Sunday, February 07, 2016

Chocolate Cream Cheese Custard Recipe

I am not very good at baking cheesecakes.  The first ones I ever made were no-bake, involving whipped topping and no eggs.  But I am avoiding whipped topping, so I've been trying my hand at baking.  But it is a lot of work, and the cake tends to crack or brown on the top edges.  
So I had an idea, for a stiff cream-cheese flavored chocolate dessert/dip.  I did online searches for recipes for anything like it, and couldn't find any; apparently people don't usually add cream cheese to their custards.  I was on my own inventing this dish, then.  With this recipe, you're getting the eggs (like traditional cheesecake) to add flavor and stiffness, but cooking them on the stovetop (in milk or cream like custard) instead of in the oven.  I think it turned out great!  

In medium saucepan, heat to a simmer:
1 can evaporated milk

Stir in until melted, and remove from heat:
½ c. dark chocolate chips
Beat until pale:
3 egg yolks
⅓ c. sugar

Slowly pour warm milk mixture into eggs, whisking constantly.  Return to MED-LOW heat. 

Mix in:
(another) ½ c. dark chocolate chips
2 t. corn starch

Simmer until it thickens, about 5 minutes. 

Separately, beat:
2 package cream cheese (16 ounces total)
⅓ c. sugar
dash of salt

Pour custard into sweetened cream cheese and mix well.  Chill at least 4 hours. 
Eat plain or dip graham crackers, strawberries, pretzels, or chocolate chip cookies. 
May also be frozen like ice cream.  

To God be all glory.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Vida Express Wireless Cell Phone Service Dealer

Vida Express is run by a company called T-Cetra.  They are a go-between for wireless carriers, and deal in activation of SIM cards and facilitating payments for cell phone providers.  I recently had experience with them when my cell phone company, PTel, used them to promote a replacement wireless provider, Ultra Mobile.  Vida Express offered, free of charge or commitment, to handle the transaction getting PTel customers a free SIM card from Ultra Mobile, shipped free to their homes, along with a free month of service.  Here are my complaints about what happened:
 
I had a TON of trouble with VidaExpress this morning.  I called them, per their email, when my SIM card still hadn't come by 2/4/16, the day before the final day to port my number from PTel.  I gave them over a week to ship it to me (signed up and ordered on Wednesday, January 27). 
 
I called first thing in the morning, waited on hold for 30 minutes, talked to a customer service person who used the tracking number to attempt to explain why my SIM card wasn't there.  But I needed a solution to hold my number after PTel goes out of business.  The rep didn't offer to do anything about that, just said they would further investigate my problem and call me back within 2-3 hours. 
 
After 3 hours, I called back myself, waited on hold another 30 minutes.  The new representative, Azar, wanted to go into the shipping information again, but when I pointed out that it wouldn't do any good, that I needed something done with my number, she decided to activate the SIM that I hadn't received, in order to port my number, and if it didn't arrive within a week, I could go to a STORE and BUY a replacement to switch it out.  She gave me the info and I started the activation/porting online at the VidaExpress.com website. 
 
Then she came back on the phone and told me that wouldn't work since my SIM had been shipped back, blaming the USPS, and suggested it might have been a bad address even though we'd confirmed the address they have on file for me is correct.  They weren't going to get my SIM to me, or send another one, or give me a credit or anything.  She suggested I could go to Walmart and buy a SIM card from any old company.  She wasn't even trying to keep me with the free month of service at Ultra Mobile.  She just said it wasn't possible. 
 
But that SIM card is *mine*.  They're stealing it from me!  When it was clear that the so-called customer service agent was unable and unwilling to serve me, I asked to talk to a supervisor, so she put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back and said there wasn't a supervisor.  And she repeated the same lines that I could wait for a SIM card that isn't coming, and that there was nothing they could do, and that they weren't doing anything wrong. 
 

Finally she claimed to cancel the port, and since for the few hours after I did still have had PTel service, I assume she actually cancelled the activation.  I am now working on activating service with a completely different provider that has nothing to do with UltraMobile or PTel or VidaExpress.com  (or Vida Express' parent company, T-Cetra, LLC).

Buyer and user beware!

To God be all glory.    

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Unchallenged

In an episode of the old TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies, a back-woods granny convinces a Beverly Hills banker that she has a home-remedy cure for the common cold.  After he's all excited about the prospect of selling this marvelous discovery, she tells him the instructions that go with it: take with rest and lots of fruits and vegetables, and you'll be better in 7-10 days.

I like to think about what made Granny believe she had a cure.  Probably there were a lot of competing local "cures" where she came from, and they may have had varying effects on symptoms.  But no one would have considered using no "cure" at all when there was one available, and known to produce the results of delivering the patient from sickness withing a fortnight.  So there was no "control", no standard in their close-community by which to judge the success of a cure against none at all.

How many times do we do that?  Everyone does a thing, and we believe by tradition and assertion that it must be necessary and valuable and effective.

I appreciate that a growing number of people in my generation are challenging things.  They're challenging shampoo, soap, the suburban lifestyle, not eating seeds, using synthetic medications to solve health problems.  We challenge assumptions about government and relationships and church.  We want to do things because we have a good reason.

But I want to be on guard against the things yet unchallenged in my life, whether it is flavor combinations or hairstyles or more serious things like my beliefs and philosophies.  It may be harder to receive when it is someone else challenging my ideas and habits, but I want to be open to that, too.  This is the essence of growing and learning, to be unashamed of realizing I was wrong and moving forward.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lonely Choices

I'm thinking of getting a regular job again, for a while at least, one with a weekly commitment to work during the daytime most days.  Part of me feels like it would be torture.  I hope I'm not lazy.  I hope I'm not resistant to all kinds of commitment.

Another option may be to participate in a research study.  It would involve 2 weeks away from friends and family.  I hope I would still have internet access, at least an allowance of time each day.  Being away from my friends for so long would be hard.  But I think I could do it, promising myself a bash of social experiences afterwards.  Besides, as one of my more introverted friends pointed out, I could view it as an extended spiritual retreat, a time to pray and read and journal.  I'm grateful that this doesn't sound impossible to me, or even all that scary (though it does sound serious; what if God says something unexpected?).

I've spent a year trusting God to provide for me, and it has been marvelous to watch.  Even recently He was reminding me just how much my anxiety about money is unwarranted.  I don't want to give up on the lesson.  I want to trust Him to provide through work of whatever kind, or from the deliveries of ravens, or by sustaining that which I already have - whatever means He wants.

The truth is, I don't like making these kinds of decisions for myself.  I need God's guidance.  I wish for human authority.  And not really having that makes it a little bit harder, to feel the need for income, to search out possibilities, to evaluate things on my own, and to make commitments (or decline them).

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacuum's Two U's

Why does "vacuum" have two u's, IN A ROW?  It's a weird word.  But, looking at another double-u word might help our understanding: "continuum".  This totally makes me think of the bad guy we love to hate, and his immortal omnipotent (sort of) race in Star Trek, the Q.  Not to be confused with the "collective", which is Borg.  Anyway.  We actually use a recognizable root of "continuum", so it is easier to see that the last "um" is a suffix to indicate something about word forms.  To quote Matthew Lancey on Quora.com, "Double U was/is fairly common in Latin because of its complex system of word endings to indicate case, gender and so on."

So.  "Continue" (back in Latin spelled "continuare") becomes "continuum" when the verb becomes a noun*, and "vacare" or something like it becomes "vacuus" (adjective?) and "vacuum" (noun?) in Latin.  Etymology Online says that the word is probably a loan-translation from the Greek "kenon" which only slightly resembles "vacare", "vain", or "vacuus" - all of which are attested words in the family tree of "vacuum".  We had the great idea back in the 17th century English speaking world of spelling "vacuus" as "vacuous", which is clearer on the pronunciation and only slightly less obviously Latin.

A lot of sources online (really reliable ones like Yahoo Answers) say that there are two u's because how else would you know to pronounce two different vowel sounds there?  But, um, I don't really think that's how words work.  These people are either gullible, or bluffing the Internet looking for the gullible.

What I really want to know is why there is only one "c".  If there are ever seemingly pointless double consonants in words, it tempts me to double other lletterrs also. ("Embarrass", anyone? There are two doubles, and I spell it wrong the first time, every time.) Just saying.  Though I must say that if the "c" were a "k" like it should be, for some reason I wouldn't feel the need to double it in the same way.  But then, the vowel's pronunciation would bother me.  And if we insist on leaving only one "c" in our English transliteration, could we pronounce the "a" as a long "a" like in "bacon"?  Or maybe we could try "bacoon", "baakon", "bakun", "bacconn"?

*In my life, I am much more tempted to turn nouns into verbs.  I imagine this is historically predominant, also.  Therefore, when I am keeping my tone intentionally casual, I say things like "churching", "small-group-ing", "dishes-ing".  Verbs are a lot more fun, if they have a description built into them.  My preschool-teacher-friend also says that kids initially think much more in pictures than in words, so it is good if we can keep our speech so vividly picturey.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate Chip Nut Butter Bites

This is a recipe describing the way I have been experimentally baking these days.  Recipes are not the boss of us; they are tools and guides, and the more we understand about what makes a good dish, the less we have to follow exact measurements and specific ingredients.

I just can't call these cookies.  Because if I call them cookies, people expecting cookies will frown at me, and think I'm a bad baker.  These are healthy(er) things shaped like cookies, with chocolate chips like cookies, but not really cookies.  They are a dessert.  
 
I told my friend's kids, who sampled these, that I would send their mom the recipe.  I don't particularly expect her to make them, and I don't especially expect any of you to make them either.  As her husband pointed out, they're pretty expensive cookies.  One advantage of them, though, is that they are gluten and dairy free, and with growing numbers of people attempting such dietary restrictions, I thought I'd try them out. 
 
Process in a food processor for 5-10 minutes, scraping sides occasionally, until it makes a "butter":
3-5 hands-full of almonds and/or cashews and/or peanuts (peanuts will have a stronger flavor) (substitute 1/2 cup total nut butter from a jar if you want... keep extra on hand in case the dough is too soupy)
 
Add:
1 can drained garbanzo beans/chickpeas (Watch for good deals on these, places like Big Lots or HMart or Trader Joes, or get your friends to give you the about-to-expire ones off their pantry shelves...)
1 egg (or egg yolk, particularly if you're short of nut butter, as the whites will make the dough runnier) (The egg is optional, but I think it greatly improves the texture.)
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking soda
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
A sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of salt (on the lesser end if the canned beans were salted, or if you are using a nut butter from a jar, which happens to have salt as the ingredient, or if your nuts were salted)
1-2 hands-full brown sugar
A quick pour of vanilla
A drizzle of maple syrup or honey (optional) (I want to try molasses.  Molasses is amazing.  But it will also overtake the other flavors.)
 
Process these with the nut butter until smooth.  If dough is so soupy that it won't stay in a blob on a cookie sheet, but rather will puddle before it even starts to cook, you need more nut butter.  Another option is to sprinkle some oats in there.  (Apparently there is some debate that I don't understand about oats having gluten or not.  Choose according to your level of intolerance and hype-acceptance.)
 
Add:
2-4 hands-full chocolate chips (Guittard Real Semisweet or some other allergy-friendly brand if you care about dairy free or soy free)
Stir this in by hand.  
Chill dough.  Like, make these before a meal, chill during the meal, and pull it out after you've rinsed the dishes and the table, to bake some up for dessert.
 
Preheat oven to 350.  Drop small spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.  Cookies will start at about 1.5 to 2 inches and spread to about 2.5 inches as they bake.  They bake for 15 minutes.  (Other recipes I read said 20-25, but it doesn't improve the texture and it does give the bottoms a kind of weird burned bean taste...)  Nut Butter Bites won't remove from the pan as easily as cookies, because they don't have the same kind of greasy fats as butter or Crisco.  I didn't have much trouble, just know that there will be a little bit of cake-like residue on the pan, like the inside of a used muffin cup liner. 
 
I think they're best warm.  They're better if 1) you're not expecting a cookie, and 2) you don't think about them being basically hummus with chocolate chips. 
 
These nut butter bites are good for you, though.  There is protein from the beans and nuts.  Nuts and beans have minerals in them, and vitamins, that we US Americans need and don't get enough of.  And the nuts (not so much peanuts, keep in mind) have those useful kinds of fats that we don't get enough of either. 
 
Cashews are high in: protein, fiber, B vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.  They have anti-oxidants and monounsaturated-fatty acids (good for your cholesterol). 

Almonds boast about the same list of beneficial nutrients, with less selenium and more calcium. 

Peanuts have a little less health benefits, but they're still present, including protein, iron, B vitamins, and zinc.
 
Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) boast protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium.  They are mild phytoestrogens, so they serve to naturally balance estrogen levels in our bodies (against synthetic estrogens from meat and dairy and pharmaceuticals.) 
 
Maple syrup has zinc.  It's nothing compared to molasses, though, which offers calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium. 
 
A lot of these ingredients are good for your digestion, liver and hormones, energy and strength, bone health, skin health, heart health.  But they still have sugar, so don't go too crazy with them! 

To God be all glory.  
 

 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (with spoilers)

Fanny Price is one of the most boring heroines in literature.  She is always good, always correct, and it seems that her only faults lie in being too timid and being too easily fatigued. 

Edmund Bertram is one of the least interesting heroes in literature.  He is sincere, intentional, and sober.  His primary shortcoming seems to be thinking the best of people and making the most of bad circumstances. 

But isn’t real life and real goodness more like this duo?  Do they not refute our human tendency to buy into bright personalities, to follow confidence, to love foolishly?  Isn’t it hard to draw the line between dying to self and giving in to the pressures of those less wise?

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, does seem to be busy pressing these truths.  The most charming characters are the ones who oppose the good.  Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary may not set out to be wicked, but they don’t try to be good.  They try to seem good.  They may even wish they were good.  What good could be done with them if good people took them under wing, befriended them, taught, influenced, married them? 

How are good people to resist the allure of reforming their lovers?  How are good people to judge accurately? 

While simultaneously facing these dilemmas and illustrating them, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram move through the excitement of new connections in the small neighborhood that has been their comfortable home.  Over and over again you see the heroine and hero making mistakes because of the things that influence their perspectives.  They doubt themselves.  They deceive themselves.  They reproach themselves.  They deny themselves. 

And all through the plot, following paths merely tangential to each other, they’re getting a chance to discover the value of each other’s steady, reverential characters.  So when the events conspire to divide them from all the temptation of flattery, charm, and attraction, little wonder they proceed to fall in love with unsatisfactory brevity and with a felicity the envy of all their foolish relations. 


To God be all glory.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Full-Flavor Chocolate Chip Cookies, A Simple Recipe

Cream together in a stand mixer: 
2 sticks of butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. brown sugar

Add: 
1 egg YOLK
2 eggs
Beat well.

Mix in until just combined:
3 c. all purpose flour (I live near Denver, CO.  If you live at a lower altitude, reduce flour by 1/4 to 1/2 c.)
1 t. salt
1 t. baking POWDER

Pour in:
1 1/2 to 2 c. semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 c. white sugar
Stir/knead until sugar and flour are incorporated.

Refrigerate dough. 
After at least a few hours (until the dough is thoroughly chilled) scoop out 3-T. sized cookies. Shape into balls, then flatten to about 1/4 inch tall and about 2 1/2 inches diameter. 


Bake at 350 for about 14 minutes (ovens vary, adjust bake time accordingly). Sprinkle a little extra salt if desired, immediately upon removing from oven. Remove from pan and let cool briefly on a rack before gobbling up every gooey bite.

I don't know about you, but it drives me crazy when I find a recipe on a blog and I have to scroll through pages of prep photos and stories about husbands, children, and grocery stores before I get to the need-to-know information to make the food!  So I put my recipe at the top.  But I do want to let my regular readers know that I have been researching and testing chocolate chip cookie recipes for about a year now, and I'm very happy with these results.  There is a more complicated recipe that I like slightly better, but this version is one of the best I've *ever* tasted!  

My sister makes amazing cookies.  I think that three things make them amazing: her laziness (using a stand mixer and taking frequent, sometimes day-long breaks), the huge size of the cookies, and using margarine.  I want big, soft, not-too-cake-like cookies myself, but faster and with butter instead of margarine.  These cookies are not crumbly.  They are not crunchy like store-bought cookies.  They are not flat.  

I like the flavor of butter in my cookies.  These have it. 

I like my cookies to have extra dimension in their flavor: sweet, chocolate, butter, salt, and a touch of caramel.  These accomplish that.

I like my cookies to be just a tiny bit gooey in the center, and not dark brown on the edges.  Here they are.  

A long time ago I read a suggestion of adding extra fat without too much extra liquid, by adding an egg yolk.  I've tried with and without the extra yolk, and I think it makes a difference in helping the cookie to stand up and stay gooey.  

Baking powder makes the cookies fluffier/taller than baking soda.  

Adding the white sugar at the end causes the outsides to caramelize during cooking, for an ever-so-slight crispiness encasing the soft cookie.  Using a little more brown sugar than white also contributes to the deeper flavor.

I'm liking Guittard's Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, all GMO free, yummy flavor, and excellent melting.  They're sold at my local Safeway and Sprouts stores. 

To God be all glory. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Found Etymologies

I was thinking the other day about the word found, and how it can mean “discovered” and also “begin, lay the base”.  So I decided to search the etymologies, primarily using www.EtymOnline.com and supplementing with other dictionaries available online such as the Webster’s 1828. 

Found, as in “lay the base” is from the Latin for “bottom”.  It shares a root with fund, which entered English meaning “bottom, foundation, groundwork” and quickly came to mean “stock of available money” by the 1690’s.  It is theorized that the PIE root, *bhudh- is also the source of Old English botm – and maybe even the Hebrew for “build”, banahBuild, in English, is supposed to come through the Germanic for “home, building” from a PIE root, *bhu- "to dwell," from root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow". 

In Old English, the word timbran was preferred to communicate “to build”, but it died out and primarily remained in our word timber from PIE *deme- "to build," possibly from root *dem- "house, household" (source of Greek domos, Latin domus; and of our words: domestic and domain and don). 

The derivative verb, founder, is less encouraging that the verb found – the latter meaning “to establish” but the former meaning “to collapse” or “to sink to the bottom”. 

Another sense of found, as in foundry, means to “cast metal”, originally “to mix, mingle” from the Latin fundere “melt, cast, pour out” from the PIE *gheu- “to pour”, cognate with guts “bowels, entrails”, gutter, gush, and geyser

The noun fountain comes from the Old French fontaine, “natural spring” from the Latin fontanus “of a spring” and fons “spring (of water)”.  The proposed PIE is *dhen- (1) “to run, flow”. 

Find, my original curiosity for the day, is from the Proto-Germanic *finthan “to come upon, discover”.  Before that, it comes, we think, from PIE *pent- “to tread, go” as in pedestrian and path and pontoon.  Isn’t that lovely imagery? 

But isn’t it curious how these such similar words are thought to have independent etymologies?  It makes me wonder how well-attested the published etymologies are, or could there be alternatives that are more united? 


To God be all glory.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Studies in Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes I crave different aspects of chocolate chip cookies, resulting in a situation where there is no *perfect* recipe for me.  But I want to know which things to change in order to get what I want. So I've been experimenting.

~ I live in Colorado, not in the mountains, but considerably higher altitude than sea level.  If your altitude is lower, you might want to reduce the amount of flour you use.

~ Parkay margarine makes Stephannie cookies.  She's my sister, and around our friend circles, they are famous.  But I don't like margarine.  I want my cookies to have butter.  This brings up problems.  Because butter makes cookies flat.  In any case, Parkay is saltier than unsalted butter.  Use salted butter and/or add extra salt.

~ Use enough salt.

~ Adding flour does not fix flat cookie recipes.  I mean, if you add enough, they're not flat anymore.  But they're barely cookies anymore.

~ I read in some awesome cookbook at a friend's house one time, and it has changed my baking forever, that it is very useful to add other forms of fat than butter.  Go figure.  My first attempt has been to add an extra egg *yolk* (I think the recipe book suggested this).  I've tried a bit of coconut oil, which is supposedly a dough conditioner anyway.  I can't tell a difference.  I'm starting to wonder if I use a higher-quality butter if it would yield better (fluffier, but still tender) results.

~ If you brown at least some of the butter before using it, it adds a nutty and/or caramel dimension to the flavor.

~ Play with adding just a hint of spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg.  Add some flavor and warmth.  Everyone I know experiments with vanilla amounts, too - that is, they splash it instead of measuring.  Some brands of vanilla extract have a funny flavor; use a vanilla that you like.

~ Use a good kind of chocolate.  Dark, semi-sweet, and bittersweet, are by definition basically the same thing; different companies apply the terms to distinguish their products, but they don't have a definite meaning.  Different companies use varieties of ingredients.  I don't know what you like.  If you're a normal American, you might just want to go with Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips for the comfort of familiarity.  I read recently that Guittard melts very smoothly.  70% bitter is not sweet enough, I know from my most recent experiment - especially when you're experimenting with reducing the sugar.

~ Don't reduce the sugar.  1 1/2 c. sugar (brown and white mixed, in different proportions), 3 c. flour, 2 sticks butter.  Those are the basics.  Don't skimp.

~ Use enough chocolate.  Chocolate helps the cookie to have structure.  Don't let your dough be too warm when you mix the chocolate, or it will melt.

~ Other firmer ingredients can also help the structure of the cookie, like other kinds of chips - toffee, for instance.  Or you can add dried fruit.  I also like some recipes that have uncooked oatmeal mixed in.

~ I'm curious, based on an article I just read whether the darkness of the brown sugar affects raising.  Does darkness describe levels of acidity?  If you added just a touch of a different sweetener, could that help?  Particularly, I'm thinking about a tablespoon or less of molasses.

~ Leavening: the Toll House recipe calls for baking soda.  My favorite oatmeal cookie recipe has baking powder.  My most recent attempt had both.  The jury's out, but I suspect baking powder gives a better rise, especially if you're letting the dough rest in the refrigerator for a while.

~ You must refrigerate your dough.  It enhances the flavor mixtures.  But the main reason is that it keeps the cookies from spreading too quickly.  Flat cookies mean all sorts of unpleasant things like crispiness, only one layer of chocolate chunks, or not fitting as many on a pan without them running into one another.

~ I've learned that baking powder, at least, responds quicker in a slightly hotter oven.  I'm considering starting hotter (425??) for a minute or two, then reducing the heat (350).  It's all about helping the rise.

~ The pan you use matters.  I think the metal, the shape, the color all contribute to how your cookies bake.  I don't know your oven or your pans, but if something works for you, take note and keep using that!

~ Do *not* over-bake.  Take your cookies out when the centers aren't jiggling, and the edges are beginning to brown.  Do not wait until the tops of your cookies are brown if you want a soft gooey cookie.  You can let the cookies rest for a bit on the pan before removing to cool.  Another thing you can try is to squish the edges of your cookies towards their centers after removing from the oven, to keep them from setting so flat.

~ If all else fails (and sometimes just because), supplement your cookies with cheesecake dip, ice cream, salt, milk, hot drinks - to complement the tastes.

~ Also if the cookies get stale for some crazy reason, carefully re-hydrate using steam (or butter?).

~ Try freezing extra cookies, and remove about 15 minutes before eating, for a cold chewy treat.  You can freeze the dough, too, but I have very little experimentation with that.

~ To reheat in a microwave, make sure you use power settings below 5 to prevent crunchy burnt spots.  I find that about 30 seconds on power 3 works best in my microwave.

To God be all glory.