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New Endeavor.

Life is moving forward.

I felt like it was time for a change – to leave Refined Sugar in my Chicago world and move forward with a new adventure.

I want to do photography. There I said it. I want to take pictures of people, moments that are real, and create images that cozy up to you. I’m afraid – I’m afraid that people will think I’m not good enough, that I’m just another “lady with a camera”, that my art will be disqualified as a hobby.

And I want to write. I have post upon post in my drafts that just didn’t really feel right on here. In my last post, the wheels were turning in my head – keep it simple. Fresh. Real.

So if you want to come along with me on this photography+blogging journey: join me over here.

www.aliciasturdy.com or aliciasturdy.wordpress.com (for your RSS feed)

And if you want to hire me: holla back.

hello@aliciasturdy.com

keeping it simple

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Driving home after dinner the other night with a friend, the talk turned from babies, jobs, design, and clothes to blogs. Why are blogs so hard to write? Should posts be personal? Do they need a focus? What should it be? What should mine be? What is interesting? Will people read it? Do I care?

All these questions came up unanswered as we turned in the driveway – but I could tell ideas were reeling through each of our heads.

I get the feeling food blogs might be a bit of old news – something that peaked with the last theater showing of Julie & Julia before Redbox, and took on a whole new identity with the birth of Pinterest “food” boards. There are much easier, quicker, cut-around-the-personal-blah ways of accessing recipes online. But is that why we read food blogs? Is that why we write food blogs?

My idea really took flight on my lunch break today. I have been coming home for lunch (I work a mere 5 highway miles away from my office) in an effort to save money, and save my waistline by cooking my own healthy meals at lunch. Today, I decided to make a quick “breakfast burrito”. Andrew is usually the scrambled egg maker in residence, but with him out of town  – I was left to my own devices. As I stood stirring my stringy, dry scrambled eggs at the stove (frustrated to no end) I felt defeated. My list of “easy things I can’t make” only has really contained Chocolate Chip Cookies until today (true fact). Adding scrambled eggs to that list made question –  I am so willing to dive right into roasting my first whole chicken last week, creating my own spice blends and combinations of my favorite dishes…why do I not take this on with the same gusto I do when making those?

SO – back to basics. No, I’m not going all Ina Garten on you (yet)…but back to the beginning of how to really cook. I sat down to eat my scrambled egg mush and pulled two cookbooks off the shelf – first, How to Boil Water and second, How to Cook. Recipe by recipe I’m going to make each one – no matter how simple, no matter how complicated. No matter how many dishes (sorry Andrew), no matter the left overs. And maybe I’ll even throw my own little twist into each dish!

So if you’d like to join me, cook along with me – let me know! Let’s learn how to cook!

I heart you.

I heart you.

Happy Valentines Day to all my favorite, faithful foodie readers out there! Muah!

sturdy’s and the city

New York….New. York.

Ahhhh how a weekend in this city can re-energize my soul and tire my legs.

Our anniversary is in October, so Andrew decided the perfect way to celebrate was with an east coast “stay-cation” to NY on one of the last beautiful “indian summer” weekends this past fall. We like to stay at this little brownstone on the Upper West Side where the streets are quiet, friendly, and Central Park is a mere 1/2 block to the east. So we packed our bags and rolled towards the city on Friday morning.

The city was wonderful: “quiet” and 65 degrees cool as we took our morning walking down 3rd Avenue from Grand Central to SoHo (yes we walked from E 42nd street to below Houston…44 blocks). We explored for a bit, shopped, and headed north to the UWS. 20 minutes and a cat nap later we were walking down Columbus to our favorite West side lunchery: Nanoosh. They are a little Middle Eastern place between 68/69th on Broadway just north of Lincoln Center. We love their hummus, tabbouleh, and especially their mint iced tea. It’s perfection. Plus, outdoor seating to people watch on a beautiful fall day.
For dessert, another west side find…Levain Bakery.

Um…ya. Only the best, warm, crumbly, delectable chocolate chip walnut cookie in New York City…truly the best cookie you’ll ever eat. Not to be beat out by the laundry list of other delicious treats we had during our city-stay. I mean: we had crepes. we had beer. we had panini’s. we had the best sweet potato fries i’ve ever had. The cookie was just a snack on our way back downtown. But oh so good.

apple pomegranate tabbouleh

One thing I have really missed about our neighborhood in Chicago, was you could get good middle eastern food at multiple places within a 3 block radius of our house. I have been making middle eastern food at home for a few years now…things like hummus, tabbouleh, taziki sauce, jerusalem salad; but I think this recipe always is my favorite. You can make it year round since most of these ingredients simple to find. My favorite part is the chopped fresh parsley, crisp apples, and tart pomegranates that pop in your mouth.

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped – any kind (preferably something crunchy but not tart)
  • 1 cup of pomegranate seeds (you can buy these at the grocery store if you don’t want to seed your own pom)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tbs paprika

Place bulgar in a pan (I use a longer pyrex glass dish) and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Soak for 30 minutes…the bulgar should soak up all the water. Fluff with a fork.

Chop all the above ingredients and combine in a bowl.

Toss everything in a bowl with bulgar. Sprinkle paprika and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to let flavors develop. Toss again before serving.

holiday dreaming

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I am getting more excited every day….maybe about the three day work week, maybe about seeing my friends, maybe about the food…so much to look forward to this week!

Times when we’ve been in Chicago, we have shared a thanksgiving table with some dear friends, Mabrie & Jason (and a few others!). This year we’re heading to W. New York to the Burgetts to give thanks with a part of our “Chicago family”.

I can’t really name any one reason why I really like thanksgiving…actually I’m more of a Christmas morning girl. That is the food holiday I have been dreaming about.

Getting up early (more like being shook awake by my sisters), everyone in their pj’s sitting around the tree waiting as each family member pulls themselves away from the covers and gets a cup of coffee before joining us. Our dog would have usually found her chew bone by now. Snow is falling, it’s cloudy.

Now fast forward to the Christmas I am dreaming up this year. Andrew and I will be home in Connecticut on Christmas morning. On our rustic dining table I have taper candles lit in my hurricane glasses, greenery on the table, braided cardamom bread (with pill sugar…very important in my dream for some reason!).  Coffee in our Swedish kettle, mimosa’s, our colored lit tree & us sitting in the living room in Christmas pajamas, an egg dish, some sausage, and my warm brioche buns with honey butter for the morning & herb butter for the afternoon snacking.

These buns…ahhhh are the buns you dream of. My sister growing up was the “bun” girl, at all holidays she ate buns (at times only buns?). I made these a few years ago, and I can’t remember how many she ate (mostly because we were ALL eating them at record speed). But I hope that you enjoy these buns for thanksgiving this year, for parties in between, and your dream christmas morning.

warm brioche buns

from cooking light, november 10
makes 24 rolls

You will need two things: a muffin tin, and about 45 minutes on november 23th.

Ingredients

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons if you use the jar like me)
1/3 cup warm 1% low-fat milk
3 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white

Preparation

Dissolve yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; let stand 5 minutes.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.

Add flour, sugar, salt, and eggs to milk mixture; beat with a stand mixer at low speed until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl with spatula as needed.

Remove paddle attachment; insert dough hook.

Mix dough at low speed 5 minutes or until soft and elastic and dough just begins to pull away from sides of bowl.

Cut 6 1/2 tablespoons butter into large cubes; add half of butter to dough, mixing at medium speed to blend.

Add remaining half of butter to dough; mix at medium speed until incorporated. Mix dough on medium speed 4 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)

After dough has doubled, punch dough down; form into a ball.
Return dough to bowl; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

The next day (or 8 hours later), uncover dough; let stand 90 minutes or until dough is at room temperature.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), cut dough into 6 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a 1 1/2-inch ball.

Repeat procedure with remaining 3 dough portions to make 24 rolls total.

Place rolls in muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine 1 tablespoon water and egg white; stir with a whisk. Gently brush rolls with egg mixture.

Bake at 350° for 14 minutes or until golden.

Place pans on wire racks.

Place remaining butter in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 20 seconds or until butter melts. Brush butter onto rolls

(please please please make these!! you will not regret it!)

happy birthday mama

Today is my mom’s birthday. She didn’t want me to post anything on facebook, so I thought I’d post it on my blog!

My mom is a great lady: she has helped me pack more apartments then I care to count. She has been (happily) dragged to many breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner & dessert places around town…and is even willing to let me still drag her around to places on the East Coast! She is a listening ear, a comforting voice, and a strong wife and mother. She is the mom I want to be when we have some little Sturdlings of our own. She is fun, youthful, up for anything, and selfless.

One of my mom’s favorite things are my petite vanilla scones, and frankly, who wouldn’t want to make these for breakfast and sit down and enjoy them with a hot cup of coffee and mom! I cannot wait to enjoy these with her in 16 days when she’s here!

Petite Vanilla Scones

From Pioneer Women
Makes 12 mini scones

Ingredients

SCONES
3 cups All-purpose Flour
2/3 cups Sugar
5 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks UNSALTED Butter, Chilled
1 whole Large Egg
3/4 cups milk+1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 whole Vanilla Beans or 1 tsp vanilla extract

GLAZE
3 cups Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1/2 cup Milk
1 whole Vanilla Bean mixed in OR
if you do not want to buy a vanilla bean, 2 tablespoons of Lars Swedish Sugar will do…or nothing but the glaze would be just fine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Split the vanilla beans down the middle lengthwise and scrape out all the vanilla “caviar” inside. Stir caviar into cream. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Sift together flour, 2/3 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Cut cold butter into pats, then use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour. Keep going until mixture resembles crumbs.

Mix vanilla cream with egg, then combine with flour mixture; stir gently with a fork just until it comes together.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and lightly press it together until it forms a rough rectangle. (Mixture will be pretty crumbly.) Use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Use your hands to help with the forming if necessary.

Use a knife to trim into a symmetrical rectangle, then cut the rectangle into 12 symmetrical squares/rectangles. Next, cut each square/rectangle in half diagonally, to form two triangles.

Transfer to a parchment or baking mat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, removing from the oven just before they start to turn golden. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

VANILLA GLAZE

To make the icing, split one vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the caviar. Stir caviar into milk; allow to sit for awhile. Mix powdered sugar with the vanilla milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk if necessary to get the consistency the right thickness. Stir or whisk until completely smooth.

One at a time, carefully dunk each cooled scone in the glaze, turning it over if necessary. Transfer to parchment paper or the cooling rack. Allow the glaze to set completely, about an hour. Scones will keep several days if glazed.

Irene’s Banana Bread

Saturday- we prepared for Hurricane Irene.

Part of me was all like “THIS IS MY FIRST HURRICANE!!”

Part of me was like “ahhhh these is my first hurricane.”

As I started to write this post, I was anticipating the lights flickering off, our marathon of “50 best documentaries to see before you die” to end, and the rain to really pick up. I have to say, this little Yooper girl knows how to handle midwest thunderstorms and even a “Snonami”

 

But a hurricane? No clue. We stayed up until 2:30am in anticipation. What we got wasn’t a hurricane. It was a 500 mile wide thunderstorm and a Sunday morning free of church and responsibilities.

And then Sunday morning, we went out and explored…while it was still raining with 50 mph wind gusts…but if you have ever walked between the Hancock Building and Watertower Place on a cold, windy, Chicago day…you have felt worst wind gusts then Irene produced…trust me!


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So what did I do instead of hide from Irene? I cooked (and cleaned a lot)!

I made a giant pot of my potato leek chowder.
I made banana bread.
I made donuts.
I made chocolate sauce to dip the donuts in.

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If you are Gluten Free, well then this is your lucky day! I’m going to share with you this absolutely delicious banana bread recipe from Babycakes NYC. And there is also a surprise…I dare you to make the chocolate dipping sauce and drizzle it over the banana bread to make it THE most decedent, home-style treat.

Erin’s Favorite Banana Bread Recipe from Babycakes NYC

12 Servings | Weight Watchers Points + 5 points per slice.

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Flour (gotta be Bob’s, no sub)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/3 cup oil (I used canola)
2/3 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup rice milk
2 tablespoons of good quality vanilla
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2.Brush your loaf pan with oil and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, measure in flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, cinnamon and whisk.
4. Add oil, agave nectar, rice milk and vanilla and then mix again.
5. Fold in bananas until nicely distributed.

6. Pour batter into loaf pan (only halfway!) and set in the oven.
7. After 20 minutes, check on the loaf and continue baking until it passes the toothpick test. (Mine got very brown staying in the oven so long because the center took the longest to bake).
8. Remove from oven and cool for 30 minutes.
*If you have extra batter, you can make them into muffins. I put mine in doughnut tins…but they turned out too moist to be a traditional doughnut texture, but it was still fun.

Sugar Sweetened Chocolate Drizzle Sauce
from Babycakes NYC

Makes enough to cover banana bread loaf. Weight Waters + Points: Add 1 point to each slice of bread.

4 tablespoons of your favorite chocolate chips (I use vegan chocolate chips because they are dairy free)
1/2 tablespoon of oil (I used canola)
pinch of salt

1. In a double boiler or the microwave, melt chocolate chips 85-90% of the way (you will see some unmelted pieces). Remove from heat and stir until smooth.
2. Add oil & salt; stir until combined.
3. Drizzle or dip. Let set for 3-4 hours to harden, or dig in immediately for dribbly chocolate.

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