Food-ing With Flo: Gingersnaps! (Part I)

I’m just going to tell you straight up that this is (yet) another example of me thinking I read the whole recipe/I read a good 3/4 the recipe and thought I had it all under control when I kind of … didn’t. They are cookies! How complicated can they be? I have all of the ingredients this time! And cookie sheets! So I’m good right?

I pre-measured everything this time, as I do most of the time, and it really cut down on my running back and forth to the computer screen to check on Smitten’s recipe. I still did because I’m a second-guesser, but it was a lot less frantic.

(Please ignore the old lady hands, yes they are mine.) Although, every single time I bake I always forget to think ahead and take out the butter and leave it on the counter. So even though I “warmed” them on top of my pre-heating stove, they were still hard as hell and has me poking at the mixer with a wooden spoon again and again and again and again. “Smooth and creaming” it was not. Well blended with flex of butter distributed throughout, yes.

I have never worked with molasses before this moment. And did you know… Molasses tastes terrible by itself. It is not sweet and noms-y, it is … gross. I made Kamel try it. I have no first hand knowledge of this except for the look on his face. Also it’s made of sugar beets and some other stuff… so not what I thought. I can’t believe there isn’t a molasses tree. You’d think!

(Imagine it’s the 1700s … or something… and it’s time to take your medicine! Ha chacha Molasses!)

So by this time everything is hummin’ a long. It’s almost 8:30, Kamel will have freshed baked Gingersnaps to take to work for Thursday, I totally got this, etc.

My hair is insane you guys. It is ragged and lame-o and sticks out at weird angles and in this picture I look like I’m gnawing on the wooden spoon like a primitive human. But the gingersnap batter? with all of it’s butter gingery goodness? ZOMGSOGOOD. This is right before I realize that 1) The next step of the recipe calls for me to wrap the dough in plastic wrap – which we do not have and 2) requires the dough to chill for 2 or more hours.

I may be able to cram a lot of things in my day, but I am one tired mother effer. And staying up until 11 pm baking cookies is really just not my thing. So I decided to wing it with the cookie dough and stick it on a plate and cover it in foil. That will work right?

I’m not actually sure if it will work… because I was also supposed to get up at 5:30 am today and finish the cookies and the post. But guess what? Baking as the sun is peeking up over the trees is also really not my thing either. I hate to keep you in gingersnap-suspense, but tomorrow!! Tomorrow I’ll let you know if they actually turned out, if I was able to peel the dough off the plate, how it went while I rolled tiny balls of cookie dough and placed them two inches a part, and! if the cookies ended up melting together in the oven to form a giant bubbling gingersnap monster. All things are possible. (Noms, the dough may not make it that long.)

Two years ago Kamel and I were officially moving in together and we had just signed a lease on our first joint apartment (later to be known as the shoe box filled with ants, but let’s just allow past Lauren to enjoy this moment for a nano-second, shall we?). The pictures are trapped on the old blogger platform, but you get the idea. Let the words be your guide my friends!

Fooding With Flo: Cheesy Mustard Beer Bread

It’s been kind of a long baking hiatus. The last time I broke out the ol’ girl I made Challah. And then we had the baked goods incident. And then that guy turned out to be certifiable and has since been evicted (hooray!!). So it was time, once again, to bake.

But I was not about to attempt simple muffins or cupcakes or even the oh-so-stressful-mallows. I thought: what I need is savor. What I need is a CHALLENGE. What is that challenge you ask? Oh, just some Cheddar, Beer, Mustard Pull-Apart Bread by Smitten Kitchen. You know, no big deal.

When I started making the bread things were a bit hectic because, like most things, I just sort of jumped into it without measuring anything or prepping any ingredients. Usually I set everything aside in bowls. But on Sunday I was really tired, had to back for the business trip on Monday and was the queen of procrastination at that point.

But of course, I thought… why wait? Let’s dive into the most complicated recipe I’ve ever tried. Why not? (Massive running around, back and forth to the computer while sweating from nerves ensues.)

So basically you make beer bread, then you make this mustard beer sauce, then you season some cheese, let the beer bread rise for a really effing long time while you snack on the seasoned cheese and drink beer, then attempt a complicated layering – a layering I gave up on.

And here’s the thing… for me reading instructions on how to physically do things never translates. Like all of those tutorials on how to braid hair or how to put make up on with the still photos next to the 50 instructions? I have always failed at those. I only learn by doing.

And then this other thing happened. I didn’t have the right sized bread pans… because it’s one of those things I don’t think about until I read the instruction on putting the dough in the ____ sized bread pan and I think: Shit, I so don’t have those. But I have these!

So I cut the dough in half, aiming to make two tiny loaves instead of the big one.

Basically this is a lesson on improvisation and figuring out how to work with what you have. Because after I rolled out the dough and tried to follow the measuring instructions that I took as only vaguely understood… I sort of just ended up winging it.

I couldn’t really visualize the whole strips + stacking + layers + making it into a loaf and then slicing it so that it’s easily pull-apart-able after baking. So I abandoned the pull-apart-able and just tried to make noms-ville layered bread.

Which kills me a little bit because I’m all about following the rules and when I don’t I can’t help but feel guilty. And like I failed a little. Especially because I truly couldn’t figure out the instructions… and because I had the wrong pans.

But then I saw how beautiful they turned out, how delicious they smelled and I figured it was ok. I figured I did a pretty good job for not knowing anything at all about what I was doing. Not even a little bit.

The Food Wagon

I fell off the good food wagon.

I can blame it on the traveling, the shit grocery runs, the thoughtless dinners, the exhaustion and the ease of ordering in or eating out. I can. But the truth is I just got lazy. And in a world that revolves around the big mac, the krispy creme, the taco bell, and the panda express, lazy is a dangerous game and a slippery slope.

This isn’t really a post about wanting to be a certain weight, weight gain, or body image. It’s about sanity and the way I feel on the inside. I think the biggest gift I’ve given myself in the last year and a half has been the ability to be a consistent weight. I yo-yo-ed for the majority of my 20s and late teens. Sometimes I would be up 20 lbs, sometimes down, back and forth the pendulum went. It’s really unhealthy to bounce around like that. It’s hard on your body, it often means you’re eating in strange ways (one time I gave up peanut butter for a few months, only to come home and binge on an entire box of cereal plus waffles, or eat so much of something that’s technically “good” for me that I would have stomach issues for days), and it’s hard on your self esteem. I carry a lot of guilt surrounding my body around with me everywhere I go. I talked about part of that guilt on Monday’s post.

Being a consistent weight means that I have a consistently active lifestyle, consistent eating habits, and am pretty confident that every morning I’ll be able to fit into my clothes. Being someone who woke up on several occasions suddenly unable to fit into that shirt or that skirt or that pair of pants… it’s a big deal to not have to be concerned about that anymore. The possibility still makes me anxious.

Remember when I started to add more veggies and fruits into my life? It was a pretty new experience for me. I had always grown up with salad at dinner and roasted squash in the fall, and green beans and asparagus as side dishes. But as a grown up, cooking on my own, I really had no clue what I was doing. But! We actually got really good at putting veggies as the focus in our meals. Kale Pizza, roasted beets for lunch, spaghetti squash with roasted green beans and broccoli, sweet potatoes and eggs, a myriad of roasted veggies and polenta, broccoli plus cheesy rice, Quinoa and caramelized onions, acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, tupperwares and tupperwares of chopped up honeydew and cantaloupe, apples, bananas (not for me, for kamel), blackberries, strawberries, and watermelon. But then I fell off the wagon. Because as much as I love the feeling of eating so well and feeling energized and NOT bloated and NOT craving sugar like a wacko and NOT having to say no to an extra helping… I will always prefer the taste of a bagel + full fat creamcheese and smothered with strawberry jam over any pile of roasted anything ever. And god I love donuts. And doesn’t an elephant ear sound so good right now? I could probably eat like 10 of them. Corndogs. Don’t even get me started.

Back on track – back on the good food. We started for realies to be thoughtful and fill our fridge with happy, healthy things last weekend and wow the difference is astonishing. I’m less exhausted, I feel so much less preoccupied with food (you know that nagging feeling in the back of your mind when you really want a muffin? And it just won’t shut up? Or when there’s free goodies in the office and you’re wrestling with yourself, “should I? shouldn’t I? Maybe just one?” etc etc on and on? (No? Just me?)). Well, when I’m eating well, with less salt and less bulk, I don’t have that nag anymore.

So anyways, I wanted to come clean and tell you that I’m not always the awesome food rockstar that I wish I was. That sometimes it’s so much easier not to be. And sometimes so satisfying not to be… while we’re being honest. But ultimately, it feels ridiculously good to be back on the healthy habits choo choo. I could really get on board with living forever… or there abouts.

*** In other news, I’m looking for some new slow cooker suggestions and some new fooding with flo suggestions. Now that I’m not flinging myself around the world so rapidly, I would really like some new cooking inspiration. What are you trying? What’s been successful? What are your easy trick that even a noob like me could succeed at? Help a sister out.

Guestposting: Making Mom Proud

When I first met Maris I was a sophomore in high school and she was in theology class with me and I thought she was weird because she always, always, always came to school with burn marks all over her arms from hot oil. And when I would ask her what happened she would shrug and say, “hot oil splatters,” like this was a normal occurrence and I had nothing else to say except, “Ok.”
And then! When we were almost grown ups, living in our own apartments, she started cooking like a real person. I was eating roasted squash for dinner and Maris was eating pot roast. I was buying Trader Joe’s single servings for-the-single-girl meals, and Maris was baking her very own layer cake. She has inspired me in lots and lots of ways, but particularly in the kitchen. She has always made cooking real meals seem normal and not like something only fancy people do. And you’ll see why after reading this post. Maris just does stuff, impressive stuff, like it ain’t no thang. And I’m always ready to cheer her on, with my jaw on the floor.

When it comes to me and the kitchen, there are a few things you should know. First, the women in my family are amazing cooks (the men, not so much). Second, I’m pretty competitive, even with myself. Third, I have a tendency to burn myself… a lot. When you put all of these facts together, you end up with someone who loves to cook, who tries to out-do herself whenever possible (I start planning the menu for Thanksgiving every year at least a month in advance) and who occasionally has a massive disaster in the kitchen that involves fires, spills, food explosions, you name it. Hi! I’m Maris.

When Lauren asked me to write a cooking guest post, my immediate reaction was equal parts excitement and nerves- I decided that the recipe I chose would have to be amazing, would have to be impressive, and it HAD to be perfect. I obsessed over recipes for weeks, no joke. But the recipe I finally settled on? Was a recipe handed to me by my mom when I left for college. Way back in the day, before leaving for college, my mom took it upon herself to put together a little cookbook for me that included some of her go-to dishes as well as some of my favorite recipes.

This, combined with my handwritten copy of my grandmother’s entire cookbook, has pretty much been the jumping off point for my cooking education. I love making these recipes (be it my grandmother’s famed dinner rolls or my mom’s chicken enchiladas) because each recipe has a specific memory, a specific time or feeling or person associated with it. And, for that same reason, I have avoided certain recipes for fear of messing them up. So, with Lauren’s encouragement, I decided to tackle one of these.

You can find Chicken Cacciatore recipes pretty much anywhere. There are a million different versions out there, but none as good as my mother’s recipe. This was the recipe that my sister always requested for her birthday dinner, and the recipe that would make everyone hover around the kitchen in anticipation. It isn’t technically difficult, but for some reason I had a bit of a mental block with this one. I would also like to point out that: 1) I did call my mom from the grocery store, and 2) I deviated out from the recipe a bit, which ended up working out perfectly!

This recipe starts with a whole chicken, cut up in pieces, browned in hot oil and butter. Deviation #1: it was just me for dinner, so I only used three chicken legs instead of the entire chicken. Verdict: didn’t make a difference in the flavor and I didn’t waste food! Success! Also, let me remind you about my afore-mentioned tendency to burn myself. Hot oil + butter = ouch. One thing I would point out with this, is to let the chicken get nice and brown before removing it from the pot. The oil always scares me enough that I take it out prematurely, and I think letting the chicken develop a bit more of a crust would have kept them even juicier. Next time I’ll test that theory.

The sauce contains quite a lot of veggies (hello mushrooms, peppers, onions, and garlic), which makes me feel virtuous. The saucy part (heehee saucy) has tomato paste, wine, water, herbs, and chicken bouillion.

Deviation #2: the amount of liquids that the recipe called for didn’t seem like enough, so I doubled it. Verdict: I, for one, love me some sauce. It was the right choice. And, I called my mom to confirm, and guess what? She doubles it too. Success!

After adding in the mess o’ingredients, you plop that chicken right back in there and let it simmer away while you get your pasta ready. Here’s another area where I was weird about this dish- I could only make it if I had the EXACT noodles that my mom always used. Noodles that are apparently difficult to locate in Chicago. I finally found them, and I swear the sun opened up and angels started singing right in the middle of Whole Foods. Anyway, once the kitchen smelled awesome and I was nearing the end of the simmering period, I prepared my treasured noodles.

By the time everything was ready, everything smelled like it should, looked like it should, and (with the exception of some oil burns) had gone off without a hitch. My dinner-for-one was delicious, and even though this dish wasn’t nearly as complicated as some of my previous considerations, I was ridiculously proud of myself. By the end of the night, I had my comfort food, it felt like home, and I had only spilled a little bit of sauce on my shirt. Verdict: success!

The competitive side of me still wishes I had done something a little bit more complicated (I was eyeballing a Julia Child recipe that involved setting things on fire… that could have made for a hilarious story as well as delicious french food), but there wouldn’t have been a story behind it besides “that looked complicated and I wanted to show I could do it”.  Next time I’ll make the braised chicken with leeks, but this time I’m glad I made something with some meaning.

Saturday Edition: Cleaning with Flo

This is the 4th Saturday Edition starring Kamel! And so far it’s a happy-dance inducing venture. Thanks for reading!!

Every time Lauren whips out the Flo and makes her masterpieces, a huge mess is always left behind. You never see this in the pretty photos, but cleaning the mess is my job. So I figured I’d give you a behind the scenes look at the not-so-glamourous-but-still-important part of Flo’s life in the Duprez Household. The cleanse:

Bread Guy: Update

So, last night as I was walking to switch my laundry… our lovely downstairs neighbor was out having a (scentless?) smoke break. And I did not disappoint you by avoiding the confrontation… here’s how it went down:

Him: Hey

Me: Hey, so… what’s up with the bread? (I obviously am cutting right to the chase as I act super nonchalant in sweat pants and Kamel’s shoes)

Him: Oh, nothing… I just had a lot to eat this week.

Me: So you put it on the floor?

Him: … yeah. Are you guys going out tonight?

Me: No. [motion to my sweatpants] I’m doing laundry.

And then I walked passed him.

And my head exploded because it turns out … dude is just a clueless, self-centered jerk face, who I wasted my precious baked goods on. Never again.

Next week I’m hosting a giveaway (eeeee my first!!) worth $350 smacks. And this has me thinking that maybe I should ship some baked goods to someone who would actually appreciate it.

Also, since the incident yesterday evening this is what the conversations between Kamel and I look like:

Kamel: Hey Lauren!

Me: …. he just… didn’t feel like eating it!

Kamel: You’re still thinking about this?

Me: YES!!

*Also – to everyone who sent me a recipe exchange chain – I am SO SORRY for not participating. I really meant to, I did. But then… I’m just so effing busy you guys. I apologize.

Dear Downstairs Neighbor

Dear Downstairs Neighbor,

Hello again! We’ve talked a few times, but really only in passing and that one time I told you your music wasn’t too loud and that we actually enjoyed listening to it through the floor. Because we are awesome and every person in the world should want us as neighbors. Just saying. And then there was the second time we chatted when I handed over a perfect loaf of my freshly baked, still warm challah.

This last one was all Kamel’s idea. We couldn’t figure out what to do with all of this preservative-free bread. We are only two people after all, and I knew that it would go stale quickly sitting on my counter. Should we bring it to work as an offering of goodwill and noms? No! Kamel said we should march right down stairs and offer it to you. Because, as I stated before, you don’t have furniture but you can at least have bread!

So, even though I am always nervous about these types of interactions, we went downstairs and knocked on your door. You answered and I was awkwardly holding a my perfect challah, gingerly wrapped part-ways in foil so it doesn’t look like I had my mitts all over it (but I did, I touched that bread from tip to tip, my friend).

“So, I was baking bread, and we made two loaves, but we only need one,” I said. “We wanted to offer you the other.”

“Oh, cool,” you said. “What kind is it?”

“It’s Challah. It’s an egg bread.”

“Oh awesome, I love egg bagels, so that’s great. I’ll have it for breakfast,” you said. “Do you guys want to come in for a drink?”

It was late and on Sunday so I said no. Kamel said, “Another time for sure.” And we went back upstairs feeling very proud of ourselves for doing something scary and having a positive response. Just so you know, downstairs neighbor… approaching you and knocking on your door and giving you free food was hard. But we did it anyway because we want to be nice.

So, and this is where things get weird, you could imagine my surprise and great disappointment when yesterday morning I head out to the train and see my perfect beautiful challah on the floor of our hallway in front of my door. Sitting on the ground for what I can assume was all night. It had maximum 3 slices cut from one end and still had the foil haphazardly clinging to it.

Kamel and I both stopped breathing for a moment as we stared at the bread, on the ground, that we had given you 3 days before.

“Why?!” I said.

“I have no idea!” Kamel said. And then he told me to go, that I was going to miss my train.

I realize that this makes you a total weirdo and doesn’t reflect on my awesomeness at all – but the bread on the ground? It really hurt my feelings. Because I made that. I worried about it and I made it. And it turned out really well. And I offered it to you and you put it on the ground. If you don’t like it – you could have thrown it away. I wouldn’t have noticed.

I thought maybe we could be friends, but upon further reflection I don’t think that’s going to happen. If you had made me bread, even if it was gross and weird, I would have never given it back to you.

Because, really, dear neighbor…. WHO RETURNS BAKED GOODS?

Fooding With Flo: Challah At Me

Bread is one of those sacred things. You mix some stuff together, leave it alone for a bit, and then poof. Sustenance.

I’m always kind of stressed out when I’m baking. I want to get it right, I don’t want to forget a step, I don’t want to mix too long or let it sit too long, or kill the yeast or spoil it. And god forbid (whenever I cook) I don’t want to make someone sick.

But with bread, I mostly just don’t want to fuck it up.

My dad is the one who makes bread. I eat bread. Challah was always on the verge of being made. My dad can whip up a dough-y, egg-y Challah blindfolded, with one arm tied behind is back. Me? I needed two arms and maybe some verbal affirmations from Kamel all along the way.

I only kind of knew what I was doing from watching my dad make it so many times. But sitting in the kitchen while he mixed and measured, kneeded and let rise, rolled and let rise again, while simultaneously watching whatever movie was on TBS, is not the same as making it by yourself.

I tried to soften the butter. But then I left it in for about 5-10 seconds too long. When I went to pull it out of the microwave a river of melted butter came shooting out of the wax paper the minute I picked it up. It arched in my direction and splattered on the floor until I could crab it with both hands, the butter becoming soup all over my palms. I yelled for Kamel to get me a bowl.

“Hurry!!” I said, “Hurry! Hurry! A bowl!! Any bowl!” This is my impression of the weird oh-my-god-I-have-no-clue-what-to-do dance that Kamel performed for a solid 5 seconds while butter was quickly coating my hands and hardening on the floor and in the microwave:

Until the dough went into its first rise, the kitchen was borderline panic, and complete pandemonium.

Continue reading “Fooding With Flo: Challah At Me”

Fooding With Flo: Making Ze Mallows

(beauty shot)

You guys said it was easy peasy. You said everyone was doing it, “Lauren… c’mon… you’re gonna love it!”

(Just look at all that sugar! And did you ever think you could actually up and buy actual corn syrup? To use in your house? Like delicious, delicious crack?)

“Just try it once!” you said.

(It said to oil and sprinkle powdered sugar evenly on the pan, I don’t have a sifter so I attempted this method… meaning no method at all.)
(… and then I got wise.)

And then Jenn, my supplier, sent me gelatin because it was the one ingredient I was seriously weirded out buying. Which later I realized was dumb because … hello… j-e-ll-o. (It’s aliiiiive.)

So, as it has been quite a hiatus in the kitchen, I figured a no-bake item was up next. And marshmallows it was! (The crowd goes wild!)

I used the mallow recipe from smitten kitchen. And, I have to admit – the only thing I do pre-mixing/chopping/dicing/slicing is read the ingredients list. If I have most of it, if I know what most of it is, then we’re good to go.

This meant I spent a lot of time running back and forth between the kitchen and my kitchen hubub, to the dining room table where my computer sat, primed on the recipe page.

(thank you for the apron Sarah!)
(Corn syrup….blllopp)

This is the most scienc-y thing I’ve ever made. I mixed, I used a thermometer, I mixed something until it turned into something else, AND …. I made meringue by hand.

Well, I attempted to make meringue by hand (because I don’t have a hand-held mixer and my kitchen aid was busy making… mallow). Which meant whisking…

and whisking…

and whisking…

and asking Kamel to take turns whisking lest my arm fall right off.

It didn’t get to the full on meringue state, but fuck. I did the best I could. This is one of the things I may have done wrong… it was supposed to be able to hold “peaks”… and, well, no. But it was white and fluffy?

Continue reading “Fooding With Flo: Making Ze Mallows”

Fooding With Flo: Biscotti

This weekend I was planning on doing a bunch of bloggy related activities so I would have something to tell you about this week. Between laundry and laying around and grocery shopping I did one bloggy thing.

I was going to tackle marshmallows, bread, and biscotti. But, after our larger than normal grocery run (which happens about once every 1.5-2 months) I didn’t have any more extra money for the mallow ingredients and then I just plain ran out of energy for the bread.

And we finally have PANS! Real pans that don’t come from Safeway plus a cooling rack! (Thanks to Maris’s mom and our wedding registry.) When we opened them up we were jumping around the living room singing, “we have nice things we have nice things!” and Kamel kept declaring, “Throw out the old ones! Throw them away!” But we didn’t… because why chuck good pans? Anyway…

This recipe is something my dad’s been making for years over the holidays. He usually makes two batches, some with cranberries and white chocolate and some with whole almonds. I couldn’t find whole almonds, so I used almond slices. This ended up being a good thing and made the biscotti’s natural crunchiness easier to eat.

The recipe also calls for almond extract, which I also didn’t have or want to buy, so I used vanilla and doubled the amount used (from 1/2 tsp to a full tsp). It worked really well, and wasn’t too much or too little.

This is also the messiest I’ve ever been while baking. There’s a lot of taking things in and out of the oven, a lot of stickiness, a lot of flour going willnilly. It kind of delighted me. It made Kamel refuse hugs and tell me he was going to buy me an apron. Bring on the kitchen messes!

This time, we did something a little different and we made a short film about the biscotti. We’ll be bringing you short films (different from the random cell phone video) more often because we love making them and they are fun. Which tells me you’re probably going to like them too! So check it out below and I’ll see you on the other side:

Yes, I realize that I’m not supposed to eat raw eggs, and yes I realize that you’re not supposed to use a knife on a stainless steel counter because it will dull your knife, but what are you gonna do? (Use a cutting board, duh.) Also! That’s the awesome brush that Sarah got us so I don’t have to use my fingers anymore to spread egg whites. YAY! And yes, these cookie take a lot of time. A lot of patience. But they turn out amazing!

If you’d like to give it a go, email me at betterinrealife at and I’ll send it your way! But only if you promise to tell me how it goes. I love me a good follow up. Happy Baking!