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Monday Musings: Childhood inspiration, revisited

14 May

I have never forgotten this childhood book.

I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been someone who loves to cook, especially when it comes to baking. To me, there is nothing more exciting than reading a new cookbook and dreaming about all the new things I want to make. There is also nothing as relaxing for me as being in my kitchen with no place to be in a hurry, baking the day away. Additionally, I love the challenge of a good cooking contest, having entered my first ones back in the days when I was a young Girl Scout, entering and sometimes winning their annual “Girl Scout Bake Off.” I’ve also married someone who loves to cook, and together we turn some amazing meals out of our kitchen, and we enjoy creating great meals together. These are all passions that we have passed along to our children, who all love to cook and to bake, starting off when they were very young. They too have entered cooking contests over the past years, and have often won, which have given them some amazing opportunities, attending special events, such as luncheons with the First Lady or with our state’s governor.

When I was young, I remember reading a book called “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” It was written by Catherine Woolley, and I have remembered this book forever, since the time I read it, until now. I have never, ever forgotten it, and I have remembered very specific parts of it very clearly. It was a book I really loved, and it definitely inspired me in many ways. The book was published in 1966, and if I had to guess, I might have read it in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. As my kids have grown up, I have always talked about this book and referred to it, and I often think of it when I’m baking in my kitchen or thumbing dreamily through a delicious new cookbook.

This book was just as I remembered it.

A while back, I tried searching the internet for this book, but I didn’t find it. Then later on when I talked about it yet again, my daughter found it for me on Amazon. I mulled it over in my head for quite a while before deciding to purchase it. Once I hit the “order” button, I was instantly excited, and I couldn’t wait for the book to arrive.

Last week, it finally came. I was so excited to open it up, it looked exactly like I had remembered, and this authentic vintage copy that I’d ordered had crisp yellow pages. My only disappointment was that the company I’d ordered it from through Amazon had put a UPC code sticker right across the front of the book, which I thought was just a terrible thing to do to a vintage book. I was able to peel it off carefully, and only a little stickiness remained. I could deal with that.

I decided to read it again, knowing that I was between books and that this one would not take me very long to read.

I settled in to start reading one night, and I was so happy. The story was exactly as I remembered it to be. I read along all over again as Ginnie decides to take a risk and enter a cooking contest, needing to create a menu and choosing one item from it to prepare for the contest. I got excited myself, as she poured through cookbook after cookbook, trying to choose a contest-worthy recipe. My mouth watered as she considered her choices, and I was surprised by some of the more vintage recipes that were being made then, that aren’t made now, such as a chicken loaf, for example. I followed step-by-step as she made a homemade bread for the first time ever, and I could almost smell the aroma that she described as it filled her kitchen. I smiled as she read aloud recipe after recipe from a cookbook to her little babysitter charge, knowing I’d read cookbooks aloud to my own kids as well.

I knew that this book had inspired me, I knew that I had read it and never forgotten it, but I truly had no idea just how much it had influenced my life, even to this day. I was so glad that I’d ordered it to read it again.

I’ve been inspired to read even more.

That said, I was inspired again, when I recently covered a story for work where middle school students were given the opportunity to hear a picture book read aloud every single day of the school year so far, and on Thursdays, had the opportunity for a “Throwback Thursday” book choice, a chance to request a favorite from their own childhoods. I thought the whole concept of revisiting childhood books we love was a great idea, and the teacher I spoke with said her students loved hearing the picture books read aloud.

In somewhat of a twist on that idea, I decided that there were some books that I’d never gotten to read, like “The Phantom Tollbooth,” for example. Published in 1961, this book was given to my daughter by my mom in 2010 as it was about to turn 50 years old in 2011. I decided that I would like to read that book too. Another book I’ve decided to read is “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo. It is not a book from my childhood, but it is a book that one of my daughters read and loved so much, I was sorry I never got to read it. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author in our family and I follow her on social media. The number of people that she posts about who stop her to talk about this book have really inspired me to read it. It was one that we saved as a “we can never give this book away,” book, and my daughter found it for me right away.

I’m excited to read these books, even though I am a grown adult, and I look forward to being inspired by them, as much as I was by “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” I am amazed by how much that book influenced me and helped to fuel my passion of cooking and baking over the past decades. I am looking forward to seeing how these “new” books will influence me in the days and maybe even for decades to come.

It makes me wonder, do you have a childhood book that has stayed with you forever? If so, share it in the comments. I’d love to know what some of my readers’ favorites are.

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: a couple of new-ish recipes for you

14 Feb

Dinner is cooking!

Happy Wednesday and Happy Valentine’s Day!

As I mentioned recently in one of my posts, the past few weeks have been challenging and therefore, a little bit of a blur for me. If you asked me what was for dinner yesterday, there’s a good chance I can’t remember and if you ask me what’s for dinner tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I don’t know yet. We have shopped, we have a list of meals, but we’ve been a little less planned out than we normally are and I’m trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at the moment. Everyone has hectic weeks and months though, so I’m sure you can all relate.

That said, we’ve had a couple of surprisingly delicious meals in the past couple of weeks and I did want to share them with you. They’re kind of new, but not really. New-ish, I guess. One I have posted about before, and one I never have, but we’ve eaten it before.

First, I will share with you the recipe we’ve had before but not for so long that I have never posted about it on my blog before. It is the one shown here to the left, and to the right and it might make a perfect Valentine’s Day meal for you!

It was so good to have this meal again. I hope we don’t wait another two decades to make it again in the future!

Many years ago when we lived out of state and in apartments, we used to make a pasta dish that we loved. It had a pink tomato cream sauce and pasta, along with chicken or shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes. For some reason we fell out of the habit of making it, for about 20 years. A recent new meal that we tried out sparked a memory of that recipe, and we put it on the list of meal requests for the following weeks’ menu. We didn’t have a specific recipe for it, and my husband put it together as he went, but this recipe from Allrecipes.com is a similar one. Some use vodka in their sauce, making it a true Pink Vodka sauce, but  we did not and we enjoyed it just as much.

Next, I will share with you another rediscovered recipe, but this one was made a little bit more recently, but not by much!

This meal was so delicious and even better the second day as the flavors settled in.

Last week my daughter was asking me how chicken could be made with brown sugar. It was something she had seen (I think on television), but the two ingredients didn’t seem to go together in her mind. I told her that they did in fact, go well together and that I was pretty sure I’d made at least one brown sugar and chicken recipe in the past. I was pretty sure I would find it on my blog, and sure enough….I had two! When I looked them up this week, they both looked so delicious that I decided to scrap any meals that I might’ve pulled from our Two Weeks of Meals choices, and make one of them instead. One of my other daughters was home at the time and I let her choose the one she wanted. She ended up choosing this Brown Sugar and Lemon Chicken recipe that I’d last made in 2012. I had everything for it except a real lemon. Instead I had a bottle of lemon juice that I felt would suffice. It would mean no lemon zest on top, but I felt that we would still enjoy the meal either way. I was right. This chicken was so incredibly most and delicious, it melted in my mouth. I could not believe I hadn’t remembered this recipe sooner, although I was glad that I’d remembered it sooner than the tomato cream pasta recipe above.

I could not wait to eat this for lunch again the next day!

I served this meal with rice and a veggie saute that our oldest daughter loves, just a simple mix of zucchini and squash cooked in the cast iron skillet. It was a hit with everyone except the daughter who originally asked about chicken and brown sugar, who really only likes chicken on a wing or in a nugget, but I’m still glad our conversation sparked this memory for me.

In case you’re wondering, here is the other brown sugar and chicken recipe, it’s also from 2012. It’s one I’m hoping to try again in the near future and it also calls for garlic, which is another favorite of ours.

I hope that these blast-from-the-past meal memories have provided you with some meal memories of your own and that you find an old recipe you’d forgotten all about. If not, feel free to give our recipes a try! I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

Have a wonderful rest of your week!

 

The unexpected healing power of the kitchen

7 Feb

Baked oatmeal is one of our family’s favorite meals for breakfast, or any time of the day.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s the middle of another week, and February is flying by.

We have had a busy few weeks here, and I’ve been unable to post as frequently as I’d like to. However, today’s post was one I just had to make the time for.

Three weeks ago today, our youngest daughter hit her head getting into the car, after slipping on some slush in a parking lot. Although all of us have bumped our heads getting into the car at one time or another, this bump turned out to be different. She hit it just the right way and ended up with a concussion.

It’s our first concussion from any of our kids and neither of us have ever had one. However, with all of the new emphasis on the proper treatment of brain injuries and brain damage, we knew of many kids her age who have had them. What we did not know, however, was just how long a recovery it could be. Each injury is different. Some recover in a matter of days, others in a matter of weeks, still others take many months and there is no way to know which kind you have until you’ve fully recovered.

When it first happened, a friend of mine whose daughter has had several sports injury concussions warned me, “She’s going to be SO bored.” She was SO right. There is not much they can do. No screen time, no reading, very little writing, no bright lights, no loud noises. Sometimes even normal-level noises seem too loud.

Initially she didn’t want to do a ton. For the first five days or so she was spending her waking hours in total darkness, sometimes listening to a book, sometimes sleeping. About a week in however, as she started to feel slightly better, she was awake more. She’d already listened to about 20 hours of audio books and was downloading eight more. She could listen to a TV show in the background, but not watch it. She was bored out of her mind. We each tried to find things to entertain her. Her sisters would do her nails, her hair, her makeup. They’d listen to a movie with her. We’d take her for rides. She’d clean her own room. Then we’d find her cleaning a sister’s room. She was bored, bored, bored.

“When I am sitting here doing nothing, I am stressed,” she said to me more than once. “When everyone is doing something, and I can’t do anything, it makes me crazy.”

I get that.

However, as time went on, the one thing she could do, and truly enjoyed, was cooking. One week in, she was asking to make something in the kitchen–anything at all, she didn’t care what. She could measure, mix and stir, and watch something bake, and then she could share it with everyone as they came home at the end of the day. All I had to do was read out the ingredients to her as she went along.

Here, finally was something she could do. She had a new apron and a new purple cooking set, courtesy of a Christmas gift from her oldest sister, and she was going to put it all to good use. Although our kitchen renovation project from the summer is still awaiting the next round of its finishing touches, it’s fully functional, even though it’s not fully beautiful.

She made baked oatmeal for our weekend breakfast one week, and homemade stove-top oatmeal for an after school snack another week. She made green pancakes for breakfast and then purple ones another time for dinner. She made cupcakes from scratch with homemade frosting and she made a carrot bread with glaze. She chattered on and on about fractions as she measured: double 1/8 and  it’s 1/4 and half it to get 1/16 and on and on and on.

As she cooks, she’s in her happy place and her stress about all she’s missing out on momentarily disappears. The lights are low, and the things she can’t do turn into something she can do and enjoys doing. Never have I been more thankful that we’ve raised our kids to know their way around the kitchen. Not only is it a life skill, but for the past few weeks it’s truly been a life saver. It’s had a healing power that I had never thought about.

In the coming weeks she should be continuing to feel better and better, and I hope that when she looks back on this period of time, she’ll not only remember the rough patch she’s been through, but also think back on some of the bright spots mixed throughout the weeks, such as the time she spent in the kitchen creating, mixing, measuring and relaxing.

In her happy place during what has proven to be a very challenging time.

 

Introducing ‘Forget the Flour’….a new blog from a new favorite blogger

10 Jan

I have a new favorite blog, and I definitely have a new favorite blogger.

If you live life gluten free for any reason, you need to check out “Forget the Flour,” my daughter’s new blog. You can go and visit by clicking here. It might just become your new favorite blog too.

Here’s the back story to how this blog was born:

Early in the fall of 2015, it was determined that our youngest daughter could no longer have gluten in her diet. She had just begun the fifth grade and we had spent the summer on an epic, five-week cross country camping vacation, trying to figure out what was continuously making her so sick, and had been throughout most of the spring before.

If you’re a longtime reader of The Whole Bag of Chips, you have since seen my recipes evolve over time to now include notations with the ingredients as to how we have gone about making our recipes gluten free, if they were not already.

It has not been an easy few years. I have a shellfish allergy, and I’d like to say that I can relate to her struggles, but I truly can’t. I’m much older, first off, so I can weather some of the “trauma” of missing out on favorite foods at favorite events better than a tween. Additionally, shellfish is not contained in my every meal, or at every party, sleepover or at every restaurant I go to.

To say that being gluten free, being young AND gluten free is challenging would be an understatement.

Our third Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve all just passed, and it’s always important to make sure we have food for her to eat everywhere we go, and as we sometimes find out, even if we think something is going to be gluten free where we are headed, she finds out the hard way it may not have been, or that cross-contamination may have taken place.

However, for every challenge, there are a lot of successes. Thankfully, we are a family of cooks and we love to try out new recipes. Our kids have all been cooking since they were old enough to roll cookies or to stand on a stool at the kitchen counter and pick beans. We have a love for cookbooks, food magazines, food videos online, food show on television and anything related to cooking and eating. Therefore, we’ve discovered some great new recipes, and we’ve cheered (literally) when we’ve been able to make an old favorite into a new gluten free favorite so as not to give them up.

We’re lucky too, that we live in an internet age where we can find help online, we can Google anything and get a helpful answer about ingredients and substitutions. We are also lucky that in past years the amount of information and availability of ingredients has exploded from what it once was. We even have an allergy-free bakery in our city and we spend a great deal of time there.

Additionally, we have wonderful friends and family. I can’t be more thankful to those who have turned their own recipes into gluten free for her, or to those friends who have chosen to keep things on hand for when she’s there, or to cook entire gluten free meals just because she’s there (and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it.) I have sent bags of gluten free food with her, only to see them come back with her after an event or visit, and to hear her happily describing all she was able to eat, along with everyone else.

All of that said, one might think a kid could get depressed having to deal with all of this on top of regular life, and she definitely has her moments of frustration and of sadness at times, and we feel terrible about it when she does. However, rather than wallowing in the latest disappointment or challenge, as some might, our daughter asked just the other night if she could create a blog for sharing what she’s learned in the past three years and going forward. It took me just a second to think about it and say yes, and it took her even less time to share with me the one she’d already created, but not published, complete with her first post draft all typed up. She just needed a name that wasn’t already taken, since there are many gluten free blogs out there already. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, she came up with Forget the Flour, and I love it. It wasn’t taken, and so, her blog was born.

She posted her first two posts one night earlier this week and the blog hits just exploded. Although it’s still young, the blog has already received almost 1000 hits in just a couple of days’ time. I told her I have some blog-hit envy already.

I think that as a younger blogger, her perspective is slightly different than those who are blogging about living an adult life gluten free, and I hope it will be a valuable perspective to others as she shares her favorite products, recipes and restaurants, as well as some of her not-so-great experiences in the hopes of preventing them from happening to others.

So if you haven’t yet, go on over and visit Forget the Flour and check out the first couple of posts. Sign up to follow it too, so that you don’t miss a moment of gluten free goodness.

I was thrilled to see this beautiful new blog pop up on my computer screen earlier this week. However, I can promise that not all of the almost 1000 hits were from me.

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Chip Butterballs

21 Dec

These cookies could be made with nuts instead of chocolate chips if you prefer!

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 5, 2011

Today’s recipe is another one of my favorite cookie recipes, one we’ve made for years and years. Way back when I was a Girl Scout, I used to participate in the Girl Scout Bake Off each year and one of the years I earned second place with these cookies! That’s how long my family has been making them.

We call them Chocolate Chip Butterballs, but they have many other names: Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Balls, Hazelnut Balls and probably other names I don’t even know about.

Traditionally they are made with nuts. I don’t like nuts, my family never baked with nuts growing up and I don’t either We all really love Chocolate Chips though, so my mom has always subbed in the chocolate chips for nuts. You can choose either mini chips or the regular sized chips. Personally, I prefer the big ones, but if you don’t, switch them for the minis instead. If you’re into tasting batter, this one is safe to eat, there are no eggs in this recipe. I’m always pretty sure I’d come out with about six more cookies in each batch if I ate less batter!

This recipe can be made fast and easy if you have extra set(s) of hands to help you roll the batter into balls! This is one I often let my kids help with. I don’t usually have them roll the hot ones in the sugar though, even though I use a spoon for that. Their “part” is the cold batter getting rolled into the balls for baking.

Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what the coordinating kids’ activities are for this recipe!

Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Butterball Cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 cups flour **for a healthier version, I have used one cup of wheat flour mixed with one cup of white flour**
1 cup butter or margarine  **for a healthier version I have substituted “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” for regular**
4 TBL granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

one 12 oz. package chocolate chips

Bowl of confectioner’s sugar

DIRECTIONS

Combine flour, butter, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Mix well.

Add in chocolate chips, mix them into the batter.

Refrigerate dough 30 minutes (or longer.)

Form into 1″ balls, place on cookie sheet. These don’t spread, so you can put a lot on a sheet, no need to spread them out a ton.

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Cool only slightly, maybe a minute or so, and then roll each one in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar.

Roll a second time in confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Thumbprints

20 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2011

I first posted this recipe on my FB page on December 5, 2008!! It’s a cookie recipe my mom and I make every year, and if I had to pick a top favorite, this would be in my top two. I LOVE these cookies. They’re easy to make and easy to just POP into your mouth!! And, they’re chocolate on chocolate. I mean really…how much better can you get than that?

This is a rolled cookie, so your kids can help you if you’d like them to. They can also use their thumbs to make the indentation in the cookies for the filling.

***As of 2013, I’ve added some modifications to the recipe to go with our dietary restrictions. You can either stick to the original recipe or try the healthified version.***

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Makes six dozen
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Thumbprints before baking

Almost ready to go in the oven!

Alex making thumbprint batter

Alex did almost all the measuring and mixing for the thumbprints herself, with very little help from me.

INGREDIENTS FOR COOKIES

1 cup margarine or butter, soft (We now use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz (2 sq.) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can sneak in some wheat flour, mixing half wheat and half white)

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKIES

In large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
Blend in vanilla, chocolate and egg.
Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level off. Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, mix well.
Chill dough 30 minutes for easier handling.

Shape dough into 1″ balls, place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets or parchment lined sheets. With thumb, make imprint in center of each cookie.

Bake at 375 degrees 8-10 minutes. Let cool one minute before removing from cookie sheets. Fill with chocolate cream filling.

Thumbprints ready to fill

Thumbprints are ready to be filled!

INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE CREAM FILLING

6 oz. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In small saucepan melt chocoalte chips with corn syup, water and margarine over low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla.
Spoon 1 tsp into each cookie.

Your Tray or Mine Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Crinkles

19 Dec
Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

Can you spot the Chocolate Crinkle cookie on the cover of our cookbook?

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 15, 2011

This recipe is an original to our cookie trays and I like it because it makes a lot of cookies, so it’s not a cookie that you have to ration one per tray or anything like that. You can be generous when you give them out.

I also think these are such pretty cookies, like snowflakes, which is funny for a chocolate based cookie.

They’re easy to make but you do need to make sure you make the batter ahead of time and chill it, so take that into account when you’re doing your planning.

CHOCOLATE CRINKLES

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 sq. unsweetened chocolate (4 oz.) melted

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Chocolate Crinkles on baking sheet

Chocolate Crinkles fresh out of the oven

DIRECTIONS

Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar.

Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed.

Add vanilla.

Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting (I really just measure. I’m not sure what either of those methods are, although it says See p. 5 to find out what the dipping method is.)

Stir flour, baking powder and salt into oil mixture.

Chill several hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioner’s sugar BEFORE rolling into balls. Roll in sugar, shape into balls. (This is how you get the snowflake look when they bake.)

Place about 2″ apart on greased baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake. Makes about six dozen cookies.

Three tiered cookie rack with crinkles

This recipe is the whole reason why I wanted this three tiered cooling rack this year. It makes a ton of cookies!

Baking with the kids

Many hands make light work. Messy work, but light work. Powdered sugar everywhere!