5 ways to keep stress out of the kitchen

A ball of chocolate chip cookie dough ready fo...
a dough-y ball of sweet goodness!
There are a lot of possible stressors in the kitchen, but I strongly feel that the kitchen is a place where stress should be relieved not added. If I let baking stress me out, I would certainly be in quite a predicament at the moment (launched a bit of a baking business in order to raise money for an upcoming mission trip). So, here are some personal tips if you are finding yourself conditioned to dread the combination of cookie dough and cookie sheet.

  1. exact measurements
    Yes, I do have and use measuring cups… occasionally and as strong suggestions. I believe strongly in the power of estimation and (to be honest) I enjoy the uncertainty and risk involved in “eye-balling it,” as my mother used to say.
  2. noise
    I hope this is an indicator of a future of full kitchens: I like to bake while talking, singing, and laughing. I’ve also been known to have the occasional intellectual discussion over a healthy lump of cookie dough and I highly suggest it. No philosophical argument will come to fists when you’ve got something as sweet as cookies in the oven (with gooey fingers)! If I’m not talking on skype, hanging out with friends, then I’m singing my favorite sounds and some you can get for free: noisetrade, briterevolution, designers.mx, just to name a few.
  3. stray drips, splats, and the occasional cookie on the floor
    Everything while you are baking is EDIBLE, so don’t forget you can clean up/taste test all in one enjoyable finger swipe! While baking and talking to my mom on skype about this stress-free post, she says, “don’t forget about the flotsam and jetsam…” to which I reply, “I have no idea what language you are speaking right now, mom.” After a half second blank stare, she says, “Well, I don’t really know what it is either….(giggles) but I’ll look it up for you.” We finally figure out it’s originally a nautical term used to describe floating debris or items thrown overboard. Apparently, my mom thinks this also means things spilled in the kitchen. I’ll take it, mom.
  4. burnt edges
    Here’s the deal, folks: you will inevitably get a wee bit past the recipe-prescribed “golden edges” every once in awhile. It’s just one of those kitchen facts of life. So, be “easy” as my Canadian friend Heather would say. Just go with the flow and, trust me, there is always somebody who genuinely prefers cookies the way you’ve just taken them out of the oven. Burnt, brown, or between gooey and barely baked… they will get eaten and enjoyed!
  5. clean up
    As much as I want to say clean up can be skipped entirely – that’s actually a way for you to smother all the silly cheer of freshly baked goods. My method? Scrub a dish or two while the cookies are in the oven. As I use bowls, spoons, etc., I collect things in one bowl and put it in the sink to soak so when I do get to it everything is in a clean-ready state. I might also use already floured, sugared, and soda-ed utensils over again in a different recipe if I’ve got many things happening at once (regular occurrence). Lastly… keep the conversation or music going through cleaning. I certainly don’t like to be standing at the sink alone, scrubbing out the last bits of tasty cookie remains from a pan. No need to resent the cookies for making a mess! Even clean up can be social!

Okay – so there are 5 things. I’m learning here and I’m hoping to store some of these lessons for the days I can manage my own kitchen. If baking is as stress-free as I just made it sound, I might want to think about a new career!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

A Valentine’s Day Limmerick

In typical Nichols (CHEESY) fashion, my mom read this poem to me because she knew I would be absent from the celebration of love. Please enjoy it and read it several times over. This might give a little insight into where all my cheesy ideas come from! 🙂 Here’s the last Valentine’s day picture of my family I can find (circa 2006?)

 

we were missing a few, but you can see the reds, pinks, and white in FULL force!

 

A VALENTINE’S DAY LIMERICK
by Cindy Nichols
There once was a family strong
Who usually all got along
They just kept on growing
All the while knowing
God blessed them with love and with song!

We welcome two new Nichols girls
They both have beautiful ‘curls’
Though Natalie’s are short
And better for sport
Grace’s are long and unfurled!

The boys are men now, it’s so
Their height has stopped to grow
One is a dad
One is a “Nav”
And one’s getting married, you know!

The girls all love to laugh
To sing, to love, to craft
They talk to each other
And sometimes their mother
Who gives cheesy advice on their behalf.

We daily count our blessing
For our family of loving siblings
God is making you strong
To Him you belong
There is no greater joy you are bringing!

——-

Isn’t my mom great?

She knows how to let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

Chapel Week: delicious-ness

I’m not going to ramble tonight because yesterday I think I scared my mother. I just want to give you a couple recipes.

We have had chapel every day at school, which means that I’ve been baking everyday to encourage the seniors to carry their Bibles 🙂

Here’s the menu to date:

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich (to see the FULL modification go here)

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Chip Dream Bars

For these bars, I added to the bottom crust, because many bakers suggested a smaller pan. I needed the quantity, so I just increased some of the proportions. Also, I used whole wheat flour and added peanut butter to the second layer. I skipped the chocolate on top because they were already very sweet. It was a HIT!

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bakes

For these cookies, I didn’t really follow a recipe. I had chocolate chips, peanut butter, milk, oatmeal, vanilla, and spices on hand, so I made my own combination and we’ll see how they go over tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

Just in case you are wondering, I’m planning a big hoorah for Friday that will involve my favorite ingredient for this time of year – PUMPKIN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

strange day explained

It’s 9:32 pm.

I’ve got dream bars in the oven (with a variation that has me puzzled about cooking time), I’m munching on tortillas with sun-dried tomato hummus (the strangest before-bedtime snack I’ve ever been a part of), and I’m looking at what I picked up at the grocery store: fake milk in a box, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, pumpkin, and oatmeal (wondering why these are my first purchases after paycheck), and I’m thinking it’s a strange day.

Oh, well. I’m sure you have those days too. Nothing especially wrong or out of place, but you feel like you are moving around in someone else’s skin and it’s just uncomfortable. At this point, all of you who haven’t felt this way have at least one eyebrow raised. Which, I guess, is kind of my point.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I want to do or read or hear or say or know and I go into overload mode. Hm. I imagine this is what a baby bird might feel when it first discovers its wings. There are so many endless possibilities – so many adventures and birdies to adventure with and trees and clouds and…

then there’s that typical picture of the not-yet-ready-for-flight
birdie falling clumsily from the nest.

There’s no better way to explain than to give a few examples, so here they are in NO particular order:

  • I really want to know if there is a connection in the Hebrew word “paneh,” which means presence and the Spanish word “pan,” which means bread. We’re studying the story of David right now and when he ran from Saul he stopped and asked for bread from a priest who only had holy bread on hand. This bread was called “paneh” because it was the bread of the Presence. I thought, how neat would it be if there was a connection because Christ (the Word) became physically present and is the bread of life. I have searched and can’t make sense of etymologies in several languages… The farthest I got led me to some Polish explanation of Mr. and Mrs. (which is pan/pani).
  • At what point are liberties counterproductive in recipes? I mean, a little more butter, flour, and sugar would naturally just increase quantity, no? And peanut butter always adds value, right? Tomorrow we will find out! I’m sincerely hoping that my scheme to encourage “Taste and see the Lord is good” (Ps. 38:4) leads them to understand GOD is what the need to taste! (More joy and satisfaction, less tummy-ache!)
  • Why does pride always wiggle its way into the category of “self-preservation”? That is a lie through and through.
  • I hope with every hope in my heart baking becomes drastically cheaper.
  • I have been reading an absolutely amazing book called, “Competent to Counsel” by Jay E. Adams and I love how he challenges the excuses we make for personality by saying, “It’s just who I am.” We are in a sanctification process, here, folks – there’s no settling for “just who I am.” So, I started to wonder (out loud) about how I should change my personality… what needs refining? I was wondering this and talking to my friend Sarah, when all of a sudden I wondered if I could still do the splits. I paused, slinkered down as far as I could and then popped back up above the countertop and said, “not quite.” She burst out laughing and then she said, “More of that. You should definitely change your personality to include more splits.” I don’t know…
  • There’s this student. She is amazing, beautiful, inspiring and God is transforming her right in front of my eyes. I’ve never had a front row seat to something so spectacular! I mean, here I am, sitting next to her just listening to her talk with such seriousness about faith and plans. But, it’s not just fluffy, future talk. This girl is making it happen in her life the way some kids can only make it happen at summer camp or youth conferences. I’m just thinking, “What’s up with this?” God is SO amazing to be working and restoring and growing such a beautiful heart! And I get to watch? WOW!
  • I’ve got Asia on the brain and I don’t know why.
  • I want to read and understand and memorize the Heidelberg Catechism… and then try to start understanding what Bach has to do with it (thanks Justin Taylor for planting that seed in my already crazy day!).
  • I want like crazy to sew an owl costume right up for Halloween, but I’m not sure where I would go with it… which makes me want to have a costume party at my house, which reminds me of the mammoth weekend of 4 am sushi-making chaos that is barely a week behind.
  • There’s a crazy urgency in me to take each of these seniors by their ALP uniform shirt and shake them a little bit (friendly, of course) to make sure they know how much I love ’em and how important it is for them to know how much more MASSIVE God’s love is for them. I just want them to get it, as my Dad used to say.
  • I talked to my mom on Sunday and she added the greatest news – Dad finally sold the calf that was the Lord’s! I know it sounds strange… in fact, every single person I told today asked for a repeat. Buying and selling calves makes absolutely no sense to people outside the farming/cattle industry and that’s okay. What you should probably understand is the way God is using my Dad’s hobby operation to bless people around the globe. This time, he gave the calf to the Lord and said the money would go to Honduras. What joy I had as I wrote in a large sum under the current total of money raised by the sleepout. Praise the Lord!!

Oh, boy. Now do you understand a teensy bit more? My brain is like a crazy factory! It makes crazy all day, non-stop! I think I should tone down on the coffee.

It’s now 10:17 pm and I hope this day found you less strangely inclined.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

this is an example of some serious STRANGE happening!


 

delight; the overflow

A pumpkin stem.
Image via Wikipedia

Can harvest pumpkin brownies determine a day’s delight?

You can argue, but I have a Tuesday chock-full of evidence to hold up against your argument!

I have a sneaky little suspicion that this string of so-good-very-great days is no accident. It’s a little something called overflow. I’m no physicist, but I’ll propose a theory called “overflow” to explain this strange turn of events of the past week that has resulted in an abundance of joy. If you’d really like to know, the formula is complicated and cumbersome, so I will give you the wordier version (which happens to be my expertise).

I wish I could just write the numbers and letters and slashes and signs, because delight too often eludes description. Let me paint you a picture on this flat-screen canvas.

PAINT ME THIS:
fellowship with the saints by way of several amazing biographies…
hours… beautiful hours… spent with students who push me to be convinced about my convictions
words, words, words… in books and articles and conversations…
…listening to sermons around the world and here in the city with a grateful heart that I can do just that…
challenged to THINK … but completely and passionately, knowing that knowledge always produces acts of love
…baking a recipe for the first time with a wonderful partner in cooking crime… and filling almost every minute with laughter

I know… I just read over this “paint” list and I wish I could give each ambiguous phrase a story as perfect as the reality I am walking through. The bottom line is… my delight is not about the pumpkin brownies as much as it is about the overflow of my delight in the Lord. God keeps pouring more of Himself (Romans 5) out through His Spirit and I can’t help but burst with joy. I keep thinking it’s the coffee, but now I’m convinced it’s the overflow. The more the Spirit pours out into my life, the more overflows everywhere else.

People get blessed… God gets glorified… and it’s another good day.

But, tonight I feel I have to fail at any further explanation and ask you to take my word for it!

Here are some tangibles that have inspired:
Andrée Seu has an article on Psalm 40:3 that spoke directly to my heart
Tim Challies shares thoughts on being a better listener (a message I always need to hear) and also how we can make frugality an idol as Christians
I’ve got a little something stirring with my partner in cooking crime here … but only click if you want to discover the collision of two worlds in a kitchen 🙂
Desiring God National Conference just happened this past weekend and I am slowly but surely going to listen to as many of the messages as I can.

I hope the next time I start a blog submitting I have some sort of theory it ends better than this!

monday: from bizarre to brilliant

You may not believe it, but Mondays are capable of bizarre to brilliant status.

When you start the day off with your clothes on backwards, you have to wonder how things are going to go down. Add to that a proclivity for post-weekend depression (especially after one so beautiful), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for Monday morning disaster!

It’s pushing 10 pm right now and I won’t hesitate in saying this Monday shone brilliantly! I want to pack it neatly into a pretty package and send it to you, so your day might open just as wonderfully, but since I cannot this list will have to suffice. I know all of these elements are a result of God‘s great goodness (and in spite of me), so maybe your Mondays can sparkle too!

REASONS WHY THIS MONDAY IS BRILLIANT

  1. Last night, I set out my outfit for today and therefore squeezed at least seven more minutes into my morning coffee-quiet time-journaling routine.
  2. My morning soundtrack is bumping with some new tunes.
  3. Before school even began, the smile would simply not be suppressed… a group huddled outside my office and I cannot tell you why, but I couldn’t help the top-of-the-morning tilt of the head and lopsided smile.
  4. Mondays always add an extra boost because we have chapel in the morning. There’s something about standing with my seniors in worship that gives me goosebumps every time. (I also love that they’ve been bringing their Bibles lately… nevermind that it might be due to a little baking bribery 🙂 A little bribery always worked just fine for my Aunt Jane during swimming lessons!
  5. We are gearing up for another SLEEPOUT this year on October 22nd and the first promo ran in chapel today… the excitement is building!
  6. Though it is temperaturally (made up that word) impossible in Honduras, it felt every bit like fall today, from the bold sun to the cool breeze… and I wanted to burst out singing Patty Griffin‘s “Heavenly Day” at the top of my lungs.
  7. Over lunch, I got to pray with a beautiful, dear co-worker and God made Himself so alive in those moments of community.
  8. Armed with a can of pumpkin and after beautiful discussion on every topic imaginable (so deep I missed our turn), I started what might make Mondays most beautiful this year. If that interests you, check this out.
  9. On the car ride home, I belted OUT some mad tunes from Starfield, Bright Eyes, and Joel Rakes.
  10. Now, night. I get to sleep sound, curled into my bed.

I praise God for brilliant Mondays!

let LOVE FLY like cRaZY

Delicious Adventures!

Last night, we experimented with a recipe from my Good Housekeeping Healthy Choices cookbook. The recipe was for tortilla pizza, but we transformed it into a lasagna and it was so wonderfully delicious! My roomie is a veggie (my affectionate term for the vegetarians in my life), so I’m always on the lookout for recipes that we would both like. This one turned out to be the BOMB!

Then, for dessert, I made baked apples with a recipe from the same cookbook in an effort to welcome fall to the rain and sun of this country that knows not the four seasons.

Tonight, I’m having my high school girls over for movies and THIS incredible apple cinnamon cupcake dessert! Doesn’t it look amazing?

apple cupcakes!

Here’s the description from the website:

Shredded apple replaces some of the oil and keeps the cake moist in these cinnamon-spiked cupcakes. There is a generous amount of fluffy marshmallow frosting to mound or pipe on top for a festive look.

via Apple Cupcakes with Cinnamon-Marshmallow Frosting.

We’ll see how it turns out!

****UPDATE****
Here is the result of several hours in a warm kitchen… lots of laughter… and maybe a few foibles. The recipe is posted below the slideshow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To make the CUPCAKES

  • 1 1/2 cups shredded peeled apples
  • 1/2 cup diced dried apples (I used a baked apple leftover from yesterday to save on cost)
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, plus 3/4 cup, divided (I used 1/2 cup loosely packed for less sweet)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk (I made my own with milk and vinegar)

FROSTING

  • 1 cup light brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons dried egg whites (I used 2 egg whites)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish

PREPARATION

  1. To prepare cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups with cupcake liners or coat with cooking spray (I made about 17 cupcakes with this recipe)
  2. Combine shredded and dried apples in a bowl with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside. Beat oil and the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined. Add vanilla, increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute.
  3. Whisk whole-wheat flour, cake flour, baking soda, salt and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the batter, starting and ending with dry ingredients and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, until just combined. Stir in the reserved apple mixture until just combined. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. (The cups will be full.)
  5. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before frosting.
  6. To prepare frosting: Bring 2 inches of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler. Combine 1 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup water in the top of the double boiler. Heat over the simmering water, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reconstituted egg whites, cream of tartar and pinch of salt. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the top pan from the heat and continue beating for 1 minute more to cool. Add vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and beat on low just to combine. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle cinnamon on top, if desired.

rain, rain, it will stay… until January!

As much as we would like the rain to go away, this news article says it will stick around until January.

The ground is already saturated and all the excess water makes a treacherous course down the mountains and hills, causing landslides in its wake. Much of the coffee and sugar cane crop has suffered terribly due to the rain, so this prescription of rain until January is more than bad news.

Read this article and join me in prayer for the people here in Honduras.

Click here for the article. You will need to translate the page (unless you are fluent in Español), so if you are using a browser capable of translating like Google Chrome, that is best.

These pictures below are from the article and show some of the patterns and movement. Don’t ask me to explain them… I am just relaying the information!

Honduras is affected by the phenomenon of rain has already happened in the 50’s.

A phenomenon called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has distorted the thermohaline circulation and is producing more rain than they should.

The country is practically in the line of hurricane formation and climate affect Pacific and Atlantic.

granola

I love it when people call me granola… although I don’t think I deserve it.

If you are not familiar, it’s a term people use to describe someone who is a bit on the rugged side, earthy, probably makes chai from scratch and can, without much effort, throw on anything and pull it off. Again… not me, but I love my granola friends!

I also love… making GRANOLA! My roommate brought a recipe she actually got from her roomie last year and we made it yesterday and WOW. So good! I thought I would indulge you with the recipe and encourage you to try your own variations and report back!

YUMMY GRANOLA
Preheat oven to 250 then combine wet/dry ingredients in separate bowls.
dry:
2 cups wheat flour
6 cups oats (steel cut if you can find em)
1 cups coconut
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup chopped nuts
3 T powdered milk
1t cinnamon (i would add a touch more)
1 t salt
(also add almonds, craisins, sunflower seeds, etc. to your liking)

wet:
1/2 cup water
1 cup oil
1 cup honey
2 t vanilla

Combine wet and dry together and mix thoroughly. Spread onto 2 cookie sheets and bake for 30 minutes. Flip and bake 30 more minutes. It’s best if it is spread out thin – crispier that way.

eat on its own, with yogurt or milk… all the time!!