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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.

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