Sometimes I look at Instagram pictures of pancake stacks, freshly baked cinnamon rolls, or fancy winter salads and lunch spreads—often immaculately displayed on a rustic reclaimed wood table with fresh flowers, a cup of coffee, and an adorable puppy or small child frolicking in the background—and I dream. I dream of a life in which I can wake up in the morning and have just three things on my agenda: Cook. Decorate home. Take photos. Repeat. What a disappointment I must be for the feminist movement! The dreaming is short-lived though. I remind myself that someone with a 9-5 job/grad school situation and dance rehearsals plus a social life in the evenings cannot realistically aspire for this sort of tranquil domesticity. I also remind myself that I did not move to New York City to hole up in our cramped, 40-square-foot pre-war kitchen and make delicious things. I could have just as easily become a chef/homemaker/professional lifestyle blogger from a cozy farmhouse in Vermont. With all that said though, it's winter, and I’ve had the luxury of a full month of vacation for the holidays. And on vacation...sometimes dreams come true.
I’ve embraced domesticity in all sorts of ways this past month and a half. First, I made it my mission to turn our apartment into an actually comfortable and inviting place to live. Away with the stacks of dirty dishes, scattered piles of laundry, and the flurry of textbooks and miscellaneous papers that threaten to consume us when we get too busy to pick up after ourselves. In with the scented candles, homemade chai lattes, and Pandora’s hipster cocktail party radio station playing softly all day long. I discovered I’m happiest in my surroundings when all of my senses are stimulated just right…when the candles make our living room smell like pine cones and glow, and I’m sipping away at a cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg-infused hot drink while Vance Joy sings about riptides and I curl up with a novel on the couch…*swoon*. Okay, I shall stop gushing now. What I really want to talk about is baking. Baking—before, during, and after the holidays—was my ultimate ode to domesticity. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. And I feel compelled to share my creations with those of you who also enjoy baking and/or consuming sweet things because…well because they were damn delicious, if I do say so myself. Oh and they looked gorgeous too.
First up were these gooey cinnamon squares. One December morning before dance class, I was overcome by an urge to whip out my Smitten Kitchen cookbook and make this decadent dessert, which is essentially a cross between a snickerdoodle and gooey butter cake. It satisfies a sugar craving like nothing else! It also uses ingredients you probably already have at home, goes down wonderfully with a cup of coffee, and is the perfect little something sweet to take to a winter party or potluck. Simon and I selfishly ate nearly the entire pan of these babies ourselves, but we did manage to share a few bites with our Saturday dance crew. Shoot us an e-mail if you'd like the recipe! Or just buy the Smitten Kitchen cookbook; it is truly a work of art...
For Christmas I went to Hungary to visit my mom's side of the family (they are responsible for my incorrigible sweet tooth, just FYI) and we spent ten days preparing and eating various three-course feasts and baking--among other things--these hazelnut tea cookies. These are the cookies you want to make for your friend/relative who claims they don't like sweets, because that friend/relative will devour these anyway. The cute, bite-sized, snowball look makes them kind of irresistible and the hazelnut flavor really comes through. Then there's the fact that they quite literally melt in your mouth thanks to all the butter and powdered sugar. I would make them every day if they were also healthy, but alas...Recipe here!
The inspiration for the deliciousness above was that for Christmas Eve dinner, it was requested that I make brownies for dessert. Now with all due respect, there was no way I was going to do that. I love brownies, I do. Brownies are great for a ladies' night in or a children's slumber party or for satisfying a case of the afternoon munchies...but for a holiday dinner?? I go big or go home. So instead, I made this French chocolate cake in collaboration with my mom and the brother. And it was just lovely. I've realized lately that the best desserts are the ones that are made with just a couple of basic ingredients, and have a deep, complex flavor and a moist and satisfying texture without being overwhelmingly sweet and heavy. This simple cake was the perfect example of that. It was rich and dark chocolaty and decadent without being too sugary or dense. We served it up with vanilla ice cream, fresh berries, and a dollop of whipped cream, and everyone was happy. People were still calling it brownies at the end of the evening…but I didn't let it get to me. Really, it is so much more.
I finished off my ode to domesticity after ringing in 2016 in Brooklyn. While everyone was making New Year's resolutions about going to the gym more and eating healthy things, I rebelled and made this incredible thing called cannoli pound cake instead. It is exactly what it sounds like. All the ingredients of a traditional Italian cannoli--ricotta, chocolate chips, pistachios, etc.--in cake form. It is quite possibly the most unique and intensely flavored pound cake I've ever had, and if I'd developed the recipe myself and was even remotely skilled and brave enough to start a small business, I would definitely be trying to sell it in local coffee shops by now. Please indulge yourselves and make this, ASAP. It can be your next just-because cake.
The fun and games are over on our end though. We're back to the daily grind of school and work and dance, which means the apartment will slowly descend into a state of complete disrepair, and we will gradually transition from quick but wholesome homemade meals like lentil soup to dinners hastily ordered on Seamless. Life will become significantly less domestic and peaceful and glamorous and blogtastic. But this is okay; only so many dreams can be pursued at any given time. Our 40-square-foot kitchen isn't going anywhere, and I will absolutely be back.