Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Matthew, the Pro

Wow! It finally worked! Fifth time's a charm...

Anyway, I am amazed at how much progress Matthew has made in just a few weeks. He's standing up without holding onto anything, carrying and throwing things while walking, and turning quite well now. His new favorite thing is to chase Embry in circles around the living room. They start giggling so hard that they both lose their balance and fall down, usually on top of one another. Enjoy!

Year End Update

Well, I was planning on posting an ultra-cute video of Matthew showing off his walking skills, but Blogger had other ideas. So, year-end-update it is...

Around the House: Embry and I just finished taking down the tree. The official sign that Christmas is over. I think she liked taking it down even more than putting it up. But, it is always a little depressing for me. For several weeks, getting ready for Christmas consumes so much of my time and energy, that once it's over, I don't know what to do with myself. I've been cleaning and organizing, starting next Monday getting back into crafting. I really did not like the stockings I have for everyone, so I am going to make some new ones. And if I am going to make my Christmas cards for next year, I have to get started early.

In the Kitchen: I know you're supposed to have black-eyed peas for New Year's, but I prefer black beans. And besides, it was a great way to use up all of the leftover ham from Christmas. Also, in a fond farewell to all of the Christmas sweets, I am making a bread pudding with some leftover cranberry bread. We are also cooking up the rest of our appetizers for New Year's Eve, and I am mixing up some sangria with our leftover wine.

New with Embry: This week we are trying to finally get Embry out of her Pull-Ups. We have been sort-of potty training for a year now, but I have decided that she will be finished when she goes back to school. This week is perfect because we have no distractions and I can spend all of our time at home. She is doing great so far... wish us luck!

New with Matthew: Now that he's pretty comfortable walking, Matthew loves to chase around his sister (whether she likes it or not).

I am Thankful For: The last year, and what a crazy year is has been for us. Last year at this time we were living in Alabama and I was taking time off of work to stay home with my newborn. Now I'm at home full time, in St. Louis, my little girl is going back to school next week, and my baby just turned 1 year old. Did all of that really happen in just one year?

The Weather Outside: The weather has been CRAZY around here. The week before Christmas, it was so cold outside that I was reluctant to take the kids with me to the store. Then, in the days after Christmas it was so warm that we were going out without jackets on. There were a couple of thunderstorms here and there (yes, with thunder and lightning, in December), and now it seems back to normal. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the winter goes.

I am Obsessing About: Trying not to obsess so much; one of my resolutions. Also, not complaining as much, feeding the kids (and J and myself) better food, and the same old lose weight.

Happy New Year Everybody!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Post Christmas Wrap-Up

Well, today was the first day with just the four of us in the house again. Things are slowly getting back to normal. Most of the presents are put away, most of the leftovers are eaten. (The tree is still up and the lights are still up outside. I usually wait until New Year's before I take down that stuff.) Jason went back to work and the kids and I spent a normal day at home. Although Embry is still home from school for another week, so it wasn't quite a normal weekday.

We had a wonderful Christmas and weekend. We had a full house and lots and lots of food. We opened gifts on Christmas morning. Embry got tired about halfway through and decided that all she wanted to do was paint with her new easel. Matthew slept through the presents, so he opened his later in the day. Everyone got lots of great stuff, especially the kids. Matthew played for about an hour with this train toy that pops balls out of the top of it. And Embry paints on her easel everyday. Mine and Jason's favorites are the Nintendos we got. Yes, we unwrapped a Wii and an NES. Awesome.

For Christmas dinner, we made a ham and fried deer, scalloped potatoes, Italian braised green beans, homemade rolls, a layered salad, and taco ring (taco meat inside crescent roll dough with taco fixin's on top), cranberry sauce, cranberry bread, and lots of wine. I think my favorite was the potatoes. It was from the Best Recipe Cookbook (my favorite), and I had not tried it before, but it was yummy. We didn't make a dessert since we had tons of cookies. We had three platters that we kept refilling all weekend long.

By Sunday I was exhausted and the house was still a huge mess, but I think everyone had a good time. And everyone got home safe despite some unusually weather.

Here's some pictures, I'll put the rest up on Snapfish soon. Hope everyone had a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I figured that with all that will be going on at the house in the next few days, it's not likely that I will post again for a while. So, I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and leave you with a couple of cute pictures.

The first one is of Embry eyeing the cookie plate that I made up for Christmas Eve.

The last one is of the kids being cute and laying together on the floor right before naptime this afternoon. I can't believe how big Matthew is getting compared to his sister. He won't be her "little" brother for much longer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More Christmas Happenings

Around the House: Cleaning and organizing. Getting ready for guests on Wednesday night. Here's a picture of the amaryllis that I bought from a school fundraiser. I had hoped that it would wait until Christmas to bloom, but of course it bloomed a week earlier. Oh well, it was still beautiful. And it is always nice to see pretty flowers on the table when the rest of the house looks like a tornado hit it.

In the Kitchen: The focus from now until Wednesday is cookies. I baked butter cookies last Friday and on Saturday, Embry and I decorated them. J even frosted a few.

Here's a closer look of one of my favorites... the blue Christmas tree with 30 (yes, we counted) red hots on it. Embry was very liberal with the red hots on all of her cookies. I finally had to cut her off, so that we'd have some cookies without them. The funny thing is that I remember doing the exact same thing when I was little. I also liked the silver dragees :)

New with Embry: We went to Embry's School Christmas program open house last week. The theme was Christmas around the world. Each classroom was a different region/country and celebrated as they do with clothing decorations, crafts,and food. Embry's class was Africa. They each stamped a t-shirt to wear, made drums, and clay pots. She also wore a beaded necklace and bracelet that they made. They had a expert on African culture come and speak to them. He brought instruments, traditional costumes, and decorations. And someone brought in a few African foods to eat. We were able to go to Embry's classroom and then walk with her to all of the other classes to see what they were up to. It was fun.

Here's a picture of Embry in her getup. She also is sporting a candy can that she stole off of the tree when she got home that day.

New with Matthew: He's a total pro at walking now. He's getting around all over the house, although he has some issues with all the places in the house where the carpet transitions to the hard floor and vice versa. He usually just sits down, crawls over the line and then gets up and walks again. Funny.

I'm Thankful For: Trader Joe's, the best store ever. Not only did we find another great new wine there today (that I'm sipping right now), but also a small container of Fiesta Dip. For those who are not familiar... Fiesta Dip is re-fried beans, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and cheese layered for dipping. It is one of my favorite treats, but usually you can only find it in huge containers at the grocery store. Trader Joe's had a 2 serving size and they used black beans instead of pintos (even better). Yum!

The Weather Outside: I still can't complain. Even though it's now 9 degrees outside we have somehow avoided lots of messiness this week. It could have been like at my Mom's house with lots and lots of snow, or like at J's Mom's house with lots of ice. I'll definitely take cold and windy instead. Side note - Matthew (and sometimes Embry) have taken to playing in my bedroom closet lately. I think it's partly because there is a heat duct running through it and it's always warm in there.

I'm Obsessing About: Having everything ready for Christmas morning. I'm ahead of schedule, but since Embry is home this week, I'm planning on having less time than normal. I know everyone will have a good time regardless of whether or not I dust the bedroom, but it'll be nice of no one notices that I hadn't dusted since we moved here :).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas is Coming

The last few weeks have been all about getting ready for Christmas. I started by putting up some white lights in the bushes outside. Then, the week after Thanksgiving, we went and bought our tree. We went the easy route and get an already cut tree from Home Depot. I hope when the kids are older that we will trek out in the cold and cut down our own like my family did for so many years. We set the tree up in the front room and I attempted to put up the lights. That task ended abruptly though, when 3 strings of my lights didn't work. So, I finished the lights the next day after a trip to Walmart. Later, J, Embry and I hung the ornaments. I bought shatterproof ornaments this year with Matthew in mind, and left a lot of our old glass ornaments packed away. Fortunately, Matthew has not been very interested at all in the tree. I think he is kind of weirded out by it so far.

I also have been baking this week. Our family goes cookie crazy at Christmas. I knew that I would not have to bake all of the cookies I wanted in the days before Christmas, so I started last week and put a few batches of dough in the freezer. I made lemon glazed butter cookies (without the glaze yet), molasses cookies, and raspberry pinwheels. This week I will start to work on the cutouts (Embry and I will frost and decorate them next weekend), blondies (yummy recipe from friend Ginny), and fudge. It will be my first attempt at homemade fudge. Normally I would not be nervous, but my efforts in the kitchen lately have been... unpredictable.

I forgot the sugar in the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Then my first batch of cookie dough was way too dry, and my second batch was way too wet. Then today I tried a different recipe for panettone and it totally flopped (although I blame the recipe for this one). By the way, I will keep trying recipes for panettone until I find a good one, even it takes me all next year.

Thankfully, everyone else will be bringing cookies as well, so if none of mine turn out, we will still have plenty to go around. We are having 10 people (including the kids) for Christmas dinner next Thursday, so I am working on recipes and shopping lists for that as well.

Shopping is done, although I am still waiting on a few last minute gifts to arrive in the mail. And everything that is here is already wrapped. We just have to bring everything up from the basement and put it under the tree on Christmas Eve.

I asked Embry what she wanted Santa to bring her and she answered, "a new sippy cup." That one shouldn't be to hard to get. When I asked her what Matthew will get she said, "a new milk bottle." She decided that I am getting some new plates, and J will be receiving a new workbench and new tools. I guess we'll find out if she's right...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Differences Between Siblings

Until I had Mathew, I had no idea how different two kids could be... and them walking is no exception. Although Embry was also about 1 year when she took her first steps, the way that they go about it is completely different.

With Embry, we had to coax her. I would hold out my arms, call her, and she would walk to me, a couple of steps at a time. She loved to show off her new skill, and she still loves to watch herself on tape.

Matthew has been standing on his own for months. Who knows when he actually had the ability to walk. He has taken a step here or there, and then, on his birthday he took 3 or 4 steps. We try to get him to walk to us, but he just gets down and crawls. Then, the other day I was looking away and Embry yells, "Mattie's walking!" And sure enough, I turn around and he had taken about 10 steps all the way across the living room. He walks only when he feels like it, and usually when no one is looking. This makes getting it on video that much harder. Now I know how those guys from Discovery Channel felt when they were trying to film the snow leopard :)

So, this morning I got out the video camera, turned it on and left it sitting on the desk. I plugged it into the wall so the battery wouldn't run out when I needed it. And I waited. It took until about 12:30, but I finally caught a few steps.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Matthew

Matthew had quite an eventful day on Wednesday. He started the day by going to the doctor for his 12 year check-up. He was poked and prodded, and like all doctor's visits we had to wait for what seemed like forever. So, we ended up getting home an hour after his normal naptime. He was exhausted and slept all morning. I had to wake him up to go pick up Embry from school, then he immediately fell asleep in the car an the way. He took another long nap in the afternoon and then after dinner, we had cake.

He didn't make nearly as big of a mess as I expected. He took his time and I eventually had to take the plate away so we could put him in the bathtub and get ready for bed. After his bath he opened his presents from Embry and from his cousins.

Embry picked out a drum for her brother, which she has played with a lot more than than he has. Matthew had the most fun, though, with the card that Embry picked out for him. She always picks out cards that play music, no matter who the recipient. This particular card has a picture of a baby eating birthday cake on the front, that Embry said was a picture of Matthew. He opens it over and over again every day, and dances a little when it starts to play, "I'm so excited!" He is so funny.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

We drove to Rock Falls on Wednesday afternoon. It took us 4 1/2 hours. Traffic was not bad at all, the weather was nice, and the kids did great in the car, especially since they slept about half of the trip. We were tired when we got there, so we ordered the pizza from the best pizza place in the world, Angelo's, and went to bed early.

Everyone got up at 5:45 the next morning, which was not such a bad thing considering we had all had to shower and get dressed, I had to make a pie, and my mom had to make biscuits, a casserole and frost a cake. I gave up on trying to find a second dish to bring, so we just brought a couple bottles of wine.

As you can see, J and Matthew were very excited for dinner to begin. Embry had a great time playing with all of cousins, and it was wonderful to see most of my extended family. Neither I nor J got to eat much, though. Naptime came and went and right about the time that it was time to eat, Embry decided it was time to go. (She was also crabby due to her newly discovered allergy to my Mom's cats. She was on Children's Claritin the whole time we were there.) So, we took the kids home to sleep, and I returned to visit with the family.

Shortly after I returned we went on our annual post dinner walk. This year we walked across the brand new walkway that spans the Rock River 2 blocks from my Mom's house. It was cold and windy (so I am kind of glad that the kids were warm in their beds), but still fun. After our walk, we feel that we have burned off enough of dinner to start on dessert. Yes, I said start. You see, when there are enough desserts for everyone to have a whole pie to themselves, you have to pace yourself.

Here is the best shot I got of my pie, the one in the middle. It turned out to look much nicer that it tasted. I left out the sugar. It was not totally devoid of sweetness, as I did put in candied yams and maple syrup, but I could tell that something was definitely missing. Luckily, someone else brought a pumpkin pie as well. It was great with a huge pile of Reddi-whip on top!

Among the other desserts were a pecan pie, apple, peach, coconut cream, banana cream (my all time favorite pie), a coconut cake, and a trifle. All homemade and all delicious. I only tasted 4 of them while we were there, but I had to make J and Embry a plate to take home, so I packed up all the ones that I hadn't yet tried and brought them back to Mom's.

Embry dug right in. I think she may have let J have some too. :)
The rest of the weekend was spent visiting, chasing kitties, and playing outside (and NOT shopping). Embry loved the huge pile of leaves in the backyard. That's my Mom with her head sticking out of the pile. We don't have any trees in our yard, so this was a new experience. We ended up going home a little early,so that Embry could recover from her allergies before school on Monday. But overall we had a pretty good time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Panettone - Attempt #1

I made my first attempt at Panettone today. I made the dough last night, which took all of 10 minutes. I let it rise and put it in the fridge overnight, and baked the first loaf this morning. It turned out pretty good. The loaf was pretty and baking it made the house smell like a doughnut shop, yum!

Embry loved it... she would barely wait until I took this picture before she took a huge bite out of the piece that I cut for the photo.

How did I like it? That's a little more complicated. For anyone who doesn't know, before I moved to MO, I worked at a Williams-Sonoma store for 5 years. My absolute favorite thing in the whole store was the huge 2 pound panettone, $32! each. I would buy at least 3 per holiday season (with my discount of course). I looked forward to it all year round. So, my standards were very high, yet I knew the one I made would never come close. So, even though it was not the same, I was not disappointed. It was very good. And I will continue to make it, and try to tweak the recipe to make it better. Thanks Ginny! for such a great book!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weekly Update

Around the House: The house is still filled with sick people, so there's not much going on. I am taking the kids for try #2 at getting some Christmas pictures taken. We tried to get them taken last week at JCPenneys, but after waiting 40 minutes past our appointment time, the "photographer" (and I use that term loosely, better is "the lady with the camera") rushed us in and out in less than 5 minutes and didn't get a single good picture of either kid. So, I didn't order any prints and I didn't reschedule. I'm taking them to Sears this time, and I made sure that there weren't 10 other appointments for the same time. So, hopefully we won't be so tired and rushed this time. I can get great pictures of them separately. The challenge is to get them to sit still together.

In the Kitchen: Sick or not, I am making pannetoni dough this weekend. I'm using the recipe out of my new bread book and I plan to take a couple of loaves up to my Mom's house for Thanksgiving. Hopefully I won't forget to take a picture before it all gets eaten.

New with Embry: Embry was invited to her first birthday party last Saturday for a boy in her class. The party was at a gym and was lots of fun. The parents rented out a huge area in the gym and there were organized games for the kids like parachute and scooter races. Then they all went swimming, and had pizza and cake. Embry was one of the youngest ones there and it took her a little while to get into the games, but then she had a blast. She actually ate her pizza, and a slice of green "Hulk" cake. It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

New with Matthew: Still not walking on his own yet. Still standing on his own for ridiculous lengths of time. How long is an episode of "Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!"? I'm not sure what technique he's going for, but his balance is great.

I am Grateful For: Thursdays. Thursdays are my day when I don't have any errands to run, any phone calls to make, any laundry to do, or any large cleaning projects. It's as close to a day off as I get. So, I spent naptime today going through the mountain of catalogs that have accumulated over the last week. I love catalogs, but I do get A LOT of them in the 2 weeks before and after Thanksgiving.

The Weather Outside: When Embry and I stepped outside after the birthday party it was snowing. Nothing accumulated, but it was still exciting for both of us. More scattered flurries are expected tonight.

I am Obsessing About: Finishing my Christmas shopping. I only have 2 people left and they are the same 2 people I always put off until last. I know I still have plenty of time, but I like to spend the last few weeks before Christmas cooking, not shopping.

Here's some cute pictures of the kids wrestling in the front room.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Three More Videos

Here's 3 more vids we shot just a couple of days ago. The first one is Matthew "walking" holding onto me and the others are Embry performing for the camera again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lost Videos

I got out the video camera last night and found a few random clips of the kids playing that I shot a month or so ago. Nothing significant, but I know Grandparents would like me to post them anyway. These first few are of Matthew playing with his new favorite toy, a $1 plastic ball from the grocery store. Embry is doing some of her favorite things, pretending to be Matthew, and watching herself in the camera as I am filming. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Update

Around the house: Our house is the sick house this week. Matthew has a miserable cold, and he has graciously shared it with me just as I am finishing my third round of antibiotics for Strep that seems to never quite go away. Embry has not caught his cold yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. So, you may ask why am I posting to my blog during Matthew's nap when I could be sleeping? Well, after trying for two weeks to get an appointment with a electrician to inspect our basement, they are finally coming today. Of course, it may be anytime between 8am and 1pm. So, I am staying awake in case he decides to show up this morning. But I am betting that he will show between 11am and noon when I am picking up Embry from school. Ok, enough complaining.

In the kitchen: Too tired to cook. We've been eating leftovers, frozen pizza and eggs for dinner.

New with Embry: Embry has been more and more forthcoming about what she does at school. Yesterday, one of the student's parent is a glassblower and he did demonstrations for all of the classes. I asked Embry about it and she said, "A guy came to school. He got some glass very hot and it turned into liquid. Then he made it into shapes." She's even been telling me what they ate for a snack everyday.

New with Matthew: Matthew has reached an emotional milestone. It used to be that he was easily distracted when Embry would take something away from him. But a couple of weeks ago, she did just that. Matthew whined at first, but when she didn't give it back he reached over, grabbed a handful of hair and pulled hard. It didn't have exactly the desired effect, (Embry yelled and ran over to me for sympathy) but it was definitely a breakthrough for him to stand up for himself like that. Embry still takes things away from him occasionally, but now he definitely makes his feelings about it known.

I am grateful for: So many things lately...3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, a husband who will stay up in the middle of the night to comfort a congested baby, a patient and understanding big sister, Steak-n-Shake, Dancing with the Stars.

The weather outside: Last Friday I opened the front door and decided it was winter. The sky was grey, the trees are bare, it was cold and it smelled like snow. We haven't got any snow yet, but I am looking forward to it...(no I'm not crazy, I've just been living in Alabama for the last 6 years and have been deprived of winter.)

I'm obsessing about: De-cluttering the house. The Holidays bring lots of stuff into the house, so every year I try to get rid of or store anything that's sitting around that we are not using everyday. Room by room I make space for all of the new stuff that will be coming in.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trick or Treat

For the first time in many years I did not carve my own pumpkin. I had every intention of doing one. We even cut the tops off and emptied all the seeds and stuff out of our two pumpkins.

But my third bout of Strep in 2 months sort of took up all of our free time at the end of last week. I did, however, get to carve Embry's pumpkin to her exact specifications - round eyes, upside-down triangle nose, smiling mouth with two teeth.

And she picked out the face for Matthew's pumpkin.

Then on Friday we put Embry into her dragon costume and headed off to a nice neighborhood near Embry's school. We put Matthew in the stroller and all four of us went Trick-or-Treating. Embry was much more enthusiastic this year. I barely had to remind her to ring the doorbell, say "trick-or-treat," or "thank you." And I really didn't have to remind her to take a piece of candy. Most people insisted on 2 or 3 pieces and some houses gave out small bags full of candy, so even though we turned back early (Matthew got cranky) she had a pretty big haul. Still, I felt bad that we were only out for about 30 minutes, so J put Matthew to bed and I walked Embry down our street for a little more fun. By the time we got home there weren't very many kids out anymore, so we only got 2 trick-or-treaters at our house. I guess I'll bag up the candy I bought and save it for next year. All in all it was a pretty good night.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Midweek Update

Around the house: We decorated for Halloween last week; glow-in-the-dark window clings and that fake spider web stuff all over our front porch. We are carving pumpkins tonight. I got those Mr. Potato Head things for the kids that you just poke into the outside of the pumpkin to make a silly face. I don't know if that will satisfy Embry since she has seen me carve pumpkins before. She might end up doing both.

In the kitchen: Not a whole lot of cooking going on. Our freezer is overflowing so we've been defrosting dinner a lot lately. I may get around to actually cooking dinner once or twice this week.

New with Embry: We had some problems last week with Embry a couple of weeks ago. All of the sudden she did not want to go to school in the morning. We poke with her teacher and it turns out that right around the same time they had a fire drill at school. After talking to Embry about it we discovered that it was not the alarm that she was afraid of, but the idea that there might be a fire at school. She understands just enough about fires to know that they are scary but didn't understand the concept of a fire drill being just for practice. I think J and I have convinced her that school is safe and that there aren't going to be any fires. Ever since she has gone to school in the morning without any complaints. (Although she still looks forward very much to the weekend when both she and Daddy get to stay home.)

New with Matthew: Matthew has two new amusing talents. One is that he likes to pull up on something, let go and just stand there. He's not holding onto anything and he has not tried to take a step, he must just like the way it feels to stand there balancing on his own. The other thing he's been doing a lot lately, especially when he is wrestling around on the floor with his sister, is to sit up on his knees, bang on his chest with both fists and yell. He looks and sounds like Tarzan or a gorilla showing his dominance over the other animals. It is hilarious. To quote one of my favorite Moms, Kate Gosslin from "Jon and Kate plus 8," "Boys are men from the day they are born."

I am grateful for: The wonderful city that we live in. We are never without something fun to do on the weekends. Last weekend we found a new park near Embry's school that has a huge playground, a carousel, and a butterfly house. We had so much fun there. But, I will have to get a little more creative with things to do once it gets too cold for Matthew to be outside for a while.

The weather outside: Well, it is definitely fall here now. It has gotten colder, but not so much that we can't spend the afternoon at the park.

I'm obsessing about: (I know it's early but...) What to make for Thanksgiving. We will be traveling up to Rock Falls for the holiday weekend and celebrating the day at my aunt's house. I'm pretty sure that I will be making a pumpkin pie. I found a new and very interesting recipe that I want try. I calls for both pumpkin and sweet potato in the filling. But, I also want to bring a non-dessert side dish. I've gone through all of my old recipes and didn't find anything. So, I guess it's on to surfing my favorite websites to find the perfect recipe.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Apple Pie Cake (or Crisp?)

Last weekend my mom came to visit and for her birthday I decided to find an apple desert recipe to use up the apples we were given a few days earlier. I found this recipe on Martha Stewart that used a bunch of apples, was easy but still looked yummy. Only 6 ingredients and only 4 steps. I love recipes like this.

The dish is called "Apple Pie Cake," but I would rename it Apple Pie Crisp. Take a look at the recipe and the pictures and see if you don't agree.

Apple Pie Cake

5 pounds tart apples (about 12), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss apples in a bowl with 1 tsp. cinnamon and lemon juice.

2. In a large bowl combine flour, brown sugar, and remaining teaspoon of cinnamon. Using a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until it forms pea-sized pieces. Press 2/3 of the flour/butter mixture into the bottom of and 1 inch up the sides of 9-inch springform pan.

3. Arrange apples in the prepared pan, they will come up over the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the apples and gently press down.

4. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through and golden brown on top, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to remove the side of the pan. Serve warm or refrigerate for 2 hours to set more firmly.

So, the entire thing took me about 30 minutes to put together, but 20 minutes of that was peeling and slicing apples. The recipe was very simple. Although I added a few more spices (nutmeg and ground ginger) to give it more than just cinnamon flavor.

A couple of tips:

You can do step 2 in your food processor to save even more time.

You should cover either the bottom of the springform pan or the baking sheet with aluminum foil. Like all apple pies, it gets juicy and could be hard to clean up afterwards.

The only thing that might need some improvement is the bottom crust. It was a little soggy, so I might experiment baking the crust by itself a little before adding the filling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fall Crafts

Embry's new favorite crafty thing to do is cut with scissors. She is, all of the time, asking me to draw lines on paper for her to follow. We had to start a big scrap box for all of the pieces of paper she is going through. (Good thing I bought that 5000 pieces of construction paper from Costco!) Anyway, I decided to put her new skills to some good use and asked her if she wanted to make a tree for the front room window. She new all of the parts, the trunk, branches and leaves. I drew the trunk for her to cut out and she did the branches freehand. Then she cut different colors of paper into lots and lots of small squares and I cut out the different shapes of leaves. Then we put the whole thing together on our front window. Here's some pics...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

French Butter Cookies

I found this great recipe in my latest issue of Cook's Illustrated. It's awesome because you can make tons of different cookies from one basic recipe. I decided to make the sandwich cookies, the vanilla pretzels, the spirals, and checkerboards.

Here's the recipe...the part about the egg yolk seemed very weird to me but it worked because the texture of the cookies was perfect.

French Butter Cookies

1 Large egg yolk, hard boiled
10 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour

1. Press egg yolk through fine mesh strainer into a bowl of stand mixer. Add butter, sugar and salt. and beat on medium speed about 4 minutes. Turn mixer to low and add vanilla. Stop mixer and add flour. Mix on low until just combined, about 30 seconds.

2. Turn dough out onto parchment and press into a cohesive mass. (Dough will seem dry, but will hydrate in the fridge.) Divide dough in half and roll each piece into a log 6 inches log and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment, twist ends to seal and compact into a tight cylinder. Chill at least 1 hour. Dough could also be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Slice dough into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Place 1 inch apart onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Brush cookies with egg wash (1 egg white slightly beaten with 1 tsp water) and sprinkle with coarse (sanding) sugar.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, until edges are slightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes, transfer to cooling rack.

**For all of the cookies you see in the photo I made 2 batches of regular and one batch of chocolate (recipe follows).

For Chocolate Butter Cookies:

Follow recipe for regular, except reduce flour to 1 1/3 cups and add 1/4 Dutch-processed cocoa to flour.

For the sandwich cookie filling I simply melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips and spread it between two cooled cookies.

For the pretzels you roll the slices of dough into balls and then into 6 inch long snakes. Then you form into a pretzel shape and bake like normal.

For directions on how to form the spiral and checkerboard cookies I would use the illustrations and video on as it is much more complicated to explain here.

The recipe turned out delicious and Embry loved helping make so many different shapes in one afternoon. We had some melted chocolate left over and we couldn't let it go to waste so we all agreed that it was best drizzled over the pretzels. Yum!

Other possibilities...adding lemon zest for lemon cookies, toasted coconut, or almond extract instead of vanilla. And don't get me started on the sandwich cookie fillings...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pumpkin Picking

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for pumpkins. We could have just gone to Walmart and picked some out like years past, but I thought Embry especially would much more enjoy picking her own right out of the patch. So, we drove the 40 minutes or so to Belleville, IL to Eckert's Orchard. Here you can pick your own apples, pumpkins and later in the year, Christmas trees. This time of year they have a petting zoo, pony rides, huge inflatable jumpy things, carnival rides, and lots and lots of food.

We decided to go pick out pumpkins first since the line was already long when we arrived at 10:00 am. We rode a tractor pulled trailer out to the patch, which the kids loved. Once we got out there I tried to convince Embry that both she and Matthew needed to get small (6 inches diameter or less) ones, so as to make carrying them all back easier. Of course, Embry wanted a big one for me AND for her AND picked out a huge 25 pounder for J. (Matthew did get a tiny one though).

Somehow we made it back to the parking lot with all 4 pumpkins and both kids. Next it was on the the rides and the animals. Embry jumped in one of the inflatable things and rode on one of the little kid rides.

When we got to the petting zoo she tried feeding a goat, but decided she didn't like it so much. The pony rides cost extra and were pretty lame, and she was scared of the camel, so we decided it was time for a snack. They had kettle corn, funnel cake, lemon shake-ups, etc. But, since it was near 85 degrees that afternoon we opted for the frozen custard. Embry had a sprinkle and marshmallow sundae and Matthew shared my sundae with fresh peaches, YUM! Then we headed home. I'll post pictures of the pumpkins after we get them carved/decorated.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Embry and the Fire Engine

Today, Embry decided to actually tell me what she did at school. But when she said that she saw a fire engine at school I got a little worried. Why was there a fire engine at her school. Surely, if there were a fire they would have called the parents or something. So I worried about it all afternoon until I received an email from school telling about Fire Prevention week and how the kids completed a fire drill and got to meet firefighters and see a fire truck. So, here are some pictures that they sent. Embry is only in a few of them, though...