Friday, February 15, 2013

The Way The Cookie Crumbles

H is such a busy, crazy, wild boy that I often forget just how sensitive he is. He loves to create, especially if it's for somebody specific.  Last week, he came home from school, excited to show me the book he'd checked out from the library. I saw the cover and he explained that this would be the valentine we'd create for his teacher. Charlie has two classroom teachers, so we'd actually be creating three of these since what H does, so does Charlie.

That's right: a cookie bouquet. I put the book to the side, thinking he'd forget about it, and proceeded to purchase simple little carstock boxes and an assortment of Ghirardelli chocolate squares to put in them for the teachers and support staff. Fast forward to Tuesday night when H reminded me that we still needed to get the supplies and start on the cookies. I showed him my genius purchase, but he would not be swayed. Then he threw down the gauntlet. 'You said you'd get the (insert variety of craft supplies here) for the Star Wars craft, and you never did!' Fine, 'Uncle!', I cried in my head and promised that while they were in school on Monday I'd get the supplies and we could decorate the cookies after school so they'd have time to set overnight before the big day. 

They really weren't that difficult, but I did as instructed and used refrigerated cookie dough, though I know that my mom's sugar cookie dough is the best (and it would have actually worked a lot better for these). In the future, I'll just make cookie pops in a cello bag-you'll see why a little further down. 

The boys got home to find iced (not frosted, an important distinction) cookies waiting to be decorated. Next time, I'd use an even smaller cookie cutter, but this was the smallest heart I had and the crapp-o store-bought dough spread a lot in baking. Secondly, I would have baked them for maybe two minutes longer until they were much more done than I usually prefer.


The boys then got to use the frosting in a can that looks like easy cheese and a sparkly decorating gel (which I wouldn't recommend in the future). I had purchased sparkly frosting, but realized my tips wouldn't work with it, so I saved them for later. 

Next time, I'd let them all remain on the sheet instead of transferring them to plates because I think it may have weakened the back a little...you'll see for yourself at the end. Cookies decorated, they painted the pots with pink and red acrylic paint (and I resisted the urge to touch up and fill in the gaps) and left them to dry. I had them do it on parchment paper (I just re-used the parchment I baked the cookies on), so that as the paint dried it wouldn't stick like it would to newspaper.

I then inserted a square of floral foam that I cut so that it would have a snug fit, and covered it with a sheet of white tissue paper, pushing it down into the sides to fill the gaps and leaving a single layer on the top so that the lollipop sticks could easily be inserted.



The next morning, I arranged three cookies per pot and filled the gaps with candy hearts, making double sure I had H's three cookies in the pot he painted because he would remember and then I'd be a failure in his eyes once again. I put them in a box with an airpack between each pot, and then realized I'd have to have J ride along with me for school drop off so they didn't fall over and break. The extra cookie was put in a cello bag (as I would do in the future) and given to H's teacher from last year. In the end, only one cookie broke in trasit, and it wasn't one of H's so I'm calling it a win. In total, they only took about 15-20 minutes of hands-on time, not including the 12 minutes they were in the oven.




How I thought they'd arrive at school
Although they turned out fine (9 out of 10 intact ain't bad...) I'd do a few things differently next time:

1. Use smaller cookie cutters.
2. Don't be lazy; actually make the sugar cookie dough that you know works well.
3. Don't push the stick into the cookie too firmly, as the icing will make it secure in the front.
4. Don't lean any cookies forward, as the weight of the frosted front will pull it forward and break the cookie.
5. Convince H to give the simple cardstock boxes with chocolates.

How they actually survived the ride.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

So, is it Chicken or Fish?*

*(and if you don't get that reference, you aren't a pop culture ho like I am...Newlyweds, anyone?)

image courtesy of angsarap.net
About six months ago, our local butcher started taking orders for seafood that has been amazing! Once a week, we get an email with what's available on Monday, place your order and pick up your fresh and bursting with the beauty of the sea vittles on Friday. This week, we bought bay scallops and huge white shrimp from Baja. They are the biggest shrimp I've ever seen. Last time the shrimp were available, I made fajitas with them and they were good, but this week I was itching to make something that was healthy and hearty, but a little fancy. I asked 'the facebook' for suggestions and had an immediate response with a recipe for Moqueca. Like most coastal countries, Brazil has their own version of a seafood stew. The thing that makes this one a fave that I'll make again and again is the coconut milk base; yum! The real deal is made with a fish caught off the northern coast, but we work with what we've got. I bet it would even be delish with some calimari.

What I loved most about this, was how simple it was to prepare. I already had everything in my house to make it, save for some cilantro and green onions and that was only because I'd just thrown out my sad wilty ones the day before. I was a little bit nervous about the instructions to generously salt and pepper each layer, but it really turned out beautifully. Just last week I was watching Giada and she commented that if you salt each layer as you're cooking, it'll turn out perfectly seasoned, whereas if you dump in that same amount of salt at the end, it's just salty.  I wish I'd taken a photo of ours, but it was gone in a flash.

The end flavor was a bit like Tom Kha soup, which is one of my favorite treats, and when I input the recipe to myfitnesspal.com so I could track it (I've been tracking every bite I put into my eager mouth) I was pleasantly surprised that, even using full fat coconut milk, it was just over 200 calories per serving (we got 6 servings out of the batch), plus about 100 calories for almost a cup of brown rice. I didn't add the garlic and oil to the rice that the recipe called for, I prepared it as I always do with chicken stock and water. It was very filling and the flavors were rich and deep and really, really satisfying. I love proving over and over that eating healtfully is usually even more satisfying than that big ole greasy burger and fries that make your guts dance a jig twenty minutes later. Bom Apetite!



Monday, February 11, 2013

She Sells Sea Shells

Progress!
If you've never heard of English style paper piecing quilts, they are awesomely tedious but also produce absolutely beautiful, and seemingly effortlessly aligned, quilt squares. When I was pregnant with H, my mother-in-law gave me a sampler kit that was perfectly timed for my short stint of bedrest. It produced this little sampler.


I enjoy tasks that are the opposite of tedious. Give me a big ole batch of fabric and I'll cut it into squares  and sew strips to make a quick tied quilt. My friend in Massachusetts introduced me to machine paper piecing, and it produces the same effects with none of the tedium. I swore I'd never do another by-hand paper piecing quilt again. That is, until our local fabric shop posted a picture of their newest quilt kit, Hex on the Beach. First, the name, love it.  Second, the beautiful, mesmerizing flow of undulating colors with simple prints let me know that I'd be able to put this baby anywhere in my house and be in love with it. But I see it in the sunny corner of my bedroom draped over a chair with a fat knitting basket beside it. You can see it now, too, right?

Here's what it will look like after I baste fabric onto one thousand little hex shaped pieces of carstock, and then stitch those little hexes together one thousand times. Yes, one thousand. I should be able to lay this baby over my lap and knit just about the time I'm an octagenarian. It's pretty addictive, though, so realistically, I hope to finish it before next fall. I love the pattern of quilting that was chosen for the sample with a simple curvy line that recalls the gently lapping waves. 

Image courtesy of tulapink.com


Speaking of waves, I'm in the throes of planning our summer vacation in Maine. The ocean is calling my name!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Edgar the Peaceful

About six months before we moved from Massachusetts, we decided that when we got to Walla Walla we'd get a dog. I started obsessively (shocking, right?) scouring the interwebs for dog rescues and other ways to get my mitts on a pooch that was a puppy no longer, was socialized, housetrained and didn't have a history of abuse. I talked to a number of breeders who advertised that they sometimes have older labs available, in addition to the local humane society and animal rescue organization.

Because I started my search months before we moved, it was all very premature, and felt a little silly. Once I was contacted by my friend about Dailey, I stopped looking and didn't keep track of who I'd contacted or what they'd said.

Fast forward, and the last few months of doglessness have carried with them the good and the bad. Floors that are not being constantly swept of dog hair: good. Solo nights and weekends sans canine companionship: bad. We first thought our next dog would be a puppy and had slated that fun to begin next fall. After the rush of the holidays, I started contacting local breeders so that I could get on their list if necessary and go through the application process, meet the parents, etc. I have had a lot of misgivings about going the puppy route at this juncture, the biggest being the babe's age. I think the boys like the idea of having a puppy a lot more than they'd love the realities of nipping teeth, chewed on toys and pee everywhere.

I recently signed up for my second full marathon (Santa Barbara in November, yikes!), so in thinking about getting a dog, I knew that having a running partner would be on my list of priorities, and may even motivate me to finally run in the wee hours of the morning. (Yes, I'm ridiculously afraid of the dark.) However, I was still planning for another 9 months of a pet-free home.

At the beginning of January, I spoke with a breeder in town (really, they're trainers who breed occasionally) to see if they had any older dogs available, or could foresee having any available soon. I got a tingling in my gut when I realized I'd spoken to her when we still lived in Massachusetts and that one of the three she had available was the same she'd thought would be a great fit for us then, but had contacted me before we knew about Dailey to say that her husband was just not ready to let him go yet.

We made arrangements for me to meet the three dogs they were willing to re-home on Monday and then I brought J and the boys out to meet the dogs and that serendipitous pooch feels like a perfect fit. He's incredibly well trained, mellow and just a sweet boy. We already had a weekend at Grantastic's house planned for next weekend, so we'll be officially bringing him home on Sunday. From my first meeting with him, I knew he'd be ours. I tried to be reserved until the boys had met him, but really I'd already placed him in our home in my mind. His name (that he's called, not his registered name) is Edgar and, like all of my boys, it's the name of a king. So, without further ado, meet Edgar the Peaceful.

H is over the moon!

Bossy Beans trying to point out a piece of treat left on the ground