Category Archives: Personal Life

Adventures in Making Lembas Bread

Have you ever read a book that described fictional foods you desperately wished you could try? I blogged about this topic in detail a few months ago. Recently, I decided to finally try the closest thing to real Lembas bread that exists on our planet since the elves left Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

Not only is this recipe simple, it uses ingredients that are very common. You might have all of them in your kitchen already!  Not having to shop for obscure ingredients that I probably won’t use in any other dishes was one of the main reasons why I chose this particular recipe to try. I bake pretty infrequently (as you’ll hear about below), so I generally only buy seasonings, spices, and other things that I can use in multiple ways in the kitchen.

I’m copying over the ingredients and instructions into this post so that they’ll still exist somewhere if the site I linked to above ever goes down. Do click on over for the nutrition information and for a gorgeous picture of the final product, though.

If you want to know my detailed thoughts on making this recipe and how I’d change it in the future, keep reading.

Ingredients

    • 2 1/2 cups of flour
    • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
    • 8 tablespoons (or 1 stick) of cold butter
    • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
    • 2/3 cup of milk or heavy cream (or more, if necessary)
    • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

 

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celcius (425 degrees Fahrenheit).
2) Mix the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
3) Add the butter and mix with a fork or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles fine granules.
4) Add the sugar and cinnamon, and mix them thoroughly into the mixture.
5) Add the milk/cream and vanilla and stir them in with a fork until a nice, thick dough forms.
6) Roll the dough out about 1/2 in thickness.
7) Cut out 3-inch squares and transfer the dough to a cookie sheet.
8) Criss-cross (DO NOT cut all the way) each square from corner-to-corner with a knife.
9) Bake for about 12 minutes or more (depending on the thickness of the bread) until it is set and lightly golden.(the recipe makes about 10-12 pieces of lembas)

The first time I try any recipe, the only substitutions I make are to replace any milk and milk products in it with foods that won’t cause any allergic reactions for me. It’s important to know what something is supposed to taste like before you fiddle around with the ingredients too much.

I used vegan butter instead of traditional butter and almond milk as a replacement for the milk/heavy cream. If you consume dairy products, I’d love to know how this turns out with them.

The dough did feel slightly dry when I was rolling it out. That made it a little challenging to keep the dough together when I was cutting it into pieces. When I make this recipe again, I’d like to see how it turns out with a full cup of almond milk. I suspect that will be just enough additional liquid to solve the minor issues I had with getting the dough ready to be baked.

As I mentioned above, I don’t regularly bake stuff like bread or sweets. My supply of brown sugar had dried out, and I didn’t know that was the case until I’d reached that section of the directions. It was slightly challenging to mix that ingredient into the dough thoroughly. The little brown speck you see in the final product was a result of that.

Next time I’ll use fresh brown sugar and won’t have that problem. Raisins might be a nice addition to it as well. Despite my minor problems with the dough, the final product tasted delicious. It is definitely something I’ll be making again.

I know that my tastebuds have changed since I started eating a low sugar diet, but the combination of cinnamon, maple syrup, vanilla, and brown sugar made me think of it as a dessert.

Keep in mind that this isn’t as sweet as a typical dessert, but it does have a sweetness and chewiness to it that made it an appealing snack.

The Lembas bread I made two days ago has been keeping well so far. It honestly tastes even better after it’s had a day or two to rest. I love non-fussy recipes like that.

As for whether or not it will sustain you on a long journey or vex the Smeagols in your life, only time will tell. 😉

3 Embarrassing Things I’ve Learned From Books

Today I have three embarrassing stories to share with you.

Before I dive into them, let me explain a few things about my childhood to the new readers of my blog.

I grew up in a series of small towns and rural communities in the United States. I was also homeschooled for the first several years of my education. While the Internet has technically existed since before I was born, it wasn’t until I was older that it became at all well-known. In fact, I was in high school before my family finally bought a computer that could surf the web.(Based on how much I begged them to do this, I’m going to take the credit for it, too. LOL!)

My parents were lovingly protective of their children. There were certain facts of life – and, as I like to joke, a particular English sweet as well – that they shielded us from until we were old enough to fully understand them.

Sometimes People Get Pregnant Before They Get Married

The time: Early 1990s

I should warn my sensitive readers that this section of today’s post post contains two brief references to infant deaths.

My parents were married long before they conceived their kids. This was a pattern that was also repeated with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and the vast majority of the other adults in my community.

While I met some kids whose families didn’t fit that mold when I began attending public elementary school, my assumption about the world was still that this was a rare and very recent occurrence.

Due to all of these assumptions and previous experiences, I was endlessly confused by a line I read in a biography of Winston Churchill that gave a date for his parents’ wedding that was much less than nine months before his birth.

Shortly before I picked up this book, I’d read a Reader’s Digest article* about a premature baby who died despite many heroic efforts by her doctor and nurses to save her. My family knew at least one other family who had lost a baby this way.

Due to all of these facts, it didn’t make any sense to me that premature babies born in the 1980s and 1990s who had access to wonderful medical care would die while one who was born at a time when no one knew anything at all about keeping preemies alive would thrive in the 1870s.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time assuming that his parents had been unbelievably lucky and resourceful instead. There was even moment when I briefly wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Churchill had shared their amazing knowledge with their local doctor. Maybe he was the first doctor who ever began testing new theories on how to keep premature babies alive?

You really don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out that Winston Churchill was probably conceived months before his parents got married and not a micro-preemie at all.

*Yes, I literally read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I even read my mother’s nursing school textbooks!

The Meaning of Words Can Change Drastically Over Time

The time: Late 1990s

One year I decided to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Winter felt like it was never going to end, so I hoped I could pass the time by finally finding out what happened during Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures.

Suddenly, I began to notice references to “faggots” in these stories. Characters wandered into the woods to pick them up without any explanation of what was really going on there.

The first time it happened, I thought Tolkien was being vulgar, homophobic, and nonsensical. When I looked up that word in a dictionary, I was completely confused by the idea that such a hateful term was originally used as a unit of measure for wood.

As much as I enjoyed the storyline itself, I shuddered every time that word appeared again. Knowing that the author in no way meant it as a slur definitely helped, but I was still horrified by the thought of an innocent word being twisted into such a vile one over the centuries.

Turkish Delight Is Real

The time: The late 2000s

I briefly referred to this story a year and a half ago, but now it’s time to tell it in full.

The first time I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, my mouth watered at the thought of Turkish Delight.

Like talking animals and lamp posts growing in the middle of a magical forest, I assumed it was yet another piece of this fictional world that I’d always wish could become real.

It was hard to picture what Turkish Delight really was. Edmund loved it so much he betrayed his siblings for it, so I imagined it was the most delicious candy that would or could ever exist.

Occasionally, I’d try to picture it over the years for the sheer joy of challenging my imagination. Sometimes it was some sort of dairy-free gourmet chocolate that I could eat. At other times I imagined contradictory combinations of treats that couldn’t possibly exist in our world. For example, the softness of cotton candy combined with the warmth of hot fudge might have tempted me into climbing into a strange woman’s sleigh as a kid if Narnia was capable of producing such a thing.

I grew up, moved far away from home, and got married. Turkish Delight occupied less and less of my speculations about the world until one day I spotted a box of it sitting on a perfectly ordinary candy store shelf.

“Wait, Turkish Delight is REAL?” I said in a voice that was slightly too loud for the occasion.

“Yes,” my spouse said.

“Since when?” I asked. Another film version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe had come out a few years before then, so I assumed that the producers of it had taken a look at all of the wildly successful Harry Potter candies and decided to make this treat a reality as well.

When my spouse explained that this wasn’t a new type of sweet and that it had existed back when C.S. Lewis first wrote this series, my brain practically exploded. Why hadn’t Turkish Delight become commonplace in North America since this series was released? Was it a common treat in England? Why was this the first I was hearing about it?

I still don’t have the answers to those questions, but I smile every time I see it for sale at the store. Maybe one of my British readers will have answers for me someday!

What is one funny, embarrassing thing you’ve learned from a book?

What Is the Perfect Reading Spot?

Today’s topic is a lighthearted one.

My idea of the perfect reading spot has evolved over the years. I thought it would be fun to tell brief stories about where I used to love to read, why I chose those spots, why my preferences changed, and where I read today. Feel free to leave a comment with stories about your own favourite reading spots!

Behind the Couch

My grandparents were lucky enough to become grandparents at a fairly young age. They still had a house full of children when I was born, so they never bothered getting rid of a lot of the stuff that parents accumulate while raising kids. Many of the toys and books my mom and her siblings enjoyed were saved for us grandkids and, later on, the great-grandkids! My grandmother’s living room has a few large couches in it. They had, and still have, a cupboard filled with children’s books behind one of those couches.

Some of my earliest memories that have to do with reading involve climbing behind that couch and finding the same editions of classic fairy tales tucked back there that my mom read when she was a child. I read them over and over again while the adults chatted in the next room.

Underneath the Piano

As soon as I outgrew the small space between the couch and the cabinet full of books, I moved onto a spot beneath my grandparents’ piano. (Have you noticed the pattern of my early reading years yet?)

It didn’t look exactly like the piano in this photo, but it did have plenty of room to sprawl out underneath it if you were six or seven and unconvinced that social mores should always be followed.

The adults thought it was funny that I kept finding hiding spots to read.

I liked the fact that I was simultaneously close enough to listen in on their conversations while also in a place that was enough out of the way that no one would try to take my spot.

Reading underneath the piano also meant that I was a little closer to the kitchen. This came in handy when I read about some delicious treat that could only be found in a science fiction or fantasy book and needed to find a snack that actually existed here on Earth instead.

In a Beanbag Chair

My parents moved far away from our extended family when I was seven. We spent four years living in Laramie, Wyoming, and I’m convinced that I spent at least one of those years reading in a bean bag chair.

Where did that bean bag chair come from? I have no idea. It was probably a gift from someone, although I don’t remember what the occasion was or who might have given it to me.

It was the most comfortable reading spot I’d discovered at that point in my life, though. I sat in it over and over again until it finally wore out completely. My siblings and I were still homeschooled back then, so there were many hours of reading time to be had once our lessons were finished. This was even more true during the very long and snowy winter season in Laramie. There’s not much else to do other than read in the middle of a blizzard or when there are a few feet of snow on the ground.

I remember seeing the little white beads on the floor, so I think my beanbag chair either leaked or popped after a while. At any rate, this was roughly the same point in my life that my family switched from homeschooling to public schooling.

At the Library

By far my favourite part of attending public school was getting to visit the school library. They had hundreds of books there, and you could check them out as often as you wanted to.

I have a few memories of being in that library without my teacher. Maybe she gave a few of us permission to go there after we finished certain lessons early since our classroom was right down the hall from the library? At any rate, I read as much as I possible could there before the school year ended. If I could have visited during the summer, I would have.

Luckily, Laramie also had a well-stocked public library that my family visited regularly. My strongest memories of it are as follows:

  • Sitting in little wooden chairs and reading quietly while my siblings finished picking out what they wanted to borrow.
  • Looking at a sculpture of a large apple that had a big bite taken out of it. There may have been a worm crawling out of it, too. This piece of art was in the children’s section, and it utterly fascinated me.
  • Sneaking into the adult section of the library once to look around and being surprised when none of the adults noticed or cared. For some reason, I was convinced that the librarians would have disapproved of a child looking at books meant for grown-ups.

In a Hammock

My family moved back east where many of our extended family members lived when I was eleven.

The house we lived in had a large backyard full of trees that overlooked a lake. I bought a hammock with my savings, and my parents hung it between two trees.

I spent the next few years of my life reading out there whenever the weather was decent. It was such a peaceful place to read, especially when I occasionally glanced up and saw a neighbour swimming or boating past our yard. We’d never lived right next to a lake before, so it surprised me a little bit every single time that happened.

At the Park

The best reading years of my childhood began when I was fifteen and we moved away from the countryside and into a small town.

Our house was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the public library, so I could finally go to the library as many times each week as I wanted to  without having to ask anyone to drive me there.

This meant that I sometimes went every day in the summertime! There was a small park right next to the library, and a bigger park about halfway between our home and the library.

I spent a lot of time hanging out in them when the weather was nice. Our community was far too small to have festivals, parades, or other large events more than a few times a year, so it was nice to have all of that free entertainment at my fingertips.

On My Smartphone

These days I’m all about ebooks and reading online in general.

The beautiful thing about having a smartphone is that I always have something to read if I’m stuck in a waiting room or on a delayed subway car. Carrying around a book isn’t always practical, especially since you can’t always predict when you might suddenly have twenty minutes to spare and nothing to do during that time.

It’s also nice to have dozens of books at my fingertips. Whether I want something serious or lighthearted, it’s easy to find online if I don’t already have it in my virtual library.

Where do you like to read? How have those preferences changed over the years?

Minimalism and Valentine’s Day

After my last two posts, it might come as a surprise to some readers to be reminded that my spouse and I don’t actually celebrate Valentine’s Day. We’ve been married for over twelve years now, and we’ve never done anything out of the ordinary for this holiday other than possibly showing each other clever gifs and memes about it if we find some good ones.

No, this post isn’t going to be a rant against Valentine’s Day as a concept. I’m all for showing someone how you feel about them on February 14 as well as on every other day of the year. No one knows for sure how long they have left on this Earth, so I’d never discourage anyone from make their loved ones feel appreciated.  If celebrating Valentine’s Day in the traditional way with chocolates, flowers, jewelry, and a fancy dinner makes someone happy, good for them!

I believe in living a simple and minimalist lifestyle for myself, though. That belief sticks with me no matter what date is on the calendar or how much advertisers try to convince me to buy things I don’t need.

Minimizing Waste

 Buying something you have no use for is a waste of time, money, and emotional energy. Spending more than you would have spent if you waited a few more weeks to purchase the same exact product is equally wasteful.

Every year, I watch the price of romantic items like  flowers and chocolates rise sharply before Valentine’s Day only to fall back to their normal prices shortly after that holiday. For example, there is a fancy type of dairy-free chocolate I can eat that costs about $20 for a dozen pieces during most of the year. That same quantity of chocolate is sold in pretty boxes for about $25 during Valentine’s Day season.

These prices affect everyone who purchases these products, so it always surprises me to see people pay so little attention to them.

If you’re going to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a traditional way, why not buy silk flowers and pick out the card, wrapping paper, and other non-perishable stuff for next year when all of that paraphernalia goes on sale this year? Or, better yet, why not celebrate it at the end of February when everything is deeply discounted?

Given my over-active immune system, Valentine’s Day would also be a wasteful holiday for me for a few reasons that don’t apply to everyone. I’m mildly allergic to milk, so 99% of the Valentine’s Day chocolate out there isn’t something I can actually eat. I’m also mildly allergic to flowers, so any bouquet of live flowers is going to make me sneeze and cough uncontrollably until I throw it away.

Minimizing Clutter

Even though I live in a very small home and regularly try to donate or throw away things that are no longer useful to me, I still own more stuff than I need.

(My mother used to complain about this same phenonemon when I was a kid. I didn’t understand it then, but I sure do now!)

Other than the winning lottery number, of course, there are very few non-consumable things in this world that I would like but don’t currently own.

While I’d appreciate the sentiment if my spouse bought me something like a stuffed animal or jewelry for this holiday, I never want or expect anything like that. It’s not my style, and I’d much rather save the majority of that money and maybe splurge on $20 worth of fancy chocolates once the price for them finally drops again.

What I really want is to have an uncluttered home as much as is possible given our small living quarters and need to store the things that we do use often enough to keep.

If someone wants to give a Valentine’s Day gift, I know exactly what I’d recommend to them.

The Best Valentine’s Day Present of Them All

Love is the best Valentine’s Day present of them all. When I say love, I’m talking about every kind of it you can imagine:

The love that two or more people share when they’re in a romantic relationship. 

The love of a parent for their child.

The love of a family – whether chosen, biological, adoptive, or foster –  for everyone who is part of it.

The love shared between friends.

The love a person feels for their pet. 

The love a pet feels for their human. 

The love a stranger feels for another stranger.

The love we feel for ourselves.

Unlike chocolate, nobody ever suddenly runs out of love. Love doesn’t require batteries, lose pieces every time you move, or need to be protected from the elements. There is no manufacturer’s warranty for it, and you can’t find it in any store.

Love is free. Love is precious.

If I were going to celebrate this holiday, I’d do it by telling all of the people I care about how much they meant to me.

Thank you for reading this blog, followers. I deeply appreciate every single one of you, and I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

 

The Cold That Stuck Around (Or Why I Haven’t Lifted Weights in Ages)

Every once in a great while, my body meets a cold virus that decides it likes living in my body and becomes reluctant to leave it. I’m talking about the kind of devotion that some people are never lucky enough to experience once in their entire lifetimes. If it didn’t involve so much coughing, I’d be much more willing to feel sorry for those poor viruses who hang around for as long as they do.

I like to blame this on the fact that I didn’t grow up in Canada as well as the fable that I therefore have yet to mingle with some of the more virulent germs floating around up here. When Canadians emigrate to the U.S., I’m sure they’re occasionally just as surprised by our fierce American germs down there. (I will now wait for my mother, who has worked in the medical field for over 20 years and has no doubt forgotten more about these things than I’ll ever know, to shake her head and laugh at the idea of Canadian vs. American viruses.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve had about as much stamina and energy as the sleeping cat in the picture on the left.

There were a few beautiful naps to be had in the early stages of The Cold That Stuck Around™, and I was grateful for every one of them.

After the sneezing, fatigue, and congestion finally began to fade away, I started thinking about weightlifting again. I miss it every single time I have to take a break from it to heal from an injury or illness.

As usual, I waited a couple of days until after my cough finally faded away before tentatively doing a light bodyweight fitness routine that I normally find pretty easy. I was otherwise  feeling well by this point, and I really wanted to get back into my normal routine before the new year.

Something tells me The Cold That Stuck Around™ was expecting this, because I began coughing at the end of that workout. It wasn’t a hacking cough, but it did bother me off and on for the rest of that day.

The next morning I was still coughing, so I took another couple of days off to rest. Yesterday, I decided to try to reach my daily step count goal without doing any weightlifting. Maybe that fairly small amount of exercise would be acceptable while I healed.

I’ll give you the amount of time it takes to read this sentence to guess how that turned out for me.

Yes, I had another coughing fit this morning. It was milder than the last one, but I clearly haven’t shaken off The Cold That Stuck Around™quite yet.

I otherwise feel perfectly healthy. It’s hard to justify the idea of not getting my normal amount of exercise in, but clearly my body isn’t quite ready for that yet.

So now here I am staring wistfully at my weights as I wonder when I’ll get to use them again. In the scheme of things, it is a very minor problem to have. I honestly shouldn’t even be complaining about it at all, but I’m going be very happy when the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named finally wanders away for good and I’m no longer coughing at all. There are many things in life I can be perfectly patient about,  but this isn’t one of them.

I hope that all of your fitness routines are going much more smoothly!

What I Read in 2017

As I mentioned a year ago in What I Read in 2016, every January I blog about what I read in the previous year. Over half of the books I read in any given year are for a review site that I volunteer for under a pseudonym, so I omitted their titles from this post for privacy… Read More

Why I’m Giving Up on My TBR List

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. My to-be-read list has been growing by leaps and bounds for ages now. There something about the end of the year that makes me pause and reflect on little things like this to see how they’re working for me. The problem with TBR lists is that… Read More