Paczki Day 2013

Last year, while living in the dark place that is Arkansas, I had to make my own paczki for Mardi Gras. My Polish man deserved to celebrate in a style befitting his heritage, but Arkansas has never heard of a paczki, and they were nowhere to be found. So I made a lemon curd filled pastry that we called a paczki.

Although we are now in a Dutch area and paczki are available at every local supermarket, the ingredient list on these boxed delicacies make me blush.

So, tomorrow being Mardi Gras, and I having a day off, I thought some baking was in order. Here is the first batch:

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Like last year, these are baked, so they are slightly healthier. However this year, to appease my coworkers who will be enjoying the fruits of my labor, I opted for a custard filling instead of fruit. I guess what I left out with the oil, we gained in the egg-milk-sugar filling.

I also went a step beyond this year by glazing the paczki to help the powdered sugar stick better.

Did I mention that I actually have an icing gun of sorts now, so I can bake and then insert the delicious filling, instead of having to make two thin pieces of dough wrap around the filling? I scare myself sometimes.

In case you are interested, here’s how I made them this year:

I mixed 2 cups of flour (1 cup of all purpose and 1 cup of quasi-pastry flour) with two packets of yeast, a quarter cup of a sugar, and a pinch of salt.

I melted a half stick of butter on the stove top with a cup of milk and two tablespoons of honey, cooked them together for about five minutes.

I added a tablespoon of rum, one egg, and two egg yolks to flour mixture, then the melted milky butter goodness.

These mixed together into a very very doughy substance, to which I added about another cup and a quarter of flour to make more solid. This I let sit for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, I rolled out the dough and cut out circles with my half cup measuring cup (about 2 inch diameter), and let those sit for an hour.

At the end of the hour, I started my first batch in the oven while I made the glaze to go on the paczki – quarter cup melted butter and a quarter cup honey.

Ten minutes into baking, I glazed the paczki, then let them cook another four minutes.

While the paczki baked, I also made the custard filling: 2 cups of milk (scalded), half cup of flour, two thirds cup of sugar, one egg and the egg whites leftover from those yolks. I cooked these for about 5 minutes until thick, then added a teaspoon of vanilla.

Once the paczki cooled a bit, I dragged them through powdered sugar, and a few minutes after that, I filled those suckers with some custard.

I haven’t tasted one yet because Eric’s not home, but considering the nearly 5 hours this has taken me, they’d better be the best damn paczki ever.

🙂

In other news, I got my letter from GVSU, so I am another step closer to collecting another degree or two. Woohoo!

I don’t mean to brag, but…

I decided to make my coworkers a ginormous batch of cookies for the day after Christmas. All but one of us in the precinct is working the day after (aka “the Show”), and I think we’ll need some extra cheer during our busiest – and likely lowest attitude – day. And JT had us close a little early this evening, so that we could get home to our families, and I to my oven.

And I baked, dear reader; I baked.

I made a double batch of my favorite oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies, and a regular batch of my Christmas tradition cookies (this time with actual sprinkles!).

Exhibit A
Exhibit A

This is but a taste of the baking that ensued when I got home.

That’s great, but that does not explain my title. Oh, no. Feeling particularly bold, I decided to try something new. A month ago or so, Eric and I bought a donut pan. I have since made a batch, but as I said…bold. So tonight I thought “I know what’s Christmasy! Booze!”

I switched up the recipe that came with the pan and made chocolate donuts. And then I dipped those suckers in a Bailey’s glaze. BAM!

The pouring got a little messy...
The pouring got a little messy…

The batter for these is always a little thin, and after two batches of cookies, it was strange to work with. And also, I am messy, so there are little bits of batter all over the pan. Mmmmm!

Making the glaze. I had to add more sugar than I had intended...couldn't get it quite thick enough at first.
Making the glaze. I had to add more sugar than I had intended…couldn’t get it quite thick enough at first.

It’s amazing what I can do with only about 4 combined feet of counter space.

Dippin' donuts, Batman!
Dippin’ donuts, Batman!
There they are!
There they are!

And then, because I was feeling so very fancy, I decided to sprinkle a little sea salt on these bad boys to offset the sweetness.

These are not for my coworkers. These are for my hubby.
These are not for my coworkers. These are for my hubby.

So, yeah. I don’t mean to brag, but I made some chocolate-bailey’s-glazed-donuts tonight. Merry Christmas to all!

 

 

 

 

 

Finalizing Christmas and old friends

Yesterday was none too pleasant and found me having a panic attack, curled up in the fetal position on my bed because I ran out of packing tape to ship presents. Needless to say, packing tape was not the real issue, and I spent the last few minutes before literally dragging myself up for work trying to pinpoint exactly what is eating away at me.

I thought I had worked some of it out, and I emailed an old friend who is as removed from my life as anyone, yet still as close to me as if I were 16 again. I woke up this morning to a response from someone who had clearly read between the lines and figured it out. I am grateful for that, and the only bittersweet part about it is my regret at not spending more time with this person when we were close.

So I went to work, and my dear coworkers all made the night worth working. Albeit there were a series of a very bitter and rude customers (Ho ho ho, assholes), the night was actually quite fun, and I found myself more than pleased to be in the precinct. Again, I am blessed.

Finally, upon walking into the dark house at around 11:30, I found a roll of packing tape stacked neatly on top of one of the packages that I will be sending out today. My husband may not have gotten the earful (eyeful?) of my angst/panic/disappointment yesterday, but what he did know about (and could fix), he did.

None of these things solve the problem, but I hope that they can help curb the impatience and fear and anger over this whole school situation. And perhaps the reason for it will become clear in a reasonable time, so that I’m not slapping my forehead one year from now saying “oh!”

In other news that you likely will be more interested in, Christmas is basically done. I am going to cave and buy Eric a few more things (they will be in his +10 Bag of Practicality), and I am starting on the Christmas game today, but otherwise: Mission Accomplished.

While I will still post separately about the other projects that Eric and I undertook for our edible gifts, I just want to celebrate actually finishing something this week.

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The gifts, arrayed on the table and sorted
The gifts, arrayed on the table and sorted
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A sideways image of the CD I made for Joey

Now I have packing tape, so I am going to seal the boxes and walk them down to the post office to send off. The CD I made for Joe is probably my favorite; per my mother’s request, I put together an ensemble of super hero music, both score and lyrical. I hope he enjoys it, and I hope that my decision to keep Robot Rock by Daft Punk off of the disc helps maintain my mother’s sanity.

More on the specifics later, and also…new brakes!

For now, keep it crafty.

 

Sweet as vinegar

In addition to the peach-honey butter, apple butter, pickles, salsa, chips, and apple sauce that I threw together this year for Christmas gifts, I also decided to make my mom some cranberry-orange vinegar, since she eats a lot of salad. I thought it might make a nice, quasi-festive (read: cranberries) vinegar that she could use in a dressing.

Here is how I did that:

A half cup of cranberries and an orange. Whatever shall I do with these?
A half cup of cranberries and an orange. Whatever shall I do with these?

Certain men failed to read the “6 Cups” of white wine vinegar, so I had only two cups, thus my only having a half cup and one orange.  I used frozen cranberries because, well, they’re not easy to get fresh ’round here.

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Sliced oranges and cranberries in a bowl.

I cut up the orange and the cranberries (as much as I could cut up tiny fruits) and put them in bowl. I crushed them slightly with another bowl and poured in the vinegar.

The dust helps it ferment faster.
The dust helps it ferment faster.

I place the covered bowl of fruit and vinegar on a bookshelf where it would stay cool. It sat there for ten days.

Crushed fruit in vinegar...still.
Crushed fruit in vinegar…still.

This is what it looked like when I opened it again to finish up. Mmmmm.

That's not cheese!
That’s not cheese!

I used a sieve and cheesecloth (just to be safe!) to drain the vinegar and separate the chunky bits. It was nice and red and, again, festive.

The last part was just putting it in a nice jar. I didn’t bother processing it, so mom will have to use it fast. (Read that, mom? Make some delicious salad dressing when it gets to you!)

I tasted a tiny bit before sending it, and I will say that it is a very subtle taste. I think if you are not a fan of vinegar, you would want to let the fruit soak a bit longer. This made me a little antsy to try raspberry vinegar next.

I have tomorrow and Wednesday off (hooray!), so I will have to write a few more posts for the remaining projects. I ship everything tomorrow, but I took plenty of pictures. For instance – tortilla chips! CDs! Etc! And I’ll post pictures as I start/work on/finish the board game I am making for gift opening on Christmas.

Keep it crafty!

 

 

 

Comfort in trivial things

I had my project for this post done yesterday, but I felt…silly, I guess, for wanting to post about it. But working in the kitchen, doing something with my hands in general, always makes me feel a little bit better about the world. The universe seems so much simpler when I view it through a measuring cup.

When we face the horrific parts of life, it is natural to seek the comfort of normalcy. Mine are the anise cookies that my grandma made every year for Christmas. It’s been years since I had them, but they always mean Christmas to me. So last night, trying to find some comfort and sense in the world, I decided to make them for the first time.

 

Dough that will become comfort
Dough that will become comfort

I used three recipes kind of rolled into one.

Smaller balls of dough that baked into comfort
Smaller balls of dough that baked into comfort

It’s a simple recipe, really, and a simple kind of joy.

Sugar glaze. I didn't have sprinkles, so I put food coloring in it, instead
Sugar glaze. I didn’t have sprinkles, so I put food coloring in it, instead

I guess it’s fitting. No one can go back in time (yet), so I made the cookies with my own twist.

Almond pieces instead of sprinkles
Almond pieces instead of sprinkles

 

I still feel silly for posting – who the hell cares about my cookies?

But if you are looking for some meaning, or reason, or little tiny piece of joy in an otherwise dark time, then all I can suggest is that you find a recipe that you remember with comfort, and you go bake.

 

 

Homemade apple butter – the extended edition

I am writing with the intention of sharing how Eric and I made apple butter last week for our DIY Christmas this year, but before I start, I just have to talk about yesterday.

As some of you might know – hopefully all – on the 14th, The Hobbit will be released in theaters. That is great news. But what was even better news to me was that this past weekend (8th and 9th), theaters around the country/world were showing all three extended versions of Lord of the Rings. And I mean in a row. 800 minute run time (with breaks). And because last week the Universe seemed to be smiling upon me, I had yesterday off for the first time since I’ve started this new job.

So Eric and I went to see all three Lord of the Rings in theaters, and it was amazing. There was a small group of people there (I hope Saturday was busier. I can’t imagine how more people would not want the opportunity to see these films on the big screen again). Between films, one of the theater managers would come out toward the end of our break and have trivia questions for us, with prizes. Via Eric’s insistence, since I kept muttering answers under my breath while other people were participating, I actually stood up for one question and won him some candy. I mostly stood up because I was shocked no one had shot up immediately. The question was “What is the translation of the inscription on the one ring?” I wasn’t going to bother standing because everyone knows that. But no one stood!

If you’re not familiar and are curious, the inscription is “One ring to rule them all; one ring the find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness, bind them.” It’s actually part of a longer poem about the rings of power that I will save some face by not posting in its entirety, even though I recited it on the way home last night. I told Eric that in the nerd world, he’s my trophy husband.

The showing started at 11am, and we left the theater just after midnight. Worth it. Totally worth it.

Now onto the crafting/cooking. Last week, in our hurried pace to get through making the last of the Christmas gifts, we made a rather large batch of apple butter. Here is how we did it:

1. We washed, peeled, and diced(ish) the apples. The instructions said to core, and since we don’t have any fancy device to de-core, I just chopped around it. It worked out fine.

2. We added the apples, along with a cup or so of water, to a pot and let it simmer for about a half hour. We wanted the apples soft enough to go in the blender.

It took longer than I expected, but we could tell they were done when they gave under a spoon.
It took longer than I expected, but we could tell they were done when they gave under a spoon.

3. When they were soft, we threw them in the blender and pureed them. I now have an old-school grinder that would have done the trick, but we were going for fast, not necessarily authentic, though I would love to use that device sometime.

4. When the apples were blended, we essentially had applesauce. In fact, when we make applesauce this week, we will get to this step and part of step 5, then be finished. But moving on!

Applesauce, soon to be apple butter.
Applesauce, soon to be apple butter.

5. We added the cinnamon and ground clove that give apple butter that slightly spicy taste, and we threw it back into the pot to cook. We cooked it until it was sticky and did not slide easily off the spoon.

This is not even close to ready
This is not even close to ready

6. It took almost another half hour before the butter was the right consistency. Luckily we had practice with the peach butter, although that did seem to go a little bit quicker.

7. When it was ready, we poured it into our sterilized jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space, screwed on the lids, and processed them in our boiling processor for 10 minutes. We made 12 small jelly jars.

Here they are standing in row. Bomp, bomp, bomp.
Here they are standing in row. Bomp, bomp, bomp.

All that’s left for these is some decorative flair. I will put the labels on and cover them prettily.

All that’s left for Christmas goodies are some blank-in-jar things (cookies, pancakes, soup, etc), the applesauce, and I think I will bake some cookies for those without the penchant for cooking/baking even pre-made mixes.

And Eric’s gift. I am caving and buying him some things, and while I’m not terribly pleased with giving in, I am more interested in making sure he has useful and enjoyable things that he wouldn’t buy himself. Which, if I’m being honest, is not a lot of things because he generally just buys what he wants. He’s gotten better around Christmas, though, after three years of me bugging him about it. 🙂

Well, then, I am off to continue my adventures. Keep it crafty!

 

 

 

Back to basics

I am quite vocal about my degree at work, as well as my teaching experience, because I am desperate for someone to ask me about what I know. I’ll be the first to admit (and am admitting right now) that that is sad. But it’s also true, and I’m nothing if not honest in my little home on the web. All of this leads me to my current buzz: my dear coworker (and namesake) asked me for some help on her final undergrad research paper.

I was so stupidly happy about it, I bid Eric goodnight and settled onto the couch to read, take notes, and send some feedback. I don’t know if she’ll go with the changes I suggested, and while I say I don’t care, I kind of do.

When I first went to school, it was with dreams of becoming a book editor. I had romantic notions, most of them spawning from the remarkable and prolific career of Maxwell Perkins, of giving authors a voice. I wanted to find the next Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I wanted them to have the kind of trust in me that said authors had in Perkins. I wrote papers about this vision, and I planned my entire life around it.

But college is more about changing crushing dreams, and I became distracted. First I thought about moving on to Environmental Law, then I was enamored with Folklore, and finally I was in the midst of a break-up and changing the rest of my life. Somewhere among those different ideas, I lost my dream of book editing and took on a series of mostly unrelated jobs that might one day spawn an interesting memoir.

Back to my point – assuming I had one – my coworker asked me to help with her paper, and I was excited.

Another coworker recently put in her two weeks’ notice, and in her explanation to me about leaving she said “no offense, but I know I’m capable of so much more.”

That has been bugging me lately. A whole hell of a lot. She is graduating in a few weeks with a BA in Film Editing. When she said it, I just smiled and agreed and went on with my day, but like a microscopic parasite, it’s been eating any sort of nourishment I’ve tried to swallow the past week or so. Seriously, what did she mean by that?

I took this job with the intention of going back to school, and I think it’s time I make a decision on that. I can either go for an MA in English, or I can look at another Bachelor’s. But I need to make a decision and move forward because otherwise, I am going to be deserving of that look down her nose at me. And, really, I get stupidly excited about school papers that I didn’t even write. This is ridiculous.

Oh, hello rambling tangent of a post!

Summary: Once upon a time, I wanted to be a book editor, but then life happened, and now I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up except that I’d like to get moving on something.

I’ll keep you posted.

And I need to craft!

I made some really good Indian food last night that made my mouth bleed fire. But it was delicious.