Ladybugs on a Log



20151026_184550I haven’t been blogging much lately.  I’ve been baking less, and just usually making my standby whole wheat bread recipe.

A lot of it gets made into PB & J for the kids’ lunches, when they take them.  Last night we were out of apples, so I told my son that he could take ants on a log instead.  It’s the only way he’ll touch celery.

Then I realized that I was out of raisins.  “Oh no, we’re out of ants!” I said.

“Ants?” my daughter asked, confused, apparently unaware that they were one of my pantry staples.

I did have a handful of dried cranberries, so in that moment ladybugs on a log were invented, and were deemed a suitable substitute by my son.

It’s not much of a twist, but sometimes a little novelty is all it takes to get vegetables into a child.  I’m still amazed that calling broccoli “little trees” makes them palatable to my youngest.


This is my newest bread obsession.  Unfortunately, it’s an obsession that contains quite a bit of butter and shortening, so I’ll have to make it an occasional thing.

Conchas are a Mexican sweet bread, named after the cuts in the top of the topping, which make the rolls look like shells.

I had seen them a lot in grocery stores and the Wal-Mart bakery, but some of them are colored a weird sort of yellow, and I don’t know, I just never thought they looked very good.  Then we went to a Mexican restaurant for Mother’s Day and they had bags of them, chocolate, pink, and white, and I thought Hmmm, those look pretty good.  Maybe we’ll try them.

So we did.  And they were good, if just a little stale.  Then I started wondering exactly what they were called, because as far as I knew they were “those Mexican sweet rolls”, and wondering how the topping is made (because it isn’t a traditional icing).  Google to the rescue, of course.  I found out the name and found several recipes, at which point of course I started thinking, I can do that!

The recipe I settled on came from here, at Delicious Shots.  Her pictures are much prettier than mine.

The dough is very similar to a brioche, and in fact when I do them again I plan to make them with the “Poor Man’s Brioche” recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  It has a few tweaks to the technique that might make the gluten develop better.  I think I kneaded the dough for about 20 minutes in my mixer before it came together.

The topping is a sort of cross between pie crust and icing.  It has lots of shortening, sugar, and flour.  You roll out little balls of it into flat circles and drape them over the rolls, then slice cuts into the topping and let the rolls rise.  The recipe made so much topping that I only used a little over half, so I froze the leftover for next time.  Since it’s so much like pie crust, I figured it would freeze.

My son asked me if I was trying to make those kind of rolls we had bought at the restaurant, and I said yes, at which point he admitted that he liked mine better.  Score one for Mommy! (And I also had to admit to him that I thought they were better, too.)

I took them to Wednesday night Bible study to share, as well, and they got good reviews there, too.  I was worried that they weren’t “authentic” because mine were much denser than ones we’d bought, but a lady who grew up eating them and says conchas are her favorite said she actually liked the denser texture better because when you bite into them, the topping doesn’t go crumbling and flaking all over the place.


On Wings of Prayer


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silhouette bird - blackA couple of weeks ago I spoke on “Praise in Prayer” at my home congregation’s Ladies’ day.  The theme of the day was “On Wings of Prayer”.  If you are interested in hearing my talk, as well as two other speakers, the audio can be found here. I was very nervous, because public speaking isn’t my thing, but after I got some technical issues with my Powerpoint worked out, I think it went pretty well, and I’m glad I did it.

Homemade Bagels Vs. Store Bought – A Cost Comparison

bagel cost

Sitting down to write this post actually required a lot of math first.  I majored in Creative Writing, so I hope you appreciate my sacrifice.

Once in awhile I get the urge to figure out just how thrifty it is (or if it is) for me to bake things at home instead of buying them.  I especially got this urge lately because to make bagels I bought a jar of barley malt syrup that seemed terribly expensive.  When you break it down to cost per batch of bagels, though, it isn’t so bad.

To do these calculations, I looked at the price for Sarah Lee bagels at the grocery store I usually shop at, and broke it down both by cost per bagel and cost per ounce, to account for the difference in size between my bagels and storebought bagels.

The recipe I used was Bruce Ezzell’s bagel recipe, which is my current favorite.

Some of the ingredient prices reflect what I actually paid on a recent shopping trip, and some of them I looked up on Wal-Mart’s website for a general estimate (and in the case of the barley malt syrup, Amazon).

Sarah Lee bagels: 6 count package, 20 oz, $ 4.39

This breaks down to: 73 cents per bagel and 22 cents per oz.

Homemade bagels:

1 tablespoon honey: $ 0.13

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup: $ 0.18

3 g yeast: $ 0.15 (I buy it in a jar, which is much cheaper than packets)

baking soda: $ 0.02 (hardly worth counting)

kosher salt: $ 0.07 (also hardly worth counting)

bread flour: $ 1.05

whole wheat flour: $ 0.28

Grand total: $1.88

This yields 16 bagels that weigh about 43 oz, which is 12 cents per bagel, and 4 cents per oz.

Which means that making bagels is over 5 times cheaper than buying them at the store, although making them takes awhile, and the savings wouldn’t make a very good hourly wage.  There is no comparison in the taste department, though.  Homemade bagels definitely  win there.

Bagels: Sourdough Edition


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20150303_075846My poor sourdough starter has been sadly neglected.  I bet I use it less than once a month.  It’s a good thing that starters aren’t as high maintenance as I was afraid they would be.

I am still fixated on bagels, and I figured I’d give sourdough bagels a shot.  I used the 100% Sourdough Bagels recipe from Wild Yeast.

I have been mixing my bagel dough by hand.  My mixer starts making ominous noises with the stiff bagel dough, and I just don’t want to risk it.  No matter how much cheaper it is to make bagels at home than to buy them (never mind how much better they taste) it is not cheaper if you blow out a mixer that cost hundreds of dollars while making them.

This is a smaller recipe, making approximately half as many bagels, though, and I thought I’d try it in the mixer again.  I can’t get as much of the flour worked in by hand, no matter how hard I try.  So I used my mixer to get all of the flour incorporated, but again it started with the whining, so I took the dough out and finished kneading it by hand.

I did not follow the directions well when making these.  First, I shaped them not the old-fashioned way, by making a rope of dough and sticking the ends together, but the way I always do, by sticking my thumb through the ball of dough.

But really, that’s just a matter of aesthetics.

The part I really didn’t follow was the rest periods.  My house was cold yesterday, and it took my dough all afternoon to rise enough to “look and feel a bit puffy”.  So when it came time to refrigerate them 4 to 8 hours, I refrigerated them one hour and figured that would be fine.  I don’t want to be making bagels at midnight.

The extra refrigeration time is really to add to the flavor, not a matter of structural integrity or anything.  Although I do also think some bagel recipes require the refrigeration period so that you are putting a cold bagel into the water.  That way it doesn’t rise as much, giving a denser final product.

I also didn’t monitor boiling time closely.  This recipe calls for a 20 second boil, and I am used to more like a minute, so some got boiled longer than others because I forgot to watch.

Through sheer laziness I didn’t read the instructions at the end of the recipe closely, so I didn’t turn my oven down 25 degrees after the bagels were in, which meant they baked for only 15 minutes or so before being well-browned.  If I’d put them in the oven for 26 minute and gone off to do other things, I would have had bagel briquettes, and only myself to blame.  Learn from my mistakes, blog readers, because I probably won’t.

But, all’s well that ends well.  The sourdough taste was subtle, which my dearest husband prefers.  I’ll save this recipe for the next time I look into the back of the fridge and think “Oh yeah, I have a sourdough starter”.

Just a note – if you like to use sesame seeds, they adhere better to the bagels if you brush the tops with egg whites before sprinkling the seeds on between boiling and baking the bagels.  They do stick if you don’t use egg whites, but not nearly as firmly, and they come off in the bag, in the toaster, and all over the table.

More Bagels, With Strawberry Cream Cheese


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20150219_083412This is actually a bagel I made last week.  I like to procrastinate like that.  Anyway, it’s the third time I’ve used Bruce Ezzell’s Bagel Recipe, and it has turned out great every time.

I hunted up the barley malt syrup that the recipe calls for at a health food store.  I won’t say how much it costs, but it wasn’t cheap.  However, a jar should last quite a while using a tablespoon at a time.

I have to say though, I don’t think it makes much difference.  I actually liked the bagels made with molasses a teeny bit better.  So, if the price of barley malt syrup puts you off, just use molasses and don’t worry about it.  Unless you’re from New York.  Apparently these things are very important to some New Yorkers.

Strawberries were on sale, so instead of buying the strawberry cream cheese spread that the dearest husband and the kids like, I decided to try making homemade strawberry cream cheese with part of the plain cream cheese I was buying anyway.

I have to confess, I had never actually tried the strawberry cream cheese spread.  I don’t like sweet stuff on my bagels, and the pink color just put me off.  But since I made this, I had to try it, and I loved it.  It wasn’t as sweet as I was afraid it would be, and had a deliciously fresh strawberry flavor.  Plus, it’s super easy to make.

I still have no plans to try the pink stuff from the store.

The first time I made the bagels, they stuck to the parchment paper.  The second time I made them I drained them on a rack and then put them on parchment paper, and they still stuck.  This time, I drained them on a rack and then put them on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal (which I think is how the Saveur bagel recipe went) and it worked great.  No sticking at all.  So that’s how I’ll do things next time.

I also splurged and bought lox to try lox and cream cheese on bagels.  I have no traditional vices (books, are books a vice?), so I figure occasionally buying expensive ingredients won’t hurt anything.  But this bagel experimenting is adding up.

The lox was good, but not so good that I plan to buy it again.  However, it was worth it to me to have my curiosity satisfied.  I planned to take a picture of the lox bagel, but didn’t remember until I was halfway through eating.  Oh well, it wasn’t pretty anyway.

Bagel Success


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A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, before I had a blog, I tried to make bagels.  I think it was with the recipe from Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day.  They were not a dismal failure, but neither was I inspired to ever make bagels again.  So I didn’t.

Until last week.  I ran across a recipe for homemade bagels in the Saveur cookbook I had borrowed from the library, and decided to make them.  That recipe requires an overnight rest of the dough.  I have not been good at remembering to put stuff out the night before lately.  I haven’t baked much  anything with sourdough in months as a consequence.

I forgot to make the bagel dough the night before I wanted bagels.

So the next day I was trawling the internet for a similar recipe that didn’t require an overnight rest, and ran across Bruce Ezzell’s bagel recipe (which has a 4 to 12 hour rest).  It also won points for suggesting the substitution of molasses (which I have plenty of) for barley malt syrup (which I did not have).

The bagels were good.  Even without the barley malt syrup, which is supposed to  give them the authentic bagel flavor, they were really good.  The four hours of fermentation really did their job.

Boiling and then baking anything is a bit of a pain.  It’s an extra step, and messy.  My previous batch of bagels didn’t turn out well enough to merit the extra fuss.  These, however, I plan to make again.

Besides the substitution of molasses for barley malt syrup, the only change I made was to make the bagels from 3 oz. balls of dough, not 4 oz.  I don’t know how many the recipe made at that size, I didn’t count, but I’d guess around 17 or 18.  They’re all gone now, however many there were.

I did have one problem.  I remove20150128_210534d the bagels from the boiling water and put them on half-sheet pans lined with parchment paper, as the recipe author recommended.  They stuck to the paper, and I had a very hard time getting them off without leaving the bottom crust behind on the paper, or paper bits stuck to the bottom of the bagel.  It might be because I used the parchment paper from Dollar Tree, I don’t know.  Next time I will drain them on racks before baking, though, as the Saveur recipe recommends.

I also still intend to try the Saveur recipe, eventually, when I can actually remember to do the overnight part.

Easy Pancake Recipe


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I recently bought self-rising flour so that my daughter could use it in baking recipes that call for it.  It streamlines things, with less measuring.  This is the girl who takes an hour, plus cooking time, to make muffins.

Then I tried it in my favorite pancake recipe, which claims to taste like IHOP pancakes.  I don’t know, I thought they were better.   To me, IHOP pancakes have a slight whang to them, like pancakes from mix.

Using self-rising flour worked great.  I have also made a couple of other changes over time to make the recipe taste better/work better for me.

Easy Pancakes (click for PDF)


1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 1/3 cups milk*
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1.Mix the milk and vinegar together and let sit for 5 minutes.
2.Stir together the self-rising flour and sugar in a medium mixing bowl.
3.Mix egg with the sour milk, melted butter, and vanilla.
4.Add to flour mixture and stir until just until smooth.
5.Heat a greased griddle on medium heat. You can tell the griddle is hot enough when a drop of water flicked onto the griddle dances around.
6.Reduce heat slightly.
7.Using a measuring cup as a scoop, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle. Cook until bubbles rise to the surface of the batter and pop, leaving holes.
8.Flip the pancake and cook until the other side is golden brown.
9.Place the pancakes on a plate in a warm oven to keep them warm while the rest of the pancakes are cooking.

Serves 4, or maybe 6, or maybe 2. Depends on if you are feeding toddlers or lumberjacks.

* Note: The original recipe calls for buttermilk, and you may substitute buttermilk for the vinegar and milk. However, buttermilk is thicker than sour milk, and you may also have to add a few tablespoons of water if the batter is too thick.

Two Winter Bulletin Boards


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I recently decided to put up new bulletin boards at the church building.  The spring bulletin boards were still up in November, and I thought it was about time for a change.  I originally found both of these on Pinterest, but I added my own twists that I thought might be useful to others.


The original snowman board is here.  Our snowman bulletin board doubles as an attendance chart for the children’s class, with the children adding a different feature to the snowmen each time they come to class.  I traced three different sizes of paper plates onto construction paper to make the snowmen, though using the paper plates themselves would have been easier if we’d had enough of each size.  I drew one hat freehand and then traced it onto different colors of construction paper.  The final touch was a cotton ball stapled to the end of the hat for a pom-pom.

To streamline the process of adding pieces to the snowmen each week, I made a plastic baggie for each child containing the buttons (for eyes and buttons), twigs (for arms), and a construction paper carrot (nose).  We use glue dots to attach the pieces, except for the twigs which I thought might work better with strips of regular tape. The kids really enjoy adding to their snowman each week.


The original for the “God’s Love” board is here (second down).  It’s hard to tell, but it seems like the original has names on each of the mugs.  I decided to print a scripture out and put on each mug.  This was the fourth and final bulletin board I did, and my enthusiasm was flagging, but finding the scriptures about God’s love was exciting and made this a really meaningful project for me.

To make the mugs, I found a mug template online that I liked and enlarged it to a good size, then printed it directly on sheets of construction paper to be cut out.  The background is a snowman wrapping paper I found at Dollar Tree.  Wrapping paper is much cheaper than the paper sold specifically for bulletin board backgrounds.  Actually, Dollar Tree is also where I got the letters and the shiny border. These are the scriptures I used:

  • Romans 5:8
  • Psalm 103:11
  • Hebrews 13:5
  • 1 John 3:1a
  • Psalm 86:15
  • John 15:13
  • Isaiah 49:15
  • 1 John 4:9
  • Romans 8:38,39
  • Isaiah 41:13

I really encourage you to look them up even if you aren’t going to do the bulletin board, they’re amazing. Doing all of these bulletin boards, when I’d done a lifetime total of maybe two before, gave me a real appreciation for all of the Bible class teachers and other ladies out there who do new bulletin boards on a regular basis.


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