10 Things I Learned in March

1. Ron Swanson is my favorite Parks and Rec character.

I've always wondered who my favorite was but never took the emotional journey to find the answer. When I watched the finale, the answer was clear. Absolutely Ron. Because I wanted him to be happy more than I wanted anyone else to be happy. As long as Ron was okay, Pawnee could live in peace. 

2. Taking a break from something you love isn't a bad thing.

I'm on a Sugar Box sabbatical, taking a few months to get some rest, regroup, and take a break from big-time baking. Even though it was scary and counterintuitive to stop doing something that I love and that others do, too, I'm so glad I did. Not only is my brain quieting down, but I already have half a dozen ideas of ways to make The Sugar Box better for you, for me, and for my family. Sometimes we just need a break to give us time to miss something we love.

3. Thinkertoys work. 

Thinkertoys is a book that is imperative for anyone who faces creative challenges. It's full of exercises (called thinkertoys) that help you develop ideas and solutions, and they work. An essential part of your work bookshelf.

4. Granola can change your life.

thegranola

Have you made this yet? Because all month I've been getting emails from folks who are devouring this granola. It's changing lives, you guys. It's so good that most afternoons I'll choose yogurt and granola over a cookie. THAT'S how good it is. Make it NOW.

5. They're doing a Little Women remake.

photo credit: mark mann, deadline

photo credit: mark mann, deadline

And I want Miles Teller to play Lawrie. BADLY. Producer Amy Pascal (she of the Sony hack email scandal) and Away From Her writer Sarah Polley (who might also direct) are developing Little Women into a feature film. Yes, we have the delightful Winona Ryder/Susan Sarandon/Christian Bale/Kirsten Dunst version from 21 years ago (yeeeeah that's how long it's been), but we absolutely need a new one. And even though there are zero talks of casting yet, Miles would kill it. Don't laugh at me for sending Amy Pascal a letter about this. 

6. Insurgent is kind of lame, but I'm not complaining.

Photo source imdb

Photo source imdb

My sister and I saw the movie last week and then recorded a podcast episode almost immediately because there were just too many things to say. Check out 7 Reasons Why Insurgent Sucks and the One Reason You Should Still See It. And that one reason (spoiler) is NOT Four. Which is shocking, I know, because he's one of my top heart slayers. What are you gonna do.

7. You should be watching Orphan Black.

Season three premieres on April 18th, so naturally I'm rewatching the first two seasons to get all fangirly again. Y'all, it's some of the most fun you'll have watching a TV show that isn't actually a comedy. It's suspenseful, funny, sexy, intriguing, over the top (but not too much), and remarkably acted, especially since Tatiana Maslany plays almost every character on the show. It's just a blast, and you have less than three weeks to catch up before the 18th. Here's a sneak peek (but don't watch unless you've, you know, watched). P.S. You can check out the first two seasons on Amazon Prime.

8. The NCAA Tournament is a blast when you don't fill out a bracket.

I've filled out a bracket since I was 12 and love college basketball down to my bones, so a bracket is just what happens in March, right? This year, I didn't have a group to compete against, and (more accurately) I didn't think my Tarheels would make it very far and always hate writing another team's name down instead of UNC. (We won't talk about Thursday's loss. I'm still raw.) So I tried No Bracket March. DUDE. It's been the best. On the first day when Georgia State beat Baylor, I didn't have to worry about my picks being ruined; I could just root for the underdog, and it was so. fun. I'll be experiencing March this way from now on. Just give me a Fangirl Guide for the laughs, and I'm all set. 

9. You can clean a lot of house in 15 minutes.

I listened to Real Simple for years and tried to do their insane cleaning schedule. I mean, who washes their baseboards every three months? Still, I posted it on my fridge to cross off because I'm a crosser offer. Yeah, that lasted a day and a half. But I hate taking an entire day to clean the house. Such a WASTE. So I've been trying this 15-minute timer thing this month, and OHMYWORD it's the best. I set a timer for 15 minutes and clean whatever seems like it needs cleaning until I hear a beep. It's crazy all the stuff you can get done. I dig it a lot. Anyone else try this?

10. My kids are cute, and the little one is kind of a diva.

Starting TOMORROW (Wednesday, April 1st), our theme for the month is LOST. WHUUUUUUT. 
Don't be glum if you've never seen the show. I extend no judgment, only things to make you laugh, ogle, and get hungry. See you tomorrow!

P.S. Check out other Things I Learned posts over at Emily's lovely Chatting at the Sky

Comedy Character Tournament of Champions: ROUND THREE!

I'M SORRY. I'M SO SO SORRY.

I feel like I'm slowly killing us all. I had no idea narrowing down these characters would destroy my soul. And we haven't even gotten to the hard ones yet. Just you wait. 

Here's the remaining tournament schedule:

  • Round Three (this round) closes Wednesday, April 1, at 10pm.
  • Round Four opens for votes Friday, April 3 at 7am. 
  • Round Four closes TWO DAYS LATER. The final results will be posted on Sunday, April 5 in the evening, so make sure to cast your final votes over Easter weekend! Make them count! These pairings are mind-numbingly close. Every. Vote. Counts.

With that said, let's begin. Again, I'm SO. SORRY. Remember, if you don't know both names in a pairing, you need to come over immediately for some television intervention and you can also leave that vote blank.

How to Avoid Sifter's Remorse and Save Your Soul

"Kendra, do I really have to sift flour? You tell me to in almost every recipe, but it seems like so much work! Is it even worth it?"

Umm, YES. 

Flour Turds Want Your Soul

You've worked hard to make a cookie or a cake. You might even be one of those crazy people who eats desserts only on certain days, so this indulgence has to COUNT. Then - oh, the horror - one of your six bites has a flour turd in it, that little ball of unmixed baked-in flour that explodes in your mouth like an angry mothball. 

It's not worth it, guys. EVER. Don't let the turds win.

Why Sifting Is Always Worth It

Because that one time you don't sift, you'll get a flour turd. It's basically science. Plus, the effort that's required to eliminate turd anger is minimal and 100% worth it. There are two basic sifting methods, and I promise that they're easy, worth it, and won't feel like you're betraying your "I never take extra steps for anything" self.

A sifter or sieve + paper (wax, parchment, or paper towel).
So let's talk about why you don't use these. It's just another thing to wash and takes extra time, right? Here's how you beat the system

  1. Don't wash your sifter. At least not every time. You're just using flour, so knocking it a few times over the sink is cleaning enough. When it's time for a scrub (after sifting cocoa powder for example), dunk it in soapy water, slosh it around, and rinse.
  2. Sift on paper. This way, you're getting zero dishes dirty. In face, the act of measuring dry ingredients, dumping them into a sifter set on top of a piece of parchment, and then spinning a crank is relatively painless and - dare I say it - fun. You get to make flour mountains, and it's surprisingly satisfying.

Use a whisk.
You have to combine your dry ingredients anyway, so if you don't do it on a piece of paper, you have to do it in a bowl (that you have to wash FYI which is why I always choose sifter+paper). So after you measure all the dry ingredients, give them a really good mix with a whisk to break up as many flour turds as you can. The more spokes (spokes?) on your whisk the better. 

So pick your turd poison - sifter+paper or a whisk in a bowl. You're not adding extra work; you're adding maybe three extra seconds of hand movement to something you're already doing. And if you're too lazy to do that, we need to have a kitchen effort intervention. 

Flour turds are never worth it. Protect your soul. 

Lavender Rose Cupcakes For Those Princess Days

image.jpg

It's weird to say that a cupcake tastes like a princess, but these do. It's kind of creepy actually, like a fairy tale just turned all serial killer on us in no time. But who cares. Sometimes to feel like a princess, you need to eat one. Or eat like one. Forget it; it's just getting weird now. 

Cupcakes are rarely stupid easy, but they're also not hard. Don't be afraid. Yank these out for that spring brunch this weekend or for when your girls are home on spring break and wanting to play dress-up. It's a great recipe to have in your princess arsenal. 

Inspired by the chamomile cupcakes from Joy the Baker's first cookbook, mine use lavender rose tea from a local tea shop called Vida Pour Tea, but you could use any floral tea you want. Plus the frosting is a cinch to make. No creaming butter and all that nonsense. You go from naked cupcake to a glossy white one in less than five minutes.

Let's bake!

image.jpg

Lavender Rose Princess Cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-2 tbsp. loose leaf tea leaves*
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • just shy of 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • pinch of salt

*If you have regular tea bags, you're all set with a couple of those. If you have loose tea in a larger bag, simply tie it up in a coffee filter to make your own "bag."

HOW TO MAKE THEM

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Also prep your pan. Spray the top of two muffin tins with a little cooking spray. Why? So they don't spread and have something to stick to. Then pop in muffin liners if you use them. This recipe makes a solid two dozen cupcakes.
  2. Steep the tea in the milk. Bring the milk to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan. Add the tea bags, turn off the heat, and cover. Let the tea hang out in the milk for about five minutes while you gather the rest of your ingredients. After five minutes, squeeze your spoon against the tea bags to get out every bit of flavor. Pour the milk into a measuring cup or even a bowl. You just need to let it cool a bit before you add it to the batter, so don't this before doing anything else pleaseandthankyou.
  3. Mix almost everything together. These cupcakes are made a little differently in that the dry ingredients go in early with the butter. A little weird, right? But it works, so don't fret. Put the butter, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl, and mix it on medium speed for about three minutes. It will look sandier than you're used to, but that's normal and happy.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until they're well incorporated, 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add tea milk. Is the tea cool? Pour in about half and mix on low until incorporated. Then add the rest and mix on medium for one minute. If you add it all at once, batter will attack you when the mixer turns on. No batter attacks, please.
  6. Bake. Pour the batter into the cups about halfway to 2/3 full, and put your pans in the oven. BAKE AT 400 FOR ONLY FIVE MINUTES. Then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees for another 5-8 minutes depending on your oven. Starting out at a higher temperature lets your cupcakes dome beautifully rather than turn into gloopy cake puddles. No thanks. You'll bake these until they're domed and golden on top. Stick a toothpick in the center of one, and if it comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it, take those puppies out of the oven. 
  7. Cool and frost. Let your cupcakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, and then put them on a wire rack to cool all the way. While that happens, make the frosting. Simply whisk together the powdered sugar, cream, honey, and salt. It'll be thick, glossy, and smooth. Use a knife or a small offset spatula, and spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes. Top with fresh lavender, colored sugar, or nothing at all. They're perfectly lovely in their purest form. 

Now go eat I mean feel like a princess!

Comedy Character Tournament of Champions: ROUND TWO!

Round one is complete, and round two will kill us all. Jim vs. Phil Dunphy? Michael Scott vs. Kenneth Parcell?! RACHEL VS. JOEY WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

Special shoutouts to Chuck Bartowski, Doug Heffernan, and Karen Walker. You all fought fierce battles that, given a little more time, you might have won. And now all I want is for someone to make a show starring Chuck, Doug, and Karen. That's a snappy dynamic right there. 

Voting for Round Two is closed!