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!

Pioneer Life: Part One

Once upon a time, I knew a brave woman who lived a pioneer lifestyle in many ways (God rest her soul).  She told me I would have hated it.  Maybe she was right.  I disliked her for saying it, anyhow.  Part of me wrestled with the fact that she may be right:  about the life being hard, or me not having what it took.  I wasn’t sure which she meant, and I was too afraid to ask.  Maybe both!

I have come to believe that we are all potential pioneers, if we have the guts to wake up and look at life with a new set of eyes… then, to stay awake! and press in to that pioneer mindset.

For the past year and three months my family has been embarking on an incredible set of adventures.  I will tell more later about how and why, and what spearheaded each part of it.  Some of the story is powerful and moving to myself — a “Thin Space” even, when I look back, though I could not have told you that in the middle of it.  From health and wealth to hearth and home, we have been working like true pioneers, walking foot by painful foot, or heaving our hungry hearts and harshly hewn wagons over wintry ruts and winding rivers.

Did I hate it?  Oh yes, certainly, parts of it.  Was it worth it?  Oh… my…. a resounding and reverent “Yes!”

After this intro I will share with you an adventure both life-giving and life-taking.  An ongoing journey that is most incredibly God-centering.  I am humbled, yet more built up than ever.  The shallow parts of me that remain have been drained and dredged out into deeper pools which are being refilled, and I know God is not done yet.  I may yet be a reservoir someday.  I dance in thankfulness and rejuvenated hope.

More to come… and apologies (kind of) for the long wait between posts….

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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!

Something Old…

This last couple of weeks I have worked in our church library.  (I think some little-girl librarian still exists inside of me, the way I have burned with a passion on this project, and the way several books from the donation pile have found their way into my home.)  Well, it is not a church library, it is more of a crowded cast-off shelving area in one of the most-used rooms of our church: the prayer parlor.

Picture a large group of lovely women meeting together to read a passage of Scripture or muse on a good book, or to share Mom stories.  A trio getting together for accountability and prayer.  A couple of leaders praying with a new person to the church who is hurting a lot.  Conferences or classes trying to meet about serious matters.  Small groups planning the future of the women’s ministry.

Now picture the ever-hovering, inconsiderate piles of heavily breathing, noisy-title scattering, dust-ejecting, won’t-you-please-love-me begging, validate-me-with-attention scrounging, perfectly pathetic, utterly overbearing presence of 3 walls of…. BOOKS.  Books, threatening to undo the state of the room with their presence alone, like a narcissistic friend who can’t sit back and be there for you, but wants to take up your moment with tears of her own.  We’re getting ugly here, but seriously — I am not kidding about how disruptive these books were to me.

This is the first room I ever visited in the church aside from the sanctuary to hang out with other singles for the first time.  It’s where a lot of my hurts in life got prayed over as I attempted to become a healthier person.  When I got married, this is the room where my husband and I escaped for a few moments after our ceremony.  Thanks to my Mother and her sister, my Aunt, it became a very sweet moment with candles and scattered marbles in our wedding colors.  The lights were low and it was impossible to see… THE SHELVES — my God, the shelves!  I am so glad — that would have detracted… maybe… from our reverie.  The dusty shelves, stacked with decomposing books, which at some point in the past decade got sorted into a frustrated grouping by subject.  Thankfully, that is no more.

With the “snip-snip, bye-bye” sort of permission from our pastor over Communications — I can picture her saying love you long time to the bags of books sitting in our side foyer — I have been on a heavenly purging sort of mission that every introverted, organization addict needs.

What I have discovered is this:

Have you ever heard that statement “Everyone has a book”?  That is most emphatically TRUE.  In the past several days, I have read so many silly titles… How to Love Yourself.  How to Love Others.  How to Love God.  Books for widows, books for teens, books for pastors, and even one book lovingly but angrily entitled toward the church.  Recall those times you’ve heard someone say “That would make a great title for a book.”  Well, the book has probably been written.  I mean the sort of title where you get the sermon just from reading the spine of the book.  Yeah, they are out there already.  Have been for a while.  These books were beginning to crackle into pieces in my hands because they have been out there so long.

Let’s not forget the drop-offs.  People.  Seriously.  Garfield?  I found two aviation books which came home with me for my husband, as he loves that sort of thing.  But I don’t see people needing a Wright Brothers brush-up while they’re snotting into a box of tissues.  Let’s get real here.  Why do we have books for public educators from the 1980s?

I finally gave up and threw a few of the more silly churchy titles into a bag to review in the future, as I have time, just to make a comparison to the more recent materials I have read.  Maybe there will be a singular jewel of truth in there somewhere I haven’t heard before in church or in Sunday School or in conversation sometime.  And there were definitely some that I am looking forward to reviewing, as the subject intrigued me.

So… it’s humbling, as a writer, to see the amount of effort and publishing that has already happened.  I have received ridicule for wanting to write at times.  And, loving to sing I’ve been told also that singers are a dime a dozen.  It seems the world is out to get us for not being unique.  However, God does need the same seeds sown year after year, sometimes.  Teens who won’t read a 70s devotional book might read mine. So, we’ll see.  I trust God with that.

I was also musing how, for me, being raised in the church has already been conducive to seeing similar books, hearing similar testimonies, or being taught similar sermon points over and over, my entire life (and I’m only in my thirties).  The good thing about God is, He can show us new things (through old truths) as we go, and He knows how to keep it fresh.  The Word is not for reading only once, twice, ten or a hundred times.  His mercies are new every morning… and his mercies include new bread each day, hot out the oven.  I prefer mine with warm honey butter and a cup of hot tea or coffee…

I’m so glad.  I am so thankful that the Bible, being the oldest story I have ever read, the one I’ve read the most, is still fresh to me now.  I’ve learned that when I go to look at a passage again, my brain needs the fire rekindled — it’s not as if I’ve gotten that truth worked out in my life 100%.  There is always a new challenge, or an old one that needs reworking, or praise that needs singing again.  Thanks God, for not crumbling in my hands, for only getting stronger and clearer to me as time has gone on.

Thoughts?  Thanks for reading, Friends.

Things I Think Of

It’s been a while!  We have been busy with two very important family projects.  My husband started a business of his own (see the link below) and we are also working on building our very own home, debt free (see second link below), Lord willing!  More on those later.

www.ThunderbirdArms.com

www.DaveRamsey.com

So, in the meantime, here is some stuff that I had on my brain last week and made into quickie little illustrations.  I hope they make you chuckle and encourage you to nurture your creative side in this busy life we live.

I love this first one (above) because I often find myself mad about things that I don’t need to be mad about.  I have to take a calming breath and just remember that it’s not about me.  It’ not about how I perform, I don’t need to defend myself, I haven’t messed up, I haven’t failed, and I certainly am not defined by what is going on.  This is all great medicine for my soul.  Thanks God, for freedom from the circumstances surrounding me.

This second one is just my reminder to pop my vitamins instead of going for coffee or sugar intake…. yeah, I just love the drug reference.  I never was a druggie but sometimes I like to pretend I am one, when I take my “vits.”

Here I illustrate my need to remember to congratulate my son on his amazing ability to divide and conquer whatever mess he has aimed to make.  He loves making messes, and of course I can easily slip into “clean-up mode” where I complain about the toll on my house, my energy, my time, etc…. Sometimes that’s all internal and never at him directly, sometimes it is a frustration with him, but I am working (and asking the Lord for help) to be able to just sit and enjoy the mess with him.  There is a spiritual truth in that, for me.  Does God sit and enjoy the mess we make as his kids, sometimes?  Surely he must.  His laughter rolling up from his insides…  Thanks God, for enjoying ME.

Lots of love, dear Readers, and thanks for your time and attention this morning!

Rehearsing the Good

Being content with what you have is a very tricky thing.  All too often, I try to “beat myself into submission” by saying: Darn it, won’t you ever be happy? or  Hey you selfish whining $@#%!*, just take what you’ve got.  or You got what you wanted, now you aren’t happy?  Be thankful!  What’s it going to take?!?  You’ll never be satisfied, will you!

There is a possible chance of needing an attitude adjustment.    But more and more, I choose to look to God about it all.  He is much fairer than I am.  (I actually told my whole “inner dialogue” above to “Shut up!” the other day and it was nice.)

Anyway, when I find myself in the mindset of complaining, I am learning to stop trying to discipline myself, and turn to God for “disciplining” me as he sees fit.  He promises to do the work in me to change me, right?  After all, I am unable to attain perfection.  But amazingly enough, he is so quick to respond with love and not impatience.  So unlike many of my earthly authorities, so unlike myself… but then, that’s what makes him so amazing.  How much more perfect could he get?

So… when I turned to him about my messy house and my frustration (still) with the “new normal” and wanting things “better,” I found my Daddy-God ready to sit me on his knee and… well, confirm my frustration: “Poor Baby,” he says… and then he shows me how to have a contented heart anyway.  Here’s what came out of it.

1) What I think I have: A very messy house.

What I really have: 1) Two really big projects going on that will help my family.  2) Two beautiful children. 

  

2 ) What I think I have: Dark circles around my eyes, hair not done, no energy or time to do makeup.

What I really have: Children that know I love them and love playing with me (and taking pictures together).

 

3) What I think I have: Trash and clutter all over the place.

What I really have: Tokens of God’s provision (including receipts for gas and bags from fast-food meals we were able to buy during a trip to the country) and our family’s love (belated Christmas gifts), as well as the blessing of enough energy to clean out the car.

4) What I think I have: A cluttered desk after I worked so hard last week to organize it.

What I really have: A reminder of my husband treating me with Starbucks, after I did his chores so he could go to bed early.

5) What I think I have: An unmade bed.

What I really have: A comfy mattress my husband bought in our first year of marriage, and a reminder of a good snuggle this morning.  

6) What I think I have: Messy changing station.

What I really have: DISPOSABLE DIAPERS!  What a gift!

7) What I think I have: A big pile of mess needing attention after our trip to the country. SIGH…

What I really have: Treasured tools my husband used to take down a giant wild boar that will fill our freezer with enough meat for months.

8) What I think I have: Filthy dishes piled up beyond reason.

What I really have: Filthy dishes piled up for a perfect reason: family needing us.

9) What I think I have: An unexciting meal.

What I really have: The pot that Grandmother Moore gave me at my wedding shower, making a very healthy chicken soup that we need due to cold and flu season.

10) What I think I have: A neglected, overgrown yard that needs our attention.

What I really have: A (neglected-for-a-darn-good-reason) yard which is overgrown due to all the RAIN!  Thanks God, for the RAIN, after months of drought!

  

So…. dear readers, I guess you might see where I am going with this.  I think I feel like all these things define how well I am doing as a wife and mom.  It’s as though all I see when I look around me, is failure, failure, failure.

But I am slowly learning, on my Daddy-God’s knee, how to rehearse the good things and not the bad things.  (This is something I’ve learned about lately at my women’s Bible study).  This is not a pushing down of my sorrows or hurts, though.  God merely helps me to address them appropriately, all with a good sort of snuggle with that ever-present Spirit of His.  The result is a favorable and uplifting slant of the “Truth” rather than a discouraging, downcast and condemning one.

Thoughts?  …and thanks for reading, Friends.

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.