Wake up, sunshine.

I woke up, put on a bikini and shoveled a muffin in my face. Not today (unfortunately). But almost every year of my childhood, for two delicious weeks in February, this was my routine.

No, I'm not a card carrying member of the Polar Bear Club. Considering that I keep a space heater at arms' length throughout the winter, it's safe to say that could never be my reality. Instead, the backdrop for this carb-tastic lifestyle was the Florida Keys. Islamorada, to be exact.

Every winter, my parents would pack us up and pile us into the car as we headed south with dreams of sand, fried fish sandwiches and crystal-clear water fueling the long road to trip there.

After we made our obligatory-but-now-embarrassing stop at The South of the Border and arrived at the southernmost point in the States we were met by our closest friends. About six families made the annual trip with us and once we all united in Florida magic happened. The kids would spend all day at the beach, in the pool, running around like little sunburned prunes. Our biggest worry back then was whether we would be allowed to order another virigin strawberry daquiri after lunch. Our parents would talk, eat, play cards, barbeque, work on their tans, eat.

Eat. Barbeque. S'more. Yes, I just turned s'more into a verb. We s'mored like professionals.

You're getting the picture, right? It was paradise. All this talk of eating reminds me of my original point: Muffins. There was this magical, sprawling place called The Castle that was home to various tiny shops and art galleries. Inside The Castle was a bakery that offered up fresh Sunshine Muffins every morning. You had to get there early and you had to wait in line. But these muffins were worth the patient wait. They looked, smelled and tasted like pure sunshine. These citrus-scented, glazed darlings were reason to jump out of bed in the morning, even if we didn't need one.

Citrus-Currant Sunshine Muffins
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan

1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups AP flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup moist, plump dried currants

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular sized muffin tin or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange is strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together the orange and lemon juices, lemon extract, melted butter and eggs. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don't worry about being thorough - a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter. Fold in the currants. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.


Granita Goodness.

Today I woke up thinking it was Saturday, kept snoozing the time away, and realized it's Wednesday. Boy, that's brutal. Not quite the weekend, but we've made it this far. Since time is certainly NOT on my side, there will be no stories today of life, love, kittens and food politics.

But there will be dessert.

This is a ridiculously easy, refreshing, impressive dessert to make for friends or just for you. Celebrate that fabulous streak you've got goin' on. This granita, or the Italian mashup of sorbet and sno-cones, is simply perfect.

Keep on truckin'!

Strawberry-Lemon Granita
Courtesy of Mybakingaddition.com

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 lemons; juiced (about 4 tablespoons) *see not below
3 cups sliced hulled strawberries (about 1 pound whole berries)

1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and heat until the sugar in completely dissolved; swirl the pan occasionally. Let cool.
2. Place strawberries and lemon juice into a blender or food processor until smooth.
3. Pour the cooled simple syrup into the strawberry and lemon puree and blend to combine.
4. Pour the mixture into a 9×13 metal or Pyrex baking dish and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Ice will begin to form along the outer edges of the pan. Using fork, stir icy portions into middle of pan. Freeze until mixture is frozen, stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes for about 3-4 hours. Using fork, scrape the granita into flaky crystals. Cover tightly and freeze.
5. If desired, serve with fresh berries and a sprig of mint.

Note: The juice of two lemons will give you a well balanced flavor, if you are looking for more of a
lemon kick, feel free to add more lemon juice.


Rise to the occasion.

Have you ever met that person who makes their presence known from the minute they get to the party? They're bubbly, have mastered conversation and whether they know anyone or not, they'll leave the party with a handful of new friends. I was never that person.

But can you look past the social guy to see the wallflower in the corner? Party of one? That was me for a long time. Too long.

This story sums it up best. Past, present and future, I have always loved to dance. When I was about four years old, my mom signed me up for a ballet class, which--no surprise--I loved. BUT. But at the end of the class, the teacher invited each of us to form a circle and dance however we wished in front of the class. When it came time for me to dance like no one was watching, I cried and couldn't do it. Needless to say, I only lasted a few more classes.

Year later, when I was working as a receptionist, I would break a sweat when I had to call a complete stranger on the phone. God forbid if they didn't pick up and I had to leave a message. Words were jumbled; I suddenly became amazing at being inarticulate. I never went alone to parties and it always took me a little longer to warm up to a room of people. Even if it was a family party, I would stay quiet and listen to everyone else until I felt comfortable enough to open up.

It's hard to pinpoint when your core characteristics start to grow and change, but I started to fake it until I felt it. Reaching outside your comfort zone and embracing the uncomfortable is a wonderful, addictive feeling.

Fortunately, I wound up with two jobs that constantly reaquainted me with being uncomfortable: Writing and Cooking.  Talk about vulnerability! Write a story or poem from your heart and share it with a friend. Recognize how uncomfortable it starts to get for you when they begin reading it. Cooking, too. Everyone eats and everyone has an opinion on what they eat. They might not know how to cook an egg, but they'll have plenty of corrections to make when they go to that new restaurant in town. Make a new dish and feed someone. You'll notice how you wait for their reaction, or any small signal that lets you know whether they approve or not.

Fortunately, I genuinely can't remember what it feels like to be that shy. I'm able to talk to new people without stuttering and fumbling through words. I need to remind myself not to take up all of the air time when I'm out with friends. Whether or not it gets read, I write. And whether or not it gets eaten, I cook. Oh, and I dance...like everyone is watching. We all should.

Chocolate Souffle
Serves 2-4 (courtesy of Gourmet)

As far as desserts go, souffles are pretty gutsy. They're the go-for-the-gold dish. Will they rise? Will they be fluffy? The suspense is fun and you don't have to feel to uncomfortable--this recipe is a classic--you're in good hands.
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Special equipment: a 5 1/2- to 6-cup glass or ceramic soufflé dish
Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter soufflé dish and sprinkle with sugar, knocking out excess.
Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and stir in yolks (mixture will stiffen).
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat at medium speed, then beat at high speed until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stir about 1 cup whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then add mixture to remaining whites, folding gently but thoroughly.
Spoon into soufflé dish and run the end of your thumb around inside edge of soufflé dish (this will help soufflé rise evenly). Bake in middle of oven until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 24 to 26 minutes. Serve immediately.


August Newsletter!

Happy Sunday-Funday! I know I've been a little slack in bringing crazy-delicious recipes to your inbox as of late. BUT. Yes, there's a but. There are a lot of exciting career changes, new ideas and opportunities brewing that have been sucking up more time than I thought. I'll share the deets with you soon. Until then however....sign up for PC's monthly newsletter!

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