Friday, December 7, 2018

Mojo-Roast Pork and Cubanos!

Tomorrow will be Matthew's first day on skis. Here in Colorado, little kids ski for free during the winter season and the resort of your choice will even provide them with free lessons if they are complete novices. Paul and I both grew up in Montana where learning to ski at a young age is a necessity as it is so ingrained in the culture up there. When we moved here, one of the perks of being so close to the mountains, we assumed, was that we could get back on skis more easily and teach our children how to ski as well. Paul in particular is an excellent skier who has been out to the Montana slopes several times since we have been married. Last time I went skiing was when I was pregnant with our first baby. The conditions were terrible - very icy - and I took a bad fall. A couple weeks later, I lost the baby. The doctors assured me that the fall while skiing had not disrupted the pregnancy, but I wasn't so sure and as a result haven't been back on skis since. Paul is determined to get me back on the slopes next winter when we can leave Daniel for longer periods of time. But for now, Paul's focus is getting Matthew learning to ski and, hopefully, also learning to love it.

When Matthew first found out about skiing, he was excited to learn. He was practically bouncing off the walls when Paul took him to the sporting goods store to purchase ski gear and lift tickets. We found it was less expensive to purchase kid skis and boots than it is to rent them, so Matthew walked out of the store the proud owner of his own pair of bright red ski boots and skis. He tried them on at home for his sisters and me and then carefully propped them up in his closet in anticipation of the day he would get to use them. We purchased him a slightly used, high-quality ski coat, gloves, thermal underwear, and goggles to keep him warm and protected at 12,000 feet elevation. Matthew was just about ready to get out and ski. His first, all-day lesson was scheduled and set for December 8th.

Last night, at dinner, a few days before his scheduled lesson, Matthew announced that he no longer wanted to ski. "You never asked me my opinion! You just signed me up without my permission!" he whined.

Paul just about blew his top: "What do you mean?? You have been excited! What about all the time you spend parading around in your new ski gear in front of your sisters and Mom? At any point you could have said you didn't want to go!"

Matthew continued reiterating that he didn't want to go: "I'm afraid I'm going to be blown off the mountain!"

At this, we all laughed and attempted to quell his fears because they were ridiculous. Then Emma piped up: "You can take me! I want to learn how to ski. I'm going to be a good skier because I never give up!"

This is true. She is exceptionally stubborn.

Emma's enthusiasm enraged Matthew. If we ever want to motivate Matthew to do something, all we have to do is ask Emma to do it first and suddenly Matthew will spring to action. This even works for household chores, like taking out the garbage or picking up the dog poop.

"Emma, you can't learn to ski! I'm going to ski first!" Matthew snapped at her. The fight didn't stop there, and soon enough a grumpy Matthew was sent to his room for berating his sister.

While we cleaned up the dishes, Paul began to lament about whether we should be encouraging Matthew to ski or not. More than anything, Paul really wants Matthew to have a good experience on his first day so that he will enjoy skiing. A bad first day could taint his perception of skiing for life. That's when I suggested that maybe we should have signed Emma up at the same time so they could take lessons together. Those two are in constant competition with one another, in this case their combativeness could actually do some good. They could possibly drive one another to greater success.

Too late for that now. So Matthew will be hitting the slopes alone (Paul will be skiing too) on Saturday. We will see if he takes to skiing as much as his father hopes, or whether he will be sitting out the remainder of the season with his mother and his cute baby brother who is just so adorable right now that all the photos are about HIM.

Also, I shamefully have to put in a plug for my beloved alma mater and her football team. The Fighting Irish are headed to the playoffs! Daniel is particularly excited about it. This was taken during the USC game, which Daniel watched intently in between chewing on a package of diaper wipes.

So let's transition to the recipe for today. Actually it's a bonus day, for I have TWO recipes for you. This snowy, chilly weather is perfect for my favorite combination of foods - soups and sandwiches! My favorite sandwich in the world is one that incorporates all my pregnancy cravings between two slices of bread: pickles, mustard, and cheese. What sandwich is that? The Cuban Sandwich, or Cubanos to some people.

A good Cuban Sandwich consists of delicious roast pork, shaved ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard piled high on a special, slightly sweet and chewy Cuban bread. The sandwich is pressed and toasted on a griddle until the cheese is all melty and the outside of the bread is golden brown and crunchy. It is the greatest combination of flavors in the world.

In order to have a good Cuban Sandwich, a good recipe for roast pork must be used. Anyone ever see the movie Chef? If you haven't, it's basically the story of a chef who leaves his career working in an upscale restaurant to make cuban sandwiches on a food truck. In the movie, they show him making this amazing citrus marinated, slow roasted pork that he uses on his sandwiches. The recipe was developed for the movie by famed chef Roy Choi and it is one of the greatest ways to use pork shoulder ever. I usually use his recipe to roast a large pork shoulder and then serve it sliced with mojo sauce and potatoes and salad one night for dinner and then use the leftovers to make Cuban sandwiches the next night.

If you don't have cuban bread, and really it is pretty hard to find unless you make it yourself, just use french bread. Actually, you can buy day-old bread from Jimmy Johns for practically nothing and it works PERFECT in this recipe.

In summary, make the roasted pork one night for dinner. Then, use the leftovers to assemble into the best cuban sandwiches this side of Miami. It's the perfect stay-inside-while-looking-at-the-snow-falling type of meal.

Have I mentioned that I'm so thankful I'm not the one freezing on the ski slopes this weekend?

Mojo-Marinated Roast Pork
from Roy Choi for the movie Chef, as seen on RecipeTin Eats

For the Marinade and Pork:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cilantro / coriander, lightly packed
1 tbsp orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice, fresh
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup mint leaves, lightly packed
8 garlic cloves
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, packed (or 1/2 tbsp dried oregano)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 lb pork shoulder, skinless and boneless

For the Mojo Sauce:
2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
Salt and pepper

Combine Marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend until the herbs and garlic are finely chopped. Alternatively, you can finely chop/mince the garlic and herbs then mix all ingredients in a bowl.
Place in a large ziplock bag with the pork. Place in the fridge overnight (in a bowl, just to be safe).
Remove the pork from the Marinade and bring to room temperature. Reserve the Marinade.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the pork on a rack in a roasting dish (or on a couple of onions have, to elevate the pork). Cover with a lid or double layer or foil, slightly tented so it is not pressed tightly against the pork.
Place in the oven and bake for 2 hrs 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes to brown.

Remove from the oven and place on a plate, loosely covered with foil. Rest for 20 minutes before serving with the Mojo Sauce on the side. I decorated mine with pan fried slices of oranges and extra cilantro/coriander leaves.

To make the Mojo Sauce, place the reserved Marinade, the Mojo Sauce ingredients and 2 tbsp of the roasting pan drippings into a small saucepan. Bring to boil and add salt and pepper to taste. You might also want to add more lime juice or even a touch of sugar. Turn the heat down and simmer for 1 minute, then remove from the stove and set aside. Serve with the Pork!


2 thin slices ham
4 thin slices Mojo Marinated Pork
2 pieces of white baguettes , sliced in half (I used Jimmy John's Baguettes!)
Yellow mustard
2 thin slices Swiss cheese
2 or 3 dill pickles , thinly sliced

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add ham and pork slices, and cook each side until slightly browned then remove to a plate.

Butter cut sides of baguettes then place in the skillet, cut side down, for 2 minutes until lightly browned. Remove onto work surface.

Layer the bottom of the baguettes with pork, ham, then cheese and pickles. Cut, break or fold the ham, pork and cheese so they fit. Spread the cut side of the bun tops with mustard then place on the sandwich.

Butter the bottom AND top of the outside of the baguettes.

Heat skillet over medium high heat. Place the baguettes in the skillet, top with a sheet of baking paper then weigh it down with a heavy skillet or pot (use cans if necessary for extra weight so the sandwich compressed). Cook for 3 minutes on each side, until dark golden brown and crispy, and the cheese is melted.

Let sandwiches stand 1 minute before cutting in half. Serve IMMEDIATELY.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes

Let me tell you about one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. This person is not one of my children nor my goofy husband; I give them plenty of feature time here and will pick up with discussing them tomorrow.

Today, I want to talk about my little sister Amy.

Amy, to put it eloquently, is simply the best. She is upbeat, easy-going, and smart. She also has a great sense of humor and infectious laughter, loves music, animals, and children, is a blossoming Beatles fan, possesses a great eye for photography and art in general, and has a faith life that is pretty deep for a kid her age.

But the best thing about Amy is her compassionate, loving heart. She has such a big capacity to love and cares deeply about each and every person she meets. Legitimately cares. You would be hard pressed to find someone with a bigger heart than Amy.

I'd like to think that Amy's beautiful nature is largely due to the fact that I supplied her with an impeccable role model while growing up. I was fifteen when Amy was born and my parents asked me to be her godmother, a role that I continue to take very seriously. But in all reality, I have pretty much nothing to do with how awesome Amy is. Even as an infant, she was always so sweet, so patient, and so ready to please. While growing up, she always tried her best to follow rules, obey her parents, and give her all at school. She also fostered a relationship with God that she has continued to grow and I have no doubt that her spiritual growth is the dominant force shaping her into the adult she is quickly becoming.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Matthew was scheduled to receive the remainder of his sacraments of initiation: Confirmation and Communion. As part of the Confirmation process, he was instructed to select an adult sponsor, someone whom he greatly admires who will be able to help guide him in his faith journey. He took only a few minutes to think before deciding upon Amy. His choice did not come as a surprise to me and Amy was thrilled that he thought of her. I thought it was kind of neat because I had also been Amy's Confirmation sponsor just a few years earlier.

So, my Mom flew out along with my three youngest siblings - Amy, Susanna, and Bruce - to witness Matthew's reception of the sacraments. Amy got to sit with him throughout the entire 2 hour long Mass and held tightly onto his shoulder as Matthew walked up to be confirmed. Amy also was the one who informed the priest what name Matthew had chosen for his Confirmation - Saint Francis of Assisi - and got to watch close up as her eldest nephew was anointed with the blessed chrism oil. It was an emotional moment for me as a mother. I remember when my little baby boy was baptized and now here he was old enough to receive our Lord in the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. I also remember my baby sister receiving all three of her sacraments of initiation and now she gets to stand as a witness and role model to my son.  How quickly time passes.

It was beautiful - every bit of the Mass. And when it was over, we had a little party with lots of cake.

Oh, and there is one more thing about Amy that I'd like to share. She likes to cook. More specifically, she like to bake. When she came out to my house this past summer, she baked quite a bit. One of the most amazing things she made were these Lemon Lavender Cupcakes. I am in love with lavender in cakes and cookies, so when this recipe intrigued her, I encouraged her to try it. Amy discovered after trying her confection that she was not in love with lavender flavored frosting. However, I found it delicious and so did Paul and the kids. Amy might be able to bake, but I'm beginning to suspect that she lacks properly formed taste buds. These were amazing.

If you're like Amy and are suspect of lavender in baked goods, keep away. However, if lavender-scented sweets are your jam, give these elegant cupcakes a go!

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes
recipe from Jessica Merchant

For the Cupcakes:
1-1/2 cup All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
4 Lemons, Zest Freshly Grated
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, At Room Temperature
1 cup Sugar
1 Large Egg
2 Large Egg Whites
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Lemon Extract (optional)
1/2 cup Milk
1/4 cup Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice

For the Lavender Frosting:
3/4 cups Unsalted Butter, At Room Temperature
3-1/2 cups To 4 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon Dried Culinary Lavender, Finely Chopped
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Milk Or Cream If Needed
1 drop Purple Food Coloring (optional)
Fresh Lavender, For Garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a cupcake tin with liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Zest the lemons and set the zest aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add in the sugar and beat on medium speed, scraping down the sides if needed and increasing it to high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sugar and butter is fluffy. Beat in each egg and white until incorporated, then add the vanilla and lemon extract (you can also use a lemon baking emulsion) and lemon zest until combined. Beating on low speed, add in half of the dry ingredients until combined, then add in the milk and lemon juice. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and beat until combined.

Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measure, scoop the batter into the liners filling them 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 16–18 minutes, or until the tops are set. Let cool completely.

For the lavender frosting:
Add butter to the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until creamy. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar and lavender. Increase the speed of the mixer, scraping down the sides if needed, beating the frosting until fluffy and combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.

If the frosting seems too thick, beat in the tablespoon of milk. If it seems to runny or too thin, you can beat in more powdered sugar ¼ cup at a time. Once the frosting is a spreadable consistency, drop in the purple food coloring and mix until evenly colored. Frost the cupcakes and top with a few lavender flowers if you wish.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Halloween Candy Cookie Cake

This week was brutally busy. I'm not even sure with what but I went to bed exhausted every single evening. Part of the reason was due to the fact that Paul was traveling for work this week and being the sole caretaker for the kids really does take a toll on me. When Paul comes home, it at least gives the kids another body to annoy, complain to, or climb all over besides me! Plus, Daniel has been going through a super fussy period at night. He used to be the best sleeper and is now waking up multiple times at night. My guess is teething but that's pretty much what I blame any fussy behavior on at this age. I know it will pass, but right now it seems as if I will never experience a restful night of sleep every again!

So, that's what's up with me. Here's a little update on each of the kids because they've all had pretty interesting weeks.

Let's start with Lucy. She woke up bright and early on Tuesday of this week and decided from here on out that she was no longer a little girl, but a puppy. Not just any puppy, but a puppy named "Ruff Ruff." In fact, she will correct me any time I refer to her as "Lucy" and not "Ruff Ruff." Now, Ruff Ruff is very specific about how she wants to be treated. She has been known to give me prompts "Pet my head" or "Tell me to do some tricks" or "Put my water on the floor so I can lick it like a dog" (I decline to indulge that request). She loves to play fetch and initiates the game by scratching my leg while I am working in the kitchen until I bend down and toss whatever toy she has in her mouth into the next room so she can chase after it. Just like any overly-energetic puppy, Ruff Ruff never seems to tire of this game. The worst part about having Ruff Ruff around, at least in my humble opinion, is that I never know when I am going to be gifted with a wet, warm, saliva-drenched lick on the back of the leg. Ruff Ruff strikes at any time with this sign of affection - while I am making dinner, nursing the baby, or reading a book - and it makes me cringe every single time. I personally will be very happy when Ruff Ruff leaves and Lucy returns. But, as I type this out, it is Friday morning and Ruff Ruff is rolled in a ball, pretending to sleep at my feet, occasionally letting out a bark. Really hoping Lucy returns before we have to go to church tomorrow for Matthew's First Communion.

Matthew is very excited about receiving his First Communion and Confirmation on Saturday. He has been looking forward to this day for a long time and has studied very hard to prepare for it. He chose Saint Francis to be his Confirmation saint because Saint Francis loves animals and, in the words of Matthew, that means "he probably loved dinosaurs too and since I want to be a paleontologist, Saint Francis would be a good patron saint for me." I failed to tell him that I actually did a little research to see if there was a patron saint of paleontology and there is, but it isn't Saint Francis. It's Saint Augustine. Who ironically is the son of Saint Monica, my saint namesake. But regardless, Matthew has his heart set on Francis. He actually had to write a short paper about Saint Francis for his Confirmation class. In order to properly research his paper, I bought a biography of Saint Francis for him and he read it eagerly, cover to cover. When it came time to write his paper, I sat him down in front of the computer and urged him to type out what he had learned. The result was a plethora of information about the good saint but in a jumbled format and order that gave me a glimpse into the manic nature of Matthew's third-grade brain.

One of my favorite lines read as follows: "Saint Francis saved a village from a wolf. He told him to stop doing bad things and the wolf was fed by the people for the rest of his life. We actually don't know if it was a girl or a boy wolf. So we should just say it was a girl/boy wolf."

It's the little details that he obsesses over.

Matthew is actually turning into quite the little writer. He has been avidly writing a bunch of short stories, inspired by the sights, sounds, and experiences of his daily life. My favorite project of his, a short story he wrote for creative writing class in school, is called "Every Fig." If you are familiar with the Bible, you may recall a story in the Gospel where Jesus rebukes a fig tree. Matthew decided to write that story from the fig's perspective. It was hilarious stuff. Basically, in the story, the hardworking figs receive a promise from an angel that their tree will never catch fire. But then, Jesus came along. I was in stitches as Matthew retold what he wrote. It was pretty creative. I've been very proud of him this school year. He had been excelling in his schoolwork and even won the music award this quarter.

Emma is also excelling at school. Socially that is. She is a bit of a troublemaker at school because she so loves to make others laugh. The result is that she is often disruptive at inappropriate times in her classroom. She has been sent to the Principal's office on more than one occasion. Matthew, whose classroom is directly next door to Emma's, has been able to witness his sister being reprimanded on more than one occasion. This actually helps me out a bit because I can obtain all the juicy, gossipy details from Matthew before confronting Emma about what happened.

Despite her troubles, Emma is very well liked by both students and teachers alike at the school. Matthew has actually been very annoyed at how much the girls in his class baby and adore Emma, often "taking care of her" during recess. Emma has a knack for getting others to do favors for her. An extra example of this would be when some men came to our house to deliver our new kitchen table. They arrived at the same time I pulled in with my carload of kids fresh from school pickup. I asked them to give me a minute as I carried in Daniel, Lucy's shoes, and an assortment of mail we had just collected from our mailbox. When I came back outside, I saw Emma walking between the two delivery men, one of them carrying her backpack, another carrying her shoes and coat. She was instructing them where to put her things once they got inside. She's a bit of a prima donna.

Emma made my week very eventful by feigning illness three out of five days. The first day, the school nurse called to tell me that Emma had been complaining all morning that she felt like she was going to throw up. After a nap in the sick room, she still wasn't feeling perky, so I was asked to bring her home. The minute she got into the car, she began requesting to dip into her Halloween bucket, followed by a high intensity game of chase with Lucy (I'm sorry, I mean Ruff Ruff). Obviously she wasn't feeling too awful. I should also mention that she ate plenty during her "sick time" at home so I was pretty sure she was manipulating people as usual. So, when I got another call from the school two days later stating that Emma was making the same complaints, I told them to tell her to knock it off and get back to class. And (surprise, surprise) she never once threw up.

On a positive note, Emma has been spending all her free time paper crafting. She's been working diligently making many beautiful paper flowers that are now decorating our home. She also made a crown for Pumpkin Bear. She's a crafting maniac.

And little Daniel...he's rolling everywhere he can and getting frustrated that he's not more mobile. He shall be crawling any day now and I can already forsee the destruction! Even with his limited mobility, he still manages to roll over to a cabinet of choice, open it, and expel all the contents! I'm going to be in big trouble when he really starts going!

He's wearing some of his Dad's old clothes in these pictures. So cute.

The kids also had rosary club this week. It's held once each month at their school and basically involves them spending an hour after school making rosaries for missionaries while praying the rosary with their teachers and friends. Matthew and Emma both love it. I had promised the kids that I would send in some snacks for club this month, so I raided the candy bags once again and came up with this lovely Halloween Candy Cookie Cake. It made for a fun and eye-catching treat for the kids and they all raved about it! They loved finding different fun-size candy bars in each bite - apparently each kid had two slices (I did try to cut them as thin as I could!). This was a fun way to use up some of that candy...although I honestly feel as if I haven't made a dent! There is still so much left!!

Halloween Candy Cookie Cake

For the Cookie Cake:
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups leftover Halloween candy, roughly chopped (use mini candy bars, m&ms, peanut butter cups, etc)

For the chocolate frosting:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1 and 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, more if needed
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons heavy cream, more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9" pie plate with non-stick baking spray; set aside.
In a large bowl add the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar; beat well until combined. Cool for 5 minutes, then beat in the egg, egg yolks, and vanilla. Add in the flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix until just combined. Be sure not to over mix here! Fold in the chopped candy bars. Spread the mixture into the prepared pie plate (it will be very thick), smooth the top, and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the edges are completely set, and the center of the pie is only slightly jiggly.

Top the warm cookie cake with extra candy, if desired. Transfer cookie cake to a wire rack to cool for at least one hour before topping with frosting (if using) and slicing.

To make the chocolate frosting, sift together the confectioners sugar and cocoa powder, whisking well to ensure it is free of lumps.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy; about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the sifted sugar/cocoa powder, alternating with the cream, then add the vanilla and salt. Once all of the ingredients have been added, beat on high speed until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.

Scrape frosting into a piping bag fitted with an large star tip or other decorating tip of choice and pipe onto the cooled cake. Enjoy the sugar rush!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Twix Blondies and a Halloween Recap

This begins my annual Halloween post. The post I write every year detailing what my kids wore on Halloween night, what their Jack-o-lanterns looked like all lit up and glimmering spookily in the night, and, at the end, a recipe utilizing a small portion of the pounds and pounds of candy they collected from our neighbors. This recipe for Twix blondies is definitely one of my absolute favorite ways to use candy bars in baking. My kids collected an exorbitant number of fun size Twix bars this year and they are more inclined towards the sugary sweets rather than the chocolate so they were more than happy to donate their Twix for this recipe. Plus, I just portion the blondies out and freeze them individually wrapped to use in their lunches in the coming months. So, they still get to eat their candy, just in a re-purposed manner. So don't feel too sorry for them. My sisters always tease me about using my kids' candy for baking.

But before we get to this incredible recipe, lets recap how the kids looked in their costumes. We actually trick-or-treated three separate times because we're insane and really enjoy standing in long lanes while waiting for our turn to beg for candy. Instead of putting together new costumes for the kids, I just told them to hunt through their dress up box and find something to wear. Unfortunately, that didn't work too well for Matthew who has grown so tall over the past year that nothing fit him. He had his eye set on dressing up as Spider-man after seeing a costume at Costco while we were shopping. I told him that he could earn the costume dollar by dollar by performing extra tasks around the house. Matthew diligently pulled weeds, raked the yard, picked up dog poop, and dusted furniture, eventually earning enough to purchase his costume. He was proud.

Emma also wanted to earn enough money to purchase a new costume. She had spied a fairy costume at Costco and I told her that she could do the same as Matthew and perform extra chores to earn it. She worked hard for a day and earned a total of three dollars before deciding that it was just too much work and abandoning the project. She chose to be Princess Belle while trick-or-treating at the zoo and then switched to wearing Matthew's old dragon costume when the weather got more chilly. She was perfectly happy with her choice and the dragon costume strangely fit her personality.

Lucia, my sweet little girl, was the only one of my children who did not complain for a new costume. Rather, she was more than happy to wear a different costume from her dress up box for each trick-or-treat outing. First, she was Doc McStuffins, wearing the same costume she wore last year, at the Boo at the Zoo. Then, she decided to be Minnie Mouse, complete with wearing a pair of my pumps. I really had to talk her out of shuffling around in those. Finally, for the chilly Halloween night, she wore a baby elephant costume she had found in one of our clothing bins that I had completely forgotten about.

And baby Daniel was a character from the 100 Acre Wood each time, Tigger first and Eeyore second. Paul wasn't too happy with the Eeyore costume since it was a pink and purple color and little old ladies kept coming up and telling us how beautiful our baby girl was, but it didn't bother me. Eeyore is a boy after all and someone telling me my baby is beautiful is always a welcome compliment.

And once again, I could not get Paul to dress up in a costume so he just went as a grumpy old man. I went as a tired Mom.

As typical, we began Halloween night with a simple dinner of subs and pizza. Lucy picked out decorations for the table, including "spooky spider" napkins and plates. Emma made a hand out of popcorn and candy corn at school that she just had to have displayed in the center. The kids ate well before lighting our jack-o-lanterns on the front porch. I actually helped carve the pumpkins this year, but I'm really not so great at it. Emma wanted me to make a spooky cat and while I was carving it I accidentally cut out the ear and dislodged the whole body from the circle meant to hold it intact. I propped it up with toothpicks long enough to have it lit, but by the end of the night the entire thing had fallen out of the pumpkin. Epic fail.

The kids drew their own designs for the pumpkins. Lucy adamantly wanted a sad pumpkin.

Matthew went with a big, happy pumpkin. With eyebrows. He was very adamant about it having eyebrows.

And Emma wanted to the pumpkin face adorning the front of her favorite stuffed animal "pumpkin bear", a teddy bear inside a jack-o-lantern that she has been sleeping with the for the past couple of years.

It was a freezing cold night. The kids did great despite the frigid air with the exception of Daniel. He wanted none of it and made his opinion known. He lasted a grand total of three blocks before I turned around to take him back home. Lucy chose to join me. Daniel was much happier once we got him in front of a roaring fire which is where he wanted to be in the first place. I was secretly glad that he gave me an excuse to get home.

Matthew and Emma did a few more blocks with Paul before they also retreated inside. Not that they had any lack of candy. I don't think we have ever collected so much candy. I'm crying just thinking about all the cavities.

So when I took about 30 mini Twix bars to make these blondies, it did not make so much as a dent in the actual candy collection of these kids. And between you and me, I would gladly buy a bag of mini Twix just to be able to make these blondies. They are sweet, salty, and extremely addictive. They have a bit of a different texture than other blondies thanks to the shortbread cookies in the Twix bars and I personally just love it! So did Paul and all the kids. Way better than eating a Twix bar straight up.

Twix Blondies

3/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon flaked (or coarse) sea salt
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
30 mini Twix bars coarsely chopped - about 2 cups worth.
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil and coat with nonstick spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the butter and brown sugar on low speed. Add in the eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt and mix until smooth.

With the mixer still on low add the the flour and mix until just combined.

Stir in the Twix and chocolate chips until evenly incorporated.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes until the edges are set and the center is almost set.

Cool completely before cutting into bars.