Baby Shower

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Just two weeks after the craziness of the holidays I was in charge of throwing a baby shower for our friends T & K. It is their first baby and as a mom of 3 boys, it was kind of fun to throw a girly party.

We had lots of yummy food and I spent all night the night before decorating. Guests wrote funny messages on diapers and advice and well-wishes in a notebook for the parents. We had labor-predicting bracelets as favors and a onesie decorating station. I made squares of my favorite fabrics from my stash into iron-on patches so our guests could create a wearable masterpiece. I also put out fabric markers and paints. We got 16 onesies that were definitely cute enough for Baby Sophia to actually wear. I was really proud of how everything turned out and I think everyone had fun. The parents-to-be definitely got a lot of great presents!
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Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone

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Happy Almost-Christmas!! I just had a birthday (my twelfth twenty-fifth 😉 and I’ll write about that soon, but right now it’s the time of year when my boys are pacing the floors like madmen waiting impatiently for the morning they can rip open their presents. I’m feeling pretty much in the spirit–it’s our first Christmas in this house and for the first time in years we are staying home. Our presents are wrapped and ready to go and our beautiful tree (our biggest yet) is full to max capacity with all of our special ornaments.

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I felt a little weird/sad to not spend the holidays with our family like we normally do, so I was happy to hear that my in-laws were coming this weekend to drop off presents/hang out with us for Christmas. They are literally staying one day (not overnight) so I’m happy to be baking a special treat to share with them.

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I’ve never made panettone before, but I’ve eaten it store bought plenty of times. Whole Foods has a nice one that I used to get for the holidays pretty frequently. I had considered not making this since I waited so long to get the few ingredients I didn’t have on hand and I needed to clean the house, but when my husband came home this evening (at around 10pm) with paper molds and oranges and corn syrup (after my house was fully clean) I knew there was no turning back.

I was a little worried when I added the milk to the yeast/flour because I had a recipe (it’s been months but it still messed with my confidence…) that used yeast and didn’t rise properly so I’m still a little gun shy. The milk seemed a bit warmer than it was supposed to be and I was afraid I had killed my yeast.

I couldn’t remember what size it was before after I let it rise the first time so I’m not sure if it was doing it’s thing or not. It’s now 1am and I am waiting for my sugar to turn to syrup on the stove with my orange peels. My dough is in the mixer bowl and the chocolate chips are in the measuring cup on the counter, waiting patiently for their turn.

Once my peels are ready I am going to take a shower while they cool. After I get my dough in the paper mold I am hitting the hay and hoping that an overnight rise will be fine. (did I mention they will be here at 8am-ish?!)

I am minutes away from taking the peels off the heat, so I am going to leave you here. I will update in the morning after my panettone is baked (and we try a bit of it) and let you know what the verdict was.

Good Night!!!

Update:

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I woke up to perfectly risen panettone, much to my delight. I got the oven fired up and the panettone baking. My in-laws texted and let us know that they were going to be here a couple of hours later than we had originally thought so we made coffee and went back to bed. A few How I Met Your Mother episodes later and my panettone was complete.

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I meant to put foil on the top but I lost track of time. Luckily it seemed ok, not too dark.

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I set it out to cool and went back to bed. My in-laws are here now and the panettone was perfect for cutting. We just had a couple of sample slices and it was great. The orange-chocolate combo was perfect and the texture was great–lighter than bread but more chewy than cake. I definitely think this one was a winner!

**Note: I didn’t realize the recipe called for bread flour so I used A/P. I was worried, but it didn’t seem to hurt the texture. Also, my husband brought home milk chocolate chips so it a pretty mellow chocolate flavor as opposed to what it would have been with semi-sweet chips.

Go see what everyone else thought!

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Next up: Lemon lime champagne granita!

Family Traditions

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I love December–it’s my birthday month and I do enjoy Christmas. (although Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday)

I grew up with a mom who liked Christmas–her mom died the day before my 9th birthday and they played the Christmas song Winter Wonderland for her because she loved it so much. But my dad HATED Christmas. Hated it. He would miss family dinners and pretty much hide out until it was over, which wasn’t fun for my brothers and I.

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Of course, I grew up and married someone who hates Christmas. So the boys stay with me for Christmas each year and spend Thanksgiving with their dad. But my sweet husband likes celebrating. He also prefers Thanksgiving but loves doing fun things together and loves making my birthday special and loves seeing the boys’ faces on Christmas morning.

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For years we’ve gone to his parents’ house, but its five hours away. We have a great time and it’s good to get some Grandparent time in, but this is our first winter in this house and we love it here. We want to create special memories here and start to find out special traditions that work for our little family. So this year we are staying home.

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Last night was my big boy’s Winter music program and baby G and I went to cheer them on. In other years they were shy but not this year. They sang and danced and Peachy played the bell (Monkey was on bell duty last year) They were adorable and so proud of themselves.

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Afterwards I offered to take them to dinner. It’s been a while and they love dinners out. They couldn’t decide where they wanted to go and each one vetoed every idea the other had. I was driving in the general direction of home when I saw an option: IHOP.

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I am kind of a food snob and usually would NOT consider IHOP a viable option, but the boys have never been and what kid doesn’t like pancakes for dinner?! So we went and of course they LOVED it. We all had pancakes and bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and hot cocoa and it was a blast.

On the way home we blasted the AC/DC Pandora station and were enjoying it so much we drove around our neighborhood and the one next to ours and checked out all the cool Christmas lights. Some houses really went all out! When we got home we kept the party going and turned off all the lights and turned on the Christmas tree lights and danced around our living room to an old Iron Maiden record. As I spun around under the twinkly rainbow lights with my 3 sweet boys dancing beside me I was the happiest Mama ever.

Our lives are so hurried–rush to school, rush to finish homework and get in bed…it’s nice to just stop for a minute and enjoy each others’ company and do something different just for fun.

We still plan on baking Christmas cookies–both for us and for the children’s shelter nearby. We plan on making ornaments to add to our already-full tree. (I love unpacking each ornament from the years before) We plan on have a big Christmas Eve dinner–and we can each open one small present and a huge Christmas Day brunch and gift extravaganza.

I’m so grateful for the chance to give my babies experiences they will always remember. I still to this day dancing around under our tree with my mom and two brothers. It was Wham! and not Iron Maiden, but the feeling is the same and I know these moments are fleeting.

What traditions have YOU created with your special people?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Velvet Chocolate Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel

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I love fudge, my grandmother used to make it a lot during the holidays. I had all of the ingredients on hand except for the walnuts, but I *did* have the perfect amount of pecans available, leftover from Thanksgiving so I decided to use those and not worry about the walnuts.

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I made the marshmallow cream first one afternoon. I was pressed for time and shouldn’t have started it when I did but it turned out well regardless of my time crunch. I was thrilled to see the perfect, fluffy marshmallow cloud that magically appeared in my mixer bowl. I have never even thought about homemade marshmallow fluff, and have never used marshmallows in fudge so the whole process was new and exciting for me.

The one problem I had was the fact that I didn’t have a candy thermometer. I have lots of regular/meat thermometers but I had forgotten that my one candy thermometer broke at some point. I used one of the thermometers I had on hand, but it didn’t go up as high as I needed so I was nervous kind of winging/guessing at the correct time/temperature.

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As usual I had a kid underfoot great helper so that made me feel a bit distracted/disorganized. I was stirring, stirring, stirring and trying to keep him from getting burned when I realized I hadn’t cut/toasted the nuts that I would very shortly need. I set the oven to 400 and threw them in before the oven was even up to temp. I wasn’t exactly sure what “toasted extra dark” meant, but I felt like I was on the right track when I smelled the nuts close to burning. I yanked them out of the oven, threw them into the food processor right as I was finishing up the other steps. My pan was a 9″ so I folded up one side of foil so I could rig it into the proper 8″ size I needed. I poured the fudge in to cool and the foil barrier worked just fine.

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I have to admit: the “X” thing confused me. I just couldn’t picture the final product. I did try to cut the Xs before it was fully set, but I had the pieces planned to be WAY TOO big for fudge. The only blog post that I saw that featured this recipe skipped the Xs AND the olive oil so I guess I wasn’t the only one that didn’t quite get it.

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I tried the fudge after it set, but before the addition of olive oil or fleur de sel and it was amazing. Really strong and beautiful contrasting flavors: deep chocolate, toasty pecans (they were perfectly done, luckily!) and the sweet hint of fluffy marshmallows. I didn’t see how the fudge could get better. But it did. I found that the backside of a knife created a good, deep X in the fudge squares. I think that the regular knife edge wouldn’t allow for the olive oil to sit on top of the fudge properly. The fruitiness of the olive oil worked perfectly with the other flavors and I love salt on chocolate anytime. It was seriously mind-blowing.

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My husband reminded me of the dessert he had on his menu when he was the executive chef for a French restaurant: dark chocolate tart with fleur de sel and olive oil gelato. This fudge was an exact replica of those flavors. This is definitely my go-to fudge recipe from now on.

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And the fudge is already gone. 🙂

Go see how everyone else liked this delicious fudge!

Next up: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone. Yay, perfect for Christmas!!

Share the Scoby Love

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With every batch of kombucha that is made, the scoby starts to get a bit thicker. Translucent gummy goodness is a sign that the scoby is having a baby. I hadn’t separated my fused mama/baby scoby until this last batch. I realized that as the holidays approach maybe a little starter kit with a scoby (swimming in the brew it was born in) directions and helpful hints (handwritten for a personal touch) and a bottle of my latest batch may be a fun gift for one of the kombucha lovers in my life.

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I know so many people who enjoy a bottle of store bought kombucha, and most probably don’t enjoy the $4 price tag. Just like anything else, it’s so cheap to make and I achieved success with my very first batch with zero experience or knowledge prior to giving it a shot. I have read a lot of blogs and websites discussing methods and equipment and was able to get a pretty solid working technique down quickly. (although I did use a spicy tea last time without realizing the essential oils may be harmful to my scoby, I guess we’ll see if it is ok by how my current batch pans out)

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Williams-Sonoma sells this kit online for $70 and even though the glass jar is cool, I think it’s a total scam. I don’t think I’ve spent $20 on supplies and I’m on my 5th batch.

I think I have a recipient in mind for my first little kit, if I get a good response I may continue to spread the scoby love around.

What are your favorite DIY gifts to give this time of year?

The Scobe: Adventures in Kombuchaland

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I inherited a scoby from a friend last week and decided to bite the bullet and finally give DIY kombucha a whirl. I had no clue what to do with her when I brought her home in a glass pint jar, swimming in the brew she was born in, so I did a lot of internet reading to prepare. After a couple of days I shrugged and tossed the scobe in with a fresh batch of sweet tea into a glass jar with a spigot (that I had just bought) I saw the scoby sink to the bottom. I had no idea if I had killed it or what was going on.

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The next day I took the kombucha down from the shelf above my dryer in the laundry room and peeked under the coffee filters (used to help the ‘booch breathe and keep bugs and fruit flies out) The scoby had floated to the top and it smelled happy and very kombucha-y in there. I tasted it in day three (I slipped a straw under the scobe and took a sip) and it seemed like it was going to be good.

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After it brewed for 7 days I used a pair of tongs to fish out the scoby (my oldest boy insisted on putting on a pair of plastic gloves so he could feel it’s slimy squishiness) and let it swim in some of the kombucha in the pint jar I brought it home in. I tossed in a chunk of peeled fresh ginger and added 32 oz. of organic honeycrisp apple juice. I used the scoby (fused with it’s baby, I didn’t separate them yet) to start a fresh batch and put the first batch back on the shelf to do a second ferment and hopefully create some yummy bubbles in there. (like what I’m used to in store-bought)

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This morning I poured a glass to sample and really loved the way it tasted. It was definitely “real kombucha.” I put it back on the shelf and was excited to see lots of bubbles forming on the top. I tasted it again tonight and the flavor is definitely deeper and more complex. I’ll taste it again tomorrow and if it seems to be where I like it then I’ll toss it in the fridge. I don’t plan on straining it, the spigot seems to be catching the bigger chunks and I don’t want to mess up the carbonation. Plus it will be gone probably before the second batch is finished with the first fermentation.

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I let my older boys have some with dinner and they loved it. I think we’ll need a bigger jar! I feel bad because my sweet husband wanted to get a 2 gallon screw top (looked like a giant mason jar!) container the first time but I was hesitant to go bigger than a gallon or so in case it didn’t work out. (the one he wanted was twice as much as the one I wanted) I want to get a case of flip top bottles and a few jugs and another bigger container with a spigot. I found a few online, but I will probably end up investing in real homebrew supplies as time goes on. I can’t wait to experiment with different flavors!

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Have you made kombucha before? What are YOUR favorite flavor combinations?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

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This recipe forced helped me to jump-start my fall baking. I bought my first two pie pumpkins and located my pie weights. That alone made me feel triumphant. The bars are really yummy, the perfect thing to make for a holiday potluck…(or in this case, a random rainy weekend)

The only problem with it is that it is NOT procrastinator-friendly, it definitely takes a bit of time and planning to execute this recipe. Luckily we were just having a lazy weekend at home so while the boys snuggled on the couch watching Winnie the Pooh I spent some time in the kitchen.

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By the time we were finished having breakfast this morning (ok, I’m still in my jammies drinking coffee, but it’s technically not the morning anymore) the bars were ready to be cut.

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I definitely think they were a hit. I don’t need a pan of these laying around my house, so I think I am going to pack up most of them and send them with my oldest boy to take to his Nana’s house.

Go see how my tester friends fared with these yummy autumn treats!

Next up: Devil Dogs with Malted Buttercream Filling. WOW!