Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Spice

For October 2nd, I went with a simple recipe – do it yourself pumpkin pie spice. I figured I'm going to need a lot of this over the next month, so I may as well make my own instead of buying it at the store. Anything homemade is better, right?

Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons all spice
1 1/2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients, sift and store in an airtight container.

Adapted from Martha Stewart via Annie's Eats.

Pumpkin Rocks

I'm making a pumpkin treat a day for the entire month of October! I recognize it's a somewhat ridiculous venture – many, many people have implied as much – but, what with my major obsession with pumpkin and all, I figured it could be fun. (I'll assess this thought again on November 1st.)

For October 1st, I made my mom's Pumpkin Rocks. (I imagine they're named as such because, well, pumpkin rocks!) My mom has made these cookies since I was a little girl, and they're everything fall to me. They make me think of crunchy leaves underfoot, crisp cool days, my birthday... The cookies themselves are moist and fluffy, studded with juicy raisins and crunchy nuts (pecans in this case, as I had no walnuts on hand). They, of course, are full of pumpkin spices – cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves – and a couple generous cups of tasty pumpkin, too.

It seemed a natural choice to kick things off, don't you think?

Mom's Pumpkin Rocks
Yield: 48 large cookies
2 1/2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin (one 15-ounce can)
1 cup raisins
2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375ºF and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter. Beat in both sugars. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Beat in the pumpkin. The batter will look curdled - it's okay. Beat in the sifted dry ingredients slowly. With a spoon, stir in the raisins and walnuts. Drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto cookie sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake about 16 minutes, or until lightly browned and spring back if gently pressed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hello? Is this thing on?

Seeing as I last blogged nearly a year ago, I bet you thought I would never return. Well, ha! I fooled you! I could go into lots of excuses and reasons and so on, but I don't really feel like it, and I imagine no one feels like reading about that, anyway.

Let's see... to bring everyone up to speed on my life... I am back in the newspaper business. John and I are still living in our lovely little house. Piper is still super loyal and super ill-behaved. I'm very content and happy, something I certainly wasn't this time last year (mostly due to job woes that infiltrated every aspect of my life). And that about covers it!

I'm going to be revamping the blog. My sweet sister-in-law is designing a new banner for me. I want a whole new look. Of course, I'll be blogging regularly, too, which - let's face it - will definitely be a "whole new look" since last year.

 So. Yeah. I'm back!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Challenge: Walking

On the Weight Watchers website, there is a community area where you can interact with other members. One of my favorite aspects of the WW community is the challenges, where members challenge themselves and each other to meet certain goals by certain times. It could be running a half mile five days a week for a month, or crafting one inspiring item for every ten pounds lost. Whatever the challenge is, you join up and then report on your progress however often you want.

I've never joined a challenge, but I have spent a lot of time reading through them. There have been several I've considered joining, but with my hectic schedule and lifestyle, I've been nervous about achieving them. (Sometimes, just staying on the WW program and trying to get to the gym a few times a week is challenge enough!) However, I've decided that I am going to create a challenge.

I do not walk Piper nearly as much as I should. I admit, having a large backyard where she can run around has made me incredibly lazy when it comes to walks. It's also difficult in the summer because she gets overheated so easily with her thick, black coat. So this is my challenge: I am going to wake up 20 minutes early every day and take Piper for a 20 minute walk before work. It's not necessarily going to be a brisk power-walk either; I'm walking Piper, and she likes to sniff things, so it will be more of a casual walk. Basically, it's a challenge to benefit Piper just as much as me.

I'm going to start the challenge on Sunday, because (A) it's the start of a new week and (B) I don't have work, so it gives me a little more flexibility. (I do love to sleep!) I'm going to post the challenge on WW online and call it the "Dog Walk Challenge." If all goes well, maybe it can be a progressive challenge where, after a few weeks or so, it can grow into a 30 minute walk. But for now, just one step at a time. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Confused. Always.

I love to bake. I really do. But in this new venture, this baking-for-a-living thing, I'm not happy.

I mean really, what was I thinking? I know the current job isn't ideal. I'm not the type of person who likes to be by myself a lot, and at this job, I'm by myself all day long. But how did I actually think I would make money doing this? Sure, accomplished pastry chefs pull in over a 100 grand a year. But to get there, you have to work the endless low-paying, wake-up-at-2-in-the-morning jobs. And I've never been the type to sacrifice life for career. It just doesn't work that way for me, so this business? I don't think it's going to work.

Now, I don't really have to get into how much of a failure I feel like. Because boy, do I feel like a failure. I had a good (albeit low paying) job, with a flexible-ish schedule and some great coworkers. And I left that to go back to school and "follow my dream." Now I'm in debt and pretty much in the same mindset as I was before school, although with even less money. It's not good.

I miss writing. Last week I had an interview set up at a local magazine. It seemed like a great gig - assistant editor - and the salary was so, so much better than what I'm pulling in now. I was psyched. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I couldn't help it. I thought, "I'm a good person. I deserve good things. Finally, my luck is changing!" And then the interview was canceled because they "went in a different direction." And I admit, I was crushed.

In looking back over everything, I have to say I wish I stayed as an art education major. I would have made a great teacher, plus I know it would have made me happy. I switched because I was spending my summers working at a newspaper, and I felt it "made more sense." More sense than what, I don't really know. I am not going to get my teaching certification now; I just know I won't. But I wish I didn't change all those years ago. I wish someone said to me, "Hey. What are you doing? You'll make a great teacher! You'll regret this, you know!"

There's no real solution here. There's no real conclusion to this post. I wish I knew what to do or where I was going with all of this, but I suppose it's just venting. I'm confused, just like this post seems to be, just like I always seem to be nowadays.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Freezer Food

I want to stock my freezer.

I've been thinking about this for ages, but the farthest I've gotten is perhaps freezing a few loaves of homemade bread, or, in one ill-fated attempt, freezing homemade pizza dough. I want to have meals frozen and ready-to-serve, but not store-bought, fake-cheese pizzas and the like. I want to freeze things I've made - lasagna and chili and soup and casseroles.

I just can't ever get my act together enough to actually do it.

Well, my friends, that is about to change! I now have two (count 'em - TWO) days off of work a week. That means I have a whole other day to do all of the things I'm too tired to do after workdays. Like stock my freezer. (I'm wild and crazy, obviously.)

So, despite the fact that I've been cooking and baking since I was pint-sized and despite the fact that I went to culinary school, I've been compiling a little research on the stocked-freezer-plan. I turned to a few different food blogs, a Weight Watchers article and Martha (of course) to come up with my plan. And I think I'm set to get started!

Bread - Oh my, do I love homemade bread. I could sit and eat an entire crusty loaf on my own - especially if it's paired with some sharp cheese or garlic dipping oil. Anyway, I of course needed to have some bread in my freezer plan. I'm going to bake four medium loaves of Italian bread and a batch of all-purpose sandwich/burger rolls. I haven't had a lot of luck with freezing dough, so I'm going to freeze these breads after they're baked.

Entrees - The hardest part of planning my freezer food was trying not to go overboard with the calories. I am trying to follow a healthier diet now, after all, so I didn't want to get too carried away. On that note, I am going to make a spinach lasagna, tamale pie with lean turkey meat, and chicken tetrazzini. On the label, along with the name and date, I'm going to add portion size and Points Plus value.

Soup & Chili - You know that bread-love I was talking about? Well, slice me some bread with a bowl of hot soup and I can subsist on this through the entire fall and winter. Well okay... I'd need some chili, too. For the freezer, I'm planning pasta e fagioli, creamy tomato rice soup, white bean chicken chili, and my award-winning vegetarian chili. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

Cookies - I think it's always nice to have some fresh, hot-from-the-oven cookies if a friend is popping in for a visit. Of course, in busy day-to-day life, this isn't always a practical plan. But know what is? Making the cookie dough ahead of time, scooping it into portions and freezing the cookie dough balls. They can be baked straight from the freezer. So I'm going to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and oatmeal raisin.

Other ideas for my freezer plan include some homemade marinara sauce, frozen meatballs and having a lot of fresh fruit for smoothies and juice. (This is another dream of mine - to be the type of person who makes smoothies and fresh juice. Sigh.) I think some type of pot pie would be great, too. And I wonder if a shepherd's pie would freeze well? Obviously, I am in super comfort food phase. I guess it's because fall is right around the corner.

Mission Stock the Freezer is set to begin this weekend. Before I get started, I just have to make sure my freezer is big enough to store all of these delicious foods!