Cronuts

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Maya and I finally got to experience the real Cronut during our recent trip to New York City. The famous croissant and donut hybrids were sold out on our last visit, so we decided to make it our priority to get our hands on them this time around. We dropped off our luggage in Midtown and made a beeline to Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho.

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There was already a line, about 20 people deep, when we arrived around 9:00 a.m. We had to wait for about an hour just to get inside the shop, which was another 20 minutes or so. We were a bit surprised because we thought the Cronut fever has died down by now, especially with all the other donut shops and patisseries offering copycat treats, but that surely wasn’t the case. The lady in front of us, a regular, told us that the line is usually much worse earlier in the morning.

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The Cronuts were already packaged in a yellow box and stacked near the register to speed up the line. Maya ordered a cup of coffee and I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey tea and seated ourselves on a small table near the door.

Now, the moment of truth …

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What I liked:

The Cronut definitely tasted more like a croissant than a donut, unlike some imitation faux-nuts (or “do-ssant”) at neighborhood 24-hour donut shops. It tasted like a very sophisticated dessert. I enjoyed the slight chewiness of the dough as well.

What I didn’t like:

A little too much pastry cream in the middle. The flavor of the day was strawberry and although I enjoyed the sweet and tangy combination of the berries, the cream tasted slightly off to me. I would have loved to try the simple vanilla pastry cream instead.

The verdict: ★★★★☆

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Extra: We ordered bake-to-order mini Madeleines. They were good but weren’t eye-popping or anything.

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I Love Lollipop Love

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I love the idea of making things from scratch. Like, from scratch scratch, as in I-want-a-sheep-so-I-can-make-my-own-yarn scratch. But since owning a sheep is not feasible at the moment, I resorted to making lollipops from scratch, like, you know, from sugar.

Here, I made Basic Lollipops from the book, Lollipop LoveDessert First’s Anita Chu’s third and newest dessert cookbook that came out last month.

I’ve been a fan her blog for years, and I admire her so much that I even asked her to be my friend on Facebook. And I jump up in joy, like a teenage girl at a boy band’s concert, when she occasionally leaves me sweet comments. Her stunning photography and warm writing style makes me feel like I’m reading a beautiful spread on a glossy magazine while sipping tea in Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

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Despite the fact that this was my first attempt at making candies from scratch (I’m made caramel but never hard candies), I think they turned out pretty well. Working with sugar was a little scary because the liquid can get really, really hot (up to 300 degree F), but I managed not to burn myself or turn the sugar into caramel (or worse, to a black tar). Pouring the liquid into a mold was a bit of a challenge, especially because you have to work very quickly, but it got easier by the third or forth cavity.

The only mistake I made was using a flavor oil. I used a strawberry flavoring liquid I purchased from LorAnn Oils and it created a slightly medicine-y taste. I think I put too much but I think I’ll be sticking to natural flavors going forward.

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I tried out another recipe from the book the other day. This time, I tried the Peach Iced Tea Lollipops recipe. Instead of the peach tea, I used Rose Royal black tea from my favorite tea house, Lupicia. I brewed two tablespoons of tea leaves with a cup of hot water and mixed that with sugar. I LOVED the flavor (reminded me of the candy version of a popular Japanese tea, Gogo no Kocha, or Afternoon Tea). I might reduce the tea leaves to one tablespoon instead of two next time since the brew came out pretty strong.

I hope you pick up the book and start making some delicious homemade candies free of artificial ingredients!

Try the World: Marrakech at Your Doorstep

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Subscription services are everywhere these days. There’s not a day that goes by without encountering video footage of eager customers unboxing their newest deliveries, whether they be clothes, body care products, snacks or whatever, on the Internet. Some do it because they received a free box to review, while others, like me, are doing it completely on their own. Either way, I bet companies are totally stoked to receive so much online exposure from eager bloggers and YouTubers posting their reviews on social media. Time has certainly changed from the days of newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

There’s my thoughts on a service called Try the World, that delivers gourmet items from a selected city in the world on a bi-monthly basis. This month was Marrakech and I received small but lovely edibles from one of Morocco’s largest cities.

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Inside the box were: Organic couscous, canned sardines, a jar of couscous sauce, a box of palmier, culinary Argan oil, and a jar of Kefta rub (mix of cumin, paprika, Morita peppers, mint, coriander, cilantro, and cinnamon).

In all honesty, I’m not sure if they are worth $39 (which includes shipping though) but I’m happy with the box since it allows me to try out things I probably won’t otherwise. And you can’t beat the cuteness of the Tiffany-blue box everything comes in. The box also comes with a description of each item, as well as a Culture Guide booklet with some tidbits of the city. They add a very nice touch.

One commitment I made upon starting this subscription is that I’m going to eat / use the items I receive as quickly as I possibly can. I decided that I won’t let them sit in a fridge or a pantry for me to forget. With that in mind, I polished the box of palmer in two days, and I had couscous and the sauce for dinner last night.

The Couscous sauce was good but it tasted more like salsa, so I added some cinnamon and brown sugar to bring out the North African flavors.

Of all the subscription services out there, I think Try the World is my favorite. The deciding factor for me was the Tokyo box. I didn’t get it but saw a bunch of pictures online and the items that were included were very legit. That’s when I knew that the company wasn’t run by someone who just went to a local ethnic supermarket and grabbed what they thought were “authentic.” I felt like they actually knew what they were doing!

I think it’s a little pricey but I love it, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to expand their culinary repertoire.

Oh, and here’s the free Venice box I received when I signed up.

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Inside the box were: A bag of coffee, dark chocolate, chocolate-covered cherries, small jars of pear jam and honey, a can of olive oil, and a jar of anchovies.

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Here’s the “What Can I Find in My (insert city name) Box” card, along with …

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Culture Guide.

Skylark Stole

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Introducing my latest finished project: Skylark Stole from the book, Custom Knits Accessaries, by Wendy Bernard. It was knit with four skeins of Frog Tree Meriboo MW yarn in purple (7511).

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My friend T visited me from Portland a few months ago, and brought with her four skeins of lovely, 70% merino wool / 30% bamboo blend from her neighborhood yarn shop called Dublin Bay Knitting Shop for my birthday. The awesomeness was two-fold: I’ve never worked with these soft blends before and I was dying to try; and this wonderful gift came from a non-knitter! How cool is this? Someone who’s never knit got me one of the softest and lovelies yarns I’ve ever owned!

She told me that staff at the shop who recommended this yarn was confident that I would love it. They were absolutely correct about that!

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Blocking an intricate lace is such a treat. I love watching the design come to life simply with a pull of the blocking wires. This is when you realize your time and energy spent knitting this garment was totally worth it. (It can also be a major heartbreak, however, when you discover a mistake or two you didn’t notice until now … eek!)  By the way, I folded the stole in half to block because I didn’t have enough room to stretch out the entire thing flat.

As for the knitting, I have to confess that I got confused by the pattern at first. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed to even admit this since Wendy’s patterns are always, always impeccable, and this one was no exception. I just didn’t read the direction carefully enough. Mea culpa.

My confusion was from the eyelet pattern repeats. I needed to add this 4-sitch eyelet repeat before each, 21-stitch chevron pattern plus one at the end  (for a total of four times) and not just at the beginning and the end of each RS row I incorrectly interpreted. Because of this, I had eight wandering stitches that I just could not find a home for!  Once I figured it out, knitting this stole was a breeeeeeeze.

The pattern is simple but interesting enough that kept me engaged throughout the entire project. I think placing markers after each pattern is key. I recommend that you utilize those little rings as much as possible. I even put one after two garter stitches at the beginning and end of rows for good measure!

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I had to think of an interesting way to photograph the finished stole. I thought about just laying it flat on the floor to showcase the design but I was afraid that my two year old will get to it and rip it out before my eyes (and she will)! So I decided to just hold it against the white wall.  I hope you can see the lovely lace pattern from these photos.

Here are other ways that I’ll be enjoying this stole.  It’s so versatile, I can wear it as a stole or a scarf.  I have a feeling that I’ll get a good use out of this garment all year long!

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Birthday Fun: Color Me Mine

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My BFF Maya and her family came down to LA from PDX for my birthday weekend. I got to spend two solid days with her while Kevin kindly watched Pon Pon (thank you, honey). She took me on a 2.5-hour massage on my birthday at rA Organic Spa in Downtown Burbank (ask for Anne — she was amazing), followed by my husband treating us to cozy dinner at Café Bizou in Pasadena, the same place we had our wedding rehearsal dinner. I’m incredibly blessed to spend the special day with those I truly love.

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The highlight of the weekend was painting at Color Me Mine in Pasadena. I know I was not turning10, but this place brings out my inner child and makes me so, so happy. Unfortunately, I can’t really find people who’s willing to come and paint pottery with me these days so I’m glad Maya was game! We grabbed a cup of coffee and tea at 85 Degree Bakery across the street and spent three hours painting a bowl, colander, aka “bowl with holes,” according to Maya’s husband (for Maya), and two mug cups (for me).

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So may lovely colors to choose from!

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It took me about a hour to plan how I wanted my mugs to look like! I initially wanted to create a chevron design using masking tapes but after several failed attempts, I decided to just paint it solid (with color 84) and add tiny polka dots using white puffy paint.  The cup looks grainy and light blue but it should turn into shiny and light lavender after it’s blazed.

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After I finished the first one, I couldn’t get myself to go through the entire process again so I just used the puffyy paints and created rainbow-colored polka dots.  I might have gone a little overload with the dots!

I can’t wait until the mugs are done this weekend!

Udated on 1/13/15: The mugs are done! We went to pick them up over the weekend and I’m delighted with how they came out. I’m already using them during my daily tea break!

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Happy New Year 2015

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The New Years Eve rituals continued at the Lavender and OLiVE household, starting with assembling the Osechi boxes on the New Year’s Eve at the in-law’s house. We started earlier this year at 9:00 a.m. instead of the usual noon so we could be home in time to prepare for the NYE party with our friends at home.

I took a bunch of photos this time around so I can compile them into one photo book for memory and record. Here are the photos and a short description of each dish:

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Kaki to Daikon no Namasu (柿と大根のなます):

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Matchstick daikon radish and persimmon marinated in vinegar.  This is a new menu added to Osechi this year, thanks to abundant crop of the fruit in grandmother’s backyard.

Renkon no Umezu Zuke (レンコンの梅酢漬け): 

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Thinly sliced lotus roots marinated in plum vinegar.

Kuri Kinton (栗きんとん):

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Mashed chestnuts and yam cooked in syrup, with chestnut on top.  It’s very similar to the Italian dessert, Monte Blanc, and very lovely.

Kawasagi no Nanbanzuke (かわさぎの南蛮漬け):

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Fried wakasagi marinated in sweet vinegar.

Tataki Gobo (たたきごぼう): 

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Pounded burdock roots cooked in dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.  Yes, as the name indicates, these poor little branch-looking burdock sticks are pounded with a rolling pin into submission, but don’t fret, they come back as delicious vegetable dish.

Kouhaku Namasu (紅白なます): 

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Shredded carrots and daikon radish marinated in sweet vinegar.  It’s very similar to the persimmon and daikon sunomono, but the vegetables are shredded much thinly than its red and white cousin.

Tazukuri (田作り): 

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Dried sardines cooked in soy sauce.

Koromame (黒豆):

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Another type of Kuromame (黒豆):

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Soy beans cooked in brown sugar.

Okara (おから):  This is my favorite dish in Osechi, and I don’t know the proper name of this dish!

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Okara mixed with marinated mackerel, radish, and carrots.  This is pure deliciousness.

Kikka (菊花):

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Chrysanths flower made out of radish.

Kouhaku Kamaboko (紅白かまぼこ):

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Red and white fish cakes.

Daikon to Samon no houshomaki (大根とサーモンの奉書巻き):

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Smoked salmon rolled in paper thin radish marinated in vinegar.

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There’s an art in packing each item in the ojyu, or Osechi box.

The top layer is called “ichi no jyu” and typically contains nerimono (fish cakes, etc.)

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The second layer, or “nino jyu,” contains seafood.

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The third layer, or “san no jyu” contains “nimono.”

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So, after we were done with Osechi packing, we headed home to prepare for the shabu shabu dinner party we were hosting. It has become a ritual for the four of us to enjoy shabu shabu on the NYE. Last year, we only make it to 10:00 p.m. before everyone passed out, but we actually make it past midnight this year!

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015!

Slouchy Problems

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I love these slouchy beanies – so much so that I knit three last week – but there are two things I just can’t seem to get right.

First, the slouch. I can’t seem to achieve the perfect droop, without them looking like a Rasta hat. I think my problem here is that I don’t know when to stop and begin the decrease! I’m so determined to knit up the entire skein of yarn that I just keep on going and going, even though I know deep inside that I’ve gone too far. I just hate to have a little bit of yarn left that it either become a waste, or sit in my yarn stash that I’m trying so hard to pare down. This is when my inner cheapo gets the best of me.

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Second issue is the decrease. I can’t seem to get the perfect tip, without looking, uum, messy. I’m doing the k2tog (knit 2 together, for the right slant) and ssk (slip, slip, stitch, for the left slant) really carefully and I don’t know what I can do differently to make it look cleaner.

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If I don’t improve, I’m going to have to start hiding them with a cutesy pom pom or something, and I don’t want that since I look at these slouchy beanies as something Samuel L. Jackson would sport. They need to look like a bad ass mother f-er.

Anyway, I’ve got more work to do on this one.