Friday, June 22, 2012

"NightLock" Blueberry Pie

            One more Hunger Games inspired recipe for you. I made a “Nightlock” Berry Pie, perfect for the summer season, and future DVD release parties. It’s my version of a traditional blueberry pie. I use some unusual spices, and slightly less sugar than most recipes to showcase the fruit. I promise this one isn’t really poisonous. Visually what makes this pie special is the freehand drawn and cut Mockingjay skull with a crossed bone-and-arrow I used as topping.
To make the stencil I used a simple ballpoint pen on a piece of cardstock, which I then cut out with scissors. The only tricky part is I used a toothpick to draw the eye sockets and nostril cavities in the dough itself.

I made this in celebration of a co-worker who was unfortunately transferred to another store. Since he was leaving us after a stellar 10 years, I jokingly told him he was dead to us. Not true at all, John is actually the founder and generous host of our little book club. He’s read The Hunger Games, so he was in on the joke. The real message of this pie is: “Thank you for being an awesome manager, and an awesome human being”.

Pie Crust:
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal
1 cup cold butter
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
8-10 tsp vodka
2 ice cubes

1.     In a large bowl stir together: flour, almond meal, salt, and cinnamon.
2.     Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients.
3.     Using a fork or pastry blender work the butter into the dry ingredients until everything resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also use a food processor.
4.     Pour the vodka over the ice cubes to chill.
5.     Add the vodka one tsp at a time just until the dough comes together.
6.     Remove one third of the dough, and place it in the fridge.
7.     Roll the remaining two-thirds of the dough between two sheets of wax paper into a large enough round to fill a 9” pie plate.
8.     Line your pie plate with the freshly rolled dough, trim the excess and flute the edges. Poke the bottom of the crust with a fork a few times. Refrigerate immediately for one hour prior to making the filling.
9.     Take the remaining 1/3 of dough from the fridge. Between two sheets of wax paper, roll out to roughly ¼” thick, large enough to encompass the entire stencil.
10. Remove only the top layer of wax paper. Lay the stencil flat on the surface of the dough; cut out your design with a sharp knife. Refrigerate until the pie is otherwise completely assembled.

1.5 pounds fresh blueberries (about 4½-5 cups)
3 ½ Tbsp tapioca starch (can sub corn starch) 
Zest of one lemon
¼ cup lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1.     In a large bowl, with your hands gently toss the washed blueberries in the tapioca starch.
2.     Add cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and ginger to the fruit and gently toss until everything is evenly coated.
3.     Add the lemon zest, juice, and the sugar. Again toss until everything is evenly coated. Careful not to squish the fruit as much as possible.
4.     Immediately pour the filling into the prepared and chilled piecrust.
5.     Cube the butter and scatter the cubes all over the top of the filling.
6.     Preheat the oven to 375°.
7.     When the pie is filled, retrieve your cut-stenciled topping. Flip the topping and wax paper over right on the center of the pie. Peel away the wax paper. This is much easier than trying to move the fragile pieces any other way.

8.     Tent the pie with aluminum foil, bake at 375° for 40 minutes.
9.     After 40 minutes remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kwan-Su Cupcakes

            “Kwan-su Dudes!” If you understand this movie reference not only are you awesome, but probably very much enjoyed the early 90’s. Born in 1988, I certainly had an entertaining 90’s childhood. Surf Ninjas is a b-list, family friendly, action- comedy from 1993.
Two teenaged-surfer brothers named Johnny and Adam (Ernie Reyes Jr., Nicholas Cowan) were living a normal, laid-back life in the sun-soaked city of Los Angeles when the brothers discover they’re actually the long-lost princes of the South Pacific Island of Pa-Tu-San. But all is not surfing and ruling paradise: Pa-Tu-San is under the control of warlord Colonel Chi (Leslie Neilson). To save their adoptive father, and free their homeland from tyranny, Johnny and Adam must now transform into ninja warriors. With the help of a one-eyed black belt (Ernie Reyes Sr.), Johnny’s obnoxious best friend (Rob Schneider, with ORANGE hair), a cop (Tone Loc), and a few friends, Johnny and Adam will discover the meaning of destiny, duty, honor, and ultimately Kwan-Su.

I came across the Surf Ninjas DVD on Amazon (you can rent it from Netflix too) while ordering a sleep sack for a trip I’m taking to Europe this summer. I threw it into my cart in order to qualify for free shipping. Not to say I wouldn’t have bought it anyway; purchasing the movie was one of the better decisions I made that day. It arrived just in time for my 24th birthday last week. So why not translate it into my birthday cake?
Because of this movie, I thought the lyrics to the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann” were actually “Ba-Baram” until I was 16! Yeah… That was an embarrassing moment.
I made a tropical fruit cake, with mangos, banana, lime, and coconut; covered with coconut butter cream-tie-dye frosting and topped off with a Kwan-Su patch to resemble the head bands worn by rebels in the film. This cupcake tastes like nostalgia- the funny kind.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½  tsp baking soda
1 ¼ cup sugar
¾ cup melted coconut oil
2 limes (for zest only)
1 small, ripe banana
1 cup tangerine juice (can substitute orange juice)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup chopped mango

1.     Mango should be cut into ¼” cubes, set aside.
2.     Sift together: flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
3.     Add the sugar to the other dry ingredients. Mix.
4.     Add the lime zest.
5.     Add the melted coconut oil. Combine everything until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
6.     Mash the banana. Add to the dry ingredients/coconut oil.
7.     Add the eggs one at a time. Beat after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape sides down as needed.
8.     With the mixer on, add the tangerine juice slowly.
9.     Once everything is fully incorporated fold the mango into the batter.
10. Preheat oven to 350
11. Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake for 18-20 minutes. Makes 24 cupcakes.

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) softened, unsalted butter
½ cup coconut cream*
5 cups of powdered sugar
1 lemon, for zest only
1/8 tsp coconut flavor oil or ¾ tsp coconut extract (this is optional, only add for a more intense flavor)

1. Cream the butter until smooth, absolutely no lumps allowed.
2. Add the coconut cream. Beat with the butter until smooth. As the fat solids in the coconut cream attach to the fats in the butter coconut water will begin to separate. Stop beating the mixture when there is about 2 Tbsp of liquid in the bottom of the mixing bowl.
3. Add the lemon zest and the coconut extract/flavoring oil.
4. With the mixer on, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Beat until smooth.

*How to get coconut cream. I initially discovered coconut cream from a customer at my work: she uses coconut cream to make vegan whipped cream. As seen here. Essentially this process separates the fat solids in coconut milk from the coconut water.
1. Buy full fat (at least 13g fat per serving) coconut milk.
2. DO NOT SHAKE, or FLIP OVER the can at any time after purchase.
3. Refrigerate the can of coconut milk overnight.
4. Open the can just before use. Scoop out the top layer of super-thick white cream without disturbing the clear liquids beneath.

For the “tie-dyed” frosting I have to thank Pintrest for linking me to this image/instructional. To create a tie-dye effect in the frosting you need a CLEAN or new paintbrush and gel food coloring in any color you desire. Simply pour small dollops of food coloring on a plate. Using the paintbrush, literally paint the inside of your piping bag in a vertically-striped pattern; it doesn’t matter in which order, how wide or narrow. Feel free to experiment! I used red, yellow, orange, and purple to match the colors in the Surf Ninjas’ headbands. For the best effect I would recommend any sized star tip.

¾ cup yellow candy melts
¼ cup black candy melts
1 round “peppermint patty” size/style candy mold
2 parchment paper cones

1.     Make both paper cones prior to melting candy.
2.     Melt the black candy according to package directions. I prefer the microwave method. Stir between 30- second intervals at 50% power until smooth.
3.     Transfer the candy into a paper cone, cut the tip to create the smallest possible hole. The smaller the hole, the better control you’ll have.
4.     Draw the “double dragon” from the patch onto the bottom of the mold. No one will care if they’re not perfect. Drawing with chocolate is hard! Just look at mine!

5.     Immediately repeat step 2 with the yellow candy.
6.     Fill the second paper cone with the melted yellow candy.
7.     Cut the end off. The bigger the hole, the less control you have, so do what feels comfortable.
8.     Fill the remaining space over the black candy with yellow.
9.     Let set. Setting at room temperature varies based on the room temperature and humidity, mine set in 25 minutes. You can use the fridge; it’ll set in about 10 minutes.
10. When the candy has set, simply pop the medallions out of their molds by flexing the edges and place on top of your frosting cupcakes!

Kwan-Su Dudes! They love this word. It must mean free beer or something.” – said 11 year-old Prince Adam.
I think it means awesome birthday cupcakes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Killer Burger

One of my favorite humorous anecdotes from Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, is her constant internal dialogue about food. Camping for three months, surviving on jerky, water, and dried fruits will corner you into some seriously unsatisfied cravings. Not any lemonade will do, only Snapple lemonade can quench your thirst. A simple cheeseburger at a cheap diner becomes an orgasmic experience.

Thinking about burgers, only one came to mind as the ultimate burger craving: the Peanut-Butter-Pickle-Bacon Burger from Killer Burger. I know it sounds weird. It’s a concoction only a hormonal pregnant woman, or someone smoking some serious green would come up with, but trust me. If this burger sounds disgusting to you, it’s only because you haven’t eaten one yet. It’s killer.
The light smear of mayo, combined with the super-creamy peanut butter sauce creates a messy masterpiece. The pickles aren’t briny but add a similar light salty flavor with the peanut butter with just the right amount of crunch. What doesn’t get better with two strips of crispy bacon? With a 1/3 pound all beef-patty, everything is stacked on a perfect burger bun. All that goodness needs a sturdy base. The buns are super-soft, but more importantly do not fall apart as you’re eating. Be warned, you will still need a few napkins for this one.
I heard about Killer Burger from a childhood friend of mine. One of the best suggestions she ever made; the selection at Killer Burgers range from a classic single burger to a blue cheeseburger, a super spicy Jose Mendoza burger, a barnyard burger (topped with ham and an egg), or the PBPB. All burgers come standard with bacon, an excellent start to any menu. Even the veggie burger will come with bacon for you hypocrites out there!
Killed it.
Killer Burger has three locations: Sellwood, Hollywood, and Bingen, WA. Right now Killer Burger is offering a happy hour special on PBPB Burgers, $4.95 for a burger and fries between 2-5, M-F. The restaurant seating is a little limited at the Hollywood location at: 4644 NE Sandy Blvd (47th and Sandy). I would recommend planning on getting a burger to go, or go on a sunny day and enjoy a seat outside at one of the sidewalk picnic tables.


            A self-indulgent memoir about a naive 26-year-old woman and her brutal trek across California and Oregon, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is a harshly honest portrait of grief.
            At the tender age of 22, Strayed’s world is turned upside down, when her mother is suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Her mother dies shortly thereafter. Caring for ailing parents is a burden most would expect to share with one’s siblings. Strayed’s sister and brother were MIA for most of their mother’s last months. Haunted by the loss of the family matriarch, Strayed attempts to glue her family back together without success.
            What would anyone do when your blood relatives slip through your fingers? What happens when the family you were given disappears? Strayed chooses to destroy the only family she had left, the one she built. Over four years of grieving the loss of her mother, Strayed single-handedly ruins her marriage (through indifference and multiple extra-martial affairs) and begins a courtship with heroin.
            At the end of her downward spiral, pouting in the stalemate that has become her life, Strayed makes a drastic decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for three months; 1,000 miles of rough terrain from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon border.

*Stop here to avoid spoilers

            I have a very personal connection to the material in Wild. I have had more than one relative die of lung cancer (both from hereditary forms and as a result of smoking). Reading the first few chapters of this book was difficult for me. I made it over the hump when Strayed began describing the dissolution of her marriage. The tone describing the nature of how her affairs began felt utterly insensitive. Strayed’s language was as if she were still trying to justify it to herself ten years after the fact, even though she was explaining how she justified her actions at 24.
            My issues with the book stems from the fact I am about to turn 24 years old. Maybe it wasn’t my mother, but I understand loss. I have seen both the sudden, and protracted decline and eventual deaths of family affected by cancer. I’m slightly uncomfortable admitting it in print, but I can relate to Strayed’s experiences with an abusive father (details of which I guess I’ll have to save for a memoir of my own) resulting in her emotional detachment from men.
            The difference is, I did not marry young, as many of my friends did. I did not cling to the ideals of marriage, and subsequently betray the realities of the union. I will not be running into the woods on a whim for months at a time by myself. Maybe I’m still naïve enough to believe I’m not as naïve as Strayed was at my age.
            The differences are the point. These are the reasons Wild works, because I can sympathize with her loss, but didn’t understand her methods of not dealing with it. Simply because of one universal truth: everyone grieves differently.
            As much as I disliked Cheryl, as a character, and pooh-poohed her misinformed preparations, judgment, planning, and decision making skills, never once did I not want her to succeed in her mission up the west coast, or in her desire to heal. You’ll read this book and wonder if you could accomplish what Strayed did. Not many could, mentally, physically, or emotionally. After finishing, I’m seriously considering if I could or would even attempt just the Oregon section of the trail. Strayed inspired me. Whether or not I actually go doesn’t matter. Confronting your issues, letting them beat you down and making the choice to beat them back does matter.
            Strayed will make you laugh. Strayed will make you cry. She’ll manipulate you into sympathizing for her and detest her just the same. Her ability to wave her freakish flag of personal faults so nonchalantly not only makes her writing brave, but beautiful. As a woman, she clearly communicates, that when you accept your mistakes as simple facts, that despite your faults- it’s more than ok to continue living.            

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Sketchbook Project in PDX

I am a contributing artist to The Sketchbook Project for 2012. A team effort between the Art House Co-Op and the Brooklyn Art Library, The Sketchbook Project is an annual art community project and tour. The concept is simple. Artists from around the world sign up with the Art House Co-Op to participate by creating a sketchbook. The artist receives a blank sketchbook to fill with any creative idea they please, according to a provided theme or otherwise. When finished, the artist returns the sketchbook via mail, to the Art House Co-Op, whose many wonderful staff members archive these sketchbooks into the Art House Library collection. The thousands of completed and returned sketchbooks then go on an international tour including destinations such as: London, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon.
Just look at all those sketchbooks! Literally thousands.

The 2012 tour has been underway since late March, but is spending Mother’s Day weekend in Portland. In addition to indulging in a little shawarma this afternoon, four friends and myself wandered down to The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel in SW Portland to view sketchbooks from around the world. An experience you’ll want to have for yourself, I promise.
One of the wonderful things about The Sketchbook Project is not only are the contributions international, but also, open to the public. After reading multiple books this afternoon, it became abundantly clear just how expansive the range of themes and skills actually is. There are sketchbooks created by classrooms of children, professional painters, printers, graphic designers, and those like me, someone in the middle.
My friend, Krisha Frodsham and I signed up at the same time, worked through our books verbally together, without actually showing each other our work. Today was our big reveal. I finally saw her hard work; she saw mine. Making the book was initially intimidating, but a fun exercise in creativity. I would highly recommend it to anyone with artistic interests. Sign ups for the 2013 edition of The Sketchbook Project are already underway!
Credit: Krisha Frodsham
Credit: Krisha Frodsham

Credit: Randi Morris. Inspired by Geek Love

Credit: Randi Morris. 

If you choose not to make a sketchbook yourself, everything turned in is worth venturing out to view. The tour events are free to the public. For a full list of tour dates and locations visit The Art House Co-Op website.
             I would love to have posted pictures of some of the sketchbooks I saw today, but I thought without the permission of the artists that would be inappropriate. You’ll just have to go see for yourself! The Portland event lasts for just one more day, tomorrow, Sunday, May 13, 2012 from 1-5 pm. The event is hosted by The Cleaners, at the Ace Hotel 1022 SW Stark Street, Portland, OR 97205.