Sunday, January 23, 2011

Camp Cupcake: The Battle for Consistency

I have never been a very consistent person, in terms of routine. For the first year after I was home from my mission, it felt like I was still living like I would be transferred every three months. I lived in five different apartments over the course of a year, and every new apartment brought a different routine, different eating habits, and different sleeping habits.

As a student, it was a luxury I seemed to have--the ability to wake up at a different time every morning, depending on when my first class was. Some nights I would go to bed at a decent hour. However, on nights when I had late clients, it was harder for me to unwind, and I'd end up staying up late getting other work done.

Now I have a grown-up job. If you want to get technical, I can pretty much come and go as I please, as long as I get my work done and I show up to meetings and to teach class. However, it seems like a good time to get better about being consistent.

It started a few weeks ago, when I recognized that my time-management has suffered since I started my job. I started to read a book called Sink Reflections, by a woman named Marla Cilley, who also calls herself Fly Lady. I often have my depressed clients read it because it's basically a book about taking control of your life, written for women who have trouble keeping their houses clean. And it's all about consistency. So I started trying to stick to a weekly schedule, which mostly includes cleaning out my purse and my car regularly.

Then I got a Wii Fit for Christmas. With the cold winter upon us, it provides a nice alternative to running in the freezing cold mornings or evenings. And it shames me if I don't do it regularly.

Then, Friday, I went to a writing seminar in which the presenter, who has written extensively on the subject of academic writing, and she also advocated consistency. She claims that people who write every day for 15-30 minutes get 10x more written than people who write in short bursts.

So, with all that in mind, I am striving for more consistency in my life. It has not been easy, but I am already seeing a difference in my sleeping and exercise habits. Additionally, I have done an hour's worth of solid work on a journal article that I hope to have submitted in the next month or two.

It's not exciting or funny, this being consistent, but hard work seldom is. Maybe I'll start wearing a funny hat. Or listening to some Tom Jones music.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another 5K

Well, since last running a 5K in May, I have moved (three times), started a new job, gotten engaged, planned a wedding, gotten married and so many other little in-betweens. Basically I am starting all over at the beginning of a work-out routine. I am going to run a 5K on March 26th. The goal is to also run a 10K in June.

The last time I trained, I had my faithful friend Anna to train with me. We ran outside late in the evening. My husband, Steve, and I joined a gym together some months ago in attempt to help the both of us get fit. So...this 5K training will consist of treadmill training during the Steve can go to the gym with me...and then I will do an outside run on Saturdays. (Which I am currently procrastinating since I am on the computer. :)

I have only completed WK 1 Day 1 and let me just say that it is a real shame that I stopped running. Geez...completely out of shape once again. However, it is a place to start and I can only go up from here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pie Are Squared: Turtle Pie

For Thanksgiving, I wanted to make something extra delicious. And chocolatey. I scoured the internet for a delicious chocolate pie but didn't really find anything that fit all the criteria I was looking for. Or I'd find a delicious looking one that didn't include a recipe. So I ended up kind of making one up.
I realized that was I was really craving was the turtle cheesecake. They used to sell the whole cake at Sam's Club; now all I can find are the little square bites. You know, oreo crust, cheesecake topped with chocolate chips, pecans, and caramel? Well, for some reason that I can't remember now, I didn't want cheesecake, so I made an alternative, cheesecakeless version.
First, a regular crust that I prebaked using my new pie weights! I actually bought them a while ago, but this is their maiden voyage. The crust still kind of melted down the sides, but it wasn't too bad. I wanted to do a fun, decorative edge, but I couldn't think of anything, so I just made the regular fluting bigger.
Then, I made dulce de leche by pressure cooking a can of sweetened condensed milk for 30 minutes. I put a layer of that in the bottom of the crust and topped it with mini chocolate chips and chopped pecans.

Then, I prepared a chocolate mousse and poured that on top of the caramelly mixture. Top again with chocolate chips, pecans, and more dulce de leche.

It was pretty good. But very rich. And I found myself wishing it had more of a cheesecakey texture. Sort of like that turtle cheesecake I'd been imagining.
Why didn't I just make it a cheesecake? I have no idea.
I still have half of the pie in my fridge. Yeah, I know, it's been two weeks.


Flavor: 8

Execution: 9. Looked like the kind of pie you'd want to get at a restaurant...even if you end up regretting it because it is too rich to finish.

Difficulty: Medium. The mousse kind of took a bit of finagling, but not too bad, really.

Overall rating: *** 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pie Are Squared: Pink Lady Apple Pie

"My grandmother used to say, 'Men expect women to be particular. As women, we shouldn't disappoint them.'"
With that in mind, the Patty Pinner advised me ask for a higher standard and use Pink Lady apples for this pie. I am not enough of an apple connoisseur to identify if Pink Lady apple pie is any better--or any different--from regular apple pie. But it was good.

I used the flag method of fluting the pie, which I thought looked kind of silly when it was raw. Then I added some little maple leaf crust shapes, brushed it with milk, and sprinkled on some sugar in the raw.
Once it was baked, the flag crust looked less silly.


Flavor: 8

Execution: 9. I thought it turned out rather nicely.

Difficulty: Medium. Though I feel like I may not be a good judge of pie difficulty. I'm not a huge fan of rolling out the dough, but it's not really difficult, but I don't like to do it, so double crust pies are more of a pain...I'll let you decide.

Overall rating: **** 4 out of 5 stars.

This pie crust recipe always leaves a fair amount of leftovers; double crust doubles the leftover. I always refrigerate the leftovers for a few days, thinking I'll do something with it later. I never have.
This time, though, my husband decided to put an end to the wasting of pie crust in our household and made a savory pie for dinner.

It was meaty and spicy and good. Thanks, dear. He did a pretty good job, eh?

Also, need I remind you that the biggest pie making holiday of the year is approaching? Happy pie making/eating, everyone.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Camp Cupcake: The rest of the story

So, I did go running that night. In fact, what I did in order to make sure that I went running was to call Anne.

By calling Anne, two things happened:

I actually went running that night because I had someone to go running with.

I got talked into running a half-marathon.

For me, it was an opportunity to do what I have been talking about doing for a long time--staying consistent and continuing on with something after completing a big goal. It involved getting up early to go for runs down Provo Canyon before work, or going running around the Orem High track at night.

The race was yesterday. It was a half marathon down Provo Canyon, starting at Aspen Grove (near Sundance, home of Robert Redford) and finishing up at a shopping center at the mouth of Provo Canyon. The notable thing about this race, besides it being the last big race of the season in Utah county, is that, because it falls over Halloween weekend, people dress up.

I was not among those people dressed up because I could not find a costume I was willing to wear for 13.1 miles of sweaty running. However, here are some of the costumes I saw:

-M&Ms (there was a whole group of them)
-Goofy (there was a running club that were all dressed alike in green shirts, black running tights, orange suspenders, and those giant tall hats with the Goofy ears).
-Captain America
-Super Grover (his costume was furry. I have trouble believing he was able to run the entire distance without taking it off).
-catsup and mustard

Additionally, there were tons of women wearing funky tights/socks and/or tutus.

The only other notable thing about this race was that I got separated from the people I was running with when I had to make a stop at the Honey Bucket. Ten minutes later, I was back out on the trail. The line was that long. When I got back out, I found myself surrounded by several of the Goofys. One of the things that has always bothered me about running with other people is when you pass a person or a group of people who decide that they do not want to be passed by you, and who speed up just long enough to pass you, but then slow back down. It is particularly annoying when it is a whole group of people, and they are dressed like Goofy, and it happens three or four times.

Happily, I finished the race a few minutes behind my friends. Like I said, this was the last big race of the season. I do not plan to run another race until next year. However, in the meantime, I plan to continue to run a few times a week, both to stay consistent and to be ready for next running season. What I mostly gained from yesterday's race is that, whether I ever get good at it or not, there is something about running that I am beginning to enjoy, and I think I'll keep doing it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grill Pans, Birthday Cake, and Indian Food

Don't let my lack of posting fool you; the baby birds are not starving. I really do enjoy trying new recipes and have even found a few that we now use in our regular rotation. The thing that I really don't do very well is blog about them. So here you go, another multi-recipe post of a few things I've tried that might be worth mentioning. I'll start with the ones I remembered to photograph:

First up: Grilled Chicken and Pineapple Quesadillas. I saw these on the Pioneer Woman's site quite a while ago but never made them because I didn't have a grill pan and we've had some issues with our outdoor grill. But finally my curiosity about the prospect of indoor grilling got the best of me and I purchased this grill pan. The quesadillas were the first thing I made with it.

The grill pan verdict: I'm actually pretty surprised at what good results this turned out. I guess I had always just assumed that grilling on my electric range could never come close to outdoor grilling. But the pineapple I grilled in this pan was so irresistible that by the time I was able to stop sampling it, I almost didn't have any left to make the quesadillas. I've also grilled chicken and hamburgers in the pan and the only negative I can see is the amount of smoke that ends up in your kitchen instead of outside. (Anyone know what to do about that besides open the windows?) The convenience of this pan is definitely worth the price.

The recipe verdict: This was a great way to dress up ordinary chicken quesadillas. There are a couple of optional ingredients--extra barbecue sauce and jalapeƱos--and after trying all of the possible combinations we decided that we preferred them with both. I decided to omit the butter on the outside of the quesadillas. I'm sure it would have tasted extra great and fattening.

A couple of months ago my husband The Emasculated Baker (who stopped making cakes because he felt like he was forcing them on his coworkers) turned thirty. I decided to steer clear of his cake recipes as I doubted my ability to duplicate his meticulous attention to detail. Instead I made this souped-up cake mix recipe for chocolate-peppermint poke cake. It was nothing fancy, but it tasted pretty good and if you're the kind of person who likes chopped up candy bars throughout your cake, it's great! When I made it I couldn't find any white chocolate pudding mix, so I used regular chocolate. I also baked it in two 9-inch round pans and made a layer cake with a layer of frosting and extra peppermint patties in between the cake layers. And instead of using the frosting straight from the can, I whipped a cup of heavy cream and folded it into the canned frosting mixed with peppermint extract.

As you may have noticed by now, many of the recipes I try come from The Pioneer Woman Cooks or from PW's community recipe site Tasty Kitchen. I've seen this recipe for Butter Chicken come into the TK spotlight several times and have always been amazed by how consistently high its ratings have been. It's pretty rare for 73 people (at the time of this post) to have rated any one recipe, but over those 73 ratings, it still maintains a score of 4.73 mitts (on a scale of one to five). I've been wanting to try it for a long time, but every time I go to buy carda0mom at my local Wal-Mart and see that it costs over $10 just for a small bottle, I change my mind. Luckily, my cupcake-baking sister just moved into town with a jar of cardamom that she bought for a cupcake recipe. Only in a Martha Stewart cupcake would you find something like cardamom. So excitedly, I made the chicken, adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper in individual portions so that George and I could have it as spicy as we like it while not making it too spicy for the kids. And it was good. I would even say that it was really good. Definitely a recipe that I'll be making again. But I have to say, after the months of hearing all of the raves about this recipe, it was not as amazing as I was imagining it to be and the only reason I can think of to explain my disappointment is that I had such high expectations. So here is my new mantra for life: set your expectations low and you'll never be disappointed. Amen.

I couldn't really imagine eating Indian food without some fresh naan, so I thought I would look for a good recipe to try. And now, months later, I honestly can't remember which recipe I happened to try this time. I know it was one that I got from Tasty Kitchen, but it's been so long and I looked at all of them thoroughly enough that they all look familiar to me now. But quite honestly, whichever one it was it wasn't good enough that I bothered to add it to my recipe box. And this is not the first time I've said that about a naan recipe. This was my third or fourth time making it and I've yet to find a recipe that's worth keeping. Most of them come out a little too...dry? Too reminiscent of those spongy, squeeze-y stress-reliever things? I'm beginning to think that the problem is not in the recipes, but in my technique. So if any of you have a great naan recipe that you like to make, please send it my way and if it turns out bad on me, I will have isolated the problem. Thanks. Through my failures I have made one valuable naan-related discovery: cooking it on a preheated pizza stone in the oven is a lot easier and less smoky than cooking it on a grill.

That's all for this time. I still have a bunch of recipes that I've tried to blog about, but at this point I'd say it's high time I just ended this and posted something.

Pie Are Squared: Miss Oleda Halliburton's Easy Pear Pie on a Baking Sheet

This has been the biggest disappointment along my pie making journey.
I have been excited about this pie for a long time, partly because pear pie sounds delicious, but mostly because the crust wouldn't require cutting and transferring and shaping. You just roll it out, plop on the filling, fold it up, and you're good to go.
Or so I thought.
It goes without saying that the picture in the book looked nothing like my final product here. I think my filling was somehow a lot more watery. And then all the leakage. Look at all the leakage! It just looks terrible.
But I still didn't despair. Even if it looks awful, it will still taste great, right?
Not really. It didn't taste bad; cinnamon, sugar, and pears can't taste bad really. But it wasn't that great. It was pretty much a mediocre apple pie with a slight peariness.


Flavor: 6

Execution: 4. Man, it was ugly.

Difficulty: Easy. But it turns out that pies are made in cup-shaped pans for a reason.

Overall rating: ** 2 out of 5 stars.