What To Eat For New Year's Eve: Grilled Pizza

My best internet search of 2016? How To Make Grilled Pizza. My life changed when I googled that. I mean, wow. But first, let me say, Happy New Year to all of you: my followers and friends! I am so grateful for you - those who read, those who read and comment, those who share things, those who just drop an email and tell me I'm not the only person who thinks a good mac & cheese is borderline spiritual territory. So first I am going to be a mother and insist that you'd do much better to stay home tonight and ring in the new year safely (or stay with your party hosts) rather than become prey to the careening drunks (or become a careening drunk yourself). Now that I'm done warning you against opening 2017 with a massive hangover, let's eat.

Pizza is an anytime-thing in my opinion. And it's an any-topping thing. Except maybe pineapple. I don't know why I can't stand pineapple on pizza, considering how much I love pineapple. Either way, I was thinking over NYE plans and how...I don't know...how blase appetizers are. Don't get me wrong - I like appetizers but sometimes I sit there wondering how many I've eaten and why I ate them and how those-meatballs-weren't-even-delicious and then I just think, "I should have eaten pizza." So guys, this post is all about pizza. Grilled pizza! And if you haven't met grilled pizza at this stage in your life, hurry on with the introduction. It's life-changing. Do you have a grill? You have the ability to make pizza so beautiful and delicious it is A) automatically a great background for your iPhone and B) as good if not better than all those "wood-fired" pizzas we consistently crave. I love running my pizza antics in an organized, local-inspired fashion. What's in season? Can we put it on a pizza? So the pizza starring in this post is very winter-inspired. And low-key inspired by anise biscotti my grandmother used to make every Christmas. I started with fennel because, by golly, I wanted to finally know how to use that frondy thingamajig that looks suspiciously like a cross between dill weed and a bunch of celery. So yes, I googled how to prepare fennel and whether you might be able to shave it thin on a pizza and guess what? Yep. Then my eyes jumped to a sign advertising blood oranges and then this sort of madness carried me over to goat cheese and some smoked salmon and that's how this delightfully fresh winter pizza happened. Let's revist the logic here, okay?

- citrus and anise-flavors combine well in biscotti
- citrus and goat cheese is a win
- goat cheese and smoked salmon is basically cream cheese and lox
- salmon and citrus is a glad combination
- citrus and fennel and goat cheese and salmon would, therefore, a good pizza make

Or something like that. It's not impenetrable logic, but it worked out for me so I think my goodwill carried the day. The flavor combination is surprisingly gentle-yet-unusual. And gosh, the char on the pizza from the grill. So basically what you do is make a pizza dough, crinkle it out into whatever botched shape it ends up, grill one side, flip the pizza onto a tray, top it, and return it to the grill to grill the other side and melt the ingredients on top. Don't worry - the pizza dough doesn't slip through the cracks when your grill is hot enough! I'll run back through all this in the directions, but here: take a gawk.

First off, let it be known that I learned how to make grilled pizza from the instructions at SimplyRecipes. I mean, not the chicest site in internet town but darned good for actually figuring out what you're doing and admitting you don't know how yet. From them I learned how non-scary grilled pizza making is and so, though I will sketch out what to do, you'd just as well go read their post first. Now that you're back, let's begin!

Grilled Salmon, Blood Orange, And Fennel Pizza 

Pizza Dough - makes enough for two 10" pizzas
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
cornmeal for dusting

Pizza toppings - whatever you want but I used:
- 2 blood oranges, supremed
- shaved fennel bulb
- fennel fronds
- 1/2 of large package of smoked salmon
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 Tablespoons olive oil

  1. For dough: dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar or honey. While it proofs, mix salt and flour in large mixing bowl. Add water + yeast and olive oil, then mix until smooth. Knead for a couple minutes, then allow to rest, covered, in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).
  2. When pizza dough is ready, light your grill to high heat. Heat until the grill is nice and hot and you can't hold your palm above the grate for more than two seconds. With a pair of tongs, dip a paper towel in olive oil and grease the grate lightly.
  3. Pat out two pizzas from your dough and allow them to rest on a cornmeal-dusted tray. Transfer to grill and grill for 5-10 minutes, until bottom is nice and golden/charred.
  4. Flip pizzas "raw" side down on cornmeal dusted trays and top. I brushed mine with olive oil instead of pizza sauce and topped it with cheese, herbs, salmon, and blood oranges.
  5. With a large spatula transfer back on grill and close lid. Grill for 7-10 minutes, until toppings are melted/tender/etc.
  6. Serve immediately from grill for deepest yum factor.

Again, Happy New Year! See you in 2017 and let me know what manner of deliciousness you threw on your pizzas! This is such a fun "project" to collaborate on with a group of friends - you could even make it into a competition and good news: the dish burden is so minimal. Have fun, eat well, and be safe.

2017 Goals + Hopes + Wishes

I've mentioned before how much I don't like setting goals for the New Year. I mean official goals. There are definitely things that I hope I will/plan to do but those goals seem a little shy of fame. The minute I say them aloud, they're gone and with them, the inspiration behind them and since there are some exciting goals I really hope to accomplish, I don't want to scare them off with an introduction. I trust I'm not the only one to experience this phenomenon! But hey, we're just a couple days shy of being a baby new year and 2017 wants to say hey so I will share some food-goals for the coming year! Trends, products, recipes, and restaurants I want to try in the next twelve months.

paella - okay, I somehow totally lunched (the puns...) on my plans to make this during the summer. I had a day scheduled with a friend and a whole lot of romantic ideas about how chic it would be to turn out a huge pan of paella. And then something came up and the whole thing disbanded. Not so this year. I will save my pennies. I will buy little seafoody things. I will make paella. And I will post about it.

ramen - in the same vein of Things I Mean To Try In 2016 But Didn't is ramen! There is a highly-rated restaurant in Norfolk which has become one of those places we say, "Hey, let's go there next time" and never do. I plan to visit this place. And then I plan to perfect the art of ramen-making at home. Because the packet stuff gives you cancer and yet - the flavor.

rummage around the produce section more - okay, so I guess this is technically more like an experience, but I want to more frequently make the forty minute trek to the one grocery store nearby that actually sells, ya know, something other than pale, blenching celery and dispirited gala apples. The more fun things I find, the more fun I have in the kitchen. And that's always awesome.

learn how to talk to a butcher or fish-monger - technically I've helped "process" quite a few turkeys and chickens over the years. Even a rabbit. Even overseen a few deer. And I'm awesome at talking to myself, but that's not what I mean. Likewise, my dad raises two pigs a year and butchers them himself but that's also what I do not mean. I mean that beefy (ha. another pun) guy with the hair net and the ponderous jowls who stands behind the counter at Whole Foods and dares you to call a sirloin steak a T-bone. Look, I don't often order fancy or rare cuts. But I want to learn how.

learn to chop like a pro - I hate how long veggie prep time takes. I mean, I could chop fast but you can only lose so many fingers before starting to take precautions like, I dunno, lessons?

plant an herb garden - I did this in 2016. It was sprayed with round-up by the butcher I mentioned above. He felt bad about it, but that was the end of the herb garden because I got super busy. I love using fresh herbs in dressings, salads, recipes, etc. but I do get tired of buying stupid packets of basil when you could have a BUSH of it if the fam would remember these are herbs and not weeds in need of being slain.

master ice-cream making - I'm writing this before Christmas and put "ice cream maker" on my list, so obviously by the time this post goes live, maybe I'll have one. Regardless, I can't wait to make a ton of vegan, paleo, and full force cream-and-sugar normal ice creams and sorbets this year! One of those people who totally believes ice cream is a year-round commitment and shouldn't be relegated to summertime.

join the Richmond food scene - with the VA state capitol being only an hour and a half from where I live, the city's many amazing restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops are a fresh new field I can't wait to continue exploring. Specifically excited about Charm School, a brand new innovative ice cream "restaurant"!

give Lipstick & Gelato a facelift - I'm so excited to be pairing up with a designer during the next month or so to give L&G a complete makeover! The new look will be accessible, organized, classy, and clean. I can't wait.

What are some of your goals for 2017? 

Chamomile Honey Almond Cake

Tell me if it's weird to adore a series of books written for children and to create recipes indirectly inspired by them. Actually, don't tell me. I don't care. I mean, if you're that stodgy kind of person who thinks that children's books are just for children, then okay. You can just skip this post entirely because lets be real: you can't talk about Winnie-the-Pooh without talking about honey. And you can't talk about honey without talking about bees and once you get me started on honeybees you'll probably wish I'd just shut up. Yes, the honeybee obsession continues in good health, thank you. How's your hive life?

“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.” - Henry David Thoreau

Ah, sunbeams. Winter, much as I love it, seems to be long on darkness, short on sunshine. And nothing says warmth and sunshine like a slice of honey cake. More dessert recipes. Gee, thanks, Rachel. We only just got over the Christmas indulgences. Personally I was too busy this holiday season to go to many parties – actually, I was only invited to two parties...which I missed – which meant I didn't have the chance to totally wear myself out on everyone's amazing baked goods and decadent fudge. You have more of a conscience when you have to make whatever you're splurging on and buy the ingredients too. That being said, I enter the new year not entirely sick to death of sweets. Still, January is that conscientious month of the year. Yay, everybody, renew that gym membership. In honor of the sunshine shortage and all of you who are trying to detox from the holiday excess, I created this gluten free chamomile honey almond cake. To give it...well...flowers for lack of a better term (and an added “relaxed summer vibe") I quickly infused the honey with chamomile by melting it over a double-boiler and steeping the contents of two chamomile tea bags in the honey for ten or fifteen minutes. You can infuse raw honey with herbs/spices without heating it but it takes about two weeks of playing “snow globe” with a jar and I'm totally not one of those plan-ahead people which is probably why every recipe for the last month has been some kind of dessert. Cravings + common on-hand ingredients = dessert. Anyway, back to the raw honey. Since the honey was to be baked in a cake anyway, going the quick method was not a problem. I started with the gluten free honey-almond cake from Cookie & Kate and took seven hundred liberties with the recipe to turn it into something a health-conscious Kanga might break out on Roo's bday with everybody in the Hundred Acre Wood.

This moist cake (which I've dubbed “the honeybee” - you're welcs) is hefty, floral, and a bit dense. Not dense in a discouraging, “failed to rise” way but in a substantial, “I can be eaten for breakfast” way.” If a muffin and a cake had a love-child, she might look like this. And really, who would pass up a chance to eat cake for breakfast? Encased in delightful coconut cream “frosting” and dusted with bee pollen, this cake will have you entering January feeling fab. Look at you, Queen Bee.

Honey Bee Cake (Gluten Free Honey Almond Cake)

4 cups finely ground almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup chamomile-infused honey*
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 Tablespoon regular honey
Juice of one lemon
1 13-oz. can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
bee pollen for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 9” round pans with coconut oil and “flour” with almond meal. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat eggs, then slowly drizzle in infused honey. Whisk in melted coconut oil. Add dry ingredients to wet and beat together with a few swift strokes until just combined.
  4. Divide evenly into cake pans and smooth top with spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Tops should spring back lightly when touched.
  5. Allow to cool slightly before flipping out of pans.
  6. In a double-boiler, warm honey and lemon juice until combined. Brush over-top cake layers.
  7. For frosting: take coconut milk from fridge and scoop out separated cream. Save remaining “water” for use in smoothies or another recipe. With a whisk attachment on your mixer, beat coconut cream until light and fluffy. Add honey, vanilla, and sea salt. Beat another 3-4 minutes.
  8. Assemble the cake by icing between layers. If you'd like a thicker, more traditional frosting double the frosting ingredients. Otherwise, ice “naked” on the sides and treat yo'self on the top! Garnish with drizzled honey and bee pollen.
  • To infuse honey by the “quick method,” heat 2/3 cup honey in a double boiler on the stove. Empty contents of two chamomile teabags into the honey and all to simmer and steep over heat for 10-15 minutes. Strain, discarding chamomile. Proceed to recipe.

That's it! I hope this mid-week between Christmas and New Years is full of rest, fun, and plenty of thin, diffused winter sunlight. 2017 or bust!

A French Woman Never Eats Alone

I once read that a French woman will never eat by herself. It is part of an unspoken national creed to never eat a meal alone. For food, at its heart, is an experience which deserves adequate time to be savored, deserves to be shared between at least two people every time. Funny, then, how eating alone in a French cafe across from a French woman provided me one of the happiest food-memories from this year.

The evening had grown dark early when I toppled into Charleston's Gaulart & Maliclet as a last resort. A Cynthia Rowley store clerk had recommended a particular French restaurant to me when she heard that I would be exploring Charleston by myself for the evening. I trust I am not the only one for whom foreign names do not stick the first time they are heard. By the time I had stepped out of Cynthia Rowley I had already forgotten the name of the French restaurant the friendly woman had pointed out. Thus, two hours later I was exhausted from my seven hour drive, dizzy and fairly dehydrated, standing on the chilly street-corner googling "french restaurants" in the darkness. On a list of my favorite things I've done alone, last-ditch effort restaurant googling isn't one of them. Yet even in my moment of faintness, I was determined to not trot the few blocks to a Five Guys Burgers. I'd come this far. I would not turn back yet.

I noticed "Suzanne" and her handsome son as the hostess led me to a high, community-seating table at the back of the room. Suzanne, tall and thin, graceful and well-bred, sat with perfect posture on the tall chair. Her son wore a Ralph Lauren button-up shirt. They both sat across from me at the narrow table which resulted in my face being approximately eighteen inches across from their faces. In my faint state, I coveted the young man's dewy glass of ice water. How socially promiscuous would it be to grab his glass and drain it? I breathed slow and deeply and balanced my senses, hands spread on the tabletop. It was then Suzanne and her son took notice of me, smiling with that polite brand of geniality belonging to the exceptionally well-bred. Now, you can reasonably avoid talking to a stranger when they're seated a normal distance away from you. Eye contact can be withheld. Conversation can be averted. But no matter how faint you feel, no matter how hard you try, there is no getting out of talking to someone whose face is only a couple of hand-breadths away from your own. Believe me - I tried. And if you think striking up conversation with a stranger + handsome son is awkward, having tried to avoid it and then struck up conversation is about three hundred times more awkward. Save yourself: just go for it. In the end, it was Suzanne herself who extended the hand of friendship. Catching the end of the waiter's question to me, she smiled and said in pretty English:
"You should try the cucumber-yogurt, if you like a cold soup."
I grasped at her suggestion like a life-line and clung to it. "Yes, the cucumber-yogurt soup, please." Why was I ordering cucumber soup? Just because a refined French woman told me to? Yes. Yes, that's precisely why. Withhold your judgement, please.

After Suzanne chipped away the social glass wall between us, she and her son proved to me pleasant dinner companions.
"I do not know if you've noticed," she said with a smile, "but I am from France. We come here a lot." She told me about the weather in Lille. Her son chatted Charleston sites, helpful apps, and where he went to college.
"Have you been to Paris?" Suzanne inquired.
"Never - it's on my list."
"Everyone should go to Paris at least once in their life."
I smiled and scooped a spoonful of my cold soup. "It is definitely on my list."
"So are you a fan of French food?" her son asked.
I now spoke the stupidest sentence I hope to ever parent: "I'm just a fan of food in general. I'm a food blogger and recipe developer."
By the time the words had left my lips, I regretted them. The mental wooliness had not passed, evidently. The son's warm hazel eyes laughed at me, but he politely responded to the comment and turned the conversation elsewhere.
"If you're still hungry for dessert," the son suggested as they rose to leave, "they make an amazing chocolate mousse here. I hope you have a good time here."

He and Suzanne drifted behind me out of the restaurant and I was again alone. Or not. I had only been by myself for a few moments when "Emily" offered a smile. She and her companions made three: a softly curved, confident woman and two men, one a lumberjack; the other, her brother, on the sliding edge of drunk already. Just intoxicated enough to make each comment too loud, each laugh a lengthy challenge to sober reason. He giggled now and poured another glass of wine.
Emily fingered the stem of her glass and raised her chin, entering on a point of conversation the waiter had just placed before me: the storied chocolate mousse.
"I don't understand how you can eat that without a glass of wine."
"I've got to drive, that's how." The faintness had begun to ebb, pushed away by a second glass of ice water and the shrimp toasts, slapped into reality by the dark, silky mousse.
Emily pushed her full bottom lip out in sympathy. "Too bad!"
We chatted a bit - I told her I was new to Charleston. She and the lumberjack asked where I was staying and suggested a location with several good bars not far from my Airbnb. Not that I wanted them, but it was an overture of friendship and I received the information with a good will. The lumberjack sounded to be from Australia. He and Emily, very much in love, held hands and shared wine while quizzing me about my plans.
"If you're wanting to see the historical homes," said the lumberjack, drawing the words out and chewing them with his accent, "most of the good ones are North of Broad. Start at the Battery and come South - you can't miss 'em."
They ordered another bottle of wine. The brother's eyes became blearier, his giggles more audible. Emily's attention swirled back to her boyfriend, and our acquaintance drowsed to an end. I paid my ticket, pulled on my coat. Emily gave me a loud, friendly goodbye echoed by her lumberjack boyfriend and her intoxicated, bleary-eyed brother.

I felt bolstered after my meal and not just by the food and water. Before stepping into the gas-lit doorway of Gaulart & Maliclet, I had been a very lone stranger in a very new city. By the time I left, I had been embraced by the culture of Charleston and the north of France, by the friendship of an Australian man and a lively woman. Never eat alone? But eating alone is what gained me these friends in the first place. And then I realized the perfection of the custom - the French so hate to eat alone that even their restaurants where a solo traveler like myself might take refuge defy solitude. You might be a party of one, but you'll not eat alone.
I stepped into the cobbled street. My head had cleared. A brisk wind blew in from the nearby sea. I liked the French custom. I liked Charleston. I even, for the moment, liked traveling alone.

3 Paleo Christmas Treats!

When you're a bit of a food snob, there is this sense when you try people's "healthy alternatives" that the world has gone awry and those cooks are just a lot of annoying people. I realize of course that this is an untrue and unfair judgement but a girl deprived of her chocolate isn't chalked up on the list of Most Patient Creatures. But then, ah - THEN - someone who actually knows their business walks up and hands you a plate of goodness and, after you'd tried and loved said goodness, admits they're sort of kind of maybe paleo.


Paleo. Ish. Enter my dear friend and resident whole food/paleo mama, Joanna Waldner. You will have heard about her family's iconic sweet tea back in this post and will perhaps have encountered her in various, "my friend made this delicious thing here and isn't she the best?" posts on Instagram. And recently she touched down in my kitchen for a jam-sess, paleo baking style, with recipes inspired by those found in Danielle Walker's (Against All Grain) "Celebrations" cookbook. On the menu today?

 - grain-free gingerbread men -
- chocolate almond butter fudge -
- peanut butter buckeyes -


We turned on Christmas music, supplied Joanna's disgruntled one year old with enough hand-painted gingerbread trees to last for days, and got to work. In a few hours (punctuated by a never-ending stack of dishes and talk about grilled cheese and fashion and fellows), we had enough silky fudge, adorable buckeyes, and snappy gingerbread cookies to feed a small army of health-conscious nutcrackers. I eagerly taste-tested (multiple times) all the finished products. Guys. The fudge tastes like the solidified embodiment of your dream brownie-batter flavor, courtesy of way too much unsweetened baking chocolate and decadent almond butter which we swapped in for cashew butter.
"This doesn't call for enough salt. I'm not a believer in that," Joanna said, reaching for my salt grinder. A moment later, "It also doesn't call for vanilla. I'm not a believer in that either." In went a dash of vanilla extract.
We chucked minced up candied ginger into the cookie batter and blithely flouted the suggestion of lessening the amounts of butter. We replaced all the suggested arrowroot with tapioca starch and essentially made the recipes our own: maybe slightly less paleo, maybe more incredibly delicious. All I'm saying is, make these recipes. Make one of them or all of them and feed them to your friends and thrive in the knowledge that you're basically eating salad. 

Almond Butter "Brownie Batter" Christmas Fudge
(makes about 60 pieces)

1 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil
1 cup raw almond butter
6 Tablespoons tapioca starch (or arrowroot powder)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped 
  1. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper, leaving paper ends hanging over the side. Set aside
  2. On stovetop, melt coconut oil, coconut sugar, and maple syrup together, about five minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in almond butter, sea salt, and baking chocolate. Melt together, then gradually add in tapioca starch. Mix until smooth and well-blended. Remove from heat and add vanilla
  3. Pour into prepared pan, smooth with spatula, then set in fridge at least two hours. To cut, lift fudge from pan by paper ends, and chop into 1" squares. Store in air-tight container in fridge for up to two weeks.

Peanut Butter Buckeyes
(makes about 18 pieces)

3/4 cups unsweetened peanut butter
3 Tablespoons coconut flour
2 Tablespoons tapioca starch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
 - chocolate shell -
1/3 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil
2 1/2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup plus one Tablespoon cocoa powder
pinch of fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Combine together first five ingredients. Roll into 1/2" in diameter balls, then place on parchment-lined pan and chill in freezer for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine ingredients for chocolate shell in a glass bowl set over a pan of warm water. Stir until smooth and glossy, then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Take peanut butter balls from freezer and dip into chocolate by stabbing with a toothpick and twirling in melted chocolate. Chill in freezer till the chocolate is set, then store in the freezer or fridge until serving time.

Grain-Free Gingerbread
(makes about two dozen cookies, or one house)

3 cups blanched, superfine almond flour
3/4 cups tapioca starch
1 Tablespoon coconut flour
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses (or maple syrup if you want to be fully paleo)
1 large egg
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, minced fine
  1. Beat together sugar, butter, and molasses till fluffy. Add egg and beat again.
  2. In a second bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add gradually to butter mixture. Bring into a ball with hands, then cover and chill in fridge 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Between sheets of parchment paper, roll cookie dough into 1/4" thickness. Cut whatever shapes desired. Return unused dough to fridge to chill.
  4. Bake on parchment-lined pans for 9-12 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Allow to cool on wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough. 

How To Have A Perfect Christmas Season

"Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more."
Maybe my favorite part of the entire Christmas season is the way it brings you from over here and those people from over there and cups everyone in a hand of warmth and laughter. Everyone notices the cessation of the normal petty annoyances. Maybe society is given a larger measure of patience than usual and a wider scope of who one considers family. I mean, everyone is so nice and jolly and just dickensian for once in the year. Either way, I am grateful. From extra guests at Thanksgiving to friends trekking back and forth from Florida; from people I love huddled around a hasty meal to dear friends crowding a bonfire to flip gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, I am grateful. From a gal driving an hour in monsoon-like weather to build gingerbread houses with me to researching how Christmas is celebrated wherever a child's fingertip lands on the globe, I'm eating it up and trying to gather these moments forever. I want to be able to bring out a host of warm, pulsing memories every year as I bring out the ornaments that will one day hang on my own tree in my own home: the little bear, the pine-needle heart, the plastic hedge-hog, the blown-glass garlic clove and carrot and wrinkled walnut, and painted eggs.

We seem to have this weird preoccupation with creating perfection in during Christmas. But think about Bethlehem for a moment. Nothing about that first, holy night was perfect except the baby lying in the rough-hewn, straw-filled manger. Except the adoration of the people crowded into the stable. So much of the time one can manage to waste all the joy of Christmas in trying to perfect things - the cookie icing, the guest list, the seating arrangements, the gift wrap; things that never reach perfection except at the expense of more important things. But you know what feels pretty near perfect to me? Falling asleep while watching Elf with my family. Covering up fallen-asleep friends with a plush blanket. Rolling back the sunroof of my car to watch stars. Making homemade marshmallows with a friend, or eating gelato while haunting a Christmas tree lot. Sitting by a bonfire long after all the handy words have been said, just watching the coals and feeling how alive we are. Debating the point, hand-washing dishes, sharing food, scaring each other in the dark. Saying goodbye at an airport, crushing into a hug all the final things you don't verbalize. Slapping royal icing on a collapsing gingerbread house and wondering where the other half of the roof got to. Stirring the umpteenth cup of cocoa on the stove and watching a marshmallow send a silky sheen over the liquid. Listening to a piping, juvenile voice sing the words to an old Christmas hymn. Coloring slowly, savoring the way the pencils slide across to fill the white voids.

More things. More and more beautiful, joyful things. Walking instead of driving. Secrets. Eating too much of the leftover candy. Coming home to fresh-baked cookies. Saying "Merry Christmas," to everyone you meet and learning how to say it in other languages in case you run out of English. Finding out the tiny little stockings at the coffee shop are free, or that the shop lady is willing to find a tiny box - just the right size - and wrap it in beautiful red paper with a pert white bow. This is the perfection of Christmas: being together with each other, being together with God. Emmanuel: God with us. Rest in that joy. Rest in that perfection. And your Christmas will be perfect.

Rosewater Marshmallows + Hawaij Hot Chocolate

You know what's great about late autumn/early winter? You say, "Hey, anybody want hot chocolate?" and you've immediately got, like, six new best friends. Everyone uses the vaguely scientific excuse of "cold weather burns more calories" to eat whatever the heck they want and when science fails to show up, there's always oversize sweaters. Winter's got your back, babe. Everybody looks cozily enormous in a winter coat and nobody'll know if that's you or actually six layers of clothing under there. Of course there will be backlash if you actually go through the entire holiday season eating as if there was no tomorrow. Which is why when you have a chance to healthy-up an existing recipe, you take it. We're in full-on prep mode for a DIY grilled cheese & s'mores party this Saturday when some of my favorite people come into town. There'll be a bonfire for warming up and marshmallow toasting and a bonfire for cooking our grilled cheese and a hayride or something. It'll be lit. *gales of punny laughter* And to celebrate this fact I'm making a few batches of homemade marshmallows. I started with Molly Yeh's rose-water marshmallows from Molly On The Range. Last night we were out of granulated sugar of all things, so I did a bit of tweaking and came up with an even more classically middle-eastern marshmallow made with palm sugar. I used Molly's hawaij spice recipe for added flair in the hot cocoa which I sweetened palm sugar/maple syrup, using the good old Hershey's cocoa box recipe.

I mean, look at it. They're so cute and floufy. The rosewater really tastes like roses. I mean, that should go without saying, but its almost like eating a cube of hand lotion. Only, way sweeter and less prone to require a call to Poison Control. I love the way these marshmallows melt into a silky sheen over the cocoa. The slightly bitter flavor of the hot chocolate cuts and swirls into the rose flavor and gets held together by the sneezy magic which is hawaij. Want to travel to the middle east but can't afford the plane ticket? Try a cup of this.

Rosewater Marshmallows
24 medium marshmallows

1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cups water
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3/4 cups palm sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pink himalayan salt
  1. In a small bowl combine powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sift together, then dust into a greased 8x8" pan. Pour excess back into bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix 1/2 cup of water, rosewater, and vanilla in a large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top.
  3. Over medium heat, mix palm sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup of water. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  4. Start mixer fitted with whisk attachments and mix together the gelatin mixture. Pour a thin stream of the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. When thoroughly incorporated, increase mixer speed and whip until fluffy and lukewarm.
  5. With a greased spatula, spread marshmallow fluff into greased pan. Sprinkle top with remaining powdered sugar/starch mixture and press the marshmallows into the corners of the pan.
  6. Allow to rest overnight, then cut with greased knife and toss with powdered sugar.

Hawaij Hot Chocolate
single serving

2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon palm sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup whole or full-fat coconut milk
1/3 cup hot coffee
1/4 teaspoon hawaij spices

  1. Mix all ingredients together on the stovetop and heat until hot. Serve in a large mug with whipped cream or rosewater marshmallows.

Black Forest Fudge Tart

You know, people seem to voluntarily segregate during the holidays into Team Pie and Team Cake. The former spend their vacation days fashioning ornate crusts and lattice work, leaving the rest of us to recognize that this group is what the over-achieving Play-dough kids in preschool grew up to be. Team Cake, on the other hand, seem to have an uncanny ability to bake even cake-layers and frost something so sloppily it looks elegant. I make a naked cake, it looks...well...naked. They make a naked cake and it looks like it came straight off the cover of a wedding magazine. And then you've got the remaining pool of non-categorized desserties, of which I am a sworn groupie. We love to eat cake and pie but prefer to expand into any other category of dessert when its our turn to bake. Creme brulee, ice cream, puddings, tarts, tortes, slumps, crisps, basically anything but cake or pie. This No Man's Land is where the Black Forest Fudge Tart emerged. I'm sure a similar recipe has been made in some capacity by some cook or another, but as far as I'm concerned, the idea was original. I began with this recipe for a Black Forest Tart, then flippantly added another layer here and another there until we ran out of tart-land and became something oddly non-categorical. Let's pause for a road-map through this portion of the Black Forest:

Road Map Through The Black Forest Fudge Tart

Layer One - chocolate graham crust
Layer Two - mousse-like fudge cake
Layer Three - cheesecake swirl
Layer Four - chocolate ganache
Layer Five - whipped cream
Layer Six - morello cherries

We cut a slice early on Thanksgiving to “take a picture.” I knew the sun would go down and then the photos would be horrible. But let's be honest, I cut it because I wanted some before I got full on Dad's smoked turkey and Grandmama's mashed potatoes and my sister in law's outlandishly addicting yeast rolls. And the photos turned out shiny and I smeared the chocolate ganache everywhere, so just forgive that, if you would. The reward of eating all the ganache I seeminly smeared from here to kingdom come is so worth the price of not so fine photos. Y'all understand. It's hard to do justice to a plate and fork when you've got a camera hanging around your neck, trying to keep the flash from going off. #foodieprobs. Instead, have a look at the layers of divinity and try to keep from drooling onto your keyboard. I've heard it's not good for the computer.

Black Forest Fudge Tart

1 ¼ cup
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, melted

½ cup butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cups flour

Cream-cheese Swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
½ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon brewed coffee

whipped cream
1 jar Morello cherries, drained and patted dry with a paper towel

  1. Begin with the crust. Crush chocolate graham crumbs in a food processor with melted butter and sugar. Press into bottom and slightly up sides of a 9-10” spring-form pan. Bake for twelve minutes at 350 degrees F. Cool on wire rack.
  2. Melt butter and semisweet chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat and stir until well mixed. Allow to cool to room temperature. Beat together eggs and vanilla, then fold in the chocolate mixture. Mix in flour and pour into cooled crust.
  3. Beat together ingredients for the cream cheese layer until smooth and well-mixed, then pour on top of chocolate layer and drag a knife through to create a slight swirl pattern. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes, or until center is set. Allow to cool, then remove spring-form.
  4. For the ganache, melt chocolate and cream in double boiler over medium heat. Add brewed coffee, beat until glossy and slightly thickened. Pour over cooled cake.
  5. When ganache is set, top with whipped cream (you may make your own by beating 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar until stiff peaks form) and drained Morello cherries. Sift top with powered sugar or cocoa powder
Hope you are able to make this dessert at some point this holiday season! I know a re-match will soon be in the works at my house. With thirty-four people clamoring for equal rights on Thanksgiving Day, there was nowhere near enough room in the Black Forest for us all. What I love about this kind of dessert is that it stays away from holiday tropes. No pumpkin, no apple-cinnamon, no peppermint. Because you know that while I love some peppermint bark and will sell my non-existent family jewels for a good molasses ginger cookie, I hate being mainstream. Such a hipster, guys. Such a hipster.

Creative Gifts: Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Hard to believe it’s already time again for holiday shopping, but the calendar says so! I can’t say I mind. This time of year is my favorite. Driving home from a girls’ weekend in Charleston, listening to Christmas music on the sly. Planning cozy events and gingerbread-house building parties. And of course starting in on What To Buy My Loved Ones. Sure, Christmas and the attending holidays aren’t about gift-giving, but it is certainly one of the beloved traditions I’ll never be ready to give up. And as much as I love the holiday season I freely admit: sometimes what to get someone really stumps me. In that effort, Carmel and I have put together sister-lists to help you decide what to give your friends no matter what category they exist in! We wanted to get it to you before Black Friday to give everyone a fair chance to take advantage of the deals Thanksgiving weekend. Don’t forget to check out this list for what to give the men in your life as well as last year’s gift-guide for extra ideas and as always, we wish you the best in finding the perfect gift for an especially wonderful person in your life. Here you'll find many ideas for many categories of life with even more on Carmel's blog!

- for the smoothie/health/workout fiend -

coffee & cardio workout tank

- for the baker, Italian, and/or carb-lover -

carbivore print
soft pretzel ring
bread Pigeon pin
bread print
gold baker's twine

- for the traveler -

personalized journal
destination poster
cozy blanket scarf
vintage travel stickers

- for the brother/friend/"justfriend" -

Kipling "IF" poster
personal style kit
feather bow-tie
a classic book

- for the fashionista -

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Love Style Life by Garance Dore
Eyelash Dreamer makeup bag
Brains, Beauty, Beauty tee

- for the artist -
Kuretake Gansai watercolors
"Paint Not Water" mug
palette business card holder

How To Travel Cheaply

First of all, let's get something out of the way: this post is not sponsored. I'm saying this because I'm getting ready to recommend a few services/products/things-to-make-traveling-better and I want you to know that they are things I love through my own research, not because anyone asked me to like them. Now for the fun bit: how to travel cheaply.
I'm a single girl with a part-time job who has no debt and pays her own way through life. That means I'm pretty free to travel. It also means I don't have a huge budget. When I go places I'm not throwing it all on a credit card. And though I work a lot of hours in a week, it's still not officially full-time. Some people ask me then,
“How can you afford to travel?”
Guys, it's all about priorities, cutting corners where you can, and splurging on the good stuff. I don't buy designer handbags, color my hair, get manicures, or keep up with the newest iPhones. I go places.

Have a travel budget – if you've set aside money for your madness you won't feel a bit bad about paying for it when it comes. Nothing like pesky spending-guilt to ruin your trip. Saving even ten dollars a month goes a long way toward those spontaneous road trips which seem to annually pop up.

Travel with companions – there is something to be said for traveling by oneself but when it comes down to traveling on a budget, the more companions the merrier. Gas-budget, lodgings, and other expenses will be cheaper and cheaper the more people you're splitting the tab with. Plus, who ever prefers traveling entirely alone? It's fun to go solo now and then – even to split up in the city where you're staying. But at night it's nice to have people to crash with.

Share a meal – my favorite way to get to experience more food in a short weekend is to share meals/treats/drinks with my friends. Not only is this cheaper, but it allows for a wider array of foods you can try. Order several appetizers and share around, or split a more rare and expensive entree.

Skip a meal – alternatively, you can cut your food expenditure a little by warping your time schedule. Wait to eat breakfast later and dinner earlier. This way you can cut out lunch without feeling too uncomfortably hungry. A decent breakfast replacement to hold you over till lunch is a whole milk latte from a good coffee-shop. Explore the coffee scene, skip breakfast.

Book rooms on Airbnb – Charleston was my first time using this service but I have to say that my experience was 100% pleasant. Rooms/flats/homes rented on this site are often far cheaper than booking a hotel room, plus you have more of an option to experience your destination as a local. Our 2-night stay in a beautiful room-over-garage flat cost each of my traveling companions and myself just $45. To stay in an upper middle-class golf course neighborhood with all the ease and comfort of staying in a “friend's home” felt amazing.

Walk more than you ride – save on public transportation, Uber rides, gas, and parking fees (or tickets, if you are like me and are the world's worst parallel parker) by walking your chosen city. This happens to be my go-to mode of transportation, but it also happens to be cheap. I like to find a long-term parking spot in a residential area or a fairly cost-effective parking garage and explore the city on foot. If your dinner reservation is half a mile away on cobblestone streets, just carry your heels and wear flats which you can later pack away in your purse. I love the freedom and spontaneity of traveling on foot. When walking, I can veer into any shop/home/museum I want without worrying about the availability of a place for my car.

Research how the locals do it – spend a little time beforehand researching the places you want to go. Are there more cost-effective ways to achieve the same end? For instance, in NYC if you want to see a perfectly decent view of the Statue of Liberty, you can take the free Staten Island Ferry. But no one tells you that and if you walk up to the ferry building you'll have to run a gauntlet of pleasure-boat advertisers telling you just how awful the (excellent, clean, timely, and free) ferry will be. Know where you want to go and how to get there and you won't be easily duped by tourist traps.

Ask for recommendations – I like to tell store clerks that it is my first time in a given city, or ask a stranger for dinner recommendations. Most times you'll receive a broad range of insider-information, suggestions at various price-points, and a few other pieces of intelligence which will probably come in handy. If a local suggests a thing in strong enough terms, chances are you can't go wrong trying it. If you're still unsure, cross-check their intel on a review site like Yelp. Your local is probably right in the opinion they offered. Inversely, if a local suggests you avoid a certain part of town, restaurant, intersection, or attraction, for the love of all that's reasonable just obey them.

Skip tourist attractions – when it comes to the things everyone assumes tourists like to do, either choose wisely or skip them altogether. Some of them will be worth it, like Top of the Rock in NYC. Others, like paying for a carriage ride in Central Park or standing in line to see that thing you didn't really care about anyway are disposable. Make a list of the must-sees and find a different way to accomplish the other things. I promise that most times, there is a way to explore a city without paying someone to dance attendance. You have a map? You have feet? There's your walking tour.

I hope that all of these tips will help build your love of traveling. I know they aren't revolutionary ideas but I hope they help someone out. Travel doesn't have to be as expensive as everyone says. Grab a pod of friends, pick a destination, and start planning your next awesome trip.

Travel Eats: Charleston Edition

Rule #1 when traveling: say no to chain restaurants. Say no to comfort zones, convenient food options, and menu items you can pronounce. This goes for coffee as well. And I'm certainly not the only one who thinks this, as evidenced by this sign we found in downtown Charleston.

#2: order steamed mussels so that the others at the table won't want to eat them and take away from your enjoyment of a little shoal all to yourself.

#3: explore solo. This little cafe was an oasis for my exhausted, solo run of the city the first night. Many thanks to the handsome Clemson graduate and his French mother for their recommendations as well as the kind girl I mentally call "Emily" and her Australian fellow who gave me insider-tips on the best ways to enjoy their beautiful city. Community seating. It forces you to make friends.

#4: eat the biscuits. You'll never guess how easy it is to befriend your waiter over a mutual love for carbohydrates. Or how easy it is to offend him by not eating the lauded biscuits. Tread carefully.

Especially important to these trips are having a photo/tasting crew (referred to otherwise as "amazing friends") on deck to help you rate individual restaurants, take pictures, split the food prices, and to have an extra blast.

We ate so much amazing food in Charleston. I had already determined the fact that this place boasted a hoppin' food scene before coming, but I hadn't been in the city two hours before admitting that I'd need another trip (or four) in order to grasp even a reasonable "most" of the amazing food. Nevertheless, we still managed to hit three coffee places, two restaurants for dinner, another two for lunch, a beautiful hotel bar, and a minuscule but divine breakfast cafe. My one food regret is that I didn't hit an oyster bar since we were in oyster season, and that at the charming, atmospheric Gaulart & Maliclet I chickened out of trying escargot. I have rated the restaurants and cafes based off my experience there. Five stars means "exceptional," four is "I would highly recommend," etc. Hope this list helps inspire you to take your own weekend trip to this beautiful Southern belle of a town.

Black Tap Coffee 
(three stars)
Escapes a four-star rating because I had to park illegally to find any available parking in the neighborhood. My San Isidro pour-over, however, was delicious and the staff friendly.

King St. Cookies
(four stars)
Though I didn't buy a thing but a really good latte, I could tell that this Kosher cookie bakery had their game down and on-point. Drop by for a creative cookie flavor (vegan and gluten-free options available) and a cup of locally roasted King Bean Coffee.

Relevator Coffee
(two stars)
The hipster minimalism of this new cafe on the far end of King St. promised so much but the lattes we ordered felt dispirited and not worth the money we paid. Skip Relevator and head elsewhere for your coffee fix.

Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
(four stars)
I've never stepped into a tinier shop. Despite the store's claustrophobic residence in the tiny, tiny, little building, Callie's HLB is well-worth the time spent standing in line. It was extremely busy even on a late Sunday morning so get there with plenty of time to anticipate that amazing biscuit breakfast!

(four stars)
If you're able to escape the intoxicating aromas coming from the (pricey) Lebanese restaurant down the block, Taziki's is a delicious, much cheaper alternative for very similar food. I ordered the lamb gyro and it absolutely hit the middle-eastern-food craving where I needed it.

Gaulart & Maliclet
(four stars)
Mentioned above, this darling French cafe is the perfect stop for a solo dinner or quiet date. Don't try bringing a large party in - the tables are bar-style and more suited to clusters of two or three - but most definitely go. The shrimp toasts are divine as was the chocolate mousse pie which I ordered on strength of the Clemson grad's word.

Thoroughbred Club
(five stars)
If you're looking for a place to rest from the crowds, the weather, or to simply put up your busy, traveling feet for an hour or two, you should head to the Thoroughbred Club straight away. Live piano music and high-quality desserts and drinks are just the right accompaniment to quiet conversation. Try the creme brulee - it's one of the best I've tasted while out.

(five stars)
I feel like Magnolia's needs little talking up. Everyone who googles "best restaurants in charleston" come up with this place as a recommendation for a lovely dinner out. Just trust them on this. My steamed mussels with grilled bread was excellent but my favorite part of dinner was actually the crispy brussels sprouts side which I will definitely be trying to recreate ASAP. Finished with a chaser of cinnamon ice cream and hot, black coffee.

Poogan's Porch
(four stars)
It sat next door to the James Beard Award-Winning restaurant, Husk, so it couldn't be horrible, right? Let me tell you: Poogan's might sound like a place you'd be welcome to eat at alongside your pet poodle, but the food is amazing, the service friendly, and the grits sublimely creamy. Plus, let's talk biscuits and a fireplace in every room. Add this to your list for a lazy Sunday lunch.

I absolutely cannot wait to return to this beautiful city and continue to explore the amazing food-culture she has to offer alongside her lengthy history and gorgeous architecture. Till next time, Charleston! You were such a lady.