Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Never Ending Stories

Quote of the Day: If I could have anything I wanted, I would choose story without end. - Annie Barrows

I loved every word of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows epistolary novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I started it a few days before Christmas, but read most of it on the snowy Saturday after the gifts were opened and the children were away. I took one short break to clear my driveway and get circulation back in my bottom, then promptly placed it back on the arm chair so I could rejoin all my new friends on Guernsey Island.

Isn't that how it is when you're immersed in a great book? You feel like the characters are your friends and you can't imagine life without them. When I was around 12-years-old I remember loving a book so much that as I neared the end, I feared having to let them go once the story ended, so I set the book down for a couple weeks before I'd allow myself to finish the book. I missed them so much. (Although today I can't remember just which book that was...maybe it happened more than once, but it likely had girls and horses in it!)

Annie Barrows says that many readers share this sentiment. She goes on to write: This profusion of questions, exclamations, and tales is the new version of the Society. Its members are spread all over the world, but they are joined by their love of books, of talking about books, and of their fellow readers. We are transformed - magically - into the literary society each time we pass a book along, each time we ask a question about it, each time we say, 'If you liked that, I bet you'd like this.' Whenever we are willing to be delighted and share our delight, as Mary Ann did, we are part of the ongoing story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

We are joined in the society of readers and lovers of words and sharing words and stories.

I read the final few pages of this novel in the waiting room of the dentist office. Before the hygienist put her fingers and tools in my mouth, I had to tell her about this book. She wrote it down, another hygienist wrote it down, and she talked about books during my entire cleaning, which made it much more tolerable.

It's nice to know the story lives on. We keep passing it along. We keep sharing our stories, and we stay connected.

Journaling prompt: What are you reading right now, and what book would you recommend to a friend?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lentil Soup with Fresh Parsley & Garlic Biscuits

There's a little middle eastern restaurant near our house that has the finest and most fragrant lentil soup. My kids just adore it and so does my husband. This afternoon, as I was pondering what to make for supper, I decided to give lentil soup a try. The recipe that I used, torn from the Detroit Free Press, had been stuck on our refrigerator door with a magnet several months ago. I've probably glanced at that tattered piece of newsprint about a thousand times. Finally, who knows why, the spirit moved me to buy some orange lentils and cook up a big pot of the stuff. I'm pleased to report that the recipe is a keeper. It got a giant seal of approval from my guys. When my husband commented that he thought it tasted better than the restaurant's formula, I knew I'd be making it again.

The only liberties I took with this extremely simple recipe were to increase it, to be more generous with the spices (more cumin, salt, and black pepper), and to include a few squeezes of lemon juice. I also used an immersion blender instead of putting the soup into a regular blender (way, way easier--if you don't have one and you like to make soup, you need one!).

Of course, a soup like this, tasty though it is, does not an entire meal make. Okay then, what to serve with it? Well, I thought some savory biscuits might be just the ticket, and indeed they were. I used a recipe for a reliably fluffy, tender, buttermilk biscuit from the book Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, but instead of leaving the biscuits plain I decided to add in some finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley along with a little fresh minced garlic. Perfect!

These were good biscuits, and they went along with the lentil soup like love and marriage. I placed a bowl of seedless red grapes on the table, alongside the biscuit basket, and we were good to go.

You'll like this combo!

Lentil Soup
(For a printable version of this recipe, along with the biscuit recipe below, click here!)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 x-large clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsley chopped
3 cups orange lentils, rinsed
9 cups water or vegetable broth (I used water)
3 and 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
fresh lemon juice to taste

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic for 1 minute, then add in the chopped onion and and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to coat them in the oil. Add in the water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot and cook, removing any foam that rises to the top, until the lentils are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes (mine took barely 30 minutes). Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Once slightly cooled, puree the soup until almost smooth using an immersion blender (if you have just a regular blender, use that, pouring the unpureed soup into it in batches, then pouring the pureed soup into its own separate pot). Add in the cumin, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Bring the soup to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until ready to serve.

If you like, top each bowl of soup with a hefty pinch of chopped parsley and a wedge of lemon on the side.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Fresh Parsley & Garlic

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3 cups of All Purpose flour, plus extra for dusting (I used bleached)
2 and 1/2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, diced
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk, plus more for brushing

Blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate small bowl, mix together the parsley and garlic, then add that into the combined dry ingredients. Cut in the butter (I used a pastry blender) until the mixture resembles pea-sized pieces.

Add in the buttermilk and milk, mixing just to combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 inch. Fold the rolled dough in half, turn it, roll it, and repeat this 3 or 4 times for a final thickness of 1 inch.

Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter. (Reroll the extra dough scraps only once if you can help it; more than that may lead to toughened biscuits.)

Place the dough pieces onto the covered baking sheet. With a pastry brush, lightly brush milk on the top of each one.

Bake for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Let the biscuits cool on wire racks, or serve them warm.

Recipe full disclosure!
This soup recipe came from the food section of the Detroit Free Press. I believe it was published in 2009, but I have no idea which month or day. I could not find the exact recipe on their website in order to confirm the date. At the bottom of the recipe that I have it says, "Adapted from Lila Amen, Dearborn. Tested by Susan M. Selaskey for the Free Press Test Kitchen."

(If you'd like to comment on this post or to read any existing comments, click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Holiday Contentedness & the Rebel . . .

So, did you survive the big day? I hope so. It's wonderful and all, but I'm kind of glad it's behind us. Not in a bad way or anything, but it's nice to have a few days to relax post-Christmas, don't you think? No fancy meals to worry about preparing, no more packages to wrap, no need to fret about getting all of those special tasks completed in a pressure cooker time-frame. In the holiday's immediate wake, I love having the opportunity to spend some extra time with my husband and kids, as we each wallow contentedly in the thoughtful and fun gifts we've received, with no imperative to rush about.

I must say I was fortunate to be the recipient of some fabulous cookbooks this year. The one that I'd hoped Santa would bestow upon me most of all was Rose Levy Beranbaum's newest tome Rose's Heavenly Cakes; now that's a beautiful cookbook. She must have sold about a million copies of that baby in the last month alone, don't you think? Another one I'd been yearning for was The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco (also new this year and jam packed with luscious-looking possibilities), and last but not least The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, a book that seems to be legitimately de rigeur these days if you're interested in making sensational ice creams and sorbets from scratch.

Probably the most exciting item (for me at least!) that made its way into our household a couple of days before Christmas was a new camera, a DSLR from the Canon Rebel series. Not a present to ourselves exactly, but something that we'd wanted for a while but couldn't justify purchasing until we found it at an unbelievably discounted price. I'm just getting acquainted with the Rebel (I love having a camera that doesn't have a namby-pamby name) and there's a lot to absorb.

I readily admit that I know very little about "real" photography, and I've stumbled along as best I can trying to take pictures that are worth looking at. I'd wager that at least ninety-five percent of the digital photos I've taken since I started this blog were not worth saving let alone putting into a post. Do you suppose it's like that for most amateurs who take pictures regularly? I don't know, but I'm hopeful, in any case, that that percentage will begin to change as I eventually figure out how to take full advantage of this camera's more advanced features. We shall see.

The few photos you see in this post were taken today with my new friend, the Rebel.

Will bake again soon. Talk to you later!

P.S. See the squirrel ornament above? Yeah, that's a squirrel. Can't see his fluffy little tail in this shot. He's very small and he's my husband's favorite ornament. Funny! (The cupcake ornament below is one of my many favorites. I'm a complete sucker for ornaments shaped like baked goods.)

If you'd like to comment on this post or to read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pickle Night, Snow, and Root Beer Floats

Quote of the Day: I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. - Charles Dickens

Dear Snowbound Friends and weary Travelers,

This year the snow is the Grinch who is trying to steal Christmas. Don't let it! I know you're frustrated by delays and changes of plans and feeling the crashing blow of disappointment. All the weeks of planning and waiting leave you feeling like you've been running to catch the train and get within its sights just as the doors slam shut and it has escalated to an unreachable speed. You stop, heart pounding, tears bursting from your eyes and a cry of "No!" screaming from your lips. And, then, "Now what?" Your shoulders slump and you drop your bags to the floor.

Well, you could slink home and pout, or you could be like all the Whos down in Whoville and celebrate Christmas with what you've got.

from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss:
"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came witout packages, boxes or bags!"

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

It's so hard to feel like you've missed the party. You long to enter the doors of your loved ones and feel the embrace of the ones who are so glad you're safe. You want to feel their kiss upon your cheek, the cheek of the face they longed to see. Nothing substitutes the real presence of people who just want to be with you. But, that doesn't have to happen only on Dec. 25. It can happen any day of the year.

Last night, my boys and I had our Pickle Night. We do this the first night of holiday vacation. I hide the pickle ornament in the tree. They scramble and push and scold each other until one of them finds it. He gets to open the "pickle" gift, which has been, thus far, a game, and we play together. We topped off our night with root beer floats, then all the boys piled in the biggest brother's room to watch a movie, and their tired mama read a half a page of her book and fell asleep.

Pickle Night is a tradition I started when our family turned into just me and the boys. The dad has a separate Christmas with his children. I wanted something to be just ours. Families change constantly, traditions can grow and evolve, too, and Christmas can be celebrated any night of the year.

Stay well, be safe, and keep Christmas in your heart all year!

Journaling prompt: Write your storm story and/or your Christmas story from this year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas at the Lollar's

I was lax in getting a lot of pics this year. Too busy hosting, I guess. We were glad that mom, dad and Uncle Jim could come over, along with Stacey and Gus. Brian made an excellent prime rib, along with champ potatoes, a salad, green beans and rolls. We were even lucky enough to have leftovers!
We then opened gifts. It was a lovely day!

Tessa at her happiest, when someone is giving her full attention...

We're so glad Uncle Jim is in town!

The boys, looking so happy that I was taking pictures.

I wanted to show everyone how great mom looks!

Stacey looking just beautiful!

The recently engaged couple!  Gus and Stacey

Riordan being attacked by bows...

Finally!  A decent pic of Corrin!  Yeah, he's huge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The last couple of nights I have been dreaming of spiders. In both dreams, I see the huge spider, but can't seem to move. In both dreams, the spider follows my movements.

I can't remember all of my first dream, but I remember last nights. I lifted up my piano key protector, and underneath there was what I thought were just dirty cobwebs. As I started to play the piano, I realized the cobwebs were following my movement as I played. At closer inspection, I noticed it was a HUGE spiderweb with a even bigger spider within. I kept playing, with a certain fascination that the spider would follow my movements. I was scared to death, but I couldn't remove the spider, and I couldn't do much but keep playing. In both dreams, I never killed the spider. In the first dream, I remember the spider jumping, but I don't remember much more than that.

I went to a dream interpretation site and found this:

Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, is the most common phobia among American people. Many of us find these hairy, eight-legged creatures very creepy. There is no doubt that a dream about spiders may simply be your subconscious expressing that prevalent fear.

However, the image of a spider goes much deeper than just a creepy-crawly to fear. Spiders have many associations that may be symbolically represented in your dream by the appearance of a spider.

SPIDERS AS TRICKSTERS: If you have ever read any African fables, you may have noticed that the spider is a devious, tricky creature. Even in modern western society we associate spiders with trickery (come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly). This is most likely because spiders lure and ensnare their prey. If you are dreaming about spiders, there is a possibility that your dream is warning you that you may be tangled up in a web of deceit. Take a good look at those around you, especially those in whom you have put your trust.

SPIDERS AS WEAVERS: Another association of spiders comes from their ability to weave beautiful and intricate webs. There is an old Greek myth about a woman named Arachne who was an incredibly gifted artist and weaver. She was also insolent and rude, claiming that her abilities were greater than those of Athena, the patron Goddess of weaving. After challenging Athena to a contest, Arachne felt so bad for her disrespect to the Goddess that she hanged herself. Athena took pity on Arachne and brought her back to life as a spider, so that she could hang forever weaving her beautiful creations, as well as all of her ancestors. If you are dreaming of a spider web, it may indicate that you are ignoring your creative impulses. If you dream of a spider weaving a web, it could mean that inspiration is right in front of you. Either way, the dream is urging you not to resist or ignore your artistic impulses. Even if you do not consider yourself an artistic person, your psyche is encouraging you to explore and unleash your creativity in some way.

SPIDERS AS FEMALE ENERGY: When considering the symbolic meanings of spiders, one cannot overlook the image of the black widow, luring in the male to mate, and then viciously killing and cannibalizing him in order to nourish herself when her eggs have been fertilized. In this way, spiders represent the feminine energies within us. These energies are both the destructive and constructive, as seen in the cycle of death and birth. If dreaming about a black widow spider, or of a spider that kills its mate, your dreams may be telling you that you are experiencing a major transformation in your life.

SPIDERS AS CREATURES OF BALANCE: Spiders hang from slender threads, and walk delicately upon their webs. But, being delicate creatures, if they fall, they can die. A dream of a spider walking a web may indicate that you must take care, for you are walking a fine line in life, or that you are in need of finding a balance. Spiders also have eight legs, which are symbolic of the ancient wheel of the year, which is divided up into the solstices and equinoxes, and the mid-points between them. A dream in which a spider’s legs are the focus may indicate that you are currently experiencing a rut or an in-between stage in life.

SPIDERS AS CREATURES OF FATE: The weaving symbolism of a spider can be extended to the Fates, the demigods in Greek mythology which weave the fate of our lives. This can indicate a connection between the past and the future. It may also be telling you that you are the master of your own destiny, and should take charge in weaving the future you desire.

I'm not really sure which part my dream falls under, but I find it fascinating. I could guess, with some things going on my life, which one it is.

Merry Mocha Streusel Bars . . .

Someone stop me before I bake again.

On second thought, please forget I ever said that (what was I thinking?). At Christmas time that kind of talk is heresy, don't you agree? I think you do. In fact, your unwavering agreement on this point means the world to me. Without it, I don't think I'd feel quite right about sharing today's tasty contribution to the Yuletide cookie platter--mocha streusel bars--and that would just be a shame.

This is a minor variation on a cookie-bar recipe that my mom used to make once a year, without fail, at Christmas. We'd spend an entire mid-December day in her kitchen making perhaps eight varieties of cookies. My mom, my Aunt Lydia, sometimes my sister, and occasionally one of my cousins would be there, too. Just a bunch of girls. We'd have a regular production line going. It's still one of my favorite memories. We'd talk and laugh and drink tea and sample the cookies one by one. Can't buy memories like that in a store.

The faded old index card that my mother typed out, decades ago, indicates she found this recipe in a print ad for Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk. The original is called simply "chocolate streusel bars." I changed it by omitting chopped nuts from the streusel, and by adding in a little bit of coffee to bring out the richer dimensions of the cocoa powder. Oh, and instead of using all regular unsweetened cocoa powder, I used half dutch-processed and half regular. You get way more flavor oomph from the dutch cocoa, and in a recipe like this, where acidity or lack thereof in the cocoa is not a factor that would have a negative impact on anything else in the recipe, why not use it?

These bars need to be refrigerated for longer storage, but the flavor is best if they're allowed to come to cool room temperature before you serve them. Very, very good!

Mocha Streusel Bars

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray or grease the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so the edges come up above the sides of the pan (you'll use them as handles to remove the bars after they've been baked and chilled).

1 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
1 and 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa
1 tsp. crushed freeze-dried coffee crystals or espresso powder
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 oz. cream cheese, softened, and at room temperature
1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg, large, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, by hand, combine the flour, sugar, cocoas, and coffee. Cut in the butter pieces with a pastry blender until the mixture appears dry and crumbly, with no large chunks of butter remaining. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture.

Press the remainder of the mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan. Press down firmly to compact the crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy and smooth.

Gradually beat in the condensed milk. Add in the egg and vanilla extract and mix well.

Pour this mixture over the baked crust and spread it out evenly. It will be quite fluid. Sprinkle all of the remaining crumb mixture over the top.

Very gently pat the crumbs down just a bit.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until slightly bubbly. Cool the bars in the pan, then chill them in the fridge for at least an hour. To remove the uncut bars from the pan, lift up firmly on the parchment. Slice the bars with a very sharp knife. Store them, well covered, in the refrigerator. These bars freeze really well.

Merry Christmas!

(If you'd like to comment on this post or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Happy Birthday, Riordan!

I can't believe it's been seven years. I love you, honey!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Double Chocolate Cookie-Crumb Peppermint Bark . . .

Have you ever used peppermint oil in a recipe? Natural peppermint oil versus peppermint extract, I mean? I think it's a little like the difference between the taste of a really good candy cane and the taste of toothpaste. If you're going to use one or the other in a chocolate-based recipe I recommend a few drops of the oil. Tiny little bottles of flavoring oils--some natural and some artificially flavored--can be found in stores that sell candy-making and cake decorating supplies. Like miniature bottles of perfume, flavored oils are measured in drams and come in all varieties. They're just about as strong as real perfume too, so you don't want to spill this stuff!

Bark can literally be made in minutes and anyone can do it. For this simple festive treat I used one bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and one bag of their milk chocolate chips. I melted the two types of chips in separate bowls and gently stirred until they were each completely smooth. Then I added two or three drops of Lorann brand natural peppermint oil to each bowl and mixed that in. Next, I poured the two chocolates, in alternate spoonfuls, all over a very lightly sprayed (with the smallest amount of a vegetable spray, like Pam) flexible plastic sheet that I'd placed on a cookie sheet with sides. I quickly spread the chocolate evenly over the sheet with an offset spatula, casually swirling it together.

Before the warm chocolate had a chance to start to cool, I sprinkled it with about one cup of crushed up chocolate cookie crumbs (I used Oreo cookie wafers, with the white filling scraped off), then I sprinkled that with the crushed-up pieces from two or three traditional, red and white, candy canes. I gently pressed the crumbs and candy pieces into the top, just enough to make sure they were well settled into the surface of the chocolate. The whole thing, on the cookie sheet, then went into the fridge for about an hour or more. Once it was completely firm, I lifted up an edge of the plastic and bent that back to start breaking the chocolate into pieces. (If you like, you can try cutting the bark with cookie cutters while it's not completely solid, but that's not foolproof. You might get a few perfect shapes, while others break apart. They'll all still taste fantastic, in any case.)

How easy is that? So easy, I'm not even sure it has the right to call itself a recipe!

P.S. Store your bark in the fridge, in a well sealed container, so it doesn't get too warm and it's not exposed to odors from other foods.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just another day?

Every year I have the countdown to listen to. It's glorious in it's own way. "20 days 'til my birthday, mom! 25 days 'til Christmas!" Wait...what? Riordan's birthday is the 22nd, not the 20th...

Poor kid has it in his head that we're celebrating his birthday this weekend rather on his birthday. I try so hard to celebrate it separate from Christmas so it feels like an actual birthday. Every year we have either my parents or my in-laws come over the weekend before Christmas to celebrate Christmas with them. It matters which year it is. This year it's my parents, and since they live 45 minutes away, I didn't want them to come over on both Saturday AND Sunday, so we've decided to celebrate Riordan's birthday on his actual BirthDAY. Dinner out with the family, opening gifts and then dessert. It's hard because his birthday falls within the winter break, and so without any thought beforehand, there are usually no invites that go to his friends. During the break, we have nothing to get in touch with people (have YOU tried getting phone numbers or addresses from 6-year-old's?) and so again, he's hanging with the fam. You can't make a big deal about it IN school for the fear of hurting some kid's feelings by not inviting him. (I can't invite all 24 kids to my house for a birthday party!) It's quite the issue. So, every day, the countdown until his birthday is worded with "we're celebrating my birthday on the 20th!" and me telling him that no, we're waiting until your actual birthday, dude.

We're hoping that his birthday gift, Bronco tickets, will help him get over the disappointment.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gifts of the Season

Quote of the Day: What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wiseman, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him - give my heart. - from "In a Bleak Midwinter" Christina Georgiana Rossetti

(the date on the photo is not accurate)

Gift #1: I had the pleasure of accompanying these singing grandmas at a gig at a local nursing home. They are The Country Swingers, a group of women who love dancing and sharing their love of music with residents at a local nursing home. On this day, they asked me to accompany them for a holiday sing-a-long. They were happy and gracious and fun to watch. The residents were there, with bells on, smiling and shaking their jingle bells and wiggling toes on feet that hadn't touched the ground in ages. I saw a spark in their eyes that lit up the whole town as they connected to the dancers, joined in the singing, and remembered songs from the days when they were dancing and playing. I felt such joy in a simple yes to share my gift of playing piano for them.

Gift #2: I put up my tree in my music room last week. By Thursday, it was needing some decorations, so I pulled out my boxes. One student had spent the afternoon with me, so she started the decorating. Then, my younger boys came home and joined in. Next, a piano student came in. We were quite the "Hallmark" moment, with the boy playing Chrismas songs, and the other three decorating and singing along.

Gift #3: I sang along with the Boy Scouts at another local nursing home this evening. It was in the memory care units. We brought back memories to these residents. They came out of their rooms and followed us down the hall. One woman sat near us and moved her fingers as though she were accompanying us on her piano. Another woman begged for an encore. Again, smiles were bright and hearts were light.

Gift #4: I closed out the day with a moment for myself to listen to and enjoy my favorite choir, From Age to Age. They are a choir of voices from around the state of Minnesota. The conductor is a young man from our area who leads his choir with joy and energy and grace. I could do nothing but smile and enjoy this gift of the season. It was "goose-bumpy" good.

Journaling/comment prompt: What surprise gifts have you experienced this season?


My eldest is reading The God Delusion. It caught me off guard seeing it laying there by his bed. I realized then that I've got to get over whatever I'm dealing with and start going back to church. I'm not one to push my beliefs on others, but Corrin is at the age where he's thinking...a LOT...and I'd like him to hear both sides before coming to a conclusion. It makes me feel as if I've failed that his friends are doing a better job at sharing what they believe than I am.

Through this whole...ordeal (for lack of a better word), I've talked about being unsatisfied with the church rather than God. Organized religion and such. I've even made the comment that I don't think Jesus expected what has happened through the church...and not sure He'd like it. Darn people just screw it up. His message isn't that hard...why do churches make it hard?

I am praying fervently that God shows me a church that doesn't allow the members to fuck it all up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange-Almond Butter Buttons . . . (Christmas Cookie Production Continues!)

And the Christmas cookie parade marches on . . . here comes another one! These unassuming little cookies are crisp, almondy, and permeated with the delicate zing of orange zest and fresh-squeezed orange juice--the perfect partner to a hot cup of Christmas tea. Adapted from a recipe called Lime Pecan Butter Cookies in the book Simple American Cooking by Chuck Williams (of Williams- Sonoma fame), I chose to substitute the fruit and nut of my choice. In addition to that, I thought they looked remarkably like diminutive buttons, and we all know that buttons require button holes. I did a little rewording of the instructions, and I added the possibility of a sweet orange glaze to top them off.

The base recipe is kind of unusual for a butter cookie in that it contains an egg white and it undergoes quite a long period of beating before the flour is added in. It's not rich in the way that shortbread is, but it does have a subtle buttery quality that's just right.

If you prefer a sweeter version than just the plain cookie, you can ice it easily with a quickly made glaze of confectioners' sugar and fresh orange juice. Mmmmm . . .

Orange-Almond Butter Buttons

(For a printable version of this recipe click here!)

2 cups All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unblanched almonds, coarsely chopped
1 small orange, unpeeled
3/4 unsalted butter, cut into cubes (I used slightly softened butter)
1 egg white (I used a large egg)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine 1/4 of the sugar and all of the chopped almonds. Pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.

Using the fine holes of a grater, grate off the zest of the entire orange. Cut the orange in half and squeeze out the juice (remove any seeds). Set the zest and juice aside.

In the bowel of a mixer, combine the remaining sugar and the butter and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light. Add in the egg white, all of the zest, and about 2/3 of the orange juice. Continue beating on medium speed until fluffy, 8 to 10 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Reduce the speed to low and carefully beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time. Add in the ground almonds and beat until well blended.

Make balls of dough about 1" in circumference. Place the balls on your parchment-covered cookie sheet about an inch apart and press your thumb down across each one.

Using a pointed skewer, poke four little holes in each one, just as they'd be placed in a button.

Bake until they start to turn lightly golden around the edges, 12 to 18 minutes. Let the cookies cool on a rack.

To make a thin glaze: In a small bowl, stir together up to one cup of confectioners sugar and the remainder of the orange juice. Adjust the thickness as you prefer by adding more or less juice. If it's thin enough, it's easy to simply pour it over each cookie if they're placed on a rack over a cookie sheet with sides. Let the glazed cookies sit out to dry for half an hour or so before storing them.

(If you'd like to comment on this post or read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)