Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pumpkin Scones with Do-it-Yourself Cinnamon Chips

Ahh, yes, cinnamon chips. They were one of those newish ingredients I was loathe to try when they first appeared in the grocery store a couple of years ago, because they just sounded too fake to me. I envisioned little waxy textured, synthetically-flavored dots of hardened goo. It wasn't hard to tamp down what was a very moderate curiosity to begin with. I passed them by in the market week after week. No backward glance. Something--I knew not what--would have to legitimize cinnamon chips before I would trade cold hard cash to procure them.

And then, about a year and a half ago, I discovered King Arthur Flour's mini-cinnamon chips--better in quality than what I'd seen at the grocery store, no doubt. I bought a small bag, tested them out in a recipe, and found they were actually pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that I was miffed to realize I was completely out of them when I began assembling my ingredients to make these pumpkin scones the other day.  Not a single King Arthur cinnamon chip to be found on the premises. My choices? Use something besides cinnamon chips in the scones (mini chocolate chips? chopped candied ginger? chopped pecans or walnuts? raisins?); leave them plain (still good, but boring); or take a stab at making my own quick-and-easy chips at home. I picked the Do-It-Yourself option.

I had a sizable chunk of Callebaut white chocolate on hand, so I cut off a modest wedge, melted it slowly and carefully in the microwave, mixed in a scant teaspoon of ground cinnamon, spread the mixture thinly onto a piece of plastic wrap, sprinkled more cinnamon over that, laid another piece of plastic wrap over that, and slid it into the freezer for less than five minutes. Once rigid as a board, I broke the cinnamon-chips-to-be into a zillion tiny pieces, added them into my scone batter, and voila! Homemade cinnamon chips in homemade pumpkin scones. Sensational.

What, I ask you, is autumn without a nice warm batch of pumpkin scones cooling on the kitchen table? I dare not think.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a King Arthur recipe aptly titled Harvest Pumpkin Scones, I made only a couple of small changes to the formula. I used a little more pumpkin than called for, along with a smidgen of 1/2 and 1/2; my dough, otherwise, would have been extremely dry. I also reduced the amount of allspice by half. I used homemade cinnamon chips, and I reworded the recipe to reflect my actual steps.

Pumpkin Scones with Do-it-Yourself Cinnamon Chips

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

Yield: 8 large scones.

No mixer needed for this recipe (yay!).

Ingredients for the homemade cinnamon chips:

3 oz. of good quality white chocolate, or white chocolate chips
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ingredients for the scone dough:

2 and 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use fresh grated, and buy the whole nutmeg at a Penzey's spice store.)
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon 1/2 &1/2 (or use milk)
2 eggs, large

A few tablespoons coarse white sugar (aka sanding sugar) to sprinkle on the scones before baking
2 tablespoons of 1/2 &1/2 or milk

To make the cinnamon chips:

Melt the white chocolate slowly and carefully in your microwave, or melt it in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water on the stove. If you do it on the stove, be sure no water at all gets into the bowl with the white chocolate. Stir the 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into the melted white chocolate thoroughly. Spread out a small sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface. While the chocolate is still very warm, spread it out thinly on the plastic wrap using a spatula or bowl scraper. Sprinkle the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon over that. Cover it with another sheet of plastic wrap. Put it in the freezer for five minutes. Take it out when it's stiff as a board. Break it up into mini-chip-size pieces.

To make the scone dough:

Whisk together, in a large mixing bowl, the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

Using a pastry blender, a fork, or even your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly. It's fine if some small lumps remain. Toss all of the homemade cinnamon chips in and stir to combine.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and canned pumpkin. Pour all of this into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until it comes together into a solid dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and pat it into a ball.

Press the dough with your hands into a large circle, at least 10 inches in diameter and 3/4" thick. Using a sharp knife or a pastry wheel, cut the circle, pie-style, into 8 even triangles. Lay the triangles on a parchment covered baking sheet. I bake my scones so they're not sitting right next to each other, and they have a chance get golden brown all over; you may also choose to bake them about 1/2" apart from each other so they'll end up slightly attached and less crispy on the sides. Brush the tops of each one with half and half, and sprinkle generously with coarse/sanding sugar or regular granulated sugar (coarse sugar will be more sparkly, once baked).

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now put the scones, still on the baking sheet, into the freezer for about 20 minutes. (This step is a recommendation from KAF, and I think it really does seem to add to the scones' oven spring. They puff up nicely.)

Bake the scones for at least 20 minutes. They are done when they're golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out completely clean. Serve them warm or cold. Best the first day, but still pretty good the second!

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

Review of Measure for Measure by Ten Thousand Things Theater

Quote of the Day:  The Tempter or the Tempted, who is more to blame?  Angelo, in William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure performed by Ten Thousand Things Theater at The Open Book in Minneapolis through October 21 (except the Oct. 18 performance which will be at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis).

I would like to thank Michelle Woster for inviting me to view and review Measure for Measure, by Ten Thousand Things Theater. They are a theater company that takes the show on the road, performing at prisons, shelters, housing projects, remote rural locations, and accessible venues. (They have hopes of coming to the Brainerd area next year.) They keep the set and props simple and representative, making it easy to set up their "stage" wherever they go. We walked into the performance space at The Open Book where the chairs were set for theater in the round. A few seats were reserved for the actors and just before it was time to start the show, the actors filled in those seats. They use this same set-up in all their venues, being quite intimate with the inmates and other patrons. You feel like you're part of the show, inside the prison, in the judgement seat, on the streets, and in the minds of the characters as they are standing or sitting right next to you.

The director Michelle Hensley greeted us and shared some of the amazing successes they'd had performing Measure for Measure at correctional facilities. You see, this show is about justice, or the lack of it, power, and the abuse of it, and the people who get trapped in a system led by corrupt and sinister people. One person had said it was like an episode of Undercover Bosses, and by the end, I saw it, too.

The Duke, brilliantly played by Suzanne Warmanen who opens the show with a strong voice and commanding presence, calls in her second-in-comand, Angelo, and commissions him to take over the judicial affairs of Vienna while she is away. She then disguises herself as a friar and hears and sees the truth behind the actions and words of the citizens and the people who try to govern them. The Duke (dressed as a friar) becomes a confessor and a confidant to those needing to unburden themselves from their own wrongs and the wrongs done unto them. She overhears conversations, in the jail and in the courts, that shed light on the true character of those she placed in authority.

You might wonder why anyone would perform or watch Shakespeare's plays. Aren't these old stories of times gone by? Let's see, in this play, people are being judged and condemned for whom they love, for acts of love that lead to "public disgrace." Someone who should do right by another person, turns on her and away from her and thinks only of himself and his rise to power. Another wants to marry, but isn't allowed to and is sentenced to death because of his acts of love. Angelo, the person with the power to judge and pardon, condemns Claudio for his immorality, while Angelo is lusting for and demanding worse from Claudio's sister. The plot gets complicated and twisted. At one point Isabella, Claudio's sister, cries out, "Who will I tell of this?  Who will listen to me?" The person who has wronged her has all the power and notoriety. Angelo even says it, "Who will believe you over me?" Shakespeare gave us the first stories with these twisted and sinister plots: greed, power, helplessness for the average citizen, outcry for justice, political corruption, and moral judgements. Perhaps the creators of Undercover Bosses were influenced by this play.

Afterwards, we attended a Meet & Greet with the cast, director, and creative team of Ten Thousand Things Theater.

I asked director Michelle Hensley what it was like performing in the prisons. She said they set it up the same way as they did here at the Open Book, and it is very well received. In fact, they connect with this play, and sometimes get comments from the audience after the scene where Isabella wonders who will help her. Someone said, "That's exactly how it is."
I'll admit that I was a little shy about talking with the actors, but I did sit down with Suzanne Warmanen for a couple minutes to ask about her character, the Duke. I was wondering if the Duke suspected something about Angelo when she set him up to take charge. She said her main reason for turning over the power was to see if someone else would be stronger and firmer. What she found was that power can quickly go to someone's head!

I thoroughly enjoyed attending Measure for Measure at The Open Book. What an inspiring location for a remarkable performance!

This was the Biker Chef's first time attending a Shakespeare play. Here he is embracing a new experience and grabbing the dragon by the tail. He said his motto is "Expanding my horizons." I asked him how he felt after seeing the play. "I've been speared," he said. (Shakespeared, that is!) I heard him chuckling at times. Many characters and lines are quite funny, and Shakespeare is known for being bawdy. Measure for Measure is entertaining and thought-provoking.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever been aware of a time when someone let their power go to their head to cover up their own guilt or try to control someone else?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Poetry Reading by Li-Young Lee

Quote of the Day:  Art is the yoga for a deeper understanding of intuition. Li-Young Lee, words of wisdom shared during his poetry reading at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN, Sept. 24, 2012.

Li-Young Lee at Central Lakes College
Here's a little background on the poet:
Li-Young Lee (李立揚, pinyin: Lǐ Lìyáng) (born August 19, 1957) is an American poet. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents.[1] His maternal grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China's first Republican President,[2] who attempted to make himself emperor. Lee's father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. His father was exiled and spent 19 months in an Indonesian prison camp in Macau. In 1959 the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964. Li-Young Lee attended the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport.

He told us that when he was in Indonesia, he looked like the enemy because he is Chinese. Then, when he moved to the U.S. in the early 60's, a country that was at war with another Asian country, he looked like the enemy. So, he grew up with that feeling, which seeped into his psyche and his writing.  He told us about the four selves: We have our public self, the one we show to anyone, even strangers. We have our private self, who we are with friends and family, where we feel a little safer. We have our inner self, the one we know and keep only to ourselves. Then, we have the hidden self, the part of us that is unknown even to ourselves. There are parts of us that we haven't discovered yet. They might not be revealed to us for a long time. We might find ourselves surprised to discover something. And, I believe, someone on the outside might be that person who sheds light on that hidden self.

Mr. Lee says that the best art, particularly poetry, has elements of all four selves. That's when it is the truest, when it connects, when it becomes "the yoga that deepens our understanding of our true self, our intuition." He spoke for just an hour and read two poems, Undressing, and Virtues of the Boring Husband, and I felt like I learned so much and was inspired. Both poems are very personal, have to do with his relationship with his wife, their intimacy and responses to each other. His poetry is sensual and meaningful, filled with vivid images and mind wanderings. Here's a sample, used by permission from the poet.

To Hold

So we're dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I'm lucky,
she'll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we'll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we'll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn't for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I'll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

from Li-Young Lee's book of poetry, Behind My Eyes

Li-Young Lee signing his book for me.
Thank you, Mr. Lee, for coming to the Brainerd area to share your poetry and words of wisdom.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt:  Write about your four selves. Have you ever been surprised to discover something about yourself, or to have someone point it out to you?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review of Tales from Hollywood at The Guthrie

Quote of the Day:  How was it we were so lucky? Something else I keep seeing in my dreams, all those queues, all those queues of desperate people outside the Consulates in Marseilles. Waiting all day and then turned away. Why didn't that happen to us? I mean, what's so special about writers? Heinrich Mann, act 2, scene 9, in Tales from Hollywood by Christopher Hampton.

May 10, 1933, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda, attends book burnings at the University of Berlin. Book burnings in other university cities follow. Works by Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, and Bertolt Brecht are among those burned. from the program about Tales from Hollywood.

Photo from The Guthrie Theater Multimedia page Lee Sellars as Odon von Horvath, Allison Daugherty as Nelly Mann, and Keir Dullea as Heinrich Mann

For every person in nearly every part of the world who lived and fought to survive during World War II, they have a story to tell. Christopher Hampton draws from his own experiences as a non-American writer in Hollywood  in the 1960's-70's to go inside the hearts and heads of famous writers of the 1930's and 1940's and bring to light the struggle to survive as exiles, men without a country, needing to use their language to create, to connect, and to offer hope, and yet feeling so hopeless as they are silenced and sent away.

What is so special about writers? Their work is burned and banned. They're stripped of dignity and home and made to live like refugees, and yet, they survive, even thrive. The very act of trying to destroy their work and crush their spirits only adds interest and meaning to their words. People both admire and fear writers and the power of their words.

In Tales from Hollywood the exiled writers who fled Nazi Germany form a community in Los Angelos. They're trying to write in a foreign country using a foreign language with foreign ideals and concepts. And, all the while they're trying to make sense of this cruel world and eek out an existence. Bertolt Brecht questions why he is writing for the screen when he is a playwright in a medium where there is no interaction with the audience. In an interesting use of light and sound, the creative team at The Guthrie projects scenes from the play onto screens as the backdrop. So, here we have a play with elements of cinema. (See photo above as an example.) Camera crew were placed in pivotal points of the stage as part of the show. It was like watching a documentary being made with Odon von Horvath as the narrator.

I connected most with the American female playwright, Helen Schwartz (played by Julia Coffey), who is Jewish and has relatives in Germany. At first, she seems distant from what is happening in Europe, but as her relationship deepens with Odon, she learns more and tries to make a difference. She is independent and successful.

The most tragic character, though, is Nelly Mann, married to Heinrich Mann. She struggles with her identity and her relationship with her husband. Maybe she used him, or they used each other, to get out of Germany. Maybe their relationship was more friendship than romance. Maybe Nelly had so many demons that she couldn't live in the light. Allison Daugherty plays Nelly with style and courage. I was mesmorized by her portrayal of this character who seems so broken. Daugherty gives us a glimpse of how complicated Nelly's story is and how her soul is so filled with demons. I give her a personal standing ovation.

Ethan McSweeny has directed an outstanding show that is full of humor, surprises, and fantastic visual and sound elements. The Biker Chef accompanied me to this production. He said he connected with the show because of his personal history of German heritage and interest in military and stories of World War II. He said he'd recommend it to friends. It's a show that makes you laugh, ponder, hold your breath at moments of surprise or worry, and sigh. It contains adult themes, nudity, strong language, smoking, use of strobe lights, and is recommended for a mature audience.

Go to Tales from Hollywood page at The Guthrie Theater for more photos and video clips. It is playing at the Wurtele Thrust stage through October 27, 2012.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever felt silenced by a person or institution? Do you read banned books?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall Women's Retreat at Mount Carmel

Quote of the Day:  I know what I am doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. from Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

Barb, who lead us and lit a candle of hope in each of our hearts.
She gave us the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance for who we are and where we are in our life's journey.
Every fall, Mount Carmel offers a women's retreat on the beautiful shores of Lake Carlos. We're usually a small, intimate group of women who gather for respite, for fellowship, and for nurturing one another in faith and in our life's journey. They come from near and far. Some with heavy burdens, recent losses, difficult diagnoses or decisions for loved ones or themselves. They come for rest and renewal. The song running through my head as we gathered was You have come down to the Lakeshore by Cesareo Gabarain, originally written in Spanish and nicely translated into English. The chorus: Sweet Lord, you have looked into my eyes; kindly smiling, you've called out my name. On the sand I have abandoned my small boat; now with you, I will seek other seas.

Together, we shared our stories and sang our songs. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, and left with a new kind of tired and a new kind of energy.  What I love about this retreat is that mothers and daughters come together, friends, sisters, cousins, and people who need time away might come on their own, but leave feeling they are not alone.

Mothers and daughters

My cousin Angie and I provided the music. She and I have similar backgrounds, grew up going to Mount Carmel in the summer, and enjoy making music together. Thanks, Angie, for doing the music with me. You made it so fun and gave me such confidence.

Thank you, Barb, for leading us with your gentle and encouraging spirit, filled with love.

Thank you, Mount Carmel, for providing such a lovely setting.

Thank you to all the women who attended. You are bright, shining stars.


Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Where would you go for a retreat? Who would you like to go with you? Or, would you prefer to go alone?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review of Buccaneers at the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day:  Words are powerful. Enid Arabella, main character from Bucanneers, currently playing at The Children's Theatre Company's in Minneapolis.

Try talking your way out of a situation like this!

Photos by Dan Norman, The Children's Theatre Company
Enid Arabella, the quick thinking adventuresome girl, runs away from one bad situation at home and into a worse one on the high seas. She finds herself on board a pirate ship where Captain Johnny Johne' collects children from around the globe and forces them to work on his ship. Enid Arabella has to think fast to talk her way out of walking the plank, a challenge with a sword, and acceptance from the other crew members. She ends up leading a mutiny and getting the cruel captain off the ship. But, the danger isn't over. Enid Arabella's parents are searching for her. The captain is a champion swimmer, and a ship without a leader is adrift on the open seas.
The crew elects Enid Arabella as the new captain. She declares that they shall be Buccaneers not Pirates. What's the difference? Pirates are the robbers of the seas. Buccanneers are adventurers with no intent to hurt anyone.

Photo by Dan Norman

Enid Arabella at the helm
Buccaneers has all the elements of a great show for older elementary students through adults. It does have some scary images that might be disturbing for younger kids. I heard one mother say that her preschooler wanted to leave after the opening scenes on board the ship. The captain looks and sounds scary and he doles out some harsh punishments. The boys who attended the show with me, ages 11 & 13, loved the show. They thought it was exciting. Said it was, "Awesome," and were really engaged with the show. I loved how they included music and dancing, a bit of humor, and characters from around the globe. I thought it was so well cast with a colorful and interesting group of "kids." The costumes and choreography were beautiful and lively - entertainment for the eyes. I asked the boys what surprised them about the show. They said it was the captain's hidden talent. I was surprised to find out where the music was coming from. Loved the music, by the way, made me feel like dancing a jig right there in the aisle.
The Children’s Theatre Company is playing the world premiere of the raucous musical Buccaneers written by Liz Duffy Adams with music by Ellen Maddow September 14 through October 21. Buccaneers includes all the swashbuckling you would expect from an original pirate musical, plus an unforgettable young heroin, Enid Arabella. Tickets range from $10--$56.00 for adults and $10--$46.00 for children, and are available by calling (612) 874-0400 or by visiting A limited number of seats for $10 are available on first come first served basis by calling on Sundays, starting at noon.  

Journaling Prompt:  Did you ever dream of running away from home? Did you go? Where would you go if you dared to leave?

Apple Cinnamon Blondies . . .

This past weekend, my husband and I went out for dinner with two close friends we've known for years and with whom we always have a predictably great time. We enjoyed a fun and very noisy evening at an old German biergarten in downtown Detroit, the kind of place with a menu featuring wienerschnitzel, sauerkraut, and spatzle.  It was louder than heck in there and, like every other customer present, we had to shout at the top of our lungs to be heard. We laughed a lot, and stayed just until the din became slightly too outrageous to tolerate.

But the night was still young so we journeyed back to the northern suburbs, to a nice little place near my house that always has reliably interesting desserts, good coffee, and better than average service. It's one of those restaurants where the waiter brings a display of desserts to your table on a big tray and describes each one for you in detail. The offering of sweets varies, as you would expect, from season to season and from week to week. Several of the selections presented to us were perfectly expressive of autumn.

There was a dressed-up variation on the traditional apple brown betty, involving a slice of warm spicy cake topped with apples, walnuts, and cinnamon ice cream; a "Scotch" cake of some sort that was served in a big square hunk, very warm, placed over a glossy golden sauce; and a cheesecake drizzled simply with caramel. My hubby ordered the Scotch cake. I opted for the apple brown betty, and about one bite into it I began to feel that familiar urge to rake leaves, carve a pumpkin, and get busy baking with tangy red apples in my own kitchen. Of course, it's still too early to engage in the first two activities but, luckily, not too early to bake with Michigan apples--those wonderful, crunchy, beautifully sun-dappled apples. Never get tired of 'em. Can't help loving 'em.

About this recipe . . .

Quick and simple, these apple cinnamon blondies are a nice alternative to regular blondies or brownies. They're not too heavy, not too gooey, and not overly sweet. They'll satisfy your craving for an apple lover's treat without going overboard. These blondies got a big thumbs-up from my youngest son.

I adapted this recipe from another original blondie recipe of mine (Cream Cheese Blondies with Milk and Dark Chocolate Chips and Honey Roasted Almonds) that I posted in 2009, and which can be found here.

Apple Cinnamon Blondies

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

Yield: One 9" by 13" pan; about 24 servings

Line a 9"x13" pan with parchment paper; let the paper overhang the sides by a couple of inches so you can use it to lift the cooled blondies from the pan. (If you then spray the parchment with vegetable spray you'll have no trouble whatsoever getting them out of the pan intact.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups of dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 large eggs
1 and 1/4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or 1 and 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1 and 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tart, firm medium-sized apple; peeled and chopped into very small pieces ( about 1/4" square)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium size bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, salt, and cinnamon.

In a small bowl, toss the apple bits with the lemon juice.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium-low speed, cream the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar until very well blended and smooth. Add in the eggs and vanilla bean paste, beating on medium speed until well combined and smooth.

Gradually add in the flour mixture on the lowest speed, beating just until blended. Add in the apple pieces, beating just until evenly combined.

Use a small offset metal-spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Mix together the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar with the 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and sprinkle it all over the batter.

Bake the blondies for about 25 minutes, until they start to look lightly golden brown and a finger pressed lightly on the top of the blondies doesn't leave an impression. Let them cool in their pan, placed on a cooling rack, for at least twenty minutes before trying to lift them out by the parchment handles. Cut them with a really sharp knife. Store them well covered and they'll be good for a couple of days.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Espresso Cookies

Leftover espresso makes any chocolate cookie legendary. Forget the processed powder.    You won't be able to eat just one. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that I like to make the dough the night before in the food processor so it makes up fast when you are pressed for time.   You will have to store your dough in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove your dough from the refrigerator 30 minutes before planning to bake so that the dough is easier to form and handle. 

3 tablespoons leftover espresso
one egg
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup of Unsalted butter softened
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 cup plus 1/2 cup chocolate semisweet chips
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup plus 3/4 cup all purpose flour
Method:  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (F)
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Sift together your baking soda, powder, flour, salt and set aside.
In a bowl cream together your butter and sugars. Add your egg and vanilla slowly. Add your espresso.   Add your dry ingredients slowly into your wet ingredients until combined.  Stir in or pulse in your chocolate chips. 
At this point if you are not ready to make your cookies, store in the refrigerator, covered.  Remember to leave them out 30 minutes before baking so your cookies will be easier to form.

Don't overcrowd them, they will expand. It little larger than an inch in circumfrence.
Bake for 9-11 minutes until soft.  They will continue to cook outside the oven, while cooling.

Buon Appetito!
(Makes about 30 cookies).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rembrandt at the MIA

Quote of the Day:  Of course you will say that I ought to be practical and ought to try and paint the way they want me to paint. Well, I will tell you a secret. I have tried and I have tried very hard, but I can't do it. I just can't do it! And that is why I am just a little crazy. Rembrandt

Favorite Photo Friday: Standing in front of the masterworks and feeling inspired by the art and the story behind the images.

We almost missed our chance to see Rembrandt in America at the Minneapolis Institue of Arts. The exhibit is running from June 24 - September 16. Yes, it ends soon! Krista and I were in Minneapolis for the Pillsbury House production of The Brothers Size at the Guthrie Studio. We wanted to make good use of our time in the metro to see Rembrandt. When we got to the ticket window, I noticed reduced prices for children, students, and seniors. I looked at Krista and said, "Where's the single mom discount?" The ticket guy said that they didn't have any more non-member passes available until 7:00 pm. That wouldn't work for us. So, he offered us a membership. We went with a dual membership since it was a better deal, and we got a discount for living outside the metro, so it was really affordable. We felt great about supporting the arts in Minnesota and can now attend the special exhibits as part of our membership. Having a limit on non-member entries is a great way to get more people to become members.
We couldn't take pictures inside the exhibit. It was interesting to get the audio tour so we could hear the story behind the paintings. Some of the works that were once attributed to Rembrandt are no longer thought to be his, but those of his students. He taught his students to paint exactly like he did, so there are elements of his style in all of them. Still, the experts can tell his original voice from those who imitated him.
Krista's favorite portrait was of a little girl with blondish-red curls. She's described her as a real-life girl, her hair pinned up and brushed, and yet had fly-aways and a bit of a tossled look. Her eyes are captivating. She is featured on the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' page on the Rembrandt exhibit.
I liked the one called A Man Reading. It's featured in this review from the time when the exhibit was at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I also felt the emotional impact of the young woman holding a knife with a wound in her heart. The commentor explained that Rembrandt was in love with this woman, but was unable to marry her. They had children together, but she was scorned and publicly shamed for her relationship with him and had to call herself a whore in front of some kind of "morality committee" because she had a baby out of wedlock.
After our great day of art and theatre, not to mention another delicious meal at Spoonriver, Krista said that art and theatre and literature are more than just entertainment. They make you think. And, I'll add to that - The experience of seeing the masterworks up close and personal, of watching the actors bring a story to life, of reading the words and meeting the authors is something that becomes part of you. It lifts you up. It inspires and sets you free to...
Go. Create. Inspire! (in your own unique way)
Journaling Prompt:  Do you have a favorite painting or artform that inspires you?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review of The Brothers Size at the Guthrie

Quote of the Day:  You're my brother. No matter where you are, you're my brother. Ogun Size, the older Size brother to Oshoosi

Playing at the Guthrie Theatre Studio in Minneapolis through September 29.

I watched this contemporary, real life drama, on Saturday night at the Guthrie Theatre Studio with a sell-out audience. The woman behind me was telling her friend how thrilled she was to see all the support for this show and that many people in the audience were other actors. I was excited to see this play because it's about brothers, relationships, and what makes us feel trapped, and what makes us feel free. This is not your typical play-it-safe, stick to the classics written by white men plays that the Guthrie usually puts on its mainstage. This is a modern play with characters who live in communities where everyone struggles to survive. Relationships are not easily defined, and you don't always know who you can trust.

This is a three character play, accompanied by a drummer. Ahanti Young sat on the stage as we entered, drumming out the rhythms of life, drawing us in, setting the mood. The low thump on the djembe seems to echo a heartbeat of dread. The rattles, shakes, and finger thrumming build tension and mystique, and I was ready to focus on the set and the characters before they came out. I wanted the audience to be quiet even beofore the lights dimmed and Young's fingers increased their intensity on the drums.

Oshoosi Size, the younger brother, has recently been released from prison and is staying with his older brother Ogun. Ogun has felt responsible for his younger brother since Oshoosi was in his mother's womb. When they were growing up, people in their community told him to be a good role model. When their mother died, he took on the role of parent. When his brother returned from prison, Ogun took on the role of personal parole officer and reformer. He wasn't about to let Oshoosi "mess" up again. He wasn't going to let him sleep in, slog around, and get tangled up with the wrong people. He also wasn't allowing him to forget his wrongs or his jail time and that he owed it to his brother to live a productive life.

Oshoosi wants freedom to live his own life, to be free from the physical prison he was in and start new relationships and build his own life. He begins to realize how imprisoned he is by his brother's need to protect and control and by the friend he made in prison, Elegba. We see the pull and tug of his loyalties.

Ogun is imprisoned by his sense of uber-responsibility. He was never a carefree kid. He had to take care of everything, including his younger brother. In a scene between the brothers, Oshoosi confronts him on this, telling him if he can't loosen those chains, he'll turn to stone. Ogun has a nightmare about loosing his brother to the influence of his friend.

The friend, Elegba, is imprisoned by his own desires to rebel and control his surroundings. He keeps pulling Oshoosi back into his world. He wants to wrap his influence around him like a rope and keep him close.

As we watch this struggle to find freedom and escape real and imagined prisons, the drums beat on. Sometimes as tiny dings at a moment of truth. Sometimes as hard thuds after words that can never be taken back, or actions that can't be undone. Thud, like a judge's gavel, or a rattle like the sound of a snake.

This is an intense show with intense language. We're watching brothers interact in the privacy of their own home, with the intrusion of a "friend." There are real life consquences to their words and actions. This is a show for older teens and adults. It's a show for anyone who struggles with relationships and which ones imprison us and which ones set us free.

The Brothers Size written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Marion McClinton is a Pillsbury House Theatre production, performed at the Guthrie Theatre Studio. It runs through September 29. It's a show you won't soon forget.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever had to end a relationship that felt like a prison?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pumpkin Yeast Bread . . . with Autumn Spices & Raisins

You bake all the time, right? So maybe you've experienced this phenomenon and, if so, I'll bet it's absolutely warmed your apron strings as much as it has mine. You're wandering the aisles of a grocery store or bakery, sitting in a restaurant, or maybe even scanning the treats at a bake sale, and someone in your family--a kid, a spouse, a sibling--looks at you and pointedly remarks, "I realize I've become a real snob about cookies/cakes/bread/pastries because the stuff you make at home is so much better than anything I can buy."

In response, you just smile and murmur humbly, "Oh thanks, that's really nice of you to say." In your head, though, you're raising your fists in triumph and shouting, "Yes! Now that's what I want to hear!"

It's just the best kind of compliment for a home-baker to receive, don't you think? I never get tired of hearing that.

Let's make snobs of 'em all. Surreptitiously, of course. Are you with me?

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe, I didn't veer far from the original formula but did make a few minor adjustments. Instead of using ground ginger and cardamom, I omitted the cardamom altogether and used finely diced candied ginger. I added in a freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch of ground cloves, and I increased the amount of cinnamon. Also, I decided to toss in dark raisins near the end of the main mixing cycle and, once baked, I drizzled a thin white icing atop one of my loaves while it was still slightly warm, leaving the other one plain.

This recipe makes a very sticky dough that cries out for more flour than King Arthur indicates, an all too common scenario that will test any baker's powers of restraint. The more flour you add in, the less soft and tender the loaf will probably turn out to be, but the less flour you use the messier and less cooperative the process promises to be from start to finish. Without going overboard, I added in just enough extra flour to make the dough workable once it reached the stage where I wanted to knead it by hand, out of the mixer bowl. So just use your own judgment and, in this case, remember that softer dough equals softer bread.

This fragrant yeast bread is slightly sweet. Great eaten plain when extremely fresh, or toasted and buttered in the days following. While it's baking, your house will smell like a cozy autumn afternoon, lightly spiced. I wouldn't hesitate to make this again.

Pumpkin Yeast Bread . . . with Autumn Spices &Raisins

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

Yield: Two generous standard size loaves

Ingredients for the bread:
1/2 cup warm water
1 and 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast (I used instant, but if you want to use active dry instead, use two standard size packages and proof it in the warm water.)
2/3 cup warm milk (I used 2 percent, and warmed it slightly in the microwave.)
2 large eggs, well beaten with a fork
1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin (I used canned pumpkin.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used canola oil.)
6 and 1/2 to 7 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I gently whisked it before measuring.)
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar.)
1 cup dark raisins
2 teaspoon salt (I used sea salt.)
1 tablespoon finely chopped candied ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated.)
1 pinch ground cloves

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (to melt and brush onto the top of the just-baked loaves)

For the glaze:
About 2 cups confectioner's sugar
About 2 to 4 tablespoons water or milk

To make the bread:
Generously grease two standard size loaf pans and set them aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on lowest speed, mix together 4 and 1/2 cups of the flour, along with the yeast, brown sugar, salt, and spices. Add in the water, milk, eggs, pumpkin, and oil. On medium speed, mix for two minutes. Scrape the bowl and beaters and sprinkle in all of the raisins; mix them in on low speed.

Add in the rest of the flour gradually, still on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and knead on lowest speed for about three minutes, or dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for several minutes by hand, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Put the dough into a greased (or oiled/sprayed) bowl and turn it so it's coated all over. Cover the bowl tightly with a greased piece of plastic wrap, and cover that with a dish towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise until it's doubled, about one hour.

Dump the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface. Deflate the dough gently by pressing on it, then cut it into two equal portions with a bench knife or a sharp chef's knife. Round each portion, then cover them both with greased plastic wrap; let the dough rest like this for about 10-15 minutes.

Uncover the pieces of rested dough, and form each one into a loaf shape, being careful to tightly pinch closed all seams. Place the dough into the pans, cover them with greased plastic wrap and place them in a warm spot.

Let them rise until almost doubled, about half an hour or so (the dough should rise just above the top of the pan). Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Before putting the risen loaves into the hot oven, mist the tops well with water (or, dampen your hands with water and gently pat the water onto the loaves). Open the oven door and squirt your mister into it a few times quickly (aim away from the oven light). Put the pans in the oven on the middle shelf. Bake for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before you open the oven again to peek at the loaves. At that point, if they appear to be browning too quickly, lay a piece of foil over them lightly. Bake for about 30 minutes total, or until a stem thermometer poked deeply into the bottom of the loaves reads at least 190 degrees. They should be deeply golden brown.

Remove them from the pans immediately and put them on a cooling rack. Melt about three tablespoons of unsalted butter, and brush it generously over the warm loaves; it will quickly soak in.

To make the glaze:
In a medium bowl, stir together the confectioner's sugar and water/milk until it's completely smooth; add in more liquid or sugar, a little at a time, until it's the consistency you prefer. Drizzle the glaze over the baked loaves, waiting until they're no longer hot or the glaze will melt right off. (If you prefer, you could add a few drops of vanilla extract or almond extract in for added flavor, or even a pinch of ground cinnamon.)

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