Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Baking

I haven't had to do too much holiday baking around here yet--just a batch of cookies here and there. But I was looking for something to give to Isaac's teacher's at ECFE and Vance's coworkers & advisor. Ellen mentioned toffee when we were on the phone recently, and it stuck. I pulled out my recipe and got cooking. You may want to too!

Now before you get all intimidated about toffee because it's candy, let me reassure you: I am NOT an experienced candy maker. I've tried a few times, and fail more than half the time at candy. This recipe, however, is not hard. It doesn't even take that long. But since a lot of people don't make it, it looks relatively impressive.

So, if you are going to make this chocolate-covered toffee (compliments of Fine Cooking magazine), you'll need:

1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 t. light corn syrup (I know, I know, but it's only 1 teaspoon. And it's Christmas)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
12 oz. chocolate, chopped (your choice--I like semi-sweet or half semi-sweet, half bittersweet)
1/2 c. finely chopped pecans

Over medium heat, combine butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer. Stir frequently until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, then back off and only stir once and awhile.

You may want to dip a brush in water every once in awhile and clean up the crystalized sugar bits on the side of the pan. But I'm not sure that's necessary.

Now it's a waiting game. You've got to let the sugar mixture hit 300 degrees. It could take 10-20 minutes, so this is a good time to finish up that book you've been reading, or get the dishes done, or whatever else is on your to-do list. Just don't forget the toffee completely!

When the mixture hits 300, immediately remove from heat, add vanilla, and pour into a metal 9x13 pan. I've used glass before, and it's much harder to get it out of the pan. I love these straight-sided pans...

Tilt the pan until the toffee evenly covers the bottom.

Wait 2 minutes, then sprinkle the chocolate on. I used chocolate chips because I was feeling lazy and cheap, but if you want to go gourmet and put some high-end chocolate on top, go for it. It's your toffee. Wait a few more minutes for the chocolate to melt (try covering the pan with a cookie sheet to keep the heat in), and then spread it around evenly.

Top with chopped pecans, and allow to cool completely (3-4 hours). Mine wasn't cooling in my hot-as-Hades kitchen, so I put it in the fridge for an hour or so. It turned out fine.

When it's cool, break it up! I used a thin, strong knife and poked at the toffee until it cracked, and then broke it up along the fault lines. You will have some crumbles left (but the picture shows the combined crumbs of two batches, so you won't have that much waste).
Now get it out of your house before you eat it all up!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

more Isaac-isms

Just a couple more snipppets from Isaac's world....

Isaac (as we are driving down the road into the sun): "Mama! The sun is looking at me! It's looking at me!"
* * * * * * * *
We had spent a lot of time listening to some worship music in the car, but I finally switched it out recently. I then realized that my son has very strong opinions on what sort of music we ought to listen to...

Isaac (after I put in a Sufjan Stevens album): "Mama!!!! WHERE IS GOD?!?!?! I WANT GOD!!! WHERE IS HE?!?!?!"
Me: "Honey, it's okay! God is everywhere, we're just listening to some new music, okay?"
Isaac: "NO! I WANT GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Apparently he couldn't handle my pagan music, so I switched to the Jars of Clay Redemption Songs album. That pacified him. Today, however, I put in some Allison Krauss. To my horror, he doesn't like bluegrass either! He kept saying, "Not this one, Mama, not this one. Turn it off." I'm having nightmares about raising a son who will only listen to Michael W Smith and Stephen Curtis Chapman (no offense to fans of those artists. I'm just sayin).

* * * * * *

Isaac is lately fascinated by my makeup, and he loves to watch me do it in the morning. Yesterday, as I pulled out my eyeliner, he piped up in the sweetest little voice with, "Mama? What are you doing? Are you drawing a dog?"

Gracious. I hope not.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wacky Tacky Christmas

I know you all have been dying to see pictures from the Thompson's Tacky Christmas Sweater Party. I was pretty excited to be able to deck everyone out in style for this. Unfortunately, this picture does not do my sweater justice. It was resplendent in rhinestone/glitter/metallic glory. Isaac thought my sweater was possibly the prettiest thing I had worn all year. He loved it. Vance loved lending me some long white socks to scrunch over my stretch pants. He said he wasn't sure he could have married me in the 80s....I was a little too good at it. Um, thanks, honey. :)
Niice, Hannah! Beki, I'm not sure you are tacky yet....

Mike & Karly raided their parents' stash...

Nathan's outfit is tres classy--I think his sweatshirt says something like, "Holiday Baking" on it. Mark is trying to make up for his lack of tackiness by adding reindeer ears.

This shot shows Isaac's sweater a little better. His was my was pilly, with holly and scotty dogs all over it. And it was only $1.99. Perfect. He also loved this sweater.

Our lovely hosts...note that Jen's sweater has real, authentic shoulder pads. The beautiful roundness was even better in person.

Malachi looking a little confused

Note Nathan's santa socks, and Sara's jingle bell necklace.
Almost makes you want to go get your own tacky sweater, doesn't it?!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

When decorating for Christmas...

...some things turned out better than I had imagined. Like this garland. We're not doing a tree this year, since we're traveling for the holidays (and we have a very eager and destructive toddler around), but I did want to have some greenery around. And it turned out all right!

I ran to Michael's and got 3 of the cheapest, ugliest garland I could find. You should have seen the look on Vance's face when I walked in....Vance-the-purist-who-abhors-fake-plants. I don't like them either, which probably helped him trust me when I promised he wouldn't be able to see the fake when I was done. Then I ran over to the Forestry Dept.'s tree sale and got them to give me all bottom branches they lop off the trees. They were happy to let me raid the stash for free. I was satisfied with my $6 experiment, and I'll have the base garland to use again next year. I got some help from the Nester here...(although my decorating taste differs from her somewhat, I enjoy her fly by the seat of your pants ethic :)

An added plus is that Claire isn't going to be destroying any ornaments this year!
Some ideas, however, didn't really work. I thought it would be so cute to make a gingerbread wreath. It was cute..until a couple hours after I put it up. If you stand really far back and squint, you can see the essence of the idea.
but if you get closer, you see that the gingerbread didn't like being squished between the door and the screened door. Neither did the bow. Neither did the star that was originally above these two guys, who is now iced to the screened door with a rag-tag assemblage of greens ripped from the top part of the wreath. I think it's time to try something new...

Fortunately, the most beautiful and wonderful things about this time of year can't get ruined by anything I do...

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Friday, December 05, 2008

two years today...

I have been reading from Mom's Bible today. It has been, like most things today, bittersweet. Here are some of the passages I've been meditating on today, with the notes/italics/emphases from Mom:

Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken . . .
But I will trust in Thee
- Ps 55:22-23

When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in Thee.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid. (fighting to get eyes off circumstances & deliberately putting trust in God)

Thou has taken account of my wanderings; (God sees all!)
Put my tears in Thy bottle;
Are they not in Thy book?
- Ps 56:3-4, 8

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in Thee (God is the only sure refuge!)
And in the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge,
Until destruction passes by.
- Ps. 57: 1-2

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Chez Isaac

Welcome to Isaac's kitchen, where the ambience is casual, the fare is simple and focused (you're really only going to get a fried egg out of him), and the service is tres attentive. It's the hottest thing around!
I got a great deal on a nice kitchen for Isaac (and Claire's) Christmas present off of Craigslist. It met my criteria, being neither plastic nor Pepto-Bismol pink. And it came with some cookware thrown in! We didn't have a place to hide it, and since we weren't going to take it down to NC for the 25th anyway, we decided to give it to him early.

He didn't start screaming, or jumping up and down, or chattering ecstatically. Oh no. He just stopped breathing. He stared, and stared, and every once and awhile, you'd hear a shuddering gasp as he recovered the oxygen he'd been depriving himself of. He has been faithfully making me a fried egg every day since we gave it to him.
I think our gift was a success! :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

11 months

Claire is going to be a year old in less that a month--I can hardly believe it! She is going to be walking in a few weeks, I think. She love love loves to walk holding my hand or pushing a rolling toy around, and she can stand by herself pretty easily for short periods of time. She is babbling (and screeching and squawking and yelling) up a storm. I think we have another loquacious one on our hands. I have no idea where she gets that from.
It's a little hard for me to grasp that my quiet, cuddly bundle of sweetness and light has turned into an energetic, strong, giggly, determined, active, hungry, loud, and definitely spunky little girl. I definitely like the new Claire--she just takes me by surprise sometimes. She is into everything, moving into Isaac's territory, and proving herself to be equal to the task of being his younger sister.
I'm excited to see where this little girl goes in these next few months! She's my cutie.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

We Love Daddy!

It has been a pretty blissful Thanksgiving weekend at the Whitaker household. Not only did we get to hang out with friends and stuff ourselves full of delicious food, talk all day, and stay late to watch movies, we've also had the whole wonderful weekend to relax and get things done around the house. It has been very cathartic. I even started work on my mega-project: the Advent Calendar Extravaganza (I'm sure you'll hear more about that at some point).

The best part, by far, is having Vance around all weekend long. He's only had to go into the office once, and we've had so much fun! He took Isaac on a french-fry date to the McDonald's playplace, danced with Claire, watched movies with me, and generally had tons of quality time. I came home from the gym on Saturday to this:
Vance and Isaac made their first fort together. It quickly turned into a dragon cave...a dragon cave for a vegetable eating dragon who really loves cabbage, to be exact. Isaac's imagination is really growing :)
It's hard for me to believe that Isaac is old enough to do the kinds of things that I remember doing as a kid. It gets me excited for all the fun things ahead! But mostly, I've been grateful this weekend for a husband who loves his family and gives them his full attention and affection whenever he can.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Tree, Take Two

Here's our Thanksgiving Tree after a month of gratefulnuess!

I'm also thankful for Roosty, the new horse that's been living at our house lately :)

And this munchkin, who insists that whatever it is, she didn't do it! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

of good hygiene and bad theology, and other musings

Just a couple of conversations I've had with Isaac lately....

(scene opens to Mama reading Isaac a bedtime story from his Bible, about King David)

Mama (reading): "Now King David had a heart like God's heart, full of...."

Isaac: "Germs."

Mama: "um, no, not full of germs. Full of love."

(scene opens to Mama trying to get to the gym, loading the kids in the car and buckling Isaac in)

Isaac: "Your hair, Mama! Your hair is really pretty!"

Mama: "thanks, honey! it's just in a ponytail..."

(scene opens to Isaac and Claire eating dinner)

Claire: "da Da DA DA"

Isaac: "da da da da?"

Claire: "ah ba ba ba"

Isaac: "ah ba ba ba?"

Claire: "mmmm DA!"

Isaac: "really, Claire? really?"

Friday, November 21, 2008

you should have seen the one that got away...

That, my friends, is a 45" musky (or as Isaac would say, "a BIIIIIIIIG musky-fish!") caught in South Minneapolis at Lake Harriet. And that is the reason my husband stood out in freezing temperatures, with 26 layers on, with ice forming in the bottom of the boat, with strong gusting winds. All for the love of the game. And he is so proud :).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bran Muffins

In my eternal quest to cut down food costs and simultaneously sate the raging hungry beast that lies within my husband's stomach, I've found snacks to be a nemesis. "What else can I eat?" often wreaks havoc on my pantry stores when I don't buy snacks. On the other hand, if I keep snacks around, I eat them (which is not the goal). My solution lately has been to send snacks to work with Vance. That's worked pretty well for my self-control, but it's been expensive.

I realized recently that instead of buying snacks, it would probably be cheaper to bake some quick breads or muffins and send them instead. I thought I would share one of my healthier favorites. I like these bran muffins because a) they use whole wheat flour, mostly, b) you can use honey instead of sugar, c) they call for actual bran instead of a cereal, and d) I really like bran muffins.

So if you're looking for a new snack or breakfast item, you might want to give these a whirl. You'll need:

1 c. raisins
1 3/4 c. boiling water
2 c. bran
2 eggs
1/3 c. oil
1/3 c. honey (or brown sugar)
2 T molasses
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. flour
2 1/5 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

In a medium bowl, pour hot water over raisins and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix eggs, oil, honey, and molasses.

Add oat bran to the water and raisins. It'll thicken up pretty quickly. Let sit a few minutes, until all the water is absorbed.

Add the raisin/bran mixture to the wet ingredients.

Add buttermilk and milk (or use sour milk if you don't have buttermilk, like I did....just put a couple of teaspoons of vinegar in the bottom of your measuring cup, then pour the milk in to 1 c.)

Whisk (or sift) dry ingredients together

Add them in.

Decide there aren't enough raisins, and throw more in (oh wait, that's probably just me...)
Congratulations! You deserve a break! Cover with plastic wrap, and let the batter sit in the fridge a few hours or overnight.

The next morning, grab your trusty cookie scoop. I'm not a kitchen gadget person, but I LOVE my cookie scoop. It's one of the best presents my mother-in-law gave me. Besides raising the most wonderful man on earth, and letting me marry him. That was a good one, too.

Turn on your oven to 400 unless you were already thinking ahead.

Then bake them for 20-25 minutes. Yield: 24 muffins.
The only thing I don't like about this recipe, is that the muffins have an annoying tendency to stick to the wrapper for the first day. If you don't like scraping it off the paper with your teeth, you might consider making a few in a plain greased tin for the first day. Other than that, everyone in my family loves them!