Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde Bars (Strawberry Lemonade Bars)

This is a tale of love and loss, fulfillment and heartbreak, happiness and anguish. This is a tale about my first love…at work.

You meet a lot of people in the workplace.  If you’re lucky, you’ll figure out who the batshit crazy people are right away and keep your distance.  If you’re luckier, you’ll make a friend or two.  And if you’re REALLY lucky, you will find a work spouse.  Coworkers come and go in our lives but you will never forget your first work spouse.

Oh the fond memories. One of my all-time favorite Kelley stories was when a Chinese filmmaker flew in to the US for a meeting with some of our other coworkers.  He sat in our common area and saw Kelley working while he waited for his colleagues.  During dinner, he leaned over to one of our coworkers and said, “So I must ask you – WHO is that gorgeous strawberry blonde that works in your office? She looks like a model or an actress!”

Kelley started about a year after I did, and I honestly think it took a while for us to warm up to each other. She’s a girly girl, and I… well… I own Star Wars bedsheets.  But the friendship evolved throughout the last nearly four years and blossomed into professional matrimony.   I parallel parked her car for her regularly, and she reminded me that I really ought to brush my hair in the morning. We talked about everything from workout strategies, to boys, to wine, to dieting, and frequently discussed life’s greatest unanswered questions.

It all started over morning coffee.  Kelley and I casually complained to each other about how terrible the office coffee was at the time.  Neither of us were coffee snobs, but the communal office coffee literally tasted like aluminum sludge.  No amount of sugar or creamer could save it.  A couple of years ago, Kelley and I started buying and brewing our own coffee. Most of my mornings as of late would start with the instant message “can you go now?”, meaning it was time to rendezvous in the office pantry.  Morning coffee quickly became coffee and breakfast, which then occasionally turned into drinks after work and weekend outings.  I was in a committed relationship that was martial work bliss.

Then, a few weeks ago, she told me she was leaving IMAX.  She had met another company and was moving on, away from me.  I was getting dumped.

Kelley:  “It’ll be okay. It wasn’t going to last forever. You’ll be fine.”
Me:  “Will we still see each other?”
Kelley:  “Yeah, of course we’ll still see each other!
Me: “Okay. I would like that.”

I was devastated.  I will find my true coffee soulmate.  Some day.  I’m a firm believer in that if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

Naturally, as a little goodbye sendoff, I had to make a batch of “Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde” bars.  Kelley had actually sent me a similar recipe from Smitten Kitchen a couple of years ago for Pink Lemonade Bars, but they used raspberries instead of strawberries. I had to go down to San Diego for a work trip the day before her last day, so I picked up a few cartons of fresh strawberries from the Carlsbad Strawberry Company farm on the drive back up. They had BEAUTIFUL and extremely sweet strawberries to choose from.

Carlsbad Strawberry Company Strawberries
Carlsbad Strawberry Company Strawberries

I tweaked Smitten Kitchen’s recipe a bit to make up for the additional liquid that strawberries tend to produce (versus the not-as-juicy raspberries), and didn’t use the lemon zest in the crust that Smitten Kitchen’s recipe called for.  Here’s my take:

Crust
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Filling
1 cup fresh lemon juice (pulp is fine)*
zest of 1 medium lemon
1/2 cup pureed strawberries (about 3/4 cup hulled berries)**
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt

*If you want it to be less tart, use slightly less lemon juice and more strawberry puree, but make sure you end up with the same total amount of liquid or the bars won’t set after you bake them.
**Hulling the berries is really important – you only want the sweet, red part of the strawberry and none of that white bitter center.

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with nonstick foil or parchment paper.

2. Make the crust.  In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed with a stand mixer (I used a pastry blender in this case), gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Pour into prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Bake for about 18 minutes, until set at the edges.

Crust
Crust

3. While the crust bakes, make the filling.  In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, strawberry puree, sugar and eggs and process until smooth. Add in flour, baking powder and salt, then pulse until smooth.

Filling - It Looks Like Barf, But I Promise It Isn't
Filling – It Looks Like Barf, But I Promise It Isn’t

4. Gently pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set. A light colored “crust” will form on top from the sugar in the custard – nothing a little sprinkling of powdered sugar can’t hide!

Hot Out of the Oven!
Hot Out of the Oven!

5. Sprinkle the bars with some powdered sugar.  Cool completely before slicing and use a sharp damp knife to ensure clean slices.  Store bars in the refrigerator.  Makes about 28 2-inch square bars.

"Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde" Bars
“Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde” Bars

Kelley turned about as red as her bars when she opened the box on her last day and read the sign that had her infamous Kelley-isms (as seen below).

Kelley!
Kelley!

I think all approved the out come of the bars.  Miss you, Kelley!

Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Alex, Lingie, and I made the trek up to the Pacific Northwest back in December to visit our beloved Andrew. The four of us, being the laid back yet eccentric group that we are, decided that the first bullet point on our itinerary was for us all to cook a meal together. Nothing else was planned til less than week before our departure date.

Seattle!
Seattle!

Here’s what we came up with!

Andrew's Salmon Prep
Andrew’s Salmon Prep

Andrew taught us how to do a pan-fried salmon, and Lingie helped prep.  We liked the recipe so much, we made it again the next night.

Ain't Nobody Got THYME Fo Dat...
Ain’t Nobody Got THYME Fo Dat…

Andrew also made a linguini vongole with bacon lardons.

Linguini Vongole with Bacon Lardons
Linguini Vongole with Bacon Lardons

We all contributed to a salad consisting of julienne pink lady apples, grated pecorino, and candied walnuts all topped with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Salad with Grated Pecorino, Julienned Pink Lady Apples, and Candied Walnuts
Salad with Grated Pecorino, Julienned Pink Lady Apples, and Candied Walnuts

At the request of our gracious host, I made a batch of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Chocolate Chip Cookies in Andrew’s oven, which had convection capabilities at the flip of a switch (which I used, obvi).  I live quite an exciting life.  Alex helped me with the cookies.

Alex is Great with Balls
Alex is Great with Balls

I liked these cookies because they used two kinds of dark chocolate, so they weren’t too sweet (which is my issue with most chocolate chip cookies).

Gorgeous Lighting
Gorgeous Lighting

However, if I made these again, I would use the organic chocolate I’ve recently discovered at Trader Joe’s.  It’s deliciously 85% dark and cocoa buttery smooth.  It’s also quite bitter… like me!  You are what you eat, right?

Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" Chocolate Chip Cookies
Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” Chocolate Chip Cookies

We paired the cookies hot out of the oven with pints (yes, PINTS) of Ben and Jerry’s “Pistachio Pistachio” ice cream, and I used the dust remnants of the chocolate I chopped to sprinkle over the ice cream.

Not going to lie – pistachio and dark chocolate were made to be together.  The beauty of pistachio ice cream with any form of dark chocolate (bars, warm cake, cookies, anything!)  brings me tears of joy every time.

This recipe was also my inspiration for what I ended up baking yesterday in preparation for Valentine’s Day… which I probably won’t post about for another 3 months at this rate.  More to come on that front!

Chocolate-Mint (Nightmare Before Christmas) Pinwheel Cookies

Lingie sent me a FANTASTIC link about writing earlier today. Please read it, especially if you write. I was totally inspired to flail my fingers away helplessly across a keyboard after driving 90 minutes in rush hour traffic to a restaurant my mom picked for her birthday dinner only to find out it was closed on Mondays.  I have also had a glass of wine as a result of said experience. Yup. This is gonna be real pretty. Here we go.

I had the brilliant idea of walking 4 miles to do errands and have brunch with BBKF Joyce while my car was getting an oil change this past Saturday right before playing a basketball game.  Bad idea.  One of my giant calves cramped up so bad at the end of the game, I couldn’t even put weight on that leg and had to sub out for the last few minutes of the second half.  Of course, this was the play right after my legs gave out after running so hard for a loose ball that I fell flat on my face. Smooth, real smooth.

Somewhere while traipsing along the sidewalks towards the auto shop, Target, the bank, brunch, or Old Town Pasadena, I thought of something… Everybody poops, but that’s no excuse to be full of shit. True story. How many people do you meet in your everyday life that make you wonder, “how have you gone through life this whole time thinking that way?”  They’re full of shit.  Also, the older we get, the more we tend to believe our own bullshit. You’ll be convinced you turned the heater off before you left for work, but end up coming home to the pre-heated oven that once was your home. Or you’ll say “pffff… I totally took everything out of my gym bag after basketball” only to find that your sweaty gym socks from 3 days ago pleasantly smell like fresh cut flowers. Or, does the latter only happen to me?

The point is, check yo’self before you wreck yo’self. This applies not only to preventing your house from catching fire and common hygiene, but it’s a good reminder to not make other people as crazy as they make you.  Make sure you’re assessing your thoughts and actions as objectively as possible.  It will help your friendships, relationships, road rage, everything.  Don’t live in delusion, unless you are above the age of 90. Then everything is unicorns and rainbows…and very big diapers. Besides, you won’t remember who you are anyway. What was it I just said earlier this week? I look forward to getting older?

That was my rant.

So, who’s in the mood for some COOKIES?!

These were part of my Holiday Bake-A-Thon 2012, in the vein of the tea theme I had going. Mint tea! Yes, it’s a stretch but mint and chocolate do go together. These are also probably the ugliest cookies I’ve ever made.

I followed the recipe that I found on First Look Then Cook pretty meticulously, but I think I should have used a small rolling pin to flatten my layers before rolling them into the log.  The recipe said to just use your hands to push the layers flat. DON’T JUST USE YOUR HANDS, unless you’re aiming for the Burton-esque look.

Hulk Mint Smash
Hulk Mint Smash

They were supposed to come out in nice smooth swirls, but they remind me of that weird looking hill that Jack is always singing on top of in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Chocolate-Mint (Nightmare Before Christmas) Pinwheel Cookies
Chocolate-Mint (Nightmare Before Christmas) Pinwheel Cookies

I’m just going to pretend it was my intention all along.  They still tasted right at least.

Adieu 2012

For the longest time while I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get old – even into my twenties.  Getting older was exciting because every birthday, I’d look over my shoulder at the year prior (or a few years prior), and thank my lucky stars that I am less dumb than I was back then.  Looking back a full year, I’m happy to say I am far less stupid (and bonus points this year for being far less pathetic!) than I was at the tail end of 2012.  I’ll also look at how I measured up to my list of goals set the year prior just to keep myself in check, and create my new list for the new year.  Goals.  Not resolutions. I hate the idea of New Years resolutions, since it’s essentially a statement of intent.  Can you achieve a resolution?  No.  Set some quantifiable goals or benchmarks. Better yet, set a goal you can check-in on every other month.

Strangely, one of my not-so-quantifiable goals for 2012 was to be more selfish, probably stemming from the fruits of a traumatizing relationship and blaming myself for being so persistent at trying to make something work that by-golly just was not going to work.  People always say “there’s no point in beating a dead horse”, but boy, I pretty much made myself the poster child for the wanted posters at PETA with my performance (like I said earlier, pathetic). I flailed around at indulging my own wants albeit half-assedly, but at the end of the day, I LOVE THE PAIN.  Wait, no.   But I do find myself trying and sometimes without trying to do the righteous thing.  There were still plenty of times I gladly bent over and took one in the ass for the greater good of someone else, be it a relationship, friend, family member, etc.  And I wore a smile doing it each time.  The difference is that I was a lot more aware of the situations I was putting myself in and to what degree I was enabling someone else to screw me over.  There was maybe one surprise in 2012, but I’m happy to report all the other times I saw coming.  Sad but true. Expectations of said people changed, but not expectations of myself.  Ultimately, I’ve just become a lot more risk averse, and have been quite complacent this way. And I don’t care WHAT people say – cats are ALWAYS an option.

This past year was not without ample challenges that God or Santa Claus or whatever higher powers that be sent my way. It was a roller coaster ride with heart-palpitatingly high climbs and stomach-dropping lows, more so with the life-challenges.  Looking back, one of my favorite moments was the day Iposted a tweet about how great the first month of 2012 was, only to come home that night to a house broken into and robbed by an ex-porn star.  Yes.  An ex-porn star (she got caught eventually).  She took everything your stereotypical robber would take – money, jewelry, and my favorite vacuum… and then there were some odd things. I tried spinning everything into positives.  The porn star took all of my Star Wars toys, which perhaps was Santa’s way of telling me I needed to stop living like a 10-year old boy.  She took my Nintendo DS, its case, and all of my games – but I was probably spending way too much time with it anyway. She took my HP TouchPad – the first piece of technology I had proudly overclocked and rooted on my own, but it was a crash-and-burn love affair that I got over once I had my way with it.  She even took my 2011 tax return receipts, my external hard drive of digital photos (labeled as such), and the business card holder my boss got me when I got my first promotion. I still haven’t figured out the logic behind those last three moves but they inconvenienced and pained me dearly.  Really, bitch?

Anyway, I digress.

Last year in the lurv department, the past that I tried so desperately and politely to put behind me kept trying to creep back into the present, and the present I tried to put in front of me couldn’t let go of the past. Frustrating, really. But life goes on. You’ll always be the recipient of someone else’s baggage, especially in (but also outside of) relationships.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone with theirs packed away neatly in a small carry-on.  If you’re not so lucky, you’ll get hit with $50 in check baggage fees for oversized suitcases so full, they won’t even close properly.

Then, there were lots of just… duds. My dad asked me last fall why I hadn’t had a boyfriend in a while, and I told him the last guy I went on a date with texted me the next day with “Hey there, Lesbian Allison”.  I couldn’t figure out why, nor did I understand what I think was a joke. These were the boys I was meeting. My dad with his bountiful words of wisdom sagely replied, “Boys are like parking spots. All the good ones are taken… and the rest are handicapped!”  Thanks dad. You are always the greatest with the pep talks.

Only you can determine your own happiness and what you can put up with.  Someone backed into my parked car in May and I was nearly grateful because they hit the area most damaged from the puddle of “rain” I ran over one night the month prior.  Santa had given me my chance to get it fixed.  Had that happened to Allison circa end of 2012, I would have wallowed in my misery for both accounts.  Ok no, but I would’ve been way more upset about it.

Key things that made me less stupid in the last year:

  • Creativity – Surround yourself with people who inspire you daily, especially if you need that extra push sometimes.
  • Enabling – Don’t enable people to make your life more difficult than it already is. Cut it off at the pass.
  • Control Freak – Worry about the things you CAN control. You. (Ok… that was more of a 2011 key learning, but it did carry on to 2012!)
  • Energy – Don’t waste your energy on ANYthing not worth wasting. People. Work. Boston Cream Pie. ANYTHING. Simplify your life – it only gets more difficult from here and you’ll need all the energy you can spare for it.
  • Stress – I should have finished reading DWoo’s book on stress management and internalization so I could fill in my key learnings and life applications here in this bullet.  (Sorry, JM. I will get to it soon!)
  • Boys vs Girls – Women are crazy and men are stupid.  Male stupidity triggers female craziness, which makes men want to bask in their stupidity, which makes women crazier. What?  Who?  Bitches be crazy.
  • Nerd – Ok, yeah I am. I thought it was just association by interests, but no. I am such to the core. Simon Pegg said it best.
  • Dogs – Not all dogs are evil.  Most, but not all.
  • Cats – I would sincerely rather die alone than marry and birth a child with the wrong person.

Cheers to 2013 and a false sense of new beginnings and a clean slate… especially to those New Years Resolution idiots who congest my local gym the first three weeks of January every year.  Just give up.  Accept it and give me my gym back.

The New Year really isn’t a fresh start, because you’ll never escape from your past.  However, as long as you’ve learned from it, you’ll almost find it a convenience to have it there to make you feel better about what an idiot you are not being anymore. To put it eloquently, I can’t wait for all the pointless fucked up shit coming my way this year, so I can get less stupid from it and still have my probably overinflated sense of self-righteousness in a year. Wewt.

Backlogged on baking posts from all the Christmas craziness. More to come soon!

Basic Macarons

I’m a Macaronaholic. Part of why I love these cookies so much is because I respect the fact that it’s really easy to make bad ones.  Different factors come in to play when making these chewy little clouds of heaven – humidity, room temperature, sifting, distribution of heat in your oven, etc. I’ve been too intimidated to make them on my own out of fear of having new content to contribute to my list of crafting/baking disasters.  If only there was some sort of alert to let you know when you’re about to over mix, over (or under) dry, or over bake your macarons…

I braved the Black Friday madness once again, this time to take an Intro to French Macarons class at the mall in Santa Monica with the goal of quelling said fears.  We made a basic vanilla macaron with four different fillings – raspberry buttercream, passion fruit buttercream, coffee buttercream, and a very buttery salted caramel.  The salted caramel was made from scratch, and we made an Italian meringue buttercream, split it three ways, and then added the secondary flavor for the other fillings.  The raspberry filling just had freeze-dried raspberries added to it, and concentrates were added to the buttercream for the passion fruit and coffee fillings. Pretty straightforward.

Basic Vanilla Macaron

The class was really informational and fun, with the exception the one student in my class who also happened to be named Allison. She referred to me throughout the class as “Other Allison”, probably because her macaron cookies came out cracked and in any shape but round. She didn’t like this, and made comments like “Leave it to Other Allison to show the class up.”  However, once the cookie sheets came out of the oven, she “accidentally” took one of mine and started applying the filling to those.  I would have blamed it on a mix-up with the name, but she had written “Allie” on her cookie sheet.  Really?  I was already annoyed with her for being obnoxious, but as I looked at the sad “Allie” misshapen macaron cookies I was left with, I was just about ready to stab her with my offset spatula.  Luckily, as a test of my learnings, I got asked to make a second batch and those turned out great. Suck it, Allie. #notbitter

Basic Vanilla Macaron with Raspberry Buttercream Filling

I’m taking an intermediate class next week to learn how to make different types of macaron fillings (custards, ganaches, etc.), as well as different flavored cookies (rose petal, pistachio, hazelnut, etc.).  Really exciting!  After that, I think I may try them on my own.  Eek!