Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cardamom Teddy Bears

The December/January issue of "The Woman Today" magazine featured an article that presented the idea of making teddy bear shaped breads for gift giving. Emma saw the pictures of the adorable, chubby bears and begged to bake some before Christmas. I loved the idea and knew that these bears would be well received. I added them to my mental holiday baking list that was growing longer by the day.
Fast forward a few weeks until Christmas Eve, when there was finally a chance to do some serious bread baking. I decided to use a combination of a few basic cardamom bread recipes that were already in my bulging recipe box and hoped for good results. Given my partially Scandinavian heritage, I had heard much about cardamom over the years, but this was my first time actually baking with it. Cardamom has a unique sweetly pungent smell with undertones of something similar to anise. 

I have to say, this bread was a hit with my family and I think I will be making this recipe throughout the year, not just on a special occaison. I ended up making a triple batch! Each recipe makes about four medium sized bears. You could make them whatever size you want, just keep in mind to adjust the baking time. I used my heavy duty Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attachment to mix this.

Cardamom Teddy Bears
2 tablespoons active yeast (room temperature)
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temperature and lightly beaten)
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 cups all purpose flour

Combine yeast with warm water and a spoonful of sugar in mixing bowl. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes. When yeast mixture is foamy, add milk, oil, sugar, vanilla, beaten eggs, cardamom, salt, and 1 cup of flour at a time. When combined, continue adding flour, 1 cup at a time until dough is no longer sticky. Place in greased bowl, turn once so top of dough is greased also. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size. Punch down dough. Divide in fourths. From each fourth you will need a large ball for the bear body, a medium size ball for the head and ears, and small balls for the arms and legs. Little bits of dough can be used for the nose. Attach to body by wetting dough slightly where pieces will be joined, then pinch edges together. Let rise until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 350. Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle of body comes out almost clean. Place on wire racks to cool.
For icing, combine a few tablespoons of butter in a sauce. When melted and golden brown, remove from heat, and stir in enough powdered sugar to make a thick paste. Add milk or cream until desired consistency, then drizzle liberally over bears. Can add raisins for eyes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three strikes--and it's out

This is why I put away our tree less than 24 hours after Christmas:
Our busy little guy, Ethan, knocked it over for the third it was time to pack it up. I just couldn't deal with the stress of keeping him away from it anymore. Those twinkling lights and shiny ornaments have drawn him like a magnet ever since we decorated shortly after Thankgiving.
Of course, it is hard to keep from laughing when his reaction to the tree crashing down is followed by a look of pure wonder on his face. He then said "wow!"...and eventually,"uh-oh!".

Yes, this blue eyed angel is capable of getting into much mischief and often leaves havoc in his wake. But, through all the "adventures", we still love him and are thankful to have him. Someday it will be hard to remember him as an active 19 month old. I want to treasure these moments, even the hectic ones, while they last.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wishing you a...

Merry Christmas--from our family to yours!
It's not about the gifts, the food, the parties and gatherings, the decorations. Those things fade in light of what the true meaning of Christmas is: Christ's love for all of us. We celebrate today that He came to earth to offer the ultimate gift of salvation. Even though His exact birthday is not known, our family takes time out on this day to recognize His birth and to express our love for Him and those around us.

In the midst of all the celebrating, my mind also thinks of those I know of who will not really have the chance to experience a happy Christmas this year due to illness and other hardships going on in their lives. My heart aches for them and makes me realize just how blessed my family is. I could be spending Christmas in the hospital trying to comfort my sick child. I could be out on the street without a  place to go home to. I could be wondering where my next meal will come from.
I could be all alone in the world.
As I have written previously, it is far too easy to take for granted the small things, to be too involved with trivial junk that causes the big picture to be missed entirely. Life is so much more than a rat race!

So, however you celebrate today, I hope that you are able to pause and  focus on the positive and experience His peace and joy! Count those blessings!
You may just be surprised at how many you actually have.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


This is what is sitting on our kitchen counter right now:

What a fun recipe to make with the kids. It was very easy! Isaac and Emma's favorite part was rolling out the dough, and of course all three of them liked the tasting part when we were all done!

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup mild flavor molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a seperate bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add molasses, egg, and vanilla; beat well. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Press dough into a thick, flat disk. Wrap snugly in plastic wrap. Chill at least 4 hours (overnight is best).
Roll dough 1/4-inch thick on lightly floured work surface. Cut into gingerbread men shapes with 5-inch cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes until edges of cookies are set and just beginning to brown. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Decorate as desired--have fun!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heavy heart

This past Thursday, December 16th, everything suddenly came to a screeching halt when I received devastating news from a close friend of mine: her 5 year old child has just been diagnosed with what appears to be stage IV cancer.

It felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My knees buckled, and the room spun around me. I simply couldn't believe it. How did this happen? More importantly, WHY was this happening? And to a child?!?  It just seems so unfair. So senseless. So cruel. The doctors will attempt to remove the tumor next week, and then there will be chemo, radiation, and lots of healing to follow. The thought of this little guy having to endure all of what is soon to come is .....unbearable.

It is downright frightening that life can change so quickly. How did my friend and I go from talking about Christmas plans, our children's latest antics, even things as trivial as the weather---to cancer?
As a mother myself, it hits really close to home, especially because I also have a 5 year old, a mere three months difference in age from her child. This is truly a parent's worst nightmare. It is terrifying to think of one of my precious little ones suffering, so I cannot begin to imagine what my friend and her husband are going through right now as they watch their child battle this ugly illness, and at such a young age, too.

My heart is so heavy as I write this. I have no idea what to say to my friend. What words of comfort can I possibly offer? What can one say at a time like this?
All I can do is pray...and help to keep that flame of hope burning bright.

 As I said in my post yesterday, there has been alot on my mind. I have been counting the "little" blessings all around me that are easy to take for granted. The small things have suddenly become all the more meaningful.  I ask myself, "Do my children really know that I love them? Do they understand just how deeply I am grateful to have them, to be their mother? Have I held them enough? Have I left anything unsaid to those I love? Does my husband realize how much he means to me?".

Life is a fragile gift. We never know what will come around the next bend in the road. It is difficult not to allow the fear of the unknown to cloud the present.

 I was tucking my daughter into bed tonight and I think she could sense that I was sad about something.  She suddenly giggled and wrapped her arms around my neck then whispered, "I love you SO much! You're the best mommy in the whole world!".
Tears filled my eyes, and I hugged her a little tighter.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweet & sticky

There has been alot on my mind these past few days, and it has honestly been weighing me down. This morning when the kids woke, I decided to put all that behind me for the time being and just live in the moment...soaking up and appreciating the special, little everyday things. Ethan's sleep-creased face and dimpled grin, Emma's messy halo of hair falling in her eyes while she munched her cereal, Isaac's endless stream of chatter about super heroes and laser beams, just to name a few. We are safe and happy. We have full cuboards. We have heat. Everyone is healthy right now.The kids and I have a great Daddy/husband coming home to us this evening. Who could ask for more?

The kids wanted to dip pretzels as our activity today, so we did. They had so much fun! I love to see them laughing and getting along together. It was a big, sticky choatic mess, but worth every second of cleaning afterwards. :) We ended up with a heaping pile of pretzels, some decorated with a few sprinkles, some with none whatsoever, and some so thickly covered that you would be hard pressed to see a speck of white almond bark. Each one is a little different. They really got creative!

And in case anyone reading this will be a guest in our home around the holidays or the recipient of some of our goodies, rest assured that you will be given pretzels from a batch that did not involve my children's help (i.e. "kid germs"). The pretzels pictured in this post are reserved for our direct consumption only. :)
Ethan says, "Yum, yum!".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ethan's room

I had always assumed that my two sons would immediately share a bedroom, but due to them being four years apart in age with different sleeping schedules, it didn't work out well the way I had thought it would. It got to the point where I had to put that idea aside and turn my thoughts to another alternative. Moving to a house with more bedrooms was definitely not an option, nor was building onto our existing house. Instead, I zeroed in on how we could shift our current living areas around to fit the needs of our family for the short term until Ethan is a bit older and can share a bunk bed upstairs with his big brother.

And so this fall the answer turned out to be moving our desk and filing cabinets out of the tiny place downstairs that we had been using for an office. Though not big (I've seen walk-in closets that are larger!)  this space had lots of charm and I could just see all of the hidden potential. I thought it would make a cute bedroom for a one year old if we could give this room an economical, mini makeover.
This is what it looked like before anything was done:

The first thing to be changed was the wall color. It went from pale blue to a cheerful, sunshiny yellow. That helped to make it feel so much warmer, and even a bit larger! I did not think to take any before pictures of Ethan's crib, but in the course of putting together this new room, I also stripped the old finish off of that,
sanded it down, then painted it black to match his dresser.
 Here is what Ethan's room looks like now:

Hooray--it's finally finished and he can start using it now. (And yes, it did taken me two months to wrap up this project. Lots going on at all times. :) )
It may be small, but it is inviting and fun and perfect for a little guy whose needs are pretty basic: cozy spot for sleeping, a place to keep his toys and clothes, and some warm, clean floor area to play on. I think that Ethan's favorite feature has to be the adorable Curious George mural above his crib.
Just goes to show how a fresh coat of paint, creativity (i.e.working with what you have!), and some elbow grease can completely transform a room!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas bark

Today we made two different varieties of Christmas bark, and both received rave reviews from my family. Looks like there won't be much left to stash away in the freezer. I will have to make (lots) more right before the holiday! :) It was super easy to prepare, clean up was a snap, and the kids had a blast helping.
Fun times had by all!

The first kind (my personal favorite) is Peppermint Bark. All that you need for this is:
12 ounces white chocolate (I used candy coating melts, but vanilla baking chips would work as well)
dash of almond extract
crushed candy canes

You simply line a baking sheet with parchment paper, crush the candy canes, then melt the chocolate on very low power in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so. When it is melted, stir in almond extract, spread onto parchment paper, and quickly sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Press the candy bits down slightly with your hands or back of a spoon. Let harden, then break apart into pieces. It looks too pretty to eat!
Emma was very particular about the job she got to do. :)

The favorite part of making this recipe for the boys was using a toy plastic hammer to crush the candy!

The second second kind is Chocolate Toffee Bark. For this you need:
1 sleeve of saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (I used colored sprinkles)

As previously, you line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the crackers onto the paper in a single layer. Preheat oven to 350. In a saucepan, melt the butter, stir in brown sugar, and bring to boil. Cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour mixture over crackers, bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, immediately put chocolate chips ontop. When chocolate is soft, spread evenly with a knife to cover cracker base. Place nuts (or sprinkles) ontop. Let harden in refrigerator. When cool, break into pieces. This is addicting!
(You would never think that a main ingredient was saltine crackers.)

Ethan was happy to fill the role of taste tester today!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lonely no more

One of my earliest memories when I was a young child was of wanting a sibling. A brother, in fact. I just knew that he was up there in heaven, waiting to come and live with our family. I would often ask my Mom when he would be here, and she would smile and say, "You never know!".

So I waited...and waited some more.

I personally did not like being an only child. It was very lonely not having brothers and sisters to play with, especially since every few years we uprooted our lives and moved to whatever new place the military stationed my Dad.  I wanted to have my own siblings to share the journey with, to experience simple childhood things.  I  just knew I was destined to be a big sister.

Imagine my excitement when finally, at age 7, I was told that my dream was at last going to become a reality! With great anticipation I counted down the weeks until the baby's arrival. Finally the big day came, and I was not at all surprised to find out that the baby turned out to be a boy. (I, of course, had know that was what we were having all along!)

My little brother brought such happiness to our family. I had so much fun helping my Mom to care for him, I was so excited when he started to walk, then run, and we could play together. Becoming a big sister was the most memorable thing about my childhood. And surely the best.

 So, on this very day my brother turns 21 years old! I would like to wish him a very happy
birthday and a future filled with good things.
I am so thankful that I did get the opportunity to be a sister. Where have the all the years gone? It seems like just yesterday I was coaching him to take his first step,
to say new words, to ride a bike. That time was gone in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, he was towering above me, graduating from high school and heading off to boot camp.
 I can't imagine life without him.

(Two of my children pictured here with one of their favorite uncles!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Going bananas!

Emma helped me bake banana bread the other day. We liked how it turned out, and so thought I would share the recipe here. I plan to make another batch of it before Christmas arrives, as mini loaves of bread (especially with icing ontop!) make a cute little gift that everyone loves!

Banana Bread:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
4 to 5 cups mashed very ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9x5" loaf pans, or four mini loaf pans. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl, mix together oil, sugar, vanilla, and beaten eggs. Stir in mashed bananas. Add dry mixture. Stir until moistened. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Don't overbake!
Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack.

For a little something special, I made a quick icing out of just three ingredients: butter, powdered sugar, and cream (or milk). I melted about 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan until golden brown. Then mixed in about a cup of powdered sugar until a thick paste was formed. Added enough cream to make a smooth, creamy icing that could be drizzled from a spoon ontop of the loaves. And that was it!
Happy baking!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A decade of true love

Ten years ago today, I was preparing to walk down the aisle as a teenage bride.

I am sure that many people thought we were crazy to get married at such young ages (to my parent's credit: they didn't say a negative word about it!)...but from day one we knew we were in it for the long haul and had to make it work.
A decade later I can honestly say that I have
no regrets whatsoever and if given the chance to go back in time,
I would do the same thing all over again!

Who cares that I cringe looking back over our wedding photos at the "princess ball gown" style dress that overwhelmed my 5'3 frame and made me look like a big,white, lacy cupcake! Who cares that we couldn't afford fresh, exotic flowers or a fancy reception after the ceremony! All those things don't matter in the end. That is not what a wedding is really about anyway. :) What truly matters is the committment we made to each other on that day.
(We didn't let the predicted snow storm dampen our joy, either!)

Our relationship has grown and strengthened through the ups and downs of life. Unemployment and other job issues, buying our first real house, three children, the loss of a baby, my Dad passing away last year after a battle with cancer, various family dramas...the years have not been dull, that's for sure! The tough times have brought us even closer together, the great times have been that much sweeter.

In some ways it does not seem possible that my husband and I have now been married an entire decade! But it also is hard to remember life without him.
So on this day I thank Christ for bringing us together "way back when" and blessing us with a wonderful life. I look to the future with hope that we have many, many more years together here on earth. 
I'm excited to see the next chapters of our marriage unfold. 

Happy anniversary to my forever husband--and best friend!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fun with felt

In our quest to have the simplified (and frugal!) Christmas that I have written about lately, my goal is to stay out of the stores as much as possible. So, when faced with the realization that the gifts I was wrapping were lacking that extra little something, I decided that instead of hitting the mall, it was a good opportunity to look around at what I already had near at hand and make use of it, rather than immediately buying something pre-made. Time to look in the craft drawers for something to inspire. :)
Lo and behold, I found a forgotten, full to the brim bag of felt squares that had given to me awhile back. Emma liked how soft it was in her hands and loved the bright array of colors. She had the brilliant idea of making ornaments out of this felt! It sounded great to me, so I dug around some more and pulled out ribbon, trims, odd buttons, sequins, and glue. Isaac heard about our crafting plans and wanted to
get in on the excitement, too.

Got everyone set up at the table and let them go for it! Nothing like lots of sparkly embellishments and pretty colors to get those creative juices flowing....

I cut out miniature stockings, trees, stars, and round ball shapes to decorate. I was impressed with their imaginative designs.

They are already planning on who the lucky recipients of these ornaments will be! It's so cute how excited they are to give them away. Of course, a few of these somehow made it onto our own tree.....

I worked along side of the kids, and ultimately ended up with 15 ornaments to use in my own gift giving this year. I have more cut out and ready to assemble, but haven't completed them as of yet.
This is as far as I have gotten:

So, this is a sampling of what we have been working on this week. Simple, cute, easy, affordable. These will be perfect as package toppers or tucked inside of an "edible gifts" basket!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Easy homemade granola

This is what we made the other day:

scrumptious granola drizzled with melted chocolate!
A few different recipes combined, with a few random touches of my own thrown in. It was so easy to make! 

I don't think I will be buying boxed granola from the cereal aisle anymore unless it is a really good sale! My husband and I both love having granola in the morning (with ground flax seeds ontop) and the kids like a little granola on their yogurt, or just
to snack on plain.
I mainly decided to put the chocolate ontop for a special gourmet look since most of this batch will be given away as gifts come Christmas! (It is still good without the chocolate!)
 Once the granola cooled, I put it into heavy duty ziplock bags, then put those right into the freezer. It will stay fresh and ready for gifting when the time comes! To package this as a gift, I will be putting a cup or two into a cellophane bag with a cute label and a pretty bow as the final touch.This will then be placed in a basket along with other goodies!
Here is the recipe I used:

4 cups oats (I used half rolled and half quick)
1 cup flaked coconut
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup honey
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, chopped dates, cranberries, etc.)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a large roasting pan or two baking sheets. Combine oats, spices, and salt in large bowl. Combine brown sugar, honey, oil, water, and vanilla together in a seperate bowl. Pour wet mixture into dry and stir very well until evenly coated. Use hands to mix if necessary. Pour into pans, press down firmly. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir well, press down again and bake for 20 additional minutes. Stir well. When golden, granola is done baking. Remove from oven, quickly stir in dried fruit. Allow to cool. Melt chocolate chips on very low power in microwave. Stir often. When melted, drizzle overtop of granola. Put in fridge to chill. Break into chunks, place in airtight containers, or freeze for later use. Yummy!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

He loves me!

This is what was given to me this morning by my son......
Receiving this causes the memories of tough times in child training to fade away, makes me forget the battles, the melt downs, the occaisonal parenting frustrations, the embarrasing scenes in public. Those things are just part of the package and there is so much more positive than negative experiences encountered in this journey of being a mother.  It is all worth it. It is so important to notice and yes, celebrate the "small things"!
What a great way to begin a new week! My heart is light, I have a big smile on my face. All because I know my little boy does loves me! :) 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pumpkin spice bread

I love to bake, especially around the holidays, so it seems natural that this blog will have alot of baking subject matter. :) Yesterday the kids and I made pumpkin spice bread. All three of them gobble it up as soon as it has cooled from the oven. It's so good and makes the house smell great as it bakes.

We will be making another double (perhaps even triple?) batch closer to Christmas, this time in mini loaf size, to give as gifts. This recipe is very versatile. You can stir in chopped nuts and raisins, dried cranberries, or even miniature chocolate chips.

Pumpkin Spice Bread
1 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil (I used unsweetened applesauce for half of oil)
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two large 9x5-inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, sugar, and vanilla. In seperate bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. Stir both mixtures together until just blended. Divide batter between pans. Bake 50-60 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out almost clean (don't overbake!).
Little Ethan gives it a thumbs up!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Savor the season

It's December! All I felt upon turning the calendar page to this month was excited anticipation, believe it or not. No stress, no frenzied panic, no "system overload" of mental to-do lists rushing through my brain. I am looking forward not only to Christmas itself, but also the upcoming weeks prior to it.

That's because this year is going to be a little different.

We have always been careful to emphasize with our children what the true meaning of Christmas is: Christ's birth and His love for us. We do put up a Christmas tree, we do give gifts, we bake a dizzying amount of goodies, we sing carols. BUT, at the core of it all, we have been teaching the children what the reason behind it all really is.


It isn't the children that are the problem. :) For me anyway, it is so easy as an adult to get swept up into worrying about all the small things: such as if I have spent the same amount of money for each gift, if I remembered to give to everyone that gave us gifts the previous year...if I should make goodie bags for all the neighbors on both sides of our entire street since I gave a few bags out to our direct neighbors.. . I am often left feeling as though I have never done enough. Where does it ever end?!?

It goes beyond the mere gifts, though. Holidays seem to have a way of bringing out family drama. It is so difficult to celebrate and experience the joy when one feels pulled in a million different directions and spends the whole holiday running from here to there in an attempt to keep everyone happy. What I personally have realized is: I can't. No matter how hard I try! I, for one, am tired of guilt-filled Decembers.

Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with elaborate decorations, fancy foods, glossy catalogs and colorful newspaper ads promising great deals so we can afford to buy even more stuff than we normally would. There is always that long list of holiday parties, traditions, events, plays-- you name it--all of which we are "supposed" to be a part of. 

And then Christmas rolls around before we know it, and many of us are totally exhausted, broke, joyless. That is not how it is supposed to be! It's fine to give gifts, enjoy a good meal with our families, do some activites, but the key is finding a healthy balance, to examine motivations for why we are doing things. Is it out of enrichment for the family and bringing joy to others,...or is it because we feel it is what is expected of us, and we wouldn't ever,ever want to disappoint?

(I was inspired by the posts that my friend, Michelle, has written on her blog: The Adventures of Mommy Missionary . She has written about the subject of simplifying Christmas and "spending less, giving more." Lots of good ideas--check it out!) 

So, this year we are scaling back, carefully choosing a few activites to do (out of the many) that are important to our family, giving gifts to our immediate family and friends without worrying about keeping cost exactly even, doing alot of baking, crafts, rocking out to Christmas music, thinking of ways to play "Secret Santa" to those around us... and just generally slowing down and keeping things light, fun, and peaceful!

Every time I see these little faces, it sure brings things into perspective. Next to eternal salvation and my husband, they are the best gifts I could ever have under the tree on Christmas morning!