Fall 2013 baking fails

Since my last two posts have included lists, I figured, why mess with a good thing? Let’s keep this trend going! I’ve been gathering up all of my baking fails from October, November, and December so I could share them in single post. On Friday I’ll share the recipe for the awesome oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I made last night, but for now here’s one giant list of all the awful things I baked in the last quarter of 2013!

White chocolate pudding snickerdoodles – These are the cookies pictured above. I’ve gotten some great results using pudding mix in cookie recipes (i.e., vanilla pudding chocolate chip cookies, red velvet chocolate chip cookies, and some triple dark chocolate cookies I haven’t written about yet) but this isn’t one of them. I thought the white chocolate pudding mix in these cookies would be really unique and interesting. I was wrong. I actually couldn’t taste it at all. Don’t get me wrong, these cookies weren’t bad, but they weren’t worth the effort either. Next time I’ll just use my go-to snickerdoodle recipe which is awesome.

Pumpkin sugar cookies – I combined two different recipes to make these cookies (this one and this one), but I was really disappointed. They turned out bland and way too cake-y. I should know by now that using pumpkin makes cookies more like cake. Without added texture you just get a gooey mess. That’s why I should just stick to my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip cookies made with oatmeal. I love pumpkin so much and I’m always trying to find new ways to bake with it, but this attempt was a total flop.

Chocolate pumpkin cookies – Here’s yet another combination of two recipes (this one and this one) that turned out badly. Not only were these bland and too cake-y, like the pumpkin sugar cookies, but the chocolate flavor was completely undetectable. I have no idea how that is even possible. I was a little embarrassed to share these at work, but I took them anyway because you never know who might like something. Perhaps I should have just tossed the whole batch. After the mess that was these cookies I might give up making anything but cake with pumpkin puree!

Mint chocolate chip cookies – Mint chocolate chip is my favorite flavor of ice cream, so why not a mint chocolate chip cookie? It sounded like a good idea at the time, at least. The result wasn’t at all what I intended, though. This is one of the batches of cookies that I took to San Francisco for Thanksgiving, and it was by far everyone’s least favorite. The mint flavor was subtle, which is how I wanted it, but it just didn’t taste quite right. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good enough to include as a separate post in my search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. This is the second time I’ve put peppermint extract in a cookie and neither time was a success. I think I just have to give up on that idea. Maybe in a chocolate cookie? I’ll save that idea for next Christmas.

What I accomplished this weekend

As usual I wasn’t as productive as I should have been this weekend, but I did accomplish a few things (besides watching way too much TV).

1) I went to Goodwill. After driving around with it in the back seat of my car for about six weeks, I finally said goodbye to my old Christmas tree today when I dropped it off at Goodwill. That was a bit of an adventure. I actually loaded up my car with donation items last night (after cleaning out my dresser) and drove to my usual donation station, only to discover that it was gone. It disappeared sometime after early January when I was there the last time to drop things off. So this morning I found another Goodwill site and drove my car full of stuff over there. But I couldn’t find it. At this point I was determined that one way or another I was going to clean out my car today. So in a last ditch effort I drove to the Westminster Goodwill store, which I usually avoid because it has a very annoying loading dock in the back where you have to leave donated items. But today I navigated the narrow alley, dropped off my stuff, and drove away without my Christmas tree. It was very liberating. I also got rid of my old 19″ television that I bought for my Westwood apartment when I was in grad school, but haven’t used in a very long time. It’s so nice to be free of some of the clutter in my life!

2) I baked cookies. I’ve actually been trying to make fewer sweets in 2014 (and succeeding for the most part), but this afternoon I got the urge to work on my chocolate chip cookie recipe. Last weekend I baked a batch of coconut oil chocolate chip cookies, but they didn’t turn out quite right. They were a bit oily and way too dense. I wasn’t sure if I used too much coconut oil or too little flour of both, but the flavor was very good (my co-workers loved them) so I knew there was a perfect ratio in there somewhere. So today while I was watching episodes of “The Walking Dead” I whipped up another batch, using slightly less coconut oil and slightly more flour. Visually these cookies looked much more appetizing, but I’ll withhold judgment until I actually try one tomorrow. I’ll post the recipe sometime in the future if I’m happy with the result. After the coconut oil chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven I also made a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I’ve been chasing the perfect recipe for these since I posted my first attempt back in 2011. Those were drop cookies, and they were very good, but I think the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars I made tonight are even better. I did try a few bites as I was slicing them up and they are GOOD! I will definitely share that recipe on Friday. I put most of the cookies in the freezer so I can share them with my parents when they arrive on Saturday (they’re coming to town to take care of me after my surgery), but the rest will be enjoyed by my co-workers tomorrow. Lucky them!

3) I did a few other things. I’m not sure I can get much of a paragraph out of the rest of the things I crossed off my to do list this weekend, but I’ll try. I picked up my first month of Accutane at the pharmacy on Saturday, which wasn’t easy because of all the red tape associated with it. But I did finally get the pills and I’ll start taking them a week after my surgery. I’m looking forward to it despite the side effects. Since the pharmacy is in the same shopping center as my local grocery store I bought my week’s worth of food after I got the Accutane. I feel quite pious buying milk, yogurt, bread, fruit, and eggs, but I’d still like to have snuck some cookies or ice cream in my basket too! But cooler heads prevailed and I got home with only healthy foods to stock my fridge and pantry. Sometimes being a grown up is so boring! My other big errand of the weekend was Target. It’s not very exciting, but I’m preparing for my parent’s visit so I needed a few things. Most notably, another space heater since my guest bedroom gets very cold. It doesn’t get enough sunlight to warm it up like in my bedroom and I don’t want my parents freezing while they’re here! I’ll have to give the new heater a try tomorrow.

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it was actually a fairly productive weekend!

Wasting time (part 1)

“Top Gear” – This is the best show on television and its 21st season started in the US on Monday. And it opened with a bang. First of all, I loved seeing Hugh Bonneville in the Reasonably Priced Car. And seeing how star struck Richard Hammond was over the Downton Abbey actor was fantastic. He interrupted the interview portion to get Jeremy to ask about Lady Mary’s marriage prospects. Adorable! As far as the rest of the show goes, the guy’s antics with their old hatchbacks was very amusing. The above photo shows Jeremy in the center dressed as a hoodlum with a backwards baseball cap and Richard and James with crazy moustaches, obviously making them police officers. It was great. Every new season of this show reminds me how much I love it.

“Sherlock” – Season 3 which ended a couple of weeks ago was absolutely brilliant. I’ve watched each of the three episodes more than once already, and I’m saving them on my DVR for even more viewings. John’s stag night during the second episode (“The Empty Hearse”) was so hilarious. If you haven’t seen it, the boys get drunk and then take a case. Walk, don’t run, to find the next showing! This series couldn’t be more perfect. My only complaint is that there are so few episodes and the seasons are so darn far apart (two years between seasons 2 and 3 due to both stars working on “The Hobbit”), but besides that I love everything about “Sherlock.” Somehow I have to break it to James McAvoy (the new Professor X) that Benedict Cumberbatch is my new celebrity crush. I have a weakness for brainy guys.

“Downton Abbey” – Yes, this is the third British show on my list, but it’s just too awesome not to mention. I first started watching this period drama after the first season when it was put up Netflix. I loved it immediately, and I have to confess that I binge watched all seven episodes over about 24 hours. I’ve been a devoted viewer ever since. I admit it’s basically a glorified soap opera with great clothes and English accents, but the storylines are compelling and the character development is excellent. Like “Sherlock” (which airs right after “Downton Abbey,” making Sunday nights in January the best), there are far too few episodes per year to satisfy me. But also like “Sherlock,” I’ll take quality over quantity any day.

I intended to include several other shows on this list, but this post is getting a bit too wordy already. I’ll have to write a part 2 later this week. But for now I’m going to crawl into bed and watch a little more TV!

Foodie Friday – Chocolate berry smoothie

The other weekend I had to go into work for a few hours and I was annoyed about that. Who wouldn’t be? So I decided to make myself a chocolate smoothie as a treat to take with me for breakfast. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I started with this recipe and improvised a bit. With the ingredients I had in my kitchen I actually made something pretty tasty! It was like a milkshake but without the guilt. I think I’ll get some chocolate protein powder the next time I’m at Trader Joe’s to see if I can give this concoction even more chocolate flavor. Feel free to adapt this recipe to your own tastes and for whatever items you have on hand. It’s healthy and delicious!

3/4 c frozen berries (I prefer cherries)
3/4 to 1 c dark chocolate almond milk
3 oz vanilla Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp vanilla protein powder (mine is from Trader Joe’s)

You’d better put your thinking caps on for this one because it’s pretty complicated. First, throw all of the ingredients into your blender. Second, blend that baby until the mixture is nice and smooth. That’s it! Yeah, I was kidding when I said it was complicated. Aren’t you glad? Enjoy!

Based on Bran Appetit’s Double Chocolate Cherry Smoothie.

2014 Resolution #2

New Year’s Resolution #2: Take care of my skin

I’m finally getting started on my second resolution of the year. At least, I’m preparing to get started. My skin is a disaster and I have to do something about it. I don’t want to go into too much detail about feminine problems and alienate my male readers (if I have any), but my hormones are causing me to look like a pimply-faced teenager. Again. I didn’t particularly enjoy the affliction when I was a teenager, and it’s even less fun the second time around. This problem was held in check for years by certain medication, but when I stopped taking it four years ago my face began breaking out with a vengeance. Last summer I finally went to a dermatologist, and I’ve been trying different topical and oral medicines since then to try and clear things up, but nothing has really worked. So in December I got fed up and decided it was time to pull out the big guns. I’m going to start taking Accutane at the beginning of March. For anyone who’s not familiar, it’s a very serious acne drug with a lot of potential side effects. There’s a reason that it’s basically a last resort. I’m not looking forward to whatever side effects the medicine causes, but at 35 years old I’m tired of hating what I see when I look in the mirror. Acne is really putting a dent in my self confidence so 2014 is the year I’m going to shut it down. The process of getting an Accutane prescription is a bit complicated, though. There is a lot of paperwork to fill out (both in person and online), and several tests that have to be performed over a period of 30 days to make sure the medication is appropriate. As of today I finished all of that and got my first prescription. Eureka! However, since I’m scheduled to have surgery on the 25th (to have an ovarian cyst removed – doesn’t that sound fun?) my dermatologist doesn’t want me to start taking the Accutane until early in March. So it’s going to be a few weeks before I can even get started, but I’m hopeful that this is going to help me out a lot. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

I’m exhausted

I am so tired tonight. I know that sentence indicates that this post is going to be fairly pathetic, but I have to tell it like it is. When I got home from work today I vowed to sit on the couch all evening, watch TV, and accomplish absolutely nothing. That’s the opposite of what I usually try to do, which is avoid the couch and be productive, but today I was in serious need of a little down time. It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been an incredibly busy and stressful week at work so I definitely needed an escape from that. And last night I made dinner for eight people (and two kids) which was a blast, but still a lot of work. Despite my goal of being a total couch potato, I did get up and wash dishes eventually. I needed to clean my blender blade for my smoothie tomorrow morning, but when that was done I started on the other stuff in the sink and ended up spending two hours washing every dirty dish in the house. It’s amazing how many items you use to make a big meal! But it was worth it. The BBQ-themed dinner I fed my friends last night was a big hit. I made chicken, beef, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and roasted carrots. It was all very tasty. I also had some brownies and chocolate chip cookies that I made on Sunday, but I didn’t think they were anywhere near my best work (I’ll write more about that another time) so I asked someone else to bring dessert. The brought apple pie and it was delicious. A good time was had by all. Unfortunately when all was said and done last night I didn’t get to bed until very late. I definitely need to make sleep a higher priority, which is why I’m going to turn off my laptop and go to bed right now. Maybe I’ll have more energy to write something worthwhile tomorrow. No promises!

Just another Manic Monday

Can’t write tonight. I had a disastrous day at work (I’m really not looking forward to facing the consequences tomorrow morning), and then I spent all evening cooking a dinner I’m feeding some friends tomorrow night. At least the cooking went pretty well. I’ll have to take some pictures to share. But right now I’m mentally and physically exhausted and my alarm is going to wake me up way too soon. Good night.

Starting over

It’s been a long time coming, but I can finally announce that as of January 28th I am no longer married. I got a copy of the divorce judgment in the mail on Thursday, confirming my single status. But while the legality of it is still very fresh, I’ve actually been living on my own for over a year. I obviously haven’t stated it outright here, but I wasn’t trying to hide anything so I’m sure it was easy to read between the lines of my posts and figure out what was going on. I moved out of the house in Redondo Beach and into my apartment in Seal Beach in October 2012. After that I hired a lawyer and filed for divorce that December. That process was rather long and drawn out, considering it took more than a year to complete (I accept some of the blame for that, but my lawyer was awful so that was a factor too), but now it’s done and I’m free. I’m honestly relieved. Most people who read this blog know that I’ve been through a lot in the last four years, and that I’ve dealt with hardships that I never expected. To be blunt, my marriage was not kind to me. I tried to make it work after some dark times, but at some point I realized that I would never be happy there. So I left. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make, and I certainly didn’t take it lightly, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I made the right one. I’ve thought about writing on this subject so many times, but I decided to wait until all of the paperwork was said and done before doing so. But now that the time has arrived I’m having trouble knowing what to say. The last thing I want to do is go into a profanity-laced woe-is-me diatribe about all the difficulties I’ve faced, but I’ve walked a rough road since I left Dan. Things are finally starting to get easier, but I’m far from where I want to be. All I can do now is move in the right direction and hope that good things are waiting for me in the future. I’m ready for some good things in my life. It’s been a long time, and I just want to be happy again.

Resolution #1 revisited

New Year’s Resolution #1: Eat good breakfasts

Breakfast has changed a lot for me already in 2014. Earlier this year when I decided that my first resolution would be to eat good breakfasts, I had no idea just how big of an impact it would have. Believe it or not, breakfast seems to set me up for better eating habits throughout the day. In that sense my new breakfast sandwich maker and blender have already paid for themselves! I don’t know how I lived without them! In the last month I’ve tried many different combinations of English muffins (regular and whole wheat), cheese (cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella), meat (turkey, ham, turkey pepperoni), egg, and spices (salt, pepper, Italian seasoning) to make some absolutely delicious breakfast sandwiches. This might be controversial, but I think they’re better than a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin! It only takes ten minutes to make one so it’s faster and cheaper than going through the drive thru every morning. And I think it’s slightly healthier since I can use whole wheat English muffins and lean meat like ham in my homemade versions. The one thing I haven’t tried yet is egg whites in place of a whole egg so that will be my next experiment. And bacon. Everything is better with bacon, right? As awesome as breakfast sandwiches are, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been using my new blender to make fruit smoothies before work every day. My first few attempts turned out OK but not great, so I was a little skeptical about getting decent results, but I made a few minor additions to my smoothies and now I’m in love with my blender. Who knew you could combine simple things like frozen fruit, yogurt, and milk to make something so delicious! I finally hit the jackpot with frozen banana slices, frozen blueberries, berry Greek yogurt, milk, honey, and powered peanut butter, and my next goal is to branch out and see what other nutritious beverages I can concoct. Substituting almond milk for regular milk worked great on Friday so that’s encouraging. I’ll try swapping out other ingredients one by one and see how they turn out. This morning I made something totally different – a cherry chocolate smoothie. Frozen cherries, chocolate almond milk, vanilla yogurt, cocoa powder, and vanilla protein powder. It was amazing! Like an indulgent milkshake, but surprisingly healthy. I’ll definitely be making that again, maybe with some other berries too. So has my breakfast sandwich maker been gathering dust while I’ve been blending my first meal of the day? No! On days where I have a smoothie for breakfast I usually make a sandwich for dinner when I get home. Add some honey mustard to the English muffin, use Havarti cheese, and throw some banana pepper slices after everything is cooked makes for a yummy turkey or ham sandwich (with an egg – more protein!) at the end of the day. So I’m happy to report I’ve been doing very well on my first New Year’s resolution of 2014. Baby steps, but I’m determined to make this a great year.