Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Homemade Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Hi, I'm back!  I have not forgotten about this blog.  I often write posts in my head, when I can't find the time to sit and type.  I feel as though, now, four months into the school year, I'm getting back on my feet after having kids home all summer and homeschooling one last year.

This recipe for jellied cranberry sauce is so good, it prompted me to FINALLY get back on here!  When I was a kid, a special treat with a meal would consist of a small amount of cranberry sauce or apple sauce.  I remember on Thanksgiving being able to have more than just a small amount of cranberry sauce and it was delicious!

The past two years, I have made my own cranberry sauce (more of a relish style).  This year, I found this recipe for jellied cranberry sauce and I had to share.  I know it's a favorite at my parent's house and people who might not be compelled to try the relish would love this recipe.  It is my goal to eliminate prepackaged and processed foods from my eating.  For the past three weeks, I have not eaten much sugar and little to no grains.  I am not above eating sugar or grains, I just like to make these products myself, so I know what I am putting into my mouth.  I find eating healthy is not a cold turkey and you're done deal, it takes a long time.  My way is do it myself first, then move on to elimination, portion control, etc. If I can't do it myself, I wonder should I be eating it.

At any rate, this sauce came out just like store bought, but with no chemicals.  It's easy and delicious, I hope that I will inspire someone to try to make their own cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce:

2 bags cranberries
2 cups sugar (sugar in the raw is ok too)
juice from 1 orange- then add water so it totals 2 cups liquid
zest from half of the orange

1) Put all ingredients in stockpot and bring to a boil.
2) Let boil for ten minutes, cranberries will start to pop- I gently mashed the berries against the side of the pan.
3) Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve- press hard on the berries to remove juices and pulp.  I ended up putting the remnants from the sieve into a cheesecloth and squeezing out more liquid afterwards.
4) Place in air tight container in refrigerator for up to one week, or seal in a canning jar by boiling in water for 15-20 minutes.  Jar should be ~1" below water level.
Jar can be stored at room temp for one year if sealed.

Once refrigerated, if you use a jar that is straight (wide mouth)- you should be able to overturn and get the sauce to pop out of the "mold".  I will just scoop mine out, as I did not have a straight style jar.
Source:  Foodie with Family (I halfed her recipe and got 3 pints )

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Recent photos

Here are a few photos I had to submit for my new online photography class.  A head shot, partial body shot, and full body shot.  Last summer, I couldn't even put pigtails in her hair, she is growing up too fast.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Black Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream

I'm baaaack and hopefully for good.  I realized today that July is National Ice Cream Month.  I thought I'd make my comeback with this amazing ice cream that I made last weekend.  I got a vitamix recently so I've been hitting up the farmer's market hard every weekend to stock my freezer full of farm grown local fruit for my smoothies.  Last week, I came across black raspberries.

The sighting of the black raspberries was kind of nostalgic for me. I  had never actually seen them for sale before, but back in Massachusetts, black raspberry is one of my favorite flavors to get at the local ice cream shop.  Here, where I live now, there are not very many local dairy bars that have a variety of hard ice cream flavors, it's mostly soft serve, so it makes me sad that my kids miss out on that experience.  I immediately bought a quart of black raspberries and went home that very day to make black raspberry ice cream.  I don't know who I was with, but I think it was my dad, that ordered it with jimmies- black raspberry with chocolate-you can't go wrong.

I recently purchased David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  It has been on my wishlist for a very long time.  I decided to buy it because my son expressed interest in learning how to make ice cream.  As I was searching for a black raspberry ice cream recipe, I pulled out the book and there it was, "raspberry swirl ice cream".  If you are looking for a fun way to introduce new fruits to a picky kids, here you go! All of my kids ate it and liked it.  It is good to know that the ice cream is actually made with real, local berries.  If you can't find black raspberries, I'm positive it will be just as delicious with red ones, which are also in season now.
Black Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream:

Ice Cream:
1 cup Whole Milk (if you use low fat, it will not turn out as creamy)
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
5 Egg Yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

Black Raspberry Swirl:
1 1/2 cup black raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 TBSP Sugar
1 TBSP vodka

1) Make the raspberry swirl.  Mash the raspberries together with the sugar and vodka.  (The vodka helps the ice cream stay smooth- I did not have vodka, but since I make my own vanilla with vodka, I used 1 TBSP vanilla)- I also was lazy and just mashed it together in my food processor, just way easier.  Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl, and strain the raspberry mixture to remove the seeds.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2) For the ice cream, place egg yolks in a medium sized bowl and whisk.

3) Place milk, sugar, and salt in medium sauce pan, warm it to about 175'.

4) While milk mixture is warming, pour cream into a large bowl, with a mesh sieve over it.

5) Once milk mixture is warm, pour half of it over the egg yolks, stirring constantly.  This is called tempering the eggs.  Pour this mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk mixture.  Continue heating, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan.  The mixture should reach about 185', you will notice it will thicken like a custard, and coat the spatula.  Remove from heat.

6) Pour custard mixture through mesh sieve into cream.  Stir in the vanilla and stir until cool, over an ice bath.  Once mixture is cool, cover and place in the refrigerator to chill.  Once the mixture is chilled, about 1 hour, you can churn in your ice cream maker, according to directions.

7) Chill the container you will be storing the ice cream in in your freezer.  When the ice cream is done churning, layer a scoop of ice cream, spread a thin layer of raspberry swirl, then ice cream, etc until you have filled the container.  Freeze until ready to serve.
Source:  Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

School Year 2012-2013

This was a hard year for me, homeschooling 1, having 2 in public school, 2 others at home, demanding attention, starting to work part time, and a husband that travels, made for a LOT!  Can I just say that I am GLAD that the school year is over.  I feel like it went by fast now that it's over, and I didn't even get to see these guys grow.

First Day of School August 2012 (Grade 1, 2, 4)
Last Day of School May 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Girls

I haven't been sharing very much lately, especially photos.  I've been going through all my photos and it's a shame not to share all the cute ones of my own family.
This is from October, but I still love it and never shared it before, what a shame.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chocolate Frosted Vanilla Cupcakes with Cream Filling

Back in March, it occurred to me that I hadn't made cupcakes in months.  It was this blog that got me obsessed with cupcakes, and how magical they are.  I used to make cupcakes more than anything else, then I stopped.

My cousin sent me a message saying she missed reading about the cupcakes I was making and it really occurred to me how much I missed making the cupcakes.  I decided to recreate the first cupcake I ever made for this blog, which, in fact was the first filled cupcake I had ever made, and the last one I ever used a box mix with.

All this coincided with my photography club's presentation that I was giving about food photography, so I knew it was the perfect time to show how far I've come in three years with a photo of the same batch of cupcakes, not only with my photography skills, but my baking skills as well.
I wish I had time to post this before Mother's Day so my cousin could have made them for herself, but it's early enough in the day that if she wants, she can still make a batch.

Happy Mother's Day Em, thanks for inspiring me to make cupcakes again!

Oven: 350'

Yellow Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 TBSP unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg plus 2 yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Marshmallow filling:
1/6 cup confectioner's sugar
3.5 oz marshmallow fluff (we made our own homemade-OMG wait for this recipe soon)
pinch salt
1/2 TBSP water
3-4 TBSP butter, room temp

Chocolate Frosting:
1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP boiling water
15 TBSP unsalted butter (she used a lot more, I don't like butter flavor frosting, so I modified)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
pinch salt
16 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (use bars if you can, not chips)

Preheat the oven to 350'
1) For the cupcakes:  In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

2) Slice butter into 8 pieces and slowly add them to the flour mixture.  Add in sour cream, egg, yolks, and vanilla and beat on medium until smooth.  Scrape down bowl and mix again until all ingredients are incorporated.

3) Line muffin pan with paper liners.  Scoop batter into cup wells until 2/3 full.  This will make 12 cupcakes, so there should be just enough batter to fill one large muffin pan.

4) Bake in oven 20-24 minutes, rotating halfway through.  They are done when a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire rack before filling or frosting.

5) For the filling:  With whisk attached to hand or stand mixer, beat butter and marshmallow fluff together.  Add in confectioner's sugar, salt, and water, beat until fluffy and combined.

6) Cut a small round cone out of the top of each cupcake, scoop a TBSP of filling into each cupcake.  Shave the cake off the bottom part of each cone and replace the top of the cupcake, once it has been filled.
7) For the frosting:  Break semi-sweet chocolate into pieces, put in microwave proof bowl and microwave for 20 second increments, stirring in between each time, until completely melted and smooth, set aside to cool.

8) In a medium bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and boiling water until cocoa dissolves.  Set aside.

9) In bowl of mixer (stand or hand), using whisk, beat the butter, confectioner's sugar, and salt on medium until light and fluffy.  Reduce mixer speed and add in the melted, cooled chocolate.  Beat until combined.  Scrape down sides and mix again.

10) Beat in the cocoa mixture until combined, scrape down sides and remix again.  Put frosting in bag with a piping tip and frost the cupcakes.

Source:  Cupcakes- Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, Frosting- Martha Stewart Cupcakes, Filling- Skip to my Lou blog

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Son's No Sugar Challenge

So, the last month and a half or so, I've been struggling to find time.  Struggling to write and post without sounding hypocritical to myself and what I do.  But, hey, this is my blog, if I want to talk about fitness one day, and cupcakes the next, it's ok, because that's who I am- I love to exercise, I love to be fit, I love helping people get fit and feel good about themselves, I love inspiring people, I love sharing things I've made, especially food that is delicious, and I love challenging myself.

I finally feel like my food photography has progressed to a level where I feel I should be, so I can't wait to share some of the new recipes I've tried recently (warning, two are cupcakes).  Now, the hypocritical part (sort of):  Our crossfit gym did its first paleo challenge last month.  My son and two daughters come with me to coach, so they were hearing lots of info about the paleo challenge (essentially, no sugar, no grains, no dairy, no legumes)- immediately both my son and one of my daughters were jumping at the chance to do the challenge and had my boss weigh and measure them.  Honestly, I knew I wasn't participating in the challenge and didn't think either one of them would survive, but my son-- WOW he amazed me!

I knew that Nathaniel was a pretty picky eater to begin with, so I was not sure I could have him go completely paleo and still eat enough calories.  We decided for the first round, he would just eliminate sugar.  You would not believe how intense and serious he took this!  My 9 year old son went 4 weeks with no sugar.  I was thinking it would be interesting to see if I noticed any behavioral changes in him- which, for the record, I did not.  The one thing I noticed was that this kid has will power and determination.  He read labels on everything and would not eat it if it listed sugar.  I allowed him to cheat on his sister's birthday for cake and ice cream, and he kept double checking with me that it was ok.

Every morning, he had toast and bacon or multigrain blueberry pancakes that I made.  I made multigrain bread for him, so he could use it for lunch.  He started searching online for sugar free recipes and started making sugar free desserts for himself, like cake and cookies.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I do feel guilty that in the beginning I didn't have faith in him.  When he went on a ski trip to california, he baked his own batch of sugar free cookies to bring for the trip and freaked out because my husband didn't tell the ski school instructors he was not allowed sugar (luckily it was just a little bit in the jelly of his sandwich).  When they got back from their trip, I made hotdogs, and he had ketchup, before he took a bite, he ran to the fridge, pulled out the ketchup, saw sugar in the ingredients, and wiped it off his hot dog.  That is some determination!

I love that I'm teaching him how to be healthy and how to read food packaging.  He asked me why certain foods weren't healthy, which prompted me to take our next science lesson to the next level and we are studying nutrition and human anatomy- I'm loving it!

I've learned valuable lessons from this experience too.  One is never doubt your kids' abilities and the main one was that it is really hard to not feed your kids sugar.  Every snack, prepackaged food, drink has added sugar, it is really quite sickening how much sugar an average kid must consume every day.  Even Cheerios has sugar.

When the four weeks were up, he had to complete a crossfit workout, called the "Dirty Thirty", followed by a 1,000m row- I took him in and my boss ran him through the workout.  He worked the hardest I've ever seen him work in my life.  He got red faced and sweaty, which made him excited.  We reweighed and measured him- he had lost a pound and 1/2 " in waist and arms got a little smaller too- that was not the goal of course, he is 9 and growing, but I found it interesting nonetheless.  Since that day, he has been nothing excited about doing the WOD with the adults.  My boss told him that he had taken his workouts to the next level, and I know that made him feel special and proud.

Here's some pictures of him doing his workout:

What did we gain from this?  My son is a tougher person than I thought, I need to read labels closer than I already did, and my son knows how to cook now.

What can you gain?  Your kid can survive without sugar, kids have more willpower than we think, you can give them sugar, but notice labels, be aware of what's in your food.  The thing I try to live by is moderation.  I give them sweets, but in moderation- because I don't want them to be curious later on in life and go on a crazy binge.  Be smart and teach your kids to be smart- educate yourself and know why things are bad for you, they are more apt to listen to a solid reason than "it's bad for you".

Monday, March 4, 2013

Where Have I Been?

This past month, I did not stick to my New Year's Resolution of 12 posts per month, I've got some ground to make up.  I've been drowning in my own to do lists and beating myself up about stuff and therefore, neglected this blog.  It may come as no surprise, but I HAVE NO FREE TIME!

I do have one big announcement about where I've been:  I GOT MY LEVEL 1 CROSSFIT TRAINER certification!  In the beginning of the month, I was busy studying for my test, reading, watching videos, quizzing myself, then I spent the next week worrying if I passed or not.

Of course, I passed, and then I had strep throat, and then two of my kids got it, and well, let's just say in my own way, I rested.

But on to more important things, like Crossfit!  So, I was lucky enough to be asked to help coach at my friend's box, so not only did I pass my test, but I'm a real coach!  Yes, I am living the dream, getting more fit, helping people get fit, setting a good example, it's just awesome!

So, that brings me to something,  how I've been rethinking my blog. I'm trying to be a good example and help people get fit, then I'm posting things like chocolate chip cookies recipes and such.  I don't think I'm being a very good example, but you know, I am making things from scratch and if you are going to eat treats, at least you should know what you are putting in them.  So, I have decided to try to focus on more healthy recipes and still post that one new cookie recipe per month and maybe one cake, but be prepared to see more healthy fresh stuff (when I find the time to photograph it).

Also, I'm on a mission to get rid of a lot of stuff.  If you see me posting craft ideas or ideas on things that I bought for my kids that they like, please don't take that as a plug to go out and buy it.  For some reason, I used to get so inspired by blog posts I'd read, that I'd go out and buy all the supplies, and then I'd never find the time to do it with my kids.  Now we have so many supplies, I can't keep it all straight and I'm so busy cleaning and organizing the stuff, I never feel like I do anything fun with my kids anymore.  "Before you know it they will be all grown up and out of the house", I have heard that countless times, mostly when I used to be wandering through the airport with three or four kids ages 4 and under by myself- I actually kind of miss those days.

I hope to start posting more fun ideas and things that I do with my kids, because that means I'm actually doing them.  I'm tired of stuff and mostly I'm tired of yelling at my kids to put it away, to take care of it, and use it.  Why do we get them stuff when we know this is what will happen?  I got rid of two trash bags of stuff to good will and one more of broken stuff to the trash, I felt awesome!  Less stuff to take care of= more time to have fun with your kids.  There was a day when I got on a  plane with a diaper bag and three car seats and three kids that all needed them, I wish I took a picture because I'm actually not sure how I carried the baby and the three car seats onto the plane, that is a memory I wish was frozen on a picture.  Now, I only have one little one that needs a car seat on the plane and it makes me sad.  She's mischievous, but she can't talk back, and I like that.

I'm teaching my oldest son how to cook now and did you know that I used to teach Chemistry?  So, I'm teaching him lots of science experiments.  I'm hoping to put our latest recipes and experiments up for others to try starting this week- he actually asked me if he could start his own blog, lol.  For the rest of the year, he asked me to teach him about nutrition.  Since he hears me talk about food and what's healthy, he asked me to explain how the body processes food and why some things are bad, so I will sharing some of those adventures too.

And, my time is up, got dinner to make and 8 baskets of laundry to put away.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chocolate swirl "Babka" Buns

Before the summer, my sister-in-law asked me to help her make Babka.  I had never heard of it before, so I was up for the challenge.  Babka is a yeast dough that is twisted in a high pan with chocolate or cinnamon filling.  She had had it at a family party, loved it so much, brought it home and saved it in her freezer for me to try.  I actually never got to try it, so I can't say for sure that this is going to satisfy her quest for the matched recipe.  But, I can say that I am glad she asked me to make it because these were AWESOME!  They are super easy to make and I purposely made them during a week when my kids were too busy eating their favorite cereal to notice what they were missing.  Warm them up for 20 seconds in the microwave and they are warm and delicious the next day with your morning coffee.

Just think, melted chocolate smell wafting through your house- whose Valentine wouldn't want to wake up to that smell?

Chocolate Swirl Buns:

Oven: 350'

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBSP unsalted butter - room temperature
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk (whole is best)

3 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
8 oz. semisweet chocolate

1) Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in bowl of mixer with the whisk.  Remove the whisk, replace with dough hook.

2) Heat the milk to 90-110', very warm to the touch- I used the microwave for mine.  Whisk the egg into the warm milk.  Slowly pour the milk/egg mixture into the flour mixture, while mixing with the dough hook on low.  

3) Cut the butter into three pieces, add to the mixing dough.  Let knead for about ten minutes.  The dough will be sticky- that is ok, you do not need to add more flour or the buns won't bake with the same texture.

4) Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

5) Make the filling- Place the chocolate, salt, and sugar in the bowl of your food processor with the blade in.  Pulse until the chocolate is chopped into fine pieces.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a gritty, crumbly paste.  

6) Once dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured surface and let it rest 5 minutes.  Grease your muffin pan while you wait- make sure to spray with non-stick spray in the wells.  
Roll the dough out into a 12x20 rectangle, it will be very thin.  I was worried and didn't roll mine out to the full size.  Spread the filling all over the dough, but stay 1/2" away from all the edges-otherwise it will overflow in the oven and smell like burnt chocolate.  With your hands on the short (12") edge, roll the dough into a tight log.  Pinch the open end down to create a seam.  Cut 1" pieces with a serrated knife and place each bun into a well of your prepared muffin pan.  

7) Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well, here's my "new" cookie recipe for the month of January.  I have the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook and I decided to try their recipe of an old classic.  I have been trying lots of chocolate chip cookie recipes over the years, but realized that I have tried my most trusted cookbook's recipe.  Shame on me!

These cookies were so delicious, that the first batch I made was gone the very first day, something that never happens in my house- for real. So, I made another batch the very next day.  I hope this is an indication to you of how much we all enjoyed them.  The method of making the cookies was different than any other I've made before.  You brown the butter first, so you are going in with completely melted butter, which is something that is normally taboo in a cookie recipe.  Then you do a mix and rest period- not sure exactly what it does, but the cookies turn out soft, gooey, and great!

I did all this by hand, and normally I won't try a recipe I don't think I can use my mixer with.

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Oven: 375'

1 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 TBSP unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1) Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.

2) Melt 10 TBSP of the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook until butter is browned and has an aroma, about 3 minutes.

3) Transfer browned butter into a large bowl and immediately add the remaining 4 TBSP butter, stir until butter has completely melted.  Add brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, and salt to the melted butter and whisk until incorporated.

4) Add egg and egg yolk to butter mixture and whisk for 30 seconds.  Set bowl aside to rest for 3 minutes.  Then whisk again for 30 seconds.  Let it rest for 3 minutes and whisk for 30 seconds 2 more times.

5) Using a spatula, fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients.  Mix until combined.  Slowly fold in the chocolate chips.  Drop evenly onto prepared baking sheets (I like to use parchment paper).  Bake 10-14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

Source:  Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Organization Before and After: Kids Game Closet

I used to keep my kids games out of their reach at all times.  I did this for three reasons:  so they could not make a huge mess when they did not clean the game up after themselves, that the pieces would not be lost, and that they would not destroy the games.   In Japan, the games were on the top shelf of a closet and were stacked so high, I never felt like getting them down, because it ended up like a game of Tetris trying to get them back up.  In our new house, it started off the same way, but the closet wasn't as big and we had more games- they were everywhere and I just did not like it.
I started thinking about the fact that we did not play the games very often because they were tucked away and that the kids could not decide to play a game on their own because they couldn't reach them.  I realized that in the end, they are kids, they are going to wreck stuff, they are going to lose stuff, and yes, they are going to make messes.  I did not buy the games to look pretty on a shelf or to maintain their value so that I could sell them underpriced at a yard sale.  

For all you parents out there, something to really think about- how many toys/games do your kids have that you limit playing time with because they were really expensive and/or you don't want it destroyed. I ask you this:  "why bother buying it then".  In this case- who are you really buying the toys for?  The kids or you?  Buy things for the right reason- if it's expensive because it's durable, that's great, or because it's made with less chemically, cheap materials- fine- but just because you paid a lot of money for it is not a reason to not let them play.  Make smarter decisions when you buy stuff for them, that's what I've been doing.  I don't buy things I'm going to worry about, and I certainly stopped buying things that I wished I had had when I was a kid, hoping I'd relive some childhood dream.  
I decided I wanted to give my kids access to all the games, but I was stumped on how to do it.  I am not good at rotating stuff, so I did not want to even cross that bridge.  I searched a lot online and did not really find too much.  I ended up flipping through a Better Homes and Gardens Organization magazine last summer and seeing a picture of a shelf with the games placed vertically instead of horizontally.  I was sold!  I set up an IKEA expedit shelf that we already had in our coat closet.  I alphabetized the games and laid them in there.  I had a few that were too wide so I put them up top with the adult games.  There were a few too many, so I placed one  horizontally on top in a few of the compartments.  
On top of the shelf, I placed all the smaller boxed games.  I used a canvas bin to stack them to keep them from falling all over the place.  There is a bowl in front of the canvas bin for all the random pieces we find in the couch or on the floor after a game has been put away.  Every Friday, one of my kids gets the job of putting the pieces back in the appropriate game and making sure the games are all put away neatly.  
I try to enforce a rule of only one game out at a time per kid.  The littlest one is having a hard time with this, but in the end, she still has the responsibility of cleaning up the games she had out and it's easy enough for her to do.  My kids definitely play their games a lot more now and that makes me happy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Honey Apple Almond Layer Cake

As part of my New Year's Resolutions, I want to continue to get better at food photography.   A friend of mine and I decided to do a food photography challenge to hold each other accountable.  I had seen another blog that did a challenge where they made every recipe out of a food magazine- while it appealed to me, there are just a lot of recipes, I know I couldn't stomach, particularly those involving seafood.  I do want to expand my taste palate, so we are using food magazines as our source, and this month we chose a Honey Apple Almond Layer Cake from the Food Network Magazine.  I'm not usually keen on making cakes from magazines- I like to stick to my favorite cook books (Cook's Illustrated, Baked, Pastry Queen)- so not only was this a completely new flavor of cake, it was a new cake recipe source.

My overall review is that the cake came out pretty good.  I think it was not as sweet as your traditional vanilla or chocolate cake and for those of you looking for something different, give this a try.  My favorite part of the cake was the frosting.  It is almond flavored swiss meringue butter cream- for those of you unfamiliar with swiss meringue butter cream, it is a very fluffy light frosting, that you can pile on  high without feeling disgusting from the sweetness.  However, in this case, the cake was very dense, almost like a pound cake, so if I made the cake again, I would use a thicker frosting, such as a traditional buttercream.  The apple butter layer in the middle was not overwhelming and complimented the cake well.  I feel like the brushed honey could almost be skipped, I'm not sure it made that much of  a flavor difference.  I opted to top the cake with cinnamon red hots, because I just thought it would compliment the apple butter, as opposed to slivered almonds.

The thing that excited me most about this cake was frosting it.  My husband got me a rotating cake stand for Christmas and I am wondering how I lived without it.  It is definitely awesome and any serious cake baker should add it to their wishlist now!

Honey Apple Almond Layer Cake

Oven:  350

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
1 1/4 cup whole milk

4 egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
2 sticks unsalted butter (room temp** see note below)

3/4 cup apple butter
3 TBSP honey
2 TBSP water

1) Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease 2 9" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

3) In mixer, beat the butter with the sugar on medium-high until fluffy (~3 minutes).  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla.

4) In alternating batches, starting and ending with the flour mixture, add in flour mixture and milk.  Scrape down sides after last flour addition and give one final mix until smooth- do not overmix or cake will be very dense.

5) Evenly divide the batter in the two prepared cake pans.  Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through- a cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean.  Let cakes cool for a few minutes, then invert to remove cakes and let cool on baking rack.

6) Once cakes are completely cool, make the frosting.  In heatproof pan (or double boiler) set over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk egg whites and sugar.  Heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches a temperature of 160'.  Remove from heat and pour into bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium high until completely cool and stiff white peaks form- will sort of look like marshmallow fluff.  (If you have never made swiss meringue buttercream before, here is a great tutorial/video).  Once it is at this stage, switch to the paddle attachment.  One TBSP at a time, drop in the butter and beat on medium.  Eventually the frosting will thicken like pudding and you will notice a different sound of it slapping against the paddle.  After you have added all the butter, scrape down the sides and beat in the almond extract and vanilla.
**If you run into a problem where the frosting is too runny or looks curdled because you did not use room temp butter - like I did- go here to find out how to save your frosting- it saved mine!

7) To assemble the cake, use a bread knife and level off the bottom layer- place it on a plate or cake stand.  Heat the honey and water in a saucepan until simmering.  Brush half of the honey mixture onto the bottom cake layer.  Drop the 3/4 cup of apple butter onto this layer, and spread out to about 1/2" from the edges.  Place the top layer of the cake on.  Brush the remaining honey onto the top layer.  Frost the cake, starting the the sides.  Set some frosting aside for decorative edges, if you want.

Source:  Adapted from Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2013
Enjoy the cake!  If you make it, let me know if you liked it or not.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Workout motivation for moms (and everyone else too)

So, you'll be noticing more stuff on here about exercising and staying fit.  It's a big part of my life and I realized I don't share nearly enough about it.  I remember starting to feel competitive in Junior High when I did not want to lose in an obstacle course- I was running so fast, I tripped over my shoe lace and dove under a hurdle instead of jumping over it.  Since then, I've always loved running and haven't stopped since.

As a mom, I over hear a lot of excuses from other mom's talking while I'm waiting at school, the doctor, dentist, gymnastics, etc of why they don't exercise or can't lose their babyfat (10+ years later).  I've been in many many situations and I have managed to stay fit through it all.  I'm going to try to touch on some of my favorite or most common excuses and tell you how I got around them.

1) "I don't have the time."  There is always time to exercise.  No matter what, you can exercise anywhere, anytime.  Got kids?  Take them to the park, use the swing- pumping works abs and legs.  Get on the monkey bars- works your arms.  Run around and play tag- when's the last time you played an outdoor game?  Got to make dinner?  Don't use your mixer, do it by hand, you'd be amazed at the bicep workout you can get by hand mixing, it's good for your grip strength too.  Make a loaf of bread and knead it by hand- OMG, ten minutes of kneading bagel dough and you're already building those arms up!  Put away your food processor and chop veggies with a knife and cutting board- it's all in your arms.  Deadlift your laundry and carry it up and down the stairs- or even your kids for that matter.
GET UP EARLY!  I have become accustomed to getting up at least an hour before my kids and that's when I get my workout in.  It's a great way to start the day!

2) "My husband travels and I don't have anyone to watch the kids."  Welcome to my world baby!  My husband routinely travels out of the country for a week or two at a time and guess what?  I still exercise every.single.day!  I live far away from family and I've moved so much, I'm constantly having to make new friends before I find people to help out with the kids.

Here's what I've done:
a) Join a gym with childcare- my kids weren't too keen as littles to go to child care, so I often took the bigger ones and left the baby home with my husband.  If he was travelling, I'd go outside and run.

b)I got two baby joggers, a double, then a triple.  Yes, I ran with three kids in the stroller, want to talk about a way to burn some steam?

c) I got myself some exercise videos that I enjoyed and knew I'd routinely do.  I got Power Yoga and Insanity- I do these often and they require no equipment, so they are easy to do from the living room.  When I lived in Japan, it was too expensive to join a gym, and there was no childcare at the gym anyways, (did I mention my husband was working 14 hour days, so all my exercise for those 5 years was done at home, with kids, or early morning before the sun came up).  Instead of paying for a gym membership, I used the money to buy different workout dvd's to see which one I liked.  The price of a video wasn't that much and was still cheaper than a monthly gym membership.  A DVD isn't necessarily preferrable, especially when you're working out alone, but hey, gotta get that workout in!
d) Taught my kids to ride bikes at a young age, now when my husband's travelling, they can ride their bikes alongside me while I run.

e) Joined a crossfit gym that doesn't have childcare, but doesn't mind if I bring in well behaved kids (and yes, I will bribe them to behave because a happy, destressed mom is much more fun to be around than a grumpy stressed out one).

3) "I had a c-section so I can't exercise."- I had 5 c-sections!  I took about a week off, then just started walking.  Almost every mother known to mankind has a stroller.  Put your baby in it and go.  Bad weather?- I'd head to the mall.  I walked almost everyday, starting with a half mile per day, after I had my kids.  I healed faster and fit back into my clothes in record time.  Recommended break from heavy activity for a c-section is 12 weeks.  I did not run or lift weights for those 12 weeks, just walked, and by the time I was ready to do normal activity again, it was not hard to get back in my routine.  I also did yoga about 3 times a week- actually prenatal yoga, I still do it now, just turn the volume down so you don't have to hear her talk about the baby in your stomach- lol.

4) "I'm pregnant so I can't do anything."- Again, been pregnant 5 times and exercised throughout all of them- not hardcore, just walking and weight lifting.  I ran for about 6 months in my first pregnancy, but I kept having to go to the bathroom, and it got annoying, so I stopped.  The weight lifting was light weights, but I kept it up all the way to the end of my first three pregnancies, with c-sections, it helped tremendously post baby, because without your stomach muscles, you've got to rely a lot on arms and back.  I did prenatal yoga three times per week, it was so relaxing and it did help strengthen my muscles.  You have to be strong, especially if you have other kids to take care of.
5) "I haven't exercised in so long, I don't think I can do it."  For each of my pregnancies, I took 12 weeks off running and lifting.  For the last four pregnancies, I stopped running for the entire time, so that's almost a year of no running and half a year of no lifting.  Each time, it took me a couple months to get back to the shape I was in, but I did it.  I am actually running faster now than I was before I had kids.  I am smarter about it, more efficient (due to less time), and more appreciative (I have the ability and I need to use it while I can).  I'm more determined too- I'm 36, and I've maintained similar race times and gotten higher weights up now than when I was 19- I pride in the fact that I can do that, and I drive myself hard to maintain the standards I've set for myself. I quit gymnastics when I was 4 or 5 because my teacher was mean- I've always wanted to do it... I'm doing it now.
6) "I'm not motivated."  Find someone or something to motivate yourself.  Do you want to fit back into a pair of jeans, do you want to do something you never thought possible?  Find someone to hold you accountable to help motivate you.  I joined a running group in NC when I lived there.  My friends were constantly pushing me to run faster and I was motivated to run because I didn't want to let them down.  In Japan, I was motivated because there was a rumor that all the men lost weight while living there and the wives gained because they had nothing better to do than go out to lunch all the time.  I was motivated to not fall into that trap, to be who I always was and I did.  Now, I joined the Y when I moved, and the bootcamp instructors, one in particular, were phenomenal at pushing me to my limits.  I wanted to go back everyday because I wanted to do better the next time.  I joined crossfit and I thought I was a good athlete, but there were so many things that I was not good at, and I am getting better everyday.  I am motivated to go back to try new challenges and to see how accomplished I have become.  I am motivated by my kids who see me accomplish things and now they want to do it too.  I am proud that my kids asked me to buy them jump ropes and that my son was sad he had to miss crossfit because he wanted to use the rower.  Whatever it takes, find something to motivate yourself.
7) "I'm scared I'll be the worst or slowest one."  We have all started out somewhere and all had to walk through that door for the first time.  Find a place that makes you feel welcome when you walk in.  You will know by the smiling face that greets you that you've found the right place.  You will start to make friends, and they will help hold you accountable.  Some days at crossfit, I finish in the middle, somedays I beat certain people, and somedays they beat me- but what I know is, I'm using proper form, I'm giving it my all, and I'm getting stronger everyday.

8) "I'm injured, so I can't workout."  Modifications baby!  The worst thing you can do is nothing.  If your arm hurts, use your legs and vice versa.

I know I've forgotten some, so if you have an excuse and you need a reason, let me know, I'll come up with something.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Limiting my kids' Video Game Time

Something that I have struggled with a lot over the past three years is how to control the amount of time my kids get to play video games.  It all started with a Wii, then we got Nintendo DS' for travelling back and forth internationally (must have), then a Playstation so dad could have his favorite Katamari game, Santa brought an XBox 360 last year, hoping the Kinect would help the kids move around and burn energy on the days when it was too cold to play outside, and finally through a bet from dad and a birthday gift, two Kindle fires emerged.  We are chock full of video games (oh, and I forgot the iphone and iPads too).  While they can be great and beneficial for learning purposes and keeping kids tech saavy, they are also a deterant and a large problem.

Video games have caused fights, yelling, tantrums, and just general frustration in our house.  The games that are co-op, where you can have more than one person playing simultaneously can be a mother's worst nightmare, if the kids don't like losing or don't understand that they are playing with each other.  These games have emanated the biggest problems in my house and I have had to forbid my kids from playing them when friends are over and sometimes with each other.  Any peace and quiet I might gain from a little game time for them is so not worth the screaming and fighting that more often than not results.

The worst part about the video games is getting kids to turn them off.  The first rule I ever set and learned very quickly was always have a time limit and SET A TIMER.  If they do not turn it off by the time the timer finishes dinging, they don't play the next day.

I feel like video games are fun and enjoyable, but so are board games and outdoor physical games- do all of your kids know how to play "mother may I" and "red rover"?   The next rule I set for video games was a total time limit per day for any screen time (including TV).  During the school week, time was limited to 1 hour and the weekend 1 1/2 hours.  With five kids, it was hard for me to keep track of and follow through with the time limit.  The biggest thing was they all wanted to play different games.  So, when one was playing, the others were watching and their screen time was effectively tripling.  It was so much work to keep them from watching each other that I knew this system couldn't last.  The other thing that was frustrating was their assumption that they were allowed that time no matter what and that they deserved it.  Sometimes, at 9PM, an argument would break out between one of the kids and I because they didn't get to play "their time".  I was so sick of hearing about "their time", something had to change.

Finally, about a month ago, I discovered I could use this desire of my kids to play video games to my advantage.  Not only would I give them a time limit for playing, but they would have to earn it each and every day!  I haven't had time to make a chart, but I give them lists of chores to do around the house and each chore ranges from 5-10 minutes of playing time, depending on the difficulty of the chore.  They are only allowed to earn up to the maximum and I have the right to say that there is only time for 30 minutes of play, so you can only earn 30 minutes.  Let's just say I haven't had to take out the recycling, bring down the laundry, or vacuum much lately.  I'm kind of liking this now.
There is still a rule that if you are watching someone play, it counts towards your time, and you have to finish at the timer or you lose the next day.  I actually overheard my oldest say to my second son that he couldn't watch him play or it would count against him, so he left the room to read a book.   I know this isn't an end all be all solution and there will be days when I let them play longer (special occasions).  I thought I'd share this because I often hear other parents asking how to limit video game/screen time.  It's funny how when we first got the devices, we thought we were the coolest parents and what a great gift we were giving our kids and now we ask ourselves "what were we thinking".

I don't want to rely on the video games to relieve me from having to play with them, to replace human contact, to take away learning patience- what kid has to sit still quietly in a waiting room without a device in their hands now a days (or adult for that matter), to stop physical play, or to build a barrier in my relationship with my kids because I am the one having to take them away.  I hope that my reward system teaches them the value of doing hard work and how to handle time management.

How do you handle video game time?

Friday, January 4, 2013

My 2013 Resolutions

This blog means a lot to me.  It makes me feel a part of something and makes me feel special on the days when I do nothing but break up fights and clean up mess after mess.  I've neglected it a lot last year (but I do have a great excuse, 5 kids and I homeschool one of them).  There were so many things I did/made last year that I wanted to share but never found the time to take good photos, or I got the photos and I never made the time to sit and write the post.  This blog blossomed me into who I am today, it sparked my love of photography, which this year, I started my own photography business:  Liz Carlson Photography.  It pushed me to try new things with my cooking and explore new blogs and cookbooks.  I have done amazing crafts with my kids that I never even would of thought to look for.  So, I am sorry I have neglected this blog because it has helped make me who I am today.  That being said, my number one resolution this year is to get 12 posts a month on this blog, that is 3 posts per week and I know I'm capable of it.  Expect to see lots of new and exciting things.

In the kitchen:
Try one new cookie recipe per month
Try one new dinner recipe per week
Make macaroons
Make the pasta sauce I never made last year

Get level 1 certified to coach crossfit
Do all the named crossfit workouts
Run a 5K in 19:30 or faster
Perfect my pull ups
Be able to do a free standing hand stand
Help my friend qualify for the Boston Marathon
Do all my crossfit workouts with the prescribed weight
Do all the named crossfit workouts
Help make people feel awesome about themselves

Stop buying clothes for myself and my kids (this is something that has been on my mind for a while now.  Last year, I started saving my receipts each month, then totalling up in categories what I was spending my money on.  It is shocking to see how much many you end up spending on little things, it just starts adding up!  I have so many clothes and so do my kids, so I figured it's an easy thing to start with.  I got rid of sooo much stuff last year, and we have so much more, it's ridiculous.  I can sew and I have a lot of fabric, so I can make stuff if they need it.  The only things I will allow myself to buy if the need arises are socks, underwear, coats, and shoes- and athletic shorts for my oldest. I was inspired to start tracking my spending when I saw a girl on the Nate Berkus show who paid off 26,000 in debt in one year by cutting all unnecessary spending, her blog is And Then We Saved.  Then I was even more inspired by a girl at my crossfit gym who just completed her one year of not buying clothes for herself.  Wish me luck!)

Go out with my kids to play everyday!
Teach my kids how to play all the outdoor games I used to play all the time
Play board games with my kids 3 times a week or more
Take my kids to a museum or fun new place once a month
Do a one on one time with each kid once a month
Go out with my husband once a month, no kids
Give the kids experiences and fun outings for their birthdays instead of toys (besides Christmas, I am buying no toys this year- if my kids get toys it will be from a friend or family member)

Catch up on my 52 week challenge
Take a photo of my kids every week
Do more food photography
Take another online editing course
Teach someone else how to use their digital camera

Finish all the projects I started last year
Repurpose the bag of old clothes into useable clothes for the girls
Make the girls quilts (finally!)

Finish the six books I started last year!
WRite more handwritten letters to friends and family
Learn to say no
Send birthday cards to everyone!
Make people feel special
Do random acts of kindness more often

Last year was the first time I had ever written and also publicly expressed my resolutions.  I accomplished about 85% of them because I felt somewhat accountable.  That is why I am doing it again.  I never want to say I'm bored or be worried that I have nothing to do.  I want to live my life to the fullest.  I hope you are inspired to write down some goals and start living your life more fully!