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Resolve to Dissolve … and other stuff

Hello readers!

Happy New Year!!! Hope everyone had a festive holiday season and that your year is off to a great start.

Let’s see. A quick Christmas recap from my life. Christmas Eve and Day were great! Lots of love and excitement in the house. The baking fun didn’t end with the cookies as I had planned. I decided to make some loaves of sour dough bread. Let me tell you all, so delicious. Letting a sour dough starter “grow” for about a week makes really fabulous bread.

Also made a croquembouche for both Christmas Eve and Day. Used a Martha Stewart recipe for every bit of this delicious treat. You can go here for the recipe. I used extra cruschikis to “spruce” it up a bit too. If you attempt this at all, be aware of the extreme high temperatures of the sugar for the decorating. I’m not talking, ouch, it burns… it’s more like sticking your hand into a fire and having a hot coal stuck to your hand until you can gather your senses long enough to put your hand in ice cold water to prevent further pain. It hurts, but it’s almost a good hurt. (no, no it’s not)

Kids got lots of great stuff and so did the parents (hubby and myself, yay!). One of my favorite gifts this year happens to be from said hubby. He found a really neat lens to attach to my phone to use with macro photography. It is SUPER cool!!! Click here to check it out! Here is also one of the many photos I’ve taken with the lens.

This is an “EXTREME CLOSE UP” of a thin mint cookie from my baking holiday extravaganza 2011. Very cool pic. I could totally see myself running around the little candy sprinkles and jumping over lines of chocolate, were I to be shrunk to the appropriate size, of course.

In the middle of all the holiday festivities and baking and working and chasing after a 4 and 1 year old, I started a couple projects. The easy one is a baby blanket for a new cousin about to be born in a few weeks. I think it came out rather well. (pats self on back)

The other crochet project was a Minion from Despicable Me. My husband’s boss loves these little guys. They are surprisingly fun to make too… well… until you get to the details. And if it was super easy, everyone would do it too. So I’ve heard. Here’s the progression in pictures.

Now (drumroll please) the main topic of this post. If you’ve made it this far, I’m grateful for your readership. Yes, I tend to ramble, but hope that my going on and on makes you smile or makes you feel good.

My husband and I have decided to go back on WeightWatchers (online). I say back because we’ve tried it with much success before and have fallen off the wagon a few times over the course of many years. I feel like this time is it… really. It has to be. I’m putting myself out here on the internet. I don’t consider myself to be… well… overdramatically unhealthy, if I can call it that. I feel quite active in my advancing years (not ready for AARP just yet) but I’m tired of not being happy with myself. I can make myself happy with food and tv just as much as anyone else can, but am I genuinely happy. Not in the least. Do I hope that eventually I become a success story for myself? Absolutely.

I didn’t gain wait overnight… well… I did, but it was little increments which when added up is a lot. Yes, I had two kids, and I don’t want that to be an excuse to be this way. I’m not sharing pics of myself other than the ones from one of the earlier posts from my hair donation. I will say that I’d like to be fitter, healthier and happier. I have EA Sports Active for PS3 and Wii. I will say I find the PS3 version to be a little better as I don’t need to hold any controllers in my hands with each exercise. I also have Zumba for Wii, which is pretty fun and probably funnier to watch me do as I have zero coordination or balance. Plus, it’s also wonderful to have access to the decent handful of streaming Netflix workout videos.

So here I am… I’m doing it. So there! =P

More importantly I’m doing it to chase these little munchkins around.

‘Tis the Season… for BAKING!!!

Hello folks!

It’s the season again for me to bake my heart out and make deliciousness for all my friends and family for Christmas. I love doing this, and while it is A LOT of work, it’s truly rewarding to see people enjoying a handmade, from the heart gift. Plus, I am “legitimately” a pastry chef, so I gotta produce deliciousness.

So, every year, I make Cruschikis. I remember, as a kid, making them every so often with my mom, and vaguely remember her mom making them. Being just a little Polish, I feel I need to make these every year to reconnect with those memories and honor my grandmother (hopefully she sees how I’m doing and is pleased). They are delicious crunchy fried bites of dough made up of egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, sour cream, booze (I use Souther Comfort) and flour. Mix it all up, roll it out, flip it through and fry in crisco. Yes, crisco. I hate using it, but get the best results from it. Dust with powdered sugar and yum! You can always tell when someone eats one of these… they’ve got the badge of honor on their shirt as a light dusting that’s attempted to be brushed off. Wear it proud!

I also like to make these brownies… I call them evil brownies because they really are. You can’t stop at just one, but in all honesty, my husband and I have the delight of eating the edges. They get cut into 2 inch pieces with much effort. There’s a lot of deliciousness happening on top. This is one of the few things I still use a mix for. I haven’t ever been disappointed with the brownie mix I use for these. Yes, I am capable of using a recipe for this, but as you will see after this little tidbit, I baked a lot and had to cut one little corner. I use the Hershey brownie mix you can get in Sam’s Club. They have 4 pouches in each box. I use 3 per sheet pan. Mix according to directions, spread in pan (prepared with butter and parchment paper)… then the fun or “magic” happens. Sprinkle the spread out batter with chocolate chips, then pecans, then shredded coconut, then drizzle that with sweetened condensed milk. Bake and enjoy the aroma of this awesome treat. It’s so good! The edges are the best part, as I mentioned a few lines up so be prepared to bag up those goodies and store them in a ziploc baggie in the back of your freezer for later consumption… if they make it that far.

Next up… a new recipe. I had been making the same things year after year, and aside from my first two goodies, I needed a change. So, with all the whites l had left over from Cruschiki making I made Peppermint Meringue “kisses”. They aren’t as hard as anyone would expect. Before going to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education a few years back, I figured it would be difficult to make the really seemingly difficult pastries and desserts… not so. Everything is methodical. With patience and understanding of  your ingredients and the concept of mise en place. It’s not that difficult to produce beautiful desserts. So without further adieu… here they are!

Next new recipe tried is “thin mints“. They were awesome and so easy to make. I love slice and bake cookies. You make the dough when you have time, let it chill for one hour to overnight, slice and bake. Easy peasy! I have a ruler just for baking so it’s got little gouges in it at various increments. It works out well. I like to keep things like that separate. No need to use a ruler for measuring paper and get cookie dough on it right? Right! These little gems were drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with either pink/red sprinkles or green sprinkles. Didn’t want to go overboard, less is more!

The next two cookie treats I make were from the Momofuku Milk Bar. I honestly don’t know why I’ve yet to visit this awesome place. I would very much like to stop in some time. I made Cinnamon-Sugar Squares, which if anyone that knows me really well knows, I LOVE LOVE LOVE cinnamon! I love the smell, I love adding it appropriately to baked goods, it’s my favorite… clearly. Of all the spices in my kitchen, it’s my favorite… but don’t tell cardamom, I hear they get jealous. My husband tried these little heavenly morsels of cinnamony goodness and his words were, “they taste like a healthier churro”. They’re fantastic! Highly recommend these. They came out a little spongy, with a lightly crunchy top.

The other recipe I tried from Momofuku are their Snappy Ginger Snaps. Another slice and bake recipe. Win-win for me. I finished making the thin mint recipe and while that was chilling I made the ginger snap recipe. YUM! I love ginger snaps. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved them. My father’s father had this great cookie jar (which I have now) and he’d have ginger snaps every time we were visiting. I remember the sound the lid make when you took it off and the rustling of the cookies when reaching in to grab that spicy snack. This particular recipe, however, was amped up a bit. I felt a kick in my mouth a few times after eating one. Yum! Not super snappy, I liked them softer this time around. With the little bit of sugar on top before baking, they came out with a little bit of a crackle. Perfect for the ginger zing you get.

Finally, I made Neapolitan Cookies. I love the colors of neapolitan ice cream. Ever since my daughter was born I’ve grown to like and truly love pink. I don’t run around in pink track suits, but I’ve been known to wear pink now and then. Instead of jumping in to using the dough in a speckled look, I rolled out sheets like sugar cookies and layered them to chill stacked on top of each other. When they were firm enough I sliced off the jagged edges and swirled those together just enough to make a log for slicing later. The nice straight edged shape was then cut in to two inch wide strips, which were then cut in to 1/4″ pieces and baked. Once cooled, they were tasted, quality control never hurt anyone right? It tasted like the ice cream, minus brain freeze.

In case you are wondering, I have a 6 quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I’ve yet to name her, but she is reliable as all get out. For most of these recipes, all but the meringues actually, I used the Beater Blade. I’m not getting paid or free stuff from them, but I feel it’s necessary to praise this product. It is phenominal. If you don’t know what it is, check it out, but I will also explain it here. It is a great paddle attachment with what feels like your standard rubber spatula running along it’s length that scrapes the bowl as it mixes  your dough or whatever you’re mixing. I am in love with how thoroughly it gets all your ingredients incorporated without lumps or random dry or wet spots in the dough or batter. No wasted product is always good. Nothing is stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Truly great product.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of my crafty life. I’m working on a crochet project I hope to write about in the next week or so. Change things up a bit.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Holidays, Happy, healthy and save New Years (if I don’t write before then of course)!

Big hugs to you all.

Season of Giving

Welcome to my blog. I hope upon reading you are all in good health. What better way to launch a blog than a blog about the holidays. So sit back and enjoy my ramblings. I plan to share with you various aspects of my life. I consider myself to be a dabbler in crafty things. The most enjoyable things for me are things I can do with my hands. A few things I enjoy doing with my hands are baking, cake decorating, crocheting, sewing, drawing and photography. So here goes, hope you enjoy. =D

I can remember being probably 8 or 9 years old when that huge Toys “R” Us catalog would arrive. I remember flipping through the colorful pages upon pages of wishes, wants, desires. From My Little Pony playsets to 100+ count crayon sets, to a real pony (what little girl hasn’t wanted one of those?).

Looking back on that memory, I realize how petty all the “stuff” really was, I didn’t know it back then, what kid does? The importance of things has greatly shifted over the years. As an adult, sure, I’d love ot have the latest gadget, gizmo, or even retail bakery space complete with the most shiny, glistening stainless steel appliances and countertops… drool… ahem, where was I? Right… it’s all stuff. I still have wishes, wants, desires… they’re evolving. I want my kids to have a good life, be healthy and happy as much as possible and more importantly for them to know they are loved.

I try hard, with many bumps along the way, who doesn’t have those? I try to be a better person for them in the hopes I’m not a parent who has to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I want to be a role model for them and love them with all my heart and soul. So far, my heart and soul is theirs.

On to why I’ve started this particular post… I have never in my life imagined how good it would feel to give until I participated in a 35 mile/2 day walk to fight breast cancer. My grandmother lost her battle with breast cancer when I was 3, my mother-in-law has won her battle. I walked the furthest I’ve ever walked in my life in the shortest amount of time. A small “price to pay” considering the battles that have been fought and won or lost. The money raised when to research in finding a cure, to the people going through treatments, to childcare while a parent might be in treatments, wigs, prosthetics, lots of really really good things. It felt great, no matter the throbbing feet and sweaty brow experienced but the large swarm of people participating.

That, for those of you who have gotten this far, and I thank you if you’re still reading, is what is gradually propelling me to give. Give more. It feels good to help. This time of year shouldn’t be the only time to give. Most recently I made a choice to donate my hair to Locks of Love. My hair was admittedly out of control. It was too long and I needed a change. I had 11″ of hair bundled up and sent off. I hope they get as much use out of my hair as they can. I took my 4 year old daughter with me the day I got my hair cut. She asked me if it hurt to get my hair cut… I told her, “Sweety, quite the opposite.”

Before

After

So, with that I say, think about others this holiday season, and really, think about others all year. Sometimes all anyone really needs is an ear to talk to or arms for a hug. It doesn’t have to cost money or be a grand gesture, a simple thing like a smile could be all it takes to turn a life around. Not to get all preachy, but love each other more. It’s so much easier to love.

P.S.-Please bear with me as I explore blogging. It’ll be rough around the edges at first, but I’ll get there and am certain you’ll all enjoy it.