Almond Joy: Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

Summer 2012:  Day 7.  Coming from a girl who usually has summer booked from the day after school lets out until the last possible moment before cracking down on summer reading the week before classes start, the word “downtime” is hardly in my vocabulary.  Before getting in the loop with jobs and the whole summer brouhaha, I have a couple weeks to veg and relax at home.  I’m not going to lie, leisurely waking up this week with the biggest thing on my to-do list being “go to yoga” is a little weird.  My dad has informed me that I have a year’s worth of chores to catch up on, so I have consequently taken various trips to the bike store, finally applied for a VIC Savings Card at Harris Teeter, and shoveled dog poop out of our backyard in the scalding Carolina heat.

Honey Graham Cracker Crust

Tis the Season for Buy One Get One Berries.

I occasionally have text message reminders from my brother demanding that I “make him a dessert” since he is slaving away at school while I nap by the lake or listen to live music in town with high school friends.  Without lots of plans and much to my mother’s delight, I have found myself cleaning my room and even unloading the dishwasher without being asked to escape the 90% humidity outside.  As I put away a third coffee-stained mug, I wonder what the world must be coming to and when almost-summer May will turn into real-Summer June full of sunscreen, popsicles, and sweaty neighborhood lemonade stands.

Crust and Cream

In the Springform Pan

This week I have made up for a semester’s worth of lost sleep and enjoyed my parents’ home cooked meals while transforming visions of premade dining hall casseroles into figures of my imagination.  I have gotten lost while running the local cross-country course, and my first sunburn has turned to tan.  Having some time off from the ‘real world’ of papers and problem sets (just kidding—like I did a problem set as an International Studies major…) has also given me time to drool over my mom’s collection of cooking magazines and bookmark a handful of recipes to test out this summer.  One of the first images to grab my attention was this Strawberry Almond Cream Tart.  The glazed red of the strawberries in the magazine photograph made the dessert look more like a piece of art than tart, and my stomach instinctively began to rumble.  Here goes:

Tart-y Party

A little messy, but tasty nonetheless.

Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart

Source: The Best of Cooking Light 5

Yield: 10 servings (serving size: 1 piece).

 Ingredients: Crust: 36 honey graham crackers (about 9 sheets), 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, melted, 4 tsp water, cooking spray; Filling: 2/3 cup light cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract, ¼ tsp almond extract; Topping: 6 cups small fresh strawberries, divided, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350º
  2. To prepare crust, place crackers in a food processor, process until crumbly.  Add 2 tablespoons sugar, butter, and water, pulse until moist.  Place the mixture in a 12 x 8-inch rectangular pan coated with cooking spray, pressing into bottom and up sides of pan to ¾ inch.  Bake at 350º for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  3. To prepare filling, combine cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, and extracts in a medium bowl, stir until smooth.  Spread filling mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust.
  4. To prepare topping, place 2 cups strawberries in food processor, and process until pureed.  Combine strawberry puree, 2/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; cook 1 minute.  Remove glaze from heat; cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  5. Combine 4 cups strawberries and juice; toss to coat. Arrange berries, bottoms up, in 5 straight lines over filling. Spoon half of glaze evenly over berries (reserve remaining glaze for another use). Arrange nuts around edge. Cover and chill for three hours.

Serves ten.

Notes:

•You can use a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan, a 9-inch springform pan, or a 10-inch pie plate.

•The crust and filling can be made ahead. Cover and store separately in the refrigerator. Serve extra glaze on ice cream or pound cake.

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 289 (28% from fat); Fat: 8.9g; Protein: 4.5g, Carb: 48.7g; Chol: 15mg; Iron: 1.3mg; Sodium: 242mg; Calc: 59mg.

His go-to dessert face.

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Ringing in the Summer: Peach Blueberry Pie

Peach Blueberry Pie

So one year of college down.  Highlights include: driving various Subarus, surviving the (mild) Vermont winter, writing 26 papers (but who’s counting…), learning how to properly cut an avocado, getting poison ivy, and explaining the pronunciation of my name on nearly a daily basis.  My friend taught me how to say ‘toothbrush’ in Dutch (“tandenborstel”), I overcame mono, and finally found the gym the week before Thanksgiving break.  I mistook Grape Nuts for granola, fell off my awkwardly tall bed, and realized my roommate was on the cross-country ski team instead of the downhill ski team after about a month and a half of living with her.  I spread the magic of North Carolinian Cheerwine to a select group of lucky people on my hall, grabbed a great piece of butt of the lead singer from Guster as he crowd surfed, and realized I never want to take Mandarin.

Berry berry berry berry rockin’ everywhere.

Sugar and Spice.

 All in all, it was a great first year.  Though yesterday when I walked through the back gate with an assortment of backpacks, tote bags, and a handful of accumulated sombreros to the welcoming scent of dog poop and my dad’s basil plants, I was glad to be home.  I enjoyed my first hours at home sleeping and in silence; exam week gifted me with a combo cough and cold that robbed me of my voice.   But no worries; my parents and brothers had lots of talking-at-me to do, so I could sit, listen, and shake my head no to their queries about any imaginary boyfriend.

An almost perfect landing.

Before adding the top pie crust.

One of my classes this semester was an introduction to creative writing course, and I wrote a quasi-autobiographical “fiction” piece about a southern girl’s disastrous experience baking a peach cobbler. Ever since, I’ve been craving some sort of peachy treat, so I decided to ring in the summer with a Peach-Blueberry Pie.  I loosely based this dish off of Joy the Baker’s recipe, using my go-to crust from Willow Bird Baking.  I tweaked a few things here and there, and this is what I came up with…

Pre-Oven Pie. Dust top with cinnamon and sugar mixture after an egg-wash.

Post-Oven Pie. Let cool for 2-4 hours to allow juices to set.

Peach Blueberry Pie

Source: Adapted from Joy the Baker; crust from Willow Bird Baking

Yield: 1 large pie

Ingredients: Crust: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup cold shortening, 1/2 cup cold butter (chopped), 4-5 tablespoons ice cold water; Filling: about 3 lbs ripe peaches (approx 6 peaches), 1 cup+ blueberries (I used 1 carton), ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash, 2 tablespoons sugar and ½ tsp ground cinnamon for topping before baking.

Directions:

1. Make 2 crusts: Pulse 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt together in a food processor to combine. Add cubes of ¼ cup shortening and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in ½ cup of butter cubed and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add 4 tablespoons water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes (if you’re in a hurry, chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes).  Roll disk of dough out to around ¼ inch thick.

2. To make the filling, wash and slice the peaches.  In a medium bowl, combine peach slices and blueberries.

3. In a different small bowl, whisk together sugar, spices, flour, and cornstarch.

4. Pour the sugar mixture over the fruit, and gently toss together with a wooden spoon.

5. Stir in the lemon juice. Place bowl of fruit in the fridge to rest while you roll the crust out.

6. Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Place a rack in the center of the oven, and place a baking sheet on the lower rack, just below where you’re going to place the pie.  This will catch any pie drippings without making a mess of your oven.

7. Remove one of the pie dough disks from the fridge.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into about a 13-inch round. Gently lift the 13-inch round from the floured surface and center in the 9-inch baking dish.  Place in the fridge while you roll out the top crust.

8. Roll out the top crust just as you did the bottom crust, moving the dough across the floured surface every once in a while, and creating a roughly 13-inch circle.

9. Remove the bottom crust and fruit filling from the fridge.  Gently pour the fruit filling into the pie dish.

10. Carefully remove the top crust from the work surface and drape over the fruit in the pie dish.  With a small knife, trim the crust, leaving about 3/4-inch overhang.  With your fingers press the top and bottom crusts together and fold under.  Use a fork or your fingers to crimp the edges of the dough.  Cut five small slits in the top of the crust so the juices and steam can vent.

11. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

12. Place pie in the oven and bake at 400º F for 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven heat to 375º and bake for 45 to 55 more minutes.  Remove from the oven when crust is browned and golden, and the juices are bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 hours before serving.  Place covered in the fridge to store.  Pie lasts up to 3 or 4 days.

Lasts for up to 3-4 days. Though in my family, it’ll go in 3 hours tops.

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Spring Break Pound Cake

Blueberry Pound Cake with a Dash of Vanilla

People power past in suits and shiny shoes carrying black briefcases while talking to what seems like the air, but is actually the small blinking blue chip attached to their ear.  Others saunter by in groups; men sport printed button-downs, women have large sunglasses on the top of their head, and kids don their new “Hawaii Girl” t-shirts on top of their red-tinted and over-exposed sun kissed skin.  The beeping of the small white cart carrying elderly people semi-successfully pushes families out of the way, while that occasional person opts to sit face forward in the comfortable chair and gets a massage at the Asian Spa randomly located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Terminal B.

Before and After

The high school girl sitting next to me at the gate has recounted the events of her recent trip to Africa on the phone…twice (once to her mother, and once to her father).  I could now tell you about her adventures riding an ostrich, teaching English at an orphanage, or even about her abhorrent Bandaid tan on her right index finger–but I won’t bore you with the details.

Topped off with a lemon glaze

Another woman passes me, and there is no doubt that this chick is from Vermont.  Amidst the power-walking businessmen, she strides more slowly through the terminal.  Two long French braids start at the top of her head and fall almost all the way down to her stomach.  Her tie-dye shirt, gypsy pants, and woven purse draped across her shoulder all add to her hippie ambiance.  Not to be stereotypical or anything, but she’s probably a maple syrup snob, gets great deals on Cabot cheese, and lives within biking distance of the Ben & Jerry’s Factory.

The First Piece (going to the Birthday Boy!)

When I finally board the plane, I am greeted by a scent that reminds me of poor-quality grits, a retirement home, and burnt coffee.  At least it’s only an hour-long flight…On this plane ride down to North Carolina, my seemingly organized college freshman self crafts two organized, colorful, and ambitious Spring Break to-do lists.  One list consists of items like “Spanish reading,” “English revisions,” and “Review for Political Science Midterm,” while the other list includes tasks like, “Get Pedicure,” “Play Soccer,” and “Work Ahead on Tan.”

Pound Cake Gone Birthday Cake

With the true intention of checking off boxes on both of these lists that I made last week, unfortunately some of my Spring Break goals were mutually exclusive.  Sometimes schoolwork was sacrificed for sleeping, eating, and obsessively checking my March Madness bracket status.

Feliz Cumpleaños Time

Despite my lack of productive academic work over break, I have no regrets.  If I hadn’t left some (read: lots of) work to do, what else would I have done all day while traversing various airports on my way back to Midd?  Don’t worry, I continued to procrastinate with my hobby of people-watching.  After I took my seat on the plane from Philadelphia to Burlington on the way back to school, I began to fine-tune this people-watching skill.  The students returning from break all failed to blend in.  The consistent backpack on the back and text in hand bookmarked with a pen revealed a universal neglect of reading over the spring term recess.  And if you hadn’t guessed already, here I am on the final day of Spring Break with newly painted orange toenails, a little bit more color in my cheeks, and about eight books stacked in front of me waiting to be opened.  I fit right in.

Yes, I got this piece of cake to stand up straight.

I may not have gotten ahead in my classes for the coming week over Spring Break, but I did manage to bake a delectable blueberry pound cake in honor of my grandfather’s 84th birthday yesterday.  So here’s to putting down the books, grabbing some berries, and the beautiful Carolina spring weather! Enjoy.

Serves as dessert, as well as perfect breakfast.

Blueberry Pound Cake

 Source: Cooking Light

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients: 2 cups granulated sugar, ½ cup light butter, ½ cup (4 oz) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (softened), 3 large eggs, 1 large egg white, 3 cups all-purpose flour (divided), 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 (8 oz) carton lemon low-fat yogurt, 2 tsp vanilla extract, cooking spray, ½ cup powdered sugar, 4 tsp lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.
  5. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and blueberries in a small bowl and toss well.
  6. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in separate bowl.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  8. Fold in blueberry mixture and vanilla.
  9. Pour cake batter into a 10-inch tube pan coated with cooking spray.
  10.  Bake at 350º for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  11.  Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan.
  12. Lightly spoon powdered sugar into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.
  13. Combine with lemon juice in a bowl; drizzle over warm cake. Cut with a serrated knife.

Notes: Tossing the blueberries with flour helps to suspend them in the cake.

Nutritional Information: 287 calories (19% from fat); 6.2g fat; 5.7g protein; 53.9g carb; 1.5g fiber; 57mg chol; 227mg sodium

Nothing to do with the pound cake, but happy-dog Wonka licking the marinade off of the platter of venison burgers.

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Buttermilk Biscuits and (Almost) Burning the House Down

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Biscuits

Confession time: I almost burned the house down on Christmas Day. I was nearly responsible for the party foul of the decade.  Never-ending clouds of smoke coupled with the incessant and obnoxiously loud beeping of the smoke detector suggested that my biscuits had burst into little nuggets of flame.  Thankfully, the cause of the smoke was (only) a boiling vat of grease at the bottom of the oven.  (Note to self: don’t grease a pan without lips on the edges…)  Given a few more minutes to sizzle, the vat of oil probably would have transformed into an orange and red flaming ball of fury igniting the oven and kitchen and would have definitely ruined the Weir Christmas cheer.

Pre-oven...Pre-smoke...

I’ll admit, the Baking Gods might have had it coming for me.  I had been confidently talking up my batch of southern, homemade buttermilk biscuits for Christmas dinner to celebrate being back in the South.  My brothers begged me to craft a seasonal pie or whip up another fruit galette, but I insisted on making regular old homemade biscuits.  I hadn’t had a real southern biscuit since my pilgrimage (is using this word here sacrilegious…?) to Bojangles over Thanksgiving break.  My brothers failed to successfully veil their disappointment about my choice to bake regular biscuits. To be fair and to support my side of the case, the closest biscuit joint to them is less than 10 minutes away, while I currently reside in rural Vermont, located 864.36 miles from my southern abode. So biscuits it was.

Post-oven...Post-smoke...

So back to the chaos…When I opened the oven in attempt to salvage my biscuits, I was attacked by a furious cloud of smoke that ferociously tumbled out and swirled around the kitchen. (I’m hardly exaggerating).  It slightly resembled the evil Smoke Monster in LOST (yes, I still mourn the ending of this incredible TV show).  I sacrificed my eye vision to check on the biscuits, half of which happened to be perfectly done.  I snatched them out of the oven, quickly turned it off, and immediately began batting the smoke away from the oven.

By the time we had waved the smoke out of the kitchen and out both the front and back doors, I had unfortunately already been named and ridiculed as the embarrassment of the night throughout the house.  At Christmas dinner my brother made comments such as, “my biscuit tastes a bit smokey—does yours?” and, “isn’t she a baker?” when it was clearly too early to make jokes about my basic biscuit blunder.  But it happens, right? Thankfully, the house (and biscuits) were okay.

Besides fearing that I would ruin Christmas, our holiday dinner was a typical Weir Family event.  My grandmother prepared her famous raspberry vacherin dessert, my mom glared at my brothers when they were on the brink of making inappropriate comments, my dad helped himself to another Christmas beer, my dog took turns lounging on all of our different feet under the dinner table, and I tried to retain giggles and maintain a frustrated facade at my brothers while they made jokes about my baking skills.

By the time we could hear utensils scratching against plates, stomachs were full, and glasses were empty.  And even though my brothers were originally hesitant about the regular ‘ole biscuits, they did happily guzzle them down alongside their venison roast.  Here’s the recipe, and to avoid burning your house down, here’s a helpful hint: don’t grease your pan; the butter in the biscuits will stop them from sticking. Happy baking!

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Biscuits

Source: Foster’s Market Cookbook

Yield: 1 dozen 2 ½ -inch biscuits

Ingredients: 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, ½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter (cut into ¼-inch cubes), 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cup buttermilk, Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 2 tbsp milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  2. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Add the butter and cut it into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Or pulse 10 to 12 times in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade). Transfer the mixture to a large bowl to continue making the dough.) The dough can be made up to 1 week in advance to this point and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  5. Add 1 ¼ cups of the buttermilk and mix lightly just until the dough begins to stick together; don not over mix.  Add up to 4 tablespoons more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is dry.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press together lightly just until the dough forms a ball; do not overwork the dough.
  7. Roll or pat out to ¾ inch thickness.  Cut with a 2 ½ inch biscuit or cookie cutter, dipping the cutter into flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  8. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet and brush the tops with egg wash (egg wash is optional).
  9. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
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Frosting the Snowman: Festive and Tasty Oreo Truffle Treats

Oreo Truffle Snowmen

A spoon rests under my pillow, and my pajamas are on inside out.  My fingers and toes are crossed, and I nervously bite my lip with anticipation as I step on my tiptoes to carefully pull apart two blinds to peek through the window above my bed.  The corners of my lips curl up into a grin upon seeing a thin white blanket of snow covering our backyard. My third-grade self scurries off of the bed and dashes with newfound energy to wake up her brothers on this not-so-typical Tuesday morning.  My mother, who clearly wishes that we were all still asleep (evidenced by her squinty eyes, matching pajama gear, and lack of coffee) reaches the top of the stairs and fails to quell our immeasurable energy and excitement.

Can you spot the Crazy Grandma Snowman?

“School’s out—go back to bed” she whispers (in her mind, she is pleading).

“SCHOOL’S OUT! SNOW DAY!” we repeat but at a much louder voice level.  We scream and giggle as we sprint and slip around the (thankfully carpeted) upstairs with a lone mitten, a long lost hat, a pair of mismatching wool socks, and whatever other winter gear is within an arm’s reach in our messy closets.

The Process

Even though there is hardly an inch of snow, all the school systems in the county are closed due to inclement weather.  (The only reason I knew the word “inclement” as a child was because I would hope and pray to the weather gods that it would be “inclement” on Spelling Test Fridays).

Threat #1

Threat #2

By the time I am bundled up in enough layers to make me sweat and my brothers have put on a couple pairs of socks under their hand-me-down camouflage snow boots, dozens of other kids have already beaten us to the prime destination sledding hill in our neighborhood.  Despite the presence of mud and brown grass protruding from the over-sledded on snow, we still manage to amuse ourselves for hours sliding and sometimes just skipping down the hill, making snowmen and snow angels, and just not being in school.

Threat #3. (Sorry I had to. The fox hanging on our wall was just too much...)

Articles of wet clothing and sometimes even a few sledding collisions are the first symptoms of Snow Day Misery.  To avoid a worsening case of the cold-onset misery, I dash to a friend’s house where we throw our dripping and sopping clothes in the dryer.  We fill our mugs with dozens of mini marshmallows and sip our hot cocoa while seated at the counter in eager anticipation of her mom’s famous chicken noodle soup. By the time we have downed our hot cocoa, slurped up our succulent soup, and regained feeling in the tips of our toes, the timer on the dryer dings.  We throw on our warm pants and hats and run outside with renewed energy in a race against the inevitable sunset.

One of my favorites.

There’s nothing more magical than a snow day in Davidson.  Businesses shut down, cars remain parked in garages, aspiring photographers snap photos, to-do lists are postponed, and families curl up by fires with the onset of a few flurries. Some northerners say that we don’t “understand snow” in the South, but I personally believe that they simply fail to see the magic of southern snow.

Typical brother.

This past Halloween, I woke up a bit chilly in my dorm, so I rolled out of bed to shut the window.  The view from our window was different that day—the lawn outside was a pure white without any trace of footprints. An inkling of the excitement that I experienced in my elementary school days (okay, I’ll admit it, and even during senior year of high school) returned to me, and my eyes went from barely open to almost popping out of their sockets.  Starting school in Vermont has brought many changes, one of which is obviously weather related.  Going from snow on Halloween and hair freezing weather during exams in December to 68ºF and sunny on the day after Christmas back home makes Davidson seem like the tropics.  I’m actually, kind of, sort of, maybe, potentially excited to return to the Vermont cold in a couple of weeks.  To be honest, the weather will probably serve as my excuse to keep our paper snowflakes and Christmas lights decorations up until it’s warm (…May?).

Crazy Grandma, Gangstah, and Happy Go Lucky Snowmen

In the spirit of cold weather and the holidays, I was inspired to try a friend’s recipe for Oreo Truffle Snowmen.  They’re fun and simple and allow lots of room for creativity in decorations.  Even though I could deliver my little snowmen to friends while wearing shorts and a T-shirt, these yummy treats still got us in the mood for the holiday season and were exquisitely delicious.  And when I say delicious, I mean that these pups are divine.  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays from G.R.I.T.S!

 Oreo Truffle Snowmen

 Source: Willow Bird Baking (adapted by G.R.I.T.S Gone Green)

Yield: About 15-17 Snowmen

Oreo Truffle Ingredients: 2 packages Golden Oreo cookies (divided; use cookie including the cream center), 2 8-ounce package cream cheese (softened), white candy coating or candy melts

Decorations: multicolored or chocolate sprinkles, candy-coated chocolate kiss sprinkles, strawberry fruit roll ups (or fruit by the foot), chocolate (for melting)

Directions:

1. Finely crush all but 14 cookies in a food processor or place them in a Ziploc bag and crush into a fine consistency. Note: As for the extra 14 cookies, just eat them. Or, if you have extra dipping chocolate, make some chocolate covered Oreos.

2. Stir in softened cream cheese. Use the back of a large spoon to help mash the two together.

3. Roll the mixture into 2″ balls (for the bodies) and 1″ balls (for the heads) and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Make sure you have enough heads for your bodies!

5. It helps to put the uncoated balls in the freezer for a few minutes to keep the mixture from starting to fall apart when you drop into the melted chocolate. Note: I refrigerate mine for an hour or two in lieu of the freezer. I’ve heard folks say that if they get too cold, they can crack.

6. Melt candy coating as directed on package and then dip balls one at a time into candy coating. Let excess coating drain off onto wax paper covered cookie sheet to dry. Note: Dipping is often the most difficult part. Find what works for you. Let your kitchen be your playground. Look through your utensils for useful tools, and be creative. I used a grill fork to hold my “bodies” while spooning coating over them, and then redipped the bottoms separately. For the heads, I usually skewered them with a toothpick, dipped them, and then wriggled them off onto the wax paper after draining excess coating.

7. As soon as each body and head is dry (which usually only takes a couple of minutes) transfer it to the refrigerator immediately to prevent cracking/oozing. If it does crack, blot with a paper towel, redip, dry, and then refrigerate.

To decorate:

1. Take a head and body out of the fridge, and “glue” them together using melted candy coating (I used a sharp paring knife here to whittle away some of the excess coating around the bottom of the heads).

2. Use melted coating to “glue” on chocolate sprinkles for eyes, mouth, and buttons if desired. “Glue” on an orange candy-coated chocolate sprinkle (or a regular orange sprinkle) for a carrot nose.

3. Cut a strip of strawberry fruit roll up, and snip “fringe” into each end. Wrap around snowman’s neck and “glue” together with melted candy coating.

4. Melt chocolate and pipe out tree branch arms. Using a bamboo skewer or a toothpick, carve out a hole in each side of the snowman. Gently slide a “branch” into each hole to serve as arms.

4. Refrigerate snowmen in an airtight container.

5. Immediately before serving, you can create a snowy scene with coconut and/or glistening sugar sprinkles. Optional but pretty!

Happy Holidays from G.R.I.T.S. and the fam. May all your Snowmen be frosted.

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Peanut Butter Cookies: The Final(s) Story

Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies

Noses are nestled in textbooks, and faces remain hidden behind computer screens.  Eyes grow weary from drastically skimming hundreds of pages of put-off reading that have accumulated over the past 12 weeks.  Long time inhabitants residing in Davis Family Library have forgotten the frigid temperatures of rural Vermont and wear short sleeve shirts with their jeans and Bean Boots. Besides the softest sound of music protruding from a neighbor’s headphones in a nearby carrel, the soundtrack of the library merely consists of the squeaking of mechanical pencils frantically rewriting September’s lecture notes.

As the temperature decreases, laziness seems to increase.  Some students retrieve their long-lost sweatpants from the depths of their drawers while others find themselves wearing the same navy blue Middlebury sweatshirt for time increments of up and over 24 hours.  Some resort to writing in cursive to minimize time taken lifting their pencil after each and every letter.  Creative and somewhat desperate fundraising groups realize they can sell Ramen Noodles and Butterfingers and even offer massage services on the first floor of the library to temporarily relieve students of their tensions and to earn some extra dough.

Does a watched cookie never bake...?

Competition for carrels soars to a new level.  The overly-hopeful walk of freshmen through the stacks searching for a lone carrel without a notebook, jacket, or half-eaten Luna Bar becomes pointless considering the ambitious arrive as early as 10 AM to secure a carrel for the day week.  If you manage to find a carrel: muchos kudos to you, and hold onto it–that study space is golden.

To delay writing that twelve-pager for an International Studies class or to put off memorization of an oral presentation for an acting class, some students fall into the fatal time vortexes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.   They toggle from watching “Scarlett Takes a Tumble” for the umpteenth time to posting things such as “Occupy Davis Library: 1% of the semester controls 99% of the stress.”  (Oh, so clever).

Brother's approval is always nice. I forgot to save cookies for the other brother...

Exam week is unique in that it is the only week of the semester when it is socially acceptable (and in some cases even expected) to be a clinical psychopath.  I even pulled out my pink glasses from the back of my over-stuffed desk drawer and wore them for about an hour.  Given, this time brings moments of near defeat, like when you realize you have 101 political terms to memorize and only 100 note cards, or when that one professor schedules an exam for Saturday night from 7-10 PM when you had temporarily penciled in decorating Christmas cookies and singing Rudolph with your younger siblings at home.  But then again, there are also a handful of perks to this week of craziness.  There is (or at least there was…) a plate of fudge sitting outside the President’s office on the fourth floor of Old Chapel.  (Walking up and down four flights of stairs to get the fudge works off two pieces, right?).  A dining hall opens for Midnight Breakfast, which turns into the ultimate destination for communal commiseration.  And if you’re lucky, a group of streakers may temporarily relieve you of your studying as you try to figure out if you are delirious or if there actually is a group of naked Ultimate players sprinting through the library.   And most importantly, the thought of going home serves as excellent motivation to push through and crank out that last paper.

The first thing I did upon arriving in Charlotte after finishing my first semester at Middlebury was take a much-needed trip to Bojangles (obviously).  Nothing tells me I’m home better than a southern Cajun Filet biscuit smothered in honey mustard accompanied by to-die-for seasoned fries.  But, the first thing I made back in my parents’ kitchen was a batch of peanut butter cookies. (Note to self: make the world realize that I do, actually, eat healthy…).  Personally, I’m a peanut butter addict and support anything and everything PB.  So if you also find yourself dipping bananas, bread, chocolate, etc. in peanut butter or are just an enthusiast like myself, give these cookies a whirl.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Our GINORMOUS Christmas tree.

Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies

Source: The Foster’s Market Cookbook

Yield: Makes about 1 ½ dozen 2 ½-3 inch cookies

Ingredients: 8 tbl (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, ½ cup creamy peanut butter, ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar, ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 large egg, ½ tsp pure vanilla extract, 1 ½ cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ¼ tsp salt, ½ cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts (optional), 2 tbl granulated sugar (for sprinkling on top)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  2. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until well combined.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until all ingredients are combined.
  5. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl and stir to mix.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture while beating or stirring until smooth and well blended. Do not over mix.
  7. Scoop the dough with a ¼ cup (2-ounce) ice cream scoop or a heaping tablespoon and drop onto the prepared baking sheets about 3 inches apart.  Press flat with the back of a fork dipped in 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Each cookie should be about ¼ inch to ½ inch thick.
  8. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and the remaining granulated sugar.
  9. Bake 12-15 minutes (or 10-12 minutes for soft, chewy cookies), until golden brown.  Cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheets before removing the cookies to a baking rack to cool completely.

Variations: Add 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped, roasted peanuts to the batter for a chunkier cookie.

Go Peanut Butter.

 PS-My brother suggested I name this post “Finals Can Burn in Hell…Just Like My Cookies” because I may have burnt half of the batch…But you’ll be fine if you watch your cookies!

11+ Feet of Fury. Welcome to the Weirs'.

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Sugar and (Pumpkin) Spice (Cake), and Everything Nice

Pumpkin Spice Cake

This morning I woke up completely disoriented. The mattress underneath me was plusher than usual, and I could hear the faint sound of a TV coming from somewhere outside of the room.  Suddenly the mattress was familiarly comfortable, and I recognized the irregular thumping of a dog tail against my wooden bed frame. For the first time in three months, I was waking up in my own bed—and, hell, it felt good. Instead of stumbling out of bed and scrambling to find a cute (but mostly warm) outfit while anxiously reviewing Spanish vocabulary and the consequences of globalization in my mind, I could actually roll over and relax.  I could look outside my window and see the red wheelbarrow perched against the tree and crunchy brown leaves resting on the green grass (my brothers have clearly been neglecting their raking chores…).  The only thing that wooed me out of bed was the sweet aroma of sweet potatoes and pumpkin drifting from the kitchen.

Mixing the batter. Literally takes 5 minutes.

It’s good to be home. It’s also impossible to believe that I’m finally here. The epic travel saga began this past Tuesday on the bus to Burlington International Airport…

We were all smiles.  Classes had finally ended, cheeks were the slightest bit rosy from the cold, and suitcases were zipped and loaded into the back of the van.  Some people buckled, and others just piled in.  People checked to make sure they had their boarding passes and texted their roommates to make sure they had shut the windows and closed the shades.  The light at the end of the tunnel was in sight.  After waving goodbye to our beautiful stone buildings, passing the various restaurants I keep vowing to venture to and try out, and precariously navigating the traffic circle, we were out of Middlebury and headed home.

Post-oven cake. Let it cool before icing.

The trouble all started with a chorus of simultaneous cell-phone rings.  We each answered the phone to hear an automated message notify us that our first flight had been delayed due to air traffic.  Our faces drooped, and we exhaled sighs in unison.  A delay on our first flight would later translate to missing our connection to Charlotte, an unexpected group sleepover in the Philadelphia airport hotel, and a 4:30 AM wakeup call to fight for seats on flights that would take off before the sun would rise. To make a long story short, we made it home in about 17 hours, which is the rough equivalent of the time it takes to drive from Vermont to North Carolina.  We looked weary, red-eyed, and sleep-deprived–but we were home.

Dare to experiment with other types of icing.

It’s the little things that remind me that I’m home.  It’s walking to the outside freezer to retrieve some biscuits and finding them wedged in between the ice-cream sandwiches and a deer head.  It’s the fact that my fifteen-year-old brother is asleep until noon and then spends the remainder of the day staring aimlessly into the depths of the fridge…shirtless.  Home is my mom multitasking—making lists while talking on the phone while sipping her “half-caf, skim milk, two pumps chocolate, no whip mocha” while power walking out the door to pilates.  I smile hearing my dad talk about adding a camouflage headliner in his 1990 black Cherokee Jeep to the pre-existing ensemble of camo seat and steering wheel covers, and I still wrinkle my nose a little upon sliding into the Volkswagen Bug that still slightly smells of the pig that used to ride in the front seat with the farmer who used to own the car.

Some things never change, yet some things do.  There’s a fresh dent in TeamWeir (the family minivan), Bradford no longer has braces, and Alexander has finally eclipsed my height.  And although the height of my bed hasn’t changed, it seems a whole lot lower considering the awkwardly tall height of the bed in my dorm room.  (It’s always fun to watch everyone catapult themselves onto our beds—they’re too tall to casually sit or even slide up onto, yet too low to necessitate ladders).  My room is cleaner and barer, and my parents have started talking about redoing the kitchen.  Alexander is taking algebra (bless his heart), and Bradford’s sarcasm has skyrocketed to new levels of sophistication and sass.

It's rich, so small pieces are a must.

I’ve decided Thanksgiving break is a tease.  It’s a brief glimpse of what the utopian Christmas break will look like.  Though over Thanksgiving, you are expected to relax, reconnect with family, take on thousands of calories, see friends, stock up on vitamins and other necessities, get healthy, do homework, mentally prepare for exams, AND catch up on sleep (funny joke) in a time span of approximately four days.  I’m 98% sure that’s physically impossible.  As soon as you start getting used to waking up in your own bed, it’s time to pack your bag, get back on the road, and hit the books that stayed zipped in your backpack the whole break.  Though I can’t really complain–I’ll be home in less than three weeks; I just have a couple of academic hurdles to jump before getting there.

So in the spirit of being time-efficient and productive, here’s a simple and quick recipe that will impress your friends and family, do more than satisfy your taste buds, and put you in the holiday mood:

The final product.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

Ingredients: 1 box of Spice Cake (yes I told you it was quick and easy), 3 eggs, 1 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup water, 1 13 oz. can of Libby’s Pumpkin, 1 container of cream cheese icing, ¾ cup of chocolate chips (optional: I prefer it without the chocolate)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
  2. Spray 9×13 inch pan/dish with cooking spray.
  3. Mix eggs, water, vegetable oil, Spice Cake mix, pumpkin, (and maybe chocolate chips) in large mixing bowl until well blended.
  4. Pour into pan, and bake for 32-36 minutes.
  5. After the cake has cooled, spread the cream cheese icing on top.

So here’s to home.  See you in a few weeks.

Some of the fam.

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