Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 2012 Daring Bakers Challenge: Panettone

Ever since I began doing the Daring Bakers challenges (about 1 1/2 years ago), I've experimented with a lot of new recipes. One thing I've really enjoyed is the fact that because of the monthly challenges, I've been exposed to recipes from other cultures. This month's baking challenge was to make panettone, which is a traditional Italian Christmas bread that is sweet and filled with lots of fruity goodness. Think if it as if a brioche and a fruite cake had a baby...

Traditionally, it has raisins, candied orange peel, and candied lemon peel. Well, I'm not a fan of raisins and simply didn't have time to candy the peels (funny how time seems to fly by a bit faster as Christmas approaches ... kudos to everyone who did have the time to complete that step). I substituted dried cranberries for the raisins and simply omitted the candied peels. I am so glad I took this approach. The bread was quite sweet and the candied peels might have put it over the edge for my tastebuds. I did include the orange and lemon extracts that the recipe called for, so we still had the flavors of the citrus, but not the extra sweetness.

Panetonne bakes in these really neat paper forms. I had to order them online and am really glad to have them.They're sort of like an oversized cupcake cup (perhaps 6" in diameter) and made out of a waxy brown paper. They worked beautifully for this project.

Everyone who tried the bread gave it a big thumbs up and I have a feeling it'll make a repeat appearance next Christmas ... if not before! I bet it would make a great French toast base!

Panettone cooling in its paper form

Anyone up for a slice?
The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

As I sit here on December 26th, it is hard to believe all of our festivities are complete and we can stop to put our feet up for a few minutes. And breathe! Ahhhh....

We were truly blessed to spend the holiday with so many of our loved ones. Eric's mom and dad came over mid-afternoon on the 24th. We caught up, played a few rounds of mah jong and Greed, were visited by Jack's sister Ellen (who very sweetly brought us some krumkake ... YUM), had a lovely dinner, put out snacks and milk for Santa and the reindeer, and read Twas the Night Before Christmas (a family tradition). After the kids were in bed, I scooted off to church while Eric showed his mom how to use her new tablet.

The morning of the 25th started off bright and early. Eric woke me up at 6 AM and then he woke up the kids ... some people never outgrow their enthusiasm for Christmas morning!While the traditional Olson family Christmas breakfast casserole baked, we got to work on the goodies in our stockings and under the tree. We were spoiled rotten with all of the generosity displayed by our family members!

After a little downtime, we packed up the crew and headed over to my brother/sister-in-law's (aka Troy/Staci) house for more family fun and an amazing dinner. We had a ripple effect of family with us at my brother's house. In addition to my brother's family and our family, we had our mom, Eric's parents, and Staci's mom and sister. It was great to have everyone together and make Christmas truly chaotic and fun!

Bestemor and Annika reading the note Santa left for the kids

Eric and Conor unwrapping presents

Eric and his mom looking at her present: a collection of
letters between her parents (circa 1937) that Eric scanned and made into a book
Conor playing with his new orca stuffed animal

Conor using his new binoculars

Eric unwrapping his new PlayStation console

Eric's dad gave Conor a block of wood that he drilled holes into,
nails, and a kid-size hammer; Conor loves to "hammer-hammer-hammer";
this present could not have been more perfect for him!

One of Annika's presents had Mardi Gras masks as part of the decoration

Conor sporting his Mardi Gras mask/ski hat/PJs/cowboy boot ensemble;
he kept telling us he was a super hero
Eric, Troy, Jack at Troy/Staci's house

Conor and Ian playing with Ian's Hexbugs

Karen helping Conor put olives on his fingers

Olive Boy!

My brother (Drew) Skyped with us from Bahrain...
loving that we have this kind of technology available to us! It was so
special to have Drew part of Christmas, even from thousands of miles away

The mashed potato crew

Eric and Troy

Staci making mashed potatoes

Troy and his manly prime rib (it was mighty tasty!!)

Karen and Charlene (aka Bestemor and Nana)
Annika very kindly helping Kat unwrap one of her presents
(Annika loves Kat, but even a little extra on days that require
her to help Kat in the present-opening department)

I was in charge of dessert; I made an egg nog no-bake cheesecake (top),
gingerbread cake (below), and kringle (not pictured)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zoo Lights

Last night, we bundled ourselves up like Nanook of the North and headed to Zoo Lights at Woodland Park Zoo. The timing couldn't have been more perfect ... we avoided rain. Need I say more?

Eric's best friend (Dave) and his daughter (Anne) joined us at the zoo, which made the outing extra fun. The kids had so much fun chasing each other, holding hands, and showing each other the neat things they saw.

We had no idea what to expect from the lights display and were thrilled by all that we saw. As soon as we entered the gates, we were greeted with falling snow thanks to the little snow machine the zoo mounted on the top of the gate. The kids had so much fun trying to catch the falling flakes. Talk about a festive and wintry way to start the zoo lights adventure!

As for the lights, the people who designed the display were very clever and creative, to say the least. We saw only a handful of animals because most areas of the zoo were off-limits during the zoo lights hours, but that was a-ok, considering how much we did see.

At one point, we came across a person dressed in a penguin suit. Anne was all about sitting with the penguin, smiling with the penguin, and dancing with the penguin. Our kids were sold on the idea until it was time to actually interact with the penguin; then they were more than happy to let Anne be in the spotlight while our kids watched from a safe distance.

Part-way through the evening, we found ourselves at the zoo's old-time carousel and OF COURSE the kids had to go for a ride. We picked out our horses and heard a chorus of Anne shouting "GO! GO! GO!" while Annika yelled "Let's GET GOING!" Once everyone was in place, away we went. Conor was less than thrilled with the idea once we were moving, but did OK.

After riding the carousel, we visited the reindeer and the remaining lights (which included a flying eagle).

By the time we wrapped up our adventure, we were all rather cold and quite tired, but it was well worth it to spend an evening taking in an impressive light display with good friends.

Catching snowflakes

This is the first display we saw .... the animal cutouts were pretty impressive

Pretty trees

This is a tree kangaroo... none of us had ever heard of this animal before;
it was happily playing with a cardboard box up in its tree

This little tree frog was on display in the the one building we went into. So cute!
(Pardon the fuzziness ... my lens fogged up going from  the from frigidly cold outside to the humid reptile building)

Light tiger
(My lens was still foggy from the temperature change... sorry!)

Eric and Dave ... two great dads!
If you look closely, you can see that Anne and Annika (on the guys' shoulders) are holding hands

Adventurous Anne and the penguin

The three amigos

Giraffe at the watering hole

Hippo at the watering hole

Conor waiting for the carousel to start
Anne yelling "GO! GO! GO!" at the carousel operator

Anne and Dave on the carousel
(This picture is actually their reflections in the mirror that is in the center of the carousel)

Conor and me on the carousel

Yes! There were reindeer for us to see. Hurray!

Zoo Lights + Moon Light

Monday, December 17, 2012

More Fun with Lights

I've had a lot of fun with this month's Mamas with Cameras "twinkle lights" photo assignment. I snapped this one a few days ago just before putting Conor to bed. I think it is my favorite "twinkle lights" photo to date.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Last Night's Advent Treat

Ever since December 1st, our kids have had the nightly ritual of opening an Advent calendar drawer. In order to tie in our family heritages (heriti?? herituses??), we started attributing the goodies in the drawers to the house nissen. (House nissen are the traditional protectors of a family farm/home and is credited for giving children gifts at Christmastime.) After the day's goodies are discovered, the kids make sure to thank the house nissen for the treat ... and then run off to relish in their new-found goodie.

Our kids take turns opening the Advent calendar drawers and then share the goodies inside. Last night, the house nissen left the kids stick-on mustaches. They were beyond a hit!! The package had enough for all of us to sport a fuzzy upper lip and, boy, did we get a case of the giggles wearing them.

We looked as if we were the love children between Magnum PI and Super Mario Bros!

(Please pardon the photo quality ... the room was dark and I only had my phone's camera handy.)