Nashville part I (travels)

I visited Nashville this week and even though my trip was only 48 hours I feel it was worthy of two posts. One to be a travel post and the second to be about the emotional side of finding a college, and discovering what you want to do.

In 16 months I will be starting college. I don’t know where I am going yet. I just know that I am trying to find a place that I will spend 4 of the most important years of my life and will call home for a season. No pressure.

Three days ago my mom and I headed for Nashville, Tennessee, to visit Belmont University. Our first night we explored downtown before going to see a concert at The Listening Room Cafe. We had dinner at an Italian place called Luigi’s City Pizza right on Broadway and had an amazing Philly cheese steak Stromboli. So good.

Steak Stromboli from Luigi's City Pizza

Steak Stromboli from Luigi’s City Pizza

We arrived half an hour before the show to wait in line with a couple hundred other people trying to get in that night. They hit capacity with only 25 people in line in front of us. You could hear the hearts breaking throughout the rest of the line. The venue has speakers facing outside, so about 30 people stayed outside to listen, but still hoping to get in. As the night got colder and no one was leaving or getting in, the group dwindled. Almost halfway into the show a few people started to leave and one by one a group of 7 dedicated fans made it into the show.listening_room_mural

Waiting outside of the Listening Room, hoping to get in.

Waiting outside of the Listening Room, hoping to get in.

The next morning was college visit day. We did the normal college visit events. Admissions information meeting. Campus tour. Meetings about the the specific majors I am interested in. Their entrepreneurship program is highly rated, and they have a music business program unlike any other. In terms of curriculum, the bar has been set for my college search.

A view from on Belmont Campus

A view from on Belmont Campus

We walked along Belmont Blvd. and looked into some of the businesses that the students frequent, including a clothing shop started and run by entrepreneurship students at Belmont. Lucky for me, one of the managers was there at the time and I got to talk with her about the program and the store.

This one of the other stores run by Belmont entrepreneurship students. It's a candy and music store. What else do college kids need?

This is the other store run by Belmont entrepreneurship students. It is a candy and music store. What else do college kids need?

After visiting Belmont we went to Centennial park. Even though I dislike the outdoors, coming from the Northwest, green space is something I fear I will miss in college. Even with some brown grass, it was a nice venture, giving me time to text my sisters and to think about the visit.

There is a Parthenon in the middle of the park. I don't get it.

There is a Parthenon in the middle of the park. I don’t get it.

For dinner, we headed out towards the Grand Ole Opry and enjoyed some Chuy’s Tex Mex.  Some chips + salsa and outlet shopping later, we were on our way back to the hotel, and the next morning we flew home.

That pretty much sums up my “travel” experience in Nashville.

Stay tuned for part II to find out why I was mad after my college visit, and who I met at the airport.

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Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies

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Sometime in the past few days I decided that I was going to try Earl Grey Shortbread cookies. So Saturday I looked up all sorts of recipes and went for it. I made a half batch that night and another half batch on Sunday.

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The first batch was a classic shortbread cookie recipe with a ground up bag of earl grey tea, ground up lavender, and some fresh lemon zest. The lemon was too strong a flavor against the tea, so I knew it had to be omitted. I chose to use cake flour instead of regular all purpose flour because some of the recipes I looked at used flour and cornstarch. Since cake flour substitutes are flour and cornstarch I figured it would work. The cookies had a very fine texture and melted in your mouth instead of having a crumbly texture. Plus, one ground up bag of tea was not enough to give the cookies a good flavor. They did however smell wonderful.

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Second time around I knew I needed more ways to infuse the earl grey tea. The first way I did this was by steeping the butter. The recipe uses softened butter, but for this recipe I melted it, put a tea bag in it and let it steep before taking the tea bag out. I wasn’t really sure if this step would make a difference until I saw dark grey butter come from the tea bag. That grey swirl is earl grey goodness oozing into the butter. At least I think so.

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The next way I infused the flavor into the cookies was by making an earl grey reduction. I took our smallest saucepan and made the smallest, strongest amount of tea I have ever seen. Then I boiled it until there was hardly enough to cover the the bottom of the pan.

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I do not really know which of these two additions of earl grey actually made a taste difference in the second batch. Maybe I will make these cookies again to figure out.

Ideally the tea and and lavender would be ground up in a coffee grinder or mortar and pistil. But since I have neither, I opted for much more difficult ways. The first time I used the side of a knife, which worked but not as well as grinding them  between my fingers and using a spoon and cutting board.

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The butter is creamed with powdered sugar and reduction, and then the is tea added. The flour, sugar, and salt are then  added.

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I mixed with a hand held mixer as much as I could, and it was a crumbly bowl of deliciousness.

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I poured the dough out onto a floured countertop and kneaded it into a single mass.

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Rolled it out and cut my circles.

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Since I decided to make button cookies, I made an impression on the circles with a smaller cookies cutter and cut the holes of the buttons with a straw. I also wanted to finally try making cookies in the shape of a tea bag. I figured a cookie that is supposed to taste like a tea would be the perfect time to finally go for it!

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Voila! Buttery, crumbly earl grey cookies. If you make some, let me know.

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Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies
Makes 40 small cookies.
1 cup butter
5 earl grey tea bags
2 tablespoons boiling water
Pinch of lavender
2 cups flour (plus extra for kneading)*
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt

*For a fine shortbread that melts in your mouth use 2 1/3 cups cake flour

Preheat oven to 350° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

1. Melt butter and put 2 tea bags in it. When butter starts to cool remove tea bags and squeeze out any excess butter they have absorbed. Put butter in fridge to finish cooling, mixing occasionally. Remove from fridge when butter is soft.
2. In smallest saucepan you have, steep tea bag in water. After 5 minutes, remove tea bag and boil tea over low heat for a few minutes until reduced to about 2 teaspoons.
3. Grind up contents of remaining tea bag and lavender with spice/coffee grinder, mortar and pistil, or by crushing the leaves with a spoon on a cutting board.
4. Cream butter with powdered sugar and add 1/2 teaspoon of tea reduction and ground tea. Add flours, sugar, and salt and mix until crumbly.
5. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and knead into one mass of dough. Roll 1/4″-3/16″ thick and cut out desired shape.
6. Bake for 8-11 minutes until all edges are about to be slightly browned.

These are best cooled.

Christmas Clearance

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I have a confession. I went to World Market twice in 5 days. And I fell completely in love both times. Granted I had not been to a World Market in about year and I had been eyeing their Christmas clearance online for a few days.

But before we get to my World Market finds, I have one from Michaels to first share.

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These plastic take out containers are very un-Christmas-y. They were however on Christmas clearance prices! At $.40 a piece I got 8 of them. Score. These will definitely be seen again when I get to start having picnics this year.

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I got 6 of these glasses and can’t wait to use them. I can see why they were Christmas glassware, but honestly I think trees are fitting all year round.

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Just thinking about these tins makes me giddy. Why on earth they were Christmas tins is beyond me, but these cute minty tins will definitely get lots of use this spring and summer. I hope to use these for some picnics this summer, but they also would nicely house some baked goods. What do you all think? Cookies? Macarons? Lemon Bars?

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This teapot and I are gonna be best friends. After seeing it online and not at the first World Market I visited, you can imagine my excitement when I found it at the second one. Plus, since it was later  it was 75% off. Just when I thought World Market could not speak my love language any better I saw the rest of that beautiful set…

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Okay, so it’s not really a complete set. There were a dozen or so matching mugs, but I opted for the teacups and last matching plate.

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There were so many of these Moroccan lanterns in so many shapes, sizes, and colors, and at 75% off I could not resist to get just one. This little blue one is just about 5 inches tall and is hopefully a first of many lanterns for me.

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Okay, so this was not a Christmas clearance find, but when I found this yesterday at Ross I just knew I had to share it. It reminded me of this Anthropologie cookie jar. Although I am not huge fan of owl paraphernalia the colors and expression on this one was just too perfect to pass up.

Christmas clearance was good to me this year. Was it good to you this year? Let me know what you scored this year in the comments. Also, let me know what you think I should bake next to put in my new polka dot tins!

-Cynthia

Crying Over Spilled Milk: little unglamorous details of life

I am crying over a bowl mac and cheese right now. If it can even be called that.
A little over a week ago I tried making some mac and cheese out of a box. Tried is the key word. Foolishly I decided not to measure the milk because I had “made mac and cheese a hundred times” and I could do this, right? Well, I thought wrong. Instead of little shells in a creamy cheese sauce, I ended up with shells in cheese flavored milk.
You would think I would have learned a lesson or two after that.

Nope.

Having erased that awful episode from my mind, I took my mothers advice tonight to have mac and cheese for dinner. “Should be easy and quick” I thought. Sounded great in my mind until I couldn’t find any boxed mac and cheese. So I did what any over-achieving, creative-minded, kitchen-loving girl would do: I decided to make mac and cheese from scratch. Something I have done over a dozen times before. So I set off to make a yummy bowl of noodles and creamy cheese sauce. My hunger and my ego got ahead of me and based on previous success in life at making mac and cheese from scratch (and forgetting that last boxed attempt) I decided to not use a recipe or measure ingredients.

Big mistake.

All was going well until I forgot how long to cook a roux for. At this point I realized I hadn’t made a cheese sauce in at least a year. So I cooked it.
And cooked it some more.

“Does the flour taste cook away when there are little bubbles or when the sauce turns brown?” I asked myself.
I chose the latter.
I added a splash of milk and the roux turned into what looked like a pate choux. For those of you that don’t know what that consistency is like, imagine cookie dough. In a panic I added more milk.

And I spilled some more milk.

Of course the dough-y mixture and cold milk didn’t mix together. They never did. Not when I waited to cook it a little longer. Not when I added the cheese. Or more cheese. Or cooked it even some more.

Convinced this sauce was not going anywhere, I added in the noodles.

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^This picture isn’t pretty or glamorous. It has a dirty background and the lighting sucks. This is not what I had pictured for my first picture on my blog. This picture is honest. It’s realistic. I may have had big dreams for this blog, but I know if I am not being real, it will never be me.

My bowl of undercooked noodles in grainy cheese sauce that tastes more like burnt butter and flour than anything else, is almost completely eaten.

The tears that were coming down as I mixed my gloppy, grainy sauce until my arm ached and continued to flow when I took my first few bites have dried up. Sometimes when you are hungry, you are willing to eat pretty much anything.

Is the point that I am weak enough to cry over failing to make mac and cheese?
No.
Does it matter that there is still a big pot of nasty mac and mystery white glop?
No.

What I did learn is that there is no use in crying over a ruined dish.
Somedays a stroke of genius isn’t realized.
Somedays you just need to remember why recipes were created.
Someday my want for perfection and want to master things will go away and I finally will stop crying over spilled milk.

I didn’t fail at making mac and cheese today, I just found another way not to make it.

-Cynthia