Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve day; welcome to our geekdom.

How do you usher in the New Year?  We hunker down as a family.  Generally we don't go out on the town or even to  parties.  Last year we did go to a family friendly bowling party and we had fun but the kids begged to stay home this year.  We are grateful for this.  In just a few minutes I will be in the kitchen preparing a few appetizers most of which are planned leftovers from friends visiting us the other night. I have homemade hummus and a delicious cranberry salsa dip to share plus Brie cheese to heat up.  Easy.

For dinner I am making a Thai chicken curry using the leftover farm-fresh chicken from our Christmas dinner.
We have some bubbly to share and we'll play a board game or two.  Over the holidays we've played the card game, golf, Scattergories,  Guesstures, and lots of PS 3 Jeopardy.  Tonight will probably  be Mexican Train and Pictionary.  Last night we put together a Christmas gift puzzle of classic baseball cards.  It was  really so much fabulous fun.  As I type though I think there may be naysayers in the crowd who may be thinking "boring" and that's okay we love our inner geek!  I'm happy my kids are happy to be home hanging out.  We also watch crazy movies after Groovy Girl's gone to bed.  That list defies our goody-two shoes image with titles as diverse as The French ConnectionGoodFellas, Pulp Fiction, The Day of the Jackal, and Seven.  My husband loves cinema and wanted the teens to watch specific scenes in each of these movies which involves watching the whole movie of course!

We spend a fair amount of time reading as well.  Oldest daughter is reading Emma while I'm reading Abarat by Clive Barker.  The girls commandeered the television away from the football boys to re-watch the very first Downton Abbey just to begin to refresh.  I want to be ready for the January 6th.

I also have to soak our black-eyed peas for tomorrow's hoppin' john.  Time to get into the kitchen, pour a glass of wine, and start making some magic.

Hey, how are you spending the day?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Almond cravings

I've written in previous posts about my love for lemons but I don't think I've shared how much I love almond-flavored baked goods.  We toss back a lot of almonds as a snack item here and did you know that a handful of almonds may help you sleep better? Yes, it's true.  This bar recipe combines both almond flavor with a nutty topping and they were delicious!

I made them for a holiday party and wanted something that would appeal to adults in the crowd, something a little more sophisticated.

Almond Toffee Bars
KA Baker's Companion
about 48 squares

Cookie Base

1 cups (2 sticks) butter
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt


1 cup brown sugar, packed
5 1/3 T (2/3 stick) butter
1/4 cup (2 ozs) milk
1 cup (3 ozs) sliced unblanched almonds

Preheat oven to 350.

To make the base:  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream the butter, then add the almond extract and the confectioners' sugar, beating all the while.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir the dry ingredients into the wet.  Press the dough into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking sheet (what my mom calls a jelly roll pan), pushing the dough all the way to the edges and up the side just a little.  Bake the crust 15-20 minutes, until it is golden brown.  Set aside to cool.

Topping:  Combine the brown sugar, butter, and milk in a saucepan  stirring over low heat just until the brown sugar is dissolved and the butter has melted.  Spread this mixture over the cookie base.  Sprinkle with sliced almonds.  This is the only step I veered off recipe.  I already had a mason jar full of whole almonds, I had all other ingredients on hand so when I put together my ingredients previously I just took from the jar and loosely chopped enough to sprinkle over the top.  The end result was they were still delicious and had a more rustic look instead of a finished look.  At the holiday party they were swooped up and talked about by several groups of adults.  We ran out of them even as a table of ladies asked for more.  Huge hit.  Will make again.  No photo exists.

Several other sweets I've enjoyed over the holidays:

I made The Brown-eyed Baker's Salted Caramel for the second time.  A friend of mine from school has been on home rest for about 6 weeks after a nasty spill she took off the roof of her house.  Yes, real women DO clean their own gutters!  She (thankfully) is a daily reader of my blog and had asked many times for this salted caramel recipe.  Yesterday I made it for her and took it to her still warm in the jar.  Enjoy Kay!

I've written several times about my friend Barbara who owns Marilyn's Bakery in Hobart, IN.  She sent us a tin of their to-die for English toffee.  The tin is almost gone (small sob) and December is almost over.  There won't be any more until next December.  Luckily I can always look back on the memory of my husband and I standing in the kitchen as we both read different sections of the newspaper while we nibble at the toffee in the tin.  It was about 9 in the morning.  You could order some for yourself but you'll have to wait, just like us.

Life's too short not to eat delicious things.
Happy Holidays.
This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads where you will find many other food-related posts.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve.

Groovy Girl used this app to humor herself.  You might ask why Teenage Boy has on a crazy Christmas sweater...?  We were at a second-hand store and he tried it on for fun.  Lucky me, he "allowed" this photo to be snapped.

On a quieter note; I've had the house to myself for the last couple of hours. Pure bliss.

The two teenagers are still sound asleep.  My husband is upstairs working on something-I don't know what but probably don't need to disturb him.  I used my time to finish a last grocery list for meals after tomorrow and then decided to not worry about that list until Wednesday.  I whipped up a batch of sweet puffed corn-again with the unhealthy treats, I know! I made about six bags of this addicting treat and am going to disperse to my neighbors.  I'd never had this snack before this year and now that I've made it will be happy to give it all away so I don't have to nibble it's buttery richness as we hang out together tomorrow.  If you need a drink to serve for guests this peppermint treat by Brown-eyed Baker caught my eye this morning.

The plans for the rest of my day: (updated)

-yoga for renewal and balance.
-Read more Abarat by Clive Barker.
-Finish knitting mini-scarf for teenage daughter's plant.
-Take my teenagers on a local adventure
  a. coffee shop (closed)
  b. two new vintage shops

-Take a long bubble bath to prepare for tonight's two services.
-Heat Italian tortellini soup in crock pot to have between services.
-Make bread to share with soup.
-wrap gifts
-talk to Groovy Girl at the end of the day to find out her day's adventures in Florida.

(Created my own from this pin)

I plan to have a very relaxing tomorrow, enjoying my family.  
Peace be with you as you celebrate however you choose to celebrate this wonderful holiday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A snowy yet green Christmas


I find it difficult to balance holiday cheer while staying true to my earthy self.  There is mass frenzy to get so much done in such a short amount of time.  I am always behind because I'm trying to do so much at school, at home, and at church.  Here's a rundown of my recent compromises that cause me small but real anguish.
Why does it bother me?  I think it is just who I am.

At school:

 All last week Janice and I made cut out Christmas cookies for each student and staff member at Highland.  It is a huge project but so worth it when the classes line up at the end of their library time and see a tray full of cookies ready for them.  They each get to pick one from the tray and carry it back to their classroom to eat.  Too me this is one way to celebrate the wonder of the holiday as kids get to pick up a homemade cookie to enjoy. For me I balance the joy I feel at giving out the cookies with the huge process of cutting out, frosting each cookie with the fact that each cookie I just made has shortening, white sugar, powdered sugar, and dye in it.  I understand it is just one cookie and my own kids have certainly enjoyed holiday treats like this but I cringe at the yucky ingredients that go into such a "treat".  I can't justify the expense of doing an all-organic cookie though and their little taste buds would not care.  I am happy it is a homemade cookie with out anything in it that we can't pronounce!

Another family and I through school has an adopt-a-family to buy gifts for and I finished wrapping my gifts on Wednesday and loaded them into the car, unloaded them at my house (so they would not freeze) and reloaded them back into the car yesterday to drop them off for the family. Luckily my extremely handsome husband drove me there and back because driving in snowstorm-like weather is not on my favorite to-do list.  My hope is always to get the gifts to the family while the children are still at school-it takes a little of the magic away if you watch a young man unload the gifts from the back of an SUV-but since it was a snow day everyone was home and happy to see the gift boxes come rolling in.   We tried to balance fun things for the family with four small children with practical things like shampoo and diapers. It truly is the thought that counts and we did our best and hope they are happy.  My unbalance here came from the fact that I had to walk through the doors of a local Wal-Mart to buy a uniform item for the family.  I haven't been inside a WM store for about 10 years or so.  I felt a little dirty but I made it through.

At home:

I'm trying to finish gift purchasing and every year balance my Target shopping with downtown small store shopping.  I feel much better about the gifts I purchase from local retailers than tapping my toe in the long Target line.  I purchased only three gifts this year using mega-Amazon market place-only gifts that needed to head cross country were purchased through them.  I wish I could be so organized that I'd purchased special gifts all year long and had them boxed up and ready to go by December 1st.  I wonder how my stepmother, mother, and mother-in-law get all this accomplished as all their gifts are already under our tree.  Amazing.

Our meal for Christmas dinner will at least be farm fresh and healthy.  We have a local chicken thawing, cranberries to simmer, sweet potatoes from our local co-op, salad grown locally, and a strawberry-rhubarb pie made in Southern Minnesota by a small local group.

At church:

I am on a committee that will serve breakfast this Sunday, which I love taking part in this community activity.  The unbalance comes from the hot dish "we've" chosen to make for this breakfast.  It uses boxed hash brown patties-which are just disgusting to me.  I am a real potato kind of woman and would prefer to buy a bag of potatoes, shred them, and add them to the egg dish but then each one would not be just like the other.  At least I'm not asked to dump any processed sausage material into the egg dish.  People loved this dish last year and it is difficult to speak up for change for two reasons; I am the youngest on the committee of more formidable church ladies.  It is one of those things I'm willing to let go for the trauma it would cause. No one else is going to want to put that much effort into creating a dish that many will eat in a short amount of time.  Just me. We do at least serve a cornucopia of fresh fruit at the breakfast.  Not seasonal but at least fresh.

The list goes on and on and it is so often difficult to justify my moral ideas of what I want to feed and gift my family compared to the masses.  I don't belong with the masses but often in trying to hold up my own moral high ground I add more work to my list when I should be relaxing with my family.  It's the circle of life with a picture of me yapping at my own tail as I go merrily around and around!

What kinds of compromises do you make to share the joy of Christmas?

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Planting Dandelions; Field notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life by Kyran Pittman

I bought this book because

a. It has a catchy title
b. My yard is a dandelion happy zone.
c. I know people who know people who know Kyran
d. All of the above

It's always d. isn't it?!

I'm not a fan of memoirs, unless they make me laugh, although I would characterize this more as essays on life but who's asking me.  Kyran's lead an interesting and bold life and she easily pokes fun at herself in a nice witty way.  I read her blog now and then, which spurred me to check out the book.  Laughter feels good and this book gave me that rare opportunity to look ridiculous, laughing out loud, while I sat for hours waiting for Groovy Girl to finish bending and bouncing her way through gymnastics class.

One particularly funny chapter, Mom, the musical, had the other gymnastic parents eyeing me warily as I freely giggled along:

When I was a kid, about a thousand years ago, Valentine's Day was all about the valentines, which were painstakingly hand-cut from a book that contained not one licensed, trademarked character.  You chose the plainest, slightly backhanded ones for the kids you didn't like, and the most ornate, gushing ones for the kids you did, and we gave it to each other straight up, without the orgiastic euphoria of corn syrup solids to cloud things. For party refreshments, we had our own tender, young hearts to eat out,  I don't know when that changed, or whether it's an American thing, but every valentine my kids give and receive comes attached to at least one piece of candy.  As if that didn't add up to enough insulin resistance, the room moms mix up a vat of sugar and red food dye and pour it in a feed trough.  Or they might as well, considering what is actually served.  If you've seen video montages of psychedelic "happenings" in the sixties, you've seen something like a modern Valentine's Day classroom party.  On the glycemic disaster index, Valentine's Day is second only to Halloween.  (181)

That's funny because that's me except I would beg to bring in a less-sugary option or organic lemonade only to be met with glares from both room moms and kids. My kid, depending on the day and which kid, would either cheer me on or hang their head in shame.  I hate red dye and skittles too! 

Sliced in between the humor there are many poignant moments of insightful parenting knowledge that only a really good writer can pull from their own daily life.  I kept thinking to  myself-oh, that makes sense, how come I've never thought about that.  

Insightful moment about a dead pet:

In my momnipotence, I sometimes forget that my kids came fully assembled.  When they were infants, I'd marvel over their tiny ears, how intricately formed they were, pink and golden like the inside of a conch.  They were  miraculous to me.  And humbling  because I can't draw an ear, much less take credit for making one.  I lose sight of that from time to time, and delude myself into thinking I'm the auteur of their experience, when actually, I mainly work in catering.  They don't need me directing, feeding them their lines.  They get it.  The script for life and death, grief and joy, is written in their DNA.  (101)

It is difficult to remember that we can step away-our kids do understand at an early age-all the important things that matter and we can be ready for the question and answer segment, which usually comes while we are cooking.  I enjoyed how she shared her relationship with her three boys, they sound like interesting and lovely children.  While this isn't a parenting book it did give me some perspective on taking myself too seriously on the parenting front.

Kyran's theme throughout is that her Newfoundland childhood was unique which fuels her desire for a more ordered life here in the states as she raises her family. Married once in Canada she had an affair with Patrick  and it is he that eventually brings her to his homeland of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Her and Patrick live the vagabond's dream as they wander around Mexico for a while and then return to the States broke but in love.  He plays in a band  and she works as a waitress, high on life and each other until Patrick proposes and the idea of a domestic life looms large over her head, angst follows along with babies.

As a hippie girl myself I try to take the road less traveled and still fit that into my roles of mom and wife.  It is not an easy task and there are daily roadblocks.  I found Kyran's struggles with domesticating herself akin to my own story. I can never (well, hardly ever) just accept things and go with it-it's my cross to bear. Boy Scouts was one example as Kyran writes about the experience of creating Pinewood Derby cars and how turning that block of wood into a finished car with an uninterested husband was quite an accomplishment.  We let Teenage Boy, a 4th grader at the time,  participate for a few months (he begged) before we had to yank him out because my husband and I were so uncomfortable with the zealous flag waving, burning books mentality.   I love my country but not in that way and when we sat down and explained the short list of what we didn't appreciate about the scouting experience he completely understood-as a fourth grader!  

I could easily sit on Kyran's porch and share a story or two with her and her cozy set of friends.  If they'd have me.  It's never easy to leave our roots behind but we have to realize it is exactly those roots that make us the cool, hip parents we are (or hope we are).  This book is fresh and amusing with a perfect amount of reflection to make me look at  my role through keener eyes.  Be forewarned; A fair amount of cursing comes with several of her rants.

Planting Dandelions-the blog.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday; Authors I've discovered

2012 New discoveries for me:
(links take you to my review)

Loved Ask the Passengers.

Ditto for What Happens Next?

Iron-Hearted Violet-excellent.

Liesl and Po!

Patrick Carman
(Groovy Girl and I are reading The Dark Hills Divide together and love it)

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece-timely realistic fiction

True urban tale DJ Rising

Native American reservation fiction in Something to Hold

(knew of her; just had not read any of her books,
loved The Birchbark House series and am now
reading The Round House)

Thank you to all these wonderful authors for brightening my year!
This meme is featured over at The Broke and the Bookish and one day
I will have my post ready so I'm not the thirteen thousand participant!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Weekend Cooking; Pinterest Oatmeal and my dinner plans

We've all been healthier this week and I've made a few good dinners.  It's been busy though and our tree is being decorated in bits and pieces.  Unlike the beautiful ceremonial traditions of decorating the tree together that other families might participate in we've done a little here and there all week long.

Groovy Girl has an electronic addiction and can often be found watching HGTV before anyone else is up.  One day this week we came down and she was watching a redecorating show that not only spruced up a couple's condo but made it ready for Christmas as well.  The couple have no children and were looking for a very neutral/natural look.  Husband, wee girl and I were all transfixed as we ate our cereal and watched how they transformed their space into Christmas without splashing it with red and green.  The next day husband and I chatted with GG about what we liked about the decorations and we formed our own plan.

We created our own natural ornaments using a big tube of green balls from Hobby Lobby.  The matte and sparkly balls we kept and hung but the super shiny more traditional balls we wrapped in a natural oatmeal yarn I had on hand.   We also happened to have a bag of pine cones from my mother's farm and we've hooked those around the tree to blend in also.  My husband hated the idea of spending $15.00 on new lights to decorate the tree so he loosely went round twice on the skirt and left them laying.  Interesting.  It looks great except when it starts to turn dark in the house and the ornaments have nothing to light the way.

What have I cooked this week?

Monday-organic chicken breasts, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, and salad.  This meal was so "traditional" I felt like I wasn't at my own house.

Tuesday-cheese quesadillas with salad on the side. I had these plated up beautifully but failed to take a photo of them.

Wednesday-$5.00 pizza for Teenage Boy.  I slow cooked garbanzo beans that night though prepping for a later meal.  One day of carry-out is still pretty unusual for us but we have two plays going on and I have forgiven myself already.

Thursday-Husband's night to cook and he made/burritos which were yummy!  I love it when he has a plan and carries it out.  Thank you sweetheart.

Friday-we had leftovers and appetizers as we were all heading to different events.  (I prepped and roasted the butternut squash, which is the last vegetable to be eaten from our garden!) I am always happy with chips and salsa for dinner.

Saturday-I am making a pasta recipe using the golden squash, some spinach, and some of the garbanzo beans based on this recipe from Epicurious and a recipe my mother-in-law sent me.

I made a wonderful baked oatmeal dish this morning that I found as I lay in bed early (like 5 am) and used my time to scroll through pinterest.  At around 8:30 when I actually forced myself to get up I tossed this dish together in my slow cooker and it made the house smell so flavorful!  Groovy Girl dismissed it as too creamy (yes, she is a brunette Goldilocks) but husband and I gobbled it up. He ran a Jingle Bell race this morning and I cheered him on so we were both chilly.  The next time I make it I would chop the apples up more.  I only sliced them using my OXO apple slicer and that was the first thing that bothered GG-huge soft apple slices in the middle of her bowl.  Oh, the horror!  Husband and I will be eating this all week long for an excellent breakfast treat.
(brown sugar, cinnamon, and sliced apples ready for oatmeal)

We are about to eat the pasta, butternut squash, spinach dish. I made large cheese curls from a Parmesan cheese triangle but I also have some fresh Gorgonzola from our dairy because their is something about squash that pairs well with Gorgonzola's pungent flavor.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click to her link to find other food-related posts.

In other news I really want these gorgeous purple shoes, love the price but hate spending $10.00 on shipping.  What do you do?  I am about half way through Louise Erdrich's The Round House and love her writing.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent Joy!

Happy St. Nicholas's Day!

Our advent season is a little wacky this year because Groovy Girl is spending Christmas in Florida with my mother, brother, and his son, her cousin. I wanted to do something special for her because she loves Christmas (duh, she's a ten year old girl) and I know Florida will be fun but she will miss us here.  We need to do plenty of pre-celebrating so she doesn't feel she is missing things here.

Pinterest has a ton of cool advent ideas which spurred me to create one for her based on the fact that a purchased one would be left unfinished before she left and that is just the kind of emotional dilemma she doesn't need as she leaves us all for the glory of Disney World.  

I took 15 recipe cards one night while watching some television and tried out a few fun ideas for her to do.   My husband found red and white envelopes to put each card in, numbered the cards, and taped them up in a tree design.  

So far she has opened:

1. watch the (original) Grinch movie
2. one trip to Claire's
3. read 3 favorite Christmas books with mama
4. Decorate for Christmas with Christmas music playing
5. make paper snow flakes and hang them.

We've done all of them except the Claire's trip.  We are going to do that one right before she leaves on her trip.  Last night we did the snowflake one using a template I had at work.  She folded them up origami style and I cut them out as the tiny grooves were hard for her to maneuver wielding a scissors.  We now have snowflakes hanging around our house.  No snow on the ground here but we are festive inside.

My stepmother has always sent my kids December 6th gifts to celebrate St. Nicholas Day which was a family tradition in her full German family so today Groovy Girl had an actual box to open instead of an envelope. There were plenty of treats nestled inside.  The true celebration involves boots and St. Nick with a long flowing robe as he checks up on children-adding them to his naughty or nice list, I'm sure.  

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here.  How are you getting in the mood?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend cooking; O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

We went yesterday to get our tree and I wish I could say it was a glorious event but it wasn't. The kids argued for a bit, the selection was low from this summer's drought, and we were in a hurry so husband and Teenage Boy could get to the movie theater to see the new Brad Pitt movie (excellent they said).

Our Christmas tree search is an annual event we do with another family but they blew us off this year with some excuse about too much to do on Saturday.  We understand busy but Groovy Girl was steamed about this as she thought it was "boring" without their rambunctious young kids. She was left with just us and Teenage Boy who made her mad in the car but did get her laughing at the tree farm. What's she going to say when it's just me and her dad with her?  Even more boring, I'm sure. O families!

We did manage to laugh together.  We had glasses of cider inside the lodge while we waited for our tree to be shaken.  We did run into other friends and in general enjoyed shopping for our tree at the same place we've gone for the last four years.  After the movie my husband got the tree in the stand with NO cursing and we toasted the tree with some homemade hot chocolate to top off the day.

Did I cook this week though?  No really.

It was a strange (non) cooking week for me as I spent most of the week down with a cold.  Monday night I sent TB to get a pizza so I would not have to cook.  Tuesday I made a quick Ramen-type meal for them and went to bed. And the week continued like that.

Last week I'd whipped up a big pot of chicken noodle soup using the chicken from our Thanksgiving meal.  I sauteed onions, celery, carrots, and lots of garlic and added the broth from cooking down the chicken bones. Once the broth and the vegetables are together I added big fat eggless noodles.   I make it just like my grandmother made it before me.  I remember watching her fascinated as she picked the meat out of the small nooks of the chicken.  For years I used this same soup method but substituted the chicken for blocks of tofu.  I used Miso paste or vegetable stock and my kids still loved it, especially the thick noodles.  How I got sick after eating this soup all last week is a mystery to me.  Maybe though it is why my cold only lasted for four days!

This week I'm waiting for inspiration. I have sweet potatoes and a butternut squash waiting for me to get creative.  Any ideas?

This post is very loosely linked to Beth Fish Reads weekly cooking meme.  Check out her sight for many more cooking related posts.  She has a fabulous post up about mouth-watering pull-apart rolls.