Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cooking All Day - Getting Ready for Christmas

Thanks for stopping by on this special day - the day we gather ourselves and our offerings for Christmas. If you were here with my your senses would be aroused:

* You'd smell the vanilla and the almond in the cupcakes I made. You could taste the maple cream cheese frosting that I made to top the carrot cake mini-cupcakes. They were a great hit. I combined two recipes to get what I wanted. I had originally intended to include the pineapple, but it must have been left at the check out stand so I went without it. I am making a trial run of the recipe. My mother was delighted because she loves carrot cake, but can't have walnuts. I left the walnuts out of the batch for her so she could have them. I topped them with the maple cream cheese frosting and then with shredded, sweetened coconut which was embellished with three red hots as well as green leaves I made with candy melts. They were a hit. I've included the recipe below. The almond cupcakes are very tasty, but the mini versions sank, but the big ones did not. I will have to investigate that so that I can get that recipe straight.

* You'd see the maple syrup, corn syrup, sugar and butter mix bubbling on the stove in anticipation of being baked into a Maple Pecan Pie.

* You could also steal small bits of the pie crust dough and pop them in your mouth. I cut out snowflakes from the left over dough, topped them with Parmesan cheese and baked them into a savory cracker.

* I switched gears for a while to make a batch of Sausage and Cheese balls. I'll include that recipe, too.

* I made a double batch of Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies.

* Right now I have Swiss Cheese Wafers, nearly like Julia Child's recipe, in the oven crisping up.

* Oh yes, I almost forgot. You'd smell the lovely odor of yeasty bread dough raising for the Sour Cream Lemon rolls I made for my mother's party.

* Don picked up the spiral cut ham and brought it over. It will be really yummy tomorrow.

Let's see, even with a list like that, it is likely that I have forgotten something. It seems like I have been cooking all day. Well, in fact, I have. This year I do not have Eleanor to chip in, but I want as many of our traditional items as possible. I focused on making sure we had all of the things she usually made. I did not have time to get to making a Buche de Noel. That will simply have to wait for another year. Tomorrow we will have a feast thanks to the contributions of the others who are joining us for the day.

Larr could not join us much. He came down very ill last night. He felt better after puking for a while, but he is tired, achy and has the chills today. No matter how many coats and blankets he used, he could not get warm. We encouraged him to go to bed. He hates being sick and not being productive. We are hopeful that he will feel better for Christmas.

The kids are really into getting their own presents this year. Ellie made me a really cool organizer that I already opened because she simply could not wait! Ethan carefully chose presents for each person. He got earbuds for Grandma Gay, chocolates for Grandpa Don, earrings and a jewelry organizer for Ellie, a set of Star Trek New Generation - Borg Edition videos. He and Ellie went in together to get something super special for me. I am under strict orders to open it first. The secret is killing them and they are so excited. I am, too.

In the early evening we went to Grandma Gay's house for her annual Christmas Eve party. Amy and her two boys are there. Bobby shows up with his two girls. Today was Kaylah's 16th birthday so we made sure to celebrate it in a very non-Christmasy way. My Aunt Kathy, along with Marianne and Evan came along, too. Finally, Don finished up the group. We had great food and lots of fun chatting. Grandma Gay's stockings were a real hit, as always.

A near miracle happened later in the evening. As I was cooking the kids each separately decided to end their gaming and tidy up the main part of the house. They put away stuff, combed the dog, fluffed the rug, arranged the presents and swept the floor. I was touch, amazed and relieved. I love how they took ownership of making it lovely and it also means that I get to go to bed much sooner.

Speaking of that, I am nearly ready to head up to bed. I think I will have to post those recipes another day.

I hope you have the merriest of Christmases!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Enchanting Wedding - My Friend Michelle Finally Gets What She Deserves

Yesterday Larr and I went to my friend's wedding and it was wonderful. Michelle and Nils sort of knew each other in high school, but when they reconnected on Facebook it seemed that it was meant to be.

By the third date they knew it was meant to be. Nils is such a great, loving, kind and thoughtful guy. And Michelle could not have been more thrilled.

They were married at the Manor House in Littleton, down on the Ken Caryl estates. The decorations for the holiday season were splendid.

It was nice to have a date with my husband, too.

On another note, another friend of mine is renewing her vows next weeks. I am making her cake so I am enjoying doing a bit of research to help me come up with some lovely treats. I this quest I came across some great need foodie blogs Once Upon a Plate whose blog is the very model of lovely food and tablescape presentations. That one led me to find La Table De Nana. I might have to make her toffee triangles.

I think I will make Once Upon a Plate's

White Christmas Hot Chocolate
4 to 6 servings

6 ounce white chocolate, chopped (or 1 cup white chocolate chips)
1 cup heavy cream
4 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla whipped cream (or topping) for garnish
Optional garnishes; see below


Combine white chocolate and heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously until chocolate melts.

Stir in half-and-half and vanilla extract. Heat gently until hot, stirring occasionally.

Pour into mugs or cafe latte bowls, then top generously with vanilla whipped cream (or whipped topping).

Garnish with decorative colored sprinkles or a dusting of cinnamon, cocoa powder, or grated white chocolate.

And La Table Da Nana's

Toffee Bits Triangles

1 cup (250 mL) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup (250 mL) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla
1 egg yolk
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (220 g) CHIPITS SKOR Toffee Bits, divided
2 cups (300 g) CHIPITS Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1. Heat oven to 350°F (180°C).

2. In large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla until creamy.

3. Stir in flour and 1 cup (250 mL) of the toffee bits. Press into ungreased 15-1/2 x 10-1/2 inch (39 x 27 cm) jelly roll pan.

4. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until light brown. Immediately sprinkle semi-sweet chocolate chips over top. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes; spread evenly over top. Sprinkle with remaining toffee bits. Let cool completely. Cut into 3-inch (7.5 cm) squares; cut each square diagonally into 4 triangles.

Makes 60 triangles.

For Laura and Davis I will make some treats. I am tracking down good carrot cake recipes. I am dithering between Sam's Famous Carrot Cake and Carrot Cake III, both from allrecipes. com.

Sam's Famous Carrot Cake


* 3 eggs
* 3/4 cup buttermilk
* 3/4 cup vegetable oil
* 1 1/2 cups white sugar
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 2 cups shredded carrots
* 1 cup flaked coconut
* 1 cup chopped walnuts
* 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
* 1 cup raisins


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8x12 inch pan.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well.
4. In a medium bowl, combine shredded carrots, coconut, walnuts, pineapple and raisins.
5. Using a large wooden spoon or a very heavy whisk, add carrot mixture to batter and fold in well.
6. Pour into prepared 8x12 inch pan, and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour. Check with toothpick.
7. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Carrot Cake III


* 4 eggs
* 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
* 2 cups white sugar
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 3 cups grated carrots
* 1 cup chopped pecans
* 1/2 cup butter, softened
* 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 4 cups confectioners' sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 cup chopped pecans


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
4. To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in chopped pecans. Frost the cooled cake.

For the topping I think I will go with Maple Cream Cheese.


* 10 ounces cream cheese (such as Philadelphia), room temperature
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
* 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
* 1/4 cup pure maple syrup

For icing:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill until just firm enough to spread, 30 minutes.

I also like the idea of another flavored treat, just as a contrast. I am thinking about pairing them with almond cupcakes (from an almond cherry trifle recipe I want to try) that would be decorated like the ones from Once Upon a Plate. Here's that recipe. I have not tried it, yet.

For jam

* 2 cups fresh cherries (about 12 ounces), pitted, coarsely chopped
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup water

For cake

* 1 7-ounce package almond paste, cut into small pieces
* 1 1/4 cups sugar
* 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 6 large eggs
* 1 cup all purpose flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt

For custard

* 1/2 cup sugar
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 6 large egg yolks
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups half and half

* 3 cups fresh cherries (about 18 ounces), pitted, coarsely chopped

* 1 cup chilled whipping cream
* 1/4 cup powdered sugar
* Cherries with stems
* Slivered almonds, toasted

Make jam:
Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until jam is thick, stirring often, about 22 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Cover and chill up to 3 days.

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom with parchment; butter parchment. Blend almond paste and sugar in processor until mixture resembles fine meal, about 1 minute. Add butter and vanilla and blend well, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Blend in eggs 1 at a time. Using on/off turns, blend in flour, baking powder and salt (do not overmix). Transfer batter to prepared pan. Place pan on baking sheet; bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and top is golden, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack. Cover; let stand at room temperature 1 day.

Make custard:
Whisk 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch in heavy medium saucepan to blend. Beat in yolks and vanilla. Gradually whisk in half and half. Stir over medium heat until custard thickens and boils. Transfer to bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface; chill 1 day.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides. Cut cake horizontally into 3 layers; discard parchment. Spoon thin layer of custard over bottom of 3- to 3 1/2-quart trifle bowl. Trim 1 cake layer to fit, if necessary; place in bowl. Spread with 1/3 of custard. Mix chopped cherries into jam. Spoon 1/3 of jam mixture atop custard; spread to edge of bowl so that jam shows. Top with second cake layer, half of remaining custard and half of remaining jam mixture; spread to edge of bowl. Top with third cake layer. Spread with remaining custard, then jam mixture.

Beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Transfer to pastry bag fitted with star tip. Pipe cream in center of trifle. Pipe rosettes around edge; top rosettes with whole cherries. Sprinkle trifle with almonds. Cover; chill at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

(commentators suggested:
*I cut the sugar by 1/4th and added almond flavor to the cake 1/2 tsp and 1/2 tsp extract to the custard. I thought it was perfect and looked beautiful.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of Cookies, Dough, Royal Icing, Music and Silliness, or How to Have a Fun Party

Yesterday I had just a few friends over to decorate Christmas cookies. It was a spontaneous party, but it was a really lovely and wonderful event.

I made two kinds of dough; a traditional gingerbread and a sugar cookie dough. I wanted cookies that would be for decorating and hanging up. I was not planning on eating any of them. The gingerbread worked our perfectly, but the sugar cookie shapes puffed out too much for my purpose. I think those got consumed by silly girls anyway.

Laura, Connie and I gave each other gifts. I really enjoyed making the ones I gave. For Connie I put together earrings. She likes them colorful and large. (The colors in these photos do not do justice to the beads.)

I knit a short, wide scarf for Laura. It was a special thing I made, specifically to order. The yarn came from an Alpaca farm we visited together back in May. I thought of her each time I worked on the box weave knitting. I would have like to put beads on the ends of her scarf, but she deals with dogs all day so they would not have lasted. She was very pleased to receive it. It felt good to see it on her.

We had a shared dinner and rolled out the cookies. While they were baking I shared my new list of Christmas music and we watched the videos I linked in the last entry in my blog, here. Each of the girls snuggled with their moms while they listened and viewed. I think that was my favorite part of the evening.It is so wonderful to have friends over that don't mind that there are dishes in the sink or that the tree is not yet fully decorated. This was really just about spending time together and enjoying each other's company. The girls also got silly.

When Laura was a wee one the family would make tons of decorated cookies and popcorn chains, as well as paper chains, to decorate their tree. Her father would have the six kids make enough of the chains to go around the outside of the house twice, without having it touch the ground. She had not made cookies for her tree since, but this year she is all set since they have a small tree. Some are pretty and others, like the gingerbread man with the broken leg, are comical.

Ellie enjoyed putting together some centerpieces with candles, polished rocks and colorful platters. I love how she is starting to take that kind of roll. This party was the very spirit of what I think Christmas is about - spending time together and enjoying each other's company. I am thankful for such friends and opportunities.

I will post the gingerbread recipe soon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Christmas Music

I enjoyed the annual Holiday Music program at "All Songs Considered" over at Their program always helps me find new Christmas music that I don't think I would have found otherwise.

I love this one. I wonder if it is old, or if it was digitally created from footage from a Bing Crosby movie. I hope you like it, too.

I made an Imix of some of the fun music I got. I just can't seem to remember how I got the CD case image to save as a JPEG last time I did it.

My playlist also include
"The Heatmeister" by Big Bad Voo Doo...
"Marshmallow World" by Bing Crosby
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" from "Elf"
Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon

Ellie has a different kind of tune stuck in her head. Here's a commercial that Ellie has has been singing all day. I think it is the cute tights that do it:

This is such a funny contrast from the girl who formerly loved to wear oversize sport jerseys. She is the proud owner of two cocktail dresses and is on the hunt for the perfect accessories. I love watching this process unfold. It makes me wonder, where will it go next? I'd image that bits of make-up will be making a debut soon.

I'd love to hear what new mixes or Holiday music you love.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Little Christmas Cheer throught Music and Lights - Enjoy!

"The Gift" by Aeslin Debison

On a more comical note we have "I Want a Hippopotumus for Christmas" By Gayla Peevey

Or how about some fun Christmas lights?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 1 Recap - Traveling to Bend, Oregon

When Laura and Anna picked us up to take us to the airport it was -13 degrees outside. However, we were cozy and excited to finally be on our way.

We arrived two hours before our flight, but since we were leaving so early in the morning we breezed through all of the lines. That left us with plenty of time to hang out while waiting for our plane. Stephen brought Uno cards and the younger set had a good time playing cards. The older boys surfed the net.

After a bumpy start we were on our way. We were flying with Frontier; our tail mascot was Jo-Jo the Bear Cub.

We landed at the Portland Airport without a problem and called Coach Bill. He was nearby and would pick us up. The kids had a bit of silly fun playing in the auto turning doors. We also thought the decoration/advertisement was clever.

During our drive to Bend, Oregon, we stopped by Mount Hood and had a look around the Timberline Lodge.

The Timberline Lodge was amazing. It bespeaks the beauty of handcrafted items. It was built as a WPA project in 1937-38. Many local artists and craftsmen were employed.

Some of my favorite parts were the panels created by Douglas Lynch in what was a lunch room. It now serves as a recreation room. He had been a town sign and window painter. He created simple images of life in Oregon by carving into large linoleum panels. He colored them by applying many layers of oil glazes. They had been very bright in their day. Some received terrible treatment as a result of being in a lunch room. Others were rediscovered in the attic when a renovation was taking place in the mid 1990's. I loved the lines, movement and color of the art.

I also admired all of the handwork created by a local group of blacksmiths. They were incredibly resourceful.

Each part we visited seemed to be more beautiful than the last.

Many rooms also featured carved wooden panel and dimensional animals. They had been rubbed by so many hands that they were shiny.

Once we were done we went on to Bend, picked up our registration packets and check into the Bend River Suites and Motel.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cyclocross Nationals - Day 2

As I write this I am enveloped by calm. The only light comes from the crack in the door where we left the light on in the hotel bathroom, the light from the computer screen and the pleasant orangey, flickering glow from the fire in the fireplace. The kids are down for the night, the dishwasher is cleaning the dishes and the bottles that we muddied today. It is the night before the girls, Ellie and Anna race. I'm thankful for the serene mood, knowing it could have been one of nerves and tenseness. This is such a contrast to how we spent our day.

I rose before the rest of the team so that I could prepare a hot breakfast of bacon, pancakes and eggs for all seven of us. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. Then I hurriedly changed out of my pajamas as they loaded the van with the bikes, gear and the food I planned for the day. We were met by subzero weather and clean, lovely skies. When we pulled out of the parking lot it was still dark enough for us to admire the reflection of the moon on the water in the river next to us. Most of it is frozen over, housing assorted ducks who seem not to notice the frigid temperatures. The kids went out to ride the course before the B (non-championship) races started. The ice and the sand-like snow made many parts of the course hard to ride. Thankfully the flight of 15+ stairs that the kids have to haul their bikes up were not impacted. If this was a muddy race that would be a very different story. Meanwhile, Coach Bill and I set up the tent and readied the gear. Dean did a few laps in a race but elected to drop out as he did not want to risk getting injured. His spare bike had not been secured properly and had drug along on the pavement for a while before Anna noticed and alerted us. Bill and Dean saw to getting that fixed. Thankfully they were able to install a new piece and use a bit of electrical tape to make it work again. The younger kids cheered on racers and visited the vendors. I did the same. The older boys were mostly off on their own. They scored some cool schwag from the folks from Scott bikes. I was treated to free oatmeal with lots of fun topping by the people from the Red Mill. I have lots of their various flours, but I had no idea their steel cut oats were so amazing. I added small bits of dried dates, bits of walnut, butter and soy milk - a combination which will most definitely be repeated. During the lunch break the kids went out to ride the course again. Much of the time in between was spent sitting in the van since it was warmer there than the 10 degrees it was outside. However, the sun made the day inviting and more cheery. Once they were done riding the course I fed them grilled cheese sandwiches and apples. I had planned for soup to go along with the sandwiches, but found that they had frozen. It took me much of an hour to remedy that problem and have more hot food for our team members.

The kids and I also spend and interesting hour touring the Deschutes' Brewery. The tour guide was very enthusiastic and informative. Though I don't drink, I might get a little beer to send home to use in some f my recipes.

We waited around until the races were over for the day so the kids could go ride the course again. However, they were still frozen to the core, so the riding was short. The younger ones were happiest when they were playing in the snow.

On the way home we stopped by a local bike shop to get some plates for Ellie's shoes. Her cleats were not functioning properly, but I think we have that fixed now, thanks to our handy coach.

We had a causal evening of card games, computer games and a bit of t.v. viewing. They enjoyed the Swedish Meatballs over pasta that I served for dinner.

My goal in the morning is to be able to get out of the door quicker so we had Ellie, Anna and Stephen set out their gear, pin on their number, etc. I think that helped create the sense of calm that I wrote about at the beginning of the post. I also think some of it comes from the fact that our kids are so used to racing in conditions like they were fact tomorrow. My heart went out to those people that I met today who have never seen snow, or experienced such cold before. One sad woman could not even race for the chill she was experiencing. Bend is a lovely place. It looks much like Grand Junction or Grandby and the weather is similar. This helps the kids rest peacefully. I look forward to joining them in their slumbering state. I am a bit surprised at how tiring being so cold all day can make you.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Little Excited, A Little Nervous and a Few Little Wishes

The kids and I leave for Bend, Oregon tomorrow. Our Coach, Bill, left on Sunday with the team van pack with gear, food and some luggage. I will be flying out with Ellie, Ethan, Anna, Stephen and Dean. My kids are so excited they can hardly sleep. It seems to me that the excitement level is bigger this year. I don't know if it is the fact that we had such fun last year and expect that to happen again, or if it is the fact that it is a longer, bigger trip than last year. I'm excited, too. And a little nervous. Last year we just went for the experience. Ellie and Stephen surprised us when they both were on the podium for Nationals. Ethan went along as a helper, and what a great help he was. This year he will compete. He will be competing against about 40 other boys, a few of whom are being watched by the Olympic committee and will be going to EurpCross camp directly after Nationals is over. He has realistic expectations and is looking forward to racing. Ellie has twelve people in her category, five of which she competes against nearly every weekend. She has a reasonable chance for making it to the podium. She worries about being at the bottom of her age category. Who knows what will actually happen. It will be a cold, frozen, snowy race; conditions we are used to. Bend is much like Colorado so we will feel at home, I expect. Last year some very strong riders were unable to finish due to mechanical issues. Other racers were simply not used to the conditions that winter brings. I just want them to have a good time.

I do wish we had just a bit more time before we were leaving. Here it is December already and I don't have a single decoration up. I don't even have the Christmas boxes out from the crawl space. Driving around I see people's twinkling lights and lovely, decorated trees. It makes me wish I had at least a little bit of our stuff up. It would feel more like Christmas season. Ellie is very interested in getting a tree before we leave. She worries that they will all be gone when we return home on Monday. This kind of waiting is hard for me, a person who usually has all of the boxes up and ready to go on December 1st. I just have to be patient.

I am also a little nervous about the weather. Our weather is in the single digits today. We are expected to get about 6" of snow. I'm fine with all of that as long as we can get to the airport in time and not have snow delays in the morning.

I just have to set that stuff aside and focus on having some family time this evening. Perhaps we will feel more festive if we get a tree, even though it would not be put up yet.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Ready, Set, Having Fun This Weekend...

Our holiday celebrating began Friday with a nice dinner that Mark and Lilia were hosting since Aunt Lynne and Uncle Ed are in town. After eating we headed to the Denver Botanic Garden's Blossom of Lights. Unfortunately the kids were not well and opted to stay home. Ethan was so ill that he could barely stand up without feeling faint. Ellie was super tired and beginning to heat up. It seemed that an early bedtime was in order for both of them. Larr and I joined mark, Lilia, Lynne, Ed and Don.

We had gone to this same event many times in the past. My visits to the Denver Botanic Gardens will always remind and connect me to Eleanor. I was sad that she could no longer be part of such excursions. The displays were wonderful, as always. It made me want to go home and begin decorating.

On the way out I zipped through the gift shop. I could not linger since they were already flashing the lights to indicate that it was time to go home. I loved these fun houses that were for sale.

Don admired the workmanship.

I thought about how fun it would be to have something like this to base a display around.

I also loved the most modest items they sold. This seemed like it could translate into a fun quilt design.

Saturday was the state Cyclocross championship. Snow had fallen over night, the air was crisp and the ground was frozen. It was a great day for a CX race. Many of the kids who are going to Nationals took it easy so as to not get hurt. Sadly, one of them, Spencer, crashed and broke his leg. Ellie was not feeling great and she was worried about getting an injury so she did not go hard at all, but still had a good time. She placed second in the JW 15-16 division.

That evening Larr and I went to a Star Trek party at a friend's house. Many of the clever people who knew every word of most of the episode had planned and prepared food that was referenced in the episode we were watching. I was impressed.The hostesss lived deep in the mountains west of us. During our travel there and back we caught glimpes of a large, graceful fox, many deer and a majestic sheep that seemed to be standing on a rock taking in the nearly full moon.

Meanwhile, our kids were out with Mark and Lilia having a rocus time at the roller derby. Our kids are so lucky to have such an aunt and uncle who will take them to cool, fun events.

Today we spent much of the morning and afternoon with Grandma Gay and the cousins celebrating Kaylah's 16th birthday. We watched as she opened her presents. Then we had lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. This was follow with a shopping spree in which each kid was given $10 to spend. They were set to the task. Ellie was thrilled with her new blue pants and 3 pack of green and grey socks. Ethan, as well as Orlando James and Angelo, picked up fun Nerf guns.Kaylah came away with some loot as well. I hit a great sale at Eddie Baure's, scoring two shirts and a new sweater.

As I checked my favorite blogs today, I was thrilled to come upon a wonderful image by SkeletalMess over at Shadowhouse Creations. You should follow this link to see his vision of a Christmas Angel. I find his work so inspiring!

Now, here's a recipe that is not connected with anything in this post, but it is worth having. It is a light supper option:

Tabouli with Lemon and Chicken

1/2 cup Bulgur
1/2 cup Water, warm
1/4 cup Lemon juice
2 Chicken Breasts, cooked and chopped into bite size pieces
2 cup Tomato, diced
1 Cucumber, diced
1/4 tea Cinnamon, ground
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
1/3 cup Olive Oil
2 cups Parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup Mint Leaves, finely slivered
Roman Lettuce

Soak the bulgur in the lemon and the water for about 45 minutes and then fluff with the fork.

In bowl mix the tomatoes, cucumber, cinnamon, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss gently. Fold in the bulgur, parsley and mint. Add in the chicken. Mix well.

Chill. Stir before serving over the lettuce, or serve alone.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sweet Dreams, Cupcakes and Cookies

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Larr and I went out for coffee at an early hour. Our usual place, Heidi's, was not open and the person making the bagels that day would only wave to us (Gonzo usually lets us in). So we tried another place that is a coffee shop and cooking school. That place shares their kitchen with "Happy Cakes", a cupcake only store. I really enjoyed munching on coffee cake, drinking my coffee and watching three young women make cupcakes. I admired their industrial mixers, especially the shiny red one. I loved watching them use their cookie scoops to measure out the batter, a delicate towel wrapped finger wiping away the batter that landed on the outside edge of the pan. That morning they seemed to be making Red Velvet cupcakes. I oogled the rack of spices and marveled at how quickly the cupcakes finished in a convection oven. I wished I would have time to return that day, but I did not. On the way to the car I stopped they their store front, pressing my face against the window like a child at a toy shoppe near Christmas. I spied lovely, full jars of colored sprinkles, glistening sugar glitter and dazzling dragees in several colors. I was smitten! I vowed to return soon with kids and camera in tow.

On a whim, Ellie and I returned yesterday. I was tempted to go home to get my camera first, but she could not wait, we had to go right then! We were enthralled. I got a close up look at the sprinkles. I thought she would be excited about that, too. However, she was taken by the sight of all of the different flavors. It was a tough choice to make. In the end I got a Whoppee Pie cupcake with marshmallow buttercream frosting (that's what sold me on that flavor) and she picked the Coconut & Almond cupcake. We also had a frosting "shooter" with sprinkles a plenty! We split both so we could each have some of the flavors. They were lovely and sweet.

This spurred Ellie on. She has always loved to bake. This visit set her on fire. She has decided that she wants to own a cupcake store when she grows up. She wants to have a cupcake bar where you can pick your own frosting, sprinkles, special toppings and cupcake flavor, then the person behind the counter will create it for you.

Much to my surprise she came up with this shop. It is lots of fun, but I would not have guessed that this would be her style. But then again, I can't seem to keep up with it. Her tastes are changing. A year ago she wanted a sports jersey for Christmas and refused to wear anything that did not include pants. Today we are headed to the store to buy tights to go with a skirt - go figure. Either way, it was fun to see her excitement.
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Looking at all that led me to find fun packaging. I love and admire nice product packaging. Here's a company that has useful stuff and fun ideas. I especially love the idea of a soup exchange instead of a cookie exchange. You might have fun checking out the Think Garnish">Think Garnish website.

Here's what I am making this afternoon. I am working on putting together a care package for Coach Bill who will be driving the team van to Bend, Oregon on Monday.

Swedish Pepparkakor (Spice Cookies)

3/4 cup Butter (1/2 butter, 1/2 Canola oil)
1 1/2 cup Sugar
1 Egg
1TBL Water
1/4 cup Molasses
Cream the above ingredients together.
3 cup Flour
2 tea. Baking Soda
1/4 tea Cloves
1/4 tea Ginger
1 tea Cinnamon
1/2 tea salt
Mix dry ingredients together well;
Fold into wet mixture. Form dough into small balls. Roll in
granulated sugar quickly and place 2" apart on a greased cookie
sheet. Refrigerate dough if it is too soft. Keep dough cool in order
to be able to handle it well.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully, as they burn
easily. Remove onto paper toweling to cook. Makes 60 cookies.

From Aunt Lynn

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Still Going Strong

We're still doing a lot of bike racing.

Ethan is having a fabulous season. We have noticed that his mountain bike racing has really helped him improve this kind of racing, too. Plus, I think he is having more fun than ever. It is wonderful to see how happy it makes him.

Ellie had a long, rough patch. I think it was a combination of things. She started the season with an injury and then she got sick. She raced through most of that. Then once we stopped having weekly practice because it was getting dark too early to do it, we let her rest mostly during the week between the races. I thought this would be helpful, but we see that may it was not. Our friend Mike suggested that Ellie do some midweek spinning class and that seems to be just the ticket. This week's races were so much better. And most importantly, she began having fun again. What a relief that was to find that she is having fun, again.

It is always more fun when your friends are around. Ellie loves to socialized with everyone at the races. Having her team mates, like Anna, there, make it more fun, too.

I am almost ready to shift gears and get ready for Christmas. Here's a fun craft that I might have to do. I found it on Craftsytlish:

Paper Snow Storm

Simple labels (1-inch circles) and some dental floss is all you need to make a winter wonderland.

Attach the dental floss to the adhesive side of a label.

Place a second label over the top of the first, sandwiching the dental floss between the two.

Randomly space your labels along the length of dental floss to give your finished snowstorm a natural look.

Hang finished strands in front of windows using small pieces of masking tape affixed to the tops of the window frames.

The slightest breeze will cause your "snowflakes" to move, which will will subtly animate a room—especially a dining room in candlelight.

Hung in a bedroom, this snowstorm cannot fail to bring a smile of surprise to the face of any guests.

On another note, here's a fun recipe that I found on Craftstylish that I might try:

Peppermint Salt Rub

Here’s an inexpensive but thoughtful gift that will sooth aching muscles while perking up the spirit. And with the holidays fast approaching, you may want to make a batch for yourself! I’m just sayin’…

You’ll need:

* Glass or metal bowl
* 20 drops peppermint essential oil
* 3 tablespoons carrier oil (such as jojoba or sweet almond oil)
* Metal spoon
* 1/2 cup Epsom salt
* 1/2 cup sea salt
* 8-ounce jar, tub, or tin with lid
* Peppermint stick

Step 1: Sterilize your materials in a hot-water bath (place in boiling water for 10 minutes, then set on a clean towel and allow to dry).

Step 2: In a glass or metal bowl, add the essential oil to the carrier oil to dilute it. Add the Epsom salt and sea salt, and mix thoroughly.

Step 3: Scoop into a glass jar, plastic tub, or metal tin. Tie on a peppermint stick and a usage card. Always include a list of ingredients so that anyone with allergies or sensitivities can assess the danger.

To use: Pour or scoop a fourth of the mixture under running water. Allow the tub to fill halfway before sinking into the healing waters. Yum.

Each batch makes four baths.