Sunday, August 28, 2011

Coconut Overload

This isn’t a cooking blog, which you already know if you’ve read a few of my posts. I don’t fancy myself much of a cook, although I love to bake. Occasionally I'll make something fun that I feel like sharing, and today is one of those times.

Fair warning: If you don't like coconut, close this tab and come back next week, or read one of my older posts (please), because you aren’t going to like this recipe.

I like coconut a lot. Fresh & natural, flaked, sweetened, dried: you put it in front of me, I'll eat it. I also like candy, but a coconut lover like me doesn’t have many choices when it comes to candy bars. There’s Almond Joy and there’s Mounds. And that about does it, unless you like those old-fashioned neopolitan coconut squares—you know, the ones that have a stripe of pink, white, and brown. I used to when I was a kid, before I discovered chocolate. You can include on that coconut-candy list the Idaho Spud, if you live anywhere near Idaho—it’s a chocolate and marshmallow bar rolled in coconut. Those are an acquired taste, though.

Since I like Mounds better than just about any other candy bar (Idaho Spud is a close second), I’ve often pondered the possibility of making my own. Why would I bother, when three stores with Mounds on their shelves are less than three minutes from my house? Good question. I suppose it’s because I feel slightly less “that’s bad for you, don’t eat it” guilt when I make something at home. I wouldn't dream of buying commercially made fudge, cookies, or brownies, but if I make them at home, I feel like the work of making them cancels out the calories. Right?

Actually I have fun experimenting when I’m pretty sure the result will be yummy. I started looking through the Internet for a Mounds-type candy recipe, and wow—there were dozens. I had the ingredients for the most basic recipe on hand, so I cut the amounts in half (no need to waste good ingredients on something that might fail), left out the pecans (pecans in a Mounds?), and went to work.

Roughly twenty minutes later, my small batch of Almost-like-Mounds-only-better-and-homemade bars were going into the freezer to set up. I had tasted one and found it good, very good. Today, fresh out of the freezer, they are even better! Now I want to share...not the candy, just the recipe. (Scotty, bless his heart, had one bite and said he would resist the temptation to eat any more.) I also want to give credit to the originator of this recipe; you'll find a link to her recipe at the bottom. If you make it, let me know how it turns out for you.

Almost-like-Mounds-only-better-and-homemade Bars


1/2 package (7 oz) sweetened, flaked coconut
1/2 pound (1/2 of a one-pound package) powdered sugar
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp coconut flavoring, if you have it (simply adds more coconut flavor)


One bag chocolate chips or 10-12 oz chopped chocolate, light or dark depending on your preference
One Tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil, or one ounce paraffin (optional—it will thin the chocolate a bit and make it more glossy and easier to dip)

How to:
Mix coconut, sugar, condensed milk, and coconut flavoring well. You may need to get your hands messy to mash it up.

Forming the filling: Roll it out into a log that you will freeze and cut into slices, or roll into small balls, or flatten to 1/2'” thick on waxed paper in a square pan. Freeze; unless you’ve formed it into individual balls, slice before dipping. Your slices can be whatever size you prefer.

Melt 12 oz chocolate chips (and the oil or paraffin, if preferred) in a bowl or glass measuring cup in the microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and nuke again for one minute if necessary. Don’t overcook, or it will burn! You’ll have to throw it out and start over.

Let the melted chocolate cool a bit before dipping the slices or balls of frozen mixture. They’ll hold up better. Dip and cool on waxed paper. These keep well in the freezer and taste great frozen; the chocolate will be hard, but the inside will be soft. Best refrigerated, because at room temp, the chocolate will be messy. Keep napkins handy!

Note: This recipe is half the normal amount you’ll find on the Internet. Double everything, and you’ll have enough for a large plate for your holiday party, or to snack on from your freezer.

Suggestion: Use the rest of the sweetened condensed milk to make half a batch of fudge. Who needs a whole batch? Just mix in 12 oz. of chocolate chips, a tsp. of vanilla, and a pinch of salt; microwave a minute or two; pour in a pan and let harden.

Adapted from

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Poise" vs "Posie"—or, why spelling matters

My husband has a favorite misspelling story from his business life that has to do with the word "public." Leave out the "l," and you're left with what is perhaps the most feared of all misspellings. I fell victim to that same horror once too, but fortunately for my career, I caught it before it went, um, public. This was before the days of spell check, but spell check wouldn't have caught the misspelling anyway.

One little letter in the wrong place (or a missing letter) can make a big difference. That's why people who do what I do (copyediting and proofreading) are still employed, despite the wonders of technology.

What does misspelling have to do with the image above? Oh, I can't wait to tell you. It concerns the most famous cake decorating company in the U.S., or perhaps the world: Wilton. Not too long ago, they advertised a cute new decoration on their Facebook page, with a link to their website. The lavender, flower-shaped decorations were supposed to be labeled "Purple Posies," but apparently Wilton's proofreader was on vacation that day, because somebody transposed a couple of letters. All the Purple Posies became Purple Poises.

In case you haven't been listening to TV ads, "Poise" is a brand of adult incontinence product. As soon as I saw Wilton's unfortunate misspelling, I posted a slightly sarcastic response on Facebook pointing it out (something like, "That's the last thing I'd want on my cake"). Then I waited a couple of days, thinking surely such an awkward error would quickly be corrected.


I sent Wilton an email. And waited. Then I sent another. Then I posted again, this time directly on Wilton's website. Finally, whether simply because I was persistent or perhaps because others were laughing as hard as I was, Wilton cleaned up its act and disposed of the Poises. You can see for yourself at

By sheer coincidence, I saw an ad today for a new product, the one shown above—a purple Poise. Oh dear, it's too funny.

Please don't depend on spell check for important documents. Depend on a pair of trained human eyes with a brain behind them. Like me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five things I hate about my cell phone

A couple of years ago, my new Blackberry Storm was one of the best smartphones on the market. (Obviously this was pre-iPhone.) Its cool features and Verizon's buy-one-get-one-free deal hooked my husband and me into buying a pair. I've rued the day many times since then.

His BB Storm has served him well; mine has beaten me into the ground with its quirks. Try to take a photo: the flash goes off, but the shutter doesn't click (sometimes). Try to open a website in the browser: you could wait for hours, and if it does eventually come up, you can't read it on the tiny screen (most every time). Try to use the phone: the screen goes black, and all you can see is a tiny square with a revolving arrow (at the most annoying times). Try to play the highly addictive Word Mole game while your husband is sleeping beside you: the tap-tap-tap noise of the keyboard wakes him up, and he says, "Are you playing Word Mole again?" (sigh)

I'm actually on my fifth Blackberry Storm. No lie. I've had to send four phones back to Verizon for free replacements because one by one they have gone suddenly, irretrievably black. I've complained out loud so often that my husband has found himself saying the same thing over and over: "So, when are you going to [stop complaining and] get a different phone?"

My commitment to the Blackberry and to Verizon expired last April. I continued to complain; I had no excuse for not upgrading except that the pain of switching would be worse than the pain of keeping what I had. Kind of like living with a broken leg because you don't want the doc to set it.

This week I found my courage and set my broken leg with a new Droid Incredible 2. It was smart, it was free with a 2-year commitment, and it had great reviews. I knew it wouldn't have Word Mole but figured I could keep the Blackberry charged up for the game.

Now I'm wondering, What the heck was I thinking? This amazing new phone has become Jenny's Enemy No. 1. Here's why I hate it:
  1. Turning it on is a 2-step process, and that's one step too many. Why do I have to push a button AND swipe the screen?
  2. The Facebook interface stinks. I can't see at a glance whether I have new notifications in Facebook. That's a separate, five-step process. Swipe, swipe, touch, swipe, touch.
  3. I can't get email set up. After four days, I'm still trying to get the IMAP settings from our domain admin. Paul, call me!
  4. Making anything larger takes two fingers and a special pulling-apart motion instead of one finger pressing the screen.
  5. I lost my ring tone: the theme song from Firefly, one of my favorite movies.

    Bonus item:
  6. It doesn't have Word Mole. That means I'm stuck carrying around two phones until I can download an equally addictive, challenging, fun time waster on the Droid.
Yeah, I know—new technology can be hard to adopt when you're so in tune with the old (the enemy you know intimately can be a more comfortable companion than a new friend). Give me another week or two, and I'll eventually find a few things I like about my Droid.

The positives so far:
  • It's thin.
  • It doesn't constantly reboot itself.
  • It can automatically switch to speaker mode when you flip it over.
  • The clock display is so big I'm sure the astronauts can read it from the space station.
  • Its touch screen doesn't make any noise, so when I do eventually find another game, I can play it in stealth mode all night long.
Do you think I could bribe the Droid programmers to make an Incredible version of Word Mole?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How city living stacks up to country life

I miss my stacks. Nicely, neatly organized stacks of canned goods, chocolate chips, cake mixes, napkins and paper towels, cereal, gravy mixes, Crisco—if it kept well on a shelf, I had six or seven.

For 26 years (most of my adult life), I lived in a beautiful rural setting that was at least seven miles from the nearest... anything. Store, gas station, restaurant, coffee shop. The only thing within hollerin' distance was our white-steepled country church, but when you need a cup of sugar or a couple pounds of potatoes, church isn't going to do you a whole lot of good.

One Thanksgiving I was cooking the turkey for my young family when I discovered I was low on potatoes. Like, down to two. An early blizzard had made driving treacherous, and I knew the stores would be closed even if I could get out of our driveway. Then I saw my neighbors, who were supposed to be driving to another town for the holidays, pull back into their ranch down the road. I called Judy and found out they had turned around because of the icy roads, and no, they didn't have anything prepared for Thanksgiving, and sure, they'd love to come over. So the seven of us had a wonderful time dining on turkey, pies, veggies, rice, and one spoonful apiece of mashed potatoes. It was one of the best Thanksgivings ever, but I never wanted to run out of anything again.

My failsafe was to stock several of everything. I worked full time in town and had my hands full with two little boys, so I would rush to do my grocery shopping on the way home and fill the pantry with whatever was on sale and would last. The fewer trips to the store, the better. I loved the sight of my overflowing but neatly stacked shelves in the kitchen and, eventually, in a good-sized area of our large basement. You would have thought I was prepping for Armageddon.

When I moved out of that house last year, I found the fruits of my overzealous labors tucked into the nooks and crannies of my basement shelves. I can tell you from experience that (a) when you move 1400 miles you do not want to burden your movers with canned goods, even if that tub of Crisco did cost $5; and (b) most of the stuff that's been sitting on your shelves for ten years isn't going to taste very good. Did you know sweetened condensed milk turns a lovely golden brown when it's past its prime? Or that frosting in those little cardboard tubs goes rancid, even though it still may sport a beautiful shade of pink?

Starting over in a new city—in the suburbs, where almost nothing is more than five minutes out of reach—has given me a new outlook on what might have been called "hoarding light." I no longer have a plethora of shelves to fill or a basement or a full-sized, stand-alone freezer (there was stuff in there from the 1990s, no kidding). I have exactly one small pantry with a few shelves and a garage that is, at present, around 120 degrees Farenheit because that's how garages are in Phoenix in the summer. It's perfect for paper goods or chips and crackers (boy do they stay crispy!).

Something about stacking items on shelves still appeals to me, though. I fight the urge to stock up whenever there's a great sale on, say, canned tomatoes. I know I'll need them for all the chili I'm going to make this fall and winter. I have to keep reminding myself that it takes exactly two minutes to drive to Fry's. Two and a half to Safeway. Five to Target.

Right now I have way too many chocolate chips, something I always grab when they're on sale. So I'm going to make chocolate hard-shell topping, like the expensive and chemical-filled Magic Shell by Smuckers. Mine is better. Here's how:

Hard Shell Chocolate Topping
Melt 7 oz. of chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips, if you aren't picky—any type works fine) with two tablespoons of coconut oil. You can do this on the stovetop or in the microwave. If you're nuking it, go slow, 30 seconds at a time. Stir after each 30-second interval. Two or three times should do it. Spoon it or pour it over your ice cream. The extra will keep in your cupboard just fine. I put mine in a covered Tupperware container and nuke it again, briefly, if it's set up instead of liquid-y.

I suppose when we move from this small rental into a larger home next year, I'll have more pantry space. I may even buy a freezer. But somehow I'm going to resist the urge to stack stuff to the ceiling—I promise. And if I have too much, I can always have my toddler grandson unstack it all for me. It's one of his favorite things to do, and hey, then I can have the satisfaction of re-stacking it all over again.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Top five things to do before taking your child to a movie

1. Go to a stranger's house.
2. Seat the child in a chair next to you and seat the strangers around you.
3. Turn off the lights and turn on a movie with the same rating as the one you're planning to attend.
4. Tell the child to (a) sit still and (b) be quiet.
5. If the child can't do either (a) OR (b) throughout the entire movie, DO NOT GO TO A PUBLIC THEATER. Please. I beg you.