A Staple Indulgence

Potatoes1I have this funny habit of cooking a ton when it gets cold outside, and then neglecting to post here. Let’s call it my blogging hibernation…for lack of anything else creative coming to mind. And this is a frivolous excuse considering we have had a very mild winter. SO to compensate for my truancy, I’ll share two dishes in this post involving one of my favorite food groups: potatoes! Potatoes make for an exceptional comfort food in the cold weather…when it’s properly winter. Read on to learn more about these two lovely dishes: Rosemary Smashed Potatoes with Dill & Yogurt Sauce and a Coconut & Peanut Red Lentil Stew.

Potatoes2From a historical perspective, the potato carries a lot of weight. It was first cultivated in modern-day Peru between 8000 and 5000 BC. The name as we know it today was a result of the Spain conquering the region, at which time the “conquistadores” named it patata. After introducing the crop to Europe through the Columbian exchange, the potato would grow to become a (if not the) worldwide staple. Yet the Spanish introduced only a handful of varieties from the Americas, which – when blight struck in the late 19th century – led to the Great Irish Famine….oof. Another fun fact is that the potato and sweet potato, albeit similar in appearance, are distant relatives. The former belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) while the latter to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). You don’t actually need to know any of this to cook these two dishes – I just think it’s super cool.

Potatoes4SO let’s come back up for air after that little tangent. These smashed potatoes are actually quite simple to make. The keys to success are to find potatoes that are small enough and to be patient with the smashing process. Why? Because a few will shatter or break cleanly in half (not pictured…though there were plenty). One thing I can guarantee is that the broken ones will be just as tasty, so go crazy and embrace the imperfect. You can go with or without the yogurt sauce – but the dill and yogurt combo is irresistible in its own right. Click HERE for the recipe to these salty pillows of joy.

LentilStew1Winter and stew are like mornings and coffee – it’s impossible to make it through the first without the second (I’m aware I just confessed to loving coffee a little bit too much…moving on). What I love about this stew is you can prep most of the ingredients in advance – from the mirepoix to measuring out the spices. I prepped most the ingredients the morning of the dinner party, storing them in the fridge until half an hour before I started to cook. It made the preparation so so easy (and hassle-free).

LentilStew3Another thing I like about this stew is its “heartiness” as a vegan dish. You purée half of the ingredients at the end, to create a thicker consistency. There is an optional spicy quotient – I used two dried chilies, with the seeds, reconstituted and minced. You can use less (or more if you are a little crazy). This stew also keeps very well, and is more flavorful on day #2 – thanks to sitting with those lovely spices overnight. Whether this is for a dinner party or a week of lunch prep, this one is a keeper. Click HERE for the recipe to this hearty and healthy winter comfort. 

LentilStew2Given the centrality of the potato’s “staple” status for this post, I wanted to pair these dishes with a work that could convey their colorful depth while staying true to this concept. That brought me to the iconic lied (or lieder, for plural): which is German for “song”, and came to represent a musical style that embraced poetry and voice.


The man, the legend -Robert Schumann

The lied was (and still is) a staple for many composers. The style dates back to the 12th century, where the majority of the writing was monophonic. Yet as the the art form evolved, polyphony prevailed as voice plus piano (or orchestra) became the prevalent structure. The lied truly flourished in the 18th and early-19th centuries with the advent of Romanticism. Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms and other great composers produced some of their most epochal works as lieder; specifically as song cycles (where a theme or story ties together all the lieder within a set). Perhaps my favorite example of a song cycle is Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love). Schumann wrote the work in 1840, impressively within the span of a week. The music is set to a series poems by Heinrich Heine: painting the tale of a man enraptured by love, only to hopelessly discover it is an unrequited passion. The below recording features the tenor Fritz Wunderlich, whose performance of Dichterliebe is still held as the gold standard. The songs arequite  short, and perhaps the two most famous in the series are the opening, “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” and “Ich grolle nicht” at 7:17. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Potato,” Wikipedia.com
“Sweet Potato,” Wikipedia.com
“Lied: GERMAN SONG,” Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Schumann’s Dichterliebe,” Hampstead Arts Festival
“The Schumann Chamber Series: Year Four,” Emmanuel Music Program Notes

Summer Dreams and Pie

RhubarbPiesSummer is perhaps one of the best seasons for eating – weekends are for cookouts, piles of colorful produce flood farmers’ markets, and restaurants eager to open their patios and porches get creative with menus. Since I started this blog, there has always been one dish that best defines my summer repertoire: pie. I’ve made lots of pies, and have tried nearly every approach to pie dough (including a unique experiment with vodka); yet the all-butter crust that my grandma would be proud of is tough to beat. For this post, I made a bite-sized version with these Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies.
Rhubarb_1I found this rhubarb at the farmer’s market – big, ruby stalks of the stuff. Their pigment comes from varying levels of anthocyanins (the same compound that colors blueberries and black rice; ahhhh science). Even though it’s a vegetable, rhubarb is often prepared in dishes that are fruit-forward. The tart flavor and celery-like texture lend themselves well to compotes and jams and pie fillings. For this recipe, it’s simmered with nothing more than sugar; and you don’t even need to really stir it. You want the mixture to have as little liquid as possible when done, so it’s easy to work with when filling the pies.
PieDough_2The trick to handmade pie crusts is to keep the dough very cold; from start to finish. It can be frustrating…especially when you’re working on a hot summer day, but it’s worth the patience. If you have to refrigerate the dough halfway through making it, that’s OK. It’s also a little messy (with all the flour) but again, worth it. I could have chilled the dough a bit longer before starting the assembly process…but was watching Westworld and became too focused on keeping up with the plot twists. All the same, they tasted great! Click HERE to make this recipe a new summer tradition. 
RhubarbPies_2Summer and pie are a perfect pair, rousing memories of lazy, hot days with sweet iced tea and picnic blankets. Today was a perfect example of that kind of weather…although I spent a good deal of it beneath a fan with the A.C. blasting. In thinking about a musical pairing, one of my favorites came to mind – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24, for soprano and orchestra (by Samuel Barber). This piece takes it inspiration and prose from the James Agee essay of the same name. Agee allegedly wrote the piece in an hour and a half. To date, it is one of his most famous works. The story is woven by the childhood memories of our protagonist, who paints a scene of her family lounging on quilts in the backyard while listening to the birds and streetcars passing by. While our protagonist relishes in this memory and the perfection of that summer evening, there is bittersweet inflection in her words: the now adult is all-too-aware of the passing of time and the journey to find one’s identity. In empathy, it’s difficult to not feel a yearning for the simplicities of childhood. The following recording features soprano Leontyne Price with the New Philharmonia Orchestra – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Rhubarb,” Wikipedia
Myers, Chris. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Redlands Symphony. 2015.

Rise and Shine, Part VI

AvocadoAvocado – the unofficial mascot of millennial culture. It’s a pretty awesome food, with a versatility that makes it the kind of friend you always want to have around. From pasta sauces to creamy desserts to savory appetizers, this fruit has it all. So when thinking of how to feature avocado, I turned to my all-time favorite meal: breakfast. This is part six of my mini series “Rise and Shine”. So far the series has featured my adventures with brunch, and I thought it high time I chronicled the dishes that I enjoy every morning before work: Rich Fruit Smoothie and (the Instagram-famous) Avocado Toast.

AvoToastLet’s start with the toast – this is a dish that has taken the internet by storm. It’s simple, delicious and never gets old. As a spread, it’s also a healthy substitute where butter or jam are the traditional go-to’s. What’s perhaps more interesting is the many ways people interpret the increasing popularity of the dish: from it’s alleged necessity as an everyday staple in the “bourgeoisie’s diet” to being a symptom of our continued “fetishization of food.” I’m a millennial, so I’m not helping to disperse any of these myths…but it’s a great and filling breakfast. I for one think making it at home is a fantastic option, versus paying $30 at a Brooklyn brunch enclave for a few slices. Click HERE to see the recipe for this internet celebrity. 

Shake_3Smoothies are a great way to start the day – you can pack in a ton of nutrients, and mix it up based on what’s in season (or on sale). When I reflect on the ingredients that are must-have’s, I’d say they are a banana, some yogurt, nuts, and of course avocado. The yogurt and nuts are the protein: which make this a really filling meal, and give you the energy to kick off your day. I always use bananas since they are delicious, but the avocado is what gives the smoothie a thick and creamy consistency. You can even add a little honey, but I find the fruits to add enough sweetness.

There is a bit of an art to packing a blender – the trick is to go from the softest ingredients to the toughest. As the above photo shows, I placed the avocado and the bananas at the bottom of the jar, followed by the kiwis, berries, almonds, and finally the ice; pouring in the milk at the very end. Organizing the jar this way facilitates the blending process, and creates a super smooth and creamy result. That being said, if you have one of those crazy-cool blenders that can crush concrete…then feel free to just dump everything in. If the mixture is too thick, just add a splash of milk and pulse until combined. I make these almost every morning, and can guarantee it becomes second nature. Click HERE to see the recipe for this healthy morning treat. 

Shake_4The promise of these dishes is enough to inspire even the sleepiest to rouse on a weekday. So in considering a piece that worked well with these dishes, I came across Gustav Mahler’s “Frühlingsmorgen” (Spring Morning) from his collection of Lieder und Gesänge. Mahler was known to devote his mornings to composing: pouring himself into his scores and harmonic textures, then indulging himself in the afternoon with mountainous vistas and lakeside excursions. This makes the “Frühlingsmorgen” all the more apt – both of the dishes in this blog post are colorful, flavor-forward and bright: reminiscent of spring, if you will. This particular song falls within Volume 1 of the collection: written between 1880 and 1881. The song is labeled “Gemächlich, leicht bewegt”, which roughly translates to “with leisurely movement”. The following video features the German lyric baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the musical icon Leonard Bernstein on piano (though there are plenty of fantastic recordings with sopranos on YouTube as well). Enjoy!!

Sources Cited:
Oyler, L. “My Fruitful Search for the Origins of Avocado Toast,” Broadly. Sep 13. 2016.
Goldfield, H. “The Trend is Toast,” The New Yorker. May 2, 2014.
“Lieder und Gesänge (Mahler)”, Wikipedia.com

Easy Food for a Freezing Day

Falafel1 (1)New Yorkers are having an insanely cold weekend…which is a great excuse to stay inside, wear thick socks, and have Netflix/Hulu to keep you company. But this forced captivity means limited access to food – and considering I would feel like a terrible human in ordering Seamless (thus forcing a poor delivery guy to brave the cold himself) I had to get creative. I somehow convinced my carnivorous boyfriend Tom to go vegetarian for a day (cold weather does funny things to people) and pantry staples came to our rescue for this Easy Baked Falafel with Tahini Dressing recipe!
Falafel4There are a ton of falafel recipes floating around on the internet (shameless plug for a recipe on this blog: Sweet Potato Falafel) each with it’s own “secret ingredient” that makes it THE falafel for your recipe repertoire. Given our complete lack of desire to venture outdoors, our falafel was flavored with the classics: lemon, garlic, parsley and tahini (not pictured). We use a LOT of lemon for this, which you are welcome to scale up or down depending on your relationship with citrus.
Falafel8What’s great about this recipe is that it comes together fairly quickly. The “batter” rests in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, making it easier to roll the falafel balls…but you can skip this step if you have a cookie scooper or like the idea of “rustic” falafel. And if you’re really hungry and can’t bear the thought of going another second without food, the batter is basically hummus! No matter how you enjoy it, it’s a great quick meal – click HERE to see the recipe for this vegetarian fix! 
Falafel9 (3)In considering a musical pairing for this recipe, I looked for a piece that could complement both the simplicity of the recipe and its wintry context. My choice of Faure’s Pavane was almost immediate – you can say I’m biased (it features the flute quite prominently), but it’s a classic. The melody is both pure and haunting: painting a scene like the chilled, solitary streets of New York. And yet beauty lies within this solitude, as it is not a fearful scene but a rather peaceful one. The title of the work pays homage to the 16th-century European dance of the same name, which is both slow and processional in character. Ultimately, the piece evokes in its listener a desire to calm and be calmed – something every New Yorker can truly appreciate.  The following video is an excerpt of the full piece, which I chose because A) it’s the Berlin Philharmonic and B) the flute solo is played by my idol, Emmanuel Pahud 🙂 Enjoy!!

Sources Cited:
“Pavane,” Wikipedia.com

Rise and Shine: Part V

Quinoa_Pancakes2My blogging enterprise has been woefully absent…so let me try to explain: I moved to Manhattan in July to start a master’s program in business at NYU. It has been an amazing (albeit intense) journey, and the pace has redefined what I once considered “productive”. In the thick of this academic hurricane, I had to hit the pause button on a few beloved distractions…and my blog was an unfortunate casualty. This isn’t to suggest that I’ve tossed my favorite pastime of cooking altogether – trust me, I would be rendered insane if the refuge of a great homemade meal were taken away from me. After seeing countless ads on the MTA for culinary resolutions and eating more indulgent food than I care to admit, I felt the New Year was the perfect time to revive Classical Kitchen. Though this blog will always call Boston home, I plan to take advantage of every opportunity this city has to offer…with the understanding that tiny apartments sabotage most lighting opportunities for photography. So I’ll stop rambling; instead, let’s get cooking and talk about these Quinoa Pancakes with Honey and Strawberries.
Quinoa1My boyfriend Tom and I happened upon this recipe in early 2015 – we had a lot of leftover quinoa (I thought the measured amount would make half of what it did…long story) and wanted a unique recipe that called for pre-cooked quinoa. Quinoa is pretty great, in my book. Here’s a fun fact – thanks to the explosion of ancient grains and gluten free options, The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organizatiom (FAO) claimed that 2013 was the “International Year of the Quinoa.” The grain has been a staple of the Andean diet since as early 1200 AD. It is both an adaptable and durable grain, making it an ideal mainstay for centuries. As far as production goes, Peru is the world’s largest producer, reporting a harvest of over 250 billion pounds in 2014.
Berries_HoneyToppings are what make pancakes one of America’s favorite breakfast foods. Tom and I like honey, since it’s useful in much of what we eat and drink. I bought a local honey for this (the pretty jar was the hook) and fresh strawberries. While these were our toppings, you can try out a variety of things – blueberries and yogurt, pecans and agave, bananas and nutella, or even a savory spin with avocados and sour cream. The pancakes themselves have no sugar, making them the perfect palate for any creative garnish.
Quinoa_Pancakes1These pancakes are, admittedly, very different from the buttermilk variety at your local diner. Not only are they full of protein and fiber, but the texture and size share a closer affinity with patties than with their namesake. The trick to getting these pancakes “perfect” is to ensure that the mixture has enough moisture to bind everything together, while also keeping the cakes small enough (while cooking) so they maintain their shape. The recipe will explain this more thoroughly, but be prepared to have one or two crumble mid-flip (but trust me, they will still be tasty!) Click HERE to see the recipe for this unique spin on a breakfast icon.  
Quinoa_Pancakes3While considering a musical pairing for this recipe, I knew an homage to New York was in order – which led me to one of my favorite American composers, Charles Ives, and his orchestral work Central Park in the Dark. Written in 1906, this turn-of-the-century piece beautifully illustrates a rare perspective of New York: a walk through Central Park at night. Ives himself wrote about the piece:

“This piece purports to be a picture-in-sounds of the sounds of nature and of happenings that men would hear some thirty or so years ago (before the combustion engine and radio monopolized the earth and air), when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night.”

The strings represent the night, their ethereal darkness constant and gliding amidst the walk of our protagonist. The clarinet ushers in a scene of evening revelry, followed by the winds, brass and eventually full orchestra, as our protagonist passes a late-night casino. The moment is a passing one, as the omnipresent darkness returns and our protagonist tugs his cloak tighter about his shoulders as he continues home. Despite this work being written over a century ago, one can easily imagine its setting in present day: with similar vignettes of quiet and chaos enveloping our daily walks within this massive, beautiful city. I’ve learned a lot since moving to New York, but perhaps the most pressing lesson has been that this city is not lush with work insanity or impersonality – it is a living, breathing thing filled with opportunity and amazing people who want to make a difference. I’m beyond excited to now be a part of that story. Check out Ives’ work in the video below:

Sources Cited:
“Quinoa.” The World’s Healthiest Foods
“Quinoa.” Wikipedia.com
“Central Park in the Dark.” Wikipedia.com

Love at First Bite

Peanut Butter Tart 3Let me introduce you to one of my new favorite desserts: Peanut Butter Mousse Tart with Chocolate Ganache. When I first made this, I didn’t take a single photo assuming it wouldn’t be a blog-worthy recipe. I’d originally hoped to make this heavenly cheesecake…but my springform pan had just broken and I didn’t feel like shelling out $40 to get a new one. So I improvised, and created a tart that was loosely inspired by said cheesecake. It was love at first bite – my colleagues were begging for seconds, and I used the second opportunity to capture photos of this devilish dessert. It’s a dessert that is difficult to turn down – my coworker Emilio put it best: “I pity the fool who tries this, it’s more addictive than crack cocaine.”
Peanut Butter Tart 2While it is an extremely rich tart, it is is incredibly easy to make – the ganache is created from a simple mixture of peanut butter and chocolate chips (a combination that rarely disappoints). My go-to method for making ganache is to pour heated cream over the chocolate in a glass bowl. It avoids the risk of burning the ganache over a stovetop or in a microwave, and guarantees a glossy finish. You are certainly welcome to use one of the other two methods, but just be mindful of the heat level (keep it low) and the timing. The ganache is by far what sends this recipe over the top (this is ABSOLUTELY a licking-the-bowl-clean moment once you’re done).
Peanut Butter Tart 1The tart’s “shell” is a simple graham cracker crust, topped with the silky layer of ganache and then followed by a light and creamy mouse. It is one of those “best-the-next-day” desserts, since its flavor will deepen with time. I highly recommend giving this tart a try, whether it be for a potluck or for self-enjoyment. It’s a dessert that practically anyone will love (those with allergies or an aversion to peanuts being the obvious exception). Though I still am hoping to make the aforementioned cheesecake, this simple beauty has thankfully become a go-to in my cooking repertoire. Click HERE to see the recipe for this delicious dessert!  
Peanut Butter Tart 4The appeal of this tart casts a wide net, making a fan out of almost anyone who gives it a taste. A parallel in classical music can be drawn to “showstoppers” – pieces that are performed time and time again, and yet never “grow old” in enjoyment or intrigue. Their admiration is often universal, and can appeal to a diversity of listeners (regardless of age or background). A prime example of such a piece is, without question, Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G minor for violin and viola. Similar to this dessert, Halvorsen found inspiration in a former masterpiece: the final movement of Handel’s Harpsichord Suite in G minor, HWV 432. The work is thus constructed as a “theme and variations”, transforming a single motif within a medley of ideas and styles. The piece itself is quite challenging for the performers involved, and is often played as an encore given the exigent mastery of technique and virtuosity. Though originally written for violin and viola, Passacaglia was eventually transcribed for violin and cello, and has become the more popular performance setting. To honor both, I’ve shared two editions of the piece below: the first showcasing the original instrumentation – featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Pinchas Zukerman (viola) – and the second with the more popular duo setting – featuring Julia Fischer (violin) and Daniel Müller-Schott (cello). Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Bromberger, Eric. “Interpreti Veneziani – Passacaglia for Violin, Cello, and Strings,” La Jolla Music Society

Sugar and Spice

Cardamom Cheesecake 4Have I ever told you that cheesecake is my favorite dessert? There’s something about the creamy texture that I simply cannot turn down. And there are so many possible flavors! Chocolate, vanilla bean, triple berry – the list goes one. The dessert itself is unique, presenting a irresistible fusion of sugary and tart tastes. I  recently made what was possibly the BEST cheesecake recipe I’ve ever come across. My boyfriend and I were visiting his parents for dinner a few weeks back. He prepared a ridiculous meal of Indian specialties, which was loaded with ambrosial ingredients and potent spices. I was tasked with creating a complementary dessert, and this unique Cardamom and Saffron Cheesecake was the result. Cardamom Cheesecake 3 I like to consider cheesecake to be one of my “specialties,” and have developed a series of tricks over the years to create perfect results. I only recently discovered that cheesecake filling prepared in a food processor yields an unbeatable texture that is both smooth and fluffy. Stand or hand mixers can sometimes result in an inconsistent batter with chunks of cream cheese – the processor whips everything with precision, and creates a silky smooth filling that pours beautifully into your prepared pan. The original recipe is a Simply Recipes original…who to this day is one of my most trusted bloggers. This cake on its own is highly recommended, but the incorporation of cardamom and saffron sent this recipe over the top. These savory elements paired beautifully with the dessert’s sweeter side, adding a notable depth and character to this otherwise straightforward recipe.
Cardamom Cheesecake 2What I love about most cheesecake is the ability to make it days in advance, giving those of us with full-time schedules some peace of mind. On the day of, I topped the cheesecake with a layer of lightly sweetened mascarpone and garnished with crushed pistachios (unsalted). The result was an all-around awesome cheesecake: the irresistibly creamy texture, undeniably great flavor, and a gorgeous appearance. The meal had been a fairly spicy one (Tom likes food with a kick…heh) so this was the perfect balance. I guarantee that this will be a crowd-pleaser, for pretty much everyone at your dinner table: click HERE to make this lovely dessert.
Cardamom Cheesecake 1While cardamom and saffron are staples in savory recipes, they rarely play a role in sweeter ones – yet the combination works beautifully in this cheesecake. For the musical pairing, I wanted to complement both the uncommon while also paying homage to the East Asian spices of this dish. That led me to British composer Jonathan Harvey: a contemporary English composer and musicologist whose style explores the more subtle connections between spirituality and music. In Harvey’s case, Buddhism was the inspiration for his both his music and philosophies. The following comes from Harvey’s 2010 essay Buddhism and the Undecidability of Music:

“Music is in some sense a picture of wisdom. It is even an explanation, in that it shows rather more clearly than words can so, [the] will-o’-the-wisp quality of reality. Music shows us how mind works.”

This mindfulness can be found in Harvey’s work …towards a Pure Land: a work for full orchestra that portrays the journey that one must take to reach a state beyond suffering (or dukkha in buddhism). The understanding and cessation of dukkha is an extremely important element of Buddhist practice. The music vacillates between energetic highs and a breezy calm, with a flurry of emotions in between. The end of the piece finally brings the listener to that state of mind beyond suffering, which speaks to Harvey’s belief that music can and does provide insight to the human conscience.

Sources Cited:
Service, Tom. “Music and the Mind,” The Guardian. June 2010.
Buddhism, Wikipedia.com

Playfully Sweet

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 1I’ve gained somewhat of a reputation for my cupcakes, with weddings, recitals, parties, and more all part of my catering repertoire. Friends and colleagues will almost always request cupcakes when it comes to my making a contribution, with the expectation for something sweet and delicious. This past week was my friend Elise Krob’s birthday party, and she asked me to bring dessert (preferably in the form of cupcakes). I could have easily gone with straight-up chocolate or vanilla, but am admittedly insane when it comes to baking. So I decided to vet some new recipes, and sent my ideas to Elise. We both agreed that these Cookies & Cream Cupcakes would be perfect for the occasion.
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 4For the OREO® fanatics out there, this is absolutely the cupcake for you! That being said…I used the 365 Everyday Value® chocolate sandwich cookies (there’s a Whole Foods right across the street from my office, what’s a girl to do?!) It doesn’t really matter what brand you choose so long as it has the same loving components of the original. What’s truly excellent about these cupcakes is the surprise on the bottom: a whole half of a cookie! Don’t expect to have any sandwich cookies leftover because you will be using an ENTIRE package for this recipe…
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 3Chunks of cookie are folded into the actual batter, giving these cupcakes a texture unlike any I’ve ever experienced. On the one hand you have a vanilla cake that’s moist and flavorful, and on the other you have chocolatey chunks that add a toothsome crunch to every bite. The cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with these cookie-dense cakes. Cream cheese is the easiest frosting type to work with since it won’t melt or deflate (case in point: the adorable dollops pictured below). It’s also the yummiest, but that is clearly a subjective opinion. These cupcakes can be frosted and decorated a full day in advance, just be sure to refrigerate them (covered) if you do so. They were an absolute hit at the party, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my friend Elise – click HERE to see the recipe for these lovable treats! 
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 2For many of us, OREO® cookies are strongly reminiscent of childhood. They’re a dessert that nearly anyone can enjoy considering they are incredibly fun to eat: swirled into milkshakes, crumbled atop ice cream, paired with a tall glass of milk, and more. The playful nature of these cookies (and cupcakes, for that matter) has made them one of America’s most beloved treats. When it comes to classical music, one might draw a parallel to the polka: a genre that’s difficult to listen to without a smile. It is a Central European dance form that is both lively and fast-paced (and is often written in 2/4 meter). For this pairing, I decided to go with Johann Strauss, considering he wrote over 40 polkas in his lifetime!! Perhaps the most famous is his Pizzicata Polka – written with his brother Josef Strauss, the strings play only pizzicato (plucking versus bowing the strings). The result is a playfully sweet piece that runs just over 2 minutes in length. At its Russian premiere in 1869, the piece was so well-received that it was performed a total of 9 times for the enthusiastic crowd. Cupcakes and polkas are a surefire way to liven up any day – enjoy!

Rise and Shine: Part II

Huevos Rancheros 1A tradition that has become a recent obsession of mine is Sunday brunch – I am a fairly routine person in most cases, but sleeping in and indulging in a hearty “late breakfast” is about the best thing you can ask for at the end of a long week. Going out for brunch is a great, but cooking your own is even better. There is no need to wait for seating or to flag down the waiter every time you want coffee (which is every 8-10 minutes with me), and you can take as much time as your little heart desires. Tom took the reigns with a recent brunch, and made these heavenly Huevos Rancheros.
Huevos Rancheros 4This dish started out as basic late-morning fare for farmhands and staff (hence “rancheros”) – because it’s seriously delicious, the dish grew in popularity and quickly became a national (and eventually international) favorite. Eggs (“huevos”) play a central role to the dish. Tom and I are pretty picky when it comes to buying eggs, and always opt for the “free-range” or “organic” varieties. Regardless of your preference, I’d recommend getting high-quality eggs for this. The other key elements are the toppings: you’ve got salsa, tomatoes, beans, jalapenos – tasty goodness that results in every mouthful bursting with flavor. Tom loves that it’s high on protein, and I love pretty much anything smothered in salsa and avocado (except for cookies…that might be strange).
Huevos Rancheros 5The process for making huevos rancheros is quite simple. You basically pan fry a variety of ingredients and make a quick avocado salsa…and voila! Breakfast crack – you can top it with cheese, cilantro, hot sauce, or even more cheese. Paired with a large mug of stovetop espresso and an episode Breaking Bad, this dish is the making of a beautiful brunch. If you’re a fan of Mexican food and not typically a morning person, consider this your new alarm clock: it is absolutely a reason to get out of bed, even on the coldest of days. Click HERE to see the recipe!
Huevos Rancheros 2Brunch is intended to be a deliberate indulgence (or marginally tipsy one if you go for the Bloody Mary/Mimosas). It’s the most casual meal you can have, and is often shared with someone you truly appreciate. Weekdays are made for being productive, active, and engaged – your weekend serves as a temporal “end” to the week’s craziness (unless you have to work on weekends…which is actually more common than you’d think in the non-profit realm). Regardless, brunch is your time to relax. When I was a little kid, my dad would always be playing recordings of classical or Spanish guitarists – music that’s often both beautiful and relaxing. Though this dish hails from Mexico, I was drawn to Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo for this post’s musical pairing. Perhaps his most famous work is Concierto de Aranjuez for classical guitar and orchestra.
AranjuezINT03Written in three movements, the music takes inspiration from the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez. Rodrigo himself said that every movement captures “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” of Aranjuez. The orchestra assumes a more temperate strength and gentle air in appreciating the guitar’s elegant voice. The second movement is perhaps the most well-known of the three, and speaks to the works more subtle beauty – jazz legend Miles Davis said about the Adagio: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.” Other famous admirers of the piece include Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, clarinetist Jean-Christian Michel, jazz pianist Chick Corea, American figure skater Michelle Kwan, jazz bassist Buster Williams (to name a few). The below recording features guitarist John Williams (NOT the film guy, but I’m sure he gets that a lot) at the BBC Proms – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Huevos Rancheros,” Wikipedia.com
“Concierto de Aranjuez”, Wikipedia.com