Category Archives: good days

Chocolate Monday: Cookie dough brownies

cookie dough browniesI’m baaaaaaaccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!

Thanks to the concussion I sustained in my recent car accident (not my fault, I was rear-ended while stopped), I had to take a bit of a hiatus from my blog. I tried to maintain my blog at first, but it turns out when my doctor tells me to limit my screen time, I should do a better job of listening.

I thought I was doing better. My headaches had mostly subsided, I no longer had to nap in the middle of every day and I wasn’t having as many strange emotional outbursts. I was on the mend, so I figured I’d better get caught up on all that grading I’d been neglecting.

Silly me! My headaches rushed back, I was exhausted and my emotions…CRAZY!

So, I did my best to cut out any screen I could, but now that I’m finally starting to feel mostly normal (only like two headaches last week), I’m gonna try this whole blogging thing again.

For my first chocolate blog back, I want to talk about a Pinterest recipe I tried out last week. I had to bake something to reward a few of my students for their reading achievements. I love baking and over the years I’ve built up quite a reputation at my school for my mad skillz in the kitchen. Sometimes I create my own recipes and sometimes I cheat a bit and use other people’s recipes. Not that it matters to my students (or my family). They love it either way.

I love Pinterest. I’m the person who saves all those amazing recipes and then actually makes them. I mean, not all of them. I have dozens of recipes on each of my different food boards (side dishes, main dishes, cookies/bars, desserts, breakfast, crock pot, appetizers, sandwiches, soups, popsicle/ice cream and candy) that I have not yet gotten around to try, but I make something off of Pinterest at least once a week. Usually 3 or 4 times.

I’ve had this recipe for cookie dough brownies saved on my cookies/bars board for quite some time. Last weekend was the perfect time to make them. I wanted something to really wow my students and these looked like they’d do the trick.

And boy did they! When I handed them out to the readers who’d reached their goal, they were ecstatic. More importantly, the rest of my students perked up and asked how many books they had to finish to get one. After I handed them out and my students raved about them, I saw a renewed enthusiasm for silent reading.

Although they took a little extra time and created double the dishes since I had to make brownie batter and cookie dough, they were worth it. The recipe calls for dark chocolate chips, but I knew the Penzy’s Dutch process cocoa powder I was using was going to be a bit stronger than the garden variety Hershey’s, and I don’t really like dark chocolate much, so I opted for semi-sweet chocolate chips, which I hoped would help keep these morsels from being too sweet. I think they did.

The brownies themselves are quite tasty. They aren’t overly dense, but they make a substantial bottom for the treat. They were moist and cooked to perfection. I don’t like when my brownies get crunchy. I am a center brownie girl. I usually dish out the edge brownies to my family members and students and save the amazingly delicious center ones for myself!  Thankfully even the edge brownies in this batch didn’t get crunchy.

The cookie dough topping was sweet and tasted pretty much like the delicious cookie batter I whip up for my regular chocolate chip cookies, but without the danger of raw eggs that I’ll admit I risk every time I make cookies.

Combined they are rich. I can only eat one and cannot imagine two in the same day, much less at the same sitting. My husband says he likes them, but that they are too rich for him–he’d rather have a brownie and a cookie than the two combined. Of course, he prefers his candy in the Skittle or gummy form, so I’m not sure his opinion counts for much in this case.

If you like to bake, I highly suggest giving these a try. They are a real crowd pleaser.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10 (pretty cheap to make)

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Wildcard Wednesday: Blaze Pizza

Blaze PizzaI’ve been pretty diligent about this whole diet and exercise thing. I actually started it in August. Between August and October I managed to lose about 10 pounds, which while far from my goal, was a nice start. Then, I went on vacation to see my best friend, which meant a lot of eating out at our favorite places. Then I got back to work and had a lot of work to day and got myself stressed, which meant a bit more eating and less working out. While I only gained two pounds back, I was not keeping track of my calories and was hardly making it to the gym.

When my husband got a new job and a free membership to Life Time Fitness, I decided to check it out. I really liked it, especially since it has two amazing pools and childcare included in the membership cost. So, by mid-December, I was back in the gym. Of the 24 days of December that I was trying out/a member of the gym, I made it in 12 times, which I thought was pretty good.

About a week before the end of the year, I decided that exercise alone was not going to cut it, so I also cut back on calories. I logged back into My Fitness Pal and started tracking. I was giving this thing my all.

So far in the 17 days of January, I’ve been to the gym 13 times and I’ve yet to go over my 1400 calorie limit. I’m down four pounds and feeling pretty good about life.

As part of this new routine, I’ve been cooking a lot more, which is really important since I have total control over ingredients and therefore calories. However, every now and then I need a break from the kitchen.

This past weekend we were out running a bunch of errands and found ourselves a bit far from our house at lunch time. Looking around, I noticed a Blaze Pizza and decided it would be a great option for lunch. We’ve been to Blaze several times and really like it. If you’ve never been, it’s sort of the Subway of pizza joints. My kids love being able to custom build their own pizzas, even if it sometimes means some questionable combinations. When given the chance at unlimited toppings, my son goes a bit mad with power. My daughter sticks more to the basics: cheese pizza.

Aside from liking the actual taste of Blaze Pizza, I really like that I can control what goes on it and make sensible choices. As much as I like ooey-gooey, super fatty cheesy pepperoni pizza, I can also appreciate a healthier option. I also really love that Blaze has a great nutrition calculator so I can see what my toppings will cost me.

For my most recent Blaze creation, I started with the standard, fairly thin crust, which has 420 calories for the entire pizza. I added the red sauce, which is another 30 calories for the entire pizza. I topped it with goat cheese instead of the standard mozzarella. This adds only 100 calories instead of 220. I skipped meat to avoid extra fat and calories and instead loaded it with veggies. I stacked on spinach, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, artichokes and roasted squash. All together, each piece had about 95 calories, so 3 pieces was not only filling, but also under 300 calories (and only 6 grams of fat). Not at all bad for lunch, right?

Most importantly, it tasted fantastic and since each pizza has 6 slices, I have another healthy lunch for tomorrow. Everyone in the family was satisfied and I didn’t have to spend any extra time on the Arc trainer (although I did).

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Chocolate Monday: Vanilla Rooibos Tea

I first found Vosges while exploring Armitage Street in Chicago. I wasn’t looking for a chocolate shop. My mission was to visit the local LUSH store to stock up on much needed hair and skin care products. However, as my best friend and I strolled down the street, we found not one, but two fantastic chocolate shops. Sadly the first one, Ethel M’s closed down only a few years after we found it. The company itself is still in business, but the Chicago store closed and they also stopped selling the majority of the truffles and filled treats I love. When I found them again in Vegas years later, they had less than half the stock of the Chicago store.

Luckily Vosges not only stayed on Armitage for our yearly visit, but they spread their stocks wider and wider so that even my local Kroger now sells a variety of their chocolate bars. My only real issue with Vosges is that their stock tends to be overwhelmingly dark chocolate and try as I might, I just don’t like dark chocolate as much as its lovely milk cousin. However, I have found that their 45% dark milk chocolate is very tasty.

I especially enjoy it in their Vanilla Rooibos Tea bar. This bar is a wonderful combination of dark milk chocolate, rooibos tea and tart cherries. Just about anything with cherries, especially with dried tart cherries, has my heart. I love cherries in just about any form they take. I especially love them in this bar.

The chocolate definitely has a dark hint to it. It is not smooth and creamy exactly. It has a tiny bit of bitterness to it that could be off putting if not for the the lovely tartness of the cherries. The cherries not only add a bright burst of sweet to help temper the bitterness of the chocolate, but they also add a great texture to the bar. That texture is enhanced by the slightly crunchy bits of tea. Although tea can add bitterness to some candies, either the chocolate masks it in this case or it simply isn’t here. The only bitterness I find is in the actual chocolate.

This is a delightful bit of dark chocolate and I not only like it, but seek it out.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 6/10
Value: 7/10 (at $8 a bar, it is pricey, so it’s definitely a treat)

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Wildcard Wednesday: Cycling classes

As part of my newish gym membership, I have not only been going fairly religiously, but I’ve branched out from my usual treadmill, elliptical, and Arc trainer routines. I’ve even added more than just my occasional weight machines. Unlike Planet Fitness, Life Time Fitness has lots of classes.

Last week, I decided to try my hand at my first class: EDG cycling. I’ve never been to any sort of cycling or spin class before. Aside from the Zumba class I go to once a week, which is taught by one of my co-workers in the foods lab at our school, I haven’t attended any type of exercise class since I was in my mid-20’s and I went to Curves gym.

When my husband and I first started dating, we spent a lot of time riding our bikes down the local bike trail. Sometimes we would ride for hours. It was a lot of fun and after I got a super comfy gel seat, it didn’t even hurt much. But that bike has gotten little use over the last few years. In fact it’s actually gotten more than a bit rusted and bent out of shape over the years. And it’s been almost three decades since I’ve ridden a stationary bike of any kind. And back then, the bike didn’t have fancy digital equipment.

This new fangled bike was fancy and a bit confusing. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find the studio at first so I came to the class right as it was starting. Luckily one of the class regulars was kind enough to help me set up my bike and get me started. Granted, I had no idea what the instructor was talking about when she said to turn the dial to take the resistance up. I still don’t quite get what she meant by working out in zones 1, 2, 3 or 4, but I rode that bike. I even added tons of resistance by actually hitting the lever that knocks the resistance up by rather large leaps rather than gradually dialing it up. Oops!

I was definitely sweating by the end of those 45 minutes. I was also exhausted. And man oh man, did my rear end hurt. Those seats are not even remotely padded or comfortable.

But, despite my cluelessness and my sore derriere, I went back for another cycling class a few days later. This time I figured out the knob to slowly add resistance. I was also able to make it through all the “out of the saddle” portions of the class, which I’ll admit I could not do the first go around.

By my third class, I felt a bit like an old pro. I could add more resistance, even using that little power lever when I didn’t have to. And not only did I make it through all the stand up parts, during the last song when we had the choice to focus on speed, strength or stamina, I took a turn at all three, spending about a third of the song off my rear and standing as I peddled when I didn’t even have to.

And yes, my butt is still a bit sore from those horrid seats, but I’m already looking at the schedule for my next cycling class.

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Free Reading Friday: All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked SaintsI am a big Maggie Stiefvater fan. I was really excited about the release of this book in part because it is the first book she’s written since finishing up the Raven Boys series, which I adored, and in part because this book helped me cross one more book off of my Pop Sugar reading list: a book recommended by an author you like. It just so happens that when I saw John Green speak on his Turtles All the Way Down tour, he mentioned Stiefvater’s book and suggested we all go out and read it. Since I’d pre-ordered an autographed copy of All the Crooked Saints with a nifty bookplate designed by the author, as I heard Green make the suggestion, I knew I’d be easily able to check that book off my list.

With the pile of books I had waiting for me to read, it actually took me quite awhile to get to this book. So long that instead of being the last book I finished in 2017, it was the the first one I finished in 2018. Yes, it meant I fell a little shy of my Pop Sugar goal, but since it wasn’t the only book keeping me from finishing the reading list, I accepted my defeat gracefully.

I did, however, stay up until 1 am on New Year’s Day finishing All the Crooked Saints. I had to know how it ended before I could allow myself to drift off to sleep.
Crooked Saints owlI was especially excited to read this particular book because I had not one, but two copies of it. The first was my pre-order, which came with a cool owl postcard signed by Stiefvater and the super cute owl bookplate. When I got my copy in the mail, I thought it was pretty nifty looking.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my best friends went to a library conference where Stiefvater was a keynote speaker and not only did she get to meet her and take pictures with her–which she sent me–but when I begged her to get me a signed copy of The Raven Boys, she did. However, she didn’t know I’d pre-ordered All the Crooked Saints, so she also got me a personalized signed copy of it. So now instead of one autographed copy, I have two. One personalized to me and one that isn’t personalized but has a cool bookplate. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with the “extra” copy. My guess is I’ll hold on to it and give it to one of my kids. They are both huge readers and really it’ll only be another few years before my son is ready for this book. He’ll love that it is signed and has the bookplate.

book plateAlthough this book is in many ways very different than the Raven series or her Shiver series, it still shares that wonderful sense of magical realism so prominent in all of her books. In fact, I think she may be at her best as far as magical realism goes in this book. Unlike the Shiver series or The Scorpio Races, she’s not depending on already established mythos to center this book around. Also, unlike the Raven series, she manages to keep this book a bit more in the realm of reality, which I think enhances the magical realism in it. This book is the one that reminds me most of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work, although it is definitely not quite in that league.

But I don’t mean that as an insult to Stiefvater. Her book isn’t truly comparable to Marquez because she has a very different intended audience and she is very in touch with that audience. She writes for YA readers and those who love YA fiction and she brings magical realism to them in a way that I think is more accessible. And, in a way that I feel might lead them to Marquez.

Her prose in this this book is warm and rich. I love the way she introduces characters by telling the reader one thing they wanted and one thing they feared. For example, on page 4, she introduces Joaquin Soria by saying, “here was a thing Joaquin Soria wanted: to be famous. Here was a thing he feared: dying alone in the parched dust outside Bicho Raro.” She does this again on page 8 as a way to further introduce Beatriz Soria. “Here was a thing Beatriz wanted: to devote time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy. Here was a thing she feared: being asked to do anything else.” These small moments of brilliance add great depths to the characters and allow the reader insights into them that they might not otherwise get.

I thoroughly enjoyed the miracles performed in this book. They were, of course, not at all what I thought of as miracles. How anyone could imagine someone who just wants to escape his life of fame and recognition receiving a miracle that turns him into a giant, is beyond me. And yet, it makes perfect sense. Tony’s fame made him a giant in his world and in order to truly find peace and happiness, he had to learn to deal with his problem in full force. The miracles themselves add those moments of magic–twins who want to be separate people but are too afraid to be are twined together by a snake that threatens to devour them if they get too far apart–a woman who cannot find a way to speak for herself who can only echo everyone else’s words–these are the perfect miracles for them because those miracles teach them to finally face their problems and overcome them.

The book has wonderful message that there are no miracles that can just fix lives. Problems need to be worked at and struggled through. And most importantly, they need the help of others. There are problems that we cannot fix on our own. It’s not only ok to ask for help, it is important to. We must reach out and try to solve our problems, but we must ask for and accept help from those who want to help us. Our problems are not insurmountable, but there are no real miraculous cures for them. We have to work through them, with those who love us to find solutions and a sense of peace.

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Throwback Thursday: Firefly and Serenity

I have loved Joss Whedon for about two decades now. Ever since I saw my first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer twenty years ago, I was hooked. Now, I’ll admit it, I didn’t see the first episode on it’s premiere night. I actually saw it when the WB reran it over the weekend. The show caught me a bit off guard as I’d seen the movie at the theater during its original run. This was due in large part to the fact that I actually worked at a movie theater at the time. If I hadn’t, I might not have seen it. The TV show was nothing like the campy, but fun, movie I remembered from high school. I was a bit confused about the different school and characters, but when her new principal mentioned the burning down of the gym at her old school, I realized it was still some version of the movie I knew.

I faithfully watched (and rewatched and rerewatched) every episode of Buffy. When Angel split off with his own series, I watched that too. I was especially enthralled when Spike managed to survive the seventh season of Buffy and moved on over to Angel.

Somehow I managed to miss news about Whedon’s show Firefly, at least until right after it was cancelled. Not that it was hard to miss considering how little publicity Fox gave it. Or the fact they aired the episodes out of order which confused people. Or that they only had it on the air for 12 of the 13 episodes. It was almost like Fox did everything in its power to tank the show.

Thankfully a friend of mine told me about it and lent me his DVD’s. From the moment I watched the first episode, I was hooked. And then I was devastated that I only got 13 near perfect episodes to love.

So when Serenity was made, I was in line on opening day. And I loved it. To this day it is still one of my favorite movies. In fact, I love it so much that each year I introduce my Film Lit students to it as part of their final. A surprising number of them end up really liking it as well and then go on to watch Firefly. Some even go on to watch Buffy and Angel. Of course, that might have something to do with the Buffy clips I show too.

Recently I learned that there are Serenity comic books. I knew that Whedon decided to add to the Buffy legacy by creating what would have been the 8th season of Buffy in comic book form. Right after they came out, my husband bought me the first few for my birthday. Then a friend lent me the rest of them. They were fun, but not quite the way I saw the show going (look, if it doesn’t somehow end with Buffy and Spike back together my interest level wanes).

I knew he’s also created Angel comic books, but I didn’t look into those. I liked the show, but it’s my third favorite of his shows (Dollhouse is my least favorite).

Until two weeks ago I had no idea he’d also created a comic book series for Serenity. When I found out, I logged on to my library to see if by chance they had them. Amazingly enough, they did. I put what I thought were the first four on hold, however, at this point I’m still not sure the order of the books. I’ve looked online and while I found a post about the correct order, it lists books I can’t find at my library or on Amazon. It also definitely does not list them in the same order my library (and Amazon does). So although I am a bit confused, I’m going to read them in the order I think they go in and if it’s not right, I’ll be ok with that and just enjoy them.

So far I’ve only read the first one (I think), Those Left Behind. It was definitely fun. It probably would have made a great episode of the show. I love seeing the characters drawn just like the actors and I love reading their words, which of course I hear in my head in the voices of the actors. I love getting to “see” Nathan Fillion play out more adventures of my beloved Mal. It’s not quite as good as more episodes would have been, but it’s a nice consolation.

I may have to get copies of them for my classroom for students who fall in love with the movie to read.

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: My new phone

I finally got sick of having the world’s dumbest smart phone. Ok, that’s probably not completely fair or completely true, but calling it a piece of junk was being kind.

It’s my own fault. In an attempt not to spend an arm and a leg on a new phone, I opted for one of the cheapest smart phones out there. The phone itself was fine. The problem was that it only had 8 GB of storage on it and a little over half of that storage was used for all sorts of system files I had no control over and could not delete. Even though I bought a 16 GB SD card, it hardly helped. Only some of my apps could be saved to the SD card, so I was constantly getting the message that my phone was at low storage and updates could not be made.

Every photo or video I took had to immediately be uploaded to my Google account. I constantly had to delete my internet cache. I also had to uninstall updates for all of the apps that came preloaded onto my phone (like Google Drive, Hangouts, YouTube, Amazon, T-Mobile, etc).

It wasn’t horrible when this was something I had to do once every couple of weeks. I could even deal with it when I was doing it weekly. However, when it got to the point that I was getting that message every other day, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I gave in and drove myself to the T-Mobile store.

While I did not go crazy and get a top of the line phone, I did make sure that this new one had plenty of storage. That was really my only must have.

My new phone has 32GB and even adding tons of apps directly onto my phone has left me with 16 GB left. And I haven’t even put my memory card into this phone yet. I can’t. I mean, it fits and everything and would give me 16 additional GB of space, but for some reason that no one at the T-Mobile store can figure out, my new phone will not recognize the audiobooks I have downloaded to the memory card. My new phone has Overdrive and has played every book I’ve downloaded from my local library, but for some reason it does not want to acknowledge the existence of the two dozen or so audiobooks I have on my memory card.

For now I am leaving the card in my old phone. I figure I can use it like an iPod and just play the books when I want to hear them. As soon as I finish them, I can delete them from my memory card and stick it in the new phone.

Aside from this strange snafu with the memory card, I really like my new phone. It’s still nothing overly fancy, but it does exactly what I need and didn’t cost more than my mortgage payment, so I’m cool with it.

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