You know, I almost didn’t think I was going to do one of these this year! After a year of quietly working away on various secret projects, it felt like I didn’t have a lot to show. And the world after November 8th feels like waking up from a hopeful dream to realize that everything’s been fucked for a long long time, and it’s likely to get worse. So how could 2016 have been a good year? But to be honest…2016, while complicated, was one of the happiest years I’ve ever had.
Literally the first thing I did in 2016 was fall in love with someone I shouldn’t have. Still, as someone historically terrible at being in love, it was easy to push aside any misgivings and self-preservation instincts I might have and just fall, hard.
I’d always had an idea of myself as a very emotionally tough person who was at best incredibly skeptical of romance. I liked being single, and I was good at it.
But something had started to change in me. After throwing myself entirely into my work for several years and seeing it pay off in a big way in 2015, I was tired. And I was scared. And it was hard to see exactly what I was working towards when it seemed like I risked going up in flames when I’d only just begun.
It turned out I wanted more. I loved my work, but I wanted something that could love me back.
I started losing a lot of sleep - partially from stress, and partially because what had started as an uncomplicated crush was quickly spiraling out of control.
January seemed to last a million years. Nothing that happened next was pretty.
And then, it was over.
Except it wasn’t. Because we just weren’t smart enough to let it be.
January was finally over, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. And cautiously, we made our way forward.
The next few months were some of the happiest that I can remember.
Also in that time, I visited Skywalker Ranch, won an Eisner, and got a new job, one with my very own office, working on something that I am SO SO excited for everyone to see!
But as 2016 has shown me in so many ways, nothing is ever simple.
It had always felt like I’d inherited a good world, a world that had no choice but to keep getting better, and I would surely benefit. As the year wore on, that illusion was shattered again and again.
So here we are. 2016 is over, and no one knows what’s going to happen next. It may be that 2016 is the best year I’ll see for a while, but I’m not giving up, and I’m not alone.
Thanks, everyone, for coming with me this far. It’s time to wake up and it’s time to fight. I hope we’ll all be okay in the end, but I won’t leave it at hope anymore. I’m grateful for the good things I have, and whatever 2017 has in store, I’ll try to be ready.
Still looking for the perfect pie recipe? Look no further! This Double Chocolate Cream Pie recipe is easy to make and is completely from scratch!
When I sat down to write this post I thought, I should write about that pie in The Help. And then I realized I just did that a few weeks ago. #foodbloggerproblems
Are you still looking for recipes to make for Thanksgiving? I am. Kind of last minute, we decided to host dinner for my parents and us. We’ve been traveling so much the last few months I just cannot leave my house one more time, you know?
There will be 5 of us for dinner. I’ll make a turkey and all the trimmings, which means we will have more side dishes than turkey. I always make cornbread stuffing (it’s the only thing Jordan likes), my dad will make Knoepfle (although I am making a vow to actually help him this year so I can learn how), and I’ll probably make mashed potatoes, because what’s another starch?
Honestly, to me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides. Forget the turkey, just give me side dishes!! Also: pie.
We don’t have a big family, so even if we all do get together there’s at most 15 people. Normally I make my famous crumb apple pie and some other desserts (like cheesecake!), and my mom makes her pecan pie and pumpkin pie. With only 5 of us…well, if I’m being honest, we’ll probably still make all that. One pie per person, that’s a good ratio, right? #justsayyes
Growing up I never really liked pudding pie, most likely because I’m not a huge fan of pudding. But the reason I’m not a huge fan of pudding is because I never had the real thing until a few years ago. (By “real thing” I mean from scratch pudding.)
From scratch pudding is da bomb.
advent calendar - day 1
(BTW: this post has some cool videos, so best to look at on computer rather than mobile device I reckon)
The next stop for us after La Paz was to go down south to the salt flats in Uyuni:
I’ve seen lots of pictures of these salt flats before we went there and even though I had heard nothing but rave reviews from anyone who had been there, obviously I’m still always skeptical of what it would really be like. But as you will soon see, this area was absolutely incredible. Never have I ever been so taken back by a landscape before. It was an awesome place to visit and see with your own eyes for sure.
Even from the plane, I thought I was just seeing more clouds, but no – it was the salt flats beginning and the white extending out until the horizon. (Btw it was soooo much better to fly there – 45min direct, rather than a 12hr bus)
First things first…pizza! And because the owner was an American dude, he had a cool salad bar option too which we loved. Great to have salad. Got to try some spicy llama pesto pizza too which was nice.
We started our three day/two night tour into the bolivian wilderness the next morning.
Just outside the town of Uyuni is this train cemetery, which I was skeptical about visiting at first because how exciting can train junk be? But actually turned out to be a cool place to explore.
Now for the best part of all – the actual salt flats. It had rained that morning so our first stop was a bit soggy, but it made it nice to walk around barefoot – but of a salty pedicure and foot massage.
We stopped at a nearby town where they actually process the salt into a saleable item – they have to process thousands of kilos a day or something in order to even make any money from it, since it is such a cheap commodity. Pretty hard living I reckon.
Next was the first (and now illegal) salt hotel that was built in 1983. They are built out of bricks of salt and looks kind of cool, but they are very damaging on the ecosystem, so they banned them from building more of the same on the actual salt flats themselves. Later that night we did stay in a different salt hotel but it was not on the flat itself, so it is fine we were told.
Emily getting in the Malaysia representation there, with the bolivian and awesome bolivian version of the Incan flag there.
Driving over the salt flats was such a cool experience – I had no idea how expansive the salt flats would be. It was mesmerising.
The salt flats originated from the remains of ancient lakes that were in the area, and soon enough we hit upon one of the islands that used to be amongst the lake. It was called Incahuasi (inca house) and walking to the top of it gave us a great vantage point across the whole salt flats area.
It is also covered in thousands of years old cacti which was also pretty cool.
Now for the fun stuff! We only had a few hours to play around with the perspective thing here so we just ran around trying a few things here and there, some of them working out better than others. I sort of didn’t really get why these perspective photos are a thing out here on the salt flats before I got here – but being out there you totally get it. It’s literally that there is nothing between you and the horizon to disrupt line of sight and the land and horizon just merge into one. I don’ know…actually it’s still hard to explain, but it just works for whatever reason.
Our guide was a total pro (it’s like he had done this before or something)….and he directed us all into making this cool video. Check it out:
My favourite picture of them all for sure:
You had to really get down and lie on the salt to get these perspective shots, and I couldn’t get these salt stains out for the next few days. Oh well. Totally worth it.
We drove on….and on…and on over the salt flats – they just seemed never ending. And then we hit this awesome patch that had just a thin layer of water over it which provided a perfect mirror surface to reflect the sky.
The scenery out there was some of the most beautiful I have ever seen and it was so hard to stop taking photos.
I confess that I stole this next photo from one of the couples in our group who had gone out on a sunset tour the night before, and they did some magical tricky things with their SLR and managed to get this amazing shot with the stars and sunset.
I thought our tour was going to be nothing but salt flat goodness, but turns out that afternoon stint was all there was going to be and it was onwards and upwards (or downwards actually) towards other Bolivian goodness. We started out the second day with apple flavoured soy milk…so weird. Closing my eyes, I would have sworn it was just apple juice alone.
Bolivia is beautiful and we drove through and past so many amazing mountains and scenic views. We drove down to the Bolivian/chilean border (as demonstrated by Jason and Emily there) and stopped for crucial refueling (all up the total round trip was 1000km and we had to carry all the petrol we’d need with us on the roof)
The tree-like rock:
Awesome lakes and mountains:
The perfect vantage point for Wile E. Coyote to watch out for the Road Runner, I thought.
Really bizarre, random green mossy thing that just seemed to pop up out of nowhere around these rocks. It only grows 1mm a year! So these huge mounds are thousands and thousands of years old. Craziness.
One of the biggest lakes in the area – the Red Lake – where thousands of flamingos migrate to. Hard to tell, but there are huge flocks behind me in the lake scooping up all the briney shrimpy goodness of the lake. On a sunny day, the lake would have been as red as my jacket apparently.
We then reached the highest point any of us had ever been to in our lives – 5000 metres high! (16,400 feet!!!)
There are these sulfuric hot spring geyer things up there – it was a strange mix of being absolutely freezing walking around there, but then feeling heat radiating out of these volcanic hot springs bubbling furiously away next to us, spewing out massive clouds of sulfur. So other-worldly.
Jason and I decided to play the highest game of tag ever – we got puffed basically instantly, but I figure that a 10second game up at 5000m is equivalent to an hour game at sea level, so we definitely did our exercise for the day.
Our accomodation for this second night, turned out to be the next best highlight of our tour aside from the salt flats. That’s because..well first of all, as you can tell from these photos..the surrounding landscape was ridiculously beautiful. But secondly, there was a hot spring pool right in front of that little house there that we went to later that night.
First though Emily dished us all out some tasty soup for dinner, and then we rugged up to go swimming, as one does when you’re in Bolivia. The winds and general outside temperature was close to zero degrees so the walk to get down to the hot spring was kind of freezing…but the water then was close to 40 degrees and it was unbelievable.
It was a completely cloudless sky, with a new moon – meaning there was no extra light to diminish the stars. So the milky way was out in full brightness, and we saw heaps of shooting stars. To boot, there was even a crazy lightning storm happening right in front of us on the horizon that just added to the drama and brilliance of the whole experience.
Ok…last day of our tour which was basically stacks and stacks of driving to get us back from where we were deep on the border with Chile…and then to drive back up north to get back to the town of Uyuni.
These are called the Salvador Dali mountains, not because he visited them (which he didn’t), but because they look like they’re a painting, with all their varied colours. It was so true – they are so beautiful.
This area has also been used by NASA to simulate their Mars projects, because it really is like the surface of mars out there. It’s crazy.
A group “evolution of man” photo
An andean fox getting up close and personal with our car
Then what we thought was going to be our lunch when we arrived at the nearest town – these ladies had literally just finishing killing a fresh llama and were grilling it all up while we waited for our lunch. But alas, turns out we had tinned tuna instead. Bummer.
Hard to tell our exact path from that map there, but we followed the red loop line from Uyuni down to the southern part and then back. For 1000km trip on super dusty rocky roads, I thought it was amazing that we only got one flat tyre. Our driver was pretty great.
We flew back direct again (love it) to La Paz the night our tour finished and stayed in another great city apartment with a great view, with a conveniently placed korean restaurant right on the ground floor.
And then with our last day in the area, we went on a day bike trip out to at the “Most Dangerous Road in the World” aka the Death Road. I thought it was called that not necessarily because it was going to be that dangerous for us as riders, but because of its history – some stories of which include the fact that Paraguayan prisoners of war were brought to build the road and they either died building it or were all executed at the end of it. Also there is a story about Bolivian opposition leaders being brought out there to be given the choice of either jumping off or join the government, and they chose to jump. Turns out it’s all of those above stories plus the fact that it is actually a “death road” for cyclists too. Yay…..
Every year some cyclist or two rides off or slips off the edge and we saw crosses and memorials all the way down. Hmm…definitely turned out to be more dangerous in hindsight than I had thought when we were starting that day. But we began it all with a shot of 96% alcohol (I just let it touch my lips, but I didn’ drink any…seemed like a ridiculous idea to be tipsy and ride down this rollercoaster of a mountain) and then drain some out over out tyre to the earth to thank Pachamama (mother earth) and bless our ride.
But the good thing was that our company, Gravity Bolivia, was highly rated and they gave us great bikes to use:
So the whole ride is basically a 4hour non-stop downhill ride, going total 60-ish kilometres, from an elevation of 4,700m to 1,200 m! Quite a fast drop. And as you can tell from the fog behind Jason and Emily on the left, we started in freezing conditions (it had been snowing there only two days before), and then ended in the hot humid jungle below. Crazy.
I had an icecream headache to start and my fingers were freezing! But we soon warmed up.
There is a section where one can choose to do an uphill section of 8km – but I loved the fact that our entire group was like “nah..screw it” and we sat instead on the bus which drove us up it, and we chowed down on sandwiches instead. Best decision ever. Using those super heavy-specifically-designed-for-downhill bikes, in that altitude, to go uphill for 8km?! Forget about it.
This was the first bike tour I have ever done where I didn’ attempt to take my own videos or long-arm photo shots while riding. I instead gripped on for dear life, focusing like a hawk on every divet, rock, puddle, curve and edge on the road so that I literally did not die. But one of our tour guides had a camera and he took the good photos and videos for us.
It was an awesome experience, and we definitely went faster down that road than I had anticipated especially given the rockiness, dustiness and overall slippery-ness of it. Our guide would pepper the trip down with stories of people falling to their death, slipping and breaking their backs – and we always felt very un-pepped after his “pep” talks, but I think it did help make us more focused and careful and not take anything for granted. And so we all made it to the bottom safely! (except one girl did fall and potentially maybe get a minor wrist fracture…but I’m sure she’s fine wherever she is now…)
Driving back I have to admit, I was nervous because we go back up the very same road we cycled down, but this time in a bus! And even though we cut it close to the road’s edge so many times, I just couldn’t look away. The driver was super skilled though and we obviously made it back all good. Still a very nerve-wrecking drive.
Phew…and so brings us to the end of Bolivia! So glad we went there – it’s an amazingly beautiful place that still seems very untouched and under explored. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to south america for sure.
You know what Confucius always said: “There’s just something about that orzo!”
Place the cooked, cooled orzo into a large bowl with all the other ingredients. As you can see, there are so many “other ingredients” that you can barely see the poor orzo, but trust me…it’s there! You can see it peeking out from beneath the tomatoes.
I added tomatoes (yellow and red), red onion, garbanzo beans (yum!), pitted kalamata olives, feta cheese, and parsley! But you can add cucumbers, other olives…anything you want.
Oh, and a note about orzo. It grows when it cooks, man! Seriously, you can start with just a tiny little container of the stuff and pretty soon you have to move out of your house because the orzo has taken over. So just be sure to gauge how much orzo you have relative to the other ingredients, and adjust according to your taste or mood or astrological sign.
Pour over the dressing and toss it all together, making sure it’s all combined. Then it’s always nice to pop it in the fridge for at least an hour, just to let all the flavors meld. Oh, and give it a taste.
Here’s the handy dandy printable!
In a jar or bowl, mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper until totally combined.
Place the orzo and all the other ingredients in a large mixing bowl and pour the dressing over the top. Stir to combine, taste and adjust seasonings, and refrigerate at least an hour before serving. Top with more feta and parsley and serve as a main dish salad or with grilled chicken, fish, or burgers!
Posted by Ree | The Pioneer Woman on January 19 2015
Browned butter cookies, as you can imagine, are one of the most miraculous uses of browned butter there is. Whether it’s oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, or chocolate chip cookies, subbing browned butter for all or some of the butter in whatever recipe you use will catapult your cookie into another dimension. Try it sometime! You’ll be hooked for life.
I made M&M cookies yesterday and because I was feeling saucy, decided to go the browned butter route. I used the recipe I usually use for any incarnation of chocolate chip cookies, but rather than brown all of the butter in the recipe, I did what Joy the Baker does in her browned butter cookie recipe, which is to use half browned butter, half softened butter. Worked like a charm. (Hi, Joy! I love you.)
Here’s the step-by-step recipe! I should add before we continue that I made the cookies at 4:00 yesterday. As of 8:18 this morning, they are all gone.
I love butter.
I love bread.
Once the butter is totally melted, there’ll be foam on top and it will start to sizzle. Start gently swirling the butter around to pan to keep everything moving, and keep a watchful eye on the butter. Once it starts to brown, it can brown very quickly, so time is of the essence!
You want the butter to be deep golden brown, and the solids at the bottom to be an even deeper brown…but definitely not black! If they’re black, the butter is burned, and it’s best to start over with a new stick of butter.
Pour the butter into a separate bowl pretty quickly after you get it off the stove, as the butter will keep cooking/browning in the pan. (And scrape in all the solids that get left behind. That’s the good stuff, baby.)
Then—very important—just let the butter cool almost completely—at least 30 minutes or so!
Then get everything else ready for the cookies: another stick of butter (softened), brown sugar, regular sugar, flour, instant coffee, baking soda, salt, vanilla, eggs, and M&M’s. (The browned butter has been transferred to a glass bowl in this pic because evidently I didn’t have enough dishes to do in my life.)
Next…it’s brown butter time! With the mixer on medium-low, very slowly drizzle in the browned butter. Stop halfway through and scrape the bowl, then keep going. (It’s obviously important here for the browned butter to be totally cooled down, so don’t skip that step or you’ll regret it the rest of your life.)
Now, for the coffee haters out there: Don’t worry! You won’t even taste it. My husband has never ingested a cup of coffee in his entire life, but he loves my chocolate chip cookies…and that’s because he has no idea there’s coffee in them. The coffee just adds a nice depth of flavor and a richness, but definitely not an overwhelming coffee flavor. Cross my heart.
Scraping the bowl is big in this recipe. You just want to make sure everything has a chance to mix in evenly.
Glory be. Will you look at that? Complete lusciousness. Little browned bits all over the place—some are from the coffee, some are from the browned butter. I almost didn’t want to add anything to it. I almost didn’t even want to bake it. I just wanted to climb inside the bowl and live there the rest of my days.
But I didn’t.
(I wouldn’t have fit anyway.)
And I’ll just tell you this now: After tasting the finished cookies, which were heavenly, I determined that I wished I would have done a mix of M&M’s and chocolate chips. Using only M&M’s resulted in a super sweet cookie, and I thought they could have used just a little semi-sweet chocolate to take away a little of that milk chocolate sweetness.
So 1 cup of M&M’s and 1 cup of chocolate chips. Perfect!
After that, I stuck the pan(s) into the fridge for about 10 minutes before baking them…but this is totally optional.
Here’s the handy dandy printable.
Add one stick of butter to a medium skillet over medium heat. Allow it to melt and bubble up for 3 to 4 minutes, swirling the pan to keep the butter moving around. When the butter is a medium golden brown, remove the pan from the heat (it will continue browning in the pan over the next 30 seconds or so!) Pour butter (and any solids in the bottom of the pan) into a heatproof bowl and allow it to cool completely, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, allow the other stick of butter to soften.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees*.
Cream the softened butter together with the brown sugar and regular sugar until it's nice and combined. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl if necessary to make sure everything is incorporated.
With the mixer on medium-low, slowly drizzle in the cooled melted butter, making sure to add all the darker brown solids. Scrape the bowl the mix again for 20-30 seconds, until everything is combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, coffee granules, baking soda and salt. Stir together, then add it in 1/3 increments, mixing on low, until it's totally incorporated. Scrape the bowl and beat for a few more seconds. Stir in the M&M's and the chocolate chips, if using. (I think using half chocolate chips, half M&M's would be perfect.)
In batches, scoop by heaping teaspoon onto a baking sheet lined with a baking mat, Press 2 to 3 additional M&M's on top if desired. If you have time, refrigerate scooped dough for 10 minutes (if not, it's fine.) Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Wait a minute or two, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Serve cookies with a big glass of cold milk!
*You can bake at 350 for a little longer if you don't want the cookies to be quite so brown. (I like brown cookies!)
Posted by Ree | The Pioneer Woman on August 27 2014
30 Day Challenge // Day 23 // Something That Makes You Happy
I’ve learned how to cook since I moved out to California. It’s therapeutic. And delicious~ I garnish everything with a fried egg, and I never regret it.