I'm Back! On Marriage and Teaching and Returning to the Keyboard

My favorite image circulating around the web right now is a close-up of the dashboard in someone's car, and on it is a tray of chocolate chip cookies in the process of being "baked." It's the perfect representation of the overwhelming heatwave we're experiencing here in Southern California. There isn't much I can say that's positive about it, but what I can say is that right smack dab in the midst of it—and not only in the midst of this heat, but also in the midst of a pile of papers that need grading, and classes that need prepping for and a sink of dishes that need cleaning—I was hit by an unquenchable desire to write.

I haven't felt this way in a very long time.

It's been almost a year and a half since I published my last piece of writing or posted anything on my blog. Last May, I finished interning at Foam Magazine and was in a place where all of my energy was focused on achieving the one thing I had never managed to do in all of my 30 plus years on this planet: Get a job that would enable me to leave the restaurant world and start my actual career. I didn't want to dabble anymore. I didn't want to freelance or be glamorously adventurous or play guessing games about where my next paycheck would come from. This was not the Christy who had left everything and moved to New York City on a whim three years earlier. This was the Christy who wanted a retirement plan and health benefits. The one who thought it might be nice to NOT wait tables on weekends and all major holidays.

Some may call it growing up at the tender age of thirty-two. I like to think of it as shifting focus. Needing something different than before.

After applying to multiple editorial assistant positions and considering everything from writing ad copy to starting my own grant writing business (thank you, "jobs for writers" Google search results!) I finally landed in the same place I had started three years earlier before leaving for New York: I got a job teaching.

Only this time, I didn't work my butt off just to get a foot in the door. Both jobs—teaching Freshman Composition at a community college, and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at a UC—came via friends who told me to call the right people at exactly the right time. And that was it. The interviews were a breeze and before I fully registered what was going on, there I was being handed keys to my new classrooms, as well as textbooks and lesson plans.

There wasn't any time to process the shock and excitement and gratitude and fear and sense of "howthef***amIgoingtopullthisoff??? At one school, I got hired on a Friday afternoon, sat in traffic after the job interview, rushed straight to the restaurant to work the shift I was scheduled that night, gave an immediate two-weeks notice, spent the weekend frantically planning, and started teaching that following Monday.

Welcome to my year.

This has been above and beyond the craziest but most wonderful time of my life. Not only am I working a job that I love, but I am now married to man that I love, too. Oh that's right. Did I not mention that I got engaged, planned a wedding, and walked down the aisle in less than six months? It's been a nonstop whirlwind, and I suppose it's no wonder that I've had little desire or time to write much of anything.

I've also been listening a little too often and too closely to that nagging voice inside my head telling me I was being a sellout—that I was giving up on my dream of being a writer and a storyteller. Taking the easy way out. The guilt was sometimes paralyzing and when I sat at the keyboard, every word felt forced. I feared too much time had gone by. That I'd lost my words and lost my inquisitive way of looking at the world and wanting to grab it and examine it and rearrange it in my own way.

So I stopped trying and started making Pinterest boards instead. I collected photos of wedding decor and started DIY-ing up a storm. I found an antique pair of wooden shutters at a vintage shop and convinced my husband, Paul, to help turn them into a headboard for our bed. I painted furniture and sewed pillowcase covers and became addicted to various cooking and baking channels on YouTube that taught me to perfect the art of cheesecake and freshly-made bread.

In case you are wondering, the answer is yes. Yes, I was a 1950s housewife in a previous life. But I digress.

In many ways, I have lived the past year and half in survival mode, like a character in a video game, frantically hopping from one level to the next and completing tasks along the way. Essays graded? Check. Finished reading memoir that we will be covering in class? Check. Apartment hunting? Belongings packed haphazardly into boxes? Invitations sent? Countless conversations with mother about table cloth colors and centerpieces? Check, check, and check.

In the midst of it all, I needed some creative outlet, and writing wasn't going to be it. But earlier this week, I came home to a stuffy and humid apartment, turned on my laptop, and settled into the makeshift office Paul and I created out of this huge, open closet we have in our living room. My intention was to get straight to work answering student emails, but in the spirit of rebellion and laziness, I decided to cheat a bit first.

I started typing the web addresses to all of my favorite blogs. Many months had gone by since I'd taken the time to read any of them, and although I don't know any of these women personally, I sort of feel like they are my friends and I became excited by all the fun things they have going on in their lives. Shauna just announced that she's publishing a new devotional that will be out in spring. Molly will be leading a writing workshop in Oklahoma and has posted a recipe for fudgesicles that looks incredible. One of my favorite fashion bloggers just had a baby.

As I was reading their stories and gleaning small snippets of their lives, I felt a sudden urge beckoning me to the keyboard. Tell your story, it said. You have one, too.

So here I am. I'm going to try my best to post regularly again—maybe once a week, or once every other week. I hope you'll join me.  

Chocolate Cherry Scones

I'm not always a huge scone person, but of all the Thomas Keller recipes I've made so far, these are definitely in the top three. They're moist and sweet and packed with chocolaty-cherry goodness!

I baked them last week and brought them as dessert for an impromptu dinner with a group of friends from graduate school. Two of these friends, Josh and Sarah, now live on the East Coast, and our other friend John is now the father of a beautiful baby girl. We went over to John's house after the baby was in bed and sat out on the porch with his fiance and my boyfriend and Josh and Sarah. We ate barbecue chicken and cornbread and marveled at the incredible warmth of this spring evening that allowed us to wear t-shirts and still feel perfectly comfortable.

These are the sorts of activities that have been filling my days ever since I finished interning at Foam Magazine a little over a week ago. I absolutely loved my experience at Foam, but after the past four months of commuting two days a week to the office, writing weekly articles for their website, working four nights a week at a restaurant, and keeping up with this blog, I needed a break in a major way.

So, I've been gratuitously lazy -- sleeping in late, watching marathons of Glee,enjoying late-night dinners with friends, and falling way, WAY behind on my blogging schedule. In truth, I'm so behind that I wasn't sure how to even begin this post. I was scheduled to make Palet D'or, a rather labor-intensive chocolate cake, but I didn't. I also skipped out on croissants, and this week I'm feeling inclined to try a recipe for Fig Challah Bread in Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, as opposed to baking whatever it is I scheduled myself to make months ago.

I think I may just do that. And allow myself some flexibility in this project, which is supposed to be fun after all, and not quite so arduous! Before I go totally rogue and re-vamp my whole baking schedule, I would actually love YOUR input. Please take a look at my baking schedule and let me know if there's anything you definitely want me to keep on there.

(Note to my friend Kay: I know you're dying to learn how to make croissants, so we'll be rescheduling those for sure!)

In the meantime, enjoy the following scone recipe. I promise it's a keeper :)

Chocolate Cherry Scones
(Adapted from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)

* This recipe has three parts: macerated cherries, scones, and cherry glaze. The macerated cherries need to be made the day before so they can sit in the fridge overnight. Also, Kirsch is a special cherry brandy made in the state of Washington. You can buy a tiny, 50 ml bottle of it at BevMo, which is perfect for this recipe.

water                    118 grams, or 1/2 cup
Granulated sugar   105 grams, or 1/2 cup
Kirsch                   20 grams, or 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp.
Vanilla paste          1/2 tsp.
Dried tart cherries  105 grams, or 1 cup

All-purpose flour         332 grams, or 2 1/3cups
Baking powder            6.5 grams, or 1 1/3 tsp.
Baking soda                4.5 grams, or 1 tsp.
Kosher salt                  2 grams, or 3/4 tsp.
Cold, unsalted butter   133 grams, or 9 Tbsp.
Heavy cream               178 grams, or 3/4 cup
Chocolate chips           105 grams, or 1/2 cup

Powdered sugar                          100 grams, or 3/4 cup    
Reserved strained cherry syrup    70 grams, or 5 Tbsp.
Heavy cream                               30 grams, or 2 Tbsp.

To make the macerated cherries, combine water, sugar, Kirsch, and vanilla paste in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cherries and return to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer the cherries and their liquid to a Tupperware container and refrigerate overnight.

To make the scones, Set a mesh strainer over a measuring cup and drain the cherries. Reserve 5-6 tablespoons of the liquid for the glaze.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and Kosher salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and add it to the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the whole mixture is crumbly and evenly combined. Pour in the cream and mix together with a wooden spoon, or with your hands, if it's easier, as the batter will be thick and heavy.

Next, add the chocolate chips and drained cherries, then transfer the dough to a floured work surface and use your hands to shape it into an elongated square, about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it into nine little squares of equal size. Next, divide the squares in half by cutting them diagonally across into little triangles.

Set the triangles on cookie sheets lines with parchment paper and then put the whole cookie sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15-20 minutes.

To make the cherry glaze, Whisk together the powdered sugar and 5-6 tablespoons of reserved cherry syrup in a small bowl. Slowly add the cream, and add any additional cherry syrup to maintain the consistency of the glaze, or to add more flavor.

When the scones are finished baking, take them out of the oven an immediately brush them with several coats of glaze. Cool completely and eat any time of day -- even for dessert!

Gluten-Free Brioche Rolls

A few weeks ago, I was catching up on all of my blog reading and came across a series of recipes for gluten-free desserts on Katie Quinn Davies' site, What Katie Ate. She made these gorgeous cakes and tarts, all artfully arranged and photographed in her classic, country-meets-modern style. By the time I finished savoring every picture and poring over the ingredient list, all I could think about was how I might do a some gluten-free experimenting of my own. Then, I remembered that Thomas Keller (TK) had a gluten-free recipe for brioche rolls towards the end of Bouchon Bakery, and I knew it was meant to be.

I rearranged my baking schedule and embarked on a virtual research project to find the best gluten-free flour for the most affordable price. As much as I love Thomas Keller, I also find that some of the ingredients he uses aren't exactly cost effective. EXAMPLE: Cup4Cup, the gluten-free flour invented and trademarked by one of his former chefs, which retails at Williams Sonoma for $19.95.

Twenty dollars for a bag of flour!?
Hell will most certainly freeze over before I spend $20 on a bag of flour. 

Thankfully, Williams Sonoma lists all the ingredients in Cup4Cup on their website, so I jotted them down and started searching for other gluten-free flours made from similar ingredients. I read Amazon reviews, consulted bakery websites, and ultimately landed on King Arthur Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour, which I was able to score at Whole Foods for $7.99. 
But my research still wasn't done yet because this recipe calls for instant yeast, NOT active dry yeast. According to TK, active dry yeast has a coating of dead cells around the outside, which makes it behave less consistently. I would tend to agree, even in my very limited bread-making experience.

Several years ago, my former roommate Ivy and I were on an Indian food kick and we attempted to make our own naan. We kneaded the dough, placed it in oiled boils, laid damp towels over it, let it rise for hours -- the whole nine yards. Even still, the final product was rather dense and never rose quite the way we hoped it would.

I figured it was worth a shot to give instant yeast a try, but they didn't seem to carry it at any of the major grocery stores, so I went back to the "virtual" drawing board and started googling again. Thanks to some random guy who posted years ago on an online forum, I now know that Saf instant yeast can be bought at your local Smart and Final. Victory at last!

Once I got to the baking part, I was pleasantly surprised by these brioche rolls. They came out moist and flavorful, and I didn't even miss the wheat flour. They're also pretty easy to whip together and don't require any kneading -- hooray!

If you've got some gluten-free friends -- or if you're just in the mood to experiment -- try them out and let me know what you think in the comment section, or leave a comment on my Edible Life facebook page :)

Gluten-Free Brioche Rolls
(adapted from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)

Total time required: 4 hours 30 mins (But most of this time is letting the dough rise.)

Saf instant yeast             7 grams, or 2 tsp.            
Granulated sugar            20 grams, or 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp.
Warm water                   230 grams, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp 
Gluten-free flour             535 grams, or 3 3/4 cups
Kosher salt                    10 grams, or 1 Tbsp
Eggs                              158 grams, or 2 eggs
Egg yolks                       22 grams, or 2 yolks
Honey                            80 grams, or 1/4 cup
Unsalted butter, melted  100 grams, or 7 Tbsp.
Egg, beaten                   1  
Maldon, or other flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Combine yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Add water and set the bowl in a warm spot to proof for 10 minutes, or until it gets foamy and bubbly.

Combine the gluten-free flour and salt in large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Get out another bowl and whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, honey, melted butter, and yeast mixture.

Turn the stand mixer to low (or use an electric hand mixer on low) and slowly add the egg mixture to the flour. Once it's all combined, increase the speed to high and mix for another 10 minutes. The dough should be silky -- not stiff, like regular bread dough.

Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm spot for about 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Next, use a rubber spatula to deflate the dough and turn it over several times. Re-cover it with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate for 2 hours.

Get out 2 muffin tins and coat them with nonstick cooking spray. Divide the dough evenly among the cups (it should make about 14 rolls), and then brush the tops of them with beaten egg. Top with a light sprinkling of Maldon salt, and then set in a warm spot to proof, uncovered, for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15-17 minutes.