It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear All,

I am a bit sad but also very excited at the same time. I am writing this post to tell you that after much consideration, I’ve decided I will temporarily focus my attention elsewhere.

My Chest of Wonders was always a hobby for me. As a creative outlet, it gave me so much – I’ve learned a great deal in the past 2 years. I still love blogging, cooking, creating recipes and sharing it with you, but I am currently working on a new project and after that and a nine to five, I just don’t think I’ll have the time to create content on a regular basis like I used to.

I wish I could keep doing it, but for the foreseeable future I’m going on a different path. This is not a farewell though, rather hitting pause on a few things to be able to focus on others. I am keeping the blog, but I might not update it every week like I used to.

So whether you are a Follower, Reader, or Visitor dropping by, thank you! Thank you for all the encouraging words left in the comments, for every like and click. I hope I will be seeing you soon.

Have a lovely week!

Love,

Fruzsi

Carrot Cake, Because We’re So Ready For Spring

carrot cake

Let me start with a question: how come it’s a tradition to make carrot cake around (for) Easter when this popular root vegetable is going right out of season in spring? (Yes, carrots have a season too: late summer and fall, although they are available from storage year round)

Anyway. I think we’d all agree that every season is a good season to make something as delicious as a rich and moist carrot cake, late winter being no exception.

Everyone likes this decadent dessert a bit different spices, nuts, raisins or pineapple-wise and that’s fine. Make it the way you like it! I happen to be a (wal)nuts and for-the-love-of-all-that’s-holy-please-no-raisins kinda girl. And I use apples, sans pine. Different strokes for different folks!

carrot cake

As for the other single most important bit, the frosting – and this is guaranteed to make frowned foreheads across the pond – your cream cheese+butter+sugar combo is something I just can’t come to like. No offence, but I find it too sweet and thick.

To coat my cake, I substitute mascarpone for cream cheese. Let’s stop here for a sec: if you are wondering how cream cheese and mascarpone are different, in short cream cheese is tangier and mascarpone is milder. Mascarpone is made from cream coagulated with just acid, richer and creamier with a higher fat content. Cream cheese is made from milk with lactic bacteria, more acidic and with a lower fat content. I love both but in this recipe, I happen to like mascarpone better.

I also swap butter for whipped cream. A generous slathering of this airier, frothy filling suits my taste better but then again, it’s just a personal preference.

carrot cake

As is the way you arrange the cake. To give a fancier look for this otherwise simple dessert, I prefer layers and frosting, generous on top and thinner on the sides. I know the uniqueness of naked cakes has worn off a bit, but I’m still making them in 2018 and #notsorry.

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Filling

Moist and deliciously spicy carrot cake filled with airy mascarpone whipped cream.

Ingredients

For the cake:

350 g carrots

1 medium apple

100 g whole wheat flour

200 g AP flour

100 g walnut meal

1 packet (15 g) baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

3 eggs

150 ml neutral vegetable oil

150 g brown sugar

For the filling:

250 g mascarpone

400 ml whipping cream

1 packet (7 g) vanilla sugar

Directions

  1. Generously butter and flour two 17 cm cake tins (6.5″).
  2. Peel, core and grate apple. Peel and grate carrots. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 150C (300F).
  4. In a large mixing bowl, mix flours, baking powder, salt, spices and walnut meal.
  5. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and oil until frothy.
  6. Fold egg mixture into flour mixture. Add carrots and apple, mix until combined.
  7. Divide batter equally between the tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about an hour.
  8. Let cool 20 min before removing from tins. Cut both in half horizontally so you have 4 layers. Cool completely.
  9. While layers are cooling, make filling: mix mascarpone and cream with an electric mixer on low to combine. Increase speed and whisk until stiff peaks form.
  10. Arrange cake. Refrigerate for 1 h before serving. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Perfectly Creamy Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk

creamy rice pudding

Late-winter February. It’s the time of year when I tend to be in a meh type of mood, generally uninspired and unenthusiastic.

It’s probably the lack of sunshine and being stuck indoors. Yes, I work out, take my vitamins, eat my greens and have nothing against the occasional walk in the cold, but still… Hello, weather? Getting desperate for spring here!

When these blues hit, I consciously remind myself how there’s something to like in every season. You have to nip the feeling in the bud, otherwise you’ll end up in a downward spiral.

Luckily, a distraction usually does the trick. Starting a new book (just ordered anti-guru Sarah Knight’s new No F*cks Given Guide ‘You Do You’ which is guaranteed to make for a good laugh based on previous volumes), the annual closet overhaul, or a quick search to see what’s left of Zara Home’s winter sale? Whatever works!

And some cooking: making my No. 1 winter warmer, sweet and creamy rice pudding never disappoints. It’s funny how I never posted this when I make it so often. Now, I know some people think rice pudding is quite a humble food, but I assure you: when done right, it’s as good as it gets!

In my opinion, the best rice pudding is c.r.e.a.m.y. above everything else. That’s what I always aim at. With that in mind, there are a few tricks for making the perfect rice pudding. Also, some points where things can go south (been there, done that). Learn from my mistakes, read the following experience-based notes and go for it!

First, the rice. Over the years, I’ve tried different types (depending mainly on what was on hand to be honest). You’ll want to use medium-grain or short-grain rice here. It’s all about starch: the right amount thickens the pudding, while the grains stay tender through cooking without breaking apart. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make rice pudding with long-grain varieties like Basmati or Jasmine rice, but these are less starchy, take longer to cook and the result will be rather dry. My favorite rice for this recipe by far is Arborio.

Than there’s the milk. It’s a real hazard when it comes to your stove’s cleanliness – not watching the pot as the milk comes to a boil… need I go on? Be sure to keep a close eye on it while warming!

After you’ve added the rice, stir down regularly or it will catch on the bottom. Keep mixture at a gentle simmer, allowing time for the rice to cook. I find this quantity needs somewhere between 30-40 min. Test the rice for done-ness though (grains should be tender), do not rely on the clock completely.

Another thing also necessary for perfect creaminess  – you guessed it: fat. Use whole milk, full-fat coconut milk and heavy cream.

The egg yolks are responsible for that coveted custardy texture, but add hot liquid to the egg mixture too quickly, and the yolks will curdle. Troubleshoot tip: tempering. This means bringing the temperature of the eggs up slowly. Spoon a small amount of hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Keep adding milk until egg mixture is warmed up (this will take about a ladle of milk). Once done, pour warm egg-milk mixture back in the pot in a slow, thin stream, again whisking constantly.

This is a basic recipe, so feel free to flavor the hell out of it! Also, I think it’s perfectly good as it is, but sometimes I feel like putting the bowls of finished pudding under the broiler to brown the tops.

That said, my recipe for the perfectly creamy rice pudding:

Creamy Coconut Milk Rice Pudding

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Silky smooth rice pudding with fragrant coconut milk. Serves 4.

Ingredients

600 ml whole milk

1 can (400 ml) full-fat coconut milk

1/2 cup Arborio rice

2 egg yolks

1/4 tsp salt

100 g sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

200 ml heavy cream

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, bring milk and well-shaken coconut milk to a boil.
  2. Stir in rice, reduce heat to allow for a gentle simmer.
  3. Stir down regularly to ensure rice is not sticking to the bottom. Mixture will form a skin – just stir it back in.
  4. While rice is cooking, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, salt, vanilla and cream in a bowl big enough to accommodate the mixture and about a ladle of milk.
  5. Test rice for done-ness: taste a grain if it’s tender with no hard center.
  6. Once rice is cooked, remove pan from heat. Temper the egg mixture with a ladle of hot milk, than pour warmed egg mixture back into the pan in a slow stream, whisking constantly.
  7. Return saucepan to heat. Cook on medium, stirring, until pudding boils – it should be saucy but not soupy in consistency. In this phase, mixture will not yet resemble finished pudding. Don’t worry, the custard will set and thicken as it cools.
  8. Ladle rice pudding into bowls, let cool completely and refrigerate. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

Food Photography & Styling Workshop

I am not a particularly spontaneous person (and that’s an understatement), but last week an opportunity has presented itself and I had to make a quick decision. Fingers crossed I am not speaking too soon, but that decision might just turn out to be the deal breaker in taking My Chest of Wonders a step further.

I’ve experienced my first blogging blues and it has been a pity party over here lately. It was high time I clicked out of that tab, so this bit of good in the form of a workshop could not have come at a better time.

I always felt the lack of a local friend or acquaintance who shares my interest and taste, and since the idea of a tabletop styling and prop rental business first started forming in my head I was eagerly looking for someone I could have good chats with on the topic. Well, that person exists and she’s a total sweetheart too!

Zita Csigo is one of my country’s most established and well-known food stylists & photographers, also teaching tricks of the trade at her popular workshops. I was quick to respond to a sudden vacancy, took the day off from work and oh was it worth it!

Being my biggest critic, I wasn’t satisfied with my photos. When I got my DSLR I enrolled on a photography course to learn the basics, but limited knowledge and no constructive feedback put me in a place where taking photos for my posts became a bit of a nuisance. I knew my shots could (should) be better, just didn’t know how.

I brought two sets of images we made from the workshop to show you a bit of what I’ve learnt. All photos were taken without studio lights. The shots on the left were taken after I’ve selected and arranged the objects in a way I thought was fine. The improvements you see on the right were made by adjusting the light and following the basic rules of composition only. No editing was done on the images.

food photography workshop

food photography workshop

Besides the food photography know-how, we had a lengthy conversation on blogging and business, and I absolutely loved getting lost in Zita’s astonishing prop collection. Our aesthetic turns out to be quite similar (good sign for me!) so working together was really effortless. She also reassured me that my business idea is ripe for the picking which I consider the most valuable feedback I could get. I left inspired and with newfound motivation, so thank you again!

*Disclaimer: I have visited and paid for this service. What I write about business establishments on My Chest of Wonders represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

Love,

Fruzsi

Let’s Do This 2018

begin again

Hello, Happy New Year and welcome back! I hope all of you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday.

The end of 2017 literally just whizzed by and it feels like I’ve been thrown into January. It has been a challenging time for me with new job responsibilities and an office move after which I had to reconsider my everyday routine, buy a car, and re-learn to drive. Driving was never my strong suit, but I try to think positively of having to face one of my biggest insecurities. Sitrep: I’m still scared sh*tless sometimes, but it’s better every day 😀

Oh, and Holidays.

All in all, a wee bit more anxiety than I would have cared for. I needed to cut myself some slack and so time away from the blog turned out to be a little longer than I originally planned, but I’m back now.

With a new year comes new-found motivation and inspiration, although if I’m being honest, I don’t quite see the exact direction I will be heading in 2018 just yet. Not everything needs to be planned though, so we shall see!

Achievment-wise, I have reached some of the goals I set for 2017. I also have failed some. My only resolution for this year is that I would be more determined, whatever my intentions will be. And so to kick off 2018, here’s my list of the things I would like to spend more time working on:

  1. Learn more about the rules, customs and traditions of properly serving and enjoying food. I am planning to share a guide for setting the table, so keep your eye out!
  2. Attend more workshops. The ones I did last year were properly fun and I had a great time learning new skills and meeting people.
  3. (Find the time to) create more content. I have a notebook I carry around with me full of ideas, it’s time to implement!
  4. Reach out more to fellow bloggers. Being more active with my networing is essential for this year.
  5. Earning the first income from the blog.

So there it is. Looking forward to what 2018 has in store!

What goals did you set for this year? Do you do resolutions? How succesful are you in keeping them? I’d love to hear it from you!

Love,

Fruzsi

Happy Holidays from My Blog to You!

christmas styling

Wishing you and yours a most joyous holiday season and a prosperous New Year! Also, I think this is the perfect time to express my appreciation and gratitude for the love and support of my dear readers. Thank you for visiting, liking, commenting and following! Stay safe and enjoy your vacation with family and friends – see you in 2018!

Love,

Fruzsi

Photo & styling: Anna Kvarnström

The Secret is Out: Please Welcome My Chest of Wonders Tabletop Styling and Prop Rentals!

heart balloons

First of all, I’d like to thank you all for following along with my blogging journey from the very beginning. I am so thankful for each and every click, like, share, comment and follow! Your support is invaluable and I want you to know how much I appreciate the time you take out of your day to check out the things I put out there.

As much as I enjoy blogging, lately I felt I was ready to take My Chest of Wonders a step further and so I’ve been working on a new project behind the scenes these past months.

And I have big news today! Beyond excited to announce that my tabletop styling and prop rental service is up and running!

There are many updates to the website in connection with starting this small biz: you can browse the items for rent in the product catalogue, see how rentals work in the terms and conditions menu, and learn about tabletop styling, tablescaping trends & styles.

I am also turning My Chest of Wonders bilingual – from now on I’ll provide all information on the website in Hungarian language as well.

The blog will continue in English with the same posting schedule, and I will do my best to post more on social media.

Check out what I’ve been up to! I hope you’ll love it as much as I love working on it!

Xo,

Fruzsi

Image by Laurel

Catalonia Meets Hajdúság in My Kitchen: Chickpea Stew

chickpeat stew

Don’t know about you, but if there’s something I don’t feel like doing when temperatures are in the 30s °C-wise, it’s standing next to a hot stove for hours on end. Just hand me an ice-cold radler instead, will you.

It was scorching lately all right so I reached back to one of my favorite one-pot-wonder recipes, a real fusion dish combining elements of Catalan and Hungarian culinary traditions. My husband and I love this hearty, spicy, soupy chickpea stew with spinach and Debreceni.

Debreceni kolbász (pron. kohl-baahs), or Debreczener (sometimes also referred to as Hungarian wiener), a lightly smoked, beef and pork sausage seasoned with salt, black pepper, paprika powder and garlic distinct of the Hajdúság region, holds the status of Hungarikum.

According to the Act of Hungarian national values, Hungarikum is a collective term indicating a value worthy of distinction and highlighting within a unified system of qualification, classification and registry. In other words, something that is inimitably, uniquely and distinctly Hungarian (you can learn more about the list of Hungarikums here).

I use Dedreceni in this recipe for obvious reasons – national pride for one, and because a good debreceni is hella delicious. In Catalonia I guess a chorizo or botifarra would be the way to go. Cooking the sausages in the same pan you’re going to make the stew in not only saves the tasty juices but also lets you end up with less dirty dishes.

Probably originated in Turkey, nutrient-rich chickpeas, or garbanzo beans were transported throughout the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians. They are a staple in Spanish cuisine, in fact there are few places where they are more popular: garbanzos appear daily in cocidos (one-pot meals) and potajes (thick soups).

Chickpeas are slow food – the dry legumes are soaked in water overnight, then simmered slowly until tender, about three hours. But here’s a shortcut for you: buy the canned variety!

The base of this dish, like many others in Catalonia is a sofrito, a thick sauce made with sautéed onions and tomatoes. Second shortcut: all hail canned passata di pomodoro. I then flavor it with salt, black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, garlic and a little chili powder to make it appeal to local taste buds even more. Tossed a handful of fresh spinach leaves in there too, because why not.

Let simmer for a few minutes, and it’s ready to eat with a slice of rustic, toasted bread. Hmmm. This dish is a no-fuss no-brainer, the type of quick and easy meal you need when you have neither the time nor the willpower for anything too sophisticated. It is also very rich and tasty, and even better the day after! I can tell a win-win situation when I see one. Now, excuse me while I sit back with that radler.

Chickpeat Stew

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Hearty Catalonian-inspired stew with a Hungarian touch. Serves 4.

Ingredients

300 g package of debreceni, or any other hot dog or sausage type you like

can of chickpeas, drained

2 cups passata di pomodoro

handful of spinach leaves

1 large onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1 twig of fresh rosemary or ½ tbsp dried

chili powder to taste

1 tbsp sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

olive oil

rustic bread slices, toasted

Directions

  1. Cut sausages in a diamond pattern.
  2. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat, cook sausages until crispy and browned. Take sausages out of pan and set aside.
  3. Sautée onion in the remaining juices from the sausages (add another tbsp of olive oil if needed).
  4. When onion is softened, add garlic, bay leaves, salt, black pepper, chili powder and rosemary. Stir and let sizzle for another minute for spices to release their aroma.
  5. Add passata, sugar and chickpeas. Let simmer for 10 minutes, add spinach and simmer for another 10 min until sauce is somewhat thickened, stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve hot with the sausages and a slice of toasted bread on the side. Enjoy!

What are your go-to recipes when you want to whip up something quick yet satisfying?

Love,

Fruzsi

Our Trip to NYC

manhattan business buildings

It feels so good to be home and also, TAKE ME BACK! We were honeymooning and visiting family in NYC, and what a great time we had! Read on for a quick recap of our Big Apple experience:

New York City –center of the universe, epitome of big city life. Some say NYC is a bubble, but what a bubble!

Not a small one, for sure. Honestly! The realization day after day that NYC is not just big, it is enormous. Especially mind-numbing for someone like me coming from a country with about the same population as the City of Dreams.

Compared to European cities though, the pattern of numbered streets and avenues were very easy to navigate. Manhattan’s streets running for miles straight ahead felt like they were made purposefully for charging forward.

Also love to hate the most necessary evil, the subway: from sights to smells to sounds to the price to service changes to non-audible announcement, all the way down to turnstyles. It’s extremely convenient and efficient however, got to give you that.

There was a general sense of crammed-in-ness the first few days, but once we got used to that most iconic skyline, we began to realize how this lack of space makes planners seek innovative solutions. I find it amazing the way disused or run-down spaces are reclaimed and get transformed, my favorite example being The High Line. Love how a once-dilapidated structure was repurposed into a cultural landscape enrichment (that city needs all the green it can get).

Did our fair share of touristing too, visiting some must-see sights – check out my ‘gram for some #picsoritdidnthappen. Doing so, we walked some 95 miles according to my Health app tracker, discovering neighbourhood after neighbourhood. Speaking of walking: Walking is the secret ingredient. NYC is the recipe that requires this ingredient in all of its dishes.*

Did I just hear dishes? I think I did! 🙂

You can eat pretty much anything at any time in New York. Wanted to try as many new flavors as possible so we were going HAM at the food. Truly the most extravagantly I’ve eaten in a long time with no gym visits at all and that’s totally OK. I loved every minute of it! Most times you work hard to take care of yourself, eat well and work out regularly. Other times you get busy living.

Did not deny myself any indulgence the last few weeks, but now I’m back on track. Got my slightly bigger ass kicked at the gym this morning and a nice lean meal is waiting for me in the fridge. Don’t worry though, my plans for the week also include trying some new recipes I will share with you in due course.

Love,

Fruzsi

*from the article Why Everyone Should Live In New York City by Brian Rashid

Title image “blue manhattan district bottom tall” by onlyyouqj via Freepik

Some Thoughts on Turning 30

cake with succulents

You’re still a rock star – I whisper to myself as I take my multivitamin and go to bed at 9 pm.

Story of my life 🙂

I’m staring down my 31st birthday tomorrow and so I figured one year in is the perfect time to reflect on the things I’ve learnt and the changes I’ve experienced along the turn of a decade. First of all, life certainly did not end this time last year!

I simply think of my 30s as the next chapter in my life and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me and my loved ones. Your 20s are usually spent figuring out what you want from life and indeed, nowadays I’m feeling more secure and comfortable in my own skin than before.

Adult life is full of things we are never taught how to do and I’m still very far from having it all figured out, but as you get older and learn who you are, it starts to get more straightforward. With an evolving perspective on life, there’s no denying after turning 30 things do begin to change a bit.

This is how it is for me, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. The oldies station is now playing the hits of my childhood. I still need time to process that…
  2. Staying in over going out. Sitting on my couch with a glass of wine sounds way more appealing than a loud club with unflattering strobe lights. When I’m asked if I want to go out these days, I assume that means an outdoor adventure, binge drinking and falling asleep with my makeup on not included in the schedule.
  3. Start drinking like a grown-up. Alcohol is an acquired taste and the goal is to develop an appreciation for your beverages. Also, time to invest in proper glassware. For more on the subject read this, it’s hilarious.
  4. Heels hurt your feet. I’ve finally come to terms with not being able to navigate 6” heels graciously and so ditched all my cab-to-curbs. The few pairs of nice (and lower) leather pumps I kept are now called sitting shoes. Not here for blisters and bunions any more.
  5. Too old for ill-fitting underwear. Got rid of every odd piece I’d been holding onto: the too tight, too big, too low, too high, the itchy and the one that’s cheap but sexy but more cheap than sexy. Wearing pretty and comfortable underwear boosts your confidence, even when only you and your husband (and wandering eyes in the gym locker) know what your undergarments look like.
  6. Buying things that last. Quality duvets, bed and bath linens because I now appreciate it, and because manky, threadbare sheets and mildewy towels just no longer cut it. When it comes to clothing, spending on investment pieces and having a well-rounded wardrobe are the goals.
  7. Follow washing instructions when you’ve bought said pieces with your hard-earned cash. Well, mostly. I still don’t see why anyone would hand-wash the average cotton-blend tee, but apart from that, through trial and error I’ve established clothing care labels are not put on just to make you claw yourself.
  8. Sunscreen is your friend. Don’t even deny you too preferred to be orange like Paris back in the day! I only buy moisturizer with SPF now, said farewell to self tanners a long time ago and keep visits to the tanning salon to a minimum.
  9. Discovering that first white hair. This actually resulted in less of an emotional breakdown than expected. NBD, I’ve been coloring my hair anyway. At least that’s what I think now, we’ll see what happens when there are a bunch of them.
  10. Accepting the skin you’re in. By now I’m pretty sure being 5’4” won’t change. Less comparing yourself to others, learning to work with what you have and figuring out the style that works for you seems to be the key here.
  11. Respect and embrace your body, be kind to your soul. In the end, your health is the most precious thing you’ll ever own. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, take care of your mental well-being and live a balanced life. All this will make point 11. less of a struggle.
  12. Time-management skills are a must. There will probably never be a time ever again in your life when you aren’t juggling multiple personal and professional priorities. But also, repeat after me: you can’t do everything. I’ll finish up with the laundry tomorrow, and that’s fine.
  13. Planning for your financial future. Start saving and tackle budgeting. Setting up a savings account for paying off our mortgage, contributing to a retirement account and a health insurance policy are things I think my 50-year-old self will thank me for.

Can you relate to any of this?

Love,

Fruzsi

Photo featured in title image by Emily Wren