Happy New Year’s, you guys! I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday season. Mine was pretty chill—Erlend and I spent both Christmas and New Year’s at home by ourselves. I didn’t want to risk holiday travel (which, ended up being a good call considering how many flights were cancelled around that time). Besides, earlier in December, I finally took the leap and took my first flight SINCE JANUARY 2020 😱😱😱.
A Brief Trip to the Big Easy
So where did I go? To New Orleans for a trip with The Sugar Association to tour a sugar cane farm and one of Domino Sugar’s largest refineries in the country. It was so great to take this kind of trip again (ah, I still remember the days when I used to go one one of these every few months or so!). My favorite part was learning all about the sugar cane farming and refining process, as well as meeting other bloggers and content creators.
Like, did you know that Louisiana is the northern most point in the WORLD where we can grow sugar cane crop? Beyond that, we can only grow sugar beets. And most sugar in the country is made by only a handful of companies, and come from the same refineries.
Additionally, I got a few hours to walk around New Orleans, which I hadn’t been to since high school. I forget how much history is evident in the city, and how many famous foods originated from New Orleans itself—like muffuleta sandwiches, oysters rockefeller, and bananas foster desserts! I wish I had more photos of the city to share, but I was too busy drinking it all in to pull out my phone!
That being said, traveling to New Orleans itself was a bit of a nightmare—my flights both there and back were cancelled and delayed multiple times. And, after arriving home, I woke up the next day with what I thought was a mild case of the ‘rona: sore throat, runny nose, a cough. 😱 Luckily, four negative antigen tests and two negative PCR tests proved that it was just a common seasonal cold, phew.
The Pandemic Isn’t Over Because You’re Over It (Said No One, Ever)
Still—it was a bit of a wake-up call!
First things first: do you remember how awful it is to be even just a little bit sick? That was my first cold since the last time I traveled on a plane (which, again, was way back in January 2020). But it got me thinking—if I was exposed to the kind of virus that causes a common cold during my travels, I most DEFINITELY was exposed to COVID itself at some point. I just didn’t contract it because, well, the vaccines freaking work (and hooray for that)!
I can already feel you rolling your eyes. Nobody wants to read about the pandemic, vaccines, and whatever else on a baking blog. I get it. Because if there was one takeaway from my brief trip, it’s that people. just. do. not. care. anymore.
Walking around New Orleans, it seemed like every hotel, restaurant, and bar were just packed to the brim with maskless people, standing shoulder to shoulder in airless and stuffy rooms, obviously living their lives as if the pandemic were 100% over. I wish I could say it was just New Orleans, but the cities I passed through to get there—Salt Lake City, Chicago—had airports that were bustling and clearly beyond the capacity of even their pre-pandemic levels. Although masks were required at the airport, a good 50% of the folks I saw were either blatantly flaunting the rule on purpose or idiotically doing so with their lack of awareness of how to wear a mask properly after, you know, 2 freaking years. No wonder I got sick!
Even in my super liberal city of Portland (where our mask mandates have pretty much NEVER gone away), people generally seem to be over it. Erlend’s parents came to visit a week before I left for New Orleans. For the nights they were here, we made four dinner reservations (three of which were for indoor dining) at his parents’ behest. Frankly, I was nervous about them—Erlend and I could count the number of times we dined indoors on one hand since the start of 2020—but told myself that it would be okay: the restaurants all required proof of vaccination to dine indoors, we were all vaccinated ourselves, we would be eating at odd hours to beat the crowds and would likely be sitting in mostly empty restaurants.
HA! Half of the restaurants we went to didn’t bother checking our vaccine cards. And every single one of them were PACKED with huge crowds of people. Every table was full, and in many cases, we had to be seated at the bar first to wait for a table (despite having a reservation!) because it was so crowded. It really seemed like, with the exception of the masks people wore walking into the restaurant (and promptly taking them off after seating down), things were back to normal.
New Year, New Me?
Between you and me, these experiences felt like a sucker punch to the way I’d been living for the last two years. I’d been actively withholding and restraining myself from travel, dining indoors, and even going to the movies—things that I love doing, and were a big part of my everyday life before the pandemic.
I still was holding on to the notion that, if we all restrained ourselves, we could nip COVID-19 in the bud and go “back to normal” as quickly as possible. I kept up with news about vaccination and hospitalization rates, as well as variants and local/global hot spots. Up until my experience these past few weeks, I subscribed to the philosophy described in this Atlantic article. In it, Ed Yong, one of the leading reporters on COVID-19 describes cancelling his 40th birthday party because of the omicron variant. He writes that “the pandemic is a collective problem that cannot be solved if people (or governments) act in their own self-interest”, dictating that he lived his life “instead of asking “What’s my risk?,” I’ve tried to ask “What’s my contribution to everyone’s risk?”
But my experiences these last few weeks made me realize that my being cautious and careful isn’t putting a dent in anything. Instead, I was putting my life on hold for people who clearly weren’t even thinking of anybody beyond themselves at all. So what was the point?
I know that sounds ugly and defeatist. Because it is! But two years of pandemic life have hollowed me out to get me to this point. I’m tired and broken, and I feel like I’ve done all that I can—gotten vaccinated, gotten boosted, publicly encouraged folks to do the same despite facing some nasty antivaxxers on my accounts—that’s in my power to do so. I want to start traveling again, and stop withholding myself from going out to restaurants, the movies, and whatever else I want to do.
My New Year’s Resolutions
Which leads me to my New Year’s resolutions:
- I would like to TRAVEL this year.
Given how chaotic flights have been in the last few weeks, I’m curious to see how this resolution will play out. But I’m finally motivated enough to deal with the chaos and the crowds, even if it’s for something simple like visiting friends and family across the country in New York City. I AM READY.
- I would like to fall in love with baking again.
At the start of the year, I like to plan my content calendar to schedule a new baking recipe each week. Up until 2019/2020, recipe concepts came from my own imagination—I came up with fun and funky ideas like Black Halva Snickerdoodles (snickerdoodles rolled in sesame seeds and studded with a chunk of black sesame halva), Chocolate Babka Morning Buns (cinnamon rolls that were studded with chocolate babka filling), and Matcha Monstera Pie (a cherry pie with a matcha butter dough shaped like monstera leaves).
I loved these recipes because they told stories about me and my life. The black halva was a souvenir from y trip to Israel; the babka filling inspired by my obsession with Zabar’s babka, a stone’s throwaway from my parents-in-law’s apartment in New York; the monstera leaves a testament to the monstera plant I was growing on my window sill. The only problem?
None of you guys were baking them. The recipes had ingredients that were too hard to find, used baking equipment that was obscure, and had steps that were just too damn fussy. So I listened to y’all’s feedback and decided to simplify, simplify, simplify. After my cookbook came out, I started making my own versions of easy, beloved, and well-known recipes and baked goods like flourless chocolate cookies, banana sour cream bread, and Libby’s pumpkin pie.
And it worked! Focusing on the simple stuff meant that many of you have been baking these recipes over and over. So I filled up the content calendar with more and more of these types of recipes. But after two years of this type of recipe development, I’m feeling a little burned out.
I miss the whimsy and quirk of my recipes from yesteryear. So I would like to try and recapture that magic back. Don’t worry—I’ll still publish simple recipes here and there. I appreciate them too! But I also just want to be able to flex my creative muscles again and come up with fun and new ideas. Already I’m day dreaming of a brownie bake-off month where I try different brownies from my extensive collection of cookbooks. And coming up with even more unique neapolitan cookie ideas, like this one for pumpkin neapolitan cookies. We’ll see, we’ll see.
- I would like to tell stories again.
One of the few things I really enjoyed in 2021 was writing these monthly recaps about my life for you guys. Because my recipes themselves have gotten so, uh, technical in nature, I rarely get to share any stories or updates about my life. These monthly recaps are it.
Quite frankly, although they’re not popular, I miss writing these kinds of posts. There are so many new stories and experiences I want to share with you guys that just aren’t “acceptable” to share anymore in a recipe about, IDK, snickerdoodle cookies. Many of my peers tell me that the answer is to share them on social media by way of Instagram Stories or TikTok videos instead, but that format doesn’t feel right to me, either. At the end of the day, I’m most comfortable hiding behind the camera, writing down my thoughts.
And what a year it’s been, quite frankly. There have been so many things I wish I could’ve shared with you—from trivial experiences like learning how to ski as an adult (terrifying) and my brief obsession with making slushie drinks using my ice cream maker, to bigger ones like my lingering PTSD from the car incident earlier this year, adopting Biscuit and my adventures on training him, our decision to postpone our wedding indefinitely, and finally our decision to not have kids. But again, none of these seem like appropriate stories to share with recipes for pumpkin chai bread and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
So this year, I’d love to incorporate more of those stories back into my accounts. I have no idea what that looks like yet. Maybe I’ll just keep doing the monthly posts. Maybe I’ll up them to weekly ones. Maybe I start a newsletter, or a Substack. Or maybe I’ll bite the bullet and make TikToks similar to this one and this one.
Again, we’ll see, we’ll see.
And in case you missed it, I published the following new recipes and posts on Hummingbird High. Here’s a round-up of everything new:
- My Favorite Holiday Baking Books (A TikTok showing off my favorite holiday baking books—are you following my tiny cookbook account yet?)
- My Best Shortbread Cookie Recipe
- Ginger Crinkle Cookies
- My Favorite Cookbooks For Baking Cookies
- Eggnog Cake
- Double Chocolate Croissant French Toast Casserole (The Kitchn asked me to participate in their holiday breakfast casserole challenge, and I delivered with this epic French toast casserole!)
- Hummingbird High’s 2021 Review (A roundup of y’all’s favorite recipes in 2021!)
This past month, I also spent a LOT of time thinking and reading about food beyond the baking recipes you see on this blog. Here are the ideas and issues that resonated with me:
- “Fast-Food Fashion Is Everywhere — Except on Fat People” in Eater. This is a wonderful and incredibly smart article about the rise of fast food merch like McDonald’s tees, Chik-Fil-A sweaters, and Dunkin Donut bathrobes, and how wearing such merch is only socially “acceptable” on certain bodies.
- “Millions of Followers? For Book Sales, ‘It’s Unreliable.’” in The New York Times. Okay, this isn’t strictly food related, but I included it anyway because I often get asked questions about the cookbook writing process. If you’re interested in writing a cookbook but feel you can’t land a deal because of your small social media following, don’t be discouraged! It turns out social media numbers are no indication of book sales whatsoever.
- “Alison Roman Just Can’t Help Herself” in The New Yorker. Man, I know I’m probably going to upset a lot of you Alison Roman stans out there. But I just don’t get it! I think this article is supposed to be some kind of PR move to get her back in our good graces after her racist snafus in 2020; however, she still comes across as smug and mean in this article! There, I said it (I’m sorry!). There are so many other good recipe developers out there who deserve your support instead.
- “How Much Did That New Kitchen Cost? No One’s Going to Tell You.” in The New York Times. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I am an interior design junkie. If I weren’t a baking blogger, I’d probably try and be some kind of interior design one instead. I stan a ton of design and remodel accounts online, but I’m always miffed by how secretive people are when it comes to talking about the costs of the renovation. Apparently that secrecy is a real thing!
Recipes and Resources To Save
And here are the recipes and cooking-related resources I saved these last few weeks:
- “11 Common Cookie Mistakes We’ll Never Make Again” in Food52. Some awesome cookie baking tips in here!
- “How to Store Leftover Baked Goods” in Zoe Bakes. Never eat stale cookies, cake, and bread again.
- I just discovered @juliemarieeats on Pinterest, and I’m obsessed with her recipes. She makes a ton of fun entremets and patisserie, often times with Scandinavian flavors. I mean, look at this caramel coffee brownie mousse cake or this peanut butter dark chocolate mousse cake! This is the kind of baking I’d like to do more this year!
- “For an Easier Parchment Experience, Do the Crumple” in Epicurious. Okay, this article is a year old but talks about a new-to-me trick that I think is just SO freaking clever! If you’re having trouble getting your parchment to stay in place after rolling it out, CRUMPLE IT. The crumples will keep it in place—wild! Alternatively, you can always just invest in parchment paper sheets like I do (I like these ones from King Arthur), but I know they’re hard to find in stores.
Finally, On A Lighthearted Note
- I’m OBSESSED with this TikTok showing you how to slice individual pats of butter for serving. OBSESSED.
Okay, whew! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you all are staying safe and healthy! Please let me know how you’re doing in the comments below, and feel free to share the ideas and issues that are floating around in your heads, too.