Take life’s lemons and make shortbread cookies, fancy ice cubes and more

Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by Flickr user jules via Creative Commons)
Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by jules/Flickr Creative Commons)

The year has turned sour. Unfortunate events have bombarded me, my family and friends as we crawl toward the end of 2014. The challenges have been as small as an overweight pug stealing a cookie from my two-year-old niece (I’m watching you, Sampson) to a good friend’s cancer diagnosis right before the holidays. It’s enough to make even the most steady person shake their fist at whatever god in which they believe.

A few years in adulthood have given me enough wisdom to know that life is a series of obstacles that sprout at the most inopportune moments. But these years have also planted enough optimism in me that I am determined to demolish life’s challenges with the tenacity of an American Gladiator contestant.

With the spirit of perseverance in mind, let’s turn life’s lemons into some awesome stuff. Here are some suggestions for what to do with the literal lemons in your life. And regarding those figurative lemons, we’re all going to be OK.

Bake these delicious lemon-pecan shortbread cookies
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.

My baking game is strong around the holidays. These went over well at a tree-trimming party I attended. Find the pretty simple recipe here.

Make a get-well-soon hot toddy
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Photo by Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)

This recipe had me at bourbon. I guess some lemon and honey wouldn’t hurt a sore throat, either.

Whip up a batch of frozen lemon slices
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)

Slice a lemon into pieces small enough to fit into an ice cube tray. Pour water over the slices and let it freeze. Use these cubes with iced tea, a bourbon on the rocks or a glass of water so you get a little treat when the ice melts.

Freshen your garbage disposal
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Kitchn has a great tutorial about how to use lemon and vinegar to freshen up garbage disposals and blenders. I use this trick every couple of months.


What are your tips for using the lemons in your life?

Don’t sleep on Aldi for your holiday baking needs

Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.
Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.

Three years ago, I started a Christmas tradition by accident.

It was a bittersweet holiday season. I had just started a new day job, but the first paycheck hadn’t come in yet. I was also freshly married, so my family tripled in size. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to do something nice for my relatives.

That November and December, I baked and baked and baked. Batches upon batches of sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies and double-chocolate cookies filled my freezer. Cookie sheets and parchment paper were my faithful companions, along with a dog eager to catch batter that flew out of the mixing bowl. And bless my poor oven’s heart — that thing really earned its keep that winter.

Fortunately, the cookies were a hit. And to keep up with my annual holiday baking, I’ve turned to one of my favorite retailers — Aldi.

I’ve shouted my love of this bargain grocery store on the blog before. This year, I realized Aldi is the perfect place to stock up on baking essentials at low prices. The center aisle at the Dixie Highway location was filled with Christmas goodies and odds and ends, like a bag of teeny Andes Mints for cookies or a whole pumpkin pie kit.

Here’s a look at some of the baking goodies I snagged on my last visit:

  • Molasses for my gingerbread men*: $1.99
  • A four-pound bag of sugar: $1.39
  • A bag of pecans for my shortbread cookies: $2.99
  • A tube of Betty Crocker icing for aforementioned gingerbread men: $1.99

Now that I have all of my ingredients, it’s time to get back to baking. If you’re interested in hitting up Aldi’s baking supplies, Aldi is located at 3442 Preston Hwy., 5109 Dixie Hwy. and 4301 Bardstown Rd. in Louisville. There are also southern Indiana locations at 3131 E. 10th St. in Jeffersonville and 3118 Grant Line Rd. in New Albany.

Just remember to bring your quarter.

*Gingerbread people? I’ve watched all of Transparent on Amazon Prime, so I want to use the preferred gender identity of my cookies.

Hungry for Valentine’s Day gift ideas? Try these 6 edible treats.

Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.
Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.

What sad lives we lead if they are, indeed, like boxes of chocolate.

It’s true that, like life, you never know what you’re going to get when you tear through that red cellophane. But is life also full of disappointment coated in sugary promise?

Boxes of chocolate are the most discouraging Valentine’s Day gift. When someone mistakenly gives me one, I try to activate my dormant X-ray vision to find the two caramel-filled chocolates that are hidden in every box. Even with a little help from the Rosetta Stone of a guide that’s sometimes included in the lid, I still end up biting through ghastly coconut and raspberry filling. Yuck.

There are other edible presents I’d rather see this Valentine’s Day. Consider these when picking out something for your sweetie.

  • An Edible ArrangementNo one in the office is upset when their coworker gets an Edible Arrangement. This bouquet of fruit (and sometimes chocolate) is meant to be shared, not envied like a traditional bunch of flowers.
  • A Panera bagel. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my love for the cinnamon crunch bagel at Panera runs deep. Real deep. A warm, chewy bite of the pastry along with a cup of coffee would start Valentine’s Day off right.
  • Twix/Take 5. Stick with one or two types that your significant other loves if you insist on giving something from the candy aisle. My favorites are Twix and Take 5.
  • Cookies. Specifically, two cookies, a rose and a mixtape from the coffee shop/record store Please and Thank You.
  • Pizza. Rob and I have done the heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day, but that isn’t even essential. Order me some Bearno’s and reserve your judgement when I eat half of a large pizza.
  • Cellar Door ChocolatesThis isn’t the stale variety you find in your neighborhood drugstore. This local business offers a variety of fresh, decadent chocolate treats.

What do you think is the best edible Valentine’s Day present?

Six ways to save yourself this Thanksgiving

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...
English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the day before Thanksgiving. Do you need some helping getting dinner together tomorrow?

I’m fresh out of miracles. Instead, I have a good dose of keepin’ it real.

We are delusional in the weeks before Thanksgiving. We convince ourselves that we can cook a 20-pound turkey because Alton Brown says it’s easy. We fill our grocery cart with pounds and pounds of potatoes because boxed mashed potatoes will just not do. We buy a rolling pin and a pastry blender because this will be the year we finally make that pie crust from scratch. And we sincerely believe that from our kitchens will emerge a display of culinary prowess that would make Martha Stewart throw her panties at our feet in adoration.

That fantasy is a few turkey trots away from our realities. For 364 days of the year, dinner is something simple enough to fix after an eight-hour workday, be it pasta with a homemade mushroom cream sauce, scrambled eggs or a bowl of cereal. Why do we think we can pull off a full Thanksgiving spread?

We can’t. No one can achieve the high expectation we set for ourselves. And that’s why you made it to the blog today, because the turkey is still frozen, the mountain of potatoes haven’t been peeled and the butter just won’t blend with the flour for that pie crust.

I can’t save your disaster. But I have some tips to save your sanity.

  • Stick with what you know. Do you have a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe? Do your friends rave about your fried corn? That’s what you need to cook for Thanksgiving. Everyone has a recipe that they have mastered over the years and made their own. Now is the time to whip it out of your recipe box (or iPad).
  • Just make a salad. I can’t think of one Thanksgiving meal that included a salad. It’s not that my family is full of salad-haters; everyone’s just too busy with mashed potatoes and the like to put together some fresh greens. Buy a bag of pre-washed lettuce, toss it with sliced apples, dried cranberries, feta cheese, almond slivers, and a raspberry vinaigrette, and veg heads will be grateful.
  • Think outside the casserole dish. There are lots of other items you can bring to the celebration besides food that your family and friends will appreciate. Run to your nearest dollar store and get some paper plates, napkins and cups.
  • Never underestimate the power of a beverage. Be the cool cousin and bring a few bottles of wine. Is your family more conservative? Stop by a gas station and get some two-liters (bonus points if you get Coke Zero).
  • Break it and bake it. Grab a pack of the ready-to-bake Nestlé Tollhouse cookie dough. No mixing and barely any work — you just separate the squares of dough, put on a baking sheet, and let cook in the oven. Dessert in less than an hour. What’s not to love?
  • Be honest about your shortcomings. Just come right out and say you’re frazzled and can’t fulfill your culinary commitment. So what if the crust never came together? Your family and friends will love you anyway. That’s what Thanksgiving is about.

Cooking tip: Freeze your dough ahead of time to ease holiday baking

The depths of my freezer.

This will be a homemade Christmas season for the Ashlee Eats empire.

I’m making a lot of gifts for my family and friends this year, so they should expect lots of [SPOILER ALERT] baked goodies.

But next week, I will start a new day job*, and I have seven people and counting for whom to bake dozens of cookies. When will I have the time?

The Kitchn, my favorite food blog, answered that question in this post about freezing cookie dough.

You can save lots of stress later by taking advantage of the free time you have now by doing the heavy lifting now. Here’s how, according to The Kitchn:

  • Prepare your cookie dough according to recipe directions.
  • Roll dough into little balls and place on a cookie sheet.
  • Place the cookie sheets in the freezer for about an hour or until the dough balls are frozen.
  • Pop the dough balls into a freezer bag. Don’t forget to write the name of the cookie, the date the dough was frozen and baking instructions.
  • Whenever you’re ready for the cookies, bake as normal with a couple of extra minutes added on to the baking time.

I’ve baked three batches of cookies so far that are sitting pretty in my freezer. I will also bake a cake or two ahead of time and freeze them for later, another tip I got from this post at The Kitchn

Has anyone else tried baking ahead of the craziness of the holidays?

 

*Yep, after six months of unemployment, I got a new job at Humana. Read more about it on my Twitter feed and look out for a blog post in the next few days.

Share your favorite holiday food for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Avalon

I’m so excited about hosting my first giveaway on the blog.

“How excited? ” you wonder.

This excited:

 

I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate to Avalon, which has a lunch menu with more than 20 items that are less than $7. Let’s all give a hand clap to Avalon for making this giveaway possible.

Here’s how you can win. Answer this question in the comments section today through Friday, Dec. 2:

What is your favorite food or dish that you only eat around the holidays?

To get things rolling, I’ll let you in on my favorite holiday food. I discovered this gingersnaps recipe a few years ago and have since added it to my holiday baking. I only make these at this time of year. Call me crazy, but a gingersnap cookie is only to be enjoyed at Christmastime.

I’ll randomly select the winning commenter and announce the winner on Monday. Make sure you leave your email address in the appropriate field that only I can see. Only one entry per person.

Good luck!

There’s plenty of ways to wine, dine and White Castle the one you love on Valentine’s Day

Still looking for something to do for Valentine’s Day?

February 14 is a great day to spend with people you love, eating good food.

Here are a few ideas for dining out or staying in this Valentine’s Day. Have your own food-related plans? Know of another restaurant’s special? Leave a comment.

Going out

  • If you have a few extra bucks, Hillbilly Tea is offering a five-course dinner for two for $75 from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 12-14. The restaurant will also offer a vegan option for this dinner. (Hillbilly Tea, Consuming Louisville)
  • White Castle gets classy on Valentine’s Day – tablecloths, candles and a server to bring your sliders. Call (502) 361-2317, ext. 7, to reserve your table. (White Castle)
  • Impellizzeri’s will offer heart-shaped pizzas, half-priced bottles of wine and a flower to the first 50 couples to sing by the restaurant on the big day. (Impellizzeri’s)
  • At Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen, buy your sweetie a card, a slice of cake or pie and a scoop of ice cream for $5.95. (Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen)
  • Heine Brothers coffee is offering 15 percent off the shop’s raspberry white mocha and red hot mocha through Feb. 15. (Heine Brothers)

Staying in

  • Order a heart-shaped medium pizza from Bearno’s for $14.99. Get it delivered. (Bearno’s)
  • For the cooking inclined, here is a collection of 10 chocolate recipes, including gluten-free and low-fat options. (The Kitchn)
  • Want to cook for two (or one), but not sure how to cut down a recipe? Check out All Recipes for some tips. (All Recipes)