Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Sugar Cookies - round 1

I can't remember the last time I participated in the Weekend Cooking meme sponsored by Beth Fish - but I have sure missed it!  Along with not reading or blogging or writing - I have done very little baking these past few months.  But I hope that I am coming out of the funk and will soon resume my normal pleasurable pastimes.

I don't know about you, but every year I vow to start Christmas baking and holiday crafts early so that I can enjoy the festive spirit for a longer period of time - and so that I am not stressed to complete everything at the last minute.  And every year my good intentions never materialize.  Today, however, I decided to experiment with sugar cookies in the hopes that I could overcome the learning curve before December rolls around.  I have always loved a decorated cookie and have often looked with awe - and a bit of jealousy - at these edible works of art.  I have subscribed to the Decorated Cookie Blog for several months now and she has inspired me to try my hand at a simplified version of these artistic treats.

A couple of years ago  I purchased a delightful little book, Cookie Craft Christmas, which I reviewed here. In that post I discussed my problems with the flow technique of decorating.  Since that time, I have purchased some plastic squeeze bottles to help with the icing mess - and I must admit that they work very well IF I have the icing at the right consistency.  That was learning curve #1:  the flow icing needs considerable more water than the original recipe calls for.  I must admit that the transfer process of icing to bottle is rather messy and time consuming, but the ease in decorating the cookies makes it all worth it.

I really enjoy the sugar cookie recipe that is included in the book:  the dough is not too sweet and very easy to handle - and I LOVE the suggestion of rolling the dough between sheets of wax paper.  This helps maintain a clean surface and a clean rolling pin.  The dough is the perfect consistency and after just 30 minutes in the refrigerator it is ready to cut into shapes.  I decided to go with a fall theme, and the recipe made about 2.5 dozen leaves and a dozen acorns.  The perfect amount for our small family.  I would anticipate that the recipe could be easily doubled to accommodate a large holiday get together.

It was a good thing that I did not have any other plans today, as I spent most of the afternoon (12:30 - 5:30) in the kitchen.  The cookies were neither difficult nor time consuming, and clean up was a breeze, but it took a bit more time to make the icing.  The piped icing recipe was fairly accurate - although I had to add a bit more water, and it made more than enough icing to pipe outlines on all the cookies.

However, I failed to read the directions closely - which stated that the flow recipe made enough to decorate 2-3 batches of cookies.  Needless to say, I had LOTS leftover.  But I decided to go ahead and pre fill containers with Christmas colors in an effort to save time and frustration in December.  I should think that it would be safe to keep around that long as the only ingredients include water, meringue powder, and powdered sugar.

Anyway, it was fun experimental day and I am now excited to have a family baking day when both my girls will come over and help decorate these traditional Christmas cookie treats.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apple Season

While I most certainly enjoy a good glass of cider this time of year, I must admit that the title of this post is my feeble attempt at a play on words.

Over the past six weeks or so I have totally converted to Steve Job's innovative computer technology.  It began over Labor Day weekend when my son and I went to the Apple store.  The purpose of that trip was to help me discern which product I might choose for my Christmas wish list.  Needless to say, two hours later I left the store with a new MacBook Pro.  Brian's rationale was that I wanted a new computer that could handle PhotoShop editing, and I should seize that opportunity now while my interest in working on the Paris pictures was still high.   In addition, the educator special which provided a $100 credit to the Apple Apps store would terminate at the end of the month.  So.... I took his advice and used the store credit to download PhotoShop Elements 9.

I was afraid that the learning curve would be frustrating and time consuming, since I have been a PC girl for decades - but in reality, I have found the MacBook Pro to be quite intuitive.  In fact when I now use a PC I become frustrated that I can't just swipe the mouse to move the page up and down.

While I haven't done much with PhotoShop, I have enjoyed using the iPhoto software that was preloaded on the machine.  Again, it is quite intuitive and will allow me to quickly upload any edited picture into my Flickr account (my user name is Mstermind1 if you'd like to connect).  So far I have whittled down my original 3,500 Paris pictures to about 900 and those have all been sorted and categorized in iPhoto.  I have only edited a few, but hope to work on more in the upcoming weeks.

Now flash forward to a week ago.  I have experienced problems with the tracking ball on my current Sprint phone - and I knew that I was due for an upgrade soon.  When I checked my account I realized that I could actually upgrade now rather than in November - and I had the option of upgrading to the brand new iPhone 4S.  I must confess that my attraction to this phone was mainly due to its powerful 8 megapixel built-in camera rather than its communication abilities.  Once again I gave in and rather than wait for a Christmas gift - I purchased the phone.  I ordered it on Friday night and was told that I should have it within 3-8 business days.  It was sitting on my pouch Monday afternoon when I returned home from school.  And that was the start of what has quickly become my iPhone obsession.

Fortunately I did not have a rigorous work week, because I have spent nearly every free moment on the phone - researching apps to download or features to try.  While I did not think that I would use the Siri function at all - I must say that I am duly impressed with her assistance.  She can type a text message faster than anyone - and her accuracy is about 90% (she did confuse iPhone 4S with iPhone 4 ass - but fortunately I caught the error before I sent it).  And I love the fact that I can talk or text someone while driving without taking my hands off the steering wheel.

I have absolutely LOVED reviewing all the different apps available - especially the photography apps, but have only allowed myself to download those that are free or cost $.99 (although I have quite a wish list developed for more expensive ones).  My favorite app so far is King Camera.  It is amazingly simple to use and yet allows me to edit the picture in so many different ways.  Of course, I have downloaded other apps as well, including a scanner which will allow me to scan a barcode and check the price at other locations online - the kindle app (still boggles my mind that I can read a novel on my phone) - and of course the ever popular game, Angry Birds (although I much prefer a word game or sudoku).

This morning I learned that the Scrivener writing software - which I was able to purchase at a 50% discount because I successfully completed NaNoWriMo 2010 - can actually be synced with a free word text app called SimpleNote.  While it took me about an hour to navigate the intricacies of this partnership, the end result is fantastic.  I can upload sections of the book that I might like to work on while away from my computer - actually use my iPhone to write a chapter - and then upload those revisions to Scrivener again. In essence, my iPhone can be a netbook computer.  I'm not sure how I will enjoy using the touch pad keyboard for an extensive period of time, but perhaps I will figure out a way to have Siri be my scribe (while I am writing this "tongue in cheek" somehow I have a feeling that there is more truth to this statement than I realize).

While I am sure I have only scratched the surface of the wonderful world of Apple products, I want to close by saying the iCloud function is beyond comprehension.  I can take a picture with my iPhone and it will automatically sync with my iPhoto folder on my mac.  So not only will I now have a camera with me at all times, but I will be confident that those pictures can be easily found at the location that is most convenient for me.

So I am curious about those of you have been Apple fanatics for a while, what tips do you have to share or favorite apps that you would recommend?  I am anticipating that my productivity will be once again curtailed this week as I learn more about my new toys.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where's Waldo....

....or as the case may be, Where's Molly been?

I realize that I have not posted since my trip to Paris, which was over two  months ago - and this week two very kind considerate bloggers took the time out of their own hectic lives to inquire if I was still alive:  Alyce and Catherine thank you so much for checking on me.

Let's see if I can give a brief summary of these past several weeks:

I finally arrived home from France about 9:00PM on a Sunday night - and had to report back to school the following Friday at 8:30AM.  I barely had time to recover from jet lag when I had to jump into lesson plans and literary analysis.  For a variety of reasons - not the least of which include the economy and the necessity for the school to move for the third time in six years - our enrollment dropped about 30 percent.  This created quite a bit of anxiety for me as I am paid by the student, not by the class.  However, all has worked itself out financially, so no worries.

My goal this year is to complete most of my school work AT school - so that when I come home I am free to pursue personal interests.  So far, I have been able to keep this promise.  Well, at least as far as doing school work only at school.  For some reason when I come home I have had little energy or interest in anything else but sitting on the couch.  I have not picked up a book for pleasure reading since last spring - which is very unlike me and quite frankly, not conducive to the reputation of a book blogger.  So I have chosen to hibernate and not post or read blogs as I felt rather unworthy of that privilege.

Brynn at Pumpkin Patch
October 15, 2011
I wonder if perhaps my stressful spring - Mom's passing, the birth of my granddaughter, the high school graduation of my youngest, and the planning of my trip to Paris - finally caught up with me.  Not only did it zap my energy and desires, but I think it also lowered my immunity.  I rarely get sick, but  I have had the same cold for the past two weeks:  not sick enough to prevent me from teaching, but enough to keep me from doing anything else.

BUT...the weather is cooler now in Kansas City and the promise of a frost this week gives hope to those who suffer from allergies and cold-like symptoms.  The fall colors and thoughts of holiday preparations always puts me in a great mood, and the start of NaNoWriMo in just two weeks has put a new spring in my step and desire in my heart.  I plan to write a memoir of my Parisian trip - the thirty year wait for the adventure of a lifetime.  And as luck would have it, Dave Fox is offering an online workshop on travel writing in January - which is perfect timing to help me revise this very rough draft.

While I have still not picked up a book for pleasure - I hope to do that soon.  I truly missed participating in Carl's RIP challenge and the Dewey Fall Read-athon, but there is always next year.  I have wanted to write for the Weekend Cooking segment, but quite frankly I have had nothing to contribute.  This cooler weather, however, has sparked a new interest in cooking and an adventurous desire to find new recipes to test.  Since Trader Joe's just recently opened in Kansas City, I am anxious to sample many of their tasty treats.

The DUST - or as I like
to refer to it:  the black
scarf of death
For those who followed my Paris journal, I finally resolved my camera's pesky dust problem, and I am anxious to take it out and capture some of the vivid fall leaves before they all wither and drop to the ground.  I have also signed up for Susannah Conway's online course, Photo Mediations, which lasts through the first week of December - perfect timing to help me capture the fun of family holiday celebrations.

So  yes....I am still here and am slowly making my way out of hibernation and acclimating myself again to the activities that give me great pleasure.  I shall be visiting blogs again soon and look forward to reconnecting with many of my online friends.  I have missed you all.

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