Monday, December 28, 2009

Cinnamon Crackles

At 7 pm on Christmas Eve, after all the stores were closed, I realized that I didn't have any chocolate chips. This year Santa was just going to have to branch out and try a new cookie at our house.

I chose Cinnamon Crackles because they look so perfect. They all come out nice and round and perfectly I had all of the ingredients. Lucky for Santa they were delicious too. These are a crispy cookie instead of a chewy cookie, which I usually prefer, but they have lots of great spicy flavor. They remind me of gingersnaps but without the strong molasses flavor.

Cinnamon Crackles (Source: Taste of Home)

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. almond extract

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 T. cinnamon

2 t. baking soda

2 t. cream of tartar

2 t. nutmeg

2 t. grated orange peel

1 t. grated lemon peel

1/2 t. salt

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening and sugars. Add the egg and extracts; mix well. Combine the next eight ingredients; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Shape into 1 inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: about 6 doz.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

Manic Monday

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

They offered two distinct types of gingerbread recipes and I tried both of them. I made a full batch of the Scandinavian version known as Pepparkakstuga (right) and half a batch of the Spicy Gingerbread from Good Housekeeping (left).

I also made a template and made two identical houses out of each type of dough.
Here is the Pepparkakstuga after baking.

And here is the Spicy Gingerbread after baking.

This is the Pepparkakstuga house all decorated.

And this is the Spicy Gingerbread House with all of it's sweet decor.

You can tell that the Spicy Gingerbread is much thinner and much crispier than the Pepparkakstuga. I also found the flavor of the Spicy Gingerbread to be a little better. It has ginger and molasses for flavoring which make the flavor really strong. The Pepparkakstuga tastes more like a spice cake turned cookie and a little too dry. For me an ideal gingerbread for eating would be a molasses flavor in a slightly chewy cookie....which is neither of these.
The Spicy Gingerbread was also easier to build with because it was so flat and light weight. Overall I think the Spicy Gingerbread wins my vote. But here are both recipes so you can decide for yourself.
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water (I had to add extra to make it moist enough.)
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
Royal Icing:
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. It will dry very hard once piped on to the house.
Spicy Gingerbread
2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.
2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.
3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)
4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)
5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.
6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)
7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.
8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.
9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.
10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Big CO

We're off for a week in Colorado!

The kids once again requested a ski vacation instead of gifts for Christmas and we were more than happy to oblige.

I'm hoping to post a little bit as I have time in the evenings (if I'm not too sore and tired) but things will be very quite on the blog while we're gone. After Christmas I'll have lots of pics and stories to share.

Merry Christmas!!

P.S. Be sure to stop by on the 23rd for the big reveal of the December Daring Baker's Challenge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pumpkin Scones

I had friends over for breakfast one morning last week and needed something quick, easy and delicious to serve. I decided to try Annie's recipe for Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Glaze. They were delicious if I do say so myself. The original recipe called for butterscotch chips but I had cinnamon chips and put those in instead. Yummy!

Unlike most scones I have tried, these were very moist...and they stayed that way the next day too. The pumpkin adds just a little bit of flavor and a whole lot of moisture and the cinnamon chips and the spiced glaze add just the right zip to the recipe. I rate these scones a 10 out of 10...and I think my guests would agree.

Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Glaze (source: Annie's Eats)

For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3-½ cup cinnamon chips
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Dash of ground ginger
Dash of ground cloves
2 tbsp. milk

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt; whisk just to combine. Add the cold butter chunks to the bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs and the largest butter pieces are no bigger than peas. Mix in the cinnamon chips. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, pumpkin puree and vanilla extract.

Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir together gently just until the dough comes together. If necessary, knead a bit with your hands, but be careful not to overwork the dough or you will end up with a tough scone.

Transfer the sticky mass of dough to the prepared baking sheet. Pat the dough into a 8 or 9-inch round. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Slice the dough round into 7 or 8 wedges.

To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and spices in a small bowl. Add the milk and whisk to combine, until a thick glaze is formed. (If necessary, add a bit more milk to achieve a consistency good for drizzling the glaze.) Use a whisk to drizzle the glaze over the finished scones.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Manic Monday

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Line Please

We are in full blown rehearsal mode around here. The annual Christmas musical starts tomorrow night and I have a small part in it as well as directing it. Brian is in the pit band and the kids are just along for the ride.

We've rehearsed several hours every night this week and tonight is our final dress rehearsal. I'm glad it's time for performances instead of rehearsals but I'm still a little nervous about whether we are ready or not.

Things went better last night, for the most part. There were still song lyrics that were mumbled and lines that were forgotten and poinsettias that got dumped on the floor, but overall it was good. One actor (and if you go to my church you know who it is) still has me a little worried. He has a tough time with memorization and tends to ad lib when he gets nervous. I never know what lines will come out of his mouth on any given night. Last night when he was supposed to say to his fiance during his breakup speech, "You are just too busy making money to make a life" instead he said,

"You are just too busy making money to make a baby".

Oh boy! I hope I don't get excommunicated for putting on an R rated show.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Get Rich Quick Scheme

Last week while I was sitting in the doctors office waiting to be told that I could throw out my crutches (Yippee!), I watched an episode of Dr. Oz. He was focusing on plastic surgery and highlighting a new technique. It involves using all natural substances to fill lines and wrinkles on your face. This is safer than injecting your face full of chemicals and engineered substances.

The natural substance? Your own body fat. Yep, they suck it out of your stomach or thighs or wherever you want it removed and then inject it into your face. Gross, I know. (With my luck all of that fat would end up sliding down out of my forehead and settle along my lower jaw giving me a nice set of jowls.) And they did this on live TV. They actually took a woman backstage and performed the procedure during the show. (Not sure how a television studio qualifies as a sterile environment, but that's beside the point.)

Here's my question: Since I've got enough excess belly fat to tighten up the faces of a tour bus full of red hat ladies and I've only got four wrinkles a few millimeters deep, could I sell all of my extra all-natural, organic fat to some poor skinny ladies that spent too much time in the tanning beds in college?

I think I see some potential here. I wonder if EBay has a market for "blubber"?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Good Eats

I got nothin'.

No yummy recipes to share today.

It's a production week, which means I live at the church and let my home and family fall into complete disarray. I haven't cooked anything new or tasty in a while. Actually, I haven't cooked anything in a while.

But never fear.....I know where you can find some d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s people who actually know what they're doing.

These are my favorite foodie sites that I check out regularly. I know I can always count on their recipes to turn out great. Give them a try. You won't be disappointed.

King Arthur Flour Blog: This is my absolute favorite. They don't post everyday but when they do it is always a GREAT recipe. They are trying to sell their baking products, but you can ignore that part and just use your favorite brands and still make scrumptious baked goods, from whoopie pies to whole wheat bread and everything in between. Imagine being paid to bake and taste test your recipes all day long. Heaven!

Confections of a Foodie Bride: This site combines delicious food, witty dialogue and beautiful photography to make a wonderful food blog. You can find great savory and sweet dishes by the bride.

Annie's Eats: This may be one of the only sites I look at that actually has more main dish recipes than desserts and baked goods. Don't worry you'll still be able to find recipes for Pear Ice Cream and Pumpkin Scones, but you'll also find lots of delicious meaty meals too.

Proceed with Caution: At this site you'll find lots of recipes for "clean eating", a concept I'm very interested in. Right now you can find recipes for Bulgur Dinner Rolls and Lemon Thyme Roasted Turkey Breast. I have plans to make her Pumpkin Spice Bagels next week.

Bake at 350: This is a wonderful blog to read if you have children. It is mostly about decorating cookies....beautiful, themed cookies. She has cookies in all shapes and sizes. She also bakes other goodies and can decorate a cake or cookies for any theme you can throw at her. Her ideas are so cute and inspiring.

17 and Baking: I found Elissa's blog through my Daring Baker's Challenges. She is a 17 year old high school student in Seattle that loves to bake and write. Her posts are UNBELIEVABLE! She is a brilliant writer and her "stories" are full of insight and teenage angst. Her baked goods are just as mind blowing....almost as much as her job in a high end restaurant. This girl is one amazing teen. For example, today's recipe is Peppermint Striped Meringues with Chocolate Ganache. See, told ya.

Those are my go to sites, but I've recently discovered a few other blogs that I've just begun to explore. You might like them too.

Baking Bites: Who wouldn't like to find out how to make Cream Cheese Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Brown Eyed Baker: Go here to get 10 Gift Ideas for the Foodies in Your Life, a.ka. me!

Dinner and Dessert: Lots of chocolate and fudge here right now.

Joy the Baker: There are more than just baked good here. Check out the recipe for Big Fat Bolognese Sauce and the pattern for Joy's favorite apron too.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Manic Monday

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Wild Game Cookbook

Every time I get together with my sister we have at least one good laughing fit. This year it came from reading the National American Hunting Club's Wild Game Cookbook at my mom's house yesterday. It all started with a bird hunt.

This weekend Brian and the boys went pheasant hunting. They came home with two pheasants and a quail. I love pheasant and quail. I know it's cliche but they really do taste a lot like chicken. My mom used to just fry them just like a chicken and serve them with mashed potatoes and gravy. Yummy!

Unfortunately these birds have been skinned, not plucked, which means they cannot be fried as well, so I haven't decided how I will cook them. Yesterday we were down at my moms where she announced that we would be having the pheasant my Dad got for supper. She also had to find a new way to cook it so she got out her Wild Game Cookbook. She ended up choosing Pheasant in Mushroom Sauce, which was just fair, not great. But here is where the funny (blog-worthy) part comes in.

My brother-in-law spent a good while reading recipes in the cookbook to us. And let me tell you they have a recipe for everything. Have a hankerin' for some groundhog? Just soak it overnight in vinegar and then bake it. Armadillo more to your taste? Just fry it up, Texas style. Got a bison tongue or some mountain lion sausage (I am not joking here) taking up space in your freezer? There's a recipe for that too.

And if you don't know how to clean the roadkill you are about to fricasse there are step by step directions for that in the cookbook too. For example, check out this recipe for Grandpa's Snapper Soup.

Hang turtle upside down for 1 hour after cutting head off. (No word on how to safely catch said turtle.) Dip in boiling water and peel scales off (dip again if needed). Scrape the bottom of the turtle and pull the toe nails off. (Proof even hillbillies don't eat toe least not snapping turtle toe nails.) Cut around the breast bone to remove intestines.

In a large pot soak turtle in salt water for 1-2 hours. Bring water to boil and cook until shell falls off, remove shell from water. Add 6 slightly boiled eggs, 1/2 t. celery seed, 1 stick butter and vegetables. (Use 1 qt. of each desired vegetable for a 5-7 pound turtle.

Serves: a large group

Or maybe you are a bad shot and you only made it home with the moose nose and not the whole moose. Not to worry. There is a recipe for that....and it sounds scrumptious.

Moose Nose

1 moose nose
1 medium onion

Cut off the large upper jaw of a moose just below the eyes. Simmer in a pot of boiling water for an hour, cool and pull out the loosened hairs. Wash clean.

Return to cleaned pot. Cover with fresh water, add salt and onion. Cook just short of boiling until the dark meat falls away from the bones and jowls and white stripes ease from the nostrils. (I don't want to know what the "white stripes" really are.) If the sweet tantalizing odors have been too much for you, this is fine to pick at hot. If you can keep occupied with different tidbits, however, alternate bites of both kinds of meat in a small narrow pan. Strain the liquid over them, let the juices and the meat jell together overnight and savor the whole in cold slices.

Serves: 4

So what I'm saying here is if civilization fails one day and grocery stores cease to exist but you still want to make a delicious and nutritious meal for your family from the porcupine, caribou or big horn sheep you bagged that morning, my mom is the lady to call. Who else could give you the details on Goose Ravioli, Bear Stir Fry, Crispy Cottontail or Partridge Supreme?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Favorite Cheesecake

A friend asked me for my cheesecake recipe and I referred her to my blog....only to find that I had never shared my all time favorite cheesecake recipe on this forum. I've given you the recipe for Cranberry Cheesecake, Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars, Blueberry Key Lime Cheesecake and Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake, but never just plain old vanilla cheesecake.

This recipe is my favorite because it is light and fluffy; not as heavy and dense as a lot of cheesecakes. The reason, of course, is the separated eggs. You beat the whites separately and then fold them in giving the batter lots of air. You can also add any number of toppings or mix-ins to this basic recipe.

I hope you all enjoy Family Favorite Cheesecake (source: Taste of Home)

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine

3 pkgs. softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
4 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sour cream
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped

In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon; stir in butter. Press onto the bottom and 2 in. up the sides of a greased 9 in springform pan. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes. cool on a wire rack. Reduce heat to 325. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add egg yolks; beat on low just until combined. In a small mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; fold into cream cheese mixture. Pour over crust. Bake for 1 hour or until center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate until completely cooled. Combine the sour cream, sugar and vanilla; fold in whipped cream. Spread over the cheesecake. Refrigerate overnight. Remove sides of pan.

Yield: 12 servings

You'll love this cheesecake!!

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Manic Monday

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Early Christmas

I am about to do something I have never done before. I am going to set up my Christmas tree during the month of November! Not before Thanksgiving, mind you, but a couple of days afterwards.

Usually I put up my tree and all of my decorations on the day after the musical at church. By then all of my holiday stress is gone and I have more free time. However, that means we don't get our tree until around Dec. 15 every year. This year we are leaving for our ski trip on Dec. 18....that means only 3 or 4 days of enjoying the decor before we dash off.

So....on Saturday NOVEMBER 28th we will officially begin the Christmas season here at the Grove house. A little early for us, but necessary. Until then we will be completely focused on Thanksgiving, Brian's favorite holiday.

We don't have to be anywhere until 5 pm Thanksgiving night, so starting today at 2 pm we are going to lay around the house and play boardgames and talk and talk about what we are thankful for. Tomorrow morning we'll stay in our pajamas until noon and watch the parades. Ahhhhh, what a holiday. Genuine reflection and relaxation. I can't wait.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Manic Monday

Friday, November 20, 2009


Welcome to my first ever sewing tutorial! (It may be my last because it takes twice as long to make something when you have to keep stopping and taking pictures of it.)

I got this cute little girl's sweater in a bag of hand-me-downs. Unfortunately it had a stain right in the middle of the chest. I was bummed because I really liked the colors and the stripes on the sweater. Then I had an idea.

I turned the sweater inside out and realized that the knit was just as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside....and the stain had not penetrated all the way through. That meant I could still use the fabric from the sweater for something. I decided to try my hand at making a drawstring tote bag/backpack for my niece.

I decided that since the sweater was her size it would automatically make the backpack the right size for her back. So I started by cutting off the arms and neck of the sweater, reducing it to two simple rectangles.

Then I cut two pieces of a coordinating cotton print for the lining. (The sweater wouldn't maintain it's shape with anything in it without a lining.)

I used some more scraps of the cotton to make tabs for the bottom of the bag. I folded up squares and sewed along two sides.

Then I pinned the little triangle tabs into the bottom of the bag and seamed it all up together (right sides together with the tabs sandwiched in between).

Next I had to put grommets into each tab. I bought grommets and a grommet setter at the fabric store and installed them according to the package directions. (If you've never done it before I do recommend practicing on some scraps. I had about 1 out of every 4 I tried turn out correctly when I first started.)

On to the lining: With right sides together I seamed three sides of the lining, leaving the top open and turning over 1/2 an inch.

I then slid the lining into the sweater bag.

Next it was time to make the band for the top. I cut a long strip of fabric and folded it lengthwise. I needed multiple layers to put the grommets through so that I could be sure they wouldn't pull out. I also wanted nice clean edges on the inside and outside of the bag.
I pinned the band to the top of the bag and marked where the grommets should be on each side. (They need to be equally spaced, one on each side of the bag.) I then took the band back off of the bag and installed the grommets. (Remember, the grommet does not go through both sides of the folded band, only one side. The band is the pocket for your drawstrings.)

Then I just sewed the band to the top of the bag, catching the ends of the lining and the sweater inside the band. After that it was time to put the drawstrings in.
This was a little complicated to figure out. Actually, I had to call a friend and have her look at her son's drawstring bag and explain to me over the phone how all of the strings went through the band.
You will need two long strings. Each string should go in to the band on one side of the bag, travel all the way around the bag and back out THE SAME HOLE that it went in. (One string entering and exiting on one side, the other string entering and exiting on the other side.)
Then one end of the string on each side needs to go through the hole in the tab at the bottom. Take the ends of the strings and tie them in a knot near the bottom tab.
That's it! It was a really simple project and a great way to use up old sweaters and fabric remnants. It would be an even easier project if I hadn't used a sweater. A sturdier, tighter knit fabric would not have needed a lining. With a simple canvas fabric you could just hem the top and run your drawstrings right through there, eliminating the need for a band. I may make a couple more of these bags using different fabrics to see how it goes.
For now, I hope Gracie enjoys her 4th Birthday present. Kinley didn't want to let it go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vacation: Day 10 Dayton

We've finally come to the last day of our summer vacation. (I know you probably thought I'd never get to it.) We could have driven straight home from Pittsburgh, like my parents did, but we decided to take one extra day and make it two easy days of driving. We pricelined a hotel in Dayton, OH and stopped early in the afternoon. We spent the evening in the pool and eating ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery. It was a nice relaxing way to wrap up our trip.

The next morning Brian and the boys headed out to the Airforce Museum on Wright-Patterson Airforce Base. We've been there several times before and the boys always love it. It is a terrific free museum full of full sized planes from every era of the history of flight....including the space program. (As a matter of fact some of the things we saw in the Smithsonian we had already seen before when they had been on exhibit at Wright-Patterson.)

One area of the museum is in a separate hangar, however, and we had never taken the boys over to that section before. So Brian decided to only tour that and the space section. The special section houses all of the previous Air Force One planes. You can walk through them and see exactly what kind of accommodations each president has had. You can stand in the spot where Johnson was sworn in and see the cargo hold that transported JFK's body. Of course the boys loved it. They were full of stories when they got back to the hotel around noon. It was a fun end to our great vacation. We packed up and headed home....arriving in Greenville around 7 pm. Home at last!

Looking back on this year's vacation I can see that it was a lot of fun and VERY educational, but VERY different from our normal vacations. Most of our vacations are all about nature and exploring God's awesome creation. We spend a lot of time hiking and climbing and swimming and observing wildlife. We enjoy experiencing scenery and climate much different from our own.

This time we were in urban settings almost 100% of the time. The scenery and climate were almost exactly like ours at home (except for the beach). And while we did "hike" for miles and miles around DC we only spent a few brief hours in nature (aside from sleeping at the campground each night) when we went to the state park near Pittsburgh. However, we really saw a lot of interesting and unique structures.....they just happened to be built by man instead of by God. We learned so much about colonial and Civil War history and modern day engineering. We were able to expose our kids (and my parents) to some of our nation's greatest man made monuments and show them the center of our government.

With that said, I think we are all ready to get back to our more typical vacation next year. Somewhere sparsely populated with miles of wilderness to explore. The kids are already talking about Michigan, or Colorado, or Yellowstone. After all, half the fun of vacationing is the planning.

To read about Day One traveling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here. and here.
To read about Day Six on Assateague Island go here.
To read about Day Seven on Chincoteague Island go here.
To read about Day Eight at Antietam go here.
To read about Day Nine in Pittsburgh go here. and here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

It is long past time for me to update my reading list. I know of three book that I haven't written about yet, and I've got the feeling that I'm forgetting one more. I've been reading quite a bit, but it hasn't all been great literature.

The Good:
I really enjoyed this book. It isn't a cheery type of book and there isn't a happy ending, but it is very well written. The language is beautiful and the story is completely engrossing. I couldn't put this book down. It has a couple of twists/mysteries in it, which I always love. I love a book that keeps you guessing until the very end. This book is a novel inside a novel. "The Blind Assassin" is a novel published posthumously by the narrator's sister. So in some chapters we have the narrator telling us the story of her life in early 20th century Canada and in other chapters we have excerpts from the published novel. The story itself focuses on the lives of two sisters growing up in a wealthy, but dysfunctional, family outside of Toronto. Family is a major theme of the novel but it delves in to communism, war, revolution and economic depression as well. A really good novel, over all.

The Bad:
This wasn't a bad book. It had its good moments, but overall it was really weird. I love, love, loved Marilynne Robinson's book Gilead so I had high hopes for this novel as well, but no such luck. Robinson tells the story of two sisters, abandoned by their mother (she commits suicide) and left to the care of their slightly senile grandmother. When she dies they fall under the care of two old spinster aunts that simply cannot deal with the responsibility so they call in a long lost aunt who prefers the life of a boxcar riding vagrant to living in an established home, but decides to take the job of mother to these two girls anyway. The family is SO dysfunctional and sad. The younger sister is finally driven away to live with a kind teacher and the town begins to demand that the older sister be removed from the home as well. Instead of losing her last remaining charge the crazy aunt takes the girl on the road with her and they become hobos....never telling the other girl that they didn't actually die in the fire that engulfed their house the night they ran away. (Of course they set the fire.) It was just weird and depressing and too wordy. I don't recommend it.

The Ugly:
I love Odd Thomas. He is one of the purest, sweetest, most lovable characters in literature. As a twenty something fry cook with psychic abilities he gets himself into some unlikely situations...usually involving aliens or sadistic mad men trying to destroy the world with nuclear bombs. Koontz' writing is so clever and witty and easy to read. If you are squeamish or opposed to a few supernatural forces in your books you might not enjoy the Odd Thomas series, but I'm betting you just might find Odd's character so intriguing that you can overlook the "ugly" things that are happening around him. I highly recommend an Odd Thomas book. I think there are 4 of them.

You can see all of my 2009 Reading List and the reviews of each book here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pumpkin Muffins Two Ways

Recently I had to take breakfast for our MOPS meeting. I was also in charge of the snack for the 3 year old MOPPETS class. So I checked out the "muffins" section of my favorites list and found two recipes I had bookmarked to try.

For the adults I made Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (a pumpkin muffin with a cream cheese filling and streusel on top) and for the kids I made much healthier Whole Wheat Pumpkin Mini Muffins. Both of them turned out well and went quickly at the meeting.

Here are both recipes for you to try:

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (from Annie's Eats)


For the muffins:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. and 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

For the streusel topping:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup and 1 tsp. flour
4 tbsp. butter, cubed
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until smooth. Form into a log on plastic wrap or foil, making sure that the diameter is small enough to fit into the well of a muffin pan. Wrap the log up tightly and freeze until slightly hardened, 1-2 hours.

To make the muffins, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar and pumpkin puree. Mix until well combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined.

To make the streusel topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix together with a pastry blender or two forks until crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two muffin pans with paper liners. To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well halfway with batter. Remove the cream cheese log from the freezer and slice into 24 equal slices. Place a slice in each muffin well. Divide the remaining muffin batter evenly among the muffin cups, on top of the cream cheese. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Mini Muffins (from

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 12 cup muffin pan, or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center, and put in eggs, pumpkin, oil and honey. Mix just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Spoon into muffin cups so they are about 2/3 full.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in the pan before removing from cups.

These recipes are linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Tuesdays at the Table. Head over there to find hundreds of other great recipes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Manic Monday

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vacation: Day 9 Pittsburgh continued

Just as the drizzle stopped we arrived in downtown Pittsburgh at....
to watch the Cardinals take on the.....Eric got us tickets through his job. We had 4 tickets in 3 different sections of the ballpark. One of which was on field level.....on the VERY FRONT ROW!! Which of course means we were just a few feet from.... And we got to be eye witnesses to an argument between Tony LaRussa and the first base umpire.
In between innings Ryker stood up in all of his Cardinal red and tried to catch Albert or McKay's eye, but it didn't work. We didn't get any balls thrown our way.We were right there to watch the celebration after a Redbird victory. After the game there was a huge fireworks show timed to recorded music.

Interspersed with the fireworks there was a concert by O.A.R. (a band that none of us had heard of but all enjoyed). They sing "How many times can I break til I shatter?" if you aren't familiar with the name.

It was a great night and a fun end to our "official" vacation. But never the ones to rush home, we had a couple of more things on the agenda.

To be continued......

To read about Day One traveling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here. and here.
To read about Day Six on Assateague Island go here.
To read about Day Seven on Chincoteague Island go here.
To read about Day Eight at Antietam go here.
To read about Day Nine in Pittsburgh go here.