Saturday, June 30, 2012

Patriotic Cookies

I don't mean that title ironically.  I mean that Independence Day (you know, The Fourth of July) is approaching and I've made some patriotic sugar cookies.

What does making cookies have to do with the tenuous work-life balance of a working mother?  Well, other than we mommies often like to make, and are sometimes asked to make, cookies for the kiddos, not much.  No feminist screed today, ladies and gents, just a photographic tour of my afternoon of cookie baking.

So, here's my attempt as some Independence Day, patriotic pinwheel sugar cookies:

First, make your favorite sugar cookie dough.  (Or, hey, working lady, make it easy on yourself and go buy your favorite pre-made dough at the supermarket.  I won't tell.)  Divide into thirds.  Leave one third alone.  It's your white stripe.

With the other two thirds, dye one red and one blue with gel food coloring.  (Gel food coloring will get you more vibrant colors.  If you're fine with more pastel shades, the liquid kind is fine.)  I found that the best way to get the color fully incorporated into the dough is to knead it in with your hands.  I wear vinyl gloves  to do this so I don't dye my hands.  You can get the gloves in the paint section of your hardware store.  (I like to keep such gloves in my kitchen for cutting up peppers so I don't accidentally wipe serrano juice into my eye an hour after I've cooked dinner.)  Use a different pair of gloves for the red and for the blue, unless you want purple.  In which case, carry on.

Once you have the color incorporated, form it into a round and place it between two pieces of parchment paper for rolling.

I sort of eye-balled it on the size of the cookie-dough pancake I wanted to roll.  As you can probably see, the oils from the prior cookie dough rounds (I rolled white first, then blue) left an image of the size of the prior cookie-dough pancake, so I just made the subsequent pancakes fit the oil spot.  If you want to measure yours out precisely, go for it, but who has time to find a ruler when they're baking and who, other than the people on America's Test Kitchen, keeps a cooking ruler in their kitchen?  (But good for you if you do, friend, you are a better baker than I.)

So I rolled the white out and set it aside.  Then I rolled the blue out and placed it on top of the white.

Then I put the red on top of the blue and the white...

... so that I had a stack of three cookie-dough pancakes.  Time to start rolling.

Use the parchment paper to help you roll your giant colorful pancake into a log.

By this time, your dough will have gotten pretty soft because, even though you're in an air conditioned house, it's hot as blazes outside and you've been working the heck out of that dough.  So be patient and go slowly.  (And rest comfortably in the knowledge that when you make red, white and green ones for Christmas later this year, the dough won't have gotten nearly as loose by this stage.)

Now, wrap the parchment around the log and use your hands to form it into a log shape (if yours, like mine, sort of started to go a little oblong on you).

I wrapped this parchment covered log of red, white and blue sugar-goo in a couple of layers of plastic wrap to help it keep its shape.

Next, I put my 4th o' July Log into the fridge and let it harden up for a few hours.  I used the little wine caddy thing in my fridge to hold the cookie log to help keep its shape.

(If your wine caddy thing still has a wine bottle in it, maybe you want to have yourself a glass of wine while you wait for the log to firm up.  Or fold laundry, like me.  Whichever.)

Soooo . . . after a sufficient amount of time . . . probably several hours, depending on your dough, you should have a nice firm cookie-dough log like this:

Slice the log into approximately 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch (depending on how big you want your cookies) slices and bake according to your cookie dough recipe's directions (or, according to the package directions, if you took a short cut).  My cookies needed about 12 minutes.

I recommend using a very sharp cooking knife to ensure that the cuts are clean.  And you should rinse and wipe your knife several times during the process so it won't stick.  Don't worry if your first few slices aren't super-swirly.  Once you get into the middle of the log, you'll see nice swirls like this:

Also, you may want to toss your dough back into the fridge to keep it cool and, thus, firm enough to cut.  Or you may want to do what I did, which is probably not as effective and putting it back in the fridge:

And, after 12 minutes, or however long you need, you've got your finished cookies!  I let them cool on the pan several minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to finish cooling.  (I found that if I didn't let them cool awhile in the pan, they sort of fell apart on the transfer and became a red, white, and blue mess.)

When they're completely cool, transfer them into a storage container and get ready to wow your friends, neighbors, and countrymen with your fantastic patriotic pinwheel sugar cookies!

Or, maybe just go ahead and pour yourself a glass of milk and plate one up for yourself.  Mmmm-mmmm, star-spangled goodness.

Happy Independence Day, Everybody!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The MILF Project

The Boy turned 15 months yesterday.

I'm still 20 pounds heavier than when I started the Mommy Project.

So I've got a new project, now:  The MILF Project.

You know, MILF . . . Muscle Isn't Like Fat.  ;-)

Anyway, I've gotten very tired of my waist getting in the way when I bend over . . . of looking into the mirror at yoga and thinking that it looks like I'm sitting in a puddle of myself . . . of weighing -- let's face it -- not nearly enough less than The Working Dad.

So, it's time to get serious about diet and exercise.  As a college friend of mine posted on Pinterest recently, you've got to "sweat like a pig to look like a fox."  Well, that, and stop eating so many cupcakes.

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced Phase I of the MILF Project:  weekly order regarding our evening mealtime by way of pre-prep on Sundays and a menu board.

It's not the fanciest board ever, but it works.  And more importantly, the pre-planning of our evening meals is working like a charm.  We eat more veggies and are less likely to order in or eat junky food if we've got a healthy, yummy meal that will be on the table in about 30 minutes.

Second, I've started taking a lunch box to work with me containing, typically, a little thing of hummus, some string cheese, baby carrots, and a couple of apples.  I sort of snack on this stuff, and the almonds that I keep in my desk drawer, throughout the day rather than have a big mid-day meal . . . lots of little snacks throughout the day.  For breakfast, it's a piece of toast with almond butter and water.  Oh and coffee.  I definitely still get coffee (with fat free half-and-half).  (Addendum:  7/1/12 -- I now use coconut milk creamer.  Oh yum!)

No sweets.  Not even chocolate.  Sigh.  But I'm pretty free with the nuts and the nut-butters.  (And, trust me, almond butter absolutely rocks!  Buy some.  Eat lots of it.)  So I don't miss the sweets so much yet.

No alcohol either, or not much.  It's just empty calories, and it doesn't mean that much to me, really.

The other diet trick that is a for-now thing, not a forever thing, is a little rule:  No carbs after 3 p.m.  In that way, I am not going to bed with sugars in my system.  I bend this rule on days when I'm going to be working out after work so I don't crash, but I'm otherwise sticking with it.  The 3 p.m. Rule came to me courtesy of Phase II of the MILF Project:

My personal trainer.

I'm not going to lie.  Hiring a personal trainer is kind of expensive, but I can already tell you that the expense is worth it.  She is my cheerleader, my coach, and my teacher.  I also have to show her my food diary every week so that she can see what I've been putting in my mouth.  Talk about the ultimate in accountability!  And, I really need that right now because it's easy to tell myself that "one cookie won't hurt" and let it go.  But if I have to justify that cookie to The Trainer, well, that's another kettle of fish.  Maybe one day I won't need that sort of accountability, but right now, I really do.

I meet with The Trainer three times a week and I try to get at least some cardio in on the days between training.  It's difficult to find the time.  Part of the reason I let go of SAHM Fridays is so that I could have an extra hour in the day to be able to work out.  In the end, I had to decide that my personal physical fitness was important.  Being 41 (soon to be 42 in a few months), middle-aged, I am more sensitive to the fragility of health.  And I've got a wonderful husband, who needs a healthy wife, and a young son, who needs healthy parents.  I need to be fit, not just so that I can feel better about how I look,  but so that I can be here on this earth for as long as The Boy needs me to be . . . and, with a little luck and grace, maybe even longer than that.

So I am steely-eyed and serious.  Let the MILF Project begin!