Well back in 2018 I said I was back to writing and blogging again. And here I am in 2020, with 2019 literally whizzing by and I’ve not kept up at all. I’ve been posting regularly on Instagram, and Facebook so I’ll just link this up to those posts! It certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t been in the kitchen, that’s for sure. And I was recently reminded that writing is therapeutic for me. I love to share stories and my journey to inspire others. Or at least, entertain you and myself for a while.
Sooooo, I’m back now, after a very super busy Halloween through Christmas season. As a mom, I feel like I’m always running late to catch up. Truth be told, I was always running late BEFORE I became a mom, but now I have a very viable reason, with an almost two year old. It seems like no matter how early we get up, or how prepared I am, we are always just barely making it on time. But catching up and being late are the only two misses of being a mom of a toddler. Audriana is a total joy to be around and even more fun in the kitchen. We gifted her a play kitchen for Christmas (anyone looking I highly recommend the Step2 Kitchen), so she could do her own thing. I have to say just watching her in the kitchen for the first week was just so much fun. I didn’t really know what she would do, but I did know that she spends most if not all of my kitchen time with me. Super hard when she was younger and attached on my hip or grabbing at my legs while doing it, but we’ve progressed to a side chair, a job for her and as much participation as possible to get the job done. Early on she discovered the mixing bowls and would take them all out and restack them, or the crockpot or instant pot in the cabinet and play with the buttons. She was a kitchen-clever and curious baby. So when I saw how she was in her own kitchen (especially, the making mommy coffee part) I realized, hey this is working, our child will grow up loving the kitchen and see cooking as an important part in her life. It’s cool to watch her make things, what she tries to mix together in her little kitchen and we’ll shortly learn how that translates to the real kitchen.
In the meantime, she lives in between the home kitchen and the play one, making both as real as they can be for her. This holiday was the SEASON for her involvement in the real kitchen- as much as I could (because you know some things do happen more easily during naptime!).
A goal I set for myself 2019 mid-year was to try and cook something new and challenging every week. Get out of my rut, don’t rely only on my own ideas… Go back to the basics. As a stay at home mom, who worked in the corporate world for a very full 25+ years, I find myself having to push inspiration on myself into my own home. Frankly, I’m just not as motivated. That’s my daily struggle, something I am working on. Often when I actually am inspired to make something, usually by what I have in the house as I truly detest wasting a thing if I can avoid it, I 1) google it, 2) source 3-6 versions of recipes via online and my own collection of cookbooks 3) assess what I have in my kitchen (substitutes, changes I want to make) and then 4) make it in my own version. I found this method to work for me vs. following a recipe straight on. And I have probably over 25 or so cookbooks that I will also dive into for ideas. There are many things I don’t need any guidance on at all. I could literally make soup, sauces and lasagna in my sleep. And thanks to the Instant Pot which is a total game changer, I can get them done in record-breaking-I-have-no-plan-at-4pm time.
But alas, baking is my biggest challenge. This holiday season I faced the challenge head on. Trying new things. And bringing back the tried and true. My mission, figure out high altitude with some success- we are at 5500 feet elevation, where we live in Reno. Don’t dwell on the mishaps, because of two factors, I no longer have a convection oven, and the high altitude sometimes affects dishes, sometimes it does not. And for sure, I always hover over the oven like a hawk. Seriously. When I bake I am never far from the kitchen and the oven light is always on. What is happening in there anyway? Do I need to bump up the temp, or increase the time? I am all over it!
My successes were to my total surprise cookies! All the cookies I made were perfection. I made only three types of cookies. ultimate chocolate chip cookies Grinch-style, pistachio sables (almost like a biscotti, so fancy!), and my tried and true cream cheese sugar cookies. I learned some things in baking. I don’t know how I missed the memo on this one, but with most cookies, parchment paper is your biggest friend! And butter, only, only use butter. I think I’ve used so much butter in the past year, that I should invest in that market. I have not bought anything except unsalted butter since right after I got pregnant. I made the margarine mistake for years. It’s so not worth it, in my opinion. Sugar. I have tried many recipes with turbinado sugar, convinced it was better. It does not work the same. So for baking I have organic granulated sugar. It just works. Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar make a difference too. Like I said I am still learning.
My challenges were cakes and pies. However, even if they didn’t look the prettiest, they sure tasted amazing. I made a from scratch birthday red velvet cake in October that didn’t rise as planned, and a delicious german apple butter cake for Thanksgiving that quite frankly was flat as a tart. I’m not sure what happened in either. Oh one thing, that I applied to my cookies… I used turbinado sugar, but I’m sure there was more to it than that. Both the cake and pie did deliver good tasting results, they just didn’t meet my expectations. You know, rise like they should have. Actually I had one other delicious best dark chocolate cake with red wine glaze, I made that did not rise now that I’m thinking of it. But that was in September, and I used turbinado sugar. It too was delicious.
After those two (well, three) dessert beauties from scratch, took hours to make, I decided OK time to think about something else I can do, to save time and to enjoy the process more. Jenn, it’s OK you don’t have to bake everything for it to be a dessert, really. So I added no-bake desserts into my mix. Faster to make desserts that I could have some real fun with in experimentation. Bring more joy back into desserts instead of feeling like a detective while baking.
My no-bake desserts were: Pumpkin Trifle(Thanksgiving, I don’t have a recap on that one I guess), red velvet trifle (Christmas Eve (OK I did have to bake a red-velvet cake, but technically you could buy one yourself and I used a mix which was a huge timesaver for me), Mini-cheesecakes (Christmas party, which incidentally I won an award for!), and an icebox cake (New Years Eve party)! All of these things I never made before and all of them were easier than baking but just as good as fabulous endings to a meal.
In making these no-bake desserts I also learned some things along the way as well. For example for an icebox cake, it’s pretty important to not crumb your first layer… it was too late by the time I realized my mistake. Results still great, but next time we’ll fix that one. Trifles are huge! You will have lots of leftovers unless you have a very hungry dessert crowd of 10 or more. In general desserts are not eaten as much after big dinners I have observed. So look for ways to make the dessert smaller, or again, you’ll likely be the one saddled with those delicious dessert-overs.
The holiday season from Halloween to Christmas was both busy in the home and in the kitchen. I definitely learned more about myself, our daughter, the kitchen and experienced a lot more joy creating, once I let go of being kitchen-perfect.
My advice, to the perfectionist inside a lot of us (I don’t know a mom out there who isn’t trying her hardest to be perfect), LET IT GO… (you know where I got my inspiration from that one, our daughter of course, thank you very much, Elsa).
Happy 2020, wishing you lots of JOYous moments in the kitchen!