Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mini Cheesecakes

For Thanksgiving, I made mini cheesecakes...

I used this recipe from the Kraft website.

I made two versions, chocolate chip and fruit.

I used a Chips Ahoy Chewy chocolate chip cookie as the crust for the chocolate chip version. For the other, I had planned to use Nilla Wafers, which I'd been led to believe you could just drop them in as the crust. But, the size of the wafer is too small for regular cupcake tins and too large for mini cupcake tins. So, I crumbled them and used them just like graham crackers as the recipe calls for.

When the cheesecakes came out of the oven, they were very puffy, which when they'd cooled left the top concave. I decided to put a dollop of whipped cream into the indent to camouflage. I let them cool completely on the counter, then into the fridge for an hour.

I keep heavy cream in the fridge, so I whipped up a 1/4 cup with 2 t. sugar. While that was whipping, I peeled the liners off of each cheesecake. A dollop in the dent, which I swirled with the back of the spoon. Once I'd topped all the plain ones, I added cocoa and a little more sugar to the remaining whipped cream for the chocolate chip variety. Then I set fresh berries on the plain and a sprinkling of chips on the others.

They looked very pretty and tasted even better. Both were delicious, the cookie worked perfectly, but the fruit are my favorite. I love the contrast of the tart fruit with the creamy silkiness of the cheesecake.

Well, I have a pic of the chocolate chip variety, which I took on my phone and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting on it to ever arrive in my email, so I can edit and add to this post. Sometime, when that ever happens, I'll post the other pic. Whew! The internet finally caught up with my impatient self, so the pic is posted!

For now, take a look at that countertop! I still very much love it. Everything looks great with it as the back drop!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Revelations on Black Friday

Confession: I used to read a lot. When I was younger, I read voraciously. I still love books and check out lots and lots of them from the library. I find myself unable to read most books cover to cover. I am having trouble "getting into them" you see. I read and re-read paragraphs and chapters because I can't retain the details. It's upsetting to me. I love books. They've been my friends and teachers and I miss reading. I've missed it enough to spend time thinking about it and to write this entry.

There are two culprits, I think:

First, I have a lot of chatter inside my head. On any given day, there are a lot of thoughts, arguments, counter arguments, re-enactments, grumblings, solutions, and challenges rattling around in my head. It's terribly distracting. A book has to be really good to win the battle against the chatter.

Second, my household is vibrant and busy. It's a GOOD problem to have, and one which I'm very grateful for. I only bring it up because I realize this also contributes to the difficulty in plugging into a book. There is almost no time when there aren't people up and about in my house. My husband is an early bird. He is habitually up by 6 and often gets up before then. My kids are night owls and it's not unusual for them to be up until 2 or 3 in the morning. I fall in between - I like to be asleep by 11 and awake by 7. Because we are all on varying sleep and work schedules, there is no downtime in this house. At least, no regular downtime.

I don't have the ability to tune people out. Do you? I am sitting here typing this blog, while my youngest is watching a TV show in one room, my oldest is making food in the kitchen and my husband is snoring in the bedroom. I hear it all and can tell you exactly what the TV show is about and can repeat dialogue, even. There is virtually no way I can read a book in this house, most days. aaahhhh. interesting.

Same thing goes for meditating, a practice I began this year as part of the year of light. It's really hard to find any quiet time to meditate, for the exact same reasons as above. I miss meditating, too. I was getting really frustrated with myself because I'd be in the middle of a meditation and get distracted and... yada, yada, yada.

But, it's not like I would choose a different life. I love my noisy, vibrant family. I love their quirkiness and endless variety and wouldn't want to change any of it. I LOVE THIS MAGIC BLOG! I just needed to figure out what had changed to understand it. Now that I do, I feel fine with this change. Books will always be around and when time allows, I'll read them. Until then, I'll just keep plugged into the love and lunacy of my family and forgive the books, and forgive the meditation, and relax. All is Good!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Gobble, gobble to you and yours! For the first time in years, we are going somewhere else for Thanksgiving. We've spent the last few years, staying in, just us. It's a quiet and wonderfully intense family day. I will miss that, but am looking forward to today because it includes some of my favorite family members.

I've spent the morning making two kinds of home-made rolls, mini-cheesecakes and green beans. Okay, we are also making a turkey because we can't stand the idea of no left overs! Ha!

May your day hold things to make you smile!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Vanilla Extract Update

16 oz
Here is a picture of the extract I started mid October... It's been sitting the lower portion of
8 oz
the hutch all this time. It's fun to watch it progress. Initially, the liquid was clear, as vodka is. Each week, the color deepens. The two bottles look the same in the small pictures, but you can tell the smaller bottle because the vanilla beans are cut in half so they would fit. I opened a bottle to smell it today as I was reading a Pinterest post that says as soon as it smells like vanilla, it's good to go. It smells heavenly, but I think it needs to darken, so back into the hutch it goes.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fermenting Revisted

I've set some more veggies to ferment:  Carrots, onions, cabbage and celery.

I enjoy dilly flavored items, with a little heat, so my go to fermenting method is this:

3 T. of sea salt (non-iodized)
1 Quart of warm water

Dissolve the salt by stirring it in the warm water. Set aside.

Prepare the veggies. As near as I can tell, there isn't any kind of vegetable you cannot ferment. There's a lot of discussion about self brining and added brining. I am no expert and I recommend you do as I did, read everything you can and make educated choices. I've yet to make anything by self brining because I don't feel confident. Even with cabbage, I top off the jar with brine.

Back to the veggies... I did both carrot sticks and rounds. No special reason, just for variety. I also did alternating slices of red and yellow onions. Again, no special reason. Celery sticks that grew from the end of a grocery store purchase that I planted in the garden is in one jar. My husband picked it today and mostly it's tiny stalks, but hopefully it will be tasty. There are three jars of cabbage, as well. Decide how you are going to cut the veggies (I don't think it matters for fermenting what way you choose, it's only your preference), then pack the jars.

To each jar:

1/4 t. Dill weed
1/4 t. Dill seed
1/4 t. Red Pepper flakes
1/2 t. Peppercorns
2-3   Garlic Cloves

Note: for the cabbage, I skipped the dill weed & seed. I put peppercorns in one, peppercorns and garlic in another and red pepper flakes, peppercorns and garlic in the last. It's my first go around with cabbage and I wanted a variety to see what I like best. I wonder if anyone has done a slaw? I like slaw on sandwiches and burgers occasionally and I wonder how fermented slaw would be? hmmm....

The key to fermenting is keeping the veggies under the brine. This is somewhat tricky and I've tried several methods and none of them worked ideally. You want to find a way to keep the veggies submerged, yet allow the gas to escape. I'm trying plastic mesh this go around, the sort used to do needlepoint (picture tissue box covers). I cut them into rough circles, using a wide mouth mason jar lid as a guide, cutting them slightly larger than the lid - maybe 1/4 inch bigger all the way around. Then squish it into the jar, pushing all the veggies down. I used small mouth quart jars and once the plastic gets down to the shoulders of the jar, it will stay put even when the brine is added. And it has holes, which should allow the gas to escape. I'll let you know how it works~

Once you have your veggies, seasoning and mesh circle in the jar, it's time to fill it with brine. You want to fill into the neck of the jar, to ensure the veggies will remain submerged. I keep mine under a towel looking at it a couple of times a day.

This is the first day and the bubbling is beginning. I've stuck my finger in each jar, poking the mesh to jiggle the bubbles loose.  Especially the cabbage, which has a lot of air trapped in the shredded layers.
Curious about other things we fermented?  My all time favorite was the salsa, made from tomatoes from the garden. I made a second batch with tomatoes from the store - AWFUL. Actually it was good the first day, but after that, the tomatoes turned to mush and I just couldn't eat it. The first batch was a thing of beauty, though. Salty, tangy, spicy, chunky and delicious. From the first day to the last, which was about three weeks, the veggies though they softened, never became mush.

Fermented ketchup - mixed reviews. Primarily because the spices. It didn't taste like a ketchup any one of us had ever had. It was a weird mix somewhere between a bloody mary and barbecue sauce.

Ginger Carrots - I enjoyed these, but not as much as the dilly carrots. If I make again, I'll add dill seasoning in addition to the ginger I think.

Pickles - we still have pickles from summer. The smaller cucumbers make the best pickles. They are still very delicious, even after all this time. This summer, I tried to use every cucumber and next year I will not. I'll be more selective because once they grow larger than about an inch or 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the centers just do not hold up. As in they dissolve away and are a tad slimy.

If you have questions, please feel free to ask. If you are also fermenting, please, please, share your adventures!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday Reflections...

Yesterday I watched the one of my regular food shows and french bread pizzas were featured. Can I tell you something? Until I watched that show, I really never thought of making my own. Silly, I know. So, I decided to make some sourdough rolls about 6". Didn't they turn out pretty? Here is my tip if you are baking and wanting to achieve this golden brown color... Bake them as directed and then about 5 minutes before you take them out, baste with melted butter. The bread it hot and the butter starts sizzling right away and you end up with this beautiful color. The directions on the recipe recommended an egg wash, but I prefer the butter. I've tried putting the butter on at the beginning of the baking, but these bake at 450 and it's too brown for me.

We made pizzas today, slicing each roll in half and each of us were able to top it how we wanted. They bake in the oven for 375 for 20 minutes. Note: how long you cook them is up to you. It also depends on how many toppings you add and what kind of bread you are using. Homemade bread is denser than store bought and needs a longer time in the oven. I don't know why, exactly, probably some kind of additive or something. Anyway, I started checking at 15 minutes. I was waiting for the cheese to brown and the bonus was that the bread was lovely and crunchy. So for us it was 20 minutes at 375. I apologize for not taking a picture of the finished pizza, but by the time the twenty minutes were up, we were all too intent on eating to take pictures.

There is a small group of iris outside the kitchen window. I can see them from the sink. They are deep, deep purple and smaller than the others I have around the house. This year, they've decided to bloom twice. It's such a lovely gift from nature. See for yourself! Just another example of the abundance of life.

Well, it turns out I forgot to finish this post yesterday, so now it's Sunday-Monday Reflections.

The dishwasher is on the fritz and the replacement part doesn't arrive until tomorrow. Yes, I know plenty of people do without a dishwasher. But when you are used to it and it is integral to your cooking routine, it's so irritating. Whiny! Yes I am; don't hold it against me.

For anyone else who might be considering giving up caffeine... I am not caffeine dependent, though I do occasionally partake. Most of the time when I have one it's because I want it, but there have been one or two days after a sleepless night when I've used the caffeine to get through the long afternoon. A friend of mine says she feels "much better" without caffeine. I can't say there has been a dramatic change in any area of my life, though I do sleep more consistently. Mostly I wanted to get away from the 'need' for caffeine and I've done that. I didn't want to always be thinking about Diet Coke and now I don't. Oh, I think my teeth and gums are healthier. Which is weird to me as I didn't know pop had that effect. All in all, it was a good decision and one I've been able to easily live with.

Well, that's about it for the musings. I'm off to work this day. Hope you had a good weekend.

Today is Veteren's Day. For every soldier and their families: Thank you!
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Odd Items on Pinterest

First let me say this: I love Pinterest.

This also has to be said, some people collect the oddest categories of pins.  Side note, here, but very important: if you think my pins are odd, please don't tell me. In this moment, ignorance is bliss.

$10, Vintage Christmas Corsage - 1960's - In Original BoxToday, I was minding my own business when someone I "follow" started pinning "Christmas Corsages". Is that a thing? I mean it must be because she pinned like a dozen before I could hit the "unfollow" button. No really, is that a thing?!

Okay, it's not my thing and it's never going to be my thing, but I had no idea that was really a thing!  I'm including this picture, which I found on the net, but you will want to search them out. This one is a nice one, vintage and I can actually see someone wearing this on their coat. But some of them... oh my.  I saw one with a tree that was 6 or 8 inches tall!

Has anyone ever seen the David Letterman skit "Is this Anything"? Sometimes I wonder if I'm in such a skit. I'll be David, you be Paul.... Christmas Corsages... Is this something or is it nothing?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Daring Greatly

So, the book I mentioned a couple of posts ago is called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. by Dr. Brene Brown.

I don't know how to say how much this book means to me. I feel changed for the better. It's amazing and I'd wish for everyone to read it. I love it almost too much. I've talked about it with everyone I know. Okay, here's the weird and honest truth... When I love something this much I'm stunned and amazed when other people don't. I don't have this same reaction to things I like or even really like. It's just when I really love something... like Sopapilla Cheesecake Squares or Valentine's Day gifts for my kids or pot roast carrots or Jane Austen.

So, I really love this book. I started reading this book after watching her TED Talk. Have you been to OMG! It's a website with the tagline of "Ideas Worth Sharing". It's the most amazing site and I recommend it highly. Anyway, Brene Brown has two TED Talks and both are really, really good. Once I'd watched the first one, I was hooked. I checked out books from the library, found her website, and the obsession was in full swing.

First let me say, it's non-fiction. As if you can't tell by the title, but someone I talked to was surprised it's non fiction. I enjoy non fiction, but even if you don't, please think about reading her books.

The other thing I will say is that she gives definition to ideas I've been talking about on this blog - - shame and guilt and a whole host of others. Her definitions, built from years of research, helped me to be able to express what I've been feeling and trying somewhat unsuccessfully to verbalize. She also introduced me to her concept of Whole Hearted Living, which, of course, I want! Whole Heartedness is a term I hadn't really thought about before reading this book, but is a way of living and being that I've been striving for. It's a concept that I didn't have a name for, which is part of the reason this book means so much to me, I know. I've been looking for a way to unravel my emotions and understand why I react the way I do, sometimes. There is great power in giving things a name.

Brene Brown is funny and upfront in a way that I totally love. Interspersed in the book are personal stories from the research participants and the author that illustrate the concepts presented. They are helpful, funny, sometimes raw, touching and REAL. The book is also filled with statistics and research data, and that takes some attention for those of us who don't love data. But, my oh my, is it worth it! She has explored just what it means to be and live whole-heartedly with the help of thousands of research participants and the book tells the story. Every chapter is mind blowing and she fills the pages with little gems like:“Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.” and "Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism." and "You're imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."

At the risk of scaring people off with my enthusiasm, all I'm really going to say about the book is this: It's good, really good. I found hope and healing and understanding reading it. I think there is value for everyone, but I firmly believe that we all find the wisdom we need when we are ready and not a moment sooner.

So, if you read the book and don't like it, no biggie. If you read it and like it, let's talk!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Back, a welcome visit and Vanilla Extract

I love fall back Sunday.  I know it's more a trick of the mind, but I totally love the extra hour.  I slept deep and really well last night.  When I woke up, thinking it was late, it was only 7:12.  That was the first best part of the day!

My youngest, a sophomore in college, is home for a visit! Oh my, is it good to walk through the house and see his face looking back at me.

This day seems like it's been going on forever and it coincides with a visit from my sweet little boy. It doesn't get much better than that.

Two weeks ago I started a batch, my first batch, of Vanilla Extract. I found an entry on Pinterest and when I calculated the amount of money I spend per ounce from the store, it was a no-brainer. I priced the extract at all the stores around me and the least expensive, not imitation, was $2.25 an ounce. While I try to buy it on sale, sometimes a girl's just gotta make cookies even when supplies aren't on sale. So the last one I purchased was $3.39 an ounce. It was on this day I decided to make my own now, not later.

This is what I did... I took my 24 year old to the liquor store and said help me pick out a vodka that is drinkable, but not top shelf. We chose a bottle that was $12.99 for 750ml, which is 25-ish ounces. Then on a shopping trip with my best guys, we visited our favorite 'little bit of everything' store and found 4 - 8 oz. swing top bottles and 2 - 16 oz. ones for $1.99 each. I'd already ordered beans online and they'd arrived within 2 days!  Two weeks ago, I cut the beans in half, so they were short enough to fit into the 8 oz. bottle, then split them down the middle leaving the tip intact.  I put 6 halves into each bottle, then filled with vodka. For the 16 ounces, I put in 6 beans that I did not need to cut in half because the bottle was tall enough for the whole beans... I did split them though. I closed the lids and put them in the hutch in the front room to become the most magical of baking ingredients.

In case you are wondering about the math, here's how it breaks down: beans were 16.99 (shipping included) for 25, which is $0.68 per bean. Vodka is $0.52 per ounce.  Each bottle holds 8 ounces vodka and 3 beans $4.16 + $2.04 = $6.20.  That's $0.77 per ounce!   That's 1/4 the cost of the last bottle I purchased - woo.  If we include the cost of the bottles, it works out to be $1.02 per ounce and even that is less than 1/3 the cost of that last bottle I purchased.  Ohmygoodness!

The only hitch in this plan is the time... It takes 6-8 weeks to create extract.

It's a win I think.  And I'm sure you are wondering... what on earth am I going to do with 64 oz of vanilla extract... I plan to give it away for Christmas.  I'm hoping to find some smaller bottles sometime between now and then, because 4 ounces is probably good for most folks. The two 16 oz bottles can become 8-4oz bottles. So, fingers crossed.