Eclairs with Vanilla Custard and Chocolate Ganache

PBS has been kindly airing the second season of the Great British Baking Show every Sunday evening and I’ve been able to stream it online since we don’t have TV.  Every week, I literally cannot help myself but to make a recipe inspired by the show.  Last week, I made the Apricot Couronne and posted a photo to Instagram.  Look who found it!

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This week is pastry week and the ‘technical challenge’ was Choux Bun Religieuse.  They’re a little French pastry meant to resemble a nun.  A small choux bun filled with a vanilla custard and the top dipped in chocolate ganache to hold yet another choux bun filled with more custard and the top dipped in more ganache.  A piping of whipped cream goes between the two.  I wasn’t really anxious to make a tray of French nuns BUT the prospects of making choux buns and vanilla custard (creme patissiere) did strike my fancy.  Basically, what I ended up making was a simplified version; Eclairs with Vanilla Custard and Chocolate Ganache.

Choux buns are made of four ingredients, one of which is water.  How hard could they possibly be!?

  • 4 1/2 T butter
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 + 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten

In a 2 quart sauce pan, melt the butter and water and bring to a gentle boil.  As soon as it starts to boil, quickly tip in the flour and beat, while still on low heat, for 3 minutes.  Time yourself, you’ll get tired and you don’t want to not properly cook the flour, make sure it’s 3 minutes.  The dough will start to ball up.  Next, remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 1 minute.  This is REALLY important, you need to let it cool before you add the eggs or you’ll have scrambled eggs on your hands. To help cool the dough, spread it out on the bottom of the sauce pan.  Again, make sure it’s been resting for 1 minute.  Lastly, add in the beaten eggs to the dough mixture and beat for another minute, it will start to develop a sticky thick texture.  It should be smooth and slightly shiny.  Fill a pastry bag with the mixture and pipe little 1 –  1 1/2 inch discs on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper.  Bake on 425 F for 10 minutes and then another 10 minutes on 375 F.  When they’ve slightly browned, remove from the oven and pierce the tops of each bun with a skewer to let the steam escape.  Set them back in the warm oven (turned off) for 2-3 minutes to help dry out the insides of the bun.

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Only 4 ingredients…but technically, rather challenging.  Here’s a perfect example of what can go wrong!

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I didn’t let the dough cool before adding the eggs and it scrambled.  I pressed on hoping all would still be well and the poor little buns never rose.  Sad day indeed!  The second attempt when much better!

Next, the creme patissiere…it’s a fun word to say.  To me, it’s basically vanilla custard.

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 2 T + 1 tsp. flour
  • 1 T vanilla

In another 2 quart sauce pan, heat the whole milk slowly until it almost comes to a boil.  While the milk is heating, separate out your yolks.  (Dogs love egg whites!)  Blend the yolks with the sugar, corn starch and flour.  Before the milk comes to a roaring boil, pour a little into your yolk mixture to ‘temper’ it…again, you don’t want to scramble the eggs!  When the yolk mixture has warmed, pour it all back into the sauce pan of milk and continue to heat on low until the custard starts to thicken.  This will only take about a minute.  Lastly, add the vanilla.  Pour the custard into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to cool.  (1-2 hours)

Fast forward a few hours and it’s assembly time!

Chocolate Ganache

  • One 4 ounce 60% cocoa bar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 T half and half

Warm the half and half in a small sauce pan but don’t boil.  When hot, pour over the broken chocolate bar and let sit for a few seconds until the chocolate has had time to soften.  Stir until the chocolate becomes a thick sauce.

Fill a clean piping bag with the vanilla custard and start piping it into the pastry.  Use the hole you made initially to let the hot steam out.  You’ll be surprised how much custard can fit in the buns.  Carefully spoon off any extra custard that comes back out when filled.  Dip the tops of the filled buns in the chocolate ganache.

This recipe made 20 little buns.  Keep refrigerated until serving.

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What NOT to do During a Marathon

Here we go friends, a little “Marathon 101” lesson.  I learned this one myself and I learned it the hard way.  This lesson is probably included in chapter one of any ‘How to Run a Marathon’ book and for good reason.  Let me explain to you the importance of starting slow and properly pacing yourself.

I’ll set the stage first.  The weekend before the Marine Corps Marathon I ran a personally surprising 1:46 half marathon with an average pace of a 7:55.  I tappered the week before the marathon and tried to nail my 4 month training plan as best as I could.  I was ready, I put in the work.  In usual marathon morning excitement I started the race a bit quicker than I should have.  My husband and sister were running with me and the three of us just let ourselves get caught up in the moment.

Mile 1- 8:17, Mile 2- 8:57, Mile 3-8:39, Mile 4- 7:48, Mile 5-8:40, Mile 6- 8:19, Mile 7- 8:44, Mile 8- 8:21, Mile 9- 8:32, Mile 10-8:43, Mile 11- 8:13, Mile 12- 8:31, Mile 13- 8:44.  My half marathon time was a 1:53:40.  Pretty good, BUT the pace was ALL over the place and it wasn’t sustainable.  I KNEW the ‘dangerous’ miles were between 13 and 20.  I KNEW it was super important to stay mentally strong during those miles because that’s typically when doubts sneak in and cause you to lose it.

Mile 14- 9:06, Mile 15- 8:54, Mile 16- 9:01, Mile 17-10:00, Yep, I lost it.  Mile 18- 10:00, Mile 19- 9:26, Mile 20-11:20.  Wait, what…an 11:20?  What happened there?  Oh, no biggie, I just stopped in my tracks along the side of the course (maybe the middle) and pleaded to my sister and husband to leave me in my marathon misery and that I would be perfectly happy walking the remaining 6 miles.  My body was shot and my mind was a vulnerable emotional mess.  Thankfully, they were mentally stronger than I was and talked me into running the rest.  I didn’t have the energy to keep arguing with them so along I trudged.

Mile 21- 10:14, Mile 22-10:23, Mile 23-10:04, Mile 24-9:35.  These miles were rough.  My mind was turned off and I was just going through the motions.  Still about 22 minutes of running left, there’s no way I’m making it to the finish!

Mile 25- 10:51, Mile 26- 10:27.  Mile 0.2 (Hill)- 10:30.  Yeah, everyone has this mental picture in their head of cruising to the finish with a glamorous smile plastered on their face.  Not happening on that day.  I could have crawled up that hill faster than what I ran it in…but darn it, I ran it.  When Marines line the finish of the race, you run it!

The lesson in this is really simple.  Start out slow.  Gauge how your body feels and let your pace reflect that.  Keep a steady pace…STEADY!  How was it that I ran a 7:48 and an 11:20 in the same race?  That really should not happen.  Realistically, I should have started out with a steady 9 minute pace and finished with either an 9 or an 8:45 pace.  Instead, my first half was about an 8:30 pace and my second half was a 10:30 pace.  I guarantee that had I held a 9 flat pace I would have finished with a faster marathon time and felt worlds better.  Lesson learned!

Let me hear it folks…any tough lessons learned during a race?

Marine Corps Marathon 2015

I learned a lot about myself yesterday…the hard way.

Sunday morning came at 4am for me and 30,000 other marathoners.  My sister, my husband and I stuffed our pockets with Sport Beans and MetroCards, lathered cold bagels with peanut butter and then juggled half empty water bottles on the Washington D.C metro to head to the starting line of the 40th Marine Corps Marathon.  We spent the next two hours waiting in the congested crowds of other runners to get on and off the metro and through security at the start.  We were still in the port-a-potty line when the gun went off for the start of the race so we sprinted to our corral and immediately the race was on.

The first 5K went by fairly effortlessly.  The three of us were cruising along at a comfortable pace of 8:44 and then an 8:38 pace into the 10K.  I felt a bit tired but I was hoping I just needed to warm up a little more and work into a groove.  The DC air was warm enough that morning to make the rainfall a refreshing welcome to us Pennsylvania runners use to the chilly fall air.  We held an 8:39 pace into the 15K and an 8:40 pace to the 20K.  So far, so good.  An 8:46 pace to the 25K.  At that point, we were well on track for a sub-4 hour marathon and a new PR for me.

But then…the busy weekend started to catch up to me.  I was feeling pretty weak at the half marathon point but tried to deny it.  Around 15, even worse.  I had lost my breath after a water stop (it felt like a mini asthma attack) and had to pull off to the side of the course to catch my breath.  THIS was when I told my sister and husband to run on and leave me.  I was feeling rough and would only slow them down.  They ever-so kindly denied my request, gave me a pep talk and pushed me along.  Mile 17 and 18 went by slowly.

Our Team Beef cheer squad was right before the 18 mile mark and I knew I needed to appear fairly put together to run past them.  (Thanks cheer squad!!) We were right in front of the Capitol when the fatal thought of stopping all together entered my mind.  Our hotel was less than a mile away, I could trot along home, cut my losses and end the pain right then and there.  Shortly past the Capitol I stopped again, this time, I was serious.  “Leave me!” I pleaded. “I am NOT finishing this race!”  “I don’t care anymore!”  “I mean it, GO!”  Sister and hubs were as determined to see me finish as I was to quit.  A few seconds of verbal battling ensued and before long, I was back running…at a painfully slow pace.  “Just make it to the 20th mile,” I told myself.  “And then you can just walk the last six.”  Oddly enough, I never saw the 20th mile marker, before I knew it, we had reached 21.  We made it to the famed “Bridge” and much to my surprise, my legs were still trying to wimp out something that resembled running.  My pace had slowed to a 10:30 and it stayed there until the end.

I remember feeling annoyed every time I saw a cheer sign that read something encouraging, “Push through the pain” “Don’t give up” “Finish strong.”  Those lines of encouragement were for the OTHER runners, NOT me.  I was in the middle of a crisis, not just a hard run.  I needed relief from the pain, not encouragement to push through it.  I had grinded out hard miles over the summer and fall and knew what pushing through the pain was like, this time it was different, it was serious.  This time I was trapped in my pain and exhaustion.  I NEEDED to escape it, I didn’t want to finish.  I had two mentally and physically strong runners willing me forward and I was in the middle of my 5th marathon.  A solo training run that goes poorly can always take a rain check for a better day but a race with determined pacers means you MUST finish.  Finish at all costs!  “There’s no possible way I will make it for another 5 miles,”  I thought!  “That’s nearly and hour more of running at this snail pace.”

I have run many races, but I held off buying race t-shirts until this particular race.  My 5th marathon and the 40th Marine Corps Marathon.  I remember thinking that I would have to give my newly acquired t-shirt away to someone who actually finished the race, because I wasn’t going to.  I couldn’t wear that shirt if I bailed out and walked the last 6 miles.  Who would I give it to I wondered.

Crystal City was somewhere along Miles 23 and 24.  The crowds were incredible and the cheering was drowning out my pitiful thoughts.  I focused on finding other Team Beef jerseys in the stream of other runners headed back out of the city (it was an out and back).  I focused on making it to the next water stop.  At least that would give me an excuse to walk for a few seconds.  I focused on the word “Finish”…that was all I wanted to do.  I thought about a frozen lemonade from Panera Bread and how all I wanted to do was lay down.  I prayed to God for strength to finish.  Mile 25…”oh gosh, I cannot possibly run another 1.2 miles.  tiredThat’s WAY to far away and my legs are shot”.  Before long, I could see that dreaded hill leading up to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  “That hill…just make it to the hill and you can walk up it,”  I promised myself.  “It’s a cruel hill anyway.”  I made it to the hill, it wasn’t pretty.  I slowly ran up that hill and it was even less pretty.  Who walks the hill when there are Marines lining it cheering you on?  The end…the arc over the end, I made it.  The will of my sister and husband driving me to the finish is why I finished.  The grace and strength from God drove me to the finish.  My tired legs and doubtful mind did little to get me there.

4:08:00 was my finishing time.  I was 8 seconds short of a PR.  8 seconds.  Even if someone would have told me I only needed to make up 8 seconds and if I only ran a little faster I could PR, I still couldn’t have done it.  I had nothing left.  I was darn fortunate to finish in the time I did.  Top 13% of females and top 20% overall.

I was even more fortunate to have loyal companions get me to the finish.  Why on Earth would my husband and sister give up on their sub-4 hour finish to see me to the end?  I cannot thank them enough…seriously!  God, friends and loyal companions are KEY and for this typically solo runner, I learned just how much I needed the strength of others to push on when I had nothing to push with!

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Mission Accomplished!

Hershey Half Marathon

Running solo down a side country road just as the sun is rising over the ridge in the East, hearing the plodding of my shoes and my steady inhales and exhales, the rustle of crisp leaves stirred by the gentle morning breeze and taking note of the earthy, autumn smells and fresh farmland.  The chill in the morning air is perfect these days!  Too chilly to be walking without a jacket but perfect to still run in shorts and a t-shirt.  How can a morning get any better?  By the grace of God, about 4 mornings each week start out like that.
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Yesterday morning was a bit different for me.  I found myself running with about 5,000 other people through Hershey Park, the Milton Hershey School, and nearby residential neighborhoods in Hershey, PA.  All but a handful of the other runners were total strangers to me yet we were all running with the same purpose.  Finish…and finish well.  My sister, my sister-in-law and her sister ran the Hershey Half Marathon yesterday. (Go Sisters!!)  For my sister-in-law, that was her first half marathon EVER and I’m so proud of her!  The race is the ‘easy’ part; the months and weeks of training are really the test for any runner.

My objective yesterday morning was to start out with a comfortable 8:45 pace, settle into a happy rhythm and plod along until I finished.  I am after all training for a marathon and my typical pace is 8:45.  At the moment, I’m not use to anything faster than an 8:30.

My sister and I lined up at the start.  We were quite a ways back in the pack so we spent a considerable amount of time weaving in and out of other runners for the first few miles.  Mile 1: 8:31 pace.  Mile 2: 7:58 pace.  “Ok, Kim. I think I’m going to let you go ahead, I’m not sure I can sustain this pace for the race.  See ya at the finish.”  Seriously, that was way faster than I anticipated running for the first two miles.  I wanted to be conservative and make sure I finished strong.  Kim was pushing ahead at a clip I didn’t think I could maintain for long.  My hope was that I would catch her along the way as she eased up.  Mile 3: 7:51 pace.  Mile 4: 8:03 pace.  I was just cruising along.  I only looked at my watch when I completed another mile.hershey half1  I kept surprising myself with the pace!  I felt fine.  I could tell I was pushing myself beyond my comfort range but it wasn’t too painful.  It was really a ‘no excuse’ morning.  The weather was lovely, the course was hilly but not extreme and since I wasn’t in any major pain, I had no excuse to ease up to what I thought was a more reasonable pace.  Cruise on I suppose.  See what you’re capable or and try and catch Kim.  Mile 5: 7:51, Mile 6: 7:56, Mile 7:7:46.  What’s going on?  How am I able to do this?  My ‘normal’ pace has been 8:45-9:00 pace for months now, where’s this coming from?  Mile 8: 7:56.  Mile 9: 7:51.  Mile 10: 8:02.  Mile 11:7:56.  Mile 12: 7:55.  Mile 13: 7:31.  Remaining .4 miles according to my watch, 7:21 pace.  I averaged a 7:55 pace and finished with a new PR for the half marathon in 1:46:24.

Hershey half 2My sister finished about 4 minutes ahead of me.  Dang!  Dang for two reasons.  Dang because my sister beat me (again!) by a landslide to achieve her own PR and ‘dang’ because I achieved my own PR by 3 minutes.  What a thrilling morning in Hershey!  …and I seriously only expected it to be a chill stroll!  Success #3 came when my sister-in-law crossed the finish line of her first half marathon!  Good news all around for the sisters!

In six days, twin and I will run the Marine Corps Marathon.  This will be my fifth marathon, her sixth.  My primary goal is to PR and finish in under 4 hours.  My hope is to start yet again with an 8:45 pace and feel out the morning.  If I’m able, try and hold closer to an 8:15 or 8:30.  We shall see!  I can only hope my body is somehow able to repeat what it did yesterday morning and somehow double it to 26.2 miles!  What are the chances of that!?

Follow #TeamBeef and #BeefFuelsMCM on social media to see how the two of us and 53 other Team Beef runners from across the country do on October 25th in Washington D.C for the 40th Marine Corps Marathon!

Welcome Border Leicesters!

The trend of acquiring animals with “border” in the breed name was totally not on purpose but with our recent sheep purchase, it’s super obvious.  Border Collies- our working dog breed of choice, Border Cheviots- our first sheep purchase and finally, Border Leicesters- our most recent sheep purchase.  Ah, a trend is forming!  “Border” is referencing the border of Wales and England which is where the two sheep breeds originated.

The Border Leicester sheep breed is a dual purpose breed known for both meat and wool; like our cheviots.  They’re a little larger framed than the cheviots however they’re generally more docile and calm than the cheviots.  (Big plus!) Our goal for the next few years is to produce some cross-bred lambs to market for meat and find a decent market for the wool from the breeding stock.  Fortunately, Pennsylvania is home to some wool mills so I am planning to see about getting our grease wool processed into yard to then resell.

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This is “Carson”, our two year old Border Leicester Ram.  Sort of a bad photo of him since it makes him look super narrow in the front.  Don’t judge!  DSC_0057

The two new ewes, “Cora” is the 3 year old mature ewe and “Rose” is the spring ewe lamb.  Not a mother/daughter pair but since coming to our place, they’ve bonded together like family.  Both Carson and Cora are calm and docile enough to lead on a halter.  We can approach them with out them running from us.  Thank heavens!!  The goal is to not get run over every time we need to work with the sheep.

Last June we had 3 ewes, the Border Cheviots…by October we had 5 with the acquisition of North Country Cheviot/Texel ewes, by April we were up to 8 with the birth of Border Cheviot/Dorper lambs and this fall we’re at 11 with these Border Leicester sheep.  Later this fall we’ll be down to 9 since two of the ram lambs have homes in freezers.  If it sounds like we have 5 too many breeds of sheep going on, we probably do.  It never hurts to shop around and explore some new breeds!  In this ‘growing and expanding’ phase of our new flock, we’re trying to settle on a bred(s) that will suite our fancy.

Adventures in the Addies

Two weeks ago (darn- two weeks ago already!!) was vacation week for hubs and I.  The first half of the week was spent around home.  We grilled our first beef brisket, canned a lot of tomato juice and sauce and froze a few dozen ears of sweet corn (thank you garden veggies!!).  We ran a decent amount as well since we’re both training for the Marine Corps Marathon in a few weeks.  The second half of the week was travel time.  My sis and her husband joined us for the trek up North.  Destination: Adirondack Mountains!  We stopped in Bennington, VT for an afternoon to explore and stay over in a bed & breakfast.  Brown Café was a fun find for lunch and we of course made Bennington Pottery a stop high on the priority list.  A friend of ours gave us two mugs from Bennington Pottery for our wedding and we have wanted to add to the collection for a while now.  Thankfully the shop offers factory seconds for about 25% off and we were delighted to snag a nice big serving bowl to add to our collection.

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Day two and three were “hike in the mountain and camp out overnight” days.  The four of us stashed the basic necessities in our hiking packs and trekked into the Adirondacks, starting a little outside of Lake Placid, NY.  (Super cool town by the way!)  We hiked in 3 miles and set up camp on an island surrounded by a split creek and then continued on to hike Mt. Colden, roughly 4,542 ft above sea level according to my Garmin watch.  The hike up and back was 3 miles each way, a gain of 2,592 feet.  It was nearly dark when we made it back to our new little home in the woods and we cracked into our first pouch of “Mountain House” freeze dried food– Chicken A La King.  Surprisingly, pretty darn good!  The freeze dried ice cream sandwiches…not so much.

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The next morning we set out to hike Mt. Marcy- the tallest mountain in NY state and in the Adirondacks.  The summit was 5,344 ft above sea level and we hiked 2,927 feet in elevation for our 10 mile round trip up and back.  It was an enjoyably challenging hike and I was pretty glad to be in the middle of marathon training, it could have gone a lot worse.

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There is something refreshing about disconnecting from ‘normal life’ and adventuring into the woods, even if it’s only for a few days!

Smoked Beef Brisket on the Grill

Smoked meat lovers with a grill but without a smoker- there is HOPE!  You can actually smoke your own meat on that simple little gas grill!  A week ago, I tentatively dove into the world of smoked meat and came out on the other side a satisfied believer that it can indeed be done without the need to purchase anything ‘special’.  My inspiration for smoking a brisket on the grill came from the wise beef folks at Certified Angus Beef, through their blog site “Go Rare.”

Smoked Beef Brisket on the Grill

Prepare the beef- I had a 6 1/2 pound beef brisket hanging out in our refrigerator.  The evening before I smoked it, I removed it from the vacuum-sealed bag and patted it dry with paper towels.  I placed the dry brisket on a baking sheet and rubbed it with a wet rub made with minced garlic, chili powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper and olive oil.  I loosely followed this recipe.  It sat uncovered in our refrigerator over night.

Prepare the wood chips– Again, we didn’t want to purchase anything ‘special’ for this so we secured our own wood chips.  My super clever hubby trotted over to an apple tree and started chipping chunks of wood off of an old dead limb.  (Yes, it was already dead!)  He chipped off enough small wood chips to fill a 3-quart plastic Tupperware container.  We filled it with water and let the wood chips soak overnight.

Morning of your BIG smoked beef brisket meal!!  Get up early.  I’m not kidding, buck up and get up early.  You will want to give yourself about 15 minutes to prep the brisket on the grill and then another 10 hours for smoking/grilling/roasting.  Plan ahead depending on what time you’ll be serving dinner.

Place your soaked wood chips in an aluminum foil pouch with holes poked all over the top.  Place this foil pouch over the side of the grill with direct heat (directly over the burner).  On the unlit side of the grill, place your beef brisket.  Make sure you place a ‘drip pan’ under the brisket.  I made a simple one out of aluminum foil. You can see it in this photo.  It worked just fine…and again, no special purchase needed!  Keep your grill on low heat (hovering around 250 degrees).  It will take a few hours for the wood chips to actually start to smoke so be patient, they WILL smoke.  I kept the brisket on the grill to smoke for 5 hours, at which point my pouch of wood chips was reduced to ashes.  I transferred the brisket indoors to my oven and let it continue to roast for an additional 5 hours. Brisket1 The COOL thing about this 10 hour cooking gig is that you really don’t need to be present for it.  I put it on the grill in the morning and went for a nice long run, I baked a peach pie and did some chores in the garden.  After lunch, I transferred it to our oven, covered it with foil, put the oven on the lowest possible setting and left to go tubing down a nearby river with friends.  All was well!!

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Apologies for the rough photo here, needless to say, I wasn’t about to delay eating this beauty any longer to get my camera, my camera phone did the deed mildly well.  We served this baby alongside steamed green beans and tomato & corn pie (thanks to my sister-in-law, Jen!) with some peach pie for dessert.  #EpicSummerDinner (Yes, I did just include a hashtag in my blog post!)

Fed Up

I just finished the recently released (May 2014) food documentary, Fed Up.

Given the fact that I work for an agricultural commodity promotional group (Hey-Beef Checkoff!) and that I personally find great amounts of satisfaction and joy in being able to raise livestock for meat and veggies for…dinner as a side hobby, I’m pretty passionate about the general topic of food.  In all reality- aren’t we all?

Anyhow- “Fed Up” certainly covers a wide variety of topics associated with the obesity epidemic, childhood obesity, the food industries, governmental regulations, the food lunch program and food policy…to name a few.  This blog post could quickly turn into a novel of my poorly researched facts and opinions so I’ll keep it high-level, for your sake and mine.

High-level…high-level.  Sugar.  Government Regulation.  Food Industry.

That about sums up the high-level themes of the documentary.  The food industry has the potential to profit a great deal by selling more processed foods to time and budget pinched Americans and when they catered to the ‘low-fat’ trend that boomed in the 1980s, they substituted in sugar to replace some fat, and the cheapest source of that was in the form of high fructose corn syrup.  Enter primary demon of ‘Fed Up’– sugar.  The weight-loss industry stepped in to save the day by targeting us all with quick and easy schemes to burn the fat and get thin…which they of course profited from as well and oddly enough, America kept getting more and more overweight and we continued to enjoy the market basket of health issues that comes with being overweight.   Clearly Americans must just be lazy, gullible, unmotivated gluttons and we shouldn’t be held at all responsible for the simple choice we all enjoy three times a day when we fill our bodies with edibles.  We need more governmental regulations associated with the simple human necessity we call mealtime.  (I’m trying to control my urge to spin off on a thousand potential tangents here.) 

High-level and simplified take-away’s that I, personally, with zero formal nutrition education am walking away from the film with.  (These are in no particular order)

  • No one can firmly argue against the fact that Americans would benefit greatly by reducing the quantity of processed foods we consume and that we find readily available in just about every public building we walk into and can purchase for literally pennies.  It’s no surprise that the cards are definitely stacked against us when it comes to trying to consume a healthier array of foods.  Candy rack here, soda commercial there, billboard telling me why my life will suck without their potato chips there.  We get it, we get it.  Processed foods are everywhere and we’re reminded of that constantly.
  • Along those lines- what is the deal with processed foods anyway?  I am a proud baby born in the late 1980s and I practically grew up with those reduced-fat, 100 calorie snack packs that flooded the market in every form imaginable.  To me, the concern that lurks in the shadows of the cheery low-fat, small portion snack pack is the sugar and solidified vegetable oils that accompany the hefty doses of refined carbohydrates.  Essentially, nothing of nutritional benefit comes from those packs.  A quick sugar-fix and a peppy mood for about 30 minutes but before long, I’m hitting another snack bag since the first one was either burned off or stored as fat shortly after hitting my gut.  Processed, sugar-filled snacking has got to stop.  (Think ‘ants on a log’ or carrot sticks, dried fruit and nuts, an apple or (insert any other fruit).  We have options.
  • We are completely capable of being personally responsible for our own dietary choices.  We can blame shift all we want about whose fault it is that we eat the way we do.  A tiny portion can be blamed on genetics, but besides that, it’s all us.  Is it at all important to us to live a full life and thrive in our home life, work place, and community?  If so, we have got to prioritize what we value to reflect that.  Personally, feeding my soul comes first, followed by feeding my body.  (And to be completely honest here, feeding my soul (reading God’s word, praying to Him) is something I do struggle with daily and have to remind myself that I often times fail to prioritize my relationship with God the way I should.)  Second comes the very real responsibility to appropriately feed our own bodies.  Ask yourself, “Is what I’m eating beneficial to me, is it delivering any meaningful nutrients?”  Let’s own this!
  • General rules of thumb- is it a ‘real’ food…is it a ‘whole’ food?  This isn’t rocket science.  Eat the whole apple and skip the apple juice. Skip the ‘Hot Pocket’ and have some real meat.  Spend some quality time in the kitchen preparing food made with real ingredients, not “a can of this, a packet of that, and jar of this.”  Dice the onion, grill the steak, steam the broccoli, roast the potato…etc.  When you’re in the grocery store– avoid the ‘center of the store’ as much as possible.  Shop the perimeter where you usually find the dairy, meat and produce isles. Lastly, let’s get back to treating ‘treats’ as just that…a treat (preferably homemade).

End rant.  It’s dinnertime anyway!

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Victoria Sponge Cake

Ever since my slight (Ok…serious) obsession with the Great British Baking Show this past winter, I have wanted to bake a Victoria Sponge Cake.  The final episode of the season included Mini Victoria Sponge Cakes in the technical challenge.  They’re a ‘simple’ enough cake to bake but to get it just so requires some fine-tuned technical skills.  I don’t have enough little cute cake tins or any technical skills, so I opted for an un-cute larger cake and I used Mary Berry’s recipe for it.

Classic Victoria Sponge Cake-

For starters, let your 2 sticks of unsalted butter and 4 eggs come to room temperature.  (For Central PA right now in our little shed, it feels like a humid 80+.)  Once warmed, cream the butter with 2 1/2 cups of white sugar and add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Next, thoroughly beat in one egg at a time until you’ve added 4.  Flatten this mixture down into the bowl so you can add your dry ingredients directly on top.  (I hate using additional bowls to separate out dry and wet ingredients, so in this case, I just added the dry ingredients right to the top of the wet ingredients.)  Add 2 cups of all purpose flour and gently mix in 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet until fully mixed.  Do NOT over mix.

Grease (with butter) and dust a springform cake tin and fill with your cake batter.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes and keep checking until the top is golden and your toothpick comes out clean.  (I forgot to time how long it took to bake the cake!)

Once fully baked, let the cake cool completely before removing it from the tin.  In the meantime, prepare your raspberry jam.  (Or just use your favorite store-bought jam) I used 6 ounces of frozen raspberries and 2 tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water.  I also added 1/2 cup of white sugar.  Let boil until the jam thickens.  Immediately refrigerate.

To make the whipped cream, thoroughly beat 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream with a dusting of 10x sugar and a dash of vanilla.  Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form in the cream.  Immediately refrigerate.

Cake assembly-

Slice the cake horizontally into two even layers.  Spread a generous layer of whipped cream on top and if you want, go crazy and add a hefty layer of fresh blueberries.  (Blueberries are in season right now and I couldn’t resist!)  On the other layer, spread the raspberry jam.

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Lovely! A rather patriotic-looking Victoria Sponge Cake with raspberry jam, fresh blueberries and cream!  Sprinkle the top with icing sugar to really make it look pretty!  Serve it chilled and store it in the refrigerator if you don’t end up consuming it all in one sitting (which I wouldn’t suggest you do individually). 

Classic Victoria Sponge Cake-

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 225 grams of white sugar, room-temperature butter and flour (OR- 2 1/2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of flour and 2 sticks of butter)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Raspberry Jam-

  • 6 ounces of frozen red raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons of corn starch dissolve in 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

Whipped cream-

  • 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream + a dusting of icing sugar and a dash of vanilla (super precise, hugh!?)

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Settle Down Veggie Patch!

It’s late July and along with every other garden patch in Central PA, ours is beginning to look rather jungle-like.  You’ve got to compare what the garden looked like about 7 weeks ago.  Everyone was minding their own business and keeping their hands to themselves…it was a neat, controlled looking garden.  And here we are this evening…

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The kale to the left front corner is still a champion of life and kicking butt.  Kale must be naturally resistant to pesky critters because the leaves are nearly perfect and it’s been the lowest maintenance thing in the garden.  Just past the kale is broccoli- it’s been doing decently well.  The vacant row to the right of the kale and broccoli was our green leaf lettuce and has since given up in the mid-summer heat.  We still have some kaleidoscope lettuce just beyond the empty row but you can tell its about shot.  Our carrots have been doing well and we have more red and yellow beets than we can handle right now.  The celery was unlike any celery I’ve ever had– it was actually really green and massive.  The pale grocery store celery was all I knew of until this summer.  Our herbs are out of control- the cilantro has gone to seed and we’re waiting for the coriander to ripen, the sweet annie, basil, parsley, thyme and lavender are all happily coexisting in their very cramped quarters just past the happy fire-orange zinnia’s you see on the right-hand side.  All of the bright blue ‘stuff’ is larkspur- I was careful to weed everything else and leave the tiny larkspur shoots for the simple reason that a splash of bright blue mixed among the veggies looks really cool.  (Doesn’t it!?) Larkspur reseeds itself really well and will keep coming up year after year.  It also makes an awesome dried flower.

And look what we have just beyond this front garden–happy, healthy stalks of sweet corn!  It seems like it was just yesterday when I planted the little kernels by hand in 5 neat rows and carefully placed our sheep manure between the rows.  The ears are nearly read to eat!

DSC_0020In between the veggie garden and sweet corn are some incredible unruly pumpkins.  They have all but taken over everything… it amazes me how rapidly they grown and intertwine themselves among the rest of the garden.  When it comes to inappropriately invading personal space, pumpkins are the winner!

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Last, but not least- we have the upper garden.  THIS mess is really a jungle!  We planted our army of tomato plants way too close together this spring and we totally underestimate how crazy big potato plants get.  Our onions sort of suffocated in between the tomatoes and potatoes.  Just in front of the tomatoes we have some spindly but productive green pepper plants and just in front of them, our row of green beans.  Aside from the rabbit that chose to camp out for the summer in the bean row, they’re doing pretty well and we’ve already harvested 10+ quarts of beans.  The front of this garden is our strawberry patch.  Aside from routine weeding and control of the ‘runners,’ the strawberries are just chilling until next June when we get berries again.

We’re now at the stage in gardening where we’re actually harvesting the fruits of our labor and giving it away to friends and family–my favorite part!!  I LOVE being able to ‘shop’ for dinner in the front yard and pick and choose whatever is ready that evening.  We’ve been eating a decent quantity of roasted beets, potatoes and carrots along with salads, sautéed squash and kale and steamed broccoli and green beans.  Meat is always the center of the meal but our sides are whatever is ready to eat the day of.

I know…I know…tons of people garden and reap the benefits of their gardens and its really no big deal.  My mom did this very thing when we were little kids and she’d spend her evenings canning whatever she had a large quantity of.  She did it to be thrifty and save on the grocery bill. Decades and centuries ago people had no choice…if you wanted fresh vegetables, you grew them yourself.  Today, we have the luxury of shopping for whatever suites our fancy regardless of what is in season.  It may be nothing special to shop for dinner in your front yard for many people, but to me- this summer- it’s been super exciting!

Anyone else pretty stoked at watching their garden thrive this summer?