Food & Cooking · Party · Projects

A Parisian-Themed Baby Shower

A couple of weeks ago, my coworkers and I decided to throw a French-themed Baby Shower for our friend Caitlin. I am so excited to share pictures from the shower with you!

IMG_20140820_152342_306First off, here is a picture of the gift table. (Can you see that awesome I ❤ Paris bag one of my coworkers made? It turned out so great!)

IMG_20140820_152351_896I made a bunting for the gift table that said “Merci.”

bonjour food table I also made bunting that said, “Bonjour” to go above the food table.  To eat, we had cream puffs, skewers with melon, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and pepper, chicken salad-stuffed croissants, mojito fruit salad, a big chicken, bacon and egg salad, and a red velvet cake.

food 1There were three different fillings for the cream puffs: white chocolate, French vanilla and cheesecake. I tried to make the colors red, white and blue for the French flag, but they turned out to be a bit more pink, white and teal. We tried to pretend the colors were to represent our curiosity about whether Caitlin would have a boy or a girl instead (nice way to improvise right?).

IMG_20140820_122805_220I thought this cream puff top looked like a heart, so we saved it especially for the momma-to-be.bigger cakeIs this cake not beautiful!? My friend Amanda hand-painted the cake after making it herself. Magnifique!

IMG_20140820_152729_206Amanda also made this smaller cake to go with the bigger one with the Eiffel tower. Caitlin and her husband Chris decided to save the little cake for after the baby was born.

After admiring the cake and the rest of the beautiful spread, we began to eat. It was at that time I was explaining the flavors of the cream puffs and decided to STICK MY ARM IN THE EIFFEL TOWER. whoopsTalk about embarrassing. I was laughing, but trust me, my heart hurt at the thought of even the slightest smudge in the cake Amanda painstakingly made for HOURS. I decided we should get the cake far away from me and have someone responsible cut a few slices out.

IMG_20140820_161234_758Amanda did the honors…

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…and the inside of the cake was pretty, too (and delicious!).

guest book

As a sort of guest “book,” I drew a little baby wrapped up in a blanket hanging from a few patterned balloon cutouts I made. I wrote “bonjour bébé” on the side of the baby bundle. Then I put a Winnie the Pooh quote at the bottom: “A great adventure is about to begin.” I cut out a bunch of balloons in the same colors as the buntings I made, and then put them in a dish with a marker, glue and instructions nearby. The instructions asked each guest to sign their name with a little message before gluing on the balloon and “attaching” it by drawing on a string.

IMG_20140820_073640_672I think it turned out pretty cute, especially once everyone had added their balloons!

diaper thoughtsSince it was a coed baby shower, I tried to think of games to play that weren’t too cheesy or girly. On the gift table I set up two baskets, one filled with diapers and one empty. Guests wrote out jokes or other thoughts for Caitlin and her husband to keep them entertained during late-night diaper changes, and then put the diapers in the other basket. I also got M&M’s to do a guessing game (our friend Natalie was kind enough to count them as she arranged them by color to resemble the French flag–there were over 600!).

IMG_20140820_152158_758Lastly, we asked Caitlin for an ultrasound we could use to “Pin the Beret on the Bébé.” We had a lot of fun with this!      IMG_20140820_165034_432Here’s Caitlin having a go–she got really close!

IMG_20140820_170153_041I just love this picture of Caitlin laughing while our friend and coworker Dona tried the game!

IMG_20140820_170159_584This one is nice, too!

IMG_20140820_171755_087We also got some really fun pictures of Caitlin opening some of the gifts. Above, you can see that she got a Madeline collection!IMG_20140820_172522_502 IMG_20140820_172812_310 Mayer InviteLastly, above you can see the pretty invitation Amanda made for the shower (click on it for a larger view). I edited out my address, but you can still get the idea of how fabulous it looked! We have a talented group of friends and coworkers, that’s for sure. The shower would not have been nearly as beautiful and fun without them.

IMG_20140820_181727_899Above is a picture of some of the ladies at the shower with Caitlin in the middle. We had tons of fun celebrating with Caitlin, and were super excited last Tuesday when she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Félicitations!

xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking

Nutella + Croissants = Love

Breakfast in ParisBreakfast on our first morning in Paris, March 2012. Croissant, baguette, and hot cocoa.

When we took our 18-day FISH trip a couple years ago (France, Italy, Spain and Holland), we enjoyed some awesome food. I especially indulged in eating croissants in France–sometimes just buttery and flaky ones, other times buttery and flaky ones with chocolate inside. Since going to France, I have yet to enjoy croissants that are as delicious as the ones we ate in Paris. (I mentioned before that Starbucks’ new La Boulange line has some croissants, but they can’t compare.) Elizabeth Bard describes croissants perfectly in her book Lunch in Paris, which my sister-in-law and I made recipes from for our book club months ago.

I like flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the first bite. When you pull it apart there should be some empty space, pockets of air between the buttery layers of dough. When you finally do rip off a hunk to dip in your coffee, it stretches a little before it breaks. More crumbs, but utterly worth the mess.

Ahhhhhhh *drools*….oh yeah…where was I? Oh yes, I was reaching a point about all this croissant-love. After leaving Paris, we headed to Rome, and part of the breakfast served at our hotel was croissants and Nutella. This was my first experience eating Nutella. (I had always mistakenly thought Nutella originated in France–when in actuality it’s from Italy–because when I studied abroad one of my French dorm-mates was constantly eating the stuff. That was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Nutella, so I wrongly assumed Nutella was French. My error was corrected by one of my lovely French friends a couple weeks after we got back from Europe, but when we were in Rome I was like, “Wow, Italians love Nutella, too!”)

Apparently, everyone loves Nutella (and why wouldn’t they!?), because the Nutella-croissant combo was also offered to us at our B&B in Barcelona. I quickly realized that I was developing an unhealthy addiction to the new-to-me breakfast treat, so it was good to return to Japan where Nutella was too pricey to buy regularly.

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Believe it or not, I actually never did purchase Nutella–not until I needed some for our bake-off last weekend. In honor of those glorious days in Europe, I decided to whip up some Pillsbury croissants this morning to have with some of the leftover Nutella. Of course the little meal wasn’t the same as what we had on our trip, but it definitely was good enough for a stand-in on a blustery winter morning. I’ll never tell how much I ate.

Do you have any foods that just aren’t the same as ones you had while traveling? What are some breakfasts you enjoyed while on a trip?

Food & Cooking · Learning · Seen

Lunch in Paris

paris

Paris, March 2012

So this post isn’t actually about a time I had lunch in Paris (like we were about to in the picture above!), but about the book Lunch in Paris, by Elizabeth Bard. I mentioned my sister-in-law Ariel and I have started our own book club, and for our first book we chose this “love story with recipes.”

20130818-100402.jpgWith Lunch in Paris open on the countertop, I gave one of Bard’s recipes a try!

Ariel and I decided to try out some of the recipes in the book to eat way too much of nibble on while we discussed the reading questions, so I chose to make the yogurt cake (recipe after post). I stuck with the recipe’s directions and used apricots, but Bard also suggests using other seasonal fruit, like raspberries or blueberries mixed with a little brown sugar (and to possibly add a streusel topping!).

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I thought the cake turned out quite well–it was sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I mentioned to Ariel that the cake’s flavor reminded me of Japanese sweets. American sweets tend to have intense bursts of flavor all at once, while Japanese sweets have a subtle sweetness that makes you feel as if there is a secret you want to take bites of to discover more. Ariel and I talked a lot about similarities between France and Japan, and how meals in Japan & France contrast with those in America–specifically how Americans tend to favor convenience, speed and overindulgence over the preparation and enjoyment of each meal (meals which in France and Japan–also contrary to the typical American meals–tend to last over an hour or more).

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Ariel made delicious Coconut Macaroons

Ariel and I both feel like we generally try to combat that stereotypical “speed and convenience” attitude when it comes to food–that we try to recognize that when we make a meal, we are working to produce something that is shared together in an intimate, familiar place. Sitting together at the table allows us to focus on each other while connecting over good food and possibly sharing symbols of our family “culture” or our culture at large.

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This wasn’t a competition, but I would say the macaroons won! 😉

One passage that really struck a chord with me in Lunch in Paris was toward the end of the book, where Bard wishes there were an “in-between” place in which she could experience the things she loves about each of her cultures, leaving the not-so-good stuff behind. I could completely relate to that feeling: I want ramen and tonkatsu, but I also love a good roast or having turkey on Thanksgiving. I love all of the kawaii stuff everywhere in Japan, but I also love the convenient, cheap toiletries, makeup, lotion, art supplies, etc. here! I love crazy Japanese fashion, but I also enjoy the practical styles (that I can fit into!) in America. I want the Japanese transportation system, but sometimes nothing is better than going for a car ride with the windows rolled down. I love the focus on presentation and tradition in Japan, but sometimes it’s better to break rules if they don’t make sense and to live a little out of bounds. I’m forever homesick for one place or the other.

We had a lot of fun with our first book, and have decided that we’d like to try recipes out with future books, too! You can look forward to more recipes in the future, but for now, see the recipes we tried below. You can also find the reading guide we used here.

YOGURT CAKE

Gâteau au Yaourt

1 cup plain yogurt

1 cup sugar

A large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 2/3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon

One 16-ounce can apricots, drained and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add the eggs one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to the yogurt mixture; whisk lightly to combine. Stir in the lemon zest.

Transfer the batter to your cake pan; top with the chopped apricots. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and slightly risen. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.

Lift the cake by the parchment paper onto a wire rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. This cake actually gets moister with age, so it tastes great the next day. Simply cover the fully cooled cake with aluminum foil; an airtight container or plastic bag will make it soggy.

Yield: Makes on 10-inch cake

*I adapted the recipe slightly by flipping the cake over after it cooled to make a little dome shape, and by dusting powdered sugar on top. I think the presentation would be even prettier with a couple of fresh apricot slices placed in the middle!

*Recipe originally posted here.

AUNT JOYCE’S COCONUT MACAROONS

2 2/3 cups grated coconut (the fluffier the better!)

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Extra grated coconut to finish

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, gently combine 2 2/3 cups of the coconut, the condensed milk and the extracts. Using 2 teaspoons (or even better, a melon baller), form into 1 1/2 inch balls. Work gently, as you would making meatballs; you don’t want your macaroons to be too dense.

Bake in a slow oven for 15 minutes. Depending on the absorbancy of your coconut, the macaroons may ooze a bit; pat them gently back into shape and roll them in additional grated coconut.

Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. These are more like candy than cookies, so serve them sparingly, with good strong coffee.

Yield: Makes 20 macaroons

*Ariel said her macaroons oozed a bit as the recipe predicted they might, but they turned out fabulous. We sampled our desserts with peppermint tea.

*Recipe from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (pg 314 of our edition).

Have you read any good books lately that you’d like to suggest? What recipes have you tried lately?

Friday Five · Seen/Heard/Tried

Ten New Foods I Tried this Year

We were fortunate enough to travel a lot within the last year: We went to France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Michigan, the Philippines, and Thailand. Whew! I know we will probably never be able to travel like that again, and I am so thankful we had that opportunity. Lately I’ve been dreaming about going back to Europe especially. I was making spaghetti the other day and dreaming about our picnic in Villa Borghese, Italy, and remembering going to the same amazing restaurant 3 nights in a row to try different pastas and pizzas… And this morning I was enchanted with this blog post showing a gorgeous apartment in France. I immediately wanted to return to Paris and enjoy croissants, crêpes and macaroons–and of course the amazing architecture and museums and history! (And can I please have that exact style in a house in Michigan!?) We learned so much through our travels, and tried many new things.

As you may have guessed, one of my favorite things about traveling is trying the food (I think I mentioned that before). Don’t get me wrong, the history and architecture are huge for me too, but food is so revealing of a culture. Here are ten (out of many more!) new foods I tried this year:

1. Pistachio Gelato (Rome)

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2. Savory Empanadas (Barcelona)

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3. Tortellini Stir Fry (Amsterdam)

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This was an amazing Italian-Asian fusion, and I have yet to find a recipe like it. Please let me know if you have one!!

4. Dutch Apple Pie

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Of course I had tried apple pie before, but not this apple pie. It was recommended to me by a Holland native, who just so happens to have a recipe on her lovely blog. The crust brings back a feeling of Windmill cookies from Michigan, paired with a thick apple-raisin filling. So. Good.

5. Halohalo (pronounced with a soft “a” sound, Manila)

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Can you see the sweet red beans and the sweet potato ice cream?

6. Crickets (Koh Samui, Thailand)

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Chad was more adventurous than me, and tried one of every kind of insect available.

7. Marshmellow “Tacos” with coconut shavings (Koh Samui)

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We had the pleasure of trying many kinds of amazing street food in Thailand, and this was one of them!

8. Durian, the King of Fruit (Bangkok)

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We didn’t have a chance to try Durian our first time in Thailand, so we had to try it the last time we went! The smell is so strong, and the texture feels like biting into the skin of an orange, but with the taste of old pineapple with a cheesy texture. It’s kind of hard to explain, but what I can say is I’m not missing it!

9. Fugu, or Blowfish (Ise, Japan)

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We tried many different styles and were pleased to survive each bite! I thought it was pretty good, but Chad said it was his new favorite fish!

10. Blueberry Daifuku (Kobe, Japan)

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I love the traditional ichigo daifuku, so I was excited to try this blueberry version. It is sweet blueberry-flavored mochi, or rice cake, with sweet bean paste flavored with blueberry and a strawberry in the middle. The juicy strawberry provides a bright contrast from the thicker mochi.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my taste buds next! The biggest challenge will be recreating some of the foods I loved. Here is a recipe for some other street food we tried in Thailand called Pakora:

Crispy Vegetable Pakora

And here’s another recipe we tried and liked for Falafels (reminding us of Amsterdam):

Spicy Falafels

Also, here’s a link to a really interesting podcast episode of “The Splendid Table” in which British gastronaut Stephen Gates is interviewed about trying insects in Cambodia and Thailand, and about letting go of food preconceptions/the notion of disgust.

Will eating bugs solve the world’s food problems?

What have you tried recently, or what would you like to try?

This post was supposed to be a bonus edition of Friday Five, but I am posting it today because we went out for amazing ramen and then watched Elementary last night. These things happen.