for Samantha on her birthday, December 28, at HUGE Theater. If you're in Minneapolis, stop by!

Wrapping this up for now. In the words of Samantha, how she ended every improv class, "Questions, comments, complaints? No? Praise and adoration!" <3

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Upturned ducks.

This doesn't go here. But I don't know where else to put it. Some would say it belongs in a private journal, but I don't really keep those. I'm a sharer, always have been.

My phone was ringing loudly on my nightstand, which was weird because the volume on my phone wasn't supposed to be all the way up, I hadn't set an alarm in hopes that I would sleep in and sleep off the end of my tonsillitis. But my phone was ringing loudly and I saw that it said "Mom" so I groggily swiped it and anticipated a short conversation in which I could say, "Remember? There's a time difference and I'm sick and I'm sleeping." Instead, my half-asleep greeting was cut off by panicked sobs on the other end, and a situation that had been familiarly disorienting suddenly twisted into a reality I didn't recognize at all and I just wish I had taken a second to wake up before I had all of the air knocked out of me.

Samantha Pereira died. I didn't think that's a phrase I'd know or say for a long, long, long time. But here we are -- it's 2015, and she was supposed to turn 47 in a few weeks, and we were supposed to get tres leches cake at Cafe Latte when I was home for Christmas, and we were supposed to finish a text conversation from two days ago where I sent her a picture of my tonsils and she sent a lot of alarmed emojis back.

She was one of my very best and oldest friends. She still is?

Dinner in Vegas last year, attempting a selfie

When I was 12, I watched too much "Saturday Night Live" and became fascinated with improv. My parents took me to see Stevie Ray's Improv in the Park -- a summer tradition in the Lake Harriet Rose Gardens, shortform improv over lav mics between two trees, for families on blankets. Samantha was hosting that day, as she often did -- with this effortless and genuine playfulness that simultaneously made an entire audience and a few nervous improvisers feel safe. I introduced myself after the show and she suggested I sign up for classes, that she would be teaching a new teen class in the fall. Did I know it was going to change my life? ...Actually? I kind of did. Because when you talked to Samantha about improv, there was a spark that made you know very certainly that improv was magic. SHE did that. She was the first person to tell me to "yes and" and listen. She taught me zip zap zop and 2-person scenes. She made me feel safe and okay when I wanted to throw up from nerves before my first show and she was the one to give me my first notes afterwards.

I know I'm not alone in this experience. While Samantha was a quick and masterful improviser, her greatest joy and proudest moments were as an improv teacher. There are so many Minneapolis improvisers -- at Stevie Ray's, and later at HUGE -- who walked into a classroom absolutely terrified and excited and sooo green and came out in love with improv magic. She met each student with a warm smile and twinkle in her eye. No one got to sit on the sidelines in Samantha's class. Everyone was present. Everyone was a genius.

I wonder how many servers at the various restaurants we brunched and drank at over the years signed up for a class? She sold every one of them on it by the end of our meals. I can hear her so clearly in my ear, "Take a class! You'd be fantastic."

Crock Pot

Samantha started as my improv teacher and biggest comedy advocate, and then she became one of my truest forever friends. We shared the stage together at the Bloomington Sheraton with Stevie Ray's. She was on my first "indie" improv team, Crock Pot (with the incomparable Maureen Tubbs and Cristi Rumpza). I remember our first run at Improv a Go-Go in the old Brave New Workshop space. As many Minneapolis improvisers know, winning those three consecutive Sunday slots in the IAGG lottery is a real treat, and we savored those opportunities. We were giddy to play and I don't know that three people have ever made me laugh so hard. Those IAGG sets were like getting on a rollercoaster -- fast, full of delight, and the blackout always came too soon.

At the Brave New Workshop

When I told her I wasn't going to go to my senior prom, and that I was going to come watch the Stevie Ray's improv show in my dress that night instead, she (along with Maureen) secretly planned Improm -- and there aren't enough positive adjectives in the English language for that night. Samantha picked me up in a limo and took me to a fancy dinner with Maureen and a few others, then brought me to the fully streamer-ed, glitter glue-decorated space where an unsuspecting audience and all of my improv friends were waiting to do a prom-themed improv show. Samantha was incredibly thoughtful and always up for something fun. That is what Improm was, totally and completely. When people do something like that for you when you're 16, it changes how you see friendship. If I'm a good friend now, it's because women like Samantha and Maureen taught me what friendship is -- in those grand moments like Improm and also in the 3am phone calls and birthday dinners and shoulder squeezes on the backline during tough improv sets.

Improm surprise

She was wise and dependable. She was firm and compassionate and her advice was somehow practical and whimsical at once. When I was 12 and I thought about the woman I wanted to become, it was Samantha. And now that I'm 27, that still holds true. She's still the woman I want to be, for 10 million reasons. I have a hard time understanding that she won't be a bridesmaid in my wedding and that she won't know my kids. She always joked (although she would claim she was serious) that whenever I got on "Saturday Night Live," all she wanted was for me to hold a cue card during the goodnights that said, "Hi Samantha!" I don't know about SNL, but I do know that she has and will continue to be in every script I write and every improv show I do. How could she not be?

Summer Sunday evenings were dedicated to Improv in the Park throughout high school and college, and Samantha and I would often spend those warm afternoons hanging out at the Rose Gardens after improv class. I used to have these little duck earrings, and Samantha would laugh every time they were upside down. "Sweetheart! Your ducks are upturned!" It stuck for years. "How are you doing?" "Oh, I've been better." "Oh no, upturned ducks?"

Well, gosh, Samantha, if my ducks aren't upturned now.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Aunt Shirley's Orange Jello "Salad"

Oof. It has been awhile and I'm truly sorry. I have been baking, and I have been writing, but the two haven't come together on this blog in quite some time. But I'm still here!

The holiday season is upon us and I! Am! Stoked! For some reason, I'm feeling extra festive this year -- I've got a jolly lil spring in my step, for better or worse. My roommates and I purchased a real, live tree! I'm gorging myself on holiday beverages from Starbucks! I'm sending over 70 handmade holiday cards! Could it be that I'm... procrastinating other projects? Oh, that's certainly part of it, but basically, the holiday spirit is IN me, and yes, it's nearly sexual.

I have many Christmas memories, and most involve visiting my grandparents in Chicago, which we did every year until they passed away. There was the year Santa gave me rollerblades, and I lost my goddamn mind -- the next several years were spent choreographing rollerblade routines to Shania Twain's B-side hit, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" in the garage, a song with a message I knew but didn't really KNOW, ya know? But not all Christmas memories are jolly -- like the one year in high school my mom's "big gift" to me was a blender, so that I could "make healthier choices for breakfast." :( :( :(

Another Christmas tradition the Schmidts had in common with many suburban Minneapolis families was the downtown Dayton's* 8th floor Christmas display. *For most of my childhood, it was Dayton's. Then, Marshall Fields. And by the time it was Macy's, we didn't go anymore.

Who remembers this??

Dayton's really knew how to put together a department store floor of pure magic. Every year, a different story would be told with elaborate props, animatronic figures, sound and music... it was a delight. They did Beauty and the Beast, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, other very memorable tales that I just can't remember right now... And maybe I'm only remembering it this way because I was a kid who didn't understand money, but I'm pretty sure it was free? How is that even possible? We'd wait in line with other families in strollers and coats before slowly snaking our way through the display, older kids pushing through the crowd to read the accompanying story placards aloud. There were probably at least 20 scenes to the story, each one intricately designed and aptly fantastical (sometimes terrifying -- I don't know that I've ever needed to see an animatronic Voldemort thrusting at me). And when you reached the end of the story, what was waiting for you (besides a gift shop, obviously)? SANTA. That's right, this whole enchanting scenario ended with 1-on-1, let's-get-down-to-business conversation with the big guy himself, where you could address your Christmas wants and get a picture, too.

I was 8 years old in this picture. God help me.

As if this night wasn't already the best thing to ever happen... you could wrap up your whole familial night-on-the-town with a HOLIDAY PARADE, right through the center of downtown, a real festival of lights called the Holidazzle. If your parents loved you, you wouldn't watch from the street, where it was often below zero and a frozen tundra nightmare. If your parents cared about you at all, you would watch the parade from above the riff-raff, like royalty, in the skyways. Skyways are what Minnesotans use to avoid exposure and frostbite when trying to simply move between buildings in the wintertime. They connect buildings downtown, about three floors up, and make it possible for you to seamlessly move across the whole neighborhood without ever going outside. Fun! Necessary! Winter is a scary time!

I've heard since Macy's moved in, the 8th floor holiday display isn't as magical. I think I'll skip it, lest it tarnish my good memories (of fighting with my sister over Santa's lap-space and being sweaty in snowpants).

Another tradition on the Schmidt side of the family is my aunt Shirley's orange jello, present for every family function, and eaten primarily by me. I made it for my friends-giving this year and it delicious, and again, eaten primarily by me. But it's so tasty! And jello is ALWAYS fun. Give this simple recipe a try the next time you need to attend a particularly Midwestern potluck -- it will always be welcome there, and probably called "salad."

Aunt Shirley's Orange Jello "Salad"

1 large box of orange-flavored gelatin
2 cups orange sherbet (just now learned there isn't another "r" in that word!)
Boiling water
2 cans of mandarin oranges, drained

Boil water according to the directions on the Jello box.
Whisk the gelatin powder and hot water together until well-mixed.
Add the sherbet and stir quickly until melted/fully combined.
Pour this mixture into whatever container you want the jello to live in. I used a traditional bundt pan, but I don't know that I'd recommend it. If you have a jello mold, that's obviously going to be your best and most fun bet.
Let sit for a few minutes until the mixture begins to solidify. Then, add the mandarin oranges and stir to ensure equal distribution.
Refrigerate for 4+ hours.
Some throw a whipped topping on there -- I don't. I don't think it needs it. This jello is delicious and I would eat it every day if I could.

Happy baking!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Strawberry Icebox Cake

It's the first day of October, which just might mean it's going to get cooler, cool enough for me to use my oven again! ...Use my oven, leave my air conditioned room, put on clothes that cover more of my bits... not necessarily in that order. The heat has made things a little bit too casual in my house as of late, and I did greet the plumber this morning without putting on a bra. I don't like to be that casual. Fall is a great time to cover up.

I adore October. SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE. Pretty unoriginal. Autumn is wonderful and even sociopaths love being cozy. I mean, sociopaths may have a different definition of "cozy," but the sentiment probably remains the same.

A lot of people also like Halloween. I so badly want to be a person who loves Halloween for everything it has to offer, but I am not that person. My pros and cons list for Halloween is balanced, like the scales of us Libras born in this month.


- Being scared is sometimes super fun -- I prefer spooky stories, ghost tales heavy on historical facts and light on gore, just enough to make it hard for me to look at the mirror in my room when I go to sleep. When I was little, I used to be pretty into witches -- once, my mom brought me to a crystal shop in St. Paul that she told me was run by witches. I made a lot of dubious and sustained eye contact with the ordinary-looking women who worked there, not totally convinced since none of them looked like Angelica Huston. Now, I'm pretty into Stevie Nicks, which I guess is the grown-up version?

- Movies like Hocus Pocus! To fall asleep as a kid, I used to daydream about the Sanderson sisters visiting me. Again, very interested in witches. Didn't care at all about what happened to the kids they tortured.

- Fun-size candy that defies portion control and leaves you stuffed with 27 mini Kit Kats even though you'd never think to sit and eat a full-size Kit Kat at any time.

- Adorable children roaming the neighborhood. I would really like to always be greeting children.

- Getting to ask people, "What are you supposed to be?" and they think you're talking about their costume when in reality, that is sort of a fair question year-round.


- Being scared is sometimes NOT super fun. There was a year when my ice rink, Parade Stadium, hosted a "haunted house" in the locker rooms. The smell left behind by the hockey players should've been scary enough, but they had older kids hide in the bathroom stalls and grab the ankles of passersby in the dark. Honestly, thinking about it now, it sounds pretty lazy? But then, as a... 9-year-old?... it was a true nightmare. One ankle grab sent me over the edge and I ran out of the locker room and out of the building and didn't stop until I was outside and the sky was blue and I felt safe again. Luckily, my ice skates had their guards on them, so any permanent damage was only emotional. I haven't entered a haunted house since. It all sounds pretty unnecessarily awful? I'll be the one holding everyone's purses outside, thanks.

- Mascots have always been alarming to me, my negative feelings towards them solidified by an encounter with a Subway sandwich mascot at a parade in 2007. Yes, I was an adult. Yes, he hugged me. Yes, he smelled like Subway bread (you  know what I'm talking about). When it comes to Halloween, I think being a drunk adult in an identity-concealing costume sometimes makes you feel invincible/like you can touch strangers. :(

- Someone was stabbed to death outside of my Union Square dorm in 2007 as part of a gang initiation and the perpetrator wasn't caught because of costumes and parade chaos.

- I have enough trouble putting together normal outfits for everyday life. Costumes are a lot of pressure. The best costume I've probably ever worn was part of a group situation with my college improv troupe, Dangerbox. We dressed as Hipster Wizard of Oz (and this was 2009, so "hipster" was still prettttty fresh, you guys). I was the tornado. We really killed it at that one Brooklyn party we attended, especially considering we found an empty bedroom and hung out with only each other for the night.

Great work from everyone involved

My ideal Halloween involves being curled up in front of a psychological thriller, most lights off, waiting for trick-or-treaters and obsessive-compulsively eating odd numbers of Milk Duds from their tiny fun-size boxes. If this sounds good to you, please make plans to join me. As evidenced by the above lists, I'm loads of fun. But doesn't this evening sound charming? Cozy in a non-sociopath way?

Lest I jump the gun on autumnal delights... here is a one more icebox cake recipe, for that one more weekend of heat LA is probably going to get. Luckily, it's delicious. Eat it on Halloween, too -- why not? As long as you're not wearing a mascot outfit, I approve!

Strawberry Icebox Cake

About 1 box of honey graham crackers
2 containers fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla

Lay graham crackers on the base of a 9x13 pan.
Layer whipped cream and strawberries on top.
Layer graham crackers --> whipped cream --> strawberries, until you reach the top of the pan.

Like tiny beds of deliciousness

Cover and refrigerate for 4+ hours.
Cut and serve!

The graham crackers soften to something more appetizing than "moist" or "mushy." It's almost cake consistency, but without turning on your oven and sweating into your ingredients. Like magic!

Happy baking!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

No-Bake Raspberry Cheesecake

A lot of people my age love "The Golden Girls" now. Great. Welcome. Where were you in 5th grade, when I was bringing VHS tapes of recorded reruns to sleepovers? Writing my favorite St. Olaf stories and Dorothy comebacks on the backs of my notebooks? In 7th grade, I sent handwritten letters to all four women. And when I brought my personalized, autographed Betty White headshot (which prominently featured her tiny dog, Panda) to school and it got lost in the midst of a bomb threat, no one cared. No one cared except my science teacher, Mr. Meyers, and it would've been really great to have shared that loss with a friend my own age.

I sound bitter, but I'm not. I'm glad people like it now because it means I can very easily buy a Golden Girls phone case on Etsy.

Prized possession/something I'd take with me in a fire

The show will always hold a special place in my heart and I'm so happy I found it on Lifetime -- Television for Women and Prepubescent Emily Schmidt -- when I did.

My first favorite show was "Laverne & Shirley." I would watch it on Nick at Nite after I was in my pajamas and one time -- not proud to say -- I peed my pants because I didn't want to leave before a commercial break. I loved TV... maybe too much, and, like, where were my parents? I never watched TV with my parents and if I had, my mom probably would've made me get up and go to the bathroom.

I wanted to be friends with Laverne and Shirley, and part of me probably still does. There are all sorts of fictional characters I have befriended in my head over the years -- Diane Chambers, Julia Sugarbaker, Liz Lemon... the list goes on.

In 4th grade, I found "The Golden Girls." There was no part of me that should've related to that show, but I really did. I got the jokes, I laughed out loud. I quoted it constantly -- not fun for friends, amusing for parents of friends. I found transcripts on the internet and pretended to deliver the lines. I guess that was me... realizing I wanted to be a comedy writer? I didn't define it like that until high school, but it was the first show I wished I had written. It taught me how to tell a joke and what story structure looked like and how to create characters with their own voices. I mean, thank God I was marathoning "Golden Girls" instead of... oh, I don't know, "S Club 7"? (I also watched that show sometimes, so I'm comfortable mocking it.)

A lack of cooperating friends means I'll find a way to be ALL of the girls for Halloween!

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the "Golden Girls" premiere. I think it's safe to say we're all better off having that show around. In a lot of ways, those four ladies taught me about friendship -- especially friendship with other women. They had different ways of communicating and problem-solving, and definitely knew how to give each other a hard time, but at the end of the day, it was always about how important they were to each other. The friendships with each other were what mattered.

I also think Blanche basically taught me about sex, but that's something I'll ponder on my own.

In the meantime, in honor of the four best fictional ladies I "know"... I give to you a recipe of the dessert that brought them together night after night to talk out their problems: cheesecake. 

No-Bake Raspberry Cheesecake

Approximately 9 graham crackers, crushed
1/2 cup pecan chips
1/3 cup melted butter
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 8-oz. packages of cream cheese at room temperature (seriously)
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 packages of fresh raspberries

You're going to need a springform pan, so I hope you have one!
Combine the melted butter, crushed graham crackers, and pecans in a bowl.
Press the mixture onto the bottom of your springform pan, as best you can. Try to do it evenly, but don't be too hard on yourself.

Could've crushed those crackers better if I were more patient.

Chill the crust in the fridge while you make the rest of the cake.
Whip the heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form.

Soft Peaks: The Emily Schmidt Story

Add the lemon juice, sugar, and cream cheese, and whip until it's a thick mixture of delicious delight.
Add the raspberries and whip until you're comfortable with the consistency of the berries -- not whole, but also not obliterated by the mixer. Find that happy medium.
Evenly pour the mixture over the crust and make it look nice on top. Personally, I had a lot of fun creating flourishes with a spatula, but that's up to you.
Cover and chill in the fridge for 4+ hours.
Slice, share, enjoy, marvel at how you made a cake without turning on your oven.

You could substitute Cool Whip for the fresh whipped cream, but only if you're... a monster? Come on. There's really no comparison. Cool Whip makes your mouth slimy. That's a red flag.

Happy baking!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sprinkle Cake

It's amazing my brain can do this right now. "But Emily," you say. "Writing a blog takes literally no effort." Great point, but my brain is full, my heart is full, even my mouth is full -- of an infected abscess, but still. My mouth will be better in a few days when the dentist does something with a drill and I'm once again reminded that my body seems to be constantly failing. And my brain will be considerably less full after this weekend, when the Minnesota Fringe Festival ends with a summer camp-esque bang and a giant dance party at The Varsity. And my heart? Well, I hope my heart stays as full as it is right now, because it's brimming like a precocious child's orange juice glass in a Bounty commercial.

Despite my dry sarcasm and "general outlook," I'm easily excited. I am capable of a special childlike glee that is probably unexpected and off-putting. Fringe brings this out in me. So does fried cheese and friendship and comedy and making theater -- the cool thing is, the Fringe is really the ultimate combination of all of the above. This is my sixth consecutive year producing a show in the festival. This isn't an example of my writing abilities, because submissions are selected by lottery and I've never had a show written until about May of that year. The past few years, I've had the pleasure of writing a show in LA and sending it off to some of my very best friends to make it into a real play. How lucky am I?! I write a show in my bed, while eating Crispix off of my body, pants nowhere to be found. And then in a few months, actors are acting it and audiences are audiencing it, thanks to my incredible director/friend Samantha Baker Harris. I'm not into "magic," but this is magic.

I could spout off so many facts about the Fringe, but as my friends in LA would say, "Stop." Just know that it's 174 shows in 15 venues over 10 days with 5 performances each. This year, you can see everything from dance to drama to sketch comedy to a lady washing herself in a bathtub in someone's home. (I don't know. I really don't. It sold out very quickly.) It's everything, and it's a deck of wild cards. The fact that it's a lottery means some shows are produced by actual theater companies and some are produced by, like, an accountant with an idea. And honestly? Who's to predict which show will be better? Because you never know, and that's what's great -- especially when you have an artist pass and can see shows for free versus $14. If the show is terrible, it's still an experience. And! As an audience member, you can review shows on the Fringe website. Artists don't get bothered or excited by these reviews at all. Oh wait. The opposite. Right, it's the opposite. We all need, like, the most attention and feedback and reassurance. If someone says they don't check their reviews until the end of the run, they're a goddamn liar. Just get on our level already. Post-show drinks sometimes look like several artists clutching their smart phones, trying to be relaxed and normal while "casually" refreshing their show page. I'm not saying it's good, I'm just saying it happens. I've been pretty lucky this year with my show The Mrs., save for one TRULY INSANE review written by "professional" Dominic Papatola. He didn't care for the show. And he made sure everyone knew it was very much exclusively my fault. It's fine -- apparently, many find him to be an insufferable and mean little man, and I'm now in a club of those who have been "d-papd." Sounds like something that would happen in stirrups with a speculum, and to be honest, it kind of felt like that anyway.


Just kidding. I really am. It's good practice for dealing with all of the people who will express their general distaste for me in the future.

We're about halfway through the festival, and my overwhelming feelings are those of joy and... compulsive affection? My girl crush numbers are through the roof. Are we still saying "girl crushes" or is that sort of frowned upon? Sorry. The Mrs.' cast is filled with some of the most amazing women I've ever met. I feel incredibly lucky that they said yes to this play -- they have completely exceeded my expectations for the weird little script I wrote. Their interpretations of the characters and the nuances they bring to the table are incredible. I sit up in the tech booth during the show and I'm pretty sure our lighting tech thinks I'm 100% crazy. My laugh is not okay. It's that childlike glee I was talking about. Sometimes I look at her, wild-eyed, as if to say, "Aren't they just SO GREAT?" But it's not her job to interact with me at all and honestly, she's making the right choice to just not engage with my over-the-top enthusiasm. I get it, lady, I don't know how to handle myself either. I want to say, "Isn't it cool that my comedy hero Shanan Custer is in this thing I wrote?" And she would mostly be like, "You need to be quieter, the audience can hear you." Fair, fair.

I cast my best friends and my comedy heroes because it's more fun to write with their voices in my head. It's almost collaborative. And it feels like I'm hanging out with my friends-- brb, touching base with sanity real quick.


...I also see shows that my friends have written and produced and I'm reminded of all the things that "comedy" and "storytelling" can be -- all the ways we can be poignant and expressive and funny and creative as humans. It's a revival. It's like church camp, but instead of coming home singing This Little Light of Mine and sore from The Waterskiiing Incident, I'm all, "What if I wrote something with PUPPETS?" I mean, I won't. But that anything-is-possible feeling will stick with me all year.

Erin Sheppard is my Fringe hero this year. I saw her show twice and am seeing it again, because my artist pass affords me that luxury. Erin is an improviser, actor, choreographer, dancer and she will PRODUCE THE SHIT out of an incredible show. This year, it was Dance with the Devil -- several dances inspired by the seven deadly sins, alternating with the most hilarious and heartbreaking and well-crafted stories I've ever heard, by Rita Boersma (also in The Mrs. -- double girl crush alert -- gonna use that term until someone gives me another one to use). Rita tells stories about sin in the most lovely, easy, beautiful way -- anecdotes that had me laughing and crying and processing. And the dances? I can't even explain how those make me feel. Sorry, Erin. This is creepy.

I'm presenting you with a recipe for homemade sprinkle cake, because life should be celebrated with sprinkles -- whether you're making a show or cake, isn't it cool that you're making something that wasn't there before?

I wish someone would teach me how to pronounce "nonpareil."

Sprinkle Cake


1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted, melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sprinkles (sticks not balls!)

1 cup unsalted, softened butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease one round cake pan. If you want to make this guy a layered situation, you will need to double the recipe!
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large microwavable bowl, melt the butter.
Whisk in the sugars with the butter and beat until those lumps are outta there.
Add the egg, sour cream, whipping cream, and vanilla. 
Continue to whisk until well-combined.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. Again, let's try to make this lump-free. Do your very best.
Add the sprinkles!

VERY fun.

Unload into the cake pan and violently drop the pan onto the counter to get rid of air bubbles. So loud. So satisfying.
Bake for about 33 minutes. You know your oven. You know what a finished cake should look like (not wet, not burnt).
Cool completely!
Frosting time!
Beat the butter, powdered sugar, whipping cream, and vanilla until that shit is FLUFFY and LIGHT and... heavenly?!? Yes.
I also dyed it blue!
Is your cake cooled completely? You better check. Mine wasn't, and the frosting melted, because it's butter, you big idiot. It was a small disaster. I fridged it, and it recovered, but just don't make the same mistakes as me. Practice patience. Be better.

This cake is everything.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ice Cream -- YES, ICE CREAM

There are a lot of things I can do that at first seem nearly impossible. I can touch my nose with my tongue. I still know all of the words to "Baby Got Back." My high kick is off the charts. (These are all essentially party tricks and please note that math or science is not mentioned here.)

I never thought I would be able to easily make ice cream, without an ice cream maker, without any effort.

I almost wish I didn't know, because while the options are now endless in the kitchen, they will be even more limited in the Old Navy dressing room. I'm playing with fire. Er, ice. I ONLY EAT ICE CREAM NOW. 

Ice cream has always been an influential part of my life. A constant friend and reliable companion. A lot has changed, but ice cream is always there. I'm fully comfortable anthropomorphizing dessert in this way, but thank you for checking in.

I inherited this love from my dad, Larry, who is a big time ice cream aficionado. One of his superpowers is knowing the location of every small-town Dairy Queen in Minnesota -- and whether or not it's a brazier. This was especially useful for traveling basketball tournaments and road trips to the cabin. A cookie dough blizzard was always within reach. Ice cream was not a rare treat in my household, it was a daily staple. This could be good, this could ultimately be bad -- cool it with the judgement, okay? Every night before my bed, my sister and I would get a "bedtime treat," which was almost always a bowl of Schwan's ice cream. When we were old enough to "dish ourselves up," we did, with the portion control of children. My sister and I grew up eating a shit-ton of ice cream every night before immediately going to bed. Every single night. I'd like to think this prepared my stomach for a life of nighttime eating and thus, sugar-before-bed has no effect on me -- except weight gain, but basically, I sleep soundly regardless of what I'm eating or drinking. Like a fat, happy, lil baby.

People who think ice cream should only be enjoyed in the summertime are living in their own personal dark age.

I don't even have a story about ice cream because ice cream is part of every story.

It has been heating up in LA -- specifically in my house, and it's not just because my roommates are both in love. It's physically stifling in our house after 1pm every single day, and even when it cools down outside, our house traps all of the heat in the world inside it and none of us stop sweating, ever. At this point, ice cream is not a treat but a necessity. And so when I woke up the other morning and was met by dreaded sunshine streaming through my window, I was determined to find relief. And when I found an incredibly easy, three ingredient ice cream recipe that only required an electric mixer, I had a purpose. And, guys -- I really went to town.

I decided to make chocolate, strawberry, chocolate-almond, and cookies & cream. I forced myself to stop there. In the future, I plan on trying mint chocolate chip, classic vanilla, MAYBE EVEN COOKIE DOUGH GOOD LORD THERE'S NO STOPPING ME. I don't like how much this process makes me feel like Joffrey from Game of Thrones. If I am poisoned, it better be with ice cream. Oops, spoiler.

Ice Cream!

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

For chocolate, add 3/4 cup chocolate syrup
For strawberry, add 2 cups frozen strawberries
For cookies & cream, crush and add about 8 Oreo cookies 
For chocolate-almond, add 3/4 cup chocolate syrup and 1 tablespoon almond extract. I added 2 tablespoons and... whoops, too much!

You're going to need a standing mixer or a handheld electric mixer for this. I don't care how strong you are you. I don't care what your arms look like. This is bigger than you.
Pour the heavy whipping cream and condensed milk in a large bowl/standing mixer bowl and start mixing on low. 
If you're adding chocolate or frozen strawberries or something that can be pulverized, add it as well. 
(DON'T ADD COOKIES NOW. You won't like what happens by the end, trust me. Add cookies when you're met with soft peaks.)
Once the mixture starts to thicken and you aren't at risk for spraying dairy all over the place, turn it up.
Continue mixing for about 8 minutes, with the speed #turntup.
When you have stiff peaks, you're good to go. At this point, it's whipped cream, so go ahead and eat some.

Stiff peaks are also what I look for in men

Freeze in a freezer-safe container for 4-6 hours. At 4 hours, you'll have soft serve. 

I don't know, guys. This is my favorite thing I've made. If I there was a world where I could make ice cream for my friends every day, and do exclusively that, I think I would. Oh, and also nap and watch OG Teen Mom while it's in the freezer. What a life. 

Happy baking!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GUEST BLOG: Cake Pops (for Dummies)

The following is a special guestipe written by none other than my little sister, Annie! She's a teacher, a sweetie, and a cake pop master. In fact, you've probably read about her on this site. So now, read FROM her -- and learn about cake pops (and how I was obviously the best big sister in the world).


Growing up, Emily and I were quite the sister duo. We were the best (or worst?) when it came to bickering back and forth about trivial things that really did not matter at all in the long run. Everywhere we went -- from trips to Target, Sunday mornings at Perkins restaurant, or family vacations, we were the loudest and most embarrassing siblings in the general vicinity. Though we irritated our parents and each other quite a bit, we had some fascinating and quite humorous stories come from our childhood.

Me and my baby. Emily and someone else's baby.

One thing I will always remember is our biannual road trips to Chicago to visit our grandparents. I think anyone with siblings will remember just how miserable it is to sit in a car with your family for eight hours or so at a time. Though our trips were not quite up to par with the Griswold family vacations, they sure seemed insanely similar at the time. Fighting over music choice, pushing each other out of our personal space in the boxy Oldsmobile van, unknown smells, vague complaining and not enough breaks for Culver's (and their bathrooms) to satisfy everyone. Eight hours can seem like a lifetime when you are a young child, but there were always positive bonding moments bound to happen during our time in the car. For example, I vividly remember Emily pulling out a crusty breadstick from an Italian restaurant in Chicago (probably not as good as Olive Garden) from the seat pocket and singing "Bread Boyyyyy!!!!!" in a low heroic voice and it became the theme song to our ride home. This was a song to go along with our family sing-alongs to Kathy Mattea, which was about the only music we could all agree on besides the cassette tape where cows (yes, cows) would sing their own renditions to Christmas carols. This "Cow Christmas" tape had gone missing and its whereabouts are still unknown to this day.

One time, we were on our way to go camping and I had a creepily huge doll with long blonde hair along for the drive in between Emily and me. I vividly remember Emily teaching me how to braid her hair and it's memories like those that you hold on to. On this same trip, we decided to make use of our awesome new car top carrier, which was apparently not attached correctly (give Larry a break, it was brand new technology). Well, we were driving on the highway, probably going pretty slow in the right lane when it flew off with a funny noise that I still remember.

These are only a few of my childhood road trip memories, but between our casual car break-downs and my demands to visit every souvenir shop we saw, they also made a difference in our lives. With that, here is how I make cake pops.

You can make cake pops with any of your favorite boxed cake or you can make it with cake from scratch. I made these ones with three different boxed cake mixes: Duncan Hines' Red Velvet, Betty Crocker's Chocolate & Pillsbury's Funfetti -- though you can use whatever kind you'd like!

Cake Pops (for Dummies)
1 box of cake mix of your choosing (makes 19-25 pops)
Eggs/oil/water (follow box directions)
1 container of cream cheese frosting per batch (I used Betty Crocker)
1 can of Crisco's shortening
2 bags of Wilton's Candy Melts of your color choice, which can be found at Michael's craft store

1 pack of white long cake box sticks, also found at Michael's
strip of styrofoam or something sturdy with holes
...refrigerator and rest of kitchen

Follow the directions on the boxes and bake your cakes of choice in any size pan you wish. Each cake mix will make about 19-25 pops depending on how big you make them.
Once you bake your cake and let it cool for 5-10 minutes, make sure your hands are clean and empty the cake in a large mixing bowl. Break it up into pieces using a knife and put the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes. Once cooled in fridge, take out and break up even more with your hands so that the whole cake is basically crumbs. Take the cream cheese frosting and scoop about two to three tablespoons into the bowl and mix in with your hands as much as you can (this gets messy and doesn't mix well but don't worry).

On a plate or pan or other flat surface, begin making balls with your hands out of the cake. This takes practice and may frustrate you. The frosting will help hold these balls together. Put them on the flat surface until all or most of the cake is gone. Make sure balls aren't falling apart and are pretty compact. Put balls in freezer (or fridge) for 10 minutes.

While they are in the freezer or fridge, bring three cups or so of water to a boil in a regular pot. Place a med-large metal mixing bowl over the boiling water and turn the burner to low. Scoop 2-3 tablespoons of Crisco's shortening into the bowl and let melt fully (it will be clear). When melted, add half a bag of Wilton's candy melts and stir the entire time, into the shortening, until melted completely together.

Candy melts!

Dipping procedure #1: Take the cake balls out of the fridge and make sure they are all pretty much compact. Dip each stick into the melted candy about an inch and place into each cake ball (also about an inch). This acts as glue. This is also the easy part. To make the candy dry quicker, I put them back in the fridge, still on the plate like before, only this time they have sticks sticking up. :)

Thank goodness for Wilton's.

Dipping procedure #2: After about another 5-10 minutes, add the rest of the candy melts and turn the burner up a tad. If necessary, I'd also add more shortening. You kind of have to play it by ear. You don't want the melt too thick because it will cause the cake to fall right off the stick. The shortening acts as a thinner and keeps it from burning.

Pour the entire contents of the candy melts into a tall but narrow cup. I used a very tall coffee mug.
Get ready & brace yourself, this is the difficult part. Don't get discouraged if a few of your pops take one for the team, especially if this is your first time making cake pops.

Carefully take each cake pop and dip them into the cup until you reach about an inch past the pop itself (onto the stick). Turn it sideways and tap stick with your finger to get the excess candy melt off of the pop.
Stick it upright in styrofoam or something with holes in it to let it dry. On to the next one! Do this until you have completed all of the pops. Run out of candy melt? Or something disastrous happens? That is why you have an extra bag, just in case. If you want to add sprinkles, do it before it dries! Don't worry if you make a mess, it's hard to avoid with these.

There you have it! Your first time may not be so pretty but by the second time, you'll be a cake pop pro, I promise.

Happy baking!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Berry Buttermilk Bundt

Uh-oh, summer is weird and I'm in an in-between. I was just home for the Twin Cities Improv Festival, and I'm going back in a few weeks for the Minnesota Fringe. "See you soon!" I earnestly said to all of my friends in Minneapolis, meaning it, remembering that I shouldn't get homesick because I'd be back in a hot minute. Time slipped away in June and I reassured myself that the things that didn't happen then would happen soon -- late-night happy hour at Chino Latino with Taj, Noodles with Tara, a night at the cabin. All of that is great. But now that I'm back in LA and playing catch-up here, I feel like I can't do all of my business before I leave again. I'm writing things and recording my podcast (plug!) and getting drinks with friends and performing -- extra careful to not push anything in my calendar to my Minnesota time. I'm very tired. All I really want to do is watch BBC's Great War Diaries on Netflix and eat tacos. If a friend wants to come over and do that, perfect. I can also do it alone. Wouldn't be the first time. Even trips to Target have felt laborious and that SHOULDN'T HAPPEN.

When I do go home in a few weeks, it will not be a vacation. It will be incredibly fun and friend-filled and exciting, but I will not sleep and I will get sick. I'll drink too much beer. The Minnesota Fringe is like a weird theater camp for adults. Almost all of my friends make shows -- we craft intricate schedules to see them all and spend every night at the same bar celebrating. I adore those 10 days in August, even if I'm exhausted at the end.

I wrote a play called "The Mrs." It's sort of about polygamy and my dear friend Sam is directing and some of my favorite people are in it. It's a lucky dream to write something, hand it off and then see the finished product -- when everyone else did the hard work of putting it together. All I had to do was write it a few months ago, which I did -- often in my bed and usually without pants.

I'm also in a really excellent show conceived and produced by Tom Reed and Anna Weggel-Reed called "Couple Fight." They asked some of their favorite couples to script out the worst, real-life fight they've had, and I get to be involved even though I'm single -- they asked me and my BFF Maureen. We have had one real fight and it involves Pictionary and turns out those wounds are still fresh, because it was no picnic to write. We're fine. Everything's fine. :)

So, in a few weeks, I go back to Minnesota for all of that extra delightful craziness. But in the meantime, I have got to find my center. HELLO, CENTER, WHERE ARE YOU?

Bundt cakes ground me. They're a refreshing go-to when life gets crazy and I can't even think about the layers of my schedule, let alone the layers of a cake. Just mix it all together and pour it in. Bake for an hour and you're done. The flip? Okay, the flip can be stressful, as we all know. But when you nail it? I don't know if there's a better feeling. Rarely have I experienced a clean bundt flip that ISN'T accompanied by an actual cheer, even if I'm alone. Especially if I'm alone. I have to believe it's exactly how an Olympic gymnast feels when they nail a complicated floor routine. Basically, I'm a gymnast.

I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to join a book club here in LA. I haven't been this excited about social inclusion since I got to attend my first boy/girl birthday party in the St. Louis Park Rec Center community room (YES there was dancing and NO I didn't grind with anyone, but it was just so nice to be there, ya know?). I wasn't going to show up to book club meeting #1 empty-handed like some kind of animal, so this bundt seemed like the way to go. Get ready. This puppy's seasonal as shit.

Berry Buttermilk Bundt


2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries

Glaze (optional)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
juice of 1 lemon 
1 tablespoon very soft butter 

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease the hell out of your bundt pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl, and set aside.
With your standing mixer (or... hands), cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest, until extra fluffy. You'll know when to stop. You'll think, wow, didn't realize these ingredients could become "fluffy," yet here we are.
Add the eggs one at a time, gently mixing between additions.
Beat in vanilla.
Add about 1/3 of your dry ingredients, then half of the buttermilk, and so on, until it's allll in one bowl.
Let's not overmix, okay?
In your now-empty medium bowl, toss the berries with about 2 tablespoons of flour, until well-coated.
Gently add the berries to your batter, carefully mixing until evenly distributed. If the berries become destroyed by your spatula, and that's the WORST thing that happens in your day, things aren't so bad.
Plop the batter evenly into your bundt pan.

Utilizing my new star-shaped bundt from Nordicware!

Bake for about 55-60 minutes. Use the toothpick test to determine if it's done -- I checked at 50 and it was still a reallll wet mess, but by 55, it was coming out clean. So, once you get close, check often.
Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes before inverting onto a plate. 
Take the opportunity for personal reflection and judgement, depending on whether or not you are granted a clean release. 
Cool completely.

Stuck the landing. USA!

If you're into the idea of a citrus-y glaze that may or may not look inappropriate when drizzled:
Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and sofffffft butter in a bowl.
Drizzle away.

This is another cake that could be socially appropriate to eat for breakfast. The berries make it tart and refreshing, and the buttermilk base creates a smooth and moist situation. Moist situation. Deal with THAT.

Happy baking!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Poke Cake

I'm writing from the great state of Minnesota -- my forever home and my ultimate happy place. I'm sitting in a coffee shop on Bryant and 33rd, in south Minneapolis. There is a giant bicycle painted on the wall amongst stenciled pine trees and the windows are lined with flower boxes. I enjoyed an iced coffee out of a mason jar and thick pieces of toast with organic jam. I'm surrounded by lots of beards and huge headphones. Minneapolis is a strange and beautiful beast -- the city of lakes but also a Midwestern island of creativity and ingenuity with a strong work ethic and... Minnesota Nice? I do a lot of friendly chatting with strangers. My old apartment was 4 blocks from this coffee shop. I paid $475/month for a hardwood-floored, dishwasher-having 2-bedroom with a parking spot. I could bike anywhere, if I was into that sort of thing, which I was maybe... twice. But still! Why don't I live here anymore? Simply put, I want to be a TV writer, and I cannot do that here. It might be the only thing I can't do here.

I like LA.
I even miss it sometimes, and definitely the wonderful people inside it.

But I love Minneapolis.

But I also love ice cream, and you can't eat that every day. I come home and binge on thunderstorms and sweet-smelling nighttime breezes and the feel of grass that grows naturally because there's enough water to let that shit happen. I make excuses to take the familiar drive around the chain of lakes as the sun hits the water in different ways and I try not to hit the various people drunk on summer.

Whimsy abounds!

And THERE is the key word: summer. I'm not writing this in the dead of winter when cars won't even start and they close school because exposed skin freezes off. I still love Minnesota then, for different reasons, but there truly is nothing like a Minnesota summer. Ask Prince -- he gets it. Purify myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka? Don't have to ask me twice!

Ode to Purple Rain on Lake St

It's very easy for me to become emotionally overwhelmed when I'm home. I get tiny glimpses of a life I did have and could've had every time I meet old friends for drinks at old places and catch myself driving past the exit of my ex. It's very "Sliding Doors." Except my boobs are bigger than Gwyneth's and it's, like, the Taco Bell on Vine vs the Taco Bell on Hwy 7. There's everything to pine for and nothing to pine for. And if the man on the plane next to me had taken a break from breathing at me and hogging the arm rest, and asked me if I was happy to live in LA, I would've said, "Absolutely!" And meant it. And I would've asked him to stop breathing at me because 3 1/2 hours is too long for that shit.

I know Minneapolis isn't the right place for me to live right now, just like I KNOW I'm not supposed to be eating ice cream every day. I'm tall enough to have a leg in both cities so I'm going to do it as long as I can and I do apologize for that visual of me straddling Colorado. But truly -- if we're not doing things that make our heart happy WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING.

Despite not really sleeping and drinking too many Grain Belts at all times, I baked a cake. For my parents? Basically. It's a reallll easy one and writing down the recipe made me feel pretty inadequate. But we all need a simple cake sometimes, and this one is perfect for summer -- easy breezy beautiful cover-cake. Get out of that kitchen! Run through a sprinkler while eating this cake with your hands like a goddamn animal! You've bought too many sundresses, so wear them, and roll down a hill like you're in a Tide commercial!

Poke Cake


1 box white cake mix
4 egg whites
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 small package jello (I used orange, but you can truly use any flavor)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
Cool Whip or whipped cream

Make the cake according to the box directions.
Let the cake cool completely, for about an hour.
Using a fork and any aggressive thoughts you may be harboring, stab the cake thoroughly and evenly.
Mix the gelatin powder with 1 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth.
Evenly pour the liquid jello mix over the cake.

Soaked cake!
Frost with Cool Whip or whipped cream.

Cool Whip is a weird treasure.
Chill and serve!

As I said, this is 100% the easiest cake in the world to make. And it's ultra delicious! My diabetic father and dairy-avoiding mother both enjoyed several pieces despite saying they wouldn't and couldn't. Bring it to a BBQ or picnic and enjoy all the praise you'll get for not bringing a veggie tray or bag of chips. 

Happy baking!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread

I think it's bullshit that we don't get to go to summer camp anymore. Sure, if you're deeply entrenched in Scientology, maybe there's something comparably disguised, but as regular adults? I would go so far as to say that "we" could use camp even more than 5th graders. Because when you think about it, 5th grade is basically already a summer camp. And you know I use the term "we" loosely because I'm not sure who would even define me as an adult.

It's not even that I had wonderful camp experiences. In fact, they were not great. I just love friendship and think it would be perfect if an actual adult could sign me up for a camp with all of my friends and we would just hang out by a lake for a week, with planned meals and organized crafting. And wine?

I endured week-long stays at Luther Park (and its redheaded stepchild, Luther Woods, which was essentially three platform tents in a Wisconsin clearing) from 5th-8th grade. Luther Woods was a personal nightmare because we weren't allowed showers or substantial shelter, and if you know me at all, you know I love bathing and hate severe weather. We were told we would be granted two dirty lake swims during the week and if we had biodegradable shampoo, we could wash our hair. I begged my mom to take me to a specialty store to acquire the necessary soap, because even at 11, I was all, "I have fine hair easily weighed down by my own oils." AKA VERY POPULAR AND FUN. I ended up verrrrry confidently bringing some kind of non-lathering shampoo exclusively formulated for HORSES, only to learn from the popular girls (of course) that fucking Herbal Essences was biodegradable and once again, Emily was a lurking weirdo with horse shampoo. We were a bunch of very smelly and... developing... fifth and sixth graders talking about the Reformation and making friendship bracelets while I quoted The Golden Girls alone.

Luther Park was your more standard church camp, for 7th and 8th graders, with cabins named after Biblical towns and a more clearly-defined social hierarchy. My week in Capernaum B was eye-opening, being randomly put in the cabin with a lot of the very cool girls. To showcase my great handwriting and earn favor, I made a poster with a cutout of a shirtless CosmoGirl hunk and wrote "God's Greatest Creation" underneath. I don't feel great about that.

Definitely part of the group!

Post-Bible study free time was rough, because that's usually when the girls in my cabin would intentionally jog back and forth past the guys' cabins, wearing only sports bras and Soffe shorts. I didn't like jogging, so, kinda SOL on that one. Feeling particularly adventurous one day (and pretty amped on God), I decided to go waterskiing. Also, no other kids were going, so it seemed like a pretty chill time to hang out with some counselors. "I've never been waterskiing before. I've tried and failed," I repeatedly told the boat driver and spotter. They didn't care. I think they wanted to explore each others' bodies in the bed of the boat and I was really ruining that opportunity for them. Anyway, I got up on my first try! This should've been thrilling but obviously, my joy did not last, as I quickly whipped out of the wake and faced waves not yet interrupted by the boat. Convinced I was going to die, I decided to just let go and sink into the water, because I'd seen that on TV. I let go and my body failed me. I bounced 3-5 times, ass-to-skis, before finally plunging into Lake Chetek. Everything below my waist was numb. I felt very...full...of water. I was slowly helped out of the water and had to make my way back to Capernaum B, limping through camp in basically the most graphic situation you can imagine. There was blood. And it DID get worse, because a counselor that I THOUGHT was my friend decided to start calling me "butt skidder," and so everyone called me "butt skidder" for the rest of the week. Reallllll Lutheran.

Camp could be fun now that I know how to confidently say no to waterskiing and yes to wine.

I made shortbread this week! My dear friend Cristi Rumpza and I successfully funded a pilot last year with the help of Kickstarter, and one of the "rewards" was homemade cookies from me. I finally, finally made and sent them. Shortbread is easy because -- spoiler alert -- it's just butter and sugar. I made these lil guys with cranberries and pecans, but this recipe accommodates really any chunks of whatever you want to throw in there.

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 small package (5 oz.) dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans

 Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and powdered sugar until fluffy.
Slowly add the flour and mix until well combined.
Fold in cranberries and pecans.

Do you want shortbread BALLS or FLAT DISCS?
This really turned into a choose-your-own-adventure novel, bet you weren't expecting that!
Either way, roll the dough into 1-inch balls.
If you're like "this shape feels right," place the balls on the cookie sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
Not on board with balls? I get it, me neither. Gently flatten the balls using a small glass dipped in sugar. This will give the cookie tops a sugary hat. It's delightful. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
Cool. Cool!

Make this shortbread. Make your grandmas proud. Shortbread feels very, "We can't have frivolous desserts until we bring the boys home from the war," but... in a fun way.

Happy baking!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best? I said it. I'm very controversial. I won't back down from that statement, so I recommend you get on board.

I'm only feeling aggressive because I've had too much cold press. There's a very fine line between appropriately caffeinated to I-can-feel-it-coursing-through-me, scary productivity. I generally cross it. Apologies to anyone who comes across me today. It would be easier to type if my hands weren't shaking.

I recently got to attend the gorgeous, sweet, sentimental wedding of dear Katy Baker and Andrew Petrella. I love weddings because love is great and I can really get behind a well-planned party, you know? This one was up in hills of Malibu (I think I was in a hill?) on a ranch, right at that time before twilight when the sunlight is warm and enveloping. It's like existing in a naturally-occurring Earlybird filter. Guess what, I won't apologize for that Instagram reference because I'm feeling aggressive. She wore cowboy boots and Sigur Ros was playing and their personal vows were so beautiful, even all of the hulking Texan men around me were dabbing their eyes. Forget tearing up -- I obviously heave-sobbed at one point, being blown away by love and commitment and words. No surprises.

Then, after I was fully convinced that true love is real, we were given champagne with strawberries in it and chips with guacamole and access to a photo-booth-situation and dinner. And lots of wine. Arguably too much wine. I did give my number to one of the waiters, but when it comes down to it, I think I took a liking to him just because he kept bringing me more wine. At the very end, after we toasted and danced, we got to throw cones of lavender at the bride and groom and drive home. If you're me, you also kept a cone of lavender for yourself that you then spilled all over your car because you were drunk. Also, if you're me, you have good friends who will drive you home in a car full of lavender (and general trash) because you got carried away with free wine. Adulthood!

This is the face of someone who has had too much wine.
About a month ago, Katy asked if I would be interested in making cookies for her wedding. She was planning on having several desserts with homemade touches, and I of course was flattered. I was also over-caffeinated at that time and very quickly committed to making about 150 chocolate chip cookies. How? I'd figure it out! With what recipe? Minor details! In the end, I was so happy to contribute to their day in this way and accomplished the personal milestone of mass-baking. I found a stellar chocolate chip recipe that I modified slightly to accommodate the bride's request for sea salt, and went to town. I really got into a groove. I now feel like I can do anything, including math, which is a key component of mass-baking.

Hundreds of cookies, ready for transport and consumption.
This chocolate chip cookie recipe is the best on many levels. First, it's simple. I've now memorized it, and I'm nearly incapable of memorizing numbers. I could make these cookies in my sleep. Since I was up until 4am baking them for the wedding, I kind of did. Second, it can be somewhat modified to create the kind of cookie your little heart most desires. When I first tried these puppies out, I brought them to a Lucille Ballers game (because if I can't be a monster on the court, I might as well be a mom in the stands). I made them big and chewy, with walnuts, and they were a HIT. I was the world's greatest mom, if only for that night.

Teammate. Friend. Mom. (Not an actual mom.)

If you're interested in a smaller, softer cookie, just make smaller dough dollops and bake for the same amount of time. This is what I did for the wedding. Both kinds of cookies were successful. You do you, man.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg 
1 egg yolk
1 traditionally-sized bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional: chopped walnuts, to your liking. Just add a few handfuls!
Also optional: coarsely-ground sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare your cookie sheets. (This time, I used parchment paper with great success. My other go-to is just a stick of butter, which I think is better than oil or Pam spray.)
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until creamy and blended. If you got that mixer, go to town.
Add the vanilla, the egg, and the egg yolk. 
Slowly fold in the dry ingredients and hand-mix until just combined.
Fold in the chocolate chips (and whatever else you're throwing in there, like nuts).
Drop the cookies onto the sheet. Here is where you can really showcase your individuality. If you want 'em big and chewy, make the balls about 1/4 cup each and about 3 inches apart from each other, slightly flattened. Smaller? Go smaller.
Bake for about 15 minutes. If you've fashioned smaller cookies, check at about 13 minutes.
If you want to salt the tops, here's where you can add just a smidge -- when they're hot out of the oven.
Cool on wire racks.
Bring to a party and be a hero.

Oh, my wedding? Gosh. I'm not even in a relationship, but SINCE YOU ASKED, it's going to be fun and beautiful and the cake will be on POINT. I'm also going to try to wear the dress my grandma and mom wore. My mom says I won't fit in it, but I think she's saying that because she doesn't know where the dress is. No rush, Mom. No rush. 

Great dress, great couples.

Happy baking!