That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

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I’ve been helping my mother in the kitchen ever since I can remember; I made my first recipe with her when I was seven, and most of my baking skills come from experience rather than instruction.

I think I got a reputation as a good baker mostly because I’m a prolific one, and I’m not afraid to try a new recipe or develop one myself. Just because I enjoy a baking challenge doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my baking ups-and-downs.

I’ve committed the usual rookie mistakes such as over-mixing, or not bringing my eggs to room temperature ahead of time. But to be honest, the majority of my mistakes have usually been oven-related. Cooking times in any recipe can always vary depending on the oven. Investing in an oven thermometer was a revelation. (Thanks, Anna Olsen!)

I’m also kind of a klutz so I’ve been known to spill all manner of ingredients, bend spoons, stain clothes, and yes- drop an entire carton of eggs on the floor.

People who know me personally will remember why I’m wary of microwaves because they’ve heard the story of how I lit a stick of butter on fire because I stuck it in the microwave to melt without removing the foil first. (Please remove the foil.)

My favorite baking mishap, though, happened during university when I served on the editorial board of an arts magazine. We were trying to organize a bake sale to raise more funds to make our publication super pretty. No problem for an experienced baker like me, right? I even went so far as to commandeer a friend’s kitchen for the day and organized a baking assembly line to get things done faster.

What I didn’t bargain for, though, was the fact that we were using cake mixes from a box.

Now I’m not above using cake mixes (see here or here for some ideas on how to fancy them up) but at the time I was a D.I.Y. kind of gal that had been taught by a pretty traditional baker. I had honestly never baked anything from a box before. But again, no problem! Right?

Well.

I don’t know if I messed up the ingredients, or something went wrong with the mixing, or if I had merely been distracted and done a bad job of supervising. What I do know was that my team was in charge of muffins and what came out of the oven did not resemble muffins at all. Well, they were shaped like muffins- kind of- except much, much smaller.

One of the girls turned to me, “I thought you said you knew how to bake?”

“I do! I swear!” I cried. “These are just…pocket muffins.”

“What?”

“Pocket muffins. You know, muffins that you can just grab, stuff in your pocket and go. Perfect for a small snack.” (See? I was into marketing even then.)

She frowned. “I thought we were making the regular size?”

I need to cover. Fast. “Yeah but think of how many more of these we can sell because they’re smaller! They’ll make us more money!”

They did not. The “pocket muffins” sat on the table a day later at the bake sale, untouched, surrounded by more human-sized baked goods. It dawned on us that maybe we should have tried one of them.

We shouldn’t have. They were hard, and kind of chewy like a granola bar, and the dehydrated blueberries included in the mix had somehow liquefied and hardened again into these nasty little lumps.

The squirrels in the quad, on the other hand, loved them.

It wasn’t one of the highlights of my baking career, that’s for sure, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t glean much baking knowledge from the experience. I did learn, however, that there is room for error in any baking endeavor, no matter how much experience or training you have. The most important thing is having the ability to roll with the punches and have a good sense of humor.

But I am happy to report that I’ve never been able to duplicate that pocket muffin recipe.

KBwB-BFlower-50Ok I shared mine, now you share yours! What was your biggest baking or cooking disaster? Bare it all below, or email me and we can keep it between us.

Wanna see some of the recipes that have worked out for me? I’ve archived them all here, plus I have a whole roster of ideas waiting to be made on Pinterest. You can find where I get my cooking inspiration here and here, and if you’re new to this blog you may want to check out my philosophy on coping with stress here. (Spoiler alert: it’s baking.)

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Good Health for Busy People

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There’s this belief based on an old saying that if you want a task to be done, just give it to a busy person. I find this to be true. People who like to keep busy (and are good at keeping busy) tend to be pretty capable at managing all aspects of their lives and adapt quickly to accommodate change. It’s a wonder that with so much on their plates that busy people never seem to get overwhelmed, make mistakes, or even get sick. (Ok, maybe they do once in awhile.)

Years of careful observation on my part has lead me to believe that the busiest, most productive people I have met are the ones that take the best care of themselves. Here’s a few of the secrets I’ve gleaned:

Healthy, busy people make time for physical activity. Ideally, you should be getting 30-60 minutes daily. It sounds like a lot but that doesn’t mean you have to go running out to the gym tomorrow. Even incorporating small changes into your routine can make a big difference, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off the bus a couple of stops early, or doing an extra lap around the park with your dog.

Healthy, busy people make sleep a priority. Even Ariana Huffington does it. For more reasons to snooze (as if you need any) click here.

Healthy, busy people maintain a balanced diet. I’m talking regular meals made with real food. I don’t think it matters whether you’re gluten-intolerant or vegetable intolerant or whatever- putting good food in your body is going to make you feel stronger, more energized and more capable of dealing with whatever the world throws at you. Bingeing, abstaining or trying to stick an unforgiving menu will not only make you unhappy, but it can mess with your health. (If this strikes a chord with you, please check out this post.)

Healthy, busy people collaborate with their healthcare professionals. I’ve seen (and experienced first-hand) the benefits of asking questions, doing your own research and being honest with your healthcare provider about your specific needs. It’s your body so you’re in charge of the decisions; they’ve got the education and the resources to help keep you informed. (Working at clinic has given me lots of experience working with doctors and patients. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on how to manage your health care.)

Healthy, busy people leave their work at the office. Just because technology makes it easy for us to stay connected all the time doesn’t mean we should. Sometimes logging some extra time working on a project at home is unavoidable, but trading in your personal time for more professional time can be bad for your relationships, bad for your physical and mental health and can actually have the opposite effect on your job.

Healthy, busy people know when to take advantage of downtime. By the way, your life isn’t separated into work and downtime- that means downtime includes even mundane tasks such as sleeping, chores, and bathing. Sorry folks, those things don’t count. Relaxing with family and friends, engaging in hobbies or simply just daydreaming are all things that do. It’s important to make the time to do the things you want to do so that when it is time to focus, you feel refreshed, confident and alert.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we’re connected all the time. We’re trained to work ourselves to the bone. We’re raised not to question the status quo, and we’re made to feel guilty or selfish for saying no, or for taking time to ourselves.

The key is that busy people are already aware of this, and they’ve taken measures to set boundaries, accommodate others, and anticipate their own needs so that they don’t get overwhelmed. Getting things done still requires a certain amount of discipline and prioritization- busy people just make sure that self-care is included on that list of priorities.

And if it isn’t on your list, get on it already! I guarantee it’s the first step to becoming a happier, healthier, more productive you.

KBwB-BFlower-50Have you incorporated any of these practices in your life? How has making these changes made a difference? Share your tips with us by commenting below or emailing me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I’ll try to include them in an upcoming post.

I’m always looking for more ways to be productive and organized, but I find the key is try to and keep things in perspective and balanced. I’ve collected more thoughts on how to achieve this here.

How to Pick the Perfect Planner

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Ahhh, the beginning of a new year- time to reflect on all the successes and losses of the year gone by, and to plan for the months ahead. It’s bittersweet in a way, but I personally find it to be one of the more exciting times of the year.

Friends, it’s planner time. (Kind of like hammer time, except nerdier.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably excited too. Or maybe you’re wary of the whole planner system and are wondering whether it’s worth it to pick out a new one at all.

For those naysayers who claim they don’t need a calendar to keep track of their engagements, I say congratulations to you! I’m much better at committing something to memory if I record it somewhere, and although I’m generally good at remembering where I’m supposed to be at what time, I do have the occasional slip-up.

Consider this as well: your planner isn’t merely to serve as a reminder of all of your deadlines, important occasions and appointments. It’s also a great tool for prioritizing your workflow, and for forming a plan of attack for the weeks ahead of you.

Or maybe your reluctance to start a new planner this year stems from an inability to find a system that you can customize so that it best fits your needs.

Here are some common planner problems:

  1. Smartphones are just that: really smart, and there truly is an app for everything (and probably for some things I’ve never even thought of before.) But your smartphone is as only smart as the person using it, and if you’re finding it hard to keep track of appointments using the calendar function on your phone, it could be that you’re simply a pen and paper person. Just because a certain way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
  2. Having said that, you may want to consider the format carefully before committingpeople whose days are packed with appointments may want to use a daily planner, while someone whose work involves taking care of more long-term projects may want to use a calendar with a monthly format to get a bird’s eye view of key events. For the electronic calendar users out there, you may wish to experiment with the view settings in your favorite app to get a feel for which one works best for you.
  3. Once you’ve chosen your favorite format, you have to make your planner’s features work for you. People who use a three-ring planner format often have the advantage of being able to include different sections they can use as resources to help plan their schedules (i.e., church calendars, volunteer schedules, school lunch menus, etc.) Make over a store-bought agenda or simple notebook by typing and printing out similar resources and information and pasting these sheets over the pages you don’t use. Many calendar apps also feature similar add-ons, such as reminder functions and the ability to sync appointments with the contacts in your phone. One last word of advice: Electronic users should not underestimate the usefulness of subscribing to other electronic calendars to co-ordinate anything from birthday parties to play dates with other family members and parents.
  4. Even though the ways to customize your agenda or planner may seem endless, it’s best not to go overboard. Any system that is overloaded with information is often too complicated to use, and you’ll spend half the time organizing the information you have instead of deciding what needs to be done with it. Paring your planner down to only the things you need hones your focus and clears your vision so you can actually get things accomplished. (And hopefully in a timely fashion!)
  5. It may seem simple, but if you don’t use it, your planner is not going to be useful to you. Keeping your planner up-to-date and referring to it often are key components in formulating a strategy for tackling your workload. If you have trouble doing these things, it means you probably haven’t chosen a system that works for you and your lifestyle (see 1-4).

KBwB-BFlower-50Are you excited to get your schedule on track for the new year as much as I am? Tell me some of the favorite ways you’ve organized your planner down below, or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. I may include your tips in an upcoming post!

For more inspiration on getting things more organized and productive, click here and here.