Monday, October 25, 2010

Church Carnival

The boys had a great time at the church carnival last night. The youth puts it on and that a lot of fun games, plus a "dark room" with glow in the dark bubbles, glow in the dark face painting, black lights, glow in the dark art projects, etc.

The got plenty of candy and Silly Bandz and even participated in a costume contest. Beaver wore his Bumble Bee Transformers costume and Wally warm his Scream Ghost costume. They gave out awards such as Funniest, Most Original, and Best costumes and they divided them up by age. Neither of the boys won anything and Wally was fine with it, but Beaver really got his feelings up. He marched right up to the judges with his mad face afterward and returned the pumpkin book he was given as a consolation prize. It was sad to see him so upset, but I was disappointed in his reaction. After I talked to him, he finally got over it and went and apologized to the judges and got his book back. He was back to running around and playing the games in 2 minutes!

We had a pretty good turn out. All of the youth and children who normally participate in these activities were there (minus one family I'm sure is about to leave the church since they've been going to other churches on Sunday mornings) and I saw several kids that go to church on Sunday mornings, but don't go to Sunday School or Wednesday Fellowship, or any other "extra" activities.

I am hoping these kinds of fun activities will encourage more families to bring their children to the "extra" activities at church.

Ward and I have a meeting with the pastor this morning, as well as another couple (our closest friends in the church and the ones we fear are leaving). I know he wants to talk to us about ways to grow the children's and youth ministries as well as keeping the families we still have on board. I know good things will come out of this meeting and we're really looking forward to it!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes - Martha Stewart

While on my cooking spree today, I also made Snickerdoodle cupcakes. These are, without a doubt, the BEST cupcakes I have ever had in my entire life. And I know what the secret is.....CAKE flour. Not regular flour, but CAKE flour. They are SOOOOO soft and moist. I highly recommend.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self- rising), sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus 1/2 teaspoon for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.
• With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.
• Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
• To finish, combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons sugar. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip (Ateco No. 809 or Wilton No. 1A), pipe frosting on each cupcake: Hold bag over cupcake with tip just above top, and squeeze to create a dome of frosting, then release pressure and pull up to form a peak. Using a small, fine sieve, dust peaks with cinnamon-sugar. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are frosted; keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Seven Minute Frosting
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
6 large egg whites, room temperature

• Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230 degrees.
• Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating to combine.
• As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees, remove from heat. With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.

Croque Monsieur - Ina Garten

It's French Saturday here at the Cleaver home and this time I've chosen Hot ham and cheese sandwiches with a Bechamel sauce. I am so proud...this is another GREAT dish! I can't believe I've now made TWO French dishes. Ward and the boys all said it was wonderful and I should definitely make them again. I liked Ina Garten's recipe the best when I was digging for the one I wanted to try.

I will say...the ingredients for these meals are much more than I'm used to paying for our dinners. I try to keep us on a tight grocery budget, so our meals are usually less than $10 to feed all four of us. This one cost about $25...and it was just FOUR sandwiches! We have enough leftover to make 2 more sandwiches tomorrow, but that's still pretty steep for us. That's $4 a sandwich (for 6). On the side, I made "french" fries :) and pickles.

What a great meal! I'm so glad we're trying new things.

I was in the kitchen all day today! I made Mickey Mouse waffles and bacon for breakfast, mini cheeseburgers for lunch, and then the Croque Monsieur for dinner.

I'm exhausted!!!

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

A Trip to the Pumpkin Patch

Nothing says "fall" like a trip to the local pumpkin patch. We've stopped going every year and go every other year, just so it seems new and exciting to the boys. Wally didn't go, because he's going to a corn maze with the Wolf Scouts next week, so I went with Beaver's class on a field trip. I must say, it wasn't as fun as I remember, and I know it has something to do with this lingering hot weather.

When we went 2 years ago, it was 60 degrees and a little cloudy, we all wore sweaters and we could see our breath when we talked. This year, the kids wore shorts and t-shirts, it was 88 degrees, and we were all sweaty and tired by the end of it all.

Note to self: Only go to the pumpkin patch when it's chilly! :)

A Trip to the Zoo

As a reward for good grades, I took the boys to the big City Zoo and then to a local diner and to a bookstore.

We had the best day! The zoo was relatively dead since it was the middle of a school day, but the boys were out for parent/teacher conferences, so I figured this was the best day to go. We saw almost every single animal they had. It was a beautiful day, so all of the animals were out and active. We even rode the little train! We stayed for about 2.5 hours and then we went to the bookstore where they spent their allowance. Wally bought a new Lego game and Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 and Beaver bought a remote control car and a Magic Treehouse book about pirates.

After that, we walked over to the diner and had burgers and ice cream. Both boys kept telling me all day how this was "the best day EVER". I really enjoyed spending time with them and making more great memories. Plus, I LOVE going to the bookstore and definitely wrote down a few things I want for Christmas!

Report Card Time!

Wally and Beaver did very well on their report cards!

I went in for parent/teacher conferences on Wednesday and had great visits with both of their teachers. Beaver doesn't get a report card the first 9 weeks of Kindergarten, but his teacher told me he was tested for special needs (along with every child in his class) and they discovered he was actually very gifted and scored a perfect 10 on the test, which was the highest in all 5 Kindergarten classes! We are so proud of him. It's been tough to tell if Beaver is "smart" because he doesn't take life seriously at all. He's a very happy-go-lucky kid without a care in the world. Reading by himself or taking the extra time to learn something new on his own is not something he's interested in doing. It was comforting to know he's very gifted.

Wally's visit went well and he got 6 A's and a B+...he missed a A in Reading by 1 point! He was frustrated, but his teacher assured me that if averaged an A with all 4 report cards in every class, he could still get the Principal's Achievement Award, which is something he got last year and is determined to get again.

I love our Christian school so much and we feel so fortunate to be able to send our children there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Berenstain Bears

Growing up, I LOVED the Berenstain Bears books. I didn't have a lot of them, but the ones I did have I absolutely cherished. I loved their colorful pages and heart-warming stories and wished I lived in their treehouse with them. When I was a teenager, I began collecting them, but ended up giving away the collection when I got married.

Since my boys were very little, I've begun collecting them again and we have about 20. I know there are many more out there and I plan to continue collecting until we have them all.

I was ecstatic to discover that the Sprout Channel shows reruns of the Berenstain Bears several times a day every day! Wally just loves them and gets so excited when they come on TV. I've even started DVRing them during the day so the boys can watch them when they get home from school. It makes me feel like a little kid again and I am so happy that my boys love them as much as I did.

I've even gotten some of the chapter books for them and Beaver is starting to read them!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The appeal of a small church

Ward and I have been to MANY churches in the 9 years we've been together. We've attended services at Methodist, Presbyterian, Luthern, Episcopal, and Catholic churches. We've had good experiences and bad ones, but we finally found a church home about 2.5 years ago and we're so happy. Our church isn't that big (we regularly have about 200 in attendance each Sunday), but it's big enough that it has plenty of "extra" activities. We participate in a Wednesday night fellowship, attend Sunday School, and go to "Big Church" each week and we're happy. We have made friends with several other couples who have young children and we enjoy getting our boys involved with the youth. We love this church and feel so warm and welcomed every Sunday and Wednesday.

There aren't many kids in the youth program at our church (I would say there are about 20 active kids between the ages of 4 and 12) but our church is really trying to ramp up these programs and attract younger families, without changing the Sunday service and overall "traditional" theme of our church. And I'll admit, they're struggling. It seems most young families today are choosing their churches based on the "extras" and so many of those "extras" seem to be more and more secular. We have a few Mega Churches in our town that offer literally 50-100 different types of activities or groups for you and your children to be a part of. They range from age-defined, to hobby-defined, to gender-defined. And while these social opportunities are great, it would never make or break our decision to join a church. But I'm finding out we aren't like most people.

We had just started making friends with a group of 30ish parents with kids under the age of 8...there were about 5-6 couples in our group. We'd sit together at Wednesday night fellowship and and our kids played together at other church functions and I was really starting to get to know them. We recently found out that 2 of the couples and their children have left the church for a mega church, and our closest friends at church have been secretly attending services at a Mega Church and will likely leave at the beginning of the year. Another couple in the group that have no children may not stay because they are related to one of the families leaving. It's down to just us and another family (from the original 6 families that hung out together) and they aren't attending church regularly anymore...maybe once every three weeks.

I'm so disappointed. I know there are other families we will get close to and hopefully other families will start joining the church, but I wish they would have stayed to give things a chance. It's so hard for the small church to compete with the Mega Church these days. I worry that small churches will end up folding because they can't stay afloat, and people will end missing the wonderful experience of belonging to a small church. I love that the older people in the church know who my kids are, know what activities they're involved in, and know what's going on in their lives. I feel we wouldn't have as much of that in a Mega Church, and it's very possible we'd only get to know a tiny percentage of the congregation.

Ward and I feel called to be a part of the development team for the Children's Ministries at our church, so it looks like that's another project I'm going to be working on this fall and winter. I hope we can help in some way.

Lord, give me guidance! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks

About a year ago, I discovered Gooseberry Patch Cookbooks and I'm in love. These are spiral-bound cookbooks and remind me of church cookbooks, but they have the most adorable farm drawings on every page, as well as cooking and entertaining tips and family stories. I enjoy the "extras" almost as much as the recipes!

For my birthday, my Mother-in-Law got me my first one "Christmas" and I've since gotten the "Slow Cooker" and "Grandma's Table". I can't wait to collect them all!

I went to a new store in my town and found they even make calendars, planners, and "mini-cookbooks" to add to my collection. Yea! :) They are about $15-$18 each, so I'll have to collect them slowly, but they're definitely going on my Christmas list this year!

I love cookbooks!

I learned to cook when I was a teenager, I think around 16. I developed an interest in looking through my mom's cookbooks, but only the ones with pictures. The other ones just bored me. Over the next 5 years, I didn't cook much, and when I did it was mainly desserts that my boyfriend's mother let me cook in her kitchen. They were nothing difficult (cookies, cakes, pudding, etc.) but I LOVED making them and I pretended I was a little wife in my little kitchen making treats for my family.

When I got my own apartment in college, I had to cook for myself for the first time. I didn't have ANY cookbooks, so I just went and bought a little Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and cooked the easy recipes, but like most college kids, I ate out a lot and fixed sandwiches.

I think I really came into my own as a cook when Ward and I got married. (9 years ago). I started with simple meals of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and canned biscuits, but eventually I moved up to more elaborate meals and I even do all of the cooking for Christmas and Thanksgiving now. I am very proud of the cook I've become and I'm excited to be learning new dishes in the near future.

But with this love of learning came a love for cookbooks. I absolutely adore them. I can spend HOURS just sitting on the couch looking at my cookbooks. I have a lot of Paula Deen, Sandra Lee, Southern Living, Taste of Home, church cookbooks, and Pillsbury and Betty Crocker newsstand cooking magazines. I try to cook from my cookbooks at least 2-3 times a week, and when I do I put a small sticker next to the recipe along with the date. This lets' me know how often I'm using a particular recipe and when I made it last. That way I don't make something too much.

I already have a big list ready for Christmas and I can't wait to add another 4-5 books to my growing collection. Today is Sunday, so after church I will make lunch for my family and then sit on the couch and look at my cookbooks for several hours while Ward and I watch NFL football. What a great day!

Rearranging Furniture

Growing up, we lived in a 1300 sq ft 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom home. It wasn't big, but I found TONS of ways to rearrange the furniture in our living room and my bedroom. I don't know if it's because furniture was smaller back then, or maybe because we didn't have very many windows, but I could make 5 or 6 different arrangements in each of those rooms with no problems.

Now that I'm grown up and have a 3100 sq ft house, it seems I can't find a way to properly rearrange any of the rooms. We've lived here for 4 years and we've never rearranged any room other than the livingroom, and that's been so minor it's barely noticeable. I think it's because we have bulky furniture and our house has 27 windows, which makes it very hard to move things around without blocking one of them.

Well, a few weeks ago, Ward and I decided that our formal livingroom was a complete waste of space, and with me coming back home to work, we thought I needed my own workspace since Ward uses our office as his workspace. We decided to move our formal diningroom into our formal livingroom, get rid of the formal livingroom all together, and make the formal diningroom my new office. Even though our formal diningroom is now a carpeted room, I'm really pleased with how things turned out.

We also made my office a room for the kids to do their homework. We added some school posters, a wall calendar, a floor mat, and two school desks for them. They love having a place of their own and they've been using it almost daily.

Looks great, don't you think?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gratin de Pomme de Terre et Saucisson

My first concoction from Julia's book! Luckily I found this on the internet. There are MANY variations on this recipe, but I'm confident I found her original one. The name is fancy, but this is basically polish sausage with potatoes, eggs, onions, and cheese. And let me tell

2/3 cup minced onions
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
1 package of pre-cooked Kielbasa, Hillshire Farms or similar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Swiss cheese (I went to the deli and had them slice 1/2 pound - about 8 slices)

Fill a saucepan with 3 quarts of water over high heat and bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, peel and slice the potatoes, and slice and Kielbasa. When the water is boiling drop in the potato slices and cook for 6-8 minutes until barely done. Remove them from the heat, let drain and cool a bit.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When melted, add the onions and saute until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Coat a baking dish with butter, oil, or non-stick spray. Spread half the potatoes in the bottom. Distribute half the onions over the potatoes. Spread half the Kielbasa over that. Then do it again: spread the remaining potatoes over the dish, followed by the onions and Kielbasa.

Put the four eggs into a mixing bowl along with the cream. Add the salt and pepper. Beat until slightly thickened. Pour it over the potatoes and sausage. Lay the cheese over the potatoes and sausage. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 8 portions and distribute them evenly over the top of the cheese.

Bake for 40 minutes in the upper third of the oven until the cheese is nicely browned.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

So....I finally watched Julie & Julia this week and I loved it! I'm a total foodie, so I love anything that has to do with cooking, but this really hit home with me. I find myself leaning towards church cookbooks and anything from one of the Food Network stars, but I completely forgot about Julia Child! How is that possible???

I was looking for a new project, so I've decided to learn to cook French foods. I'm not going to cook everything in her famous cookbook, like Julie did in the movie, but I am definitely going to start cooking things a little more difficult than spaghetti or tacos.

I'm thrilled about this new project and I've already started looking up types of French foods online. They all look so wonderful! I don't own Mastering the Art of French Cooking yet, but I'm definitely going to ask for it for Christmas! Until then, I guess I'll just find stuff on the internet. Wish me luck!!!