Made | Croissants!

Ever since I fell in love with baking, I've wanted to learn how to make a croissant. There's always been a reason I couldn't learn yet: I didn't have a stand mixer (turns out you don't need one at all); I didn't have bread flour; I didn't have the time. But like anything else, I just had to dive in and hope for the best. I've been really inspired by Janee's return to school—baking school—so this past weekend, I stopped putting it off and made my first successful batch of croissants.

The entire process takes about 20 hours, though luckily not all of that is hands on. Mike and I had plans to go see a movie on Saturday, but I talked him into getting a couple from Redbox instead so I could babysit my croissant dough. Dreams take sacrifice, right?
I used Julia Child's recipe (who else), as explained by Barbara Bakes. I recommend reading through the steps several times to get familiar with it. For instance, she links to this video in step 44, which told me that I had been folding the dough wrong the whole time. It turned out OK anyway, but it was a great reminder to be thorough in my prep next time.

The dough comes together really easily and almost immediately starts its first rise. I started it around 4 PM on Saturday, which put me through step 32 by midnight. Mike and I fell asleep on the couch and I had to set an alarm so I'd get up and do the last step before putting the dough in the fridge for the night. If you're not crazy for croissants, then this recipe might not be for you. By noon on Sunday, I had hot croissants fresh out of the oven.

It was definitely worth it, and I finally crossed something off my list of baking goals (that's a thing, right?), so I'd say it was a rainy weekend well spent.
Don't get me wrong, I had my share of problems while making these. On Sunday, after they'd been in the oven for 10 minutes (I kept peeking in to make sure I wasn't burning them), our smoke detector went off. We have one of those newer smoke detectors that don't just let off an ear-aching beep, they also speak to you: "Warning, fire." I'm always afraid our landlords (who live upstairs) will think I'm burning the place down, so I press the button until it finally shuts off. I must've pressed it one too many times because next thing I knew, the fire detector lady was saying, "Warning, carbon monoxide." Cue panic.

I'm one of those people who's scared by the labels on a can of spray paint (I once returned a can of spray chalk paint because of the explosion warnings on the bottle), so I threw open all the windows, turned a fan on, turned the oven off (and pulled the croissants out), then proceeded to sit on the back porch in my pajamas while reading the back of the smoke/carbon monoxide detector. After a little research and panicked texts to Mike, I realized that I had put the thing in test mode, and the carbon monoxide warning was a false alarm.

Luckily there were croissants waiting inside to comfort me.
 Look at those layers!

What have you been baking lately?


Around here | Spring edition.

Have I shown you how our camera wall has grown? I first wrote about it when I started this blog, and it was a humble six cameras. Since then, we've kept collecting vintage cameras and interesting frames, and every once in a while when Mike is feeling crafty, he adds to it. We've joked that one day it's going to extend onto the ceiling, but looking at these pictures, that joke may become a reality if we live here much longer.

When we first moved in together, I realized how much stuff Mike has. He's a big collector. The past seven months, he's been actively getting rid of things that he doesn't need or love, making room for the things that he does love. We also have a display wall of his View Masters, but I'll share that another time...
I'm going out for a coworker's birthday tonight, and I decided to give Joy the Baker's latest cookie recipe a try for the celebration. They're pretty incredible (but again, what with "double chocolate" in the title isn't?). 
We've been on a major Spring cleaning tear lately. Just beyond this photograph are bins and boxes that Mike's going to sell at a flea market and put into storage. Our apartment is a good size for us now, but we're making an effort to make it more spacious by parting with things that don't really fit this space. 
These little succulents have been threatening to die for a few months now, but ever since I moved them to the kitchen window and have backed off on watering them, they've slowly been looking better.
And this guy. He doesn't complain much until I forgot to water him for ohhhhh about a month. (What! And people want me to get a dog?!) But after two straight weeks of keeping him watered and in the shifting sunny spots around the house, he's starting to look more like himself again. 
Don't let the sunshine in these pictures fool you—we're back down to the 30s and 40s this week, but I'm thankful for at least some warmth when the wind isn't blowing.


Handlettering 365 | Checking in

It snowed last night. It rained all day and was forecast to rain all night, and this morning we woke up to a light dusting of snow on all the cars. I think I know what theme my hand lettering will take on tonight (hint: spring). I mean, the saying isn't, "April snow showers bring May flowers."

I've been doing just okay with my #handlettering365 project, and I'm here to report on that progress. I don't know if I'm just fooling myself, but I've been embracing how not perfect I am at this. I've never lied and said I was a perfectionist (just ask my boss), but there is something freeing in not holding myself to the standard of artists I admire, instead letting myself make mistakes, learn from them, make them again in a slightly different way, and continue learning. That's all we can do, really.
I posted this first one on Instagram and a friend commented, "Who's Muchelle?" So, you know, lesson learned regarding embellishments.


Made | Polenta with balsamic mushrooms and roasted asparagus

Have you heard of the blog Orangette? Molly Wizenberg is one of those writers who seems to have missed the memo about how the blogosphere is changing or selling out; in fact, she probably doesn't even know the word "blogosphere." (That's a compliment.) I love when she pops up on my blog reader because not only will there be something food-related, there will be a thoughtful story to read as well. It's one of those blogs that I open and save for some downtime with a coffee in my hand. It feels like I'm chatting with an old friend with nowhere else to be.

Because of that, and also because she and her husband own a successful restaurant in Seattle, I tend to trust her recipes a little more than the average food blog. So when I followed a link to an old post on polenta, I knew that was the recipe to use for my first delve into polenta.

I saved this recipe for a day when I'd be working from home, so I could start it a couple hours before we'd want to eat dinner. There's a lot of supervision needed for the non-quick cooking kind of polenta, but it wasn't more than I could do while working in the other room or readying the rest of dinner.

I'm originally from Georgia, so I've had my fair share of grits, and polenta is just a creamier version of that. For me, it's the ultimate comfort food—familiar and novel at the same time, down-home flavors found on upscale menus. I knew I wanted caramelized onions and mushrooms to go on top, and I used this Love and Lemons recipe as a jumping off point.

Molly does a great job of explaining how to cook the polenta, so I won't go into the details of that here. I had no problems even though it was my first time cooking the stuff, but I did take some pictures of the steps and included them. I will say that I just bought #120 yellow cornmeal at the grocery store from the grains aisle (rice, beans, bulgur, etc.). Whole Foods has Italian polenta in its bulk section that looks exactly the same as what I bought.

For the mushroom topping

1 medium yellow/red onion, sliced (I used half a leftover yellow onion and half a leftover red onion)
3 medium portabello mushroom caps, halved and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1.5–2 cups fresh spinach
splash of red wine (I used Trader Joe's shiraz)
couple splashes of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

Start by coating the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they start to brown and caramelize, then add the garlic. After a minute or so, add the mushrooms and lower the heat. Cook these together until the mushrooms have released all of their juices and cooked down (about 15–20 minutes). If it seems like they're burning, reduce the heat even more. You want this to cook slowly. When the mushrooms are cooked down, add a splash or two of red wine and let reduce. Add a couple handfuls of spinach and stir until wilted. Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan right before you're ready to serve, stir and remove from heat. Serve over polenta and top with toasted pine nuts.

I also served ours with roasted asparagus, (really simple) recipe found here.


Handlettering 365: Inaugural Post

The moment I read about Lisa Congdon's year-long hand lettering project, I knew it was for me. I've been dabbling in design for the past six months, taking out books on hand lettering and design from the library, signing up for Skillshare classes on calligraphy and Illustrator, and dreaming of the day I could make something spectacular enough to share. The beauty of Lisa's project? It celebrates the process rather than just the end product. Instead of waiting and wishing and hoping one day I'll make something I'd want to show off, I realized I need to be in the muck of it, practicing and getting my hands dirty, every day. I practiced some calligraphy on Monday night, and all day Tuesday at work, the small indent on my right middle finger, black from ink, was a reminder of the work I'd put in to get better at a craft I'm passionate about. I'm often guilty of forgetting to put in the work necessary to get where I want to be, and this project is one way that I'm shedding that guilt and getting down to it.

Today, the first day of a year lifetime of hand lettering, I bring you something simple. I was thinking of two specific friends when I drew these words: Katharine, who precedes every interesting story with "Y'all" to get your attention, and Nabila, who loves cats.
The idea is that I will slowly but eventually get better at this. Some days will be simple like this, other days I'll take on more of a challenge. The point is to make it a daily habit. Let's do this, shall we?