Food Blog Camp 2011: The Whole Enchilada

I got home late last night from 5 days in Mexico at the Grand Velas Maya Riviera, where I attended my first Food Blog Camp.  When I signed up for this event a few months ago I hoped that I would have fun, make friends, learn a lot, and come away with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas for my blog.

As luck would have it, all of these happened plus more.  It was a wonderful experience, and I am so glad that I went!

I will try to keep my recap to a readable length, but I make no promises…

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Mini Mexican Update

Hola from the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico!

I cannot begin to quickly recap how amazing this experience has been so far, but I wanted to share a few photos to help illustrate what it’s been like here at Food Blogger Camp!

Kate told me to sip my tequila shot….

I did not.

Even the lobby bathroom is super fancy…

I know I am having fun because I have been passing out before midnight every evening, and today I slept til 9:00.

This never happens.

Heading out to enjoy my last full day!

I heard it’s snowing at home…HAH.

9 For Thanksgiving

I would gladly shop for my kitchen instead of myself any day of the week.  When I go to a department store I make a beeline for the home section.  I don’t dream about a wedding dress, I dream about centerpieces and favors. 

These things caught my eye recently.  I purchased one of them.  Can you guess which?  There may be a prize in it for you if you are right!

 

  1. Fall Icon Cakelet Pan – Williams-Sonoma, $36.00
  2. 3 Piece Fall Cookie Cutters – Crate & Barrel, $2.95
  3. Acorn Mini Cutting Board/Server, Set of 2 – Amazon, $34.00
  4. Leaf Napkin Rings – Crate & Barrel, $1.95/each
  5. Classic Red 12-cup Bundt – Target, $12.39
  6. Maple Leaf Napkins, Set of 4 – Lissy Madden on Etsy, $15.00
  7. Fall Glass Tile Magnet Set – PoptartsBoutique on Etsy, $7.00
  8. Vera Neumann Brushed Leaves Tablecloth – Macy’s, $22.99
  9. Pyrex Mixing Bowl Set – BeeJayKay on Etsy, $32.00

Have a great weekend, everyone.

And a very happy Bonfire Night to my GB friends!

Keene Pumpkin Festival

Every year for the past 7 years I have put the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire on my list of “Fall Things To Do” – but every year I missed it.  Pathetic.

This year (the 20th anniversary of the KPF) I knew I needed to man up, so I marked the day on the calendar well in advance.  My little sister Melanie is in her second year at Keene State, and the opportunity to visit her while also checking out the festival was too good to pass up.  Especially when I learned she needed help re-stocking her candy jar.  I have fond memories of my own candy jar in college.

Actually, it was a candy drawer.

Because I don’t have a car, I took the bus from Boston to Concord Saturday morning, and was picked up by my Dad, Vicki, and Lindsay.  We stopped in for a visit with Nana in Hopkinton, and then it was off to Keene!

The foliage was in glorious full swing…

and the downtown area was chock full of thousands of carved pumpkins.

Some were unusual…

and some were sweet (aw, she said yes!).

Pumpkin hats and crazy costumes were also plentiful.

Yes, I went in the kitchen store and it was heaven.

I also saw the amazing sight of a woman hoisting a dog into a stroller.  A stroller that already contained a child.

Finally Linds, Melanie and I reached the giant tower of pumpkins!

And nearby I found some hot, homemade apple turnovers courtesy of the Animaterra Women’s Chorus…a perfect treat for a chilly day.

Lindsay was on a mission to find a caramel apple…and was very excited to find one.  This picture of her cracks me up.  What a goofball!

At last it was time to light the pumpkins. 

5, 4, 3, 2….

Can you spot the proposal?

In the end there were nearly 23 thousand lit pumpkins!

I had a great day with my family in the most beautiful part of the country during the most beautiful season.  I cannot believe sometimes that Melanie is in college, since I look at her and see the toddler that couldn’t say my name right…but I am so proud of her! 

Have you carved your Halloween pumpkin yet this year?  I waited until the last second last year and had a very sad dud of a pumpkin, so I am thinking I will try to get to mine this weekend.

One hand scooping out the pumpkin guts, one hand in the bowl of candy corn.  Sounds like a plan!

Brooklyn in October

Yes, I had a great time in Brooklyn last weekend.

John’s friend Matt lives in Williamsburg, and my friends Kayte and Sam live on the edge of Park Slope.  John’s brother Matt and his girlfriend Melissa (who serves double duty as one of my best friends and former roommates) also just moved to Park Slope in August and we had yet to see their new place, so they were kind enough to put us up!

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Fannie’s Last Supper

There is a special place in my female Bostonian culinary heart for Fannie Farmer.  She was born in the Boston suburb of Medford in 1857 and graduated with promise from the Boston Cooking School in 1889 at the age of 32.  She remained at the school for another 13 years, first as assistant to the director, and then as principal.  In 1896 her cookbook classic “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” was published and became the bestseller of its time.  Written for housewives instead of “professionals”, it aimed to provide information on basic nutrition alongside its many recipes.  The book became so popular that later editions (and it’s still being published today) were simply titled the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook”. 

I have a 1930’s edition, and every time I pick it up I am both fascinated and overwhelmed by the sheer volume and range of offerings.  The pages are crammed with several recipes each, and directions are kept to a bare minimum.  It reminds me of a critical writing class I took in college, where we were asked to take a page of writing and condense it down to 3 sentences while retaining the key elements.  A real challenge for me!

Something I have come to appreciate the more I learned about Fannie, is her use of measurements.  She is credited with being the “mother of measurement” because she was allegedly the first to use standardized measuring cups and spoons in her published recipes, and she frequently gave scientific explanations for why ingredients or a recipe should be used or done a certain way.  Before Fannie came along, recipes were up to interpretation, calling for a teacup of milk or a knob of butter.  You might get away with that making soup, but not when baking, where proper measurements will make or break you.

Image of Fannie Farmer with a student from Encyclopedia Britannica.

I had thought about trying to make one of Fannie’s recipes for an A&A post, but Christopher Kimball from “Cook’s Illustrated” and “America’s Test Kitchen” (also located in Boston!) has done me 100 times better, and I am glad now that I didn’t try…though his enthusiasm is inspiring!  He has a book coming out called “Fannie’s Last Supper”, where he sets out to recreate one of Fannie’s classic 12-course Christmas dinner menus from the Victorian era.  The website for the project says:

“The recipes required mastering many now-forgotten techniques, including regulating the heat on a coal cook stove and boiling a calf’s head without its turning to mush – all sans food processor or oven thermometer.  Sourcing the unusual ingredients and implements led to some hilarious scenes, bizarre tastings, and an incredible armchair experience for any reader interested in food and the Victorian era.”

I am sold.  The book alone sounds like a terrific way to spend the afternoon (reading, not re-creating), but even better…Kimball has also put together an accompanying documentary (also titled “Fannie’s Last Supper”) that follows him along as he recreates and tests the recipes, with a grand finale of serving them at a formal Victorian dinner party.

“Frying Brain Balls” from Fannie’s Last Supper website.

“Trio of Jellies for Serving” from Fannie’s Last Supper website.

If you enjoy history and food like I do, you will probably love this.  The book comes out on October 5th, and the documentary will air on public TV stations nationwide in November and December.  Find out when it’s on, then grab your calf’s head, brains, and jelly and party like it’s 1896.

Fluff Fest 2010

Have you been dying to know what I thought of Fluff Fest?

As I mentioned here, Fluff Fest is an annual celebration of all things Marshmallow Fluff in Union Square in Somerville, MA.  This also happens to be where I live, so I have been looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.  I must have made it sound potentially very interesting, because my parents also decided they wanted to come into the city to visit me that day…and secure some whoopie pies at the same time.

It was unseasonably warm last weekend.  It felt more like summer…not exactly the kind of day you want to get all sticky eating a Fluffernutter…but the warm weather encouraged the crowds (it was definitely a party) and made me feel the warm and fuzzy for my neighborhood.  There is a real sense of community in Somerville that takes the edge off the whole urban city thing, which isn’t really my thing.

For a few hours one Saturday each September, Fluff just takes over.  Local businesses set up stands selling t-shirts, savory Fluff appetizers, mini-marshmallow guns (I got pinged on the head with one and felt really stupid), Fluff-inspired cupcakes, whoopie pies with Fluff-infused filling, Fluffernutters, and Flufftini’s – cocktails made with Fluff.  There was a live band playing songs of the 70’s and a main stage with all kind of crazy Fluff contests.  There was a Fluff cooking contest, complete with over-the-top trophies.  There was a man dressed like a Fluff jar and women dressed in cabaret-style outfits that is somehow a Fluff Fest tradition, but I don’t know why…I didn’t take a photo of them but someone else did here.

Time to share some photos!

“Shenanigans” Main Stage (that word is so bad)

Fluff and Peanut Butter Hairdo Contest

Grand Prize Cooking Contest Trophy

Fluffernutters – $2.00

Pumpkin and Chocolate Whoopie Pies!!

Mom and me in seasonally inappropriate colors..with local bakery Kickass Cupcakes Fluff-inspired creation.

The Fluff center just oozed out.

But it didn’t slow Arthur down!

Fluff cocktails for sale at Precinct. 

We waited for awhile to eat here so we could try the martini but it was a madhouse so we ended up getting Thai food, which was blessedly untouched by Fluff.  We did get whoopie pies to take home and eat later.  Mom and Arthur stuck with traditional chocolate/vanilla Fluff filling…but I got pumpkin, which ended up having a cream cheese Fluff filling. 

Overall, I would say Fluff Fest 2010 was a success, and it’s always a treat getting a visit from my wonderful parents! 

Maybe next year I will participate in the cooking contest.  How can you not want that classy trophy?

Fall Collection

Pumpkin spice cupcakes, cream cheese frosting, with handmade chocolate leaves for garnish.  One of my favorite cupcake projects from last year.

Vintage Pyrex Autumn Harvest Mixing Bowl Set from BlueHouseVintage on Etsy.  I don’t need any more bowls.  I can only look. 

From my vintage Mom Magazine collection.  I guess women in the 60’s loved olive-green and the feeling of a whole lotta linoleum under their feet.

From the same collection, a 1964 goldenrod textured coat.  I want this, but I also want the matching gloves, and maybe even the hat.

John Derian for Target Feathers Serving Tray.  For under $15 I can easily talk myself into this.

A Dozen Eggs  Fall Foliage cookie collection.  Their cookies are charming and delicious.  Of course, I am also partial to those acorns.

New Hampshire Plyboo Cutting Board from AHeirloom on Etsy.  It’s not Massachusetts, but NH is my birth state.  Cutting boards hold warm, crusty loaves of bread…preferably next to hot pots of soup.

Nothing smells or tastes like fall like pumpkin.  One-Pie canning company is based in West Paris, Maine, and they are so amazing they don’t even have a website.  I couldn’t find any information on them at all on the internet other than their address and phone number.  What year is this?  Despite being unable to report on their history, this makes me love One-Pie more than ever.  I bet the photo of that pie on the label was taken before WWII. 

It also looks like there is another shortage of canned pumpkin this year, so stock up when you see it!

I have an unusual concoction cooling in my kitchen right now, and Fluff Fest is this weekend, so I promise there will be some on-point entries coming up.

Happy first day of Fall!

Autumn Welcome Weekend

This weekend I truly welcomed autumn in the following ways:

1.  Candy Corn

2.  Apple Pie

Take one look at that ragged crust and you will know this pie wasn’t store-bought, but it tasted good and I was delighted with my flakiest crust to date.  I visited my mom and Arthur in Lowell, where I got to make my latest pate sucree with the assistance of my mom’s beautiful 12-cup KitchenAid food processor.  It really did make a difference keeping the butter cold, since it does the job of mixing it into the dry ingredients in a few quick pulses.  Needless to say, the volume of my “I do not need a food processor” mental chant has been turned up to 11. 

Visiting Lowell also means visiting my mom’s cats,  Fenian, Napoleon, and Sullivan.  These cats blow just about every other cat I have ever met out of the water (sorry, but it’s totally true).  They fetch.  They eat fruitcake in the middle of the night.  They understand “Who wants a treat?” and will sit intertwined licking and grooming each other for hours.  I love spending time with them, but it makes me miss having a pet.

Allow me to introduce you.

Fenian, aka Fen-Man.  Chocolate Point.  Fenian is always nervous and chews on his tail til the end looks like a wet paintbrush, but is the loviest and most polite of the bunch.

Napoleon, aka Poly-Boy.  Seal Point.  Poly-Boy is fat and a little slow in the head.  He eats anything and everything and is basically the cat version of Baby Huey.  It helps to hide a vacant look in your eyes if your eyes are sparkling blue.

Sullivan, aka Sully or Blue-Boy.  Blue Point.  Sullivan loves Arthur more than my mom, which irritates her since she cleans his litter box and feeds him.  Sully’s meow can politely be described as “demanding”.  He hones in on your popsicles.  He has to wear a warning collar to distinguish him from the other 2 because he will leap up onto the shoulders of men he finds interesting without warning.  He did this once to a repair man in the basement, spooking the man so bad he cried out.  Yes, we still laugh about this.

These 3 are very dear to me.

I hope to continue celebrating fall by baking more pies, breaking out the pumpkin puree and cranberries, and really diving into soups and breads.

Apple picking, pumpkin carving, Somerville’s Fluff Fest, and the 20th Annual Keene Pumpkin Festival should also keep things decidedly autumnal.  How will you be welcoming and celebrating the most lovely of seasons?

Jelly Belly

Probably the only thing I have in common with Ronald Reagan is a sincere love for Jelly Belly jellybeans.  He kept a jar of them on his desk in the Oval Office, and another stash on Air Force One.  If you enjoy jellybeans, you know there really isn’t a brand that comes close to the texture and flavor of Jelly Belly.

Before the idea for what is now Jelly Belly came along in 1976, jellybeans typically only had their signature flavors in their outer candy-coating.  The insides were plain, colorless pectin.  They were large and sugary and very similar to the ones you see only at Easter.  You know the ones…

David Klein, a Los Angeles candy distributor had the idea for a better bean, so he contacted the Herman Goelitz Candy Co. and Jelly Belly was born.  They wanted to make a smaller bean with a flavored inside as well as outside, and they wanted to use as much natural flavors and fruit juice whenever possible to improve the flavor of the bean, and reduce the amount of sugar.  The result was the first “gourmet” jellybean, and it earned its title in both flavor and price (which was steep).  Original flavors included Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape and Licorice.

They have only increased in popularity and variety since then.  Jelly Belly jellybeans now come in 50 “official” flavors, with a revolving assortment of “rookie” flavors that sometimes make it and sometimes don’t (RIP Buttered Toast and Graham Cracker).  They also are available is specific varieties such as Jelly Belly Sours, BeanBoozled, Soda Pop Shoppe, Smoothie Blend, Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Blend, Sugar Free, Sports Beans, and (my favorite) Belly Flops.  Those are bags of “mistake” beans.  The Jelly Belly brand also makes other chewy, gummy candies such as Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears and traditional sweets like candy corn…but nothing beats the bean.

Jelly Belly has had a mascot since 1996, another anthropomorphic cartoon terror like Fruit Pie the Magician, only this one is a jellybean in a chef’s hat called…wait for it…Mr. Jelly Belly.  He doesn’t appear to have any distinguishing traits…much to my disappointment….though he is sometimes pictured on a skateboard.

My favorite flavors are cinnamon, peach, watermelon, root beer, strawberry jam, crushed pineapple, and pink grapefruit.  My least favorites (meaning I throw them out the window) are top banana, black licorice, chocolate pudding, and (holiest of horrors) buttered popcorn.  Those are worse than marshmallow circus peanuts.

Jelly Belly Fun Facts:

  • Blueberry JB’s were invented so Reagan could serve red, white, and blue beans at his inaugural parties.
  • Many mosaic art pieces exist made entirely of Jelly Belly’s.  My favorites are, of course, Lincoln and Princess Diana (see below).
  • My BFF Lauren and I tried to feed ABC Jelly Belly’s to seagulls once on the beach in Ogunquit, ME.  They looked the other way.  We still don’t understand why.

If you are ever in Fairfield, CA you can embark on an official Jelly Belly factory tour and (I assume) eat lots and lots of jellybeans.  Add it to the list!

And of course, for more info including recipes and flavor guides, visit the official Jelly Belly website.  Brace yourself…it’s colorful.

Ever since I received “Hello, Cupcake!” from the Tucker’s for Christmas in 2008 I have wanted to make corn-on-the-cob cupcakes…and you can’t make these without Jelly Belly’s.  Too bad most of the yellow jellybeans are sad flavors…

Happy Labor Day!