Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Giving It Away

I am realizing I am not very good at keeping jars of canned goods around for a very long time. Despite my intentions to give the Okanagan fruit jams as Christmas gifts, I have already offered to give some to one of my co-workers, in addition to the jars my mother and I have already eaten!

However, one of the things I love most about cooking and baking is giving it away and making other people happy, so I might as well do that now rather than save it all until Christmas time.

Here's hoping I will make it to the farmers' market tomorrow morning to begin stocking up on fruit once more....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wedding Success and...Jams!

First, my sister's wedding. More precisely, her wedding cookies! At times while icing the cookies, I felt as though I was in a horrible dream; that the cookies were endless, and I would be painstakingly smoothing icing into the scalloped edges of outlined cookies for eternity. Thankfully, after three straight nights of icing until the wee hours of the morning, all the cookies -- outlined, flooded, and lettered -- were drying on various surfaces in the dining room.

After that point, my greatest fear was that my beloved dog would sneak into the dining room and gobble up the finished products. However, no doubt picking up on her risk of great bodily injury should she so much as shed on one cookie, she gave them a wide berth. The closed doors also helped.

Two batches of mini cream scones the morning after the wedding marked the end of my baking for a week or so, but then I was right back in my apron. :)

I returned home from an unbelievably idyllic week in British Columbia with twenty pounds of peaches and ten pounds of apples. "You are crazy...and that is totally illegal," remarked my friend, Maggie. Turns out it is actually perfectly legal to bring in fruits to the United States, as long as one can prove the fruits were grown in the Okanagan Valley (or, I presume, another region in Canada). My fellow passengers were eyeing my fragrant box of peaches covetously as we boarded the plane; I said I would share, but only if we got stuck waiting on the tarmac for hours, which we thankfully did not.

Then commenced my canning binge.

Summer fruit jam, peach butter, peach sauce, and spiced apples...the jars were intended as Christmas gifts, but I am tempted to hoard them for myself! I will only keep the spiced apples, though, to make apple pies and tarts around Christmas time. The most destructive -- I managed to crack the grating blade -- but definitely the most conducive to future baking projects! There was a good amount left over after I had filled four pint jars for processing, so I rolled out a round of pie dough and made "pocket pies," each containing only a packed tablespoon of the filling.

The canning binge is ongoing; though all the Okanagan fruit is now preserved in jars for future enjoyment, I am sure I will find some tasty inspiration at at least one of the various farmers' markets this week.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sugar Cookies, Final Version


After baking my "Goldilocks" version of the Sprinklebakes/Williams-Sonoma cookie recipes, I was reasonably happy with the cookies. They were softer, but still flat enough to be aesthetically pleasing; a happy medium. However, the very next day I tried a recipe given to me by one of my sister's friends; it has been in her family for years now, and my sister loves it. It was fantastic! Flat, light, chewy, delicious. I found a winner.

Now, for the icing. I creamed together a batch of the same friend's buttercream frosting; it tasted heavenly, but was still not entirely dry five days later. I do not think it would withstand being stacked and otherwise packaged, especially not if each cookie was fully flooded with icing. So, since my sister liked the royal icing, I will stick with that. It dries shiny and hard, looks beautiful, and tastes good to boot. Furthermore, it is naturally white due to the absence of butter -- the butter in the buttercream turned it a soft yellow -- so should be a better backdrop for food coloring.

I will, however, plan to use the buttercream frosting for my sister's bridal shower cupcakes!

My remaining task is to figure out the best way to ice the cookies and somehow write my sister's and her fiancee's names on them. My "Message in a Cookie Cutter" cutters are wonderful, but once I ice the cookie, the lettering disappears (covered by the icing). So I believe I have two options: (1) use the stamp over the icing when it is nearly dry, so the stamp goes directly into the icing; or (2) write their names on the cookie in a color different from the background. E.g. I believe the wedding colors are yellow and navy blue, so I could do a yellow background and navy blue lettering, and/or vice versa. Maybe each guest could have one of each. The tricky part with this option is that it will likely be much more time-consuming, and I will have to bake and ice plenty of extra cookies in case I mess up the lettering! A small price to pay for perfection....

And Protect Us from All Undue Anxiety....

I am experiencing a great deal of anxiety about my upcoming move to a new school on the opposite coast. This is my dream school, and I could not be happier or more excited to begin my studies there in the fall. I anticipate meeting many new people, and am immensely looking forward to immersing myself in the community.


Recently, I have been struck by wave after wave of doubt and fear. Will people like me? Will I make any friends? Will they all think I am weird? Will the professors think I am dumb? Will I say stupid things the first day? Week? Month? Ever? And then my brain goes wild with speculation, imagining that everyone will be in a big, happy group of friends, fun, and academic success, and I will be left on the outside looking in.

Then I discovered the name of my academic advisor, and it is someone I have never heard of, who from what I can tell has nothing to do with my anticipated area of focus. I would not be quite so worried if I was not banking on having an experienced guide in this area, as I plan to do a Ph.D. and will certainly need someone of expertise to guide me through course selection, etc.

Well, I am sure I will say stupid things from time to time, though hopefully not too often. And I am sure not everyone will like me. Maybe I will not have very many friends, after all. Or maybe I will. Who knows?

Times like these make me even more keenly aware of my brain's tendency to spin around in circles like a hyper dog in a small backyard. Logic and reasoning do not seem to help much. I can tell myself ad nauseum that all I have to do is be myself and do all the things I did as an undergrad at USF, and I will be fine. Everything will work itself out; maybe not exactly how I would have planned it, but everything will work out according to God's plan, and I will be fine. But no matter how many times I repeat that like a mantra, there is a knot of fear that refuses to melt.

But then I force myself -- because sometimes it does require forcing -- to sit in silent contemplation. Resting in God, in silence. And the knot melts, and I can rest in relief. There is an enormous qualitative difference between trying to convince myself logically, and simply resting in God. Not actively praying for anything, just resting. Just sitting. Just being.

Relief in God.

I can take proactive steps, too. For example, contacting an admissions director and asking about my advisor, expressing my concerns. But for now, tonight, I will simply rest in God.



Monday, May 10, 2010


After taking my first of four final exams, I figured I deserved a bit of a break from studying. I reclined on the couch and read a few chapters in Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk, which had its usual effect of making me want to be a Benedictine nun.

I have been pondering becoming a nun for a few months now; not specifically Benedictine, but definitely entertaining the general idea of entering religious life. If someone had asked me even a year ago if I thought I would even want to become a nun, much less think seriously about doing so, I would have laughed them off and said, "Heck, no!" I wanted freedom, and independence, and spontaneity; and I imagined the life of a nun as confined, hemmed in, and subservient.

For the last few years, I have been trying to live with an ear toward God's will for me. The operative word, of course, is "trying" -- to varying degrees of success. I am far from perfect. Very, very, very far from perfect. Sometimes I look on my actions, both past and present, and think if God was not reserving judgment until my death, I would be smited where I stand, especially while kneeling in the pews. Who am I, such a painfully flawed human being, to say that I strive to do God's will? The chasm between my actions and God's will seems infinite. Yet in my glaring frailties, in the depths of my shame, I find God's love. When Jesus died, he descended into the deepest realms of existence -- past sin, past shame, past even death. And He brought us, those of us existing in the deepest throes of sin and despair, to God with Him.

I have a bit of a problem with the theology that says no matter what I do, God loves me. That seems to somehow cheapen God's love. This is where it gets tricky, because I do not believe we must do anything to deserve or receive God's love; and I do believe He loves us all, and that His love is unconditional. So, yes, in that sense I do believe God loves me no matter what I do. But I also believe God's love is manifested in His wanting the best for me, and that I will not encounter what is best while turning away from Him. God loves me regardless, but this does not mean He always approves of or likes what I am doing. Apologizing is meaningless unless my actions change. No good will come if I mistreat people when convenient, then suffer pangs of remorse and confess my sins later -- unless I actually cease mistreating people, and cease mistreating myself. While I will always be a child of God, I will never be in true communion with Him until I consent to His guidance and to his love. God is always there, waiting for me -- but I must take the final steps.

Lately, it seems as though those final steps have been leading me closer to religious life. Through conversations with friends and mentors, I have acquired more tolerance and appreciation for patience. As Teilhard de Chardin wrote,

"We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of progress
that it is made by passing through
some states of instability ---
and that it may take a very long time."

Full text of his prayer for Patient Trust here.

With this in mind, I know I need to allow myself ample time for discernment, to sit with my thoughts and emotions. There are many paths that could lead me toward a life of devotion, not all of which require becoming part of a religious community. Yet even while I remind myself to wait patiently -- or impatiently, as the case may be -- I search out information about religious orders in an attempt to get a sense for what is available, and what sorts of orders exist.

As an aside, there is, of course, part of me that dreams of glory and of starting my own religious order. That would not be inherently bad, but for the moment my motivation is purely self-serving grandiosity; so I gently place those thoughts to the side.

This evening, I found information about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (more information here), and am blown away by their mission and spirituality. Because any description of the order's appeal to me would deserve more care than I can take at the moment, given my falling eyelids and desire for sleep, I will save my affirmations for a later date. For now, suffice to say they have what I want.

Striving to do God's will,


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sugar Cookies, Version 2.0

I tried the Sprinkle Bakes sugar cookie recipe (functional link in the previous post). It definitely made tastier cookies than the Williams-Sonoma recipe. However, due to the two additional eggs and two teaspoons of baking powder, they became very...let's say...round, during the baking process! For the most part, they were flat enough to look good iced, but not to be left unadorned. When they puffed up in the oven, the lettering in the cookie dough became too indistinct -- still legible, though not very snazzy-looking.

I had anticipated this problem, but wanted to give the recipe a try as-is first, just to have a baseline for comparison. For my next batch, I will use the basic W-S recipe, but add one extra egg and only one teaspoon of baking powder. This will fall right between the W-S and SB recipes. My hope is that, like Goldilocks, this recipe will be just right -- "fluffy" enough to taste delicious, and firm enough to hold its shape.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sugar Cookies

I am on a search to find an excellent sugar cookie recipe. I have used the "America's Test Kitchen" version before, but did not really like it because it uses a few too many specialized ingredients. Calling for super fine baker's sugar, cream cheese, etc...the cookies were good, but in my mind not good enough to justify the number of ingredients.

Yesterday, I tried out the dough recipe sent with my amazing Williams-Sonoma cookie cutters. The cookies held their shape well, but they were a bit tough. Decent, but far from spectacular -- though the cookie cutters themselves are absolutely wonderful. My next venture will be to try Sprinkle Bakes' sugar cookie recipe. I have much higher hopes for this one; essentially the same as the Williams-Sonoma recipe, but with two more eggs, a touch more vanilla extract, and the addition of some baking powder.

Then, it will be on to perfecting the icing. I still have not decided between using royal icing and buttercream icing. I will have to do a few test rounds to see whether the buttercream will dry hard enough, as the cookies are intended to be part of my sister's wedding favors in July, and will thus need to be bagged together. The royal icing is good because it dries to a hard, shiny, unsmudgeable finish, but it might be a bit too sweet.

Back to the kitchen....