Macaron Class {recap and supply list}

Y'all, the first cooking class of 2018 hosted by CounterspaceBR was a SUCCESS! I opened up my mostly renovated kitchen to five classmates and our instructor, Ruby Bloch of Salt & Light Pastry Co. We walked through Ruby's preferred method and perfected recipe for macaron... She instructed us step by step in the process and everyone had the chance to ask questions and take notes along the way!

Ruby Piping

A highlight for me was Ruby's detail in textures to look for, consistency clues, and the stories and tips of figuring out different recipes while on her culinary journey!

We will definitely plan to host Ruby again SOON! In the meanwhile, here are some of the tools we used for the class along with some tips on WHY they are important!

First: a scale! This is the one we used in class. It is a digital scale with the ability to go back and forth between measuring units and a very reliable tare feature! Precise measurement is key in preparing this delicate dessert!

Candy Thermometer is next. This is something that I use for a bunch of different treats, including marshmallows! I use this polder version. But Ruby likes the Taylor brand with a digital read! I might be adding that one to my collection!! A candy thermometer is important so that you have the right temperature of heated sugar to make a proper meringue. 

Meringue

Another important factor in the baking, is a sturdy flat sheet pan. I have 6 of the Nordic Ware half sheet pans and could probably add another half dozen to my collection for good measure :) Having a flat surface ensures the macaron will cook evenly and not end up "tilted."

Ruby

In that vein... it's also important to have super flat parchment paper. I accidentally bought full sheet pan size, but those are easy enough to cut in half OR you can purchase half sheet pan size here! It comes with 200 sheets, so maybe a good investment to split with another baking buddy!

Piping bags are also on the list. We used 18" disposable bags. I use these for much much more than just piping macaron, and these are easy to find at local craft supply stores (Michael's or Hobby Lobby). 

spatula

And for the piping bag... a piping tip! We used the Ateco 806 tip.  Wilton has a comparable tip as well! This tip is 1/2" in diameter and allows for proper control in piping and size to get uniform macaron.

The best part about all of the equipment we discussed is that NONE of the items are macaron specific, and most all of them will be very useful if you are looking to learn and explore baking a bit more! For me, purchasing the scale and thermometer opened up a pandora's box of possibility!!

IMG_3146.JPG

So you want to get organized...

How often does the calendar re-set and we immediately feel the need to sweep, purge, wipe down, and organize? Or maybe it's just me? Well, on the off chance that it ISN'T just me, here are some resources and reviews for organizing your space!

I live in a moderately sized house. Three bedrooms, two baths, 1800ish square feet. I use almost every room in my house on a daily basis with the exception of the guest bedroom and guest bathroom. Therefore there is STUFF in every room. 

Last year, I Kon Mari'd with some success and did a MAJOR clean out. That was really good for me! The most significant impact came in my master closet, hall closets, books, and paper! I shredded and recycled SO MUCH PAPER. I wasn't thorough enough cause time and toddler, but the cleanse aspect made me feel fresh and made my house feel a bit more livable. The one thing that was hard for me was what to do with so much of the sentimental or non daily use items... that's where Emily Ley comes in!

A much less overwhelming process and book that I'm currently reading is Emily Ley's "A Simplified Life." This book is super approachable and the goal is to define and claim the art of homemaking. The entire concept of the book is this, if you simplify your home and schedule and brain of "clutter" you can live a more simplified life. This comes in the form of a clean out (which was a lot easier to tackle having already Kon Mari'd), creating a plan for weekly meals, figuring out what your family/home needs on a daily basis, and using ALL that information to help simplify life and routine. I haven't finished the book or fully implemented all of the suggestions YET, but I'm excited to tackle my life (house included) and simplify! And, currently on the Simplified Planner instagram account there is a daily simplify challenge for January! It comes with one task a day to help work towards a clutter free house and schedule!

One of the biggest differences between the two books and programs is that Emily doesn't preach extreme minimalism and doesn't advocate for tossing heirloom/sentimental items quite the same way as Mari does. Emily DOES, however, give you a plan for what to do with those items that might not have a place on the shelf but are worthy of being kept and cherished and passed down.

One last resource, along the same lines as the instagram challenge above, is the Apartment Therapy January Cure. This is a daily email with tasks to set you up for a year of success in your home! It started yesterday with cleaning out ONE drawer. Just one. Thankfully, that overlapped with Emily Ley's challenge to declutter your kitchen utensil drawer. 

So, if you are with me on January feeling like a fresh start for your home, take a peek at the resources above! I hope to do a full recap at the end of January on the daily tasks as well as how to continue these practices throughout the year!

Oh Hey! Remember Me?!

Y'all, it's been a minute. And by minute, I mean a really long time... ya know, the way the kids use "minute" these days. 

I'll tell you about some things that have happened since I've last opened up this here blog:

We have been to Disney World THREE times.

I have renovated my kitchen.

We have potty trained AND regressed.

I've earned A-List status on Southwest again (technically I earn it upon completion of my work trip this week).

I have attended some weddings and some funerals.

I've been to Boston, Houston, DC, San Francisco, Orlando, LA

There has been a massive flood... again.

I low-key started a side business selling cookies and teaching cooking classes.

AND I've use my instant pot successfully a whole bunch of times. 

So, how have Y'ALL been? I'm really excited about getting back on this blogging train. Specifically, I'm excited to merge what I'm doing here with the business I'm starting... look out for the "merger" soon. I'm also excited to do some mini gift guides for the super last minute shoppers. Basically, it's gonna be me telling you about all my favorite things AND my favorite cookbooks.

Oh, and speaking of the merger, you have probably noticed (all two of you), that I don't use my @ontheimaginaryblog insta handle any longer... if you've been missing food pics and photos of my crazy life, check out @counterspaceBR. That's gonna be the new home for all things food, hosting, and imaginary!

Just in case you want a taste of my favorite things right now, here are the 5 cookbooks you should gift this holiday season (in no particular order)

1. Over Easy by Joy Wilson

2. One Pot by Martha Stewart

3.  Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

4. Cherry Bomb: The Cookbook by a whole bunch of awesome ladies

5. Sweet (and actually buy this for me cause I don't have it and I want it really bad...) by Yotam Ottolinghi

6. BONUS CAUSE I LIED: Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman

I'll tell ya this, I have cooked out of Deb Perelman's new book countless times already including a really awesome delicata squash and brussel sprouts salad that I brought to Thanksgiving dinner. It was a delight!

I can't begin to stress how awesome cookbooks are for gifts. ESPECIALLY for someone who loves food. You really don't have to love to cook to enjoy most of these books... The photography alone makes them stand out additions to a coffee table or bookshelf!

Ok, I'll end here for now. But I'm telling myself I will be writing a lot this December and into the new year. Get. Excited. 

To Bake or To Blog {that is the question}

Most days I have to ask myself if I will take time to blog OR if I will watch TV/go to bed early/clean the kitchen... you know fun distracting stuff. But last week I had a different bug keeping me from blogging: COOKIES!

I jumped on the opportunity to participate in a local Maker's Market which involved prepping and baking about 150 cookies last week. Now, I think we all know I have a real job, so this meant 2-3 hours of extra work every night AFTER putting my squirt to bed. In case you were wondering what it looks like to prep for a market of this variety here it goes:

1. Frantically email your designer so you have a logo ready to print stickers.

2. Find someone to PRINT stickers! 

3. Order cellophane baggies for the cookies.

4. COMMENCE the baking!

Last Monday night I prepped a double batch of the "New York Times BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe." Then Tuesday I prepped a quadruple batch of Joy the Baker's "Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookie." Both types of dough need extended refrigeration so it worked out! Wednesday night I didn't do any baking or prep work. Thursday I began baking. I got through the chocolate chip cookies with ease. Then realized I should probably bake more (good idea cause they were the second to sell out after the donuts... yeah, there were donuts), so I prepped a THIRD recipe of cookies to bake. Friday was when the real fun started. I began bagging and sealing the cookies + baked ALL OF THE CONFETTI COOKIES. I basically spent the day putting a tray of cookies in the oven, taking a tray out, putting another tray in, sealing one cooled tray's worth of cookies and so on... times 5 trays of cookies!

LATE Friday night the process became a party! I had neighbors come over and shell a costco package of pistachio's while I baked a double batch of tahini butter cream oreos. I fear I would have thrown in the towel if it weren't for dear friends sitting and chatting with me while I worked... oh and they brought wine. :)

Saturday morning was the final countdown to the big show! I planned on baking fresh pistachio donuts for the market that morning (just about the only goodie that wouldn't hold well past a day or so). And that was when my brain stopped working. I not only curdled the eggs with hot butter THREE times, I LEFT OUT THE SUGAR. It was one hurdle after another, that I blame wholeheartedly on lack of sleep. But gosh darn it, I finished them! 34 donuts in the end! BOOM!

I packed up the goods and went to set up, both nervous AND excited. I have NEVER in my life EVER sold something to strangers at a market. Sure I've done retail sales in college and baked for friends... but to SELL my baked goods was a whole new ball game. BUT I DID IT.

The first items to go were the donuts... followed quickly by the chocolate chip cookies, and finally the tahini buttercream oreos. After 4 hours, I left having made almost $300 and only 10 cookies left! What a RUSH. And not a sugar rush, cause I didn't let myself eat any of the goods throughout the week or the morning of. 

What's even more exciting, is this is gonna be a thing. I'm gonna start selling my cookies! On the regular! How cool is THAT?! Have you ever taken the plunge into the creative economy? It's terrifying and AWESOME all at once. So, look out for me next month at the Mid City Maker's Market in Baton Rouge; and if you can't wait till then, shoot me a message about ordering some of my treats!!

Meal Planning. It's a Thing.

If you have ever been on pinterest or owned a slow cooker, you have probably considered meal planning. Well, I have both been on pinterest AND own a slow cooker… so I have embarked down the meal planning rabbit hole.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about that hole:

1.     It CAN be cheaper, but isn’t always.

2.     It CAN be healthy, but it isn’t always.

3.     It CAN be a time saver, but it isn’t always.

Y’all, I don’t meal plan cause I’m on a strict diet or because I have a $4 budget per meal. I meal plan because I like to be prepared, I’m a solo parent, I work full time, and I LOVE TO COOK. So, here is how I do it. I start with a formula. This is what works for me, adjust accordingly depending on your family’s schedule and commitments (I use a note pad similar to this one and keep it on my fridge for the week):

Monday: Cook

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Meal (I LOVE my slow cooker! It even has a browning function!)

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Quick Easy/Eat out on the Cheap

Friday: Something NEW!

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Refrigerator Delight! (basically clean out the fridge and start fresh)

My first and biggest tip: plan on eating leftovers some nights (although, I have ONE friend ::cough cough amy cough cough:: who doesn’t LIKE leftovers… whatever, that’s just more cooking. But I love you, Amy! I promise!), and I plan on eating out one night. I realize you might not eat out, no biggie. I will say this, there is nothing MORE annoying than grocery shopping for the week then ending out one night you didn’t plan for then having extra groceries to figure out… ok, there is a lot more annoying such as political posts on facebook or people who can’t properly navigate four way stop signs. But you get my point.

I really do love incorporating as much new food as possible. I also am typically cooking for myself and a toddler, which means cooking for myself + macaroni and cheese. Whatevs.

What’s on the docket this week, you might be asking?

Monday: Red lentil curry with spinach (I would link to the recipe from pinterest but I can’t find it… will do my best to transcribe and post soon!)

Tuesday: Roasted veggies + hummus

Wednesday: ALL of the leftovers

Thursday: This will most likely NOT be an eat out night because my babysitter just had brain surgery… so it will probably be a “what veggies are going bad? Hurry slice them and put them on pizza crust” night

Friday: Turkey biscuit bake! This isn’t a NEW recipe, but I haven’t made it in ages… so it counts.

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday nights are spent reviewing cookbooks for ideas, typically…. Or in this instance blogging and telling you what I do while not doing it, then grocery shopping Monday afternoon before school pick up (or after if I’m feeling brave).

I realize that I have a flexible job and the luxury of taking a quick grocery trip during the day; you probably don’t have that. BUT YOU MIGHT either have a spouse to watch the kids while you grocery shop OR no kids at all! In the end, we all make it work amirite!?!?!?!?

If I’m feeling super bold, I’ll remember to take a photo of my shopping cart to share with you and do a recap of what ACTUALLY went down in the kitchen. In the meanwhile, do you meal prep? Why? Why NOT?! Do you even like to cook? What’s your go to week night meal?!

Konmari + Donuts {The first timer's guide to tidying}

I’m late to the game on the "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" but I don’t care. I bought the book. I DEVOURED it. I have begun the process. AND I FEEL AMAZING ABOUT IT.

The only SLIGHT thing was the time I almost threw away the title to my car, but as Marie Kondo would say… just get another!

Y’all. If you have purged or cleaned or organized your house ever with little to no lasting result, get this book. Read this book. Embrace this book.

If you have watched any morning TV shows at ALL in the past three years you have surely seen a segment on this book. If not, we probably wouldn’t get along cause you probably don’t think Kathie Lee and Hoda are hilarious. But whatevs, we can figure out our friendship later… The snippet from most of these segments that sticks with people is asking yourself if your belongings “spark joy.” This probably sounds crazy to you/completely weird UNTIL you read the book and start following the konmari method then subsequently find yourself thanking random belongings in your house out loud, or not?! Whatever, I’m not weird.

Anyway, here are my big takeaways from the process so far:

1.     You have to focus on YOUR things. Not your husbands or your kids or your roommates. DO YOU FIRST. You don’t know how other people relate to their stuff, and you can’t be tossing someone else’s clothes and books willy nilly.

2.     My bigger question ISN’T about something sparking joy, but rather the concept of has it served its purpose. Marie Kondo talks about the clothes that you hold on to because it was something you loved but never wear or worse yet something you HATE but you spent too much money on. Did that aforementioned garment teach you about your current style? Then thank it, remove it, and move along! It has served its purpose. And to the shirt that you hate… did it teach you what styles you DON’T like? It has served its purpose!

3.     PAPER: This is where having served purpose is a much better question. Did that baby shower invitation for someone you haven’t seen in three years serve its purpose? Yes. Yes, it did. You are FREE to toss it. I tossed SO MUCH PAPER AND I FEEL SO ALIVE!!!

4.     Finally, you cannot being this process or expect it to be easy/good/refreshing UNTIL you have finished the book AND are emotionally ready to do it.

5.     Donuts make the process WAY better. If you don’t believe me… follow this recipe then try to convince me otherwise. Marie might be upset that I added a mini donut pan to my kitchen BEFORE konmari'ing it, but she probably has also never tasted a brown buttered champagne strawberry donut. So there.

Where I've Been...

The last two months have been KINDA nuts around these parts... and I'm breaking every beginner blog rule like EVER. Specifically, starting with SOME amount of regularity then kaboom dropping off the face of the planet. Here is the part where I attempt to explain and hop back on the blogging wagon.

Thursday night, August 11th, it started to rain... then Friday schools were closed and it kept raining... then Saturday my friend Melinda was worried about her apartment flooding so she loaded up and came over... and it KEPT raining. 

Sunday morning, after a handful of extra people stayed at my house, we found out that my good friend Adam's house was under water. Reality struck. This wasn't just a rain event with closed roads and inconveniences, it was a massive un-named storm that would effect over 110,000 households in the Greater Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas. And, this storm, unlike a hurricane or tornado or other "act of God" managed to attract very little national attention; and with that, a lack of resources. 

Just one of the deliveries we made. This was for a single mom with a newborn who lost everything in the flood. 

Just one of the deliveries we made. This was for a single mom with a newborn who lost everything in the flood. 

So, I went into high gear. I began a GoFundMe account to raise money and worked with close friends to organize and manage a Universal Amazon Wishlist. In the end, over $30,000 was raised and additional $30,000+ worth of goods were donated and delivered to my house for distribution. It was NUTS. I ended up working roughly half time for the first week after the flood, and my house was Baton Rouge's first un-official Amazon distribution site. 

This was about one delivery's worth of goods. I averaged 4 trucks of delivers per day for over 2 weeks!

This was about one delivery's worth of goods. I averaged 4 trucks of delivers per day for over 2 weeks!

In the end, I worked with some friends to start a foundation to use the yet to be used money from GoFundMe to help support families as they move back into their homes as well as help provide meals and supplies for volunteers who have come to help!  What's crazy is that isn't the only natural disaster I've weathered since we last chatted... However, that's all I've got in me tonight. 

If you are interested in reading more you can check out the website and facebook page for the Foot Above Foundation. SO, that's what has kept me away from this here corner of the internet. Look forward to more regular posts on all of the OTHER happenings from the past two months... as well as how I make vacation re-entry pimento cheese!!