five year anniversary

this past pi day we celebrated our five year anniversary. hooray! we have had ups and downs, but it has been a good journey. at the beginning, my family tried to stop us from getting married, but i knew Cameron was the right person for me. i never had any other person i felt so comfortable with, who i could talk to about anything, who seemed to understand me when i could hardly understand myself sometimes. we are just two peas in a pod.

our first year of marriage was difficult. we were trying to adjust to living with each other; there was quite a bit of stress from our jobs; and we lived in a teeny tiny apartment where you couldn’t really have any personal space. we fought quite often and quite loudly. personally I know it was also a difficult time for me transitioning into the “adult” world. you go through life with lots of people telling you what to do, what’s important. then I realized it wasn’t really a life I was happy in. I’m really glad Cameron has been supportive and let me find my path in life. I also try to be supportive as he is finding his path.

i think things got much happier once we moved back to the house. also, i quit my job that i hated. AND THEN WE GOT RABBITS. rabbits make me happy. anyway, i think being married has helped us mature and grow closer. we’ll keep working at it, and see what the future brings…




























more rabbits??? haha just kidding!

r.i.p. gandalf

this april it will be ten years since Gandalf passed away. even now when I start to think about him, I feel a deep sadness, regret, and pain. he was such a sweet, happy, nice bunny. he loved to eat pellets, hay, and vegetables, especially broccoli. he loved getting pets and neck rubs. I wish I could have given him a better life. He lived outside in the yard in a hutch by himself. we built a little running area, but I didn’t always make time to take him out for that. later, I went to college, and he only got to come out once a week when I came back on the weekends. I felt bad for him, so I moved him to the side yard of our house, where another bunny used to live many years ago. he ran away once, but I found him and brought him back. then I came back home one Friday night. I was thinking of going to visit him but then never did. in the morning, my mom woke me up and told me, “I’m so sorry, Gandalf is dead.” what? how can that be? are you sure? “something attacked him…” my mom had put a rag over him so I didn’t have to see it. but I touched the rag. I felt his hard body. I dug a hole to bury him in our yard.

I feel so much regret for what happened. I should’ve known there were cats and other creatures in our neighborhood. I shouldn’t have left him out there, unprotected. later when I started volunteering at a bunny shelter and fostering rabbits, everyone agreed that it wasn’t safe to leave your rabbits out unsupervised. some people even heard of rabbits being picked up out of yards by birds of prey. and before he lived out in the side yard, he shouldn’t have been left alone in a hutch. rabbits are social creatures and are much happier when they have friends. we should have adopted a friend for him to have. he should have been a house rabbit. he would’ve been such a happy house rabbit.

I wish I could go back in time and save him. in college, I started fostering rabbits in my dorm room. that could have been Gandalf there with me. Cameron says I wouldn’t have helped as many rabbits or had such a heart for house rabbits if he didn’t die. it’s hard though. it’s hard to get over what happened. I don’t know if I ever will. but with every rabbit I’ve fostered and now with my three adopted house rabbits, I try my best to give them the best life, the most happiness, lots of pets and attention; all the things I wish I could’ve given to Gandalf. rest in peace, Gandalf.

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chocolates

last year I had the kind of crazy idea to make chocolate truffles for Christmas after learning how to do it in patisserie class. honestly, it was chocolate hell last year! in class we had only made them a couple times, and that was with 20 students. it was quite a challenge being a one woman chocolate shop for the first time with very little experience. I made all the mistakes last year – one batch of chocolate went out of temper (ruined the whole batch); kitchen was too hot so the chocolate didn’t set; messed up on some of the fillings; smashed lots of chocolates; made a huge mess in the kitchen, etc. etc.

so this year when the holidays were approaching, I was kind of dreading making chocolates again. I couldn’t really give it up though, especially since I bought all the molds last year, plus everyone really liked it last year. to my surprise, it wasn’t hell this year! thankfully, I learned a ton from all my mistakes last year, and I didn’t have any chocolate heartache this year. I actually got a really great yield this year, and the chocolates came out really well. I also didn’t destroy the kitchen. I think a big part of that was I work a lot cleaner and more organized now than I used to (what happens after working full-time in a kitchen for about a year).

I tried to take some pictures so I could write up a bit about the process of making truffles, mainly for my biggest fan, my mom. :) she likes reading this kind of thing. it is pretty interesting. so, the first thing to know about making chocolates is tempering chocolate. properly tempered chocolate has three qualities:

  • shiny
  • snap
  • smooth taste

it should have all three of these qualities. it shouldn’t be dull or have cocoa butter that has separated (when you see white streaks). it should have a nice snap when you break it. it shouldn’t be gritty, just real smooth. the chocolate we use for this is called couveture chocolate. I use 58% chocolate from the cacao barry brand (what we used in my classes too).

so, how do you temper the chocolate? first, the chocolate has to be melted to 116°-120° F over a double boiler. this is a very specific temperature because that is the temperature where all the crystallization seeds will melt. basically, you need to make sure all the old memories of how to crystallize are melted away.

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next, the chocolate needs to be cooled down to 89.9°F. This is a very important number. 90°F doesn’t cut it, your chocolate will not be in temper. it has to hit 89.9°F. that’s why it’s very important to have a good thermometer!

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now that you know you hit 89.9°F, you need to make sure the chocolate has a properly tempered seed to make sure it crystallizes correctly. you need to see the seed. if you don’t see anything, you can throw in a small piece of tempered chocolate to act as the seed.

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you always want to do a test strip to make sure your chocolate is in temper. you want to make a streak of chocolate with varying thickness. you can wait for it or stick it in the fridge for a minute if you are impatient. if it’s NOT in temper, the thin parts will not solidify, they will stay liquidy.

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once the chocolate is in temper, the clock is ticking. that is one of the challenges of chocolate. you have it in the liquid state, but it is on its way towards crystallization. as it cools, it gets thicker and more crystals are forming. the ideal temperature for pouring chocolate in the truffle molds is the high 80′s, like 86-89°F. once you hit 82-84°F, you start to get rapid V-crystal growth, which will make the chocolate hard to pour since it is getting thick. the good news is you can “maintain” the tempered bowl of chocolate by adding a degree or two with some heat, either a torch or a second over the gas burner. you have to make sure you don’t heat it over 89.9°F though, because then it will go out of temper and you have to restart the tempering process.

you quickly pour the chocolate into the mold, making sure to fill all the spaces.

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then use a metal scraper to scrape all the excess chocolate off. then you want to bang the mold a bunch of times to try to get any air bubbles to pop so you won’t get little holes in the surface of the chocolate.

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you wait a few moments, depending on the internal temperature of the room and how fast the chocolate is crystallizing. you want some of the chocolate to crystallize on the walls of the mold. ideally, the chocolate should be very thin, but not see-through. you don’t want a thick layer because then when you bite the truffle, it will have this thick layer of chocolate. this step is very challenging because it’s not that easy to tell how thick the wall is.

once you think it’s ready, you flip the mold over (different bowl), tap it a little, let the chocolate drain out, then use your metal scraper again while the mold is upside-down to scrape across.

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turn the mold right side up again, and let it cool until the chocolate sets.

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this brings up the importance of the room temperature in making chocolate. if the room is too cold, the chocolate is going to cool too quickly and you will have to race around like a crazy person trying to work with the chocolate and maintain it. it never really gets cool in Hawaii. I have the opposite issue here. it’s too hot usually! if the room temperature is 85°F, that’s good in a way because your chocolate will stay in temper, but, it’s too hot for it to set! I think the ideal temperature must be around the mid to high 70′s? if I work in the morning, and it is a cooler day, that is perfect. if I start later, I have to turn on the air conditioning or else my chocolate won’t set.

anyway, once you have your molds all set up, you can keep them like that for a little while as long you make sure to wrap them well and keep them in a cool place. once you are ready, you can make the fillings. usually chocolate truffles are filled with cream or butter fillings. most of mine have some cream, corn syrup (in class we used glucose, but I don’t have that), butter, chocolate, and flavoring.

the fillings are also chocolate based, so a lot of the same principles apply. the filling are going to crystallize, so you are working against the clock again. also, it’s important to cool the fillings to 88°F so you don’t melt the chocolate in the molds!

this year’s fillings were coffee, lilikoi, coconut rum, mac nut, pineapple, and green tea. the last two were new this year. I had issues with pineapple since the flavor wasn’t that strong. I am not going to make that one again. I might bring back orange I think.

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when the filling is ready, you want to carefully pipe it into the molds. it’s important to try to fill it all in from the bottom so now air bubbles are present. if there are air bubbles, your truffles may go bad. also, you want to make sure no filling touches the top edges or else your truffles won’t seal properly. you also want to fill them the right amount. if it’s too little, you might have a thick layer of chocolate on the bottom. if it’s too much, you will have a hard time sealing it. as you fill, you want to tap the mold so the filling levels.

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finally, you need to temper some more chocolate so you can seal the molds. one way to do this is to do the pour method again and scrape. sometimes I don’t fill perfectly though, so then I pipe in the tempered chocolate to seal it.

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once your chocolate are all set, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes. what happens is the chocolates will shrink away from the molds, so when you take them out and tap them on the counter, they will pop out! this is kind of a stressful moment because now you will see whether your truffles are any good. everything comes down to this moment! you have to be careful too. make sure not to smash any as you tap. also, this is the only time when it is okay to put your chocolate in the fridge. it is only for a few minutes and just to get them out of the molds. normally you don’t want to put chocolate in the fridge because any water ruins chocolate! condensation will ruin it!

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here I have circled some air bubbles you can see on the surface. there’s always room for improvement!

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this year’s yield was really good, about 95.3%. it would have been higher too if I didn’t have issues with the pineapple filling. hope everyone enjoyed the chocolates this year!

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happy thanksgiving! (and the corn bread stuffing rant)

happy thanksgiving! I love thanksgiving, but this year I was getting a little stressed as thanksgiving was approaching because at work, we had extra prep to do plus I had to make stuffing and yams early since I had to work on thanksgiving. once the day arrived though, the kitchen smelled great, there was excitement in the air for the big thanksgiving lunch at work, and everything went well. a lot of families come to celebrate with the residents too, so that means more food and more good cheer. it was really nice seeing everyone enjoy their lunches and their time together, and lots of people complimented the food.

this is the first time I made my stuffing and yams early, but both turned out very well. they both can easily be made a day ahead. i finished them, put them in the fridge, and then Cameron just had to heat them up the next day at 325 until they were warm (~1 hr i think), then about 15 minutes at 400 uncovered to get a little crust. this year’s stuffing was the best yet. I’ve been making the same recipe for about five years now I think, but every year gets a little better. i’m very happy with it now. this year I started making pretty much the ultimate white sandwich bread (from the bread bible), so I made a batch to use for the stuffing. using good ingredients is the key to most things. having good bacon is also important. I used some thick cut maple bacon this year, which was perfect. finish it off with granny smith apples, fresh sage, and homemade chicken stock! in fact, this year we ate it all! no leftovers!

now for my rant. I am against corn bread stuffing. first of all, corn bread is pretty much cake, not bread. and cake is crumbly! at work, they said this year they wanted to make corn bread stuffing. I had never tried it, so I figured I would try it at least. ugh, so gross! ok, it’s crumbly and like a cake, then you add other things to it and probably some stock. result: mushy mess! stuffing needs real bread that can stand up to all the flavorings, moisture from the other ingredients, and liquid from the stock/eggs. I don’t want to eat a mushy mess! i think this can only work if you actually make corn BREAD, i.e. make a yeast type bread with corn flavor. that i am okay with if the bread is properly made and fit for stuffing. anyway, that is the end of my rant.

happy thanksgiving!

sourdough

i first learned about sourdough in intermediate baking with chef wetter. sourdough is so interesting! it is also a challenge because the yeast is alive and has its own personality. instant yeast is great for making a lot of great breads, but there’s always something special about sourdough.

to start a sourdough starter, people just leave out some flour and water and let the natural yeast in the air start colonizing in there. the flavor of your sourdough will be different depending on the wild yeast in the air in your area. i haven’t started my own starter; i think it is pretty challenging from what i hear. my sourdough starter is from the one chef wetter started about six years ago. to keep the starter going, it has to be fed regularly or else the yeast will run out of food, get too acidic, and die. for example, i feed mine once a week, leave it out for a little while, and then keep it in the fridge for the rest of the time. if you don’t feed it regularly, it might need to be revived. for long term storage, the starter can be put in the freezer and later revived.

for the past few months, i’ve been making sourdough every week. i named my sourdough “Fred.” it’s good to name your sourdough because he’s basically like your pet. well except you can put him in the fridge and freezer… anyway, it’s been a great learning experience figuring out the right schedule for Fred, and figuring out what conditions bring out his awesomeness the best. usually i feed him once a week, which means i take part of him, add flour and water, and knead him and beat him up a bit (helps develop gluten and incorporate oxygen). i am not an abusive parent to my sourdough! it’s what he needs. anyway, then i take another part of him as the starter for my weekly bread. the rest i toss. you have to toss part of your sourdough every time or else he’ll just keep getting bigger and bigger.

this week i had a breakthrough! actually first Fred kind of became dormant, and i was worried about him. for Fred to be ready to make bread, he has to be able to double in size after feeding in 6-8 hours. he hardly was rising in 8 hours, so i had to go back to the revival schedule and feed him once a day until he was ready. he was really kicking after that! doubling in a good 6 hours. i think one mistake i was making was i would feed him and put him straight into the fridge, which means the yeast didn’t have the chance to multiply enough for the next week. i think he needs to stay out for about an hour after feeding, and probably needs to come out of the fridge for a couple hours before his next feeding.

so anyway, this week the bread was really beautiful. great crust, nice soft fluffy interior, and great flavor. GOOD JOB, FRED!!!