accidentally vegan blackberry breakfast bars & a post on perfectionism

by kellybakes in , , ,


vegan blackberry breakfast bars

I'll admit it. I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I look at my blog and sigh with disappointment at the lack of consistency in posts and pictures. I've been operating sans camera since December, as many of you know, so I rely solely on my flash-less iPhone 3GS and am never satisfied with the lighting or quality of my pictures. Unfortunately for my blog and for you, dear reader, this often means that I won't bother posting. I settle for sighing and letting the world think that I lapsed into a baking lull and have forgotten all about you [and baking]. That couldn't be farther from the truth! 

I've been pushing myself out of my comfort zone for the past eight weeks by taking a food writing class taught by the Philadelphia Inquirer's food critic, Craig LaBan. On the most basic level, it's forced me to write. I walked out of grad school doubting both my ability to write well and my love of the written word. I couldn't read fiction for months and I wouldn't even touch my journal. To take something that I truly loved--food--and combine it with something I had such anxiety about--writing--was absolutely mortifying.

Ultimately, it was curiosity that kept me from dropping the course. I had no idea what to expect. Part of me hoped it would just focus on better ways of describing food and how to approach a restaurant review. Another part of me hoped we'd get to see the face behind the baguettes. A larger part of me, one way deep down in the recesses of my brain where I keep silly things like "courage" and "self-confidence," wanted to stay in because I knew that the class would force me to be uncomfortable. I'd have to email talented chefs about their restaurants or contact strangers about bees they keep in their backyards. Most intimidating of all, I'd have to start expressing my opinion and sticking to it (not to mention, I'd have to back it up with vivid details and some catchy prose--no pressure, really!). It wasn't asking me to do the impossible, but because I had kept myself muted for so long, it felt exhilaratingly wonderful to break away from all of my doubts and finally enjoy both the act of writing itself and the subject behind the prose.

Looking back at my initial hesitation to take the course, I realize that it had a lot to do with perfectionism. Like baking projects that never reach the blogosphere because of bad pictures or writers block, I was reluctant to take the course because I was scared to put out something less than what I was capable of. I won't post if my kitchen lights aren't cooperating or my photos are too blurry. If too much time passes between baking and me composing a post, it suddenly becomes "irrelevant" because time has distanced all the feelings I initially associated with the post [I'm an emotional baker, don't forget!]

Last night, I almost slipped back into perfectionism mode. I wanted to try making RaspberryCrumb Breakfast Bars from the Baked cookbook. I had measured out and combined nearly all of the dry ingredients before realizing I was short on brown sugar. After a whizz of my food processor I realized that I only had half of the amount of butter needed. I thought about throwing in the towel, chucking the cinnamony mix of oats, sugar and flour in the garbage and calling it a night, defeated by a lack of foresight and recipe reading.

As this post clearly evidences, I did not quit. Rather, I put a flour-dusted palm up to a frazzled forehead, leaned my elbow onto an equally flour-dusted counter and relaxed. After a minute, it dawned on me--I had two sticks of vegan shortening in the fridge, just enough to substitute the butter in the recipe. Vegan baking generally scares the pants off of me, as I'd name my first-born Egg if I married someone crazy enough to let me. There was huge potential for failure--the shortening could be too greasy and make the bars unappealing, or conversely, it could not have enough fat and leave the bars a dry, crumbly mess. Further still, in an effort to give the shortening the same baking properties as real butter, it could leave a funky unnatural taste [I'll spare you my tirade against artificial sweeteners].

Like my food writing course, I'm glad I faced my vegan baking fear. I couldn't tell the difference between these bars and something baked with butter! The crumb was spot on: just moist enough to pat down but not overly greasy. The cinnamon in the recipe hid any hint of "artificial" shortening taste. Plus, I used blackberry jam that my mom and I made so the bars had the most important ingredient of all: love.

[all together now: AWWW!]

These vegan blackberry breakfast bars may have gotten a little squished on my bike ride to work and my poor iPhone may not have captured them in a light to rival a food stylists', but they were unexpectedly delicious and, most importantly, made their way onto a published (though not perfect--and that's perfectly okay) post.

vegan blackberry breakfast bars

Accidentally Vegan Blackberry Blackberry Bars

[inspired by Baked'sRaspberry Crumb Breakfast Bars from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking]

Ingredients

For the crust

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 C white sugar [note, you can adjust or omit the white sugar depending on the sweetness of your jam. I originally used 1/2 C and found it to be a little too sweet]
1 1/4 C rolled oats
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I added 3/4 tsp, but I'm a cinnamon-fiend!)
3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter OR vegan shortening, cubed in 1" pieces

For the filling
10 oz blackberry jam (you can also use strawberry, raspberry, apple, apricot...the possibilities are endless and delicious)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a 13x9" pan with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper with vegan shortening if you're going the vegan route (I like to use the shortening wrapper and schmear [yes, that's the techical term] the shortening remnants all over and rub them around) or if you're down with dairy, feel free to use butter or cooking spray. Greasing the parchment paper will prevent the bars from sticking to the parchment.
3. Combine flour, sugars, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse until combined.  Add butter or vegan shortening and pulse until loose crumbs form.
4. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture and set aside (you'll use this for the lovely crumb topping later)
5. Pour the rest of the mixture into the pan, using your hands to gently press it into the pan to create an even layer. Do not press up the sides of the pan (we're going for bars, not a pie or a cheesecake!). Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes
6. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, spread the jam over the crust, creating an even layer. Tip: it's okay if the crust is slightly warm, as it will make the jam easier to spread. If your crust has cooled completely, you can also let the jam come to room temperature to make it easier to spread.
7. Top the jam layer with an even sprinkling of the reserved 1 cup of crumbs. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and the jam bubbles at the edges.
8. Transfer to a wire rack. Let the bars cool completely. Cut into squares and serve with a glass of milk (almond, soy, goat or good old cow).

Bars can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days, but if you've got friends who like to eat, chances are, they won't last that long :]

Wishing you happy baking accidents & much culinary courage!

xoxo, kellybakes


starting small - not your average EWR post

by kellybakes in


Last weekend I attended Eat Write Retreat in D.C. I was invited via Twitter and bought the ticket on a whim as a graduation present to myself. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary with the hopes that being around serious bloggers would help me figure out if I wanted to pursue 'something' in food--Should I bake? Should I write about restaurants? Did I want to take my blog in a new direction? Does my writing suck? Should I bother blogging at all?
My poor brain was a whizzing tornado of anxiety. Thoughts were dashing around my head. I had doubts about my ability, about how professional my blog looked and whether I would be taken seriously at all, being that my blog has few followers and a small readership. After all, didn't I start this blog for fun? I wanted to stop spamming my facebook newsfeed with pictures of the delicious photos I would take of practically everything I baked and whatever I ate at restaurants. How would it stand up against serious bloggers?
Do me a favor. Read that last question again. [I'll wait.]
That, dear readers, was my problem. At the start of the conference, I was so intimidated by everyone because they had beautiful DSLR cameras with huge lenses and business cards with tiny pictures of vegetables and appetizing dishes. I showed up empty handed [didn't even bring a notebook!] except for my slightly-scratched point & shoot which always seems to have flour on it. Frankly, I didn't think I belonged. I wasn't sure if I should take my swag bag and hop on the Megabus back to PA. Sure, I had paid the fee, but had I paid my dues in the blogging world?
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Instead of being my normal, bubbly, slightly-awkward extraverted self who sees no issue with talking to strangers, I was much more demure and reserved than I had ever been in such a setting. Instead, I did a lot of observing and even more listening. I heard a lot of people discussing terms I was unfamiliar with--about gluten-free eating, for example--and mention bloggers and foodies whose names were completely lost on me. During the first day, this was all pretty overwhelming. I thought maybe I had made a mistake by coming. Then, at lunch on the second day, something amazing happened.

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I got a reality check via Twitter. My friend Dave tweeted to make sure I was taking a ton of pictures, like I always do, and at that moment I realized how much I had been holding back. I was so intimidated that I had barely taken any photos. I had maybe a shot or two of everything I ate, which was completely unlike me. I replied that I had been a bit intimidated and he immediately followed up with a reminder that I had nothing to worry about. He reminded me that I was doing something I loved and that I had never let these kinds of things bother me before, so I shouldn't start now. And, with that, a simple tweet changed my whole perspective of the conference.
I started to relax and make a bigger effort to talk to people. I began to truly enjoy myself. I laughed through lunch with a great group of gals. At the CulinAerie workshop, I didn't care if my grapefruit slices were a bit off; I'm a baker, not a cook! I was sitting in a cooking class, something I'd wanted to do since sitting on a stool in my dad's catering kitchen, and I was not going to let doubts ruin my experience.
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One of the most important things I realized was what a wonderful, encouraging community I was a part of. [Yes, I belonged.] Other bloggers had questions about how to style food or how to improve their writing, just like I did. People openly shared about their families, their blogs, their jobs and their pets. In fact, at dinner on Saturday night, a bunch of us started pulling out our "baby" pictures on our phones to share our adorable cats and dogs. Most importantly, though, I realized how supportive everyone was of one another. I was happily overwhelmed with insightful suggestions about how to improve my blog or take a good photograph. And, in my moment of greatest doubt, I was going to give up a coveted spot to speak with the Food & Travel editor of The Washington Post, but a fellow blogger refused to let me cross my name off the list. For that, I am so grateful. [Thank you, Wendy!]
I initially wanted to write this post chronicling the contents of my swag bag and describing each plate of food in delicious descriptive detail, but when I got home from the conference, I realized that I had learned more about myself than what had been on the conference schedule. I realized that I am in a unique position in the blogosphere, as many conference attendees have successful blogs and go to improve upon their marketing, photography and writing skills. Essentially, they want to make a good thing better. Me? Well, even though I've had my blog for just about a year, I feel like I'm just starting one. After listening to the speakers and panels and taking in the anecdotes and insight from other bloggers, I feel like I can approach my blog with new eyes.
When I got home from the conference, my brain was reeling with ideas of how I wanted to write more and learn to use my camera properly. Google became my best friend. I sat down and created a plan with a detailed to-do list of all that I needed to fix or learn if I wanted to get serious about blogging and confidently call myself a blogger. I think it's about time I started taking myself seriously, wouldn't you agree?

and now for something completely different...

by kellybakes in


Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to write. This may sound strange coming from someone with two English degrees, but it's the truth. I have no idea how it happened. What I do know is that this weekend I attended a seminar on writing that made me realize that I had lost my voice. Somewhere between SATs and MLA, I forgot what it meant to write with my senses and speak from the soul.

I took creative writing classes in college. I even traveled to Europe for the sole purpose of writing poetry (who was I kidding? I wanted to go to Europe). Being around poets made me think I was a bad writer. What I should have realized was that I was just bad at poetry. Truthfully, I was out of practice. I wrote stories all my life. Growing up, I monologued in front of the bathroom mirror for hours, talking to my imaginary audience as if I were Oprah. From the time I learned to make letters, I spent hours inventing stories and making books for my mom. In middle school, I wrote for fun. I took on personalities in poems, writing about things I had never experienced. I had wit. I was charming. I wrote for my own enjoyment. I was free.

Something happened when I got to high school. I started caring what other people thought of me. I had always been fearlessly myself--never afraid to be the only girl in the second grade who wore a Blossom hat or who showed up on Halloween dressed up as a giant Hershey kiss. Once I hit the 9th grade, I fought every urge to stand out or be carefree, weighing the social consequences of each decision before making any. Most dangerously, I stopped writing for myself. My once-imaginative diary became a chronicle of social interactions, gossip and endless lists of my diet and exercises. I wrote about what everyone else deemed important. I learned what my teachers wanted in an essay and delivered. I made my once-vibrant writing bland by subscribing to the formulaic methods my English teachers used. I knew how to write well even before any teacher had ever required me to use Focus Correction Areas in a paper. I spent too much care re-reading my papers looking to check off requirements when I should have been reading to make sure I could hear myself in my writing.

Fast forward to present. Well, maybe this morning. I sat in front of Joe Yonan of The Washington Post's Food and Travel section talking about losing my voice. I didn't develop laryngitis; I simply realized that none of my blog posts actually sound like me. I've spent the past 11 years [yikes, I feel old!] without any semblance of myself in anything I write. I've forgotten how to even go about writing fiction. When I was writing my capstone for graduate school, I was five pages into my writing before I stopped cringing every time I used the personal "I" in my paper. That moment held much bigger significance than moving beyond what I had been trained not to do stylistically. It symbolized how I had completely taken myself out of everything I had written for over a decade. I was shocked. Being that this is so recent, I'm still processing it. I can tell you that my immediate thought is: write. write. write. I need to write. I want to hear my own voice in my writing again, even if it's the softest whisper hiding behind introductory paragraphs, clauses and 1" margins.