Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nature-al Gift Wrap

As much as I had planned having all the gifts wrapped and stacked by now, it just hasn't worked out that way. So, to get the little ones involved with the task, we put a little spin on the standard potato stamps with our own nature-stamped gift wrap. It was simple, fun, and has that "imperfect homemade charm" to it! My daughter, who loves to help wrap presents anyway, really loved wrapping presents in paper she made herself.

I took some blank paper that came as packing material with a shipment I received this week (hence the wrinkled look) and some acrylic craft paint. Add unused snippets of boughs and a few of our tree blocks from Christmas trees past, and we went to work.

I just love the way the grain from the wood shows through the stamped paint!

Roo found that by rolling the log instead of stamping it on one end only, she could recreate the look of an entire tree trunk imprint:

Such a fun way to spend a morning: Christmas carols playing in the background, cookies baking away in the oven, and stamping our own gift wrap. This day turned out to be one of the few times this Christmas season I actually felt like we had captured a quintessential holiday moment! Even though my youngest wasn't willing to get his hands dirty, he directed his big sister as to where to stamp and generally enjoyed the process as a spectator-sport only.

The wrapped gifts, complete with bows and tags look just precious as they wait to be placed under the tree on Christmas Eve. I think that this just might become one of our new holiday traditions!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fresh From the Oven...

The past few weeks have brought a few opportunities our way for indulging in some home-baked sweets. A couple weeks back, we needed something to accompany our impromptu forest picnic after chopping down our Christmas tree. Apricot-pecan cinnamon rolls, hot cocoa, and clementine slices seemed just the thing for that occasion. Then, a few nights ago, we celebrated our anniversary by trimming the tree (our annual anniversary tradition). Cherry-chocolate cream cheese cinnamon rolls and hot cider filled our tummies while we filled our tree's branches with ornaments new and old. Such a sweet way to celebrate another year growing and learning as a couple and as a family!

Generally speaking, I make cinnamon rolls from scratch. The whole kneading, rising, kneading, and rising process may be more time consuming, but I think it produces better-tasting, tender rolls. But, since the two cinnamon roll-noshing occasions I mentioned above came at busy times of the year for us, I decided to use a shortcut.

I've been holding onto a magazine clipping for no-yeast/no-rise cinnamon rolls (I think it may have come from Southern Living mag). The results were better than expected. Even my Dad, who doesn't care for cinnamon rolls (how is that possible, right??), raved about them and had second helpings.

So, if you are looking for a quick recipe for Christmas morning goodies, or just want a sweet snack while curled up on the couch, give these a try. Here are the recipes for the two different versions, based on the same basic formula. I imagine you could really get creative and come up with your own combinations too.

Apricot-pecan Cinnamon Rolls:

1 pkg. frozen biscuits (12 count)
1 (6 oz.) pkg dried apricots
All-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Arrange frozen biscuits, sides touching, on a lightly floured baking sheet in 3 rows of 4 each. Let stand 30-45 min. or until biscuits are thawed, but still cool to the touch.

Pour boiling water over the apricots and let stand 10 minutes (this makes the fruit nice and moist for baking. Don't skip this step!). Drain well and chop.

Pat the biscuits into a rectangle, pressing and pinching biscuit edges together.
Brush dough with softened butter. Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over butter. Then sprinkle chopped pecans and apricots over the sugar mixture. My photo below shows the alternate recipe using cherries and chocolate, but the process is the same.

Roll up the dough, starting at one long end. Cut into 1-inch thick slices. Place rolls into a lightly greased 10-inch round pan or 9-inch square pan.
Bake at 375 for 35 min. or until just lightly browned. Cool slightly. When my cherry-chocolate rolls came out of the oven, they seemed lacking in chocolate, so I sprinkled on additional chips.
Stir together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Drizzle over rolls. I do this step once when they first come out of the oven and then again after they have fully cooled. This way, the first application of icing melts right into the rolls and the second application leaves a nice thick coating that hardens on top. I like the extra sweetness and "gooeyness" of two doses of icing.
*For the Cherry-Chocolate Cream Cheese rolls: Prepare apricot-pecan rolls as directed, substituting 1/2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese for 1/4 cup butter, 1 (6 oz.) pkg dried cherries for the dried apricots, and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips for the pecans. These rolls are pictured at the top of this post, while the apricot-pecan ones are here:

These cinnamon rolls do not have the tender, yeast-like taste of traditional rolls. But, if you are short on time or just don't want the hassle of kneading and rising, these rolls still meet the sweet, home-baked goodness expectations most of us are looking for this time of year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Things that go beep in the night...

God is smiling right now. I know that He has a sense of humor because of what happened last night. I had the choice to either laugh or cry, so I chose to see the humor in it. Here it goes (Oh! And it's important to set the stage with this little tidbit: we have a vaulted ceiling in our bedroom. It's easily 15-17 feet high. I know you don't yet know why this fact is important, but you will soon):

My youngest child finds The Sandman to be his biggest foe. When the gentle Sandman cometh each and every night for every other child in the world, my son sees it has his chance to rebel and show off his freakish resilience to sleep. He fights it like it's the plague.

It is not at all uncommon for my son to sleep from 7 pm until 8 pm. One hour. One glorious, fleeting hour. Then, from 8 pm until midnight or 2 am, my husband and I take turns trying to coax our son back to sleep. (Oh how I wish I was exaggerating or embellishing here, but I'm not. Sadly, I am not). He often proceeds to wake again at 3 am, 4 am, and then he is usually up for the day around 5 am. There is lots of tossing and turning, flip-flopping around on the bed, screaming, crying, kicking, hair-pulling, and pushing. And let's not even discuss the antics on my son's behalf. {Just kidding. We don't kick or pull his hair. All the aggression is coming from him toward us during these nightly bouts. The poor little guy just hates to go to sleep. We practice peaceful parenting as much as humanly possible, but we do struggle to remain calm and patient come the 4 or 5 hour mark}.

Last night I had to do the whole bedtime routine solo. My husband had some important documents to print up, scan, and fax. So, he drove back to work to do those things. That left me to get both kiddos off to sleep. It's not a huge deal, but if Rascal puts up a fight, I'm on my own to deal with it.

Poor Roo, she waited patiently in her bed while I tried to get her brother to sleep. I told her I'd rub her back and belly once her brother was asleep. She fell asleep while waiting for me. :(

After one and a half hours of me nursing, singing, and patting Rascal in our bed, his eyes began to flutter closed. I waited another few minutes before I dared move my arm away from him, as he was curled up against it. I was almost ready to start celebrating my swift and successful sleep induction. Almost.

Then, approximately 11 seconds after he had officially nodded off (but while he was still in that easy-to-wake stage of early sleep), guess what happened? Go on, guess. I'm telling you that you will never guess because even I can't believe what happened and I was right there to witness it.

Wait for it...

The smoke detector began to chirp. You know that high-pitched chirp the detectors make every 30 seconds or so to warn you that the battery is low? It's an unbelievably loud and disturbing chirp when you are in a dark and quiet room listening to it. And I thought to myself, "Have we ever changed the battery in that thing?? Many a night I've laid awake in this bed for the last several years, looking up at that smoke detector. I've seen it's light blinking in the dark and often wondered just how long one battery could possibly last."

Well, it failed to last about 8 hours longer than I needed it to.

WHY couldn't it have waited until morning? Why couldn't it have started the warning chirps during the daytime, when the children were not using the room for nocturnal sleep? Why did it have to start now -- while my husband is gone and unable to fix it for me (vaulted ceiling, remember? Otherwise I would have fixed it myself).

Just for the record, to demonstrate how ridiculously uncanny the whole situation was, my husband has NEVER gone back to work late at night. He does not hold the kind of job that requires him to do any additional work once he gets home for the day. I remember once when he left his wallet at work, he didn't even drive back to work to get it. He just called and asked the guy that sits nearby to put the wallet in his desk until my husband could get it the next morning. My beloved never leaves me stranded at home in order to run back to work. Until last night.

So, having it MY way, I would have preferred for the chirping to start sometime over the long holiday weekend. When my husband was home for 4. straight. days. Looking for something to do. That would have been a good time to go out to the shed and get our rickety old ladder, maneuver it up our long, narrow staircase, move our queen-size bed out of the way, climb to the tippity top, perch himself precariously on the uppermost step, stretch his long arms up and still barely reach the smoke detector. But, instead, he had to do all of those things late at night. In the dark. After a super-exhausting day of work.

Oh, yes. I think God got a good little chuckle watching that scene play out in our bedroom last night.

And as for Rascal, he fell right back to sleep just as the sun was rising and his sister was waking and it was time for this tired Mama to get up and start her day. Does it count as "starting" a day when you never went to bed the night before?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hanging the Advent Stockings

I've finally done it. It was down to the wire, as usual, but I did it. I completed the Advent stockings and actually hung them up last night (or was it early this morning??). This little project has been in the works for almost four years now. Four years. But, better late than never, I say.

We've always had an Advent wreath on the table (and will continue to do so), but now that Roo is getting to the age when she is asking "How much longer until Christmas eve?" I thought it was high time I pushed myself to finish this craft. It's the Christmas "countdown" made visible.

I used a variety of winter/Christmas fabrics. I was so pleased to finally use some Superbuzzy fabric that I had been hoarding. I love Superbuzzy, but it can be pricey. When I use their fabric to sew clothes for the children, I always mourn the day when they outgrow the piece I made them (or stain it beyond saving). So to be able to work those particular fabrics into something that will never be outgrown or stained (I hope), but will be brought out year after year for this special time was such a pleasure!

Since this has been a tradition I have been hoping to implement for several years now, I've amassed pages and pages of stocking stuffer thoughts. I love the idea of filling the stockings with ideas for relishing the holiday season. This is certainly not an activity that has to focus on the material goodies stuffed inside (although, there will be some of that here and there). In fact, that is a trend I most definitely do not want to start with my little ones. That whole "expectation" thing is not on our agenda. With 24 stockings and two children, that would be 48 little gifts that I would have to dole out over the next few weeks. So, (ahem), that is not going to happen.

My plan is to use some of the things I would be doing anyway (giving new Christmas pj's, making a gingerbread house) and turning that into the "gift" tucked inside (a scroll tied with ribbon, explaining the special activity of the day. I will try to use as many symbols and drawings as I can since my children are not reading yet). For days when the gift is an actual present instead of an activity, and it is too big to put inside the stocking, then I will put a clue or series of clues in the stocking that will lead to where I've stashed the present. If it is something that I would be spending money or energy on anyway, why not include it as one of the 24 surprises? Plus, the great thing about young children is their genuine excitement over the simplest ideas.

I decided to go with removable tags on the individual stockings, noting the day (1-24). This was partly due to lack of time to sew or embellish each one with a number, and partly due to my urge to change things up year to year (or even within the current year). For instance, I don't always want Day 6 to be a huge stocking. Because what if I don't happen to have something on hand that is appropriately sized for Day 6? I want the freedom to change stocking sizes around to suit what I have planned for that particular day, year to year. Honestly, I am quite sure I will be scrambling a few times the night before, looking for just the right idea for the next day's stocking. So, if I need to change things around, I can.
Today, being December 1st (although the "real" Advent started Sunday), Roo peeped into the first stocking a found a polished stone in the shape of a heart. It symbolizes the love God has for us and the way my sweet little ones make my own heart swell with love.

I will be peppering my posts throughout this month with some of the plethora of ideas swirling inside my head. For the next few days, I have the following planned:

Day 2: Our Book Basket is currently sitting empty. It's time to break out the Winter books! Since we only have our seasonal books out for a short time, it's always a treat to see these old familiar friends again. I will be cutting my fair share of paper snowflakes tonight. When the children come downstairs in the morning, they will check the stocking for Day 2. Inside will be a scroll of paper telling them to look for the clues to the day's special activity (I will draw snowflakes on the paper or maybe I will tuck an actual paper snowflake into the stocking, thus prompting them to look for the snowflake's friends). Looking around, they will see and then follow the trail of snowflakes to the hiding place where I will stash our Winter storybooks. We will then fill our Book Basket with fresh titles and cozy up and read right after breakfast. {This activity falls under the category I talked about above: take something you would ordinarily do (drag the Winter books out of storage and read them) and make IT the stocking stuffer. Of course, adding a little fanfare (the snowflake trail) always helps! It costs nothing to do and makes the ordinary extra-ordinary}.

Day 3: Decorating our own wrapping paper. I have a few potatoes that I will cut into desired designs (here's hoping Roo chooses something simple!) and we will stamp blank paper with our painted potatoes. Even my youngest can participate. There's something so touching about a gift wrapped up in paper designed by sweet little hands.

Day 4: Set up our little snow village on the hearth. My daughter is just like me: she loves to arrange and rearrange things. In this case, it's the village of houses, bridges, barns, and figurines ice-skating and caroling. For me, this is basically a continuation of holiday decorating. But to my daughter, it's an EVENT. She will spend hours setting everything up just so!

That's all I have for tonight. I must get off to the craft room and work on a few presents. But, I have no shortage of ideas related to Advent stockings. So, check back if you're interested in hearing more. If you're not into Advent stockings this year (but you really should consider it for next year or down the road-- it really does help one slow down and savor the joys of this busy season), don't worry. I've got other topics to cover: food, books, and some craftiness.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend Recap

My, we certainly had an eventful Thanksgiving holiday weekend around here. All parts were memorable, some for good reasons and some not.

The lowlights include: a too-late night brining the turkey, running to the overcrowded grocery store 4 or 5 times for "one last thing," trying to wedge a very large bird into the pan, setting off the smoke detectors (more than once), no naps, too many naps, teething, throwing up, renting a carpet cleaner, food poisoning (not from my Thanksgiving feast, in case you were wondering), cancelling long-awaited plans, rescheduling said plans, locking the keys in the car out in the middle of the forest.

However, I cannot forget the many blessings brought about this past weekend as well:

My little kitchen helper, fresh herbs in hand-- so excited to help prepare the meal!

"Painting" the turkey with oil, prior to roasting

Getting dressed up (Yes, she's wearing sandals. And yes, they are on the wrong feet)

Cocoa moustaches

Rock climbing

Sled rides, courtesy of Grandma

The peaceful stillness of the forest

Apricot-pecan cinnamon rolls

Family naps in the pillow house

Hope you all had an enjoyable and restful weekend with your dear ones. I'll be back soon with some recipes and Christmas crafting updates!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Fall Book Basket--Fashionably Late

Oh, yes I do realize that Thanksgiving is this week and I'm just now churning out my book basket selections for autumn. But, perhaps, if you are one of those people trying to stay in the present season and not fast-forward to winter and Christmas, this list might be of interest to you. [If you happen to be in winter/Christmas mode already, very soon I'll have book basket selections to fit those categories. So, sit tight!].

Our first book basket contender is Three Pebbles and a Song by Eileen Spinelli. I first read this charming story to Roo several years ago. It's so very similar to Leo Lionni's Frederick, but worth reading for a new twist on the classic fable. The mice featured in Three Pebbles are so cute wearing their calico and lace (suspenders for the boys) and scuttling about preparing for the coming winter. The illustrations of their cozy little home makes you want to hop right into the book's pages and snuggle up! While Moses the mouse is encouraged to gather supplies to sustain the family for winter, Moses gets easily distracted by the swirling leaves and the "whistle-y" song of the wind. In the end, although Moses never did get around to gathering his share of food and warm rags to help his family stock up for the cold months ahead, he was able to contribute a few things that were just as important as the "essentials." A great message about how the sum of the parts equal the whole, just as true in families as in mathematics!

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves has been a favorite around our house for a few years running. We have a soft spot for foxes, and especially compassionate little ones like Fletcher. In this story, Fletcher becomes very concerned when his tree friend starts losing his leaves. Fletcher tries to "save" his friend by putting the leaves back on the tree's limbs. But, to no avail. However, the beautiful surprise awaiting Fletcher at the end of the book teaches him (and us) that there is beauty to be found in every season of life.

A Bear for All Seasons is not just a book about autumn. It covers all four seasons beautifully.
The illustrations are so comforting and capture all of the changes (both big and small) that accompany winter, spring, summer, and fall.

The fox (yes, another fox. I told you we love our fox friends in these parts) in the story is telling his friend Bear what he loves (and doesn't love) about each season. As he listens to Fox describing the highs and lows of each, Bear is convinced that he's decided which season is his favorite, only to change his mind again and again. While reading it, I'm always struck with the thought, "Oh, yes! I love that too!" Funny how easily you can forget what you enjoy until someone else points it and and reminds you. In the end we learn that, whatever the season, the gift of friendship helps us weather it all.

Of course, no book basket list would be complete without the works of Gerda Muller. I just had to add Autumn to our collection after having bought Spring and Summer (and last month I went ahead and ordered Winter because you can't have a proper seasonal collection of only three of the four seasons, can you?)

We enjoy this series by Muller so much. It seems a bit odd at first to "read" a book without words. But the trick is to have fun with it and make up new stories each time. These board books were some of the first books I noticed Rascal picking up and flipping through on his own. That is really saying something, because Rascal rarely sits still to look at anything.
But something about these books just drew him in. I do think they really opened his eyes to how fun books can be to just gaze at and soak up the beauty of the illustrations.

Honorable Mentions include:

Hurry, Hurry Mary Dear - My daughter enjoys this story and we read it daily during the autumn months. I'm not sure if she's drawn to it because it shows all the domestic complexities involved in readying for winter (very few of which she witnesses in our own home) or the way she gives her demanding and idle husband his due at the end of the story. Regardless, it's a quick and fun read and certainly opens the door for dialogue about fall duties around the home (like putting up jam and knitting warmies). Plus, for the littlest ones, it's fun to spot the black cat in the various scenes.

In November by Cynthia Rylant. When I first introduced this book to my family last year, I was the only one who liked it. Roo would always oblige and read it with me, but it was never the book she chose from the basket. This year, she seems better able to appreciate the gorgeous paintings and the poetic, descriptive text. I still think I enjoy it more than anyone else in the house, but that's okay. I used to often read children's books to myself, long before I ever had children of my own. So, if your children don't take to this story, maybe you can curl up on the couch and read it after they're in bed!

So that, in a nutshell (ha-ha. Couldn't resist sneaking a little autumn humor in there), is what we have sitting in our Fall Book Basket. I'm sure you'll have no problem checking them out from your local library, as it seems everyone has moved on to checking out Thanksgiving and Christmas stories (at least that's been the case at our library).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Birds of a feather...

I know I've mentioned in the past that I inherited a love of birds from my grandma. I am always scouting out the yard, hoping to catch a new bird visiting the feeder. Well, lately, the corncob feeder that I keep hung up for our squirrel friends has attracted a bluejay couple and one very large woodpecker. The squirrels, being so eager and so messy, drop more corn on the ground than they get into their mouths. All this corn littered on the ground has caused a flurry of bird activity.

Here's a blurry photo of a bluejay (I was in such a rush to capture this quick and lively new visitor!) Yes, I realize that bluejays are hardly a rare sighting for most people (my sister told me she sees a half dozen or so at a time in her yard), but they are not at all commonplace in my backyard.
One day last week, I had been snapping and spying the jays and the woodpecker just beyond our back door all morning long. So distracted I was, I realized Rascal was overdue for his nap. So, up we went.

While nestled in bed, tummy to tummy with my little man, I had birds on my mind. Ten or so minutes later, as Rascal was still nursing but definitely heading toward dreamland, I heard a bird song I had never heard before. Had the new blue jay couple brought along another new friend?? Oh, I couldn't wait to go downstairs and see!

Another 30 seconds or so later, I heard ANOTHER new bird call! "It figures!" I thought to myself. While I am away from the window and without my camera, brand new birds are visiting my feeder! And I'm missing it! I looked down at Rascal, who was taking his sweet time drifting off to deep sleep. "Come on, buddy! Please fall asleep sooooon. I want to go see these new birds before they leave. Please, little guy: go. to. sleep. Okay?? Oh, good! His eyes are closed, he's letting go of my arm...almost there!" I hoped by sending him my subliminal thoughts, I could lure him to sleep more quickly.

By the time Rascal was asleep enough for me to creep slowly away from him and head for the door, I had heard 6 or 7 new bird calls emanating from downstairs. I was more than a little skeptical that I could possibly have so many new bird visitors all of the sudden. Skeptical, but still hopeful!

As I reached the bottom of the stairs, camera in hand, I discovered the source of the plentiful tweeting. Mystery solved:
Ah ha. Some little person had found mama's bird book and had been flipping through it and pressing the bird call button again and again and again. Got to give props to The Backyard Birdsong Guide for reproducing authentic, high quality sound! Of course, I should have known when I heard the red-tailed hawk squawking that it was unlikely to be the real deal. Our tiny yard probably isn't prime hunting territory for such a bird. But it sure was fun to imagine. That's one of the best things about this bird-watching hobby-- the possibility factor is always there!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Good Morning, Mister Sun

Good morning, merry sunshine,
How did you wake so soon?
You've scared the little stars away,
And shined away the moon.
I saw you go to sleep last night,
Before I ceased my playing,
How did you get way over there,
And where have you been staying?
"I never go to sleep, dear child,
I just go round to see
My little children of the East,
Who rise and watch for me.
I waken all the birds and bees,
And flowers on my way,
And now come back to see the child
Who stayed out late to play."
-From "Eloise Wilkin's Poems to Read to the Very Young"

I feel a bit odd posting these pictures when temps around here have been in the 70's, but indulge me, if you will, in a few last photos from our recent snowstorm.

It was early one morning, last week, when I was changing Rascal's diaper on the changing table upstairs in our bedroom. He was chuckling to himself and saying, "Hi. Hi. Hi." Smiling, I glanced down at him and noticed his cherubic little face bathed in a rosy glow. He was focusing intently on the light filtering through the crack between the curtain and window shade and the window itself. His hand was outstretched as he was trying to "catch" the beam of light. I realized he wasn't saying "Hi" to me, but to the light streaming in.

The window in the bedroom nearly runs from floor to ceiling, so it wasn't long before the entire bedroom was filled with golden hues. I rolled up the shade and pulled back the curtain, and then I beheld one of the most peaceful and serene sights: a peaches-and-cream sunrise over a magical blanket of white.

The children and I just sat in the window and marveled at all the little tiny ice crystals hanging from the branches. We etched designs in the frost on the windowpane. Mere minutes later, the pinks and purples faded into bright blue sky. That little window of sunrise is so small, that to catch it before it fades to day is such a treat!
After we headed downstairs, I caught another glimpse out our patio door and couldn't believe how the sun was making such quick work of melting the snow off these tender tree top branches.
I just love the quiet that fills the air the morning after a big snow. That sort of quiet that is almost deafening, if you know what I mean. The kind that nudges the negative thoughts and weighted-down feelings out of the way and, instead, fills your head and your senses with crisp 'n' clean freshness! Other than sleeping in, starting my morning out with the rise of the sun is my favorite way to start the day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Winter Wonderland

We have been enjoying the majestic display of (an early) King Winter these past few days. This morning Rascal and I were up very early and he sat mesmerized while looking out the front door. The wind was howling (hence the blurry photo below -- this time it was not due to my poor photography skills!), causing the "pit pat tap" sound of the snow hitting the glass.

After sunrise, the weather was still fierce, but everything seems so much better in the daylight, doesn't it?

{We even spotted this little village of winter chalets peaking out from the drifts of snow!}

Luckily our feathered friends were warm in their nests, rather than spending any time in this drafty ol' place:

However, a few days ago, we were between snowstorms and we went outside to make a few snow sculptures. Armed with colored water and measuring spoons, eye droppers, squeeze bottles, and mini spray bottles we had a blast coloring the fresh snow:

My husband even made sure to help the little one make some snowballs to freeze (my husband said that they used to keep the snowballs in the freezer until summertime! What a fun tradition that must have been). We, however, are very short on freezer space, so I think I will just let our littles take a snowball or two into the next hot bath they take. Watching it melt away should provide much fun and plenty of giggles, I think.
Each Friday, The Magic Onions hosts Friday's Nature Table. Go there to read about what others are doing to soak up some nature love!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow Day

With another snowy day comes another opportunity to get in the kitchen and bake. Fall and winter are really the only times I feel a pull toward baking. While I do enjoy cooking for the most part, I don't really get into the baking swing until the weather demands it. Cookies, cobblers/crisps, muffins, apple cider doughnuts --- these don't generally make an appearance until days like today.

So, I thought it was the perfect time to make the sugar cookie recipe that appears at the end of this book we've been reading quite frequently:
It's such a cute story: all about a girl and her animal friends speculating what the moon is made of: cat thinks it's milk, butterfly thinks it's sugar, mouse thinks it is made of billowy clouds of flour. And if you add all the ideas together in a bowl (which they do at the end of the story), the end result is a warm sugar cookie.

So, while I added each ingredient, we thought back on the story and I asked Roo, "Now who thought the moon was made of a pat of butter?" etc. as I went along. She remembered every single one (not that I would have known the difference, unless I really gave it some thought -- my memory seems to be disappearing faster than these sugar cookies have today!). I love it when a story can be tied into an activity like this one. It's a great chance for my girl to flex her skills of comprehension and recollection. Plus, it's just fun to turn a story into a real life experience. Especially an edible experience!

Here are the "moon" sugar cookies which we turned into Halloween cookies. The shapes are somewhat ambiguous, so I'll tell you what we have: a cat, pumpkin, ghost, and bat.
The icing turned out a subtle orange, which I prefer as opposed to that garish neon-orange frosting you see on some store-bought goodies this time of year.
Sadly, it's after baking cookies like these, that I realize we don't have cookie decorations on hand. Thus explaining the Christmas tree and red/white sprinkles on the center cookie. The others have a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder which gives them a nice flavor since the cookie itself and the powdered sugar icing are sooo sweet. My daughter didn't even question the use of Christmas cookie sprinkles, she was just happy to decorate them (and eat one, of course!).

To balance out the sugar, I served a carrot and apple salad for lunch alongside some cashews and almonds. Then I made this yummy pasta salad for a light dinner:

It's very heavy on the veggies (here I used cucumber, carrot, tomato, green bell pepper, and roasted red bell peppers from a jar), which is one of the only ways we can get the amount we should in a day. I like to think of the pasta noodles as more of a "condiment," rather than the main ingredient in a salad like this.

As I usually do, I had some way overcooked, grilled chicken. I had sprinkled some chicken breasts with Montreal steak seasoning and left them to cook in a skillet. Then I went off to play with the kids, fold laundry, sort through some winter gear, etc. In other words, I totally forgot about the chicken and it was dry, dry, dry. Which, I have to say, normally I prefer dry chicken because then I know it's fully cooked. My family jokes because I am the only person they know who complains when chicken or turkey is too moist!

So, I've found that the perfect use for overcooked chicken is a pasta salad. The Italian dressing manages to seep into even the driest cuts of meat and make it moist again. Of course it's best when you have a few hours to let it chill and the flavors meld together. Not exactly a warming or comforting dinner for such a cold day, but I think the cookies fill that void nicely.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Today, Inside. Today, Outside.

While the blustery winds blew and big, fat snowflakes fell from the sky, we got busy warming up our tummies with some home-cooked yummies: chicken tortilla soup (which simmered in the crock-pot all day, wafting through the house every time I lifted the lid to stir) and oatmeal cookies (some with walnuts, some with raisins, and some with both. Unfortunately, we were out of chocolate chips or we would have definitely tossed those in too).
Oddly enough, the last time I did an Inside/Outside post, I included pictures of oatmeal cookies and the current weather conditions from the back porch (the lid of the sandbox, to be exact). These posts under Inside/Outside are supposed to be snippets of little moments worth remembering. I KNOW that our memorable moments cannot be summed up in thoughts of oatmeal cookies and our sandbox, but apparently that's where we find our pleasures lately. :)

Today wasn't our first snowfall of the season, but it was the first time it snowed all day without ceasing. Surprisingly, it didn't amount to much of anything on the ground. But, it was very chilly and crisp and beautiful.
We didn't get out of our pj's all day. Instead we baked, read mountains of books, and built igloos out of couch cushions and throw pillows. I just love days like today.