Saturday, April 30, 2011

a trip {to the falls}

About a month ago, just as the Frozen Tundra was beginning to feel whispers of the Big Thaw, our little darlings were given a week off of school for spring break. For a stay-at-home mother-of-five with a work-from-home husband, this means donning the title of Children's Entertainment Coordinator. Meaning the more time I can spend away from the house with the crazies the better.
One such afternoon, I decided it would be fun to take the kids hiking at the falls. Thankfully I was able to leave Elliot home napping because I'm pretty sure that had he come with he would not have lived to tell about it. Or maybe I would have been the one who wouldn't have lived to tell about it as I'm fairly certain I would have had 598 heart attacks instead of the mere 19 I actually had.
Not bringing Elliot meant we had two extra spots in our van, so Brenna and Maya each brought a friend along. I strapped Wyatt on my back and we started off on our adventure.

After stopping to do a bit of posing that is. You'll notice that the majority of the pictures are of these two cuties. This is mainly because they were the only two in the group who actually wanted to slow down long enough for me to photograph them.
I believe it was a balmy 40-some degrees on this sunny spring day. Almost warm enough for shorts and flip flops. Almost.
There are not a lot of trail options at this park. Or at least not a lot that I'm aware of. The trail we took involved a long set of stairs that was separated from a steep drop off by a rickety old rail. This would also be the scene of heart attack number one.
On the other side of the stairs is a cliff with a few interesting little hidey-holes. The kids thought it was great fun to climb inside of the holes. Being rather claustrophobic myself, I saw them climbing into the holes on purpose and promptly had a panic attack. On the inside. Because if you've ever been responsible for kids you know that no good comes from them knowing that you just threw up a little in your mouth.
I also didn't tell them that there were probably all kinds of icky creepy crawlies that made their homes in those little holes who would love nothing more than to hitch a ride out into the Vast Unknown in their hair.
After coming down one long set of stairs, we crossed a little wooden bridge and began making our way up another set. This is the part where I thought somebody was going to die. The two older girls went up first, followed by Ethan and then the other two girls. Everything seemed hunky dory until I reached a point where the stairs turned. I'm still not sure how the kids made it past this turn. Apparently this area does not see much of the sun because the stairs there could be better described as a hill of ice. Not only could I not find a safe way up, but suddenly I had to figure out how to get five kids down. On either side of the stairs was a steep drop down a rocky cliff. And once again, the only thing separating us from the stairs and the cliff was a rickety old rail. With the baby on my back throwing my balance off, I found a spot to dig in my foot, held onto the rail, said a prayer, and one-by-one grabbed the hands of each kid until they were all safely on an ice-free step.
They all continued on down the stairs and across the bridge as if it were no big deal. I took a deep breath and followed them down all the while pretending I wasn't having another massive heart attack.
After crossing the bridge to the relative safety of the first set of stairs, the girls climbed back into another hole to take a little break.
And then it was up....
and up....
and up the stairs.
All the way to the top. At which point Maya needed another little break.
Having escaped with all lives and limbs intact, Ethan, sporting his oldest sister's rain boots, had great fun making muddy tracks in the snow...
while the girls jumped for joy because they were so happy to be alive. Or maybe because they were about to eat some Pringles for a snack. It's hard to say. And then we went home where I poured myself a stiff glass of H2O on the rocks and drank the stress of the day away.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

sneak peak

We had quite the interesting Easter weekend and I have over 500 photos to show for it. Given the fact that I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to daunting tasks I decided to give myself a jump start by posting a little sneak peak of what we were up to.

sheep {cake pops}

I've made quite a few cake pops in the last year. But these guys are definitely the cutest ones yet.
I found the idea in the book Cake Pops by Bakerella.
I did have to change up the decorations a little bit. I used Junior Mints instead of licorice buttons (because eww) for the faces and mini chocolate chips instead of brown rainbow chips for the ears (because where the heck does one find rainbow chips anyway?). I also couldn't find any heart shaped sprinkles so I made the noses by removing three petals off of flower sprinkles. And I skipped the legs altogether.
The instructions called for an unspecified amount of sugar pearls. After making the sheep, I think I know why there was no amount listed. My one bottle only covered 15 sheep. And sugar pearls? Are not exactly cheap.
With no sugar pearls left and about 30 cake balls remaining, I did what anybody would do in such a situation. I made a single black sheep (thanks to my dear friend A who had that brilliant idea), got out some pink candy melts and made a few pigs, and then turned the whole operation over to my 10-year while I sipped on some happy juice. Okay, fine, it was water.
Adorable and tasty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

pizza man

Oh, hey little buddy. What's with the guilty expression I see on your face?
Oh, I see.
You saw the pizza box sitting on the counter?
And now that you are a little older and a little taller you decided you could pull it down and see what was in there?
And when you found that there was some uneaten pizza inside you decided it was time for supper part 2?

Oh, baby, what's wrong?
Ah, yes, I know what the problem is.
That pizza sauce that's plastered all over your face is starting to sting a little, isn't it?
Oh, but what have you discovered now?
Oh. Of course. The pizza.
I guess even the sting of the sauce can be overlooked when there is pizza waiting to be consumed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

hydrangea {cake}

I was going about my day, minding my own business, when I was ruthlessly attacked by this blog post. It just came up out of nowhere, tripped me, and hit me over the head with a piping bag. Have you ever been hit over the head with a piping bag? Although it may not actually hurt all that badly, it causes your brain to think of just one thing. Cake. Specifically, trying to decorate a cake like the one you've just seen. Even though none of the cakes you've made thus far have required actual technique. I guess I've got a little bit of crazy in my bones because I decided I was going to try to make it for my little girl's 8th birthday anyway.
I made two practice cakes before I attempted the final product. Thankfully I'm part of a weekly small group that doesn't seem to mind helping me get rid of baked goods.
For the first practice cake, I tried an easy method using a Wilton 4D tip. I combined light blue and lavender frosting in the piping bag and just plopped little flowers all over the cake. While this method would work great on cupcakes, it did not work as well on a whole cake. The most accurate description came from the one of the small groupers who said, "It looks like my swimming cap from when I was a little girl!" Yeah. Not quite the look I was going for.
So it was back to the drawing board. Err, youtube. This time I found a method where each individual petal was separately piped on. Oy vey. It looked like a lot of work, but it was the look I was going for so I had to try it.
After a lot of practice I felt like I kinda sorta had it down. My flowers still didn't look quite as nice as I would have liked, but it was a definite upgrade over the first approach. And then I got to the sides of the cake. Holy guacamole Batman. It was like performing an acrobatic routine trying to get those little petals piped correctly.

I thought the final product turned out pretty decent considering my lack of actual piping skills.

I also think it may be time for me to invest in a cake plate or two. As much as I love my Fiestaware, it's really better for eating cake off of than displaying it.

Of course, wouldn't you know, after all of the hours I put in trying to make her cake just right, the one she wound up favoring was the one she decorated herself.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

the best chicken noodle soup really

Let me start this post out with a disclaimer. While there are some people who can take amazing pictures of food and the preparation of food, I am not one of those people. Please, try not to cover your head and run away screaming in terror as you're reading this post. Because the end product? Will make subjecting yourself to the scary photos all worth it. So toughen up and let's get through this together.

I first tasted this soup at the home of some friends of ours. The man of the house happens to be a fabulous cook. He just whipped this up with no recipe. Also not a strength of mine. Aaron and I had already eaten when we walked in the door, but this soup looked and smelled so amazing that we had to try some. I took one bite and died and went to heaven. When I came to, I picked myself up off the floor and demanded the recipe. Which Sir Master Chef so graciously gave me. Since then, I have made this heavenly concoction numerous times. It has become my go-to recipe for new moms, sick friends, and company. It's lovely because it makes so much soup that there is always plenty left for our family to eat for a few meals.
Meet the cast of characters.

We'll start out by preparing our veggies and garlic. Give those carrots and celery a good washing. I use 1 lb of carrots and 4-5 stalks of celery.
Peel the carrots and chop them up. I like to chop mine pretty small, but you could make them a bit bigger if you prefer them that way. Not too big though or they won't sautee properly.
When your 3 year old comes over and requests some applesauce, be sure to give in to his request. It will keep him occupied for at least 3 precious minutes.
Now let me introduce you to two very important players. Olive Oil and Butter. I know they look kind of scary. And full of fat. But they are a very key element in this show.

Cut the stick of butter in half. Yes, we are going to use half of a stick of butter. Don't be afraid. Remember this makes a lot of soup. So in the grand scheme of things, each serving is not going to have much butter in it.
Put the butter in a large frying pan along with some olive oil (about 1/4 of a cup, just eyeball it) and get them all warmed up over medium low heat.
While the butter and olive oil are doing their thing, finish chopping the rest of the veggies. Again, you can chop them however big or small you'd like. I slice the celery down the middle lengthwise and then slice each half down the middle again before chopping it into small pieces.
Next dice the onion. Use this time to cry about the fact that after carrying 5 babies past their due dates, your stomach will likely never fit inside your pants again without the use of Spanx. When your husband asks you why you're crying, blame it on the onions.
When you're done chopping the veggies you'll have a pretty rainbow of colors that will make you forget all about your muffin-top.
Your burner should already be on and your butter should be melted at this point.
Dump in the veggies and stir them around a bit. This is where the real magic happens. This will also be the longest part of the cooking process. You can speed it up a bit if you need to, but generally speaking I like to use a low enough heat that these guys take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook up. That really allows all of their inner-goodness the time required to come out.
Meanwhile, mince a few cloves of garlic. I try to do this right away or I tend to forget about it altogether.
When the veggies are all caramelized and yummy, go ahead and add in the minced garlic.
Give it a good stir and let it cook for another minute or two. In person, it will look much better than this. I promise. Take a spoon and try a bite. But just one. We need the rest for the soup.
Dump the veggies into your stock pot and brace yourself to pick up the pieces of raw chicken. I know it looks, feels, and smells awful enough to make you want to give up and go hide in your bed with the covers pulled over your head. But you can do it. Put those babies in the pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry them up over medium heat. And then scrub your hands and every surface within 50 feet of your home for the next hour or two.
After you've disinfected the neighborhood, heat the chicken until it's just cooked through. It should be golden brown on both sides. Try to resist over-cooking it. It makes the chicken very dry and hard to chew. I'm speaking from experience here people. Do yourself a favor and don't over-cook your chicken.
At this point, glance at the clock are realize that your son needs to be picked up from his birthday party in 7 minutes and it will take 8 minutes to get there. Accept the fact that you'll be a few minutes late and cut up the chicken. Toss it into the pot with the veggies.
Quickly open up all three cans of chicken broth.

Pour the broth into the pot. If your husband is home, go ahead and turn the heat on medium-high. If not, run out the door, pick up your son 5 minutes late, and turn the burner on when you get home. Bring the broth to a boil.
Next comes the cream. You can skimp a bit on the cream if you want to. I believe in the original recipe, Sir Master Chef called for a half pint of cream. I like to add a full pint. It makes the soup so creamy and good.

Add in a palmful of thyme.
The last step is to add the noodles. If you've ever tried to snap a picture of noodles being dumped into a pot, you'll know you only get one chance. I failed. Let the noodles hang out in the boiling soup for about 7 minutes.
Ladle some soup into a bowl, add a hunk of bread and enjoy the best chicken noodle soup EVER.

The Best Chicken Noodle Soup EVER

1 lb carrots
4-5 stalks celery
1 onion
4-5 cloves garlic
4 T butter
1/4 cup plus 2T olive oil
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 49oz cans chicken broth
1-2 T thyme
1 16 0z bag of egg noodles

Wash, peel, and dice carrots, celery, and onion. In frying pan, heat up butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, about 1 1/2 hours. Mince garlic and add to caramelized veggies for about 2 minutes. Transfer to stock pot. Heat up 2 T oil and heat chicken until just cooked through and golden brown. Dice cooked chicken and add to veggies in pot. Add chicken broth, cream, and thyme to pot and bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions, about 7 minutes.