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Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Traditions Include Homemade Chocolate Eggs

  

 Easter memories often include goodies from overflowing Easter baskets, exciting egg hunts even if still wearing winter coats, as well as the fun of dying and finding ways to eat all those colorful eggs.Traditions are wonderful to pass along, especially if they include old-fashioned recipes pulled out only for the holidays.

Three Pennsylvania Dutch Easter egg recipes are below with all the sweet, creamy, chocolate goodness you would expect with a "Grandmom" type recipe.

CHOCOLATE COVERED CREAM EGGS














2 lbs. confectioners' sugar  (1 pound = 4 cups so need 8 cups)
1 stick or 1/2 cup butter or margarine
8 oz. package cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate coating wafers or semi-sweet chocolate chips (start with 2 cups)
Vegetable shortening (1 tbsp. added for each 2 cups melting wafers)

DIRECTIONS
Soften the stick butter at room temperature or about 20 seconds in the microwave.
Soften the cream cheese at room temperature for about 30 seconds in the microwave (take out of the foil packaging before putting in the microwave).
Cream together the butter, cream cheese and the vanilla extract.
Gradually add the confectioner's sugar and blend to mix.

To shape into eggs:
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Have some extra confectioner's sugar handy to dust your palms since the mix will be sticky. With your hands, dip out and shape into little balls, roll in palms of your hands till firm, and then roll to form an oval shape. Place on the cookie sheet leaving some space between them. The recipe said to put the baking pan in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Personally, I don't have room in my refrigerator, so I use my chest freezer. I find that if frozen they hold together better for dipping into the melted chocolate.

To coat with melted chocolate:
This is the part where it is easy to blow it. Chocolate is not forgiving with how it is melted. If it is melted at too high a temperature or if there is any moisture whatsoever in the bowl it will seize up and be useless.
Some people use the double boiler method of having the chocolate in one pot on top of another pot containing simmering water, stirring constantly.
The method I prefer is to use my microwave. The model I use is a small counter top type with a maximum output of 700 watts. I put 2 cups of melting wafers and 1 tbsp. shortening in a microwave safe bowl. I heat at 70% power for 2 minutes, stir, heat another 30 seconds at 70% power, stir till smooth. The reduced power isn't written anywhere as a rule, it just seems to work best in my experience. You will have to experiment with your own model.

Leave the candy eggs in the freezer till you are ready. You don't want them softening while waiting for the chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, don't fool around getting the eggs dipped.
Using two spoons, drop one egg at a time into the chocolate, dip it out with one spoon and transfer it to the other spoon letting the excess chocolate drip off. Lay the coated egg onto another baking sheet or plate lined with wax paper and it will harden as it cools. Don't drop more than one egg into the melted chocolate because the extras will soften while waiting and may lose their shape.

Depending on their size, this batch makes about 4 dozen
Store your eggs in a covered container and keep in the refrigerator.

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE COVERED EASTER EGGS














1 lbs. confectioners' sugar  (1 pound = 4 cups)
1 stick or 1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter 
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate coating wafers or semi-sweet chocolate chips (start with 1 cup, you can always melt more)
Vegetable shortening (1/2 tbsp. added for each cup melting wafers)

DIRECTIONS
Soften the stick butter at room temperature or about 20 seconds in the microwave.
The easiest way to measure peanut butter is to use one of those plastic push-up cups that are composed of two pieces where one fits inside the other to push out the contents.
Cream together the softened butter, peanut butter and vanilla.
Gradually add the confectioner's sugar and blend well.

Follow the directions in the Cream Egg recipe for shaping and chocolate coating the eggs.
Depending on size this batch makes about 2 - 3 dozen.
Store in a covered container and keep in the refrigerator.

COCONUT CHOCOLATE COVERED EASTER EGGS














3/4 cup mashed potatoes (cook potatoes and mash with just enough milk to be able to mash the lumps out)
2 cups fresh or dried flaked coconut (sweetened or unsweetened is up to you)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Chocolate coating wafers or semi-sweet chocolate chips (start with 1 cup, you can always melt more)
Vegetable shortening (1/2 tbsp. added for each 1cup melting wafers)

Mix together the mashed potatoes, coconut, salt and vanilla. Gradually mix in the sugar. Cover the bowl and store in the refrigerator overnight.

Follow the directions in the Cream Egg recipe for shaping and chocolate coating the eggs.
Depending on size this batch makes about 2 - 3 dozen.
Store in a covered container and keep in the freezer.

I had a hard time with this recipe. I had used leftover mashed potatoes from a meal and I think it was because they had been mashed with an egg, butter and milk, that even being in the fridge overnight to thicken up, my candy mix was still too wet. I compensated by adding additional confectioner's sugar and a bit more coconut till the mix had a stiffer consistency. I gave up trying to form egg shapes with my hands, it was way too sticky. So I just used two spoons as with cookie dough and plopped little mounds on a wax paper lined baking sheet. The mounds sank somewhat so my candy looked more like coconut wafers. Though once they were in the freezer for an hour, I could  then shape them with my hands into an egg or ball shape. But they still turned out tastefully good, just like a Mounds Bar, so definitely worth making again. I plan on experimenting in the future with the potatoes. I'm going to use baking potatoes since they are drier than typical white potatoes, and use just enough milk to be able to mash the lumps.

 HAPPY EASTER!










Monday, March 18, 2013

You Don't Get to Say I'm Bored





"I'm bored is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you've seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you're alive is amazing, so you don't get to say 'I'm bored'".
                                                                Louis C.K.

Comedians make us laugh but often their humor is filled with satire and frustration with people and the world in which we live. How many times have you been with people who if you had to describe them in one word, it would be 'drainers'. People who you just want to shake some life into, and maybe if you scream loud enough, something of what you say will sink in.

Granted, by late winter, seemingly endless gray, dismal days leave many of us feeling like a deflated balloon. The excitement of the holidays are past, the credit card bills have accumulated, life is back to the humdrum of normal. This is where the attitude cup is either half-full or half-empty.

For some, just thinking of spring boosts one's mood with excitement over new gardening plans, new vacation spots, and simply new life. Such personality types utilize the quiet of the winter months to calm down and reflect. For others, the cup is half-empty and they seem to always find something to pull them down, be it the weather, the news, the same old, same old.

Feeling productive, useful and needed are the keys to a healthy mental state. Disability or retirement can easily result in low spirits if one's identity had always been associated with a job title. Once that is in the past, a person may feel left behind, cut off from the familiar social groups and perhaps forgotten. Unless there is a rediscovery of one's passions and interests there is a real risk of depression. For anyone who doesn't believe the holistic view of how the mind and body are connected should live with someone feeling so despondent. Rarely feeling good can send one onto the merry-go-round of specialists, testing for one ailment after another, often with the results coming back normal. Eventually, bodily systems may break down into some form of chronic disease, since a depressed mental state pulls down one's immune system.

The solution is so very obvious, yet people often just don't see it for themselves. A person that wallows on their own problems just sinks deeper. Stop focusing on yourself! Get up, get out, get with it!

Fill your world with music, color, something to take care of, books and/or puzzles, a craft, volunteer for a cause important to you, engage in a form of spirituality, and get some exercise.


1. Music is a must to drift away into the past, reflect on life's loves, have a good cry, calm down anxieties, sing along and/or dance (you are never too old to sway, tap or dance as though no one is watching).




2. Color is a great stimulation and mood lifter.
If you love the outdoors, bring the outdoors inside to you. Bring life into your home.
Taking care of plants is beneficial in many ways. They are beautiful to look at, even bond with. They improve the quality of the air. By February or March you can bring twigs of dogwood, forsythia or cherry inside and the temperature change will fool them into going into bloom. 
 
Add new color to your decor. Paint a room, learn to stencil on either the walls or pillows, add a few pretty lap blankets or pillows to your couch, change the curtains, rearrange the pictures on the walls or even paint an original.


 
3. Read a book. It's a shame people don't read like in the past. Television really does make the mind lazy. I think TV is great entertainment when you are too tired to think about anything but it tends to deaden the mind as well.
I've always been aware that as long as I read I can remember how to spell. I used to be able to just look at a word and recognize whether it was correct. I find lately I have to look it up more and more often. Maybe it goes with age, but reading definitely keeps the mind sharp.


4. Get a pet, something to need you. Even a fish needs care. There are so many pets of all kinds who need homes. If you are older and are afraid a pet would outlive you opt for a senior pet. You're probably saving its life if from a shelter. An older pet is already housebroken, usually knows its manners and is out of the destructive stage.

  5. Plant a vegetable garden and enjoy the rewarding benefits of growing your own food. Get creative with container gardening by arranging flower pots around the doorway. Gardening is very therapeutic for the mind and body as it helps one connect with nature, get some exercise and relax.







6.  Do a puzzle. Puzzles can really pass the time. Whether its word games, crossword puzzles, or an actual 1000 piece puzzle, they are good for your brain. Use it or lose it. One must problem solve and think to keep the faculties sharp. To watch TV is simply mind dumbing entertainment.


7. Always have some sort of project started. You probably learned to do crafts or sewing projects when young and then with a busy family and/or job they just got left in the dust. Sewing, be it hand sewing such as knitting, embroidery, or machine sewing, is so very therapeutic. Completed handcrafts offer so much satisfaction when completed and are wonderful, appreciated gifts to pass on to loved ones. I look at my wall hangings and am in awe of the time and patience it took to finally finish.

8. Volunteer or periodically get together with someone.
Humans just aren't meant to be alone. Even introverts need social contact now and then. We need to feel like we have accomplished something in a day and feel productive. Especially hard for parents of grown children or retirees is the lack of purpose in life. Once you have time you'll be amazed how good it feels to offer your talents without the need to be paid. Just knowing you made someone smile or life a little easier is enough to put a smile on your own face.
Having a sense of community is one good reason being a member of a church or local organization is so emotionally rewarding. You get out, you know what is going on in the neighborhood, and you have a social network should you need help yourself.


9. Learn how to use a computer. Older folks are often very intimidated by new technology. But learning how to use e-mail and social media sites like Facebook or Google+ are great ways to connect with the outside world, children and grandchildren.







10. Start feeding the birds and get a bird identification book. It is very rewarding to watch the wild bird activity through the comfort of your warm home on a blustery day. Once you can identify the different types, you will learn their habits and migration patterns throughout the seasons. Even more fun for your viewing is to set up a bird bath as well. If you have an outdoor outlet, there are types with a heater for use in the winter. Just be sure you get a type that is lightweight enough that you can handle tipping the bowl.


11. Play with your food. Planning and preparing meals can be tiresome when hurried at the end of a busy day. But if your time is now your own, it can really be fun and creative to play around in the kitchen. Healthy eating is very important and to get in the habit of sitting down with others to eat is not only emotionally healthy for everyone, but an important part of connecting with family and friends.

12. Move your body, stretch out your back, something.You'll be amazed how good it feels to just release tension in the back and neck. Jobs today require far too much time trapped at a desk, resulting in poor posture which often leads in the need for a periodic trip to a chiropractor to get things back in alignment. Many aches and pains are the result of just not moving the body enough.
It does a world of good to feel good about yourself. 
If you feel good it shows to those around you just by how you carry yourself.

Absolutely wonderful words of wisdom:

"As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being.  If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable? But suppose you could answer, “It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.” How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god? And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”
~ Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are