Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wish granted

Remember how Chloe has been a little special lately and I was hoping she would throw up or show some signs of illness? Today we were driving to her speech evaluation appointment, and she started vomiting in the backseat. We were stuck in horrible traffic, and by the time we finally got off the freeway, I was crying. My poor little girl was just covered in it, and kept throwing up and there was nothing I could do. Except for smell it, and wow, was it toxic! She's acting fine now, and I'm really hoping that this is responsible for the crazy we've been dealing with.

Brown Sugar Cookies Picture

This is not my oven, and not my finger, but it's the picture from America's Test Kitchen, who provided the lovely recipe. Their show airs on PBS and is our favorite cooking show, and source of new recipes. I highly suggest you visit their website and check your local listings. They are located here. They test and retest classic recipes until they get them right, do taste testings on ingredients, and also equipment ratings. We love them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Brown Sugar Cookies

These are quickly becoming one of our favorite cookies. I was making them the other night, and had just finished browing the butter when Bracken came home. He basically said the house could never smell better. Yum.

The most efficient way to bake these cookies is to portion and bake half of the dough. While the first batch is in the oven, the remaining dough can be prepared for baking. Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter. The dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is sufficiently browned. Use fresh brown sugar, as older (read: harder and drier) brown sugar will make the cookies too dry.Makes 2 Dozen Cookies

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed dark brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers, until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.
3. Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Divide dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, 12 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but it will take 3 batches.)
5. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone; see photo below), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.
6. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Step-by-Step: Checking Doneness
Achieving the proper texture—crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle—is critical to this recipe. Because the cookies are so dark, it's hard to judge doneness by color. Instead, gently press halfway between the edge and center of the cookie. When it's done, it will form an indent with slight resistance. Check early and err on the side of underdone.


We were sitting in church on Sunday, and Bracken was feeling around in Addie's mouth. He whispered to me, "I think she's got some teeth almost through." I felt two teeth in there, then spent a couple minutes trying to dodge her wiggly little tongue to sneak a peek. Sure enough, Addie's got two teeth. I have no idea when they came. What's that about second children getting less attention? In any case, she is just becoming a champion real food eater, dissolving her way through everything I give her. She also finally, definitely flipped from back to front. There have been a couple times when I found her several feet away from where she started, but I have never seen her actually roll (see above about second children). Well, I still haven't seen her roll, but I did find her on her tummy in her crib yesterday when I know I had put her down on her back. She is just so different from her sister. It's amazing. I also can't believe she's 8 months old now. Wow.

I was playing tennis with Chloe yesterday. Kind of. We played a game that involved a tennis ball and a racquet. When I'd try to stop she'd say, "But Mom, I LOVE tennis." Bracken is so proud. We were watching tennis the other day and she kept cheering for "Ria." We were watching Maria Sharipova play Serena Williams, so we're not entirely sure who she was cheering for. She yelled the name regardless of who she was watching. Despite the fact that Bracken would prefer to have her root for an American, I think in the end, any cheering and excitement for tennis is fantastic in his book.

And in my book, anything she does that doesn't involve a tantrum is fantastic. I know I made the mistake of mentioning that the tantrums had decreased and I was enjoying her growing up. Well, Sunday night as we drove home from Bracken's parent's house, having left early after 2 hours of pretty much solid crying from my almost 3 year old, I found myself hoping she would throw up, or exhibit some other symptom of disease that would account for the animal like shrieks she'd been emitting. But, no. My headstrong little girl is just having a really hard time of it lately. And, consequently, so are the rest of us.

But, she did poop in the potty the other day and finally earn her magic wand. Sure, it was accidental, and very small, but we take what we can get.

Bracken's big achivement for the week was getting our new fence stained. It was a big project that didn't start off very well, but turned out great once we borrowed a compressor and sprayer. Now onto the sprinklers.

And me this week? I built some planter boxes out of some of our old fence sections, and repaired one of our gates. I also learned that touching the blade of a jig saw to see if it's loose should wait until after the blade has had a chance to cool down. And gloves, though they may seem to slow you down a little, are a good idea when working with fence wood. Yeah, I used to be smarter. I think. I really don't remember any more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Missy tagged me with this a couple days ago and since I have about 3 million years of bad luck for never passing on forwards and returning them to the sender, I thought I'd go ahead and do it.
1. Pick up the nearest book (at least 123 pages)
2. Turn to page 123
3. Find the 5th sentence
4. Post the 5th sentence on your blog
5. Tag 5 people

I had three books sitting all together, so I did all three of them. In each book, I wanted to cheat because the lines surrounding the tagged ones were much more interesting.

Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me:
It would have been ridiculous to build another one just for Dicky.

She's talking about garden boxes, and decides to make cookies instead. Hilarious book.

The Dog Walker:
Hell, she didn’t understand odds.
Honestly, I've already forgotten the context, but I really enjoyed the book about a voyeristic dog walker, and the man she doesn't know she's in love with.

I thought it must have been a mistake and they’d forgotten about me, so I hung up and called again.

In a book about the competitions that exist in motherhood, a mother is trying to get her daughter into the "right" preschool.

Anyway, thems are my books, which I have to limit myself on because I find myself reading instead of taking care of my children, and Addie likes to eat whatever I'm holding.

I tag Ashley, Lindsay, Becca, Sandy and Sarah.

Highs and Lows

We'll start with a high. On Saturday were able to attend Bracken's Aunt Juanita's baptism. She's been away from the church for about 30 years. While her grandson was serving his mission in Serbia, she started meeting with the missionaries. When Josh returned, he was able to baptize her. She was so happy Saturday, and we were so happy to be there to support her.

And now our major bummer of the week. Something I didn't disclose in showing previous pictures of my backyard is that part of the reason we were able to get such a great backyard is that there are power lines running overhead. Because of that, SMUD, the power company, has an easement on our property. A couple months ago, one of their men came by to tell me that two of our trees, our liquid amber and one of our fruitless mulberries, were growing too close to the lines, and are such fast growing trees, they would need to be cut down. I was hoping this idea would get lost in bureaucratic paperwork, but no. Yesterday, a man showed up to cut down the trees. Now, I wasn't too concerned about the liquid amber. It's pretty in the fall, but it does drop pokey balls and stuff. But this was our mulberry.

This was the tree the swings hung from. The tree that Chloe begged to climb everyday. The big shade tree in our yard with the bird feeder and wind chimes in it. The tree we planned to one day build a tree house in. The tree that Chloe sat on the couch and repeated, "My tree. My tree," as they brutally cut it down.

The before shot of the yard.

The yard sans mulberry, and action shot of the falling amber.

My now barren yard.

My heartbroken daughter.

Actually, I think she's getting over it. She's pretty excited to have piles of stumps to climb on. And now I have more motivation to find her a swing set on craigslist. And I didn't really love where that tree was located. And SMUD will be bringing me 4 new trees, and I will make sure one of them will be of a good tree climbing variety. But I will still miss my tree.

But moving on. Chloe loves to help me feed Addie now. We both get our spoons, and we both make the "open your mouth" face.

Chloe also got to paint her fingers and toes by herself for the first time this week. Notice I say fingers and toes, not fingernails and toenails. It all comes out in the wash, right?

Skillet Lasagna

Or, Hamburger Helper Without the Box

I created my own variation on an America's Test Kitchen recipe this week. It was super easy, required very little hands on time, and Bracken has told me he would gladly eat it every week.

1 28 oz (or two 14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup dried minced onions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 lb. hamburger
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
8 oz. (10) curly edged lasagna noodles, broken into 2 inch pieces
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Pour the tomatoes with their juice into quart measuring cup. Add enough water to make 4 cups.
Heat 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add hamburger, and cook until almost browned, breaking into small pieces. Add onions and cook until brown. Drain excess oil. Return pan to heat, and add garlic and Italian seasoning to cover meat, and cook until fragrant. Sprinkle with noodle pieces. Pour tomatoes and sauce evenly over noodles and meat. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 20 minutes. (The sauce should still look watery after 15 minutes of cooking. If dry, add up to 1/4 cup additionaly water to loosen sauce.) Remove skillet from the heat and stir in Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional cheese to top.
PS Thanks for all the mixer tips. The jury is still out.

Monday, April 14, 2008

To all my baking peeps

Bracken and I are currently contemplating the purchase of our first Kitchenaid. Can you believe I have survived this long with only a handmixer for all my baking needs? Currently at Costco is a 5 quart bowl Kitchenaid bowl lift mixer, with a coupon that would make it about $260, which is a great deal. However, I am torn between the deal, and wondering if I will need a larger bowl. So I'm asking all of you out there for your input. What size/type mixers do you have? Are you happy with what you have? Is it large enough for your needs? What would you change about what you have?

Hopefully you can help me make the right decision. Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Some Like it Hot

We've got this poster hanging in our kitchen, and today as Chloe was helping me feed Addie Cheerios, she stopped and pointed to the poster. She pointed to Jack Lemmon, on the right, and said, " Daddy." She pointed to Tony Curtis, and said, "Mommy." I then asked her who was in the middle. Matter of factly she said, "Chloe." Healthy self image on this kid, I tell ya.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Angie's Wedding

I've been meaning to make some changes to my blog for a while, and I'm finally getting around to it today. I like my new background a lot. I think it fits. And I've posted and posted and posted, and now my husband is getting desperate for me to spend some time with him, so I'm going to make this short, but I did want to share a couple more things.

My cousin Angie got married yesterday. She and her groom, Jim Clark, chose a wonderful location up in the hills , by a waterfall outside Auburn. The reception was held in a park nearby. It was a beautiful day, and the ceremony was just lovely. The part I appreciated the most was after Angie and Jim made their vows, the pastor asked all of us to vow to pray for and support them. I thought that was very special. Angie is so happy, and I am happy for her.

I was also happy to do her flowers, so I thought I'd share some pictures of my handiwork.

And my favorite part of the day I don't have a picture of yet. Hopefully I'll get one soon from my Uncle. Anyway, for the meal we had a catered barbeque lunch. I was holding Addie and was trying to sit down, while juggling my plate and trying to keep Little Miss Grabby from getting hold of it. Well, the plate got a little too close, and she saw her opportunity, and before I knew it, she had my pork rib in both hands and was excitedly gnawing away at it. It was better than Christmas as far as she was concerned. You should have heard the shriek of anger when I took it away. This kid is serious about her food.

Recipe of the Week, give or take.

For quite a while now, I've been meaning to start posting a recipe of the week. I just wanted to pass along the great recipes I find. I thought I'd start with the bread recipe I hinted about a long time ago. I usually start the dough the night before, then knead and shape it in the morning. I bake it in the afternoon, and have delicious bread for dinner.

Almost No Knead Bread

Stir together 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Add 1 cup sourdough start and 2/3 to 3/4 cups water. Stir together with wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy ball. Add a little more water if necessary to form dough. Cover top of bowl and let rise 8-18 hours. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead 10-15 times. Shape into a ball or log shape and place on a sheet of parchment paper, seam side down. Spray with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at least 2 hours, until double. 30 minutes before baking, place baking stone in oven on middle rack and heat to 500 degrees. Slit top of dough, and place on stone after it has heated for 30 minutes. Spray surface of bread lightly with water every minute for the first three minutes to prevent the crust from setting too quickly. Reduce heat to 425 and bake 30 minutes for round loaf or 20-25 minutes for log shape. Loaf should be a deep brown color, and should register about 210 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove from oven and let cook on wire rack.
Starter options:
I modified my starter from one of those Amish Friendship bread starters that goes around. If you have one, just feed the starter with 1 cup water and 1 cup flour each time you use it, occasionally adding a pinch of sugar. You can keep the starter on the counter if you want it to grow faster, or keep it in the fridge if you only use it occasionally. I keep mine in a loose lidded plastic container in the fridge. If I want to make more bread at a time, I just feed my starter in larger amounts a couple days before I want to use it.
Martha Stewart Starter:
Mix 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon yeast to form a starter. Cover and let rest at cool room temperature until bubbling, 12-15 hours.
I haven't tried this method, but it should work. She also adds more yeast into her bread recipe, which would probably make it rise faster. I would probably double the recipe, and use half in my bread, and keep half to feed and use in the future. I would also start it a couple days in advance, because the longer it ferments, the better your flavor will be.
Hardcore Starter:
Combine flour and water, and let sit, uncovered, on the counter until it starts to bubble. I haven't tried this, so I don't know how long it will take. Supposedly it feeds on the natural yeast bacteria in the air and in the flour, so if any of you feel adventurous, let me know how it works.

How can you not love these sleeping faces?

I'm updating my Chloe sleeping pictures here, and I promise that shot was in no way staged. There is a bonus picture of a very rare leeping Addie. She conked out while we were eating dinner.

All about eggs, and the backyard

I'm finally posting pictures of our Easter day. Many of the pictures are chosen less for the moment they capture than for how they display our yard and my many projects there. Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done, but that's what keeps it fun, right? They are also a little out of order, but that can also be overlooked.
The egg hunters emerge.

Mom, with her gardening face and hair on, and naked-baked Chloe dyeing Easter eggs the day before. Chloe got very in to the tie-dye technique.

Addie was very into eating the spoons. Behind Bracken and Addie is my herb box, which has parsley, sage and oregano that all survived the winter, which is exciting. You can also see the corner of the composter I put together out of used pallets. Also featured is the really old section of our fence.

Chloe diving into her chocolate bunny. For the record, chocolate bunny for breakfast does not make for a very pleasant morning. Or Sacrament meeting.

Addie Too Cool.

The long view of our yard, filled with clever egg hiders. Down the left side of the yard is our brand new beautiful fence.

To the back left is the bed we planted our berry patch in. Along the back fence is our lime and lemon grove. The lime tree is covered in buds, and the lemons, which I started from seeds, are
filling out. The area with the picket fence is where we lock the children when we're not using them.

Grandpa Jack, Aunt Eden, and Addie in her Easter dress.

Autumn finding eggs among my garden boxes. They're all starting to fill with little seedlings. The peas on the left continue to produce prolifically, and I will be so sad when it gets too hot for them and I can no longer eat sweet fresh peas as I work.

Isaac hunting eggs by my root vegetable box. I've got several potato plants started from potatoes I found growing in my compost pile. Bracken thinks its gross, but I think he'll change his tune when harvest time comes. You can also see the rickety swing which came with our house, and the new cover I made for it. It's sitting in our pool pad, and I'm so antsy to get the pool set back up. So is Chloe. Most days she strips off all her clothes, puts on her water wings and life jacket, and stands in her 2 foot wide, 3 inch deep pool.

Mariah and Chloe by my bulb bed. In the foreground are crocus and grape hyacinth, and behind the tree are tulips, hyacinth, iris, dutch iris, and several other varieties of plants I didn't plant, but am looking forward to seeing bloom.