Wednesday, December 31, 2008

525,600 minutes

How do you measure year?

In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? 366 (leap year, baby!)

In cups of coffee? Ugh, I don't even want to think about that...

In inches? Ava grew about 2 1/2, Emily about 4.

In miles? We put about 2000 miles on the mini van just driving down to Disneyland...

In laughter? In strife? Having two little girls gets me a lot of both.

In 525,600 minutes how do you measure a year in the life?

Measure in love.

Much love to you all, and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pictures of December

Emily at the mall:

Ava makes a snow angel:

freezing on Peacock Lane:

When roasted marshmallow and toddler collide:

one of the many cookie making sessions:

snow say tea party:

Lighting the menorah with Nana:

Pretty girl and pretty lights:

More baking!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

And the snow keeps falling...a list.

My favorite things about the falling snow:

It made the annual Barsotti holiday cookie baking party feel very Rockwell-esque. Especially when Joel's brother brought over some homemade eggnog!

It made showing Ava how to make a snow angel even more special.

Drinking your afternoon tea with your homemade cookies is definitely more fun if you do it while wrapped in a blanket on the couch near a window where you can watch the snow pile up.

Being snowed in means you have to get creative when thinking of ways to entertain your children (and husband!). Did you know that you can freeze paint in ice cube trays? Just add a bit of water and then the kids have icy paint cubes...something new! A girlfriend gave me a great idea for playing with snow without getting too cold: Pile it into the bathtub! Get the sand toys and trains out and go to town. When everyone gets too cold, run a warm bath.

It made for a very fun trip to see the lights on Peacock Lane. Christmas lights defninitely look prettier with snow falling around them.

My personal favorite: pack some snow into a pie plate. Drizzle maple syrup in small patterns. Let the syrup harden and then you have yummy maple candy to decorate cookies or cupcakes (or a stack of pancakes) with. YUM.

What are your favorite things about this time of year?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just say no: Crack is addictive

Several of you have asked me for the recipe for what I lovingly call Christmas Crack. Make at your own discretion:


1 sleeve Saltines crackers
2 sticks butter
2 c. brown sugar
12 oz. pkg. chocolate chips

Lay crackers side by side in a half sheet pan (the big cookie sheet with edges all around).

Bring butter and sugar to boil and continue boiling until soft ball stage.
 Pour toffee over crackers. Bake in 400 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes. Watch carefully so doesn't burn.

Sprinkle chips over toffee/crackers and return to oven for 30 seconds to melt. Smooth with rubber spatula. Cool to set and harden. Crack and enjoy. Or send it to work with your husband so you don't enjoy it too much.

Of course, those of you with nut allergy free children can add chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans would rock, as would the dreaded peanut...yum!) just after spreading the chocolate smooth.

If you have last minute teacher, coworker, or neighbor gifts, or if you are just feeling cranky, Christmas Crack is sure to please! Just don't say I didn't warn you...

Santa is NOT the Momma, or why Emily is getting coal for Christmas

Even though we didn't see any snow that stuck yesterday or today, Ava's preschool was still closed and her Christmas party and Christmas program were cancelled. She was pretty distraught over this, because she's been practicing her songs quite a bit over the last few weeks (!!!). I've never seen a kid so upset that school had been cancelled.

To help her feel better, I took her and Emily to run some errands this morning, including a trip to the mall to run around at the playground (aka germ structure) and to see Santa. This is the first year that Ava did scream bloody murder at the sight of Santa (that job was left the Emily...NOT THE MOMMA!!), and I'm guessing that it's due to the fact that this is the year that she "gets" that Santa is the man who brings her presents if she's good. She wrote him a letter at school asking for momma to "please let her eat some candy, but not candy with nuts because nuts are icky and make me die." No really - her teacher gave me her letter. It's quite hilarious! Anyway, I was worried that she would tell the mall Santa about how her mean momma doesn't let her have candy, but all she asked for were ponies and rainbows. Which is good, since I got her a pony set with a rainbow house...Momma and Santa are definitely thinking alike this year. Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, Emily wanted absolutely nothing to do with Santa. She simply kept saying "MOMMA! MOMMA!" and tried to get away from the scary bearded man. Poor Santa. We did get one shot of Ava grinning from ear to ear and Emily screaming bloody murder. I didn't have the heart to pay $30 for it though.

I'm hoping that the roads will still be driveable tomorrow so that we can hit up our MOMS Club holiday party. If not, it will be another day of hanging out at home sprinkling glitter on anything that stands still.

In other news, the gifts have (finally) all been purchased, and most of our homemade gifts for family have been finished. Now we just need to start wrapping (and finding places for those wrapped presents!). Chanukah starts Sunday night, and I'm hoping that the weather will cooperate long enough to drive to North Portland to have a nice latke and brisket dinner with my mom.

Here's hoping that wherever you are, you're able to keep crossing things off of your holiday to do list so that you can spend time with your family and friends!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The snowed in list

I'm sure that the snow outside is just lovely. Sadly, I haven't been out to see it because when I wasn't tending to a family with the stomach flu, I was in bed (and the bathroom) with it myself. I'm finally back to normal and really want to air the house out, but since it's about 23 degrees outside, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. Oh well...more time to bake!

Instead, I get to bring you the best of the 100+ blogs that I subscribe to...lucky you!

Joel's aunt has the best little village in her house for the holidays and I enjoy seeing it every year. I found this idea for a homemade version and thought that it would be fun to do with Ava with the boxes after the gift opening is all over.

I have quite a few batches of cookies made, but I have a few left to go. These candy cookies are definitely on the list. Since we're peanut free here, I plan on doing sugar cookies with Rolos, brownie with 3 Musketeers, and chocolate chip with Milky Ways. But peanut butter cookies with a baby Reese's cup sounds freaking awesome. Someone please indulge in that one for me. YUM, YUM, and more YUM. Thank the gods that the gym is open 24 hours...

I am definitely going to start making one of these in cute is that?! I suck at knitting, but I can embroider like the dickens!

Two words that sound great in the same sentence: Duck and Crockpot. I'm definitely going to be trying this recipe soon!

What happens when you send your husband to the grocery store instead of going yourself? You end up with a box of Fruit Loops. Seriously, Joel? Well, that's OK, I felt like the tree needed some garland anyway, so Ava and I are going to string some up. And probably eat some too.

I've been scouring the internet for ideas for things to keep the girls busy if school and activities are cancelled for the rest of the week. I found this idea for cornflake wreaths in a magazine at the doctor's office the other day. I think I'll do half wreaths and half Star of Davids. mmmm...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cake Balls!

We're heading to a few holiday parties this weekend, so we made some cake balls to take with us (along with all of those leftover cookies!).

I got the idea from Bakerella and it's so stinking easy that even my three year old could do it!

Cake Balls:

Bake a cake (any flavor) in a 9 x 13 inch pan, let cool completely. Dump cake into large bowl with 16 oz. of frosting (any flavor). Mix until completly blended. Form into balls, place on cookie sheets, freeze to set.

Dip balls in chocolate bark or candy melts, let set completely. YUM.

Flavor ideas:
Devil's Food cake and cream cheese frosting
Red Velvet cake and cream cheese frosting
Chocolate cake and chocolate frosting
Spice cake and cream cheese or white frosting
Lemon cake and lemon or cream cheese frosting

This time I did Devil's Food Cake and cream cheese frosting (and I cheated - I used a mix and canned frosting! Don't tell...). Joel and Ava baked the cake and made them into balls while I was icing my ankle. I coated them in candy melts and sprinkled them with crushed candy canes this afternoon. YUM!

They were so easy, and I will definitely be making more in teh next few weeks for other parties!

Yeah, I'm a klutz...

You know, for someone who spend 20 years of their life in at least one type of dance class, I've become a complete klutz. I blame the fact that bearing children has moved my center of gravity. Yeah, that's it. I've now sprained my ankle twice in the last year. This time it happened on Wednesday afternoon, and sadly I can't blame wine. So I blame childbearing! Or old age. Either way, I slipped on a step in front of the garage door. Luckily I wasn't holding one (or both!) of the girls. Either way, it definitely put a damper on the plans I had for Thursday and Friday.

The great thing about Ava is that she can actually be extremely focused for a 3 year long as it is on something that she is passionate about. And lucky for me, the two things in life that she likes to do most are art and cooking/baking. So, Thursday after school we did a whole bunch of art projects and Friday, we invited her friends over for a cookie decorating party. This party was supposed to happen on Wednesday, but a few of the babies in the group were sick, and then the whole ankle thing happened. So, Friday afternoon we had our hospital playgroup over and the big kids decorated the cookies that Ava and I spent 3 hours (!!!) mixing, rolling, cutting out, and baking. I was impressed at how far their creativity has come since last year. They actually attempted to decorate, rather that just pile the frosting and sprinkles on. Ava concentrated the longest...her freinds were happy to decorate one cookie each and then left the table to play. She wanted to stay there for over an hour and just decorate. And then when everyone left, she decorated for another hour. I really am starting to believe her when she tells people that she wants to "make da cakes for da bry-eeds" whenever they ask her what she wants to do when she grows up.

Emily loves art, especially finger painting! We added some glitter to this masterpiece when it was finished and she gave the best ever happy toddler squeal:

Here's Ava working on a Star of David made of popsicle sticks, paint, glitter, and sparkles:

The big kids decorating (and doing a great job of being tidy, I might add!):

Ava wanted all of the pink sprinkles and icing to herself...shocker!:
The toddlers really didn't care about cookie decorating. They were just happy to climb all over the table and fireplace:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cookies, lights, trees, action!

A few pictures from tree hunting and cookie baking:

Ava and Emily's cookies came out a bit messy, but it's nothing frosting won't cover up. We're hosting a cookie decorating party tomorrow afternoon for our playgroup. These are moms and kids that Ava and I met through the new moms group at St Vincent's when she was just 2 weeks old. We've been meeting weekly for the last 3 and a half years! Crazy!

Ava had so much fun rolling out the dough and cutting out shapes. We made some letters to string up for a banner as well. Of course that led to her only wanting to use the A and V cutters...

Here are the girls are the lot where we got our tree:

Ava hiding in the branches:

Our tree, only missing the ornaments at the bottom:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday list - fun crafts and handmade gifts

I am in love with these thrifted trees. I've got a few sweaters and are in need of being recycled and a Goodwill right around the corner. Time to get cutting!

These barrettes would be cute stocking stuffers for the girls, and would be cute gifts for thier friends, too!

We have so many parties and get togethers to go to this month, and I love this list of goodies that are perfect to take with.

Do you love Etsy like I do? If so, check out their holiday gift guide! So many cute gift ideas!

Two words: Cake balls. Mmmmmmm...I'm planning on making a several varieties for a party next weekend.

Making soap in my crockpot sounds like a fun prject for Ava and I to do while Em is napping.

What a cute idea this is! I love the idea of using your holiday card photo for something like this.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Amish Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

I was reminded today to post this recipe...holy moly, these were SO good. Thanks to RecipeGirl for yet another yummy recipe! We made these the night before Thanksgiving and baked them first thing in the morning. The sugar buzz was what got me through the day!

Amish Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
from The Recipe Girl

1/3 cup milk
2 Tbs butter
½ cup canned pumpkin or mashed cooked pumpkin
2 Tbs granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
** I used 2 cups of whole wheat bread flour

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbs melted butter

¼ cup (4 Tbsp.) butter
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbs milk
¼ tsp vanilla extract
dash of salt
½ to ¾ cup sifted powdered sugar

1. Prepare rolls: In a small saucepan, heat milk and 2 Tbsp. butter just until warm (120 - 130°) and butter is almost melted, stirring constantly.
2. In large mixer bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar and salt. Add milk mixture and beat with an electric mixer until well mixed. Beat in egg and yeast. In a separate mixing bowl, combine flours. Add half of flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Beat mixture on low speed for 5 minutes, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Add remaining flour and mix thoroughly (dough will be very soft). Turn into lightly greased bowl, then grease surface of dough lightly. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
3. Punch dough down. Turn onto floured surface. Knead a few turns to form a smooth dough, sprinkling with enough additional flour to make dough easy to handle. On lightly floured surface, roll dough into 12x10-inch rectangle.
4. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon. Brush surface of dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture. Beginning with long side of dough, roll up jelly-roll style. Pinch seam to seal. With a sharp serrated knife, gently cut roll into twelve 1-inch slices. Place rolls cut-side-up in greased 9-inch-square baking pan.
5. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, 30 to 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake rolls about 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from pan to waxed paper-lined wire rack. Cool 10 to 15 minutes.
7. While rolls are cooling, prepare icing: In small saucepan, heat butter until melted. Stir in brown sugar and milk. Stir in brown sugar and milk. Cool over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and cool mixture slightly. Stir in vanilla, salt and powdered sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended. If necessary, add more powdered sugar for desired consistency.
8. Drizzle icing over warm rolls.

Yield: 12 rolls

lip gloss, purses, and shoes...yep, we're girlie!

Ava and I had a fun morning out today. I dropped Emily off with a girlfriend who promised not to tell me how long she cried for me, and took Ava for some special alone time.

My original plan was to take Ava to tea at a hotel downtown, but last night she told me that she wanted to buy her sister a present for the holidays, so I decided that we should try that instead. We went to a few stores, and while Ava had more fun playing with the display toys and picking things to go on her own wish list, she ended up buying a cute doll for Emily. The doll is toddler-friendly and has easy on and off clothing. Perfect for practicing zippers, buttons, and lacing. It's pretty cute and actually looks a lot like Emily!

After that, we went for some hot chocolate at the mall Starbucks, and then we went to Sephora to try on lip gloss. Ava lasted 30 minutes in there until we ran into a make up artist who actually wanted to put a full face of make up on my three year old (!!!!!), so we ened up going to Nordstrom to buy new shoes (as Ava's feet have grown a size and a half in the last few months). Of course, like her mama, Ava had the most fun in the purse department and is now in love with the same Marc Jacobs bag that I am. Here's hoping that she really does grow up to be a surgeon!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Homemade Hot Chocolate + Homemade Marshmallows = Bliss

Today Ava and I made some fresh marshmallows (which, BTW is not as impressive as it sounds...they are rediculously easy. I swear.). They are supposed to set up overnight, but by dinner they were firm enough for me to cut a few out. I made some yummy hot chocolate and put a few marshmallows in Ava's mug and we crossed one fun family activity off of our list.

Sipping on a mug of warm chocolate milk with melting pillows of marshmallow goodness floating in it is quite possibly the best way to end your day. Especially if your day was like mine and included a 3 year old doing her best to get under my skin and a 16 month old who seems to be starting on her terrible 2s a bit early. Ah well. At least I have a pan full of marshmallows and more Jacques Torres chocolate!

Hot Chocolate for 4:

2 cups milk (I used two percent)
2 cups cream or half and half (I used cream...what the hell, right?)
4 ounces of the best semi-sweet chocolate you can find (I was able to find Jacques Torres's at Whole Foods), finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat milk and cream in a saucepan until warm (do NOT boil...bleh!). Remove from heat, stir in chocolate and vanilla until smooth. Inhale.
Adapted from a Tyler Florence recipe I got out of a cookbook several years ago
3 packets unflavored gelatin
2 cups cold water
2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
2 cups confectioner's sugar
Dissolve gelatin and water in a small sauce pan. Allow to bloom, about 10 minutes. When soft, heat with sugar. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room tempurature. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, gently whip in confectioners sugar. Slowly add gelatin mixture. Beat until doubled in size and the mixture forms soft peaks.
Line a half sheet pan with foil, spray with cooking spray and dust generously with confectioner's sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan, smooth. Dust with more confectioner's sugar. Allow to set up at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Cut into shapes, toss with confectioner's sugar. Never buy those sorry excuses for marshmallows at the store again!