I am a make-it-home-made-kind-of-girl. I really am. But sometimes, you are just too busy to do the things you want. Especially when you are bombarded with school bake sale requests last minute. I follow a really great blogger called "confessions of a cookbook queen". Her sense of humor leaves me in stitches. And her recipes are always easy and very creative. I recently pinned one of her recipes called "Two Ingredient Lemon Bars". Two ingredient anything will catch my eye. And I saved it for just that moment when I am asked by my daughter to whip up something for school the next day. And well, that happened a few weeks ago. It actually happens more than I would like.
I added more ingredients, because I was missing the graham cracker crust of typical lemon bars. So I added a simple bottom, and had to add more water to the box cake to get it to spread properly on the crust.
These are very light and spongy... and super easy. Keep them in your "emergency recipe box". And do follow confessionsofacookbookqueen.com for a really fun RSS feed.
Box Cake Lemon Bars
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 box white angel food cake (I prefer Betty Crocker)
1/2 cup water
1 can lemon pie filling, about 16 oz.
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350˚. In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and sugar. Use a large jellyroll pan 2 inches deep or two smaller (about 13" x 10") baking sheets. Pour crust into the pan(s), dividing evenly if using two. Press with the palm of your hand until flat and even. Bake lightly for about 8 minutes. Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the box cake mix with the lemon pie filling and the water until well combined and fluffy. Pour the batter gently over the crust. Using a spatula, spread it so it's even. Again, if using two pans, divide evenly. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until puffy and lightly golden. Cool on wire rack.
Meanwhile, mix the powdered sugar with the lemon juice and the vanilla, until glaze is able to be drizzled. When the bars are completely cool, use a fork and drizzle to the tops generously. Let the glaze set before cutting into squares. Keep in an airtight container for a few days.
In all my cooking since the beginning of the blog, I very rarely had to develop specific gluten free recipes (though I'm proud to know some of you have adapted some of my recipes to be gluten free). I am more of south beachy-whole grain cook, if anything. But I reconnected with my best friend from when I was 5! And her daughter has a gluten allergy, so it has forced me to learn how to make dishes gluten free. I have really enjoyed expanding my cooking repertoire. This weekend we had a wonderful Fall dinner together, and I had to bring dessert. I have been slowly getting through our orchard apples, so I decided to make an apple cake that was gluten free. I got big thumbs up from everyone-even my husband who doesn't even like eating gluten free!
Gluten free is yummy too!
Gluten Free Apple Cake
4 TBSP. (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
4 TBSP. butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 cups peeled, cored and chopped baking apples
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 TBSP. orange juice
3 TBSP. softened butter
3 TBSP. brown sugar
4 TBSP. gluten free oats
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 TBSP. potato starch flour
Preheat oven to 350˚. Butter a 13 x 9 glass pan. Whisk together gluten free flour, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Toss the chopped apples with orange juice, 3 Tbsp. sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Macerate the apples for at least 15 minutes.
Whisk the brown sugar with oats, cinnamon and potato starch. Mush the 3 TBSP. butter into the dry ingredients with either your fingers or fork until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Oh, Pinterest. Curse you. I just keep pinning endless cool, crafty things that stare back at me weekly, taunting me with the question, "HELLO? When do you plan on making me?" I decided to set aside some time this weekend to make this pretty easy yarn wreath I have seen on countless Pinterest boards. After all, it's almost time to the deck the halls-so getting a jump on a wreath this weekend seemed like good timing.
I have included the original links to the sites that helped teach me how to do it. I will walk through the steps below, but feel free to go these other great craft blogs for more wreath color inspiration as well as other amazing crafts.
What you will need:
A straw wreath with the plastic wrap kept on
a skein of yarn
5-6 square felt pieces
2-3 silk floral leaves
Tacky fabric glue or a hot glue gun
pretty holiday ribbon for hanging
I found that unraveling a large amount of yarn, cutting it and re wrapping the yarn over my fingers or a piece or rolled paper helped manage the yarn while wrapping the wreath as well as having it go quicker. Things also got less tangled. Start with your end, and tie it around with a small knot at the back, and wrap tightly around, one loop tightly against the next. As you wrap things, wrap over any loose ends from your knot, so they are hidden and nothing is hanging off funny. If you get to the end of your yarn, tie a knot to the back, and start again with more yarn. The trick to starting and stopping the yarn is to wrap over the loose knot ends so they are not showing. Remember, wrap things tight and evenly, going over areas a few times that weren't covered. Continue until you are done and do a final knot at the back. Trim off any ends.
The key to the flowers is to understand the tighter and smaller the square of felt, the smaller the flower. And vice versa. I wanted the biscuit color to be my main flower, so I made the largest square I could out of the biscuit colored felt piece. Then I cut a wavy edge all around the circle. Then start a cut in, about 1/2 " thick, and go around and around in a spiral until you get to the end of your felt, but stop short of your "oval" shape. You will have a little oval/ circle at the end if you don't cut all the way. Keep that shape for the bottom of your flowers, so snip it off and set it aside. Cut smaller squares, and from those squares a wavy circle for your smaller flowers.
Start with your inside end of the circle strip, and roll tightly in your fingers. You are working the underside of the flower, so keep the felt even, matching your edges so you have a flat bottom. As you roll and want a fuller, more petal-looking flower on the outside "petals", loosen your rolling. When you get to your end, glue it down.
Glue the oval piece to the bottom of your flower with plenty of glue. Turn it right side up. Trim and shape any wonky "waves" that made a "petal" stick out too far. The outer waves you cut originally help give the flower a petal look, but some of those waves may be weird. Use your tasteful eye, and shape accordingly. Repeat the process with your other wavy circles.
What I wanted to call this post is "My digital reader is giving me ADD." But that is really only part of my story as it has come to trying to switch my reading habits from paper to digital. I have been at odds with this topic for a few years now. I know many people have made the switch whole hog and love it for many reasons. I know my daughter some nights would prefer to read books off the iPad, as most kids lately. Sometimes I let her, sometimes I don't. For me, I consider myself a pretty hip chic for my age. But when it comes to reading, I have preferred old fashioned paper.
As I have grown to love my ipad for it's technological wonderments, I have been forcing myself to try and read on it to see what all the hoopla is about. There are some things I find really cool and helpful about it, and there are some things I just plain don't like about it.
What I have grown to like about digital readers:
1: A blessing-and a curse-is the ability to download on demand what you want to read, and dive in. I also love that you can get free samples of books, sometimes 8o pages worth! You can get to know an author's style and the tact of a book before spending your hard earned money. I know there have been emergencies at my house when I bought the wrong book for my book club and needed to get reading a different book ASAP, and Amazon Kindle for the ipad came to my rescue within minutes. I have also needed to be "HeroMom" for my daughter who needed a book for school last minute, and the mighty ipad delivered. Having the written world at your fingertips is definitely a powerful proposition, no doubt.
2: You seem to save money. Books seem a few dollars cheaper digitally. Also, the amount of free content on certain book sites is amazing! I was able to download some free Jane Austin, Sherlock Holmes and other classics. And now many library systems have ebooks you can check out. The Chicago Public Library lets you reserve and download right through their site. How easy are book returns digitally? No excuse for late returns now. Talk about saving money!
3: That built in light within your reader is pretty sweet for old, married, late night readers like me. I always use a jenky book light or mini flashlight when I am reading next to my husband. The lit screen makes reading at night much easier to do, but my eyes don't like it after a while.
4: It's great if you are trying to downsize. Books take up a lot of space. They are a pain to move (ask my husband and best friend who lugged my book collection down 3 flights of stairs for an afternoon). Large textbooks for school are a breeze to carry around on a digital reader. So that's a plus.
What I don't like about my digital reader:
1: Yes, the written word is at my fingertips. Yes, I can download a sample of many books to see if I like them. But this is where digital readers give me ADD. Before, when I bought a book at the bookshop or chose it at the library, there is a bit of commitment to that book. You choose carefully, and I think you give the story more of chance because it's physically there-you physically bought it or dragged it home from the library. Now with my digital reader, I can quickly just write off a book if it doesn't grab me quickly and download another sample. It's very easy to be fickle. I think one week I downloaded 5 samples! I don't think I bought a book, either.
2: I hate reading on the ipad screen. After about an hour I'm seeing double, even with my reading glasses. Now I know I am getting older-and so are my eyes. But even with the brightness on the lowest setting, it's just not ideal for reading. Kindle seems to be much better for this.
3: The ipad isn't comfortable or cozy to read. While I was holding it one night in bed, my arm fell asleep while it was resting on it. I have had my wrist cramp up, too. A book is just easier to hold. Maybe the kindle is better? I just think that paper books are warmer and more tactile. Digital readers are cold, slick devices with hard edges. They don't bend or curve like paper. They don't have that faint papery scent. The paper has a toothy feel, and the edges curl or crimp. I just think I would rather curl up with a book than an ipad.
4: It's not as fun to shop the app store for books. I love shopping with my daughter at the local book shop. Nothing beats an afternoon at the book store or library. The experience is completely different. There's nothing else like it. Smelling coffee grounds from the cafe. Trolling the aisles, seeing what grabs you. Sitting right in-between shelves and reading books to figure out what you will be bringing home. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
So that's where I'm at with the digital switch. I think I will still buy paper books, and I think I will still dabble with reading digitally. Maybe someday there won't be paper books anymore. That will be a sad day for me. But the earth will be inherited by the young, won't it?
Many people have been asking how I've been doing on Anatabloc since my last entry, and I promised to write one. I felt that my posts were getting boring and redundant. But I guess inquiring minds want to know? I have not scheduled an appointment with my GI because I just don't think she is going to be on board with being on Anatabloc long term. So I am on the search for a new GI. Especially because I am due for maintenance tests next year.
Meanwhile, I have still been doing great in managing my Crohn's symptoms. I have even been cheating on my food more often than usual without many adverse digestive side affects. I take an extra dose before bed after having a meal where I cheated a lot (cheating for me is excessive sugar and refined flour). I have also found that I am warding off colds and such much better. In fact, a horrible head cold has been making it's way through my office this week. I started feeling it coming on last night, and I just laid down under a couple of blankets and rested. I felt fine this morning! Of course, I was working a bake sale for 4 hours this afternoon, and I feel it coming on again as I write this. I think the key is to really rest, and let your immune system do it's thing. Anatabloc helps that.
The only challenge through my time on Anatabloc has been managing the disease with monthly hormone fluctuations. I know I have mentioned this before. I feel so good now, that I really notice when my flare ups happen. And I have noticed my Crohn's symptoms get crankier during those times. Evening primrose is helping that, but I may look into trying some other things. If I can get that under control, I am golden.
I am staying the course. Anatabloc has been wonderful in managing my disease for now. I will write a post once I get a new GI and have tests done, and give you all an update. Comparing new tests to older ones would be very helpful in knowing if this supplement truly does help the inflammation.
I have heard that Anatabloc is working on trials for Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's and thyroid disease. I look forward to those results being shared with doctors everywhere! It sure would make my life a lot easier as I try to find a doctor that would be open to me using it. Why are doctors so skeptical of managing disease naturally, and through diet? I don't get it.
But for me, I am a believer. I have not felt this good in I don't know how long. Proof will be in test comparisons. So I search for a doctor. And we'll see. I will log off for now, until then.
Peace, and stay healthy!
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
-The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
Quince has always intrigued me. I read about it in ancient fairy tales and English literature. I decided to play with it this Fall to see if it could be part of an apple pie contest contender. I ended up making another recipe (which won 1st place and the popular vote!). I am sharing that one in my up and coming e-book. But this is a venerable pie and worth posting for you.
Quince is a lovely floral-scented fruit. It's scent permeates the kitchen. But you have to precook quince to experience it's honey-infused sweetness, which I think prevents today's time-starved cooks from trying to use it. But if you want to try something unique and impress guests at Thanksgiving, quince will raise some eyebrows and entice taste buds. Try something different! And you can always precook your quince when you have time and use it at a later date.
Vanilla Ginger Quince and Apple Pie
4 quinces, peeled and halved, peels reserved
1 bottle sweet Muscat wine
1 orange peel, 1" wide
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed and pod reserved
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 inch peeled, fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raisins
6-8 baking apples (I use 2 Pink Ladies, 2 Golden Delicious and 2 Galas), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. butter, cold and cut up
2 cups plus 3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4.5 oz. Mascarpone cheese, chilled
1-2 more tsp. chilled water
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. sugar
I do this first because this takes a bit, and you can make the crust and cut and macerate the apples while the stove is working for you. I large saucepan, place your halved Quince on the bottom and add the wine, orange peel, quince peels, chopped ginger, vanilla seeds and pods, sugar and cloves. Add enough water to just cover everything. Heat the pan until things start to boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the quince turns a rosy pink color and are soft when pierced with a fork. Remove the quince with a slotted spoon and set aside on a platter. Simmer the rest of the liquid, reducing it down to about 1/3. This usually takes about 30 more minutes or so. Pour syrup through some cheesecloth, discarding the poaching ingredients and reserving only the liquid. Add the liquid to the raisins, soaking them until plump and most of the liquid is absorbed. Core the quince with a tablespoon. Slice the quince into 1/2 inch wedges once cooled, and set aside. All this can be made a couple days ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Make the crust:
I have recently decided I like making my crusts by hand. It actually is less work, and you don't overwork the dough, making the crust more tender! Seriously. Food processors are a pain to clean and put back. All you need is a pastry cutter (or even a fork!) a bowl and some elbow grease. Pour your flour, sugar, ginger and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk with a fork, and cut in the 12 Tbsp. butter with a pastry cutter until you have the texture of small peas. Add the Mascarpone in a few clumps and cut that in until you have the texture of coarse cornmeal. Drizzle the water over the flour. You will not need much for things to start coming together, mascarpone has a lot of moisture. Add the 1-2 more teaspoons and continue to bring together with a pastry cutter or your hands at this point. Using saran wrap, quickly wrap two balls of dough, evenly divided, and flatten into round discs. Let chill for 30 minutes or overnight. Once rested, roll out your bottom crust between lightly floured saran wrap until it fits your pie pan with 1/2 inch overhang. Peel off the top saran wrap, and with your hand slid under the bottom of the dough flip it into your pie dish and peel off the bottom saran wrap (which will then be at the top) as you adjust the position of the dough. Press into the pie dish, trim so the overhang is 1/2 thick on all sides (patching as you need). Wrap pan in saran wrap tightly and let rest for one hour or overnight as well. AT this point, I roll out my top crust as well, and lay it on a baking sheet covered with saran wrap to rest as well. Resting lets the gluten relax and prevent shrinking and toughness.
Slice the apples and toss in bowl with lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla, honey and salt. Let macerate for up to 3 hours. Drain apples, reserving liquid. Simmer liquid until reduced to about 1/4 cup of thick, bubbly syrup. Take drained aples and cook with 1 Tbsp butter until beginning to soften. Take off heat, add the quince, raisins, cooked down apple syrup and flour. Toss around, and let cool down for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425˚ with a parchment lined baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven for at least 20 minutes.
Once apple filling is cooled down, pour it into the prepared bottom crust. Place the top crust over, trim excess overhang and crimp edges. Cut steam holes. Brush top with water and sprinkle with sugar. Create a foil ring for the edges and have it handy and ready. Place the pie right on the hot baking sheet. Cover edges with foil ring if the edges are browning too fast. After about 30 minutes, I usually tent the pie with tinfoil with a steam hole so that the apples get properly baked in the middle. I keep the tent on for about 20 more minutes, then take it off for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking. Filling should be hot and bubbly and crust evilly golden brown. This takes about 50 minutes to 1 hour total. Let sit out and cool down for a couple hours before cutting to allow the pie to set.
I read an old Jerry Baker book from the library recently, where he explained a simple way to compost leaves through the Winter months. Rather than tossing extra raked leaves in the garbage, using it towards good compost come Spring sounded perfect. So we gave it a try today. I'll walk you through how we did it, and I will post a "Part 2" come Spring, and we'll see what we got!
The theory is that an aerated black bag slowly decomposes material over the long winter months. Seems like it would work, right? You mix in the raked dead leaves with some green material (grass clippings or clipped leaves) and tie it off. Keep it in a sunny spot but somewhere out of sight. Every few weeks, give the bags a shake. Come spring, you have black gold.
Low effort compost? Count me in.
Step 1: Get a large black plastic bag.
Step 2: Fill it with raked leaves as well as green leaves, clippings and grass. I put in 2/3 brown and about 1/3 green material. Fill the bag only 2/3 full so you can shake the material around over the next 6 months.
Step 3: Add a shovel full or two of dirt.
Step 4: Mist the material with water. Shake it around. Add more water on "mist" mode. The material should be lightly moist but not soggy-like a wrung out sponge.
Step 5: Tie off the top of the bag.
Step 6: Poke the bag 4-5 times around the top of the bag to aerate with scissors.
Step 7: Place the bags somewhere hidden but where they can get good, indirect sunlight.
Step 8: Shake the bags every month or so.
You should have crumbly compost come Spring!
Other things we did today:
We created a composting "dirt pile", dumping all our potted annuals with their dirt in one unused area of the yard. We rinsed out the empty pots and stored them under our deck or under a tarp. As we added to our dirt pile, we layered dead leaves and spent green plants between the dirt. We gave it a good mix with a shovel, and the sun and snow will do the rest. Through winter, the material will decompose into the potted soil, and will be ready to fill the pots come Spring.
We placed our pond water plants against the garage wall in our sun bed. We then mounded mulch and leaves around it to keep the roots from freezing. I have had some water plants survive this way, and some not. But the tactic here is that the garage wall and the mulch keeps the plants warm and will come back in the Spring. If I can get one or two to come back, it's still money saved.
It killed me to rip out the tomato plants, especially when I still had tomatoes on the plants. But I harvested all of fruit and put them in my glass terrarium I used to keep decorative small plants on the deck in the Summer. I placed a napkin on the bottom, and laid the green tomatoes on the bottom. The glass creates a "mini hothouse" and will keep the tomatoes nice and warm so that they hopefully ripen up quickly to eat.
So a productive day in the yard, putting my babies to bed and getting ready for Spring. There was a part of me that got excited for Spring already, and all the growing possibilities it brings. My husband teased me saying, "We haven't gotten through Winter yet!" But getting the yard ready for Spring got me optimistic about it, and ready to tackle a Midwest Winter.
I recently had some guests over who's daughter was gluten-free. I made a crepe lasagna for the main meal, using potato starch for the crepes instead of flour. And I made a dip with sweet potato chips and these nuts as a nosh to go with our wine while dinner was baking. These nuts were a hit! They were based on an Emeril recipe I found. These were unique to other nut recipes I have made because everything is done in a pan versus the oven. The nuts are laid out evenly once coated on some parchment to harden up. Just try and separate them as the cool so they don't stick together too much. Smoked paprika adds the smokiness that makes these delectable.
Smokey Goodness Nuts
6 cups almonds and pecans
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. cinnamon
5 Tbsp. butter
12 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Toast nuts in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Add butter to the pan, and cook for about a minute. Nuts will darken up. Quickly add spices, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water as well as the salt. Cook until sauce thickens and bubbles and nuts are coated in the glaze- about 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a parchment lined baking sheet, separating them out as you lay the nuts out evenly. Let them sit out to cool down for 10-20 minutes and harden up. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Introducing a guest post by up-and-coming mom blogger, Jen (@KeepCalmandMom on Twitter!) Jen is sharing some great ideas for holiday card photo opportunities around Chicago, as well as some great links! Welcome, Jen!
Chicago is toured by many and is said to be one of the most interesting cities in the country. It offers an amazing number of tourist attractions that offer photo opportunities as a backdrop for holiday greeting cards. There are far too many to all get the mention that they deserve. Here are five that you can surely find inspiring.
· Crown Fountain – the unusual fresco style art makes a remarkable backdrop. Who would not want a giant pair of lips drinking from a straw on their holiday card? The moving faces will wink at you from above as you try to pose people for a picture.
· Navy Pier at Night – Probably the most famous view in the Windy City, the pier is a mesmerizing display of lights that reflect off of the lake at night. It offers opportunities to be creative with shutter speeds, filters and exposures for special effects.
· Wrigley Field – The famous home of the beloved Cubs, the classic red and white signage is already donned in Christmas colors to coordinate with your holiday attire.
· Hancock Tower View – The view from the 103rd floor is a panorama of the entire city. It is a must see for anyone visiting Chi Town and offers an awesome backdrop for a holiday photo shoot.
· Cloud Gate – No trip to Chicago would be complete without a trip to “The Bean,” a giant shiny chrome sculpture so called for its shape. Try to be creative instead of posing in front. Use its distorted reflectivity to create a carnival mirror effect when taking photos.
There are many others such as the Chicago Cultural Center. There is no telling what fantastic opportunity may appear in this venue for the perfect shot. Also, a visit to see Marilyn Monroe should be on your list. Erected only last year, this giant likeness of Marilyn and her famous wind lifted skirt from, Gentleman Prefer Blondes has become a huge attraction.
It would take a volume, not a blog post to remark about all the notable and interesting sites in Chicago. Only a handful has been mentioned but so many more exist. The best advice that can be given herd is to take a long weekend and come see for yourself. Be ready to take a lot of pictures for your holiday cards for the upcoming season. Once you do the rest is easy. Online sites like TinyPrints.com offer a wide array of Christmas card designs, just choose your card design and the rest will be done for you. I will be traveling to Chicago in November and cannot wait to find the perfect spot for my holiday cards! You can also visit ExploreChicago for more ideas and things to do in Chicago.
Jen L. is a freelance writer and aspiring blogger. She enjoys writing about parenting, cooking (especially cupcakes!) and crafting. Jen is happily married to her college sweetheart and a mother to two beautiful little girls. If Jen's not at home, you can find her at Whole Foods! Follow Jen on Twitter @KeepCalmandMom