January Frenzy

Since my last post, everything has gotten started up again, which means that I have to convince myself that I do, indeed, have sufficient energy to work hard all day, work out in the evening, and then go to bible study or some other activity after (or before, depending on the day) that.  I'm back on the kind of schedule where I spend my whole weekend in the kitchen preparing food to eat during the upcoming week.  In fact, I'm so busy that yesterday, on my birthday, I didn't even have the time to do anything out of the ordinary.

Yes, I'm 25 now.  All comments about how scary being a quarter of a century old is supposed to be aside, I'm actually really content with where I am in life, and am excited to see where things will go in my future. I'll only start sulking about my age if I hit 30 and still don't have my PhD... but if I can stay focused on my research that will not happen.

I started teaching (reminder: I'm teaching elementary science education) this week, and I have to say that this is, by far, the most fun teaching gig I've ever had.  In class on Tuesday I had to discuss very philosophical things like how to ask good questions and uncertainty, and so - no joke - I had my students count noodles.  The point of this exercise was that I didn't specify what "full" meant for the cups they were filling, plus there is a natural variation in the settling of the noodles, so students got several different counts, and we talked about why that occurred.  It's very simple stuff, but the idea of this course is to highlight the points that are important to bring up when teaching science to K-4 students.  But yes, teaching is awesome.

The cookies I've made over the past couple weeks have also been pretty awesome, despite misgivings I had about both recipes:

133. Chrusciki Leaves
Chrusciki are Polish sour cream cookies that are fried instead of baked.  As a rule, I am not a fan of fried anything, and so the idea of these cookies was just disgusting to me.  The recipe claims a yield of 9-10 dozen, and, even knowing how the yields change completely with unspecified cookie cutters, I knew I would never be able to peddle off a full recipe's worth of these cookies.  Thus, I made a half batch, which still called for half a dozen eggs and yielded about 5 dozen cookies with a standard-sized cookie cutter.

These cookies are flavored with sour cream, vanilla, lemon and orange zest (but I only had orange), and Cognac.  The mix of these is very light, and the cookies themselves have hardly any sugar in them.  Actually, starting out, these cookies have a relatively healthy set of ingredients.

...And then I had to deep-fry them.  Ugh.  Gross.  My apartment smelled like hot oil for days.  But the cookies - oh, the cookies - turned out light and delightful, with a faint flavor that was brought out fantastically by the confectioners' sugar sprinkled on them.  Since they'd been rolled out and cut into leaf shapes, they had a pastry-like texture which I and my friends really enjoyed.  The funny thing is, there's probably the same amount of fat in these as there is in shortbread cookies.  Maybe I shouldn't be so grossed out after all (or maybe I'm going to have to start avoiding shortbread).

134. Raisin Bars
I mentioned that I had misgivings with both of the recipes I'm posting this week, and I guess the potential problem here comes from one of the few ways I am picky - I don't really like raisins very much.  That said, the recipe suggest substituting figs or dates, which are quite similar in flavor and texture, but when I can I try to do things as written.

The crust of these bars is made with vegetable shortening, brown sugar, lots of rolled oats, and the usual mixture of flour, baking soda, egg, vanilla, and salt.  Using vegetable shortening instead of butter made the crust more crisp, and the brown sugar gives it a nice rich flavor.  The filling is chopped raisins, lots of white sugar, apple cider, and water, boiled together with some cornstarch to thicken it.

The filling sandwiched with the oatmeal crumble dough (and baked, of course) was pretty amazing - I'm surprised that both elements were so sweet, but still weren't overwhelming.  I think it helped that there was a decent amount of salt in the crust.  I also, upon tasting these, was reminded of my great weakness: I have no ability to resist food nostalgia.  These raisin bars tasted so much like my Grandma Carol's date bars that I ate like five of them as soon as they were cool.  To be fair, my office-mates couldn't resist either, so maybe it's just the fault of these cookies tasting REALLY good.  Seriously, try making them.  They're simple, and if you're lazy/cheap like me and forgot/don't want to go out and buy apple cider, you can throw in some of a packed of instant cider mix and everything still turns out great.

That's about it for cookies, until tomorrow.  I did want to share one more brief thing, though.  Last weekend I tried a new vegan chili recipe (although it wasn't touted as such), for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili.  This is mostly a standard chili, but it has chunks of sweet potato in it, plus ground chipotle (or cut up dried chipotle since I couldn't find the original ingredient at the store) to give it a nice spicy, smoky flavor.  I am running out of gushing adjectives, but I was very impressed by the result of this recipe, and was thrilled to eat the leftovers during the week.  It was even better when I stole some of my boyfriend's spicy chipotle sauce to give the chili more kick (I thought it was a little too mellow).


New Year, New Teaching Assignment

Happy new year, everyone!  I realize I'm a bit late at saying it, but I've been busy (read: lazy) for the past couple weeks.  Although some would say this is okay because classes haven't started yet, I've found it kind of frustrating to have little motivation to get started on my research again.  I haven't been really into the whole "New Year's Resolution" thing this year, perhaps because I feel like there is no reason to wait until January to make promises to get my life in gear.  Thus I continue telling myself to go to bed earlier, stop biting my nails, and maybe even keep my kitchen clean for once.  Of course, the problem with the last one on the list is I keep messing up my kitchen with new adventures!

I'm looking forward to the start of this new semester for several reasons.  The first is that I'll be glad to resume my normal social activities, including working out (I go to the gym with a couple friends), Bible study, and wasting too much time playing Rock Band.  I've decided to join an additional Bible study group, this new one being with the church I attend, in the hope that it will help me get better involved in the church community.  We'll have to see if I can actually balance all my weeknight activities appropriately.  Not taking any classes should help.

The thing I'm currently the most excited about for this semester is the new class I'll be teaching.  Okay, to be fair, I'm actually just a TA, so I'm not writing my own lesson plans or anything, and this class isn't new to the University, just to me.  The course is Physics 123: Physics Made Easy.  I think the title is perhaps a little deceptive - although the course is, indeed, about making physics easy, the point of it is to equip future elementary school teachers to teach science.  It is an understatement to say that I am psyched about being able to do this.  I don't talk about it too much here, but science outreach is very important to me, and so I'm glad to be getting involved.  Since this course is a lot of kitchen physics, I may even post some of the demos here for anyone who is interested.

But that is me getting way off topic.  My primary reason for posting today is because I made more cookies, just like I was supposed to:

131. Chocolate Charms
On New Year's Day, in the midst of watching four different Big Ten bowl games, I suddenly realized it was Saturday and that I needed to make my weekly cookies.  Thankfully, I was able to find a simple recipe to share with my family that didn't involve running out to the store to buy random stuff.

These cookies have a basic dough, which has lots of butter and cocoa powder to give them a dense texture and a nice chocolate flavor.  They were easy to throw together, and smelled great while they were in the oven.  My family really enjoyed them.  As far as cookies go, these are good.  They're not the best simple cookies I've made, and you can tell there's lots of butter in them upon taking one bite, but they made a decent addition to our football snacks.

132. Coconut Cream Cheese Pinwheels with Jam Centers
In the midst of my sort-of post-break laziness, I decided that it would be a good idea to do one of the more time-intensive recipes left in my cookbook.  These cookies consist of a cream cheese dough; a coconut, cream cheese, and white chocolate filling; and some jam in the very center.

The dough was very quick and easy to make, but assembling these cookies took forever!  In order to get these uniform pinwheel shapes, I had to roll out the dough, cut it into squares with a pizza cutter (the recipe calls for a fluted cutting wheel but I didn't want to buy one), refrigerate those squares, add the filling, cut the corners of the dough, fold them over the filling, brush the whole thing with egg, sprinkle sugar on it, and finally put it in the oven.  Halfway through baking, I had to add the jam.  It took me 20 minutes to prep each batch, and since I had to add the jam midway, the assembly/baking process couldn't be overlapped - I couldn't start preparing the next batch until the first was out of the oven.  Thus, it took me about an hour of attention to make 30 cookies.

So these took a lot of time, but it was totally worth it, because they tasted AMAZING.  The dough is light and fluffy, and contrasts nicely with the very rich filling.  I filled these with homemade mixed berry jam, which ran a little bit, but it tasted good too.  The only thing I would probably change in this recipe is to use only an egg white for the wash rather than the whole egg, since I found the yellow on top of the cookies to not be very pretty.

Alright, that is all for now.  This weekend I might try making fried cookies.  They won't be healthy, but I'll have several places to share them, so I can spread the heart failure around.


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