Friday, March 30, 2012

No peeps were harmed in the making of this bread.

On lovely days like today, there is nothing better than a trip up to the mountains.  Mountains give perspective of a world that is much bigger than the little bubble we call our reality that often consumes us.  Mountains are big, so they kind of force you to get over yourself for a minute or two.  I got up to camp today to discover that they were serving a silent retreat for a user group.  As a rule, I don't succeed at silence.  I chose to be illiterate and continue talking.  Mark Twain says there is little difference between one who chooses not to read and one who can't, so I think I'll follow his philosophy today and ignore the signs.  These same silent people also had a dietary request list longer than the Nile, so it was time to get creative in the kitchen.  This was my adventure into vegan zucchini bread.  It took some hunting to find a recipe I could use, because I don't carry things like coconut oil and cocoa nibs on my person (while that might be surprising to you). With a few tweaks for being at altitude, the bread turned out yum-o-rrific.

Here is my zucchini bread in all of its vegan glory.  The silent people seem to like it.  I didn't hear any cheering or hooting and hollering in its honor but it's disappeared off the plate as I typed, so I'll take that as a "yum". 

Maybe today I am not minding the quiet so much though.  I am attempting to ween myself off of caffeine.  Note:  I am not giving up caffeine, but am sure that a daily diet of 40 oz. of coffee, 20 oz. of Rockstars, 40 oz. of Pepsi Max, and a few cups of tea a day can't be good for you.  I don't know how it always gets this bad.  It starts innocently enough with one cup of coffee at the beginning of the school year each day and then just expands.  It's my winter activity. Bears hibernate in the winter; I caffeinate.  It's about this time of year when I add up my caffeine intake and decide that I should share the wealth.  I could use up the world's supply and people might get irate.  Nobody wants that.  So today, my one Rockstar and 20 oz. of coffee is the limit.  My pounding head is reminding me of my detoxing, and is welcoming the mutes.  Plus, thanks to the mutes, I now have another vegan baking recipe in my pocket (the pocket where I apparently also need to start carrying cocoa nibs and coconut oil so I can try this recipe instead). 

Speaking of vegans, peeps are vegan, I believe.  Peeps are also weird.  I put them in the category of things-I-can't-believe-I-begged-for-as-a-kid, along with twinkies, beans-and-weenies, and going to Casa Bonita.  They are taunting me every time I enter any supermarket since Easter is coming.  I don't think I will ever understand the revolution of Peeps (which are now not only a staple Easter treat but coming in different colors and being even made into pumpkins and Christmas trees).  They are like a virus, invading all of the holidays.  I would have killed a few peeps to make this recipe, but it did not call for them.  You are safe today, Peeps.  Next time? Maybe not so much.  If a student of mine gives me some this year, as has happened in the past Easters, I will politely say, "Thank you, dear student, that is so thoughtful!" and then take them home and leave the package open "accidentally" until they are too stale to eat and throw them away.  Can't eat stale food, right?  (That's my justification so I don't feel bad for not eating a gift from a student.)  Were you thinking of giving me peeps?  Now you know that is a bad life choice.  When in doubt? Chocolate. Many much chocolate.  Or even better? Give me Jesus.  That's what Easter is all about anyways.  Thanking Jesus today for all of His glory.  Glory that is more than I can fathom.  Glory that kicks the butt of any pillow-y sugared chick we call a Peep. 

"The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven." Hebrews 1:3

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I tried shamrocks and horseshoes but cheesecakes are luckier.

I am just curious exactly how much green food dye you all think is sold in the month of March?  Like is this something I should by stock in every February and sell back in April?  Its kind of amazing.  Thanks to Pinterest, the green food dye obsession was not limited to an alcoholic beverage, it was baked into things.  Many much things.  I chose to convert this cheesecake from a red velvet one to a green velvet one.  I usually pass up on eating my desserts and it is not because they are bad but mostly because I have the will power gnat.  (Just so you know: I started writing the phrase "I have the will power of a..." and then I had no idea of something that had little will power, so then I googled it and the first thing to pop up was will power of a mature dandelion.  Huh.)  This dessert, however, passed my lips.  I must admit it because the recipe called for 2 bottles of food coloring and you were left with a green tongue so I cannot deny its consumption.  It was delicious.  It would be glorious to make it every month and dye it a new color.  What color is April Fools? or could I do tri-colored for Cinco de Mayo?  Oh the possibilities! 

In all of my research for my St. Patties bake-a-thon, I was challenged by someones comment in my online recipe hunt who said that green food dye was a weak attempt at Irish creativity.  I am competitive.  You had better believe I scoured through recipes to do a "one up" on St. Patties Day treats.  So I met this fine young recipe for Irish Coffee Blondies.  Oh yes.  It happened.  Two monumental things occurred for the baking of this treat.  Monumental thing #1: I learned how to make brown sugar.  It may have been monumental enough that I was out of a baking ingredient, since my supply is usually great when it comes to these things.  But I was OUT OF BROWN SUGAR.  I was not out of Google however, so I googled a recipe for brown sugar and made it.  Turns out all it is is granulated sugar and molasses.  Win.  Life moved on.  Monumental thing #2: I had to buy whisky.  I needed 2 tbsp. for the icing.  I bought what I later, lacking the proper terminology, described to my roommate a baby bottle of whisky (apparently is called a shooter).  In case you are ever wondering: these said shooters have 4 tbsp. of whisky.  Now you know.  So I did not help the green food dye stocks in the making of this blondie, but I did help my competitive spirit.  Take that random person who I read online.  I win! 

I finished with a celebratory lunch.  Roasted red pepper and carrot soup was a glorious tribute to my protestant ways on this day.  I added some snap peas. Awwww look at those catholics and protestants being friends and sharing the bowl! 

Between these endeavors and the surprise leprechaun party I threw for my kiddos on Friday, yes friends, St. Patrick's Day was a celebration to be repeated.  I already have new recipes in mind to try for next year and research to do on the profit made from investing in food dye. 

The food was a success and I think the leprechauns put a little magic inside every bite I ate, because it has resulted in two consecutive days that were genuinely good from start to end.  Loving life is a beautiful thing.  As Elf would say, "Smiling is my favorite," and I would have to agree.  It's not always easy though.  Lately, I have been challenged with that.  When circumstances change, the smile does not always shine with ease.  Many times challenges and loss revert even the most dignified of people into why-me-ers, foot-stompers and fist-pounders.  It also often creates a wondering about God and His goodness if such a thing was able to happen.  I think one would be hard pressed to find someone who has not had this wondering at one time or another.  Today, in light of that wondering, I have been encouraged by this:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.... Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:2-6,12

Encouraged by His promise and feeling a little luck o the Irish,

Sunday, March 11, 2012

There are some things money can't buy...for everything else there's kazoos.

Can we start by talking about the musical wonder that is a kazoo?  It is awesome because it is the only instrument that levels the playing field as far as musical talent goes.  Music majors and tone-deaf Joe-schmoes all sound equally amazingly obnoxious (upon making that claim I am sure someone will quickly show me a YouTube video of someone who can play one to make them sound like you are at the orchestra but I would say that if you have watched a video of a kazoo orchestra on YouTube then I am calling for an intervention, you've got a problem, so be prepared).  I also enjoy a kazoo because it takes me back to one of my favorite memories.  Picture a warm summer evening after getting some Moosetracks ice cream with my aunt and having completed a trip to the dollar store (which you know only leads to the purchasing of worthless things you don't really have a need for like kazoos).  With one hand holding our ice cream and one hand holding our kazoo's and I suppose a third mutant hand for my aunt who was steering the car, we cruised around northern Michigan playing all the hits kazoo style.  The best portion was when we happened to need to go the same direction as another car for a good 20 minutes, so we were unintentionally following this car while jamming out on our recently acquired musical investments.  I wondered what he thought of us but wasn't worried enough to stop the jam session.  With 40 minutes of kazoo rehearsal on our drive, naturally we were ready for our debut performance and subjected our whole extended family to a concert.  I would like to say I was 7 when we did this, but I was a little past that (okay maybe a lot past that) and she was a little more past that (okay maybe a lot more past that).  Kazoo's transformed us, united us, and I will forever esteem the musical instrument that is the kazoo.  I share those same sentiments of regard for my kazoo band-mate and aunt, who passed away on Monday.  Few words can quite capture her character, to explain who she is an the mark she left on the world and in many hearts is as difficult as explaining a kazoo to someone who has never played one.  My attempt to describe her to you would be mediocre at best but I will say I have met few who encapsulate heart, passion and drive as she did. She wore the Achatz name well so hopefully I can carry on the legacy.  Maybe I'll enhance Achatz fame by perfecting my kazoo skills and creating a YouTube video in her honor.  Who knows?  But for now? I think I'll stick to baking.

You never plan for loss, but luckily for me I did plan for a massive weekend of baking up at camp, so I got me some baketherapy.  It all began with biscotti.  I made three flavors.  I consider it an accomplishment that I waited until day 2 to actually try any of it.  I let it sit for one whole day looking all tempting and cute before I finally gave in.  Biscotti makes me weak at the knees.  Forget the soft and chewy cookies, I love me a crispy cookie.  They were delightful, especially with a warm cup of coffee (even if it is not my favorite #1 Grandpa mug that broke a few summers ago).

Baketherapy continued with molten chocolate cakes.  I had never made them before.  My boss said I was crazy for trying them for a banquet.  I agreed.  I will never deny my over-achiever-type-A-never-take-the-easy-way-out-don't-try-what-I'm-trying-cause-it's-insane way of life.  I'm all in.  That's how I do.  Molten chocolate cake?  We will meet again soon, now that I know how to make you and all.  I've got some tweaking to do.

In case you were worried that I did not sufficiently baketherapize enough with the biscotti and the molten chocolate cake, fear not, I had another banquet.  Me being me, everything was made-from-scratch down to the lemon curd that I put in, um... um... um... one of the recipes, maybe the berry mascarpone mousse?  Yes. That's the one.  There were so many ingredients and minute details that I barely kept my head straight.  Yes friends, I was sufficiently therapized.

Meet mousse contestant number one: The Creamsicle.  Lemon sponge cake topped with a tangerine mousse.

Contestant number two: Chocolate Dream. Mocha devil's food cake with a mocha mousse, brownie bite, strawberry and chocolate sauce. 

Finally we have contestant number three: Berry bliss.  A blood-orange soaked biscotti bottom, fresh berries and a berry mascarpone mousse.

I am not really sure the contestants could actually enter into the same contest because they were all so different but I am just gonna go out on a limb and say that I am the winner because I made them all without eating any.  If you want to make me a medal, feel free.  Also, I wonder if I drooled enough over the crates of mousse that drool should count as an ingredient?  They looked like the kind of dessert you order at a restaurant and then stick your spoon in about 10 more times after you finish it just to make sure you ate even the air that now sits where the dessert used to be because the air might taste like what you just ate if it was in its presence long enough. 

It was a glorious and much needed weekend in the world of baking.  I am anxiously awaiting my next excuse to bake.  This week I was reminded of how short life really is, so I had better get baking STAT.  The world is full of millions of delicious treats and it is my civic duty to try as many as possible and force feed them to my friends.  I don't think they mind...

"How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone." James 4:14

R.I.P. Aunt Mary. You will be missed!