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No-Bake Secrets

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Summertime circa 1985

I clearly remember being a girl, helping my Mom make No-Bake cookies by the wax-paper-sheet-full for our “BackYard VBS” summer meetings.  Once a summer, we ran out and invited kids from our neighborhood over to our backyard every day for a week.  I remember the bright sun, the healthy green grass, and our narrow kitchen where Mom let me help with her cookie preparation like I was a little sous chef.  What perfect delight.

So, it was the mid-80s in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  A group of happy, sweaty kids would run into our yard and crowd around my Mom as she told Bible stories for a few minutes.  We played backyard games like Red Rover, sang kids’ songs or did some kind of activity, and we ALWAYS ended with a snack.  A VERY YUMMY snack.  (I believe God cares about delicious food as much as kids do, and I am not kidding.)

I remember the first time Mom and I mused together over a newly-finished batch of No Bakes that there must be some hidden trick to making them come out right.  One which we did not always get.  Actually, we rarely got it right.  Perhaps it was the humidity, or the ingredients (if we ran out of something and had to substitute).  From one batch to the next we would sometimes get a gloppy mess.  Or, on the flip side, they might come out rock hard.  In the end, we did our best and dubbed them “Gooey Cookies” to signify how unpredictable they were.  We never stopped making them though!

Despite the rarity of a moist, soft No Bake cookie outcome, “Gooey Cookies” became a family staple.  I still have a seasonal summer craving after my childhood Backyard VBS experiences.  It became my go-to recipe for any hardcore chocolate needs, and it is the recipe I now pull out for quick-cookie situations.  If you’ve never had them, YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISSING OUT!  If you have had them and disagree, your recipe might just need a little TLC.

Here’s the run down from my kitchen.  Let me know how you do it if you see something different!

No Bake Cookies

In a 2-quart-ish pan, combine:
2 c. sugar (I have used as low as 1 1/4 cup successfully, usually use nat’l cane)
One stick butter (usually use unsalted)
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk  (usually use whole)

Begin heating the mix on high heat with candy thermometer (makes a difference but does not always ensure perfect cookies) clipped in place (not touching the bottom of the pan), and separately prepare:

3 c. oats (I usually use 5 minute but quick is also good).
1/2 c. peanut butter (I usually use natural)
1 tsp. vanilla
A counter lined with kitchen parchment paper or wax paper
A hot pad for the pan
A tsp.- or tbsp.-sized spoon for cookie dropping

Let the mixture on the stove boil til soft-ball stage.  **On non-humid days (below 50% humidity) this is about 1 1/2 minutes.  On humid days it can be three to five minutes (you can add a pinch of salt to lower the boiling point).  Soft-ball stage is when you can let a drop fall into a clear glass of cool water and it forms a solid/soft ball at the bottom — ideally, what you want your cookie to look like!**  Remove from heat and quickly add the other ingredients.  Stir quickly and begin dropping the cookies immediately.  They should set up quickly as they cool and you can eat them almost immediately.  If they don’t set, pull out a spoon or fork and go for it.  Yep, you heard me.  Right off the countertop.

What I have run into as the “problem” (never stopped me from eating them) is the variations possible on this recipe, causing the cookies to come out too hard or too soft.  In my mind, the cause could be anything: 5 minute oats or Quick oats?  Jiffy Peanut Butter or Natural (no salt or sugar)?  Butter or margarine?  Humid days or non-humid days (where I live, high humidity is a way of life for most of the year)!  Processed sugar or Cane sugar; Cocoa powder or baking chocolate (or Hershey’s kisses)!  The only thing I have not done successfully in any form is to double the recipe in one batch.  (I’m open to suggestions!)

My decided plan is to edit this post/update with the variations I have this summer what the occasion was for, and see what the outcomes each time were.  I am up for anyone else’s experiments too!  Let’s see how well we can do.

07-05-13.  Friends coming over!  Used 5-min. oats, cocoa powder, 2 full cups cane sugar, no-salt butter, natural PB, and boiled to just above soft ball stage (243 degrees-ish).  No added salt, Today’s humidity 34%.  GOOEY COOKIE outcome this time…. shaking my head.  I still ate them but didn’t serve them because they were way too grainy.

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07-07-13.  Anniversary day!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, boiled to well above soft ball stage (245 degrees-ish).  No added salt, but used a wider pan and added 2 c. raisins!!! Today’s humidity 50%.  Crumbly cookie outcome this time (as you can see, I could not get the whole pan scooped into cookie form before it dried out).  Shaking my head.  Still ate ’em!

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07-08-13.  Plumbers at the road needed a treat!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, about a 1/3 c. PB, boiled to almost hard-ball stage (more on that in a second).  Added a pinch of kosher salt, used my regular pot to cook in, and mixed up some powdered milk since we were out of whole.  Current humidity 60% (rained all morning).  It took forever to get to soft ball stage, then suddenly shot up to hard ball stage so I had to act fast.  It didn’t get as much PB or any vanilla as a result.  I mixed in the oats and PB I could scoop out super-fast, then dumped it out of the pan and patted it into a big circle, which I then scooped off into individual bites as the cookie mix stayed just soft enough just long enough.  Weird but true.  I have never done it that way before but I wanted it out of the hot pan.   Actually a really great cookie outcome!  They were soft and held together.  Yum!

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08-02-13.  Kids and Mommy needed a treat!  Used 1 1/4 cups cane sugar, a full c. of nat’l PB (the stir kind — not whipped), and also have increased the chocolate to 4 tbsp.  Added a pinch of sea salt, humidity was 63%.  Last but not least, I have finally decided to throw away my candy thermometer, and now I just use the method of dripping some of the “candy” into a cup of cold water to see if it’s soft ball stage yet.  It works the best for me because then I am ready to drop cookies at the right stage best on a picture of how they’ll come out, not what a thermometer says.  More hands-on.  I like that.  They came out deliciously perfect this time actually.

Are you still here?  Go make cookies!  Give some away if you need an excuse!

God bless you, friends.  Thanks for reading!

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Well-Worded Advice

God has seen fit to bless me with a five-year-strong marriage and three beautiful children.

Along with these areas of great blessing, I have had moments of great need — for support, prayer, help, and advice.  Over time, I have found the more incredible words from friends and my heavenly Father building up into beautiful inner dialogues, sometimes battling or encroaching upon my more negative dialogues, even eradicating them, but always consistently energizing me and keeping me going.  Praise God.  These words are as refreshing as a Texas water canal, filled to the brim, gushing into a vivid-green rice field in the middle of our dry, reddish-brown countryside.

Let me share with you some of these reverberating cheers of my soul.

My Mother-in-law: “Leave the crumbs where they are.”  She said this right after my toddler son dumped something all over the floor.  We were all having to walk all over it while trying to serve dinner.  I loved her for that grace, that kindness, and that relaxed attitude about the mess.  I try to extend it to myself when I have chunks of food on the floor, etc. and have so many other things to do…

Our marriage mentors: “Intimacy is not the icing on the cake, but rather the yeast.  And intimacy is not so much about a goal, but about being together.”  How much effort and stress that has saved me in the past few years!  I could say the idea of being together applies to any activity I am doing with my husband, or my kids!  The goal is being together, not just to do whatever activity I have planned.  It helps me to keep that in mind!

My sister in Christ: “One thing I wish someone had told me when I was a new mom… take 5 minutes every so often, and stop, and rest, and breathe.  It’s okay, and the kids will be fine.  I flew around everywhere trying to take care of everything.”  Enough said, right?

The Lord (direct tap): “Trust me.  And ask me first when you don’t know what to do.  I will help you.”  More recently, he also told me “It IS good enough, and so are you.”  I have this posted above my sink now.  Thanks God, for taking my inabilities and making things happen supernaturally.

The Lord (through Scripture): “You are blessed beyond the curse!”  In frustrating, hormonal, or tired moments as a parent, spouse, or woman (pregnant or not), this speaks to me deeply!  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 — “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Blessings, Friends.  Thanks for reading!

Goodbye, Grandmother

Thelma Moore, my husband’s family matriarch of 103 years, recently passed away.

What a treasure of family heritage I have been blessed with exposure to and can now pass on!  Unfortunately I do not live close to my grandparents or great-grandparents, and only see them on special occasions.  “Grandmother Moore” as she liked to be called by grandkids (“G.G.” to the great-grandkids) was there for each family event she could host or attend.  She was there for my wedding almost five years ago.  She lived in her own home until very recently, when she chose to go live at the retirement center “with all of her friends.”

Grandmother Moore liked a good story, and loved creativity — and art.  Her paintings are beautiful and usually catch the Texas countryside or family history in some way.  There are great stories to go along with some of them…. like the time horses stomped up onto the wooden sidewalk and into a country store during a fight, or when Indians visited her family.

As my husband says, this woman saw the advent (and often the invent) of things like cars, refrigerators, freezers, space flight, and civil rights and liberties for women and minorities.  She watched the decline of the 20s and the hardship of the Great Depression from the front row.  She was alive through all of that as well as other countless moments of history.  She has lived that many years… to contemplate this boggles my mind.

Not many families know or have such a connection to the past… it gives me a feeling of solidarity as a human being, to really stop and see the flesh-and-blood connection to those past-times.  Even better when they share the same faith and can answer some solid questions about it, like the time that an 80-something friend of mine told me how Psalm 23 has always seemed fresh to her, each time she reads it; that God would show her something new.  Grandmother Moore believed in God and the gift he has given us through Jesus Christ.  She knew, no matter her shortcomings or achievements, that she was held in the palm of His hand, called holy and acceptable.

In the process of new family life and living an hour-and-a-half from her, I only usually got to hang out with her with other people around, but I am thankful for each memory of course.  And I got to have a special brunch with her and my Mom-in-law and Aunt-in-law.  That was a fun day!  I was a new bride and desperately wanted to find their approval.  I asked them to meet me at a local-to-them restaurant and we chatted over our favorite country dishes and hot coffee.  I was so touched when she wanted to meet the newest grandkids after they were born (see above and below).

Thanks, God, for letting me see that it is possible to have fun and be active all the way up ’til my dying day. I hope that I can live to see all my offspring like that, and know them by name like she did, enjoying their company.

I look forward to some longer chats, and knowing her better, in heaven.  I bet we’ll both have bluebonnets and Texas wildflowers growing in big outdoor gardens!  Until then, Grandmother Moore, rest in peace.

Thanks for reading, Friends.

Marco Pollo

We have had a new family member since December… his name is Marco.

Marco was a rescue rooster.  He needed a place to stay where he wouldn’t be pecked at, and more importantly (in my opinion) a safe place to learn to use his voice.  Not to personify a rooster, ‘cuz frankly — if it didn’t work out the plan was to put him in the broiler… but the poor thing didn’t even know how to crow.  Now, for some people that would be a marvel.  A beautiful bird like that which won’t wake me up at dawn?  Where do I sign up?

I personally felt a kindred spirit with Marco about this whole voice thing.  Poor, sweet bird.  I am learning how to use my voice too.  It’s been something of a spiritual awakening for me, stepping out and being myself more and more as I learn to trust God in the midst of things that overwhelm me or scare me to death.  So…. as Marco began to slowly work on his crowing, I silently cheered him on, and rejoiced when he not only mastered the crow, but I heard my little kids begin to mimic it.  Isn’t imitation the finest flattery — especially when it’s something we’ve only just figured out?

So, yes…. my kids love him (he’s very friendly… when he’s not hungry).

We’re lucky; our neighbors on one side already have a rooster and our neighbors on the other side were raised with them (when Marco got out the first week he was with us, they fed him and took care of him until we came for him).  So I suppose you could say our neighborhood is already set up for urban chickens (the rapidly-forming online community support for this is astounding).

Why a rooster?  I don’t know.  Less to lose if we don’t get it right — after all,  he was free to us.  Now — the coop wasn’t, but I did get this one for a great bargain (put it together myself with screws and carpenter’s glue, even getting a bit of a refund for badly-done predrilled holes which I had to remedy myself).

My favorite things so far:  I love Marco’s little happy bawk-bawk-bawk-bawk-bawk when I put down leftover cereal, popcorn, you name it.  Also, my son (pictured above) has started singing

This little piggy went to Marco, this little piggy stayed home.

Another thing I like: Now I know how to tuck his head down and put him to sleep, and give him a nice luxurious petting.  It’s quite soothing (to me, too).  Who needs dogs or cats?  Marco, and hopefully (when we can get them) his soon-to-be harem, will be not only playful, but productive, with eggs and chicks (when we need them).

So, yes, on to the reason I really want chickens: I love “yard eggs,” as they’re called in my family.  Eggs which have basked in the sun after days of pecking fresh yummy seeds and scratching in the meadow of the back-yard — I’m drooling about this already — are firm and solid, buttery to the taste, with darker yolks and savory finishes on the palate once done over-easy, scrambled, or omelet-style.  YUM.  Every time I visit our family/friends with “yard eggs” in the fridge I walk away a happier woman, feeling like dancing and singing (I’m not kidding):

To life, to life, L’chai-im!

So…. Thanks for reading, Friends!