Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tell her what she's won, Bob

I won, I won, I won!

No, not the lottery. A fancy set of body washes, silly!

I frequently satisfy my need to daydream about girly things - and let my mind escape the confines of this all-male work environment - by reading blog sites. One of them, The Frisky, is written by snappy, fashionable, gossipy women (a most entertaining trifecta to be sure), and I'm truly addicted to it. And every so often, I'm compelled to comment on a posting. Like their blurb on the rumor that Jessica Simpson doesn't wash her stanky hair. Hey, I went a year without using shampoo, and my hair was shiny and smelled like flowers. Honestly! So, I scribbled down a little comment and hit the Submit button. Imagine my surprise when they wrote to thank me for one of the favorite comments of the week! Hurrah!!

Maybe one day, it'll pay (in cold hard cash, natch!) for me to inflict my nonsense thoughts upon the world. Til then...Congratulations, skeddy! :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Visualize This!

So. Tell me what my desk looks like. Go on. I know you've pictured it in your head as you've read emails, chats, and/or blogs from me :)

I thought I'd snap a couple of pictures of where I sit each day so that you can have a more descriptive picture in your head. The only things missing from the pictures are my (currently raven-colored) curly mess of a hairdo and my fingers flying on the keyboard, causing my coworkers to question my typing speed, ha!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Are there rules for wishing?

Tonight marks the second time that Brian and I have wished on a wishbone together. The first was after Thanksgiving this year. Tonight's came from a chicken I roasted for Sunday's dinner. Both times, we wished, pulled, and the top joint section flew off. There was no lopsided result so that someone could claim victory. There was no joint splitting down the middle to allow both our wishes to come true. The joint just completely flew off into the air and we were both left standing with the wishbone legs.

We claim that, after twice in as many months, it must mean that both our wishes will come true. Do any of you know if the "rules" to breaking wishbones apply? I've googled to no avail...sigh...

Cooking with Sara: A Recipe for Ego

Any of you who have spent much time with me know that I tend to be more self-deprecating than egotistical. Unless...I'm gushing about how spectacularly yummy my chocolate chip cookies are.

It all began way (way, way) back in high school when I needed material for a demonstration/how-to speech. I opted for making chocolate chip cookies - talk about ample visual aids and something I at least knew a smidge about before doing any research. As part of said research, I experimented with all kinds of recipes and read about different baking techniques. All this researched resulted in the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Perfect for me, that is. I won't claim that anyone else will like my version of the old standby, but hey, if you do, I'll like you that much more ;)

As such, I thought, why not share these findings with everyone else? They aren't rocket science; they're more a list of steps and tools that make the baking process that much easier and that much closer to success. First I'll share the recipe, and then I'll describe the steps and tools used. At any point along the way, you are welcome to shake your head and think, "Good Lord, she's incredibly obsessive. Baking should be more fun than this!" But hey, most of you already know that I'm Type-A, and in my own defense, baking really is a very precise and scientific act. :) Here we go!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ c. butter flavor shortening, minus 1 Tbsp.
1 ¼ c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Milk
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
1 egg
1 ¾ c. flour
1 tsp. Salt
¾ tsp. Baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips
1 c. nuts, if desired

First ingredient - butter flavor shortening (Crisco) - is important. Butter is yummy and isn't hydrogenated, but just isn't stable enough to withstand the high temps of baking. Using shortening yields a chewier cookie that doesn't flatten as much during baking.

Second ingredient - brown sugar. Stick to C&H or Domino brand. They are two of only a few brands out there that don't package white sugar sprayed with molasses and label it "brown sugar." Go for the light brown sugar; dark brown sugar is spicier - think gingersnaps.

From there, the ingredients are standard, and what you have in your cupboard will work just fine.

Here are the steps for mixing up the dough. These are the basic steps for most cookie recipes, so once you learn them, you can repeat them with your other recipes.

1. Throw the shortening and brown sugar into your mixing bowl. (If you don't own at least the KitchenAid Hand Mixer by now, please consider buying something/anything from this brand!) I leave my mixer on Low Speed for the entire dough mixing process, and stop it every now and then to scrape the unmixed ingredients from the sides of the bowl down into the center. Another tip: throughout the mixing process, avoid letting your mixer churn the dough for minutes on end. It just needs to be mixed until the ingredients are combined and there aren't blobs of unmixed ingredients floating around in the dough.

2. Add the egg, and while that's mixing, add in the milk and vanilla. Again, let it mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, and salt. No need to sift them as other recipes may state. Call me lazy, but I just mix them with a wooden spoon, and (ego-alert:) my cookies turn out fabulously.

4. Slowly pour a small portion of the dry mixture into the wet dough. (If you forget to turn off the mixer first, it'll fling flour out of the bowl in a matter of milliseconds.) Let that portion get mixed in, stop the mixer to scrape the bowl sides, and add in another portion of the dry ingredients. Repeat this a few times until all of the dry ingredients are mixed in.

5. Toss in your chocolate chips (and optional nuts) and let the mixer clunk around mixing them in for a few seconds. (This is where a Kitchenaid shines - the motor won't burn up trying to mix bumpy chocolate chips into a stiff dough.)

Dough's done!! Grab a spoon and eat a nice big scoop of it while you're gathering the hardware:

AirBake Baking Sheet, a must for even browning and pretty, crackly cookie tops.

Cookie Scoop, optional but appealing to those of us who love symmetry and evenness :) These are also handy for making muffins and cupcakes. They'll also replace that melon baller you only use once every 2 years.

An oven with even temperatures - 75% of the ovens I've used have been off in temperature! (I measured mine last night at 30 degrees over the temp I selected, argghh!) Stick an Oven Thermometer Probe in there before baking to gauge how close yours gets to any specified temp. It's incredibly useful info!

Spray your cookie sheet with a light coat of cooking spray. Measure out a scoop of dough and scrape the bottom of the scoop against the mixing bowl for a flat, even bottom. Pop it out onto the tray and continue until your tray is filled, the dough balls spaced about 3" apart.

Bake at 375 for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. Because you're going to be so obsessive as to rotate the cookie sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking process. Yessirree, you are. This helps to compensate for the fact that most ovens cook unevenly and are hotter in the back than in the front. After the initial 5 minutes are up, rotate your cookie tray and program your timer for an additional 4 minutes. From here, you'll have to monitor the time required to finish as this will depend somewhat on your oven. My batches typically require 9-11 minutes bake time. The cookies will be done when the tops look lightly browned, before the edges turn the shade of our aforementioned brown sugar.

Take out the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool to "warm" before sliding a spatula under them. This is also the perfect temp to snatch up some cookies to break in half to watch the chocolate chips make gooey strings. Tollhouse commercials, eat your heart out. Place them on a Cooling Rack to finish cooling before storing in a container.

One big tip: do not put dough onto a hot or very warm cookie sheet. Allow it to cool down a bit before beginning your next batch. A hot cookie sheet will melt the dough balls before they do their stint in the oven. You also do not need to re-spray the cookie sheets with cooking spray; just the initial coating will carry you through the baking process.

A note about SilPat and other silicone baking tray covers. I've tried them, and I don't see much difference. They didn't do enough of anything for me to warrant hassling with them and buying enough to have a few trays of cookies baking and cooling at any one time. Your pièce de résistance will be the insulated Airbake style cookie sheet.

Well, now the secret's out. I can no longer brag about my scrumptious cookies because you all will snap back, "We can do it too, Punchenella, Punchenella!" :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Extolling the yum of hippy coffee

Ahhhh....hippy coffee...I'm sitting here in a happy daze while sipping on my mug of coffee (topped off with a splash of white chocolate coconut creamer, if you must know).

Last June, my parents and I spent a day at the San Diego Zoo, and the bus tour guide gave us some info on shade-grown coffee. It wasn't terribly interesting to me at the time, because, ewwww coffee is disgusting. (Fast forward 6 months, and now I'm a coffee fiend, whining if don't have a travel mug in hand as I drive to work.)

So, evidently, the big bad coffee corporations are slashing rain forests in order to plant more and more coffee crops. And that, in turn, is eliminating homes for lots of creatures out there. When I got home from our zoo outing, I did some google research and discovered that, originally, coffee plants were grown in the shade. But in order to obtain higher yields of harvested crops, the botany science guys came up with a coffee variety that did, indeed, return higher harvest amounts, but also required more sunlight and was more prone to bugs and disease. The coffee farmers slashed down larger areas to increase sunlight exposure and began spraying their new coffee strains to keep them bug- and disease-free.

On the other hand, shade-grown coffees stick to the original methods of farming - in the shade of the mountains and rain forest cover. And they are a stronger variety of coffee plant, not requiring the sprays of those sun-seeking varieties. More google research returned me the names of some coffee distributors with online stores. I picked the one with the nicest looking website and promptly ordered 2 bags.

Can I just say yummmm? We don't own a fancy coffee pot, and we certainly don't do anything special when we grind the beans. But, I swear, the coffee we make at home is far tastier than any I've tried elsewhere. For each order, I choose different bags of coffee, and we haven't been disappointed yet. As soon as the shipment arrives, we open all the bags and rate them in order how much we like the aroma. Then, later, we rate them based on the cup they brew. A mildly silly game, but very fun nonetheless. (And no doubt, the UPS guy loves delivering it because the entire box smells like coffee beans, even while it's still taped up.)

A meager start is still a start...

Well, well, well...I've composed a start to this-here blog no fewer than fifty-eight gajillion times in my head. Alas, I didn't make myself sit down during any one of those spurts of creativity and idea and commit them to 1s and 0s. So here I am. Not terribly inspired, but writing nonetheless. I'm hoping that, with regard to motivation, a meager start is still a start.

I'm writing this blog not as a form of any kind of New Year's resolution or as an item off my list of goals for 2009. I was a blogger way back in the day when I still had the time (read: dedicated the time) to write. Now that I've moved and am spending a lot more time at home and feeling a lot more content, I've been feeling the urges to begin sharing again. I hope to share with you the little bits I constantly have floating around in my head, be they anecdotes, recipes, stories, or photos. Yes, it's show and tell time for Sara. Mostly tell, but hopefully some show as I eventually post some photos as well.

Welcome one and all to my blog. I promise that my more alert moments will yield more interesting tidbits :) Til then - as always - hugs and smiles for all!