Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ticket to Ride

At least once a week my Mother forwards me the Southwest Airlines ticket updates. No matter that I subscribe to these myself and have told her there's no need. Every week in my inbox, she sends it on with the question: "Did you check to see if there's a cheaper flight?"

Today I did. As it happens, I now have a credit to go round-trip to anywhere Southwest flies. And I am therefore stumped. For about a year I've been thinking about New Orleans, I've been wanting to do a Habitat for Humanity volunteer program there in St. Bernard's Parish. I have the free ticket, but funds for a place to stay are still an issue, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm a more than a little fearful of taking off by myself and heading into a new city. Perhaps that is exactly why I should go. Any suggestions?

In the meantime, Brian's pictures from the Aquarium are much better than mine...

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Break-Up How To:

I've never been good at break-ups. I see those people who can take it in stride, handle it with grace and give all their final thoughts with eloquence and poise. I tend to cry. The emotion bubbles to the surface every time, and there's no use in trying to keep it from coming. Large tears rolled down my cheeks and onto the bed. I hugged him goodbye, told him that I loved him, shut the door and called Leah. 20 minutes later, my break-up itinerary began:

7:30pm - Break-up

7:32pm - Call Leah, "I need whiskey, now." She's in the car and on the way.

7:34pm - Play phone tag with Beth on the East Coast. Finally catch her and commiserate. Thank god for girlfriends.

7:45pm- Leah arrives with Lauren, we're off to Dona Tomas for margaritas, homemade tortilla chips and salsa and the obligatory whiskey for me.

8:10pm- Whiskey arrives. Chips are consumed, carnitas are ordered, girl talk ensues.

8:30pm- Starting to feel a little better, I order a mojito just to be sure.

9:30pm-Back to my place with Leah for a glass of wine, a shower and sleep. Thank god for girlfriends!

Next Day

7am- Really feeling like lying in bed all day would be best. I force myself to get up, skip the shower and head into work. Sitting at a computer all day is not good for a break up.

Noon- Cheeseburger from Amanda's. Now this is more like it.

4pm- Leave work when the tears start to fall again. Hit the gym. No seriously, I did! 40 minutes of elliptical work and 20 minutes of weights makes me feel like a new person. Leah calls, "Zeitgeist?" It's a beautiful sunny day, finally feels like spring. I'm there.

6pm- after a shower I head over the Bay Bridge to Zeitgeist. There's a line around the corner. Fuck spring.

7pm- Finally in Zeitgeist. Order a hefeweizen and share another hamburger. Thank god for hamburgers!

7:30pm- Brian arrives. My friends start to help plot various ailments they'd like to bestow upon the now ex-boyfriend. More beer. This continues for most of the night.

Saturday! I hit the gym again! Then it's off to the Albany Bulb with Amy and the dog. You can't help but feel good on such a beautiful day, with the skyline of San Francisco shinning in the sun. I gather the ingredients for Brian's Birthday Cake I plan to make later. The Salted Caramel Cake! Then it's off to Leah's to make the cake and have some dinner.

Sunday- Monterey Aquarium Day. We put a small dent in Brian's cake and head down to Monterey. It's a spectacular day and the aquarium is incredible. We're having a great time. Taking Highway 1 on the way home I look out at the sunset over the ocean and think how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place and have such wonderful friends. I feel like crying, but not because I'm sad.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

it started with salted caramel... - Salted Caramel Cake

For the record, I have a thing for ellipses. I toss them around at will. I like the look of them there...on the page...even when used incorrectly. They convey the ever important pregnant pause, and, of course, what is left unsaid.

But I've digressed in my first paragraph, my first sentence no less! Just to be clear, I apologize for the ellipses to no one...

It started with salted caramel ice cream. Not just any salted caramel ice cream, Bi-Rite Creamery salted caramel ice cream. First tasted on a sunny summer day in San Francisco (actually something of a rarity in July) and returned to on many occasions, special or no. Guests were brought, simultaneous sighs and exclamations of delight were made. This ice cream is famous for a reason. It was the highlight of the past Valentine's Day when that morning my boyfriend stealthily and carefully carried it all the way across the Bay Bridge (packed on ice) and snuck it into my freezer for dessert that night. I have a thing for this ice cream, so you can imagine my excitement and awe when I came across this...

THIS my friends, is a SALTED CARAMEL CAKE!!

Straight from the blog The Sassy Radish. I drooled. I was dying to try it. Then I looked at the recipe. Intimidation set it, it was three recipes in one! One for the cake, one for the salted caramel and another for the whipped chocolate ganache icing. Much hand wringing ensued. I enjoy baking, but I am not a baker, nor am I a chef for that matter. But with a hint of optimism, I filed the recipe away for a chance moment of bravery.

Bravery struck during a crab feast hosted by a friend (but that's another story). My friend Brian was sitting across the table, and the subject of what to do about his looming 28th Birthday came up. I mentioned The Cake. His mouth feel open, his eyes lit up...he nodded.

And so I found myself with nary a cake pan, and a Saturday afternoon to tackle these three! recipes. Leah kindly donated her kitchen (my small studio kitchen just won't do) and her cake pans. And I'm off! I had some help from Leah and Sonya, and I can attest that the caramel would not have survived without them. The end result was incredibly rich and delicious, and the process ended up being great fun, and not nearly as difficult as I had expected. I highly suggest you try it...

Salted Caramel Cake - adapted from The Sassy Radish

Cake Ingredients:
3/4 cup cocoa powder

2/3 cup sour cream

2 2/3 cups cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

3 large eggs (at room temperature)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla

1/2 cup Salted Caramel
Whipped Caramel Ganache IcingFleur de sel, for garnis

Cake Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a parchment paper round, butter parchment paper and flour; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and sour cream; set aside to cool, about 10 minutes.
3. In another large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth and it appears to create strings inside the bowl, about 7 minutes. Add both sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, and mix again for 30 seconds. Add flour mixture alternating with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
5. Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely. After they've cooled, put the cakes in the freezer until they are cool to the touch.
6. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Using about 1/4 cup of the caramel, spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing some of the caramel to soak into the cake. (This will happen ONLY if you trim the tops of cakes, otherwise, nothing will soak into your cake.) Follow the caramel layer with a layer of about 1 cup of the ganache icing. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another layer of caramel followed by a layer of ganache icing (which you should chill before spreading on the cake, it's too goupy at room temperature). Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining ganache icing. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Salted Caramel

Makes enough for two to three 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1/4 cup sour cream

Salted Caramel Directions:
1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, mix together cream and salt. Bring cream to a boil and cook until salt has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute. Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Whisk in sour cream. Cool, and store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

Whipped Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Makes enough for one 8-inch 3-layer cake

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, softened but still cool

Ganache Directions:
1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
2. In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.
4. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes.5. Cool the ganache for 20 minutes or so before frosting the cake for easier frosting.