Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Easter is always a busy time of year, so it was nice to get a chance to celebrate this year.  I got home from Easter Vigil on Saturday night around 10:30pm and Anson and I decided to color some eggs.

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I had forgotten how much fun this is—and how loooooong you have to hold an egg with the wire thingy to dye it half one color and half another!  We kept busy while we were dying eggs by trying to solve a cryptic crossword.  I think we got about 3 clues solved before we finished dying eggs Smile

 

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I had decided that I was going to try to make a lamb dish this year—a tradition in our family. My mom normally makes a full leg of lamb, but since there’s only 2 of us (truthfully, 1 of us—no way Anson is eating an untested recipe), I wanted to do something on a much smaller scale.  I found a recipe for a healthy lamb stew, but it takes about 14 hours to cook. So, at about 1 in the morning, I started putting it together.

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After chopping all the ingredients, it was basically “just add water and press start.” That’s my kind of cooking!  I was in bed before 2—phew!

On Easter morning, I got up early to get to church to play bells (woohoo!) and then made my way home for a long Easter nap.  When I got up, I tried some of my traditional Easter lamb stew—and stopped about 2 bites in.  It wasn’t lethal, but it sure wasn’t good. It tasted like meat and veggies in water. If I try it again, I’ll definitely need to add salt, pepper, and garlic.  So, we had Chinese food for dinner.  Yum!  Just like Christmas Smile

We hope you all had a wonderful Easter with family and friends!

Every year, making Thanksgiving dinner gets easier.  It took several years for us to get things right.  The first year, we didn’t defrost the turkey (oops!).  In the following years we made a few minor mistakes, like accidentally cooking the turkey upside down (still yummy!).  Around year 5, we were pretty comfortable with the routine and were actually able to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour—and that’s when things started to get a bit crazy.

For a few years, we deep fried a turkey.  And one year, we did the 11 hours of prep and 17 hours of cooking that go with making a turducken from scratch.  But this year, we didn’t do anything crazy.  We had a small group coming and decided to keep the menu pretty basic.  Well, if you can call cooking a 19 lb turkey for 8 people “basic.”

For the past couple of years I have always made a hearty vegetarian soup for, well, the vegetarians.  We didn’t have any vegetarians this year, but I had a spicy peanut pumpkin soup recipe picked out and I ran with it. It was not meant to be.

I got almost all the way through the recipe.  I was at the point where you put the soup into a blender (a few cups at a time) to give the soup that nice, smooth consistency.  In years past I have had the lid fly off the blender, so I was prepared.  I secured the lid and used a potholder while holding it down.  It worked for the first 2 batches of the soup.  On the last batch…well…I guess, technically, it worked.  The lid did not fly off the blender. My hand did not get burned.  But in that fateful moment, just seconds after turning the blender on, there was a loud grinding sound.  The blender started shaking.  I quickly pressed the stop button and began to assess the situation.  My hand was still placed oDSCN1924n top of the lid. Nothing had gone flying out, the soup was still in the blender. Hmmm. I lifted my hand and that’s when I saw it.  It was tragic.  In an awkward moment of anti-soup rebellion, the blender had eaten itself.  The middle part of the lid had been swallowed by the blender and destroyed, along with the soup.  Why did you do this to yourself, blender??? How could you leave me?! 

Was my soup really that terrible?  Did nobody eat my soup because it was that bad? Or was it because you died making it?  I may never know… 

This year on Thanksgiving, I was grateful that my cooking only killed my blender.

So far this weekend, I have cleaned out the shelves of pots/pans and tupperware.  I’ve also done some work on the pantry.  I discovered that I have TWO juicers—I didn’t even know I had one!  I have been drinking green smoothies in the morning, but I thought this might be a nice change. Plus, it’s another way to get my veggies (something I’m terrible at). 

This morning, I tried 3 organic apples, 3 carrots and a cup of spinach.  Here was the result:

Juicing Experiment

 

Mmmm…healthy!  Anybody have any good recipes to share? 🙂

This year we ended up with a pretty big group at the house for Thanksgiving.  All told, I think we had around 12 people.  So, naturally I baked a 23 lb turkey for dinner 🙂

I have to say that this year’s turkey was particularly good.  I’m beginning to think that the bigger the turkey is, the better it is going to taste.  I’m sure we eat enough turkey at our house to thoroughly test out this theory over the next year.

This year I baked 2 apple pies and chocolate cake pops for dessert. I think I am going to have to accept that we don’t all eat like college students any more.  We didn’t even finish the pies!  Ah well—Thanksgiving leftovers are awesome!

We kept many of our Thanksgiving traditions alive, including making Chris carve the turkey. He did an excellent job, as always. And there’s only a 33% chance that he’s the one who dented the tin to leak turkey grease all over the counter. That percentage gets better every year. Go Chris!

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We got to spend time catching up with our friends, old and new 🙂

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Irfaan brought over a new game to share with us.  It’s called “Betrayal at House on the Hill.”  It was a pretty awesome game (and he let us keep it because he’s super awesome)!

Basically, everybody explores the haunted house until “the bad thing” happens.  One person betrays the rest of the group and they battle against each other until the end.  The game has a huge number of scenarios that can play out, so it’s fun to play multiple times.

Here are a couple shots of the board as we first started exploring the haunted house.

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Then Fiona betrayed us!  You can tell, since she has the “Traitor Tome.” 🙂

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Just a couple pics of Michael and Irfaan enjoying the game.  Go good guys!

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And Chris helped Fiona as she attacked us all. Go traitors! 😛

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We also played Stomple and Martian Flux (and 2 more games of Betrayal at House on the Hill with Irfaan at the end of the night).

We had such a great time celebrating with friends and can’t wait to do it again next year.

Thanks everyone for making our Thanksgiving a happy one!

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I am not a good cook. I’ve known this for quite some time.  It became pretty evident a few weeks after we got married.  I had asked Anson’s mom for the recipe of one of his favorite dishes–chicken and sausage over potatoes.  I followed the directions.  We sat down at the table. We ate dinner. All was right with the world—or so I thought.  A few weeks later, I decided to make it again.  I figured it would be a great surprise for Anson.  So, once again I followed the directions.  We sat down at the dinner table.  This time Anson looked down at his plate….up at me…down at his plate…up at me…sighed…and said (if I remember correctly)  “I’m sorry, I can’t eat this again.  I mean, we’re going to be married forever and we can’t keep eating this.  It’s really bad.”  I could see he was nervous about saying this (he couldn’t really look me in the eye), but I just laughed.  In fact, I was a little flattered he ate it at all the first time since it was so overcooked!  That night I put that recipe aside and assumed that it just wasn’t meant to be.  Maybe his Mom had a secret cooking trick that made it so wonderful (I’m sure she does. She’s a great cook!).

Since then, I have tried learning to cook several times.  And I’ll admit—I have no idea what I’m doing.  I once tried making a soup and the recipe asked me to “brown” the ground meat.  What does “brown” mean?  My mom told me to cook it on the stove top, so I did.  But, I felt like it turned more of a gray-ish color.  Should I stop cooking it? Do I continue until it actually turns brown?  I know the internet is the ultimate tool for these kinds of questions, really I do.  But, most of the time I don’t want to run upstairs to the computer when I’m in the middle of cooking.  Also, how does everyone else know what these things are? Did I miss a children’s story or day of school that explained this?  Could be…

About a month ago I  had decided to put my major cooking mishaps behind me.  I was ready to try again! Not only did I have a bit of free time before school in the fall, I also had a strong desire to conquer my fear of cooking. It’s now weeks later and I’d love to say that I’m getting better, but that would be a lie.  Virtually nothing I have made recently has been turning out very well, which leads me to believe that, in addition to not being able to cook, I might not even be able to learn

It all started with my attempt to make an egg white omelet.  Easy, right?  I put some mushrooms and spinach in a pan, cooked them a bit, then added egg whites and let it cook a while.  I sat down to dinner (I should probably mention that Anson and I almost never eat the same things for dinner.  He was eating a sandwich or something store bought. No worries.).   Anson looked over at my plate and said “Hey, are those eggs? They kind of look like eggs!” I smiled and looked at the plate. My response was “Yeah, except for the black parts.”  I then grabbed some hot sauce from the fridge in an attempt to rescue my dinner. (sidenote: I’m almost certain that the reason I like hot sauce so much is because it covers up the taste of whatever culinary disaster I’m trying to eat. Anson claims I make my food “taste like pain.” At least it doesn’t like ash, right?  I guess I give a whole new meaning to the phrase “Hell’s Kitchen.”)  All in all, it wasn’t too bad. I tried it a couple other nights, but it was never non-black.  Ah well, I eat so much burnt food, I’ve come to like it a little.

A few days later I decided it was time to try to cook a chicken breast in the oven.  I was determined to no longer feel like a fool in the kitchen.  I had managed to find a way to grill it (so long as I don’t look at it to see if it’s done, I don’t over cook it—I just say a little prayer that it cooks all the way through. Since Anson hasn’t dropped dead, I’m assuming God has a soft spot for my cooking-related prayers).  Now it was time to move past the grill and attempt to cook in the oven.  I had a recipe.  I seasoned the meat and cooked it with some vegetables.  The main problem—I couldn’t figure out of it was done.  I thought it looked pink, but I couldn’t be sure. So, I kept putting it back in the oven.  Well, it wasn’t black when I ate it (yay me!) and it looked completely cooked (I think I ended up cooking it for an extra 20 minutes—don’t ask).  All I can say is that something was not right. I got so sick.  So, so sick.  I actually considered becoming a vegetarian. Not because I don’t like eating meat, but out of necessity.  It’s over a week later and I still can’t think about eating chicken without feeling a little queasy.

In my next desperate attempt to cook a nice dinner (and avoid eating meat),  I made a lentil soup.  The directions said to “sort and rinse” the lentils.  Sort them into what?  They all looked the same! I skipped that step.  Despite that, the soup turned out okay (when hot spices were added).  I didn’t get sick, so it was already a greater success than the chicken.  Not sure I’ll attempt it again. Though, it may be one of the few things I can manage to make without disaster. We’ll see…

Honestly, I am in absolute awe of people who know how to cook!  It’s a talent and skill that is beyond my understanding.  I think I have finally decided to hang up my apron and give up my dream of being able to cook dinner.  And I think Anson is okay with this. 

The other night at dinner he looked at me and said “Do you know how I know you love me?”

“How’s that?”

“You don’t make me eat your cooking.” 🙂

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He couldn’t be more right! Love that guy 🙂

Maybe I’ll just focus on my cookies/pastries/pies for a while 🙂

Anson’s 10 year work anniversary is on the 18th, so I wanted to make something special.  He had taken the left-over bell choir cake pops into work and they were a big hit. He mentioned that he would like to have cake pops for his 10 year, but not just any cake pops—gourmet cake pops.  Gourmet?!  It was my fault. He had walked in on me looking at bakerella’s website, which has a ton of awesome cake pop pics on it.  Now I know that I should immediately close all my tabs when Anson walks in the room so he can’t see what I’m up to 🙂

I decided to make <edited for content> cake pops. I found a few pics of them on the internet (but no step-by-step directions).  They looked pretty straight forward and a lot of amateurs seemed to have success with them.  I did not.  Let’s just say that they ended up looking like zombies. Which is not what they were meant to look like. Not even a little bit. So, I’m going to let everyone call them zombies and not ruin it by telling them what they were supposed to be.

So, how do you make cake pops?

Step 1: Make a cake

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Step 2: Destroy the cake and stir in some icing

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Step 3: Shape the cake

Circles are definitely easier to make and cleaner looking. I tried to make squares and they ended up pretty uneven.  I’d probably recommend making circles to anyone out there. Or, getting a mold if you want to do a different shape 🙂

 

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Step 4: Chill in the freezer and then stick the lollipop sticks in

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Step 5: Dip in melted candy

This is where my <edited for content> cake pops started to go down hill. The squares did not want to stay on the sticks, so I had to put them on the styrofoam to dry pretty quickly. I didn’t get a chance to let the excess drip off, so I’m sure people noticed the drips of candy down the sides of the sticks.  I tried to rip some of it off after it dried, but it turned out not to be worth the effort.

 

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Step 6:  Let the candy shell dry.  I was awesome at this. I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty confident I completed this step perfectly.

 

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Step 7: Decorate.  Utter disaster.  Unless you think they’re zombies. In which case, they’re kinda cute 🙂

 

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The great thing about cake pops is that, even if the decorating doesn’t go as planned, they still taste super yummy!  So, I hope everyone at Anson’s work enjoys celebrating with him and his army of zombie cake pops 🙂

And, just because I’m super impressed, I’m going to share my sister Angie’s SUCCESSFUL cake pop story!

I had recommended to her that she do a “practice batch” to get used to working with the candy melts.  So, she made chocolate cake with peanut butter candy shell pops:

 

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Success!  So, she decided to make Sesame Street cake pops for Mia’s 1st birthday.  She found the instructions on bakerella’s site (seriously people, you should check this site out if you’re interested in baking). 

At this point, I’m going to suggest that you sit down before looking at these pictures. They are going to knock your socks off!

 

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How awesome is she?  SUPER awesome! 🙂

As most of you know, I am not a great cook. I avoid it as much as possible.  I make the following items in a way that people seem to enjoy:

1. Grilled chicken breast (it’s disaster if I try to “bake” the chicken breast—just ask Anson).

2. Pasta

3. Turkey

That’s it folks!  I’ve been working hard recently at trying to prepare healthier meals. Which, of course, means that I am attempting to make more food myself instead of buying pre-packaged or take-out items. Mostly, I’m trying to avoid foods that I know are highly processed.

Today I stopped by Trader Joe’s to explore.  I had briefly been in there a couple of times, but never really bought anything.  However, Fiona and Jane speak so highly of it, I figured it was worth an hour or so of my time. 🙂

I found a couple items worth trying out. The first is a chicken and bean burrito (about 350 calories). I don’t often make Mexican food because Anson won’t eat it, but this seemed pretty safe. Plus, I could pronounce all of the ingredients. They were things like “chicken” and “green peppers.”   I also got some pre-cooked chicken patties (about 140 calories).  They had a lot of good veggies/seasonings mixed in (again, all things I could pronounce) and sounded super yummy. I had one of the burritos tonight—super yummy!  I’m excited to go to Trader Joe’s next time I’m in need of produce.  It looks like they have a pretty good selection.

Now, my plea for help:

I am trying to fill up my dinner plate with fruits/veggies.  I’ve been exploring different kinds of produce in order to expand my interests. I now have a rather large group of veggies that I enjoy, but only ever eat them raw or steamed. I’m looking for some good, healthy recipes for veggies (as a side). In particular, I’d like to be able to serve them hot (steamed, baked, etc). I haven’t explored any seasonings yet, so any advice is appreciated. 

Veggies I’d love to learn to cook:  broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, spinach, onion, brussel sprouts, peas, zucchini, celery and peppers. Most veggies actually! The only ones that I still avoid are tomatoes and most varieties of squash. Aside from that, I’m willing to try anything!

Please email me your recipes 🙂

Well, it took some time but I think I’m finally getting back into my routine.  I don’t seem to adjust well to time changes any more.  I’m taking it as a sign that I’m getting old. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would dread turning the big 3-0, but I am.  My birthday isn’t until January. I know this. Really, I do.  Doesn’t mean I have to like it.  It’s the little things that really bug me. For example, every day when I’m doing my hair, I keep doing a double take because I think I see a gray hair.  I asked Anson if he could see any grays and, without looking, he responded “Yes.”  No worries.  When he comes home from work on January 6, 2012 and finds me crying over a giant chocolate cake and singing Alphaville’s “Forever Young” between sobs, he’ll pay for that comment 🙂

I suppose part of the problem is that we already live like the cartoonish-ly old married couple we are ever-so-quickly on our way to becoming. I realized this today when I was playing on the internet.  I decided to research dogs. I wanted to look at characteristics of different breeds and try to determine which breeds would fit in with our lifestyle (note—we’re not actually getting a dog. I just wanted to know what kinds of breeds we could  look at if we ever decided to get one).  So, naturally I searched for some pre-made quizzes that would help me narrow my choices.  One quiz asked me about my lifestyle. My choices were a) single and loving it—going out and meeting new people all the time.  Not us.  b) A house full of kids with people over visiting all the time.  Still not us. or c) Your kids are all off at college and you and your spouse like just spending time at home alone.  Sound like anyone you know? 😛

On a happy note, I found a couple of great dog breeds!  Of course, golden retrievers are always on my list. Even though they never came up on any of the quizzes for me (I must have tried 8 or 9 quizzes), I would be willing to change my lifestyle for a golden.  More likely, we would like a Bernese Mountain Dog or Great Swiss Mountain Dog.  The only real change we’d need to make for those dogs is brushing—I think either of those dogs would need more grooming than both of us combined. 

Anson doesn’t actually like big dogs though.  So, I looked at some smaller dogs and I discovered a breed I had never heard of before.  It’s called a Puggle (part Pug, part Beagle). It’s the cutest darn dog I’ve seen in a long time! I’d be willing to get a small dog if it was a Puggle.  Plus, they match our old-person lifestyle!

I’ve also been on a baking kick recently.  I was asked to make a treat for our final bell choir rehearsal of the year.  One of our members is leaving to go to college in Cleveland, so we wanted to celebrate.  I decided to try making cake pops in her school colors.

Cake pops are actually pretty easy to make!  I thought I had messed up the recipe for a while there.  It just seemed too gooey and messy to be good.  So, naturally, I made a 2nd batch as back-up.  Still gooey and messy, but it was a different flavor.  I don’t know why this made sense to me, but because it was technically different ingredients, I thought it might turn out differently.  I tried both the vanilla and the chocolate cake pops at lunch the next day. They were super yummy!  Anson brought the leftovers into work and they were a huge hit 🙂

I’ve already picked out the treat I will be making for Anson’s 10 year work-iversary (and Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas….the list goes on). The problem is that I keep finding new and interesting recipes that I want to try making.  I actually found a homemade baklava recipe that I’d really like to try out, but I have no good reason to make it.  None. If only someone out there could come up with a good reason to have baklava. <hint hint>

I’ve been a little slow getting back into my work out routine.  Jane is my inspiration though. She started blogging about her running schedule (she is training for a marathon). Now, if I don’t at least jog for 30 minutes I feel like such a slacker!  Good thing she’s there for me!

This weekend should be pretty fun. I have an idea for a mischievous little adventure tomorrow.  he he he 🙂

On Sunday, there is the last bell performance before the summer starts.  We’re playing Soon and Very Soon and (hopefully) Call to Celebration at both services.  I *love* Call to Celebration. It sounds like an ‘80s theme song. So much so that Dave has created some lyrics for it.  Now, whenever we play it, I sing to myself “who’s that young doctor running down the hall there? Saving lives as he ruuuuuuns.”  At some point, I think we should write lyrics for the whole thing. Bell choir is so much fun 🙂

Anson and I are going to try to go see the new X-Men movie this weekend. Both of us are pretty excited about it. 

Anybody else have fun weekend plans? Excited about any of the summer movies?

Yesterday I had decided I wasn’t going to bake anything for Easter. It was going to be a lot of work and I knew Anson and I wouldn’t be up to eating all of the goodies. No big deal, right? Well, yesterday I was talking to my mom and told her I wasn’t baking anything this year. The response I got was: “Oh, but I was looking forward to reading your post about baking hot cross buns!”

So, here it is (because my mom asked for it):

I started out the same way I do every time I’m about to bake something new—I looked up as many different recipes as I could find. After finding 3 different recipes that I liked, I decided to combine them to make some super-mega-awesome hot cross buns.

The recipe I chose for the basic dough was pretty simple. And I chose it because it let me use my breadmaker. Don’t get me wrong, I like doing things by hand, but any time I can avoid spreading flour all over the counter is a bonus. So, I dump all of the ingredients into the machine and press “dough.” Done.

1 hour later, it beeped and I added the chocolate chips. 30 minutes after that it beeped again to signal the dough was ready. I went over and opened the lid. It was at this point that I realized things had gone terribly wrong.

I put my hand in to try to make a ball out of the dough and all I got was a wet hand. I mean, it was a chocolate-y, flour-y, yeast-y soup. Ewww.  So, that batch went in the trash.

Here is what I determined to be my 2 major mistakes:

1. I put the ingredients in the breadmaker in the wrong order. Breadmakers want you to either put in the dry ingredients first OR the wet ingredients. It depends on the breadmaker. The recipe asked me to put the dry ingredients in first and, since it had been a while since I had used my machine, I didn’t remember that mine needs the wet ingredients first. It all came back to me when I let my hand get slimed by the chocolate disaster that was my first attempt.

2. It is clearly a bad, bad idea to put the chocolate chips in while the dough is rising. They just melt and make it ultra-gooey.

Take 2.

This time I put all of the wet ingredients in first, dry second. When the breadmaker was done with the dough, I opened it up and happily discovered I had real dough. Yay!

From my second recipe, I took the idea of making it a pull-apart bread instead of making individual buns. So, I greased a pan and started to make dough balls. Before pinching the bottom of the dough together to make a ball, I would put in a bunch of chocolate chips. So, somewhere near the center of each roll would be a chocolate bite. Mmmm 🙂

After they were all shaped and in the pan, I let them sit to allow the dough to finish rising and then put them in the oven to bake. While they were baking, I made a glaze (3rd recipe) and an icing (2nd recipe). Some people have unforgivable ideas about what is allowed to be called “icing.” To the lady who wrote the recipe that told the baker to make the icing out of flour and water, I feel the need to inform you that that is PASTE, not icing!

Ding! They’re done! Out of the oven, I put the vanilla glaze on and then let them cool a bit. Afterwards, I drizzle some icing in the shape of crosses. And voila! Hot cross buns! Super awesome, vanilla glazed, chocolate filled, and iced!

Mmmm….tastes like Easter 🙂

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I woke up full of excitement and ready to go!  It took about 2 hours to make the almond flour. I will admit it was much easier with the blanched almonds. Everything in the recipe is supposed to be “light” and “fluffy” so there is a lot of sifting and whisking. All in all, I ended up sifting the mixture about 4 times. Phew! 

This recipe is somewhat high-maintenance (for lack of a better term). For example, you fold the mixture exactly 50 times (though someone found that 65 folds works better for her).  You whisk the mixture at medium speed for 3 minutes, low speed while adding sugar, then high speed for 8 minutes (but whatever you do, don’t stop whisking!).  I pretty much memorized the recipe in preparation! They try to describe the texture/sheen of the batter to help you determine when to stop.  At one point the recipe says it should be “magma-like.”  Oh, how I wish I knew how to make my shiny white batter look like magma.

After all of the sifting, mixing and folding, I put everything into my electric cookie press and fit it with a plain round tip.  I made some awkward looking circles on the cookie sheet, though I will say my circles looked better as I went along.

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It was around 5:30 when Anson called on his way home. The conversation went something like this:

A: Hey babe, I’m on my way home.

R: Great!  Look, I just want to prepare you for something.

A: Yeah? What?

R: When you get home, it’s going to seem like the house was on fire.  I mean, it’ll probably smell like the house was on fire. I assure you, there was no fire.

A: Ummm…okay.

R: Hey, I made <pause for counting> 8 cookies for Fiona!

A: That’s awesome hun! Good job!

 

And now the cookies sit in the freezer and are ready to be brought into work on Monday! Hopefully, they will taste good after they thaw.  I tried one (now Fiona only gets 7…sorry!).  They are crazy delicious. It’s a good thing they are a challenge to make or I would probably bake them all the time. 🙂

Here’s a fuzzy cell phone picture of the finished product:

Any new challenges? 🙂