Ladies, This One’s for You….

Have you scheduled your annual mammogram yet?

Well get on that!  There’s no time like the present…. You don’t want to waste a gorgeous day off in the spring or summer do ya? 

Do.  It.  Today.

Around the farm, this winter in particular, there’s not much going on. This is when we take care of things that we’ve had to put off because of that darned growing season.  So I’ve been seeing doctors, dentists, optometrists, and hair colorists (shhh…. don’t tell).  I’ve been cleaning and purging and sorting and organizing .  I’ve been choosing paint colors, patching nail holes and moving furniture. 

I’m becoming increasingly disgusted by the amount of cat hair-covered toys that are unearthed with each move.

While I’m packing his lunch for school, Thomas and I chit-chat about our upcoming daily activities.  Last Monday I explained that I was going for a mammogram. 

“What’s a mammogram?”

“It’s an x-ray of the breasts.  They take a picture of them to see what’s inside to make sure they’re healthy, but they have to squish them between two plates so they can get a better picture.  It’s kinda like a boobie sandwich.”

He was staring at me, mouth agape.  “Mommy.  That’s disgusting.”

“You didn’t mind it so much when it was a milkshake….” 

With that, he volunteered to feed the cats, brushed his teeth, tied his sneakers and was waiting at the door 10 minutes early for the bus.

My point?  Get a mammogram.  They find things that BSEs (breast self-exams) do not.  Sometime they call you and tell you to come back for more views or for an ultrasound.  You know what?  Most of the time it ends up being nothing,  but they’re being safe and rechecking.  As annoying as it is to reschedule and go back, from what I hear chemo is a lot more annoying.  (Why yes, that was indeed sarcasm.  Did you call your doctor yet?)

And while we’re on the subject of women’s health, we may as well discuss chocolate.

Crispy. Sweet.  Chocolatey.  Cookie.

That’s what you want to go with a steaming cup of coffee or tea when you finally plunk down on the couch, cover up with a cozy blanket and are QUITE CERTAIN that you will not hear a little voice saying, “mooommmmyyyy” in the very near future.

Thanks to weeks and weeks of holiday eating I’m looking for lighter ways to satisfy my sweet tooth.   The jeans, they are a little snug around the middle.   If I didn’t ever have to leave the house again I would burn them out of spite.  *Grumble* The denim bastards.

But I know it’s my own fault.  I didn’t HAVE to make 3 key lime pies for New Year’s parties, pies that used only egg  yolks (meaning I had a dozen egg whites hanging around in my fridge).  What to do with egg whites?  Sure, I could add some to a frittata or scrambled eggs to lighten them up, add bulk and fat-free protein… but that’s no fun.

Instead, I made meringues.  You’ve seen them, all delicate and fancy in their hard plastic containers.  Bet you didn’t think you could make them at home, huh?  You can!   And the best part?  You can flavor them any way you like! 

Mocha Meringues
1/2 cup Egg Whites or equivalent amount of powdered egg whites
1/2 t Cream of Tartar
1 t Vanilla extract
3/4 – 1 cup Granulated Sugar
3 T Cocoa Powder (not hot cocoa mix)
1 T Instant Espresso Powder

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form.  Use a mixer unless you really want an arm workout.  Add the vanilla extract (or any other flavoring that you like – peppermint is a favorite around here).

If you’re using a stand mixer, you can sift your dry ingredients while the whites are beating.  Otherwise, do it before so you will be ready when they are.

Gradually add the dry ingredients and continue beating on medium high speed until stiff peaks form.

Be sure to scrape down the edges of the bowl.  Cocoa can be clingy and you want to be sure it’s all incorporated nicely.

If you’ve got stiff peaks but the meringue is still a little grainy, beat it just a bit longer.  You really want to dissolve the sugar. 

Ever tried filling up a pastry bag only to have the contents leak out the bottom?  Try this: put a large tip into the bag, twist the bag and stick a bit of it down into the tip.  Cuff the top, stand the bag up inside a large measuring cup or glass and fill.

Once full, uncuff the top and carefully hold it closed, then pull the pastry bag out of its cozy home inside the tip. 

Do you  have one of those cheapo plastic bench scrapers?  You can usually get them for a buck.  Lay your pastry bag on the counter and, starting at the open top, use the bench scraper to push the contents down in the bag.  This will help push out air bubbles (which are bad… see below).

You’ll want to use parchment-lined baking sheets for these meringues.  When you pipe the meringue onto the parchment, you may find that it lifts up a bit and it’s just a royal pain-in-the-you-know-what.  Pipe (or use your finger to spread) a bit of meringue in each corner of the sheet, then press the parchment into it.  It’ll hold like glue now and dissolve when you wash up the trays later. 

See this ‘kiss’?  The top blew out because of excess air in the pastry bag.  It’s not as pretty as the rest – still tasty, but not the desired look. 

Pipe some pretty rosettes or sticks or kisses on the tray, then bake at 200° for 60-90 minutes.  Smaller shapes will take less time. You can test them by gently taking a meringue off the parchment and letting it cool.  Bite it.  Is it done?  You decide!

 Turn off the oven and leave them to cool, then remove from parchment and store in an airtight container.  They’ll last for a week or more if no one eats ’em up!

If you don’t have a pastry bag or you just don’t want to have to wash ONE. MORE. THING.  I completely understand.  Use two teaspoons (not measuring teaspoons, you know, the ones you stick in the peanut butter jar when you need a fix) to spoon blobs of meringue onto the parchment.  They’ll look rustic and beautiful! 

FWIW, the key lime pies were freaking AWESOME and everyone enjoyed them immensely.

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