Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Baking at Home

It came to my attention yesterday that I have officially been done school (and therefore unemployed) for just over a month now. In some ways, that's a shock, but at the same time it feels like so much longer..

So, upon realizing that it's been a month, I decided it was time to bake something. I did some baking over the holidays, but I didn't have great luck (maybe because I didn't give myself enough time?). And there were ingredients in the fridge that would soon be expiring.

And I've been having cravings.

I didn't bake everything I wanted to - it was one of those gloomy, snowy, just-want-to-stay-in-bed kind of days - but that's ok, something to do another day.

So I made was the cookie recipe from the back of the Chipits bag, using holiday M&Ms (hello, after-Christmas specials!). Some might call these Monster Cookies, I prefer to just call them delicious little morsels of yumminess. The recipe said it makes four dozen, and it didn't lie. How many are left? That's another story.

I also made my favourite Perfect Cream Scone* recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays, by Ree Drummond (I've made them before, which I talked about in this post, but I thought they deserved a more detailed acknowledgement). I stumbled across her website, The Pioneer Woman, a couple years ago and was really excited to note that we share a name - my nickname has been Ree most of my life - and that she is an awesome food writer. So when I happened upon one of her cookbooks at Big Lots on a trip to the U.S., I snatched it up! I've only made the one recipe out of it so far, but it is definitely a favourite, and I look forward to trying some others. The original recipe doesn't appear on her website, but there are several variations there, as well as in the book. The original scone is so delicious, I haven't needed to be adventurous enough to try any of them, though.

Now, talk of scones may bring up some controversy.  What is a scone? My mother grew up eating oatmeal scones, the thin crispy kind (which, in my research, seems to be Scottish Oatcakes, and not scones at all!). Growing up with that belief, every time I met a thick, soft scone, I assumed it was a silly tea biscuit masquerading as a scone. They often had nasty things like currents and raisins or orange zest hiding in them. Blech! I wouldn't have said I really liked either style all that much, and therefore was not a fan of scones. But then I tried Ms. Drummond's recipe.


These scones are just the right combination of crispy outside, and soft, fluffy, sweet, buttery inside. They are equally as delicious all on their own, as they are with a generous slathering of butter or jam (raspberry, of course!). Mmm!

What's your favourite way to eat a scone? Have you ever tried one?

*Perfect Cream Scones

adapted from The Pioneer Woman

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, in pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine dry ingredients; cut in butter. Add wet ingredients and combine to form a ball (it is completely normal for it to be crumbly, but you should be able to form it and roll it out). Roll out and cut as desired (Ms. Drummond's instructions say to roll into a rectangle 1/3 inch thick and cut into 24 triangles). Bake at 350*F for 18 minutes, or until lightly golden brown around the edges. They are best eaten the same day, but they are good for up to a week, and they do freeze well.

Happy Baking!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reflections on 2014

Well, 2015 is finally here. It feels like it was a long time coming, no? That's not to say that 2014 was a bad year for me - there were difficulties and hardships, for sure - but I've been anxious for a new year, new beginnings, new chapters for some time now. Here is a review of my 2014.

January was difficult. My uncle, who had been fighting brain cancer for several years, passed away early in January. My uncle played a huge part in my growing up years. Only a few minutes' drive away, the road between our houses was a well-worn path. Few of my memories of him don't involve laughter - we're talking about teary-eyed, can't breathe, belly laughs. A man of many hats, a man I wrote a paper about in High School, a man I looked up to. We miss him. I miss him.

February was interesting. I had started the pastry course in August, but things got really interesting after the Christmas break, in February especially. The dynamics of the group had completely changed. We went on a class trip. The trip itself was a bit of a bust, but the day was one of the best I've had. February also brought the first birthday celebration of my cousin's little girl, Sofia. I made a polymer clay cake topper for her - a waterless snow globe.

March was dreamy. Looking back at my journal entries, March is when I really started to put words to my pastry dreams and make "plans." It was also our first opportunity for an independent project at school - a layered dessert.

April and May were nothing terribly special or exciting. We have two birthdays in April, so there was some celebrating, and seeing the beginnings of spring. Somewhere in there we had the chocolate module at school, which was incredibly frustrating. I had my first commissioned baking project in May - the Bowker's 60th wedding anniversary cake. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it - especially all the encouragement!

June was traveling. We went to Ontario (only for a weekend) to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary.

July was creative. My mom and I organized a Fun Day at the Brookbury Community Centre that took much time and resources to put together. I also spent a lot of time starting craft projects for the Cookshire Fair. I also started the Facebook page Tasty Pastries by Anne-Marie as a small effort to get my name out a bit and get some baking business.

August was busy. I was back at school after having the summer off. I celebrated my 27th birthday (not exciting), we took quite a few entries to the Cookshire Fair (I even won a few prizes! ;)) I had two wisdom teeth removed - ouch! I started geocaching. The nephews came to stay with us the last week and a half of their vacation, and we did lots of adventuring together.

September was really good, if not expensive. I made the unfortunate mistake of paying my credit card bill a day late (first time ever), which resulted in a $45 overdraft fee to the bank, and another $40 charge to the credit card company. This was also the month that I finished my wedding cake at school - it felt like a really big accomplishment. I wasn't happy with it at first, but I'm quite proud of it now. This was also the month that my oldest childhood friend gave birth to her second child - a precious little girl called Scarlet! I also started working as the janitor at my church, which provides a teensy bit of income.

October was fast-paced. Things got intense at school as we neared the end. I had to start seriously searching for my stage placement (which I found fairly quickly, once I actually started). We worked on our sculpted sugar pieces - my pièce de résistance, the project I am most proud of. After the fiasco of the month before, I managed to not make even one purchase with my credit card.

November was stressful. There were a lot of exams to wrap everything up at school. We also started and finished our final module, Plated Desserts, which was a real challenge for me. I made soufflé for the first time! Finishing up at school, getting ready for stage, not knowing how that would go...

December was crazy and tiring. The first three weeks of December I did my stage at BCS. There was a lot of preparations for Christmas events, and I was fighting off a cold the entire time, so by the end I was exhausted. I made and decorated an order of 7 dozen cookies for a friend. Once school was finished and "Christmas vacation" began, there was a lot of Christmas gift making (baked goods, clay ornaments for my nephews, etc), and visiting/celebrating with family and friends. I got into a purging mood after Christmas (often the case), which hasn't quite come to an end yet.

It's been a good year...

And now, here we are. January. A new year. I have absolutely no idea what it will bring. I have high hopes and big dreams, maybe some of them will come to fruition in 2015, or maybe the first steps will be taken to pave the way for the years to come. Who knows? :)

I no longer make resolutions. I have some personal goals (old habits die hard), but I think it's safest not to say them out loud, because then people know when you break them. ;) So I hope you all had a wonderful time saying goodbye to 2014 and ringing in the New Year. May 2015 bring you success, love, joy, courage, and hope.