Worthwhile Things I’ve learned- Personally or Vicariously

1.  Own a cast iron skillet. Or several. And learn how to properly use and care for them.

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2a.  Life is too short for mediocre coffee and poor wine. Buy the best you can afford.

2b. Even if it is just for you.

2c. Especially if it is just for you!

2d. Sometimes a $2.99 bottle of wine can surprise you ( in a good way). Don’t be a snot- more $$ does not necessarily equal better.

3.  If you aren’t just collecting friends like a teenager seeking validation, Facebook is really awesome.

4.  Temperature is relative- move from California to a colder clime and you’ll make fun of family for wearing sweaters when the mercury drops to 60 there. Return, and you’ll go right back to doing the same thing.

5.  A hybrid car is sooooo worth it.

6.  If you can make spaghetti sauce, baked chicken, and muffins from scratch you will never hunger and save big bucks.

7.  Real friends stay with you until the tow truck arrives (inebriated or not), or until your parents/spouse/friend can get there with spare car keys.

8.  Everyone should own at least one Hawaiian shirt. You never know when a party might break out.IMG_5604_2

9.  Electric kettles are the best!

10. So is plain, black tea. And freshly brewed iced tea.

11. Screen time is overrated. People are underrated.

12. Mom Advice that is everywhere, but we don’t appreciate until later: “The days are long but the years are short.”

cute relationship quotes
Be This Person!

13. You need a community- humans are social creatures. Join and meet regularly with at least one spiritually/socially edifying group be it a church, synagog, club, society, etc.

14. Stop being so offended by everything, people . It offends me.

15. Spend time with people who lift you up and make you want to be a better person- spiritually, mentally, emotionally. And in turn, BE that person with everyone who spends time with YOU.

16. Pop your own popcorn in a heavy pot. It’s an entirely different species than microwaved stuff.

17. Everyone thinks they are the most interesting person in the world on Pinterest. They are all wrong. I am. I can prove it:  https://www.pinterest.com/DDWJ/

18. A trick I learned from a dear and darn near holy woman: carry candy in your purse to always have on hand to share with your friends’ little ones. Guaranteed favorite adult status!

19. If you want to try something new every day (need to get yourself out of a rut? Overcome anxiety? Or just looking for some good, clean fun?) but don’t know where to start, start small. Pick one small project- a new book, decorate an area you have neglected, try a new cuisine. Don’t start with large or grandiose projects (Re-landscape front yard! Read the complete works of Shakespeare!). I guarantee you will be surprised how uplifting it can be to simply repaint your front door.

 

May Project of the Month- Graduate Two Teens & Maintain My Sanity

Graduation-2015-PV252Two teens graduating, two freshmen next year, family coming over two weekends in a row for lots of people and lots of love overflowing. Graduate gifts to be purchased, traditional graduation projects for both schools to craft, reservations to make, photos still needing to be booked, housework to finish. Tears will be shed!

We will be making a big dent in that two cases of wine we won a couple of months ago…

The closest thing I think I want to do that resembles a Project of the Month is to pick several of the cookie recipes I have squirreled away on Pinterest and start baking. I bake and cook when I am stressed. It is the main hobby that I enjoy, and as a bonus- I can share the results with the friends and family that I have thoroughly annoyed along the way.

There’s a lot to choose from, just look at the number of ideas I have pinned here:

A few mini retreats to the kitchen are just the thing for me this month. I’ll also get to practice my food photography and promise to share the recipes- those that bomb and those we like!

Everyone’s Irish Today… Irish Soda Bread from The Chew 3/17/15

P…and that is no more apparent than in our kitchens, right? How many of you are not Irish, but have a corned beef in the slow cooker? My mom’s father was half Irish, so in his honor, we are having Irish Soda Bread with our Corned Beef and Cabbage.

French bread, cracked wheat sandwich bread, English muffins… Pretzels, pita bread, sourdough (that was a disaster), quick breads of all kinds. If it is a bread, I have probably made it. The Cinnamon Roll count is somewhere in the hundreds of dozens, now, I can make that recipe in my sleep, but Ive never made Irish Soda Bread.

This recipe comes from The Chew-

Irish Soda Bread Recipe from The Chew
Irish Soda Bread Recipe from The Chew click the pic for the recipe

For this Soda Bread, I followed their recipe, sans caraway seeds since I HATE them. Always have, always will. Blech.

Look how pretty this loaf of bread is! I’ve turned out nice looking baked goods… but not today. I think I actually left out a whole cup of flour- my dough really spread out. It kind of turned out like a giant scone, which could be delicious, nonetheless.

I should turn in my Official Baker’s Card, if I had one.

Here's the ingredients-
Here’s the ingredients-

Flour, sugar, leaveners, salt, egg, butter, buttermilk, raisins, and a combo of crème fraîche, yogurt, and sour cream went into this mix.
The yogurt is from this incredible dairy where we used to shop. Traders Point Creamery is a grass fed, organic farm located right outside of Indianapolis.
Have a Whole Foods Market near you? Whine to the dairy buyer that you, too, would like your store to carry this yogurt that is so good, even people who don’t like yogurt will eat Traders Point. Like The Husband.
They also host a year round farmers market, and have one of the best farm-to-table restaurants. I miss this place something fierce.

End commercial.

U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi, you ugly. One ugly loaf!
U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly. One ugly loaf!

This is one ugly loaf. It looks nothing like the photo from The Chew! But the taste and texture suggest that I did NOT forget that third cup of flour.

It really DOES taste like a giant scone! Very good, actually.
The Salt Ewok approves. (can you see him in the back?) It really DOES taste like a giant scone! Very good, actually.

Whew. I get to keep my Official Baker’s Card. Looking forward to making this again, it was great!

Sharing Cookies and Thoughts on Practice and Past Times…

So, there are these people who work for The Husband… they deserve more than cookies. Lol. I’ve seriously been meaning to get treats to them for a long time. This is quite a group of highly intelligent, dedicated, and really interesting people! I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and crammed more than three dozen into a bag for The Husband to bring into a meeting today. Hopefully, everyone will get two cookies… maybe I should’ve sent in more.

I can crank out 12 dozen cookies in under two hours, including pans and kitchen cleaned, honestly, because I’ve made this recipe for 30+ years. I’ve made and sold hundreds of dozens of cinnamon rolls and can knock out a couple dozen with minimum effort. And I love cooking! It is a lot like an athlete’s love of practicing to develop muscle memory in a sport- I bet that anyone with a passion for anything would agree. Years of practice means few wasted steps in my kitchen; I know which equipment and ingredients to grab, measure, and use. Practice makes perfect, no matter what you are practicing… so be careful where you spend your time, right?

Pile o' cinnamon rolls for the teachers and school staff.
Pile o’ cinnamon rolls for school.

Nothing makes a baker happier than finding people with whom to share the goodies. In January I bring cinnamon rolls to the teachers and staff for Teacher Appreciation Day- ironically, I’m sure I feel more appreciated when they say they look forward to the rolls each year (Cinnabon knock-offs, I swear they are exactly like the shops in malls). It makes me happy.

I identity with these stickers...
I identify with these stickers…

I run a couple miles most mornings so I can eat that second taco or have a nightly glass of wine.

Amazon.com  0.0 I Don't Run
…links to Amazon.com
0.0
I Don’t Run

If people don’t share these cookies and other treats, I’m going to have to earn one of those 13.1 or 26.2 stickers for the back of my own sweet ride. Bake on, people… and keep running, too.

Boring Post Alert! Learning Camera Controls (Unless You Dig Photos of Shrimp Salad and Freshly Baked Bread)

I played around with my Christmas camera tonight, trying to make some headway into my February project- learn how to operate my Nikon 3300. I swear, I’m going to figure out this piece of technology and I am paging my way through my “Nikon D3300 For Dummies” book to help. Tonight I learned about several different auto and semi-automatic controls, and that I can type the word “exposure” twenty-five times in 30 minutes, and spell it wrong each time. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I can’t spell in three- count ’em- THREE different languages. Go me.

First shot is in Manual Exposure Mode, and I have no idea what I am doing. This proves that the camera is way smarter than I am.

Shrimp Salad... better shot...
Shrimp Salad ingredients… decent shot…

This next one is too bright, but I think I am figuring out how to use the Exposure Compensation button:

Shrimp Salad ingredients, monkeying with the Exposure Compensation button
Shrimp Salad ingredients, monkeying with the Exposure Compensation button.

Hey, now it is getting better! I think I need a different lens for close up shots, yes?

Manual setting, Exposure Compensation brightening up things
Manual setting, Exposure Compensation brightening up things

This one I knocked the exposure down a tic or two. Next thing to learn is how to correctly use the technical language of photography… The daylight really looks nice here as opposed to the next few pictures of the bread.

Manual, less exposed with using the Exposure Compensation button...
Manual, less exposed with using the Exposure Compensation button…

On to the bread ingredients. OK, it’s even obvious to ME that the flash should not be used in this type of lighting (kitchen table overhead lighting, after sunset)

Flash with bread ingredients...
Flash with bread ingredients… bad.

All righty then! Not enough light in this, but not too shabby, either. I can’t seem to get the little stuff in focus- like the millet and bulgur wheat (two of the ingredients in the small bowl).

Fully auto focus. Pretty good! But it needs to be focused differently, maybe on the millet and bulgur?
Fully auto focus. Pretty good! But it needs to be focused differently, maybe on the millet and bulgur?

Switching back to the simple auto focus-

Auto Focus... (it smells as good as it looks)
Auto Focus… (it smells as good as it looks)

And with Aperture I got what I expected- better light but lost focus. Guess I need to learn how to compensate for this.

Aperture Priority auto-exposure- good lighting but bad focus?
Aperture Priority auto-exposure- good lighting but bad focus?

OK- if I use a better light source, is this the shot I wanted?

Shutter Priority auto-exposure. Too dark, good focus.
Shutter Priority auto-exposure. Too dark, good focus.

And here we have my standard favorite, my iPhone 5s. Notice the lighting is fine, the focus is fine… good depth of field, too, huh? You can clearly see the dirty napkins from tonight’s dinner:

iPhone 5s took the best shot, argh!!!
iPhone 5s took the best shot, argh!!!

Side by side- Nikon and iPhone:

Nikon- What napkins?
Nikon- What napkins?
iPhone- Those napkins, right there.
iPhone- Those napkins, right there.

So, there you have it. My iPhone and I have been doing a great job all along. I can really make it sing. This just makes me want to understand how to use the Big Person’s camera even more. I’m not (too) discouraged. Yet.

Recreating the Best Garlic Cheese Bread Ever!

Oh, MAN! I am so excited that I figured out this recipe!!
(See? Food and recipes and out come the exclamation points.)

One of the restaurant jobs I had in college was working at a pizza parlor with The World’s Best Garlic Cheese Bread. Everyone should work in the food industry at some point in their life, I swear, you learn how to serve others and work your butt off for patrons who rarely notice your effort, unless you make an error. Over tip your servers, people, especially lunch and breakfast.

End of P.S.A.

Back to the garlic bread and  the New Thing O’ The Day-

I used to help opening the restaurant and prep all the ingredients and food for the day, and one of the menu items was the chain’s garlic cheese bread. I forgot all about how easy this recipe is, and over the years would order something like it from pizza joints across the country as we moved about. All along I was looking for something as good as the bread that I used to help make every day. I finally remembered all of the simple ingredients to make my favorite spaghetti side!

This is all there is to it, adjust your quantities as needed, the recipe is as delicious as it is easy-

In a microwave safe bowl, place equal quantities of the following ingredients: butter, sour cream, cream cheese, and shredded cheddar. For every two tablespoons of each ingredient, add 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic. If you want to serve four slices of bread to serve four, the recipe would look like this:

2T. butter
2T. sour cream
2T. cream cheese
2T. shredded cheddar cheese
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

Let all the ingredients come to room temperature, or microwave for 5-10 seconds a couple times, stirring well and until everything is mixed together with the consistency of soft butter. The cheese won’t be melted entirely, but that is just fine.

Spread the cheesy mixture onto thick sub sandwich style rolls, split in half. Sandwich bread will be way too thin, as would any other sliced bread. Skip them all and go for the thick hoagie, sub, or Mexican bolillo rolls.

Just see the photos, yeah?

Heat wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cheesy spread has melted and the bread is a bit crispy. I opened the foil for five more minutes and cranked the temp up to 400 to get the right crispy bread but soft cheesy top.
It. Was. GREAT!!!

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Cookie Quest for Marianne

You would think that a nice Christmas tip would make the World’s Best Stylist happy, but nnoooooo. She wants cookies. Not the Chocolate Chip Cookies that I have sold upwards of dozens upon dozens and bake by the gross in under two hours (when The Husband eats cookies for breakfast, you can go through 144 cookies really fast). Nope, she wants really light, delicate snowball-angel-Mexican/Italian wedding style cookies, which I’ve never made. So, today I crammed in two new things. I was able to try a new recipe and finally get around to doing something nice for Marianne, who takes great care of me- she makes me feel purty and for that the lady deserves a key to the reserves of Fort Knox, honestly.

Fortunately for me, I have eaten what has to be THE BEST version of these cookies every year when I raid the gift cookies received by my in-laws. Thanks to their neighbor, Linda, I know what a great angel cookie tastes like. Like my mom, Linda is one of the few people (in my opinion) who really knows cookies. After a little on-line searching and ingredient tinkering, I think I have a recipe that comes really close! And nobody gets to knock my excessive use of exclamation points, I love baking and developing a great new recipes make my day!!

The cookies I promised Marianne for my January haircut are a couple of weeks late but I think she will still love them. I’ll let The Mom-in-law at the cookies this weekend- she will be the best judge of how close I came to Linda’s recipe. Can’t wait to hear her verdict, but I am so happy with the way these turned out!

Here’s the original recipe that I tweaked a bit (changes included the following- 3/4 c. powdered sugar, 3/4 t. baking soda, 1/2 t. salt, almond meal from Trader Joe’s instead of finely chopped)–
http://www.food.com/recipe/angel-almond-balls-182410