Monday, October 31, 2011

Bakin' Stuff - Sandwich Cookies

This fall, well really the last few weeks, I've been hooked on sandwich cookies.  I made some last at least a year ago...they are just so much more time consuming than regular cookies I didn't make them again until about 10 days ago...and then I remembered how yummy they are.  I first remade the ones from last year: Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies, filled with peanut butter cream and dipped in dark chocolate.

Then I got to thinking.  What other kind of sandwich cookie could I make?  It's fall, so I thought pumpkin.  That got me thinking about this Gingersnap Pumpkin Cream Pie I've made a few times and so I thought why not try a ginger cookie with pumpkin cream filling.  So, I hunted around for a good ginger cookie recipe.  I finally settled on one that I had made a few years ago and deemed good, but kind of blah.  So I baked them up, discovering that I needed to not flatten them before baking if I wanted a slightly more textured (and more attractive) outside.  Then I tried to make pumpkin cream following the same recipe I used in the peanut butter cookies, but subbing pumpkin for peanut butter.  The problem I had was that pumpkin is much softer than PB, so I had to add a lot more powdered sugar to get it thick enough.  I also added some vanilla and pumpkin pie spice and then said, well, let's give it a go.  I made half the cookies into sandwiches (figuring I should leave some plain in case they were a disaster) and put them in the fridge to get the filling to firm up.  Philip and Caleb tried one a few hours later after dinner and both of them went nuts.  Bear in mind, Philip is NOT a cookie person at all.  I made up the other half and put them in the fridge.  I brought some to a get together the next day and everyone went crazy for them, so I guess I am onto something with the combo.

Sorry, forgot to take a picture until there was one measly cookie left.  This is one of the ones I flattened before cooking and doesn't have as nice of a texture.

SO, if you're also hankerin' for sandwich cookies, here are the recipes I used.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies:
I made the following changes: I used slightly more flour, old fashioned oats and flattened with a glass immediately after removing from the oven.  I also made them much smaller.  Using a regular sized cookie scoop you will yield about 40 cookies.  I felt like that size made the cookie too much once filled and dipped, so I used a tiny scoop and got 65-70 cookies.  I found that 1/2 a recipe of the filling was sufficient.  I used a melted dark chocolate chip (ghiradelli) for the dipping.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies:
I made the following changes: I added 50% more spice and used butter, not margarine. I also used 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  I froze the dough for 30 minutes before baking.  Again, I used the tiny scoop and I think I got about 60 cookies.  I rolled them in sugar prior to baking...I think next time I'll use a larger grain sugar, not just regular white.  I cooked them on parchment paper and flattened slightly immediately after removing from the oven.  I allowed them to cool on the parchment paper for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then slide the paper onto the counter top to continue cooling.  This helps lock in the moisture.  To make the filling, I used something along these lines:  1/3-1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 1.5 Tablespoon softened butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (guessing on this, just add until it tastes like spices!), maybe 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream and maybe a 1/2 teaspoon or so of vanilla.  This will firm up in the fridge, so you can cool first, or use as is, then refrigerate the cookies.

Good luck!  Let me know if you make them!

Family Photos

We were LONG overdue to have a family picture done.  In fact, the last time we had a family picture "taken" by someone other than a family member, Caleb was about a year old.  And it was at Wal-Mart.  So yeah, it was time.  I kept putting it off for a variety of reasons, including I didn't want to take a picture and a few months later have another child who wasn't in it, but at this point I've given up on trying to schedule around that and figured it was time to just seize the day.  My friend Kristen and her husband lived with us for about six weeks this summer while they were in a housing transition and she's a professional photographer.  So, we figured she'd be a great person to do the pics.  Her prices were reasonable too, so if you're looking to get pictures done, drop her a line.  We went out to a Winery in the middle of nowhere and got some lovely shots.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Those boys o' mine

I just love everything about this picture. :)

Two peas in a pod.

Have You Met...

Mr. Putter and Tabby?  These books have been a hit in our house since we first discovered them a couple of years ago.  Now, we have a new little fan.  Andrew, at 3.5, has officially moved on to stories from board books and just loves Mr. Putter and Tabby.  We usually only read two books at nap time, but since discovering these, he usually starts the negotiations at five and we work our way down from there. :)

Our very favorite one from the series is Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears, but some of our other favorites are Paint the Porch, Stir the Soup, Feed the Fish, See the Stars and Bake the Cake.  Not only are the stories cute and heart warming, but the illustrations are just perfect.  We just love these books and give them frequently as gifts to other little people we love.  The Loudoun County Library carries all of them, so if you haven't read them, go check them out!

School in our House

Not surprisingly, I get asked often about home schooling and how we do it, what curriculum we use, etc.  So, I thought I'd do a post answering some of those questions.  This year is the most consistently we have done school and the most time we've put in each day.  It helps that Joshua is finally ready to fully engage.  We're out on Wednesday mornings, so we typically do the other four days a week from 9:00-11:30 AM, covering five subjects a day.

First of all, here are my students.  Caleb - 2nd Grade and Joshua - 1st Grade

We use the Sonlight Curriculum.  We are currently using our 4th "Core" from Sonlight.  This year the Core focuses on World History from around 0 AD to present.  Last year we did World History, part 1.

The Core from Sonlight (SL) includes Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Aloud books.  In addition to that, we are using SL Science 1 (it took us two years to get through Science K, so we're a little behind!), Horizons Math (2 for Caleb and 1 for Joshua) and a hodge-podge of Language Arts Materials.  We are using SL's program for some of it and then some additional work books.

This year I made each of the boys their own notebook (Caleb's pictured below) to have a place to keep their paperwork and activity sheets.  Joshua is holding the Science Activities book because, other than geography, science is his favorite subject.  Caleb is also holding one of this favorite books A Child's History of the World, which is the primary history text for this year.

 Our Bible this year includes selected readings from the whole Bible, so it has us moving through the text much quicker than last year where we read all the way through both Genesis and Exodus and some of the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament.  It also has the "Awesome Book of Bible Facts" scheduled, but frankly, for these kids who are already very well versed in Bible facts and history, it's not quite so awesome.  We are also doing the assigned Bible memory work.  Additionally, we are participating in Community Bible Study at a local church and the boys have to complete lessons each week, same as me.  This year we're studying the book of John.  It's been great for them to be in a more classroom-like environment once a week and learn how to study the Bible in the process. 

Here's our history/geography books.  Joshua was determined not to like Window on the World at the beginning of the year, but I think it's actually grown on him.  Each reading highlights a country of the world, talking some about both the spiritual state of the country, and what life is like there.  Then it concludes with giving ways you can pray for that specific country, which we always do.

Here's what Sonlight's Core Schedule looks like it.  This is one of the two main reasons I chose SL.  We don't follow it exactly the way they break it out, for example, we only do His/Geo twice a week, so we cover all five days worth of readings in 2-3 days, instead of five.  But, the framework is all there and I don't have to figure out the pacing or ordering myself.  Beautiful.  The other thing I love about SL is that it is a literature-based curriculum, meaning they don't use textbooks, per se.  I may want another approach when the boys are older, but for now when I just want to focus on broadening their horizons and for them to LOVE learning, this works wonderfully!  They love school time and always complain when we stop reading.

This year we decided to add in a foreign language, so we bought Rosetta Stone Spanish (Spain edition).  Each of the boys does it for 20-30 minutes twice a week.  It's slow going, but they are learning some and at least are being exposed to another language.  

We also decided to add a typing program.  This is the HIT of school time.  The boys had never really done anything on the computer before and the typing program is geared towards kids, so it includes lots of games to practice typing.  This is their favorite part of school.  And it really is helping them learn to type.  They "hen pecked" before whenever they wanted to type something, but are now much more's cool to see.

Andrew, who is now 3.5 years, spends most of our school time just entertaining himself.  We school for about 2.5 hours a day, four days a week, so that's quite a bit of time for him on his own.  He usually stays in the family room with us or the kitchen with play-doh.  Here is his creation from this morning.

And here he is all dressed up and nowhere to go. :)

One of my favorite things about home schooling is that it gives the kids hours every day to just play and be creative.  Joshua's other great love right now is space.  On the wall over his bed he now has huge solar system stickers and a poster or two. And of course, his collection also includes the infamous Planet Mars, of Andrew's Nose Fame.  In addition to that, has created his own solar system for his door.  In case you're wondering that all those extra pieces on the left are, that's the Kuiper Belt (asteroids) that go around the Sun and several of our planets.  He loves his space room and solar system collection so much that he has declared his room to be a museum.  He now has an "Open"/"Not Open" sign on the outside of his door.  I laugh every night when I go into his room to turn his fan off and see the "Not Open" sign. 

 It's not astronauts and space exploration he loves, but the planets and such, but here he is posing anyway in the Ontario Science Museum.  I think he makes a pretty good looking astronaut. :)

Anyway, we love home schooling and are so thankful that it works well for our family during this time of our life.  If you're considering it, I'd love to talk to you!

Our Trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto

A few weeks ago our family took a five day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto.  No particular reason, we just up and decided to go.  I am so glad we did!  The weather forecast was looking bad as we prepared for our trip, but we prayed and prayed that we would have one nice day at Niagara...and we did!  The first day we got there is started to rain not long afterwards, so we decided since we were already wet, we might as well get wetter!  We took the Cave of the Winds tour where you go down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls (the smallest of the Falls).  You're right there out in the water coming off the Falls and so it's quite powerful water...and pretty wet!  The boys went onto what's called the Hurricane Deck and got soaked.  They were thrilled. :)

Here are the boys at the top of the American Falls right after they got their first view

And on the overlook by the Canadian Horseshoe Falls

The day we arrived was our 9th Anniversary 10-12!

Here we are at the bottom of Cave of the Winds

On the Hurricane Deck.  Looks delightful, doesn't it?

We stayed both nights in a hotel on the Canadian side, so after getting sufficiently wet, we dried the kids off in the car, had some dinner and went over the boarder.  We were all so completely exhausted that *I* was ready to go to bed at 7pm!  I think I managed to hold out until 9, but our whole trip was like that...exhausting!

Thursday was a beautiful day.  Sunny and clear for most of the day and almost 70*.  Here's a beautiful view of parts of all three falls.  Since we went in October, the foliage was incredible, too.  It was hard to capture with my camera, but it was stunning.  

We took the Trolley all through the State Park.  That was a fun, pretty ride.  Our feet appreciated the rest, as well.

Getting ready to board "Maid of the Mist".  Andrew did not want to go on the boat.

At the base of the American Falls

Caleb and Joshua loved it, of course

When we started getting wet, Andrew was not a happy camper. "Get me off this boat!", he yelled!

There were rainbows everywhere.

Here we are lunching right by the top of the American Falls.  It's really quite amazing how close you can get!

Friday morning we drove up to Toronto, only about a two hour drive, even with heavy traffic going into the city.  We spent the day at the Ontario Science Center, where Andrew had a massive meltdown at lunch time. He was exhausted.  Need I say more?  A two hour nap in the car with Philip after lunch seemed to help.  Saturday, it was still cloudy and windy, but we decided since we were there, we would go ahead and go to the CN Tower.  This used to be the highest free standing building in the world, but there are now two higher ones.   I was concerned about paying so much money and not really being able to see much, but as it turns out, the horizon was clear enough that we were actually able to see across Lake Ontario to the city of Niagara Falls and even see the mist of the Falls.  Pretty amazing.  

The Tower includes a "Glass Floor".  Andrew thought it was pretty awesome.  The other boys were like "Let's get out of here,"

Andrew loved being up so high.  He kept saying "Let's to higher!"  This was as high as we were able to go, the Sky Pod about 300 feet above the first observation deck, and about 1465 ft up.  This is the level we could see Niagara Falls from, although we didn't know what we were looking for when we were lower, so it's possible it was visible from there, as well.

After our trip up the CN Tower, we got out of dodge, err....Toronto.  We headed down to Buffalo, NY to stay the night before heading home on Sunday.  Sadly, we realized when arriving in the Buffalo hotel that Joshua's beloved blanket was left in the bed in Toronto.  When I called the hotel, they said they had it and asked when I wanted to come pick it up.  Ummm....we live kind of a long way away, I explained.  They were unwilling to mail it or even box it up, so the situation looked pretty sad until a local friend found a friend who lives in Toronto and was willing to go rescue it for us.  It's been mailed and every time a package arrives, Joshua asks "Is that my bi-bi?"  We're still waiting, but hopefully those two will be reunited soon!

We were thoroughly unimpressed with Buffalo, but the boys were happy to get to visit a second Great Lake, Erie.  It was unbelievably windy and cold that morning, so Andrew and I stayed in the car while the others braved the elements to get close to the Lake.  Here they are on a seawall right by the shore.

And here's the boys right before all three of them went over the wall and got slammed with a massive, freezing cold wave from the lake!  They got soaked!  Fortunately we had almost enough clean, dry clothes left to get them changed.  I say almost because Caleb wound up in recycled socks. :)  But hey, what a story!  Soaked at Lake Erie!  

So, it was a wonderful trip and we're wondering where else we can go next time we get a hankerin' to travel.   Lots of options, I am sure. 

My Recipe Book

I have been forced out of my blogging slump by a friend who wants to see my recipe book.  Problem: she lives in Georgia.  So I thought, maybe I should just blog about it. :)  Whenever I speak to groups about "Strategic Grocery Shopping" (which has been three times in the last three weeks...and once more next week!), I always bring my recipe book along and talk about it because it has been a lifesaver for our family when it comes to meal planning.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I struggle with coming up with meals that sound appealing to me one at a time, nevermind doing it four or five at a time!  If I were left to own devices, we'd be in trouble.  So, fortunately, about four years ago I put together my recipe book.  I like it so much more than the handwritten one I had before (which contained my mom's recipes and others I had collected over time) because that one was not organized.  You know how it goes, spaghetti recipe followed by brownie recipe followed chicken recipe.  So confusing.  So, a few years ago, I typed up all the recipes that I loved from the book, formatted everything nicely, categorized it and created my book.  Of course, it's probably almost doubled in size since that as I've been broadening our horizons.

Here's how my book is organized:

The overall Table of contents.  

Here you can kind of see the various colors for the sections (see above)

This is the Table of Contents for the Chicken Section.  Recipes that are *** are the ones we tend to make most often and those are the ones printed on the colored pages.  A nice theory, but I am not sure that it actually helps me find anything quicker. :)

Those blue chicken recipes.  As you can see, at the bottom of each page it lists what section it's part of and what page number it is.  We created a separate document for each section, which makes it easy to update the table of contents and to print the new recipes.  Simply paste into the document, apply the formatting and print!

Yes, the dessert section is about 3-4 times longer than all the other sections.  This is page one of two...or three.  Who knows.  Anyway, what can I say.  I like to bake dessert.  :)

Some of my fave dessert recipes.  I can post this out where the whole world can see them because I actually modify a few things. :)

And here is the super-technologically advanced way we track our meal plan.  Stunning, huh?  I always have an excess of these long, lined pads, so they work perfectly for this.  I always make a note on the days/evenings that will particularly busy so we can plan for leftovers or for Philip to cook. 

There you have it!  Hope it inspires you to make one of your own!