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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Homemade Ginger Soda

I've been on sort of a nutrition-kick lately. Since becoming self-employed, going to the gym is just not really an option for me right now. They say that 90% of nutrition, though, is the food you eat, and not necessarily how active you are.

As Nutritionist for Circle of Fountains and Official Kitchen Witch for Witchcrat & Wellness, I have been using the New Year to sort of catapult myself into a healthy cooking/healthy living type of lifestyle. I personally haven't ever had long-term health issues, problems with my weight, or anything truly alarming as of yet. The fact of the matter is that I've always been a very healthy girl. I want to keep it that way.

About six years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. It's pretty odd for her to have that considering she was only in her mid-40s when it happened. I, therefore, need to keep up on my health. She beat cancer without any chemo, just jogging more and going entirely vegan. It'll be five years she's cancer-free this November.

DisclaimerI do not plan on endorsing that going vegan is a medical alternative to chemotherapy to cancer. Ever.

Anyway, mom is now a holistic doctor and master herbalist, and she's my go-to for health problems. If I ever had anything more than a scratchy throat or a bit of constipation, however, I'd likely go see someone more local in a hospital versus calling my mom in Roswell...but I digress. The point is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I'd like to start keeping up on my health now, while I'm healthy, before it becomes a real problem.

I'm sure you've all heard about the fecal transplants in recent news that are said to treat colitis, and now possibly a measure in both preventing and reversing obesity. Freeze-dried poop pills sound gross, sure, but it makes sense. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, said that the root of health starts in the guts. Sure, you are what you eat, and I'm a big believer in that entire concept...but what about what's in our bodies already?

Here's what you need to know: 90% of our cells are bacteria, living in our stomachs, intestines, colons, etc., and the other 10% is us. We all share about a third of the bacteria, meaning the other two-thirds are entirely unique to us, kind of like a fingerprint. Your guts are home to these living microorganisms that are feeding on what you give them, all the time.

There's this nasty condition called dysbiosis, which is basically an unhealthy activity in the balance of your gut microbes. Dysbiosis has been linked to diseases such as diabetes I and II, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac and Crohn's disease, and even obesity. These things can lead to a lot of bad news stuff...and recent research has shown to fight Alzheimer's disease as a preventative measure by keeping a healthy balance of your gut microbes.

Let's say you eat a lot of sugar, for example. The yeast microbes in your belly go nuts for that sugar, and start eating it up like crazy and multiplying. They then send signals to the brain that they like that stuff and want more, and therefore give you cravings for more high-sugar foods. That's why, when you diet, it takes a few days to stop craving sugary stuff and start craving the good, healthy leafy stuff...when you feed the little dudes in your guts that eat the leafy stuff, they multiply and ask for more.

But what's to be done if your little gut microorganism guys just aren't playing ball with you? Getting a whole new set of these new guys takes anywhere from 3 months to a year, often longer, and meanwhile you're getting sicker and sicker, perhaps gaining more and more weight? The answer to obesity might just be the micro-activity going on in your guts, and maybe you can change that.

Disclaimer: Before you do anything, and especially if you have immune problems, talk to your doctor before taking anything that may affect something you're already taking. Talk to your doctor, a licensed nutritionist, someone, about adding anything like vitamins, supplements, probiotics, etc., to your diet.

To promote healthy gut activity, it's a good idea to have a diet that's full of variety. A diverse diet(varying veggies, ethnic cuisines, etc.,) keeps the bacteria in your guts on their toes, so to speak, and promotes a healthy gut-flora growth. Basically, if you only eat one type of food, it's probably bad for you in the long-run. Eating probiotic-rich foods(yogurt with live-active cultures, for example) promote a healthy gut and will help you in the long run. Here's some probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet today:

It's cloudy, it's fizzy...it's ready.

  • Yogurt with live-active cultures
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir(can be dairy-free)
  • Kombucha
If you'd like to go a step further, you can have a really tasty soda that's rich with probiotic goodness that you've made yourself. Here's how to do it!

First, you must make a Ginger Bug. This is your "starter" culture from which your ginger soda will come. 

Ginger Bug
  • Organic ginger, easily found in any health food store, or even some grocery stores
  • Sugar(raw sugar is best, but plain white sugar has worked for me, too)
  • Water at body temperature
  • Lactobacillus tablets** (optional, but it helps)
Sterilize a mason jar with lid in boiling water or in the dishwasher. Combine chopped ginger(it doesn't matter if it's peeled or not) sugar, and water into the jar in equal parts via volume(not weight) and shake. You can add a lactobacilis tablet's contents by just taking the pill and dumping the contents in. It is totally unnecessary, but it does speed things up. Now comes the hard part...waiting.

First off, feed this stuff like you would a pet, once a day. It eats ginger, water, sugar. You can add more ginger one day, then sugar the next, then more warm-ish water the next....or all three at once. Just give it a stir with a non-metallic spoon or close up the jar and give it a shake. It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days for this stuff to start cultivating visibly. You want to keep the jar in a safe spot on the kitchen counter where you can monitor it. On the off-chance that it'll develop mold, just scoop it off. It's generally fine. 

The mixture will go cloudy, and you'll see little bubbles starting at the top. This is your ginger bug and you can feed it every other day, every week, whatever. I've had friends who only feed theirs once every other week and it's fine. I personally feed mine a spoonful of sugar every other day, alternating with a little more ginger or water. This is your starter to a fizzy, wonderful soda that you can make at home.

Ginger Bug Soda
  • 1/4 cup strained ginger bug
  • 1 qt. fruit juice/tea
That's it. Just add a strained amount of this ginger bug to any fruit juice or sweetened tea(maybe a mix of both) and let ferment on your counter for 3 to 5 days. It's important to "burp" your soda every once and awhile(just unscrew the cap to let the gasses escape) just on the extreme chance that the drink will fizz over and burst. It's pretty rare that this will happen, but I let mine burp once a day for the first 3 days, and then I leave it.

In the picture above, I have my ginger but and a sweetened Earl Gray tea, all ready to be put into my sterilized bottle. I love those kind of glass bottles because they have a stopper already in it, so it's ideal for beers, sodas, etc. I've only tried it in teas and apple/grape juices, but not yet in cranberry or orange juices. After a few days of fermentation, you can pop it in the fridge when it's got the right taste for you...or just leave it out until it has the right amount of taste you want.

The point is that this stuff is alive and will help you promote healthy gut activity, just like live-culture yogurts will. There's research that probiotic-rich diets help against things like:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Childhood eczema
  • Poor digestive health(colitis, etc.)
  • Mental illness
    • No, seriously! Studies have been done and they show brain activity freaking out over poor diets over really long periods of time!
  • Women's health
    • In addition to the guts, vaginas are homes to millions of both good and bad bacteria, so balance is crucial
  • Obesity
  • Poor immune health

Keep in mind that science is still doing a lot of work on this stuff. I cannot reiterate enough, though, to talk to your doctor before undergoing anything radical. Most health-food stores, however, have licensed and credible nutritionists that can answer any questions you might have about starting a general strain probiotic...and many will point you in the direction of the doctor's office if it's for anything other than just maintaining a healthy body. Most can get by just fine by a healthy, diverse diet without the extra pills, and I strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor about taking any extra supplements before you go off the deep-end with this stuff

That being said, the recipe above will help you make a delicious soda with naturally-fermented ginger that's both tasty and nutritious. Bottoms up! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Corner Restaurant: Water for Ants

Farmer's Breakfast

I'm pro-breakfast. I've been to The Corner Restaurant once before, and had a vaguely icky experience(more because of the company I was with than the restaurant itself), but I was looking forward to being back. I was crazy-hungry and B. and I decided that if the wait was too long for Sunday brunch(more than 30 minutes), we'd go somewhere else. The wait was estimated at 20 minutes, but only took 15.

We were seated at one of the hi-tops in the "bar" area underneath some exposed insulation and hanging lamps that looked like they were from a really trendy salvage yard. Our server's jewelry was really cool(I remember the gold piercings sort of glimmering through the sunlight) and she was friendly enough, albeit a little slow and seemed a bit distracted.

Many of the newer, hipster-esque, nose-to-tail style restaurants seem to have been jumping on board with this trend that the tables should be set with their own chilled wine bottles full of water, and have teeny tiny water glasses to accompany said water. I have no idea if this is to keep the servers sane while the customers suck down water by the thimble-full, or if it's to give the diner a sense that they're at a friend's house, serving themselves. Either way, I'm not sure I'm a fan of it.

What is this??? A water glass for ANTS???
One might argue that the glasses are to portion soda sizes or juice sizes, but it just seems a little ridiculous for a water glass. One might also argue that I'm just a greedy American girl that's used to giant-sized everything and I also have giant hands so everything in my hands look small to me. Either way, it was really annoying when the water bottle became empty halfway through the meal and nobody refilled it. I would have flagged someone down, but it was a busy Sunday brunch, so I think that everyone sort of had tunnel vision, just trying to get through the push.

After a 25 minute wait, I got the farmer's breakfast/Babe's breakfast(pictured above) which came with two eggs, a hash brown, two slices of bacon, and two slices of toast with jam and butter. It was well-prepared, although I like a really soft poach and for the egg yolks to just come sort of flooding out. My egg yolks were, runny, but  poached medium, so the egg yolk remained fairly solid. Am I splitting hairs? Of course. Would anyone other than a really annoying food blogger notice? Likely not.

It's not running like a herd of stampeding buffalo. 
Another thing was the hash brown. It was kind of like a little hockey puck of potato. It was decently seasoned, crispy-ish, and ate well...it just seemed like kind of an odd portion. It was fine-looking, sure, but I think the unusual shape was offputting. The bread and jam were great(the jam was made by a local purveyor) and the bacon was nice and crispy. I give the dish a 7 out of 10.

B. got the pear pancakes with the cilantro salad. He said the cilantro thing sounded weird, but I really love cilantro so I talked him into it. The pancakes were huge, which seemed odd considering the portion size of my plate, and there were four of them. Four pancakes, all bigger than your face. That's a great value, for sure, but the pancakes had some issues.

Just so you now, B. is a 6'2" MAN. He's not like a skinny "dude,", he's a MAN.
Like...with MAN shoulders and stuff. And a beard. So those pancakes are big.
For one, those are way too big! If you're going to serve smaller, more refined portions of hash browns, eggs, etc., it seems inconsistent to cook giant pancakes. Also, the pears in the actual pancake itself seemed like they weren't cooked at all. It appeared as if the water in the pears had sort of seeped into the batter and affected it in such a way that they were (tragically) undercooked. When we asked our server if the pears were poached at all before they were added the the pancake. She said she knew they were cooked, "probably sauteed."

A saute is when you cook on high heat with a little bit of fat in the pan. A saute is usually a quick cooking method in which you get some nice color on your items. There were no signs of color on these pears, so I'm not sure how they were cooked, if at all. But the point is that the pancakes were too big, not cooked, and the pears inside(though tasty) weren't really helping. I think that if they sort of were diced up in pretty little cubes and were poached, drained, and then folded into a well-rested buttermilk pancake batter, it would have been better. I also think the portion sizes were way out of control, but I will say it was sort of nice to have pancakes for two more days once they were heated up in the oven.

Another slight annoyance was that our server took forever to get us our check. We were really hungry and ate quickly, sure, but I could see her(and several other servers) cleaning the tiny ant glasses and talking in the corner while we(and the table next to us) were looking for someone to bring them/us the check and clear away the plates. I could hear the couple next to us mumbling about how slow the service was.

I tend not to be impatient when dining out, as I've worked in the industry for over seven years now, so I know how things go on busy Sunday brunches and have empathy for the poor sleep-starved bastards behind the flat-top. I understand that Sunday brunch sucks for the servers and for the cooks. I don't understand why that has to translate to the customer experience. I think I would have been less apt to judge if I hadn't been staring at an empty water glass and bottle for 15 minutes during my nice and salty bacon binge.

The Corner Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoOnce we finally got the check and got out of there, it had been nearly an hour and a half. That seems long(to me) for a busy place in Westport looking to turn tables and serve customers quickly. Granted, there are people that like a long brunch and want to sit and enjoy their food, savor the conversation... B. and I aren't those people when we're tired and hungry, which we were that morning.

All in all, I like The Corner and I'll likely be back again. But I think it's safe to say that it's a good brunch, versus a great brunch. What's wrong with a good brunch? Nothing at all! A nice, good brunch is a Godsend after a night of drinking. B. and I seldom drink, but there were points that I did have a drunken hangover brunch...and if I was having a drunken hankering for some brunch, this would be the place to be. Being a sober and annoyingly thirsty food blogger, though, I don't think I'll say "this is the place to be" for The Corner Restaurant. I'll say "this place has a good brunch with items from local purveyors, so you'll definitely feel good about supporting them."

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Granola Bars

It's 2016, a new year for the new you!

America's twitter feeds have been trending with #NewYearNewYou and #NewYearNewMe, respectively. There are some that have even taken it so far as to proclaim they'll go entirely vegan for the month of January in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. I'll be the first to admit that Veganism, while there have been studies done that say it's more harmful to the environment that one might think, is a good thing to try. My own mother went Vegan for a year when she was diagnosed with Cancer and she'll be five years Cancer-free come November 2016.

I personally think that everything should go with moderation. I'm all for Meatless Monday and rotational diets are honestly one of the better ways to stay healthy nowadays. Keeping a variety in your foods will keep those fun little bacteria in your guts healthy, happy, and strong(from all of the work they get to do). Perhaps have a Vegan Weekend, or a gluten-free week, or an entire month where you only eat seafood? You could also try cutting out carbs from your diet for a month, or just cut out soda for a month for water or tea, and record the results.

Dieting can be fun if done in the right way, and opening your eyes to a new kind of cuisine may be the key to the "new you" that you've been searching for. I remember taking my World Cuisine class in Culinary school and being absolutely floored by how much I just loved North African food. No, really!

The soup is "harira", the fish in the back is marinated with chili oil and harissa, and at the back-right is
chicken with cous cous!

Harissa, tajine, cous cous and yummy date bars...I was shocked at how much I loved a food I had literally never heard of before school. Not pictured are the fabulous Medjool date bars, which were super tasty. My point is that you never know what you'll love until you try it, and trying all of those different foods kept me healthy enough to power through working a full-time job during full-time college.

What can be done about keeping healthy, but watching your wallet? Making your own (X), of course!

I have (admittedly) covered a lot about cake and very little about eating healthy, though I'll rant and rave for days about how America is so unhealthy. Well, shucks, it doesn't do much good if I'm willing to rant but not willing to do anything about it, does it? What's even sicker about that entire thing is that I don't even want to diet because I want to be healthier; I just want to remain a size 8 because I've been (essentially) the same size since high school and I really don't want to buy new clothes. I hate buying clothes and I hate having to try on clothes because I don't know what size I am...I'm a size 8 and I'm staying a size 8, not for my well-being or vanity, but for my sanity when shopping.

Anyway, my wonderful boyfriend has a bit of an addiction to granola bars and will often take them with him to work. I think his granola bars are too sweet to be a "healthy" snack, so I eat them when I am feeling too lazy to bake cookies. He's getting on in his age, too, and since we're both pushing 30, I figured I would save us both some money and make granola bars at home. It's shockingly easy, and it costs about $0.03 per bar versus $0.60 per bar you'll pay for a similar one at the grocery store. Then again, that's math for a recipe that will yield 16 granola bars versus 5-per-box...so you would pay something like $9 for the same amount of granola bars that this one recipe would cost you, which is somewhere close to a dollar per recipe. You do the math.

Favorite Granola Bars
(Adapted from/Inspired by Alton Brown's recipe on "Good Eats")

  • 12 oz rolled oats(you can find these at the bulk section of most markets)
  • 2 oz slivered almonds(can be substituted for pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 oz chopped pistachios(can be substituted for sunflower seeds)
  • 4 oz local honey
  • 2 oz organic fruit preserves(I use a blackberry jam that I make myself)
  • 2 tsp flavoring(vanilla, almond, whatever)
  • 1.5 oz butter( 3 Tbsp) or coconut oil(the fat should be solid at room temperature)
  • 2.5 oz brown sugar
  • 3 oz dried cranberries
  • 6 oz dried banana chips
  • 3.5 oz chocolate chips/chopped baking chocolate/carob chips
Start by measuring your dry ingredients(oats, nuts, seeds, etc.) onto a sheet tray that's big enough to comfortably toast all of that goodness and park it in a 350 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure an even cook. You're toasting these to both get rid of moisture(which is the enemy if you want to keep your bars preserved well) and to add depth of flavor. You can use just about any mix of stuff you want, so long as it is mostly the oats and the total weight for your dry ingredients is a pound(16 oz). 

Measure your honey, preserves, flavoring, butter, and sugar into a medium saucepot and set on a low and gentle heat. You're wanting to heat it until the butter melts and sugar dissolves. Remove your freshly-toasted crunchies from the oven and pop into your pan, along with your fruit of choice. I pounded the banana chips using a mortar & pestle to make them a more uniform size with the dried cranberries. Remember, you want every bite to be(relatively) the same. If you have dried apricots going with dried blueberries, remember to dice them into small cubes so that it's all the same size. Add the chocolate/carob chips at the very end and stir.

When your stuff is properly mixed up, all nice and gooey in the pot, spread onto a buttered/oiled sheet pan of your choosing(I used a cookie sheet, but you can use a standard 13 x 9 glass pan, or even two 9" pie tins) and bake for approximately 17 minutes at 300 degrees F. 

When done, let cool before flipping upside down onto a cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut into squares, wedges, any shape of your choosing. It does help to have it at least mildly warm, for cleaner(and easier) cuts, but it certainly won't hurt it if it gets cool enough to break into shards for a snack. You can also break this stuff up in to chunks/clusters to keep in a jar and add to your yogurt in the morning.

If you want an extra bit of luxury, melt baker's chocolate in the microwave(I like the dark kind) and drizzle across each bar using a pastry bag (or a ziploc bag with the corner cut out) in zig-zag patterns. Each bar is roughly 120-130 calories and have a good bit of fiber in them. The sodium content is so low that it's practically nonexistent at a mere 40 mg per serving, if that. The sugar may be on the higher side, but it's still better than your run-of-the-mill granola bar that has who-knows-what in it. There's really no reason for you to not start making these yourself and become a better you by doing it. I've already saved money by making these, and where my darling lover would go through a box per week, this will last us twice as long at a fraction of the cost. That being said, I sell them at Pistachio Bakehouse, my pop-up bakery concept, if you want to eat healthier snacks but just don't want to make the bars.

These can be kept in the freezer for about 3 months, or in the cabinet in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks. To be honest, though, they won't last that long. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year, Welcome 2016!

It's a whole new year! Happy 2016, everyone!

This year has been a big year for me. As an attempt at learning to be a better person, and a commitment to growth, I'm going to show my year in review.  Let's start with January of 2015...

In January, I learned how to do pulled sugar by a lot of experimentation and watching a lot of youtube videos about the subject! I didn't post any blog posts in January of 2015, which is a shame!  I want to dedicate myself to being more present online, and with my new business, it's going to be a LOT easier!

February marked the 1 year anniversary that young Hobbes wandered into my life. I don't recall the exact details, but one cold February evening, a wild orange cat appeared. I petted him. He allowed me to pick him up. My ex and I eventually fed him...and then he just walked in. And we were like "Oh, okay, we have a cat, now.

My ex left me Hobbes when he moved out because he feared what would happen to the cat if he took him away from an unfamiliar neighborhood. I didn't complain. I love this stupid cat. He's got a resting bitch face and came without claws...which has been wonderful for my furniture.

PSA: Removing your cat's claws basically cripples them from a young age. Please don't declaw your cat. The only reason I have a declawed cat is because he just came that way. I love him.

February also marked B.'s and mine first Valentine's Day together! He treated me to a wonderfully romantic evening at The American, and it was the best meal I've ever had in my life. I'm still having dreams about that wonderful uni-butter soba noodle dish... It was so aromatic and ethereal and yet earthy...I just wanted to take a bath in it.

I also figured out how to do "stripes" in cakes. I'd seen it done before in many baked cakes, but  not once yet in a cheesecake. This was a berry cheesecake I sort of devised, which was just a plain-old cheesecake batter, made as normal, divided n half and had berry sauce mixed in for color. It was sort of rustic-looking on the first few tries, but they ended up really great!

March marked my 27th birthday, and I did "birthday cake" for the entire weekend! The actual day of my birthday kind of sucked, but that's neither here nor there at this point. The point is that I really got my "layer cake" game under control to a new level and was able to practice every day for about a week! I was very excited about doing cakes, and about doing them well. I really dislike it when cakes have buttercream that's just SO GROSSLY SWEET. I dislike American buttercreams because they're often made with shortening and butter and powdered sugar...not pleasant. This particular one had cannoli filling but my other buttercreams are Italian buttercreams, which are a meringue-based type of thing that's just delightful.

Oh, and the picture is taken by my dear friend at WitchyWords.com! This was from our Ostara ritual, which I was able to host this year. This was my second time hosting a big ritual with Circle of Fountains, and it was such a joy to be able to do it with such good friends. I have no family here in Kansas City, so the friends I have made have truly been one of the greatest blessings I could have ever hoped for.

The Circle of Fountains Ostara ritual of 2015 was just wonderful, and I look forward to hosting it again at my new home! The Ostara craft was colored eggs, and this was also the year that I learned how to dye eggs using natural ingredients. These particular eggs were made using red cabbage(blue) and onion skins(yellow). The only DISADVANTAGE to these is that you'll have to dye them days in advance for any sort of remarkable color. It's annoying, sure, but the rewards are breathtakingly beautiful.

In March, I got the pleasure of visiting Novel, which brought a delightful meal. I am actually wondering why this is the only time I've been there in 2015...? I really enjoyed the meal, and the crispy eggs were just to die for. Maybe I'll make it a point to return to restaurants I enjoy this year instead of just jumping around from place to place?

April was a big month for my garden in 2015! I planted lots of pumpkins and started my winter crops such as radishes, spinach, carrots, etc. I also planted purple potatoes, which were delicious when harvested. If you live in a warmer area, though, you can start planting as soon as the ground thaws. Plants know when to grow, and they'll grow when conditions are right for them to do so.

Speaking of plants, I discovered tulips blossoming in front of my  house that April! They were just breathtaking. I'd never seen tulips quite like that one, and it was such a welcome surprise, since the winter had been so nasty to me that year.

I love tulips. I hate that they have such a long 'hang out' time underground and that you really have to plan to have them(you have to plant in the autumn to get them in the spring and can't really plant anything on top of them to fill in that bare space. That being said, they're a glorious surprise for when winter has yielded to spring.

Oh, and April was also the month I finally visited both Extra Virgin and Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop in the Crossroads. Admittedly, it wasn't my first time for Lulu's, but it was my first time for Extra Virgin! I took a lot of selfies in that month, too, as it was wonderfully warm and we spent a lot of time outside. This photo was taken at Memorial Park, just right down the street from Extra Virgin! It was warm, sunny, and just a great day to be alive.

May brought lots of selfies, as well as binge-watching Grace & Frankie on Netflix with Marietta. The garden was thriving at this point, too, so there were a ton of flowers and tomatoes, all ready to be taken. I did, however, have a war with green caterpillars that I had to take extra precautions to protect my beautiful broccoli from. I used a totally organic pesticide and they met a swift and timely death WITHOUT harming any other species...as this was meant specifically for caterpillars. It's a good thing I did, too, because the broccoli was delicious!

Note: If your broccoli is showing little yellow "sprouts" like that on top, harvest it! It's getting ready to "bolt", which means "flower". After this, it's not really tasty anymore.

May also brought me to the Kansas City Zoo for the first time! I'd lived here for about 5 years at that point and had begged my ex to go with me for many of those years...but he always said no because of many reasons. B. heard I wanted to go and took me the second the exhibits were open...but he and I are admittedly "jinxed" on our "first time" outings, as the most torrential downpour I had ever seen dumped on us. We were walking around in drenched clothes the entire time, but he smiled and we trekked on. It truly showed me that it doesn't matter what you do or what's happening around you...if you have the right attitude, you can still have fun. That day, I felt so much closer to him, and I'll forever cherish the memories of that rain-soaked day, walking around the zoo, seeing the penguins, the lions, the little trash panda... It was just perfect.

 May was also a time of learning, as I experimented with many different cookie recipes at that time! This one is a lemon pinwheel, which B. gobbled up quickly and hungrily. Maybe I'll post a blog on that one later...? That being said, I really do wish I could remember why I needed so many cookies.

And speaking of blog posts, May was the time of year that brought me those gorgeous roses and allowed me to make, for the first time, rose petal jam. Oh, and I visited Tannin for the first time, too, which was just a wonderful time. It was so romantic and felt so old world, especially with the rain making the pavement shine.

May marked my garden thriving like you wouldn't believe!

This was my first time growing potatoes, so I had no idea that the blossoms would be so brilliantly beautiful! They perfumed the entire backyard, and they brought a throng of hungry bees.

And just look at the pumpkin patch! It took over the entire backyard, and fed the bees, butterflies, and even those asshole wasps...but I was happy to do my part in feeding the pollinators. I had a very bountiful garlic harvest, too, and I'm still using the garlic that I'd harvested to this day! I have one bulb left, after planting a few of the cloves in my new garden.

And did I mention that my spiced beet gelato came from the beautiful month of June, too? Because it did! Oh, and the beets were from my garden, as well. The spring crop's harvest was wonderful; there's little that's as fulfilling as growing your own food.

I'd also learned how to make dog biscuits, which Howl just loved...

And I made a gorgeous angel food cake using my rose petal jam as a garnish!

And let's not forget the Midsummer celebration for Circle of Fountains, documented BEAUTIFULLY by the gorgeous WitchyWords.

July was EPIC! Not only did B. and I settle down together and become HOMEOWNERS...

 But I learned how to do royal icing...

Make macarons...

And we took a wonderful vacation to Tucson, Arizona, where I'm from!

When we returned a week later, I harvested my purple potatoes. I probably could have left them in the ground for longer, but I was just too excited to let them sit. I wanted potatoes NOW and I GOT potatoes, now!

And a few of my tomatoes were ripe! (Poor quality photo, I know, but I was just so excited.)

July was, I think, the best month of 2015 for me. It was a tumultuous change to go from renter to homeowner, and I'm just so fortunate to have my boyfriend in my life who was smart enough to plan for said home ownership. I'm even more fortunate and grateful that he'd bring me along for the ride.

In August, my friend got really sick, so I made her a big pot of chicken soup using lemongrass and ginger to flavor the broth. And, yes, I used a real chicken carcass to make the stock. The green color came from boiling the basil(harvested from my garden) with the chicken, resulting in the green color of the chicken fat that floated to the top after a rest in the fridge.

I was also fortunate enough to make a mille-feuille for a wedding at Casa Somerset! It turned out great, and it was such a beautiful wedding.

In preparation for moving away from my beautiful house on the hill, I scoured the garden for ripe pumpkins. This one is called a "long island cheese" pumpkin because of its "cheesey" flavor!

Our new home was surrounded by glorious trees, and yielded beautiful sycamore leaves. This gave me an idea for decorating the house...

Here are the leaves of a Chinese elm, dipped and pressed into a fabric to make chair covers...

And the result was glorious! You can find the tutorial here, if you'd like to make your own. The chairs turned out so beautifully; I was so proud to have something that was so unique to the house!

I also made a Peachy Keen Pie, using peaches from the Overland Park Farmer's Market...

And somebody did this on /r/photoshopbattles on reddit. I loved it.

September came around and we were settling nicely into the new house. I was still under the lease for Howl Manor atop the Mountain so I was bouncing back and forth between each one, taking a car-load each time with me to the new place. My mother sent me this beautiful necklace from Roswell(where she lives) as a Moving Day gift.

September 30th, I said goodbye to Howl Manor and hello to "Howl's Stationary Castle." (Yeah, we like Miyazaki films in this house.  Above is the last bits of the harvest. I sneaked back here and there a few more times after I turned in the key just to steal from the backyard the last bits of my garden. The harvest season had been over for some time by then but not before getting the last few stragglers of the year.

Here's Howl, playing around in the new backyard. You can see just the very tip of the new garden plot, which I was tilling for next year. I was able to plant a few things, but didn't harvest much. I transplanted my asparagus patch(which I took from Howl Manor) and bought some short-seasoned beet, carrot, and radish seeds. I could never get the whole radish/carrot thing because I could never thin the sprouts well enough. I honestly should have just scattered them like fairy dust and see if it took...but the ground hadn't been worked at all so I figured that this year would be a wash anyway. I did, however, get a chance to plant a few of my potatoes and two or three garlic cloves.

The new house also brought us strawberry pretzel brownies, a new invention of mine that would later become a staple for Pistachio Bakehouse. They're pretty much the best.

Oh, and did I mention that I actually tried Zumba? I didn't? Because it didn't work out. Mad props to Marietta for having 5000x the discipline I'll ever have.

I made this fabulous cake that I'm so proud of for a beautiful girl called Marbella who graduated high school. It was a four-layer cake and I am so proud of the buttercream roses...especially because this is my first time ever doing them.

Oh. And this was my first attempt growing corn. It was also the final harvest of my garden. The day I got this was the last day I ever went back to Howl Manor. I said a silent goodbye and a not-so-silent thank you to the house, to the garden...I truly loved living there. It made me more of who I am, and showed me that I am worthy of respect, kindness and consideration. Living there alone was one of the best things that have ever happened to me, and I truly do mean that. I was very sad to see it go.

On September 30th, B. and I stood in the remains of what was my living room and danced one last time together there to "Can't Help Falling in Love"by Haley Reinhart. It was the most precious moment, just there in the remains of my old self, ready to be vulnerable and leap into the next stage of my life. I will truly cherish that forever.

October is my favorite month of the year, because it's the last month of the year(for Pagan/Wiccan folk, I mean) and we celebrate Halloween/Samhain and thus the full turn of the wheel of the year. Howl settled in well to the new house, once the renovations were finished(we put a white finish on the wood floors and they're beautiful) and we had a wonderful housewarming party! We welcomed our friends and family into our new home, and our new life.

B. and I had a blast with "testing" the new Tesla, which appeared wildly on the Plaza! It's totally going to be our next car....

Another thing I've been dying to do since I moved to the Midwest was visit a pumpkin patch. The wonderful man he is, B. took me to Schaake's pumpkin patch in Lawrence, KS with friends. We had a blast, got dirty, and got way too many pumpkins! But, hey, it's memories that matter, not money....right?

I don't even know if we went home with the pumpkins that we're holding. I think we were both so indecisive about the ones we found because we kept on seeing new ones and more fun ones...I was running around the pumpkin patch like an unruly puppy on Tab. B. finally lassoed me in and got me onto the big truck with only six pumpkins in tow.

I'd never been on a big flat-bed like that one before, and sitting on a hay bale wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be!

After the excitement, we got a wheelbarrow for all of our pumpkins and B. treated me to apple and pumpkin doughnuts with hot mulled cider to fend off the bitter cold. We went to dinner at Kobe Japanese Steakhouse & Hibachi where I had a very interesting experience...

I did another transformation this year, too, by dyeing my hair. Yes, I'm using an instagram filter in those, but on a LOW setting. My hair only looked like that in the light. When it was relatively dark, I looked like my normal, raven-haired self. When I stepped into the light, however, my hair glimmered in an iridescent sheen like a beautiful hummingbird. I've been in a long love affair with my hair since I was about 16 when I truly learned to love it and say "F#CK YO COUCH" to all those that told me that "no guy likes curly hair, you need to straighten it."

No, I'm not making that up. My dad said that to me, on a regular basis, about my hair. He can deny it all he wants; but that shit stays with you forever. Around age 16, I just screamed at him "THEN I'LL WAIT FOR SOMEONE THAT LIKES CURLY HAIR." He told me "good luck" and stormed off. He's never apologized; he probably doesn't think he needs to. He probably doesn't remember.

The point of that whole story is that learning to truly love myself has been a struggle that started with rebellion and ended with acceptance. That being said, it's super-fun to experiment with colors! I just love my galaxy hair and it's so fulfilling and freeing to be able to do such a thing with nobody telling you that you can't.

My wonderful Circle and I rang in the new year with our Samhain celebration. It's a solemn, somber holiday of remembrance. I honored my great-grandfather this year. He was the head of the Butcher's Union in Arizona for a long time and I took his knives with me to California after he died. I still have his butcher knives in their original block; they're sitting on my kitchen counter right now.

November sucked. I did almost nothing but work. I was settling in at a new job and it was challenging, but not without its rewards. I only ended up being there for a short time, but the truth of the matter is that it just wasn't working out. I wasn't happy there, and they weren't happy with me, so we parted friends. I truly am grateful for the short time I spent there. It gave me the strength and direction I needed to find what I wanted the most...and it wasn't to just be a stay-at-home dog mom.

Although, I do admit, being a stay-at-home dog mom would be the absolute ideal career choice, especially when being the dog-mom to this little booger...

I did, however, find time to pull a few all-nighters to complete this massive gingerbread house for the CCVI's annual Gingerbread Lane. It was a huge project, but I got it done, with the help of my friend, J.

We used jolly ranchers for the windows and royal icing and chocolate candies for the doors and shutters.

The half-timbered look was beautiful, but the twizzlers(which I hand-painted to be black) just ended up being way too waxy to stick enough to the house. I ended up snapping all of them off and simply painting the icing black for the similar effect.

I also hand-painted the roof green and used a meringue-marshmallow-like confection to create my 'snow.' The path is made from chocolate chunks, and the roof is finished with royal icing and mini M&Ms.

Here's me, next to the gingerbread house. I was called several weeks late(sometime in early December) saying that tragedy struck and that the roof had collapsed when someone tried to get it into their car! Heartbroken, I went in to fix what I could. Unfortunately, the roof had "bowed" from the humidity in the air so I simply repaired what I could and stuck a plastic dinosaur on the side in which the damage had been done, in hopes that the person that had so generously bought it for the fundraiser had enough of a sense of humor to realize that I was interpreting it as a dinosaur attack, and that's why the house collapsed.

The end of November came with reading a wonderful book called "The Cake Therapist", written by Kansas City's own Judith Fertig. This was, apparently, her first fictitious work after writing all of her wonderful cookbooks, and magical realism is one of my favorite genres. The book was such an amazing read; the characters were compelling without being clicheed, the foreshadowing was apparent without being obvious, and I just adored the way that the author switched perspectives from character to character. Please give it a read! It's worth it.

While December brought my annual cold/flu/I-think-I'm-dying-disease, it also brought the beginning of my new business. The last weeks of December, I mustered through family emergencies, existential crises, and some other stuff to do my first pop-up at the Rosedale Development Center for Pistachio Bakehouse.

Here's my first selfie!

Here are the flourless chocolate chewies, which are choc-full of chocolate chips!

These are the money items, the bagels. They're boiled, made with malt syrup, and all done by hand. Kansas City doesn't have a bagel scene, really, and that's what the people wanted the most. It sold out in 3 hours.

This was the garlic bread. In each loaf, there are four cloves of garlic, chopped up, as well as about 10 grams of the garlic salt blend from the spice guy at Habashi House in River Market. If you're in the market for spices, go see this guy. I've been going to him for years, and he has never let me down.

The pistachio bagels were really well-received, and even got a write-up in Feast. I also got a wonderful write-up in The Pitch, but more for the pistachio chocolate chip cookies than the bagels, which are my second-favorite item. (Spoiler alert: the #1 favorite in my book are the strawberry pretzel brownies.)

Immediately after the pop-up, Circle of Fountains celebrated Yule in a beautiful ritual. Being with my Circle and being in touch with my religion has been crucial in this trying time in my life. The last month of 2015 was a rough one, to say the least, but one mustn't forget the blessings and goodness that surrounds one in such times. Had it not been for B., Circle of Fountains, and Howl, I don't know how I would have survived this last month.

Once the pop-up was over, and after a few more emergencies came up, I was able to spend the holidays with my family and friends, which was exactly what I needed. A family death is certainly no laughing matter, and to be surrounded with the love and comfort of friends in this time of need is a blessing I'll forever be grateful for. I was also grateful for the first winter's snow, after Christmas...

My great-grandmother died this year. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's for about six years. In the last days of her life, my dad said, she kept on repeating "We did the best we could with what we had." She was born on March 2nd, 1920. She was 95 when she died.

I remember her hands feeling like paper; I remember the smell of her Pond's face cream. I remember her pastel drawings and how she would always say "Oh, Ellie, look at the clouds! They're so pretty; they look like someone painted them." I remember the last time I saw her, about three years ago when she was in the memory care facility. Her disease had already taken quite a bit from her, but the second she saw me, she opened up her arms and said "Oh, Ellie, I love you so much." When we left, I cried all the way home.

I couldn't bring myself to see her in July, when I was there. They said that she probably wouldn't have recognized me anyway, as it had advanced so far. I fly out to Tucson on the 6th for her funeral. My friends have been so wonderful and supportive, and without the love and understanding of B. I don't know what I would have done.

Grief is a funny thing. I knew that she was going to die from Alzheimer's. I knew it was going to take her from us. The woman raised me and I never got a chance to say how much she meant to me. All I can do is hope that she knew that so much of me is made from her; I hope that she knew that all that was ever good in me started from her. I hope that she knew that I loved her. When she was diagnosed with the disease, I was a bratty and selfish 21-year-old that was honestly too self-involved to truly realize what was happening. My greatest regret is that I didn't say "thank you" to her enough. She taught me how to draw, how to use a sewing machine...and she's the real reason I started cooking seriously.

She couldn't cook to save her life, and she hated doing it. I started cooking because I wanted to help; I started cooking because I wanted to contribute something, to take care of one thing in the house so Grandma didn't have to.

I am a Chef because of her. Thank you, Grandma Bernice, for making me who I am. I love you so much. I hope you knew how much you meant to me, and - in the end - I'm glad you don't have to suffer from such a despicable disease anymore.

So, goodbye, 2015. And goodbye, Grandma Bernice. Thank you for reading. Happy cooking and happy eating. May all of your goals come to fruition this year, and my one wish for this year is that somebody find a cure for Alzheimer's, so that nobody ever has to go through that ever again.