Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yard sale 2012

Ah, summer. The days are longer and hotter and hotter.

I guess I like much as I can like a season that turns my hair into a gnarly frizzball, makes sweat pour out of my glands as soon as I step out the door, and makes me turn as red as a cherry tomato unless I slather every inch of exposed skin in sunscreen.

Summers were a lot more fun when I was a kid; when the days were filled with alternating trips to the library and the pool and I could stay up until 3 in the morning reading or hanging with my friends. Oh, and there were slurpees! Now summer means having to slog six blocks from the metro station to the work in oppressive humidity and trying desperately to fall asleep in a stifling bedroom when the air conditioning goes out.

But there is one thing about summer that I really love and that's the annual Riley family yard sale! Since my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my Aunt has done an amazing job on working to clear out their house, which let's be honest, was pretty much stuffed to the gills. That means that there is plenty of stuff to put in a yard sale every year, and when we get the rest of our family and friends in on the action we are talking about a truly epically sized sale.

This was our second year of the sale, and it was even bigger than last year! We had the same large cast of helpers, but I think we had even more people come out and even more stuff got moved. The people tend to come in waves, and I was of course still shocked about the cheapness of people (no you cannot have that $500 armchair for $20 you FOOL). Of course the haggling and meeting new people--especially the cute guy who moved across the street from my Aunt--is fun, but the best part is hanging with your friends and watching all your old crap move out the door.

And I didn't get sunburned. VICTORY. 

 Now all we need our customers.

Ah, there they are!

 The yard sale helpers relax in the shade!

 Me and Selvi

 Mark your calendars for the first weekend of June 2013--the third annual Riley family yard sale!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Summer cake and BBQ

I've always loved baking, and since I remodeled my kitchen a few years ago, I have been trying to cook more as well. I've decided to make more of an effort to post about the recipes I try, pass along any tips, etc. Don't worry about this isn't turning into a cooking blog--but I figured someone out there would be interested in hearing about my culinary successes and failures. And trust me, there have been a lot of failures. But that's part of the process!

Last weekend, my good friend Chris had a barbecue party to celebrate the completion of his new backyard deck. It was quite the party; there must have been over 20 people there and there was a ton of food to be had. I decided to make a small contribution by trying a new cake recipe and a new technique--slicing the undecorated cake into three layers.

I chose the "chiffon cake with strawberries and cream" recipe from Martha Stewart (of course). It seemed like a good choice for a cook-out; not too sweet or rich, and not too unhealthy, especially since it does not use any butter or heavy cream. The cake itself is something like an angel food cake (which is very low in fat), but a little more dense so it's easier to slice. It's baked in a tube fan also like an angel food cake, but only gets tricky in that you have to slice the cake into three equal layers.

The trick is not to slice through the entire layer in one go, but rather to work the knife through the cake a little at a time, turning the cake as you go. This helps make sure it turns out even. I think mine turned out mostly successful, though the top layer was a little thicker than the others. Still, practice makes perfect! I also cheated a little by using pre-made whip cream rather than making it by scratch. This makes for a healthier (since I used cool whip) and easier alternative. I mean, I appreciate Martha' recipes, but come on. I don't have time for all this whipping shit.

 Assembling the cake after the layers have been sliced.

 The finished product! The recipe is at the bottom of the post.

The cake was a big hit at the BBQ, since there wasn't a lot left at the end of the night. But I have to confess that it paled in comparison to Caroline's contribution which was a gorgeous chocolate cake with about eight wafer thin layers. I still can't believe that I had the willpower to resist having some (I am trying to stay away from the baked goods).

As for the party itself, it was super fun and the new deck is gorgeous. I was not entirely convinced that Chris would be able to pull it off since he built it himself along with his Mom and Stepdad, but it turned out beautiful and strong. There was delicious food, good company, oh, and some Rock Band for good measure.

 Enjoying the new deck!

 The master chef.

 Caroline takes an...unusual approach to slicing the cake. When in doubt, use a broadsword.

The remains of the day.

Martha Stewart's Chiffon Cake with Strawberries and Cream (my changes and comments are in italics)

Ingredients For the Cake

o 2 1/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
o 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
o 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
o 3/4 teaspoon salt
o 1/2 cup safflower oil
o 7 large egg yolks plus 9 large egg whites
o 3/4 cup whole milk (I substituted skim milk with no ill effects)
o 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
o 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (fuck the vanilla bean, use the vanilla extract)

For the Berries and Cream 

o 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered (about 5 cups), plus more for serving
o 1/2 cup granulated sugar
o 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
o Pinch of salt o 2 cups cold heavy cream
o 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling

(Or you can do it like me and just use Cool Whip; you can also use all kinds of berries, I think a mix of strawberries and blueberries would by yummy)


1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Whisk together oil, egg yolks, and milk in a large bowl. Whisk flour mixture into egg-yolk mixture.

2. Beat egg whites with a mixer on high speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and vanilla seeds or extract, and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 5 minutes. Whisk one-third of the egg-white mixture into batter. Gently but thoroughly fold in remaining egg-white mixture with a rubber spatula.

3. Transfer batter to tube pan. Bake until top of cake springs back when touched, 52 to 55 minutes. Let cool upside down (over a bottle or on tube-pan feet) 1 hour. (I was concerned about cooling upside down, but it really worked! Make sure you grease the pan really well, and then a run a knife along the sides before trying to remove it from the pan)

4. Make the berries and cream: While cake is baking and cooling, combine strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt, and let sit, stirring occasionally, 1 hour. Just before assembling, beat cream and confectioners' sugar until medium peaks form.

5. Slide a paring knife around edges of tube and side of pan; release cake. Cut cake horizontally into 3 layers with a serrated knife. Transfer bottom layer to a cake plate or platter. Spread with half the berries, and drizzle with juices. Spread half the whipped cream over berries, then top with middle cake layer. Spread with remaining berries and whipped cream. Top with remaining cake layer. Refrigerate cake 1 hour. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve with berries.