Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some Holiday Spirit

On the last day of the year, I thought I'd share a bit of holiday spirit by posting some pictures of some of my old and new Christmas tree ornaments. Back in 2008 when I was graduating from Colby, my parents and I spent a weekend in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and on one of our strolls in town we ended up going into a Christmas store. I have always loved the Christmas season, by my family also really liked the idea of getting ornaments when we travel, so that our tree is a collection of memories, rather than just a pretty decoration. I am trying to keep that up with my tree; I love browsing through Christmas decor, and I usually buy at least one ornament every year to shake things up. This year I got a very cute wooden owl ornament from a Christmas shop in Boston near Quincy Market, and I also got a small white dove ornament and a cute angel ornament from a Christmas shop in Bruges on my travels. It's really fun to look at my tree and remember what I did and what places I visited.

So here are some of my favorite ornaments (although not all of them). I did try to limit myself and not photograph every single ornament on the tree, after all :)

My owl from Boston kind of reminds me of Harry Potter, even if it is not white, so I jumped at the chance to charm my tree into something more Hogwarts-related. Yes, I am a bit geeky at times. Next to it is the angel I got on my trip to Bruges, which you can read more about here.  

Next in line is this adorable elf that I got this year from a seasonal Christmas shop here in Sofia. It is so cute with the pointy hat, the scarf and the presents. On the right is a reindeer that I got last year from another shop in Sofia.

I actually couldn't limit myself to just one ornament this year, and I ended up getting another dwarf/elf from the same shop that I got the one above. I love how rich in detail these figurines are. Also, I got two balls with silver, gold and bronze flowers, which go really well with the while-silver-gold theme of my tree and are so very beautiful.

And, well, check out this gorgeous holiday candy....mmmm! I don't think that this is going to last until next year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I Can Bake My Pie and Eat It Too

I have been drooling over this recipe for apple pie since I saw the photo in the article These Pies Are Anything but Humble, and since I have a few days off work around the holidays, I thought I'd finally give it a try. Well, what do you know? My first ever pie was a big success! Wo hooo!

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I totally wanted to try the recipe for Lafayette's Caramel-Apple Pie Élevée because of its incredibly tasty-looking photo. Cookbook editors take note: this is why you should have great photos in cookbooks, not just the text of the recipes...we women like to be inspired, and I find that I browse food blogs whose owners dabble in photography more and more often because they usually have food for the body and for the eyes:)

I changed the recipe a tiny bit because I am not a huge fan of caramel; I like it fine, just not well enough to have a whole pie that tastes like caramel. Instead, I substituted the caramel sauce the recipe calls for with muscovado sugar syrup (just heat up the sugar with a bit of water, and voila). Muscovado sugar has this wonderful rich molasses flavor, so I thought it would be a great way to make the apple pie recipe my own - and I wasn't wrong. The apple filling turned out great.

It seemed a bit daunting to make pie crust from scratch for the first time, though, especially since growing up here in Bulgaria I had never seen anyone I know make their own pie, and I had only ever had pie in a chain of sweet shops and coffee houses called Pchela and in the US, of course. First of all, the recipe said that I should use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and I was like....oooookkaaay...please tell me who here owns anything like that...It is funny actually, but if you ask a Bulgarian who is not a chef or cooking enthusiast whether they have even heard of KitchenAid, he/she would most likely say "A KitchenWhatNow?" Yeah, maybe it is because kitchens here are mostly tiny (why architects keep designing apartments with teensy kitchens is beyond me) most people don't seem to have stand mixers, and I am no exception.

But never you mind, I thought, I can do this with my hand mixer. I am tough like that. Or not. I had my four cups of flour, the sugar, and the butter cubes in a big bowl, and I had the genius idea to use my hand mixer with the regular whisks to mix the ingredients into what the recipe said should be a texture that "resembles sand." So I start the mixer, and what do you know, flour is blown around in my face and nothing seems to be mixing. Of course - there isn't any liquid in there to make the mix settle, and the recipe wants me to add mere spoonfuls of water and three egg yolks only after I achieve the elusive sandy texture.

So then I decide that I can transfer everything in a bigger bowl, but that doesn't solve the problem either, and neither does putting aluminum foil over half of the bowl, so that the flour doesn't fly. Finally, I gave up and did it by hand with a whisk, feeling a bit like an idiot and consoling myself that Julia Child didn't use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment either when she started cooking. Oh well. Still, the do-it-by-hand method was actually quite successful, and I did manage to make the dough, refrigerate it, roll it, refrigerate it again and so on. I feel like quite the "sand texture" expert at this point.

The second obstacle to my day of pie making was actually the fact that, silly me, I forgot that I didn't really own a pie dish of any kind. I have several rectangular pans and some muffin cups, and since I love muffins and tiramisu is my favorite cake, those work well for me. However, I have yet to see a rectangular pie, and while I was pondering whether I would become the first woman out there to try that novel idea, I remembered that I bought a springform cake pan last year when I was making a tangerine cake. Problem solved.

This pie sure did take a while, in part because it was my first adventure into pie-land, but the final product was well worth it. It came out just as I had wanted but not dared hope: with golden crust, beautiful sugary lattice on top, and a sweet, spicy and slightly tangy apple filling that melts in your mouth. Delicious. I do love my American treats.

So check out the recipe for yourself, as well as some other pie recipes that also look great to me: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303985504579206182830054334

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two Paintings Sold

Sooo...Long time no posts! It's the usual reason - all work and no play. The good news is that I am about to finish my MBA by the end of December, which will hopefully lighten the load for me. I miss my weekends, what can I say.

In the meantime, I have actually sold two more paintings. The cool part is that I sold one of them, Kaleidoscope Heart, here in Bulgaria. It is a very vibrant, while kind of eccentric work, and I wasn't sure if it wasn't too crazy to be purchased, but it turns out that there are people that it calls to. It is very interesting to discover how each painting affects different people and all the images and diverse reactions and associations it evokes.

The other work I sold, Peony, is on its way to its new owner in New Orleans. It is so great to know all the different places where your art is hanging :)

Here are details of the two works:

Kaleidoscope Heart


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