31 December 2010

28 December 2010

Springerle THEFT!

On Christmas Eve, I finally finished my holiday baking. A variety of goodies, including a covered platter of springerle cookies, sat on our dining room table, ready for the weekend's festivities.

On Christmas morning, I went to fetch a couple of cookies to go with my morning coffee and noticed immediately that something was awry. The plastic wrap had been loosened from one side of the platter. Hmmm...


And at the other end of the dining room table was a lone cookie -- with what looked suspiciously like a TOOTH mark across the top of it!

Gosh, I wonder WHO might have stolen a springerle -- just for a tiny TASTE?



I didn't have to look far to find the culprit, but she admitted to nothing.

"Who, me?"

26 December 2010

My First Attempt at Springerle Cookies

This past week, I ran across a magazine article about springerle cookies. I'd heard of them but didn't know what they looked like until I saw the photos of beautiful cookies with raised designs, some painted and some plain. As I read the article, I learned that springerle cookies can be made with molds or a special rolling pin.

And I thought to myself...HEY, I've got one of those fancy rolling pins! I've had it for years but had no idea what it was until I saw a picture of it in the article.

The magazine piece intrigued me, so I decided to try making springerle cookies for Christmas. I found a recipe with a picture of a rolling pin that looks almost like mine and thought that might be a good place to start. Springerle cookies are traditionally flavored with anise (licorice) but since I don't care for that flavor, I decided to substitute almond flavoring instead.



The springerle dough is extremely dense and stiff. I would guess it has to be that way in order to produce detailed impressions from the rolling pin or mold.



I used a standard rolling pin to flatten the dough then rolled over it firmly with the springerle rolling pin. Given my track record in the kitchen, I really didn't expect success but to my surprise, the rolling pin worked quite well! After creating the patterns, I used a pastry roller to cut apart the cookies.

Here's the unusual step: After cutting apart the cookies, they have to dry -- uncovered -- overnight in order to "set" the patterns. If you skip this step, the patterns will flatten out in the oven.

And here is how the cookies looked after baking. They have a very dense texture, similar to shortbread. I love the almond flavoring and the designs! And believe me, they are perfect with a cup of coffee. We have so many springerle cookies that I think we'll be enjoying them for quite some time!

24 December 2010

Feline Friday: Season's Greetings!

Bah! HUMBUG! Er...Merry Christmas!

From Santa's Very Reluctant Reindeer, Tinsel & Lily

23 December 2010

Weird Stuff from the Kitchen Drawers

Once every ten years or so, I get brave enough to explore the contents of the kitchen drawers. We seem to have two large drawers dedicated to what I would call "kitchen utensils", but you'd be hard-pressed to find much of use in there. Now I think I've figured out why: The drawers are full of Weird Stuff.


I recently got the crazy idea to dump out all the contents and see what I could find. After sorting through everything, I filled two 1-gallon Ziplock bags with items that I would consider 1) unidentifiable or 2) no longer useful and moved the bags to a shelf in the basement.

Click on the picture and follow along with me to see a sampling of just a FEW of the items in my kitchen drawers:

1) This "expanding spatula" actually came with Spouse. It's intended for lifting a cake to transport it from one flat spot to another. While I think it's a pretty nifty tool (it's kind of fun to press the button and see the side spatulas fly out), I can't say that I've actually used it in the kitchen. But I'm keeping it handy because I think it could be used for moving cats around.

2) This white spoon with a somewhat creepy cat face is for scooping out canned cat food. Our kitties don't eat canned cat food enough to warrant a space in the drawer. I'll keep it, though, because you never know...As they get older, they may need to go on a soft diet.

3) Don't spew your coffee but yes, this is a baby bottle scrubber. And yes, I only had one baby. She's a freshman at Indiana University this year, so I think I could probably safely put this away now.

4) Continuing along the same lines, this is a baby airplane spoon. She no longer eats with an airplane spoon, so I think I'll take it out of the drawer.

5) We have a few chopsticks in the drawer, including my lucky black chopsticks with embedded (plastic) gemstones, which I got in third grade when we went out for Chinese food in Omaha one time with my grandpa. Don't worry: I put the chopsticks back in the drawer for safe-keeping.

6) I'll award three gold stars to anyone who can identify this white contraption with holes. In fact, since I've got two of them, so I'd be happy to share one with the winner.

7) This metal tool with four spiky prongs and a carrying handle is for making baked potatoes. At least I THINK that's correct. It folds for easy storage. (The folding part is its best feature.) Does anybody know if this thing is to be used in an oven or over a campfire? Not that I'm going to be using it anytime soon...

8) THREE - COUNT 'EM - metal nutcrackers. I ask you: How many nutcrackers does one household need? Strangely, I have only a SINGLE set of matching nut picks.

9) This next item is a holdover from my Girl Scout days: A jar opener in the shape of a FOOT. I left this one in the drawer. You never know when you might encounter a stubborn jar of pickles.

10) A fierce-looking bottle opener with a chain. Should I attach this to my belt? I didn't even know we had such a thing.

11) A very handy toothpick holder which dispenses a single toothpick at a time. This item was no doubt acquired at the Iowa State Fair, so I kept in the drawer for sentimental reasons. Plus, it's kind of fun to watch the toothpick come out.

12) A sampling of novelty straws: Of note here is the Mickey Mouse straw from Disney World (KEEPING IT!), a monkey straw, and especially the EYEBALL straw which belongs to Spouse, the optometrist. I don't know why he doesn't have this straw at his office. There's an eyeball right on it.

So as you can see, I've now freed up a little bit of room in the drawers -- not that what's left is any more useful than what I packed away.

Next stop: The Corner Cupboard...

21 December 2010

Cookies, Cookies EVERYWHERE

Last week, I went to my very first cookie exchange. I have concluded that I am surely the only person in the entire country who had never attended one of these gala events. This cookie exchange was for the great people who work at Memory Bound. Not only are they creative...but they can BAKE, too!

I've never gone to our cookie exchange because 1) the date hasn't worked for me and 2) I generally don't like to have that many cookies in the house. (Even when they're frozen, I can't stay out of them!) But this year, since Daughter will be having lots of kids around over break, I thought it might be okay to have a few snacks on hand -- something more than a jar of mayonnaise and package of Ramen noodles.

ANYWAY, I was told to bring along 4 dozen of the same kind of cookie and a large container for cookies to take home. Of course, I only got half of that equation right and forgot my container. But no worries...our gracious hostess Pat had extra trays for people like me!

After placing all the treats on display, we went 'round and 'round the table collecting cookies to take home. For someone like me, it was dizzying AND overwhelming! Other than at the grocery store or a bakery, I had never seen so many cookies in one place!

I came home with this delectable assortment of goodies! Imagine ME -- with this many cookies in the house!

I took 4 dozen gingerbread cookies to the exchange. I had never made 4 dozen of ANYTHING and had no idea how many gingerbread cookies I could make with one batch, so I whipped up two batches and ended up with easily 6 or 7 dozen smallish cookies. YIKES!

After the cookie exchange, I froze most of the remaining gingerbread cookies, gave some away, ate quite a few, and then boxed up some in a small container for a gift. These clear boxes are available at Memory Bound. This particular size is designed for a cupcake but also holds a nice number of cookies. Rarely do I make anything edible that is fit to display in a clear box, so this in itself was preeeety exciting, I tell you!

A couple of nights ago, we had a house full of kids so (feeling rather SMUG), I casually filled a festive plate with some of the treats from the cookie exchange. Before I knew it, they were gone! Daughter told me later she wondered where they had come from.

"Oh, I knew YOU hadn't made them," she said matter-of-factly. She knows me well. :)

20 December 2010

The Best of Times

When I was in college and later living out of state, I couldn't understand why my parents would get so excited to see me on my occasional trip home.

Now, with Daughter 8+ hours away at college, I UNDERSTAND. I looked forward to her Christmas break with giddy anticipation. I broke into tears when I caught a glimpse of her walking toward me at the airport. And now that she's here, I just want to sit by her on the couch for the next three weeks.

Tonight she was in the kitchen mixing up a cake and Skyping with one of her college friends. Truth is, she has one foot in this world and one foot in that one. So while we have her in this house, I'm soaking up her presence and all that comes with it -- the laughter, the singing, the kids sprawled all over the family room. Even the laundry on the bathroom floor.

I know it's just for a little while, but having her here is the best Christmas present EVER.

19 December 2010

A Rare Kitchen Success

Although I'm not adept in the kitchen, I'm generally not afraid to attempt recipes. The combination of fearlessness and lack of basic culinary skills sometimes gets me into trouble, but occasionally I produce something of merit. Last week, I made a batch of fudge that really should have been called SLUDGE. Just a couple of days later, however, I found success with my first attempt at Indian cooking.

Had I studied up a little more, I would have learned that Indian cooking has a reputation for being time-consuming and somewhat complicated. I had a vague recollection of hearing that on The Food Network, but it did not stop me from attempting Chicken Biryani, a dish I recently enjoyed at an Indian restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana.

Aside from taking a couple of hours and using nearly every pan in the kitchen, this recipe was relatively easy to follow. And it turned out so well that it was worth every bit of the time spent!

I'll admit that it would have been even easier if I owned a larger skillet with a lid. (I would suggest thinking through your pots and pans before diving in to make this recipe!) On the plus side, Indian food is highly aromatic and I have to say that the scent coming from the kitchen was fabulous. (Believe me, that doesn't happen around here very often!) The downside was that I had enough Chicken Biryani to feed a small army. Next time, I'll cut the recipe in half.



I found the recipe here on AllRecipes.com. I followed it as written with a couple of exceptions: I did not buy the saffron. I knew it was an expensive ingredient and couldn't justify spending $17 for a small jar. I'm sure it would have made the completed dish even better. I also substituted ground cardamon for the pod version.

Chicken Biryani
Ingredients for main dish:
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 small potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 (2 inch) piece cinnamon stick
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken pieces cut into chunks

Ingredients for rice:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 pinch powdered saffron
  • 5 pods cardamom
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 (1 inch) piece cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 pound basmati rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or ghee) fry potatoes until brown, drain and reserve the potatoes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and fry onion, garlic and ginger until onion is soft and golden. Add chili, pepper, turmeric, cumin, salt and the tomatoes. Fry, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Add yogurt, mint, cardamom and cinnamon stick. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are cooked to a pulp. It may be necessary to add a little hot water if the mixture becomes too dry and starts to stick to the pan.
  2. When the mixture is thick and smooth, add the chicken pieces and stir well to coat them with the spice mixture. Cover and cook over very low heat until the chicken is tender, approximately 35 to 45 minutes. There should only be a little very thick gravy left when chicken is finished cooking. If necessary cook uncovered for a few minutes to reduce the gravy.
  3. Wash rice well and drain in colander for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil (or ghee) and fry the onions until they are golden. Add saffron, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick, ginger and rice. Stir continuously until the rice is coated with the spices.
  5. In a medium-size pot, heat the chicken stock and salt. When the mixture is hot pour it over the rice and stir well. Add the chicken mixture and the potatoes; gently mix them into the rice. Bring to boil. Cover the saucepan tightly, turn heat to very low and steam for 20 minutes. Do not lift lid or stir while cooking. Spoon biryani onto a warm serving dish.

17 December 2010

Feline Friday: I can haz cake?

Itz somebuddie's birfday. I wunder why nobuddy gived mee cake!



No problum. I can surv miself!

* Note: Click on the photo above to see Lily attempting to bite through the plastic. Immediately after I discovered her trying to break into the cake, I stashed it in the microwave for safe-keeping!

15 December 2010

The Stalker

Ohai, Tinsel! Um, did u evr notiss dat dis chare is quite comfurtable?

14 December 2010

Tinsel the Brave

I don't know what has gotten into Tinsel lately. She's chowing down her food, constantly asking for treats, and doing very naughty things in the middle of the night to wake me up.

Who does this sound like? You guessed it -- Lily! I think that Lily is starting to influence Tinsel's behavior.

Yesterday I caught Tinsel walking the railing around our stairs. Lily does this rather frequently, (see photos here) but she has claws to grip (not that I want her gripping the rail with her claws...). Tinsel, on the other hand (paw), has no front claws. Watching her maneuver around on the railing made me go weak in the knees.

First she went one way....

Then she turned around (very carefully) and went the other direction, all the way along the railing. She even paused for photo documentation.

It's a long way down! In fact, many years ago Tinsel fell from the railing to the stairs. Apparently she has forgotten that little incident.

I'm not sure how I feel about Lily teaching Tinsel some of her tricks! This could get interesting.

13 December 2010

My Favorite Christmas Cookies

I like cookies of many kinds. But I don't make cookies very often. First of all, I'm not much of a baker. Second, I try not to have treats in the house because I CANNOT STAY OUT OF THEM! Daughter complains that we never have dessert and sadly -- it's true!



But I make an exception at Christmas. I always make gingerbread cookies. I found the recipe years ago in one of my old Martha Stewart cookbooks. In fact, it's the only gingerbread recipe I've ever made, and it's foolproof. SERIOUSLY. The recipe says that it's a "sturdy" dough, easy for children to handle. Well, it's easy for ME to handle, too. And it lends itself to cutting in all sorts of festive shapes!
I posted the recipe a couple of years ago, but the cookies are so good and easy to make that it's worth mentioning again. (Click here for the post.) The cookies keep for a long time (if you can resist them!), freeze well, and are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

And nothing smells better than gingerbread cookies in the oven. Bake them before having friends over and your house will smell like Christmas when everyone arrives!

09 December 2010

Tabby Thursday


Make that DOUBLE TABBY Thursday.

This is a rare sight: Lily and Tinsel napping together and ALMOST touching! Notice the look on Tinsel's face. She's none too pleased. :)

08 December 2010

It's beginning to look a BIT like Christmas

I've been working on setting up my five Christmas trees. This is no small task! When I first decided I wanted to have multiple Christmas trees in our house, my initial plan was to have a themed tree in every room. I'd still like to do that, but for the past few years I've been stuck at five trees. When I think about the amount of time it takes to set them up and take them down, plus the amount of space it takes to store them, I generally come to my senses! Of course, I'd much rather have real trees but I have my doubts that that will ever happen.

Although they're a lot of work, I enjoy how the trees look when they're all festively decorated and lit. I especially like to see the sparkly lights of multiple trees through the windows of the house. Even Scrooge would say that they're cozy and welcoming!

We purchased the large tree with money we received for our wedding, so you know we've had it for awhile! In fact, we may replace it one of these days. For the past few years, I've been setting it up in our entryway. There is plenty of room for it and the lights can be seen from the street. The big tree has a variety of ornaments, many of which are handmade. This year, I set up four ceramic village houses under the tree. (So far, Lily has stayed away. We'll see how that goes!)

I also have two "fat" 5-foot trees and in recent years, I've been putting one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. When my grandma passed away a few years ago, I received all of her Shiny Brite ornaments. I dearly love them and have been displaying them on the dining room tree. This year, the kitchen tree has more of a folk art theme, with a set of Cosmo Cricket ornaments, red apples, and tiny red hearts. I sometimes tie metal cookie cutters to this tree, too.

I have two 5-foot skinny trees which have moved around a lot through the years. When Daughter was young, one was in her room and featured a variety of colorful ornaments. Some were from my old college tree, and many were handmade or given to her as a young girl. This year, I put a pencil tree on the landing and decorated it with a variety of gold ornaments. It fills the space and provides a little bit of sparkle as you look up the staircase. The other pencil tree is in the living room this year. A set of old world Santa figurines hangs on this tree, along with a few Shiny Brite ornaments.

Over the years, I have collected a LOT of Christmas ornaments, although I've bought very few myself. Many have been given to me as gifts or passed on to me from someone special. I have easily enough ornaments to decorate three to five more small trees. I enjoy mixing and matching the ornaments to create different themes.

This year, I came upon a large glass jar in our basement which had belonged to my grandma. I filled it with a few blue ornaments. Some are from the set of blue Christmas ornaments we bought when we were married and a few are Shiny Brite. It's a great way to display a few more ornaments and add a bit of color!

Many of the ornaments I've collected have a special history associated with them. One of my goals is to write all of those stories.

But not just yet. I still have a Dickens Village to set up! :)

02 December 2010

From This to That

We've been busy planning classes for the next few months at Memory Bound. As part of that process, one of my favorite activities is looking around the store for inspiration. There are so many wonderful products available that it's easy to ignite that creative spirit. I especially like to look for materials that I can use differently than intended.

I was on the lookout for product for a card class when I spotted this sheet of double-sided journaling cards intended for birthday-themed pages. I was drawn by the color and design of the cards. Who says they have to be used for journaling? Or only for birthdays, for that matter?

I decided to use them as the foundation for my class. I cut them apart, flipped them over, and sliced them up to make 12 all-occasion cards for my "Year of Cards" class which will be offered in January. Fun and easy!

01 December 2010

A Sure Sign of Winter



You know it's getting cold outside when Tinsel starts burrowing in blankets for warmth.

When were gone for a couple of days this past weekend, Spouse turned down the heat. Tinsel must have been freezing! She did something she's never done before: She made a towel tunnel in Daughter's bathroom, one of the warmer rooms in the house.

Although I laughed when I found her cozy hideaway, I felt sorry for her! (And it made me wonder: Just how low did he set that thermostat, anyway?)
Poor Tinsel! Good thing I'm home now and the thermostat is back up to 72 degrees.

29 November 2010

Of Thanksgiving and Change

Before I knew it, Thanksgiving was here and gone. It actually arrived a bit earlier than I expected this year. For some reason, I thought I had another week to fret about my dinner plan when my aunt called and asked what she should bring. For what? I asked. Oh...THAT dinner!


Our daughter arrived home a couple of days before Thanksgiving, after three months of being over eight hours away from home. She had a lot to do in the short time she was home: hang out with old friends, Skype with new ones, suffer through a backpack full of homework, and prepare for her piano test. We managed to squeeze in that Thanksgiving dinner and a bit of time with family, but the days passed very quickly and soon it was time to head back to IU.

As we drove into Bloomington, we could see that the downtown area and many of the buildings on campus had been decorated for Christmas. Trees twinkled with white lights and evergreen boughs hung elegantly from lamp posts near the music buildings. Colorful Christmas lights and festive trees could be seen in dorm room windows. The atmosphere on her floor was full of excitement as everyone returned from break. We dropped off her bags and gave her a quick hug, then we were gone.

Later as I sat at Starbucks, I couldn't help but think about the transitions that have taken place over the past year. Each time I've visited IU it has been a different season -- the warm days of summer, the intensely colorful autumn, and now the chilly winter. And at each visit, the campus looks somehow new and different. Each season has also marked a change in our daughter. She has gone from being terrified of the prospect of being so far from home to thinking of the people she now lives with as her family...and from fearing she'd be homesick for home to actually being homesick for IU.

As I finished my coffee, I remembered sitting on our daughter's bed with her the day before we took her to college, talking with her about change -- something that has always been difficult for both of us. "But I don't WANT to change," she sobbed. "College WILL change you," I told her, remembering my own college years. "It will change how you think and how you see the world. It will force you to grow in ways you can't even begin to imagine now. That kind of change is ALWAYS a good thing."

As a mom, I can now see that very transformation happening right before my eyes. It's one of the things I'm most thankful for this holiday season.

I think she would agree.

26 November 2010

Feline Friday: STUFFED


All of us, with the possible exception of Lily, had a great Thanksgiving. She seemed to be lacking in the holiday spirit. Some of us even have the bite marks to prove it.

24 November 2010

Thankful

I have much to be thankful for this year.

I'm so thankful that after three months away at college, our daughter is finally home for a short visit. Singing, laughter, kids piled together on the couch, clothes strewn all over the floor, high-tops in the laundry room...I've missed all of these things. Our house is so very quiet without her.

I'm incredibly thankful that she is genuinely happy with her college choice. She has totally adapted to her new surroundings and is beginning to think of IU as her home. Given how stressed she was about the college decision-making process, we're incredibly blessed that she has acclimated so well.


As for Lily, she's just thankful that turkey is on the menu.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


22 November 2010

A Short But Sweet Weekend

We spent the weekend out East taking in the IU/Penn State game at FedEx Field and visiting family in the area. We packed a lot into a very short amount of time! I saw many things I had never seen before. Here are just a few:

1) FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. A year ago, I MIGHT have heard of the Redskins, but I guarantee you I wouldn't have known the name of their home turf. Now I have been there!


2) An inflatable Nittany Lion. According to my brother-in-law, an outdoorsman extraordinaire, the Penn State mascot is named after lions who hailed from the Nittany mountain range. Gentle readers, do not be alarmed. This inflatable lion was used for tailgating purposes. It was not at all fierce!

3) The completely amazing IU "Marching Hundred" band playing in a professional football stadium. These kids have delivered one great performance after another this season and I was thrilled to see them perform in a big venue.


4) Daughter on the JumboTron. Spouse thinks that if you're on the JumboTron at the Redskins' stadium, you've surely arrived. I think that may be stretching it just a tad, but it was still cool to see her larger than life.



19 November 2010

Feline Friday: Stay Warm, Kitties!

In going through some old photos, I stumbled upon this one from a couple of years ago. I think it's worthy of a re-post!

Now that the weather is getting chilly, remember that fuzzy socks make very nice stocking caps. Keep those ears WARM, kitties!

15 November 2010

Birthday Mini-Album

I've been having lots of fun putting together a series of mini-albums for classes I'll be teaching at Memory Bound. I just finished this birthday-themed project for a class to be scheduled in January. AND I'll be doing a Valentine's Day mini-album in February, plus a Family Traditions mini-album in March!


These informal little albums have pages of mixed sizes and are flexible enough to add all kinds of photos and memorabilia. I used the WRMK 4x6 Funfetti pad as the foundation for this particular project. I think this one is my favorite so far!

If you're in the area, I'd love to have you join me for class! Or if you live far away, just sign up for a kit. All of my kits include detailed instructions and color photos so you can make the project at home -- even in your jammies! :)

14 November 2010

TWISTED!


Note how Lily's back legs are going one direction and her front legs are going another. We see her in this twisted position quite often. It's one of her special tricks!