Sunday, January 22, 2012

year of the dragon

We are having fun getting ready to celebrate Chinese New Year tomorrow. Honestly, in the middle of winter, with ice outside that really is not good for playing in, any excuse for celebration is a good one. And what's better than getting to eat our favorite Chinese foods, read silly fortunes, and make a cool craft?
After seeing an idea on Pinterest, we gathered what supplies we had on hand and all four of us got into the action tonight, making our Chinese New Year Dragon.  Some plastic cups, cut up paper towel rolls for spacers, yarn, and streamers quickly formed our dragon, with an appropriately scary face created by daddy and the girlie.
You'll notice the girlie's toothless grin, and the tongue stuck in the hole...she lost that top front tooth this afternoon and the tongue has been a permanent fixture in the vacancy!
I love our dragon. He hangs over our kitchen/ family room overlook, where he can proudly observe our festive dinner tomorrow!

Xin Nian Kuai Le, 新年快乐, which I hope means "Happy New Year" (if I believe an internet source!) or something else entirely...but a happy Chinese new year to you all!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

winter, in my kitchen

Ah, comfort food. Warm smells, filling tastes, perfect for cold winter days. And since winter finally seems to arrived here after an unseasonably warm December, I spent some time in my kitchen this week...

One of the key comfort foods in my book is bread, and I love playing with recipes, continuing to search for the perfect loaf of bread. This week I made a bread adapted from an Amish recipe I had from, um, somewhere (sorry, no original source). I am slowly making some changes in this bread because it is oh-so-yummy but perhaps not oh-so-healthy. I love that soft white-bread texture and the slightly sweet taste. So this is how I made it this time:
  • Dissolve 2/3 cups white sugar in 2 c.warm water (about 110 degrees), and stir in 1 1/2 T active dry yeast. Allow to proof until creamy and foamy (about 10-15 minutes, depending on how impatient you are!)
  • Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 c. canola oil and mix well. Add flour 1 cup at a time, starting with a spoon for the first few cups and then mixing well with the dough hook on your stand mixer. I find 6 cups total is just about perfect, and I've been adding a bit of whole wheat flour. This time I used 5 cups of bread flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour.   Knead by mixer or hand until elastic and smooth.  Turn out into a large oiled bowl and let rise until doubled. (My original recipe says about 1 hour, this week it took about 3 hours, whatever it takes!).
    • hint for rising: you need a warm place. I use my microwave which is over my range, and by putting on the light that is under the microwave (that lights up the stove area) this creates just enough heat in my microwave.
  • Punch dough down, knead lightly and divide in half. Shape into loaves ( I usually flatten into a rectangle about 1/2-3/4" thick and then roll it up) placing loaves seam side down in two 9x5" loaf pans that are coated in cooking spray.  Allow to rise until about 1" above pan rims (this took about 2-3 more hours this week).
  • Bake at 350 F for about 30 min, until golden brown.  Cool 10 min. in pans, then cool on racks (or eat!).
My thoughts for next time: try increasing amount of whole wheat flour to 2 cups, replace sugar with honey.

I thought I'd also include my recipe for the Chicken and rice soup in the picture above!  
  • Cook a 6 oz box of Uncle Ben's Original Long Grain and wild rice mix, according to package directions.
  • While this is simmering, in a separate large pot, saute' 1 c. chopped onion in 3 T. butter
  • Add 6 cups of chicken broth, the rice, 2 c. cooked shredded chicken (about 1 lb), 1 drained 4 oz. can of mushroom pieces, and 1 c. chopped carrots, simmer until carrots are tender and flavors are blended well, about 30 min. 
  • Whisk 1/4 cup flour into 1 15 ounce can of evaporated milk (low fat is great). DON'T do this in the will make a mess. I use a 2 c. measuring cup to mix mine in!  Add this to the soup and heat through, just a minute or two, before serving.  

My last bit of baking this week was two loaves of  Blueberry lemon bread, doubling the recipe (and oh-so-glad I did...the first loaf vanished into all of our bellies so quickly). I love lemon and it is an instant "brightener" on a dreary day. 

What's cooking in your kitchen this winter?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

when irish eyes are smiling

For the past four months the girlie has been taking Irish Dancing classes once a week. Its a great activity for her--active and athletic, building her coordination and confidence. For an idea of what kind of exercise it is, try standing up on the balls of your feet and then hopping up and down for a couple minutes, without putting your heels down!
Last night her dance school performed at a local Ceili, which is an evening of live Irish music and social (set) dancing put on by an Irish social club in Baltimore. Their performance was during a break in the social dancing, and it was pretty informal, which was perfect for my nervous little girl's first performance. I'm including a video clip here that is pretty long but gives you an idea... and yes, she kind of loses track of things halfway through, but that was the joy of it: no pressure, just fun.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

since I know you've been anxiously awaiting it...

O.K., maybe not. But I did want to get my holiday crafting "documented" here on the blog.  And Christmas officially lasts until Jan 6, Three Kings Day, so I figured I ought to get it in under the wire! Without further ado...

My Christmas crafting included:
 -an elephant for my nephew and god-son, who just turned one. The pattern names the elephant "Flo", which is not a good name for a one-year-old boy's elephant. I can only hope that he gives this poor elephant a good name. It was a fun project and I loved how it turned out. Cascade 220 Quatro yarn rocks! (P.S. to his mommy, it's wool...hand wash delicate!)
 -this knit vest for my other nephew, who is three. He lives in Naples, Italy right now, which tends to be mild, but I thought that sometimes you just need a vest. Done in Vanna's choice yarn, doubled, its a quick knit, and machine washable so his mommy would thank me.
 -Name signs for these nephews. Ikea frames + Scrapbook paper + letters cut with my Cricut + decals from a package of "Wallies" (wall paper type small decals) I had never used.
-For the mommy of the nephews, a cotton chenille washcloth, paired with some soap from a local craft fair. Still wishing I had gotten myself some of that soap. It smelled yummy!
-For a favorite Aunt of mine,  a scarf made from charcoal grey fleece with a braided edge. I didn't get a photo of it! But I got the idea from a fleece blanket I saw on Pinterest, so you can get the idea.
-And there were the cookie mixes we put together with the kids for all the extended family, some friends, scout leader, and mailman! picture. Wow. Really falling down on the job of photographer. Sorry...too busy making memories! But if you go to the link, they turned out just like the picture. Fun!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

new year 2012

You'll have to forgive me this sappy and probably overly sentimental rambling today. But I love New Years. I love the time to relax with family. I love to sit with a journal and a mug of cocoa or hot punch and dream about the year ahead. I love resolutions (even if I don't love to keep them!). I think it is good for me to take a step back and re-evaluate how I am living my days, and to correct course if needed (often needed!).

This year I coerced the kids (and some unsuspecting relatives) into joining the fun. I made a survey form similar to ones I saw on Pinterest but with a few more questions, to hopefully capture a word picture of our family each year as we grow. It was fun and sometimes hilarious, and often touching.

I love that my 3 year old boy wants to be an architect, and his 6 year old sister a fashion designer (she doesn't get that from her mom!). I love that their favorite shows are still "little kid" shows like Little Einsteins and Team UmiZoomi. I find it hilarious that out of all the fun stuff we did last year, both of them listed "Six Flags" as their favorite memory of the year.  I'm not sure we completely get the idea of "resolutions" but they did share that they want to get better at "sowing" (sewing) and building Legos. And that the girlies biggest goal is reading a chapter book in less than an hour (she is a fast reader), and his is to go to N.C. twice this year! I can't wait to see what they come up with next year...and how they have grown.

For myself, there are so many things I want to work on, I have to rein myself in and remind myself I can't DO IT ALL. And so I have chosen my theme for this year to be mindful--which means being conscious of how I spend my time and energy. I want to learn to be healthier with my body, eating better and being more active. I want to grow in my knowledge of God, and to seek more actively to make choices everyday that bring Him glory. I want to be more present with my kids and hubby, focusing on them when I am with them, and not being distracted by my to-do list, my want-to-do list, or any of the other things that often keep me from being completely with them, even when I am physically present.

(I'm re-reading that last paragraph now...ok, I guess I do really want to DO IT ALL...but I really am going for moderation. Really.)

One of the best parts of New Year's Day was this:

We saw an amazing rainbow as we drove to our family New Year's Dinner. It seems an auspicious start, and a good reminder of God's promise to care for us. I am trusting in Him to do GREAT things in and through me and my family this year. I can't wait to see what 2012 will bring.