Chocolate Tears

DSC_0005I love all things chocolate – dark, semi-sweet, milk, and everything in between. But, alas, my body has decided that chocolate isn’t for me. I can eat small amounts of chocolate baked goods (like a bite), but anything more gives me a miserable migraine the next day. And forget eating a piece of chocolate itself.

I have mostly reconciled myself to avoiding chocolate most of the time. I stopped eating anything chocolate last fall, so it has been over six months since I have eaten more than a bite or two of chocolate. Yes, I went through Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas without touching it. I thought maybe the months of (mostly) abstinence would have given my body a time to reset and maybe I could eat a bit of chocolate deliciousness again. No go.

I caved the other day and ate a brownie that was left over from a school party of Calvin’s. Well, it was really two brownies. I warmed them up until the chocolate chips inside were nice and gooey, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. But the next day I woke up with a miserable headache. Calvin, dear teenage son of mine, asked me if it was worth it. Most decidedly not. I am working toward accepting my need to avoid chocolate, but I’m not totally happy about it. There are so many chocolate desserts that I love making, and eating.

I have not been baking much of anything that involves chocolate, unless it is going out of the house. I didn’t expect Calvin to bring home so many brownies when he requested them for a school treat-fest last week. He said there were so many things to eat that the class didn’t even make a dent in the brownies. I wish I had told him to leave the leftovers at school for the teachers! I need to work on my willpower.

Don’t feel too sorry for me, though. I have been managing quite well with other flavors: vanilla, caramel, spice, almond and just about anything else that isn’t chocolate. If you are combing The Cook’s Life for chocolate recipes, you will find plenty in the archives. I can hope that my body will end its rebellion against chocolate some day, but probably not any time soon. So bring on the salted caramel whatever, the almond decadence or the vanilla anything. They will just have to do for now.

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Is Anyone There?

You are probably asking that if you happened to visit The Cook’s Life over the past few months. I wrote a grand total of two posts in 2015 and this is the first post of 2016. I was all ready to get back into blogging when I got a new job.

Over the past five years, or so, I have been searching for my niche in the working world. I have been a nanny/babysitter off and on (mostly on) for the past 11 years. I have also tried my hand as an elementary school lunch monitor and a freelance writer. Then last fall I started a job as a part-time librarian for the St. Louis County Library.

I have been reveling in the best job I have ever had, no hands down. I love spending my shifts surrounded by books, and I am truly enjoying the patrons and my co-workers. I also continue to nanny the two days of the workweek that I am not at the library, so this blogger jumped right into full time working hours without much warning.

It has been an adjustment for all of us in the family, but most of all me. I need to get over the idea that I have time to do all the housecleaning, cooking and shopping. Not to mention keeping up with my various commitments at church and getting Calvin where he needs to be for school clubs and fiddle lessons. We have mostly figured out when, and how, to get it all done, but the blog has suffered.

I make no promises about frequency of posts. But I do feel the urge to write more often, so maybe I will manage to get something out into the ether every so often. I am already working on an update post about the kitchen. We did just a little more to it since I last posted. More to follow soon (I hope)!

Kitchen Facelift

Finally, after ten years of planning, we decided last winter to actually do something about our kitchen. The ceramic tile was cracked and very hard on the feet.

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And the rest of the room was just too white – white cabinets, white countertops and white backsplash. It was time for change.

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So we took the plunge. We started with a trip to a kitchen and bath remodeling store. The less said about that experience the better. Let’s just say the designer offered very little designing advice and came up with a plan that was almost three times the budget we gave her. Needless to say we didn’t go with that option.

We decided to go with one of the big box home improvement stores for the floor, backsplash and some minor demolition and drywall repair. We ordered granite countertops through a separate granite store. While the whole process probably took longer than it would have if we had used one company to do it all, we are happy with our results.

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It was a fairly easy process, looking back on it. It took about two months, and we were only without the kitchen for a few days here and there. It was nothing like the all-out chaos I had imagined. There was plenty of upheaval, but it was mostly manageable. We borrowed a small fridge from a friend to keep in another room for those days when we couldn’t get into the kitchen. For part of the time we had the microwave and electric teakettle on top of the little fridge. Usually we were able to get into the kitchen by evening to cook dinner.

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It was great watching it all come together over the weeks – new floors, new counters and new backsplash. I painted the walls a fresh, clean tan that carries in from the living room and dining room.

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One of the silly things that makes me happy every time I look at it is the baseboard on the wall at the opening to the kitchen. Our house is about sixty years old and has the original baseboards in most of the house. They are an unusual shape and are impossible to find in stores. I guess we could have had some custom made, but we didn’t have to. We found a short piece of baseboard behind the fridge when I was painting. I had painted the kitchen three different times over the years, but I never noticed that beautiful piece of baseboard. Bonanza! We had plenty to go around the corner and up to the edge of the island. I still sit and marvel at the beautifully matched baseboard. Ah, the little things…

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I must say, the pictures don’t do it justice, especially of the backsplash. You will all have to come over for a cup of tea and a cookie to get the full impact. I’ll keep the water hot – just let me know when you are coming.

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I’m back…

It’s been almost exactly eleven months since my last post. I didn’t plan such a long break. When I started to lose my blogging mojo I thought I would take a break for a few weeks, or maybe a month. Well, somehow life got in the way and here it is, almost a year later.

Highlights of the last year

Calvin got his driving permit and is slowly learning how to drive. We have graduated from parking lots to subdivision streets. Soon we might venture out on a main thoroughfare. He isn’t totally comfortable behind the wheel and Rich and I are fine with taking the whole process slowly. He will be sixteen in a few weeks (gulp!) but I think the license will wait for a few months until he is more than ready for the test.

We gave the kitchen a facelift in late winter. That story is material for another post, complete with pictures. But I will say I love the new kitchen and still catch myself standing in the middle of it, marveling at the new look.

Okay, I wanted three things to highlight for the year, but there really haven’t been any earthshaking events. The year was full of food and fun in the kitchen, of course. We made lots of pizza, lots of desserts and even tried deep frying (that is definitely a story for another post).

I didn’t make any big cooking discoveries, at least I can’t remember any. One thing I missed about not blogging was taking notes while I cooked. I need to get back in the habit, whether I intend to blog about a recipe or not. We have had some killer meals that I haven’t been able to recreate because I didn’t take any notes.

The blog might look a little different as I move forward. I won’t be posting as often, and I probably won’t be posting as many recipes. I am going to try to get back to my original intent to use the blog as a window into the world of a cook, baker, gardener and foodie. Rest assured, though there may not be as many recipes, I will still be posting cooking tips for the novice (and the expert). And I will still share recipes and experiments in the kitchen, just maybe not three times a week!

Here’s to eating, cooking and blogging about it! (Raises a glass and cuts a piece of cake).

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Baking for a Barbecue

I have been baking up a storm this week. Once again I am providing desserts for the Midtown Alley BBQ. I baked the desserts last year and couldn’t pass up the chance to do it again this year.

I decided to make the same desserts I made last year:

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Gooey Butter Tarts

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Chocolate Gooey Butter Tarts

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Gingersnaps

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was going to make a new gooey butter tart flavor, lemon blueberry, in honor of summer. The first experiments weren’t quite there yet, but stay tuned for the perfected recipe soon.

Feel free to stop by Atomicdust in Midtown St. Louis if you are in town and looking for something to do tonight. For now, I’m headed back to the kitchen to finish baking.

Peach Overload

DSC_0350I realized last week that I was well into canning last year at this time. I have been so preoccupied with zucchini and the start of school that I haven’t made any peach butter or plum jam this year. I have almost finished my stash from last year and I definitely need to lay in a supply of toast topping for the next year.

I had time last Friday, so I thought I would head to the local farm and see if they had any peaches. Usually they have their blemished and bruised peaches for half price, but the supply goes fast. I was in luck and they had enough that I had my pick of the baskets. I bought two, which worked out to twelve pounds of peaches. I had all afternoon free and I figured I could cook and can peaches for a bit and then work on other chores around the house. Oh, the best laid plans…

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I blanched the peaches, since I had so many. I wanted them to be quick and easy to peel. I must not have left them in the water long enough – they were not easy to peel. The skins came off in little pieces instead of just sliding off the peaches. I should have re-blanched them, but I had already dumped the water and didn’t feel like waiting for more to come to a boil. Not the best decision I have ever made.

I had enough peaches for a double batch of peach butter, and I still had only used half of them. I got those cooking and tried to decide what to do with the rest of my bounty. Since I had already blanched them, I couldn’t really put them off to another day.

I had bought a box of low sugar pectin a few weeks ago, so I pulled it out to see how many peaches would make a batch of peach jam – four and a half cups. Okay, fine. That took care of a few more peaches. I figured I would peel and dice the rest and decide what to do with them after that.

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About the tenth pound of peaches I decided that maybe the afternoon wasn’t so fun anymore. I was hot, sticky and royally tired of peaches. I diced the last peach and tossed it into the measuring cup. Grand total – eight cups. Perfect for a pie. Another day. I tossed the diced peaches in a zip lock bag and froze them.

I still had to can the peach jam. And can the peach butter. And wash all my sticky dishes. I forged ahead, water bath processing the filled jars while I cleaned up the messy kitchen. I had the realization at that point that the actual canning process isn’t the arduous part – it’s the peeling, dicing and cooking that come before the canning.

Once I finished it all, I collapsed onto the couch in the much cooler living room and vowed not to move, or to look at another peach, for a very long time. From my vantage point I could see the beautiful jars of peach jam and peach butter cooling on the counter – all fourteen of them. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Summer Days and School Days

School started this week in our area. Calvin started ninth grade this year – the dreaded and exciting high school. Though he has been in the same school district since kindergarten, and he has always started school this early in August, it still seems insanely early to me.

School, when the summer cicadas and katydids are still singing? School, when it is still blazing hot? Well, not this year, but I’m not complaining at all about the beautiful weather. School, when we are still eating summer produce in all its glory?

DSC_0053Though the school year is in full swing, and our activities feel like fall, I am hanging onto summer at least a few more weeks. The fall spices, pumpkins and apples can wait a while, as far as I’m concerned. Summer is still here and I’m hanging on to it – long days, garden vegetables, lemonade and all.

Summer cooking for me has involved a lot of zucchini this year, and not quite as many tomatoes as usual. It all comes down to what is doing well in the garden. We have had spotty success with tomatoes for the past few years, so this spring we decided to give the soil a rest from tomato plants and raise them in pots.

Well, that was a failure – we had a grand total of eight cherry tomatoes and one larger one. The plants just never took off in the pots, and the deer took care of most of the fruit we did get on the vines. To top off the season, a deer ate two of the plants down to stubs. I bagged the whole experiment in mid July. I am trying a second, fall crop of tomatoes, but in the garden this time, behind the lattice fence that was supposed to keep out the rabbits. It seems to be doing a fine job deterring the deer too.

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We have had good luck with zucchini this year, at least. I have one plant, count it, one. It currently is taking over the garden. We have had several huge zucchini that escaped our notice under the insanely huge leaves. One weighed three pounds and the other was over four. There really was nothing to do with those but shred them, since they were so big. They found their way into zucchini tots, lemon zucchini muffins and the freezer. We have had a lot of smaller zucchini too, using those on pizza, and in zucchini chips and zucchini planks.

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Calvin’s first week of school is just about over. I think it calls for a celebration, which in our house usually means something special from the kitchen. I wonder if he’d go for zucchini cake? Probably not. Guess it’s time to break out the chocolate.