Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Annika Singing

Yesterday, I wrote about Annika's rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Today, I have a special treat for you; pay close attention to the last line of the song. Enjoy!

video

Monday, February 27, 2012

Song Lyrics

We have a rule in our family that we don't start eating dinner until everyone is seated and we don't get up from the table until everyone is done. Conor is still getting a grasp on these rules and waiting isn't necessarily his strongest still yet. So, we get creative in keeping him entertained at times.

Last night, Annika was still working on her dinner when Conor was done and wanted down. I suggested a singalong to keep him distracted for a few minutes. I asked him to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". He sang his version of it ("Row, row, boat. Merry. Steam!!")

Then, Annika had a go at the song. "Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. Merly, merly, merly merly. Like a spotted dream." She then pointed out "HEY!! Mama! You're in the song! See? Merly!" (Side note: Eric and his dad call me "Merly".)

The "spotted dream" lyrics just about had Eric and me falling out of our chairs! We'll definitely be sad when she figures out the correct words to the song and will enjoy the current ones for as long as they last.

Daring Bakers February Challenge

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was to make quick bread. This was a perfect challenge, considering we were still eyeball deep in our kitchen remodel. This was a challenge that was not only quick to complete (I think I finished it on Feb. 2nd or 3rd!), but it also let me do a little creative baking. I really enjoyed being able to experiment with flavor combinations.

We were given the option to bake muffins or bread, so I decided to make muffins simply so Eric and I could take the extras to work and not feel obliged to eat more carbs than any living being should ingest at any given time.

The first quick bread I made was lemon poppy seed muffins with an orange glaze. I used the basic quick bread recipe we were given by the challenge's host (see below), but then decided to build upon that foundation. The muffins turned out really nicely, but I do wish I'd used lemon essential oil instead of lemon extract - there was a little bit of a cloying after taste of the extract that I didn't love. (That's when I added the glaze ... it helped ease the extract's flavor a bit.)

Lemon poppy seed muffins

 After finishing the lemon poppy seed muffins, I was itching to experiment some more, so I (once again) used the basic quick bread recipe (again, see below) and build upon it. This time, I used Cointreau (orange liqueur), fresh orange juice, and chocolate chips. Really ... what pairs better with chocolate than orange?? This muffin was really yummy, but left me feeling that it was more of a cupcake than a muffin (probably because of the chocolate chips), so I decided to frost them with a little chocolate buttercream frosting. That left me wondering what, exactly, is the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? According to the vast knowledge on the Internet, not a whole lot. So, I decided to call these little goodies "Cupffins" and call it good at that... and boy, were they good! YUM!

Orange chocolate chip "cupffins"

Basic Quick Bread

Makes one 9” x 5” (23×13 cm) loaf
Recipe from Sara Schewe

2 cups (480 ml) (250 gm/9 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (3 gm) fine sea salt or table salt
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk or soured milk*
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) mild- or non-flavored oil, like canola
1 teaspoon (5 ml) flavored extract, such as vanilla or almond
for the glaze
1/3 cup (80 ml) (35 gm/1-1/3 oz) confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1-2 teaspoons (5-10 ml) milk
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4. Grease a 9×5 inch (23×13 centimeter) loaf pan with butter and line with parchment paper cut to fit the length and width of the pan, with enough overhang to allow easy removal after baking. Grease the top sheet of parchment.
  2. In large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt to combine. Make a well in the center and set aside.
  3. Lightly whisk (butter)milk, egg, oil, and extract to combine. Pour into well and stir until just mixed into a batter. The batter will be lumpy and may still show a few streaks of flour.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely before slicing. Drizzle with glaze, if desired.
  5. For the glaze: Slowly whisk confectioners’ (icing) sugar and half of the milk, adding more milk as needed to thin the glaze to the desired consistency.
The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lis stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Laura's 8th Birthday Cake

I like to bake. I know, BIG surprise, huh? That statement is probably as obvious as "I like to breathe" would be. When an opportunity to bake comes up, I tend to jump at it, and that's what happened here.

Recently, my co-worker (who has been wonderful about giving Annika some of her daughter's hand-me-down clothes) asked if I'd be up for making her little girl's 8th birthday cake. Oh let me think .... OF COURSE! Laura, my co-worker's daughter, loves Food Network and had rather grand ideas of her cake. It had to be 3 tiers, white cake with raspberry fondant. She even sent a drawing of her desired cake to work with her mom, so I could get a good idea of what she wanted. We swapped drawings a couple of times, and I was able to walk away with the fact that Laura wanted a cake that was covered in green fondant, had lots of flowers (so each of the 14-16 party attendees could get one), had four butterflies, said "Happy Birthday, Laura" on the bottom tier, and had a vine with roses on it.

I used Laura's drawing as a guide and let it lead my design, but didn't stick 100% to it. For example, her butterflies were affixed to the cake and she probably imagined something made out of fondant; I used wire-mounted butterflies made out of synthetic feathers. I also included a few rose vines instead of a really long on that scaled all three tiers. Small details changes, but I hope that's ok with the birthday girl.

OH! And one of the best results of this project ... Eric bought me a cake leveler! (What can I say? The man is crazy in love with me!!!!) Not just ANY cake leveler, a professional one. (I TOLD you that he loves me!) Oh my goodness, but does this tool make cake stacking SOOOO much easier. It is amazing and anyone who enjoys making stacked cakes really needs to get one! It has three adjustable saw blades (they look bent in the photo, but aren't really .... just an optical illusion) and this bad boy makes torting a cake freakishly easy. Love, love, love it and don't know what I did without it! Oh wait - yes I do! I spent a lot more time trying to make my cakes level and never quite achieving that results I desired.

My new cake leveler (manufactured by FatDaddios)

I cheated and used boxed cake mixes (ok'd by my co-worker), but made up for it by making my own marshmallow fondant (instead of using store bought, non-flavor filled fondant), used raspberry filling from my favorite cake supply store (hey bakers near Seattle -make sure you support Home Cake Decorating store on Roosevelt if you ever need baking supplies!). The tiers are 8", 6", and 4" (all about 3" high).


Laura's 8th birthday cake
 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

GRRR!

This morning, Annika's BFF Allison came over for a few hours. The girls had a wonderful time playing and we got a kick our of eavesdropping on their conversations; they truly are a hoot together and have amazing imaginations!
A few days ago, Annika got it in her craw that she wanted to have her face painted and I figured it would be a good activity for the girls to do while they were together.

Eric, the artist of the family, picked up the required face paints yesterday and took up the brush today to transform the girls into orange and black tigers. After the paint was done, they had a marvelous time running around the house playing and growling with each other.


ROAR!!!!

Their version of "pretty tigers"

Having fun
True friends!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Panko Chicken Strips

When I came home from work last night, Eric and I realized we were without a dinner plan. Not a good thing. As Eric helped get the kids settled, I quickly surveyed the freezer in hopes that my tired brain would be able to piece together something somewhat quick for us to eat. I pulled out a bag of microwavable pasta & veggies (so-so at best...won't bother with that one again) and a bag of chicken breasts knowing I'd be able to create something. I wound up making a chicken dish (see below) that was pretty darned good!

I apologize: I eyeballed the panko and spice amounts last night; the measurements provided below are rough estimates.

Last-Minute Panko Chicken Strips
Ingredients:
  • 2 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed and cut into strips (about 1" thick)
  • 3-3 1/2 cups of panko crumbs
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)
  • peanut oil (canola oil will work if you have that handy)
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour

Directions
  1. Heat peanut oil in a cast iron pan (fill pan no more than 1/2 way) to 325 degrees.
  2. Defrost and cut chicken into strips
  3. In a shallow pan, mix together panko, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together egg, milk, and flour and stir until no lumps remain.
  5. Dredge chicken strips in egg batter and then coat in them panko mixture.
  6. Add chicken strips (individually) to hot oil and cook until chicken is no longer pink (rotate the strips to ensure even cooking)
  7. NOTE: Cook the chicken in batches to keep the oil from cooling off too much
  8. When  the chicken strips are done, remove them from the oil and put them on a paper towel to drain
  9. Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce (recommend Paula Deen's honey mustard dipping sauce; our kids vote for ketchup)

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Oh, the conversations we have

    Annika: Mama? When will I be 8?

    Me: How old are you now?

    Annika: 4.

    Me:: So, how many more until you get to 8?

    Annika: 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8!!!

    Me: Right! Good counting!

    Annika: Thanks! Mama?

    Me: Yes?

    Annika: When did you turn 88?

    Me: (insert giggling). Honey, Mama is 38, not 88.

    Annika: Oh. When did you turn 38?

    Me: On my birthday, just before Halloween.

    Annika: Oh yeah. Right.

    Note: I've decided to take this as a compliment, because I'd be one impressive 88-year-old if I still looked like this! :D

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Zombie Eric

    Disclaimer: If you are easily freaked out by zombie stuff/high-quality movie makeup, be cautious about looking at the pictures at the bottom this post; Eric is mighty impressive looking!

    A few days ago, Eric received an email from a guy he used to hang out with. The email went out to a bunch of people and it basically said he was making a short zombie movie and was wondering if anyone would be interested in being an extra in the movie. Eric thought it would be really cool, but initially declined knowing we didn't know the first thing about doing zombie makeup, and people were responsible for their own zombification.

    Within a few minutes, I had an epiphany ... what about my former manager's husband, Randy?? He LOVES to do that kind of stuff. He's a professionally trained makeup person (for movies ... not the local cosmetic counter), is a sculptor/artist by trade, and Halloween is his favorite holiday. I quickly zipped an email to my former manager and she replied saying Randy would do Eric's makeup.

    This morning, Eric headed from our house to Randy's house (with cookies in hand as a thank you) to the movie site (about a hour from our house). Randy did his magic on Eric and, I have to say, the guy is freaking amazing!! I was bummed that I couldn't be there to watch Eric's transformation, but fortunately, I received a few pictures of Eric's in-progress and final makeup before he headed out to the movie set. (See below)

    After Eric arrived on the movie set, he called to check in and say a quick hi. During our conversation, I asked if he had gotten lunch and he mentioned that he stopped en route. Apparently he gave the gal at Taco Time quite a start—she thought he'd been in a serious accident and was quite relieved to know he was only wearing makeup. :)

    (Note: No Erics were harmed in the making of these photographs.)


    Phase 1




    Phase 2


    Introducing.... Zombie Eric!
    The yellow teeth are quite the added touch;
    they compliment the gaping wounds quite nicely!

    Pretty impressive, huh?

    Braaaaains!!

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Trip to Spokane

    A week ago today, I boarded a plane for the booming (please note sarcasm) city of Spokane, WA, where I was privileged to attend our niece and her choir perform the opera "Venus & Adonis" at Gonzaga U. My sister flew up from San Diego and one of our other nieces drove up from Lewiston, ID for our girls' weekend of music and fun.

    This was my first night away from Conor and my second night away from Annika; that said, everyone was very brave and I don't believe any tears were shed. (We're so brave!) Eric and the kids had a grand time turning big cardboard boxes that littered our living room thanks to our remodeling into houses and boats for the kids. How could I possibly compete with that kind of fun?!?!?!

    While Eric and the kids were constructing Cardboard City, I was catching up with my sister (aka, teaching her how to use her her iPhone) and nieces (Emily and Anna). We had a fun lunch together at Red Robin, where Anna very wisely pointed out that "bloodhounds sniff" and all four of us ate our body weight in those yummy Red Robin fries. After that, we hung out in our hotel room for a bit where I did a little work, Anna napped, Emily studied, and Suzanne sorted the girls' Valentine's Day goodie bags. That night, Suzanne and I attended Anna's choir's performance of "Venus and Adonis". Once again, Anna proved that she is a natural on stage; she did a fantastic job, not only vocally, but in terms of having presence on stage. She was amazing!! Anna had multiple solos, both during the prologue and during the actual opera. That girl has a great set of pipes! The extra bonus was the Baroque instruments that accompanied the singers; there were instruments I'd never even heard of before!

    After the show, we went to a late dinner of soup and salad and then fell into bed. The next morning, we had coffee and breakfast at Starbucks, dropped off Anna on campus so she could prep for the matinee performance, and I packed up and took the shuttle to the airport.

    Feeling so blessed for my quick trip to Spokane.

    Choir and orchestra

    Anna's prologue solo

    Anna having fun

    I can't remember what they spelled out, but the girls held up these
    letters during the performance - quite funny!

    Better visual of the letters sequence

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Chocolate Chipped Cookies

    Yes, I know they aren't really called chocolate chipped cookies, but that's what Annika calls them and I think it is mighty darned cute!

    While reading a blog that I adore a few days ago, I ran across a reference to The Best Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Entire World and I'd be lying if that didn't make my heart skip a beat. I adore Alton Brown's recipe for The Chewy chocolate chip cookie and use it whenever I decide to make chocolate chip cookies; Alton's (yes, we ARE on a first name basis, thank you!) cookies are wonderfully chewy and have a fantastic flavor. That said, I'm always on the lookout for an even better cookie recipe ... really, who wouldn't be?

    The two recipes share a very important common ingredient - brown sugar, which (according to Alton) is the reason for the chewiness. The molasses in the brown sugar offers that little bit of chew that we in our household love so much. (Crunch chocolate chips pale in comparison to a chewy one in our crew's opinion!). A key difference is the "Best Homemade" cookies use A/P flour while Alton's use bread flour and an additional egg yolk. One thing about the "Best Homemade" cookies recipe that caught my attention was a note about letting the dough rest in the fridge for at least an hour (pretty standard), but best if left in the fridge 24-36 hours. REALLY? Wow! I didn't have the willpower to try that last night, but will have to leave the dough to rest that long one day, just to compare how it changes the cookies.

    Last night, I whipped out my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid mixer and whipped up a batch of the "Best Homemade" cookies. The dough was super easy to put together (always a perk) and the cookies had a very nice flavor. They were a bit crunchier than we had hoped for, but it wasn't over the top. I'm thinking of combining these recipes to see if I can get the best of both worlds. I like that Alton's dough is chewier but there was something about the flavor of the "Best Homemade" that really struck me (I think it has a higher vanilla content, which is what I'm picking up on.)

    I'm now pondering combining the two recipes and throwing in my own touches to see if I can come up with an even better recipe. Stay tuned!

    My "Best Homemade" Cookies

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Kitchen Picnic

    Last night, the kids wanted to have bananas for dessert last night. As I was slicing the bananas, Annika decided they needed to have a picnic in the kitchen. So, she high-tailed it to the linen closet and pulled out the quilt that my aunt made for Annika when she was a baby. (Thanks again, Aunt Gail!!).

    The kids happily sat on the floor munching on their bananas and pretzel picnic and I took in the sweet moment of them playing together and creating a make-believe world all of their own.

    (Like Conor's hat? He now insists on wearing it just about everywhere... including to bed.)


    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    We have windows ... and more granite

    Today was another big day for our house. And we are now even closer to the remodeling finish line.

    The last three windows went in today, so we can now officially say good-bye to the plywood that has been keeping the cold air, natural light, and wind out. It is rather odd to see our front yard and street from our den again, I have to say! Not that I'm complaining!

    We also got the last of the granite in our kitchen and had granite put around our fireplace. (Back story: We pulled off the old tile that was around the fireplace before Annika was born, but never got around to putting up something new. Today, that wrong was made right and it looks GORGEOUS! We were able to use some of the leftover granite from the kitchen for the fireplace. Bonus!)

    I'm going to have to cut this post short; the smell of the bondo used on the windows is starting to make me a bit woozy-headed. Until next time...
    Last windows going in

    Our new granite!
    (the red wall isn't staying... it is the backdrop for the upcoming white subway tiles)

    Granite around the fireplace

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Kitchen Progress

    We are so excited to see things slowly come together in our kitchen. We've been "camping" for almost a month now and are longing to see the top of our kitchen table again. That said, we are thrilled with the things that are coming together and the improvements that we're seeing.

    Did you know that today is Oven Eve? Shockingly, Hallmark doesn't have a card for this occasion. Slackers! Our new oven is scheduled to arrive tomorrow and I am practically walking around with a whisk in my hand! I can hardly wait to get baking!!!


    Our new cupboards and wine rack... so much storage!
    (This used to be a mirrored wall; Eric and I keep thinking we're going to
    hit our heads on the cupboards because we aren't used to them being there!)
    Old granite gone (the new stuff didn't quite match, so now we're
    updating all of the granite in the kitchen)

    Stove's hood (ugly, black, gross) is GONE! Awaiting the new one's arrival.