Saturday, June 2, 2018

Spice Bars

You may have heard me prattle on about Ginger Chews, which are like gingerbread-flavored brownies. I try to make them only at Christmastime so they stay special, but the other day I visited a local bakery and picked up a package of "spice bars" that looked interesting. I could taste molasses and cloves and raisins and it was all I could do not to go back and get more the next day. The bakery happens to be on the way to the allergist, so last Monday the kids and I stopped on the way to my daughter's allergy shots. Except the bakery is closed on Mondays. There were tears, y'all. So I consulted the internet and it did not fail me.

The first batch I made basically tasted like Ginger Chews and weren't as dark as the spice bars. So I cut the honey and upped the molasses in the second batch. I've had to up my time at the gym the last couple of weeks.

The following week the kids and I made a bakery run on a different day, and did a side-by-side taste test with the last of my second batch.

My little guy is pointing to mine
Analysis revealed that mine were about twice as thick, so roughly the same mass per piece but I like all their surface area. Theirs seem to be a smoother, more spreadable (pourable?) dough that had been formed into long, flat pieces as there is edge along the top and bottom of most pieces, and a rounded end. Also their glaze stays white and seems thicker. Upon taste comparison, the spices in mine were much stronger but I liked the molasses flavor of theirs.  I'll back off on the spice to differentiate between spice bars and ginger chews.

Note to self... check out Lebkuchen recipes.

Here is my latest version, lest I forget the changes I made from this recipe or where I left off.

Spice Bars

Ingredients
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup molasses (more for thinner dough?)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (try 1/2)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (try 1/2 or none)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (try 1/4)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk (try 2)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x 13 inch baking dish.
In a medium bowl, cream the white sugar and shortening together. Stir in the molasses and honey. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; add to the creamed mixture and mix until well blended. Finally, stir in the raisins.
Press the batter evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, bars should turn golden brown. Top will appear smooth and dry to the touch.
Meanwhile ... make the icing. In a smaller bowl, stir the confectioners' sugar together with the milk and vanilla. Drizzle over the spice bars while they are still warm. Allow cookies to cool before cutting.


So if you're ever in Richmond, Virginia you should check out Williams bakery and get yourself a package of spice bars. You can also get two donuts, a slice of Savannah cake, and a slice of fresh strawberry cake and it totals $10.21. I know, right?!

Friday, June 1, 2018

My Fitness Journey

You guys. This is really personal and not something I normally share about publicly (or at all) but I wanted to share my story because this person's story resonated with me. You can do this, too.

About a year ago my dad and I both wanted to lose some weight, so we made a bet (a milkshake - his idea) on who could lose 7 pounds first. I have successfully lost weight before on the Atkins diet and Weight Watchers, so I was pretty confident I could win that even if I hadn't been able to keep it off before. My friend Pam and I were already power walking together a couple times a week, and then my friend Blair invited me to walk the track with her at the Y.  I joined up and had my training appointment where I was measured and introduced to their equipment. They use an app that keeps track of my weight machine settings and tells me which exercises and how many to do, which made it easier for me than having to remember or drag a clipboard around the weight room. And LifeFitness has an app that syncs my elliptical workouts with the MyFitnessPal app, where I track what I eat and try to stay within a calorie budget. I get extra calories to burn if I work out and I haven't cut out any foods categorically, so I basically work out in order to eat more goodies. Not the best nutrition goal, but I also learned to appreciate the bargain of veggies and the expense of things like pecans and bread. A trainer once told me that losing weight is 80% about what you eat, so if you don't change that you won't see a difference in your body. That is so true and I love delicious food, so now I just try to enjoy smaller portions of everything.

When the kids got out of school last summer we went to the Y a lot. Sometimes the kids' leaders take them to run on the indoor track and celebrate when the kids reach milestones ("Mom, I got my Marathon medal!"), so it's fun and healthy for them, too. I discovered group exercise classes like PiYo, Tabata, and Barre which gave structure to my week and kept me coming back. I will do pretty much anything as long as I have a friend to do it with! During the summer I started noticing differences in how my arms looked and my clothes fit, and that was super motivating. Slowly the number on the scale was going down. By fall I had lost about 18 pounds, which makes a big difference on a short person. Historically I lose my steam when I reach my goal, but this time I got some good momentum with these changes and just kept going. It doesn't feel like work any more, just part of my day.

My favorite group exercise classes are offered on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, but the ones on Tuesday/Thursday don't really do it for me so for a while I'd just lift weights or walk with a friend. But last fall I checked out the water fitness classes. Steve and I are used to bringing down the average age wherever we go, but I definitely felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. The aqua ladies are very sweet and I liked the instructors, so I started going more regularly. I love that the water feels fresh and I always get a good workout even though it doesn't always feel challenging at the time. (Some mornings I'll walk downstairs and wonder what I did to make me feel so sore).
This spring the class coordinator asked if I'd consider getting certified to teach since she's always looking for subs. I mean, I'm there all the time anyway, but teaching something is a whole lot harder than just showing up for class. I did study anatomy, physiology, and physics in college, though, and my group exercise instructors are really good about teaching correct form, so those components feel natural for me. My teaching experience is with jewelry-making, though, so I will have to learn to project my voice. The aqua ladies have figured out I'm being recruited and are already coaching me on moves that they like and don't like. They're adorable. We talk quilts and baking in the locker room.

A couple more thoughts. If you're thinking about going to a gym, the time of day makes a difference in what your experience is like. Just like shopping at the grocery store, the night & weekend crowd is way different than who you see during the day. Weekdays at our Y have the sweetest, non-threatening group of people to work out with. No meat-heads. Also there's wi-fi so I can watch shows on Netflix and it makes the time on the treadmill go faster. Podcasts while walking the track are good, too.

Also? If you need help changing what you eat, try tracking your food with the MyFitnessPal app with a buddy. Then you can cheer each other on when it announces that somebody is under her calories for the day, completed a workout, or lost some weight. (It just shares the positive stuff). And it feels like someone else cares, which is motivating to me. I had been tracking my food on and off with friends a few years ago while we were living in Sweden, and I still love seeing their victories pop up on my feed, across the pond.

I turned 40 in January and actually felt excited about it. Finally at my routine checkup I didn't have to hear about how I need to make lifestyle changes. I had abdominal surgery in February (everything is fine now) and the recovery was so much easier than it might have been back in my marshmallow chapter. I keep the weight off pretty well without tracking my food (which can feel like a part-time job), so that's a relief. I don't want to hide behind my clothes anymore. I like the way my face looks in pictures. Yes, it's a lot of time and work, but it's worth it. Oh and yes, my dad did buy me a milkshake!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lucy Long

We’re closing on our old house near Winchester, and I want to give a shout-out to our realtor, Karen O’Hare, who worked her tail off to help us sell it while patiently walking us through that process. We’re also grateful for Cindy Greenya for skillfully managing the renters the past four years.

We lived there for seven years, and lately I’ve been so focused on the painting and fixing and other house-selling stuff that it’s just now hitting me how many memories it holds. This is where Steve and I had our biggest cookouts, back before our circle of friends had kids. This is where we brought home our babies, who jumpy-jumped in the kitchen and played in the sandbox and kiddie pool. This is where our dog spent countless hours fetching tennis balls and patrolling for birds, and then curled up in a ball when the sun went down. There’s a lilac and a hydrangea off the screened porch, and bluebells from my mom's garden.

Dad and I drank dozens of cups of coffee and worked on numerous projects while the kids napped, and I also love the memories of long walks with Mom and making holiday meals with her in the kitchen. I was so grateful to live close to them again for a time.

That was also a tough chapter because of Steve's work schedule and the kids being so little, and I remember how excited I was to move to another country after that, largely because it meant he could be home for dinner with us every night.

I’m thankful to still have the family that formed all those memories. This is just a house! Now we hand the keys to a new family and hope they love the neighborhood as much as we did. Goodbye, Lucy Long.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes

Around 2002 Steve's colleague invited us over for dinner and served us chocolate lava cakes for dessert. The recipes are all over the interwebs, but I wanted to post the one I use for my own reference. I got it from the inside of the Baker's Bittersweet chocolate package, back before Pinterest ever existed. And then I found it hard to find bittersweet chocolate where I shopped, but I hung onto the recipe. Here we are, several moves later, and I saw bittersweet chocolate at Lidl so I found the recipe in my 3-ring binders with recipe cards in page protectors. 

The full recipe is for 6 servings, but for so long it was just Steve and me so the math was easy. But now that we have 4 people wanting one I'll write out the ingredients for 2, 4, and 6 servings in case I get distracted while baking. (Ahem).

Molten Chocolate Cakes

For 6
4 oz (6 squares) bittersweet chocolate
10 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c flour
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks

For 4
2.6 oz (4 squares) bittersweet chocolate (by weight)
7 Tbsp butter
1 c powdered sugar
1/3 c flour
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks

For 2
1.3 oz (2 squares) bittersweet chocolate (by weight)
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 c powdered sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
  1. Grease the appropriate number of 6-oz ramekins and place on baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425F if you are baking immediately. (See tip below).
  2. Microwave chocolate and butter for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. 
  3. Add powdered sugar and flour, mix well. 
  4. Add whole eggs and additional yolks; stir with wire whisk until well blended.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared ramekins.
  6. Bake at 425F for 14-15 minutes or until cakes are firm around the edges but soft in the centers. Let stand 1 minute. Run small knife around the edge to loosen, then carefully invert onto dessert plate. Serve immediately.
Tip: Make these ahead, cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then bake as directed while you are finishing dinner. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Apple Cake

I love apple cake, and up until this year I never had success making it taste right.  I tried different recipes and even got a new Bundt pan, but it always tasted like my oil had gone rancid (even with a brand new bottle).  Come to find out, I just don't like the taste of baked goods with vegetable/canola oil and I'm really glad I tried it again, substituting coconut oil.  There's enough spice in there to mask any coconut flavor, and I have substituted some of the oil from the original recipe with applesauce so it's not as heavy. It's based on this cake recipe and -- I kid you not -- 14 apple cake recipes in my high school band cookbook (#applecountry), and this glaze recipe.

Apple Cake with Bourbon Brown Sugar Glaze

Ingredients 

For the Cake: 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 Granny Smith apples (3-4 cups diced)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
¾ cup applesauce (I use cinnamon)
½ cup coconut oil (preferably the liquid kind)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs

For the Glaze:
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1½ Tablespoons bourbon
½ cup butter
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup heavy cream
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a Bundt pan or tube pan.
  2. Use an apple peeler/corer/slicer and further cut down the slices with a knife, or leave the skins on and dice the apples with a knife. 
  3. In a bowl, mix together the cinnamon and apples. 
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the apple mixture with a rubber spatula.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  
  7. Allow the cake to fully cool in the pan, then turn wrestle it out onto a plate. 
  8. For the glaze, combine the brown sugar, bourbon, butter, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream, raise the heat to high, and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. After 1 minute remove the pan from the heat and the vanilla and then the powdered sugar. (I sift mine right into the pan). Stir vigorously to make the mixture as smooth as possible.
  9. Let the glaze cool in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup for 10 minutes. Then give it a stir before you pour it slowly along the top of the cake so that it drips down both sides. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fall Crafting

We were in transition for a few falls in a row and I just wasn't feeling creative.  But this year I met some wonderful, crafty gals in my new town and they are just inspiring me right and left.  Mostly Shey.  She sees something interesting and can figure out how to make it.  And her craft room is super clean even when it is not doubling as a guest room.  My fall crafting binge started when Shey posted her progress on hot gluing pinecone scales to paper cones in order to make trees for a benefit auction.  So then I wanted to try it, and she showed me how (and told me to bake the pinecones in the oven to get the bugs out first).  Here is the tutorial if you want to try it.  I love how you can sit and hot glue stuff mindlessly while chatting with a friend.


Each day when Bowen and I meet Olivia getting off the bus we are greeted with acorns.  Back in September when they were green we'd collect them, but eventually they turned brown.  So then I wanted to have evergreen acorns and Shey gave me the idea to spray paint plastic eggs and add pinecone scales to the top.  And then our friend Pam wanted to learn, so we had dueling glue guns at her house.  And she introduced me to Kara, who also likes to make stuff and doesn't think it's a big deal to own a jigsaw.  Love that!


I did oil-rubbed bronze spray paint on several and glued twine onto another, and then I had the idea of covering a styrofoam egg with brown paper bag pieces.  And once that one was finished I decoupaged a styrofoam pumpkin from the dollar store.  I used tacky glue to hold the pieces on initially, then brushed Mod Podge (watered down a bit) over the top.


And once that was finished I decoupaged a pumpkin with book pages, and I have another waiting patiently to be just today covered another one in sheet music.  (I started this post days ago and keep getting interrupted).


Somewhere in there I decided to paint the exterior doors navy blue, and then realized my old fall-toned wreath would look like a raging UVA fan weird with the blue and also was dry-rotted.  In the spring Olivia and I had pulled grapevines out of a holly tree in our woods, and then wound it around itself to make wreath bases with no particular project in mind.  Those were still just hanging in the garage, so I bought some silk flowers and went to work with my trusty glue gun.  I tell you I haven't touched that thing in years, and now I have had to restock on glue sticks twice.  I finally got long ones that need reloading only half as often.


After that I thought my pillar candles could use a little visual softening, so I made little grapevine wreaths for them, too. I love how the tendrils add personality.


Then Shey had a group of gals over to make burlap banners that spell out "thankful." They're just layers of fabric bonded together using fusible interfacing.  It was fun to work on a project all together, each with her own style.  I didn't finish mine that night, but a few girls who couldn't make it got together separately and I finished mine.  I love that a bunch of friends have these banners now, and I'm so thankful for friends who don't just paste a label on me as "the crafty one."  People are so supportive it makes me want to finish projects and actually do the things I have pinned for later.

The burley tobacco basket is from our trip to North Carolina this summer
There's another cone tree up there.  Browsing through Pinterest I saw a Christmas ornament covered in pistachio shells, which got my wheels turning.  I had my little helper crack shells while I glued them on the cone.  These brown paper cones are from Hobby Lobby, but you can also make them out of cereal boxes.


I have made countless trips to the local craft stores.  They are my happy place, and using my 40% off coupon on a set of plunger leaf cutters really makes my day.  The kids have been asking for pumpkin pie, so I tried out making a leafy crust.  Except I had it on the top rack and the leaves got a little singed, but we forced it down anyway.  I am hoping that this year at Thanksgiving they will eat something other than rolls and pie.  One of them likes stuffing now, so that's hopeful. (Insert eye roll).


I have a bunch of UFOs (unfinished objects) sitting around precisely where they were when I lost steam or got distracted.  Last year I made the big sweater pumpkin with the leaf, and this year I found the sleeves to that sweater and also a hat I had thrifted to become a pumpkin.  So I cut some sticks for stems and skipped the leaf part in order to actually finish.


Other UFOs include a pair of button-up legwarmers I'm knitting during soccer games to calm myself. I am that mom who screams directives at her child during the game.


Shey wanted to make stars out of grape vine, so she made this jig and she and Pam came over to pull some vine.  We couldn't get the open-centered stars to come out like Shey wanted, but I made a bunch of these criss-crossed stars with her jig.  Not sure what I'll do with them, but I'm starting to think toward Christmas crafts now!  I even bought a cross-stitch kit (one of the buildings in Santa's Village).


And in the spirit of keeping things real, please know that I'm not creative in every way.  Here is my car during Trunk or Treat, and the kids' costumes were store-bought. Halloween is my decorating/crafting kryptonite.


Not everything I make turns out awesome.  I had a picture in my head where I was going to wrap grapevine around a paper cone and it would just stay in place like it was wire, but it didn't.

Nailed it!

source

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Red Dresser

My dear friend Molly in Pennsylvania suggested I visit our Goodwill Outlet (since we have one) so one morning during preschool I did just that.  Well, despite the GPS I took a wrong turn, which wound up being a very right turn.  I found a Krispy Kreme.  Tank up!  The outlet is a little rougher than the retail stores.  The clothing is unsorted, so I dug through bins of books and clothing, and then the angels started singing when I spotted this dresser.  I love Federal style furniture, and when I saw it had some chipping veneer and heavy gouges where a drawer pull had come loose I knew it was a good candidate for chalk paint.  Fortunately it fit in my minivan without removing seats, but a leg came off in the process.  I filled the gouges and spots where the veneer was missing, sanded the top a little, and glued & clamped the broken leg. And then I remembered to take a "before" picture.


Our first floor has mostly neutral decor. I like to use texture and contrast for interest, and usually I add color with accessories, but I wanted to try a pop of color since this will be in the middle of the living area.  Nearby there is a set of dining chairs I painted olive green, and I love using that color with a rich, warm red.  Yes, year round not just at Christmas.  I already had a can of red latex paint for another project, so I decided to add Plaster of Paris to a cup of that in order to "chalk" it. Chalk paint is porous, so it needs to be sealed with furniture wax, but that gives a silky finish unlike regular latex.

Wet paint looked raspberry pink
I know paint dries darker, and deep colors don't cover as well, but after two coats I could still see the wood filler right through it.  Also there were tiny white dots of the plaster that broke open when I would sand over the dried paint with a paper bag.  So I bailed on that idea and went to my stockist for a can of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  This is Emperor's Silk, which leans more toward the orange side of the reds, and that fits well with my autumn color tendencies.

Covered in one coat
After a coat of Annie Sloan clear wax I wanted to tone down the red just a bit. After looking at pictures and videos of her dark wax (also a solid wax) I decided to try deep brown Americana Decor creme wax since it is more like pudding consistency which seems easier to move around.  I applied it with a chip brush and wiped off the excess with a blue shop towel, letting some remain into the recesses.  I added more in some areas it seemed to belong, and left a bit extra on some of the flat areas just to give the appearance of age.


I was planning to Rub 'n' Buff the hardware, but once the dresser was red the drawer pulls looked good the way they were so I just put them back on. I even found an extra screw in my stash to replace the missing one.  That never happens, so in the tradition of my family I will continue to save everything potentially useful.


Are you ready for the dramatic transformation?


And here it is in its new spot, with the olive dining chairs in the foreground.  I'm so happy with it!