Monday, January 5, 2015

Snow Rituals

Woo hoo – the snow has already started to fall here!!  We are expected to have 4-8 inches fall between now and tomorrow morning.  I know that today was the first day back to work and school after the holidays, but I would not be disappointed if there was a snow day tomorrow. 
Growing up, whenever we heard it there was a chance of snow, we’d sleep with our pajamas on inside out.  Why?  To increase the chance of a snow day, of course!  Later on when I was teaching, it was expanded to sleeping with your pajamas on inside out AND putting a spoon under your pillow.  Hey, if it works, it works.
Today I discovered that not everyone performed this ritual growing up when there was a chance of snow.  What?  How did you do your part to ensure that school would be called off?  Could this ritual possibly be considered … weird?
So I turned to Google for the answer.  I am happy to report that I am not weird.  There are many, many snow rituals out there but I’ll just list the top 5:
1)    Wear your pajamas inside out.  If it is iffy as to whether you’ll get any measurable snow at all, wear them inside out AND backwards.
2)    Stick a spoon under your pillow.  Google informed me this ritual dates back to the Pilgrims.
3)    Flush a single ice cube down the toilet (you’ll need the rest of the ice cubes later)
4)    Stick something white inside your freezer (white crayon, cotton ball, Q-tip)
5)    Stick ice cubes on your front porch.

I have many more thoughts on the subject in my head, but I need to run.  I need to make sure the ice cube maker has made enough ice!!  And I know there has to be a white crayon around here somewhere …

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer has arrived!

Our garden has been pretty pathetic this summer.  A tomato here and there.  One giant zucchini that grew overnight.  Today was the first day I actually had to take a couple of bags with me to carry everything.

Not quite enough cucumbers to make a batch of pickles, but I bet I can get a batch or two (or four) of zucchini bread from those monsters.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boston Cream Pie

David's birthday was last weekend and in keeping with tradition, the kids and I made him a cake.  As usual, David never got around to telling us what kind of cake he wanted, so the kids decided on a Boston Cream Pie since 'daddy loves the donuts'.

A Boston Cream Pie is really a sponge cake, with pastry cream in the middle (think chocolate eclair) with a chocolate glaze on the top. I haven't made on in a long time and had to start searching through my cookbooks to find the recipe I used (yep, it's been that long).  Since I knew slicing one cake in half would be dicey, I wanted to find a recipe that was for 2 round cake pans.

Since the original glaze I used was not very sweet, I searched online to find a different on to use since I knew the kids wouldn't like it.  We also had a bit of trouble getting our cake out of the pans, so it isn't all that pretty to look at.  Turns out you can't glue a cake together with glaze like you can with frosting!  Regardless, it was declared delicious and Christopher decided 'we are the best bakers EVER!'

Boston Cream Pie
Source: Cook's Illustrated and Kraft
The cake is easier to cut if it has been chilled for a couple of hours
Pastry Cream
2 cups half-and-half  
6 large egg yolks  
1/2 cup sugar  
pinch table salt  
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour  
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces  
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise OR 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt  
3/4 cup milk  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter  
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract  
3 large eggs  
1 1/2 cups sugar  
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Pastry Cream: Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add ½ cup to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half-and-half in saucepan.

Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes.  Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in butter. Scrape vanilla bean seeds and whisk in or add vanilla extract until incorporated. Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Heat milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.

In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.

Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan. Run small plastic knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack. Carefully remove parchment and flip cakes back over.

Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to cake edge. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level.

Glaze: Heat butter and chocolate over low heat until butter is melted.  Remove from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is fully melted.  Mix in powdered sugar and add slowly add milk until desired consistency.  Spread over top of cake.  Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

FIrst Day of School

First day of school for the kids was last Wednesday.  Madeleine is in third grade and Christopher started Kindergarten.  They settled long enough to take a few pictures and then they were off and running for the bus.  I didn't even get a hug or a wave good-bye!

It seems that they did learn anything in third grade on the first day of school.  They were busier in Kindergarten though!  Some of the highlights:

  • They made me write my name over and over and over!
  • They showed us how to check for feet in the bathroom, so you respect people's privacy
  • You go out for recess all day long!
  • The bus driver can drive as fast as he wants and he doesn't get arrested
It seemed he also learned how to catch a stomach bug.  Madeleine didn't miss a day of school until she was in second grade.  He missed his second day of Kindergarten!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Whale Watch

The kids and I went on a whale watch yesterday.  I've been on several and this one, by far, was the best ever. We went out of Gloucester (Gloss-ta) with 7 Seas Whale Watch and saw at least 25 Humpback whales as well as a couple of Minke.  Some of what we saw:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How fast they grow!

December 2010

June 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Minion, anyone?

Christopher's one request for his birthday this year was a minion cake. "It has to be a good minion and not a purple minion because purple minions are bad and I don't want a bad cake at my party!"

He informed me today for his sixth birthday he wanted a race car cake.  I'm sure he'll change his mind numerous time in the next 51 weeks.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

One of the things I really miss, living so far from home, is being able to participate in some of our family traditions, especially around the holidays. 

Being half Italian and half Polish means I participated in a plethora of traditions growing up, most of them food related.  While I would love to follow the same traditions here, we are only a family of 4 and would most likely turn into a family of Weebles if, for example, a pan of lasagna showed up on the table for every holiday in addition to the main course.

So while I don't have pans and pans and pans of rising Babka dough locked away in my bedroom on Good Friday, we do always make these Hot Cross Buns.  They really are easy to do and both kids love them.  Madeleine has already asked if it was almost time to make those buns she loves so much.  Looks like one family tradition has been carried forward.

Who knows, maybe I'll also drag out my pizzelle iron that is gathering dust downstairs.  Wouldn't be an Italian celebration without a giant tray full of them!

Hot Cross Buns
King Arthur Flour
Yield: 1 dozen 

1/4 cup apple juice or rum
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
1 1/4 cups milk -- room temperature
3 large eggs -- 1 separated
6  tablespoons butter -- room temperature
2  teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup light brown sugar -- firmly packed
1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large  egg white -- reserved from above
1 tablespoon  milk

1 cup  + 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 pinch  salt
4 teaspoons  milk -- or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing

Lightly grease a 10" square pan or 9" x 13" pan. 

Mix the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, till the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.

Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk.

Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.

Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F. 

Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns. 

Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool. 

Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mean Mom

Yep, that's  me.  Mean mom.  I earned the title and I'll wear the badge proudly (there IS a badge that goes with it - right?).

The act that earned me the title?

I wouldn't let someone take 'thirds' of broccoli because he wasn't eating the rest of the food on his plate.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Somewhat Creepy

So I know that all of our information is out there floating around in space and such, but it really did freak me out a little bit when I logged onto Google tonight.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Got Apples?

We do, thanks to a friend at work!  Christopher has been nosing around the box since I brought them home, asking to make 'his favorite applesauce'. I think we have enough in there for applesauce and a few other things.

This morning we are on a quest for apple cider.  The recipe I use calls for apple cider and I struck out at two different HyVee stores.  I was informed you can only find apple cider 'at a real apple orchard Mommy,' so I think I know where we are headed this morning.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A schmoozer in training

For someone who routinely is up by 6 on the weekends, pulling him out of bed at 6:15 during the week is a true exercise in patience.

At the age of 4, he is responsible for getting dressed (clothes already put out), brushing his teeth and finding his shoes.  Not all that taxing, but man is that kid ever pokey. He'll grow out if it by middle school ... right??

The other morning I catch him staring into space ... again.

"Hey bud, you need to get your schools on.  What are you doing?"

"I am admiring your beauty mommy."

He's good, isn't he?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A whole lot of awesome in a 9x13 pan.  Very chocolaty and very moist.  Christopher claims it is the only way he'll ever eat zucchini again.  I'll let him think that ... for a little while.

Someone at work has a garden that is producing a lot more zucchini then mine ever will this year (I actually dug the dead zucchini plants up this weekend) and my original plan was to make this cake to take to work to share.  Well, I threw the chips on top and put it back in the oven and then pulled it out in 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, it looks like my chocolate seized and I tore up the whole top of the cake trying to spread them out.

So ... knowing that an ugly cake would NEVER get eaten at the workplace, we kept it at home.  I have enough shredded zucchini left to make another cake.  Next time though, I'll use my favorite chocolate frosting recipe from the back of the Hershey cocoa container.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons espresso powder (instant coffee makes a good sub)
3 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until smooth. Beat in the eggs and stir in the buttermilk alternately with the flour. 

Add the cocoa and espresso powder, mixing until smooth.  Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched, and it seems set.  Cool on a rack.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pink Lemonade Cake

In our house, the Birthday Boy or Birthday Girl gets to choose their cake.  This year, someone in our house is celebrating a birthday that ends in an '0' and they aren't all that happy about it.  So, when said Birthday Boy didn't choose a cake, I let Madeleine pick.  She chose a Pink Lemonade Cake from Cook's Country.

It was pretty easy to make and sugaring the lemon slices was not as messy as I had imagined (she actually did them).  Probably not the cake the Birthday Boy was envisioning, but that's what you get when you don't make up your mind!

Pink Lemonade Cake

5 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice (2 lemons)
Red food coloring

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners' sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Red food coloring
Pink Sugared Lemon Slices:
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large lemon, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons pink decorating sugar

Cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 1 minute. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar and whip until glossy, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.

Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Whisk egg yolks, water, oil, lemon zest and juice, and 5 to 7 drops food coloring together in medium bowl until smooth. Whisk yolk mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Whisk one-third of whipped egg whites into batter, then gently fold in remaining whites in 2 additions until well combined. Pour mixture into ungreased 16-cup tube pan. Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean and cracks in cake appear dry, 55 to 65 minutes. Invert pan onto wire rack and let cake cool completely in pan, about 3 hours.

Frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add cream cheese one piece at a time until no lumps remain. Add lemon juice, vanilla, and 3 to 4 drops food coloring, and mix until incorporated.

Lemon Slices: Combine water and granulated sugar in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves. Add lemon slices and bring to simmer. Remove from heat and allow syrup and lemon slices to cool completely, about 1 hour. Transfer lemon slices to wire rack to drain, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle both sides of lemon slices with decorating sugar.

Unmold cake onto plate and frost top and sides in even layer. Decorate along bottom edge with sugared lemon slices and serve.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First Day of School

Oh my, second grade.  Where does the time go?  Next year the little guy gets to ride the bus with his sister.  I wonder how many years I can get away with first day of school pictures at the front door ... I am aiming for all 12!

Getting so big