Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prunes Versus Dates

Finally a recipe showed up today that made me question substituting prunes every time dates are called for.

This was enough for me to go out and buy a bag of dates and experiment with recipes I know well and are extremely fast.

Unfortunately there is a much greater difference than I expected. And in many desserts whereas prunes were getting the job done, dates would clearly make the end result better.

I realize prunes aren't ones to talk, but dates are ugly. No wonder they are always at the stores, sitting expensively by themselves, rolled in some topping.

I made sure to try one plain before getting started, and thought the taste was more or less fine. Dates are considerably sweeter, so much so that I am not sure I would just stand around eating them plain which I do all the time with prunes. I wasn't a huge fan of the texture. It has that similar sugar-grainy texture like dried pineapples or old raisins.

So I went into my experimenting, planning on preferring the beloved prune versions to anything dates could produce.

I first made the Cashew Cookies which have been my current favorite as far as quick, uncooked snacks.

I make it true to her recipe. I cut the recipe in half and did the date version first (right side). I do add chocolate chips (although today it was pieces of my chocolate bar). The date version was definitely sweeter and I would easily eat either.

Then came the Peanut Butter Cookie Dough. I was living on this recipe for awhile until the cashews came along and I decided to branch out. I always substitute unsweetened coconut for the 2 tablespoons of peanuts.

The date version (also on the right side) of this recipe was WAY better. Alarmingly so. It took this snack and brought it up to a dessert. Both taste good, but I have created a monster now that I know what the date version tastes like - I am not sure I would make the prune version again.

This was good for me to really understand the differences between prunes and dates and how I will use them in recipes. 

For many of the fudge babies using prunes will still work fine, but for things like raw crusts, or in today's case a blondie recipe I would say dates are the clear choice. If it wasn't for the line-up of baking projects and sales I have coming up I would probably be making the Chocolate-Chip Cookie Pie Without Sugar right now - although mine would still have sugar if it needed sweetening beyond the dates.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Still Missing - Book Review

This is my first month participating in an online book club and I am feeling a bit rushed because I didn't quite understand when to post my review!

The coordinator/host is Julie with Peanut Butter Fingers. I actually found her site from a book review last month on a different site.

Julie's site already has a review and the book discussion going on in the comments.

So here is my review. If you don't like books spoiled you should not read this review.

Had I not just joined a book club and been so excited to participate I am not sure I would have gotten much past the first chapter of "Still Missing" by Chevy Stevens. Unfortunately I didn't like the "voice" of the primary character Annie and I am such a written word person that I can be pretty sensitive to books that I don't like their written tone.

The book opens with Annie talking to her newest therapist. Annie is rough and talks with such a defensively rude wall that I was somewhat annoyed with her from the beginning.

As the book moves on, the abduction and related sexual and emotional abuse is hard to read. I would say I am pretty average when it comes to graphic scenes in movies or books although probably lean a bit more sensitive. The scenes in this book are written to make you uncomfortable and I am sure that there are readers who will not want to read those scenes. The way he enforces and establishes control is pretty overwhelming. He even allows her to "tame" a duck only to kill it in front of her later. This scene is thankfully short and to the point but bothered me all the same and you definitely feel Annie's heartbreak.

One of the first times I start to really feel for her as a character is with the birth of her child while still in captivity. She is so overwhelmed with love for a baby that is the product of terrible circumstances. This section of the book had me fairly on edge because of the abductor's jealousy and already established pattern of unpredictable reactions to things he didn't feel he was controlling.  Annie's frantic hopelessness as the baby gets sick I felt in my gut.

Whether the ending is believable or not - hard to say. But it was the ending I needed. I needed to see her get away and I definitely wanted sharp resolution when you realize this was orchestrated by her mother. Annie remains rough as a narrator throughout the book and I wouldn't say I loved her a ton more at the ending, but I could respect where she was coming from.

"Still Missing" is a fast read. It absolutely sucks you in. I definitely enjoyed it more once Annie got away and started to unravel the mystery of who was behind the abduction.

I can't wait to see what book June brings!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! I swear all the other bloggers out there are having BBQs in the sun. Meanwhile we are having North Bend rain. :)

My dream would have been to do some baking for troops, however, this is not as easy as you would think. In fact I am still working on joining a group towards this purpose. I have no personal soldier contact and for their safety they cannot accept home-baked goods from people they don't know.

If you are looking for a contact site for units:
Some of them take time to really write about their conditions and detailed wish lists. The stories are pretty amazing. One unit was even collecting school supplies for the kids where they are stationed.

I may not have a soldier to bake for, but I did bake a bit for myself.

I have been wanting to try out the The Single Lady Patriotic Cookie Dough Balls. I had actually tried this a couple of months ago and I was doing too much at the same time and screwed it up. But I knew it was something I did and not the recipe so it was nice to try again.

In the spirit of her recipe from yesterday I used oat flour, macadamia nuts and chocolate chips as well as sprinkles. The photo of the baked cookies didn't turn out but trust me, the cookies did.

I finally blended up the Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. I have had a frozen cube sitting in my freezer for several days.

This is REALLY good. Mine is more brown in color because I use brown sugar and I also really blended up the chips.
I haven't had time to try out the Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes so instead I did the Single Lady Chocolate Cupcake and added chocolate chips and a couple of drops of peppermint extract.This did not disappoint at all and went well with the ice cream. Today isn't a day I can put into a ton of baking (or the subsequent mess) but it was nice to do some quick experimenting.

Enjoy this holiday!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rally Fun Match

The Newfoundland Club of Seattle ran a Fun Match in Maple Valley this weekend. My goal was not have to use the gentle leader on or off the rally obedience course (goal accomplished). We had entered for three runs.

Every dog is different. I assume some are ambivalent to the indoor/outdoor differences but Nim notoriously does better on outdoor courses. I have met dogs that are the absolute opposite.

In the above photo the rally course is to the right (poodle is inside). If you have never tried any obedience competitions - the courses are all up against each other and usually there is a dog active in each one at the same time.
Nim amazed me. He was over-stimulated but he really stepped up both on and off course.

Here we are at the start line.

You can see we start on the common fence with another obedience course. The dogs may often be right next to each other with just the fencing in-between. One dog may be in motion while the other is in a stay. Tough stuff for the dogs.

The first time we ran our course there was a boxer on the other side and the handler had just stopped their run to pull the dog together. Boy have I been there.

In the above photo we are in the middle of a "serpentine weave." You can see I have cued him early enough, so our lead change is happening at the same time and we aren't crashing into each other.
Now this photo is going around the exit cone and I can almost guarantee the reason we are colliding is because I didn't set him up soon enough and I had probably sped up to get us on to the next sign.
He has just got up from a "sit - down" and his happy ears are flapping.
Nim got a treat for this "drop" (ultimately no treats, no toys when competing) because he nailed it. When he wants to he has a really fast drop...but only when he wants to.

For a drop the ideal is an "accordion" fold to drop to the ground (not a sit first and then a down - that was the earlier sign) which he is demonstrating nicely.

This was our last run of the day and he got his toy at the end of it.

The gal in the ring with me was great to have. She was acting in the ring steward/judge role which was a really good part of the experience.

She has a young newfie (about 8 months) and we met during a rally practice a couple of months ago.

Nim was so naughty at that practice (one of those meltdowns in which he drops to the ground, rolls over, and starts kicking) that she watched me march him off the course, recollect, and start over again. He had to wear the gentle leader almost the entire time.

So it was fun to have someone who knows him see his progress. Her boy was so naughty at this event that he was already home for the day. :)

After rally we had to run to Mercer Island and meet up with another dog handler and then it was off to my mom's house for a bath.

Digging through her cabinets I found this dehydrated dog food packet. It is from The Honest Kitchen and Nim was about to have a meltdown waiting 5 minutes for it. He was actually probably pretty hungry after his hard working day.
It totally stunk and he loved it. I may have to go find some more small packets for the car. It was a nice food reward for him and easy to take anywhere.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bits of Sun in a Week of Rain

This photo says a lot...rolling gray clouds, rain, and bits of sunshine. As I write this it is raining hard and there has been thunder.

Should be a good evening for some baking.

I had to go over Tiger Mountain both Thursday and today. There is a pullout that is good for hiking off Highway 18.

This photo was a break in the rain on Thursday:
It rained so hard on the way to Highway 18, we almost didn't stop.

This photo is from today:

Check out that sun! Amazing sun considering we started the hike in dark clouds.

Nim did some swimming at Aquadog Spa this afternoon. We do a fetch game to keep him swimming. It is actually the only time he will play fetch and it is a high powered game of fetch. It wears both of us out, but so good for his active and strong body!

I hope everyone has a nice Memorial Day Weekend. The highways out here are pretty intense with traveling traffic which is about the only reason I even remembered it was a holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tova Sew-a-long and Quilt Festival
I wish this darn fabric would photograph better because I swear it is really pretty! But I have started on my first clothing sewing project in years and YEARS. I am kind of excited about it.

If it wasn't for a quilting blog that mentioned their Tova shirt I wouldn't have searched on the pattern which then lead me to verykerryberry and her Tova sew-a-long which I just missed (darn)!

And if I hadn't found her I wouldn't be in that quilt festival.

All because I liked a shirt. If you do an image search on "tova shirt pattern" you will see why. The fabric choices were outstanding.
I am just at the cutting stage right now. It will be slow progress probably until the quarter is over but you never know, I might get a big block of time.

Today my big block of time is going towards nominating in all the categories for the Bloggers' Quilt Festival.

Amy's Creative Side

Next festival I plan to do a little differently and review blogs as they are added - I am finding I want to spend a ton of time on each site.

I seriously wish I could talk about all the quilts I am seeing and their stories on this blog. I hope you get a chance to check them out.

PS - I was sending out all the telepathy I could manage that I wanted the Chocolate-Covered Katie Puppy Chow recipe in time for hours and hours that I plan to spend soaking in quilts however those wishes were unanswered. I forgive her though because today she announced plans for a cookbook. Couldn't have happened to a nicer girl and I am really looking forward to it.

PSS - Daily Garnish had a "do over" post today (you know how I love those). And thanks to her naughty dog there is no new recipes from her today either. If you check the post out, obviously look at the guilty dog photo but then look at the kitchen photo. Of all the rooms I design in my head in my dream home the kitchen used to be the one I cared the least about. Not anymore.

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Do-over Tuesday

You would think that with all my baking on Monday that it would have been a content day but it really felt rough and I ended up sleeping poorly again that night.

Then this morning we woke up to more steady rain.

When the rain broke around 9am I was faced with a decision. I had eaten a huge breakfast and I was excessively overtired but I knew a hike would overall do Nim and I good.

So we hit the road for a quick one.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of riding in the car with Nim when he is excited knows that he is loud.

Some dog owners like to listen to their dogs whines of happiness the entire drive to the location. I do not. Nim knows this and so he puts his head as far away from me as possible against the passenger side door and makes his delightful noise the entire drive. The. Entire. Drive.
We got roughly 20 minutes into our hike and it started pouring. Sigh.

One of my least favorite parts of trail has been redecorated by the local bear. They are hungry and stripping the trees for sap.
Nim was impossible for photographing because he wanted to sniff everything excessively and play with the bark strips.
The photos don't do this justice but this is a really cool shaped tree.

While this damage greatly improved this section of trail for me, I realize it is a nightmare to tree survival.

Some of the tree farm areas will set up feed stations to help deal with this during the spring. I have been hiking this trail for years and never seen damage to this stretch, but they did a ton of clear-cutting in the past year or two so I am sure territories are changed.

Nutella Monday

I swear, everyone is sleeping well but me!

Monday morning I woke up to a new recipe which was enough to get me out of the house and to the grocery store for supplies.

A representative from Madecasse was at PCC in Issaquah for buyers to sample all the flavors. This was the best part of a grouchy shopping trip. After I tried the chocolate I was so perked up from the experience that I kept wanting to direct all the other crabby shoppers to the chocolate area.

I ended up leaving with 3 new flavors of chocolate. The Cinnamon & Sakay was my unexpected surprise. It is much like the flavor of a truly hot cinnamon gummy bear (as I remember them) in a chocolate. I LOVED the sea salt and nibs. I have been wanting to try a sea salt chocolate bar for awhile - they seem to be everywhere right now.

Aside from the gas I had to buy, the second most expensive purchase may have been the 2 cups of hazelnuts. 3 specialty chocolate bars never count. Never.

Yes, I toasted the hazelnuts a bit too much. It is a good thing my fingers are mostly healed for the skin removal process. They smell kind of funny while roasting but I loved the taste so much I had to quickly blend them up before I ate them all and had to get more for the recipe!

I used these darlings for my first ever experience with Nutella! I am pretty excited that my first version of this is homemade.

I don't think I have actually had Nutella before but I seem to think I don't like it which is practically a challenge as far as I am concerned these days. My younger self was far more picky about how foods smelled, looked, and their texture.

There is a lot that I think I don't like that I never have actually tried.

My version was totally fine at a 1/4 cup of agave. Technically the recipe called for about 3 tablespoons more and my understanding is that Nutella is very sweet. So keep in mind I have probably never eaten the real stuff before but I found it perfect at just the 1/4 cup. 

I was warned that when I made the Nutella that I wouldn't even want to make it into the Chocolate Nutella Fudge and had the Nutella recipe not made such a huge batch that would have been correct. :)

The Chocolate Nutella Fudge is actually better in my opinion than just the Chocolate Fudge which was the first thing I made when I got my beloved coconut butter.
Since the kitchen already smelled I then got the Blueberry Ketchup boiling.
Some more Brussels Sprouts (which I am eating in unreal quantities...I wish Costco would stock them cheap). As well as tofu and sweet potatoes which were not exciting enough to photograph.
My final experiment for the day I have been wanting to try for quite awhile. I wanted to take the Graham Cracker recipe and use it as the crust for tofu cheesecake. And being the person that I am, I wanted to skip the step of making them into crackers first and turning those crackers into crust.
Crust number one was a disaster. You know how occasionally there are recipes that just don't do well when they are divided (or doubled)? Apparently this is one of them. I knew it made a lot of dough so I tried to cut it in half. The consistency was a nightmare.
Crust number two had nice consistency and behaved better and left me with scraps for eating. I was confident enough after 10 minutes of baking to put the filing in and try it out.
Overall it didn't impact the tofu cheesecake, but the crust was just too puffy.

So next time around I will be making crackers first, and then blending them down and doing the standard crust method. Why that should make a difference is beyond me. Maybe because the dough gets all the puff out of its system the first time around.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Puget Sound Local Yarn Shop Tour 2012

 On Friday mom and I visited 7 stores (out of a possible 21) on the Puget Sound Local Yarn Shop Tour 2012.
 You have a passport you take with you from store to store to get stamped. If you can manage all 21 - (including one in Blaine which for me that is at least 3 - 4 hour drive, nearing the Canadian border) you get to enter your passport for major prizes!

Mom and I hit the 7 store mark in which you get a little LYS Tour pin. :) Not bad for a Friday afternoon and last minute planning. If it wasn't for another blog complaining about this tour overlapping the South Sound Yarn Crawl I never would have known about this tour.

Our original plan was actually the South Sound Yarn Crawl but this tour was a better choice for us. The stores were ones that I would actually probably drive out and visit again whereas the South Sound stores were all pretty far away.

 At each store, in addition to getting your passport stamped, there was a free pattern (usually a one skein project) with the yarn for the pattern available at a discount. You also entered in a drawing for daily door prizes. Many of the daily prizes were in an orange Destination Yarn 2012 bag.
 These hats were one of the free pattern projects at Tea Cozy Yarn in Ballard.
 My mom got another needle felting kit (hummingbird) and a cute envelope and card set.
Many of the stores were featuring Etsy vendors (not sure if they were all local or not) or other small craft vendors.
The store we did the most damage in was Bad Woman Yarn in Wallingford. This store had a great welcoming attitude. Before even entering the actual store we found what we had been seeking all day...the ideal cardigan for mom. My mom is a crocheter, but she got the pattern and some yarn for another sister to knit up for her. :)

It was one of those stores you could just be in for a long time and there was parking (big deal in the Seattle area).

And she got me this shirt which I am really excited about. If I could pull off a pair of boots like those I might look like that all the time...
Bad Woman Yarn is high on my list now of stores I would travel to Seattle for and that list is very small. Really great group of people, fabulous ownership, and nice selection.

Our last store was in the U District area of Seattle and it was about 2pm. I was really have a good time but we both knew it was time to call it and head home.

Between this yarn tour and the online quilt festival all I want to do is finish creative projects (and maybe start a couple of new ones).

In totally unrelated news: Emile is down to 15.8 pounds. This is a full pound lighter than his vet visit in March (in which I heard the many ways I was ruining his health). It hasn't been easy on any of us, but at least we are making progress.