pink champagne oreos

June 21, 2017

When I was in my early twenties, trends came into my life easily. I was all about the latest music, and pretty much attended every worthwhile indie concert that rolled through the Crystal Ballroom between 2007 and 2008. Looking through my college photos and the first few years after graduating, I see myself cycling through some funny clothing trends: hairbands inspired by Gossip Girl; cardigan and Anthropologie dress combos stolen from that 500 Days of Summer movie; unironic American Apparel spandex skater dresses (yikes).

These days, most of the clothes I buy are so timeless and trend-free that they stay in my closet for years and years. And the other day, as I flipped through all my saved/offline Spotify songs during my subway ride, I came to a scary realization — most of them were songs from years ago. And when I say years, I mean years. Think: Garden State soundtrack (cringe).

At that moment, I made a "birthday resolution" to myself: it was time to put my ear to the ground and start finding new music. The last few weeks have been filled with me exploring a variety of the latest, hottest music. My subway commutes have been filled with the sounds of Kendrick Lamar, The xx, Father John Misty, and of course, Drake.

Now I'm not THAT lame — this isn't the first time I've heard of Drake. There's #drakeoncake, sure, but I mostly know Drake through his Top 40 singles and radio airtime: "Take Care" with Rihanna from 2012 (wow, has it been that long?), "Hold On, We're Going Home", "Jumpman" (as featured in this Taylor Swift/Apple ad, sigh), and of course, "Hotline Bling". But in Apartment Hummingbird High, however, the song that's been on replay since my Great Drake Exploration of 2017 is "Pop Style" — I love it so much so that I dedicated a recipe to it:

The recipe is part of my birthday month series; to celebrate my 30th birthday, I'm spending the month baking recipes with flavors that I associate with birthdays and parties. This particular dessert is all about living my best Drake self: strawberry and pink champagne frosting sandwiched between two deep, dark chocolate cookies from my trusty homemade Oreo recipe. It's not quite a 24 Hour Champagne Diet, but it'll do.


Some baker's notes:
  • The frosting recipe requires you to make a quick jam/compote by cooking down strawberries and pink champagne together. Make the jam ahead of time, so you have it ready before you make the frosting. The recipe will likely make more than what you need; freeze the leftovers indefinitely for future baking projects, or as a quick drink mixer!

  • The Oreo cookie recipe is adapted from the TKO cookie recipe in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (also seen in this recipe for dinosaur fossil cookies!). Because it's Thomas Keller and he's meticulous to a fault (he allegedly hired ballerinas to train staff on how to move around gracefully at The French Laundry and Per Se), the ingredient quantities are super weird and precise. Just go with it. It's worth it, I promise. Be sure to use Dutch-processed cocoa (as opposed to natural — I like Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa) so that the cookies turn out midnight black!

  • I used the 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter from this set and these mini alphabet cookie cutters to stamp out the cookies. I'm not going to lie — stamping out the mini letters were a pain in the butt! Unless you're trying to impress somebody, I wouldn't do it. It was really difficult to dig out the letter cutouts. When the dough got too soft and difficult to work with, I ended up stamping out rounds, moving those rounds to my baking trays, and then using a toothpick to dig out the letter cutouts because I'm ridiculous. Larger shapes are the way to go! But if you insist on the mini letters, the dough is easiest to stamp when it's a little on the cold side, but be careful! If the dough is too cold, it will crumble/snap easily.

30th birthday chocolate cake with lavender ruffle frosting

June 16, 2017

Today is the big day! I am officially 30 years old. Happy Birthday to me!!!

I don't actually have anything wild or crazy planned for the day itself, which is pretty much exactly what I want (I'm boring like that). I am celebrating though — with a ton of food, of course. Erlend and I have a reservation at Momofuku Ko for dinner tonight, and I am treating myself by taking the day off work (even though I actually can't afford it), picking up my pre-ordered strawberry lemon verbena cronuts from Dominique Ansel Bakery, and having a junky burger and soft serve lunch with some friends on the rooftop garden of The William Vale (provided we don't get rained out — how come nobody ever told me that New York City is very, very rainy?).

Now I'm not usually one to assign much significance to birthdays, but 30 is a milestone. Mostly, I'm glad to be saying goodbye to my 20s — like everybody's, they were a time of uncertainty. I spent several years bouncing between cities and jobs, losing/gaining various friendships, and of course, baking my little heart out on this blog. And if I'm being honest, my twenties were marked by making compromises in the pursuit of, well... I'm not sure what exactly. My career, as crass and unromantic as it is to admit this, seems like the obvious answer — there was a lot of reluctantly leaving home for better job opportunities, painstakingly embarking on long distance relationships for higher salaries, and downplaying the importance of this blog for alleged financial security and health insurance.

But at the same time (and mostly through this space), I was meeting women whose work stood in sharp contrast to my own. They were defining their own paths and creating ventures with pursuits more meaningful to me than a random company's revenue: the lady who spent three years building a book store dedicated to food in Greenpoint, the lady who hosted a Filipino food pop-up in all fifty of the United States, and the countless others whose hard work and creativity are a constant source of inspiration.

My goal for my 30s is to be one of these women that I've spent the last few years admiring and learning from, as well as to spend the decade pursuing what is meaningful and valuable to me. If my 20s were all about climbing vague and perpetually shifting ladders, my 30s will be about changing the game entirely. I want to be more passionate about what I'm spending the majority of my waking hours on, to be my own boss, and to stop chasing the highest paycheck. I want there to be less compromises and tradeoffs between my financial security and my mental health. It's lofty, I know, but I have a much clearer idea of what I want, and more confidence in my abilities to go for it, too.

Cheers to 30!

And now, this cake. For my 30th birthday, I wanted to go "classy". To me, the components of this cake are more elegant than my usual style — chocolate, lavender, Swiss meringue buttercream, and the world's fanciest purple sprinkles (candied violet petals, purchased during my trip to Copenhagen last summer).

The chocolate cake is from my friend Jessica's cookbook, The Baker's Appendix. It's a solid chocolate cake, dark with chocolate and a crumb sturdier than my loose, light-as-air-but-sorta-difficult-to-frost default recipe. The Swiss meringue buttercream is adapted from a Stella Parks recipe from Serious Eats; despite giving me what I was convinced was a second degree burn (more on that later), her recipe makes a dream of a frosting — less waxy and greasy than most Swiss meringue buttercream recipes, and the best kind of solid-yet-silky-and-soft texture for piping. Don't be fooled by the elaborate piping job; with a petal piping tip and a rotating cake stand, all those ruffles only took about 15 minutes.



Some baker's notes:
  • Lavender extract is available online; I used this small batch brand from Oregon. Be careful not to confuse it with lavender oil, some of which is not culinary grade and is meant for beauty and health purposes. For me, a little lavender goes a long way — too much can leave your cake tasting like soap. I used just enough to give the frosting a hint of lavender aroma and nothing more; if you find that the flavor is too subtle, increase the extract by 1/4 teaspoon at a time until you get to your desired level of flavor. 

  • To frost the ruffles, you need a petal piping tip (I used #104) and a rotating cake stand. It works best if you've frosted the cake with a light crumb coat first; if going for an ombre effect like my cake, it will make your life easier if your the frosting on your crumb coat corresponds to where you'll pipe the ruffles (otherwise, you'll have weird patches of color between each ruffle layer that will stick out unless you are super meticulous with the piping). Start at the top of the cake and hold your piping bag at a slight angle with the "fatter" end of the petal tip closer to the cake, and with even pressure, squeeze the frosting onto the cake while rotating the cake on its stand to create a ruffle that goes around the whole cake — check out this YouTube video for a great visual aid.

  • This recipe errs on the side of a LOT of frosting; if you're not piping ruffles, I suggest cutting down the ingredients by half to make a smaller batch of buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream is much fussier than American buttercream and requires some of its components to be cooked before being whipping into oblivion. The original recipe instructs you to cook egg whites and sugar in the metal bowl of a freestanding electric mixer, which I initially did but then gave myself a severe burn when absentmindedly grabbing the handle to position it back into the mixer. I've modified the steps in my recipe by instructing you to cook the ingredients in a homemade double boiler instead — hopefully this saves the skin on your hands! 

birthday cake blondies

June 7, 2017

It's birthday month here on Hummingbird High! I am turning 30 next week and I am celebrating each week with a birthday cake themed baked good. Think: lots of classic birthday cake flavors like yellow cake, vanilla, and of course, sprinkles!

I am usually not a birthday person, but 30 seems like a number too significant to ignore. I initially wanted to splurge and go to Montreal, but since I never have enough vacation hours saved at work and our time in New York is limited (more on that later), I am perfectly content to stay here in the city. Erlend and I will be shelling out for dinner at Momofuku Ko and then heading to Le Coucou with his parents; his dad's birthday happens to fall on the day after mine, so it will be a co-birthday celebration!

So I've got a couple questions for all you folks out there who are 30+:

1. I've got a week left in my 20s — anything I should check off on my bucket list? Like, should I go skydiving? Try and snag a last minute reservation to Per Se's 30 for 30 dinner? Get a tattoo? Get bottle service (ew)?

2. Any words of general advice? There's lots of scary urban myths out there about milestones I should have already achieved, things I should plan for, and my changing body (lol, seriously — apparently my metabolism will basically be nonexistent, and all the skincare I neglected to do in my 20s will now apparently be immediately visible on my face). But surely it can't all be doom and gloom, right?

As for everybody else, help me celebrate my birthday with these birthday cake blondies! These are a variation of my favorite brown butter blondie recipe on Food52. I've swapped out the chocolate for white chocolate (an homage to my favorite Compartes bar and its Trader Joe's knock-off), and thrown in a generous portion of sprinkles for good measure. I also use clear (ehem, imitation) vanilla extract to give it a boost of the funfetti box mix cake flavor we all know and love. If birthday cake came in cookie bar format, these blondies would be it. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • Since this recipe doesn't have too many ingredients in it, it's important to really use high quality ones. Opt for the best quality butter, white chocolate (I used Valrhona feves, but honestly chocolate chips might give you a better chocolate-per-bite ratio), and non-waxy sprinkles (if you're feeling ambitious, make your own!). For vanilla, I used the clear, artificial kind that you can find at almost every supermarket in the U.S. for cheap. It seems counterintuitive to use cheap vanilla after the advice I just gave, but I learned this trick from Momofuku Milk Bar years ago — cheap vanilla extract is what gives you the funfetti birthday cake flavor from your childhood.

  • Real talk: it took me a long time to figure out how to brown butter. For a long time, I was actually just melting butter, thinking it was brown butter, and not knowing what the big deal was. I know, I’m stupid, lol. But seriously — to do it right, it often takes longer than you think it will, so trust the recipe. Use low heat and a light-colored pot so you can see what’s happening. And trust your nose — the smell of browned butter is nutty, wonderful, unique, and unmistakable. If you don’t smell anything, you’re just not there yet. Here’s a great post from Serious Eats for visual guidance of the process.

lisbon and porto food guide

May 31, 2017

above: view of lisbon from são jorge castle

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that Erlend and I recently just got back from a trip to Portugal! We spent 11 days in the sunny, beautiful country, splitting our time between the vibrant and gorgeous cities of Lisbon and Porto.

If I'm being honest, when we first started planning our vacation late last year, we considered visiting a lot of other places instead — and Portugal wasn't at the top of my list at all. But that was mostly because I didn't know too much about it! Blame my own ignorance; in my little online community, there are only a handful of cities that most American folks holiday (Tulum, Iceland, Hawaii, London, Paris — mirite?). And while I was first tempted to stick to what everybody else had done/was doing (because it's not like there's anything wrong with those places... I would still gladly go to any in a heartbeat!), I decided that I wanted this trip to be different. This was the first "real" holiday of my own volition in nearly 10 years that didn't have a pre-determined agenda where I was under contract to attend certain events via a sponsor. So did I really want to be doing what all the big "social media influencers" had done when I was supposed to be taking a break from all that? Yeah, no way.

above: all the pretty portuguese building tiles in lisbon

So when Erlend suggested Portugal, I was on board. According to the books, it was sunny and beautiful, with lots of greenery, beaches, and history. The problem with using guidebooks though is that, while they were super helpful when it came to planning the day trips and historical sites that we could't miss, they were rather crap about food and drink. Their suggestions were often outdated and flooded with other folks who'd read the same guidebook. This is why I often turn to blogs and Instagram instead to help guide me in a new city — I tend to follow folks whose tastes are similar to mine, and its real time nature ensures that you're getting the most up-to-date information about the best places to see and eat.

But then I ran into another rather ironic problem: because Portugal isn't really frequently visited by most of the folks I follow, I couldn't just log onto Instagram and immediately pull the 20 different eatery recommendations like I could for London, Paris, or Copenhagen by checking out Kinfolk, Cereal, etc. I had to do a bit more digging and troubleshooting on our own. We ended up with a couple of misses during our time in Portugal, but eventually found our footing mostly thanks to suggestions from locals and your comments in my Instagram pictures. I've included my favorites on this list below, as well as some other general information about Portuguese food and Lisbon and Porto!

above: a city square full of jacaranda trees in lisbon;
below: an old-school portuguese tram

Portuguese Food: A Primer
Portugal specializes in seafood and charcuterie, specifically of the pork variety. Octopus and salted codfish are the most ubiquitous, though you can also find a good variety of crustaceans at most restaurant menus. Charcuterie ham and Iberian roast pork are the most common non-seafood meats (often found in sandwiches); you can also find beef fairly easily. We didn't see a whole lot of chicken though!

Pastries are abundant, but tend to be one-trick-ponies: a lot of the pastries are garnished with the egg custard found in a pastel de nata (a Portuguese egg tart). Fruits — especially berries and passionfruit — are cheap and abundant. I had some of the best (and cheapest) passionfruit of my life from a market in Porto.

The wine scene in Portugal is also incredible; we didn't have a bad glass of wine there once, and most of it was crazy cheap — glasses of wine typically go for 3 to 4 euros, and bottles average around 20 euros. If you go somewhere fancy, you'll likely pay more, but the prices at regular, neighborhood restaurants are insanely affordable.

We didn't find a lot of gourmet coffee, bread, or vegetables. Coffee was mostly generic, though you could find some specialty shops like Copenhagen Coffee Lab and Fabrica Coffee Roasters in Lisbon. For me, Portuguese bread was a disappointment — I prefer fluffy, hearty-grained breads with a crispy crust as opposed to the dense, heavy and soft-crusted breads that the Portuguese favored. Vegetables were also unexciting. Salads were a bit of a novelty and often dressed simply, and most of our mains were served with tomato rice or winter pantry staples like carrots and potatoes.

In general, make reservations for restaurants! Everybody does, and unless you go somewhere super touristy, there are limited tables available for walk-ins unless you go right when the restaurant opens. The Portuguese eat on the later side, so most restaurants only open at 7PM or later.

above: sunset in porto;
below: the world's prettiest butcher shop

Lisbon vs. Porto
We spent the majority of our time in Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, with a few days in Porto (the second largest city in Portugal) and a day trip to Sintra to hike up some castles. Although Porto was very pretty and relaxing, I personally wish we had spent more of our time in Lisbon — Lisbon is much larger, with more diversity in terms of activities, nightlife, and cuisine. I also found Lisbon to be cheaper and more accessible via public transport than Porto.

In general, both Lisbon and Porto were incredibly easy to navigate. There were lots of English speakers, and most restaurants offered menus in both Portuguese and English. Lisbon was also incredibly cheap, whereas Porto was a little bit more expensive.

rhubarb mini pot pies

May 24, 2017

Currently as I write this, I am in Portugal on a train from Porto to Lisbon! The sun is shining, and I am halfway through several books on my Kindle. Erlend is sitting next to me eating Portuguese passionfruits, all of which are incredibly sweet and not at all tart like the passionfruits you get in the United States.

If you can believe it, this is the first out-of-the-country vacation since I started my career in 2009. Sure, there were always trips somewhere throughout the years — but mostly to visit family and friends, or to check up on my house in Portland, or to go on a blog-related trip elsewhere. Portugal is the first place I've been to in the last 8 years that's completely brand-new to me, and 100% unrelated to visiting family/friends/work.

Vacation forever!

I'll tell you more about the trip soon, but I don't want to spend too much time on this post lest I break my ABSOLUTELYNOWORKONTHISTRIP promise to myself. So instead, I'll just leave you with these rhubarb mini pot pies:

I made these pot pies right before we left New York and rhubarb was just coming into season and appearing at all the farmers markets! Rhubarb usually gets paired with strawberry, but these pies are all about rhubarb. The filling is nothing but rhubarb, sugar, and a hint of orange zest to help balance out the fruit's rooty, herbaceous flavor. And of course, they're mini! I love mini pies because I feel like you get a more even crust-to-filling ratio. In my book, every bite of pie filling should have a bite of crispy, flakey, sugary pie crust.



Some baker's notes:
  • Like I mentioned up top, I made mini pies because I like their crust-to-filling ratio better. But this recipe is flexible! You can either make four mini pies like I did or make a traditional double-lidded 9-inch pie. The choice is yours. For the mini pies, I used mini cookie cutters to stamp out shapes for the crust because I was too lazy to deal with four different lattices. A lattice would work wonderfully for the traditional 9-inch pie though!

  • In general, I don't use a lot of sugar in my pie fillings — I find most traditional recipes too sweet, and I like being able to taste the natural flavors and tartness of the fruit. But rhubarb can get pretty tart when it's baked, so if you want something on the sweeter side, I recommend adding 1/2 cup granulated sugar to the pie filling recipe.

  • As usual, for all my best pie baking tips, be sure to check out this recipe for salted honey pie!
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