Goodbye 2019…

Hasn’t been my favorite year. All I can say is, don’t let the door hit ya in the @ss on your way out. So, what was GOOD about 2019?

One thing I feel was amazing was seeing Queen + Adam Lambert. Quite honestly, it took some doing to get me to know more than just “the hits”….now I love songs such as “39” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” when last year at this time I barely knew them at all. And well…then…there was this:

And this

I mean…in the presence of greatness for sure.

So as we wind down this year, I’m just praying for a better 2020. And I hope you all will hang with me for another stellar year of blogging. It might be my 9th year…I’ll have to check.

Make a wish, everyone.

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Hats off to Alton Brown – Holiday Baking, Chapter 3 – Best Pretzel Recipe Ever

So, I’m going to recommend you google Alton Brown Pretzel Recipe if you want his exact recipe. I took his and organized it so I could quickly put them together. It is a definite win recipe. God bless you Alton Brown. [Side note – I consider Alton to be the go-to on so many cooking and baking subjects, so it doesn’t surprise me his pretzel recipe is the best] OH…and while I tend to adjust recipes to make them my own, this is perfection as is and needs no adjusting. Don’t mess with success. And, by the way, get a kitchen scale. It’s the only way to measure flour for baking.

Combine the following in the bowl of a stand mixer:

1 1/2 c warm water

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp kosher salt

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy

With the dough hook in place, slowly add 22 oz of all purpose flour and 2 oz of melted unsalted butter to the yeast mixture. Mix until well combined on low speed. Then knead until smooth (medium speed) around 5 minutes.

Wash bowl, oil it, and then return the dough to the bowl to rise until doubled, approximate 45 minutes.

In a wide, flat pan, bring 10 cups of water mixed with 2/3 cup of baking soda to a boil.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

On a lightly oiled surface, cut dough into equal sized pieces. I usually do 16 pieces, but you can also do 8.

Roll out to about 24″ rope. Make the rope into a U. Twist the ends of the U twice around each other and then secure to the bottom of the U (press your index fingers into where the ends cross the bottom of the U).

Ensure you have the following set up:

  • 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper
  • A fry basket or a spider to remove pretzels from water
  • A spatula
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with a little bit of water
  • Kosher salt or Pretzel salt

Boil each pretzel in the water for 30 seconds. Remove from the water to baking sheets lined with parchment. Brush the pretzels with the egg yolk and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

I haven’t figured out a great way to store them yet. So far if you store them in plastic bags, they stay nice and soft but the salt melts. If you store them in paper, the salt stays in tact but they quickly get hard.

Honestly, they are best right out of the oven. Give ’em 5 minutes to rest and scarf ’em down.

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Holiday Baking, Chapter 2 – French Toast Casserole

So, I’m a fan of this particular recipe. For some reason, I made this a few years back as our Christmas breakfast and it was really good. I’ve tried it with a few different “adjustments” but this year, I kinda went with traditional…for the most part. This is a Paula Deen recipe, but I don’t go as “high fat” as she does…no cream in my version.

1 loaf of brioche (sweet bread)

8 large eggs

3 cups milk (or cream or eggnog…this year I used 2 1/2 c milk and 1/2 eggnog)

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp vanilla powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

dash salt

Cut bread, arrange in 9 x 13″ greased baking pan. Combine custard ingredients and whisk until well mixed. Pour over bread, making sure to coat all the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat oven to 350.

Remove plastic wrap and replace with foil. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Serve with maple syrup.

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Holiday Baking, Chapter 1 – Apple Crisp

I’ve done a bunch of baking this holiday. I started the day my PTO began with soft pretzels. I’ll transcribe that recipe later, but today’s baking extravaganza was for Christmas dessert. I made this apple crisp for Thanksgiving and while it tasted great, I wasn’t happy with how runny the filling was. So, in order to make it better, I made adjustments. Of course. The original recipe was a King Arthur Flour recipe. While I haven’t tasted this “new” version, I imagine based on the reduced amount of liquid (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of juice or rum, and boiled cider, which I left out)

Filling:

3 lbs apples – I’ve used Cortland and Granny Smith. I prefer Granny Smith – cored and cut into 1/4″ pieces

1/4 c brown sugar

3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

2 tbsp pie spice (mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger) sprinkled throughout the apples

3 tbsp flour

Streusel:

1 c flour

1/2 c oats (I prefer old fashioned)

1/4 tsp salt

2/3 c brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp vanilla powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 c butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1/4 c coconut oil

Combine filling ingredients well. Pour into 9″ x 9″ greased baking pan.

Combine streusel ingredients, cutting butter and coconut oil into dry ingredients until consistency resembles large pebbles.

Cover apple mixture with streusel.

Bake at 350 for 55 min – 1 hour.

Serve warm or room temperature.

I’ve also thought about making a sort of pie crust for the bottom of this, but haven’t gone that far. I think if I did, it would be more like a graham cracker crust though – crumbly and not flaky.

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Apple Pie Quick Bread

This is near to identical the recipe from last week, but a couple of tweaks I think make it better. Plus, I know that it is truly a quick bread because it took less than 45 minutes to put the whole thing together…from gathering the ingredients to pouring batter into a loaf pan.

So let’s get this going. It’s important to keep your wet and dry ingredients separate until time to combine the two.

Wet Ingredients:

1-2 small apples, peeled, cored, cut into small pieces

1 cup milk

1 egg, beaten

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp honey

1/2 tsp vanilla

Dry Ingredients:

2 cups + 2 tbsp flower

1 tbsp baking powder

3.5 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, clove)

Topping:

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp pie spice

1 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan. (I used 8″, and I’d recommend a 9″ one)

Combine dry topping ingredients. Cut butter into dry mixture until consistency is that of a streusel. Set aside.

Combine wet ingredients. Set aside.

Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center.

Add wet ingredients to the well. Stir to combine. Batter will be thick and lumpy.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle topping over batter.

Bake 45 minute (9″ pan), or until knife comes clean when piercing center of loaf. My 8″ pan took 50 minutes to bake.

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What Is Self Care?

I’m thinking I might be depressed because I have bouts of wanting to accomplish tons of things and then just as I’m about to start, I’m crushed with apathy. And by crushed, I mean in such a way that I can barely do anything more than play this stupid “video game” called Blocks (it’s kinda like Tetris only you move the blocks at your leisure)

Last night, I wanted to bake a loaf of Pie Spice bread with some apples added. I had to pee (TMI, I know) and by the time I came out of the bathroom, I was struck with such a force of apathy that I crawled into bed and spent the remainder of the evening playing blocks.

Oh, I clearly muscle through some of these bouts. I work 9 hours a day, go to the gym 3 or so times a week, I even managed to bake the Apple Pie Spice Bread and some cornbread this morning even though I was feeling pretty apathetic when I got out of bed.

But I feel as if the world is pushing down on me and as much as I pray, I feel that continual push down. As if I am sinking. And something has hold of my ankles, not allowing me to get all the way up.

So, after this little bundle of uplifting prose, I’ll post my updated version of the quick bread. Oh, the corn bread came from a box, so nothing very exciting there…

Here’s a pretty picture from this past Monday.

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Pie Spice Quick Bread

So, I can’t really call this pumpkin spice because there isnt a pumpkin in the building but I took a basic muffin mix this morning and twisted it a bit, and then made a quick bread that actually SMELLS like the Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice Bread I baked yesterday. (Yeah, I finally used all the mixes I had bought a while back. But this is easy. I got up at 9 and was putting the bread in the oven before before 10.

I adapted the recipe on page 658 of my New Doubleday Cookbook (I love this sucker!!)

Oh, and the name comes from the Penzey’s spice mixture I used to flavor the bread.

Dry ingredients:

2 cups + 2 tbsp flour

1 tbsp baking powder

3.5 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp pie spice (I went heavy, maybe a heaping tablespoon)

1 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 egg, beaten until frothy

3 tbsp melted butter

2 tbsp agave syrup or honey

1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan.

Combine wet ingredients.

Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center.

Add wet ingredients to dry.

Stir to combine. Batter will be thick and should be a bit lumpy.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes.

I sprinkled the top with a mixture of 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp pie spice. You can do that, or you could make a streusel with 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tsp spice mixture, and 1-2 tbsp cold butter.

Yes I tried it. It’s not as sweet as Krusteaz but that may be because I use organic sugar or coconut sugar. I’ve found them to be a bit less sweet than white, refined sugar.

If you try it, tell me what you think. Tell me if you adjust it at all too!!

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Salad Dressing Chocolate Cake

Did that make you pause and wonder? This is the first cake I’ve ever baked that is more of a “science experiment” than an adventure in baking. I actually bake it many times a year because it’s quick and easy – about an hour from the time you take the ingredients out to the time you take it out of the oven.

My mom’s Aunt Ann is the “supplier” of the recipe. I’m kinda doubtful she made it up but it’s considered a family recipe and so I am passing it along.

Believe it or not, order is important within this recipe because the chemical reaction with the baking soda and vinegar makes the cake rise…thus you don’t need eggs! Ergo, easy and if you keep cocoa on hand, you can probably can make this recipe RIGHT NOW. So, follow the order, and I highly recommend reading the entire recipe before beginning. Something I rarely do!

Chocolate Cake (Ann Elliott)

Dry ingredients (sift together)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 c flour

5 tbsp cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients (in this order)

5 tbsp salad oil

1 cup cold water

1 tbsp vanilla

2 tbsp vinegar

Sift dry ingredients into baking dish (8 x 8 works). Mix. Make a well in the center and add wet ingredients, vinegar last. Mix thoroughly

Bake 30 minutes in 350 degree oven. Serve warm or cold.

I actually usually sift my dry ingredients into my batter bowl – the Pampered Chef huge measuring cup that I kinda use as a mixing bowl with a spout. Then I make the well in the center and add all the liquids EXCEPT the vinegar. I tend to mix my liquids in a 1 c measuring cup. Then I add the vinegar to the rest and mix thoroughly. I also spray my baking pan with coconut oil cooking spray.

The cake isn’t for beauty, or for entering in contests…it’s usually because chocolate cake makes my mom happy. And that’s a good thing.

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The Definition of Family

Dorian

This was the storm (Dorian) as the eye passed to the east of us. I have to say a couple of things about riding out a hurricane with a 91 year old dementia patient on board.

  1. We made our choices based on whatever was best for mom. Last year we evacuated for Florence and while it was exactly the right idea at the time (I was out of town and Jim decided to move mom), we lost a great deal of her in that evacuation. She was out of her place, out of her standard schedule, and she has not come back from that. Evacuating this year could have done the same or worse to her. In no way would her condition have improved because of it. Therefore we stayed. Neither Jim nor I made decisions so we could be viewed as a “great daughter” or “loving son”…we didn’t think past how we could make Hurricane Dorian have minimal impact on mom. While some of you have expressed how great, loving, wonderful, etc, we are…the praise is a complete side note to the most important thing. Mom remained safe and comfortable, with her family and her “things” and pretty much doesn’t really know that anything happened yesterday. Ah, dementia.
  2. With the exception of one cousin, not a single family member checked on us. Some, I’m positive, were not aware there was a potential situation here, because they live on the other side of the country. That’s just fine. Others…well…ya just kinda know who cares and who doesn’t, right? Truthfully, I’m thinking those who supposedly know and care about my mom. I can deal with lack of family interference because I have…well, hang onto that thought for now. I can deal. Jim can deal. But really people? Did no one in our extended family even care to check if Mom is okay? Actually, no one in our immediate family did either.

Who did check on us? Numerous friends. Friends I met on the internet. Friends from high school and college, Friends from work. Friends from this area. Friends. They checked on us. Regularly. So, what’s the true definition of family? It’s not a bloodline.

I’m not trying to shame…much. I’m just pointing out that some of our friends are the most caring and loving people. People who keep us in their prayers even when we don’t ask them to. People who reach out with a kind word and a caring ask (how are you doing?) when it seems they are reading EXACTLY the right moment of need.

Thanks to those. Thank you.

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What It’s Like Loving Your Job

Truth be told, I’ve worked for the same company for the past 22+ years and while every day is not rainbows and unicorns, I love my job. I never thought on day one that I would still be here five years later…let alone 22. All of a sudden, I’ve had more managers than years in service, trained probably thousands of people, and I swear to the fact that I’ve learned something new every day working for this company. That’s roughly 5720 new things. Is that insane or what?

What’s so great about this company? I dunno. Lots of times I think it’s the people I work with. For some reason, this company has a knack for hiring great people with good hearts that want to work hard. All the time. Is that true of every employee? Maybe not, but the ones I get to work with regularly are amazing. Smart, witty, fun, funny, inspiring. They’re all those things. And I love that I can say that we are a team of people doing something good in the world.

And, the audience my company focuses on is nonprofits. I mean…we have customers who are truly changing the world every day. I want to say more about that but…how can you top changing the world? You can’t.

Then there’s the fact that I write for a living. Yeah, sure, when I was growing up, I thought I wanted to be a rock star. Once I realized that three square meals a day meant more to me than being an “artist”, I guess that dream went away. And quite honestly, even when I was heavy into playing the guitar and singing (alone in my room, I admit)…I was always writing. Mostly poems or, as I liked to think, song lyrics…but I had piles and piles of scrap pieces of paper that are still in a bag in a closet in my house. Somewhere.

Now I write training classes. But that’s okay. I still create. And creating for an audience that needs our material to learn how to do their job better…and their job is…well, changing the world…geez. How awesome is that?

I know that some of you are aware of the company I work for. And I’m intentionally leaving the company name out because…well, just because. And I know some of you have worked for the company I work for…maybe you still do. Or not. Let’s just say that while today wasn’t a spectacular day in the life of my career, it’s 9 PM, I’m wrapping up writing the 2nd unit in a new class and even though things ain’t perfect…well…it was a good day. And I’m happy to be doing what I do. I hope to do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

That’s all.

smiles

 

 

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