Category Archives: Christmas

Butter Toffee Recipe

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that's enough... I'm not so sure.

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that’s enough… I’m not so sure.

I clipped the original recipe for this toffee from the Arizona Republic in 2002;  it’s attributed to Lee Ann DeGrassi. However, I use more almonds in the toffee than she called for, and she had no temperatures listed, and some of the instructions were really unclear. So, I’ve altered it a bit.

I know this recipe seems LLLOOONGGGGGG. There are two reasons for that: Firstly, it takes a long time. If you’re pressed for time, don’t make toffee. The second reason is I’ve included a lot of parenthetical information — stuff I’ve learned the hard way, and I’m trying to spare you from ruining your expensive ingredients and wasting your time by ruining the toffee!!

I typically make a triple recipe of this. For a pan, I use heavy duty aluminum foil and fold long ends together, crimping them and folding them twice, kind of like rolling them. Smooth out very flat, especially the middle area where you’ve folded the two pieces together. Then, I fold up the edges triple-thick, about 1 1/2″ high, to form a giant pan. If you want, you can get all mathy with it. I get out my measuring tape and figure out the square inches… The recipe calls for two 9″ x 13″ pans, which is 234 square inches. My giant aluminum foil pan is 24″ x 30.5″, so 732 square inches. So, I knew a triple recipe would fit just fine.

The toffee just after pouring.  You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

The toffee just after pouring. You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

Butter Toffee
makes 7-8 lbs

  • 5 cups C&H (or other white cane) sugar — no raw or unwashed sugar;  it needs to be free of all molasses and totally white
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 lbs (10 sticks — yes, that much) SALTED butter
  • 3 cups raw almonds, whole shelled
  • 36 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (typically, three bags)
  • 3 cups raw almonds, rough-ground (I use a Cuisinart Mini-Prep)
  • Shortening to grease your pans (I use Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening)

Necessary tools:
Large pan (6-8 quart)
Long-handled, sturdy wooden spoon or wooden or metal spatula
A candy thermometer
A silicone basting brush (please, you don’t want to risk the thick melted chocolate pulling hairs out of your standard basting brush, believe me!!)
Parchment paper
2 – 9×13″ baking pans with a lip on the edge OR heavy duty aluminum foil
Several bath towels with which to line your counter top

Smooth out 3-5 bath towels on a wide counter top or table. Grease two 9 x 13 inch baking sheets and line with parchment paper (or fold heavy-duty foil, as mentioned above, to make a big pan, grease and line with parchment paper). Place pan(s) on the towel-lined counter top. I cracked our quartz counter top one year because it wasn’t insulated. So, please! Use those towels!!

Cut each stick of butter into 3-4 chunks and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a 6-8 quart pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently but constantly, until the mixture reaches 231° on a candy thermometer. Add butter slowly, stirring gently while you add, until all the butter is melted. (I kind of slide each chunk of butter down the spatula I use for stirring so I don’t get splashed by boiling sugar-butter!)

Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until the temperature reaches 260° degrees. This will take 30-60 minutes. Then, stir constantly until the temp reaches 270°. (I use a long-handled metal spatula to stir — so my hand is far away from the boiling mixture, and so that I can thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan so no sugar burns on the bottom.)

When the temperature reaches 270°, add the 3 cups of whole, raw, shelled almonds, about 1/3 of them at a time, stirring with each addition. Continue to stir constantly until the thermometer reads 290°. (Note: Toffee must reach a minimum of 285° to set. It can go up to 300° degrees and still be toffee, however, the hotter it gets, the more you risk burning the whole batch. So, I cook it to 290°, to ensure a good set, but to not risk burning.)

Take out the candy thermometer and quickly but carefully pour the toffee into the waiting pan(s). Do not spread it; the toffee will level itself. (If you try spreading it as it cools, the butter can separate from the toffee and it will ruin the whole batch.) Use a silicone scraper to get all of the toffee out of the hot pan, scraping the bottom of the pan first (it burns there the fastest — you want to get the toffee out before it burns).

Cool for about 20-30 minutes. (You want the toffee to have cooled to a non-liquid state but still be hot enough to melt the chocolate.) Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips on the slightly cooled toffee. Wait five minutes for the chocolate to soften and melt. With a silicone basting brush, brush the chocolate over the surface of the toffee to coat. Then, evenly sprinkle half of the ground almonds over the surface. With gentle pressure, press the ground almonds into the chocolate. (Otherwise, when you turn the toffee over, half of the almonds will fall off.)

Let cool thoroughly — 3-5 hours or overnight. When the toffee is completely cooled and the chocolate has rehardened, break into very large pieces and turn over, putting the toffee back together like a puzzle. Melt the remaining chocolate in the microwave or over a double broiler until JUST melted — do not overheat. Then, pour the chocolate over the toffee and spread around with the silicone basting brush. Sprinkle the remaining ground almonds on top and press in.

Wait until the chocolate is completely cooled and firm, then break into serving-sized pieces. You may need to drop the toffee on the counter top from a few inches’ height to break it. Then, eat all the crumbs and give the big, beautiful, tasty pieces to friends and family and they will love you forever and drop hints like, “I hope you’re making toffee this year!”

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

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Pecans, picture books, tradition, and memories of my mother

I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees.  I envy her.  Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert.  We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice;  they were neglected by the previous owner.  Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it;  it kept declining until its death).  One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything;  I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear.  The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree.  Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*.  I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter.  Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.

That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food.  I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.

But, I digress.

In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property.  Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.

The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans.  As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen.  As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????”  But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand.  Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill.  We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.

Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts.  When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.

It was all right.  It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala.  I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell.  It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.

It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.

I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes:  Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled.  AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts:  the ones we couldn’t best.  She redeemed them all.

I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat.  Maybe she did.  She was like that.

But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it.  It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial:  She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.

I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.

I thought she liked hand-me-downs.

And so on.

I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.

I would have liked to ask her.  I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her.  I had to remind myself that I could not.

I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.

I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood.  But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.

My mom passed on in October.  In general, I haven’t lamented her death.  She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong.  It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.

I dearly love all of Robert McCloskey’s books.

I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these:  Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous…  And I just couldn’t.  And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.

So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning:  All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker;  we only have one.  However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders!  Ha!!  I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan;  they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts.  “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently.  I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal.  Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked;  her mother’s were for canning.  Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.**  Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.

Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans.  Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue.  Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!

Pecans:  One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.

———————–

*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice.  How could they????  Aargh.

*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!!  Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!”  Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.

Unique, powerful, profound, painstakingly researched: My FAVORITE book on birthing

My midwife (who, by the way, is having her website revamped — the current one is sorely incomplete!) has, unsurprisingly, shelves full of books on birthing and mothering.  I noticed one omission, and I think I’m going to purchase it for her for Christmas.

The book has been on my mind a lot, lately.  Partly because, yes, I’m pregnant.  But partly, as well, because I find the reviews for it on Amazon so indicative of our polarized culture.  When we find someone saying something we cannot support, we automatically throw out everything they’ve ever said, put them on our personal equivalent of Santa’s Naughty List, and vilify them.

The book, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, is written, as best as I can surmise, by a practicing Zen Buddhist, Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, MD.  The three two-star reviews this book has received generally have this criticism:  The book is too far “out there.”  The doctor has sections where she describes her personal beliefs and experiences, and I must say that the Dr. Buckley and I have little in common, and many of the things she has chosen to do, I would not.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean the books is useless.  It just means that our personal beliefs aren’t aligned.

After reading (not for the first time) the Amazon reviews on this book, I decided to write my own:

I felt the need to chime in my support for this book. I’m a semi-crunchy mother of five — many things I have learned and chosen in my mothering would be highly supported by the attachment parenting camp, and quite a few simply would not. I am also a committed, practicing Christian. I’ve had five, all-natural, unmedicated hospital births, and am planning a home birth for my sixth — not because I’ve had rotten hospital experiences, but rather because I have learned a bit more with each birth and am convinced that the best way to ensure that this, likely my last birth, is absolutely peaceful and perfect is to have my child at home. It is becoming increasingly difficult within hospital culture, even with a fabulous, naturally-minded care provider to have a truly natural hospital birth.

I particularly appreciate Dr. Buckley’s book because she, like myself, is both fully spiritual AND fully science-minded. I respect the fact that Dr. Buckley lays out her spiritually-based opinion and experience and then BACKS IT UP with hard science. There are a solid SIXTY PAGES of end notes. One chapter alone has 294 end notes!! This is, by far, the best-researched birthing book I’ve ever read, and I have read dozens.

In fact, of those dozens of books I’ve read, many start to sound the same after a very short while. Many other books on birthing rely heavily on the same stories, the same research, and similar experiences. This was the first book I’ve read on birthing in a very long time that had NEW, PROFOUND, and RELEVANT information about birthing and mothering. It is a unique and powerful book on many levels.

Instead of being a how-to on birthing, it’s more of a “why” book. Why choose one practice over another? Why are ultrasounds possibly harmful? Why are narcotics during birth so potentially harmful, both in the short-term and long-term health of mother and baby? Why is the use of Pitocin so destructive to the natural hormonal processes of birth? Dr. Buckley doesn’t just tell readers what to do, she tells us, very clearly, why one choice is helpful (even necessary!) and why another choice is likely harmful. In addition to that, she gives personal anecdotes about her own experiences with birthing and mothering that further support her empirical research, and show a mother how those scientific facts can play out in a very spiritually profound way.

It’s pretty clear that the author is a practicing Zen Buddhist. I’m not. However, I find that my discoveries have matched the doctor’s experience: The radical experience of a natural birth is the perfect marriage of mind/body/science WITH our spiritual/deep/intangible side. I found it pretty easy to make the shift, mentally, when the author talks about the soul of her child flying down from the stars into me visualizing, instead, the soul of my child being lovingly created by God my Father, and being deposited into the growing life of my baby, in utero. And so on. If the “language” of Dr. Buckley’s spiritual voice doesn’t fit with your own, feel free to substitute your own beliefs in the places where yours doesn’t match up with hers!

There is no ONE perfect book on any topic. Like any book, you chew the meat, and throw out the bones. If there is a story in the book that doesn’t click with you, it doesn’t negate the hundreds — or even thousands — of other bits of useful, profound information. It’s the mark of a strong mind that can consider something, hold it in one’s thoughts, sift it, and then say, “That particular part is not for me,” without throwing out the rest of the book or giving it only two stars. So, if that’s what you need to do when reading this book, please do so, but still PLEASE READ THE BOOK.

So, to sum up, my stance is that you don’t have to be completely aligned with Dr. Buckley’s spiritual beliefs, birthing practices, or mothering practices in order to benefit mightily from this unique and powerful book.

If that sounds intriguing, consider purchasing this excellent book for either yourself, a mother-to-be, or your favorite doula or midwife!!

In praise of not doing much

Lazy pin

It’s a good day when I look at the clock at 2:32 and feel like I’ve already had a productive day.

Confession:  I long to be lazy.

Truth:  I rarely let myself be.

So, most days, I spend a good portion of my thought life wishing I could lie down and take a nap.  Or vege out and read a book for a few hours with my feet kicked up and a blanket tucked snugly around me.  Or that I could turn on the TV in the middle of the day.  (The only time, historically, that I’ve “let” myself watch TV during the day is when I have a nursing infant.)

I tell myself, “If you get x, y, and z done, you can lie down for an hour.”  But, I never seem to get as much done as I think I should be accomplishing.  Thus, I don’t usually indulge my inner drive for laziness.

I get a lot done, typically…  But I’ve never felt like I was INDUSTRIOUS.  Know what I mean?  Like Proverbs 31-industrious, when I’m up before everyone else, weaving purple cloth.  Or, in more current terms, I’m not a Pinterest mom, making and posting about the awesome projects I’ve done.  So, the things I get done are mostly out of necessity:  My family needs to eat.  We need toilet paper.  We need to not be drowning in clutter and covered in ¼” of dust.  So, I do a lot…  but I confess that I don’t have a creative, money-making drive.  I’m not always trying to DO MORE.  I’m pretty happy if all the basics get covered without too much stress.

I’m still not certain if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I kind of wish I had more drive.

But, I’ve also observed Moms Who Do More having stressed-out kids and no time to snuggle on the couch in the morning.  I’m not saying that every industrious mother has a too-busy life, but I myself haven’t found the balance of how to keep snug-time, storybook time, “Mama, can you hold me for a bit?”  Or, “Mama, come look at the fort I made!” etc., AND get loads done every day.

This morning, before breakfast, four of my children and I were packed onto the loveseat, covered in blankets, trying not to jam elbows into others’ squishy parts.  My four-year-old, Fiala, said with a knowing wiggle of her eyebrows, and a pointed glance at my belly, “Actually, there are five children on the couch.”  We stayed for a good 30 minutes, until tummy rumbles and 6-year-old squirminess necessitated breakfast time.  I LOVE MORNINGS LIKE THAT.

Shortly after, I made sure everyone had breakfast.  I made the grocery list, comparing my list of things we need with things that are on sale at Sprouts.  I got the kids started on their chores (which included grounding my 13-year-old and my 11-year-old from playing with friends and/or in the front yard for the rest of the day, as it took me about five times “reminding” them to get them back on track…).  I took a shower, bringing a cup of baking soda and a cleaning sponge in with me and scrubbed down the shower enclosure, which was overdue.  I went to the store for the remainder of the week’s groceries (I went to Costco yesterday).  I came back, ate a good lunch — the first meal in WEEKS that actually tasted good, “thanks” to all-day-long so-called morning sickness.  I then put tonight’s dinner in the Crockpot — Chipotle-Orange Pork.  Lastly, I made sour cream dip and cut up mounds of veggies for my husband to bring to his home group Bible study tonight.

And that’s what got me to 2:32, feeling accomplished for the day.

I could still do the huge pile of ironing that has been taunting me.  I could nip out and get some Christmas shopping done.  I could sew my kitchen curtains, which truly is a necessity.  (There are two kitchen windows, which meet at 90° — one is completely uncovered, and the other has a nice linen table cloth-thingie held to the spring rod with a binder clip, acting like a curtain.  Classy.)  I could do more Christmas baking.  Or a load of laundry.  Or clean the rest of my bathroom.  I don’t even have my Christmas decorations up.  (They were in the storage unit, which we obtained for our move, and finally cleared out this past Saturday evening.  So, now they’re finally in boxes, in my garage….)  In other words, I could do something productive.  And maybe I should.

But, I’m not.  I’ve looked at my day, and decided, “I think I’ll go onto Facebook, then write a blog post.”

Part of me feels extra-justified, because I’ve been feeling like absolute CRAP with this pregnancy.  Mornings are better than any other time of day, so I’ve been scurrying through my mornings, getting as much done as possible.  But, here I am today, feeling better than I have in weeks, in the afternoon, and I could do more… Yet, I’m choosing not to.

Again.  I still haven’t decided if this is positive or negative, but I am — I think — coming to grips with the fact that I’m just not as industrious, not as motivated, not as creative, not as driven, as I think I should I should be.

Thoughts on Christmas. Of course. And dreaming. And poetry.

I am really excited about Christmas, especially the presents, which is a switch for me.  I’m a terrible gift-giver.  I just never can think of what would be “just right” or the only thing I can think of is a bizillion dollars, or it would have taken a month to make and I’m out of time, or whatever.  It’s a lack of intuition plus inadequate planning, I guess.  Add to that the constraints of staying ON BUDGET, and it about wipes me out.  However, this year, we set aside some money well in advance.  And I’m excited about what I have planned for my family.  Although, also in the back of my mind linger the unpleasant memories of gifts that I thought were going to be AWESOME and they turned out to be a total bust.  It’s so much easier to remember the failures than the successes for me.  Something wrong about that….  Anyway.

I had my children make Christmas lists, which I don’t often do, as I think it’s a bit tacky and self-serving and can get their hopes up for that ridiculously over-priced Really Cool Present that they will never receive, like the CELL PHONE on my 12 year old’s list.  I know there are younger children with cell phones, but I looked at him and asked, “Really??” with the Mom Look:  One eyebrow arched, head tilted to the side, lips pursed, a heavy sigh written all over my face.

However, I need to let my children dream…  I’ve been convicted about that lately.  I caution them and prepare their hearts so well about our family’s values — which have a lot to do with Jesus and very little to do with materialism — that I caution them right out of dreaming.  I’ve specially noticed that about my oldest son, who is 14.  He is afraid to even have dreams, lest he be disappointed;  he doesn’t want to fix his heart on the impossible.  That’s startling, partly because that’s just like ME, and I have to fight just to allow myself to have dreams… and frankly, it’s not a super-healthy place to be.  I read “Hold Fast Your Dreams” by Louise Driscoll to him yesterday and suggested that it was a good poem for him (though “The Metal Checks“, also by Driscoll, is much more striking, as poems go, it wasn’t appropriate for the lesson at hand…).  And, I let the cell phone stay on Grant’s list.

Mine is almost identical to this one, mustache bridge and all. An upgrade from $50 firewood. In related news, pretty much all of our guitar-buying has been pre-1997, when we started having children.

For my younger two boys, Wes (age 10) and the aforementioned Grant, I’m having them memorize Luke 6:27-38, in light of the commercialization of the American Way to Have Christmas, and due to the fact that there has been way too much of, “Hey, that’s mine!  Give it back!” which makes me want to poke out my eye with a fork.  I slowly went over each verse with them, explaining that in God’s economy, if you give up something willingly, you always gain back in greater quantity and quality than what you yielded.  I used as an example:  In April 1994, I semi-unwillingly gave my $50 guitar — which was just this side of firewood — to my roommate who had, in my absence, started taking lessons with it.  It was hard, but I was intentional about being generous.  I got married in November of that same year, and my dear husband greatly surprised me with a Taylor guitar (815C model — jumbo with a Florentine cutaway) for our first Christmas!  I hadn’t even dared to hope — to dream — about my own super-fabulous guitar.  It was enough to play my husband’s.  😀  Come to think of it, that was the first of many instances where my husband goes above and beyond where I dare to dream, when it comes to buying me presents.

Anyway.  I also explained to my boys that Jesus was blowing the minds of his hearers.  The Jews already had an unusual law forbidding lenders to charge interest.  Jesus was taking it one step further telling His followers that they were to give anything to anyone who asked, and not even expect repayment of the principle, let alone interest!  This is challenging, to be certain.  Very challenging.  But, it’s required.  Even for kids.  No more, “Hey, that’s mine!  Give it back!”

And, it must be mentioned, that the former roommate is now a professional musician.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Cranberry-Almond Stickybread Recipe (GFCF, refined-sugar free)

Mmmm....

I came up with this recipe for a friend whose husband has been put on a really restrictive diet.  At first, I was disappointed, because my intention was to make a dough for rollable cinnamon rolls, but the dough was too wet so I had to glop it all in the baking dish.  My husband, however, vetoed my plans to rework the recipe.  “It’s perfect,” he proclaimed, stabbing his fork into the air as an exclamation.

Usually I make a recipe a number of times to work out the kinks… but after excellent results on the second time making it, I decided to go ahead and post the recipe.  I’m thinking I’m going to make this for Christmas morning.  I read up on Monkeybread, and I think the recipe would work in that style, too — in a Bundt pan, maybe even starting with frozen dough.  I’ll have to work on that, though.

This recipe uses no refined sugar:  honey and/or agave syrup are the only sweeteners.  I used egg whites, as my friend’s hubby can’t have yolks;  I think it would work without eggs entirely — if you try it without eggs, up the water content and leave a comment to let me know how it worked.  I used sweetened, dried cranberries, but any dried fruit would work (and would be necessary to make it truly sugar-free).  I used almonds, but pecans would work fine, too.

Last caveat:  The flours.  I use my favorite trio of gluten-free flours in this recipe, but you may find others that work just as well or better.  Post a comment if you alter the flours and let me know the result!

  • Garbanzo flour is made by Bob’s Red Mill, or you can find it in any Asian market as besan, chana dal, chickpea flour, or gram flour.  Expect to pay about $5-6 for a 4-pound bag of garbanzo flour at the Asian market.  My favorite brand is Brar, which is a product of Canada (and which used to be labeled as gluten-free and is no longer… though there isn’t any cross-contamination warning on it).
  • Mung bean starch is very common in Korean cooking;  most Asian markets are organized by nationality/region, so you’d find it on the Korean aisle.  Or Chinese.  I’ve purchased it from both.  It’s also known, cryptically, as green bean powder or green bean starch, since mung beans are small and green.  Mung bean starch is a bit pricey, at around $2.50 – 3.50 per pound in the store, and about double that online.
  • You can find gluten-free oat flour in many well-stocked grocery stores, or mill your own in a blender, sifting it through a wire sieve afterward.

 

Cranberry-Almond Stickybread (click for printable PDF)
About an hour and ten minutes from start to finish
Makes 15 servings

  • Grease a large baking dish (I use a 9″ x 13″ Pyrex, though size is flexible.  I also use Spectrum Organic non-hydrogenated Shortening to grease my pans.)
  • Turn on your oven to 350°F for only 2 minutes.  Turn off.  This provides a warm location for dough to rise.

1¾ cup warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
2 Tbsp honey

  • Gently combine water, yeast, and honey, and let sit (proof) for ten minutes

1½ cups garbanzo flour
1½ cups oat flour
1½ cups mung bean starch
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp xanthan gum

  • Whisk together these dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Set aside.

4 egg whites

  • When the yeast mixture is done proofing, whisk in 4 egg whites, stirring briskly to combine.
  • Add the yeast and egg mixture to the flour mixture, whisking quickly and thoroughly to combine.  Set aside to rest about five minutes.

½ – ¾ cup honey OR agave syrup OR a combination of the two
2 tsp cinnamon

  • Warm the honey to liquefy using a microwave for 10-15 seconds, or setting the container in a pan of very warm water.
  • Stir briskly to combine the cinnamon with honey.

½ cup almond meal
½ cup blanched, slivered almonds (or other chopped nut)
½ cup sweetened, dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)

  • Stir the dough, then with two spoons, drop spoonfuls of dough into the baking dish, using half to two-thirds of the dough.
  • Drizzle about half of the honey-cinnamon mixture over the lumps of dough, then top with about 1/3 cup of the almond meal and all of the slivered almonds and dried cranberries.
  • Drop the remaining dough in small lumps over the first layer.  Drizzle with remaining honey mixture and sprinkle with remaining almond meal.
  • Place into slightly warm oven or other warm place and let rise for 20 minutes.
  • Remove baking dish, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and preheat oven to 375°F for about ten minutes, for a total rising time of 30 minutes.  Dough will have doubled in size (or just a little less-than-doubled).
  • Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until top no longer feels spongy when touched lightly, and top is a nice, golden brown, and honey is sizzling along the sides of the dish.
  • Cut into 15 servings.  Serve warm, with a side of dairy-free ice cream, or topped with whipped cream if you can have dairy.  (Tastes good cold, too, on the off-chance that there are leftovers.)

 

You can’t afford a baby.

Please read this post, a short-but-slightly-snarky response to Suze Orman, a financial adviser who recently told a couple that they couldn’t afford a baby, with its $700-1000 monthly expense.

I agree wholeheartedly with Connie, the author.

Having a baby in America CAN be expensive, but it doesn’t need to be.  I’ll never forget when I told a former neighbor that I was pregnant with my third and she sighed and said, “You’re so lucky.  I’d love a baby, but we just can’t afford it.”  It was all I could do to not let my jaw hit the sidewalk.  She and her husband lived — by themselves — in a 2500 s.f. house, had an RV, brand new vehicles, two ATVs, two Jet-skis, expensive mountain bikes, and who knows what else.  In other words, they could totally “afford” a baby if they got their priorities straight.  AND, yes:  it can be difficult and expensive if you have to have everything new and fancy and trendy, bottle feed, use childcare for when you go back to work at 6 weeks, and use disposable diapers.  But, heck.  Even name brand disposables will run you about $40-60/month.  NOT $700-1000.

Maybe this is inflammatory, but I also believe our American culture which values independence over community is partially to blame.  We’re disconnected from our extended families, we don’t root ourselves in a church family either, and we value income and material wealth over family.  Even things like baby showers and hand-me-downs are most often provided by our extended community, which we as Americans have less and less of.

Don't YOU need a $5768.89 crib??

I have a wooden cradle that is “making the rounds” between friends from church.  This DELIGHTS me.  I bought it for $40 from Craigslist, used it for my fifth baby (as I had given away a previous cradle), and now a third friend is about to use it for her her newborn, due in Feb. But, if you have to keep up with the Jones’ baby who had a $2,000 Bellini crib (or this $5,800 one!), you’re going to have a pricey infancy.  However, if you breastfeed, raise your own child, and don’t mind having used or hand-me-down things, it’s really quite inexpensive to raise a baby.

EDITED TO ADD:  One other thing… (can you tell this has struck a nerve???) I’m not suggesting that selling baby things is wrong, but I have learned that you get back what you give — sometimes literally, sometimes from elsewhere.  I have given away cribs, strollers, swings, clothes, countless other baby items, partly because I saw someone in need, and partly because I thought I was “done” with having children.  But, whatddya know??  It has ALL COME BACK to me. I have, in return, been given cribs, clothes, toys, slings — I don’t use swings anymore! 😉 — everything I need for a baby, when I did have need.  My youngest is three and the goods still keep pouring in.  Someone just gave us three bags of virtually brand-new girls toys — voila! Christmas for my 3 and 5yo girls. Whether you call it karma or attribute it Luke 6:38, or whatever, if you give, you will receive.  We are a panicked, hoarding society, and often fail to recognize that if we are generous, we’re going to be provided for.

At the grocery store last night (as interesting as my shopping expeditions always seem to be!)

I do my grocery shopping after our fairly late dinnertime, and I typically go to three or four different stores, some of them a 20-30 minute drive from my home.  With several stops plus drive time, it makes for a marathon 3-4 hour trip.  This places my shopping time at a later hour than your standard full-cart grocery-shopper.  At that hour, most people are stopping in hurriedly for a few items.  Not surprisingly, I guess, at ten or eleven at night, there seems to always be an interesting contingent of people about in the stores:  shoppers and employees both.  Historically, I have had so many odd interactions, that, now, as I leave our home, my hubby says, “And if anyone talks to you, just kick ’em.”  I didn’t kick anyone last night.  But, people did talk to me, and I to them.

Highlights from last night:

  • Chatting with the produce guy at Sprouts:  As I was selecting my red bell peppers (only $0.69 each, but on the small side.  I bought three.), he was stocking the cucumbers ($0.49 each.  I bought two.).  Nosily, I inquired into the reason for a customer being irritated with him, a few minutes earlier.  He said, “She asked me to pick out a good cantaloupe for her.  There aren’t any.  Yes, they’re only $1.25 each, but they all suck.  None are worth buying.  I can’t lie to my customers, so I told her not to buy any.  She still wanted me to pick out the best one for her, and I wouldn’t.”  I thanked him for his honesty, and told him I appreciate that sort of input, even if she doesn’t.  He then said, “In that case, don’t buy the watermelons, either.”  I laughed and walked away, thinking about how he called people “my customers.”  Is that a good thing that a 22 year old guy (or whatever) is taking responsibility for shoppers like that?  Or is it overstepping the realm of his authority?  I don’t mean steering shoppers from bad melons.  I mean, calling them “his customers.”  Are they his customers?  Is he the produce manager?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know.  I thought it was funny, in any case:  the fact that he considers those perusing the produce to be his customers, which would make me one of his customers, and I never considered myself as anything but a customer of the store itself.  Hmmm…
  • At Fry’s, the checkout guy, a Hispanic in his early 40s (at a guess) asked me, “What do you make with these?”  “These” being a 60-count package of thin Arizona brand corn tortillas.  “Tacos,” I replied.  “I make a lot of tacos.”  He then asked me about what sort of meats I use, what seasonings, how I prepare the tortillas (softened in very hot oil), etc.  He was very impressed that I make shredded pork tacos, from scratch.  I almost invited him over for dinner.  (Not really.)
  • On the way out, I touched another checker on the arm to say good-bye to him.  He has frequently been my checkout guy at that store, and we always chat.  He is 22.  I know that, because he referred to himself as being 22.  My heart always goes out to him, in a way that… makes me feel like God is placing him on my heart.  I pray for him almost every night on the way home from shopping.  We talked for a few, and then I said, “I always have to constrain myself from giving you a hug.”  He said, “You can give me a hug any time you like.”  I did.  Don’t worry.  He’s gay.  I thought about it, out in the truck, on my way home, what my motivations are.  Am I just trying to show someone God’s love?  Actually, I’m not trying.  I feel compelled.  I guess I didn’t start out our not-really-a-relationship with any agenda.  But, as a Christian, at some point, should I try to tell him about Jesus?  Or not?  I half don’t want Christianity to come into our conversation, ever, because I have a feeling, from previous asides and remarks, he’s not keen on Christianity.  On the other hand, I half-hope that it does, because, if he’s had ill treatment at the hands of Christians before, it would be lovely for him to realize that there are there is someone, at least, who is a Christian and who will hug his flamin’ self, and maybe that would translate into him realizing that Jesus truly loves him, too.  After giving it some consideration, I determined that, while my intentions aren’t specifically to proselytize, can I deny that I would want for him, what I have found for myself, in Jesus?  I can’t deny that.  His love, His power, His peace, His goodness…  We’ll see.  I hope, when the time comes, whatever the Father’s intentions are for me, in the life of that young man, if any… well, I hope I don’t miss it.

Baseball woes, family sadness and joy, donuts, and Colorado

  • Dear Diamondbacks bullpen/closer(s):  You’re breaking my heart.  Or making me mad.  Or making me tempted to be resigned to a really milquetoast season.  Or something.  Still, I watch, sort of like how I am compelled to crane my neck at the results of a car crash.
  • Sad/happy:  Seeing the family of the church step in to at least partially fill in the gaps when a real family disappoints.  (Not my own family;  I’m observing this in the life of a friend.)
  • FABULOUS NEWS:  My sister, who is 31 weeks pregnant, has a serious genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome (that’s not the “good news” part), which can adversely effect the aorta.  A normal aortic root is 2.5 cm diameter.  Due to danger of aortic dissection, mandatory c-section threshold for Marfan patients:  4.0 cm.  Robin’s:  3.2 cm.  NO c-section.  The only “bummer” is that with a scheduled c-section, we’d be able to plan my trip out to be there for the birth with advance notice.  However, the importance of her not having a c-section is much greater than my “need” to be able to plan in advance.  Still, I don’t want to miss the birth.  And, by the way, she finally was able to get some real prenatal care, bless God!  (Kind of a long story, but she’s high risk, so needed an OB, but does not have the $6-8K that all of the doctors required in advance for patients paying cash, yet she makes too much money to qualify for low-income/free health care.  However, as if hearing her plea, just about 6 weeks ago, Texas A&M decided to open up a sliding-scale medical clinic in Austin, and it’s a perfect fit for her needs.)
  • I need to write up my real review of how-could-you-not-love-them Kinnikinnick donuts.  The fact that the company sent me four boxes, for free, is weighing heavy on my conscience, when I have not yet repaid them with a review.  Ack.
  • *FINALLY* got our reservations made for our trip to Colorado.  While we let things pend for a week and a half, a number of people swooped in and reserved “our” time at the cabin-of-choice, so now we’re stuck with plan B.  Oh, well.  Still, it’ll be good.  And we DO get some nights at “our” cabin, just not the solid week or so that we’d been planning on.  So, it’ll be three nights here, then three nights there, then back to the first spot for a couple more nights.   It’s not really a trip whose main purpose is to visit family, but we’re hoping to be able to coordinate time with various family members around the lovely state of Colorado…

Christmas, clothes, and too many “Bud Vase”s, year-end video

  • I recently was going to post about how dearly I love wee flowers, brought to me by my kids, cheering my world in the bud vase on my counter top.  This sweet image, though, has been overridden by my husband overhearing my 3yo daughter saying, “Bud vase,” and thinking she was saying something naughty… then, him laughing hysterically about it, the all the boys catching on, and now, days later, my husband and me up to our EARS with the boys calling each other, “Bud Vase.”  (Say it aloud.)
  • The five best kids ever (and the doggie), Christmas morning

    Christmas!  I have only a few grainy pics from my phone.  Ugh.  However, my Dad tells me that, rather than repairing my camera (which he’s had since… June?  July?), that he’s going to buy me a new one!  That’s fabulous.  We’ve been essentially camera-less since April, and that’s a long time.  Anyways.  Christmas was great — lovely, happy, full of family warmth.  On The Day, we had my Mom & Stepdad, Martin’s Dad & Stepmom, my brother, his wife, and two of their three boys (the other in California with my SIL’s parents) over for the afternoon and evening, eating a non-traditional dinner of Thai omelette soup (I should post a recipe!).  Our home was full, loud, and happy.  And, GOD PROVIDES.  If I went into detail, I’d be typing forever.  So, suffice it to say that our Christmas, which we all thought would be spare and lacking in provision, was overflowing.  Overflowing.  God is so good;  He’s amazing.

  • I am now a size 6.  I haven’t been a size 6 since before I had kids.  I now weigh less than I did before I got pregnant with my oldest, who is now 12½.  But, even there, God provides!!  Slacks on clearance at Macy’s for about $10 each, plus some borrowed jeans from a sweet friend who also has recently, unintentionally lost weight and is now a size 4!  So, I have four pairs of jeans on loan from her, two sixes, and two eights.
  • The little rosette, the heel height & shape, the rounded toe... perfect

    Not really size-related, but I also found a FABULOUS pair of black pumps on the 26th.  I haven’t been this excited about shoes in a long time… mostly because we just don’t have the money to get as many shoes as I would LIKE, so I typically purchase shoes that are sensible and long-lasting, rather than cute… Then I admire the shoes of my pastor’s wife, Nancy.  However, I found these for $6.99 on clearance at Ross, so I figured I could spend seven bucks on some totally insensible shoes.  I’m so excited about them, I wore them to the grocery store last night.  Hahahahaha!  I have huge feet — size 10.  But, as I’ve lost those nearly-30 pounds, I have discovered that my feet have shrunk a bit.  Who knew?  I had fat feet.  So now, I can wear a 9½ again — and these shoes are even 9W!  They’d be better in a slightly larger size, but this was the only pair Ross had.  🙂

  • Our church’s year end video…  FANTASTIC.  Many on here have commented about my church’s dynamics.  If you would like to see it in action, there’s a nearly-34 minute video here.  In a way it’s a best-of-the-year video, and in a way, it’s just really typical as to what takes place.  My whole fam is mixed in there…  Some personal highlights are:  My older two boys quoting Psalm 102 at 1:22;  My hubby leading worship at 5:07 (he’s in LOTS of other places, too); Me leading worship at 5:20;  Audrey being a “PUWH-son” at 12:36… And my son Ethan at the soundboard at the very end.  🙂
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