Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A week in LA

Sometimes I am able to overlook the ridiculous traffic and the seasonless weather and -- for perhaps just a fleeting moment -- kind of love LA.

bluffs at pacific palisades


umami burger

looking toward santa monica

looking toward topanga


fried egg sandwich at huckleberry cafe



Sunday, June 26, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays, Practice Makes Perfect Edition

I love watching professional dancers in class.  Seeing them do the exercises every single ballet dancer does -- just faster, higher, and more expressively -- inspires me to take class more often and more seriously.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays, "It's Britney, Bitch" Edition

Ok, I find this Britney song so unbearably annoying that I switch the channel whenever it comes on the radio.  The video for the song is equally ridiculous -- essentially a long series of product placements. HOWEVER, the dancing in it is brilliant, and in these behind-the-scenes videos, you an actually see how amazing the choreography is and have a sense of how fabulous the video could have been if they'd taken out the weird "giant Britney attacks the TV and herself" concept and just let the dancing speak for itself. Check out SYTYCD alums Billy Bell and Ben Susak in the contemporary section.  And Lauren Gottlieb plays Britney in the rehearsal footage.


Friday, June 17, 2011

This is why I love SYTYCD.



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Lemon Whoopie Pies

After a week of 80+ degree weather, we're back to dreary and rainy days here in Boston.  But you know the saying: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade . . . or, better yet, lemon whoopie pies.

As you know (from here and here), I adore whoopie pies, but I find many whoopie pies too sweet.  So when I happened upon this lemon whoopie pie recipe from the fabulous Joy the Baker, I knew I had to make it: the tartness of the lemons make this a grown-up whoopie pie (if that's not an oxymoron).  To amplify the contrast between the tartness of the lemons and the sweetness of the cake and frosting, I added lime zest and subtracted some sugar from the frosting.  These whoopies taste like my favorite childhood candy, Lemonheads.


For the cookies:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling

  • 6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (I like the texture of whipped cream cheese the best for frostings)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (more to taste, if you like)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.  In a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until smooth.  Add the egg, lemon juice and vanilla.  On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it.  Add the buttermilk.  Mix in the remaining flour mixture just until it is incorporated and the batter looks smooth.

Using a ice cream scooper or a spherical measuring spoon, drop about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets.  You should get about 24 medium-sized cookies (enough for 12 whoopie pies).  Refrigerate the dough balls for 15 minutes or so before baking; this will help the whoopies hold their domed shape.  (I made my first batch without refrigerating the dough, and as you can see from the photos, many of the whoopie pies turned out flat.)  Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops feel firm, about 12 minutes.  Joy says that with the exception of the edges, the tops of the cookies should not brown.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then use a wide spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting.  At low speed, beat the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, lemon zest, lime zest, and lemon juice until thoroughly blended and smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Chill frosting in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Assemble the whoopie pies by sandwiching about 1.5 tablespoons of filling between two cookies. Wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Serve cold.  Joy says that the wrapped cookies can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, but I doubt you'd have any leftover after day 1!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Strawberry Crumble Cake

The markets around here are brimming with gorgeous strawberries. Unable to resist their juicy goodness, I without fail come home with way too many berries for a two-person household. When this madness happened again this weekend, I decided that I had to find a delicious way to use up multiple pints of berries.

Food & Wine came to the rescue with a recipe that combines berries with what I love most in desserts: moist, buttery cake and a sweet, crispy crumble.  Eaten warm, this strawberry crumble cake is like a hug in the sun.


For the filling:
  • 3 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved (8 cups) -- I used about 6 cups fresh berries and 2 cups thawed frozen berries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
For the crumb toppping:
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • (I also added a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.)
For the cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

To begin, make the fruit filling: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch slurry and vanilla seeds and let stand until the berries release some of their juices, about 30 minutes. Pour the fruit filling into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish set on a sturdy baking sheet.

Then make the crumble topping.  In a medium bowl, mix all of the crumble ingredients with your fingers (or a pastry cutter) until a coarse meal forms; press into small clumps.  (I prefer using the pastry cutter because I find that this keeps the butter cold.  For the same reason, I keep the prepared crumble in the fridge until I'm ready to bake.)

Then make the cake.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract and scrape down the bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk.

Spoon the batter over the fruit filling, spreading it to the edge. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling, the crumb topping is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Serve the crumb cake warm or at room temperature.

Food & Wine says you can make this dessert ahead of time and refrigerate overnight.  I put it in the fridge for two nights, let it come to temperature a few hours before serving, and warmed it up in a 225 degree oven.  The textures of the cake were still perfect: crispy crumble on top, soft cake layer in the middle, and a syrupy berry base.

Consume with vanilla ice cream or a glass of ice cold milk.  Smile at the thought that summer is upon us.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays, SYTYCD Edition

The top 20 were announced this week on SYTYCD, which I'm thrilled with, since it means we can start watching the performances of people who can dance, instead of fast-forwarding through allegedly "funny," but really just sad, auditions of people who absolutely cannot dance.  In addition to Melanie Moore, two of my other favorite female dancers made it into the top 20: Miranda Maleski and Ryan Ramirez.

Here is Miranda performing alongside SYTYCD alums Ashley and Mollee.  Oh what I wouldn't give for those ridiculous extensions.


Stop and smell (or photograph) the flowers

Spring has finally arrived in Boston.  

Our peonies are in full bloom.

And our neighbors' wildflowers are looking especially lush.

Jellyby, however, cares nothing for the flowers.  Unless another dog has already marked them.  In which case she cares very much.

Otherwise, she just stands around looking pouty as I interrupt her walk with my picture-taking.  See that face she's making above?  That's her "bitch, puh-lease" face.  As in "bitch, puh-lease put the camera down so we can chase that squirrel."


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stylish Eats: Alisa's Tabbouleh

At the beach yesterday, while I was enjoying my very healthy lunch of Trader Joe's chocolate chip cookies, uber-fabulous friend Alisa pulled out a stainless steel tin and wooden spoon out of her chic Lululemon yoga bag and proceeded to taunt us with the most gorgeous and tasty homemade tabbouleh.  (Yes, with Alisa, even her food is more stylish than that of mere mortals like me.)

I'm not usually a huge fan of tabbouleh, but Alisa's version is fresh, summery, and crisp . . . as perfect with a side of chocolate chip cookies at a beach picnic as with a flute of champagne at a fancy brunch.

I asked her to share her stylish tabbouleh with us on this blog.

Here's what she had to say about how she came up with this beautiful and simple recipe:

This recipe is adapted from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. I accidently bought cilantro instead of parsley, which was what the original recipe called for. Instead of freaking out as I usually would (okay, I freaked out for a little bit) I decided to go with it and then added a few other yummy things in my kitchen. It's a much milder flavor than traditional tabbouleh and that's what I really like about it.

Alisa's Tabbouleh


  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts minced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup walnuts toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes sliced in half

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water and the salt to a boil in a saucepan. Place the bulgur and boiling salted water in a heatproof bowl. Stir once, then cover the bowl with a plate and set aside until the grain has absorbed all the water, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice, oil, cilantro, scallions, radishes, walnuts, and tomatoes and mix well. Add more lemon juice and salt to taste.


Crane Beach

Clear skies, bright sun, warm sand, and cold water at Crane Beach in Ipswich.

A glorious picnic on the sand.

Followed by cider doughnuts and strawberry wine at Russell Farms.

And a portrait session with a very photogenic duck.

A beautiful start to the summer!


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Banana Cake with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Sing it with me: "This cake is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  This cake is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S."  

It's also chocolate.  And cream cheese.  And caramel.  But mainly it's bananas.  And it's delicious. 

I had a bunch of ripe bananas hanging out in the fridge the other day, and I decided that they needed to be made into a cake.  I found a well-rated banana cake recipe on Epicurious, and decided to amp it up with the addition of chocolate chips and a chocolate cream cheese frosting that is still a bit tangy, not too sweet.  And I added some caramel on top too, just because I could.  The result is a decadent, flavorful cake that puts banana bread to shame.

Ingredients for the cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon plus pinch of salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large or 3 small/medium)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup chocolate chips
+ 2 more large bananas, sliced (for filling)

Directions for the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; dust pans with flour.. Combine cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Mix mashed bananas, buttermilk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in another medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter and the sugar in large bowl until blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Add dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating just until blended after each addition.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Divide batter equally among prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tops are just beginning to color and tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 20 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Using small knife, cut around cakes to loosen; turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.

Ingredients for frosting:

12 oz. cream cheese (about 1.5 sticks), at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder

Directions for chocolate cream cheese frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in 1 tablespoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Add in the chocolate powder.  Gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar.  (The frosting should still be tangy and cream-cheesy, but with a slightly sweet edge.  If you like the frosting sweeter, you can add up to 3 cups of confectioner's sugar.)  Put in fridge for 15-20 mins. until frosting is firm enough to spread.

Now fill the cake: Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top of one layer of the cake.  Place the sliced bananas  in an even layer over the frosting.  Then spread a thin layer of frosting on the bottom of the other layer of cake.  Put this layer over the first layer, so that the two cake layers are sandwiching the frosting/banana filling.

Next, frost the rest of the cake.  Add, if desired, a thin layer of homemade or store-bought caramel (I used Trader Joe's salted caramel spread).  Cover and chill.  Let stand at room temperature for one hour before serving.

Consume cake for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  Be very, very happy.


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