Pandemic in Pictures: Alpha-Bakery Children’s Cookbook

When I was a little girl, we obtained — I don’t know how — a children’s cookbook. Produced by a flour company, it contained the requisite references to “Gold Medal All Purpose Flour” in each recipe, but nevertheless also contained 26 recipes perfectly suited for teaching kids the basics of baking. During our enforced stay-at-home time, Benji and I have started baking through every recipe. It being Benji, of course we’re doing them in alphabetical order, with perfect rigor. Continue Reading >>

Survived Another Week

Don’t worry, we’re still kickin’! Kickin’ a bit more than usual, perhaps, after a week of “Classroom in the Cloud,” a very jazzy marketing way of saying “Parents navigate a zillion different sites and logins to do inferior homeschooling of their children.” Sorry, that sounds critical of our schools and teachers, and that’s not what I want. Benji’s teacher is in an impossible position. She has to “teach” almost 30 first graders reading, writing, and math and her only tools are recorded videos, the ability to assign work online, and the ability to “like” or comment on a student’s work. Continue Reading >>

Silly Cat Riddle Song, and Other Stuff

Listening to our Pandora station for kids, we heard this song:

Thank you, Pandora, for possibly the silliest song we’ve heard in a long time. Love it!

Benji got his first cold, right on time, three days after his first full day of school; it was massively rainy so I converted my big, outside ride into a short trainer ride; and clearly we were meant to spend all of yesterday playing Legos, building Legos, and sorting Legos. Benji is getting pretty good at building with the small-size Legos.

And then I spent about four hours (!!) in the evening making two apple pies for church. I hope they taste OK.
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Things in our week

Last week we went to Aunt Dana’s house for a hair cut. This was totally surprising to Benji: That a person could have a hair cutting salon in their own home.
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Overall everyone seemed to actually have a decently good time, and Benji’s head now looks 50% smaller, so that’s all for the best. We’ll for sure be going back, because it was also nice to get to see family and catch up at the same time we’re getting something productive done. Double whammy!

On the drive home, Benji read our Prius owner’s manual, and he and Daddy read it together later in the day.
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Now we are all experts on what each indicator light means. Actually, we’ve passed through the expert phase and entered into the “please, please, please get tired of this topic” phase.

Later in the week, we colored a bunch of things in rainbow colors, including this Q-related page. Benji thought Grammy should make a quilt like this. That would certainly be rainbow-licious.
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Today I discovered a new cookie recipe where you bake one gigantic cookie in a cast-iron skillet and then slice it up like pie.
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Pretty amazing, actually. I bartered this in trade for a discount on new tires from my bike shop. We have a good symbiotic relationship going, I think.

Also today, Benji had a playdate with his little friend Catherine from school, and they both thought “two kids in a slide” was hilarious. Catherine said, “Two kids in a slide! What could be better?” Benji laughed hysterically. You just never know what will tickle their funny bones.
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(For those of you concerned that they went down the slide together, have no fear: Benji is too scared to go down most slides. He just climbed into the bottom of the slide when Catherine got there.)

Oh, and riding home, we were going up a small hill near our house and I’m riding slowly and panting, as I’m wont to do. Benji pipes up: “Nana never has any trouble driving up this hill!” No kidding?!

Applesauce “Cupcakes”

This is the recipe for the “applesauce cupcakes” that Benji love/hated earlier this week.

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Apple Crisp Muffins

1 1/4 C. flour
3/4 C. quick-cooking oats
1/2 C. brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 C. milk
3/4 C. applesauce
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.50 C. peeled, finely diced apples (2 medium-sized apples; peeling optional)

Heat oven to 375 F. Lightly grease a muffin pan. Try not to think about how two hours from now, you’ll be laboriously scrubbing out that very same pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together milk, applesauce, egg, oil, and vanilla.

Stir milk mixture into flour mixture just until moistened. Stir in diced apples. Fill medium muffin cups 75% full (mine actually ended up over 100% full — maybe my muffin size is slightly smaller than standard?) or fill mini-muffins cups to the top.

Topping

1/3 C. quick-cooking oats
1/4 C. flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Combine topping ingredients until crumbly. Double if you want to actually have enough to cover all the muffins as generously as your lucky taste-testers would actually like. Everyone knows the top of the muffin is the best part. Sprinkle over muffins.

Bake 16 – 18 minutes for medium muffins, 10 – 12 minutes for mini-muffins; or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Mine actually seemed undercooked at 18 minutes, but I took them out because they were getting towards dark golden around the edges. They finished cooking and are wonderful despite seeming kind of gooey when I pulled them out. Don’t leave them in longer! They’ll just dry out, and who wants a dry muffin?

Now, what this recipe doesn’t tell you is whether to leave the muffins in the pan to cool, or take them out to prevent over-cooking. So far I’ve taken them out, but this results in mangled muffins since fresh from the oven they’re mighty soft and unwilling to be readily extracted. Maybe next time I’ll try letting them cool in there. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Yields 12 “medium” muffins or 36 mini-muffins.

Recipe from pg 39, Best of the Best from Washington Cookbook: Selected Recipes from Washington’s Favorite Cooks, edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley, 2002.

Berry Pie Time, At Last

Day’s Verse:
I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.
Ecclesiastes 3:13-ish

Blackberry season, at last! The first time this year, Rachel and I met up last Friday afternoon and picked blackberries. It was hot; I got sweaty, scratched, and covered with those little dried bits of blackberry flowers that stay on the berries — in short, exactly what I expect and hope for when going out blackberrying. We each ended up with a bit over half a gallon of berries. Even so, most of the berries we saw were still green and unripe, and some of the vines even still had flowers on them — in late August!

My use of choice was, of course, berry pie. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to make my favorite deep-dish, so-good-you-swoon pie this year because we’ve hardly had any berries, and the ones we do have are too expensive to buy in large quantities (the recipe calls for 11 cups of mixed berries, not an insignificant investment). Thus, blackberries are the perfect berry for this pie. This time I made a peach-blackberry pie in our 3.5-quart Le Crueset pot; the pie has to be cut with vanilla ice cream or you risk berry overload. In short, heaven.

And we finally found some good-sized heirloom tomatoes to turn into tomato soup, which I’ve been craving since summer started. I’m drooling just thinking about that, plus some no-knead bread and (of course) sauteed squash… My future looks delicious. I may mention that both the berry pie and tomato soup are foods I associate with much earlier in the summer — easily late June, early July. It’s indicative of our bizarre weather that only now are we actually getting summer produce.

In other news, almost three years ago, I signed up with this website called WarmShowers.org. It’s a site that links touring bicyclists with people willing to host them. Ian and I figured we could host somebody at our Marlboro apartment. Then we moved… and bought a house… and I updated our information, and forgot about it. And then yesterday, for the first time, I got an email from a touring cyclist who needs a place to stay! He’ll be here Friday night, which should be interesting because we’re also having other friends are coming over; I think I’ll make lasagna with squash in it, enough for everyone. Anyway, I’m excited to actually get to do that. We have this big house, yard, and garage, and — most important — extra shower. I like the idea of sharing this with others.

Cookie Rhapsodizing

Day’s Verse:
Watch your words and hold your tongue;
you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Proverbs 21:23

I was going to write a blog about my wet, miserable, all alone, cut-short bike ride, but who wants to read about that? Even I don’t. So we’ll move on to something nicer: Cookies.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned the cookie cookbook Colleen and Jordan gave me for Christmas. I think I have. It’s large, dense, and starts off discussing the theory of cookies and then goes into seemingly excruciating picky detail about ingredients. Nearly every recipe calls for ingredients like light corn syrup or candied ginger, things I don’t think any normal household regularly keeps on hand. It sternly instructs new bakers to follow the recipes exactly the first time, and the way it’s written you get the sense that any future deviations from the recipe would probably be ill-considered, too.

Needless to say, I was intimidated. It’s taken me three months to bravely crack it open, and then finding a simple enough recipe with standard ingredients took some doing. So far I’ve made two recipes, exactly according to the recipe, and both have turned out not just good but fabulous. The first was a peanut cookie with molasses, and they turned out wonderful — unique, delicious, and yet not overpowering.

The second recipe I just baked tonight, a simple and basic oatmeal raisin cookie. I almost always add chocolate chips to such a recipe, but mindful of the stricture against such improvisation, I stuck with the recipe as written. WOW. They’re sweet, but not overly so; hearty and tending towards the snacklike, but definitely still desert; the raisins, soaked in hot water, are soft, a nice counterpoint to the walnuts; and they’re creamy, if a cookie can be described thus.

Here’s my ideal for a cookie: Crispy with a little crunch as you bite into it, soft and gooey in the middle, but still holding together (cookies that droop or ooze when you’ve bitten them are undercooked, and although enjoyable aren’t quite perfect). These oatmeal raisin cookies may well be my current zenith in cookie-making, the epitome of the Perfect Cookie.

And I have enough to share.

PS – The time change has left me all discombobulated. We forgot about it until I woke up this morning at 6:15 and suddenly realized it was actually 7:15. It also reminded me how arbitrary time was, and made me think how funny it is that we all just agree to fabricate an hour out of nowhere every year — and it works. We say it’s 8:30 pm, and as long as we all agree, it is 8:30 pm. As I said: Funny.