Thursday, March 13, 2014

pink cookies & the bakery buttercream

I've had several people request this recipe, so here it is: the greatest sugar cookie recipe known to man. I got the cookie recipe from an Arc of Spokane newsletter about 15 years ago and have been using it ever since.

The frosting recipe was developed by my sister who opened a bakery once upon a time. She no longer owns the bakery, but I managed to memorize the recipe while working for her (on average I mixed, baked and frosted 15-20 dozen sugar cookies each week for a year) and scaled it down to a manageable size.

Pink Cookies

3 cups butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. vanilla
7 cups flour
1 1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350*. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla and cream again. Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt. The dough will be easier to handle if it is chilled, but it is actually pretty easy to work with if you skip the chill. Roll out to 1/4", cut into desired shapes and bake 10-12 minutes until cookies do not indent when touched and edges are very lightly browned.

The Bakery Butter-cream Frosting

2 cups butter, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/3 c. cream (or almond milk)
2 lb. powdered sugar

Cream butter, extract(s), corn syrup and cream. Slowly stir in powdered sugar until incorporated, then whip to desired consistency. If frosting is too thick, use cream to adjust.

chocolate crinkles

I don't often make chocolate cookies, but when I do, I like to use the recipe for Chocolate Crinkles in my ancient Hershey's "Make it Chocolate!" cookbook. This past week, I tried making them with coconut oil for the first time and they turned out perfectly. We used them to make mini ice-cream sandwiches. :)

Here is the recipe with my adaptations, one of which is skipping the 6 hours of chill time because, in the memorable words of Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

Chocolate Crinkles

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In large mixer bowl combine sugar and oil. Add cocoa; blend well. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt, blending well. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until almost no indentation remains when touched.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

pretty great

Many of the people I know are doctors and lawyers, bankers, professors, writers, successful businessmen. They live in big houses and drive fancy cars. They travel to interesting, exciting places I've never been.  I admire and respect them; their years of hard work have paid off.

While I am not the type to envy their life and the things I don't have, I sometimes find myself comparing my life in a critical way. I find myself making excuses for who I am and what I do: I'm just a tutor at the school. I majored in Sociology (insert my own eye-roll here). My house is old and small and we live in Payson ( head hung low). I can't afford to travel right now, but maybe someday.

I have no idea why I do this, but today I realized I have to stop. I like my life the way it is. My life is pretty great...

I like being a tutor at the school. I like working part time, being off with my kids and I love not being in charge. I like working with kids who need extra help because I love to see them progress. I make very little in terms of money, but the rewards I receive are many.

I loved studying Sociology. As much as I joke about how worthless it has been, it hasn't been worthless at all. Understanding how people function in groups? Priceless. If I ever have the desire and the resources to go to graduate school, all lined up at once, with no thought about the practicality of my choice, I might choose to study it all over again.

My house is old and small. It's in an old, some-say 'ghetto' neighborhood in a quirky little red-neck town. It often smells strange, like rotting wood and medicine, but it is comfortable and colorful and 'happy' as my kids' friends call it. I often think if we had more money we would buy a different house. One brand new, with lots of rooms and bathrooms to spare. But if I'm honest, we could have bought that house to begin with, but didn't, because I think that house is boring and bland. I like my house because it is a never-ending project, with things to paint and fix and build and improve. What would I do with a brand new house?

While I do hope to travel someday, I have to admit, I don't really like to travel. I blame it on a lack of money or time, or claim I need to be home with the kids, but truly, I like to be home because home is where I like to be. Fixing my house, improving my yard, enjoying my kids while they're here.

I like my life. It's simple but rich. I'm not important or wealthy or exciting at all, but I'm happy, because I am living the life I choose.

I will make excuses no more.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

energy bars

I recently read the Happiness Project, which has inspired me to consciously and actively enhance my happiness. One of the things I am doing is baking more. I love to bake; it makes me happy, but I often get stuck in the rut of making the same old tried and true recipes at the request of my kids and husband.

Obviously this isn't a bad thing; my favorite chocolate chip cookies are still my favorite, even when I am making them for the umpteenth time. But I also like to try new things, so I decided to bake my way through my favorite cook book, The Joy of Cooking. I have been using this cookbook for 20 years and it rarely disappoints. I like the recipes because they are classic, generally call for ingredients I keep in my pantry and have choices built into the recipes.

At the request of my niece, here is one of the recipes I made the other day, and then again today. They were delicious both times.

Energy Bars (Joy of Cooking, page 765)

Preheat oven to 350*F. Grease a 9x9-inch square baking pan lined with foil.

Combine in a medium bowl:
* 1-1/2 cups packed dried fruit (apricots, pitted dates, raisins, figs, cherries, and/or cranberries), coarsely
* 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
* 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
* 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds
* 1/4 tsp salt (I use salted butter and omit the salt)
* 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Add and stir until well blended:  
* 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
* 1-1/2 tsp vanilla

Press the mixture into the pan. Bake until top is golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack. 

The first time I made them, I used dried cherries and pecans. I chopped them all up in my Ninja, which is the best blender I've ever had. I followed the recipe exactly.

Today when I made them, I doubled the recipe and baked them in a cookie sheet (jelly-roll pan). I used dried apples, almonds and coconut. I also used wheat flour for a third of the flour. I forgot to melt the butter this time, I only softened it, which I think is why they did not brown as beautifully. Because they were not as thick in the cookie sheet, I decreased the baking time to 25 minutes.

If I make them again, I will probably cut down a bit on the brown sugar and use more whole wheat flour, to make them a little healthier.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

diabetes is not my fault

I already posted some of this on facebook, but then realized I have a lot more to say. So here is my original post:

I am so tired of reading things that imply or claim that people with type 2 diabetes become diabetic because they are or were overweight. This is oversimplified and adds blame and shame to an already upsetting and frustrating disease. Perhaps more people should read this fact from the American Diabetic Association...

Fact: Being overweight is a risk factor for developing this disease, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

And here is what I want to add: 

I have never been 'skinny'. Aside from the year I had mono, I have probably never been the correct weight for my height on a chart. But I have been fit and active most of my life. With the exception of a few years while having kids and working multiple jobs, exercising and sports have been a priority for me. And most days I manage to eat right. 

Nevertheless, a few years ago, I went to the doctor complaining of a pain in my side. He listened to my symptoms, then checked my blood glucose levels. My fasting blood sugar level was something like 290 (120 is normal), so he told me I probably had diabetes. I mentioned I had eaten several cookies before bed the night before. He quipped, 'It would take more than a few cookies to get a reading like that.'

A few days later he called my cell. I answered, he asked what I was doing. Odd, I thought. I was driving, I told him, so he asked me to call him back. My heart sank and my stomach knotted up. Cancer is prevalent in my family. Rational or not, it has been a persistent worry.

I called him back the minute I got home, prepared for the worst. He told me I had type 2 diabetes. I was relieved. A little annoyed perhaps, but mostly relieved. I didn't have cancer! 

Diabetes was familiar to me. My dad had diabetes for about 20 years before he died. Many of his siblings had diabetes and lived a long time. My oldest brother developed diabetes around my same age, my younger brother was diagnosed a year or two before me, my mother was diagnosed a year or two before that, and one of my sisters had been 'borderline', like me, for awhile. I had even had gestational diabetes myself, twice. So bring it on!

I started taking Metformin, to help restore the way my body turned food into energy, and read everything I could find on controlling diabetes.

Although I was already running several days a week, I was only running three miles a day. With the help of a running partner, I bumped up to four days a week and ran a 10k (6 miles) within six months. Two months later, I ran my first half-marathon (13.1 miles). I cross-trained with biking and walked on my 'rest' days. 

I became obsessed with counting calories and carbs; myfitnesspal was my new best friend. I had lost ten pounds from my heaviest weight before being diagnosed. With concentrated efforts, I lost nine more and then stopped. I increased my exercise and decreased my calories, but the scale wouldn't move. After the half-marathon, I gained four pounds. I increased my exercise and decreased my calories; the scale didn't move. Winter came and I gained five pounds. No matter what I did, the scale wouldn't move. 

I went back for checkups; my cholesterol was high, my blood pressure was high and my weight was 'overweight' on the chart. The doctor told me I needed to lose weight. My father-in-law (a retired doctor), told me I needed to lose weight. I was angry and upset. 

I read more articles, more blog posts, more study results. The more I read, the more discouraged I got. I started to think having diabetes was my fault. One man claimed to have cured his diabetes by following The Paleo Diet. Another article linked diabetes with Alzheimer's, citing the over-consumption of sugar as the "cause". It would seem, from the majority of literature I read, that I was sick because I was fat. I wasn't doing enough...

Spring came and I lost my winter weight, but I wanted to get back to my lowest point; even more, I wanted to lose enough weight to fit on the doctor's chart. I thought this was the only way to prove to myself that I didn't deserve to have diabetes.

At some point, I went too far. I realized this when I ran 8 miles one morning after eating very little the night before. I had eaten nothing before the run, and only a few Sport Beans during the run. I had started drinking as little as possible too, as a good, long run without water could easily make me two pounds lighter on the scale. Since I typically burn at least 100 calories per mile, it is likely my blood glucose levels were dangerously low. Unfortunately, when my levels are low, my thinking becomes muddled. I didn't eat much after my run, because after noting I had burned about 900 calories on my run, I got this number stuck in my head as the total number of calories I could consume that day. I ate a small snack and took a nap. 

With great difficulty, I dragged myself out of bed a couple hours later. Fortunately I went to a party, where I told a friend and running partner how tired I had been the past week. A dietician, she suggested it could be my diabetes. Light dawned. I hadn't been eating enough. I ate a cupcake. And a cookie. Within fifteen minutes I felt more energetic. I went home and ate whatever came to mind. The difference was incredible!

I stopped tracking calories and maintained the same weight. By chance, I visited a nurse practitioner when my regular doctor called in sick. He told me I wasn't fat. He told me the diabetes wasn't my fault. He told me my cholesterol was high because the sugar in my blood wasn't finding its way into the cells where it belongs. He told me I should take medication for it, but it wasn't imperative now; he would tell me when it was. Later, he told me my blood pressure was too high, despite all the running; another side effect of diabetes that wasn't my fault. I had to start taking medication for it, he said, 'I know you don't want to, but it's time.' He reiterated that I was healthy and fit. That I was doing everything right. That I was not at fault. The relief was so great, I cried. 

I'm still working through my tendency to obsess: to blame myself for the state of my health; to push myself until my body starts to break; to worry my kidneys, my heart, my eyes will fail; that I will abandon my children and spouse. But I am starting to come to terms with my disease. And to accept my body, and appreciate all it can do, even if it doesn't fit on the charts. 

On the up-side, I don't worry much about cancer anymore. Now if I could just get rid of that pain in my side...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

jesus is just alright

My brother Mark died when I was 23. He was eight years older than me and most of my memories of him are not fond. I remember him picking on me a lot, teasing me until I cried and, once, picking me up and hanging me over the balcony, telling me he was going to drop me.

He was the master of pestering; the kind of brother who, when you shouted, 'stop bugging me,' would pin you down on the ground and poke your chest with his fingers while saying, 'bug, bug, bug...' 

Being the overly-sensitive type, my response was to yell at him, tattle on him, or burst into tears and run to my room, slamming the door. But I loved him.

When I was little, he ran away from home. In my memory, he was gone a long time before we knew where he was. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, praying a simple prayer, over and over, asking God to please just bring him home.

Eventually he did come back, but he continued to struggle with life, at least in my eyes. He didn't go to church like the rest of the family and lived by a set of standards all his own. Growing up in an LDS home, I had a hard time with the choices he made. I judged him, distrusted him; I kept my distance from him.

I wish I hadn't. I wish I had known then what I know now about people who are different from me: that they are almost always amazing in a way I can't see. I wish I had spent more time listening to the stories he told me, actually hearing the things he said. I wish I could have appreciated him for who he was and loved him unconditionally.

When I came home after spending a year and a half on a mission in Montreal, I happened to take a trip with my parents and Mark and my brother Paul. It was probably the first time I had a real conversation with Mark. He was working on a little island in Alaska at the time and was home on a mandatory break. He had several more weeks off and we tentatively planned for him to visit me at school, where maybe we would go camping together. I was looking forward to it, but we never had the chance.

The last time I saw Mark, he picked me up at the airport on a layover in Seattle and took me to Pike Street Market. He waited patiently while I looked at almost every silver ring at every jewelry stand, trying to find one that was just right. I don't remember what we talked about, I just remember we had a good time.

I don't often think about Mark anymore. It has been almost 20 years since he died. Today, as I was driving alone in the car, Jesus is Just Alright came on the radio. It is the song he suggested I use as a musical number for my missionary farewell. :)

I sang along, by myself, to every word as tears streamed down my face. I so wish I could know Mark now, as an older and wiser me. I think we would be great friends...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

zucchini apocalypse

Forget about a Zombie Apocalypse. I think we are in more danger of zucchini taking over the world. So if you are one of those gardeners who habitually plants too much zucchini: STOP!

While zucchini is good for you and astonishingly easy to grow, and while there are thousands of recipes to help you use up your overzealous crop, even the most health-conscious, zucchini-eating, faux-apple-pie-baking folk around get sick of zucchini. So here are my simple steps to avoid a Zucchini Apocalypse:

Step 1: Plant less. It's simple math: one zucchini seed + sunshine + soil + water = a bazillion zucchini. Or at least enough to feed a family of four, freeze some for winter and share a few with your friends. So just plant one plant. Or, if you are a pessimist like me, plant two, three, or even four seeds (just in case) but thin them as they come up and start to thrive.

I know it's hard, but you can do it; I did. Here is my garden. There is only one zucchini plant growing in this mess and we have had plenty of zucchini for several weeks in a row.

Step 2: Harvest them young. The longer you let them grow, the bigger they get, but bigger zucchini is not better zucchini; it's just more zucchini. I like to pick mine when they are about 8-10 inches long, or about the length of a butter-knife. They are perfect for roasting, grilling, sauteing or baking. If you miss picking one for a day or two, the big ones (below-left) are great for shredding and freezing. I freeze mine in regular, sandwich-sized zip-lock bags and use them to make zucchini bread in the winter. Here is my favorite zucchini bread recipe, although I usually omit the orange zest (because I never have it) and add a little coconut.

Step 3: Compost the excess. There is no need to push unwanted zucchini on family, friends or neighbors; no need to break into a person's car, as the legend goes, or bring baskets full of zucchini to give away at church. Chances are, if you have a spectacular zucchini crop, so does everyone else. So toss your extra, unwanted zucchini straight into the compost pile. Think of it as super cheap fertilizer for next year. :)