Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finally, a cookie even I can make

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Confession: I am not good at baking cookies. I know, I know... pretty scary to hear the e-wife utter such words. But it is true. I'm sorry to let you down.

It's really kind of funny, because quite frankly I can whip up a homemade pie with a perfectly flaky crust and you would think that would be much harder than simply baking cookies. You would think. But for some reason, my cookies are notoriously flat and disappointing. I have great equipment and a great oven, have tried countless recipes and followed others' tips.
Emma can turn out great cookies with all the same stuff (and has been doing so since age 11). So I have concluded, it must be me - I just don't have the touch. It's okay, I've come to peace with it.

So, all that said, it's with excitement that I share this cookie recipe that even I can make!

My neighbor Alana always gives these bar cookies to us each Christmas, and they are absolutely amazing. I have hinted for years that I'd love the recipe and this year she came through and dropped it in my mailbox! YES. I can do cookie bars. I can layer things and even cut them in straight lines! I couldn't wait to try them. Rich needed a treat for a meeting, so I had a great excuse to bake these.

The recipe title as given to me was simply "Cookie Bars." Ha. I think I'll entitle them "The World's Best Cookie Bars" instead. They are so very good - think Magic Cookie Bars (aka 7 layer bars) but MUCH better. A lovely flaky crust, a beautiful chocolate fudge layer, these just MELT in your mouth. They taste great at room temp and they are even really yummy chilled or right out of the freezer, too (not that I'd know..). If you like chocolate chip cookies, wait until you try these babies! They are so WOW.

And, the great thing is, they couldn't be simpler. Only 6 easy, on hand ingredients. The recipe calls for a can of sweetened condensed milk, but I'll show you how to ditch that nasty Eagle Brand stuff and make your own with 4 simple ingredients in 2 minutes flat in the blender. Scroll down below the cookie bar recipe for instructions.

Alana's Cookie Bars (aka World's Best Cookie Bars)

2 cups flour

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 sticks butter, softened

2 cups chocolate chips, divided (I used semisweet for all, you can use milk chocolate or flavored chips such as peanut butter for the topping part if desired)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (or homemade)

¾ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans - betting macadamias would be amazing)

Mix flour, brown sugar, and butter in a bowl. Set aside 1/3 for topping and press the rest evenly into a greased 9 x 13 pan. I like to line my pan with parchment for easy removal and cutting later.

Mix 1 cup chocolate chips with sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan. Melt on lowest heat. When completely dissolved, spread evenly onto crust.

Combine remaining topping, remaining chips, and nuts and sprinkle over the fudge layer in pan.

Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into small squares.



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Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

In a blender, combine 1 cup powdered milk, 3 Tbsp. melted butter, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, and 1/3 cup boiling water. Blend until smooth and creamy. Equals 1 can store bought sweetened condensed milk (and it's cheaper and less junkier).




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Monday, January 9, 2012

Whatever - Target and little mailboxes



I haven't recorded any whatever posts in awhile, so here's one.

I went to Target today to buy some of their darling little $1 mailboxes for Valentine's Day at Master's Kids. I had been to a couple of Targets recently, scooping them up, trying to gather the remainder of the 64 that we need, and at each store I've only been able to score a dozen at the most. Well, today I hit the mother lode at a Target in Pasadena, where I came upon about 100 of the little gems. I made a quick decision to stock up for the next couple of years, grabbed around 75 of them and headed for the checkout. I knew that I looked totally ridiculous with a cartload of little pink, red and white mailboxes, but I didn't care. I knew someone would ask "What are you doing with those?" For a fleeting moment, I thought of telling a funny story, like I wanted to be a mail carrier but I got rejected by the USPS, so I was going to set up all the mailboxes in my living room and deliver pretend mail to them. Then I decided that might not be the best idea. So, when the lady behind me asked, I simply stated the truth, "They're for a preschool," to which she gushed "Oh, that is SOOOO cute!!" I then couldn't resist making it even more exciting for her, and answered back, "Yes, and we're EVEN going to put the kids' NAMES on them!!" She gushed again, and I'm pretty sure I made her day.

When it was my turn, I began methodically placing the mailboxes on the conveyer belt, in neat rows so I could use multiplication to count them, when the checker said, "how MANY of these do you have?" I answered that I wasn't exactly sure, but that I was counting them. He said that wouldn't be necessary because he had to ring them up ONE AT A TIME anyway (seriously?) and then proceeded to ask me if I left any back on the shelf. Pardon me? Not sure why he asked, nevertheless I answered that yes, indeed there were approximately 40-50 left. The next thing I hear is him calling on the intercom for a manager. What? Did I do something wrong? I didn't even tell my USPS story, but I still felt guilty.

The manager then appears, and asks me the same questions - how many did I have, how many were left on the shelf.... blah blah blah....then the checker and manager talked together for a moment in a hushed tone. Every so often they would glance over at me and I felt like a convict. The manager then said (rather reluctantly) "OK, she can buy them."

I was just stunned. I can BUY them? I thought I could buy ANYTHING in the store. I'm sorry, but isn't it ALL for sale? I wasn't aware there was a maximum amount of an item that you could buy. I don't know about you, but I've never brought 3 packages of toilet paper up to the checkout and been asked "How many more packages did you leave on the shelf? We here at Target want to make sure everyone has enough toilet paper." Or, "How many Burt's Bees lip balms are left? It's our deepest desire that everyone has soft lips and your purchase of sixteen tubes is sure a hindrance." (Yes, I am kind of addicted to the stuff, but that's besides the point.) To think, that after all these years as a shopper, I falsely assumed that retailers like Target wanted me to buy as many things as possible. But apparently I have come to realize that I don't quite understand their strategy after all.

So, anyways....after I was cleared (phew!) and the checker rang the mailboxes up
one by one (and of course bagged them one by one) I made my way back to my car, completely baffled. I was happy that I had my 3 year supply of mailboxes, but I was left with only one response: whatever.

P.S. If you're thinking of scoring some of these mailboxes, you might want to try a Target other than Glendale, Burbank, and both of the Pasadena locations on Colorado Blvd. :-) Just a tip.


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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hope

I went shopping at Costco right before New Year's, and the employee at the door (job title: Costco card checker?) greeted me and handed me the latest sale flyer. As I glanced quickly at it I could see it was covered front and back with specials on alcohol. I politely declined, and walked ahead where I viewed the "hot item" display area that was now filled with gym membership offers, vitamins, and meal replacement drinks. It isn't rocket science to figure out marketing tactics for us consumers at this time of year. First, early in the season (WAY too early) we are presented with holiday food and items geared as gifts, then comes alcohol for New Year's, followed by all ways we can get rid of all the excess that they have sold to us. We're such suckers.

Well, I suppose I fall victim to that cycle as well (well, minus the alcohol). It's the new year, and I am faced with bowls of holiday candy I no longer want around, I'm gladly bidding good riddance to the Christmas tree and all the decorations, and the thought of sweets and rich foods disgusts me. I am ready to turn over to the next chapter, thankful for a fresh start. My new year goals are probably not that different than yours, from the serious to the mundane: Read more (especially the bible), exercise more (3-4 times a week at the gym), eat healthier (and less), take my vitamins regularly, whiten my teeth, simplify, love deeper and live more obediently unto Christ. Six large bags just went to the Goodwill and I've worked out three times since Jan. 2. I am motivated now, but I know that somewhere down the line, my resolve will fizzle. I will become less concerned about my resolutions. After all, I battle my lazy and unproductive flesh. I know I will be lamenting along with the apostle Paul sometime soon, "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15) If the apostle Paul saw himself that clearly, so should I.

Which brings me to the wonderful hope that someday I will be free of the struggle. Life, this life here on earth, will be over soon and I'll be in my eternal home thanks to what Christ has done for me! I have done nothing as a wretched sinner to earn this eternal reward, but Jesus' death on the cross allows God to see me as righteous and accept me into heaven! Is that not a glorious thought? Sometimes I wonder at the start of a new year, "will it be this year?" or as I'm taking the ornaments off the tree "will I be putting these on next year (or will I be in glory)?" I wonder when the time is appointed for my glorious homegoing. I know that only God knows this. Now don't get me wrong, I also agree with Paul that "to live is Christ and to die is gain." Wherever God wants me to be, I will be content and glad. I will continue to strive with hope.

I know someone who finished his earthly journey 8 years ago. My dear first born son Brady spent his last day on earth exactly 8 years ago today. January 4th, 2004 was the last day Brady had to battle sin, illness, and suffering. Early in the morning hours of January 5th, in the presence of Rich and myself, he peacefully slipped from earthly sleep to glory! He is now in his eternal home! How I rejoice! And yet how I envy him. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for Brady's homegoing, and hope for mine.


Wishing you a new year filled with HOPE!

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