The smell of cookies baking, the extra warmth from the oven, and the comfort of a sweet treat, lots of reasons to mix up another batch of cookies. This time it is the Peanut Butter Cookie, which I have reduced to a small batch bake for those of us seeking a small indulgence rather than a mountain of cookies. If you do need a larger batch, no worries, this recipe is very simple to multiply when more than two dozen nutty delights are needed.
Not all peanut butter is made the same. The peanut butter made in the U.S.A. is a sweeter cousin to the peanut butter made elsewhere. It is perfect for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, and other peanut butter sweet treats. So if you are not in the United States, see if you can source some from the international section of your grocery store.
If you don’t already have mini ice cream/cookie scoop in your kitchen, treat yourself to one of two. They are a time saver when working with a wet cookie dough or when trying for consistent-sized cookies. I prefer the small one often used as a melon baller for this recipe (1/2 tablespoon). The cookies with spread during baking so a little dough goes a long way.
A Vlogmas Spin-a-long with a Sweet Treat at the End
The countdown to Christmas is fully underway. This year for Vlogmas, a YouTuber’s countdown, I decided to find a way to take a break from the hectic pace of Christmas, at least for a few moments each day.
With that goal in mind, each day I am spinning a small bundle of fiber, enjoying a tiny chocolate treat, and choosing a rejuvenating suggestion from a jar I filled with suggestions back before Vlogmas began. So far in the first days of December, I have crafted with beads, made a savory treat, tried a new embroidery design, and started reading a new book. Today when I withdrew the small folded paper from the jar, I was delighted to see that it suggested I make a sweet treat. I’ve been looking forward to this suggestion appearing because I have a brownie recipe I have been wanting to share.
A few months back during the heat of summer, I invested in a small convection oven, marketed as an air fryer, it really is just a fancy toaster oven, but with excellent versatility that past toasters lacked. There didn’t seem much sense in heating up the house by using the large oven during the summer months, now that my husband and I are empty-nesters again. A smaller oven would heat up the house less and would correspond with our smaller food preparation needs. It was the perfect solution with just one hurdle to cross – smaller batch recipes. Cooking, and especially baking, just for two is not the easiest thing to accomplish. Most recipes are designed for feeding 4-6 people. Cakes and pies are especially difficult. The humidity and the heat of Virginia makes sweets treats fuzz up quite quickly unless they are refrigerated, and there is nothing that makes a crisp pastry go limp like refrigeration.
So with new mini-oven and a goal to make smaller portions of favorite foods, I embarked on an Autumn of culinary experimentation. In my previous blog, I share some of my Autumn favorites, but now the temperature have turned cold chocolate is what is needed.
After years of a love-hate relationship with the classic American dessert, the Brownie, I have finally figured out a recipe both my husband and I will consume with joy. It has both crisp bits and gooey bits, and is small enough to bake in an 8″ x 8″ (200mmx200mm) baking pan that fits just perfectly in my Instant Vortex Air Fryer. I am sure the recipe would also work in a regular oven or full-sized convection oven with just the minimal baking time/temperature adjustments.
I hope you find joy in this basic, but tasty comfort food.
If you choose to take a few moments and watch my Vlogmas video, you will also hear how I stumbled upon a second chocolate delight when a foggy brain necessitated making a second dessert.
By simply adding extra sour cream (about 3 tablespoons total) and steaming it in a pressure cooker for 60 minutes, rather than having a Brownie, you will have a Chocolate Steamed Pudding instead. If you have never made a cake in a pressure cooker, I highly recommend looking up Instant Pot recipes by Amy & Jacky at https://www.pressurecookrecipes.com/
The spices of the holiday season evoke memories of family get-togethers, fresh-from-the-oven baked foods, and warm beverages. Recreating these tastes and smells can lead to an overabundance that is not always a good thing. Figuring out how to make smaller batches of spicy treats has been my goal these past few months, and I am ready to share the results.
This blog coincides and supports my latest vlog where I talk about the fun I have had making pies for a household of two. As I mention in my vlog, I use an Instant Vortex Air Fryer, which is just a fancy name for convection toaster oven. There are other mini convection oven/toasters on the market, but this is the brand I have used. The recipes I am sharing can easily be made in a regular oven or convection oven, but during those hot late-summer months, it was so very nice to have recipes that could be made in a small oven and didn’t heat up the kitchen.
I hope you check out my video and enjoy these spiced up treats.
Just over 30 years ago, around the holiday season, an older gentleman asked me the question, “What do you do to give back to the community?” The question gave me pause, and caused me discomfort. I was a college student at the time with no excess finances to share. For a bit of time I felt pretty low because I felt I had no answer to give… then I began to remember.
I have always been a person who gives of their time and talents, but I didn’t realize until that year how much society values some contributions more greatly than others. Some service is valued as being better than other service, not because of the needs being served, but because of how the service conforms with a perception of what the provider considers valuable. Even the notion of charity seems to have a hierarchy, with some charitable acts being considered more valuable than others, not due to needs being met, but rather with how the charity is viewed by the peers of the one giving the charity.
Three decades have passed since the question was asked of me, and I find myself pondering the sad reality that for many (including the gentleman who asked the question) service and charity is measured by a monetary value rather than a kindness value. There is no rule that says that the two values cannot coexist, but there is a general notion that if the monetary is given the kindness is not necessary.
Consistently giving of ourselves, of our time, of our talents, and yes, even of our monetary surplus when such exists, is how we give back to society, and thereby contribute to a better society in which to live.
When we give with a focus on the kindness value, we need not feel discomfort when asked, “Do you give back?”
One of the easiest but most enthusiastically received gifts I have given over the years is the simple gift of homemade hot cocoa mix. In a world where hot chocolate packets are readily available and fit so nicely into the novelty mug, why would anyone take the time to make their own mix? Yet, the personal touch of mixing cocoa powder with just the right amount of sugar to achieve a rich, dark, but sweet blend of flavors simply can’t be beat. When this gift is coupled with the Mug Rug, a whimsical version of the traditional cup coaster, the simple gift is elevated to another level. The mug rug may be basic in nature, or elaborate and personalized, yet it is the effort and thought that makes it a token of well wishes and seasonal joy.
As I show in my Vlogmas 2021 video, there are many ways in which the simple mug rug can be made, and I am sure a quick internet search will provide endless ways to stir up a batch of hot cocoa mix. As with any gift giving, the most important thing to consider is the person you are giving the gift. One of the reasons I like the cocoa mix I use is that it is very basic, leaving the choice of milk and of any additional flavorings up to the individual. I find this helps avoid pitfalls associated with food allergies, etc.
One note on my preferred hot cocoa consumption. I add the cocoa mix to an empty cup, then I will add any additional flavors to the mix. (Peppermint oil, Butter Rum Extract, OR a blend of dried Cinnamon/Clove/Ginger – these are three of my favorite flavoring.) Then before I add in the milk, I add 1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream to the mix and stir/whisk vigorously. This will transform the dry mix into a wonderful paste that is ready for the milk to be added. I will add cold milk, and then microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds, stir again and check to see if the liquid needs an additional 30 seconds of heating. Of course, I could preheat the milk, but I tend to only do that when making a large batch to share with others.
Sharing our joy with others helps us find our own inner peace, but we can only find this peace when our hearts and minds remain focused on the sharing and not on the receiving. The moment we fixate on how our handmade gift is received, we have shifted our focus from our act of giving and are now concerned only with the gift we expect in return – the recipient’s gratitude.
Giving a handmade gift to someone we know personally, as opposed to an anonymous donation gift, often leads to concern over how the gift will be received. This concern has the potential of undermining the joy the process of making has given us. Expectation of gratitude is a dangerous path to enter when we are on our handmaking journey. It is fraught with pitfalls which can cause us and the recipient of our handmade item emotional harm.
When we treat all gifts as we treat the anonymous donation gift – in essence, when we simply hope that the item will find itself being loved, even if it must pass through many hands before it finds its home, then we can hold on to the joy that is the byproduct of our making and our giving.
The guiding principle I live by when I give a handmade gift is this:
If I make the gift with love and the intent to give it unreservedly, then the joy that I gain in the making and giving is the only reward I will expect.
Living by this principle is not always easy, and even the best efforts can still allow in feelings of disappointment, but focusing on the joy of making will usually fend off such disruptive feelings.
Our desire to share our creativity, our time, and our talents with others is a worthy desire. When we make a gift for someone, and we make it with love, the joy we get from the making is the greatest reward. It is the process of doing, of making, of giving, of serving – it is this process that blesses our lives with joy and helps us find the inner peace we need.
My daughter thinks I may be a bit more eloquent in the last section of today’s video.
For many, YouTube Vlogmas has become a way to “break out” of the restrictions of a quarantine and travel without leaving the comfort of one’s own home. I particularly love to follow vloggers on their trips to see holiday lights and visits to Christmas markets.
For many, these vlogs help replace the sense of belonging and community that they feel is lost because of changes in society (changes that may have even happened before a pandemic). For some, simply sharing in the joy of others, even virtually, removes the cloud of loneliness that often accompanies infirmity and illness.
Whether its watching them decorate their homes, knit sweaters and scarves for gifts, or prepare their favorite holiday food, I feel a connection with these vloggers, and not because I now vlog. For me, the connection with these vloggers comes because I feel they share both my love of the holiday season and my love of sharing joy with others. The vlog, much like the physical items we give, becomes a gift from us to whomever is in need of the gift.
So this year, I have decided to make my own vlogmas contributions. I doubt it will be an annual tradition for me, but this year I hope to share holiday joy and inspiration through sharing some of my handmade treasures (many made by my own hands, and some made by the hands of loved ones).
While my first vlogmas video is on the longer side, the subsequent ones should be a shorter and contained to a specific theme.
Time slips by, often without our notice. Goals made in January tend to be forgotten until we find ourselves contemplating the end of another year. In the crafting world, the chant of Keep Calm and Finish by Christmas may not always be heard, but it is seldom not running through the mind of the crafter. Fortunately, most crafters understand that if it is not finished by Christmas, it will still be finished by the following one.
This year I set a personal goal of making some simple, beginner-friendly patchwork projects available for family and friends. While it was not my first set of patterns to make available, it was the first set that I would highlight in video form and share with the world.
One particular pattern would have to wait until the end of the year since I so very much wanted to make it Christmas themed.
Leaving any bigger project until the end of the year is flirting with danger in this particular crafter’s home. Ideas for holiday projects flood my mind the moment the temperatures begin to chill and the leaves on the trees begin to fall. This year was no different but with great determination, I managed to get this project wrapped up despite the unexpected hurdle of having a minor injury to my right arm (It is hard to hand quilt when your hand is not cooperating).
The journey of bringing this project from conception to fruition has been a joy. Soon this tree skirt will be in the mail, traveling thousands of miles away to its destination, and providing joy to its recipient. With a bit of luck Christmas Logs Under the Tree will arrive just in time.