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Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Having wi-fi on a bus is a rather awesome thing for someone who has to bus for more than an hour everyday to get to school. I used to pass my bus time with the timeless act of sleeping, the discovery of unbelievably terrible music on my iPod when I put it on shuffle, and trying to figure out the last couple clues for the crossword puzzle in my school’s daily paper. Now not only can I Facebook stalk my best friends (among other people), I can watch the latest episode of Castle, download the weekly free single from iTunes, and write in my little blog.

Blogging on a bus…I love the thought of that. The blogger on the bus. That’s me. Isn’t that snazzy?

So you probably want me to give you a full-fledged explanation about why it’s been so incredibly long since I blogged. A full two months…what in the world has Natalie been doing? I’ve been juggling classes, taking care of chickens at my college farm, being super enthusiastic for incoming freshmen during our welcoming weeks, welcoming foreign exchange students at a really awesome organization, declaring a major, having Criminal Minds marathons with a bag of my favorite cheese puffs (very productive, I know), and laughing so much. Wow. Not that great of an explanation, but I have more to say.

These past two months have been quite typical with the usual routine of school organizations, classes, and work, but something about them has made them the best two months of this year so far. It goes beyond that internal contentment I gloat with when I see my planner filling up and my days being structured towards my ambitions. For one, my music collection has expanded exponentially because of the amazing new music I’ve been able to listen to both through friends’ shared music libraries and the live events I’ve been going to. I’ve also embraced the beauty of unplanned lunch breaks that involve trampling crunchy leaves in the park and sipping eggnog lattes with one of my colleagues and friends M– as we watch the constant, yet strangely calming, activity on the streets along Lake Union. Lastly, I’ve smiled and waved at more strangers than I ever have before.

By “strangers”, I mean those people with whom you exchange fleeting glances because of a certain familiarity that you can’t quite put to reality or imagination. Was that person in my freshman literature class or am I mistaking her for someone else? Was that the guy with whom I had a random conversation about pulling on doors that say “push” the other day as we were both exiting the library? Those instances are so abundant on a college campus that I have decided that the best way to handle them is to simply smile at everyone who even looks vaguely familiar. That may result in you looking foolishly happy…but, hey, what’s wrong with that?

Although, I have to say, because of the great amount of activities I have filled my life with this quarter that have made me unbelievably happy, I have not been able to take as much time to catch up with many of the friends I cherish most dearly.

To V– and M–: You two were the most amazing study buddies and friends in Winter and Spring quarters. I don’t know how I would have managed to smile through all of that o-chem studying if it wasn’t for you guys.

To J–: Our insanely conflicting class/work/bus schedules seem to prevent us from seeing each other at any time besides microbio class. I want you to know that even if it’s only 5 minutes of conversation after microbio class, you still crack me up like you did when we were 13.

To A–: Our summer times spent sitting on the swing on your front porch or arm dancing at a music festival always make me laugh when I think about them. It’s too bad every month can’t be as amazing as our September was.

To my blog readers: the fact that you’re reading this makes me feel so adored. I adore you just as much.

So then, yes, life has been good. And to celebrate the beauty of Autumn, the excitement of a new month, and the dawning anticipation for the holiday season, I present to you…red wine chocolate cake.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake (From Smitten Kitchen)

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (179 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup (177 ml) red wine, any kind you like (I used a classic Merlot from my Dad)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (133 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (41 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (this is a great place for that fancy Vietnamese stuff you stashed away)

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.

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Blueberry Milk for an Epic End to Summer Break

Well, it’s that time of year when I suddenly realize that there are only three weeks left before a whole new academic year commences and I sort of have a mini panic attack. I start wondering why I didn’t spend more nights huddled around a bonfire with my closest friends laughing till our insides hurt or pushing each other around in shopping carts in the middle of a deserted parking lot (while hoping that the DeLorean time machine suddenly lands in 2011 from 1985).

I have this sort of  nagging feeling that I could have lived up this summer in a much more radical way than I did. Say “Aye” if you know what I’m talking about. Ugh, why bother, I can’t hear you anyways. But I’m sure there are some of you who are saying “aye” at the moment.

But, hey, three weeks. Who knows what could happen in three weeks? In our fast-moving world, things change. For instance, the whole world recently saw Lady Gaga wearing pants while performing last week (was that the first time that happened? It sure feels like it). Seriously, Lady Gaga wearing pants? Did not see that coming.

So this is going to be an epic three weeks. Let’s do this.

As the Mad Hatter would say, your dear blogger Natalie is about to regain her “much-ness”.

So care less and be careless. Lie on the grass and stare mindlessly at the ever-changing clouds. Eat a mind-bogglingly delicious peach and let the juice dribble down your chin. Hop on random buses just because you see pretty people sitting on there and see where you end up. Spin around in a swivel chair till you’re dizzy while listening to this. Buy an overpriced, overly-caloric frappuccino and enjoy every sip of it. You get the gist, right? Do everything to make an unknowing onlooker question your sanity/normality and laugh at the people who give you strange looks because they’ve clearly never enjoyed the indescribable bliss that comes from being so childishly careless.

And this is a really short blog post…okay time for some music. Here’s one of my favorite love songs of all time with high relevance to one of my best friends K–‘s life at the moment. I’m so happy for you, K–! And with that, I log out and await the coming of Friday (…Friday, gotta get down on Friday…okay no, that reference is way overused to the point that I want to slap myself for using it now).

Toodles!

Blueberry Milk (From Pass the Sushi)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 3-4 teas sugar, depending on how sweet you like
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk (per glass)

Preparation:

In a small saucepan, bring water, sugar, and blueberries to a boil over medium heat. Boil continuously for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Strain mixture into a bowl or measuring cup through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing the berries to release all liquid.

Refrigerate syrup until cold. Set out glasses on counter, and place 2 teaspoons syrup in the bottom of each glass. Add 1/2 cup cold milk to each glass, stir and watch your milk become a pale shade of violet deliciousness.

The Wise Words of Natalie (And Summery Fruit Cake)

Having lived for a relatively extended period of time on this planet already (or so it feels), I feel that it is my duty as a human being to share with the world some tidbits of wisdom that I have gained from being a human in the late 20th/early 21st century.

First, never leave a CD drive open and jutting awkwardly out of your computer. Because while you may think that you only need to get up for less than a minute and retrieve the next CD to import into your iTunes library, fate/supernatural forces will have it so that you move your legs/arms/head in a sudden motion and break your CD drive. You will then be in a state of eternal lamentation until the CD drive is repaired and your inner music addict is no longer suffering from withdrawal. Okay? That’s lesson 1. Trust me, supernatural forces definitely exist when it comes to messing electronics up.

Lesson two: we are all foolish people, so don’t be afraid of foolishness. Even if a hundred unkind souls are snickering at you, you can bet there’s going to be that 101st awesome person who’s thinking “I’ve totally done something just as foolish” or “How sweet/cute/charming/adorable!”. So go out and be fools because that is better than becoming an unpleasant person in the process of avoiding foolishness. In the long run, the people who you’ll really like are people who appreciate your foolish side anyways.

Lesson three:  stop analyzing text messages. While Faulkner and Tolstoy may have mastered the art of generating “read between the lines” exercises for readers, most ordinary people (i.e. the person whose text messages you’re analyzing) are not quite as skilled in creating those sorts of exercises. So, gals (you know who you are), there is no hidden message in that text. Stop worrying about the lack of a smiley face, which could only mean that someone’s thumbs were too lazy to reach for a colon and parenthesis (ee cummings’s lack of punctuation could be a different story).

Lesson four: never assume the worst. Think of a smile as an expression of friendliness and not pity. Assume that a lack of response is a side effect of being busy and not avoidance. Think of being smiled/winked at by strangers as proof of just how adorable you are. Think of tripping on the sidewalk as a lesson that 1) you should stop texting while walking, 2) you should stop wearing 5-inch stilettos, and/or 3) even if you’re too busy staring at that cute guy on the other side of the street, please continue using peripheral vision, but NEVER think of that as proof that you are a clumsy, awkward person.

Have I enlightened you? Good. That was the point of this post. And now…the recipe. Summery Fruit Cake. MM MM!

Something to always remind me just how beautiful Seattle is.

Summery Fruit Cake (From Happy Home Baking)

Ingredients:

100g butter, soften at room temperature
200g caster sugar (I cut down to180g)
50g sour cream (I replaced with same amount of low fat yogurt)
3 eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
210g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
500g fruits* tossed with 2 tablespoon sugar*
(You can use strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, pineapple, or any other fruits that are not too juicy. I omitted the sugar and used as much fruits, either fresh or canned, as needed to fill the top of the cake)

Method:

  1. Wash, cut (chunks or slices, as desired) and drain fruits, toss with sugar (if desired) and set aside. (if using canned fruits, wash the fruits to remove the syrup, omit the sugar).
  2. Grease (with butter) and flour the side of a 9″ round pan or a 8″ square pan and line the base with parchment paper.
  3. With an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and sour cream (or yogurt) till light and fluffy.
  4. Dribble in the eggs gradually and beat till incorporated in the batter. (The mixture may appear slightly curdled.)
  5. Add vanilla extract and zest. Mix to combine.
  6. Sieve over flour and baking powder and mix till smooth. (To avoid getting flour all over my work surface, I mixed the flour into the batter using a spatula, just a few strokes will do, then I used the electric mixer to mix the batter till smooth.)
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.
  8. Arrange fruits on top, don’t press the fruits down into the batter. Decorate the fruits as desired.
  9. Bake in pre-heat oven at 180degC for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake. Cover the top with foil in the last 15 mins of baking to prevent the top from getting over browned.
  10. Leave the cake to cool in the pan for about 5~10 mins. Unmold and transfer to wire rack to let cool completely. Dust the cake with some icing sugar if desired.

Mixed Berry Boy Bait and a Semi-Annual Reflection

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Truth: I actually made this just so I could tell my friends “I have boy bait” and they would go “Oh do you? Ha ha” and I would go “No, I’m serious” and let the anticipation build and then break the silence by saying, “Mixed berry boy bait!”.

I didn’t make that name up–the cake’s name is “boy bait”. So I know you’re wondering just how many boys this cake brought to my yard (I am chuckling to myself because I just semi-quoted that song.) Here comes truth #2:

Uh…does my dog count? I seriously baked a cake called “boy bait” but sat at home and ate it with my dog while having an O.C. marathon and wearing gym clothes. So no boys came to the yard. Sorry to disappoint you.

And me, well, I was very content eating that cake with my pug. I think one of the seniors at the assisted living community where I volunteer once jokingly told me that the best part of being single was being able to eat the “Tiramisu for Two” at a restaurant all by yourself. I have to admit I see the truth in that statement.

Anyways, it’s July 7. July fricking seventh. We are halfway (plus one week) through 2011. Wait…what? Halfway? How the @#$% did that happen? I was just sitting here writing about boy bait when I came to this shocking revelation.

So here you have…my little semi-annual reflection of everything that has happened that is memorable in this half-year. Some of the most striking memories were the late nights I spent at the undergraduate library with my friends and study buddies. I know library time probably seems like the most unexciting thing to remember in a half-year, but remembering what happened there just makes me smile.

Like that night when my friend S– and I had only one energy drink, but became so energetic while studying human reproduction for biology that we made great fools of ourselves. And how my friend J– was so obsessed with playing Tetris, he had to take Tetris breaks during our study sessions. And how much laughter can be shared with a group of sleep-deprived, caffeine-dependent students during finals week.

What else? Let’s resort to bullet points (since those are my thing):

  • I developed a severe tank tan from the numerous hours I spent in the Quad ever since the sentence “Today will be a sunny spring day” was first uttered on a Seattle weather forecast this year.
  • I finished the organic chemistry series.
  • I fell in love with froyo.
  • I also fell in love with late night runs. So yeah I’m the person running like crazy down the street at 11 pm.
  • I performed at a Grieg Piano Concert.
  • I got bangs. And no pics unless you ask.
  • I dissected chick embryos and cat testes (probably not the best thing to put on a food blog so don’t read it if you don’t want to lose your appetite)
  • It became a habit of mine to take over classrooms during the weekends and plug my iPod into the speakers so I could have a room swirling with music while I studied.
  • I went to a theme park with some of my friends and went on all the upside-down rides that I was too scared to go on when I was in middle school and consequently befriended some of the gutsy 5th graders who went on the rides with us.
  • I got elected to be Secretary at the UW Cuisine Club for the 2011-2012 school year.
  • I rode the bus to more random places in the Seattle area than I have ever done before.
  • I started listening to alternative rock and consequently fell in love with The Airborne Toxic Event (they are my favorite band at the moment).
  • I found a new favorite coffee shop to get my morning lattes from.
  • I started shadowing physicians this year and learned more about the field of medicine than I have ever learned.
  • I set off a sparkler for the first time on the 4th of July. My friend S– also set off a sparkler and almost dropped the sparks on a woman’s hair. As hilarious as it might have been embarrassing.

Come to think about it…I guess it makes sense that more than half of 2011 is over already. What have you done this past half year?

Mixed Berry Boy Bait (Adapted from Une Gamine Dans La Cuisine)

Cake ingredients
2 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
16 tablespoons (that’s 2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup of fresh berries (strawberries, cleaned and sliced, and blueberries, lightly washed)

Topping ingredients
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup of fresh berries

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 13 by 9-inch pan with foil. Grease and flour the entire pan, gently tapping out any excess flour.In a large bowl, whisk two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.

With electric mixer, or in a stand mixer (using the paddle attachment), beat the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl.
Reduce speed to medium and beat in one-third of flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of milk. Beat in half of remaining flour mixture, then remaining milk, and finally remaining flour mixture. Set aside.

In another bowl, toss the berries with remaining 2 teaspoons of flour. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in the berries. Spread the batter evenly into prepared pan. Set aside

Prepare the topping: In a medium bowl, and using your fingertips, rub the sugar and lime zest together until it becomes moist and fragrant.

Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of berries evenly over the top of the cake batter, followed by the lime-sugar mixture. [Note: I found it easier to sprinkle the sugar over the cake by using my fingers.]

Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean (try to avoid running it through a berry). Cool in pan 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter (topping side up).

Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with ice cream!

The Show Goes On

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I have a summer cold. Yes, I was legitimately walking around sniffling in 70-something degree weather. And instead of popsicles, I’m sucking on cough drops. And I am that nose-blower in the library. I dislike summer colds. To make matters worse, the guy next to me is listening to Ke$ha’s “Blow” so loudly I can hear it through his earphones and through the music blasting from my earphones. Blo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow. Yeah, dude, not everyone here needs to hear that.  For one, Lupe Fiasco needs his space in my head.

So I basically don’t know any of Lupe’s songs besides this one (stop judging me, I am putting in honest effort to broaden my musical horizons, okay?), but his song “The Show Goes On” is sort of my personal anthem right now. This is “that song”. The song I listen to every night before falling asleep, the song I wake up to, and the song that I listen to when I walk to work. It’s an inspiring song that everyone should listen to.

I am way too hooked on this song (I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve pressed the replay button). Time to go on shuffle, iPod!

Fast forward a few hours. I am now sitting on my front lawn watching the unimpressive sunset through the gray clouds that Seattle always seems to have an excess of (by the time I publish this, it’ll probably be nighttime already). What am I hearing? Wind, bees, and Muse. “Resistance” has some sort of eerie quality that seems to bring me to tears every single time I hear it. Oh and the guys from the cul-de-sac who like to zoom through the neighborhood in their Range Rover. Vroom.

And bees again. Being the un-botanist I am, I am unable to identify that shrub with proliferating bright pink flowers that is attracting bees from every hive within a one-mile radius (or so it seems). But the bees are kindly people who go along their own ways, collecting pollen and such, and don’t bother stinging a Big Friendly Giant like myself. Thanks, bees! Much appreciated.

Ah..wind chimes. But where are the lawn mowers that I wake up to? And the noisy children running around drawing chalk hopscotch on my driveway? Switching songs. Time for “Dreams” by Cranberries. Remember that song from “You’ve Got Mail”? And if you are going to sit there and tell me you have not watched “You’ve Got Mail”, I will force feed it to you and consequently infiltrate your mind with that song on replay. And then you will envy Meg Ryan with me and drool over her adorable smile and those twinkly blue eyes.

Wow I am the queen of digression. Summer colds to Lupe Fiasco to Meg Ryan’s eyes. I can’t believe my readers (aka you) put up with this. Now the good part…the recipe.

Majestic and Moist Honey Cake
From Smitten Kitchen

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup rye or whiskey
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

Fits in three loaf pans, two 9-inch square or round cake pans, one 9 or 10 inch tube or bundt cake pan, or one 9 by 13 inch sheet cake. I made mine in two full-size loaf pans plus two miniature ones.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. For tube or angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, orange juice and rye or whiskey, if using. (If you measure your oil before the honey, it will be easier to get all of the honey out.)

Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds, if using. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets, stacked together (this will ensure the cakes bake properly with the bottom baking faster than the cake interior and top).

Bake until cake tests done, that is, it springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, this will take 60 to 75 minutes, loaf cakes, about 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet style cakes, baking time is 40 to 45 minutes.

Let cake stand fifteen minutes before removing from pan.

I Am Terrible

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I can’t believe I still haven’t blogged yet.

What is my life?

Wait, I can answer that. It’s finals week.

Still….I am terrible. And I am terribly sorry and I terribly hope that you will forgive my terrible-ness.

Writer’s Block and Old-Fashioned Beer Bread

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I feel like a terrible person. Terrible person being one of those people who leaves Phad Thai stains and French fry grease on the library desk only to have me plop my book down and end up with a disgustingly greasy back cover, or one of those friends of friends who you don’t know very well but whom you share your Sun Chips with while sitting in the Quad, only to have her grab the entire bag and munch away at it in an unpleasantly greedy manner.

Yes, I feel like a terrible person because I have been unfair to my lovely blog readers by hardly ever blogging. What is up with me, right? Two words: writer’s block.

I have the pictures! And the recipes! Just no inspiration to write. And I check my blog stats everyday and see that so many people continue reading my blog, which makes me the uncommitted, constantly-flaking person in my relationship with my readers. That just stinks. I don’t want to be that person and you, my dear readers, don’t want to deal with that person, so I come back from my bout of writer’s block with a proposal:

IT’S TIME TO REVAMP OUR RELATIONSHIP.

I will be a loyal blogger (besides when it is finals week, in which case you will have to put up with my flaking) and will no longer leave you hanging. Let’s start now, shall we?

I just shared a miraculously smile-generating love song with you. See? Revamping in progress. In addition, I baked beer bread. Hot and homemade and amazing. I used a classic Budweiser lager and will probably experiment with another type next time, but the result this time was perfect (great texture, color, and taste).

The best part? It’s a quick bread. No yeast. No waiting. What madness!

See? This is the lovely recipe that I have chosen to make my comeback with. If you don’t feel loved right now…I am going to feel dejected.

Yikes. This post is short. I am a recuperating “writer’s block”-ic (that doesn’t even make sense). Bear with me.

Old-Fashioned Beer Bread (From Three Many Cooks)

Serves 12

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 bottle or can (12 ounces) beer
1 egg, beaten

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add beer (no sips!) and stir with a fork until just combined. Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead quickly to form a ball. Place bread on a baking sheet and confidently slit an X on top with a serrated or very sharp knife. Brush loaf with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve!