Cookies, cookies everywhere!

So it’s that time of year…I’m talking holiday baking. I can get through the majority of the calendar year without too many dietary no-nos or glitches…until that dangerous period of time that starts on Thanksgiving and lasts up until my vehement New Year’s resolution to do better…

I really enjoy baking in general, but never more than this time of year when I challenge myself to tempt the cookie palates of those I love.

In case you were wondering, here is kind of a general idea of my busy kitchen during December:

I always bake Aunt Mary Ruth’s chocolate chip cookies – chunky chewy delectably soft mouthfuls that never crisp too much! Another fav is pizzelles, which I make with the traditional anise and also a vanilla bean variety. Then there are the oatmeal Craisins (since my family seems to prefer the chewy red Craisins over the wrinkly grape), the peanut butter surprise, Hersey kiss cookie, forgotten cookies (melt in your mouth meringues with tiny chocolate chips that dissolve into chocolatey goodness), snicker doodles (with a citrusy cinnamon blend), sugar cookies that the kids help decorate, Laura Bush’s cowboy cookies (I love the crunchy pecans!), an italian almond cookie with a glazed icing, coconut macaroons (some years with bottoms dipped in chocolate), spritz cookies (when the cookie press cooperates!)…

Yeah, it’s busy but oh-so-yummy and satisfying!

And I’m always experimenting, so always end up adding more. Like this year’s new addition: upside down gingerbread cookies decorated like reindeer! So please feel free to send your favorite recipes…I am always excited to try new ones!

A Handy-Dandy Kitchen Cheat Sheet!

If you’d like to find a printable version of this cheat sheet, visit the Everest kitchens page.

 

 

I found the above cheat-sheet and was so excited to include it! Lately I have really been broadening my foodie horizons in my efforts to eat a healthier, more plant-based cuisine, so I am often trying to convert measurements from international cookbooks and cooking magazines. Hope it helps some of you too!

Blessings,

~Mary

Volunteering…

I have to say that I am blessed to live in a community that really does go above and beyond most of the time in the area of volunteering. Having six children, there is no shortage of activities on my schedule — activities where parents are asked to step up and give of their time to make said activities enjoyable and successful. I am so happy that I have a supportive husband, who understands when I am not home to make a meal because I am out running around trying to give of my seemingly maxed-out time to benefit someone, somewhere. In the past I’ve volunteered as an Emergency Medical Technician, on a committee for homeless people in Philadelphia, as a Brownie Girl Scout leader, at the food pantry our church runs, at a casserole ministry also run by the church to benefit said food pantry, at the library for children’s story time — and at many, many, many sports events that not only benefit my own children, but others who partake of a particular event.

I was so thankful to be able to work with such an amazing team of parent volunteers at the concession stand for my daughter’s swim event today. Yeah, it started out pouring, and yeah, it got humid. And busy. I mean really, really busy! But the concession stand ran smoothly and I was pleased that I was able to work with such great — and supportive — parents! I am just so in awe of parents who really give their all for their children — you don’t see that everywhere, and not all too often, in today’s society. But there are small-town values at work here — values I cherish. To continue to perpetuate those kind of values, it is essential to become part of that community.

I have been a volunteer in many situations. Before I was married, through early marriage (meaning before children) and now, with children. It is quite unfortunate to see people who will promise to help and then shirk their responsibilities last-minute. It is awful to be in a situation where you obviously need more help and no one steps up. That is thankfully not the case most of the time in this little town. The people who consistently step up to help go above and beyond for the most part to make sure that things run smoothly – which benefits everyone. I’ve had so much fun (yes, fun! even in trying circumstances!) being a part of a community of volunteers that are not afraid to work long, work hard, and work without compensation because they just plain care!

Don’t delay, start today…

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I’m back, after kicking myself for getting discouraged and eating a food I KNOW makes me sick, then being sick all yesterday. But today is a new day.

I don’t know what it is about Mondays — most people hate them, but some use them as a starting point for a new goal. Like, for instance, the start of a diet, or an exercise plan. It’s like a bunch of mini-New Year’s resolutions — 52 to be exact. I’ll admit that when I am thinking of starting to change an eating habit, I always look to Monday. I don’t know if I am looking for that “last-hurrah” to indulge on the weekend, or if I think maybe somehow I’ll be able to keep better track of my progress. I suspect it’s the former rather than the latter…

There is something inherently flawed here though. If I am changing an eating habit it is usually because I have researched something and found that it would be more beneficial to change my ways…whether that means to deny myself something I have previously included in my dining repertoire or whether I am adding something that could benefit me in some way, such as bringing down my glucose levels. Whatever the reason, I have to ask myself why I wait?? If I am doing something that is harmful to my health, why put off correcting the issue???

I have to think that it has something to do with the psychology of food in general. Most people do not eat for optimum health and survival. Most of us consume calories for the pleasure of eating, or to “cure” depression, or to stave off boredom. Or maybe even because we have food addictions, even if we are not aware that we have them. So thinking about food as medicine or as something that can either help or harm us on the smallest molecular level is not too common.

As I have quoted in other blog posts, Hippocrates – often considered the father of Western medicine – said “Let thy food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.” Good advice. So, what makes people often ignore such sage wisdom and put off changing their eating style? One of many reasons is that over time, our taste buds may become dulled and not able to discern the simplistic pleasure eating can be. I know that in my quest to change my own eating habits, I have tried harder to let the phrase by Hippocrates be my mantra in the kitchen — and although I am still tied to a traditional American way of eating in some regard, many processed foods have been shunned in favor of more healthful options. I have found that once you begin to change your palate, you will not be disappointed with the vast array of foods there are and the literally thousands of food combinations you can find.

While I am still experimenting with baked goods and such, I am learning to lean toward better-for-you ingredients. Believe me, other options may take getting used to — but maybe not. One of my newest finds in the ice cream world, for example, is a brand called Coconut Bliss. Be warned — it is pricey. But isn’t my health and the health of my family worth it? Of course! It contains simple, healthier for you ingredients that let you indulge. I’m eating the dark chocolate, which is made with four ingredients, period — organic coconut milk, organic agave syrup, organic fair trade cocoa and organic vanilla extract. July is, after all, National Ice Cream Month and being the foodie I am, I know I don’t want to miss out! I mean, why eat a lot of things when you can’t pronounce most of what is included on the ingredient list?? With Coconut Bliss, I don’t even miss the cream! In fact, I’m determined to now start experimenting with my Cuisinart using coconut milk. Seriously! And I am not affiliated with this company in any way – these opinions are my own, given with no compensation whatsoever — but I can’t resist sharing amazing food finds. Especially when healthy. And it’s kinda cool that ice cream actually can be a healthy treat, in moderation. My pint is lasting me, because it’s so rich and delicious that I only enjoy it two tablespoons at a time…for real. Sans toppings too. Incredible…

Overall, I am starting to believe that if God didn’t make it, it probably doesn’t belong in my body anyway. The flavor combinations that you can come up with using fresh — and when possible, local — ingredients will do your taste buds (and body!) good — much better than anything you can buy boxed or canned. It’s a challenge sometimes, especially when you might be shopping with kids. But certainly worth experimenting to find new foods and recipes that appeal to you. My own homemade blue cheese dressing for instance, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking cookbook (one of my standard favorites and on the Hope Chest list for my daughters), is one of my son’s favorites (and he usually hates that kind!), less all the artificial flavors and preservatives. It’s actually kinda nice not seeing the kids get too hyped up on over-processed, over-sugared or -salted treats because I’m trying to seek out better options or, when I have time, make them at home.

Tonight’s menu is a simple tomato pie (homemade crust, homemade mayo!) with fresh ears of corn-on-the-cob. Simple, healthier than most things, and the epitome of an easy summer supper. Summer and fall are great times of year to transition to a better-for-you eating plan. I am still working my way toward better eating options, one day at a time.

The point is not to wait. The internet makes it more than possible to find incredible recipes for almost any and every thing. Start today, now. And, ironically, today is Monday!

Living without much structure…

I don’t know what possesses me to blog about my failures — maybe I just need to reassure myself that they are not as major as I think. Maybe it just encourages me to pick up and keep going? I don’t know — I’m still pondering that question — along with things like world peace and the elusive clean and decluttered household. The important thing is that I keep picking myself up and trying to start again — which is just oh-so-much-better than quitting.

Today we started our new homeschool year officially. Two of my children (the two that attend public school) think that I’m utterly insane. But when the heat index is ridiculous, staying indoors and reading a while doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. Besides — when the beautiful breezes of autumn arrive, we will have the option of homeschool in the park on sunny days. I like the options. At any rate, I was pleased with the progress — and the retention — garnered this morning, even though we did not accomplish everything I wanted to do. We didn’t do a heavy load. Just a few things. Some good reads…Such as Robinson Crusoe for William, The Hobbit for Sara…Sammy read some poems with me by Robert Louis Stevenson before he slipped out to play. We also did half a chapter from Jeannie Fulbright’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day and an activity to show how wind affects ocean currents. I learned a lot about oceans, and this will give way to some field trips (a field trip at the beach is a legitimate thing!!!). I was impressed with the willingness of the kiddies to start. Because we go through quite a few tantrums from time to time, usually from Will – who is all boy and wanting to do anything but be still!

I think I am like that too though…I look at something that needs to be done and get frustrated because I would so rather be doing other things. Les tries to tell me I am more “creative”, and I think he’s right. I would rather do something new and exciting or crafty than something dull and routine. That’s probably why we do not have a set schedule at the house, aside from anything imposed on us by the public school system or extracurriculars. While I do have a loose idea of what I want to accomplish on any given day, and a major “to-do” list to accompany each week — I can’t stand being beholden to a specific daily schedule. I prefer the spontaneous learning opportunities that come with allowing flexibility. At least for most things. Any moment can fortunately be a teaching moment…and I love that about homeschooling.

Translating that to my personal projects is where life gets a little tricky. I have been told that incorporating that much flexibility is just not always “responsible” of me. I will concede that maybe being rigid works for some people. But I like the ability to flex my creativity, to spread my wings as I try new things, to go through life undaunted by opportunity. I don’t always necessarily catch them (meaning opportunities) when they go by, but I’m there just in case, lol. And I think that is a gift I wanted to be able to give my children now, while they are young and have some of that undeniable freedom we often lose to adult responsibility.

In all seriousness though — there are days I wish I were more rigid, that I think that maybe the kids and I would get more out of life if we had a more strict schedule…I mean, Sara sleeps in almost every day! Of course, she is often up late, that being her natural tendency. But…then I remember the wonders, awes and joys of discoveries we would have missed if we were not willing to digress off the structured path. It might be smoother, but would it bring as much curiosity or creativity? Would we be seeking different information or different sources or resources? Would it bring with it the many unhurried lessons — both academic or life — that assure my soul that I’m doing something inherently right?? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong — they understand rules and how to work in parameters from outside activities like cheerleading, football, summer camp, youth groups and such. But — I like thinking that if we miss out on history today because we were so engrossed in a science lesson, that’s a good thing and not a crime. I like knowing that not finishing a recipe the way it’s written because someone has had an ephiphany is not going to necessarily mean a bad meal (at least not usually!). I like knowing that my kids are free to explore (well, to a certain extent!) and create (as long as they clean up their messes). I want my kids to have those opportunities now, because most adult jobs are very structured and not so forgiving. I guess ultimately I do like being a rebel of sorts about the scheduling thing!

Living Passionately!

Sometimes the best of intentions crumble because of other commitments, life-altering circumstances or emergencies…Not so in this case. I just plain forgot! Not that I didn’t want to keep the momentum going — for myself or for anyone else who deigns to read my humble blog — but life just was stressful and hectic, and I quite honestly was immersed in so many other projects (…especially if you count reading a project!) that blogging was only a fleeting thought before other things took precedence. So…after the hiatus I figured I’d like to start again. I’m not really sure what direction I’m heading in at this time, ya know, but I do have some loosely specified goals for myself. One is to be true to things I am passionate about. I’m not really talking Fifty Shades here though…I mean things that inspire me and keep my imagination engaged and working on overdrive even at times…Things like reading, learning, food…

Ah yes, food…We have such a love/hate relationship! I love many foods, but unfortunately for me diabetes has made it impossible for my body to love all of them…At least not on the surface. I think, for me, I am most intrigued by foods during spring, autumn and of course Christmas…The many colors, textures and flavors are such an inspiration! At one time my ex-business partner and I came up with at least fifty different combinations of a tomato soup and grilled cheese platter. Just because. But there are just some recipes I refuse to tinker around with because they are just perfect the way they are. Not that I can’t be a little creative here and there, but sometimes you just should not compromise. I’m kinda a food snob that way — I use real butter for instance. And I’d rather sacrifice certain foods so that I can indulge in others when there is opportunity.

And today is that opportunity! The other day I was at a small local little grocer that sells bulk foods (a God-send!) and some really fresh (like right from their own or neighboring farms) produce. I stumbled upon a great deal on Bing cherries. So today I am experimenting with a recipe…Cherry Almond Crumb Bars. This is going to hopefully be reiminscent of the lucious and deeply flavorful bars I used to be able to find at Central Market in downtown Lancaster when I was employed as a legal secretary (before children!). The smell alone was divine, but the amazing combination of cherries and almonds was what hooked me. The recipe I attempted today was created by someone and actually inspired by Smitten Kitchen, who offers a blog I just adore! Being a foodie, of course I love a good food blog. There are many, but there are certainly specific blogs that appeal to me. You really should check this one out: http://smittenkitchen.com/

Should you care to try the recipe though, you can find it here http://foodformyfamily.com/recipe-cards/cherry-almond-crumb-bars. Some day I hope to be blissfully posting my own amazing creations, but since I’m a lot short of amazing in the kitchen so far, I will stick to giving credit where it’s due…as well as sticking to the actual recipe. However — I almost sheepishly admit that I had to make one minor adjustment in this case…no sliced almonds (pout!). This is because Samuel (age 8) loves the taste of nuts in things like smooth peanut butter…but something about the texture of actual nuts bothers him and he will start to spit — or worse. And since I’ve finally tracked down a recipe akin to the treat I used to love, that just would not be appealing table antics…It looks and smells delicious so far. The one major downside was that today was hot and humid — never a pleasant combination. And my kids think I’m nuts for firing up the oven, especially since we have no A/C…But bars like this just can’t wait for cool weather (or so my taste buds would argue!)…Besides, the cherries are fresh now…and I’d hate to freeze them while they are sitting there looking ripe and juicy and tasting absolutely amazing. Some days fresh produce just does not care about the temperature outdoors. Sad, because canning season for me is just around the corner, and I envision lots of heat and sweat going on in the kitchen…which sounds oh-so-much-more-sexy than reality. No one helps me can yet, so it’s a solo project. Maybe I can coax someone to hook up A/C or at least provide a fan…If only!

And by the way — the bars are absolutely delish and just the way I remember them, except of course for the missing almonds…

So, the bottom line is that on this journey toward extraordinary, I hereby resolve to live passionately instead of just eeking out my existence. Hopefully you’ll be inspired by some of the same things I am. At any rate, I am excited to start finally piecing together my life and building it around things that seriously move me, inspire me, excite me and engage me. And I really am looking forward to the journey!

This entry was posted on June 20, 2012. 1 Comment