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Thursday
May292014

Tips for Plating Restaurant-Quality Desserts

We eat with our eyes first, so it’s important to learn how to plate desserts properly. Prettily presenting your desserts is a cooking technique that makes for a pleasing visual feast before the spoon or fork is even picked up.

Creating plated desserts with a pleasing palette can be tricky; it’s not simply a matter of tossing on an artful drizzle of chocolate ganache. Pastry chefs in restaurants take great pains to plate desserts so that they look as good as they taste, considering their composition much as master painters would consider how to arrange their canvas.

Read 10 tips for perfect plating here.

Wednesday
May282014

Magical Unicorn Cloud Mousse

Hovering dessert

Picture a unicorn, surrounded by rainbows and munching on a cloud in the sky. Don't you want to know what that cloud tastes like?

Well, finding out is not all that difficult. Because this vanilla marshmallow fluff mousse tastes exactly like that imaginary magic cloud. In fact, so much that I'm going to dub this recipe Magical Unicorn Cloud Mousse.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May272014

Sweet Art: Hipster Unicorns Invade Santa Fe

I've had the craziest day in Santa Fe.

It started in the morning when I went to BODY for a yoga class. It was a dreamy class, but when I exited...there was a veritable sea of unicorns outside!

Well, I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, and chalked it up to a lack of caffeine so I headed over to the Betterday coffee shop, a known hipster hangout and fine purveyor of coffee.

But you wouldn't believe what I saw there... More unicorns! And these ones looked suspiciously like hipsters.

Starting to think that perhaps I was going crazy, I thought I would escape for a while in the soothing dark of a matinee. So I headed over to the Cocteau theater, which happens to be owned by George Martin of Game of Thrones fame.

But I wasn't alone... The Jean Cocteau appeared to have been taken over by yet more fashionable unicorns, and these ones were reading the Santa Fe Reporter, using iPhones, and even name-dropping.

Sensing that I was experiencing some sort of unicorn-induced hysteria, I decided to seek sanctuary at the Cowgirl BBQ nearby, where I figured I would at least see some people in cowboy hats acting southwest-y, and the horses on the wall would not have horns.

Well. I'm sure that you saw this coming, but the hipster unicorns had infiltrated the Cowgirl, too!

Maybe to those who have spent more time in Santa Fe than me, this type of thing is commonplace. But for me, it was a pivotal moment: I felt like I finally understood why they call New Mexico the "land of enchantment".

Saturday
May242014

How To Write Letters Like a Unicorn: A Tutorial

Unicorn letter

Have you ever wondered how a unicorn writes a letter?

Well, I was hanging out with my pet unicorn, Sprinkle, who helps me with many things, from headstands...

to everyday advice like how to make rainbow jell-o cups or what time of day I'm most likely to see a shooting star with a rainbow trail.

So, me and Sprinkle were having a nice gossip sesh over frosting shots one day, and after maybe one shot too many, she told me the secret way in which unicorns write letters.

Writing letters like unicorns

Because unicorns do not have hands, they do something really special to send their buddies messages. They whisper messages into rainbow rays, and then they wish them over to their friends, who are not only greeted with a rainbow but good tidings.

Listen, I'm not going to lie: humans do not have the magic ability to do this.

But we can co-opt the idea and send a friend a bouquet of rainbows and sweetness by stuffing balloons with little notes and gifts. It basically guarantees a magical day for the recipient. 

Here's how you, as a human without magical abilities, can make it happen.

How to write a letter like a unicorn

You need:

  • a variety of rainbow colored balloons
  • messages or small gifts to put in the balloons
  • tissue paper and packing material
  • a shipping box
  • love

Step 1: Start by preparing a bunch of small notes, like so:

Writing letters like unicorns

You can also grab some other things, like candy or marbles or small things that will make nice little gifts.

Writing letters like unicorns

You can also draw some unicorn horns and includes some of those, too: Writing letters like unicorns

because then the recipient can hold them up to ponies and make them instant unicorns, like so:

A pony no longer!

Step 2: Place the notes or gifties in the balloons. One or two things per balloon. Roll up notes to get them inside of the balloons with ease. 

Writing letters like unicornsWriting letters like unicorns

Step 3: Blow up the balloons. Blow them kind of small, about the size of a large apple or so. 

Writing letters like unicorns

Step 4: Once you have a number assembled, place them in a box lined with tissue paper. Line the sides and top with packing material before sealing and addressing the box.

Writing letters like unicorns

Step 5: Send it on its way! Unlike unicorns, you can't wish your package to its recipient, so you'll have to hit up the USPS or UPS or Fedex. For best results, use a fairly rapid shipping method (such as priority mailing). Be happy in knowing that you will have a very delighted recipient when it's received!

Although this is definitely an adapted version of the unicorn method, it's a highly delightful method of making someone's day brighter. And any unicorn would deem that magical. 

So there we go! And now you know...

Writing letters like unicorns

Who in your life deserves a magical letter? 

Friday
May232014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Good idea for Memorial day: American flag cake

These flag cookies are also adorable and don't look too difficult to make.

SO proud of my friend Molly for opening her own bakery!

I want to taste this: Chicha morada.

Interesting statistic from this article: 74% of Americans say that chocolate tastes better with almonds.

Seeking sweetness: eating disorders and food blogs, a true story.

I'm just impressed that there is a gourmet popsicle company in New Jersey. 

Stuff your mouth with one of these: caramel brownie bites.

I know that this triple chocolate mousse cake would make my life better.

Ever tried gooseberry pie?

Most interesting business I've come across in some time: Cozymeal. Like AirBNB, but with food!

Happy food: sprinkle cakewiches!

Not cake, still totally sweet: how to make Indonesian noodles. Mie goreng rules!

Book of the week: Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts: The Recipes of Del Posto’s James Beard Award–Winning Pastry Chef. What happens when a punk rock drummer becomes a pastry chef? Deliciousness and James Beard awards ensue. A fun and fancy yet refreshingly non-fussy dessert book with a punk rock attitude. Love it.

Thursday
May222014

King Arthur Flour Giveaway Winner

Totally sweet! Thanks to random.org, I have chosen a winner for the awesome King Arthur Flour giveaway.

The lucky winner, in case you forgot, is going to receive a super-awesome prize pack care of King Arthur Flour: Hooray! King Arthur Flour has offered to reward one lucky reader with one of their mega cool dough scrapers, a cookbook, AND some of their highly patented and extremely delicious boiled apple cider (perfect for flavoring apple pie and using as a slightly fancy pancake syrup).

From over 500 entrants, the winner is Susanne Bell! Here's her comment about her favorite type of pie:

Totally sweet! Congratulations to the winner, and stay tuned for the next awesome giveaway! Til then, enjoy the pie crust technique which King Arthur taught me on their Bake For Good tour!

Monday
May192014

Of Eating Disorders and Food Blogs

 

ED Blog post illustrations

Today, I'd like to discuss eating disorders. Yup, you heard me. True, this is a topic which is not often discussed on food blogs, it's a subject about which I am extremely passionate.

It's not a secret that I have suffered from various eating disorders in the past. I'm not alone.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the United States, 30 million women and men have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. That's reported cases: it's estimated that only 1 in 10 eating disorders is ever reported or treated. 

And this doesn't include eating struggles that don't technically classify as eating disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in the US, as many as one in every five women struggle with eating or have a clinical eating disorder. 

ED Blog post illustrations

But I am CakeSpy. 

My case is interesting and unlikely in that today, I happen to run, and be best-known for, a blog dedicated to dessert. A history of disordered eating may seem at distinct odds with the fact that I write about, draw, and pretty much live dessert and sweet treats. 

But with a little more explanation, it might not seem all that crazy.

We all deserve dessert.

Whenever I am part of Q+A sessions, at book readings or panels, the most frequently asked question does not involve my work much at all. It is this:

"How do you stay so thin?". Oh, there are variations: they may say "how are you not 300 pounds?" or "you can't eat MUCH of what you bake..." et cetera. 

At moments like this, part of me cringes, thinking of how my website and writing present an all dessert all the time image. With a history of disordered eating, does this mean I've been living a lie? 

Nope. I do enjoy sweets. I adore sweets. I eat something sweet every single day. Sometimes it is something small like a chocolate truffle, sometimes it is something big and fat, like a slice of behemoth crumb cake (one of my all time favorite recipes).

The difference between me and a non disordered person is that after I eat a fat slice of cake, there is a voice that wants to tell me IN ITS OUTDOOR VOICE that I am absolutely not permitted eat for the rest of the day, and maybe tomorrow too, just to be safe. An eating disorder tries to tell me that I don't "deserve" things that other people do.

Following years of personal work and therapy, I have learned to make a concerted effort to supercede these voices with a healthier one that tells me that I am OK, that I deserve to enjoy delicious things.

I strongly believe that the perceived "negative" or "unhealthy" aspect of desserts is far outweighed (pardon the pun) by the benefits they offer to your very soul.

As a result, it has also become part of my goal to ensure readers that they are ok, too. I suffered a lot with eating disorders; I want to do whatever I can to ensure that others do not.

So when I say that you deserve to eat a nice, creamy slice of cake or fat wedge of pie, I mean it--for you and me both. We deserve to enjoy things purely because they are delicious and make us happy. Let me put it like this: you could live without cake. But what kind of joyless life is that?

So when people ask me how I "stay so thin", I am honest. I tell them that I eat a balanced diet, that I do yoga every day and walk almost everywhere (nobody likes these answers, btw, hoping instead that I will tell them I have a medical condition or at least gave up gluten). But I also tell them that I refuse to deny myself sweets. Believe it or not, giving yourself permission to enjoy sweets makes it far less likely that you'll over or under-indulge. Pretty revolutionary, huh?

So when you've made a dessert like cadbury creme eggs benedict or cookie cake pie, it is in no way a good idea to eat the entire thing. But will a small serving kill you? No. In fact, it might just make your day a little sweeter.

ED Blog post illustrations

Why speak up about eating disorders now?

Disordered eating has been on my mind a lot recently, for a few reasons.

One: I have been working on writing what I hope one day could be a memoir of my story--from eating disorder to dessert queen. I'd buy the book, but then I'm biased, am I not?

Two: Recently, I shared on my personal Facebook page that I had done a phone interview about my eating disordered past. This was the update.

The reaction to it stunned me. Not only in terms of "likes" and comments, but also with the behind-the-scenes reactions. I have been contacted by numerous women and men privately, who have shared their own tales, and sympathized with me.

Very importantly: more than one of these private responders was somehow connected to the food industry.

This fact was equal parts heartening ("I'm not the only one!") and horrifying ("we've all been alone together!").

All of the aforementioned things have made me realize that now more than ever, it is important to be open about my story. Why? Eating disorders have a huge shame factor. If I can shed some light on the subject, perhaps it can help erase some of the stigma so that others can begin to emerge from the darkness. 

ED Blog post illustrations

My story, Readers' Digest form.

Some say that people with eating disorders are like loaded guns: they have all of the genes in place to pre-dispose them to disordered eating, but some event needs to "pull the trigger."

For many, including me, this thing is dieting. I started my first diet at age 12, following a comment before my 8th grade dance that I had "thick ankles". Here I am on the day of that dance:

Mardi gras magic

(Thankfully, the offensively thick ankles are out of the shot)

What I heard, of course, was not that my ankles were thick but that my ankles were fat, which quickly grew in my mind to "you are fat".

I can see now that I was a normal girl, not thin and not chubby--just kind of average build. But even an offhand comment during this sensitive time can set off a girl with a predisposition to disordered eating.

ED Blog post illustrations

From fat ankles to eating disorder in five easy steps

  • I began exercising, ostensibly to slim down those fat ankles, and decided to speed things along by dieting. I received many compliments about my new and improved physique.
  • Surprise: I was hungry all the time. I couldn't keep it up. One day I gave in to my hunger and ate more than I ever thought I could in one sitting. 
  • Frightened by how I felt mentally and physically after what I now know was an eating binge, I went on an even stricter diet to compensate for what I was sure was a stand-alone incident.
  • Surprise, again: that started a cycle that graduated to an unhealthy cycle of starving followed by an inevitable binge. I began to make myself vomit, too, a terrible habit which stayed with me for more than ten years.
  • Gradually, I was able to cease the bingeing and purging, but took it too far, into anorexic territory. My weight plummeted, but I still only saw myself as chubby. 

ED Blog post

And then came CakeSpy

When I started CakeSpy, I fell into the category of "sub clinical" or what many adorably call "almost anorexic". This means that I didn't classify clinically, but I still harbored a lot of the disordered thoughts. 

Even before I started the blog, I baked; there's a joke that "nobody bakes like an anorexic". In my experience, this is true. Anorexics love to see others indulge in what they feel they cannot. But I never lost a love of dessert. Even at my lowest weight, I always reserved a few of the calories I did allot myself for sweets. 

One day, finding myself yearning for a life beyond my refrigerator magnet company job, I had a sit-down with myself that went something like this: "well, in an ideal world what would you want to do?". 

There was no hesitation. In my ideal life, I would do something that involved writing, illustration, and baked goods. 

After further self consultation to figure out the perfect name, CakeSpy was born. Since I didn't know exactly how to get something rolling that would include writing, illustration, and baked goods, I decided to start a blog while I figured it all out.

On the day I started my blog, I weighed about the same as your average 11 year old girl. Little did I know, this blog would actually save my life. 

ED Blog post

Healing, with cake

Someone wiser than me once said "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer". I never thought of my blog in that way, but it really was.

At first in my blogging days, I would get scared frequently. Trays of brownies had the potential to panic me, I felt I had to revolve an entire day's meal plan around indulging in a slice of cake. In the beginning, it was only on a very strong day that I was able to eat and enjoy one of my own baked goods without giving myself a major guilt trip afterward. But I kept on doing it.

The more I worked with food, the less scary it became. It would take time to trust food; in the beginning, I was content to at least fear it less.

Food is both the enemy and the savior with an eating disorder. Often, your dealings with it are furtive, secretive.

For me, it it was cathartic to work with food so openly, intimately, and in such a tactile way: to touch it, smell it, be in its presence. To inhale the aroma of butter creaming with sugar. To see cakes rise in the oven. To roll pie dough. To knead bread. Understanding the process of how things were made gave me an appreciation, and little by little, trust grew. 

Of course, it didn't hurt that I was also receiving a lot of professional therapy, too.

I began to experiment with food beyond simply baking at home. I would challenge myself to take part in experiences baking or eating with other people. Sometimes I would feel panicked, but more often than not I would be rewarded by the experience. I found myself capable of doing things like judging baking contests (even if I took the most minute bites you could possibly imagine) and not only sampling, but allowing myself to enjoy, my own baked goods. I found myself capable of doing it with abandon. If other people could do it, I figured, I could too.  

I have gained weight since I started CakeSpy. Not just because I've eaten more sweets (which I have) but because I've learned that I actually need food, not only to live but so that I can be good to the people I love and do the things I want to do: write, do crazy yoga poses, walk for miles while talking with friends, travel, experience, love, and create. 

Speaking of creating, that is the other way in which CakeSpy has helped me heal. It may sound funny to say this, but one of the ways in which the blog helped heal my eating disorder had nothing to do with the food: it had to do with my sense of purpose and accomplishment. It is something I have built by myself, featuring my art: my writing, my illustrations, my creations. I cannot understate the positive effect it has had on my life to know that my work has had an impact on others.

Yes, an eating disorder has to do with food. But for me, recovery isn't merely about trusting food: it's about trusting yourself, and life. 

 

ED Blog post

Am I cured?

Let me say this: I do believe in full recovery for eating disorders. But for me, recovery remains a moving target. Why so?

Because at one point, when I was bulimic, I would have said "cured" was no longer bingeing and purging. Well, I reached that goal, but then I plummeted to an alarmingly low weight and suffered a slew of related health consequences. So, no, that was not really cured. 

At this point, I have not shown clinical signs of eating disordered behavior in years. I can eat a slice of cake like nobody's business. However, I am hesitant to say without a doubt "I am cured!".

Because I still have weak moments. I can still feel panic when someone shoves a cookie in my face and says "try this!" or berate myself for eating too much. I don't always like eating in front of others. I can observe that in times of crisis (real or perceived), I turn to food obsession as a way to set structure in what seems like a crazy, out of control world. 

So with that in mind, instead of stating absolutes such as "cured" or "diseased", I will designate myself as a "work in progress".

ED Blog post

 

THE MORAL:

CakeSpy has helped me in recovering from disordered eating, as backwards as it may seem. It has helped me pave my own way in the world, to believe in myself and my ablities, and to keep growing in a postive way. If I had to share a big takeaway, it would be this:

Your story does not need to be open and shut, black or white. It doesn't have to follow the same story arc as a movie.

Basically, it boils down to this: you have the power to change your story, and I chose to make mine delicious.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, or you suspect that eating may have become a problem in your life, I urge you to seek help. Both professional and from your family and friends. Do not make disordered eating your own private island. 

Comments? Questions? I welcome them. Leave a comment here (moderation is enabled, so if it doesn't pop up right away please forgive me), or email me: jessieoleson@gmail.com

Saturday
May172014

Get Excited About Salad: Peanut Butter Croutons Recipe

When’s the last time you got excited over a crouton? Garnish gets gussied up with this delectable recipe for Peanut Butter Croutons, a tasty treat that has the body of a crouton, but the heart and soul of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is my latest creation for Peanut Butter and Company. Find the recipe here!

Thursday
May152014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Seriously. Cannoli doughnuts! Image and recipe via Pillsbury.

Delicious any time of day: pizzelles!

Choco-mallow: I want it in my mouth.

Do you know the different types of sprinkles?

What makes a great theme cake? A horse of course! Here's a fantastic roundup.

Stuffed with fun: Funfetti Ooey Gooey Bars.

Quit pretending you're working: take this "what kind of unicorn are you?" quiz!

I'm very interested in the "Test Bakery" model Panera has unveiled.

Neapolitan rice krispies cake!

Ebinger's blackout cake: a brief history and warnings for baking.

Peppermint Nanaimo bars are great even in warm weather.

Sweet video: check out this video from the Bake For Good event sponsored by King Arthur Flour!

Book of the week: Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions. A fascinating look at how Native American traditions and foods have affected the way that we eat in the USA. Includes a fantastic dessert chapter which says that "of all the cross-cultural preparations that we now enjoy, desserts have benefitted the most from diversity."

Wednesday
May142014

The Secret to Perfect Pie Crust? It's in Your Hands (Plus a Giveaway)

Pie crust technique

Note: this post includes a giveaway at the bottom! Lucky you.

You're always taught the same basic rules with pie crust. Cut small pieces of cold butter into a mixture of flour and salt; blend until the pieces are like peas. Add cold water, a little at a time, until the dough will come together in a clump. Gather, flatten into a disc, chill, and proceed. 

But recently, I learned a method that basically rocked my everloving, pie-eating world. Because it involves using your fingers to attain the perfect consistency.

This was very exciting to me because I actually kind of despise most kitchen tools. Especially the pastry cutter, because it is such a pain to wash. In general, the more functions I can get out of one tool, the more I like it. Wooden spoons and wire whisks? Awesome. Garlic press? Not so much. 

But enough about me--back to the pie. You're probably wondering some things. Let me try to answer:

Where the method came from

I learned this method at the Bake For Good event in Los Angeles, part of the Bake For Good Tour, where baker Robyn told us it was a method she'd learned from famed foodie Marion Cunningham.

By the way, if you want to know more about the event, check out this video.

Cherry cream walnut pie

How it works

Basically, the method includes working in larger than usual hunks of butter, and instead of mashing them with a pastry cutter, you squeeze the butter pieces with your fingers to flatten them.

    Cherry cream walnut pie

Why you should immediately adopt this practice

Those pieces of flat butter will make for the coveted "VB" (visible butter) in your rolled crust, and the taste is flaky and fantastic on your resulting pie.

Pie crust technique

I have co-opted and adapted it for my own use at home with a sort of mashup between traditional and by hand methods. Best of both worlds, and still, minimal stuff to clean.

And here, I will share it with you. Aren't you lucky?

Making Pie Crust with Your Hands

adapted from King Arthur Flour, who adapted it from Marion Cunningham

enough for a double crust pie

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup very cold water

Procedure

  1. Sift together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Set to the side.
  2. Size your butter. One stick cut into small pieces, the other cut into fairly large pieces (double the size you'd usually cut for a pie crust.
  3. Cherry cream walnut pie
  4. Work in the stick of smaller butter with a plastic dough scraper (my new favorite tool and very easy to clean). It's not going to have the same impact that double the butter would in terms of working in, but go for the regular pea sized consistency.
  5. Now, add the bigger hunks of butter. Gently coat them with flour in the mixture, so they won't stick to you when you squeeze them. 
  6. Cherry cream walnut pie
  7. Now, one by one, squeeze all of those pieces of butter until they're flat like pancakes. Cherry cream walnut pie You don't have to be too precious about it. Grab, squeeze, then move on to the next one.
  8. Got 'em all? OK. Give the mixture another stir with your pastry scraper. Now, start adding the water. Switch back to your dough scraper.
  9. Keep on adding it bit by bit until the dough forms a shaggy consistency, still floury but you can clump it together.
  10. Pie crust method
  11. Gather, form into a ball, and place on top of a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic on top of it, not too snugly, and then flatten it into a disc with your hand. Doing it this way, I learned, helps the dough spread out into the plastic and is just less messy.
  12. Pie crust method

Proceed with your recipe as usual. 

GIVEAWAY!

Hooray! King Arthur Flour has offered to reward one lucky reader with one of their mega cool dough scrapers, a cookbook, AND some of their highly patented and extremely delicious boiled apple cider (perfect for flavoring apple pie and using as a slightly fancy pancake syrup). Want to win? All you have to do is leave a comment (don't panic if it doesn't pop up right away; comment moderation is enabled) answering the following question:

What's your favorite type of pie to eat, and how do you like it served?

Apple pie with cheese for breakfast? French silk pie à la mode for dessert? It's all game here. I'll choose a winner by EOD Pacific time one week from today!

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