Bakers for Activism

I was drinking my morning tea when Sis. Ruth* texted. Although she’s fifty years my senior, she has become a dear friend.

Jeremiah as depicted by Michelangelo

We had gotten to know each other after my church’s first women’s zoom bible study. During the class, she made a comment about Jeremiah being known as the weeping prophet. It was the first time I had heard of his nickname, but it made me immediately think of the word “jeremiad” which means a list of woes. Jeremiah the prophet must have been the etmology of the word jeremiad. A quick google search confirmed my suspicion. The next day I wrote Sis. Ruth a letter about my word epiphany. I also conveyed my appreciation for her contributions to the class discussion – Sis. Ruth had shared many stories and valuable advice. She responded a week later with a text, and that’s how our friendship began.

But back to the text message. She asked whether I was safe since DC experienced heavy rains and gusty winds overnight. Sis Ruth is the church grandma – she’s always concerned and checking up on the young congregates. I replied that the storm didn’t affect my area and I hoped she had fared well too. She immediately responded that she was doing alright, but she had been fervently praying for rain in California.

Her comment got me thinking about California’s situation, specifically the condition of farmworkers. These essential workers have been putting their lives at risk so America can have fully stocked refrigerators. They are dealing with coronavirus, a heat wave, and poor air quality from nearby wildfires. I prayed for them that morning, then I formed a plan.

A few months back, social media was abuzz with bakers against racism posts. Amateur bakers were whipping up goods to raise money for BLM, NAACP and other estimable organizations. At the time, I chose to donate my money instead of fundraising because there was uncertainty around coronavirus transmissions and food. Luckily scientists have since concluded that prepared food is relatively safe, but workers should still wear masks while cooking and baking.

United Farm Workers Flag

I had blocks of cream cheese and fresh milk, so I decided to make mini cheesecakes. (While wearing a mask, of course.) Once baked and decorated, I advertised the bake sale – 3 mini cupcakes for $6. The proceeds would go to the United Farm Workers, an organization that provides PPE and other safeguards to farmworkers. Once I loaded the advertisement to Facebook and Instagram, I kept checking my phone to see whether anyone would buy the cakes. I wanted to raise at least a few dollars for the farmworkers.

The first person to reach out was a dear friend who currently lives out of state. He venmoed me $50 towards the cause. I almost cried! Then other friends started saying that they wanted to purchase cheesecakes. By the end of the weekend, I had raised $108 for the United Farm Workers. I was so happy to donate to this amazing organization and to have socially distant catch ups with friends when I delivered their desserts. While this was my first time, it certianly won’t be the last that I participate in baking activism.

* Name changed to protect her identity

Granola Bars

Where are the snacks? I ask myself this at least once a week. Somehow snacks from grocery store runs disappear within a couple days and I’m left with carrots and cucumber slices. Although I’m happy to eat healthy food, I crave the occasional sweet treat.

When I was running low on groceries this week, I decided to make my own snack. What’s better than a granola bar to stave off hunger?

It was so easy to make. I rough chopped a half cup of raw almonds I had in the pantry. Then I combined them with a cup and a half of rolled old-fashioned oats onto a parchment lined tray. As those roasted in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, I focused on the other ingredients.

I heated in the microwave a 1/4 cup natural peanut butter with a 1/4 cup organic maple syrup to make it easier to combine them. Once mixed together, I put it aside. Then I used my processor to mince seedless dates. Afterwards, I combined all the ingredients plus a handful of dried cherrys for some tartness.

Once thoroughly combined, I pressed the mixture into a 8″x 8″ tray before sticking it in the freezer to firm up. After an hour, I removed the granola from the tray and used a sharp knife to make 8 bars. Most of them maintain their shape, but some were still crumbly. No worries, the bits that broke away were used as a topping for my chia seed breakfast pudding. I’m on the no food waste train for good!

Chia seed pudding with homemade granola

Seasonal Fruit

Summer seasonal fruits are lovely. Not only are they in their most delicious state, but also grocery stores have weekly sales promoting them. Whenever I see the “buy one, get one free” sign in front of a variety of berries, I always place two in my cart.

Recently I purchased blueberries that were on sale. These little fruits added sweetness to my morning smoothies and chia seed puddings. I also had enough leftover to reattempt a lemon blueberry loaf.

My first attempt happened a few years ago. I made the loaf for my former congregation’s monthly movie night. Although the sisters were delighted with the loaf, I found it to be too sour and dense. But this time, I would make a loaf that I could be proud of.

I spent a few days reading lemon blueberry loaf recipes in my spare time. After comparing recipes and reading reviews, I finally chose an Allrecipes.com creation. I made one modification – omitting nuts. It felt wrong to have three competing flavors in the same dish.

The bread was devine. It was a perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors, and the bread practically melted on my tongue. My boyfriend also loved it and he gleefully accepted the last half of the loaf when I abandoned the idea of dropping off slices to colleagues.

If you look closely, you can see the lemon zest in the loaf!

What made this attempt different? The zester. For years I would use a grater to harvest citrus skin. I didn’t think it was worth adding more utensils to an already cluttered kitchen, so I used what I had on hand. However, I broke down and bought a zester in July. Can you say “game changer”? The finer pieces distributed beautifully in the batter, creating a uniform lemon flavor. When I slathered icing on the loaf, I used the zester to dust the top with lemon zest. The loaf not only tasted good, it looked good.

Which kitchen device do you swear by? Did you buy a utensil that made the baking process easier or more enjoyable? Please comment below.

Stack ‘Em

Continuing with last post’s theme, I want to share what I did with leftover milk.

Whenever I need milk, I buy the smallest bottle available since I’m lactose intolerant. Yes, I know I shouldn’t use cow’s milk if I plan to eat my creations, but baked goods should have full flavor and full fat. Dairy also helps keep my dessert and carb consumption in check. I can have a few slices without experiencing side effects, and the remainder goes to friends and colleagues who happily accept.

But back to my story. I had roughly a cup of milk left and I didn’t want to pour it down the drain. So I decided to make pancakes for my boyfriend and me to share over our morning coffee.

Getting my recipes folder, I sifted through until I found the Allrecipes’ Fluffy Pancakes printout. This recipe produces pancakes that rise nicely and taste like diner flapjacks. It also reminds me of childhood Saturday mornings when my father would use Bisquick to make the thickest, hearty pancakes. I loved watching cartoons while enjoying pancakes, eggs and bacon with my parents and sister.

I could go into details about making the pancakes, but the recipe is self explanatory and I don’t have any tips to share on improving it. The recipe is that good. But I will encourage you to continue looking for ways to use up ingredients in your refrigerator. I used 3/4 of milk to make roughly 12 pancakes, and the last 1/4 was used in my boyfriend’s coffee. It felt good to use every last drop of milk.

The Prodigal Baker?

Like most people taking covid seriously, I have binged numerous times from the comfort of my home. None of said binges have been detrimental to my health, unless you believe watching Netflix for 4 straight hours causes brain rot. Bingeing shows, movies, and youtube videos has helped keep me sane during insane times. It has also been a great way to avoid 2020’s greatest temptation – socializing outside. 

Who needs quality time with friends when you can watch “Last Week Tonight” re-runs? Not me. While going down that particular rabbit hole, I came across John Oliver’s discussion on food waste in America. In the episode, he revealed that Americans waste up to 40% of their food. 40%! I was shocked. That’s a lot of money being jettisoned into the garbage bin. How could people be that wasteful? However, the more I contemplated the figure, the more I believed it to be true. Why? I am embarrassed to admit that I, too, am a notorious food waster. 

I promise I’m not throwing away almost half my food, but I would toss at least some spoiled groceries every week prior to coronavirus. Instead of making and eating the contents of my refrigerator, I would opt for cafeteria food, fast food, or cave when friends invited me to share a meal at a local restaurant after work. When meal planning, I never factored in the number of days I might eat out. That is why I always had groceries that never made it to the kitchen table. 

Coronavirus has shed light on many societal issues, including food insecurity. People were rightly outraged after learning that farmers would rather let crops rot than redirect them to food banks when the supply chain was disrupted. It didn’t make economic sense for them even if the public was crying moral foul. Letters were sent to congressional members demanding the food supply chain be bolstered and modified to help the hungry and indigent. Food waste on a large scale is jarring and horrific, especially when many have lost jobs and are trying to stay afloat.

Although I was outrage by the farmers’ actions, it took John Oliver to make me realize that I was guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. I wanted to do better. But how?

Step one, surf youtube for tips and tricks to elongate groceries’ shelf life. After perusing tips, I concluded the most helpful advice was to freeze food. 

The freezer is probably the most underutilized appliance in a kitchen. Since my roommate is quarantining with her parents at home in Hawaii (lucky gal!), I make meals for one. It’s no fun to eat the same dish every day during the week. However, freezing some of the family pack chicken thighs, half of my homemade chili, and mirepoix has meant more variety of food during the week, prepared ingredients ready to turn into delicious meals, and great leftover options when the refrigerator is looking bare. 

Another thing I discovered is baked goods generally freeze well. My first trial run was freezing half a loaf of banana bread and a few slices of lime cake. After a few weeks, I decided that a slice of banana bread would pair well with my morning coffee. I transferred a slice from the freezer to the refrigerator that evening. By morning, the serving tasted almost like it did the day it came out of the oven. God bless the freezer! I have even eaten a piece of lime cake straight from the freezer, relishing the cool treat on a hot summer day.

Frozen to fluffy biscuits

One of my favorite items to freeze is homemade biscuits. After making the NYTimes homemade biscuit dough (see previous post) and shaping them, I plopped them onto a parchment lined tray and freeze them for an hour. Once frozen, I transferred them into a ziplock bag and squeezed the air out before sealing the bag so they wouldn’t develop freezer burn over time. Whenever I feel like having a biscuit, I place one or two in the oven at 425 degrees for roughly 15 minutes until they’re golden brown. They still rise beautifully! They also taste heavenly, especially smothered in honey. Part of the reason why they taste so good is that I didn’t waste a single biscuit! Since I can no longer easily pass out my extra baked goods to colleagues and friends, the freezer has come in handy.

I am actively working towards being a reformed prodigal baker. If you have any tips about food storage, please share below. Also, have you tried freezing cakes, cookies or dough? I’d love to know which items store well in the freezer. 

Homemade Pop-Tarts

In January, I sketched out the treats I wanted to make this year. Yes, sketched. I drew pictures of a coconut cake, lemon blueberry loaf and pop-tart among other things.

Baking Wish List

Pop-tarts have been calling me for a while. DC is home to Ted’s Bulletin, an upscale diner that’s known for its milkshakes and homemade pop-tarts. When I first walked into Ted’s for brunch years ago, I was drawn to the dessert counter in the waiting area. The pastry chefs would make pop-tarts behind a glass shield, so patrons could admire the freshly baked treats without accidentally contaminating them. (I have a deeper appreciation for splash shields in our covid-19 world!)

I always thought it would be fun to recreate this childhood go-to snack. So when the pandemic hit and DC essentially shutdown, I had the time to research recipes.

Sally’s Baking Addiction has a great, straightforward recipe. The key to a good pop-tart is the homemade pie crust. You need to have both butter and crisco to achieve the desired perfect, flaky crust. Once the dough is made and you’ve let it rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator before you can assemble the pop-tarts.

Roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles, brush an egg wash on half the rectangles, and add a tablespoon or two of your favorite jam. For my pop-tarts, I used strawberry jam. Place the other half of the rectangular dough on top of the jam and sandwich the pieces together by using a fork to crimp the edges. Use a sharp paring knife to add a few slits so air can escape while baking and then you’re ready for the oven.

IMG_5270As the pop-tarts bake, make the frosting by combining some milk, powder sugar, and a splash of vanilla. Once the pop-tarts have been removed from the oven and cooled, add the frosting. To make my pop-tarts more festive, I topped them with colorful sprinkles.

 

My quarantine partner and I immensely enjoyed these pop-tarts with our morning coffee.

If you make pop-tarts, please let me know how they turn out!

 

 

 

Everything Pretzels Are Everything!

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While perusing the Trader Joe’s spice section, I noticed a new product – Everything But the Bagel seasoning. I love everything bagels because the seasoning really enhances its taste, making them savory and salty. Although intrigued by the seasoning, I had no clue what I would use it for because I don’t have the desire to make bagels from scratch. But then it came to me – everything pretzels.

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Grocery stores sell thin everything pretzels, which are divine and the perfect cracker for scooping dip. Even though I never heard of everything soft pretzels, but they must be just as good as the regular ones, right?

I used my modified version of buttery soft pretzels from all recipes.com. (See previous post for the recipe). This time they came out with a better texture because I took my time to properly knead the dough and let it rise for about an hour and a half. Once rolled, shaped, and given a baking soda and warm water bath, they were ready for the seasoning. After sprinkling on a generous amount, I popped the pretzel dough in the over. Eight minutes later I had perfect soft pretzels with a light aroma of dried onion.

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Everything and cinnamon sugar soft pretzels

Of course I brought the pretzels to my colleagues. They loved them! I dipped my pretzel into beef chili, while others squirted on mustard or had it plain. Anyway we had it, these were the best everything pretzels ever!

 

Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin bread

When I think of quintessential fall flavors, four always come to mind  – apples, cinnamon, chocolate and, of course, pumpkin!

I have not always been a fan of pumpkin. It’s not that I disliked PSL (pumpkin spice lattes) or pumpkin pie, I just never chose it when given other options. However, I eventually fell for the ubiquitous fall treat. Even as I type this post, I’m sipping on pumpkin flavored coffee.

This week, I made pumpkin bread for my colleagues who love pumpkin flavored food and for those who are open to being pumpkin converts like me. Once Upon a Chef had a simply but seemingly flavorful pumpkin loaf recipe. I loved how it called for a whole can of pumpkin and a good helping of spices.

Following the recipe as written, I made the wet dough before pouring it into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Since the dough is roughly half pumpkin puree, I let it bake in the oven for roughly 75 minutes. I confirmed it was done with the toothpick check before taking it out of the oven to cool.

The bread had a vibrant burnt orange color, it was extremely moist, and smelled so yummy.

What’s your favorite fall treat?

 

Would You Like S’more?

When I first moved to DC, I distinctly remember being giddy about the gas stove in my new apartment. Why? I could make s’mores! In my first grocery haul, I made sure to include jumbo marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey’s chocolate bars. It was the best first snack to break in the stove.

Lately, I’ve been craving these sweet sandwiches. Instead of the traditional s’mores, I decided to make s’more brownies so I could share them with friends. It was my first time making them, and it was so easy to do. They were also ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS.

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Take any box brownie mix and prepare it according to the instructions. After baking the brownies, take them out of the oven. Turn the oven to broil and move the rack up towards the top shelf. Cover the brownies with about 2 cups of mini marshmallows. Then sprinkle crushed graham crackers and chocolate chips to give the topping color and a crunchy texture. Broil the dish for roughly 5 minutes or until the marshmallows are slightly toasted. Enjoy!

 

Talents Embraced & Chocolate Almond Biscotti

I recently joined a women’s bible study group, and we’ve been discussing Courageous Women of the Bible by LaTan Roland Murphy. Although I’m only three chapters into the book, I am consistently in awe by how Murphy puts the readers in biblical women’s shoes. I have a much deeper understanding of each woman’s trials and the courage they received from God to move forward.

“Do you have a talent you have been withholding: a beautiful voice, a servant heart, the gift of teaching, speaking, or writing? Whatever God has given you, give all of it back to Him as an act of worship.” This passage really spoke to me. How many of us fail to embrace our talents? I honestly feel that in many ways I’m squandering my gift. My pastries offer a chance for people to indulge in sweet treats; however, once they congregate around the plate of food, something much more important happens- people start conversing with one another. This is the primary reason why I love baking – it brings people together. For this reason, I want to bake regularly to encourage this fellowship among friends and colleagues.

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Now onto my latest bake – chocolate almond biscotti. After reading from the aforementioned book, I was inspired to make something new. Assessing what I had in stock, biscotti was the best choice.

I love having the crunchy cookie with a good cup of coffee in cafes, and I thought my colleagues would appreciate a similar experience.

The New York Times has a wonderful selection of recipes, and their chocolate biscotti caught my eye. I modified the recipes slightly to give more texture to the cookie. Instead of adding a teaspoon of espresso I added almond extract. Additionally, I tossed in about 1/2 cup chocolate chips and a little less than a 1/2 cup almond slices.

Since I finished making the dough around 8:30 pm, I stored it in a bowl with saran wrap in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, I formed the dough into two 1.5 inch wide logs and followed the baking instructions. Roughly 1.5 hours later I had beautiful biscotti that tasted similar to brownie brittle.

My colleagues were elated to have the delicious treats! They spent 10 minutes learning about each other’s weekends and joking around while nibbling on biscotti. Although it was just a small portion of their day, I like to think that they felt happier and had a stronger connection to one another afterwards.