Meetup Report: Bittersweet Treats

Meetup Report: Bittersweet Treats

I tried to keep myself occupied this weekend; it keeps me from moping around while my husband is out of town. My family kidnapped him and took him on a vacation I couldn’t join them on due to my work schedule. I am hoping that once he gets back we can have a few non-disappearing-husband weekends together. It seems like his busy schedule is always taking him off to some other place with one side of my family or the other!

Sir Mortimer
My shark is always ready for a meetup…although his wardrobe needs some sprucing up.

So I met with Miss Lindsey and Miss ElleJay for lunch at one of my favourite places–Bittersweet! ♥ It’s a charming little bakery & café near my home. They sell delicious pastries and fancy desserts, and they serve breakfast and lunch at marble-topped tables in the sunlight from large windows. There isn’t a lot of seating and you can’t make reservations, but it isn’t counter service and the atmosphere inside is really great! If only we could make reservations I’d host a meetup there. It’s very popular, though, so we had to loiter a bit to find a table.

We had lunch and macarons~ I really enjoy the macarons there. Although they’re not Ultimate Perfect Unquestionable Macarons, they’re always good and don’t taste frozen. Frozen-tasting macarons are my least favourite, no matter what the flavor is supposed to be. I also had a piece of mushroom quiche. _ It was so delicious…they make a lovely quiche that isn’t overcooked and dry, but creamy and soft. ElleJay and Lindsey both brought a few of their ball-jointed dolls, so there were a lot of stares at the oddly-dressed table of girls with interesting dolls! I intended to bring my Claire but totally lost my nerve.

After we had finished eating we clearly weren’t ready to part ways, so we headed over to my house. We sat around on the carpeting (a staple of visits to Alice’s tiny house, as I have only kitchen chairs), drank tea, and talked about dolls~ It’s always a lot of fun to spend time with people that share the same hobbies, and thankfully we’re all pretty mild–no worries of hurt feelings or drama~

Lindsey brought these adorable magnetic wings that we had to try on every doll. On mine they make me think of a Cardcaptor Sakura battle costume!

It was really enjoyable to sit around in the sunlight from the window, sipping tea and taking pictures of dolls. It’s only in that span of brightest-sunlight hours that my apartment isn’t too dim for pictures, and since I wasn’t at the office during that time–as is usually the case–we were able to utilize it. The wig my doll usually wears has this awesome habit of looking ridiculously adorable on any other doll, so it was passed around a bit to show off its amazing technique.

Lindsey, who sells really awesome doll clothing as Studio404 on Etsy, has been working with me to branch out to other sizes. Since I have a doll that’s considered to have fairly standard proportions for a 1/4-scale doll, she’s been measuring, drafting, and testing clothing ideas. It’s a lot of fun! ♥ I’m bribing her with tasty desserts and the allure of an Usamomo plush bunny–the ultimate in Alice currency.

This time she brought little bloomers for both my doll and ElleJay’s doll~ They’re so cute! Her doll was wearing the prototype, a faintly-striped beige pair, ElleJay’s doll’s are a deep purple dupioni silk, and the ones I received for my doll are white polka-dotted pink flannel! (Perfect for my general tastes.) They fit perfectly–now she just needs a cute top and they’d look like pyjamas.

Strength in Numbers
The pile-‘o-dolls-and-bunnies! We couldn’t help wanting to pile all the dolls on Lindsey’s largest doll, as she doesn’t necessarily look like the type who would WANT attention from so many “kids.”

We also took some pictures outside my building, to take advantage of the sunlight and nice weather while it lasts! Around here, you can never be sure what tomorrow will bring, after all~ The areas along the pathways and courtyard by where I live are always nicely taken care of, too–that’s why I’m always ready to take pictures there! It’s not a lush meadow or enchanted forest, but still better than a parking lot in my opinion!

Pearls and Bows
ElleJay looking super cute with her red dress and fluffy hair~

I insisted that everyone take pictures with Monsieur Lait, which really doesn’t need much insisting. Usakumya are so soft and perfect for snuggling; no-one ever resists! He gets a lot of attention, and I get the feeling that it’s a-okay with the bunny bear.

Hey There, Bear
Lindsey and bear. I get the feeling that she knows that he knows that he’s cute…
Usakumya Cuddles
ElleJay and Monsieur Lait are adorable together. It’s pretty obvious in this picture how enormous he is!
Big Bunny Ear
Usa-usa-uuuuuusakumya~ ♥

When it was finally time for the tea and fun to end, I walked them back to their respective places of departure~ It turns out that another local lolita, who haven’t yet had the chance to meet, spotted me while she was at work. I got home to a “who was that” post on our local community; it was very entertaining to see that most of my friends immediately knew that it must be me based on the description of pink + pigtails. That is an accurate condensed description!

Beautiful Butterfly
While she was taking pictures, a butterfly landed on ElleJay’s hair~ It made me wish I had been the one holding the camera so I could have taken a picture of it.

It was a really lovely time, and I can’t wait to do it again~ ♥

Sweet Treats: Macaron Review

Sweet Treats: Macaron Review

Frozen Macarons
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

Macarons are a rather iconic dessert in terms of lolita fashion. Beyond the obvious tastiness of these delicate cookies, the Japanese seem entranced with them in the same sort of way that they idolize many French things. In lolita fashion, the macaron has been featured in several prints by Angelic Pretty. Beyond lolita, however, macarons are the subjects for miniature, felt crafts, cell phone straps, and other household goods.

Recently, the Trader Joe’s grocery stores have begun selling macarons. Not everyone is fortunate enough to live near a pâtisserie that makes macarons, and even fewer people live near one that makes them well.

However, store-bought macarons have perils beyond that of fresh macarons. Macarons go stale very quickly–macaron-Mecca Ladurée warns patrons that the cookies are only good for two days. However, two days is shorter than many foods spend in transit to their final destination; thus most packaged macarons are stale by the time they reach the consumer. The Trader Joe’s macarons, however, are kept in the frozen dessert section–this keeps them from going stale in such a short time.

Although the cookies are not stale, they do not arrive in perfect condition. Macarons are very delicate–the cookie portion is basically a meringue with a touch of flour–and the slightest pressure can crack and crush them. Whenever I bake macarons, sometimes they shatter just from being removed from the cookie sheet. Although the Trader Joe’s macarons are packaged in a plastic tray with each cookie separated, it is not enough to keep them in shape. The tops of the cookies usually look fine, but the bottoms of every cookie in my box was totally smashed.

As these macarons are frozen, they need to be allowed to thaw–sitting out at room temperature for 30 minutes. This step is extremely, extremely important. The macarons I ate that had sat out for the full 30 minutes had soft filling and a crisp cookie. The flavors were light and un-tainted. The macarons that did not get a full 30 minutes had hard filling and (most importantly) tasted of “freezer” more than of the cookie itself–very unpleasant.

In terms of actual quality, I’d say that the Trader Joe’s macarons are not perfect, but they are better than most packaged (and some bakeries’) macarons. The cookies have a nice foot, smooth skin, and appropriate crispness, but I found that they were more meringue-like than I prefer. (This was more pronounced for the chocolate macarons than the vanilla.) They didn’t have enough of the density and texture that the almond flour should add.

The Trader Joe’s macarons are approximately $5 for one dozen macarons–6 chocolate and 6 vanilla. This is, really, an unbeatable value. Most pâtisseries charge much, much more than that this–usually $2-$3 per macaron.

Overall, I don’t think this is something I would buy again, but I would certainly recommend it to others. If you haven’t had macarons before, the Trader Joe’s macarons are a better place to start than other pre-packaged macarons. If you like macarons a lot and don’t want to spend a fortune, they’re a great deal. If you love meringues, you’d also probably really like them! Personally, I will bake my own macarons or patronize my favourite bakery–there are other store-bought cookies I enjoy that I could buy for a similar price; I don’t mind paying a little bit extra for macarons I like the taste of more.

Sweet Treats: Macarons

Sweet Treats: Macarons

Macaron Rainbow
Originally uploaded by sweetmilktea

There seems to hardly be a dessert more iconic in lolita fashion than the macaron. (A “macaroon” is an entirely different kind of cookie, and doesn’t feature in anything lolita fashion-related!) Once featured in the Angelic Pretty series “Dreaming Macaron,” the popularity of these tiny pastries REALLY took off! When not appearing tucked into prints on lolita garments, these puffy discs can be seen in a multitude of colors as sweets jewelry. They’re also a common motif for deco projects.

Personally, I love eating AND making macarons, although it isn’t an easy task! Macarons are very delicate, and it takes a lot of patience to prepare the ingredients, incorporate everything just right, and actually bake the halves that will form the sandwich. When I make macarons, I spend a lot of time sifting almond flour until no lumps remain, then carefully folding in the egg whites–which have to be given a few days to age, and MUST be used at room temperature. These are not the kinds of pastries to be made on last-minute notice.

Traditionally, the flavor of a macaron is dictated by the filling, although the pastry itself is colored appropriately. Personally, when I make mine I like to flavor the cookies just a bit with a few drops of extract. Some of my favourite flavor combinations are rose cookies with strawberry, raspberry, or lingonberry jam~ Jam isn’t a particularly traditional filling, but I don’t like most buttery, frosting-type creams; I feel like they overpower the actual pastry.

However, sometimes it’s less stressful to quell a macaron craving with a trip to the bakery~ These small desserts have become very popular in recent years. In Chicago I keep hearing about more and more bakeries trying their hand at these tiny cookies.

When I buy macarons, I go to Bittersweet Pastry Shop. They’re right in my neighborhood, and their macarons are quite good–crisp, not overfilled, and with the appropriately cute “foot.” (That’s the crinkled edge–all good macarons have a foot; it means that the top is crispier than the chewy inside. When the balance is right, it’s delicious!) They’re certainly not the BEST macarons I’ve ever had, but sometimes it’s worth it to spend a few dollars on something tasty instead of spending several days to make them myself. The chocolate macarons are much better deal than the larger, flavored macarons–$16 for one pound, as opposed to $3-$4 per cookie~

Macarons make a lovely addition to tea-time. They both look and taste fancy, and when made or purchased in pastel-colored flavors like rose or violet, it seems that no dessert could be more ladylike! There are few things prettier than a display of multi-colored macarons atop a china plate…although that’s always a fleeting moment for me; they’re too tempting!