New Orleans, LA

Dear NOLA,

I freaking love New Orleans. This is my second time there and it feels as magical as the first. There’s just something about the spirits there. Am I veering too much into the supernatural? Well, can I talk about how great the people of New Orleans are? The locals are so friendly and give the best advice and tips. The hospitality in this city is unparalleled. And then there are the houses. Just swoon worthy architecture along St Charles Avenue.

Places to stay: I have been lucky enough to stay at the Hotel Monteleone and The Roosevelt for work. I don’t remember much of Hotel Monteleone, but I do recall my room being very tiny. And I hear there’s haunted rooms in this hotel too! The Roosevelt had great amenities, service, and the room was spacious. I was very grateful for the complimentary bottles of water they provided (you get thirsty in the NOLA heat fast). But personally, Cambria Hotel New Orleans in the Downtown Warehouse District is more my style and I really enjoyed our time there. I lucked out with a large corner room filled with celebrity portraits, cross-bone wallpapers, a lounge, table nook, and a bright bathroom. Other hotels I would look into staying at next time: Old No 77 Hotel & Chandlery, Q&C HotelBar, and Catahoula Hotel.

Places to eat: Geez, where does one start? Okay, a great place for breakfast is Stanley. You can’t go wrong with the eggs and poor boy sandwiches. I love going to Cochon Butcher for lunch. The goal is still to try every single sandwich on their menu. So far I’ve done the pork belly, le pig mac, moroccan spiced lamb, duck pastrami, and pulled pork. Other amazing spots for lunch or dinner: Compère Lapin (those biscuits and their desserts are worthy of repeating), Luke (still the best bread pudding I’ve ever had), Magasin Kitchen (for a unique take on pho), Herbsaint (for like everything), and Pêche Seafood Grill (everything and oysters). If you’re wondering about Commander’s Palace, I would go to sit in that beautiful garden room, the service, the experience, and their famous bread pudding souffle with whisky sauce. What about Brennan’s? I would actually not recommend the famous banana foster, but everything else I had for dinner was great. You’ve got to have seafood in New Orleans! I recommend getting a platter at Seaworthy and the wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter at Cochon. You know what I do avoid in this city? The beignets. I just don’t get the hype! I keep trying in hopes of being proven wrong but I have yet to ever finish an entire order.

Places to see: Definitely ride the streetcars. I love the St Charles Avenue route and it circles back into the city. Go check out Magazine Street. Do a cemetery tour – during the day if you’re a scaredy cat like me. Go explore the French Quarters and see Jackson Square! At night, head over to Frenchmen Street for live music.

I hope you get the chance to visit the magic of New Orleans one day. It makes for a great long weekend trip.

Sincerely,
Syl

chocolate totoro cookies

Dear Steph,

So it’s WAY past #totoroweek now, but I found this in my draft folder and thought what a shame I didn’t publish this! It’s actually closer to the date for this year, but I kept the scheduled date and hopefully everything below still makes sense!

Totoro Week 2018

I went with my favourite go-to brownie roll-out cookie recipe from smittenkitchen.com. They’re so easy to make and I love the thickness of them that gives you that nice soft chew when you bite into Totoro.

Howard ordered the Totoro cookie cutter for me from Amazon – surprisingly we haven’t been able to find one in Japan and neither have our relatives when they go travel. You have to be extra careful around the ears, but this dough holds together very well.

Totoro Week 2018

For the belly, I used the recipe from seriouseat.com‘s rolled sugar cookie. These could go as thin as you like since they puff up a bit after baking.

Totoro Week 2018

I don’t own cookie cutters for every size and shape, sometimes you have to improvise. Here I’m using the opening of a large piping tip to punch out the dough.

Totoro Week 2018

That’s right, I’m holding a Totoro belly there.

Totoro Week 2018

Stick them onto the chocolate dough and then bake as instructed at 350°F for about 10 minutes. Allow them to cool before you decorate.

Totoro Week 2018

I whipped up a tiny batch of vanilla royal icing. Got out my milk chocolate crispearls and got to work on the eyes, nose, and whiskers. After that, I dyed the royal icing black to create the belly marks (^^^).

Totoro Week 2018

I remember packing these Totoro cookies up in individual clear bags with twist-ties. Some very lucky colleagues at work go to eat (some said they would simply keep it as is) during their tea breaks.

Sincerely,
Syl

ghost cookies

Dear Becca and Cale,

Thank you for bringing cute adorable ghosts to the world. I am such a scaredy-cat when it comes to spooky and paranormal things, but both of your picture books have made me look at ghosts in a different way.

To celebrate the Halloween season, I made some ghost cookies based on your illustrations from How to Make Friends with a Ghost and Sir Simon: Super Scarer. My first task was finding the perfect cookie cutter, which turned out to be a tulip shape that I could use upside-down!

Ghost Cookies

Rolled Sugar Cookies
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

115 grams unsalted butter
100 grams coconut oil
225 grams sugar
5 grams table salt
7 grams vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
355 grams all-purpose flour

  1. There are a few things I omitted from the original recipes, so make sure you check out the original link in case you want to follow it through and through. I also used a scale to weight everything out in grams for this recipe.
  2. In a stand mixer, combine the butter, coconut oil, sugar, salt, vanilla extra, and baking powder together. It should come together on medium speed until it’s fluffy and light. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Add in the egg and continue to mix until combined.
  4. Add the flour and mix on low until well combined. Take the dough out divide it in half. Flatten in into discs and wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least two hours.
  5. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and move the oven racks to the lower middle positions. Place parchment paper on your baking trays.
  6. Take the dough out so that it warms up to room temperature. Gently knead it so that it’s easier to roll.
  7. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut with your tulip cookie cutter and slide a spatula underneath to help loosen it and transfer to the baking tray. Repeat until all of the dough has been used. You can knead together the scraps to be rolled out again.
  8. Place the baking trays in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes. The cookies should be slightly puffed, but firm and pale.
  9. Let the cookies cool for another half hour on the baking tray.

Ghost Cookies

I whipped up a batch of royal icing to pipe out the faces. I don’t have a precise recipe for it as I usually do this in a small bowl and adjust until the icing consistency is how I like it. So since it’s based on how it feels, I have never measured out the icing sugar and water ratio.

I filled out a piping bag with the smallest round tip to create their sweet faces. Then I dabbed my finger into the pink food dye to create the ghosts’ blush.

Ghost Cookies

It was my first time making this recipe. I loved that the cookies stayed pale after baking, we don’t want any golden-edged ghosts here. But I found the dough so hard to work with, it would crumble every time I tried to roll it out. Yet, the small batch I did came together. I did like the coconut aroma and it did help keep the cookies soft and chewy.

Regardless of my baking notes, I’m glad they were a hit and everyone seemed to enjoy gobbling these ghosts down.

Your boo,
Syl

*Disclaimer: I work in marketing and publicity for Tundra Books, which publishes both How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green and Sir Simon: Super Scarer by Cale Atkinson.

nectarine hand-pies

Dear Howard,

It has become the year of pies and hand-pies. Sure, you might say they’re turnovers or strudels, but hand-pies are so much cuter. Who knew I would churn out more than 50 of these this year only to be gobbled up by the masses? I think the hand-pie obsession is real.

Thank goodness I had extra pie dough lying around that night and decided to make peach-apple hand-pies on a whim. I think that is still my favourite filling combo, but I’m sure we’ll find another soon. These remind me of the McDonald pies, except these are flakier and not as sweet.

Nectarine Hand-Pies
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes about 25 hand-pies

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. As you know, I like to use my trusty food processor for its speed. Plus, it evenly distributes the butter into small specks among the flour, creating a nice marble effect.
  2. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cut up the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  3. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  4. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  5. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  6. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.

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Hand-Pie Filling
Makes enough for about 25 hand-pies

6 to 7 nectarines, diced into small chunks (1 pound or 3 cups)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Mix the nectarines, granulated sugar, and brown sugar together. Let it macerate for half an hour to an hour and pour out the excess juices.
  2. Then mix in the potato starch and salt to help thicken the filling.

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Making hand-pies is a lot like making dumplings. I rolled out the dough and used a 4-inch circle cutter to create all the round wrappers. Then scooped about a tablespoon of filling into the middle. Then with a dab of water around the edges, sealed the fruit filling in.

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Using the tines of a fork, I pressed down along the border to further seal the edges.

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Isn’t it cute? A pie that fits in the palm of my hands! Using a knife, I made three small cuts to let the steam vent when it bakes.

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Brush the top of the hand-pies with an egg wash.

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And sprinkle on the brown Demerara sugar. The more you add, the more crunchy it’ll be!

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Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake for half an hour, the hand-pies should be golden brown.

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Let the pies cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Eat with your hands.

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This is seriously the best baked good we’ve discovered this year. I can’t wait for summer next year to eat all the peaches and nectarines again!

Sincerely,
Syl

nectarine and blueberry pie

Dear Kurt,

It’s been a summer of pies! Sorry to have ruined grocery-store pies for you. But now I know why I never liked pies before, the store bought ones have such awful crusts! This summer was a big turning point for me. I used to pick cake over pie, but now I’m very much in the pie camp as well. Here’s one of the many pies that I managed to document this summer. The nectarines can also be swapped out for peaches in this case.

Nectarine and Blueberry Pie
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes one 9-inch pie (double crust)

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. You can make the pie dough by hand, but I like to use my trusty food processor for its speed. Plus, it evenly distributes the butter into small specks among the flour.
  2. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cut up the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  3. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  4. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  5. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  6. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.

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Pie Filling
Filling recipe from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie

7 nectarines, diced (1 pound or 3 cups)
2 cups of blueberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons potato starch
½ teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Combine the nectarines, blueberries, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and lemon juice together. I like to let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour for the excess juice to come out. I’ll pour out the majority, but keep a quarter of the juices. Then add the potato starch, ground allspice, ground cloves, and salt. Give it a good mix.

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Pie Assembly Time

Unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 large egg
Brown Demerara sugar

  1. Butter the pie pan and let it chill in the fridge. When you’re ready to roll the pie dough, take one out of the fridge and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Remember, you don’t want it too warm, but just pliable enough to roll.
  2. Dust a surface and rolling pin with flour (about 1 tablespoon). Roll the dough out to about a 11 or 12-inch circle to take into account the pan’s height. Having dough hanging off the edge of the pan is okay. At this point, if you think the dough is getting too soft, pop it back in the fridge.
  3. After covering the bottom of your pan with the dough, pour in the nectarines and blueberries. Let it chill in the fridge and take out the second disc of dough to work on the pie lattice. This is also a good time to start preheating your oven to 425°F, make sure to position the oven racks to the bottom and center positions.
  4. Again, dust a flat surface and rolling pin with flour (another 1 tablespoon). Roll the dough out and cut them into strips or whatever shaped design you’d like.
  5. I made a bunch of long rectangle strips and did a simple twist braid going vertically. And no braids going horizontally. Don’t trim off the excess yet!
  6. To make the border, roll in all the excess dough hanging off the edge. You’ll soon have a nice thick circumference that can be crimped into a wave. Again, if the dough starts to feel warm, pop it back in the fridge, especially if your oven hasn’t finished preheating yet!
  7. Once your oven indicates that it’s ready, take the pie out of the fridge. Scramble the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the dough. Careful not to draw out any of the fruit if your lattice top has huge gaps.
  8. Then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top, it should stick to the egg wash.
  9. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  10. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and move the pie on the baking sheet to the center oven rack. Continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
  11. Take the pie out and let it cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours. Serve at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

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Weaving a lattice for the pie.

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Rolling in the excess dough to form a crimp.

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Use your thumb to push out the dough to crimp out the edges.

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Tah-dah!

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Of course, serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 😉

Sincerely,
Sylvia