Sunday, September 7, 2014

How do you title the first post in an almost two year hiatus from blog-dom? Read me.

Well, hello world!  It has been quite a while since I have posted a little treasure on this old blog of mine.  It's not that baking has not occurred but sometimes things need to be put on pause. But luckily (or unluckily) for you other times there is a nagging urge to thought vomit onto whomever (whoever? whatever?) might care to read. 

So here I am, baking up the same kind of trouble I always do, but this time? Its for a good cause.  It's for the children.  You see, we happened to read The Gingerbread Man last week and various other versions of the story. I, personally, find it quite impossible to read so many versions and NOT bake gingerbread cookies for my class (even if it is no where close to Christmas).  What? We need a lesson plan to go with that? With an objective? Ok, here it is: Content Learning Objective- Students will be able to (SWBAT) analyze the distinct flavors of a gingerbread cookie using the vocabulary " "this tastes like heaven" "is that ginger and butter I taste in there?" and "yummy". Then we will follow it with a lesson in character analysis. Sure the students can describe how the Gingerbread Man was fast, boastful and trusting but how are they going to describe how moist and aromatic it is if it is not being stuffed in their face?  It is necessary and as I said, it is for a good cause.  I can't wait to see the faces of my children tomorrow as we dig in to our special snack and reread The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Then? I think we shall write how-to's on how to make gingerbread man cookies and maybe even write our own story. Can I make gingerbread math problems?  Hmmm... how about a word problem like this: If your teacher gave you one gingerbread cookie and then ate it right in front of your face how many tears would you have? Oops. Too far. Maybe we should just leave the gingerbread activities to literacy.  I have to remember it is for a good cause.

I am always on the hunt for a good cause. I meet so many others in my journey of life that are impacting the world day in and day out. There are so many stories of people being moved and impacting those for which their heart is moved.  They give of selflessly of their treasures and time to create a better tomorrow.  Those people make the stories and inspire others and move others to do likewise.  

Do-good-ers are plentiful if you really look at the world.  Sure everyone has moments of an egocentric nature but I choose to believe that more or less we all have a desire to better that which we love. However, at times it can be tiring or even counter-culture to do the right thing.  Sometimes the people around us who choose selfishly DO get rewarded.  It is not fair and it can tempt us to enthusiastically throw in the towel.  Our well runs dry. Doing good is too much work.  But, today I leave you with this reminder:

"So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." Galatians 6:9.

(Plus doing good might result in getting to like the bowl on occasions, and that, my friends, is worth it).

Peace, love and troublebaking,

And if that doesn't encourage you enough...
Try this:
I believe in you too! You really can do the thing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lemon bars. Vote for the underdog.

Of all of the desserts in the world, I doubt a lot of people would claim lemon bars as their favorite indulgence.  It is usually more along the lines of some quintuple-chocolate-gooey-fudge-melt-your-face-off thing or a deep-fried-extra-sugar-cinnamon concoction as opposed to this divine little bar.  I am the first to admit that it is not my usual idea of a sweet finish to my meal but they exist and every time the ingredients happen to find their way into my mixer and stumble into my oven, I am delightfully surprised.  Lemon bars are not given enough credit.  They simultaneously have the ability to make such a bold lemony statement while gently quieting your spirit as they whisk you away to some back country road on a porch swing in the summer with some sweet tea in a mason jar.  Yeah.  They have that kind of power.  These coconut lemon bars do that.  I took them first two weeks ago to my school and every last crumb was consumed.  I was shocked.  I am not really sure why.  I mean, it is typical to bring my treats to school and come home with empty pans, but it had usually always happens with the assumption that it was because it included chocolate or caramel or one of the usual crowd-pleasers. I have a list of rules, you see, as to how I select my recipes.  This list is full of things that I should consider or not consider to assure consumption of my creation. I need to be cautious about going to experimental because my reputation is at stake.  This particular recipe I chose was not only a lemon bar, but it had coconut so I considered it the ultimate underdog of desserts.  I was not expecting a win.

Much like my lengthy list of fail-safe rules for recipe selection, most girls have rules for a fail-safe future husband and future happily-ever-after. Sometimes though, as girls in dream land, we try to imagine the recipe to the perfect man, what he will be like, what the future will hold, how he will propose, etc...  We plan every detail of our fantasy wedding and the romantic honeymoon to follow.  This often happens years before we ever are even old enough to consider the m-word.  We plan for a chocolate-caramel-guaranteed-crowd-pleasing life recipe that we can safely say will create an agreeable future for us. We think we know what it is that we need then along comes the lemon coconut bar and we find the perfect sweet ending in the unexpected.  It's what was never imagined but as the taste hits your tongue you immediately know that nothing has a greater sense of home.  Everything comes together.
Last night, I was asked to be Mrs. Taylor.  For years I have prayed for a man who loved God first and me second, who could equip me and encourage me to serve Him for the rest of my days with passion and vision.  I had many scenarios of the type of man God might choose for me but the end result is a man who superceded any scenario I imagined for myself.  I am sitting here replaying the game night we had last night. As each card from the deck fell from my friends' hands in our favorite game called dobe sensei, I was shocked. First with Taryn playing Will, and then You Marry Me, Kirsten? falling down from 4 more of my friends' cards finally leading my eyes to Greg who was down on one knee with a ring in hand. I could have never predicted this path for my life.  I do know however, in faith, that this future is more fitting for the purpose God has placed on my life than I could have ever crafted for myself. 
Though it is no surprise to God, when you finally begin to seek after His will rather than attempt to manipulate His will to fit what you think will bring success, success is actually achieved (along with your ability to live and serve according to His plan).  Today I am praising God for that.  Today I get to say that God has blessed me with a generous, loyal, faithful, loving man; a man after God's heart that will not only love me well but gets to be my help mate as we go out into the world and do noble things for the good of all.  Like the lemon bar, I will enjoy every last morsel of this unexpected surprise. (And for those of you who are wondering, I will allow someone else to make my cake so I don't go all cray-cray on the big day.)
"The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD." Proverbs 18:22

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

There are some things money can't buy, for everything else? There's oatmeal.

I don't know how you are, but I typically find that healthy treats end up being much more unhealthy than the desserts with no redeeming qualities.  If it has something like flax seed or oatmeal, it is easily justified in my as a health food and I finish half a batch by myself.  Where as if I consume one bite of some chocolate-y butter-y concoction results in an immediate trip to the gym and salads for the following 3 meals.  I feel no guilt in downing mass quantities of my dessert when guised as healthy with a little oatmeal to counteract the butter and sugar that still remain in great quantity. 

So with the cookies I made, while oatmeal was a part of the equation, so were 2 cups of butter and 4 cups of sugar.  This is not something that I can justify in good conscience as a health food, but I sure do trick my mind into believing it is so. So I hereby claim these delightful pumpkin oatmeal cookies no exception to the trickery.  You too can claim them as a health food as I do, just don't ask for a doctor's opinion or a dietitians- they will disagree...

Besides the fact that these cookies were oh-so-healthy (kinda-sorta) they were the first Christmas cookie of the season.  Magic finally began!  Usually this process starts a lot earlier, but I was busy celebrating a pretty stellar union of my high school best friend to her man, so cookie creation was delayed. 

Since these cookies were the first of the season, I decided consumption was necessary.  I had to try one or six...  (I must admit I did enjoy these a lot.)  I justified it by the oatmeal and ignored all of the other not-so-healthy ingredients.  I pretended like I didn't add as much butter and sugar as I really had and clung to that oatmeal-is-an-ingredient-so-it's-healthy for dear life.  The oatmeal was my golden ticket to a delightfully sweet Christmas treat.  The cookie may be chalk-full of butter and sugar but it was also full of oatmeal.  The oatmeal allowed me to feel okay about all of the not-so-diet-conscious counterparts that existed in the recipe.  I could have admited that it is not a healthy cookie if I really studied the ratio of healthy to non-healthy ingredients, but sometimes you have just got to claim that oatmeal and believe in the end that health will prevail.

I feel this is kind of true about life.  Events of late, the shootings, wars, kidnappings and all of those other unexplainable, irredeemable events being splashed around the news, have made it hard to have faith in our world.    I am fairly certain this saying will never be adopted by anyone, but I say in these situations that you have got to cling to the oatmeal.  It is easy to remember the destructive things. The things that ruin us and make us struggle to achieve our end goal.  In the midst of many gut-wrenching awful things that are happening every day, I want to challenge us to seek the little glimmers of hope fighting their way to the top.  There may be a whole lot of broken things about our society, but there is still good.  Don't believe me? Kids at our school just collected over 1500 cans to go to our local food bank.  Our students are running at recess to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and one student decided to give her whole 20 dollars of savings to help our cause.  In our title-1 school, companies have come together to make sure that 40 of our  families have a fancy dinner and presents to give their children for the holidays.  A third grade class collected a big box full of pajamas to send to the families affected by the hurricane. This is just in one school. One small community. And this is not an exception.  Instead of dwelling on the tragic, let's keep pouring our energy into these endeavors and encourage those who are trying to bring light to dark places.  They are all around us and especially in this holiday season.  Let's gather together and encourage our children to walk in these ways.  Sometimes the smallest of voices can be heard the clearest and their songs for justice can sound the sweetest.  Show them the path to a brighter tomorrow.  Take hope in their efforts and remember the words of Frederick Douglas, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."  Mixed in with all the junk, there is still oatmeal!  There is still light! There is still hope!

"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it." Proverbs 22:6

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's like 3.141592653589793 only delicious.

I am really curious about who came up with the saying "it's as easy as pie." Baking a pie is intimidating.  The dough must be the perfect mixture to ensure a light and flaky texture. Not too dry.  Not too moist. You must puncture the bottom to ensure a lack of bubbling, fold the crust in a perfect sort of way, cross your fingers that the crust doesn't burn and that the middle cooks through.  Yeah "easy as pie?" is hard.  Playing the pie game to make 11 pies to split between two households Thanksgivings? Hard.  Limiting yourself to only a few kinds of pies rather than experimenting with each separate pie? Double hard.  Keeping the integrity and deliciousness of pies 10 and 11 after making pies for so long.  Triple hard.  Maybe the "easy as pie" piece comes from eating them.  They certainly are easier to consume than other things.  The steps to eat a pie are simple: 1. Serve a slice on a plate. 2. Cover the entire surface of the pie with whipped cream. 3. Eat the whipped cream off the top.  4. Cover with more whipped cream because your pie is now naked again.  5.  Eat pie.  Yeah that's pretty easy and it works on any pie.

Pecan pie? Yup.

Pumpkin pie? Yup.

Mincemeat pie? Yup.

They all follow the same steps for consumption.  Easy as pie. 

Well, thankfully pie season is short lived and so my baking anxiety can remain low.  Thanksgiving is quickly bypassed by Christmas and masses of cookies will roll in and out of my kitchen.  I would like to say that I am already well into my baking season (being that it is the 11th of December), but a flooded kitchen can cramp a girl's style.  I have even prepped with 5 pounds of butter that are currently chillin in my fridge, but they have remained untouched as I have awaited the kitchen to be returned to it's usable state. But fear not.  I report that as of today I deem it usable and I plan on using every spare second at home baking up a storm.  I will forget all of the store-bought items I had to bring to events in the mean time.  The past is the past today is the present, and this present will be all home-made.  I cannot WAIT!
So, now that I have mentioned that I will be baking masses of cookies, my future cookies are currently in search of homes.  They will best be used in homes of people who do not guilt me for making them gain 10 pounds or do and show up to my Zumba fitness classes.  I will be accepting applications from now until Christmas.  You are in charge of crafting the application, as I will be creating masses of sweet treats and too busy to actually write one.  But there you go.  Now you have your chance to stake a claim. 
I would like to make a plea for my cause.  Taking my cookies has now become your necessity because I cannot eat them all.  They have been pinned to my pinboard therefore they cannot go unbaked.  I cannot consume them all because I am only one person and if I did then I would lose all of my credibility as a Zumba instructor.  Can you imagine a fitness instructor gaining all kinds of weight and claiming that their program was effective?  Yeah...not going to convince a whole lot of people.  But YOU on the other hand could eat them, then come to my Zumba fitness class and be an incredible success story and get all the fame and glory.  It is a win-win for all involved.  So, go ahead, say you want some. They will come your way. You will enjoy.  I will enjoy you enjoying.  Life will be good.  One first world problem will have been resolved. You will have helped me resolve mine, now if we could only solve the rest...
So. many. problems. 
Problems. Whether big or small.  First world or truly tragic.  Prime baking season (aka Christmas) is the same prime season for heightened awareness of the things we lack both materially and relationally.  Feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness are often amplified.  You might be in the midst of it, or you might be in a season of blessing.  As we enter this special but often challenging season a greater awareness of our current state.  Let us remember especially during this time to love our neighbor and to be acutely aware of their struggles and needs.  If a cookie tray of mine comes your way, know that at least one of those cookies is reserved for sharing.  Never were we promised a life void of struggles but we were promised an ever-present God in time of need and we were challenged as the body of Christ to love our neighbor and to take care of the widows and orphans.  So, tis the season!  Let's spread some love.
"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." James 1:27 

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Dash of Magic

If you bake around people with frequency, you will know that there are many who are the precise, use measuring cups for everything, level all of the ingredients perfectly and mix with such exactness.  I? Am not that.  I start out usually very well with a wonderfully exact amount of butter and sugar but then you get to all of the delicious parts like cinnamon and a 1 tsp often results in dumping a 1/4 cup.  I finish by never setting timers and sensing the doneness of my baked treat with other techniques like putting my ear to the ground like listening to the rumbling of the buffalo on the ground, figure 8 balls or reading my palm to tell me that I can in fact extract it from the oven. Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit, but I really don't ever set the timer. It often frustrates those I bake with who are insistent that timers are necessary for successful baking.  If we are being honest, it surprises me that someone as type-AAA as me even allows for such a lackadaisical approach to baking. But it happens.  In my defense, Pie in the Sky (which is my baking bible), claims that all high altitude baking requires a doubled portion of aromatics.  We'll just say that I do it for that reason...  The book doesn't say anything about my lack of timer-use but I will just say that I have a strong spidey sense and I know when something is done.
I also have a knack for knowing when something needs baked into deliciousness.  This snickerdoodle brownie?  Necessary.  

You will agree with me shortly when you learn that this was for Colorado's first snow day of the year.  It was a depressing snow day (as in it barely eeked passed a sleet to be called a snow day) but I'll count it.  I tried to aid in the snow making process by cutting out paper snowflakes to add to the snowflake count.  I made 18.  That's 18 snowflakes closer to a legitamate snow day.  I am fairly certain that made all the difference.  So 18 paper snowflakes later, a snow day it was named.
These snickerdoodle brownies on a snowy day were the recipe for perfection.  Some things just go together that way.  Adding a dash of snow with a pinch of delicious and baking it all into magic is a pretty spectacular thing.  The most beautiful piece is its unplanned nature.  In the midst of my over-planned, over-pinned life sprung a sporadic special snow day creation. 
Lately I have been learning a lot about the treasures to be found in the unplanned.  A whirlwind of events have resulted in God unveiling better dreams for myself than I even knew I could attain.  I didn't script out this part of my life but it is proving to be far greater then I could have presribed for myself.  God's plan is sweet like that.  If life was taken like baking, with precise measurements hoping for the picturesque final product created in exact replication of someone else's perfect treat, then moments like this would not come. I am challenging you as the Christmas baking season is near, to go a little wild and not follow a recipe exactly as they tell you to.  Add an extra dash of something and see what kind of creation occurs.  Do the same in one of those carefully packed days leading up to Christmas and add a splash of magic and memories with those you love each day.  If everything in life is so scripted and exact as following a recipe, then one might never experience the possibility of something greater.  God's plans are often thwarted when we try to overplan for ourselves. 

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn

Friday, November 9, 2012

Butter needs its own talk show.

When someone says they are a baker, the term is vague.  Are you the grab a box-mix-and-add-some-water-call-it-good-and-shove-it-in-the-oven kind of baker?  Are you the most-people-don't-even-know-how-to-pronounce-the-names-of-half-the-ingredients-that-are-in-here kind of baker? Or in between?  There is a wealth of recipes for all kinds but it always blows my mind when a devoured recipe I made has a measly six ingredients and I don't even have to bring out the blow torch to get ooo's and aaahhh's.  A well trained or even fairly well trained monkey could have made this brownie pudding.  It was mixed, baked, a la mode-ed and BAM! Masterpiece.

I mostly credit the butter.  For some reason butter raises the status of about any kitchen project.  It cures blandness, dryness, burnt-ness, you could probably spread it on that annoying person in your life and it might make them a little more tolerable too.  I would even argue that these hipsters who keep slapping bird decals on everything they own should do sticks of butter decals instead.  Instant coolness guaranteed. If Paula Dean endorses it (and she does) and everybody has a little soft spot in their heart for that southern belle (which most do) then butter must be necessary to life.
Life needs more butter.  Seriously. Don't you just wish sometimes getting through a challenging season was as simple as lathering it in something so rich and creamy and sliding out of it with ease?  I do.  But then I start to think: self?  To what benefit is this?  Take for example my brownie pudding.  It was easy.  It was divine.  But I have to count every stupid calorie in that and I gained no culinary skillz.  In case you didn't know, my calorie rules are as such:  Calories don't count if you are celebrating (because they are honorary calories), baking at high altitude (because the calories all float away), broken cookies (because all of the calories escape during the break), or before it is baked (because the chemical reaction only adds the calories post baking).  This recipe fits none of those rules.  Reason 1: It is an everyday dessert not the happy birthday kind. Reason 2: It is not a high altitude recipe. Reason 3:It is too gooey to break and have calories escape.  Reason 4: It only tastes good post baking.  Its deliciousness was temporary and it must follow the rule once-on-the-lips-forever-on-the-hips rule. The steps to follow were rudimentary and I learned nothing new for my future baking plans. Based on these factors, there is no long-term benefit to this dessert. At the end of the day, I suppose the real benefit comes from going through the hard stuff.  It may not always be easy but the reward is much greater.  As I reflect on a season of hardship and am entering into this new season of blessing, I am reminded of the steps I've had to take to get here and the transformation of my character as a result.  While ease is good, I think I'll always choose the character.
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Drop a subtle hint, and if that doesn't work? Try a brick on the toe.

My life is awkward.  This is not a new realization nor is it one that plans to go away soon but as I reflect on on-goings that have occurred throughout any given day, many times all I can say is, huh.  We already know example 1: drummer boy (as mentioned in the previous post).  Most recent example? The dad.  And yes that is his nickname.  The dad.  It all started few weeks ago when a student from a neighboring class began asking me if I was married.  I laughed (because that is how I respond to the fact that my perfectly mapped-out-since-childhood plan has not come even close to being my current reality) and continued on my way.  The girl was persistent.  Every day as I past her she would ask, "Ms. A., are you married?"  Finally one day I answered her question, "No, I am not." and sighed.  The very next day as I passed her again (thinking we had long since moved passed the are-you-married question, she told me, "Ms. A.! My dad thinks your pretty."  I walked by and said nothing.  Sometimes the things you don't acknowledge you never have to deal with, right? Wrong.  The next day she reminded me the exact. same. thing.  Awkward.  Not only that but her teacher that very  day was reading a fairy tale and at the end when they lived happily ever after, she shouted, "Like my dad and Ms. A!" Awkward. As the day was ending, she ran up to tell me that her dad was going to ask me out to dinner that weekend.  Awkward. Sure enough as I was on the street, stop sign in the air at crosswalk duty, she raced up with a note from her dad and his number.  Awkward. But it doesn't stop there. On a scale of 1 to awkward, this story is really currently only about a 9, not exceedingly awkward.  It did not reach the complete awkward stage until yesterday when she reported that her dad was going to bring me flowers.  Awk.ward. Now you need to know that I have never actually even spoken a word to her dad.  I have just received a note and many a smile and a wave from the distance and reports from the student.  I do not know whether these alleged flowers will ever arrive to my classroom but so far her new flashes have been correct, so I am fearful.  Fearful of a single dad who is smittened with a teacher at his daughter's school.  As the school bell rings each day, I now stall in my classroom for as long as possible before casually making my way to the door to dismiss my kiddos wishing I had 360 vision to be on my guard at all times.  I dread the day when those flowers show up and I have to tell him that this is not a good life choice.  I would rather hide or make a t-shirt that says, "go away" or drop a million subtle hints than say 3 frank sentences to end this massive attack of awkward. 

I would really like to excel at subtle hints, the art of letting people know what you think or feel without ever actually telling them anything.  It is something that would be great to master but it does not always seem to be as effective as anticipated.  Sometimes I wish that people would read between the lines so I could avoid that uncomfortable conversation of telling them that they smell like they may have skipped a day or twenty of showering or that they have a piece of spinach the size of Texas between their teeth.

One of the worst things is when subtle hints have to occur with food. Those moments when you are a guest at some one's house and what they have prepared looks repulsive and you don't want to even touch it.  If we are being honest, I fear that many days of my life because almost every thing I bake is only baked once.  I've never baked it before and I might not ever bake it again because I'm on to the next experiment.  Eating my treats comes with a risk that it is not good.  As people take that first bite into something I bake, I hold my breath and my whole body tenses as I watch them react to their first bite.  These red velvet brownies with cream cheese drizzle were amongst one of my highest feared desserts I've made.  First, it was bright red.  Second, it did the high altitude puff and cave trick. Third, it did not come out in perfectly immaculate even squares.  This was not promising.  I brought it to my friend's house for meatless Monday and I was half ready to toss it, kidnap them all and take them to Yogurtland for frozen yogurt instead and pretend that the dog ate the brownies off our kitchen table or they were abducted by aliens to be tested for scientific purposes.  In the end though I brought it, scooped it into the ramekins (dishes whose main purpose is to make even Twinkies look gourmet when placed inside) and we dug in.  I watched their facial expressions and decided their thoughts.  I sighed a big sigh of relief as they scarfed their brownies and giggled as my friend who joined us later in the night, bit into his portion as we were discussing a pretty heavy topic of a local shooting that had happened nearby and his face of deep concern melted into a grin in 3 seconds flat. 

Obviously my fears were not supported by evidence and this was yet another win for team sugar.  No subtle hints were needed to let me know their opinion about this baked creation (although I am sure that they would all be in favor of some magical tweaks to the recipe that would make it sugar-free, fat-free, calorie-free).  The verdict was? Delicious.  To the core.  (Although I am not going to share the recipe because of the aforementioned puff-and-cave-crisis that drives me to perfect this recipe before revealing.) I think I'll just have to make it again and make it EVEN MORE wipe-the-drool-off-your-face fantastic than it already is. Don't be alarmed if you are a victim in my next attempt and I am fixated on your face as you enjoy it.  I'm just searching for those subtle hints.  What you really think about my creation? I hope your face tells it all.  I can handle a silent nose scrunch much better than a, "Kirsten thanks for your repulsive baked good. I am going to vomit now." I'll take the subtle hint instead please.

About the only place I demand great clarity is in things of the Lord.  His steps, His plan, His purpose for my life, who He is, and what He's all about.  Luckily, God is a God of purpose.  He makes His presence known in beautiful ways.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth." Psalm 19:1-6