Sometimes I have these moments of clarity when I realize how really bizarre I am. Here I am, this 21-year-old American girl, temporarily transplanted in London, whose greatest joys are researching pastry, baking cupcakes, and prancing around my kitchen singing Avenue Q and The Last Five Years. I mean, really, people. If the media is any cue, I should be going dancing and drinking light beer and freaking out over how dramatically stressful my love life is.
Really. This is not normal behavior.
Heh. My spellcheck just tried to correct my “behavior” to “behaviour.” Also “favorite” to “favourite.” Heh.
But truly, those are my two favorite things and I’m so glad that I can do them so frequently.
Also, if you know nothing about The Last Five Years, just listen to the last 30 seconds of The Schmeuel Song. YouTube it. Those few measures are really all you need in life.
But I digress.
Big plans are going to be coming to fruition very soon, my friends. Cupcakes and Showtunes will soon be celebrating its first birthday (!!!), and shortly after what is sure to be a delicious celebration, I will be commencing my showtune cupcake series. Yes, you’ve waited long enough. I will be creating cupcakes flavored and decorated with glorious examples of musical theatre as my inspiration. So be looking out for that at the year’s end.
In the meantime, let’s do something a little different.
I know a fair bit about bark. The tree kind. I’m from Maine. It’s basically a requirement to have a basic knowledge of how to assess tree bark. I mean, how else would you choose between climbing trees? The best climbing trees won’t leave you a sticky mess by the time you get to the top. Been there, done that. You need enough traction, but you don’t want creepy crawlies lurking in the crevices. It’s a science.
Okay, clearly I’m getting too serious about this. But, you know, trees are cool.
So bark. The edible kind. Basically the easiest thing in the history of ever. If you’re short on time and ingredients, it’s perfect for bringing to parties or giving as gifts. If you have a little more time, you can make some fancy schmancy layered bark.
Me, I took my inspiration from my favorite ice cream. AKA the best Ben & Jerry’s flavor ever created.
I understand this is a highly debatable assertion But in my world, it’s really the only flavor. I mean, sweet, salty, crunchy, chunky, peanut-butter-y, and chocolaty, all folded inside vanilla malt ice cream. It’s the epitome of perfection. I mean, chocolate-covered peanut-butter-filled pretzels. C’MON. If I were ever called on to provide evidence of a god, I would reference Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream. Divine inspiration. It is the only flavor I consider worth sacrificing my health to consume an entire pint single-handedly.
So with that spiel out of the way, let’s get to the actual bark.
It has a grand total of 5 ingredients. It takes a little bit of refrigeration time, so prepare for that, but otherwise it’s pretty quick to throw together. And it’s DELICIOUS. This was actually my first time making bark, so I’m basically over the moon right now. Oh, and I had some extra chocolate so I made this beautiful pretzel and ate it with much rejoicing.
Chubby Hubby Bark
10.5 oz white chocolate, separated
3.5 oz milk chocolate
1 oz dark chocolate
1 cup chopped, salted pretzels
1/2 cup peanut butter
Melt dark chocolate. Dip half of the pretzel pieces in chocolate and lay flat on parchment-covered plate. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Prepare large (or two small) baking tray with parchment paper. Melt milk chocolate and 7oz of white chocolate in separate bowls. In third bowl melt remaining white chocolate. Stir in 1/2 cup peanut butter. Pour 7oz plain white chocolate on tray and spread into a square or rectangle shape. Drop dollops of peanut butter mixture over and swirl in with spoon. Drizzle milk chocolate over. Sprinkle crushed pretzels (chocolate covered and not) and press lightly down to make them stick. Drizzle more peanut butter mixture and milk chocolate over top. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then break apart and store in ziplock bags in the fridge until serving (don’t leave these guys out for too long unless you temper the chocolate, or else they’ll melt!).
Pretzels are just one of those things…they’re super simple and you don’t necessarily crave them all by themselves, but when someone leaves a bag next to you in the airport terminal you might find them all gone by the end of the hour.
Chocolate-covered pretzels, however, are insanely crave-able. I’m a sweet and salty addict, in case you couldn’t tell.
I like to think that I’m an artist sometimes, because this is about the extent of my visual artistry.
In case this wasn’t immediately clear, I chose the white chocolate as the base to represent the vanilla malt ice cream. The white chocolate I get is Lindt white chocolate with Madagascan vanilla, so it fits in just perfectly. Heaven.
Do try to resist eating all the ingredients before they become bark…because the bark is really, really good.
Aren’t they just too perty!?!?
Oh, and I had some extra chocolate because my baking sheet is too little, so I made a peanut butter chocolate pretzel bark.
The difference? No white chocolate, so there’s no one representing the vanilla malt ice cream in here. Because of the peanut butter, this doesn’t have quite the snap the Chubby Hubby bark does, but it’s still delicious!
Making brunch out of pretzels, peanut butter, and chocolate? Good life choices.
Today’s travel section is a little different. I had been having a bit of a hard time with midterms and such, so I posted a couple mopey Facebook statuses. I don’t like to do that, because I am so grateful for everything I have, so this letter was something I wrote in response to this semester. I want to thank my Daddy for reminding me of where I am and all that I have around me. Some friends of mine might have already read this on Facebook :)
An Open Letter on My Study Abroad Experience,
To whomever may be reading this, hello! I’m writing this letter as a sort of reflection on this semester, with some notes of apology and a deep vein of gratitude. This semester has been a whirlwind unlike anything I could have possibly anticipated. I’ve met some wonderful people—people who interest, amaze, and teach me on a daily basis, showing me how to look at the world around me and also how to look at myself. As I’m sure many of you know, there have been many stressful points for me, and I would like to apologize for anything I might have said that sounded unappreciative or petty. In times of self-discovery and anxiety, one sometimes says things which are spoken from a narrow perspective. But I would like to assert with genuine sincerity and clarity that I am so grateful to have been given the chance to do what I am doing right now, and I hope that students like myself will continue to do this for years to come.
I dreamed of going abroad for years—it was a fantasy world in my head, filled with magical lands and food and people and languages. And I’m truly glad that I’ve realized before leaving that despite any culture shocks or frustrations, I have been given exactly that. I have been given the chance to see thousands of years of history before my eyes and beneath my fingertips, some of the most beautiful art in the world, and some of the best food I have ever laid my hands on. And, even though I’ve complained about my essays, I am truly glad to be a student here. In my four classes, I have learned so much about European history, culture, and politics that I had never even considered back in the States. I feel as though my knowledge base and perspective have been broadened tremendously by even the few weeks of learning that I have been absorbed in. I don’t say that to be cliché in any way—it is absolutely, concretely true. I had barely ever heard of nationalism, the European Union, or European colonialism before coming here. And through my classes (and my essays) I have dipped my feet in a sea of knowledge to which I had been completely blind. It makes me realize how much more I have to learn, and I really do want to be a student for the rest of my life, in the sense that I never want to stop learning and being engaged in my world.
This semester has also taught me so much about myself and my home. To see how my country is perceived through other nations’ eyes, and to discover how I fit in this larger world has taught me so much about my values, my identity, and my education. I have seen people pass by the Globe Theatre or the Coliseum without so much as a second glance, and it has taught me to see. We miss so much because we are so consumed in our daily activities, in the daily mission. We need only look around and we will see beauty and history and stories in every corner. I never appreciated the changing leaves in Maine until I came to the city and there were so few to be found. I never appreciated my language until I was caught in the midst of others which were beautiful and remote from my full understanding. I don’t want my appreciation to always be retrospective. I want to be present and perceptive in my world, and this semester is teaching me how to do that. There are so many beautiful things which evade our notice because we are not looking. I want to see with these eyes, and hear with these ears, feel with this skin, and appreciate with every bit of my soul. I can never let myself hate learning nor be repulsed by that which is challenging. Learning and seeing, that is what I want to do.
So, if you’ve managed to read this far, I want to thank you. And I hope every person who does or doesn’t read this knows how much gratitude I have for having been given these months in London, in Paris, in Venice, Florence, and Rome. I have 3 more weeks in this beautiful city, living this amazing adventure. And I will not let them be spoiled by little stresses or fears. I’m in EUROPE for goodness sake!!! This is a dream that cannot not go unappreciated. To the universe and friends and family who give me strength and inspiration everyday, thank you thank you thank you. You have given me the strength to live this dream. Thank you.