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I think Mother Nature is a little confused

May 2, 2013
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This is what we woke up to this morning:

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Six inches of wet, heavy snow and no school for the kiddos. On May 2!

It was 80 degrees out two days ago. Nice enough that the kiddlet and kid3 and I walked to pick up the kiddo from school, and then stayed and played for a bit (and got a little warm. In fact, the kidlet got a little sunburn because I totally did not think about putting on sunscreen – we haven’t had to worry about it for six months!)

The hub even did a little planting of 110-day corn because it was either get it in the ground or risk it not maturing before harvest.

So it’s a little odd to wake up two days later to the school alert on your phone saying school’s been canceled due to inclement weather. The kiddo was happy until we reminded him that meant he’s now going to school until June 4.

The kids weren’t phased at all by the snow, they went out after lunch and had a grand time playing and building a snow castle.

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He promptly demolished it 30 seconds later

I spent the snow day inside with kid3 (he doesn’t have a snowsuit in his size) and trying my hand at yeast bread again. I had some buttermilk that needed to be used up and it was either make bread or pancakes.

I used my trusty KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough this time, which was much faster and easier than doing it by hand. Maybe once I have more practice, I’ll do it by hand, but for now this works.

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It rose! I have the hardest time with getting my dough to proof well. I’ve tried a couple different methods, but what seemed to work this time was turning on the oven, letting it preheat to 350, and then turning it off immediately. I let it cool 10 minutes or so while the dough kneaded in my mixer with the dough hook, then put the dough (covered with a damp towel) in the still-warm oven with a small bowl of water on the lower rack. I’ll have to try this again with my pizza dough and see if I have the same success.

The bread baked nicely, despite the fact the loaf pans I had were a little large. I really need the 8×4 size for these loaves.

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I also probably could have let them bake just a touch longer. They’re a little doughy in the middle. Not bad, but a few more minutes probably would have made the difference.

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It’s got a nice crumb, though (from what my inexperienced eye can tell, anyway) and one loaf is already two-thirds gone. A nice baking experiment on a crazy snow day.

The weather is supposed to warm up again by early next week, and I really hope this is the last we see snow until November or December. I’m glad I didn’t wash and put away the kids’ snow things when I thought about it last week!

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It’s been awhile

April 28, 2013
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It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything (sorry, mom & dad). I just haven’t had the motivation, or anything interesting to post about. Our life has been pretty mundane, especially with the winter that didn’t seem to want to end lingering on (and on, and on).

But it finally feels like spring, and there’s even proof that things are growing again.

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One of the miniature irises we have on the south side of our house.

I’ve done a lot of baking (seriously, I may have a problem) the past few months, too. Here’s a sampling:

Bird’s nests (for Easter). Verdict: tasty, but rich. A little went a long way (and this is coming from someone who loves chocolate, peanut butter and Cadbury mini eggs).

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Quick (no yeast) cinnamon rolls. These were our Good Friday breakfast (I had planned on making hot cross buns, but that didn’t quite work out). I’ve made these before, and they’re very good, and easy to make. They’re very similar to the ones you buy in the cans at the grocery store (you know, the ones that practically give you a heart attack when you open them).

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Dark chocolate blueberry oatmeal cookies. I love these cookies. I’ve made them quite a few times before, and they never last long.

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Whole wheat lemon bread. This was a Pinterest recipe that was just okay. It was partially my fault (I realized after I’d already poured the batter in the pan that I’d forgotten to add the eggs, so the dough was overworked once I finally got it in the oven. I also used whole wheat flour, which made the bread very dense and a little dry). But it got eaten. I think with a few tweaks (I altered the glaze slightly, and added some sour cream to the dough) it could be really good.

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Buttermilk brownies (also known as Texas Sheet Cake). I think the longest a pan has lasted in our house has been 36 hours. They’re just so good!

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Lemon cookies with lemon glaze. This was another Pinterest recipe, but it turned out so much better than the bread. These cookies were amazing! Soft and chewy with a great lemon flavor. It would be extremely easy to alter the recipe to make them orange or lime cookies, too. Definitely a make-again recipe, and not that much more difficult than the cake mix lemon cookies I’ve done before.

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Good old Monster cookies, but with mini M’n’Ms and mini chocolate chips. I love my monster cookie recipe because it’s a reasonable sized recipe to make. Instead of using a pound of butter and a dozen eggs like most recipes I’ve seen, it just uses 1/2 c. of butter and 3 eggs (and 1 1/2 c of peanut butter instead of an entire jar). My only problem is I like eating the cookie dough almost more than I like baking the cookies.

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Now that it’s warmer out, the hub can finally get in the field. We’ll start planning and planting our garden, and will soon have tee ball games every Saturday. And hopefully, I’ll have more to write about, even if it’s just what baking I’ve done (I’d like to tackle more recipes involving yeast) or how the garden is coming along.

Double Chocolate Cherry Cordial cookies

March 2, 2013

If you haven’t figured out by now, I like to bake. I like to bake a lot, usually when I have nothing “better” to do (and sometimes when I do have something better to do).

Cookies are probably what I make most often, because they’re easy to throw together and once you have a basic cookie recipe, you can combine different mixings to make a variety of cookies.

I was at Target the week after Valentine’s Day and scored a bag of cherry cordial M’n’M’s for 70% off. I think they rang up around $0.94 or something ridiculous like that.

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I already had a bag in my baking cupboard, but two is always better than one, right? I thought maybe I’d try some sort of fudgy brownie with the cherry M’n’M’s, but once I brought them home, I had visions of chocolate cherry cookies instead.

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I also had about 2/3 of a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips left over from some baking experiment, and I decided to toss those in, too, because I could. Why not!

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They turned out so yummy. The cookies were nice and fudgy, with a chewy, gooey center. I decided to put in the entire bag of M’n’M’s and the rest of the chocolate chips (more is always better, right?) but you could definitely cut those back and still have the cherry flavor, but without so much “stuff” (as the hub likes to put it) in the cookie.

Double Chocolate Cherry Cordial Cookies
1 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar (packed)
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
3/4 c cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c (or more to taste) chocolate chips (dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolate – it’s up to you!)
1 c (or more to taste) cherry cordial M’n’M’s

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture (about 1/3 at a time, combining after each addition) until combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir chocolate chips and M’nM’s into the dough (it will be stiff). Scoop out onto prepared baking sheets (I use a cookie scoop, like a miniature ice cream scoop) and bake 10-11 minutes, until cookies have puffed slightly. I like to underbake mine slightly, so they’re extra gooey.

Even after a few days, these cookies were still nice and chewy, and a few seconds in the microwave quickly brought them back to their gooey glory.

I picked up a bag of white chocolate M’n’M’s the other week, too, and will try these cookies with the white chocolate M’m’M’s and white chocolate baking chips. While they won’t have the good cherry flavor, I’m sure they’ll be tasty in their own way.

Boredom Baking – Peanut Butter Marshmallow Blondies

January 25, 2013
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The hub is working a track meet this weekend, which is a good excuse for me to unload some of the excess from my baking binges (or a good excuse for me to go on a baking binge).

I’d had a few bags of the Reese’s mini peanut butter cups (the unwrapped, mini mini kind) in my baking cupboard for quite a while and wanted to use them in something before I decided to open one up and eat them all at once.

I did a search on Pinterest to see if any recipes looked good, or spark some inspiration. I also looked through some of my small-town cookbooks to see if there were any good looking recipes in one of those.

I ended up combining a recipe I found on Pinterest with one from a cookbook. It turned out magically, if I do say so myself.

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Doesn’t that look good? I probably could have sat down on the couch and eaten the entire bowl of dough without baking it. It was that amazing.

But I didn’t and baked them like the good cook that I am. And you know what, they were even more amazing after I pulled them out of the oven and let them sit for a bit.

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Peanut Butter Marshmallow Blondies
(adapted from this recipe from twopeasandtheirpod)

1/2 c. butter
2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. peanut butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. mini marshmallows
1 bag Reese’s unwrapped mini peanut butter cups
1 7 oz.container marshmallow creme

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch pan and set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from the heat, and stir in the peanut butter, until creamy and combined. Set mixture aside to cool. (sidebar: I actually did this step in the microwave as I was using my stovetop to cook supper the same time I was making these brownies. I put the butter and brown sugar in a microwave-safe glass bowl and heated the butter/sugar mix for 1-minute segments, watching to make sure it was getting hot and bubbling, but not boiling over. That ended up being about 3 1-minute segments.)

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the beaten eggs to the peanut butter mixture, mixing well. Add the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared dry ingredients, and stir until batter is smooth. Stir in the peanut butter cups and marshmallows.

Pour/spoon the batter to the prepared pan, spreading the batter evenly to the edges of the pan. Top with the container of marshmallow creme and spread over the entire top as best as possible. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and the edges are slightly browned. Remove from oven and place them on a wire rack to cool.

I didn’t let them cool long enough before I cut into them (seriously, patience is not a virtue I possess, especially when it comes to baked goods). At first gooey bite I thought they were good, but not OMG good. Then, I had another taste after the kids were in bed and the brownies had more time to cool and set. Now they were OMG good. It took a whole lotta willpower to keep myself from eating half the pan.

I cut up the rest of the brownies and put them in a container for the hub to take tomorrow, but not before I put aside a few for us to eat. I would be surprised if they lasted through the weekend.

Boredom Baking – Sorghum Cookies

January 22, 2013

We are in the middle of a serious cold snap in north central Iowa. It went from 40 degrees on Friday to -7 Monday morning. Brrrr!

The older two kiddos didn’t have school yesterday due to in-service/Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so while they were glued to the TV watching Wild Kratts, (sidebar: that show is the sole reason the kiddo asked for a giant squid and sperm whale for Christmas. Good thing Santa is resourceful and Amazon really does carry just about everything you could want.) I decided to do some baking to warm up the house.

I’d made chocolate chip cookies a few weeks ago, white chocolate cranberry cookies last week and banana bread last weekend, so we weren’t really short of baked goods, but when I get the urge to bake, I need to bake.

I decided to make molasses cookies. It’d been a while since I’d made them, and I was craving their soft, spicy goodness.

I used the recipe that came from my Grandma Emma. The tattered card is a little short on some details, like exactly how much flour to use or how long to bake the cookies, but I managed.

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I also discovered that I was a little short on molasses. I’d used more than I realized making gingerbread boys over Christmas. However, I did have a full jar of sorghum.

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Now, sorghum isn’t quite the same thing as molasses, even though they look alike. Sorghum is made from the sorghum plant while molasses is a byproduct of sugar production. They have similar flavor profiles, and can be used almost interchangeably in recipes, though the taste will be slightly different between molasses and sorghum.

So I set to work mixing.

Grandma Emma’s Molasses Cookies
1 c. molasses
1 t. soda
2 c. sugar
2/3 c. sour cream
3 well beaten eggs
1 c. shortening (I used butter)
1 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
flour to make soft dough (I used about 3 1/2 cups. I could have used a little more, up to 4 maybe, for a slightly firmer cookie)

Bake in quick oven. I baked these at 375 for about 8 to 8:30 per batch. I also put fewer cookies on the [parchment-lined] cookie sheets as I knew they would spread some while baking.

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They turned out beautifully! They are a lighter golden color than if I’d used molasses, and have a more honey-like flavor to me. But they still have that nice spiciness from the ginger and cinnamon and are soft and chewy thanks to the sour cream.

The hub liked them, as did the kiddo. I had probably 4-5 cookies yesterday (once you take into account all the cookie dough I snitched while baking – it’s quality control testing, right?) and then had another two this morning for breakfast.

These won’t replace molasses cookies, but they are definitely a nice alternative!

 

Happy (belated) birthday to me!

January 15, 2013
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It was my birthday 11 days ago. I turned 34, which isn’t so horrible. I’ve never been one of those people who wants to perpetually stay 29; I don’t mind getting older. I don’t ever feel as old as I am, and my family would probably say I don’t act my age either.

At 34 I have three wonderful, funny, smart, goofy kids. I have a loving, caring husband who spoils me (too much, though I’ll only pretend to complain a little). I have my health, a warm house, the means to provide for our family and loved ones nearby who are more than generous with time and money should we need it.

So turning 34 isn’t really all that bad.

We did the traditional birthday donuts for breakfast from the great little bakery in town. I had a nice day of shopping with kid3. The kidlet made me a lovely birthday card replete with birthday bee (it’s her signature drawing) and Cinderella stickers. I had a so-so supper (total Pinterest fail on my part) topped off with a viewing of Bridesmaids with the hub after the kiddos went to bed (I think we were probably some of the few people left who hadn’t seen it by now.).

But the biggest birthday present came about a week later. My good, old five-year-old Mac mini was starting to show its age. It was slow and finicky at times, and running out of memory. Plus, it was stuck in the utility room at the back of the house, and I could really only use it after the kids were in bed (and it’s Cold back there in the winter!). So the hub decided I needed a nice, new MacBook Pro. It will serve as the family computer, along with being the farm computer. Hopefully, the portability of it being a laptop will also mean I can be more frequent with my blog updates.

Here she is, isn’t she pretty?

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I haven’t named her yet. Most of our electronics have been named after Muppets characters. We’ve had Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzy, Scooter and Sweetums iPods, the iPad is Miss Piggy and our WiFi connection is Beaker. I’ll have to think of a fitting name for the MacBook.

I’ll still need to use my Mac mini – it has all the graphic design programs I use for editing photos and creating cards and other design items. But I’m already enjoying the ability to sit at the dining room table with a cup of coffee and check on emails while kid3 attempts to destroy the house at my feet.

Elfie, our Elf on a Shelf

December 12, 2012

Last year I got an Elf on a Shelf for the older kiddos. I thought it would be a fun family thing to do for the Christmas season. However, I didn’t think about trying to remember to move Elfie (the name the kiddos gave our elf) every night while dealing with the sleep deprivation that comes with having a one-month-old. Nor did I realize the lengths some people went to in placing their elf every night.

So I vowed to do better this year. I wanted to have fun, but not go overboard. And I wanted to record each day so I could remember what I’ve done for the future. I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and uploading them to Instagram.

Elfie came back to our house December 1 and wrote a letter to the kiddos. She was just sitting on the table and the kids were happy to see her.

She started off riding the little wrought iron bike I have on our mantel. A little pre-Christmas treat exercise, perhaps?

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The next day the kiddos found her hanging from the top of our tree. Our lighted tree star wasn’t working, so Elfie decided to take its place for the night.
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Elfie must have been hungry, because the next morning Elfie was head first into a bag of marshmallows on the dining room table.

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And the next day she was cleaning up a mess of kisses with kid3’s little yellow wheel loader.

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She must have gotten a little warm, the kiddos found her hanging from the pull chain of the ceiling fan the next morning (and were very concerned she’d fall. We assured her she would be fine).
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Elfie had a little fun with the kids’ Little People nativity set. She had rearranged the animals and people – with one of the camels on top of the stable. Thankfully, she was taking good care of baby Jesus.
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The next morning found Elfie tucked in the pocket of one of my Santas, reporting back on whether the kids had been naughty or nice no doubt.

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Elfie nearly forgot to move the next morning, but she snuck in just in time before the kids woke and found her hanging from some ribbon on the sliding glass door. We’re not sure if she was admiring the gingerbread window cling or the dusting of snow outside, but the kiddos thought it was pretty funny.

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She made her way into the lantern the next morning

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and was reading a book to some new friends the next.

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This morning, the kids discovered Elfie had made a sled out of two candy canes and a Hershey bar, and was preparing to take a run down our couch.

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It has been fun working with Elfie and watching the kids find her each day. I have some ideas in mind for the next few days and will check Pinterest and other blogs for others. When Elfie’s antics start requiring more than 10-15 minutes of planning/work by myself or the hub, then I know I’ve gone off the deep end of Elf on a Shelf. Hopefully, that won’t happen.