Life Lists

I remember the first time I heard about life lists years ago. I love making lists so, naturally, I started one of my own right away.

A while after writing the first draft of my life list in a journal though, it eventually got hidden away and forgotten about for a time. Over the years I continued to think of it every once in a while; usually when I had thought of something I wanted to add to it, but I would forget to choose things to work on from my list so that I could check them off. Consequently, I’ve only crossed off a few things from my list, but I’m working on changing that.

I thought it would be fun to add a page for my life list here on my blog. I titled it “A Ladder to the Stars.” While I was going over my list and typing it all out, there were things I decided not to keep on the list. For example, I laughed when I saw that I had originally had down four different instruments that I wanted to learn; now I’ve chosen to take a few off and keep the one instrument that I’ve wanted to learn for as long as I can remember: the piano.

I just accomplished #4 – get my driver’s license – on April 3. It’s exciting to finally have my license. I was more than ready for that bit of independence that comes with being able to drive myself wherever I need or want to go.

Some other things from my list that I’ve been focusing on lately are:

#22. Find several cake recipes that I love.

#23. Find several cupcake recipes I love.

#53. Become a tea drinker. Learn to love drinking tea.

#71. Read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Do you have a Life List? If so, what kinds of things are on your list?

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Strawberry Lemonade: The Perfect Summer Refresser!

Strawberry Lemonade

My sister and brother-in-law came over to our house for dinner to celebrate my sister’s birthday recently. Whenever they come over for dinner, I’m usually in charge of drinks. Which basically entails me telling everyone what the drink options are and asking what they would like and then fixing everyone’s drinks for them.

In our house we have everything for Shirley Temples on hand almost always, but sometimes we like to get everything for a drink that we don’t have as often, like one of our favorites, Chocolate Mint Italian Cream Sodas. I’ll have to share that recipe sometime, it’s amazing. But this time I decided to make Strawberry Lemonade. I got this recipe from one of my summer issues of Everyday Food, you can find it here. And of course, I have it copied below, as well.

Emeril’s Strawberry Lemonade

Look for fragrant, bright red strawberries with green caps.

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Total Time 1 hour
  • Yield Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 6 lemons), plus 1 lemon, sliced, for serving
  • 1 pound strawberries (3 cups), hulled and halved
  • 16 ounces seltzer, chilled
  • Mint sprigs, for serving

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water and sugar to a boil over medium-high. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, 2 minutes. Transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate until cool, about 45 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir to combine.
  2. In a blender, puree strawberries until smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into pitcher with lemon syrup, pressing on solids. Stir well to combine.
  3. To serve, stir in seltzer and divide among ice-filled glasses. Top with lemon slices and mint.

Cook’s Note

Tips for Cooking with Kids: Let the young ones measure the sugar and juice the lemons. They can also help blend the berries and strain the puree before mixing together the finished drink.

Recipe Review

This Strawberry Lemonade was really fantastic! The whole family loved it. It was just how lemonade is supposed to be, sweet with a lemony tartness that is delectable, and the fresh strawberries add a lovely flavor to an already wonderful summer drink. Definitely a great drink for the 4th of July, or any summer occasion.

I learned that this is definitely a drink that should be completely made before guests arrive, which I know may seem obvious, but I only figured that out after I did it the wrong way. I had made the sugar syrup ahead of time, but I did everything else after my sister and brother-in-law had arrived, and it took me awhile to get it ready. Lesson learned: learn to plan ahead.

I think I will have to make this drink a summer tradition, since it is the perfect summer refresher!

Star Rating

4 out of 4

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I made these cookies to have during the drive to Branson. I had wanted to try them for quite a while, but just hadn’t baked them yet. As far as I can remember, this is the first time that I’ve ever made oatmeal raisin cookies. The go-to cookie in my house has always been chocolate chip cookies, but recently I thought, “oatmeal raisin cookies sounds so good, I have to make some.” In my opinion, they made a great road trip snack.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Any dried fruit can be substituted for the raisins. Be sure the cookies are completely cool before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup raisins

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter with both sugars, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, milk, and eggs, and mix well. Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Remove bowl from the electric mixer, and stir in oats and raisins. Place dough in the refrigerator until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of dough, and shape into a ball; place on one of the prepared sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing balls 3 inches apart. Press down to flatten into 2-inch diameters.
  3. Transfer to the oven, and bake until golden but still soft in center, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans between oven shelves halfway through baking. Remove from oven, and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

The dough was very tasty cold, right out of the refrigerator!

All lined up and ready to go!

All that's left is to wait 20 minutes 'til I can try them...

My first homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

Recipe Review

These cookies were wonderful! They were thick, and soft, and chewy, and delightful in flavor. I made mine with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I stored them in a freezer bag with a couple of slices of bread to keep the cookies moist and they were still good a week later, just as the recipe says they will be.

Star Rating

4 out of 4

Recipe courtesy of MarthaStewart.com, recipe title doubles as link to the recipe.

Dreams May Change, Cookies Will Always Be Delicious

Photo courtesy of MarthaStewart.com

When I was around 13 I was really into baking. I loved Martha Stewart, I still do, but back then I thought I wanted to be just like Martha. She is a pretty impressive woman, after all. Am I right? I thought it would be so fun to be the next “Martha Stewart.” However, even though I was always prone to romanticizing, I was never completely unrealistic, so I set my sights on one day becoming a baker. What could be a better job for me?! I loved baking, I loved bakeries, I loved eating baked goods! It was obviously the perfect career for me. Then I became aware of the cold, hard truth of the matter. Bakers have to wake up early. Really early. That was the deal breaker.

Though I no longer have the desire to be just like Martha or to be a baker, my love of baking, bakeries, eating baked goods, and Martha Stewart has stayed with me to this day. Now, I sometimes wonder if I might like to have a bakery of my own someday. Of course, I know I would still have to get up early, but I might be more willing to do that for something I really love, which may, or may not be being the owner and manager of a bakery. For now, I will continue to enjoy imagining owning my own bakery, choosing wonderful bakers and staff, and decorating a building to turn it into the lovely bakery I have pictured in my head, and of course, envisioning all of the delicious recipes that would be made in that bakery!

What is a dream that you’ve had that has changed?

I baked these cookies back in January for my New Year’s Resolution to make one new dessert recipe each month, instead of baking the same old favorites over and over again. I have wanted to try a recipe for double chocolate cookies for quite a while now. I wanted them to be soft, and chewy. Naturally I looked to Martha (MarthaStewart.com, to be exact) to be my cookie guide. This recipe fit the bill.

Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

Do not bake the cookies to a crisp; they are meant to be soft and chewy. Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for two to three days.Note: Don’t worry if the batter seems thin. It should look more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.
 Everyday Food, Volume 5 September 2003  
Prep Time 20 minutes 
Total Time 45 minutes 
Yield Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl in 20-second increments, stirring between each, until almost melted; do not overheat. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; beat in melted chocolate.Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks.
  3. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2 to 3 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are shiny and crackly yet soft in centers, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets 10 minutes; with a thin metal spatula, transfer to racks to cool completely.

My Outrageous Chocolate Cookies

Recipe Review

These cookies were, indeed, soft and chewy, just as I hoped they would be! They are what any chocolate lover could want, rich and delicious. Perfect with a glass of milk. The only thing that I did slightly differently for these cookies was use regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, instead of the chocolate chunks the recipe called for. They definitely need to be stored well, because by the third day they started to get dry and crumbly. I was storing them in a container by themselves, next time I would add a slice of bread to help them stay more moist. I also thought I might make them when I would be sharing them with a group, so that they wouldn’t make it to the 3-day mark. All in all, I thought they were great, and I would absolutely bake them again.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I had gotten a few butternut squash from someone a couple of months ago. I hadn’t used them yet because we don’t really eat butternut squash in my family, so I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Serendipitously enough, I came across this recipe for Butternut Squash and Apple Soup while flipping through an issue of Williams-Sonoma catalog (one of my favorites) and decided to make it the first recipe I cooked this year.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 jar (2 lb.) butternut squash puree

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 small bay leaves

3 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1/4 tsp. ground coriander (optional)

1/4 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger (optional)

Fried sage leaves for garnish

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft but not browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the butternut squash puree, apple, broth, bay leaves and salt and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and discard. Add the crème fraîche. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot until smooth. Stir in the coriander and ginger.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with fried sage leaves and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

I did make a couple of changes to it. I didn’t want to make puree with my butternut squash, so I decided to use Williams-Sonoma’s recipe for Cream of Butternut Squash and Apple Soup as a guide. In that recipe you are supposed to chop the butternut squash into 1 inch cubes, so that’s what I did for my soup. I also used sour cream instead of crème fraîche, and I skipped the sage leaves and pepper (I am not a pepper person).

Here’s how it turned out.

Delicious butter, check!

The onions are under way.

Add butternut squash and apple, check.

Broth and bay leaves added.

Sour cream added.

Blended and, oh, so smooth!

Voila!

Recipe Review

This soup turned out to be pretty thick and didn’t have as much apple flavor as I was expecting it to have. Overall, I liked it, but if I ever make it again I would definitely add more chicken broth and more apple.

Star Rating:

2 1/2 out of 4

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I love the rejuvenation that can come with a new year! I also love New Year’s Resolutions.

I think New Year’s Resolutions can be wonderful things. Of course, our resolutions are only as wonderful as we make them. Sometimes we make our resolutions a success, and sometimes we don’t. Some people forgo New Year’s Resolutions altogether. And considering my track record, you would think I would do the same. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I really stuck with my New Year’s Resolutions.

But even so, I love the tradition of compiling a list of things I want to do to make myself more of the person I want to be. However, it would be silly if I continued to go about it the same way year after year without results. So this year I am going to try something a little different. Usually I write a list of things I want to do without any real plan to accomplish them (I know, silly of me, isn’t it?), and I tend to get a little overzealous and end up choosing way too many resolutions.

This year I wrote a list of every goal I could think of and chose just 3 resolutions out of the bunch to focus on. The goals that were left over will be saved for a later date. I am going to set myself up for success by writing out a plan for each goal. And, last but not least, this year instead of “trying” to follow through, I am going to stop “trying” and start doing.

My Resolutions

1. Read at least 12 books this year. I love books, but I haven’t been doing very much reading lately, so I thought I would aim to read 1 book a month this year at the very least.

2. Cook at least 1 savory recipe a week and at least 1 new dessert a month. I want to improve my culinary skills, so I am going to choose 4 savory recipes to cook at the beginning of each month. I already have lots of baking experience, but there are still so many things I haven’t tried yet, so this year I’m going to be bold and try some of the recipes I’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t because I find them intimidating. There are also things that I haven’t mastered, like cupcakes for example, that I would like to get better at baking.

3. Exercise 2 times a week. A voice has been telling me for months now that I should be exercising. The voice keeps saying how much stronger I’ll be, how much better I’ll feel about myself, how much more confidence I’ll have, and how much slimmer I’ll look once my posture has gotten better. And you know, it’s funny, the voice sounds an awful lot like my mom.

What resolutions have you chosen this year?

How are you planning to stick with them?