Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homemade Fig Newtons Recipe


As a kid, I grew up eating Fig Newtons. What are those things? Cake, cookie? Whatever category they fall into, they're strange but good. Fig paste wrapped in a soft, cake-y exterior.

I found a recipe for homemade fig newtons, and if you may have noticed, I get a strange high when faced with a DIY kitchen challenge.

So here they are, homemade fig newtons. These not only live up to the packaged version, but exceed them in taste. They are soft and slightly chewy, with a moist fig center. The cake exterior has a subtle pop of citrus zest, which adds a nice balance to the sweetness.

You need dried figs (which I found at Costco), a plastic bag to pipe the fig filling, and a little patience with the various baking steps.

The work is totally worth it, when the result is a happy childhood snack food! We packed these for a recent trip to Disneyland, and they got gobbled up by both the kids and adults.

Homemade Fig Newtons
Adapted from Food 52

print this recipe

Makes about thirty 2-inch cookies

For the cookie dough:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of one orange

For the fig filling:
1 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup water

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and beat until combined.
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. The dough will be very soft. Scoop it out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. If your figs are very dry and tough, you may need to use more water and simmer longer to get the figs to soften.

Transfer the figs to a food processor and pulse, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface and flour it liberally. The dough is very soft. Divide the chilled dough into 4 pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment and return the others to the refrigerator.

Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface (tap the 4 sides on the surface until they form a rectangle). Roll the dough, stopping frequently to make sure it isn't sticking to the parchment, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Be vigilant about lifting up the dough and re-flouring it to prevent sticking. This will make life easier as you go.

Scoop the fig filling into a pastry bag or a plastic zip-top bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. You may need to flatten the filling a bit -- it's easier to do this if you dip your fingers into some water first. Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Using the parchment, flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Brush any excess flour off the parchment and transfer it gingerly to a baking sheet and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of dough.

Bake for about 16 minutes or until the dough is no longer tacky and has begun to brown around the edges.

While the cookie rolls are still warm, either transfer them to a cutting board (a large spatula helps) or cut them directly on the baking sheet. Cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cookies. You may need to wipe off your knife every so often -- the filling is rather sticky at this point.

Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a plastic zip-top bag and close the bag. This seems counterintuitive, but in order to keep the cookies soft, like the real thing, they need to steam. Cool the cookies completely. Remove them from the bags and place in an airtight container.

They can be kept, at room temperature, for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Signs You've Acquired a Toddler

A new creature has entered into our household. 

If I didn't know better, I'd say it was an untrained pet from the store, or an alien life form that arrived from a different planet. But I do know better because this has happened to us before. We now have a toddler. 

Our daughter, once a peaceful infant, is now a full-blown wild ball of energy and crazy packaged in 2-ft. of chubby. For all those who think they've possibly acquired one of these mysterious creatures, here are some signs:
  1. Your carpet is covered in graham cracker crumbs and Play-Doh. 
  2. Laundry day used to be once a week. Now it is daily.
  3. You hear the word "no" an average of 200 times per day.
  4. You are commanded to read Moo, Baa, La La La over and over and over. And so you hide it, and pray it'll never be found again. 
  5. If you ever leave the house without reserves of goldfish crackers or string cheese, you'll be sorry.
  6. The word "gah-gah" has multiple different meanings (sock, milk, coffee, glasses, cracker, and sometimes oatmeal), and if you don't understand its particular use within three tries, and respond appropriately, all Hades breaks loose.
  7. You've yelled the phrases, "Stop eating dirt!" and "Don't touch your poop!"
  8. If you lie down on the ground, a smallish but hefty person will think you want to wrestle or get pounced on.
  9. Pampering yourself means shutting the bathroom door and taking a three-minute shower every other day. If you're really going for glamour, you change into clothes that aren't yoga pants and a stained t-shirt.
  10. You fall asleep with the Caillou theme song on repeat in your head.
  11. Every board game in the house is missing pieces or has bite marks. No one can play a real game of checkers anymore.
  12. While searching for a lost ball under the couch, you've discovered the source of "that mysterious weird smell" is a months-old partially full sippy cup of milk. 
  13. Dance parties consist of Ring-Around-the-Rosie. 
  14. The bottom third of your television screen is covered in little fingerprints. 
  15. You've strained your back while trying to carry your squirming kid, a diaper bag, and 3 bags of groceries from the car to the house. 
  16. If someone forgets to close the bathroom door, the roll of toilet paper will quickly be unraveled, non-flushable objects will be thrown in the toilet, and toothpaste tubes will be emptied of their contents.
How about you? Have you joined the toddler party?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Japanese Chicken Curry


Growing up in Hawaii, Japanese curry was a standard meal at home.

Japanese curry, sweeter than Thai or Indian curries, is usually made with instant roux blocks like this S & B Curry Sauce Mix. It is an easy dish to make with meat and vegetables, and served over steaming white rice.

After years of making curry with instant mix, it occurred to me that I could probably make my own homemade version, without the need for the instant mix. As I flipped through the March 2014 issue of Saveur magazine, I came across this recipe for Japanese curry that sounded like it had a similar taste profile to what I was looking for.

It was perfect. Subtly sweet, with just the right blend of curry and garlic. For the curry powder, I used some non-fancy, very basic powder that was in my spice collection. I generally followed the recipe, using chicken thighs, and the addition of some Sriracha sauce for heat.

My brother, Steve and I (three people who have relatively high  discerning palates for good curry) all agreed that this curry should be made again.

It tastes as good as (if not better than) the kind made from instant mix. If you're searching for a truly homemade version of Japanese curry, this is the one.

Japanese Curry
Adapted from Saveur
print this recipe
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 lb. meat (either boneless beef chuck or chicken), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoons garam masala
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, cut into 2″ pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1″ wedges
1 (1 1/2") piece ginger, grated
1/3 cup flour
6 cups beef stock
3 tablespoons honey
1 bay leaf
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Sriracha sauce, optional
Cooked white rice, for serving

Melt butter in 8-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Season meat with salt and cook until browned, 8–10 minutes; using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add curry, garam masala, garlic, carrots, onion, and ginger; cook until soft, 8–10 minutes. Add flour; cook 2 minutes. Add meat, stock, honey, and bay leaf; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until beef is tender, 1 hour. Add potatoes; cook until tender, 30 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and Sriracha; serve with rice. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

10 Things I Learned in March

At the end of each month, I write a post about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in March:

1. Having an ice cream machine is great in that it produces amazing ice cream. It is not so great in that we're trying to cut down on our sugar intake. Steve made vanilla custard ice cream, and I swear I can hear it wooing me from the freezer.

2. Aaron's preschool teacher is a wise woman. While discussing whether or not to seek out speech therapy resources for him, she reminded me to let our hearts (rather than our fears) dictate the decision. When she said that, it really resonated with me. I'm grateful for amazing people like her who are so invested in our kids.

3. How to use the triple nod in conversation as an effective communication tool.

4. I really love my brothers. I mean, I sort of knew that before, but I'm realizing just how thankful I am for these two guys. Stuart is currently in Thailand producing a film about Bangkok's slums, poverty and sex trafficking. Adrian is a parent, husband, and campus minister at Stanford University (changing the lives of world changers). Both are pretty great men.


5. I cannot seem to remember how old I am. Every once in a while, I'll draw a serious blank, and think, "Wait, am I 33 or 34?" Steve will gently remind me that I'm 33. And that, folks, is why having a husband in my elderly years will be a good thing.

6. Starbucks wins for effective branding. Alex (19-months) was looking at my iPhone, and excitedly exclaimed, "ca-ca!" (her word for coffee) over and over while pointing at the Starbucks app.  This really says something about the power of the Starbucks logo. Or it says something about how much coffee I drink. Either way, scary.

7. When I am given full freedom to teach a group of people about any topic, I gravitate toward big ideas. I'm working on a 30-minute sermon (my last one as a campus minister at USC), and decided to teach on life and death. You know, minor concepts. It might be compelling, it might be crazy. We'll see.

8. Nothing is so simultaneously horrifying and hilarious having an elderly Asian man calling you a f*cker for almost rear ending his car in a parking lot. Hopefully he heard my apology despite my attempt to stifle laughter. Do not piss off elderly Asians.

9. Even though I have experienced significant change and healing, my fears and insecurities still exist. I was reminded of this last week when I reacted to a rather straightforward comment from my husband with anger, defensiveness, fear, and shame. And so the journey toward wholeness continues. I'm grateful for a gracious husband and generous God.

10. That a simple hug and "I love you" can create connection and safety. This reality seems to be true for any people of age, from my young kids to my mid-30's husband.

Friday, March 28, 2014

My Life in Verbs

Realizing... that my thirties are the time to take really good care of my body. Everything is aging, and exercise, doctor check ups, wearing glasses, and eating healthily are important right now (not later).

Trying... to not cross my legs when I sit. Did you know that it's terrible for your back and posture? My chiropractor told me that many people's body aches would be eliminated if they were to simply sit up straight, with both legs on the floor. 

Loving... this Maybelline gel eyeliner. It's so much better than other eyeliners I've used, and only $8!

Reading... Journey to the Cross (a really great Lent devotional), Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes 
by William Bridges, and A Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.

Anticipating... pausing work to be at home with our kids more. I am really excited to make this shift, and to have more space and energy to focus on parenting. It feels very much like the right change for our family and me, and I am so grateful that we can make it work.

Listening... to the Frozen soundtrack. I realize that I'm months late to the party, but we just saw the movie last week and fell in love. Even my 19-month old daughter is into the music: Alex Sings "Let It Go."

Creating... a new website. Thanks, Weebly, for your free, easy-to-use platform. Because of you, an average person like me can build a pretty good website in one day.

Wondering... how Aaron is about to turn 5. I mean, I know that we're all aging at the exact same rate, but what the heck? How is my kid nearly 5 already? 

What have you been up to recently? Share a verb or two of your own in the comments.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Homemade Quick Puff Pastry & Cherry Turnovers


A few weeks ago I made puff pastry from scratch, mostly because it seemed to me a worthy rite of passage for the amateur baker.

As I rolled the dough and folded the pastry layers, I declared out loud (mostly to myself), "I need to work in a bakery." Seriously, I got weirdly giddy about making homemade puff pastry and not having to ever buy it from the grocery store again.

Puff pastry is versatile, used in both savory and sweet dishes. It's ideal for crisp, buttery pastries and crusts like tarts, pot pies, and turnovers. I made some cherry turnovers for breakfast, and froze the leftover pastry dough for later use.

Traditional puff pastry is time-intensive, but this quick shortcut method gives you a pretty great result. You just need a good rolling pin, lots of flour and butter, and some baking love.

Quick Puff Pastry
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 lb. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 cup ice water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour and salt. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment, scatter the butter over the flour mixture, and mix on medium speed until the butter is the size of large peas and coated with flour. On medium-low speed, add the vinegar and then drizzle in the ice water until the flour mixture is moistened and starts to come together. You may not need all of it. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, gather it into a ball, and knead lightly until uniform. Roll out into an 11-by-17-inch rectangle ½-inch thick. Dust off the excess flour from the surface. With a short side facing you, fold the bottom third up and then fold the top third down over it, as if folding a business letter. It should now measure about 6 by 11 inches. If the dough seems warm, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Again, roll Out the dough into an 11-by-17-inch rectangle, 1/2 inch thick and fold into thirds. Roll and fold one more time. Using the rolling pin, press the folded dough lightly on top to seal the folds. Cut the folder rectangle into thirds, wrap each third tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Or freeze for up to 3 months and thaw, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight. Makes enough for 3 10-inch tarts.

Cherry Turnovers
(from Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

print this recipe

1/3 recipe quick puff pastry (above) or 1 sheet store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
2 tablespoons ground almonds
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 cup pitted and stemmed cherries, fresh, thawed frozen, or drained canned
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons coarse turbinado or demerara sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured work surface roll out the pastry into an 18-by-12-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut the rectangle into 6 6-inch squares. In a small bowl, stir together the ground almonds and confectioner’s sugar. In a medium bowl, stir together the cherries, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, and the flour. 

Place 2 teaspoons of the almond mixture in the center of each square. Divide the cherry mixture evenly among the squares, placing it on the almond mixture. Brush 2 contiguous sides of each square lightly with egg white and fold in half to form a triangle. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Place the pastries on the prepared pan, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (At this point, the turnovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 3 months and then topped and baked directly from the freezer, increasing the baking time to 25 minutes.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Recrimp the edges of each turnover with a fork. Brush the tops lightly with egg white. Sprinkle evenly with the 2 tablespoons coarse. Using a sharp knife, cut 2 small vents in the top of each triangle. 

Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool on the pan. Serve warm. Makes 6 turnovers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rhythm For Life

We all have rhythms in our lives. 

Some of them happen naturally, like the rhythm of eating breakfast in the morning. Other rhythms take intentionality and discipline, like the rhythm of spending time with a friend who lives farther away. 

A "rhythm for life" is a simple statement of personal rhythms that you choose to practice to intentionally center your life on what is important to you.

If we want a certain kind of life, it's the daily and weekly rhythms that will determine whether or not that life actually becomes your reality. 

For instance, I want to be as physically healthy as possible. Rhythms that help my physical health include sleeping about 7-8 hours per night, doing physical activity like yoga or running, eating vegetables, having one day a week of rest. These are the things that nurture my physical health, and so I choose to practice these rhythms. 

A side note about health - our physical, mental, emotional, social health are very much interconnected. If we're nurturing one area of our lives, then oftentimes other areas are effectively nurtured.

When was the last time you considered your own life rhythms? Are you satisfied with them? Is there an area of your life where you want to change particular rhythms? Consider developing some personal rhythms for life that create space for what you want to do and who you want to be.

Creating a Rhythm for Life

The following reflections can help you develop a rhythm of life:
  1. Who do you want to become? What is most important to you? What do you currently do to realize your goals and longings?
  2. What practices and rhythms help you thrive spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally? What hinders you? What is most life-giving to you?
  3. Choose several rhythms or disciplines that arise from your desire for your life that suit your limits and realities. Begin your practice. 
Your rhythm for life can (and should) change when it begins to not fit. Life is full of transitions. Allow your rhythm for life to evolve as you grow and change. 

My Rhythm for Life

This isn't by any means extensive, but it captures some of the primary rhythms that are important for me right now:
  • Begin and end each day with a quiet moment with God.
  • Go through my Daily Checklist
  • Stretch and do yoga.
  • Read and reflect on Journey to the Cross, a Lent devotional. 
  • Go for a run 2-3 times per week.
  • Have regular dates with my husband.
  • Meet with my spiritual director once a month.
  • Have a weekly Sabbath.
  • Talk and pray with Chante every two weeks.