Earl Grey Éclairs

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I just recently came back on a spring break trip with the fam to France and Morocco. It was, needless to say, really awesome. We shopped at countless vintage stores, ate heavenly food until we were too stuffed to move, and explored around Paris. 

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I went to French Immersion school for a few years so even though I’ve lost a lot of the language, it was good practice for me and I felt the old familiar nuances of the beautiful language come back to me again. I definitely recommend the double-whammy trip, if you’re looking to travel somewhere interesting :)

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For Morocco, it was a slightly different experience, though no less enjoyable: sitting by the pool, shopping in the (slightly intimidating) souks, and searching high and low for as many caramelly dates I could get my sticky paws on were favourite pastimes. Seriously, though. I’d go back just for a plate of dates and a glass of orange-blossom almond milk. 

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Anyways, I got super inspired by all the pâtisseries in Paris that we got baked goods from. It made me want to speak more French and get a job working at a Parisian bakery and wake up early and ride my vélo down the street and sip espresso as I get ready for the day…agh, but a dream. For now.

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I decided to make these eclairs because I had a bite of my sister’s amazing chocolate one and realized that I actually love them! I recreated them with a little bit more of a modern update, earl grey tea, because it makes me feel like a grown up and also I adore tea of all sorts! So. There you go. This takes a little bit more time than any of my previous recipes, but I promise you it’s well worth it.

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Earl Grey Éclairs
Serves 12
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Total Time
2 hr
Total Time
2 hr
For the choux dough
  1. 112 g or 1/2 cup good-quality butter
  2. 1 cup flour
  3. 1 cup water
  4. 4 large eggs
For the pastry cream
  1. 2/3 cup sugar
  2. 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 2 cups milk or cream
  5. 3 tbsp earl grey tea, ground in a mortar and pestle
  6. 2 tbsp flour
  7. 2 tbsp cornstarch
  8. 2 tbsp butter
  9. 1 pinch salt
for the icing
  1. 2 cups powdered sugar
  2. 1 tsp almond extract
  3. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  4. 2 tbsp ground early grey tea
  5. milk, as needed
To make the pastry
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and set the butter, water, and salt in a saucepan to boil.
  2. When boiling, turn the heat to low and add the flour.
  3. Stir well until the mixture comes together, like a ball, and then take off the heat. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs in one at a time and mix until the dough is homogenous and glossy.
  4. Using a piping bag or a ziploc with a hole cut in the corner, pipe long éclair shapes onto an ungreased baking sheet. (I got 12, but alter the size as you wish!)
  5. Bake for 40 minutes or until tops are very golden brown and sound hollow when you tap them.
For the pastry cream
  1. While the éclairs are cooling, mix all of the ingredients except for the butter in a saucepan.
  2. Heat gently over medium heat, whisking constantly to get rid of lumps. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon and has thickened considerably, turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, and refrigerate until cool.
To assemble and icing
  1. Take your room-temperature éclair and poke a hole through one end.
  2. Using a piping bag, squeeze enough pastry cream into the eclair until it is completely full (it will heavier than normal.) Alternately, you can slice the éclair open and spoon it into the sides.
  3. Whisk all the icing ingredients together.
  4. Holding carefully to avoid breakage, dip the long end of the éclair into the icing and leave on a rack to dry. Eat as soon as possible!
Adapted from How To Cook Everything (Mark Bittman)
Adapted from How To Cook Everything (Mark Bittman)
http://www.castirongirl.com/

2016 + a New Video + Cake

fam we made it!

Oh my God! It’s 2016 already.

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Let’s really be honest, 2015 didn’t really feel real. I myself felt like I was in a very real, very long lucid dream that wouldn’t end. There were very awesome ups, and not-so-awesome downs, but the whole feeling was sort of weird. Does anyone else feel like that?

Anyways, I’m happy to start over fresh. Press start, player 1. I’m hoping 2016 will bring many more blog posts. Less schoolwork (ha! In the words for Alicia Silverstone, as if). More laughs with this awesome chica! More goals for our hockey team. More songs to play on the piano. More mindful eating. More meditiation. Less stress. Hopefully I’m not asking too much?

it's apple juice, I checked.
it’s apple juice, I checked.

Anyways, I spent Christmas in Edmonton, my birthplace and home of this amazing ranch. The house felt like a classic movie-screen holiday: the fireplace was constantly aglow; cousins were running around and family members were sipping mulled wine and talking about their childhoods; the tree in the living room was towering and covered with cute little decorations and pictures of the grandkids. Cozy, happy, and festive: all that I need my Christmas to be. And it even snowed on Christmas Eve!

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One thing I should add: the crazy forest I mentioned in my other Edmonton post gets EVEN BETTER in the wintertime. Yes, you have to suit up for 20 minutes in three-layer clothes and a snowsuit since it’s well below minus fifteen. Yes, once you walk in you lose all sight of the sun and your fingers are freezing from trying to take photos. Yes, there’s a chance you will be eaten alive by starving coyotes (well, that last one might be a stretch.) To me, the hour or so of complete and utter tranquility is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Since no one else is a weird as me to want to go and sit in a snowy Alberta forest, just listening to the birds and watching snowflakes fall, I end up being the only person around for 300 metres. This doesn’t really seem like a lot, but it seems that as soon as I crawl under the fence to enter in the trees, I get swallowed in and the real world zips away behind me. It truly feels like being in a fairy tale, especially when it’s snowing (recall Snow White and the Huntsman-style). 

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Needless to say, when I arrived in snow-less (but sunny, thankfully) Vancouver, I was a little bummed out that the Christmas season was over. Almost telepathically, my best friend reached out to ask me if I wanted to come with her to Cypress Mountain to hike around and take photos and videos. Of course! What better way to cheer me up from the post-Christmas blues than to hang out and spend much-appreciated quality time with the one person who can make me laugh at literally everything?

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I was very inspired by the scenic landscapes in both Edmonton and Cypress and loved having good vibes all around me, so I decided to create a wintery, nature-y sort of video (not unlike Tara’s!) I hope you enjoy!

You can watch it here.

If this post weren’t more jam-packed with ramblings from me trying to fit as many sentiments into a New Years’ post as I can, I finally made a recipe (look, Ma, a recipe!). It’s taken me so long to actually get around to writing kitchen experiments down, since I either forget or are too lazy to make actual measurements up  or take photos of the finished project. Yikes. Hey, maybe that should be a NYE resolution! 😉

Since my dearest mother bought me several packs of gluten-free cake mix on sale at Williams-Sonoma, I figured I just had to put them to good use. However, I struggled to think up a frosting that I could make, since I had neither a) enough powdered sugar b) enough butter c) enough patience for a buttercream. As well, the cake itself was vegan, so why would I excite and then disappoint possible vegan cake-lovers by slathering it in dairy products?

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However, another dilemma: no coconut oil (gasp!), no avocado or Earth Balance, or coconut-cream-from-the-top-of-a-chilled-can. Namely, I was out of all things buttery and good for frosting. Then, I had an epiphany! Sweet potatoes are sweet, yes? (Yes). They make an amazingly smooth purée, and are chock-full of potassium and antioxidants. Due to me begging my dad for them, they were plentiful in the pantry.

Did I make sweet potato frosting? Yes. Yes I did. It turned out very well! Creamy and smooth, the kind that you could eat a ton of with a spoon and not feel too gross about it afterward; perfect for keeping to those healthy resolutions. Finally, I’ll start off 2016 eating well!

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Well, almost. I did have a slice of that cake for breakfast this morning. Baby steps, right? 😉

Cinnamon Cake with Sweet Potato Chocolate Frosting (v, gf)
Yields 1
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Total Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr
For the cake
  1. 1 box Cup4Cup gluten-free vanilla cake mix
  2. 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
  3. 1/2 cup water
  4. 1 cup almond or coconut milk
  5. 3/4 cup neutral-tasting oil
For the icing
  1. 1 2/3 cup cooked, puréed sweet potato
  2. 1/2 to 1 cup powdered sugar
  3. 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  4. 1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the cake
  1. Prepare the cake as the mix instructs, replacing the eggs with the flaxseed. Cook and cool in pans for 15 minutes, then carefully remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  2. For the frosting: mix ingredients together until smooth. Frost cake as desired. Sprinkle popcorn on top, if you like. Enjoy!
Notes
  1. Warning: this cake does taste really healthy, so if you're not looking for something super sweet, then it's for you! However, if you're a sugar fiend, you may want to try something else (like my whiskey olive oil cake!) for that sweet hit.
http://www.castirongirl.com/

My trip to Japan

So. I went to Japan the other week.

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It was awesome!

When I got there, everything seemed to blur by so quickly (speaking literally and metaphorically, of course–the city of Tokyo actually conducts itself at a breakneck speed.) Of course, I was on a school tour, so the mandatory sites were all checked off:

Akihabara: the electronic district, where I discovered the impossibly loud, men-only, cigarette-fueled pachinko dens;

Meiji Shrine: a place of Shinto worship, where it was so breathtakingly tranquil that I may have reconsidered my agnosticism;

Historic Asakusa: where I tried dango (sticky rice balls slethered in salty caramel) for the first time, and I think I’m officially in love (I think I had them almost every day);

Harajuku: the place where you can buy pikachu underwear, full Gothic Lolita getup, and towering nutella-stuffed crêpes, all within 30 feet of each other;

Shibuya: the famed 6-way crossing that, upon entering the ocean of people, had me so overwhelmed I felt like a small child getting lost.

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After four exhilarating days in Tokyo, we went on the shinkansen (bullet train). It’s an experience I highly recommend; everyone on the train seemed to be normal, calm commuters, while I sat like a giddy toddler, staring out the window every chance I could get.

One thing to mention, if you don’t know it already: Japan is huge. Like, you could fit all the people in Canada into just Tokyo. I knew that prior to coming, but seeing house after house after house swoosh by in the train window really made it set in. It definitely made me want to have more time to explore; I think that I could have just spent months and months wandering up and down the streets, going into every little shop and taking endless photos.

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Anyways, our school group then arrived in Yokohama, a city of over 3 million just outside of Tokyo. We were immediately introduced to our homestay students, Japanese teens in our grade who were opening their homes to almost complete strangers. I got acquaintanced with a charming girl named Iori Hoshino, a girl who made me feel immediately at home and who accepted my (almost nonexistent) broken Japanese.

Here we are!

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Here, in Yokohama, I felt in a strange way as though I had returned home. I just loved everything about it: how, when you wanted coffee, you got it sweet and hot from the vending machine in a can; how my host family, upon meeting me, presented me with a gift of chopsticks with my name engraved on them (I know!); how, in calligraphy class at Minami High School I loved all the drawings I made so much I brought them home (even the ones I that were, um, quite mediocre).

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And the food, oh god, the food! I tried everything I could get my hands on. Vending machines, to my glee/chagrin, were everywhere, giving me ample opportunities to try 40,000 different kinds of milk tea. Simple, savoury breakfasts, of the rice and miso soup kind (and not the usual empty-calorie Special K cereal or trying-too-hard nutella brioche french toast) were staples in the Hoshino household. As I may have mentioned, dango were plentiful. As were little mochi chocolates from Family Mart one could scoop up for about 30 yen apiece. Real, true miso ramen tasted like angel tears and noodles in a bowl. Okonomiyaki was like all of my favourite food items had a bunch of weird, hybrid food babies, mixed them all together, and made a pancake out of it (by the way, it tasted amazing). Needless to say, there were too many things in Japan I could’ve just tasted if I’d stayed for longer, gah! But already, with just 8 days under my belt, I developed a mad food crush with the country. Please, people: if you are a foodie, visit Japan. Do it. Asap.

After a field trip to the famous Kamakura Buddha and surrounding temple-filled town, where I stood agonizing for hours on whether to check out this cute little store or that adorable street food vendor, Iori and her family took me to Hakone Shrine (about an hour away from Yokohama, though it seems like a whole other part of the world). My breath was taken away. Maybe I just think Vancouver’s beauty is old hat for me, but Hakone was and is literally the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Mist swirling in the mountains, lined with lush green trees and a beautiful sunset we arrived just in time for. Once we left, darkness settling over Hakone like a familiar blanket, everyone gradually dozed off in the car while I watched little Japanese surf towns flit by. 

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By the way, Iori is an amazing dancer and impossibly smart. I felt we shared a connection when I hung out with her; to this day we still chat on Line, an app that lets us send copious amounts of emojis to each other. I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on in Canada yet. We should really get on that. 

Japan evoked so many different feelings in me that I doubt I could even get them all on this page if I sat here for 24 hours and wrote nonstop. Overwhelming, yes; but also strangely one of the most at ease and peaceful places I’ve ever been to. (And great, absolutely great for budding photographers to hone their skills!). 

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Guess where I’m pushing for family spring break 2016? :)

 

On Ethical Hunting

A topic I know many, many people have opinions about, myself included. Most of my Vancouverite friends were taken aback, and some more than slightly alarmed that I was going to Alberta for a weekend to hunt.

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Hunt, yes? As in shoot (cleanly, if you’re lucky or clear-eyed) a bunch of oblivious grouse into a steaming pile of feathers and meat on the ground, just waiting for you to pick them up by the necks and carry them to the cooler. Oh, yes. My fellow city-slickers would agree that this would not be a pleasant thing to experience. I myself never thought I’d do it. Yet here I was, shivering in the pre-dawn frost, cruising at 5 kph, with shotgun shells in my pocket and a keen eye scanning the treeline for movement.

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Here’s the drill: once you see a bird, you have to stop the car a few paces ahead, get out quietly, and sneak around the side to aim. It takes only a few moments (or rather it should), as grouse get scared away if you take too long. Then, once you lean forward and steady the gun against your shoulder, take a breath. It’ll help, truly. The blast will cause your ears to ring for a few moments, then:

“Did I get it? Did I get it?”

“Yeah! Nice job!”

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High fives ensue. You smile and pump your fist, then realize you’ve taken a life, and momentarily gulp. Uh…now, what?

If this sounds eerily like that awful guy who killed bambi’s mom, don’t be scared off so easily–save for our matching plaid jackets (I like plaid, okay?), he and I have very different philosophies. I’ve met many people who have thought the idea of killing a living thing abominable, and I have some comments to make.

First off, yes. I’m not going to get around the fact that when you hunt, the aim is to kill. After all, we did start hunting in our neanderthal days (paleo people know what’s up when I say I legitimately ate a bird I hunted); the only difference is that nowadays, we’ve strayed away from providing sustenance and more towards sport hunting; this is something I’m legitimately not okay with.

Yes, I know that I don’t need to hunt to survive. I can be perfectly fine with all of the choices available to me at my local Safeway, which I will most likely do the other 364 days of the year. But have you ever seen Food, Inc or Vegucated? Movies and their ilk that warn innocent civilians that the average meat they’re eating is pumped full of antibiotics, that those poor animals are raised in pens no bigger than themselves, that the risk of e.coli is so great we may as well scoop up their own shit and stuff it straight into our gobs? Okay, I’m taking a few literary liberties here, but don’t tell me you haven’t heard a few rumours about the way our meat is raised. 

The truth is, it ain’t pretty. If you’re a meat eater (I don’t judge, as I am too, with gusto) read this or this or this; report back and tell me that you would scorn someone who actually had the guts to catch and kill their own meat quickly and humanely, as opposed to blissfully ignorant, pretending they don’t know how terrible the animal’s life was while munching on a bland pork chop or a sale-price porterhouse.

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone reading this who cries foul on the fact that what if I can’t afford all-organic hormone-free meat or have the time to go hunting for my own goddamn wild turkeys? But that’s the thing! You don’t need to buy organic meat all the time–just treat eating animals as a special occasion, something that should be enjoyed once a week, rather than every day! Studies left and right are popping up claiming we eat too much meat, and I’m not advocating to stop, just reduce our monstrous North American appetites. You will save money eating meatless more often. I repeat: you will actually save money. 

Frankly, when I think about all these things personally, the thought of hunting doesn’t irk me as much as hearing about environmentally-damaging, money-obsessed food companies. What about you?

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Now, I don’t want to seem like one of those crazy hippies (thanks, Lola). Obviously I know a lot of factors go into different peoples’ lives, and I’m not about to tell you how to live your life. But I’m asking you to reconsider, maybe (just maybe!) going meatless a few more times a week (as for getting your male friends/boyfriend/husband/dad to agree to that, I’m working on it, too!). Or letting up the judgement on your friend who goes hunting. 

Thank you for bearing with me. If you’ve come this far, I’m sorry to say I have no recipe for you this time, but with any luck I’ll post one next hunting season about how to make some delicious grouse. Or who knows? Maybe my next recipe will involve tofu. I’m still conflicted. :)

 

 

Tahini Muffins with Rosemary Streusel

Tahini Muffins with Rosemary Streusel

What with all our lives going at one crazy-fast pace to and fro, it’s not often we have time to sit and think, to just be. You get me? Even I’m grateful for the two months of summer we have off, but I’m amazed at how fast it’s passed. We only have one week left until school starts! (sob.) So, I’ve been trying to chill out a bit more and enjoy the sunny, carefree days while I still have them–that means focusing less on big stresses (Oh dear, should I have done summer school to get ahead, like so many smartie-pants people in my class? What if nothing comes of my life since I’m not interested in petroleum engineering?) or small stresses (Should I work out today? I feel so lazy) but rather letting go. I’ve had more time to pursue fun things, like getting crafty, practicing my dives, and chatting up my coworkers who are the nicest group of folks I could ask for.

I’ve also had more time to catch up with new and old friends alike, and I found that few things really make people more at ease than a plate of fresh baked goods. (I think I’m going to try and make this blog a bit more baking-oriented, as I think that’s where most of my passions are located!) 

I won’t say these muffins came to me in a dream, because that’s way too cliché, but rather I woke up one morning with a whole head full of fresh new ideas for things (honeycomb? Why not give it a shot?) and I just had to write them down. Among them was an idea for tahini muffins, because tahini is pretty trendy with food bloggers nowadays, and I can’t really fall behind on trends (gotta keep some street cred, heh.) Rosemary streusel is there because a) I work at a Lebanese restaurant, so I’m constantly trying to recreate middle eastern-ish recipes and experiment with the sweet/savoury combo. Also, b) crumb topping makes anything infinitely better. So, here you go. 

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Tahini Muffins with Rosemary Crumb
Yields 8
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Total Time
40 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  3. 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  4. 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp baking powder
  5. 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  6. 4 tbsp + 1 tbsp coconut oil or butter
  7. 1/3 cup tahini paste
  8. 1 tbsp rosemary, chopped
  9. 1 egg
  10. 6 tbsp milk
  11. a few pinches of salt
Instructions
  1. Make the topping: in a small bowl, mix the coconut sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, a pinch of salt, rosemary and 1/4 tsp baking powder. Melt 4 tbsp of the butter and mix until pea-sized chunks form. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375° and line a muffin tin with 8 paper liners. In a small bowl, mix the other 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and salt.
  3. Meanwhile, in another bowl mix egg, butter, tahini, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla until very combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined--do not overmix!
  4. Pour into muffin cups filling almost all the way. Divide crumble topping overtop as much as you can--if you have extra, that's okay. Bake for 18-20 minutes and let cool.
Adapted from Nestlé Peanut Butter Muffins
http://www.castirongirl.com/