Let’s Talk Business – Sickness and Death Edition (it’s not as scary as it sounds)

Currently working with a 102 degree fever.

There’s two things I hate that I sometimes do.  Sound like a broken record, and complain.  Life is no joke, we know this.  However, I can’t help but kind of sound like a broken record, because lately, things have been really unpredictable in my life, and it’s gotten in the way (so I thought) of progressing in my career.

As some of you know, last week I was complaining because Leif got sick, and for the 10th week in a row, I couldn’t work a full week.  We’ve had deaths in the family, the holidays, and lots of bad colds.  It’s been tough.

I really love my kids, and I really love my job, but at the age they are, it’s 100% possible for me to be productive and make enough money when they’re home with me.  I’m self employed, so I don’t get no paid sick days.

All along, while this is going on, I keep thinking, there’s got to be some lesson here, and as soon as I learn it, things will get easier!  Well, I think that’s partly true, there is a lesson, and in fact I think it’s multiple lessons, and things might get easier, but easier isn’t necessarily better.

Stay with me.

So far I’ve learned to laugh in the face of misfortune.  Just throw up your hands and make the most of it.  Try not to let it eat away at you, and keep on trying.  I’ve also learned that these roadblocks are teaching me to make the most of my time.

When I first lost my job and dove in to starting my own business again, I was enjoying the perks of self employment, a little too much.  I spent a good portion of the morning, let’s just say, taking really good care of myself, in an effort to prepare myself for an afternoon full of productivity.  Well, the truth is, I was being a little lazy, and by the afternoon, I wasn’t all that motivated to get going.

Now that I know that it’s likely my schedule will get messed up due to some unforseen mishap, I’ve really learned to make the best use of my time.  I’ve LITERALLY been working since 8:30 this morning, and I’m so excited to see how much got done today!

So, what I’m trying to say, in all my rambling, is that sometimes we ask for things.  Some pray, some ask the universe, some manifest, whatever.  We all express a desire for something at some point or another.

When we ask, we’re usually given some opportunities to make it happen.

We also may be given stumbling blocks to sort of keep that goal just out of reach, and that can be extremely frustrating!  But, eventually we’ll learn how to work around those stumbling blocks, and then we get what we want (and what we want may change in that process), and also have skills to keep on moving forward into the future.

So really, those mishaps are good for us, so we should embrace them as part of the process.

Whew.  That’s enough preachiness for one day.  Back to work!

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Spring Fever

Her sister is kind of at a loss for words right now.

It’s amazing how that extra hour or so of bright sunshine seems to boost my vitamin D levels… the last few days have me feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon!  Whoo-hoo!

It’s also shining a light (ahem, excuse the pun) on all the dirt and grime that has collected in tucked-away places over the past several months…

As much as my housecleaning method works to maintain the most often-used parts of my home, it still needs a once- or twice-yearly blitz in the hard to reach places.  So, over the next few weeks/months, I will be working o.t. on some extra credit projects:

Take the vacuum in for a tune-up
Take the dog for a groom, a good shampoo and a close-cropped haircut
Wash the car, inside and out
Take the glass shades off of all the overhead lights and clean them
Dust the ceiling fan blades and the high-up return air registers, and
Take a dust mop to each room’s upper corners, to knock out cobwebs
Flip the mattresses
Give the sofas a scrub with leather cleaner and a soft cloth and
Vacuum underneath
Scrub down all the baseboard trim with a clean cloth and some hot, soapy water, and
Hit the scuff marks with a paintbrush and some fresh, glossy white paint
Take a razor blade to the windows to scrape off any gooey splashes, and
Wash the sashes, inside and out
Wipe down the tops and sides of the washer and dryer, and
Run a wash cycle, empty, with white vinegar
Set my oven to clean, on a day when I can open the windows to air out the burnt smell
Run baking soda and water through the coffee maker
Disinfect the kitchen trash can
Wash the grime from the top of the fridge
Empty the fridge and freezer and clean out the shelves/bins with hot, soapy water
(Being sure to run a clean sponge into the folds of the gaskets)
Pull the fridge and oven/range out and vaccuum behind
Organize closets and cupboards, trashing or donating anything no longer of use

Whew!  Did I forget anything?  Leave me a comment if I forgot something…

As you can see, I’m gonna be pretty busy.  And probably tired at the end of the day.  (Hopefully I’ll get some good sleep!)  But it sure feels good to see that warm sunshine pouring into a fresh, bright home…

Click this link for an easy way to keep the rest of your house clean and running like a well-oiled machine:  My Own Version of Fly Lady

I need your help, please.

Could use a little help from my friends.

A little while back I came to the realization that if I don’t try to go gluten-free for a little while, I’ll never know if it will help my thyroid problem or not.  Now that my life is feeling more peaceful, I’d like to start to initiate that effort.  But I can’t do it alone.  And I need to take baby steps.  And, I need someone to make me accountable.  I was wondering if you could help me.

There are a lot of gluten free recipes out there, but I’m just a little scared to dive in, and would love to have some recipes from people who’ve actually made them.  Would you do me a solid, and please comment on this post with your favorite gluten free recipe?  I will work it into my upcoming meal plans, and give you mad props!

I also just wanted to mention, we made the kale, sausage and white beans recipe from my meal plan last night, and it was super duper.  It was made better with a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, and my kids actually ate it, whoot!

I hope you all had a nice weekend and are ready to jump into an awesome week!

Cream Puff Party

I need a pocket version of Allie to make me cute little itty bitty desserts.

This is a big-bang-for-your-buck post, with a whole party-full of delicious food ideas!  I’m including three “building block recipes,” which can be used alone, innovated in other creative ways, or put together to make for a super DIY dessert party!  Recreate it for your BFF’s with the printable recipe cards at the bottom of the post.

Recently a friend approached me, looking for a fun, food-related activity for a small, “girls’ night in” get-together.  She wanted something interactive and do-it-yourself, with lots of options, but based around something delicious and homemade.

We decided to offer fresh, made from scratch cream puffs, a.k.a. profiteroles.  They are the perfect vehicle for all sorts of fillings and toppings, so we set it up like a little dessert bar for the guests to help themselves.  All the girls had so much fun choosing their fillings and topping them with all different flavor combos!

She purchased strawberries, bananas, crushed/chopped nuts and candies, and different types of chocolates for drizzling and dipping, and I provided the cream puff shells, a fluffy, creamy filling, and my favorite homemade salted caramel sauce.  Most everything can be made days or even weeks ahead, so it’s a perfect way to relax, enjoy your friends, and host a low-key party.

First I made the caramel, because it can keep in the fridge for a loooong time.  I’ve never actually had it go bad, so I’m not exactly sure what the shelf life is, but it has lasted in my fridge for as long as a few months.  Refer to this post for step by step instructions and photos.  (It also makes a great homemade gift, in a jar with a cute label and pretty ribbon…)

Next I got a good start on the cream filling.  It’s a lot like pudding!  (Check out my work-in-progress pudding series:  S’mores Pudding, and PB&J Pudding.)  Only there is one little cheffy trick which sounds hard but you can totally handle- tempering eggs.  Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand and walk you through it!

Chantilly Cream

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups cream
about 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, or to taste

It starts out just like a pudding: sugar, flour and salt in a pot, whisk to combine and get out any lumps…

…slowly whisk in the milk until it’s all nicely combined, and cook on the stove, stirring frequently, until thickened.  While that’s going, separate the eggs.

Now for the tricky part: spoon a little of that hot, thickened milk mixture into the egg yolks, and whisk vigorously.

…and a little more… and a little more… and a little more…

…until your yolks are all warmed up!  You just tempered, chef!  You go, girl, I knew you could do it!

The purpose of all of this is to cook the eggs gently and slowly, without scrambling them.   Now that you’ve slowly brought the temperature up, you can pour the warmed eggs back into the pot with whatever milk mixture is left in there, add in the vanilla, and place it back on the stove to continue cooking.

Bring it up to a slow boil and let it bubble until it’s nice and thick.

Now strain it into a heat safe container, and press some cling film on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin.

Pop it into the fridge.  It can keep in there for probably… I’d say a week.

The next step in the profiterole process is to make the shells.  These are a classic French pastry called pate a choux, and they are so fun and interesting.  (I know, I know, Nerd Alert!)  The prep method is unlike anything else in the baking world, and they puff up and hollow out like magic.

This recipe is adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook Collected Recipes for Every Day.

Pate a Choux

1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Put the water, butter, salt and sugar in a big pot and melt it all together on the stove.  Dump in the flour and whisk to combine.

Place it back on the stove and whisk it over the heat, until you start to see a little film forming on the bottom of the pot.

Put it in the mixer and start beating.  Drop an egg into it while it’s going.  Beat, beat, beat, until smooth and stretchy looking, then repeat until all the eggs are mixed in.  PS- it smells really yummy 🙂

I piped my puffs with a pastry bag, but if you don’t have one, you can just drop it on a baking sheet by the teaspoonful, just like making chocolate chip cookies.

Here is how I like to fill my pastry bag.  It keeps it neat and clean, just the way I like it, with nothing gumming up at the top edge of the bag.

Just turn the bag inside out over your hand.  Scoop the choux into your pastry-bag-covered-hand.  Turn it right side out and twist.  You’re golden!

Preheat the oven to 425 and pipe out the shells.  I made mine little, about an inch in diameter, so everyone could try several, with different sauces and toppings.

If they get little pointy tops, just pat them down with a wet fingertip.

Bake them for 10 minutes at 425, then 15 minutes at 375, then 8 minutes at 325.

Look how puffy!

And hollow inside…

…what a perfect place to tuck something delicious.

An hour or so before serving, just whip up some cream, with a little sugar, until fluffy.

Fold a little whipped cream into the eggy custard, to lighten it up.

And then add all that back into the whipped cream and fold, gently, to combine.

At this point I packed everything up and headed over to my GF’s house.  When I got there, we set out all the toppings in little bowls: slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, toffee bits, crushed oreos… and melted some chocolate… and sliced some bananas… and warmed the caramel… and put the choux pastries and the filling into pretty serveware.

Girlfriend invited all our peeps up to the dessert bar to mix and match, drizzle and dip!

The choux puffs are eggy and chewy, and they just burst in your mouth with that sweet, soft, vanilla cream.  The warm drizzles, juicy fruits, and crunchy toppings will bring you to new heights of dessert euphoria…

Here’s the highlight reel; some of my favorite combinatons:
Chantilly-stuffed Choux Pastry with Salted Caramel Drizzle and Toasted Almonds
Strawberry-stuffed Choux Pastry with Milk Chocolate Drizzle and Crushed Oreos
Banana-stuffed Choux Pastry with White Chocolate Drizzle and Toffee Bits
Banana hunk dipped in Warm Caramel with Peanut Butter Chips
Strawberry dipped in Melted Chocolate with Chopped Walnuts

Click the links for printable 4×6 recipe cards:
Chantilly Cream Recipe Card
Pate a Choux Recipe Card
Salted Caramel Sauce Recipe Card

Side note: if you want a cream puff party of your very own, but you’d like to simplify the prep, try offering your guests a few pints of different flavored ice creams and mini-scoops to fill their puffs, instead of the chantilly cream.

And be sure to check out this post for a perfect beverage pairing to serve to your Profiterole Party Pals…

Meal Planning, Again

I’m full.

It’s been a wonderful, peaceful week filled with homemade food.  I didn’t buy a single takeout meal, which is pretty rare for me!  I don’t miss it either, and I think eventually we’ll see the benefits in our budget.  I think I was probably spending at least $50 a week on takeout, but probably more.

Last Friday I needed to buy a few things at the Asian market.  Our local Asian market is pretty big, with a lot of variety, and is especially good for produce.  The prices pretty much put our traditional grocery stores to shame.  A small package of rice noodles at Stop and Shop is over $7, but it’s $0.87 at A Dong.  That’s right, the Asian market is called A Dong.  You have a problem with that?

So I will be returning to A Dong tomorrow to save some $$.  Here’s the rundown of dinners for the next 7 nights:

Pushing a Rock

I admire this gleaming bee-otch.

I am lucky enough to have a gorgeous clear glass shower enclosure in my master bath.  She is a beauty to behold, but a bee-otch to keep clean.  So high maintenance!

I am a dork, this I know.  My world, at this stage of my life, is very small.  My kids are little, and they need me all the time.  There was a time when I was a hot-shot career gal, elbowing my way into a high-powered boys’ club, but now, I spend most of my time at home with just a couple of little men, who are decidedly low on the corporate ladder.  But even though my current responsibilities aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire, I still take them seriously, and I do get a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction when I get things right.  It sounds silly, but when I glimpse into my bathroom and see that shower sparkling like a diamond, I get a little thrill.

Lowly as my job as domestic engineer may be, the responsibilities are many.  At times it can be difficult keeping up with everything.  I often feel like my wheels are spinning, as no sooner is something cleaned, than somebody louses it back up again.  I’m like Sisyphus, eternally rolling that rock uphill and never getting it to the top.

So when I discover a little gem like this:

it’s a pretty big deal in my little world.  In exchange for the three seconds it takes to spray down the glass after every shower, I am rewarded with a clean shower enclosure that often lasts as long as four weeks (!), despite being used as many as four or five times a day.

Method Daily Shower can be purchased at Target.  It is an all-natural, chemical-free product, so it won’t tear up your lungs or pollute the ground water with heaven-knows-what.  Buy the spray bottle once, and then save money and keep trash out of the landfill by replenishing it from the two-liter, recyclable refill bottle, which will keep your spray bottle misting two and a half times over.  It has a pleasant ylang ylang fragrance, which is like a little aromatherapy spa moment.

Thanks to my sister, the better half of Yin Mom / Yang Mom, for introducing me to Method Daily Shower, and helping to brighten my every day with the simple pleasure of admiring that gleaming beeotch!

Time to Make the Fasnachts

Rock on with your culturally diverse self!

This post is dedicated to my dear brother-in-law’s family and their rich Pennsylvania Dutch traditions…

For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to have PA Dutch extended family, a fasnacht is a donut!  And the PA Dutchies have a whole holiday devoted to them!

“Fasnacht,” translates roughly into “fast night,” and it happens every year on the day before Ash Wednesday.  Many of us refer to this holy day as “fat Tuesday,” and it is often celebrated at Carnivale or Mardi Gras.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, an approximately 40-day long observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  During this time, Christians show their devotion to God through prayer and fasting.  In preparation for this time of fasting, many Pennsylvania Dutch would clear their pantries of rich and sweet food items, like sugar, fat, and butter, for which donuts are the perfect vehicle!

If you didn’t place your fasnacht order on time this year, fret not!  Here is a fabulous recipe to make for your family!  These fasnachts are baked, not fried, so you can feel a little better about stuffing your faces with them.  And some smart and healthy additions keep them higher in protein, fiber, and omega-3’s, and lower in fat.

Make this Tuesday a little extra-special for your “bubbelies!”*

Cinnamon-Crumb Baked Fasnachts

makes 9 donuts, but can be doubled easily… 🙂

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup cake flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
a few scratches fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup nonfat greek yogurt
1 egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First for the crumb topping:  cut the cold butter into cubes and smoosh it into the flour, butter, flax, and cinnamon with your fingertips.

It should resemble like a streusel topping.

I got my ground flax at the regular supermarket, in the organic/gluten free section.  It has a great, nutty flavor, and it’s super high in fiber, protein, and essential fats.  It also has antioxidant properties!

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease your donut pan.  (Mine is Wilton and I got it at Michaels.)  Sprinkle a little of the crumb topping into the bottom of each donut cup.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a large mixing bowl and blend together.  In a small container, mix the yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter.

Pour the wet into the dry and mix until just combined.  It’s better to have a few lumps than to overmix the batter, you don’t want tough fasnachts.

Greek yogurt is super high in protein, has probiotic properties, and zero fat.  It gives the fasnachts a moist texture and subtle tang, and the slight acidity works with the baking powder to help the fasnachts puff up.

Fill each donut cup 2/3 full.  I like to use a pastry bag but a spoon works pretty well, too.

Top each fasnacht with a little more crumb topping.

Bake for 7-9 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.  Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then remove them to a wire rack.

These fasnachts are so cinnamon-spicy sweet and cakey-delicious, you’d never know they were actually healthy!  Feel good about feeding these to your family, on Fasnacht Day, or any day!

Click here for a printable 4×6 recipe card: Cinnamon-Crumb Baked Fasnachts Recipe Card

* “bubbelies” is Pennsylvania Dutch for “babies.”