Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Quick Update: Happy New Year from A Peek into the Pantry!

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! I realize it's been a bit of time since I've done anything around these parts and wanted to pop in for a quick update. Things have been busy around here so there hasn't been much time for creative cooking, which means this isn't exactly a food related post, but I got a really neat gift for the blog that I've been very excited to share with people, so I thought I'd do a quick unboxing post to tide people over until we've got our next actual meal in the works.

To help out with the unboxing, we've got two new members of the Peek Into the Pantry gang. I was kept very in the dark about who my next doll might be - partially at my insistence, because I honestly couldn't pick who I wanted next since each new character would bring something different and exciting to our future recipe choices - so I was very surprised to discover...

Julie and Ivy! Both girls are from the 1970's in San Francisco: Ivy is a Chinese American girl who loves gymnastics, while Julie is a child of divorce who petitions her school to allow her to play basketball with the boys, as there is no girl's team offered at her new school. I'm really excited to delve into 1970's food - there's a spam casserole my uncle used to love that sounds particularly horrifying - and I'm equally excited to try my hand at Chinese dishes, as it's a cuisine I've never explored beyond just consuming it at restaurants and friend's houses.

But Julie and Ivy aren't the focus of this post - they'll get their time to shine later next month! - so let's move along to the actual unboxing.

I know I've said this before, but I'm really grateful to my friends and family (and all you readers!) for how supportive and interested they are in my blog, and this whole post is basically a shout out to my godmother for the really awesome and useful present she gave me.

I took off the wrapping to reveal...

Unrelatedly, The City Tavern cookbook makes a great booster seat for dolls.

A box! Specifically, a box from Penzeys Spices. The company got its start in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1957, launched as a catalog company in 1986 and opened its first retail location in 1994. I don't know much more than that about the company, but I do know they make excellent spices, so I was really excited to open this up and see what exactly the Baker's Assortment is.

The box isn't taped down by anything, so you can just tug the front panel out and bam, open box.

Aside from the catalog order form, the first thing you see when opening the box is this nice little recipe pamphlet. It gives a little flowery description of what the set you're opening is.

Inside, there are seven recipes and information about the spices included in the box. This means both a history of the spice or information on where them came from, and instructions how to use the versions that are in the box properly.

They're pretty standard recipes - vanilla cupcakes, banana bread, blueberry muffins, that sort of thing - but standard doesn't mean they don't sound good!

What's not to love about brownies and apple streusel?

So at this point you're probably wondering what was actually in the box. Or maybe you're not, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because I think it's exciting.

At least Ivy shares my enthusiasm.

I don't know what it is about this sort of thing, but I've always loved it when things are presented this way. There's just something that really appeals to the collector/museum director/artsy side of me that sees something like this and is immediately smitten because it just looks pretty and full of exciting information and objects, so I want to play with it to find out everything about it, but also just want to leave it exactly like it is so I can appreciate it visually whenever I want.

I'm probably not making any sense, but basically, I thought this was super cool, and this is why I wanted to feature it on the blog.

The first thing that catches the eye are the six bay leaves perched on top of the four glass bottles. Bay leaves struck me as an odd thing to add into a baking box, but they're so pretty and look so nice tucked in like that that I don't mind. Plus, bay leaves are a handy thing to have around anyway.

Next is a whole pile of cinnamon sticks. This is China cassia cinnamon, and the recipe booklet encourages you to mix two or three teaspoons of cinnamon with sugar to create a fun topping for waffles and pancakes. It's apparently a great way to introduce kids to the great things spices can do!

Or you can just use them as a hot cocoa stirrer.

Next up is probably my favorite part of the entire box, mostly because it was so quietly tucked away in the corner that I almost didn't realize it was even in there at first!

Do you see it?

Nutmeg! I've never actually seen unground nutmeg before, so I thought this was a really cool little treat to have in the box. There are two of them, and they both actually look pretty different - one is much shinier and lighter colored than the other. The crinkly brown on is my favorite, though.

There are four bottled spices inside: cinnamon, vanilla extract, cocoa and "baking spice", which is basically a quick fix solution if you don't feel like measuring out all the nutmeg, cinnamon or whatever other spices a recipe calls for. Just use this instead! As someone who appreciates that sort of thing, I am looking forward to seeing what this ends up tasting like.

I'm also very excited about the vanilla. My mom makes her own vanilla - you just need to stick a vanilla bean in rum and you're good to go - but this is supposed to be super strong vanilla, and as it's a flavor I have always enjoyed, I'm interested to see how this spices up some recipes that call for it.

And that's the box! It was a super exciting surprise gift to get, as I really wasn't sure what to expect when I first had the box in hand, and I'm looking forward to putting it to good use. I really just want to say thanks again to my godmother for thinking of me and my new hobby, and to everyone else who's been so supportive of my cooking endeavors.

But this wasn't the only super handy blog themed gift I got this year...


Onion goggles! Now hopefully I won't feel like I'm staggering around the trenches of World War I every time a recipe calls for onion. I'm very interested to see how these end up working out.

Unfortunately, they're a bit too big for Ivy.

Anyway, that's the update from me. I'm hoping to get back in the saddle of doing actual recipe related adventures soon, and we've got a lot of good ideas heading into the new year, so me being quiet definitely isn't because I've run out of ideas or steam.

Now we just have to figure out which one to start off with!

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and look forward to sharing more adventures and experiments with you next year! Here's hoping it's a good one!

See you in 2014!


  1. Congrats on Julie and Ivy! I still don't care for Ivy's meet outfit too much though!

    1. Thanks! And it's grown on me, I just wish there was a little something extra to it. The Best Friend dolls kind of seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to meet outfits that don't have too much going on. Ivy herself is adorable and I really hope the rumors about the Best Friend characters being retired isn't true if it means she's getting the axe. :(

    2. I agree, especially because she's the only Asian historical!

    3. I'd like to hope they'd make Molly's replacement nonwhite to make up for it, but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

  2. Oh I love Penzeys! They are so my go to spices place! Yay Julie and Ivy too! I love Ivy, she's so pretty!

    1. She really is! I have to admit, I wasn't that impressed by her pictures on the website, but once I saw her in person she really stole my heart. I wish she had a bigger collection!