Thursday, October 25, 2012

Butter Makes Everything Better

I feel slightly sheepish about posting after having had my epic meltdown earlier this week. I'm compelled to note that nothing catastrophic happened to me, so my breakdown was nothing more than me cracking a bit under pressure - shameful I know. But I fully believe that a little crack up is ok every once in a while. Otherwise I will bottle all that up and it will most definitely make me grumpy. Or force me to eat more chocolate. 

Once Monday was over, however, the week improved significantly, literally overnight. I was doing a lot of really new, fun things at work, aced my Cost Control exam, was able to spend all day today baking and cooking for my clients, and am even planning a trip to visit my sister this weekend. Great right? So aside from the rough start to the week, it's going swimmingly. I hope yours is just as successful.

Which actually leads me to a very legitimate question: what do you do when you are at your breaking point? Everyone has one, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. As for me, I usually cry a lot and there is a nap involved. What do you do when life seems to be a little too much for you to handle?

This question led me to an interesting exploration on stress and different coping mechanisms that are best for certain personalities. I, being the Type A Personality kind of person, am able to cope best with a mile long to-do list by prioritizing and making plans on how to get these absolutely necessary items done in the time allotted. More ecsentric, artsy types, however, would deal with stress more effectively if they changed up their routine, by possibly moving to a different location in order to focus better on the task at hand, or changing the medium they are working in in order to refocus their efforts. Being the huge adorkable nerd that I am, found this all fascinating.**

And in all of this I learned that one of the uniquely "me" ways I deal with stress is to cook. Just get in the kitchen, where I am comfortable, outcomes are predictable, and products are edible, and just forget about what's bothering me for a few moments. I used this coping mechanism a lot in college, which is why a lot of my quick breads, muffins, marinades, and jams were made between the hours of 10pm and 2am. This little rendezvous to my culinary sanctuary gave me just enough time to refocus, take a breather, and come back refreshed... and usually with a tasty snack in my hand.

Mommaw was so proud when I showed her this picture - I remembered those canning lessons she gave me!

That being said, I follow many of the same habits today and last night, at, you guessed it, 10:30 at night, I was making pear butter. I was gifted a whole box of heirloom pears from my Grandma Banks as a house warming present, and had been snacking on them pretty religiously with no visible indication of having put a dent into the box. So what's the best way to use up excess produce? Can it! As pear butter in this instance. Warm and comforting, a breeze to put together, and it made my whole house smell like autumn.

Here my pear butter canning set-up: sterilized jars, primed and ready for piping hot pear butter.

Pear Butter

20 small-medium pears
1 cup brown sugar (or to taste, depending on how sweet you would like your butter to be)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg

Par down the pears by coring and peeling, if desired (I didn't bother.) Process your pears in batches in the food processor to make tiny bits of pear, bordering on the consistency of pearsauce (like applesauce, only with pears.) Transfer your pearsauce to your slow cooker; still in the seasonings. Taste (this is an important step!) Your pearsauce should taste slightly under seasoned, and that's ok, because as your pear butter cooks it is going to intensify in flavor and sweetness. And remember, you can always adjust the seasonings later. Cook on low, covered, overnight, or at least 12 hours. Remove the lid and cook on high for an additional 2 hours, or until the liquid was evaporated and the pear butter is at the desired spreadable consistency.

If you are planning on canning your pear butter, make sure you sterilize your jars and lid components in boiling water, and then fill them while the jars are still warm. Wipe the rims and seal tightly, leaving them sitting on the counter until they "pop," which means they are sealed.

My perfectly canned pear butter, ready to be given as gifts that keep on giving. See that bigger one on the right? Yeah, that one's mine.

** Want to read more? Here are the articles I dove into:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not Keeping my Cool

I had a little bit of a breakdown yesterday. Rather, a meltdown. My mom and Mommaw can both attest to this, poor sweet women caught in the crossfire of my exhaustion, stress, perfectionism, massive headache, and type A personality, all colliding to make one (excuse my French) hell of a tough day.

Chocolate wouldn't help. Soft jammies and a hot shower wouldn't help. A walk outside wouldn't help. Exercise wouldn't help. The desperate nature of my meltdown was achy, making me seem from the outside like a temperamental three year old, but on the inside feel like a steam kettle coming to a rapid boil and will not be ceased, regardless of being removed from the flame. I felt like I was walking though a haze, with nothing in focus, everything off in the distance and aggravatingly unattainable, and even the simplest of tasks were monumental and impossible, exhausting and disheartening me. And it wasn't event 10am yet.

So what did I finally end up doing to make it all stop? To bring some peace to my overloaded, under nourished, and maxed out mind? I prayed. Through tears, clenched fists, and a frog in my throat, I prayed. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed for a clean slate, to start all over with my sin washed away and forgiven, and for help to forgive myself for such misdeeds. I prayed for peace, to sleep soundly, deeply, and awake restful, refreshed, and calm. And I prayed to be led home, into the arms of God, for Him to watch over me, to be with me, to hold my hand and carry me. And then I went to bed and slept with abandon. I didn't set an alarm. I didn't worry about my laundry or groceries or homework. I simply said, "no more." And it was grey outside.

When I woke up, it was the most brilliant sunshiny day all week. I felt better, calmer, more rested, more put together. Was I still tired? Sure. But my heart didn't ache anymore. And my soul didn't feel like it was being torn in too many directions. And I could muster a smile without feeling like a hypocrite. So improvement to say the least. After a hard cider and a couple pieces of pizza, I went back to bed.

And today has been better and better. I was reminded yesterday that I am not walking alone, that I don't ever have to walk alone. The sun was out, I aced my Cost Control exam, finally got around to grocery shopping after work, and had dinner with my parents. Nothing to write home about, but still, there was a spring in my step today that was most certainly not there yesterday. 

I know this entry has been a bit melancholy and whiny, but I think it's important for people to know you loose your cool sometimes. No one is perfect after all, and by sharing the fact that I am light years away from perfection, I think it reminds me of the fact as well. But I was reminded of something. I am not alone. And when it comes right down to it, I would rather have a hell of a bad day than to go one more minute trying to walk alone.

I hope this serves as a reminder to you all, that being a Christian doesn't mean our path will be easy, it just means that we won't have to face it alone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Making my House a Home

This past weekend I hosted my very party in my very own home. I wanted to invite all of you, but alas, my little home would not fit all of you. So instead, I'm inviting you to my cyber house warming party. Welcome, come on in, grab yourself a plate and something festive to drink, and make yourself at home.

Orange and Cinnamon Scented Apple Cider with (optional) Spiced Rum... I personally love this option.

Thyme Infused Iced Tea

Seared Sirloin Buttermilk Biscuits with Merlot Onions and Blue Cheese Aoili
Also pictured on the cake stand: Miniature Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Wine Soaked Fruit Chutney, served with Garlic Crostini,  Brie, and Gouda

Of course, besides the food, you have come to check out the place. And we certainly made it look festive.You know how great Mommaw is at flower arranging right? Of course I had to get her to participate in the party preparations! Fresh flowers always seem to make an occasion special, regardless of what it is. Look at the gorgeous arrangements!

A very fall mantel, completely created by my Mommaw.

My living room, which has turned into my favorite room in the house.

Welcome to my home!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Solved

I know a few of you have been guessing as to what I have up my sleeve this week. If you still want to fathom a guess before reading further, check out last week's entry and see if you can put your finger on just what I have been up to. 

Drum roll please... I made real Pumpkin Pie from real pie pumpkins!

Here is a little unknown fact to most American consumers who prepare "pumpkin pie" for their families every fall. That innocent looking can of 100% pureed pumpkin you pick up at the grocery store isn't pumpkin at all, it's actually Hubbard Squash. I know, call the authorities, we have been deceived! Why would manufacturers ever try to pull the wool over the eyes of the American consumer?! (*snickers*) Because this innocent switch helps to pad their pocketbooks. Hubbard squash has more flesh and less seeds and pulp than pumpkins, but has a similar taste profile, so with a little refinement these companies can product more cans of pumpkin puree without much fuss. Now, that begs the question, is this really a reason to boycott canned impostor "pumpkin" pies forever? I think not, especially since pumpkin pie in any form is still my favorite pie ever. I just choose to look the other way while cutting myself a slice and rejoice in the fact instead that it is fall and I can settle in with my delicacy and a cup of tea.

So this past week, I set out to make a real, honest to goodness pumpkin pie. I found the process labor intensive but incredibly rewarding, and completely worth it. There is something deeply satisfying, as least for me, in making something COMPLETELY from scratch - from the ground up if you will. And as an added bonus, I roasted the seeds and have been snacking on them ever since, in addition to adding them to my oatmeal, topping my morning yogurt, and mixing into a recent muffin mix.

Organic pie pumpkins from Jungle Jim's
I made a homemade pecan crust, with plenty of salt to contrast the sublte sweetness in the pie custard. Speaking of which, the authentic pumpkin puree is much more savory, almost nutty in flavor when compared to its canned counterpart and, not wanting to lose that uniqueness, I kept the filling simple, unadulterated, true to its origins. I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out, and I will be making another one today actually.

 I meant to take a picture of the pie right after I took it out of the oven, before I stuck a fork in it, but alas, I have no self control. But how could I resist? Topped with a maple whipped cream, I was in fall heaven.
Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Graham Cracker crust and Maple Whipped Cream
I hope this blog has inspired you to at least consider picking up a pie pumpkin and going all homemade with your fall pie... or at least appreciate the adorable little pie pumpkins a little more.

Pumpkin Pie
* I made this custard filling by sight and taste, and thus didn't measure anything exactly. I recommend you do the same, as every pie pumpkin will be a little different.

1 1/2 cup real pumpkin puree (flesh from two small pie pumpkins)
1/2 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
splash milk or cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger (optional)
3 tablespoons flour
Puree pumpkin in a food process so it is incredibly smooth and silky. Transfer to the bowl of your mixer and add the sugar, milk, and eggs. Mix on medium speed until incorporated, whipping in a little air to lighten the custard. Add the seasonings; mix. Add the flour one tablespoon at a time, just looking for the custard to come together and slightly thicken. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter, melted
2 tsp kosher salt
Mix the nuts, crumbs, and salt with the melted butter and press into an ungreased pie pan. Par bake this crust at 350 degrees until slightly set up, about 25 minutes. Pour in your custard filling and bake an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until custard is set. Allow to cool (if you can wait that long) and top with whipped cream or chutney.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Teaser....

I am making something oh so scrumptious... bet you can't guess what it is.
1. I had to go buy some specialty ingredients today.
2. This is one of my favorite treats of all time.
3. I have actually blogged about this food before.
4. It could certainly be considered a labor of love (emphasis on labor.)
5. This labor is TOTALLY worth is, as the resulting delicatessen is swoon worthy.

Can you guess? Can you, can you?! Be on the lookout tomorrow to get the full scoop... oh rather, slice.