Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Going to see Santa

I wasn't planning on taking the girls to see Santa this year, but after "nap"time today, Amelia asked when we were going to see him.  She was adamant that she had to see him to tell him what she wants for Christmas.  So, we trekked over to the mall, where they had a very nice setup for Santa.  Amelia watched as two different families of kids sat on Santa's lap, and we talked about what she should say to Santa.  When it was our turn, I lifted her up to Santa's lap, she told Santa what she wants for Christmas, and she even mostly smiled for a photo.  What a difference from last year!

Megan, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with Santa.  Ben got within 4 feet of Santa while carrying Megan, and she started screaming bloody murder.  Since we had to pay for the photo, we decided it wasn't worth trying to put her on Santa's lap (although I would have loved to get a screaming baby photo with Santa like Jen got last year.)

As we were driving home, Amelia started asking questions about Santa, like "Where are his reindeer?" and "Where will he sleep tonight?" and "Where are all the other Santas?"  At 3 and a half, if she starting to question the existence of Santa already?

Oh, and what does Amelia want for Christmas this year?  A magic wand.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rudolph Snack

At the last minute, we got asked to be snack helper at preschool today.  It worked out perfectly, because Ben was already taking a vacation day.  So Amelia decided that Daddy should go with her to preschool to be snack helper.  I had to scramble to come up with a healthy snack to take in, and this is what I came up with:

Amelia said her favorite part of preschool was having Daddy there.  Ben said that his favorite part of preschool was explaining to the kids that the round slices of cheese came from a great big log of string cheese (even though they were technically provolone.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Daddy Adventure Day - Olbrich Botanic Gardens Christmas Trains

On Ben's Wednesday morning off, we took the girls to see the train exhibit at the Olbrich Botanic Gardens.  We didn't realize it, but Wednesday mornings are free admission days, and so we had to wait in line a while before we could get in.  It's a lot smaller than the train exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, but they allow fewer people in at a time, so it wasn't crowded at all.  The trains run so close that you could reach out and touch them, except that you're not allowed.  But it was fun to be able to see them so close up.  There were two trains running and one stopped on the track:

Amelia's favorite train was the candy train.  It had a huge black steam engine and then "tanker" cars full of different kinds of Christmas candy.  She liked the M&M car the best.  It had a cowboose at the end, a black and white Holstein painted caboose.  Megan liked all the trains, of course!  The girls were both so excited to see the trains come around the corner:

Different bird houses were displayed in the trees around the trains.  I liked this Swiss chalet birdhouse the best:

They even had crafts for the kids to make.  Amelia and Ben made the snowman below.  Megan colored with marker all over her paper and all over the tablecloth.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gingerbread House

When Ben went to Ikea last week, he brought back a gingerbread house kit that he got for $1.  I had been planning on making a gingerbread house from scratch, but the premade kit was so nice and easy.  One of the side pieces was broken, but I glued it with some royal icing, and it has held up fine.  And even though it was prepackaged, it still smells delicious.  Ben helped Amelia do the decorating - he piped on the icing, and she put the candy in place.  She had a great time!

Amelia had the idea to put a smartie in each of the squares on the roof.  Good thing we had a lot of smarties leftover from Halloween.  :)  Here is the finished gingerbread house:

Here is the outfit that Amelia picked out to wear that day:


I asked her if she thought that outfit went together, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said "Of course it goes together - it's flowers and butterflies!"  What could I say?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Christmas Cookies - Peanut Butter Toffee Bars

Becky discovered this recipe in Disney's Family Fun magazine (which is a really fun magazine!) and we made a batch at our Christmas cookie extravaganza two weeks ago.  They were so delicious that I decided to make up a batch to take to the cookie walk (I started to realize that 12 dozen cookies is A LOT of cookie and I needed some easy ones after all the fiddly sugar cookie ones I tried)

Peanut Butter Toffee Bars

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups dark or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toffee baking pieces

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and egg yolk on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the flour, oats, and salt and beat the mixture on low until the ingredients are just blended, about 30 seconds.

3. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust until it is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes (be very careful not to overbake - I baked my for 18 minutes and they were too done; the bottom layer was a little dry, and the chocolate didn't stick well to it).

4. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Remove the pan again and, using a small offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the crust.

5.  Sprinkle the toffee pieces over the chocolate, gently pressing them into place.

6.  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool until the chocolate has set, about 2 hours. Using the edges of the foil, lift the dessert from the pan, then cut it into rectangles.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Christmas Cookies - Lumps of Coal

I saw this idea on eighteen25 and I thought it would be a perfect funny cookie to take to the cookie walk.  So I had Ben pick up some black food gel at Joann's on his way home last week, and I made them at the last minute.  They were so easy because they're basically rice krispy treats!

I loved the label that they had created at eighteen25, but I wanted to package mine as cheap as possible in plastic bags.  So I modified their label to make it longer.  I'm sure Becky could have whipped it up in Photoshop in two minutes, but it took me an hour.  :(  But I think it was worth it.  I'm definitely making these again next year!

Lumps of Coal
makes about 70 small lumps

1 10.5oz bag of mini-marshmallows
4 tbsp butter or margarine
4 cups Rice Krispies
black food gel

Melt the butter and the marshmallows in a large microwave safe mixing bowl.  When completely melted, stir in black food gel until the mixture looks black and not purple.  I think I used half of the little jar.  Then stir in Rice Krispies.  Place on parchment paper in small, odd-shaped lumps.  It helps if you oil your finger, otherwise it will be very sticky.  Let harden for a few hours.  Package in snack-size ziploc bags, I put 5 lumps in each bag.  Then print out label, and staple to the bag on each side.  So easy!  So cute!  So funny!

Monday, December 12, 2011

New Christmas Cookies - Checkerboard Cookies

When I asked David what kind of fancy Christmas cookies I should make for the cookie walk, he immediately suggested checkerboard cookies.  I've never made them before, and I thought they looked cute, so I gave them a go.  They were a little fiddly, but not too bad.  Plus, one recipe makes a lot of cookies!  I would definitely make them again if I had the time.

I followed the recipe from Baking Obsession exactly, so I won't repost it here.  I was skeptical that mine would turn out as pretty as hers, but I think they did!  The white framed cookies spread a little, but the chocolate ones didn't.  I froze the dough, then thawed it on the counter for an hour to cut it.  Then I put the cookie sheets with the sliced cookies back in the freezer for 10 minutes before I baked them.  I baked them for 13 minutes at 350F.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Christmas Cookies - Mickey Mouse Cookies

My church had a cookie walk today, and they were asking each church family to donate 6 dozen of their fanciest Christmas cookies.  Since I love to bake, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to branch out and try some new Christmas cookies, I decided to take two trays home to fill with 12 dozen cookies.  It was a lot of fun!

I helped set up for the cookie walk last night, and discovered that this is a huge thing in Sun Prairie.  There were thousands and thousands of cookies, and the variety was amazing!  The ladies were telling me that you have to get to there early and wait in line outside the door in order to get the best cookies.  And last year they completely sold out in 45 minutes!  I didn't get there this morning to see if for myself, because my cold came back and I wasn't feeling great.  But I'm excited to hear at church tomorrow how much money was raised for the Sun Prairie Food Pantry.

Here's one of the new recipes that I tried.  They're decent tasting sugar cookies, but mostly they're just super cute.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse Sugar Cookies

22 tbsp butter (2 sticks plus 6 tbsp), softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat well until mixed.  Gradually add flour, baking powder and salt.

Divide dough into four equal sections.  Color one section green and one section red (Wilton gel food coloring gives the best vibrant color).  Leave the remaining two sections white.

Roll out each section of dough into a 9 inch square.  I did this by marking a 9 inch square on paper and taping it to the counter.  Then I taped a large piece of waxed paper over it, dusted it with a little flour, and rolled the dough out on the waxed paper.  I could see the marked square underneath.  The only word of warning is to use only the bare minimum of flour; I used too much flour on the green dough, and it didn't stick together as well as the red dough.

Once the squares are rolled out, place one white dough square on top of one red dough square.  Cut the dough into one 3" by 9" section and one 6" by 9" section.  Using the waxed paper to get started, roll the dough into two 9" long logs (so roll the dough starting on the long side).  Place in the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour or up to a day.  Repeat with the remaining white and green dough.

Take the dough out of the fridge and cut into slices.  I cut the larger (face) logs about 3/8" thick and the smaller (ear) logs a little less than 1/4" thick.  Place one face piece on a cookie sheet, and use a doughnut hole cutter to cut two little football shapes out of the dough where the ears will go.  Then place two ears in the holes, and press the dough together at the seams.  I didn't use any water to seal the dough, and the ears mostly stuck okay.  Because my face pieces were thicker, I used my hand to smush the face down a little, which I think helped the ears stick better.  As expected, I didn't have quite enough ear pieces, but the plain swirl cookies are pretty, too.

Bake at 350F for about 9 minutes.  Let cool on the pan for a minute before removing to a cooling rack.  Don't let them cool too long on the pan, or the ears will want to break off!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Liam's Quilt

I finally finished Liam's baby quilt that I have been working on for 8 months! 

I really like the bright dinosaur fabric, and the simple pattern that I made up was so quick and easy to put together.  (You may be asking yourself, if it's so quick to put together, why did it take me so long to finish?  And the answer is, I really don't know.  Probably because we moved.  And I don't like doing the binding, so I procrastinated for a looooong time.)

Now I can move on to the next baby quilt.  Hopefully I'll get it done a little more expeditiously.