No Life Rehearsals

Live, Love, Laugh–Your Life Depends on It

I Want to Consciously Uncouple From [fill in the blank]

Broken heart
Foter / CC BY-SA

Leave it to Gwyneth Paltrow to try to put a positive spin on the state of her life and pretend she’s not getting [whisper here] D-i-v-o-r-c-e-d.  How Holly Holliday of her!  In case you didn’t get that reference, maybe you should think about putting Glee on your Netflix streaming list.  Just a suggestion.

So to recap if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, Gwyneth and Chris Martin are calling it quits.  But, rather than call a spade a spade, and in this lovely era where celebrities must do things differently than the rest of common folk(i.e. name their kids Apple, Blue or North), their announcement wants everyone to know they are “conscious uncoupling.”   

Now, I normally love WORDS and applaud new creative uses of the English language, but this made me laugh out loud (and not in a good way).  So, is this a case of a divorce by any other name promises not to be as nasty?  Or, have they really taken pretensiousness to a new level and think that only you “little people” have divorces?  We get to consciously uncouple.  

I want to give them both the benefit of the doubt and given Gwyneth’s “new agey” spirit with holistic this and juice cleanse that, this may be consistent for her, no matter that it comes across to the rest of us as a completely highfalutin, la-di-da way of saying the D word.  However, can any of us really picture the Coldplay frontman ringing his mates and telling them that he’s consciously uncoupling from the lovely Ms. Paltrow?  That surely would elicit responses ranging from “What are you on about?” or “Are you barmy?”  Yeah, I’m just not buying it.  This is Gwyneth all the way.

Pretentious or not, it seems that the rest of us want to get in on this action and consciously uncoupling is not just for divorce anymore.  That was so 12 hours ago! Some of my favorite tweets:

@cagfoto When I mentioned #consciousuncoupling to my wife she went and got the pink fluffy handcuffs from the secret hiding place…

@crisXmusic #ConsciousUncoupling: Watching Closely & Losing A Finger While Chopping Carrots

And, my personal favorite (in light of my own recent addiction)…

@ramsaywoodside I may have to “consciously uncouple” from Candy Crush #ConsciousUncoupling

Do you feel the need?  The need to consciously uncouple from something in your life?  I want to hear!  That’s what the comments are for…c’mon don’t be shy.

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Writer’s Digest – A Great Resource for Writers

AlexVan / Pixabay

I thought I would do a quick blog post and give a shout out to one of my go-to writing resources.  If you are a writer, a wannabe writer, or someone who’s may be intrigued by writing, your first stop should be Writer’s Digest. I’ve signed up for their webinars, read their magazine religiously, and visit some of their editor blogs daily!  One blog in particular I’m reading a lot right now is the Guide to Literary Agents (GLA) blog.  They happen to be running a contest for contemporary middle grade fiction right now and if you are writing in that genre, you should definitely check it out!

Also, if you are at the query stage and you want to learn more about what agents are looking for, GLA is a great resource.  I happen to be looking for an agent for my middle grade book Trouble with Triangles so wish me luck!

 

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Cheap Family “Adjacent” Vacation: Weekend Getaways Don’t Need to be Fancy

glynn424 / Pixabay

It’s time to take a much needed break from this seemingly endless winter.  When I think about a vacation, I usually envision a sunny destination, beach, pool, a stack of new books to read and waitresses who bring me drinks.  While I might need/want that type of vacation, I think it bears reminding our kids don’t need a “fancy” vacation to have fun or be happy.   So if you can’t afford or don’t have time to go on that “fancy” vacation this year, there are other alternatives your kids will love!  I personally like the idea of a “staycation” and taking day sightseeing trips.  BUT, as the term implies, the staycation means staying at home.   For kids, staying at home ≠vacation.

So, let me tell you how you can plan an awesome weekend getaway that kids will love for under $100I’ll call it the Adjacent Vacation because you won’t go far away and your kids will have just as much fun as any fancy family vacation.  Remember, in order to qualify as a fun kids vacation, the following must occur:

1.  Packing of the Suitcase:  The ritual Packing of the Suitcase is a necessary component to any vacation.  They can start packing days in advance to prolong the excitement.  Parenting Advice #1:  Pick your battles and just pretend you don’t see the massive quantities of useless items included in your kids suitcase (because your son may just want to play with that Star Wars action figure that he hasn’t played with for years).

2.  A Road Trip:  No one ever said you had to drive far for a vacation but I would suggest that you drive at least 45 minutes so it feels like you are going to a “destination.”  Play car trip games like I Spy and spotting “landmarks” (it doesn’t have to be famous to be a landmark, it can be a church, a train station, even a funny looking sign), just point things out to make your kids feel like they are going somewhere.

3.  Hotel Stay with a Pool: Sleeping in a hotel WITH A POOL qualifies as a vacation in any kid’s eyes.  As parents we might be a tad bit jaded and “over” the hotel with a pool but you’re kids aren’t…far from it.  Bonus points if you can score a hotel with a game room and hot tub for when you can’t stand the “heated” pool for another minute (heated means two different things to kids and adults).  Don’t forget the noodles, beach balls and  pool toys!!  And, I haven’t forgotten about the adults, make sure to bring along a new book to read, beverage cooler, and plastic cups for bringing your own drinks!

Search for hotels within a 50 miles radius of your house.  There are bound to be a few to choose from and make sure you check for promo codes on sites like RetailMeNot or Coupons to help you save even more.  I just booked a stay at La Quinta outside Providence, Rhode Island that advertised for $79 on Orbitz but got it down to $67 a night just by getting a promo code and booking directly at the hotel website!  Yes, that is $67 a night for a nice updated hotel room with pool and breakfast for four people! Are you starting to like the idea of my Adjacent Vacation?  

4.  Breakfast at the Hotel:  What kid doesn’t want to make their own waffle, pick from a myriad of sugar cereal choices, try every muffin, donut, and pastry.  Parenting Advice #2:  Let your kids go wild.  Breakfast at a hotel=food freedom.  If they want to mix apple, cranberry and orange juice together, let them.  If they want to try peanut butter and scrambled eggs together let them experiment!

5.  Snacks, Treats and Other Goodies:   For a kid, nothing beats a hotel fridge and counter stocked with their favorite treats!  They get to salivate over them all weekend long.  And who doesn’t love a mini fridge? Let the kids pick the treats beforehand and stock the fridge when you arrive. Adults that fridge isn’t just limited to kids beverages!

6.  Board Games, Cards Games and other Non-Electronic Games:  Last but not least, I get to the fundamental thing required for making a memorable family Adjacent Vacation.  What do kids want more than anything else….YOUR TIME AND ATTENTION! Figure out some fun family games to play together or use some of your budget for new board or card games.  Leave the electronics at home!

Let’s see how the Adjacent Vacation budget stacks up:

One night accommodation with breakfast:  $67

Pizza or Subs for dinner:  $20-25

Snacks, etc:  $8-15

TOTAL:  $95-107

So, what are you waiting for, get going!!

 

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When Your Kid’s Friend Drops the “F” Bomb in a Homemade Birthday Card

cussing-7Parenting conundrum of the week.  It was my son’s birthday party last week.  He just turned 9 and we went to see the Lego Movie which, by the way, was completely awesome and a must see for kids and parents alike.  LOVED IT.  All of the kids gave him homemade birthday cards that were, for the most part, so precious.  The themes of the cards were all the things my son loves–Legos, Minecraft, video games.  

BUT one kid who I will give an “A” to for effort for including a comic style birthday card complete with the talking bubbles.  He gets an “F” (literally and figuratively) for his use of profanity.  One of the comic characters tells the other “F*** You.”  My jaw dropped and I yanked the card out of my son’s hand, hoping he hadn’t seen it.  Though, I’m pretty sure he saw it because he reads as fast as I do.  Which now leads to the conundrums:

1. Do I talk to my son about it ?  Meaning do I draw attention to it because I certainly don’t want him getting any ideas despite my good intentions.  I don’t know about the rest of you but sometimes my “heart to hearts” backfire on me by putting ideas into my son’s head that weren’t there before.

2.  Do I say something to the other mom?  I don’t want to come across as judgmental and I know she will be MORTIFIED.

What to do, what to do?

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Top 15 Children’s Books You Will WANT to Read to Your Kids Again and Again

Family reading.

Children’s books (especially baby books) we love em, we hate em.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, we don’t really hate them, we just hate them if they’re boring to read.  We’ve all been there as parents.  The bedtime ritual, already brutal when you account for the whole teeth brushing requirement, gets even more tortuous when your little cherub wants you to read the same boring book night after night.  Shoot me now, the little voice in your head says.  Or, maybe you do rock, paper, scissors with your better half or make promises you know you won’t keep to get out of reading that book.

If push comes to shove, you dial it in, a monotone voice replaces the funny voices you managed when the book was still fresh, your mind on that episode of the Bachelorette or Walking Dead the DVR is recording.

I’ve wanted to do a blog post about great read-aloud kids books that adults will love too for awhile now.  The problem is narrowing it down.  I’m sure I forgot some gems (and that’s where the comment section is awesome for people to chime right in) or included some that you think don’t belong on this list.  Reading is like eating, you like what you like and no one can convince me that lima beans taste good (unless that person also likes to eat chalk then they’ve got bigger problems).

Without further adieu, here is my bulletproof list of bedtime books that is guaranteed* (standard exclusions apply) to NOT put you to sleep and will engage you night, after night, after night, after night…..forever, and ever Amen.  Sorry, got carried away there.      

Baby/Toddler Board Books  In this category engaging books are hard to find but I think these two are gems.

big red barn1.      Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown  My all time favorite bedtime book.  I could still read it to my kids if they’d let me.  The illustrations are so captivating as is the story about life for the animals on a farm and how they go to sleep at night.  Truly a special book.

 

 

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2.     The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton A great book about bedtime routines.  If you do all the actions like brushing your teeth, exercise and rock to sleep it makes it fun and engaging for both you and your child.

 

Toddler Picture Books

246883.     Cars, Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry  You may be thinking we have plenty of Richard Scarry books at home we don’t need another one.  Let’s me explain something.  This is the ONLY Richard Scarry book you need (I’m not kidding!).  It’s that good!  The best part is finding “Goldbug” a little gold bug hidden on every page.  The adults will love looking at the hundreds of details that are packed into each and every page.  It will take MONTHS before you exhaust this book.

 

 knuffle bunny4.     Knuffle Bunny (and to a lesser extent Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free) by Mo Williams  Who doesn’t love a story about a child and their beloved stuffed animal.  After a trip to the laundromat, Knuffle Bunny gets left behind but Trixie can’t talk yet so she does all kinds of things (my favorite being “She went boneless”) to try to get her daddy to understand.

 

1911135.     Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus also by Mo Williams  A raucous read that will have your kids screaming (maybe not such a good thing but I still maintain that it’s better than boring any day!) “NO” as the pigeon begs to drive the bus.

 

 

7121006.     Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car by Eileen Christelow  There is a cadence to this book and once you find it, you will LOVE reading it to your kids.  Play around with it, you know you can do a great crocodile voice.

 

 

Best Books for Girls  (please pretty please with sugar on top don’t go all p.c. on me for calling something a “girl” or “boy” book.  I’ve found, in my humble opinion, that the following appeal more to my daughter than my son, enough said)

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7.     Ladybug Girl by David Soman (also Ladybug Girl at the Beach and Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad, I can’t really pick my favorite, I love them all for different reasons)  Lulu has her fears and insecurities but when she becomes LADYBUG GIRL she can do anything.  I love this empowering tale for girls about overcoming your fears.

 

4266268.     Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor (a close second would be Fabulous Fashion Boutique)  We are a Fancy Nancy family but this one is by far my favorite.  Nancy thinks she wants one kind of dog but discover that maybe the “fanciest” dog is not right for her family.  This is Nancy at her very best!

 

Best Books for Boys  (see above)

8390779.     Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury  This hilarious book where the pig is the bad guy will have your little boy grinning, especially when the TNT  comes out to blow up the wolves fortress.

 

Or on the same theme…

125507The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith  Hilarious story from the wolves’ point of view.

 

 

 

99937610.  Fix it Duck by Jez Alborough  All of the “Duck” books are great but this one has to be my favorite.  A great rhyming book that is so fun to read.  There’s a leak in the roof (or so Duck thinks) and he’s going to fix it.  But nothing good can come from Duck trying to fix things.  It’s a great read again and again.

 

Great Books for Big and Little Alike (ages 4+)

 14532511.  Take Me Out of the Bathtub (and other silly dilly songs) by Alan Katz (the follow up book I’m Still Here in the Bathtub is equally good if not a little better!)  Time to get silly.   This book takes your favorite songs like Take Me Out to the Ballgame  or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and sets silly songs to those tunes.  Your kids won’t care if your singing voice isn’t quite up to par.

 

29143012.  Magic Hat by Mem Fox (Sleepy Bears is a close second for me): This author has written so many great books and it’s hard to choose just one but this one stands out from the rest.  A magic hat floats through town and makes magic wherever it lands.  The illustrations are engaging and the story will captivate both adult and child.

 

7413013.  Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Book by Lauren Child  I’m not a fan of the Charlie and Lola books (sorry!) but this one is a gem!  When Herb falls asleep on a book of fairy tales he finds himself trapped.  As soon as he finds himself out of one story, he gets trapped in the next.

 

 

105115314.  Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman A listen to the audio reading of this book is almost a must to get the voices just right of the witch, mummy, ghost, vampire, and bat but I have faith that you will nail them without the help.  Once you do, you will love reading this book over and over no matter what the time of year.

 

 

40742915.  The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka (I love this author and luckily he’s prolific and writes for many age levels.  My 9 year old loves the Time Warp Trio series right now). As I wrap up this list, I see some themes running through it, humor and a heavy emphasis on fairy tales and when the two combine as this author does so well,it’s pure magic.

JUST READ IT!

 

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Has Downton Jumped the Shark?

 

Photo:  Carnival Films

Photo: Carnival Films

I’m coming to the conclusion that Downton Abbey has either jumped the shark (if you don’t know what that means Google it) or gone Hollywood and I don’t know which one is worse.  You would think that Lord Julian Fellowes (writer, creator and actual peer in the House of Lords) would have a bit more mettle and could resist the urge to go all Dallas on us.  It’s PBS for pete’s sake!  But after watching last week’s episode,  I am baffled, befuddled and profoundly disappointed (yes, a trifecta of words was required here to adequately articulate my feelings in this matter).    I cannot speak to last night’s episode as it remains on the DVR while I sort out my feelings about last week’s episode. [Spoiler alert:  If you are still catching up on Netflix read no further or major plot points of this season and seasons prior will be revealed].

Clearly Lord Fellowes has never had any issues with “killing his darlings” –first, Sybil and then beloved Matthew from last season.  Though I can forgive him Matthew.  Based on my limited research (assuming it’s correct),  Matthew’s exit resulted more from the actor’s desire to get out than by any contrived plot device.  But last Sunday’s episode and what happened to Anna went BEYOND THE PALE, well and truly beyond.

For those of you that saw it, or those of you that aren’t following Downton but are curious what got me all in a dither, Anna (beloved and pure as the driven snow Anna) was brutally assaulted (physically and sexually) downstairs by a visiting servant while everyone else was upstairs listening to an opera singer.   What’s Lord Fellowes going to do next?  Have Mrs. Patmore’s evil twin show up and wreak havoc on the kitchen?   My point is that this “twist” “turn” or whatever you want to call it was utterly and completely unnecessary and felt like a contrived Hollywood plot device.

Is this the first of such grievous offenses?  No, I must admit it is not.  Lord Fellowes tiptoed there before when he had Mr. Bates framed for murdering his estranged wife and then the subsequent convoluted exoneration.  Felt a little too Days of our Lives for me (or for the British contingent, a little too Eastenders), but I let that one go.  But now, Lord Fellowes seems to be drinking the Hollywood kool-aid and can’t seem to get enough.   I know these are harsh words but I hope he takes them in the meaning in which they are intended or to put it bluntly – SHAME ON YOU!

Downton Abbey is not a show that needs crazy plot twists to keep us DDs (Downton Devotees) interested.  I hope I speak for other DDs when I say that we care more about the characters and their daily lives than the overall plot.  I, for one, enjoy, week after week, being immersed in 1920s England and the life of a Lord and his manor.   The first three seasons were pure bliss, and for someone who has never met a period drama on PBS she didn’t like, my needs were fulfilled.   But now, I wonder whether I can go back to Lord Grantham, lady Mary and the absolutely wonderful Dowager Countess of Grantham (played to perfection by the actress Maggie Smith)?

He may have jumped the shark or gone Hollywood but maybe it’s not too late.  Go back to your roots Lord Fellowes.  You have drawn such beautiful and rich characters there is no reason to take any page from the soap opera playbook.  How about it DDs, do you agree?

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The Five Friends You Need in Your Life

MachoCarioca

MachoCarioca

As a woman who lost her mom way too young and never having had a sister, my friends provide my support network.  I’ve thought about this support network a lot lately and thought it would make a great blog post. At first I thought it would be about the Mom friends around me and then thought that won’t work because I have a close single friend who’s very important in my life.  Then I changed it to just Women friends but then I realized, at least in my case, one of my closest confidantes is a man (a gay man who truly gets me and all my neuroses!).  So I had to scrap everything and start over.   Now it’s just about Friends period.  Here are the five friends, be it male or female, that you need in your life and conversely, think about whether you fill one or more of these roles in your friend’s lives.

Supportive Sue/Stu – When you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on and your husband just doesn’t get it, this is the friend you need.  This friend’s a great listener, doesn’t judge, reassures you that you’re not going crazy and fully supports your need for a pity party once and awhile and maybe this party needs to include spa treatments…just because.

Partier Pam/Patrick – Need a glass of wine away from the husband and kids on a Tuesday night, this is the friend you call.   Want to see that 80s band that only you like to listen to anymore, this friend will go willingly.   Can you say road trip? Admit it, the road trip friend is ESSENTIAL!

Socialite Samantha/Steve – Every group needs a socialite.   How about supper club next month?  Maybe a game night? Book club? Cookie swap? cyberscooty-let-s-party-1You name it, this friend wants to get a group together and is an endless fount of social ideas. This friend won’t let you hermit and keeps you on track for some much needed socializing with other couples, women friends, and other Moms.

Home Ec Helen/Hank - This is the friend who whips up a refrigerator magnet worthy craft for a dozen kids with nothing more than a paper bag and some glitter.  This friend always brings the best dish to a party and makes you think you too can be a wonder in the kitchen. This friend’s Pinterest boards look like a magazine spread.   Can’t come up with a good idea for your kid’s birthday party, this is the friend to call.     

Workout Wendy/William – Everyone needs a gym buddy or that friend that makes you feel a little guilty for not exercising.   If this friend is super fit, even better.  You may hate this friend (yes, being green with envy occurs even among the best of friends) but let that motivate you!   Want to try running?  The friend will do your first 5K with you. Maybe hot yoga, Zumba or pole dancing is your thing, this friend is game for anything as long as it involves movement and exercise.

True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island… to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.  ~Baltasar Gracian

 

 

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Searching for The Holy Grail of Donuts: The Mashed Potato Donut

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Actual photo of the finished product (pretty awesome right?)

A few weeks ago, I received an email from my brother with a link to a website and a cryptic message “Is this what we’ve been searching for all these years?”  First, I thought it was one of those spam emails with messages designed to get you to click on the link and second, I couldn’t recall that my brother and I were actually searching for anything.  After I confirmed that the link looked legit, I clicked on it and immediately knew that he had found what we’ve been looking for…mashed potato donuts.  The donut of my youth.  The donut that  my brothers and I feasted on when we visited my grandparents on Chestnut Street in Grand Forks, North Dakota.   That fresh hot round cakey yumminess that we placed in a paper bag filled with sugar coating to our hearts and stomachs content.  

My grandmother’s kitchen was exotic to begin with and couldn’t be more wood_cookstove_cooking_lunchdifferent from the seventies yellow appliance and orange counter top kitchen we had at home. The wood burning stove (similar to the one in this picture) churned out delicious food all weekend long when we visited.  My dad, in particular, looked forward to going home to his mother’s cooking.  I know us kids always hoped for donuts on that long six hour drive from Minneapolis.

And now I discover there is a whole bakery in Portland Maine devoted to the mashed potato donut!  A mere 3 hours from my house; can you say “road trip?” Appropriately called The Holy Donut (as it’s the holy grail of donuts in my humble opinion), the website lists 22 flavors including roasted pistachio and bacon and cheddar.  Why anyone would want to make a “savory” donut is beyond me but who am I to question the brilliance of the person who started a business based solely on the mashed potato donut?  She clearly has her head screwed on straight.

Most importantly, the article contained a link to a mashed potato donut recipe and I knew I was in business.  I had this! So, this past Friday, when most of Massachusetts’ schools were cancelled for snow, I hunkered down with the kids and prepped for donut making.  Soon, my kitchen smelled like the Tom Thumb mini-donut concession stand at the Minnesota State Fair.

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It smelled good.

Hello, Yankee Candle, are you listening?  You need to bottle that scent. No, no need to thank me.  Seeing that scent on the shelves next Fall will be all the thanks I need.

But, smell is not enough.  The proof is in the pudding (er, donut).  After letting the donut cool for the requisite 1/2 second (because who can wait longer for donuts?), I popped a piece in my mouth.  Donut heaven, childhood memories, and pure food bliss wrapped up in one small bite. The light cakey center and taste was just as I remembered.

IMG_5913Truth be told, my donuts looked prettier than my Grandmother’s ever did.  I don’t think she cared much about their appearance and frankly I don’t either.  That mine turned out practically perfect in appearance was just dumb luck.  Or, some wicked killah baking skills…nah, dumb luck.   My husband and kids had never had a mashed potato donut before and they all said it was the best donut they ever tasted.  Of course, my grandmother’s donuts will always be the best donut I’ve ever tasted, but I’m so happy and grateful that I’m able to continue the tradition for my own kids.  And, to answer my brother’s question, yes, we’ve found what we’ve been searching for.

 

Mashed Potato Donuts

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½  teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup well mashed potatoes (just the potatoes no cream or butter and use a potato ricer for best results)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

 

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, buttermilk powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  2.  In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs and sugar beating until combined and slightly foamy. Add water, melted butter, vanilla and mashed potatoes. Stir until smooth.
  3.  Slowly add flour mixture and stir until just incorporated.
  4. Divide dough and form dough into two balls. Wrap in plastic wrap then flatten into discs. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
  5. Generously flour a large work surface. Take one of the discs and turn out the dough to coat with flour, sprinkling the surface of the dough with flour to lessen stickiness, if needed. Gently pat the dough to about 1/2 an inch thick. Use a floured 3 inch doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts and place cut doughnuts and doughnut holes on a floured sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Fill a Dutch oven (I used my dutch oven and it worked great) or large cast iron skillet with 2 inches of oil. Heat oil over medium high heat until 360°F. Drop doughnuts in the oil and fry until a deep golden brown on both sides (about 2 minutes per side). Use chopsticks to turn the doughnuts. Be careful not to crowd the doughnuts in the pan (no more than 2 to 3 doughnuts at a time). Remove doughnuts immediately from the pan using a heat resistant slotted spoon or spatula. Set on paper towel lined baking racks to cool. Once cooled slightly toss in a bag with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. Serve immediately.
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Baking Fails Part II: Spritz–It’s all about the Buttah!

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Butter sculpture at Minnesota State Fair. Each finalist for Princess Kay of Milky Way title gets her head carved in butter AND gets to take it home with her.  Where does one display butter artwork?

My brother called me the other day to tell me about another baking fail to add to the family lore. Actually, I called him to tell him about my Ostakaka blog post but it sounds better if he called me.  Anyhoo, as we laughed over past Ostakaka disasters, he confessed to his latest fail.  He had made Spritz (to you non-Scandanavians, it’s the most awesome butter cookie imaginable and should be in everyone’s arsenal of holiday cookies).  While making it, he couldn’t understand why the texture was off and the dough felt almost oily on his hands.   The finished product fared no better.  It even tasted a little chemically.

In the words of SNL Coffee Talk’s host, Linda Richman, spritz should have tasted “like buttah.”  Except it won’t, if you use the wrong butter.  Yes, there are wrong butters.  Butter is butter is butter except when it comes to baking.   Then, butter can make all the difference between success and failure.  I have been remiss in imparting my vast “butter knowledge” to others prior to this. Here’s a little course in Butter 101 just in time for the holidays.

I came upon my “butter knowledge” the old fashioned way–trial and error.  I make a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my house and I mean A LOT!!!  Especially during football season.  You know how people have superstitions about watching sports events (wearing the same pair of socks, watching it in the same chair, or any of the great ones from Silver Linings Playbook).  In my house, we have a cookie requirement.  We have to pay homage to the cookie gods to ensure a “win.”  If I fail to do this, it’s on my shoulders if they lose.  BTW:  I’m doing cookie penance this week because I didn’t make cookies AND the Patriots lost to Miami.

butter images 2

More butter sculptures! I think butter sculptures make any blog post better, don’t you?

During my countless cookie baking sessions, I noticed the cookies sometimes turned out greasy and spread a lot when baking.  I said to myself  “huh?  I wonder why?” and that was the end of that.  Until eventually, I put two and two together (yeah, I’m fast that way) and discovered that when I baked with Land O Lakes butter, they came out perfect every time.   I subsequently found out that Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen (two shows that I’m addicted to and recommend highly!) rank Land O Lakes butter their top supermarket brand and it came in second overall to some European-style butter with an butterunpronounceable name.

You may be pooh poohing me at this point and you would be in good company, my husband calls my theory nonsense but I pooh pooh him because he lacks baking standards and will eat anything.

If you still think you should go out and buy the cheapest brand because you think it doesn’t matter, RESIST THE TEMPTATION.  Baking is the finickiest of all cooking methods.  Ever watch those chefs on Top Chef wilt under the pressure when they have to make a dessert?   I rest my case.

But don’t take my word for it, I refer to you this fancy dancy chart (which someone who cares about these things took the time to compile) and it shows that the ratio of fat to moisture to milkfat solids can vary WILDLY from brand to brand.  Ergo, wildly varying components = wildly varying results.  Believe me and those one or two smart other people at America’s Test Kitchen – Land O’ Lakes is the way to go.

Note: If I had been compensated for this blog post, which I was not, not even an itty bitty bit, I would have blown it all on Mega Millions tickets for tonight’s jackpot.  So maybe it’s a good thing this blog makes no money.

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Tis the Season for…Baking Mistakes Part 1: The Making of the Ostakaka

ostakaka-swedish-cheese-cake-2There is a long  tradition of holiday baking mistakes in my family, a mantle I’m proud to continue year after year.  One of my fondest (and frequently reoccurring) memories from my childhood involved the annual “Making of the Ostakaka.” My uncle and aunt would drive up from Iowa, and after a few dozen cups of coffee around the kitchen table, talk would invariably turn to the Making of the Ostakaka.  For you non-Scandahoovians, Ostakaka (also spelled Ostkaka) is a Swedish cheesecake served with lingonberries, though us kids always had it with strawberries, except for my brother, who always acted older than his years.

My uncle’s questioning would begin starting with whether my mother had procured the rennet.  Since this is a family blog (okay, not really) I won’t gross you out with what rennet actually is, instead, suffice it to say, it is an essential ingredient in the making of cheese, or in this case, Swedish cheesecake.   A quick note on the procuring part.  I have discovered since moving to the East Coast, you can’t just go to your local Lunds or Byerly’s (two favorite Mpls grocery store chains) and buy it.  What would we do without the Internet?  No Ostakaka, that’s for sure.  Wait, that may be a good thing….

Back to the story, the questioning would continue to the buying of sufficient milk.

“Do you have  plenty of whole milk this year?”

“Yes, I have plenty of whole milk,”  my mother would assure him.

“But you remember last year…”

The words “last year” being more figurative than literal because we never had a sufficient quantity of whole milk in the house for the Making of the Ostakaka. Osatkaka requires 2 gallons of whole milk but that would assume success could be accomplished by making only a single batch.

Once the ingredient list had been sufficiently discussed, including the availability of lingonberries that year, the process would begin.  The process is as mysterious to me today, as it was back then.   Any recipe that requires you to “turn the whey off and put curds into a pan” (see recipe below), should not be attempted by mere mortals such as I (my mother and uncle being, of course, from higher and sterner stock).

Tensions were usually high during the process, swearing may have been involved, and then, waiting, waiting and waiting some more.  Would this be the year?  Would we finally get it to curdle on the first try?

“Try more rennet!”

“Why the &%*@ won’t this separate?”

Could it be the milk?  Maybe?  Poor quality rennet?  Probably.  The chefs in the kitchen…NEVER.

A trip to the store would ensue, sufficient gallons of milk bought for a second, and hopefully, final try.

Although I’m well into my fourth decade, I still have not attempted this finicky Swedish dessert.   My much younger cousin who lives in Kansas frequently “attempts” it to varying degrees of success.  Christmas is not Christmas in our family without at least one failed Ostakaka.

So, this year, it’s my turn.  I have included the recipe from our family cookbook (circa 1980) for the nostalgics and masochists in the group who want to join me. The rennet is ordered courtesy of Amazon.com and I’ve made room in the refrigerator for multiple gallons of whole milk.  C’mon Ostakaka show me what you got!  And as my mother’s aunt said in the recipe below “the lingon covers any sins!”

grandma's ostkaka

 

 

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