Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm Number 814

Quote of the Day:  The following comes from Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog

What is the A to Z Challenge?

It’s blogging a letter of the alphabet every day the month of April (with Sundays off for good behavior.) It begins April First with the letter A and ends April 30 with the letter Z.

He goes on to write about how his blog followers grew and how the other participants really got to know each other, and how the challenge taught them all some good habits.

I decided to participate, because I'm a joiner like that. I'm up for the challenge. I'm also doing Scriptfrenzy during the month of April. I'll use the alphabet to keep you posted on my script progress and talk about all things related to script-writing. It could be fun...or a flop. Time will tell. In the meantime, join me if you like.  Since I'm number 814, I don't expect to visit all the participants, maybe try for five new ones a day, or something.  I don't know.  That could be overwhelming.  I expect some entries to be quite short, and I probably won't have a photo to go with each one. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you been up for any challenges lately? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photo Op - Social Flop

Quote of the Day:  I have two from  I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dripped it carelessly, Ah! I didn't know, I held opportunity. ~Hazel Lee

Opportunity is a parade. Even as one chance passes, the next is a fife and drum echoing in the distance. ~Robert Brault,

I love the sound of hope in the second one.  Here's a funny story. I went to the skating show with my friend and her daughter, also my piano student.  My friend worked the concession stand, so she told me to sit at her spot where she had a comfy stadium chair and blanket waiting for me.  How sweet.  I said, "Excuse me," to the lovely young woman at the end of the aisle, and scooted in.  Immediately, I noticed her impressive camera equipment.  She took a few practice shots before the event started.  I wanted to lean over and ask about her lens and her settings, but I didn't.  I was shy.  I mean, I've taken one photography class through community ed.  What do I really know about cameras and their settings?  So, I sat quietly, taking in the show with my eyes, and after intermission, sipping on some hot chocolate. 

Turns out the lovely young woman is a local professional photographer and I follow her blog!  I didn't quite recognize her because we've never met in person. I've seen only a headshot of her, and know her best by her work.  When I got home, I saw that she had posted on FB that she was going to the show.  I wrote:  OMG! I was sitting right next to you!

She later admitted that she thought she recognized me, too, because she follows my blog and noticed my "cute coat" (thanks), the one from the Her Voice article.  She'd also been too shy to say anything.

We're both feeling a little socially inept.  We agreed to meet for coffee, soon, and actually talk to each other.  Let me introduce the fabulous Laura Radniecki and her wonderful work.

The adorable Mickey Mouse number I wrote about in Monday's post.

"The Flintstones" number with a neighbor/friend's daughter in the foreground - future piano student!  Her older sister is my student and also a skater.

The guest skater, professional and Olympic hopeful, Kate Charbonneau, from Canada.  Not only is she a fabulous skater (truly, I felt like I was at the Olympics), she was a gracious guest and loving inspiration to the younger girls.  Someone to truly look up to.

See more photos of the skating show and to learn more about this wonderful photographer at her blog.  She describes her art as: Authentic. Timeless. Whimsical.  I think she is especially skilled at capturing the personality of children - tongues hanging out, winks, playing with a favorite toy, or coming alive in nature.

Thanks, Laura, for sharing your photos on my blog.  Thanks for scooting your legs over so I could sit by you.  Sorry I didn't say, "Hi." And, I look forward to our coffee date.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever let an opportunity slip by because of fear, shyness, or daring to make the first move?  Write about it, learn from it, and seize the next opportunity like the beat of a new song!

The death of plants

It seems I have lost quite a few of my perennials over the winter. I am not sure if it is because of the dry fall, dry and cold winter, or dry spring (are you seeing a pattern here?) Just proves that you really have to hand water to keep them alive here in Colorado.

Most of the items I lost were from smaller containers, and planted later in the growing season. In my experience, the gallon size perennials seem to have a higher success rate than the 2 or 3 inch. I also tried chocolate flower and am very disappointed that that one doesn't seem to be coming back. I just have to tell myself that it's early, and to give them a little more time to sprout from the ground. The one that I am MOST surprised that didn't come back was my Jacob's Kline Monarda. I have NEVER had problems with Monarda coming back (invasive, anyone?) and am extremely disappointed because I have to order that one online. Again, I am guessing it is a dryness issue since Monarda likes it a little damp.

I had almost convinced myself that I would limit my plant spending this year as I wanted to see how everything was filling out. Since I keep adding year to year, a lot of my plants are on second and third years, and will be a true joy to behold. I keep getting magazines of these lush, beautiful gardens and would love that look. Obviously, I need to add more shrubs to my gardens for the greenery. I also need to move to a place that isn't quite as arid. ;)

I am happy to note that even though I didn't water ONCE, my raspberry in my large wine barrel is alive and well. This should be the year we get fruit on it, so I am glad it survived my neglect. I highly recommend planting your raspberries in a wine barrel because it keeps it contained and doesn't seem to be fussy.

Did any of you lose anything this year? It's like saying goodbye to an old friend. It makes me melancholy. However, when I am at work, I tend to get over the sadness quickly because there is always another beautiful plant to replace the old one!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Play Dough

I don't know about where you live, but in my area of the country Spring hasn't decided to fully arrive. Sure we get teased with beautiful sunshiny days hours, but it doesn't take long for gloomy rain clouds and cold wind to come back. So what should a mom do when the end of Spring Break has to be enjoyed inside? Well, make play dough of course!

I have always made regular old salt dough for my kiddos to play with, but I wanted something that was less sticky to work with and feels more like the stuff that comes out of the little tubs you buy at the store. The recipe I made is smooth, not sticky and the color is vibrant thanks to my gel food colors that we used. It was a lifesaver at my house yesterday. I was in awe that such simple ingredients could bring all three of the kids together for quiet play time and even better....they got along! Had I known the magic powers of home made play dough I would have made it a long long LONG time ago! There are recipes all over the internet that are similar to mine, but I took this recipe from my work cookbook that was hiding in my cupboard. I hope you and your family ENJOY!

Play Dough
Recipe Source: Tree of Hope Cookbook

**This recipe is easily doubled or tripled!
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 T oil
food color (If you want bright color I recommend food gel color)

Combine the dry ingredients in a pan. Combine water, oil, and food color. Stir colored water into dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon. Place on stove and stir constantly over medium heat. When the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and come together, removed from pot and let cool a few minutes. It should be sort of rubbery in texture. Once cool enough to handle, knead until the consistency of play dough. If it is still sticky, knead some flour into it. When not in use, wrap well in plastic and store in the refrigerator.
**Cook's note-Though made with all natural ingredients this isn't a dough that should be eaten. There is a very high salt content. Keep an eye on kids and pets when in use.**

No Fear of Falling/Failing

Quote of the Day:  Just what makes that little old ant, think he can move that rubber tree plant?  Anyone knows an ant - can't - move a rubber tree plant, but he's got high hopes.  He's got high hopes.  He's got high apple pie in the sky hopes.  So, any time you're gettin' low, stead of lettin' go, just remember that ant.  Oops! There goes another rubber tree plant.  from The Rubber Tree Plant Song (remember this was Shirley's theme song from the Laverne and Shirley show?)  The skating show I saw this weekend had an old-time TV show theme.  (Yes, my friends, the shows we watched as kids are now the old-time shows.)

{Sorry there are no photos.  Very unusual for me.  I sat next to a local professional photographer at the show and I'll link to her blog when the photos are available.  They will be worth the wait.}
My best writer-mama-pal, Roxane at Peace Garden Writer, sent me this article from The Urban Muse.  The writer challenges those of us who create to dare to take risks.  We need to write, create, paint, dream, and put ourselves out there with the same fearlessness whether we succeed or fail.  As I was reading that, I thought, it's not really whether or not that creation succeeds or fails.  To me, failure only exists when we allow those fears to keep us from trying, or to quit because of perceived roadblocks, feeling not good enough, or being rejected.  Any given work can be accepted or rejected, and even the rejection could be temporary.  All we can do is create what we are led to do, the rest is up to God and the creative universe.

I watched the local figure skating club's annual show this weekend.  I was a proud piano teacher.  Several of my students skated, and I loved watching them.  They have great rhythm, naturally! 

I feel a metaphor coming on...

We watched skaters from beginners to pro.  The beginners were so cute, I could hardly stand it!  They shuffled along, showed off their forward motion, and skating backwards.  They wiggled their hips to the song and did a few hand actions.  I whistled and cheered.  A few fell, but they all got right back up and into formation, and continued the routine.  I thought, maybe one of the first things they're taught is how to fall gracefully without getting hurt and feeling like failures, thus leaving the ice in tears.  No one cried.  No one quit.  Sometimes you leap and spin and land solidly and glide on into the applause.  Other times, you wipe out. The audience holds their breath and wishes you success, every time you try! Just like our creative work, folks.  Sometimes, we nail it.  Sometimes, we have to pick ourselves back up, and try all over again.

Go. Create. Inspire!  And, dare to risk the fall.

Journaling Prompt:  Name your fears, purge them out, then go boldly in the direction of your dreams!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Winner of HSN Gift Certificate & Sweet Melissa Baking Book Giveaway!

Just wanted to announce the winner of Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal's very first giveaway. The lucky recipient of the HSN gift certificate and a copy of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book is commenter Elizabeth Simpson! Congrats, Elizabeth! Please email and provide me with your contact info so I can mail you your prizes. And thanks, everybody, for all of your comments!

Friday, March 25, 2011

In Praise of Muffins and Ukuleles . . . (Brown Sugar Buttermilk Muffins with Marcona Almonds, Dried Sweet Cherries, and Apricots)

My younger son, Nathan, has a ukulele. He procured it with his own money just after Christmas, and he's been teaching himself to play. The instrument's maker is a company called Lanikai, and their slogan is, "Lanikai . . . Makes Me Happy!" (Click that if you want to hear their perky little ditty.) That motto sums up how I feel about homemade muffins--they make me happy. From their simplicity to their diminutive size, I like them. They're so approachable, and unpretentious in the extreme. In the same way that anyone can learn to play the ukulele, anyone can produce a fine muffin.

I'm developing a similar fondness for that ukulele. It's not loud or showy, and I'll bet it weighs in at a whopping 12 ounces, if that. It's subdued tinkling reminds me of wind chimes. Maybe my affection stems, in part, from the fact that my kid seems so enamored with it. He'll pick it up in a quiet room and gently pluck away, quite unselfconsciously, in a manner that's not typical for him. The ukulele's peaceful appeal is completely unlike that of any electronic device that competes for his teenage attention. I find it reassuring that Nathan appreciates that. Lanikai picked a very appropriate slogan, it seems to me, and I can just imagine how happy I'd be if I nibbled a nice muffin while listening to Nathan pluck away on that thing. Pretty darn happy, probably.    :)

About this recipe . . . 

This recipe adaptation brings together ingredients I am perennially crazy about--brown sugar, buttermilk, Marcona almonds (softer and sweeter than regular almonds), dried cherries, and plump, dried apricots. It's an adaptation, I suppose, of several muffin recipes that have wandered into my life over the past year or two, but I think it harkens back most directly to this recipe that I adapted from a Peter Reinhart muffin last summer.

This new muffin's differences include a focus on almonds (including the nuts themselves, along with almond extract, and a small amount of almond meal in place of some of the flour); the addition of sweet, dried, Michigan cherries, and dried apricots; and, some whole wheat flour standing in for a portion of the white flour. These bake up nicely and, when broken open, reveal a tender crumb that's soft without being cakey. The moisture from the buttermilk and brown sugar really give these a longevity that most muffins can't boast. Not too bland, nor too sweet, they're just right. I love them.

Brown Sugar Buttermilk Muffins with Marcona Almonds, Dried Cherries, and Dried Apricots

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

Yield: 18 regular size muffins (or, at least 9 jumbos or 36 minis)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Use baking spray liberally on 18 regular size muffin cups, or use paper liners. (Actually, if I were you, I'd use some baking spray even if I were using liners at the same time. Overkill? Maybe. But why take the chance? I spray the stuff on the top of the pan too, before filling the cups with batter, so any overflowing batter doesn't have a chance to glue the muffins to the pan's surface. Let's just say I've learned my muffin lesson in the past.)

2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 almond meal (This means finely ground almonds. I buy this stuff, inexpensively, at Trader Joe's or make it myself in the food processor from whole or blanched almonds. Just don't over grind the almonds accidentally into paste!)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt; if you use regular salt, you might want to decrease this measurement slightly.) 
1 small pinch of ground nutmeg (I like to use fresh and grate it myself. Much nicer smell and fuller flavor. I buy whole nutmeg from Penzey's, and I use a tiny little hand-grater that I found at Bed Bath and Beyond.)

1 and 1/4 cup buttermilk (I'd suggest you keep a couple of extra tablespoons on hand to mix in just case the batter seems unusually thick to you.)
2/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, large
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract 

1/2 to 3/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped 
1/2 cup Marcona almonds, roughly chopped (I buy these at Trader Joe's, too. They come in small plastic containers, salted and roasted, and packed in a small amount of oil. They're extremely tasty, but not cheap.)
1/4 moist, plump, dried apricots, roughly chopped (The softer and moister the better. Super leathery apricots are not so good in a muffin.)

In a large bowl, evenly combine all of the nine dry ingredients (not including the fruit and nuts) with a whisk. 

In a small bowl, mix together all of the chopped fruits and nuts. Remove about 1/4 cup of this mixture and set it aside; you'll use this to sprinkle on the top of the unbaked muffins. 

In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs lightly, then add in the buttermilk, oil, and extracts. Whisk until well combined.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour all of the liquid into it. Stir just until no big streaks of dry ingredients are evident. Use care not to over mix. 

Sprinkle in the fruit and nuts and stir gently just to distribute them fairly evenly. 

Using a portion scoop, if possible, put the batter into the muffin cups. My regular size cups were pretty full, as the photos show. Sprinkle a pinch of the fruit and nut mix that you set aside onto the top of each one. 

Bake the muffins in the center of the oven for about 15 -20 minutes, or until nicely golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If you tend to have trouble with your muffin bottoms burning, set the muffin pan on top of a cookie sheet when you put it in the oven.) Let the muffins cool in their pan, on a rack, for no more than a few minutes, then carefully remove them from the pan to cool the rest of the way on the rack. 

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What should I be planting?

With the warmer weather upon us, the avid gardener is itching to put his/her hands in the dirt. It's still too early to plant a lot, but you can start on your vegetable gardens!

Here's a list of things that you can start:
Broccoli, cabbage, onion, garlic, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach, turnips and brussel sprouts! All are very frost tolerant and can be planted with a sigh of contentment.

As time is heading towards April, you can get ready to plant:
beets, carrots, parsley, perennial herbs (personally, I would cover these), parsnips, potatoes, swiss chard, asparagus and rhubarb.

Have fun planting! If you have any questions on what does better started indoors or out, let us know, but I have direct sown all of these vegetables with no long as I keep them moist! With hand watering, it's sometimes harder to do.

You can, of course, plant trees anytime. At Picadilly, we have tons of bareroot trees and shrubs for your picking! Come by and see us!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Snow Day = Cookies!

Quote of the Day:  Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale ’til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A big snowdrift came knocking on my door last night.  The wind howled.  The sleet pelted down, and then the snow came and filled our nice, clear driveway right back up.

The night before, my youngest sons had their cross-over ceremony from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  Look at them cross their bridge!

A right of passage, moving from one stage of life into another.  I have had a great time being in scouts with my boys.  They've had great leaders, great activities, and I have made great memories with them.  When I tucked them in that night, Charlie said, "You can still do stuff with us in Boy Scouts, Mom."  They won't need me as much, and that's how it is supposed to be.  Look how happy they are!

The sleet was really pelting us and snow was filling in the driveway even as we came home.  I told my oldest son, Bobby, that they might have school cancelled, or at least delayed.  He doubted it, so he said, "If they cancel school tomorrow, I'll bake chocolate chip cookies."

They're delicious!  I took this opportunity to teach Zach how to use the snowblower.

He did a great job.  This was the biggest snowfall of the season!  The neighbor boys started to drop in. 

They must have smelled the cookies!  Having a snow day feels something like finding extra money in the pocket of your winter coat.  You aren't always happy about moving into the season of winter coats, but you are happy for the extra cash.

With this eventful week, I haven't gotten to the Oscar movie reviews I  promised.  I'll start with Inception.  Bobby watched it with friends and loved it.  He got it for his birthday and watched it with his dad and brother.  They all liked it.  I watched 10 minutes, was completely confused and bothered by the violence, so I turned it off and watched Ratatouille with the younger boys.  I love the music in that show, and my favorite line:  You're the one who was getting fancy with the spices.

Thanks for sharing our Snowday - Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What would you do with found money, or found time? Did you see Inception?  What did you think of it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal's First Giveaway! (HSN Gift Certificate, and The Sweet Melissa Baking Book)

This, fellow bakers, is the very first time I've ever done a giveaway, and I've been blogging now for almost two years. I long resisted climbing onto the giveaway bandwagon, despite having been approached to do this kind of thing a few times in the past. Maybe I'm mellowing, though, because when I received an offer a few days ago from HSN, the online and TV mega-retailer, to give away a small gift certificate ($10), I thought it might be fun to finally join the crowd. And let's face it--a smart girl doesn't turn down a gift certificate of any denomination.

Why, you may wonder, did HSN see fit to contact a baking blogger? Here's the scoop: On March 26th and 27th, they're featuring a special "Cooks Spring Weekend Event" that's being presented by none other than Bon Appetit. Involved are the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Jacques Torres, and Emeril Lagasse, along with several other stellar names from the culinary galaxy. Looks like it'll be an enjoyable diversion, assuming you actually turn off your mixer and turn on your TV or computer (ha!). The gift certificate is good until the end of April and, who knows, maybe it will help you purchase that Wolfgang Puck creme brulee torch you've been yearning for, or that fabulous baking pan that looks like a sports stadium. (I'm waiting for Nordicware to make a pan shaped like Chartres Cathedral. I think it's only a matter of time. They're probably still perfecting the flying buttresses.) Hey, every dollar helps.

On top of that, I want to give away a copy of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. Somehow, I came to own two copies of this (who knows how these things happen?) and one of them I have never used. It's like newer than new--no stains, no crumbs, no scribbles, no nothin'--and it wants to go live with someone else. So, you can page through the book while you're considering how to spend your gift certificate! No down side to this deal.

To toss your name into the hat, just leave a comment on this post before Saturday, March 26th, and within a day or two after that I will announce the winner, who can then email me with their contact info so I can send them their loot. Tres facile! (That's French for, "very easy!")

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

Authentic Woman

Quote of the Day:  John Updike's birthday was last week. I found this quote at The Writer's Almanac: I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head. - John Updike

I hope that something in my writing, my plays, do that.I'm offering a post on a Tuesday.  I know, not my usual style, but I have some things to share.  First, the Versatile Blogger award from Jade at Blush of Dawn.

Second, I am a guest writer at Clara's blog on living into your authentic self.

This bright and beautiful sunflower is here to cheer you up.  Here in Minnesota we're getting a whipping from Mother Nature.  She's sending down sleet and snow and a nasty bought of weather.  Go read my "Authentic Woman" post at Clara's and think about what warms you up and makes you shine!

I have a third thing:  If you'll look to the right, I have the 2011 Scriptfrenzy badge up.  Yep, I'm doing it again.  I can't decide where to start.  I have THREE ideas brewing.  Choir Loft Confessions, Kitchen Table Confessions, and Piano Bench Confessions.  April 1, I'll sit down at a local coffee shop and begin.  I'll let you know then which one brings the cream to the top of my creative coffee cup.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What warms you up on a cold day (phyically or spiritually)?  When you're feeling down in the dumps (because of nasty weather, the worlds' crises, or your own), what lifts you up?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chocolate Cinnamon Pastry Twirls . . . (When the End Justifies the Mess!)

Perhaps you're familiar with Julia Child's statement about messiness? Essentially, she said that you'll never learn to be a good cook if you're constantly worried about making a mess. I believe that's sound advice, at least as it pertains to one's very own kitchen.

It's advice that helps to free me from distraction while in the midst of assembling a new recipe. That's when I tend to be at my messiest--while making something completely new, alone in the kitchen. As a case in point, I present these marvelous chocolate-cinnamon pastries.  My kitchen wasn't fit for man nor beast while I was preparing them, but that didn't bother me. Hell bent for pastry, I just forged ahead.

I really wasn't sure what to call these. The original recipe, which comes to us from Marcy Goldman's book A Passion for Baking, labels them "chewy chocolate sticks" but I felt that was inadequate to describe their lusciousness. After all, that could refer to something as mundane as a Tootsie Roll and this, my friends, is distinctly not a Tootsie Roll.

Made from an unusually soft, and gently sweet, yeast dough, this was a formula that I tweaked a bit to suit my taste. The original recipe called for raisins along with an equal proportion of chocolate chips; I omitted the raisins completely, and increased the chocolate chips by about 50 percent. I also added in almost 75 percent more cinnamon than called for, and at least 25 percent more cocoa powder. I used SAF Gold Instant yeast, which is specially formulated for richer doughs. Additionally, I decided to whisk the grated zest of one large orange into the sugary filling.

And, only out of necessity, I used more flour than the ingredients list indicated--about 25 percent more, in fact. My dough, when first mixed, was not a dough at all--it was batter. I knew it was not going to evolve into dough, and it could not possibly have risen into anything that could have been rolled out or cut into any sort of shape. So, I kept adding in more flour, very gradually, until I felt the dough had enough body to fulfill its yeasty destiny. The baked interior texture of the pastries was pretty fantastic, all in all--soft and supple, without being even slightly dense, gummy, or dry--so I'm glad I followed my instincts.

I ended up with well over half a cup of the filling mixture leftover, which I poured into a plastic baggie and saved. There just seemed to be a ton of the stuff. But I'm not complaining. I'll find a use for it. You know I will.

Chocolate Cinnamon Pastry Twirls

Yield: 12 good-sized twirls

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

For the dough:
1 and 1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp. instant yeast (The original recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. of rapid rise yeast; if you use that, dissolve the yeast in the water first. Instant yeast does not require that step.)
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup dry milk powder
2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for your work surface when it comes time for rolling
2 and 3/4 cups bread flour

For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. cocoa powder (I used Penzey's brand Dutch process cocoa--very good.)
1 and 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (Use your best cinnamon--not the cheap stuff!)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into small chunks
1 and 1/2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Nestle.)
Grated zest of one large orange


1 large egg white, whisked
Leftover filling from above, to sprinkle atop the egg white that you'll have brushed onto the unbaked pastries

Line two (or three, if you have that many) baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using just a hand whisk, mix together the water, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt, butter, vanilla, milk powder, and most of the flours. Blend well. Put the dough hook on your mixer, put the bowl on as well, and knead the dough on the lowest speed for about 8 to 10 minutes. Continue adding in flour until a very soft dough forms. Remember, you're not looking for the consistency of a batter, but you're also not looking for something like a solid bread dough. 

Take the bowl off the mixer and cover it with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with vegetable spray, then cover that with a light dish towel. Put the bowl in a draft-free spot. Let the dough rise until it's almost doubled; this could easily take up to an hour. 

While the dough is rising, mix together the sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and orange zest. 

Prepare a work surface with sufficient flour for a very soft dough. Flour your hands as well. Dump the risen dough out onto your work surface. Deflate it gently with your palms.

Roll the dough out into a big rectangle, about 10 x 20 inches.

Sprinkle the dry filling mix all over the rectangle, almost right up to the edges.

Then drop the little chunks of butter evenly over that and sprinkle the mini-chips atop that.

Now, as carefully as you can, starting with the long side of the dough, roll the whole thing up, jelly roll style. (If your dough is as soft as mine was, it will be a very loose and flat roll, but that's okay!)

With a bench scraper or sharp unserrated knife, cut the roll into 12 pieces.

Gently lifting each piece, bring it over onto the baking sheet; stretch it a bit and then twist it. (Filling may drop out and seem to make a mess, but don't panic. Just keep working. I fit about five twists onto each sheet, but they rose and then baked together a little too closely; when I make these the next time, I'm only going to put four on each sheet.) Brush each piece with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle it with excess sugar mix.

Cover the filled sheets with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with vegetable spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Let the twists proof (do their final rise) for 30 to 40 minutes, just until they've almost doubled in size. Bake them for about 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let the pastries cool on their baking sheets, set over cooling racks.

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

Ultimate Chocolate Mint Brownies

How do you make brownies better?  Is it really even possible?  Well it is when you start layering a minty creamy filling and fudgy ganache, oh yes, brownies are soooo much better when the layering starts!  It is like the flavors of chocolate mint chip ice cream collided with the perfect brownie and then had ganache poured over the top...only it's different...but similar too. 

The whole thing starts with  a brownie, simple unassuming and, of course, delicious because good brownies are simple and delicious.  Then you proceed to a light and fluffy mint filling and finally the topping...chocolate ganache...we all know there is nothing, I repeat nothing wrong with chocolate and cream!  It's like an amped up version of the Andes Mint Brownies from a while back, but better.  Yumm!  That is really all I think of to describe them.

I'm going to try them in mini muffin tins next time for the perfect two bite treat, again, YUMM!  I hope you enjoy!

I'm linking up to Moms Crazy Cooking Blog for This Weeks Craving.  Go check out the great chocolate recipes!

Chocolate Mint Brownies
Recipe Source: Adapted slightly from BettyCrocker

Brownie Base
**You can use a brownie mix if you want.  I used  the brownie recipe from the Andes Mint Brownies because it is simple and delicious and omitted the Andes mints. I also cut it half and below are the measurements I used for this recipe:

1 stick of butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9X9-inch pan with foil and lightly grease with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and salt. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring well to combine. Whisk in the vanilla and then the eggs. Blend well.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are set in the middle but not over baked. Cool Completely

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 T butter, softened
3 T heavy whipping cream
2 oz cream cheese
1/8 -1/4 tsp mint extract
2-4 drops green food coloring if desired

In a large bowl combine all ingredients and whip until everything is well incorporated.  Continue mixing on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Spread on cooled brownies, refrigerate 1 hour or until set.

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/3 cups (8 oz) good quality semi sweet chocolate
1/3 cup butter

Heat ganache ingredients over medium heat stirring constantly.  When chocolate is melted and everything is combined, set aside to cool about 10 minutes.  When still slightly warm, pour over the cooled filling spreading evenly.  Return the pan to the refrigerator.

To serve allow to sit at room temperature about 10-15 minutes.  Cut into bars and Enjoy!

Meat Rewards

Quote of the Day:  In every task that must be done there is an element of fun.  You find the fun, and snap, the job's a game. One of my favorite lines in "A Spoonful of Sugar" from Mary Poppins.

Blogpost Subtitle:  2011 Spring Break Stay-cation, Many nights of Oscar films, and Boy v. Nature:

Between the time change and Spring Break, I had a hard time knowing what time it was, what day it was, and what to do with all these boys besides run back to the store for more milk.  I brought two of mine, plus a neighbor boy, to the Y with me for workouts at noon Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  I thought they could use the pool while I went to my Group Power class.  That worked fine on Monday and Wednesday, but on Tuesday, we were all a little confused.  It was not a Group Power day, even though I asked for a GP card, and the pool wasn't open for free swim.  So, I did yoga (Tuesday is yoga day), and they played in the gym and gave me a bad time for not checking the pool schedule.  I did check the schedule, I just didn't know what day it was. 

On Thursday, I brought one of my piano students and her mom with me to a local assisted living center where we played piano.  It lifted me spirits, and I hope it gave them some joy as well.  A few of the residents napped through the concert.  Maybe we gave them some sweet dreams.  Up until that day, I'd been feeling gloomy about all the worlds' crises, and wondering what's the point.  Doing something for others puts life into perspective.  God wants us to live in community and live the best life we can, all the way into our sleepy years.

Afterwards, I brought three of my boys and three of their friends to a hotel water park.  That was our main excitement on this Stay-cation Spring Break.  They had fun running off steam.  I soaked it up.  My hair was poofy and curly after four hours, and I got a good chunk read of The Book Thief, very good.

Friday, was orthodontic appointments for all.  They weren't as excited about that!  In the afternoon, I got to hold the brand new baby next door.  She was born on March 15.  The neighbors had a really exciting Spring Break.  New Baby even got a helicopter ride to the children's hospital in Minneapolis.  That might have been too much excitement, but Mom and Baby Girl are home and happy and healthy, and oh, so cute.  Her big brothers, my boys' friends, are feeling all proud and wanted to show her off.

Then, we borrowed their ice chisel.  They're too busy holding Cute Baby Girl to chisel their driveway, so we (the Mom) decided to rediscover ours.

Layers of Winter were making life treacherous.  "Come on, boys!  You can't just sit there and watch it melt."

"Hey, Eric, go tell your big brothers how much fun we're having!"

Look! It's a family effort.  (Ok, I had to bribe them with meat.)

Just a few more shoves in the right direction and we'll have a path!

We Won!!!

And, yes, I did go to the meat store for two steaks, five brats, a pound of hamburger, buns, and more milk (of course).  We grilled up all the meat.  I thought I'd have a bunch of leftovers.  I was wrong.  You'd think a mother of four boys would know by now that the meat is the most important part of the meal/day. 

I helped with the ice attack.  I'm sore.  I'm tired.  I'm ready to get back to a "normal" week, but I did have fun with my boys, and all the movies we watched were great.  I'll share my reviews in a later post.  I've kept you here long enough.

Thanks for visiting.  Don't slip on the ice! And, Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Write about a time when you conquered Nature.  What rewards are the best to you?