Is It Really Worth It?

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I’m sure most of us have been in the middle of a task or project only to wonder to ourselves, “Is this really worth it?”  Yesterday afternoon found me in the car headed south to Aurora with three little girls strapped in the back, none of whom had taken a decent nap.  The destination: Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics.  Sarah’s physical therapist at school was requesting an adjustment to her ankle & foot braces, that the black treads on the bottom be removed so we can put her in shoes (never mind that I now have to find those, too, and then there’s the whole issue of getting a lift put on the right one). 

This is the point where I wonder, is it really worth it?  There’s a Hanger location in my city of Elgin, but her original physical therapist liked the staff at Aurora better, saying they would take better care of us.  I sure hope so!  45 minutes one way for a 20-minute appointment… well, you know.  So, there I was, making my way through the southwestern Chicago suburbs.  The redeeming factor in all of this was that last week my husband found an mp3 player on sale at Menards for $9.99 with a $5 rebate.  (Okay, it’s a cheap player, but I had yet to join the world of downloadable music and for $4.99 for 2 GB?  I’ll take it!)  I’ve been in the market for an mp3 player, knowing that next year I’ll be spending more time on the road taking Micaiah to school and would like some variety in my listening repertoire.  That, and I’ve been itching to download the America’s Test Kitchen radio show.  I’m such a geek! 

So, once I had figured out how to get the selection I wanted from the mp3 player (which took a while and since I vow not to use devices that will distract while driving, meant I figured it out sitting in the parking lot before the return trip home), I was able to see how they’ve adapted America’s Test Kitchen to radio.

Interesting stuff!  They take more “calls from you”, which is great–real life cooks asking real life questions.  Some of their segments are really just adaptations of old articles from their magazine and episodes from TV, but, hey!  It’s good listening for cooking junkies.  So while I can’t remember all of what they talked about beyond not messing too much with cookie recipes in the search to get it thick and chewy, I did catch the vanilla extract tasting segment.  I’m not quite sure how Chris did it, because vanilla extract is pretty nasty stuff to drink straight up!  In the running were some pure vanilla extracts and some imitation varieties.  As someone who uses imitation vanilla for the sake of budget-friendly baking and who should really buy the stuff in bulk, I was curious to see what would happen.  And wouldn’t you know, Mr. Purist himself picked an imitation as the best-tasting stuff!  So unusual!  The conclusion as I heard it, in a nutshell, was that if you’re going to add vanilla flavor “raw”, such as in flavored milks, frostings, etc., the real deal is best, but for baking, it really didn’t matter much, especially for those of us who bake a lot–they said that it’s a difference between $3 a year (imitation) and $30 a year (real)–though I know I personally spend more than $3 a year on imitation!

So while they may not necessarily approve of my store brand imitation vanilla, they allowed me a sigh of relief as someone who’s out to save some money and still be able to bake like crazy and have it taste good. It’s okay to use the fake stuff.  So, after a long afternoon of driving and some not-so-happy girls for the rest of the afternoon/evening, I was able to go home and unwind by baking a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies–with imitation vanilla, thank you very much!  And the question of the day: was it really worth it?  To drive that far?  Well, we’ll see.  To download those ATK radio episodes?  You betcha!  To use the imitation vanilla?  I’ll let you know as soon as I finish this second cookie!

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It’s nothing amazing, but here’s the recipe.  They should end up soft and a bit chewy in the center.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla (real or imitation :))
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening, and sugar together for 3 minutes.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat on high (start on low to avoid mess, then increase speed) for 30-45 seconds until incorporated and smooth.  Stir in baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, flour, and oatmeal until mixed.  Stir in raisins.  Spoon rounded tablespoon of dough onto baking sheet, leaving about 2″ between cookies.  Bake one sheet at a time for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are turning golden brown and the center looks just done, rotating halfway through baking to ensure even baking.  Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes; remove cookies from the sheet to a wire rack to cool.

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