Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Did I just read that?

"Kansas gets 4 years for beheading man with guitar string; prosecutors cite problems with case"  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/04/06/kansas-gets-4-years-for-beheading-man-with-guitar-string-prosecutors-cite/?intcmp=ob_article_footer_text&intcmp=obnetwork

I would cite problems with that headline.

Unless they really did put a state in jail for 4 years. Or the band (that would explain the guitar string). And if that's the case, 4 years seems kind of short...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Candy bars!

Making candy all month--kind of obsessively, as I got a bunch a new ideas I had to try--led me slowly but steadily to a new discovery:  You can make candy bars at home.

Of course, that seems obvious. If you can make chocolates at home, why not candy bars?  Duh.

The thing that delighted me is that candy bars are actually a hundred times easier than making chocolates.  Why? You don't have to form them one at a time. You spread all the ingredients on a cookie sheet, let them set up, and then cut them into bars.

And they are Oh. So. Good.

Kind of amazingly good. Like we all made ourselves sick eating so many because you just can't stop.

The other thing I love is they completely satisfy my need to experiment in the kitchen. (What, you mean you haven't noticed that I LOVE experimenting in the kitchen? And tend to go overboard testing new ideas?)  Candy bars are uniquely creatively satisfying because you can combine ingredients in so many, many ways.

My first attempt was a brand-new-invention candy bar (let's call them Mister Tim Bars for now because they include all his favorite treats).  I layered graham crackers, homemade marshmallow, and peanut butter filling, and topped it off with milk chocolate. And they were to die for. I made one cookie sheet worth (that's 72 candy bars, each 1"x 3" because I have a big cookie sheet), and they disappeared super fast--before I could even finish covering them completely in chocolate!

The second go was supposed to be Twix clones, but when we did a taste test the homemade version was so good that the real Twix bars tasted yucky in comparison--and Twix are one of my all-time favorite candy bars! I once again ate so many I made myself sick.

And there are so SO many options.

Oh, what? You want recipes?  (Oh my--this is so easy it's almost embarrassing).

The idea that so appeals to me about candy bars is you can choose any flavor coating that they make baking chips of and fill them with any combination of fillings.  Mix and match to your heart's delight.

The basic process:

1. Get a big cookie sheet (mine is 12" x 18" and that's just right).  Cover it with a sheet of wax paper or aluminum foil (wax paper works better) long enough that 4" hangs out on each side (to use as handles to life the bars from the sheet to cut them).  THIS IS IMPORTANT:  It has to be a cookie sheet with 1" sides on it. Those flat ones just won't do.

2. Melt your choice of baking chips. I do them a cup at a time in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until they are smooth. Sometimes I add a half teaspoon of shortening per cup of chips to get a softer, smoother chocolate, but it's not required (and is a bad idea if you really want a crisp chocolate coating on your candy bar).  Spread them in a thin layer across the entire bottom of the cookie sheet. It takes about 2 cups of chips, so about a bag, to cover the bottom. You could make the layer thicker, but it's really easy to overwhelm with chocolate, so thin is good.

3. Start layering fillings.  If you're going to use cookies or graham crackers in the layers, lay them down before your chocolate (or other flavor of chips) sets up. If not, you can let the chocolate harden (best done in the fridge or freezer or it goes really slowly) before you layer things on.

4. Top with another layer of melted chips (to match the bottom or a different flavor--you can be creative!  Like chocolate on the bottom and peanutbutter chips on top? Yum!).

5. Let the whole tray set up (best in a cold place--I cover mine with another sheet of wax paper and stick it on the back porch at night because my freezer wont' hold the tray--but a freezer would be perfect).

6.  Take the entire thing out of the tray using the wax paper "handles" you left hanging over and cut it into bars with a big knife. I can make 72 bars from my tray. 1" x 3" bars really are perfect--homemade candy is richer than store bought.

7.  Eat them as-is, with bare sides, or cover the sides with more melted chips so they look more like storebought candy bars. I have found they don't last long enough for me to cover the sides, and it's a lot of work, so it can be unnecessary. That said, the chocolate on the sides does hold caramel fillings in better-it tends to very slowly spread if you don't contain it with chocolate on the sides, too.

Options for coatings (these are the flavors of baking chips readily available in my stores here in Longmont):
semi-sweet chocolate (can overwhelm some fillings, but I do so love dark chocolate flavors!)
milk chocolate (this is preferred--it lets the flavor of the fillings shine through)
white chocolate
peanut butter

Nestle and Hersheys also make specialty chips that are sometimes only available seasonally, including mint chocolate and special dark chocolate. Don't bother with the multicolored ones, though, because you melt and stir them together, so the colors blend in and look like plain chocolate in the end anyway, and usually those multicolored (orange and brown for Halloween, Green and red and brown for Christmas) actually are not multiflavored.

You can also use candy coating, like CandyQuik, but why settle for fake chocolate when you can have real chocolate?

The Fillings
This is the good part, right?

Caramel (use your favorite recipe; My favorite is: 1 c melted butter, dash salt, 1 can sweetened condensed milk or 1 1/3 cup homemade sweetened condensed milk, 2 1/4 c brown sugar, 1 c corn syrup, and 1 tsp vanilla--mix and cook in the microwave for 18-20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until it reaches firm ball stage.)

Marshmallow (I used this recipe, but I didn't bother to form them into peeps. I just poured them onto the tray and let them set up in a big sheet. It's basically divinity with gelatin added.)

Graham Crackers

Peanut butter (or any nut butter) filling:  1 tbsp soft butter mixed with 1 c peanut butter (or almond or Nutella or whatever) and 3 cups of powdered sugar--knead until it looks like playdough. Or use your favorite buckeye filling recipe.

Nougat (Divinity with baking chips added to flavor it--see the bottom of the recipe at the link for instructions; you have to triple this recipe to fill a cookie sheet. You could also use flavoring extracts to flavor it.)--this is like the filling of 3 Musketeers bars, only you can make any flavor you like.  If it lasts that long. My kids inhale this stuff plain.

Shortbread (use your favorite recipe. Mine is: 1 c softened butter, 3/4 c sugar, 1 egg, and 2 1/4 c flour. Mix and spread in a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes. To use in cookies, like Twix clones, bake them in the same cookie sheet you'll use to assemble the candy bars, but first grease the sheet, line it with aluminum foil with 4" overhangs on each side, and spray the foil with baking spray--or grease it, too--so that you can remove the shortbread as one giant cookie, put down the wax paper and chocolate and replace the giant cookie as a layer in the candy bars. If you like the less distinct flavor of the storebought candy bar cookie layer, use shortening instead of butter.)


Dried fruit


Coconut filling (1 1/2 sticks melted butter, 1 square soft butter, 2 pounds powdered sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk or 1 1/3 c homemade sweetened condensed milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla or coconut flavoring, 1-2 c shredded coconut--mix well until it looks like cookie dough)

Cream candy filling (just in case you want a cream filling denser than nougat, although I would always choose nougat first)--same as the coconut filling recipe, but leave out the coconut and stir in whatever flavoring extract you want instead--maple, almond, vanilla, etc.

"Chocolate milk cream" (that's what my kids call this stuff). It would be super good as a gooey addition to a marshmallow filled bar

Toffee (my favorite recipe is here)

Truffle filling (the pretty much standard recipe is here)

Ice cream (for a frozen candy bar--but you have to serve it frozen!)

Jam or jelly (raspberry jam with chocolate nougat sounds so good!)

Or any kind of other candy you want to chop up and stir in (candy canes, whoppers, lemon drops, toffee bars, those tiny hard marshmallows they put in hot cocoa--you can buy them in jars at the grocery store, gummy bears, fruit snacks, etc. Be creative.)

Any other kind of hard crackers or snacks you want to chop up and put in (pretzels, those "chinese noodles" that are neither chinese nor noodle, cookie bits, etc).

Or anything else you can think of that would be good coated in chocolate.

SO MANY OPTIONS.  There are too many choices. I think the next thing I want to try is shortbread, caramel, and nutella filling. And also graham cracker, marshmallow, and nutella filling. And nougat in many flavors (cherry, orange, chocolate, mint, vanilla). And vanilla nougat with caramel on top. And marshmallow with caramel on top. And...

too many candy bars!

And I ran out of chocolate chips. So I have to pause for a breath and to buy more before I can make any more.

But YUM. One of my more successful experiments, actually.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Did I just read that?

"Perhaps the good folks in the Ohio legislature misunderestimated the extent of left-wing extremism that infests much of the modern day Democratic party."


Misunderestimated just might be my new favorite word.

From the same article: "Of course, the idea of preserving fetal life infringes on a woman’s right to choose!!11!1!! "

He's pretty excited about 11 and 1!!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Did I just read that?

"Mental illness, addition brings down cardiologist"

(They'll probably fix that, but the url preserves it).

Because you know that adding is REALLY dangerous.

(Also, oddly, there is no mention of either addition or mental illness in the article. They do talk about addiction quite a lot, though.)

Monday, March 30, 2015

On my mind lately

Roya Klingner is one of the vocal advocates for gifted people in the world. She posted on Facebook today, "I use all my talents, all my time and money to support ‪gifted‬ ‪children‬ worldwide! I love what I do."  And she really does.

The quote struck me, though.

What am I using all my time, talents, and money to support? 

The concept is easy to comprehend if we have a singular purpose in mind, like Roya does. She uses everything to further the cause she believes in: gifted children.  Other people use everything to further their causes: political, intellectual, social, or whatever. 

But the thing I realized is that everyone ultimately uses all their time, talents, and money for something (or some things).  Those things--time, talent, and money--do get used up or lost. We don't really get to hoard them--time and talents, hoarded, slip away; and money ultimately can't come with us and does us no good sitting unused in a bank somewhere (we either use it or lose it when we die).

If it's going to get used anyway, doesn't it make sense to choose what we use it for instead of letting it all slip away, frittered away on thisses and thats that don't add anything to our lives--or anyone else's?

Roya's quote brought to mind this phrase from the Guide to the Scriptures produced by the Church: "The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom."

So if we're supposed to dedicate our time, talents, and money (as Roya put it) to the building up (and establishment) of God's Kingdom, the question on my mind is how exactly do we go about that? That seems kind of daunting, actually. And spartan. It brings to mind giving up all we have to talk about Jesus exclusively and build a walled city of some kind.

But what is God's Kingdom anyway?  That seems like an important question to ask.

It's really easy to understand "gifted children" or "environmentalism".  But "God's Kingdom" is not as clearly defined in our world nowadays.  And how can I dedicate everything to building it if I don't understand what exactly it is?

I do not think the phrase means, for example, an actual physical city that God rules (not like the kingdom of Alfred the Great or someone like that). I don't think it's a spot on the ground.  I don't think it's a walled compound, and I don't think it means we give everything we have and are to building temples all over (even though building temples obviously is part of it) and don't do anything else.

When we consider it in the light of Zion being a name of God's kingdom, and Zion being, in the scriptures, not just the city but the people who lived there (the city of Enoch, where people were of one heart and one mind, or Zion, which is the pure in heart, the scriptures say), then it seems apparent that the Kingdom of God is built through bringing all of God's children to Him. It is the people who are the kingdom.  So to build the kingdom of God, we give our time, talents, and money (just like Ms. Klingner does to gifted children) to bringing people to God.

And what people? Probably the people around us. The people within our natural reach are usually the ones God needs us to help first. So building up my family and raising them righteously--that would be building the kingdom of God. My own little family are part of the kingdom, so all I do for them must be part of this. And my friends and neighbors and ward. They must be part, too.

And how? I think building the kingdom can be done, in my opinion, through anything that edifies and truly enriches people's lives, including art, music, good food, literature, friendship....All the good things--the truly good things--in life are gifts from God to us to make our lives rich and joyful and satisfying, including the gifts He gives us (commandments, scriptures, prophets, families, and, most of all, Jesus).  So the kingdom of God might be all the people and everything they need to have a happy, fulfilling life (including things to eat, things to wear, things to do, things to believe, places to be....)

So, I conclude, the good things we give to other people (friendship, smiles, treats, fun times, music, poetry, art, dancing, adventures, hope, love, joy, etc) that make their lives happier and bring them to God and to Jesus--these are building the kingdom of God. And so are the good things we produce, using whatever talents we have. 

Suddenly, that seems manageable. And fun. And satisfying.  Well worth the price (even though the price is everything). God is asking me to use what I have to do what I'm good at (using my talents) to make other people happy and bring them to Jesus (who will lighten their burdens and relieve their suffering--that's His promise)--which I know makes me happy, too. 

Suddenly the idea of giving everything to build the kingdom of God doesn't sound like a request for sacrifice, but another hint in this eternal treasure hunt that will lead us to happiness and to real treasures. It's not a burden--it's a suggestion of where to look for the blessings. Just like all of God's commandments.

Assumptions that underlie the marriage discussions

I don't want to engage in a discussion on "redefining marriage" or "marriage equality" (however you choose to frame the issue), nor do I want to start in on a battle about whether marriage is a joining of people for love or for creating children. These things are being talked about endlessly, ad nauseum (mostly because people are not listening to each other or compromising, but merely digging in their heels in a "my way or the highway" approach that has resulted in a vicious cycle of hurt feelings and bullying that is getting us nowhere).

So why am I writing about it?

I am seeing some underlying assumptions that nobody is talking about, but that I think are important parts of the topic. In any serious discussion, it can be extremely helpful to examine the underlying assumptions because they drive the discussion.

Without extensive discussion of what I think of these (whether I agree or not), here are the assumptions I'm seeing that I think are important to the "marriage question":

1. We--our lives and our personalities--are defined by our sexuality more than by any other factor.

2. Sexuality (and sexual attraction) is so powerful that it ultimately cannot and should not be resisted.

3. Love is the outgrowth of sexual attraction.

4. Sexuality is one of the driving forces of our lives and, as such, is an appropriate focus of our thoughts and energies and is a reliable guide to happiness. 

5. We're all defining the words involved in this discussion (marriage, family, etc) the same way and have the same understanding of what these things entail, including their appearance and their purpose. 

6. All gay people think the same way and want the same things, and all religious people think the same way and want the same things.

7. You know what I think because of my religious identification and I know what you think because of your sexual identification.

8. If what God says doesn't make sense to me, HE must be wrong. Or you must. Because I am not. (This assumption shows up on both sides of the debates, by the way. Don't think it's the property of one side or the other.)

These assumptions are worth considering.

Personally, I like what Hugh Nibley said: "Lunch can easily become the one thing the whole office looks forward to all morning: a distraction, a decoy‑‑like sex, it is a passing need that can only too easily become an engrossing obsession. " (http://www.bhporter.com/Nibley%20Work%20we%20Must%20but%20the%20Lunch%20is%20Free.htm)

I think too many people are asking the wrong questions. The real core question, in my opinion, is "In the ubiquitous search for happiness and meaningfulness in life, who or what am I going to take for my guide?"  Is it going to be your body? Science? Your God? My God? Someone else's God? This religion? That? Some old text? Logic? Social policy? Something else?

Who do you trust to show you the best, happiest, most fulfilling path for your life? Who are you going to follow?

I can't answer that for you, but it would be wise for all of us to think about it so that the choice is made knowingly and willingly instead of as a knee-jerk reaction to what someone else is saying or doing.

If we don't knowingly, thoughtfully, considerately understand our assumptions and consciously choose our guide, we might not like where where we end up. (And that goes not just for the marriage question, but for the entirety of life--career, family, money management, parenting, etc.) 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Funny kids

Jack's grammar is just delightful to me.

Tonight he said,

"The sun is go nigh-night."

And also,

"Turn the 'puter on school me." (He wanted to turn the computer on to do his online preschool.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Easter Candy Season

It's Easter candy season! And since I'm on a big DIY junk food binge, I'm making a list of the things I want to try:

Pies (or just eat this stuff as pudding):
Chocolate marshmallow pie
Peanutbutter marshmallow pie
Nutella marshmallow pie
Or swirled pie with more than one flavor of marshmallow cream filling...

Homemade marshmallows

Chocolate bunnies (this is where the whole Easter Candy tradition started--cheaper to make than buy chocolate bunnies, and a whole lot more fun)

Candy fillings for chocolates:
     peanut butter
     peanut butter and marshmallows
     orange cream
     nutella cream
     vanilla cream
     coconut cream
     mint cream
     caramel and marshmallows
     dulce de leche (since I made some by accident)
     graham crackers
     graham crackers and marshmallows
     graham crackers, marshmallows, and peanut butter
     graham crackers, marshmallows, and caramel
     cherry with vanilla cream
     cherry cream?
     chocolate cream

And what Tim proposed:  No bake cookies made from graham crackers, caramel balls, marshmallows, and chocolate

And I'm trying to figure out an easy and quick way to coat the candies with chocolate. It's always a pain to do them one at a time on a fork. I probably should just give in and buy some molds. Then I could make some goopier fillings, too.

I also need to remember to buy some milk chocolate chips. They're more expensive, but often the semi-sweet chips are too strong of a dark chocolate flavor for the fillings (like for caramel).

Given that I've been going overboard with treats lately, I likely will try all of these. But I'm trying to convince myself to work in SMALL batches. Like divide one batch of filling into four different flavors instead of making four batches of filling.

I'm excited, though, because I finally made a perfect batch of sweetened condensed milk, and I remembered to buy a bunch of powdered sugar, so I have plenty to make into fillings for my chocolates!