Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tricks and Treats

The Setting: Game Day in South Bend. Pumpkin-carving day at the playground. The smell of charcoal in the air; a patchwork of leaves on the ground.

The Soundtrack: The Notre Dame -v- Navy game on TV.

Steaming up the (once again, microwave) Oven: (what will be) Homemade Butterfingers. Yes, you read that right.

The Scenario: Fresh from Oia's first pumpkin carving, we skip the stadium and prepare some tricks and treats for tomorrow's Halloween festivities.

Here's a crazy trick for you:

Combine equal parts (by weight) melted candy corn (yes, candy corn) and creamy peanut butter, let harden in a parchment-paper-lined pan, cut into pieces, and coat with melted milk chocolate. Voila, homemade butterfingers.

Yes, it is crazy, yes, it works, and no, I am not the genius who came up with it.

For me, part of the joy of recreating childhood treats is finding a way to make them all-natural and completely from scratch.

I try to avoid artificial colors and flavors (and candy in general most of the time), but when I saw this evil recipe on Pinterest (my devilish new addiction, I had no choice.

One minute I’m pondering the possibilities of keeping my daughter’s future Halloweens artificial-ingredient free without depriving her of the joys of trick-or-treating, and the next minute I’m running to the store to stock up on neon-colored candies.

I don’t know who came up with this originally—I tried to find out, scouring the Internet (well, a brief but well-intending scour) to give proper credit. I found references dating back as far as 2005 to a post on some Taste of Home forum (, I believe), but I could not find the post itself.

The source of the current viral click-a-thon seems to be So, Plain Chicken, I blame you.

I blame you for your easy-to-follow instructions, your enticing photo, and your prolific Pinterest presence.

These slightly-softer-and-chewier-than-the-real-thing betterfingers are way too tasty to take to the Halloween party for which I was making them—not that I do not wish to share…it’s just that I fear there will be none left by party time tomorrow.

I plan instead to take meringue ghosts, a simple treat that has served me well in the past.

We’ll see how it goes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Write Time

The Setting: Fighting for space at a table too small for its contents in an apartment with the same condition; gazing through sheer curtains at changing leaves, powder-blue skies, and a beautiful Midwestern day.

The Soundtrack: Oia's gentle snoring.

Steaming up the (microwave) oven: Oatmeal.

The Scenario: Taking time to write.

Relishing the nuances of raising a newborn hasn't left me with an abundance of time for cooking or writing or, really, anything that is best accomplished sans baby.

I did, however, just complete the entire series of The Hills in seven days, so you know, there's that.

Excessive use of Netflix streaming aside, I try to be as productive as possible.

Our new place has its perks, like a great community, convenient location, and super-low price-tag.

One thing it does not have is a dishwasher...that is, however, unless you count me and my increasingly chapped hands (the sausage-fingers may have deflated post-pregnancy, but the soap-and-hot-water-induced wedding-band rash returns the rings to the sidelines most days).

We have a small drying rack and limited counter space, so dishes are often done in batches.

Despite my efforts to limit dish-usage and stay on top of the cleaning, the dirty dishes and water glasses pile up faster than mini-skirts on a dressing room floor in the junior's section.

My dish-washing is perpetual.

Thankfully, we do have a washer and dryer in the apartment...which is good, because somehow we manage to generate enough dirty laundry for at least one load a day, generally more.

Question our carbon footprint if you must.

I squeeze in a toning class and yoga once a week, but with a baby who likes to eat as often as she is cute, most of my time is spent remote-control in hand, with my Brest Friend strapped on and my booty glued to the loveseat...which is likely why my maternity jeans are starting to fit again.

Or it could be the recipes I've been testing/inhaling when I've found the time to bake. Pecan Pie Squares, Chocolate Ganache Tart, or Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Filling, anyone?

Now, I think, might be time for broccoli.

Note: I am obsessed with dulce de leche, like for the filling of the vanilla bean cupcakes pictured in this post. I try to always have some in the fridge. It takes a while to make, especially from scratch (as in the recipe here However, you can save a little time if you simply cook down a can or two of sweetened condensed milk. Do not simmer it in the can, which can be very dangerous. Instead, empty two cans into a medium-sized saucepan, bring to a simmer, turn the heat to med-low, and cook two hours or till slightly reduced and deepened to a nice, deep-golden color. You'll want to stir occasionally and adjust the  heat as necessary to prevent the bottom from scorching. Once it's done, you don't have to add a thing, but I like to add a splash of pure vanilla extract and a sprinkle of sea salt. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and eat with ice-cream, cake, apples, bananas, or straight out of the container. I even mix it into oatmeal!