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Posts Tagged ‘I love baking’

Well, right on cue: despite my meticulous catalog of gift options and all my big plans of thwarting the inevitable onset of Stocking Stuffer Syndrome, now that we’re just under a week out from Christmas I am experiencing severe Pre-Christmas Panic that I haven’t purchased enough/the right gifts. What IS this and WHY does it happen? Especially THIS year when a) I have planned so well and so far in advance and b) I cannot do anything about it, aside from braving Target or Costco or the like during a pandemic which is a no from me dawg. Maybe focusing my anxiety energy on gift-related targets is more bearable than worrying aimlessly about Everything Else? The fact is, panic or no, IT’S TOO LATE NOW. 

Oh crumbs! I just realized I never ordered Carla a Rubik’s Cube to replace the one I broke. And glee of glees! It looks like Amazon is still confident it can ship one to me in a day (“a day”), unlike the Elsa styling head I keep fretting about, because I know she would like it, but it is TOO LATE – pretty much every version of the thing is unavailable to ship until January. INTO THE CART, RUBIK’S CUBE. There. Okay I also just bought my husband a pair of work slacks (do people say slacks anymore?) that I can pick up curbside. They were on sale. They are also very boring. Maybe too boring? Nope, TOO LATE, they are purchased. And I am hoping that the act of buying something, anything, even boring work slacks, will help allay the panic.

Let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • You know what it’s NOT too late for? Medicinal holiday baking. I have finally decided which holiday cookies to make! My husband found a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies that we are going to bake. I think I will also make the zimtsterne, just because they are so pretty and festive. I have vague semi-plans to package some of the zimtsterne in the boxes I normally use for holiday chocolates and give them to our neighbors. Sharing the sufganiyot with our neighbor went so well, I kind of want to recapture that feeling. Unfortunately, all I’ve recaptured is the anxiety of even CONSIDERING interacting with our neighbors.
  • I haven’t tested the copycat recipe yet, but I CAN recommend the real thingLevain Bakery ships their cookies and I have been the recipient of said cookies in the past and it was delightful. Looks like it is too late to order them for Christmas, but if you ever need to send something delicious to someone in your life (that includes yourself), these are AH-MAY-ZING. They are huge and they freeze really well. 
  • In other baking news, I finally made the cranberry crumble bars I have been planning to make for over a week now. They were SO GOOD – the perfect combination of tart, gooey cranberries and lightly sweet crunchy shortbread crust with a teensy bit of very sweet lemony glaze on top. You use the same crust for the crumble on top, which sounds a little weird (to me) but is quite delicious. I sent a big plate full with my husband on Friday so he could share them with the surgical team, and he said everyone enjoyed them. Somehow I need to remember to make them next Thanksgiving because I like them better than our traditional pumpkin bars. 
  • My holiday card wall is looking a little sad, still. The cards are arriving in little drips, although one day we got a big surge of five. I hope it picks up before Christmas. I know the postal service is doing absolutely everything it can to move everyone else’s pandemic-related-panic-buying from one place to another, so I’m assuming more cards will arrive when they can. Of course it’s also possible that most people decided against cards this year – although most everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be of the “but now cards are more important than ever!!!!” perspective, so who really knows?
  • Speaking of the postal service, I finally stopped dithering and purchased gifts for the kind people who are delivering packages to our house ON THE DAILY. I saw an article about how postal workers aren’t allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, which threw me for a loop. I have given Target and Starbucks gift cards with wild abandon in the past, so I kind of think maybe it would be okay to keep giving gift cards? Then again, KNOWING that it isn’t allowed is a different thing from blithely giving whatever I want out of innocence, so I dithered myself into complete paralysis. Until this week, when I finally decided that I could not give a gift card now that I KNEW it was prohibited. So I bought some of these little pandemic kits (which I could pick up curbside) and some fancy chocolates from a local small business and that was THAT. Practical plus yummy/treaty. Of course I am second guessing my choices now, but IT’S TOO LATE NOW. What’s done is packaged and waiting in our hall, except for the one gift we were already able to hand directly to the postal worker. Now all that’s left is to intercept the delivery people when they arrive; typically they don’t announce their presence in any way, and even if I know to listen for them they are often already back in their trucks by the time I fling open the door. What says “merry Christmas” better than a wild-eyed middle-aged woman running shrieking after your truck in her bare feet?
  • The pandemic kits I bought include one of those little no-touch door opener tool things. Do you have one of those? My husband got one from his hospital early on in the pandemic and he gave it to me. It is more useful than I anticipated, and I keep it in my purse and use it all the time. Hmmm. Maybe this would make a good stocking stuffer… This one at Amazon supposedly arrives before Christmas AND it has a little smart-screen tip you can use for credit card machines at the grocery store! 
  • This is totally not Christmas related AT ALL, but I cleaned my menorah and put that away, which is a nice if very small preview of the wonderful catharsis of putting away all the Christmas décor. We also have a menorah candle situation that annoys me. We ran out of candles on the seventh night (some people in our family can be a little too, um, enthusiastic about shoving the candles into the menorah), and I had to curbside pickup another pack of candles from Target. And now we will run out early NEXT year, too. I only hope I remember to buy extras before Hanukkah begins.
  • Also not a Christmas topic, and potentially alarming: the last two times I’ve been to the grocery store, there have been big bare spots on the taco shells shelf. And absolutely NONE of the Old El Paso regular-size taco shells. It’s all Stand and Stuff or Super Stuffer. It is perplexing. I haven’t been grabbing up big armsful of taco shells – yet – but I do grab a package every time, even if I’m not planning on tacos that week. (Although a week without tacos around here is, to be fair, rare.) I feel like I was just joking with someone about a hypothetical taco shell shortage, so perhaps I am to blame???? NEVER JOKE ABOUT TACO SHELLS, that’s the lesson here, folks. Well. Too late now.
  • This week’s haul from the grocery store included eggnog – which I like as long as it’s mixed with an equal amount of milk, otherwise it’s much too viscous – and Christmas beer, both of which are fun once-a-year things. I considered and rejected many other Christmas-specific items, including mulling spices, a stollen, and an enticing array of chocolate in Christmas shapes/colors. It is all so very tempting, though!
  • I am very tired of people in the grocery store not understanding the six-feet rule. It has been NINE MONTHS, people. There are signs everywhere, reminding us to give people plenty of space. There are regular announcements on the overhead speaker, reminding us to put six feet between ourselves and the people around us. We are all wearing masks as a big, blaring signal that THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW, YO. And yet, inevitably, I will be waiting patiently six feet away from a woman who is carefully evaluating every single onion in the bin so that I can grab some onions and be on my way, and some oblivious jerkface (I am assuming both the obliviousness and the jerkfacity) will squeeze in right next to her and start fondling the potatoes. In the immortal words of George Constanza, WE’RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY, and said society demands six feet between its members! 
  • As long as we are discussing things that I find pandemically perplexing: I have now gotten several emails about summer camp registration. First of all, it is December. Okay, so summer camp planning typically starts in January and I guess it’s not far enough from January for it to be an unconscionably early. But. BUT, and secondly, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It seems kind of brazen to suggest that we start registering our kids for camps that are still many months away when we have NO IDEA what the status of the pandemic will be. Will everyone have gotten vaccines? Will the pandemic be under control? Will there be some new murder-hornet/zombie-mink-style horror to contend with? WHO KNOWS? The fact is, I am not ready to sign up for summer camp. Of course, the very fact that the camps are sending out the emails makes me a little edgy. I definitely don’t want to sign up today and send in a depost when anything could happen between now and next summer. But I also don’t want to wait until we KNOW what’s going to happen and find out IT’S TOO LATE to sign up. I can only hope that most other parents are giving these emails the ol’ squint eye and postponing thinking about it until at least March. 
  • Here is a Very Nice Thing: Carla’s last day before winter break was Friday, and the only assignment they had was to get together on Zoom and make a holiday present for their parents. I suppose that’s normal thing that teachers do with their kids before winter break, but it makes me feel especially weepy with gratitude this year because of all the extra forethought and planning it required, on top of all of the immense challenges of switching, mid-year, to an entirely new method of teaching. We owe these teachers so much. So. Much.
  • I painted my nails the other day for the first time in months. The polish is a sparkly turquoise-navy and I’m digging it. I wonder how long it will last, considering I wash my hands eight billion times a day.
  • Speaking of which, my hands are in rough shape. Unless I am super vigilant about applying hand lotion immediately after I wash my hands, they shrivel up and crack and my cuticles start peeling and there’s bleeding involved and it’s awful. I have hand lotion in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in my bathroom, and right next to my bed. I’ve had a rotation of hand creams, based on whatever is available to pick up at Target. Aveeno was my go-to lotion for most of the pandemic, but now that it’s winter, I don’t think it’s cutting it. I have Soap & Glory Hand Food by my bed, which is nice to use right before I go to sleep. But I’ve switched to O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream (this link goes to the 7 oz tube; it looks like Target only has the 3 oz size, and that is not enough hand cream) in the kitchen and in my bathroom and I think my diligence is starting to pay off.
  • My lips are a whole other situation though. It is the time of year where my normal multiple-times-daily application of Burt’s Bees lip balm is not enough to keep them smooth. I get this dry patch that I then pick at, which makes my lip bleed, and then my lips rush to repair the wound, which produces a thicker patch, which I then pick at, etc. etc. etc. until everyone is very glad indeed that I need to wear a face covering in public. What should I be putting on my lips instead? Vaseline? I see that O’Keefe’s makes a lip balm – maybe I should try that? Or this Aquaphor ointment gets good reviews. Oh! There is also a highly-rated Aquaphor balm (though it is PRICEY). What is the One True Lip Balm that will make my lips heal?
  • If you have a spouse/significant other, or if you are willing to pretend you do for this bullet point, would you find it odd if you received a gift card that was intended for both of you? Say your Aunt Sylvie sent you a Target gift card for $100 but it was made out to President and Vice President Yourname. (You are the President in this scenario.) You open it and you feel: _____ How? My husband and I have opposing views on this subject and I’m genuinely curious about others’ thoughts. 
  • My best friend from back home sent me a Friends couch ornament for Christmas. It is adorable AND it plays a quote from each character. I’m not crazy about the one for Phoebe – I’d rather hear her singing “Smelly Cat” – but it has Ross shouting “Pivot!” and Joey talking about a moo point, so overall I am very pleased with the choices. Carla loves to press the button and hear the quotes. She asked me what “pivot” means, which led to a definition plus an explanation of why Ross is yelling “pivot!” which led to watching the relevant clip on YouTube. And then I had to show her a few of my other favorite scenes, including my all-time favorite episode, which is the one where Rachel screws up the trifle. (The episode title is actually “The One Where Ross Got High.”) SO MANY great quotable moments in that episode. My favorite is when Ross and Monica’s mom says, “Rachel, no, you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did NOT taste good.” 
  • Last-second addition to this post: I was going to schedule the post for Sunday morning and discovered that WordPress lists Sunday as the LAST DAY of the week on the calendar? What is THAT? Sunday comes FIRST! Every calendar I have ever seen orders the days from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, Monday is the first day of the work week, so it is kind of ridiculous, but this is The Way It Is Done. Even the song (to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine,” in case your toddler song repertoire is a little rusty) has the days in that order! Why, WordPress? What is the DEAL?

All right. That’s all I’ve got. How are you doing on this, the last Sunday before Christmas?

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For future Hanukkahs, this is my experience with making sufganiyot.

First let me say that I have never had sufganiyot before, so I had nothing against which to measure my results. I read somewhere that they are somewhere between a beignet and a donut, but I have never had a beignet, so in my head I translated “beignet” to “fritter,” which is denser than a donut. (They are also, according to Smitten Kitchen, like Polish pączki or Russian ponchiki or Italian bombolini, none of which I have had either. Clearly I need to expand my donut eating habits.)

Because I don’t like oil spattering all over my kitchen, I sought out an air fryer version. (There is still oil involved in the air fryer recipe, so it seems like it still adheres to Hanukkah tradition.)

The Spruce Eats had a recipe for air fryer sufganiyot, but the recipe didn’t work for me. Not only did it require me to scald milk (an instruction that had no additional details; I had to look up what scalding meant and then look up what temperature the milk would need to be to not kill my yeast), it also had a couple of confusing directions (do you roll the dough out to 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch thick, because the recipe stated both). Unsurprisingly, the dough refused to rise. I still air fried a few, for practice, and they LOOKED adorable but were unpleasantly dense and kind of bitter. They reminded me more of biscuits or scones (neither of which I like) than donuts. This is all to say I DO NOT recommend the Spruce recipe.

I tried a second recipe, from Tori Avey, that worked MUCH better. First of all, NO SCALDED MILK which made me feel scammed by the whole scalding milk nonsense earlier. Secondly, it has vodka in it, which I found appealing simply for its novelty. (WHY is it there? I am sure there is some reason; in fact, I’ve heard of adding vodka to pie crust to make it flakier? Like it evaporates more quickly than water and lightens the dough? I am quite possibly making this up.) Third, the dough rose very nicely; it’s possible that it could have risen more if I had left it to proof longer, but by that point I was up against the clock — I still had to make the fish and green beans and latkes. (Remember, by “make the latkes” I mean removing them from the Trader Joe’s box and baking them.)

I used a glass to cut the rounds. I might experiment, in future years, with making them slightly larger. They are very small — between two and three inches in diameter.

I used the air frying instructions from the Spruce article (except that I pre-heated the air fryer for three minutes and sprayed the inside generously with cooking spray): I put four of the dough circles into the basket, brushed them with oil, fried them for 2.5 minutes at 350 degrees, then flipped them, oiled them, and fried them for 2.5 additional minutes.

I used seedless raspberry jam for the filling. I have a little plastic squeeze bottle that was ideal for filling the donuts. I used a shish kebab skewer to puncture each little sufganiyah and then filled each one with jelly until I could feel the jelly pushing back against me; a couple of times, the jam erupted through a weakness in the meridian of the donuts, but this happened rarely. After they were filled, I sprinkled the tops with powdered sugar.

The Tory Avey batch was much lighter than the Spruce version. I really liked the texture — still a little more dense than a traditional yeasted donut, but lighter and fluffier than a scone or a fritter. The dough was slightly sweeter than the first recipe I tried, too.

I do wonder if they would have been lighter and airier if I had allowed the dough to proof a little longer? The one “issue” I had was that the jelly didn’t really FILL the inside — it made more of a little well in the center. And if the air pockets in the dough were bigger, I think that would allow for more jelly filling.

AFTER I’d made both batches, I saw recipes for sufganiyot on Smitten Kitchen and The Kitchn that are WILDLY different from what I tried, so it might be fun to give those a go in future years.

These are the perfect size for eating like three or four in a sitting.

Perhaps the BEST part of the sufganiyot experiment is that we had too many for the three of us to eat (they are better eaten when warm), so we made up a plate and took them across the street to a neighbor. Please do not mistake this easy breezy sentence for an easy breezy decision: I fretted EXTENSIVELY about it. What if the sufganiyot weren’t very good? I mean, they were good compared to the first batch, but I had never tried the real thing and maybe they were a very poor attempt. And what if my neighbor didn’t want to eat something prepared in a home kitchen during a pandemic? And what if she wasn’t Jewish? Something she said to me in the past — the exact nature of which has since exited my memory — left me with the impression that she was Jewish, but I could have misapprehended what she’d said or misremembered the conversation. Or what if she is Jewish but can’t eat gluten or sugar or is allergic to raspberries? What if she was eating dinner and we interrupted her? Ugh. So many reasons NOT to do it. But a generous impulse should be embraced and followed through!

Our neighbor is this absolutely lovely woman who has a dog Carla loves and who is sweet and patient with Carla and very friendly to me. She’s had a really hard go of it during the pandemic and yet she is supervising remote learning for her grandkids AND working full time and I just wish I could help her more. (She has nearby family, so she has not once taken me up on my offers to help.) We took over a plate and at first it went HORRIBLY. We could see lights on in the house and could hear talking, but no one answered the doorbell. I even knocked, just in case the doorbell wasn’t audible, but — despite Carla’s dismay — we decided to leave. I felt super uncomfortable: maybe they were all eating dinner together! maybe they didn’t want to answer the door during a pandemic! maybe they were purposely ignoring us! So we went back across the street.

But then, just as we were about to go into our house, we heard people leave the neighbor’s house. Carla, who was carrying the plate of donuts, rushed back over with me training awkwardly behind, my glasses suddenly COMPLETELY fogged over at that exact moment even though I had been wearing them and my mask the entire time. I felt So Awkward.

But Carla asked for our neighbor, and her family called into the house and asked her to come out. Carla handed her the plate and told her we had sufganiyot to share and asked if she celebrates Hanukkah and when our neighbor said yes, Carla said that she did, too, and our neighbor just seemed so surprised and delighted. The neighbor’s daughter told us a charming anecdote about visiting Israel during Hanukkah and seeing sufganiyot in storefronts everywhere. The grownups seemed thoroughly unbothered by our presence and our little offering, which helped me feel less awkward. (Although it would have definitely helped if I could SEE.) Carla got to pet the neighbor’s dog AND the neighbor’s daughter’s dog, which made HER day. And then we said goodby and left.

Later, our neighbor called and left me a VERY sweet voicemail, saying thank you, and assuring me the donuts were good, and expressing shock and pleasure that she wasn’t the only Jewish inhabitant of our neighborhood. The whole experience made me feel very glad I’d fought through my frets and gone ahead with the generous impulse.

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In addition to the forced festivities I mentioned the other day, I have been thinking a lot about food. (You: Gasp!) 

For one thing, I am thinking ahead to Christmas dinner. My husband and I have settled on beef tenderloin, I think. This will be the second time we’ll be alone, just the three of us, on Christmas and we made beef tenderloin the last time and it was delicious. I also want to make Caesar salad, which is a tradition on my side of the family. Maybe some sort of potatoes, as well? Normally I’d make the goat cheese garlic mashers we have on Thanksgiving, but… I may be sated on potatoes? Maybe I will feel ready for them again when it gets to be Christmas. For dessert, we’ll have our now-traditional sticky toffee pudding cake.

Last year, when my parents were here, I made a big snack platter for us to graze on during the day. That was fun and I can definitely do a more pared-down version for just the three of us. I’m thinking olives for me and Carla, definitely several cheeses (brie, cheddar, something fancy like a truffle cheese or a Cotswald?) and crackers (easy crowd pleasers like Triscuits and Ritz, plus maybe one fancy cracker), some sort of fruit (blueberries or grapes if they still look good? dried apricots? goat cheese stuffed figs? clementines?), and something fun (marcona almondsgiant Peruvian corn?), maybe some charcuterie (pepperoni and salami, probably), possibly some dips and/or spreads. This is now sounding enormous. Or, PRACTICAL, because we could do multiple snack trays over multiple days. I am a genius.

What is a snack-tray essential in your mind?

Right now it’s the fun thinking-about-possibilities stage of planning that I enjoy the most. 

I am also thinking A LOT about cookies. Cookies are not really my thing. I mean, I make them occasionally; I’m not opposed to cookies. Usually, my holiday tradition is to make chocolates – but right now, it sounds like Too Much. (Maybe these Chai chocolate truffles would be a good compromise?) But maybe I could do some holiday cookies? I am not thinking about replacing the chocolates with cookies. The mom of one of Carla’s classmates does a whole big cookie tray, and I have neither the energy nor the creativity to undertake that kind of thing, but maybe a cookie or two, just for the three of us and maybe a few of the neighbors, would be doable?

To further reinforce my cookie urge, one of Carla’s Christmas reading calendar activities is to make cookies and eat them while reading a book. So baking cookies is really a necessity. And I love the easy anticipation of thinking about WHAT TO MAKE.

Some of my favorites are zimtsterne, which are delicious and lovely (and gluten free, if that matters to you). Carla voted for snickerdoodles, which are always good. And some months ago I made chocolate snickerdoodles that were delicious and fudgy and worth making again. (Why doesn’t fudgy have an E in it? WHY?) 

But, while these are perfectly GOOD options, I kind of want to do something else? Something I haven’t tried before?

What are YOUR favorite cookies? To make and to eat?

These krembos look very similar to one of the challenges on the latest season of Great British Baking Show, plus chocolate and marshmallow is a classic combo. Plus they look very charming. I don’t know if I’m crazy about the coconut element, but they might still be fun. (And they are gluten free, which means we could share them with a family friend who has celiac.)

I’m a sucker for a big, chewy molasses cookie. You can’t really go wrong with those.

A batch of chocolate and peppermint cookies would be perfectly festive.

We happen to have a madeleine pan, and yet we have never once made madeleines… maybe that would be fun to try? They are certainly very pretty.

I absolutely LOVE millionaire’s shortbread. Or, along similar flavor/texture lines, this saltine cracker toffee is easy and super craveable. (Or there’s always regular toffee!)

There are too many options! I can’t decide! (And Carla is no help: “I just want to make cookies, Mommy. ANY cookies!” she said when I asked her what she wanted to bake.) (She has clearly not inherited the gene that accounts for endless agonizing over small, insignificant decisions.) (Sometimes the endless agonizing is ENJOYABLE, Carla.) (I do have a package of sugar cookie mix in the pantry; we could make those and cut them out in festive shapes and then I could save other cookies for later in the month.)

On a non-cookie note, I am strongly considering making these air fryer sufganiyot for Hanukkah. Maybe those will scratch the cookie itch? Possibly they will only scratch the donut itch, leaving the cookie itch as strong as ever.

What are you baking this month?

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My ten-day challenge is over and I am in a very gleeful mood, fueled by Reese’s peanut butter hearts and pasta. I feel a little high, honestly. I don’t think I rebound-sugared this way after my No Sugar Month last year. Perhaps I need more than ten days to feel settled in the No Sugar Lifestyle.

Some randomosity for you this afternoon:

  1. Do you remember a while ago when I mentioned I wanted to buy a half sheet pan? And they were super expensive? And then Allison mentioned very tactfully that perhaps I was looking for a quarter  sheet pan instead? Yes. Well, I finally bought one from Amazon – this one, which came with its own little quarter sized Silpat (except it’s not a Silpat, it’s the same brand as the cookie sheet) (and it’s not the size of a quarter, it’s a quarter of… whatever unit of measurement a full sheet pan is) – and I LOVE IT. First of all, it is shiny and clean and the Silpat is not sticky at all (my other two – one a Silpat-Silpat and the other a Crate & Barrel version – persist in stickiness despite rigorous cleaning). But most important, it is exactly the right size for baking three chicken dinosaurs and some butternut squash cubes for Carla to refuse to eat, or for a personal size pizza for me, or for four slices of garlic bread, or for many other magical things I have yet to discover.

Sheet pan with mini-tortilla pizza, and sheet pan next to regular sheet pan. So shiny!
  1. Buying the new sheet pan got me to clean out my sheet-pan drawer. I threw away (!!!!) (the !!!s are because I have a very hard time getting rid of things) my old beloved regular sized cookie sheet which was warped and rusty and which could no longer be washed properly because it left rust streaks on towels and rusty drips on the floor. It is now gone. Well, it is now in the garbage can behind my garage, waiting for garbage day. I can feel its presence still. I hope eventually it releases its hold on me, but we have after all been together many years so we cannot expect to avoid the mourning period entirely, new shiny pans notwithstanding. I also moved a less rusty but not particularly attractive sheet pan and two cupcake/muffin tins into the pantry, where they are now accompanying other infrequently used items, like the madeleine tray and my springform pans which I have used twice?? and another cupcake/muffin tin. Why do I have so many cupcake/muffin tins? We shall never know. I replaced these items with my new-since-December (and still never used) shiny regular size sheet pans. I guess I think of them as more the guestsheet pans, you know, like the guest hand towels in the powder room that your mother scolded you for using because you were not a guest. No? Only me? I like to think I will pull them out for use when we have company, and our guests will admire how shiny they are. I just have to keep them distant enough so that they won’t be tempted to feel my Silpats, which, inevitably, will be sticky.

 

  1. I finally got to eat one of my failed stained-glass sugar cookies. It was good. No, it was adequate. I ate it grudgingly. But I am still super irritated by how poorly they turned out from an aesthetic perspective.

SG cookies 4

  1. Also (I am still on the cookies here) I am really annoyed that the giant bag of Jolly Ranchers we used for the “glass” had only three cherry ranchers. THREE. Listen, even if I hadn’t used them for finicky failure cookies, I would be annoyed. There were something like 16 to 20 of the other three jolly flavors (strawberry, watermelon, and fruit punch); that is a DRASTIC imbalance. In fact, I would have been MORE annoyed if my plan were to eat them all. Who’s in charge of QA at the JR factory is what I want to know.

 

  1. My husband isn’t a big Valentine’s Day fan. Usually, we exchange cards and that’s it. I do all the candy buying. This year, inspired by Swistle, I wanted to buy myself a big heart shaped box of chocolates. I enjoy the variety and surprise of those assortments, and I don’t need The Best Chocolate like my chocolate snob spouse does. So I planned an excursion to the mall to go to the fancy candy store with Carla so she could pick out candy for her father and to also visit See’s, which Swistle recommends so highly, and which I have only ever been to once maybe, so I could get a box of chocolates to surprise myself with on Valentine’s Day. To my despair, there is no longer a See’s at our mall! I swear it was there the last time I visited, which has been… at some point in 2019, even if I’m not recalling the exact date. Boo! Thwarted! Then, on a separate occasion, Carla and I went to Walgreen’s to pick out a card for her father (we need to spread out the excitement around here) and I looked carefully at all the Russell Stover and Lindt and Godiva heart assortments. The one that sounded best was $12.99 (some sort of “special” Russell Stover candies, but the three options featured on the front sounded yummy) which is a bit rich for my blood when it comes to drugstore candy, so we left without it. (Also without all the stuffed animals Carla picked up from the shelves and hugged tightly and told me she MUST own or she would certainly die.) Thwarted again. Oh well. I figured I could go back in a few days and buy it on sale. My husband is on call this week and has been getting home around eight. The night before Valentine’s Day, he arrived a little later. And he had bought me a heart-shaped box of chocolates! Most romantic $3.99 ever!

 

  1. This is more of a side note to the above, but our Walgreen’s no longer has trash cans. It used to have one of those large pebbled trash receptacles out front, but it has disappeared. The reason I noticed is because I had something – receipt, tissue, some piece of trash Carla lovingly plucked from the floor – to throw away, and I couldn’t. So I went back in, stood in line, and waited patiently to ask the checker if I could toss it in her trash can. And she said NO, they no longer have trash cans! I wanted to ask her more questions, but there were actual customers lined up behind me and Carla was trying to scan her jacket pockets with the handheld scanner, and plus I was in shock, so I left without any more information. Seriously though: WHAT?!?!?!

 

  1. While we are speaking of Walgreens – this is how exciting my life is, recounting separate items of “interest” about Walgreens for Pete’s sake – I will tell you that I finally, after five years, did something I have been meaning to do for, well, five years, as I just said. I picked up a prescription and the pharmacist handed it to me, rather than the assistant/tech who normally rings people out. And it was the very same pharmacist who had been so very kind to me five years ago when I was SUPER sick from being pregnant, and still hiding my pregnancy from my BRAND NEW JOB that I had just started a couple of months prior, and the only thing that helped at ALL was Zofran. Seriously – I had the exact hours that I had to take Zofran so I could appear semi-normal at my job – and let me tell you, it wasn’t MAGIC; I didn’t feel WELL; I just felt less like I was in imminent danger of dying or barfing – and I took them religiously every single day. The prescription said I was supposed to take three a day (I think; I could definitely be misremembering) and I had to grit my teeth and clench my fists through the last two hours before I could take the next pill. But – despite that the bottle very clearly said “three a day” (or whatever), my insurance would only pay for, say, 45 Zofran a month (I am forgetting the exact numbers here). The prescription did not give you enough Zofran to take the prescribed daily amount, is what I am trying to tell you, which makes NO SENSE. I was forcing myself to survive on only two a day, but I was about to run out and I was freaking out about it. So I went back to the pharmacy and this lovely pharmacist told me that the cost for the amount of Zofran I needed out of pocket amounted to, say, $23 a pill, and even though I was miserable, I couldn’t justify paying $300+ to not throw up all over my office. At the time, I was nauseated all the time, even with the Zofran, I was working my ass off at work to make sure they wouldn’t be super pissed about hiring me when they found out I was knocked up, I was forcing my husband to subsist on things that didn’t require being cooked. And Zofran was the ONLY THING that was helping me get through it. So I learned all this information at the pharmacy when I was down to my last couple of Zofran and I burst into tears and the pharmacist was SO NICE. Not only did she say soothing things of the, “this is a terrible feeling, but you are going to be okay, and at the end you will have a wonderful baby” variety, she called my doctor and worked some sort of magic to get me a three-month prescription for the same drug that my insurance would actually cover. Don’t ask me to understand what happened or how she did it. All I know is that I ended up with more Zofran than I ended up needing (after my nausea finally cleared up around the 25 week mark). Whatever she did was MAGIC. Anyway, I have always held her in my heart with love and admiration and this most recent time, I told her that I knew she wouldn’t remember, but she had been so kind to me when I was pregnant and I always remembered that and I wanted to thank her. And then I ran out of the Walgreens because I felt super embarrassed.

 

  1. I am pleased to announce that I have achieved one of my 2019 goals. No, I have not finished my manuscript; one of the world’s great unfairnesses is that writing a 1,532-word so far blog post does not move me an inch closer toward finishing my novel. Instead, I have procured a new ottoman for our living room. The old one is very fancy and in a horrid state of disrepair. The new one is from Target, so I won’t feel horrible  if it doesn’t last more than a couple of years (BUT IT BETTER LAST A COUPLE OF YEARS), and it has the bonus of interior storage. It’s a little taller than the old ottoman, which is taking some getting-used-to, but other than that, it’s a fine replacement. Carla believes in her heart that the storage space inside it is for her toys (fine, gets them off the floor/side table) and uses it in her imaginative play. Her dolly has a lot of timeouts in it, despite my gentle urging to not put her child inside a lidded ottoman.

Old ottoman. You can see how the leather is peeling off of it everywhere. YUCK.

New ottoman closed and opened. I can’t take a straight-on photo to save my life.
  1. The old ottoman has become a bone of contention for me and my husband. First, you should know that neither of us is good at throwing things out (see above re: rusty cookie pan). Second, my husband hasn’t even HEARD of Marie Kondo, so he furls his brow at me when I say, “does it bring you joy?” and will not acknowledge how useful a barometer that question is. Third, we both feel guilty because it was (presumably) VERY expensive (not for us; for his parents) and we don’t know what to DO with it. It’s too beat up to give to Goodwill. Neither of us knows how to re-upholster, or we would have chosen that route rather than the Target replacement route. Which is all to say that my husband wants to keep it, and use it downstairs in the basement in place of the IKEA coffee table we’ve had since 2003, and I disagree because it is twice the size of the IKEA coffee table and a) won’t fit as well and b) will be a pain for me to move when I want to exercise. So for now we’ve compromised and it is leaning up against the wall in our living room. NONE OF THIS BRINGS ME JOY.

Ottoman 6

NO JOY.

  1. I have changed my mind. The stained glass cookies are not even adequate. The cookie part is fine, but the stained glass part sticks to my teeth and the strawberry flavor is off-putting against the flavor of the cookie. Even cream cheese frosting couldn’t help. WORST COOKIE EVER.

SG cookies 5

That’s all I’ve got, Internet! Have a lovely weekend.

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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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My daughter turns THREE tomorrow, and I am having Feelings. Lots of good feelings, about her. But also sad, sentimental feelings about How Quickly Time Flies and How This Might Be the Only Three I Get and how bedtime issues might be preventing me from properly Cherishing. And also also the long tail of Sadness Surrounding Her Birth and the attendant Guilt for Feeling Sad At All Because It All Worked Out Okay.

So! I am distracting myself with cake!

Carla specifically requested a vanilla cake with blueberries and vanilla frosting. And for her school treat, she wants to bring blueberry cupcakes with sprinkles.

I have been spending pleasant hours looking for Just the Right Recipe, which has – as I mentioned, just now – been pleasant. But it’s also been fruitless (ha – blueberry pun) because The Exact Cake is not out there. Or if it is, I haven’t found it.

Don’t get me wrong! I HAVE uncovered many many MANY delicious sounding recipes. But it seems that most bakers pair blueberry with lemon. And why wouldn’t they? It is a DELIGHTFUL combination. I would in fact eschew the blueberry and just go with the lemon. BUT. It is not my birthday, and I aim to please.

One of my Life Goals has been to bake a cake. A from-scratch cake, with from-scratch frosting. The first cake I baked was for Carla’s first birthday, and I baked three: 1. A practice cake, which turned out so well I then immediately went on and made 2. A smash cake for Carla and 3. A real cake for me all the guests at her birthday party.

First birthday 1

I mean, if you think I have Feelings now, just imagine how intense those Feelings were at her FIRST birthday! So lots of cake was in order then as now.

Her first birthday cake was a banana cake with cream cheese buttercream. I do not like bananas, so I had to take my husband’s word for it that the cake was amazing. Carla, for her part, seemed to enjoy it immensely. It was maybe her second encounter with cake and she made short work of the smash cake (to my husband’s chagrin).

The rest of us ate the other cake, which was lemon with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream.  It was DELICIOUS, but that’s my kind of cake, you know?

For her second birthday, I made a chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Let me just clarify right here that in my opinion, cream cheese frosting is The Best, hence its repeated appearance in this post and on the cakes I bake. But if I am making vanilla buttercream for THIS YEAR’S cake, I suppose that means no cream cheese. BUMMER.

Second birthday

Speaking of this year’s cake, after that detour into birthdays past, and also I have a strong an unaccountable craving for cake, don’t you? what I have found is a lot of vanilla cakes, and some lemon cakes with blueberry buttercream, but no vanilla cake with blueberry buttercream.

So I am going to have to put some recipes together, which makes me feels like A Real Baker. Clap clap! Very exciting.

I even looked at Actual Cookbooks for help, Internet, which is unusual for me. But they proved Very Unhelpful in this instance.

Third birthday 1

Right now, I am wavering between this recipe for white cake from Test Kitchen…

Third birthday 2

(although I would also scrape some vanilla bean seeds into it, and instead of using almond extract, I would just double the vanilla extract) and this recipe for Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

And look! That very same recipe just so happens to have a vanilla buttercream to go with it!

And for the blueberry frosting between the layers, I am doing a LOT of waffling.

First waffle: blueberry filling vs. blueberry buttercream. If it were LEMON, I would of course go with lemon curd. It would make a nice little tart opposition to the creaminess of the frosting on the outside of the cake.

But blueberry isn’t really TART. Well, I see that this recipe for blueberry filling from Mother Thyme includes lemon juice, presumably to up the Tart Factor (Hmmm. Sounds kind of racy for a toddler, no?), but it worries me. Even though the recipe says to chill the filling, I’m afraid it won’t gel correctly, and then we’ll have soggy cake. IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE? (Yes: Soggy hamburger buns.)

Here is a potential solution: Bean Town Baker has a recipe for blueberry curd that seems like it would address both the tartness and the sogginess issue. Curd is a weird word. Curd. Curd. My only hesitation is that I am not the best at MAKING a curd. The eggs have, in the past, egged up on me. Which is disgusting. When I’ve used lemon curd in cupcakes and cakes, I tend to by it in a jar because it’s much better and MUCH easier. Also: no egg bits amongst the creamy lemony tarty goodness. What are the odds I can track down some pre-made blueberry curd? A very quick google says “not good.”

Second waffle: If I go with blueberry frosting, I am waffling between this blueberry buttercream from I Heart Kitchen or adapting this raspberry frosting recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. The former gets points for being super simple AND using fresh blueberries. The latter sounds more decadent AND I already have blueberry preserves in my possession.

Now wait a second… Here is a recipe for blueberry CREAM CHEESE frosting from White on Rice Couple! But, while it sounds better to ME, I’m not sure it really adheres to the desires as expressed by my daughter. So maybe next time.

I have been dithering, as well, about throwing a blueberry or two into the actual batter of the cake, to see if that increases the blueberry quotient. But Carla really seemed specific about wanting VANILLA cake. So I will probably just go with adding some fresh blueberries to the top and sides.

OH! Or, for the kids’ cupcakes, I could FILL them, with blueberry filling/curd! And top them with vanilla buttercream! Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Sorry, toddler parents! Get your Shout spray and your Oxi Clean ready!

All right! To the store for Cake Supplies! And birthday hats.

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