How I Survived the Blizzard

Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches

You all know that I hate the cold.

I would take 97F over -25F EVERY. TIME.

And spending two hours shoveling my driveway, while a great workout, is not my idea of time well-spent.

But I have to say, getting a four-day weekend is pretty spectacular.

Guys. We got snow days!! Not one, but two!!

If you’re from Montana, this is basically unheard of. It could snow an entire foot over night and we’d still have to go to school.

Last week though, we got Friday off because it snowed a foot over night and then we had 50mph wind. I had to pretend I was hearing ocean sounds in order to sleep. It actually worked really well. There still weren’t enough streets cleared by Monday to safely open the schools, which meant that we got to stay home again.

So my mind naturally came up with this frozen treat. If you’re all bundled up and you don’t have to brave the cold, why not?

All you have to do is make some whipped cream
Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches
We make whipped cream by adding heavy whipping cream and maple syrup into a mixing bowl. Beat until fluffy and add maple syrup in small amounts until it tastes right.

Get some graham crackers
Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches

Spread on some peanut butter
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Then the whipped cream
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Sprinkle on some chocolate chips. Drizzle on as much caramel as you can.
Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches
More caramel! Caramel recipe can be found here.

Top them off and freeze them for a couple of hours.
Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches

Frozen Whipped Cream Sandwiches

These sandwiches don’t get rock hard like you’d expect. Even after they’ve been in the freezer overnight! They were shockingly easy to break in half and bite through. The whipped cream retains its fluffy texture, and frozen caramel might be the best thing in the world. As my husband says, “These things will change your life.”

If I would have known I could celebrate the cold with treats, I would’ve had a completely different outlook on winter.

Lessons learned

Tortilla Pie
I had some recipe failures recently.

It happens sometimes. No big deal!

Unless it happens three times in a row. In a row!

The first failure was still edible. Really spicy, but that can be ok.

The second two?

I need to talk about it. Can I vent? Thanks.

Pretzels
Look at how pretty these were! All plump and soft. Sure they looked great, but the flavor? After two days of sitting on the counter uneaten, I threw them in the trash. Something was off. Very, very off.

I didn’t even take pictures of the next failure. I should have, just so you could see what I had done. I was so ashamed!

Have you ever made muffins that totally collapsed on themselves and tasted like a puddle of mushy goo? I hadn’t until last week. Bottoms burnt, insides mush, flavor unpalatable. In. The. Trash.

Man, was I a wreck! I have some thoughts on what went wrong, but I have never thrown that much food away at once. The hippie in me was totally devastated. The baker in me was pissed. And my belly was totally sad.

I had to do some immediate comfort/ego boosting baking. So I made these amazing muffins (and added chocolate chips, naturally) and these:
Chia cookies
Don’t worry, that post is coming soon!

So, what about that delicious looking photo at the top? Yeah, that didn’t turn out as expected, but at least it didn’t end up in the trash!

Can I tell you a secret?

Chipotle powder is a great substitute for Ancho chile powder. AS LONG AS YOU REDUCE THE AMOUNT!

I know that now.

I was loosely following this recipe, but clearly I need to work on it a little more before I post it. I’m going to think of my mistakes as public service announcements.  The more I learn, the more I can share.  And then you won’t end up like me: a sad and hungry hippie baker.

Happy baking!

Merry Christmas!

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately.  Let me explain.

My laptop died.  You know, the one I’ve had since 2007?  My beloved, solid as a rock, ancient-but-still-totally-usable 2007 Mac Book?

One day it was totally fine, and the next, gone.  Just gone!  It was seriously upsetting, and I may have cried big crocodile tears every day for a week.

So, there I was with pictures in my camera, an exciting blog post to write, and no computer.  In a stroke of pure generosity, my husband wiped his iPad and handed it over to me so that I could at least feed my Pinterest addiction and upload photos.  Unfortunately, writing an entire blog post with photos on an iPad is a little bit more than difficult.  Probably doable, but more time consuming than I could manage.

Oh, did I mention that this was just before Nutcracker?

Yeah, I had a few things going on to distract me from my laptop woes.

So after the Nutcracker, when visions of Sugar Plums had cleared from my head, I started to really think about how I was going to make this work.  Sure, I could find a cheaper laptop than a Mac, but that’s what I wanted, and really, if I’m going to drop hundreds of dollars on something, it darn well better be exactly what I want.  Why spend $600 on a laptop if I’m going to have to do it again in a year or two?  I might as well make an extra investment and not have to do it again for a long, hopefully really long time. (By the way, I’m not trying to advertise for anyone here, I’m just a huge Apple fan-girl and can’t help but gush.  I’m certainly not getting paid or perked in any way.)

I did the calculations.  Even if I saved up $100 every month (ha!), it was still going to take me at least 10 months before I got a new laptop.  I’m no stranger to sacrifice and saving, but almost a year of borrowing someone’s computer to write blog posts was a bit daunting.

But on Christmas morning, Santa totally came through for me.
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I think I scared my in-laws when I made that first tear in the wrapping paper. I may have screamed something like “SHUT UP!!”  Sorry GG, I was more than a little surprised.

I don’t know how those elves managed, or how Santa pulled this off without even giving off the slightest hint! My Christmas spirit was strong to begin with, but this just put it over the top.

It was absolutely perfect timing, because tomorrow I have a giveaway to announce.  It’s not a laptop, but it will definitely make a difference for someone.  Let’s keep this spirit of giving alive, shall we?

By the way, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah.  Any other “SHUT UP” inducing gifts out there? Did you get to spend time with your loved ones?

See you tomorrow!

White Asparagus

Ok, for once, I had a kitchen disaster that wasn’t my fault. At least, I don’t think it was my fault…

Passing through the produce section of Costco, something strange caught my eye. Something unique.

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What on earth could that be?
How can asparagus be white?
Is this just asparagus that hasn’t ripened yet?
What does it taste like?
Is the texture the same?

With so many questions, we had to buy it. It was significantly cheaper than green asparagus (which should have been clue number one), but sometimes when Costco gets a new product they drastically reduce the price to get people interested in the product.

The next day at work (we didn’t have time to make it that same day), I was telling a co-worker about our mysterious find. She told me that she’d had it before, and it wasn’t very good. (Clue number two) However, she had steamed her asparagus, and when I said we always grill ours, she thought it might make it work.

Normally, I do at least one Google search on things I’m not intimately familiar with, but I thought “What the heck? How different could it be?”

It was different.

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We prepared it like normal (threw it into a bag with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt. Marinated for about 15 minutes and then grilled). And then? And then.

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It looked normal (with the exception of being white). It smelled normal. But it had the worst texture!

It was soft on the outside and mushy on the inside. Like, so mushy I couldn’t bite it. So mushy I couldn’t cut it with a fork. So mushy, I couldn’t even cut it with a knife!

We had to have undercooked them, right? So we threw them back on the grill.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. After fifteen minutes, we figured they couldn’t possibly be mushy anymore. They had to have crisped, right?

Nope.

Not even a little.

So, we need help!

Did we overcook them? Undercook them? Is there some rule that says you shouldn’t marinate white asparagus? Or is the rule to just eat the lovely green asparagus and leave the white alone? Anyone?

I have a few thoughts to add:
1. The bag of asparagus did sit in our fridge for about 3 days. Could have been a factor.
2. The stalks were very thick. As a normal rule, we go for the thinner-to-medium stalks. Could have been a factor.

I’m at a loss. How could asparagus go so wrong?

Trial, Error & Fig Bars

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I need a pastry cutter.

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It started out so simply…

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So straightforward…

But, like everything else in my life, if it seems too easy, I’ll over-complicate it.  I don’t plan it that way, it just happens.

I had seen this recipe on one of my very favorite blogs (she’s local, too!), and couldn’t wait to try it. But, like all the recipes I get really excited about, it got put off. And rescheduled. And misplaced. And then found!

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It used fun ingredients, like figs and flaxseed meal.

But, I don’t have a pastry cutter. So when the recipe said to cut in the butter, I tried to get creative.
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And when that failed miserably, I tried again.
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And when that method started turning the flour into powder, I had to try again.
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It’s ok to laugh. I did…eventually. I’m really getting to that point in the kitchen where I don’t sweat the small stuff. Mostly.

The double fork method worked well, it just took more elbow grease than I was originally willing to use. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with using a bit of elbow grease, and those recipes usually turn out the best. I’m happy to report that the second time I made this, I started out with the forks, and it came together really nicely. Live and learn.

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This trick, I already knew. If you want honey to slide right out of a measuring cup or spoon, just spray a bit of olive oil into it first.

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It’s totally slick. (Sorry, bad pun)

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I had no idea that mixing milk and honey would be so cool.

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And that mixing the milk, honey and eggs would look cooler.

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The dough really does go together beautifully (when you do it right)

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Figs

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Plums, instead of apricots

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This paste is delicious. In fig bars, on toast, in yogurt. I think it might become a staple in our fridge.

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I’ve really enjoyed having these around for a quick snack right after work, as I’m getting dinner going. And I love the little “pop” you get when you bite into the fig seeds. You really need to go make these.

Just make sure you do it like Nici, please 🙂

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Mama Digs Fig Bars (adapted from Nici Holt Cline)
Makes about 32 bars

Crust:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/8 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup ground flax seed
dash ground nutmeg and cinnamon
1 stick salted butter (cold)
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs

Mix the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter (seriously, I need a pastry cutter). Whisk milk, honey and eggs, and add to the dry ingredients. I just used ma hands to combine everything. Shape the dough into a ball, and cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Meanwhile…

Fig Paste:
2 cups dried figs
1/2 cup dried plums
2 cups apple juice
1 cup water

Combine the ingredients in a sauce pot over medium-low heat. Gently simmer until the fruits start to plump and most of the moisture is absorbed. Transfer to a food processor and puree.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Take the dough out of the fridge and knead gently to loosen it up. Divide in half (or quarters, depending on how big your baking sheet/stone is). Dust a rolling surface and rolling pin with flour, and roll out one portion of dough until nice and thin. Transfer to the baking vessel. Spread filling to completely cover the surface of the dough, all the way to the edge. The first time around, I spread it too thin and regretted it. Really go for it! Roll out another portion of dough, and place on top of the fig paste.

Bake for about 20-22 minutes, and allow to cool before cutting.

Spring is coming!

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Let’s back up so you can see this properly.

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This was the most epic fruit salad. I even tweeted about it! (Did you know you can follow me on twitter? I’m super hilarious.  Well, I said something mildly funny once, anyway.)

The salad was epic, not only because it was delicious, and huge, but because of the variety.  This many fruits in the same bowl has to mean that spring is mostly here.  (Mostly, because I live in Montana, and we’re known for our June blizzards.  No joke!  I remember snow on the Fourth of July one year.  Yeah, it sucked as much as you think it would.)

We also grilled steak:
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Chicken is still not allowed for awhile, but when beef is this good, I don’t mind.

And to round it all out, our friend made a delicious mac & cheese dish.
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Nothing says warm weather like this:
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And no, that’s not a tricky camera angle. My plate was half full of fruit salad. I’m a fruit optimist 😉

Fruit Salad of Epic Proportions
Serves at least 8, unless you eat fruit salad like we do

2 Granny Smith apples
2 oranges
2 ripe pears
2-3 small bananas
3 cups grapes (your favorite color)
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blackberries
3 cups hulled & sliced strawberries
1 lime

Wash fruit thoroughly! Peel orange and slice sections into chunks. Chop apples, bananas & pears (oh my!). Toss everything but the lime into a large bowl. Slice the lime in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Toss fruit so that the lime juice is evenly distributed. Serve immediately.

We definitely had leftovers. Leftover fruit salad is one of my very favorite things in the whole world. Why? Because you can add it to plain yogurt and eat it as a fruit and yogurt parfait for breakfast! Score.

As the weather gets warmer and fruit is more in season, this won’t be such an expensive adventure.  But really, it’s worth it to feel like spring might stick around.

Enjoy!

Winter Walk

It’s a well known fact that I hate winter.  Not that I have anything against light, fluffy snowflakes or ice skating–I just hate being cold.

I mean, I absolutely, wholeheartedly, unabashedly HATE being cold.

Maybe it stems from the fact that I got hypothermia when I was three.  Or maybe because my fingers go numb even while wearing two pairs of gloves.  Or maybe it’s because both my husband and son will leap out of bed if my frozen popsicle toes come anywhere near them.

Who knows?

What I do know, is that it takes a lot of bribery, patience, sheer force of will and manpower to get me to spend any length of time outside when it’s the least bit cold.

On Sunday, I found myself outside in Greenough Park.  I had on:  long johns, jeans, snow pants, cotton socks, wool socks, undershirt, regular shirt, and an over shirt (that was actually worn in the Antarctic!  Cool story), I also had on a hat, heavy winter coat and gloves.  Normally, I’d wear two pairs of gloves, but the official reason for going out was to go on a photo walk, and I needed my fingers to be functional.

These boots were made for walking.
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And apparently, so were these.
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I truly do love nature, but I’ll admit that I’m kind of prissy about it. Which is funny considering I was a huge tomboy growing up. It’s the cold, I’m telling you!

I had so much fun though! It was a balmy 22F outside (which is pretty good for winter in Montana). The sun had finally come out for the first time in weeks, which made for some glorious sights.

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I have to tell you, we were all warm and sweaty at the end of the Greenough loop. I’d definitely do it again, but it will take far less convincing to get me outside come May.

And bribes never hurt.

If you’d like to see all the photos from the day, just go here.