Friday, December 21, 2007

A Jolly Good Apron!


Look what arrived from Arizona, just in time for Christmas baking!

This is the cutest Christmas apron ever! Hand-made by my mother who also made one for my sisters too. She even had my name embroidered on the top. Thanks Mom! I love it!

Snow Art


Last weekend we received the first snow of the season and it was wonderful. It kept us home, all cozy in the house, and allowed us much needed time to finish up our last minute Christmas baking and projects.

We only had about 3 inches of accumulation, and unfortunately it's all gone now, but we sure enjoyed it while it lasted. The boys spent several hours outside playing in it, building snow forts and snow slides.

One neighborhood over, my friend Lisa's very creative daughter, Michelle was making this adorable snowman. Notice that his arms are made out of bobby pins....that should give you an idea of how tiny he is. So cute!

Deck The Halls.....


Tree during daylight.

Tree at night.

This post is for Mom who asked to see the Christmas tree decorated. I haven't quite figured out how to photograph Christmas trees as they're not very photogenic. Or maybe it's the photographer that has the problem.

I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite ornaments. To me the ornaments are the best part of the Christmas Tree. I don't particularly like putting up the Christmas tree every year. It's a lot of work, it clutters my house and drops pine needles all over the floor. However, there's certainly something special about taking the ornaments out one by one, and seeing the kids' faces light up as they find their favorite, and reminisce about when they received it.


My mom started a tradition when I was just a little girl, each year she would buy a new ornament for my sisters and me. When we married, we received the boxed ornament collection as a shower gift. It's hard to believe that some of the ornaments on my tree are almost as old as I am.



This one came in a set of three, all hand painted, from my Aunt Mary.



This turtle came from the "shower gift" collection and is 30+ years old.


This is a clay ornament that I made in 2nd grade



This teapot puzzle ornament is one of my favorites. It was locally hand crafted and given to me by a friend who knows how much I love tea.


And of course the boys would never let a Christmas go by without wanting me to take out their favorite Christmas decoration, this cute little Christmas village that was a hand-made gift (given many years ago) from my Aunt Linda. The boys love this village that, although you can't see, is very personalized with buildings such as "Kim's Soy Farm," and "Kim and Keith's Tree Lot."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Patchwork Tablecloth & Napkins

I found this patchwork tablecloth and napkins in my Martha Stewart Living magazine and I fell in love with it. I just knew I had to make one and I had the perfect recipient in mind. I went to the fabric store and picked out several fabrics in the shades of lavender and purple. (you can see my first tablecloth on my Thanksgiving post)

Although I sew quite a bit, I still found the instructions a little confusing so I took my fabric and magazine with me to Phoenix in hopes that my mom, who is a wonderful seamstress, would be able to help. And sure enough, it became our weekend project. We were able to complete the tablecloth in the short time that I was there, my mom giving me several helpful pointers along the way, such as showing me how to sew French hems and how to get the fabric to be the perfect measurements by ripping it. Yes, you heard right, ripping it. It works great and has saved me so much time in all my recent projects. My mom and I really liked the finished product, despite my dad's aversion. He thought it would be better suited placed on a bed versus a table.

I have since made three patchwork tablecloths, all Christmas gifts, and each one was a pleasure to make. I'm not sure what I enjoy more, picking out all the fabric or seeing them put together in the finished project.
One of the downfalls to making this tablecloth is that you need a lot, and I mean A LOT, of rickrack. So if you live in a small town like I do, you might not be able to get all that you need. Two of the tablecloths that I've made, have been altered to fit bigger tables than what the pattern calls for. In the magazine it calls for 21 yards and I used about 35 yards for the two bigger tablecloths. If you can find it on the reel you have a better chance of having enough yardage but if you have to buy the little packages.... good luck. There's only 2.5 yards per package.


Some day I'll have time to make one for myself but in the mean time, I'm hoping the people receiving these will enjoy using them as much as I did making them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!

Stafford Tree Farm

Last Saturday we headed out in search of the perfect Christmas tree. We drove out to Brown County, about 15 minutes away, to Stafford Tree Farm. This is the last year for Stafford to sell Christmas trees as they are trying to get out of the tree farm business. Their trees were a great bargain at $20 for any size if you cut and load it yourself.
Measuring Pole

We enjoyed our walk around the farm; the grounds were beautiful and the owners were very helpful. We were given a measuring pole, basically a white PVC pipe with duct tape marking each foot. It was a nice little tool to have until the boys started fighting over who was going to carry it. So back it went and we all had to figure out the the tree height on our own. The tree sizes can really be deceiving when your walking among many! We settled for a nice little Blue Spruce and Keith did the honor of cutting it down and loading it onto the car. His one and only contribution to the Christmas decorating, and one job I was glad not to have!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Do You Know The Gingerbread Man?

Run, run as fast as you can.
You can't catch me,
I'm the Gingerbread Man!



Cupcake #2

Gingerbread Cupcakes

I am a big fan of gingerbread, and I find that most people either like it or they don't. For me the distinct ingredient of gingerbread, is not the ginger but the molasses. Maybe that's why I like it so much. It takes me back to my childhood, and Grandma Smith's molasses cookies. Whenever we went to Grandma's house she would always have a big Tupperware container of cookies on top of her refrigerator. And sometimes inside the container would be her molasses cookies. Big, soft cookies with creamy vanilla icing spread on top. Yum. I still have my grandma's recipe, although I haven't made it in a long time. One of the ingredients that my grandma swore by is lard. Yes, that's right, lard. She always told me you couldn't substitute anything else for it. Well, needless to say, every time I've ever made her recipe, I've always substituted shortening for the lard and they still turned out great. Sorry Grandma.

Which brings me back to my gingerbread cupcakes, no lard in these, only butter.

For the cupcake, I wanted a gingerbread cake but also wanted it to be a little more mild than the typical gingerbread recipe. So I left out some of the molasses and added a couple tablespoons of cocoa which really helped to take out the sharpness. I'm very pleased how well all the flavors blended together.

Next, because you can never have too much chocolate, I spread on a layer of chocolate ganache which is a very nice compliment to gingerbread. On top of the ganache comes a ginger butter cream icing. I made my regular butter cream icing but instead of using white sugar, I used brown sugar and then added just a tad of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It is delicious and the combination of all three flavors, the gingerbread cake, chocolate ganache, and ginger butter cream, turned out very well.

Oh, and I must not forget the cute gingerbread boy cookie on top, surrounded by gingerbread boy candies.
And by the way, to L. and M. who I know are reading this, yes, you will get to sample one in the a.m.




Wednesday, December 5, 2007

North Pole Cupcake

I'm currently working on a cupcake order for Friday. These cupcakes are for a Christmas party so in addition to experimenting with seasonal flavors, I'm also doing seasonal decorations.



Cupcake #1


Chocolate-Mint Cupcakes


For these I wanted to use a chocolate cake and a peppermint icing. I was hesitant to make the cupcake itself chocolate-mint for fear that it might be too overpowering. So I went with a chocolate cupcake iced with a subtle peppermint butter cream. I decorated with white sanding sugar and candy snowflakes, stuck in a peppermint stick and a fondant snowman for the top. I must say the fondant snowmen were a little time consuming, but overall I'm happy with the end result. We'll see if my customer agrees.



Check back tomorrow for Cupcake #2 - Gingerbread

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Local Thanksgiving

Amy's beautiful Thanksgiving Table

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of sharing Thanksgiving with our good friends, Geoff and Amy, their son, as well as Amy's parents, and a couple new friends too. Our families made our best effort to have a "mostly" local Thanksgiving dinner.


We started with the produce that came in our CSA basket. From it we made mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and a mixed green salad for the main course. In our basket we also received, sorghum molasses which was made into a gingerbread cheesecake, persimmon pulp which became persimmon pudding, and apples for an apple pie. We also bought local wine from Oliver Winery.


Our turkeys came from Schacht farm, a local farm only seven miles from our home. On Wednesday Amy and I went out to the farm to to pick up our Burbon Red turkeys, who Amy decided to name Fred and George after the Weasley twins. Fred and George were happy turkeys that enjoyed roaming freely on the farm and hiding in its trees, that is until early morning when they were processed and brought home to be cooked for our Thanksgiving dinner.


It was a little more challenging to keep other food items "mostly" local. For example, there wasn't anyway to buy flour that was produced locally, so I settled for buying bread from a local bakery to make croutons for the stuffing. And one of our dinner guests had a wheat allergy so I made a gluten-free chocolate cake. It's sometimes difficult to use local ingredients when baking gluten-free. However, I did manage to use 8 farm eggs from our CSA basket in the cake. All in all I think we did a fine job keeping our dinner "mostly" local.


The food was wonderful but spending the afternoon in the company of good friends and family was even better!

Turkey place cards made from card stock and yarn.
Gingerbread cheesecake
Gluten-free chocolate cake
Thanksgiving hike at Griffy Lake


Monday, November 19, 2007

Nifty Songs


video


This is a video clip of the Veteran's Day program at school. During the program, each grade performs a song. The first song, You're a Grand Old Flag, is performed by the second-graders. If you look closely you can see Ethan standing behind the boy in the yellow shirt. The second song, Fifty Nifty United States, is performed by the fifth-graders. Mac is easy to spot since he's standing in the front row.

The Lyrics to Fifty Nifty United States By Ray Charles

Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies;

Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze.

Each individual state contributes a quality that is great.

Each individual state deserves a bow, let’s salute them now.

Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies, Shout'em, scout'em. Tell all about 'em, One by one till we've given a day to every state in the USA.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut(Clap 3 times);Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana,Go Hoosiers (If you live in Indiana);Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan;Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada;New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, O-hi-o;Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas; Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wy-o ming.

North, south, east, west, oooh… In our calm, objective, opinion, (name of home state) is the best--of the


Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies,Fifty nifty stars in the flag that billows so beautifully in the breeze.Each individual state contributes a quality that is great. Each individual state deserves a bow, let’s salute them now.Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies,in the good old U-S-A!

Edited by Mac

Violin and Cello Duet

Below is a video clip from last Friday night when Mac and his friend preformed a violin and cello duet at a school event. Hopefully you'll be able to look past my poor video taping as I wasn't able to turn the camera on in time for them to start their piece, and there is quite a bit of background noise. All in all the kids did a great job, especially considering they only practiced together twice.


Mac and Gabe playing, Zwei Tanze Bouree by Johann Adolph Hass

video

Fall Piano Recital


video


The past week has been a week full of performances for our family. We started off the week with the boys' piano recital. They have been learning the Suzuki method for a little over a year. Ethan is at the end of Suzuki Book 1 and is preparing for his book 1 recital. Mac also takes Suzuki violin and because he is familiar with most of the songs, and because he can read notes, he has advanced a little further than Ethan and is in Suzuki Book 2 for piano.


Ethan played two songs (right-hand only) for the recital, Allegro by Suzuki and Christmas-Day Secrets by T. Dutton.

Mac played Ecossaise by J.N. Hummel.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Community Supported Agriculture

Since May of this year we have been members of the Core Farms CSA. CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. Core Farms CSA consists of three farms: Heartland Family Farms, New Growth Gardens, and Musgrave Orchard. In return for purchasing a share of the farms, we recieve a weekly basket of local, organic produce. We split the basket with our friends, Amy and Geoff, who purchased the other half of the CSA share. This works out nicely because we take turns picking up the produce, and if one of our families happens to be out of town, then that weeks produce won't go to waste. The season typically runs May through October. However, for the first time this fall, Core Farms added a ten week winter share.
Once a week, the kids and I make the 20 minute drive north to Musgrave Orchard where we pick up our share. It's always very exciting to see what we will be getting in our basket.

During the summer's peak harvest months, our basket is most plentiful and overflowing. One week in July, we received 18 ears of corn! Some of the other vegetables that we received this summer are, beets, eggplant, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, endive, cucumber, green beans, kale, leeks, salad mix, fall greens, peas, radish, onions, spinach, summer squash, summer melons, winter squash, chard, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, garlic, fresh cut flowers and herbs, apples and cider. This week we picked up our 5th week of produce from the winter share and I've been very impressed by the things we've received in our baskets so far. We've gotten persimmon pulp, sorghum molasses, butternut squash (my favorite), sweet potatoes, cider, apples, pumpkins, lettuces and eggs.
When we arrive at Musgrave, we make our way down to the back of the store to what they call their cellar. Once inside the cellar we are usually always greeted by Amy or Andy, the owners of Musgrave Orchard. They have all the produce spread out on big tables with signs indicating how much of each vegetable we should take. Amy always has a handout telling us which vegetable came from which farm, and on the bottom she's included a couple of recipes for some of the produce. Here is this weeks basket. Inside are sweet potatoes, apples, baking potatoes, lettuces, butternut squash, persimmon pulp, sage, local honey, cider and not pictured - eggs.

This should all make for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Which by the way, we will be sharing with Amy and Geoff. Our goal is to have a "mostly" local Thanksgiving dinner. Even our turkey is coming from a local farm, Schacht Farm (written about in an earlier post). Stay tuned for a future post about our "local" Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Birthday, Mac!

Today is M.'s birthday. He doesn't like being referred to as M. and insists that we use Mac in our posts instead. So in honor of his birthday M. has officially changed to Mac.
Wow, 11 candles in 1 little cupcake!
Mac invited 3 of his friends over yesterday for a movie, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, pizza and a sleepover. Everyone gave the movie a thumbs up, and seemed to have fun. After the movie we came home and ordered pizza. The kids played Apples to Apples, did some breakdancing, and Webkinz tossing. No one got much sleep, especially Mom, but we all survived the night, and were treated to some of Dad's homemade waffles in the morning. Yum!


S'more Cupcakes


For Mac's birthday I decided to create a new cupcake recipe. This was my first attempt at making S'more cupcakes and I think they turned out pretty good. I wanted the cupcake to be a graham cake, and was going to use graham flour but decided it might be too heavy. So I used graham cracker crumbs instead. I also made a graham cracker crust on the bottom of the cupcake. I iced the cupcakes with chocolate ganache and topped that with marshmallow butter cream and a piece of a Hershey bar. I think using 7 minute frosting would have also worked but decided on butter cream so it wouldn't have to be refrigerated. These were a little labor intensive but definitely worth the effort. I've posted the recipe below.


S'more Cupcakes

Crust

1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup of butter, melted

Mix these together and press 1 TB in the bottom of each cupcake liner.

Cake

1 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 cup of flour

1 1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 1/3 cup milk

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of butter

Melt the chocolate chips and the butter, remove from heat and add cream, mix until smooth.

Marshmallow Butter cream

1 cup of butter

1 cup of powdered sugar

1 tsp of vanilla

7 ounces of marshmallow fluff

Beat butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy, add fluff and mix until smooth.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tamales!


I have the good fortune of having wonderful, generous friends. My Latina friend, Micaela was kind enough not only to spend a day showing me how to make tamales, but also shared her recipe and tamale making secrets. This was actually training day two. Micaela first showed me how to make tamales about a month and a half ago, when we made 13 dozen for my freezer. Well, needless to say, those 13 dozen are long gone. So we got together yet again for another tamale making. This time our friend, Lisa joined us and we made a triple batch. Wow, that was a lot of masa, as you will soon come to realize.

These are the flours that we used: 3 bags of tamale maseca flour (4.41lbs each) and 1/2 bag of tortilla maseca. Each of us prepared chicken in advance. We used about 25 lbs of chicken meat, mostly thighs and legs. I boiled mine in water, garlic, onion, spicy peppers, salt and peppercorns. Once the chicken was cooked, we removed the meat from the bone and shredded it. Micaela also prepared the chili sauce ahead of time. She used one big bag of dried guajillo peppers and another big bag of dried ancho chilies. She prepared the chili sauce by reconstituting the chilies and cooking them in water. She pulled off the tops, and shook out the seeds. Then she added a handful of cumin seed, some garlic, 1/2 an onion and ground pepper. All ingredients get blended and strained.
Spicy tomato sauce that is added to the masa.

Corn husks

These must also be prepared ahead of time by soaking them in water, and cleaning out the silk. M. separates them into bundles of a dozen.

Here is Micaela mixing all the masa flours and 17 ounces of baking powder that we added. We had to use a big tub in order to fit it all. After the flours are mixed, the chicken broth is added. We used 32 cups in this batch.

Next we added 8 cups chili sauce. Notice the deep red color. After adding the chili sauce, we also added 3 pounds of melted vegetable shortening.(And you thought these were heathly!) You can also use lard, in fact Micaela thinks that using lard gives it more flavor.Micaela is mixing the chili sauce and tomato sauce into the masa.

Micaela mixed and kneaded the dough over and over. She got quite the workout! The way to tell if the dough is ready is by making a ball and flattening it on the back of your hand. If you can see a shiny spot on your hand where the dough was, then it's ready.

These are the finished masa patties.

Next, the patties are placed inside the corn husks and flattened in this cool tortilla press. This one is homemade and was given to Micaela from her mom. Once the masa is flattened, a tablespoon of chicken (which has been mixed with the remaining chili sauce) is place in the center of the masa. The ends are folded over each other, and husk is closed and folded as well. Below is the finished product.
We wrapped the tamales by the dozen in foil so they are ready to freeze. We ended up with 26 dozen tamales. However, we ran out of chicken and had about 150 dough patties left over. Micaela took them home and made another 13 dozen tamales. So the grand total was 39 dozen tamales! Phew! That was a lot of work!

Before eating the tamales, you must first steam them for about 45 minutes until they solidify. They are absolutely delicious and definitely worth all the time and effort! Thanks Mica!