Monday, November 9, 2015

baking by picture

{This post first appeared as a guest spot over at Real Housekeeping Magazine}

I love dessert (who doesn’t?!).  So when we were invited to dinner at a friend’s house I offered to bring dessert, especially since I had seen this recipe for “heirloom” Oatmeal-Ginger Cream Pies in the latest issue of Country Living magazine. Now, I didn’t exactly set myself up for success. I waited until that afternoon to start… and then I got called into work.  But if I’m anything, it’s Mistress of Crunch Time, so—on to the baking!

In order for a recipe to become “heirloom,” according to the authors, it must:
  • Be delicious,
  • Be (relatively) simple to make,
  • Have ingredients that are readily available to everyone.
Delicious? The picture looked pretty good. Ingredients? Looks like I have everything… Simple? Turns out that was relative…
The hopeful end result.  Yeah.  Right.
The hopeful end result. Yeah. Right.
I should have realized I was in over my head when the first step of the recipe was to toast the oats. Riiiiight. Instead, I laughed and called my sister.  You’ve gotta share the fun when a recipe asks for more effort than you’d put forth to eat it…
Oats to toast.
Oats to toast.
Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be stirring everything else together, but I’m also supposed to go back to the oven and shake the pan with the oats, or turn it around a few times, or something like that.  You’re lucky these oats aren’t getting burned, buckos. There’s no way I’m shaking them around while stirring everything else. Nope.
Meanwhile, stirring...
Meanwhile, stirring…
This next part of the recipe was the best, and illustrates why you should read the whole recipe before starting out. You’d think you could just “drop by rounded teaspoonful” in the every-other-cookie-type-recipe-in-the-world manner…but no:
…roll dough, two tablespoons at a time, into balls, or use a #30 (1-ounce) ice cream scoop; for each sheet, drop 12 balls, 2 inches apart. With dampened hands, flatten each ball to a 1/2-inch thickness..
Umm…not gonna happen.  Didn’t I mention that I was throwing these together in the 12 minutes I had left before having to wake the sleeping baby up and throw everything in the car to go to work?ain't nobodySo, I ended up winging it, as usual, and just made some blobs on the pans.
But look...she used parchment papers! Pro. For sure.
But look…she used parchment papers!  Pro.  For sure.
Now, on to the cream filling! Luckily, I had some candied ginger (“readily available ingredients”—ha!) in the cupboard from the last time I thought about trying a ridiculous recipe but stopped at the smartest point: Never starting.
Chop chop with the Cutco.
Chop chop with the Cutco.
And…stir it up!
This looks kind of gross. It's cream cheese, confectioner's sugar and the candied ginger bits.
This looks kind of gross. It’s cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar and the candied ginger bits.
Into the oven.  When I pulled the cookies out, I didn’t really look at them, except to think, “Those don’t really look the same, now do they?” I came home to these:
Pretty dang flat.Pretty dang flat.
But, if life gives you flat cookies, and you’re bringing dessert to the party…what do ya do? Add more sugar and get going!
Finished product. Nailed it.Finished product. Nailed it.
They looked nothing like the picture, but everyone said they tasted great. Never forget the cardinal rule of baking: add more butter, more sugar, or both, and you win! Happy baking!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Take the Extra Blanket & 4 Other Important Life Lessons

Each person we encounter holds a richness of life out to us. Experiences, emotions, memories, advice, love, joy, sorrow, laughter, and exactly the right way to make Nana's mac and cheese dinner. Think about the little tricks you've learned from friends and family; oftentimes the truths we learn from each other carry us much further than we may have thought they might.

Here's 5 simple lessons I've learned from folks dear to me, and the deeper lessons we can glean from them.

1. Use the butter wrapper to grease the baking pan
My mother's mother taught us to do this when baking cookies or brownies, and it was so ingrained that I was surprised to learn later in life that not everyone did this, and that it was an echo of Depression-era saving.  This lesson reminds me not to be wasteful; there is one more thing you can do with an object, with a situation, with an idea before you throw it away.

Always baking cookies. (Well, dough.)

2. Make your bed 
Both my grandmothers had us make our beds in the morning when we'd stayed the night with them. I remember doing this more with my father's mother though. Nana was so easy-going with the task, and so unassuming about what the day might hold, but she always had you make your bed. Taking this further, I have realized the importance of doing small tasks, of holding a standard. Life is crazy, but having some constants can really keep you steady.

Not my bed.

3. Draw a picture
My dear friend Katie is an artist, a creative art therapist, a mom, a wife--so she's very inventive and imaginative! Katie has taught me the healing power of art on more than one occasion, but most especially right after the death of my grandmother. She had me work on a memory-drawing that left me feeling very peaceful. We should be mindful that sometimes what our broken hearts need is a break from the usual, and thinking a different way, doing something creative, or trying something new can give us that outlet and calm.

Really close colored pencils.

4. Take the extra blanket
My sister is one of the most generous people I know, and a very gracious host--and she's notorious for getting multiple extra blankets for guests. She loves having plenty of blankets, whereas I could do with just one. Letting her get me extra blankets, though, I've learned that love comes from each person in their own unique way. Another person's actions aren't always going to match your exact love language, but you both win when someone takes care of you--let someone love you.

This dog is happy inside.

5. Sing a song
If you've had dinner with my family, you know our propensity to burst into a musical number at the slightest suggestion of a lyric or tune. Of course singing at the drip of a hat is teaching us to be cheerful, (& know our show tunes!), but even more than that, it's teaching us to be cheerful purposefully--to seek out moments that can be used to lift the spirits of those around us, to shake the wintery-ness out of our hearts.

What lessons have you learned from family and friends that take you through hum-drum days?  What simple advice has hidden gold for you?

Obvious stock photos credit:

Linking up w/ Jenna at Call Her Happy for #5Faves :) 

Inch by Inch

 Let me tell you a secret: I don't really like to work in the garden.  It really is a chore for me.  To drag myself outside for some "hard" labor on a hot day...meh.  Nearly every time I make it out there, though, I am blessed with a small breeze, the smell of tomato plants (is this a thing, or just me?), and sweet moments with my boyos.  Of course, these are mixed in with all of the dirt and bugs, and bugs, and "don't step on the plants!" and haggling to get proper tool back (I'll let you have the rake!")...but it's worth it.

There is something calming about the simplicity of gardening.  You "kill the weeds" and "pet the tomatoes", as Leo puts it.  Even when you get behind, and the weeds are a jungle, and it's a good thing tomatoes are red, so that you can even find them, it is still that simple.  Dirt, seeds, sun, water.

 Life in general is *way* way more complicated than a garden.  Life is stressful and busy and needy.  Gardening doesn't change much.  Yes, there are punches to roll with, like when you get too much rain, or not enough, or the bugs eat your veggies, or the groundhog won't go away...but, gardening is steady.

It's nice to have something steady in this crazy-mixed-up world, and if we're lucky, you may just get a hug from a plant.