Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter Portraits

Just got the electronic copies of the girls' Easter portraits from JC Penneys. They won't be ready until next week, but here's a preview:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mustard Chicken wtih Brussel Sprouts

This week's recipe exchange, sponsored by Overwhelmed With Joy, is a non-theme week, so here is a recipe I hope to make this week (compliments of the Dec 2007 issue of Everyday Food). Click on the pic above to link to other recipes for this week.

We eat A LOT of brussel sprouts in our house. We probably eat them 2 or 3 times a month. When EJ was maybe three, we were in the produce section of the grocery store, and she begged me, "Mom, can we PLEASE have brussel sprouts for dinner tonight?" A woman standing nearby spun around and said that she'd never heard those words come out of a child's mouth before! Sophie seems to be following in suit - she loves them too.

Anyway, this is a simple recipe and great to make on a busy weeknight.


8 chicken drumsticks or thighs (actually, I use breasts that are cut in half because we prefer white meat)

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

1 pint brussel sprouts, trimmed and quartered

1 Tablespoon olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 450 with racks in upper and lower thirds. Place chicken on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Add mustard, and toss to coat; season wtih salt and pepper.

  2. On another large rimmed baking sheet, toss brussel sprouts with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place chicken on upper rack adn sprouts on lower rack; bake until chicken is cooked through and sprouts are browned around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes, turning chicken halfway through.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Another early morning today - EJ and Sophie were both up at 6:15. EJ found her basket in the fireplace! It had a Hannah Montana wig, the Hairspray DVD, and lots of yummy candy.

Sophie's basket had books and coloring books and a tiny chocolate bunny. She had a lot of fun looking for hidden eggs, once she figured out what she was supposed to do! The Easter bunny had filled her eggs with Cheerios and Kix cereal, and she opened them all and ate them up. Pardon the nakedness, let's just say that her diaper was like a water balloon that had burst!

Speaking of eating, here is the finished Easter bunny cake that I finished at 9 PM last night!

Next, we went to church. Sophie thought the service was just about 10 minutes too long and despite some fussiness and squirming, she managed to control herself to the very end.

Would you believe that we still have quite a bit of snow in our backyard? Our yard is pretty shaded, and it's not nice fluffy's more like a backyard full of snowcone ice. The backyard is close to an acre, and it's sloped just enough for some sledding.

K took Sophie on a run and then she waited patiently while EJ went.

Then, they all piled on the sled together for a few runs. Sophie laughed the whole way, and EJ had to hold her really tight so she wouldn't fly off when they hit dry ground at the bottom.

Hope your day was filled with fun (and chocolate)!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hippity Hop

This morning started bright and early at breakfast with the Easter Bunny at EJ's school. Sophie was quite fascinated by the big furry beast and generally seems pleased that he will be visiting our house this evening to hide eggs and baskets of treats. Yes, EJ is wearing a tiara. She made friends with the reigning Miss [insert town name], who let her borrow the crown for a while.

At breakfast, we saw my friend H with the youngest of her three boys, K. He was busy working on an Easter basket bag:

Next, we dropped the van off for new brakes, went to the mall for a portrait session (oooo...wait 'til you see these!), and then visited the big bunny AGAIN!! We didn't bother paying for a photo package there, but they had such beautiful decorations, and since I had my camera...we got in a few shots of the scenery.

And then we FINALLY got back home around 3, and started baking a bunny cake from the Williams-Sonoma bunny pan:
The cake batter was delicious and the cake halves came out of the pan just fine. At the mall today, I picked up a piping bag and some tips to try to decorate it. Updated photos later tonight or tomorrow...
And today's true confession is that K didn't get home from the shop with the van until 4:30, so we bought cinnamon rolls at CinnaBon at the mall. He says he'll make the real thing in the next week or two.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Coloring Easter Eggs

We almost always dye eggs on Friday night before Easter. EJ likes to try different color combinations.

Sophie was so interested in what Sissy was doing...she watched closely. We made sure she couldn't reach far enough to touch them! And then she broke out in hysterics:

The results were stunning:

Here are a few closeups I took.

Sticky Buns with Pecans

Have I told you about the great company I work for? We have a terrific employee wellness program. They pay for me to do Weight Watchers at Work, and this week, I had a one-on-one consultation with a nutritionist. I didn't tell them what I'll be eating for breakfast on Easter morning. But hey, there is such a thing as mental wellness, too.

This week's Favorite Ingredient Friday recipe theme is Easter. If you click on this logo, you will go to the blog that sponsors the recipe swap, Overwhelmed With Joy, to find other Easter recipes.

K usually makes this recipe for either Easter or Mother's Day. Actually, let me clarify that he makes them the day before...they are a bit time-consuming, which is why he makes them instead of me. In the interest of full disclosure, this recipe is from the Sept 2004 issue of my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated. Click here to see a photo of last year's sticky buns!

This recipe has four components: the dough that is shaped into buns, the filling that creates the swirl in the shaped buns, the caramel glaze that bakes in the bottom of the baking dish along with the buns, and the pecan topping that garnishes the buns once baked. Although the ingredient list may look long, note that many ingredients are repeated. Leftover sticky buns can be wrapped in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days, but they should be warmed through before serving. They reheat quickly in a microwave oven (for 2 buns, about 2 minutes at 50 percent power works well); they can also be put into a 325-degree oven for about 8 minutes. Makes 12 3 1/2-inch buns

3 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
4 1/4 Cups (21 ¼ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour , plus additional for dusting work surface
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled until warm

Caramel Glaze
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup (5 ¼ oz.) light brown sugar , packed
3 tablespoons corn syrup , light or dark
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pinch table salt

Cinnamon-Sugar Filling
3/4 cup (5 ¼ oz.) light brown sugar , packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pinch table salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter , melted

Pecan Topping
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1 ¾ oz.) light brown sugar , packed
3 tablespoons corn syrup , light or dark
1 pinch table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (3 oz.) pecans , toasted in a pan in oven while buns are baking. Turn every 5 min. until fragrant and browned, about 15 minutes, then cooled and coarsely chopped.
  1. For the dough: In bowl of standing mixer, whisk eggs to combine; add buttermilk and whisk to combine. Whisk in sugar, salt, and yeast. Add about 2 cups flour and butter; stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until evenly moistened and combined. Add all but about 1/4 cup remaining flour and knead with dough hook at low speed 5 minutes. Check consistency of dough (dough should feel soft and moist but should not be wet and sticky; add more flour, if necessary); knead at low speed 5 minutes longer (dough should clear sides of bowl but stick to bottom). Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 1 minute to ensure that dough is uniform (dough should not stick to work surface during hand kneading; if it does stick, knead in additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time).
  2. Lightly spray large bowl or plastic container with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl, spray dough lightly with cooking spray, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in warm, draftfree spot until doubled in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
  3. For the glaze: Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for glaze in small saucepan; cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is thoroughly combined. Pour mixture into nonstick metal 13- by 9-inch baking dish; using rubber spatula, spread mixture to cover surface of baking dish. Set baking dish aside.
  4. To assemble and bake buns: For filling, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined, using fingers to break up sugar lumps; set aside. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Gently shape dough into rough rectangle with long side nearest you. Lightly flour dough and roll to 16- by 12-inch rectangle. Brush dough with 1 tablespoon melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along top edge; with butter remaining on brush, brush sides of baking dish. Sprinkle filling mixture over dough, leaving 3/4-inch border along top edge; smooth filling in even layer with hand, then gently press mixture into dough to adhere. Beginning with long edge nearest you, roll dough into taut cylinder. Firmly pinch seam to seal and roll cylinder seam-side down. Very gently stretch to cylinder of even diameter and 18-inch length; push ends in to create even thickness. Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, slice cylinder in half, then slice each half in half again to create evenly sized quarters. Slice each quarter evenly into thirds, yielding 12 buns (end pieces may be slightly smaller).
  5. Arrange buns cut-side down in prepared baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in warm, draft-free spot until puffy and pressed against one another, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place pizza stone (if using) on rack, and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Place baking pan on pizza stone; bake until golden brown and center of dough registers about 180 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes; invert onto rimmed baking sheet, large rectangular platter, or cutting board. With rubber spatula, scrape any glaze remaining in baking pan onto buns; let cool while making pecan topping.
  7. For the topping: Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in small saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally to thoroughly combine. Off heat, stir in vanilla and pecans until pecans are evenly coated. Using soup spoon, spoon heaping tablespoon nuts and topping over center of each sticky bun. Continue to cool until sticky buns are warm, 15 to 20 minutes. Pull apart or use serrated knife to cut apart sticky buns; serve.

Lesson Learned

There's a new no-frills, cheap airline called Skybus. They have 10 seats on each flight for $10. The problem is that they don't do true connections between cities. And they fly to/from mostly small airports.

My inlaws flew on Skybus over the holidays with no problems. We picked them up at the "Boston" area airport, which is really Pease Tradeport in Portsmouth, NH, where the terminal is the size of a trailer and parking is free!!! We were planning a trip to visit the inlaws in late April for school vacation, so we thought we'd try them out.

The cost of flying any other commercial airline was about $457 each plus all the fees. The cost of flying on Skybus was only about $240 each, so for a family of four, this was significant savings. We booked the tickets several weeks ago. We were going to leave Portsmouth NH for the Jacksonville area (the St Augustine airport, to be exact). We'll rent a car and drive to Uncle E and Aunt M's house just north of Jax, spend a few days so they can meet Sophie, and then drive across northern Florida to Grandma and Grandpap H's for the rest of the week.

The flight home was a little bit of a challenge. Because they don't fly direct to Portsmouth from the area, we were going to take a flight to Winston-Salem/Greensboro, have a 4-5 hour layover, and then take a flight back to Portsmouth. Remember, they have no true connections, and many of these flight segments only run once a day, but hey, we were going to save about $1000, so it didn't seem like too big of a deal.

Two days ago, we received an email saying that Skybus is terminating service between the gulf coast and Winston-Salem, so they were refunding us for that flight segment. Of course the problem was that we still had tickets to go from W-S to Portsmouth. How the heck were we going to get there? And because of the no-frills airline, they wouldn't refund the tickets for the second segment. To top off the frustration, Skybus doesn't even have a phone number to call to plead your case, you do all communication via email.

So, we started looking for other options. We can get from the gulf coast to W-S on another airline for $94 each, but when we went back to buy them today, the cost was $350. We found another inexpensive option that meant we had two layovers and a 7 HOUR LAYOVER in W-S. But for only about $40 more, we can get all the way home, to a different airport. And we'll have to pay a limo service to get us home, since our car will be elsewhere, but I don't care at this point.

SOOOOOOOO...the point of this post is:
  • If you're considering Skybus, do it for direct flights only.
  • Consider the fact that if there's a problem with the plane or a weather delay, you can't just be put on another flight an hour might have to wait an entire day.
  • Travel insurance wouldn't have necessarily helped with our scenario, because we still needed to get to W-S to make the "connection".
  • I've now spent as much money as I was going to spend to fly a REAL airline anyway, but I really don't need the stress and frustration in planning what is supposed to be a relaxing time away from home.

Go Vulcans!

Hey! Check it out! Our alma mater, California University of PA, is in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight! The next game is against Alaska-Anchorage in Springfield, MA next weekend. If they make it to the National Championship game, it will be next Sat. afternoon and we might just have to make a daytrip of it. And the women's team is also in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, playing Delta State next weekend in Nebraska.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

You might remember from last year that EJ made a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick's Day. This year was no different, but she still hasn't caught a leprechaun. We do know that he was IN the trap at one point, because he left behind little buckets of treats. EJ's bucket had shamrock-wrapped chocolates and some shamrock jewelry to wear to school today. Sophie's bucket had gold coins.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Much better

Sophie is much better today. No fever and no fussiness. EJ is horribly stuffy though. So the girls stayed home with K while I went to church. It felt weird to be there without them...I usually spend the sermon either wrestling with Sophie or bribing her to be quiet with Cheerios.

K and EJ went to see Horton Hears a Who after lunch today, and Sophie napped for 2:45, so I had a lot of free time. Most of it was spent finishing up in EJ's room and going through all of her books...some will migrate to Sophie's room, others will be boxed up for a few years. It looks so nice and neat in there! I just need to clean out the closet. Somehow, I just couldn't face that today.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday ramblings...

It's been a thoroughly exhausting day here today. Little Sophie is not feeling well. The runny nose started up again Thursday, and then Friday morning she had her 18 month exam. It went well; the doctor is amazed at her developmental progress, especially her vocabulary (maybe 30-40 words) and her ability to follow instructions ("put this in the trash" or "bring me another book"). However, she did need three shots, and that did her in. She went back to daycare afterward, but they called K around 4:15 and said she had a fever and was fussy so he went to pick her up early.

This morning, we were supposed to have an Easter portrait taken of the girls. But Sophie woke up feeling very warm and was still fussy, so we decided to opt out today. She had a few meltdowns today. Full-blown tantrums and she's not even two yet! But she was expressing her independence a bit. I expect (hope) that things are back to normal when she's feeling better.

She only napped for an hour today, so she almost collapsed in my arms at bedtime tonight. She really enjoys going to bed. As soon as you mention it, she runs to find dolly and heads for the stairs. As soon as she gets to her room, she grabs a book and crawls up in the rocking chair. Very sweet. After she gets in her crib, she ALWAYS stands up and needs to look at several of the stuffed animals on top of the bookshelves on the wall. Annoying, but it only lasts a few minutes and then she can lay back down again.

One of her new favorite toys is a toy bed that EJ has for her Build-a-Bear pets. It's pink satin with white fur trim. She drags it around the house to find a suitable spot (usually under my feet as I'm cooking dinner), and then crawls in like it's her throne. In fact, EJ usually announces "All hail Queen Sophie!" Nah, she won't grow up with a complex or anything....

One night this week, we had steamed veggies, rice, and dumplings (of course) for dinner. Sophie tried out her new training chopsticks that Santa left in her stocking. She decided her fingers did the job much quicker, but she did get kudos for trying.

And finally, this photo is for Dad H. When he was here for the holidays, he and K started to build some shelves for above the desk in the family room to help "declutter" the desk a bit. Well, they're FINALLY up. The printer and the charging valet (one of K's Christmas gifts, to charge all the phones, iPods, and cameras) fit on the lower shelf, and we decided to put some books on the upper shelf to help declutter the other bookshelf in the room. This other "bookshelf" is really an old hutch, but the four open shelves on the top hold my cookbook collection and some pottery. The cabinet underneath holds puzzles and board games. Anyway, I'm quite pleased with the result, Dad. You guys do good work. Now, let me start the project list for your next visit...

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to tackle a bit more EJ's room! We moved her desk around to create a little reading area for her chair and bookshelf. I got through most of the desk tonight while she was in the shower, but I can't really make some of the other things disappear until she's not around. I'm hoping that K can take her to the movies tomorrow after lunch while Sophie is sleeping. I just need another 1-2 hours to get through the stuffed animals and the closet.

One final note, it appears that Overwhelmed With Joy hasn't updated her blog since last week's recipe swap, so I'll wait until next week to post another recipe. Next week's swap is the Easter foods edition. Hmmm...what recipe to share? K is going to make his world famous sticky buns for Easter morning, but that's a LONG recipe. I'll have to see what else I can find.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Time flies...

Yesterday, Sophie turned 18 months old. Hard to believe that she's been with us for more than nine months already. She doesn't just walk anymore...she runs! And babbles up a storm. She probably has a vocabulary of 30 words, including the all important "cookie" and "shoe". She can point to all of her body parts, including her cheeks (the backside variety). And she knows a ton of songs. She LOVES music...

Something else she loves to do is empty the kitchen cabinets. Luckily, she tends to only unpack the one with the kids' cups and plates, and the one with the Tupperware. It's harmless fun, but it does take time to clean it all up every night.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tortilla Pie

One of the blogs I follow regularly is Kaffee Klatsch. Every week, Magi posts a recipe to participate in Favorite Ingredients Friday. For the past year, I've been thinking that I should participate in the weekly recipe swap too, but I never seem to find just 10 minutes to do it.

Until today. If you click on the picture below, you will connect to Overwhelmed With Joy, the sponsor of the recipe swap, and you will find other delicious recipes to try!

Okay, this week's theme for recipes is Mexican, so I'm including my recipe for Tortilla Pie. This recipe is from the December '06 issue of Everyday Food. We've made it a bunch of times. It's really good AND easy to make!


4 10-inch flour tortillas
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 medium onion, shopped
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound ground beef sirloin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 10 ounce package frozen corn kernals
3 packed cups loose baby spinach, torn into pieces
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)
sour cream (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan (use the removable bottom of the pan as a guide). Assemble the pan with the bottom upside down, lightly oil the bottom and sides. Set aside.

  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Raise heat to medium-high; add beef and garlic. Cook, breaking up meat with a spoon until no longer pink, 4 to 6 minutes. Add corn and spinach; stir until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.

  3. Place one tortilla in the prepared pan. Spreading evenly, top with 1-1/2 packed cups of beef mixture, then 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat with two more layers. Top with the last tortilla, and sprinkle with remianing 1/2 cup cheese.

  4. Bake pie until top is lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan; remove sides. Using two wide metal spatulas, lift pie from the bottom of pan, and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into wedges. If desired, serve with cilantro and sour cream.

A few notes...I don't put in all the spinach. I can't hide all three cups from K! And sometimes I use cheddar cheese instead. I also often add more tomato paste.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the recipe. I'd like to participate in the recipe swap a few times each month, so check back for more! I've put a link in the left column so you will be able to find them easily!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sing, Sing a Song

Tonight was EJ's first-ever chorus concert. The entire 3rd grade participated. They did a fantastic job. EJ was so excited to wear her pink and gold dress from China for the event to show it off to her friends.

Each of the four 3rd grade homerooms took turns playing instruments for a song. EJ got to play the xylophone for "Old Man Tucker":

Saturday, March 1, 2008

In like a lion...

We returned home this evening from a little mini-vacation. We went to North Conway (that's in the White Mountains in New Hampshire for you non-New Englanders) for two nights. This is our third year of doing this, and it's a nice little break.

The first year we went, we thought we would take family ski lessons. K and I are NOT skiers, but it seems unfair to EJ to not try it just because of us. So, we trekked up there only to arrive in bitterly cold weather. Not wanting to spend nearly $200 for rentals, lessons, and lift tickets to be in 5 degree weather all day, we opted for tubing for two hours instead.

Last year, we returned and gave EJ the option of skiing or tubing (she picked tubing). We also stayed in a hotel with an indoor water slide, which was a big hit.

This year, we again stayed at the same hotel. While K and EJ went tubing yesterday (skiing next year, maybe?), I bundled up little Sophie (it was in the low 20s) and we hiked it down to the outlet center to do a little retail therapy. Just doing my part to try to help out the economy, you know.

After dinner (restaurant recommendations below), we went to the water park. Sophie and I sat and watched EJ for a little while. When I asked her if she wanted to get in the water, she shook her head no. But, a few minutes later she was ready! She went down the little tot's slide (about 4 feet high) and daddy caught her at the bottom. She did it about 5-6 times before saying "All done". She was cold and shivering. A nice warm bath, a nice warm bottle, and she fell asleep in my arms.

We were both AMAZED at the amount of snowfall up there. After another 10-12 inches last night, this is about the 5th-6th most snowfall on record. The snowbanks along the sides of route 16 are about 10-12 feet high. You can't see the businesses as you're driving along. At the outlet center, I would walk out of a store and couldn't see the store across the way because of 20 foot high piles of snow (they've run out of places to put it). Everyone was having their roof shoveled off...looked VERY dangerous. Nothing like seeing people standing on a roof shoveling off 3+ feet of snow.

Anyway, here's a pic of Sophie enjoying the kiddie pool:

And EJ, who enjoyed watching Sophie splash around:

Today, on the way home, we stopped for lunch and then drove back to the campground we frequent in the summer. Here we are in front of the can see that the snowbanks are about 8 feet high here. Dad and E, when you're here this summer, maybe you'll still be looking at snow out your 2nd floor window!

Sophie had fun sticking her mittens in the snow. And then she would shake the mittens off...

She also enjoyed putting snow in my hair:

And finally, here's EJ in the parking lot. It's hard to see, but just to the left of the tallest trees, you can see the top of a lamppost. That lamppost is about 12 feet high!

And here are my restaurant recommendations if you're in North Conway:
  • Muddy Moose - Kind of like a Bugaboo Creek, but not chain food.
  • Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery - Our favorite place in the Mt. Washington Valley. I highly recommend the Curried Crab Corn Chowder and the Longhorn Nachos (with barbecued beef). K recommends the chili and their dark-brewed beer!
  • Bellini's - Delcious Italian food with meatballs the size of baseballs (no joking!) and yummy gelato.
  • Whittier House - Nice sandwiches...

And last, but not least, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some online buddies who are hoping to get their referrals in the next week. These folks all have LIDs (application dates) of 01/05/06 with our agency. Last year, while we were on winter break in North Conway, we were on the cusp of getting our referral and we missed it by two days. These folks aren't sure if they're in the next batch or not, but even if they aren't, they're almost guaranteed to be next, so there is some peace in their future (and shopping, and packing, and traveling). Here they are, in case you want to follow their journeys to China:

What's amazing is that these folks' paperwork arrived in China about 70 days after ours. And they are almost a year behind us on the timeline for travel. I can only tell them that China is a wonderful place to visit in late Spring!!! :)