Clump-a-cookie…and Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!thanksgivingquote_craftaholicsanonymous.net

On a day rife with culinary perfection (turkey! stuffing! mashed potatoes! pumpkin pie (yuck, but who can argue with tradition?)!), I thought I’d share a brief but fond memory from the Haddock archives.

First, it should be known that I was a baker from a young age. Nothing went with Sunday football quite like chocolate chip cookies and I was often the one that mixed them up. When I was nine or ten, I did what I had done many times before. But when the cookies came out of the oven, they had spread, taking up the entire baking sheet.

I was quite upset (I was young, you see, and not as in control of my emotions as I am now. It’s terrifying to imagine, isn’t it?) and Mom tried to figure out what went wrong. After a few minutes of questioning, she discovered the culprit. Not only had I left out the salt and baking soda, I had also left out about half of the flour.

I’m not sure if it was an attempt to make me feel better by not chucking the cookies in the trash can or if it was my Mom’s steel will to not waste anything, but we scraped the cookies off and piled them on a plate.

That’s how these cookies became known as the “clump-a-cookie”, christened by my loving father.

May your desserts be in a clump-less form and your turkey comas be restful!

XOXO,

Amy

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Why Not Me?: A Book Review

Like the rest of the world, I was introduced to Mindy Kaling through her character Kelly Kapoor on The Office. I have to admit, my focus was mostly on Jim and Pam’s interactions and Jim’s pranks on Dwight…so much so that I missed a lot of her brilliance. Until, of course, The Mindy Project happened*. And then I got her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) on audiobook from the free book list at work.

whynotIn each phase of knowing her, I’ve appreciated Mindy more and more. I think it’s because she’s not as aloof as some other actresses. Actually, she’s kind of the funny and more appropriate Jennifer Lawrence, when you think about it. Mindy sees the world, operates successfully within it, and has her own voice about it all – the voice of someone who could be your BFF if you lived in the same area and were, you know, famous. Or knew someone that was.

In her newest book, Mindy says that I’m not the only one that feels this way about her. She says people often say they wish she was their best friend…and she says people don’t know what they’re asking for. Apparently, her real best friends don’t feel as warm and fuzzy about her, but I find that hard to believe.

As I mentioned, this year is kind of the year of the humor books for me. So far, this one is my favorite. The first book was more of a story arch of her whole life – this book is much more reflective and focuses on topics as well as personal anecdotes about specific aspects of her life, but the humor is still queen.

I read this on an airplane coming back from Nashville and it was delightful. Unlike some of the books I’ve been reading lately that require #allthebrainpower, this one was a fun and frivolous read that kept me entertained from cover to cover. Sure, it seemed like there was a bit more filler than was in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but I was okay with that.

Mindy tells it to us straight – all women in the television business wear hair extensions, friendships in Hollywood can be terribly shallow, and yes…despite what actors say, the kissing scenes are fun to do. She’s our backstage pass into a world that most of us don’t live in and she doesn’t take that duty lightly.

Mindy is fun, of that there is no doubt! But she’s also incredibly insightful and perceptive. Alongside the pop cultural references lie some amazing gems of thought that really stuck with me. She talks about how fame has changed her because she realizes that she’s blessed and wants to act like a better person in the public eye. She talks about as a women in a man’s world, how confidence is absolutely necessary and being entitled after you’ve worked hard is not a bad thing (you can read that chapter excerpt here). And then she throws in a humorous anecdote about Bradley Cooper, just to keep you on your toes.

Why Not Me? was definitely one of my favorite books of the year, if for no other reason than I got a little insight in to the weird relationship that she and B.J. Novak have. 🙂

If you’re looking for a light read, I’d recommend it!*

XOXO,

Amy

*For awareness, there’s some language and content throughout the book (and the excerpt) that might be troublesome for sensitive readers. 

Amy Tested, Potluck-Approved

If you grew up in churches like mine, potluck suppers were a staple of life. And one thing that was guaranteed is that every few years is that the church women would come together to put out a cookbook. Each recipe in the cookbook was submitted by someone in the church. Even though no one signed messages in it, it was basically the equivalent of a yearbook for adults.

And let me tell you, these women brought their “A” game. These books contain slam-dunk recipes (usually laden with butter, ’cause it just makes everything so tasty) that were the envy of all their friends.

In the spirit of those days and in memory of the best cookbooks ever, I thought I’d compile just a few recipes that have been real winners for me this year. There’s no pressure but if you are the designated “bringer” for a dinner or activity of some sort, here are some go-to recipes to have in your arsenal.

cobblerPioneer Woman’s Cobbler

Ree Drummond uses blackberries in this cobbler, but I don’t like all the little seeds that get stuck in my teeth. So, I’ve used blueberries, mostly, and added strawberries when I took this dessert to a 4th of July dinner with friends. I’ve tried fresh fruit and frozen (thawed) and both worked swimmingly. What I love about this recipe is that with the exception of self-rising flour, there aren’t any unusual ingredients…or very many of them. I can whip it up quickly and without a trip to the grocery store now that I have some self-rising flour in stock in my pantry. So, if you have milk, self-rising flour, sugar, and fruit you are good to go! You’re welcome.

chexmixBuffalo Snack Mix

I personally hate buffalo sauce/wings/anything related to it with a burning passion. Despite my feelings, it’s a big crowd pleaser. I made it for three friends that were driving across country to move to a different state. I also made it for last year’s Super Bowl party. All with great success! This is a fairly painless recipe and it makes a ton!

saltedcaramelChocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes

This dessert recipe is for someone that has a bit more time on their hands OR you can complete the baking and icing making in different stages.

I should tell you before we get too far that I attempted to make the homemade “fool-proof” salted caramel sauce for the icing and I failed miserably. Caramel sauce is seriously my Everest. I’ve shaken off the failure, but I haven’t jumped back on the horse yet. Why would I when Trader Joe’s has a perfectly lovely jarred salted caramel sauce that I can use instead? #winning

For those of you living in Colorado, I’ll tell you that I did pick up the more expensive Dutch-process cocoa powder at Whole Foods (there wasn’t any in any in stock at my local grocery stores or at Target or Walmart). It’s served me pretty well and I think it helped marginally with the high altitude element of the cupcakes. But not enough to invest in it again – good old Hershey’s or Nestle’s cocoa powder should be just fine.

Also, if I use salted butter in the icing, I don’t do a sprinkle on top of the frosting at the end. But these are pretty show-stopping and they are the most delicious morsels of deliciousness EVER. Definitely well worth the effort, IMHO.

If you don’t have time for any of these things, my only statement to you would be: WWAD? And the answer, of course, is GO TO TRADER JOE’S! And while you’re there, pick up some of the salted caramel sauce for me, would you? 🙂

XOXO,

Amy

[All photo credits from their respective sites.]

The Best Things Ever: 2015 Product Review

So, let’s not kid ourselves, I’m no consumer reports! This year I tried to methodically decide on one kind of yogurt that I loved and I gave up halfway through the taste-testing process. (Yogurt, though. That’s a journey that’s not for the faint of heart. When did we become a country of yogurt tastemakers, anyway?)

However, when I find something I love it’s hard for me not to share it with everyone. It’s the marketer in me. And also the magic in me.

Without futher ado, there are three things I bought this year that changed my life:

The hand-chopper. My friends Danielle and Katie mentioned this to me one time in passing with a glowing recommendation, but I guess I never thought about it much after that. When Amazon had this little guy on a lightening deal, I decided to give it a try. Why? Because, guys, I hate chopping onions. WITH A PASSION. I cry enough, I do not need a food substance provoking me to do any more of it than necessary.

chopperHere’s the thing, though, there are a LOT of recipes that call for onion. It’s the world in which we live. Previously, I thought I had dealt with the onion quite handily when I purchased one of those Pampered Chef knock-off choppers. These are the ones that have a small circular base with blades that come down when you push the top. The idea is that you put the food that needs chopping underneath the circular base and then chop away without need of a knife.

I could not be more vehement in my opinion that this item is crap. First of all, there’s not enough room to do more than a quarter of an onion at a time. Secondly, my cutting boards are now scarred for life. Thirdly, you keep having to check if they are chopped enough and the crying happens anyway. No bueno.

chopper2.jpegThis little chopper, though, is the bees knees. I just stick the 4 sections of onion in the plastic container, pull on the handle a few times, and VOILA! Perfectly chopped onions, but in a sealed container so NO CRYING (in baseball or cooking). I’m definitely a fan. And at the low, low price of $15.72 on Amazon I feel confident this product could change your life, too.

Croc flats. As far as footwear goes, I wear a lot of flats. They are the cutest shoes ever and I love not having to wobble around in heels all the time…it does wonders for my reputation. But I’ve been getting older and I noticed that my feet/hips/legs are not as up for these shoes with no support on a daily basis. They began to complain a lot and I could not ignore them anymore.  Something had to be done.

crocsThat said, I was not really excited about the idea of wearing crocs on a regular basis. You know, the ones with the little holes on top? Not my favorite look. But my friend Holly mentioned that Croc flats were the best things for her when she had to stand for events and conferences for her job. And I had never seen Croc flats before, but when I ran across them and tried them on I was completely sold. Or rather, they were. Because I bought them.

I wear them as often as I can because not only are they extraordinarily lightweight and comfortable, but also waterproof. And in the summer rainy season and the winter snow season, that’s a nice thing to have in a shoe. They are the perfect traveling shoe (different than the traveling pants) and if you’re going to be walking or standing around a lot, I highly recommend them.

(If you’re judging me right now and thinking “those Crocs might be better than the hole-riddled ones, but they are still not fashionable”, please don’t tell me. I’m hanging by a thread here.)

chaiconcentrateTazo chai concentrate. I think the record is clear about my love for Starbucks chai tea lattes. And if it’s not, let me set the record straight: I heart them. But my beloved Starbucks raised their prices again and again and now for a grande/medium size of the drink I love, I must pay over $4.50. That’s a pretty penny. I started to wonder, since I know what brand of chai concentrate they use, couldn’t I just make it myself? I am a DIY’er, after all.

So, I bought a bottle. And now I’ll never go back! Once a week on Sunday when I go to Starbucks, I ask for a venti ice water. Then I use that cup to make my chai in the mornings…it’s just equal parts milk and concentrate. And it makes me feel like I’ve gone to Starbucks, but for a fraction of the price. Another benefit of making my own chai beverage is that there is a decaf concentrate. For those days when you need a treat but can’t afford to be bouncing off the walls at 10 pm.

Any products you think I can’t live without? LMK!

XOXO,

Amy

Rising Strong: A Book Review

Okay, let’s get something out of the way right now – I am a Brene Brown fan. If you follow me on Facebook, you probably know this already because I’ve posted about Rising Strong at least three times already – and her newest book just came out in late August.

My friend Ashley recommended that I read her book Daring Greatly a few years back and since that point, I can’t get enough. You might know Brene or of her from one of her TED talks. Or maybe you know of her because her book Daring Greatly hit bestseller lists. Or maybe because you have a #fangirl like me in your life that won’t shut up about her (#sorrynotsorry).

Why do I love Brene Brown? A perfectly reasonable question that I will attempt to answer:

  1. She is a Ph.D., LMSW, and research professor that studies human behavior and is particularly well-known for her observations about how shame and vulnerability shape our lives and our culture…and how we can use that knowledge and embrace those scary topics to be more brave and live a whole-hearted life.I personally relate to this because as someone who studied counseling in college, human behavior (especially my own) is endlessly fascinating to me. But I also love it because as someone that has grown up in the church, I’ve read SO MANY Christian living books written by women who call me “dear one” and “beloved” and manage to say nothing but wax eloquent about a glossy and idealized version of what my Christian life should look like. Brene was a refreshing change of pace for me in Daring Greatly because it was really research driven. She wasn’t trying to emotionally manipulate me into taking her 41 day challenge or anything of the kind. She simply presented her findings and tried to relay the principles of those facts clearly and concisely. What I did with the information was my business.
  2. Brene manages to put into words feelings that I’ve long harbored but never quite been able to pin down. She not only identifies those things concretely, validating my experience, but also goes one step further by teaching me how those feelings translate into action and how to keep from being sabotaged by them or how to leverage them, as the case may be. I believe people at their core really just want freedom. Freedom from the things that hold them back and freedom that allows them to move forward in confidence. Brene is that to me.
  3. One thing about Brene is that she doesn’t like to deal in vulnerability. Oh, sure, that’s what she’s known for. But if she had her way, she would have stayed on the clinical research side of things rather than deal with the mess of what that study would do in her own life. She’s not only the research professional, she’s also one of us. And as such, she’s uniquely gifted to speak to both sides of the coin. And she does so in a sometimes-bracing-but-authentic-way.

The great thing about working for my company (I think this is reason #3 that I’ve blogged about this year, right?) is that we published Brene’s new book, Rising Strong. And because of that, I got to read the manuscript long before it went on sale. As I get ready to offer you my humble review, a sheaf of 8.5×11 pieces of paper is what I must thumb through. Whole paragraphs (or sometimes just one line) have been highlighted, underlined, and/or are accompanied by one of my notes in the margins. It’s a tall undertaking with only 50 minutes before my blogging deadline, but I’m determined to push through.

That’s a lot of prelude, I know. But stick with me, okay?

Here’s what’s different about Rising Strong from Daring Greatly: It’s a lot less research-y. That’s right. The thing I loved so much about her first book is not so much what I found in the second. But Rising Strong relies more intensely on Brene’s personal narrative, along with those in her circle of people. And even though I was a tiny bit nervous about this change in format, I was not disappointed.

RisingStrongHere’s the book’s purpose in a nutshell from Brene’s introduction: “While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling experiences we long for – love, belonging, joy, creativity and trust to name a few – the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.” (p. xi)

There are so many things I could say about this book, but I’m going to keep it relatively brief. Rather than unpacking the whole structure of the book, I’m going to go a different way. You know how after you read a book you remember quite a bit, but the longer time passes you by the more you only remember one or two crystalized thoughts? These are mine from Rising Strong.

  1. Stay curious. Put simply, the concept is this: we all experience emotion. Some is in relationship to a specific scenario (i.e. I cry because Kris Allen won American Idol), but some emotions come out of nowhere. Brene’s point is that we need to stay curious about those feelings and where the come from – how they connect with the way we think and behave. This might mean asking questions like “Why am I being so hard on everyone around me today?” or “I can’t stop thinking about that conversation at work. Why not?” (p. 41) As someone that is an expert avoider, this was something that really resonated with me and I think it’s because this takes on a whole new flavor when you think about it in the context of growing up in church. Brene says “…many of us are raised believing emotions aren’t worthy of our attention.” And I wrote in the margin: “…especially in the church.” Living a whole-hearted life instead of compartmentalizing acceptable out workings of faith determined by church culture is freedom. I’ve learned that this practice is not always comfortable, but as Brene would say, it is courageous.
  2. Chapter 6. This chapter completely wrecked me. I’m serious. I won’t go into depth here, but the chapter poses this question: Do you generally believe that people are basically doing the best they can? Gosh. I wrestled with this question in my heart – about myself and about others. I play judge and jury often in determining whether other people’s actions are appropriate…and I often assign motives to them, too. It’s a little like being incensed at the car that cut you off and almost drove you into a ditch but then you learn that the man is driving like that because his wife is in labor and he’s trying to get her to the hospital. Still, not an okay thing to do but so much more understandable from a human perspective. My problem is that my default is always on “jerk face” in those kinds of situations. My self-righteousness gets triggered on a regular basis and it’s become a way of life. So this chapter rocked my world in that way.
  3. Perception is reality: the story you tell yourself about any given situation is real and needs to be based in truth. The overarching principle in this book is that we all play thoughts in a loop in our heads. We tell ourselves a story. She gives an example early on where she and her husband are out swimming in a lake. She tries to have a meaningful conversation with him and gets shut down. Immediately, her thoughts go to “does he not find me attractive anymore? why is he rejecting me?” The story she told herself was that she wasn’t enough and that was the reason for her reaction. Instead, at the end of the swim, when she pressed him he admitted that he was frightened in the middle of the lake and was focused on just getting through the swim and back to shore. It really had nothing to do with her at all, but in her head she made it a “thing”. Women do that all the time. I know because I am one. So, this concept really stuck with me.

brenequoteHere are some additional quotes that I just adored (page numbers might be a bit off because I’m looking at the manuscript version):

“Music always makes me feel less alone in the mess.” (p.3)

“The most difficult part of our stories is often what we bring to them – what we make up about who we are and how we are perceived by others.” (p. 66)

“People aren’t themselves when they’re scared.” (p. 93)

“We don’t judge people when we feel good about ourselves.” (p.99)

“Disappointments may be like paper cuts, but if those cuts are deep enough or if there are enough of them, they can leave us seriously wounded.” (p. 122)

“Perfectionism is not healthy striving.” (p. 167)

“Hope is a function of struggle.” (p. 175)

“…running from the past is the surest way to be defined by it.” (p. 214)

If you’re interested in reading this book or any of her others, I should tell you two quick things:

  1. There’s some salty language throughout, so just be aware of that.
  2. Brene uses a language/terminology in Rising Strong that she develops in previous books. Because of that, I’d definitely recommend reading Daring Greatly before this book. But that’s your call!

XOXO,

Amy

 

 

 

The Great British Baking Show and Whatnot

Happy Saturday, everyone!

inaSo, as most of you know, I am a big Ina Garten fan. I know she tends to be a little idealistic as to what a home cook can accomplish without access to a butcher/farmer’s market/herb garden/cheese shop/fishmonger right around the corner, but I don’t care. As a rather picky eater, I also don’t care what she makes. It’s really about the Barefoot Contessa experience. Ina is so warm and calm as she cooks that it’s a comforting to enter her world. I’m serious. Even when I had the stomach flu, I gravitated towards her show on The Food Network. And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of Ina in the world. I could likely be set for several years. But here’s the really good news: I don’t have to be.

GreatBritishBakingShowBecause I’ve discovered The Great British Baking Show.*

And it’s the best thing ever.


The Great British Baking Show
(for us Americans…in Britain it’s called The Great British Bake Off) is a food reality television show in the UK. I call it a reality television show, but these Brits across the pond do reality TV a little differently:

 

  1. The contestants tape the show on the weekends and have some idea what types of challenges will happen the following week so they can practice.
  2. Each challenge is timed, it’s true, but there is always AMPLE time to complete each baking task. I remember for one particular challenge, they were given five and a half HOURS to complete it. Seriously. Can you imagine Chopped or Master Chef under those circumstances?!
  3. The contestants are allowed to bring ingredients from home – spices, homemade jams, produce…you name it!

You know what I love about these three distinctive aspect of the show? It ensures that everyone has every opportunity to do their best work. Bakers might have an off day or something might not go as planned, but if a single element goes wrong, they often have the time to do it over. Instead of rushing all over the place and throwing food on a plate at the last possible second, there are contestants drinking tea as their bread rises, joking with their fellow bakers and the hosts, and generally enjoying themselves a great deal.

Plus, the accents. Are you kidding me with this?

Those reasons are more than enough for me to love it but there are more.

  • The judges are named Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I could not make this stuff up if I tried.
  • The contestants bake all sorts of interesting things. Sure, they call cookies “biscuits” and tend to praise crisp cookies over chewy ones. But aside from that, they bake international items. One episode, they were tasked with making a German cake. Not German chocolate cake, a cake I am familiar with, but a sort of crepe-looking cake. It was made by creating a sponge cake batter and cooking really thin layers (to different darknesses) under the oven broiler in a spring-form pan. The final result had a chocolate ganache poured over the top and the effect was quite stunning. And the process itself was fascinating to watch!
  • The first episode does give a little backstory on each contestant, but not in the over-dramatized ways that American produced shows do now-a-days. The bakers don’t have to have survived a car crash or come back from the dead to make you want to root for them. The season I watched had several women that had been baking for their families their whole lives and a builder that was a brilliant baker, too. These bakers were inspiring to watch and it was educational, too. In fact, my recent scone victory I dedicate to The Great British Baking Show.

Now all I need is for Netflix to put the other seasons up already.

XOXO,

Amy

*My friend Jessica gave me a heads up on this show well before it magically appeared on Netflix. Shout out!

 

Friday Funnies: Calvinism Edition + a Bonus

The “Stuff Calvinists Like” from The Blazing Center made me chuckle. Here’s my favorite from the list and you can get all of them here, if you so desire.

Correcting Someone When They Say “Lucky”

Please don’t say the word “lucky” around me. It was providence, not luck. And that breakfast cereal you’re eating? Providence Charms.

(The Providence Charms line just slays me…)

***

The promised bonus funny:

My friend Katie shared this with me this week and it seriously made me laugh out loud at my desk. I try to keep those to a minimum lest all my co-workers assume I am more looney bins than I actually am.

But this laugh was worth it. You’re welcome.

XOXO,

Amy