My favorite movies of 2016

Hi so I AM ALIVE! It turns out that it is hard to both finish a Ph.D. AND write an ice cream blog at the same time! I was thus forced to let my ice cream blog dreams go, for at least a short while, as if those dreams were fish thrown back into the ocean by me, a dad in an LL Bean vest drinking a light beer on a rowboat. I also haven't really cooked much lately, which is devastating for me and most likely inconsequential to you. Therefore, I instead decided to write something up about the movies I've seen this year, and which ones were my favorites, in order to fulfill my new resolution of writing at least one thing a week this year! Be warned that this list is very incomplete (I STILL have not seen Moonlight, because NOTHING IS FAIR, and I haven't had time to see much else, either) and essentially meaningless (movie lists are usually exercises in narcissism and self-importance, but so are most fun things in life, so, whatever), but should provide good argument fodder in case you have any interest in yelling at or with me in the near future.

8. Don't Think Twice: Mike Birbiglia is great, everyone in this movie is great, and Gillian Jacobs should be in everything because she a) does a genuinely impressive one-woman improv scene and b) briefly made wearing overalls seem like a good idea to me. It's a movie about following your dreams that feels real, if not particularly uplifting. I keep finding myself thinking about this movie as a less emotional but more deeply realized version of La La Land, and wishing that this movie were getting the kind of attention that LLL is.

7. Sing Street: At first you think it's a movie about an Irish kid who starts a band to impress a girl, and it's cute enough, but then you realize who the movie is actually about and it makes you cry and you almost have to cancel your NYE plans so you don't go out with Smeary Mascara Face. The music is genuinely good and the cast is terrific. What a lovely and joyful movie.

6. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: A perfect companion piece to one of my favorite musical comedies ever, Walk Hard, Popstar is hilarious and also weirdly touching. The bee scene is so simple and yet the funniest scene of any movie I saw all year.

5. Arrival: FYI, if aliens ever come to Earth I am going to freak the fuck out!! Amy Adams does a much better job than I would, though, as a linguist who's responsible for trying to learn how to communicate with some aliens that have recently dropped by our lil planet. It's the rare smart sci-fi movie in which the conflict and tension are genuinely compelling, and even its antagonists are relatively well-rounded and reasonable, so when you unravel the mystery it's extra rewarding. As with every other movie on this list, I cried, duh, but it was more of happy/hopeful cry than a miserable/wallowing cry. Even if you don't like science fiction, it's fun to watch Jeremy Renner mansplain math to aliens.

4. The Witch: Puritans are CREEPY! Puritan toddlers who claim to talk to goats are CREEPY! Nathaniel Hawthorne was probably CREEPY! This movie is unsettling and puritanical and has that kind of There Will Be Blood-style blarey soundtrack that some people hate and I find deliciously atmospheric and terrifying. Yes, it's about a witch and how she destroys a family, but it's also about gender and religion and Satanic goats, shot so beautifully and distinctively that I'm still thinking about individual frames of it weeks later.

3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: A boy and his reluctant guardian run away into the wild New Zealand bush, while Child Services representatives try to track them down. Everyone is perfectly cast and distinctive without being unbearably quirky, and it's both funny and moving. Sam Neill is flawless.

2. The Invitation: If you know me, you're probably aware that this year I got SUPER into murder and cults for some reason, and I listened to a ton of stuff about Charles Manson, and boy was he a bad egg on really just a number of levels. I didn't know much about this movie before I saw it, and neither should you, but I will say that it feels very Manson-y (Mansonian?). The movie is about a man who hasn't seen his ex-wife for two and a half years until she invites him to a dinner party; you spend most of the movie feeling very tense and uncomfortable while you try to figure out what exactly happened between them in the past, and what the fuck is happening at the dinner party, which is very creepy, and then everything goes to hell. I couldn't stop thinking about this movie after I saw it. The final shot is chilling.

1. Manchester by the Sea: OK, let's be clear, Casey Affleck is gross and I don't like him as a human being and I feel uncomfortable liking this movie as much as I do because of him. But this movie does the best job of capturing the feelings of grief and loss that I've ever seen, and beautifully shows how people deal with those feelings in wildly different ways, and also shows how mundane things can sometimes actually be surprisingly funny even when everything else feels terrible all the time. I was actually surprised when this movie ended, not because it was abrupt, but because I was so invested in what was happening and how real everything felt that I could have sat there for even longer, just watching these people live their lives. As you've probably gathered from this list, I tend to judge movies based on how much they stick with me over time, and this movie has stayed with me so vividly since I saw it that I've been planning on seeing it again. You should too.

And finally, the Benjamin Button Prize for the worst movie I saw all year is Passengers, which is not only gross and weird but also BORING AS SHIT which is criminal because it takes place in OUTER FUCKING SPACE. The first shot of the movie shows a big space rock crashing into the spaceship and then Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence spend the ENTIRE MOVIE trying to figure out why the spaceship is broken and GUESS WHAT it's because of the space rock! Never have I seen an action movie with such a lack of tension and such unlikable characters. Even Space Hero Lawrence Fishburne is barely around to make it better. I give this movie ZERO out of ten Obvious Space Rocks and recommend that you don't see it, or at least see it and let me complain about it to you.

Best banana bread

Poor banana bread. It might be the least sexy food on earth. I mean, you have to mash together overripe bananas, curdled milk, and some powdery granules of wheat and sugar until you have a sad, chunky yellow-brown soup that you bake until it forms a dense loaf, which is arguably the least exciting shape a food can take. Wait, that sounds super gross, I am terrible at writing a food blog, this banana bread is improbably great!!

It's just hard to take beautiful photographs of banana bread like you can for, say, literally any other food in the world. It's always going to look like a brownish loaf of high-protein respectability, no matter how many chocolate chips you throw into it. But banana bread is the Rachael Leigh Cook of foods, in that it definitely looks nerdy and uncool up until you realize how great it is when Paul Walker (RIP) dares you to take off its glasses and invite it to the prom, except in this analogy Paul Walker is me and the prom is your stomach. What I'm trying to say is that this is a really great banana bread recipe! (Look, if you want coherent food writing, go somewhere else, I will compare my banana bread to the plot of She's All That ALL DAY LONG.)

I've actually been making this banana bread since high school, when I started baking because I moved to a new town and didn't have any friends except for the bananas I purchased, murdered and ate. It's a recipe from James Beard, and is essentially foolproof, even if you're like me and sometimes you try to dye your hair purple and end up dyeing it brown (it's fuchsia now because purple is the devil's color, apparently). I've made it dozens of times and it always comes out of the oven moist (sorry) and delicious. You can eat it for breakfast, or as a snack, or occasionally for lunch when you're too lazy to make a sandwich. (You do you.) It's a great, solid, easy recipe that produces some really terrific banana bread, and I think you should use it to make your stomach happy.

Final note: feel free to adjust the amount of chocolate chips in here to make your life comfortable and pleasant. I like a full cup of chocolate chips because I am a monster demon who was raised on commercials for sugary cereals I was not allowed to eat; if you're an organic kale farmer, you can omit the chocolate chips completely, but don't tell me about it because I will have a rage blackout.

Best banana bread (adapted from James Beard)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lavishly butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and bananas and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Combine the milk and lemon juice (it will curdle a bit). Alternately add the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for ~60-70 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.

Chocolate fruit tart

Hello, tiny people who live inside the computer! I am back. Isn't it wonderful to think about how the Internet is a vast information superhighway that can be used for literally millions of applications, and I spend most of my time using it to talk about different kinds of custards? You're welcome, Al Gore and Tim Berners-Lee! You're welcome, people who have Google alerts set up for Al Gore's name!!!! You're welcome, future robot overlord scanning this post for encrypted blueprints of our rebel base!!!!!!!

Oh man, what have I been doing for the last month? Taking a break from the blog for a little bit to get some real work done. Going outside sometimes. Moving to a new apartment directly below my old one and trying not to walk into my old apartment out of habit even though it feels like I'm constantly running into my ex whenever I come home. Booking a plane ticket to PARIS, THE ONE IN FRANCE and doing the thing where I keep asking people what I should do in Paris (other than eat EVERYTHING including their mayor who I assume is an unpasteurized cheese). I have also developed a weird masochistic soft spot for reading lifestyle blogs of people who have quit their jobs to travel the world and post lots of beautifully lit photos of themselves holding yoga poses in front of the Eiffel Tower and eating macarons while wearing scarves without looking sad and lost. (Guys, I hope someone hate-reads my blog and is super envious of my whole thing, even though I'm pretty upfront about the fact that I own Pajama Jeans and use a prescription nasal spray every day. I almost choked to death on a gummy vitamin this morning. Aspire to my lifestyle!)

ANYWAY, you're probably wondering what the deal is with this tart, right? I know we're currently reaching the end of fruit season, aka 'summer', but all produce companies are basically run by Skynet now and normal planting seasons don't exist, remember? So if you've got some extra berries lying around, this is a good way to use them. It's very similar to the last tart I made, except that this one is chocolate. I would encourage you to throw some extra chocolate in this tart - maybe 3 or 4 ounces instead of 2 - if you'd like your pastry cream to be a little more bitter and intense (I do, because those are both words that have been used to describe me, and not really in a good way. Zing!). Use whatever fruit your heart so desires, and be sure to decorate it in a way that makes your friends feel inferior to you. If it looks weird, like My Blueberry Monstrosity does below, who cares? Just eat it faster. And I guess don't photograph it and post it on your cooking blog.

With this post, I'm hoping to return to updating the blog roughly once a week, so let me know if you have any recommendations for foods or ice creams to make and I will ignore all of them in order to only ever cook with ingredients that are on sale.

Chocolate fruit tart (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 prepared tart shell, bought or homemade (recipe here)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cups fruit of your choice

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until it forms a smooth paste.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until very hot and beginning to boil. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Heat, whisking constantly, until boiling, then continue to whisk for 60 seconds while boiling (the mixture should thicken into a pudding-like consistency). Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and chopped chocolate until smooth.

Let pastry cream cool for 1-2 hours. Once cooled, pour into the prepared pastry shell and top with fruit.

Chocolate chip blondies

Have you ever wanted to eat, oh, I don't know, three to six cookies smushed on top of each other, like some kind of deliciously buttery, sugary clown car accident gone horribly wrong? Yes? Then I have a recipe you're going to LOVE.

Because I'm a stupid idiot who didn't realize this until Ina Garten herself (blessed be) actually had to spell it out for me, I will remind/inform you that blondies are less non-chocolatey-brownies than they are brownie-fied-cookies, since cookie batter and blondie batter are essentially the same. If you're not a dingus like me, this may not have come as a surprise to you. (You also probably know a lot of things it took me a very long time to master, like the fact that there are people in the Tostitos logo or that 90% of Grease is just very unsubtle sexual innuendo.) The batter can be mixed up in, essentially, minutes, and there's none of that whole 'rolling cookie dough into balls' insanity that discourages so many people from making cookies (this last part is obviously sarcasm; I am not the laziest person alive; I can make damn cookies without my hands crumbling into dust).

If you're seeing these pictures, you know what these blondies are going to taste like - an almost unearthly amount of chocolate chips surrounded by golden buttery goodness. Be careful to keep an eye on them towards the end of baking so that they're not too dry - you want them to be on the gooey side. I also prefer all things to be cold, like my heart, so I tend to refrigerate or even freeze these during the times when I'm not eating them. They make good friends for watching TV with (I'm still binging my way through Gilmore Girls and trying to live my life like a Paris or an Emily and actively trying not to live my life like a Dean because I'm not the WORST). You could also eat fifteen of these while yelling at all the fit people in the Olympics, because everyone knows that the only thing better than watching superhuman swimmers and gymnasts accomplish insane feats is being able to feel like you, a failed gymnast who never mastered the backwards roll and instead now has an ice cream blog, know something that these terrifyingly flexible youths do not. Or just eat them, because you don't need an aggressive and convoluted reason to eat blondies! Life is short, eat more butter.

Chocolate chip blondies (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 12 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 12x9x2 baking dish.

In an electric mixer (or by hand), beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl occasionally to combine. With the mixer on low, add the baking soda, salt, and flour. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Scrape batter into greased baking dish and bake for ~30-33 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the blondies comes out clean. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Berry ice cream

Look, some days you just don't feel like making a custard-based ice cream, OK? It's not that it's hard - because it's actually pretty easy - but using 4-6 egg yolks per custard means that I end up with a ton of egg whites floating around my fridge (not literally floating, but still) and it looks weird and I don't know what to do with them. (Well, I KNOW what to do with them, I just don't want to do it. Egg whites are basically useless. They are the itchy wool blanket protecting the yolky goodness that everyone who orders eggs signs up to eat. Egg white omelettes are the culinary equivalent of a pair of Dockers. [This kind of thinking is why I've had to start working out again recently, because my body basically threatened to leave me by the side of the road and drive off without me if I didn't eat a vegetable soon.]) I guess the point is, sometimes you want to skip the eggs and just smash up some beautiful summer berries and mix them with cream and a little sugar and freeze it all into something that takes longer to eat than it does to make. This is one of those recipes.

Sure, it's simple. It doesn't have the smooth, creamy texture that custard-based ice creams do, but it DOES taste like summer in a bowl. You can use whatever berries you want, whether you're a rube like me who just grabs whatever's handy at the Safeway (blackberries and strawberries) or a sophisticated, elegant creature of high society who only eats rich-people berries that people in my tax bracket have never even heard of. You can eat it while sitting on a porch, drinking homemade lemonade in a rocking chair and making catty remarks about people you hate, or you can eat it while sitting inside and reading the Wikipedia page for WarGames because you can't remember who directed it (John Badham, who also directed Short Circuit, which makes me think that this guy really loves artificial intelligence and specifically making Ally Sheedy deal with sentient computers). It even pairs well with an intense Gilmore Girls viewing marathon, because its sweetness will counteract all the horrible things you find yourself thinking about every single one of Rory's potential love interests, like how maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if one or more of them accidentally got Ebola or was crushed by a falling anything.

I'm planning on heating up some blondies tonight (recipe for those to come later) and making little sundaes with this ice cream while my friends and I watch the Bachelorette finale, because if there's anything I love more than trying to tell identical white men apart from each other, it's drinking wine and eating ice cream while trying to tell identical white men apart from each other. I also look for this ice cream to bring me strength as I only really remembered the other day that I'm going to Chicago this weekend for the wedding of the woman who designed this website and the man with whom I have an absurd podcast, and that exciting realization also came with the reminder that I have NO IDEA what I'm going to wear to it, and apparently all my shoes ran away in the night. Life is a rollercoaster of excitement and mine is one of the old wooden ones that people seem to like even though it seems wildly unsafe. Is this all too much? It seems like a bit much. Make the ice cream and enjoy what is hopefully the end of the 110 degree days we've been having in California, because if it's not, I will find a way to personally fight the climate and I will win.

Berry ice cream (adapted from the New York Times)

  • 1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 10 oz. blackberries, rinsed
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp vodka

Puree the strawberries and blackberries in a food processor until smooth (you should have about 1 1/2 to 2 cups berry puree). Pour through a mesh strainer into a large bowl to remove seeds.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, and salt. Heat on medium low, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Add the cream mixture to the bowl with the berry puree and whisk to combine. Whisk in vodka. Refrigerate until very cold, then freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Tomato tart

Here's a weird thing: I used to think tomatoes were weird and mealy and gross! I was a picky eater as a child and I avoided tomatoes like they were serial killers EVEN THOUGH I grew up in New Jersey, the Garden State, where beautiful tomatoes are scattered everywhere like people in John Steinbeck novels think they will be before they head west to make their fortunes and realize that their trip is actually a metaphor for how futile and barren the American dream is. It took me up until I Steinbecked myself and moved out to California and actually started eating tomatoes that I realized they're really good - when they're not gross and mealy - and now I am absolutely furious with myself for spending twenty-seven years actively avoiding delicious BLTs. But now I'm like, someone has to eat all of these tomatoes before we all perish in a horrifying drought apocalypse and it might as well be me!

The other day a friend left town and she bequeathed me her produce, which was very kind of her, which meant I was left with a bunch of cherry tomatoes. My first instinct, for some reason, was to slice the cherry tomatoes very thin and make hundreds of tiny BLT sandwiches, but then I realized that was sad and not very funny if I was just going to end up eating them alone. Then I switched gears and I thought about making something that would make a great and easy summer dinner, and would potentially involve enhancing the tomatoes with some kind of buttery crust and maybe even some cheese, and that thought didn't make me feel sad and weird, so I went with my gut and did some googling and found this tart, and the rest is (relatively recent) history. It's like a savory dessert that you can eat for dinner, and if that sentence doesn't fill you with instant joy then get the hell off this website.

For the crust, I made a full batch of Martha Stewart's savory pie crust and used the whole thing, because I liked having a slightly thicker base for all the deliciousness I piled on top and also I kept trying to roll out a single pie crust to fill my entire sheet pan and it was like me on a weekend - not working. Once you've got the crust made and rolled out, though, the rest is a breeze - you just fill the crust with cheese, throw on some caramelized onions, and top with as many tomatoes as you feel comfortable murdering with high heat. Then you bake it and slice it up and do your best faux-casual Julia Roberts laugh when someone compliments it, like, who, me? I just threw this together on a lazy day, I definitely wasn't thinking of making a bunch of tiny BLTs and putting pictures of them on Instagram, I didn't have a neighbor come to my door the other day to tell me I was improperly disposing of my pizza boxes, everything is going great here.

It's a great tart, and the butter and cheese and onions and tomatoes all work together in perfect harmony, just like the opposite of people on a reality show. I served it at a little summer dinner with a friend and we drank a lot of red wine and it was just like being on an episode of Chef's Table where a man with a beard throws a beautiful, extravagant dinner that is laden with meaning about sustainability and cultural nostalgia. They should do one of those episodes about me, but I like to cook while listening to podcasts or soundtracks to musicals, and I have very little dignity in general, so I think I might do better on a different Netflix show, like Stranger Things. Just kidding, I would die immediately somewhere in the background in an 80's-appropriate way. That would be kind of fun. Kurt Russell could play me! I have to go write a letter about this now, enjoy the tart.

Tomato tart (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)

  • 1-2 pie crusts, homemade or store-bought
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 large onions
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups cheese, grated (I used a mixture of Swiss and smoked Gouda)
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 egg
  • Chopped basil (optional)

On a well-floured counter, roll out the pie crust(s) into a rectangle approximately the size of your sheet pan. Place the dough in the sheet pan and set aside.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onions, salt, and pepper; heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, about 25 minutes.

Heat oven to 450ºF. Sprinkle shredded cheese evenly over the dough. Top with caramelized onions, then top with cherry tomatoes. In a small bowl, mix the egg with a tablespoon or two of water (or milk) and brush it over the edges of the crust. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your tart, or until crust is golden brown and the tomatoes are starting to burst (keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn).

Let the tart cool for a few minutes before cutting it. Sprinkle with chopped basil, if desired.

Hazelnut and salted caramel ice cream

I don't like to think of myself as a spiteful person, but I also think it's fair to say that maybe 65% (?) of what I do is done out of spite. It's definitely why I grew up liking Disney villains more than Disney princesses, and why most of my text message conversations read like a cut scene from The Departed, and maybe why I ended up in grad school. It's also why I decided to make this specific flavor of ice cream, because recently I've been seeing a lot of commercials from an Unnamed Dairy Company which have been annoying me for weird, spiteful reasons. The gist of the commercials is basically that their ice cream - including their "Oregon hazelnut and salted caramel" flavor - is made from natural, farm-fresh ingredients, whereas all other ice creams are made with toxic sludge scraped off of Midwestern slag heaps. I can't quite explain why these commercials annoy me, because I agree that ice cream should come from cows and not from nuclear power plants, but some weird little spiteful part of my brain kept lighting up whenever I saw these commercials and finally I decided to make this ice cream myself, if only to prove some unclear point to nobody in particular, just because it felt like a good way to deliciously cope with these misguided feelings of rage.

Anyway, now that I've made it clear that I'm a miserable, spiteful sea witch with a heart of burnt garlic, let's talk about the ice cream. It's a simple custard base that's infused with hazelnuts - yes, Oregon hazelnuts, thanks to Trader Joe being a pawn in the vicious hazelnut game, run by the presumably Oregon-based headquarters of the cutthroat hazelnut industry - and then layered with a salted caramel sauce, because it's 2016 and eating unsalted caramel is a waste of time. You could maybe even swirl in some chocolate to turn this into a Pinterest-approved Nutella treat, but I like the balance of the hazelnut and the caramel on their own. Finally, you could also mix in some chopped hazelnuts while freezing the ice cream if that's something that calls out to you, but I didn't have enough hazelnuts and I wasn't feeling up to braving the bulk nut section of my local co-op. (The other day I went there without a reusable bag and I felt the shame of my mistake beaming down in the eyes of all who looked upon me, so I didn't feel like going back.)

Anyway, it's a good ice cream, and I'm sharing it here just a few days after National Ice Cream Day, which isn't really a thing I care about but I mean, I have an ice cream blog, I need to acknowledge its existence. It also pairs well with casually making your way through the AFI Top 100 movies list while on staycation, in case you're like me and need a sweet treat while you're spending a Tuesday afternoon watching Psycho. Anthony Perkins looks better in a wig than I ever will, is that weird to say?

IMG_1374.JPG

Hazelnut and salted caramel ice cream (this is a relatively small recipe [makes ~1/2 quart] - double it if you're feeding a crowd)

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup salted caramel sauce

In a saucepan, heat the milk, cream, sugar, and salt until warm. Stir in the crushed hazelnuts, then remove from heat and let the mixture steep for about an hour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Pour the hazelnut-infused dairy mixture through a mesh strainer into another saucepan, pressing on the hazelnuts in the strainer to release all of their flavor. Discard hazelnuts. Heat the mixture until warmed, then slowly pour the dairy mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly to combine. Scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour the custard through a mesh strainer into a large bowl and cool overnight.

Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. When removing the ice cream from the machine, alternate layers of ice cream and salted caramel in your storage container. Freeze until solid.

Peach jam

Ah, a post I began two weeks ago but haven't been able to touch until now. Finishing a dissertation is about as much fun as it sounds, and it sounds kind of like living in a Fury Road-esque post-apocalyptic nightmare world where everything is covered in radioactive dust. No, this is not the way I intended to start a post about how I made my own homemade jam, but, uh, try to adapt. I've been locked inside my apartment writing furiously while drinking coffee and listening to the Fury Road soundtrack and taking occasional breaks to watch old episodes of Poirot, so I'm overwhelmed and jittery in the same way that a 75-year-old woman lost at a One Direction concert might be. Here, soothe whatever nerves of yours I might have frazzled with that last sentence by gazing in admiration upon a box of golden, sun-dappled peaches.

A few weeks ago, I went peach picking with some friends and got a big box filled with peaches, which I then decided I had to use up as soon as possible because I have no grasp of my own mortality let alone that of FRUIT. I made a peach pie, as one does, and I didn't even bring it in public at all - I just ate it for breakfast over the course of a week and a half - but I was still left with a handful of peaches that I just couldn't shove under the pie's lattice top, despite my best efforts. So I decided to make jam, even though my favorite book of all time, East of Eden, has somehow instilled a fear in me of canning and, I guess, preserves in general. Have you forgotten that an entire subplot of that book deals with a sociopath who is able to orchestrate a coup of a brothel using a staged botulism outbreak so she can turn it from a fun brothel to an evil S&M one? That is one of the plots of a book John Steinbeck wrote, in case you haven't read it, and I recommend it very highly.

Anyway, my fears were assuaged when I realized that 1) most fruit jams are too acidic/sugary for botulism to thrive and 2) I was refrigerating my jam instead of storing it in a dank cellar to be opened by a sociopath brothel owner during a mean hard Steinbeckian winter. If you'd like to properly can the jam, I think that would be just swell and I wish you the best. Anyway, regardless of storage method, here's what I can tell you - it's a really good jam, and shockingly easy to make. Like, did you know that making jam is essentially just throwing fruit and sugar in a saucepan and trying not to curse too loudly when it bubbles and spatters very hot jam liquid on you? Because that's really all there is to it. And seriously, wear protective garb when the jam starts to sputter, because you don't want to have to tell someone that you burned yourself making peach jam, lest they think you are a kooky old homesteader.

Don't judge me for not having bread or crackers on hand, I am a poor Jew and somehow a box of matzo is always straggling somewhere in the back of my cabinets like one of the orphans in Annie who isn't Annie. I enjoyed this jam very much on matzo as well as real bread, and I even swirled it into some goat cheese ice cream for a very swanky Northern California dessert. You can increase or decrease the spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) at your own discretion or omit them entirely, if you don't like your foods to taste a little bit like Thanksgiving. I'd also recommend serving this jam on crumpets, like they do in England, and eating that while you bitch about how terrible poor people are, something I assume people in England do based only on my many hours spent watching Downton Abbey.

Peach jam (adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 4 pounds peaches (about 10-12, depending on size), peeled, pitted, and cut into small pieces
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat until boiling, stirring constantly. Continue to boil and stir until foamy liquid mostly evaporates, the bubbling slows down, and the jam mixture sticks to a spoon (at least 15 minutes). Cool completely before transferring to jar(s) and refrigerating.

Plum crumble pie

Well, this is sort of a mouthful, isn't it? Trust me, it's taking every ounce of willpower I have (which is not much, as you would know if you've ever seen me in the wine aisle of a supermarket, or in any part of a bookstore, or in the wine aisle of a convenience store) to not call this a plumble pie. But that looks like 'plumber pie' and THAT sounds like a little Mario or Luigi is going to punch his way out of a baked good, and that is not what we want here. (I know this is weird. Please bear with me, I'm trying to finish my dissertation and it's the worst thing in the world. Pie is how I make it better.)

I first made this pie when I visited my sister last week, and we marathoned The O.C. in her kitchen and let the spiritually enlightened eyebrows of Sandy Cohen guide us to pie nirvana. Then I made it a second time almost as soon as I got home, because a) I'm now at the age where I just NEED a pie in my fridge at all times, because my biological clock somehow entered a new biological time zone and skipped right from 'irresponsible teenager' to 'folksy grandmother' without my knowledge or consent, and also because b) my car broke down and died by the side of the highway and I had to bake my feelings into a pie. (I was really bummed about it because I thought, where will I sing along loudly to the soundtracks of many Broadway musicals now?? And then I remembered that I live alone and ALL I DO there is sing along loudly to the soundtracks of many Broadway musicals. So it balances out and now I don't have to pick people up at the airport any more, I guess.)

If you like plums and pluots and what have you, this pie is crazy easy to make and extremely delicious. It's also very tart, so I'd recommend adding some more sugar if you're sensitive to that sort of thing. Personally, I like a very tart pie, because my goal is to one day be an old woman who says very mean things about people while drinking a martini and wearing a gold lamé turban, and you don't get there by eating overly sweetened pies. The recipe on the Kitchn also calls for half of the pie crust flour to be whole wheat, but I didn't have any on hand and I prefer all my wheat to be shattered and un-whole, like my soul, so I used all-purpose flour in the crust (along with an entire stick of butter, so I don't really feel like healthiness is the name of the game here anyway). You do you: you can go Dawn Schafer and make a whole wheat crust, or you can Claudia Kishi it up with a less-hippie-friendly one.

I mentioned pluots above because I'm pretty sure there are a few pluots in this pie (honestly, I had a paper bag full of stone fruit and I didn't try to figure out what was what, I just turned it all into a pie, because I am a witch and my oven is a square cauldron). You should feel free to experiment with adding pluots and plums and whatever other weird plum-like fruits exist that I don't know about. Just be sure to make it with the crumble topping, because it tastes like the crumble topping that they use on birthday cakes in heaven, it's so good. It's salty and sweet and buttery and high-quality, just like Ina Garten's tears. It's called a crumble topping but it should be called 'Crumble & Crumble' and sold in little bottles that retail for $45 each at Sephora, and it would be worth it, because it's delicious. Do you get it? It's a good topping, and a good pie. Go forth and make it, because you deserve a fantastic dessert tonight and an even better breakfast tomorrow morning.

Plum crumble pie (adapted from The Kitchn)

The original recipe calls for blind-baking the crust, then adding the filling and topping and baking some more. I skipped this step and it turned out just fine, but if you really want to blind-bake it and get a browner, crispier crust, check out their recipe for instructions.

  • 1 disk pie dough, bought or homemade
  • 1 pound plums, pitted and sliced (about 2-3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Topping:

  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, melted and cooled

Prepare the crumble topping: in a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add the butter and stir until the mixture forms small to medium-sized clumps. Set aside.

Heat your oven to 350ºF. Press your pie dough into a 9- or 9.5-inch pie pan. In a large bowl, mix together the sliced plums and the sugar. Pour the plums into the pie pan and sprinkle the crumble topping over the pie. Place the pie on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and bake for ~1 hour, or until the topping and pie crust are golden brown and the mixture is bubbling. Let cool before serving.

Challah

Did you know you can MAKE your own bread?! And, like, people used to do it all the time because they would starve to death if they didn't? It's not even that hard, and you get to feel superior to all of your friends! The only downside is that, in order to make a loaf of bread, you need to carefully nurture a beautiful little colony of invisible bacteria friends, talking to them and building them up and watching them grow in a warm, safe space, and then you systematically murder them and turn them into a sandwich. But if you're OK with being the Buffalo Bill to so many helpless yeast buddies, cool, let's do this.

OF COURSE my post about challah begins with an appropriately healthy dose of Jewish guilt. This is the way it should be. Try to incorporate as much of your awkward Jewish pain as you can into the dough, just to make the bread even softer and more delicious. For example, instead of adding salt to the dough, I wept while thinking about how awkward my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion was because it was all about how long people with leprosy should be exiled from their community for, and instead of kneading the dough until it all came together into a pliable and shiny mass, I just let the mixer knead it until I had looked up so many vague medical symptoms on WebMD that I convinced myself I had eight different kinds of cancer. (I should clarify that baking is a science and these are jokes and you should just follow the recipe below. Don't cry into your dough! This section is strictly for banter and tired Jewish stereotypes that are 100% true for myself and many members of my family!)

ANYWAY. You should not feel daunted by making this bread, for it's easy, as long as you have patience and you're cool with probably not being very good at braiding dough on your first attempt, but you know what? I made French toast with this challah for a brunch and no one said "these French toast slices look like they came from an inexpertly woven challah loaf." They just said "why are we out of champagne? This brunch is a travesty."

Here's what coming up soon on the blog, so you know what to look forward to: 1) a plum crumble pie I made with plums that sat in the trunk of my overheated car while I stood on the side of the highway waiting for the tow truck to find me and drag away my sad, dead car; 2) hopefully bagels, but I am currently embroiled (no pun intended) in some kind of Misery-esque situation where I love bagels so much that I keep trying to control them and make them and they REFUSE to do what I say, and eventually they're probably going to kill me. (Yes, I'm having so much trouble making bagels that I cast myself as Kathy Bates in a bagel-centric remake of Misery! WHY DO THEY KEEP COMING OUT OF THE OVEN LIKE WEIRD ALIEN DISCS.)

Challah (makes one enormous loaf, adapted from King Arthur Flour's website)

Starter:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup barely warm water
  • 1 package instant yeast (~2 tsp)

Loaf:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

Glaze:

  • 1 egg white (saved from above)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp water

Make the starter: add the flour, water, and yeast to a medium bowl. Mix together, then let sit for about 45 minutes.

Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and egg yolk. Mix in all of the starter. Knead the dough by hand or in an electric mixer with the dough hook attachment until it all comes together and a smooth dough is formed. Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turning it once or twice to lightly coat the dough in oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and turn it over once or twice. Divide the dough into four pieces, rolling each of the pieces out into an 18-inch-long snake. Place the four dough strands onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and braid together (use this site for help). In a small bowl, mix together the glaze ingredients. Brush the loaf with approximately half the glaze mixture, saving the rest for later. Set the loaf aside and let it rise for about another hour (it should just about double in size).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaf with the remaining glaze and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool before slicing.

Triple berry pie

Summer is a great time for people like me: weak, soft, intellectual types who are inclined to be extremely lazy and yet cannot walk into someone's house without bringing some kind of edible gift, lest word of such a travesty reach the ears of dozens of angry Jewish relatives scattered all along the east coast. For most of the year, I tend to bring a $3-6 bottle of wine that I selflessly rescue from a shelf close to the ground at a Trader Joe's. But once summer rolls around, well, I still get the wine (I have a personal brand to maintain, after all), but sometimes I also throw in some berries. And apparently I'm not the only person who thinks this way, because the other day I looked in my fridge and it was full of berries, most of which I did not purchase myself, and I was like, my friends have no imagination, ugh, I guess I'll make a pie.

This was supposed to be a strawberry rhubarb pie, except I spent 10 minutes wandering around the produce section of a Safeway like a wounded baby bird and couldn't find any rhubarb, and then it became a triple berry pie. It was also supposed to be one of those beautiful pies you see on Pinterest where the crust is just cutouts of stars and stripes and it's so patriotically beautiful that John Philip Sousa himself rises from the dead to tweet about it, but then I realized I only own five cookie cutters and four of them are Star Wars characters and the fifth one is a koala. So it became a triple berry pie with Darth Vader on it.

As with most pies, it's pretty easy to make: just roll out your crust, fill it with whatever berries you want, add some sugar and thickeners and spices, top it with a little pastry Darth Vader face, and bake it until your house smells like an enchanted witch's cottage. You may want to add a little more sugar to this recipe if you don't like a very tart pie, but it was perfect for me. My final tip is to let the pie rest when it's done for at least a few hours, even though you're going to want to reach into the pie as soon as it comes out of the oven like the creepy guy who ripped all those hearts out in Temple of Doom, but if you do that you're going to have a runny pie and probably a bunch of third-degree burns. Let the pie cool completely and you'll be able to cut it into slices that aren't completely liquefied, because no one likes a pie that instantly collapses into a puddle of scalding hot juice.

This pie made a great addition to a dinner and movie night I had with my friends where we watched The Adventures of Milo and Otis, which is a fun movie to watch if you're almost 30 but want to see a pug fight a crab. Don't go to the Wikipedia page, because you WILL find the subsection of the page about all the allegations of animal abuse surrounding the film and it WILL ruin your night. Nevertheless, please enjoy this pie.

Triple berry pie (adapted from Martha Stewart and Allrecipes)

  • 2 disks pie dough, homemade or store-bought
  • ~6-7 cups fresh berries (I used ~2.5 cups raspberries, ~2.5 cups blackberries, and ~2 cups sliced strawberries)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Egg wash: 1 egg + 1 tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll out your pie dough to a thickness of approximately 1/8th of an inch. Fold the disk into quarters and transfer to the pie plate, unfolding inside the plate and letting excess dough hang over the rim.

Gently mix the berries with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Pour the berry mixture into the prepared pie dough. Roll out the second disk of pie dough to form an approximately 9- to 10-inch round, depending on the size of your pie plate. Cut the dough into strips and create a lattice on top of your pie crust. Trim the overhanging dough so you have roughly half an inch of overhang; fold the overhang over the ends of the latticed dough strips. Crimp the edges decoratively. Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with extra sugar, if desired.

Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil to catch drips. Bake, uncovered, for about one hour (the crust should be a deep golden brown). Cover the pie with a piece of aluminum foil to keep it from browning any more and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. Cool completely - ideally for several hours - before serving.

Berry crumb bars

Oh man, it's been a rough 24 hours, what with Sunday bringing us news of the deadly Orlando shooting and also with life just generally sometimes being an incomprehensible nightmare. I still want to publish a blog post with a great recipe and some damn fancy pictures, but I'm not really feeling up to writing a weird tangent about Kanye and Netflix this week. I'll save that for next week, when I will probably resume writing in ALL CAPS about something of VERY LITTLE ACTUAL CONSEQUENCE, like HONEYDEW or A GAME NIGHT I RUINED BY BEING OVERLY COMPETITIVE.

In the meantime, here are some general things I really like and that make me laugh when I'm feeling down: The Toast's Mark Bittman parody article, which is so sublimely funny it makes me angry. This Fry and Laurie sketch, and the Nathan for You episode where people hike to the top of a mountain for a rebate on gas, and basically any Crazy Ex-Girlfriend music video but let's say this one today because it's one of my favorites. Season 3 of Kroll Show, which is unbelievably good and OK, here's a clip from that. The blooper from Parks and Rec where Adam Scott can't say "is she gonna powder her vagina?!" without laughing, any scene from Broad City but specifically the one where Ilana poses for Abbi's art class, Andy Daly on the Dead Authors Podcast, and many more but my internet is being a doofus. Tig Notaro's routine about Taylor Dayne, all of Trading Places and The Jerk and Tootsie and other great movies made before women were legally allowed to be funny. I could go on forever, and, if you find me at happy hour and ask me more about any of these, I probably will.

OK, that's enough laughter for now. Here are some berry crumb bars that are almost alarmingly easy to make. You just stab some butter into a bowl of flour and 45 minutes later, you have a tray of delicious pastries (this is not 100% accurate, please see below for the actual recipe). You can make this with any combination of berries you want - I did mostly blueberries and some blackberries, but have fun with it. They taste even better after they've sat in the fridge overnight, and make a great grown-up breakfast, since they cover the most important food groups (butter, sugar, and fruit). They also make a great addition to any BBQ or summer gathering at which you want to impress people and maybe upstage one or two of your enemies, so get on that, and let me know how it goes.

Berry crumb bars (adapted from Allrecipes, makes 15-30 squares depending on how small you cut them)

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups berries (I used about 3 cups blueberries and 1 cup blackberries)
  • 3 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup sugar, baking powder, flour, and salt. Zest the lemon directly into the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter and egg into the dry ingredients until the texture is crumbly and forms roughly pea-sized chunks. Pat half of the dough into the greased pan.

In another bowl, combine the berries, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch. Cut the lemon open and squeeze lemon juice into the berry mixture. Gently stir to combine. Pour the berry mixture on top of the dough in the pan. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the berries.

Bake until top is golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. Cool before cutting and serving.

Fresh fruit tart

You know how in the movies, whenever there's an illegal poker game or a motley crew of ragtag criminals trying to tunnel into the bank next door or a... I don't know, a group of people embroiled in a hands-on money laundering scheme, they always have a fake business they use as a front? This fruit tart is kind of like that. See, the fruit is the wholesome, healthy dry-cleaning business that is loved by everyone, even the cop who's hot on the trail of those dastardly bank robbers, and then lurking just behind the scenes is a whole big pile of rich, creamy, almost comically bad-for-you vanilla pastry cream that just wants to pull off one more heist before retiring, unless there's a sequel in the works. It's a clumsy metaphor, yes, but it's also a really good tart, so, you know, deal with it.

Just like the Ocean's 11 movies, this tart is enhanced by the contributions of each individual player to produce something spectacular. You've got the effortlessly cool homemade tart shell that provides a strong foundation for everything else to play off of - obviously the Clooney of the recipe - and then you've got a pastry cream that, while a little vanilla, has a surprising amount of depth to it, and elevates everyone around it (in this metaphor, Matt Damon is the pastry cream). Then you've got the fruit, which is flashy but deservedly so, like Bernie Mac and Andy Garcia and Brad Pitt's wig when he pretends to be a geologist in Ocean's 13. (As an aside, I would like to mention that Ocean's 11 holds a special place in my heart because it was the first movie I saw by myself in theatres, and I really had to talk my parents into it because my mom was convinced I was going to throw Junior Mints at the other moviegoers. Little did she know I would grow up to become a person whose favorite source of cardio is rapidly twisting around to shush someone behind me at the movies. There is no place for offscreen whimsy at the cinema!)

I made this tart for a summer BBQ and it was a big hit, just like Ocean's 11! It especially pairs well with drinking too much red wine and trying to play croquet. When I play croquet, I usually give up on trying to win almost immediately and decide to sabotage everyone else instead, but I'm not good enough at croquet that I can effectively sabotage them, so I just end up breaking mallets out of brute force, and then I have to serve a beautiful fruit tart to prove that I'm a gentle giant and I have so many layers. Be sure to arrange the fruit beautifully on top of the tart, because that way you can feel superior to everyone else at your BBQ. "Oh, you've never made a fruit tart?" You'll sneer, clutching a very dry martini. "How positively barbaric!" And everyone will love this tart so much, they won't even care that you're an old-timey douchebag. Go forth and torch your reputation in style!

 

Fruit tart (shell adapted from Smitten Kitchen; filling adapted from Annie's Eats)

Tart shell:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 9 tbsp cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten with a fork

Add the flour, confectioner's sugar, and salt to a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in small pieces (roughly pea-sized). Add the egg a little bit at a time and pulse until it's all combined. Once combined, pulse for about 15-20 seconds, or until the dough begins to form clumps. Remove the dough from the food processor and briefly knead on a floured surface until all ingredients are incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Once the dough is chilled, butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Let the dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly, then roll it out on a large piece of parchment paper until it's about 12 inches in diameter. Flip the dough over the buttered tart pan and peel the parchment paper off. Press the dough into the pan along the bottom and sides, folding the overhang into the pan to form the walls of the tart. Pierce the dough all over with a fork. Freeze the unbaked tart shell for at least 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Butter the shiny side of a large piece of aluminum foil and press the buttered side down tightly against the frozen tart shell. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the aluminum foil (if the dough has puffed up, lightly pierce it with a fork) and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, or until the shell is golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and let cool completely before filling with pastry cream.

Pastry cream:

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the half-and-half, 6 tbsp sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat until simmering. In a medium-large bowl, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tbsp sugar. Whisk to combine. Add the cornstarch to the egg yolk mixture and whisk until it forms a thick, glossy paste. Once the half-and-half mixture is warm, pour it into the egg yolk mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the empty saucepan and heat on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened into a pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla, stirring until they're combined. Pass the mixture through a mesh sieve into a large bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until cool.

Assemble the tart:

Pour the cooled pastry cream into the cooled tart shell. Top with fruit of your choice.

Raspberry buttermilk cake

I hope that when you imagine me writing these blog posts, you think of me like a more Jewy Carrie Bradshaw, wearing a tutu and reclining on my bed and writing things like "But even though the batter didn't have any lumps in it, I couldn't help but wonder... were we destined for smooth sailing?" on a comically prehistoric laptop. You would be mostly right, I think! (I've only seen about six Sex and the City episodes so I do not know!) I always wear a tutu when I write and whenever I take a break to consider my next words, I always stare thoughtfully into the middle distance while thinking about shoes and the fact that New York City is such a huge part of my life, it's practically one of my best friends. This has nothing to do with the cake I made, I'm just having fun. Apologies all around.

This cake is crazy easy to make. I actually got angry about how easy it was to make, because I was hoping to spend a long time making something dramatic and perfect in the kitchen, but it all came together instantly and I was left desperately hunting for something else to bake. If you're normal, and have a busy schedule packed with doctors' appointments or scheduled live-tweets of The Mummy or an enemy to upstage at a public party, presumably in a dramatic wig-ripping fashion, then you will love this cake, because it's so easy and quick to make. If you're like me, and you look to baking to fill the voids between sessions of avoiding writing your dissertation and long hours spent thinking about what a wee tiny hipster Richard Dreyfuss plays in Jaws, this cake will bring you nothing but pain and agony. Adjust accordingly.

This cake, like all cakes, is perfect for eating for breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack. I imagine it would be great with any kind of berry, but I had raspberries on hand, so they were sacrificed to the buttery goodness of this cake. There may be some way to keep them from sinking to the bottom, but I don't know, I'm not an Avenger. Would the Avengers be any good at making cakes? I'm going to say no, because a few weeks ago I had a fever dream that they were in my kitchen all trying to cook but their muscles were so big that no one was able to move around freely (I have a really small kitchen) and I was getting straight up pissed at how many muscled men were in my kitchen because they were ruining my dinner, and then I woke up and thought, well, that's pretty gay. Also, Hawkeye wasn't in my dream because even my subconscious knows he's useless.

Raspberry buttermilk cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
  • 2/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest or juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup whole milk stirred with 1.5 tsp lemon juice and left to sit for ~10 mins)
  • 1 6 oz. container of raspberries

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a 9-inch cake pan.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt) in a medium bowl and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat the butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice or zest, then beat in the egg. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredient mixture and buttermilk in three alternating batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour the batter into the pre-greased cake pan and sprinkle raspberries on top. Sprinkle the remaining 1.5 tbsp sugar on top.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (about 25 minutes). Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Honey nut butter ice cream

Guys, I don't know how I feel about this ice cream. On the one hand, it's good, and tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios, a cereal with which I have no longstanding blood feud (the highest praise I can muster for any commercially sold product). On the other hand, it's the kind of ice cream that sounds like a Whole Foods came to life between a visit to the kombucha stand and a session of hot yoga, because it contains honey instead of sugar and almond butter instead of peanut butter. I know nothing about economics, but almond butter is so expensive it may very well end up being the currency of the future. There are some jars of almond butter at my local co-op that would give Bernie Sanders a heart attack, because they are the 1% of nutty spreads. And, even worse, when I googled "almond butter ice cream" I got a lot of results for various frozen concoctions that were about as close to being ice cream as I am to being Rihanna. (Freezing a mixture of almond butter, agave, and bananas doesn't make ice cream any more than me yelling about yellow diamonds makes me friends with Drake.) I guess what I'm trying to say is this: it pains me that someone might think this ice cream is healthy, because ice cream should never be healthy.

You may be asking, OK, crazy lady, then why did you make this? Well, I ended up with a bunch of mini packets of almond butter because my mom won a gift basket at Whole Foods and repackaged it and sent it to me for my birthday. And then I went wine tasting at a place that also sold honey, so SOMEHOW I ended up going home with a jar of honey in my purse. (My creative process is not hard to follow; it's mostly fueled by wine and Rihanna references.) Despite all my weird ranting above, the combination of the honey and the almond butter is nice and subtle - the honey sweetens the ice cream and gives it a mellow floral aftertaste, and the almond butter tastes like you're rich enough to not care that we'll all soon be dead from a monster drought. I also added an extra packet of peanut butter, to give the ice cream some more depth of flavor and also because why not make a last-minute recipe change that could be potentially disastrous? My kitchen has a real Fury Road vibe to it sometimes.

Feel free to mix and match your nut butters as you please, and do what I did and top the ice cream with a completely unnecessary peanut butter cup or two. This ice cream pairs well with watching The Poseidon Adventure and reflecting on the fact that it's lucky someone on that boat decided he knew EXACTLY what was happening and how they had to escape the boat despite being a PREACHER who was not, in any apparently meaningful way, particularly boat-savvy. Is that what it's like to be a white man in an emergency? Do people just follow you because you seem cool and on top of shit? Let me know if you have a lot of feelings about Gene Hackman too or if it's just me.

Honey nut butter ice cream (adapted from Honey.com)

  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup almond and/or peanut butter (I used three 1.15 oz packets of Justin's honey almond butter and one 1.15 oz packet of Justin's honey peanut butter)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Once the dairy mixture is warm, pour it into the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and strain the mixture into a large bowl. Whisk in the honey, nut butter(s), and vanilla until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled, then freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Birthday cake swirl ice cream

Birthday cake ice cream always reminds me of Coldstone Creamery, where my mom used to take me sometimes before it was more socially acceptable for me to buy my own ice cream, and where I first heard of birthday cake ice cream. I always looked forward to those trips with a mixture of anticipation and dread, because you could get a whole cheesecake or a jar of peanut butter crushed into an elastic gob of ice cream by a resentful teenager (hence the anticipation), but my mom would always tip the ice cream workers specifically in order to make them sing for her (hence the dread). I don't think I've eaten Coldstone in years, but I recently ended up with a bowl of cake scraps, a Tupperware full of buttercream frosting, and a fridge full of heavy cream and whole milk. I had to embrace my destiny and just make some goddamn birthday cake ice cream.

At first I considered making this a cake batter ice cream, but I quickly reconsidered when I realized that cake batter is actually not that great (it's no cookie dough). I may be a bespectacled woman who lives alone and whose Duolingo app makes her repeat "I have 13 cats" in French over and over again while she eats oatmeal for dinner and tacos for breakfast, but I'm not a sad weirdo who likes to consume large quantities of runny, blandly sweet cake batter. I like my cake like I take my breakfast tacos: fully cooked. Therefore, this ice cream is a vanilla custard with chunks of chocolate cake mixed in during the freezing process, inter-layered with a swirl of frosting mixed with more chocolate cake crumbs. Mixing the frosting with the cake helps keep this ice cream from feeling like you've taken a diabetes shot with a tooth decay chaser, because once you're over a certain age (15), eating spoonfuls of frosting makes your body feel like the trash compacter in the first Star Wars (angry). It also makes it taste better, because adding chocolate cake to things is always an improvement!

This ice cream is easy to make and it tastes like the happiest birthday you've ever had. (No one's birthday will top mine, because my birthday is Jay and Bey's anniversary, and every time I remember that, I have to take a moment to look skyward and offer thanks for Lemonade. Your birthday mileage may vary.) This ice cream reminds me of the time I worked in a children's museum in high school and basically got tipped in birthday cake, a barter system I wish was still in play for Grown-Up Me but sadly is not. Make yourself a bowl of this ice cream and eat it while watching Lost, a show I am currently rewatching and have a lot of questions about, most of which boil down to: why does everyone have so many FEELINGS?! Why are these people incapable of a free and logical exchange of information??? Why wasn't Allison Janney in more episodes?!?!?!?!?

Birthday cake swirl ice cream (adapted from The Kitchn's basic ice cream base)

Vanilla ice cream:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Birthday cake swirl:

  • ~1 cup cake scraps or crumbs
  • ~1 cup buttercream frosting
  • 1 tsp vodka

Make the custard: combine milk and cream in a saucepan and heat until warm. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg yolks, and salt. Once the dairy mixture is warm, pour it in a thin stream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (and making sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan), until the custard has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour the custard through a strainer into a large bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Make the birthday cake swirl: In a medium bowl, mix together the frosting and the vodka (this will help keep the frosting from freezing too hard). Mix in about half of the cake crumbs.

Assemble the ice cream: Freeze the custard according to manufacturer's instructions. In the last few minutes of freezing, add in the remaining half of the cake crumbs. When removing the ice cream, alternate layers of ice cream and birthday cake swirl in the freezer-safe container you'll be storing it in (I piped my cake/frosting mixture out of a pastry bag, but you could spread it if you wanted). Freeze until set.

London fog cake

I am very anti-cake mix. There is a time and a place for cake mixes, but that time is never and that place is in the garbage. Zing! But seriously, boxed cake mixes are stupid. In most cases, it only saves you one step - mixing together dry ingredients - because you still have to add the eggs and oil yourself just like you would have to anyway if you were making your own cake from scratch! (I know, I'm riding high on my cake privilege here, and I get that, but come on, this is a blog about dessert [and sometimes musicals, and sometimes Nicolas Cage].) Perhaps not surprisingly, this paragraph has nothing to do with the cake I made yesterday. I just have a lot of feelings about cake!

Here is the cake I made. It's a three-layer chocolate cake, separated and covered in an Earl Grey Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, and topped with a homemade salted caramel sauce. I made it while on antibiotics for a particularly vicious double ear infection that is currently making me feel like someone is filming a remake of the ending of Titanic inside my brain (lots of fluid and ominous creaking noises, plus a scene-stealing appearance by Billy Zane), and if I can make a damn fancy cake while I'm being attacked by my own malfunctioning body, then you can make it too. I made it as a birthday cake for this very own site's Maya Wildgoose, whose book reviews are a constant source of joy in my life. She loves tea, because she is one disastrous trip to Bath away from being the heroine of a Jane Austen novel, so I thought this would be a wildly appropriate cake for her birthday.

My biggest tip for making this cake is to BE PATIENT. Me telling people to be patient is like Lady Gaga telling people not to wear meat in public, or maybe Werner Herzog telling people to stop dwelling on the inevitability of death and the despair of the human condition, but it's still good advice. You're going to want to make sure your cakes have completely cooled before you frost them, and that your salted caramel has completely cooled before you pour it over the frosted cake. My caramel was too cold to flow easily, so I heated it in the microwave and then it flowed beautifully but it also melted some of the frosting on the top of the cake, and that was annoying, so learn from my mistakes and just let everything cool down before you end up applying direct heat to a butter-based compound. My second piece of advice is sure, you can level your cakes if they've domed in the oven, but why you would ever want to throw away perfectly good cake for the sake of aesthetics is completely beyond me. (I did a little bit of cakescaping, but only so I could save some cake scraps for a new ice cream flavor I want to make this week. Sacrificing cake for the sake of ice cream is OK.)

My only complaint is that this frosting didn't taste very much like tea to me (although my friends, one of whom is British, insisted it did to them), but I am inclined to blame my own inability to purchase the correct loose tea at my local co-op for that. Did you know my co-op has multiple shelves of jars filled with loose tea? And that it was shockingly crowded on a Sunday morning, because I live in a hippie town where jostling for loose organic tea is our equivalent of attending a tailgate or frat party? So maybe up the strength of the tea, or increase the steeping time, if you are very worried about that (I don't know anything about tea). And finally, feel free to decorate your cake to look like one of the cakes on those fancy lifestyle blogs where every cake is professional-quality and there are a lot of well-lit shots of artfully scattered ingredients on a hand-hewn artisanal butcher's block. I went the opposite direction and decided to decorate my cake in a way that I knew my friends would enjoy: with a life-affirming quote from one of the greatest movies ever made.

London fog cake (adapted from A Beautiful Plate)

Chocolate cake:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup hot brewed coffee

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter three 8- or 9-inch cake pans. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). In a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand mixer), combine the oil and sugar and beat on medium power for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla and beat until combined, stopping and scraping down the bowl once or twice.

With the mixer on low, alternate adding the dry ingredient mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the coffee and beat just until combined (about 30 seconds). Divide the batter evenly among the three buttered cake pans and bake for ~22-24 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Earl Grey Swiss meringue buttercream:

  • 2 cups butter (4 sticks), room temperature
  • 1/4 cup loose Earl Grey tea
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract

Place two sticks of the butter in a saucepan with the tea. Heat until the butter melts, then simmer on low for 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from heat and let the tea steep for five more minutes. Pour the butter mixture through a sieve into a bowl and refrigerate until cool.

Fill a saucepan with several inches of water and place over medium-high heat on the stove. Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, then place the bowl over the saucepan to create a double boiler. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together over the double boiler until the mixture is hot to the touch, or registers 160ºF/70ºC on a candy thermometer.

Place the bowl on the stand mixer and fit the stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until the outside of the bowl is room temperature and the mixture holds medium-stiff peaks, about ten minutes. Replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment and, with the mixer on low, add the vanilla, tea-infused butter, and remaining 1 cup butter, several tablespoons at a time. After these have been incorporated, turn the mixer to medium high and beat until the frosting is smooth (about 5 minutes).

Salted caramel sauce:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Place the sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tbsp water in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns a medium golden amber color. Remove the saucepan from heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream (pour it into the saucepan in a very thin stream while whisking constantly - watch out, it will bubble and spatter). If lumps remain, whisk them over low heat until they dissolve. Add the butter and stir until it's melted, then stir in the salt and vanilla. Pour the caramel into a heat-safe container and let cool to room temperature before using on the cake.

Assemble the cake:

If your cakes have domed in the oven and this makes you sad, carefully use a serrated knife to slice off the domed parts and level the cake. Place one layer on your cake plate and spread a thin layer of icing on the cake, then refrigerate that layer for 10-15 minutes to let the frosting set, creating a crumb coat (this will keep cake crumbs from getting into your frosting when you add more). Add a generous amount of frosting on top of your base layer, then top with the second cake layer and repeat the same process. Once this is complete, use an offset spatula (or a butter knife, if you're me) to cover the top and sides of the cake with frosting. Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes to let the frosting set, then pour the room temperature salted caramel over the top and let it drip down the sides. Serve as is, or ruin a beautiful cake by making a quick buttercream frosting and decorating with a sassy Moonstruck quote.

Male characters from Broadway musicals who I would like to slap in the damn face

Motel the tailor (Fiddler on the Roof): Motel's name roughly translates from Yiddish to "who cares?" He has a sad, weak beard and he is a sad, weak man. He cannot stop wearing his measuring tape around his neck because otherwise he might forget he is a tailor, probably. The only redeeming part of his existence is that Tevye's Dream is perhaps the highlight of the whole damn movie, despite being terrifying to children. Can you imagine growing up in a town so sad and poor that Motel the tailor is your best hope for a happy life? What a depressing goddamn musical. I would like to slap Motel in the damn face.

Marius (Les Miserables): Even as a child, I knew Marius was a drip. Eponine is basically a super cool thief princess who always has an artfully dirt-smudged face and then Marius falls in love with the world's most boring woman whose main thing is that she's never really interacted with anyone in the real world? It's crazy that my parents let us watch this musical when I was a kid, because it ended up being my favorite musical and it's all about prostitutes on their deathbeds. No one likes Marius and it's crazy that everyone else dies tragically and he gets a chill fancy wedding.

All the men in Rent who are not Benny: I know this is pretty well-covered territory at this point, but you have to pay your damn rent! I like Benny because he doesn't like performance art.

Nicky Arnstein (Funny Girl): Barbra Streisand is basically pure light and perfection in the form of a self-deprecating Jewish lady diva and you're going to throw that all away because #masculinitysofragile? Stop gambling and let your awesome wife pay for your cavernous New York mansion, dude. This is one of the only musicals I really like where no one dies, tragically or otherwise.

Rolf (Sound of Music): If I can't slap someone for being a traitorous Nazi then WHAT IS THIS LIST EVEN FOR. That's a really good reason to slap someone. I would also like to slap whoever wrote the song "The Lonely Goatherd" because I would rather slowly bleed out in a crowded water park than listen to that puppet-based monstrosity ever again.

The guy from The Last Five Years: He is slightly more palatable than Rolf, but only by virtue of NOT BEING A NAZI. I can't remember his name but I don't feel like looking it up, so I assume he's Jonathan Franzen.

Every dude in Grease: Their crimes range from being mean to people who are super nice to being mean to people who may be pregnant with their children. Having awesome hair can only take you so far before you have to be nice to people who may be pregnant with your children! This musical is actually super inappropriate but somehow we all decided as a society that we were going to show it to children!

Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady): Literally a monster whose only contribution to society is helping Audrey Hepburn pick out fabulous hats? Find your own damn slippers, you jackass.

Someone from The Wiz: One time I was doing field work, and in the span of two hours I had two separate emotionally traumatic episodes in which TWO SEPARATE BEES got caught in my hair and I had to have my colleagues kill the bees for me, and then I got a really bad sinus/ear infection combo (unrelated to the bees I THINK?). Anyway, one of the bee incidents (bee-pisodes?) was preceded by a carefree playing of "Ease On Down the Road" in a car with the windows down as the wind whipped through my hair and presumably turned my beautiful hair into a prison for angry bees, so, thanks, The Wiz. I don't really have any beef with any other part of this musical. How could I? It's great. Very catchy.

Daddy Warbucks (Annie): Maybe you shouldn't buy a child for publicity? Why did someone make a musical about this?

Vietnamese coffee ice cream

When I worked in Singapore, I used to get the same breakfast every day at the canteen next to my dorm: a hard-boiled egg, toast with kaya (a coconut-ish jam), and a little cup of coffee filled with sweetened condensed milk. Sure, at first I missed drinking coffee the way I normally drink it, which is a) as black as the inside of a coal mine at night and b) in enormous quantities, but eventually I got used to drinking coffee the Singaporean way, and I would happily drink my little cup in the air-conditioned canteen and then I would go outside and struggle to cope with the humidity until I fell onto a bus and it drove me to my office. Anyway, I hadn't thought about that coffee in a while, until I saw this recipe in The Perfect Scoop and realized that the Vietnamese coffee in the recipe is probably not that far off from what I was drinking in Singapore. And guess what? It's not! Guess what else? It makes a really good ice cream!

This might be one of my favorite ice creams I've made in a very long time. It's not custard-based, which means it's insanely easy to whip up. Sometimes ice creams that aren't custard-based are disappointing because they aren't rich or creamy enough, but this ice cream does not have that problem! It's terrific. It makes me feel like I'm back in Singapore, like when I decided to enjoy a beautiful day walking around a random part of town until both of my shoes broke and I had to walk barefoot to a train that eventually took me to a shoe store and I felt like some kind of Biblical prophet. Or the time I watched a group of wild boars successfully maul a bicycle until it fell over and they could eat the fruit someone had foolishly left in their bicycle basket, and I felt legitimately proud of the boars, as if they were my own boar children. Or the time I broke another pair of shoes when I went out dancing and that's the only part of that story I will ever publish on the internet, because the other part of that story involves the words "liquid buffet" and, by extension, "never getting hired again."

Anyway, I cannot recommend that you make this enough. It's basically just frozen Vietnamese coffee, which means that you can eat it for breakfast and no one will sass you for it. I live alone, so the only person sassing me for eating ice cream for breakfast is myself. Sometimes I also sass myself for doing things like: singing to myself all the time, forgetting about major Jewish holidays until they've already started/ended (happy Passover, everyone), going to bed with makeup on and waking up with a disco pillow (a pillow covered in glitter and regret), naming kitchen appliances (Sir Charles Coffee helped me make the coffee for this ice cream, and I thanked him for it). But don't let my weird neuroses keep you from making this ice cream! (Make it and then give me some, please.)

Vietnamese coffee ice cream (adapted from The Perfect Scoop)

  • 1.5 cups sweetened condensed milk
  • 1.5 cups very strong coffee
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 tsp finely ground dark roast coffee
  • Pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Chill mixture and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

April update

I've been trying to update this blog once a week, but things have been hectic lately and I don't particularly feel like writing about banana bread. Nevertheless, in the interest of keeping to a schedule, I wanted to write SOMETHING, so here is a list of things I've been having opinions about recently:

Lord of the Rings: I recently re-watched all of these movies and I was almost embarrassed by how many of the lines I remembered on a reflexive, gut level, like when I got up to get a glass of wine and still nailed a snarky elf line without even really thinking. HOWEVER, it is approximately ten hours of film with THREE ladies in it, one of whom is basically a hair model and the other of whom is a scarier hair model (all elves are hair models to me). No complaints about Eowyn, she's the best. Oh man, I could talk about these movies all the time.

The Hobbit: I just watched the first two Hobbit movies and they are not! good! I have so many issues with these movies that they could fill a small book that Peter Jackson would probably adapt into a seven-part film series about me complaining about The Hobbit. Anyway, this isn't a damn Hobbit blog, so I'll just say that no one should ever be BORED during a movie about dwarves fighting a dragon and yet I WAS! Come on, guys. Get it together.

Peter Pan: Can we stop adapting Peter Pan into new things? No single incarnation of Peter Pan is ever compelling enough to warrant a new one.

Coupons: Why did my mom mail me nine coupons for four different kinds of juice for my birthday? I am NOT mad just a LITTLE confused.

Fitness: Why would anyone ever work out if not to ultimately be able to lift a man over their head and throw them? Are there reasons to leave your house and use your muscles other than that? Please let me know!

Titanic the Musical: Please never forget that I was in pit orchestra for this musical, which is a real musical, which someone wrote upon learning of the Titanic tragedy and thinking, "I HAVE to set this to music!" I know what you're thinking: didn't someone see the movie and THEN write the play? NO. The movie came out at the same time as the play and essentially was the iceberg to the Titanic that was the play. It's pretty bonkers. Our production of the play had a guy die by being crushed by a piano because the director didn't thinking dying by Titanic was dramatic enough, in case you're wondering where I get my penchant for writing in ALL CAPS from. Oh man, you can listen to the soundtrack on YouTube. It's weird.

The YouTube comments for Titanic the Musical: are all from people who are either excited to star in an upcoming local production of Titanic the Musical or are excited because they once starred in a local production of Titanic the Musical and are eager to share their Titanic wisdom, which is kind of endearing.

Titanic the Musical: is actually called Titanic: A New Musical. Sorry.

Noodles: Big fan, 10/10, never change.