I may have achieved some sort of maximum gym awkwardness today. I was super proud of myself for tugging on my workout gear and going to an extra Zumba class today, but in retrospect, I can now declare with utmost certainty that I should've stayed home. BECAUSE:
1. I'd never been to this Zumba class before and it was in a huge classroom. The teacher was on the other side of it, meaning I couldn't see her at all. I think plenty of other students were in the same boat and doing their own random dances, so I couldn't really follow them either. As a result, I spent most of the class wobbling uncertainly from side to side like an antsy walrus. Probably with a really confused look on my face.
2. There was this one song with approximately 80 bajillion partner segments. You were supposed to find a partner and booty dance with them, but since I am socially awkward and weirdly shy sometimes, I partner danced alone. All 80 bajillion times. And forced the girl beside me to partner dance alone, too, since I was the only possible partner in her vicinity and I was clearly too awkward to bother with.
3. After my bizarre Zumba class, I went back to the locker room and tried to open my lock approximately 80 bajillion times. My combination is 13-21-11. That combination did not work. My only guess is that my lock forgot its own combination, because I DID NOT FORGET MY COMBINATION. IT IS 13-21-11. You may wonder why I feel comfortable announcing my lock combination on my food blog. WELL, BECAUSE:
4. After 80 bajillion attempts to open my lock failed, I had to ask the gym dude to please cut the lock off my locker. This sounds approximately 80 bajillion times simpler than it actually was.
Gym dude had to ask another gym dude where the bolt cutters were, look for them for 30 minutes because that gym dude wouldn't come over to help, wait outside the locker room while a woman finished changing, send me in to evacuate the locker room, try for 15 minutes to cut the lock off, get now-changed woman's help cutting the lock off, get lazy gym dude's help cutting the lock off, etc.
Finally, a group of roughly 15 of us (okay, 4) got my lock cut off my locker and I was able to tell the ladies in the sauna that it was safe to come out into the locker room again. THAT'S WHY I CAN TELL YOU MY LOCK COMBINATION. Because my lock has been cut in half.
Needless to say, I crawled out of the gym after apologizing to everyone about 80 bajillion times and am seriously considering never going to that Zumba class again. Also, I'm going to eat a Baked Caramel Apple Cheesecake Dumpling now to soothe my nerves. In summary, I will gain roughly 2 pounds because of this trip to the gym. Exercise fail.
These Baked Caramel Apple Cheesecake Dumplings are the perfect comfort food for these kind of nights. They're a riff on the classic Baked Apple Dumplings -- apples baked in pie crust -- except they include a unique cinnamon cheesecake center! Serve them with ice cream, a drizzle of Werther's Original® Baking Caramels (did you know they make baking caramels now? So easy and quick -- and made with real butter and cream), and toasted pecans.
3/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, cubed
pinch salt Werther's Original® Baking Caramels, melted
*Note: To toast pecans, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 6 minutes or until fragrant, tossing several times.
Make the pastry: Pulse the flour and salt together in the bowl of a food processor to combine. Add the lard in hunks and pulse for about 10 seconds until it’s the texture of coarse sand. Add in the chunks of cold butter and pulse for about 10 pulses until butter pieces are no larger than small peas. Add 3 tablespoons of ice cold water and turn food processor on low — the dough should form a dough ball in a few seconds. If the dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of water. Add as little water total as is required for the dough to form a ball. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions on sheets of plastic wrap, form each into a disk, and chill for at least 20-30 minutes while completing the rest of the recipe.
Make the cheesecake: In a medium bowl, mix the cheesecake filling ingredients together. Scrape the filling into a ziplock bag and chill while you complete the rest of the recipe.
Prepare the apples: Core each of your peeled apples, taking out a core of about 1 to 1 1/2-inch diameter so you have space for your cheesecake filling. Mix together the 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon to form a cinnamon-sugar mixture and roll each apple in the mixture. Reserve any leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Roll out each portion of the pie pastry on a lightly floured surface to a rough 7-inch square. Place an apple on the center of each. Cut off the corner of the ziplock bag of cheesecake filling and pipe filling into the center of each apple. Then pull up the corners of the pie pastry and tuck each corner into the center of the apple, pinching the dough together to seal. Place the apples into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Make the sauce: Heat the brown sugar, water, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it boils, stirring occasionally. Pour the sauce over the apples and bake them, basting occasionally, for 50 to 55 minutes or until tender and golden brown. If the cheesecake seems to be getting too dark on top, cover it with a snippet of foil. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream, a drizzle of melted Werther's caramel, and toasted pecans.
Byrd is 7 years old this year. She still runs around like a puppy, but suddenly her eyes are cloudy, her fur is thin, and every now and then, her back goes out without warning. My heart vehemently protests each new sign of aging, but time marches on.
It probably sounds morbid to say I think about her dying all the time, but it's not -- and I do. I worry about it, sure, but mostly I think about it as a self-check. I think, "When she dies someday, am I going to be satisfied with the life I gave her, or am I going to have regrets?" Dogs live such heartbreakingly short lives. It feels like the only way to make it slightly less tragic for them to leave us someday is to make those brief lives as special as possible.
Having that as my goal has made a lot of decisions easier. For instance, when Byrd's knees started giving her problems a few years ago, there was no question that we had to fix them immediately. Fixing them meant prolonging her ability to fetch, which was crucial to her having a happy life. Other decisions become harder: should I get her bad teeth pulled to prevent infection, or should I let her keep them so she can definitely continue to enjoy her daily carrots? Those kind of decisions produce a lot of fretting and the occasional way-too-long conversation with the vet.
Recently I've started kind of a dog bucket list for Byrd, filled with things I want to be able to say I did with her while she was still relatively young and healthy. I hope she has MANY, many years left, but of course I don't want to scramble toward the end of her life to try to get in the "good stuff." Just a few:
1. Play fetch daily.
2. Let her "smell the roses" more outside.
3. Go to the beach and bury things in the sand for her to dig up.
4. Get her a heated bed.
5. Give her occasional "wet food" treat days.
6. Drive through Chick-fil-a to get treats every now and then.
7. Have at least one "Byrd day" filled with all of her favorite treats, food, and playtime.
That last one was inspired by an article I read once (you're gonna need some tissues) about a dude who gave his dying dog one last perfect day. My takeaway from the article is that I wanted to do this before Byrd gets too old or sick to really enjoy it. While she's still young, I want to give her a day full of fetch, wet food, carrots, digging in blankets, belly rubs, car rides, and snuggles.
When it is time to let her go someday (hopefully a day far, far in the future!), I'm thinking of following the lead of a friend of mine. She had a vet that made house calls, so he was able to come and put her greyhound to sleep on the comfy dining room rug where he always napped. She was right by his side in the comfort of their home. I love that and hope I can arrange the same for my sweet girl (who, as if to underscore that she's still young and spry, is ferociously attacking a blanket beside me as I write).
Those sort of thoughts are so hard, right? But it actually does my heart good to know I have a plan for making her little life as joyful and comfortable as it can be. Do you ever think about this for your pet? What would your pet's bucket list look like?
* * *
After one of our quick dinners last week, Mike and I had this quick, simple dessert made with a box cake mix. Byrd didn't get to enjoy any, but don't worry. She had plenty of her own food, which she likes to chomp-chomp-chomp just as Mike and I are going to sleep each night.
My mom made this for us all the time growing up, and it was one of my favorites. The sweet apples and sour cream complement each other perfectly, and the toasted pecans are the perfect nutty touch. Whip it up and throw it in the oven while you eat dinner. Serve it warm with some vanilla bean ice cream on top!
This quick and easy recipe was a dessert staple in my house growing up. The sour cream and apple combination is perfect, particularly with the toasted pecans on top.
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sour cream
2 (15-ounce) cans (or 2 cups fresh, peeled) sliced apples
*Note: To toast pecans, spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for about 6 minutes or until fragrant, tossing several times.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter cubes into the cake mix until crumbly. Press this mixture into the prepared pan, building it up slightly on the edges. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. In the meantime, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and egg until smooth.
When the crust is done, arrange the apples on it (I used canned). Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the apples. Drizzle the sour cream mixture over the apples (it won't completely cover them). Bake for 25 minutes or until edges are lightly brown. Don't overbake. Sprinkle on toasted pecans and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
The teacher across the hall from me is named Julie as well. My last name is Ruble. Hers is Reulbach. We're both have long, blonde hair and blue eyes. We're the same height. We both blog and tweet. We're both energetic (read: spastic) in the classroom. It's easy to get confused.
When I saw Julie's post on her amazing math education blog, I Speak Math, yesterday, I knew I had to write a copycat post. Her post was "A Day in the Life" post, written as part of Drawing on Math's initiative to show what teaching really entails. I'm not a math teacher, but I loved the idea. So here it goes.
A Day in the Life of a Language Arts Teacher
6:00 am - I wake up, stick some oatmeal in the microwave, and jump in the shower.
6:20 am - I dry my hair, doctor up my oatmeal and finally take the dog out to potty. I rush her and feel bad, but it's hard to tell if she's dawdling or really has to go.
6:45 am - I respond to a few emails and check the schedule while eating my oatmeal, taking my medicine, and throwing my dog's bone a few times, hoping she'll feel like I've spent some quality time with her.
7:05 am - I shuffle through the dryer for some clothes to wear. Byrd is whining because she knows I'm about to leave her -- apparently the quality time trick didn't work. I assure her that I'll be back after school, stuff my computer and cord in its case, and grab a pack of popcorn for lunch.
7:30 am - I'm sharing "early teacher" responsibilities with Julie, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'm supposed to get to school by 7:45. At this point I'm usually rushing out the door, trying not to forget a stack of papers or my keys.
7:45 am - I arrive at school and pull up my lesson plan. I write the Do Now and homework up on the board while chatting with a few students who like to come in early and spend time with me. I'd love to just have some quiet work time here, but there are always a series of small fires to put out: "The pen on the reading chart broke," and, "I can't find the book I'm looking for," and of course, the dreaded, "I lost my notebook."
8:00 am - I rush out to make copies and cut apart questions for our discussion groups today.
8:15 am - I find a nice relaxing station on iTunes radio for my first 7th grade class to listen to as they complete their 10 minute Do Now. They're chatty today and late getting started. They also forget to stand their independent reading books up to display what they're reading for the class. I warn them that if they can't handle the freedom of a 7th grade Do Now, they'll be relegated to the structured 6th grade version (which is silent and strictly enforced). Today the Do Now is a discussion reflection where they'll think about what went well and what went poorly in their group discussions last week. They have to set 1-2 goals for themselves in today's discussion, which is the first one they'll receive a grade for.
8:25 am - We discuss the last few chapters of our novel, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, together. I realize as we're describing two girls' changes throughout China's Cultural Revolution that it would be best represented as a double line graph, so I jump up and have the students help me create one on the board. They copy it down in their novels as a succinct portrayal of character transformation. I'm pleased with myself and have Julie Reulbach run in from her class across the hall and check out our math skillz.
8:55 am - The students share the discussion goals they created during the Do Now and start on their graded small group discussion. I observe and record grades in my grade book based on the dynamics and content of their discussions. The question is a hard one: to develop empathy, I'm having them find evidence from the text to support Communism -- something they've been trained all their lives not to do. It's hard to see others' points-of-view, but even though they've discovered so many negatives about the system, they jump right in to figure out why some people in China thought it was a beneficial change.
9:10 am - I'm late dismissing my students because I'm quickly explaining their homework to them. They're to scan through the chapters so far and draw symbols representing characterization and character transformation in the text. We'll use these next week. Finally, I tell the students to do their Exit Procedure (where they clean tables, push in chairs, and usually get their agendas checked). Today I skip checking agendas and dismiss them all, wary of keeping them much longer.
9:11 am - My next 7th grade class filters in as my first one leaves, and I turn on the Do Now music. I repeat the lesson, though each class feels remarkably different due to the varying discussions.
10:05 am - I rush to dismiss my second 7th grade. Even though the 6th graders have a 10-minute break before the next class starts, they are already filtering in my room with tons of questions: Can they start their Do Now? (No, it's not even written up on the board yet!) Is snack in my room today? (Check the schedule!) Have I ever read this awesome book? (No, but it sounds neat!)
I play-gripe at them to go outside and enjoy their break, which is my only break too. Some of them leave, but some of them dawdle, thinking that "having a question for me" is a good excuse to stay. Sigh. Especially when their questions are about books or one of their hobbies -- baking, gaming, etc. -- I feel bad shutting them down. After all, isn't one of my primary goals as a teacher to build them up as people? So I listen and try to respond while scanning over my lesson plan, writing the 6th grade Do Now and homework on the board, and running through the hallway to make a few more copies (yes, they follow.)
10:15 am - My first 6th grade class of the day is already seated when I rush back in with copies. They complain that their Do Now isn't written up (what a change from 7th grade today!) and I explain that their Do Now will be verbal today because it's complex. I have them line up around the room and grab a Writing Log and a manila folder to staple it into. I'm the staple person, since I've long since learned that they will jam the stapler 8 times over before we get through the line. I staple each student's Writing Log into the folder and they go back to their seats to sort through their portfolios. We're preparing for Portfolio Review tomorrow, where their parents will come in and see the amazing work they've done in all their classes so far this year. They log their first essay -- a descriptive essay of their perfect world -- into their new Writing Log, place all of their graded work into the portfolios, and put their portfolios back in the crate.
10:45 am - The rest of class is workshop time for them to work on their current project: turning a Greek myth of their choosing into a comic strip. The project refines smaller skills like making a presentation neat and attractive, using appropriate layout and spacing on a poster, and attention to detail. But the main goal is to reinforce their ability to pick out the main points of a plot, something we'll work on all year long. They're also careful to use the drawing skills they've learned so far in their art class.
Today most students are working on character sketches, 4 panels that will introduce main characters to the viewer. The panels include the character's name, a drawing of the character, a description of their physicality and personality, and the role they play in the myth. During workshop, I confer with students incessantly for questions ranging from, "Is this good?" to, "I can only find 3 characters in my myth." We troubleshoot and brainstorm together. At both the beginning and end of workshop, I do a Status of the Class check, where I call out their names and they give me a quick summary of where they are in their process (for instance, "I'm on character sketch 2 of 4.") This allows me to assess their progress.
11:10 am - Time for 6th grade Service Learning, which I inevitably forgot we had today. No worries; it's my fifth year teaching Service Learning and I know the fantastic curriculum by heart. 6th grade focuses on Animal Advocacy. Today we're demonstrating a dog treat recipe for the students. They'll bake batches of them at home (alone with their parents or in groups) and bring them in to package, price, and sell at our town's Christmas festival. The money we raise will be donated to the Charlotte Humane Society and Cornelius Animal Shelter, two local animal shelters.
I grab the ingredients for the treats and explain our goals to the students. We head down to the campus kitchen together and crowd around the island. I thank God when I see Julie Reulbach, who's also my fellow Service Learning teacher, has already laid out bowls and handed out recipes to the arriving students. I prepare the dog treats, tossing in a few cooking pointers here and there while my co-teacher throws herself into the role of fabulous cooking assistant: opening ingredients, shushing students, and washing dishes. We high-five afterwards for pulling everything together.
12:05 pm - My planning period! Another teacher asks for some advice dealing with a behavior issue, so we take care of that together. The student involved is tearful, having made an uncharacteristically poor decision, so I feel my role vacillate between disciplinarian and comforter. Teaching is an emotional experience.
I head back to my room to draft a few emails (a thank you to a parent volunteer, a question to another parent) and find a new message in my inbox about Grandfriend's Day, when our students will bring their grandparents and friends to school to share their daily experience. It's coming up quickly and I know I need to look at the guest list and prepare. Like so many emails throughout the week, this message gets filed under "to be dealt with" in my brain, since it requires actions I don't have time to take at the moment. So often, as my colleague describes, my inbox becomes an "email graveyard." I periodically clean it out, but currently it has 219 emails in it -- some of which I'm sure I was supposed to have already responded to! I try my best.
12:35 pm - This is my only prep period, so I have to eat my lunch quick before it's over! I pop my popcorn and eat it while vegging out to the tune of Facebook, CNN, and People.com.
12:55 pm - I'm usually still stuffing the last few pieces of popcorn into my mouth (or let's be realistic, dropping them all over my lap) as my next 6th grade class walks in the door. I welcome this new class and grab my stapler to repeat my lesson plan for them.
1:50 pm - This is project work time. My 7th grade students are working on finishing up the last bits of their Japanese anime project -- an interdisciplinary application project that combines social studies, language arts, science, visual arts, and music. I rush down to the art room to help the art teacher facilitate their stop-motion animation, which we'll show at their "Japanese Film Fest" style Portfolio Review. I feel a little useless since I'm not particularly artistic, but I at least offer a few helpful pointers about the animation process to a couple of groups and retrieve some colored whiteboard markers for another.
2:45 pm - Now it's time for advisory, where I meet with a small group of 7th grade girls and check up on their academic and social well-being each day. Today we're continuing a discussion on body image. They've brought in magazines and they each choose an advertisement and brainstorm about how it might make "everyday girls" feel inadequate. We have a good time poking fun at the ideals being touted by each magazine.
3:15 pm - I dismiss my students and head to Cookie Capers, a weekly baking camp I hold with several lower school students. This week we're baking Pumpkin Cake Cookies. It's a chaotic hour and a half, but somehow everyone emerges unscathed and well-fed.
4:45 pm - I jump in the car and head home to Byrd, who -- as one of my fellow teachers like to say -- is probably dancing around with her legs crossed.
5:05 pm - Byrd gets some relief when I take her out to potty. I'm exhausted, but I eat a quick snack and check up on emails I missed during camp. I fill my turtle's feeding tank and feed him.
6:00 pm - Honestly, at the beginning of the year I'd usually lie down for a nap at this point, but then I ended up pushing all of my work later into the evening. Lately I've been trying to get it all finished earlier. Now, for instance, I might quickly piece together tomorrow's lesson plan by adapting plans from previous years to students' current needs and level of progress. Then I might grade some 6th grade projects. Thankfully, these are quick to grade since they're not papers, but résumés the students wrote to apply for a job as the next Greek god or goddess.
When I have papers to grade, it feels like my whole schedule grinds to a halt. There's never enough time in prep periods to get many of them finished -- I can finish 5 a schoolday if I'm absolutely in the zone -- and my schedule at home is usually jam-packed unless I'm staying up too late (which I always am). I'm so lucky to have a small number of students (60), but still, paper grading is a heavy burden.
7:00 pm - I throw on my workout clothes and drive to the gym for a 7:30 exercise class. Tonight it's Zumba. I'm not very energetic, but I get through the class and the few individual exercises I do afterward -- back raises, stair climbs. My night would be so much easier if I didn't work out, but after developing health problems this summer, I'm not willing to sacrifice it.
9:00 pm - I head to my local deli to eat dinner and continue working. I usually read the news while I eat (or, let's be honest, watch this live feed of the kitten room of a no-kill shelter), but then as soon as my food is gone, I'll work on photo editing, recipe development, blog post writing, Willow Bird Baking social media upkeep, and email responses. I'll also work on any lesson planning I still have left to do.
10:00 pm - The deli closes and kicks me out, so I head home to continue work. I take mini-breaks to poke around on Facebook, CNN, or my RSS feed. I always plan to get to bed by 11 but usually end up realizing around that time that I still have to take Byrd out, do something about the dishes all over the counter, rewash my laundry which has soured after being forgotten, brush my teeth, take my medicine, and other miscellaneous tasks before being able to go to bed.
12:00 am - I get into bed, kicking myself for not going to sleep earlier. I constantly lambaste myself for not using my time wisely; I feel like I could have peeked at Facebook less, not taken a nap (if I did), been a little more firm when 5 students came up to ask me a question at once during my prep period, or graded a few more papers instead of taking an actual break for lunch. In fact, my defensiveness about my exercise above probably stems from feeling guilty about taking that 1.5 - 2 hours for my health, even though I know it's something I need and that ultimately will reduce (theoretically) my days out of work due to illness.
Unfortunately, since I have two jobs (you're looking at the second one!), my weekends are slammed as well. Friday night is spent putting the finishing touches on a recipe, grocery shopping, and baking. Saturday is spent exercising, baking, styling food, and photographing food. Church is a highlight, but it consumes Sunday morning. Sunday evening is when I lesson plan and update my class pages. This means the only time I can spend with Mike is Saturday night and Sunday lunch (which is spent with Mike's family). That's on the weekends when he drives to see me in Charlotte. When I pack up, stuff Byrd in the car, and make the three-hour trip to see him in Raleigh, you can imagine the schedule havoc that creates.
So what's the point? Just a big whine? Actually, no. I know that having a crazy schedule is a minor complaint. I love teaching and I love my students. I feel like I have the most amazing job in the universe. And frankly, I love that I have any job and a roof over my head.
But I would like to have time to prepare meals, exercise without guilt, and get enough sleep. This isn't unique to me -- this is the story of teachers everywhere. It's just important that we know what we're asking of teachers when making policies (and heck, pondering the state of their salaries across the country) so we're treating teachers like the professional management that they are.
. . .
If you have time in your day to squeeze in some baking, these cookies are a comforting choice. They combine the salty, savory pimiento cheese with bright, fresh strawberry jam. I know it sounds like a weird combination, but just imagine the tart jam on, say, a cheese straw, and you'll have a good idea of the awesome flavor of these babies. They're easy to whip up and so unique -- perfect for a holiday cookie swap or cocktail party (do people actually throw cocktail parties? And a better question: why are they not inviting me? Oh, right, because I don't have time...)
Recipe by: slightly adapted from Southern Living, originally from Pawley's Island Specialty Foods
Yield: 2 dozen cookies
These cookies are so easy, creative, and delicious! They taste like a spicy, nutty cheese straw with tart, sweet jam slathered on top. They're addictive and perfect for Christmas cookie swaps.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Southern pimiento cheese, processed fine (don't skimp on the hot peppers)
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
2 tablespoons apple jelly
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and pimiento cheese to form a paste. Beat in the finely chopped pecans and butter. Wrap the resulting dough in plastic wrap, forming it into a disc, and chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness, checking often to be sure it's not sticking. Use a 2-inch circle cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Place 1 teaspoon full of jam (apple or strawberry) in the center of each cookie before placing another cookie cutout on top and pressing the edges to seal them. You can reroll the scraps once to get more cookie rounds.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. No, really, let them cool, or you will burn your mouth off on flaming jelly. Do not ask how I know this.
Want to see more Days in the Lives of Educators? Here's how:
Willow Bird Baking Challenge is a 5-week series wherein I introduce a new challenge each week. The challenges require you to get creative and innovative in the kitchen. You create your dish, bake it, and send me a photo before the following weekend, when I show off the masterpieces on Willow Bird Baking!
Challenge #5 was to innovate filled cupcakes to represent the season you were currently in. See if you can guess which season the folks below are enjoying!
Paula Made: Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Blueberry Cream Cheese Frosting (see more at her blog, Vintage Kitchen Notes)
Comments:"I'm no cupcake baker. I'm all for bundt and layer cakes. So this was a real challenge. Lemon immediately came to mind, but then what? Fresh blueberries, that are popping up plump and dark, with the first sweetness in them. Not a new flavor combination idea, but the fresh berries in the frosting looks so pretty. I mean, cupcakes have to have some sort of prettiness to them. The cake part has some white chocolate, which really makes them moist and deepens tremendously the flavor of vanilla."
Dianna Made: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Caramel-Pear Butter Filling (see more on her blog, The Kitchen Prep)
Comments: "A tender Vanilla Bean Cupcake, filled with a gooey Caramel-Pear Butter center topped with a seductive swirl of Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Frosting."
Shanna Made: Apple Cider Cupcakes filled with Fuyu Persimmon Curd and frosted with Fuyu Persimmon Swiss Meringue Buttercream (see more at her blog, Pineapple and Coconut)
Comments: "Apple Cider. Persmimmons. Yup just add in pumpkin and thats a trifecta of fall flavors. I love the word trifecta. Yes I am a dork. And these don't have pumpkin in them. I took a break from pumpkin. For maybe a day."
Nathan Made: Chocolate Mint Cupcakes
Comments: "Halloween cupcakes! Chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting and orange sugar topping. And for a surprise, green mint jelly for filling!"
Ala Made: Cheesecake-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Cinnamon Frosting (see her blog Wallflour Girl)
Comments: "We whipped up a batch of these for one of the guys in our department celebrating his birthday this week. If you like a) the idea of a steaming mug of hot chocolate dipped into your morning wake-up call with a hint of autumnal flair, or b) being awesome, you need to try these cupcakes."
Heather Made: Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes (see more at her blog Bake Run Live)
Comments: "I made Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes! Sponge cake cupcakes, filled with vanilla pastry cream, then topped with a semi-sweet chocolate glaze! Each cupcake is the perfect portion for a wonderful dessert!"
Robyn Made: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cranberry Curd and Brown Butter Glaze (see more at her blog, Almacucina)
Comments: "I do love how the flavors play off each other; spicy pumpkin, sweet-tart curd and smoky glaze. Especially love the cranberry curd filling. All in all, I'd say I did a decent job! And got myself one step closer to jumping on the cupcake bandwagon."
LeAndra Made: Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes (see more at her blog, Love & Flour)
Comments: "Yet another challenged cobbled together from previous recipes. I used one of my great-grandmother's spice cake recipes and filled the cupcakes with a pumpkin cream cheese mixture I once called dip. I topped them off with a ginger cream cheese icing since ginger was the one spice not actually found in the cake."
Kelly Made: Chocolate cookies stuffed with either: peanut butter and guava jelly, a rum-soaked cherry, strawberry cheesecake, or funfetti cheesecake!
Comments: "While the rest of the country is donning boots and scarves, we are still playing on the beach here in Miami.I tried to combine the two for these cupcakes - lemon cupcakes filled with an apple-ginger curd. I then tried to make them look a little 'beachy.' Bear with me, the piping bag is not my friend (yet)."
Shelley Made: Caramel Apple Cupcakes (see more at her blog, C Mom Cook)
Comments: "Once again, choosing a flavor combination was the hardest part of this challenge. There are so many delicious fall flavors, narrowing it down to something that would make a delicious cupcake was tough. Finally, I chose to make caramel apple cupcakes for the cupcake challenge (and, can I just tell you, I had so many thoughts of cupfakes for this one! Turkey meatloaf cooked in a cupcake pan, cranberry sauce 'filling' and mashed potato frosting! Cornbread 'cupcakes' with some kind of chili filling/spicy frosting! SO many possibilities!)"
Comments: "I wanted to do something for the season like the challenge suggested. Up in New York pumpkin and apples are usually in abundance this time of year, however not this year... apples are sparce but somehow we had a HUGE pile of squash growing in our compost! So due to that I decided to make my cupcakes out of squash instead of pumpkin. These cupcakes turned out so moist and not too sweet, which is good because the frosting made up the majority of the sweetness!"
Comments: "Since it's fall and the husband and I both love pie but baking an entire one is just too much for us, I thought I'd make a cupcake version of an apple pie! Perfect, right?! I started off by using a cinnamon spiced cake, filling it with soft apples and topping it with some vanilla ice cream frosting and a crust crisp. These cupcakes are absolutely to die for!"
Ready for Challenge #5?
Last night, Erin, Trudy, and Kelly jumped on Google Hangout with me to introduce the final challenge, Challenge #5, and here it is!
You can find some cheesecake recipes here to get you started! And here is my video tutorial on cheesecakes. Send a photo and some comments to me at julie 'at' willowbirdbaking 'dot' com by next weekend. Let's get baking!
Congratulations to all of the participants of Challenge #4 for their fantastic work!
In 6th grade, I was determined to accumulate every possible accolade available to me. I tore through novels at a frantic pace to be the top Electronic Bookshelf reader. I drew up posters to campaign for a student council position. I left class each day to run the controls for the entire school's closed circuit news station. I assisted the computer teacher setting up technology for special events. I wrote columns for the 6th grade newsletter, The Leopard's Roar. I slaved over every assignment as part of my neverending quest for perfect grades. I practiced endlessly to execute the perfect flip over the monkey bars on the playground. Life was juuuust about perfect.
One cool spring morning, though, things changed. I'd been eagerly awaiting an announcement from my teacher, Mrs. McRae. She was looking for a few trustworthy students with integrity and strong academic performance to appoint to the coveted position of safety patrol. Being on the safety patrol would add another shiny pip to my starched, pristine collar, and I was absolutely rabid over it.
The morning was packed with independent work. I was absorbed in completing my math worksheet while folks milled about the room attending to their own tasks. At one point, I realized Mrs. McRae was calling out the answers to the worksheet, but since I wasn't finished, I tuned her out and continued working without much thought. I didn't think twice about doing so until one of my classmates piped up with a whine, "Mrs. McRae, Julie's cheating! She's writing down answers while we're checking it!" I looked up, shocked.
Just to bandage my wounded pride a little (15 years later, because you know, that's normal), I was not cheating. I was calculating the answer to every problem and hadn't heard or recorded a single answer that was called out. I was just trying to finish my worksheet, y'all! Nevertheless, Mrs. McRae called me out of the classroom.
I explained my situation to her in a panic. Surely she couldn't possibly think that what that little twerp said about me was true?! Her bespectacled face stared down at me with doubt. You could see the wheels turning in her head: Well, Julie does care an awful lot about grades. Maybe...
Confronted with what felt like the greatest injustice I'd ever suffered, I began to have a full-on anxious meltdown. As I restated my case and pleaded with her to believe me, I started crying tears of frustration. Finally, I stormed into the bathroom beside our mobile classroom to flip out in private. A few minutes later, Mrs. McRae followed me. She told me that she didn't know if I'd cheated or not, but considering the situation, she did not feel it was appropriate to appoint me to safety patrol.
Oh my goodness, y'all. Oh my goodness.
My little 6th grade life flashed before my eyes. I cried some more in the bathroom. I cried at home that night. I glared daggers at the safety patrol students when I passed them in the hallways in the following weeks. I'd love to say, "And then I got over it!" but here I am writing an entire blog post about it as an adult, so uh. That's probably kind of unhealthy, right? Whatev. It scarred me, people!
But ultimately, even though it was hard to swallow, I can honestly say I appreciate the lesson in dealing with unfairness and disappointment. Getting used to the fact that things don't always go your way (and sometimes, aren't even fair!) is part of being a healthy human being.
Talking about disappointments is an apt opening to a monkey bread post on Willow Bird Baking. Don't worry; these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes aren't disappointing! They're gorgeous, rich fall treats. Monkey bread in general, though, has always been a total fail for me. It typically falls apart, overflows its pan, or ends up doughy in the middle. Even when I tried straight up convenience monkey bread with canned biscuit dough I managed to use too many cans and create quite the underbaked mess (stop laughing!) I can't explain this phenomenon -- monkey bread should be so darn easy. What's the matter with me?!
Anyhow, instead of throwing a fit in the bathroom, I've kept trying new monkey bread recipes. I love the stuff, so even the "failures" get devoured in short order. And these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes were quite the little success. With one batch of yeast dough, you can make some Taco Pockets and a quick dessert -- two dishes for the effort of one! The "recipe" that follows outlines this simple method for dressing up your leftovers. Next time you're making some yeast rolls or dinner pockets, save some dough for monkey bread!
What's an injustice you remember experiencing?
Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (using leftover yeast dough!)
This recipe is actually just a method of dolling up leftover dough to make monkey bread sundaes. Using this little technique, you can save some dough from any dinner recipe and create a dessert to enjoy at the end of the meal with no extra fuss. Even if you only have a small amount of leftover dough, you can bake your monkey bread in the wells of a cupcake pan and serve the warm, gooey pieces over vanilla bean ice cream!
To make Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread with leftover dough, grab:
-Leftover yeast dough* that has already completed one rise. Maybe you used the first half for some Taco Pockets? You sly devil, you.
-Sauce: You can use 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter mixed with 1 cup brown sugar to form a caramelly sauce. For more apple flavor, you could also try mixing 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar over the stove, removing it from heat, and adding 1/2 cup apple butter.
-Cinnamon and sugar mixture: 1/2 cup sugar whisked together with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.
-Melted butter: about 1/2 cup.
-Apples: 1 peeled, cored, and chopped apple (or more if you have lots of leftover dough)
-Nuts: about 1 cup of chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts. I chose pecans because I love them.
Then do this:
Set up each of your items in a row to form an assembly line: an apple station, a melted butter station, a cinnamon/sugar station, and then a greased bundt pan (or greased cupcake pan if you only have a bit of leftover dough). Set your sauce and nuts to the side for now.
With floured fingers, take a ping-pong-ball-sized pinch of leftover yeast dough (you can change this to smaller pinches if you're baking in a cupcake pan). First, place some apples in the middle of the ball of dough and pinch the dough closed around them. Then drop the dough ball in melted butter, tossing gently to coat with a fork. Next, drop it in the cinnamon and sugar mixture and toss gently to coat (use a separate fork in this bowl). Drop your coated dough ball in the greased pan.
Once you have a single layer covering the bottom of the pan you're using, spoon a layer of sauce over the dough balls and sprinkle on a layer of nuts. Continue pinching, filling, and coating dough balls to form another layer, and then spoon sauce and sprinkle nuts over this, too. Keep going until you've used all your dough.
When you've used all of your dough, distribute a last bit of sauce and nuts over the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour in a draft-free place. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When risen, bake the bread for 20-35 minutes (this can vary depending on the size of your dough balls and the size pan you used, but look for a dark golden brown color on top. If you take it out when it's just golden brown, it'll likely still be raw inside, so let it get dark.) Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then invert onto a plate (or pick out the monkey bread pieces with a fork like I did, to serve over vanilla bean ice cream!)
*Note: You can use this technique with canned biscuit dough, too -- just cut out the rise time.