It’s a Miracle!

The weirdest thing happened the other day. Last Friday I posted about how hard homemade caramel is and how many times it’s been a disaster for me. But somehow, miraculously, that afternoon I DID IT.

First Try. 

No mess.

Just golden, scrumptious, smooth, beautiful caramel. 

[Insert kitchen happy dance here]

My 'first try' caramel, in all it's glory.

My ‘first try’ caramel, in all it’s glory.

I was looking for a brownie recipe to make for a night with friends, and like usual, I was drawn to the one with caramel (I can’t help that I loooove caramel!!!). Salted caramel brownies to be exact, curtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

I thought about passing the recipe over for another one (sans caramel) but it was early enough in the day that I thought I’d give it a shot since I had time to toss everything and start over.

And even though I didn’t let them cool long enough so that they were a big gooey mess, they were a hit!

On Saturday, I was heading to a friends ranch for the night and had offered to bring dessert, so to see if Friday’s success was a fluke, I decided to try again…and it wasn’t! I did it again!!!

While I’m sure there will be many more caramel attempts that I ruin, and each time I will learn something new, for now I will celebrate by sharing the recipe with you, and the tricks that I think helped me succeed.

Salted Caramel Brownies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Caramel

1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp butter
Heaped 1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp heavy cream

Brownie

1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heaped 1/4 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup all purpose flour

To make caramel:

Place parchment paper on a medium sized plate and grease the paper with butter or cooking spray.

Heat medium sauce pan or frying pan (I used a non-stick pan) to medium high heat. I used 6 on my dial and I really think that this is where the difference from all the other failures lies. Spread sugar throughout pan, shaking the pan to spread evenly.

Step away.

Resist stirring.

Give it at least three minutes before you step back to it. At this point you should see it turning into brown liquid. Shake the pan around again to re-spread the sugar. Once the sugar has really started melting, gently and sparingly use a spatula to mix in the remaining sugar until it has all melted into a golden brown liquid. Over stirring is a major cause of screw up for me.

Remove from heat and stir in butter and salt. It will bubble up so make sure you don’t get sprayed by the hot liquid. Stir until the butter is mostly incorporated (however this may be tough so don’t worry too much). Add cream, stirring again and return it to the stove to medium high heat (I just leave my burner on because adding the butter/cream only takes a minute). Bring it back to a simmer, stirring to incorporate all of the butter and cream. Cook for a few minutes more until it is a shade darker.

Pour over parchment, spreading around a bit, and then place in the freezer. Freeze until solidified which takes at least 20 minutes, but the longer you leave it in, the harder the caramel will be and the less it will melt in the brownies.

To review: the two keys that meant success for me this time were melting the sugar at a 6 (medium high heat) and really.resisting.stirring.

To make brownie:

Pre-heat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

In a simmering double boiler, melt chocolate and butter until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, then eggs (one at a time) then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spatula.

To assemble:

Line a 8×8 inch pan with greased parchment paper.

Once caramel is nice and frozen, remove from freezer and chop into smallish pieces. Put about 3/4 of pieces into the brownie batter and gently mix in. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place remaining caramels on top of batter and bake for 30 minutes or until tooth pick comes out clean.

Cool thoroughly, or not, depending on if you want brownies that will cut well or if you are happy with gooey, messy brownies. Your call! They are both delicious.

Enjoy! And then enjoy a few more to reward yourself for nailing caramel. Or to reward yourself for attempting caramel (even if you blew it).

Chopped up. It was so hard not to eat half of them here!

Chopped up. It was so hard not to eat half of them here!

A little gooey, but oh so good.

A little gooey, but oh so good.

Image 2

Success! I'm unabashedly proud of myself...Jill-1, Caramel - 10. But at least I'm on the board!

Success! I’m unabashedly proud of myself…Jill-1, Caramel – 10. But at least I’m on the board!

Advertisements

Homemade Tortilla Wraps

About a year ago, Keith happened to be looking at the ingredients and nutrition information on a package of flour tortillas and discovered that some brands of tortillas actually have trans fats in them. Generally, we eat pretty well and since we don’t buy a lot of packaged foods, we don’t spend much time reading labels (that’s the great thing about fresh fruits and veggies! You don’t need a label to tell you they’re good for you!). We were both very surprised when he saw this. Luckily not all brands include trans fats so we learned to pick the ones that didn’t.

But it got me to thinking about why we bought them at all. I’m quite serious when I say that we don’t eat much packaged or pre-made food. Our meals generally consist of a piece of meat, a vegetable (salad usually) and on occasion potatoes or rice. Or sometimes the other way around, a big salad and some home made fries (huge staple for us). We barely visit those ‘centre aisles’ at the grocery store where packaged foods lie (except the baking aisle of course!).

Now I am not speaking from a high horse, I think everyone knows that even though we don’t eat store bought junk food, we still eat some junk (and if you need proof check out this, this or this!). And I’m not trying to say that nothing that is packaged is unhealthy, because that certainly isn’t true! But I have found an easy way to cut down on one more packaged item that you might eat…tortillas!

When we first found out about the trans fats we just bought that package that didn’t have them and called it a day. But then I started looking up recipes to check if there was another option. My first try was a bit of a flop. They were more like thin-ish pizza crusts and didn’t bend or roll at all like store bought tortillas. My second attempt was better, but I still knew that there was room for improvement. I thought for sure there was some secret that I was missing, and it turns out I was right!

These are my second attempt and while they look ok, they didn't have the dexterity and elasticity that I look for in a tortilla.

These are my second attempt and while they look ok, they didn’t have the dexterity and elasticity that I look for in a tortilla.

A couple of weeks ago we hadn’t had anything with wraps for a while, so I decided to try my hand at them again. I started looking around on blogs for recipes and came across one that looked promising. It talked about the fat in the recipe needing to be a solid fat, not like olive or vegetable oil.

And the fat that it suggested was coconut oil! Keith bought some coconut oil in the fall after visiting a friend in Vancouver studying to be a naturopathic doctor. She raved about how versatile it was and how you could use it for anything from skin care to in baking to on toast! I have to admit I was skeptical because I don’t really like coconut. And while I definitely won’t eat it on toast, and still prefer butter on popcorn, I’ll admit that it is a great staple to add to the kitchen.

These wraps do take a little bit of patience, mostly because you have to stand over the stove for a long time cooking them (each one cooks quickly but I like to make a big batch), but if you get 2 or 3 frying pans going it doesn’t take long. Plus, if you make a big batch you can throw half in the freezer and take them out a few weeks down the road — JUST as if you’d grabbed them off the shelf at the grocery store!

Homemade Tortillas (adapted from The Prairie Homestead)

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp sea salt
4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 cup warm milk

Measure the flour into a big bowl adding the salt and mixing. Heat the milk slightly, or use powdered milk and warm water as the base (that’s what I did because we don’t always have milk in the house). Measure the coconut oil into the flour and, using your hands, pile the flour over top of the oil.

There really is no two ways about this, you have to use your hands. But since it’s such a large quantity of flour and small quantity of oil, your hands don’t get too dirty (plus, it’s just like moisturizer anyways!). Mix the oil into the flour rubbing the flour between your hands and breaking up any big clumps. There will be some small clumps, and that’s ok, but make sure there aren’t too many.

Gradually add the milk continuing to mix with your hands until it all comes together in a nice ball. Don’t feel that you need to use all the milk if it comes together without all of it. If you dump too much in it will become a stick mess and you might need to add more flour. Knead the dough for about two minutes.

Cover and let stand for about 20 minutes while you prepare your pans and rolling surface (don’t leave them in much longer because they get tough to roll out).

Heat two large pans over medium heat. Clean a big area on your counter and cover with a sprinkling of flour. Get the dough out and split it into about 16 equally sized balls. Take one and roll it out using more flour as needed so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Make the dough as thin as possible without breaking through it. This will take some patience, but you will get used to it and eventually it moves along quite quickly.

Once the pans are hot, place one tortilla in the centre and let cook for about 2 minutes. You can tell it’s done when the edges look a little dry. Flip tortilla and let cook again for up to 2 minutes. You need to keep a close eye on the first couple to get an idea of how long they will take. I find that mine take about 90 seconds give or take. They should be slightly browned and may have puffed spots, which is just fine.

Remove from heat and place on a cooling rack. Once they are totally cool, store them in a ziplock bag with a piece of paper towel in it. I like to throw half in the fridge and half in the freezer and take them stuffed with lettuce, peppers, cheese and mustard for my lunch at school!

Pre-cooking, post rolling. Nice and thin!

Pre-cooking, post rolling. Nice and thin!

Pile of wraps!

Pile of wraps!

ClumPIEst Caramel Ever

Whenever a recipe says “Easy Homemade Caramel” it’s lying. DO NOT believe it. Unless said recipe just calls to melt caramel candies with cream and whisk until smooth (which for the record doesn’t mean that it’s homemade).

Caramel is HARD (pun intended since that’s what it turns when I fail). I’ve failed at it at least three times now. Maybe a couple more that my mind is blacking out for my sanity. Once I failed twice before just melting down some caramels because I was running out of time.

Let me break this down for you...The yellow liquid is melted butter, coating everything it touches. The clumps are Rock.Hard. sugar (obviously coated with butter). What was supposed to be smooth and thick and beautiful was instead gross and impossible to clean. Yuck

Let me break this down for you…
The yellow liquid is melted butter, coating everything it touches. The clumps are Rock.Hard. sugar (obviously coated with butter). And the other stuff is weird butter/sugar hybrid yuckiness. And yes, it is actually this colour. What was supposed to be smooth and thick and beautiful golden brown was instead gross and impossible to clean. Yuck

So just trust me, it’s hard.

And while I’d love to be able to write a detailed post breaking down the recipe and presenting it in simple steps that DO make it easy-er, I can’t. Yet. So instead I will give you the recipe that I used for Salted Caramel Apple Pie yesterday and say that someday I will master caramel. And on that day I will share my secrets!

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

1 pie crust (I used a crust I had leftover in the freezer from in December when Nancy and I made pie crust)
3 gala apples, peeled and sliced
1 granny smith apple, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp dark rum (optional)
3 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

For the caramel:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 light corn syrup (I know, I know, not good for you, but I was in a time crunch ok?!)
6 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt (preferably flaked but I didn’t have any so I just used regular)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Start with the caramel, because if you botch it (don’t worry, I won’t judge!) you don’t want your apples sitting out browning. Mix the sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt into a heavy pot over medium-high heat and let melt. Cook for about 9 minutes until the mixture is bubbling vigourously. Stir only in the first 2-3 minutes (hint: I set a timer so that after three minutes I was cut off from stirring – sometimes I get too keen with the stirring). Once it has been about 9 minutes and the mixture is bubbling, remove from heat and carefully stir in 1/4 cup of the cream. Be careful because it will bubble up and can spray you, which hurts A LOT because the sugar is so hot! Stir in the remaining cream and let cool until just warm.

Pre-heat the oven to 300C.

For the apples, preferably use a corer so that you can cut them in perfect circles. It makes the pie super cute. Unfortunately I don’t have a corer so my was less than cute (still yummy though!). Once they are cored, peeled and sliced, toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice, flour, sugar and cinnamon (and rum if using). Get your pie crust out of the freezer (that’s where mine was coming from, or just grab it from the other counter) and try to artfully arrange the apples. I just dumped mine in and then worked to arrange the top ones nicely but next time I think I’ll try a little harder because it could have been a lot prettier.

Take your cooled caramel and pour it all over the apples. The pie plate will get really full so it’s a good idea to put it on a cookie tray for spillage. Bake the pie for 25 minutes before turning the temperature up to 350C for another 35-40 minutes. It is done when the crust looks golden brown and the caramel is all bubbly. Don’t worry when you take it out as it will look a little runny, but let it cool for 5-6 hours and it will firm up. Unfortunately I didn’t let mine cool long enough and it was basically just mushy pudding, but it still tasted amazing and I didn’t get any complaints!

The GOOD caramel. I definitely used an easier recipe, but I'm just glad it turned out!

The GOOD caramel. I definitely used an easier recipe, but I’m just glad it turned out!

Pre-oven pie. I totally forgot to take a post oven, or a plated shot so you'll have to use your imagination.

Pre-oven pie. I totally forgot to take a post oven, or a plated shot so you’ll have to use your imagination.

I took this over to Jess’s for supper with her and her boyfriend Adam, and Adam took one bite and said, “Yup, this is a thirds dessert” (yes, his mind went straight to thirds haha). It was yummy! We served it with home made vanilla ice cream (by Keith). And it’s a good thing it was so yummy, because it was the only thing keeping me happy as I got my butt kicked in Catan:).

Bell Let’s Talk Day!

Today is one of my favourite texting days of all time. It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day to spread awareness about Mental Health initiatives in Canada. For every text sent, tweet with #BellLetsTalk and share their photo gets on facebook, Bell will donate $0.05 to mental health initiatives.

For
Me
This
Means
Sending
Texts
One
Word
At
A
Time
And
Retweeting
Like
Crazy!

Join the fun and help start the conversation about mental health! (And if you have an iphone, don’t forget to turn off imessaging!)

You can brighten someone’s day with infinite I LOVE YOU’s and help a great cause all at the same time!!!

Nothing to Bragg About

My last post was about an amazing run that I had in the West Bragg Creek day use area. Unfortunately my awesome run was dampened by some pretty sad stuff.

About a year ago there was a petition circling because the Spray Lake Sawmills announced that they were planning on clear cutting over 700 hectares of land in Kananaskis country, including much of West Bragg. CLEAR CUTTING. Unfortunately the petition wasn’t successful in stopping the logging and as a result it has already begun. (Visit Sustain Kananaskis to learn more).

It’s not really a secret that I care deeply about the environment, the wilderness and preserving our undeveloped wilderness for future generations, and this just made me sad. While I was there I was running through areas that had already been clear cut, across logging roads blazed right through the bush and over the piles of rubble that the loggers have created. It really got me thinking about the importance of preserving wilderness.

Remember this beauty of a photo?

Beauty of a panorama. It's views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

Beauty of a panorama. It’s views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

Well sadly directly behind me it looked like this:

Sadly THIS was right behind me when I took the panorama. How do we let such a beautiful area succumb to industry?

Sadly THIS was right behind me when I took the panorama. How do we let such a beautiful area succumb to industry?

You can’t see it all that well (I was just using my iPhone), but there are just a few trees and then a huge area that has already been clear cut.

As I continued along I found even more sad areas.

On the trail right before getting to this type of thing there is a big stop sign saying that the giant machine that eats trees is working here. Luckily it's not out on Sundays but I couldn't help but think that the squirrels, birds and chipmunks can't read the stop sign!

On the trail right before getting to this type of thing there is a big stop sign saying that the giant machine that eats trees is working here. Luckily it’s not out on Sundays but I couldn’t help but think that the squirrels, birds and chipmunks can’t read the stop sign!

A logging road blazing right through a beautiful poplar grove.

A logging road blazing right through a beautiful poplar grove.

All of the wood stacked up

A bunch of trees stacked up.

But it was only when I got back to the parking lot to find that there were over 100 cars in the parking lot that it hit home one of the many reasons WHY it is important to preserve areas like this.

Let’s do a little math: Since I got there at 9 am and the parking lot was full by 11 am, let’s assume that it was pretty much full between 10 am and 4 pm when it begins to get dark. If we say that there was likely an average of 3 people per car, and the cars were probably there for about an hour and a half, there were likely over 1,200 people that used the West Bragg day use area in ONE day alone. And I would even hazard that that number is conservative.

There were skiers, snowshoes, hikers, dog walkers, mountain bikers and even a horse. Families, friends, kids, dogs, you name it. There is no question that that area was well used on Sunday, February 3rd and likely every other weekend day for about 90% of the weekends of the year. And this is just one of hundreds of areas that people can get out adventuring in Kananaskis Country, let alone the Canmore area, Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho and every other national and provincial park across the country.

But somehow projects like clear cutting West Bragg are happening all the time. The reason that I alluded to a few paragraphs earlier (which I will admit is just one of the many many reasons that these areas are important) is that today, this very moment in Canada, we have an incredibly serious obesity issue on our hands. Over 60% of Canadian adults are considered overweight or obese putting them at higher risk for chronic disease and making them a huge extra cost on our already overburdened health care system. And for the first time in history, the current generation of children WILL NOT OUTLIVE THEIR PARENTS. Even with all of our advancements in healthcare, the serious damage and risk that kids experience through obesity at a young age has the life expectancy of the current generation lower than the one before.

Think of the thousands of people out enjoying the mountains on the weekends. This is one way that we can fight this disease. This is one way that we can help protect our children from their terrible fate. By families getting out and being active together while enjoying the fresh air, children are learning positive habits about being physically active, they are decreasing their screen time and fostering a healthy appreciation of nature.

Making sure that these areas continue to be available across Canada is incredibly important and can play a big role in decreasing obesity across all generations.

If that isn’t worth saving the West Bragg Creak day use area and every other area that is currently at risk, then I’m not sure what is.

I Don’t Mean to Bragg or Anything

(Written Sunday, February 3rd)

I just got home from my best run in a long time. This morning after dropping Keith off at the airport I headed out to the West Bragg Creek day use area to log some km’s.

West Bragg is this awesome area right on the edge of Kananaskis country with about 50 km of cross country ski trails and 50 km of snowshoe/hiking trails. There is a nice big parking lot separating the two so that walkers don’t trample the ski trails, and even though there isn’t always great snow there, there is always someone out enjoying the area. It’s also only about 60km outside of Calgary which makes the area nice option when you don’t want to spend 2+ hours in the car in order to get to Canmore/Banff/Lake Louise etc.

When I got there I was the fifth car in the parking lot. I got my shoes on and loaded up my pack and hit the Telephone Loop – a 16 km snowshoe loop (in runners). It was +4C (holy smokes – awesome for February!) and the snow was just softening up. At the beginning the trail was well packed but by about 3 km it was a slog. Sinking in every single step is hard, but I was determined to forget about how fast I was going and just enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Absolutely stunning day in K-Country

Absolutely stunning day in K-Country

While it’s not quite full on mountains, West Bragg is definitely in the ‘bigger’ foothills, so there is lots of rolling and you never quite feel like you’re on the flats. Over the course of the 17 km that I did I climbed about 500 metres in total.

With about 4km to go I decided to change my course and head up a different trail that went up and up and up until there was very little snow on the ground. And I had an epiphany! You know how over the last couple of months it has seemed like running is so hard? Like every single run (even when it’s short) has taken so much effort but even still it’s nearly impossible to meet speed targets and time targets? Well I remembered why!

When I hit the first patch of snow-less-trail I thought it was a fluke. Everything got easier for the couple of minutes I was on dirt, but I thought for sure that it was just a matter of it being flat or something. But sure enough patch after patch after patch I hit I sped up! Just like in those videos games where you hit the thing that fires you ahead really fast! (Ok, can you tell I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve played video games?). It was so awesome!!!

I guess in my head I knew how hard it is to run in snow, even when it’s just snow on pavement, but my heart didn’t really believe it. I’ve been really struggling with my training lately having trouble getting it all in, feeling more tired than usual and just in general being frustrated with running. But I finally totally believe that the snow does in fact slow me down and that I can stop beating myself up about it! On this run it was particularly obvious as I was averaging about 7 minutes per kilometre (8 km and hour) and normally on my long runs I average about 11km an hour.

It was such an epiphany and I felt really spoiled running on dirt even if it was just for about a kilometre or so. When I got back to the parking lot, I was so surprised. As I was coming down a really muddy/icy hill that was taking all of my attention, I could hear some voices and figured that there were a few more people who had arrived at the trails. Boy was I wrong. There must have been over 100 cars in the parking lot!!! Snowshoers, skiers, bikers, hikers, and even a horse! It was madness! And so so so amazing to see! It warms my heart when I see other people out enjoying the weather and the beauty of our world and this number blew me away.

So I guess I can’t really Bragg anyways, because so many other people were out there too;)!

Beauty of a panorama. It's views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

Beauty of a panorama. It’s views like this that remind me how much I love the mountains.

It’s the final countdown

Do do do do, do do do do do, do do do do, do do do do do do do.

Anyone catch the tune? I’m on my final countdown to graduation!!! While I don’t have my exam schedule yet and therefore don’t know what exact day I’ll be done, I know that it will be by April 30th at the latest! And hopefully it will be a few days BEFORE that, since we have officially booked tickets to fly to the Philippines on May 1st!

This semester is promising to be busy (who am I kidding, I’m four weeks in and it’s already been busy) but the carrot in front of my nose is dangling and I’m full speed ahead!

I have four academic classes this semester and a practicum and what I’m enjoying the most by far is my practicum. It’s at an integrative health clinic called INLIV that specializes in “Inspiring Amazing Lives”. Right up my ally right?!

So far I’ve been shadowing an exercise physiologist doing mostly baseline fitness testing (CPAFLA protocol). Since I’ve learned this protocol in many of my classes I get hands on experience running the tests which has been great. I have also shadowed some of the trainers and helped with a blood lactate test, all of which has been great experience. Coming up this week I will be put through a workout by the Fitness and Health Director (yikes!) as an ‘initiation’. I’m actually really looking forward to it, but not the next day when I can’t walk! Clearly I do predominantly cardio workouts!

This was me gazing into my future at my high school graduation. Can't believe this was SIX years ago!

This was me gazing into my future at my high school graduation. Can’t believe this was SIX years ago!

This is a few of my girl friends and I celebrating at our high school grad. In a few months I will be doing the same thing, except that I'm skipping the cap and gown and hitting the beach in a bathing suit. Or whatever other adventures we have is SEA!

This is a few of my girl friends and I celebrating at our high school grad. In a few months I will be doing the same thing, except that I’m skipping the cap and gown and hitting the beach in a bathing suit. Or whatever other adventures we have is SEA!