You're Doing a Whole WHAT?

I'm sorry, I thought you just said that Rachel was going to do a Whole 30 challenge. Most bloggers end their year with an interesting recap documenting the year's most popular posts. While that's an entertaining enough thing, you've read all those posts so rounding them up again isn't going to do much toward growing this little community. I mean, we could talk about how my post about hostessing failures has more page-views than almost any other post this year (even some of the old ones) and yet not a single comment. Or how a post about becoming a better coffee shop customer has hundreds more page-views than even that. Latte drinkers be advised: your manners are being considered. No, rather than round up these posts, I'm looking ahead. More specifically I am looking ahead to January when I've agreed to do the Whole30 challenge with a couple of friends. I know, right? Keep laughing - I am too. Miss Gingerbread & Cake, Queen of the Kingdom of Brie, is giving up dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, corn, soy, and a host of other convenient foods for an entire thirty days. Believe me, it took several days of severe convincing before I agreed. Unlike a lot of people, I don't want to make any resolutions come late December. I didn't want people to think I was making any resolutions. Everybody starts January with the best laid plans to lose weight, whip their eating into shape, and then generally fail. So joining the Whole30 challenge isn't about weight loss or eating reform for me. Instead, it's half a way to jump start my year by taking extra interesting care of myself in the first thirty days and half a way to challenge my cooking in a way I've only challenged myself once before.

Of course I have concerns. Of course I still enter these plans grudgingly, holding onto a bitterness about the fact that when I go to DC next weekend to see the Vermeer exhibit, I'll have to skip out on the strawberry cheesecake that has been promised me since November. I don't know. Maybe there are blogs written about people who actually like food successfully doing the Whole 30 challenge. I have a couple of friends who share these worries that keep me up at night - what about snacks? what about variety? what if I am hangry all. month. long? These friends whose commitment to food that tastes good is as determined as mine have assured me that it can be done without totally sacrificing everything we love about food. So I've decided to drag you along and document the process. We all know that I'm not the best at sticking to challenges, right? It's okay. Agree with me there. I mean, I started a 30-day yoga challenge and though I did complete it, it took me 45 days. In addition to my tendency to start thing I don't finish, we know this blog isn't about diets, or restrictive eating, or trying to get skinny. So why am I doing Whole 30 during the month of January? Well...simply because I'm afraid I can't. So in the spirit of Getting A Head Start and proving to myself that I can and will soldier through a month of Whole 30 without dying of low spirits brought on by lack of bread and cheese, I'm doing it. Ashley, Emily, Joanna, Maryanna...if I keel over dead by the time February rolls can raffle off my Kitchen-Aid mixer. I mean, I even made a Pinterest board about how terrible it's going to be and everything. As with anything, a challenge must have rules and these are the ones I am going to play by:

do not go broke
I can't shop for all of my groceries at Whole Foods. I can't afford giant piles of specialty replacements for common groceries. This means that I am going to have to find variety without completely cleaning out my finances. Meat and nut proteins will be the largest expense but I hope to compensate for that by finding deals on produce at places like Aldi.

do not go hungry
I refuse. I absolutely refuse to go hungry in the name of health. I firmly believe that you can eat in an extremely healthful way and still be full after every meal. But my schedule is busy and I am often gone from 8:30 in the morning until 9:30 or 10 at night and working that off a Whole 30 meal plan is going to be interesting. Yet I'll do it. Someway, somehow, even if that means bringing half the fridge with me.

do not get bored
Okay, so I know this one will be hard to achieve when most of what I'm eating are packed lunches that don't involve the trifecta of bread, cheese, and grains, but I am determined to stave the wolf, Boredom, off with a load of research, other peoples' recipes, and a little native ingenuity. I am already tired of the idea and it isn't January so this isn't necessarily a good sign. Don't worry. I'll be fine.

do not stop
And of course, the last one. Because if I stop before my thirty days are over, I will have proven the point I hope to disprove: that I, Rachel Heffington, can't manage to liven up a dull eating challenge or, you know, complete it at all.

So yeah. That'll be me at the end of 2017. Determined. Somber. Wary. Spending New Year's Eve casting some serious side-eye at my choices, eating cheese, and thinking about the long farewell.


Wow. So depressing. All joking aside, I'm excited to spend my first thirty days of January taking extra good care of this body and stretching my culinary creativity. It can't be that bad...can it? Happy New Year, friends! Stay safe and sound. <3

How Not To Be a Hostess - Failures in Real Time

art by Josefina Schargorodsky via Pinterest

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor." - Truman Capote
Some time ago we did a poll on the blog and as is the nature of such things, you voted. Your votes were cast over the period of a week and the topic in question was "Things You Want To See More Of On This Blog." By the end of the voting period the topics that came out on top were
Entertaining & Hospitality and Funny Stories From Real Life. I confess I'm a little surprised that these two categories pulled into first and second place ahead of things like "fresh recipes" and "healthy desserts" (except that the question was phrased "what do you want more of" and we already have plenty of recipes here). I'm kind of happy y'all voted that way because of course I like talking about funny things that happen in real life and you also know how much like I love a party. So it's in the spirit of listening to you about both topics that I'm going to tell you a story that happened this past weekend: a story of totally failing as a hostess. Honestly, this is kind of an embarrassing and slightly vulnerable post to write. So from the girl who called burnt pie crust "caramelized," here's a bit of candidness.

Despite the soaring triumph which was my buche de noel (shoddy iPhone pictures can be seen here), everything was not all right. See, sometimes you decide that rather than an intimate, dinner-party type group, it's time for a giant party with dozens of people. And things don't work out the way you planned. Sometimes you get to seven PM on the specified Friday night with a group amounting to the size of a bobsled team.

Best Cut-Out Cookies For Holiday Baking

Did you know you can make the most convincing little mushrooms out of egg whites and sugar and very little else? The minute I saw meringue mushrooms (traditionally used to decorate buche de noel which is GOING DOWN for my Christmas party tomorrow night after years of swearing I'd make one) I knew I had to try to make them. Of course I thought they were going to be difficult and then I realized how easy they were and I started to think that this, THIS, is the sort of party trick I can learn and be good at. People act like you practiced sorcery when they see these little guys and you can just laugh to yourself like, "No, actually, I just piped some circles and cones onto a sheet pan and then stuck them together and smudged the feet with cocoa powder." I'm serious. If you can squeeze a pastry bag, you can make these unbelievably real-looking mushrooms. I can do a tutorial if anyone wants to see one, but I'd just as soon send you to this one I used from Natasha's Kitchen. Seriously - so cute and makes you feel a little how maybe God felt when he made a real mushroom. This proud, happy, "I made that. And it looks great."

In other news, I successfully completed my gingerbread house! Much to my astonishment, the plans came together, I thought to do the intricate piping before assembling the gingerbread house, and barring the initial crash when the roof buckled and pushed off/cracked the back wall, it went so well.
My dad was handily nearby when his non-mathematics daughter was trying to design a blueprint for her cookie house. He offered helpful critique and then stood helplessly by while I put roofs on askew. I ran out of gingerbread and then there was no more molasses (or ginger) to make more with, so I ended up creating an inner wall and all of the three (too-large) a-frame roofs out of this incredible chocolate cut-out cookie dough and I ended up loving the slightly two-tone look to my completed row-houses! I wanted the piping to stand out so I opted not the put candy on my gingerbread house. I realize that's sacrilege and nine-year-old Rachel (not to mention the Rachel Who Pops Up At Easter And Over-Decorates Eggs) would be sad at me. But frankly I am loving the simplicity this year of the plain cookies piped with plain frosting. I wanted to link to the three recipes I used this year for all of my cookie-baking/decorating because I've now made multiple batches of cookies/frosting off them and can say with full confidence these are the BEST. At home we make two kinds of cut-out cookies, primarily: one is a sugar cookie - not the big, soft kind, nor the crisp-cracking one. This is a sort of in-between recipe that we've used for twenty-five years so don't mess with me on it. That is a recipe for another post, however (do you want to read it?). The cookies I've listed here are my favorite gingerbread men dough and that life-saving chocolate cut-out cookie dough. Because when all else fails and you're out of ginger and molasses, you might still have cocoa powder lurking around to save the day.

Ideal Gingerbread Men (perfect for houses, men, animals, anything)
Chocolate Cut-Out Cookies (perfect for Christmas trees, stars, and tiny little shapes)
Royal Icing (the fact that you whip the egg whites + sugar to stiff peaks if EVERYTHING)

Armed with these recipes, you will have absolutely no trouble at all making all your random holiday cookie dreams come true! I am currently doing research on how to roll a jellyroll into a log cake because I've never in my life (okay, maybe once) made I cake I have such high hopes for. It kind of has to live up to those mushrooms. Anyway, let me know what your favorite kind of Christmas cookie is and for now, happy baking!

Also, can't get enough of Molly Yeh's chocolate sea-salt mandel bread. ughhhhhhh. Can someone please give me a decade's supply of marzipan so I can make it on a weekly basis for years to come? K'thanks.

Okay, I bought a kitchen scale...

via Pinterest

"I'll never own a kitchen scale."
I remember saying that and firmly believing the words. Now I've decided to give up the habit of saying "I will never ____." I've sworn off too many things only to have them somehow come back to haunt me. Downtown Abbey, skinny jeans, shortening the phrase "two-thousand-seventeen" to "twenty-seventeen," and choosing to cook my eggs with runny centers are just some of the "nevers" which have (deviously) become frequent habits of mine. There are a few things which I have stopped saying "never" about in hopes I can trick fate into truly keeping away from them. Are you interested to know what things?