Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Coconut Chocolate Dipped PeepsAt this point in my 30s, every holiday I host feels like the most special of days. I iron tablecloths, set out cloth napkins, plan a menu weeks in advance; all things my early-20s self would have scoffed at. But making home – and holidays always feeling like an important part of that process – means throwing myself into them fully, striving to make it a really special day for those who choose to share it with me.

While Easter has no religious significance to me, it’s still as good an excuse as any to gather with friends and welcome in spring over good food and drinks. What this means for Easter 2014 is a menu set, with a grocery list already growing alongside it, and place cards being prepped this very weekend. It feels extra loving to dedicate these efforts to loved ones even if it winds up being quite a bit of work.

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps

Dipping them in chocolate is yet another step in the right direction, but coconut & chocolate? Divinity! I dipped these little jewels into white or semi-sweet chips that have been melted down with a little dot of coconut oil. The oil thins out the chocolate for easier, smoother dipping and adds the additional flavor of fresh coconut. What’s not to like? A few sprinkles or unsweetened coconut flakes (they were gone before I even got to taking pictures!) and you have a satisfying and festive treat absolutely worthy of spring and a houseful of your favorite peeps.

…See what I did there?

Coconut Chocolate Dipped Peeps
Yields 12 Peeps

Ingredients
12 Peeps
4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon of solid coconut oil, divided in half
Sprinkles
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions
Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper or a silicone baking mat. In two separate bowls add the white chips and the semi-sweet chips and half a tablespoon of coconut oil each. Put each bowl in the microwave and cook for 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir the contents of each bowl really well to thoroughly combine the oil and the chocolate. Dip each Peep halfway  in the chocolate, allow to drip off into the bowl and then place on the lined surface. For the white chocolate, you may want to do a double dip to get a more opaque finish. Immediately after dipping, shake sprinkles onto the chocolate portion of the Peeps or dust with coconut flakes. When finished decorating, pop the Peeps into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and when time has passed, check to see if the chocolate has hardened. If not, given them another 10 minutes or so. Once the chocolate has solidified, they’re ready to eat or be stored in the refrigerator for about 7-10 days. The Peeps will be a bit firm when they come out of the refrigerator after a few hours or overnight, so you may want to give them a few minutes to soften before consuming.

Pasta with Mascarpone, Lemon, Spinach, & Pine Nuts

After all of that complaining I went and did about the length of winter, today the thermometer reached 98°F. In Minneapolis. In May. Normally, such temperatures turn me into a wild beast of a thing, but truth be told, I was only a little bit sorry for today’s heat. While the meows were seeking out cool, dark corners to lay in and Bear was putting in extra screens and moving fans around, I knew that, finally, the time had come to make this pasta dish! I’ve been holding onto the recipe from the Kitchn since it was published last October, waiting for the weather to warm back up and, more importantly, for it to coincide with the sale of mascarpone cheese! The latter seeming, at points, even less likely than spring’s eventual thaw.

Being the lucky lady that I am, I found a sale on a tub of the good stuff last week, though I won’t deny tapping my foot and mulling over whether or not the time was yet nye. Turns out, it was and a sensible purchase was had! When I saw the temperature was going up this week, I knew the time was upon us to indulge.

Have you ever had pasta with a sauce that is heavy on the lemon? If you’re not shy about the idea, try it. You’ll ask yourself why you don’t eat pasta with lemon-something-or-other all the time. Take this sauce, for example. There’s so much brightness from the fresh lemon juice and the lemon zest, but then the mascarpone gets stirred in and it’s creamy, dreamy with just a little bit of sweetness to take away some of that punch from the citrus. The spinach wilts into the hot pasta, so it’s soft and earthy, but again, nestled throughout this smooth, velvety sauce that gets a little kick with some garlic, fresh cracked pepper, and just the right amount of parmesan cheese. The toasted nuts join a little fresh lemon zest on top and another turn of the pepper mill.

Every forkful feels like the perfect bite. It is as elegant a dish as it is easy. The ingredients are few, the method simple (and great for warm days), and the clean-up is virtually effortless. I used one pot, a bowl, and a colander only. Pro-tip: Mix the sauce in the same bowl you’ll serve it in! You’ll have one less bowl to clean and, better yet, your pasta be coated by every last drop!

Spaghetti with Mascarpone, Lemon, Spinach, & Pine Nuts
Serves 4 as a main course; Adapted from here.

Ingredients:
2 lemons, zested & juiced (I used 5 tablespoons of juice)
8-ounces of mascarpone cheese
1lb of spaghetti
1 very large bunch of fresh spinach (approximately 6 cups), chopped
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
Salt & fresh pepper
3/4 cup of pine nuts, toasted

Directions:
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to bubble, prepare the sauce. Combine 3/4 of the lemon zest, lemon juice, mascarpone, garlic powder, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper and mix until fairly smooth. If you have a few lumps, they’ll work their way out when they hit the hot pasta. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll want to toast your pine nuts while waiting for the water and pasta, as well. Add them to a dry pan and set over medium heat until they’re are lightly browned, giving them a shake every 2-3 minutes. When you can really start to smell them, they’re done.

Cook the pasta. With a minute or so left before the pasta reaches “al dente,” add the spinach. When the pasta is finished, scoop about a cup and a half of pasta water from the pot and then drain the noodles. Add the noodles to the bowl with the sauce and add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir together. Add more pasta water until a creamy consistency is achieved. Top the pasta with the remaining lemon zest, the toasted pine nuts, and a few cracks of fresh pepper. Additional parmesan can be added, if desired.

Returning Home

HomeCollageAnd just like that, more than two weeks went by without a post! That’s what returning home will do – eat up all of your days, just lazily spending time, with nary a realization of just where it’s all going or how it’s been spent. Hours lost around the kitchen table over tea, on small walks in the sun that dared to stay out whole days at a time. It all flew right by in a blink despite the slowed pace of having nothing really required of me. Honestly, I was grateful for it. Because while all I have going right now is a Ph.D. and an unsuccessful job hunt, it feels heavier each week that goes by. It’s a process, I know; a transition. But it’s not for high-achieving Virgos who base self-worth on production. No, ma’am.

I’m back in Minneapolis now just a few days, invigorated as I can be met with the embrace of sub-freezing temperatures and a blizzard. Bear and the Meows make it all easier, of course; homey in a completely different, but still as lovely and filling kind of way. But as I send applications out into the ether and the days after crossing my fingers, it’s cooking and crafting and making something of this space that feeds me right now, that is fuel. Though I’m not happy about the weather, I’m looking forward to hunkering down for the next few days and making some yummy things, having creative femme time with my dear friend, Charlotte, and ultimately, sharing the outcomes with you.

My (freshly manicured!) nails are itching to get busy and since I’m back to my schedule, new posts are on their way. There’s coconut custard pie to be discussed and devoured, some key tips for making big scores as we approach garage/yard/flea market season, and some ruminations on creating small first gardens without digging your grave aside it out of frustration. Thanks for staying tuned, y’all.

Decorate Your Easter Eggs with Sharpies

I feel like I should start this post off by stating, for the record, that I don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the company that makes Sharpies. It’s merely coincidence that two of my craft tutorials so far on here involve them. What can I say? I’ve never met an office supply store or a back-to-school sale I didn’t like. One of my favorite places to lose time on campus at my Big 10 graduate school was in the three aisles of the bookstore that were dedicated to writing implements. Pens in every shade of ink, mechanical pencils, highlighters, and so many varieties of Sharpies. A girl could lose herself and her meager graduate student earnings in there!

My love affair with brightly colored gel pens and markers has not, it seems, gone unnoticed by my family, either. One of my Christmas presents this year was a pack of 80s-glam-inspired Sharpies. But even for an enthusiast like myself, I didn’t know what, when, or how I’d use 24 of them. Turns out, that problem is easy to solve, as they’ve already decorated fancy cards & envelopes, coffee mugs for some besties, and even upgraded my mani by standing in for those awful nail art pens — thanks for the tip, Beauty Department!

Spying them in my craft bin again last week, I wondered what kind of seasonal project I could use them in and the colorful, intricate designs of pysanka, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, came to mind. Have you ever made pysanka? They are not for the weary! They take hours; drawing in the lines and shapes with melted beeswax, dyeing them layer after layer, and then finally melting and rubbing off the final coating of wax. It can take up a whole day just making one! So, needless to say, trying to re-create the detail of these ornate beauties wound up being more labor-intensive than I had planned, even without the wax and the dye! Thus, my Sharpie Easter eggs (or springtime eggs if you’re more inclined) eventually went in a different direction to capture the whimsy of the coming season.

The cold, bleary Midwest has me dreaming of the firsts of spring – robins, flower buds, and that glorious day of the year when the ground is finally released from the grip of winter and the sweet, soddy smell of dirt and vegetation fill the air. Just the thought of it has me feeling positively poetic! Plus, I’ve had this adorable fake robin (of which Bear is all “OMG, I’m in love with a girl who hoards fake, stuffed birds and saves them for a rainy day?!”) in my possession for far too long without it seeing the light of day. Of course I had to heed the advice of Portlandia and put a bird on it! Also, what better way to market yourself? Who needs business cards or search engine optimization? I’ve got self-designed, hand-drawn eggs, y’all!

I used hard-boiled eggs for this project and the ink never reaches the flesh of the egg itself, keeping them perfectly edible. You could, of course, always empty them first and then decorate them if you continue to have concerns or just don’t like eggs in their hard-boiled form. I might make some more for my Easter table with the requisite bunnies, chicks, and resurrection – kidding on the last one! – but am also wanting to do a small set mimicking different cross-stitch patterns. Basically, I see a lot of egg salad in my future.

Sharpie-Designed Easter/Springtime Eggs
Supplies:
Eggs – quantity determined by you
Cold water
Heavy-bottomed pot w/lid that will accomodate your eggs in a single layer and hold enough water to cover them by at least an inch
Permanent markers – I used these
Ingredients for this, optional

Directions:
Place your eggs in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot in a single layer. Fill with cold water, stopping when the eggs are covered by an inch or two. With the lid off, heat the eggs to a full boil, then cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Allow the eggs to sit undisturbed for 17 minutes. Next, drain the eggs and plunge them into a bowl of cold water. Allow the eggs to cool completely. At this point, you can dry them off and prepare them for decorating or refrigerate them until you’re ready for them. Either way, before decorating with the markers, the eggs must be allowed to warm up just enough to take the cold from the fridge off the outer shell, otherwise they will develop condensation from the heat of your hands making the markers run and skip. When decorating, keep some paper towels nearby just in case, dabbing off the moisture as needed. As you go along, it will become clear how the marker’s flow allows you to draw precise lines, follow the curve of the egg, and apply the ink gently, blending it with your finger, to create shading. When finished, immediately return your eggs to the refrigerator. Eat within one week.