The Pancake Mansion

It’s a whole new season and everything has changed!

I’m married.

I live in Harrisburg.

I’m baking (that’s nothing new).

And it’s time for a total revamp of this blog.

I’m living at the Pancake Mansion, one of twelve people, and every day is an adventure. I’ve only been there for a week and already so much has unfolded. I’ll still be updating you on my daily endeavors (’cause I can’t help myself), but I’d like to use this blog more as a documentation of my community living experience and my current walk with God. I don’t think there’s enough information on the net or in every day life that shows people that

another world is possible,

and I think it’s my responsibility as a Christian to be one more voice crying in the wilderness. You can change your life. You can change your world. It is possible to live again, and to have life more abundantly than you ever imagined.

I’ve seen the hands of God at work over and over again on Front Street, and he shows no signs of stopping. But it hasn’t been without struggle; we’re still recouperating from the Susquehanna flooding, everyone’s on a different schedule, everyone is working and striving and completely exhausted. Every day is full of music and food and laughter and crying and inner struggle, we are being refined, learning how to love, and understanding the true meaning of sacrifice.

I invite you to join me. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be inspired to give it a try.

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One stitch at a time

My first experience knitting a sock has been bittersweet.

Minutes ago, I was close to completing the first half of my first pair.

Right here, they look pretty nice, right? Nice variegated yarn, a turquoise/teal blend none-the-less (my favorite color!)… But I made a mistake really early on. I could excuse the slightly lumpy heel, and the spot right after turning where I goofed up and cut my yarn early, but there’s one thing that kept nagging me. I did the top of the sock in stockinette (alternating knits and purls), and the purl side was somehow on the outside. So, it didn’t really match the bottom of the sock, which all looked like basic knit stitches. I didn’t really like it, and I realized, “I’m probably not going to wear these.” Then I had the classic argument with myself, “But I’ve spent hours on these already! It’s my first pair so they’re supposed to be messed up!” etc, etc. In contrast with times past though, I did the mature thing and pulled it all out. That’s right, I’m starting again right now, from scratch.

Typically, whenever I mess up a stitch, or an entire row, I keep it and call it “character.” I realized though, since it is my first sock and it’s supposed to be a learning experience, I should acknowledge my mistake and fix it. So, I’m starting over, right now, and I’m gonna get it right this time. And even if I don’t, I’m sure the third time’ll be my best yet!

I don’t usually write about anything “personal” on here, only because I started this blog as a place to document my creative adventures. But I’ve been running around a lot lately: traveling to Ecuador, spending time at home in Maryland, having random excitements in the city when I happen to be here for a day or two. My adventures right now are more real than ever, they’re happening every day. I’m being forced to make a lot of decisions, which is a good thing. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m ready to commit to some things. And I’m ready to say, “I messed up. Let’s start over.”

I’m gonna figure it out, one stitch at a time. I’m sure I’ll come back to this later, and tell you a little bit more about everything that’s going on. I at least have to let you know how my socks turn out.

End-of-the-world Fruit Tarts

This weekend, Mike and I decided to make fruit tarts for an end of the world barbecue.

Just in case you guys were unaware, we’re all still here, so it really just turned into an average weekend shindig. Which was just fine with me! I stole a recipe from Joy of Baking, and we whipped these up in no time at all! Well, they took several hours, but we were also making a batch of soap at the time. More on that later.

This recipe is incredibly simple, but there’s a lot of steps. First, you need to make the crust. Start by softening

  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter

and mix in

  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 egg

Finally, add

  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

Flatten into a round shape, and store. I made mine the night before, and the next day it was just fine and flaky!

Next, place the dough into your pan, pastry ring, etc. We wanted to do minis, and we couldn’t find small rings anywhere, so we used a cupcake tin! Simply butter and flour your tins, roll the dough out, cut (we used a large coffee cup to make circles), and place in your tin. I will say, my biggest qualm was the thickness of our final tart, so if you roll yours try to get them nice and thin (but sturdy enough to hold the cream). This recipe yielded about 18 small tarts.

Cover the dough and let it chill in the fridge for 15 minutes, then prick the bottom(s) with a fork to keep it from puffing too much. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and let it bake for five minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake them for another 10-15 minutes. Make sure to keep your eye on them so they don’t burn! If you’re worried about time, these can be made a day or two in advance.

On the day you want to serve them, you’ll have to create your pastry cream. Mike took over this part, and it turned out wonderfully. To start, mix together

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 c. sugar

Sift together

  • 2 tbs. all purpose flour
  • 2 tbs. corn starch

and add to the egg mixture, stirring until you get a smooth paste.

Then you’ll want to heat up

  • 1 1/4 c. milk
  • approx. 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat until it just starts to boil, then combine slowly with your paste, whisking the entire time so the egg doesn’t curdle. Return it to the heat, and continue to whisk until it thickens. You can then add more vanilla if you want, or maybe a splash of liqueur (I’m honestly not sure what Mike added, but it was great. Have fun!).

Now you’re almost done! You’ll need to heat up

  • 1/2 c. apricot jam
  • 1 tb. water

Yes, I bought jam in the store for the first time in a long time. If you want to be really hardcore, make your own. That’s a whole separate blog post (oh, spiced apricot jam, how I miss you). Anyway… Heat those up, strain to get rid of any large fruit pieces (save those for munching!), and glaze the inside of your tarts. This’ll keep them from getting soggy.

Give them 2o minutes or so to dry, then fill with your pastry cream (easier said then done).

Finally, top with your favorite fruit (we used blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries). Arrange them however suits your fancy. Once all your fruits on, finish off with a layer of glaze on top.

All in all, I don’t think these were bad for our first attempt. They really are the perfect treat for a picnic or barbecue: bite-sized, and topped with delicious seasonal fruit. And there was only one left over, so I think they turned out just fine!

We know that Jesus will return someday (and not on a day predicted by the Mayans or Harold Camping), but until then we’ll keep on creating and enjoying delicious things.

Maranatha!

Ecuador! Brooklyn! Okra!

One of the only things I missed about America was my kitchen. Not that I didn’t cook up a storm with my comrades in Ecuador, but I hated not having all my own pots and ladles and spices. Most of all, not having an oven. I know, horrifying to even think about.

Despite all the hardships, I did manage to whip up some delicious mora jam, bake cinnamon rolls with panela, and teach my amigo mejor how to create basic rolls. My baking projects where few and far between though, and I was itching to get back and make something in the kitchen. All I needed was a little inspiration to get back into my groove, and it came on Tuesday when I worked Brooklyn Uncorked. My amazing friend Sunshine is just starting up CAKEette, a dessert service inspired by 1940s cigarette girls, and I was lucky enough to be one for the night! I’m really looking forward to watching her progress; I think it’s a genius idea.

After an amazing night of local food and wine, I was totally swept back up into the romance of creating any-and-all-things edible. Last night I had pan-fried salmon, creamy mashed potatoes, and fresh, local asparagus. It was quick and easy, but probably the best thing I’ve cooked since I got home last week. I also decided to end the night by baking my first loaf of artisan bread, which is delightful and beautiful, but basic and not really worth documenting on here. Next time.

The original point of this post, however, was to let you all know I finally tried pickling okra! After receiving a request for some (before I left the country) I had done a little online reading on the subject, but that’s about it. But after I snagged some pickled okra from Rick’s Picks on Tuesday, it was over. I had to do it. So, I did.

I’ll let you know how they turned out. I went a little crazy on the spice. I can already tell I made some other rookie mistakes, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. More detail next time, when I finally get the hang of this pickling thing. Maybe I should actually try some basic (cucumber) pickles next time.

This post was supposed to be all about the okra, but I guess the real moral is, I’m back in action, and I love food more than ever! Be prepared for an onslaught of crazy goodness in the coming weeks.

I’m exhausted. Maybe ’cause I spent so much time on these croissants.

So much rolling. So much folding.

I can’t wait to make them again! Next time though, I’m using salted butter, an extra cup of it, and rolling the dough way thinner. Maybe folding an extra time. But overall, I’m pretty proud of my first attempt at croissants. One step closer to the breakfast mobile. =)

Fat Fryday!

This past weekend we had our annual start-of-Lent fry party, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it more. I made a delicious strawberry syrup that started a syrup frenzy (it’s like jam, but not!), and we deep fried everything imaginable. Some of my favorite items that I recreated tonight were mozzarella sticks (beer and breadcrumb battered, of course) and doughnuts. Yes, homemade doughnuts. Or fasnachts, as my Pennsylvanian friend so persistently reminded me. I haven’t even considered eating a doughnut in years, but these were so good I made them twice in one weekend! I was a little nervous about the dough at first, but it turned out to be really simple. In Pennsylvania Dutch country everyone has their own special recipe, but here’s a pretty basic one that my same friend sent me, credit to Alice Faust of Kempton, PA.

Start by scalding

  • 2 c. milk

Now, if you’re like me, and you have to look up what exactly scalded milk is, let me save you the trouble… It’s milk that’s been brought to about 185 degrees on the stove, to kill any bacteria and destroy enzymes that keep milk from thickening when you bake with it. Basically, if you’re buying modern, pasteurized milk, it’s unnecessary. It makes sense that a lot of older recipes call for “scalded milk,” but it’s debatable whether or not it actually affects the quality of your final product. For the sake of trying something new, I scalded my milk for this recipe.

Next, add

  • 1 c. plain mashed potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. lard or shortening

…here’s where things got interesting. I didn’t have any lard on hand, and I don’t like the idea of putting hydrogenated oils in my body, but I did have a jar in my fridge full of saved bacon grease. So, I got resourceful.

I was a little nervous about my decision, so I did some quick forum hopping and found out that not only are lard and bacon grease pretty different, there’s a lot of people out there rendering their own lard! More power to ’em! Back to my immediate situation though, I had already gone out that day and really wanted an excuse to use some of my bacon grease, so, I did.

Then, I let the liquid mixture cool off to a nice lukewarm, and added

  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 package yeast (typical 1/4 oz. size, already proofed, needless to say)

Now that all that’s done with, start addin’ your flour! Add about

  • 7 c. flour

and then start kneadin’. I usual shoot for an 8 minute knead. Then let it rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 hours. It will get gigantic. I also gotta say, at this point I was pretty sure my bacon grease substitute had done no harm. Now comes the fun part! When you’re ready to enjoy your doughnuts, roll out your dough to about 1/4 in. thick and cut ’em out! I used a large mug and a pill bottle for the holes (which are called timbits in Canada, I learned from my new friend Tony).

I should also say, the batch that’s pictured was made tonight, with refrigerated dough from Friday, and they turned out perfectly. This recipe makes about two dozen, so it’s good to know you can always save some for later. Two days later. Anyway…

All that’s left now is to fry ’em! Get a pot of oil going (we used corn oil, gross!) at a nice medium heat, and fry until golden brown. I recommend testing the temperature with a doughnut hole. And then testing the doughnut hole, by eating it.

I rolled most of them in cinnamon sugar, sprinkled some with confectioner’s sugar, and left a few plain ones for my roommate. I would have included a timbit or two in this picture, but there weren’t any left. I’m excited to try some jelly-filled doughnuts, whenever my next frying session happens. For now though, I’m all fried out. Goodnight.

(Not Red) Velvet Cake


Oh red velvet, where do I begin? I hate red velvet. Probably because working in a bakery that doesn’t carry any, in the middle of New York City, is apparently unacceptable to about 50% of people that come in. These days, everyone wants red velvet. Seriously asshole? You just like it ’cause it’s red. In any case, I then calmly explain to them that we don’t use any artificial coloring in our products, but we do carry a chocolate cake with cream cheese icing that is very similar.

But it’s not. Not totally. I’ve known for a while that red velvet is it’s own special brand of cake, but that almost made me hate it more. Really, what’s the point? It’s a stupid half-cocoa, half-vanilla freak with some vinegar thrown in for good measure. Why do I care? …but everyone seems to love it, so I figured it’s worth making and trying, just to see what all the hype is about. Without the food coloring, of course. It’s been on my to-do list for months, and last night I finally got around to it! And just in time for Lady Katherine’s show at the PIT… Thank God, ’cause the two of us have recently been forced to consume the same amount of baked goods that I was churning out when we had four people in the house. Anyway, here’s the reason I no longer detest red velvet cake… Although mine wasn’t red, so I’m not sure if it really counts (did you catch my eye roll there?).

Combine

  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • splash of vanilla

and set aside. Next, mix

  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c. white sugar

in a large bowl. Mix in

  • 2 eggs

one at a time. Stir together

  • 4 tb. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • about 6 tb. warm water

and form a paste. Add to batter. Now you’ll need

  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Add half your flour, all of the buttermilk mixture, and then the other half of your flour.
Mix gently until just combined. Finally, stir together

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar

and fold into batter. Did I mention I made cupcakes? After your batter’s done, put it in whatever pan you like and bake at 350. For cupcakes, about 25 minutes. Maybe add 5-10 more for a whole cake. And I know cream cheese icing isn’t the “real,” “traditional” icing for red velvet, but who cares?! It’s delicious!

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 4 c. confectioners sugar
  • splash of vanilla

Frost and enjoy! The more I ate, the more I liked them. And everyone at the show seemed to think they were delicious too! I think there may be a future for me and this “velvet cake” after all. How about you? Which side of the red velvet controversy do you fall on?