White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookie

batter and white chips

So I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions… Wait, what?! Am I still on this topic?!.. it’s almost February.

Yeah, I know. It is a little late to be bringing this up but just hear me out.

Instead I made a list of 25 things I wanted to do with my 25th year on my birthday last year. I am a little more than halfway through my list and my 25th year. And the twelfth thing on my list was to make 12 small monthly goals. My goal for January, you ask?

Prioritizing my life. Sounds a little out there I know, but it was something I needed to do.

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Mainly because I had four jobs, two of which were not in any way related to my career aspirations but I was keeping them on because I “liked” them and I am was not really good at quitting things (or being an adult).

But by prioritizing my life I have become a better adult (at least I think so). What are my priorities?

My career.

My relationships (especially with that special boy in my life).

And my health.

I decided if I am doing something that does not support these three things then it is out of my life. At least for the mean time. So I quit one job, a hobby (yeah you can do that), and stood up for myself in my relationship with my room mates. Yeah it has been an adult filled week for me.

Cocoa and flour

But something this week and (new-ish) year has caused me to focus on is mindfulness. Something I have always struggled with.. especially in the realm of compromising myself and my goals.

So yes this is still going to be a mental health post (and luckily I consider this blog in the priority realm of my career). Mindfulness is something that I have come to realize is a huge gigantic concern when you think of mental health. I consider it a step beyond awareness. In a sense, the practice of awareness.

So mindfulness is what I have been doing. That is how I am now approaching life and all that I do, including my baking! (and can I just say that it has been a huge help in the kitchen?!?)

Mindfulness in the kitchen (and in life) requires you to get off autopilot and actually approach things with a different perspective. It causes you to think and plan and assess at every stage. It is also is a huge stress reliever – especially when it comes to baking.

The first thing that I began practicing when it came to mindfulness in the kitchen is just slowing down. I began prepping my ingredients (think mise en place) and making sure I actually had everything I needed before I started. Yeah, because running to the store to get some more sugar, butter, and/or eggs in the middle of mixing things together is not ideal (see above – serious stress reliever).

finished cookie

You would think this process would cause more stress. I always did. “Do I seriously need to measure everything out and put it in separate bowls so that I can add the right ingredient at the right time. I don’t want to do all of those dishes! Yeah I am just going to throw things in and see what happens.” Cue forgetting to add the vanilla, salt, and/or oil to a recipe and being more than a little upset it didn’t come out the way I wanted. Not to mention cleaning up the flour that was all over the kitchen and myself because I was flying through the baking.

No more flying. I actually enjoy the process of baking. Why was I trying to speed through it? Begin serious life reflection. (And to be perfectly honest clean up is significantly easier than before!!! BONUS!)

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookie

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 (12 ounce) package white chocolate chips

To make cookies:

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until blended.

Combine flour, soda, cocoa powder, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Stir in white chocolate chips.

Refrigerate dough for one hour and up to 24 hours.

Scoop dough with an ice cream disher (you can use any size, I prefer a bigger one) onto prepared baking sheets (either use parchment paper or silpat).

Bake at 350 F for 8 to 14 minutes, depending on how done you want them. Enjoy!

Vanilla Crumb Cakes

Every year for the past couple years I have made my friends treat trays for Christmas. I deliver them one by one in an effort to do a small catch up with my friends before moving on to the next person on my list.

It’s my way of putting a little extra Christmas joy in the holidays. batter

I always try to mix and match flavors and textures and make sure I add something savory as well. I would like to think if they were to eat the tray all at once they wouldn’t get bored with the flavors of the different items.

This recipe was my vanilla flavored and cake textured item.

batter in tinsThis was a simple batter to pull together. A couple whirls in the food processor, a whisk or two, and then folding it all together with a spatula.

Plus I found these adorable tiny loaf pans that would make a small cake fit perfectly on the tray!

loaf on tray

One extra plus, these cakes are extremely forgiving. In one batch I accidentally forgot to bring out the crumb mixture.. Yeah what is a vanilla crumb cake without the crumb?! A delicious, powdered sugar sprinkled cake!

See it really can be a no stress Christmas!

Vanilla Crumb Cakes

Yields 2 crumb cakes

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Put sugars together in food processor bowl, pulse until combined. Add flour and nutmeg, pulse until blended. Put butter into flour mixture and pulse until crumbly. Remove and reserve 1/2 cup crumb mixture.

Combine buttermilk, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk in egg. Pour over crumb mixture in large bowl; fold with spatula until dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon batter evenly into two greased small loaf pans. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture evenly over batter, pressing lightly into batter.

Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean.

Coconut Cake, Act Two

Last post I made a coconut cake and a mess.

Coconut cake layer

This post I made the coconut frosting and I am cleaning up the mess.

I have a new KitchenAid on its way. (Thank goodness for warranties and amazing customer service!)

I stressed quite a bit after the machinery break down and didn’t clean my dishes, but they are clean and put away now.

I made the frosting with a hand held mixer and got a nice arm workout in the meantime.

Mess officially cleaned.

7 minute frosting

Sometimes it feels important to take a time out. Stress becomes overwhelming and there is no need to continue trudging through the mess. It becomes counterproductive.

So this post is about taking a time-out for stress reduction. Sometimes it isn’t appropriate but in this case for me it was completely appropriate.

So how do you know when you should take a time-out?

I notice that I become flooded. My brain gets a little fuzzy and I have difficulty finishing anything effectively (Read: way too many mistakes are made in a short amount of time).

I have to have the awareness to stop what I am doing no matter how much I want to finish it. It is not going to get done well and that just stresses me out even more.

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I really wanted to post something yesterday in honor of National Depression Screening Day, but I was still on my time out because the thought of tackling the frosting while the memory of my KitchenAid breakdown was still fresh stressed me out.

I wouldn’t have done it well and I wanted to do it well. I was assessing my mental health surrounding this issue and decided this was the best route.

Would you like to assess your mental health in honor of National Depression Screening Day? Wonderful. Click here!

second layer

 

7 Minute Coconut Frosting

Recipe by Alton Brown, adapted

3 large egg whites

12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 3/4 cups

1/3 cup coconut water

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coconut extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 to 10 ounces shredded coconut

To make the frosting:

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium to maintain a steady simmer. In the meantime, place the egg whites, sugar, coconut water, cream of tartar and salt into a medium size-mixing bowl. Place the bowl over the simmering water and immediately begin beating with an electric hand mixer set to low speed. Beat for 1 minute and then increase the speed to high and continue to beat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat in the coconut and vanilla extracts for 1 minute. Allow the frosting to sit for 5 minutes before using.

Place approximately 3/4 cup of the frosting on the first layer of cake, sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut and top with the next layer. Repeat until you reach the top layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake and sprinkle with the remaining coconut. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

Coconut Cake, Act One

Sometimes you need a stress reliever from your stress reliever…

I had that moment tonight.

I was plugging along on my coconut cake and then I wasn’t.

I killed my KitchenAid. It is done. Kaput.

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I had to move on to the hand held guy in order to finish my cake.

My method of relieving my stress was actually causing more stress.

What are you supposed to do now?

I took a deep breath and called whined to my boyfriend to come fix it.

He looked and said it was something about my motor. I still don’t know, but luckily it is still under warranty and I will call tomorrow to get it fixed.

Because I NEED it. Baking season is on its way/already here. I can’t manage without it right now.

But enough of that.

What can you do when your stress reliever is causing you more stress?

Scream? Cry? Punch a pillow? Use a hand held mixer and get an arm workout?

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Maybe.

Or maybe you can learn some grounding techniques. Or even go to this site for some guided relaxation and choose one that works best for you.

It is always a good idea to have some back up plans for you to relax.

Because unfortunately things happen that mess with your tried and true relaxation techniques.

I like deep breathing for this situation. Breathing in for 3 seconds, breathing out for 3 seconds. Continuing that until I get a handle on the extreme stress.

Yes, it has moved to extreme at this point.

In the past this situation would most likely have brought on a panic attack. Things have gotten out of my control and quickly. That would have sent me over the edge.

I want to speak on this because it is Mental Health Awareness Week. We are in the midst of it right now.

There are lots of issues that I could be addressing but I feel that it is most important to talk about stress.

Not everyone has depression or bipolar or ADHD. But everyone has stress.

I want to bring awareness to your mental health. Are you aware of your level of mental health?

Could you be doing some things differently so that you have a healthier level of mental health?

Probably. I know I could.

So think on that. Reflect on what you could be doing differently.

I will do the same and get back with you tomorrow with my assessment of my mental health and the frosting of this delicious coconut cake.

But for now reflect and bake this cake. Hopefully your mixer won’t break down on you in the first few steps.

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Don’t stress I will show you the finished product tomorrow/later today.

Coconut Cake

Recipe by Alton Brown (my favorite food person ever!)

Vegetable oil, for cake pan

14 1/4 ounces cake flour, plus extra for pans, approximately 3 cups

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup coconut cream

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

16 ounces sugar, approximately 2 1/4 cups

1 teaspoon coconut extract

4 egg whites

1/3 cup coconut water

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil 2 (9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Oil the parchment paper and then flour the pan. Set aside.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Combine the coconut milk and coconut cream in small bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, cream on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the sugar slowly over 1 to 2 minutes. Once all of the sugar has been added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Turn the mixer back on to medium speed and continue creaming until the mixture noticeably lightens in texture and increases slightly in volume, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. (And about right in the middle of this step watch your mixer have a fit and break down) Stir in the coconut extract.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture to the butter and sugar in 3 batches, ending with the milk mixture. Do not over mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter, just until combined. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bang the pans on the counter top several times to remove any air and to distribute the batter evenly in the pan. Place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake is light golden in color and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

Cool the cake in the pans for 10 minutes then remove and transfer to a cooling rack. Once the cakes have cooled completely cut across the equator of each to form 4 layers. Place the 1/3 cup coconut water into a small spritz bottle and spray evenly onto the cut side of the 4 layers. If you do not have a spritz bottle you may brush the coconut water on with a silicone pastry brush. Allow to sit while preparing the frosting.

Banana Nut Bread

What do you do when you get stressed out?

There are a few things that I do to help reduce my stress. The first is baking (and quite possibly gorging myself on my baked goods).

Bananas

Luckily the other things I do to reduce my stress are running and doing various working out type things (i.e. yoga, hiking, dancing, etc.). I would like to think it helps balance out all the stress eating I may do.

The third thing I do is clean and organize my life. Quite excessively.

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In fact, I took this “Kitchn Cure Challenge” so that I can clean and organize. It gives some ideas of how to clean and where to clean. Banana bread in pan

I would like to think all these things go together perfectly. I bake and eat, run off the excess calories, and then clean up the mess I have made while baking.

Some of my favorite things to bake when stressed include my chocolate chip cookies and the following banana nut bread. These are the things I can bake with my eyes closed. They are also some of my favorite comfort foods.

Banana Batter

Which came first?

Do I like baking them because they are my comfort foods or are they my comfort foods because I like baking them?

We may never know.

The ingredients of these recipes are some of my pantry staples so that makes it very easy for me.

So why am I talking about stress and what I do to help it?

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It is Depression Awareness Month. Stress in itself carries a mental health risk. Unfortunately, stress can be an everyday occurrence, but luckily having things in place that you like to do and relieve stress can be a helpful deterrent of everyday stress.

While stress does not necessarily lead to depression, not having some self-care in place can lead to some rocky times.

Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

3 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 1/2 cups)

To make the bread:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Combine the bananas, eggs, butter, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Add pecans and fold into batter.

Pour batter in prepared pan. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until done. Let cool on wire rack.

“Hear Our Voices” Film

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I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the film Hear Our Voices tonight and seeing the impact that mental health services had on children that were plagued with mental health diagnoses.

The documentary went into the lives of nine children that had been diagnosed with a myriad of mental health diagnoses. It explored their trials with the mental health system and how they were actively trying to make the system better for themselves and others that were in their position. It also gave the views of the mental health professionals in active roles to help change the system.

This documentary was an in-depth and upsetting look into the deficiencies in the  children’s mental health system. Throughout the film I was taken on an emotional journey with each of the children and allowed a peek into their past and present lives. An honest description of what it was like to be a child and live with a mental health diagnosis. These children had overcome unspeakable trials and labeled as “crazy, weird, and dangerous.”

The individuals in the field ripped down stereotypes of what it was to be diagnosed with bipolar, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health diagnoses. They helped change the perception of what it was to be someone who suffered a mental health illness.

Stigma, I believe, is one of the biggest reasons people do not seek help for mental health struggles. They are terrified to be looked at as a deficient human being or a danger to society. Truthfully, most people would look at individuals this way because mental health is wholly misunderstood and so the fears of individuals who are suffering are justified.

A great way to stop this stigma is to talk about mental health. Talk about your struggles or talk with a friend who needs your support just do not sit and be silent about this issue. Others need to know they are not the only ones with an issue. The kids in this film did an amazing job at talking. They were most definitely emotional at times because they had difficult things to say, but the emotionality gave them power as well. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who will sit long enough to watch it.

Go to the film’s website get a better look at what it is about!

After you watch the documentary, let me know what you think. I would love to hear other views on the film (positive or negative).