April 2016 archive

golden birthday

24th BirthdayThanks to everyone for the wonderful birthday wishes!  Today is my golden birthday – 24 years old on the 24th of April.

I have always loved birthdays, but this one seemed especially special – your golden birthday only happens once.  My birthday weekend was filled with love and good food with lots of people I love.  I crossed an item off my Chapel Hill bucket list (ran the Tar Heel 10 miler), spent quality time with friends and family, ate cake for breakfast, and came home to these wonderful golden balloons from the sweetest husband to celebrate my golden 24th birthday.

Birthdays always remind me how wonderful, kind and thoughtful people are.  I’m so lucky and blessed to have such a great support system and so many people who care about me.  23 had some stressful blips, but those difficult times make the good ones even sweeter.  I’m excited about 24, the last year I can really say I’m in my early 20s, and I’m looking forward to setting goals to accomplish before next year’s birthday.  I’ll share those here soon, but for now I’m going to soak in the last bit of my birthday, and maybe snag another slice of cake ;)  Thank you again for all of the love and birthday wishes – you are all wonderful!

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This week has been a crazy whirlwind, and I don’t think the whirlwind is ending anytime soon.  I sometimes want to do it all, and sometimes that can be overwhelming.  I’m planning what feels like tons of events at work, trying to move – but painting every night before we can, training for a race, trying to keep good relationships, and writing this blog.  Oh, and sleep somewhere in there.  Needless to say, I have been a little stressed and short on free time lately.  I had multiple posts planned for this week, but again didn’t have time to actually follow through with them.  Next week we’ll get one up!  Next week.

 Link love 4.22.2016via

This article on being hard on yourself seems very fitting for my past few and upcoming few weeks.  Like I said, I want to do it all, I really try to do it all.  But, I know I can’t, and sometimes it is hard to come to terms with that.

We focus so much on living a healthy lifestyle, but does how we live actually make us healthier?  While changing your lifestyle may or may not prevent you from getting a disease, we also need to keep in mind and get to the root of other factors that can impact the health of populations – environmental, social, economic, etc – to really impact the health of the population on the whole.

We unexpectedly said goodbye to another celebrity yesterday. The purple loving master of pop’s death is still being investigated.  RIP, Prince.

I love the Olympics!  There is something exciting about watching the international sports competitions and the best athletes in the world play each other.  It is a unifying experience.  Everyone is cheering for their country and watching the same competitions together for days at a time.  The 2016 Summer Olympic torch was ignited yesterday in Ancient Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the first Olympic games.  The torch will continue its journey for the next 15 weeks leading up to the opening ceremonies in August, whether or not the facilities are ready.

For those times when you want to travel to Greece or Rio (or London or Paris), but don’t have it in your budget, here are some ideas for making a night in feel like a foreign adventure.  A picture might not be as good as a trip, but it is easier on the wallet.  And if you are actually going on a foreign trip, can I fit in your suitcase?

Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday!  My favorite quote from this article about it is probably, “The country has long speculated about when the queen will step down, though she has given no indication she will do so”.  Sorry, not sorry, Charles.

While the queen doesn’t have a birthday shindig until June (what?), we will be having birthday celebrations of our own this weekend!  Happy birthday to my fellow April birthday buds!  It’s a good month to be born :)

brown butter banana bread

Brown butter banana bread – say that five times fast.

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

I’ve been into brown butter lately. If there is butter in my kitchen, it will be browned. The crackling melting butter smell fills the house and the nutty flavor gives depth to and enhances any recipe. Cookies, cakes, bars, roasted vegetables, pasta, even brown butter banana bread. Let’s do it.

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t even like bananas, but I love banana bread. Some people ask if it is the texture of bananas that I don’t like, since I do like the bread. Correct, I don’t like the texture. I don’t like the taste, or the smell either. I usually have Will mash the bananas for me when I make banana bread. I know, it’s an embarrassing aversion. It’s not that I can’t mash them, but if he is around and willing, it saves me from turning up my nose during the process. I should work on that. But the great news is, even though I don’t like bananas, I loveeeee this brown butter banana bread.

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

I have made a lot of banana bread recipes, in search of on that is as good as my grandma’s banana bread. Most of them were good, but not great, until this one. This one is great. I confess, I didn’t wait for it to cool to cut it like I should have and I don’t regret it. We’re living on the edge over here. The slightly cinnamony scent of the banana bread billows out through the steam as you slice into the warm loaf. The bread has a rich flavor and lots of specks, as any good banana bread should.

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

The crackling melting butter smell fills the house as you are making it, and the nutty flavor gives depth to the soft bread. The warm bread is delicious when topped with another pat of butter, which melts into all of the nooks and crannies of each slice. Once it cools down a bit of cream cheese spread across the bread makes it the perfect snack.

Brown butter banana bread makes for the best brunch!

Excuse me while I make a cup of tea, pour a glass of milk, and cut another slice of brown butter banana bread.

Brown Butter Banana Bread
12 tablespoons butter, melted and browned to a little over ½ cup of butter
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup buttermilk
4 medium bananas, mashed (a little over 1 ¼ cup mashed banana)
2 teaspoons molasses

Optional mix-ins:
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts
or 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Butter will begin to foam and crackle as it melts. When the crackling subsides, the butter will begin to brown. Swirl the pan around a few times as the butter cooks. When the butter browns and begins to smell nutty, remove the pan from the flame and transfer the butter to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Stir in the mashed bananas and molasses. When the browned butter has cooled, whisk it into the banana mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold together, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to catch hidden pockets of flour. Break up all of the flour but try not to overmix.

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to rest in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert onto a wire rack to cool completely before cutting a slice (if you can wait that long ;) ).

This banana bread stays fresh for about 4 days, when wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, though it has never lasted that long in our house. If you need to make it ahead of time, it also freezes well.

Based on brown butter banana bread from Joy the Baker.

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Happy happy happy Friday! It was an exciting and great week.  I got genuine compliments, committed to a new home, and now I get my first full weekend off since March.  I don’t even know what to do with myself. That’s not really true. I have way more plans than I could ever get done in one weekend, but that’s how it goes, isn’t it?

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I hope your weekend is lovely and filled with spring blooms!

To get us started on the right foot today, this link presents an idea I love. Spring is my favorite season and this concept is about enjoying and soaking in spring while it is here, amidst the to-dos you have to check off and the chores you have to do. Take a walk outside with friends, do some work while sitting on a porch, fill your home with blooms. Enjoy spring! I’m all about that.

Staying on the subject of spring, this illustrated mental guide is a humorous take on the transition from winter to spring by different people. As you can tell from the paragraph above, I’m in the first group. Bring on spring!

I’m not middle aged, and hopefully not near mid-life yet, but I think there are some items in this article that are applicable to people of all ages. I sometimes struggle to start new things – hobbies, activities, types of tasks, etc. This is not because I don’t want to, often times I really want to, I am afraid of being the worst when I start. The line “at every stage of life, you should be a rookie at something,” is a good reminder that it is better to just start. No matter how good you are at the beginning, it is still an accomplishment to start something new. http://www.npr.org/2016/03/17/469822644/8-ways-you-can-survive-and-thrive-in-midlife

Working with computer scientists and seeing so many computer science demonstrations has given me a great appreciation for the various tasks computers and programs can perform. A recently revealed project in Amsterdam by computer scientists shows how computers can paint replicas of famous artwork, by using data from 3D scans and hundreds of the artist’s other paintings.  It reminds me of some of the computer vision projects we demo that use a million images from Flickr, Yahoo images and other open source photo websites, compile similar photos, and from the similar data in those photos (even though they are taken from all different angles in different lighting), run code to create 3D reconstructed models of the landmarks.  Do I sound nerdy yet? My dad would be proud ;)

Speaking of technology, let’s talk about Tesla.  This article claims that best selling car brands in the US typically sell 300,000 annually.  Tesla sold 276,000 in two days.  Whattttt?!  Gas is out, electric cars are in.  Orbit City, here we come!

Talk about a time to be a North Carolinian.  Set your clocks back a few decades and marvel at the stupidity of our state legislature.  It often boggles my mind.

Instead of ending on that note, here is another shot of those flowers for your weekend.  Have a good one, friends!

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spring fashion wishlist

The flowers are blooming, the pollen is flying, crisp mornings turn into warmer afternoons – spring is here! And with it come lots of fashion shifts.

Spring fashion wishlist

clockwise from top left 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 sold out, similar | 11

Thick sweaters rotate out and pretty sundresses rotate in. We swap our boots for sandals and our warm pants for lighter shorts. Spring is my favorite season of the year, and I’m so glad it and it’s fashion have arrived. There are so many great dresses, shoes and jewelry options that my winter closet is yearning to adopt for this new, warmer season.

Cognac sandals and gingham will always be two of my warm weather favorites and I love the new shoes that are out right now.  Off the shoulder tops are in right now, but I’m not sure how I feel about wearing them yet. I have tried on a few and always feel the shirt is going to ride up or people are going to be able to see down the shirt with any wrong move.  Any tips?

I think those tassel earrings would look so great with an off the shoulder top, or a sleeveless shirt/dress.  They make a fun statement without being overbearing.  There are so many great looks for spring out right now, with a wide variety of styles.  Below are some of the items on my spring fashion wishlist.  Do you have any favorite looks this season?

Accessories and Bags:

Dresses:

Shoes:

Tops:

Bottoms:

yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants

Welcome back to this space, friends! Stick around and have some yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd. I’ll even throw in a caramelized croissant for you!

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

I’m sorry for the unintentional hiatus over here – I had concepts and ideas for last week’s posts and life was so crazy and busy that I didn’t have a blink of free time to get anything done in this space. I hope you will forgive me if I give you a caramelized croissant and a delicious, healthy, easy spring brunch.  These pictures make me so happy.  They are bright and cheery…and deceiving.  The little eggs you see, tricky, tricky, those are.  They may look like soft boiled eggs, but the shells actually contain yogurt panna cotta with a lemon curd “yolk.”

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

Panna cotta looks and sounds like a fancy dessert, but it is really very simple to make.  It is a good one to make to impress people with minimal effort.  I will say putting these in eggshells takes more effort than the usual serving dish, but luckily you have the option to use either one and the result will still look beautiful. I love brunch and am always looking for a new dish to try or a new way to alter an existing favorite.  This one nails both of those.  Eggs are so common (and one of my favorite dishes) at brunch, and panna cotta is almost always a dessert, but combine the look of the eggs with yogurt panna cotta, and you have a new twist on brunch.  Made with greek yogurt and skim milk and sweetened by honey, the yogurt panna cotta isn’t as sweet as it’s dessert counterpart, which makes it the perfect breakfast.  The lemon curd ads a bit of tang and a bit of sweetness to each bite that pairs with the panna cotta.  Both are best when delivered to the mouth by a caramelized croissant, used for dipping.

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

These caramelized croissants might need to become a staple in our brunches from now on.  Look at those crispy layers and the golden sheen from the caramelized honey. Like the panna cotta, these look impressive but take little time and are so easy. They make a perfect pair to the yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and are deliciously crisp, buttery and slightly sweet. The warm caramelized croissant pairs well with the cold panna cotta and lemon curd or on its own and takes this brunch option to the next level.  I add a generous dollop of lemon curd to each serving of panna cotta.  You can vary the amount based on your sweet tooth or add more honey to the panna cotta to make it a sweeter breakfast option.  I like the panna cotta a little less sweet to balance the sweetness of the lemon curd and the caramelized croissants.  We’re flexible here – It’s all up to you!

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

Yogurt panna cotta with lemon curd and caramelized croissants is the perfect breakfast for your spring brunch parties.

No one has to know how easy or quick it is – just sit back and let them be impressed by your gorgeous, delicious creations.

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Lemon Curd and Caramelized Croissants

Yogurt Panna Cotta with Lemon Curd
1 cup skim milk, divided (or your choice of milk)
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup greek yogurt
lemon curd, for serving

Caramelized Croissants
2 tablespoons butter
1 full-sized or 2 mini croissants, cut in half lengthwise
2-4 tablespoons honey

Yogurt Panna Cotta
Combine ½ cup cold milk with the gelatin in a small saucepan and let sit for 5 minutes to soften. Once the mixture is softened, place the pan over low heat and cook until the gelatin is dissolved. Set aside.

If you are planning to use eggshells as your serving “dishes,” see the instructions below on how to prepare eggshells.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining milk, vanilla and honey. Stir over medium heat until combined.

Add the gelatin mixture to the warm milk mixture and stir well. Remove from heat then stir in the greek yogurt until smooth. The mixture might take a lot of stirring to look smooth – that is normal.

Pour the yogurt gelatin mixture into small serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or until firm. When you are ready to serve, scoop out a spoonful or two of panna cotta and replace it with a spoonful of lemon curd. The panna cotta is not super sweet, so the lemon curd adds the perfect amount of sweetness. Add more if you want it to be sweeter.

To Prepare Eggshells for Panna Cotta
If you want to serve your yogurt panna cotta in eggshells instead of dishes, carefully crack the number of eggs you want to use near the top of the shell and remove the top portion. e

Remove the filmy lining from your eggshells and let them roll in boiling water for a few minutes to kill any germs.

Allow the shells to air dry before using. Use these as your serving dishes, pouring the liquid panna cotta mixture into them when it is ready. Use an egg carton to support the panna cotta eggs as they solidify and serve in individual egg cups alongside the caramelized croissant.

Caramelized Croissants
In a small skillet, heat the butter over medium-low heat until it begins to bubble. Add the croissant halves to the skillet and let them cook until toasted, about 2 minutes on each side. Once they are toasted, drizzle a bit of honey on each side and cook in the skillet again until the croissants are golden and caramelized on both sides, about 30 seconds to a minute per side. The honey can caramelize very quickly, so watch the croissants closely to prevent them from burning. Let cool slightly before serving alongside the panna cotta.

 

Caramelized croissant idea based on caramelized brioche in February 2016 Bon Appetit magazine

march madness: chocolate chip cookie edition

Happy national championship game day!  WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Let’s go Heels!!! Can you tell I’m a little excited? Let’s celebrate with a chocolate chip cookie…or ten.

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Will and I were talking about how poorly our years in school lined up with our teams’ basketball national championship years.  UNC won the national championship our junior year of high school, Duke won our senior year of high school.  Duke won the first year we were out of college and now UNC is in the championship game our second year out of college.  Why were we in college the four dry years in between all of those championship games?  Why?

Growing up in North Carolina, the NCAA basketball tournament was always a big deal.  Everyone and their mother fills out a bracket for multiple challenges with friends, families and coworkers.  In middle school I remember watching NCAA basketball tournament games in science class.   In our high school years, before smartphones were around, some students would carry radios in their pockets and backpacks to listen to the game between class changes or with a headphone in one ear during class.  Back then Wake Forest, NC State, Duke and UNC all usually made the tournament and, with so many North Carolina basketball teams typically in the tournament, there was inevitably always some local team to watch.

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Throughout the tournament I have been making different types of chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Friends and family have tested different cookies and helped determine advances in the bracket with their opinions and votes.  There are 10 different types of chocolate chip cookies vying for a spot in the national championship of the chocolate chip cookie tournament, and you can help decide the winner!  Here are the cookie competitors:

1| The Herings’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies (these are the cookies my family always made growing up and the one’s I am known for amongst friends)
2| How Sweet It Is’ Brown Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
3| Joy the Baker’s Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
4| Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
5| Ovenly’s Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
6| New York Times’/Jaques Torres’ Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies
7| Ambitious Kitchen’s Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
8| Ambitious Kitchen’s Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
9| Not Without Salt’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
10| The Herings’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Brown Butter, Dark Chocolate and Pecans (a twist on the original), recipe below!

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

I have a winner for different categories of the challenge (think regions), but we there isn’t a clear tournament champion yet.  If you have ever made any of these recipes, or better yet, multiple of these recipes, I want to know what you think!  Which is your favorite?  And if you haven’t made any of them but want to try the top choices, bake up a few batches, call up some friends, and let me know your thoughts!  Not Without Salt even sells her famous cookies in a mix, so you don’t even have to bake from scratch if that’s not your thing.

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

I want to preface this by saying that these were all delicious.  We could taste a difference in each cookie, but I think all of the taste testers can back me up when I say that, while we may have our own favorites, there isn’t one of these cookies that we would turn down.  It was for this reason, in part that we don’t have a clear winner, but we have favorites among categories.  Even with categories, it still depends on your preferences for taste, texture, and nuances like puffy vs. flat, chocolate chunks vs. chocolate chips, sea salt vs. no sea salt, etc.  But without further ado, I give you our favorites for each category (ehm, region).  Happy March madness, chocolate chip cookie edition!

Best brown butter chocolate chip cookie:  Joy the Baker’s Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie: Not Without Salt’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best oatmeal chocolate chip cookie:  The Herings’ Original Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie or The Herings’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie with Brown Butter, Dark Chocolate and Pecans

Best alternative diet chocolate chip cookie:  Ambitious Kitchen’s Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookie March madness

Let me know your vote!  And GO HEELS! :)  (The cookies in the picture above are the Levain cookies.)

Brown Butter Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups oatmeal
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup dark chocolate chips
½ cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Over medium heat melt 12 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. The butter will bubble and pop. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the crackling noises stop. Once the butter stops popping swirl continuously until brown bits begin to form at the bottom of the pan. After about 2-3 minutes, once the bits become amber, remove the butter from the heat and pour into a bowl to cool. The butter does not need to harden, but it does need to be cool to the touch before you use it in the recipe.

While you wait for the butter to cool, pour the oatmeal in a blender or food processor and grind until it becomes a flour-like texture. It is okay if there are some oat flakes mixed in. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the ground oatmeal and set aside.

Once the butter has cooled, pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugars and to and beat until the mixture sticks together. This may take a few minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla and mix until fully combined. Pour in the oat-flour mixture until the mixture is almost fully incorporated but you can still see streaks of flour, then fold in the chocolate chunks and pecans.

Scoop the cookie dough into 2-tablespoon sized balls and place on your prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for about 9-12 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so if the edges and top are golden, they have cooked too long. Allow the baked cookies to cool for a few minutes on the trays before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

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Happy April and happy April fools’ day!

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We all need a little harmless fun in our lives, right?  Well, maybe not the Chinese.  Too soon?  Growing up, my mom was the QUEEN of April fools pranks in our house.  We should have been expecting the short sheeted beds, colored milk and rubber bands around the faucet side sprayer in the sink, but she always got us.  And then laughed at us as we struggled.  I always liked a good cereal switch, moving the cereal bags into the wrong boxes (watch out, Will).

This blog post will make you want to visit the US West and all of the gorgeous hotels it has to offer asap.  I love The Fresh Exchange, partially because they are local (whoop whoop!) and mainly because they have great posts.  This one really excites your wanderlust – if you didn’t have the travel bug before, you might after seeing those pictures.  One of the hotels they mentioned (actually a teepee I think) was on a new-to-me hotel website that I have since been loving!  I’m probably just behind in the hotel renting world, but I have been frequenting their website just to see their awesome options!

Speaking of travel, most of New York City’s water supply travels a long way to get to the bustling city.  Most of the water in the city comes from the Catskills and can take 12 weeks to a year to get to NYC!  Crazy!

I was in another city last weekend: DC.  While I was there, we stopped by the new(ish) Milk Bar location in city center and tried the Klossies.  Klossies are a collaboration between Milk Bar founder, Christina Tosi, and supermodel, Karlie Kloss.  It was so good!  Rice n’ spice tastes like a soft gingersnap with great texture.  Tosi states that the cookies taste good and “it’s like they’re accidentally good for you.”  I’ll take more, please!

In addition to cookie creating and modeling, Karlie Kloss is also starting a coding camp for girls.  Maybe it’s because I am involved with supervising an all-female weekend-long coding competition soon, but I love this!  Even if the spelling of Kode with Karlie really bothers me, I’m glad to see more initiatives for young females in the science world.  YGG!

And a week late, but this NY Times obituary writer reports the obituary that his predecessors would have written about the death and execution of Jesus of Nazareth long ago.  The obit ends with his missing body.  Spoiler alert: he came back.

Have a wonderful Friday and a wonderful weekend!  Report back on any great April Fools’ Day pranks you successfully completed ;)