Lizzard Loves Blue Sky Snow Covered Vail

Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday Round Up 12/7/18 - Early Mornings, Cookie Exchange + Homemade Oreo Recipe, Reverse Advent Calendar, Snowless Sledding

Truly, how is it December already?? I am loving the extra week between Christmas & New Years to be sure - but somehow this month has crept up on me in a MAJOR way!! Again, not complaining - just feeling a bit of shock & awe!

1. Early morning time in front of the Christmas tree(s)

I have been waking at 5 (earlier if it is a bread baking day) since we put up the Christmas trees for the express purpose of sitting on the couch with only the trees/wreaths in the windows for light and reading/relaxing/drinking coffee/texting/whatever I want to do! These have been some of my most relaxing, peaceful, silent hours of the Christmas season. I am in love with these hours. I am typing this post in one of these hours. The house is silent, the light is low, the world is still dark as night, it feels like found time and it feels delightful. 

2. Cookie Exchange + New Recipe

My "back up Mom" or BUM for short, Lynn, hosts a ridiculously sumptuous brunch party each December where each guest is invited to bring 2 dozen cookies to share. 

Everyone then goes home with a variety pack of 2 dozen delicious treats!! I love the concept of a cookie exchange - what fun to share the fruits of our baked goods with a group of lovely women. Lynn is kind enough to include the Bug in the invite - but the party falls smack in the middle of nap time - so I got a babysitter this year.

See #3 for my first effort at a cookie to bring. It didn't make the cut! So I decided  to make Homemade "Oreos"! Full recipe is at the end of the post! I adapted it from a blog called Sally's Baking Addiction.

3. Reverse Advent Calendar
I don't know if that is the right thing to call it - but I decided this year for Advent Lulu & I would aim to do something kind each day. A random act of kindness, a gift, a card, whatever it may be. So far its been a complete success I'd say! I've been enjoying thinking of small ways to make December more joyful for others & though the Bug is small, I'm loving trying to involve her in the process. The most fun so far has been dropping off some homemade cookies to our local fire station. We were invited in to see the truck, engine & ambulance up close which was a huge thrill for my truck loving little one. I am trying to shift the focus of the season from getting to giving in my own mind to hopefully raise Lulu to love to give. Not that I expect her to eschew gift getting! Not by a long shot! I hope she receives gifts with great enthusiasm & excitement & appreciation. I just also hope she learns to give with the same level of excitement.

I tested a recipe for Lynn's cookie exchange & didn't love it at all. It was labor intensive & ended up being cloyingly sweet. Too sweet for my tastes. Turns out Chris loved them, so I didn't feel bad about what Lulu & I did with most of them! We brought them to our local fire station as a Happy Holiday/Merry Christmas/Happy New Years treat for the women & men who would come a running if our house ever caught on fire. They deserve some treats & recognition for the hard work they do in our community. Extra bonus? The firefighter who answered the door let Lulu into the garage to see the fire engine, fire truck & ambulance up close! Also didn't bat an eye about letting Owenn come in :) 

4. Snowless Sledding

Turns out this is a thing if you are a parent of a toddler who really enjoyed sledding during the week we had snow...........and you didn't put the sled somewhere out of sight! Each time we come into the backyard, the Bug hops onto her sled and is ready to go. We go around and around and around our postage stamp sized backyard (not complaining - perfect size for us- not too hard to kept the grass mowed, still hard to keep plants alive in the garden beds.......maybe that has more to do with my brown thumb than with the size of our yard? I digress). So this is a bit of a warning to parents out there: if you are in a snowless period, put away the sled. If you don't - you risk working really hard to pull your child on the grass :)

Homemade Peppermint "Oreos"
Yields approximately 36 sandwich cookies

2 ½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted if lumpy)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons espresso powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cream Filling
¾ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup coconut oil, melted to liquid state but cooled to room temperature
5 ¼ cup powdered sugar (sifted if lumpy)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 cup crushed candy canes

1.  Make the cookies. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt. Set aside.
2. Using a handheld or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides & bottom of the bowl.
3. Add both sugars and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides & the bottom of the bowl.
4. Beat in both eggs and the vanilla on high speed. Scrape the bottom & sides of the bowl.
5. Using a scoop or measuring cup, slowly add the dry ingredient mixture to the bowl. Best to add with the mixer off so you don’t send a dry ingredient cloud all over yourself and your kitchen. You’ll need to stop & scrape the bowl a couple of times while you’re incorporating the dry ingredients- it is a very sticky dough!
6. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step! Your cookies will spread and be sad if you skip this step!!
7. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees while the dough is chilling.
8. Line 4 cookie sheets (not airbake – just plain old cookie sheets) with parchment paper or silpats. You will only bake 2 sheets at a time – but you can be forming the next 2 sheets while the 1st 2 are in the oven. Time management brought to you by me ;)
9. Roll the dough into balls, using about 1 teaspoon of your chilled dough per ball. Bake 12 per sheet. Using the heel of your hand, press down on each ball to flatten it slightly.
10. Bake for 6-8 minutes (my oven needed 7 minutes) rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will still look soft when done – they will have cracked slightly on the top.
11. Place the cookie sheet on a cooling rack & cool for a few minutes. At that point the cookies will have firmed up enough to slide onto the rack itself to finish cooling.
12.  Make the cream filling. Using a handheld or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and coconut oil together on high speed until creamy & fully combined – about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl at least once as the coconut oil will firm up against the cool bowl & try to stick.
13. Add the vanilla & peppermint extracts and beat on high speed another minute or so until they are fully incorporated.
14. Add the powdered sugar (about a cup at time) to the bowl with the mixer turned off. Beat on low after each addition until it is fully incorporated. Once all sugar has been added, beat the filling on high for a minute or 2 until creamy & thick.
15. Assemble the cookies. Pair up cookies based on size, the better the size match, the cuter the cookie! Turn the cookies upside down in their pairs (flat size up).
16. Roll approximately 1.5-2 teaspoons of filling into a ball and flatten slightly using your fingers. Place on 1 cookie. Repeat until half of the cookies have filling on them. Now wash your hands :)You don’t want filling on the outside of the cookies, do you??
17. Close the cookie pairs to make the sandwiches, pressing down firmly to ensure they adhere & a bit of the filling squishes out to the edges.
18. Roll the edges in the crushed peppermint/candy cane, pressing firmly to make sure the candy sticks in the filling.
19. Enjoy the cute cookies your made!

Friday, November 30, 2018

TGIFriday Recap 11/30/18 - Christmas Trees, Cousin Love, Going Away, Toy Guide, 1st Real Snow, Cooking, Re-reading a Beloved Book

As much as I love Thanksgiving - I do love the time between Thanksgiving & Christmas!! Its such a blast to prepare for Christmas; decorate, bake, plan parties, think of great gifts & get them wrapped, be cozy by the fire with family & friends, really just all the things! So here goes - the start of the Christmas-y awesomeness

1. Christmas Trees

We had the chance to cut down a Christmas tree for Chris' parents last Friday! Rather than shop til we dropped, we hopped on a hayride with the kiddos & picked out the perfect evergreen to grace the living room!

It wouldn't be a seasonal outing without a fire & roasting marshmallows! Since we have visited this farm before - we anticipated the marshmallows & brought our own chocolates & graham crackers for legit s'mores!
We couldn't very well cut down a tree for the Kramers & then leave it naked! We helped decorate it with our niece Samantha on Saturday night before we flew home.

Once we made it home from the Kramer family Thanksgiving festivities - we had a chance to set up one of our Christmas trees! Despite the insanity of a 5:30am flight out of Philly (& the 6:20am arrival into Midway) we had a full, fun day at home! Lulu cat napped on the plane, we had delicious breakfast at my parents, played a new card game & then headed for home to officially bring Christmas out of storage and into the house!

We may not have hung any ornaments on the trees yet.....but all in due time!

We will (hopefully) cut down a real tree this weekend - it might rain - which would put a literal damper on the idea....

2. Cousin Love

Lulu doesn't get to see her Kramer cousins all that often - what a treat to be with them over Thanksgiving!

3. Going Away Playdate
I don't like the idea of the moving away- I positively detest when people I adore leave this area for all the reasons people move :( But, it was such fun to play with Cait & Alex before they (along with hubby/dad Adam) move to Boston today. Cait is in the mom's group I started & has been such a fun presence in our lives. She is an enthusiastic participant in all things mom related and I love that about her. I knew all along that her time in Evanston might be short - her husband was doing post doctoral/doctorate?!? work at Northwestern & the inevitability of a "real" job was there from the get go. I had my fingers crossed that the job would be local. Alas & alack, the dream job appeared in Boston - so off they go - flying to their new home today. We were lucky to have such a kind hearted friend here for as long as we did & she will be missed dearly.

4. Toy Guide
I really enjoy listening to the Simple Families Podcast and following along with the Facebook page of the same name. The woman behind the blog was in the Social Work program with me at Miami, which is delightful! She curates a minimalist's guide to holiday toy buying which I so appreciate! We have already purchased Lulu's gifts for the year - but if we hadn't - we would certainly  be checking out some of the offerings she suggests! I share it thinking that others may need gift ideas for your own kiddos, nieces/nephews, grandkids, etc.

5. The 1st "Real" Snow

I do truly love snow. I especially love the first snow - it fills me with such complete happiness. I love the way the snow blankets everything & dampens all the sounds.

I love the way it softens the shapes of the world so everything takes on a marshmallow quality. I love the way it forces us all to slow our rolls - you can't be in a rush on snow & ice; you'll slip & fall, crash your car, etc. The forced slowness allows me to really appreciate all the beauty that snow brings.

Winter Storm "Bruce" brought over a foot of snow to some areas near us. We got a few inches (I'm always happy for more snow - but it was great to have enough to cover the grass & trees). Happily we got to walk Chris to the train in the snow & also go sledding with friends in it!

6. Cooking - For a Crowd

I love the way that winter inspires me to cook giant batches of pretty much everything. I love having enough food to share with family, friends, neighbors. It is such a treat to make something delicious & not only enjoy it at home, but spread that enjoyment around!

This week saw a good bit of bread baking, a double batch of Sweet Potato, Kale & Chick Pea Stew, a quadruple batch of Peanut Butter cookie dough, a double batch of homemade Chex Mix, a double batch of Apple Jack Stew & phew, a double batch of Coconut Veggie Curry. Winning. Winning at winter cooking!

7. Re-reading a great book
This Christmas/holiday season I'm working hard to slow down & actually  enjoy the season rather than rush rush rush around so much & so fast that I miss all the goodness of it. In that spirit I am re-reading the book Slowing Time by one of my favorite writers, Barbara Mahany. 

She is an incredible writer who brings such a calming presence into my days. I love reading her blog as well - it is worth checking out her writing if you have time. Well, honestly, it is worth making the time to check out her writing - I can't imagine that you'll regret it.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday Round Up 11/23/18 - Thanksgiving

How is it possible that Thanksgiving was yesterday? I feel like it was just summertime & the fall truly flew by. I have been channeling my sister & already wrapped a bunch of Christmas presents - so I can't be in too much denial I suppose!!

1. Thanksgiving
Everybody gets up at 330 on Thanksgiving morning, right?? No? Weird. But if you like the first flight out - you need to be pushing back from the gate at 6am!! Thank goodness that Lulu continues to be a relaxed and go with the flow type traveler. No worries if we wake her up at 3:45am, seems to be totally fine no matter what we throw at her!

Beautiful sunrise as we climbed out of Chicago!

Cousin time + MomMom & PopPop time + aunt & uncle time = happy Lulu!!

Also there were 5 dogs at Thanksgiving - all of whom are smaller than Lulu.....which I think made her feel all powerful ;)

Oh, and a dinosaur visited our Thanksgiving - how about yours?!?!

Party popper crowns are always a huge hit!

Samantha decorated cupcakes that her mom baked - cute & delish!

Our little turkey cracks us up daily - Thanksgiving or not! Hope it was a food, family, & friend filled holiday for you!

2. Hopping 

Lulu's newest favorite thing is being on Chris' shoulders while he hops up & down. She gets a HUGE grin on her face, tips her head back, there is so much joy radiating from her!

She really enjoyed some hopping when Cody was in town too :)

3. Friendsgiving Slumber Party

It was simply indulgent to have Stacey & Cody to myself for dinner & a slumber party on Sunday! We've been friends since I was born - 36 years going strong! I tried the BBC recipe for pork & plums plus a so-so new sweet potato cranberry recipe. The star of the show was the apple galette I made using the crust recipe I learned at King Arthur Flour & Smitten Kitchen's filling. And obviously had Jeni's Salty Caramel ice cream on top.

Its easy enough to forget how much you miss something when you don't have it day to day or week to week. But what an incredible treat to have 2 of my absolute best girls over (together) with nowhere to be/no worries about getting home, and giving us hours of catch up time. Fire in the fireplace, cold outside, good wine & better conversation. It was just perfect.

4. Turkey Trot & Drumstick Dash

Lulu ran her first race on Sunday! She ran a 50 yard dash & seemed to love it! Big smile during her run :) Chris & I had a good 10K too, Lulu was a relaxed rockstar in the stroller!

If ever you find yourself wanting to run a Turkey Trot not on Thanksgiving Day (because for us - it never works for us to run on Thanksgiving!) we would strongly recommend the Lincolnwood Turkey Trot

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Recap 11/16/18 - Girls trip to Vermont, Pork Shoulder with Plums, Lulu's new hat, Zoo visit, "Why You Should Stop Yelling at Your Kids"

Yay! I'm back to being "on time" with my Friday posts! Only one week got lost in the Ireland travel shuffle - not too bad! What a wonderfully fun week its been!

1. Girls Trip to Vermont (& New Hampshire)

My sister & I gave our Mom a trip to visit the King Arthur Flour baking school for Mother's Day this year! My Dad covered her airfare & we did our best to cover everything else! I hadn't been in Vermont (or New Hampshire) since my big brother was college its safe to say this felt like a new place for me.

The trip was great - so nice for Marg, Mom & I just to worry about ourselves & grown up things & not have any dishes, laundry or dirty diapers to contend with! The travel all went smoothly which is something that I can forget to be grateful for; because we all bitch if we have flight delays or cancellations or lost bags. I am trying to remember to be pleased when all goes as it should! This was my first flight without the Bug since she was born almost 19 months ago & I remember now why flights used to feel relaxing! I put on the noise cancelling headphones, worked on this blog, flipped through a magazine, it was delightful!
Our home away from home

We stayed in a cabin on Fat Sheep Farm, it was so funky & cute. We were greeted with eggs from their chickens & pumpkin chocolate chip scones which one of the hosts had baked. Yum.

The natural beauty was striking - the hills/mountains, a bit of fall color hanging around on the trees, old barns everywhere, stone walls, Vermont delivered on it all.

We had so much fun at the King Arthur Flour Headquarters - there is a delicious cafe, a gigantic store plus the baking school. We ate breakfast there both mornings & I think we all wished we could eat there much more frequently!!
This was our "first course" at breakfast......we also each ordered amazing breakfast sandwiches!

Our Airbnb hosts suggested we try Mangalitsa for dinner - we were only able to get a reservation at 5:30pm......which is 4:30pm for my Mom  & my body clocks! It was worth eating dinner in the afternoon - such a great menu- full of unexpected twists. Bonus - a lot of the produce we ate in our meals was grown on the farm where we stayed!
The Brussel Sprouts were to die for. We all could've eat a boatload of them! Lobster Ravioli was also top notch!!

We shopped to our hearts' content & surprisingly none of our credit cards caught fire ;) We poked around the towns of Windsor, Quechee, & Woodstock, VT plus Hanover, NH. I got a jump start on Christmas shopping  - it snowed lightly on & off Saturday - it was windy & cold - it felt Christmas-y!

We enrolled in Savory French Tarts for our baking class on Sunday. We had a great instructor, the facility was AMAZING and we all learned something new. We also left with 6 full size tarts.....I flew out pretty much straight after the class was Marg & Mom drove back to Connecticut with a car full of delicious!!

Marg & I ran both mornings - Saturday was cold & rainy, but Sunday was clear & we were treated to a beautiful sunrise! So many hills though. So.Many.Hills. My Midwestern legs & lungs were majorly burning!!

We hope to make this a new tradition - it was a wonderful trip to be sure.

2. New Recipe - Pork Shoulder with Plums
Chris & I have been working on eating less meat at home for environmental & economic reasons. Though when the weather turns cold - there is something about having a stash of pork shoulder in the freezer that is quite comforting!!
I found this recipe online - randomly from the BBC!! I also happened to have just purchased a huge box of plums at Costco, so it made good sense to try it.
We ate this over Trader Joe's frozen brown rice (obviously I cooked it!) with a salad & it was a great winter meal!

3. This hat on the Bug

4. Zoo Visit

So many animals were out & about. Verrrrrrrrrrrry few humans. A nice, quiet morning spent with the Bug.

5. Why You Should Stop Yelling at Your Kids
I try not to raise my voice with Lulu - it seems counter productive. I don't like parenting from an angry place - mostly because I try not to live in an angry place!! I found this article to be thoughtful & give concrete ideas for what I might do in place of yelling. I need the alternatives too!