Monday, December 22, 2014

Cranberry Pecan Rugalach

Rugalach (pronounced ROO-guh-la) is a magical, delicious Jewish pastry. These are one of a couple kinds of cookies I make at the holidays these days. The buttery, flakey cookie part of these crescent-shaped pastries are balanced out by the tart, crunchy filling. You can replace the cranberries in this recipe with cherries or apricots if you prefer and they still turn out delicious.

I made a double batch of these bad boys, so if you're doing a single batch you'll have half of the stuff you see in the pictures.

Cranberry Pecan Filling

3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2/3 cup finely chopped sweetened, dried cranberries
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground allspice

Stir all ingredients together until well mixed.

I'll just pretend that when I bake my workspace always looks so neat and organized. Because, you know, I secretly live on a cooking show.

The filling is pretty straightforward, but to work with it easier later, I find heating it up over low heat makes it a little more spreadable.

I suggest having a good amount of counter space instead of using the kitchen table like I do. I made the filling and dough the night before and let the dough chill overnight before starting on assembly and actual baking. Spending 5 hours bent over the kitchen table assembling these does a number on your back so try and use a counter if you have enough room. Also, one of those sweet anti-fatigue mats that Lee Valley sells is a good idea for all baking. Well really just about everything at Lee Valley is awesome (no, I'm not getting money for saying that... and now I'm rambling).


Cranberry Pecan Rugalach

1 cup butter, softened
1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
Cranberry Pecan Filling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sparkling sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Yes I realize that's a terrifying amount of butter and cream cheese. Believe me, the second you inhale your 7th or 8th cookie you'll not only appreciate all this fatty goodness, you will start to hallucinate an angelic choir lulling you into pastry euphoria. Or you'll end up with a stomach ache. Either way - worth it.

Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until fluffy.  Stir in flour and salt. 

I like using a pastry cutter to get the initial mixing done. But nothing beats just getting in there with your hands to make sure it's mixed well. You'll want to make sure the dough is very smooth. You'll know it's ready when it's the consistency of soft playdough.

Divide dough into 8 equal portions.

Flatten each portion into a disc, wrap separately in plastic wrap, and chill for 8 hours.

Having done a double batch, I ended up with quite a few of these (16).

Remove dough from the fridge (or the porch if you're making these in Canada in the winter).
Roll one portion of dough at a time into an 8" circle on a lightly floured surface. 

Spread with about 3 tablespoons of the Cranberry Pecan Filling, leaving about a 1/2" border around the edge. Cut circle into 8 wedges. Roll up the wedges, starting at the wide end, to form a crescent shape. Place, point side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet (or on parchment paper).

This is what takes the most time with these cookies. Getting the filling to spread out evenly is tricky, and getting the crescents rolled up without all the filling falling out is tricky. Then picking them up and placing them on the tray so that they don't unroll is also tricky. My best advice here is to take your time and cut yourself some slack if they don't turn out perfectly - they'll still be delicious.

Brush gently with egg. Sprinkle evenly with sparkling sugar. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Bake at 350 degrees on a lightly greased baking sheet (or on parchment paper lined baking sheet) for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I ended up making a double batch for Christmas since they're always such a hit. They are admittedly tedious to make but worth it!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

My change isn't your change

At various moments during my adult life, I have retrospected on my identitymy past, who I would like to be, the major epiphanies of my personality, and the lessons I've learned. As an effort to grow as a person, I have come to believe strongly in the very real changes that can occur when you swallow your ego and face your shortcomings head-on.

Since my early 20s when I really began quieting down and looking inward, a lot has happened. The first few years were a fast progression of positive change, and then things slowed down and fell into a pattern of cycles.

Epiphany, introspection, personal challenge, work work work, rinse, repeat.

This cycle has become a part of my life. I'll admit that the hardest part is that initial realization of unhappiness on some fundamental level. Often it comes on the heels of some upsetting event and I decide I need to reevaluate my life and my state of mind. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that most of my biggest problems exist as a result of how my mind is working (how I process information; how I react to life events; how I interpret social situations, etc.).

It's taken a lot of years of humble honesty (accentuated with some counseling and behavioral cognitive lessons on changing how I think) to fully accept that the only way to fix what's broken is to acknowledge that something is broken at all.

One of the unfortunate by-products of this cycle hits during the 'work' phase. This phase is difficult for a number of reasons, but without getting into the dirty details of why it's hard for me, I want to talk about why this is hard for those in my life and those who care about me.

Just like it's hard to concentrate on inner dialog in a room full of loud people, it's nearly impossible to be really introspective if you're surrounded by people asking you how you're doing; why you're behaving a certain way, etc.. How I've learned to face this is by going into what I call my autopilot mode. My routines are maintained (work, chores, eat, distractions, etc.) but all else takes a backseat while I reroute all my internal energies into sorting through whatever is causing me distress.

Over the years I've made tweaks to this process here and there. I've begun to allow certain types of social interactions with some people who I know won't sabotage my work, and I've gotten better about communicating what's going on and why I'm withdrawn. If nothing else, I'm able to tell people that I'm trying to work through some things and that I need some time alone. It's often hard while it's happening to really articulate what it is that's upsetting me, why I think it's happening and how I think I can fix it.

Change is hard, though. It's a lot of work, it's humbling, it can be painful and it can effect relationships in big ways. But it's possible. From the vantage point of my admittedly biased armchair, I am able to confidently say that real change is possible. Despite popular denials and despite all of your experience with people who simply dig in their heels and choose stagnancy; changing how you think, how you behave, and how you react is possible.

I've had a lot of difficult conversations when people offer advice. I understand the inclination to offer advice, help, support, empathy and understanding. While I appreciate every time someone takes the time to try and help me, often that advice simply can't work for me. A major benefit of those quiet times alone with my thoughts is how well I have gotten to know myself and how I tick. I know my limits and I know how to break them. I know what works and what doesn't for me. I know why I think the things I do and what causes those thoughts.

I think the key message to remember about change is that how you make changes in your life isn't necessarily how someone else might. There is no one catch-all solution to change and growth and progress.  It is only you who can work to identify what is effective for you. I encourage you to explore the possibility of real fundamental change within yourself on a regular basis. If for no other reason than simply growing as a human being.

We might all be on this rock together, but we are very much leading our own battles in our lives. Accept each others' differences and move forward alongside those in your life you care about with positivity and an encouraging word.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Don't say I'm Sorry

After my dad died, I never stopped walking on the pads of my feet.

When you've lost a parent at a young age, you come to predict the types of reactions you'll get from people when they find out. One reaction you never get is relief.

I still have moments sometimes where I am yanked into my past.

I am 11 years old and I am walking on the pads of my feet. The curtains and blinds are drawn throughout the house. It is summer and our house is like a crypt. We speak in hushed tones when we speak at all. Dad is trying to sleep. The coughs from the bedroom at the far end of the house are a constant reminder of why we're so quiet.

I am 9 and it is late fall during a wind storm. The sun has gone down, the power is out and dad is drinking. We huddle together in the light of mom's hurricane lamps. As my siblings make jokes and try to scare each other about the dark, I watch mom as she watches dad.  Their dance is a familiar one. Dad is on his second beer and has just hit his happy buzz. Like mom, I know how short-lived this phase is, and how easily it can turn. I try to crack jokes to lighten the tension in the room. The other kids don't seem to notice. Dad asks me to get him another beer. Mom's lips tighten in the dim light and Dad says, "What?" with an accusing tone to her. I jump up and ask Dad if he wants me to crush the can. I join the dance, and diffuse the tension a little. I leave the room on the pads of my feet.

I'm 10, it is spring and we're on a good run. It's been days since anyone got in trouble. Mom suggests we eat dinner in the living room while we watch a movie. Dad agrees. In the blurry span of minutes, our house goes from laughing to screaming. A red plastic dinner plate flies from where dad sits to the dining room floor. We sit frozen, unsure of what we should do. The screaming goes on for a few hours, long after we're banished to our rooms.  We sit by our doors listening to the fight. I silently wish someone would come save us. We walk around on the pads of our feet.

I'm 6 or so. Our aunt and cousins are over and we're all in one of the bedrooms. Our uncle has beaten our aunt again, and my dad is shouting in the living room. Soon there's shouting outside and there are women screaming. Soon we see red and blue flashing lights from the bedroom window.  Later I overhear mom saying that my uncle is in the hospital.  I hear something about a baseball bat and dad. I sneak back to my room on the pads of my feet.

I'm 9 and one of us has done something bad. We're punished in turn until the guilty person confesses. Not for the first time, our youngest sister confesses even though we all know it wasn't her. She speaks up to keep us all from getting in any more trouble. Dad won't punish us, but forces mom to. Mom knows it wasn't our sister who did it, and sends her out to the living room to sit with dad. We all know she is dad's favorite and she'll be okay with him. My brother confesses, and when dad hears he pulls my brother into his bedroom and closes the door. That is the first time I feel true rage. This is the first time I think about killing dad. I walk past the door on the pads of my feet.

I'm 12 and it's summer. The street lights are just coming on, and I'm walking with my friend around the corner from her house to mine. As we draw near, I see the front door is open. This means mom hasn't closed the door so the neighbors won't hear the screaming. We walk in and it's quiet. I don't hear anybody, so I wonder who's home. I find mom in her bedroom, crying. She tells me my sisters are at a neighbor's house and dad is in jail. Either then or eavesdropping later I hear something about guns, suicide attempt, drinking.

I'm 12 and it's summer. I am walking down my friend's gravel driveway, my left hand feeling the tops of the messy white cedar hedges as I walk and I hear myself say, "I wish he'd just die." The echoes of those words reverberating through all the years between then and now...

I am propelled back to the present. Silence, which has been drilled firmly into me, is golden. I walk around my apartment on the pads of my feet. I find myself wondering what is must have been like for other kids who grew up without the fear of violence. I wonder what it must be like for the kids in our family now.  Now that he's dead and my mom has found her freedom and her happiness in a relationship with a good man who is raising the kids right.

It's taken a lot of years of honest inner reflection to face the demons that kept me in pieces.  I've overcome more than I ever realized I would need to. I am genuinely proud of how far I've come. Yet I still flinch when someone shouts suddenly near me. I still struggle making eye contact and being assertive. I still harbor a lot of anger and bitterness. I still walk on the pads of my feet.

I did lose a parent at a young age. A parent I loved very much. A parent I learned a lot from, was inspired by and who helped shape me into the person I am today.

But I don't need condolences. I need relief. Relief for having been freed from a life of lies, secrets, violence and manipulation. I need pride for my mom for surviving and overcoming all she did for us and for herself. Most of all I need patience and understanding. Because I still walk on the pads of my feet.

Friday, February 7, 2014

One of the Boys

I've always been drawn to boys' social circles more than girl circles. It's just who I am. With a few exceptions in my life (and living in a lot of different cities growing up), I was always welcome with the boys. It was great to be included and welcome, and the boys genuinely liked my company.

It never occurred to me that one day the playing field would shift, mindsets would change, and as those boys became adults, they would learn the ways of a culture I myself hadn't even become aware of yet.  I never imagined that one day the only social place I felt safe as a child would be the most unwelcoming and sometimes even hostile environment.

"You won - gender inequality doesn't exist anymore."

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why are women so vehemently jealous of their partners having friends who are women (and vice versa!)

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why do men treat women differently (and vice versa!)

If gender inequality doesn't exist, then why are men regarded as better authority figures than women

If gender inequality doesn't exist then why are men seen as 'assertive' and women seen as 'combative'

Stop saying gender inequality doesn't exist.  It does exist.  It permeates the behavior of men who genuinely believe that they are 'modern' men who have equal, respectful relationships with their independent, self-empowered wives.  The mindset is so ingrained that it leaks out in subtle ways constantly.  Each act in itself insignificant, but added up create a persona of superiority, dominance and indifference.

The obvious attacks are the ones you can prepare yourself for.  You can prepare yourself mentally for the comment about to come out of the loud mouth of the ass-slapping type of guy.  There is no preparation for being talked over in the middle of a thought; for watching someone open their phone as you start to speak to them; you simply can't prepare yourself for the subtle ways men have of cordoning you into a box in their mind, and their immediate aversion when you step outside that box.

Stop saying gender inequality doesn't exist.  It does exist.  What's between your legs does not matter.  Instead learn to judge people on the basis of who they are as a human being.

I'm not a kid anymore, and I can't just go hang out with the boys. I've been forced to accept my assigned role, and I'm required to feign gladness at my good fortune that I wasn't unlucky enough to be born in a less fortunate country as a woman.

Gender inequality does exist. And every time you treat someone differently because of gender, you contribute to the problem.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Quilting the quilt

How I spent my holidays

It's been a little over a year since I started on the Great Quilting Experiment.  I started off in November of 2012 with an idea to create a quilt and managed to feel pretty good about my very first completed block.

my first block

Not long after my first block, my trusty little beginner's Singer died a grindy, noisy death and I started looking around for a replacement.  I dropped into a sewing/craft store around the corner, KW Sewing Machines, and had a great chat with one of the saleswomen there.  I told her my level of experience, and where I wanted to go with my sewing and she introduced me to one of the coolest pieces of technology I've ever been fortunate enough to meet - the Janome 2030 QC.

It has a computer inside!

For those of you who don't know, I get a little geeky about technology so needless to say I was very impressed with the capabilities of this little beast. The hands-on creative addict in me loved everything about this machine (to name a few features: it threads its own needles, ties its own knots, and has a sweet no-pedal option for perfect speed sewing), and with a lot of work I managed to secure this beautiful piece of work by January of 2013 so that I could continue my sewing adventures.

By March of that year I'd completed about half of the 30 blocks needed for my king-size quilt (what was I thinking for my first quilt?!).  I put together a quick little photo tutorial for the custom Sarah's Choice quilt blocks I was making so that I could share the cool stuff I'd been working on.

taking a break to share my process
I worked on my quilt off and on for the next several months, and by October 2013 I'd finished all the blocks I'd needed.  I made 36 but decided to only use 30 of the 12" blocks because I'd neglected to account for the sashing and cornerstones when doing the math for a standard king size blanket.

all the blocks finished with sashing and cornerstones

Once I had the front finished, I took a break for a few months to bide my time till Boxing Day after Christmas so that I could get the batting and backing I needed to finish the quilt.  Sure enough, there were sales all over the place and I managed to pick up 3 meters of Warm and Natural cotton batting and 3 meters of wide fabric for my backing.  As soon as I had all my supplies, I immediately got to work.

safety pins are cool and all, but this stuff is a lifesaver!

I read a tip online that the easiest, quickest way to secure the layers of a quilt was a good temporary adhesive crafting spray.  They don't gum up needles and the spray itself washes out in a normal wash cycle once your project is finished.

for working with large projects, these are a MUST HAVE

Once the quilt layers were secured and I started actually quilting this huge thing (again: what was I thinking!?), I started to get very sore shoulders and realized I needed a better way to handle all the material. 

I ran out of thread pretty quickly at this stage (I only had two spools of 250 yards), so when I ran to the fabric store to get 3 more spools (which still might not be enough - I must be out of my mind), I spotted these spiffy Fons & Porter Machine Quilting Gloves designed to grip fabric easier and to reduce tension in the neck and hands when sewing.  They look cheesy, but they're fantastic - I highly recommend getting some of these if you do a lot of machine quilting.

showing some love for the walking foot

All in all, I'm very pleased with how the quilt is coming along and I can hardly believe it's been such a long work in progress.  It's been a very lovely holiday this Winter working on this final stage of the project.

coffee, quilting and Netflix - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to me!
What I have left will probably take some time to wrap up, and then I get to try my hand at binding this bad boy.  Stay tuned for updates as I move into the next phase (and I continue to question my sanity).