A Girl who's Goat has been Got. Um, Yea.

Recently, I read Tina Fey's new book, Bossypants for the book club I'm in.  While I found the entire book, start to finish, pretty gosh darn hilarious, the last page was the one that really hit home for me.  She describes herself stressing out about a particular situation/decision in her life, and further describes how she must look to those around her - or as she puts it "anyone with a real problem - active-duty soldier, homeless person, Chilean miner, etc."  She writes that this is what she must appear to be to them :

A tiny little person with nothing to worry about running in circles, worried out of her mind.

I can relate to this statement all too well as of late.  Most of us probably can.  And it's kind of silly when you put it in perspective.  Like Tina so wisely (and humorously) says, we could have "real" problems, like not having a place to live, or not knowing what the future holds much-less if there will even be a future.  Most of us know deep down that everything will turn out fine, regardless of the storms we might have to weather to get to our rainbows, for our worries are minimal in comparison to the worries of some.  But for some reason we still like to stress ourselves out over nothing.  (Well not nothing, but a lot less than what our "somethings" could potentially be...)  

So, I am recommending taking a night off from stressing.  Go to a concert, go to an art gallery, dine out at your favorite restaurant, whatever.  Treat yourself to something nice.  And most importantly, avoid looking like the tiny little person worried out of her (or his) mind - at.all.costs! 

And while you're planning your baby step of one night of NOT looking like a crazy-worried person, you can enter this contest to win dinner at Chicago's very own, Girl and the Goat.  (Click here to enter!)  When life gets your goat - head to Girl and the Goat!  

For those of you that haven't heard of Girl and the Goat, it's the restaurant behind the Chef Stephanie Izard.  For those of you who don't know who Stephanie Izard is, you either: 
a) don't have cable and therefore couldn't watch the Chicago season (aka the best season) of Top Chef on Bravo, 
b) you've never heard of the Inteview Show with Mark Bazer (filmed at another renowned Chicago establishment, of the drinking/rocking out persuasion - the Hideout Chicago).  

Regardless, whether you know of Stephanie, or her restaurant, or not, you should enter to win.  Because I guarantee you would be not-stressed if you got the chance to go.  And for an extra-special treat... here's the "Interview Show" video featuring Stephanie (by the way she's lovely and funny and adorable)  and will also make you forget all your stresses.  
(This is "post" her Top Chef win, but "pre" her Girl and the Goat opening.) 

Part Uno

Part Deuce


Get Clean

Since it's awfully un-summer looking today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite summer recipes to make up for it.  A few summers ago, my cousin went on a "detox" based on this book called Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself.  I thought she was kind of crazy.  But then my mom started reading the book and she "ate" up every word of it.  So I tried it.  The easiest way I can think of to describe it is that it's basically like being a vegan, except you can have lean protein for your "solid" meal of the day (the other two meals are liquid diets - soup or smoothies).  (It also reminds me a lot of the 28-day Whole Foods Eat Right Challenge - details here.)  

Let me tell you, some of the food was delicious in it's simplicity.  I still make some of the recipes.  But, I was dying without bread and cheese. Dy-ing.  I was fine with having a smoothie for breakfast and soup for lunch.  But you weren't supposed to heat the soup up - which, who's a fan of cold soup? I know I'm not - the warmth is 90% of the appeal - and how can you eat soup without a hunk (ok fine, at least a small hunk) of chewy crusty bread to sop up the remains in the bowl?  I mean come on.  I know the guy who wrote the book/diet is a doctor and knows what he's talking about, but I need my carbs man!  Anyways, I'm glad I tried it, but I couldn't do it forever.  (I think the book recommends doing the 2-4 week "cleanse" around 4 times a year - but I just work some of the recipes into my usual diet, cuz that's how I roll people.)

Here are a few of my favorite recipes from the program that I made this morning in an attempt to make my apartment feel more summery despite the dreary weather.  And I also felt like creating a ton of dishes for myself.  Win win!  (kidding)

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Mixed Greens
I make this a lot, but I tend to improvise on some of the ingredients (i.e. I make it sans chicken, with carrots and celery, with craisins instead of currants, and omit the agave since you don't need it with the sweetness of the craisins,  no mint or parsley cuz I rarely have those fresh on hand - I used dried basil instead, and I sometimes add a little garlic in place of the scallions for a little extra kick.  Feel free to do your own improvising based on what you have handy!)
2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa
2 (4-ounce) chicken breasts, grilled or steamed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup scallions, cut thinly diagonally
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup lime
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cups salad greens tossed with 2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Steam chicken breast: cook it in 1/2-inch boiling water in a covered pan for 6 minutes
2. Put all ingredients except chicken and salad greens in a bowl, and toss together with quinoa, adjust seasoning to taste.
3. Mound half this quinoa salad on each plate.
4. Make a bed of salad greens next to quinoa and place the sliced chicken on top.

Blueberry, Carob, and Almond Milk Smoothie
(again, I fudged it a little - used frozen raspberries (no need for ice) and soy milk instead of almond milk because I didn't have enough almonds to make the milk - and I used a teeny weeny bit of raw honey instead of agave since I didn't have any in-house.)
1 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup
2 teaspoons raw cacao powder, carob powder, or cocoa
1/2 cup ice

1. Blend together until smooth.

Mango and Coconut Milk Smootie
(again - I didn't have any dried coconut so I didn't make coconut milk, but it's still just as good with regular soy milk! Note: Trader Joe's has a great selection of frozen mango and pineapple chunks that are perfect for this!)
1 cup mango chunks
1/2 cup pineapple chunks
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 to 2 teaspoons agave syrup
1/2 cup ice

1. Blend together until smooth.



Life, Sprinkled with Cartwheels

Today I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of my favorite bloggers out there, Angie Dudley of Bakerella.  If you've ever heard of cake pops, you've already witnessed a nugget of Angie's creative genius.  I don't just admire Angie for her ability to create a huge bright spot in peoples day through her blog and crafty, baked creations; I also admire her for her story.

Three days ago, Angie received her second kidney transplant.  The best part about the most recent development to her story is that her mom was a match and was able to donate her kidney to her daughter.  (she speaks a lot more eloquently about it than I am currently pulling off here.)  From the updates I've seen on Angie's twitter, I'm relieved to hear that it sounds like the surgery was a success!

I'm half laughing at myself right now, because I'm talking about her like I know her.  And I don't.  But her story resonates with me.  Partially because I feel like I know her from following her blog (and heck, I did meet her, albeit for 30 seconds to get her John Hancock and take a picture with her, at her Chronicle Books signing tour when her Cake Pops book came out); and partially because I have a sliver of an idea of what she's going through.  For most of my life, my mom has had kidney disease.  When I was in high school, her condition developed to the point that it was clear she needed a transplant in order to survive.  Our family was ever so lucky that my dad volunteered to get tested and dab-nabbit, he was a match! Which turned out to be kind of amazing considering blood relations are usually a better match.  The best part about their story (and the cheesiest) is that they had their surgery on Valentine's Day.  If that's not professing your unconditional love for someone, I'm not sure what is.  It has since been almost a decade and sometimes I think that having witnessed an experience like this is part of the reason why I like to seek out the "sweet" things in life.  Whether it be baking a new cupcake recipe, discovering a movie that makes me smile, or some of the other randomness that I try to share with you all here.

Anyways, the takeaway here is this: don't take life for granted.  Not for one second.  I know we all have "days." Heck, I almost had one this morning when I had a fight with a garage door and the garage door won - damaging a car that wasn't even mine.  But I'm going to try my gosh-darn-dest not to let garage doors get the best of me.  I mean really, who do they think they are?  The point is, put it in perspective.  There's always a silver lining, even if you have to dig a little harder than you'd like to find it.  Life your life "sprinkled with cartwheels" (Angie's description of her excitement at the prospect of probably not having to have another dialysis treatment).  Sometimes it's the little things (like the immense joy that comes with eating a heaping spoonful of peanut butter) and sometimes it's slightly bigger things (like being grateful you don't have to go through dialysis anymore) that make all the difference.

Ok, that's enough of me being preachy and deep about life for the day.  But please, if you have a moment, keep Angie and all the other people out there who have received, or are waiting to receive a transplant of any kind, in your thoughts.  And if you're feeling really moved, sign up to be an organ donor yourself.

Thanks for reading y'all!


Even if you lose, you get to eat cake!

Exciting news today folks - Threadcakes 2011 is live! 

What is Threadcakes, you ask?  Threadcakes is a cake competition from Threadless, a Chicago T-Shirt company.  The designs for Threadless are submitted by and voted on by designers in the online community.  It's a pretty awesome company actually.  If you haven't already, I highly recommend checking it out.  Anyways, Threadcakes, is a cake competition where anyone who can access the internet can enter by submitting a photos of the making of their cake creation (either 2-D or 3-D) that is based on a Threadless T-Shirt design.  I missed out last year, but the first year, I did enter a couple entries (see below) and had a blast.

Cookie Loves Milk

The real deal Tee.

Playin' in the Sprinkler

The cute toddler's tee.

So, my question to you all is - what should I do this year?  Send me your favorite threadless designs to help me decide!  (You can post them in the comments field here, or on the Smashed Muffin facebook page.)  And here's the deal, if you pick the design that I end up turning in to delicious cake - you'll win your very own threadless tee, in that design.  Not a bad deal, not a bad deal at all.  

Help me decide what cake to craft and you can reap the benefits.  And maybe, if you're uber lucky, I'll share a piece of cake with you too... maybe.


That Is No Small Thing

This post isn't necessarily directly food related (unless you count the multiple references to "pancake breakfasts", which, by the way, I LOVE PANCAKES.  And endless amounts of pancakes at a community breakfast sounds even better).  
**See the end of the post for the easiest, simplest, best-est pancake recipe ever.  I make it ALL THE TIME, it's so easy.  Compliments of who else, but the Food Revolutionist himself, Jamie Oliver.

Today I watched a movie called "Danny Deckchair".  It's about a blue collar cement guy, Danny, living in Sydney with his girlfriend who is on the real estate fast track.  They kinda start to fall apart when the girlfriend cancels their yearly holiday due to her chance to schmooze a big shot news anchor, and lying about it.  So, Danny, being the quirky goof that he is decides to get a boat load of party balloons, tie them to a deckchair, and see if he can take off.  (According to IMDB, this is inspired by a true story of a man, Larry Walters, who flew from San Pedro, California to Los Angeles International Airport in a lawn chair rigged with 42 weather balloons on July 2, 1982.)  You guessed it, he succeeds, and takes off on a journey to a place that is the polar opposite of his urban life in Sydney.  And it just so happens, that he is a much different, much more content and happier person who kind of "falls into himself" in this calmer, more accepting of his goofiness, environment.  

There aren't any yellow brick roads, but Danny's yellow "Phil Stubs Car City" balloons do take him on a journey to realizing the person he is supposed to be.  I found it inspiring because in a sense, aren't we all on that journey?  And of course, wouldn't it be nice if we all "fell" into the right path as easily as the wind picked up Danny in his airborne deckchair?  I'll admit it.  There are some days where I wish I could adhere a bunch of balloons to my apartment building and just see where the wind takes me.  It's a slightly childish idea, but we all have to indulge in the illusions that help up cope with the hum-drum of the day to day.  And sometimes it's these small, slightly silly ideas that lead us to something bigger.

Anyways, I thought it was a great story, worth a watch, and a perfect way to bring some sunshine into your life on an otherwise dreary overcast day.

Jamie Oliver's One-Cup Pancakes
It doesn't have to be a "1 cup" measuring cup, it could be your favorite coffee mug.  Just make sure you use the same cup for the flour that you use for the milk and your pancakes are a GO!
25G BUTTER (~ 1/8 cup)
Crack the egg into a large mixing bowl. Add your flour, milk & a pinch of salt. Whisk everything together until you've got a smooth batter. Heat your fry pan on medium heat and add half the butter. When the butter has melted, use a ladle to spoon the batter into the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes and use a spatula to turn them over when they start to brown on the bottom and get little bubbles on top.  
Presto change-o... delicious pancakes in a snap!
Syrup alternative topping suggestion: cottage cheese and fresh sliced mango.


You Say You Want a Revolution

Tonight after work, I treated myself to watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Season 2. LA Baby.  And yes, I watched all three episodes in one sitting.  Don't judge.  It's worth it, trust me.  (Episodes available here on Hulu.)

If you haven't watched already, I hope you'll feel, once you do start watching, that the cause he is campaigning for is vital.  It's pretty similar to my last post really when you think about it.  (Seem to be on quite the activist roll lately, aren't I?)  We survive on this planet, regardless of your evolutionary or personal beliefs, primarily because the planet provides us with the sustainability (via plants, crops, etc) to nourish ourselves.  Yet all too many households will still buy the cheap processed foods that you can't even picture how they were made much pronounce most of the ingredients on the package, over something where you know how it was grown and where it came from.  It's unfair that what is good for you - local food made with fresh, wholesome ingredients, will typically cost you more money.  But it's kind of like this.  If you make smarter choices and eat fresh more often, the odds will more than likely be with you as you are more than likely to be a healthier person. Isn't your life worth pinching pennies and spending a little extra to cook yourself better food?  (That's another key right there - cook for yourself people.  It's really quite simple.  If you don't believe me, read some of the recipes in Jamie's Food Revolution cook book.  They're mind-blowingly simple. And if you're going to eat out, don't let someone else (i.e. a restaurant/especially a fast food restaurant) cook for you unless they know where their ingredients are coming from).

Now, I'm not claiming that everything in my home kitchen is 100% healthy.  But, as I learned when I took my sanitation certification, we all take shortcuts.  Complete disclosure.  However, the thing is, if you're gonna take 'em, at least take smarter ones. If you are going to buy processed food/brands because money is tight and you need what's cheaper, at least buy product that you know what all the ingredients are on the label, or at the very least, can pronounce them all.

I mean - I'll admit it.  I realize that most of my posts are about sweets, which get a bad rap because they're not necessarily notorious with being good for you.  And, of course, I could be better about some of the ingredients I use (i.e. using Cool Whip in the peanut butter pie when I could've made home made whipping cream with a little extra effort and a helluva lot less sugar), but for the most part, I know where the ingredients I'm using have come from.

Anyway, getting off my soap box for now.  But this show made me realize that this is why I am interested in food, and yes, desserts, and the industry.  This campaign is so inspiring, I can't even fully express it.  Use quality ingredients, or at the very very least, KNOW what ingredients you're using and where they come from, and your food and/or sweets will taste better, guaranteed.  And heck, it'll more than likely be better for you. If that's not a bonus, I'm not sure what is.

So, will you join me?  Will you join Jamie?  Hopefully one of us has enough clout to make a difference to you, haha.  At the very very least, please please go here to sign Jamie's petition and learn about what you can do - in your community or even in your personal life, to live the food revolution.


It All Boils Down to the Bees...

Tonight, I saw a really inspiring documentary called "Queen of the Sun".  It's all about the collapse of the honey bee colonies around the world.

I also recently went to a wedding shower for a friend of mine who's Uncle somewhat recently took up bee-keeping.  The favors for her shower were a jar of his honey.

Makes you realize how important and dependent our lives are on the survival of the bees.  Without bee's, we wouldn't have fruit, and without fruit, we'd have a mighty hard time surviving.

On a less serious note, this also reminds me of one of my favorite TV shows that is sadly no longer on - Pushing Daisies.  One of the main characters, Chuck, who gets a second lease on life thanks to the magic touch of Ned, has a rooftop bee haven.

Favoritest.Show.Ever.End of Story.

"I just thought my world would be better with you in it." -Ned
And our world can be better if more people become aware and do their part to help save the bees.
Here's a list of things you can do to make a difference.