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 cooksillustrated.com 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...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Silly Matthew

Here's a cute video of Matthew that I shot this week. He gets very silly right before bedtime.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday Update

Around the House - A normal week for us last week and this week. The weather was so nice last weekend that we decided, on the spur of the moment to go to the zoo. I love that we can just get up and go and be at the zoo in 15 minutes. I'm putting the pictures on Snapfish, but here's a few good ones. The kids had a great time and because we bought a membership in June, parking, carousel rides, train tickets etc., were all FREE! (The best kind of fun :)

In the Kitchen - After feeling sorry for my husband when he had to take leftover mac-n-cheese for lunch, I decided to spend Tuesday afternoon filling the fridge with food. I made my award winning (5th place :) chili, chicken enchiladas (using our leftover taco/nacho fodder), oatmeal with walnuts and dried fruit, and blueberry scones. The scone were the only thing that didn't turn out great. Probably because I was using a recipe that was hand copied from someone else's had copy, and I only wrote down the ingredients and not the directions. Also, I used frozen blueberries instead of dried ones, so I think the dough was too wet. They turned out more the texture of muffins than biscuits, but they still tasted good. Matthew and I shared one for breakfast this morning.

New with Embry - She is learning tons of stuff at school. Of course, she won't tell us directly, but things start to come out when we're not paying attention. She has definitely learned about conflict resolution, because she rationally talks through more things that we disagree on. She must be reading or hearing lots of stories because she is all the time making up stories for things. Whether its a book off the shelf or one of the dogs next door, everything has a story now. She will break out into a song I've never heard before, and she has all of these crazy sayings that I know she didn't get from me. We have parent/teacher conferences next week, so I guess we'll be able to find out more specifically how and what she's doing.

New with Matthew - Where to start? He has figured out how to open and close doors and drawers which has prompted us to reinstall the cabinet safety locks. He all of the sudden wants to eat everything that everyone is eating. I'm using this as an opportunity to eat better things myself. If I wouldn't give it to Matthew, I shouldn't be eating it either, right? He has always loved "Pat-a-cake," but now he actually claps along with you. He also loves to share everything, now - Cheerios, toys, his bottle, whatever he's got at the time, he'll try to give it to you.

I'm Grateful For - Both kids have been taking extra long naps in the afternoon allowing me to get tons of stuff done, which means that I can actually relax after they go to bed at night!

The Weather Outside - Still great. I keep waiting for it to turn nasty outside, but so far this has been the best extended summer we've had in a longtime.

I'm (Still) Obsessing About - I still have not finished a weekly crossword puzzle. And because I love competition, Jason makes a copy of the blank puzzle when it comes on Saturday and we work on it separately to see who can finish first. So far, he has finished or gotten much further than me every time. But, I'm not giving up...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mums at School

Each family at Embry's school planted a mum today. The school is building a new gymnasium soon and they outlined the plot where the building will be with mums. What a great idea! Embry loves to garden (she definately didn't get that from me!). They had little shovels and watering cans. She had so much fun and Matthew ate some dirt :)