Friday, December 19, 2014

Hard Candy Christmas


It's tradition.

It's a family tradition to make pounds and pounds of hard tack candy.

And, boy, do I mean POUNDS. Go big or get out of our kitchen, as Grandma Barb says.


Let me correct myself. It's the women of the family who make the hard tack. We make pounds and pounds of it to give away to family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, churches, mailmen, Santa.... If you come over to one of our houses during Christmastime, you're either snacking on it or taking a bag of it home with you.

Honestly, I don't remember a Christmas season without bowls and bowls of this powdered sugar stuff. Looking back on home videos you can see the bowls on the counters, on the end tables, Great Grandpa popping a piece in his mouth.

Oh, and the absolute best is watching someone pop what they think is their favorite flavor into their mouth only to horridly discover it is their least favorite and quickly spit it out. I have been guilty of this on several occasions, especially if I wasn't there to make it that year or can't remember the color codes. Sometimes it's just so hard to decipher those darn pieces when they are proficiently covered in powdered sugar and a crowd has formed around the bowl and you don't want to be accused of fingering every piece just to find your favorite. I know we are all victims. Sorry.

I know. You're probably suggesting we sort out all of the flavors into their own special bowls. But where's the fun in that? And, y'all, I don't have time for any extra dishes let alone have the space for a dozen cute holiday dishes. (Mr. B would kill me if I took up any more cabinet space.) Besides, it's nice when the flavors...merry, you know?

Of course, if you absolutely despise a flavor (just throwing it out there for an example, but let's say pineapple,) you don't have to put it in your batch. Just make sure you're there burning your fingers with the rest of us if you're going to make such demands, mmm'kay?


While waiting for Grandma to make the candy batches, the rest of us girls chit-chat, laugh, and try to right some disastrous event that probably happened behind Grandma's back. It's all fun and games until the scalding hot sugar hits the marble.

Then all that can be heard from the kitchen is "Owww, owww, owww!"

"My fingers. I.Can't.Feel.My.Fingers."

"I'm sure I have no more fingerprints."

[insert a few choice words]

"Oh, for crying out loud! Stop whining!" <--- usually from Grandma. (But you know, she's the one pouring the scalding hot liquid, not touching it. I guess after years and years of doing it, one eventually graduates to the coveted stirring and pouring position.)

"I swear, Brindi Michele, if you suggest doing this next year...." <---usually said by Mama. (I do believe, at this very moment, she is not joking.)

"I NEED more butter!"

I always need more butter. I can never cut fast enough. There must be a faster way. You could wait until the sugar hardens and then break it off, but that results in very, very, sharp glass-like edges. And when you toss a handful of hard candy into your mouth, that truly IS something you want to avoid.


So, apply the butter and more butter. And when you think you have enough, apply more butter on top of that butter. And cut as fast as your pretty little fingers can.... if you want to keep them pretty and the pain minimal.

Usually, we make about a dozen different flavors, everything from cherry to spearmint, from blueberry to cloves, from cinnamon to grape.

Hard candy is kind of a big deal over here.


Occasionally, we have to rope the men in. Daddy is always willing to help...as long as he gets to make a few suckers. Grandma would object, but by the time the men are called in, we'll do just about anything to get this over with. I'm quite confident one time our patience will run out and we'll just decide a big square will suffice. We'll just break pieces off and pass it around. (I'd love to see the powdered sugar mess created with that one.)

Cheers to another kitchen fiasco full of family, sugar, and brunt fingers! Oh, and entertainment memories one can get nowhere else.


Hard Tack Candy
*ingredients for ONE regular batch

2 c granulated sugar
2/3 c light corn syrup
3/4 c water
1 t flavoring (i.e. clove, butter pecan, tropical punch, coffee, spearmint, cinnamon, cherry, lemon...)
1/2 t food coloring (and you'll want to note what color you use for each flavor)
powdered sugar

Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to boil without stirring. When syrup temperature reaches 260 degrees, add color. Do not stir; boiling action will incorporate color into syrup. Remove from heat at 300 degrees or when drops of syrup form hard threads in cold water. After boiling ceases, stir in flavoring. Immediately pour syrup onto buttered marbled slabs or cookie sheets. CAREFULLY, using buttered scissors to prevent sticking, cut hardened syrup into bite-size candy pieces. Syrup will hardened quickly, so this needs to be fast! Toss cut pieces onto extra cookie sheet or into a big bowl. When cooled, toss candy pieces with powdered sugar to prevent sticking.

**Note: you can easily multiply this recipe to your needs, like if you need to make 25 pounds of candy :)

***I recommend not doing this alone or with small children.



I'll take my five pounds, please.

By the way, it's National Hard Candy Day!

With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cookie Madness

It's back!!!!!!!!! And just in time for National Bake Cookies Day :)


And to be absolutely honest, it was our most efficient one yet.

With three stand mixers, five mixing bowls, and five paddles, how could it not?

And Karen, Jessica's mother-in-law, kept us on track. Instead of Jessica and I realizing we don't have an ingredient and setting out to rummage the cupboards, Karen was all "I got it!" and we kept on going. Running quite smoothly, I must say.


Now, if you would allow me to be completely honest for one tiny moment here, I admit I was not feeling the baking mood. This Christmas has quickly sprung upon me, and at one time I thought I was ahead of the game, and then I turned around and seemed to be buried in my Christmas to-do list. I didn't get any dough prepared ahead of time. I forgot all of my recipes and half of the ingredients for the Apple Snickerdoodles (which just became regular Snickerdoodles with some apple butter in them, and it made them super soft) at home.

However, our set baking date had arrived and it was time to get out the 10 pounds of butter and those cookie sheets!

Oh, check that. Since our baking extravaganza was at Karen's house (near Jessica) I didn't bring my baking sheets or cooling racks. I figured between the two of them we'd have enough. Guess who else forgot her baking sheets and cooling racks? Good thing Jessica's husband didn't mind stopping at GFS, while he was out and about, and picking us up some cookie sheets.


Other than a few forgotten ingredients, recipes, and baking needs, we had a disaster-free baking experience. Our first one EVER. The only mishap came when I was talking to Mama on the phone (to find out how the hard candy making went; my family was doing that the same time we were baking, and since I have yet to master the ability to be in two places at once, I couldn't make it this year. BTW, I'll be posting about my family's hard candy tradition tomorrow) when I accidentally wasn't paying attention after adding the flour to the bowl and set the mixer on high. FLOUR.EVERYWHERE. Good thing my phone was in my hand at the time and not laying beside the mixer as it had been for most of the day. I'm sure I lost at least 1/4 c of flour during that fiasco.


This picture doesn't do the mess justice.

Ai yi yi, Anyhoo, it was nice to have an extra fridge for all our dough. However, what we really needed was another oven or two. This whole only one oven thing really slowed down the fast pace we had developed with the doughs. And we were definitely getting the dough out quickly.


When I said efficient, I wasn't joking. Between the three of us, we managed 12 different recipes. These included Potato Chip Cookies (Karen's favorites), Browned Butters (a doubled recipe I almost wrecked), Lavender Shortbreads, a double batch of Mint Chocolate Chips, Butterballs (see below for recipe), Citrus Butter Cookies (made with doTerra's essential lemon and lime oils), Myles' special sugar cookies (from The Honest Company), Oatmeal-Cherry-Walnuts, (non-apple) Snickerdoodles, and one tray of Pretzel Bark (because Jess accidentally burnt the caramel for the second batch). Although we made the dough for our last two cookies, Karen's Molasses ones and Jessica's Sour Cream Cut-Outs, we didn't get a chance to finish them. It was 6 o'clock and the Sour Cream dough wasn't chilled enough to roll out and cut (but the frosting was made!), and it was 6 o'clock. The molasses could be baked another day.

Jessica and I still had to go back to her house and make cupcakes and banana bread for her son's fourth birthday party the next day. We also had to decorate, clean the house, and fill treat bags. And who was the one that decided all of this was a good idea in one weekend?! We're still pointing fingers. (Oh, and Karen had been up since 6:30 that morning baking and decorating the Daniel Tiger cake.)

Yet, when all was said and done. We did it. We made a dozen different cookies plus three different frostings. We threw a successful and fabulous party. We are over-achievers. We are exhausted.



Karen's Christmas Butterballs

makes about 3 dozen butterballs

1 c unsalted butter
1 t vanilla extract
1 t baking powder
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c pecans, chopped
powdered sugar

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar; add in vanilla. In separate bowl combine flour and baking powder; add to wet mixture. Mix well and stir in chopped pecans. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Once balls have cooled, roll in powdered sugar and let set completely.


*Note: for some reason these butterballs didn't quite stay in a tight ball form. Just so you know, ball form is what you're aiming for. (I think our oven and kitchen were too warm.) Still delicious though!

With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Photo an Hour

7 AM

8 AM

9 AM

10 AM

11 AM
12 PM

1 PM

2 PM

3 PM

4 PM

5 PM

6 PM

7 PM

8 PM

9 PM

I cannot believe this little guy turned FOUR!!! Remember this little face?? I remember when Jessica was trying to get him to TRY his first birthday cake, now he KNOWS what cake he wants, Daniel Tiger cupcakes, please!

He was so excited his Auntie Dee stayed the night. We snuggled, read a bedtime story, but he would not let me sleep in his race car bed. However, he was quite excited to wake me up the next morning, but the party decorations excited him more. The day was hectic but fun, and Myles thoroughly enjoyed his fourth birthday party. Utterly exhausted, I thoroughly enjoyed falling into my own bed that night...with my new doTerra diffuser :)

With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trending Fun Facts


Sooooo....I strongly dislike when I look at past posts and realize I have long lulls between posts (like a few weeks ago...ugh). I'm OCD and it bothers me. While I'm wrapping, decorating, planning, baking, sampling and reviewing, here is a Fun Facts {About Me} post to hold you over until your next cookie review fix.


Four names that people call me other than my real name:
  1. Brin
  2. Dee
  3. Peeps <--- Mama only, folks!
  4. Brindi Michele! <--- my best friend, usually during a dramatic moment in our very dramatic lives.
Four jobs I’ve had:
  1. Drive-in waitress <--- no, I didn't have the roller skates.
  2. College campus barista
  3. Writing tutor
  4. Professional shoe-buyer <--- and by this I mean I worked at Payless and couldn't stop buying shoes and had to quit because my employer was getting most of my paycheck back and my best friend was going to kill me if I didn't have money for rent. (This was one of those "Brindi Michele!" moments.)
Four Six movies you’ve watched more than once five times:
  1. Pretty Woman
  2. Pride and Prejudice
  3. Sixteen Candles
  4. Steel Magnolias
  5. The Princess Bride
  6. Gone with the Wind
Four Five books I’d recommend:
  1. Cold Tangerines
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  3. Women Living Well
  4. Mudhouse Sabbath
  5. The Princess Bride
Four places I’ve lived:
  1. Crestline, OH
  2. Gallipolis, OH
  3. Kent, OH
  4. Mogadore, OH <--- STATE traveler, right here, folks. O-H!
Four Places you have visited:
  1. Maine
  2. Las Vegas
  3. Niagara Falls, Canada
  4. Georgia
Four places I’d rather be right now:
  1. At home
  2. In the kitchen
  3. In bed trying to snuggling with Mr. Darcy and reading
  4. Jekyll Island, GA
Four things I don’t eat:
  1. Pineapple <-- don't even....
  2. Flaked coconut
  3. Raw onions
  4. Sushi
Four Six of my favorite foods:
  1. Ice cream
  2. Chicken and dumplings
  3. Anything with pesto
  4. Fresh mozzarella cheese
  5. Nut butter
  6. Oatmeal
Four TV shows I watch (via Netflix considering the fact I don't have cable):
  1. FRIENDS
  2. Blue Bloods
  3. Duck Dynasty
  4. Sunday Night Football <--- this is totally a show.
Four things I’m looking forward to this [upcoming] year:
  1. Our next vacation
  2. Mr. Darcy's first birthday :)
  3. Re-modeling our upstairs bathroom
  4. Vera Bradley Outlet Sale 2015
Four things I’m always saying:
  1. It's my MISTER!!!! <--- when speaking to Mr. Darcy, not Mr. B, although I can see how one would be confused.
  2. Starbucks break.
  3. I'm freezing.
  4. Oh, really? <--- speaking of Mr. B, this drives him crazy.



With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yes, I'm a Children's Librarian

HOLY FRIJOLES! Yesterday was a tad crazy over here. And by over here, I mean at my library. And by crazy I mean me ---> overwhelmed, slightly panicked, rushed, exhausted.... let's just say I slept quite well. (Read: fell into bed and was dead to the world until well beyond my set alarm time.)

It was all POLAR EXPRESS over here and has been for the past month. So with that, let's dive into my nonstop day.


11:30-12:00 p.m. As soon as I arrived at work, 15 minutes early to be exact, I quickly checked email and voice mail (a family called to say they weren't going to make the evening's program) and then packaged my cookies. Being the baker and cookie maker that I am, I decided I'd make Grandma Barb's famous cut-outs as part of the BINGO prizes the kids could take home. I made the dough last Wednesday, cut the stars out and baked on Friday, and frosted the cookies Sunday night. Late Monday night, I had visions of packaging the cookies in individual festive bags along with a Santa napkin only to realize, once home, I left the napkins at work. So 11:30 found me packaging a whole bunch of cookies. At least Mr. B hadn't eaten them all.

12:00-2:15 p.m. For over two hours I wore quite the path between my office and the meeting room where the program was held. I brought up from the basement the Christmas tree and other decorations borrowed from previous programs to give the room a festive, North Pole feel. I decorated one of the doors to look like the train, as well as laid down some train tracks with duct tape. (By the way, I don't think I have any fingerprints left, and duct tape is very loud in a library.) Alas, as I began the second track rail, I ran out of duct tape. A quick phone call to a co-worker, who was coming over later to help with the program, and my tracks were put on hold. Onto setting out all of the chairs (which by the way, if all 20 kids brought 20 adults, we wouldn't have enough chairs anyway, nor the floor space).... ai yi yi.

2:15-4:00 p.m. By this time I realized I hadn't had anything more than a cup of coffee all day, and decided to scarf down a sandwich at my desk while printing out hot chocolate and North Pole signs. Once those were finished, I attached the reindeer food signs to the reindeer food bags, which contained rolled oats.


Realizing I bit off more than I could chew (being the overly-ambitious person that I am), I nixed the Pin-the-Nose-on-Rudolph game. I had a bunch of red noses and no Rudolph. I guess we'll play Tape-the-Nose-on-the-Child.  <--- the kiddos loved this, actually.

The last hour found me rummaging the basement for festive-looking baskets to hold all of the program materials, setting up the two other games I had ready, and organizing everything...making sure I had all I needed and what order it went.

Oh, and I was needed to help a patron find a play for her seventh grader. After a ten-minute search, resulting in nothing, she informed me the play was online and she could just print it off if I showed her how to work our computers.... 34 pages later I was back in Polar Express land. Thankfully, the library was quite slow.


4:00-5:30 p.m. My co-worker arrived! So, so, so grateful for her help. While I checked to make sure the movie and technology needed were working properly (that would have been a program-ruiner, for sure), she set to finishing up the train tracks. Afterwards, she hung up my lovely take-home Christmas countdown decor while I filled her in on the layout and order of things. I set out the bags, tickets, name tags, and BINGO cards. A half hour before the program began, my library's PR person arrived (to take pictures, of course,) and helped with making the hot chocolate and filling the popcorn bags. I needed all of the help. Definitely all hands on deck. A quick change into my pajamas and....

5:30-7:15 p.m. All Aboard! The Polar Express. It was program time. The program was open to all ages and family, but I had K-2nd kids mostly. Our small room packed in 21 kiddos, plus 18 adults and a few infants. Add in four library staff, strollers/carriers, and the already tight space, many of the dads decided to take the strollers/carriers and wait out the program in the actual library. Wise decision, guys.

Program highlights ---> the Rudolph noses, the golden ticket to enter, hot chocolate and marshmallows, and the surprise bell gifts at the end. But the BIGGEST hit of the night by far were the paper airplanes. And, boy, did those suckers fly! One was even stuck in the top window. I forgot about it completely; it may still be there. After about 10 minutes, I had to spoil the fun so they could continue with the rest of the program. Plus, Santa was about to show up on screen. We can't miss Santa.


7:15-8:00 p.m. Shall I say clean up? I forgot how messy popcorn and children are. Not to mention the one case of leaking hot chocolate, the two chewed gum pieces stuck to the floor, and the dozens of candy wrappers littered throughout. HOLY FRIJOLES. At least there were two sets of hands to clear the chaos.

Once the chairs were moved to the sides and wiped down (marshmallows are quite sticky, fyi), my co-worker grabbed the vacuum while I loaded everything leftover onto a cart and wheeled it to the back. (I'll think about it tomorrow. I can't think about it now. I'll go crazy if I do. <--- name that movie.) Afterwards, up came the tracks and (very delicately) down went the train. The tree will eventually be moved into the children's department; it was so nice of the children to decorate it for me ;)

Finally, my butt found a seat, a quarter 'til closing, where I promptly devoured the last bag of popcorn. My co-worker just smiled and said, "Now. Let's talk about our snow princesses program." And that's how we spent our last few minutes.... at least that's not until January. (And, by the way, her day was supposed to end at 7 p.m. So grateful she stayed to help clean up!)


And with that my [major] programming is done for the year. Onward.

Feel free to read my other Children's Librarian adventures here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Annnddd We Turned THREE... (Over a Month Ago)


HAPPY {BELATED} BIRTHDAY, BLOG!

Ummm, it's the holidays. Thanksgiving just finished. CHRISTMAS IS COMING!! Oh, and I was in Maine. Forgive me. I fell behind. I had plans. Honestly, I remembered Sweet B's anniversary was approaching and I had plans.

And then I glanced at the calendar, and oh my stars, it's November! And anything related to the month of October left my mind completely.

Whoops.


When I finally realized I missed my date, I glanced at the up-coming weeks to find a day in need of celebration and cake.

Who waits for a time to celebrate with cake? Who needs the excuse? [I raise my hand.]

Who is the lamest person on Earth? [I raise my hand, reluctantly, but nobody can see me so I'm not too embarrassed.]

I know. I know. Please don't stop reading. I'm sorry. I'm not a cake person. I just don't have the sweet tooth I once had. No? Not believable? Okay, then I can't have a cake just sitting around the house because I will eat it all myself and then I'll have to do more than just a yoga workout to make up for it or live with the fact that I can't fit into my skinny jeans because I just ate an entire cake by myself and this will not help the fact that cookie baking season is right around the corner and that's a sure bet my skinny jeans will be out of commission until January anyway and with all the baking and eating and sampling and eating when will I have the time to do more than a yoga workout let alone even attempt to try on my skinny jeans?

I digress. The cake. The cake was.... a TRIFLE.

Surprise!

Yes, this mess happened.


I had everything I needed to make this beautiful, eye-catching, four-layer Thanksgiving dessert. Everything except a sturdy cake. The pumpkin in the cake batter made it extremely moist and once halved, the layers just leaned into a hot mess. I took one look at my cake stand, flipped it over into a bowl, and created this beautiful, eye-catching Thanksgiving trifle. No one knew. Except I told everybody. And now I'm telling you.

I'm not really one for secrets. Unless it's a big, juicy one then by all means...let me grab my coffee.


I found the recipe for this pumpkin cake in The Chew cookbook I received last Christmas, and ever since I have had my eye on Carla Hall's stunning Pumpkin Cake with a Chocolate Ganache. It's just gorgeous. The perfect centerpiece of a great meal. Well, this just goes to show any cake can inspire the perfect TRIFLE centerpiece.

This was absolutely as mouthwatering as its photo. However, I made many substitutions, so I'm providing my adapted recipe below. The biggest adjustment was the sugar. OH MY STARS! I could not believe how much sugar was in this recipe. My teeth hurt just reading the ingredient list. My teeth thanked me later. Yikes. And my sweets-loving father-in-law also thanked me. To say it's rich and decadent is an understatement. To say it's absolutely delicious is also an understatement. The perfect showstopper.


Layered Pumpkin Trifle with Chocolate Ganache
*adapted from Carla Hall's recipe

Serves 12

Pumpkin Chocolate Cake:

1 1/2 c sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs 
2 flax eggs (1 T flax seed + 3 T water per egg)
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
3 t pumpkin pie spice
1 t salt
2 c pumpkin puree

Mascarpone Filling:

2 c powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 T pumpkin pie spice
1 c pumpkin puree
2 t salt  
2 cups mascarpone  (I could not find this anywhere, locally, so I made my own version: combine 2 (8-oz) pkgs Neufchatel cream cheese, 1/4 c heavy whipping cream, and 2 1/2 T plain Greek yogurt until fluffy. This should equal 2 cups.)

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

3 T corn syrup
6 oz heavy whipping cream
12 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small bits  (I like 85% dark)
1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 2 9" cake pans. Combine sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and flax eggs in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Whisk dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir the dry into the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the pumpkin puree. Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Rotate pans half way through cooking. When a toothpick comes out clean, the cakes are done. Let cool for 5 minutes and then turn cakes out onto cooling racks. While the cakes are cooking make the filling. Beat the mascarpone (or mascarpone substitute) and the pumpkin puree until blended, then add the pumpkin pie spice, salt, and powdered sugar. Mix at a high speed until blended (about 1 minute). Once it's fully combined add vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds. Make the ganache in a small saucepan. Combine the corn syrup and cream and bring to a simmer. Add the chocolate and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Once the cakes have cooled completely, make the trifle or the original cake version.... 

Trifle: Tear the cake into chunks, using hands or a knife. Alternately layer the cake pieces, mascarpone mixture, and the chocolate ganache. No rhyme or reason, just make it look beautiful :)

Cake: Cut through each cake horizontally with a serrated knife (there will now be four rounds of cake to work with). Spread the filling evenly between the layers. Once assembled, transfer cake to a cake stand with parchment paper lined around the edges (to keep the cake stand clean). Pour the ganache over the cake. Once the ganache is set, remove the parchment.

*Notes: I let my cake rounds cool over night before slicing, and I also made the mascarpone mixture the night before and chilled in the fridge until ready to use.)
 


With Love and God Bless,
Brindi

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Beautiful Month

In case you aren't on Instagram, or don't follow me, here's a peek at my Insta-Life lately.
[*All photos are taken from my Instagram account.]


New season = new haircut. It's been a few years since I last had bangs. I felt a change coming on. And that's about as daring as I get with hair.



Let the Christmas decorating commence! :)




Mr. Darcy loves tearing up toilet and paper towel rolls. LOVES IT.



I could use some of these pumpkin thumbprints right about now. I was a good girl and didn't eat any from the last batch. It's definitely time to get back in the kitchen. It's cookie season.

With Love and God Bless,
Brindi