SAVEUR.com's Sites We Love Saveur Magazine has listed The Skinny Gourmet among its "Sites We Love"

I've been having a great time checking out Nashville's high end dining on the cheap thanks to Groupon. Have you tried it yet? Its awesome. I don't know why I ever hesitated.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Buckwheat Sweet Crepes (Gluten-Free)

When we first went gluten free, I thought I would have to leave some things behind forever. One of my favorite family traditions is to make crepes with a variety of fun toppings for a special occasion breakfast or just a saturday morning. But it seemed impossible to recreate that thin, silky, slightly crisp texture of a crepe in a gluten free form...until I discovered buckwheat.

Buckwheat can have a slightly sour and robust flavor on its own, and so is typically in savory crepes that you might fill with chicken salad, cheesy asparagus and more.

But I wanted to recreate a sweet breakfast crepe, and I'm pleased to say after a lot of experimentation, this recipe definitely does the trick! Cooking with the batter to produce the ideal crepe texture does take a little experimentation and finesse, but I've provided explanation below to help guide you on the way. The keys will be getting the batter the right thinness and the pan the right heat. Once you get that balance you should be able to reliably crank out fantastic crepes!

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here are three of our favorite flavor combos to get you started: 1) Spread with lemon preserve, top with fresh sliced strawberries and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 2) Fill with a medley of fresh fruits and whipped cream, drizzle with honey. 3) Spread with nutella, top with fresh sliced bananas.

Recipe
1 cup milk (may sub up to 1/4 c for kefir)
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose Gluten-free flour
dash of salt
3 tablespoons melted butter
2.5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest


Melted butter for the pan (approx 2 tablespoons)

Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes, up to an hour. May save for up to 48 hours in the fridge. You want the batter considerably thinner than pancake batter. Consider the first few crepes tester crepes until you figure out the right thickness to work with your pan technique to produce the kind of crepes you want. Even the mistakes that rip or are too thick are delicious to eat!

Because they lack gluten, they are more prone to breaking when trying to flip. But if you cook them thinly there is no need to flip, you can cook on one side and they will cook through.

Heat pan on high, then gradually reduce to medium-high. Dip a paper towel into the melted butter and spread some on your pan. Pour a slight half-ladle (approx 1/4 cup) into a small non-stick pan. Holding the pre-heated pan up off the heat, gradually rotate the pan in a gentle circle so the excess batter slowly moves around the pan settling into a well-distributed circle. When no more excess moves as you tilt, place the pan back on the heat.

You'll know the crepe is done when it loses its glossy sheen on top, and the edges brown. Slip a silicone spatula around the edges to loosen (you will also be able to peek for doneness that way). Then invert the pan over a plate to remove (tip: you'll want to invert at a slight angle so it slips off, rather than holding the pan perfectly upside down).

Using your paper towel, spread a little more butter and pour your next crepe. Repeat steps above.

Tip: For a lacier looking crepe, use slightly less batter. That will allow air to bubble through to the top and a slight crisp to form. If you cannot achieve this texture (and you want it) even with using a very small amount of batter, you may need to thin out your batter slightly with a tablespoon of extra water.

Tip: As the pan continues to warm up while you are making crepes, the edges will start to brown more and more in advance of losing the sheen, which is how you will know it is time to turn the heat down a bit more, edging toward medium-high.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Game of Thrones garden

My love of food eventually lead me to a love of gardening, where you can grow fantastic, unconventional varieties that surpass what is available in grocery stores and even in farmers markets. So this year, while catching up on the newly released Game of Thrones DVDs and shopping for seeds for my summer garden, I couldn't help but notice that there were quite a few coincidental varieties. For the fan, your Game of Thrones summer garden plan...


Rob Stark, King of the North

King of The North sweet pepper

Master schemer Petyr Baelish, known as Littlefinger

Little Finger Carrots

Mother of dragons

Dragon Tongue Beans

Kahl Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen, whose term of endearment was sun and stars

Sun and stars corn
Tyrion Lannister, the quick witted dwarf of the golden Lannister Lion
Golden Midget Watermelon

Bronn the Sellsword, Tyrion's champion

Golden Dwarf Champion cherry tomato

Gendry, bastard of Robert Baratheon, known for his bull's horn helmet

Red Bull's Horn Peppers

Red comet, the ominous portend of things to come

Red Comet Radish

The sun and stars sigil of Brienne, of House Tarth

Organic Moon and Stars Watermelon

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Ask 5 for 5: One mother's mission to feed hungry children in Africa

I am personally deeply involved in political and social issues on the African continent because I have spent more than three years living in Ghana. So today it is my great pride to share with you a post from a guest blogger who has deep personal connections to east Africa. Those connections have turned into a burning passion to be a force for good in the lives of children half a world away. Because sometimes it turns out that half a world away isn't so far after all. --Erin, The Skinny Gourmet

Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5
Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography



Thank you Skinny Gourmet and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.


A hungry child in East Africa can't wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we'll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps. 


At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren't so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world's first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.


The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond--or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity's baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don't do anything at all.


When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn't want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?




My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya--the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, "I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm." The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. "We don't have enough food now...our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues."


Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on--in nine generations of 5x5x5...we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to
help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support,
healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.


I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:
  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (http://seeyourimpact.org/members/ask5for5)
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!
I'm looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at ask5for5@gmail.com if you're interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn't wait. She doesn't wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn't wait for us to decide if she's important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on...please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped--you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don't move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you're life is busy like mine, you probably won't get back to it later. Let's not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let's leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!



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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baobab: Personal encounters with next superfruit


Baobab fruit. Source: wikipedia.
Salmon, broccoli, blueberries, acai. Lately it seems like we're changing super foods almost as often as the Kardashians change purses. These foods garner attention because, ounce for ounce, they pack more nutrients than most. Such super foods have been touted with disease fighting benefits, anti-aging properties and more. Well, now it seems there's a new kid on the block: Baobab.

Self magazine did a feature on baobab proclaiming it the next big thing, with more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium thank milk, and more fiber than you can imagine. Here's the funny thing: I have been obsessed with baobab since I first tasted it in Mali's arid hinderlands nearly ten years ago.

The baobab tree is a signature sight in West Africa: its thick, squat trunk erupts suddenly into a wiry tangle of thin branches. It grows in arid regions where few other trees grow, providing needed shade to crops, livestock, and people. As I hiked across the stunning Dogon region of Mali, we would often pass young shepherd boys finding respite from the baking noon sun under the shade of the baobab's trunk.

One afternoon we found some of the baobab pods and cracked them open. The interior fruit was as arid as the surrounding landscape: a pale creamy color, desiccated and cracked with fissures and air pockets throughout. Dubious, at the urging of our guide I put a piece in my mouth. The first experience of the texture was just like the astronaut ice cream I sometimes enjoyed on trips to the science museum. The delicate porous structure began to melt in my mouth, turning from dry and firm into an explosion of flavor that was reminiscent of citrus with a floral note. Was there the subtle suggestion of pineapple in there too? We debated the way to describe the flavor and eagerly worked our way through several pods of baobab.

At the time, I didn't know I was eating the next big superfruit ten years ahead of fashion. I just knew it was delicious.

But it wasn't simply that it was delicious. It was also that it was rare. In the West we are so spoiled in the age of the massive super market, with foods flown and trucked in from all over the globe, that we rarely experience the rarity of food. We get, at best, hints of it through local seasonality: the breathtaking perfection of a Southern peach grown miles from your home in the height of the season. As you eat it, as the juice runs down your chin and fingers, there is a small part of you that knows you will never get this again until next year. That no forlorn grocery peach in October is going to compare to the splendor of this June peach in Georgia. So you eat slowly, and your brain tingles with the effort of memorizing every curve and turn of its flavor.

THAT is what tasting baobab was like, only it has been ten years since I have had the flavor.

I have no idea if the nutritional powders that they will inevitably make from this will compare to the flavor of the fruit itself, but if you get a chance to try baobab, don't hold back. And if you find it at a store near you, please let me know!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fast and Easy Homemade Tzatziki

Tzatziki sauce has a fresh vibrant taste that is an ideal accompaniment to summer grill-outs. It is traditionally served cold with Greek and sometimes Turkish foods. Most Americans may know this sauce as the creamy, flavorful sauce that comes on gyros. But if you only eat tzatziki on gyros you are missing out! It works well with conventional greek tastes--such as lamb--but you'd be surprised how lovely it is on other grilled meats--especially beef tenderloin and chicken--and with grilled vegetable skewers.

Tzatziki was in a class of foods, like yogurt and crackers, that I had irrationally decided could only be made by commercial food companies. It just descended fully formed from on high, and landed on my grocery shelves. Somehow I had gone most of my life without even considering that I could make tzatziki at home myself. But once we gave it a try, I was shocked at how fast and easy it was to make this delicious and healthy sauce at home.

Best of all, nearly all the ingredients for tzatziki are growing in my backyard garden right now! So it is a perfect spring-harvest gardener's delight.

Tzatziki Sauce
Recipe from: Real Simple April 2011

1 Cup low fat Greek yogurt (plain)
1 cucumber, seeded and grated (about 1.25 cups)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp, add more to taste)
pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp or 5 turns of the peppermill)

Combine all of the above in a small bowl. I like to allow it to sit for a bit in the fridge before serving, so the flavors can really permeate. Serve it cold with whatever your heart desires!

Note: Other tzatziki recipes include dill, parsley, or lemon juice, so you may also enjoy experimenting with adding these flavors.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

CreativeLIVE with Penny de los Santos: Finding food photography I love, and figuring out why

This weekend I was incredibly lucky to participate in a live streaming broadcast (thanks to CreativeLIVE of food photographer Penny de los Santos, whose work is often featured in Saveur magazine. Her food photography style favors drawing out graphic elements of food with overhead shots, and setting sharp colors off with white or understated backgrounds. I found out about the workshop the day before it started and as soon as I saw Penny's images I knew I had to attend. So this weekend--with an incredibly sick toddler next to me endlessly rewatching Curious George movies--I hunkered down on my couch and devoured the experience of a weekend workshop in artistic, smart, gorgeous food photography.

When the second day of the workshop ended on Saturday, I was so fired up I couldn't see straight. I spent an hour in my garden shooting crusty carrots (photos to come!). Once it got too dark to do that, I came inside and decided to follow Penny's advice to saturate yourself with work you love and to think about why it speaks to you. She advised that when you put images you admire into your head before a shoot, your brain digests them and it can subtly inform your work without being derivative. So here, in a jumble of stream of consciousness, are photos I stumbled on, sought out and reacted to...the visual food I'm trying to feed my brain to make me a better food photographer.

Where to start? Naturally with Penny's blog. Though a signature overhead view, I utterly love the humanness of the hands in this pesto ingredients shot, as well as the way penny completely embraces the directionality of the light as a member of the compositional scene. Here, in another overhead I found myself reflecting on how not only texture, but sheen (degrees of light reflectivity) could add interest to the composition. The shiny oil plays against the matte plate to add interest even within a muted color palette.

Penny really shines with a human subject, and her cultures of food portfolio is entrancing. I found myself looking at some of the photos and having to remind myself how utterly common some of them were, because Penny infuses them with an intuitive sense of capturing personality that makes farm boys at a diner look at home next to the seemingly exotic turbaned men at a lunch counter.

Perhaps because it was my first love, the food photography of Lara Ferroni will always be foremost in my mind when I think of images that make my heart race and my mouth salivate. I am impressed also because she seems to have such a truly broad style and voice to her photos, utilizing different compositions and angles and colors, while still having a style that is immediately coherent and recognizable.

I like how she pairs verticle and horizontal movement in photos, giving negative space an interesting voice, as in these diptechs of cake and compote. I'm not ashamed to admit that I may have actually moaned out loud at the second photo of Beignets with fudgy chicory coffee sauce. The inky darkness has just the right amount of movement on the plate. Having watched the food stylist spend tons of time trying to achieve that "effortlessly messy" effect with hotsauce in the workshop, I have a new appreciation for a "messy streak" in a photo. And I'll confess this one makes me think slightly dirty thoughts about chocolate and wreckless abandon. Enough said.

Gorgeous use of vibrant pink color on a cool white and metal background together with subtle contrasting texture in these photos of red onions. The sliced rings stacked beneath the smooth body of the onion ending with the wild flare of the onion skin pulled back is a stroke of genius.

As food bloggers go, you have to love Deb of Smitten Kitchen who does more in a tiny kitchen than any human has right to. I particularly like her set up shots, like these recent photos of leeks or these cherry tomatoes (particularly the one of them randomly floating in the bowl).

I also love the work of Jennifer Davick, who photographs for Southern Living (and who I've met). This diptech citrus still life makes me breathe a little faster. I imagine if I looked at a thousand portfolios, citrus would come up often because of the beautiful geometry and color. But this one is still lovely.



In this pineapple upside down cake, done in cast iron, the pineapple and traditional cherries provides eye catching color, while the crusty" cast iron appears just in frame, adding some tension to the composition.

After watching the photographers dance around color palates all day, I found myself surprised by how drawn I was to the nearly monochromatic green pea soup with the green pea background and how much I liked the clean simple lines of the white and the textured natural color of the napkin breaking the continuum. And I find myself sucked into the slightly darker zucchini tie like mass into a black hole.

Shooting whites is always a terrible challenge for me, but I was really drawn to this white and neutrals palate broken by the golden syrup on the finished dish, and the tasteful placement of the two star anise, which get rockstar positions in the composition by virtue of their chromatic contrast. I also love the way the comparison (the position of the spoon?) bounces the eye between the eaten and the polished, finished dish.


David Bishop does a lot of very close in shots, like this or these deviled eggs or this brittle. Most of those didn't really work for me, they felt like a bossy woman who was talking too close to my face.

But I continue to feel like Penny is too quick to totally throw out the idea of getting in close with a subject. I did like the combos of the dewy sprouted garlic and whipped mayo as well as the spun sugar and poached pear.

Has some up close ones as well (breakfast). For close work, one I liked best was the one of the zucchini rolls. I think close was effective in this case because the horizontal lines of the dark green and the roundness of the salmon color were nice simple color motifs that are repeated in the background without being distracting because they play against a simple white palate and are out of focus because of the short depth of field. I think it gives me the sense of greater concentration on smaller food.

I also thought that the very tight shot of a cooking egg was incredibly effective because the closeness and the unconventional angle on the egg gives it an other-worldly appearance. Though it is immediately recognizable as a familiar culinary item, the viewer confronts it like an alien world, and therefore attends to different aspects of the egg, seeing the common through new eyes. However, the same was not true for these close ups on beef cubes and shrimp. There the tight focus isn't doing it for me because it is not adding new information about the item, and it is not making me view it in a new way. Actually I sort of thought of this shot in the back of my head all day today.

For looser shots, I liked the uncooked meat. Something about the way the board came towards the viewer while the bone went away, the casual salt sprinkled on the board and the apples breaking the rectangular lines. I thought the pork chops scattered on wood sort of missed the mark. Evidently "messy is the new black" but this seems completely inauthentically messy to me: when does one scatter cooked meat on the tabletop? Plus a color to break the browned meat from the browned table would have been nice. I found myself thinking of a pewter platter, maybe with a white or spring green napkin.

I was drawn to the work of Matt Armendariz. His people work has a lovely eye for capturing personality and contextualizing food with its human element. In his food work, I really liked how he was able to move seamlessly between light, dark and colorful palettes. He uses dark palates to make colors pop--like these bacon wrapped shrimp in a way that appears comfortable and natural, less contrived.

Because Penny de los Santos spent so much time mentioning pizza as the classic case of a "no brainer" overhead shoot, I was really drawn to photos that seemed to successfully capture pizza from other angles. One great example of that was this fig and arugula pizza still on the wood peel. I think I love that the peel is coming towards the lens, but slightly off center, and that the out-of-focus figs in the background tone into the shadows of the napkin, but I think I would have liked a purple element--a cut fig?--up front to pull that theme throughout the composition. I wrestled with my feelings about these asparagus. This seemed to be a case of artistically choosing whites that were "too hot" but the effect of the backlighting hot whites (perhaps plus this front angle?) is to make them seem like they are floating, which is slightly disorienting and not in an entirely good way. Christina Peters had another example of a very tight focus on food, combined with an interesting lighting choice, that I thought really elevated the food and presented it in an ethereal and unconventional way. The lighting and perspective gives the swiss chard vivid and voluptuous motion, part other-worldly cathedral, part curling tidal wave.

Interestingly composed baking ingredients still life. When I get several elements at the same time I have never been able to master the ability to frame them with different graphic elements (that also vary in size) and arrange them in a way that has tension and conversation while also being visually pleasing. I think this hits the mark for me at least.

Up close, vegetable takes on the form of fantastically curved alien tenticlesThese star anise. These prosciuto wrapped figs evoked a sort of modernist architecture that reminded me of vegas, both lush and sterile. But the modern sterility of the lines of the background and complementary dishes really highlighted the veining in the proscuitto for me, making me almost embarrassingly aware of its live, natural vitality.

Shooting the soup in the bowls of butternut soup from an angle other than overhead really made the accent of the thyme pop for me. I think the structural three dimensionality of the thyme would have disappeared from overhead. The plated fish and the steamed dumplings both really worked for me, though I can't quite figure out why.

Fellow workshop participant Steve E Miller apples still life. I also liked the tension and movement captured in this flaming wok though I would have loved to see that photo paired with a picture of the dish being plated so we knew more about the content of the food. Though this is a bit tight to really know the food--Penny might say it needs more room to "breathe"--I loved how the composition highlighted the gentle curve of the lobster across the white space of the background.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Buttercream Cake Decorating: Game of Thrones Cupcakes

Spring gives some people a burning desire to clean things. I have never suffered that particular affliction. But every spring I seem to find myself newly obsessed, OCD style, with some specific aspect of food. One year it was a burning fascination with making homemade biscotti. I went through dozens of recipes and then once I totally understood the form, I started making up my own. Another spring it was scones. Batch after batch of exotic flavors came through my stove and into the patient palate of my husband.

This year, it appears my Spring obsession is cake decorating. This seems quirky and a bit old fashioned. Like something out of the 1950s where I put on my frilly apron and wow my friends with a spectacularly decorated cake. I think it came with my child though. It started at my son's first birthday when I realized that every year there would be this big event--his birthday--that would occasion cakes. The first year they were monkey cupcakes. This year I realized that as a two-year-old he would actually be old enough and aware enough to be interested in his cake, and excited about what it looked like. So I got really super freaking crazy and made a three dimensional Thomas the Train cake. It was moderately successful, but lets just say that it ended with an accidental beheading of Thomas, and the realization that I might just not be innately God's gift to cake decorating. I might have to work at it. I might have to learn something.

So off I went, in search of cake decorating classes. So far I've only had two quick classes, but I've got plans to take more. And recently I had a chance for my Spring obsession in food to meet my 2011 obsession in books: Game of Thrones Cupcakes.

This is probably where I should confess, up front, to being a total utter geek. I love all manner of truly geeky books. I am not someone at a cocktail party who professes only to like deeply esoteric French literature. I am someone who lights up for a discussion of old school Asimov. And right now, I am deeply obsessed with the Game of Thrones series. My husband and I read all the available books out loud to each other. They are well written with meaty characters and a political power struggle theme that all together is just a joy to read. So I was thrilled when the series was developed for television on HBO. Our family's geekery has met up with other families and we've agreed to get together for weekly viewing parties.

It so happened that this all coincided with a recent buttercream frosting cake decorating class. The result was inevitable: Game of Thrones cupcakes inspired by the sigils of the various houses.



The full pan: Lannister lions, Stark Direwolf, Greyjoy Kraken and more. (Right) A special cupcake with a unicorn sigil. There is a house with a unicorn sigil in the book, but mostly I made this for a little girl who loves unicorns.


My fierce Stark Direwolf is neither fierce nor terribly recognizable as a wolf.
This wolf thing is harder than I thought it would be.


In my head I would render a fierce and stoic Lannister lion. In reality it is too cute and cuddly.


The white rose of Highgarden turned out well enough (rosette really).
But Sincere apologies to Riverrun; a leaping trout on a field of blue and red seemed easy enough until I tried to do it.


Sorry Targaryans, no three headed dragon for you. Like the unicorn, the dragon was more inspired by a certain little boy who loves dragons and who will be in attendance tonight. That said, the dragon was not terribly difficult to make. It helps that wings plus fire makes a blob of icing look decently dragon-like.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Power Cleaning the Fridge: Attempting the 20 minute super clean

Is it possible to deep clean the fridge in under an hour? That alone sounds crazy, but then I get really nuts and attempt to deep clean the fridge in 20 minutes.

If you ask me about the last time I cleaned my fridge out entirely, I would have to ask when we moved in. I spot clean now and then when I see something dripping. I am ashamed to admit I'm such a slouch at fridge cleaning, but these casual touch ups are becoming less and less effectual in the face of mounting gunk and grime. I love the stunning brilliance of a perfectly cleaned and organized fridge. Like a 1950s stereotype, I actually feel more refreshed and calm when my fridge is in order. But I have zero desire to be the one who puts it in order. So when I saw Real Simple had a plan for a 20 minute speed clean of the fridge, I took a deep breath, and I plunged in.

Can this mild mannered working mother foodie actually conquer the Olympic sport of power cleaning the fridge in record time? Come along with me on the play-by-play coverage of the main event: Fridge Cleaning 2011... Now with horribly embarrassing pictures! If you ever wanted to feel better about the state of your fridge...

I set the timer for twenty minutes. One of those old timey timers with a really satisfying buzz at the end of it. Just thinking about the buzz evokes the adrenaline inducing nervousness of grade-school.

Real Simple suggests that you spend minutes 1-2 unplugging the fridge and dusting off the coil with some special brush that I do not possess. I spend some period of time staring at our fridge wondering if I can reasonably get it out of the tight recess into which it fits without dumping all the miscellaneous stuff on top of it. I decide against unplugging the fridge and believe the coils will survive. I reach inside to the thermostat and turn it off so I don't waste too much energy.

Next I get about the business of removing the food from all the shelves and drawers. Real Simple suggests that I spend three minutes doing this. I briefly consider whether they are cleaning out a pint sized beer fridge, or are the sort of people who only keep creamer and stale bread in their fridge.

My fridge is always packed to the seams with foodstuffs for the week and a menagerie of condiments and exotic ingredients. Kneeling in front of the fridge working as fast as I can with both hands I move the menagerie out of the fridge and it increasingly occupies a circle around me on the floor and stools. I uncover a couple of duplicates: two open jars of spaghetti sauce, two open containers of yellow mustard. Mental note to combine.

Another thing that slows me down is that I'm checking expirations along the way and making choices about what needs to be tossed. How long has that hoison sauce been in there? How long do capers keep after opened? I'm thinning the herd, and it is work that needs to be done, but precious seconds are ticking by.

The folks at Real Simple recommend that you remove drawers for washing in the sink. I've got two big produce drawers and one smaller one (ostensibly for lunch meat but ours is crammed full of exotic cheeses). Turns out I need to move the wine rack to get the door open far enough to get the second big drawer out of the fridge, so more time gets wasted there.

I enlist the husband to soap up the drawers while I turn back to the fridge. At this point I'm cheating a bit because it isn't a solo job, now there are two of us working on it. It occurs to me that RS does not promise this is done by one person and for all I know they have a fleet working with them. I glance at the timer and realize that more than half our time has gone by already and I choke a bit.

Real Simple suggests spraying the shelves with a multi-purpose spray and then just wiping them down. I stare forlorn at the gunk on the shelves and realize I will be scrubbing till Kingdom Come if I don't get them out and under the influence of some hot water. So all the shelves come out too and get passed to the husband.

At this point, our toddler with the double ear infection wakes up and starts crying. Because unlike magazine pages, life happens even while you are cleaning. The husband goes "off the clock" to comfort the kiddo, and I assume his post at the sink, working my way through the pile of shelves at top speed.

I have a shelf in my hand, with the fridge door unloaded and none of the walls or bottom wiped when the timer goes off. Oof. I start the stopwatch on my watch to track how far over the 20 minutes we go and then I finish the removed shelves, set them in the drain to dry and head back to the fridge.

The bottom takes a lot of scrubbing, because the "trickle down economics" of fridge life means that everything that goes wrong winds up as gunk stuck somewhere in the bottom. I discover something suspiciously like honey (but can't possibly be honey because we don't keep it in the fridge) that is remarkably durable and resistant to cleaning. I briefly consider whether I, like the early pioneer of penicillin, have accidentally created the next super glue.

I am using a multi-purpose cleaner that is non-toxic and homemade at an earth-friendly cleaning products class I took that day (from Megan of ProUtilitas Blog and ProUtilitas Etsy). So I am feeling very virtuous, and relieved not to have to worry about having my head in a cloud of toxins, because I'm spending a LOT of time in this fridge. It also smells delightfully of lavender and lemongrass.

The mostly dry shelves get sprayed down with the homemade disinfectant and put back in. Now we remove everything from the doors and hubs washes the door containers while I wipe the door down.

Now all that is left is to put the food back in, but we are already at an hour of cleaning time, and much of it with two people working.

I realize it isn't the end of the world though. The promise of a 20 minute clean lured me in and helped me overcome the inertia of a dreaded task. And at the end of the hour plus cleaning time, I realize the whole project wasn't so bad, because my husband is fun and working with him always makes things easier to handle. I think I was also motivated by the vague sports-like overtones, us working together to race the clock.

At the end we sit down congratulating ourselves on tackling a big and dreaded task. We bask in the glory of that shiny clean fridge. And we tell ourselves that the 20 minute clean is probably something you can do if you don't keep a lot of food in your fridge and you clean it out weekly. Or if you have a staff of five working in finely coordinated precision, like German engineers. We agree to try again in a week to test our theory. Even so, I'm not holding out much hope.

But if you manage to clean your fridge in 20 minutes let me know.

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