florence, italy

I’ll be working as a counselor at a summer camp for six weeks where I will be (mostly) tech-free, so as to not go on hiatus, I’m doing a series about my travels in Europe last summer. Each week will feature a different city I visited during my two weeks in Italy and Greece.

Our first stop was Florence, Italy. I loved this city. It’s so full of history and beauty, and you can walk its entirety. Narrow cobblestone streets maze through, leading to plazas with huge cathedrals, leather markets, and gelato shops. The Duomo centers the city, towering over the streets with the most intricate detail. You could spend hours looking at the exterior and continue to find more to see. It’s the original site of Michelangelo’s David, which was actually carved with the perspective viewers would have looking up at the statue outside of the dome (where the scaffolding is in second photo), which is why David‘s hands look larger than would be anatomically correct. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the real David, though the museum was only a few minutes from our hostel, because we ran out of time in our three day visit. The imitations are still incredible, but I hope to go back one day and see the real thing. Another thing I missed out on this trip was going to the Uffizi, which houses art from all the Renaissance greats. Again, I hope to go back soon to see what I missed.

What I did get to see, however, was Dante’s home, the Santa Croce church, and Ponte Vecchio, the bridge with brightly colored jewelry shops hanging over the water. Painters were lined up on the street along the water, capturing the colors on canvas. I hit every gelato shop recommended, by tour guides and Google (which means I had way too much gelato) and one of my favorites was Vivoli, where I got a scoop of dark chocolate. My cousin and I went on a mini scavenger hunt for street art by the famous “Blub” who paints figures like Shakespeare with scuba goggles (eighth picture). Florence is truly an artist’s paradise, with the architecture, sculptures, paintings, and street art scattered everywhere in the city.

One of our nights in Florence, we went up to a vineyard in Tuscany for a wine-tasting and home-cooked Italian meal. We were served bottomless wine and pasta, all with a spectacular view of the hills. On the way back, we stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset over the city.

I hope to return to this beautiful place someday for more.

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champagne birthday cake

One of my best friends turned 20 yesterday, so we had to celebrate—dinner at our favorite local restaurant and birthday cake after. I was in charge of the cake (i.e. I took charge) and the birthday girl requested a champagne cake with raspberries. I found the cake recipe on Pinterest (of course) on a food blog, Feast & Fable, that is fantastic all around, take a look! And this cake is so good. Like SO good. It strikes the balance of fluffy and moist, not too dense but not too airy. The champagne flavor is subtle but noticeable and complements beautifully with fresh raspberries. I topped each layer with my vanilla buttercream and lots of raspberries, then finished with a more naked look and fresh flowers from the local florist and my front yard. (Despite many jokes from my brother and sincere questions from my friends, no the flowers are not edible.) The cake got a little lopsided in assembly, but the flowers provided a wow-factor that distracted from my inability to keep things straight. My family was disappointed that they didn’t get to try any of the cake, so I’m making it again already and maybe I’ll get it perfect the second time around.

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Cake recipe from Feast & Fable:

  • 1¾ cups flour (or cake flour)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup champagne

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 6″ or two 8″ cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper to keep cakes from sticking.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Add the vanilla, oil, and yogurt and beat until just combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat. Finally, add the champagne.

Once combined into a smooth batter, fill each cake pan with equal amounts and place in center rack of oven. Check the cakes for doneness with a toothpick around 20 minutes, but they will likely need 3-5 minutes more, depending on oven, location, etc. The tops should be slightly golden with edges coming away from the pan.

When cakes are done, let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes. Remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 3½ powdered sugar (plus or minus more as needed)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Place 2 cups of powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat until fully combined, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Add more powdered sugar until frosting is fluffy and somewhat stiff. Use more milk if frosting becomes too thick, until you reach your desired level. A stiffer frosting is better for holding cakes together and for piping decorations.

Once cakes are completely cool, place one layer on a plate or cake stand and cover with a thin layer of frosting. Place washed raspberries on top, making some fun concentric circles. Pipe more frosting in between raspberries to make it even, then place the next layer on top. Repeat for second layer if it’s three layer cake.

When layers are assembled, use remaining frosting (should not be a lot) to thinly cover the cake for a naked finish. Top with fresh flowers, more raspberries, or whatever else you would like.

Share with all of your friends and family because they will love you forever and ever. Enjoy!

lake superior

We took a somewhat spontaneous girls’ trip up to Marquette, MI this week, complete with shopping, food, and (of course) tons of pictures. The main stop was Lake Superior where everyone had their turn posing on the rocks, Kardashian style, and then sorority style. The water was freezing; I think I lost all feeling in my toes. It was a beautiful day, inside and out, and my friends are the most beautiful part. We were all full of laughter and when I got home my voice was almost gone from singing (badly, I’ll warn) so much on the way home. It’s days like this that make me realize how great everything really is.

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vanilla-almond rum cake

I made this cake after some significant nudges from my mother who found the recipe in Food & Wine magazine, and the recipe is a keeper. I’ve already been asked to make it again. The cake is soft and a bit nutty from the almond flour, soaked in a rum simple syrup to keep it moist and a little boozy, and topped with a vanilla bean glaze. It’s perfect for spring/summer. The recipe is slightly more involved, inspired by a bakery in Brookline, MA, but the ingredients are classic and easy to find (with the exception of vanilla bean paste). It was nice for me to get back in the kitchen though, and I liked putting the extra time into this cake. My friend assisted (i.e. photographed) the baking process, so my mishap with this cake is fully documented—you can’t tell from the final product, but the cake would not come out of the pan. Even with a generous amount of butter and flour in the pan, a chunk stayed stuck and had to be patched in. The glaze covered the mistake so it was all perfectly fine. It’s how it tastes that counts after all, right? And this cake was delicious and gone in a day.

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Vanilla-Almond Rum Cake:

Ingredients:

cake:

  • 1¾ cups almond flour
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Myers’s Original Dark Rum

rum simple syrup:

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Myers’s Original Dark Rum

vanilla bean glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar

 

For directions, go to above link at foodandwine.com.

summer reading list

Summer is my favorite time to read. You can sit outside in the sun by the lake, on the beach, in a hammock—whatever suits you—and just read for hours on end. Every summer I go through books like crazy, especially now that I’m in college and don’t get the time during the school year to read like I used to. So to plan ahead, I made a list of some of the books I’d like to take on this summer. I tried to mix classics with contemporary, some repeats with new bestsellers, so it’s not a cohesive list with a common theme. I have Vonnegut and Hemingway, Salinger and Plath. Some poetry by Richard Siken. Jandy Nelson’s bestseller. Cartoons illustrating how complicated life is. They’re simply books I want to read (again, in some cases).

summer books 2018

  • Crush, Richard Siken — a repeat, but a short poetry book that captivates; winner of the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger — another repeat, but one I’ve been waiting to return to
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath — a new one for me
  • Dirty Pretty Things, Michael Faudet — contemporary poetry, short and sweet
  • I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson — another repeat, but perfect for the summer
  • The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut — I’m a big fan of Vonnegut, as ridiculous as he is, and this is one I haven’t gotten to yet
  • It’s All Absolutely Fine, Rubyetc. — witty illustrations and some stories (the title is why I bought it)
  • Algedonic, r.h. Sin — another contemporary poet
  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway — one I’ve been waiting to read all year
  • Whisper to Me, Nick Lake — just finished this one (expect a post soon!), a Michael L. Printz Award-winning author

banana pancakes

Now that I’m officially done with sophomore year (halfway through college, what?), I can finally take a break from writing papers to write a blog post. My first Saturday at home, I had a banana pancakes morning to myself—Jack Johnson style. I put on a soft acoustic playlist and got to work. Well, as much work as these simple three-ingredient pancakes require. When you want pancakes, but without the prep or the guilt that comes with them, then these pancakes are perfect: only eggs, overly-ripe bananas, and a splash of vanilla. The result is an omelet-like texture, but with the sweetness of bananas. You can’t expect a true pancake when you make these, but you can somewhat satisfy the craving, without the added sugar or carbs. I find that they are a great grain-free option that pair well with fresh berries and maple syrup.

banana pancakes

Ingredients:

2 ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs (plus one more for fluffier texture)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all in a small bowl. Cook 1/4 cup of batter at a time over medium heat. Top with whatever you’d like (chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberries, peanut butter, syrup, Nutella, etc.)

 

self portrait

Last week’s painting homework was focused on self portraits. Three portraits—two from life and one from a photo. I’m a little uncomfortable with depicting myself in any way, whether it’s a selfie on my phone or a formal portrait in oil paint. I just don’t like it. It’s too much ‘me’ or looks nothing like me. Inevitably, something is messed up that leads to me burying my drawing or painting or photo under everything else and pretending it never happened.  If I have to do a self portrait, I go for a pose that hides my face or obscures it, so I can avoid the awkward moment of stepping back and seeing a creepy face that could maybe, possibly, be mine.

My first two portraits for the assignment were no exception—I cringed as soon as I put my brush down. These, needless to say, were not documented and will soon be shoved into my reject pile, though they provided a great learning experience. The second part of the assignment was a more time-intensive portrait, to be done in the style of a selected portrait artist. My artist was Jenny Saville, a British painter who focuses on the female body in a realistic and raw way. She paints the imperfections, the unattractive angles. She works on a huge scale (around 8×8 feet, typically) which leaves her figures towering over viewers. Her paint is layered and textured, and she moves from cool to warm tones to create a color landscape even in one area of skin. It was ambitious to choose her for this project, but I learned a lot: layering, using big brush strokes, and utilizing the full range of colors in skin. I also learned to embrace the unattractive angle, even when it’s my own face.

I took a few pictures during the process to try to show the different layers built up, but also to help myself critique in-progress. Also included are some aesthetic palettes, and the underpainting for one of my first two self portraits, which looks more like me than the final product.

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