Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our Christmas 2010

We put some last minute homemade ornaments on the tree.  As a kid, these were my favorite ornaments on our tree. I'm not sure what grade we were in, but my mom has a set for at least the four oldest kids.  I loved looking at mine every year, so I had my kids make their own snowman and gingerbread man (it's just painted cardboard):
Guess which ones are Hazel's:

And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care:

The presents were placed under the tree, all organized by color coded wrapping paper (go Dave!):
Then, the kids woke up:

We opened some of our presents via webcam for our family to see.  The kids like showing their presents to the computer:
And some of our favorite gifts:
A stuffed Mario for Nathaniel:

A slinky for Addison:

A giant parking garage for Owen:

A doll with car seat for Hazel:

Her first nail polish too:

Flip boards to practice skating:
A new homemade fuzzy bathrobe:
For Dave, the hat on his head and the latest version of Kindle (that should make my dad happy):

And my favorite, a punching bag- something all mothers with young children should have to take out their frustrations on and stay in shape too :)

I hope your day was as fun as ours!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Handpainted Super Mario Dolls

You have to know by now that my kids are obsessed with Mario Brothers.  Here is my oldest son's Christmas list for this year:
As you can see, he's not so good with the penmanship with non-lined paper.  At least he warned Santa:

They already have stuffed Mario and Luigi dolls and the only one I'd seen besides them that was on the list was Fire Mario.  It was either make the dolls or make a dress-up set for their stuffed Mario and Luigi's.  Seeing that I had to start working on this with only 2 weeks before Christmas, I opted to make the dolls.

Last summer, I bought these wooden peg dolls from this etsy shop, gemmielou.  I was going to use them to paint knights when we studied castles in the spring.  However, recently, I saw a post on Filth Wizardry where she painted Star Wars characters for her daughter's birthday (hers are so awesome, it really will make you realize how little artistic talent I have- I only hope to be as good as my brother or sister someday). I went to the the sound of design flickr page she got inspired by for the design and there was a set of "cartooned" Mario characters.  I used that for most of them, but had to make up a few, namely the superhero and rockstar ones.

From left to right, for the Luigis (right to left for the Marios), cat, fire, ice, propeller, rockstar, superhero, and regular.  I didn't do the Mega.  

To paint the dolls, I used my kids washable crayola poster paint.  I lightly sketched some of the stuff on with pencil.  Everything was done with one of the paintbrushes that came with a Crayola watercolor set. I invested in an 8 pack of colored sharpies this summer, so I used those for some very fine details, like the streaks in the rockstars hair, tattoos on their sidearms, and chesthair.  Once the paint was dry, I brushed each with a hefty coating of ModPodge (holy awesomeness!!!).  It goes on kind of cloudy white, but when it dries, they are nice and glossy and keeps the paint from chipping.  WOW!  I've been afraid to open mine for months, not knowing what to expect.  Be prepared for me to be using a lot of this stuff now.  The only thing is since I used washable paint, the more I brushed, the more I risked dissolving the paint on the characters (see the bottom right of rockstar Luigi).

It took me about four hours to do in total, but it was well worth it.  I hope my kids have many hours of creative, imaginative Mario play with these dolls!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve in Japan

This is a quick post, but it's something that makes me chuckle.  Since it's our first Christmas here, one of my neighbors who has spent several Christmases here, gave me some tips.  If you don't like to bake, you can always find a lovely little Christmas cake- they do not really do cookies here, but they can make a cake look very pretty. If you need to go out last minute shopping, there's no rush, stores are not too crowded, and they don't close early.  Also, if you are done opening gifts on Christmas morning and you forgot batteries, you can always go out and get them because Christmas day is a normal day to Japanese people.  Most importantly, all Starbucks are open.

The one thing she warned me about though, was to beware of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve. It struck me as odd that KFC would be a crowded nightmare on Christmas Eve.  I asked my Japanese teacher why and she said they associate the American holiday with eating turkey, but since most of them have tiny ovens or no oven at all, they can't cook a turkey, so they eat chicken.  You know, for the first time ever, I found whole oven roasting chickens at our local grocery store, most were precooked, but there were a few that you could cook on your own.  Guess what I have in my freezer now?

Well, I proceeded to ask another Japanese friend about the KFC situation.  He pointed out that they have a clever ad campaign that makes Japanese people think they should have the custom of eating fried chicken on Christmas Eve.  Now, I wanted to witness the madness first hand, so in the early afternoon, we went to the food court of our grocery store.  Here's the KFC- yes, the colonel is dressed up like Santa:

Then, this was on the side:

Check out the massive amounts of these buckets.  I didn't know Japanese people would even want a bucket that big of chicken.

I wanted to go back at night to witness the long line and see people filling up the buckets but I couldn't bring myself to leave the house.

I was talking to my brother on the phone today and he was saying how they were getting together with some friends to get Chinese take out.  Then, it clicked, KFC is the Japanese equivalent of our Chinese food.  Dave swore Chinese food on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve was only my family's tradition, but I asked him why there was always a 2 hour wait.  So there you have it- they probably think we're strange for wanting Chinese on those days too.

On Christmas Eve, the stores selling the Christmas cakes get very busy too.  Check out Baskin Robbins selections for this year.
Here's the room full of the preorders- quite a bit for a country that recognizes the holiday but does not celebrate it.

Oh, and look at the sundae selections, too bad they didn't have stuff like this at the BR in the US:

This made me chuckle because I think for the most part, many of us would not even think of KFC as our go to place for a Christmas Eve meal.  We could not bring ourselves to follow the Japanese Christmas Eve tradition to fill up a bucket with chicken- instead, we stuck with a family tradition of making swedish meatballs.

However you and your family choose to celebrate Christmas Eve, I hope it's a good one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cinnamon Iced Gingerbread Cupcakes

I know I've been blowing this blog up with posts about food, but hold onto your hats, these cupcakes might blow you away.  Yesterday, one of my friends that also loves to bake cupcakes, sent me a link to an incredibly good gingerbread cake recipe.  It was perfect timing because I was wanting to make something gingerbready for the kids to try since they have had nothing gingerbread flavored yet this Christmas.  I remember as a kid, my mom used to make a box gingerbread mix and serve it to us with whipped cream- throw your box mixes away now, this will knock your socks off.

OVEN:  350'
4 oz fresh grated ginger (1 cup)
1 cup light molasses
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup water
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

6 TBSP butter
6 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3-4 TBSP milk
2-3 cup confectioner's sugar

For the cake, mix together oil, sugar, and molasses (I used the whisk on my kitchenaid).  Boil water and add the baking soda into it, mix, then add to the molasses mixture.  Grate ginger and add it into the molasses mixture.

(I did not have ginger and couldn't get to the store to find some, so I did a bad thing and substituted in ground ginger (1/3 cup).  I read several things online saying they are not comparable, but it was the only thing I could do and I think mine taste great, however, next time I make them, I will be sure to have fresh ginger.)

In separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.  Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet, continue mixing.  Mix in the 2 eggs.

Pour into prepared cake pans or cupcake tins ( I made one mini loaf, 24 mini cupcakes, and 12 regular sized cupcakes).  The mini cupcakes took about 15 minutes, regular sized about 20, and the mini loaf cake about 25-30 minutes.

For the icing, cream together butter and cream cheese, add in cinnamon and vanilla.  Add in 1 tbsp milk, then 1 cup confectioner's sugar.  Continue alternating sugar and milk additions until frosting is desired consistency.

I cut the mini loaf cake into three layers and iced in the middle.  This is what I think we'll leave out for Santa tonight, so Dave and I can eat it later :)

Superhero Masks

Living in a foreign country can often present issues when it comes time to buying your kids Christmas gifts.  Mainly, my kids are not exposed to much TV, so they do not see commercials and therefore, have no idea what to put on their Christmas list.  Not to mention, I have no idea what the happening toys are either and even if I did, shipping can be quite expensive.  Oftentimes, if they have toys here that we like, they are very expensive.  This year, I did buy a few things here that looked neat, but I honestly have no idea what they are, I guess it'll be a surprise for me too when the kids actually open the box.

Originally I was going to try to make most of my kids gifts, then there was that record scratch, and I came back to reality (I HAVE NO TIME).  I decided to at least try to make one thing for each kid.  Last week, I came across this post at pinkandgreenmama, where she made her kids a burglar set.  I didn't have an extra pillowcase to make a burglar bag, but I did have scraps of fabric from the kids' superhero capes I made a while back.  I made each kid a mask that coordinated with their capes- maybe next year I'll make wristbands.

These are very simple to make, I put felt and sequin fabric, wrong sides facing, drew on the felt the mask shape and eye holes (I used a paper mask we got out of a superhero kit as a guide for the nose/eyehole placement- you could just put paper up to your child's face and use pencil to dot the eyes and sketch the nose).  I pinned the elastic in between the two layers, then I sewed around on all the lines.  I used a pair of sharp scissors and cut out the mask silhouette just outside the stitching, then I did the same for the eye holes.  I stitched on their initial and a lightning bolt for effect.

I made Hazel's with heart shapes, Owen's with cars, Addison's a batman silhouette, and Nathaniel's was just random.  I think they came out pretty good.  And the felt back is nice and comfy.

This would even be a fun gift to give for a birthday.
Have a super Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Salted Caramel Corn

Last night, I came across a new cooking blog, Smells Like Home, but more importantly, a new recipe for homemade caramel corn.  This isn't typically a recipe I'd think of making at Christmastime, but it jumped out at me last night before I went to bed.  Of course, first thing this morning, the kids were driving me nuts at 8 am, so we took out the popcorn popper and got to work.  They just love watching the popcorn shoot out (we never use microwave popcorn anymore)- I think my parents got this for me at a yard sale for $1.

Caramel corn: ( I slightly modified her recipe because I only had 3/4 cup unpopped kernels)
3/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 1/2 sticks salted butter (3/4 cup)
3/8 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp sea salt (I actually used Kosher salt- I don't know how much difference this makes)
3/8 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp vanilla

Pop your popcorn.  I recommend dividing it up into 2 very large bowls, I felt like mine were large bowls and still didn't have enough space.  I also recommend maybe very very lightly greasing the bowls because when the caramel cools, it hardens, making washing a bit more tricky.

In a 2 Qt saucepan (I used a 1.5 qt.  since I was using 3/4 of her recipe, but I would recommend at least 2 Qt because the caramel mixture bubbles up pretty high), melt the butter over medium low heat.  Once the butter is melted, add in the corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Once it boils, do not mix and let it continue to boil for 5 minutes (mine bubbled up almost to the top of the pan).  After 5 minutes, remove from heat, mix in the baking soda and vanilla (may foam higher).

Pour mixture over the bowls of popcorn.

Using large spoons (or salad tongs) toss the popcorn so it is evenly coated with caramel.

Place on two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper (to avoid a sticky messy later).  Bake at 250' for 40-50 minutes.  I baked it for 45 minutes.  If you try a piece and it doesn't taste crunchy, bake for about 10 more minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool, break apart, add in nuts or m and m's if you want and enjoy!  I didn't have any fancy bags or boxes because I wasn't planning on making this, so excuse my plain old ziploc bags:

Oh my, is this good!  I solemnly swear never to buy cracker jacks again!  This would be fun to give out at a birthday party, if you could find some cute little boxes and put your own little packs of stickers or tattoos in as a prize.

Excuse me while I use this bribe to send my kids outside to play ;)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls

Recently, several of my family members have asked me for my cinnamon roll recipe.  Surprisingly I haven't put it on here yet.  About four years ago, I started making these cinnamon rolls when I was hosting the neighborhood playgroup.  I wanted to serve something that was hard to find here and reminiscent of home.  Most all of us had commiserated at one time or the other about how we missed the pillsbury cinnamon rolls that you take out of the fridge and pop in the oven. Pretty soon, I started making these for my family too, especially on Christmas morning.  I was planning on waiting until next week to make/post these, but when my brother asked me the other day for the recipe, I decided to go ahead and make them anyways.

Cinnamon Rolls:
OVEN:  350'
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
5/8 cup warm water
1 TBSP yeast
2 eggs
5/8 cup buttermilk (you can substitute whole milk- I've done that plenty of times)
2 tsp salt
4 1/2-5 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar
5 TBSP brown sugar
1 1/2 TBSP cinnamon
6 TBSP butter

1 cup confectioner's sugar
5 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP butter - room temperature

To start, put 1 cup flour, sugar, yeast, and warm water in bowl of your mixer- don't mix at this point, just let it sit (if you are not using a kitchenaid- get one :)- but seriously just put it in a large bowl you will be using for mixing).  Let this sit for about 5-10 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy- I even do this if I'm using instant yeast, there's some peace of mind to be found to know that the yeast is working.

Meanwhile, I take a small bowl and mix the sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon for the filling- cover with saran wrap and set aside for later.

When the bowl with the flour and yeast starts to look like below, start mixing with a whisk.
Now, add the oil, eggs, salt, and another cup of flour.  Mix, then add in the buttermilk.  Add another 1/2 cup of flour, your dough should start to thicken like pudding.  At this point, if you are using a kitchen aid, switch to the dough hook.  Before you start the mixing again, add 2 1/4 more cups flour.  Slowly begin mixing by pulsing to avoid a flour explosion.  When the flour is incorporated, if the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, slowly add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides and is a giant ball on the dough hook.

If you are not using a kitchen aid, use the back of a wooden spoon to start incorporating the flour, but eventually the dough will become so thick, you'll want to knead it on the countertops with your hand until it form a smooth ball.

Once you have your dough ball, place it in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  You have two options here, you can let it rise until doubled (about 1 1/2 - 2 hours) or you can put it in the fridge overnight.  I choose to make my dough the night before to make it easier to have fresh hot cinnamon rolls with breakfast.  Here's what mine looked like the next morning:

I let it sit on the counter for about ten minutes, then I punch it down.  You can roll the whole thing out at once and form a rectangle about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide, or you can divide it into two balls and make 2 rectangles about 20" by 5".  This just lets you make mini cinnamon rolls- better for me with the little people.

Place your dough ball on a lightly floured surface, then roll out into rectangle:

Melt the 6 TBSP butter required for the filling- make sure it's melted, not just softened, the cinnamon sticks better to it if it's liquid. Spread it all over your dough rectangle, leave a little space around the edges:

Using a spoon, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture all over the buttered dough:

Roll the dough into a log along the short side, try to have the seam on the top so you can press it down to prevent the rolls from unraveling after you cut them.  I spread a little water or butter along the seam to help seal it.

The dough is easiest to cut with a serrated knife:

I usually cut my rolls about 3/4-1 inch thick, but it's up to you how big you want them to be.  Place them in a pan side by side, not too tightly, they will expand.  Let sit for 10 minutes, then place in preheated oven.

Bake 15 minutes for small ones, maybe 20 minutes for larger ones, the tops will turn very light brown.

While they are cooking, prepare your icing.  Put the softened butter in a bowl.  Add in the 1 cup confectioner's sugar and vanilla.  Using the back of a metal spoon, cream the butter and sugar together.  Adding the milk 1 tsp at a time, keep mixing with the back of the spoon until it becomes thinner (probably after 3 tsp addition)- then switch to a whisk to help break up any sugar lumps.  Continue to add milk until the icing is thin enough that it pours off the whisk (but not too thin, you want it to be a little thinner than pudding).

Put the icing in a ziploc bag.  After the rolls have cooled about 10 minutes, cut off a tiny piece of the corner of the bag and drizzle icing all over the tops of the rolls.

For my second ball of dough, I formed the rolls, put them on a wax lined baking sheet and covered them with saran wrap and placed them in the freezer.  After about an hour, I removed the pan and pulled the rolls off and put them in a freezer bag.  Now, I have my rolls all preprepared for Christmas morning- all I have to do is cook them and ice them :)  Boy am I glad now that my brother asked for the recipe!

In total, this yielded almost 50 mini cinnamon rolls.  If you do the larger rolls, you should be able to get about 23 with this batch.

And my assistant approves: