Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nesting gone wild

I knew it was only a matter of time before this started, and the time has come. I now look pregnant, and thus the incessant need to nest is underway. Let the games begin!

It started, as it always does, with cleaning/organizing. We need to clear out what is now the upstairs office so that it can become the nursery. This is not a large room, but we have a solid number of items in there. Mike's desk, our computer, our printer/scanner/copier, my yarn collection, and some dressy dresses that I don't wear that often but consume the entirety of the small closet.

The furniture is going to have to be moved to the downstairs guest room, also doubling as Henry's play room. This is a nice sized room, comparable to the other main bedrooms, but obviously I don't want the children and us on different levels. At least not yet. So this room has multi-purposes and is a nice addition to our first floor. My in-laws stay in there when they visit, and Hank plays in there. We also put guests coats in there when we host a dinner.

The problem is, it's already full. We have a futon in there, a nightstand, 3 bookcases (Mike and I are both bookworms), and Hank's toys. We're going to have to consolidate the bookcases to make space, and I'm not certain how we will do this, and it's making me twitchy. I also have some books up in our bedroom. *bites nails* I weeded the collection this weekend, and donated to our parish's rummage sale, but we still have a LOT of books. I'm contemplating buying some larger bookcases (so that we'll have less of them) and trying to fit them all in our bedroom, but I don't know if this will work. *sweats*

In the mean time, I thought I'd work on some things that I can do now. I wanted to get my yarn collection safely into some big storage bins so that I could move it more easily and no yarn-eating insects could wreck havoc with it, and I wanted to clean out the closet in the future nursery to make space for baby clothes.

Suddenly I had a eureka! moment. If I cleaned out our bedroom closet, maybe I could fit the yarn in there. But to do that, I'd also need to clean out the guest room closet, so that it could fit some electronic equipment we're saving but not currently using that was sitting in our closet. Makes perfect sense, right?

Away I go, tackling the guest room closet. Mike came in to find me waist deep in belly dance hip scarves, body lotion, shower gel and candles. I had this big basket in there filled with all sorts of surprises, none of which I've touched in years. Some of the lotion had even started to turn...colors.

Pretty soon, I had a garbage bag filled with (no nicer way to say this) crap, and Mike was eagerly hauling it out. I am blessed to have a very helpful and tidy husband. When I de-clutter, he rejoices and jumps in to help me.

As I moved to the mysterious top shelf that seemed to contain a mix of unused exercise DVD's, board games and inexplicably, a stethoscope, my pregnant nose kicked in.

"What's that smell, Honey?"

"Eggnog. I'm trying to burn through all these candles."

So, in our eggnog-scented house, Mike now moved that electronic equipment from our closet down to the emptied guest room closet shelf. It looks much tidier. Next, I moved on to our closet. Mike's clothes are hung up neat as pins. My side: not so much. I lugged up the maternity clothes, and set to work. I have a rule for closet cleaning: if I haven't worn it since last time I cleaned out the closet, into the donation bag it goes. Closet now clean and floor clean.

Hence, I fetched my yarn collection. Oh dear. This was shameful. I filled *2 GIANT BINS* with yarn, plus I had other kits and works-in-progress that I didn't put in there. I am banned from buying yarn until the baby goes to high school. But I was thrilled to move it out of the future nursery. I snapped the lids on, dragged them to the closet, and found...

That they don't fit. S*!@ I had to put them in Hank's closet. Oh well. At least everything is clean now.

Another thing that I do when I'm nesting is cook/bake. In early labor with Hank, I made pasta sauce from scratch. I also rearranged our kitchen cupboards, went to Mass, and received the sacraments of reconciliation and of the sick. It was a busy day.

This weekend, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. The problem with this plan is that I really don't bake. You see, I'm a terrible baker. I mean, just awful. It seems to require more precision than cooking, and so often, my textures just don't come out right. But I figure, how do you get good at it unless you keep trying? Plus, being bad at something has never stopped me before! I plowed ahead.

I dragged Hank to the store to acquire real butter, chocolate chips and white flour, and dove in while Mike watched the NFL playoffs. First, I laid the butter out, just like Betty Crocker suggests. One must have perfectly softened butter, correct? Otherwise, she says it will affect the outcome of the cookies, and I've made enough bad cookies in my life to take her seriously. Too hard? Bad. Too soft? Also bad. I took a stick out and left it for an hour while we ate our pizza and watched football.

As halftime dawned, I darkened the kitchen door. My butter was pristine! You could gently leave a fingerprint in it but otherwise not squeeze it at all. Perfect. I grab my recipe. Right. I need a cup of butter, which is 2 STICKS. Blast! I had one perfect stick and one too cold stick. I murmured a bad word and carefully placed the second stick in the microwave. I sweated over the number panel. 10 seconds? 15? I watched it carefully as it spun, and took it out right away. It was too soft, so I said another bad word. But I used it anyway because I was tired of poring over butter.

In it went into the mixer, along with many of the other fixins.' Hank hit the start button, and away it spun. We didn't encounter any trouble until the recipe said to "stir in" the remaining ingredients. Well, I put them in the mixer and mixed them in there. Needless to say, I don't think I was supposed to do that, and this is why baking is a near occasion of sin for me. Any little mishap, and it seems that the texture reaches disastrous proportions. My cookie dough now looked like it had spent a week in the Sahara with nary a drop of refreshment. It was all dry and crumbly. Although the recipe didn't tell me to do this (making me very nervous) I mixed in some water and at least then it *looked* normal. I was already feeling discouraged, but Mike's team seemed to have shown signs of life based on my painful sacrifice in the kitchen, so perhaps I was performing some sort of public good.

Next I had to spoon the cookies onto the cookie sheet, and this is another bone of contention for me. The recipe ways to "drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto the greased cookie sheet." Sounds so easy, no? BUT. Do they have to be round? How far apart should the little balls be? Mine always seem to run together and turn into cookie blobs.

By this point I was losing my patience, so I scooped them on there by the tablespoonful with abandon. Naturally, they did turn into cookie blobs. Actually, "misshapen mounds" may be a more accurate description. And I also worried that I let them get too brown. Oh well. By that point, I didn't really care.

I will say, once they cooled (and I created separations between them with my spatula and pried them off the sheet), they didn't look quite so frightening, and they taste quite good. We've been whipping through them at dessert time. But seriously. What am I doing wrong? Does anybody have any baking tips for me? I really want to get better at it, and this is part of my learning process. :)

So, that was my nesting weekend. Next stop: cleaning out the storage. That'll be a doozy, since it inherited many of the items that used to live in the closets. Also, paint and rug color selection. This is big, people!!


  1. You sound worst than me. I bake one thing well and that's brownies. Everything else is a major mishap. I recommend going the easy route and doing the box. Usually comes out half decent and if you just tweak it a bit no one tends to realize they aren't from scratch. Put a few nuts, or caramel drizzles on them and everyone things your amazing.

  2. The spreading-out happens because the batter is too wet -- like when you melt your butter or add water. Even though the dough seems really dry, resist the urge to add water -- that makes it spread. Next time, add a little less flour, and then add the rest bit by bit until it's the texture you want -- barely able to be smooshed into a little ball to go on your cookie sheet. Crumbly is normal.

    Of course, you might have this problem if you forgot eggs, too. There, I cannot help you.

  3. Shelia,

    This really helped, thank you! I did remember the egg, so that wasn't the problem. :) I think I just over-mixed it. If I had just stirred by hand, it likely would have been dry but still manageable. I'll try it again and let you know how it goes!

  4. This is the recipe I use, which lets you use right-from-the-fridge cold butter, like you would with pie crust dough. The dough is definitely dry & crumbly, and that's fine. No greasing needed, either, though parchment paper isn't a bad idea. (I skip it and just get them off the sheets and onto the cooling rack quickly.)

    Supposedly, these are REALLY good if you wait 24-36 hours between making the dough and baking the cookies. Usually, I bake about half the dough right away, and do the 2nd half a day or two later, after the first batch has been eaten, and I really can't tell the difference. This time, I might wait -- I just finished mixing the batter a minute ago, and popped it in the fridge, and I'm going to try to wait for a day before I make them.

    Anyway, here it is:

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1/2 cup sugar
    3/4 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
    1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
    1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten [I always just leave it cold]
    7 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2 inch chunks [I just use a little less than a cup of regular chocolate chips.]

    1) Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

    2) Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars on low speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 3 minutes. [I think it takes a good bit longer than 3 minutes.] Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

    3) Add the vanilla and egg and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until fully incorporated. Do not overbeat. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

    4) On low speed, add the flour mixture. Beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate chunks and mix until they are just incorporated. If using a hand mixer, use a wooden spoon to stir them in. [whatever, I ignore this!] Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.

    5) Preheat oven to 350. Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Spoon the dough using a cookie scooper 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. (makes about 23 3-inch round cookies)

    6) Bake for 11-13 minutes [it’s 13 in my oven] or until golden brown around the edges, turning the sheets front to back and switching racks halfway through.

  5. I find that the secret is not having too soft of butter. Also, I love my cookie dough scoop and highly recommend the purchase to anyone. It helps you scoop the perfect amount of dough in the perfect shape! I just love it. Here is the one that I have: http://www.amazon.com/1055893-Grips-Medium-Cookie-Scoop/dp/B0000CDVD2

    Oh, and my favorite recipe? The one on the Toll House semi-sweet chocolate package. It's the absolute best!

  6. Good recipe suggestions! And Bridge, the cookie scooper idea? LOVE! Thank you!


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