Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ginger Spice Cookies



It occurred to me that I haven’t shared my recipe for ginger spice cookies, and they’re perfect for the holidays, so here you go! I’ve had this recipes for years (like seriously, close to 20 years) and I have no idea where it’s from, so I can’t link to it (a cursory Google search reveals similar recipes, but not the exact same one). You will love this cookie if you’ve always wanted a ginger snap, but soft and chewy. Prepare for gingery heat!

I’d consider rolling them in coarse sugar before baking them, though I’ve never tried it. This recipe yielded 32 cookies last time I made it.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
½ cup candied ginger, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 °F and place the rack in the middle position.

In a medium bowl, with a whisk, mix the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and salt.

In a big bowl, with an electric beater (or stand mixer), beat the sugar and oil until well combined. Add the egg, mixing well, then add the molasses. Once combined, add the flour mixture, then the candied ginger and mix until evenly combined.

Make balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter. Place them on ungreased baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies about 8 minutes, until they look ready. (They should look solid, though still a bit shiny on top.)

Housekeeping

- I finished my online course titled Indigenous Canada, and then followed that up with The KonMari Method when it was on sale – maybe someday I’ll make it to one of the seminars and work my way up to being a consultant (more on that below).

- I finally started working again. As some of you might know, I am (was?) a translator by trade, until we moved to the States and I had to stop working because I didn’t have the right visa for it, and then I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Now a friend hooked me up with a small translation project, which involves translating about two dozen recipes (among other texts), and it makes me really happy not just to work again, but to marry translation and recipes, both of which are “my thing”.

- I kept at my decluttering project – getting rid of 365 items in one year. I only got rid of 5 items over the summer (since I wasn’t home and all), but I’ve made a lot more progress since, mainly in my closet. That being said, a surprising amount of things had to be replaced this year: suitcase, backpack, toiletry bag, electric toothbrush, umbrella, towels, light fixtures, prescription eyeglasses… Obviously none of those objects made it into my tally, since they followed the one-in-one-out rule, but it still felt like a lot of purging.

I got rid of my toaster oven, which was a BFD because there was a time in my life when it was indispensable. But all of a sudden, I had enough clarity to see that I hadn’t used it in years, and most probably wouldn’t need it again, and so I was able to let it go. It freed up a fair amount of space in the pantry, but all of that space was taken over by “lunchables” (not the brand, but containers and snacks and such that I now use for the Little Prince every school day). So even though it was a win, it still felt a bit like I’m barely keeping my head above water in that area, because the pantry is still fuller than I’d like. I think I’ll have to further whittle down the number of staples I keep on hand even though, again, I’m not counting food as items for the purposes of this project.

I also closed a Canadian bank account that I wasn’t using. The account itself is intangible, but it allowed me to get rid of a stack of papers as well as a card from my wallet, in addition to eliminating all my dealings with that bank, and I feel like it frees up so much mental space that I’m counting it as one item.

I decided on counting sets of baby items as single items (example: set of two dozen cloth diapers and doublers = 1 item), and I’m counting papers as items only if I also get rid of the folder in which they were stored (so when I got rid of all the papers in one folder, but decided to keep the folder itself for now because it will be useful to store my genealogy papers, I didn’t count any objects in the tally). As of the moment I’m writing these lines, I have gotten rid of 381 items (breakdown: 60 CDs/cassette tapes; 29 books; 1 movie; 55 baby items; 125 items of clothing, many of which were maternity wear or things that no longer fit post-pregnancy; and 111 miscellaneous items – komono, to use KonMari terminology).

You know what, though? It doesn’t make as big of a difference as I was hoping. Apart from the music collection, most things appear the same at a glance. Well, I did improve the entrance by buying a shoe rack and limiting each member of the household to 3 pairs of shoes at the front door, but if anything, that added an item (although it’s definitely both more functional and aesthetically pleasing). I think that most other items were out of sight. Like, sure, my closet and dresser drawers are less crowded, and my bras in particular are now beautifully displayed, but it’s still not a capsule wardrobe. And yes, we got rid of A LOT of baby items, but those were mostly in the nursery closet, behind a closed door, so I know they’re gone, but it doesn’t show. I got rid of dozens of books, and now at least every book has space to be stored vertically, but all three bookshelves are still needed (and I don’t want to change that). And I didn’t get around to editing our movie collection, mostly because I know the same thing would happen again – it’s like I need an end goal. When I was paring down the music collection, it was so that we would get rid of a piece of furniture and put everything that remained in a single storage unit. But that’s not an option for our movies, and an end goal of sparser shelves doesn’t appeal much to me. So everything in the house is just a little bit better, but there were no major makeovers.

- All of this has put me on a path I hadn’t quite expected: I’m getting so much joy from downsizing (when possible) and especially organizing (all the time) that I’ve decided to be a professional organizer – you heard it here first. I’m in a preparation phase right now; I’ll be dealing with classes, accreditation, banking, insurance, accounting, branding, etc., in the spring, but it all seems very doable for me. And if I make it to one of Marie Kondo’s seminars (tough because of limited availabilities and the fact that I am needed at home), I could work my way to being a KonMari consultant, for which there is a lot of demand.

I took a third online course, about minimalism, not for motivation so much as for “market research”. This was very helpful because it became obvious that there are situations that many, many people are faced with that just don’t happen in my house. Like, I was aware of jokes or memes about these things, but I honestly didn’t realize that so many people really experienced these things (as evidenced by photos and posts in a private Facebook group). Example: tons of clutter kept in the car; piles of mail that goes unopened (including bills and claims and checks, all of which expire); cupboards crammed with Tupperware lids with no matching containers; baskets full of single socks. Honestly, I think I have lost a sock once in my life, when I was doing a load of laundry to prepare for the Little Prince’s arrival – the Engineer found the sock three years later, and it turns out it had fallen between the washing machine and the wall, in the back. The Fox got to wear the pair instead. Seriously, how do you truly lose socks (assuming they’re not stuck flat against the tub of the washer/dryer or inside a pant leg or still in the hamper)? I guess I’ll have to figure out a reasonable amount of time for my clients to keep said basket of single socks…

I remember reading Joel Stein’s Time article (Stuff and Nonsense, August 6, 2012) about Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, a UCLA project led by Jeanne Arnold, who studied the homes of 32 middle-class families from Southern California. Arnold says that the best predictor of clutter within the house is the fridge – she’s only seen two that had nothing on them, and that’s because they were not magnetized. The average family has 52 items on their fridge. (I had to go check ours: we only have things on one side, as the front is stainless steel; we have 22 things if you count both magnets and paper held by magnets, plus a growing, soon-to-be-12 magnet mosaic from a subscription the Little Prince has. Still more than I had thought.) She also says that 78% of families have a television in their bedroom (we don’t); 53% of families have a second fridge (well, we have a miniature fridge in the garage, which we’ve used to store beverages when we had guests, but it’s not currently plugged in); 75% use their garage solely for storage (guilty, though in our defense, our two-car garage has two separate doors, which means that parking a car there will prevent you from opening the door on one side because it’s so close to the wall – inconvenient for one driver, but impossible for a family with two kids in car seats; factor in the giant trash and recycling bins that we store in there, plus a lawn mower, some outdoor furniture, our rooftop carrier for the summer road trips, gardening items, a newly-acquired hand-me-down wagon, a tricycle and a kid’s bicycle, and yeah, there’s really only room for one car if we need to bring it indoors to avoid freezing rain, for example). Other interesting numbers, though I’m not comparing just now: the average family has 438 books and magazines, 212 CDs, 90 DVDs and VHS tapes, 139 toys, 39 pairs of shoes, and a backyard with a grill, although 75% of families don’t actually carve out any time to spend outdoors (guilty of that too).

If you want to find out more about that project, there’s a great video here. It also explains how clutter is affecting (and burdening) women in particular.

- I’m also going to open an Etsy store, but I’ll tell you more about that once it’s set up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Another big showdown of chocolate chip cookies

Alright, alright, I might as well give in and own it: chocolate chip cookies are my thing. Even when I have killer recipes, I can’t help but try others. And I’m not even going to apologize, because otherwise I would never have found the 36-hour cookies, even though I was (and still am) enamored with the Neiman-Marcus cookies.

So, I tried Alison Roman’s famous salted butter and chocolate chunk shortbread cookies, back when I still had lactose-free butter, and I have to say I did not care for them. Only one was nice enough to be photographed; they would have fared better without the egg wash, but still, I’m not making them again.


I took a look at what I call pan-bang cookies, which were all over the internet last fall. They looked good, but let’s face the facts: their entire draw is the fact that they end up being very flat (and have ripples), but a flat chocolate chip cookie is not what I want – I like them thick and chewy. So I’m not going to be pan-banging, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. There are still “chef recipes” I want to try, like the three on the BuzzFeed round-up, but I didn’t get around to it, and I probably need more taste tester for those.

I tried four more recipes for this round-up: the ones from Everyday Reading, which call for both butter and shortening; the ones from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons, which call for melted butter; the Cook’s Illustrated version, which called for browned butter; and Broma Bakery’s cookies, which call for olive oil. Note that for all of these, I used Earth Balance sticks instead of butter, since I can’t get it lactose-free in the States anymore, but I used Challenge’s lactose-free butter spread for the Cook’s Illustrated cookies because I did have to get some sort of browning going on in there. All cookies were topped those with Maldon sea salt, in the spirit of fairness, because cookies are better with salt.

I baked some of each as I made them over the past few months, of course, but I also saved some dough in the freezer for comparison purposes for today, alongside some 36-hour cookie dough made last week (gotta have something for teachers and coaches before the holidays) and some Neiman-Marcus for good measure (I had some in the freezer and they wanted to join the party).

First up, Everyday Reading cookies. They are ideal baked 10 minutes when the dough is straight from the fridge. They are delicious, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, but they are best served immediately – they don’t keep all that well, even if the raw dough is left in the fridge and baked on demand. I got 25 cookies from that batch.


Tara O’Brady’s cookies were easier to shape after chilling the dough; I got 32 from that batch. They also baked up in 10 minutes if they were straight from the fridge, and were actually better the next day once the dough had rested. I didn’t really have anything remarkable to say at that point, though.


The Cook’s Illustrated cookies yielded an even 24 cookies, which I measured as accurately as I could (1.25 ounces each) given that I did not own a #24 cookie scoop. They were easier to shape at room temperature, though I baked most of them cold – 12 minutes is ideal if the dough has been kept in the fridge.


Broma Bakery’s cookies yielded 18 cookies; the dough was *very* soft, so they were easier to shape once it had been chilled. They baked in 13 to 14 minutes from the fridge, but they spread in the oven and turned stiff once cooled. They were certainly not great.


Then there was today’s bake-off, where I pitted them all against one another, starting with frozen dough for every one and baking everything at 350 °F for 14 minutes, because there are limits to how finicky I will get in accommodating particular recipe variations for a total of six cookies. (And for the record, I had a nice healthy salad for lunch, and *tasted* all six cookies but did not *finish* all of them.) In each photo, they are, clockwise from top left: Everyday Reading, Tara O’Brady, Cook’s Illustrated, Neiman-Marcus, 36-hour, and Broma Bakery.


The olive oil one was eliminated immediately for its unpleasant texture (more tacky than chewy). Tara O’Brady’s cookies soon followed, for the same reason. I like Cook’s Illustrated’s cookies, but find then a bit bland, or like they are missing something, especially compared to the rest. And the cookies with shortening are taller and a bit crisper than the others, but they also taste like something is missing. Meanwhile, the Neiman-Marcus cookies are delicious, but a different beast altogether. I kept coming back to the 36-hour cookies as a “control cookie” to use when tasting, and in the end, I did prefer them as far as no-frills chocolate chip cookies go.

Conclusion: The 36-hour cookie wins again! Also, I have now purchased a #24 cookie scoop, because I’m taking this cookie-making thing a bit more seriously.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Golden Milk



I’d been meaning to try golden milk for a while now, and with the weather getting colder, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I first tried a recipe from Minimalist Baker. It was delicious, but I did find that using ground turmeric gave it a bit of a gritty feel. Then, when I got stuck with a lot of extra fresh turmeric, I looked around for another recipe and settled on This Healthy Table, which also yielded delicious results! That being said, I think the turmeric flavor was in fact more pronounced with the ground version (which is why the Minimalist Baker uses ground instead of fresh). So I think I would make the original recipe and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any bits of turmeric powder. Alternatively, I would grate fresh turmeric and/or ginger (instead of slicing it) and put that into the mixture, and use a fine-mesh strainer anyway. My version is below. It feels like it would be good to nurse a cold, or to replace tea and coffee in the winter (for those of us who don’t typically drink either). I’m now thinking I should work on a white chocolate version…

1 ½ cups light coconut milk (I used milk from a can, but coconut milk beverage would work, too)
1 ½ cups unsweetened plain almond milk (I used unsweetened toasted coconut almond milk)
1 ½ tsp. ground turmeric (or 1-2 Tbsp. fresh, grated)
¼ tsp. ground ginger (or 1-2 Tbsp. fresh, grated)
1 whole cinnamon stick (or ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 pinch ground black pepper
sweetener of choice (for me this was 3 Tbsp. honey, but maple syrup would be good, too)

To a small saucepan, add coconut milk, almond milk, ground turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon stick, coconut oil, black pepper, and sweetener of choice.

Whisk to combine and warm over medium heat. Heat until hot to the touch but not boiling, about 4 minutes, whisking frequently.

Turn off heat and taste to adjust flavor. Add more sweetener to taste or more turmeric or ginger for intense spice + flavor.

Remove the cinnamon stick and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Serve immediately, dividing between two glasses or mugs. Dust with cinnamon.

Best when fresh, though leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Reheat on the stovetop or microwave until hot.


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Corn Pancakes



Even though I now have a go-to pancake recipe, I like to try something new once in a while, especially if it has a flavor (as opposed to a plain pancake). I can tell you that red velvet pancakes were, surprisingly, not worth it. Neither were these oat flour pancakes. But then I saw this post on Symmetry Breakfast and decided to make corn custard pancakes. It’s pretty easy – just swap out half the flour for corn flour and add a tablespoon of custard powder. Delicious! I might even increase the amount of custard powder next time, because I couldn’t really tell it was there.

100 g. all-purpose flour
100 g. corn flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. custard powder (or more, see note above)
1 pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups lactose-free milk

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, corn flour, baking powder, custard powder, salt, and sugar.

In another bowl, combine eggs and milk and whisk vigorously until eggs are foamy.

Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Put a teaspoon of butter, margarine or oil in a pan and melt over medium heat. Drop a ladle-full of batter into the pan and cook until it starts to rise up and bubble; flip over and continue to cook until golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm while repeating with the rest of the batter, greasing the skillet again as needed.

Serve warm with syrup and fresh berries, if desired.

Product reviews

Let me start with my current favorite, Made Good soft granola bars, which I can’t recommend enough. They’re a great snack for your kids’ lunchbox or when the kids come home from school. We tried the apple cinnamon and the mixed berry granola bars as well as the chocolate chip granola minis (soft granola clusters). The Little Prince is lukewarm on the granola bars, mostly because the first one “made [him] thirsty” and, you know, they don’t have chocolate. He LOVES the chocolate chip granola minis, though, so I’ll just switch to the chocolate chip granola bars. The Fox likes them all, though I have to break the bars into pieces for him because otherwise he’d take bites that are too big. Normally I’d tell you that I like this brand because it’s kosher, vegan, and processed in a facility free from the 8 most common allergens (so totally safe for school), but here’s the best part (which my kids still don’t know): each bar or pouch of granola minis contains the nutrients of 1 serving of vegetables. What?!? They actually contain vegetable extracts, like broccoli, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, beets, and shiitake mushrooms. And I swear your kids won’t notice. Made Good products are available at Whole Foods, but you can get decent prices on Amazon too.


While at Whole Foods, I bought some Moon Cheese, in both cheddar and gouda forms. Moon Cheese is essentially dehydrated nuggets of cheese, which don’t need refrigeration. I believe the name comes from both the fact that they resemble what astronauts might eat and their appearance (like a little asteroid or moon full of tiny craters). Here’s a picture near the hand of a one-and-a-half-year-old for comparison. They are lactose-free and delicious! The downside is that these crisp bite-size pieces are very salty, even though they contain only cheese, because there’s no moisture. So I would say they are great on the go in small amounts, or accompanying something moister like fruit.


Another cheese product I tried was Folios cheese wraps, which come in parmesan, jarlsberg, and cheddar flavors. They are lactose-free and gluten-free; you can use them as is, meaning as wraps or inside wraps, or use them to make chips or edible bowls, for example. (See here for where to buy them.) I’m enjoying them!


I ordered Love Grown cereal, specifically the Fruity Sea Stars, after reading about what a good option it was for health-conscious families. The cereal is made from a blend of three beans (navy, lentil, and garbanzo beans) along with rice flour, so it’s full of protein. Plus, in the case of the Sea Stars, the colors are natural (radish juice, turmeric, and paprika). They taste like Froot Loops, though perhaps a bit more lemony. That’s actually the downside for the Little Prince, at least, because he much prefers the chocolate variety (I found the Power O’s at my local grocery store). Those are quite good too, and the chocolate flavor is more intense and less sweet than with other similar products from different brands.


I tried Miyoko’s vegan butter, which does taste more like butter than any margarine I’ve tried, but it wasn’t enough to truly make up for the fact that Green Valley Creamery isn’t making lactose-free butter anymore.


I don’t usually do this, but I’ll just steer you away from this chocolate spread, which was so bad that we threw it away. I then promptly got more Chocolate Soom and am very, very sorry I strayed.

I also tried Calavo’s chocolate mousse made with avocados, which was… meh. My homemade one is so much better that these were a big let-down for me. That being said, the Fox has never tasted my recipe, so he was all over these, and I now realize that they’d be great if you’re looking for healthy-ish chocolate puddings for your baby.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

This is another recipe from the Weelicious Lunches cookbook. I wasn’t sure how they’d turn out – I was afraid they might be too tough or sticky, but as it happens, they were perfect. Plus, even though the recipe yields A LOT, these bars stayed remarkably fresh at room temperature, for a few weeks even! The instructions say to wrap them individually, but I had them in an airtight container. Both my kids really liked these (though of course I broke them up into little pieces for the Fox), and I think they wouldn’t like them as much if I replaced the chocolate chips with dried fruits or nuts, so I won’t, but that’s an option. The only downside is that over the time we were eating them, I found a lot of oat flakes on the floor of the house, the way one might find Cheerios in a house with little kids. A small price to pay! The recipe was also published on the Weelicious website.

4 cups old fashioned oats
¼ cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup honey

Preheat oven to 325 °F.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients over the oat mixture and stir to combine.

Place granola mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet and shape into a rectangle, about 13 x 9 x 1 inch thick. (I did this in a 9” x 13” baking pan lined with parchment paper.)

Bake for 40 minutes.

Allow to cool completely then cut into bars 3 x 1 inch bars. Bars will keep well wrapped individually.

Castroville

I delayed on writing this post because I wanted to do a round-up of our fall outings, but it turns out there was just the one. The Little Prince moved up a level in his swim class, and weekday classes are booked solid, so now each weekend day has a swim class for one kid, plus naptime for the Fox, and of course our weekdays have school and work, so it’s harder to find the time to go anywhere. I also feel like the outing ideas I have for now would require the Fox to be a bit older, so hopefully inspiration will strike again.

In the meantime, our September outing was to the small town of Castroville, just west of San Antonio. It is named for its founder, Henri Castro, a Frenchman of Jewish Portuguese ancestry, who is credited with introducing more than 2,100 immigrants to Texas (second only to Stephen F. Austin, apparently).

Castroville is known for its Franco-German heritage. The visitor center is Steinbach Haus, which was built in Alsace from 1618 to 1648, shipped here in pieces around 1988, and reassembled by Alsatian students in 1998. It is now filled with 17th-Century antiques. You can also pick up a city guide there and use it to take a walking tour.



Just on the other side of the Medina River is the Landmark Inn Historic Site. Built in the 1840s, it was once an important stop on El Camino Real, the route from San Antonio to Mexico, being an inn as well as a mill and a trading post. Castroville itself was founded in 1844.

Don’t miss the “new” St. Louis Catholic Church, completed in 1870 (the tiny old church is a block south). There is a big festival every August. You could easily walk around the historical part of town from there, and/or shop for antiques. (That being said, because the recent rain had created enough water to engulf some sidewalks, and because I could tell the Engineer was getting crotchety, we didn’t stick around.) Some of the houses in that area are in fact reminiscent of what I’ve seen in Quebec or New England.

Our last stop before going home was Haby’s Alsatian Bakery (which is closed on Sundays). There is a vast array of breads, donuts, apple fritters, cinnamon rolls, cookies, frosted cookies (our favorites), and other assorted pastries (sleeper hit: the small chocolate-covered peanut halva with multicolor sprinkles). Prices are very reasonable, too!

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Boulettes de porc au sésame

Une autre recette copiée d’un numéro de Tellement Bon! Lu au chalet l’été dernier. Le plat avait l’air tellement bon, justement! La recette était censée donner de 12 à 16 boulettes, alors que moi je voulais nourrir 4 personnes pendant deux repas, alors j’ai doublé les quantités ci-dessous et j’ai obtenu un total de 60 boulettes. De toute évidence, j’ai donc fait mes boulettes plus petites que j’aurais dû (un peu plus petites que des balles de golf), mais c’est ce que je recommande, surtout vu le temps de cuisson. Les quantités ci-dessous vous donneront environ 30 petites boulettes.

J’ai doublé la recette, donc, mais j’ai gardé la même quantité de graines de sésame, alors la moitié de mes boulettes étaient « nues » et elles étaient délicieuses aussi! Vous pouvez donc omettre les graines de sésame si vous voulez, ou utiliser un mélange de graines noires et blanches. J’ai dû utiliser de la pâte de cari verte, car je suis allée à deux épiceries sans trouver de pâte de cari jaune. On a vraiment adoré le résultat! Tout le monde en a redemandé.

J’ai servi le tout avec du riz rouge et des carottes rôties au miel.

1 c. à soupe d’huile d’olive
1 c. à soupe de beurre
1 lb. de porc haché
3 oignons verts finement ciselés
2 c. à soupe de gingembre frais, râpé
2 c. à soupe de pâte de cari jaune (j’ai utilisé de la verte)
1/3 tasse de panko ou de chapelure nature
1 c. à thé d’huile de sésame
Sel et poivre, au goût
½ tasse de graines de sésame

Préchauffer le four à 375 °F. Tapisser une plaque è cuisson de papier parchemin.

Dans un grand bol, mélanger tous les ingrédients, sauf les graines de sésame.

À l’aide d’une (petite!) cuillère à crème glacée, façonner des boulettes (c’est beaucoup plus rapide, et les mains restent propres), puis les rouler dans les graines de sésame.

Répartir les boulettes sur la plaque et cuire au four de 20 à 25 minutes. Servir chaud.

On peut aussi faire congeler les boulettes crues; il suffit alors de les faire cuire 45 minutes à 375 °F.