Sunday, February 26, 2012

When life gives you lemons... bake them into things.

In my mind there is little debate about the best dessert ingredient.  While this blog is about lemons, lemons do not take the title home.  The obvious answer is chocolate.  People who disagree are freaks of nature and I find you difficult to understand.  With this in mind, I was invited to bake gourmet desserts for a banquet up at camp in two weeks.  If it were up to me I would make three desserts that are chocolate in one variation or another, but some people prefer other things so I had to play with some not-chocolate dessert options.  One of my experiments resulted in the purchasing of meyer lemons.  I bought massive amounts of them because when I go up to camp to bake, the nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away so I stock up to avoid a mid-bake emergency trip to the grocery store.  I came home from camp with a good 10 extra lemons and no idea what to do with them.  Life didn't necessarily give me these lemons, I had willfully purchased them, but I had to figure out what to do with them, so bake-fest began.  I went on trusty Pinterest and the lemon-y treats were plenty, beginning with these Lemon Burst cookies.  Funny thing?  I found the recipe and it was ridiculously easy but did not require a single actual meyer lemon to make it thanks to the lemon cake mix.  10-0=10, so I was still stuck with 10 lemons. Quite the conundrum.  Your heart goes out to me, I'm sure. 

My pinning frenzy resulted in some sweet roll and cinnamon roll recipes however that did an adequate job of depleting my lemon supply.  They also depleted my time for sleep as I went to bed at 1:30am on a school night, but that surprises no one since I'll choose about any activity over sleep except maybe running (whether its from a bear or for "leisure").  I made blueberry cinnamon rolls, meyer lemon sticky rolls, and straight up cinnamon rolls (because all experiments need a control, right?). 

Exhibit A: Blueberry Cinnamon Rolls

Exhibit B: Meyer Lemon Sticky Rolls

Exhibit C: Straight Up Cinnamon Rolls

The sweet roll project used 4 lemons.  10-4=6 (admiring my math skills? bet so!).  Experimentation continued.  Lemon poppy seed bread was an obvious choice.  Using my favorite cookbook, Pie in the Sky, for the recipe was another obvious choice.  The beauty of these choices is that it resulted in a delicious treat which my kiddos enjoyed while it snowed! Seriously, who doesn't love shoving your mouth full of bread on a snowy day?  I'm a fan of it.  So were my students.

The result of all of these endeavors was one remaining meyer lemon, which was lacking a peel, since I used it for zesting.  I can feel good about my use of all of the lemons because even the leftover one got used somehow.  Not like I-used-all-of-the-buffalo-I-hunted-including-the-eyeballs good, but good. It turned out to be a tasty endeavor, although if the lemon man and chocolate man had to duke it out, I am still gonna put my money on chocolate man.

Sometimes life is full of lemons.  I am in a season of lots of lemons and life lemons aren't really the kind of lemons you can bake into delicious things (trust me, I would if I could).  There are not sufficient inspirational quotes or tubs of ice cream for some of the things life can throw at us.  Sickness, brokenness, and death are unfortunately things that no one is a stranger to.  In the midst of these seasons, it is so easy to throw tantrums, to question, to wrestle with reality or retreat.  We disdain the presence of these lemons and curse their existence.  I'm not gonna say that they compare to the challenge of finding the use of 10 measly meyer lemons that called to me from the fridge because they don't, but I am gonna say that the result is sweet, much like these desserts.  As it turns out, these life lemons challenge us to identify our purpose, mold us to be a better version of ourselves and give perspective to what is already in our lives and its value.  I told you, pretty sweet, right?  I would also like to mention that it is calorie-free sweet (and that's not because I made up a fake rule about it), so that's a double win.  As you are reading this, you might be wondering why I am getting so emo, since  my usual style is not this-belongs-on-a-hallmark-card but you also might be reading this in the midst of some big life lemons like me wanting to have a fist-pounding temper tantrum like me and needing some encouragement.

So today, be reminded that life lemons serve a purpose, what we go through is not in vain, our circumstances to not define us, and we are being sculpted into something beautiful through the process.  As a sculptor sculpts, it uses a chisel.  Chisels are not smooth and delicate objects; they are sharp and probably could be added as a weapon in the game of Clue.  Each chunk the sculptor carves from the rock is removed with force, but the end result is a masterpiece.  You are the Sculptor's work of art and the finished piece will be a thing of beauty, bringing glory to it's Creator.

"I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.   Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering. I will rescue you for my sake— yes, for my own sake! I will not let my reputation be tarnished, and I will not share my glory with idols!" Isaiah 48:10-11

Monday, February 6, 2012

Donut you want some of this?

Yesterday, some people played football. Anyone watch?  I was too busy in the kitchen.  My chef-in-crime and I made a Superbowl feast, complete with a full assortment of apps and desserts.  I called my mom after the game and she asked me who won the game (of course she hadn't watched the game either which proves that I am my mother's daughter).  Though I had thrown a Superbowl party, I couldn't even tell her who had won.  I knew the jersey colors (because naturally some food has to be sporting the colors of each team) but couldn't tell her the names of the teams or anything.  This is not something I am ashamed to admit.  Our party rocked!  We now also have an official name for our duo: Reinas de la Kitchen.  The perfect tribute to our Mexican-American heritage (seriously some days you can't tell which one of us is the Mexican and which is the gringa).  Don't worry, we even made t-shirts.  Oh yeah. We are that cool. We are also that type-A.  Our party spread had been pinned for two months, we researched recipes, created and edited the pinboard multiple times, made massive lists and then cooked away.  Our spread included spinach artichoke dip, guacamole and chips, stuffed mushrooms, bacon potato bites, sliders, wings, pinwheels, chip 'n' dip cookies, brownies, cake pops and your usual suspects (m&m's, veggie trays, and chips).  Definite win. (Except the mini hot dog buns that we aren't going to talk about because they worked 3 weeks ago in the trial run but did not work all three times I attempted to make them this weekend and I used the same everything and I just really don't know what happened and when it failed I really just wanted to throw myself to the ground and have a tantrum like a two year old but saved it for the typed tantrum version that you just experienced in the form of run-on venting sentence.  Sorry you had to witness that.)  Other than the buns? Awesomeness happened.  I have changed my mind about football games, but only because it results in conning more victims to eat your experiments.   It is still a boring game.  I read somewhere the average football game is about 12 minutes of actual game time.  A cake takes 30-45 minutes.  A cake has more action than a football game. 

The beauty throwing big parties is always the leftovers.  Left over veggies naturally lent themselves to toppings for a breakfast-for-dinner omelet adventure, which we enjoyed today.  Donuts, which  are a food I do not usually enjoy, were requested for the occasion.  I do not own a donut pan, but not owning a culinary tool has never been a stopping point for me.  Donut pan was purchased.  Good thing the request was around Valentine's Day, because they were selling heart-shaped donut pans! Jealous? You probably should be.  While currently I am not enamored with the stores' plastering of hearts throughout every nook and cranny, I couldn't resist.  Hearts equal cuteness.

See? Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?  Thought so.  

Then, much to my surprise, I actually liked these Mexican Hot Chocolate Donuts.  They were light and fluffy and made you feel like you were snuggling with puppies or something with every bite.  I think I could reconsider my stance on donuts after these, but since I only do one treat a week, it doesn't hold much of a candle to the other contenders.

The best part was that the directions to these donuts had an option for blow-torch use. You had better believe I own one of those, except I have been afraid to use it until now.  It is supposedly dummy-proof so I took it out tonight to try it, but unfortunately it is dummy-proof and I couldn't figure it out. Wah wah wahhhh.  Blow torch: 1 Me: 0.  I guess there is always a creme brulee to make to christen my blow torch.  But being type-A, you know I had a plan-B for my poor little donuts (aka the broil setting on the oven) and they turned out more than just fine. Sometimes plan-B isn't so bad, you know?  Tonight was a great reminder of that.  I think I am going on plan-M right now in real life but I am grateful for the assurance that just like this donut, I too will be made into something beautiful and that every difficult thing will result in good.

"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  Romans 5:3-5

I'm standing on that promise today, but more immediately sleeping on that promise because it is now 12:16 and those kids won't teach themselves. (Well, they might but it might not be the correct information. I'm quality control).

Good night!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I think I should only be trusted with a spoon. It's edges are round.

Are you ready for a sob story? Here it is.  I cut myself. It is embarrassing.  I mean here I am posting about my ability to bake delicious treats and I can't open a package of tempeh without slicing my finger to the bone.  Wah wah wah.  Yeah. Pathetic.  So I am now in the hunt for a sugar daddy or a sugar anybody who will sponsor culinary classes for me.  It is the logical next step.  My knifing skills are proving to be sub-par.  While few baked goods rarely require sharp knifes, I have been told that cake for all meals will result in the need for larger pants, obesity, and death. Blah blah blah.  So I eat other things and cut myself.  Typing this blog is currently a challenge but my non-bending finger has an awesome neon green Band-Aid on it, so I am not gonna complain too much.

Next subject.  Cake.  Black forest cake to be exact.  One of my teammates at school tells the best stories of her southern upbringing, her nanny and that Georgian cuisine of fried chicken, some greens and a big ole slice of black forest cake.  She NEVER eats sweets anymore, but anytime we start talking about baking, there goes Patti off down memory lane to the black forest cake.  I decided it was about time to bring one into work.  After all, it's only been 4 years.  There was some anxiety around bringing in her childhood favorite because that's a lot to live up to.  I was shaking in my boots.  Black forest cake also has 4 pieces to the process (see below):

You get your cake, then your ganache, then the whipped cream (with mascarpone cheese btw which equaled heaven), and finally cherries.  Many steps, many opportunities for fail.  But don't worry, no fail occurred.  Why I call it a win? My principal ate it for breakfast AND stopped my lesson to tell me it was amazing.  I wish there could be an extra blank at the bottom of my evaluation for that one.  If only raises could be acquired this way... 

I had full intention of snapping a photo after completion of the cake in all its glory to post, but it didn't occur.  The whipped mascarpone cream frosting was added to the cake literally minutes before heading out the door to school at 7:23 and my brain doesn't function until 8:25, right when my kiddos flood into my classroom and after a Rockstar (aka 220 milligrams of delicious caffeine).  By the time I realized the missed picture, I returned to the staff lounge to find only measly remnants of this cake.  Meh, I think I'll take a fully eaten cake over a picture.  If you are really curious, google "black forest cake".  I am sure you can find one that looks cool and similar to mine.

Man do I wish other things were as easy to google.  How about googling the timeline of my life for the next year so I am not in the lovely land of limbo anymore? That might be nice.  But alas, I think I will just have to figure that out as it comes.  Plus, God beats Google, so I think its all going to be alright.  I am so planned, to an extreme.  I live by lists and charts and I analyze the breakfast I eat as if this choice will effect the next fifty years of my existence.  With this cake, I had even planned out of all the recipes made last week, which one I would blog about and the types of pictures I wanted to capture days before I had ever even baked the cake.  Hyper-type-A.  Anyone who knows me can attest to that.  So, missing this photo event is one small (albeit accidental) step to handing control of this current limbo-life of mine to God, who knows way more about, sees way more of and wants way more from my life then I can ever imagine.  I think I'll leave it to him, and let go. 

In case your wondering whats next? Since I can't tell you much about whats next in my actual life because I don't know, but I can tell you that  me and my favorite cooking buddy are throwing a Superbowl party.  You better believe we have an awesome spread, a pinboard on Pinterest about it, pictures planned and probably will make a lovely list of that plan to ensure documentation.  Yeah.  I'm that kinda type-A.  Deal with it. Best part of this party? I only know who is playing because I wanted to make sure that some of the treats where coordinated to their jersey colors.  If you aren't coming to our Superbowl party, hope you enjoy your mediocre food and be thinking about ours.  Jealous?  You probably should be. 

Happy bowling of the super kind!