Monday, January 30, 2012

I will forget-me-not!

Few things bring me more joy then receiving packages in the mail. What I received today was no exception. Quite frankly, nestled within the folds of a recycled paper envelope, was one of the most heartfelt, moving gifts I've ever received. My dear friend L., who recently moved to New Zealand, mailed a locket, adorned with a forget-me-not.

Forget-me-nots have a very special meaning to L. and I. Both of our brothers commit suicide. Although we no longer have our brothers in our lives, we have each other. Something that we both recognize and appreciate greatly. Our friendship has grown so intensely over the last year that we are beginning to feel like sisters. We wear our lockets not only to remember the love of our brothers, but to draw strength from each other. L. ... if you are reading this, I love you! Thank you for being a part of my life. And thank you for reminding me to give in every once and a while.

Which leads me to the image above; my afternoon snack. I gave in and indulged this afternoon! I am a dark chocolate addict and have not had any in quite some time. As L. recommended I do something for me this afternoon, I picked up a bar of dark chocolate at the grocery store. 

I went back home, settled on the couch, broke off a square of the salted chocolate, and took a bite. I let the rich, smooth chocolate melt on my tounge, leading me into a cocoa induced trance. As I nibbled on the remaining chocolate, I could feel a little bit of my worries drift away and a smile creep across my face. 

Between the yoga, the chocolate, and making a homemade bath scrub, recipe below, (not to mention, putting in several hours of work at the home office), I was darn near happy! By the time dinner rolled around, I was on cloud nine. I got compliments on an experimental recipe and had two picky eaters completely empty their bowls. (Now, if only I could get this head ache to go away. Oh wait, I have an idea. Look away from the computer ... )

So, thanks, L., for making my day! Your package was exactly what I needed. Thanks for being you!
Now, good night all! Time to close down the computer and give two operating systems a much needed rest. Until next time.


Val's Vanilla Bath Scrub
1 1/2 cups coarse salt
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in bowl with wooden spoon. Mixture shouldn't be too oily, so adjust salt/sugar if needed. (Use more sugar for sensative skin.) Store in a mason jar. Use in the shower/bath by gently scrubbing all over body, exfoliating skin while moisturizing. Or, dissolve under running water while filling bath for a moisturizing, scented bath.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I started this year with lofty ambitions, just like many others. I made a list of resolutions and hoped that this would be the year I'd actually follow through with them. But a few hours into the new year, things seemed to unravel. I broke down mentally and physically. I realized I was feeling worn down, trampled,  defeated, invisible. I had been pushing myself so hard, so long, that I reached my breaking point. What was I doing with myself? To myself? Why wasn't I trying so hard to make myself happy as I was to make everyone else?

So, finally, I gave in. I let the emotions out (read: I cried, and blubbered, and cried some more) and got real with myself. I was just as worthy of true happiness as the next gal. And, I am in control of that happiness. Not my family, not my friends, not my neighbors.  


So, here we are, almost a month into the new year, and I am resubmitting my resolution for the year. As much as I'd love to stick to my original list, I've realized that they won't be possible if I don't follow this new resolution. My new years life resolution is to love myself as much as I love others.

I need to care for myself and my soul. I need to nurture it, protect it, and fuel it, just like you would any other living thing. If I myself am truly happy, it will be so much easier to share that feeling with others.

Before,  I would just put the happy mask on every day and hope those around me wouldn't see through it. Well, the mask is off now. No more hiding.

I am Valerie. 

I am a woman.
I am honest. 
Some days I am happier then others.
I am resilient.
I am a dreamer.
I am willing to take a risk.
I have an extraordinary amount of love to give.
I am one of a kind.
I am not alone.

So here's to a new year, a new attitude, a new Valerie. As much as I am going to be real with myself, I will be with you. No more fluff, no more bullshit. Just the truth. (Speaking of the truth, here's one: I left my job at Wisconsin Cutlery, finally! More on that in another post). The blog may take a different turn for a while, but if anything, I hope to write more. It has been quite a challenge just to verbalize this, let alone publish it for the world to see, but has been a crucial step in my therapeutic process.

True to form, though, I will leave you with a recipe. I haven't been in the kitchen very much lately, so posting a recipe would be a challenge. But, yesterday, something wonderful happened; my new camera body arrived, while I was cooking, none the less. I had been preparing a hearty beef stew and just threw a spiced apple bread in the oven to bake when the mail man showed up with the package. So after slicing, I snapped a few pics to test out my new toy. What resulted was a moist, dense bread, ever so slightly sweet, with hints of ginger and cinnamon. And the photographs weren't too bad, either!

Spiced Apple Dutch Oven Bread

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 apple, finely chopped or grated (I used Suncrisps that I purchased at the Farmers' Market)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 3 tablespoons oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Mix in medium bowl: flour, sugar, apple, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
3. Mix, in separate bowl, milk, eggs and oil.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour wet mixture into well. Mix from center until lightly blended.
5. Pour into well greased dutch oven (I used a 4 quart dutch oven). Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. 6. Bake one hour or until top of loaf is golden brown. When done, remove from oven and turn top side up to cool. Cut into wedges to serve.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Belated Gingerbread Men

I am a few weeks behind on posting this recipe, but better late than never, right?

This winter, one of my closest friends made a special request in a letter she wrote to me. She is fortunate enough to be working as a chef in New Zealand, but the warm summer weather and lack of free time left her cookieless and craving a holiday pick-me-up.

So, my son and I pulled out the digital cook book (a.k.a. my laptop) and found a satisfactory recipe for gingerbread men.

We measured, whisked, patted and chilled.
We rolled, cut, baked and decorated.

Before we knew it, we had a legion of gingerbread men and snowmen. We picked out a dozen of the strongest looking fellows, wrapped them in waxed paper and nestled them in a tin. Along with a few other items, we shipped our batch of Christmas Cheer to the other side of the world.

As of our latest update; our package arrived safely in New Zealand, ready to induce a highly contagious case of Happy Holidays. The gingerbread men have been going missing, one by one, since their arrival.

Keep this recipe in your file for cookies to bake next Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year & Season's Greetings!

Recipe from Joy of Baking.

Gingerbread Men
Makes about 3 dozen cookies depending on the size of cookie cutter used.
Note: We doubled the recipe and used half of the dough to build a gingerbread house.

Gingerbread Men:
3 cups (390 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup (160 ml) unsulphured molasses (To prevent molasses from sticking to the measuring cup, first spray the cup with a non stick vegetable spray.)

Confectioners Frosting:
2 cups (230 grams) confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk or light cream

Gingerbread Men:
In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, (or with a hand mixer) beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat until well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture beating until incorporated.

Divide the dough in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least two hours or even overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a gingerbread cutter to cut out the cookies.  With an offset spatula lift the cookies onto the baking sheet, placing about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. If you are hanging the cookies or using as gift tags, make a hole at the top of the cookies with a straw or end of a wooden skewer. (If cookies are a little soft, place the baking sheet (with the cookies) in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This will prevent the cookies from losing their shape.)

Bake for about 8 - 12 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. They are done when they are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, you can press raisins, currants, or candies into the dough for eyes and buttons while the cookies are still warm. Otherwise, confectioners frosting can be used to decorate the cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Confectioners Frosting:
In an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth and well blended.  Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beater. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk if needed. Tint frosting with food color, if desired. Place the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip and decorate the gingerbread men as desired.
Note: We added buttons & other decorations to our gingerbread men. Sprinkles, red hots and more can be found in the baking isle of your grocery store and help add color and character to your cookies.