Hi there! I’m here! I’m alive (barely)! And you guys, I’M A DOCTOR!!!!!!! (Happy dance, happy dance, woo woo woo!!!!) I had honestly started to feel like the day would never come, but I’m done! I successfully defended my dissertation a month ago (and also made a little jaunt down to NYC and got to have lunch with the ladies of Food52, which pretty much made my life), then had to go through all the hoopla of getting it properly submitted, and then graduation was this last weekend. Emily Vikre, PhD – we are in crazy-town, people!!!!!
I was super bummed out, but I had to miss going to commencement because ticket prices were terribly expensive, and traveling with a baby is not a walk in the park, and we had all sorts of other important stuff that had to be taken care of on all of the days abutting commencement, so we just couldn’t go. There was simply no way to make it work. But, I was really sad and worried that I was going to be left hanging without any sense of closure. Happily, my family and friends swooped in to save the day with a funny mini-commencement ceremony (they even found a gown for me) and champagne toast, which actually made a big difference in making the whole thing feel real. The more champagne there is associated with something, the more real it becomes. Fact.
Completing a PhD is kind of like running a marathon through knee-deep mud in bad weather with people at various turn-offs telling you that you should go back and re-slog through the part you just did because you ran it wrong, which then makes you fundamentally question all your abilities on a very deep and existential level. But, you just keep going – if you’re fool-hardy enough, haha. I’m definitely fool-hardy. And a glutton for punishment. Everybody I know keeps telling me that. And with regards to my dissertation, I took on a project that was out of the box, and way more giant than was really reasonable (some of my committee members have told me that they thought I was slightly off my rocker to be willing to take on such a big, complex project). But, when I look back at it all, and even while the process was ongoing, I can honestly say that, even though most of the time I didn’t really believe in myself, I deeply believed in what I was doing. And I did it. And, you guys, I’m really, really proud of myself. Am I allowed to say that in public about myself?
If you don’t mind, sometime I might share kind of a summary of what my dissertation was about – in non-academic terms, of course. It’s all about how universities and communities (or any sets of people with really different backgrounds) can work together to address complex, real-world problems that each hasn’t had that much success at addressing on their own. Would that be interesting to you at all?
On the other hand and at the same time, things have been exploding with the distillery. We could not be more thrilled (THRILLED!!!!! IT’S AMAZING!!!!) with the wonderful reception our gins have received. And now we’ve just released our aquavit (which is so. good. In my totally biased opinion). And this coming weekend we’re having the grand opening of our visitor center, which will also kick-off our official tour and tasting schedule. And we’ve been pushing legislation at the state level, part of which just passed, which means we’re going to be able to start serving cocktails a little down the line (what should we serve??? What’s your ideal cocktail menu? Suggestions are welcome!)! Soooo much busy-ness and excitement.
AND – because why stop there, right? – we just closed on a house yesterday. AHHHHH!!!!!!! Somebody make us stop. Seriously. This is just stupid. A dissertation, a baby, a business, a house. It’s all good stuff, but even the good stuff is stressful when it’s this big. The house was kind of non-optional. Long story short, we basically had two days to decide whether we wanted to buy the house we were renting or another house, and so we chose one, and in the context of everything else we were working on, buying a house seemed like a relatively non big deal. Which is weird. Because it is rather a big deal. So we had to have some champagne last night – to make it more real and celebratory of course. We’re moving next week. Right in the midst of the distillery grand opening, which is kind of perfectly bad timing, but will somehow work out. And like ripping off a band-aid, I imagine it’ll feel good when it’s done. Total awesomeness.
Basically, I hope we never ever have another year this busy and stressful. Feel free to use my life right as a cautionary tale, if it pleases you ;). My heart couldn’t be more full, happy, and hopeful, but lordy lord lord lord, I never knew it was possible to be this exhausted.
Mr. Baby doesn’t help the situation. Raising a child is SO hard!!!! I truly had no idea going into it just how hard it is, to be so committed to the care of someone else and to care about someone else so very deeply. Maybe I already said this, but I’ll say it again, all the parents of the world are my heroes.
Espen is the most perfect person in the world, and I love him more than anything, but it is also just catastrophically challenging and tiring and overwhelming. The change in life between pre-baby and post-baby is kind of like the transition in The Wizard of Oz when everything suddenly becomes Technicolor. Life becomes splendidly gorgeous and there are munchkins there to sing you songs and there are kindly scarecrows and tin men, but there are also moments when there’s a witch and really scary flying monkeys coming for you.
That’s probably a really terrible metaphor. My excuse is that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept four consecutive hours in the last eight months (yes, we have a bit of a sleep problem going on. We’re working on it.). (Also, I can’t believe Espen is eight months old! It’s trite to say, but the time really does fly. And he’s so sweet and happy and adorable and active and burbling. He just doesn’t sleep. Or stop moving. So he’s wonderful yet impossible. Life is wonderful yet impossible.)
Anyway, given all this, it may not seem surprising to you that I’ve been struggling to find the time or the energy or the words to really update my blog. I’ve actually been cooking some good stuff. Simple but delicious, the best kind of food. But I absolutely have not had energy to take photographs of anything or to try to describe it. So, I’ve stayed away, feeling like I just couldn’t get back into the swing of it. But, I miss this space, and I miss you guys, so even if I’m not taking my best photographs or writing my best descriptions, I’m going to try to get back to sharing some of what we’ve been cooking and eating.
But in the meantime, I’ve still been writing my weekly column for Food52, and I want to share links to some of my favorite recent breakfast posts that I’ve done for them, for all of you who don’t follow along there. Oh yes, and last but decidedly not least, I have a recipe for dark chocolate ganache stuffed figs, which I made for a party that we had for our distillery investors. I was told that not sharing the recipe would be a disservice to the world. And I don’t want the weight of that on my shoulders, so a recipe I shall provide!
First, some of my favorite recent breakfasts:
These parsnip biscuits with black pepper and honey are so good. I wish I could eat them for breakfast every day.
Espresso banana bread. Espresso + bananas = true love.
Skillet potatoes with smoked fish and smoked paprika aioli makes for a fantastic hearty breakfast or supper. Mmmm, smokey.
Tahini toast with honey, cinnamon, and sea salt is so easy and so tasty.
And blueberry soup works as a sweet breakfast treat or a light dessert.
And now, of course, what you’re really waiting for, those chocolate ganache stuffed figs. They are based on a recipe from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow (of Fran’s Chocolates in Seattle), and there’s not much to say other than that they are one of the best things in the world.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8½ oz. finely chopped semisweet chocolate
- 2 Tbs. single malt whisky
- 24-36 dried Calimyrna figs (depending on size)
- 1½ lbs. semisweet chocolate
- 1 Tbs. coconut oil
- Start by making the ganache. Heat the cream over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan just until it begins to come to a low boil, then remove from the heat immediately. Add the finely chopped chocolate and let sit for about a minute. Then, gently stir with a rubber spatula until smooth and uniform. Stir in the whisky until incorporated. Pour the ganache into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface. Let rest at room temperature for at least 6-8 hours.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
- To prepare the figs for stuffing, first gently roll each between your thumb and fingers to loosen the seeds and soften the flesh. Then, use a metal or wooden skewer to poke a hole in the bottom of each fig. Wiggle the skewer a little to slightly enlarge the hole for stuffing.
- When the ganache has set, gently stir it with a rubber spatula a couple times, then spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a small round ¼-inch tip. Hold each fig's stem gently between your index and middle fingers, using your thumb to support the fruit. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the hole you made in the fig and gently squeeze, stuffing until the fig is plump and full of ganache. Don't worry if your figs leak a little (you can just cover it up when you dip them in chocolate!).
- Put the filled figs on the parchment lined baking sheet and let them set at room temp for at least 2-hours (if it's warm out or your ganache is on the loose side, you may need to let them set in the fridge). At this point, if you want to, you can scrape excess filling from the exterior of the figs using a sharp knife (this is mainly aesthetic). To dip, finely chop the remaining 1½ lbs. of chocolate and melt it with the coconut oil. Dip the bottom half of each fig in the chocolate, then put it back on a parchment lined pan. Allow the chocolate to harden before eating.