Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deep Thoughts (#2)

When your next step looks like a step's difficult to know if it's the right one.

(Deep Thoughts #1...ish)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Week

We have been celebrating peanut butter week at our house, in honor of Mac's birthday. I always appreciate it when other people try a recipe and tell me how it turned out, so I thought I'd share these, both from Epicurious. I usually don't stray much from recipes, but I made a few changes on both of these and was pretty pleased with the results.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal M&M Cookies

First of all, if you have known me for a while, you will know that I have long been obsessed with the peanut butter oatmeal m&m cookies at Food for Thought in Missoula, Montana. They used to have a location called Second Thought over by my apartment and when I was in college, there were weeks when I would stop by every day on my walk home and pay $1.25 for a cookie the size of my face...which might explain the freshman 15...30...40. Anyway, I am happy to tell you that 1) I don't do that anymore (for one thing that location closed, and for another I moved, and for still another I, believe it or not, have healthier eating habits than I did back then)... and 2) This recipe is the closest thing I've ever found to my original obsession.

 Ingredients for my version
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (pretty sure I've used dark)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12-ounce bag m&m's
In a food processor (or blender with a sharp blade!) pulse 1 cup of the oats until ground fine. In a large bowl stir together ground oats, remaining 1/2 cup whole oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy and beat in vanilla and peanut butter. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and gradually beat in flour mixture. Add m&m's, stirring just until combined. Chill cookie dough, covered, at least 2 hours.  Preheat oven to 325°F.  Bake on ungreased baking sheets about 15 minutes, or until just pale golden. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Comments:  This recipe is really pretty perfect as is, but because I'm on a mission to duplicate the ones from my hometown...I'm going to keep playing with the proportions.  Perhaps increase the pb a bit and decrease the butter.  I also think I might try not grinding up the oats, but leaving them all whole.  I'll let you know if I stumble upon something magical (and please do the same)!

Next up, Peanut Butter Cake

Actually, on Epicurious, this is Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, but lots of reviewers said the chocolate, peanut butter and cream cheese frosting combo was a bit much, and anyway, Mac's not a huge chocolate fan unless it's Reese's (which you'll notice I substituted for the Butterfingers the recipe calls for).  So...I kind of changed this one a lot.  Instead of the chocolate filling which requires you to start one day ahead (I had about 4 hours), I made my own peanut butter cream cheese filling (which I kind of wish I would've used for the top and sides of the cake too, because it was yummy!).  Here goes...

Ingredients for my version

  • 2 1/4-2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar (they suggest light; I used some light, some dark)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 packages cream cheese (8 oz), room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter (for filling; if you want to try it for all the frosting, use more!)
Cake. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch-diameter cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. In large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and peanut butter until blended. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions. Divide batter among pans and spread evenly. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (Mine was longer because I used an extra deep pan and cut the layers later...not recommended for this recipe). Cool cakes 5 minutes. Turn out onto racks; peel off parchment. Cool cakes completely.

Frosting and Filling. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. I honestly don't know if I used that much powdered sugar, I just kept adding it til it tasted right and seemed the right texture. Set aside enough frosting for the top and sides, and leave about 3/4 cup for the filling. Stir in 1/4 cup peanut butter and powdered sugar to taste.  I chilled both frosting and filling until cakes were cooled and ready, but if you had made the cakes ahead of time and they were already cool, I don't think you'd need to. Frost layers, chop up a few Reese's peanut butter cups for the top, and have a birthday party!

Comments:  My cake sunk in the middle, A LOT.  That's why you might notice some piecing together at the bottom center of that slice of cake.  Other than that, though, the layers of this cake held together (and are still holding!) very nicely.  I think the sinking might have had to do with my gigantically deep pan, and the rest of the cake cooking before the center had finished.  In order to get the center cooked all the way, I ended up overbaking, so beware of that.  Even with a little overbaked-ness, it was still pretty darn good!  As far as the cream cheese frosting, I don't know if I liked this one as much as others I've made, so if you have a favorite cream cheese frosting recipe already, I'd use that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To My Best Friend

Family portrait

Happy Birthday, Mac.  I love lots of things about you, and my list is always growing.  I love that you're my best friend.  I love that you can wear pearl snap shirts without looking like you're trying too hard.  I love that you're not afraid to love country music and your dog.  I love that for as long as I've known you (9 years less than the 33 years that you are today), I have never been able to put a label on you.  In 5th grade, when the cool kids discovered your humor, I thought for sure you'd get swept away in a popularity wave (like I probably would have, given the chance).  But you didn't really change.  You've always been you.  You could be friends with everybody then, and you can be friends with anybody now.  I love that you are full of surprises, like the time you first opened your mouth to sing.  I love that when I am feeling down or lonely, I can listen to songs you sang only for me.

I love that tomorrow, God willing, I get to wake up beside you for one more day, one more year of a lifetime of years...and discover again all the things I love.  You. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rotting Blog Posts

I posted a few stale blog posts below.  They won't make much sense if you think I wrote them today, but if I tell you I wrote them November and January respectively, perhaps they will?  Or perhaps not.  It just felt kind of nice to publish something!  And hey, I finally have a computer so I am type-type-publish-happy, hooray!

My Optimist Suit

I know that this is the time of year when most people have their cleanest, freshest, least wrinkly, best smelling, Optimist suits on...and you probably know that I have not yet been so fortunate as to find such a suit in all my 2nd-handling (I don't know if that term perhaps we should stick to thrifting)...but here is what helps me tolerate...maybe even feel excited about...the thought of the new year to come.  I can't predict it.

Seriously, this gives me great hope.

Before the new year even thought about starting, I had let myself start to dread it.  I thought I had it all figured out.  Work.  A good job, but one I don't feel made for.  When yesterday-Monday woke up, I laid in bed thinking about how much I was not going to enjoy myself.  Anymore.  This year.  Maybe next.  A thought bubble appeared above my head (not my own, I'm convinced):  "Erin, you think too much".  And it slowly began to hit me (as slow as hits can ever be, anyway).  I DO think too much.  I think so much I practically look for things to dread and fear and every possible reason why I should.  (Somewhere in the world, a Hallelujah chorus bubble is hovering above Mac's head).

Anyway, I'm rambling, but I guess what I'm trying to say is...I thought I could predict so much about my life, and I sort of dismissed a large portion of it before it even had a chance to happen.  But looking back, I see that the most wonderful things in my life were things I could never have predicted.  The husband I met in 4th grade.  The dog whose freckly mugshot we couldn't resist on a shelter website.  The friends who showed up on Montana's doorstep and the friends whose doorsteps I showed up on in Texas.  Sudden back to back sister/mom visits in December when I couldn't have needed it more.  All of it, too much for my fairly imaginative brain to invent sometimes, much less predict.

I'm not blind to the fact that some of the very worst things in life are also the things we couldn't predict.  The tragedies that blindside us.  An avalanche, a diagnosis, a disappearance, a breakdown...a loss.  For a long time I felt like I worked in the vortex of blindsiding tragedies.  My job was opening the door to the shelter in everyone else's storms, and you would think it would be depressing, but I've never been in a more hopeful place.  I watched friendships sprout like rogue wild berries growing in thickets of knapweed (or whatever other plant villain you can think of).  I would never go so far as to say the tragedies were beautiful, because they weren't.  They were ugly would-be thieves.  I would say that almost always something unexpectedly lovely came out of them, though.  Mostly the loveliness was

Anyway, I remind myself that I need to rest and rejoice in the fact that I cannot see the days of my life unfolding before they do...and that I have no right to dread them.  If I can just scratch the surface of the expected and let what's barely hidden beneath surprise me somehow each day, I think this might just be a year to look forward to.

A Reason for My Silence

Do you ever just come to the realization that the life you're living is not the life you want to live?  Does it force you to stop and make changes?  If so, will you impart your wisdom to me?  Because often I tend to despair.

To be clear, it is work that has me feeling so down.  I do you live a life you want to live when the money must keep coming in?  How do you make a change when jobs are so hard to find and this is so not the time to be jumping ship?

I have a feeling that possibly the answer might lie in a change of heart...a change of attitude.  I also have a feeling that those things are deeply connected to (1) being thankful for what you have and (2) giving of whatever you have to someone who doesn't...whether it's time, energy, money, encouragement, knowledge, laughter, service, whatever.  Each of us has something that someone else does not.

This seems as good as any a place and time (and month!) to insert a (sure-to-be-ever-expanding) list of things I'm grateful for.  My dad used to always say to a chorus of eye-rolls (we were teens, what can I say?)..."You've got to get an ATTITUDE of GRATITUDE"  (So here's to you, Dad.)
  • I am thankful for my family--for the parents who raised me and the sisters I have always looked up to (and not just because they have at all times been 1/3 - 4 feet taller than me).  I am thankful that the family I grew up with--sisters, cousins, etc. are so darn silly, brilliant and creative.
  • I am thankful for my husband who has always seen something in me that I can't, and who believes that whatever that is (me, I guess!) is worth fighting for. 
  • I am thankful--so thankful--that God is bigger than me...and yet even though my problems are minuscule in comparison, they are somehow strangely still important to Him.  (This must be love.) 
  • I am thankful for Miss Maya Joon who makes us laugh hard, play outside, and make new friends every day...and who always welcomes us home with hugs and kisses no matter what kind of mood she's in. 
  • I am thankful that cooler weather comes, even to Texas...and along with it come fat twists of wooly yarn, chai tea, toasty boots and scarves, Crock Pot dinners (with any luck), holiday traditions, Christmas lights, Jesus' birthday and a chance to start it all again. 
  • I am thankful for the journey and all the people God's given me to share it with.  Honestly, I need to think of it more because when I takes my breath away.  I am also thankful simply because it is a journey and at any given moment, I don't have to have 'arrived'.  Eternity has already begun as God loves me in this crazy process.
More to come.  Thanks to you who indulge me and my thoughts!