It's been a while: Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Not on purpose, but life got in the way since July. A big project for my full-time job is now complete, the weather has cooled down, and I am ready to spend hours this Fall in front of the oven again.

What have you missed? Not much, I would say. The arc of our lives moves steadily towards the Big Day. Planning has officially commenced and I sit in bed and think of all the small bits of who we are will be imbued into the ceremony. I am excited.

I do not know where the days have went. I couldn’t tell you if i tried. It seems like the transitionary months of August and September are always a blur. I can’t remember if I went anywhere or did anything noteworthy. I can only think of October. My birthday. A spa day we enjoyed. Dinner after with my family. I can only think of jam making this weekend. I can only think of rain, my favorite season. I can only think of the dogs, with their muddy paws and beaming smiles. I can only think of the immediate needs of my life. Anything else will have to wait.

Which is a long-winded way of saying - I did not have time for the blog lately. But that’s changing again, thankfully.

And to celebrate my return to blogging again, here is a recipe I hope you enjoy: A Paris-Brest. Choux circles filled with cream, topped with almonds and served chilled. Delicious and messy, just like life right now.

Paris-Brest
Made extremely easy using a pudding packet. I was going to go a more traditional route, but this worked too perfectly for me and was equally delicious and rich in flavor. You can sub the mascarpone below for a buttercream, but expect it to be stiffer and sweeter.

Paris Brest

Directions for Pastry:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F

  2. On parchment paper, draw two identical 8 inch circles (I used a plate)

  3. In a medium saucepan, heat water, milk, butter, and salt on high until butter is melted and bubbles begin forming around the rim, stirring occasionally

  4. Turn off heat and stir in flour with a wooden spoon

  5. Let cool for 5 minutes until slightly cooled

  6. With a whisk or wooden spoon, beat in eggs, one at a time until dough is glossy and pale yellow

  7. Transfer to a piping bag, fitted with a 1/2 inch tip

  8. Pipe dough onto circles

  9. Tap on table

  10. Bake for 40 minutes or until puffed and golden

  11. Prick with a sharp knife and put back in the oven (turned off, door open)

  12. While cooling, finish preparation and decoration using the instructions below

  13. Cream and Preparation Instructions: When pastry shells are cooling, whip together 8 oz mascarpone with one vanilla pudding packet (yes, I know). Add 1/2 vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.

    Top one disk with cream. Lay other shell on top. Sift confectioner’s sugar and sliced almonds on top. Enjoy for up to 2 days (refrigerated)

Ingredients for Pastry:

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1 stick butter, unsalted

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup AP cake flour

  • 4 eggs

Paris-Brest

How to Build a Chicken Swing

Since nearly doubling our flock in July, we opened up half of the barn for the chickens to use as they may. Previously outfitted for horses, the barn had two converted stalls for the chickens already. We keep it open, with the back doors ajar. We give them whatever they want. That's why they're here. 

But this week it threatened thunderstorms and the chickens stayed in the shadows of the day. They bathed in the dust and waited for the storm to break. They were lethargic and antsy and fought over the real estate of the open barn. 

And in their own way, they pecked, fought and pushed each other to get what they wanted.

It gave me an idea. I remembered seeing a chicken swing on Amazon last year. And after some research, I saw that I wasn't the only one with the idea. So I went down by the creek where the trees grow. I found a branch, I got my drill and made a swing for the girls.

How to Build a Chicken Swing

Build a Chicken Swing

Materials:

  • A branch 
  • Power drill outfitted with drill bit
  • Rope
  • 2 Screw hooks

Directions:

  1. Drill a hole on either side of your branch with about a 2 inch margin on either side
  2. Measure how far you want your swing to hang and cut two strips of rope in this measurement (I did about 2.5 feet off the ground)
  3. Pull rope through one hole and knot the bottom
  4. Repeat on other side
  5. Screw hooks into ceiling or on a rafter and tie other rope end into the hook
  6. That's it! Give the chickens a few days to get used to it, but some will jump up immediately!
Build a Chicken Swing
Build a Chicken Swing
Build a Chicken Swing

How to Write a Letter: With Mr. Boddington

I have come to the conclusion that I miss pen on paper. For my "real" job, I work remotely, making it difficult to have any real connection to others while I am behind my screen. Not a phone talker by nature, I avoid calls at all cost.

In my last post for Mr. Boddington, I created a primer on notes. And while I think they have created me the opportunity to show my love, support, and sympathy, they do not always get to the heart of my intention. They are brief, concise, scrawled and popped in the mail.

But sometimes there is more to say to friends and strangers and strangers who become friends. I am verbose by nature, and so I want to say a lot. And so I write a lot. And so I describe a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Occasionally repeat myself. And so I write a letter.

As with the previous post, and my subsequent newsletters since, I have been invested in the Mitford Industry still. Earlier this month, I finished a book of letters between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, the eldest sister. These letters were long, illustrious, and a little sharp on the edges. I flew through the pages. At the pool in the Poconos over 4th of July, tanning oil smeared the pages and still I read on.

And it inspired me to write longer letters. Letters with no predicate. Letters for the sake of letters and as an ode to friendships and old coworkers and the "just because" moments of putting good faith into building more than what's behind a screen.

And so I hope Mr. Boddington inspires you, too. I have put together a few guiding principles I use.

How to Write a Long Form Letter:

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Letters, for me, allow me to do two things: establish a greater appreciation for my friendship with another, and to practice my own wit (ha). While I try to put too much of myself into a letter, it is fun to be able to dance around from topic to topic, all the while keeping my reader's enjoyment in mind.

Earlier this Summer, I cast a net out to others on social media, thinking of those who I may want to correspond with outside of the ebbs and tides of my interaction with Instagram and Facebook. Two old coworkers and three other friends agreed. I originally wrote my first letters on my Mr. Boddington paper that I received earlier this year (specifically the Tulum set and the Leopard set (both spoil me with their beauty). 

So when I sit down to write, I think about a few items below. While these tenets are in no way exhaustive to the actuality of conversational correspondence, it gave me a few good practices to keep in mind as I went along.

Parts of a Letter

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Of course, there are many parts to a letter, and this format is completely scalable to how much you want to write to your friend. The intention of a longer form note is different than the short response-based notecard we had previously discussed. 

A letter should flesh out your relationship over time. It should offer jokes, side-stories, fears and successes. But, at the heart of a letter, one should always make sure that the reader is the priority - so I always try to bring the focus to them throughout. This is best set up using the format I outline in the chart to the right. 

Here, you see that there are five main components to a letter which can best establish the relationship you are aiming to create:

  1. Date - we will not address this one here, but I did in my previous post

  2. Salutation

  3. Intro/Reason for letter

  4. Story paragraph(s)

  5. Concluding paragraphs

  6. Closing

I will go through each in the below sections, with help from Mr. Boddington's lovely book.

Salutation

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I think that the greeting sets the tone of the entire note; but I also think that it's often overlooked. As Mr. Boddington put it, "Using the classic Dear Frida, is completely acceptable. Other favorites are DearestGood Morning (or Afternoon), My friend." I've been known to simply put the recipient's name for more formal notes, or a pleasant greeting ("Hi you guys!") if I'm setting it up for a relaxed letter.

Intro/Reason for letter

Where you really tee up the letter and how long it will be. Since letters mailed can take days for a response, it's nice to remind the reader where you last left off and why. It also gives the reader the opportunity to know the tone of the letter. If you begin it with "I just had the most amazing week in Costa Rica" then one may expect some highlights from the trip along the way. I always take the road of being light, grateful for the conversation, and empathetic to whatever emotion my correspondent left behind in their last letter. 

I've included here a good example of how the Intro/Reason paragraph can be simple, straightforward, and addressing the main point of the letter to which I am responding. Note further, by introducing the idea that my week has been busy, one may also infer that the letter will be parsed down for brevity, due to my schedule.

This letter's template is from Mr. Boddington's Leopard Desk Set, whose suite includes writing paper with little prompts (absolutely love the favorite animal note at the bottom!).

Story Paragraph(s)

The real beauty of Waugh and Mitford's correspondences was their ability to paint vivid stories to one another for fifty years, living countries apart. And while my life is a lot less exciting than theirs, I was inspired to do the same. I've included an abridged note from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh, to show exactly how I think story paragraphs should be. 

To me, they should have the following, or do the following:

NANCY LETTER.png
  • Paint a picture of your life, illustrating your day to one who is not witness to it often

  • Answer any of their questions here, being sure to write that they were the one interested in the first place ("To answer your question about my trip to Vienna...")

  • Ask your own questions! Nancy, in the example, did this by asking why Evelyn's castle was never bought.  This helps move the response along and keeps you invested, laying the groundwork for further correspondences.

  • Bring details of the reader into your prose. Things that reminded you of them, things you know about them, etc. Again, Nancy does this in the example, but it can be as little as, "I know your birthday was six weeks ago, and I never did ask if you went into the City or not".

  • Pepper in details about you, too. Often, if I ask a question, I may respond to my own question from my perspective. This will help cut out the "And what do you think" in their reply

  • But I also try to avoid talking too much about myself, unless there is a story or note to be told. I'm a believer that a reader is more interested in hearing and talking about themselves, so I like to build that ingratiating rhetoric throughout

  • And finally - keep it loose. Let the paragraphs flow as they come into your head. There's no need to formally outline anything, but have fun writing as you go. Mr. Boddington's book gives great prompts throughout their book that have been inspiration for me as I sit down at my desk to write.

Concluding Paragraph

This doesn't have to be a long apology, but it should be leading somewhere. "I have to go clean the barn now" or "I have to get back to work, though I'm hoping for an easy day ahead!" These both give a picture of where the day went after the letter was finished for the reader, and also explains why your note was 2 pages versus 20.

In the example, Nancy had been writing to Evelyn for over 20 years at this point. Her "Much love - WRITE" was sufficient to their relationship.

Closing

How funny that the formality and occasion of a note dictate how it should close. Due to the alliteration of my name, I'm fond of using "Best" for most scenarios. But a quick "XOXO" will do for my loved ones. It's hard to be creative when there are the standard-bearers of typical closing words ("Sincerely", "Yours", "Always", "Regards"), so perhaps try to be a bit creative here.

The signature need not be anything but your first name in whatever style you sign it. I like to do it a tad differently in script than my note (larger, or more flourished). As Mr. Boddington points out, for more formal or new acquaintances, use first and last.

 

None of these are revolutionary points, but they are good primers for where to get started. I believe in celebrating the ordinary, appreciating my friendships, and understanding that the few minutes I write may just make the day of someone else. 

Tea Time: Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies

A slow week that's blending into itself. The dogs are bored and so am I. Nolan stayed at his parents' this week and next he'll be in Austin. And so I pull out the couchbed and read library books. So I ate Chinese and junk food. So I didn't work out but cleaned the floors. So I made cookies and drank tea.

Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies

Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened (I used Kerrygold!)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon balm, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon black tea

Directions:

1. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
2. Add egg and vanilla and mix together
3. Sift together dry ingredients and gently stir into your butter mixture
4. Turn out onto a floured work surface and pat into a disc. Wrap and chill for 1 hour
5. Preheat oven to 400*F
6. Roll out and cut dough into desired shapes (about 3/4 inch thickness worked best for me)
7. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes, or until edges are just browned

Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies
Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies
Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies
Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies
Lemon Balm and Black Tea Cookies

This post was made in partnership with Tractor Supply, who provided me with a selection of herbs from Bonnie Plants. I am SO in love with my kitchen herb garden on our deck and I use it nearly daily. The plants come potted and I just transfer, add a little more soil, and water. It couldn't be easier and I am excited to have herbs (and peppers) to enjoy for the rest of summer. 

Zero-Waste Goat Cheese: Herbed Chevre for Us and Whey Oats for the Chickens

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For just a little over 15 months, I have been lucky enough to own chickens. Small chickens and full-grown hens. Large Rhode Island Reds and tiny Sebright bantams. I've spent hours on their coops, hundred on their food. In return, I get eggs, a hobby, and an anchor to this farm. It's legitimized me, in some ways, to know that I can care for things outside my own myopia. They need me, in some ways; but I know I need them more, in many ways.

They're headstrong, the whole lot of them. They want to be left alone until they need something. I've learned to whistle a tune when I feed them. They come running and I once again feel loved by them. One small Antwerp Bantam we have is curious. She lets me pick her up and she falls asleep in the crook of my sunburnt arm while I water her sisters. I like that she trusts me, it gives me hope that others can too.

I don't own them. I take care of them. I'm stewards to their needs, but I do not own them. They can lay or they can't; either way, they're welcome. Some have died by hawk and speeding cars and I mourn them when I think about it. But I'm a believer they deserve the freedom and the danger that comes with versus a dirty-covered chicken run to waste the days in.

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And I'm a believer in eating well. I'm a believer in a diet rich in greens and protein for them. I'm a believer that if I can give it to them versus throwing it away, I'll pick the former. I think we all deserve variety and so they get our scraps. And half of their diet is supplemented with a local restaurant's food waste, portioned out in large platters to devour in seconds.

You can see from my Instagram Stories that I make them bowls when I can - warmed up in the winter and often refrigerated in the summer. I'm a big believer in this practice. It's the variety that I think they crave, something we all do. In doing so, I can offer my hens - in a flock of 10 or 28 - a chance at food diversity, with the added benefits of nutrients that can help protect their immune systems, digestive system, and better eggs.

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When I make anything, I think of these things. I think of how my meals can feed the world around me, whether through composting, what the dogs can share with us, or if any of the waste and byproducts can benefit the chickens. More often than not, they can. So when I decided to try my hand at cheesemaking, this ran through my mind - how I can use the whey and for what purpose.

This led me to making the chickens their go-to: an oatmeal bowl, soaked in whey, topped with fruit, herbs from our kitchen garden, and some red pepper flakes (good for their immune system). For us, I used the same herbs and spice to roll the curds. And while I'll never be as good as Vermont Creamery, I think it's a good first try, if you have the time (and 28 chickens to help clean up the waste). 

Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese
(With no-waste options for your chickens!)

Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart goats milk
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 TB white vinegar 
  • Any herbs and spices you want! (see note below)

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, heat goat milk until bubbles begin to form around the edges
  2. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and vinegar
  3. Allow to stand for 15 minutes
  4. While waiting, dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth and put over a receptacle to collect the whey
  5. Slowly pour milk mixture over cloth. You may have to pour whey into larger jar like I did (save the whey for your chickens, see second note below!)
  6. Tie ends of cheesecloth into a knot and hang over a measuring cup or other vessel on a wooden spoon
  7. Allow to drip for 2 hours
  8. While that is dripping out any excess whey, pulse your herbs in a food processor (see author's note)
  9. Peel cheese from cloth and roll in your herbs
  10. Take some plastic wrap and put herbed cheese into the center. Candy roll wrap around the cheese and shape into a log
  11. Refrigerate until ready to use (best after a couple hours to mellow in the fridge)

Author's Note: I made this cheese to be rolled in fresh herbs. With my partnership with Tractor Supply, I have been fortunate enough to have an excess of healthy plants growing around me. My herbs are all on the deck, just feet away from my kitchen. For this batch, I used tarragon, basil, rosemary, lemon balm, and parsley. You can also use dried herbs, if you want. I also added some red pepper flakes for a kick, and salt and pepper to taste. 

 

Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats

Just a few ingredients make the cheese, but I added a special twist by rolling my curds in herbs I had pulsed in the food processor.

As you can see on the left, my kitchen herb garden is still growing strong!

In the background, you can peep some peppers that will be featured soon!

Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats

Using up the whey: Oatmeal Bowl for the Chickens

 

To make the Whey Oats for your poultry: Steep 4 cups instant oats in 2 cups of whey. Allow to soak until oats are softened. Decorate with melon and other scraps in your kitchen (I used 1 1/2 cup cantaloupe, 2 bananas, and the same herbs and red pepper that I myself flavored our cheese with).

To learn more about what chickens can eat, this is a handy little table.

Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats
Herbed Goat Cheese and Whey Oats

This post was made in partnership with Tractor Supply, who provided me with a selection of herbs from Bonnie Plants. I am SO in love with my kitchen herb garden on our deck and I use it nearly daily. The plants come potted and I just transfer, add a little more soil, and water. It couldn't be easier and I am excited to have herbs (and peppers) to enjoy for the rest of summer.