Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween Decorations

We decorated more than usual for Halloween this year (mostly because Abe kept asking if we could make our house into a haunted house!), so I thought it would be fun to share what we did.

First of all we had the giant spider that Abe picked out for me one day while he was shopping with Grandma. It made its' way around the house, attacking people in chairs and popping up on the floor in the playroom, until we finally decided to hang it in this window. He seemed happy there.

And, of course, we had to make another yarn spider web in the front window! It's amazing how much cleaner that window looks from this angle...

Noah's brother and sister-in-law always get the kids some spooky books for Halloween. This year they also included knitted toys (an alligator for Abe and a monster for Edie), Halloween crayons, stickers, glow-in-the-dark chalk, and some other goodies all packaged in this foam board coffin. We have quite a collection of Halloween books, so it's been the perfect spot to stash them all!

Out front we had our pumpkins and a giant trash bag spider filled with leaves, and of course you could see this skull wreath and the spiderweb in the front window. 

We've been displaying the kids' Halloween artwork on our chalkboard wall, along with some scribbles on the chalkboard. I drew the pumpkins behind the table and Abe and Edie added faces. 

I still love their little hand and footprint creatures. This year we made Frankenstein's monster and the bride of Frankenstein!

I framed a bunch of my favorite Halloween and dress-up photos of Abe and Edie. The mat boards are Martha Stewart Halloween paper I found at Joann.

I just put them all on the table along with the glass lanterns I made a few years ago. Poor lanterns really need new lights!

In the dining room, we put up some paper bats...

...and giant googly eyes above the doorway. Edie was the only one that noticed them without me giving hints or pointing them out. They kind of make our house feel like a Muppet...not exactly scary. Maybe next year I'll add teeth...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Batman, Butterfly & Green Ninja Costumes

My kids love to dress-up and it seems most of their "costumes" start with a favorite pair of pajamas. These are a few of their pajama costumes with a few added extras to make them trick-or-treat ready!

Lloyd the Green Ninja (from Ninjago)

Abe has been asking to be a ninja since he first saw Lego's Ninjago. It changes from day to day; some days he wants to be the blue ninja, some days the black one, but most days it's "the GREEN ninja!" 

The hood is just a ski mask that he can pull down when he doesn't need to conceal his identity. I had to make the face hole bigger on this mask so it would work that way though. 

I found the perfect plain green pajamas on Amazon. They're made by a company called VaeNait and are cozy cotton jammies that also come in gold, bluepink and purple. I totally want to make Edie a little purple ninja costume now! 

His "ninja" sword was a gift from his cousins and yes, that's how he carries it when he's not using it. 


This is Edie's actual Halloween outfit. I picked up the wings for their dress-up box one day at Target, and then realized I could throw on her butterfly pajamas (the purple shorts are under the skirt), a pair of tights, and the purple tutu from her grandma and she'd have a complete costume.

All I had to make was the sparkly antenna headband...and a trick-or-treat bag. It's a little bag/purse with a flower on the front. 

She loves her costume and asks to "fly" every time we put on her wings. Cutest thing ever!


Abe is going to be Batman (both for Halloween and "when he grows up"), but this costume is the before-I-bought-him-a-mask-and-made-him-a-utility-belt version. 

He likes to wear it outside when he's playing in his "Batcave"...

...and he likes to chase villains, so here's Edie dressed up as Catwoman. Rubber boots are an acceptable substitute for leather, right?

The cape is just a black piece of fabric I had laying around that I cut out (Abe insisted that I make the bottom pointy) and added the Batman symbol using iron-on transfer paper for dark fabrics. (Find a printable Batman symbol here.)

I made the felt mask for him awhile back and he likes it, but his dad insisted we get a real one for Halloween. It has since been replaced with this one from Amazon. 

Here's hoping Batman can keep Mr. Freeze away this Halloween!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blueberry Curd

Way back in March when I posted about Edie's 1st birthday, I mentioned that I was going to share the blueberry curd recipe that I used for the filling of her cake. Then the snow melted and I quietly disappeared to enjoy the rest of spring, summer, and a good chunk of fall playing with my kids. Now Abe's back at preschool three mornings a week, Edie's settled into taking one long afternoon nap, and I have a bit more quiet time than I'm used to. So yeah. Welcome to my first post in almost 6 months! It's a yummy one.

Blueberry Curd

2 cups frozen blueberries
zest & juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1. Combine blueberries with the lemon zest and juice in a 2-quart saucepan, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Blueberries should be very soft. Let cool.

2. Gently smash the berries that haven't burst and pour through a fine mesh sieve. Press with a rubber spatula to extract juice from the berries. Discard skins. Strain juice again (but don't press) to separate the seeds from the juice.  You should end up with about 3/4 cup of blueberry/lemon juice.

3. In the same saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup blueberry juice, sugar, eggs, and butter. Cook over medium low, stirring often, until all of the butter is melted and the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

4. Optional - Strain mixture a final time (pressing if needed) to remove any remaining seeds or bits of cooked egg.

5. Cooled curd can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, or poured into freezer safe containers and kept in the freezer for up to a year. Thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

A few notes:

* I've found that recipes that call for more sugar than fruit juice tend to be too sweet. You can add up to 3/4 cup sugar to this recipe, but I think you taste the flavor of the fruit more if you use less sugar.

* Straining at the end really helps remove tiny bits of cooked egg, seeds, and fruit skins ensuring you get the smoothest curd possible.

* Blueberry and citrus curds are excellent for filling cakes, cookies, donuts, or even just spreading on biscuits or toast. They're also great mixed with plain yogurt. Mmm....

Last winter, before I attempted making blueberry curd (the first recipe I followed was a terrible failure - way too sweet, and too gritty from the unstrained seeds and skins), I made a whole batch of citrus curds. Pictured above are blood orange, cranberry, lemon, and lime. Below are links to the recipes I followed and my notes for what I'd change about each one.

* This lemon curd recipe is fantastic as is - no changes recommended except to double (or triple) it!

* I used the same recipe just replacing the lemon for lime to make a lime curd, and it was good although a bit strong. I think a bit less lime zest or a little more sugar would have fixed that.

* My blood orange curd turned out sweeter than I would have liked following this recipe. Cut back to 1/2 cup of sugar since the blood oranges are sweeter than lemons and limes. This one had a really beautiful floral scent and flavor!

* This cranberry curd didn't have a strong cranberry flavor. May have been better with less water and perhaps the addition of some fresh orange juice and zest.

* I don't have a picture of this one (made it over the summer instead of last winter like the rest), but this rhubarb curd is great too. Next time I'll have to try making the rhubarb bars that go with it!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bunny Bait & Easter Eggs

It's not often that I pin something one day and make it the next, but Edie and I had to make a Target run yesterday, and while we were there I picked up the ingredients to make this trail mix

Abe's been interested in cooking lately so I thought he might like to help. I should have known from past experience though, that when it comes to sweets, his only interest is in "quality control."

I basically followed Kellie's recipe except I didn't measure anything. Since I made enough for a crowd I used 2 bags of salted popcorn (I prefer the contrast of salty and sweet), 1 bag of Annie's Honey Bunnies, about half a bag of bunny marshmallows, 1 bag of peanut butter M&M speckled eggs, and the chocolate chips from a bag of Nestle Springtime Morsels. I separated out the pink and yellow morsels and melted those down to drizzle over the mixture in place of the white chocolate called for in the recipe. 

Also, I discovered this egg-dyeing technique on Pinterest and thought I'd share it. I thought it would be a good way to prevent Edie from completely smashing her eggs like Abe used to when he was little

It worked really well...until she dumped the entire mug of dye on her tray. When I took the tray off to pour the dye down the sink, she threw the whisk on the floor, successfully breaking her first egg! I guess some things are just meant to be...

Hope you all have a happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sour Cherry Ice Cream

I've never met Lindsay Clendaniel of Scoop Adventures in real life, but I started following her blog a few years back when I was feeling a bit "homesick" and started searching for blogs about New Orleans. She was living there at the time, and although she wasn't really posting anything about the city, her beautiful photos and intriguing ice cream recipes immediately drew me in. Every time I visit her site I find at least three recipes I want to make RIGHT NOW! (Peppermint Cookie or Black Raspberry Chip anyone?) And if you take the time to scroll through my Frozen Deliciousness board on Pinterest, you'll find an absurd number of pins from Lindsay's blog. (For real, sometimes I feel like a bit of a stalker...) So of course I was thrilled when Lindsay asked me to be part of the blog tour for her new cookbook, Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States!

The day her cookbook arrived on my doorstep, we had just gotten a few fresh inches of snow. After a winter that saw us hitting temperatures at or below 0°F for 53 days, you'd think the last thing I'd want to think about was ice cream, but that night I curled up in bed with Lindsay's book and read the whole thing cover to cover! (Well, not the WHOLE thing. I didn't read the ingredients and instructions for each recipe, but I did read all the yummy descriptions. Is that weird?) 

Most of Lindsay's book is dedicated to recipes she's collected from ice cream shops around the country (at least one from each state). I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't tried the Dark Chocolate Zin from Izzy's Ice Cream here in Minnesota. I know they've been serving it at the State Fair for a few years now and every year I walk into the Minnesota Wine Country booth with the best intentions...but usually leave with a flight of local wines instead of the scoop of Izzy's ice cream I went in for. I won't make that mistake/totally-not-a-mistake again. This summer I'll get both!

At any rate, Scoop Adventures is filled with beautiful photos and lots of great recipes I can't wait to try! I think I'll start with Blueberry Mojito, Huckleberry, Mayan Chocolate, Honey Sunflower Seed, and Rosemary Honey Walnut, and I'm dying to make the Purple Cow and Peanut Butter & Jelly ice cream for my kids! For the blog tour though, I picked Sour Cherry...

I'm not sure where I thought I was living when I agreed to mix up a batch of sour cherry ice cream in April, especially when the recipe calls for fresh cherries which aren't in season in Minnesota until the end of July. #rookiemistake Luckily, Lindsay assured me that I could substitute frozen sour cherries, and after stopping at four different grocery stores, I finally found some organic ones at Whole Foods! (Her recipe also gives instructions for substituting sweet cherries if that's the best you can find.) I usually prefer chocolate or minty ice creams, but this was sooo good. I shared a little bit with the family and ate the rest myself

Colorado Sour Cherry Ice Cream
Makes 1½ quarts (1.4 L)

Inspired by the vibrant red sour cherries grown on the western slopes of Colorado, this flavor packs a punch with elements of tart, sweet and tangy. Sweet Action creates ice creams made with fresh and seasonal ingredients, so the owners only feature this gem of a flavor on their menu when cherries are at their peak season. Lucky for you, they have chosen to share their recipe so you can make this ice cream whenever cherries are in season near your home.

3 cups (465g) sour cherries, pitted
1 ¼ cups (250g) sugar, divided
1 tbsp (15ml) lemon juice
2 cups (473ml) heavy cream
1 cup (237ml) whole milk

Combine cherries with ¾ cup (150g) of the sugar and lemon juice. Allow the cherries to macerate in the refrigerator for approximately 6 hours, stirring every hour. Purée the macerated cherries in a blender. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the cherry skins; reserve the juice. Reserve 2 tablespoons (30g) of the cherry skins and discard the remaining skins.

Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Combine the remaining ½ cup (100g) sugar with the heavy cream and whole milk and place over medium heat. Bring the milk mixture to a low boil. Cook until the sugar dissolves, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a medium bowl and set in the ice water bath to cool, 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to churn, combine the reserved sour cherry juice and the milk mixture in an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When churning is near completion, add the reserved cherry skins (adjust based on personal preference). Complete churning, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Note: If you cannot find sour or tart cherries, you may substitute sweet cherries. To prepare the cherries, pit and halve before macerating. Add ½ teaspoon citric acid during maceration. The ice cream will not taste exactly the same, but it will still be tart and delicious.

Recipe from Scoop Adventures by Lindsay Clendaniel  
(Page Street Publishing; March 2014)
Printed with permission

And hey, there's a giveaway! You have three chances to enter, but first you must leave a comment below with the most adventurous flavor of ice cream you've tried so far. (I can't remember mine, but I'm pretty sure it had beer in it.) Then click on the Rafflecopter widget to confirm that you've commented and unlock additional ways to enter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be chosen by a random drawing and notified by email within 24 hours of the close of the contest. If no response is received within 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen.

Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the cookbook to review, but it was already on my Amazon wishlist when they contacted me, so I would have bought it anyway. Did I mention I stalk Lindsay's blog

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Edith's 1st Birthday

Last month Edie turned one. Of course we had to throw a party to celebrate! 

I've had plans to make a mobile of paper hearts to hang over Edie's crib for awhile now, and since her birthday is so close to Valentine's Day I just decided to work those hearts into the decor. I chose patterned papers in aqua, yellow, and pink because those are the colors I wanted for her mobile, and they felt girly without being too valentine-y. I bought some scrapbook paper and a stack of cardstock cards at Michael's to make the paper hearts. 

For the invitations, I found a chalkboard background online and added the white text in Photoshop using a font called Rudiment. I printed them on the cardstock cards I had bought for making hearts (similar to these but different colors). The cards were 7x10 inches with a fold down the middle, so I was able to print two 5x7 invitations per page. It worked great and as an added bonus, each invitation had a pretty pattern on the back instead of just plain white. Once the cards were printed, I attached the hearts with a piece of double-sided tape and then stitched them in place with a needle and thread. (It helps to poke the holes where you want them to be before trying to sew through the paper!)

I also stitched a heart to the back of each envelope before I mailed them off. Sometimes I get carried away with my needle and thread...

I'm happy to say that I actually completed Edie's monthly photo project for the first year! I fell behind on her written monthly updates, but I did keep track of what she was doing each month so I can still add those to her baby book. Of course I had to print out all the pictures and hang them on the wall! I still can't get over how much older she looks in that final picture... (You can get a closer look at all the photos right here.)

Our only other party decorations were the big paper hearts I cut from the same paper I used for the invitations, which my niece hung all over the house. Some of them are still up!

I took the final picture of her monthly photo project on her actual birthday, but I had to get a few pictures of Edie in her party dress on the day of the party. I love that smile! 

It seems like I always make a pinata for Abe's birthday, but since we'll probably be spending most of Edie's birthdays indoors, I wanted to start some kind of tradition that wouldn't leave my living room whacked to pieces. Since it will probably always be cold on her birthday, a cocoa bar seemed like a good option. We set it up in the living room in front of our chalkboard wall with her monthly photos.

Instead of stocking up on mugs or using disposable cups for our cocoa bar, I just made sleeves out of gray felt for my collection of 8 oz. canning jars. I stitched a paper heart to each one, and ended up with a cute set of glasses that can handle hot or cold drinks!

To flavor the cocoa, I set out a variety of mix-ins - candy canes, vanilla hearts (made from candy melts leftover from Abe's dinosaur dig cake), cinnamon sticks, caramel bits (I found them in the baking aisle next to the square caramels - these ones melted easier and didn't need to be unwrapped!), chocolate sprinkles, homemade marshmallows, whipped cream, and turbino sugar and cream for the people drinking coffee. I also put out some cute heart-covered straws from Target to use as stir sticks.

I love homemade marshmallows in cocoa, but my favorite combination was caramel and cinnamon with whipped cream and sprinkles!

And yes, the cocoa bar was a huge hit!

For brunch we served baked french toast, mini fritattas, bacon hearts, and fresh fruit. Noah picked up the flowers for Valentine's Day. 

We just set the food out on the table, but I still made a little menu card for each dish. 

The only dish that got the full Valentine's Day treatment was the bacon. It wasn't too hard to make the heart shaped bacon, and I was able to fit a lot more on a pan that way, so that felt like a win-win. Also, heart-shaped bacon. Who doesn't love that? 

Noah and Abe went to the party store that morning and bought a couple balloons for Edie. She is obsessed with balloons so she wanted to hold them all day. Eventually we had to put both of the ribbons in one hand so she could use her other hand to eat lunch!  

In addition to our cocoa/coffee bar, I also set up a Bloody Mary bar - because what is brunch without a Bloody Mary? We didn't make very many Bloody Marys, but most of the olives, meat sticks, and cheese cubes disappeared as the kids kept walking past my set up on their way to play in the basement...

Abe was in charge of deciding when it was time to open presents...and helping open them!

While printing up the photos for Edie's monthly photo project, I kept coming across other favorite photos that I'd taken of her and Abe throughout the year. I loved the photo collage I put on our magnetic wall for Abe's second birthday, so I figured I'd just update the wall with photos of Edie. 

I stuck paper hearts on all my magnets and printed my favorite photos as 4x6s (or 4x4s if they were from Instagram) which I'll eventually put in an album or her baby book. I also hung some mini Instagram magnets that I made a while back, and a postcard from 1canoe2 that seemed appropriate for my girl that loves to climb. It's so much fun and a bit bittersweet to look back on the last 12 months this way...

Wasn't this taken like yesterday?!

As usual, the cake was just boxed cake mix and store-bought vanilla frosting topped off with some paper hearts. I don't know why I always frost chocolate cakes with white frosting. Someday I'll learn... 

Edie loves blueberries, so I made a blueberry curd for the filling of her cake. It was so good! My mom wants the recipe so I'll have to post it soon. 

We used our regular dishes for brunch but I never seem to have enough small plates for cake, so I picked up these polka dotted ones and the napkins from Target. The colors make me think of summer and as it turned out we had a beautifully sunny day for the party. It was cold and snowy outside, but it felt warm and festive inside!