Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pinterest Win!: Two Pins In One

I have been looking back through my Taming The Mane board on Pinterest, trying to decide what I've pinned that I actually-actually want to try. I had some extra time yesterday to play around with my hair before heading out to take pictures at the theatre, so I combined two of my favorite pins into one hairstyle.

Wearing scarves as headbands has always been something I love doing, in theory, but in practice, they tend to slip right off my head. I added some bobby pins at the back of the scarf, just to make sure it stayed in place and that really seemed to help.

The braid-as-a-bun was my go-to 2nd day hair option when I was living the corporate life. It's simple, takes little time and not a lot of product. It does require lots of bobby pins to keep that thick braid in place, but I'm good with that.

Here's a different view from the side:

And from the front:

**Photo credits to Jehremie, my personal photographer**

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strawberry Banana Orange Kale Smoothie

I know it's Fat Tuesday. And it is also National Pancake Day. I know I am supposed to be indulging in a stack of hotcakes or a slice of King Cake.

But y'all, I have a food hangover. We celebrated J's birthday last night and ate all of his favorite foods - guacamole and chips; big, fat ribeyes on the grill; twice baked potatoes stuffed with cheese and bacon and sour cream; salad with Italian dressing; and Key Lime pie.

And I just kept eating, even after the point of being stuffed, because everything was just too good (if I do say so myself, since I cooked it all...hehe).

I woke up this morning and I don't know if it was the amount of food I ate, or the red meat, because that never sits well with me and I ate a very large portion of a very large steak. I feel like hammered crap.

So I'm starting Lent a day early, I guess. I was planning to give up "mindless eating" for the season. I'm not cutting out anything in particular, but I am going to be mindful of what I put into my body. Reaching for a candy bar is so much easier than prepping fruit or vegetables for a snack, but it is definitely not the best choice.

If you are in the same boat as me, or if you just want to get more fruits and veggies into your diet, here's a quick smoothie recipe.

Into your blender goes the following:

1 large Kale leaf, washed and torn into small pieces (discard the stem)
1/2 Banana, frozen
3/4 Cups Strawberries, chopped
1/2 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 tsp. Vanilla

For smoothies, I like to take fresh bananas and smash the crap out of them, then freeze them in little hockey pucks. This makes them super easy to store in the freezer (they are flat!) and easy to use, plus it adds some creaminess to your smoothie.

Blend all ingredients until they become a smoothie. Drink and feel good about what you are putting into your body.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Baking By Request: Marbled Cheesecake Brownies

I wanted to bake something yesterday, but I wasn't sure what to make. I put an all call out on The Facebook and got a lot of different responses: muffins, cake, enchiladas, King Cake, Creme Brulee, peach cobbler, cheese wafers, cream puffs, one request to "bake a pie", and then, my bestest friend suggested Cheesecake Brownies. I later found out that she was craving them because they have them at Starbucks and she saw them and wanted one, but was trying to be good, so she didn't buy one. That didn't mean she didn't want to eat one, though. And when you know that your best friend has been working really hard to eat healthy and hasn't been treating herself at all over the past few weeks, well, you would be a terrible person if you didn't bake something for her when she asks.

Smitten Kitchen is one of my go-to blogs for dessert recipes, so I started there, since I've never made Cheesecake Brownies before. And the recipe she has did not disappoint. I had to make a few minor adjustments to her version - I was planning to bake a 9 x 13 pan of brownies and her recipe was designed for an 8 x 8 pan, so I made a 1 1/2 batch of the brownie batter, but kept the cheesecake batter recipe the same, since I didn't want the chocolate flavor to get lost.

Also, I only had 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, and needed 4 1/2 ounces for the batter. I adjusted this by adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder and taste tested the batter to make sure the chocolate flavor was there - and it was! It really was!

Brownie Batter:
1 1/2 Sticks Unsalted Butter
3 Oz. Unsweetened Chocolate
1 1/2 Cup Sugar
3 Eggs
3/4 tsp. Vanilla
1 Cup Flour
1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder

Cheesecake Batter:
8 Oz. Cream Cheese, softened
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 Large Egg Yolk
1/4 tsp. Vanilla

Optional Additions: 1/2 Cup Chocolate Chips, 1/2 Cups Chopped Nuts (I went with the chocolate chips and I'm glad I did!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter (and this is important - use butter, not baking spray, because, well, butter is just better) a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Prepare the Brownie Batter - Melt the butter and chocolate in a double-boiler. Do this in your mixing bowl and it saves you from having to wash one. more. dish. Whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, and cocoa powder. Do not overmix, whisk until just combined. Pour this into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.

Prepare the Cheesecake Batter - Using an electric mixer, or your arm and a whisk if it's Arm Day, combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Whip until it is smooth and creamy.

Dollop the Cheesecake Batter all over top of the brownie batter.

Take a butter knife and swirl the mixture all around, creating a beautiful, tasty, marbled effect. If adding, sprinkle the chocolate chips or nuts over the top of the brownies and press down a little, to make sure they bake into the batter.

Bake for 30 - 40 minutes. You want the edges to be slightly puffy and the Cheesecake Batter to be almost fully set.

Let the brownies cool slightly (for about 10 minutes) before you take a fork to them. Oh, that's just me, huh? Well, let them cool before you slice them into pretty little squares. They will slice easier if they are completely cool.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Text Messages from Diana

Me: I have a Dutch Baby with your name on it over here.

D: I am on my way in about 5 minutes. The toilet is holding me hostage.

Me: Do I need to send a ransom?

D: I think it's holding out for Charmin.

Me: I'll put 6 rolls in a paper bag and drop them on the corner of 274 and Porter Grade.

D: Sounds like a plan...I'm in the middle of negotiations now. I think we have an agreement.

Me: Good. Tell them I will be there at 10:00 sharp.

D: I think I can hold out until then. The ring imprint doesn't hurt yet.

Me: Hehe.

D: Don't pay the ransom. I got away.

Me: Oh thank goodness! Didn't know where I was gonna come up with those kind of rolls.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My JudgeyPants Are Getting A Bit Tight

Hi, I'm Val and I am a Snap Judger.

When I meet someone new, my mind almost always forms an immediate opinion of them. Funny, perky, loud, obnoxious, shy, closed off, closed minded, asshole, friendly, too friendly...the list goes on and on. I think most people do this, so I know I am not alone.

My problem is, until you prove me wrong, I will most likely continue to think of you the same way I did when we first met. It doesn't matter if other people tell me differently about you. It will take some convincing to get me to change my mind.

And I might not even give you a chance. I might just stay so firmly stuck to what I believe to be true about you that I won't give you the opportunity to show me just how wrong I am.

In other words, I'm stubborn. And I wonder how many friendships I have missed out on because of my stubbornness.

This is an aspect of my personality I am working on. It's a process, for sure. And hopefully, being a little more open and a little less judgey will help me to reach my goal of fulfillment in this new year.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: The Year of Fulfillment

Last year, instead of making New Year's resolutions, I came up with a word for the year. For 2013, that word was "reconnect." I will admit, I didn't always keep that word in mind throughout the year. I know I should have written it down on Post-It notes, on my dry erase board in the kitchen, maybe at the top of each page of my calendar, just to make myself more mindful of what I should be focusing on.

I did reconnect with a few people and things and I feel better for it. My reconnection with my faith in God has really made the biggest difference out of everything else. I have been able to give things over to Him, instead of holding them inside and stewing over them. I have also made new friends, and reconnected with old ones, because of my renewed faith. I couldn't ask for anything more than what God has already given me, although I know he has great things in store for me in the years to come.

And that brings me to the word I have chosen for 2014. FULFILLMENT. This word is defined as "satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one's abilities or character." 

I have spent entirely too many years of my life doing things because I felt like I ought to be doing them. I have worked jobs that were not helping me to move forward towards my goals and life dreams. I have ignored my passion for the sake of a paycheck. 

This year will be different. I will focus on those hobbies and tasks that fulfill me. Writing, painting, drawing, baking, photography, volunteering. I will learn more about each of these, with the goal of improvement and development always in mind. And I will share my talents with others, to help them reach their goals as well.

I will also continue to focus on deepening my faith, on finding ways that I can continue to grow as a Christian, and finding ways to show God's love to those around me.

I realize, as this year begins, that it is easy to say things like this on January 1. The whole year lays in front of me like a blank journal and I just need to pick up the pen and get to writing. I'm planning to document my progress throughout the year. And I'll not be afraid to admit if I make a misstep. I will share those, too. The good and the bad, they make up who I am, and they will help to move me forward into the best year of my life.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Green Gables Cooking: Chocolate Caramels

I am reading the Anne series by L. M. Montgomery again for the nine-hundred and fifty-fourth time, give or take. :) One thing that has always fascinated me about this series is the frequent mention of what they are eating.

I remember the first time I read Anne of Green Gables and they talked about eating chicken salad as if it were a delicacy. This made no sense to me. Chicken salad was available at practically every restaurant I visited. Why would this be a "special occasion" food? I didn't understand that in order to eat chicken salad, you had to kill a chicken, pluck it, roast it, let it cool, and then make it into a salad. That's a lot of work to go through for something like chicken salad, although I admit, it is one of my favorite foods.

I've decided that this time, as I read through each book, I'm going to take note of all of the foods mentioned and see if I can find recipes from the late 1800s and early 1900s for them. Then, I'll make the recipes and post them here. I know other people have attempted this - I'm not breaking new ground here - but it should be fun. I found this delightful little website, which has an extensive list of the foods from the books, but the recipes are not all authentic to the time period. I am going to try to avoid any recipes that have modern ingredients and use methods of cooking that are more similar to those times, but I don't have access to a wood burning stove, so my glass top electric will have to do. :)

I do want to note that the first food mentioned in Anne of Green Gables is crab apple preserves. Although I love making jellies and jams, I try to do this in season, based on what foods are available at my friends' farms. I will be skipping the preserves and jams for now, but may throw one in if the produce becomes available.

OK. Here we go.

The first recipe from Green Gables I have decided to attempt is for Chocolate Caramels. Anne mentions these as she explains that when she is in "the depths of despair" she isn't able to eat anything, "...not even if it was a chocolate caramel. I had one chocolate caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious. I've often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels, but I always wake up just when I'm going to eat them." (AOGG, pg. 26)

I searched for Chocolate Caramel recipes from the 1870s, since that is when Anne comes to stay at Green Gables. After a little bit of digging, I found the following recipe from the Public Ledger Almanac for 1870 - 1873. (I've rewritten it in a more familiar format below.)
CHOCOLATE CARAMELS - Take one cup of sugar, one cup of molasses, a piece of butter the size of an egg, one cup of cream or milk, and two ounces of grated, unsweetened chocolate. Put these ingredients in an enameled saucepan, and boil them together, stirring constantly for twenty minutes. Then try them by dropping a little of the mixture into a cupful of cold water; when it is sufficiently cooked it will form into a ball in the water. Then remove from the fire and beat well until beginning to cool. Flavor with half a teaspoonful of essence of vanilla, and pour into buttered tins to the depth of half an inch. Before the caramels have hardened, mark them into small even squares with a knife.
To figure out how much butter is the equivalent to "the size of an egg," I used logic.

4 Tablespoons should do it.

Chocolate Caramels

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Molasses
  • 4 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Cup Cream or Whole Milk
  • 2 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate, grated
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
In a saucepan combine the first 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil the mixture for 20 - 25 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking.

Remove the mixture from the heat when it reaches 240 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Stir and stir and stir until the temp comes down to around 120 degrees F and then add the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 8 x 8 glass baking dish. Allow to sit for 15 minutes and then cut into squares. You can also roll the caramel into small balls and flatten with the bottom of a glass on a Silpat or parchment paper.

This recipes makes A LOT of candy. I didn't count how many pieces I ended up with, but it was a full Silpat.

Oh, and, this candy gets hard. It reminds me of a chocolate Werther's. Super tasty!

My first "authentic" Anne recipe turned out to be quite the success!

"I'll just eat one tonight, Marilla. And I can give Diana half of them, can't I? The other half will taste twice as sweet to me if I give some to her. It's delightful to think I have something to give her." - Anne Shirley (AOGG, pg. 89)