Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's a Miracle!

And no, I'm not referring to the fact that I'm finally updating the blog - although that might seem miraculous and surprising, given my recent track record - I'm talking about the picture below:

Me and my adorable nephew, James, on my visit to Chicago in April

It may look like just an ordinary picture to you, but this one is special because it comes from my old hard drive. You know, the one that crashed months ago. The one that left me with no photos. The one that totally took the wind out of my sails and left me with little desire to get back in the blogging saddle. The one they told me would never, ever come to life again.

To be honest, I was crushed when it happened, but eventually I came to terms with writing all those things off. I'd already mentally said goodbye to a year's worth of pictures, posts (and all the prep work on my graduate thesis), when an old college friend offered to have a look at it for me. As talented as my friend is with computers - and believe me, he's a genius - I didn't have much hope. I'd been told, by people who know about these kinds of things, that I'd never see my stuff again...

...And that's where the miracle comes in, because my friend wasn't just able to save my photos - he saved everything! All at once, the things I thought were lost were restored to me, and it was a real lesson in gratitude.

I have so much stuff. I mean, I truly, honestly want for nothing, and yet the most important things I have aren't material. They aren't even the pictures on my hard drive or the posts I've written - they're my friends and family. Truly awesome people who are there when I need them and who, sometimes and in the right circumstances, can even work miracles!

Pin It

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Big Reveal

Well, the Olympics are over, and even though Matt and I only caught snippets of the action in London (one of the downsides to having no TV), I'm already going through the early stages of UK withdrawal.

I know things have been a little Brit-centric around here lately, but there's good reason for it - beyond the infectious display of Olympic spirit. You see, while the rest of the world turns its attention away from the UK, in the coming weeks I'll be focusing on that lovely corner of the world more than ever. As the athletes fly back to their respective countries and the ink dries on London's Olympic headlines, the headlines on The Traveling Spoon will be zeroing in on all things British.

That's right, in plain English......

The Traveling Spoon is going to England!!!!!

And we're not just talking about a two-week jaunt: I'll be relocating with one suitcase, my computer, a few books and this blog for the next 9-11 months!

Those of you who've been following along for a while might be a little confused; I've mentioned that Matt is scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan soon...and he's still going. The only thing that's changing is that I'll be using our year apart to attend grad school at the University of Cambridge.

I can't believe I'll be seeing views like this every day!

As you might have guessed, this plan has been in the works for a while - and keeping it under wraps this long has been one of the hardest things I've ever done! I've talked about going back to school for the past few years, but when I submitted my application back in January, I really had no idea that I would be accepted, find funding, and actually end up, seven months later, packing all my worldly goods into a single suitcase for a year abroad.

It may sound hopelessly romantic, but sometimes the prospect is as daunting as it is thrilling. Preparing for a military deployment is challenging for any couple, but it's an entirely different experience when both parties are relocating within weeks of each other (on the bright side, the time difference will be less). Over the past few months, I've struggled to balance school work with deployment preparation, trying to carve out time for preliminary studies while preserving some quality time and making memories with Matt before he leaves.

While I've been stockpiling warm sweaters and potentially useful manuscripts, Matt has been spray-painting his name onto an endless array of military supplies. While I've been dropping useful gadgets into our large, blue suitcases, Matt has been filling olive-drab A-bags with issued gear. Usually my pre-deplyoment activities consist of researching what can and can't be sent by post to Afghanistan, not ferreting out the most competitive British banks and cell phone plans.

Which brings me to another important point. Much like this blog, Matt's past deployments have been fueled by baked goods and tasty treats in regular installments. During the last deployment cookie-filled packages arrived with absolutely regularity, but that's not likely to be the case with this one. While I haven't been allocated lodging yet (I'm still waiting for the student visa that will allow me to stay in the UK for a year) the likelihood that it will come with a kitchen is very, very small. I'm crossing my fingers for at least a hot plate of sorts, but it's possible that for the next 9-11 months, The Traveling Spoon could have a lot more traveling and a little less spoon!

Too bad I won't have a kitchen - I love this apron from Cost Plus World Market!

I hope this won't deter you from following along. At the very least, I'll be eating my way through one of Britain's most beautiful university towns, and possibly lifting the veil a little on my experiences as a Cambridge graduate student. As much as I'm aware of the challenges of this trip, I'm also incredibly excited about it - especially now that I've finally had the chance to break the news - and I hope you'll be excited about it too!

Since Matt and I are counting down the days to his departure, I might not be as much of a presence on the blog as I'd like over the next fews weeks. Rest assured, though, that I'll be back to take you all in my suitcase on this English adventure! Before you know it, we'll be saying 'Cheerio' to Kentucky and a sweet hello to Cambridge!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pub Grub at Home: More Free Kindle Books!

Those who've followed The Traveling Spoon for any length of time know that I have a very special relationship with the United Kingdom. It's where I spent the majority of my childhood and where I first developed a taste for travel. It's also where I developed a taste for mushy peas and Cadbury's chocolate; where I learned to devour any meat smothered in brown gravy, or any meal doused in malt vinegar.

These days - thanks to the Olympics - it seems the world is going bonkers for Britain, and while British food is much maligned in culinary circles, I believe its poor reputation is undeserved. Some of the best meals I've ever eaten have consisted of stick-to-your-ribs pub grub, and now I've uncovered a few more free Kindle books to help you whip up some up at home. Of course, I'm not sure how long they'll be free, so what are you waiting for? Get connected and start cooking!

How to Make An Authentic Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding

How to Make Cornish Pasties

How to Make Devonshire Tea with Scones, Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream

How to Make English Breakfast

How to Make English Fish & Chips in a Beer Batter

Again, I haven't been compensated for this post, nor have I had the chance to cook from any of these books. I'm just passing on a tasty-looking tip!
Pin It

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Best Cocoa Brownies (from Alice Medrich!)

A brownie, is a brownie, is a brownie, right? Not so fast. Anyone who's tasted more than a handful of these rich, chocolaty bars knows that not all brownies are created equal.

First of all, there's the eternal fudgy-versus-cakey debate. Then you might be forced to decide between dark or semi-sweet, and finally, if you're really pressed for time, between from-scratch or boxed. Bring up the topic of add-ins (walnuts or pecans? marshmallows? toffee pieces? mint swirl?) and the issue gets even more complicated. But there's one kind of brownie that almost always get a bad rap: the cocoa-based brownie.

In my kitchen, cocoa powder is the ingredient I reach for when I've eaten all my 'real' chocolate but still need that fudgy fix. It's my go-to for last minute potluck desserts, when I don't have time to run to the store for 'better' ingredients. It's my "this-will-have-to-do" substitution when I run out of chocolate mid-recipe. In short, I've always treated cocoa powder like chocolate's plain-Jane sister; the shelf-stable, last-ditch, emergency alternative for actual chocolate.

It's a shameful truth, but I get the feeling I'm not alone in this. There seems to be this unvoiced maxim, in the blog world, that baking with cocoa is somehow less. That if you don't swirl Scharffen Berger into your browned butter brownies, douse your homemade vanilla bean ice cream in molten Callebaut, or bake Valrhona into your Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies, you're not really baking.

Sadly, the pictures in this post were taken in haste and of brownies that were no longer hot and gooey from the oven. Scroll to the end of the post for a fresher, fudgier version.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to disparage high-end chocolates: I'm sure they produce gorgeous results, but their richness comes at too dear a price for this home baker. Instead, I'm here to redress the prevailing prejudice against cocoa-based brownies, to remind you that cocoa can be an intentional choice, not just a failsafe or fallback. It's a simple and delicious lesson to learn. And trust me, your tastebuds - and your wallet - will thank you!

This simple recipe turns out silky, sultry, oh-so-chocolaty brownies every time, and the best part is that you don't even need expensive cocoa - even Hershey's will do nicely. In this recipe cocoa is the star, not just an afterthought, and because there isn't much flour included, these brownies have the richest, fudgy texture. Unbaked, the batter is as glossy and smooth as dark silk. This molten richness remains when the brownies are slightly underbaked - just the way we like them - but you can bake them fully for a thick and satisfyingly chewy treat. They can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes, using ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry - so what are you waiting for?

In case you need further convincing (and you shouldn't!), this recipe has a distinguished pedigree - it has been featured in Bon Appetit and comes from the doyenne of desserts herself, Alice Medrich. Certain versions don't include the browned butter step - but I think it makes these brownies so much richer. Browned butter or no, with such big names in their corner these brownies are guaranteed a total knockout!