Monday, February 27, 2012

New Shoes

I'm very excited for these shoes which I ordered today for $39.99 from Urban Outfitters! I tried them on in the store but they were too small, and for such a good price, free shipping, and in-store returns, I just couldn't resist picking up this kind of shoe that I've been wanting for a while now.

 The cutout makes these booties versatile enough to let me wear them into summer as opposed to just being a standard fall-winter boot.

 I do love the corset-like lacing.

 The subtle detail of the divided heel adds a little something to these shoes.

When they come in I'll post up pictures of how they look in person! If you're interested in getting them, you can find them on the Urban Outfitters website here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On my soapbox

The exoticization of non-white, non-"Western" cultures (the word "Western" is problematic in itself, but that's a whole other post) is not a new thing, either in fashion or in society at large.

 "Tribal print." "African-inspired." "Geisha-style." "Pocahontas." However, it's still wrong, and still frustrating, particularly when it's such a huge stretch as in the quote from Harper's Bazaar that I'll get to in a minute.

It's one thing when a designer says, "My collection was inspired by traditional African prints and motifs." This is problematic in the fact that Africa is not one homogeneous country, but a continent composed of countries, cultures, and ethnic groups as diverse as can be imagined.  Yet, when compared to our own textile tradition in America/the "Western" world, there is an undeniable uniqueness to many geometric prints and motifs that come out of countries in Africa. Even so, I found the following quote from Harper's Bazaar overly reductionist, and unpleasantly reminiscent of Imperialism/Orientalism, and the exoticization of the Other, that which is different.

Perhaps I'm making a big fuss over nothing much, but something about this bothers me, particularly when referencing the accomplishments of a Chinese American:

"It was hard to pin Derek Lam's African reference down, but the undeniable mix of earthy colors and geometric patterns were tribal in theory."

I don't see it. Do you?

This outfit (the one that was paired with the quote) looks very mod to me, as though he played around with geometric forms like squares, circles, and honeycombs. Yes, the colors are earthy. Yes, the patterns are geometric. But if it's "hard to pin" the "African reference down," and you have to force the connection "in theory,"--without naming the theory--then there isn't a connection. 

I have to wonder if Lam's collection would have been labeled "African-inspired" had it come from Michael Kors or Stella McCartney, neither of which venture far for their inspiration. 

/Edit/ I should note that they described other collections as "Out of Africa," too. Yet even then there were problematic statements, such as admitting that one collection wasn't particularly African apart from a "frizzy hair style." That's extremely problematic in itself, but I think the insistence in the aforementioned quote is what really got me bothered.

Friday, February 10, 2012

In the Land of Milk and Honey

Hello all! As I write this post I'm currently in the big Starbucks in Harvard Square, feeling eminently cool and snooty, hahah. It's a nice environment if you like white noise around you when you work. I decided to treat myself to coffee since I'm having a relaxed day, and since I successfully managed to end my coffee addiction about two weeks ago. It may seem a little contradictory to treat myself to coffee as a reward for ending addiction to it, but it works for me!

On to the food. Last night my beautiful friend Caitlin and I got "Becky Home Ec-y" (great phrase, thanks Caitlin) and made these Pear and Almond Upside Down Cakes from Baking Bites, a blog I've been following since high school. Really great stuff! And these little "cakelets," as BB calls them, are extraordinary:

 "If we were in the land of milk and honey, these would grow on bushes there."
They're REALLY that good.

There is no way to fully convey to you, dear Eater, how delicious these are. They are magical. Perfect. Succulent. Decadent. Amazing. They are one of the greatest sweets I have ever eaten.  If there was such a thing as a dessert for a brunch party (or really any darned time of day) these would be ideal. Truly, they are a marvel. And so, so, so easy to make! Here's the recipe, with a few edits of my own:

Upside Down Pear and Almond Cakes

Makes 8 cakes

2 tbsp butter, cold and cut into 8 small pieces
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 whole large pear (or two small pears)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal (finely ground almonds/almond flour)* 
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)**
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled

*I substituted all purpose flour, so I essentially used 1 cup of flour.
**Because I didn't use almond meal I added in 1/2 tsp of almond extract, not just 1/4 tsp.

I will note that we doubled the batter and got 12, not 16 cakes, but this is because we overfilled the cups. Only fill them halfway; they rise a lot and you'll want flat bottoms. See the steps for more detail on this.


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Line a muffin tin with 8 paper liners (If you don't have them, like me, your cakes will be just fine but you'll lose some of the brown sugar/butter topping. Next time I will be making them with the liners because that stuff is delicious). Place one small piece of butter into each muffin cup. Top each cup with 1 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar. Place pan in oven for 3 minutes, just until butter melts. Sugar will not be fully melted. Allow pan to cool for a few minutes before proceeding.

3. Taking care to slice around the core of the pear, cut pear into very thin slices no more than 1/8-inch thick.
Lay about 3 slices of pear across the bottom of each muffin cup (enough to cover the base, but it's absolutely fine if you they go up the sides), on top of the butter and brown sugar layer. Set aside while you make cake batter.

4. In a large bowl, combine flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk until well-combined. Add in eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract and whisk until batter is smooth. Add in melted butter and whisk until butter has been completely incorporated. Props to Caitlin for reminding me to double this second use of butter, otherwise they wouldn't have been as moist or yummy!

5. Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin cups on top of the of pear layer. Only fill the cups halfway as they rise a lot (you want flat bottoms because they're upside down cakes--you can see in the picture that we overfilled the cups because they do not lay flat and we only got 12 out of the mix, not 16).

6. Bake for 19-22 minutes, until the cakes spring back when lightly touched (they'll be a light yellow color) and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Brown sugar may be bubbling slightly around the edges of the cake.

So close to heaven you can almost taste the sunlight and the clouds...

7. Take cakes out of the muffin pan and allow to cool on a wire rack in their paper liners. If you do not have liners, just run a knife around the edges of the cupcake to dislodge them. Cakes can be served fresh out of the oven or at room temperature. Invert cakes onto a plate and remove paper to serve.

Et voilĂ ! There you have DELICIOUSAMAZINGZOMGGGGGGG...drool...cakes! Best served piping hot and gooey on top!

If you told me I could never eat anything but these for the rest of my life, I might actually be okay with it. 

Happy eating!!

P.S. I WILL be making these in mini form for the Master's open house in Mather this Thursday. Come 'n get it, y'all!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Favorite Cookie: Sandtarts

Today I decided to bake my favorite cookie since childhood: sandtarts. It's been a few years since I've made these delicious little cookies chock full 'o goodness, but it was time. Mostly because I was already in an almond mood as I waited for the pears to ripen to make almond and pear upside-down cake (next post!), and sandtarts are so amazingly almond-y.


What are sandtarts? By another name, they are Mexican wedding cookies. They often have nuts. My family's version which I've been making with my mother for as long as I can remember is better than Mexican wedding cookies and has no nuts, which makes them a safe party treat!

The recipe is extremely simple, and is as follows:

Sandtarts Ingredients

Serves about 35 depending on how large you roll the balls of dough

¾ cups butter
4 tbsp sugar (heaping)
2 cups sifted flour
~2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cold water
2-3 tbsp almond extract

Cream butter and sugar; add remaining ingredients; mix well.Pinch off  into roughly 1 inch bits of dough and rollinto balls. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before putting confectioner's sugar over the top, otherwise it will just melt the sugar. 

Sift confectioner's sugar over the top or roll cookies in powdered sugar and enjoy!

Here's a picture of the dough:

It's a big bowl, but it doesn't make that much dough so make the balls small to get the most mileage out of it!

Here's a picture of the size of the dough balls. They're actually a bit smaller than 1 inch:

Here's a picture of them (all 38 of them!) when I pulled them out of the oven:

A close-up for the varieties of color and shape. As you can see, they don't really flatten out much.

Final product post-sugaring! As a side note, I used a colander (yes, like a spaghetti colander) to "sift" the sugar over the top. Necessity is the mother of invention!


Happy Eating!!