Valentine’s Heart Sugar Cookies

First, Happy Valentines Day!

heart cut outs

Second, I have accomplished my goal of the sugar cookie quest (almost – not quite cookie cutter perfect but close enough) – you should most definitely make these slice and bake cookies. They are the most adorable thing ever. Even if some of the hearts look a little blob-ish. In this case for me, it is the thought and effort put into these little guys that count. Not to mention now I never need to buy the store bought ones again. (Not that I ever have in over 8 years.. but I always wanted my sugar cookies to have a little flair!)

Think of the possibilities of what you can put in this little sugar cookie!! You want colored dough on the outside?!? Go for it. You want to make them for every holiday that you can Google? Do it… I may just because I can now.

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Now that I have the technique down, the fun I can have with making these little guys is endless.

The endlessness of the cookie possibilities is astounding. Much like the endless possibilities of using suicide prevention techniques (yes, I am getting incredible at these segues). That is what I have been up to these past weeks.. Learning about suicide prevention and going to trainings to become certified to prevent suicide in those that are having active suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

I did it through an amazing organization that works in all types of trainings for suicide prevention for all types of people. You should look into one of them if you are at all interested.

I heard a recent statistic that said that people who receives some type of suicide prevention training, feel more competent when helping someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. That increased feeling of competence  is proven to get the person in need to resources that will help them. This may sound rather like.. umm duh. But the coolest thing about this point is that you don’t have to be the person who is taking all of the responsibility for the person’s life. All you have to do is learn to ask the question “are you feeling suicidal?” however you want and then be the bridge to resources. Those resources could be 911, a crisis hotline, or even an emergency room.

prebaked cookies

The best thing you can do is ask and then redirect to someone that can really help. The pressure to keep watch over the person or be with them through the entire crisis can now be relieved.

Just ask.

I hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. If you are at all interested in any of the trainings that are in the link above. Do the quick Google search and see the options around you.

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Oh and make these cookies. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort (fortune cookie sounding?).

Valentine (or anytime) Slice and Bake Cookies

Inspired by: Lauren’s latest

Ingredients:

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 sticks butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

a few dabs of red gel food coloring

extra sugar for dusting

Directions:

In a small bowl stir flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in egg and vanilla. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients. Once dough has come together, remove 2/3 of it to a separate bowl. Stir in the red food coloring to the remaining 1/3 of the dough until uniform in color.

Roll red dough out into a 1 inch slab. Cut out heart shapes and stack them together. Chill to harden to prevent smooshing (yep that is a technical baking word) of the cut out shape.

Roll remaining regular colored dough out and cover each row of stacked hearts being careful to keep them together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside. Remove cookie dough logs from fridge and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. Spring top of cookie with sugar. Place onto prepared baking sheet leaving 1 inch around each cookie. Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookie is barely golden brown on the bottom and isn’t shiny. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before cooling completely on wire rack.

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Halloween Leftovers, Part One – Candy Bar Brownies

I had a jam packed Halloween weekend.brownie batter candies

I hosted a party with costumes, friends, and, of course, food.

Leading up to the party I baked, decorated, and costumed myself.eggs

Also, I passed out candy to one child. One. I bought candy for at least 50 children.

So needless to say I had leftovers.

This month there is one important mental health awareness day. International Survivors of Suicide Day.

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When I first think of this day I think of those that tried to commit suicide but did not die. Instead this day is intended for those who were left behind after a loved one committed suicide.

What is left behind after someone takes their life? Questions with no answers.

Where do you begin? Can there be anyone who understands the complicated emotions? Is there anything to help? There are so many resources for those that have been left after a loved one has ended their life. There is support specifically for you.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a tremendous resource for those who need this specialized type of support and resource.

Brownie dry ingredients

So I am not sure if your trick or treaters were as sparse as mine, but I ended up with a lot of candy. Lots of leftovers. So what do you do when life hands you way too much candy and no one to give it away to?

Make brownies!

So that is exactly what I did…

snickers candy

I chopped those little guys up and scattered them across the top of some delicious triple chocolate brownies. That’s right.. Triple. Chocolate. Cocoa. Semisweet chips. White chocolate morsels.

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Candy Bar Brownies

Yield 24 brownies

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate morsels

1 cup white chocolate morsels

12 fun size Snickers bars, chopped – or as many as you need!

To make the brownies:

Stir together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs and butter, stirring well. Stir in morsels. Pour batter into a lightly greased 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle evenly with candy pieces; gently press candy into batter.

Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Not My Grandmother’s Poppy Seed Bread

I have been craving some of my grandmother’s poppy seed bread.

Poppy Seed Bread

She always starts making it around Christmas time. It is one of my favorite things she makes – which is saying a lot because she makes so many sweet delicious treats around Christmas.

Why am I talking about Christmas?

Because there are Christmas decorations in stores and I am already planning my Christmas wrapping ideas (and most of all I kind of miss my grandmother).

So I called her and I asked her for her recipe and got a shock.

It was made with a Duncan Hines cake mix and packaged pudding!

Now I am not one to talk because this poppy seed bread she makes is absolutely amazing, but as I was staring at the boxed cake mix in the grocery store I just couldn’t buy it. I couldn’t buy the pudding mix either.

So how am I going to have my grandmother’s poppy seed bread?!

Well I am not.

But I am going to try my hardest to make something that tastes great. Adding some toasted chopped pecans from my grandmother’s yard and poppy seeds is a great start.

Poppy Seed Batter

Before I get to Christmas and all the baked goods that come with it, we have to finish up September and all that came with it.

I have a few more things for you in relation to suicide awareness. These are for those who have lost someone due to suicide.

There are many resources for parents, friends, and remembering those who died.

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If you are having difficulties with suicidal thoughts, need some support, and have not been able to reach out to anyone, Suicide Anonymous may be a good place for you to start getting the much needed help and support that you have been looking for.

After researching some resources for you, I decided to research quick breads.

I think I may have found something that can help me out with making something similar to my grandmother’s poppy seed bread.

The batter is sweet and tangy from the cream cheese.

Cut poppy bread

It bakes up slightly sweet so that you can slather on as much cream cheese spread as you so desire.

Finished Bread with spreadNot going to lie this was only the first spread. There may have been another small  huge amount of spread that went on after this picture.

While I think I made a bread that was as close as I could get to my grandmother’s recipe, I am still looking forward to eating some of hers that was made with cake mix and pudding. *gasp*

Cream Cheese Poppy Seed Bread

2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

3/4 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 teaspoons poppy seeds

2/3 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

To make the bread: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Beat the cream cheese until softened. Add the butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Add the poppy seeds and pecans. Fold into batter with spatula.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour loaf pan. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes.

Cream Cheese Spread

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted for lumps

To make the spread:  Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly pour powdered sugar into the bowl. Beat mixture until combined. Refrigerate when not in use.

 

The Mistake of the Vanilla Bean Ginger Pound Cake

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We are coming to the end of National Suicide Prevention Week and the beginning of fall baking – get ready for pumpkin, apple, and caramel flavored items to punch you in the face.

This past week had lots of great events put on by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Quilts were made, awareness walks were completed, and those that have lost their lives to suicide were remembered by all in attendance.

There were countless social media posts covering a myriad of topics about suicide. I shared a few on this blog’s Facebook page that I found particularly interesting.

This past week was incredibly inspiring. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Facebook page had a few posts on myths about suicide. While sifting through all the posts on that Facebook seemed a little tedious I did find a list of myths on this page. I suggest if you have any assumptions about suicide pop over to that page and find out if they are a myth or truth.

Now before I get back to the fall baking, I wanted to put it out there that I have something pretty huge in the works so keep coming back to find out the details!!

Since I woke up this morning to perfect fall weather, I was inspired to bake something fall flavored. So I got myself into the car and went on over to the local Williams-Sonoma as they have been harassing me with fall inspired emails I thought it was the best place to start.

This is only the first day of perfect fall weather that I have experienced this year and I wanted to slide into fall instead of diving head first into pumpkin land. So I chose a ginger syrup and frantically tried to think of something to make.

I landed on a pound cake. Vanilla beans and ginger seemed like an appropriate summer to fall flavor combination that I could handle. Vanilla Bean and Ginger Syrup

Well I am a little new to this recipe creating thing and not every recipe can come out marvelous, right? Right.

Good, because this isn’t my best one to date.

My problems probably had to do with over mixing – it turned out a little chewy and thin.

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Another problem I think is that I should use a ginger extract instead of syrup to get more of a gingery flavor that I desire – this one had just a whisper of ginger and I wanted something a little more pronounced.

I am posting the recipe below to ask for help from you.

A nice segue back into suicide prevention.

If you are having thoughts that concern you – these can include hopelessness, not wanting to be alive anymore, or absolutely anything that may scare or concern you, then ask for help.

It’s difficult asking for help, especially with something that can make you even more vulnerable. Talk to a trusted friend, call a crisis line, or even make an appointment with a mental health professional. Just talk to someone.

Here’s the recipe. Look it over and if you have any suggestions please let me know! I am going to re-do this and let you know how it comes out at a later date.

Vanilla Bean Ginger Pound Cake

Serves 8

1 cup butter, room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

Vanilla bean, split and scraped

4 teaspoon ginger syrup ( I used Morris Kitchen brand)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour, spooned and leveled

to bake the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 6 cup loaf pan.

Put butter and sugars into electric stand mixer and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated – at this point the batter looks curdled, do NOT worry once the flour is added it will become smooth and velvety. Add vanilla bean that has been split and scraped. Add ginger syrup and salt. Mix on medium until vanilla is evenly dispersed. Add the flour slowly and mix on low until incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium until the batter is smooth and fluffy; do not over mix.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake for one hour, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean – if the cake is browning too quickly put an aluminum foil tent over the top. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Perfected

Cookie dough

The last two posts have been about the helping others with what they might be dealing with, whether that be alcohol/drug recovery or suicidal thoughts.

So how do you do that?

These are pretty difficult things to talk about with someone, especially suicide.

Some of you may even be asking how do you make an excuse to go over to someone’s house when you know they aren’t really feeling like having visitors.

My solution: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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You can do this one of a few ways.

First, take all the ingredients over to your friend’s house and prepare them together. The act of doing something small, especially when using your hands, helps conversations flow and get a small task accomplished (which can also help someone who may be depressed). Second, prepare the dough and take that over to their house and bake them there – more of a chance to get a little more time out of the conversation, if it feels forced or scary. Third, completely prepare the cookies (this could be a sly way of stopping by saying you baked too many cookies and wanted to share) and take them over to your friend’s house.

Not too sure what to say when you actually get there? I suggest this app (there is literally an app for everything!).

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It has so many options and a really great interface. The app even has a “get help now” button and the link to a help line available 24/7.

If you don’t have a smart phone, asking them out right “if they feel like killing/hurting themselves?” is not something that will make them angry or contemplate suicide if they have not already had those thoughts. They will most likely be relieved that someone asked and the conversation could take off from that.

Now I know every recipe says that it is the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but this recipe has been tinkered with over a couple of years and just got the final touch in the past 6 months or so – by “accident” of course. My boyfriend went out to pick up some chocolate chips so that I could make a few cookies for us. He says he meant to pick up the mini chocolate chips, and I will admit I was very a little upset when he brought the mini ones back. But OMG did it complete my recipe I have been working on for years – and is now completely essential to my recipe and what I think absolutely makes my recipe – so kudos to him for his intentional mistake.

What makes this the perfect addition? There is literally chocolate gooeyness in EVERY SINGLE BITE!

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I like my cookies a little under-baked in the middle – a nice crunchy outer edge and almost oozy dough in the middle – absolute chocolate chip cookie perfection!

Baked Cookies

Yep I forgot to take a picture before I couldn’t resist ripping a piece off.

Just to be clear, I do not believe that suicide can be prevented by chocolate chip cookies. My intention is getting you to talk. Talk to someone who you think has been feeling a little down lately and could be at risk for suicidal thoughts, talk to others about suicide prevention, just talk about suicide. This is the only way to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide.

Chocolate Chip Cookie, Perfected

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 (12 ounce) package mini semi sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle Real Semi Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels)

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, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. Mix the two tablespoons of flour into the chocolate chips (I do this by pouring it in the bag and gently shaking it around to disperse – no need to mess up another bowl). Stir in floured mini 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 (and get talking)!

National Suicide Prevention Month

In addition to National Alcohol and Drug Recovery Awareness Month, September is also National Suicide Prevention Month for both the LGBT community and the military.

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Like I said in the previous post, September has a big responsibility to fulfill.

The first graphic above is from taking a pledge from The Trevor Project, it is a pledge saying I am committing to:

  • Letting my friends know that I’m always available to talk.
  • Being respectful and supportive of everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Listening with an open mind and without judgment.
  • Taking what people say seriously.
  • Checking in with friends who may need to talk.
  • Helping a friend call the Trevor Lifeline if they are in crisis (1.866.488.7386)
  • Tell a person I trust if someone is considering suicide (which in this case is me as I am ethically/legally responsible for this already).

This pledge and website are LGBT youth specific (which let me be clear I DO NOT consider any of these sexual identities mental health diagnoses), and the fact that this population is at a higher risk for suicide (4 times more likely).

I don’t feel like it is a coincidence that National Recovery Month and Suicide Prevention Month fall in the same month. Unfortunately, the risk of suicide increases if the person has a history of substance abuse.

** As I was preparing for this post, I found out that a friend I knew in high school committed suicide last week. Since I have not spoken with him in a number of years, I can not attest to knowing what he was going through at the time he decided to take his life. He has now left his friends and family with numerous questions (as they are posting on his Facebook page) and guilt. Unfortunately, suicidal ideation does not have obvious symptoms to most people until it is too late

The biggest thing you can do to find out if someone is contemplating suicide is to ask them. This will NOT cause them to think of suicide as a solution if they have not already considered it.

If you think that your friend or family member may be contemplating suicide or have told you that they are, please notify someone that can help them. If possible, I recommend staying with them until a medical professional can help them.

There are many suicide hotlines that you and someone you know can call. In the graphics above are posted phone numbers for those specific groups. Below is the National Suicide prevention lifeline number. NSPILogo_lg

Help can be a phone call away and is always available. Suicide is 100% preventable.

Throughout the month and specifically in the week of September 8 – September 14, I will be posting more resources for suicide prevention.

 

“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).