Homemade Toasted Coconut & Cocoa Hazelnut Marshmallows

I’ve noticed that at a lot of the fancier grocery stores in our area having been selling “gourmet marshmallows” next to all the other candies. Since I learned to make marshmallows a couple years ago, I’m always checking them out – looking at color, texture, size, packaging…and price. I admit I recently spent $8 just to try four large coconut marshmallows. It’s 20% enjoyment, 80% research.

And on my recent visit to Paris, I saw tons of parisienne “chamallows” (pronounced shaw-mel-o) in the patisseries. Unlike the marshmallows here in the USA, they were multi-colored and crudely square (a lot like mine turn out!). However, once I tasted them, I instantly felt like mine are far better. They had multiple flavors (like lemon, strawberry, and blackberry) but the fruity flavor was super artificial. They were also drier than I prefer. (To be clear, I purchased these at a fancier confectioner – not a cheap market).

Anyway, even though I’m not planning on submitting my marshmallows to the state fair for judging this year (I can’t handle the rejection), making them has become a summertime tradition for me. My batch today blew those frenchy marshmallows away.

If you want to make your own, I always follow the recipe from A Beautiful Mess, but I’ve learned a thing or two on my own.

Today I took a shot at Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. Instead of dusting the inside of the pan with a powdered sugar/cornstarch mix, I also added toasted coconut (just bake regular coconut at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes). Instead of light corn syrup, I used coconut nectar (found in the baking section of your local fancy grocery store) which has far less sugar than regular corn syrup, and is far more expensive. During the last minute of mixing, I added a good amount of coconut extract. The toasted coconut also got sprinkled onto the top of the marshmallow when it was poured into the dish.

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THEN I made Cocoa Hazelnut marshmallows. For this one, I dusted the pan with the powdered sugar/cornstarch blend plus some cocoa powder mixed in. During the last minute of mixing, I added 1/3 cup cocoa powder and a good pour of hazelnut extract. So easy!

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The trick with marshmallows is to not dilly dally. Get it mixed and get it poured – otherwise it will set before you even make it to the pan. Once you do that, you can lick the beaters all you want.

Sadly, my coconut marshmallows look a little hideous – but since I’m not sending them to the fair, all I care about is taste. Thor preferred the coconut whereas I much prefered the hazelnut – I guess we will need a taste tester to break the tie.

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You can also check out my Top 5 Tips to Making Homemade Marshmallows.

Bringing the Tables of Amsterdam and Paris to the Oregon State Fair

Next month starts the Oregon State Fair, it’s my annual tradition to compete in the “Creative Living” category; this year with vegan bread, and table decorating.

Every year, my friends and I spend hoursssssss at the fair, exploring and doing everything possible. We love the fair! While looking at the multitude of things people entered (from pies to canned meats to calligraphy to pine needle baskets), we always look forward to the table decorating competition. Part of intrigue is that the tables are an interesting departure from the eternal shelves of jams, jellies, and honeys; but the other part is that the judges write up extremely critical narratives that are posted next to each table. It’s like geez – this is the state fair, not the Olympics of table setting – but they are funny to read nonetheless.

Why the hell would I want to submit myself to be torn apart in a category I don’t have any expertise in? First, they cap the entries at 16, which makes it exclusive, and thus appealing to me. Second, you know I like a challenge. I figure why not? Maybe I’ll learn something. I’ve got thick skin, y’all.

Here’s the rubric:

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When I was in Europe, I paid particular attention to the table settings in every restaurant or cafe we ate at, as well as the menus and foods served. Since the menu essentially drives the rest of the table, that is currently my step one.

Here are some of the meals and tables I sat at this month…

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Don’t worry. I still worked out on while we were there :P

The Best of Amsterdam

Live from Paris, it’s my blog!

A few years ago, I made traveling to a new (domestic) city part of my annual bucket list, but when my plans to sing karaoke in Tokyo fell through due to time and money constraints, I decided to give myself a traveling break…and then, naturally, I’m offered several chances to travel internationally for very cheap. Go figure.

Thus even though “Travel to a new International City” isn’t officially on my list, I think visiting a new European city (or two) seems bloggable – no?

Rather than give you a long winded (and somewhat narcissistic) narrative of my trip to Amsterdam, I will give you the highlights. If you are hoping to read about the underground secrets off the beaten path, move on. Also, I don’t do drugs – so don’t expect me to talk about the plethora of pot smoke on every corner. I’m just a simple American girl trying to figure out where to get mayonnaise on my fries.

Best way to get around:

We arrived by plane, rode by shuttle, canal boat, and Metro, and walked on foot, and left by train. The only mode of transportation we didn’t use were bikes (ironic for a city of 800,000 people and more than 1 million bikes). My preference? Walking.

It’s summer and nothing is air conditioned, which isn’t that big of a deal, unless you’re stuffed in a small space with no ventilation. For that reason, I did not like the shuttle or the Metro. Riding a bike seemed mildly suicidal unless you were a local. The canal boat gave us a good tour of the city, but that was more of a “look, don’t touch” kind of experience. Everything was centrally located so you don’t have to go far to find food, museums, shopping, etc. That being said, wear some good walking shoes and have your Google Maps handy.

Best Museum

We certainly didn’t go to all the museums, but in three days, we went to a lot. Personally, The Torture Museum was my favorite. Sure, we got to see Van Goghs and Rembrants at the bigger museums, but size of the collections were overwhelming (and packed with people). At The Torture Museum, we got up close and personal with all sorts of medieval instruments of torture – pretty cool! It’s dark and in small windy corridors, and every time we would turn a corner my mom would say, “Now that is the worst one…”

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The infamous “rack”

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People were forced to sit naked with heavy weights tied to their feet for hours or days

Also, personally, I think it’s super important that we (especially as Americans) are aware of the history of the terrible things people did in the name of government (*homeland security – cough cough*) or religion (*homosexuality – cough cough*). In hindsight, we know this kind of stuff was horrendous (and not effective); in 1,000 years, what will they look back and shake their heads on about our current practices?

Best dinner

Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal. In fact, I had many great meals, but if I had to pick one, I would recommend an Italian place called PastiniThere are so many restaurants in Amsterdam that it’s overwhelming to a newcomer – but this one was off the beaten path (just a little). The service was friendly and easy going; the menu had entrees and small plates for sharing. Like every other place, there is indoor and outdoor seating, but be advised they are closed on Sundays.IMG_4842

 

Best Dessert

I didn’t eat too many sweets during our time in Amsterdam, but a small place called Chocolate Ganache right on the left side of the entrance to the Oude Kerk Church was a must-visit. For a few bucks, I basically got a Whitman Sampler on crack.

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*Bonus – there were a lot of cats outside.*

Best Historical Site

As an avid fan of medieval stuff, the Oude Kerk Church was also a must-see place (and since you’re probably going to go gawk at the Red Light District, it will be really convenient for you). It dates back to 1301, and around every corner there is something weird or old to look at, including engraved pews and thousands of gravestones (including Rembrant’s wife). They still hold Dutch church services so visitors can enter after 1:00pm.IMG_4816

 

 

Overall, Amsterdam was a super easy town to navigate. Everyone spoke english, and everything was written in english. My husband, Thor, has visited Amsterdam on business trips and came home complaining about almost everything (terrible restaurant service, bad food, angry bikers, awful weather) but I didn’t experience any of that. My biggest complaint? Too many American restaurants and retail stores.

Pro Tip: Always get the poached egg on your caesar salad.

Vegan Banana Bread

This year, I didn’t make a submission to the Oregon State Fair as part of my annual list – but fear not, I fully intend to enter a couple items for judging (can you imagine a life without me participating in the state fair? Perish the thought!). For 2015, I am entering vegan bread and the infamous table decorating category.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my theme for table decorating (and I’ll post plenty about it in the near future), but today I’m going to talk about my vegan bread recipe.

When Thor and I first got married, he was strictly vegan. So much so, the food at our wedding was mostly vegan and we pretty much had a circuit on the only four restaurants that served good vegan dishes in town (can you believe that only 10 years ago it was really hard to find vegan food in Portland?!). I considered his dietary restriction a challenge, and made masterful attempts at transforming normally delicious foods into some semblance of their vegan-version. Some recipes didn’t go so well (damn those brownies!), but I discovered many awesome ways of cooking healthier without losing flavor (frosting made with avocados!).

One such recipe is my banana bread. Ok, it’s more like Betty Crocker’s banana bread, but with my vegan substitutions I consider the recipe my own. I know you’re probably not thinking about cranking up the oven when it’s 92 degrees outside, but this morning Thor left the house saying, “Your job today is to eat some bananas – we have way too many and they are going to go bad.” Considering the fact that I haven’t had carbs for, like, two months, I figured it was a good excuse to make a practice loaf.

It came out PERFECT. Like seriously – I’m giving it my own blue ribbon.

VEGAN BANANA BREAD

2 cups flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup granulated sugar (sometimes I swap for coconut sugar, but you will lose sweetness)

2 tbsp powdered egg replacement (I use Ener-G)

1/2 cup vegetable oil or vegan margarine (I use the vegan Smart Balance)

1 1/2 cups pureed bananas (I just throw mine in a food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (I usually sift it). In another mixing bowl, whisk the egg replacer with 2 tbsp water until it’s frothy. Then add sugar, oil, and pureed bananas. Mix well. Add the banana mixture to the flour and fold until just moistened. Scrape the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes (depends on the size of your dish). Insert a toothpick and when it comes out clean, your bread it ready.

Every recipe always says to let it cool, but I’m too impatient for that – so I just have at it. 

I’ve had sooooooo many people recommend vegan products, claiming how you’ll never know the difference, only to find out that it still tastes like crap. You know that saying about never trust a skinny cook? Well, I’m in favor of never trusting a vegan-only palate. Since I eat everything under the sun, my tastebuds are reliable. I’m sorry – but sometimes you just have to own up that your vegan BLT takes like cardboard, or your vegan brownies are not at all brownies, but more of a dry cake. My vegan banana bread, however, tastes like the real thing.

Judging-wise at the fair, they have a lot more than taste as a criteria. Something about the uniformity of the “dome” on your loaf, and the texture and color. I’m not a professional baker so if I don’t get those things right, I’m ok with that, but you can’t win if you don’t try.

My Marital Obligation

I think most people would call my husband, Thor, and me a little competitive (maybe a lot competitive). We make a lot of bets or are frequently challenging each other on trivial items. I think our biggest fight was the time we were playing the new Super Mario Bros and I kept (unintentionally) dying on a certain level. He accused me of “not taking it seriously” and we may or may not have given each other the silent treatment for 24 hours.

Flashback to 2008: He kept telling me how amazing the HBO series The Wire was, but for some reason I just wasn’t interested. Meanwhile, CBS had just finished a season of Swingtown and I was totally hooked. We made a deal. I would watch the first season of “The Wire” if he would watch the first season of Swingtown. While he held up his end of the bet, I only made it through about five episodes of The Wire and just sort of trailed off… It’s almost like The Wire is just too real, too gritty for me. I need escapism.

…but I swear welching on that bet will be the end of our marriage. He will never forget it. Anytime we start to debate about things, it ends with, “Well you never finished The Wire!” Case closed.

As a teacher, I have a lot of down time in the summer to do whatever I want, including one of my traditions of rewatching an entire series while doing puzzles and crafting (ahhhh the life). One year it was the Sopranos, another year it was LOST, another year it was Roseanne…and so on. But I’ve never forgotten about that marital agreement I failed to deliver on: The Wire. And while technically I only have to watch the first season, I figure the only way to truly make it up is to watch ALL SIX SEASONS. I can do this.

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Cut to 2015: Summer has started and I’m officially done with the first season! and even midway through the second season! Go me. And I’ll admit, it’s getting more interesting. I know, I know – it’s supposedly one of the best shows ever made; I can appreciate that. But when I watch a show, I’m shallow. I want to see sexy people, explosions, and have massive cliffhangers where you can’t help but push play on the next episode (hence my undying love of LOST). But I’m doing it – no stopping now!

But seriously, people, Swingtown was a great show that CBS cancelled because they caved on the objections of religious conservatives who never even watched the show (for if they had, they would see it brought up a lot of questions about controversy of “swinging” and really focused on the culture of social change in the 70s). I’m not saying the writing was as carefully crafted as The Wire (apples and oranges), but if you’re looking for something entertaining to while away your summer hours, give it a shot! However, I will tell you it ends on a massive cliffhanger, and since the series got cancelled, it will leave you hanging forever.

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Here’s a link on Amazon: Swingtown episodes.

Letters of June – Second Edition

My first letter of the month deserved it’s own post, but I’ve also already sent out my other letters of the month…all 30 of the them.

At the end of every school year, I write a letter to each student that they take home on the last day of school. It takes several straight hours of writing, but students have come back in later years and told me how they still have their letter – so I just keep plugging along. And since next year I won’t be returning to a traditional classroom, why give up the tradition now? Each one of my 26 students got a letter, and although they didn’t all go in the mail per se, they were still handwritten letters.

I also sent two “get well” cards to some friends who both recently had knee surgery, and if there’s one thing I can relate to – IT’S KNEE SURGERY.

Finally, I sent out a couple more to my two BFFs, Courtney and David, to kick off the summer (look for that surprise in your mailbox in a couple days).

Then today I checked my mailbox and realized that I got a response from one of my May letters. You might think that my inner 75 year-old stops at bingo, crosswords, and Jell-O, but I’m also a total busybody. That includes writing complaint letters to companies about their products, or an occasional letter to the editor in the local paper.

Here’s my original letter:

Dear NORPAC Foods, Inc.

Last week I purchased the Flavrpac Broccoli-Cauliflower “Quick N Easy Combo” at my local grocery store. Tonight I was terribly disappointed in the product. First off, when I opened the package and was preparing to cook the broccoli and cauliflower, it was evident I had clearly paid for 80% ice and 20% vegetables. Disappointing.

Second, once I had cooked the vegetables (according to the package directions) and drained the excessive amount of water, the pieces of broccoli were shriveled and visibly brown. I was embarrassed to serve the side dish to my family, and was possibly concerned about the safety of the food.

I ended up throwing the entire amount in the trash, and at this point I cannot see myself purchasing another Norpac product again due to the extremely poor quality of the product, and what feels like a complete disregard for consumer satisfaction.

I make almost all of the grocery decisions for my household and I’m not expecting luxury out of a bag of frozen vegetables – but considering that I purchase frozen vegetables every single week, this kind of occurrence is unacceptable.

Thank you for reading.

Well, NORPAC heard my cry and responded with some coupons. See? Letters get things done!

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#9 – Attend an opera. Check.

Let me tell you that listening to French lessons while driving to the opera might have been the classiest things I’ve ever done.

Today my friend, Courtney, and I went to see the opera, A Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

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If I could do things over again, I would major in Art History since that was what I really enjoyed studying in college, but I was given the terrible advice to major in English. “It’s so broad! You’ll be able to get a job in anything!” the academic advisor gushed. Not saying that Art History would have been a largely accepted and lucrative major either, but at least it would have been something I actually cared about. ANYWAY, I did study A LOT of art history nonetheless, and one of my favorite artists became Hogarth.

In particular, the engravings of A Rake’s Progress and A Harlot’s Progress were interesting to me because I like anything that portrays the downfall of man (or woman…but mostly man). Although the details of the story were fuzzy to me, I knew that the basis was that Tom Rakewell would inherit a large sum of money, squander it on parties and prostitutes, and finish it all out bankrupt in an insane asylum.

So let’s talk about what I didn’t like first:

Stravinsky must have taken a lot of artistic license to mix up the story, and instead turned it into a love story gone wrong. That kind of bummed me out. I’m always that person that says things like, “That’s not what was in the book!” Tom starts out singing sweet love songs to Anne, and promises to earn enough money to marry her. He soon inherits his uncle’s fortune, and is whisked off to London to get things “settled.” He does spend a sordid night with a prostitute, but in the opera he seems guilt or reluctant – and in the original artwork I got the impression that he was reveling in the excessive lifestyle.

Later, Tom also ends up marrying a bearded Turkish woman, Baba, and some part of me felt like it was ethnically offensive, although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why (maybe because his true love was a buxom blonde, blue-eyed beauty?).

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Tom’s final scenes in the mental hospital were also not near destitute enough for me. In the original engravings, he is physically and mentally tormented – a shell of himself – and surrounded by crazies. In Stravinsky’s version, Anne sings a sad and loving goodbye, and he is left to die alone. The end.

What did I like?

The costumes, the artwork, and the sets. I was mentally noting my Halloween costume the entire time.

David Hockney"DROP CURTAIN FOR THE RAKE'S PROGRESS FROM THE RAKE'S PROGRESS" 1975-79Ink And Collage On Cardboard14 x 20 1/2"© David HockneyCollection The David Hockney FoundationPhoto Credit: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney”DROP CURTAIN FOR THE RAKE’S PROGRESS FROM THE RAKE’S PROGRESS” 1975-79Ink And Collage On Cardboard14 x 20 1/2″© David HockneyCollection The David Hockney FoundationPhoto Credit: Richard Schmidt

The Rake's Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera

The Rake’s Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera

The Rake's Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera Topi Lehtipuu ( Tom Rakewell ) Susan Gorton ( Mother Goose )

The Rake’s Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera
Topi Lehtipuu ( Tom Rakewell ) Susan Gorton ( Mother Goose )

Overall, we had a good time, and it was entertaining – I’ll just have to do my homework on how Stravinsky came up with his own, tamer version of the downfall of the rake. (And where to find a costume like that!)