Wednesday, December 29, 2010

nature vs. nurture

I've noticed a few things in the days leading up to and immediately following Christmas. Some of them have been a bit surprising.

First, Santa brought Coral (age 3) a really adorable dollhouse for Christmas, complete with a mom, dad, and cute little twin babies. And she got the world's cutest dress from my dad and stepmom.

So I go in to play house with her, and then we get a knock on the dollhouse door. "Can Ahsoka come visit?" she asks me. Ahsoka is a girl character from Star Wars : The Clone Wars and hubby got Coral this little action figure for Christmas since she's forever sneaking into her big brother's room to play with his multitude of Star Wars stuff. Here I am, dancing around the mom and dad dolls, bathing the babies, rocking them to sleep, and Coral walks her Ahsoka up the stairs and into the living room for a visit.

Then Ahsoka's "baby" needed changing. Apparently she guards Rotta the Huttlet, Jaba the Hutt's creepy little son - the action figure has a backpack that Rotta rides around in. It looks like a freaky, demented baby slug circa Tremors. Coral absolutely loves this thing. Rotta must be cared for and tended to. Pink room, pink dollhouse, pink shirt, and Rotta.

Another observation? Our rabbits are funny. Snowball is about as fat as he can get without exploding, and I'm not sure Fuzzy ever sleeps with his eyes closed.

But I wouldn't in this house, either.

Christmas, the Recovery

Thank goodness Christmas comes but once a year. I'm still crawling into bed at 10pm in an effort to recover from the mayhem. I feel like I'm a hundred and eighty.

On a different note, I'm entering this Christmasy photo into a Christmas photo contest on a friend of mine's blog. I have a chance to win some photo actions from My Four Hens Photography- I LOVE me some good photo actions!

Here's my photo. I should have lots (read : overkill) of Christmas photos up here shortly, but this is one of my all-time favorites. This was our tree a couple of years ago, in our old house. I loved how pretty it looked from our hallway!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

cookies! the final chapter

Today is my oldest son's birthday - ten years ago we were brand new parents, oh so unaware of how our lives were going to change. Today, instead of baking him a birthday cake, I made yet more spritz cookies, an apple strudel for tomorrow's Christmas Eve melee at my sister's, yeast rolls for Christmas dinner (how those are fitting in the freezer is beyond me), and I still have to make a special something for a family member. But don't feel sorry for the kid - last week I made him his favorite peanut butter pie, and on Monday chocolate cupcakes. And today hubby took the big kids to Dairy Queen and my son got the most obscenely huge Blizzard I've ever seen. There's a certain advantage to being born two days before Christmas.

I wanted to share with you the final two cookies in my Twelve Days of Christmas spread. I actually only made eleven kinds, but I'm also giving out homemade cinnamon rolls (tomorrow's project) so I am counting that as number twelve. And I just didn't have it in me to think of another kind of cookie. And there's not an inch of space remaining in the freezer.

These are Spumoni cookies! They're a little bit tricky to make, but as long as you roll each dough out between layers of wax paper and leave them together in the fridge overnight, you'll do great. I love these because they're really pretty but they also taste good. Chocolate, pecan, and cherry all come together so well!

The final thing I made was these mint brownie cups. I wanted something mint, but not just another cookie with mint chips in it, and I've had mixed results making things using candy canes (seems like I can never get them crushed finely enough!) I just dropped a small scoop of my favorite brownie recipe into a miniature baking cup, and sprinkled on Andes mint baking chips. I bought foil baking cups since I don't own a mini muffin pan, and they stood up just fine for baking. After they were done, I added a few more chips to each brownie cup. I think they're cute, and definitely tasty!

Thanks for letting me share my holiday baking tradition with you!

Friday, December 17, 2010

cookies! numbers eight and nine

It's 11:24 p.m. and the rest of the family is sleeping. I can hear hubby snoring over the baby monitor. Actually I can hear him snoring quite well even without the baby monitor. (He'll love me in the morning for this shout out.) I've gotten to the point that I pretty much dread bedtime. There's just not a lot of comfort and joy to be had in knowing that the moment my head hits the pillow, I turn on some sort of invisible switch that screams, "Wake up and scream, baby!" Instead, I give you cookies.

And our pretty Christmas tree.

Yesterday went by in a flash - we seem to have that moment every year where we make a sudden discovery : it's 10:30pm, tomorrow is the last day of work before hubby's Christmas vacation, and he has to take in cookie gifts for his co-workers. And I rush around the kitchen like a madwoman, finishing up the last of the cookies and packaging them for the next day. For some reason only the Christmas cookie gods must know, I always, always, always end up having to ice spritz cookies on this frantic last-evening-before-Christmas-vacation melee. I don't think I can recall a time where this hasn't been the case : even last year, post emergency c-section and with a week-old newborn clinging to my breast, I still had to ice spritz cookies. To be fair, hubby helped, but I think these cookies have it in for me. I always envision the kids handling this part of the cookie festivities, and fate always decides that this is going to be my special joy.

Next year I'm not making spritz cookies.

Okay, I take that back. I LOVE spritz cookies.

This is my scary old cookie gun, courtesy of 1962. We bought it off ebay several years ago, because the new plastic cookie guns are pathetic. Sorry Kitchen Aid lovers, but not everything gets better with time. The neat thing about this old cookie gun is it has a great old recipe for spritz cookies very unlike anything you see today. These cookies are really, really good baked up and then dipped in a bit of powdered sugar icing and a few sprinkles. They have a hint of lemon in them, and you won't be able to stop eating them!

Oh, and I also made those Soft Lemonade Cookies I mentioned yesterday. Those turned out surprisingly yummy, and oh so soft and moist. Very good sweet yet tart lemon flavor! I was even a complete goofball and I skimmed over the whole "divided" part with the lemonade concentrate, and wound up adding quite a bit more to the cookies than I was supposed to. They still turned out well! The only thing I found was the oven was a bit hot for my liking; I turned it down 25 degrees. Of course that may have had something to do with all the extra liquid in my dough, too. Oops!

Tomorrow I'm baking up adorable Spumoni cookies and some mini mint brownie cups. Stay tuned!

Oh, and I'm going Christmas shopping with my mom tomorrow, just us girls. Well, and the baby too. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

cookies! number seven

Yesterday was a slow day in the field; after an eternally long night of fractured sleep pieced together with long, loud screaming sessions courtesy of Hobie, I wasn't quite sure any of us would even make it to morning. Alas, saved by Pop Tarts and Coke and a healthy dose of ibuprofen, onward I baked.

First, I have to get this off my chest. I use the fresh butter wrappers from each recipe as a spatula/beater rest. Call me crazy. Oh, and I couldn't live without my cookie scoop. Unless a cookie calls for being rolled into a ball or rolled out, I use the scoop. Mostly because I'm lazy. You should get one - I think I paid like $8 for mine at Target a few years ago.

Yesterday's cookie is one of my all-time favorites. Orange Almond Drops are some of the sweetest, moistest, most cake-like cookies I've ever tasted, and such a great citrusy addition to a typically chocolate-heavy cookie tray (not that I'm complaining about chocolate, mind you). In previous years I could go right out in our backyard and pick fresh oranges for this recipe; I'm not sure anything is as good as orange juice just minutes apart from its tree. Since we moved to our new place we no longer have that advantage, although we do have a lemon tree that drops fruit bigger than cantaloupes. I'm not kidding. I'd take a picture to show you but it's freezing outside.

Back to the cookie. The cookie gets frosted with a thick, creamy, dreamy mild orange frosting that is so delicious there will be fights over who gets to lick the beater. And spatula. And bowl. I'm pretty sure everything would taste better frosted with this creamy orange frosting. Don't skimp on the frosting! And if you like to freeze your cookies like I do, just freeze these in a single layer for 30 minutes before you stack them in a storage container, and you won't have any worries about how to keep all that frosting from making a huge mess.

If I can peel myself away from the baby later, I'll be making a new recipe that calls for frozen lemonade in the dough. It sounds different and promising! Or very, very disastrous.

Monday, December 13, 2010

cookies! two more

If ever a day in Florida were made for baking, today was the day. Did you know we can have days in December with a windchill factor of 32 degrees? No? Well, I'm glad to see I'm not alone here. That kind of cold is typically reserved for our annual three-day-long "winter" in late January, and then we pack away our pants and closed-toe shoes and welcome summer. But not this year, apparently. This year, tonight, mid-December, we're going to be getting down into the TWENTIES. Did you know the baby doesn't even own a pair of feetie pajamas, and my older kids don't have any matching socks? So cranking up the oven was a welcome sight.

Today I only plowed through 2 of my recipes (both double batches), but the cookies were tasty! And I rarely have an excuse to dance around the kitchen, singing along to Christmas tunes (well, plod clumsily. And my singing is more like humming). My day was cut short by Hobie's twelve-month checkup - you mean we have to go outside in this weather? - and the ministrating of several sickies. I missed this evening's 4-H meeting but in this cold I'm not so sure I didn't get the better end of the deal.

Enough yammering. The first cookie I whipped up was the White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies. I omit a lot of the ingredients (coconut, apricots, macadamia nuts) but the white chocolate combined with my secret weapon (aka Craisins) is so good you don't need the extra confusion. I bet these would be wonderful with a little dark chocolate tossed in! Of course that probably holds true for most things.

I also trudged through the Turtle Cookies. I absolutely loathe making these cookies, I won't lie. The dough has to refrigerate, they have to be rolled, dipped in egg, dipped in pecans, flattened, baked, they stick to the pan, I always have to re-flatten the thumbprint while they're hot (a rubber baby spoon works great for this!), and then they have to be filled with caramel and finally drizzled with chocolate. And if you aren't drooling by now, there's something wrong with you. This is why I make them every year, even though they are a tremendous pain.

As I make my Christmas cookies, I take a photo of one of each variety on a white napkin, which makes it easy to drag into an editing program like Photoshop later on. Then it's a quick cutout and I can add tiny photos of my cookies to a cute little cookie card that I print out and attach to each gift tin or box we hand out. This was the card page ready for printing out, from a few years back. Cookie names are subject to change depending on my whims.

Stay tuned for more! And if you're looking for the recipes from yesterday's post, I went back and added the links for you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

cookies! the first four

Christmas would not be Christmas without cookies. This year, I'm busy baking up The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies to give as gifts to family and friends. Not that it has anything at all to do with the twelve days of Christmas, or the song, but there will be a dozen kinds of cookies and it does sound rather festive.

I got a late start this year; last year I managed to finish up the final batch the day before Hobie was born. Our freezer literally did not have another inch of room to spare. We had to forego our storage drawer, our frozen vegetables, and our Eggo's for a few weeks. The kids muddled through the sacrifice.

Today, I spent 7 hours in the kitchen whipping up the first four recipes on my list, in six batches. You should have smelled my kitchen.

 First, there were the Chocolate Bliss Cookies. Chewy middles, crunchy edges, rich, crackly goodness. These cookies are basically chocolate chips swimming in melted chocolate, with just enough egg and flour to hold the things together. I like to make mine sans nuts, because I already have enough of those to go around. In a word, heavenly.

Next we had Almond Sweets. I make these every year; they're so pretty and festive, and just look like they belong on a cookie tray. In spite of the name the don't contain almonds; the cookie is like a little shortbread with an almond extract-flavored icing sprinkled with red and green sugar.

Then, there are the Oatmeal Twinkles. Basically they're just peanut butter oatmeal cookies with chopped pecans and M & M's, but these are a real kid-pleaser. They remind me of that scene in The Parent Trap Two (remember that movie?) where the kids are making cookies and add various candies to the dough (marshmallows, gum drops, M & M's). I like how colorful they are!

Finally, today I made Peanut Butter Madness. These cookies are soft, almost cakelike peanut butter mounds stuffed with chocolate chips, honey roasted peanuts, and chopped peanut butter cups. Yes, they are delicious.

The best part of cookie baking days are the plates of rejects. Runaway icing, bottom-of-the-bowl dregs, and cookies that spread too far do not go to waste in this house!

Four down, eight to go!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Manlet turns one

A year ago, he came into this world.

A day from now, he'll be eating this.

I fear for all of us.

Happy birthday Hobie!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas in Florida

While I enjoy being sick, you can enjoy these photos from our weekend. And for the record, it was about 65 degrees. And that's really, really cold for us this time of year. I swear the gloves aren't ours.