Big time NaBloPoMo fail

It’s the last day of November and I’m looking back in wonder at how spectacularly I failed at NaBloPoMo this year. Yikes. I only updated my webpage twenty times this month, so I skipped a third of the days. How pitiful! If I was going to make excuses I’d list the Avengers Half Marathon and Thanksgiving as the explanation for the missing posts, but those events aren’t the only reasons for the omissions. This month has been pretty exhausting and I didn’t manage my time very well. Oversubscription and procrastination make for a vicious circle. I’ve had trouble keeping up with just about everything since the half marathon two weeks ago. I think I was burned out and it made me lose my motivation to be productive in a lot of areas (running, writing, and housekeeping, to name a few). Fortunately, I think the Thanksgiving holiday helped to recharge my batteries and now I feel a lot better. As of today I am determined to turn everything around. Tomorrow is the first day of December and there’s no way I’m going to let the last month of the year slip away so easily.

I got home from San Francisco early this morning and I had so many things I wanted to accomplish to close out November on a good note. I have actually been fairly productive today, but there is still so much stuff that I didn’t get done. After my flight landed I drove straight to Target from the Long Beach airport and actually got there before they opened at 8 AM! In the meantime I went next door to the Ralph’s and bought some vegetables to cook for my lunches this week. (My diet was a distant memory while I was out of town and it’s high time I get back on track in that respect. I will elaborate on this bizarre and sensitive topic in a future post.) I snuck in to Target right at 8 AM so the crowds were minimal. The only thing I really wanted to get was a garland for my Christmas tree, but of course I also bought some frozen fruit for smoothies and a few other snacks. I’ve discovered that it’s impossible to leave Target with a single item. After these two errands I went home to unload everything from my car and start my productive Sunday. I intended to put up my Christmas tree today, but I spent too much time on other chores (and online shopping/TV watching) so decking the halls will have to wait until later this week. I did cook all of the vegetables I bought this morning and put together several lunches for the upcoming week, so that was good. I may not be fully prepared for the work week to start tomorrow, but at least I’ll be well fed. It’s going to be a busy week! More on that to come.

Getting ready for Turkey Day

I finally put away my Halloween decorations on 11/8 and put up my Thanksgiving stuff. As I mentioned last year, I don’t have much in the way of Thanksgiving decorations, but I do my best with what I’ve got. To make my seasonal display look more substantial, I decided not to pack up my pumpkin luminaries after Halloween. It’s still fall, after all! Admittedly, the jack-o-lantern is a little out of place in November, but I get to enjoy it for an extra month this way. And with all the effort it took to get the pumpkins I’m going to leave them out as long as possible. As you can see in the above photo, I gave my little accordion turkey a place of honor in my display this year. What’s Thanksgiving without a turkey? I found a little box that’s just the right height to showcase my beloved $1.97 turkey from Walmart. Doesn’t he look festive up there? Rounding out my display are my Publix Pilgrim people, a couple of Hallmark Thanksgiving ornaments (one from the Peanuts series last year, and one from the Disney series this year), and a Disney Vinylmation that looks like a turkey. It’s still not much, but I love seeing my little collection of Thanksgiving decorations when I come home from work each day. And I will enjoy it as much as possible until it’s time to decorate for Christmas. Only more week! Holy cow!

Thanksgiving planning starts now

Now that my race weekend is over (more on that tomorrow) I can focus on other things. Like Thanksgiving! I’m sure one of the reasons I love this time of year so much is because I don’t have to cook a big Thanksgiving dinner for anyone! Less stress always means a more enjoyable holiday. For the last two years I’ve had the privilege of enjoying an amazing Thanksgiving meal with my brother and his friends in San Francisco, which requires very little effort on my part. All I have to do is bring some homemade cookies with me to make it look like I contributed to the feast. The cookies are completely superfluous since these folks make such incredible food, but at least I don’t arrive empty-handed. Plus, I use the holiday as an excuse to try new cookie recipes. Last year I made four different chocolate chip cookie recipes, three of which were really tasty. The fourth was a bit of a bust, but a 75% success rate ain’t bad, if you ask me! This year is a little different, though. I haven’t made any sort of baked good for a couple of months, mostly due to banishing grains from my diet (except for the occasional Egg McMuffin). But since I don’t want to subject everyone to the same restrictions (and since I’m planning on indulging when I’m in San Francisco), I’ll break out the all-purpose flour to make treats for Thanksgiving. So tonight I scoured my Pinterest boards for any cookie recipes that jumped out at me. I found quite a few! So far all I’ve decided is that I’ll make snickerdoodles of some kind and chocolate cookies of some kind. I need to find a couple more ideas this week (something with chocolate chips!), narrow them down to four recipes or fewer, and then start gathering the necessary ingredients. I am completely out of eggs and I think my cinnamon reserve is running low. The horror! But besides that scary fact, I’m really looking forward to baking cookies for Thanksgiving this year!

Foodie Friday – Indian-spiced almonds

I haven’t done much cooking lately so I’m having to look back pretty far to find recipes to post these days. But there are some chocolate chip cookie recipes calling my name so hopefully that will change soon. For now I’ll have to share a tasty treat that I made for Thanksgiving.

About a year ago I made Indian-spiced chickpeas to share with some friends. I thought the flavor was good, but despite cooking them much longer than the recipe stated, the chickpeas weren’t crispy enough. So when I needed a simple, low carb snack to take to San Francisco for Thanksgiving I tried the same recipe with almonds instead. I actually think it worked out better that way! While they weren’t as popular as the rosemary pecans, but everyone seemed to like them.¬† So if you’re looking for¬†something quick and healthy give these Indian-spiced almonds a try!

INGREDIENTS:
3 c almonds
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

DIRECTIONS:
In a medium bowl, drizzle the almonds with olive oil and stir to coat. Then add the curry powder, garam masala, garlic powder, salt, and white pepper and stir to evenly coat the pecans with the spices (I used my hands). Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 deg F for about 20 minutes, stirring once, or until the nuts are toasted. Be careful not to burn them! Enjoy!

Based on A Spicy Perspective’s Indian Roasted Chickpeas.

Foodie Friday – Rosemary pecans

I know, I’m the worst blogger ever. Please forgive me. But some days you just have to do what’s necessary – and yesterday I just had to go to bed at 8:30. I was really tired. Not that a single early bedtime explains my pitiful blogging over the last week, but it’s representative of a lot of things going on right now. I promise to do better over the weekend. But for now, on to the recipe!

This recipe is so simple that I feel like a bit of a fraud posting it, but it was a bit hit at Thanksgiving. At the time my dad was sticking to a low carb diet so he couldn’t sample any of the four kinds of chocolate chip cookies I made for the holiday feast. So for him (and for the health conscious folks at our Thanksgiving dinner) I roasted some almonds and pecans with different seasonings. Not only is roasting nuts ridiculously easy, but the result is really tasty. This recipe will even satisfy the vegetarians and vegans in your life! These rosemary pecans were very a very popular appetizer at the Thanksgiving dinner we attended. I will definitely be making them again!

INGREDIENTS:
2 c pecan halves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp crushed dried rosemary
1/2 tsp kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:
In a medium bowl, drizzle the pecan halves with oil and stir to coat. Then add the rosemary and salt and stir to evenly coat the pecans with the spices. (I wish I’d had some ground rosemary for this recipe because a lot of the crushed rosemary fell off the pecans. If you have a spice grinder this would be a good time to employ it.) Spread the pecans in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 deg F for about 20 minutes, stirring once, or until the nuts are toasted. Be careful not to burn them! Enjoy!

Based on In Sonnet’s Kitchen’s Rosemary and Sea Salt Roasted Pecans.

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.

Foodie Friday – Chocolate chip cookies #41

Chocolate chip cookies #41: Based on Two Peas and Their Pod’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread. Baked on 11/24/13 (and again on 2/1/14).

There is nothing simpler than a shortbread cookie – crispy, buttery, and delicious. So what do you get when you add some chocolate chips? Tasty chocolate chip shortbread cookies, of course! I’ve found several different recipes for chocolate chip shortbread, but the recipe I picked to try first was by far the simplest. Butter, white sugar, vanilla, flour, salt, and chocolate chips. No eggs or leavening ingredients. The first time I made these (for Thanksgiving) I swapped the chocolate chips for red and green sprinkles to make them seasonally appropriate, but when I baked them for the Super Bowl party last weekend I used mini chocolate chips (and took the above photo). I think there might be a bit too much flour in this recipe, but they were still really good. I’m going to try a couple more chocolate chip shortbread cookies and see if I can make some improvements, but this batch was still really well received by the Super Bowl partygoers on Sunday and my co-workers on Monday!

Foodie Friday – Chocolate chip cookies #39

Chocolate chip cookies #39: Based on The Kitchen in my Playground’s Spiced Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Baked on 11/24/13.

No picture of these spiced chocolate chip cookies, but I guess when you’ve seen one of my chocolate chip cookie bars, you’ve seen them all. Someone just needs to invent a way to taste food through the internet so you could discover for yourself just how good these cookies are! This is another one of the four chocolate chip cookie varieties I took to Thanksgiving in San Francisco (along with the almond butter chocolate chip cookies I posted three weeks ago), and they were perfect for the holidays. Turns out adding cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and all spice (and maybe a little cardamom, if I remember correctly) to chocolate chip cookie dough is a fantastic idea. They are chocolate chip cookies on Christmas steroids! If you’re looking for something that’s a simple step up from the cookie that everyone is familiar with, this is it. I’m going to be making these again next year!

Foodie Friday – Chocolate chip cookies #38

Chocolate chip cookies #38: Based on The Cooking Actress’s Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Baked on 11/24/13.

I was planning to post an eggnog cake recipe today since Christmas is just five days away, but after baking some cookies to take to Tallahassee with me tomorrow I knew I needed to share this almond butter chocolate chip cookie recipe instead. This is my second time making them and they are awesome. But let me rewind a few weeks and start at the beginning.

I have to admit that I skipped dessert this Thanksgiving…again. Like last year, I brought four different kinds of cookies to San Francisco to add to the Thanksgiving dessert buffet, but I was too tired after dinner to stick around long enough to partake. I heard these almond butter chocolate chip cookies were everyone’s favorite, though. So much so that they didn’t last until the next day! After checking out a few peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipes online I found this one that uses almond butter (and a lot of it!) instead. This recipe was especially appealing because I had a jar of almond butter just sitting in my cabinet. It was put to great use in these amazing cookies. With 3/4 cup almond butter in an 8×8″ pan (a whole 12 oz jar if you make a double batch like I did today!), the almond flavor really comes through. Delicious. If you like peanut butter cookies you’re definitely going to like these, and if you like almond butter you’ll love them!