adventures

I am in catch up mode because I have some blog posts to write about MY AMAZING TWO WEEK TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA FROM NOVEMBER 13TO TO 28TH HOLY COW IT IS THE COOLEST THERE THE BEST.

But I have over 1000 photos to properly sort and brilliant text to write.

So I will first recount some fun activities prior to that trip which I also do not want to forget.

I now always refer to Colton and James as “my husband and his boyfriend” and oooooh how it makes me laugh.

We went to Smith Street Diner in Greensboro, midway between me in Chapel Hill and Coltie in Winston Salem. (James was visiting for the weekend). Smith Street Diner is SO good and SO cheap. So we all opted, along with the $4.95 breakfast combo, to go for it and each get a side of a giant pancake for an additional 95 cents. IT WAS WONDERFUL.

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Speaking of friends and brunch, I hosted a ladies brunch for my lovely friend Lesli’s birthday.

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I served:

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Another weekend, some lady friends and I went to the reliably amazing Designer Consigners sale in Cary. It’s a twice yearly event where one can purchase items from J Crew etc. that are used but in perfect condition and sold at a v. considerable discount. And it is sooo well organized and things are so well labeled and like a solid 25% of my professional wardrobe is from there.

Then, because we are already in Cary, we have to go get brunch at La Farm, because it is incredz.

I was honestly aghast when I ordered french onion soup and this arrived.

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Like… the entire top of the bowl is supposed to be one large cheese and bread explosion.

That said, the broth was DE-LISH, as was the (still too small) bread and cheese involved. So.

I got some additional goodies from La Farm to go and brought them to Coltie to hang out in Winston Salem for the night. These were:

  • A pear and almond tart
  • a strawberry poppy seed meringue
  • a chocolate pretzel macaron

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That night in Winston Colton tried to make me watch Gay Best Friend which is a truly horrible fake high school movie. And then at a certain point I had to make it stop and we watched the West Wing instead.

Another weekend and even more sugar- I was invited to tailgate with Kyle and Shaylen and Kyle’s law school bros (seriously it was all men hahaha. They stood around in a cluster playing cornhole and talking about jury trials. Shaylen and I gossiped. It was a real cliche).

I cannot show up to anything empty handed so I made Smitten Kitchen’s salted chocolate chunk cookies. Magnificent. And so quick to execute!

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Another pre-Halloween weekend, I went with Emily to see Hocus Pocus (!!) which was showing at the Carolina Theater as part of their Halloween movie festival. The movie HELD UP- young Thora Birch is just delightful. And some of the people who attended dressed up, which was adorable.

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More Halloween festivities… my friends held their annual pumpkin carving party and I made this cute thing! Of course I wanted a template that involved a kitty cat.

As usual, the deer destroyed it, but at least they let me display it for a couple of days. They’re such dicks, though… they take a bit out of its face and then spit it out next to it. YOU DON’T LIKE PUMPKIN. WE BOTH NOW THAT NOW. SO STOP EATING MY PUMPKIN EACH YEAR THINKING YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR MIND.

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Oh also we had a bunch of hurricanes.

Florence was REAL hyped up and then rather abruptly at the last minute she seemed to essentially detour around the Triangle of North Carolina. We got so, so lucky when so many people did not.

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The memes were pretty strong throughout the crisis.

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Also MY OLD FRIEND FROM SUMMER CAMP WENT VIRAL. She went to pick up some shelter doggos to shelter for the weekend and took a pic and THE REST IS HISTORY.

Also it is nice to see people be good.

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The day Flo came in I took a morning walk and parked my car in the gym parking lot (so as to avoid any of my neighborhood’s numerous trees falling on it).

And then… my friend Emily just drove over in her Jeep in the middle of the storm?! And we ate pizza and salad and drank La Croix and watched scary movies?! RIDIC.

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And then the next day everything was still fine but I felt like I’d maxed out my nervous system pre-stressing about the storm so I comforted myself with comfort food. Aka had a reuben for the first time in… 10 years? It was obviously delicious.

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Also when you are anxious about bad weather and get very stressed maybe it is not the smartest thing to choose to purchase this Ted Bundy book for your hurricane reading:

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Lola understood my anxiety.

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So after all that Florence was fine and then the relatively low key Hurricane Michael which no one freaked out about that much… knocked out my neighborhood’s power for a couple of days. Go figure.

For some reason my gym had power (apparently it is just my safe space now?) so I went there and took a yoga class as I charged my phone. Then again I sought out comfort food in the form of a colossal sandwich:

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And that first power-less night I walked out into my yard and looked at more stars than I’ve seen in a really long time!

And then I heard a voice in the distance and started thinking about Ted Bundy and sprinted back inside.

Fortunately things had calmed down by midweek the following week because…

I SAW MY FAVORITE MURDER LIVE! You can listen to their hilarity for yourselves because it was the Durham show which they posted it as a podcast episode! (But if you don’t already listen to My Favorite Murder please understand that it is a comedy show yet is also about gruesome true crimes and is not for everyone haha).

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Being surrounded by other murderinos was v. exciting and in my same row there were two other fabulous ladies flying solo and we all shared our exciting hometown stories with each other.

More work things… The clinic continues to be awesome and super extra about celebrating people’s big life events. The nurse practitioner had her baby shower and they went all out on decorating.

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This sign in particular cracked me up.

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My organization also held our fall retreat. It was pretty cute. I always wish there could be a happy medium between the soul crushing reality that can be our day-to-day (fighting our crappy new software system, dealing with the drama of our patients’ very difficult lives) versus the superficial games that have nothing to do with patient care that were all we did at the retreat… but whatever. I’m not in management. (THANK GOD).

There was a very large dessert table- I opted for one of these cupcakes, one because the decorations were amazing and two because they looked homemade.

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One of the activities was making pumpkin emojis (…) and these were some of my favorites.

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But anyway, I have to brag about BY FAR my greatest professional accomplishment to date which occurred at the retreat:

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Now, to be clear, this says “Winning Team”, but the hula hoop challenge had single competitors… and I CRUSHED IT. I don’t know what it is, because I am far from an athlete… but it is like my body was made by God to hula hoop. I can easily do it for 40 minutes at a time. The balance is not difficult, the motion is not difficult, I can zone out and just hula hoop and hula hoop and hula hoop. It’s great. So I, ILEANA, rocked the hula hoop competition. There was no team effort.

Actually, the dietitians as individuals did EXCEPTIONALLY WELL. There were two of us in this retreat of more than 100 people and I won hula hoop and Chelsea was on the two person team that won cornhole. So. DIETITIANS REPRESENT.

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Shortly thereafter I hadn’t seen my mom in awhile, work was kicking my booty, and I had to pick up a suitcase at home for my South Africa trip (!!) So what that led to was me deciding at about 7pm on a Friday to go home and see my mother… and leaving like 15 minutes later and driving the 4+ hours to DC. I am rarely spontaneous but it was really really great. I got in quality time with my mom, who very sweetly stayed up til midnight on Friday to wait for me so we could visit together and gab about life.

AND, and I got in quality time with pho. I had felt a cold coming on and this nipped it in the bud. I love North Carolina but the pho here just does not measure up to Northern Virginia.

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Sheila was also very pleased to see me. In this photo I am wearing a workout top because I had good faith intentions to go to the gym. But… who is going to turn down a cuddle with this sweet little ginger cat?! Once I’d petted her for, yknow, half an hour or so and she was finally sort of satisfied, I gave up on going to the gym and just took a long walk in the park. Which was v. nice.

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Every time I have gone home in the past I’ve been all “Ugh, this is a real house with central heating and air conditioning and proper walls and proper doors and no random holes in it and a bathtub that isn’t covered in orange rust stains that are resistant to a magic eraser and it doesn’t have a washer in the bathroom and a dryer in the kitchen and I don’t have to duct tape the bathroom door so it’s always unlocked and can be pushed open, because otherwise everyone gets trapped inside the bathroom every time they shut the door” and so on. BUT. In fact, my personal home has had recent CONSIDERABLE improvement. First of all I found this fabulous chair at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for $60. Lola has taken it as her own and loves it.

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But bigger things have also been afoot! In short:

  • We signed our lease this summer
  • Our (sketchy) landlady almost immediately sold the duplex
  • The new owners, instead of renting out the other half of our duplex, renovated the @*#& out of it. It was loud. And exciting things would happen like our heat would suddenly be going full blast in the middle of August and the only way to stop it was to figure out which switch on the circuit breaker controlled it.
  • We were informed as they began this plan that they hoped we would move in to the newly renovated side so they could renovate our side, and we were like “Yep, sounds great, as long as we keep paying the same amount!”
  • We got this @#@#)%* email out of nowhere

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  • I sent the following response to this (@#%&(@# email:

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  • We negotiated. My landlord referred to me as combative. I wanted to punch him in the nads. Fortunately my roommate stepped in and was good cop and did it beautifully and we came to a reasonable agreement with only a slight rent increase.
  • We moved into the other side and it is REAL HECKIN FANCY! Basically looks like HGTV threw up on it. For example, this is the new shower/tub:

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Having something pretty waiting for me at the end of the line was good, since moving is the worst, even when one is moving next door!

Fortunately I got some laughs in the exhausting process of cleaning out every inch of the old place… because getting behind and under the stove/refrigerator/washer/dryer resulted in my finding a certain someone’s stash of hidden hair ties:

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Okay now we are roughly caught up on my pre-Africa life. Chronicles of my THRILLING TRAVELS are soon to come!

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30

Oh hello yes I am 30 now.

It is weird.

I thought I should reflect on all the years of my twenties and have all these insights about what I learned about myself and then I just… didn’t hahaha.

Myra and Alex and their bb took me to brunch! It was great! Kipos, which I’ve long loved, does brunch now!

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Fauna is super interactive and yell-y now it’s the best. Also featured in this picture is the app we split, hot delicious pita with a trio of dips- fava bean, lebneh, and melitzanasalata (eggplant dip)

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For the main event I got lemon ricotta pancakes 😍 I went through a real dumb phase where I was trying to make pancakes with protein and whole grains and stupid nonsense and guys. No. Pancakes are cakes made in a griddle. Don’t fight it. Let them be light, fluffy, crispy-edged, sweet cake.

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Myra got the french toast and I had to take a picture of it. It was essentially sandwiched with walnutty baklava filling. And then topped with several cups of whipped cream. She is a nursing mother and had no problems taking this down.

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After brunch my sister came to town and whisked me away. We went to Lucette Grace and got all the lovely pastries:

  • bourbon pecan caramels 😍
  • macarons in fig and tiramisu flavors 😍
  • Two cakeys, one chocolate and hazelnut that tasted like a Ferrero Rocher, and one that involved apples, pears, and pecan cream 😍

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We picknicked on them in a field, listening to nostalgic music and putting on temporary tattoos. Can you even think of a better outing?!

We had a little slumber party that evening and then went to brunch the next day at Acme. We split the crab and cream cheese omelet (I MEAN) and the pumpkin french toast baked in an individual tureen (CAN YOU EVEN).

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And then, since my birthday hadn’t done quite enough to fatten me up for winter, my friends cooked me dinner that night!

Kyle was slaving away over a hot stove.

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Whilst Colton kept his eyes on the cheese tray hahaha.

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Colton brought me birthday socks HAHAHAHA.

So tangent: Coltie was a Mormon missionary (!) in Germany for two years so he knows a lot of German and knows a variety of weird German traditions. Apparently when someone is still unwed on their 30th birthday (…) they are referred to as “alte Socke”, or, “old sock.” And that someone’s friends buys them socks as an amusing gift.

Kyle and Shaylen spoiled us rotten and made us a FEAST of arepas and a variety of incredibly delicious trimmings. K+S lived in New Haven while Shaylen went to grad school at Yale and grew terribly fond of a local arepas establishment and so sought out to recreate their dishes.

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So along with Spanish rice (with lots of yummy tomatoes and olives and sazon and beans and loveliness) and salad and plantains (!!) I had a big ol’ arepa topped with a gazillion toppings: black beans, sauteed vegetables, sour cream, queso blanco, guacamole, pico de gallo, etc. etc.

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Magificent.

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And thennnnn because K+S just got The Cake Bible, Kyle made me a duh-licious chocolate and almond cake. It was very glamorous and rich and delicious. And Shaylen found CANDLES WHERE THE FLAME IS THE COLOR OF THE CANDLE WONDERS NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME.

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It was a very festive few days and though birthdays are kind of gross when you’re weird about celebrating them as an adult, it’s also so so lovely getting warmth and kindness from your people.

workdays

I haven’t posted in awhile… and I haven’t posted about work in awhile… and it’s in part because work low key took over my life for a bit.

Something I’ve been focusing on recently is my INTENSE desire for control and OVERDEVELOPED sense of responsibility. These things show up in a variety of ways in my life (for example, on October 21st as I write this I’m already having some nice late night pre-anxiety about getting on a plane on November 13th). However they’ve been more noteworthy at work.

It doesn’t help that dietitians as a profession are not especially *got* by other health professionals. In my organization, if you are a nurse, or a behavioral health clinician (MSW, LPC, etc.) you can go far. If you’re a dietitian… no one is quite sure what to do with you hahaha.

So I could ramble a great deal about uncertainty, and about putting a great deal of mental energy into keeping my nutrition turf and making sure people who aren’t nutrition professionals aren’t going around giving sh***y nutrition advice… but that’s a boring blog post.

And I could talk about my patients and how they always get me right in the feels… but that’s a HIPAA violation.

I will tell you that morale has been… mixed at work.

A highlight was definitely this baby shower, for Stephanie, a pharmacy tech who is so capable and helpful and whom everyone loves.

Can you even with the baby foot shaped sandwiches?!

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Another event intended to be morale boosting was this chili cookoff… however…

So for brief context, my larger office is sort of this Frankenstein-ian creation where they brought together a bunch of organizations doing sort of similar care management things and then threw a bunch of presentations at us and made us jump through various hoops in electronic medical records… and, for those of us foolhardy enough to volunteer to help with program design in bringing all this stuff together, drowned us in committee meetings.

So they try to do this stuff to facilitate bonding between all these different groups of people… but then scheduled this bonding event on a day when like two dozen people had mandatory full day training and thus couldn’t attend it. It wasn’t the savviest.

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But good HEAVENS, look at this dessert table! For a bunch of people who work in health care hahahaha. I went ham on those smores bars.

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A part of my job that I neeeever complain about is my times spent at the clinic on Fridays. The clinic is where a lot of Duke medical residents do their training and in doing so they are supported by a staff of some of the funnest, most creative, most compassionate people I know.

They had a hi-larious Kentucky Derby hat competition.

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Jan the social worker was a shoo-in for best horse themed hat.

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At the clinic they also go ALL OUT on bridal showers. Note the rose petals scattered all over the breakroom floor!

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Since I’ve had an absurd amount of meetings lately and have just generally been stressed I’ve probably treated myself to lunch out in Durham more than is terribly prudent.

But. Zenfish has UH-MAZING poke bowls.

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And Monuts has this lovely plate where you get a quiche of the day (this one was potato, rosemary, cherry tomato, and goat cheese and it was so good I wanted to cry) and the most lovely fresh snappy salad with a perfect french style vinaigrette. And of course I get some stupid fancy coffee too because I love caffeine and am addicted to it.

And lo, it is good.

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The other dietitian at my office and I try to maintain a network with other dietitians who are also providing care management services to Medicaid patients in other counties.

I want to impress upon you that it is not just me… dietitians eat! We love eating! Sometimes we go out and get tasty pizza (and yes we had it with salad but the salad had blueberries and goat cheese and nuts and all the wonderful things in this world).

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And other times we do potlucks and yes there are various take out containers of veggies from Whole Foods but there is also lemon poppy seed bread and (my contribution) mini apple goat cheese tomato tarts.

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Finally, I, my organization’s other dietitian, Chelsea, and a diet tech (diet techs work with dietitians and have much of the same educational background) have formed a little group. Becka, the diet tech, was part of another organization that was part of the big pulling together that happened, and I have genuinely adored getting to know her. So this Frankenstein combining of organizations definitely hasn’t been all bad!

Chelsea, Becka and I meet monthly, call ourselves the “Nutrition Department” (lololol fully self titled and unofficial), and eat a lot of food and talk about our brilliant plans to make the world awesomer.

 

Once we did so whilst eating tasty panini- this one a classic tomato basil pesto.

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Another day we went for it and got burgers! Our one nod to nutrition was that we split just one order of fries lololol.

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And finally, Becka is actually now jumping ship for another organization, but prior to her departure we had a lovely evening celebrating various fall birthdays (including mine!) and gallivanting around Durham.

We began at 21C, an art hotel that is really cool and I plan to explore further. There along with some beverages we got this extremely architectural sweet potato chip… experience.

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And then we went to Toast and I got what I always got- soup (this one potato-leek and just lovely), and three different kinds of crostini (wild mushroom and pistachio pesto, smashed avocado and parmesan, and goat cheese and beet).

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Finally, it’s always nice to step out of my bubble and learn about cool organizations doing cool nutrition things.

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  • Interfaith Food Shuttle. It’s where the I got the VERY gourmet lunch pictured above (herby grilled chicken salad with veggies and pepitas and sesame sticks and cilantro dressing and so on). That VERY gourmet lunch was in fact compiled of recovered food that would have otherwise gone to waste and/or food grown on their own urban farm. Many of the people who cooked that food have come up/are still coming up through a jobs training program for folks who are transitioning out of substance abuse treatment and or incarceration looking for a career. IFFS does all kinds of cool stuff, and one can also tour their facility and eat an (again, EXCELLENT) lunch.
  • Farmer Foodshare. Another organization that does lots of good helping! They support local farmers by providing a reliable market for their produce. They sell that produce at inexpensive bulk rates and/or donate it to community organizations who provide food to those in need. And, they have a biweekly community food share you can read about here. Because they are awesome and have awesome supporters, they got some donated food shares and somehow I ended up getting to nominate patients to get a biweekly box of healthy fruits, vegetables, and eggs from local farms… all for free! My patients have had LIFE CHANGING experiences just from having improved access to healthy food. For the record, poor people like healthy food! And the folks I’ve connected with this program have been just ecstatic about getting things like perfectly fresh lettuce. And food is good medicine for them, dealing as they are with lifelong health conditions like diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis… the list goes on and on.
  • Root Causes. Some extremely excellent med students started a food distribution (fresh produce+ some protein in the form of rice and beans) where patients can come and get these healthy foods AT THEIR MEDICAL PROVIDER’S OFFICE! Not only is it great so that doctors and nurses and so on can give nutrition advice and then actually have nutritious food free and available right around the corner… this also deals with the transportation barrier that so many of my patients deal with! Transportation is NO JOKE. Medicaid does have some transportation to medical appointments for some of my folks but Medicaid transport doesn’t take anyone to the grocery store. And the bus isn’t always a realistic option for my folks who are disabled. But now, again, THEY CAN GET HEALTHY FOOD WHILE THEY’RE AT THE DOCTOR’S! Ugh I just love it.
    These med students are the freaking cutest- the fact that they are so early on in their medical education and already recognize how much value there is in making healthy food affordable and accessible to low-income patients managing chronic diseases… gives me a lot of optimism about the next generation of doctors!
  • Bull City Bucks. This program is public health at its freaking finest. “It is good to eat fruits and vegetables. Here is money to buy fruits and vegetables.”
    It is an unfortunate reality in our country that sometimes your choice is between buying junk food for cheap and actually being satisfied at the end of your meals and having enough food for the month (though that food may be ramen noodles and the like)… or buying fruits and vegetables for $$ and running out of your food stamps too soon and having yourself, your kids, etc. go hungry. This program helps stop that uncomfortable calculation.
    Also, no one is getting nutrition education shoved down their throats. (I do nutrition education but I only do so with people who have agreed to getting it and show interest in my services… I don’t hold anyone’s benefits hostage to do it… there are other public health programs that unfortunately don’t work that way). Also, no one is getting food that may be culturally unfamiliar to them. Folks can buy fresh, frozen, or canned foods (as long as there’s no added salt, sugar or fat). They can buy food at their community grocery store in their own neighborhood. Ugh I just love it.

Any cool organizations doing cool work in other spheres that I should know about? This should have you all caught up on the Piedmont, North Carolina food scene hahaha.

mini vacay

My mom came to see me several months ago for a long weekend around Labor Day. She is THE BEST and we had a smashing time.

She arrived on Thursday and I took her to my faaaavorite, restaurant, Gocciolina. We ordered a ridiculous amount because we wanted to try so much. We took home leftovers, I promise!

We started with glasses of pink wine, and bread with a chickpea spread.

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Melty olivey tomatoey goodness. SO good.
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App 2: nectarines (I think?) with ricotta (I think?) and pistachios.

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App 3: fried eggplant rounds with bleu cheese and fresh tomato. Like the classiest little twist on eggplant parm.
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Then it was the all important carbs course.

My mom chose this SMASHING shrimp and green onion risotto

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And I chose the gnocchi. We shared both. And honestly didn’t get that far because we knew we had more coming hahaha. These made DELICIOUS leftovers.

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Then some kind of EXTREMELY fresh and delicious flaky dreamy white fish with dreamy briny artichokes.

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Finally we each got a decaf espresso and split this panna cotta with a grape (I think?) reduction.

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GOCCIOLINA. YOU HAVE MY HEART.

The next day, Friday, we went to Wilmington for a day trip to the beach.

It makes my heart hurt to look at these pictures… I haven’t been back yet since the double whammy of hurricanes Florence and Michael. I still have friends in town from my internship there and I’ve heard some pretty insane stories from them. Ugh. Sending this town my love today.

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We went to my favorite of the beaches, quieter and emptier Fort Fisher.

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When we’d had too much sun we ducked into the aquarium for a quick visit. These frogs were snuggling! SO CUTE!

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Jellies are always my fave

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We spent the evening with my cousin who lives in Wilmington (<< that cousin and her fam stayed safe in the storms, as did their home, thank goodness!) and then drove back.

The route to Wilmington is about 2.5 hours each day which means… this was the trip on which I taught my mom about the joy of podcasts! And we listened to Dirty John all the way through on our beach drive and on various gallivants around town. It was great!

The next day, Saturday, we continued our No Meal Left Behind tour and ordered about half the items at Mediterranean Deli (again, I got lots of leftovers. By the end of the trip I think my mom was just wanting my fridge to be stocked with several days worth of meals in leftovers. If so her mission was successful).

Going around this plate from the 3:00 that’s:

  • kibbe
  • stuffed tomato with beef (this was the BESSST)
  • artichoke dip
  • fennel, grape, and orange salad
  • baba ghanouj pita
  • spinach pie
  • lamb pita
  • along with tzaziki on the side

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Then that night, I opted to cook for my mom and Kyle and Shaylen, two of my bestest pals. I made:

  • tomato avocado salad
  • roasted tempeh (Shaylen’s a vegetarian, and also I really sort of love tempeh)
  • corn and basil cakes
  • steamed green beans with hazelnuts and lemon

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There was also a cheese plate to kick off the meal (of course) and some homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream to end it. Delicious!

Sunday we popped into Weaver Street Market for some midday kombucha and enjoyed the strains of their weekly Jazz Brunch

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Then we were off to my cousin Sophia’s to celebrate her and her husband’s little boy Chase’s SECOND BIRTHDAY!

So Chase is IN.TO.TRUCKS. Like, his favorite book is a cripplingly dull account of how each individual truck driving individual contributes to the construction of the road. (“Then the asphalt gets laid down… then the asphalt gets rolled on with a roller… Then so and so comes in with their truck and does something else boring…”)

One of Sophia’s neighbors has a blossoming cupcake business and designed these UH-MAZING things using fondant.

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Can you even?!

The party was just right… lots of playing outside and kids and bubbles and dogs requesting belly rubs.

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And the birthday boy rocked his festive construction hat.

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And then my mom had to leave and it was laaaame.

I have lots to blog about so hopefully I’ll get on it soon?

wedding cakey

I MADE A WEDDING CAKE! FOR REALS! PLS ADMIRE MY TRIUMPH!

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And the general wedding splendor 🙂 When one makes the wedding cake, one also gets a backstage pass to all the wedding setup festivities. Prime twinkly light prep was taking when I took the photograph below.

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Let’s rewind. I have written a NOVEL about my process. It is as much for my records as yours. But I did learn a lot in this experience and perhaps you, dear reader, will benefit.

This process began when I spent 10,000 hours researching recipes/practicing recipes.

I admit I had a real ace up my sleeve in the form of my cousin Rachel, who just happens to have worked as a PASTRY CHEF. Most of the recipes and techniques I ended up using were hers. She’s the best.

It turns out that practicing recipes, and planning recipes for the actual making of this actual huge amount of cake, involved doing an exorbitant amount of math.

To scale the recipes my cousin gave me to various pan sizes, I did the calculations based on Smitten Kitchen’s advice, at the end of this blog post, to use surface area of the pan rather than batter volume. In other words, a 9 inch pan has an area of about 64 inches. Its radius is 4.5 inches, and you use pi r squared to get the area. WHO SAID YOU DON’T USE MATH IN REAL LIFE?! Meanwhile, a 12 inch pan has an area of about 113 inches. Let’s say I wanted to convert a recipe for a cake that fits in a nine inch pan to fitting in a 12 inch pan- I’d multiply each ingredient (preferably in ounces or grams) by 113/64. For eggs, you obviously just end up rounding up or down.

What I ended up making were three separate cakes: a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch. I came up with those numbers using the Wilton diagrams. I will say I actually only ended up making approximately 108 servings, per the guidance of the bride and groom, and I was distraught by that because there were 160 wedding guests. And though there was also pie, the thought of someone going away hungry for dessert was devastating to me. Well, friends, this was NOT a realistic concern. Lots of people don’t eat cake. The bride and groom now have a freezer full of it.

Okay so the aforementioned 6″, 9″ and 12″ cakes could’ve been stacked on each other, but my friends weren’t interested in that aesthetic. Frankly, thank God. The thought of stacking and doweling cakes makes me a bit lightheaded.

So, I had three separate cakes. But secretly, I had nine cakes, since each cake had three layers. Furthermore, each layer was cut in half and then filled with filling. So each cake, from the bottom up, went: cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing. As seen below!

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As for the recipes themselves, please note that my fancy pastry chef cousin’s recipes are sparse on details because she’s such a friggin fantastic baker that she doesn’t need to include much in her recipes. I’ve done my best to make notes below.

The recipes I used were:

  • Chocolate genoise:
    • For one 12 inch round pan: Whisk 8 eggs and 8.4 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch Then move to mixer and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together 6.4 oz flour and 1.2  oz cocoa powder. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour mix. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
    • I learned that the maximum capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer (standard size, not industrial size, which is what my pastry chef cousin has!) is 4 or 5 eggs’ worth of genoise. So, to make enough batter for one 12 inch cake layer, I had to do it in two batches.
  • Plain genoise
    • To make one 9 inch round pan, Whisk 4 eggs + 4.2 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch. Then move to mixer [Ileana note: I added about 1/2 teaspoon vanilla at this point] and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together just shy of 4 oz flour. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
  • Smitten Kitchen’s swiss buttercream
    • Note: a batch made with 5 sticks of butter (half her “big” recipe) maxed out the capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer.
    • To ice my three cakes- a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch diameter cake; each about 4-5 inches tall; each with icing between layers and icing around the diameter of the fillings; it took 1.5 “big” batches of the Smitten Kitchen swiss buttercream.
    • I have nothing to add to her instructions, which are invaluable. I had the exact same experience of flipping out that I was making frosting soup and then somehow it magically turns into icing after about 20 minutes of whipping. I also observed that the finished icing indeed has the texture of mayonnaise and indeed is wonderful to work with.
  • My fancy pastry chef cousin’s ganache “recipe”: measure equal amounts of bittersweet chocolate and cream. Heat up the cream (she uses a stove, I used the microwave). Mix them together with a whisk, leaving no lumps. Let them cool.
  • Strawberry filling which I cobbled together (initially I used a food network recipe for strawberry sauce but then that ended up being way too thin so I added a few bags of frozen strawberries and immersion blended it with that so it ended up being super concentrated strawberry bliss. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to recreate it, hahaha)

So I did all my cake math and successfully made all of those bad boys approximately 1-2 weeks in advance of the wedding, and they invaded my freezer:

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And then I thawed them in my fridge:

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And then I made my fillings and frostings.

And then,

then

it was assembly time.

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I’m not going to lie to you, this was the most intense part of the experience.

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Cutting cake layers in half is not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t help when you have crappy serrated knives (me). It doesn’t help when your cake layers are very large. It doesn’t help when you’re not particularly spatial. It is what it is. Do it, suck it up.

A key tip that I highly recommend is doing a perimeter of icing. That helps hold in the ganache (or whatever other filling) and keep it from spilling out and mucking up the outer layer of icing on the cake.

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When the assembly was done, each of the three separate cakes looked something like this:

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And then it was time for the crumb coat! My love of the crumb coat is discussed below and it is included in any cake tutorial worth its salt. Befriend the crumb coat, baker friends.

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Okay so those were the basic preliminary cake assembly steps. I think this is a good time for an interlude on essential supplies.

I made this list assuming at least a basic knowledge of baking- obviously you’ll need bowls and whisks and spatulas and all the normal baking things. But the things below are not necessarily mandatory for regular cake baking but are either extremely convenient or just absolutely essential for wedding cake baking.

  • Pasteurized egg whites, if one is using Swiss buttercream icing. Maybe the egg whites get hot enough in the double boiler, maybe they don’t. As a dietitian I know too much about food safety, and why chance it?! Plus it’s easier buying the packaged stuff than separating that many eggs.
  • Big cake pans, which I purchased at Michael’s craft store. Honestly I wish I had bought more pans because with my triple cake layers (to make tall cakes) I ended up making nine individual cakes- three six inch, three nine inch, and three twelve inch. I had two nine inch pans but only one six inch pan and only one twelve inch pan. I wish I had just sprung for extra pans.
  • Parchment paper for lining the cake pans. It removes 100% of the anxiety. In some of my test runs I didn’t do this and was also a bit impatient about taking the cake out of the pan maybe before it had cooled enough and dealt with cake breaking in half and making me really really angry. The parchment avoids this situation!
  • DIGITAL SCALE. Seriously large scale baking is impossible if you have to deal with measuring cups. Weights are the way to go. The difference is absurd. Your workflow simply consists of dumping an ingredient in a bowl til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale-> add the next ingredient til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale. I would’ve gone insane if I’d had to measure individual cups of flour, sugar, etc. Plus my fancy pastry chef cousin didn’t give me any recipes in cups hahaha. Real bakers use weights!
  • Stand mixer. The kind of aeration that needs to happen for the genoise and, dear God, the Swiss buttercream, would take literally hours of hand mixing. My arm would’ve fallen off- the whisking I had to do in the initial step of the Swiss buttercream was quite enough.
  • Double boiler or a metal bowl that fits over a large saucepan/large pot- that’s necessary for getting eggs to behave themselves both in the genoise and in the Swiss buttercream.
  • Offset spatula for putting on the icing. Makes it so much easier. Lots of cooking videos demonstrating this.
  • Pastry bags and icing tips. I didn’t do anything fancy but they’re great for doing the perimeter around the filling, as pictured above, and for doing touch ups once the cake is iced on the outer layer.
  • Cake boxes. This is easier said than done, actually. Apparently the larger Michael’s craft stores have cake boxes but the smaller ones, though they have literally every other item having to do with cake, do not. Weird. I ended up getting some for free at Whole Foods in the bakery section (hurray!) However, they only have them in some sizes and most were either slightly too big or slightly too small for my finished cakes. This ended up being a bit of a kerfuffle, but since as we’ll note later on, buttercream fixes everything, it’s not an insurmountable kerfuffle.
  • Cake boards
  • Big plates to display your cakes. This is not typically something one just has around the house so it’s worth thinking about. We ended up using my small cake stand for the 6″ cake, Shaylen’s pretty family antique plate for the 9″ cake, and, honestly, I know this is kind of not classy, we used my 16 inch cake pan that I’d already bought but not ended up using, flipped upside down and covered in fabric, for the 12′ cake.
  • This isn’t equipment per se, but let it be known to CLEAR OUT SPACE IN YOUR FREEZER! Because as we’ve discussed, when one is making NINE SEPARATE CAKES, it takes up space.
  • Also then CLEAR UP SPACE IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR. Or have refrigerator space somewhere else (i.e. the venue or, in my case, the wedding planner’s house which thank God is around the corner from mine) to put the assembled cake.

More tips:

  • There is an online video tutorial of virtually every step in the cake icing and assembly process. Take advantage of this. Some things look easier in the videos (DUH) but I will say that putting down a crumb coat while frosting a cake is a freaking revelation and I’m so glad I learned that technique online.
  • Get more ingredients than you need. Running out of eggs or butter is so frustrating. I bought butter at COSTCO- THREE POUNDS OF IT- and it still wasn’t enough. Get more than you think you need. Of everything.
  • Straight up, making a wedding cake is quiiiiite expensive. I used 15 sticks of butter in the frosting. I used 44 eggs in the cake layers. IT IS EXPENSIVE. Only make it for friends you really love (for the record, I do). And it 100% counts as your wedding gift.
  • The process will take 1000 years. You will be either baking or doing dishes for 1000 years. I watched all of The Staircase on Netflix whilst baking and doing dishes for 1000 years. Just expect that. Have a diverting true crime program to give you soothing background noise.
  • As said, assembling the cake is by far the most stressful part. Cutting cake layers in half is *@#%ing difficult. Fortunately…
  • Buttercream hides almost anything. GOD BLESS BUTTERCREAM. Even if a little filling leaks out from in between the layers, even if things look a little crooked, even if one side is sticking out in a wonky way, a slightly thicker layer of buttercream in a particular section can disguise any manner of ills.
  • Also, when in doubt, just display the cake from its best angle.

I.e. go from this:

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To this!

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After the crumb coat had cooled, I put on the final layer of buttercream, then packed my cake into my boxes, refrigerated them overnight, and brought them to the venue the morning of the wedding.

Our wedding planner/flower genius set aside some of the (beautiful!) sunflowers and green bits of foliage to adorn the cakes and we kept it super simple.

Then, on the smallest layer, which was the layer that Kyle and Shaylen cut, Shaylen put her HANDMADE WEDDING CAKE TOPPERS! Little lovebirds she made in her pottery class. Ugh she’s so cute.

And this is how it looked!

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Thank GOD I had absolutely nothing to do with the cake cutting process, so once Shaylen and Kyle had done their slicing and took their first bite and the cake didn’t explode or collapse or do anything awful, I heaved a sigh of relief and got to become a cake admirer/cake eater just like the rest of the wedding guests.

Here are the finished chocolate and vanilla layers! (The caterers sliced different sizes of the chocolate cake which I think was actually a great idea so people had options on portion size).

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Oh and as I briefly mentioned, IT’S NOT LIKE THERE WAS JUST CAKE, EITHER. There were also pies! Delicious key lime and peach pies! Ugh what a great evening of dessert.

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I peeked in the back where the caterer was doing their slicing and got to see these enormous slabs of cakey goodness. I mean. I made those:
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So will I ever do it again?

Well, NEVER for money. That’d be way too much pressure. I’m in no danger of becoming a professional cake baker.

Maaaaaaaybe for other friends in the same tier as Kyle and Shaylen (though that’s, uh, not many of them 😀 )

While I was ultimately exhausted at the end of this project, I’m also astonished at how much I learned (as you, uh, may have guessed from the 3000 words or so I just wrote). It’s nice to learn new things as an adult. It’s also nice to have a super physical experience when your day to day work involves being in your head a lot.

And finally, it’s nice to have your house spend about four weeks constantly smelling like cake.

That’s all I’ve got!

summer cookin

First of all, I got Sun Basket again because it had been awhile and I still had some credit.

Kudos to them, because this box was all winners and everything was pristine; there were no problems with produce being too hard/too soft/etc.

First we have “Moroccan lamb tagine with artichokes, tomato-poached eggs, and couscous.

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This was maybe a bit more autumnal than I would typically pick, and had my house smelling strongly of lamb for several days.

But.

THE LAMB MEATBALLS WERE SO FREAKING UNBELIEVABLE! So tender and flavorful! Such a delicious spice blend! (<< apparently including Aleppo chili peppers). The meatballs were hot and smoky but not too spicy. The lamb was tender and melty and lovely.

Ugh so good.

I will say these portions were extra ginormous and I easily stretched what was supposed to be two meals into three. And though I

Next I made SoCal fish tacos with avocado, cabbage slaw, and lime yogurt, which I mentioned earlier I served at a little pool party with some girlfriends.

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Somehow they timed it so the avocado was perfectly ripe mmm. The sauce was really simple but really delicious.

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Finally, I made Salmon with creamy citrus dressing and stone fruit–snap pea salad. YUM.

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I feel like every time I’ve gotten Sun Basket there’s been one dish that sounds like kind of a weird combination. Like, had any of yall thought about sauteeing radishes, snap peas, and peaches together? I had not.

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However, this was REAL good. The radishes may have been my favorite part, and I don’t even like radishes that much!

Wait actually just kidding the sauce was my favorite part. It was creamy, rich, and just a little tangy.

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As far as things I made without the assistance of Sun Basket, I would do things like wander into my yard, pick some blackberries, and throw them on an English muffin with some nut butter. Nothing wrong with that at all.
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Or do one sweet and one savory (savory= mashed avocado and Trader Joe’s delicious all purpose seasoning)

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This was such a perfect summer breakfast! Scrambled eggs, toast with butter, and UH-MAZING fresh peach. For awhile there were consistently delicious South Carolina peaches at Harris Teeter. Alas, they are no more- the last time I bought beaches they tasted like nothing and the texture was disgusting mush. You were good while you lasted, perfect peaches.

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Another CLASSIC summer combo- watermelon, fresh mint, feta, olive oil, balsamic. YES.

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I had my lady friends over and made us burgers with caramelized onions and bleu cheese. YUM. Served on arugula salads with homemade vinaigrette. And also the meal involved more delicious summery things but- of course- I can’t remember what.

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Ridiculously simple but delicious: crusty bread, toasted; tomatoes, squeezed atop; salt; olive oil.

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I tried Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi, though I felt like a real tool doing so. I made it with browned butter and sage (<< from my garden). It was, I must confess, delicious. Despite me wanting to be very much on the record that real gnocchi is delicious and there’s nothing wrong with gluten if you don’t have Celiac disease.

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Summer meal prep: corn, broiled; summer squash, sliced and tossed with olive oil and oregano from the garden; eggplants, sliced, coated in a miso ginger blend, and broiled. Yum!

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The corn ended up with sour cream, chili pepper, and parmesan. Plate was rounded out with yummy sungold cherry tomatoes and fresh lima beans (with olive oil, lemon juice, and a bit more garden sage).

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Summer is my favorite season. Summer cooking is my favorite cooking.

summer adventures

 

We begin with my sister’s birthday dinner! My baby sister turned 27 on June 27th HOLY COW I JUST REALIZED IT WAS HER GOLDEN BIRTHDAY! Should’ve made a bigger deal about that!

Anyway, it was great eats. We went to St. Roch. Behold the menu:

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We began with beverages. She got a glass of wine; I for some reason was not in the mood (slightly iffy stomach?) so I got a shrub, which could be made with added booze but which I got virgin. It had pineapple and vinegar and herbal goodness and it was PERFECT! Calmed my tummy right down. Which is good, because then we feasted…

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A salad special to start: watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, lil fancy lettuce, fried shallots, ricotta salata, and Thai style dressing with fish sauce and things. (Probably more than that, I’m trying to list the components from memory). SO inventive!

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What the restaurant is known for- oysters! We got them grilled with a variety of toppings. The one on the left is pimento cheese because the South is crazy.

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We also got crawfish hush puppies. These were OUTRAGEOUS.

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And finally we split a crawfish boil. My sister showed me how to break down the crawfish and then proceeded to just DEMOLISH those guys at a very rapid pace, leaving me in the DUST. She went to college in Louisiana and knows how to dissect a crawfish real fast. I do not. I looked pretty sad!

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Since we were full to the point of bursting already, we didn’t do dessert there. But since it was her birthday and dessert is mandatory, we did get Malindi a birthday dessert to go. Quite the feast! And it’s always fun to go out for a special outing on a Wednesday- adds some excitement to the work week.

Once the weekend rolled around I met up with Shaylen at a bar. I got moral support from her about the absolute lunacy of single girl life, and she got moral support from me as her wedding grew nearer and nearer.

Said moral support included girl talk, prosecco (which they had on tap!) and Battleship (!!!!!!)

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Later that weekend I had a hot date at the swimming pool with the First Wives Club. I had gotten a Sun Basket that particular week and one of the meals was fish tacos. Even though there were three of us (rather than the two the recipe is supposed to serve) I figured out that I could stretch it out with some extra tortillas and frozen mahi mahi that I had- all that worked beautifully! (Also the Sun Basket portions are pretty big… sort of “man sized”).

And then we also had yummy yummy sides- Emily brought veggies and hummus and Lesli made uh-mazing orzo salad with grapes and mint and feta.

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The fish tacos were yet another excellent Sun Basket meal. I think fish tacos could end up being my last meal. I think that’d be okay.

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And then because yet again I was testing wedding cake recipes, I brought a wee cakey for everyone to try, topped with blackberries from my yard tossed with a bit of orange juice and sugar. Lesli, meanwhile, had made DELICIOUS key lime pie along with homemade whipped cream. Gosh I’m glad my friends love to cook as much as I do.

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Then the following week the Fourth of July arrived and…

I GOT TO SEE MY LOVE FERN!

My friend Andrea, hereinafter known as “love fern”, which has been our mutual nickname for one another for over a decade, has been my friend since we met at camp the summer after 9th grade. She and I both lived in NC for awhile but now she has taken off to NYC to be a star! She is an opera singer and is stupid talented.

Anyway, she was in NC for a very quick trip to see her parents and I got to whisk her away for an evening! We gabbed and soaked up life at The Durham, a very cool rooftop bar that opened after she’d moved away.

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And then the next morning, before I drove her to the airport, we stopped at Rise for biscuits and donuts. It was July 4th so I had to get that adorable donut. (Funnily enough I didn’t actually eat it- I bequeathed it to a friend whose house I popped by on my way home from the airport). (I ate all the biscuit, though- egg, cheese and tomato- and it left me full for approximately 7 hours).

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Later on the 4th, I attended an unphotographed cookout which was fun despite a surprise burst of torrential rain.

Later that week I observed this enterprising squirrel defeating a squirrel proof bird feeder. I took his picture because I was proud of him.
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The following weekend I went to the OCEAN! HUZZAH!

I’d attempted a trip earlier in the summer with some girlfriends but we’d gotten rained out. I feared I’d never see the beach for all of 2018 if I didn’t just make it happen for myself. So I recruited one friend and we drove down for a single Sunday (and we got a rather late start so we were in the car far longer than we were at the beach.)

DOESN’T MATTER. WORTH IT

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I also ate an oyster po’ boy before I left the seaside SO. That was great. Why do you get so hungry from ocean air? Why is food at the beach the best food of all time? A wonderful mystery.

The following weekend I stayed closer to home and enjoyed the Tomato Day festivities at the Carrboro farmer’s market

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Gazillions of samples! Long line!

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That weekend was a bit awkward because my old roommate was moving out and I sort of wanted to stay out of her way and it sort of felt like getting dumped hahaha. (<<< we are fine now, we literally just went to yoga class together and then had a wonderful conversation about the patriarchy)

But anyway it worked out to keep my distance. I went to Weaver Street Market and got one of their outrageously good yogurt parfaits (with a peach compote in it <3)

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And then I cat sat for this cutie!

Boo! Such a perfect name for a black cat.

We had a nice time.

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My friend Lesli, Boo’s human mother, was out of town and I basically just took over her apartment hahahaha. She’s a neurology nurse practitioner and had this fascinating book:

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Aaaaaaand… I read it cover to cover in two days! Some of it while in her tub HAHAHAHAHA! Ugh it was great I love baths and my house is too disgusting for them.

I also took a really long nap on her couch (Boo supported me in that, as he was taking a really long nap on his cat tree).

I eventually emerged from her house and had my house back, with considerably less stuff in it. I did some organizing.

And then I met my cousin and her husband and their bambino at my fave coffee shop and I had MY FIRST AFFOGATO.

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Solid couple of weekends.

Okay so this post had a lot of foreshadowing (pre wedding commiseration with Shaylen, more wedding cake testing) and…

Project Wedding Cake is done! The wedding weekend has passed! Mission completed!

Post to come soon 🙂