Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's Our One Year Anniversay!

We've certainly expanded since last year!

One year ago today, I published my first official post on A Peek Into the Pantry, and as promised, we're doing a slightly different kind of post today. I thought about what I wanted to do for our anniversary post. For a while, I wanted to do some kind of recipe, but couldn't settle on a good one. Should it be a Kirsten recipe because she was my first doll? Should it be a family recipe we're all really fond of and dying to figure out a way to incorporate into the blog?

Then I got the idea that it might be fun to do a kind of retrospective. Instead of focusing on one new recipe, I wanted to take a look back and think about what I learned, what people enjoyed, what people really didn't, and where we want to go moving forward. This is what resulted! Instead of just giving you guys my thoughts about the blog, I polled my most frequent taste testers and supporters in the blogging process about their favorite dishes and ones that just didn't fly

So hopefully this will be a fun way to take a step back and look back on the last year, while also looking into the future to see where we wind up this time next year. If not, I guess we'll have to come up with a new idea for next year's anniversary!

But first, a quick side track. Eagle eyed readers or Where's Waldo? enthusiasts might have noticed we have a new face around these parts! Technically, she's not that new, but the opportunity to introduce the newest member to A Peek Into the Pantry's roster just hadn't come up.

Until now!

Welcome Caroline Abbott!

Caroline Abbott is the newest addition to American Girl's historical character line up - recently refreshed, refurbished and renamed Beforever, because some things change, but girls are forever. Caroline is from 1812, and was introduced in 2012 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which should probably be better known as the Second War for American Independence, or "The War Where Over Protective Britain Tried to Make Rebel Teen America Move Back Into the House". She lives in Sackets Harbor, New York on Lake Ontario, wants to be captain of her own ship when she grows up, and has to learn how to make do when the British take her father prisoner. I've already got plans for what will hopefully be an interesting first post for her, but for now, we've got some other stuff to talk about.

Like what people's hands on favorite dishes were!

Since this time last year, I think I can pretty safely say I've made a lot of good recipes and for the most part, the reviews I've gotten have backed that up. It was actually kind of frustrating trying to get people to answer me about what their favorite recipes were! People kept saying one thing, and then remembering something else they really enjoyed eating, until they finally just said they liked everything. As flattering as that is - believe me, I'm definitely not complaining! - I thought it would be fun to break it down a little further and give people specific recommendations of what was popular and what wasn't.

Hands down, the most frequently referenced recipe was the very first thing we did: the One Pan Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie. I can't tell you how many people have asked me to make this again, either at family get togethers or just because. It's even developed a new name. For some reason, everyone seems to think it's called a cowboy cookie, which it's not. A cowboy cookie is a different kind of cookie entirely! But I guess people heard it was a Kirsten recipe and saw it was made in a skillet and somehow thought you know. Cowboys, I guess.

I have to admit, it's a reputation well deserved. We've always got the ingredients for it in the house, and it's really not difficult to throw together. I've made it several times, and definitely more than I've made pretty much any other thing I've ever made for this blog.

One dish both my mom and cousin really enjoyed, but didn't expect to was the tuna noodle casserole! They both expected to dislike it a lot, but my mom rediscovered a fondness for it from her childhood, and my cousin was just really surprised that she actually went back for seconds. I was, too! I'd always assumed I wouldn't have liked it.

My cousin and brother were also a huge fan of the mushroom pate. Seriously, several people who were there and definitely had opportunity to try it claimed they didn't remember it and didn't think they'd had any, and we're pretty sure it's because they both ate pretty much the entire thing. Like, literally licking the plate it was in entire thing.

My dad was obviously a fan of the jambalaya we made in honor of Marie Grace and C├ęcile's arrival since he was pretty instrumental in making it happen, which feels a little bit like cheating because by "pretty instrumental", I mean this is a recipe he makes by himself all the time. On that same note, my mom liked the chicken soup and borscht enough to try her hand at making it herself, although she insists her versions weren't as good as the ones I made. I'm not sure I believe her - I liked her chicken soup just fine! I didn't get to try the borscht, but I would guess she's just being hard on herself.

My uncle voted for the Brunswick stew as his favorite savory dish I made, while my sister (who admittedly wasn't here for a lot of the things I made thanks to being away at school) said she liked the deviled eggs the best, which was good considering I made them for her! Her boyfriend liked the beef stew I made the weekend of our local Civil War reenactment, although he also didn't have much of a chance to try some of the things I made considering he only visits when she's here.

As for me, I think my personal favorite main course or side dish had to be either the beef pasties or the barley soup I made. The former was just incredibly tasty, and I keep meaning to make it again and never really get around to it. The latter has some sentimental value to me, as it was the first actual meal I made fully unsupervised, and it came out really well. It helped me feel a lot more confident moving forward!

But the most popular meal by far was the brisket I made for Rosh Hashanah last year, and again, it was one of the first things I made! At first, I was a little comically put off by the fact that everyone was saying their favorite things were literally the first two posts I did, but I felt a little better once I'd coaxed a few more answers out of them. The thing is, I totally agree with them, it was really tasty! My mom was really dubious that she'd like it - apparently while it was cooking, she was already trying to come up with ways to tastefully tell me she didn't want to eat any because it looked kind of gross in the pan - but she keeps saying we really need to make it again once the weather gets cooler! My dad isn't a huge fan of this cut of meat either, but he also liked it, as did my brother (who loudly shouted over anything else I tried to remind him of to insist this was his favorite) and my grandparents. I guess we really do need to bring it out again, and sometime soon!

Most people's favorites were definitely the desserts, which again, came as no surprise to me! I've said it before and I'll say it again - I like baking a lot more than I like cooking. It's a lot less low stress for me, and thus I'm not very intimidated by unusual sounding recipes. That being said, my two favorites were also probably two of the simplest desserts I've featured on this blog: the war cake I made for VE Day and the lava mug cake my best friend Ari introduced me to, for which I have cursed her because man, talk about something I didn't need to learn how to make! I have to admit, I'm probably partial to the war cake at least a tiny bit because I'm very interested in the history of World War II (which you probably all know), but seriously, it's honestly just a really easy to make, super tasty cake which is now kind of my go to when I'm not sure the skillet cookie is something I'm willing to whip up, mostly because I know I'll feel less guilty about going back for seconds with the war cake.

Ari got to sample the hamantaschen, St. Lucia buns and the coconut tea bread, and has said out of the three, the tea bread is her favorite. My friend Jessi has also said she really enjoyed making the bagels herself and has done so frequently, even though that's technically not a dessert. I get frequent requests to make those again, and I really should hurry up and get around to it, since they really were tasty!

Honestly, picking a favorite dessert is a little overwhelming because I've made so many of them, and more people have had opportunity to try them than they have for some of the other things I've made. My cousin pretty much insisted anything with chocolate was amazing and she would absolutely want to eat again, specifically citing the chess pie and s'mores dip as ones she really enjoyed, while my brother said he liked the black and white cookies and the blackberry cake, minus the blackberries. Those really were kind of unpleasant! The cake base however was totally delicious and I would definitely make it again if given the time and opportunity. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in thinking so!

Aside from the root beer floats, my dad said the coconut cake I made for his birthday was a favorite, and my uncle agreed with him! I have to admit, it wasn't one of my favorites, although I do agree with my dad that the spice cakes are easily the best cookies I've ever had. Besides the skillet cookie, of course! I was also glad to hear that my mom's favorite was the carrot cake I made for Mother's Day at her request. It's always nice to hear when something you made especially for someone is hands down their favorite!

Honorable mentions also went towards the bourbon bread pudding and Irish soda bread
from my aunt, which I'm taking as very high priase because she can be quite discriminating in her taste in soda bread. My grandmother liked the apple cake the best, and t
he vote that surprised me the most was my grandfather's! Out of everything I've made, apparently his favorite were the sugar cakes because they reminded him of Lorna Doone cookies, which he really enjoyed as a kid. I'm flattered mine lived up to the good memories!

And although it wasn't necessarily anyone's favorite dessert, the nian gao definitely deserves a mention as the most creative thing I've made for this blog in terms of it being entirely out of my culinary comfort zone. I had to build my own steamer! It was pretty tasty too, even if it's not something I think I'd necessarily seek out outside of doing the blog, but hey, that's kind of cool anyway. I definitely wanted to be exposed to new things by doing this!

Of course, with the good came some bad. Not that many bad! But there were definitely a few dingers that I can't personally recommend, and there are a couple some of my taste testers weren't big fans of.

Specifically, as some of you may remember, my dad's literal first reaction to putting some of the pasta and peas in his mouth was "Wow, the Depression sucked." Which, well, yes, of course it did (he knows this, I know this, you know this), but that still pretty clearly shows how little he approved of that particular dish. I definitely wasn't offended, and I actually liked them okay! But it was pretty funny, and I guess you should know to look out for that. A dish I wasn't crazy about was the matter of fact peas, which just tasted kind of weird and crunchy. Not exactly a texture I want from my peas!

Chicken the French Way was panned by both me and my mom as taking way too much time for basically very little reward. We worked on it for a long time, and it just tasted so... bland. Very disappointing! There are plenty of other labor intensive colonial dishes that are a lot more fun to eat when they're done, and your time is definitely better spent doing that.

But my personal least favorites? The King Cake and the potstickers. Both took an incredibly long time to make, and while the potstickers sort of made up for it by being delicious, I was so frustrated making them that I was just about ready to through everything in the trash, including my camera and computer! My memories of making them didn't exactly get better when I completely burned the second batch of them I tried making a day later, so all in all, I think I won't be making those again. The King Cake was just disappointing because the dough never rose and then didn't cook all the way through in the oven, so after taking all day to make, I didn't actually get to eat any of it!

You live and you learn, I guess! 

No seriously, I really do think I've learned a lot over the last year. Going into this, I never would have expected making a soup is actually really easy and pretty stress free. I guess I'd always assumed that because soup came in cans, I figured making your own chicken soup must not ultimately be worth it over buying a can. I'm not saying you shouldn't buy stuff in cans, but I did learn that I really didn't know what I was talking about! Soups and stews have become a favorite of mine to make, even if it's not always something I necessarily think to eat when going out for food. I've also gotten less squeamish about handling raw meat, which is definitely nice because I don't feel like such a loser

I've also just learned a lot of weird, interesting trivia. I'd never heard of the Black Bean Incident before starting this blog, or that Thomas Jefferson was the first person to introduce macaroni and cheese to the United States, when it seems like something that should have been developed in the 1940's or 30's! My mom also commented that she learned a lot about what food was and wasn't available to Kaya, because the things we associate with places like Oregon and Washington state now aren't necessarily what was grown there when she would have lived there. We also learned that pasta and peas wasn't something that was unique to Italian immigrants like my mom always assumed it was thanks to her grandparents - it was something people just threw together because they didn't have a lot of options during the Depression!

So, what do I want to do differently moving forward?

First off, I really need to learn to be better about pacing myself. Now that I've got a full time job and a bunch of other hobbies that need care and attention, I don't have time to do three posts a week anymore, and that's okay. Sure, it's disappointing because I always seem to have more plans for the month than I actually end up accomplishing, but I need to get better at remembering that there's always next year. And even if there isn't, that's not really the end of the world either, because presumably that means I've found something fun and new to fill my time instead of doing this blog.

Right now, the plan is to do at least one recipe a week. I really need to stop doubling or tripling up recipes on a Saturday or Sunday in an attempt to get more accomplished a month - I get really burnt out and tired, so I don't actually enjoy what I'm doing and often put off doing the posts for days, if not weeks or even a month at one point. Five posts a month is still pretty decent, and it's got enough wiggle room to not feel terrible about only doing three or four, or managing to squeeze in a sixth if I've got time and inclination.

Second, I'd really like to find a good way to balance doing desserts with main courses and sides. It might be fun to do some more breakfast work in the future! Right now my plan is to try doing at least one entree or savory side dish a month, and if I want to do more, great! If not, that's okay too. The thing is, I enjoying baking so much that it's sometimes hard to get as excited about doing a savory dish, especially because those tend to take longer to do and get eaten quicker!

Finally, obviously I don't only have four dolls at my disposal anymore. It's hard to give everyone a fair share of the limelight, and there are a few characters who have fallen behind in post count because I just haven't found inspiration for a dish for them, while I keep finding ideas that fit other characters. I'd like to try and find a way to strike a better balance so this doesn't turn into the Molly and Emily blog, or wind up accidentally excluding one character while posting pretty consistently about the others. I imagine this is only going to get more complicated assuming American Girl introduces other historical characters in the the future, not to mention if I decide to go off the books and make one of my own, so it's definitely something I'd like to be more mindful of moving forward.

All in all, it's been one heck of a year, and honestly, I'm kind of surprised we're standing here right now. Or sitting, since I assume most of you are sitting while you're reading this, and I'm definitely not standing and typing.

When I first got the idea for the blog, I sort of thought everyone would think I was insane for wanting to do a cooking blog that featured my American Girl dolls. After all, it's kind of a unique concept! And I don't know many other adults who are interested in toy collecting, so while I've always been personally comfortable with my hobbies, I have to admit, I did worry a bit about how people would react to this. To my pleasant surprise, everyone has been very supportive and hugely on board for the whole endeavor! I've been very flattered to hear that people have been learning a lot and have been inspired to be a little braver in the kitchen thanks to this blog, and it's opened a lot of doors for me that I'd never really considered before! Although I'm still a little wary in the kitchen, I think I've come a long away from the person who was too intimidated to cook anything more complicated than pasta, and hopefully that's some forward momentum I won't shake for a while.

So I want to close by saying thanks to all of my readers, because your feedback and encouragement has been hugely important to the ongoing success of the blog. I've had a lot of fun sharing what I've learned with you guys since I got started, and I'd love to hear any feedback about where you'd like me to go next year! Seriously, any commentary is welcome and encouraged, as always. This has been a really fun year even with its ups and downs, and I'm glad I was able to share it all with you guys.

Here's to a great year two!


  1. Your blog is SUCH a bright spot in the fandom. I mean that. It's a wholly unique idea! And that's really special. You hit me with food cravings _and_ doll cute! What could be better?

    It's been a real joy to watch your cooking adventures, learn from your extensive historical knowledge (which I love!), and get your opinions on things - you and I share a lot of the same pickinesses.

    It's also nice to be able to tell people about what I read here and go "Yeah, my buddy Gwen did [this] recipe and..." which is awesome. That's how I got on a whole subject of Depression-era food with my mom once. Still not hankering to try Weiner Water Soup.

    So, happy anniversary to you and your gang from me and the AGGiK! We (all five [almost six] of us!) look forward to more Doll Adventures in the Kitchen! And thank you too for being an awesome member of AGC!

    1. Thank you so much! This comment really made me smile. I'm really glad you've been enjoying it and sharing stuff with other people about it, I love being able to share the weird food trivia I've learned since starting it, so I'm happy to hear other people have been doing the same! And thank *you* for helping make AGC such a cool place to be, I've really been enjoying being a part of the community there. c:

      Weiner Water Soup is still not high on my list of things I'm dying to try out. Maybe someday if I'm feeling especially adventurous...

  2. Happy Anniversary! This past year has been such a pleasure watching you bravely tackle the different historical recipes. I feel particularly lucky since I have been here for almost all of the tastings! Most of which have been scrumptious! I have enjoyed watching this endeavor unfold and I look forward to seeing how it moves forward. Best of luck in year 2 and I look forward to even more delectable culinary masterpieces.

    1. Thanks Mom! You know I couldn't do it without you! :D

  3. *From Julie's doll mom:*

    Happy Bloggerversary!

  4. Gwen,
    Happy anniversary! As a devoted reader and occasional taster -- I have enjoyed learning about your adventures in the kitchen and the seeing the AG crew (and you) grow this year. To many more posts! Congrats!

    1. Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoy it so much. And you know you're welcome to come back any time! :D

  5. I absolutely love your pictures!! Congratulations on your first year! Can't wait to see what happens next.

    1. Hopefully it will be something awesome! Thank you! :D

  6. Happy blog anniversary! This was a really great post. I read every word and have remembered a few recipes that you made me want to try. :)

    1. As always, let me know if you give them a shot! I'm always excited to hear other people's feedback. Let me know if there's anything you'd be interested in seeing me do this year!

  7. Happy blogging anniversary! Your blog really stands out as unique among both doll and cooking blogs and I've really enjoyed reading about your adventures in cooking. Congratulations! :)

    As an aside, I chuckled at "The War Where Over Protective Britain Tried to Make Rebel Teen America Move Back Into the House", because in Canada we talk about the war of 1812 as "The War Where the Yanks Tried to Take Over Thinking the Brits Were Busy With Napoleon"! LOL ;)

    1. Hey look, it was just a contingency plan!! I mean you never know!!

      (Sorry Canada...)

      I'm glad you've been enjoying it! Hopefully I'll live up to your expectations in the next year!

  8. LOVE your blog, sorry I missed the blogiversary! Keep on cookin', Sweets!

    1. No problem! Sorry it took me so long to respond to the comment, haha. Thanks very much, I'm glad you've been enjoying it!