Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recipe Call: Fudge, Anyone!!?

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments! 

I'm on the hunt for amazing fudge recipes. I want to make fudge (and toffee, truffles and turtles), and I really don't know where to start. There is a curious lack of credible sites posting good recipes online; is this one of those secret family recipe things?

Easy 5 minutes microwave varieties? Please. Laborious candy thermometer versions? Yes. Any kinds. I'm open to it all, but for the record I think maple fudge is a crime against humanity.

Thank you.

If you don't have a blog, then please share recipes in the comments of this post.

In the meantime, might I direct you to a Tasty Tuesday entry I tried and loved last week? It's going on our regular meal plan from now on; it was ridiculously simple but outrageously tasty.

Amy Caroline's Parmesan Chicken.

I've made Chicken Parmesan before... breading, then frying, then baking... but this was so much simpler and just as delicious. I added some leftover homemade pizza sauce, and voila! A stress-free, last-minute, throw-together, comforting, yummy dinner. Heaven knows this time of year we need some of those, hm?

What have you made, lately?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Answered Prayers?

Our nine month novena is about to end. We've been praying, amongst other intentions, for twins.

Of the 8 eggs we've gotten from our chickens, so far, three of them have been:

I think the wires are getting crossed somewhere between here and heaven. But it makes me laugh every time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In A Good Place

I've written a few posts on this blog about the cross of infertility. While I'm deliriously happy in my marriage, the fruitlessness of our union has been a very painful saga.

Recently, I was reflecting on why this is so. I've always been a rather happy person. Why was this one topic so different? It's not in my nature to be sad about my state in life; I've always been content, no matter where I was or what I was doing.

When I was a teenager, I was sheltered and didn't know I was supposed to be defiant, angsty, and rebellious. I never fought with or yelled at my mother, I appreciated our family's rules and limits, and I passed through puberty without too much of a "history" to show for it.

In college I wasn't aware that I was supposed to be miserable without a boyfriend. It wasn't until after I graduated that I found out that the worst day of a college girl's year is supposed to be Valentine's Day. Oops; I missed the memo and looked forward to the day for discounted candy.

But before I got married, I suspected that infertility would be an issue we'd be dealing with. And I started reading. And infertile women are angry. And depressed. And miserable. And shout at God. And scream in their beds with frazzled hair and tear-stained pillows.

Blog, after blog, after article, after book, after blog.

When it came time for it, I was blissfully happy with marriage, but realized two months later, "wait... we didn't have a honeymoon baby... I'm supposed to start screaming, 'WHY ME, Lord???' and turn on the waterworks now."

And I did it. I hyped myself up into a frenzy, and I felt happy being miserable. I was following the pattern that infertile women are supposed to follow.

Secretly, I wasn't actually crushed when the pregnancy tests came up negative. But I felt guilty for not being miserable. "Does it mean I hate children that I'm not depressed? Am I closed to new life? Do I harbor a contraceptive mentality?"

Those were actually the questions that made me fret. Not the childlessness, but the lack of true sorrow.

It came to a head a month ago when Miriam, my dear sister-in-law and one of my closest friends, called to tell me that she was expecting. And I didn't rejoice with her.

I was supposed to be sad, and jealous, and bitter. 

I was supposed to ask God why she, after two months of marriage, was having her first child when I've been married for years with no one to show for it.

She told me that she had called me last because she didn't know how I would react; that she felt miserable telling me she was pregnant. The happiest day of her life, and she felt miserable sharing it with me!!

That's when I started to take a step back. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel authentic. It didn't feel legitimate. I was putting up a mask of sorrow because I thought it was expected of me; and I was hurting my friendships, my relationship with God, and even my marriage.

I love being married! I am so content with my state in life! I'm not miserable! I'm not unhappy!

I'm not saying that I wasn't suffering real anguish here and here, or that the feelings then were manufactured. Women's emotions are impossible to explain. There is something very real to be mourned for here. I would love babies. Should we have children, I'll be happy then, too.

But I'm tired of being miserable that we don't have them now, because I'm too busy being happily married.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


26 hens (+1 rooster). Hundreds of $$. Hours of labor. 15 bags of feed. 5 1/2 months.

2 eggs.

But aren't they pretty?!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Tips for Perfect Homemade Flour TORTILLAS (With Recipe)

Tasty Tuesday
Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments! 

***UPDATE January 17, 2011 I've used all butter (when I ran out of lard) and they were delicious! I also did them with 1/2 lard and 1/2 olive oil once, but I didn't like the results as much -- they were crispier and not as tender. ***

Flour tortillas. Oh soft, tender goodness. Oh light, delicate, bready warmth. Oh perfect holder of all things edible: fajitas; tacos; Greek chicken; Nutella; leftover casserole with sour cream (don't diss it 'til you try it); banana, with peanut butter and honey; and even (lightning, please don't strike me)... hot dogs with Cheez Whiz.

Oh flour tortillas, how I love thee.

But you are the bane of my cooking skills.

I cannot count the number of times I have felt like an utter failure because you turned out crispy, or greasy, or thick and doughy, or flavorless, or gummy, or dry.

Until now.

Yes, dear friends, after literally a decade of dashed hopes and failed attempts, in the twilight of September 8th, 2010, I made a perfect flour tortilla. I thought it was a fluke, so I tried it again on October 12, 2010 and was stricken by my repeated success. Could it happen a third time? This morning: yes!!

Tender, light, flavorful, perfectly browned, and freezable! (I've frozen them after rolling both before and after cooking: they taste about the same, with a slight preference for freezing raw).

You see, for 10 years I thought it was about the perfect recipe. I'm sure the recipe has a lot to do with it, but I'm learning it's more about technique.

Here are 5 tips I learned through failed attempt after failed attempt.

#1. Let Crisco be anathema. Mexican mamas don't use Crisco. Crisco is greasy, flavorless, and dare I go into the heart-clogging, artery-plugging, cholesterol-raising, heinous disgustingness that is the hardened hydrogenated polysaturated spreadable manufactured soybean fat? NO! Just say no to Crisco. USE LARD! (If it's in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, it's good. If it's in a tub, then it's hydrogenated just like "vegetable shortening." You can easily make it at home in a crock pot. Ask a butcher at a meat market [not a box grocery store] for grass fed pork leaf lard. They normally throw away this gold. Directions: here.)

#2. By all means, use nearly boiling water. When recipes say "warm water," it does no good unless the fat is melted, and the way to do that is with nearly boiling water. You're not killing yeast here, so get it as hot as you can. I microwave mine for 3 minutes (old microwave).

#3. When it says "knead five minutes," they actually mean it. There is a qualitative difference between tortilla dough kneaded "until combined and smooth," and tortilla dough kneaded for a full five minutes. Don't skimp on the kneading. (I use my KitchenAid with the dough hook and love the results, but I've successfully done it by hand before).

#4. Roll them until they're translucent. Yes, you really do need to see through them. Don't use a tortilla press. A tortilla press is designed for corn tortillas and really only works for them. No matter how much I kidded myself into thinking they were thin enough when pressed, the resulting pitas should have clued me in. If you can't see through it, it's not thin enough. (Yes they'll still taste great and will be good for gorditas, tortas, or carnitas, but they won't be that nice thin "tortilla consistency.")

#5. Use medium heat! Your tortillas will be crispy and black before they're cooked if you use a high heat. Be kind to your tortillas, and use medium heat.

So a brief recap:

  • Don't use Crisco. Use lard.
  • Get the water almost or actually boiling.
  • Knead a full five minutes.
  • Roll them as thinly as possible.
  • Use medium / medium-high heat.
Now, here's how you know when you've mastered it: your tortilla will bubble. If it doesn't bubble (and the first one on the skillet rarely does), it'll still taste okay, but you've not yet reached the pinnacle of tortilla perfection.

I know, because my tortillas never bubbled. And then when I tried the 5 above tips (through trial and error), I thought I'd done something wrong because my tortilla was exploding in front of my eyes.


You, too, can make a perfect homemade flour tortilla.

Now I know you'll be wanting a recipe, and I can say... I've got three or four recipes that are all pretty good. The technique is what matters. But, you've got to start with some recipe, so the one I consistently use nowadays is translated and adapted from Blanca Díaz's magnificent how-to video on YouTube. If you've never made tortillas, watch the video two or three times (and cry when your first attempt doesn't turn out like hers... and then call everyone you know and rejoice on the day when you have mastered it).

Homemade Flour Tortillas
First Seen On and Heavily Adapted From Mangio da Sola

3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 cup of lard
¾ to 1 cup of very hot water (near or actually boiling)

1. Place the flour in a bowl.

2. Add the salt, baking powder, and fat without stirring.

3. Little by little, pour the very hot water over the ingredients and mix them with your hands (or dough attachment in your stand mixer), measuring the quantity of water until you reach the desired texture. It should be moist and soft, but not sticky.

4. Knead/Mix the dough for 5 full minutes, and form a ball.

5. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel, and allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Cut the dough into 8 pieces for burrito-sized tortillas, or 12 pieces for regular small tortillas, and roll the pieces into little balls.

7. Place one of the balls on top of a clean surface, and press down on it lightly with your fingers.

8. Roll out the little ball until you form an oval. Lift up the oval and turn it to the right 45 degrees, and roll it out again. Turn it 45 degrees again to the right until you creat a circle of the desired size (if this makes your head spin, just watch the video).

9. Place the tortilla on a hot comal, griddle pan, or cast-iron skillet until it forms small bubbles on the uncooked side of the tortilla. Play whack-a-mole with the tortilla (push the air out of the bubbles as they pop up). Turn over the tortilla, and wait until it inflates a bit; continue beating the bubbles into submission.

10. Store the tortillas in tortilla holder, covered container, or wrapped in a towel. You could also keep them warm in a low-temperature oven. These tortillas can be reheated the next day; store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.

What have you made, lately?

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Monday Musings: BLIZZARD Edition

    Right now...it is 5:15pm. I'm thinking about changing tonight's meal plan... and making some bread before my husband gets home.

    This weekend... was great. On Saturday I labored eight hours and almost finished my birthday gifts for "Meg" and "Miriam" of Our Love Story fame. They both have December birthdays. Oooh, how I wish I could show pictures! I'm so pleased with my handiwork! Even if they don't like or use them, I'm happy with how the gifts turned out.

    On Sunday I spent most of the day fretting about playing the piano for the evening "Youth Mass." Stage fright doesn't begin to describe my paranoia about playing in public. I started playing the piano and organ for Masses when I was 12, and did so for 6 years. Almost every Sunday, without fail, I could be found in the bathroom before Mass... regurgitating breakfast. I never got used to the pressure. So, I don't know what possessed me to volunteer to play again. Romanticized nostalgia, no doubt.

    Anyway, it went really well (it almost always does), but having spent the whole day fretting, copying music, practicing... I feel cheated out of a day of rest!

    Some plans for this week... I'm not going anywhere! We are positively buried in... well.. 6 or 8 inches (but it feels like 6 or 8 feet to me!) of snow. I'm from the South. Snow scares the bazookie out of me.

    I'll be huddled inside, drinking therapeutic hot chocolate, wrapped in blankets, and dreaming of Spring if anybody wants me this week.

    If I can find time for myself, I want to... oh, I'll have plenty of time to myself this week. I do not drive in snow. I guess I'll be able to make some more Christmas gifts, to do a lot of baking, and make some decorations for our home; being absolutely confined within these walls during this fierce blizzard of 2010, I've noticed today how sparse it is.

    Some prayer intentions for the week... for an official snow day tomorrow (these darned seasoned Northerners only do 2 hour school delays). But I'd also like to pray for those who do not have adequate clothing or shelter for this weather. And, in utter, complete, and total thanksgiving that my husband's headlong face-down fall from the hay stack did not result in sudden death, or paralyzation, but merely a scratch on the nose.

    Something that makes me smile: snow with sweetened condensed milk, perhaps?

    Or... maybe... a husband who can't resist snowball fights.

    Read others' Monday Morning Musings and share your own with Nadja at Patch O' Dirt Farm.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    More Dating on the Cheap

    Last night, my husband and I read our old e-mails to each other... the ones from before the time we were dating. It was hilarious!! We were able to explain to each other what we had really meant by some of the more cryptic phrases, what had been going through our minds as we read or wrote the e-mails, and at which point we had each "crossed the line" and begun to admit our affections.

    I learned a lot about those dear early days of our love. It was a sweet repast; a lovely date.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Restrained Splurging

    It's been a long time since I participated in Small Successes because, frankly, I could never think of three and I didn't want to make them up. But that's precisely the point of Small Successes: finding them, no matter how small they are!

    1. I'm celebrating my Baptism day today, and made a cheesecake to commemorate the anniversary of my birth into the Church. Normally I let this day slide by, but I missed out on cake for my birthday a few weeks ago, so...

    2. I made said cheesecake two days ago, and have not sliced into it, holding out for today (which is also the day Archbishop Dolan will officially take the helm of the USCCB). This kind of restraint is the stuff legends are made of.

    3. I used up the last of our Bed Bath and Beyond wedding gift cards to buy this tablecloth. I was going to buy something practical, like a set of measuring spoons that doesn't melt when I grab them to stir oatmeal (grrr), but a woman can't live on a budget that doesn't allow for frivolous beauty. I consider this splurge a success.

    Read others' small successes and share your own at Faith & Family Live.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Scene from the Oregon Trail

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010


    Tasty Tuesday
    Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

    I am so happy I can hardly contain myself. Oh, the power of prayer!! Oh, the goodness of God!!! Oh, the mercy, the joy, the gratitude!!

    Archbishop Timothy Dolan was just elected to be the President of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops!! This is unprecedented (historically, the VP has always been elected president, and Abp. Dolan was not the VP). I cannot express how huge this is; how monumental, and how earth-shatteringly wonderful!

     As one deacon put it: (read the whole article here)
    Archbishop Timothy Dolan loves the Lord and the Church with an infectious enthusiasm borne of a sincere, living faith. Anyone who has been around him for any period of time experiences the obvious, he is filled with the joy of the Lord. He is also an evangelizer, to the bone. He has quickly become a significant personality on the Catholic Channel of the Sirius Radio Network. He is a man comfortable in his own skin, at ease with the use of the media, filled with the Holy Spirit, and eager to share the Gospel, as it is found in its fullness within the Catholic Church...

    Wherever he serves, he is dearly loved by his priests and deacons... He is also a dynamic and inspiring communicator and solid teacher of the truths as taught by the Magisterium of the Church. Finally, he is a true leader, naturally and supernaturally.
    Amen. What a wonderful man to represent the face of Catholicism to our media and country.

    He's promised Dunkin' Donuts for USCCB committee morning coffee breaks, and Häagen-Dazs for the afternoons. A man after my own heart.

    As such, to honor this dear bishop of New York, I'm going to make a NY cheesecake for dessert tonight. I'd urge you to join me.

    (Yes, I know NY cheesecake has no crust on the sides, but I like it with a crust).

    New York Cheesecake
    Recipe from Gourmet, adapted via Smitten Kitchen

    Crumb crust
    1 cup finely ground graham crackers or cookies such as chocolate or vanilla wafers
    8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Very tall cheesecake filling:
    5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
    1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
    5 large eggs
    2 large egg yolks
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Cherry topping (optional)
    10 ounces sweet or sour cherries, pitted (frozen is fine)
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/2 cup water

    Make crumb crust: Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and up the sides, stopping one inch shy of the top rim, of a buttered 9 1/2-inch (or 24 cm) springform pan. You can fill it right away but I like to pop my into the freezer so it quickly sets while I prepare the filling.

    Make very tall cheesecake filling: Preheat oven to 550 degrees (unless your pan is Teflon-coated, and then do 475 and bake longer). Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest with an electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, then eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated. Scrape bowl down between additions; I cannot stress this enough as if you do not, you’ll end up with unmixed stripes of cream cheese.

    Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan (to catch drips). Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and baking in baking pan in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes or until puffed. Please watch your cake because some ovens will top-brown very quickly and if yours does too fast, turn the oven down as soon as you catch it. Reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about one hour more.

    Run a knife around the top edge of the cake to loosen it and cool the cake completely in springform on a rack, then chill it, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.

    Make cherry topping (optional): Place all ingredients together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, cook it for an additional one to two minutes then remove from heat. Cool completely.
    Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. If you had any wonky baking issues, you might need to trim the cake flat.
    Spread topping (if using) over chilled cheesecake. The original recipe says to bring this to room temperature before serving, but I never have!

    Do ahead: Cheesecake keeps, covered and chilled, 2 weeks.

    Image from Smitten Kitchen

    What are you making?


    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Undercover Dishwashing

    After almost 5 months of grimy icky disgusting dishes coming out of the dishwasher (hand-washing the particularly grievous ones before putting them away), we finally have sparkling clean dishes!

    The problem started earlier this year when our state banned detergents with phosphates in them (Cascade). "Oh, no problem... all detergents are the same, right?"

    NO!! All of our dishes on the top rack had this sandy ick on them. I rubbed my hand over a freshly washed glass and it scraped my knuckles!

    Over the course of the next five months, we tried everything. Vinegar in the JetDry area, homemade detergent, liquid detergent, water softener, increasing the water heater temperature, unclogging every nozzle in the danged contraption, cleaning every trap, and finally we just got a new dishwasher. The old one was older than I am, so I didn't mind upgrading that at the landlord's expense (he agreed). Nothing doing. Cloudy glasses, sandy plates, and grody dull grimy silverware.

    Last Friday, out of the clear blue, we scored some contraband. For some reason the grocery store (which hitherto had not been selling the banned goods) had pulled out a secret stash of phosphate-laden Cascade. No kidding.

    After paying, we smuggled out a stack of the boxes, hoping the Green Police wouldn't catch us. First batch of dishes washed... NO!!! They were 80% better than before, but still there were sandy flecks in my glasses and on the plates.

    In one last-ditch effort before resigning myself to hand-washing forever, we added a scant 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to the detergent. An hour and a half later I opened the dishwasher to survey the results. My expectations were low.

    Ta da!!! Sparkling, clean, shiny, looks-like-hand-washed dishes!

    I hear there's actually a band of renegade housewives who go across state lines once a month to stock up on Cascade for their neighborhoods. I think I'll try Seventh Generation next time, instead, but for now it's nice to have something that works.

    Bonus joy:

    My two favorite musicals are finally going on tour!! And they're both going to be within driving distance of me!! I hope you can share in the joy, too... check here and here for tour dates and cities of Les Miserables and Wicked. Of course I'll have to pawn off half of my belongings to be able to afford two tickets, but it's time to downsize anyway, right?

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Seven Quick Takes

    ~*~ One ~*~

    The roof is on. The walls are up. Our chicken coop is almost done!

    I wondered why it was taking so long, so I went out to the farm to "help." I say "help" because my carpentry skills are barely better than those of an overripe radish.

    Good gravy, my husband isn't building a chicken coop; the man is constructing the Taj Mahal! It's huge!! I could easily see this building turning into a guest house. Sadly it's going to be inhabited by 26 ungrateful hens and a rooster with a pompadour.

    This is kind of what Howard, our crazy Polish Crested rooster, looks like. (image courtesy of Laughing Orca Ranch)

      ~*~ Two ~*~

    I made a fatal error last week. I commented within earshot of a sick child that, "Hm; I haven't been sick in a year and a half."

    The unnamed keeper of the cold heard this and came over and hugged me. Then she sat on my lap. Then she sneezed on me. I'm almost positive she wiped her nose on my arm, but perhaps I'm just being dramatic.

    Anyway, I fell shortly thereafter. I might buy stock in Kleenex.

    ~*~ Three ~*~

    Each night this week, my husband and I have said, "Okay, let's go to the grocery tonight." We enjoy grocery shopping together, even though we stick to a carefully made list. It's a date of sorts.

    We were sabotaged by Netflix the first two nights. Then we spent a late evening working on the chicken coop. Then we found an unfinished crossword puzzle that was calling out to us. Now we're going to eat pickles with BBQ sauce for dinner; except we're out of pickles.

    ~*~ Four ~*~

    I bought plane tickets to go home for Christmas. I'm on a euphoric high right now, that may or may not be caused by a double dose of NyQuil. No... it's definitely the joy of going home!!!

    ~*~ Five ~*~

    We were working on proper nouns this week, and I asked my 3rd grade niece to write a proper noun for "song."

    "Lift I the Cross." (If you're unfamiliar with the song, it's "Lift High the Cross").

    That reminded me of praying the Angelus, growing up. When I was ten, or so, a friend asked me to teach it to her. With unabashed confidence, I slowly walked her through it. But it was the first time I'd ever thought of the words without just rattling it off so I could eat lunch. I was a bit stumped, but muscled through to the end.

    "The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she could see (conceived) by the Holy Spirit.
    Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.
    And the Word was made Flesh, and dweft (dwelt) among us.

    Pray for us, oh Holy Mother of God, that we may remain (be made) worthy of the promises of Christ.

    Pour forth, we besiege (beseech) thee, Oh Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we cocoon (to whom) the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel. Made by (May by) His Passion and Cross, be dropped (be brought) to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ, Our Lord, Amen."

    ~*~ Six ~*~

    Can I take this moment to highlight some of my favorite blogs, just because? I highly recommend that you take a look at these lovely ladies' sites.

    1. Patch O' Dirt Farm. Nadja blogs about her six kids, crafting projects (she's recently been featured three times on The Crafty Crow! Congrats, Nadja!), her homemaking/homesteading adventures (making yogurt, churning butter, trading roosters for a pig at the local Amish market), and has some beautiful photography to record it all.

    2. The Italian Dish. Elaine has stunning photography and consistently amazing recipes. They're not usually "everyday foods," so much, but I've made several of her dishes for company or special occasions and have always been delighted with the results. She's a true culinary artist. Try the Recipe Index first.

    3. Centsational Girl. Kate shows off her mad home designing, furniture refurbishing, and decorating skillz. Her "on the cheap" projects inspire me to do my own, and her light and colorful photography style is visually quite appealing. I enjoy visiting her site immensely, and would recommend a new visitor to browse through her Tutorials, first.

    4. Mexico in My Kitchen. You don't get much more authentic than this. Mely's recipes are real and delicious. When I want to make authentic Mexican food, hers is the first site I visit. The site is not extremely easy to navigate, but the first time you peruse the site I recommend using the keyword cloud on the right side of her page... especially "Main Dishes."

    I have a lot of other favorites, but these are just a few I find most inspirational and beautiful.

    ~*~ Seven ~*~
    Courtesy of my 3rd grade niece: "Why did Silly Milly think that hot is faster than cold?"

    "Because she could catch cold!"


    Seven Quick Takes is hosted each Friday by Jen at Conversion Diary.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Tissue Free Throws

    On the first day of this cold, I only managed to shoot 3 out of 14 tissues into the trash basket from the bed.

    On the second day, I got 5 out of 20 in.

    Today, I sunk 14 out of 27 tissues.

    If this trend continues, I'll be ready to try out for the WNBA by the end of the week.

    Excuse me while I go blow my nose.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Wordless Wednesday

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Homemade Authentic Amazing Chewy Bagels

    Tasty Tuesday
    Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

    Imagine you have a cold. Your consciousness is fuzzy. Your nose is dripping like a leaky old faucet. You have a balloon in your brain right between your eyes, cotton in your ears, and sandpaper in your throat.

    Someone lovingly approaches you with a piping hot bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup.

    You slurp down the magic tonic and its healing qualities warm your insides. You begin to taste the flavor... celery, and onions, and carrots... noodles and chicken and herbs and spices. Your cold just melts away.


    Now imagine you're in a cold drafty house with a messy kitchen, you're all alone, and after 10 minutes of searching for the can opener, you finally plop some Campbell's condensed chicken soup into bowl, zap it in the microwave, and choke it down while the salt burns your already aching throat.

    Still with me? 

    Okay... that's kind of the difference between store bought bagels, and these homemade ones. The difference is so stark as to be unworthy of comparison. And I like store bought bagels!

    Are these bagels easy to make? It's about as difficult as making a good overnight-stewed chicken noodle soup vs. opening a Campbell's can. Yes, it's work. But why even mention work when there are such rewards to be had?

    They come out chewy, but airy... with a flavor that's just... that's just... incredible!

    This time I made three different kinds from one batch: jalapeño white cheddar, cinnamon raisin, and plain. I really prefer plain, but my husband likes cinnamon raisin. Next time I'll try blueberry, too.

    Eventually I hope only to bake with all whole grain wheat, but I'm progressing slowly towards the long-term goal of "real food."

    Pepperoni and cream cheese? It's a winning combo.

    Homemade Authentic Amazing Chewy Bagels
    Recipe from Annie's Eats, originally from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, 10 Speed Press, 2001.

    Yield: 12 large or 24 mini bagels

    For the sponge:
    1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
    4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
    2 ½ cups (20 ounces) water, at room temperature

    For the dough:
    ½ teaspoon (.055 ounces) instant yeast
    3 ¾ cups (17 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
    2 ¾ teaspoons (.7 ounce) salt
    2 teaspoons (.33 ounce) malt powder OR 1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

    To finish:
    1 tablespoon baking soda
    cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
    sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, or chopped fresh onions that have been tossed in oil (optional)

    1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and deflate when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

    2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining ¾ cup flour to stiffen the dough.

    3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81 degrees F. If the dough seems dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achiever the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feels satiny and pliable but not be tacky. (Blah blah blah... knead it for 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes by machine; make sure there's no dry flour, and try not to burn out the motor on your mixer... this is seriously stiff dough).

    4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 ½ ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.

    5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

    6. Line two sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Proceed with shaping the bagels by pushing a hole through the center and stretching out the hole to 2 ½ inches in diameter.

    7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pan. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

    8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

    Now go to bed. Tomorrow you'll forget the work you've already put into it, and it'll feel like a new recipe. Baby steps, baby steps!

    9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500° F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

    10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). (Don't worry if they look like they're tiny little things -- they puff up big time once you boil them). After 1 minute flip them over and boil another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-line sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour (yes! it's necessary, trust me!! After all that work, on two occasions I had the stinkin' things stuck like glue on my well-cornmealed sheet; please use parchment paper and spare yourself a truckload of agony; the third time I learned and was amazed when they slipped off). If you decided to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface. If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water. You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.

    11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450° F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer.

    12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

    What are you making?

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Cows & Guiltless Baltimore Catechisms

    Right Now... 9:15am. The girls will be getting here in a few minutes, and I'm giddily happy because my house is clean! And I went to Mass this morning! And ate a delicious breakfast! Getting up early can be wonderful.

    I've had two unexpected visitors this morning and didn't panic! I was actually proud to show off my clean house to the surprise inspectors.

    This Weekend... I found out our milk cow, Ofelia, does not in fact have a calf inside. Nobody knows where it went; she was definitely pregnant in May. So we've been waiting in vain. What to do? I don't want to wait another 9+ months, so I think we'll sell her and try to buy a cow in milk.

    On Saturday I was invited, for the first time since I've lived here, to a party that wasn't hosted by a family member. Young faithful Catholics who are fun to be around? They do exist! Yay!!

    On Saturday I also hopped back on the FlyLady bandwagon. Oops. I used to read the testimonials and wonder how or why people ever got off of it, because an ordered house and an ordered life is so beautiful and fulling. Then my dishwasher broke. As soon as my kitchen was dirty, the rest of the house fell apart and I even started sleeping in.

    This weekend my sweet husband did all of the dishes and wiped down the counters. When I saw a clean kitchen, the burden was lifted and I went on a rampage around the rest of the house. I found a book I had thought someone had borrowed without returning, I found my bag of birthday beef jerky that I'd hidden so well I couldn't find it myself, and I found a bill or two that needed to be paid.

    And this morning, for the first time in a few months, I was able to look at this without feeling guilty:

    Some Plans for the Week... helping with the high school lock-in at the parish on Wednesday... knitting lessons on Friday! I'm so excited about that! It's time to expand my knitting skillz beyond the simple scarf.

    I also intend to grind some more wheat and get in a little more baking. It's lovely to have enough freezer space to bake ahead.

    If I Get Some Time for Myself, I Want to... finish making a few Christmas gifts. Oh, how I wish I could give details and tutorials, but some of the recipients read this. Alas.

    Some Prayer Intentions for this Week... for healing for my mom's eye. And for the niece of a dear friend, whose waywardness knows no bounds; conversion, dear Lord!

    Something That Makes Me Smile: my shiny clean house, and a generous selfless husband who helped make it possible.

    Read others' Monday Musings and share your own; hosted by the lovely, Nadja, at Patch O' Dirt Farm.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Swagbucks & Sidetick Update

    I thought it high time to give a little realistic update on two programs I recommended a few months ago.

    To read my original Guides to Sidetick and Swagbucks, click here.

    Sidetick Update

    I've been using Sidetick for about two months, now, and just received my first payout through Paypal. I deposited it into my banking account, and can now spend it as I wish.

    For a brief period in late September, Sidetick added a 3rd requirement for the $15/month program, which was to fill out two surveys a week. The Sidetick users complained and so the program went back to the original two steps. I'm happy with that, and with the income!

    $0.50 a day, "guaranteed," just for clicking on "messages" and then answering a simple question, like, "If you won the lottery, how would you spend the money?" 

    If you want to sign up with Sidetick, I'd really appreciate it if you'd use my referral link.

    Swagbucks Update

    I've actually now made far more with Swagbucks than with Sidetick, because of three active-user referrals. With Swagbucks, you get points every time your referral wins points for searching (up to 1,000 points).
    Without referrals, it takes about two full weeks of regular use to score a $5 Amazon gift card. With three active referrals, I didn't touch Swagbucks for a week and I still got a $5 gift card in that one week!

    In 2 months, I've gotten $40 payout (again, not enough to get rich, but I'm not griping!). If you can get a sibling or a friend to sign up and use it, your payouts will be a lot quicker than if you go it alone.

    If you plan to be an active Swagbucks user, I'd appreciate it if you'd sign up through my referral link. Thanks, and happy searching!

    Crafting is for the Fearless

    Today is my niece's 11th birthday. I wanted to switch up the normal Friday school routine, so when she came for school I let her pick a craft from one of our dust-covered crafty books.

    "Stained Glass Leaves."

    Hm... wax paper, fall leaves, iron... it looked innocuous enough.

    Thinking ahead, I put newspaper down on the table so the wax paper wouldn't melt onto the table. Everything was so under control.

    "Why don't we craft every Friday, again?" I asked myself.

    I cut out the wax paper with an X-Acto knife, the girls found and arranged the leaves, I ironed the leaves between wax paper over newspaper, and had a fairly good looking project to show for it (not "wow!" but not "eeew").

    Then I surveyed the damage.

    The newspaper ink had heat-sealed itself onto my table and the X-Acto knife had left gouges in it.

    Ah!!! Help!!

    So I remembered rubbing alcohol removes ink, and quickly gave it a wipe-over. It worked!

    But apparently rubbing alcohol also removes tarnish.

    Aah!! Help!!

    Mayonnaise removes watermarks... maybe it would undo my bleaching.

    Well... it'll take a few hours before I know if that worked or not.

    In the meantime, I unthinkingly set down a letter to my sister on the table, and now it's covered in grease stains.

    Maybe this is why we don't craft every Friday.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    How NOT to Flirt

    When I was about 13 or so, my family went on a road trip. I don't remember where we went, but I know it must not have been a usual destination, because we had to use a phone book to find a Catholic church for Sunday Mass.

    Well, I had a thing in those days for altar boys. I had a crush on several high school altar boys at our parish... even then I knew the good catches were the active parishioners.

    So anyway, here we were at a strange parish, far from home, and I thought one of the altar boys was uncommonly cute. Knowing I'd never see him again, I thought I'd test out my flirting capabilities. So, bypassing recollected devotion and forfeiting all grace, I spent the First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Second Reading trying inconspicuously to catch the eye of the albed assistant. Finally, during the Gospel (Lord, forgive me!), I made and kept eye contact.

    I strained to remember every bit of etiquette my mother had been trying to instill in me since birth... I wanted to appear a gracious lady. I filed through the mental catalog. "Keep your shoulders back, don't slouch, fold your hands over your lap, the fork goes on the left..." check, check, check, n/a... oh! Yes!! Now for the crown jewel. "Open your eyes wide -- it makes them prettier."

    I tried it. Suddenly, the altar boy looked more interested. Schweet success! My fledgling flirting skillz were sharp.

    A minute or two into the homily and my eyes were starting to ache. How long did I have to keep this up?

    Then I discovered, undoubtedly an inspiration for the salvation of my soul, that if I lowered my brow I could keep my eyes wide open without any strain.

    The altar boy smiled.

    I blinked my eyelashes delicately, and picked a new eyes-wide-open-brow-dropped position.

    He laughed. "I think he's really into me," I thought. Then he nudged the other altar boy and nodded in my direction. The other altar boy erupted in laughter and quickly smothered it into a cough.

    Things were getting dangerous. I was drawing far too much attention to myself... "I must be really hot stuff," I thought, feeling a little guilty for being so alluring in Church, so I backed off. The homily came to an end and besides a few eyes-wide-open moments scattered throughout the rest of Mass, I laid low.

    It was only when we got back to the hotel that I went into the bathroom and tried out my foolproof man-catcher glances in the mirror.

    Semi-normal smile with eyes a little more open than usual (during the Gospel).

    Pin-in-the-rear-end "my eyes are wide open" look (which garnered a smile).

    Ultra-creepy "eyes-open-brow-dropped" look (which got the laugh).

    Crazed fugitive on the run "eyes-open brow dropped look" (got his buddy to laugh).

    I was thoroughly self-chastised.

    I didn't come out of the bathroom for another half hour, and I never flirted again.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Our Love Story, Part XII

    [Read Parts I-XI here.]

    There was no call when I got home; I didn't expect one, and I wouldn't have answered it if there had been, anyway. I was mad.

    After that Summer, I wanted to forget everything about Mr. Amazing and put my silly crush to an end, once and for all. But try as I might to forget, everything reminded me of him. Suddenly I was seeing sage brush everywhere. I saw his name written on websites, in stores, and in books. The low point came when I saw his exact likeness in a plate of mashed potatoes. Something had to be done.

    So I did what any good Catholic girl would do. I started a 54 Day Rosary Novena, for guidance and clarity. Nine days, I thought, was child's play; I needed to prove I was serious about this guy.

    By this time I had confided in my little sister and a few other close friends. Most of them urged me just to call him or write him and spill my heart out. But I was determined not to do that. If he was worthy, he would approach me. I'd provide ample opportunities for him to do so, of course, but I was adamant that he would have to make the first move.

    It was about Day 31 or so, and I'd heard nothing. My prayers were being answered, I thought, and the answer was clearly, "no." I'd hit my nadir, one day, and was about to throw in the towel when I told God, "I know there are 23 days left to go, but I'm fed up with this. If I don't see some movement today, I'll take it that I already have my answer and be done with it. I don't even need clarity -- just let him contact me! Phone, e-mail, letter, carrier pigeon, smoke signals... anything!"

    I half expected lightning to strike, or perhaps the phone to ring. But, of course there was silence.

    As was my Sunday custom in those days, I was settling in for my long late-morning nap, when the phone rang.

    "Hello?" I said at last, a little annoyed by the intrusion.

    "Hi," answered a deep rich jovial male voice.

    I almost hung up the phone in amazement. It kind of sounded like him. I gulped hard... it's hard to determine anyone's voice by just a "hi." The next line would make or break me.

    "How are you?" I asked, feigning recognition and clearing my throat about 3 times in the process.

    "Oh, I'm doing fine! But I have a question."

    It WAS him!! Yes, of course I'll be your one true love!! Though you could've asked me sooner!

    "I teach CCD classes and I'm trying to remember the Greek name for the Holy Spirit. I remember Logos, but that's the Word -- the Son."

    Well, that's hardly what I was expecting, but it was something! Of course in that instant I had forgotten everything I'd ever learned about Theology. I stalled.

    "You teach CCD?"

    "Yes... the 9th grade."

    I didn't know that. This was good... keep stalling.

    "It's so good to hear from you! How is Miriam?"

    "Oh, she's doing very well. How are you?"

    I'd be a lot better if you'd tell me how much you missed me, and how you had tried to call me every day but just hadn't been able to reach me.

    "Oh, doin' great," I fibbed.

    Finally, after all of the formalities of checking up on everyone's health, and after exhausting all possible queries about the weather, and after intense mental strain and powers of concentration, I had remembered something!!

    "I know that in Hebrew the term ruah was used, for breath or wind. But in Greek..."

    "Ruah?" he said, as though taking notes. Oohh... this was good. Time to lay it on thick.

    "Yes, as in... 'Veha'arets hayetah tohu vabohu vechoshech al-peney tehom ve-ruah Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim.'"

    That's the only Hebrew I know (Genesis 1:2), but it sounded good.

    "Wow. That's pretty neat. But do you know the Greek word?"

    Blast. I was afraid he'd ask that. I closed my eyes and searched hard.

    At last, "Oh! Yes! I do remember. It's pneuma or hagion pneuma." I felt as though I'd nailed the final question on Jeopardy.

    "Ah! That does sound familiar. You're right! Thank you so much; I thought you might know it."

    I could get used to this phone thing. He couldn't see me blushing... or fist pumping and dancing around the room.

    "Well, I'd better get back to planning my lesson. Thanks so much!" he said, hurriedly.

    WHAT!? That's it!!? Now's the time to proclaim your deep and undying love for me! Gratitude, buddy, gratitude!

    Before waiting for me to give much of a reply, I heard the fatal click and the icy cold dial tone. I stared at the phone wondering... what just happened?

    To be continued...

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Halloween Candy Pizza

    Tasty Tuesday
    Grab the button here and come join us, or just link to another site with a recipe you're going to try... or post a recipe in the comments!

    It's election day. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

    Actually most of the ballot was a no-brainer. When you vote by Catholic principles, the fuzz of extraneous issues is wiped away and the most fundamental principle of civilized society reveals itself in bold black and white: does this person support murdering the nation's most vulnerable citizens, or does he protect innocent life? If he can't get the most foundational idea right, why would I trust him with the others?

    Something I've been having more trouble with, however is... what to do with the Halloween candy? Should I get it all out of the house? Do I hide it and bring out a few pieces every Sunday? Do I leave it out in the open and come up with reasons to walk past the counter (I know I left something on the other side of the room... I'd better go inspect)? Or do I celebrate All Souls day by concocting a whole new sugary substance?

    I saw this recipe a long time ago and have been looking for excuses to make it. I think today is as good a day as any to celebrate! Happy Feast of All Souls!

    All Souls Day, by Rubens

    Halloween Candy Pizza
    Idea from French Knots

    The basic idea is to make a chocolate chip cookie dough crust, bake 15-17 minutes at 375°. Then, spread the warm cookie with 1 cup melted chocolate chips, mixed with 1/2 cup peanut butter. Top it with a mix of all of your chocolate Halloween candy, chopped.

    Repeat on Easter, with Easter candy. Repeat on St. Valentine's Day with Valentine's candy. Repeat on Election Day with Halloween candy. Repeat on birthday with birthday candy. Repeat... well... you get the idea. It's just a fun use of candy.

    What are you making? (By the way, thank you to everyone who participates in this meme! I really enjoy your recipes and stories, and have made several of them.)

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Monday Musings

    Right now... 4:30pm, chilly and overcast. When I woke up this morning at 7am it was almost pitch black outside, so I figured the clock must be wrong and went back to sleep. It wasn't wrong (oops); it's just a heavy cold cloudy day.

    This weekend... I spent a lot of time with my husband at the farm. I kept him company and got some exercise by walking with him while he did the awful but necessary job of killing gophers. You drop some poison in their holes so there's never any contact with the creatures themselves. I used to object, but when I saw how much damage they do to the fields and the crops I realized it must be done.

    Yesterday (Halloween) we spent most of the day (before the evening Mass) at the farm. Mr. Amazing and I teamed up against his mom on a game of Scrabble, and still only eked out a win by 3 points. The woman is a Scrabble genius.

    I'm sad to say we shut the front porch light off and closed the blinds when we got home to dissuade any trick-or-treaters. I'm kind of ashamed. I wanted to wear my PJs without interruption, and yes... I wanted to keep our bag of candy intact (I know, I know!). As we were driving home from Mass, though, we noticed that most of the trick-or-treaters were teenagers and adults! So I don't regret it, too much.

    Some plans for the week... grocery shopping. I made a great 4-week meal plan on Saturday, but need some supplies to make it happen. On my baking list (for the month) I have: 16 bagels, 36 flour tortillas, 4 loaves of sandwich bread, 2 loaves of bread for toast, 12 hamburger buns, 4 pizza doughs, 8 waffles, and 16 English Muffins. I rather seriously doubt I'll get it all made this week, but a girl can dream, can't she?

    If I find some time for myself, I want to... start making my husband's Christmas gift. I'd also really like a nap.

    Special prayer intentions for the week... for pro-life leaders to be elected... and thanksgiving for my father's retirement.

    Something that makes me smile... my husband's boyish inability to stay out of the Halloween candy.