Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn Chipper's

Autumn is here and that means it's time to bake some cookies! So why not take advantage of the flavours of the season?

This recipe is based on one from the gals at Mennonite Girls Can Cook, but of course I made my own adjustments! I reduced the brown sugar slightly, added some more spices, toasted almonds and upped the quantity of chocolate chips!

The other most noticeable ingredient difference between their recipe and mine is that I use Butternut Squash rather than canned or fresh pumpkin.

Canned pumpkin is readily available this time of year, but it can vary greatly in price. I recently saw a tweet from a Canadian cookbook writer lamenting the cost of a can was $4.99! I have no idea what brand or where they were shopping, but I suspect it was an organic store as most major grocers have it for under $3/can in the weeks leading up to Canadian Thanksgiving (2nd Monday of October).

But why spend the money on a canned product when a cheaper, fresh alternative like squash is so readily available? Why not take a little extra time now and cook up some squash to freeze for use throughout the year as a baking ingredient or a vegetable?

NOTE: When the spices are added, you can NOT taste ANY difference or notice any difference in texture! It is purely a matter of choice whether you use pumpkin or squash for this recipe or any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.
Once it is cooked and mashed, it is a simple substitute for any recipe that calls for pumpkin. I prefer using Butternut Squash as it has less waste than many other squash varieties and also has a great texture and flavour when cooked. It is very simple to prepare either for eating right away as a vegetable or to freeze for later use in baking or as a side dish. The peel is thin and can be removed with a vegetable peeler or a paring knife. Once you've peeled, seeded and cubed the squash - give it a rinse in a colander, then place in a dutch oven or large casserole dish. Add a bit of water and a dash of salt. Cover and bake in the oven at 350 till tender (easily pierced with a fork). I generally do 2 or 3 squash at the same time but the quantity is up to you. Cooking time will vary depending on quantity but check after about 20-25 minutes. Drain any excess fluid and mash. Cool slightly and divide into individual 1/2 cup portions. I put the servings in zippered snack bags, flatten and seal - then lay on a cookie sheet to freeze before transferring to a zippered freezer bag to store in freezer for later use. Freezing and storing them flattened takes up far less space. The 1/2 cup portions are perfect for a single vegetable serving or to calculate how much you will need for any recipe.

Now back to the cookies!

I gave samples of this cookie to several people and it got great reviews!

Autumn Chipper's

1 1/2 cups block margarine, softened to room temp
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves 
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 cups cooked and mashed squash or 1 15 oz can pure pumpkin 
2 cups quick oats
3 cups dark mini chocolate chips (I prefer Foley's*)
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted**

- Beat together margarine and sugars till light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and combine thoroughly.
- Combine the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
- Alternately add flour mixture and pumpkin - beginning and ending with the flour mix. Beat well.
- Add oatmeal, combine just to blend.
- Lastly mix in chocolate chips and toasted almonds.
- Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls, onto parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 350ยบ for 15-18 minutes.
- Remove immediately to cooling rack. Makes about 10 - 11 dozen.
- Cookies freeze well.

* Foley's can be found in small bags in some grocery stores in Canada but I prefer to buy it in quantity at Costco. A 5kg box is generally around $20 but SO worth it!! The flavour is dark, pure and intense! If you can't find Foley's, try to find a really good quality dark mini chocolate chip.

** To toast Almonds: place almonds on a microwave safe plate and set to medium high for about 4-5 minutes - stirring every minute or so till toasted. These can burn very easily so watch carefully! Allow to cool completely before adding to the cookie batter.



Here are links to my other "pumpkin" recipes:
Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Ice Cream (one of many variations to this ice cream recipe)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Somewhere Between A Luddite And A Techie

There was a time in our not so distant past that we had to wait for the mail to be delivered to find out what was going on beyond our doorsteps or our neighbourhood. It could take weeks, months or even years to learn of events in far off places.

A telegram, brought either good news or horrible news. The same with a long distance phone call. Both were expensive ways to communicate.

Now, we live in a world of technology with virtually instant communication. We can email, text and message almost anyone anywhere and often get a response within seconds. We can watch live coverage of what is happening almost anywhere in the world. We can get answers to questions on practically any topic just by doing an internet search.

How much we embrace technology is a personal choice, but it is really pretty hard to completely resist all that technology has to offer. Some are in whole hog and have to have all the latest tech gadgets. Some give it a wait and see how everyone else likes it. Some barely dip their toes.

My parents never owned an answering machine, VCR or a DVD player. They only got cable in the 1990's. They were truly part of a fading generation - back to a simpler time.

Some of my senior friends have jumped on the technology train and love being on the internet.

We all know of at least a couple of people who do everything on their tablets and smart phones - no cable connection, home computer/laptop or even a landline phone. For them, it is all about mobility.

On the other hand, an acquaintance refuses to get a computer or a cell but loves having some of the premium channels that cable TV has to offer! They haven't got a recording device so they try to adjust a social life around what they want to see!

To each, their own.

I've had cable TV since about 1980. I got my first VCR in 1987. My first answering machine was purchased later the same year.

It was fall 2006 before I got my first computer. (I'm now on my third one!) I got an mp3 player and a digital camera in the following years.

For some reason, I've never gotten around to buying a DVD player. I own several DVD's but just watch them on my computer. I'll probably get one at some point, but it isn't a "must have" for me.

I got my first e-reader two years ago and love the ability to adjust the font to a size I want. Not everything I want to read is available in e-editions, so I still buy some books or use my library card from time to time.

This summer, I ventured a bit further into the techie world, as I bought a Kindle Fire HD. With it, I can continue to read books but will also be able to keep in touch a bit easier via email and social media if I am travelling. (I'll write more about my experience with the Kindle's in a future post)

I've come a long way in the land of tech, but I certainly haven't embraced all of what a true techie would want! As I expressed in my last post (Unexpected Disconnect), I've no desire for a cell phone or a Blackberry. They are so tiny that I really doubt I'd be able to use one effectively without getting unduly frustrated with the screens and touch-pads. Nor am I willing to deal with sorting out the complexities of various contract and payment options for service. I highly doubt that I'd use it enough to justify the expense.

I've nothing against those who embrace the smart phone technology. It certainly has its place in our modern world.

Unfortunately, with all of the advances in technology, the art of human interactions and conversations seems to be lost on many. They don't seem to understand that most of us don't want to hear their side of a personal or business call while out in public. Or that there is real value in talking face to face with someone, sending a message with more than 140 characters or ... gasp ... writing and mailing a real letter in an envelope! This is becoming more of a challenge as some schools aren't even teaching cursive anymore. Personally, I have a hard time reading any cursive and my own cursive was always a disaster -  but I digress.

Don't get me wrong. I love being able to communicate with friends and family throughout the world with technology. I've used abbreviations, emoticons and hashtags in tweets and messages.

As much as I love my technology, there is so much more to life! Things to be experienced and learned beyond the tech gadgets. Just by turning off the technology - even for a little while.

I'm not suggesting you revert to a luddite - only that you step away from the electronics once in a while to see what is beyond your devices of choice.

So, why not give it a try? Turn off the devices while you're on the bus, in line at the coffee shop, the grocery store or in any public place.

Slow down and take the time to observe your surroundings.

Enjoy the view, the scents, the flavours and the atmosphere.

Have a face to face conversation with the cashier, the server or with someone nearby. Acknowledge the person and don't forget to say please and thank you.

You just may be amazed at how much better your day is when you step back from the tech and observe and/or have a bit of conversation with a real person. It may make their day a little brighter. You may make a new friend.

The world is truly bigger and more spectacular than our technology will ever be.

There is a happy medium between luddites and techies.

It's a balancing act - but so worth it!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Unexpected Disconnect

Love them or hate them, it seems like almost everyone has a cell or mobile device for calls and texting these days.

I've never had the desire to own a cell phone. They are far too small for me to even see decently. Heck, I have enough trouble navigating my mp3 player let alone trying to figure out how to make a call or text on a cell!

I only switched to a cordless home phone about 3 years ago. Luckily, it came with talking caller ID and I can dial it without visual aids - but I do have to wear my special reading glasses or at least use a magnifying glass to read the display screen. It took a while to get used to it, but admittedly, It is a nice convenience to be cordless and the speaker phone function works quite well. The phone came with an answering machine system built into the main dock so at least I don't have to pay my phone provider for a message box.

With rare exceptions, there is nothing that important that people can't leave me a message or send me an email.

However. there was an incident about a year ago that a cell would have come in handy though.

One Saturday morning, I was doing some research online in between doing some baking. I'd been using the computer sporadically all morning and went to check another page. I got the dreaded "webpage can not be displayed"! HUH? I checked a couple other pages and same thing. I then realized that the little icon symbol for my connection (in the bottom right hand corner of my screen) was showing an error.

Okay, maybe a cord had come loose. I reluctantly crawled under the desk and checked all the cords. Nothing was wrong. I picked up the phone to call my service provider and .... NO signal! I then checked the cable - it was also gone!


Time to check with my neighbours to see if they had service. 

My neighbor, across the hall, had full service so I used her phone to call my provider. After waiting on hold for a few minutes - then explaining the situation, I was told they would try to fix it from their end. If not, someone would be out later that day or Sunday morning. I left my neighbours number in case they needed to contact me. I also made it clear to them that the front door intercom system of our building was connected to the phone so they wouldn't get any answer if they tried to buzz my apartment.

Back in my apartment, the only connection I had with the outside world was my radio.

It was an odd feeling to be so out of touch. No phone, internet or cable.

It is one thing to be away from your devices by choice. I've gone away on day trips, weekends and even my trip to Mesa - all without my computer. Okay, I've taken my mp3 and Kindle on overnight trips - even though they aren't connected to the internet - so I did have some technology with me.

However, this was different. To have them sitting right in front of you and not be able to use them is disconcerting to say the least.

I had intended to do a fair bit of research that weekend but without internet, that really wasn't going to be possible. With the baking in progress, I couldn't head out to the library either. Instead, I spent the rest of the day working in my kitchen, doing a bit of writing, listening to the radio and reading a mystery novel. It was okay, but just not how I had planned or wanted to spend it.

Sunday morning dawned with still no service. I did see a service truck in front of our building about 11 but the guy left shortly after he arrived. I checked with my neighbour and she'd heard nothing from them.

I used her phone to call my provider and was told .. wait for it ... that the guy had buzzed my apartment but no one answered so he left!

Well duh!! Of course no one answered! I reminded them that the intercom is connected to the phone service! Apparently the guy hadn't noticed that on the report! They were able to reach him by phone and he came back. 

Turned out I wasn't the only one with issues in the area. There were several people with the same problem. The repair guy eventually found the problem and service was restored by early afternoon. But you really have to wonder about a service guy who doesn't clue into the intercom and phone being linked!

Similar situations of unexpectedly losing service, have also happened to friends of mine - One lost all service for three days and another for four! It truly is a shock to the our systems to not have our normal ways of communicating. We were all in withdrawal to some degree and feeling like we were missing something in the real world.

As it turned out, I hadn't missed a lot in the 26 hours I'd been without service. I'd listened to the news on the radio so I knew the world was still out there.

I had, however been missed! If I'm going to be away for more than a day, I usually let at least a couple friends or family members know in case of emergency.

When I finally got online again, I had at least four messages from friends and family - wondering where I was. Why was I AWOL? If I wasn't home, why wasn't my answering machine on? Why hadn't I told them I'd be away? Why hadn't I played my turn on some online games?

I wasn't absent by choice - and a little disconnect for whatever reason is a good reality check for how dependant we have all become on technology.

As much as I missed my technology, I still don't want a cell phone - but it sure was nice to be missed!!