Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

I love Christmas.  Even into my 20s I would have a hard time falling asleep on Christmas Eve because I felt giddy about the holiday.  I can sleep now, but I still get excited about the season.  In the Midwest there really isn't much else to live for during the shortest days of the year.  In suburban Minneapolis, the malls and adjacent city streets really do it up right.  I am smacked in the face with Christmas cheer from every direction. Our school office is probably offending someone right now with it's blatant Christian festiveness.  I love it all!

I made a lot of my gifts this year, so I've been busy these past 6 weeks either baking, sewing or knitting.  Too busy to drop a line on my blog.  But I have been diligently photographing my merrymaking.  I have also been a teensy bit addicted to Pinterest this holiday.  Hence the craftiness.

We chopped down a tree!
Homemade banana bread in a mason jar 

Rolo chocolate chip cookies

Sock snowmen

Our tree!
 I am most proud of the banana bread in a mason jar, these were a big hit and super easy.  They are the one thing that actually turned out almost as good as the pinterest picture.

In his bid for husband of the year, Nick made my stocking for work.  We were "encouraged" to make stockings for work!

They are probably not worthy of Martha Stewart, but our gingerbread men cookies were delicious!  Callah ate more of the dough than I think is probably healthy or normal, but we had a good time. 

I think the weeks leading up to Christmas were a joyous time at our house!  I need to remember to keep the projects and the fun throughout the winter to keep our spirits up.

Merry Chritsmas to all!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The New Normal

Moving to a new state and starting new jobs has kept our family busy these past couple of months.  I don't remember much from September. I think the weather was nice. With October comes cooler days, and calmer minds. I am finally feeling like I can catch my breath at work and at home.  Callah has adjusted beautifully to her new normal.  New babysitter, new house, new situations!

Now that I don't feel so busy I want to puke all the time, I can really enjoy my weekends! We have been exploring all the Twin Cities has to offer.  

Trick-or-Treating at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul:

Apple Orchard:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Sweater... An 8 year Retrospective

Recently my mom inspired me by finishing a needlepoint project she had started when she was pregnant with my brother, Tom. Apparently the third kid is the one that puts an end to crafting.  If you know my family at all you know that this project didn't lay in some closet for three decades. No, it traveled from Peoria, to two houses in Erie, then homes in Boise, Waukesha, Erie (again) and now Akron.

So in the spirit of tieing up loose ends, I dug out a sweater that I started knitting eight years ago. It had so many tiny little mistakes in it, plus it looked like it was going to be too small for me, so when I started knitting the neck on the wrong side, I just gave up.  At the neck! Of a sweater! I shoved it in a bag and didn't think about it for eight years.

The good news is, in the intermittent years, I have become a better knitter.  I ripped out a few rows, found my spot, picked up a few dropped stitches and within the day I had finished the sweater.

Nicholas Woods

There's a lesson in here somewhere.  I suppose what I learned is that despite initial appearances, many mistakes are not as insurmountable as you first think.  When I messed up the sweater, I couldn't figure out how to fix my mistake. I thought about dragging it to a yarn store or to someone's grandma, but instead I quit.  Which was kind of par for the course in my early 20s.  I quit several jobs, colleges and relationships before I gave them a chance to bloom.  Every time I walk into Callah's bedroom her rocking chair with it's half finished strip job is a glaring reminder of my youthful enthusiasm to bite off more than I could chew and promptly spit it out.

"The time of the sweater" was a fun time in my life. I was getting to know Nick and starting out in my career. I spent many late nights at work, followed by long conversations and copious glasses of wine with my new boyfriend.  It's no wonder that the sweater started to fade in its importance.  It was something I started when I was transitioning from living with my parents after college to finding my own space in the world.

Nicholas Woods

I'm proud of this sweater, mistakes in all, and proud of myself for pulling it out of the closet, dusting it off and making the most of it.

Nicholas Woods

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crazy For My Cozy Cowl!

This summer I stumbled across Anoka, a cute little town, which proudly proclaims itself, "Halloween Capital of the World" as you drive down the main -or the only-drag, which is Main Street.

Let's just examine that claim for one minute.  Halloween capital of the... world?!? The world? Really, Anoka?  Halloween, a holiday I actually quite enjoy mainly because it is situated at my favorite time of the year, and happens to contain within it some super fun dorky teacher activities, is not the epicenter of this story.

The real point of the story is that Anoka is also home to one of the coziest yarn shops I've been to in a long time.  It's situated off of Main Street in an old building with creaky wooden floorboards and a slightly musty, pleasant smell.  The shop sells yarn and candles so the air is perfumed with deep spicy floral and the earthy scent of yarn.  Sheperdess ( is locally owned and lovely.  And even though I can't seem to finish the neck of two sweaters, I still bought some beautiful teal wool yarn without a plan or a pattern!

But since this was summer, I perused at my leisure magazines and websites until I found the perfect project.  Behold, the link to the free pattern.

Here's came out better, but she's a professional. Mine isn't too shabby.

It's long and loopy and extra cozy.  And now I'm off to finish those sweaters, I swear!

Spooooky Cooookies -- Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies with Cream Cheese Frostingl

Here in Minnesota it's very vogue (and easy) to love fall.  The trees are pretty spectacular with their bright leaves, and apple orchards and pumpkin farms are around every corner.  I've been blessed with a couple of days off in payment for some long conference nights, so Callah and I set out to celebrate fall with gusto.

Our first order of business was pumpkin spice sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting.  The base of the cookies is a staple from my grandmother's cook book, Company at the Parsonage, and I added a 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie seasoning to the dough.

1 cup sugar with
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons cold water
1 beaten egg

Mix well.  

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
few grains of salt
 * 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie seasoning (optional)

Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing slowly.  Roll very thin on a lightly floured board. Cut with spooktacular cookie cutters dipped in flour.  Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. 

Bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes.  

For the frosting, I used about 6 oz of whipped cream cheese and about 2 cups of powdered sugar, a splash of milk and a 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie seasoning.

The overall effect was some lightly seasoned fall cookies with just the right amount of extra spice.  

To round out our days, we've been taking long walks with our sweaters on and sipping hot coffee at Starbucks (or milk) and enjoying their fireplace.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quiche, Julia, and Me

A few years ago Nick gave me "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" for my birthday.  Many pleasant afternoons have been spent pouring through it over a cup of tea, but not a single recipe had come to fruition, until yesterday. I've been a little intimidated by the over 1,000 pages of recipes, terms and technique.

I had my heart set on a summer quiche, so I consulted Ms. Child and decided I was thoroughly capable of this dish, something that is considered a light "luncheon"meal took me the better part of a day, but that's another story.  The instructions for the crust alone are over 8 pages, so I will give you a brief overview here.  However, I suggest you read through her directions to get  a thorough understanding of making pie crust!

First I made the pastry dough or "páte briseě" as we call it in France.

2 cups flour (I sifted)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
4 TB chilled shortening

Scant half cup of iced water

Mix the dry ingredients in a food processor, add butter and pulse until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Add the iced water and blend with hands. Julia is a bit particular about exactly how to finish up the dough.  Consult her book for exact directions.

I rolled it out and pushed half the dough into an 8-inch cake pan.  Again, this is not quite right according to Julia (she's very demanding of her ingredients and tools) but I did my best with what I had.  She suggests sending away for pans and such by mail order, FYI.

Once you have it rolled out, put some dry beans or a weight in and cook at 400˚ for about 10 minutes or until very lightly browned.

I have made a few quiches before, but mostly I've just sort of thrown eggs and milk into a pre-made pie crust and hoped for the best.  Yesterday I scrupulously followed the recipe.

6-8 slices bacon, simmered and chopped
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
pinch of nutmeg

I also added some leeks.

Pour into prepared par-baked pie shell and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes or until top puffs up.

Puff up little quiche! Puff!!

When Nick got home from work yesterday I had a chilled glass of white wine ready, a quiche in the oven and the table set.  I would have felt like the quintessential 50's housewife if only I had showered in the last couple of days and Callah was wearing more than a diaper and marker stains.

Ah well. I think my next quilting project is going to be an over the top frilly apron so I can look the part!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Woe's of a Working Mom

I'm about to make an observation that is not news.  Here goes: it's hard to be a working mom.

I'm certainly not the first person to mention this, nor is this even the first time I've written about this topic on my blog.  And I'll probably write about it again.  It's always on my mind.

Today I dropped a clingy, weepy Callah off at her baby sitter's and went off to an appointment for my job.  It was pretty routine; signing my contract, listening to my health care options and having my photo taken for my ID badge.  Since yesterday was Callah's first official day at her new baby sitter's house and it went swimmingly, I didn't worry too much about today.  Even though what I was doing was not that thrilling, I got excited again about my job for the fall.  The new students and school are pretty great and I am looking forward to my new position.  Plus it was fun to blow dry my hair and put on a skirt. 

I assumed the tears would be shelved after the first few minutes, so when I returned to pick up Callah at around 11 this morning I was devastated to see a puffy eyed little girl having spent a miserable morning crying for her momma.

You'd think after nearly two years the gut-wrenching polarity would be a bit easier.  I would be able to reconcile my work and home life and appreciate the time I am able to be with her and realize that as full-time working mom's jobs go, mine is pretty great.  But it's just so damn difficult to feel torn in two directions.  And I don't like to speak for all men here, but I hazard to say, it's different for women.  My husband loves Callah and misses her when he's at work, but I'm not sure he completely comprehends the agonizing pull I feel in two disparate directions.  Work is not only a necessity for us (my job provides health insurance) but it's good for me and I like it.  

But home-oh home! It's where I can ensure that Callah feels loved and cared for and cherished in a way that only a mommy can. I can rock her before her nap and sing (off-key) the lullabies I've been singing to her since birth.  I can stack blocks and drip water on her toes. I can make a mess in the kitchen and put flour on her nose.  We can go to the library and listen to stories and the zoo to see the monkeys.  And I can watch every minute as she changes before my eyes, listen to each new vocabulary word and ride out each little (or big) tantrum.

I wish I had a solution, I wish I could protect her from ever feeling sad or (gasp) abandoned by her mommy.  I wish I could do these two things with the level of perfection I want to do everything.  I wish I could shield her from the unhappy and the ugly in the world.  In lieu of all that I wish for the peace to accept things as they are and the knowledge to know that I am blessed in all ways every day.

Here's some pictures of us doing the things at home I love to do!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Kitchen Christening

It takes awhile in a new house to fall into a rhythm with your kitchen.  It also takes a few trips to the grocery store before you fully restock your shelves.  In Milwaukee it made perfect sense to pitch the last bit of vanilla but now I could really use the last drop.  

My kitchen in this apartment is about the same size as my last kitchen with one noticeable and tragic oversight.  There is no pantry.  When my Grandma Scott designed their house after retirement she omitted a bathroom and put in an enormous pantry instead. As a 12-year old I questioned the logic but now I get it!  I was aghast as box after enormous box screaming "KITCHEN"in my own hand piled up.  

We've cobbled together a system that will work for the year we plan on living here. Nick bought and assembled a serviceable wire shelving system from Home Depot. It was cheap and fits the narrow space perfectly.  That and simply not unpacking 8 boxes of beer glasses, china and silverware has helped to bring the space up to working order.

I've pumped out quite a few acceptable meals in here over the last 2 weeks and we've grilled out a number of times, but my fingers were itching to mix up a baking project, so yesterday I flipped through Grandma's cookbook for inspiration.

These beauties have been staring me down for a few days willing me to not let them go past their peak.
My Grandma's recipe for peach cobbler has aways been a summer favorite of mine AND the concept of cobbling something together in a hurry seemed reminiscent of my recent kitchen set up--so Peach Cobbler it is! Here's Grandma's ingredient list:

Since I had nowhere near 6 cups of peaches, I threw in a cup of blueberries and halved the recipe.  I also didn't have any cornstarch but in the spirit of "cobble up" I used flour to thicken and it turned out quite nice.  

I mixed the fruit together on the stove and added the topping.  It went together really quickly and was a great way to use up the fruit on my counter.

Here's the rest of the recipe:

I should have heeded her warning about the the sugar, mine was a little overly sweet.  But still delicious.

I had to run out in the blazing heat to pick up ice cream from Target because it was the right thing to do.  We enjoyed a nice homemade dessert that was yummy and more importantly reminded me of summer surrounded by family and the beach.    

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little bit Alone, but not lonely!

When your best (and only) friend is your nearly 2-year old daughter, you find yourself doing some interesting things for fun.  This morning after our walk in which I ruined her fun once again (she would have preferred to walk in the newly laid tar rather than ride in her stroller) we spent the next 45 minutes in the blazing sun watching the surprisingly fascinating process of laying tar.

I have never recieved so man winks and smiles from construction workers in my life.  Although since it was nearing 100 degrees before 8 AM and I looked like a hot, sweaty mess; I have to believe some of the attention was meant for Callah.  Still, it boosted my self esteem and cheered me up. 

I've been feeling just a little adrift in the world lately. In filling out Callah's information for her babysitter, I had the horrifying thought, "who the hell is going to be my emergency contact?" Other than Laurie at Starbucks I don't even know anyone's name in the 15 mile radius around our home.

Even though Callah is a great friend (if a little needy and self-serving) we are getting off our lazy croissant eating butts this Sunday morning and going to church. I have hopes that we will find some like-minded friends with little ones of their own in a church in the area.

I look back on my life now and have a new found admiration for my parents who manage to make life-long friends wherever they go and leave a lasting impression behind them.  They used to joke that each state they lived in left them with one great souvenir- a new baby! Andy was born in Connecticut, I in Arizona, Tom in Illinois and Kent in Pennsylvania.  In Idaho we got a dog.  I always felt surrounded by love and support from my immediate family and from neighbors and friends that my parents made through church, school and work.

I feel a little alone in the world, but thanks to Callah, Nick and a few good books from the library I'm not lonely!  Nor am I bored. I acquiesce most things to the will of my best friend, and she usually turns out to be right. It's best to sit in every chair in every store, try on every shoe and run your fingers through the fountain.

To a little girl who is almost 2 every day is an exploration and an opportunity to learn and see something new. How thrilling for me to have that sense of adventure and exploration in my life too!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Go, Pack, Go!

For ten years Wisconsin has been my home.  I always thought of myself as "not from Wisconsin." When I lived in Idaho I always thought of myself as from Pennsylvania, and when I lived in Pennsylvania I was a kid and it seemed home.  The move from Erie, PA was the most difficult, it came at an awkward age (13) and felt the most jarring in my life.  My other moves I was too young to realize what was going on or too ready to move on to mind.

In 1983 we moved to Pennsylvania, In 1993 we moved to Boise, Idaho.  In 2003 I left Boise after I finished college and moved to Wisconsin in what I thought was a temporary move.  So when 2013 rolled around, I recognized the signs (and the threes) and knew that if ever there was a time to go this was it.

Nick and I have been kicking around the idea of leaving Milwaukee for quite some time.  His job had sort of stagnated and I have been feeling the much talked about "burn out" in my job for over a year.  So we started creating opportunities for ourselves to move.  I applied for a teaching license in Minnesota and Nick continued his job search in the Twin Cities--a place we deemed big enough to suit modern architecture, good school districts (for me and for Callah) and progressive and diverse enough to please all of us.

We have been here in Minnesota for a week.  Since Nick hasn't started his job yet and the apartment we are renting has a pool, it feels a bit like we are on vacation.  We've been exploring our surroundings, eating out and stopping for coffee at a new cafe each morning.  I've mastered my corner of the world (apartment to Target, apartment to Trader Joe's, apartment into the city and back again).

I imagine when it all sets in the reality of the situation--leaving our friends, our home and our jobs will settle in and start to bring anxiety, but for now Nick and I cautiously ask each other every day, "did we do that right thing? Are we happy? Is this good?"  And the answer as I sip my ice coffee and kick my toes in the pool is, yes. It's right because we did it, because we're here and we're together.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Anyone Can Make Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Something about the April snow flurries and the fact that the heated seats in my car have been running since October is starting to get me down. Saturday morning the gray sky greeted me like a kick in the pants, so to cheer myself up and stop drooling at the cover of this month's Food Network magazine I put into action the laborious process of making cinnamon rolls.  Just kidding! It's not really hard, it just takes something that is not my number one skill: patience.  I have talked to several people who are intimidated by baking with yeast, but much like a Sunday morning, it's really easy.

My grandma writes in her cookbook that she starts all her baking early in the morning so that things that have to rise have ample time to do it.  But this recipe allows for overnight refrigerator rise time, which is great because I love cinnamon rolls but not enough to wake up at 3 am.

So Food Network had a recipe this month, but I'm going to give you my grandma's because I made both recently and I thought my grandma's dough was much nicer to work with.  Grandma makes enough to feed an army (or a church congregation as the case may be) so I broke it down to 12 rolls, which your family will devour in one day, trust me.

Step 1.

First things first: the YEAST

put 1/4 cup warm water (about 100-110 degrees) and 1 packet of yeast and a pinch of sugar, set aside.

Melt in a small saucepan:
1/4 cup sugar
1 t. salt
1/4 cup of butter (half of a stick)

Now add, 1/4 cup milk. Warm slowly on stove- don't boil.

OK.  Now mix 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg.  Add the milk and egg to the salt, butter, and sugar mixture on the stove.  Once it is coolish (grandma's word), add the yeast mixture.

Finally, put about 3 cups of flour into a large bowl (or Kitchen Aid Mixer), add the liquid to the flour and mix.  Now the fun part! Knead, knead, knead.  I usually whip it around on high in my mixer for a couple of minutes.  The dough should be smooth and not too sticky.

There are two tricks to making yeast breads, and they both involve the yeast. The first thing to remember is temperature matters.   You always warm the liquid to about 100-110 degrees.  If you don't have a thermometer--have no fear, just use your senses. It should feel hot to the touch but not scalding.  Once you have the temperature right, add the yeast and a little sugar and then (tip number 2) leave it alone for at least 5 minutes.  The sugar helps the yeast do it's yeasty thing. You should see the yeast begin to get frothy.

Once you reach this step you have mastered the art of yeast breads and it's all downhill from here.

I started this late afternoon on Saturday because at this point you can throw the dough in the fridge until the next morning.  Hurray!

Fast forward to Sunday morning, lie in bed as long as you can until "Mama, mama" turns from a delightful coo to a frantic squawk.  At this point, fetch baby, change her and make your way to the kitchen to get these cinnamon rolls going.  If your lucky the wake up call will be around 6:15 so you have plenty of time to roll out your rolls.  Because, people, much like the zombies, these rolls will rise again...

Step 2.
Roll out your dough into a nice big rectangle.  About 10 X 18 inches. I used a ruler, whatever, I'm a teacher.

Slather the dough with softened butter.  I used about 4 tablespoons (but the Food Network called for over 1 cup, so use your judgement).

Mix 1/3 cup sugar with 3 tablespoons cinnamon. Spread liberally over the dough.  Roll dough tightly the long way and slice into 1- 1 1/2 inch pieces. I usually make practice marks in the dough to make sure I have 12 even slices. Place in a greased 9 X 13 inch pan.

Step 3.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again (about an hour).  Here's what grandma says about it:

"Rolls like a warm spot, not hot, for rising.  I sometimes wrap up the cookie sheets and put them in the car.  Sometimes I wrapped them up and put them in the sun on the desk in the bay window, sometimes I put them on a chair near the radiator. Those dog days of August are perfect for rolls if not for the baker.  Rolls like it warm and humid."

Step 4. 
We are almost done.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until lightly browned.

While the cinnamon rolls are baking, mix up a quick frosting. I usually end up tweaking the liquid or sugar in this to get a nice consistency.
1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup milk
3 T butter
splash of vanilla

Frost the rolls while they are warm.

And Viola!  You have made cinnamon rolls. In my family, we ate over half the pan on Sunday morning and felt pretty pleased with ourselves about it. While they are not difficult to make, it does take some patience, but something about the whole process makes the end product seem special. I like that I'm making something for my family not exactly healthy, but utterly wholesome.
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