Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Of Muffins and Hurricanes . . . Morning-Glory Muffins (with Carrots, Raisins, & Sunflower Seeds)

I made these muffins yesterday morning while listening to NPR's coverage of Hurricane Sandy's damage. Every time I hear about that kind of storm, or of an earthquake or a massive flood, I thank my lucky stars that we live in Michigan. Here, natural disasters of that magnitude are virtually unheard of. We have the odd tornado now and then, and occasionally a big wild fire in the woodsy Upper Peninsula makes the news. Somehow, though, the Great Lakes have a way of shielding us, and that's comforting to know.

But, that reality doesn't stop us from worrying about family or friends who live elsewhere when these catastrophes occur. My only sister, for example, lives just a couple of miles from Long Island Sound in southern Connecticut. Despite her calm reassurance when we spoke by phone on Monday morning, as she was preparing to shelter-in-place, I was feeling pretty fretful. She's a tough cookie, and has always been the brave one. I don't think I could have been as calm in her shoes.

When I talked to her after the storm had passed and heard that she's just fine, I was relieved and grateful. Most of her small town, except for some houses on the beach, escaped the worst effects of the storm. She said everything there is eerily quiet now, and that people are still being asked to just stay inside. And, amazingly, the power is not out in the part of town where she lives.

Yes, I eventually ceased fretting. But as we know, when the going gets fretful the fretful get baking and it was my fretfulness that prompted the impromptu creation of these satisfying and tasty muffins. Maybe, now, I should call them Grateful Muffins.

About this recipe . . .

This is one heck of a muffin. Featuring dark-brown sugar and sour cream, it also contains a modest portion of shredded carrots, raisins, and roasted sunflower seeds, along with a little vanilla and cinnamon. It's sort of a morning-glory muffin, but without the entire kitchen-sink profusion of ingredients. Hearty without being hefty. This is an original Jane's Sweets recipe, unadapted from any other source.

Oh, before I forget . . . what do you think of those white "tulip" muffin papers? I used them for the first time and I really like them. Made of a relatively heavy grease-proof paper, they form a perfect square when unfolded. I like the way the tulip-shaped cup contains the muffin, as if it's in it's own little bag. These muffins all browned remarkably evenly, even on their bottoms--no burning. I've heard that you can bake in these papers without using a muffin pan, that they are that sturdy. I was hesitant to try that, but maybe next time I'll give it a whirl. I ordered some in brown and red as well, all from a company called Bakers Stock. Decent prices via this source, and the shipped items were securely packaged. I'd order from them again. (I keep wondering, though, if I could make wrappers like these myself at home, but I really think the paper they're made out of is not typical. It doesn't exactly feel to me like plain parchment or even silicone-coated parchment. I will have to do more investigating on that front.)

Brown Sugar & Sour Cream Morning-Glory Muffins, Simplified

Yield: About 16 standard size muffins, or about 10-12 larger muffins

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

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I whisked the flour a bit in its container before measuring.)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt.)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed (I think dark brown makes a noticeable flavor difference, but use light brown if that's all you have around.)
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (I used paste.)
1/2 cup well-shredded carrots (lightly packed into the measuring cup)
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds (salted or unsalted, as you prefer)
2 tablespoons of coarse sugar (turbinado or sanding) to sprinkle atop unbaked muffins

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line your muffin pan(s) with paper liners or spray liberally with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, stir together the dark brown sugar, canola oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla until very well combined. Stir in the carrots, raisins, and sunflower seeds.

Make a well in the bowl of dry ingredients. Pour all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no large streaks of flour remain; a few small streaks are okay.  (Avoid over-mixing in order to avoid producing tough muffins.) Portion the batter evenly into the muffin papers/cups. Sprinkle a pinch of coarse sugar atop each unbaked muffin to add sparkle and crunch. (I used turbinado sugar--coarse, natural brown sugar--but you could use white sanding sugar or regular granulated sugar if you like.)

If you're making larger muffins, bake them for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 and keep baking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, perhaps 10 minutes longer. If you're baking smaller muffins, turn the oven temperature down after no more than ten minutes. If your muffins appear to be browning too quickly on top, lightly cover them with a sheet of foil. Let the baked muffins cool for just a minute in their pan on a rack, then remove them from the pan to cool longer on the rack. (Or eat them warm, with butter!)

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

A to Z Spotlight

Quote of the Day:  Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed. Buddha

Today, I am being featured on the Blogging from A to Z Blog by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The A to Z Blog Challenge happens in April. Bloggers are challenged to write a post a day in April, excluding Sundays, using each letter of the alphabet. In 2011, I used a word a day associated with the theatre, and my sister challenged me to use a name for each letter. I didn't quite make the name challenge, but came close. Alex asked me about my posts from the 2012 challenge.

I love blogging from


If you are a blogger, or ever thought of blogging, I'd recommend doing the A to Z challenge. It's a great way to challenge yourself to write every day, enhance your writing skills, spark your creativity, and meet other bloggers. You gain followers really fast, and it's like a big blog party. My friends and family told me they liked it because they knew I'd have a new post every day. That made me feel good. Click over to the Blogging from A to Z blog to read my interview and find out what I might use for my theme in 2013. (I reserve the right to change my mind. However, after the interview, I started taking notes for my next theme.)
Go. Create. Inspire!
And, Happy Halloween!
Journaling Prompt:  What would you use for the A to Z challenge in 2013? Do you understand the salt part of the Buddha quote?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Winners of Abercrombie Trail Book

Quote of the Day:  A book is a gift you can open again and again. Garrison Keiller

Due to some technical difficulties, I was unable to post the winners of Candace Simar's first book in her series, Abercrombie Trail, until now.

First, we numbered each person who left a comment on my blog who wanted to win a book. We put all six numbers in this coffee can, and asked the girls to each pick a number.

The first winning number is #1. You have to really zoom in to see the number. #1 is Jenny at The Happy Haus Frau blog. Congrats, Jenny!!!
Then, the girls switched jobs.
The second winner is #4, Robyn at Putting Pen to Paper. Congrats, Robyn!!!

TaDa! and Congratulations from the girls! Keep reading, writing, thinking, and discovering.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever won anything? Were you ever the one to do the choosing?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Butternut Squash Risotto ( Risotto alla Zucca)

Risotto takes patience.  Be sure and take your time.
One medium/large Butternut squash (about 1-2 pounds)
Ingredients:  2 cups Arborio Rice
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for drizzle)
2 tablespoons red or white onion (you may use yellow,  however it has a bitter, high water content and I dont' like to use it here).
One cup of white wine
2 teaspoons salt (plus more to your liking)
2 teaspoons pepper (plus additional to your liking)
A pinch of Nutmeg
Baking sheet
one heavy duty knife (for preparing the Butternut Squash)
6 cups or so of good Homemade broth (vegetable or medley of meats), heated to a boil.  (You may keep your broth at a slow, steady simmer)
Parmigiano Reggiano for grating (about 6 teaspoons)
Preheat your oven to 400F degrees
Slice open your squash and clean out the seeds in a rounded motion( your Butternut squash will look like large spoon rests)
Sprinkle and brush a little olive oil across your Butternut Squash halves.
Salt and pepper your Butternut Squash halves (one teaspoon each)
Place in the oven for up to one hour.  Test to see if they are soft.  Remove them from the oven when they are soft and caramelized.  Set aside to cool.
Remove the interiors by spooning them out into a bowl.  Set them aside for later.  Discard the skins
In the meantime, place your onion in a large enough pot to accommodate your Risotto.  Add your olive oil.  Cook until your onion is fragrant and add your rice.  At this point, give it a good mix and add your white wine.   Keep mixing, until your wine has just about evaporated from the pan and your rice  is somewhat dry.
Begin to add your broth a cup at a time.  Keep mixing in a circular motion, in a continuous direction.   Keep adding liquid (up to about 25 minutes worth at a slow study pace), and taste  a little on the edge of a spoon.  Keep in mind that the Risotto will continue to cook some while resting.  Timing is everything here.  Taste it again.   Great things, can't be rushed.   This is one of them.   Remove your risotto from the heat and add your bowl of softened Butternut Squash.
A pinch of Nutmeg is added and mix again.  Keep mixing in the same direction in a continuous motion.
Add several tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, more salt if you like and serve.
Buon Appetito
Special Note:  
Always add hot broth to your Risotto.   The heated broth helps the starches from the rice release,  therefore cooking your rice. This helps to create that creamy texture you want to taste in a Risotto.
(Thank you Foodie Stuntman for reminding me to make this point. I always assume my friends can read my mind).
  Drizzle a little extra virgin olive right before you serve along with some extra Parmigiano Cheese.  Enjoy!

Announcing the Winner of the Shabby Apple $50 Gift Certificate Giveaway! (Not too Shabby!)

As promised, this morning we are revealing the winner of the Shabby Apple $50 gift certificate. I selected the winner very scientifically. I wrote every name on it's own little piece of paper, stirred them around in a big glass mixing bowl with an old wooden spoon, then I used a pair of tongs to randomly select one name. Seriously, I really did this. Had to make it authentic, right?

Drum roll please . . . . . and the winner is . . . . TJ-and-Amy! Warmest congratulations to you, TJ-and-Amy! I will email you today at the address included in your comment and provide the details so you can retrieve your prize. (And, hey, don't forget to check out those cute aprons, when you're trying to decide what to get. I just think they're so retro-adorable.)

And thanks so much to all who entered this giveaway.  Thank you also to Shabby Apple for suggesting it in the first place!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interview with Award-winning Author Candace Simar

Quote of the Day:  A good writing community is essential on the writer's journey. What I learned from talking with Candace Simar on her most recent publication Blooming Prairie Book Four in the Abercrombie Trail Series.

Candace Simar at a book signing in Fergus Falls
Candace Simar is a writer in the Brainerd lakes area. I consider her a neighbor and a friend. We've had lunch together. We have the same publicist, Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency, and we support one another in our art. Candace came to my play Coffee Shop Confessions last spring and offered many words of encouragment for me as an artist. Thanks, Candace!
I had already fallen in love with Candace's Abercrombie Trail series before I met her. The journey starts with Evan Jacobson, a Norwegian immigrant in the mid-1800's, who lands in Minnesota. He takes the job of stagecoach driver. Candace uses this as an excellent story-telling tool as Evan drives over the newly settled land from Fort Snelling to Fort Abercrombie, meeting and greeting settlers along the way, as well as befriending some of the Indians, while fearing for his life from others, Indians and settlers. This was the wild west. The land and all it provides were the source of dispute and bloodshed.
In the second book in the series, Pomme de Terre, Serena Gustafson is a young bride. We experience the pioneer life through her. She is my favorite character in the whole series. I love many of the characters, and dislike a few, but Serena is the one I connected to the best. Pomme de Terre felt like it's own story, similar setting of Abercrombie Trail and Birdie, the third book, but with it's own storyline and main character. I was thrilled when I opened Blooming Prairie this weekend and found Serena telling me more of her story.  The exciting thing about this book is that Candace blends the two storylines, showing us how paths cross between her characters and how their future will unfold.
I could not put this book down! Seriously. I started reading it while waiting for the kids at the dentist office. The dentist had to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention. I was so engrossed in the story. I used the opportunity to rave about the book. She sounded interested in reading the series herself (you can promote yourself or others anywhere).
Candace Simar accepting her Spur Award for Birdie.
After Candace finished writing Birdie, which won the 2012 Spur Award for juvenile fiction set in the West, she thought she was done with the series. However, the characters weren't done telling their story. One night, she had a vivid dream about Serena. She dreamed in detail what is the opening scene of book four. While writing the book, about halfway through, she was visited again in a dream by the characters. She had thought she was going down one path with them, but they had other ideas. She went with what she saw in the dream. When she got to the end of the book, she thought it would be good to write a short epilogue explaining a little more about what happened with the plague of locust which devasted the farming communities in the midwest in the 1870's. After her editor, and sister, Angela read the first draft, she called up Candace and said, "You need to write an epilogue." That night, Candace dreamed the epilogue that is now in the book. This final vision helps resolve the story.
Holy smokes, people! Pay attention to your dreams. Keep your notebooks or notecards and pens and pencils by the bed. When the muse strikes, you don't want to be caught napping...wait...maybe that's when we finally let our guard down, quiet ourselves, and are ready to listen and see the visions laid out for us.
I told Candace I was so happy to go further on the journey with Serena. I had unanswered questions about her. And, even as the story unfolded in Blooming Prairie, I had some niggling doubts about her path. Candace and I talked about her as if she were a real person that we  knew personally...wait...isn't she? You writers know what I mean. Our characters are as real as the flesh and blood neighbors across the street.
Reading Blooming Prairie and all the books in The Abercrombie Trail series is reading my own personal history. My ancestors are Norwegian and Swedish immigrants. I grew up in Minnesota and have lived in, or passed through, many of the places that are the setting of these novels. It also gives me a better understanding of what happened between the Indians and the settlers, the government and its corruption, and that there are good and bad people in every type of community and generation. These are also stories of survival, a theme which I could read over and over.
Candace says that she writes every day, setting a 1,000 word goal, and is especially strict with herself when she's on deadline. She said that our writing community in this area has been a huge support system for her. She's a member of the Brainerd Writer's Alliance and the Heartland Poets. She was mentored by several older members along her journey. She never let the discouragements in the process stop her progress. She said that she set her heart to writing and telling these stories and did everything she could to make it happen. She attended writing conferences and intensive workshops. She networked with other authors and teachers. She says that most of the process and writing and publication are joyful. Parts of it can be a struggle, but what makes it worthwhile are the connections. Just the other day a woman from Eagan, MN called her and said that she had borrowed the books, read them, and loved them so much that she bought her own set. Men who have read her books appreciate her attention to detail especially in the farming and building, and they enjoyed the description of driving the mule teams in Blooming Prairie. I also found that part fascinating.
If you have a dream, one that comes to you in the night or is born in your heart, believe in it. Work towards it and never give up. Only you can tell the story that speaks to you.
If you'd like to have your name in a drawing to win the first book in Candace's series, Abercrombie Trail, please leave a comment with your email address here, or if you're a friend on facebook, leave a comment there, or if you're having a heckuva time leaving a comment, email me at  I'll have these two little darlin's draw the winning names. Since there's two of them, there will be two winners. Contest closes at noon, Central Daylight Time, on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, open to international readers. Winners announced on Monday morning.
Can't you just hear them calling each other "Sistermine" like the sisters do in Candace's books?
Candace's books can be bought locally at:
Turtle Town books in Nisswa,
Book World in Baxter,
The Crossing Arts gift shop in the Franklin Arts Building in Brainerd,
Bookin' It in Little Falls,
and, of course, online.
Support your local bookstores whenever you can, or they might disappear.
You can learn more about Candace Simar and her Abercrombie Trail Series on her website.  She has a couple new, exciting projects in the works. Farm Girls, a collection of essays and poems that she's writing with her sister Angela Foster, about growing up on a dairy farm in Ottertail County.  She is starting the research on her next series about Bonanza farms in the Red River Valley (my home area) and expects at least one of the children in the Abercrombie Trail series to help tell this story. And, she is working on a collection of short stories set in a Minnesota township in 1946. They all sound great! Thanks for sharing your stories on my blog today, Candace!
Go. Create. Inspire!
And, remember your dreams.
Journaling Prompt:  Write about a vivid dream.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

The trees are brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow, and the air is crisp and cool.  My husband and oldest son are off in the mountains deer hunting and my two younger children are enjoying the warm afternoon sun that chases the frost away.   All of this means Fall has arrived, and with it comes soup season.

Though I haven't been outside enjoying the beauty of Fall thanks to computer work, I can still appreciate a nice hearty soup to enjoy with my family.  I pinned soups all summer long in anticipation for a perfect day to enjoy them--the day finally arrived a few days ago. 

First up for soup season was Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup.  It had a rich tomato broth in which cheese tortellini cooks and then it is topped with parmesan cheese.  Really, what could be better than that?  It was hearty and filling without being heavy.  I loved the broth alone and when a piece of pasta was included in the bite I was in a very happy place.  We paired it up with some fresh french bread that was toasted with olive oil.  ENJOY!

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup
Recipe Source: Modified slightly from Mrs. Schwartz's Kitchen 

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated cheese tortellini
  • 2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed tomato soup
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half cream 
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

  • Heat a large stock pot until hot.  Add olive oil and garlic.  Saute until the garlic begins to turn golden.  Keep an eye on this so you don't burn your garlic.

  • When the garlic is golden, add the soup, milk, half and half, chicken stock and spices. Let this simmer for about 8 minutes then add your pasta.  Follow the instructions on your brand of pasta.  Cooking time may vary.  Allow the pasta to simmer until tender.

  • Ladle the soup into bowls and enjoy with shaved parmesan cheese and french bread.

A Meaty Post

Quote of the Day:  a few words on meat

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies...It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it. Albert Einstein

It is not the quantity of the meat, but the cheerfulness of the guests, which makes the feast. Edward Hyde

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. Bette Davis

In the past month or so I've had some fairly meaty posts with reviews and interviews and guest posts and visiting poets. Today's post is meaty in different kind of way.

The Chef invited me over to help him make sausage. He'd already done all the mixing and spicing. All I needed to do was take my turn at the handle.
Look! I'm a helper.
More on that on Ride off the Page, if you're interested.
In other news, the scouts were invited to help with the Haunted Trail as pirates and skeletons of the ARRboretum.
Getting a good, hearty scream out of the walkers was the meat of this event.
The Before picture.
This young pirate got his braces on this week, so we had good, old-fashioned, soft comfort food - chicken wild rice soup, courtesy of the Chef, and mashed potatoes and meatballs. Arrg! Braces hurt.
I spent the rest of the weekend engrossed in a good book. You know, the kind that you can't put down and you ignore everyone and everything else going on. I hope to have the author as a guest on my blog this week. I'll give you a hint. It was the fourth book in an historical fiction series set in Minnesota, and the author lives in my area. Okay, my local neighbors have probably guessed it. Those are easy clues.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever made home-made sausage? What's your favorite comfort food?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Marriage of Spicy and Tart: Chewy Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream-Cheese Filling (Plus a Giveaway: Shabby Apple $50 Gift Certicate!)

I think it's appropriate that these cookies are an enticing blend of tart and spice. Why? Because they seem to fit so well with this giveaway. I'm going to tell you all about the Shabby Apple giveaway first, and after that we'll get into the details of this delectable cookie recipe.

So, are you familiar at all with Shabby Apple? It's a retail clothing company, owned and operated by women, that produces clothing--primarily dresses--for women and girls (even extremely little girls). And the clothes are not just pretty, they're also unique. In fact, spicy and tart are perfect words to describe them. Everything from adorable dresses that are reminiscent of the 1940s, to retro swimwear, to really cute aprons (the apron line is aptly called Boysenberry Pie). Their stuff is blatantly feminine without going overboard. And, speaking of the "F" word, here's an excerpt from the "About us" section of their site:

"At Shabby Apple, we believe in both femininity and feminism. As feminine women, we create clothing that is artful in design and crafted with a vintage-style flare. Each piece is carefully constructed to both flatter a woman's figure and maintain her mystery. As feminists, we created a company that is women-owned and operated and that donates to help other women start their own businesses. With our old-fashioned style and modern ideals, we believe the best is yet to come!"

I find that business philosophy extremely appealing. You too?

How to enter this giveaway? Here's what you need to do:

1) Leave a non-anonymous comment on this post telling me which Shabby Apple item you like best (this will first necessitate a quick visit to their site, which I promise you will enjoy), and  . . .

2) Entrants also are asked to "like" the Shabby Apple site on Facebook via this link.

Yes, I know, a couple of hoops to jump through, but so worth it for the lucky winner. Check back on the morning of Friday, October 26th. That's when I will announce the winner. (Please note that the winner has to have a delivery address in the U.S.A., per Shabby Apple.) 

*Oh, and in the interest of complete disclosure, the answer is no, I'm not getting anything from this giveaway other than the pleasure of doing it. And, believe me, I don't agree to do giveaways unless I think the company's products offer quality and value, and that they're somehow germane to my blog's readership. We home-bakers all need a new dress or a new apron now and then, don't we? Rhetorical question! 

About this recipe . . .

Adapted from At Home With the Culinary Institute of America: Cookies by Todd Knaster, these cookies are called gingersnaps in the book, but they're soft and chewy--not typical gingersnap traits--because they include more molasses than one would expect. I altered the formula a bit by substituting whole wheat flour for 25 percent of the white flour, and by adding in some chopped crystallized ginger along with the ground ginger. Also, and most importantly, I decided to sandwich them with an ethereal mixture comprised of cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, and lemon extract. Oh, man.

Who would ever have thought that ginger and lemon could be so happy together? It's a cookie marriage made in heaven.

Chewy Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream-Cheese Filling

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

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt (I used fine sea salt)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon crystallized (aka candied) ginger, very well chopped
1 cup molasses (not "robust" molasses)
1/4 cup water

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

In the large bowl of your mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and granulated sugar until it's fluffy and light in color (about 4 minutes).

In another bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, and crystallized ginger.

In a small saucepan on very low heat and stirring periodically, warm the molasses and water just until the mixture thins out a bit (only up to about 75 degrees; this is just slightly warm).

On your mixer's lowest speed, slowly add the dry ingredients and the molasses into the creamed mixture, alternating between the two (dry/wet/dry/wet/dry). Stop and scrape every now and then.

Portion the dough onto your prepared baking sheets (I used a scoop that holds about a tablespoon of dough), spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Wet the palm of your hand with cold water and flatten each cookie slightly. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of white sanding sugar or coarse turbinado sugar (I tried both; the white sugar shows up more after the cookies are baked, but they taste good with either sugar).

Bake them for about 12 minutes. Let them cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheets before moving them to a cooling rack.  (If you'd like your cookies to be more crisp around the edges, do the following: Preheat your oven to 350; when you put the cookies in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 325. Turn off the oven after 12 minutes, but leave the cookies in the oven for 5 more minutes. Then let them cool as usual.)

Ingredients for the filling:

One 8 ounce package of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened (1/4 cup or 4 ounces)
1 and 1/4 cups up to 2 cups of confectioners' sugar (whisked or sifted after measuring to break up lumps)
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Beat all ingredients, starting with the smaller portion of confectioners' sugar, in a medium size bowl until soft and fluffy. If you'd like your filling thicker and sweeter, add in more sugar. Sandwich about 2 teaspoons of filling between the bottoms of two cooled cookies. Store the cookies covered. Refrigerate any remaining filling.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MN Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen Visits Brainerd lakes area

Quote of the Day:  Ideas for poems come from unexpected places. MN Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen. She said that one surprising place where she found inspiration was the subject line of an email.

Event organizer Krista Rolfzen Soukup and MN Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen
A string trio of local high school students set the mood for the event with their lovely music.
Laura Hansen from Bookin' It Bookstore in Little Falls provided book sales.
Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen read to us from her collection of poetry and shared where she got her inspiration. Many poems are about people and places in her life, including many farm poems, a subject that I can relate to as a farm girl myself.  I connected to one of the last poems she read, Things You Didn't Put On Your Resume'. Garrison Keillor featured and read this poem on the Writer's Almanac, December 5, 2006. The poet gave me permission to print it here.

Things You Didn't Put On Your Resumé
How often you got up in the middle of the night
when one of your children had a bad dream,

and sometimes you woke because you thought
you heard a cry but they were all sleeping,

so you stood in the moonlight just listening
to their breathing, and you didn't mention

that you were an expert at putting toothpaste
on tiny toothbrushes and bending down to wiggle

the toothbrush ten times on each tooth while
you sang the words to songs from Annie, and

who would suspect that you know the fingerings
to the songs in the first four books of the Suzuki

Violin Method and that you can do the voices
of Pooh and Piglet especially well, though

your absolute favorite thing to read out loud is
Bedtime for Frances and that you picked

up your way of reading it from Glynnis Johns,
and it is, now that you think of it, rather impressive

that you read all of Narnia and all of the Ring Trilogy
(and others too many to mention here) to them

before they went to bed and on way out to
Yellowstone, which is another thing you don't put

on the resumé: how you took them to the ocean
and the mountains and brought them safely home.

That poem speaks to my mothering heart. These are the kinds of things that I do, that I have done, that I'll continue to do. I felt inspired to write my own list of things that wouldn't go on a resume'.

Thank you, Ms. Joyce Sutphen for visiting the Brainerd lakes area and sharing your beautiful words and your kind and gentle spirit.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Where do you get your inspiration? Did you ever find inspiration in a surprising place?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

French Onion Soup (Zuppa di Cipolle Francese)

I remember what a treat it was to have French onion Soup.  It was a rare occasion we even went out for dinner,  as my father hated Restaurants.  Long before there were cooking shows, recipe magazines, and fancy restaurants,  there was this soup. It dates back to Roman times.  It was oddly considered a peasant food, since onions could  easily be grown and were plentiful.   It was not until the 18th century that it made a more sophisticated appearance in the French kitchen.   The onions were cooked in butter and a good splash of Cognac or sherry.   Who could blame them?
 I seem to remember making this ahead of a Prime Rib Roast to be served for Christmas dinner and I had not any wine in the house.  I grabbed the Sweet Vermouth. 
Today, it seems many are already on the bandwagon of vermouth.  A sweet, fortified wine, a bit herbaceous, gives this soup that wonderful taste you long been craving.  The traditional Gruyere served over the French version is just to harsh and over powering for us.   An Italian Fontina is a more delicate choice and really brings out this soup's  full flavor.   Enjoy! Buon Appetito!

Make 6 hearty bowls plus leftover 
6 oven proof bowls
5 yellow onions (large)
5 tablespoons of butter (one tablespoon per onion)
2 teaspoons of salt
one pinch of sugar
a sprinkling of flour (about a teaspoon)
1 cups of sweet red Vermouth (Martini and Rossi)
8 cups of Beef broth (traditional).  I used chicken broth.  Beef broth would give it a much darker color.
One Bay leaf (to be removed before serving)
2 slices Italian Fontina cheese for each Ramekin or oven proof bowl  (about 12 oz total). 
Fresh Thyme for Garnish

Optional first step:  Blanch your peeled onions quickly into a pot of hot water.   Remove them and dry them off before slicing.  This will remove any acidic residue that gets under the skin of an onion.  

Slice your onions.  Melt your butter over medium heat, being careful not to burn.
In a large, deep, soup pot,  place your sliced onions.  Cook over low, medium heat for about 35-40 minutes.   Continue mixing them, add your salt and a pinch of sugar while cooking.   They will reduce to a 1/4 of what you started off with.  Not to worry, There is plenty of flavor.
You will begin to notice a slight change in color.   Add a sprinkling of flour and mix.   At this point when everything is cooked down and soft, add your Vermouth.   Give it a mix.  Keep mixing as the flour will act as a thickener and just cloud your soup ever so slightly. 
Add your broth,  bay leaf,   and cook for 45 minutes more on a steady simmer.
Place your bowls on a baking sheet.  Slice several pieces of crusty bread and place them in your bowl (about 3 small slices).  Ladle your soup in each bowl.   Crown with slices of Fontina cheese.
(Place your Ramekins on an Oven Proof Baking sheet, remove your fresh thyme).

Place in a 325F degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until your cheese is slightly browned and Melted.  Serve immediately~
Buon Appetito!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Guest Post by Sophia Stone

Quote of the Day:  I’m tired of pretending to be somebody I’m not, hiding what I believe like it’s a dirty little secret. Sophia Stone, author of Mormon Diaries

The Book
Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart.
The Blurbs
“Sophia Stone has a fine eye and a searching heart. Her story of growing up in and reaching through her Mormonism for a deeper, more authentic spirituality reflects all the ways that religion can both keep us satisfied with easy answers and push us to more difficult and complicated realizations. We need a hundred more books like this one . . . “ –Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl

“Sophia Stone captured my attention from the beginning. This collection of personal essays, about questioning the legitimacy of Mormonism after having faith in the religion for the first 30-something years of her life, is not just a controversial quake to a reader’s heart and soul. Stone’s voice is brave, bold and intriguing. And surprisingly relatable to someone who is not religious.”—Jessica Bell, author of String Bridge
The Trailer

1.        What does the ornament on the cover stand for?

 As a child I was taught that the only way I could experience true joy was by living the Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in Mormonism. The ornament is symbolic of that joy. Or, more particularly, what I feared I’d lose if I ever stopped believing in The Church.

2.        Why did you hide your faith struggles from those closest to you?

 I was afraid my faithful Mormon family and friends would think me either prideful or influenced by Satan if I admitted to doubting The Church. There’s a common phrase faithful Latter-day Saints use to explain away uncomfortable issues: “The Church is true. The people are not.” Those who leave the church are often labeled as angry, easily offended, prideful, lazy, or deceived. There’s no good reason to doubt, no good reason to question, no good reason to stop believing. Faith yields loyalty and obedience.

3.        How is your family coping with this? Do they support you?

Well, it depends on what part of my family you’re talking about. My kids have been great, but they’re pretty young. I’m continually amazed by the open mindedness and trust of small children. I really think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

My husband, on the other hand, is having a really hard time. We’ve had to do some negotiating about the kid’s religious education. He wants them to believe in Mormonism and is very much attached to the outcome. The thought of his kids choosing to leave the LDS church is absolutely devastating to him.

There are certain things that (for him) are non-negotiable. The kids WILL get baptized at age eight whether I want that for them or not. The kids will continue to go to the Mormon church each Sunday until they turn twelve. (He’d said eighteen originally, but has since softened). 10% of his income will continue to go to The Church whether or not I agree with that particular donation. We’re a single income family so that’s a pretty big deal, but he’s frightened, truly frightened that if he stops paying a full tithe, he’ll lose his job.

Although, in fairness, he say it has nothing to do with fear. Rather, he has faith in the principle of tithing. God will bless him for his financial sacrifice.

As for the rest of the family, my mother is struggling, the brother just younger than me acts as if he doesn’t know, my older brother has been accepting, and my sister is unpredictable. I’m not even sure how to characterize that relationship at this point. So overall it’s been a mixed bag where tolerance is concerned. As for support—no, I do not have family support. Nor is it something I can reasonably expect.

4.     How do you get someone who thinks you’ve been influenced by Satan to consider your point of view?

Short answer: you don’t.

Long answer: It’s odd to be on the other end of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric. I always considered myself a fairly good, honest person. And I have to admit that I don’t feel like a different person just because I don’t believe in Mormonism like I used to. Certain things just don’t change, you know? I still like chocolate milk shakes. I still like people. I feel, in many ways, closer to God than I did a year ago. So it’s been kind of shocking to have people who always trusted me assume the worst.

5. How do you build relationships with people who think you are broken?

Oh, man, I wish I knew. Honestly, it depends on how important their Mormonism is to their identity. Those who are capable of accepting my brokenness without trying to fix it are much easier to have relationships with than those who work extra hard to fix me.

6.    How has your change in beliefs affected your marriage and children?

I think it has benefited my children in a number of ways. First, by showing them that goodness isn’t based on legalistic rules, they are more accepting of themselves and others. Second, by helping them see that there isn’t one right way to be a decent human being, they are able to think the best of people. Third, by opening up to other ideas and spiritual philosophies, they are more open as well.

As for my marriage, my change in beliefs has brought to light problems I’d been ignoring for years. Things having to do with power dynamics, issues with inflexibility, and some fundamental disagreements in parenting styles between my husband and I. My marriage has suffered and I worry about it often. But I also know that without the insights I have now, the relationship would continue to grow more unbalanced and necessary change would never occur.

I’m crossing my fingers and holding out hope in the marriage department.

7.    How has writing about your struggles helped you?

 There’s a saying that writing is cheaper than therapy, and I can attest to that. There’s no time limit on how long I can type away on my keyboard when I’m having a bad day. I don’t have to worry about the paper judging me. Plus, it’s helped me to put things in perspective.  

8.    What are the best ways to support someone going through a faith crisis?

 The most important thing is to listen. Don’t distance yourself. Don’t shy away. Don’t give advice, and definitely don’t judge. Just be a friend. Period. Sometimes it really is that simple.

9.    How did your falling away from Mormonism affect your view of the religion?

 Hmm, well, when I believed in Mormonism with my whole heart, I rationalized away any issues I had by saying members were human and made mistakes. I believed The Church was as close to being a perfect institution as anyone was likely to find. God had made it. He had ordered it. Who was I to question what He had formed?

Now I see all kinds of problems with the institution. Not with the hearts of members or leaders (who I believe are honest people acting on faith) but rather with group think. It shuts down a lot of voices that threaten the status quo. There’s not much tolerance for free speech where church policy and doctrine are concerned. Speaking against the leadership is taboo, and there are lots of unwritten rules about not exposing the flaws of the organization to the outside world. It’s a lot like a dysfunctional family that way. Loyalty to the church trumps personal spirituality.    

10. What kinds of reactions have you had from your Mormon author friends?

This has been similar to my family response—lots of condemnation, lots of avoidance, lots of judgment, and lots of gratitude. Yes, I know, it seems odd that I’d hear gratitude from LDS author friends who are faithful in the church. But apparently there are people who struggle in silence, unable to tell a soul how they feel without losing those most dear to them. That’s the reason the Disaffected Mormon Underground (DAMU) exists. It fills a palpable need.

11.Do you ever feel angry . . . if so, why?

On my bad days, I feel more disappointment than anger. Mostly because I believed with all my heart the promises found in Mormonism. I thought I was happier than other people, that I had greater access to spirituality, that I knew my most important and fulfilling role. I believed I had divine knowledge and purpose. Now I’ve found that many of these promises are smoke and mirrors.

And I’m further disheartened when I see religion hurt families. You’d think a family centered church would shout from the rooftops not to shun family members who’ve fallen away. You’d think they’d allow non-believing parents to see their believing kids get married in the temple. You’d think they’d support all different kinds of families, not just those that meet one definition. But all too often an ideal is promoted that benefits the church over families that are struggling. “Traditional gender roles” and “conservative family values” are taught as religious principles.

12.Who should read your book?

Anyone who wants to understand Mormonism. Please don’t misread that to mean my book is factually perfect. It’s not. It is based on my experience, and everyone’s reality is different. But I stand by my claim that people who leave Mormonism are often in an isolating place. It’s hard for an orthodox believer to understand why anyone would leave. It’s hard for those who’ve never been Mormon to understand why leaving is such a big deal. To both these groups, I’d say, “please read this!” Understanding is vital.

Thank you for your help in promoting Mormon Diaries. I've attached the B&N and Amazon link below:



I've also created a twitter account where I will take any questions about Mormonism and answer them minus the usual spin under the hashtag #mormonquestions.

The twitter account is sophia stone@ask_a_mormon The underscores are kind of important because someone else has that address without the underscore marks.

When Sophia was writing her Mormon Diaries as daily posts during the April A to Z Blog Challenge, I clicked on her blog the first thing every morning. I was, and still am, fascinated by her bravery as she takes this personal journey in exposing the truth of her religion and trying to find peace for herself. Her writing is bold and honest, nothing seems to be held back. Sophia shows us that our spirituality is personal. That we are not all the same, and don't need to think and act the same even as strict religions try to enforce such single-minded laws. She dares to question core beliefs that challenge how she views the world and how her world views her.

Go. Create. Inspire!
And, dare to ask questions.

Journaling Prompt:  Write out a question that challenges a core belief.