Sunday, July 29, 2012

I am fine waiting as long as I don't have to wait.

Cheesecake is arguably one of the most decadent things that has ever past these lips.  I. Love. Cheesecake.  The best part about it is that the cheesecake family is quite large.  The Cheesecake factory has two entire pages of flavors to try and they don’t even make every kind that exists.  So, I’ve got to know, what’s your favorite kind? Ready, go! Mine is all of them. Cheesecakes are creamy and sweet and after I finish a cheesecake-y treat, you will most likely find me melted on the floor.  The only way to revive me is probably more cheesecake, but then I will probably just melt on the floor yet again.  It’s a vicious cycle. Cheesecake, mouth, melt, floor, cheesecake, mouth, melt, floor, cheesecake… you get the idea.  So, I got the opportunity this week to have a little mini-visit up to camp to create some treats for the counselors to celebrate their last week of camp.  Treaty Tuesday fell on one of the days I was up there, so naturally I had to play it up big.  Red velvet cheesecake cupcakes with fresh whipped cream and chocolate garnishing were the natural choice.  I could have just left it at the red velvet cheesecake, but I had all last summer to fatten up the counselors with my baked goods and this year I had to do a summers work in three days.  This is a serious undertaking.  Fresh whipped cream was necessary.  Also, I had been watching YouTube videos about how to make chocolate garnishings (because that is a totally normal past time, right?) and knew that these cheesecakes would not be complete without them.
They turned out rockin’ sweet. See? All of the different garnishings were a result of me learning how to control the chocolate. 

The melted chocolate was telling me what shapes it wanted to make at first but then I finally learned to control it and make shapes.  I made a flower.  Precious, right? Thought so.

Cheesecake cupcakes were a great choice not just because of its deliciousness but because they take way less time and patience than a normal cheesecake baked in a spring-form pan.  A normal cheesecake is placed in a water bath, baked for like an hour, then the oven is turned off and no one is allowed to even think about opening the oven for at least 8 hours unless they want the wrath of me (which usually is not much of a wrath at all unless you open my oven while I am baking a cheesecake), the cheesecake is then left at room temperature, then placed in the fridge to cool.  That is a recipe demanding patience if I ever saw one.  Cheesecake cupcakes? Done in 20 minutes, left a room temperature for 20, then put in the fridge.  The time from oven to mouth is 4 hours.  Much faster. 
Sometimes I wish life had a cupcake version.  A way that you could achieve the end result by skipping a bunch of steps and not having to wait for life’s sweetest moments.  I am a dreamer.  I have a list of things I long to accomplish and if we are being honest, I would rather them be sooner than later.  I feel grateful about where God has brought me thus far and all that by His grace I have been allowed to achieve but I know that He has more in store.  I want to speed it up and get to that indulgent treat waiting for me but that is not His timing.  The process of getting to that point will require patience and refining of my character.  If my life is like this cheesecake, trying to accomplish all of my aspirations right here and right now would be like putting the cheesecake straight from the oven to the fridge.  The cheesecakes crack from the rapid cooling.  They have not undergone the process needed to create the proper conditions for a smooth cheesecake and they will not reach their utmost potential.  The waiting is essential. 
So here I am.  At the waiting place.  Here I know I am not alone.  Dr. Seuss talked of this place. “The waiting place… for people just waiting.  Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow.  Everyone is just waiting.” But oh the places I’ll go.  God has great plans, of this I am sure.  So I’ll wait.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” Psalm 27:14

Monday, July 23, 2012

I wish truffles grew on truffula trees because then you could call them a fruit.

It would be great if even the most stressful life events could compel you to eat broccoli and spinach, but the reality is that some days just require a few dozen cookies.  We all have our go-to comfort foods.  I personally enjoy a frozen tub of Cool Whip with a spoon and just digging on in.  I choose to ignore all of the unnatural things that are in that tub and just think about the delicious creamy taste.  My other go-to comfort snack is Stauffer's Animal Crackers.  No, not the Mother's Frosted Animal Cookies that will be used to complete the following treat but the straight up animal crackers.  So. good.  The amount I could eat in one sitting is a little frightening.  They are high on my list of foods that are not allowed into my grocery cart because I am well aware that they are not safe in my house.  On a night last week however, they became necessary, which brought me to the following conversation with my best friend.  She was disappointed that I didn't go for the frosted animal cookies or a whole bag of Oreos or at least dipping the animal crackers in frosting.  Apparently my emo-eating selection is weak.  While I stood firmly by my comfort food selection, it did spark my interest into exactly what the beauty behind the frosted cookies was.  In my quest, I discovered this recipe for circus animal cookie truffles.  I of course had to make them.  What my biffie wants, my biffie gets.

These things were R-I-C-H rich.  It made me acknowledge the fact that frosted animal cookies would be a good choice for a binge-fest, but the reality is that they are so sweet, you just cannot eat them in such a great quantity.  I could not eat a full one before deciding I had had enough making this a poor choice.  I'll stick to my Cool Whip thank you very much!  One bite of an overly sweet truffle takes about 30 seconds maximum to eat and a pity party usually takes at least 29 and a half minutes longer than that.  With nothing to munch on, the pity party just might get awkward and awkward never did anybody any good.

So, for you and your next pity party you throw for yourself, you might consider these truffles.  If you can handle insane sweet...  I cannot.  For those who are weak like me, I am sure the local grocery store will have an ample supply of whatever food you shall be comforted by (although I might judge you a little if you say yours is Cheese Whiz or Twinkies).  Better yet? Forgo the food all together and seek some God-filled, zero calorie comfort.  The beauty about running to God in these moments is that far more comfort is achieved and you can still button those jeans.  He's got you and He gets you.  He gets you in your joy and pain, in your peace and worry, in your contentment and in your longing.  Now that's comfort.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Its healthy, therefore I can eat 500, right?

I. love. muffins.  There is nothing better than a fresh out-of-the-oven-melt-in-your-mouth muffin.  The trouble is that they are usual so delicious because they have so many calories in them.  These aren't the kind of calories you can justify either.  They usually come from butter and sugar and eggs.  Sigh.  Now why can't celery stalks melt in your mouth like muffins do?  I'm going to figure out a way to make that happen someday, but until then I guess I will just take a recipe and healthify it as much as I know how. 

So, here we have it:

Zucchini Flax Muffins

3 cups of grated zucchini
1/2 cups of applesauce
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of vanilla Greek yogurt
3 teaspoons of vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons (heaping) of cinnamon
3 cups of whole wheat flour
3/4 cups ground flax seed

1. Mix together the zucchini, applesauce, sugar, yogurt and vanilla. 
2. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, flour and flax seed.
3. Realize, oh heck yes! this recipe has no raw egg.
4. Make sure to have a spoon ready to lick the bowl after it has been spooned into a muffin tin.
5. Fill 2 greased muffin tins 3/4 full.
6. Place in oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes.
8. Lick the bowl.  No raw egg. Remember?
9. Sigh.

Let me tell you.  These were amazing.  Now just because they are healthy, it does not mean you get to eat all 24 in one sitting, although you might want to.  Yum.

"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Ephesians 2:10 

Rain drops are falling on my head.

Among the many adjectives that could be used to describe me, you might find words like overachiever, perfectionist and type-A.  It's my reality.  So naturally, when it rains so hard that it is leaking through your roof and you have no desire to go outside and brave the elements, my first response is not to pop a bag of popcorn and curl up in a blanket to watch a good flick but see how many recently pinned recipes I can try before the rain stops. 

It started innocently enough with two.  I had been dying to try those candied nuts because they add 13 cents worth of ingredients to nuts and decide that that is a perfect reason to make the nuts triple the price and only make them so hot and fresh and delicious at sporting events which I never attend because I am always too busy baking.  I also had an intense desire to make home-made bread to accompany the apricot butter I had made earlier in the week.  It just had to be done.

As it turns out, candied walnuts are easy.  Walnuts, egg whites and a dreamy mixture of sugar and spices that is sure to make you weak at the knees if you happen to walk in and smell it while it is baking.
Now if only pictures could capture smells...

So it was on to the bread.  With the help of my lovely kitchen-aid mixer that I still have to pinch myself for being lucky enough to own, the peasant bread was kneaded in less than five minutes.  Excellent.  Nuts? Covered, making-me-melt-from-the-smell-wafting-out-of-the-oven, 17 minutes left. Bread? On it's first rise. Rain? Still coming down at a rapid rate but luckily no-longer deciding that through my roof is it's best route down.  Time for another recipe or 3...

Next was my first adventure into home made tortillas.  I didn't have a tortillera but I did have a rolling pin so I figured it was time to try.  In true beginner style my first tortillas were cute and round and 3 fit on a pan. I cooked them and quickly realized this is more of a gordita than a tortilla and my sad attempts at a tortilla found their home in my trashcan.  Lesson learned.  Flat means flaaaaaat. 

Luckily I had 15 more balls of dough to work with.  Each one got thinner and rounder and more authentic until I landed the perfect one, tortilla number 15.  Can someone please tell me why you always finally get the hang of something when you are on the very last one?  It never fails.  Then when you want to make them again, the touch is gone.  Its a sad but true fact of life.  I would like to skip ahead to expert status after try number one, please and thank you!

So tortillas were made, I had one tortilla out of the batch to be proud of and now it was time for dinner.  After my project of tortillas I needed some redemption, so I clang to the familiar.  My fool-proof-works-every-time dinner that I am known for is chicken parmesan and spaghetti squash spaghetti.  Aaaaaahhhh I breathed in the success.  Everything coming out exactly as planned is a glorious feeling and one I get with little frequency since I don't often bake the same thing twice. My torturous love of having dinner parties containing 15 brand-new recipes brings my blood pressure to soaring heights, but it is common. 

Five recipes later the rain had stopped.  I sighed.  Relaxation is obviously a foreign concept to me. In the news, the news reporter announced the beginning of monsoon season and ample days of rain to come.  You know my first thought was what I was going to cook next.  The answer to that is probably everything.  Me and the grocery store are going to become quite good friends with all of this rain hanging around.

Sometimes I wonder as I know I should be relaxing why I can't or why I would want to.  Relaxing for me takes more work than staying busy.  Sitting on a couch requires someone to duct tape me there so that I cannot move.  Even at work instead of a chair at my desk, I have an exercise ball so that I can bounce around and stay moving.  Laid-back may never be a word used to describe me but I have learned to embrace my character and all of my quirks that make me who I am.  What becomes the biggest blessing in all of this is those who gather around me who accept this too.  They get my five-hours-of-sleep-3-hours-of-gym-12-recipes-in-the-oven-5-dreams-in-my-head-to-accomplish-tomorrow self.  For them I am grateful and even more grateful for the God who gets me even more, who knows every nook and cranny of who I am up to the number of hairs that exist in my mass of curls that weave every which way on top of my head.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-14

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The apricot doesn't fall far from the tree but it might get some distance if a squirrel chucks it.

There is nothing better than a home grown delight.  The usual issue with whatever homegrown treat is harvested is the fact that it is all ready at once and there is almost always way more than anyone ever knows what to do with.  Have this dilemma?  Give them to me.  It's a great solution.  Ask my parents.  They just gave me 20 pounds of apricots from their apricot tree to keep them from the squirrels.  20 pounds.  That was 4 days ago.  Want to know how many currently remain in raw form? 10 little apricots that fit into a bowl.  

It is a good thing I find cutting therapeutic, because a lot of slicing and dicing needed to happen to utilize that many apricots.  A. Lot. Mucho mucho a lot.  With that pesky pit in the middle that was taunting me and reminding me that I couldn't slide the knife all the way through in one smooth motion.  I had to keep reminding myself that the deliciousness in the end would be worth it.

One colander full of 18 cups of apricots later?  It was time to play.

We began with an apricot stir fry sauce.  I am not linking the recipe because after making it, it was bitter and we had to add so much brown sugar just to make it bearable.  Oh well.  Failure happens sometimes. That's why God invented sugar.  It may look all cute and innocent in the mason jar but don't be fooled and don't repeat. 

Next was a chutney.  This is for the refined palette.  It's a pinkie up kinda thing.  It's also a deeeeelicious kinda thing.  Yum Yum Yum!  Again in a mason jar because there is something about a mason jar that makes whatever you put in it 10 times cooler.  This is true for most things, although I don't think it would work for mullets or people who wear socks with sandals (if there were a mason jar big enough then maybe but not likely). 

Fruit salsa.  To dip with a chip or my preferred method: digging in with a honkin' spoon and hoping your bite has plenty of that habanero pepper.  Love me some spice! 

Of course this ode to apricot would not be complete without an apricot butter.  Not butter with diced apricot mixed in (although there are a million recipes for that) but a sweet and savory slow-cooked mass of apricots with cinnamon that will make you melt.  That, my friends, is apricot butter and that, my friends, you must try. 

Finally? An apricot crisp.  They called it a breakfast apricot crisp and put yogurt on top of it.  I argue it to be dessert still. It was sweet.  Really sweet.  But if they are going to give it that title, I might as well eat it for breakfast.  Can someone please make a breakfast ice cream sundae recipe so I can justify that too?

And so ended my apricot adventure.  Or so I thought until I called my mom and said more apricots had just fallen from the tree... Time to research!  Hmmm what to make next...

"For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you." 2 Corinthians 9:10

Oh-oh say can you seeeeeee? This delicious star-spangled cookie in front of me?

Cinco de Mayo.  Celebrating the liberation of... oh wait... it is not.  Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.  September 16th is.  This is a fact that is missed by many although I am not sure they care to know because it would take away a drinking holiday.  I don't really want to stand in between anyone and their Corona Light, but now you know.  Sorry if I rained on your parade.  This was not always information that I always knew.  In fact, when I went to study abroad in Mexico, I arrived on May 7th. One of the first things I said to my family was that I was sad that I had missed Cinco de Mayo (which literally just means May 5th).  They looked at me with a puzzled, silly-American-Trix-are-for-kids look and asked me why.  I described to them how they celebrated Cinco de Mayo in Denver on Federal and downtown. They laughed at me clarifying it was not Independence Day but the celebration of a won battle in the city of Puebla versus the French and that they celebrated it in Puebla only.  Cool.  Ignorant American moment number one of my trip.  There were many more to come as I explored Mexico, but that one was the first.

As Cinco de Mayo rolled around this year, Pinterest was plastered with Cinco de Mayo treats.  Just about every 3rd pin in the pin market were these Pinata Cookies.  The baker in me wanted to bake them the second I saw them, but my principles told me to wait until the 16th of September to make them. I'm a purist.  But then in the middle of the night two weeks ago, I realized. Waaaaaiiiiiiit a minute.  America has one of those Independence Day celebrations too.  Awesome. Naturally I made pinata cookies for this occasion but not really pinata cookies at all.  Pinata cookie technique meets star-spangled awesome.

The cookie assembly process was an adventure in-and-of itself.  I made the sugar cookie dough in the safety of my own kitchen, Club350degrees, with my Zumbalicious Pandora cranked but then the chilled dough and I took a trip to my girl Danielle's house to assemble with her little nuggets that she nannies.  Yup! This adventure was going to happen with the help of a 4, 5 and 7 year old. As they each hopped up on their stool so they could see the counter I wondered how this was going to turn out. It turned out to be a fairly easy process.

Step one: Squish the red, white and blue dough into a rectangular tub.  Good activity for small children.  They succeeded.

Step two: Take the squished rectangular block of patriotic awesome and slice into slabs of cookie dough.  Remind children for the 23rd time that cookie dough has raw egg and we don't eat cookies until they are baked (Then sneak a little taste because you are the adult and this is one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do kind of rules and cookie dough is delicious.)


Oh hello slab of cookie dough.  Don't you look festive!

Step three: Bake cookies at designated temperature.

Step four: Once baked, quickly take a cookie cutter and cut out the star shape.  Small children can do this step and you can thank them with a baked cookie scrap.  You don't get one though because you ate the raw dough, remember?  You've got to look out for your figure.

Step five: In every third cookie, cut a square out of the middle.  This is where the surprise will go.  If I were biting into most foods, I would not enjoy the presence of a surprise, but this surprise is chocolate, so it's safe.

Step six:  Okay, time to fess up!  Who ate glue during art in elementary school? It probably was gross.  I never tried it but I might have if the glue was buttercream icing like what we used to glue the whole cookie to the cookie with the square cut out.

Step seven: Fill the whole with candies.  I did red, white and blue sunflower seeds but next time I am totally doing pop rocks.  Like firecrackers! Oh yes. Happening.

Step eight: Glue with more frosting and cover with another whole star.

Voila! Star-spangled Independence Day Cookies. The presentation was mostly successful even with the aid of small children.  In the end, I've decided it is actually beneficial to bake with them around because they can unknowingly be blamed for any kitchen mishap.  I kinda like that.  Flat cookies? Oh the kids helped me bake them.  Lopsided cake?  Oh the kids helped me bake it.  Burnt brownies. Oh the kids were making them with me.  It's brilliant.  I am going to hire a kid or two from now on every time I bake.  If yours are for sale, I can take them off your hands...

So there you have it.  My tribute to America.  I didn't do much on the actual holiday to honor our country (unless you count my nod to commercialism with a day trip to IKEA) but I did make a cookie.  God bless America, y'all!

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” 1 Timothy 2:1-3