Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Cookie Journey

Grocery store bakeries do not create product that is anywhere near as good as a small, local bakery. However, among the grocery store chains, the baked goods can be compared and rated as to their quality and flavor of product. 

For major chains, we have Hannaford's, Shaw's and Walmart. I like the breads at Hannaford's and Walmart has a good variety of pastries. However, for cookies and cakes I have found Shaw's to be superior to the other two.

I found some chocolate chip cookies at Shaw's that blew me away. They were a good cookie, chewy and flavorful, not processed tasting at all. But the pièce de résistance of these cookies was that they were dipped in chocolate which coated half the cookie. They were marvelous.

I introduced these cookies to many people and they all liked them as well. There was a problem, however.

They aren't made with any sort of regularity of schedule. When I asked one of the bakery people about it, he told me that he didn't know when they would be making them again. I asked if they were seasonal and he said no. Apparently, it's just a random thing.

So I decided I would try to make those kind of cookies myself.

Using frozen cookie dough from the store and a bag of chocolate chips to melt, I came up with these (bottom picture)....

My first problem was using the frozen cookie dough. I tried it a couple times and didn't get the results I wanted as the cookies baked rather flat and didn't rise. My second problem was that I caused the melted chocolate chips to "seize" when I put some vanilla flavoring in them. The smooth, almost liquid chocolate became chunky and grainy. I did some research to find out why and discovered that you don't add liquids to melted chocolate. People told me they tasted good, but I wasn't satisfied with that. I wanted good form as well.

So I kept at it.

Next attempt was by using the Toll House cookie recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag. They turned out looking like this:
These were closer to what I wanted and I knew I was going in the right direction. 

For my next experiment, I tried putting macademia nuts in the cookies and using white chocolate disks for the melt. Turns out you can purchase chocolate just for melting and in the store it comes in dark chocolate or white. They are made by Ghirardelli. 

This was the result of that effort:
Esthetically, my cookies were looking better with each attempt. I nailed down ingredients, baking times (which I experimented with), and equipment for mixing and baking. I found that a double layer cookie sheet gives me a better result than a single layer. 

For the next attempt, I tried making Snickerdoodles and I used eggnog in them because I had some left over and wanted to get rid of it. The dairy in eggnog and butter made the cookies very cakey which was nice, but I still preferred chewy over that.

I tried Snickerdoodles again, but this time I used a white chocolate drizzle on top of them. This is what they looked like:
Some people on Facebook commented negatively about my doing this, but I didn't really care. I thought they were good and some skeptics tried them and agreed.

Another batch I made was to use up a bunch of M&Ms I got for Christmas. No chocolate coating on these, I did however, add some cinnamon to the cookie dough and rather liked the flavor.
My most recent two batches were done within a week of each other. The first was to send to a friend of mine, and I also took some to my parents. They were dark chocolate chip cookies with a white chocolate dip.
These had mini semi-sweet chocolate chips in them and their texture was a little different from what I had been getting previously. I tend to think it was because instead of using 1-1/2 cups of brown sugar, I used 1 cup brown and 1/2 of white sugar. Not sure though.

And the last batch I made just a few days ago, I used peanut butter chips and totally coated the cookies with chocolate. I was very pleased with the way they turned out.

Not pictured or mentioned anywhere here was a batch of Snickerdoodles I made with dark brown sugar.  They were good, but the dark brown sugar made them taste like molasses cookies. I also used butter in them which made the cookies cakey.

All in all, I have enjoyed the process of experimenting with cookies and tweaking the recipes to get desired results. 

I think now that I never have to go back to Shaw's and buy their cookies again.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gone Are Places We Played

A common experience among those who have put some miles under their feet is the loss of old, familiar places. I covered some of this in the post Greater Portland Ghosts. But there are more intimate places that get replaced by something else and the intimacy stems from places where we recreate.

Fields that we played in as children, amusement parks where we experienced carefree fun, campgrounds where most of the time was spent in the great outdoors with friends or family; these are places that are fondly remembered even when current residents or neighbors have no clue as to their former existence..

It is my intent to talk a little about some of the playgrounds that still come to mind. Most are from my childhood but a few are from teen and adult years.

1. Neighborhood fields where we used to play baseball in the summer and sled in the winter.  They have all been developed now closing off the open spaces.

2. There used to be woods behind a friend's house and we spent much time exploring those woods, making forts, etc. Additionally, his folks installed an in-ground pool where we swam in the summer. Those woods and pool are gone. The house is on the left. The pool would have been to the right of the fence. Behind and to the right of that were the woods.

3. For several years, my family spent a couple weeks at a camp at Highland Lake. Those were memorable years. Unfortunately, the area where the beach used to be for those camps without lakefront access no longer exists.  Unable to find any pictures of it, I am just including a Google maps satellite view. The white circle shows where the beach used to be. Now there's another camp.

4. I played on the tennis team in 9th grade. The tennis courts weren't next to the school. There was a little walk over Mill Creek and through some woods to get to them. There were three courts in this spot and it sat just above the creek which flowed under Broadway, into and through the Figure 8 Park and then on out to Casco Bay.  In the summer, I used to meet Don Hendren, the youth pastor at my church, to play tennis. Now the area is a parking lot and I don't know what Mahoney Middle School does for tennis courts.

5. In Old Orchard Beach, there was a place you could pay a fee and ride horses on woods trails. A guide wasn't needed and it was a great group activity. It was called Judy Ann Stables. It's no longer in existence. The photo here is of a more current business somewhere and apparently riders are required to wear helmets. That requirement didn't exist back in the 70s.

6. In Hull,Massachusetts is Nantasket Beach. Standard beach on a cold Atlantic Ocean, it used to abut Paragon Park. My last memory of Paragon Park was coming down here from college and spending 30 minutes on a water slide. Dave and I would slide down as quickly as possible and run back up the stairs. I think we got close to 20 runs in. Afterwards, we went swimming in the ocean and then hopped over to a bar on the main strip for a beer. Paragon Park was closed in 1984.

7. Seminole Point Lodge was a lovely retreat located on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. It had a rustic meeting room with large fireplace , a small theater, a game room, and sleeping quarters. In the winter you could ice skate on the lake, ride a toboggan down a chute and slide out onto the lake, have snowball fights with other groups of people staying there. I don't know when it closed, but all I've been able to find is vintage postcards of it for sale on Amazon.

8. Lake Delores Waterpark (aka  Rock–A–Hoola Waterpark and Discovery Waterpark) was located in the Mojave Desert not far from Barstow, California. After an NTC rotation at Fort Irwin, we were invited to spend the day at the park. There were waterslides, rope swings, other activities I don't remember all centered around these manmade pools in the desert. It is now abandoned but went through a few permutations as new owners tried to make a go of it.

9. The Why Not night/dance club in Hinesville, Georgia was a regular hangout spot for many when I was stationed at Fort Stewart. Even after I was discharged from the Army, it became a customer of mine as I sold newspaper advertising in Hinesville for a year until my wife was discharged from the Army. Now it is a large pawn shop. I've been inside and spoken with the owners. They told me that a lot of people have come in telling them about the Why Not. I guess it left an impression on others as well..

10. And the granddaddy of them all is Camp Wakonda in Richmond, Maine. I spent several years there as a camper, counselor and worker. It holds a special place in my memories for all the time spent there, the people met, some of whom I still stay in touch with. It was sold to Central Maine Power sometime after I left Maine for college. When I went back to look, there was nothing but a bunch of tree debris from clearcutting. I have very few pictures of Camp Wakonda and what I do have came from someone else.

These are places I remember, and there are probably more. Seems you can't live a life without a good portion of your past getting erased over time.  I guess that's why there are historians.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Children's Books Then and Now

I was thinking back to books from my childhood and did so with fond remembrance. Books like A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson written in 1885 or The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame are indeed classics not only for the distant time in which they were written, but also for their enduring styles and content that lit up imagination. 

Even if we look to something a bit more recent, we can find Where the Wild Things Are (1962) by Maurice Sendak and Mr. Pudgins (1951) by Ruth Christoffer Carlsen to name just a couple. Both books are wonderful reads that evoke magical worlds of rich storytelling.

I have purchased a few books I remembered from my childhood and still find them fun to read.

Then I thought about what passes for children's' books these days, and I had to wonder if those who read them will look back on them fondly in 40-50 years. Books whose titles are Everyone Poops, Heather Has Two Mommies, or Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth probably reflect the current times and worldview. However, to me they seem to lack the timelessness of the well-known classics of yesteryear.

I confess that I haven't read the contemporary titles I listed. but if I had to make a choice between The Wind in the Willows and Everyone Poops, I think it would really be no choice at all. The former would win out every time.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Cars Through the Years

For an exercise that will interest no one but myself, I've decided to list all the cars I've ever owned. I found my memory to be surprisingly good on this even to the point where I can remember the year, make, model, body style and color of each. With the exception of the first car, the pictures I posted are examples only and not of the actual vehicle. However, most of them do reflect the color of my former vehicle. 

The cars are listed by model year, not in chronological order of ownership. Timeframes are difficult for me to recall. 

My first car:

1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
This car cost me $1000. I bought it after college, when I was in the Army and had the income to be able to do so.

It had a 350 V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor which gave it a nice growl when accelerating. The previous owner gave it the odd paint job. Originally silver with a vinyl roof, the sides were painted black, the vinyl removed and the roof painted blue.

 It was a gas hog and cost $100 to drive it from Georgia to Maine with $20 fill ups per stop. That was a lot back in 1983.

I owned it for about a year. Then I sold it and bought the next car.

1981 Mazda GLC
This car was priced around $4500. I bought it before a trip to Fort Stewart, Georgia where I was stationed. I was home on leave, left the 73 Olds on my parents' lawn with a For Sale sign and purchased this Mazda at Maine Mall Motors.

It had nothing. It was a 4-speed manual with no air conditioning, no power anything and no radio. However, it was much cheaper to drive and the $100 trip down the east coast turned into $35. I ended up totaling it in a freak accident.

1979 Ford Mustang II
I inherited this car when I married.  My wife had bought it in North Carolina when she lived there.

It was a 4-speed manual with a 4-cylinder engine. The color in the picture is accurate to our vehicle. 

It made the trip from Georgia to Maine when we exited the Army and served us well for many miles. I don't remember what happened to it.

1984 Honda Accord Hatchback
This was a short-lived ownership. My dad gave it to me and my wife. He was done using it and wanted to help us.

We were rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light by a high school student in a larger car. It totaled the Honda.

The color of ours was a sort of burgundy.

1985 Honda Civic
The only things I remember about this car is that it had a sunroof which made it impossible to get out of the mid-day sun.

And the timing belt broke which bent all the valve stems. It cost about $600 to repair and never seemed to run the same after that.

1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham
This car cost about $4000. I had purchased  a Chevy Corsica from a used car lot in Windham. The Chevy stalled all the way home, so I turned around and returned it and told the dealer I was cancelling my check.

In the meantime, a salesperson I knew and liked in Auburn told me about this car, so I went there and bought it.

It was a terrible car.   In the course of 5-6 months we dropped about $500 in repairs in it. My mechanic told me that even though it had very low miles on it, they must have been hard miles given its propensity to break down. The salesperson through whom I bought asked me how we liked it. I told him we hated it and why. He immediately told me to bring it back and trade it for something else. The trade amount offered covered the original cost of the car and all the repairs, so I was happy to do it. That's when how ended up with the next car.

1986 Toyota Camry
Not much to say about this car. We ran it until the clutch failed. I assume we got it fixed, but that's all I can recall. 

It was primarily my wife's car. I drove the next vehicle.

1986 Nissan Pickup
Standard shift. Standard radio. Crank windows. No amenities. It did have a cap. Cost us $5000 through a personal classified ad. We had this truck for 7 years. It started rusting out before breaking down.

Ended up donating it to a charitable organization and took the tax benefit.

It was only 2-wheel drive which made it fun in winter. Seriously.

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera
This, too, was a private sale. We didn't have this car for very long. I don't remember it as being particularly reliable.

1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera
I liked this car. It gave us very few problems and for some reason it was fast, much faster than its trim level suggested

Unfortunately, it had an untimely death in December 1998. I was headed out to do some Christmas shopping and someone pulled out in front of me at an intersection where I had the right of way. I T-boned him and totaled the car.  

All I could think at the time was that I had it paid off and now would have to go back into debt on another vehicle. I think the insurance company gave us about $2000 for it.

1992 Ford Aerostar
I called this our butt-ugly pig van which delighted my sons to no end. Despite its ungainly looks, it turned out to be a decent vehicle. It had AWD so was good in the snow. In fact, I took to pushing snow banks back by ramming into them during one particularly prolific winter.

In the end, I donated it to charity when it started requiring too many repairs.

1993 Ford Taurus
This car was loaded with features.  Turns out it was also missing some features - two motor mounts, and the head gasket blew which was a common problem with Tauruses at that time.

I traded it for the next vehicle.


1994 Toyota Camry
This car was loaded as well. It became my wife's car while I drove the butt-ugly pig van.

I sold it through a magazine classified ad when it was time to part ways.


1995 Ford Escort Wagon
I bought this from a friend for $1500. He had a relative who kept it in a barn for years. Didn't have it for very long before the crankshaft on it snapped.  

The mechanic told me of someone who would buy it, so I sold it as is.

1999 Plymouth Grand Voyager Espresso
I got into minivans after renting one for our annual trip to North Carolina.  The Aerostar was the first one we owned. This was the second. It had captain's chairs in the first and second row which gave my two boys their own seats. It had front/rear heat/air conditioning and a slew of other features. It made for grand road trips.

However, the transmission eventually went on it which was endemic among Chrysler vehicles. After spending $2200 on having it rebuilt, we drove it for another 4 months when the oil pump went. 

2001 Honda CRV
In 2005, my wife's dad had a stroke. We drove down to North Carolina in the Grand Voyager. The AC condenser on it had failed, so it was a very warm trip with the windows open. 

When my wife told me she wanted to stay longer to help her dad, I knew this would be a good time to do some car shopping. We could've flown her home, but she hates flying. And I couldn't stay as my vacation was running out.

So I went car shopping and found this Honda at Watkins Auto in Forest City. I dealt with the owner and he took enough off the price to make it make sense. So when my wife was ready to come home, she would be able to drive. This CRV was an AWD vehicle which made it perfect for her in winter time. In fact, I've kept her in 4-wheel drive vehicles since. It gives me peace of mind. Her too.

When it was time to move onto the next car, we gave this to our oldest son. He drove it to over 200,000 miles and has since traded it for the car he owns now.

2003 Mazda MPV
This van wasn't good at all. When it rained the spark plug coils would short out. 

And the windows wouldn't go all the way down, either.

2005 Toyota Camry
My wife really liked this Camry. I found it difficult to enter and exit. Seat and steering wheel positioning made it a bit of a contortionist act to do so. However, when finally in the driver's seat it was fine.

In winter my wife had a hard time driving it in snow. It may have been due to the fact that it was quite fast. Whatever the reason, I had her trade vehicles with my youngest son who was driving our Pacifica (next car)

He was rear ended by a young lady which ended up totaling this car.

2006 Chrysler Pacifica
When I bought this car, I made sure I had a warranty. That ended up paying for itself when the transmission blew. The replacement cost over $5000 and a rep from Boston had to drive up to make sure the replacement went as was supposed to.

Even with that issue, I still think of this car fondly. In the winter it was a tank due to its weight and all wheel drive. It just wouldn't get stuck.

There was a lot of room in the back seat for my sons who were getting quite big. It had a leather interior and I think the driver's seat was heated. It rode well and made for comfortable road trips. A friend bought it and still owns it, though he is looking to sell it.

2003 Toyota Matrix
I drove the Matrix. It is white, just like this picture. I enjoyed it for its fuel economy and the acceleration is quick for a 4-cylinder. It was fairly reliable in the 80,000 or so miles I've put on it.


2008 Toyota RAV4 Sport
My wife's 4-wheel drive for the last year or two. It is a good vehicle and well equipped.


2012 Nissan Maxima SV Sport

This year we replaced the Matrix with this Maxima. It's a nice car, loaded with goodies. But what really grabbed my eye was the less than 20K original miles on it. I can envision some long distance road trips taking place over the next few years.

So this is our fast and furious vehicle life. And while I can't boast to having owned any exotic sports cars or rugged off-road SUVs, I can say that we have been able to get where we needed to go with relatively few problems, especially when considering the amount of miles we rack up over the course of a year.

The only vehicles where I couldn't match colors were the Aerostar, the 90 Cutlass, the 85 Cutlass and the Accord.