Homemade Marinara: My Base Recipe

First of all, hello again! I haven’t posted anything since February. That’s largely in part to some blog account issues I was having. After many months, I finally discovered that WordPress prefers to operate on any browser except Google Chrome.

Anyway! I’ve been experimenting with marinara. Basically I use:

  • one onion
  • one carrot OR one bag of baby carrots
  • five or six cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes

I begin by chopping the onion into small pieces. Then I chop the garlic cloves and the carrots. I sauté these with olive oil in a large pot. I usually let it cook until the onions are transparent. This only takes a medium-range heat setting.

*The carrots are a substitute for sugar. As the carrots reduce, they release a natural sweetness, as well as vitamins!

Once that’s done, I toss all of the tomatoes into the pot. I let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally. At this point, I like to add dried herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme. Don’t forget to add salt, too. There isn’t an exact time frame for it; I just let it cook until the tomatoes have mostly broken down.

After it’s cooked sufficiently, I blend it. I either use my immersion blender or a regular blender. I blend until I get a desirable consistency for my taste. I pour the entire pot into a large glass jar and keep it refrigerated for about a week to nine days.

Macarons

I finally made macarons!! They have been an obsession of mine for months now. A large part of getting my KitchenAid stand mixer was having the ability to make macarons. Amidst the studying and stressing, I purchased half a dozen macarons from a bakery in town. I ate them right away and was greatly disappointed.

Like I said, macarons have become an interest of mine, so naturally, I’ve been doing my research. Macarons are supposed to be delicate, chewy, sweet, and overall AMAZING. The half dozen I consumed that day where anything but. The shells were hollow and crumbled. They were also baked too much.

That fiasco prompted me to do it myself. I’ll post the recipe I used. I have found that the two most difficult tasks involved with making macs is:

  1. WHIPPING THE EGG WHITES: It is far too easy to over-whip egg whites. Then you’re stuck with something you can’t use. You may as well start over. If you put it in your batter, the batter won’t have the consistency required in order to dry.
  2. GETTING THE AIR OUT: If you’re not familiar with macs, the batter is almond flour and confectioners’ sugar carefully folded into meringue. You want the batter to move around without it being too runny. It’s quite finicky. Then once you have the shells piped out, you have to slam the trays against a hard surface to release any excess air. An unsuccessful removal of the air will result in a less-than-appealing appearance, but they’ll still taste great!

With my macarons (pictured), I wasn’t able to get all of the air out. I was worried my neighbors would complain about noise. My friend pointed out that an easy solution would be to lay a towel down under the trays. I also tried to make them light blue, but I didn’t use enough dye. They turned out a little green.

My FIRST EVER macs

RECIPE

Macaron shells:

  • 3/4 cup of super fine almond flour
  • 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 egg whites (large eggs at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp milk or heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE SHELLS

  1. Sift the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar together into a bowl. Set this aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium until you see soft peaks. This should only take a couple minutes. It would be best if you monitored the progress.
  3. Add the granulated sugar to the egg whites. Mix on medium until the peaks are stiff and glossy. This should take a couple minutes.
  4. Add the vanilla and beat for thirty seconds on high.
  5. CAREFULLY fold the dry mix into the meringue you’ve just made. You want the batter to be runny, but not TOO runny. Think the consistency of lava. If you’re unfamiliar with that: you want to mix the batter until you can remove some, add it back, and the batter recombines on its own.
  6. If you want to add color, do it while you’re folding the batter. Add more than you think you’ll need.
  7. Put the batter into a bag. This can either be a piping bag with a 1/2 in tip OR a regular sandwich bag with the corner cut off. If you use the sandwich bag method, use a freeze bag. It’s stiffer and will give you more control.
  8. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper. Hold the bag vertically and do not swirl as you pipe.
  9. Bang the pans against a counter to release the air bubbles.
  10. Let this sit for about half an hour. This is so that the macarons can form a film. At the end, you want to be able to run your finger across the top without disturbing the shell.
  11. Bake at 325°F for about 7-10 minutes. It doesn’t take long. You’ll want to rotate the pans halfway through.
  12. Let the macarons cool. When they’ve cooled, you should be able to lift them off the parchment paper easily.

FOR THE FILLING (Buttercream)

  1. Beat the butter with the paddle attachment on medium-high until it looks smooth, light and fluffy.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk (or whipping cream), and vanilla.
  3. Beat some more.
  4. Don’t be afraid to taste test. You may need to add a pinch of salt if it’s too sweet.
  5. Pipe this onto a macaron, sandwiching it with another.

It will help to let the macarons rest in the fridge overnight inside an air-tight container. Consume with pleasure!

Studying and Staying Motivated

One of my downfalls in the past has been staying motivated. I’m talking motivated to study, to work, to cook, to clean, to wake up early, and just being productive in general.

I’m taking only 13 credit hours: organic chemistry, organic chemistry lab, genetics, ethics online, and a seminar.

I have learned that being busy does not equate to being productive. Doing busy work is not the same as committing several minutes to work on an assignment or two. I use downtime between classes to take notes or read the chapters or work on homework assignments. My major motivator these days is the fear of falling behind. That may not be the case for everyone, and that’s understandable. You have to find something worth working towards. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or drastic. For example, find a bakery with the most amazing cupcakes. Set some goals for yourself at the beginning of every week. Buy yourself a cupcake for every week you fulfill your weekly goals.

Motivation isn’t easy. I manipulated my course schedule to only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday, with the heaviest load being on Thursday. If I stumble, my assignments could pile up. I still go into work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I use the morning hours to sip some hot tea and read assigned chapters. At nights, I cook. It’s become an outlet for me. I put on a load of laundry meanwhile. When I can, I write for this blog, I read books, I bake bread. Multitasking is key.

I’ve managed to study every night and stay on top of things. I’m proud of myself. I can say that.

The most important thing to realize is that progress is relative. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others, only to your previous self. All you need to do is better than you did yesterday. You can do this. We’ve got this.

Casanova

I often like to reflect on my life and how amazing things really are. Days spent with Casanova remind me of how grateful I am to have stumbled upon him. I am in love with everything about him.

I embarked on my quest for a puppy in March of 2018. I had just moved into my apartment. It began innocently enough. It started by browsing through internet advertisements during my classes. Some of the advertised puppies had names, I’m guessing to add to the cuteness. One little puppy was named Casanova; I fell in love with the name. I added the name to my growing list of possible names. My idea was the name had to match my pup’s personality. The frontrunners were Casanova if I found a boy and Cecelia if I found a girl. Obviously, the name needed to be unique.

I spent months looking online and in pet shops and at animal shelters for my puppy, but none of them felt quite right. At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted a boy or girl, I just knew it had to feel perfect. I had already purchased a dog bed, food bowls, and several toys.

I eventually had a dream about my puppy. In that dream, my puppy was fluffy, yellow, and loved me to pieces.

In July, my brother found an advertisement online posted by a family about an hour and half away. This family had three boy puppies: one black and white (which had already been sold), one brown, and one sandy blonde with dark hair around his mouth. I was told the mother of the puppies was a shih-tzu, the father was a maltipoo. The family sent me pictures of the sandy blonde one. I knew. That was my Casanova, the malshipoo.

I immediately arranged to pick him up. My brother went with me. On the way, we stopped to buy a little blue collar and an engraved name tag.

My sweet boy cuddled against me from the moment he was in my arms. He was eight weeks old, born on May 29th. He slept the entire way home. He didn’t understand his toys at first, but he caught on. He learned so quickly and would do anything for a piece of turkey.

I brought him a bear to play with on the ride home. He cuddled it instead.

It sounds cliché, but that day changed my life. Casanova has been a blessing. He is seven months old. The dark hair around his mouth has grown out. He cuddles with me when I’m sad. He plays with me when I need a distraction from the monotonous daily grind. He especially loves to be outside. He hates baths. He hates to be separated from me; he won’t even let me close the bathroom door. He usually sleeps with his head on a stuffed toy or a pillow. He gives me SO many kisses.

I truly adore him. My goal is giving him his best possible life. I sometimes wish he could speak so that I could explain what it means when I tell him I love him.

Finding an Apartment

Hello! With the end of my lease approaching, I have been hunting for a new abode. Having nearly completed my first year of living independently, I thought I might share some of my newly gained (though still limited) knowledge. I’m no stranger to moving around. By my count, I’ve moved approximately seventeen or eighteen times in my life. I moved away from home, into a dorm, and then into my apartment.

Apartment Features

  1. The first thing to consider is what you’ll be doing with your space. Will you be cooking? If so, you may desire a fully equipped kitchen. Will you be using a communal laundry room or would you prefer to have your own machines? With many apartments, there are laundry rooms meant for the residents. However, if you prefer your own machines, you might have to insist on washer/dryer hook-ups. Also consider whether you want carpet or hardwood flooring.
  2. You will have neighbors. Try and be observant of the residents in the area as you tour the various complexes. It can be difficult, but try to notice the thickness of the walls and the proximity of the units. Take into consideration the age group that is predominant in the area. You may not want to live near people that are going out late and honking car horns at all hours, unless you too plan to do so.
  3. Keep in mind that you will be required to move the entirety of your belongings into this new space. If your apartment is an upstairs apartment, you (and your moving crew) will have to carry everything up those stairs. That means a couch or futon, a dining table, a coffee table, a bed. You get the picture. It CAN be worth it, but if you’re not up for it, try and get a ground-level apartment.

Rent

I probably don’t have to say this, but don’t try to live beyond your means. The cost of living varies based on location. Larger cities and areas near popular nodes can stand to raise their rent. Know what you’re willing to pay for. Personally, I wouldn’t like paying an outrageous amount of money for a complex that has a tennis court, a golf course, and a mini bar. I simple wouldn’t partake in those luxuries, but I would still be paying them, ya feel? If your rent is inescapably high, make sure you have a contingency plan. Work hard, save money, and make good choices. It’s quite possible that getting away from the popular areas will lower the rent prices.

There is no shame in having your parents’ help, but don’t take that for granted. Not everyone is granted that luxury. If you can afford to help out, offer to pay some bills or a portion of the rent.

Pets

If you don’t have pets, you can pretty much skip this part. Since getting Casanova (the light of my life), I’ve started taking note of things I never had before. I now require clean, grassy areas where I can walk my boy without worrying about him. Try to consider the best things for your pet. You are their voice.

Nearby Amenities

What’s important to you? Being close to campus or being close to WalMart? Would you prefer to live walking distance from campus? Is it important that you pass a Starbucks on your way to class? Do you need to be near a shopping mall or a library? Location is everything and can inspire greatness.

In the end, be critical of the things that matter to you. Assuming that no one enjoys moving, pick the place you can see yourself being happy at for a few years.

Preparing for Spring

As a college student, my mind is constantly geared towards what I can do in order to prepare for my classes. I haven’t always done as well in my classes as I would like to, and that is hard to face. I graduated from high school as the valedictorian. I was the typical “I aced the exam and didn’t even have to study” student that annoys everyone. But if it’s any consolation, that has rocked my world. I had zero study skills in high school, and consequently, I brought exactly zero study skills with me to college. On top of that, life happens. Maybe you get a job (or in my case, two) to have spending money or pay your bills. Perhaps you get a puppy that needs attention, grooming appointments, vet appointments, and plenty of playtime. Then maybe you have a roommate you can’t agree with.

My point is that a lot can go wrong and I’ve learned the hard way. If you’re curious, I’m double majoring in biology and philosophy. Here are just a few things that I personally do that could potentially help you.

Give Yourself a Break

When registering for classes, it’s important to keep in mind that you need to eat and take breaks. Leave time to rest between classes. It is also important not to overload your schedule. It’s tempting to take a seventeen hours at once and graduate early, but it just isn’t feasible. I took seventeen hours the first semester of my freshman year. More classes means more assignments, exams, midterms, and finals. Come finals week, I was so exhausted that I could not manage to study for my very last final. Things turned out okay, but only because the professor decided to scale the grades.

Something critical to note is that a 3 credit course doesn’t evenly translate into a 3-hour class. The lecture might be three hours out of your week, but that does not include the time you’ll need to devote to studying, homework, assignments, or getting tutored.

See a Tutor

Tutors exist for a reason. They are so unbelievably helpful. Tutors are excellent at presenting the information to your from a student’s perspective. I would highly recommend that everyone see a tutor, even if only to reiterate the information learned in lecture.

Get a Planner

I know, I know. This one is listed in almost every article/blog post about being a better student and that is because it is essential. I started with an online planner. It was easy to put my entire class schedule into that calendar. I could block out any time I might need for a meeting or lunch or an appointment. It was also easy to keep up with in that I could pull it up on my phone.

I have recently switched over to planner from Plum Paper. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend ordering from this company. Everything about your planner can be customized, something I thoroughly enjoyed. Personally, I added boxes where I can note whether there’s an assignment or exam that day. It also helps me track my studying habits. They offer a student bundle that comes with a notebook, a notepad, and stickers for your planner.

My gorgeous custom planner from Plum Paper

My First Blog Post

It would only be appropriate to begin this adventure with an introduction. I’ll make it brief. My name is Morgan and I’m twenty years old. I’m a full-time student with a part-time job, a long-term boyfriend, and a puppy. My boyfriend is Jake. We have been dating since eighth grade, which has been five (almost six) great years. My puppy’s name is Casanova. He is a seven-month-old Malshipoo bundle of love and affection. More on me later.

My intention with this blog is to hold myself accountable. Being a full-time student, it is more than easy enough to become overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. It’s a never ending pit of, “Am I doing enough?” My overall goal for this year (my resolution, if you will) is to become a better person. I want to exercise more, bake more, study more, and make grades that are worthy of my ideal graduate program. My blog won’t necessarily have a purpose for now (i.e. I haven’t found a “niche” that I prefer over other topics). It will more likely act as my very own online journal. My hope is that the online aspect will motivate me to post more often. Full disclosure: I have absolutely no experience in blogging (or being entertaining). I intend to discover myself and my interests. Right now, I can say there will be posts about baking, my pup, school, stress, and everything entailed therein. I’m already taking steps to improve my lifestyle. I’ve purchased a totally customized student planner for myself (I’m absolutely ecstatic over it)!!

If any of that sounds interesting to you or relatable or you’d simply like to laugh alongside me at my attempts to blog, welcome to my life!