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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Home Made Sweetened Condensed Milk

So I had a kind of pie-making binge weekend, and in the process I ran out of sweetened condensed milk, since I made two batches of homemade caramel (in the microwave! It's SO easy--just mix it up, microwave until it's thick stirring every 3 minutes. Way easier than stovetop. But I digress) last week, and then two pies that had sweetened condensed milk in them, and I just plumb ran out. Unlike tomato sauce, it's not something I usually keep dozens of cans on hand.

But a friend of mine had mentioned that a mutual friend makes her own sweetened condensed milk, so I thought I'd see if I could make some myself, since I really wanted a key lime pie and the main ingredients are lime juice (I had that, weirdly) and sweetened condensed milk (sc milk, combined with any acid, turns into a gel, which is why it is the foundation of many pies, including my favorite: cherry cream) and I had no car. (Also, I realized that easter candy season is upon us, and my cream candy filling recipe is based on sweetened condensed milk).

I emailed my friend for her recipe and found my mom's old homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe (on the back of her caramel recipe, of course). I looked some up online and found a thousand variations. My friend's recipe is:

Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 c. hot tap water
2 c. sugar
4 c. dry milk powder
1/4 c. melted margarine

Put hot water into the blender. Add the sugar, dry milk powder and melted margarine. Put the lid on the blender whirl it around for a full minute. The mixture will be kind of thin, but will thicken up after standing for about an hour. Store in frig or freeze. Makes about 4 cups = 3 cans condensed milk.

So I tried making powdered-milk-based sweetened condensed milk. It worked! Unfortunately, I could still taste the powdered milk flavor, even through the lime flavor in the pie, and I'm not a fan of powdered milk flavor, to put it mildly.

So then I remembered that I had seen a lot of recipes where you actually condense the milk on the stove as I had been prowling around the web looking for powdered milk based recipes. But milk is expensive. So I spent an hour doing a little math and calculated the cost of making sweetened condensed milk using two other recipes I found vs just buying a can.

Buying a can of sweetened condensed milk at WalMart in Longmont costs $1.68 a can, or $1.34 a cup (1 can is about 1 1/4 cups even though it's 14 oz--it's oz weight, not oz volume in a sweetened condensed milk can, and, unlike with tomato sauce, they aren't equal). And they're often out, so you might have to buy it somewhere else in town where it costs significantly more.

The easiest looking recipe I found, which I haven't tried yet, is to take a can of evaporated milk, stir in 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and heat it until the sugar is dissolved and it's "thickened" (whatever that means. I hate finding that word in recipes--HOW THICK does that mean, thickened? Drives me nuts.) This recipe costs $0.63 per cup because evaporated milk is that much cheaper than sweetened condensed, and sugar is cheap, too.

And the more complicated recipe that I liked was written up by a Malaysian lady.  Of course I researched dozens of recipes and concluded that most were plagiarized from one original (although I couldn't tell which was the original)--and this on supposedly professional recipe sites. Embarrassing. Do they think they're the only site people look at and nobody will notice?

So of course I took a conglomerate of different recipes and tried it. I mixed up sugar and milk in the crock pot and cooked it until it had reduced by half, and it was still pretty thin but people on blogs and in comments had assured me it would thicken as it cooled, and it did but it was still kind of thin.  But they all said it was thinner but worked fine in candy recipes and stuff.  I also stirred in butter, like some recipes suggested, and that just floated to the top and solidified there as the milk cooled, so that was a fail. And I stirred in vanilla, which made a delicious flavor but not the pure sweetened condensed milk flavor I was looking for.

So we made rainbow fudge with it.  Aside from the fact that it was far too sweet to be edible, the stuff never did set up. It was just as runny as could be. Obviously the too-thin sweetened condensed milk was not sufficient.

Back to the drawing board. I googled. I read comments on recipes that said stuff like "Mine didn't set up so I tried this...." And I made another batch in the crock pot.

Cooked it on high instead of low until it reduced by half. Cooking it on low (the first time round) took 16 hours to reduce by half. On high it only ("only") took 12. (You have to do it with the lid off or it doesn't reduce, by the way). But it was still far too thin. So I added baking soda, like some commenters swore worked.  No good. Still too thin. Extra sugar did nothing. Frustrated, I poured the stuff out of the crock pot into a sauce pan and boiled the heck out of it.

While I was doing that, I realized something. Altitude. The recipe was written for Malaysia, on sea level. I'm at nearly 6000 feet. Boiling sugar at this altitude never works the same because the boiling temperature is different, so I have to make candy by the cold water test rather than by a candy thermometer temperature or it doesn't work.

I boiled it until I thought it was thick enough, and then put it in jars and refrigerated it over night. Success! Except I'd cooked it too long this time and had just hit the line between sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche. SUPER delicious. Slightly overcooked. I made it into a key lime pie anyway. I really wanted one that didn't taste like powdered milk!

Anyway, that all got me thinking--of course I should look up dulce de leche recipes and see if they were any better than sweetened condensed milk recipes. Because sc milk is just undercooked dulce de leche. The ingredients are the same.  And that was really, really helpful.

For one, the dulce de leche recipes reminded me what I knew and forgot--the thickness of the finished product is not based on cooking time but on cooking temperature when you're dealing with sugar, which is why a sea-level recipe won't work at high altitude in the crock pot to thicken, only to reduce.

So here's what worked up here in Colorado.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Recipe (DIY)

6 cups of whole milk (I hear skim milk doesn't work, but cream does--that would be amazing, but not cheaper)
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda (totally optional--it browns if it you're into that kind of thing)

Stir all ingredients together in the crock pot and cook on high with the lid off until the mixture has reduced by half--about 12 hours. (I checked this with a skewer. I dipped it straight into the liquid when I started and then drew a line around the skewer at the liquid line. Then I measured with a ruler and drew another line around the skewer exactly half way down. When the liquid reached the lower line, it had reduced enough.) Pour the condensed liquid into a large sauce pan (use a really really big one, like a soup pot, because it climbs). Boiled it on medium and then low until it thickened enough. (You can test it by putting a little in a spoon and setting the spoon on an ice cube--when it cools to the right thickness, you've cooked it long enough.) I did NOT stir the whole time--after I turned it to low, I stirred just every 5 minutes or so to let the steam out. If you want dulce de leche, cook it until it's light brown and thicker.  Pour it into glass jars, cover, and refrigerate. If it looks like there are hardened bits in it, pour it through a strainer into the jars.

This recipe cost only $0.43 per cup. And it made a little over 2 cans worth (about 2.5 - 3 cups). So it's definitely cheaper, and not very hard.

I'm not completely satisfied yet, of course. I need to try:

--cooking it on the stove the whole time (I hear it works but that it can require you to strain the milk at the end), for 2-4 hours total

--cooking it in a pan in the oven. I read you can use that to make dulce de leche, so I'm wondering if you can do sc milk that way, too

--boiling the milk and sugar together first and THEN putting it in the crock pot with the lid off, so the crock pot can maintain the higher temperature (it never did actually get to boiling when I started it cold, on low or on high)

--using the caramel method (microwaving it). It works for white sauce and caramel, so maybe sweetened condensed milk, too? Probably would have to reduce the milk first, though, on the stove or in the crock pot.

--trying it without the baking soda. Most recipes don't use it, and I suspect it's extra. Dulce de leche recipes say it's just to help it brown.

I liked using the crock pot because it was so gentle--it didn't burn or scald or otherwise ruin the milk. Nothing grainy or lumpy or needing straining. But it also didn't thicken it. Combining that with the stovetop worked fine.

Those might all fail, but at least I know now how to make both sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche without a can.

(With a can, the best dulce de leche ever is made by boiling the can, unopened, for 2-4 hours. But you have to keep water over the can or it can explode. Tim exploded a can once doing this, so it really is not a myth.)

Just asked Jack if he wanted some pie. He said no.

Baby came 2 months ago, and now I have energy like I haven't in a year. It's lovely. I tend to go overboard on things as a result.

Last Saturday was Super Pi day (3/14/15--the first digits of the mathematical number pi).  We couldn't go to our friends' pie party to celebrate because it was also St. Patrick's Day Weekend, which is a super busy time for Irish bands and the band Tim sings with, Delilah's Revenge, had the day booked full and they needed our van to drive themselves and their gear around.  (And our other two cars are broken. Of course.)

So we decided to have a pie party at home.

And I kind of got carried away.

I only own 4 pie pans, one of which I really need to send to Aunt Donella since my kids destroyed one of her pie pans. But that's a tangent. Only own 4 pie pans, so I could only make 4 pies. So I started poking around online to see if it's possible to make chocolate pie crusts (it is). And then I found myself wandering around a website called Mr. Food, which had a lot of good recipes that were easy.

And we ended up with four pies: Marshmallow Cream (based on this recipe but highly modified), Peanut butter cream, cranberry cream (only we left the pineapple out), and key lime.  Then Monday we found strawberries on sale, so we made strawberry cream cobbler, which was really good. And then Tuesday we made rainbow fudge (didn't set up and was far, far too sweet, looked tie dyed by the time we were done, and was very beautiful) and another marshmallow pie because some people didn't get any from the first one.

They were all good, but the marshmallow pie was my own modification of a recipe and it held so much promise!  So today we made a mandarin marshmallow pie, and I remembered having pineapple cream that was made with marshmallows, so I found that recipe and we're going to try that, too.

See, I get carried away!

But I did want to share the marshmallow pie recipe because it was so yummy and so versatile and not written down anywhere else.

Marshmallow Pie

24 large marshmallows (2 1/2 cups of mini)
1/2 c milk
1/3 c ice cream (any flavor--this will flavor the pie)
8 oz tub of whipped topping or 2 c whipped cream
Graham cracker or chocolate cookie pie crust

Heat the marshmallows and milk on medium heat, stirring constantly until the marshmallows melt completely. Set aside and let it cool for 15 minutes. Stir in the ice cream until it's melted completely. Fold in the whipped cream. Put the mixture in the pie crust and freeze for 2 hours or until set up.

This was super yummy, if you like marshmallows. It would taste fantastic with anything that tastes good with marshmallows stirred in or drizzled on top (chocolate syrup, chopped peanut butter cups, fruit, etc). The finished product tastes like marshmallows flavored like whatever ice cream you put in.

So from there we made a Mandarin Marshmallow pie.

The recipe:

24 large marshmallows or 2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1/2 c milk
1/3 c liquid from a can of mandarin oranges or orange juice
1 small can or 1 cup mandarin orange slices (canned)
8 oz or 2 c whipped topping or whipped cream
Graham cracker pie crust

As with the plain marshmallow pie recipe, melt the marshmallows with the milk over medium heat, stirring constantly until the marshmallows are completely melted. Remove from heat and let it cool 15 minutes. Stir in juice from mandarin orange can or orange juice. Fold in whipped topping/cream and then fold in orange segments. Pour into crust and freeze 2 hours or until set.

So now my brain is buzzing....chocolate marshmallow pie, snickers marshmallow pie, coconut marshmallow pie, etc.

So tonight when it was time to taste the mandarin orange marshmallow pie, I asked Jack, "Do you want some pie?"

He said, "No. Fish."

So I ate pie. And he ate fish.

Might have gone overboard with the pie, I suppose.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Did I just read that?

Really really sad story about a kid who committed suicide. But the parents said this about it: ""He is a good kid and has no substance abuse or other issues," they posted. "This is the first time he has ever done anything like this.""

Granted, the parents probably posted that on facebook when it was a search-and-rescue operation and didn't know their son had killed himself. But the news reporter who put the article together put the quote after a paragraph about how devastated the parents are that their son killed himself.

And that makes it a funny quote.  Because how many times can you do something like that?

(Still, it's a really tragic story. Just poorly written.)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Did I just read that?

"Woman dies after collision with street poll"

Seriously--you have to be careful around the guy wandering the street with the clipboard and microphone. Those street polls are dangerous to run into.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Did I just read that?

This whole article had me laughing--not so many mistakes (although there is one) but the phrasing just put a comedic spin on things.


Lines that made me laugh:

"According to police, the car left the road for the lawn of an LDS meetinghouse. It went through two fences and hit a tree before coming to rest alongside the church. "The tree slowed it down quite a bit," said Unified police detective Ken Hansen. "Had it not hit the tree, it probably would have gone inside the church where there was a funeral going on." Hansen said the car's abrupt stop lit the bushes and shrubs next to the church on fire. The greenery, in turn, lit the car, endangering both passengers. A man attending the funeral soon extinguished the flames with a church fire extinguisher."

I don't know what it was about that passage that cracked me up...but just imagine it! Like a keystone cops episode.

And then this error: "Police are investigating potential impairments, including speed."

Speed is an impairment? I guess maybe that's the problem you have when you've got ADHD.