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!