Friday, June 29, 2012

"If at first you don't succeed, destroy any evidence that you tried." -Unknown

Everybody has a bucket list.  They usually include things like traveling to an interesting destination, sky diving, singing in front of a large audience, or meeting a famous person.  Sure, those are nice, but today? I completed a biggie on my bucket list.  Making homemade fortune cookies.  Seriously.  It's on there. I have always wanted to make them.  Fortune cookies are this incredible treasure.  If you invite me for chinese food at a restaurant, you had better call ahead and ensure that they have fortune cookies because if they don't, I probably wont enter.  Preferably, they will have a basket in which you can grab extras and become extra fortunate and not be the cheap ones who leave one per every person at your table along with the check.  I like to be extra fortunate, what can I say? 

So, anyways, back to the bucket list.  When my friend, Jill, invited me to come and help her make fortune cookies for a surprise party she was throwing with an Asian cuisine, I naturally accepted.  She had put her boyfriend and his friend in charge of writing the fortunes.  Most of the fortunes weren't actually fortunes but it's better than if I were in charge, because I would have just put "You will be rich." on every single one.   Then it would come true, right?  Right... Amongst the fortunes was the quote, "If at first you don't succeed, destroy any evidence that you tried."  I didn't even have to break open that fortune to make it a reality.  You see, this is the final product:

You may be thinking, oh wow, that is really impressive.  And okay, it looks good.  We did a celebratory dance at the outcome of our project, but allow me to teach you some math.  What is 2 times 20?  Did you answer 40? Wrong! The answer is 24.  Our recipe was doubled and should have yielded 40 cookies, but in the midst of learning the art of fortune cookie-ing, a great mass was thrown away.  24 were made in total.  The first one was a success.  It was put in the skillet and cooked like so:

Then you had to quickly stick in the fortune, fold and pinch it on the top, rest it on the lid of a glass to make that famous crease on the bottom and say a quick prayer that it didn't crack.  There were a lot of failed attempts.  But have you ever seen a blog where they showed off their burnt cookies or collapsed cake?  I wasn't about to photograph the mountain of fortune cookie scraps that had accumulated in our adventure. 

Apart from the grand event of completing a bucket list item, today was significant as it allowed for reflection.  Each day, when it comes to an end we are left with our reality. We are left with what we have accomplished or attempted and failed.  I hope that we all have dreams, hopes and desires and that we are filling our days pursuing them with all that we are.  We may have to throw out the scraps and the oopsies sometimes, we may have to stop and wonder if it can even be acheived, but the end result is always worth it.  The pursuit of dreams brings us to a greater understanding of our potential.  If we don't try, we may never know what we are truly capable of. 

"So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it." 1 Peter 4:19

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You can take your metabolism and shove it!

Friends coming into town to visit naturally means that you are allowed to make a meal with enough calories to feed 500 when there are only three of you.  Anything goes.  As I flipped through the recipes I keep in my head, I could think of nothing better to prepare than this recipe for stuffed blueberry cream cheese french toast.  While I have never actually tried it, the mere fact that my principal interrupted my earth shattering lesson on double digit addition to ask for the recipe told me it would be a hit with my friends. 

Tell me this doesn't look good:

Can't tell me, can you? Thought so.  I think it looks good too.  My breakfast however did not include this mouth-watering delight.  I stuck with my usual carrots and peanut butter.  This metabolism is not very forgiving of the partaking in something so indulgent.  Not to fear though, my breakfast was heavenly. I discovered all natural peanut butter with coconut oil.  Oh. my. goodnessssssssssssss.  I melted a little with each crunch.  So. good.  In fact, if you so desire, you can stop reading this blog for a moment, go to the store, buy all natural peanut butter with coconut oil and return.  I'll be right here when you get back.  Seriously. So. good.  Did I mention it was good?  So, please do not feel bad for me and my slower-than-molasses-metabolism because I was on the floor, melted from all that yumminess that went into my mouth.  So. good. 

Everyone always wonders, as they see my blog and all of the sweet treats I make, how in the world I let them pass by without eating any of it.  Let me tell you, it is not always easy.  In fact, the title of this blog was actually what I jokingly said to one of my friends who was visiting and enjoying the stuffed french toast while I munched on carrots.  With her body type that allows spoonfuls of Nutella, bags of candy and all of the waffles one could dream of shoving in your face, I am a little envious.  Oh to have that metabolism...

But at the end of the day, the feeling of accomplishment gets me through.  The knowledge that being fit by hard work and not by natural blessing makes me proud.  This lets me get through my day.  This lets me savor every spinach leaf, broccoli tree and apple slice.  This pushes me to my 299th crunch on my new ab swing machine I recently purchased from the ARC on half off day for 4.00 plus tax that I love to hate. 

So while God didn't bless me with a speed-of-light metabolism, I have been challenged this week to remember that He has created something beautiful in me none-the-less.  Created in His image.  Valued.  Cherished.  Loved.  Let's face it, girls are the first to be aware of their flaws and constantly desire to be a better version of themselves.  Sometimes people who cross our paths can affirm our fears and make us feel less-than-worthy. We are constantly striving to prove that we are enough.  In Him? We are.  For that I am grateful.  In that knowledge I feel free.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Proverbs 31:30-31

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If I tell you, I'd have to kill you.

I make brownies.  And not just any kind of brownies.  Cheesecake brownies.  Watching your figure?  Don't eat these.  If you choose to eat them and decide they are delicious, you do not want to read this blog post.  You will see exactly how much butter and sugar and eggs it contains that feel remorse for just having finished half the pan.  You will be mad at me but don't be.  I am giving you fair warning. If you like these brownies.  Do not read this blog.  This is a dessert that is frequently requested by friends for birthdays and celebrations or just because it's Tuesday and they said so.These are a particular favorite of one of my friends and he even requested it at his birthday.  His wife requested the recipe so that this event could occur.  Passing the recipe on was a milestone.  I worried if I passed this recipe on, I would no longer be necessary.  Who was I if I was not the cheesecake brownie hook-up? It was an on-going joke about my decision to pass the recipe on or not.  We joked about how mayyyybe I would pass it along but I might not write it down exactly as I make it.  Finally after much deliberation, I gave it to them.  She made it and it exploded in the oven.  It bubbled over the sides and was an absolute catastrophe.  This woman can cook so it was not a question of skill.  I did not sabotage the recipe but it was an epic fail.  I have no words.  We stood in front of the oven staring at the volcano of a brownie in awe.  Then in true "us" style we grabbed our forks and dug in.  The taste was not affected.

So today I made this recipe for the 927th time and laughed as I remembered that moment.  My family begged for the recipe and I recollected my angst in passing the recipe on.  So today, I am being bold and posting the recipe for this:

Cheesecake Brownies


Brownie batter (adapted from Hershey's best brownie recipe)
2 sticks of butter (melted)
2 cups of sugar
2 tbsp. of vanilla
4 eggs
1/4 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking powder
1 cup minus 2 tbsp. Hershey's best life cocoa powder (or a HEAPING 3/4 cup)
1 cup of flour

Cheesecake filling
8 oz. of cream cheese (softened)
2 tbsp. of vanilla
1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg

1. Put on your favorite jams at high volume. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Hand mix butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs.
3. Add dry ingredients for the brownie batter.
4. Pour batter into 11 x 13 pan.
5. Use an electric mixer to combine the cheesecake filling ingredients.  Mix until they are smooth.
6. Take filling and scatter dollops of the filling around the batter.
7.  Take a knife and snake it through the batter to marble the batter.  I go up-down, left-right, and finally diagonally in both directions.  Marble perfection. 
8. Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Check to see if it is done by sticking a knife in the center.  If it is still gooey and sticks to the knife, give it more time or just get a spoon and eat the gooey mess with a massive scoop of ice cream because somethings just can't wait.

There.  My recipe.  Posted. Online.  For the world.  Enjoy.

Soul food makes me wish sugar was calorie free.

Everyone has a comfort food.  That dish that has been passed down through the generations and is made in that way that it has always been made and no one quite makes it the same way as...  Luckily if you ever want to make mine, its ants on a log and even the most inept person in the kitchen can succeed with this request.  Yesterday, I dove into a recipe of this nature head first.  Imagine making your grandmother's Hungarian cherry tart with Michigan orchard cherries and a lattice top for your family.  Pressure.  Lots and lots of pressure.  Things that are necessary to know is that I had to make a lattice top to stretch over an 11 by 19 pan.  I measured.  Remeasured.  Stressed.  Stopped to take a breath or ten.  Checked my measurements again.  Then after I had successfully created a lattice to fit gloriously over the top I realized that the lattice actually had to go on top.  It was not.  It was neatly latticed right next to the pan.  Whelp.  Things were going to get interesting.  Remember the pressure mentioned earlier.  This was a serious dilemma. Comfort food.  Grandma's recipe.  Family.  I have never actually read Great Expectations because I don't have well great expectations about its ability to keep me captive but if I were to write a lengthy book called Great Expectations, I would probably write it about this tart.  After much manipulating and manuevering, it finally did make it on top of the tart but it was sketchy at points.

At this point (the hasn't-gone-in-the-oven-I'm-not-breathing-point) I was not in a state of calm.  I call baking my therapy but it is not such great therapy when you are under pressure.  Panic training is a better name for it.  In case there is ever a great danger like a bomb or tsunami, I will be prepared from all of the panic training hours I have logged in my kitchen. 

At first cut I was finally able to breath.  See? Lamaz classes for bakers?  Totally necessary.  I forget to breath quite often during the process. 

I am sure there is a lesson in all of this for me.  Maybe I should make sure to only feed my future kids cake mixes and boxed foods so that their comfort foods can be replicated and I can ensure that their future wives and husbands never have to undergo such stress. 

Today however as I breathe with ease and watch the plate near by with the last square of a demolished 11 by 19 tart that managed to survive dinner and the next day breakfast nibblers I am reminded of perspective.  The grandiosity of the world and its on-goings.  The minute preoccupations of the chemical reactions and magic created with a little butter and sugar do not bring near the comfort of those in which we are surrounded.  Family, loved ones, gathered together.  Breaking bread.  Celebrating life.  That's comfort.  It feeds the soul.  We were not made to be alone and God knew that all along. Today be grateful for those who surround you.  They are sweet blessings and calorie free.

"Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. ”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." Genesis 2:19-24

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Art of Imitation

 Can someone please explain to me why I can let cakes upon cookies upon brownies go in and out of my oven without even licking my fingers or sneaking a crumb and then I get around those soft sugar cookies with frosting and mountains of chemicals found at your local grocery store and I go weak at the knees?  It's really quite sad.  I always want to justify it by saying, "But looook, it's red and green for Christmas and Christmas only happens once a year so I have to get them. Oh looook orange and black for Halloween, Halloween only happens once a year I have to get them. Oh loooook blue and grey for national whale week, national whale week only happens once a year so I have to get them."  (OK, they don't really have national whale week cookies and I am not really sure a national whale week even exists, but you get the picture...)  What I am trying to say is those less than natural cookies are the bomb.  So, it was time to try to make them at home.  Difference?  This recipe with no-chemicals-to-be-found made those. 

And you know you want to eat it.  You can justify it by saying, "Awwww look, red, white and blue for fourth of July. Fourth of July only comes one day a year so I have to make them."

Well, I did make them. You have to understand that from the moment those sugared butter balls of dough hit the pan until my first bite, I was on pins and needles.  The anxiety.  These have been my comfort food since forever so they had to reach a very high level of awesome.

When I pulled them out of the oven.  I breathed.  A little.  Well?  They looked edible at least. But would they make the cut?  This is the exact reason why I avoid making peoples all-time favorite foods.  Too much pressure.  Sometimes I like the challenge but most times it makes me need something to relax me.  Maybe I should look into Lamaze classes.  Think they'd let me go to one to learn how to breathe while baking? I wonder...

Slathered frosting on them and here they are.  Soft sugar cookies.  Childhood favorite with about 573 less chemicals.  I can't say they were identical but I can say I had more than one.  Imitation success!  If I were feeling really ambitious I would have a recipe off and find the closest match but I have decided I should probably set my ambitions elsewhere.  If Jesus comes back this week and all I've got to say for myself is that I successfully recreated the soft frosted sugar cookie, He probs won't be super impressed.  Life is short and also there are way to many other recipes to try like these pinata cookies that are only my wildest dream to try to bake. My eyes are fixed on higher things.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Shake and Bake Y'all!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Shake and Bake Zumba Cake

Shakira was spot on when she said her hips don't lie.  Hips are very telling little things.  They tell whether you've got moves or whether you have had a few too many slices of cake in your day.  Me and my hips have battled as I have stumbled my way to finally being a salsera and as my rabbit food diet shed that cake off inch by inch.  I can also attribute the success of my diet to the party also known as Zumba.  In fact I might just be a Zumba freak.  It is only natural that when one of my favorite Zumba instructors had to move to California, I created a Zumba cake.  Brilliant colors and wild patterns? Yes please!

I began first with a marble touch.  Bright colors? Check! Wild patterns? Double check.

Came out of the oven and I almost peed myself with excitement because of the awesomeness.  (I am aware that that is not a lady-like thing to say but I just wanted to ensure you understood my excitement. Sorry.)  Please notice a small example of the Jenga that happens in my kitchen.  It gets interesting sometimes...

So the awesome Zumba cake high was there until I cut the first slice.  Bright colors? Still check. Wild patterns? Nope. Wah wah wah.  Lesson learned about marble cakes.  Only cool from a birds-eye view.  Now I know.

The good part of this adventure was that they moved the party a week back, so I got to do a take 2.  My students didn't mind the lack of pattern because there was not a lack of sugar as I pawned my cake off on them. 

Cake two?  Zebra pattern.  Two colors.  Blob-by-blob.  Baked into awesomeness.  Bright colors? Check!  Wild patterns?  Double check!  

Of course the frosting had to be bright too.  This cake is not meant for dull people.  In fact if you are boring?  Avoid this cake.  It will overwhelm you.  Stick to a vanilla cake with buttercream frosting.  All white.  All safe.  Hmmm.  Maybe I should make a surgeon's general warning for this cake or something...

When we cut into the cake?  It was a win!  I let out a big sigh of relief.  Zebra stripe success.  This cake even survived a mordida.  Wondering what a mordida is?  Well in the cake cutting of cakes in the Latin culture, the person in which the cake is in honor of is instructed to take a bite of the cake with no hands before it is cut.  Every time the person says, "OK, OK, I'll take a mordida but don't push my face in this time."  Every time the others promise, "We won't" Then someone comes from behind and shoves their face into the cake. They submerge from the cake with frosting all over and this shocked look, because they magically believed that this time they really weren't going to get pushed in.  That's a mordida.  And my cake survived it. 

All in all, my adventures into encapsulating the essence of Zumba in cake form was a success.  It provided some great inspiration.  We won't mention the fact that my usual union with these lovely Zumbera ladies does not involve such high caloric items like this 1-2-3-4 cake from Pie in the Sky (my go-to baking cookbook that I love more than a whole lot of other things that I love) with a brightly colored buttercream frosting. Every once in a while indulgence is OK (especially in the name of Zumba and one of my favorite Zumberas who is now safely to the beautiful state of California to shake her hips on some dreamy beach instead of in our compact lime green colored store-front room at a run down mini-mall on Sheridan). 

So shake and bake, it's what I do.  You know you want to join this party! 

You think King David would have done Zumba?...

"David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets." 2 Samuel 6:14-15