Wednesday, November 23, 2011

my traveling patisserie.

It's been, quite literally, an eventful November. Packed full with tasty treats and kindred spirits.
And so much to be thankful for.

Baby Shower

Per request, I made Rice Krispie Treats and Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes.  The mommy-to-be was well-showered with food, love, and gifts.  Welcome, baby NB.

Bridal Shower

Pumpkin cupcakes were again requested; I added a personalized touch for the special bride and groom.  I like you two. :)


My dear friend, the bride, wanted a table filled with small desserts in lieu of the traditional wedding cake and recruited her baker-friends to make it happen.  This was such a special event to be a part of!


I spent three days in Philadelphia planning, shopping, baking, arranging flowers, tying bows, making new friends, seeing old ones.  The climax of the trip was the morning of the wedding, watching my beloved Janet transform from a sleepy-eyed girl with wet hair in a bathrobe into a literally breathtaking bride.  As she put on her earrings, as her mom fastened her dress, as her sister slipped on her shoes, fastened her bracelet, applied another coat of hairspray, the atmosphere in the bedroom was solemn yet joyful awe.  My heartfelt congratulations, Mr. & Mrs. Acosta.


Thanksgiving means family. Home. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas, Brothers, Parents. And certainly, food.  What's not to love?  My cousins, aunt, grandma and I spent hours in the kitchen sauteing, baking, kneading, chopping, mixing, melting pound after pound of butter ( worries, it's Thanksgiving).  Other cousins made me laugh until it hurt.  We played games, had Sound of Music singalongs, prayed, went on entertaining walks, discussed quantum mechanics and skin cream.  Grandma lovingly reminded my cousin and I of our number one and two spots on her prayer list.  A cozy holiday indeed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

a poem.

butterflies in my stomach.
questions on loop.
talk and pray.

latte on a chilly day.
enjoy opened doors.

sing for an hour.
sing in a bear voice.
sing in a fairy tale voice.

remember my new idea.
burn a jasmine candle.

hundreds and thousands.
so on i go.
sweet and maniacal.

Monday, September 26, 2011

living with lydia's bakery.

I made my first cake when I was nine years old.  I remember excitedly studying the browning pages of my mom's old cookbook searching for a recipe easy enough for me to make from scratch.  It was a yellow cake.  And I made it all by myself.  As soon as daddy got home, I gave him a big piece, carefully cutting around the slightly burnt edge.  He told me it was delicious, and I smiled at him, so joyful.

That joy was addictive.  Soon enough, the things I made actually were delicious, and the recipients of them became more and more wholeheartedly appreciative.  There were minor mishaps along the way (one guest described my cake as "really crumby" [to his credit, I'm sure it was quite dry] and I most certainly heard "crummy".  He hurriedly corrected himself, and we both laughed about it), but my love for baking and serving has grown year by year since that time.

Two weeks ago, I created a facebook page entitled "Lydia's Bakery".  I set up an email account.  I told all my friends.  I began working on a menu.  All my spare thinking time since then has been swarmed with brainstorms of domain names, websites, buying and selling, branding, marketing, polishing, developing new skills.  Last night, I found myself in the midst of the following:

I had intended to make this cake for work weeks ago.  And while the concept was a bit of a crazy one and the labor required was a bit more strenuous than average, the experience was morphed into one of anxiety instead of pleasantness because Lydia's Bakery loomed over it.  I have to be able to make things that are good enough to sell.  This has to be perfect.  How in the world will I compete with the professionals?  How much is this really worth?

Ironicaly, Lydia's Bakery took the soothing, therapeutic joy out of Lydia's baking.  While I am not quite ready to trash the whole endeavor (though perhaps I may lay low for a while), I do desperately need to remind myself of the reason I bake.  It is because, a decade and and a half after my First Fateful Lopsided Creation, I still have the same joy when I bring my coworkers something like this:

 Baking is a hobby, it's a haven, it's a part of my life that is not work.  And I am determined to keep it that way.

Friday, August 12, 2011


If God had intended us to follow recipes,                                   
                                  He wouldn't have given us grandmothers.
~Linda Henley


Yesterday evening, I found myself pinned on my couch in between my two grandmothers.  They have both always occupied very special, yet somehow very separate places in my life, so this moment felt like an extraordinary culmination of the ultimate familial experience.  Here's how this particular scene played out:
Grandma V to Grandmom C, "This is my dear sweet Lydia!"
Grandmom C to Grandma V, "That's funny!  I thought this was my dear sweet Lydia!"
Then Grandma V and Grandmom C chuckled at each other.  And I sat there snuggling and smiling and realized how blessed I am to be loved so much by two such special women.


The aforementioned Grandma V has taught me everything I know about not following recipes.  Many times I've asked her how she makes her mouth-watering and soul-feeding southern dishes (Grandma's Biscuits, Pecan Pie, Grandma's Cookies, Scrambled Eggs, Pork Chops... only to name a few).  Sometimes her answer is a vague "some of this, some of that."  Other times she has walked me through some of the Grandma specialties, such as the biscuits and the cookies:
  Her measurements: A box of this. Two bags of this. A container of that.  A "little" of this.
  Her instructions: "Until it feels right."
  Her cooling rack: A large bath towel.
  Her key ingredient:  Why, butter, of course.
From her to my mother, and from my mother to me, such a philosophy of cooking has been passed along.  Yes, most of the time we have to be health and weight-conscious, and we've got many a magazine article and made many a healthy meal to show for that.  But when we are cooking for people, we cook to make them happy.  And Grandma V's cooking has produced thousands and thousands of happy people.

My dear, spunky Grandmom C is where I've received most of my appreciation for sparkle, the arts, a good time, and a chic cafe.  She's where I got my city girl.  My love for cats.  My appreciation of photography and symphony orchestras.  My taste for fresh crusty bread or pastry and a fragrant cup of coffee.  My love for glamorous earrings, shoes, and dresses.
My Grandmom moved to Austin from Manhattan a few years ago, and within a week of being on Texas soil, ventured downtown to run an errand and see what she could see.  She returned home with a new bank account and an invitation to a cocktail party at a downtown art museum opening that evening (which obviously she accepted with delight). That's my grandmother.  She's sassy, she's glamorous, and she's got gumption.

Thank you for my heritage.  
           Love, your "dear sweet Lydia"               

Monday, August 8, 2011

next chapter.

August, as defined by Google, means "respected and impressive", synonymous with "stately; grand; majestic."

For me, this August has yet again demanded its due honor by bringing with it a new and fresh chapter of my life.  Honestly, I thought I'd grow out of it when I stopped going to school and got a real job.  I expected my new beginnings to start on January 1st like they are supposed to, or in June when I turn another year older.  But no; those days have come and gone - with festivity, no doubt, but yet without the feeling of a particularly fresh start.

This August, I will be leaving behind my old house, old neighbors, and old rats (that earlier this evening sounded like they were playing soccer with debris in the attic...eccchh), and moving into a new house, with new roommate, new kitchen, new room, new dog.  In my relationships -- some close friends have moved to new stages of their lives, causing me spontaneously to reshape my own routines.  And even though my job will be the same and my day-to-day activities will likely remain the same, they too will have fresh beginnings this August.

The sweetest part is that a fresh consecration to the Lord Jesus has come up in my being.  I have a new start, not just for the sake of life not growing dull, but I have been given a new period of my life to serve Him and love Him with a fresh love.  This simple children's song expresses what is on my heart tonight:
"I love Jesus, I love Jesus, Lord I just love You.
I love Jesus, Oh Lord Jesus, what else can I do?
I'll love You my whole life through, and even though I may be small,
Lord I love You best of all."

Monday, June 27, 2011

blue satin sashes.

I've been feeling melancholy in the last day or two, and so, in the spirit of fraulein Maria, I have decided to write about some of my favorite things from the last week.  As someone wise once said and I will paraphrase -- "yes, the Bible says 'in everything give thanks.'  But if you can't thank Him for the bad things yet, start with the good things":

Good thing number one: apple walnut cranberry muffins with cinnamon streusel topping.  These brought me joy not only because they were a success, but also because I discovered the phenomenon of freezing-for-freshness.  I hate the taste of this-was-delicious-two-days-ago.  I made these a couple days before guests came and immediately froze them.  On day one of guests, I took out one dozen - perfect - and they thawed within an hour.  On day three of guests, I took out the other dozen.  I really should have known this for a while now -- I have faint recollections of learning about ancient mammoths preserved for centuries in huge cubes of ice....  Eh, why not reinvent the wheel?

Good thing number two: Saturday breakfast at Walton's Fancy and Staple.  The ambience alone will make a common flower girl feel like a duchess... or a regular Jane Doe feel like Sandra Bullock.  That particular morning, each of the ladies in my group was given a bouquet of fresh white daisies as we sat down at our table.  As if coffee and gourmet biscuits and gravy wasn't enough.

Good thing number three: Mr. Johnson.  There he is, my new travel friend.  There to accompany me on all my daily journeys and be a witness to the crazy things that I sometimes do in my car when no one is around.  (Like invent silly songs or make funny noises for extended periods of time. Just saying. We all need an outlet for that.)  He is a home-made, hand-stitched birthday present from my dear 16-year-old companion, Jessica.  His full name is Mr. Theodore Johnson.  But he does not appreciate too much familiarity too soon.  He and I aren't even on a first name basis yet.

Good thing number four, last but greatest by far: these wonderful girls (plus one who at this moment was en route to SF) who spent the week in my home.  It is an immense privilege to me to invite someone else to make your home their home.  These girls took care of me just by being in my house, loving me and each other, and girl-talking before going to bed.  Thank you guys for blessing our home.

It is so refreshing to thank the Lord for things like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

Friday, June 10, 2011

diary from my kitchen.

I have tried again and again to keep a running log of all my kitchen creations.  It's something to show for all the food that disappears and is forgotten.  And sometimes I will have a colossal flop or an unexpected success or a spontaneous personal invention and would like to remember those for important future reference.  However, what usually happens is after a long logging hiatus, I try to recall everything I baked in the last year.  Perhaps this blog will help.  In a perfect world, each entry will be complete with high-quality-food-magazine-caliber pictures.  Right, so.

Thursday, June 9, 2011:
Lemon Cake with Blueberry Filling
  Recipe for lemon cake from  I added a spontaneous addition of the blueberry filling, made from frozen blueberries, a little sugar, water, and cornstarch.  It is very light and summery, which I like.  You can taste the box cake-ness of it, which is only okay.  AND it doesn't call for any type of fat - no oil or butter - which, I don't know what to think about that.

Sunday, June 5, 2011:
Chicken and Vegetable Pasta Salad with Asian Dressing
   I'm not restricting myself to baked goods here. :) Bowtie pasta, diced chicken breast sauteed with lemon pepper and seasoning salt and red onion, red bell pepper, can of corn, lots of cilantro, cucumber, Kraft Asian toasted sesame dressing, soy sauce, sesame oil.  I made this for a picnic, and it was perfect for a summer's day outdoors.

Saturday, June 4, 2011:
Monster Cookies
  From this classic cookbook.  But sans the M&M's (sad). This recipe is one of my favorites as it has the best of all worlds: peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chips, and M&M's all in one cookie. AND... no flour!

Pico de Gallo
   White onions, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, limes, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  I stayed up super late chopping so the flavors could mix overnight - and it was completely worth it.  Also for the picnic.

Thursday, May 26, 2011:
   My new favorite pizza/bread creation!  This is pizza dough rolled out, heaped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms, then rolled up like a log and baked.  This is also an excellent picnic food; in this case it was used to cover several of my meals during a weekend in a hotel.  I referenced this recipe from, with my own special twists and touches.

Pigs in the Blanket
  I used pre-made pie crust for the blankets.  I will not do that again.  The texture was weird and unusual for what you would expect from a pig in the blanket.  Flop.... noted.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011:
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Streusel Topping
  A classic and a staple.  Good every time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

beautiful. (no matter what they say).

Today at the gym, a guy walked up to the station where I was working out and said "Can I tell you something without you misunderstanding?"

He was probably late 20's; I guessed from his accent and face that he was Middle-Eastern.  He was a little short, but had nice features.

I instantly and instinctively put up an icy cold barrier.  Distrust and skepticism must have been written all over my face.  "Uh, maybe?"  Watch it, dude. I have a glare of death and killer-sharp instincts and I'm not afraid to use them.

"Ok, well.  I just wanted to tell you you are so beautiful."

"Thank you..." What is it that you want?!

"And I suppose you have a boyfriend, and he is so lucky."

Ice melted slightly.  No way I'm telling you I don't have a boyfriend. "Thank you."

And he walked away.  What? He just wanted to tell me I'm beautiful?  I waited until he was a safe distance away and allowed myself a tiny smile.

Immediately, however, my defense-mechanism sprang into action.  There were a dozen reasons why he could have done what he did.  Some of the most absurd were:
It was a dare.
He was distracting me so his friends could steal my stuff.
He's a stalker.
He was distracting me so his friends could steal my roommate's stuff.
His ugly friend asked him to talk to me for him.
It was definitely a dare.
He has a contorted mission in life to tell ugly/overweight girls they are beautiful.

I kept waiting for my pessimism to be proven absolutely firm and then I would go home hurt and hardened.  Mostly, I looked around at all the girls that were prettier and skinnier than I was.  Why me?? Surely this guy's motive was skewed.  Surely it was a loaded interaction.

Yet, I'm safely home.  My roommate and I both still have our stuff.  No ugly guys smiled at me on my way out.  And I feel more beautiful.  I am so thankful to that stranger for the much-needed reminder.

Friday, April 1, 2011

italian cream

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet."
- Julia Child

One of my most comforting places to be is barefoot in a kitchen, measuring flour, blending butter and sugar, whipping heavy cream to perfection, smelling the sweet smell of vanilla extract. When I'm in the kitchen, I move easily and purposefully: opening and shutting the refrigerator or cabinet, rinsing off my beaters for a fresh project, cutting out wax paper circles to line my pans. While I'm baking, I don't think about any heavy burdens or cares; my biggest concern becomes putting a freshly frosted cake on the table before the guests arrive. On particularly inspired days I may end up grinning and squealing with delight if, as was the case with the Title Cake, my cream cheese frosting tastes especially tangy and fresh (or I happen to create something that actually resembles an edible light saber).

I crave those times. I will use any excuse for baking time. This Tuesday, it was a small group gathering at my house. What better occasion than a casual meeting to make a three layer Italian cream cake?

And I just need to tell you: this cake from was out of this world.  It has easily made my top five desserts list.  Don't judge it by its picture.  Just make it.  Coconut and chopped pecans gave it delicious texture and flavor (without being too sweet), and it must have been the buttermilk combined with the beaten egg whites that made it melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.  Topped with cream cheese frosting.  Winner.

(Technical side note: I debated and researched long and hard whether this cake needed to be refrigerated after being frosted with cream cheese frosting... I decided to take a chance, and it was fine!  I probably wouldn't let it sit out for more than a couple days, but the sugar must act as a sort of preserving agent so the cream cheese doesn't spoil.)

At least once every week or so I get the baking itch.  It's just what I do.  It's my hobby.  It's my comfort zone.  It's my art form.