Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Off days

I feel like lately we've had more "off" days than "on" ones.  Everything takes longer, there are more tantrums, and nothing feels easy.  I find that I have to be extra organized and schedule VERY little to make our days work.  I think it has a lot to do with being on my own with the kids Mon-Thurs.  On those days Justin leaves for work before the kids get up and doesn't get home until after they go to bed.  I have to have our menu well planned, lists of all the things that need done around the house and a weekly plan for getting them done....and that's about all I seem to be able to handle besides plenty of time outside and a few crafts.

Today felt particularly "off".  I needed to bake a wedding cake and finish up another small cake, the bathrooms should have been cleaned, the house should have been vacuumed, and dinner needed to be prepped/made.  But I was tired, SO tired.  This was my second day of waking up at 5:30 to get in a run before Justin leaves for work.  I love getting up early and getting exercise, but until I start going to bed earlier, it's rough.  I'm a happier, more mellow person when I get my exercise - I guess that's the trade off for the sleepiness.  All I managed to get accomplished on my list were the cakes and dinner, no cleaning.  I knew I would never make it through dinner/bath/bed if I didn't squeeze in a short nap myself.  In order to do that, I needed to get the cakes started in the morning.  And the only way to get that done?  Sesame Street and Fireman Sam.  75 minutes straight of my one and two year old with eyes glued to the TV so that I could selfishly whip up 6 batters of cake.  Ugh.  I hate it when I resort to that.  I don't know why I get huge mama guilt over letting the TV babysit them on occasion, but I do.  I wish my children NEVER watched television, but they do and on days like today they watch way more than they should.  I'll do my best to balance it out by having no TV for the next few days, but I still don't like that they watched that much today.  And in all honesty I'll probably have to turn it on tomorrow to buy myself a few minutes for getting dinner made...maybe I can keep it to only one 12 minute episode of Fireman Sam?  Or maybe the cheerios, pots, pans, plates, spoons, and broom game they came up with to entertain themselves tonight while I made dinner will work again tomorrow?  Speaking of which, I still need to clean that up.  I guess I should go catch up on all the cleaning and remaining baking now...but I'm still tired....

On the bright side, Jackson made adorable sunflowers that are brightening up our dining room now!  I think we're going to try making a few other flowers over the next few weeks to create an indoor flower garden.  This mama LOVES flowers!

The petals are handprints with yellow paint on brown paper.  I cut them out after they dried.  The next day he glued them around a paper plate.  The centers were small squares of black tissue paper that he crumbled up and dipped in glue.  I cut the stems and leaves and he painted them green.  Easy steps he could do and it broke into stages nicely.  He's still a little young to take on a big art project like this all in one day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls..yum!

Here's the second recipe we have fallen in love with, cinnamon rolls.  I searched high and low to find a cinnamon roll recipe that made a dense, doughy roll with lots of gooey filling, and a flavorful icing.  I never did find one, but I combined several recipes and came up with this. 

It makes A LOT.  I divide the dough/rolls into three 9" cake pans and freeze them.  It's nice because it allows us to have homemade rolls without all the hastle each time we want them.

Cinnamon Rolls

4 3/4 - 5 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp (1 pkg) active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs

In stand mixing bowl combine 2 1/4 cups of the flour and the yeast.  In a saucepan heat milk, butter, sugar, and salt until warm (120-130 degrees).  Add to flour mixture along with eggs.  Beat on low for 30 seconds, scrape bowl, beat on high for 3 minutes.  Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Change to the dough kneading attachment, knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (4-6 minutes total).  Shape dough into a ball, spray bowl, place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise for about an hour.

Punch dough down, turn out on a lightly floured surface, divide in half, and let rise for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, spray three 9" cake pans (or aluminum pie pans) and set aside.  Make filling.

1 1/2 cp brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
2/3 cp butter

Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Rolls each half of dough into a 12"x8" rectangle.  Sprinkle filling over dough.  Roll up each rectangle, starting from the long side, seal seams.  Slice each roll into 12 pieces.  Place cut pieces into pans.

If you plan to save these, wrap them in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze them at this point.  If you plan to eat them now, cover loosely, let dough rise for about 30 minutes, and follow baking directions below.  When I freeze them, I pull a pan out right before bed the night before and let it defrost/rise overnight.  This may not be "up to code", but we've never gotten sick as a result.

Before baking, brush dough with half and half.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 17-23 minutes or until light brown.  If necessary, very loosely cover rolls with foil the last 5-10 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.  Remove from oven.  Brush again with half and half.  Cool for several minutes then pour icing over top.

2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp coffee
1-2 tbsp half-and-half

Stir sugar, syrup, vanilla, and coffee together.  Add enough half-and-half to reach desired consistency. 

I honestly don't even measure this out.  I just dump sugar in the bowl with some vanilla and coffee, then add corn syrup and half-and-half until I like the consistency.  You can't really screw it up.  I like the icing a little on the thick side though because the warm rolls with "melt" it.  We like a lot of cinnamon filling, so I go a little lighter on the icing.  If you prefer the opposite, half the filling recipe and make extra icing.

Dig in!

Balancing (and baking), yet again

Starting back in November or December, we made a family decision to start eating less processed food.  We started by making more dinners from scratch.  And as I usually do, I started reading more and more articles on healthy, wholesome eating.  Which led to me driving Justin mildly crazy with all the changes I wanted to make, but trying to do it slowly.  Now it's May and by this point I've read a lot of articles and a few books and I would love to change us over a purely local, pesticide/hormone/chemical free diet....but it will never happen.

For starters, it's way too expensive.  I can't justify spending $20 on a locally raised chicken, when I can get one on sale at Food Lion for $4.  I'd love to support the small, local farmers and eat healthier, but if we to switch to local meat, we would basically have to switch to a vegetarian diet.  It just won't happen.

Secondly, I have to remind myself that balance and moderation are sometimes the healthiest (mentally speaking) option.  Our life is busy and crazy.  I don't always have the time to make EVERYTHING from scratch.  There are plenty of days that if I tried to do everything the "best" way by myself, I would lose my mind...and I don't know if that's the best trade off overall.

Yet, we still have managed to make a lot of changes to our diet and I think we're really enjoying the benefits.  We now eat a ton of fruits and veggies.  I cut out almost all of our most processed foods from our diet, which also saves us money.  I make all our breads/rolls from scratch.  I stopped feeding the kids crackers for every snack and have switched them over to toast with homemade jam, cheese, plain yogurt, and fruits/veggies.  We get local milk (well, sort of, it's from the Roanoke area) in glass bottles and eggs that are free of all the yucky stuff. 

In the process of all of this, I've discovered some foods that I really love making from scratch...and others that I don't.  For example, I tried making my own flavored coffee creamers...that lasted about two weeks before I went back to my beloved Coffeemate.  I LOVE baking breads - white bread, wheat bread, cinnamon rolls, focaccia, dinner rolls, all of it!  I LOVED making jam!  I LOVE cooking with fresh herbs!  I enjoy using dried beans in recipes more than I ever imagined! 

So, I thought I would also share with you two of my favorite recipes.  I have combined and edited several that I tried, and these are the "tried and true" favorites for our family now.  The directions are for making using a stand mixer.

Whole Wheat Bread
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp (or 1 pkg) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cp water
1/4 cp honey
3 tbsp butter
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
3 - 3 1/2 cps white whole wheat flour (it's whole wheat flour made from white wheat rather than red wheat)
1/3 cp flax seeds

In the stand mixing bowl combine 2 cps of the all-purpose flour and yeast; set aside.  In a saucepan, combine the water, honey, butter, and sea salt.  Heat until butter is melted (120-130 degrees).  Add mixture to flour/yeast mixture and mix on low for 30 seconds.  Scrape bowl and beat on high for 3 minutes. 

Stir in 1/2 cp remaining all-purpose flour, flax seeds, and as much of the whole wheat flour as you can.  When dough is too stiff to stir, use the bread kneading attachment on low speed to knead bread, while adding the remaining flour.  You want a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic.  This usually takes about 6-8 minutes.  Remove dough from bowl, spray bowl, return dough to bowl, cover with a light dish towel and let rise on counter for about an hour.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in two, cover with towel, and let rest for ten minutes.  Meanwhile, grease and flour two bread pans (I've found crisco and flour work best, but Pam spray works just fine too if you are without crisco). 

Shape dough into two loaves.  My favorite way to do this is to roll it out into a rough rectangle shape, about 8"x12", then roll up, tuck ends under, and place in pans.  But if also works if you simply shape it into a loaf shape.  Cover pans with dish towel again and let sit for 30-40 minutes.  About half way through this rise time, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake at 375 for 36-40 minutes.  I've found 36 minutes does the trick, but some ovens may take longer - for me, 40 minutes dries it out too much.  Immediately remove from pans and tap bottom of loaf.  If it sounds hollow, bread is done.  Let cool on a wire rack until completely cool.  I store ours in gallon ziplock bags.  I usually freeze one loaf and use the other.  It freezes well - sometimes I've made 2 or 3 batches in one day to stock up.

If you like white bread, I HIGHLY recommend the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe.  It is divine.  And you haven't lived until you've made french toast using it.  I thought thick white bread from the store make good french toast, but it's rubbish compared to using the homemade stuff!  Make it just like the recipe says, but still use your stand mixer for kneading. 

I fixed our oven today and made white bread for french toast Saturday morning.  Here are the two loaves cooling...smells heavenly.

This is a long enough post, I'll post my other favorite recipe in a separate one later.  Happy baking!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I love rainy days

I love a good, dreary, rainy day every once in awhile.  I love how it forces us to slow down a little more than usual.  I find it easier to focus on time with the kids and less on my never-ending "to-do" list. 

Little is ever accomplished around the house, no one bothers getting dressed, and there is a lot of cuddling, coloring, block building, book reading, baking, and maybe even an occasional snuggled up with mama naptime.

And on that note, since both of my sweet babies are blissfully sleeping, I'm going to go snuggle into bed with one of them and catch a little nap myself!

So, yes, we are loving this rainy day. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

The (hopeful) beginnings of two green thumbs!

We have most of our gardening spaces established for this summer!  We moved the main garden to a sunnier location and made it a raised bed.  We added a kitchen herb garden near the deck/back door. 

I may be jinxing us by saying this, but so far everything is growing well and I think this might be our first fruitful year!  In the past we have only been able to harvest hot peppers and frankly, what do you do with 50 habanero peppers?  I think they only survived because no animals wanted to eat them.

In the next month we will add a pumpkin patch (somewhere, who knows where yet).  I don't think this will be a raised bed though.  We have also played with the idea of adding blackberry and blueberry bushes, but we may have missed the window for doing that this year.

 The herb garden - thyme, sage, rosemary (two varieties, I think), chives, parsley, peppermint, oregano, and lavender.  Basil is in a planter on the deck, as is a second lavender, and what is left of our lettuce crop for the spring.

 The garden - corn (two rows, started at different times to allow a longer harvest season), tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, snow peas, and a few flowers thrown in (sunflowers in back, zinnias and marigolds between rows).

My hardworking men.  Nobody got a picture of it, but Summerlin helped me do the first half of the yard.  She rode on my back in the Ergo while I mowed.  Everything is a team effort around here!