Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pet Therapy

Quote of the Day:  You're no lady.  You're nothing but a sister. - one of my all time favorite lines from Disney's The Aristocats.

If you haven't watched it in while, or if your youngsters have never seen it (gasp!), pop it in on your next movie night.  This is one of my favorite Disney movies.  Yes, it's all about the jazz music.  I mean, m-m-m, so smooth and sultry, and naturally, Everybody wants to be a cat. Because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at.

I'm sure we've watched this movie with our cat Matilda, and she's living the part, man.  She climbs up on the piano bench and sits right next to me or any of my piano students who will allow it, and purrs to the music.  She's offered pet therapy to some high strung students, and welcomed the young new ones in, giving them something to focus on and look forward to.  She calms their nerves.

I do worry about allergies.  One boy needs her to be in the basement when he comes, and one girl can't tolerate her at all, which makes me sad.  I will miss her musical family.

We'll call this pair, M & M, chillin' to the cool melodies.

Matilda is my music loving, pet therapy cat.  I plan to write stories about her, or include her actions in my books.  And, speaking of books, I want to invite you to read this post by Kittie Howard from The BlockClick on over there and be inspired to write and share your work and try to make the world a better place.  Kittie has lived in many dark and beautiful places in the world and has witnessed both.  Thanks, Kittie, for sharing your stories and making a difference! (It's just a funny coincidence about her name, I swear!)

Play on!

Journaling Prompt:  When has a pet helped you or someone you know?  Do you have a favorite movie from childhood that still makes you smile?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Self Care

Quote of the Day: Be sure to secure your own oxygen mask first, then assist others. Pre-flight safety instructions

In the case of drowning, maintain your own safety and reach, throw, assist while attached to your own life-saving device.

These are important words of survival. What good are you to others if your breathing is impaired or you're over your head, drowning in the sea of life? How can you effectively care for others if your own health is suffering?

Would you ever consider going off by yourself, without your family? You might bring a friend, or you might just need time to take care of yourself. So many women give of themselves so much that they completely neglect their own needs. They wake from much needed sleep to nurse a baby or calm a nightmare. I've helped kids get to school and take care of them in between runs to the bathroom to puke, or while my body is shaking from the chills and fever of the flu. No one else will do it, right? Not really. I could have called a friend. I could have insisted that their dad come get them. I could have said, "I just can't do it." But, a real woman doesn't say that, does she?

When women hear messages like, "Take care of your neighbor," and "Don't live a selfish life," followed by, "You are only truly living when you live for others," they take it to mean that they shouldn't even buy themselves a pair of new socks, much less get a massage, or go off on a weekend by herself. If she were to do any of those "selfish" things, she feels she must earn it, win it in a radio contest or something like that, or sell her own plasma so that the guilt of it all won't ruin the experience. We give our friends and family our time, our health, and our possessions. But, what if what they really needed was a happy, healthy mom (friend, daughter, wife, etc)?  Have you ever considered the message you're sending your daughters or your sons by being totally self-sacrificing?  What could they learn from your self-care and watching you pursue your dreams?

What fills you up? Do you need someone to rub your sore muscles? Would you relax as you soaked your feet and had someone paint your toes? Do you need to eat dinner at a restaurant where they wait on you? And, if you do, don't wipe up your own mess! Coffee with a friend? New socks? Or, do you need a morning of listening to music and sipping hot tea because you're stuffed up from allergies?

Here I am with my cousin Angie, sister Joy, sisterly friend JeMA, and me at a recent women's retreat at Mount Carmel!

The women's retreat from this month, a recent massage and pedicure, and time with a good friend have done much to heal me and fill me with the energy and love I need to care for others.

Journaling Prompt: What's your oxygen mask? Find a way to take care of yourself today and write about it. How do you feel?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Room for Play

Quote of the Day:  If work is fun, is it really work?  from yours truly - more of a question to ponder, really, than a quote, or a need for an answer.

If you read my post on Friday, you will remember that taking time to play was on the schedule for the weekend.  Many of you had play dates that you mentioned.  We installed a bit of playground fun in my twins' bedroom

This project sparked all sorts of creativity.  The boys and I designed their loft bed with a slide.  I mean, who wouldn't want to slide into mornings?  Plus, we live in central Minnesota.  Winter winds and piles of snow will soon cover outdoor playgrounds.  I got this idea from a friend who put something similar in her basement playroom.  I roughly sketched the design and talked with craftsman Sid.  He drew up the plans and built it for us.  The big boys and our friend Jon carried it in.  Jon used his problem solving skills to get that long piece into the bedroom which, of course, was the most difficult room to turn into upstairs!

A few weeks ago, my boys and their buddy painted their room.  I let them choose from all the remnant colors in the basement.  We had at least five cans of paint open.

Once the room was cleared and the bed installed, the space opened up creative play from all my boys!

We were blessed with gorgeous fall weather, so the boys also played outside - all the usual sports:  football, soccer, shooting baskets, and something involving lightsabers, a baracade, and lots of running!

I played piano for my church.  Charlie and I shared the water I brought.  During Communion, he came over and got a drink.  I was singing and playing, but whispered between verses that he should take a drink and sit down.  He said he needed to do something first.  He came in closer and kissed me on the cheek - in front of God, the congregation and everybody!

Sweet memories linger: 
Creative Expression on bedroom walls,
An indoor playground that makes you happy to get up in the morning,
Happy, healthy boys who run and play and enjoy being together,
and, a sweet Communion kiss.

Journaling Prompt:  What sweet memories do you have of playing and being with someone you love?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Stuffed Divine Bread Sticks

The divine bread sticks I posted originally really are divine.  Light, chewy pieces of bread coated lightly with butter and topped with herbs and cheese, or anything else that your heart desires.  The recipe is fast, and dare I proof?  The dough is so easy to work with that I decided to play with it a few weeks ago in an attempt to recreate some stuffed bread sticks we order from a local pizza restaurant.  Once again, the dough was divine and the few extra steps I took to make a cheesy centers made the final sticks even better than the originals.  So follow along with me below to find out how easy it is to make something divine even better!

Stuffed Divine Bread sticks
Recipe Source: A Cook's Quest (Bread stick recipe Mel)

1  batch of Divine Bread stick Dough
1/2 stick  butter
Ranch Dressing Mix (I use my homemade variety) or your favorite herbs/seasonings
Cheeses of your choice

After allowing the dough to rest, roll out into a rectangle approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Drizzle dough with melted butter and spread with a pastry brush evenly.

Top 1/2 of the dough with a sprinkling of ranch mix, and your choice of cheeses.

Fold the plain buttered half over the seasoned half and gently press down to eliminate large air pockets between the layers. 

I have found that  pizza cutter works best to slice the dough into bread sticks. 
This part is a matter of preference. You can make them long and skinny. short and fat, or somewhere int he middle.  Just try to make then approximately the same size so that the baking time will be even for all of them.

Twist each piece of dough. Place on a cookie sheet and brush with more melted butter. This is a great job if you have little helpers like I often do!
 Top with more cheese if desired and allow the bread stick to raise for 30-40 minutes.  Bake in a 375 F oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

**This recipe makes double what I typically need for my family.  Instead of raising the second time, I place the cookie sheet in the freezer and allow the sticks to freeze solid.  Then place in a plastic bag.  When you are ready for breadsticks later, remove the breadsticks from the bag, place on a cookie sheet and allow to unthaw and raise (approximately 1hour.)  Top with butter and bake as normal.

Total Cost $1.54 much less than an order from our local pizza place!
Bread stick Dough $.35
Butter $.25
Ranch Mix $.19 (I used about 2 T)
Cheese $.75

Friday, September 24, 2010

When Women Play

Quote of the Day: words from a childhood song, remembered and rewritten in my own version.  I saw a couple other versions on bus 

Sing, sing, my playmate,
Come out and play with me,
And, bring your dollies three,
Climb up my apple tree,
Look down my rain barrel,
Slide down my slipery slide,
And, we'll be jolly friends,
forever more, more, more, more, more....
(I did a hand clapping routine here with a friend.  It made my bus rides, to and from school for over an hour, go much faster.  Miss you, Michelle!)

When we were at Mount Carmel for our Women's Retreat, we found time to play.  Here, JeMA and Joy (my little sister) are playing in the leaves.  We also took a walk, played a board game, and fooled around with the art supplies.

Some of us aren't entirely comfortable with a paintbrush.

While the artist finds it relaxing and playful.

Mother and Daughter spent the weekend together talking, creating, listening and playing.  I saw them on the swingset as I was walking into the chapel.  It was probably the only time I didn't have my camera around my neck.  But, I paused anyway, watching them swing, smile and play.  They told me later that it was because we had helped them release their inner child.

Take some time to play this weekend.  What might you create?  Art, music, a memory?

Go, Create, Inspire!
Play on!

Journaling Prompt:  What did you, or will you do, for play this weekend?

Parmesan, Herb, and Garlic Popovers . . . When Inflation is a Good Thing!

Until I made these fragrant parmesan, herb, and garlic popovers a few days ago, I'd only experienced one other kind  before. Those were the popovers of my childhood. They were richly brown and very crisp, with a bright yellow interior. Egginess abounded, one might say. We poked holes in the tops as soon as they were done, and ate them just after they stopped steaming. With soft salted butter and strawberry jam, those were classic storybook popovers.

I don't remember anyone except my mother and I liking them, so we were typically the only ones around when we baked them. Because I hated eggs as a kid, and anything that obviously contained them, I wasn't crazy about the moist innards. I'd sort of peel away that doughy membrane and concentrate on crunching the shiny shell.

My fascination with popovers likely had more to do with their form than anything else. The way they'd inflate in the oven, like hot air balloons preparing for take off, astounded me. Our huge white stove--the kind with an oven that required holding a lit match above the flow of gas--didn't have a window, and I recall my mom explaining the necessity to refrain from peeking while the popovers baked. Emerging from the heat, they were wondrous oddities, quite unlike any food I'd ever seen.

Now that decades have passed and time has modified my negative opinion of eggs, I figured it was time to take on a new and different popover recipe. This one, which I adapted from chef Kevin Garvin's beautiful book Neiman Marcus Taste: Timeless American Recipes, produces a startling contrast to the popover I'd known before.

Besides the inclusion of grated parmesan cheese, dried herbs, and garlic, this popover is by comparison positively "bready" inside. The hint of egginess is still there, but it's only a hint. There is none of that overly moist, stretchy stuff to contend with once you break one of these open. The outside of the popover is just as crisp and burnished as one could want. Oh, and these smell magnificent while they're baking.

Probably not something you'd necessarily want to serve with breakfast, these are a perfect partner to a hearty salad or a bowl of soup at lunch. Or, they can accompany dinner if you like. I served them for supper, warm in a basket, alongside tri-color tortelloni in marinara sauce, with a tossed salad.

I have only one bona fide popover pan (got it from Williams Sonoma--these babies aren't very easy to find, nor are they cheap!), with six cups, but the recipe makes twelve good-sized popovers, so I decided to bake half of the batter in jumbo size muffin cups. Those didn't rise as high as their brothers in the official pans, but they were equally delicious. (Though traditional popovers don't freeze well, I froze the leftovers, and I've reheated these in the oven with great success. They crisp up again very nicely.)

These are really, really good. Give 'em a whirl, if you're so inclined.

Parmesan, Herb, and Garlic Popovers

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

3 and 1/2 cups milk (I used 3 and 1/4 cups of  2% milk, and 1/4 cup of half and half,  since I didn't have any whole milk)
4 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1 and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. dried mixed herbs (I used 1 Tbsp. parsley and 1 Tbsp. thyme, along with one quick grinding of black pepper. Fyi, the original recipe called for dried rosemary as well, which I chose to omit. The original also called for a total of 1/4 cup dried herbs--I thought that sounded like far too much so I cut the amount in half, and I'm glad I did!)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed garlic (depending on how much you love the stuff!)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 12 equal chunks

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Generously grease 12 popover cups or jumbo muffin cups; grease the top of the pan(s) as well. Place each pan on a baking sheet.

In a saucepan, heat the milk until it's just lukewarm, about 110 degrees, then take it off the heat.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.

In the large bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the wire whisk, beat the eggs on low speed for about 3 minutes, until they look pale and foamy, then add in the warm milk. Add the flour in gradually, still mixing at low speed, then raise the speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes.

Let the batter rest in its bowl, unrefrigerated, for one hour. While the batter is resting, mix together the parsley, thyme, and pepper in a small bowl, then mix the garlic into the herbs. Grate the cheese and mix that into the bowl as well.

After the batter is done resting, fill each well-greased cup with batter, almost to the top.

Sprinkle at least one tablespoon of the cheese-herb mixture on top of each one. Plop a chunk of butter on top of that.

With the pans on baking sheets, place the popovers into the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Then, turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes longer, or until the popovers look very crispy and are a deep golden brown on the outside. Don't peek at them while they're first baking if you can help it; wait until they've been in there a while. As soon as you take them out, puncture the tops carefully with the tip of a knife; this will allow excess steam to escape and help prevent the insides from becoming soggy.

Best served warm, right after they're made. You can freeze any extras after they're cooled. Reheat them easily, even if frozen, in a warm oven. They'll be almost as good as new.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reader Recipe! Creamed Corn

My only eating encounters with this version of corn preparation have always come from a can, and always tasted like sweet gooey corn.  Not surprising considering the ingredients in commercially made cream style corn. One name brand Cream Style White Corn contains corn, water, sugar, modified food starch and salt. Did you notice what I noticed? There is no cream on the ingredient list! hence why it is only called cream style corn.  It was never a side dish I asked for, nor is it one I make on my own now as a grown up cook.  But, here I am posting a recipe for creamed corn  because my friend and co-worker, who is a creamed corn convert, told me how utterly wonderful this version is.

When I say creamed corn I mean made with cream, not mashed up corn to make a creamy consistency.  There is no added sugar.  I have not added extra food starch.  And there is no added water.  I made this recipe from all things good and wonderful.  Corn, half and half, and butter.  Really just try to convince me it isn't good.  I am now a creamed corn convert too.  I love this recipe.  It is simple, rich, and perfectly lovely as a side dish for almost any meal.  I am thinking of starting a club, Creamed Corn Converts so try this recipe and join me in the happy land of creamed corn, made with real cream!

Creamed Corn
Recipe source: My friend Cindy

6 ears of fresh corn
1/2 stick of butter cubed
3/4 c half and half
Salt and Pepper to taste

Shuck your corn and cut the kernels off the cobs.

 Gently, using the back of a knife scrape the cob to release the starchy milk inside the cob.

 Add the half and half and cubed butter.  Place in a baking dish, covered and bake at 375 F for 1 hour or so. 


**After this dish is cooled you can place in baggies or containers for your freezer.  A great way to enjoy fresh creamed corn all year round!

Total Cost $1.64 this makes more than what is in a 15 oz can for about the same price.
Corn $.75 (Farmer's markets ROCK)
Half and Half $.64
Butter $.25

When Women Pray

Quote of the Day:  An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.
--An ancient Chinese belief

Have you ever heard these words? "Where you are right now, is exactly where you are supposed to be."  Whenever I start to feel a bit of anxiety about where I am, whether it's driving somewhere, or at home when I think I should be away, or away when I think I should be at home, I think of this phrase.  If I embrace it, and believe it, I have so much peace.  Furthermore, I find myself accepting the gift of where I am and the other people who have gathered there.

The other people who arrived at the store, or event, or women's weekend also are there for a purpose.  Could it be to meet you?  Do you need to share your stories?  The thing is, you need to be open to receiving their stories, their gifts, their concern for you, and you need to be willing to share what you have to offer.  A sense of community happens quickly when people let down their barriers and really talk to each other, beyond recipes and the weather.  They say what is on their hearts, and they truly listen to each other.

Have you ever sat still and let someone pray over you, offering up grace and love and hope?

There is nothing weird or freaky or uncomfortable in this.  It is truly an act of love.  The touch is gentle, the words encouraging.

It's like sitting still and listening to beautiful music.  My sister sang, Come to Us, Creative Spirit, in her gorgeous soprano voice, accompanied by Kay, the musician I most admire.  When I went up to her after the service, she grabbed my hand with gentle strength and held it for just a bit, and I felt loved and cared for and lifted up.

Open your heart to the music.  Listen to the prayers offered up in your name.  Feel the love behind them.  You're worthy.  You're beautiful.  You have so much to offer this world.

Journaling Prompt:  Write a prayer for someone you love - to whatever high power you believe helps us and guides us - God, Creative Spirit, Holy Spirit, Great Creator, ancient ancestors, those spirits who dwell in and among us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When Women Giggle

Quote of the Day:  from the song Come to Us, Creative Spirit
Come to us, creative Spirit, in this holy house;
every human talent hallow, hidden skills arouse,
that within your earthly temple, wise and simple may rejoice.

Poet, painter, music-maker, all your treasures bring;
craftsman, actor, graceful dancer, make your offering;
join your hands in celebration:  let creation shout and sing!

JeMA and I led journaling and art at Mount Carmel this weekend for a Women's Retreat.  As the women were gathering at this place, we were gathering pieces of Mount Carmel to embed in our canvases.

First, we reminded the women how fluid and free we were as children in our art.  We were like the Kindergartners who shout, "Yes, I'm a dancer! Yes, I'm a writer!  Yes, I'm an artist!"  Then, they begin singing and dancing and letting their creative spirits soar.  Somewhere along the journey, most people become crystalized in their art.  They might have had "art trauma."  We heard a few stories this weekend of when and where, even what the child-self was wearing on the day, art died.  They might suffer from comparison disorder.  The "I'm not good enough" disease.  Our hope was to help these women release their inner creative spirit.

I started our session by reading The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood, a beautiful picture book about all the gifts that God gives us in nature.  I held it up the way your favorite teacher did, and I felt people relax into the poetry of the words, the comfort of a story book. We sang, This Little Light of Mine.  JeMA and I squirted paint on their papers for fingerpainting.  Then, the giggles started.  The smiles spread across glowing cheeks and our handiwork became our journal covers - after they dried and we cut them into the shapes we imagined.

I do believe these ladies are exploring the art of "playing off the page!"

So much of who I am comes to life at these retreats.  I'm in community with loving and welcoming women.  I share the gifts and talents God put in me, and my creative spirit soars.  I took many photos and gathered experiences to share.  This is just your first glimpse.  Come back later this week as we explore a creative path.  It may not always be clear, but it is beautiful.

Journaling Prompt: (that I used this weekend)What did you do as a child to express your creativity?  What do you do now? And, what would you like to be doing?  Is your creativity in the arts, or cooking, gardening, sewing, planning, organizing, decorating?

Fall is here...

Well as we all know even the best intentions don't always work out the way we plan.  After my corn salad post, I planned on preparing some new recipes throughout the week for all of your tasting pleasures but alas, life just got in the way.  Between the school activities that the kids had going on, practices and games we relied pretty heavily on our freezer meals I had stored away.

Now let me tell you, I used to be intimidated by freezer meals.  I had visions of two days worth of cooking, high grocery bills, and food that I wasn't really a fan of.  I have since realized that there is no concrete plan for filling your freezer with food for later consumption.  After learning my way around the coupon world, and learning that I could still cook the same way I love to cook while using my coupons, I also figured out that my stockpile of groceries could be made into meals for the freezer just by doubling or tripling a recipe.  Now I routinely make three lasangas instead of one, multiple chicken potpies, and dozens of cinnamon rolls

If you find your schedule rapidly getting too full to make dinner try this method.  It works wonderfully for those nights that you have no time to fit cooking dinner into the schedule and saves on the pocketbook when you don't have to grab dinner on the go.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kahlua & Cream Shortbread Sandwich-Cookies

My initial affection for Kahlua, the ubiquitous coffee-flavored liqueur, began at least 25 years ago when one of my roommates--a vivacious girl named Jill, who was far more sophisticated and adventurous than I was--whipped up her own homemade version of the stuff. She served it at a party, ice cold, in big tumblers with a generous dash of cream. For me, it was a taste revelation.

I was already a devoted coffee lover at the time and, not surprisingly, the more a drink resembled a dessert, the more it appealed to me. Given the choice, though, of expending precious calories on a drink versus a dessert . . . well, you know I almost always chose the latter.

Even today, I would still make the same choice. And because of that, my preference for using liqueurs is through baking--even in baked goods as humble as cookies. Today's recipe is a case in point. A shortbread-like dough, flavored with Kahlua, cream, and a little cocoa, rolled out thin, and dusted lightly with sugar. The filling is a simple medley of melted dark chocolate, stirred together while warm with a bit of Nutella. The result is a grown-up sandwich cookie that offers up layers of flavor only an adult could fully appreciate.

I adapted this recipe from several Kahlua shortbread versions floating around the internet, most of which seem to be attributable to the Regatta Cafe in Scituate, MA. And so, without further ado, I present to you my version of a truly happy cookie.

Kahlua and Cream Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

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

1 and 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
3 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. instant coffee powder or crystals
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 and 3/4 Tbsp. Kahlua
2 Tbsp. heavy cream

1/2 cup high-quality dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips)
2 to 3 Tbsp. Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread

In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and granulated sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, the cocoa, and the kosher salt.

In a very small bowl, mix together the coffee powder/crystals, vanilla extract, and Kahlua. Add into that the heavy cream and stir until combined.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners' sugar until it's nice and smooth, scraping the bowl as needed. Add in the Kahlua mixture, beating until well blended.

Add in the flour, in two or three batches, beating on medium speed just until the flour is well incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl with each addition of flour.

Scoop the dough out equally onto two sheets of plastic wrap. Shape each chunk into a thick disk and wrap it securely; chill the dough in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

When the dough is fully chilled and you're ready to form the cookies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Take the dough out of the fridge, and let it soften at room temperature just long enough so it can be rolled out; if it gets too soft it will be impossible to roll (in which case you could always form it into balls if you wanted, or put it back in the fridge).

Flour your rolling pin and, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of less than 1/4 inch. Cut it with a cookie cutter and place the pieces onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle each cookie lightly on top with a pinch of granulated sugar. Bake the cookies for about 12 to 15 minutes, or just until they start to look golden on the bottom and slightly golden around the edges. Let the finished cookies cool on the cookie sheet for five minutes before you attempt to move them on a cooling rack.

To make the filling, melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl set over simmering water, or do it carefully and slowly in your microwave. While the melted chocolate is still quite warm, stir in the Nutella until the mixture is completely smooth. Let it cool to almost room temperature (it will thicken a bit) before attempting to sandwich the cookies together.

On the bottom of one cookie, dab a small dollop--perhaps one teaspoon--of the filling, and top it off with another cookie, so both cookie bottoms are touching the filling, and the sugared sides are on the outside. Press the cookies together just enough so the filling reaches near the edge. Let the filled cookies sit in a cool spot, or put them in the fridge for a few minutes, to set the filling.

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