Library Haul

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I made it to the library today – the library provides a guilt-free “shopping” fix for me and has since I was a girl (I used to say that the library should have shopping carts; my enthusiasm has cooled slightly since the fines in WI are $.25 per day overdue instead of the $.10 they were in IA.)

These are the books I found today – all short and a little pop culture-y (good for my sleep-deprived brain) and inspiring for the new year to boot:

Motherhood Smotherhood: Fighting Back Against the Lactivists, Mompetitions, Germophobes, and So-Called Experts Who Are Driving Us Crazy

The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators

The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises: Four Weeks to a Leaner, Sexier, Healthier YOU!

Invent, Reinvent, Thrive: The Keys to Success for Any Start-Up, Entrepreneur, or Family Business

I must be shallow – all of these books have awesome covers (except, maybe, that constipated-looking blonde whose belly button or pubes really ought to be showing). Also, if there’s any uniting theme here, it’s “Books with Semi-Colons and Groupings of Three in the Title”.

Have you read any of them? I’ll keep you updated on what I think. I’m trying to read while breastfeeding instead of putzing around on social media or playing Candy Crush.

Introversion

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Any other moms out there struggle with reconciling their introverted-ness and motherhood? I’ve been really stressed out recently by not being able to go anywhere by myself for more than two hours. Being with an infant doesn’t quite feel like alone time either.

I’m not truly complaining – I enjoy being a mom. Just trying to figure out how to deal with my introverted tendencies simultaneously.

As we speak my parents-in-law are giving bottle-feeding another try with Miles. He hasn’t taken a bottle yet but if he does tonight maybe that’s my solution.

Macarons and Failure

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As of last year I decided to make homemade macarons a Christmas tradition. If you don’t already know, macarons are French cookies composed of two crunchy-chewy almond flour cookies with a filling sandwiched in between.

They’re finicky cookies to make, despite being the French equivalent of an Oreo. Egg whites must be aged then whipped; almond flour and superfine sugar blended together and sifted; ingredients combined just so with a technique called macaronage; shelled piped, left to sit, and then baked for just the right amount of time; cookies allowed to sit in the freezer to ripen and achieve that signature texture.

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I learned how to make them at a workshop at The French Pastry School in Chicago a few years ago, but didn’t actually attempt making them on my own until about a year later with a coworker’s help. Then I made them again for the last two Christmases. So I’ve made them a total of four times, two with help. Not much experience.

Here’s what I’m struggling with today: the macarons I just made are far from perfect. I should have used gel food coloring instead of liquid. I should have remembered that egg whites evaporate as they age because I didn’t have enough. I should have baked one batch longer and one for less time. I should have traced circles on the parchment so that the cookies would be perfectly round. I should have let them set on a more even surface than my bed so the shapes didn’t get messed up. I could go on. I know all the mistakes I made.

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Burnt.

If you’re anything like me, this kind of thing eats you up inside. But I’ve begun to practice sitting back and watching my emotional state unfold when I do something less than perfectly. It’s frightening. I place so much of my worth in my ability to not make foreseeable mistakes.

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Underbaked AND misshapen. 

As family and friends can tell you, in the past this would have triggered a giant meltdown and I probably would have thrown the macarons away. Failure is absolutely something I am not comfortable with. But this time I’m trying something different.

I wrote out a list of notes for next year’s Christmas macarons so I can learn from what I did. This year, I’m going to serve the imperfect macarons and refuse the urge to apologize for them to people who probably don’t know better anyway. And instead of letting these feelings of inadequacy and frustration rule my day, I’m going to observe them and then ignore them.

Maybe this seems like a ridiculous amount of contemplation to give to cookies. Maybe so. But if you struggle with perfectionism yourself, you know how seemingly unimportant things can eat away at you in a major way.

Life, and especially Christmas time, presents so many opportunities to either listen to perfectionism and let it steal from me or choose to ignore it and enjoy the messiness of real life.

Also, reality check: this is what I posted on Instagram today. I picked the prettiest mac, blurred out the background, chose a flattering filter, and sat back and waited for approbation to flood in and quiet my failure feelings. Social media can be such a lie and a crutch!

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Cinnamon Rolls + A Little Baking Philosophy

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I made cinnamon rolls today for breakfast tomorrow before we head to northern Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with extended family. I’ve been making this cinnamon roll recipe since my first job at seventeen, when I was asked to develop a signature roll for the cafe where I worked. The cafe closed after three months in business, but I’ve continued baking these since then because they’re so damn good.

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They’re a pretty irresponsible way to start the day (sugar/carb coma, anyone?) but their extravagance is part of their charm. There have been days where I’ve eaten only cinnamon rolls, grabbing an edge every time I walked by the pan in the kitchen. Bad life choice.

The best time to bake, in my opinion, is at night. It’s okay to drink a little bit; since the events of the day have passed, it’s easier to focus completely on the project at hand; and no one is coming into the kitchen to bother you since all the meals have been eaten. My family, who’s dealt with clunking pans, whirring mixers, and beeping timers at 10:30 PM might disagree with me. Too bad.

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The one “down side”, as a blogger, is that the lighting is not ideal for photography at night. I use “” because I actually don’t think it’s a real down side. The whole home baking blog scene has become a little food porn-y for me these days. It seems like a big ridiculous competition to see who can make the most picture-perfect sweets. Who can capture the realest drip of melting chocolate, who can create the best bokeh, who can include the most salt, bacon, pretzels, sprinkles, and dulce de leche.

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I don’t mean to sound so disenchanted. Sometimes I love the aesthetics of it all. I’m as guilty of scrolling through pins and blogs and salivating as the next baking enthusiast. However, at a certain point it ceases to agree with my baking philosophy. Maybe a baking philosophy is a stupid thing to have, but I’ve been thinking about the subject long enough that I’ve inevitably come to some conclusions.

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Food should be pretty. It’s what makes us want to eat it. But I find myself drawn to vintage cookbooks, classic cooking shows (original Martha Stewart, Julia Child, etc.), and actual functioning home kitchens, where the food looks more real. I think the flawlessness of today’s home baking blogs belies the humble beauty of home baking. The flour on the floor, the inconsistencies between cupcakes, the cookies frosted by enthusiastic kids, the piles of dishes in the sink – this is the appeal of home baking to me.

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The internet can set me up to have very unrealistic expectations of real life. It should – everything there is staged and color-corrected and hand-picked to look perfect. The best comparison I can think of is women in movies. In movies made even 15-20years ago (some of Meg Ryan’s and Andy McDowell’s work comes to mind) I’m often struck at how much less perfect the women looked. Their hair was a little frizzy. They wore lighter makeup and less form-fitting clothes. Their bodies were a little softer. And they looked gorgeous. Now, most women in movies have perfectly muscular bodies and precisely shaded eyebrows.

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The crispy, caramelized underside of the roll is my favorite part. 

Baking has followed the same trajectory to me. While I’m all for creativity and  beautiful photography, at a certain point I begin to crave the simplicity and messiness of the home kitchen atmosphere where I first learned to bake. Maybe that just means I need to get off the internet. Why not just not blog? I guess I want to inspire people to embrace the reality of their kitchens without feeling like they are failing if things are imperfect.

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So here is my favorite cinnamon roll recipe, and the photos in this post were unapologetically shot under florescent lighting and in my messy kitchen without props or mini spoons or repurposed wood or napkins from Etsy. Also, unedited. I don’t have any shots of frosted rolls because I’m going to wait to frost them until right before we eat them tomorrow.

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Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9

Dough:

-2 cups whole milk

-1/2 cup vegetable oil

-1/2 cup granulated sugar

-2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

-5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

-3/4 tsp. baking powder

-1/2 tsp. baking soda

-1 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:

-1/2 cup salted butter, softened

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/2 cup white sugar

-2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Buttercream:

-1 cup salted butter, softened

-2 cups confectioner’s sugar

-Vanilla extract and salt, to taste

1. For the dough, heat oil, sugar, and milk in a medium saucepan until sugar dissolves (do not boil). Cool to 110 F, then stir in yeast. Measure 5 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in milk mixture to create a loose dough. Spray surface of dough with cooking spray, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and leave dough in a warm place for an hour to rise.

2. In the meantime, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Measure the filling sugars and cinnamon into another small bowl and stir to combine. Grab your rolling pin and a little flour to keep the dough from sticking.

3. You can also make the buttercream while you’re waiting. Beat the butter in a stand mixture for a couple minutes until it’s very fluffy. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until frosting is light and shiny. Add vanilla and salt to taste.

4. Once the dough is risen, punch it down and stir in the flour/leavener mixture. Dust your work surface with flour and then roll the dough out into a large rectangle. Don’t make it too thin. Spread with softened butter (I like to use my hands) and then with sugar mixture. Carefully roll the dough up from the bottom of the long edge, keeping it as tight as possible. Pinch the roll to seal and then flip the roll so that the seam is on the bottom.

5. Cut 9 2″ wide rolls using a serrated bread knife. Butter two sheet pans and transfer rolls to pans, spacing them evenly. Preheat oven to 375 F and allow rolls to raise while oven preheats. Once hot, bake the rolls for about 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Cool slightly and then spread with frosting. Eat warm!

Notes:

I’ve also made these with glaze or cream cheese frosting. Equally delicious.

They freeze surprisingly well after baking. You can also freeze them raw prior to second rise.

This batch easily doubles if you need more. Just roll two logs instead of one.

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Some Thoughts on Motherhood (Five Weeks In)

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Motherhood is something that entered my life unexpectedly. Zach and I were planning on waiting to have kids for about four more years but life didn’t happen that way, for various reasons I don’t particularly feel like sharing with the whole internet.

Consequently, I didn’t have time prior to being pregnant to reflect on being a mom, read about being a mom, or even just think about it in a personal context. I was never one of those girls who dreams from childhood of having children. I was also never one of those girls with big dreams of getting married. Now here I am at twenty-one with a husband and a son. Go figure.

I purposely didn’t read any parenting books while pregnant and tried (for the most part) to avoid the mommy blogs and thousands of pins, articles, and conflicting ideas related to parenting. A glance at my Google search history over the past ten months will reveal that there are many times I failed at this.

As a reader, I love the idea of being able to figure things out by reading about them. I love closed captions because I understand the movie better if I can “read” about it. This has been something I’ve consciously tried to quit when it comes to being a mom because…

I have to figure it out for myself.

While pregnant, I thought that I would have to fight against “losing myself” in being a mom, but in many ways, I’m learning more about myself. I found this to be true of marriage too. Suddenly faced with a whole new set of responsibilities, motherhood has forced me figure out what I believe, what I want, and what’s important.

That sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. No one else can do this for me – from deciding what kind of diapers to use to thinking about homeschooling down the road, motherhood presents so many opportunities to practice making decisions, trying new things, and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.

It’s forced me to “hustle”. 

Pre-baby and post-work, when I had the whole day ahead of me with no interruptions, it was so easy to procrastinate, stretch tasks out longer than needed, and spend a lot of time thinking about plans and ideas and never actually implementing them. Now, when I know I have to be up by 7:30, in bed by 10:30, and that I have (maybe) four 90 minute naps within that time span for personal time, you better believe I’m spending that time a little more carefully.

Once again, I’ve had to reevaluate what’s important to me. If my time is limited, do I want to write or watch TV? Exercise or browse Instagram? I’ve always found the busier I am the more I actually get done – for example, when I’ve had jobs I often pursue my hobbies and interests more consistently. Motherhood is no different.

I’m learning to appreciate things as they are happening.

This is a simple one but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Since I can’t make Miles snuggle contentedly with me, for example, the times when he wants to I’ve begun to slow down, enjoy that mood, and set aside whatever else I was focusing on. Since it’s something I can’t control, I don’t take it for granted. I’m “snapped” into the moment because snuggling with a happy baby is something I can’t plan on happening later. He might be wiggly and fussy at the time that it would be most convenient for me to snuggle with him. Which leads me to the next point…

I’m learning to serve.

As a Christian, I’ve read many verses and learned a lot about the concept of service/being a servant – but my life hasn’t always afforded many opportunities to do so and it’s very easy to be lazy about seeking them out. A newborn requires service. I’m learning to set aside my timeline and priorities, my opinions and goals, and care for another person.

It’s not a popular idea in American culture. Service can feel demeaning and thankless and exhausting and I’ve certainly experienced all of that in the past five weeks. But I’m learning to push past that and make the best of it because I have no other choice. I’ve found that in my stubbornness I often will only learn something if I’m forced to by life.

It’s changed the way I look at people. 

I’ve begun to see every person as a one-time baby who another person had take care of and nurture for days, weeks, and years (not to mention give birth to!). I’ve begun to see every parent as someone who is accomplishing something that is incredibly challenging and difficult to me. My eyes are being opened to the sacrifice and work performed by people I might not otherwise admire. I’m losing my childish notions of what constitutes success.

Obviously I’ve been a mom for all of five weeks and I have a lot to learn – however, I’m encouraged by how much these five weeks have taught me. Many of the cliches I’ve heard about parenthood are being “fleshed out” by my actual experience.

My Top Ten Plan to Eat Tips

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Have you seen the meal planning website, Plan to Eat? It’s a super program designed to make meal planning and grocery shopping easier. You can save recipes to the site (much in the same way you might pin a recipe), add them to your planner, and PTE generates a shopping list based on that week’s meal plan. The people behind it are great and the site is functional and well-designed. There’s a free thirty-day trial and then it costs about $5/month or $40/year.

I tried PTE earlier this year, got frustrated with the learning curve, and gave up. However, with having some extra free time on my hands during pregnancy, I decided to give it another go. I’ve figured out how to make it work for me and it’s great. I’m glad to get it established before Baby comes and I know I’m going to love being able to print out a grocery list and send my husband to the grocery store worry-free 🙂

Here are ten little things I’ve learned in the process of implementing this meal planning method that have made it significantly easier. Most of them probably won’t make sense until you give PTE a try for yourself. Even if you don’t think you’re the meal planning type or it seems overwhelming, I suggest just trying it out. Even if you only end up planning three dinners a week, that can make a huge difference in your sanity and health.

  1. Set aside an afternoon to really familiarize yourself with the website.

I know this is a luxury not everyone has. But if you find yourself with a chunk of time to really sit and play around with this website, it makes it a lot easier in the long run. It’s not a complicated website but there are a lot of different features to learn about and some of them are not-so-obvious. This site requires a little bit of a time investment up-front to get it going for your life and from then on it can pretty much run on “auto” (except for the fun of adding new recipes!).

2. Make sure all your recipes’ ingredients follow the same format.

This is one of those not-so-obvious features that really made the difference as to whether I wanted to use the website or not. Here’s the basic idea:

Let’s say I added one recipe from foodgawker.com and one from pioneerwoman.com to my recipe book and meal planner. Eggs are an ingredient in both recipes. However, in the Food Gawker recipe they’re listed as “4 pastured eggs” and in the Pioneer Woman recipe they’re listed as “1 cup beaten eggs”. Since these ingredients do not have the same quantity format (number/cup) or name (pastured eggs/beaten eggs), they will show up as two separate ingredients on my shopping list.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m at the grocery store I do not want to deal with two or more list entries that are the same thing, much less do the mental math to figure out exactly how many eggs I need.

Enter this tip. When you’re adding a recipe to PTE from a website, you can edit the ingredients so that they follow whatever predetermined format you’ve decided to use in your PTE meal planner. So, for example, whenever I save a recipe that includes eggs, I make sure that the ingredient list simply states “# eggs”. Not cups, or half dozens, or “large eggs”, or “free range eggs”. That way, my shopping list in PTE tells me exactly how many eggs I need for that week in one list entry.

The most important thing is to decide what YOU want to call ingredients in every recipe. A few examples: I chose “pepper” to mean “black pepper”, “freshly-ground black pepper”, etc. “# strips bacon” to mean “# lb. bacon”, “# slices bacon”, etc. and “# cups flour” to mean “# cups all-purpose flour”, “# cups whole wheat flour”, etc.

The nice thing about PTE is that is considers teaspoons/tablespoons/cups to all be the same format, as well as oz./lbs. and so on. It makes it easy but if you ignore this tip your shopping list will look really messy and make you want to avoid the grocery store. I promise.

3.  Add recipes to your PTE meal planner when you pin them (if you use Pinterest).

If you’re like me your Pinterest consists primarily of recipes for things you want to cook/bake. Whether you ever actually do is another story. Enter PTE, which allows you to add a recipe to your meal plan for this week (or maybe the next) and buy the ingredients at the grocery store. I think this is the ultimate motivation to actually try new recipes! Try to get in the habit of adding a recipe to PTE at the same time that you pin it (or maybe even instead of pinning it). This might help you slow down in your voracious pinning – and you’ll end up getting to try the delicious recipes you’re drooling over. This can also apply to recipes you tear out of magazines, bookmark in your web browser, etc.

4.  Update recipes in PTE after you make them with modifications/tips.

Since you’ve hopefully implemented the last tip and your PTE meal plan includes lots of new recipes from Pinterest or around the web, it’s important to update those recipes right after you cook/bake them. After enjoying your meal, log into your PTE recipe book and edit the recipe to include any changes or modifications you made or any ways in which you deviated from the listed instructions. Or, if you really didn’t like a recipe, go ahead and delete it right then. This will help you build a repertoire of tried-and-true recipes and keep your recipe book up-to-date.

5. Work on figuring out how many meals to plan per week.

This is an ever-evolving process. If I plan every meal each week I inevitably end up with too much food in my fridge and the accompanying stress that entails. I like having the flexibility to go out to eat or eat at a friend’s house at the last minute without worrying about food spoiling in my fridge. For me this means five dinners a week, 2-3 lunches a week, and breakfast every day. We end up eating dinner leftovers for lunches. This takes experimenting and tweaking for you and your family.

6. Plan drinks/snacks/baking projects too.

I try to bake 2-3 healthy dessert recipes per week to keep on hand for when sweets cravings happen. I also try to drink Good Girl Moonshine 2X per week and keep fruit on hand for snacks. By adding these recipes/items to my meal plan every week, I make sure I have the ingredients I need on hand and a game plan ready to go.

7.  Utilize the “Notes” feature to fill in when you plan to eat leftovers.

When you click on a meal slot in your meal plan, you have the option to add a Note (as opposed to a recipe). This note won’t end up on your shopping list like a recipe will. Utilize this feature to write in “leftovers” or “eat out” or get more specific: “leftover pancakes”, “Zach’s birthday”. This is a great way to think the week through and allow gaps for meals you aren’t preparing from scratch.

8.  Don’t be afraid to repeat meals.

When I’m filling in a new week in my meal planner, I automatically choose at least one dinner (and breakfast and lunch, usually) from the previous week. It’s one less thing to come up with – and once I’ve filled in these repeat meals plus “leftover” meals and “eat out” meals, my meal plan is no longer blank and seems much less intimidating.

9.  Assign meal planning/grocery shopping to a specific day.

Although I’m saving recipes throughout the week, I sit down on Saturday and fill in my meal plan, print my shopping lists, and head to the store. This helps me stick to my routine and I already know I have committed some of my time on Saturdays to getting this done. If I don’t do it on the same day every week I get lazy.

10.  If it doesn’t come naturally to you, work on being flexible 🙂

Being flexible does not come naturally to me. I tend to either be completely organized to the point of ridiculousness – or simply not try at all. Obviously, this is a self-defeating way to live. By sticking with meal planning long enough to make mistakes, work out some kinks, and understand what works and what doesn’t, I’ve learned a lot and had plenty of opportunities to practice flexibility. If this is challenging at first for you keep tweaking it! There are so many different possibilities of how to use this website (or how to meal plan in general) and ultimately they should serve you and your life.

Book Review: Run Like A Mother

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A friend lent me this book a couple weeks ago and I just finished it. It was a different sort of book and I’d never heard of it before – but I did like it and it was a quick read.

It’s different because it isn’t really a how-to book or a traditional fitness book; it doesn’t have any training plans, exercise illustrations, or nutritional guidelines. Instead, it reads more like a blog written by a couple of running moms. Running moms who write for publications like Runner’s World and Self, but moms none-the-less.

This attribute is the book’s greatest strength and weakness, I think. I personally benefitted from reading the confessions and stories of two moms who have made running a part of their daily lives. It’s inspiring and confidence-building to see exactly how other people make their exercise habit work in the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

I’m hoping to run either a half-marathon or marathon in September of 2015 at The North Face Endurance Challenge, an event where Zach volunteered as the on-site chiropractor this fall. So far the only races I have under my belt are two 5Ks and a 7-miler. This book helped reassure me that my goal is not totally unreasonable. It features a lot of quotes and input from running moms of all types as well as a chapter on the reality of running postpartum, both of which were particularly helpful to me.

Other chapters cover running clothes, music suggestions, trail running, cross-training, body image, and injuries, among other things. The authors offer their perspectives and backgrounds in these topics in a conversational and informal tone. I appreciated this and felt like I’d made new “runner friends” after reading this book.

However, for readers looking for fewer anecdotes and clever turns-of-phrase and more practical advice, this book could be a little frustrating (and sometimes the authors’ wordiness and awkward point-of-view switches frustrated me too). It’s not really written for beginning runners – more for runners who are looking for encouragement as they try to balance their parenting responsibilities with their running or get back into running after a break.

If that sounds like you, or if you’re a mom who’s just getting into running who has other resources for training plans and guidelines, I recommend this book as a quick, fun, and encouraging read. It’s written much like a magazine so it’s easy to skim and pick-and-choose if you don’t want to commit to reading all of it.