Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slip Sliding Away!

Since July, my youngest has been begging for a sledding birthday party. Since last winter we didn't have enough snow, I couldn't make that promise for this year. She prayed regularly and we had a backup plan. Then in the middle of December we got 14 inches of snow! And then the weather stayed nice and cold, we even got a couple of small snowfalls to ensure good snow coverage on our favorite hill!

We made sure to get the invitations out before everyone was gone for Christmas break. Then we hoped that people would remember, and be able to make it.

I googled for ideas on how to throw a sledding party. Most party idea pages are for the summer and spring when it is easy to be outside and full of color. I found a couple of ideas, then planned it out.

The snow hill is only a couple of blocks from the house. So we decided to start there, and then head to the house to warm up. If we had been farther away, I would have set up a buffet out the back of the SUV, and possibly had My Vet drag over the ice house as a make shift warming house. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, we had sunny skies and it was a balmy 20 F. The nearby public library was even open, so we could use the restroom.

On her actual birthday, she requested a snowman cake with chocolate snow.  I decided to carry on with the snowman theme. I had fun with the refreshments. Snowman cupcakes, snowman marshmallows, melted snowmen- baby carrots with ranch dressing, hot cocoa, little smokies, and some coffee for the adults.

The cupcakes were pretty easy. A basic cupcake with butter cream frosting. Using a toothpick I stuck a powdered sugar donut hole on top. Used a Mike and Ike for a nose, Fruit by the Foot for a scarf, and some black frosting for the eyes. The only trouble I had was getting the eyes to stick. Use a small paintbrush to wet the powdered sugar where your eyes will go, then the frosting has something to stick too.

Snowman marshmallows were easy too. Place 2 marshmallows on the tip of a skewer. Cover the tip with a junior mint for a hat. Then using food coloring and a toothpick, add eyes, mouth, buttons, and nose. I used a flower frog to help display them.

I used some orange construction paper, and a black Sharpie to jazz up a basic Styrofoam cup. Then I hung some balloons out front, and on the car at the sled hill. I thought that the end result was pretty cute.

My Vet, the girls, and I had fun sledding for a little over an hour, and shared our extra sleds with new friends on the sled hill. Afterwards, we enjoyed the great snacks, and a warm crackling fire. We also learned that people are really busy this time of year. Hopefully, we will have this whole Christmas time birthday party thing figured out before she is old enough to be disappointed when no one shows up.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chopped at Christmas?

All of us after church.
It has been several years since My Vet and I spent a Christmas at my mom's. The last time we planned on being there, a snow storm hit. So our little family, has gotten used to quiet Holiday's. Leisurely breakfast and coffee, small meals, and plenty of time to rest and relax, and if we had the energy a movie at the local theater or on "The Flix".

This year was was much anticipated by our little family. It was just even louder, and busier than I remembered. Lots of people coming and going, and lots of things to do. I'll do my best to share some of the mayhem with you.

Cream Cheese, Bacon, Oranges,
Tortillas, and Carmelized Onion
I had already purchased and wrapped the presents, even had them at my mom's house before Halloween. I thought I was doing pretty good, and would be able to coast right in. Apparently since I hadn't attended many previous Holidays as an adult, I was unaware of the prep that my sister's did. Luckily, this year I was included in the emails. It started with an idea to mimic a Food Network Program called Chopped. Having cancelled our satellite years ago, I had no idea what that show was. Thankfully the starter email stated we would have 30 minutes to assemble appetizers using secret ingredients that would then be judged by the family. Each sister was assigned a food group to bring for the competition.  Bring enough for 5, plus 1 special ingredient to use or share.

Kim and Stephanie hard at work
Being that I was assigned grains, I chose one of my favorites, tortilla's. I hoped their versatility would be good with the dairy, protein, fruit, and vegetables being brought by other sisters. Yep, there are 5 of us. I have to admit, the competitive side of me wanted to bring something less versatile so that I could be prepared and have an edge. My sense of not wanting to eat something gross or funky won out though. I then whipped up a batch of hummus as my secret ingredient.

Statler with Waldorf hiding
around the corner
After some pre-competition discussion we started 30 minutes early to allow for extra time since 5 of us had to share a space and none of us are professionals. It was a sight to see. Every surface was covered with food, cooking utensils, and some children's toys for good measure. A couple of the husband's created a make shift peanut gallery in the back porch and heckled us through out the competition. (Think the 2 old guys in the Muppets.)

The sisters got right to work. We niched out small work areas for ourselves and got busy. You might be able to tell by the photo that I brought some of my favorite cooking utensils from home.A small cutting board, a large knife, an offset spatula, my apron and a pastry bag that Kim ended up using.

I'm sure my mom never thought this day would come. All of her daughters working in the kitchen, without needing to be asked, or fighting, and cleaning up after themselves!

As a child, Kristie used to trade us younger sisters big nickles for tiny dimes. Since she's had time to 'Hohn' that skill over the years, she brought extra secret ingredients to "stock mom's pantry". aka, Allow her to use a recipe for quasadillas she pre-prepared. Thankfully, Cathy threw her off a bit with the oranges that she sliced and drizzled with chocolate as a side.

Kim, being the first of us to marry and have a home, has the most experience in the kitchen. She also loves to try new recipes and is constantly menu planning for different parties and events. We all knew she had the edge going into this. She assembled her ingredients on star shaped, baked tortilla crisps topped with an orange, bacon sauce, and pine nuts. It was My Vet's favorite.

Cathy hard at work
All of our homes are warmed by the cozy quilts Cathy has made for us. All of that time sewing, doesn't leave much time for cooking. Each of the 10 nieces and nephews know to ask Cathy for anything sewing related, and to expect take out if going to her house for dinner. Cathy is usually busy entertaining the children when cooking needs to be done. Knowing this, she selected oranges and brought lettuce as her secret ingredient. She figured that way she could toss those together on a platter and call it good if the other ingredients were too hard. She welcomed advice from all of us during this friendly competition, and ended up using all 5 ingredients, plus her lettuce and some feta cheese from Mom's stock to create a flavorful spiral.

As usual I over thought it and ended up with a medley on my platter. For starters I used my hummus to spread on the tortillas along with bacon, caramelized onion, orange zest, black olives, and green peppers from Mom's stock to create spirals with a bit of a kick. I then used a cup to cut circles out of my tortillas to fry. Some of them stayed flat like a chip, others puffed up. I made a cream cheese, orange juice, bacon, cashew, chicken filling that I piped into the puff and chilled. I then placed the flatter chips around a small bowl of the hummus. My Spirals were Statler's favorite, while my kids dug into the chips and hummus.

Stephanie along with Statler (remember him from the peanut gallery?) collaborate in their kitchen. She tried to get him to step in for her. She's no slouch in the kitchen, she just prefers baking to cooking. She stuck to what she knows best and combined her ingredients along with some chicken from Mom's stock to bake a yummy tortilla cup with a cream cheese based filling.

It took us 1 hour to make our appetizers and to clean up the kitchen. Then we all got ready to go to church. After church, before dinner we served all of our goodies, and awaited the final desicion. None of the husbands wanted to vote. It was a good thing Doc showed up at just the right time. Since he didn't know who prepared what a plate was prepared for him to make the final vote. And the winner was..... A tie between Kristie's hot quesadillas, and Stephanie's fresh from the oven tortilla cups. Maybe we should have let him warm up a bit more before judging?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homemade Hummus

My first taste of hummus was by chance. Thanks to my couponing I was able to get 4 free tubs. I picked it up and hoped we liked it. Like it we did! However, without coupons it is outside of my budget. So I decided to see if I could make it.
Basic Hummus Recipe:
1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1/4-1/2 cup liquid from can of chickpeas (depends on smoothness)
3-5 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (depending on taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini **
2 teaspoons minced garlic (you could roast 2 cloves instead for added flavor)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Add more liquid from chickpeas if needed.
Flavor Options:
Sun dried Tomatoes
Roasted Red Peppers
Caramelized Onion
Roasted Garlic
I have found that the Roasted Red Peppers add enough extra liquid, while my Sun dried Tomatoes didn't.
Some recipes call for Olive Oil, I just prefer to add a bit extra liquid from the chickpeas.

Place in serving bowl, Garnish with parsley (optional).
**Tahini is essentially sesame seed peanut butter. I find it in the Organic/Natural section of the grocery store. It can be made from scratch as well, but it is difficult to get smooth, and texture is the number one reason why people don't like hummus.
This recipe is such a hit in our house, I always double the batch. It is our staple snack along with carrots and celery, when we go out on the boat.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What a Crock!

So long friend.
My Vet and I got a Crock-Pot for Christmas 16 years ago. I was so happy to have one with a removable crock, at the time it was the latest advancement. This year I have been drooling over the super cute ones that have been on sale at just about every store. The contemporary new designs and the rock bottom sale prices didn't make me budge. How can I justify spending the money when I have a perfectly functional, not pretty, one. So I kept taking a deep breath and moved along. Yay me, right?
Only $16.88 at Walmart this week
Being the last day of school before Christmas, I decided I would bring lunch for my fellow teachers. As I was quickly whipping up a batch of chili this morning I heard a sharp ping noise. Why does such a pretty noise, sound so bad? I didn't have time to agonize over how much it would cost me now that I missed all the sales. Instead, I assessed that the small crock-pot was too small, and grabbed my roasting oven, compiled all of my ingredients and headed out the door.

I Just like this one.
Then, I had time to beat myself up for being cheap. Now it would probably cost me way more to replace it. Before panicking though, I remember that the best way to get a great price on something is being willing to wait. So instead of heading straight to the store I started my search. Since I have the little crock pot and the roaster I can make-do for a while. Surely I will be able to get one no later than the "Big Game" sales in late January.

Likely winner, $15 at Target
I really like some of the patterns available right now. I wonder if I will prefer something plain in the long run though. I know I liked the one up top when I first got it.

I also had problems with my can opener today. Several years ago I purchased a Kitchen Aid can opener, thinking it would be a good purchase. Nope, it didn't work well at all. It had to be held at a weird angle to get it to work at all. A few months back I finally gave up on it and purchased another brand. I tossed that one in the garbage with the slow cooker this morning, and grabbed the cheapo camping one. It worked awesome, should have done that sooner.

So much for making an inexpensive, easy treat for my coworkers...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Begining to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I love Christmas, the whole Christmas Season.
Please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.

Well that's not exactly true. It's obvious why. (Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!)

Other than a couple of scary** moments involving Santa I've had a lifetime of great Christmas memories. Amidst the handmade ornaments, hundreds of cookies, TV Christmas Specials, tree trimming, radio contests, light viewing, live nativities, Christmas pageants, and family time my favorite has always been hanging our stockings.

As a kid we didn't have a fireplace, so our parent's would hang them on the banister and snap a photo of us standing by our sock. As an adult, I have a mantel to hang them from.

Over the years we have all grown, and started families of our own. As our family has expanded so has our collection of stockings. The first 5 were made by our Aunt Nancy. She no longer makes them, but she shared the pattern so that we could continue to get them knitted.

It comes without ribbons, it comes without tags, it comes without packages, boxes, or bags!

Even though Christmas means so much more. I love that I'm able to share the same joys with my own children.

(**I once got lost in the Sioux Empire Mall, while waiting for Santa to return from his break. We also had a surprise visit on Christmas Eve, my parents never did that to me again. I still remember hiding and crying!)

What childhood traditions/phobias have you passed on to your children?